GIRLS AND BOYS.
by NORA PERRY,
Author Of "Hope Benham," "Lyrics And Legends," "A Rosebud Garden Of Girls," Etc.
Illustrated by CHARLOTTE TIFFANY PARKER.
[Frontispiece: That little Smith girl]
THAT LITTLE SMITH GIRL
THE EGG BOY
MAJOR MOLLY'S CHRISTMAS PROMISE
A LITTLE BOARDING-SCHOOL SAMARITAN
AN APRIL FOOL
THE THANKSGIVING GUEST
THAT LITTLE SMITH GIRL
"MISS PELHAM! MISS MARGARET PELHAM!"
WALLULA CLAPPED HER HANDS WITH DELIGHT
A VERY PRETTY PAIR
A TALL, HANDSOME WOMAN SMILED A GREETING
SHE WAS ADDRESSING MONSIEUR BAUDOUIN
THE PRETTY LITTLE BASKET OF GREEN AND WHITE PAPER
AS THE FRESH ARRIVALS APPEARED
THAT LITTLE SMITH GIRL.
"The Pelhams are coming next month."
"Who are the Pelhams?"
Miss Agnes Brendon gave a little upward lift to her small pert nose as she exclaimed:
"Tilly Morris, you don't mean to say that you don't know who the Pelhams are?"
Tilly, thus addressed, lifted up her nose as she replied,—
"I do mean to say just that."
"Why, where have you lived?" was the next wondering question.
"In the wilds of New York City," answered Tilly, sarcastically.
"Where the sacred stiffies of Boston are unknown," cried Dora Robson, with a laugh.
"But the Pelhams,—I thought that everybody knew of the Pelhams at least," Agnes remarked, with a glance at Tilly that plainly expressed a doubt of her denial. Tilly caught the glance, and, still further irritated, cried impulsively,—
"Well, I never heard of them! Why should I? What have they done, pray tell, that everybody should know of them?"
"'Done'? I don't know as they've done anything. It's what they are. They are very rich and aristocratic people. Why, the Pelhams belong to one of the oldest families of Boston."
"What do I care for that?" said Tilly, tipping her head backward until it bumped against the wall of the house with a sounding bang, whereat Dora Robson gave a little giggle and exclaimed,—
"Mercy, Tilly, I heard it crack!"
Then another girl giggled,—it was another of the Robsons,—Dora's Cousin Amy; and after the giggle she said saucily,—
"Tilly's head is full of cracks already. I think we'd better call her 'Crack Brain;' we'll put it C.B., for short."
"You'd better call her L.H.,—'Level Head,'" a voice—a boy's voice—called out here.
The group of girls looked at one another in startled surprise. "Who—what!" Then Dora Robson, glancing over the piazza railing, exclaimed,—
"It's Will Wentworth. He's in the hammock! What do you mean, Willie, by hiding up like that, right under our noses, and listening to our secrets?"
"Hiding up? Well, I like that! I'd been out here for half an hour or more when you girls came to this end of the piazza."
"What in the world have you been doing for an hour in a hammock? I didn't know as you could keep still so long. Oh, you've got a book. Let me see it."
"You wouldn't care anything about it; it's a boy's book."
"Let me see it."
Will held up the book.
"Oh, 'Jack Hall'!"
"Of course, I knew you wouldn't care anything for a book that's full of boy's sports," returned Will.
"I know one girl that does," responded Dora, laughing and nodding her head.
"Who is she?" asked Will, looking incredulous.
"'T ain't me," answered Dora, more truthfully than grammatically.
"No, I guess not; and I guess you don't know any such girl."
Dora wheeled around and called, "Tilly, Tilly Morris! Come here and prove to this conceited, contradicting boy that I'm telling the truth."
"Oh, it's Tilly Morris, eh?" sung out Will.
"Yes," answered Tilly, turning and looking down at the occupant of the hammock; "I think 'Jack Hall' is the jolliest kind of a book. I've read it twice."
Will jerked himself up into a sitting posture, as he ejaculated in pleased astonishment,—
"Come, I say now!"
"Yes," went on Tilly; "I think it's one of the best books I ever read,—that part about the boat-race I've read over three or four times."
"Well, your head is level," cried Will, sitting up still straighter in the hammock, and regarding Tilly with a look of respect.
"Because I don't care anything for Boston's grand folks and do care for 'Jack Hall'?" laughed Tilly.
"Yes, that's about it," responded Will, with a little grin. "I'm so sick and tired," he went on, "hearing about 'swells' and money. The best fellow I know at school is quite poor; and one of the worst of the lot is what you'd call a swell, and has no end of money."
"There are all kinds of swells, Master Willie. Why, you know perfectly well that you belong to the swells yourself," retorted Dora.
"I don't!" growled Will.
"Well, I should just like to hear what your cousin Frances would say to that."
"Oh, Fan!" cried Will, contemptuously.
"If you don't think much of the old Wentworth name—"
"I do think much of it," interrupted Will. "I think so much of it that I want to live up to it. The old Wentworths were splendid fellows, some of 'em; and all of 'em were jolly and generous and independent. There wasn't any sneaking little brag and snobbishness in 'em. They 'd have cut a fellow dead that had come around with that sort of stuff;" and sixteen-year-old Will nodded his head with an emphatic movement that showed his approval of this trait in his ancestors.
Dora looked at him curiously; then with a faint smile she said,—
"Your cousin Frances is so proud of those old Wentworths. She's often told me how grandly they lived, and she's so pleased that her name Frances is the name of one of the prettiest of the Governor's wives."
"Yes; and one of the prettiest, and I dare say one of the best of 'em, was a servant-girl in Governor Benning Wentworth's kitchen, and he married her out of it. Did Fan ever tell you that?" and Will chuckled.
Amy Robson stared at Will with amazement as she exclaimed,—
"Well, I never saw such a queer boy as you are,—to run your own family down."
"I'm not running 'em down. 'Tisn't running 'em down to say that one of 'em married Martha Hilton. Martha Hilton was a nice girl, though she was poor and had to work in a kitchen. Plenty of nice girls—farmers' daughters—worked in that way in those old times; the New England histories tell you that."
Not one of the girls made any comment or criticism upon this statement, for Will Wentworth was known to be well up in history; but after a moment or two of silence, Dora burst forth in this wise,—
"You may talk as you like. Will Wentworth, but you know perfectly well that you don't think a servant-girl is as good as you are."
"If you mean that I don't think she is of the same class, of course I don't. She may be a great deal better than I am in other ways, for all that. In those old days, though, the servant-girls weren't the kind we have now; they were Americans,—farmers' daughters,—most of 'em."
"Oh, well, you may talk and talk in this grand way, Willie Wentworth; but you know where you belong, and when the Pelhams come, Tilly'll see for herself that you are one of the same sort."
"As the Pelhams?"
"Well, what have you got to say about the Pelhams in that scornful way?" asked Amy, rather indignantly.
"I'm not scornful. I was only going to set you right, and say that the Pelhams are fashionable folks and the Wentworths are not."
"Oh, I'd like to have your cousin Fanny hear you say that. Fanny thinks the Wentworths are fully equal to the Pelhams or any one else."
"What do you mean, Will Wentworth? You just said—"
"I just said that the Pelhams were fashionable people and the Wentworths were not, but that doesn't make the Pelhams any better than the Wentworths. The Pelhams have got more money and like to spend it in that way,—in being fashionable society folks, I suppose. There are lots of people who have as much and more money, who won't be fashionable,—they don't like it."
"Your cousin Fanny says—"
"Fanny's a snob. It makes me sick to hear her talk sometimes. If she were here now, she'd be full of these Pelhams, and as thick with 'em when they came, whether they were nice or not. If they were ever so nice, she'd snub 'em if they were not up in the world,—what you call 'swells.' She never got such stuff as that from the Wentworths."
"There are plenty of people like your cousin," spoke up Tilly, with sudden emphasis and a fleeting glance at Agnes Brendon.
"Oh, now, Tilly, don't say that," cried Dora, in a funny little wheedling tone, "don't now; you'll hurt some of our feelings, for we shall think you mean one of us, and you can't mean that, Tilly dear,"—the wheedling tone taking on a droll, merry accent,—"you can't, for you know how independent and high-minded we all are,—how incapable of such meanness!"
"I wouldn't trust this high-mindedness," retorted Tilly, wrinkling up her forehead.
"Now, Tilly, you don't mean that,—you don't mean that you've come all the way from naughty New York to find such dreadful faults in nice, primmy New England. The very dogs here are above such things. Look at Punch there making friends with that little plebeian yellow dog."
"And look at Dandy barking at everybody who isn't well dressed," laughed Tilly, pointing to a handsome collie, who was vigorously giving voice to his displeasure at the approach of a workman in shabby clothing.
The Robson girls and Will Wentworth joined in Tilly's laugh; but Agnes Brendon, who could never see a joke, looked disgusted, and glancing at the little yellow dog, asked petulantly,—
"Whose dog is it?"
"It belongs to the girl who sits at the corner table," answered Will Wentworth, "and its name is Pete. I heard the girl call him this morning."
"What a horrid, vulgar name!" exclaimed Agnes. "It suits the dog, though; and the people, I suppose, are—"
"Oh, Agnes, look at that horrid worm on your dress!"
Agnes jumped up in a panic, screaming, "Where, where?"
Dora, bending down to brush off the smallest of small caterpillars, whispered,—
"The girl who owns the yellow dog is in the other hammock. I just saw her, and she can hear every word you say."
"I don't care if she does hear," said Agnes, without troubling herself to lower her voice. "You needn't have frightened me with your horrid worm story, just for that."
Will Wentworth, as he heard this, fell backward into his reclining position, with an explosive laugh. The next minute he sprang out of the hammock, and, tucking "Jack Hall" under his arm, was up and off, giving a sidelong look as he went at the other hammock, which, though only a few rods away, was half hidden by the foliage of the two low-growing trees between which it hung. Meeting Tilly and the Robson girls as he ran around the corner of the house, he said breathlessly,—
"Look here; that girl must have heard everything that we've said."
"Well, there wasn't anything said that concerned her, until Agnes began about the yellow dog; and I stopped that," said Dora, gleefully.
"She may be acquainted with the Pelhams,—how do we know?" exclaimed Will, ruefully.
"The Pelhams!" cried Dora and Amy, in one breath.
"Yes, how do we know?" repeated Will.
"That girl who sits over at the corner table with that stuffy old woman, acquainted with the Pelhams! Oh, Will, if Agnes could hear you!" cried Dora, with a shout of laughter.
"Well, I can't see what there is to laugh at," broke in Will, huffily. "Why shouldn't she and the stuffy old woman, as you call her, know the Pelhams? She's a nice-looking girl, a first-rate looking girl. What's the matter with her?"
"Matter? I don't know that anything is the matter, except that she doesn't look like the sort of girl who would be an acquaintance of the Pelhams. She doesn't look like their kind, you know. She wears the plainest sort of dresses,—just little straight up and down frocks of brown or drab, or those white cambric things,—they are more like baby-slips than anything; and her hats are just the same,—great flat all-round hats, not a bit of style to them; and she's a girl of fourteen or fifteen certainly. Do you suppose people of the Pelhams' kind dress like that?"
Will gave a gruff little sound half under his breath, as he asked sarcastically,—
"How do people of the Pelham kind dress?"
"Oh, like Dora and Amy, and especially like Agnes,—in the height of the fashion, you know," Tilly cried laughingly.
"Now, Tilly," expostulated Dora, "neither Amy nor I overdress. We wear what all girls of our age—girls who are almost young ladies—wear, and I'm sure you wear the same kind of things."
"Not quite, Dora. I'll own, though, I would if I could; but there's such a lot of us at home that the money gives out before it goes all 'round," said Tilly, frankly, yet rather ruefully.
"I'm sure you look very nice," said Dora, politely. Amy echoed the polite remark, while Will, eying the three with an attempt at a critical estimate, thought to himself, "They don't look a bit nicer than that girl at the corner table."
But Will was too wise to give utterance to this thought. He knew how it would be received; he knew that the three would laugh at him and say, "What does a boy know about girl's clothes?"
In the mean time, while all this was going on, what was that girl who had suggested the talk, that girl who sat at the corner table in the dining room and who was now lying in a hammock,—what was she doing, what was she thinking?
She was lying looking up through the green branches of the trees. She had been reading, but her book was now closed, and she was lying quietly looking up at the blue sky between the branches. Her thoughts were not quite so quiet as her position would seem to indicate. She had, as Will Wentworth had said, heard all that talk about the Pelhams. Whatever her class in life, she was certainly a delicate and honorable young girl; for at the very first, when she found that it was a talk between a party of friends, and they were unconscious of a stranger's near neighborhood, she had done her best to make her presence known to them by various little coughs and ahems, and once or twice by decided movements, and readjustments of her position. As no attention was paid to these demonstrations, she finally concluded that none of the party cared whether they were overheard or not, and so settled herself comfortably back again into her place, and opened her book.
But she could not read much. These talkers were all about her own age, and if they did not care that a stranger was overhearing what they said, she need not trouble herself any more; and it was quite certain she found the talk amusing, for more than once a ripple of merriment would dimple her face, and the laughter would nearly break forth from her lips. Even at the last, when Agnes spoke so scornfully of the little yellow dog, the girl seemed to be more amused than annoyed; and she quite understood Miss Agnes's unfinished sentence, too, and Dora's little device to make it unfinished.
It was then only that she saw that her attempts to inform the party of her near neighborhood had been unsuccessful. She got rather red as this knowledge was forced upon her; then, like Will Wentworth, she burrowed down deeper than ever in the hammock, and gave way to a little burst of laughter, though, unlike Will's, hers was no noisy explosion.
All the time she was watching Will and the girls as they took their way across the lawn; and as soon as they disappeared from her view, she jumped from the hammock, and with the fleetest of fleet footsteps ran into the house. Coming down the long wide hall, she met the very person she was going in search of,—the person that Dora Robson had called "that stuffy old woman;" and trotting after her was the little yellow dog, who had just been washed and brushed until his short hair shone like satin.
"Oh, Pete, Pete, come here!" and Pete at this invitation flew to his young mistress's arms with much demonstration of delight.
"And they called you a vulgar plebeian dog, Pete, just think of that!" cried the girl, as she fondled the little animal.
"Who called him that, Peggy?" asked her companion, in a surprised tone.
"One of those girls at the table by the window. Oh, auntie, I want to tell you about it. I was coming to find you on purpose to tell you. Let's go in here, where we shall be all by ourselves," turning towards a small unoccupied reception-room.
There, cosily ensconced beside her aunt, with the little yellow dog at her feet, the dog's mistress told her story, with various exclamations and interjections of, "Now wasn't it horrid of them?" and "Did you ever know anything so ridiculous?" while auntie listened with great interest, her only comment at the end being,—
"Well, they're not worth minding, Peggy, and I wouldn't act as if I'd heard what they said when you meet them. I wouldn't take any notice of them."
"I? Why, it's they who won't take any notice of me, auntie. I'm like my little dog,—a vulgar plebeian. What would they say, what would they think, if they could hear you call me Peggy?—that's as bad as Pete, isn't it?"
"I'm afraid it is;" and auntie laughed a little as she spoke.
The great summer hotel was not nearly full yet, for it was only the last of June; and as Peggy went down to luncheon, her hand closely clasped in "auntie's," whom should she meet face to face in the rather deserted-looking hall but "those girls"? It was a little embarrassing all round, and they all colored up very rosily as they met.
"I wonder where the boy is?" thought Peggy; "he and that New York girl were nice." She glanced over her shoulder at this thought. There was the boy; and—yes, he was standing at the office desk, carefully examining the hotel register. "He's looking for our names!" flashed into Peggy's mind, "and those girls set him up to it. I wonder what they'll say to 'Mrs. Smith and niece'? I know; they'll say, or the girl they call Agnes will say, 'Smith, of course! I knew they had some such common name as that.'"
Something very like this comment did take place when Master Will, in obedience to Dora Robson's request, brought the information that the people at the corner table were Mrs. Smith and her niece. But if Peggy could only have heard Will flash out upon this comment the further information that very distinguished people had borne the name of Smith,—could have heard him quote the famous English clergyman Sydney Smith, whose wit and humor were so charming,—if Peggy could have heard Will going on in this fashion, she would have thought he was very nice indeed, and been quite delighted with his independent outspokenness.
Agnes, however, was anything but delighted. She was, in fact, very angry with Will by this time, and what she called his meddlesome, domineering airs, and quite determined to let him know at the very first opportunity that she was not in the least to be influenced by his opinions.
The opportunity presented itself sooner than she expected. It was just after luncheon, and a couple of Indians had come up from their neighboring summer camp with a load of baskets for sale.
Dora and Tilly, with Mrs. Brendon and Agnes and Amy, went out to them at once. Others soon followed, and a brisk bargaining began. When the Indian woman held up a beautiful little basket skilfully woven to imitate shells, there was a general exclamation of pleasure, and one voice cried out with enthusiasm, "Oh, how lovely!" and the owner of the voice reached forth to take the basket in her hand. Agnes Brendon, turning quickly, saw that it was Mrs. Smith's niece.
"The idea of that girl pushing herself forward like this!" was Agnes's whispered remark to Amy.
"Hush: she'll hear you," whispered back Amy.
"I don't care," answered Agnes, at the same time crowding herself to the front and inquiring the price of the basket, with the determination to get possession of it before any one else had a chance. But when the price—two dollars—was named, Mrs. Brendon pronounced it exorbitant, and offered half the sum, never doubting its acceptance. The Indian woman, however, shook her head with an air of grim decision; and at that very moment, catching sight of Mrs. Smith and her niece, she nodded smilingly, repeated the price, and held the basket up again;
"Yes, yes, I'll take it," called out Peggy, nodding and smiling responsively; and the next instant the basket was in her hands.
Agnes, not only disappointed, but deeply mortified and angry, turned hastily to Dora Robson, and gave vent to her feelings by remarking in a perfectly clear undertone,—
"The worst of a place like this is that you meet such common people, with nothing to recommend them but their money."
Dora and Amy flushed with annoyance at this speech; but Tilly was so disgusted and indignant that she broke away from them all with an impatient exclamation, and started off across the lawn towards the house. Halfway across she met Will Wentworth, with Tom Raymond,—a great chum of his, who had just arrived by the noon boat.
"Hullo, what's up, what's the matter?" asked Will, as he perceived the expression of Tilly's face.
Tilly stopped, and in a few graphic words told her story, winding up with, "Wasn't it horrid of Agnes?"
"Horrid? It was beastly," sputtered Will. "She to call people common!"
"But that girl is not common," said Tilly. "She may belong to people who have just made a lot of money,—for that's what Agnes meant to fling out,—but there isn't any vulgar common show of it. Look at her, how plainly she's dressed, and how quiet she is."
"Wonder what Agnes is up to now? Let's go and see," said Will, wheeling about and nodding to Tilly and Tom to follow.
As they came along together, Will a little ahead, Tom Raymond was quite silent until they approached the group collected around the Indians; then he suddenly ejaculated, "Well, I never!"
"What? What do you mean?—what—who do you see?" asked Tilly, very much surprised at this outbreak.
"Is that the girl—the Smith girl you were telling about—there by the tree—holding a basket?" asked Tom.
"Yes; why—do you know her?"
"N-o—but—I was thinking—she doesn't look common, does she?"
"Of course she doesn't, only plainly dressed."
"Yes, that's all;" and Tom gave a little odd chuckling laugh.
"How queer Tom Raymond is!" thought Tilly. She thought he was queerer still, as she caught his furtive glances toward that Smith girl. Presently Miss Tilly saw that the Smith girl was regarding Tom with rather a puzzled observation.
"I see how it is," reflected Miss Tilly; "they have met before somewhere, and Tom doesn't want to know her now. He thinks she isn't fine enough for this Boston set, though he owns that she doesn't look common. Oh, I do believe that Will Wentworth is the only one here who has any sense or heart."
As Tilly arrived at this conclusion of her reflections, Will came running up to her.
"Come," he said, "there's no fun here. Let's go and have a game of tennis."
"But where's Agnes? I thought you wanted to see what she was doing."
"She's gone off in a huff because I asked her if she'd bought any baskets," answered Will, grinning. Tilly laughed, and Tom Raymond gave another odd little chuckle. Then the three strolled away to the tennis ground. As they were passing the rustic bench under the tree where Mrs. Smith and her niece were sitting, Tilly took a sudden resolution, and, stopping abruptly, said,—
"We're going to have a game of tennis; won't you join us, Miss—Miss Smith?"
The girl looked up with a smile, hesitated a moment, and then accepted the invitation. Will, nodding to Tilly a surprised and pleased approval of her action, started off ahead of the others to see if the tennis ground was occupied. As he turned the corner, he met Dora Robson with a racket in her hand.
"Oh," she cried, "here you are! I was just coming after you, for Amy and I have got to go in,—mamma has sent for us, and Agnes was so disappointed,—now it's all right, for there's Tilly, and—what luck—Tom Raymond; he's such a splendid player, and you can—" But Dora stopped, open-mouthed and wide-eyed. Who—who was that behind Tilly?
As Agnes, standing waiting upon the tennis-ground where Dora had left her, suddenly caught sight of Tom Raymond, her heart gave a little throb of exultation. Tom Raymond was the best tennis-player she knew. To have him for her partner would be delightful, and she went forward with the most gracious welcome to him. So absorbed was she, so pleased at Tom's appearance, at his polite response to her, she did not observe Miss Smith,—did not see Tilly draw back, did not hear her say, "No, I don't care to play, Miss Smith, I want you to play with Will; this is my friend Will Wentworth, Miss Smith," by way of introduction.
No; Agnes saw and heard nothing of all this, or of Will's polite arrangements with the newcomer. She saw nothing, she thought of nothing, but that her own little arrangement to have Tom for a partner was successful; and so, blithely and triumphantly, she took her place and lifted her racket. Whizz! she sent the ball flying over the netting, and whizz! it came flying back again, to be returned by Tom Raymond's vigorous stroke. Agnes regarded this stroke with due admiration. "Neither Will nor Tilly can match that," she thought; and at the thought she looked over and across the netting, to see a girl's uplifted arm swinging easily forward, the racket hitting the ball lightly with a swift, sure, upward, and onward motion. Where had Tilly learned to strike out like that, all at once? Tilly! The uplifted arm that had partially hidden the player's face was lowered. What—what—it was not Tilly, but—but—that girl! How did she come there? A glance at Will's face drawn up into a most exasperating grin, at Will's eyes darting forth gleams of fun, was enough for Agnes.
Yes, this was Will Wentworth's doing,—this hateful plot to humiliate her and triumph over her. Stung by this thought, she lost sight for that moment of everything else, and the ball sent so surely back to her dropped to the ground before her partner could rescue it. An exclamation of disappointment from Tom added to her discomfiture; and when Will, the next instant, cried, "Wait a minute, till I get another racket, Miss Smith has broken hers," Agnes, flinging down her own, exclaimed,—
"Miss Smith can have my racket; I'm not going to play any longer!"
"Not going to play? What do you mean?" shouted Will.
"I mean that I am not used to a surprise-party and to playing with strangers," was the rude and angry answer.
"You—you ought to—" But Will controlled himself and stopped. He was about to say, "You ought to be ashamed of yourself."
Agnes, however, understood by the tone of his voice something of what he meant, and turned scornfully away, her head up, and with a glance at Tom that plainly showed she expected him to follow her.
But Tom made no movement of that kind. He stood where he was, looking across at Will, who, red and ashamed, had approached Miss Smith, and was evidently making some sort of apology to her for the insult that had been offered to her; and Miss Smith was listening to this apology with the coolest little face imaginable.
Tom, taking all this in, gave another of his odd little chuckles. Agnes heard it, and flushed scarlet. So he was taking sides with Will Wentworth, was he? And what—what—was that—Tilly? Yes, it was Tilly,—Tilly with the racket she, Agnes, had flung down,—Tilly standing in her place and—and—serving the ball back to that girl! So Tilly was with them too? Well, she would see, they would all see, that Agnes Brendon was not a person to be snubbed and disregarded in this fashion, nor a person to be forced to make acquaintances with vulgar or common people against her will. Oh, they would see, they would see! And bracing herself up with these indignant resolutions, Agnes betook herself to the hotel.
Before the end of the week there were two distinct parties in the house, where heretofore there had been but one,—two distinct opposing forces.
On one side were Agnes and Dora and Amy; on the other side were Tilly and Tom and Will. Dora and Amy were not naturally ill-natured girls, but they were inclined to be worldly and were greatly under Agnes's influence. She had been a sort of authority with them for a good while, perforce of her dominant disposition and the knowledge she seemed to possess of the worldly matters that were of so much interest to them.
"But I should think you would feel ashamed to side with Agnes Brendon in persecuting a poor little stranger," said honest Tilly, a day or two after the tennis affair; for Agnes had at once set to work to carry out her plan of showing that she was not to be forced, as she expressed it, into making acquaintances she didn't like, and had thus lost no opportunity of being disagreeable.
Dora flushed at Tilly's words, but she answered coolly,—
"Persecuting! I don't call it persecuting to avoid a person one doesn't want to know."
"Yes; but how does Agnes avoid her? She stiffens herself up and curls her lips when the girl goes by, as if there was something contaminating about her; and one night when we were in the music-room and Miss Smith was playing and singing 'Mrs. Brady' for us, Agnes came in with Amy and made a great fuss and noise, disturbing everybody in pretending to hunt up one of her own music-books; and when I asked her to be quieter, she said something horrid about 'low common songs,' and 'Mrs. Brady' isn't a low common song; and the other morning, when Pete, the little dog, ran up to her on the piazza, she pushed him away from her in such a disagreeable manner—and so it has gone on every day, and I think it's a shame, and such a nice girl as Miss Smith is too. I told grandmother all about it,—the whole story,—and she says it is Agnes who is vulgar and not Miss Smith, and that she never would have brought me here if she had known that a girl who could behave like that was to be in the house; and you can tell Miss Agnes Brendon this, if you like, and you can tell her too that she'll only make us stand by Miss Smith stancher than ever by persecuting her as she does."
"I shall tell her nothing of the kind, and there's no such thing as persecution anyway,—that's ridiculous. Agnes is very exclusive,—the Brendons all are,—and she doesn't like to make acquaintances with common people, that's all."
"Common people! Miss Smith isn't any more common than you or I. She's a very ladylike girl.—much more ladylike and nice, and nicer-looking too, than Agnes."
"Nicer looking with those plain frocky dresses, and her hair all pulled back without the sign of a crimp or curl!" and Dora burst into a jeering laugh.
"Oh, she isn't all fussed up, I know, as most of us girls are; but her clothes are of the very finest materials,—I've noticed that."
"And that stuffy old aunt's clothes are of the finest material, I suppose; and the little yellow dog's coat is as fine as a King Charles spaniel's," jeered Dora.
"Stuffy old aunt! She isn't stuffy in the least. She's a little old-fashioned; that's all. Grandmother has taken quite a fancy to her."
Dora smiled a very provoking smile as she said,—
"Perhaps the Pelhams, when they come, will take a fancy to her too, and to that pretty name of Peggy."
The hot color rushed to Tilly's cheeks and the tears to her eyes as she turned away. She knew perfectly well that Dora was thinking: "Oh, your grandmother is only another old woman a good deal like Mrs. Smith,—what is her judgment worth?"
Dora was a little ashamed of herself as Tilly left her. Indeed, she had been a little ashamed of herself for some time,—ever since, in fact, she had ranged herself on Agnes's side after the tennis affair; but once having taken that side she was determined to stick to it, and to believe that it was the right side, in spite of some qualms of conscience.
Her cousin Amy followed in the same path, and Agnes spared no pains to keep them there. She felt that she could not afford to lose her only allies. Every minute that had elapsed since she had flung down her tennis racket in such anger and mortification had but increased this mortification, and strengthened her resolve to show those boys and Tilly Morris that she was right and they were wrong about "that girl."
Of course, when she set her face in this direction, she was on the lookout for everything unfavorable; and everything, pretty nearly, was turned into something unfavorable, so perverted and distorted had her vision become. It was "Dora, did you notice this?" and "Amy, did you see that?" until the two began to find the incessant harping upon one subject rather wearisome, especially as the particular details thus pointed out had never yet developed into matters of any importance.
"I wish Agnes wouldn't keep talking about that Smith girl all the time, unless there was something more worth while to talk about," broke forth Dora impatiently to Amy just after the interview with Tilly.
"So do I," Amy responded emphatically; then, laughing a little, "unless there was some real big thing to tell."
"But I don't wonder Agnes doesn't like the girl, with Tilly and Will taking up for her and making such a fuss;" and Dora indignantly repeated Tilly's accusations. Amy caught at the word "persecution," as Dora had done, and together they defended themselves against these accusations with a zeal and ingenuity worthy of a better cause.
They were in the full tide of this talk when, as they rounded the curve of the shore where they were walking, they came upon Agnes herself, coming rapidly towards them.
"Oh, girls, I've been looking for you everywhere. I've got something I want to show you," she exclaimed excitedly. "Come up here and sit down;" and she led the way to a little cluster of rocks.
Dora and Amy glanced at each other rather apprehensively. Was Agnes going to tell them something else about the Smith girl,—going to say. "Did you notice this?" or "Did you see that?" in reference to some detail that displeased her? They had worked themselves up into quite a state of indignation against Tilly and the boys, and of increased sympathy with Agnes; but they were so tired of hearing, "Did you notice this?" "Did you see that?" when there had been such uninteresting little things to "notice," to "see."
With these apprehensions flitting through their minds, the two girls seated themselves to listen with very languid interest. But what was that Agnes was unfolding,—a newspaper? And what was it she was saying as she pointed to a certain column? She wanted them to read that! The cousins looked at each other in a dazed, inquiring fashion; and Agnes, starting forward, impatiently thrust the paper into Dora's hand and cried sharply,—
"Read that; read that!"
Dora in a bewildered way read aloud this sentence, which in big black letters stared her in the face,—
"Smithson, alias Smith."
"Well, go on, go on; read what is underneath," urged Agnes, as Dora stopped; and Dora went on and read,—
"It seems that that arch schemer and swindler Frank Smithson, who got himself out of the country so successfully with his ill-gotten gains from the Star Mining Company, has dropped the last syllable from his too notorious name, and is now figuring in South America under the name of Smith. His wife and young son are with him, and the three are living luxuriously in the suburbs of Rio, where Smithson has rented a villa. An older child, a daughter of fourteen or fifteen, was left behind in this country with Smithson's brother's widow, who has also taken the name of Smith. They are staying at a summer resort not far from Boston."
The bewildered look on Dora's face did not disappear as she came to the end of this statement.
"What did you want me to read this for?" she asked Agnes.
"What did I want you to read it for? Is it possible that you don't see,—that you don't understand?"
"Understand what? We don't know these Smithsons."
"But we do know these—Smiths."
"Agnes, you don't mean—"
"Yes, I do mean that I believe—that I am sure that these Smiths are those very identical Smithsons."
"Oh, Agnes, what makes you think so? Smith is such a very common name, you know."
"Yes, I know it; but here is a girl whose name is Smith, and she is with a Mrs. Smith, her aunt, and they are staying at a summer resort near Boston. How does that fit?"
"Oh, Agnes, it does look like—as if it must be, doesn't it?" cried Dora, in a sort of shuddering enjoyment of the sensational situation.
"Of course it does. I knew I was right about those people. I knew there was something queer and mysterious about them. And what do you think,—only yesterday I happened to go into the little parlor, where there are writing-materials, and there sat this very Peggy Smith directing a letter; and when she went out, I happened to cast my eyes at the blotting-pad she had used, and I couldn't help reading—for it was just as plain as print—the last part of the address, and it was—'South America'!"
"I don't believe it! I don't believe it!" said Tilly Morris, indignantly, as Dora wound up her recital of the Smithson-Smith story.
"Well, you can believe it or not; but I don't see how you can help believing, when you remember that their name is Smith, and that they are aunt and niece, and that the niece is fourteen or fifteen,—just as the paper said,—and that they are staying at a summer resort not far from Boston, and—that the niece writes to some one in South America,—think of that!"
Tilly thought, and, flushing scarlet as she thought, she burst out,—
"Well, I don't care, I don't care. I'm not going to talk about it, either. How many people have you—has Amy—has Agnes told?"
"I haven't told anybody but you yet. I've just come from Agnes."
"Yet! Now, look here, let me tell you something, Dora. My father, you know, is a lawyer, and I've heard him talk a great deal when we've had company at dinner about queer things that people did and said,—queer things, I mean, that got them into lawsuits. One of the things that I particularly remember was a case where a woman told things that she had heard and things that she had fancied against a neighbor, and the neighbor went to law about it, prosecuted the woman for slander, and they had a horrid time. The woman's daughters had to go into court and be examined as witnesses. Oh, it was horrid; and the worst of it was that even though there was some truth in the stories, there were things that were not true,—exaggerations, you know,—and so the woman was declared guilty, and her husband had to pay a lot of money to keep her out of prison. There was ever so much more that I've forgotten; but I recollect papa's turning to us children at the end, and saying, 'Now, children, remember when you are repeating things that you have heard against people, that the next thing you'll know you may be prosecuted for what you've said, and have to answer for it in the law courts.'"
Dora looked scared. "Well, I'm sure," she began, "I haven't repeated this to anybody but you; and if Agnes—"
"What's that about me?" suddenly interrupted Agnes herself, as she came up behind the two girls. Dora began to explain, and then called upon Tilly to repeat her story of the lawsuit.
"Oh, fiddlesticks!" cried Agnes, angrily, after hearing this story; "you can't frighten me that way, Tilly Morris. We can't be prosecuted for telling facts that are already in the newspapers."
"But we can be for what isn't. It isn't in the newspapers that this Mrs. Smith and her niece are these Smithsons."
"Well, Tilly Morris, I should think it was in the newspapers about as plain as could be. What do you say to this sentence?" And Agnes pulled from her pocket the Smithson article she had cut out, and read aloud: "'An older child—a daughter of fourteen or fifteen—was left behind in this country with Smithson's brother's widow, who has also taken the name of Smith. They are staying at a summer resort not far from Boston;' and what do you say to that letter addressed to some place in South America?"
"I say that—that—all this might mean somebody else, and not—not these—our—my Smiths. What did your mother say when you told her, and showed the paper to her?"
"I didn't tell her; I didn't show her the paper. We never tell mamma such things; she is a nervous invalid, and it would fret her to death," Agnes responded snappishly.
"Well, I don't believe it's my Smiths; I believe it's somebody else," flashed back Tilly, with tears in her eyes and in her voice.
"Oh, very well; you can stand up for your Smiths, if you like; but you'll find they are—"
"Hullo! What's the little Smith girl done now? Agnes, I should think you'd get tired of rattling about the Smiths," interposed a voice here.
It was Will Wentworth's voice; he had come out on the piazza just as the girls were passing the hall door.
Agnes started back nervously at the sight of him. "I think you are very rude to listen and spring at anybody like this," she said.
Will looked at her in astonishment. "I haven't been listening, and I didn't spring at you," he responded indignantly. "I simply met you as I came out, and heard you say something about the Smiths."
"What did you hear?" asked Agnes, quickly.
"I heard you say to Tilly, 'Stand up for your Smiths if you like;' and I knew by that you'd been going for Miss Peggy, and Tilly had been defending her." Will's bright eyes, as he said this, suddenly observed that there was something unusually serious in the girl's face. "What's the matter?" he inquired; "what's up now?"
Agnes put her hand into her pocket, and Tilly drew in her breath with a little gasp, and braced herself to come to the defence again when Agnes should answer this question, as she fully expected her to do, by producing the cutting from the newspaper and repeating her accusations. But when Agnes drew her hand forth, there was no slip of paper in it, and all the answer that she made to Will's question was to say in a mocking tone,—
"Ask Tilly; she knows all the delightful facts now about Miss Peggy and her highly respectable family."
The decisive tone in which this was said, the significant expression of the speaker's face as she glanced at Tilly, and Tilly's own silence at the moment impressed Will very strongly, as Agnes fully intended; and when a minute later she slipped her hand over Dora's arm, and went off with her toward the tennis ground, and Tilly refused to tell him what this something that was "up" was, honest Will felt convinced that the "something" must be very queer indeed.
Poor Tilly saw and understood at once the nature of the impression that Will had received; but what could she do? It was certainly better to keep silence than to speak and tell that dreadful, dreadful story of "Smithson, alias Smith." Even, yes, even if it was true,—for Tilly, spite of her vehement defence, her stout declaration of disbelief at the first, had a shuddering fear at her heart as she thought of that last paragraph about the girl of fourteen or fifteen, and of that letter to South America,—a shuddering fear that the story might be true; but even then she would not be one of those to point a finger at poor innocent Peggy; for, whatever her father might have done, Peggy was innocent.
There was one person, however, that Tilly could speak to, could ask counsel of, and that, of course, was her grandmother. Grandmother, she was quite sure, would agree with her that the story was not to be chattered about; and even if it were true that Mrs. Smith and Peggy were those very Smithsons, neither was to blame, but only, as she had heard her father say once of the family of a man who had proved a defaulter, "innocent victims who were very much to be pitied."
But perhaps—perhaps grandmother would not believe that Mrs. Smith and Peggy were "those Smithsons," and perhaps she would find some careful way to investigate the matter and prove that they were not. With this hope springing up over her fears, Tilly flew along the corridor to her grandmother's room.
"What! what! what!" cried grandmother, as she listened to the story; "I don't believe a word of Agnes's suspicions. There are millions of Smiths in the world."
"But did you hear what I said about that last paragraph,—the girl of fourteen or fifteen, and—and the letter,—the letter to South America?" asked Tilly, tremulously.
"In what paper was it that Agnes found the statement?"
"It was some morning paper: I don't know which one,—I only remember seeing the date."
Grandmother rang the bell, and sent for all the morning papers. When they were brought her, she put on her spectacles and began the search for "Smithson, alias Smith." One, two, three papers she searched through; and at last there it was,—"Smithson, alias Smith!"
Tilly watched her grandmother as she read with breathless anxiety, and her heart sank as she noticed how serious was the expression on the reader's face as she came to the last paragraph.
"Oh, grandmother," she cried, "you do believe it may be our Smiths."
"Well, yes, my dear, I believe that it may possibly be, that's all; but it may not be, just as possibly."
"Oh, grandmother, couldn't you inquire—carefully, you know."
"No, no, my dear. If it isn't our Smiths, think what an outrage any inquiries would be; and if it is, how cruel to stir the matter up! No, we must say nothing. The girl is an innocent creature; and if this Smithson is her father, I doubt if she has been told by anybody the facts of the case,—probably there was some very different reason given her for dropping that last syllable of the name. However it may be, it would be cruel for us to show by our manner or speech any knowledge of the story; for either way, whether they are those Smithsons or not, Agnes has made a very unpleasant situation for them, and we must be good to them."
"But, grandmother, when Agnes tells other people—"
"She won't. Your little warning, by your description of the way she took it, convinces me that she won't."
"But other people read the papers, and they—"
"May not take any more notice than I did, if Agnes's spiteful suspicions are held in check."
"But if poor Peggy herself—"
"Peggy probably doesn't read the newspapers any more than you do. But we needn't waste time in thinking what if this or that; the clear duty for us is to take no notice, and, as I said, be good to them."
"Oh, grandmother, you are such a dear! I knew you'd feel like this."
There was to be an early little dance that night for the young people, and Tilly put on her prettiest gown,—a white mull with rose-colored ribbons,—and went down to dinner in it, for the dance was an informal affair that was to follow very soon after dinner on account of the youth of most of the dancers. Her heart beat more quickly as she looked across at the corner table and saw Peggy and her aunt in their places, and that Peggy was also dressed for the occasion in something white, embroidered with rosebuds, and with ribbon loops of pale blue and a broad sash of the same color.
"Of course, she expects to dance," thought Tilly, "and Agnes will be horrid to her about it in some way or other; but I shall stand by Peggy anyway, whatever anybody else may do."
It was with this kind intention that Tilly hurried through her dinner and hastened out to join Peggy and her aunt when they left the dining-room. But the kind intention was arrested for the moment by Dora's voice calling out,—
"Tilly, Tilly, wait a minute."
The next thing Dora had her hand over Tilly's arm. Amy and Agnes were just behind, and there was nothing to do but to follow the general movement with them to the piazza. That it was a planned movement to separate her from Peggy, Tilly did not doubt; for once out on the piazza, Agnes, with a whispered word to Amy, turned sharply about in the opposite direction to that where Mrs. Smith and her niece were sitting.
A color like a red rose sprang to Tilly's cheeks as she glanced across at Peggy, and bowed to her with a swift little smile. Then, "How pretty Peggy Smith looks!" and "What a lovely gown she has on!" she said, turning a brave and half-defiant glance upon Agnes.
"Yes, it is pretty. It's made of that South American embroidered muslin,—convent work, you know," answered Agnes, casting a fleeting look at Tilly.
"No, I didn't know," answered Tilly, trying to seem calm and indifferent, but failing miserably.
"Yes," went on Agnes, "I know, because my cousins have had several of those dresses, and I'm quite familiar with them."
Peggy, sitting there in her odd pretty dress, saw with pity the distress in her friend Tilly's face.
"Those girls are worrying poor Tilly, auntie, see,—and I dare say it's on my account, for I was sure when she came out that she was intending to join us, and that they prevented her,—and, auntie, I'm going to brave the lions in their dens, and going over to her."
"They are ill-bred girls, and they may do or say something rude," replied auntie, regarding Peggy with a slightly anxious expression.
"Oh, I don't care for that now. Tilly is such a darling in sticking to me, in spite of their disapproval," laughing a little, "that I think I ought to stick to her;" and, nodding to her auntie, Peggy started on her friendly errand.
"What impudence! She's actually coming over to us uninvited. Well, I must say she has nerve!" muttered Agnes, as she observed Peggy's movements.
Coming forward, Peggy nodded to the whole group of girls; but it was to Tilly she addressed herself, and by Tilly's side she seated herself. It was in doing this that the delicate material of her dress caught in a protruding nail in the splint piazza chair with an ominous sound.
"Oh, your pretty gown! it's torn!" cried Tilly.
The two sprang up to examine it, and found an ugly little rent that had nearly pulled out one of the wrought rosebuds.
"It's too bad,—too bad!" sympathized Tilly.
"But it's easily mended, and it won't show," answered Peggy, cheerfully.
"It isn't easy to mend that South American stuff so that it won't show," remarked Agnes, coolly.
"I know it isn't usually," answered Peggy, as coolly; "but auntie can mend almost anything."
"It is a perfectly beautiful dress. I wish I had one just like it," broke forth Tilly, hurriedly, hardly knowing what she was saying in the desire to say something kind.
"You could easily send for one like it," spoke up Agnes, "if you knew anybody out there, or what shop or convent address to send to."
"We could send for you," said Peggy, turning to Tilly. Tilly looked startled.
"Have you friends out there?" asked Agnes, with an impertinent stare at Peggy.
"Yes," answered Peggy, curtly, meeting Agnes's stare with a look of sudden haughtiness.
Tilly turned hot and cold, but through all her perturbation was one feeling of satisfaction. Peggy could stand her ground, it seemed, and resent impertinence; but, "Oh, dear!" said this poor Tilly to herself, "that South American gown, I suppose, proves that she must be that Smithson man's daughter; but grandmother was right,—she is innocent of the facts of the case, of that there can be no doubt,—and we must be good to her, and now is the time to begin,—this very minute, when Agnes is planning what hateful thing she can do next."
Fired by this thought, Tilly sprang to her feet, and, casting a glance of scorn and contempt at Agnes, slipped her hand over Peggy's arm and said,—
"Come, Peggy, let's go over to the other end of the piazza and walk up and down; it's much pleasanter there."
Warm-hearted Tilly's intentions were excellent; but her look of contempt, her meaning words, instead of cowing and controlling Agnes, only roused her to deeper anger, which resulted in an action that probably had not been premeditated even by her jealous and bitter spirit. Tilly will never forget that action. It was just as she was turning away with Peggy, when she saw that angry face barring her way, when she heard those ominous words, "Miss Smithson," and then—and then that outstretched hand thrusting forth to Peggy that fluttering, dreadful slip of paper!
But another hand than Peggy's snatched at the fluttering paper. "What is it, what does it mean?" demanded Peggy, as a gusty breeze tore the paper from Tilly's trembling fingers.
"Yes, and what do you mean, Miss Tilly Morris, by snatching what doesn't belong to you?" cried Agnes, shrilly, as she started off to capture the flying paper, that, eluding her, blew hither and thither in a tantalizing way, and at last, falling at the feet of Will Wentworth, was picked up by him as he came out of the hall.
"It is mine, it is mine," shrieked Agnes; "keep it for me."
But Tilly, who was nearer to him, whispered agitatedly,—
"No, no, Will; don't give it to her,—she is—she means—"
"Mischief, I see," whispered back Will, with a swift, intelligent glance at Tilly.
"And if you wouldn't read it until—until I see you—oh, if you wouldn't!"
Will looked at Tilly with wonder. This was certainly something more serious than common. What was it,—what was the trouble?
But Agnes was by this time close upon him, reaching up her hand and crying, "Give it to me, Will, give it to me!"
But Will laughingly thrust the paper into his pocket, and answered,—
"No, I'll keep it for you, and give it to you later; I don't think it would be safe now. There's so much thunder in the air it might be struck by lightning."
"It might be snatched or stolen, I dare say," said Agnes, with a significant look at Tilly; "and you may keep it for me until later in the evening, and—read it at your leisure. It's a very interesting collection of facts."
"Tum, tum, ti tum," suddenly struck up the band in the hall.
"Eight o'clock!" cried Agnes, in astonishment.
"Yes, the ball's begun," said Will, nodding and smiling; "and if you'll excuse me," lifting his cap, "I'll go and get into my dancing shoes."
Agnes tried to smile in response; but a little pang of disappointment thrilled her as he left her without asking her for a dance. But he would later, of course,—later, when he would hand her her property, that collection of "facts," and by that time he would have read these "facts." She wouldn't need to risk any words of her own in accusation after that,—which conclusion shows very plainly that Miss Agnes had been sufficiently impressed with Tilly's warning to hold her peace.
That she had not flaunted the newspaper cutting before the eyes of others in the house also shows that the accident of the moment and her hot anger had, in the one instance only, overcome her caution.
But Tilly did not know all this, and her anxiety increased after she had heard those words to Will, "Read it at your leisure."
Peggy, too, had heard those words, though it was quite clear she had not heard that other word,—that dreadful name of Smithson; for, "What is it all about, that bit of paper?" she asked Tilly innocently, as Agnes and Will disappeared in the hallway; and Tilly said to her imploringly,—
"Don't ask me now, Peggy,—don't, that's a dear; I can't stand any more now."
And then and there Peggy answered, "I won't, I won't, you dear Tilly; I won't say another thing about it, and we won't think about it—" And then and there "Tum, tum, ti tum" burst forth the band in Strauss's "Morgen Blaetter" waltzes.
"Oh, how I love the 'Morgen Blaetter!'" cried Peggy. "Come, let us get into the dancing-hall as soon as possible. Where's auntie? Oh, there she is, talking with your pretty grandmother."
The next minute auntie and grandmother were sitting side by side in the dancing-hall, watching the two girls as they kept step to that perfect waltz music.
"Isn't it just lovely!" sighed Peggy.
"Lovely!" echoed Tilly.
"And how we suit each other! our steps are just alike."
"Just alike," echoed Tilly; whereat they both laughed, and a little silence between them followed, and then—
"There's Agnes dancing with Tom Raymond," suddenly exclaimed Tilly. "I wonder—"
"Don't wonder or worry about Agnes now, when we are tuned to the 'Morgen Blaetter' music," said Peggy. "'Music has charms to soothe the savage breast,' somebody has written, you know; and—and," with a soft little laugh, "it may soothe the breast of this savage Agnes."
Tilly echoed the soft little laugh, but she could not dismiss Agnes from her mind. She could not cease to wonder what it was she was talking about so earnestly with Tom Raymond,—to wonder if she had told, or was telling him at that very moment, of "Smithson, alias Smith."
And while poor Tilly wondered and worried, there was Peggy, the unconscious centre of all the wonder and worry, lifting up a radiant face of enjoyment as she floated along to the music of the "Morgen Blaetter." Tom Raymond, catching sight of this radiant face, said to himself,—
"I wonder if she's engaged for the next dance. I'll ask her the minute this is over."
The two girls were standing near their two chaperones when Tom came up, and with an odd sort of shyness, asked,—
"Are you engaged for the next dance, Miss—Miss Smith?"
Tilly's heart gave a jump as she noted Tom's sudden confusion and hesitation at this "Miss Smith," for it brought back to her his strange expression at the first sight of Peggy, and his question, "Is that the girl—the Miss Smith you were talking about?" and then his odd, chuckling laugh.
Peggy, too, had regarded Tom at that moment with a puzzled observation, as if she wondered if she had seen him before; and now, as Tom hesitated and bungled at the "Miss Smith," Peggy's own manner showed signs of consciousness, if not of embarrassment. Oh, oh! what could it all mean but that he had known everything from the first? "And I fancied at the first he acted as he did because he thought she wasn't quite fine enough; and all the time he knew she was this Miss Smithson, and was keeping it to himself, and, knowing that, he's going to ask her to dance with him now! Oh, what a good fellow he is, and what injustice I've done him!" concluded Tilly. "If only Will now, when he finds out—"
It was just then that a voice called softly from the open window behind her, "Miss Tilly, Miss Tilly!" and there was Will beckoning to her. "What shall I do with that paper?" he whispered, as Tilly turned. "I expect Agnes to be after me for it as quick as she catches sight of me again."
The window was a long French window, and Tilly stepped out and joined him upon the piazza. "Come around here where nobody can see or overhear us," she said. He followed her down the steps to a sheltered rustic seat.
"You haven't read it?" she asked.
"Read it? No!" Will answered a little huffily. "You asked me not to until I had seen you."
Tilly colored, and then, "You are a gentleman!" she burst out vehemently.
"Well, I hope so," Will answered.
"And so is Tom Raymond. I had done him such an injustice; but he's turned out so different from what I supposed he was. Oh, he's just splendid! and if you—" But here—I'm half ashamed to record it of my plucky little Tilly—here, suddenly overcome by all the excitement she had been through, Tilly broke down and began to cry.
"Oh, don't! I wish you wouldn't, now! Oh, I say!" cried Will, in boyish embarrassment.
Poor Tilly checked her sobs by a vigorous effort; but tears continued to flow, and she fumbled vainly for her handkerchief to dry them.
"Here, here, take mine," said Will, hastily thrusting the cambric into her hand; "and don't you bother another bit about Agnes and her tantrums. I'll burn her old paper if you say so, and I won't read it at all."
"Oh, yes, yes, you'll have to read it now. She'll ask you,—she'll tell you. Yes, read it, read it, Will. I know you'll pity Peggy, as grandmother and I do."
Thus adjured, Will drew the bit of paper from his pocket.
Tilly forgot her tears as she watched Will's face. He read it twice. At first there was an entire lack of comprehension; at the second reading a look of shocked understanding, and, bringing his fist down upon his knee, he exclaimed,—
"And Agnes was going to fling this bombshell straight at that poor thing!"
Then Tilly knew that Will was on the right side; that he pitied Peggy, and that he would agree with all that grandmother had said about her and her innocence and ignorance of real facts. This estimate of Master Will's sympathy was not a mistaken one. He not only agreed with grandmother about Peggy's innocence and ignorance, but in grandmother's kind conclusion "that they must be good to her."
"But what did you mean about Tom? What has he done to make you think so much better of him?" Will asked curiously.
While Tilly was enlightening him upon this point, Tom's voice was heard saying, "Oh, here they are," and Tom himself came round the clump of sheltering bushes accompanied by Peggy. And "We've been looking for you everywhere," said Peggy. "We've just had another of the Strauss waltzes, and the next thing is the 'Lancers;' and we want you and Tilly—"
"Will Wentworth, I want my property, if you please; that paper I gave you to keep for me," a very different voice—a high, sharp voice that the whole four recognized at once—interrupted here.
Tilly started, and turned pale.
"Don't be frightened, Tilly, she sha'n't have it," whispered Will.
Agnes flushed resentfully as she came forward and saw the confidential friendliness of the little group. For "that girl" she had been neglected and disregarded like this! Not a moment longer would she bear such insults. It was all nonsense,—all that stuff about being prosecuted for showing up facts. She would be stopped by that foolishness no longer. She would first take her stand boldly, and let everybody know what a fraud this Miss Smith was. These were some of the wild thoughts that leaped up out of the bitter fountain in Agnes's distorted mind at that instant, and her voice was sharper than ever as she again said,—
"I want my property,—the paper I gave you to keep for me."
Will had risen to his feet, and answered very coolly, "I can't give it to you."
"What do you mean? Have you lost it?"
"No, but I can't give it to you."
"Have you read it?"
"Yes, and that's the reason I don't give it to you. I know if I should you would—"
"Probably give it to Miss Smithson," cried Agnes, shrilly. "Miss Smithson," going toward Peggy, "I—"
"Oh, Peggy, Peggy, come with me. We're all your friends,—grandmother and I and Will and Tom; and we know how sweet and innocent you are. Oh, Peggy, come, come, and don't listen to her!" burst forth Tilly, in an agony of pity and horror, as she put an arm around Peggy to draw her away.
But Peggy was not to be drawn away.
"What in the world is the matter? What is it all about? What do you mean, Tilly, dear, by 'innocent'? What has she," glancing at Agnes disdainfully "been getting up against me?"
"Oh, Peggy, Peggy, don't!" moaned Tilly.
"Well, this is rich," laughed Agnes, jeeringly. "Nobody has been getting up anything against you, Miss Smithson."
"What do you mean by calling me Miss Smithson? That isn't my name."
"Oh, isn't it?" derisively. "How long since did you change it for Smith?"
"I have never changed it for Smith."
"Oh, I believe that 'Miss Smith' is down on the hotel register, and you answer to that name."
"I beg your pardon," said Peggy, looking at Agnes with great scorn. "'Mrs. Smith and niece' are down on the register. It was the clerk who registered us in that way, and all of you seemed to take it for granted that my name must be Smith also. Perhaps I ought to have corrected the mistake at once; but after I overheard that conversation on the piazza, and—saw somebody examining the register a few minutes later" glancing away from Agnes with a smile at Will, who looked rather sheepish—"after that I thought I'd let the mistake go until the rest of the family arrived, it was so amusing."
"Oh," retorted Agnes, "this all sounds very straight and pretty, but I dare say you've got used to telling such stories. Perhaps you'll tell us now what name you do call your own, and if it is by that those South American friends you write to are known."
"Perhaps Mr. Tom Raymond will tell you," answered Peggy, quickly. "I've thought for some time that he might be one of the Tennis Club that came out to Fairview at my brother's invitation last summer, and I thought he suspected who I was, and—and wouldn't tell because—because he saw, just as I did, what fun the mistake was. But now, if he will, he can introduce me—to my friends, Tilly and Will Wentworth, as—"
"Miss Pelham! Miss Margaret Pelham!" shouted Tom, before Peggy could go any further.
"Pelham!" cried Tilly, in a dazed way.
"Pelham!" repeated Will.
"Yes, Pelham! Pelham!" exclaimed Tom, exultantly, flinging up his cap with a chuckle of delighted laughter.
"And you're not—you're not the daughter of that dreadful Smithson?" burst forth Tilly, in a little transport of happy relief.
"'That dreadful Smithson'? Who is he, and who said I was his daughter?"
"She said it," roared Will, darting a furious look at Agnes; "and she cooked it all up out of this," suddenly pulling the paper from his pocket.
"Give it to me!" cried Agnes, breathlessly, springing forward to snatch the paper from his hand.
"No, no, you wanted me to give it to Miss Smith a minute ago, and now I'll give it to—Miss Pelham, and let her see what you've wanted to circulate about the house," answered Will.
"I—I—if I happened to notice it before the rest of you—and—and thought that it might be this Miss Smith—"
"That it must be! you insisted," broke in Will.
"With all that about the change of name, and the age of the girl, and—and—the 'South America' I saw on the blotting-pad, and the South American dress," went on Agnes, incoherently,—"if I happened to be before you, you thought afterward, I know you did, that it might be; and—"
"With a difference, with a difference!" suddenly rang out Peggy Pelham's clear young voice in tones of indignation. She had read the newspaper slip; and there she stood, scorn and indignation in her face as well as in her voice. "Yes, with a difference," she went on vehemently. "If they thought it might be, after you had paraded the thing before them, you," with a renewed look of scorn, "thought it must be, because you wanted it to be, because you had got to hating me. Oh, I can see it all now,—everything, everything; how you patched things together, even to that blotting-pad which I had used after directing my letter to my uncle, Berkeley Pelham, who lives in Brazil. Oh, to think of such prying and peering," with a shudder, "and to think of such enmity, anyway, all for nothing! I've heard of such enmity, but I never believed in it, for I never met it before. And all this time there was Tilly Morris,—oh, Tilly," whirling rapidly about, "what a dear, brave, generous, faithful little thing you've been," the ringing voice faltering, "for in spite of—even this—this dreadful Smithson, you stuck to me and tried to shield me."
"Oh, I knew, and so did grandmother, that you were innocent, whatever might just possibly have happened to—to—"
"Mr. Smithson—" And Peggy began to laugh. But the laugh ended in something like a sob, and she hurriedly hid her face on Tilly's shoulder. When an instant after she looked up, it was to see that Agnes had disappeared.
"Yes, the enemy has fled," said Tom Raymond. "The minute you dropped your eyes she was off. We might have stopped her, Will and I, but there wasn't much left of her. Oh, oh, oh! isn't she finished off beautifully, though?" and Tom gave way at last to the hilarity he had so long manfully repressed.
"Finished off! I should say so!" cried Will, joining in Tom's laughter.
"And to think that you were a Pelham,—one of Agnes's wonderful Pelhams all the time," put in Tilly, still with an air of bewilderment.
"And am now," laughed Peggy. "Oh, Tilly, you are such a dear!"
"One of Agnes's wonderful Pelhams!" shouted Tom. "Guess she won't be in a hurry to set up a claim to 'em now!" and Tom burst out again in wild chuckles of hilarity.
"And I never saw her, and I don't believe she ever met one of us before," cried Peggy.
"She told Amy that she didn't know the Pelhams yet, but that her Aunt Ann did, and her aunt was coming next month and would introduce her to them when they arrived," said Tilly, with a demure smile.
"Well, she'll probably like my sister Isabel's Skye terrier, with its fine name of Prince, much better than she does my poor little plebeian doggie, with its vulgar name of Pete," remarked Peggy, her eyes twinkling with fun.
"Oh, Peggy, to think of your hearing all that talk about the dog and everything."
"And everything? I should say so!" cried Will, starting up and looking rather red as he recalled his own words.
"Yes, and everything,—all about the dogs and the difference between the Wentworths and the Pelhams," took up Peggy, dimpling with smiles.
"Oh, I say now," began Will.
"Yes, you may say now just what you did then. I liked it,—I liked it. It was sensible and plucky of you, and it was such fun. Oh, when I think that but for auntie and me coming on ahead of the rest, and without a maid, and the hotel clerk writing only 'Mrs. Smith and niece' in the register, I should never have had all these wonderful experiences, and never have known what a friend my Tilly could be,—when I think of all this, I want to dance a jig, just such a jig as they are playing this minute;" and up she jumped, this smiling Peggy, and, catching Tilly in her arms, went waltzing down the path with her toward the hall from whence floated the gay strains of the "Lancers."
But what was that sound,—that long-drawn, jubilant sound that suddenly rang over and above the dance music?
"Ta-ra, ta-ra, ta-ra-a-a-a," rang the clear, piercing notes; and out from halls and offices and parlors came a little flock of folk to see that most interesting of arrivals at a summer resort,—a coaching-party. "Ta-ra, ta-ra, ta-ra-a-a-a," wound the coach horn; and up the carriage drive rattled a superb vehicle, drawn by four superb gray horses. The long summer daylight yet lingered, and showed the faces of the party atop of the coach.
"It's the Pelham team, and that's young Berk Pelham holding the reins," said a bystander.
Dora and Amy Robson, who had run out with the others from the dancing-hall, caught Tom Raymond as he was passing them; and Dora whispered,—
"Are they the Pelhams,—Agnes's Pelhams?"
"'Agnes's Pelhams'? Oh, oh!" gurgled Tom, nearly choking with suppressed laughter. Then, "Yes, yes, Agnes's Pelhams; but where is Agnes? She ought to be here to welcome her Pelhams."
"She's gone to bed with a headache or something. She came in looking dreadfully a few minutes ago."
"I should think she might; she had had a blow."
"What do you mean? But, look, look! those Pelhams are speaking to that Smith girl."
"No, they're not."
"But they are, Tom; don't you see?"
"No, I don't see any of them speaking to a Smith girl, but I do see Miss Pelham speaking to—Miss Peggy Pelham."
Dora tossed her head impatiently. "What a silly joke!" she thought; but—but—what was it that that tall young lady who had just jumped down from her top seat on the coach was saying?
"The minute I read your letter, Peggy, telling me of this little dance, Berk and I planned to drive over with the Apsleys and waltz a little waltz with you. Twenty miles in an hour and a half. Isn't that fine time? And you are looking so much better, Peggy, for the salt air, and away from all our racket. Mamma was wise when she sent you on ahead with auntie, but we're all coming to join you next week."
"Tom, Tom, you were not joking?" gasped Dora.
"When I said that girl was Peggy Pelham? Joking? No, it's a solid fact,—so solid it's knocked Agnes flat. Oh!" and Tom began to shake again; "it's too rich, it's too rich. Come over here away from the crowd, you and Amy, and let me tell you the whole story, and then you'll see what a blow Agnes has had."
Never had a narrator a more excitingly interesting story to tell, and never did narrator enjoy the telling more than Tom on this occasion; but though his hearers hung upon his words, these words were full of bitterness to them; and when at the close he flung his head back and said, "Isn't it the greatest fun?" Dora, out of her shame and mortification, cried,—
"Yes, fun to you,—to you and Will and Tilly, because you are on the right side of the fun; but I—we—are disgraced of course with Agnes. Oh, we've been just horrid—horrid, and such fools!"
"Well, I—I sort of forgot about you, that's a fact, in Agnes,—for it's her circus from the start; you and Amy," giving his little chuckling laugh, "are only humble followers, pressed into service, you know, by the ringmaster. The thing of it was, you hadn't sand enough to stand up against Agnes."
"And Tilly had," responded Dora, in a mortified tone.
"Oh, Tilly! Tilly's a trump, always and every time. She's on the right side of things naturally."
If Dora and Amy needed a still lower abyss of humiliation, they found it in this last sentence of Tom's, which showed them plainly what poor creatures he thought they were "naturally" to Tilly.
Before many hours the story of "that little Smith girl" was known throughout the house, and mothers and fathers and guardians heard with amazement that so serious a little drama had been going on without their slightest knowledge until this climax. One mother, however, Mrs. Robson, was more than amazed when she found what an influence Agnes had exerted over her daughter and niece.
"Don't offer as excuse that you didn't dare to tell me how things were going on for fear of offending Agnes Brendon," she said indignantly. "Didn't Tilly Morris dare to tell her grandmother?"
Everywhere it was Tilly Morris,—Tilly Morris, the kind, the brave, the honest! Even Mrs. Brendon, who came at last to know the fact, in her alarm and irritation assailed her daughter one day in the presence of the Robsons with these words,—
"Why couldn't you have behaved amiably and sensibly, like the little Morris girl? I don't see where you learned such suspicious, calculating, worldly ways of judging people and things?"
And then it was that Agnes turned upon her mother and gave utterance to these bitter, brutal truths,—
"I've learned them from the older people I've seen all my life,—the people who come to our house. They judge other people that they don't know anything about in just such calculating ways. They are always talking with you about this one or that one's social position, and they never make new acquaintances without finding out what set they belong to; and I was never allowed from a little girl to make acquaintances with any children whose mothers were not in the right set; and amiability and goodness had nothing to do with it,—nothing, nothing, nothing!"
"Marge, Marge, here is the egg-boy!"
Marge dropped her book and ran to join her sister Elsie, who by this time was on the back piazza talking to a boy who had just driven up in a farm-wagon.
"We want two dozen more,—all nice big ones, and by to-morrow, for it is only three days before Easter, and they must be boiled and colored to be ready in season."
The boy stared. "Colored?" he repeated in a puzzled, questioning tone.
"Yes," answered Elsie, "colored. Don't you color eggs for Easter?"
"How queer! But you know about them, of course?"
"No, I don't."
"Not know about Easter eggs? Where in the world have you lived not to know about Easter? I thought everybody—"
"I do know about Easter," interrupted the boy, sharply. "All I said was that I didn't know about your colored eggs."
"Oh, well, I guess it is Episcopalians mostly who keep that old custom going in this part of the country, and I suppose your people are not Episcopalians, are they?"
"Well, we are, and we've lived in Washington, too, where everybody has colored eggs, and all the boys and girls there used to go to the egg-rolling party the Monday morning after Easter; and a good many of them go now."
"Egg-rolling party?" cried the boy, with such wide-open eyes of astonishment that Elsie and Marge both burst out laughing, whereat the boy flushed up angrily, and seizing the reins was starting off, when the cook called to him to wait until she had the butter-box ready for him to take back.
"Oh!" whispered Marge, "we've hurt his feelings, Elsie; it is too bad." Then she ran forward, and said gently: "'Tisn't anything at all strange that you didn't know about the rolling. Elsie and I didn't until we went to Washington to live, and saw the game ourselves, and had it explained to us; and I'll explain it to you. We had a lot of eggs boiled hard, and dyed all sorts of pretty flower colors and patterns; and these we took to the top of a little hill near the White House, and each one, or each party, started two or three or more eggs of different colors, and made guesses as to which color would beat. After the game was over, we exchanged the eggs we had, and gave away a good many to the poor children. Oh, it was great fun."
The boy laughed. "Fun! I should call it baby play!" he said derisively.
"Well, you can call it baby play if you like," returned Marge, with great dignity; "but the 'baby play' has come down through a good many years. It is an old Easter custom that was brought over from England by one of the early settlers at Washington."
"I—I didn't mean—I'm sorry—" began Royal, stammeringly; when—
"Royal! Royal Purcel!" called out a voice; and a little fellow scarcely more than six or seven years old came running up the driveway, and made a flying leap into the wagon.
"Do you belong to a circus?" cried Elsie.
"No; wish I did. I belong to Royal."
"Who is Royal?"
"Who is Royal?" repeated the child, making a cunning, impudent face at her.
"He means me. My name is Royal,—Royal Purcel; and he," nodding towards the child, "is my brother."
"Royal Purcel! What a funny name! It sounds—"
"Don't, Elsie," remonstrated Marge.
"It sounds just like Royal Purple," giggled Elsie, regardless of her sister's remonstrance.
Rhoda Davis, the cook, coming out just then with the butter-box, Royal thrust it hastily into the back of the wagon, and without another word or glance at the sisters, drove off at a headlong pace.
"Well, I never saw such a tempery boy as that in my life," said Elsie. "A boy that can't take a joke I don't think is much of a boy."
"Them Purcels allers was pretty peppery, and I guess they're more'n ever so now," said Rhoda.
"Why?" asked Marge.
"Why? Because they used to be the richest farmers about here. They owned pretty nigh all Lime Ridge once. Now they hain't got nothin' but that little Ridge farm. It's a stony little place, and how they manage to get a livin' off of it beats me."
"How'd they happen to lose so much?"
"Oh, the boy's father took to spekerlatin', and then some banks they had money in bust up."
"Well, he needn't fly up at everything because he isn't rich," said Elsie. "That's regular cry-baby fashion. He's a royal purple cry-baby, that's what he is, and I mean to call him that, see if I don't;" and Elsie laughed in high glee as this mischievous idea struck her. And while she and her sister were discussing Royal and his temper, Royal was discussing that very temper with himself.
"To think of my being such a fool as to show mad before those girls. I'm a regular sissy," was his final conclusion as he drove down the road.
The next morning, bright and early, he was up at the Lloyds' with two dozen fine big eggs. "As handsome a lot of eggs as I ever see," commented Rhoda, as she took them in.
"Are they going to color them all?" asked Royal.
"I s'pose so. Here are some of their old ones. They've been b'iled as hard as stones. They'll keep forever;" and Rhoda handed out of the open window a little basket of colored eggs.
"But some of these are painted," said the boy, taking up an egg with a pattern of flowers on it.
"No, they ain't; they're jest colored in a dye-pot. Them that looks as if they was painted were tied up in a bit of figgered calico and b'iled, and when they come out of the b'iling they took the calico off, and there was the figgers set on the eggs. See?"
"Yes, I see;" and Royal turned the egg round thoughtfully for a moment, then suddenly put it down, and started off towards his wagon on a run.
"Land sakes!" called out Rhoda; "what's come to you all at once to set off like that?"
"Muskrats!" shouted Royal, with a laugh as he jumped into the wagon.
"Ben a-settin' traps for 'em, eh?"
Royal nodded as he went rattling down the driveway.
"Did Royal Purple bring the eggs?" asked Elsie Lloyd, a little later.
"His name ain't Purple; it's Purcel," corrected Rhoda, innocently.
Elsie giggled. "Well, did Royal Purcel bring the eggs?" she asked.
"Yes, there they be."
"Oh, oh! aren't they beauties?"
"They be; that's a fact," agreed Rhoda. "Royal, he's done his best for ye now, anyway. He's kind o' quick, like all the Purcels, but he's real accommodatin'."
"So he is, Rhoda, and I'll give him one of the prettiest eggs we turn out for being so 'accommodatin';' and we are going to have some extra pretty ones this time. See this now, and this, and this!" and Elsie whipped out of her pocket several bits of bright calico. One was a pattern of tiny rosebuds; another a little lily on a blue ground.
"The lily ones will be just lovely if they turn out well, and they will be the real Easter egg with that lily pattern," said Marge, enthusiastically.
By Saturday afternoon a goodly array of eggs of all colors and patterns were "ready for company," as Elsie and Marge expressed it; for on Saturday night a party of their friends were coming to them for a three days' visit. It was about an hour after these friends had arrived, and they were all hanging admiringly over the pretty display of eggs, that a box was brought in by one of the servants. It was neatly tied, and directed in a bold round handwriting to "Miss Elsie and Miss Marge Lloyd."
"What can it be?" said Marge, wonderingly.
"We'll open it and see," cried Elsie. And suiting her action to her word, she cut the string and lifted the cover; and there she saw six eggs undyed, but each painted delicately with a different design. On one was a cross with a tiny vine running from the base; on another a bunch of lilies of the valley; and another showed a little bough of apple blossoms. On the remaining three the subjects were strangely unusual,—a palm and tent, with a patch of sky; a bird with outstretched wings, soaring upward with open beak, as if singing in its flight; a cherub head with a soft halo about it.
"Oh! oh! oh!" exclaimed the girls, in a chorus; and, "Who could have painted them?" wondered Marge; and, "Who could have sent them?" cried Elsie.
In vain they hunted for card or sign of the donor. They could find nothing to give them the slightest clew.
"Perhaps, papa, it is Mr. Archer," said Marge at last, turning to her father. Mr. Archer was an artist friend.
"Oh, no, this isn't Archer's work; it's a novice's work, though very promising," her father replied.
"Cousin Tom's, then?"
"And too strong for Tom."
"Then it must be Jimmy Barrows."
"Well, it may be Jimmy. We shall know when he comes with Tom on Monday. It's bold enough for Jimmy, but I didn't think he had so much fancy."
And finally it was settled that it could be no other than Jimmy Barrows. Jimmy was a great friend of their cousin Tom; but while Tom was only an amateur artist, Jimmy was studying to be a professional one.
"It's such fun to have Jimmy do these, and send them without a word," said Elsie to her sister.
"Such a generous thing to do, too! I wonder if he would like some of our eggs as specimens? We might give him one of each kind."
"Oh, Marge, don't think of offering him those calico-colored things,—anybody who can paint like this!"
"Very well; but, Elsie, which one are you going to give to Royal Purcel?"
"To Royal Purcel?"
"Yes; don't you remember you told Rhoda you were going to give him one for being so accommodating?"
"Oh, I'd forgotten. Well, here, I'll give him this,—it's the very thing;" and Elsie snatched up a bright purple one.
"Oh, Elsie, don't!"
But Elsie fairly danced with glee as she cried, "I will, I will; it's the very thing,—royal purple to Royal Purple!"
The young visitors, when all this was explained to them, joined in the merriment; but Marge—kind, tender little Marge—hid away one of the blue and white lily eggs, to get the advantage of Elsie's mischief by bestowing that upon Royal.
But Royal was quite out of Elsie's thoughts by Monday morning. It was a beautiful morning; and by nine o'clock, when Tom and Jimmy Barrows arrived, the lawn and sloping knoll at the east of it were bright and dry with sunshine. On the piazza the various baskets of eggs were standing; only "Jimmy Barrows's gift" had been set aside as "too good to use."
"My! haven't you got a lot, though?" cried Tom, as he surveyed them. "But what are these in the box here?"
"Yes, what are they?" sparkled Elsie. "Ask Jimmy Barrows."
Jimmy, with a wondering expression on his face at this remark, came over and looked down at the treasured eggs. "Who did these?" he asked quickly.
"'Who did these?'" mimicked Elsie. "Oh, you needn't try that. We found you out at once, or I did."
"You think I painted 'em—I sent 'em?" queried Jimmy.
"Of course I do. Now, Master Jimmy—"
"Miss Elsie, just as true as I'm standing here, I never saw them before."
Elsie shook her head at him, but Jimmy did not see her. He was lifting the eggs and examining them.
"No, honest, I didn't paint 'em, Miss Elsie. I wish I had; but I can't do things like that—yet. I can draw as well, am a better draughtsman, maybe, but I haven't got the ideas. The fellow who did these has got a lot of original ideas."
Mr. Lloyd came forward here with great interest. "Did any of you," turning to Elsie and Marge, "ask who brought the box?"
"Yes," answered Elsie. "I asked Ann, and she said 'a bit of a boy brought 'em;' she didn't know who he was."
"Ask Rhoda to come here. She knows the neighborhood."
Rhoda came, and Mr. Lloyd put the matter before her. Had she any idea who the "bit of a boy" was?
"I didn't see him, but it might be Bert Purcel," answered Rhoda. "Folks get him to do errands sometimes. He's just drove up with his brother to bring the chickens. I'll send him 'round, and you can ask him."
"Did you leave a box here Saturday night?" Mr. Lloyd inquired pleasantly, when the boy stood before him.
The red lips began to frame a "No," then closed tightly together, while the slim little figure whirled about and made an attempt to leap over the piazza railing,—an attempt that would have been successful if one foot had not caught in a stout vine.
Royal, waiting in the wagon at the back porch, heard a sudden cry, and hurried to see what had happened. He found Bert scrambling to his feet, brisk and angry. The child made a dash towards his brother, and seized his hand.
"What's the matter?" asked Royal. No answer, but a renewed tug at his hand to draw him away.
"The little fellow tried to jump the piazza railing and fell," explained Mr. Lloyd, laughingly.
"Papa just asked him a question,—if he brought us a box Saturday night; and as he didn't want to answer, he ran," spoke up Elsie.
"I didn't, I jumped!" cried the child.
"Can't you tell us?" asked Marge, looking at Royal. "Did your brother bring it?"
"Yes," answered Royal, flushing up.
"And who sent it?" asked Elsie, impatiently. She waited a moment for an answer. As none came, she asked still more impatiently, "Do you know the person who sent it?"
"Yes," in a hesitating voice.
"Did the person tell you not to tell?"
"No," in the same hesitating voice.
"Then why in the world don't you tell? You've no right to keep it back like this. It is our affair, not yours, and so it is our right to know who it is. Don't you understand that we don't want people to send us things—presents—and not know anything about who it is?"
Royal looked startled, and the flush on his face deepened. Elsie thought she had conquered him, and chirped out an encouraging, "Come, now, who was it?" But to her surprise the boy flung up his head with an angry movement, and with a defiant glance at her said stubbornly,—
"I've a perfect right not to answer your question, and I sha'n't!"
"Well, of all the brazen—"
"Elsie!" warned her father, "don't say anything more."
"You'll let me say one thing more, papa. Rhoda told us that this boy was very accommodating, and he brought me such nice big eggs, I thought he was, and meant to give him something to show my appreciation, and I'd like to give it to him now. Here," taking something from her pocket, "give this to your brother," she said to little Bert, who stood eying her curiously. The child's hand opened involuntarily. Into it dropped a royal purple egg.
Royal saw and understood. "Give it back to her!" he cried.
Bert, feeling the passion in his brother's voice, drew off, and flung the egg with all his might at Elsie. Luckily for her, it missed its aim and whizzed past, striking some article with a breaking crash beyond her.
"Oh! oh! oh! it's fallen on the painted eggs!" cried Marge, "and," running forward, "it has spoiled the lovely cherub head; see, the shell is all cracked to pieces!"
"You horrid, wicked boys!" cried Elsie, in the next breath.
But Royal heard nothing of these comments. The moment he saw that Bert's recklessness had injured no one, he had turned away with him, and was now driving out of the yard, scolding the youngster roundly for his action, and not a little subdued himself at what might have been the result of it.
"Papa, I think they ought to be punished, and the big boy made to tell," exclaimed Elsie, when she found the two were out of her reach.
"What did you say was the name of the boys?" asked Jimmy Barrows, who had taken up the cross and vine egg, and was peering at it very closely.
"Well, just look at this;" and with the tip-end of a tiny knife-blade Jimmy pointed out something in the delicate vined tendrils that had hitherto escaped notice. It was the name "R. Purcel," cunningly inwound in the tendrils. Every one crowded up to inspect this discovery.
"It must be some relation of the boy's, and that is why he felt he had a right to keep it secret," said Mr. Lloyd.
"But it was Royal's present, whatever relation he got to paint the eggs for him, for it was only Royal who knew about our eggs; and this is the way we've paid him!" cried Marge, with a glance of indignant reproach at Elsie.
"I don't think he got anybody to do it for him; I—I think he did it himself," spoke up Jimmy.
"Royal Purcel! that—that farm-boy?" shrieked Elsie.
"Yes," answered Jimmy. "I thought so all the time, when you—when he was standing under—under your questioning fire." And Jimmy laughed.
"But how did he learn?" cried Elsie, in astonishment.
"I don't think the boy has had much instruction," said Jimmy. "I think he has great natural talent, and has had very little opportunity to study." Jimmy was now peering at the palm and tent egg, and, "See, here's the name again, in this thready grass," he said, "and he has probably marked all the eggs in this cunning way."
Jimmy was right. On the bird's wing, amid the lily leaves, and on the apple bough, they also found "R. Purcel" hidden deftly from casual observation.
Elsie was silent as, one after another, these discoveries were made. Finally she could contain herself no longer, and burst out,—
"To think of his painting all these beautiful things and giving them to us,—to me, when I've been such a horrid little cat to him! Oh, papa, I must do something,—I just must!"
"Well, I should think it would become you to say you are sorry and to thank him," said Mr. Lloyd, smiling.
"But, papa, I want to take the pony-carriage and go after him, and ask him to come back to the egg-rolling; and if Jimmy Barrows will go with me—"
"I'd be delighted, Miss Elsie."
"He'd make it easier,—he'd know what to say, and Royal would know what to say to him. The others will excuse us; we won't be long. Oh, may I—may we, papa?"
"Well, as you seem to have settled everything, I don't see but I must—"
But Elsie did not wait to hear more. She knew she had not only her father's consent, but his approval, and was off like a flash to order the carriage.
If the Lloyds had been better acquainted in Lime Ridge, Royal's work would not have been such a great surprise to them. A good many of the Lime Ridge people could have told them of the boy's talent, and how it had been discouraged by his family. There was no money now to support and educate him in that direction, and it had been arranged with an old friend who was in the wool business that the boy should go into his employ as soon as he had graduated from the Lime Ridge High School. This was considered a very lucky prospect for him, but Royal hated it. From a little fellow he had shown a great love for pictures, and had covered every scrap of paper he could find with crude drawings.
When he was eight years old, a visitor had given him a box of paints and brushes. Two years later he had become acquainted with an artist who was staying a few weeks at Lime Ridge, and went with him on his sketching-tramps. With him he learned something about an artist's methods, and received from him as a parting gift, various artist's materials that he had made industrious use of.
The whim of painting the eggs and sending them to the sisters had come to him as a sort of apology to them for his exhibition of temper, and he had no idea that his name, so palpable to his artist eye, would escape their observation as it did. He expected his gift and its motives to be recognized at once. Instead, he was questioned as if he were nothing but an ignorant errand-boy; and, bitterest of all, even when he had confessed to a knowledge of the giver, the possibility of his being the painter himself was not for a moment suspected. But while he stood leaning over the farm-gate thinking these bitter thoughts, a stout little pony was bringing him what he little dreamed of. "Catch me ever going amongst 'em again,—an overbearing lot of city folks," he was saying to himself, when, patter, patter, patter, round the turn of the road came the stout little pony, and before the boy could make a movement to get away, Elsie Lloyd had jumped from the wagon, and stood in front of him.
"I've come to ask you to go back with us, and forgive me for being such a horrid little cat to you. I didn't understand. I thought—" and then in a perfect jumble of words Elsie went on, and poured forth her contrition and explanation, at the same time introducing Jimmy Barrows, who knew just what to say, and said it with such effect that Royal's spirits went up with a bound, and almost before he knew to what he had consented, he was sitting on the little back seat of the phaeton, talking with these "city folks" as if they were his best friends, as they turned out to be.
All this happened four or five years ago, and to-day where do you suppose Royal Purcel is, and what do you suppose he is doing? In Mr. Carr's mills, learning to pick and buy wool?
Not he. He is in Paris with Jimmy Barrows, studying hard, and supporting himself by making business illustrations for various newspapers. It is humble work, but it serves for his support while he is preparing for higher things; and the "higher things" are not far off, for two or three of his sketches in oils have attracted the attention of the critics, and he has furnished a set of drawings for a child's book that has been well paid for and well spoken of. And Jimmy Barrows wrote home to Tom Lloyd the other day,—
"Royal is going to be a howling success, as I always prophesied; but what a time your uncle and I had to persuade his family of this possibility, and to get him off from that wool-picking! But I guess they began to believe we were right when this spoiled wool-picker wrote them last week that he'd paid the last cent of his indebtedness to Mr. Lloyd. Houp-la!"
"'A howling success'! And it's all through me," laughed Elsie, as she read this portion of Jimmy's letter; "for if I hadn't eaten humble-pie, and run after Master Royal that morning, he would not have met Jimmy Barrows, and might have been wool-picking to this day. Yes; it's all through me and my humble-pie. Houp-la!"
MAJOR MOLLY'S CHRISTMAS PROMISE.
"Never had a Christmas present?"
"Why, it's just dreadful! Well, there's one thing,—you shall have one this year, you dear thing!" and Molly Elliston flung down the Christmas muffler she was knitting, and stared at her visitor, as if she could scarcely believe what she had just confessed to her. The visitor laughed, showing a beautiful row of small white teeth as she did so. She was a charming little maiden of twelve or thirteen, this visitor,—a charming little maiden with the darkest of dark hair that hung in a thick shining braid tied at the end with a broad red ribbon. Molly Elliston thought she was a beauty, as she looked at her dimpled smiling face,—a beauty, though she was an Indian. Yes, this charming little maiden was an Indian, belonging to what was once a great and powerful tribe. When, three years ago, Molly Elliston had come out to the far Northwest with her mother to join her father on his ranch, she had thought she should never feel anything but aversion to an Indian. Molly was then seven years old, and had always lived at some military post, for her father had been an army officer until the three years before, when he had given up his commission to enter into partnership with his brother upon a sheep and cattle ranch. A few miles from this ranch was an Indian reservation. The tribe that occupied it had for a long time been quite friendly with white people, and were therefore not altogether unwelcome neighbors to the Ellistons. Molly thought they were very welcome, indeed, when one day, in the third summer of her ranch life, she made the acquaintance of this pretty Wallula, who was not only pretty, but very intelligent, and of a loving disposition that responded gladly to Molly's friendly advances.