The Golden Road by Lucy Maud Montgomery - HTML preview
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XVI. Aunt Una's Story
Felicity, and Cecily, Dan, Felix, Sara Ray and I were sitting one evening on the mossy stones in Uncle Roger's hill pasture, where we had sat the morning the Story Girl told us the tale of the Wedding Veil of the Proud Princess. But it was evening now and the valley beneath us was brimmed up with the glow of the afterlight. Behind us, two tall, shapely spruce trees rose up against the sunset, and through the dark oriel of their sundered branches an evening star looked down. We sat on a little strip of emerald grassland and before us was a sloping meadow all white with daisies.
We were waiting for Peter and the Story Girl. Peter had gone to Markdale after dinner to spend the afternoon with his reunited parents because it was his birthday. He had left us grimly determined to confess to his father the dark secret of his Presbyterianism, and we were anxious to know what the result had been. The Story Girl had gone that morning with Miss Reade to visit the latter's home near Charlottetown, and we expected soon to see her coming gaily along over the fields from the Armstrong place.
Presently Peter came jauntily stepping along the field path up the hill. "Hasn't Peter got tall?" said Cecily.
"Peter is growing to be a very fine looking boy," decreed Felicity.
"I notice he's got ever so much handsomer since his father came home," said Dan, with a killing sarcasm that was wholly lost on Felicity, who gravely responded that she supposed it was because Peter felt so much freer from care and responsibility."What luck, Peter?" yelled Dan, as soon as Peter was within earshot.
"Everything's all right," he shouted jubilantly. "I told father right off, licketty-split, as soon as I got home," he added when he reached us. "I was anxious to have it over with. I says, solemn-like, 'Dad, there's something I've got to tell you, and I don't know how you'll take it, but it can't be helped,' I says. Dad looked pretty sober, and he says, says he, 'What have you been up to, Peter? Don't be afraid to tell me. I've been forgiven to seventy times seven, so surely I can forgive a little, too?' 'Well,' I says, desperate-like, 'the truth is, father, I'm a Presbyterian. I made up my mind last summer, the time of the Judgment Day, that I'd be a Presbyterian, and I've got to stick to it. I'm sorry I can't be a Methodist, like you and mother and Aunt Jane, but I can't and that's all there is to it,' I says. Then I waited, scared-like. But father, he just looked relieved and he says, says he, 'Goodness, boy, you can be a Presbyterian or anything else you like, so long as it's Protestant. I'm not caring,' he says. 'The main thing is that you must be good and do what's right.' I tell you," concluded Peter emphatically, "father is a Christian all right."
"Well, I suppose your mind will be at rest now," said Felicity. "What's that you have in your buttonhole?"
"That's a four-leaved clover," answered Peter exultantly. "That means good luck for the summer. I found it in Markdale. There ain't much clover in Carlisle this year of any kind of leaf. The crop is going to be a failure. Your Uncle Roger says it's because there ain't enough old maids in Carlisle. There's lots of them in Markdale, and that's the reason, he says, why they always have such good clover crops there."
"I don't believe they've a single thing to do with it, but Mr. Roger says they have, and he says a man called Darwin proved it. This is the rigmarole he got off to me the other day. The clover crop depends on there being plenty of bumble-bees, because they are the only insects with tongues long enough to--to--fer-- fertilize-I think he called it the blossoms. But mice eat bumble-bees and cats eat mice and old maids keep cats. So your Uncle Roger says the more old maids the more cats, and the more cats the fewer field-mice, and the fewer field-mice the more bumble-bees, and the more bumble-bees the better clover crops.""So don't worry if you do get to be old maids, girls," said Dan. "Remember, you'll be helping the clover crops." "I never heard such stuff as you boys talk," said Felicity, "and Uncle Roger is no better." "There comes the Story Girl," cried Cecily eagerly. "Now we'll hear all about Beautiful Alice's home."
The Story Girl was bombarded with eager questions as soon as she arrived. Miss Reade's home was a dream of a place, it appeared. The house was just covered with ivy and there was a most delightful old garden--"and," added the Story Girl, with the joy of a connoisseur who has found a rare gem, "the sweetest little story connected with it. And I saw the hero of the story too."
"Where was the heroine?" queried Cecily.
"She is dead."
"I've told you heaps of stories where people lived," retorted the Story Girl. "If this heroine hadn't died there wouldn't have been any story. She was Miss Reade's aunt and her name was Una, and I believe she must have been just like Miss Reade herself. Miss Reade told me all about her. When we went into the garden I saw in one corner of it an old stone bench arched over by a couple of pear trees and all grown about with grass and violets. And an old man was sitting on it--a bent old man with long, snow-white hair and beautiful sad blue eyes. He seemed very lonely and sorrowful and I wondered that Miss Reade didn't speak to him. But she never let on she saw him and took me away to another part of the garden. After awhile he got up and went away and then Miss Reade said, 'Come over to Aunt Una's seat and I will tell you about her and her lover--that man who has just gone out.'
"'Oh, isn't he too old for a lover?' I said.
"Beautiful Alice laughed and said it was forty years since he had been her Aunt Una's lover. He had been a tall, handsome young man then, and her Aunt Una was a beautiful girl of nineteen.
"We went over and sat down and Miss Reade told me all about her. She said that when she was a child she had heard much of her Aunt Una--that she seemed to have been one of those people who are not soon forgotten, whose personality seems to linger about the scenes of their lives long after they have passed away."
"What is a personality? Is it another word for ghost?" asked Peter. "No," said the Story Girl shortly. "I can't stop in a story to explain words." "I don't believe you know what it is yourself," said Felicity.The Story Girl picked up her hat, which she had thrown down on the grass, and placed it defiantly on her brown curls. "I'm going in," she announced. "I have to help Aunt Olivia ice a cake tonight, and you all seem more interested in dictionaries than stories."
"That's not fair," I exclaimed. "Dan and Felix and Sara Ray and Cecily and I have never said a word. It's mean to punish us for what Peter and Felicity did. We want to hear the rest of the story. Never mind what a personality is but go on-and, Peter, you young ass, keep still.""I only wanted to know," muttered Peter sulkily.
"I DO know what personality is, but it's hard to explain," said the Story Girl, relenting. "It's what makes you different from Dan, Peter, and me different from Felicity or Cecily. Miss Reade's Aunt Una had a personality that was very uncommon. And she was beautiful, too, with white skin and night-black eyes and hair--a 'moonlight beauty,' Miss Reade called it. She used to keep a kind of a diary, and Miss Reade's mother used to read parts of it to her. She wrote verses in it and they were lovely; and she wrote descriptions of the old garden which she loved very much. Miss Reade said that everything in the garden, plot or shrub or tree, recalled to her mind some phrase or verse of her Aunt Una's, so that the whole place seemed full of her, and her memory haunted the walks like a faint, sweet perfume.
"Una had, as I've told you, a lover; and they were to have been married on her twentieth birthday. Her wedding dress was to have been a gown of white brocade with purple violets in it. But a little while before it she took ill with fever and died; and she was buried on her birthday instead of being married. It was just in the time of opening roses. Her lover has been faithful to her ever since; he has never married, and every June, on her birthday, he makes a pilgrimage to the old garden and sits for a long time in silence on the bench where he used to woo her on crimson eves and moonlight nights of long ago. Miss Reade says she always loves to see him sitting there because it gives her such a deep and lasting sense of the beauty and strength of love which can thus outlive time and death. And sometimes, she says, it gives her a little eerie feeling, too, as if her Aunt Una were really sitting there beside him, keeping tryst, although she has been in her grave for forty years.""It would be real romantic to die young and have your lover make a pilgrimage to your garden every year," reflected Sara Ray.
"It would be more comfortable to go on living and get married to him," said Felicity. "Mother says all those sentimental ideas are bosh and I expect they are. It's a wonder Beautiful Alice hasn't a beau herself. She is so pretty and lady-like.""The Carlisle fellows all say she is too stuck up," said Dan. "There's nobody in Carlisle half good enough for her," cried the Story Girl, "except--ex-cept--" "Except who?" asked Felix. "Never mind," said the Story Girl mysteriously.
XVII. Aunt Olivia's Wedding
What a delightful, old-fashioned, wholesome excitement there was about Aunt Olivia's wedding! The Monday and Tuesday preceding it we did not go to school at all, but were all kept home to do chores and run errands. The cooking and decorating and arranging that went on those two days was amazing, and Felicity was so happy over it all that she did not even quarrel with Dan--though she narrowly escaped it when he told her that the Governor's wife was coming to the wedding."Mind you have some of her favourite rusks for her," he said. "I guess," said Felicity with dignity, "that Aunt Olivia's wedding supper will be good enough for even a Governor's wife." "I s'pose none of us except the Story Girl will get to the first table," said Felix, rather gloomily.
"Never mind," comforted Felicity. "There's a whole turkey to be kept for us, and a freezerful of ice cream. Cecily and I are going to wait on the tables, and we'll put away a little of everything that's extra nice for our suppers."
"I do so want to have my supper with you," sighed Sara Ray, "but I s'pose ma will drag me with her wherever she goes. She won't trust me out of her sight a minute the whole evening--I know she won't.""I'll get Aunt Olivia to ask her to let you have your supper with us," said Cecily. "She can't refuse the bride's request."
"You don't know all ma can do," returned Sara darkly. "No, I feel that I'll have to eat my supper with her. But I suppose I ought to be very thankful I'm to get to the wedding at all, and that ma did get me a new white dress for it. Even yet I'm so scared something will happen to prevent me from getting to it."
Monday evening shrouded itself in clouds, and all night long the voice of the wind answered to the voice of the rain. Tuesday the downpour continued. We were quite frantic about it. Suppose it kept on raining over Wednesday! Aunt Olivia couldn't be married in the orchard then. That would be too bad, especially when the late apple tree had most obligingly kept its store of blossom until after all the other trees had faded and then burst lavishly into bloom for Aunt Olivia's wedding. That apple tree was always very late in blooming, and this year it was a week later than usual. It was a sight to see--a great tree-pyramid with high, far- spreading boughs, over which a wealth of rosy snow seemed to have been flung. Never had bride a more magnificent canopy.
To our rapture, however, it cleared up beautifully Tuesday evening, and the sun, before setting in purple pomp, poured a flood of wonderful radiance over the whole great, green, diamond- dripping world, promising a fair morrow. Uncle Alec drove off to the station through it to bring home the bridegroom and his best man. Dan was full of a wild idea that we should all meet them at the gate, armed with cowbells and tin-pans, and "charivari" them up the lane. Peter sided with him, but the rest of us voted down the suggestion."Do you want Dr. Seton to think we are a pack of wild Indians?" asked Felicity severely. "A nice opinion he'd have of our manners!" "Well, it's the only chance we'll have to chivaree them," grumbled Dan. "Aunt Olivia wouldn't mind. SHE can take a joke." "Ma would kill you if you did such a thing," warned Felicity. "Dr. Seton lives in Halifax and they NEVER chivaree people there. He would think it very vulgar." "Then he should have stayed in Halifax and got married there," retorted Dan, sulkily.
We were very curious to see our uncle-elect. When he came and Uncle Alec took him into the parlour, we were all crowded into the dark corner behind the stairs to peep at him. Then we fled to the moonlight world outside and discussed him at the dairy.
"He's bald," said Cecily disappointedly.
"And RATHER short and stout," said Felicity.
"He's forty, if he's a day," said Dan.
But when we made the acquaintance of Dr. Seton next morning we liked him enormously, and voted him a jolly good fellow. Even Peter remarked aside to me that he guessed Miss Olivia hadn't made much of a mistake after all, though it was plain he thought she was running a risk in not sticking to the Island. The girls had not much time to discuss him with us. They were all exceedingly busy and whisked about at such a rate that they seemed to possess the power of being in half a dozen places at once. The importance of Felicity was quite terrible. But after dinner came a lull.
"Thank goodness, everything is ready at last," breathed Felicity devoutly, as we foregathered for a brief space in the fir wood. "We've nothing more to do now but get dressed. It's really a serious thing to have a wedding in the family.""I have a note from Sara Ray," said Cecily. "Judy Pineau brought it up when she brought Mrs. Ray's spoons. Just let me read it to you:--
DEAREST CECILY:--A DREADFUL MISFORTUNE has happened to me. Last night I went with Judy to water the cows and in the spruce bush we found a WASPS' NEST and Judy thought it was AN OLD ONE and she POKED IT WITH A STICK. And it was a NEW ONE, full of wasps, and they all flew out and STUNG US TERRIBLY, on the face and hands. My face is all swelled up and I can HARDLY SEE out of one eye. The SUFFERING was awful but I didn't mind that as much as being scared ma wouldn't take me to the wedding. But she says I can go and I'm going. I know that I am a HARD-LOOKING SIGHT, but it isn't anything catching. I am writing this so that you won't get a shock when you see me. Isn't it SO STRANGE to think your dear Aunt Olivia is going away? How you will miss her! But your loss will be her gain."'Au revoir, "'Your loving chum,
"That poor child," said the Story Girl.
Aunt Olivia was married at five o'clock in the orchard under the late apple tree. It was a pretty scene. The air was full of the perfume of apple bloom, and the bees blundered foolishly and delightfully from one blossom to another, half drunken with perfume. The old orchard was full of smiling guests in wedding garments. Aunt Olivia was most beautiful amid the frost of her bridal veil, and the Story Girl, in an unusually long white dress, with her brown curls clubbed up behind, looked so tall and grown- up that we hardly recognized her. After the ceremony--during which Sara Ray cried all the time--there was a royal wedding supper, and Sara Ray was permitted to eat her share of the feast with us.
"I'm glad I was stung by the wasps after all," she said delightedly. "If I hadn't been ma would never have let me eat with you. She just got tired explaining to people what was the matter with my face, and so she was glad to get rid of me. I know I look awful, but, oh, wasn't the bride a dream?"
We missed the Story Girl, who, of course, had to have her supper at the bridal table; but we were a hilarious little crew and the girls had nobly kept their promise to save tid-bits for us. By the time the last table was cleared away Aunt Olivia and our new uncle were ready to go. There was an orgy of tears and leavetakings, and then they drove away into the odorous moonlight night. Dan and Peter pursued them down the lane with a fiendish din of bells and pans, much to Felicity's wrath. But Aunt Olivia and Uncle Robert took it in good part and waved their hands back to us with peals of laughter."They're just that pleased with themselves that they wouldn't mind if there was an earthquake," said Felix, grinning.
"It's been splendid and exciting, and everything went off well," sighed Cecily, "but, oh dear, it's going to be so queer and lonesome without Aunt Olivia. I just believe I'll cry all night.""You're tired to death, that's what's the matter with you," said Dan, returning. "You girls have worked like slaves today."
"Tomorrow will be even harder," said Felicity comfortingly. "Everything will have to be cleaned up and put away."
Peg Bowen paid us a call the next day and was regaled with a feast of fat things left over from the supper.
"Well, I've had all I can eat," she said, when she had finished and brought out her pipe. "And that doesn't happen to me every day. There ain't been as much marrying as there used to be, and half the time they just sneak off to the minister, as if they were ashamed of it, and get married without any wedding or supper. That ain't the King way, though. And so Olivia's gone off at last. She weren't in any hurry but they tell me she's done well. Time'll show.""Why don't you get married yourself, Peg?" queried Uncle Roger teasingly. We held our breath over his temerity. "Because I'm not so easy to please as your wife will be," retorted Peg. She departed in high good humour over her repartee. Meeting Sara Ray on the doorstep she stopped and asked her what was the matter with her face.
"Wasps," stammered Sara Ray, laconic from terror.
"Humph! And your hands?"
"I'll tell you what'll take them away. You get a pertater and go out under the full moon, cut the pertater in two, rub your warts with one half and say, 'One, two, three, warts, go away from me.' Then rub them with the other half and say, 'One, two, three, four, warts, never trouble me more.' Then bury the pertater and never tell a living soul where you buried it. You won't have no more warts. Mind you bury the pertater, though. If you don't, and anyone picks it up, she'll get your warts."
XVIII. Sara Ray Helps Out
We all missed Aunt Olivia greatly; she had been so merry and companionable, and had possessed such a knack of understanding small fry. But youth quickly adapts itself to changed conditions; in a few weeks it seemed as if the Story Girl had always been living at Uncle Alec's, and as if Uncle Roger had always had a fat, jolly housekeeper with a double chin and little, twinkling blue eyes. I don't think Aunt Janet ever quite got over missing Aunt Olivia, or looked upon Mrs. Hawkins as anything but a necessary evil; but life resumed its even tenor on the King farm, broken only by the ripples of excitement over the school concert and letters from Aunt Olivia describing her trip through the land of Evangeline. We incorporated the letters in Our Magazine under the heading "From Our Special Correspondent" and were very proud of them.
At the end of June our school concert came off and was a great event in our young lives. It was the first appearance of most of us on any platform, and some of us were very nervous. We all had recitations, except Dan, who had refused flatly to take any part and was consequently care-free.
"I'm sure I shall die when I find myself up on that platform, facing people," sighed Sara Ray, as we talked the affair over in Uncle Stephen's Walk the night before the concert.
"I'm afraid I'll faint," was Cecily's more moderate foreboding.
"I'm not one single bit nervous," said Felicity complacently.
"I'm not nervous this time," said the Story Girl, "but the first time I recited I was."
"My Aunt Jane," remarked Peter, "used to say that an old teacher of hers told her that when she was going to recite or speak in public she must just get it firmly into her mind that it was only a lot of cabbage heads she had before her, and she wouldn't be nervous."
"One mightn't be nervous, but I don't think there would be much inspiration in reciting to cabbage heads," said the Story Girl decidedly. "I want to recite to PEOPLE, and see them looking interested and thrilled.""If I can only get through my piece without breaking down I don't care whether I thrill people or not," said Sara Ray. "I'm afraid I'll forget mine and get stuck," foreboded Felix. "Some of you fellows be sure and prompt me if I do--and do it quick, so's I won't get worse rattled."
"I know one thing," said Cecily resolutely, "and that is, I'm going to curl my hair for to-morrow night. I've never curled it since Peter almost died, but I simply must tomorrow night, for all the other girls are going to have theirs in curls.""The dew and heat will take all the curl out of yours and then you'll look like a scarecrow," warned Felicity.
"No, I won't. I'm going to put my hair up in paper tonight and wet it with a curlingfluid that Judy Pineau uses. Sara brought me up a bottle of it. Judy says it is great stuff--your hair will keep in curl for days, no matter how damp the weather is. I'll leave my hair in the papers till tomorrow evening, and then I'll have beautiful curls.""You'd better leave your hair alone," said Dan gruffly. "Smooth hair is better than a lot of fly-away curls." But Cecily was not to be persuaded. Curls she craved and curls she meant to have.
"I'm thankful my warts have all gone, any-way," said Sara Ray.
"So they have," exclaimed Felicity. "Did you try Peg's recipe?"
"Yes. I didn't believe in it but I tried it. For the first few days afterwards I kept watching my warts, but they didn't go away, and then I gave up and forgot them. But one day last week I just happened to look at my hands and there wasn't a wart to be seen. It was the most amazing thing."
"And yet you'll say Peg Bowen isn't a witch," said Peter.
"Pshaw, it was just the potato juice," scoffed Dan.
Cecily put her hair up in curl-papers that night, thoroughly soaked in Judy Pineau's curling-fluid. It was a nasty job, for the fluid was very sticky, but Cecily persevered and got it done. Then she went to bed with a towel tied over her head to protect the pillow. She did not sleep well and had uncanny dreams, but she came down to breakfast with an expression of triumph. The Story Girl examined her head critically and said,"Cecily, if I were you I'd take those papers out this morning." "Oh, no; if I do my hair will be straight again by night. I mean to leave them in till the last minute." "I wouldn't do that--I really wouldn't," persisted the Story Girl. "If you do your hair will be too curly and all bushy and fuzzy."
Cecily finally yielded and went upstairs with the Story Girl. Presently we heard a little shriek--then two little shrieks--then three. Then Felicity came flying down and called her mother. Aunt Janet went up and presently came down again with a grim mouth. She filled a large pan with warm water and carried it upstairs. We dared ask her no questions, but when Felicity came down to wash the dishes we bombarded her."What on earth is the matter with Cecily?" demanded Dan. "Is she sick?"
"No, she isn't. I warned her not to put her hair in curls but she wouldn't listen to me. I guess she wishes she had now. When people haven't natural curly hair they shouldn't try to make it curly. They get punished if they do."
"Look here, Felicity, never mind all that. Just tell us what has happened Sis." "Well, this is what has happened her. That ninny of a Sara Ray brought up a bottle of mucilage instead of Judy's curling-fluid, and Cecily put her hair up with THAT. It's in an awful state.""Good gracious!" exclaimed Dan. "Look here, will she ever get it out?"
"Goodness knows. She's got her head in soak now. Her hair is just matted together hard as a board. That's what comes of vanity," said Felicity, than whom no vainer girl existed.
Poor Cecily paid dearly enough for HER vanity. She spent a bad forenoon, made no easier by her mother's severe rebukes. For an hour she "soaked" her head; that is, she stood over a panful of warm water and kept dipping her head in with tightly shut eyes. Finally her hair softened sufficiently to be disentangled from the curl papers; and then Aunt Janet subjected it to a merciless shampoo. Eventually they got all the mucilage washed out of it and Cecily spent the remainder of the forenoon sitting before the open oven door in the hot kitchen drying her ill-used tresses. She felt very down-hearted; her hair was of that order which, glossy and smooth normally, is dry and harsh and lustreless for several days after being shampooed."I'll look like a fright tonight," said the poor child to me with trembling voice. "The ends will be sticking out all over my head." "Sara Ray is a perfect idiot," I said wrathfully
"Qh, don't be hard on poor Sara. She didn't mean to bring me mucilage. It's really all my own fault, I know. I made a solemn vow when Peter was dying that I would never curl my hair again, and I should have kept it. It isn't right to break solemn vows. But my hair will look like dried hay tonight."
Poor Sara Ray was quite overwhelmed when she came up and found what she had done. Felicity was very hard on her, and Aunt Janet was coldly disapproving, but sweet Cecily forgave her unreservedly, and they walked to the school that night with their arms about each other's waists as usual.
The school-room was crowded with friends and neighbours. Mr. Perkins was flying about, getting things into readiness, and Miss Reade, who was the organist of the evening, was sitting on the platform, looking her sweetest and prettiest. She wore a delightful white lace hat with a fetching little wreath of tiny forget-menots around the brim, a white muslin dress with sprays of blue violets scattered over it, and a black lace scarf."Doesn't she look angelic?" said Cecily rapturously. "Mind you," said Sara Ray, "the Awkward Man is here--in the corner behind the door. I never remember seeing him at a concert before." "I suppose he came to hear the Story Girl recite," said Felicity. "He is such a friend of hers."
The concert went off very well. Dialogues, choruses and recitations followed each other in rapid succession. Felix got through his without "getting stuck," and Peter did excellently, though he stuffed his hands in his trousers pockets--a habit of which Mr. Perkins had vainly tried to break him. Peter's recitation was one greatly in vogue at that time, beginning,"My name is Norval; on the Grampian hills My father feeds his flocks." At our first practice Peter had started gaily in, rushing through the first line with no thought whatever of punctuation--" My name is Norval on the Grampian Hills."
"Stop, stop, Peter," quoth Mr. Perkins, sarcastically, "your name might be Norval if you were never on the Grampian Hills. There's a semi-colon in that line, I wish you to remember."
Peter did remember it. Cecily neither fainted nor failed when it came her turn. She recited her little piece very well, though somewhat mechanically. I think she really did much better than if she had had her desired curls. The miserable conviction that her hair, alone among that glossy-tressed bevy, was looking badly, quite blotted out all nervousness and self-consciousness from her mind. Her hair apart, she looked very pretty. The prevailing excitement had made bright her eye and flushed her cheeks rosily-- too rosily, perhaps. I heard a Carlisle woman behind me whisper that Cecily King looked consumptive, just like her Aunt Felicity; and I hated her fiercely for it.
Sara Ray also managed to get through respectably, although she was pitiably nervous. Her bow was naught but a short nod--"as if her head worked on wires," whispered Felicity uncharitably--and the wave of her lily-white hand more nearly resembled an agonized jerk than a wave. We all felt relieved when she finished. She was, in a sense, one of "our crowd," and we had been afraid she would disgrace us by breaking down.
Felicity followed her and recited her selection without haste, without rest, and absolutely without any expression whatever. But what mattered it how she recited? To look at her was sufficient. What with her splendid fleece of golden curls, her great, brilliant blue eyes, her exquisitely tinted face, her dimpled hands and arms, every member of the audience must have felt it was worth the ten cents he had paid merely to see her.
The Story Girl followed. An expectant silence fell over the room, and Mr. Perkins' face lost the look of tense anxiety it had worn all the evening. Here was a performer who could be depended on. No need to fear stage fright or forgetfulness on her part. The Story Girl was not looking her best that night. White never became her, and her face was pale, though her eyes were splendid. But nobody thought about her appearance when the power and magic of her voice caught and held her listeners spellbound.
Her recitation was an old one, figuring in one of the School Readers, and we scholars all knew it off by heart. Sara Ray alone had not heard the Story Girl recite it. The latter had not been drilled at practices as had the other pupils, Mr. Perkins choosing not to waste time teaching her what she already knew far better than he did. The only time she had recited it had been at the "dress rehearsal" two nights before, at which Sara Ray had not been present.
In the poem a Florentine lady of old time, wedded to a cold and cruel husband, had died, or was supposed to have died, and had been carried to "the rich, the beautiful, the dreadful tomb" of her proud family. In the night she wakened from her trance and made her escape. Chilled and terrified, she had made her way to her husband's door, only to be driven away brutally as a restless ghost by the horror-stricken inmates. A similar reception awaited her at her father's. Then she had wandered blindly through the streets of Florence until she had fallen exhausted at the door of the lover of her girlhood. He, unafraid, had taken her in and cared for her. On the morrow, the husband and father, having discovered the empty tomb, came to claim her. She refused to return to them and the case was carried to the court of law. The verdict given was that a woman who had been "to burial borne" and left for dead, who had been driven from her husband's door and from her childhood home, "must be adjudged as dead in law and fact," was no more daughter or wife, but was set free to form what new ties she would. The climax of the whole selection came in the line,
"The court pronounces the defendant--DEAD!" and the Story Girl was wont to render it with such dramatic intensity and power that the veriest dullard among her listeners could not have missed its force and significance.
She swept along through the poem royally, playing on the emotions of her audience as she had so often played on ours in the old orchard. Pity, terror, indignation, suspense, possessed her hearers in turn. In the court scene she surpassed herself. She was, in very truth, the Florentine judge, stern, stately, impassive. Her voice dropped into the solemnity of the all- important line,"'The court pronounces the defendant--'" She paused for a breathless moment, the better to bring out the tragic import of the last word. "DEAD," piped up Sara Ray in her shrill, plaintive little voice.
The effect, to use a hackneyed but convenient phrase, can better be imagined than described. Instead of the sigh of relieved tension that should have swept over the audience at the conclusion of the line, a burst of laughter greeted it. The Story Girl's performance was completely spoiled. She dealt the luckless Sara a glance that would have slain her on the spot could glances kill, stumbled lamely and impotently through the few remaining lines of her recitation, and fled with crimson cheeks to hide her mortification in the little corner that had been curtained off for a dressing-room. Mr. Perkins looked things not lawful to be uttered, and the audience tittered at intervals for the rest of the performance.Sara Ray alone remained serenely satisfied until the close of the concert, when we surrounded her with a whirlwind of reproaches. "Why," she stammered aghast, "what did I do? I--I thought she was stuck and that I ought to prompt her quick."
"You little fool, she just paused for effect," cried Felicity angrily. Felicity might be rather jealous of the Story Girl's gift, but she was furious at beholding "one of our family" made ridiculous in such a fashion. "You have less sense than anyone I ever heard of, Sara Ray."
Poor Sara dissolved in tears.
"I didn't know. I thought she was stuck," she wailed again.
She cried all the way home, but we did not try to comfort her. We felt quite out of patience with her. Even Cecily was seriously annoyed. This second blunder of Sara's was too much even for her loyalty. We saw her turn in at her own gate and go sobbing up her lane with no relenting.
The Story Girl was home before us, having fled from the schoolhouse as soon as the programme was over. We tried to sympathize with her but she would not be sympathized with."Please don't ever mention it to me again," she said, with compressed lips. "I never want to be reminded of it. Oh, that little IDIOT!" "She spoiled Peter's sermon last summer and now she's spoiled your recitation," said Felicity. "I think it's time we gave up associating with Sara Ray." "Oh, don't be quite so hard on her," pleaded Cecily. "Think of the life the poor child has to live at home. I know she'll cry all night." "Oh, let's go to bed," growled Dan. "I'm good and ready for it. I've had enough of school concerts."
XIX. By Way Of The Stars
But for two of us the adventures of the night were not yet over. Silence settled down over the old house--the eerie, whisperful, creeping silence of night. Felix and Dan were already sound asleep; I was drifting near the coast o' dreams when I was aroused by a light tap on the door.
"Bev, are you asleep?" came in the Story Girl's whisper.
"No, what is it?"
"S-s-h. Get up and dress and come out. I want you."
With a good deal of curiosity and some misgiving I obeyed. What was in the wind now? Outside in the hall I found the Story Girl, with a candle in her hand, and her hat and jacket."Where are you going?" I whispered in amazement.
"Hush. I've got to go to the school and you must come with me. I left my coral necklace there. The clasp came loose and I was so afraid I'd lose it that I took it off and put it in the bookcase. I was feeling so upset when the concert was over that I forgot all about it."
The coral necklace was a very handsome one which had belonged to the Story Girl's mother. She had never been permitted to wear it before, and it had only been by dint of much coaxing that she had induced Aunt Janet to let her wear it to the concert."But there's no sense in going for it in the dead of night," I objected. "It will be quite safe. You can go for it in the morning."
"Lizzie Paxton and her daughter are going to clean the school tomorrow, and I heard Lizzie say tonight she meant to be at it by five o'clock to get through before the heat of the day. You know perfectly well what Liz Paxton's reputation is. If she finds that necklace I'll never see it again. Besides, if I wait till the morning, Aunt Janet may find out that I left it there and she'd never let me wear it again. No, I'm going for it now. If you're afraid," added the Story Girl with delicate scorn, "of course you needn't come."
Afraid! I'd show her!
"Come on," I said.
We slipped out of the house noiselessly and found ourselves in the unutterable solemnity and strangeness of a dark night. It was a new experience, and our hearts thrilled and our nerves tingled to the charm of it. Never had we been abroad before at such an hour. The world around us was not the world of daylight. 'Twas an alien place, full of weird, evasive enchantment and magicry.
Only in the country can one become truly acquainted with the night. There it has the solemn calm of the infinite. The dim wide fields lie in silence, wrapped in the holy mystery of darkness. A wind, loosened from wild places far away, steals out to blow over dewy, star-lit, immemorial hills. The air in the pastures is sweet with the hush of dreams, and one may rest here like a child on its mother's breast.
"Isn't it wonderful?" breathed the Story Girl as we went down the long hill. "Do you know, I can forgive Sara Ray now. I thought tonight I never could--but now it doesn't matter any more. I can even see how funny it was. Oh, wasn't it funny? 'DEAD' in that squeaky little voice of Sara's! I'll just behave to her tomorrow as if nothing had happened. It seems so long ago now, here in the night."
Neither of us ever forgot the subtle delight of that stolen walk. A spell of glamour was over us. The breezes whispered strange secrets of elf-haunted glens, and the hollows where the ferns grew were brimmed with mystery and romance. Ghostlike scents crept out of the meadows to meet us, and the fir wood before we came to the church was a living sweetness of Junebells growing in abundance.
Junebells have another and more scientific name, of course. But who could desire a better name than Junebells? They are so perfect in their way that they seem to epitomize the very scent and charm of the forest, as if the old wood's daintiest thoughts had materialized in blossom; and not all the roses by Bendameer's stream are as fragrant as a shallow sheet of Junebells under the boughs of fir.
There were fireflies abroad that night, too, increasing the gramarye of it. There is certainly something a little supernatural about fireflies. Nobody pretends to understand them. They are akin to the tribes of fairy, survivals of the elder time when the woods and hills swarmed with the little green folk. It is still very easy to believe in fairies when you see those goblin lanterns glimmering among the fir tassels.
"Isn't it beautiful?" said the Story Girl in rapture. "I wouldn't have missed it for anything. I'm glad I left my necklace. And I am glad you are with me, Bev. The others wouldn't understand so well. I like you because I don't have to talk to you all the time. It's so nice to walk with someone you don't have to talk to. Here is the graveyard. Are you frightened to pass it, Bev?""No, I don't think I'm frightened," I answered slowly, "but I have a queer feeling."
"So have I. But it isn't fear. I don't know what it is. I feel as if something was reaching out of the graveyard to hold me-- something that wanted life--I don't like it--let's hurry. But isn't it strange to think of all the dead people in there who were once alive like you and me. I don't feel as if I could EVER die. Do you?""No, but everybody must. Of course we go on living afterwards, just the same. Don't let's talk of such things here," I said hurriedly.
When we reached the school I contrived to open a window. We scrambled in, lighted a lamp and found the missing necklace. The Story Girl stood on the platform and gave an imitation of the catastrophe of the evening that made me shout with laughter. We prowled around for sheer delight over being there at an unearthly hour when everybody supposed we were sound asleep in our beds. It was with regret that we left, and we walked home as slowly as we could to prolong the adventure.
"Let's never tell anyone," said the Story Girl, as we reached home. "Let's just have it as a secret between us for ever and ever--something that nobody else knows a thing about but you and me."
XX. Extracts From Our MagazineEDITORIAL
As will be seen there is no Honour Roll in this number. Even Felicity has thought all the beautiful thoughts that can be thought and cannot think any more. Peter has never got drunk but, under existing circumstances, that is not greatly to his credit. As for our written resolutions they have silently disappeared from our chamber walls and the place that once knew them knows them no more for ever. (PETER, PERPLEXEDLY: "Seems to me I've heard something like that before.") It is very sad but we will all make some new resolutions next year and maybe it will be easier to keep those.THE STORY OF THE LOCKET THAT WAS BAKED
This was a story my Aunt Jane told me about her granma when she was a little girl. Its funny to think of baking a locket, but it wasn't to eat. She was my great granma but Ill call her granma for short. It happened when she was ten years old. Of course she wasent anybodys granma then. Her father and mother and her were living in a new settlement called Brinsley. Their nearest naybor was a mile away. One day her Aunt Hannah from Charlottetown came and wanted her ma to go visiting with her. At first granma's ma thought she couldent go because it was baking day and granma's pa was away. But granma wasent afraid to stay alone and she knew how to bake the bread so she made her ma go and her Aunt Hannah took off the handsome gold locket and chain she was waring round her neck and hung it on granmas and told her she could ware it all day. Granma was awful pleased for she had never had any jewelry. She did all the chores and then was needing the loaves when she looked up and saw a tramp coming in and he was an awful villenus looking tramp. He dident even pass the time of day but just set down on a chair. Poor granma was awful fritened and she turned her back on him and went on needing the loaf cold and trembling-- that is, granma was trembling not the loaf. She was worried about the locket. She didn't know how she could hide it for to get anywhere she would have to turn round and pass him.
All of a suddent she thought she would hide it in the bread. She put her hand up and pulled it hard and quick and broke the fastening and needed it right into the loaf. Then she put the loaf in the pan and set it in the oven.
The tramp hadent seen her do it and then he asked for something to eat. Granma got him up a meal and when hed et it he began prowling about the kitchen looking into everything and opening the cubbord doors. Then he went into granma's mas room and turned the buro drawers and trunk inside out and threw the things in them all about. All he found was a purse with a dollar in it and he swore about it and took it and went away. When granma was sure he was really gone she broke down and cried. She forgot all about the bread and it burned as black as coal. When she smelled it burning granma run and pulled it out. She was awful scared the locket was spoiled but she sawed open the loaf and it was there safe and sound. When her Aunt Hannah came back she said granma deserved the locket because she had saved it so clever and she gave it to her and grandma always wore it and was very proud of it. And granma used to say that was the only loaf of bread she ever spoiled in her life.PETER CRAIG.
(FELICITY: "Those stories are all very well but they are only true stories. It's easy enough to write true stories. I thought Peter was appointed fiction editor, but he has never written any fiction since the paper started. That's not MY idea of a fiction editor. He ought to make up stories out of his own head." PETER, SPUNKILY: "I can do it, too, and I will next time. And it ain't easier to write true stories. It's harder, 'cause you have to stick to facts." FELICITY: "I don't believe you could make up a story." PETER: "I'll show you!")MY MOST EXCITING ADVENTURE
It's my turn to write it but I'm SO NERVOUS. My worst adventure happened TWO YEARS AGO. It was an awful one. I had a striped ribbon, striped brown and yellow and I LOST IT. I was very sorry for it was a handsome ribbon and all the girls in school were jealous of it. (FELICITY: "I wasn't. I didn't think it one bit pretty." CECILY: "Hush!") I hunted everywhere but I couldn't find it. Next day was Sunday and I was running into the house by the front door and I saw SOMETHING LYING ON THE STEP and I thought it was my ribbon and I made a grab at it as I passed. But, oh, it was A SNAKE! Oh, I can never describe how I felt when I felt that awful thing WRIGGLING IN MY HAND. I let it go and SCREAMED AND SCREAMED, and ma was cross at me for yelling on Sunday and made me read seven chapters in the Bible but I didn't mind that much after what I had come through. I would rather DIE than have SUCH AN EXPERIENCE again.
TO FELICITY ON HER BERTHDAY
Oh maiden fair with golden hair
And brow of purest white,
Id fight for you I'd die for you
Let me be your faithful knite.
This is your berthday blessed day
You are thirteen years old today
May you be happy and fair as you are now
Until your hair is gray.
I gaze into your shining eyes,
They are so blue and bright.
Id fight for you Id die for you
Let me be your faithful knite.
(DAN: "Great snakes, who got that up? I'll bet it was Peter." FELICITY, WITH DIGNITY: "Well, it's more than YOU could do. YOU couldn't write poetry to save your life." PETER, ASIDE TO BEVERLEY: "She seems quite pleased. I'm glad I wrote it, but it was awful hard work.")
Patrick Grayfur, Esq., caused his friends great anxiety recently by a prolonged absence from home. When found he was very thin but is now as fat and conceited as ever.
On Wednesday, June 20th, Miss Olivia King was united in the bonds of holy matrimony to Dr. Robert Seton of Halifax. Miss Sara Stanley was bridesmaid, and Mr. Andrew Seton attended the groom. The young couple received many handsome presents. Rev. Mr. Marwood tied the nuptial knot. After the ceremony a substantial repast was served in Mrs. Alex King's well-known style and the happy couple left for their new home in Nova Scotia. Their many friends join in wishing them a very happy and prosperous journey through life.
A precious one from us is gone,
A voice we loved is stilled.
A place is vacant in our home
That never can be filled.
(THE STORY GIRL: "Goodness, that sounds as if somebody had died. I've seen that verse on a tombstone. WHO wrote that notice?" FELICITY, WHO WROTE IT: "I think it is just as appropriate to a wedding as to a funeral!")Our school concert came off on the evening of June 29th and was a great success. We made ten dollars for the library.
We regret to chronicle that Miss Sara Ray met with a misfortune while taking some violent exercise with a wasps' nest recently. The moral is that it is better not to monkey with a wasps' nest, new or old.
Mrs. C. B. Hawkins of Baywater is keeping house for Uncle Roger. She is a very large woman. Uncle Roger says he has to spend too much time walking round her, but otherwise she is an excellent housekeeper.It is reported that the school is haunted. A mysterious light was seen there at two o'clock one night recently. (THE STORY GIRL AND I EXCHANGE KNOWING SMILES BEHIND THE OTHERS' BACKS.) Dan and Felicity had a fight last Tuesday--not with fists but with tongues. Dan came off best--as usual. (FELICITY LAUGHS SARCASTICALLY.)
Mr. Newton Craig of Markdale returned home recently after a somewhat prolonged visit in foreign parts. We are glad to welcome Mr. Craig back to our midst.
Billy Robinson was hurt last week. A cow kicked him. I suppose it is wicked of us to feel glad but we all do feel glad because of the way he cheated us with the magic seed last summer.
On April 1st Uncle Roger sent Mr. Peter Craig to the manse to borrow the biography of Adam's grandfather. Mr. Marwood told Peter he didn't think Adam had any grandfather and advised him to go home and look at the almanac. (PETER, SOURLY: "Your Uncle Roger thought he was pretty smart." FELICITY, SEVERELY: "Uncle Roger IS smart. It was so easy to fool you.")A pair of blue birds have built a nest in a hole in the sides of the well, just under the ferns. We can see the eggs when we look down. They are so cunning. Felix sat down on a tack one day in May. Felix thinks house- cleaning is great foolishness. ADS. LOST--STOLEN--OR STRAYED--A HEART. Finder will be rewarded by returning same to Cyrus E. Brisk, Desk 7, Carlisle School. LOST OR STOLEN. A piece of brown hair about three inches long and one inch thick. Finder will kindly return to Miss Cecily King, Desk 15, Carlisle School.
(CECILY: "Cyrus keeps my hair in his Bible for a bookmark, so Flossie tells me. He says he means to keep it always for a remembrance though he has given up hope." DAN: "I'll steal it out of his Bible in Sunday School." CECILY, BLUSHING: "Oh, let him keep it if it is any comfort to him. Besides, it isn't right to steal." DAN: "He stole it." CECILY: "But Mr. Marwood says two wrongs never make a right.")HOUSEHOLD DEPARTMENT Aunt Olivia's wedding cake was said to be the best one of its kind ever tasted in Carlisle. Me and mother made it.
ANXIOUS INQUIRER:--It is not advisable to curl your hair with mucilage if you can get anything else. Quince juice is better. (CECILY, BITTERLY: "I suppose I'll never hear the last of that mucilage." DAN: "Ask her who used tooth-powder to raise biscuits?")We had rhubarb pies for the first time this spring last week. They were fine but hard on the cream.
No, F-l-x, a little caterpillar is not called a kittenpillar. (FELIX, ENRAGED: "I never asked that! Dan just makes that etiquette column up from beginning to end!" FELICITY: "I don't see what that kind of a question has to do with etiquette anyhow.")Yes, P-t-r, it is quite proper to treat a lady friend to ice cream twice if you can afford it.
No, F-l-c-t-y, it is not ladylike to chew tobacco. Better stick to spruce gum. DAN KING.
Frilled muslin aprons will be much worn this summer. It is no longer fashionable to trim them with knitted lace. One pocket is considered smart.
Clam-shells are fashionable keepsakes. You write your name and the date inside one and your friend writes hers in the other and you exchange.
MR. PERKINS:--"Peter, name the large islands of the world."
This is a true joke and really happened. It's about Mr. Samuel Clask again. He was once leading a prayer meeting and he looked through the window and saw the constable driving up and guessed he was after him because he was always in debt. So in a great hurry he called on Brother Casey to lead in prayer and while Brother Casey was praying with his eyes shut and everybody else had their heads bowed Mr. Clask got out of the window and got away before the constable got in because he didn't like to come in till the prayer was finished.Uncle Roger says it was a smart trick on Mr. Clask's part, but I don't think there was much religion about it. FELIX KING.
XXI. Peg Bowen Comes To Church
When those of us who are still left of that band of children who played long years ago in the old orchard and walked the golden road together in joyous companionship, foregather now and again in our busy lives and talk over the events of those many merry moons-- there are some of our adventures that gleam out more vividly in memory than the others, and are oftener discussed. The time we bought God's picture from Jerry Cowan--the time Dan ate the poison berries--the time we heard the ghostly bell ring--the bewitchment of Paddy--the visit of the Governor's wife--and the night we were lost in the storm--all awaken reminiscent jest and laughter; but none more than the recollection of the Sunday Peg Bowen came to church and sat in our pew. Though goodness knows, as Felicity would say, we did not think it any matter for laughter at the time--far from it.
It was one Sunday evening in July. Uncle Alec and Aunt Janet, having been out to the morning service, did not attend in the evening, and we small fry walked together down the long hill road, wearing Sunday attire and trying, more or less successfully, to wear Sunday faces also. Those walks to church, through the golden completeness of the summer evenings, were always very pleasant to us, and we never hurried, though, on the other hand, we were very careful not to be late.
This particular evening was particularly beautiful. It was cool after a hot day, and wheat fields all about us were ripening to their harvestry. The wind gossiped with the grasses along our way, and over them the buttercups danced, goldenly-glad. Waves of sinuous shadow went over the ripe hayfields, and plundering bees sang a freebooting lilt in wayside gardens.
"The world is so lovely tonight," said the Story Girl. "I just hate the thought of going into the church and shutting all the sunlight and music outside. I wish we could have the service outside in summer."
"I don't think that would be very religious," said Felicity.
"I'd feel ever so much more religious outside than in," retorted the Story Girl.
"'Music has charms to soothe a savage breast,'" quoted Peter, who was getting into the habit of adorning his conversation with similar gems. "That's in one of Shakespeare's plays. I'm reading them now, since I got through with the Bible. They're great.""I don't see when you get time to read them," said Felicity. "Oh, I read them Sunday afternoons when I'm home." "I don't believe they're fit to read on Sundays," exclaimed Felicity. "Mother says Valeria Montague's stories ain't." "But Shakespeare's different from Valeria," protested Peter.
"I don't see in what way. He wrote a lot of things that weren't true, just like Valeria, and he wrote swear words too. Valeria never does that. Her characters all talk in a very refined fashion."
"Well, I always skip the swear words," said Peter. "And Mr. Marwood said once that the Bible and Shakespeare would furnish any library well. So you see he put them together, but I'm sure that he would never say that the Bible and Valeria would make a library.""Well, all I know is, I shall never read Shakespeare on Sunday," said Felicity loftily. "I wonder what kind of a preacher young Mr. Davidson is," speculated Cecily.
"Well, we'll know when we hear him tonight," said the Story Girl. "He ought to be good, for his uncle before him was a fine preacher, though a very absent-minded man. But Uncle Roger says the supply in Mr. Marwood's vacation never amounts to much. I know an awfully funny story about old Mr. Davidson. He used to be the minister in Baywater, you know, and he had a large family and his children were very mischievous. One day his wife was ironing and she ironed a great big nightcap with a frill round it. One of the children took it when she wasn't looking and hid it in his father's best beaver hat--the one he wore on Sundays. When Mr. Davidson went to church next Sunday he put the hat on without ever looking into the crown. He walked to church in a brown study and at the door he took off his hat. The nightcap just slipped down on his head, as if it had been put on, and the frill stood out around his face and the string hung down his back. But he never noticed it, because his thoughts were far away, and he walked up the church aisle and into the pulpit, like that. One of his elders had to tiptoe up and tell him what he had on his head. He plucked it off in a dazed fashion, held it up, and looked at it. 'Bless me, it is Sally's nightcap!' he exclaimed mildly. 'I do not know how I could have got it on.' Then he just stuffed it into his pocket calmly and went on with the service, and the long strings of the nightcap hung down out of his pocket all the time."
"It seems to me," said Peter, amid the laughter with which we greeted the tale, "that a funny story is funnier when it is about a minister than it is about any other man. I wonder why.""Sometimes I don't think it is right to tell funny stories about ministers," said Felicity. "It certainly isn't respectful." "A good story is a good story--no matter who it's about," said the Story Girl with ungrammatical relish.
There was as yet no one in the church when we reached it, so we took our accustomed ramble through the graveyard surrounding it. The Story Girl had brought flowers for her mother's grave as usual, and while she arranged them on it the rest of us read for the hundredth time the epitaph on Great-Grandfather King's tombstone, which had been composed by Great-Grandmother King. That epitaph was quite famous among the little family traditions that entwine every household with mingled mirth and sorrow, smiles and tears. It had a perennial fascination for us and we read it over every Sunday. Cut deeply in the upright slab of red Island sandstone, the epitaph ran as follows:--SWEET DEPARTED SPIRIT
Do receive the vows a grateful widow pays, Each future day and night shall hear her speak her Isaac's praise. Though thy beloved form must in the grave decay Yet from her heart thy memory no time, no change shall steal away. Do thou from mansions of eternal bliss Remember thy distressed relict. Look on her with an angel's love-- Soothe her sad life and cheer her end Through this world's dangers and its griefs. Then meet her with thy well-known smiles and welcome At the last great day.
"Well, I can't make out what the old lady was driving at," said Dan.
"That's a nice way to speak of your great-grandmother," said Felicity severely.
"Oh, it couldn't have been that," protested Cecily seriously. "I've always heard that Great-Grandfather and Great-Grandmother were very much attached to each other.""Maybe, then, it means she was grateful that she'd had him as long as she did," suggested Peter. "She was grateful to him because he had been so kind to her in life, I think," said Felicity. "What is a 'distressed relict'?" asked Felix. "'Relict' is a word I hate," said the Story Girl. "It sounds so much like relic. Relict means just the same as widow, only a man can be a relict, too." "Great-Grandmother seemed to run short of rhymes at the last of the epitaph," commented Dan. "Finding rhymes isn't as easy as you might think," avowed Peter, out of his own experience. "I think Grandmother King intended the last of the epitaph to be in blank verse," said Felicity with dignity.
There was still only a sprinkling of people in the church when we went in and took our places in the old-fashioned, square King pew. We had just got comfortably settled when Felicity said in an agitated whisper, "Here is Peg Bowen!"
We all stared at Peg, who was pacing composedly up the aisle. We might be excused for so doing, for seldom were the decorous aisles of Carlisle church invaded by such a figure. Peg was dressed in her usual short drugget skirt, rather worn and frayed around the bottom, and a waist of brilliant turkey red calico. She wore no hat, and her grizzled black hair streamed in elf locks over her shoulders. Face, arms and feet were bare--and face, arms and feet were liberally powdered with FLOUR. Certainly no one who saw Peg that night could ever forget the apparition.Peg's black eyes, in which shone a more than usually wild and fitful light, roved scrutinizingly over the church, then settled on our pew. "She's coming here," whispered Felicity in horror. "Can't we spread out and make her think the pew is full?"
But the manoeuvre was too late. The only result was that Felicity and the Story Girl in moving over left a vacant space between them and Peg promptly plumped down in it.
"Well, I'm here," she remarked aloud. "I did say once I'd never darken the door of Carlisle church again, but what that boy there"--nodding at Peter--"said last winter set me thinking, and I concluded maybe I'd better come once in a while, to be on the safe side."
Those poor girls were in an agony. Everybody in the church was looking at our pew and smiling. We all felt that we were terribly disgraced; but we could do nothing. Peg was enjoying herself hugely, beyond all doubt. From where she sat she could see the whole church, including pulpit and gallery, and her black eyes darted over it with restless glances.
"Bless me, there's Sam Kinnaird," she exclaimed, still aloud. "He's the man that dunned Jacob Marr for four cents on the church steps one Sunday. I heard him. 'I think, Jacob, you owe me four cents on that cow you bought last fall. Rec'llect you couldn't make the change?' Well, you know, 'twould a-made a cat laugh. The Kinnairds were all mighty close, I can tell you. That's how they got rich."
What Sam Kinnaird felt or thought during this speech, which everyone in the church must have heard, I know not. Gossip had it that he changed colour. We wretched occupants of the King pew were concerned only with our own outraged feelings.
"And there's Melita Ross," went on Peg. "She's got the same bonnet on she had last time I was in Carlisle church six years ago. Some folks has the knack of making things last. But look at the style Mrs. Elmer Brewer wears, will yez? Yez wouldn't think her mother died in the poor-house, would yez, now?"
Poor Mrs. Brewer! From the tip of her smart kid shoes to the dainty cluster of ostrich tips in her bonnet--she was most immaculately and handsomely arrayed; but I venture to think she could have taken small pleasure in her fashionable attire that evening. Some of the unregenerate, including Dan, were shaking with suppressed laughter, but most of the people looked as if they were afraid to smile, lest their turn should come next.
"There's old Stephen Grant coming in," exclaimed Peg viciously, shaking her floury fist at him, "and looking as if butter wouldn't melt in his mouth. He may be an elder, but he's a scoundrel just the same. He set fire to his house to get the insurance and then blamed ME for doing it. But I got even with him for it. Oh, yes! He knows that, and so do I! He, he!"Peg chuckled quite fiendishly and Stephen Grant tried to look as if nothing had been said. "Oh, will the minister never come?" moaned Felicity in my ear. "Surely she'll have to stop then." But the minister did not come and Peg had no intention of stopping.
"There's Maria Dean." she resumed. "I haven't seen Maria for years. I never call there for she never seems to have anything to eat in the house. She was a Clayton and the Claytons never could cook. Maria sorter looks as if she'd shrunk in the wash, now, don't she? And there's Douglas Nicholson. His brother put rat poison in the family pancakes. Nice little trick that, wasn't it? They say it was by mistake. I hope it WAS a mistake. His wife is all rigged out in silk. Yez wouldn't think to look at her she was married in cotton--and mighty thankful to get married in anything, it's my opinion. There's Timothy Patterson. He's the meanest man alive--meaner'n Sam Kinnaird even. Timothy pays his children five cents apiece to go without their suppers, and then steals the cents out of their pockets after they've gone to bed. It's a fact. And when his old father died he wouldn't let his wife put his best shirt on him. He said his second best was plenty good to be buried in. That's another fact.""I can't stand much more of this," wailed Felicity.
"See here, Miss Bowen, you really oughtn't to talk like that about people," expostulated Peter in a low tone, goaded thereto, despite his awe of Peg, by Felicity's anguish.
"Bless you, boy," said Peg good-humouredly, "the only difference between me and other folks is that I say these things out loud and they just think them. If I told yez all the things I know about the people in this congregation you'd be amazed. Have a peppermint?"
To our horror Peg produced a handful of peppermint lozenges from the pocket of her skirt and offered us one each. We did not dare refuse but we each held our lozenge very gingerly in our hands.
"Eat them," commanded Peg rather fiercely.
"Mother doesn't allow us to eat candy in church," faltered Felicity.
"Well, I've seen just as fine ladies as your ma give their children lozenges in church," said Peg loftily. She put a peppermint in her own mouth and sucked it with gusto. We were relieved, for she did not talk during the process; but our relief was of short duration. A bevy of three very smartly dressed young ladies, sweeping past our pew, started Peg off again.
"Yez needn't be so stuck up," she said, loudly and derisively. "Yez was all of yez rocked in a flour barrel. And there's old Henry Frewen, still above ground. I called my parrot after him because their noses were exactly alike. Look at Caroline Marr, will yez? That's a woman who'd like pretty well to get married, And there's Alexander Marr. He's a real Christian, anyhow, and so's his dog. I can always size up what a man's religion amounts to by the kind of dog he keeps. Alexander Marr is a good man."
"Look at Dave Fraser strutting in," she went on. "That man has thanked God so often that he isn't like other people that it's come to be true. He isn't! And there's Susan Frewen. She's jealous of everybody. She's even jealous of Old Man Rogers because he's buried in the best spot in the graveyard. Seth Erskine has the same look he was born with. They say the Lord made everybody but I believe the devil made all the Erskines.""She's getting worse all the time. What WILL she say next?" whispered poor Felicity.
But her martyrdom was over at last. The minister appeared in the pulpit and Peg subsided into silence. She folded her bare, floury arms over her breast and fastened her black eyes on the young preacher. Her behaviour for the next halfhour was decorum itself, save that when the minister prayed that we might all be charitable in judgment Peg ejaculated "Amen" several times, loudly and forcibly, somewhat to the discomfiture of the Young man, to whom Peg was a stranger. He opened his eyes, glanced at our pew in a startled way, then collected himself and went on.Peg listened to the sermon, silently and motionlessly, until Mr. Davidson was half through. Then she suddenly got on her feet. "This is too dull for me," she exclaimed. "I want something more exciting."
Mr. Davidson stopped short and Peg marched down the aisle in the midst of complete silence. Half way down the aisle she turned around and faced the minister.
"There are so many hypocrites in this church that it isn't fit for decent people to come to," she said. "Rather than be such hypocrites as most of you are it would be better for you to go miles into the woods and commit suicide."Wheeling about, she strode to the door. Then she turned for a Parthian shot.
"I've felt kind of worried for God sometimes, seeing He has so much to attend to," she said, "but I see I needn't be, so long's there's plenty of ministers to tell Him what to do."
With that Peg shook the dust of Carlisle church from her feet. Poor Mr. Davidson resumed his discourse. Old Elder Bayley, whose attention an earthquake could not have distracted from the sermon, afterwards declared that it was an excellent and edifying exhortation, but I doubt if anyone else in Carlisle church tasted it much or gained much good therefrom. Certainly we of the King household did not. We could not even remember the text when we reached home. Felicity was comfortless.
"Mr. Davidson would be sure to think she belonged to our family when she was in our pew," she said bitterly. "Oh, I feel as if I could never get over such a mortification! Peter, I do wish you wouldn't go telling people they ought to go to church. It's all your fault that this happened.""Never mind, it will be a good story to tell sometime," remarked the Story Girl with relish.
XXII. The Yankee Storm
In an August orchard six children and a grown-up were sitting around the pulpit stone. The grown-up was Miss Reade, who had been up to give the girls their music lesson and had consented to stay to tea, much to the rapture of the said girls, who continued to worship her with unabated and romantic ardour. To us, over the golden grasses, came the Story Girl, carrying in her hand a single large poppy, like a blood-red chalice filled with the wine of August wizardry. She proffered it to Miss Reade and, as the latter took it into her singularly slender, beautiful hand, I saw a ring on her third finger. I noticed it, because I had heard the girls say that Miss Reade never wore rings, not liking them. It was not a new ring; it was handsome, but of an old-fashioned design and setting, with a glint of diamonds about a central sapphire. Later on, when Miss Reade had gone, I asked the Story Girl if she had noticed the ring. She nodded, but seemed disinclined to say more about it."Look here, Sara," I said, "there's something about that ring-- something you know." "I told you once there was a story growing but you would have to wait until it was fully grown," she answered. "Is Miss Reade going to marry anybody--anybody we know?" I persisted.
"Curiosity killed a cat," observed the Story Girl coolly. "Miss Reade hasn't told me that she was going to marry anybody. You will find out all that is good for you to know in due time."When the Story Girl put on grown-up airs I did not like her so well, and I dropped the subject with a dignity that seemed to amuse her mightily.
She had been away for a week, visiting cousins in Markdale, and she had come home with a new treasure-trove of stories, most of which she had heard from the old sailors of Markdale Harbour. She had promised that morning to tell us of "the most tragic event that had ever been known on the north shore," and we now reminded her of her promise.
"Some call it the 'Yankee Storm,' and others the 'American Gale,'" she began, sitting down by Miss Reade and beaming, because the latter put her arm around her waist. "It happened nearly forty years ago, in October of 1851. Old Mr. Coles at the Harbour told me all about it. He was a young man then and he says he can never forget that dreadful time. You know in those days hundreds of American fishing schooners used to come down to the Gulf every summer to fish mackerel. On one beautiful Saturday night in this October of 1851, more than one hundred of these vessels could be counted from Markdale Capes. By Monday night more than seventy of them had been destroyed. Those which had escaped were mostly those which went into harbour Saturday night, to keep Sunday. Mr. Coles says the rest stayed outside and fished all day Sunday, same as through the week, and HE says the storm was a judgment on them for doing it. But he admits that even some of them got into harbour later on and escaped, so it's hard to know what to think. But it is certain that on Sunday night there came up a sudden and terrible storm--the worst, Mr. Coles says, that has ever been known on the north shore. It lasted for two days and scores of vessels were driven ashore and completely wrecked. The crews of most of the vessels that went ashore on the sand beaches were saved, but those that struck on the rocks went to pieces and all hands were lost. For weeks after the storm the north shore was strewn with the bodies of drowned men. Think of it! Many of them were unknown and unrecognizable, and they were buried in Markdale graveyard. Mr. Coles says the schoolmaster who was in Markdale then wrote a poem on the storm and Mr. Coles recited the first two verses to me.
"'Here are the fishers' hillside graves,
The church beside, the woods around,
Below, the hollow moaning waves
Where the poor fishermen were drowned.
"'A sudden tempest the blue welkin tore,
The seamen tossed and torn apart
Rolled with the seaweed to the shore
While landsmen gazed with aching heart.'
"Mr. Coles couldn't remember any more of it. But the saddest of all the stories of the Yankee Storm was the one about the Franklin Dexter. The Franklin Dexter went ashore on the Markdale Capes and all on board perished, the Captain and three of his brothers among them. These four young men were the sons of an old man who lived in Portland, Maine, and when he heard what had happened he came right down to the Island to see if he could find their bodies. They had all come ashore and had been buried in Markdale graveyard; but he was determined to take them up and carry them home for burial. He said he had promised their mother to take her boys home to her and he must do it. So they were taken up and put on board a sailing vessel at Markdale Harbour to be taken back to Maine, while the father himself went home on a passenger steamer. The name of the sailing vessel was the Seth Hall, and the captain's name was Seth Hall, too. Captain Hall was a dreadfully profane man and used to swear bloodcurdling oaths. On the night he sailed out of Markdale Harbour the old sailors warned him that a storm was brewing and that it would catch him if he did not wait until it was over. The captain had become very impatient because of several delays he had already met with, and he was in a furious temper. He swore a wicked oath that he would sail out of Markdale Harbour that night and 'God Almighty Himself shouldn't catch him.' He did sail out of the harbour; and the storm did catch him, and the Seth Hall went down with all hands, the dead and the living finding a watery grave together. So the poor old mother up in Maine never had her boys brought back to her after all. Mr. Coles says it seems as if it were foreordained that they should not rest in a grave, but should lie beneath the waves until the day when the sea gives up its dead."
"'They sleep as well beneath that purple tide As others under turf,'" quoted Miss Reade softly. "I am very thankful," she added. "that I am not one of those whose dear ones 'go down to the sea in ships.' It seems to me that they have treble their share of this world's heartache."
"Uncle Stephen was a sailor and he was drowned," said Felicity, "and they say it broke Grandmother King's heart. I don't see why people can't be contented on dry land."
Cecily's tears had been dropping on the autograph quilt square she was faithfully embroidering. She had been diligently collecting names for it ever since the preceding autumn and had a goodly number; but Kitty Marr had one more and this was certainly a fly in Cecily's ointment."Besides, one I've got isn't paid for--Peg Bowen's," she lamented, "and I don't suppose it ever will be, for I'll never dare to ask her for it." "I wouldn't put it on at all," said Felicity.
"Oh, I don't dare not to. She'd be sure to find out I didn't and then she'd be very angry. I wish I could get just one more name and then I'd be contented. But I don't know of a single person who hasn't been asked already.""Except Mr. Campbell," said Dan.
"Oh, of course nobody would ask Mr. Campbell. We all know it would be of no use. He doesn't believe in missions at all--in fact, he says he detests the very mention of missions--and he never gives one cent to them.""All the same, I think he ought to be asked, so that he wouldn't have the excuse that nobody DID ask him," declared Dan. "Do you really think so, Dan?" asked Cecily earnestly. "Sure," said Dan, solemnly. Dan liked to tease even Cecily a wee bit now and then. Cecily relapsed into anxious thought, and care sat visibly on her brow for the rest of the day. Next morning she came to me and said:
"Bev, would you like to go for a walk with me this afternoon?"
"Of course," I replied. "Any particular where?"
"I'm going to see Mr. Campbell and ask him for his name for my square," said Cecily resolutely. "I don't suppose it will do any good. He wouldn't give anything to the library last summer, you remember, till the Story Girl told him that story about his grandmother. She won't go with me this time--I don't know why. I can't tell a story and I'm frightened to death just to think of going to him. But I believe it is my duty; and besides I would love to get as many names on my square as Kitty Marr has. So if you'll go with me we'll go this afternoon. I simply COULDN'T go alone."
XXIII. A Missionary Heroine
Accordingly, that afternoon we bearded the lion in his den. The road we took was a beautiful one, for we went "cross lots," and we enjoyed it, in spite of the fact that we did not expect the interview with Mr. Campbell to be a very pleasant one. To be sure, he had been quite civil on the occasion of our last call upon him, but the Story Girl had been with us then and had beguiled him into good-humour and generosity by the magic of her voice and personality. We had no such ally now, and Mr. Campbell was known to be virulently opposed to missions in any shape or form.
"I don't know whether it would have been any better if I could have put on my good clothes," said Cecily, with a rueful glance at her print dress, which, though neat and clean, was undeniably faded and RATHER short and tight. "The Story Girl said it would, and I wanted to, but mother wouldn't let me. She said it was all nonsense, and Mr. Campbell would never notice what I had on.""It's my opinion that Mr. Campbell notices a good deal more than you'd think for," I said sagely. "Well, I wish our call was over," sighed Cecily. "I can't tell you how I dread it." "Now, see here, Sis," I said cheerfully, "let's not think about it till we get there. It'll only spoil our walk and do no good. Let's just forget it and enjoy ourselves." "I'll try," agreed Cecily, "but it's ever so much easier to preach than to practise."
Our way lay first over a hill top, gallantly plumed with golden rod, where cloud shadows drifted over us like a gypsying crew. Carlisle, in all its ripely tinted length and breadth, lay below us, basking in the August sunshine, that spilled over the brim of the valley to the far-off Markdale Harbour, cupped in its harvest- golden hills.
Then came a little valley overgrown with the pale purple bloom of thistles and elusively haunted with their perfume. You say that thistles have no perfume? Go you to a brook hollow where they grow some late summer twilight at dewfall; and on the still air that rises suddenly to meet you will come a waft of faint, aromatic fragrance, wondrously sweet and evasive, the distillation of that despised thistle bloom.
Beyond this the path wound through a forest of fir, where a wood wind wove its murmurous spell and a wood brook dimpled pellucidly among the shadows--the dear, companionable, elfin shadows--that lurked under the low growing boughs. Along the edges of that winding path grew banks of velvet green moss, starred with clusters of pigeon berries. Pigeon berries are not to be eaten. They are woolly, tasteless things. But they are to be looked at in their glowing scarlet. They are the jewels with which the forest of cone-bearers loves to deck its brown breast. Cecily gathered some and pinned them on hers, but they did not become her. I thought how witching the Story Girl's brown curls would have looked twined with those brilliant clusters. Perhaps Cecily was thinking of it, too, for she presently said,
"Bev, don't you think the Story Girl is changing somehow?"
"There are times--just times--when she seems to belong more among the grownups than among us," I said, reluctantly, "especially when she puts on her bridesmaid dress."
"Well, she's the oldest of us, and when you come to think of it, she's fifteen,-that's almost grown-up," sighed Cecily. Then she added, with sudden vehemence, "I hate the thought of any of us growing up. Felicity says she just longs to be grown-up, but I don't, not a bit. I wish I could just stay a little girl for ever--and have you and Felix and all the others for playmates right along. I don't know how it is--but whenever I think of being grown-up I seem to feel tired."
Something about Cecily's speech--or the wistful look that had crept into her sweet brown eyes--made me feel vaguely uncomfortable; I was glad that we were at the end of our journey, with Mr. Campbell's big house before us, and his dog sitting gravely at the veranda steps."Oh, dear," said Cecily, with a shiver, "I'd been hoping that dog wouldn't be around."
"He never bites," I assured her.
"Perhaps he doesn't, but he always looks as if he was going to," rejoined Cecily.
The dog continued to look, and, as we edged gingerly past him and up the veranda steps, he turned his head and kept on looking. What with Mr. Campbell before us and the dog behind, Cecily was trembling with nervousness; but perhaps it was as well that the dour brute was there, else I verily believe she would have turned and fled shamelessly when we heard steps in the hall.
It was Mr. Campbell's housekeeper who came to the door, however; she ushered us pleasantly into the sitting-room where Mr. Campbell was reading. He laid down his book with a slight frown and said nothing at all in response to our timid "good afternoon." But after we had sat for a few minutes in wretched silence, wishing ourselves a thousand miles away, he said, with a chuckle,"Well, is it the school library again?"
Cecily had remarked as we were coming that what she dreaded most of all was introducing the subject; but Mr. Campbell had given her a splendid opening, and she plunged wildly in at once, rattling her explanation off nervously with trembling voice and flushed cheeks.
"No, it's our Mission Band autograph quilt, Mr. Campbell. There are to be as many squares in it as there are members in the Band. Each one has a square and is collecting names for it. If you want to have your name on the quilt you pay five cents, and if you want to have it right in the round spot in the middle of the square you must pay ten cents. Then when we have got all the names we can we will embroider them on the squares. The money is to go to the little girl our Band is supporting in Korea. I heard that nobody had asked you, so I thought perhaps you would give me your name for my square."
Mr. Campbell drew his black brows together in a scowl.
"Stuff and nonsense!" he exclaimed angrily. "I don't believe in Foreign Missions-don't believe in them at all. I never give a cent to them."
"Five cents isn't a very large sum," said Cecily earnestly.
Mr. Campbell's scowl disappeared and he laughed.
"It wouldn't break me," he admitted, "but it's the principle of the thing. And as for that Mission Band of yours, if it wasn't for the fun you get out of it, catch one of you belonging. You don't really care a rap more for the heathen than I do."
"Oh, we do," protested Cecily. "We do think of all the poor little children in Korea, and we like to think we are helping them, if it's ever so little. We ARE in earnest, Mr. Campbell-- indeed we are."
"Don't believe it--don't believe a word of it," said Mr. Campbell impolitely. "You'll do things that are nice and interesting. You'll get up concerts, and chase people about for autographs and give money your parents give you and that doesn't cost you either time or labour. But you wouldn't do anything you disliked for the heathen children--you wouldn't make any real sacrifice for them-- catch you!""Indeed we would," cried Cecily, forgetting her timidity in her zeal. "I just wish I had a chance to prove it to you."
"You do, eh? Come, now, I'll take you at your word. I'll test you. Tomorrow is Communion Sunday and the church will be full of folks and they'll all have their best clothes on. If you go to church tomorrow in the very costume you have on at present, without telling anyone why you do so, until it is all over, I'll give you-why, I vow I'll give you five dollars for that quilt of yours."Poor Cecily! To go to church in a faded print dress, with a shabby little old sunhat and worn shoes! It was very cruel of Mr. Campbell.
"I--I don't think mother would let me," she faltered.
Her tormentor smiled grimly.
"It's not hard to find some excuse," he said sarcastically.
Cecily crimsoned and sat up facing Mr. Campbell spunkily.
"It's NOT an excuse," she said. "If mother will let me go to church like this I'll go. But I'll have to tell HER why, Mr. Campbell, because I'm certain she'd never let me if I didn't."
"Oh, you can tell all your own family," said Mr. Campbell, "but remember, none of them must tell it outside until Sunday is over. If they do, I'll be sure to find it out and then our bargain is off. If I see you in church tomorrow, dressed as you are now, I'll give you my name and five dollars. But I won't see you. You'll shrink when you've had time to think it over.""I sha'n't," said Cecily resolutely.
"Well, we'll see. And now come out to the barn with me. I've got the prettiest little drove of calves out there you ever saw. I want you to see them."
Mr. Campbell took us all over his barns and was very affable. He had beautiful horses, cows and sheep, and I enjoyed seeing them. I don't think Cecily did, however. She was very quiet and even Mr. Campbell's handsome new span of dappled grays failed to arouse any enthusiasm in her. She was already in bitter anticipation living over the martyrdom of the morrow. On the way home she asked me seriously if I thought Mr. Campbell would go to heaven when he died.
"If mother'll let me I'll have to," said poor Cecily. "I won't let Mr. Campbell triumph over me. And I DO want to have as many names as Kitty has. And I DO want to help the poor little Korean children. But it will be simply dreadful. I don't know whether I hope mother will or not."
I did not believe she would, but Aunt Janet sometimes could be depended on for the unexpected. She laughed and told Cecily she could please herself. Felicity was in a rage over it, and declared SHE wouldn't go to church if Cecily went in such a rig. Dan sarcastically inquired if all she went to church for was to show off her fine clothes and look at other people's; then they quarrelled and didn't speak to each other for two days, much to Cecily's distress.
I suspect poor Sis wished devoutly that it might rain the next day; but it was gloriously fine. We were all waiting in the orchard for the Story Girl who had not begun to dress for church until Cecily and Felicity were ready. Felicity was her prettiest in flower-trimmed hat, crisp muslin, floating ribbons and trim black slippers. Poor Cecily stood beside her mute and pale, in her faded school garb and heavy copper-toed boots. But her face, if pale, was very determined. Cecily, having put her hand to the plough, was not of those who turn back.
"You do look just awful," said Felicity. "I don't care--I'm going to sit in Uncle James' pew. I WON'T sit with you. There will be so many strangers there, and all the Markdale people, and what will they think of you? Some of them will never know the reason, either."
"I wish the Story Girl would hurry," was all poor Cecily said. "We're going to be late. It wouldn't have been quite so hard if I could have got there before anyone and slipped quietly into our pew.""Here she comes at last," said Dan. "Why--what's she got on?"
The Story Girl joined us with a quizzical smile on her face. Dan whistled. Cecily's pale cheeks flushed with understanding and gratitude. The Story Girl wore her school print dress and hat also, and was gloveless and heavy shod."You're not going to have to go through this all alone, Cecily," she said. "Oh, it won't be half so hard now," said Cecily, with a long breath of relief.
I fancy it was hard enough even then. The Story Girl did not care a whit, but Cecily rather squirmed under the curious glances that were cast at her. She afterwards told me that she really did not think she could have endured it if she had been alone.Mr. Campbell met us under the elms in the churchyard, with a twinkle in his eye. "Well, you did it, Miss," he said to Cecily, "but you should have been alone. That was what I meant. I suppose you think you've cheated me nicely."
"No, she doesn't," spoke up the Story Girl undauntedly. "She was all dressed and ready to come before she knew I was going to dress the same way. So she kept her bargain faithfully, Mr. Campbell, and I think you were cruel to make her do it."
"You do, eh? Well, well, I hope you'll forgive me. I didn't think she'd do it--I was sure feminine vanity would win the day over missionary zeal. It seems it didn't-though how much was pure missionary zeal and how much just plain King spunk I'm doubtful. I'll keep my promise, Miss. You shall have your five dollars, and mind you put my name in the round space. No five- cent corners for me."
XXIV. A Tantalizing Revelation
"I shall have something to tell you in the orchard this evening," said the Story Girl at breakfast one morning. Her eyes were very bright and excited. She looked as if she had not slept a great deal. She had spent the previous evening with Miss Reade and had not returned until the rest of us were in bed. Miss Reade had finished giving music lessons and was going home in a few days. Cecily and Felicity were in despair over this and mourned as those without comfort. But the Story Girl, who had been even more devoted to Miss Reade than either of them, had not, as I noticed, expressed any regret and seemed to be very cheerful over the whole matter."Why can't you tell it now?" asked Felicity. "Because the evening is the nicest time to tell things in. I only mentioned it now so that you would have something interesting to look forward to all day."
"Is it about Miss Reade?" asked Cecily.
"I'll bet she's going to be married," I exclaimed, remembering the ring. "Is she?" cried Felicity and Cecily together.
"I don't believe it's much of anything," said Felicity, beginning to clear away the breakfast dishes. "The Story Girl always likes to make so much out of so little. Anyhow, I don't believe Miss Reade is going to be married. She hasn't any beaus around here and Mrs. Armstrong says she's sure she doesn't correspond with anybody. Besides, if she was she wouldn't be likely to tell the Story Girl.""Oh, she might. They're such friends, you know," said Cecily. "Miss Reade is no better friends with her than she is with me and you," retorted Felicity.
"No, but sometimes it seems to me that she's a different kind of friend with the Story Girl than she is with me and you," reflected Cecily. "I can't just explain what I mean.""No wonder. Such nonsense," sniffed Felicity. "It's only some girl's secret, anyway," said Dan, loftily. "I don't feel much interest in it."
But he was on hand with the rest of us that evening, interest or no interest, in Uncle Stephen's Walk, where the ripening apples were beginning to glow like jewels among the boughs.
"Now, are you going to tell us your news?" asked Felicity impatiently.
For a few moments amazement literally held us dumb.
"You're not in earnest, Sara Stanley?" gasped Felicity at last.
"Indeed I am. I thought you'd be astonished. But I wasn't. I've suspected it all summer, from little things I've noticed. Don't you remember that evening last spring when I went a piece with Miss Reade and told you when I came back that a story was growing? I guessed it from the way the Awkward Man looked at her when I stopped to speak to him over his garden fence.""But--the Awkward Man!" said Felicity helplessly. "It doesn't seem possible. Did Miss Reade tell you HERSELF?" "Yes."
"I suppose it must be true then. But how did it ever come about? He's SO shy and awkward. How did he ever manage to get up enough spunk to ask her to marry him?"
"Maybe she asked him," suggested Dan.
The Story Girl looked as if she might tell if she would.
"I believe that WAS the way of it," I said, to draw her on.
"Not exactly," she said reluctantly. "I know all about it but I can't tell you. I guessed part from things I've seen--and Miss Reade told me a good deal--and the Awkward Man himself told me his side of it as we came home last night. I met him just as I left Mr. Armstrong's and we were together as far as his house. It was dark and he just talked on as if he were talking to himself--I think he forgot I was there at all, once he got started. He has never been shy or awkward with me, but he never talked as he did last night."
"You might tell us what he said," urged Cecily. "We'd never tell."
The Story Girl shook her head.
"No, I can't. You wouldn't understand. Besides, I couldn't tell it just right. It's one of the things that are hardest to tell. I'd spoil it if I told it--now. Perhaps some day I'll be able to tell it properly. It's very beautiful--but it might sound very ridiculous if it wasn't told just exactly the right way."
"I don't know what you mean, and I don't believe you know yourself," said Felicity pettishly. "All that I can make out is that Miss Reade is going to marry Jasper Dale, and I don't like the idea one bit. She is so beautiful and sweet. I thought she'd marry some dashing young man. Jasper Dale must be nearly twenty years older than her--and he's so queer and shy--and such a hermit."
"Miss Reade is perfectly happy," said the Story Girl. "She thinks the Awkward Man is lovely--and so he is. You don't know him, but I do."
"I am not putting on any airs. But it's true. Miss Reade and I are the only people in Carlisle who really know the Awkward Man. Nobody else ever got behind his shyness to find out just what sort of a man he is.""When are they to be married?" asked Felicity. "In a fortnight's time. And then they are coming right back to live at Golden Milestone. Won't it be lovely to have Miss Reade always so near us?" "I wonder what she'll think about the mystery of Golden Milestone," remarked Felicity.
Golden Milestone was the beautiful name the Awkward Man had given his home; and there was a mystery about it, as readers of the first volume of these chronicles will recall."She knows all about the mystery and thinks it perfectly lovely-- and so do I," said the Story Girl. "Do YOU know the secret of the locked room?" cried Cecily. "Yes, the Awkward Man told me all about it last night. I told you I'd find out the mystery some time."
"And what is it?"
"I can't tell you that either."
"Well, I don't see how that can be when the Awkward Man never saw or heard of Miss Reade until she came to Carlisle in the spring," said Felicity incredulously, "and he's had that locked room for years."
"I can't explain it to you--but it's just as I've said," responded the Story Girl. "Well, it's a very queer thing," retorted Felicity."The name in the books in the room was Alice--and Miss Reade's name is Alice," marvelled Cecily. "Did he know her before she came here?"
"Mrs. Griggs says that room has been locked for ten years. Ten years ago Miss Reade was just a little girl of ten. SHE couldn't be the Alice of the books," argued Felicity.
"I wonder if she'll wear the blue silk dress," said Sara Ray.
"And what will she do about the picture, if it isn't hers?" added Cecily.
"The picture couldn't be hers, or Mrs. Griggs would have known her for the same when she came to Carlisle," said Felix.
"I'm going to stop wondering about it," exclaimed Felicity crossly, aggravated by the amused smile with which the Story Girl was listening to the various speculations. "I think Sara is just as mean as mean when she won't tell us."
"I only hope the next thing won't be a funeral," remarked Sara Ray gloomily. "There were three lighted lamps on our kitchen table last night, and Judy Pineau says that's a sure sign of a funeral.""Well, there are funerals going on all the time," said Dan.
"But it means the funeral of somebody you know. I don't believe in it--MUCH--but Judy says she's seen it come true time and again. I hope if it does it won't be anybody we know very well. But I hope it'll be somebody I know a LITTLE, because then I might get to the funeral. I'd just love to go to a funeral."
"That's a dreadful thing to say," commented Felicity in a shocked tone. Sara Ray looked bewildered.
"I don't see what is dreadful in it," she protested.
"People don't go to funerals for the fun of it," said Felicity severely. "And you just as good as said you hoped somebody you knew would die so you'd get to the funeral."
"No, no, I didn't. I didn't mean that AT ALL, Felicity. I don't want anybody to die; but what I meant was, if anybody I knew HAD to die there might be a chance to go to the funeral. I've never been to a single funeral yet, and it must be so interesting."
"Well, don't mix up talk about funerals with talk about weddings," said Felicity. "It isn't lucky. I think Miss Reade is simply throwing herself away, but I hope she'll be happy. And I hope the Awkward Man will manage to get married without making some awful blunder, but it's more than I expect."
"The ceremony is to be very private," said the Story Girl.
"I'd like to see them the day they appear out in church," chuckled Dan. "How'll he ever manage to bring her in and show her into the pew? I'll bet he'll go in first--or tramp on her dress--or fall over his feet."
"Maybe he won't go to church at all the first Sunday and she'll have to go alone," said Peter. "That happened in Markdale. A man was too bashful to go to church the first time after getting married, and his wife went alone till he got used to the idea.""They may do things like that in Markdale but that is not the way people behave in Carlisle," said Felicity loftily.
Seeing the Story Girl slipping away with a disapproving face I joined her. "What is the matter, Sara?" I asked.
"I hate to hear them talking like that about Miss Reade and Mr. Dale," she answered vehemently. "It's really all so beautiful-- but they make it seem silly and absurd, somehow.""You might tell me all about it, Sara," I insinuated. "I wouldn't tell--and I'd understand."
"Yes, I think you would," she said thoughtfully. "But I can't tell it even to you because I can't tell it well enough yet. I've a feeling that there's only one way to tell it--and I don't know the way yet. Some day I'll know it--and then I'll tell you, Bev."
Long, long after she kept her word. Forty years later I wrote to her, across the leagues of land and sea that divided us, and told her that Jasper Dale was dead; and I reminded her of her old promise and asked its fulfilment. In reply she sent me the written love story of Jasper Dale and Alice Reade. Now, when Alice sleeps under the whispering elms of the old Carlisle churchyard, beside the husband of her youth, that story may be given, in all its old-time sweetness, to the world.
XXV. The Love Story Of The Awkward Man(Written by the Story Girl)
Jasper Dale lived alone in the old homestead which he had named Golden Milestone. In Carlisle this giving one's farm a name was looked upon as a piece of affectation; but if a place must be named why not give it a sensible name with some meaning to it? Why Golden Milestone, when Pinewood or Hillslope or, if you wanted to be very fanciful, Ivy Lodge, might be had for the taking?
He had lived alone at Golden Milestone since his mother's death; he had been twenty then and he was close upon forty now, though he did not look it. But neither could it be said that he looked young; he had never at any time looked young with common youth; there had always been something in his appearance that stamped him as different from the ordinary run of men, and, apart from his shyness, built up an intangible, invisible barrier between him and his kind. He had lived all his life in Carlisle; and all the Carlisle people knew of or about him-although they thought they knew everything--was that he was painfully, abnormally shy. He never went anywhere except to church; he never took part in Carlisle's simple social life; even with most men he was distant and reserved; as for women, he never spoke to or looked at them; if one spoke to him, even if she were a matronly old mother in Israel, he was at once in an agony of painful blushes. He had no friends in the sense of companions; to all outward appearance his life was solitary and devoid of any human interest.
He had no housekeeper; but his old house, furnished as it had been in his mother's lifetime, was cleanly and daintily kept. The quaint rooms were as free from dust and disorder as a woman could have had them. This was known, because Jasper Dale occasionally had his hired man's wife, Mrs. Griggs, in to scrub for him. On the morning she was expected he betook himself to woods and fields, returning only at night-fall. During his absence Mrs. Griggs was frankly wont to explore the house from cellar to attic, and her report of its condition was always the same--"neat as wax." To be sure, there was one room that was always locked against her, the west gable, looking out on the garden and the hill of pines beyond. But Mrs. Griggs knew that in the lifetime of Jasper Dale's mother it had been unfurnished. She supposed it still remained so, and felt no especial curiosity concerning it, though she always tried the door.
Jasper Dale had a good farm, well cultivated; he had a large garden where he worked most of his spare time in summer; it was supposed that he read a great deal, since the postmistress declared that he was always getting books and magazines by mail. He seemed well contented with his existence and people let him alone, since that was the greatest kindness they could do him. It was unsupposable that he would ever marry; nobody ever had supposed it."Jasper Dale never so much as THOUGHT about a woman," Carlisle oracles declared. Oracles, however, are not always to be trusted.
One day Mrs. Griggs went away from the Dale place with a very curious story, which she diligently spread far and wide. It made a good deal of talk, but people, although they listened eagerly, and wondered and questioned, were rather incredulous about it. They thought Mrs. Griggs must be drawing considerably upon her imagination; there were not lacking those who declared that she had invented the whole account, since her reputation for strict veracity was not wholly unquestioned.Mrs. Griggs's story was as follows:--
One day she found the door of the west gable unlocked. She went in, expecting to see bare walls and a collection of odds and ends. Instead she found herself in a finely furnished room. Delicate lace curtains hung before the small, square, broad-silled windows. The walls were adorned with pictures in much finer taste than Mrs. Griggs could appreciate. There was a bookcase between the windows filled with choicely bound books. Beside it stood a little table with a very dainty work-basket on it. By the basket Mrs. Griggs saw a pair of tiny scissors and a silver thimble. A wicker rocker, comfortable with silk cushions, was near it. Above the bookcase a woman's picture hung--a water-colour, if Mrs. Griggs had but known it--representing a pale, very sweet face, with large, dark eyes and a wistful expression under loose masses of black, lustrous hair. Just beneath the picture, on the top shelf of the bookcase, was a vaseful of flowers. Another vaseful stood on the table beside the basket.
All this was astonishing enough. But what puzzled Mrs. Griggs completely was the fact that a woman's dress was hanging over a chair before the mirror--a pale blue, silken affair. And on the floor beside it were two little blue satin slippers!
Good Mrs. Griggs did not leave the room until she had thoroughly explored it, even to shaking out the blue dress and discovering it to be a tea-gown--wrapper, she called it. But she found nothing to throw any light on the mystery. The fact that the simple name "Alice" was written on the fly-leaves of all the books only deepened it, for it was a name unknown in the Dale family. In this puzzled state she was obliged to depart, nor did she ever find the door unlocked again; and, discovering that people thought she was romancing when she talked about the mysterious west gable at Golden Milestone, she indignantly held her peace concerning the whole affair.
But Mrs. Griggs had told no more than the simple truth. Jasper Dale, under all his shyness and aloofness, possessed a nature full of delicate romance and poesy, which, denied expression in the common ways of life, bloomed out in the realm of fancy and imagination. Left alone, just when the boy's nature was deepening into the man's, he turned to this ideal kingdom for all he believed the real world could never give him. Love--a strange, almost mystical love--played its part here for him. He shadowed forth to himself the vision of a woman, loving and beloved; he cherished it until it became almost as real to him as his own personality and he gave this dream woman the name he liked best-- Alice. In fancy he walked and talked with her, spoke words of love to her, and heard words of love in return. When he came from work at the close of day she met him at his threshold in the twilight-- a strange, fair, starry shape, as elusive and spiritual as a blossom reflected in a pool by moonlight--with welcome on her lips and in her eyes. One day, when he was in Charlottetown on business, he had been struck by a picture in the window of a store. It was strangely like the woman of his dream love. He went in, awkward and embarrassed, and bought it. When he took it home he did not know where to put it. It was out of place among the dim old engravings of bewigged portraits and conventional landscapes on the walls of Golden Milestone. As he pondered the matter in his garden that evening he had an inspiration. The sunset, flaming on the windows of the west gable, kindled them into burning rose. Amid the splendour he fancied Alice's fair face peeping archly down at him from the room. The inspiration came then. It should be her room; he would fit it up for her; and her picture should hang there.
He was all summer carrying out his plan. Nobody must know or suspect, so he must go slowly and secretly. One by one the furnishings were purchased and brought home under cover of darkness. He arranged them with his own hands. He bought the books he thought she would like best and wrote her name in them; he got the little feminine knick-knacks of basket and thimble. Finally he saw in a store a pale blue tea-gown and the satin slippers. He had always fancied her as dressed in blue. He bought them and took them home to her room. Thereafter it was sacred to her; he always knocked on its door before he entered; he kept it sweet with fresh flowers; he sat there in the purple summer evenings and talked aloud to her or read his favourite books to her. In his fancy she sat opposite to him in her rocker, clad in the trailing blue gown, with her head leaning on one slender hand, as white as a twilight star.
But Carlisle people knew nothing of this--would have thought him tinged with mild lunacy if they had known. To them, he was just the shy, simple farmer he appeared. They never knew or guessed at the real Jasper Dale.
One spring Alice Reade came to teach music in Carlisle. Her pupils worshipped her, but the grown people thought she was rather too distant and reserved. They had been used to merry, jolly girls who joined eagerly in the social life of the place. Alice Reade held herself aloof from it--not disdainfully, but as one to whom these things were of small importance. She was very fond of books and solitary rambles; she was not at all shy but she was as sensitive as a flower; and after a time Carlisle people were content to let her live her own life and no longer resented her unlikeness to themselves.
She boarded with the Armstrongs, who lived beyond Golden Milestone around the hill of pines. Until the snow disappeared she went out to the main road by the long Armstrong lane; but when spring came she was wont to take a shorter way, down the pine hill, across the brook, past Jasper Dale's garden, and out through his lane. And one day, as she went by, Jasper Dale was working in his garden.
He was on his knees in a corner, setting out a bunch of roots--an unsightly little tangle of rainbow possibilities. It was a still spring morning; the world was green with young leaves; a little wind blew down from the pines and lost itself willingly among the budding delights of the garden. The grass opened eyes of blue violets. The sky was high and cloudless, turquoise-blue, shading off into milkiness on the far horizons. Birds were singing along the brook valley. Rollicking robins were whistling joyously in the pines. Jasper Dale's heart was filled to over-flowing with a realization of all the virgin loveliness around him; the feeling in his soul had the sacredness of a prayer. At this moment he looked up and saw Alice Reade.
She was standing outside the garden fence, in the shadow of a great pine tree, looking not at him, for she was unaware of his presence, but at the virginal bloom of the plum trees in a far corner, with all her delight in it outblossoming freely in her face. For a moment Jasper Dale believed that his dream love had taken visible form before him. She was like--so like; not in feature, perhaps, but in grace and colouring--the grace of a slender, lissome form and the colouring of cloudy hair and wistful, dark gray eyes, and curving red mouth; and more than all, she was like her in expression--in the subtle revelation of personality exhaling from her like perfume from a flower. It was as if his own had come to him at last and his whole soul suddenly leaped out to meet and welcome her.
Then her eyes fell upon him and the spell was broken. Jasper remained kneeling mutely there, shy man once more, crimson with blushes, a strange, almost pitiful creature in his abject confusion. A little smile flickered about the delicate corners of her mouth, but she turned and walked swiftly away down the lane.
Jasper looked after her with a new, painful sense of loss and loveliness. It had been agony to feel her conscious eyes upon him, but he realized now that there had been a strange sweetness in it, too. It was still greater pain to watch her going from him.
He thought she must be the new music teacher but he did not even know her name. She had been dressed in blue, too--a pale, dainty blue; but that was of course; he had known she must wear it; and he was sure her name must be Alice. When, later on, he discovered that it was, he felt no surprise.
He carried some mayflowers up to the west gable and put them under the picture. But the charm had gone out of the tribute; and looking at the picture, he thought how scant was the justice it did her. Her face was so much sweeter, her eyes so much softer, her hair so much more lustrous. The soul of his love had gone from the room and from the picture and from his dreams. When he tried to think of the Alice he loved he saw, not the shadowy spirit occupant of the west gable, but the young girl who had stood under the pine, beautiful with the beauty of moonlight, of starshine on still water, of white, wind-swayed flowers growing in silent, shadowy places. He did not then realize what this meant: had he realized it he would have suffered bitterly; as it was he felt only a vague discomfort--a curious sense of loss and gain commingled.
He saw her again that afternoon on her way home. She did not pause by the garden but walked swiftly past. Thereafter, every day for a week he watched unseen to see her pass his home. Once a little child was with her, clinging to her hand. No child had ever before had any part in the shy man's dream life. But that night in the twilight the vision of the rocking-chair was a girl in a blue print dress, with a little, golden-haired shape at her knee--a shape that lisped and prattled and called her "mother;" and both of them were his.
It was the next day that he failed for the first time to put flowers in the west gable. Instead, he cut a loose handful of daffodils and, looking furtively about him as if committing a crime, he laid them across the footpath under the pine. She must pass that way; her feet would crush them if she failed to see them. Then he slipped back into his garden, half exultant, half repentant. From a safe retreat he saw her pass by and stoop to lift his flowers. Thereafter he put some in the same place every day.
When Alice Reade saw the flowers she knew at once who had put them there, and divined that they were for her. She lifted them tenderly in much surprise and pleasure. She had heard all about Jasper Dale and his shyness; but before she had heard about him she had seen him in church and liked him. She thought his face and his dark blue eyes beautiful; she even liked the long brown hair that Carlisle people laughed at. That he was quite different from other people she had understood at once, but she thought the difference in his favour. Perhaps her sensitive nature divined and responded to the beauty in his. At least, in her eyes Jasper Dale was never a ridiculous figure.
When she heard the story of the west gable, which most people disbelieved, she believed it, although she did not understand it. It invested the shy man with interest and romance. She felt that she would have liked, out of no impertinent curiosity, to solve the mystery; she believed that it contained the key to his character.
Thereafter, every day she found flowers under the pine tree; she wished to see Jasper to thank him, unaware that he watched her daily from the screen of shrubbery in his garden; but it was some time before she found the opportunity. One evening she passed when he, not expecting her, was leaning against his garden fence with a book in his hand. She stopped under the pine."Mr. Dale," she said softly, "I want to thank you for your flowers."
Jasper, startled, wished that he might sink into the ground. His anguish of embarrassment made her smile a little. He could not speak, so she went on gently."It has been so good of you. They have given me so much pleasure-- I wish you could know how much." "It was nothing--nothing," stammered Jasper. His book had fallen on the ground at her feet, and she picked it up and held it out to him.
"So you like Ruskin," she said. "I do, too. But I haven't read this."
"If you--would care--to read it--you may have it," Jasper contrived to say.
She carried the book away with her. He did not again hide when she passed, and when she brought the book back they talked a little about it over the fence. He lent her others, and got some from her in return; they fell into the habit of discussing them. Jasper did not find it hard to talk to her now; it seemed as if he were talking to his dream Alice, and it came strangely natural to him. He did not talk volubly, but Alice thought what he did say was worth while. His words lingered in her memory and made music. She always found his flowers under the pine, and she always wore some of them, but she did not know if he noticed this or not.
One evening Jasper walked shyly with her from his gate up the pine hill. After that he always walked that far with her. She would have missed him much if he had failed to do so; yet it did not occur to her that she was learning to love him. She would have laughed with girlish scorn at the idea. She liked him very much; she thought his nature beautiful in its simplicity and purity; in spite of his shyness she felt more delightfully at home in his society than in that of any other person she had ever met. He was one of those rare souls whose friendship is at once a pleasure and a benediction, showering light from their own crystal clearness into all the dark corners in the souls of others, until, for the time being at least, they reflected his own nobility. But she never thought of love. Like other girls she had her dreams of a possible Prince Charming, young and handsome and debonair. It never occurred to her that he might be found in the shy, dreamy recluse of Golden Milestone.
In August came a day of gold and blue. Alice Reade, coming through the trees, with the wind blowing her little dark love- locks tricksily about under her wide blue hat, found a fragrant heap of mignonette under the pine. She lifted it and buried her face in it, drinking in the wholesome, modest perfume.
She had hoped Jasper would be in his garden, since she wished to ask him for a book she greatly desired to read. But she saw him sitting on the rustic seat at the further side. His back was towards her, and he was partially screened by a copse of lilacs.
Alice, blushing slightly, unlatched the garden gate, and went down the path. She had never been in the garden before, and she found her heart beating in a strange fashion.
He did not hear her footsteps, and she was close behind him when she heard his voice, and realized that he was talking to himself, in a low, dreamy tone. As the meaning of his words dawned on her consciousness she started and grew crimson. She could not move or speak; as one in a dream she stood and listened to the shy man's reverie, guiltless of any thought of eavesdropping.
"How much I love you, Alice," Jasper Dale was saying, unafraid, with no shyness in voice or manner. "I wonder what you would say if you knew. You would laugh at me--sweet as you are, you would laugh in mockery. I can never tell you. I can only dream of telling you. In my dream you are standing here by me, dear. I can see you very plainly, my sweet lady, so tall and gracious, with your dark hair and your maiden eyes. I can dream that I tell you my love; that--maddest, sweetest dream of all--that you love me in return. Everything is possible in dreams, you know, dear. My dreams are all I have, so I go far in them, even to dreaming that you are my wife. I dream how I shall fix up my dull old house for you. One room will need nothing more--it is your room, dear, and has been ready for you a long time--long before that day I saw you under the pine. Your books and your chair and your picture are there, dear--only the picture is not half lovely enough. But the other rooms of the house must be made to bloom out freshly for you. What a delight it is thus to dream of what I would do for you! Then I would bring you home, dear, and lead you through my garden and into my house as its mistress. I would see you standing beside me in the old mirror at the end of the hall--a bride, in your pale blue dress, with a blush on your face. I would lead you through all the rooms made ready for your coming, and then to your own. I would see you sitting in your own chair and all my dreams would find rich fulfilment in that royal moment. Oh, Alice, we would have a beautiful life together! It's sweet to make believe about it. You will sing to me in the twilight, and we will gather early flowers together in the spring days. When I come home from work, tired, you will put your arms about me and lay your head on my shoulder. I will stroke it--so-that bonny, glossy head of yours. Alice, my Alice--all mine in my dream-- never to be mine in real life--how I love you!"
The Alice behind him could bear no more. She gave a little choking cry that betrayed her presence. Jasper Dale sprang up and gazed upon her. He saw her standing there, amid the languorous shadows of August, pale with feeling, wideeyed, trembling.
For a moment shyness wrung him. Then every trace of it was banished by a sudden, strange, fierce anger that swept over him. He felt outraged and hurt to the death; he felt as if he had been cheated out of something incalculably precious--as if sacrilege had been done to his most holy sanctuary of emotion. White, tense with his anger, he looked at her and spoke, his lips as pale as if his fiery words scathed them.
"How dare you? You have spied on me--you have crept in and listened! How dare you? Do you know what you have done, girl? You have destroyed all that made life worth while to me. My dream is dead. It could not live when it was betrayed. And it was all I had. Oh, laugh at me--mock me! I know that I am ridiculous! What of it? It never could have hurt you! Why must you creep in like this to hear me and put me to shame? Oh, I love you--I will say it, laugh as you will. Is it such a strange thing that I should have a heart like other men? This will make sport for you! I, who love you better than my life, better than any other man in the world can love you, will be a jest to you all your life. I love you--and yet I think I could hate you--you have destroyed my dream--you have done me deadly wrong."
"Jasper! Jasper!" cried Alice, finding her voice. His anger hurt her with a pain she could not endure. It was unbearable that Jasper should be angry with her. In that moment she realized that she loved him--that the words he had spoken when unconscious of her presence were the sweetest she had ever heard, or ever could hear. Nothing mattered at all, save that he loved her and was angry with her.
"Don't say such dreadful things to me," she stammered, "I did not mean to listen. I could not help it. I shall never laugh at you. Oh, Jasper"--she looked bravely at him and the fine soul of her shone through the flesh like an illuminating lamp--"I am glad that you love me! and I am glad I chanced to overhear you, since you would never have had the courage to tell me otherwise. Glad-- glad! Do you understand, Jasper?"Jasper looked at her with the eyes of one who, looking through pain, sees rapture beyond.
"Is it possible?" he said, wonderingly. "Alice--I am so much older than you--and they call me the Awkward Man--they say I am unlike other people"-- "You ARE unlike other people," she said softly, "and that is why I love you. I know now that I must have loved you ever since I saw you.""I loved you long before I saw you," said Jasper.
He came close to her and drew her into his arms, tenderly and reverently, all his shyness and awkwardness swallowed up in the grace of his great happiness. In the old garden he kissed her lips and Alice entered into her own.
XXVI. Uncle Blair Comes Home
It happened that the Story Girl and I both got up very early on the morning of the Awkward Man's wedding day. Uncle Alec was going to Charlottetown that day, and I, awakened at daybreak by the sounds in the kitchen beneath us, remembered that I had forgotten to ask him to bring me a certain school-book I wanted. So I hurriedly dressed and hastened down to tell him before he went. I was joined on the stairs by the Story Girl, who said she had wakened and, not feeling like going to sleep again, thought she might as well get up.
"I had such a funny dream last night," she said. "I dreamed that I heard a voice calling me from away down in Uncle Stephen's Walk-- 'Sara, Sara, Sara,' it kept calling. I didn't know whose it was, and yet it seemed like a voice I knew. I wakened up while it was calling, and it seemed so real I could hardly believe it was a dream. It was bright moonlight, and I felt just like getting up and going out to the orchard. But I knew that would be silly and of course I didn't go. But I kept on wanting to and I couldn't sleep any more. Wasn't it queer?"
When Uncle Alec had gone I proposed a saunter to the farther end of the orchard, where I had left a book the preceding evening. A young mom was walking rosily on the hills as we passed down Uncle Stephen's Walk, with Paddy trotting before us. High overhead was the spirit-like blue of paling skies; the east was a great arc of crystal, smitten through with auroral crimsonings; just above it was one milk-white star of morning, like a pearl on a silver sea. A light wind of dawn was weaving an orient spell.
"It's lovely to be up as early as this, isn't it?" said the Story Girl. "The world seems so different just at sunrise, doesn't it? It makes me feel just like getting up to see the sun rise every morning of my life after this. But I know I won't. I'll likely sleep later than ever tomorrow morning. But I wish I could.""The Awkward Man and Miss Reade are going to have a lovely day for their wedding," I said. "Yes, and I'm so glad. Beautiful Alice deserves everything good. Why, Bev--why, Bev! Who is that in the hammock?"
I looked. The hammock was swung under the two end trees of the Walk. In it a man was lying, asleep, his head pillowed on his overcoat. He was sleeping easily, lightly, and wholesomely. He had a pointed brown beard and thick wavy brown hair. His cheeks were a dusky red and the lashes of his closed eyes were as long and dark and silken as a girl's. He wore a light gray suit, and on the slender white hand that hung down over the hammock's edge was a spark of diamond fire.
It seemed to me that I knew his face, although assuredly I had never seen him before. While I groped among vague speculations the Story Girl gave a queer, choked little cry. The next moment she had sprung over the intervening space, dropped on her knees by the hammock, and flung her arms about the man's neck.
"Father! Father!" she cried, while I stood, rooted to the ground in my amazement.
The sleeper stirred and opened two large, exceedingly brilliant hazel eyes. For a moment he gazed rather blankly at the brown- curled young lady who was embracing him. Then a most delightful smile broke over his face; he sprang up and caught her to his heart.
"Sara--Sara--my little Sara! To think didn't know you at first glance! But you are almost a woman. And when I saw you last you were just a little girl of eight. My own little Sara!"
"Father--father--sometimes I've wondered if you were ever coming back to me," I heard the Story Girl say, as I turned and scuttled up the Walk, realizing that I was not wanted there just then and would be little missed. Various emotions and speculations possessed my mind in my retreat; but chiefly did I feel a sense of triumph in being the bearer of exciting news."Aunt Janet, Uncle Blair is here," I announced breathlessly at the kitchen door.
Aunt Janet, who was kneading her bread, turned round and lifted floury hands. Felicity and Cecily, who were just entering the kitchen, rosy from slumber, stopped still and stared at me.
"Uncle who?" exclaimed Aunt Janet.
"Uncle Blair--the Story Girl's father, you know. He's here."
"Down in the orchard. He was asleep in the hammock. We found him there."
"Dear me!" said Aunt Janet, sitting down helplessly. "If that isn't like Blair! Of course he couldn't come like anybody else. I wonder," she added in a tone unheard by anyone else save myself, "I wonder if he has come to take the child away."
My elation went out like a snuffed candle. I had never thought of this. If Uncle Blair took the Story Girl away would not life become rather savourless on the hill farm? I turned and followed Felicity and Cecily out in a very subdued mood.
Uncle Blair and the Story Girl were just coming out of the orchard. His arm was about her and hers was on his shoulder. Laughter and tears were contending in her eyes. Only once before-- when Peter had come back from the Valley of the Shadow--had I seen the Story Girl cry. Emotion had to go very deep with her ere it touched the source of tears. I had always known that she loved her father passionately, though she rarely talked of him, understanding that her uncles and aunts were not whole-heartedly his friends.
But Aunt Janet's welcome was cordial enough, though a trifle flustered. Whatever thrifty, hard-working farmer folk might think of gay, Bohemian Blair Stanley in his absence, in his presence even they liked him, by the grace of some winsome, lovable quality in the soul of him. He had "a way with him"--revealed even in the manner with which he caught staid Aunt Janet in his arms, swung her matronly form around as though she had been a slim schoolgirl, and kissed her rosy cheek.
"Sister o' mine, are you never going to grow old?" he said. "Here you are at fortyfive with the roses of sixteen--and not a gray hair, I'll wager."
"Blair, Blair, it is you who are always young," laughed Aunt Janet, not ill pleased. "Where in the world did you come from? And what is this I hear of your sleeping all night in the hammock?"
"I've been painting in the Lake District all summer, as you know," answered Uncle Blair, "and one day I just got homesick to see my little girl. So I sailed for Montreal without further delay. I got here at eleven last night--the station-master's son drove me down. Nice boy. The old house was in darkness and I thought it would be a shame to rouse you all out of bed after a hard day's work. So I decided that I would spend the night in the orchard. It was moonlight, you know, and moonlight in an old orchard is one of the few things left over from the Golden Age."
"It was very foolish of you," said practical Aunt Janet. "These September nights are real chilly. You might have caught your death of cold--or a bad dose of rheumatism."
"So I might. No doubt it was foolish of me," agreed Uncle Blair gaily. "It must have been the fault, of the moonlight. Moonlight, you know, Sister Janet, has an intoxicating quality. It is a fine, airy, silver wine, such as fairies may drink at their revels, unharmed of it; but when a mere mortal sips of it, it mounts straightway to his brain, to the undoing of his daylight common sense. However, I have got neither cold nor rheumatism, as a sensible person would have done had he ever been lured into doing such a non-sensible thing; there is a special Providence for us foolish folk. I enjoyed my night in the orchard; for a time I was companioned by sweet old memories; and then I fell asleep listening to the murmurs of the wind in those old trees yonder. And I had a beautiful dream, Janet. I dreamed that the old orchard blossomed again, as it did that spring eighteen years ago. I dreamed that its sunshine was the sunshine of spring, not autumn. There was newness of life in my dream, Janet, and the sweetness of forgotten words.""Wasn't it strange about MY dream?" whispered the Story Girl to me. "Well, you'd better come in and have some breakfast," said Aunt Janet. "These are my little girls--Felicity and Cecily."
"I remember them as two most adorable tots," said Uncle Blair, shaking hands. "They haven't changed quite so much as my own baby-child. Why, she's a woman, Janet--she's a woman."
"She's child enough still," said Aunt Janet hastily.
The Story Girl shook her long brown curls.
"I'm fifteen," she said. "And you ought to see me in my long dress, father."
"We must not be separated any longer, dear heart," I heard Uncle Blair say tenderly. I hoped that he meant he would stay in Canada--not that he would take the Story Girl away.
Apart from this we had a gay day with Uncle Blair. He evidently liked our society better than that of the grown-ups, for he was a child himself at heart, gay, irresponsible, always acting on the impulse of the moment. We all found him a delightful companion. There was no school that day, as Mr. Perkins was absent, attending a meeting of the Teachers' Convention, so we spent most of its golden hours in the orchard with Uncle Blair, listening to his fascinating accounts of foreign wanderings. He also drew all our pictures for us, and this was especially delightful, for the day of the camera was only just dawning and none of us had ever had even our photographs taken. Sara Ray's pleasure was, as usual, quite spoiled by wondering what her mother would say of it, for Mrs. Ray had, so it appeared, some very peculiar prejudices against the taking or making of any kind of picture whatsoever, owing to an exceedingly strict interpretation of the second commandment. Dan suggested that she need not tell her mother anything about it; but Sara shook her head."I'll have to tell her. I've made it a rule to tell ma everything I do ever since the Judgment Day." "Besides," added Cecily seriously, "the Family Guide says one ought to tell one's mother everything."
"It's pretty hard sometimes, though," sighed Sara. "Ma scolds so much when I do tell her things, that it sort of discourages me. But when I think of how dreadful I felt the time of the Judgment Day over deceiving her in some things it nerves me up. I'd do almost anything rather than feel like that the next time the Judgment Day comes.""Fe, fi, fo, fum, I smell a story," said Uncle Blair. "What do you mean by speaking of the Judgment Day in the past tense?" The Story Girl told him the tale of that dreadful Sunday in the preceding summer and we all laughed with him at ourselves. "All the same," muttered Peter, "I don't want to have another experience like that. I hope I'll be dead the next time the Judgment Day comes." "But you'll be raised up for it," said Felix. "Oh, that'll be all right. I won't mind that. I won't know anything about it till it really happens. It's the expecting it that's the worst." "I don't think you ought to talk of such things," said Felicity.
When evening came we all went to Golden Milestone. We knew the Awkward Man and his bride were expected home at sunset, and we meant to scatter flowers on the path by which she must enter her new home. It was the Story Girl's idea, but I don't think Aunt Janet would have let us go if Uncle Blair had not pleaded for us. He asked to be taken along, too, and we agreed, if he would stand out of sight when the newly married pair came home.
"You see, father, the Awkward Man won't mind us, because we're only children and he knows us well," explained the Story Girl, "but if he sees you, a stranger, it might confuse him and we might spoil the homecoming, and that would be such a pity."
So we went to Golden Milestone, laden with all the flowery spoil we could plunder from both gardens. It was a clear amber-tinted September evening and far away, over Markdale Harbour, a great round red moon was rising as we waited. Uncle Blair was hidden behind the wind-blown tassels of the pines at the gate, but he and the Story Girl kept waving their hands at each other and calling out gay, mirthful jests."Do you really feel acquainted with your father?" whispered Sara Ray wonderingly. "It's long since you saw him." "If I hadn't seen him for a hundred years it wouldn't make any difference that way," laughed the Story Girl. "S-s-h-s-s-h--they're coming," whispered Felicity excitedly.
And then they came--Beautiful Alice blushing and lovely, in the prettiest of pretty blue dresses, and the Awkward Man, so fervently happy that he quite forgot to be awkward. He lifted her out of the buggy gallantly and led her forward to us, smiling. We retreated before them, scattering our flowers lavishly on the path, and Alice Dale walked to the very doorstep of her new home over a carpet of blossoms. On the step they both paused and turned towards us, and we shyly did the proper thing in the way of congratulations and good wishes."It was so sweet of you to do this," said the smiling bride. "It was lovely to be able to do it for you, dearest," whispered the Story Girl, "and oh, Miss Reade--Mrs. Dale, I mean--we all hope you'll be so, so happy for ever."
"I am sure I shall," said Alice Dale, turning to her husband. He looked down into her eyes--and we were quite forgotten by both of them. We saw it, and slipped away, while Jasper Dale drew his wife into their home and shut the world out.We scampered joyously away through the moonlit dusk. Uncle Blair joined us at the gate and the Story Girl asked him what he thought of the bride. "When she dies white violets will grow out of her dust," he answered. "Uncle Blair says even queerer things than the Story Girl," Felicity whispered to me.
And so that beautiful day went away from us, slipping through our fingers as we tried to hold it. It hooded itself in shadows and fared forth on the road that is lighted by the white stars of evening. It had been a gift of Paradise. Its hours had all been fair and beloved. From dawn flush to fall of night there had been naught to mar it. It took with it its smiles and laughter. But it left the boon of memory.
XXVII. The Old Order Changeth"I am going away with father when he goes. He is going to spend the winter in Paris, and I am to go to school there."
The Story Girl told us this one day in the orchard. There was a little elation in her tone, but more regret. The news was not a great surprise to us. We had felt it in the air ever since Uncle Blair's arrival. Aunt Janet had been very unwilling to let the Story Girl go. But Uncle Blair was inexorable. It was time, he said, that she should go to a better school than the little country one in Carlisle; and besides, he did not want her to grow into womanhood a stranger to him. So it was finally decided that she was to go."Just think, you are going to Europe," said Sara Ray in an awe- struck tone. "Won't that be splendid!"
"I suppose I'll like it after a while," said the Story Girl slowly, "but I know I'll be dreadfully homesick at first. Of course, it will be lovely to be with father, but oh, I'll miss the rest of you so much!"
"Just think how WE'LL miss YOU," sighed Cecily. "It will be so lonesome here this winter, with you and Peter both gone. Oh, dear, I do wish things didn't have to change."
Felicity said nothing. She kept looking down at the grass on which she sat, absently pulling at the slender blades. Presently we saw two big tears roll down over her cheeks. The Story Girl looked surprised."Are you crying because I'm going away, Felicity?" she asked. "Of course I am," answered Felicity, with a big sob. "Do you think I've no f-feeling?" "I didn't think you'd care much," said the Story Girl frankly. "You've never seemed to like me very much."
"I d-don't wear my h-heart on my sleeve," said poor Felicity, with an attempt at dignity. "I think you m-might stay. Your father would let you s-stay if you c-coaxed him."
"Well, you see I'd have to go some time," sighed the Story Girl, "and the longer it was put off the harder it would be. But I do feel dreadfully about it. I can't even take poor Paddy. I'll have to leave him behind, and oh, I want you all to promise to be kind to him for my sake."We all solemnly assured her that we would. "I'll g-give him cream every m-morning and n-night," sobbed Felicity, "but I'll never be able to look at him without crying. He'll make me think of you."
"Well, I'm not going right away," said the Story Girl, more cheerfully. "Not till the last of October. So we have over a month yet to have a good time in. Let's all just determine to make it a splendid month for the last. We won't think about my going at all till we have to, and we won't have any quarrels among us, and we'll just enjoy ourselves all we possibly can. So don't cry any more, Felicity. I'm awfully glad you do like me and am sorry I'm going away, but let's all forget it for a month."Felicity sighed, and tucked away her damp handkerchief.
"It isn't so easy for me to forget things, but I'll try," she said disconsolately, "and if you want any more cooking lessons before you go I'll be real glad to teach you anything I know."This was a high plane of self-sacrifice for Felicity to attain. But the Story Girl shook her head. "No, I'm not going to bother my head about cooking lessons this last month. It's too vexing." "Do you remember the time you made the pudding--" began Peter, and suddenly stopped.
"Out of sawdust?" finished the Story Girl cheerfully. "You needn't be afraid to mention it to me after this. I don't mind any more. I begin to see the fun of it now. I should think I do remember it--and the time I baked the bread before it was raised enough.""People have made worse mistakes than that," said Felicity kindly.
"Such as using tooth-powd--" but here Dan stopped abruptly, remembering the Story Girl's plea for a beautiful month. Felicity coloured, but said nothing--did not even LOOK anything."We HAVE had lots of fun together one way or another," said Cecily, retrospectively.
"Just think how much we've laughed this last year or so," said the Story Girl. "We've had good times together; but I think we'll have lots more splendid years ahead."
"Eden is always behind us--Paradise always before," said Uncle Blair, coming up in time to hear her. He said it with a sigh that was immediately lost in one of his delightful smiles.
"I like Uncle Blair so much better than I expected to," Felicity confided to me. "Mother says he's a rolling stone, but there really is something very nice about him, although he says a great many things I don't understand. I suppose the Story Girl will have a very gay time in Paris.""She's going to school and she'll have to study hard," I said.
"She says she's going to study for the stage," said Felicity. "Uncle Roger thinks it is all right, and says she'll be very famous some day. But mother thinks it's dreadful, and so do I.""Aunt Julia is a concert singer," I said. "Oh, that's very different. But I hope poor Sara will get on all right," sighed
Felicity. "You never know what may happen to a person in those foreign countries. And everybody says Paris is such a wicked place. But we must hope for the best," she concluded in a resigned tone.
That evening the Story Girl and I drove the cows to pasture after milking, and when we came home we sought out Uncle Blair in the orchard. He was sauntering up and down Uncle Stephen's Walk, his hands clasped behind him and his beautiful, youthful face uplifted to the western sky where waves of night were breaking on a dim primrose shore of sunset.
"See that star over there in the south-west?" he said, as we joined him. "The one just above that pine? An evening star shining over a dark pine tree is the whitest thing in the universe--because it is LIVING whiteness--whiteness possessing a soul. How full this old orchard is of twilight! Do you know, I have been trysting here with ghosts.""The Family Ghost?" I asked, very stupidly.
"No, not the Family Ghost. I never saw beautiful, broken-hearted Emily yet. Your mother saw her once, Sara--that was a strange thing," he added absently, as if to himself.
"Did mother really see her?" whispered the Story Girl.
"Well, she always believed she did. Who knows?"
"Do you think there are such things as ghosts, Uncle Blair?" I asked curiously. "I never saw any, Beverley."
"Oh, yes--the ghosts of the old years. I love this orchard because of its many ghosts. We are good comrades, those ghosts and I; we walk and talk--we even laugh together--sorrowful laughter that has sorrow's own sweetness. And always there comes to me one dear phantom and wanders hand in hand with me--a lost lady of the old years.""My mother?" said the Story Girl very softly.
"Yes, your mother. Here, in her old haunts, it is impossible for me to believe that she can be dead--that her LAUGHTER can be dead. She was the gayest, sweetest thing--and so young--only three years older than you, Sara. Yonder old house had been glad because of her for eighteen years when I met her first.""I wish I could remember her," said the Story Girl, with a little sigh. "I haven't even a picture of her. Why didn't you paint one, father?"
"She would never let me. She had some queer, funny, half-playful, half-earnest superstition about it. But I always meant to when she would become willing to let me. And then--she died. Her twin brother Felix died the same day. There was something strange about that, too. I was holding her in my arms and she was looking up at me; suddenly she looked past me and gave a little start. 'Felix!' she said. For a moment she trembled and then she smiled and looked up at me again a little beseechingly. 'Felix has come for me, dear,' she said. 'We were always together before you came--you must not mind--you must be glad I do not have to go alone.' Well, who knows? But she left me, Sara--she left me."There was that in Uncle Blair's voice that kept us silent for a time. Then the Story Girl said, still very softly: "What did mother look like, father? I don't look the least little bit like her, do I?"
"No, I wish you did, you brown thing. Your mother's face was as white as a woodlily, with only a faint dream of rose in her cheeks. She had the eyes of one who always had a song in her heart--blue as a mist, those eyes were. She had dark lashes, and a little red mouth that quivered when she was very sad or very happy like a crimson rose too rudely shaken by the wind. She was as slim and lithe as a young, white-stemmed birch tree. How I loved her! How happy we were! But he who accepts human love must bind it to his soul with pain, and she is not lost to me. Nothing is ever really lost to us as long as we remember it."
Uncle Blair looked up at the evening star. We saw that he had forgotten us, and we slipped away, hand in hand, leaving him alone in the memory-haunted shadows of the old orchard.
XXVIII. The Path To Arcady
October that year gathered up all the spilled sunshine of the summer and clad herself in it as in a garment. The Story Girl had asked us to try to make the last month together beautiful, and Nature seconded our efforts, giving us that most beautiful of beautiful things--a gracious and perfect moon of falling leaves. There was not in all that vanished October one day that did not come in with auroral splendour and go out attended by a fair galaxy of evening stars--not a day when there were not golden lights in the wide pastures and purple hazes in the ripened distances. Never was anything so gorgeous as the maple trees that year. Maples are trees that have primeval fire in their souls. It glows out a little in their early youth, before the leaves open, in the redness and rosy-yellowness of their blossoms, but in summer it is carefully hidden under a demure, silver-lined greenness. Then when autumn comes, the maples give up trying to be sober and flame out in all the barbaric splendour and gorgeousness of their real nature, making of the hills things out of an Arabian Nights dream in the golden prime of good Haroun Alraschid.
You may never know what scarlet and crimson really are until you see them in their perfection on an October hillside, under the unfathomable blue of an autumn sky. All the glow and radiance and joy at earth's heart seem to have broken loose in a splendid determination to express itself for once before the frost of winter chills her beating pulses. It is the year's carnival ere the dull Lenten days of leafless valleys and penitential mists come.
The time of apple-picking had come around once more and we worked joyously. Uncle Blair picked apples with us, and between him and the Story Girl it was an October never to be forgotten."Will you go far afield for a walk with me to-day?" he said to her and me, one idle afternoon of opal skies, pied meadows and misty hills.
It was Saturday and Peter had gone home; Felix and Dan were helping Uncle Alec top turnips; Cecily and Felicity were making cookies for Sunday, so the Story Girl and I were alone in Uncle Stephen's Walk.
We liked to be alone together that last month, to think the long, long thoughts of youth and talk about our futures. There had grown up between us that summer a bond of sympathy that did not exist between us and the others. We were older than they--the Story Girl was fifteen and I was nearly that; and all at once it seemed as if we were immeasurably older than the rest, and possessed of dreams and visions and forward-reaching hopes which they could not possibly share or understand. At times we were still children, still interested in childish things. But there came hours when we seemed to our two selves very grown up and old, and in those hours we talked our dreams and visions and hopes, vague and splendid, as all such are, over together, and so began to build up, out of the rainbow fragments of our childhood's companionship, that rare and beautiful friendship which was to last all our lives, enriching and enstarring them. For there is no bond more lasting than that formed by the mutual confidences of that magic time when youth is slipping from the sheath of childhood and beginning to wonder what lies for it beyond those misty hills that bound the golden road."Where are you going?" asked the Story Girl.
"To 'the woods that belt the gray hillside'--ay, and overflow beyond it into many a valley purple-folded in immemorial peace," answered Uncle Blair. "I have a fancy for one more ramble in Prince Edward Island woods before I leave Canada again. But I would not go alone. So come, you two gay youthful things to whom all life is yet fair and good, and we will seek the path to Arcady. There will be many little things along our way to make us glad. Joyful sounds will 'come ringing down the wind;' a wealth of gypsy gold will be ours for the gathering; we will learn the potent, unutterable charm of a dim spruce wood and the grace of flexile mountain ashes fringing a lonely glen; we will tryst with the folk of fur and feather; we'll hearken to the music of gray old firs. Come, and you'll have a ramble and an afternoon that you will both remember all your lives."
We did have it; never has its remembrance faded; that idyllic afternoon of roving in the old Carlisle woods with the Story Girl and Uncle Blair gleams in my book of years, a page of living beauty. Yet it was but a few hours of simplest pleasure; we wandered pathlessly through the sylvan calm of those dear places which seemed that day to be full of a great friendliness; Uncle Blair sauntered along behind us, whistling softly; sometimes he talked to himself; we delighted in those brief reveries of his; Uncle Blair was the only man I have ever known who could, when he so willed, "talk like a book," and do it without seeming ridiculous; perhaps it was because he had the knack of choosing "fit audience, though few," and the proper time to appeal to that audience.
We went across the fields, intending to skirt the woods at the back of Uncle Alec's farm and find a lane that cut through Uncle Roger's woods; but before we came to it we stumbled on a sly, winding little path quite by accident--if, indeed, there can be such a thing as accident in the woods, where I am tempted to think we are led by the Good People along such of their fairy ways as they have a mind for us to walk in.
"Go to, let us explore this," said Uncle Blair. "It always drags terribly at my heart to go past a wood lane if I can make any excuse at all for traversing it: for it is the by-ways that lead to the heart of the woods and we must follow them if we would know the forest and be known of it. When we can really feel its wild heart beating against ours its subtle life will steal into our veins and make us its own for ever, so that no matter where we go or how wide we wander in the noisy ways of cities or over the lone ways of the sea, we shall yet be drawn back to the forest to find our most enduring kinship.""I always feel so SATISFIED in the woods," said the Story Girl dreamily, as we turned in under the low-swinging fir boughs. "Trees seem such friendly things."
"They are the most friendly things in God's good creation," said Uncle Blair emphatically. "And it is so easy to live with them. To hold converse with pines, to whisper secrets with the poplars, to listen to the tales of old romance that beeches have to tell, to walk in eloquent silence with self-contained firs, is to learn what real companionship is. Besides, trees are the same all over the world. A beech tree on the slopes of the Pyrenees is just what a beech tree here in these Carlisle woods is; and there used to be an old pine hereabouts whose twin brother I was well acquainted with in a dell among the Apennines. Listen to those squirrels, will you, chattering over yonder. Did you ever hear such a fuss over nothing? Squirrels are the gossips and busybodies of the woods; they haven't learned the fine reserve of its other denizens. But after all, there is a certain shrill friendliness in their greeting.""They seem to be scolding us," I said, laughing.
"Oh, they are not half such scolds as they sound," answered Uncle Blair gaily. "If they would but 'tak a thought and mend ' their shrew-like ways they would be dear, lovable creatures enough.""If I had to be an animal I think I'd like to be a squirrel," said the Story Girl. "It must be next best thing to flying."
"Just see what a spring that fellow gave," laughed Uncle Blair. "And now listen to his song of triumph! I suppose that chasm he cleared seemed as wide and deep to him as Niagara Gorge would to us if we leaped over it. Well, the wood people are a happy folk and very well satisfied with themselves."
Those who have followed a dim, winding, balsamic path to the unexpected hollow where a wood-spring lies have found the rarest secret the forest can reveal. Such was our good fortune that day. At the end of our path we found it, under the pines, a crystal- clear thing with lips unkissed by so much as a stray sunbeam.
"It is easy to dream that this is one of the haunted springs of old romance," said Uncle Blair. "'Tis an enchanted spot this, I am very sure, and we should go softly, speaking low, lest we disturb the rest of a white, wet naiad, or break some spell that has cost long years of mystic weaving.""It's so easy to believe things in the woods," said the Story Girl, shaping a cup from a bit of golden-brown birch bark and filling it at the spring.
"Drink a toast in that water, Sara," said Uncle Blair. "There's not a doubt that it has some potent quality of magic in it and the wish you wish over it will come true."The Story Girl lifted her golden-hued flagon to her red lips. Her hazel eyes laughed at us over the brim. "Here's to our futures," she cried, "I wish that every day of our lives may be better than the one that went before."
"An extravagant wish--a very wish of youth," commented Uncle Blair, "and yet in spite of its extravagance, a wish that will come true if you are true to yourselves. In that case, every day WILL be better than all that went before--but there will be many days, dear lad and lass, when you will not believe it."
We did not understand him, but we knew Uncle Blair never explained his meaning. When asked it he was wont to answer with a smile, "Some day you'll grow to it. Wait for that." So we addressed ourselves to follow the brook that stole away from the spring in its windings and doublings and tricky surprises. "A brook," quoth Uncle Blair, "is the most changeful, bewitching, lovable thing in the world. It is never in the same mind or mood two minutes. Here it is sighing and murmuring as if its heart were broken. But listen--yonder by the birches it is laughing as if it were enjoying some capital joke all by itself."
It was indeed a changeful brook; here it would make a pool, dark and brooding and still, where we bent to look at our mirrored faces; then it grew communicative and gossiped shallowly over a broken pebble bed where there was a diamond dance of sunbeams and no troutling or minnow could glide through without being seen. Sometimes its banks were high and steep, hung with slender ashes and birches; again they were mere, low margins, green with delicate mosses, shelving out of the wood. Once it came to a little precipice and flung itself over undauntedly in an indignation of foam, gathering itself up rather dizzily among the mossy stones below. It was some time before it got over its vexation; it went boiling and muttering along, fighting with the rotten logs that lie across it, and making far more fuss than was necessary over every root that interfered with it. We were getting tired of its ill-humour and talked of leaving it, when it suddenly grew sweet-tempered again, swooped around a curve--and presto, we were in fairyland.
It was a little dell far in the heart of the woods. A row of birches fringed the brook, and each birch seemed more exquisitely graceful and golden than her sisters. The woods receded from it on every hand, leaving it lying in a pool of amber sunshine. The yellow trees were mirrored in the placid stream, with now and then a leaf falling on the water, mayhap to drift away and be used, as Uncle Blair suggested, by some adventurous wood sprite who had it in mind to fare forth to some far-off, legendary region where all the brooks ran into the sea."Oh, what a lovely place!" I exclaimed, looking around me with delight. "A spell of eternity is woven over it, surely," murmured Uncle Blair. "Winter may not touch it, or spring ever revisit it. It should be like this for ever."
"Let us never come here again," said the Story Girl softly, "never, no matter how often we may be in Carlisle. Then we will never see it changed or different. We can always remember it just as we see it now, and it will be like this for ever for us.""I'm going to sketch it," said Uncle Blair.
While he sketched it the Story Girl and I sat on the banks of the brook and she told me the story of the Sighing Reed. It was a very simple little story, that of the slender brown reed which grew by the forest pool and always was sad and sighing because it could not utter music like the brook and the birds and the winds. All the bright, beautiful things around it mocked it and laughed at it for its folly. Who would ever look for music in it, a plain, brown, unbeautiful thing? But one day a youth came through the wood; he was as beautiful as the spring; he cut the brown reed and fashioned it according to his liking; and then he put it to his lips and breathed on it; and, oh, the music that floated through the forest! It was so entrancing that everything--brooks and birds and winds--grew silent to listen to it. Never had anything so lovely been heard; it was the music that had for so long been shut up in the soul of the sighing reed and was set free at last through its pain and suffering.
I had heard the Story Girl tell many a more dramatic tale; but that one stands out for me in memory above them all, partly, perhaps, because of the spot in which she told it, partly because it was the last one I was to hear her tell for many years--the last one she was ever to tell me on the golden road.
When Uncle Blair had finished his sketch the shafts of sunshine were turning crimson and growing more and more remote; the early autumn twilight was falling over the woods. We left our dell, saying good-bye to it for ever, as the Story Girl had suggested, and we went slowly homeward through the fir woods, where a haunting, indescribable odour stole out to meet us.
"There is magic in the scent of dying fir," Uncle Blair was saying aloud to himself, as if forgetting he was not quite alone. "It gets into our blood like some rare, subtly-compounded wine, and thrills us with unutterable sweetnesses, as of recollections from some other fairer life, lived in some happier star. Compared to it, all other scents seem heavy and earth-born, luring to the valleys instead of the heights. But the tang of the fir summons onward and upward to some 'far-off, divine event'--some spiritual peak of attainment whence we shall see with unfaltering, unclouded vision the spires of some aerial City Beautiful, or the fulfilment of some fair, fadeless land of promise."He was silent for a moment, then added in a lower tone, "Felicity, you loved the scent of dying fir. If you were here tonight with me-Felicity--Felicity!"
Something in his voice made me suddenly sad. I was comforted when I felt the Story Girl slip her hand into mine. So we walked out of the woods into the autumn dusk.
We were in a little valley. Half-way up the opposite slope a brush fire was burning clearly and steadily in a maple grove. There was something indescribably alluring in that fire, glowing so redly against the dark background of forest and twilit hill.
"Let us go to it," cried Uncle Blair, gaily, casting aside his sorrowful mood and catching our hands. "A wood fire at night has a fascination not to be resisted by those of mortal race. Hasten-- we must not lose time.""Oh, it will burn a long time yet," I gasped, for Uncle Blair was whisking us up the hill at a merciless rate.
"You can't be sure. It may have been lighted by some good, honest farmer-man, bent on tidying up his sugar orchard, but it may also, for anything we know, have been kindled by no earthly woodman as a beacon or summons to the tribes of fairyland, and may vanish away if we tarry."
It did not vanish and presently we found ourselves in the grove. It was very beautiful; the fire burned with a clear, steady glow and a soft crackle; the long arcades beneath the trees were illuminated with a rosy radiance, beyond which lurked companies of gray and purple shadows. Everything was very still and dreamy and remote.
"It is impossible that out there, just over the hill, lies a village of men, where tame household lamps are shining," said Uncle Blair.
"So you are!" said Uncle Blair emphatically. "You're back in the youth of the race
-back in the beguilement of the young world. Everything is in this hour--the beauty of classic myths, the primal charm of the silent and the open, the lure of mystery. Why, it's a time and place when and where everything might come true
-when the men in green might creep out to join hands and dance around the fire, or dryads steal from their trees to warm their white limbs, grown chilly in October frosts, by the blaze. I wouldn't be much surprised if we should see something of the kind. Isn't that the flash of an ivory shoulder through yonder gloom? And didn't you see a queer little elfin face peering at us around that twisted gray trunk? But one can't be sure. Mortal eyesight is too slow and clumsy a thing to match against the flicker of a pixy-litten fire."
Hand in hand we wandered through that enchanted place, seeking the folk of elfland, "and heard their mystic voices calling, from fairy knoll and haunted hill." Not till the fire died down into ashes did we leave the grove. Then we found that the full moon was gleaming lustrously from a cloudless sky across the valley. Between us and her stretched up a tall pine, wondrously straight and slender and branchless to its very top, where it overflowed in a crest of dark boughs against the silvery splendour behind it. Beyond, the hill farms were lying in a suave, white radiance."Doesn't it seem a long, long time to you since we left home this afternoon?" asked the Story Girl. "And yet it is only a few hours." Only a few hours--true; yet such hours were worth a cycle of common years untouched by the glory and the dream.
XXIX. We Lose A Friend
Our beautiful October was marred by one day of black tragedy--the day Paddy died. For Paddy, after seven years of as happy a life as ever a cat lived, died suddenly--of poison, as was supposed. Where he had wandered in the darkness to meet his doom we did not know, but in the frosty dawnlight he dragged himself home to die. We found him lying on the doorstep when we got up, and it did not need Aunt Janet's curt announcement, or Uncle Blair's reluctant shake of the head, to tell us that there was no chance of our pet recovering this time. We felt that nothing could be done. Lard and sulphur on his paws would be of no use, nor would any visit to Peg Bowen avail. We stood around in mournful silence; the Story Girl sat down on the step and took poor Paddy upon her lap.
"I s'pose there's no use even in praying now," said Cecily desperately. "It wouldn't do any harm to try," sobbed Felicity.
"You needn't waste your prayers," said Dan mournfully, "Pat is beyond human aid. You can tell that by his eyes. Besides, I don't believe it was the praying cured him last time.""No, it was Peg Bowen," declared Peter, "but she couldn't have bewitched him this time for she's been away for months, nobody knows where." "If he could only TELL us where he feels the worst!" said Cecily piteously. "It's so dreadful to see him suffering and not be able to do a single thing to help him!" "I don't think he's suffering much now," I said comfortingly.
The Story Girl said nothing. She passed and repassed her long brown hand gently over her pet's glossy fur. Pat lifted his head and essayed to creep a little nearer to his beloved mistress. The Story Girl drew his limp body close in her arms. There was a plaintive little mew--a long quiver--and Paddy's friendly soul had fared forth to wherever it is that good cats go."Well, he's gone," said Dan, turning his back abruptly to us. "It doesn't seem as if it can be true," sobbed Cecily. "This time yesterday morning he was full of life." "He drank two full saucers of cream," moaned Felicity, "and I saw him catch a mouse in the evening. Maybe it was the last one he ever caught." "He did for many a mouse in his day," said Peter, anxious to pay his tribute to the departed. "'He was a cat--take him for all in all. We shall not look upon his like again,'" quoted Uncle Blair.
Felicity and Cecily and Sara Ray cried so much that Aunt Janet lost patience completely and told them sharply that they would have something to cry for some day--which did not seem to comfort them much. The Story Girl shed no tears, though the look in her eyes hurt more than weeping.
"After all, perhaps it's for the best," she said drearily. "I've been feeling so badly over having to go away and leave Paddy. No matter how kind you'd all be to him I know he'd miss me terribly. He wasn't like most cats who don't care who comes and goes as long as they get plenty to eat. Paddy wouldn't have been contented without me."
"Oh, no-o-o, oh, no-o-o," wailed Sara Ray lugubriously.
Felix shot a disgusted glance at her.
"I think it's wicked to carry on about an animal as those children do," answered Aunt Janet decidedly, "and you shouldn't encourage them. Here now, children, stop making a fuss. Bury that cat and get off to your apple picking."
We had to go to our work, but Paddy was not to be buried in any such off-hand fashion as that. It was agreed that we should bury him in the orchard at sunset that evening, and Sara Ray, who had to go home, declared she would be back for it, and implored us to wait for her if she didn't come exactly on time."I mayn't be able to get away till after milking," she sniffed, "but I don't want to miss it. Even a cat's funeral is better than none at all." "Horrid thing!" said Felicity, barely waiting until Sara was out of earshot.
We worked with heavy hearts that day; the girls cried bitterly most of the time and we boys whistled defiantly. But as evening drew on we began to feel a sneaking interest in the details of the funeral. As Dan said, the thing should be done properly, since Paddy was no common cat. The Story Girl selected the spot for the grave, in a little corner behind the cherry copse, where early violets enskied the grass in spring, and we boys dug the grave, making it "soft and narrow," as the heroine of the old ballad wanted hers made. Sara Ray, who managed to come in time after all, and Felicity stood and watched us, but Cecily and the Story Girl kept far aloof.
"This time last night you never thought you'd be digging Pat's grave to-night," sighed Felicity.
"We little k-know what a day will bring forth," sobbed Sara. "I've heard the minister say that and it is true."
When all was in readiness the Story Girl brought her pet through the orchard where he had so often frisked and prowled. No useless coffin enclosed his breast but he reposed in a neat cardboard box.
"I wonder if it would be right to say 'ashes to ashes and dust to dust,'" said Peter. "No, it wouldn't," averred Felicity. "It would be real wicked."
"I think we ought to sing a hymn, anyway," asseverated Sara Ray. "Well, we might do that, if it isn't a very religious one," conceded Felicity.
"We are not going to sing anything," said the Story Girl coldly. "Do you want to make the affair ridiculous? We will just fill up the grave quietly and put a flat stone over the top.""It isn't much like my idea of a funeral," muttered Sara Ray discontentedly. "Never mind, we're going to have a real obituary about him in Our Magazine," whispered Cecily consolingly.
"And Peter is going to cut his name on top of the stone," added Felicity. "Only we mustn't let on to the grown-ups until it is done, because they might say it wasn't right."We left the orchard, a sober little band, with the wind of the gray twilight blowing round us. Uncle Roger passed us at the gate.
"So the last sad obsequies are over?" he remarked with a grin.
And we hated Uncle Roger. But we loved Uncle Blair because he said quietly, "And so you've buried your little comrade?"
So much may depend on the way a thing is said. But not even Uncle Blair's sympathy could take the sting out of the fact that there was no Paddy to get the froth that night at milking time. Felicity cried bitterly all the time she was straining the milk. Many human beings have gone to their graves unattended by as much real regret as followed that one gray pussy cat to his.XXX. Prophecies
"Here's a letter for you from father," said Felix, tossing it to me as he came through the orchard gate. We had been picking apples all day, but were taking a mid-afternoon rest around the well, with a cup of its sparkling cold water to refresh us.I opened the letter rather indifferently, for father, with all his excellent and lovable traits, was but a poor correspondent; his letters were usually very brief and very unimportant. This letter was brief enough, but it was freighted with a message of weighty import. I sat gazing stupidly at the sheet after I had read it until Felix exclaimed, "Bev, what's the matter with you? What's in that letter?" "Father is coming home," I said dazedly. "He is to leave South America in a fortnight and will be here in November to take us back to Toronto." Everybody gasped. Sara Ray, of course, began to cry, which aggravated me unreasonably. "Well," said Felix, when he got his second wind, "I'll be awful glad to see father again, but I tell you I don't like the thought of leaving here." I felt exactly the same but, in view of Sara Ray's tears, admit it I would not; so I sat in grum silence while the other tongues wagged.
"If I were not going away myself I'd feel just terrible," said the Story Girl. "Even as it is I'm real sorry. I'd like to be able to think of you as all here together when I'm gone, having good times and writing me about them.""It'll be awfully dull when you fellows go," muttered Dan. "I'm sure I don't know what we're ever going to do here this winter," said Felicity, with the calmness of despair. "Thank goodness there are no more fathers to come back," breathed Cecily with a vicious earnestness that made us all laugh, even in the midst of our dismay.
We worked very half-heartedly the rest of the day, and it was not until we assembled in the orchard in the evening that our spirits recovered something like their wonted level. It was clear and slightly frosty; the sun had declined behind a birch on a distant hill and it seemed a tree with a blazing heart of fire. The great golden willow at the lane gate was laughter-shaken in the wind of evening. Even amid all the changes of our shifting world we could not be hopelessly low-spirited--except Sara Ray, who was often so, and Peter, who was rarely so. But Peter had been sorely vexed in spirit for several days. The time was approaching for the October issue of Our Magazine and he had no genuine fiction ready for it. He had taken so much to heart Felicity's taunt that his stories were all true that he had determined to have a really-truly false one in the next number. But the difficulty was to get anyone to write it. He had asked the Story Girl to do it, but she refused; then he appealed to me and I shirked. Finally Peter determined to write a story himself.
"It oughtn't to be any harder than writing a poem and I managed that," he said dolefully. He worked at it in the evenings in the granary loft, and the rest of us forebore to question him concerning it, because he evidently disliked talking about his literary efforts. But this evening I had to ask him if he would soon have it ready, as I wanted to make up the paper.
"It's done," said Peter, with an air of gloomy triumph. "It don't amount to much, but anyhow I made it all out of my own head. Not one word of it was ever printed or told before, and nobody can say there was.""Then I guess we have all the stuff in and I'll have Our Magazine ready to read by tomorrow night," I said. "I s'pose it will be the last one we'll have," sighed Cecily. "We can't carry it on after you all go, and it has been such fun." "Bev will be a real newspaper editor some day," declared the Story Girl, on whom the spirit of prophecy suddenly descended that night. She was swinging on the bough of an apple tree, with a crimson shawl wrapped about her head, and her eyes were bright with roguish fire. "How do you know he will?" asked Felicity. "Oh, I can tell futures," answered the Story Girl mysteriously. "I know what's going to happen to all of you. Shall I tell you?" "Do, just for the fun of it," I said. "Then some day we'll know just how near you came to guessing right. Go on. What else about me?"
"You'll write books, too, and travel all over the world," continued the Story Girl. "Felix will be fat to the end of his life, and he will be a grandfather before he is fifty, and he will wear a long black beard.""I won't," cried Felix disgustedly. "I hate whiskers. Maybe I can't help the grandfather part, but I CAN help having a beard."
"You can't. It's written in the stars."
"'Tain't. The stars can't prevent me from shaving."
"Won't Grandpa Felix sound awful funny?" reflected Felicity.
"Peter will be a minister," went on the Story Girl.
"Well, I might be something worse," remarked Peter, in a not ungratified tone.
"I won't," cried scandalized Dan. "You don't know a thing about it. Catch ME ever voting Grit! As for the rest of it--I don't care. Farming's well enough, though I'd rather be a sailor.""Don't talk such nonsense," protested Felicity sharply. "What on earth do you want to be a sailor for and be drowned?"
"All sailors aren't drowned," said Dan.
"Most of them are. Look at Uncle Stephen."
"You ain't sure he was drowned."
"Well, he disappeared, and that is worse."
"How do you know? Disappearing might be real easy."
"It's not very easy for your family."
"Hush, let's hear the rest of the predictions," said Cecily.
"Felicity," resumed the Story Girl gravely, "will marry a minister."
"Will her husband be happy?" queried Dan solemnly.
"I guess he'll be as happy as your wife," retorted Felicity reddening.
"He'll be the happiest man in the world," declared Peter warmly.
"What about me?" asked Sara Ray.
The Story Girl looked rather puzzled. It was so hard to imagine Sara Ray as having any kind of future. Yet Sara was plainly anxious to have her fortune told and must be gratified.
"You'll be married," said the Story Girl recklessly, "and you'll live to be nearly a hundred years old, and go to dozens of funerals and have a great many sick spells. You will learn not to cry after you are seventy; but your husband will never go to church.""I'm glad you warned me," said Sara Ray solemnly, "because now I know I'll make him promise before I marry him that he will go." "He won't keep the promise," said the Story Girl, shaking her head. "But it is getting cold and Cecily is coughing. Let us go in." "You haven't told my fortune," protested Cecily disappointedly.
The Story Girl looked very tenderly at Cecily--at the smooth little brown head, at the soft, shining eyes, at the cheeks that were often over-rosy after slight exertion, at the little sunburned hands that were always busy doing faithful work or quiet kindnesses. A very strange look came over the Story Girl's face; her eyes grew sad and far-reaching, as if of a verity they pierced beyond the mists of hidden years.
"I couldn't tell any fortune half good enough for you, dearest," she said, slipping her arm round Cecily. "You deserve everything good and lovely. But you know I've only been in fun--of course I don't know anything about what's going to happen to us."
"Perhaps you know more than you think for," said Sara Ray, who seemed much pleased with her fortune and anxious to believe it, despite the husband who wouldn't go to church.
"But I'd like to be told my fortune, even in fun," persisted Cecily.
"Everybody you meet will love you as long as you live." said the Story Girl. "There that's the very nicest fortune I can tell you, and it will come true whether the others do or not, and now we must go in."
We went, Cecily still a little disappointed. In later years I often wondered why the Story Girl refused to tell her fortune that night. Did some strange gleam of foreknowledge fall for a moment across her mirth-making? Did she realize in a flash of prescience that there was no earthly future for our sweet Cecily? Not for her were to be the lengthening shadows or the fading garland. The end was to come while the rainbow still sparkled on her wine of life, ere a single petal had fallen from her rose of joy. Long life was before all the others who trysted that night in the old homestead orchard; but Cecily's maiden feet were never to leave the golden road.
XXXI. The Last Number Of Our MagazineEDITORIAL
It is with heartfelt regret that we take up our pen to announce that this will be the last number of Our Magazine. We have edited ten numbers of it and it has been successful beyond our expectations. It has to be discontinued by reason of circumstances over which we have no control and not because we have lost interest in it. Everybody has done his or her best for Our Magazine. Prince Edward Island expected everyone to do his and her duty and everyone did it.
Mr. Dan King conducted the etiquette department in a way worthy of the Family Guide itself. He is especially entitled to commendation because he laboured under the disadvantage of having to furnish most of the questions as well as the answers. Miss Felicity King has edited our helpful household department very ably, and Miss Cecily King's fashion notes were always up to date. The personal column was well looked after by Miss Sara Stanley and the story page has been a marked success under the able management of Mr. Peter Craig, to whose original story in this issue, "The Battle of the Partridge Eggs," we would call especial attention. The Exciting Adventure series has also been very popular.
And now, in closing, we bid farewell to our staff and thank them one and all for their help and co-operation in the past year. We have enjoyed our work and we trust that they have too. We wish them all happiness and success in years to come, and we hope that the recollection of Our Magazine will not be held least dear among the memories of their childhood.
(SOBS FROM THE GIRLS): "INDEED IT WON'T!"
On October eighteenth, Patrick Grayfur departed for that bourne whence no traveller returns. He was only a cat, but he had been our faithful friend for a long time and we aren't ashamed to be sorry for him. There are lots of people who are not as friendly and gentlemanly as Paddy was, and he was a great mouser. We buried all that was mortal of poor Pat in the orchard and we are never going to forget him. We have resolved that whenever the date of his death comes round we'll bow our heads and pronounce his name at the hour of his funeral. If we are anywhere where we can't say the name out loud we'll whisper it."Farewell, dearest Paddy, in all the years that are to be We'll cherish your memory faithfully."  The obituary was written by Mr. Felix King, but the two lines of poetry were composed by Miss Sara Ray. MY MOST EXCITING ADVENTURE
My most exciting adventure was the day I fell off Uncle Roger's loft two years ago. I wasn't excited until it was all over because I hadn't time to be. The Story Girl and I were looking for eggs in the loft. It was filled with wheat straw nearly to the roof and it was an awful distance from us to the floor. And wheat straw is so slippery. I made a little spring and the straw slipped from under my feet and there I was going head first down from the loft. It seemed to me I was an awful long time falling, but the Story Girl says I couldn't have been more than three seconds. But I know that I thought five thoughts and there seemed to be quite a long time between them. The first thing I thought was, what has happened, because I really didn't know at first, it was so sudden. Then after a spell I thought the answer, I am falling off the loft. And then I thought, what will happen to me when I strike the floor, and after another little spell I thought, I'll be killed. And then I thought, well, I don't care. I really wasn't a bit frightened. I just was quite willing to be killed. If there hadn't been a big pile of chaff on the barn floor these words would never have been written. But there was and I fell on it and wasn't a bit hurt, only my hair and mouth and eyes and ears got all full of chaff. The strange part is that I wasn't a bit frightened when I thought I was going to be killed, but after all the danger was over I was awfully frightened and trembled so the Story Girl had to help me into the house.
THE BATTLE OF THE PARTRIDGE EGGS
Once upon a time there lived about half a mile from a forrest a farmer and his wife and his sons and daughters and a granddaughter. The farmer and his wife loved this little girl very much but she caused them great trouble by running away into the woods and they often spent haf days looking for her. One day she wondered further into the forrest than usual and she begun to be hungry. Then night closed in. She asked a fox where she could get something to eat. The fox told her he knew where there was a partridges nest and a bluejays nest full of eggs. So he led her to the nests and she took five eggs out of each. When the birds came home they missed the eggs and flew into a rage. The bluejay put on his topcoat and was going to the partridge for law when he met the partridge coming to him. They lit up a fire and commenced sining their deeds when they heard a tremendous howl close behind them. They jumped up and put out the fire and were immejutly attacked by five great wolves. The next day the little girl was rambelling through the woods when they saw her and took her prisoner. After she had confessed that she had stole the eggs they told her to raise an army. They would have to fight over the nests of eggs and whoever one would have the eggs. So the partridge raised a great army of all kinds of birds except robins and the little girl got all the robins and foxes and bees and wasps. And best of all the little girl had a gun and plenty of ammunishun. The leader of her army was a wolf. The result of the battle was that all the birds were killed except the partridge and the bluejay and they were taken prisoner and starved to death.
The little girl was then taken prisoner by a witch and cast into a dunjun full of snakes where she died from their bites and people who went through the forrest after that were taken prisoner by her ghost and cast into the same dunjun where they died. About a year after the wood turned into a gold castle and one morning everything had vanished except a piece of a tree.
(DAN, WITH A WHISTLE:--"Well, I guess nobody can say Peter can't write fiction after THAT."
PETER, SHORTLY:--"Because it sounded better that way."
FELICITY:--"Did she eat the eggs raw?"
THE STORY GIRL, WITH A PRETERNATURALLY SOLEMN FACE:--"You shouldn't criticize Peter's story like that. It's a fairy tale, you know, and anything can happen in a fairy tale."
FELICITY:--"There isn't a word about fairies in it!"
CECILY:--"Besides, fairy tales always end nicely and this doesn't." PETER, SULKILY:--"I wanted to punish her for running away from home." DAN:--"Well, I guess you did it all right."
Mr. Alan King is expected home from South America next month. His sons will return with him to Toronto. Beverley and Felix have made hosts of friends during their stay in Carlisle and will be much missed in social circles.
The Mission Band of Carlisle Presbyterian Church completed their missionary quilt last week. Miss Cecily King collected the largest sum on her square. Congratulations, Cecily.
Mr. Peter Craig will be residing in Markdale after October and will attend school there this winter. Peter is a good fellow and we all wish him success and prosperity.Apple picking is almost ended. There was an unusually heavy crop this year. Potatoes, not so good.
Apple pies are the order of the day.
Necklaces of roseberries are very much worn now.
It is considered smart to wear your school hat tilted over your left eye.
Bangs are coming in. Em Frewen has them. She went to Summerside for a visit and came back with them. All the girls in school are going to bang their hair as soon as their mothers will let them. But I do not intend to bang mine.
(SARA RAY, DESPAIRINGLY:--"I know ma will never let ME have bangs.") FUNNY PARAGRAPHS
Old Mr. McIntyre's son on the Markdale Road had been very sick for several years and somebody was sympathizing with him because his son was going to die. "Oh," Mr. McIntyre said, quite easy, "he might as weel be awa'. He's only retarding buzziness."
GENERAL INFORMATION BUREAU
P-t-r. What kind of people live in uninhabited places? Ans.: Cannibals, likely.
XXXII. Our Last Evening Together
IT was the evening before the day on which the Story Girl and Uncle Blair were to leave us, and we were keeping our last tryst together in the orchard where we had spent so many happy hours. We had made a pilgrimage to all the old haunts--the hill field, the spruce wood, the dairy, Grandfather King's willow, the Pulpit Stone, Pat's grave, and Uncle Stephen's Walk; and now we foregathered in the sere grasses about the old well and feasted on the little jam turnovers Felicity had made that day specially for the occasion."I wonder if we'll ever all be together again," sighed Cecily. "I wonder when I'll get jam turnovers like this again," said the Story Girl, trying to be gay but not making much of a success of it.
"If Paris wasn't so far away I could send you a box of nice things now and then," said Felicity forlornly, "but I suppose there's no use thinking of that. Dear knows what they'll give you to eat over there."
"Oh, the French have the reputation of being the best cooks in the world," rejoined the Story Girl, "but I know they can't beat your jam turnovers and plum puffs, Felicity. Many a time I'll be hankering after them.""If we ever do meet again you'll be grown up," said Felicity gloomily. "Well, you won't have stood still yourselves, you know." "No, but that's just the worst of it. We'll all be different and everything will be changed." "Just think," said Cecily, "last New Year's Eve we were wondering what would happen this year; and what a lot of things have happened that we never expected. Oh, dear!" "If things never happened life would be pretty dull," said the Story Girl briskly. "Oh, don't look so dismal, all of you." "It's hard to be cheerful when everybody's going away," sighed Cecily.
"Well, let's pretend to be, anyway," insisted the Story Girl. "Don't let's think of parting. Let's think instead of how much we've laughed this last year or so. I'm sure I shall never forget this dear old place. We've had so many good times here.""And some bad times, too," reminded Felix. "Remember when Dan et the bad berries last summer?" "And the time we were so scared over that bell ringing in the house," grinned Peter. "And the Judgment Day," added Dan. "And the time Paddy was bewitched," suggested Sara Ray. "And when Peter was dying of the measles," said Felicity. "And the time Jimmy Patterson was lost," said Dan. "Gee-whiz, but that scared me out of a year's growth." "Do you remember the time we took the magic seed," grinned Peter. "Weren't we silly?" said Felicity. "I really can never look Billy Robinson in the face when I meet him. I'm always sure he's laughing at me in his sleeve." "It's Billy Robinson who ought to be ashamed when he meets you or any of us," commented Cecily severely. "I'd rather be cheated than cheat other people." "Do you mind the time we bought God's picture?" asked Peter. "I wonder if it's where we buried it yet," speculated Felix. "I put a stone over it, just as we did over Pat," said Cecily. "I wish I could forget what God looks like," sighed Sara Ray. "I can't forget it--and I can't forget what the bad place is like either, ever since Peter preached that sermon on it." "When you get to be a real minister you'll have to preach that sermon over again, Peter," grinned Dan. "My Aunt Jane used to say that people needed a sermon on that place once in a while," retorted Peter seriously. "Do you mind the night I et the cucumbers and milk to make me dream?" said Cecily.
And therewith we hunted out our old dream books to read them again, and, forgetful of coming partings, laughed over them till the old orchard echoed to our mirth. When we had finished we stood in a circle around the well and pledged "eternal friendship" in a cup of its unrivalled water.Then we joined hands and sang "Auld Lang Syne." Sara Ray cried bitterly in lieu of singing. "Look here," said the Story Girl, as we turned to leave the old orchard, "I want to ask a favour of you all. Don't say good-bye to me tomorrow morning."
"Why not?" demanded Felicity in astonishment. "Because it's such a hopeless sort of word. Don't let's SAY it at all. Just see me off with a wave of your hands. It won't seem half so bad then. And don't any of you cry if you can help it. I want to remember you all smiling."
We went out of the old orchard where the autumn night wind was beginning to make its weird music in the russet boughs, and shut the little gate behind us. Our revels there were ended.
XXXIII. The Story Girl Goes
The morning dawned, rosy and clear and frosty. Everybody was up early, for the travellers must leave in time to catch the nine o'clock train. The horse was harnessed and Uncle Alec was waiting by the door. Aunt Janet was crying, but everybody else was making a valiant effort not to. The Awkward Man and Mrs. Dale came to see the last of their favourite. Mrs. Dale had brought her a glorious sheaf of chrysanthemums, and the Awkward Man gave her, quite gracefully, another little, old, limp book from his library."Read it when you are sad or happy or lonely or discouraged or hopeful," he said gravely. "He has really improved very much since he got married," whispered Felicity to me. Sara Stanley wore a smart new travelling suit and a blue felt hat with a white feather. She looked so horribly grown up in it that we felt as if she were lost to us already.
Sara Ray had vowed tearfully the night before that she would be up in the morning to say farewell. But at this juncture Judy Pineau appeared to say that Sara, with her usual luck, had a sore throat, and that her mother consequently would not permit her to come. So Sara had written her parting words in a three-cornered pink note.
"My OWN DARLING FRIEND:--WORDS CANNOT EXPRESS my feelings over not being able to go up this morning to say good-bye to one I so FONDLY ADORE. When I think that I cannot SEE YOU AGAIN my heart is almost TOO FULL FOR UTTERANCE. But mother says I cannot and I MUST OBEY. But I will be present IN SPIRIT. It just BREAKS MY HEART that you are going SO FAR AWAY. You have always been SO KIND to me and never hurt my feelings AS SOME DO and I shall miss you SO MUCH. But I earnestly HOPE AND PRAY that you will be HAPPY AND PROSPEROUS wherever YOUR LOT IS CAST and not be seasick on THE GREAT OCEAN. I hope you will find time AMONG YOUR MANY DUTIES to write me a letter ONCE IN A WHILE. I shall ALWAYS REMEMBER YOU and please remember me. I hope we WILL MEET AGAIN sometime, but if not may we meet in A FAR BETTER WORLD where there are no SAD PARTINGS."Your true and loving friend, "SARA RAY"
"Poor little Sara," said the Story Girl, with a queer catch in her voice, as she slipped the tear-blotted note into her pocket. "She isn't a bad little soul, and I'm sorry I couldn't see her once more, though maybe it's just as well for she'd have to cry and set us all off. I WON'T cry. Felicity, don't you dare. Oh, you dear, darling people, I love you all so much and I'll go on loving you always."
"Mind you write us every week at the very least," said Felicity, winking furiously. "Blair, Blair, watch over the child well," said Aunt Janet. "Remember, she has no mother."
The Story Girl ran over to the buggy and climbed in. Uncle Blair followed her. Her arms were full of Mrs. Dale's chrysanthemums, held close up to her face, and her beautiful eyes shone softly at us over them. No good-byes were said, as she wished. We all smiled bravely and waved our hands as they drove out of the lane and down the moist red road into the shadows of the fir wood in the valley. But we still stood there, for we knew we should see the Story Girl once more. Beyond the fir wood was an open curve in the road and she had promised to wave a last farewell as they passed around it.
We watched the curve in silence, standing in a sorrowful little group in the sunshine of the autumn morning. The delight of the world had been ours on the golden road. It had enticed us with daisies and rewarded us with roses. Blossom and lyric had waited on our wishes. Thoughts, careless and sweet, had visited us. Laughter had been our comrade and fearless Hope our guide. But now the shadow of change was over it."There she is," cried Felicity.
The Story Girl stood up and waved her chrysanthemums at us. We waved wildly back until the buggy had driven around the curve. Then we went slowly and silently back to the house. The Story Girl was gone.