The Golden Road by Lucy Maud Montgomery - HTML preview
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The Golden Road
Lucy Maud Montgomery
The Golden Road
I. A New Departure ...............................................................................................5
II. A Will, A Way And A Woman ..........................................................................10
III. The Christmas Harp.......................................................................................16
IV. New Year Resolutions ...................................................................................22
V. The First Number Of Our Magazine ...............................................................32
VI. Great-Aunt Eliza's Visit ..................................................................................38
VII. We Visit Cousin Mattie's ...............................................................................49
VIII. We Visit Peg Bowen ....................................................................................52
IX. Extracts From The February And March Numbers Of Our Magazine............63
X. Disappearance Of Paddy ...............................................................................69
XI. The Witch's Wishbone ...................................................................................74
XII. Flowers O' May.............................................................................................78
XIII. A Surprising Announcement ........................................................................83
XIV. A Prodigal Returns ......................................................................................88
XV. The Rape Of The Lock.................................................................................94
XVI. Aunt Una's Story .........................................................................................98
XVII. Aunt Olivia's Wedding ..............................................................................102
XVIII. Sara Ray Helps Out ................................................................................106
XIX. By Way Of The Stars ................................................................................112
XX. Extracts From Our Magazine .....................................................................115
XXI. Peg Bowen Comes To Church..................................................................120
XXII. The Yankee Storm ...................................................................................127
XXIII. A Missionary Heroine ..............................................................................130
XXIV. A Tantalizing Revelation .........................................................................135
XXV. The Love Story Of The Awkward Man .....................................................140
XXVI. Uncle Blair Comes Home........................................................................148
XXVII. The Old Order Changeth .......................................................................153
XXVIII. The Path To Arcady..............................................................................157
XXIX. We Lose A Friend ...................................................................................163
XXXI. The Last Number Of Our Magazine........................................................170
XXXII. Our Last Evening Together....................................................................174
XXXIII. The Story Girl Goes ..............................................................................177
Once upon a time we all walked on the golden road. It was a fair highway, through the Land of Lost Delight; shadow and sunshine were blessedly mingled, and every turn and dip revealed a fresh charm and a new loveliness to eager hearts and unspoiled eyes.
On that road we heard the song of morning stars; we drank in fragrances aerial and sweet as a May mist; we were rich in gossamer fancies and iris hopes; our hearts sought and found the boon of dreams; the years waited beyond and they were very fair; life was a rose-lipped comrade with purple flowers dripping from her fingers.
We may long have left the golden road behind, but its memories are the dearest of our eternal possessions; and those who cherish them as such may haply find a pleasure in the pages of this book, whose people are pilgrims on the golden road of youth.
I. A New Departure"I've thought of something amusing for the winter," I said as we drew into a halfcircle around the glorious wood-fire in Uncle Alec's kitchen.
It had been a day of wild November wind, closing down into a wet, eerie twilight. Outside, the wind was shrilling at the windows and around the eaves, and the rain was playing on the roof. The old willow at the gate was writhing in the storm and the orchard was a place of weird music, born of all the tears and fears that haunt the halls of night. But little we cared for the gloom and the loneliness of the outside world; we kept them at bay with the light of the fire and the laughter of our young lips.
We had been having a splendid game of Blind-Man's Buff. That is, it had been splendid at first; but later the fun went out of it because we found that Peter was, of malice prepense, allowing himself to be caught too easily, in order that he might have the pleasure of catching Felicity--which he never failed to do, no matter how tightly his eyes were bound. What remarkable goose said that love is blind? Love can see through five folds of closely-woven muffler with ease!
"I'm getting tired," said Cecily, whose breath was coming rather quickly and whose pale cheeks had bloomed into scarlet. "Let's sit down and get the Story Girl to tell us a story."
But as we dropped into our places the Story Girl shot a significant glance at me which intimated that this was the psychological moment for introducing the scheme she and I had been secretly developing for some days. It was really the Story Girl's idea and none of mine. But she had insisted that I should make the suggestion as coming wholly from myself.
"If you don't, Felicity won't agree to it. You know yourself, Bev, how contrary she's been lately over anything I mention. And if she goes against it Peter will too--the ninny!--and it wouldn't be any fun if we weren't all in it.""What is it?" asked Felicity, drawing her chair slightly away from Peter's. "It is this. Let us get up a newspaper of our own--write it all ourselves, and have all we do in it. Don't you think we can get a lot of fun out of it?" Everyone looked rather blank and amazed, except the Story Girl. She knew what she had to do, and she did it. "What a silly idea!" she exclaimed, with a contemptuous toss of her long brown curls. "Just as if WE could get up a newspaper!"
Felicity fired up, exactly as we had hoped. "I think it's a splendid idea," she said enthusiastically. "I'd like to know why we couldn't get up as good a newspaper as they have in town! Uncle Roger says the Daily Enterprise has gone to the dogs--all the news it prints is that some old woman has put a shawl on her head and gone across the road to have tea with another old woman. I guess we could do better than that. You needn't think, Sara Stanley, that nobody but you can do anything."
"I think it would be great fun," said Peter decidedly. "My Aunt Jane helped edit a paper when she was at Queen's Academy, and she said it was very amusing and helped her a great deal."The Story Girl could hide her delight only by dropping her eyes and frowning. "Bev wants to be editor," she said, "and I don't see how he can, with no experience. Anyhow, it would be a lot of trouble." "Some people are so afraid of a little bother," retorted Felicity. "I think it would be nice," said Cecily timidly, "and none of us have any experience of being editors, any more than Bev, so that wouldn't matter." "Will it be printed?" asked Dan. "Oh, no," I said. "We can't have it printed. We'll just have to write it out--we can buy foolscap from the teacher." "I don't think it will be much of a newspaper if it isn't printed," said Dan scornfully. "It doesn't matter very much what YOU think," said Felicity. "Thank you," retorted Dan.
"Of course," said the Story Girl hastily, not wishing to have Dan turned against our project, "if all the rest of you want it I'll go in for it too. I daresay it would be real good fun, now that I come to think of it. And we'll keep the copies, and when we become famous they'll be quite valuable.""I wonder if any of us ever will be famous," said Felix. "The Story Girl will be," I said. "I don't see how she can be," said Felicity skeptically. "Why, she's just one of us." "Well, it's decided, then, that we're to have a newspaper," I resumed briskly. "The next thing is to choose a name for it. That's a very important thing." "How often are you going to publish it?" asked Felix. "Once a month." "I thought newspapers came out every day, or every week at least," said Dan. "We couldn't have one every week," I explained. "It would be too much work."
"Well, that's an argument," admitted Dan. "The less work you can get along with the better, in my opinion. No, Felicity, you needn't say it. I know exactly what you want to say, so save your breath to cool your porridge. I agree with you that I never work if I can find anything else to do.""'Remember it is harder still To have no work to do,"' quoted Cecily reprovingly. "I don't believe THAT," rejoined Dan. "I'm like the Irishman who said he wished the man who begun work had stayed and finished it." "Well, is it decided that Bev is to be editor?" asked Felix. "Of course it is," Felicity answered for everybody. "Then," said Felix, "I move that the name be The King Monthly Magazine." "That sounds fine," said Peter, hitching his chair a little nearer Felicity's. "But," said Cecily timidly, "that will leave out Peter and the Story Girl and Sara Ray, just as if they didn't have a share in it. I don't think that would be fair." "You name it then, Cecily," I suggested. "Oh!" Cecily threw a deprecating glance at the Story Girl and Felicity. Then, meeting the contempt in the latter's gaze, she raised her head with unusual spirit. "I think it would be nice just to call it Our Magazine," she said. "Then we'd all feel as if we had a share in it."
"Our Magazine it will be, then," I said. "And as for having a share in it, you bet we'll all have a share in it. If I'm to be editor you'll all have to be sub-editors, and have charge of a department.""Oh, I couldn't," protested Cecily.
"You must," I said inexorably. "'England expects everyone to do his duty.' That's our motto--only we'll put Prince Edward Island in place of England. There must be no shirking. Now, what departments will we have? We must make it as much like a real newspaper as we can."
"Well, we ought to have an etiquette department, then," said Felicity. "The Family Guide has one."
"I can run an etiquette column as well as that idiot in the Family Guide, anyhow," said Dan defiantly. "But you can't have an etiquette department unless questions are asked. What am I to do if nobody asks any?"
"You must make some up," said the Story Girl. "Uncle Roger says that is what the Family Guide man does. He says it is impossible that there can be as many hopeless fools in the world as that column would stand for otherwise."
"We want you to edit the household department, Felicity," I said, seeing a cloud lowering on that fair lady's brow. "Nobody can do that as well as you. Felix will edit the jokes and the Information Bureau, and Cecily must be fashion editor. Yes, you must, Sis. It's easy as wink. And the Story Girl will attend to the personals. They're very important. Anyone can contribute a personal, but the Story Girl is to see there are some in every issue, even if she has to make them up, like Dan with the etiquette.""Bev will run the scrap book department, besides the editorials," said the Story Girl, seeing that I was too modest to say it myself. "Aren't you going to have a story page?" asked Peter. "We will, if you'll be fiction and poetry editor," I said. Peter, in his secret soul, was dismayed, but he would not blanch before Felicity. "All right," he said, recklessly.
"We can put anything we like in the scrap book department," I explained, "but all the other contributions must be original, and all must have the name of the writer signed to them, except the personals. We must all do our best. Our Magazine is to be 'a feast of reason and flow of soul."'I felt that I had worked in two quotations with striking effect. The others, with the exception of the Story Girl, looked suitably impressed. "But," said Cecily, reproachfully, "haven't you anything for Sara Ray to do? She'll feel awful bad if she is left out."
I had forgotten Sara Ray. Nobody, except Cecily, ever did remember Sara Ray unless she was on the spot. But we decided to put her in as advertising manager. That sounded well and really meant very little.
"Well, we'll go ahead then," I said, with a sigh of relief that the project had been so easily launched. "We'll get the first issue out about the first of January. And whatever else we do we mustn't let Uncle Roger get hold of it. He'd make such fearful fun of it."
"Kenneth MacNair was a first cousin of the Awkward Man's grandfather, and Ursula Townley was the belle of the Island in her day. Who do you suppose told me the story--no, read it to me, out of his brown book?""Never the Awkward Man himself!" I exclaimed incredulously.
"Yes, he did," said the Story Girl triumphantly. "I met him one day last week back in the maple woods when I was looking for ferns. He was sitting by the spring, writing in his brown book. He hid it when he saw me and looked real silly; but after I had talked to him awhile I just asked him about it, and told him that the gossips said he wrote poetry in it, and if he did would he tell me, because I was dying to know. He said he wrote a little of everything in it; and then I begged him to read me something out of it, and he read me the story of Ursula and Kenneth.""I don't see how you ever had the face," said Felicity; and even Cecily looked as if she thought the Story Girl had gone rather far. "Never mind that," cried Felix, "but tell us the story. That's the main thing."
"I'll tell it just as the Awkward Man read it, as far as I can," said the Story Girl, "but I can't put all his nice poetical touches in, because I can't remember them all, though he read it over twice for me."
II. A Will, A Way And A Woman
"One day, over a hundred years ago, Ursula Townley was waiting for Kenneth MacNair in a great beechwood, where brown nuts were falling and an October wind was making the leaves dance on the ground like pixy-people.""What are pixy-people?" demanded Peter, forgetting the Story Girl's dislike of interruptions. "Hush," whispered Cecily. "That is only one of the Awkward Man's poetical touches, I guess."
"There were cultivated fields between the grove and the dark blue gulf; but far behind and on each side were woods, for Prince Edward Island a hundred years ago was not what it is today. The settlements were few and scattered, and the population so scanty that old Hugh Townley boasted that he knew every man, woman and child in it.
"Old Hugh was quite a noted man in his day. He was noted for several things--he was rich, he was hospitable, he was proud, he was masterful--and he had for daughter the handsomest young woman in Prince Edward Island."Of course, the young men were not blind to her good looks, and she had so many lovers that all the other girls hated her--" "You bet!" said Dan, aside--
"But the only one who found favour in her eyes was the very last man she should have pitched her fancy on, at least if old Hugh were the judge. Kenneth MacNair was a dark-eyed young sea-captain of the next settlement, and it was to meet him that Ursula stole to the beechwood on that autumn day of crisp wind and ripe sunshine. Old Hugh had forbidden his house to the young man, making such a scene of fury about it that even Ursula's high spirit quailed. Old Hugh had really nothing against Kenneth himself; but years before either Kenneth or Ursula was born, Kenneth's father had beaten Hugh Townley in a hotly contested election. Political feeling ran high in those days, and old Hugh had never forgiven the MacNair his victory. The feud between the families dated from that tempest in the provincial teapot, and the surplus of votes on the wrong side was the reason why, thirty years after, Ursula had to meet her lover by stealth if she met him at all.""Was the MacNair a Conservative or a Grit?" asked Felicity.
"It doesn't make any difference what he was," said the Story Girl impatiently. "Even a Tory would be romantic a hundred years ago. Well, Ursula couldn't see Kenneth very often, for Kenneth lived fifteen miles away and was often absent from home in his vessel. On this particular day it was nearly three months since they had met.
"The Sunday before, young Sandy MacNair had been in Carlyle church. He had risen at dawn that morning, walked bare-footed for eight miles along the shore, carrying his shoes, hired a harbour fisherman to row him over the channel, and then walked eight miles more to the church at Carlyle, less, it is to be feared, from a zeal for holy things than that he might do an errand for his adored brother, Kenneth. He carried a letter which he contrived to pass into Ursula's hand in the crowd as the people came out. This letter asked Ursula to meet Kenneth in the beechwood the next afternoon, and so she stole away there when suspicious father and watchful stepmother thought she was spinning in the granary loft.""It was very wrong of her to deceive her parents," said Felicity primly. The Story Girl couldn't deny this, so she evaded the ethical side of the question skilfully.
"I am not telling you what Ursula Townley ought to have done," she said loftily. "I am only telling you what she DID do. If you don't want to hear it you needn't listen, of course. There wouldn't be many stories to tell if nobody ever did anything she shouldn't do.
"Well, when Kenneth came, the meeting was just what might have been expected between two lovers who had taken their last kiss three months before. So it was a good half-hour before Ursula said,"'Oh, Kenneth, I cannot stay long--I shall be missed. You said in your letter that you had something important to talk of. What is it?'
"'My news is this, Ursula. Next Saturday morning my vessel, The Fair Lady, with her captain on board, sails at dawn from Charlottetown harbour, bound for Buenos Ayres. At this season this means a safe and sure return--next May.'"'Kenneth!' cried Ursula. She turned pale and burst into tears. 'How can you think of leaving me? Oh, you are cruel!'
"'Why, no, sweetheart,' laughed Kenneth. 'The captain of The Fair Lady will take his bride with him. We'll spend our honeymoon on the high seas, Ursula, and the cold Canadian winter under southern palms.'"'You want me to run away with you, Kenneth?' exclaimed Ursula. "'Indeed, dear girl, there's nothing else to do!'
"'Oh, I cannot!' she protested. 'My father would--' "'We'll not consult him--until afterward. Come, Ursula, you know there's no other way. We've always known it must come to this. YOUR father will never forgive me for MY father. You won't fail me now. Think of the long parting if you send me away alone on such a voyage. Pluck up your courage, and we'll let Townleys and MacNairs whistle their mouldy feuds down the wind while we sail southward in The Fair Lady. I have a plan.'"'Let me hear it,' said Ursula, beginning to get back her breath. "'There is to be a dance at The Springs Friday night. Are you invited, Ursula?' "'Yes.'
"'Good. I am not--but I shall be there--in the fir grove behind the house, with two horses. When the dancing is at its height you'll steal out to meet me. Then 'tis but a fifteen mile ride to Charlottetown, where a good minister, who is a friend of mine, will be ready to marry us. By the time the dancers have tired their heels you and I will be on our vessel, able to snap our fingers at fate.'"'And what if I do not meet you in the fir grove?' said Ursula, a little impertinently. "'If you do not, I'll sail for South America the next morning, and many a long year will pass ere Kenneth MacNair comes home again.'
"Perhaps Kenneth didn't mean that, but Ursula thought he did, and it decided her. She agreed to run away with him. Yes, of course that was wrong, too, Felicity. She ought to have said, 'No, I shall be married respectably from home, and have a wedding and a silk dress and bridesmaids and lots of presents.' But she didn't. She wasn't as prudent as Felicity King would have been.""She was a shameless hussy," said Felicity, venting on the long- dead Ursula that anger she dare not visit on the Story Girl.
"Oh, no, Felicity dear, she was just a lass of spirit. I'd have done the same. And when Friday night came she began to dress for the dance with a brave heart. She was to go to The Springs with her uncle and aunt, who were coming on horseback that afternoon, and would then go on to The Springs in old Hugh's carriage, which was the only one in Carlyle then. They were to leave in time to reach The Springs before nightfall, for the October nights were dark and the wooded roads rough for travelling.
"When Ursula was ready she looked at herself in the glass with a good deal of satisfaction. Yes, Felicity, she was a vain baggage, that same Ursula, but that kind didn't all die out a hundred years ago. And she had good reason for being vain. She wore the sea- green silk which had been brought out from England a year before and worn but once--at the Christmas ball at Government House. A fine, stiff, rustling silk it was, and over it shone Ursula's crimson cheeks and gleaming eyes, and masses of nut brown hair.
"As she turned from the glass she heard her father's voice below, loud and angry. Growing very pale, she ran out into the hall. Her father was already half way upstairs, his face red with fury. In the hall below Ursula saw her step-mother, looking troubled and vexed. At the door stood Malcolm Ramsay, a homely neighbour youth who had been courting Ursula in his clumsy way ever since she grew up. Ursula had always hated him.
"'Ursula!' shouted old Hugh, 'come here and tell this scoundrel he lies. He says that you met Kenneth MacNair in the beechgrove last Tuesday. Tell him he lies! Tell him he lies!'"Ursula was no coward. She looked scornfully at poor Ramsay. "'The creature is a spy and a tale-bearer,' she said, 'but in this he does not lie. I DID meet Kenneth MacNair last Tuesday.'
"'And you dare to tell me this to my face!' roared old Hugh. 'Back to your room, girl! Back to your room and stay there! Take off that finery. You go to no more dances. You shall stay in that room until I choose to let you out. No, not a word! I'll put you there if you don't go. In with you--ay, and take your knitting with you. Occupy yourself with that this evening instead of kicking your heels at The Springs!'
"He snatched a roll of gray stocking from the hall table and flung it into Ursula's room. Ursula knew she would have to follow it, or be picked up and carried in like a naughty child. So she gave the miserable Ramsay a look that made him cringe, and swept into her room with her head in the air. The next moment she heard the door locked behind her. Her first proceeding was to have a cry of anger and shame and disappointment. That did no good, and then she took to marching up and down her room. It did not calm her to hear the rumble of the carriage out of the gate as her uncle and aunt departed.
"'Oh, what's to be done?' she sobbed. 'Kenneth will be furious. He will think I have failed him and he will go away hot with anger against me. If I could only send a word of explanation I know he would not leave me. But there seems to be no way at all--though I have heard that there's always a way when there's a will. Oh, I shall go mad! If the window were not so high I would jump out of it. But to break my legs or my neck would not mend the matter.'
"The afternoon passed on. At sunset Ursula heard hoof-beats and ran to the window. Andrew Kinnear of The Springs was tying his horse at the door. He was a dashing young fellow, and a political crony of old Hugh. No doubt he would be at the dance that night. Oh, if she could get speech for but a moment with him!
"When he had gone into the house, Ursula, turning impatiently from the window, tripped and almost fell over the big ball of homespun yarn her father had flung on the floor. For a moment she gazed at it resentfully--then, with a gay little laugh, she pounced on it. The next moment she was at her table, writing a brief note to Kenneth MacNair. When it was written, Ursula unwound the gray ball to a considerable depth, pinned the note on it, and rewound the yarn over it. A gray ball, the color of the twilight, might escape observation, where a white missive fluttering down from an upper window would surely be seen by someone. Then she softly opened her window and waited.
"It was dusk when Andrew went away. Fortunately old Hugh did not come to the door with him. As Andrew untied his horse Ursula threw the ball with such good aim that it struck him, as she had meant it to do, squarely on the head. Andrew looked up at her window. She leaned out, put her finger warningly on her lips, pointed to the ball, and nodded. Andrew, looking somewhat puzzled, picked up the ball, sprang to his saddle, and galloped off.
"So far, well, thought Ursula. But would Andrew understand? Would he have wit enough to think of exploring the big, knobby ball for its delicate secret? And would he be at the dance after all?
"The evening dragged by. Time had never seemed so long to Ursula. She could not rest or sleep. It was midnight before she heard the patter of a handful of gravel on her window-panes. In a trice she was leaning out. Below in the darkness stood Kenneth MacNair."'Oh, Kenneth, did you get my letter? And is it safe for you to be here?'
"'Safe enough. Your father is in bed. I've waited two hours down the road for his light to go out, and an extra half-hour to put him to sleep. The horses are there. Slip down and out, Ursula. We'll make Charlottetown by dawn yet.'"'That's easier said than done, lad. I'm locked in. But do you go out behind the new barn and bring the ladder you will find there.'
"Five minutes later, Miss Ursula, hooded and cloaked, scrambled soundlessly down the ladder, and in five more minutes she and Kenneth were riding along the road."'There's a stiff gallop before us, Ursula,' said Kenneth.
"'I would ride to the world's end with you, Kenneth MacNair,' said Ursula. Oh, of course she shouldn't have said anything of the sort, Felicity. But you see people had no etiquette departments in those days. And when the red sunlight of a fair October dawn was shining over the gray sea The Fair Lady sailed out of Charlottetown harbour. On her deck stood Kenneth and Ursula MacNair, and in her hand, as a most precious treasure, the bride carried a ball of gray homespun yarn.""Well," said Dan, yawning, "I like that kind of a story. Nobody goes and dies in it, that's one good thing." "Did old Hugh forgive Ursula?" I asked. "The story stopped there in the brown book," said the Story Girl, "but the Awkward Man says he did, after awhile." "It must be rather romantic to be run away with," remarked Cecily, wistfully. "Don't you get such silly notions in your head, Cecily King," said Felicity, severely.
III. The Christmas Harp
Great was the excitement in the houses of King as Christmas drew nigh. The air was simply charged with secrets. Everybody was very penurious for weeks beforehand and hoards were counted scrutinizingly every day. Mysterious pieces of handiwork were smuggled in and out of sight, and whispered consultations were held, about which nobody thought of being jealous, as might have happened at any other time. Felicity was in her element, for she and her mother were deep in preparations for the day. Cecily and the Story Girl were excluded from these doings with indifference on Aunt Janet's part and what seemed ostentatious complacency on Felicity's. Cecily took this to heart and complained to me about it.
"I'm one of this family just as much as Felicity is," she said, with as much indignation as Cecily could feel, "and I don't think she need shut me out of everything. When I wanted to stone the raisins for the mince-meat she said, no, she would do it herself, because Christmas mince-meat was very particular--as if I couldn't stone raisins right! The airs Felicity puts on about her cooking just make me sick," concluded Cecily wrathfully."It's a pity she doesn't make a mistake in cooking once in a while herself," I said. "Then maybe she wouldn't think she knew so much more than other people."
All parcels that came in the mail from distant friends were taken charge of by Aunts Janet and Olivia, not to be opened until the great day of the feast itself. How slowly the last week passed! But even watched pots will boil in the fulness of time, and finally Christmas day came, gray and dour and frost-bitten without, but full of revelry and rose-red mirth within. Uncle Roger and Aunt Olivia and the Story Girl came over early for the day; and Peter came too, with his shining, morning face, to be hailed with joy, for we had been afraid that Peter would not be able to spend Christmas with us. His mother had wanted him home with her.
"Of course I ought to go," Peter had told me mournfully, "but we won't have turkey for dinner, because ma can't afford it. And ma always cries on holidays because she says they make her think of father. Of course she can't help it, but it ain't cheerful. Aunt Jane wouldn't have cried. Aunt Jane used to say she never saw the man who was worth spoiling her eyes for. But I guess I'll have to spend Christmas at home."
At the last moment, however, a cousin of Mrs. Craig's in Charlottetown invited her for Christmas, and Peter, being given his choice of going or staying, joyfully elected to stay. So we were all together, except Sara Ray, who had been invited but whose mother wouldn't let her come.
"Sara Ray's mother is a nuisance," snapped the Story Girl. "She just lives to make that poor child miserable, and she won't let her go to the party tonight, either."
"It is just breaking Sara's heart that she can't," said Cecily compassionately. "I'm almost afraid I won't enjoy myself for thinking of her, home there alone, most likely reading the Bible, while we're at the party.""She might be worse occupied than reading the Bible," said Felicity rebukingly.
"But Mrs. Ray makes her read it as a punishment," protested Cecily. "Whenever Sara cries to go anywhere--and of course she'll cry tonight--Mrs. Ray makes her read seven chapters in the Bible. I wouldn't think that would make her very fond of it. And I'll not be able to talk the party over with Sara afterwards--and that's half the fun gone.""You can tell her all about it," comforted Felix. "Telling isn't a bit like talking it over," retorted Cecily. "It's too one-sided."
We had an exciting time opening our presents. Some of us had more than others, but we all received enough to make us feel comfortably that we were not unduly neglected in the matter. The contents of the box which the Story Girl's father had sent her from Paris made our eyes stick out. It was full of beautiful things, among them another red silk dress--not the bright, flame- hued tint of her old one, but a rich, dark crimson, with the most distracting flounces and bows and ruffles; and with it were little red satin slippers with gold buckles, and heels that made Aunt Janet hold up her hands in horror. Felicity remarked scornfully that she would have thought the Story Girl would get tired wearing red so much, and even Cecily commented apart to me that she thought when you got so many things all at once you didn't appreciate them as much as when you only got a few.
"I'd never get tired of red," said the Story Girl. "I just love it--it's so rich and glowing. When I'm dressed in red I always feel ever so much cleverer than in any other colour. Thoughts just crowd into my brain one after the other. Oh, you darling dress--you dear, sheeny, red-rosy, glistening, silky thing!"She flung it over her shoulder and danced around the kitchen.
"Don't be silly, Sara," said Aunt Janet, a little stimy. She was a good soul, that Aunt Janet, and had a kind, loving heart in her ample bosom. But I fancy there were times when she thought it rather hard that the daughter of a roving adventurer--as she considered him--like Blair Stanley should disport herself in silk dresses, while her own daughters must go clad in gingham and muslin--for those were the days when a feminine creature got one silk dress in her lifetime, and seldom more than one.
The Story Girl also got a present from the Awkward Man--a little, shabby, worn volume with a great many marks on the leaves.
"Oh, you don't understand, Felicity," said the Story Girl patiently. "And I don't suppose I can make you understand. But I'll try. I'd ten times rather have this than a new book. It's one of his own, don't you see--one that he has read a hundred times and loved and made a friend of. A new book, just out of a shop, wouldn't be the same thing at all. It wouldn't MEAN anything. I consider it a great compliment that he has given me this book. I'm prouder of it than of anything else I've got."
"Well, you're welcome to it," said Felicity. "I don't understand and I don't want to. I wouldn't give anybody a Christmas present that wasn't new, and I wouldn't thank anybody who gave me one."
Peter was in the seventh heaven because Felicity had given him a present--and, moreover, one that she had made herself. It was a bookmark of perforated cardboard, with a gorgeous red and yellow worsted goblet worked on it, and below, in green letters, the solemn warning, "Touch Not The Cup." As Peter was not addicted to habits of intemperance, not even to looking on dandelion wine when it was pale yellow, we did not exactly see why Felicity should have selected such a device. But Peter was perfectly satisfied, so nobody cast any blight on his happiness by carping criticism. Later on Felicity told me she had worked the bookmark for him because his father used to drink before he ran away."I thought Peter ought to be warned in time," she said. Even Pat had a ribbon of blue, which he clawed off and lost half an hour after it was tied on him. Pat did not care for vain adornments of the body.
We had a glorious Christmas dinner, fit for the halls of Lucullus, and ate far more than was good for us, none daring to make us afraid on that one day of the year. And in the evening--oh, rapture and delight!--we went to Kitty Marr's party.
It was a fine December evening; the sharp air of morning had mellowed until it was as mild as autumn. There had been no snow, and the long fields, sloping down from the homestead, were brown and mellow. A weird, dreamy stillness had fallen on the purple earth, the dark fir woods, the valley rims, the sere meadows. Nature seemed to have folded satisfied hands to rest, knowing that her long wintry slumber was coming upon her.
At first, when the invitations to the party had come, Aunt Janet had said we could not go; but Uncle Alec interceded in our favour, perhaps influenced thereto by Cecily's wistful eyes. If Uncle Alec had a favourite among his children it was Cecily, and he had grown even more indulgent towards her of late. Now and then I saw him looking at her intently, and, following his eyes and thought, I had, somehow, seen that Cecily was paler and thinner than she had been in the summer, and that her soft eyes seemed larger, and that over her little face in moments of repose there was a certain languor and weariness that made it very sweet and pathetic. And I heard him tell Aunt Janet that he did not like to see the child getting so much the look of her Aunt Felicity."Cecily is perfectly well," said Aunt Janet sharply. "She's only growing very fast. Don't be foolish, Alec."
But after that Cecily had cups of cream where the rest of us got only milk; and Aunt Janet was very particular to see that she had her rubbers on whenever she went out.
On this merry Christmas evening, however, no fears or dim foreshadowings of any coming event clouded our hearts or faces. Cecily looked brighter and prettier than I had ever seen her, with her softly shining eyes and the nut brown gloss of her hair. Felicity was too beautiful for words; and even the Story Girl, between excitement and the crimson silk array, blossomed out with a charm and allurement more potent than any regular loveliness-- and this in spite of the fact that Aunt Olivia had tabooed the red satin slippers and mercilessly decreed that stout shoes should be worn.
"I know just how you feel about it, you daughter of Eve," she said, with gay sympathy, "but December roads are damp, and if you are going to walk to Marrs' you are not going to do it in those frivolous Parisian concoctions, even with overboots on; so be brave, dear heart, and show that you have a soul above little red satin shoes."
"Anyhow," said Uncle Roger, "that red silk dress will break the hearts of all the feminine small fry at the party. You'd break their spirits, too, if you wore the slippers. Don't do it, Sara. Leave them one wee loophole of enjoyment.""What does Uncle Roger mean?" whispered Felicity. "He means you girls are all dying of jealousy because of the Story Girl's dress," said Dan. "I am not of a jealous disposition," said Felicity loftily, "and she's entirely welcome to the dress--with a complexion like that."
But we enjoyed that party hugely, every one of us. And we enjoyed the walk home afterwards, through dim, enshadowed fields where silvery star-beams lay, while Orion trod his stately march above us, and a red moon climbed up the black horizon's rim. A brook went with us part of the way, singing to us through the dark--a gay, irresponsible vagabond of valley and wilderness. Felicity and Peter walked not with us. Peter's cup must surely have brimmed over that Christmas night. When we left the Marr house, he had boldly said to Felicity, "May I see you home?" And Felicity, much to our amazement, had taken his arm and marched off with him. The primness of her was indescribable, and was not at all ruffled by Dan's hoot of derision. As for me, I was consumed by a secret and burning desire to ask the Story Girl if I might see HER home; but I could not screw my courage to the sticking point. How I envied Peter his easy, insouciant manner! I could not emulate him, so Dan and Felix and Cecily and the Story Girl and I all walked hand in hand, huddling a little closer together as we went through James Frewen's woods--for there are strange harps in a fir grove, and who shall say what fingers sweep them? Mighty and sonorous was the music above our heads as the winds of the night stirred the great boughs tossing athwart the starlit sky. Perhaps it was that aeolian harmony which recalled to the Story Girl a legend of elder days.
"I read such a pretty story in one of Aunt Olivia's books last night," she said. "It was called 'The Christmas Harp.' Would you like to hear it? It seems to me it would just suit this part of the road.""There isn't anything about--about ghosts in it, is there?" said Cecily timidly.
"Oh, no, I wouldn't tell a ghost story here for anything. I'd frighten myself too much. This story is about one of the shepherds who saw the angels on the first Christmas night. He was just a youth, and he loved music with all his heart, and he longed to be able to express the melody that was in his soul. But he could not; he had a harp and he often tried to play on it; but his clumsy fingers only made such discord that his companions laughed at him and mocked him, and called him a madman because he would not give it up, but would rather sit apart by himself, with his arms about his harp, looking up into the sky, while they gathered around their fire and told tales to wile away their long night vigils as they watched their sheep on the hills. But to him the thoughts that came out of the great silence were far sweeter than their mirth; and he never gave up the hope, which sometimes left his lips as a prayer, that some day he might be able to express those thoughts in music to the tired, weary, forgetful world. On the first Christmas night he was out with his fellow shepherds on the hills. It was chill and dark, and all, except him, were glad to gather around the fire. He sat, as usual, by himself, with his harp on his knee and a great longing in his heart. And there came a marvellous light in the sky and over the hills, as if the darkness of the night had suddenly blossomed into a wonderful meadow of flowery flame; and all the shepherds saw the angels and heard them sing. And as they sang, the harp that the young shepherd held began to play softly by itself, and as he listened to it he realized that it was playing the same music that the angels sang and that all his secret longings and aspirations and strivings were expressed in it. From that night, whenever he took the harp in his hands, it played the same music; and he wandered all over the world carrying it; wherever the sound of its music was heard hate and discord fled away and peace and good-will reigned. No one who heard it could think an evil thought; no one could feel hopeless or despairing or bitter or angry. When a man had once heard that music it entered into his soul and heart and life and became a part of him for ever. Years went by; the shepherd grew old and bent and feeble; but still he roamed over land and sea, that his harp might carry the message of the Christmas night and the angel song to all mankind. At last his strength failed him and he fell by the wayside in the darkness; but his harp played as his spirit passed; and it seemed to him that a Shining One stood by him, with wonderful starry eyes, and said to him, 'Lo, the music thy harp has played for so many years has been but the echo of the love and sympathy and purity and beauty in thine own soul; and if at any time in the wanderings thou hadst opened the door of that soul to evil or envy or selfishness thy harp would have ceased to play. Now thy life is ended; but what thou hast given to mankind has no end; and as long as the world lasts, so long will the heavenly music of the Christmas harp ring in the ears of men.' When the sun rose the old shepherd lay dead by the roadside, with a smile on his face; and in his hands was a harp with all its strings broken."
We left the fir woods as the tale was ended, and on the opposite hill was home. A dim light in the kitchen window betokened that Aunt Janet had no idea of going to bed until all her young fry were safely housed for the night.
"Ma's waiting up for us," said Dan. "I'd laugh if she happened to go to the door just as Felicity and Peter were strutting up. I guess she'll be cross. It's nearly twelve."
"Christmas will soon be over," said Cecily, with a sigh. "Hasn't it been a nice one? It's the first we've all spent together. Do you suppose we'll ever spend another together?""Lots of 'em," said Dan cheerily. "Why not?" "Oh, I don't know," answered Cecily, her footsteps lagging somewhat. "Only things seem just a little too pleasant to last." "If Willy Fraser had had as much spunk as Peter, Miss Cecily King mightn't be so low spirited," quoth Dan, significantly. Cecily tossed her head and disdained reply. There are really some remarks a self-respecting young lady must ignore.
IV. New Year Resolutions
If we did not have a white Christmas we had a white New Year. Midway between the two came a heavy snowfall. It was winter in our orchard of old delights then,-so truly winter that it was hard to believe summer had ever dwelt in it, or that spring would ever return to it. There were no birds to sing the music of the moon; and the path where the apple blossoms had fallen were heaped with less fragrant drifts. But it was a place of wonder on a moonlight night, when the snowy arcades shone like avenues of ivory and crystal, and the bare trees cast fairy-like traceries upon them. Over Uncle Stephen's Walk, where the snow had fallen smoothly, a spell of white magic had been woven. Taintless and wonderful it seemed, like a street of pearl in the new Jerusalem.
On New Year's Eve we were all together in Uncle Alec's kitchen, which was tacitly given over to our revels during the winter evenings. The Story Girl and Peter were there, of course, and Sara Ray's mother had allowed her to come up on condition that she should be home by eight sharp. Cecily was glad to see her, but the boys never hailed her arrival with over-much delight, because, since the dark began to come down early, Aunt Janet always made one of us walk down home with her. We hated this, because Sara Ray was always so maddeningly self-conscious of having an escort. We knew perfectly well that next day in school she would tell her chums as a "dead" secret that "So-and-So King saw her home" from the hill farm the night before. Now, seeing a young lady home from choice, and being sent home with her by your aunt or mother are two entirely different things, and we thought Sara Ray ought to have sense enough to know it.
Outside there was a vivid rose of sunset behind the cold hills of fir, and the long reaches of snowy fields glowed fairily pink in the western light. The drifts along the edges of the meadows and down the lane looked as if a series of breaking waves had, by the lifting of a magician's wand, been suddenly transformed into marble, even to their toppling curls of foam.
Slowly the splendour died, giving place to the mystic beauty of a winter twilight when the moon is rising. The hollow sky was a cup of blue. The stars came out over the white glens and the earth was covered with a kingly carpet for the feet of the young year to press.
"I'm so glad the snow came," said the Story Girl. "If it hadn't the New Year would have seemed just as dingy and worn out as the old. There's something very solemn about the idea of a New Year, isn't there? Just think of three hundred and sixty-five whole days, with not a thing happened in them yet."
"I don't suppose anything very wonderful will happen in them," said Felix pessimistically. To Felix, just then, life was flat, stale and unprofitable because it was his turn to go home with Sara Ray.
"It makes me a little frightened to think of all that may happen in them," said Cecily. "Miss Marwood says it is what we put into a year, not what we get out of it, that counts at last."
"I'm always glad to see a New Year," said the Story Girl. "I wish we could do as they do in Norway. The whole family sits up until midnight, and then, just as the clock is striking twelve, the father opens the door and welcomes the New Year in. Isn't it a pretty custom?""If ma would let us stay up till twelve we might do that too," said Dan, "but she never will. I call it mean." "If I ever have children I'll let them stay up to watch the New Year in," said the Story Girl decidedly. "So will I," said Peter, "but other nights they'll have to go to bed at seven." "You ought to be ashamed, speaking of such things," said Felicity, with a scandalized face. Peter shrank into the background abashed, no doubt believing that he had broken some Family Guide precept all to pieces. "I didn't know it wasn't proper to mention children," he muttered apologetically. "We ought to make some New Year resolutions," suggested the Story Girl. "New Year's Eve is the time to make them." "I can't think of any resolutions I want to make," said Felicity, who was perfectly satisfied with herself. "I could suggest a few to you," said Dan sarcastically. "There are so many I would like to make," said Cecily, "that I'm afraid it wouldn't be any use trying to keep them all."
"Well, let's all make a few, just for the fun of it, and see if we can keep them," I said. "And let's get paper and ink and write them out. That will make them seem more solemn and binding."
"And then pin them up on our bedroom walls, where we'll see them every day," suggested the Story Girl, "and every time we break a resolution we must put a cross opposite it. That will show us what progress we are making, as well as make us ashamed if we have too many crosses."
"And let's have a Roll of Honour in Our Magazine," suggested Felix, "and every month we'll publish the names of those who keep their resolutions perfect."
"No, sir," said Dan emphatically. "There's no use making a resolution you CAN'T keep. There are people in this family you've just GOT to quarrel with if you want to live. But I've thought of one--I won't do things to spite people."Felicity--who really was in an unbearable mood that night--laughed disagreeably; but Cecily gave her a fierce nudge, which probably restrained her from speaking. "I will not eat any apples," wrote Felix. "What on earth do you want to give up eating apples for?" asked Peter in astonishment. "Never mind," returned Felix. "Apples make people fat, you know," said Felicity sweetly.
"It seems a funny kind of resolution," I said doubtfully. "I think our resolutions ought to be giving up wrong things or doing right ones."
"You make your resolutions to suit yourself and I'll make mine to suit myself," said Felix defiantly.
"I'm jealous sometimes, too," confessed Sara Ray, "and so my first resolution will be 'I shall try not to feel jealous when I hear the other girls in school describing all the sick spells they've had.'""Goodness, do you want to be sick?" demanded Felix in astonishment. "It makes a person important," explained Sara Ray. "I am going to try to improve my mind by reading good books and listening to older people," wrote Cecily. "You got that out of the Sunday School paper," cried Felicity. "It doesn't matter where I got it," said Cecily with dignity. "The main thing is to keep it." "It's your turn, Felicity," I said. Felicity tossed her beautiful golden head. "I told you I wasn't going to make any resolutions. Go on yourself." "I shall always study my grammar lesson," I wrote--I, who loathed grammar with a deadly loathing. "I hate grammar too," sighed Sara Ray. "It seems so unimportant." Sara was rather fond of a big word, but did not always get hold of the right one. I rather suspected that in the above instance she really meant uninteresting. "I won't get mad at Felicity, if I can help it," wrote Dan. "I'm sure I never do anything to make you mad," exclaimed Felicity. "I don't think it's polite to make resolutions about your sisters," said Peter. "He can't keep it anyway," scoffed Felicity. "He's got such an awful temper." "It's a family failing," flashed Dan, breaking his resolution ere the ink on it was dry. "There you go," taunted Felicity. "I'll work all my arithmetic problems without any help," scribbled Felix.
"I wish I could resolve that, too," sighed Sara Ray, "but it wouldn't be any use. I'd never be able to do those compound multiplication sums the teacher gives us to do at home every night if I didn't get Judy Pineau to help me. Judy isn't a good reader and she can't spell AT ALL, but you can't stick her in arithmetic as far as she went herself. I feel sure," concluded poor Sara, in a hopeless tone, "that I'll NEVER be able to understand compound multiplication.""'Multiplication is vexation, Division is as bad, The rule of three perplexes me, And fractions drive me mad,'" quoted Dan.
"I haven't got as far as fractions yet," sighed Sara, "and I hope I'll be too big to go to school before I do. I hate arithmetic, but I am PASSIONATELY fond of geography.""I will not play tit-tat-x on the fly leaves of my hymn book in church," wrote Peter. "Mercy, did you ever do such a thing?" exclaimed Felicity in horror. Peter nodded shamefacedly.
"Yes--that Sunday Mr. Bailey preached. He was so long-winded, I got awful tired, and, anyway, he was talking about things I couldn't understand, so I played tit-tatx with one of the Markdale boys. It was the day I was sitting up in the gallery." "Well, I hope if you ever do the like again you won't do it in OUR pew," said Felicity severely."I ain't going to do it at all," said Peter. "I felt sort of mean all the rest of the day." "I shall try not to be vexed when people interrupt me when I'm telling stories," wrote the Story Girl. "but it will be hard," she added with a sigh. "I never mind being interrupted," said Felicity. "I shall try to be cheerful and smiling all the time," wrote Cecily. "You are, anyway," said Sara Ray loyally. "I don't believe we ought to be cheerful ALL the time," said the Story Girl. "The Bible says we ought to weep with those who weep." "But maybe it means that we're to weep cheerfully," suggested Cecily. "Sorter as if you were thinking, 'I'm very sorry for you but I'm mighty glad I'm not in the scrape too,'" said Dan. "Dan, don't be irreverent," rebuked Felicity.
"I know a story about old Mr. and Mrs. Davidson of Markdale," said the Story Girl. "She was always smiling and it used to aggravate her husband, so one day he said very crossly, 'Old lady, what ARE you grinning at?' 'Oh, well, Abiram, everything's so bright and pleasant, I've just got to smile.'
"Not long after there came a time when everything went wrong--the crop failed and their best cow died, and Mrs. Davidson had rheumatism; and finally Mr. Davidson fell and broke his leg. But still Mrs. Davidson smiled. 'What in the dickens are you grinning about now, old lady?' he demanded. 'Oh, well, Abiram,' she said, 'everything is so dark and unpleasant I've just got to smile.' 'Well,' said the old man crossly, 'I think you might give your face a rest sometimes.'""I shall not talk gossip," wrote Sara Ray with a satisfied air.
"Oh, don't you think that's a little TOO strict?" asked Cecily anxiously. "Of course, it's not right to talk MEAN gossip, but the harmless kind doesn't hurt. If I say to you that Emmy MacPhail is going to get a new fur collar this winter, THAT is harmless gossip, but if I say I don't see how Emmy MacPhail can afford a new fur collar when her father can't pay my father for the oats he got from him, that would be MEAN gossip. If I were you, Sara, I'd put MEAN gossip."
Sara consented to this amendment. "I will be polite to everybody," was my third resolution, which passed without comment."I'll try not to use slang since Cecily doesn't like it," wrote Dan. "I think some slang is real cute," said Felicity. "The Family Guide says it's very vulgar," grinned Dan. "Doesn't it, Sara Stanley?" "Don't disturb me," said the Story Girl dreamily. "I'm just thinking a beautiful thought."
"I've thought of a resolution to make," cried Felicity. "Mr. Marwood said last Sunday we should always try to think beautiful thoughts and then our lives would be very beautiful. So I shall resolve to think a beautiful thought every morning before breakfast.""Can you only manage one a day?" queried Dan. "And why before breakfast?" I asked. "Because it's easier to think on an empty stomach," said Peter, in all good faith. But Felicity shot a furious glance at him. "I selected that time," she explained with dignity, "because when I'm brushing my hair before my glass in the morning I'll see my resolution and remember it." "Mr. Marwood meant that ALL our thoughts ought to be beautiful," said the Story Girl. "If they were, people wouldn't be afraid to say what they think." "They oughtn't to be afraid to, anyhow," said Felix stoutly. "I'm going to make a resolution to say just what I think always." "And do you expect to get through the year alive if you do?" asked Dan. "It might be easy enough to say what you think if you could always be sure just what you DO think," said the Story Girl. "So often I can't be sure." "How would you like it if people always said just what they think to you?" asked Felicity. "I'm not very particular what SOME people think of me," rejoined Felix.
"I notice you don't like to be told by anybody that you're fat," retorted Felicity. "Oh, dear me, I do wish you wouldn't all say such sarcastic things to each other," said poor Cecily plaintively. "It sounds so horrid the last night of the old year. Dear knows where we'll all be this night next year. Peter, it's your turn."
"I will try," wrote Peter, "to say my prayers every night regular, and not twice one night because I don't expect to have time the next,--like I did the night before the party," he added.
"I s'pose you never said your prayers until we got you to go to church," said Felicity--who had had no hand in inducing Peter to go to church, but had stoutly opposed it, as recorded in the first volume of our family history."I did, too," said Peter. "Aunt Jane taught me to say my prayers. Ma hadn't time, being as father had run away; ma had to wash at night same as in day-time." "I shall learn to cook," wrote the Story Girl, frowning.
"You'd better resolve not to make puddings of--" began Felicity, then stopped as suddenly as if she had bitten off the rest of her sentence and swallowed it. Cecily had nudged her, so she had probably remembered the Story Girl's threat that she would never tell another story if she was ever twitted with the pudding she had made from sawdust. But we all knew what Felicity had started to say and the Story Girl dealt her a most uncousinly glance."I will not cry because mother won't starch my aprons," wrote Sara Ray. "Better resolve not to cry about anything," said Dan kindly. Sara Ray shook her head forlornly. "That would be too hard to keep. There are times when I HAVE to cry. It's a relief." "Not to the folks who have to hear you," muttered Dan aside to Cecily.
"Oh, hush," whispered Cecily back. "Don't go and hurt her feelings the last night of the old year. Is it my turn again? Well, I'll resolve not to worry because my hair is not curly. But, oh, I'll never be able to help wishing it was.""Why don't you curl it as you used to do, then?" asked Dan.
"You know very well that I've never put my hair up in curl papers since the time Peter was dying of the measles," said Cecily reproachfully. "I resolved then I wouldn't because I wasn't sure it was quite right.""I will keep my finger-nails neat and clean," I wrote. "There, that's four resolutions. I'm not going to make any more. Four's enough." "I shall always think twice before I speak," wrote Felix. "That's an awful waste of time," commented Dan, "but I guess you'll need to if you're always going to say what you think." "I'm going to stop with three," said Peter. "I will have all the good times I can," wrote the Story Girl. "THAT'S what I call sensible," said Dan. "It's a very easy resolution to keep, anyhow," commented Felix. "I shall try to like reading the Bible," wrote Sara Ray. "You ought to like reading the Bible without trying to," exclaimed Felicity. "If you had to read seven chapters of it every time you were naughty I don't believe you would like it either," retorted Sara Ray with a flash of spirit. "I shall try to believe only half of what I hear," was Cecily's concluding resolution. "But which half?" scoffed Dan. "The best half," said sweet Cecily simply.
"I'll try to obey mother ALWAYS," wrote Sara Ray, with a tremendous sigh, as if she fully realized the difficulty of keeping such a resolution. "And that's all I'm going to make.""Felicity has only made one," said the Story Girl. "I think it better to make just one and keep it than make a lot and break them," said Felicity loftily.
She had the last word on the subject, for it was time for Sara Ray to go, and our circle broke up. Sara and Felix departed and we watched them down the lane in the moonlight--Sara walking demurely in one runner track, and Felix stalking grimly along in the other. I fear the romantic beauty of that silver shining night was entirely thrown away on my mischievous brother.
And it was, as I remember it, a most exquisite night--a white poem, a frosty, starry lyric of light. It was one of those nights on which one might fall asleep and dream happy dreams of gardens of mirth and song, feeling all the while through one's sleep the soft splendour and radiance of the white moon-world outside, as one hears soft, far-away music sounding through the thoughts and words that are born of it.
As a matter of fact, however, Cecily dreamed that night that she saw three full moons in the sky, and wakened up crying with the horror of it.
V. The First Number Of Our Magazine
The first number of Our Magazine was ready on New Year's Day, and we read it that evening in the kitchen. All our staff had worked nobly and we were enormously proud of the result, although Dan still continued to scoff at a paper that wasn't printed. The Story Girl and I read it turnabout while the others, except Felix, ate apples. It opened with a shortEDITORIAL
With this number Our Magazine makes its first bow to the public. All the editors have done their best and the various departments are full of valuable information and amusement. The tastefully designed cover is by a famous artist, Mr. Blair Stanley, who sent it to us all the way from Europe at the request of his daughter. Mr. Peter Craig, our enterprising literary editor, contributes a touching love story. (Peter, aside, in a gratified pig's whisper: "I never was called 'Mr.' before.") Miss Felicity King's essays on Shakespeare is none the worse for being an old school composition, as it is new to most of our readers. Miss Cecily King contributes a thrilling article of adventure. The various departments are ably edited, and we feel that we have reason to be proud of Our Magazine. But we shall not rest on our oars. "Excelsior" shall ever be our motto. We trust that each succeeding issue will be better than the one that went before. We are well aware of many defects, but it is easier to see them than to remedy them. Any suggestion that would tend to the improvement of Our Magazine will be thankfully received, but we trust that no criticism will be made that will hurt anyone's feelings. Let us all work together in harmony, and strive to make Our Magazine an influence for good and a source of innocent pleasure, and let us always remember the words of the poet."The heights by great men reached and kept Were not attained by sudden flight, But they, while their companions slept, Were toiling upwards in the night." (Peter, IMPRESSIVELY:--"I've read many a worse editorial in the Enterprise.") ESSAY ON SHAKESPEARE
Shakespeare's full name was William Shakespeare. He did not always spell it the same way. He lived in the reign of Queen Elizabeth and wrote a great many plays. His plays are written in dialogue form. Some people think they were not written by Shakespeare but by another man of the same name. I have read some of them because our school teacher says everybody ought to read them, but I did not care much for them. There are some things in them I cannot understand. I like the stories of Valeria H. Montague in the Family Guide ever so much better. They are more exciting and truer to life. Romeo and Juliet was one of the plays I read. It was very sad. Juliet dies and I don't like stories where people die. I like it better when they all get married especially to dukes and earls. Shakespeare himself was married to Anne Hatheway. They are both dead now. They have been dead a good while. He was a very famous man.FELICITY KING.
(PETER, MODESTLY: "I don't know much about Shakespeare myself but I've got a book of his plays that belonged to my Aunt Jane, and I guess I'll have to tackle him as soon as I finish with the Bible.")THE STORY OF AN ELOPEMENT FROM CHURCH
This is a true story. It happened in Markdale to an uncle of my mothers. He wanted to marry Miss Jemima Parr. Felicity says Jemima is not a romantic name for a heroin of a story but I cant help it in this case because it is a true story and her name realy was Jemima. My mothers uncle was named Thomas Taylor. He was poor at that time and so the father of Miss Jemima Parr did not want him for a soninlaw and told him he was not to come near the house or he would set the dog on him. Miss Jemima Parr was very pretty and my mothers uncle Thomas was just crazy about her and she wanted him too. She cried almost every night after her father forbid him to come to the house except the nights she had to sleep or she would have died. And she was so frightened he might try to come for all and get tore up by the dog and it was a bull-dog too that would never let go. But mothers uncle Thomas was too cute for that. He waited till one day there was preaching in the Markdale church in the middle of the week because it was sacrament time and Miss Jemima Parr and her family all went because her father was an elder. My mothers uncle Thomas went too and set in the pew just behind Miss Jemima Parrs family. When they all bowed their heads at prayer time Miss Jemima Parr didnt but set bolt uprite and my mothers uncle Thomas bent over and wispered in her ear. I dont know what he said so I cant right it but Miss Jemima Parr blushed that is turned red and nodded her head. Perhaps some people may think that my mothers uncle Thomas shouldent of wispered at prayer time in church but you must remember that Miss Jemima Parrs father had thretened to set the dog on him and that was hard lines when he was a respektable young man though not rich. Well when they were singing the last sam my mothers uncle Thomas got up and went out very quitely and as soon as church was out Miss Jemima Parr walked out too real quick. Her family never suspekted anything and they hung round talking to folks and shaking hands while Miss Jemima Parr and my mothers uncle Thomas were eloping outside. And what do you suppose they eloped in. Why in Miss Jemima Parrs fathers slay. And when he went out they were gone and his slay was gone also his horse. Of course my mothers uncle Thomas didnt steal the horse. He just borroed it and sent it home the next day. But before Miss Jemima Parrs father could get another rig to follow them they were so far away he couldent catch them before they got married. And they lived happy together forever afterwards. Mothers uncle Thomas lived to be a very old man. He died very suddent. He felt quite well when he went to sleep and when he woke up he was dead.PETER CRAIG. MY MOST EXCITING ADVENTURE
The editor says we must all write up our most exciting adventure for Our Magazine. My most exciting adventure happened a year ago last November. I was nearly frightened to death. Dan says he wouldn't of been scared and Felicity says she would of known what it was but it's easy to talk.
It happened the night I went down to see Kitty Marr. I thought when I went that Aunt Olivia was visiting there and I could come home with her. But she wasn't there and I had to come home alone. Kitty came a piece of the way but she wouldn't come any further than Uncle James Frewen's gate. She said it was because it was so windy she was afraid she would get the tooth-ache and not because she was frightened of the ghost of the dog that haunted the bridge in Uncle James' hollow. I did wish she hadn't said anything about the dog because I mightn't of thought about it if she hadn't. I had to go on alone thinking of it. I'd heard the story often but I'd never believed in it. They said the dog used to appear at one end of the bridge and walk across it with people and vanish when he got to the other end. He never tried to bite anyone but one wouldn't want to meet the ghost of a dog even if one didn't believe in him. I knew there was no such thing as ghosts and I kept saying a paraphrase over to myself and the Golden Text of the next Sunday School lesson but oh, how my heart beat when I got near the hollow! It was so dark. You could just see things dim- like but you couldn't see what they were. When I got to the bridge I walked along sideways with my back to the railing so I couldn't think the dog was behind me. And then just in the middle of the bridge I met something. It was right before me and it was big and black, just about the size of a Newfoundland dog, and I thought I could see a white nose. And it kept jumping about from one side of the bridge to the other. Oh, I hope none of my readers will ever be so frightened as I was then. I was too frightened to run back because I was afraid it would chase me and I couldn't get past it, it moved so quick, and then it just made one spring right on me and I felt its claws and I screamed and fell down. It rolled off to one side and laid there quite quiet but I didn't dare move and I don't know what would have become of me if Amos Cowan hadn't come along that very minute with a lantern. And there was me sitting in the middle of the bridge and that awful thing beside me. And what do you think it was but a big umbrella with a white handle? Amos said it was his umbrella and it had blown away from him and he had to go back and get the lantern to look for it. I felt like asking him what on earth he was going about with an umbrella open when it wasent raining. But the Cowans do such queer things. You remember the time Jerry Cowan sold us God's picture. Amos took me right home and I was thankful for I don't know what would have become of me if he hadn't come along. I couldn't sleep all night and I never want to have any more adventures like that one.
Mr. Dan King felt somewhat indisposed the day after Christmas-- probably as the result of too much mince pie. (DAN, INDIGNANTLY:-- "I wasn't. I only et one piece!")
Mr. Peter Craig thinks he saw the Family Ghost on Christmas Eve. But the rest of us think all he saw was the white calf with the red tail. (PETER, MUTTERING SULKILY:--"It's a queer calf that would walk up on end and wring its hands.")
Miss Cecily King spent the night of Dec. 20th with Miss Kitty Marr. They talked most of the night about new knitted lace patterns and their beaus and were very sleepy in school next day. (CECILY, SHARPLY:--"We never mentioned such things!")Patrick Grayfur, Esq., was indisposed yesterday, but seems to be enjoying his usual health to-day.
The King family expect their Aunt Eliza to visit them in January. She is really our great-aunt. We have never seen her but we are told she is very deaf and does not like children. So Aunt Janet says we must make ourselves scarece when she comes.
Miss Cecily King has undertaken to fill with names a square of the missionary quilt which the Mission Band is making. You pay five cents to have your name embroidered in a corner, ten cents to have it in the centre, and a quarter if you want it left off altogether. (CECILY, INDIGNANTLY:--"That isn't the way at all.")ADS. WANTED--A remedy to make a fat boy thin. Address, "Patient Sufferer, care of Our Magazine." (FELIX, SOURLY:--"Sara Ray never got that up. I'll bet it was Dan. He'd better stick to his own department.") HOUSEHOLD DEPARTMENT
Mrs. Alexander King killed all her geese the twentieth of December. We all helped pick them. We had one Christmas Day and will have one every fortnight the rest of the winter.
The bread was sour last week because mother wouldn't take my advice. I told her it was too warm for it in the corner behind the stove.
Miss Felicity King invented a new recete for date cookies recently, which everybody said were excelent. I am not going to publish it though, because I don't want other people to find it out.
ANXIOUS INQUIRER:--If you want to remove inkstains place the stain over steam and apply salt and lemon juice. If it was Dan who sent this question in I'd advise him to stop wiping his pen on his shirt sleeves and then he wouldn't have so many stains.FELICITY KING. ETIQUETTE DEPARTMENT F-l-x:--Yes, you should offer your arm to a lady when seeing her home, but don't keep her standing too long at the gate while you say good night. (FELIX, ENRAGED:--"I never asked such a question.") C-c-l-y:--No, it is not polite to use "Holy Moses" or "dodgasted" in ordinary conversation. (Cecily had gone down cellar to replenish the apple plate, so this passed without protest.)
S-r-a:--No, it isn't polite to cry all the time. As to whether you should ask a young man in, it all depends on whether he went home with you of his own accord or was sent by some elderly relative.
F-l-t-y:--It does not break any rule of etiquette if you keep a button off your best young man's coat for a keepsake. But don't take more than one or his mother might miss them.DAN KING. FASHION NOTES Knitted mufflers are much more stylish than crocheted ones this winter. It is nice to have one the same colour as your cap.
Red mittens with a black diamond pattern on the back are much run after. Em Frewen's grandma knits hers for her. She can knit the double diamond pattern and Em puts on such airs about it, but I think the single diamond is in better taste.The new winter hats at Markdale are very pretty. It is so exciting to pick a hat. Boys can't have that fun. Their hats are so much alike. CECILY KING. FUNNY PARAGRAPHS This is a true joke and really happened.
There was an old local preacher in New Brunswick one time whose name was Samuel Clask. He used to preach and pray and visit the sick just like a regular minister. One day he was visiting a neighbour who was dying and he prayed the Lord to have mercy on him because he was very poor and had worked so hard all his life that he hadn't much time to attend to religion."And if you don't believe me, O Lord," Mr. Clask finished up with, "just take a look at his hands." FELIX KING. GENERAL INFORMATION BUREAU DAN:--Do porpoises grow on trees or vines? Ans. Neither. They inhabit the deep sea. FELIX KING. (DAN, AGGRIEVED:--"Well, I'd never heard of porpoises and it sounded like something that grew. But you needn't have gone and put it in the paper." FELIX:--"It isn't any worse than the things you put in about me that I never asked at all." CECILY, SOOTHINGLY:--"Oh, well, boys, it's all in fun, and I think Our Magazine is perfectly elegant."
FELICITY, FAILING TO SEE THE STORY GIRL AND BEVERLEY EXCHANGING WINKS BEHIND HER BACK:--"It certainly is, though SOME PEOPLE were so opposed to starting it.")
What harmless, happy fooling it all was! How we laughed as we read and listened and devoured apples! Blow high, blow low, no wind can ever quench the ruddy glow of that faraway winter night in our memories. And though Our Magazine never made much of a stir in the world, or was the means of hatching any genius, it continued to be capital fun for us throughout the year.
VI. Great-Aunt Eliza's Visit
It was a diamond winter day in February--clear, cold, hard, brilliant. The sharp blue sky shone, the white fields and hills glittered, the fringe of icicles around the eaves of Uncle Alec's house sparkled. Keen was the frost and crisp the snow over our world; and we young fry of the King households were all agog to enjoy life--for was it not Saturday, and were we not left all alone to keep house?
Aunt Janet and Aunt Olivia had had their last big "kill" of market poultry the day before; and early in the morning all our grown-ups set forth to Charlottetown, to be gone the whole day. They left us many charges as usual, some of which we remembered and some of which we forgot; but with Felicity in command none of us dared stray far out of line. The Story Girl and Peter came over, of course, and we all agreed that we would haste and get the work done in the forenoon, that we might have an afternoon of uninterrupted enjoyment. A taffy-pull after dinner and then a jolly hour of coasting on the hill field before supper were on our programme. But disappointment was our portion. We did manage to get the taffy made but before we could sample the result satisfactorily, and just as the girls were finishing with the washing of the dishes, Felicity glanced out of the window and exclaimed in tones of dismay,"Oh, dear me, here's Great-aunt Eliza coming up the lane! Now, isn't that too mean?"
We all looked out to see a tall, gray-haired lady approaching the house, looking about her with the slightly puzzled air of a stranger. We had been expecting Great-aunt Eliza's advent for some weeks, for she was visiting relatives in Markdale. We knew she was liable to pounce down on us any time, being one of those delightful folk who like to "surprise" people, but we had never thought of her coming that particular day. It must be confessed that we did not look forward to her visit with any pleasure. None of us had ever seen her, but we knew she was very deaf, and had very decided opinions as to the way in which children should behave."Whew!" whistled Dan. "We're in for a jolly afternoon. She's deaf as a post and we'll have to split our throats to make her hear at all. I've a notion to skin out."
"Oh, don't talk like that, Dan," said Cecily reproachfully. "She's old and lonely and has had a great deal of trouble. She has buried three husbands. We must be kind to her and do the best we can to make her visit pleasant."
"She's coming to the back door," said Felicity, with an agitated glance around the kitchen. "I told you, Dan, that you should have shovelled the snow away from the front door this morning. Cecily, set those pots in the pantry quick--hide those boots, Felix--shut the cupboard door, Peter--Sara, straighten up the lounge. She's awfully particular and ma says her house is always as neat as wax."
To do Felicity justice, while she issued orders to the rest of us, she was flying busily about herself, and it was amazing how much was accomplished in the way of putting the kitchen in perfect order during the two minutes in which Great-aunt Eliza was crossing the yard."Fortunately the sitting-room is tidy and there's plenty in the pantry," said Felicity, who could face anything undauntedly with a well-stocked larder behind her. Further conversation was cut short by a decided rap at the door. Felicity opened it. "Why, how do you do, Aunt Eliza?" she said loudly. A slightly bewildered look appeared on Aunt Eliza's face. Felicity perceived she had not spoken loudly enough. "How do you do, Aunt Eliza," she repeated at the top of her voice. "Come in--we are glad to see you. We've been looking for you for ever so long." "Are your father and mother at home?" asked Aunt Eliza, slowly. "No, they went to town today. But they'll be home this evening." "I'm sorry they're away," said Aunt Eliza, coming in, "because I can stay only a few hours."
"Oh, that's too bad," shouted poor Felicity, darting an angry glance at the rest of us, as if to demand why we didn't help her out. "Why, we've been thinking you'd stay a week with us anyway. You MUST stay over Sunday.""I really can't. I have to go to Charlottetown tonight," returned Aunt Eliza. "Well, you'll take off your things and stay to tea, at least," urged Felicity, as hospitably as her strained vocal chords would admit.
"Yes, I think I'll do that. I want to get acquainted with my--my nephews and nieces," said Aunt Eliza, with a rather pleasant glance around our group. If I could have associated the thought of such a thing with my preconception of Great-aunt Eliza I could have sworn there was a twinkle in her eye. But of course it was impossible. "Won't you introduce yourselves, please?"
Felicity shouted our names and Great-aunt Eliza shook hands all round. She performed the duty grimly and I concluded I must have been mistaken about the twinkle. She was certainly very tall and dignified and imposing--altogether a great-aunt to be respected.
Felicity and Cecily took her to the spare room and then left her in the sitting-room while they returned to the kitchen, to discuss the matter in family conclave.
"You don't have to be very old to be a great-aunt," said Cecily. "Kitty Marr has a great-aunt who is just the same age as her mother. I expect it was burying so many husbands turned her hair white. But Aunt Eliza doesn't look just as I expected she would either.""She's dressed more stylishly than I expected," said Felicity. "I thought she'd be real old-fashioned, but her clothes aren't too bad at all." "She wouldn't be bad-looking if 'tweren't for her nose," said Peter. "It's too long, and crooked besides." "You needn't criticize our relations like that," said Felicity tartly. "Well, aren't you doing it yourselves?" expostulated Peter. "That's different," retorted Felicity. "Never you mind Great-aunt Eliza's nose." "Well, don't expect me to talk to her," said Dan, "'cause I won't." "I'm going to be very polite to her," said Felicity. "She's rich. But how are we to entertain her, that's the question." "What does the Family Guide say about entertaining your rich, deaf old aunt?" queried Dan ironically. "The Family Guide says we should be polite to EVERYBODY," said Cecily, with a reproachful look at Dan.
"The worst of it is," said Felicity, looking worried, "that there isn't a bit of old bread in the house and she can't eat new, I've heard father say. It gives her indigestion. What will we do?"
"Make a pan of rusks and apologize for having no old bread," suggested the Story Girl, probably by way of teasing Felicity. The latter, however, took it in all good faith.
"The Family Guide says we should never apologize for things we can't help. It says it's adding insult to injury to do it. But you run over home for a loaf of stale bread, Sara, and it's a good idea about the rusks. I'll make a panful."
"No, it wouldn't do to trust you," said Felicity mercilessly. "You might make some queer mistake and Aunt Eliza would tell it all over the country. She's a fearful old gossip. I'll make the rusks myself. She hates cats, so we mustn't let Paddy be seen. And she's a Methodist, so mind nobody says anything against Methodists to her.""Who's going to say anything, anyhow?" asked Peter belligerently.
"I wonder if I might ask her for her name for my quilt square?" speculated Cecily. "I believe I will. She looks so much friendlier than I expected. Of course she'll choose the five-cent section. She's an estimable old lady, but very economical.""Why don't you say she's so mean she'd skin a flea for its hide and tallow?" said Dan. "That's the plain truth."
"Well, I'm going to see about getting tea," said Felicity, "so the rest of you will have to entertain her. You better go in and show her the photographs in the album. Dan, you do it."
"Thank you, that's a girl's job," said Dan. "I'd look nice sitting up to Aunt Eliza and yelling out that this was Uncle Jim and 'tother Cousin Sarah's twins, wouldn't I? Cecily or the Story Girl can do it.""I don't know all the pictures in your album," said the Story Girl hastily. "I s'pose I'll have to do it, though I don't like to," sighed Cecily. "But we ought to go in. We've left her alone too long now. She'll think we have no manners."
Accordingly we all filed in rather reluctantly. Great-aunt Eliza was toasting her toes--clad, as we noted, in very smart and shapely shoes--at the stove and looking quite at her ease. Cecily, determined to do her duty even in the face of such fearful odds as Great-aunt Eliza's deafness, dragged a ponderous, plush- covered album from its corner and proceeded to display and explain the family photographs. She did her brave best but she could not shout like Felicity, and half the time, as she confided to me later on, she felt that Great-aunt Eliza did not hear one word she said, because she didn't seem to take in who the people were, though, just like all deaf folks, she wouldn't let on. Great-aunt Eliza certainly didn't talk much; she looked at the photographs in silence, but she smiled now and then. That smile bothered me. It was so twinkly and so very ungreat-aunt-Elizaish. But I felt indignant with her. I thought she might have shown a little more appreciation of Cecily's gallant efforts to entertain.
It was very dull for the rest of us. The Story Girl sat rather sulkily in her corner; she was angry because Felicity would not let her make the rusks, and also, perhaps, a little vexed because she could not charm Great-aunt Eliza with her golden voice and story-telling gift. Felix and I looked at each other and wished ourselves out in the hill field, careering gloriously adown its gleaming crust.
But presently a little amusement came our way. Dan, who was sitting behind Great-aunt Eliza, and consequently out of her view, began making comments on Cecily's explanation of this one and that one among the photographs. In vain Cecily implored him to stop. It was too good fun to give up. For the next half-hour the dialogue ran after this fashion, while Peter and Felix and I, and even the Story Girl, suffered agonies trying to smother our bursts of laughter--for Greataunt Eliza could see if she couldn't hear:CECILY, SHOUTING:--"That is Mr. Joseph Elliott of Markdale, a second cousin of mother's." DAN:--"Don't brag of it, Sis. He's the man who was asked if somebody else said something in sincerity and old Joe said 'No, he said it in my cellar.'" CECILY:--"This isn't anybody in our family. It's little Xavy Gautier who used to be hired with Uncle Roger."
DAN:--"Uncle Roger sent him to fix a gate one day and scolded him because he didn't do it right, and Xavy was mad as hops and said 'How you 'spect me to fix dat gate? I never learned jogerfy.'"CECILY, WITH AN ANGUISHED GLANCE AT DAN:--"This is Great-uncle Robert King." DAN:--"He's been married four times. Don't you think that's often enough, dear great-aunty?" CECILY:--"(Dan!!) This is a nephew of Mr. Ambrose Marr's. He lives out west and teaches school." DAN:--"Yes, and Uncle Roger says he doesn't know enough not to sleep in a field with the gate open." CECILY:--"This is Miss Julia Stanley, who used to teach in Carlisle a few years ago."
DAN:--"When she resigned the trustees had a meeting to see if they'd ask her to stay and raise her supplement. Old Highland Sandy was alive then and he got up and said, 'If she for go let her for went. Perhaps she for marry.'"
CECILY, WITH THE AIR OF A MARTYR:--"This is Mr. Layton, who used to travel around selling Bibles and hymn books and Talmage's sermons." DAN:--"He was so thin Uncle Roger used to say he always mistook him for a crack in the atmosphere. One time he stayed here all night and went to prayer meeting and Mr. Marwood asked him to lead in prayer. It had been raining 'most every day for three weeks, and it was just in haymaking time, and everybody thought the hay was going to be ruined, and old Layton got up and prayed that God would send gentle showers on the growing crops, and I heard Uncle Roger whisper to a fellow behind me, 'If somebody don't choke him off we won't get the hay made this summer.'"
CECILY, IN EXASPERATION:--"(Dan, shame on you for telling such irreverent stories.) This is Mrs. Alexander Scott of Markdale. She has been very sick for a long time."DAN:--"Uncle Roger says all that keeps her alive is that she's scared her husband will marry again." CECILY:--"This is old Mr. James MacPherson who used to live behind the graveyard." DAN:--"He's the man who told mother once that he always made his own iodine out of strong tea and baking soda." CECILY:--"This is Cousin Ebenezer MacPherson on the Markdale road."
DAN:--"Great temperance man! He never tasted rum in his life. He took the measles when he was forty-five and was crazy as a loon with them, and the doctor ordered them to give him a dose of brandy. When he swallowed it he looked up and says, solemn as an owl, 'Give it to me oftener and more at a time.'"CECILY, IMPLORINGLY:--"(Dan, do stop. You make me so nervous I don't know what I'm doing.) This is Mr. Lemuel Goodridge. He is a minister." DAN:--"You ought to see his mouth. Uncle Roger says the drawing string has fell out of it. It just hangs loose--so fashion."
Dan, whose own mouth was far from being beautiful, here gave an imitation of the Rev. Lemuel's, to the utter undoing of Peter, Felix, and myself. Our wild guffaws of laughter penetrated even Great-aunt Eliza's deafness, and she glanced up with a startled face. What we would have done I do not know had not Felicity at that moment appeared in the doorway with panic-stricken eyes and exclaimed,
"Cecily, come here for a moment." Cecily, glad of even a temporary respite, fled to the kitchen and we heard her demanding what was the matter.
"Matter!" exclaimed Felicity, tragically. "Matter enough! Some of you left a soup plate with molasses in it on the pantry table and Pat got into it and what do you think? He went into the spare room and walked all over Aunt Eliza's things on the bed. You can see his tracks plain as plain. What in the world can we do? She'll be simply furious."
I looked apprehensively at Great-aunt Eliza; but she was gazing intently at a picture of Aunt Janet's sister's twins, a most stolid, uninteresting pair; but evidently Great-aunt Eliza found them amusing for she was smiling widely over them.
"Let us take a little clean water and a soft bit of cotton," came Cecily's clear voice from the kitchen, "and see if we can't clean the molasses off. The coat and hat are both cloth, and molasses isn't like grease.""Well, we can try, but I wish the Story Girl would keep her cat home," grumbled Felicity.
The Story Girl here flew out to defend her pet, and we four boys sat on, miserably conscious of Great-aunt Eliza, who never said a word to us, despite her previously expressed desire to become acquainted with us. She kept on looking at the photographs and seemed quite oblivious of our presence.
Presently the girls returned, having, as transpired later, been so successful in removing the traces of Paddy's mischief that it was not deemed necessary to worry Great-aunt Eliza with any account of it. Felicity announced tea and, while Cecily conveyed Great-aunt Eliza out to the dining-room, lingered behind to consult with us for a moment."Ought we to ask her to say grace?" she wanted to know.
"I know a story," said the Story Girl, "about Uncle Roger when he was just a young man. He went to the house of a very deaf old lady and when they sat down to the table she asked him to say grace. Uncle Roger had never done such a thing in his life and he turned as red as a beet and looked down and muttered, 'E-r-r, please excuse me--I--I'm not accustomed to doing that.' Then he looked up and the old lady said 'Amen,' loudly and cheerfully. She thought Uncle Roger was saying grace all the time.""I don't think it's right to tell funny stories about such things," said Felicity coldly. "And I asked for your opinion, not for a story." "If we don't ask her, Felix must say it, for he's the only one who can, and we must have it, or she'd be shocked." "Oh, ask her--ask her," advised Felix hastily.
She was asked accordingly and said grace without any hesitation, after which she proceeded to eat heartily of the excellent supper Felicity had provided. The rusks were especially good and Great- aunt Eliza ate three of them and praised them. Apart from that she said little and during the first part of the meal we sat in embarrassed silence. Towards the last, however, our tongues were loosened, and the Story Girl told us a tragic tale of old Charlottetown and a governor's wife who had died of a broken heart in the early days of the colony.
"They say that story isn't true," said Felicity. "They say what she really died of was indigestion. The Governor's wife who lives there now is a relation of our own. She is a second cousin of father's but we've never seen her. Her name was Agnes Clark. And mind you, when father was a young man he was dead in love with her and so was she with him.""Who ever told you that?" exclaimed Dan. "Aunt Olivia. And I've heard ma teasing father about it, too. Of course, it was before father got acquainted with mother." "Why didn't your father marry her?" I asked.
"Well, she just simply wouldn't marry him in the end. She got over being in love with him. I guess she was pretty fickle. Aunt Olivia said father felt awful about it for awhile, but he got over it when he met ma. Ma was twice as good-looking as Agnes Clark. Agnes was a sight for freckles, so Aunt Olivia says. But she and father remained real good friends. Just think, if she had married him we would have been the children of the Governor's wife.""But she wouldn't have been the Governor's wife then," said Dan. "I guess it's just as good being father's wife," declared Cecily loyally.
"You might think so if you saw the Governor," chuckled Dan. "Uncle Roger says it would be no harm to worship him because he doesn't look like anything in the heavens above or on the earth beneath or the waters under the earth."
"Oh, Uncle Roger just says that because he's on the opposite side of politics," said Cecily. "The Governor isn't really so very ugly. I saw him at the Markdale picnic two years ago. He's very fat and bald and red-faced, but I've seen far worse looking men.""I'm afraid your seat is too near the stove, Aunt Eliza," shouted Felicity.
Our guest, whose face was certainly very much flushed, shook her head. "Oh, no, I'm very comfortable," she said. But her voice had the effect of making us uncomfortable. There was a queer, uncertain little sound in it. Was Great-aunt Eliza laughing at us? We looked at her sharply but her face was very solemn. Only her eyes had a suspicious appearance. Somehow, we did not talk much more the rest of the meal.
When it was over Great-aunt Eliza said she was very sorry but she must really go. Felicity politely urged her to stay, but was much relieved when Great-aunt Eliza adhered to her intention of going. When Felicity took her to the spare room Cecily slipped upstairs and presently came back with a little parcel in her hand."What have you got there?" demanded Felicity suspiciously. "A--a little bag of rose-leaves," faltered Cecily. "I thought I'd give them to Aunt Eliza." "The idea! Don't you do such a thing," said Felicity contemptuously. "She'd think you were crazy."
"She was awfully nice when I asked her for her name for the quilt," protested Cecily, "and she took a ten-cent section after all. So I'd like to give her the roseleaves--and I'm going to, too, Miss Felicity."
Great-aunt Eliza accepted the little gift quite graciously, bade us all good-bye, said she had enjoyed herself very much, left messages for father and mother, and finally betook herself away. We watched her cross the yard, tall, stately, erect, and disappear down the lane. Then, as often aforetime, we gathered together in the cheer of the red hearth-flame, while outside the wind of a winter twilight sang through fair white valleys brimmed with a reddening sunset, and a faint, serene, silver-cold star glimmered over the willow at the gate."Well," said Felicity, drawing a relieved breath, "I'm glad she's gone. She certainly is queer, just as mother said."
"It's a different kind of queerness from what I expected, though," said the Story Girl meditatively. "There's something I can't quite make out about Aunt Eliza. I don't think I altogether like her.""I'm precious sure I don't," said Dan. "Oh, well, never mind. She's gone now and that's the last of it," said Cecily comfortingly . But it wasn't the last of it--not by any manner of means was it! When our grownups returned almost the first words Aunt Janet said were, "And so you had the Governor's wife to tea?" We all stared at her. "I don't know what you mean," said Felicity. "We had nobody to tea except Greataunt Eliza. She came this afternoon and--"
"Great-aunt Eliza? Nonsense," said Aunt Janet. "Aunt Eliza was in town today. She had tea with us at Aunt Louisa's. But wasn't Mrs. Governor Lesley here? We met her on her way back to Charlottetown and she told us she was. She said she was visiting a friend in Carlisle and thought she'd call to see father for old acquaintance sake. What in the world are all you children staring like that for? Your eyes are like saucers."
"There was a lady here to tea," said Felicity miserably, "but we thought it was Great-aunt Eliza--she never SAID she wasn't--I thought she acted queer--and we all yelled at her as if she was deaf--and said things to each other about her nose
-and Pat running over her clothes--"
She knew in due time, after she had pieced the story together from our disjointed accounts. She was horrified, and Uncle Alec was mildly disturbed, but Uncle Roger roared with laughter and Aunt Olivia echoed it."To think you should have so little sense!" said Aunt Janet in a disgusted tone. "I think it was real mean of her to pretend she was deaf," said Felicity, almost on the verge of tears. "That was Agnes Clark all over," chuckled Uncle Roger. "How she must have enjoyed this afternoon!" She had enjoyed it, as we learned the next day, when a letter came from her.
"Dear Cecily and all the rest of you," wrote the Governor's wife, "I want to ask you to forgive me for pretending to be Aunt Eliza. I suspect it was a little horrid of me, but really I couldn't resist the temptation, and if you will forgive me for it I will forgive you for the things you said about the Governor, and we will all be good friends. You know the Governor is a very nice man, though he has the misfortune not to be handsome.
"I had just a splendid time at your place, and I envy your Aunt Eliza her nephews and nieces. You were all so nice to me, and I didn't dare to be a bit nice to you lest I should give myself away. But I'll make up for that when you come to see me at Government House, as you all must the very next time you come to town. I'm so sorry I didn't see Paddy, for I love pussy cats, even if they do track molasses over my clothes. And, Cecily, thank you ever so much for that little bag of potpourri. It smells like a hundred rose gardens, and I have put it between the sheets for my very sparest room bed, where you shall sleep when you come to see me, you dear thing. And the Governor wants you to put his name on the quilt square, too, in the ten-cent section.
"Tell Dan I enjoyed his comments on the photographs very much. They were quite a refreshing contrast to the usual explanations of 'who's who.' And Felicity, your rusks were perfection. Do send me your recipe for them, there's a darling."Yours most cordially, AGNES CLARK LESLEY. "Well, it was decent of her to apologize, anyhow," commented Dan. "If we only hadn't said that about the Governor," moaned Felicity.
"How did you make your rusks?" asked Aunt Janet. "There was no bakingpowder in the house, and I never could get them right with soda and cream of tartar.""There was plenty of baking-powder in the pantry," said Felicity. "No, there wasn't a particle. I used the last making those cookies Thursday morning." "But I found another can nearly full, away back on the top shelf, ma,--the one with the yellow label. I guess you forgot it was there." Aunt Janet stared at her pretty daughter blankly. Then amazement gave place to horror. "Felicity King!" she exclaimed. "You don't mean to tell me that you raised those rusks with the stuff that was in that old yellow can?" "Yes, I did," faltered Felicity, beginning to look scared. "Why, ma, what was the matter with it?"
"Matter! That stuff was TOOTH-POWDER, that's what it was. Your Cousin Myra broke the bottle her tooth-powder was in when she was here last winter and I gave her that old can to keep it in. She forgot to take it when she went away and I put it on that top shelf. I declare you must all have been bewitched yesterday." Poor, poor Felicity! If she had not always been so horribly vain over her cooking and so scornfully contemptuous of other people's aspirations and mistakes along that line, I could have found it in my heart to pity her.The Story Girl would have been more than human if she had not betrayed a little triumphant amusement, but Peter stood up for his lady manfully. "The rusks were splendid, anyhow, so what difference does it make what they were raised with?" Dan, however, began to taunt Felicity with her tooth-powder rusks, and kept it up for the rest of his natural life. "Don't forget to send the Governor's wife the recipe for them," he said. Felicity, with eyes tearful and cheeks crimson from mortification, rushed from the room, but never, never did the Governor's wife get the recipe for those rusks.
VII. We Visit Cousin Mattie's
One Saturday in March we walked over to Baywater, for a long- talked-of visit to Cousin Mattie Dilke. By the road, Baywater was six miles away, but there was a short cut across hills and fields and woods which was scantly three. We did not look forward to our visit with any particular delight, for there was nobody at Cousin Mattie's except grown-ups who had been grown up so long that it was rather hard for them to remember they had ever been children. But, as Felicity told us, it was necessary to visit Cousin Mattie at least once a year, or else she would be "huffed," so we concluded we might as well go and have it over."Anyhow, we'll get a splendiferous dinner," said Dan. "Cousin Mattie's a great cook and there's nothing stingy about her." "You are always thinking of your stomach," said Felicity pleasantly.
"Well, you know I couldn't get along very well without it, darling," responded Dan who, since New Year's, had adopted a new method of dealing with Felicity-whether by way of keeping his resolution or because he had discovered that it annoyed Felicity far more than angry retorts, deponent sayeth not. He invariably met her criticisms with a good-natured grin and a flippant remark with some tender epithet tagged on to it. Poor Felicity used to get hopelessly furious over it.
Uncle Alec was dubious about our going that day. He looked abroad on the general dourness of gray earth and gray air and gray sky, and said a storm was brewing. But Cousin Mattie had been sent word that we were coming, and she did not like to be disappointed, so he let us go, warning us to stay with Cousin Mattie all night if the storm came on while we were there.
We enjoyed our walk--even Felix enjoyed it, although he had been appointed to write up the visit for Our Magazine and was rather weighed down by the responsibility of it. What mattered it though the world were gray and wintry? We walked the golden road and carried spring time in our hearts, and we beguiled our way with laughter and jest, and the tales the Story Girl told us--myths and legends of elder time.
The walking was good, for there had lately been a thaw and everything was frozen. We went over fields, crossed by spidery trails of gray fences, where the withered grasses stuck forlornly up through the snow; we lingered for a time in a group of hill pines, great, majestic tree-creatures, friends of evening stars; and finally struck into the belt of fir and maple which intervened between Carlisle and Baywater. It was in this locality that Peg Bowen lived, and our way lay near her house though not directly in sight of it. We hoped we would not meet her, for since the affair of the bewitchment of Paddy we did not know quite what to think of Peg; the boldest of us held his breath as we passed her haunts, and drew it again with a sigh of relief when they were safely left behind.
The woods were full of the brooding stillness that often precedes a storm, and the wind crept along their white, cone-sprinkled floors with a low, wailing cry. Around us were solitudes of snow, arcades picked out in pearl and silver, long avenues of untrodden marble whence sprang the cathedral columns of the firs. We were all sorry when we were through the woods and found ourselves looking down into the snug, commonplace, farmstead-dotted settlement of Baywater.
"There's Cousin Mattie's house--that big white one at the turn of the road," said the Story Girl. "I hope she has that dinner ready, Dan. I'm hungry as a wolf after our walk."
"I wish Cousin Mattie's husband was still alive," said Dan. "He was an awful nice old man. He always had his pockets full of nuts and apples. I used to like going there better when he was alive. Too many old women don't suit me.""Oh, Dan, Cousin Mattie and her sisters-in-law are just as nice and kind as they can be," reproached Cecily. "Oh, they're kind enough, but they never seem to see that a fellow gets over being five years old if he only lives long enough," retorted Dan. "I know a story about Cousin Mattie's husband," said the Story Girl. "His name was Ebenezer, you know--" "Is it any wonder he was thin and stunted looking?" said Dan. "Ebenezer is just as nice a name as Daniel," said Felicity. "Do you REALLY think so, my angel?" inquired Dan, in honey-sweet tones. "Go on. Remember your second resolution," I whispered to the Story Girl, who was stalking along with an outraged expression. The Story Girl swallowed something and went on.
"Cousin Ebenezer had a horror of borrowing. He thought it was simply a dreadful disgrace to borrow ANYTHING. Well, you know he and Cousin Mattie used to live in Carlisle, where the Rays now live. This was when Grandfather King was alive. One day Cousin Ebenezer came up the hill and into the kitchen where all the family were. Uncle Roger said he looked as if he had been stealing sheep. He sat for a whole hour in the kitchen and hardly spoke a word, but just looked miserable. At last he got up and said in a desperate sort of way, 'Uncle Abraham, can I speak with you in private for a minute?' 'Oh, certainly,' said grandfather, and took him into the parlour. Cousin Ebenezer shut the door, looked all around him and then said imploringly, 'MORE PRIVATE STILL.' So grandfather took him into the spare room and shut that door. He was getting frightened. He thought something terrible must have happened Cousin Ebenezer. Cousin Ebenezer came right up to grandfather, took hold of the lapel of his coat, and said in a whisper, 'Uncle Abraham, CAN--YOU--LEND--ME--AN--AXE?'"
"He needn't have made such a mystery about it," said Cecily, who had missed the point entirely, and couldn't see why the rest of us were laughing. But Cecily was such a darling that we did not mind her lack of a sense of humour."It's kind of mean to tell stories like that about people who are dead," said Felicity. "Sometimes it's safer than when they're alive though, sweetheart," commented Dan.
We had our expected good dinner at Cousin Mattie's--may it be counted unto her for righteousness. She and her sisters-in-law, Miss Louisa Jane and Miss Caroline, were very kind to us. We had quite a nice time, although I understood why Dan objected to them when they patted us all on the head and told us whom we resembled and gave us peppermint lozenges.
VIII. We Visit Peg Bowen
We left Cousin Mattie's early, for it still looked like a storm, though no more so than it had in the morning. We intended to go home by a different path--one leading through cleared land overgrown with scrub maple, which had the advantage of being farther away from Peg Bowen's house. We hoped to be home before it began to storm, but we had hardly reached the hill above the village when a fine, driving snow began to fall. It would have been wiser to have turned back even then; but we had already come a mile and we thought we would have ample time to reach home before it became really bad. We were sadly mistaken; by the time we had gone another half-mile we were in the thick of a bewildering, blinding snowstorm. But it was by now just as far back to Cousin Mattie's as it was to Uncle Alec's, so we struggled on, growing more frightened at every step. We could hardly face the stinging snow, and we could not see ten feet ahead of us. It had turned bitterly cold and the tempest howled all around us in white desolation under the fast-darkening night. The narrow path we were trying to follow soon became entirely obliterated and we stumbled blindly on, holding to each other, and trying to peer through the furious whirl that filled the air. Our plight had come upon us so suddenly that we could not realize it. Presently Peter, who was leading the van because he was supposed to know the path best, stopped."I can't see the road any longer," he shouted. "I don't know where we are."
We all stopped and huddled together in a miserable group. Fear filled our hearts. It seemed ages ago that we had been snug and safe and warm at Cousin Mattie's. Cecily began to cry with cold. Dan, in spite of her protests, dragged off his overcoat and made her put it on.
"We can't stay here," he said. "We'll all freeze to death if we do. Come on--we've got to keep moving. The snow ain't so deep yet. Take hold of my hand, Cecily. We must all hold together. Come, now.""It won't be nice to be frozen to death, but if we get through alive think what a story we'll have to tell," said the Story Girl between her chattering teeth.
In my heart I did not believe we would ever get through alive. It was almost pitch dark now, and the snow grew deeper every moment. We were chilled to the heart. I thought how nice it would be to lie down and rest; but I remembered hearing that that was fatal, and I endeavoured to stumble on with the others. It was wonderful how the girls kept up, even Cecily. It occurred to me to be thankful that Sara Ray was not with us.
But we were wholly lost now. All around us was a horror of great darkness. Suddenly Felicity fell. We dragged her up, but she declared she could not go on-she was done out.
Home! Would we ever see it again? We tried to urge Felicity on, but she only repeated drowsily that she must lie down and rest. Cecily, too, was reeling against me. The Story Girl still stood up staunchly and counselled struggling on, but she was numb with cold and her words were hardly distinguishable. Some wild idea was in my mind that we must dig a hole in the snow and all creep into it. I had read somewhere that people had thus saved their lives in snowstorms. Suddenly Felix gave a shout."I see a light," he cried. "Where? Where?" We all looked but could see nothing. "I don't see it now but I saw it a moment ago," shouted Felix. "I'm sure I did. Come on--over in this direction."
Inspired with fresh hope we hurried after him. Soon we all saw the light--and never shone a fairer beacon. A few more steps and, coming into the shelter of the woodland on the further side, we realized where we were."That's Peg Bowen's house," exclaimed Peter, stopping short in dismay. "I don't care whose house it is," declared Dan. "We've got to go to it." "I s'pose so," acquiesced Peter ruefully. "We can't freeze to death even if she is a witch." "For goodness' sake don't say anything about witches so close to her house," gasped Felicity. "I'll be thankful to get in anywhere."
We reached the house, climbed the flight of steps that led to that mysterious second story door, and Dan rapped. The door opened promptly and Peg Bowen stood before us, in what seemed exactly the same costume she had worn on the memorable day when we had come, bearing gifts, to propitiate her in the matter of Paddy.
"Behind her was a dim room scantly illumined by the one small candle that had guided us through the storm; but the old Waterloo stove was colouring the gloom with tremulous, rose-red whorls of light, and warm and cosy indeed seemed Peg's retreat to us snow- covered, frost-chilled, benighted wanderers. "Gracious goodness, where did yez all come from?" exclaimed Peg. "Did they turn yez out?"
"We've been over to Baywater, and we got lost in the storm coming back," explained Dan. "We didn't know where we were till we saw your light. I guess we'll have to stay here till the storm is over--if you don't mind.""And if it won't inconvenience you," said Cecily timidly.
"Oh, it's no inconvenience to speak of. Come in. Well, yez HAVE got some snow on yez. Let me get a broom. You boys stomp your feet well and shake your coats. You girls give me your things and I'll hang them up. Guess yez are most froze. Well, sit up to the stove and git het up."
Peg bustled away to gather up a dubious assortment of chairs, with backs and rungs missing, and in a few minutes we were in a circle around her roaring stove, getting dried and thawed out. In our wildest flights of fancy we had never pictured ourselves as guests at the witch's hearth-stone. Yet here we were; and the witch herself was actually brewing a jorum of ginger tea for Cecily, who continued to shiver long after the rest of us were roasted to the marrow. Poor Sis drank that scalding draught, being in too great awe of Peg to do aught else."That'll soon fix your shivers," said our hostess kindly. "And now I'll get yez all some tea." "Oh, please don't trouble," said the Story Girl hastily.
"'Tain't any trouble," said Peg briskly; then, with one of the sudden changes to fierceness which made her such a terrifying personage, "Do yez think my vittels ain't clean?"
"Oh, no, no," cried Felicity quickly, before the Story Girl could speak, "none of us would ever think THAT. Sara only meant she didn't want you to go to any bother on our account."
"It ain't any bother," said Peg, mollified. "I'm spry as a cricket this winter, though I have the realagy sometimes. Many a good bite I've had in your ma's kitchen. I owe yez a meal."
No more protests were made. We sat in awed silence, gazing with timid curiosity about the room, the stained, plastered walls of which were well-nigh covered with a motley assortment of pictures, chromos, and advertisements, pasted on without much regard for order or character.
We had heard much of Peg's pets and now we saw them. Six cats occupied various cosy corners; one of them, the black goblin which had so terrified us in the summer, blinked satirically at us from the centre of Peg's bed. Another, a dilapidated, striped beastie, with both ears and one eye gone, glared at us from the sofa in the corner. A dog, with only three legs, lay behind the stove; a crow sat on a roost above our heads, in company with a matronly old hen; and on the clock shelf were a stuffed monkey and a grinning skull. We had heard that a sailor had given Peg the monkey. But where had she got the skull? And whose was it? I could not help puzzling over these gruesome questions.
Presently tea was ready and we gathered around the festal board--a board literally as well as figuratively, for Peg's table was the work of her own unskilled hands. The less said about the viands of that meal, and the dishes they were served in, the better. But we ate them--bless you, yes!--as we would have eaten any witch's banquet set before us. Peg might or might not be a witch--common sense said not; but we knew she was quite capable of turning every one of us out of doors in one of her sudden fierce fits if we offended her; and we had no mind to trust ourselves again to that wild forest where we had fought a losing fight with the demon forces of night and storm.
But it was not an agreeable meal in more ways than one. Peg was not at all careful of anybody's feelings. She hurt Felix's cruelly as she passed him his cup of tea."You've gone too much to flesh, boy. So the magic seed didn't work, hey?" How in the world had Peg found out about that magic seed? Felix looked uncommonly foolish. "If you'd come to me in the first place I'd soon have told you how to get thin," said Peg, nodding wisely. "Won't you tell me now?" asked Felix eagerly, his desire to melt his too solid flesh overcoming his dread and shame.
"No, I don't like being second fiddle," answered Peg with a crafty smile. "Sara, you're too scrawny and pale--not much like your ma. I knew her well. She was counted a beauty, but she made no great things of a match. Your father had some money but he was a tramp like meself. Where is he now?""In Rome," said the Story Girl rather shortly.
"People thought your ma was crazy when she took him. But she'd a right to please herself. Folks is too ready to call other folks crazy. There's people who say I'M not in my right mind. Did yez ever"--Peg fixed Felicity with a piercing glance--"hear anything so ridiculous?"
"Never," said Felicity, white to the lips. "I wish everybody was as sane as I am," said Peg scornfully. Then she looked poor Felicity over critically. "You're good-looking but proud. And your complexion won't wear. It'll be like your ma's yet--too much red in it."
"Well, that's better than being the colour of mud," muttered Peter, who wasn't going to hear his lady traduced, even by a witch. All the thanks he got was a furious look from Felicity, but Peg had not heard him and now she turned her attention to Cecily."You look delicate. I daresay you'll never live to grow up." Cecily's lip trembled and Dan's face turned crimson. "Shut up," he said to Peg. "You've no business to say such things to people." I think my jaw dropped. I know Peter's and Felix's did. Felicity broke in wildly. "Oh, don't mind him, Miss Bowen. He's got SUCH a temper--that's just the way he talks to us all at home. PLEASE excuse him."
"Bless you, I don't mind him," said Peg, from whom the unexpected seemed to be the thing to expect. "I like a lad of spurrit. And so your father run away, did he, Peter? He used to be a beau of mine--he seen me home three times from singing school when we was young. Some folks said he did it for a dare. There's such a lot of jealousy in the world, ain't there? Do you know where he is now?""No," said Peter. "Well, he's coming home before long," said Peg mysteriously. "Who told you that?" cried Peter in amazement. "Better not ask," responded Peg, looking up at the skull.
If she meant to make the flesh creep on our bones she succeeded. But now, much to our relief, the meal was over and Peg invited us to draw our chairs up to the stove again.
"Make yourselves at home," she said, producing her pipe from her pocket. "I ain't one of the kind who thinks their houses too good to live in. Guess I won't bother washing the dishes. They'll do yez for breakfast if yez don't forget your places. I s'pose none of yez smokes.""No," said Felicity, rather primly.
"Then yez don't know what's good for yez," retorted Peg, rather grumpily. But a few whiffs of her pipe placated her and, observing Cecily sigh, she asked her kindly what was the matter.
"I'm thinking how worried they'll be at home about us," explained Cecily.
"That cat knows more than I do, if yez'll believe it," she said proudly. "I've got a rat too, but he's a bit shy when strangers is round. Your cat got all right again that time, didn't he?""Yes," said the Story Girl. "Thought he would," said Peg, nodding sagely. "I seen to that. Now, don't yez all be staring at the hole in my dress." "We weren't," was our chorus of protest.
"Looked as if yez were. I tore that yesterday but I didn't mend it. I was brought up to believe that a hole was an accident but a patch was a disgrace. And so your Aunt Olivia is going to be married after all?"This was news to us. We felt and looked dazed. "I never heard anything of it," said the Story Girl.
"Oh, it's true enough. She's a great fool. I've no faith in husbands. But one good thing is she ain't going to marry that Henry Jacobs of Markdale. He wants her bad enough. Just like his presumption,--thinking himself good enough for a King. His father is the worst man alive. He chased me off his place with his dog once. But I'll get even with him yet."Peg looked very savage, and visions of burned barns floated through our minds. "He'll be punished in hell, you know," said Peter timidly. "But I won't be there to see that," rejoined Peg. "Some folks say I'll go there because I don't go to church oftener. But I don't believe it."
"Why don't you go?" asked Peter, with a temerity that bordered on rashness. "Well, I've got so sunburned I'm afraid folks might take me for an Injun," explained Peg, quite seriously. "Besides, your minister makes such awful long prayers. Why does he do it?""I suppose he finds it easier to talk to God than to people," suggested Peter reflectively.
"Well, anyway, I belong to the round church," said Peg comfortably, "and so the devil can't catch ME at the corners. I haven't been to Carlisle church for over three years. I thought I'd a-died laughing the last time I was there. Old Elder Marr took up the collection that day. He'd on a pair of new boots and they squeaked all the way up and down the aisles. And every time the boots squeaked the elder made a face, like he had toothache. It was awful funny. How's your missionary quilt coming on, Cecily?"Was there anything Peg didn't know? "Very well," said Cecily. "You can put my name on it, if you want to." "Oh, thank you. Which section--the five-cent one or the ten-cent one?" asked Cecily timidly.
"The ten-cent one, of course. The best is none too good for me. I'll give you the ten cents another time. I'm short of change just now--not being as rich as Queen Victory. There's her picture up there--the one with the blue sash and diamint crown and the lace curting on her head. Can any of yez tell me this--is Queen Victory a married woman?""Oh, yes, but her husband is dead," answered the Story Girl.
"Well, I s'pose they couldn't have called her an old maid, seeing she was a queen, even if she'd never got married. Sometimes I sez to myself, 'Peg, would you like to be Queen Victory?' But I never know what to answer. In summer, when I can roam anywhere in the woods and the sunshine--I wouldn't be Queen Victory for anything. But when it's winter and cold and I can't git nowheres--I feel as if I wouldn't mind changing places with her."
Peg put her pipe back in her mouth and began to smoke fiercely. The candle wick burned long, and was topped by a little cap of fiery red that seemed to wink at us like an impish gnome. The most grotesque shadow of Peg flickered over the wall behind her. The one-eyed cat remitted his grim watch and went to sleep. Outside the wind screamed like a ravening beast at the window. Suddenly Peg removed her pipe from her mouth, bent forward, gripped my wrist with her sinewy fingers until I almost cried out with pain, and gazed straight into my face. I felt horribly frightened of her. She seemed an entirely different creature. A wild light was in her eyes, a furtive, animal-like expression was on her face. When she spoke it was in a different voice and in different language."Do you hear the wind?" she asked in a thrilling whisper. "What IS the wind? What IS the wind?" "I--I--don't know," I stammered.
"No more do I," said Peg, "and nobody knows. Nobody knows what the wind is. I wish I could find out. I mightn't be so afraid of the wind if I knew what it was. I am afraid of it. When the blasts come like that I want to crouch down and hide me. But I can tell you one thing about the wind--it's the only free thing in the world-THE--ONLY--FREE--THING. Everything else is subject to some law, but the wind is FREE. It bloweth where it listeth and no man can tame it. It's free--that's why I love it, though I'm afraid of it. It's a grand thing to be free--free free--free!"
Peg's voice rose almost to a shriek. We were dreadfully frightened, for we knew there were times when she was quite crazy and we feared one of her "spells" was coming on her. But with a swift movement she turned the man's coat she wore up over her shoulders and head like a hood, completely hiding her face. Then she crouched forward, elbows on knees, and relapsed into silence. None of us dared speak or move. We sat thus for half an hour. Then Peg jumped up and said briskly in her usual tone,
"Well, I guess yez are all sleepy and ready for bed. You girls can sleep in my bed over there, and I'll take the sofy. Yez can put the cat off if yez like, though he won't hurt yez. You boys can go downstairs. There's a big pile of straw there that'll do yez for a bed, if yez put your coats on. I'll light yez down, but I ain't going to leave yez a light for fear yez'd set fire to the place."
Saying good-night to the girls, who looked as if they thought their last hour was come, we went to the lower room. It was quite empty, save for a pile of fire wood and another of clean straw. Casting a stealthy glance around, ere Peg withdrew the light, I was relieved to see that there were no skulls in sight. We four boys snuggled down in the straw. We did not expect to sleep, but we were very tired and before we knew it our eyes were shut, to open no more till morning. The poor girls were not so fortunate. They always averred they never closed an eye. Four things prevented them from sleeping. In the first place Peg snored loudly; in the second place the fitful gleams of firelight kept flickering over the skull for half the night and making gruesome effects on it; in the third place Peg's pillows and bedclothes smelled rankly of tobacco smoke; and in the fourth place they were afraid the rat Peg had spoken of might come out to make their acquaintance. Indeed, they were sure they heard him skirmishing about several times.
When we wakened in the morning the storm was over and a young morning was looking through rosy eyelids across a white world. The little clearing around Peg's cabin was heaped with dazzling drifts, and we boys fell to and shovelled out a road to her well. She gave us breakfast--stiff oatmeal porridge without milk, and a boiled egg apiece. Cecily could NOT eat her porridge; she declared she had such a bad cold that she had no appetite; a cold she certainly had; the rest of us choked our messes down and after we had done so Peg asked us if we had noticed a soapy taste."The soap fell into the porridge while I was making it," she said. "But,"--smacking her lips,--"I'm going to make yez an Irish stew for dinner. It'll be fine." An Irish stew concocted by Peg! No wonder Dan said hastily, "You are very kind but we'll have to go right home." "Yez can't walk," said Peg.
"Oh, yes, we can. The drifts are so hard they'll carry, and the snow will be pretty well blown off the middle of the fields. It's only three-quarters of a mile. We boys will go home and get a pung and come back for you girls."But the girls wouldn't listen to this. They must go with us, even Cecily. "Seems to me yez weren't in such a hurry to leave last night," observed Peg sarcastically. "Oh, it's only because they'll be so anxious about us at home, and it's Sunday and we don't want to miss Sunday School," explained Felicity. "Well, I hope your Sunday School will do yez good," said Peg, rather grumpily. But she relented again at the last and gave Cecily a wishbone. "Whatever you wish on that will come true," she said. "But you only have the one wish, so don't waste it." "We're so much obliged to you for all your trouble," said the Story Girl politely. "Never mind the trouble. The expense is the thing," retorted Peg grimly. "Oh!" Felicity hesitated. "If you would let us pay you--give you something--"
"No, thank yez," responded Peg loftily. "There is people who take money for their hospitality, I've heerd, but I'm thankful to say I don't associate with that class. Yez are welcome to all yez have had here, if yez ARE in a big hurry to get away."
She shut the door behind us with something of a slam, and her black cat followed us so far, with stealthy, furtive footsteps, that we were frightened of it. Eventually it turned back; then, and not till then, did we feel free to discuss our adventure. "Well, I'm thankful we're out of THAT," said Felicity, drawing a long breath. "Hasn't it just been an awful experience?""We might all have been found frozen stark and stiff this morning," remarked the Story Girl with apparent relish. "I tell you, it was a lucky thing we got to Peg Bowen's," said Dan. "Miss Marwood says there is no such thing as luck," protested Cecily. "We ought to say it was Providence instead." "Well, Peg and Providence don't seem to go together very well, somehow," retorted Dan. "If Peg is a witch it must be the Other One she's in co. with." "Dan, it's getting to be simply scandalous the way you talk," said Felicity. "I just wish ma could hear you." "Is soap in porridge any worse than tooth-powder in rusks, lovely creature?" asked Dan. "Dan, Dan," admonished Cecily, between her coughs, "remember it's Sunday." "It seems hard to remember that," said Peter. "It doesn't seem a mite like Sunday and it seems awful long since yesterday." "Cecily, you've got a dreadful cold," said the Story Girl anxiously. "In spite of Peg's ginger tea," added Felix.
"Oh, that ginger tea was AWFUL," exclaimed poor Cecily. "I thought I'd never get it down--it was so hot with ginger--and there was so much of it! But I was so frightened of offending Peg I'd have tried to drink it all if there had been a bucketful. Oh, yes, it's very easy for you all to laugh! You didn't have to drink it.""We had to eat two meals, though," said Felicity with a shiver. "And I don't know when those dishes of hers were washed. I just shut my eyes and took gulps." "Did you notice the soapy taste in the porridge?" asked the Story Girl. "Oh, there were so many queer tastes about it I didn't notice one more than another," answered Felicity wearily. "What bothers me," remarked Peter absently, "is that skull. Do you suppose Peg really finds things out by it?" "Nonsense! How could she?" scoffed Felix, bold as a lion in daylight.
"She didn't SAY she did, you know," I said cautiously. "Well, we'll know in time if the things she said were going to happen do," mused Peter."Do you suppose your father is really coming home?" queried Felicity. "I hope not," answered Peter decidedly. "You ought to be ashamed of yourself," said Felicity severely.
"No, I oughtn't. Father got drunk all the time he was home, and wouldn't work and was bad to mother," said Peter defiantly. "She had to support him as well as herself and me. I don't want to see any father coming home, and you'd better believe it. Of course, if he was the right sort of a father it'd be different."
"What I would like to know is if Aunt Olivia is going to be married," said the Story Girl absently. "I can hardly believe it. But now that I think of it--Uncle Roger has been teasing her ever since she was in Halifax last summer.""If she does get married you'll have to come and live with us," said Cecily delightedly.
Felicity did not betray so much delight and the Story Girl remarked with a weary little sigh that she hoped Aunt Olivia wouldn't. We all felt rather weary, somehow. Peg's predictions had been unsettling, and our nerves had all been more or less strained during our sojourn under her roof. We were glad when we found ourselves at home.
The folks had not been at all troubled about us, but it was because they were sure the storm had come up before we would think of leaving Cousin Mattie's and not because they had received any mysterious message from Peg's skull. We were relieved at this, but on the whole, our adventure had not done much towards clearing up the vexed question of Peg's witchcraft.
IX. Extracts From The February And March Numbers Of Our MagazineRESOLUTION HONOUR ROLL Miss Felicity King. HONOURABLE MENTION Mr. Felix King. Mr. Peter Craig. Miss Sara Ray. EDITORIAL
The editor wishes to make a few remarks about the Resolution Honour Roll. As will be seen, only one name figures on it. Felicity says she has thought a beautiful thought every morning before breakfast without missing one morning, not even the one we were at Peg Bowen's. Some of our number think it not fair that Felicity should be on the honour roll (FELICITY, ASIDE: "That's Dan, of course.") when she only made one resolution and won't tell us what any of the thoughts were. So we have decided to give honourable mention to everybody who has kept one resolution perfect. Felix has worked all his arithmetic problems by himself. He complains that he never got more than a third of them right and the teacher has marked him away down; but one cannot keep resolutions without some inconvenience. Peter has never played tit-tat-x in church or got drunk and says it wasn't as bad as he expected. (PETER, INDIGNANTLY: "I never said it." CECILY, SOOTHINGLY: "Now, Peter, Bev only meant that as a joke.") Sara Ray has never talked any mean gossip, but does not find conversation as interesting as it used to be. (SARA RAY, WONDERINGLY: "I don't remember of saying that.")
Felix did not eat any apples until March, but forgot and ate seven the day we were at Cousin Mattie's. (FELIX: "I only ate five!") He soon gave up trying to say what he thought always. He got into too much trouble. We think Felix ought to change to old Grandfather King's rule. It was, "Hold your tongue when you can, and when you can't tell the truth." Cecily feels she has not read all the good books she might, because some she tried to read were very dull and the Pansy books were so much more interesting. And it is no use trying not to feel bad because her hair isn't curly and she has marked that resolution out. The Story Girl came very near to keeping her resolution to have all the good times possible, but she says she missed two, if not three, she might have had. Dan refuses to say anything about his resolutions and so does the editor.PERSONALS
We regret that Miss Cecily King is suffering from a severe cold. Mr. Alexander Marr of Markdale died very suddenly last week. We never heard of his death till he was dead.Miss Cecily King wishes to state that she did not ask the question about "Holy Moses" and the other word in the January number. Dan put it in for a mean joke. The weather has been cold and fine. We have only had one bad storm. The coasting on Uncle Roger's hill continues good.
Aunt Eliza did not favour us with a visit after all. She took cold and had to go home. We were sorry that she had a cold but glad that she had to go home. Cecily said she thought it wicked of us to be glad. But when we asked her "cross her heart" if she wasn't glad herself she had to say she was.Miss Cecily King has got three very distinguished names on her quilt square. They are the Governor and his wife and a witch's.
The King family had the honour of entertaining the Governor's wife to tea on February the seventeenth. We are all invited to visit Government House but some of us think we won't go.A tragic event occurred last Tuesday. Mrs. James Frewen came to tea and there was no pie in the house. Felicity has not yet fully recovered.
A new boy is coming to school. His name is Cyrus Brisk and his folks moved up from Markdale. He says he is going to punch Willy Fraser's head if Willy keeps on thinking he is Miss Cecily King's beau.(CECILY: "I haven't ANY beau! I don't mean to think of such a thing for at least eight years yet!")
Miss Alice Reade of Charlottetown Royalty has come to Carlisle to teach music. She boards at Mr. Peter Armstrong's. The girls are all going to take music lessons from her. Two descriptions of her will be found in another column. Felix wrote one, but the girls thought he did not do her justice, so Cecily wrote another one. She admits she copied most of the description out of Valeria H. Montague's story Lord Marmaduke's First, Last, and Only Love; or the Bride of the Castle by the Sea, but says they fit Miss Reade better than anything she could make up.HOUSEHOLD DEPARTMENT Always keep the kitchen tidy and then you needn't mind if company comes unexpectedly.
ANXIOUS INQUIRER: We don't know anything that will take the stain out of a silk dress when a soft-boiled egg is dropped on it. Better not wear your silk dress so often, especially when boiling eggs.
Ginger tea is good for colds.
PERSEVERANCE: I will give you the recipe for dumplings you ask for. But remember it is not everyone who can make dumplings, even from the recipe. There's a knack in it.If the soap falls into the porridge do not tell your guests about it until they have finished eating it because it might take away their appetite. FELICITY KING. ETIQUETTE DEPARTMENT P-r C-g:--Do not criticize people's noses unless you are sure they can't hear you, and don't criticize your best girl's great-aunt's nose in any case. (FELICITY, TOSSING HER HEAD: "Oh, my! I s'pose Dan thought that was extra smart.") C-y K-g:--When my most intimate friend walks with another girl and exchanges lace patterns with her, what ought I to do? Ans. Adopt a dignified attitude. F-y K-g:--It is better not to wear your second best hat to church, but if your mother says you must it is not for me to question her decision. (FELICITY: "Dan just copied that word for word out of the Family Guide, except about the hat part.") P-r C-g:--Yes, it would be quite proper to say good evening to the family ghost if you met it. F-x K-g:--No, it is not polite to sleep with your mouth open. What's more, it isn't safe. Something might fall into it. DAN KING.
FASHION NOTES Crocheted watch pockets are all the rage now. If you haven't a watch they do to carry your pencil in or a piece of gum.It is stylish to have hair ribbons to match your dress. But it is hard to match gray drugget. I like scarlet for that.
It is stylish to pin a piece of ribbon on your coat the same colour as your chum wears in her hair. Mary Martha Cowan saw them doing it in town and started us doing it here. I always wear Kitty's ribbon and Kitty wears mine, but the Story Girl thinks it is silly.CECILY KING. AN ACCOUNT OF OUR VISIT TO COUSIN MATTIE'S
We all walked over to Cousin Mattie's last week. They were all well there and we had a fine dinner. On our way back a snow-storm came up and we got lost in the woods. We didn't know where we were or nothing. If we hadn't seen a light I guess we'd all have been frozen and snowed over, and they would never have found us till spring and that would be very sad. But we saw a light and made for it and it was Peg Bowen's. Some people think she is a witch and it's hard to tell, but she was real hospitable and took us all in. Her house was very untidy but it was warm. She has a skull. I mean a loose skull, not her own. She lets on it tells her things, but Uncle Alec says it couldn't because it was only an Indian skull that old Dr. Beecham had and Peg stole it when he died, but Uncle Roger says he wouldn't trust himself with Peg's skull for anything. She gave us supper. It was a horrid meal. The Story Girl says I must not tell what I found in the bread and butter because it would be too disgusting to read in Our Magazine but it don't matter because we were all there, except Sara Ray, and know what it was. We stayed all night and us boys slept in straw. None of us had ever slept on straw before. We got home in the morning. That is all I can write about our visit to Cousin Mattie's.FELIX KING. MY WORST ADVENTURE
It's my turn to write it so I suppose I must. I guess my worst adventure was two years ago when a whole lot of us were coasting on Uncle Rogers hill. Charlie Cowan and Fred Marr had started, but half-way down their sled got stuck and I run down to shove them off again. Then I stood there just a moment to watch them with my back to the top of the hill. While I was standing there Rob Marr started Kitty and Em Frewen off on his sled. His sled had a wooden tongue in it and it slanted back over the girls' heads. I was right in the way and they yelled to me to get out, but just as I heard them it struck me. The sled took me between the legs and I was histed back over the tongue and dropped in a heap behind before I knew what had happened to me. I thought a tornado had struck me. The girls couldn't stop though they thought I was killed, but Rob came tearing down and helped me up. He was awful scared but I wasn't killed nor my back wasn't broken but my nose bled something awful and kept on bleeding for three days. Not all the time but by spells.DAN KING. THE STORY OF HOW CARLISLE GOT ITS NAME
This is a true story to. Long ago there was a girl lived in charlotte town. I dont know her name so I cant right it and maybe it is just as well for Felicity might think it wasnt romantik like Miss Jemima Parrs. She was awful pretty and a young englishman who had come out to make his fortune fell in love with her and they were engaged to be married the next spring. His name was Mr. Carlisle. In the winter he started off to hunt cariboo for a spell. Cariboos lived on the island then. There aint any here now. He got to where it is Carlisle now. It wasn't anything then only woods and a few indians. He got awful sick and was sick for ever so long in a indian camp and only an old micmac squaw to wait on him. Back in town they all thought he was dead and his girl felt bad for a little while and then got over it and took up with another beau. The girls say that wasnt romantik but I think it was sensible but if it had been me that died I'd have felt bad if she forgot me so soon. But he hadnt died and when he got back to town he went right to her house and walked in and there she was standing up to be married to the other fellow. Poor Mr. Carlisle felt awful. He was sick and week and it went to his head. He just turned and run and run till he got back to the old micmac's camp and fell in front of it. But the indians had gone because it was spring and it didnt matter because he really was dead this time and people come looking for him from town and found him and buryed him there and called the place after him. They say the girl was never happy again and that was hard lines on her but maybe she deserved it.PETER CRAIG. MISS ALICE READE
Miss Alice Reade is a very pretty girl. She has kind of curly blackish hair and big gray eyes and a pale face. She is tall and thin but her figure is pretty fair and she has a nice mouth and a sweet way of speaking. The girls are crazy about her and talk about her all the time.FELIX KING. BEAUTIFUL ALICE
That is what we girls call Miss Reade among ourselves. She is divinely beautiful. Her magnificent wealth of raven hair flows back in glistening waves from her sunkissed brow. (DAN: "If Felix had said she was sunburned you'd have all jumped on him." (CECILY, COLDLY: "Sun-kissed doesn't mean sunburned." DAN: "What does it mean then?" CECILY, EMBARRASSED: "I--I don't know. But Miss Montague says the Lady Geraldine's brow was sun-kissed and of course an earl's daughter wouldn't be sunburned. "THE STORY GIRL: "Oh, don't interrupt the reading like this. It spoils it.") Her eyes are gloriously dark and deep, like midnight lakes mirroring the stars of heaven. Her features are like sculptured marble and her mouth is a trembling, curving Cupid's bow. (PETER, ASIDE: "What kind of a thing is that?") Her creamy skin is as fair and flawless as the petals of a white lily. Her voice is like the ripple of a woodland brook and her slender form is matchless in its symmetry. (DAN: "That's Valeria's way of putting it, but Uncle Roger says she don't show her feed much." FELICITY: "Dan! if Uncle Roger is vulgar you needn't be!") Her hands are like a poet's dreams. She dresses so nicely and looks so stylish in her clothes. Her favourite colour is blue. Some people think she is stiff and some say she is stuck-up, but she isn't a bit. It's just that she is different from them and they don't like it. She is just lovely and we adore her.CECILY KING.
X. Disappearance Of Paddy
As I remember, the spring came late that year in Carlisle. It was May before the weather began to satisfy the grown-ups. But we children were more easily pleased, and we thought April a splendid month because the snow all went early and left gray, firm, frozen ground for our rambles and games. As the days slipped by they grew more gracious; the hillsides began to look as if they were thinking of mayflowers; the old orchard was washed in a bath of tingling sunshine and the sap stirred in the big trees; by day the sky was veiled with delicate cloud drift, fine and filmy as woven mist; in the evenings a full, low moon looked over the valleys, as pallid and holy as some aureoled saint; a sound of laughter and dream was on the wind and the world grew young with the mirth of April breezes."It's so nice to be alive in the spring," said the Story Girl one twilight as we swung on the boughs of Uncle Stephen's walk. "It's nice to be alive any time," said Felicity, complacently.
"But it's nicer in the spring," insisted the Story Girl. "When I'm dead I think I'll FEEL dead all the rest of the year, but when spring comes I'm sure I'll feel like getting up and being alive again."
"You do say such queer things," complained Felicity. "You won't be really dead any time. You'll be in the next world. And I think it's horrid to talk about people being dead anyhow."
"We've all got to die," said Sara Ray solemnly, but with a certain relish. It was as if she enjoyed looking forward to something in which nothing, neither an unsympathetic mother, nor the cruel fate which had made her a colourless little nonentity, could prevent her from being the chief performer."I sometimes think," said Cecily, rather wearily, "that it isn't so dreadful to die young as I used to suppose."
She prefaced her remark with a slight cough, as she had been all too apt to do of late, for the remnants of the cold she had caught the night we were lost in the storm still clung to her.
"Don't talk such nonsense, Cecily," cried the Story Girl with unwonted sharpness, a sharpness we all understood. All of us, in our hearts, though we never spoke of it to each other, thought Cecily was not as well as she ought to be that spring, and we hated to hear anything said which seemed in any way to touch or acknowledge the tiny, faint shadow which now and again showed itself dimly athwart our sunshine.
"Well, it was you began talking of being dead," said Felicity angrily. "I don't think it's right to talk of such things. Cecily, are you sure your feet ain't damp? We ought to go in anyhow--it's too chilly out here for you."
"I know a story about Isaac Frewen," said the Story Girl. "When he was young he went by the name of Oatmeal Frewen and he got it this way. He was noted for doing outlandish things. He lived at Markdale then and he was a great, overgrown, awkward fellow, six feet tall. He drove over to Baywater one Saturday to visit his uncle there and came home the next afternoon, and although it was Sunday he brought a big bag of oatmeal in the wagon with him. When he came to Carlisle church he saw that service was going on there, and he concluded to stop and go in. But he didn't like to leave his oatmeal outside for fear something would happen to it, because there were always mischievous boys around, so he hoisted the bag on his back and walked into church with it and right to the top of the aisle to Grandfather King's pew. Grandfather King used to say he would never forget it to his dying day. The minister was preaching and everything was quiet and solemn when he heard a snicker behind him. Grandfather King turned around with a terrible frown--for you know in those days it was thought a dreadful thing to laugh in church--to rebuke the offender; and what did he see but that great, hulking young Isaac stalking up the aisle, bending a little forward under the weight of a big bag of oatmeal? Grandfather King was so amazed he couldn't laugh, but almost everyone else in the church was laughing, and grandfather said he never blamed them, for no funnier sight was ever seen. Young Isaac turned into grandfather's pew and thumped the bag of oatmeal down on the seat with a thud that cracked it. Then he plumped down beside it, took off his hat, wiped his face, and settled back to listen to the sermon, just as if it was all a matter of course. When the service was over he hoisted his bag up again, marched out of church, and drove home. He could never understand why it made so much talk; but he was known by the name of Oatmeal Frewen for years."
Our laughter, as we separated, rang sweetly through the old orchard and across the far, dim meadows. Felicity and Cecily went into the house and Sara Ray and the Story Girl went home, but Peter decoyed me into the granary to ask advice."You know Felicity has a birthday next week," he said, "and I want to write her an ode."
"A--a what?" I gasped. "An ode," repeated Peter, gravely. "It's poetry, you know. I'll put it in Our Magazine.""But you can't write poetry, Peter," I protested. "I'm going to try," said Peter stoutly. "That is, if you think she won't be offended at me." "She ought to feel flattered," I replied.
"You never can tell how she'll take things," said Peter gloomily. "Of course I ain't going to sign my name, and if she ain't pleased I won't tell her I wrote it. Don't you let on."I promised I wouldn't and Peter went off with a light heart. He said he meant to write two lines every day till he got it done.
Cupid was playing his world-old tricks with others than poor Peter that spring. Allusion has been made in these chronicles to one, Cyrus Brisk, and to the fact that our brown-haired, soft-voiced Cecily had found favour in the eyes of the said Cyrus. Cecily did not regard her conquest with any pride. On the contrary, it annoyed her terribly to be teased about Cyrus. She declared she hated both him and his name. She was as uncivil to him as sweet Cecily could be to anyone, but the gallant Cyrus was nothing daunted. He laid determined siege to Cecily's young heart by all the methods known to love-lorn swains. He placed delicate tributes of spruce gum, molasses taffy, "conversation" candies and decorated slate pencils on her desk; he persistently "chose" her in all school games calling for a partner; he entreated to be allowed to carry her basket from school; he offered to work her sums for her; and rumour had it that he had made a wild statement to the effect that he meant to ask if he might see her home some night from prayer meeting. Cecily was quite frightened that he would; she confided to me that she would rather die than walk home with him, but that if he asked her she would be too bashful to say no. So far, however, Cyrus had not molested her out of school, nor had he as yet thumped Willy Fraser--who was reported to be very low in his spirits over the whole affair.
And now Cyrus had written Cecily a letter--a love letter, mark you. Moreover, he had sent it through the post-office, with a real stamp on it. Its arrival made a sensation among us. Dan brought it from the office and, recognizing the handwriting of Cyrus, gave Cecily no peace until she showed us the letter. It was a very sentimental and rather ill-spelled epistle in which the inflammable Cyrus reproached her in heart-rending words for her coldness, and begged her to answer his letter, saying that if she did he would keep the secret "in violets." Cyrus probably meant "inviolate" but Cecily thought it was intended for a poetical touch. He signed himself "your troo lover, Cyrus Brisk" and added in a postcript that he couldn't eat or sleep for thinking of her."Are you going to answer it?" asked Dan. "Certainly not," said Cecily with dignity.
"Cyrus Brisk wants to be kicked," growled Felix, who never seemed to be any particular friend of Willy Fraser's either. "He'd better learn how to spell before he takes to writing love letters.""Maybe Cyrus will starve to death if you don't," suggested Sara Ray.
"I hope he will," said Cecily cruelly. She was truly vexed over the letter; and yet, so contradictory a thing is the feminine heart, even at twelve years old, I think she was a little flattered by it also. It was her first love letter and she confided to me that it gives you a very queer feeling to get it. At all events--the letter, though unanswered, was not torn up. I feel sure Cecily preserved it. But she walked past Cyrus next morning at school with a frozen countenance, evincing not the slightest pity for his pangs of unrequited affection. Cecily winced when Pat caught a mouse, visited a school chum the day the pigs were killed that she might not hear their squealing, and would not have stepped on a caterpillar for anything; yet she did not care at all how much she made the brisk Cyrus suffer.
Then, suddenly, all our spring gladness and Maytime hopes were blighted as by a killing frost. Sorrow and anxiety pervaded our days and embittered our dreams by night. Grim tragedy held sway in our lives for the next fortnight.
Paddy disappeared. One night he lapped his new milk as usual at Uncle Roger's dairy door and then sat blandly on the flat stone before it, giving the world assurance of a cat, sleek sides glistening, plumy tail gracefully folded around his paws, brilliant eyes watching the stir and flicker of bare willow boughs in the twilight air above him. That was the last seen of him. In the morning he was not.
At first we were not seriously alarmed. Paddy was no roving Thomas, but occasionally he vanished for a day or so. But when two days passed without his return we became anxious, the third day worried us greatly, and the fourth found us distracted."Something has happened to Pat," the Story Girl declared miserably. "He never stayed away from home more than two days in his life." "What could have happened to him?" asked Felix. "He's been poisoned--or a dog has killed him," answered the Story Girl in tragic tones.
Cecily began to cry at this; but tears were of no avail. Neither was anything else, apparently. We searched every nook and cranny of barns and out-buildings and woods on both the King farms; we inquired far and wide; we roved over Carlisle meadows calling Paddy's name, until Aunt Janet grew exasperated and declared we must stop making such exhibitions of ourselves. But we found and heard no trace of our lost pet. The Story Girl moped and refused to be comforted; Cecily declared she could not sleep at night for thinking of poor Paddy dying miserably in some corner to which he had dragged his failing body, or lying somewhere mangled and torn by a dog. We hated every dog we saw on the ground that he might be the guilty one.
"It's the suspense that's so hard," sobbed the Story Girl. "If I just knew what had happened to him it wouldn't be QUITE so hard. But I don't know whether he's dead or alive. He may be living and suffering, and every night I dream that he has come home and when I wake up and find it's only a dream it just breaks my heart.""It's ever so much worse than when he was so sick last fall," said Cecily drearily. "Then we knew that everything was done for him that could be done."
We could not appeal to Peg Bowen this time. In our desperation we would have done it, but Peg was far away. With the first breath of spring she was up and off, answering to the lure of the long road. She had not been seen in her accustomed haunts for many a day. Her pets were gaining their own living in the woods and her house was locked up.
XI. The Witch's WishboneWhen a fortnight had elapsed we gave up all hope.
"Pat is dead," said the Story Girl hopelessly, as we returned one evening from a bootless quest to Andrew Cowan's where a strange gray cat had been reported-a cat which turned out to be a yellowish brown nondescript, with no tail to speak of."I'm afraid so," I acknowledged at last. "If only Peg Bowen had been at home she could have found him for us," asserted Peter. "Her skull would have told her where he was." "I wonder if the wishbone she gave me would have done any good," cried Cecily suddenly. "I'd forgotten all about it. Oh, do you suppose it's too late yet?" "There's nothing in a wishbone," said Dan impatiently. "You can't be sure. She TOLD me I'd get the wish I made on it. I'm going to try whenever I get home." "It can't do any harm, anyhow," said Peter, "but I'm afraid you've left it too late. If Pat is dead even a witch's wishbone can't bring him back to life." "I'll never forgive myself for not thinking about it before," mourned Cecily. As soon as we got home she flew to the little box upstairs where she kept her treasures, and brought therefrom the dry and brittle wishbone.
"Peg told me how it must be done. I'm to hold the wishbone with both hands, like this, and walk backward, repeating the wish nine times. And when I've finished the ninth time I'm to turn around nine times, from right to left, and then the wish will come true right away.""Do you expect to see Pat when you finish turning?" said Dan skeptically.
None of us had any faith in the incantation except Peter, and, by infection, Cecily. You never could tell what might happen. Cecily took the wishbone in her trembling little hands and began her backward pacing, repeating solemnly, "I wish that we may find Paddy alive, or else his body, so that we can bury him decently." By the time Cecily had repeated this nine times we were all slightly infected with the desperate hope that something might come of it; and when she had made her nine gyrations we looked eagerly down the sunset lane, half expecting to see our lost pet. But we saw only the Awkward Man turning in at the gate. This was almost as surprising as the sight of Pat himself would have been; but there was no sign of Pat and hope flickered out in every breast but Peter's.
"You've got to give the spell time to work," he expostulated. "If Pat was miles away when it was wished it wouldn't be reasonable to expect to see him right off."But we of little faith had already lost that little, and it was a very disconsolate group which the Awkward Man presently joined.
He was smiling--his rare, beautiful smile which only children ever saw--and he lifted his hat to the girls with no trace of the shyness and awkwardness for which he was notorious."Good evening," he said. "Have you little people lost a cat lately?" We stared. Peter said "I knew it!" in a triumphant pig's whisper. The Story Girl started eagerly forward. "Oh, Mr. Dale, can you tell us anything of Paddy?" she cried. "A silver gray cat with black points and very fine marking?" "Yes, yes!" "Alive?" "Yes." "Well, doesn't that beat the Dutch!" muttered Dan. But we were all crowding about the Awkward Man, demanding where and when he had found Paddy.
"You'd better come over to my place and make sure that it really is your cat," suggested the Awkward Man, "and I'll tell you all about finding him on the way. I must warn you that he is pretty thin--but I think he'll pull through."
We obtained permission to go without much difficulty, although the spring evening was wearing late, for Aunt Janet said she supposed none of us would sleep a wink that night if we didn't. A joyful procession followed the Awkward Man and the Story Girl across the gray, star-litten meadows to his home and through his pine-guarded gate.
"You know that old barn of mine back in the woods?" said the Awkward Man. "I go to it only about once in a blue moon. There was an old barrel there, upside down, one side resting on a block of wood. This morning I went to the barn to see about having some hay hauled home, and I had occasion to move the barrel. I noticed that it seemed to have been moved slightly since my last visit, and it was now resting wholly on the floor. I lifted it up--and there was a cat lying on the floor under it. I had heard you had lost yours and I took it this was your pet. I was afraid he was dead at first. He was lying there with his eyes closed; but when I bent over him he opened them and gave a pitiful little mew; or rather his mouth made the motion of a mew, for he was too weak to utter a sound.""Oh, poor, poor Paddy," said tender-hearted Cecily tearfully.
"He couldn't stand, so I carried him home and gave him just a little milk. Fortunately he was able to lap it. I gave him a little more at intervals all day, and when I left he was able to crawl around. I think he'll be all right, but you'll have to be careful how you feed him for a few days. Don't let your hearts run away with your judgment and kill him with kindness.""Do you suppose any one put him under that barrel?" asked the Story Girl.
"No. The barn was locked. Nothing but a cat could get in. I suppose he went under the barrel, perhaps in pursuit of a mouse, and somehow knocked it off the block and so imprisoned himself."
Paddy was sitting before the fire in the Awkward Man's clean, bare kitchen. Thin! Why, he was literally skin and bone, and his fur was dull and lustreless. It almost broke our hearts to see our beautiful Paddy brought so low."Oh, how he must have suffered!" moaned Cecily. "He'll be as prosperous as ever in a week or two," said the Awkward Man kindly.
The Story Girl gathered Paddy up in her arms. Most mellifluously did he purr as we crowded around to stroke him; with friendly joy he licked our hands with his little red tongue; poor Paddy was a thankful cat; he was no longer lost, starving, imprisoned, helpless; he was with his comrades once more and he was going home--home to his old familiar haunts of orchard and dairy and granary, to his daily rations of new milk and cream, to the cosy corner of his own fireside. We trooped home joyfully, the Story Girl in our midst carrying Paddy hugged against her shoulder. Never did April stars look down on a happier band of travellers on the golden road. There was a little gray wind out in the meadows that night, and it danced along beside us on viewless, fairy feet, and sang a delicate song of the lovely, waiting years, while the night laid her beautiful hands of blessing over the world."You see what Peg's wishbone did," said Peter triumphantly.
"Now, look here, Peter, don't talk nonsense," expostulated Dan. "The Awkward Man found Paddy this morning and had started to bring us word before Cecily ever thought of the wishbone. Do you mean to say you believe he wouldn't have come walking up our lane just when he did if she had never thought of it?" "I mean to say that I wouldn't mind if I had several wishbones of the same kind," retorted Peter stubbornly.
"Of course I don't think the wishbone had really anything to do with our getting Paddy back, but I'm glad I tried it, for all that," remarked Cecily in a tone of satisfaction."Well, anyhow, we've got Pat and that's the main thing," said Felix. "And I hope it will be a lesson to him to stay home after this," commented Felicity. "They say the barrens are full of mayflowers," said the Story Girl. "Let us have a mayflower picnic tomorrow to celebrate Paddy's safe return."
XII. Flowers O' May
Accordingly we went a-maying, following the lure of dancing winds to a certain westward sloping hill lying under the spirit-like blue of spring skies, feathered over with lisping young pines and firs, which cupped little hollows and corners where the sunshine got in and never got out again, but stayed there and grew mellow, coaxing dear things to bloom long before they would dream of waking up elsewhere.
'Twas there we found our mayflowers, after faithful seeking. Mayflowers, you must know, never flaunt themselves; they must be sought as becomes them, and then they will yield up their treasures to the seeker--clusters of star-white and dawn-pink that have in them the very soul of all the springs that ever were, re- incarnated in something it seems gross to call perfume, so exquisite and spiritual is it.
We wandered gaily over the hill, calling to each other with laughter and jest, getting parted and delightfully lost in that little pathless wilderness, and finding each other unexpectedly in nooks and dips and sunny silences, where the wind purred and gentled and went softly. When the sun began to hang low, sending great fan-like streamers of radiance up to the zenith, we foregathered in a tiny, sequestered valley, full of young green fern, lying in the shadow of a wooded hill. In it was a shallow pool--a glimmering green sheet of water on whose banks nymphs might dance as blithely as ever they did on Argive hill or in Cretan dale. There we sat and stripped the faded leaves and stems from our spoil, making up the blossoms into bouquets to fill our baskets with sweetness. The Story Girl twisted a spray of divinest pink in her brown curls, and told us an old legend of a beautiful Indian maiden who died of a broken heart when the first snows of winter were falling, because she believed her long-absent lover was false. But he came back in the spring time from his long captivity; and when he heard that she was dead he sought her grave to mourn her, and lo, under the dead leaves of the old year he found sweet sprays of a blossom never seen before, and knew that it was a message of love and remembrance from his dark-eyed sweet-heart.
"Except in stories Indian girls are called squaws," remarked practical Dan, tying his mayflowers together in one huge, solid, cabbage-like bunch. Not for Dan the bother of filling his basket with the loose sprays, mingled with feathery elephant's-ears and trails of creeping spruce, as the rest of us, following the Story Girl's example, did. Nor would he admit that ours looked any better than his."I like things of one kind together. I don't like them mixed," he said. "You have no taste," said Felicity. "Except in my mouth, best beloved," responded Dan. "You do think you are so smart," retorted Felicity, flushing with anger. "Don't quarrel this lovely day," implored Cecily. "Nobody's quarrelling, Sis. I ain't a bit mad. It's Felicity. What on earth is that at the bottom of your basket, Cecily?"
"It's a History of the Reformation in France," confessed poor Cecily, "by a man named D-a-u-b-i-g-n-y. I can't pronounce it. I heard Mr. Marwood saying it was a book everyone ought to read, so I began it last Sunday. I brought it along today to read when I got tired picking flowers. I'd ever so much rather have brought Ester Reid. There's so much in the history I can't understand, and it is so dreadful to read of people being burned to death. But I felt I OUGHT to read it.""Do you really think your mind has improved any?" asked Sara Ray seriously, wreathing the handle of her basket with creeping spruce. "No, I'm afraid it hasn't one bit," answered Cecily sadly. "I feel that I haven't succeeded very well in keeping my resolutions." "I've kept mine," said Felicity complacently. "It's easy to keep just one," retorted Cecily, rather resentfully. "It's not so easy to think beautiful thoughts," answered Felicity.
"It's the easiest thing in the world," said the Story Girl, tiptoeing to the edge of the pool to peep at her own arch reflection, as some nymph left over from the golden age might do. "Beautiful thoughts just crowd into your mind at times."
"Oh, yes, AT TIMES. But that's different from thinking one REGULARLY at a given hour. And mother is always calling up the stairs for me to hurry up and get dressed, and it's VERY hard sometimes."
"That's so," conceded the Story Girl. "There ARE times when I can't think anything but gray thoughts. Then, other days, I think pink and blue and gold and purple and rainbow thoughts all the time.""The idea! As if thoughts were coloured," giggled Felicity. "Oh, they are!" cried the Story Girl. "Why, I can always SEE the colour of any thought I think. Can't you?"
"I never heard of such a thing," declared Felicity, "and I don't believe it. I believe you are just making that up."
"Indeed I'm not. Why, I always supposed everyone thought in colours. It must be very tiresome if you don't."
"Yellow," answered the Story Girl promptly. "And Cecily is a sweet pink, like those mayflowers, and Sara Ray is very pale blue, and Dan is red and Felix is yellow, like Peter, and Bev is striped.""What colour am I?" asked Felicity, amid the laughter at my expense.
"You're--you're like a rainbow," answered the Story Girl rather reluctantly. She had to be honest, but she would rather not have complimented Felicity. "And you needn't laugh at Bev. His stripes are beautiful. It isn't HE that is striped. It's just the THOUGHT of him. Peg Bowen is a queer sort of yellowish green and the Awkward Man is lilac. Aunt Olivia is pansy-purple mixed with gold, and Uncle Roger is navy blue."
"I never heard such nonsense," declared Felicity. The rest of us were rather inclined to agree with her for once. We thought the Story Girl was making fun of us. But I believe she really had a strange gift of thinking in colours. In later years, when we were grown up, she told me of it again. She said that everything had colour in her thought; the months of the year ran through all the tints of the spectrum, the days of the week were arrayed as Solomon in his glory, morning was golden, noon orange, evening crystal blue, and night violet. Every idea came to her mind robed in its own especial hue. Perhaps that was why her voice and words had such a charm, conveying to the listeners' perception such fine shadings of meaning and tint and music."Well, let's go and have something to eat," suggested Dan. "What colour is eating, Sara?" "Golden brown, just the colour of a molasses cooky," laughed the Story Girl.
We sat on the ferny bank of the pool and ate of the generous basket Aunt Janet had provided, with appetites sharpened by the keen spring air and our wilderness rovings. Felicity had made some very nice sandwiches of ham which we all appreciated except Dan, who declared he didn't like things minced up and dug out of the basket a chunk of boiled pork which he proceeded to saw up with a jack-knife and devour with gusto."I told ma to put this in for me. There's some CHEW to it," he said. "You are not a bit refined," commented Felicity.
"Not a morsel, my love," grinned Dan. "You make me think of a story I heard Uncle Roger telling about Cousin Annetta King," said the Story Girl. "Great-uncle Jeremiah King used to live where Uncle Roger lives now, when Grandfather King was alive and Uncle Roger was a boy. In those days it was thought rather coarse for a young lady to have too hearty an appetite, and she was more admired if she was delicate about what she ate. Cousin Annetta set out to be very refined indeed. She pretended to have no appetite at all. One afternoon she was invited to tea at Grandfather King's when they had some special company--people from Charlottetown. Cousin Annetta said she could hardly eat anything. 'You know, Uncle Abraham,' she said, in a very affected, fine-young-lady voice, 'I really hardly eat enough to keep a bird alive. Mother says she wonders how I continue to exist.' And she picked and pecked until Grandfather King declared he would like to throw something at her. After tea Cousin Annetta went home, and just about dark Grandfather King went over to Uncle Jeremiah's on an errand. As he passed the open, lighted pantry window he happened to glance in, and what do you think he saw? Delicate Cousin Annetta standing at the dresser, with a big loaf of bread beside her and a big platterful of cold, boiled pork in front of her; and Annetta was hacking off great chunks, like Dan there, and gobbling them down as if she was starving. Grandfather King couldn't resist the temptation. He stepped up to the window and said, 'I'm glad your appetite has come back to you, Annetta. Your mother needn't worry about your continuing to exist as long as you can tuck away fat, salt pork in that fashion.'"Cousin Annetta never forgave him, but she never pretended to be delicate again." "The Jews don't believe in eating pork," said Peter. "I'm glad I'm not a Jew and I guess Cousin Annetta was too," said Dan. "I like bacon, but I can never look at a pig without wondering if they were ever intended to be eaten," remarked Cecily naively.
When we finished our lunch the barrens were already wrapping themselves in a dim, blue dusk and falling upon rest in dell and dingle. But out in the open there was still much light of a fine emerald-golden sort and the robins whistled us home in it. "Horns of Elfland" never sounded more sweetly around hoary castle and ruined fane than those vesper calls of the robins from the twilight spruce woods and across green pastures lying under the pale radiance of a young moon.
When we reached home we found that Miss Reade had been up to the hill farm on an errand and was just leaving. The Story Girl went for a walk with her and came back with an important expression on her face."You look as if you had a story to tell," said Felix. "One is growing. It isn't a whole story yet," answered the Story Girl mysteriously. "What is it?" asked Cecily.
"I can't tell you till it's fully grown," said the Story Girl. "But I'll tell you a pretty little story the Awkward Man told us-- told me--tonight. He was walking in his garden as we went by, looking at his tulip beds. His tulips are up ever so much higher than ours, and I asked him how he managed to coax them along so early. And he said HE didn't do it--it was all the work of the pixies who lived in the woods across the brook. There were more pixy babies than usual this spring, and the mothers were in a hurry for the cradles. The tulips are the pixy babies' cradles, it seems. The mother pixies come out of the woods at twilight and rock their tiny little brown babies to sleep in the tulip cups. That is the reason why tulip blooms last so much longer than other blossoms. The pixy babies must have a cradle until they are grown up. They grow very fast, you see, and the Awkward Man says on a spring evening, when the tulips are out, you can hear the sweetest, softest, clearest, fairy music in his garden, and it is the pixy folk singing as they rock the pixy babies to sleep.""Then the Awkward Man says what isn't true," said Felicity severely.
XIII. A Surprising Announcement
"Nothing exciting has happened for ever so long," said the Story Girl discontentedly, one late May evening, as we lingered under the wonderful white bloom of the cherry trees. There was a long row of them in the orchard, with a Lombardy poplar at either end, and a hedge of lilacs behind. When the wind blew over them all the spicy breezes of Ceylon's isle were never sweeter.
It was a time of wonder and marvel, of the soft touch of silver rain on greening fields, of the incredible delicacy of young leaves, of blossom in field and garden and wood. The whole world bloomed in a flush and tremor of maiden loveliness, instinct with all the evasive, fleeting charm of spring and girlhood and young morning. We felt and enjoyed it all without understanding or analyzing it. It was enough to be glad and young with spring on the golden road.
"I don't like excitement very much," said Cecily. "It makes one so tired. I'm sure it was exciting enough when Paddy was missing, but we didn't find that very pleasant.""No, but it was interesting," returned the Story Girl thoughtfully. "After all, I believe I'd rather be miserable than dull." "I wouldn't then," said Felicity decidedly. "And you need never be dull when you have work to do. 'Satan finds some mischief still for idle hands to do!'" "Well, mischief is interesting," laughed the Story Girl. "And I thought you didn't think it lady-like to speak of that person, Felicity?" "It's all right if you call him by his polite name," said Felicity stiffly.
"Why does the Lombardy poplar hold its branches straight up in the air like that, when all the other poplars hold theirs out or hang them down?" interjected Peter, who had been gazing intently at the slender spire showing darkly against the fine blue eastern sky."Because it grows that way," said Felicity.
"Oh I know a story about that," cried the Story Girl. "Once upon a time an old man found the pot of gold at the rainbow's end. There IS a pot there, it is said, but it is very hard to find because you can never get to the rainbow's end before it vanishes from your sight. But this old man found it, just at sunset, when Iris, the guardian of the rainbow gold, happened to be absent. As he was a long way from home, and the pot was very big and heavy, he decided to hide it until morning and then get one of his sons to go with him and help him carry it. So he hid it under the boughs of the sleeping poplar tree.
"When Iris came back she missed the pot of gold and of course she was in a sad way about it. She sent Mercury, the messenger of the gods, to look for it, for she didn't dare leave the rainbow again, lest somebody should run off with that too. Mercury asked all the trees if they had seen the pot of gold, and the elm, oak and pine pointed to the poplar and said,
"'How can I tell you where it is?' cried the poplar, and she held up all her branches in surprise, just as we hold up our hands--and down tumbled the pot of gold. The poplar was amazed and indignant, for she was a very honest tree. She stretched her boughs high above her head and declared that she would always hold them like that, so that nobody could hide stolen gold under them again. And she taught all the little poplars she knew to stand the same way, and that is why Lombardy poplars always do. But the aspen poplar leaves are always shaking, even on the very calmest day. And do you know why?"
And then she told us the old legend that the cross on which the Saviour of the world suffered was made of aspen poplar wood and so never again could its poor, shaken, shivering leaves know rest or peace. There was an aspen in the orchard, the very embodiment of youth and spring in its litheness and symmetry. Its little leaves were hanging tremulously, not yet so fully blown as to hide its development of bough and twig, making poetry against the spiritual tints of a spring sunset."It does look sad," said Peter, "but it is a pretty tree, and it wasn't its fault."
"There's a heavy dew and it's time we stopped talking nonsense and went in," decreed Felicity. "If we don't we'll all have a cold, and then we'll be miserable enough, but it won't be very exciting.""All the same, I wish something exciting would happen," finished the Story Girl, as we walked up through the orchard, peopled with its nun-like shadows.
"There's a new moon tonight, so may be you'll get your wish," said Peter. "My Aunt Jane didn't believe there was anything in the moon business, but you never can tell."
The Story Girl did get her wish. Something happened the very next day. She joined us in the afternoon with a quite indescribable expression on her face, compounded of triumph, anticipation, and regret. Her eyes betrayed that she had been crying, but in them shone a chastened exultation. Whatever the Story Girl mourned over it was evident she was not without hope."I have some news to tell you," she said importantly. "Can you guess what it is?" We couldn't and wouldn't try. "Tell us right off," implored Felix. "You look as if it was something tremendous." "So it is. Listen--Aunt Olivia is going to be married." We stared in blank amazement. Peg Bowen's hint had faded from our minds and we had never put much faith in it. "Aunt Olivia! I don't believe it," cried Felicity flatly. "Who told you?"
"Aunt Olivia herself. So it is perfectly true. I'm awfully sorry in one way--but oh, won't it be splendid to have a real wedding in the family? She's going to have a big wedding--and I am to be bridesmaid.""I shouldn't think you were old enough to be a bridesmaid," said Felicity sharply. "I'm nearly fifteen. Anyway, Aunt Olivia says I have to be." "Who's she going to marry?" asked Cecily, gathering herself together after the shock, and finding that the world was going on just the same.
"His name is Dr. Seton and he is a Halifax man. She met him when she was at Uncle Edward's last summer. They've been engaged ever since. The wedding is to be the third week in June."
"And our school concert comes off the next week," complained Felicity. "Why do things always come together like that? And what are you going to do if Aunt Olivia is going away?""I'm coming to live at your house," answered the Story Girl rather timidly. She did not know how Felicity might like that. But Felicity took it rather well. "You've been here most of the time anyhow, so it'll just be that you'll sleep and eat here, too. But what's to become of Uncle Roger?"
"Aunt Olivia says he'll have to get married, too. But Uncle Roger says he'd rather hire a housekeeper than marry one, because in the first case he could turn her off if he didn't like her, but in the second case he couldn't.""There'll be a lot of cooking to do for the wedding," reflected Felicity in a tone of satisfaction.
"I s'pose Aunt Olivia will want some rusks made. I hope she has plenty of toothpowder laid in," said Dan.
"It's a pity you don't use some of that tooth-powder you're so fond of talking about yourself," retorted Felicity. "When anyone has a mouth the size of yours the teeth show so plain."
"I hope your Aunt Olivia won't disappear before the ceremony," remarked Sara Ray, who was surreptitiously reading "The Vanquished Bride," by Valeria H. Montague in the Family Guide."I hope Dr. Seton won't fail to show up, like your cousin Rachel Ward's beau," said Peter.
"That makes me think of another story I read the other day about Great-uncle Andrew King and Aunt Georgina," laughed the Story Girl. "It happened eighty years ago. It was a very stormy winter and the roads were bad. Uncle Andrew lived in Carlisle, and Aunt Georgina--she was Miss Georgina Matheson then-lived away up west, so he couldn't get to see her very often. They agreed to be married that winter, but Georgina couldn't set the day exactly because her brother, who lived in Ontario, was coming home for a visit, and she wanted to be married while he was home. So it was arranged that she was to write Uncle Andrew and tell him what day to come. She did, and she told him to come on a Tuesday. But her writing wasn't very good and poor Uncle Andrew thought she wrote Thursday. So on Thursday he drove all the way to Georgina's home to be married. It was forty miles and a bitter cold day. But it wasn't any colder than the reception he got from Georgina. She was out in the porch, with her head tied up in a towel, picking geese. She had been all ready Tuesday, and her friends and the minister were there, and the wedding supper prepared. But there was no bridegroom and Georgina was furious. Nothing Uncle Andrew could say would appease her. She wouldn't listen to a word of explanation, but told him to go, and never show his nose there again. So poor Uncle Andrew had to go ruefully home, hoping that she would relent later on, because he was really very much in love with her.""And did she?" queried Felicity. "She did. Thirteen years exactly from that day they were married. It took her just that long to forgive him." "It took her just that long to find out she couldn't get anybody else," said Dan, cynically.
XIV. A Prodigal Returns
Aunt Olivia and the Story Girl lived in a whirlwind of dressmaking after that, and enjoyed it hugely. Cecily and Felicity also had to have new dresses for the great event, and they talked of little else for a fortnight. Cecily declared that she hated to go to sleep because she was sure to dream that she was at Aunt Olivia's wedding in her old faded gingham dress and a ragged apron."And no shoes or stockings," she added, "and I can't move, and everyone walks past and looks at my feet."
"That's only in a dream," mourned Sara Ray, "but I may have to wear my last summer's white dress to the wedding. It's too short, but ma says it's plenty good for this summer. I'll be so mortified if I have to wear it.""I'd rather not go at all than wear a dress that wasn't nice," said Felicity pleasantly. "I'd go to the wedding if I had to go in my school dress," cried Sara Ray. "I've never been to anything. I wouldn't miss it for the world." "My Aunt Jane always said that if you were neat and tidy it didn't matter whether you were dressed fine or not," said Peter. "I'm sick and tired of hearing about your Aunt Jane," said Felicity crossly.
Peter looked grieved but held his peace. Felicity was very hard on him that spring, but his loyalty never wavered. Everything she said or did was right in Peter's eyes."It's all very well to be neat and tidy," said Sara Ray, "but I like a little style too."
"I think you'll find your mother will get you a new dress after all," comforted Cecily. "Anyway, nobody will notice you because everyone will be looking at the bride. Aunt Olivia will make a lovely bride. Just think how sweet she'll look in a white silk dress and a floating veil."
"She says she is going to have the ceremony performed out here in the orchard under her own tree," said the Story Girl. "Won't that be romantic? It almost makes me feel like getting married myself.""What a way to talk," rebuked Felicity, "and you only fifteen." "Lots of people have been married at fifteen," laughed the Story Girl. "Lady Jane Gray was."
"But you are always saying that Valeria H. Montague's stories are silly and not true to life, so that is no argument," retorted Felicity, who knew more about cooking than about history, and evidently imagined that the Lady Jane Gray was one of Valeria's titled heroines.
The wedding was a perennial source of conversation among us in those days; but presently its interest palled for a time in the light of another quite tremendous happening. One Saturday night Peter's mother called to take him home with her for Sunday. She had been working at Mr. James Frewen's, and Mr. Frewen was driving her home. We had never seen Peter's mother before, and we looked at her with discreet curiosity. She was a plump, black-eyed little woman, neat as a pin, but with a rather tired and care-worn face that looked as if it should have been rosy and jolly. Life had been a hard battle for her, and I rather think that her curly- headed little lad was all that had kept heart and spirit in her. Peter went home with her and returned Sunday evening. We were in the orchard sitting around the Pulpit Stone, where we had, according to the custom of the households of King, been learning our golden texts and memory verses for the next Sunday School lesson. Paddy, grown sleek and handsome again, was sitting on the stone itself, washing his jowls.Peter joined us with a very queer expression on his face. He seemed bursting with some news which he wanted to tell and yet hardly liked to.
"Why are you looking so mysterious, Peter?" demanded the Story Girl. "What do you think has happened?" asked Peter solemnly.
"My father has come home," answered Peter.
"'Course I'm glad," retorted Peter.
"And after you saying you didn't want ever to see him again," said Felicity.
"You just wait. You haven't heard my story yet. I wouldn't have been glad to see father if he'd come back the same as he went away. But he is a changed man. He happened to go into a revival meeting one night this spring and he got converted. And he's come home to stay, and he says he's never going to drink another drop, but he's going to look after his family. Ma isn't to do any more washing for nobody but him and me, and I'm not to be a hired boy any longer. He says I can stay with your Uncle Roger till the fall 'cause I promised I would, but after that I'm to stay home and go to school right along and learn to be whatever I'd like to be. I tell you it made me feel queer. Everything seemed to be upset. But he gave ma forty dollars--every cent he had--so I guess he really is converted."
"I hope it will last, I'm sure," said Felicity. She did not say it nastily, however. We were all glad for Peter's sake, though a little dizzy over the unexpectedness of it all."This is what I'D like to know," said Peter. "How did Peg Bowen know my father was coming home? Don't you tell me she isn't a witch after that." "And she knew about your Aunt Olivia's wedding, too," added Sara Ray. "Oh, well, she likely heard that from some one. Grown up folks talk things over long before they tell them to children," said Cecily.
"Well, she couldn't have heard father was coming home from any one," answered Peter. "He was converted up in Maine, where nobody knew him, and he never told a soul he was coming till he got here. No, you can believe what you like, but I'm satisfied at last that Peg is a witch and that skull of hers does tell her things. She told me father was coming home and he come!"
"How happy you must be," sighed Sara Ray romantically. "It's just like that story in the Family Guide, where the missing earl comes home to his family just as the Countess and Lady Violetta are going to be turned out by the cruel heir."Felicity sniffed. "There's some difference, I guess. The earl had been imprisoned for years in a loathsome dungeon."
Perhaps Peter's father had too, if we but realized it--imprisoned in the dungeon of his own evil appetites and habits, than which none could be more loathsome. But a Power, mightier than the forces of evil, had struck off his fetters and led him back to his long-forfeited liberty and light. And no countess or lady of high degree could have welcomed a long-lost earl home more joyfully than the tired little washerwoman had welcomed the erring husband of her youth.But in Peter's ointment of joy there was a fly or two. So very, very few things are flawless in this world, even on the golden road.
"Of course I'm awful glad that father has come back and that ma won't have to wash any more," he said with a sigh, "but there are two things that kind of worry me. My Aunt Jane always said that it didn't do any good to worry, and I s'pose it don't, but it's kind of a relief.""What's worrying you?" asked Felix.
"Well, for one thing I'll feel awful bad to go away from you all. I'll miss you just dreadful, and I won't even be able to go to the same school. I'll have to go to Markdale school.""But you must come and see us often," said Felicity graciously. "Markdale isn't so far away, and you could spend every other Saturday afternoon with us anyway." Peter's black eyes filled with adoring gratitude.
"That's so kind of you, Felicity. I'll come as often as I can, of course; but it won't be the same as being around with you all the time. The other thing is even worse. You see, it was a Methodist revival father got converted in, and so of course he joined the Methodist church. He wasn't anything before. He used to say he was a Nothingarian and lived up to it--kind of bragging like. But he's a strong Methodist now, and is going to go to Markdale Methodist church and pay to the salary. Now what'll he say when I tell him I'm a Presbyterian?"
"You haven't told him, yet?" asked the Story Girl.
"No, I didn't dare. I was scared he'd say I'd have to be a Methodist."
"I guess they're every bit as good," retorted Peter. "But that ain't the point. I've got to be a Presbyterian, 'cause I stick to a thing when I once decide it. But I expect father will be mad when he finds out.""If he's converted he oughtn't to get mad," said Dan.
"Well, lots o' people do. But if he isn't mad he'll be sorry, and that'll be even worse, for a Presbyterian I'm bound to be. But I expect it will make things unpleasant."
"You needn't tell him anything about it," advised Felicity. "Just keep quiet and go to the Methodist church until you get big, and then you can go where you please."
"No, that wouldn't be honest," said Peter sturdily. "My Aunt Jane always said it was best to be open and above board in everything, and especially in religion. So I'll tell father right out, but I'll wait a few weeks so as not to spoil things for ma too soon if he acts up."
Peter was not the only one who had secret cares. Sara Ray was beginning to feel worried over her looks. I heard her and Cecily talking over their troubles one evening while I was weeding the onion bed and they were behind the hedge knitting lace. I did not mean to eavesdrop. I supposed they knew I was there until Cecily overwhelmed me with indignation later on.
"I'm so afraid, Cecily, that I'm going to be homely all my life," said poor Sara with a tremble in her voice. "You can stand being ugly when you are young if you have any hope of being better looking when you grow up. But I'm getting worse. Aunt Mary says I'm going to be the very image of Aunt Matilda. And Aunt Matilda is as homely as she can be. It isn't"--and poor Sara sighed--"a very cheerful prospect. If I am ugly nobody will ever want to marry me, and," concluded Sara candidly, "I don't want to be an old maid."
"But plenty of girls get married who aren't a bit pretty," comforted Cecily. "Besides, you are real nice looking at times, Sara. I think you are going to have a nice figure."
"But just look at my hands," moaned Sara. "They're simply covered with warts." "Oh, the warts will all disappear before you grow up," said Cecily.
"But they won't disappear before the school concert. How am I to get up there and recite? You know there is one line in my recitation, 'She waved her lily-white hand,' and I have to wave mine when I say it. Fancy waving a lily-white hand all covered with warts. I've tried every remedy I ever heard of, but nothing does any good. Judy Pineau said if I rubbed them with toad-spit it would take them away for sure. But how am I to get any toad- spit?"
"It doesn't sound like a very nice remedy, anyhow," shuddered Cecily. "I'd rather have the warts. But do you know, I believe if you didn't cry so much over every little thing, you'd be ever so much better looking. Crying spoils your eyes and makes the end of your nose red.""I can't help crying," protested Sara. "My feelings are so very sensitive. I've given up trying to keep THAT resolution." "Well, men don't like cry-babies," said Cecily sagely. Cecily had a good deal of Mother Eve's wisdom tucked away in that smooth, brown head of hers. "Cecily, do you ever intend to be married?" asked Sara in a confidential tone. "Goodness!" cried Cecily, quite shocked. "It will be time enough when I grow up to think of that, Sara." "I should think you'd have to think of it now, with Cyrus Brisk as crazy after you as he is." "I wish Cyrus Brisk was at the bottom of the Red Sea," exclaimed Cecily, goaded into a spurt of temper by mention of the detested name. "What has Cyrus been doing now?" asked Felicity, coming around the corner of the hedge.
"Doing NOW! It's ALL the time. He just worries me to death," returned Cecily angrily. "He keeps writing me letters and putting them in my desk or in my reader. I never answer one of them, but he keeps on. And in the last one, mind you, he said he'd do something desperate right off if I wouldn't promise to marry him when we grew up.""Just think, Cecily, you've had a proposal already," said Sara Ray in an awestruck tone. "But he hasn't done anything desperate yet, and that was last week," commented Felicity, with a toss of her head. "He sent me a lock of his hair and wanted one of mine in exchange," continued Cecily indignantly. "I tell you I sent his back to him pretty quick."
"Did you never answer any of his letters?" asked Sara Ray.
"No, indeed! I guess not!"
"Do you know," said Felicity, "I believe if you wrote him just once and told him your exact opinion of him in good plain English it would cure him of his nonsense."
"I couldn't do that. I haven't enough spunk," confessed Cecily with a blush. "But I'll tell you what I did do once. He wrote me a long letter last week. It was just awfully SOFT, and every other word was spelled wrong. He even spelled baking soda, 'bacon soda!'""What on earth had he to say about baking soda in a love-letter?" asked Felicity.
"Oh, he said his mother sent him to the store for some and he forgot it because he was thinking about me. Well, I just took his letter and wrote in all the words, spelled right, above the wrong ones, in red ink, just as Mr. Perkins makes us do with our dictation exercises, and sent it back to him. I thought maybe he'd feel insulted and stop writing to me.""And did he?"
"No, he didn't. It is my opinion you can't insult Cyrus Brisk. He is too thickskinned. He wrote another letter, and thanked me for correcting his mistakes, and said it made him feel glad because it showed I was beginning to take an interest in him when I wanted him to spell better. Did you ever? Miss Marwood says it is wrong to hate anyone, but I don't care, I hate Cyrus Brisk.""Mrs. Cyrus Brisk WOULD be an awful name," giggled Felicity.
"Flossie Brisk says Cyrus is ruining all the trees on his father's place cutting your name on them," said Sara Ray. "His father told him he would whip him if he didn't stop, but Cyrus keeps right on. He told Flossie it relieved his feelings. Flossie says he cut yours and his together on the birch tree in front of the parlour window, and a row of hearts around them."
"Just where every visitor can see them, I suppose," lamented Cecily. "He just worries my life out. And what I mind most of all is, he sits and looks at me in school with such melancholy, reproachful eyes when he ought to be working sums. I won't look at him, but I FEEL him staring at me, and it makes me so nervous.""They say his mother was out of her mind at one time," said Felicity.
I do not think Felicity was quite well pleased that Cyrus should have passed over her rose-red prettiness to set his affections on that demure elf of a Cecily. She did not want the allegiance of Cyrus in the least, but it was something of a slight that he had not wanted her to want it.
"And he sends me pieces of poetry he cuts out of the papers," Cecily went on, "with lots of the lines marked with a lead pencil. Yesterday he put one in his letter, and this is what he marked:
"'If you will not relent to me
Then must I learn to know
Darkness alone till life be flown.
Those three graceless girls read the sentimental rhyme and giggled over it. Poor Cyrus! His young affections were sadly misplaced. But after all, though Cecily never relented towards him, he did not condemn himself to darkness alone till life was flown. Quite early in life he wedded a stout, rosy, buxom lass, the very antithesis of his first love; he prospered in his undertakings, raised a large and respectable family, and was eventually appointed a Justice of the Peace. Which was all very sensible of Cyrus.
XV. The Rape Of The Lock
June was crowded full of interest that year. We gathered in with its sheaf of fragrant days the choicest harvest of childhood. Things happened right along. Cecily declared she hated to go to sleep for fear she might miss something. There were so many dear delights along the golden road to give us pleasure--the earth dappled with new blossom, the dance of shadows in the fields, the rustling, rain-wet ways of the woods, the faint fragrance in meadow lanes, liltings of birds and croon of bees in the old orchard, windy pipings on the hills, sunset behind the pines, limpid dews filling primrose cups, crescent moons through darklings boughs, soft nights alight with blinking stars. We enjoyed all these boons, unthinkingly and light-heartedly, as children do. And besides these, there was the absorbing little drama of human life which was being enacted all around us, and in which each of us played a satisfying part--the gay preparations for Aunt Olivia's mid-June wedding, the excitement of practising for the concert with which our school-teacher, Mr. Perkins, had elected to close the school year, and Cecily's troubles with Cyrus Brisk, which furnished unholy mirth for the rest of us, though Cecily could not see the funny side of it at all.
Matters went from bad to worse in the case of the irrepressible Cyrus. He continued to shower Cecily with notes, the spelling of which showed no improvement; he worried the life out of her by constantly threatening to fight Willy Fraser--although, as Felicity sarcastically pointed out, he never did it."But I'm always afraid he will," said Cecily, "and it would be such a DISGRACE to have two boys fighting over me in school." "You must have encouraged Cyrus a little in the beginning or he'd never have been so persevering," said Felicity unjustly.
"I never did!" cried outraged Cecily. "You know very well, Felicity King, that I hated Cyrus Brisk ever since the very first time I saw his big, fat, red face. So there!""Felicity is just jealous because Cyrus didn't take a notion to her instead of you, Sis," said Dan. "Talk sense!" snapped Felicity. "If I did you wouldn't understand me, sweet little sister," rejoined aggravating Dan.
Finally Cyrus crowned his iniquities by stealing the denied lock of Cecily's hair. One sunny afternoon in school, Cecily and Kitty Marr asked and received permission to sit out on the side bench before the open window, where the cool breeze swept in from the green fields beyond. To sit on this bench was always considered a treat, and was only allowed as a reward of merit; but Cecily and Kitty had another reason for wishing to sit there. Kitty had read in a magazine that sun-baths were good for the hair; so both she and Cecily tossed their long braids over the window-sill and let them hang there in the broiling sun-shine. And while Cecily sat thus, diligently working a fraction sum on her slate, that base Cyrus asked permission to go out, having previously borrowed a pair of scissors from one of the big girls who did fancy work at the noon recess. Outside, Cyrus sneaked up close to the window and cut off a piece of Cecily's hair.
This rape of the lock did not produce quite such terrible consequences as the more famous one in Pope's poem, but Cecily's soul was no less agitated than Belinda's. She cried all the way home from school about it, and only checked her tears when Dan declared he'd fight Cyrus and make him give it up.
"Oh, no, You mustn't." said Cecily, struggling with her sobs. "I won't have you fighting on my account for anything. And besides, he'd likely lick you--he's so big and rough. And the folks at home might find out all about it, and Uncle Roger would never give me any peace, and mother would be cross, for she'd never believe it wasn't my fault. It wouldn't be so bad if he'd only taken a little, but he cut a great big chunk right off the end of one of the braids. Just look at it. I'll have to cut the other to make them fair--and they'll look so awful stubby."
But Cyrus' acquirement of the chunk of hair was his last triumph. His downfall was near; and, although it involved Cecily in a most humiliating experience, over which she cried half the following night, in the end she confessed it was worth undergoing just to get rid of Cyrus.
Mr. Perkins was an exceedingly strict disciplinarian. No communication of any sort was permitted between his pupils during school hours. Anyone caught violating this rule was promptly punished by the infliction of one of the weird penances for which Mr. Perkins was famous, and which were generally far worse than ordinary whipping.
One day in school Cyrus sent a letter across to Cecily. Usually he left his effusions in her desk, or between the leaves of her books; but this time it was passed over to her under cover of the desk through the hands of two or three scholars. Just as Em Frewen held it over the aisle Mr. Perkins wheeled around from his station before the blackboard and caught her in the act."Bring that here, Emmeline," he commanded. Cyrus turned quite pale. Em carried the note to Mr. Perkins. He took it, held it up, and scrutinized the address.
"Did you write this to Cecily, Emmeline?" he asked.
"Who wrote it then?"
"And I suppose you have no idea where it came from?" said Mr. Perkins, with his frightful, sardonic grin. "Well, perhaps Cecily can tell us. You may take your seat, Emmeline, and you will remain at the foot of your spelling class for a week as punishment for passing the note. Cecily, come here."Indignant Em sat down and poor, innocent Cecily was haled forth to public ignominy. She went with a crimson face.
"Cecily," said her tormentor, "do you know who wrote this letter to you?" Cecily, like a certain renowned personage, could not tell a lie.
"I--I think so, sir," she murmured faintly.
"Who was it?"
"I can't tell you that," stammered Cecily, on the verge of tears.
"Ah!" said Mr. Perkins politely. "Well, I suppose I could easily find out by opening it. But it is very impolite to open other people's letters. I think I have a better plan. Since you refuse to tell me who wrote it, open it yourself, take this chalk, and copy the contents on the blackboard that we may all enjoy them. And sign the writer's name at the bottom.""Oh," gasped Cecily, choosing the lesser of two evils, "I'll tell you who wrote it--it was--
"Hush!" Mr. Perkins checked her with a gentle motion of his hand. He was always most gentle when most inexorable. "You did not obey me when I first ordered you to tell me the writer. You cannot have the privilege of doing so now. Open the note, take the chalk, and do as I command you."Worms will turn, and even meek, mild, obedient little souls like Cecily may be goaded to the point of wild, sheer rebellion. "I--I won't!" she cried passionately.
Mr. Perkins, martinet though he was, would hardly, I think, have inflicted such a punishment on Cecily, who was a favourite of his, had he known the real nature of that luckless missive. But, as he afterwards admitted, he thought it was merely a note from some other girl, of such trifling sort as school-girls are wont to write; and moreover, he had already committed himself to the decree, which, like those of Mede and Persian, must not alter. To let Cecily off, after her mad defiance, would be to establish a revolutionary precedent.
"So you really think you won't?" he queried smilingly. "Well, on second thoughts, you may take your choice. Either you will do as I have bidden you, or you will sit for three days with"--Mr. Perkins' eye skimmed over the school-room to find a boy who was sitting alone--"with Cyrus Brisk."
This choice of Mr. Perkins, who knew nothing of the little drama of emotions that went on under the routine of lessons and exercises in his domain, was purely accidental, but we took it at the time as a stroke of diabolical genius. It left Cecily no choice. She would have done almost anything before she would have sat with Cyrus Brisk. With flashing eyes she tore open the letter, snatched up the chalk, and dashed at the blackboard.
In a few minutes the contents of that letter graced the expanse usually sacred to more prosaic compositions. I cannot reproduce it verbatim, for I had no after opportunity of refreshing my memory. But I remember that it was exceedingly sentimental and exceedingly ill-spelled--for Cecily mercilessly copied down poor Cyrus' mistakes. He wrote her that he wore her hare over his hart--"and he stole it," Cecily threw passionately over her shoulder at Mr. Perkins--that her eyes were so sweet and lovely that he couldn't find words nice enuf to describ them, that he could never forget how butiful she had looked in prar meeting the evening before, and that some meels he couldn't eat for thinking of her, with more to the same effect and he signed it "yours till deth us do part, Cyrus Brisk."
As the writing proceeded we scholars exploded into smothered laughter, despite our awe of Mr. Perkins. Mr. Perkins himself could not keep a straight face. He turned abruptly away and looked out of the window, but we could see his shoulders shaking. When Cecily had finished and had thrown down the chalk with bitter vehemence, he turned around with a very red face.
"That will do. You may sit down. Cyrus, since it seems you are the guilty person, take the eraser and wipe that off the board. Then go stand in the corner, facing the room, and hold your arms straight above your head until I tell you to take them down."
Cyrus obeyed and Cecily fled to her seat and wept, nor did Mr. Perkins meddle with her more that day. She bore her burden of humiliation bitterly for several days, until she was suddenly comforted by a realization that Cyrus had ceased to persecute her. He wrote no more letters, he gazed no longer in rapt adoration, he brought no more votive offerings of gum and pencils to her shrine. At first we thought he had been cured by the unmerciful chaffing he had to undergo from his mates, but eventually his sister told Cecily the true reason. Cyrus had at last been driven to believe that Cecily's aversion to him was real, and not merely the defence of maiden coyness. If she hated him so intensely that she would rather write that note on the blackboard than sit with him, what use was it to sigh like a furnace longer for her? Mr. Perkins had blighted love's young dream for Cyrus with a killing frost. Thenceforth sweet Cecily kept the noiseless tenor of her way unvexed by the attentions of enamoured swains.