Transcriber's Note: The words "if only little Judy had stayed with me, I should", possible repeated instead of the first words of the next sentence, have been reproduced as typeset.
A YOUNG MUTINEER
A Young Mutineer
MRS. L. T. MEADE
AUTHOR OF "A GIRL IN TEN THOUSAND," "A RING OF RUBIES," "GIRLS NEW AND OLD," ETC.
NEW YORK STITT PUBLISHING COMPANY 1905
TO MY LITTLE GIRL HOPE THE REAL JUDY October 23, 1893
I. AN OLD-FASHIONED LITTLE PAIR 1
II. THE PEOPLE WHO GET MARRIED 14
III. A QUESTION AND AN ANSWER 26
IV. CHANGES 36
V. IN A GARDEN 52
VI. THE EVE OF THE WEDDING 67
VII. A WEDDING PRESENT 82
VIII. HONEYMOON 91
IX. STARVED 101
X. WAITING 118
XI. HUSBAND AND WIFE 129
XII. HILDA'S ENGAGEMENT RING 149
XIII. JUDY'S ROOM 157
XIV. THE LITTLE RIFT 174
XV. THREE IS TRUMPERY 186
XVI. A LITTLE GIRL AND A LITTLE CROSS 195
XVII. JUDY'S SECRET 208
XVIII. GIANT-KILLER 224
XIX. GOOD OMENS 253
A YOUNG MUTINEER.
AN OLD-FASHIONED LITTLE PAIR.
Sun and shower—sun and shower— Now rough, now smooth, is the winding way; Thorn and flower—thorn and flower— Which will you gather? Who can say? Wayward hearts, there's a world for your winning, Sorrow and laughter, love or woe: Who can tell in the day's beginning The paths that your wandering feet shall go?
The village choir were practicing in the church—their voices, somewhat harsh and uncultivated, were sending forth volumes of sound into the summer air. The church doors were thrown open, and a young man dressed in cricketing-flannels was leaning against the porch. He was tall, and square-shouldered, with closely-cropped dark hair, and a keen, intelligent face.
When the music became very loud and discordant he moved impatiently, but as the human voices ceased and the sweet notes of the voluntary sounded in full melody on the little organ, a look of relief swept like a soothing hand over his forehead.
The gates of the Rectory were within a stone's throw of the church. Up the avenue three people might have been seen advancing. Two were children, one an adult. The grown member of this little group was tall and slight; she wore spectacles, and although not specially gifted with wisdom, possessed a particularly wise appearance. The two little girls, who were her pupils, walked somewhat sedately by her side. As they passed the church the governess looked neither to right nor left, but the eldest girl fixed her keen and somewhat hungry eyes with a questioning gaze on the young man who stood in the porch. He nodded back to her a glance full of intelligence, which he further emphasized by a quick and somewhat audacious wink from his left eye. The little girl walked on loftily; she thought that Jasper Quentyns, who was more or less a stranger in the neighborhood, had taken a distinct liberty.
"What's the matter, Judy?" asked the smallest of the girls.
"Nothing," replied Judy quickly. She turned to her governess as she spoke. "Miss Mills, I was very good at my lessons to-day, wasn't I?"
"You are not going to forget what you promised me?"
"I am afraid I do forget; what was it?"
"You said if I were really good I might stop at the church on my way back and go home with Hilda. I have been good, so I may go home with Hilda, may I not?"
"Yes, child, of course, if I promised, but we are only just on our walk now. It is a fine autumnal day, and I want to get to the woods to pick some bracken and heather, for your Aunt Marjorie has asked me to fill all the vases for dinner to-night. There are not half enough flowers in the garden, so I must go to the woods, whatever happens. Your sister will have left the church when we return, Judy."
"No, she won't," replied Judy. "The practice will be twice as long as usual to-day because of the Harvest Festival on Sunday."
"Well, if she is there you can go in and wait for her, as you have been a good girl. Now let us talk of something else."
"I have nothing else to talk about," answered Judy, somewhat sulkily.
The bright expression which gave her small eager face its charm, left it; she fell back a pace or two, and Miss Mills walked on alone in front.
Judy was not popular with her governess. Miss Mills was tired of her constant remarks about Hilda. She had a good deal to think of to-day, and she was pleased to let her two pupils amuse themselves.
Judy's hungry and unsatisfied eyes softened and grew happy when their gaze fell upon Babs. Babs was only six, and she had a power of interesting everyone with whom she came in contact. Her wise, fat face, somewhat solemn in expression, was the essence of good-humor. Her blue eyes were as serene as an unruffled summer pool. She could say heaps of old-fashioned, quaint things. She had strong likes and dislikes, but she was never known to be cross. She adored Judy, but Judy only liked her, for all Judy's passionate love was already disposed of. It centered itself round her eldest sister, Hilda.
The day was a late one in September. The air was still very balmy and even warm, and Miss Mills soon found herself sufficiently tired to be glad to take advantage of a stile which led right through the field into the woods to rest herself. She sat comfortably on the top of the stile, and looking down the road saw that her little pupils were disporting themselves happily; they were not in the slightest danger, and she was in no hurry to call them to her side.
"Children are the most fagging creatures in Christendom," she said to herself; "for my part I can't understand anyone going into raptures over them. For one nice child there are twenty disagreeable ones. I have nothing to say against Babs, of course; but Judy, she is about the most spoilt creature I ever came across, and of course it is all Hilda's fault. I must speak to Mr. Merton, I really must, if this goes on. Hilda and Judy ought to be parted, but of course Hilda won't leave home unless, unless—ah, I wonder if there is any chance of that. Too good news to be true. Too good luck for Mr. Quentyns anyhow. I shouldn't be surprised if he is trying to get Hilda all this time, but—he is scarcely likely to succeed. Poor Judy! what a blow anything of that kind would be to her; but of course there is not the least chance of it."
Miss Mills took off her hat as she spoke, and allowed the summer air to play with her somewhat thin fringe and to cool her heated cheeks.
"I hate children," she soliloquized. "I did hope that my time of servitude was nearly over, but when men prove so unfaithful!" Here a very angry gleam flashed out of her eyes; she put her hand into her pocket, and taking out a letter, read it slowly and carefully. Her expression was not pleasant while she perused the words on the closely written page.
She had just returned the letter to its envelope when a gay voice sounded in her ears. A girl was seen walking across the field and approaching the stile. She was a fair-haired, pretty girl, dressed in the height of the fashion. She had a merry laugh, and a merry voice, and two very bright blue eyes.
"How do you do, Miss Mills?" she called to her. "I am going to see Hilda. Can you tell me if she is at home?"
"How do you do, Miss Anstruther?" replied Miss Mills; "I did not know you had returned."
"Yes, we all came home yesterday. I am longing to see Hilda, I have such heaps of things to tell her. Is she at the Rectory?"
"At the present moment she is very busily employed trying to train the most unmelodious choir in Great Britain," replied Miss Mills. "The Harvest Festival takes place on Sunday, and in consequence she has more than usual to do."
"Ah, you need not tell me; I am not going to venture within sound of that choir. I shall go down to the Rectory and wait until her duties are ended. There is not the least hurry. Good-by, Miss Mills. Are the children well?"
"You can see for yourself," replied Miss Mills; "they are coming up the road side by side."
"Old-fashioned little pair," replied Miss Anstruther, with a laugh. "I'll just run down the road and give them a kiss each, and then go on to the Rectory."
Miss Mills did not say anything further. Miss Anstruther mounted the stile, called out to the children to announce her approach, kissed them when they met, received an earnest gaze from Judy and an indifferent one from Babs, and went on her way.
"Do you like her, Judy?" asked Babs, when the pretty girl had left them.
"Oh, yes!" replied Judy in a careless tone; "she is well enough. I don't love her, if that's what you mean, Babs."
"Of course it isn't what I mean," replied Babs. "How many rooms have you got in your heart, Judy?"
"One big room quite full," replied Judy with emphasis.
"I know—it's full of Hilda."
"I have got a good many rooms in my heart," said Babs. "Mr. Love is in some of them, and Mr. Like is in others. Have you no room in your heart for Mr. Like, Judy?"
"Then poor Miss Mills does not live in your heart at all?"
"No. Oh, dear! what a long walk she's going to take us to-day. If I had known that this morning, I wouldn't have taken so much pains over my arithmetic. I shan't have a scrap of time with Hilda. It is too bad. I am sure Miss Mills does it to worry me. She never can bear us to be together."
"Poor Judy!" replied Babs. "I shan't let Miss Mills live in my heart at all if she vexes you; but oh, dear; oh, dear! Just look, do look! Do you see that monstrous spider over there, the one with the sun shining on his web?"
"Don't you love spiders?"
"Of course. I love all animals. I have a separate heart for animals."
Babs looked intensely interested.
"I love all animals too," she said, "every single one, all kinds—even pigs. Don't you love pigs, Judy?"
"Of course I do."
"I wonder if Miss Mills does? There she is, reading her letter. She has read it twenty times already to-day, so she must know it by heart now. Let's run up and ask her if she loves pigs."
Judy quickened her steps, and the two little girls presently reached the stile.
"Miss Mills," said Babs, in her clear voice, "we want to know something very badly. Do you love pigs?"
"Do I love pigs?" asked Miss Mills with a start. "You ridiculous child, what nonsense you are talking!"
"But do you?" repeated Babs. "It is most important for Judy and me to know; for we love them, poor things—we think they're awfully nice."
Miss Mills laughed in the kind of manner which always irritated Judy.
"I am sorry not to be able to join your very peculiar hero-worship, my dears," she said. "I can't say that I am attached to the pig."
"Then it is very wrong of you," said Judy, her eyes flashing, "when you think of all the poor pig does for you."
"Of all the poor pig does for me! What next?"
"You wouldn't be the woman you are but for the pig," said Judy. "Don't you eat him every day of your life for breakfast? You wouldn't be as strong as you are but for the poor pig, and the least you can do is to love him. I don't suppose he likes being killed to oblige you."
Judy's great eyes were flashing, and her little sensitive mouth was quivering.
Miss Mills gave her a non-comprehending glance. She could not in the least fathom the child's queer passionate nature. Injustice of all sorts preyed upon Judy; she could make herself morbid on almost any theme, and a gloomy picture now filled her little soul. The animals were giving up their lives for the human race, and the human race did not even give them affection in return.
"Is that letter very funny?" asked Babs.
"It is not funny, but it is interesting to me."
"Do you love the person who wrote it to you?"
Miss Mills let the sheet of closely-written paper fall upon her lap; her eyes gazed into the child's serene and wise little face. Something impelled her to say words which she knew could not be understood.
"I hate the person who wrote that letter more than anyone else in all the world," she exclaimed.
There was a passionate ring in her thin voice. The emotion which filled her voice and shone out of her eyes gave pathos to her commonplace face. Babs began to pull a flower to pieces. She had never conjugated the verb to hate, and did not know in the least what it meant; but Judy looked at her governess with new interest.
"Why do you get letters from the person you hate so much?" she asked.
"Don't ask any more questions," replied Miss Mills. She folded up the sheet of paper, slipped it into its envelope, replaced the envelope in her pocket, and started to her feet. "Let us continue our walk," she said. "We shall reach the woods in five minutes if we are quick."
"But," said Judy, as they went down the path across the field, "I should like to know, Miss Mills, why you get letters from a person you hate."
"When little girls ask troublesome questions they must not expect them to be answered," responded Miss Mills.
Judy was silent. The faint, passing interest she had experienced died out of her face, and the rather sulky, unsatisfied expression returned to it.
Miss Mills, whose heart was very full of something, spoke again, more to herself than to the children.
"If there is one bigger mistake than another," she said, "it is the mistake of being fond of any one. Oh, how silly girls are when they get engaged to be married!"
"What's that?" asked Babs.
"I know," said Judy, who was again all curiosity and interest. "I'll tell you another time about it, Babs. Miss Hicks in the village was engaged, and she had a wedding in the summer. I'll tell you all about it, Babs, if you ask me when we are going to bed to-night. Please, Miss Mills, why is it dreadful to be engaged to be married?"
"Your troubles begin then," said Miss Mills. "Oh, don't talk to me about it, children. May you never understand what I am suffering! Oh, the fickleness of some people! The promises that are made only to be broken! You trust a person, and you are ever so happy; and then you find that you have made a great, big mistake, and you are miserable."
"Is that you, Miss Mills? Are you the miserable person?" asked Judy.
"No, no, child! I didn't say it was me. I wasn't talking of anyone in particular, and I shouldn't even have said what I did. Forget it, Judy—forget it, Babs. Come, let us collect the ferns."
"Suppose we find some white heather," said Babs eagerly.
"And much that's worth, too," replied Miss Mills. "I found a piece last summer. I gave——" She sighed, and the corners of her mouth drooped. She looked as if she were going to cry.
THE PEOPLE WHO GET MARRIED.
Thou wert mine—all mine!... —Where has summer fled? Sun forgets to shine, Clouds are overhead; Blows a chilling blast, Tells my frightened heart That the hour at last Comes when we must part. Hurrying moments, stay, Leave us yet alone!— All the world grows gray, Love, when thou art flown.
Judy's soul swelled within her when she heard the music still sending volumes of sound out of the little church. Miss Mills had not spoken all the way home. Babs had chattered without a moment's intermission. Her conversation had been entirely about birds and beasts and creeping things. Judy had replied with rather less interest than usual. She was so anxious to hurry home, so fearful of being too late. Now it was all right. Hilda was still in the church, and, delightful—more than delightful—the discordant notes of the choir had ceased, and only the delicious sounds of the organ were borne on the breeze.
"Hilda is in the church," said Judy, pulling her governess by her sleeve. "Good-by, Miss Mills; good-by, Babs."
She rushed away, scarcely heeding her governess's voice as it called after her to be sure to be back at the Rectory in time for tea.
The church doors were still open, but the young man in the cricketing-flannels, who had stood in the porch when Judy had started on her walk, was no longer to be seen. The little girl stole into the quiet church on tip-toe, crept up to her sister Hilda's side, and lying down on the floor, laid her head on her sister's white dress.
Judy's lips kissed the hem of the dress two or three times; then she lay quiet, a sweet expression round her lips, a tranquil, satisfied light in her eyes. Here she was at rest, her eager, craving heart was full and satisfied.
"You dear little monkey!" said Hilda, pausing for a moment in her really magnificent rendering of one of Bach's most passionate fugues. She touched the child's head lightly with her hand as she spoke.
"Oh, don't stop, Hilda; go on. I am so happy," whispered Judy back.
Hilda smiled, and immediately resumed the music which thrilled through and through Judy's soul.
Hilda was eighteen, and the full glory and bloom of this perfect age surrounded her; it shone in her dark red-brown hair, and gleamed in her brown eyes, and smiled on her lips and even echoed from her sweet voice. Hilda would always be lovely to look at, but she had the tender radiance of early spring about her now. Judy was not the only person who thought her the fairest creature in the world.
While she was playing, and the influence of the music was more and more filling her face, there came a shadow across the church door. The shadow lengthened and grew longer, and the young man, whose smile Judy had ignored, came softly across the church and up to Hilda's side.
"Go on playing," he said, nodding to her. "I have been waiting and listening. I can wait and listen a little longer if you will allow me to sit in the church."
"I shall have done in a moment," said Hilda. "I just want to choose something for the final voluntary." She took up a book of lighter music as she spoke, and selecting some of Haydn's sweet and gracious melodies, began to play.
Judy stirred restlessly. Jasper Quentyns came closer, so close that his shadow fell partly over the child as she lay on the ground, and quite shut away the evening sunlight as it streamed over Hilda's figure. Jasper was a musician himself, and he made comments which were listened to attentively.
Hilda played the notes as he directed her. She brought added volume into certain passages, she rendered the light staccato notes with precision.
"Oh, you are spoiling the playing," said Judy suddenly. She started up, knitting her black brows and glaring angrily at Jasper Quentyns.
"You don't mean to say you are here all the time, you little puss," he exclaimed. "I thought you and Miss Mills and Babs were miles away by now. Why, what's the matter, child? Why do you frown at me as if I were an ogre?"
Hilda put her arm round Judy's waist. The contact of Hilda's arm was like balm to the child; she smiled and held out her hand penitently.
"Of course I don't think you are an ogre," she said, "but I do wish you would let Hilda play her music her own way."
"Oh, don't talk nonsense, Judy," said Hilda; "you quite forget that Mr. Quentyns knows a great deal more about music than I do."
"He doesn't play half nor quarter as well as you, for all that," replied Judy, with emphasis.
Hilda bent forward and kissed her little sister on her forehead.
"We won't have any more music at present," she said, "it is time for us to return to the house. You are going to dine at the Rectory this evening, are you not, Mr. Quentyns?"
"If you will have me."
"Of course we shall all be delighted to have you."
"Hilda," said Judy, "do you know that Mildred Anstruther is down at the house waiting to see you?"
A faint shadow of disappointment flitted across Hilda Merton's face—an additional wave of color mounted to Jasper Quentyns' brow. He looked at Hilda to see if she had noticed it; Hilda turned from him and began to arrange her music.
"Come," she said, "we mustn't keep Mildred waiting."
"What has she come for?" asked Jasper, as the three walked down the shady avenue.
"You know you are glad to see her," replied Hilda suddenly.
Something in her tone caused Jasper to laugh and raise his brows in mock surprise. Judy looked eagerly from one face to the other. Her heart began to beat with fierce dislike to Jasper. What right had he to interfere with Hilda's music, and above all things, what right, pray, had he to bring that tone, into Hilda's beloved voice?
Judy clasped her sister's arm with a tight pressure. In a few minutes they reached the old-fashioned and cozy Rectory.
The Rector was pacing about in the pleasant evening sunshine, and Mildred Anstruther was walking by his side and chatting to him.
"Oh, here you are," said Mildred, running up to her friend and greeting her with affection; "and you have come too, Mr. Quentyns?—this is a delightful surprise."
"You had better run into the house now, Judy," said Hilda. "Yes, darling, go at once."
"May I come down after dinner to-night, Hilda?"
"You look rather pale, Judy, and as we are having friends to dinner it may be best for you to go to bed early," said another voice. It proceeded from the comfortable, good-natured mouth of Aunt Marjorie.
"No, no, Aunt Maggie, you won't send me to bed. Hilda, you'll plead for me, won't you?" gasped Judy.
"I think she may come down just for half an hour, auntie," said Hilda, smiling.
"Well, child, it must be as you please; of course we all know who spoils Judy."
"Of course we all know who loves Judy," said Hilda. "Now are you satisfied, my sweet? Run away; be the best of good children. Eat a hearty tea; don't think of any trouble. Oh, Judy! what a frown you have between your brows; let me kiss it away. I'll find you in the drawing room after dinner."
"And you'll come and talk to me if only for one minute. Promise, promise, Hilda!"
"Of course I promise; now run off."
Judy went slowly away. She thought the grown people very unkind to dismiss her. She was interested in all people who were grown up; she had not a great deal of sympathy with children—she felt that she did not quite belong to them. The depths of her thoughts, the intense pathos of her unsatisfied affections were incomprehensible to most children. Hilda understood her perfectly, and even Aunt Marjorie and her father were more agreeable companions than Miss Mills and Babs.
There was no help for it, however. Judy was a schoolroom child, and back to the schoolroom and to Miss Mills' dull society she must go. Swinging her hat on her arm she walked slowly down the long, cool stone passage which led from the principal hall to the schoolroom regions. A maidservant of the name of Susan hurried past her with the tray which contained the schoolroom tea in her hands.
"You must be quick, Miss Judy, I am bringing in the tea," she said.
Judy frowned. She did not think it at all necessary for Susan to remind her of her rather disagreeable duties. Instead of hurrying to the schoolroom she stood still and looked out of one of the windows. The words Miss Mills had uttered as they walked across the fields to the wood kept returning to her memory. In some curious, undefined, uncomfortable way she connected them with her sister Hilda. What did they mean? Why was it dreadful to be engaged to be married? Why were some people so fickle, and why were promises broken? Judy had never seen Miss Mills so excited before.
"She looked quite interesting when she spoke in that voice," said Judy to herself. "What did she mean? what could she mean? She said it was dreadful to be married, and dreadful to be engaged. I think I'll go and ask Mrs. Sutton. I don't care if I am a bit late for tea. The worst Miss Mills will do is to give me some poetry to learn, and I like learning poetry. Yes, I'll go and see Mrs. Sutton. She was married twice, so she must have been engaged twice. She must know all—all about it. She's a much better judge than Miss Mills, who never was married at all."
Judy opened a baize door, which shut behind her with a bang. She went down a few steps, and a moment later was standing in a comfortably furnished sitting room which belonged to the housekeeper, Mrs. Sutton.
Mrs. Sutton was a stout, portly old lady. She had twinkling good-humored eyes, a mouth which smiled whenever she looked at a child, and a constant habit of putting her hand into her pocket and taking out a lollipop. This lollipop found its way straight into the receptive mouth of any small creature of the human race who came in her way.
"Is that you, Miss Judy?" she said now, turning round and setting down her own cup of strong tea. "Come along, my pet, and give me a kiss. What do you say to this?" She held a pink sugar-stick between her finger and thumb. "I suppose you'll want another for Miss Babs, bless her!"
"Yes, thank you, Sutton," replied Judy. "Will you lay them on the table, please, and I'll take them when I am going away. Sutton, I want to talk to you about a very private matter."
"Well, darling—bless your dear heart, your secrets are safe enough with me."
"Oh, it isn't exactly a secret, Sutton—it is something I want to know. Is it a dreadful thing to be engaged to be married?"
"Bless us and save us!" said Mrs. Sutton. She flopped down again on her seat, and her red face grew purple. "Are you quite well, Miss Judy? You haven't been reading naughty books now, that you shouldn't open? What could put such thoughts into the head of a little miss like you?"
"Please answer me, Sutton, it is most important. Is it dreadful to be engaged to be married? and are people fickle? and are promises broken?"
"But, my dear——"
"Will you answer me, dear, kind Sutton?"
"Well, Miss Judy, well—anything to please you, dearie—it all depends."
"What does it depend on?"
"Taken from the female point of view, it depends on the sort the young man is; but, my darling, it's many and many a long day before you need worrit yourself with such matters."
"But I want to know," persisted Judy. "People do get married. You were married twice yourself, Sutton; you told me so once."
"So I was dear, and both my wedding gowns are in a trunk upstairs. My first was a figured sateen, a buff-colored ground with red flowers thrown over it. My second was a gray poplin. I was supposed to do very well with my second marriage, Miss Judy."
"Then you were twice engaged, and twice married," said Judy. "I don't want to hear about the wedding gowns, Sutton. I am rather in a hurry. I want you to tell me about the other things. What were they like—the being engaged, and the being married? Was the person fickle, and did he break his promise?"
For some reason or other Mrs. Sutton's face became so deeply flushed that she looked quite angry.
"I'll tell you what it is, Miss Judy," she said, "someone is putting thoughts into your head what oughtn't to do it. You are a motherless child, and there's someone filling your head with arrant nonsense. What do you know about engagements and—and disappointments, and dreams what proves but early mists of the morning? what do you know of fickleness and broken promises? There, child, you won't get any of that bad sort of knowledge out of me. Now you run away, dearie. There's someone been talking about what they oughtn't to, and you has no call to listen, my pet. There's some weddings happy, and there's some that aint, and that's all I can say. Run away now, Miss Judy."
A QUESTION AND AN ANSWER.
When some beloved voice that was to you Both sound and sweetness, faileth suddenly, And silence against which you dare not cry Aches round you like a strong disease and new— What hope? what help? what music will undo That silence to your sense?
—E. BARRETT BROWNING.
Hilda Merton stood in a rather irresolute fashion in her bedroom. Several people were coming to dine at the Rectory to-night, and she, as the young mistress of the establishment, ought to be in the drawing room even now, waiting to receive her guests. The Rector was a very wealthy man, and all those luxuries surrounded Hilda which are the portion of those who are gently nurtured and well-born. Her maid had left the room, the young girl's simple white dress was arranged to perfection, her lovely hair was coiled becomingly around her shapely head. She was standing before her looking-glass, putting the final touches to her toilet.
For some reason they took a long time to put. Hilda gazed into the reflection of her own pretty face as if she saw it not. Her brown eyes looked through the mirrored eyes in the glass with an almost abstracted expression. Suddenly a smile flitted across her face.
"I'll do it," she exclaimed. "I'll wear his white rose. He may think what he pleases. I—I do love him with all my heart and soul."
She blushed as she uttered these last words, and looked in a half-frightened way across the room, as if by chance someone might have overheard her.
The next moment the white rose was snugly peeping out from among the coils of her rich hair. Her dress was fastened at the throat with a pearl brooch. She was in simple white from top to toe.
"How late you are, Hilda," said Aunt Marjorie. "I was getting quite nervous. You know I hate to be alone in the drawing room when our visitors come; and really, my love, what a simple dress—nothing but a washing muslin. Did not you hear your father say that the Dean and Mrs. Sparks were coming to dinner to-night?"
"Of course I did, Aunt Marjorie. The cook also knows that the Dean is coming to dine. Now don't fret, there's a dear. I look nice, don't I? that's the main thing."
"Yes, Hilda, you look beautiful," said Aunt Marjorie solemnly; "but after all, when you have a new pink chiffon and—and——"
"Hush, auntie dear, I see the Dean stepping out of his brougham."
The other guests followed the Dean and Mrs. Sparks almost immediately. Dinner was announced, and the party withdrew to the dining room.
Hilda, in her white dress with her happy sunshiny face, was the principal object of attraction at this dinner. There were two or three young men present, and they looked at her a good deal. Jasper Quentyns favored her with one quick glance; he was sitting at the far end of the table, and a very pretty girl was placed at his side. He saw the rose in Hilda's hair, and his heart beat quickly; his spirits rose several degrees, and he became so delightful and communicative to his neighbor that she thought him quite the pleasantest and handsomest man she had ever met.
Quentyns did not glance again at Hilda. He was satisfied, for he felt pretty sure that a certain question which he meant to ask would be answered in the way he wished.
The dinner came to an end, and the ladies withdrew into the drawing room. Two little figures in white dresses were waiting to receive them. Babs trotted everywhere, and was universally admired, petted, and praised. Judy stood in the shadow behind one of the curtains and watched Hilda.
"Come out, Judy, and be sociable," said her sister.
"I don't want to talk. I am so happy here, Hilda," she replied.
"I do like spiders when they are very, very fat," sounded Babs' voice across the room.
"Oh, you droll little creature!" exclaimed a lady who sat near; "why, I should fly from a spider any distance."
"Perhaps you like earwigs better," said Babs.
"Earwigs, they are horrors; oh, you quaint, quaint little soul."
Babs did not care to be called a quaint little soul. She trotted across the room and stood by Judy's side.
"There's nobody at all funny here," she said in a whisper. "I wish I had my Kitty Tiddliwinks to play with; I don't care for fine ladies."
"It is time for you to go to bed, Babs," said Judy.
"No, it isn't. I am not going before you go. You always talk as if I were a baby, and I aren't. Judy, you might tell me now what it is to be engaged to be married."
"No, I can't tell you now," said Judy; "the gentlemen are coming in, and we mustn't talk and interrupt. If you won't go to bed you must stay quiet. You know if Aunt Marjorie sees you she'll send you off at once; now they are going to sing; ah, that'll be jolly. You stay quiet, Babs, and listen."
Four young men surrounded the piano. Jasper Quentyns was one; Hilda played the accompaniment. The four voices did ample justice to the beautiful glee—"Men were deceivers ever." The well-known words were applauded vigorously, the applause rose to an encore. Judy listened as if fascinated.
"Sigh no more, ladies, sigh no more, Men were deceivers ever; One foot in sea and one on shore, To one thing constant never. Then sigh not so, But let them go ..."
"Yes, that's the right thing to do," said Judy, turning round and fixing her bright eyes on Babs.
"How funny you look," said Babs; "you ought to go to bed."
"Come, Barbara, what is this about?" said Aunt Marjorie's voice. "You up still—what can Miss Mills be thinking of? Now, little girls, it is nine o'clock, and you must both go away. Good-night, Babs dear; good-night, Judy."
"Mayn't I say good-night to Hilda?" whispered Judy.
"No, she's busy; run away this moment. Judy, if you question me I shall have to appeal to your father. Now, my loves, go."
The little girls left the room, Babs complacently enough, Judy unwillingly. Babs was sleepy, and was very glad to lay her little head on her white pillow; but sleep was very far away from Judy's eyes.
The little girls' bedroom was over a portion of the drawing room. They could hear the waves of the music and the light conversation and the gay laughter as they lay in their cots. The sounds soon mingled with Babs' dreams, but Judy felt more restless and less sleepy each moment.
Miss Mills had entire care of the children. She dressed them and undressed them as well as taught them. She had left them now for the night. Miss Mills at this moment was writing an indignant letter in reply to the one which had so excited her feelings this morning. Her schoolroom was far away. Judy knew that she was safe. If she got out of bed, no one would hear her. In her little white night-dress she stole across the moonlit floor and crept up to the window. She softly unfastened the hasp and flung the window open. She could see down into the garden, and could almost hear the words spoken in the drawing room. Two figures had stepped out of the conservatory and side by side were walking across the silvered lawn.
Judy's heart beat with great thumps—one of these people was her sister Hilda, the other was Jasper Quentyns. They walked side by side, keeping close to one another. Their movements were very slow, they were talking almost in whispers. Hilda's head only reached to Jasper's shoulder; he was bending down over her. Presently he took her hand. Judy felt as if she should scream.
"He's a horrid, horrid, wicked man," she said under her breath; "he's a deceiver. 'Men were deceivers ever.' I know what he is. Oh, what shall I do? what shall I do? Oh, Hilda, oh, Hilda, darling, you shan't go through the misery of being engaged and then being married. Oh, oh, what shall I do to save you, Hilda?"
Quentyns and Hilda were standing still. They had moved out of the line of light which streamed from the drawing room, and were standing under the shadow of a great beech tree. Judy felt that she could almost hear their words. From where she leant out of the window she could certainly see their actions. Quentyns stooped suddenly and kissed Hilda on her forehead; Hilda looked up at him and laid both her hands in his. He folded them in a firm pressure, and again stooping, kissed her twice.
Upstairs in the nursery, misery was filling one little heart to the brim. A sob caught Judy's breath—she felt as if she should choke. She dared not look any more, but drawing down the blind, crept back into bed and covered her head with the bed-clothes.
In the drawing room the guests stopped on, and never missed the two who had stolen away across the moonlit lawn. One girl, it is true, might have been noticed to cast some anxious glances toward the open window, and the companion who talked to her could not help observing that she scarcely replied to his remarks, and was not fully alive to his witticisms; but the rest of the little world jogged on its way merrily enough, unconscious of the Paradise which was so close to them in the Rectory garden, and of the Purgatory which one little soul was enduring upstairs.
"Hilda," said Quentyns, when they had stood for some time under the beech tree, and had said many things each to the other, and felt a great deal more than could ever be put into words. "Hilda," said Quentyns, and all the poetry of the lovely summer evening seemed to have got into his eyes and filled his voice, "I give you all, remember, all that a man can give. I give you the love of my entire heart. My present is yours, my future is to be yours. I live for you, Hilda—I shall always live for you. Think what that means."
"I can quite understand it," replied Hilda, "for I also live for you. I am yours, Jasper, for now and always."
"And I am a very jealous man," said Quentyns. "When I give all, I like to get all."
"How solemnly you speak," she said, stepping back a pace, and an almost imperceptible jar coming into her voice. Then she came close again. "The fault you will have to find with me is this, Jasper," she said, looking fully at him with her sweet eyes; "I shall love you, if anything, too well. No one can ever come between us, unless it is dear little Judy."
"Judy! Don't you think you make too much fuss about that child? She is such a morbid little piece of humanity."
"Not a bit of it. You don't quite understand her. She and I are much more than ordinary sisters to each other. I feel as if I were in a certain sense Judy's mother. When mother died she left Judy to me. Little darling! No one ever had a more faithful or a nobler heart. You must get fond of her too, for my sake; won't you, Jasper?"
"I'll do anything for your sake, you know that, Hilda. But don't let us talk of Judy any more just now—let us——"
"Mr. Quentyns, is that your voice I hear?" called Aunt Marjorie, from the drawing room. "And, Hilda, ought you to be out with the dew falling so heavily?"
Sing on! we sing in the glorious weather Till one steps over the tiny strand, So narrow in sooth, that still together On either brink we go hand in hand.
The beck grows wider, the hands must sever, On either margin our songs all done; We move apart, while she singeth ever, Taking the course of the stooping sun.
About a week after Hilda Merton's engagement, just when her friends were full of the event, and congratulations began to pour in on all sides, there came a very unexpected blow to the inmates of the peaceful and pretty Rectory.
The parish of Little Staunton was large and scattered; it stretched away at one side down to the sea, at another it communicated with great open moors and tracts of the outlying lands of the New Forest. It was but sparsely peopled, and those parishioners who lived in small cottages by the sea, and who earned their living as fishermen, were most of them very poor. Mr. Merton, however, was one of the ideal sort of rectors, who helped his flock with temporal as well as spiritual benefits. The stipend which he received from the church was not a large one, and every penny of it was devoted to the necessities of his poor parishioners.
There came an awful morning, therefore, when a short announcement in the local paper, and a long letter from Mr. Merton's lawyer, acquainted him with the fact that the Downshire County Bank had stopped payment. In plain language, Mr. Merton, from being a wealthy man, became suddenly a very poor one.
Aunt Marjorie cried when she heard the news; Hilda's face turned very pale, and Judy and Babs, who were both in the room at the time, felt that sort of wonder and perplexity which children do experience when they know something is dreadfully wrong, but cannot in the least understand what it is.
In the course of the morning Hilda went to her father in his study.
Her face was very white as she opened the door, some of the young soft lines of her early youth seemed to have left it; her beautiful brown eyes looked in a heavy sort of fashion out at the world from their dark surroundings. She came up to her father, and put her hand on his shoulder. He was bending over his desk, busily writing.
"What is the matter, Hilda?" he asked, glancing up at her with a quick start, and an endeavor to make his voice sound as usual.
"I—I have come, father, to say that if you like, I—I will give up my engagement to Jasper Quentyns."
Mr. Merton rose from his seat and put his arm round her neck.
"My dear child," he said, "it is my comfort to-day to know that you, at least, are provided for. Quentyns is fairly well off. If he will take you without any fortune, there is certainly no reason why you should not go to him."
"Money can't make any difference to Jasper," said Hilda, just a little proudly, although her lips trembled; "but I—it seems wrong that I should be so happy when the rest of you are so miserable."
"Tut, tut!" said the Rector. "I shall get over this in time. I own that just now the blow is so severe that I can scarcely quite realize it. When I opened my eyes this morning, I was pleasantly conscious that I was the possessor of a private income of quite two thousand a year; I felt this fact in the comforts that surrounded me, and the ease which filled my life. Except that small stipend which is represented by my living, and which I have always hitherto devoted to the poor of the flock, I am now reduced to nothing a year. My poor must divide my money with me in future, that is all; I don't intend to be miserable when I get accustomed to the change, Hilda. I must dismiss most of the servants, and give up the carriage and horses, and live as a poor man instead of a rich one; but I owe no man anything, my dear, and I have not the least doubt there is a certain zest in poverty which will make the new order of things agreeable enough when once I get used to it."
The tears gathered slowly in Hilda's eyes.
"I don't feel as if I could quite bear it," she said, with a sob.
The Rector, who was always rather absent-minded, and had a dreamy way of looking far ahead even when he was most roused, scarcely noticed Hilda's tears. He talked on in a monotonous sort of voice:
"I have not the least doubt that poverty has its alleviations. I have heard it more than once remarked that the hand-to-mouth existence is the most stimulating in the world. I should not be surprised, Hilda, if my sermons took a turn for the better after this visitation. I have preached to my flock, year in, year out, that the mysterious ways of Providence are undoubtedly the best—I have got to act up to my preaching now, that is all."
The Rector sat down again and continued to write a very unbusiness-like letter to his lawyer; Hilda stood and looked at him with a frown between her brows, and then went slowly out of the room.
Aunt Marjorie, who had cried herself nearly sick, and whose eyes between their swollen lids were scarcely visible, came to meet her as she walked across the hall.
"Oh, my darling," she said, with a fresh sob, "how can I bear to look at you when I think of all your young life blighted in a moment! Oh, those wicked Bank Directors. They deserve hanging! yes, I should hang them one and all. And so you have been with my poor brother? I would not venture near him. How is he taking it, Hilda? Is he quite off his head, poor, dear man?"
"How do you think my father would take a blow of this kind?" said Hilda. "Come into the drawing room, Auntie. Oh, Auntie dear, do try to stop crying. You don't know what father is. Of course I can't pretend to understand him, but he is quite noble—he is splendid; he makes me believe in religion. A man must be very, very good to talk as father has just done."
"Poor Samuel!" said Aunt Marjorie. "I knew that he would take this blow either as a saint or as an idiot—I don't know which is the most trying. You see, Hilda, my love, your father has never had anything to do with the petty details of housekeeping. This parish brings in exactly three hundred and fifty pounds a year; how are we to pay the wages of nine servants, and how are the gardeners to be paid, and the little girls' governess, and—and how is this beautiful house to be kept up on a pittance of that sort? Oh, dear; oh, dear! Your father will just say to me, 'I know, Marjorie, that you will do your best,' and then he'll forget that there is such a thing as money; but I shall never be able to forget it, Hilda. Oh, dear; oh, dear! I do think saintly men are awful trials."
"But you said just now you thought he would be off his head. You ought to be very thankful, Aunt Maggie, that he is taking things as he is. Of course the servants must go away, and the establishment must be put on an altogether new footing. You'll have to walk instead of ride in future, but I don't suppose Judy and Babs will much care, and I——"
"Oh, yes," said Aunt Marjorie, "you will be in your new house in London, new-fangled with your position, and highly pleased and proud to put Mrs. before your name, and you'll forget all about us. Of course I am pleased for you, but you're just as bad as your father when you talk in that cool fashion about dismissing the servants, and when you expect an old lady like me to tramp all over the place on my feet."
"I told father that if he wished I would break off my engagement."
Aunt Marjorie dried her eyes when her niece made this speech, and looked at her fixedly.
"I do think," she said, "that you're a greater fool even than poor Samuel. Is not your engagement to a nice, gentlemanly, clever man like Jasper Quentyns the one ray of brightness in this desolate day? You, child, at least are provided for."
"I wonder if you think that I care about being provided for at this juncture?" answered Hilda, knitting her brows once again in angry perplexity.
She went away to her own room, and sitting before her desk, wrote a long letter to her lover.
Quentyns had been called to the Bar, and was already beginning to receive "briefs."
His income was by no means large, however, and although he undoubtedly loved Hilda for her own sake, he might not have proposed an immediate marriage had he not believed that his pretty bride would not come to him penniless.
Hilda sat with her pen in her hand, looking down at the blank sheet of paper.
By the same post which had brought the lawyer's dreadful letter there had come two closely-written sheets from Jasper. He wanted Hilda to marry him in the autumn, and he had already begun house-hunting.
"We might find it best to take a small flat for a year," he had written, "but if you would rather have a house, darling, say so. Some people don't approve of flats. They say they are not so wholesome. One misses the air of the staircase, and there is a certain monotony in living altogether on one floor which may not be quite conducive to health. On the other hand flats are compact, and one knows almost at a glance what one's expenses are likely to be. I have been consulting Rivers—you know how often I have talked to you of my friend Archie Rivers—and he thinks on the whole that a flat would be advisable; we avoid rates and taxes and all those sort of worries, and if we like to shut up house for a week, and run down to the Rectory, why there we are, you know; for the house-porter sees to our rooms, and we run no risk from burglars. But what do you say yourself, darling, for that is the main point?"
Hilda had read this letter with a beating heart and a certain pleasant sense of exhilaration at breakfast that morning, but then this was before the blow came—before Aunt Marjorie's shriek had sounded through the room, and before Hilda had caught a glimpse of her father's face with the gray tint spreading all over it, before she had heard his tremulous words:
"Yes, Marjorie! God help us! We are ruined."
Hilda read the letter now with very different feelings; somehow or other all the rose light had gone out of it. She was a very inexperienced girl as far as money matters were concerned. Until to-day money seemed to have little part or lot in her life; it had never stirred her nature to its depths, it had kindly supplied her with necessities and luxuries; it had gilded everything, but she had never known where the gilt came from. When she engaged herself to Jasper, he told her that, for the present at least, he was a comparatively poor man; he had three hundred a year of his own. This he assured her was a mere bagatelle, but as he was almost certain to earn as much more in his profession, and as Hilda had money, he thought they might marry if she did not mind living very prudently. Of course Hilda did not mind—she knew nothing at all of the money part. The whole thing meant love and poetry to her, and she disliked the word money coming into it.
To-day, however, things looked different. For the first time she got a glimpse of Tragedy. How mean of it, how horrible of it to come in this guise! She pressed her hand to her forehead, and wondered what her lover could mean when he talked of rates and taxes, and asked her to decide between a flat and a house.
"I don't know what to say," she murmured to herself. "Perhaps we shall not be married at all at present. Perhaps Jasper will say we can't afford it. Perhaps I ought to answer his question about the flat—but I don't know what to say. I thought we might have had a cottage somewhere in one of the suburbs—with a little garden, and that I might have kept fowls, and have had heaps and heaps of flowers. Surely fowls would be economical, but I am sure I can't say. I really don't know anything whatever about the matter."
"Why are you talking in that funny way half-aloud to yourself, Hilda?" asked a little voice with a sad inflection in it.
Hilda slightly turned her head and saw that Judy had softly opened the door of her bedroom, and was standing in the entrance.
Judy had an uncertain manner about her which was rather new to her character, and her face had a somewhat haggard look, unnatural and not pleasant to see in so young a child.
"Oh, pet, is that you?" said Hilda. "Come and give me a kiss—I am just longing for you—you're the person of all others to consult. Come along and sit down by me. Now, now—you don't want to strangle me, do you?"
For Judy had rushed upon her sister like a little whirlwind, her strong childish arms were flung with almost ferocious tightness round Hilda's neck, the skirt of her short frock had swept Jasper's letter to the floor, and even upset an ink-pot in its voluminous sweep.
"Oh, oh!" said Hilda, "I must wipe up this mess. There, Judy, keep back for a moment; it will get upon the carpet, and spoil it if we are not as quick as possible. Hand me that sheet of blotting-paper, dear. There now, that is better—I have stopped the stream from descending too far. Why, Judith, my dear, you have tears in your eyes. You don't suppose I care about the ink being spilt when I get a hug like that from you."
"I wasn't crying about the ink," said Judy; "what's ink! The tears came because I am so joyful."
"You joyful? and to-day?" said Hilda. "You know what has happened, don't you, Judy?"
"We are poor instead of rich," said Judy; "what's that? Oh, I am so happy—I am so awfully happy that I scarcely know what to do."
"What a queer little soul you are! Now, now, am I to be swept up in another embrace?"
"Oh, yes, let me, let me—I haven't kissed you like this since you, you—you got engaged."
"In what a spiteful way you say that last word, Judy; now I come to think of it, we have scarcely kissed each other since. But whose fault was that? Not mine, I am sure. I was quite hungry for one of your kisses, jewel, and now that I have got it I feel ever so much better. Sit down by me, and let us talk. Judy, you are a very wise little darling, aren't you?"
"I don't know. If you think so, you darling, I suppose I am."
"I do think so. I have had a letter from Jasper. I want to talk over something he says in it with you. Judy dear, he is such a noble fellow."
Judy shut up her firm lips until they looked like a straight line across her face.
"He's such a noble fellow," repeated Hilda. "I can't tell you how glad you ought to be to have the prospect of calling a man like Jasper your brother; he'll be a great help to you, Judy, by and by."
"No, he won't—I don't want him to be," said Judy viciously.
"Why, I declare, I do believe the dear is jealous; but now to go on. Jasper has written to me on a most important subject. Now, if I consult you about it you won't ever, ever tell, will you?"
"No, of course I won't. Was it about that you were muttering to yourself when I came into the room?"
"You funny puss; yes, I was talking the matter over to myself. Jasper is looking out for a house for us."
"He isn't. It's awfully cheeky of him."
"My dear Judy, it would be much more cheeky to ask me to go and live in the street with him. We must have some residence after we are married—mustn't we? Well, darling, now you must listen very attentively; he has asked me whether it would be best for us to live in a little house of our own——"
"Why a little house? he ought to take you to a palace."
"Don't interrupt; we shall be poor people, quite a poor couple, Jasper and I. Now, Judy, just try and get as wise as a Solon. He wants to know whether I would rather live in a little house or a flat."
"What's a flat, Hilda?"
"I don't quite know myself; but I believe a flat consists of several rooms on one floor shut away from the rest of the house by a separate hall door. Jasper rather approves of a flat, because he says there won't be any rates and taxes. It's very silly, but though I am a grown-up girl, I don't exactly know what rates and taxes are—do you?"
"No, but I can ask Miss Mills."
"I don't expect she'd know anything about them; it seems so stupid to have to write back and tell Jasper that I don't understand what he means."
"Aunt Marjorie would know," said Judy.
"I shouldn't like to consult her, pet. I think I'd better leave it to Jasper to decide."
Judy looked very wise and interested now.
"Why don't you say you'd rather go into a little house?" she said; "it sounds much more interesting. A flat is an ugly name, and I am quite sure it must be an ugly place."
"That is true," said Hilda, pausing and looking straight before her with her pretty brows knit. "Oh, dear, oh, dear! I wonder what is right. And a little house might have a garden too, mightn't it, Judy?"
"Of course, and a fowl-house and a cote for your pigeons."
"To be sure; and when you come to see me, you should have a strip of garden to dig in all for yourself."
"Oh, should I really come to see you, Hilda? Miss Mills said that you wouldn't want me—that you wouldn't be bothered with me."
"That I wouldn't be bothered with you? Why, I shall wish to have you with me quite half the time. Now, now, am I to be strangled again? Please, Judy, abstain from embracing, and tell me whether we are to have a flat or a cottage."
"Of course you are to have a cottage, with the garden and the fowl-house."
"I declare I think I'll take your advice, you little dear. I'll write and tell Jasper that I'd much rather have a cottage. Now, who is that knocking at the door? Run, Judy, and see what's wanted."
Judy returned in a moment with a telegram.
Hilda tore it open with fingers that slightly trembled.
"Oh, how joyful, how joyful!" she exclaimed.
"What is it?" asked Judy.
"Jasper is coming—my dear, dear Jasper. See what he says—'Have heard the bad news—my deepest sympathy—expect me this evening.' Then I needn't write after all. Judy, Judy, I agree with you; I feel quite happy, even though it is the dreadful day when the blow has been struck."
Judy did not say anything, she rose languidly to her feet.
"Where are you going?" asked Hilda.
"For a walk."
"Miss Mills said that even though we were poor I was to take the fresh air," replied the child in a prim little voice, out of which all the spirit had gone.
She kissed Hilda, but no longer in a rapturous, tempestuous fashion, and walked soberly out of the room.
IN A GARDEN.
I go like one in a dream, unbidden my feet know the way, To that garden where love stood in blossom with the red and white hawthorn of May.
Aunt Marjorie had cried until she could cry no longer. Hers was a slighter nature than either Mr. Merton's or Hilda's. In consequence, perhaps, she was able to realize the blow which had come upon them more vividly and more quickly than either her brother or niece.
Aunt Marjorie had taken a great pride in the pretty, well-ordered house. She was a capable, a kind, and a considerate mistress. Her servants worked well under her guidance. She was set in authority over them; they liked her rule, and acknowledged it with cheerful and willing service.
No one could give such perfect little dinner-parties as Aunt Marjorie. She had a knack of finding out each of her guests' particular weaknesses with regard to the dinner-table. She was no diplomatist, and her conversation was considered prosy; but with Mr. Merton to act the perfect host and to lead the conversation into the newest intellectual channels, with Hilda to look sweet and gracious and beautiful, and with Aunt Marjorie to provide the dinner, nothing could have been a greater success than the little party which took place on an average once a week at the sociable Rectory.
Now all these things were at an end. The servants must go; the large house—which had been added to from time to time by the Rector until it had lost all similitude to the ordinary small and cozy Rectory—the great house must remain either partly shut up or only half cleaned. There must be no more dinner-parties, and no nice carriage for Aunt Marjorie to return calls in. The vineries and conservatories must remain unheated during the winter; the gardeners must depart. Weeds must grow instead of flowers.
Alack, and alas! Aunt Marjorie felt like a shipwrecked mariner, as she sat now in the lovely drawing room and looked out over the summer scene.
With her mind's eye she was gazing at something totally different—she was seeing the beautiful place as it would look in six months' time; she saw with disgust the rank and obnoxious weeds, the empty grate, the dust-covered ornaments.
"It is worse for us than it would be for ordinary people," she said half aloud. "If we were just ordinary people, we could leave here and go into a tiny cottage where our surroundings would be in keeping with our means; but of course the Rector must live in the Rectory—at least I suppose so. Dear, dear! how sudden this visitation has been—truly may it be said that 'all flesh is grass.'"
Aunt Marjorie had a way of quoting sentences which did not at all apply to the occasion; these quotations always pleased her, however, and a slow smile now played round her lips.
The drawing-room door was opened noisily, and a fat little figure rushed across the room and sprang into her arms.
"Is that you, Babs?" she said. She cuddled the child in a close embrace, and kissed her smooth, cool cheek many times.
"Yes, of course it's me," said Babs, in her matter-of-fact voice. "Your eyes are quite red, Auntie. Have you been crying?"
"We have had dreadful trouble, my darling—poor Auntie feels very miserable—it is about father. Your dear father has lost all his money, my child."
"Miss Mills told me that half an hour ago," said Babs; "that's why I wanted to see you, Auntie. I has got half a sovereign in the Savings Bank. I'll give it to father if he wants it."
"You're a little darling," said Aunt Marjorie, kissing her again.
"There's Judy going across the garden," said Babs. "Look at her, she has her shoulders hunched up to her ears. She's not a bit of good; she won't play with me nor nothing."
"That child doesn't look at all well," said Aunt Marjorie.
She started to her feet, putting Babs on the floor. A new anxiety and a new interest absorbed her mind.
"Judy, Judy," she called; "come here, child. I have noticed for the last week," she said, speaking her thoughts aloud, "that Judy has black lines under her eyes, and a dragged sort of look about her. What can it mean?"
"She cries such a lot," said Babs in her untroubled voice. "I hear her when she's in bed at night. I thought she had she-cups, but it wasn't, it was sobs."
"She-cups—what do you mean, child? Judy, come here, darling."
"She-cups," repeated Babs. "Some people call them he-cups; but I don't when a girl has them."
Judy came slowly up to the window.
"Where were you going, my pet?" asked Aunt Marjorie.
"Only for a walk," she answered.
"A walk all by yourself? How pale you are, dearie. Have you a headache?"
Aunt Marjorie pulled Judy forward. She felt her forehead and looked at her tongue, and put her in such a position that she could gaze down into her throat.
Not being able to detect anything the matter, she thought it best to scold her niece a little.
"Little girls oughtn't to walk slowly and to be dismal," she said. "It is very wrong and ungrateful of them. They ought to run about and skip and laugh. Work while you work, and play while you play. That was the motto when I was a little girl. Now, Judy, love, go out with Babs and have a good romp. You had better both of you go to the hay-field, for it might distract your poor father to hear your two merry voices. Run, my dears, run; make yourselves scarce."
"Come, Babs," said Judy. She held out her hand to her little sister, and the two went away together.
"Do you know, Judy," said Babs, the moment they were out of Aunt Marjorie's hearing, "that I saw a quarter of an hour ago a great big spider in the garden catching a wasp. He rolled the poor wasp round and round with his web until he made him into a ball."
"And did you leave that poor wasp to die?" asked Judy, keen interest and keen anger coming into her voice.
"No, I didn't," said Babs. "I took him away from the spider. I wouldn't be kite so cruel as to let the poor thing die; but I s'pect he'll die all the same, for he can't get out of the ball that he's in."
"Poor darling!" said Judy. "Let's go and find him and try to get the web off him. Do you know where he is, Babs?"
"I put him on an ivy leaf on the ground," said Babs, "under the yew-tree down there. I can find him in a minute."
"Well, let's go and save him as quickly as possible."
The two children rushed with eagerness and vigor down the slops.
Aunt Marjorie could see them as they disappeared out of sight.
She turned to weep and bewail herself once more, and Judy and Babs began industriously to look for the wasp.
They were busily engaged on their hands and knees searching all over the ground for the identical ivy leaf where Babs had placed the rescued insect, when a voice sounded in their ears, and Judy raised her head to see pretty Mildred Anstruther standing by her side.
Mildred was one of the belles of the county; her hair was as bright as a sunbeam, her eyes as blue as a summer sky, her full lips were red, her cheeks had the bloom of the peach upon them. Mildred was a well-grown girl, with a largely and yet gracefully developed figure.
In addition to her personal charms she had a considerable fortune. It went without saying, therefore, that she was greatly admired.
Mildred had often been the talk of Little Staunton; her numerous flirtations had caused head-shakings and dismal croaks from many of the old maids of the neighborhood. The sterner sex had owned to heart-burnings in connection with her, for Mildred could flirt and receive any amount of attention without giving her heart in return. She was wont to laugh at love affairs, and had often told Hilda that the prince to whom alone she would give her affections was scarcely likely to appear.
"The time when gods used to walk upon the earth is over, my dear Hilda," she used to say. "When I find the perfect man, I will marry him, but not before."
Mildred, who was twenty-six years of age, had therefore the youngest and smoothest of faces; care had never touched her life, and wrinkles were unlikely to visit her.
For some reason, however, she looked careworn now, and Judy, with a child's quick perception, noticed it.
She was fond of Mildred, and she put up her lips for a kiss.
"What's the matter, Milly?" she asked; "have you a cold?"
"No, my love; on principle I never allow myself to have anything so silly; but I am shocked, Judy—shocked at what I have read in the morning papers."
"Oh, about our money," replied Judy in an unconcerned voice. "Have you found that wasp, Babs? Are you looking on all the ivy leaves?"
"I picked an ivy leaf, and put it down just here," replied Babs, "and I put the wasp in it most carefully; the wind must have caught it and blown it away."
"Oh, dear; oh, dear! the poor creature, what will become of it?" answered Judy. She was down on her hands and knees again, poking and examining, but poking and examining in vain.
"It's very rude of you, Judy, not to pay me the least attention," said Mildred. "I have come over on purpose to see you, and there you are squatting on the ground, pushing all that rubbish about. You have no manners, and I'll tell Hilda so; and, Babs, what are you about not to give me a hug?"
Babs raised a somewhat grimy little face.
"We can't find the poor wasp," she said. "He was rolled up in the spider's web, and I put him on an ivy leaf, and now he's gone."
"You had better go on looking for him, Babs," said Judy, "and I'll talk to Milly." She rose as she spoke and placed her dirty little hand on Miss Anstruther's arm. "So you heard about our money, Milly?" she said. "Aunt Marjorie is in an awful state, she has cried and cried and cried; but the rest of us don't care."
"You don't care? Oh, you queer, queer people! You don't mean to tell me, little Judy, that Hilda doesn't care?"
"Hilda cares the least of all," replied Judy; "she has got Jasper."
Judy's face clouded over as she spoke.
"I wonder what he'll say to this business," remarked Miss Anstruther, half to herself; "he's not at all well off—it ought to make a tremendous difference to him."
"He certainly isn't to be pitied," said Judy; "he's going to get Hilda."
"And what about Hilda's money?" laughed Miss Anstruther. Her face wore an expression which was almost disagreeable, her big blue eyes looked dark as they gazed at the child.
Judy's own little face turned pale. She didn't understand Miss Anstruther, but something impelled her to say with great fierceness:
"I hate Jasper!"
Miss Anstruther stooped down and kissed her.
"You are a queer, passionate little thing, Judy," she said, "but it's a very good thing for Hilda to be engaged to a nice sensible fellow like Jasper Quentyns, and of course it is more important now than ever for her. He'll be disappointed, of course, but I dare say they can get along somehow. Ah, there's Aunt Marjorie coming out of the house. I must run and speak to her, poor dear; how troubled she looks! and no wonder."
Mildred ran off, and Judy stood where she had left her, in the center of the lawn, quivering all over.
What did Milly mean by saying that Jasper would be disappointed—Jasper, who was going to get Hilda—Hilda herself? What could anyone want more than the sun? what could any man desire more than the queen of all queens, the rose of all roses?
Thoughts like these flitted through little Judy's mind in confused fashion. Hilda was to be married to Jasper, and the Rectory of Little Staunton would know her no more. That indeed was a sorrow to make everyone turn sick and pale, but the loss of the money was not worth a moment's consideration.
Judy wandered about, too restless and unhappy to settle to her play. Babs shouted in the distance that the wasp was not to be seen. Even the fate of the poor wasp scarcely interested Judy at present. She was watching for Mildred to reappear that she might join her in the avenue and ask why she dared to say those words about Jasper.
"Well, Judy," said Miss Anstruther by and by, "here I am, back at last. I saw Aunt Marjorie, but I didn't see the Rector, and I didn't see Hilda. Aunt Marjorie tells me that Jasper Quentyns is coming down to-night, so I suppose he's going to take everything all right."
"What do you mean, Milly?" asked Judy.
"Why do you look at me in that fierce way, you small atom?" answered Mildred, stopping in her walk and looking at the child with an amused smile on her face.
"Because I don't understand you," said Judy.
"It is scarcely likely you should, my darling. Let me see, how old are you—nine? Well, you'll know something of what I mean when you're nineteen. Now I must go."
"No, stop a bit, Milly. I don't understand you, but I hate hints. Miss Mills hints things sometimes, and oh, how I detest her when she does! and you're hinting now, and it is something against Hilda."
"Against Hilda? Oh, good gracious, child, what an awful cram!"
"It isn't a cram, it is true. I can't explain it, but I know you're hinting something against darling Hilda. Why should you say that Jasper will be disappointed? Isn't she going away with him some day? and aren't they going to live in—in a horrid—a horrid flat together, and she won't even have a garden, nor fowls, nor flowers? And you say Jasper will be disappointed. Everything is going when Hilda goes, and you speak as if Jasper wasn't the very luckiest person in all the wide world. I know what it means; yes, I know. Oh, Milly, I'm so unhappy. Oh, Milly, what shall I do when Hilda goes away?"
Mildred was impulsive and kind-hearted, notwithstanding the very decided fit of jealousy which was now over her. She put her arm round Judy and tried to comfort her.
"You poor little thing," she said, "you poor little jealous, miserable mite. How could you think you were going to keep your Hilda always? There, Judy, there, darling, I really am sorry for you—I really am, but you know Hilda is pretty and sweet, and someone wants her to make another home beautiful. There, I'll say something to comfort you—I'll eat all the words I have already uttered, and tell you emphatically from my heart of hearts that Hilda is too good for Jasper Quentyns."
"Judy, Judy, Judy! I have found the wasp," shouted Babs.
Judy dried her eyes hastily, kissed Mildred, and ran across the lawn to her little sister.
"What a queer child Judy Merton is," said Mildred to herself. "What tempestuous little creatures some children are. How passionately she spoke about Hilda, and now her whole heart and soul are devoted to the rescuing of a miserable insect. Yes, of course Jasper is not good enough for Hilda. He has plenty of faults, he is not the prince I have been looking for, and yet—and yet——"
Her heart beat quickly, the color rushed into her face, she felt her firm lips tremble, and knew that her eyes were shining with unusual brilliance. Someone was coming along the path to meet her. A man with the sunlight shining all over him—an athletic figure, who walked with the swift bounding step of youth. He was Jasper Quentyns.
"Hullo!" he called, catching sight of her. "I was fortunate in getting an earlier train than I had hoped for, and here I am two hours before I was expected. How is Hilda? Have you been at the house? Are they all fearfully cut up?"
"How do you do, Mr. Quentyns?" replied Mildred. "Yes, I have been at the house, and I have seen Judy and Aunt Marjorie. Judy seems to me to be in a very excitable and feverish state of mind."
"She's rather spoilt, isn't she?" said Quentyns.
"Oh, well, she's Hilda's special darling, the first in her heart by many degrees—after—after somebody else."
"But how could a child like Judy know anything about money loss?"
"It isn't the money that's troubling her at the present moment, it's a poor wasp. Now pray don't look so bewildered, and do try and forget about Judy. Aunt Marjorie is taking her trouble in a thoroughly practical and Aunt Marjorie style. I have not seen Hilda, nor have I seen the Rector."
"It will be an awful blow to them all," said Quentyns.
"Yes," replied Miss Anstruther, looking him straight in the eyes, "an awful blow. And you feel it far more than Hilda," she soliloquized, as she walked back to her own home.
THE EVE OF THE WEDDING.
Where shall I find a white rose blowing? Out in the garden where all sweets be. But out in my garden the snow was snowing And never a white rose opened for me, Naught but snow and a wind were blowing And snowing.
—CHRISTINA G. ROSSETTI.
Notwithstanding Mildred Anstruther's inward prognostications, there came no hitch to Hilda Merton's engagement. Quentyns behaved as the best and most honorable of men. He was all that was tender and loving to Hilda, and he immediately took that position toward Mr. Merton which a son might have held. Quentyns was a good business man, and in the catastrophe which overwhelmed the Rectory, he proved himself invaluable.
On one point, however, he was very firm. His marriage with Hilda must not be delayed. No persuasive speeches on her part, no longing looks out of Judy's hungry eyes, no murmurs on the part of Aunt Marjorie, would induce him to put off the time of the wedding by a single day.
He used great tact in this matter, for Quentyns was the soul of tact, and it quite seemed to the family, and even to Hilda herself, that she had suggested the eighth of January as the most suitable day in the whole year for a wedding—it seemed to the whole family, and even to Hilda herself, that she was the one who desired to go, whereas in her heart of hearts, in that innermost heart which she scarcely ventured to probe at all just now, she would have gladly shared Aunt Marjorie's discomforts and sat by her father's side while he composed those sermons which were to teach his flock, with a sure note of truth running through them, that the blessed man is the man whom the Lord God chasteneth.
The wedding-day was fixed, and notwithstanding poverty and its attendant shadows, preparations for the great event went on merrily enough.
A check for Hilda's trousseau was sent to her by a rich aunt in India, and the pleasant excitement which even the quietest wedding always causes began to pervade the Rectory.
When the day was finally arranged, Aunt Marjorie ceased to murmur and cry. She talked a great deal now of Hilda's coming responsibilities, and spent all her leisure moments copying out receipts which she thought might be useful to her niece in her new position as wife and housekeeper.
"You have never yet told me where you are going to live, Hilda," she said, on the New Year's Day which preceded the wedding.
"I am not quite sure myself," replied Hilda. "Jasper has seen a great many suburban houses which he does not quite like, and a great many flats which he considers absolutely perfect. He says there is no special hurry about choosing a house, for after we have returned from our wedding tour we are to stay with some of his relations in town, and during that time we can make up our minds as to what kind of home we will have."
"Very prudent of Jasper," said Aunt Marjorie. "He really is an excellent fellow—so wonderfully thoughtful for such a young man. Of course he has far too much sense to think of selecting a house for you himself. As to a flat, you will of course not dream of going into one—a house is better in all respects, more airy and more interesting."
"I should like a house best," said Hilda, "but Jasper, of course, is the one really to decide."
"Now, there you are wrong, my love. You are undoubtedly the right person to make the final choice. I am old-fashioned in my ideas, Hilda, and I think the wife ought to be in subjection to her husband, for we have Scripture for it, but I don't believe St. Paul meant that rule to extend to domestic matters. In domestic matters the wife ought to have the casting vote. Be sure, my dear Hilda, you don't yield to Jasper in domestic affairs—you will rue it if you do—and be quite sure that in selecting a house you have a wide entrance-hall, a spacious staircase, and a large drawing room."
"But, Auntie, such a house will be beyond our means."
"Tut, tut, my love—the rent may be a few pounds more, but what of that? A large entrance-hall is really essential; and as it is easier to keep large rooms and wide staircases clean than small ones, your servants will have less to do and you will save the extra rent in that way. Now here is your great-grandmother's receipt for plum-pudding—two dozen eggs, three pounds raisins, one pound citron. Hilda, I particularly want to give you a hint about the spice for this pudding; ah, and I must speak also about this white soup—it is simply made, and at the same time delicious—the stock from two fowls—one pint single cream—your father is particularly fond of it. Yes, Susan, what is the matter?"
"A parcel for Miss Hilda, ma'am," said the neat parlor-maid. "It has come by 'Carter Patterson'; and will you put your name here, please, Miss Hilda."
Hilda signed her name obediently, and a square wooden box was brought in. It was opened by Aunt Marjorie herself with great solemnity. Judy and Babs came and looked on, and there were great expressions of rapture when an exquisite afternoon tea-service of Crown Derby was exhibited to view.
Wedding presents were pouring in from all quarters. Hilda put this one away with the others, and calmly continued her occupation of adding up some parochial accounts for her father. She was a very careful accountant, and had the makings in her of a good business woman when she had gained a little experience.
Aunt Marjorie sat and mumbled little disjointed remarks with regard to her niece's future state and subjection. She gave her many hints as to when she was to yield to her husband and when she was to firmly uphold her own will.
Had Hilda followed out Aunt Marjorie's precepts, or even been greatly influenced by them, she and Jasper would have had a very unhappy future, but she had a gentle and respectful way of listening to the old lady without taking in a great deal that she said. Her thoughts were divided now between Jasper and Judy. Her heart felt torn at the thought of leaving her little sister, and she had an instinctive feeling, which she had never yet put into words, that Judy and Jasper were antagonistic to each other, and, what is more, would always remain so.
Judy had seen the Crown Derby service unpacked, and then, in the sober fashion which more or less characterized all her actions of late, she left the room.
She went up to the bedroom which she and Babs shared together, and sitting down by the window, rested her chubby cheek against her hand.
Babs was kneeling down in a distant corner, pulling a doll's bedstead to pieces for the express purpose of putting it together again.
"My doll Lily has been very naughty to-day," she said, "and I am going to put her to bed. She wouldn't half say her lessons this morning, and she deserves to be well punished. What are you thinking of, Judy, and why do you pucker up your forehead? It makes you look so cross."
"Never mind about my forehead. I have a lot of things to think of just now. I can't be always laughing and talking like you."
Babs paused in the act of putting a sheet on her doll's bed to gaze at Judy with great intentness.
"You might tell me what's the matter with you," she said, after a moment of silence; "you are not a bit interesting lately; you're always thinking and always frowning, unless at night when you are sobbing."
"Oh, don't!" said Judy. "Don't you see what it is, Babs—can't you guess?—it is only a week off now."
"What's only a week off?"
"Hilda's wedding. Oh, dear; oh, dear! I wish I were dead; I do wish I were dead."
Babs did not think this remark of poor Judy's worth replying to. She gravely finished making her doll's bed, tucked Lily up comfortably, and coming over to the window, knelt down, placed her elbows on the ledge, and looked out at the snowy landscape.
"Hasn't Hilda got lots and lots of presents?" she said, after a pause.
"Yes. I don't want to see them, though."
"Everyone is giving her a present," continued Babs, in her calm voice, "even Miss Mills and the servants. Susan told me that the schoolchildren were collecting money to buy her something, and—may I tell you a 'mendous big secret, Judy?"
Judy ceased to frown, and looked at Babs with a faint dawning of interest in her eyes.
"I has got a present for her too," said Babs, beginning to dance about. "I am not going to give it till the day of the wedding. I buyed it my own self, and it's quite beautiful. What are you going to give her, Judy?"
"Nothing. I haven't any money."
"I have half a sovereign in the Savings Bank, but I can't take it out until after I am seven. I wish I could, for I could lend it to you to give Hilda a wedding present."
"I wish you could," said Judy. "I'd like awfully to give her something. You might tell me what you have got, Babs."
"It's some darning-cotton," said Babs in a whisper. "I buyed it last week with twopence-halfpenny; you remember the day I went with Mrs. Sutton to town. She said it was a very useful thing, for Hilda will want to mend Jasper's socks, and if she hasn't darning-cotton handy maybe he'll scold her."
"He wouldn't dare to," said Judy, with a frown; "she shan't mend his horrid socks. Why did you get such a nasty wedding present, Babs?"
A flush of delicate color spread all over Babs' little fair face. She winked her blue eyes hard to keep back the tears which Judy's scathing remarks were bringing to the surface, and said, after a pause:
"It's not a horrid present, it's lovely; and anyhow"—her voice becoming energetic as this happy mode of revenge occurred to her—"it is better than yours, for you has got nothing at all."
"Oh, I'll have something when the day comes," replied Judy, in a would-be careless tone.
"But you hasn't any money."
"Money isn't everything. I'll manage, you'll see."
From this moment Judy's whole heart and soul were absorbed in one fierce desire to give Hilda a present which should be better and sweeter and more full of love than anybody else's.
After two or three days of anxious thought and nights of troubled dreams, she made up her mind what her present should be. It should consist of holly berries and ivy, and these holly berries and that ivy should be picked by Judy's own fingers, and should be made into a bouquet by Judy herself; and the very center of this bouquet should contain a love-note—a little twisted note, into which Judy would pour some of her soul. It should be given to Hilda at the very last moment when she was starting for church; and though she was all in white from top to toe—all in pure white, with a bouquet of white flowers in her hand—yet she should carry Judy's bouquet, with its thorns and its crimson berries, as a token of her little sister's faithful love.
"She shall carry it to church with her," said Judy, with inward passion. "I'll make her promise beforehand, and I know she won't break her word to me. It will be a little bit of me she'll have with her, even when she is giving herself to that horrid Jasper."
The little girl quite cheered up when this idea came to her. She became helpful and pleasant once more, and allowed Babs to chatter to her about the insect world, which had now practically gone to sleep; and about the delights of the time when their chrysalides, which they had put away so carefully in the butterfly-case, should burst out into living and beautiful things.
The day before the wedding came, and the whole house was in pleasant bustle and confusion. Nearly all the presents had arrived by this time. The school children had come up to the Rectory in a body to present Hilda with a very large and gaudily decorated photographic album; the Rectory servants had given the bride-elect a cuckoo-clock; Miss Mills had blushed as she presented her with a birth-day book bound in white vellum; "Carter Patterson's" people were tired of coming up the avenue with box after box; and Aunt Marjorie was tired of counting on her fingers the names of the different friends who were sure to remember such an important event as Hilda Merton's wedding.
But for Aunt Marjorie, Hilda would have given herself to Jasper in a very quiet and unobtrusive fashion. But this idea of a wedding was such intense grief to the old lady that Hilda and Jasper, rather against their wills, abandoned it, and Hilda was content to screen her lovely face behind a white veil, and to go to church decked as a bride should.
"It is positively economical to get a proper wedding dress," said Aunt Marjorie; "you'll want it for the parties you'll go to during your first season in town, Hilda. Of course Lady Malvern, Jasper's aunt, will present you, and the dress with a little alteration will do very well to go to the Drawing Room in. I shall desire the dressmaker to make the train quite half a yard extra, on purpose."
Aunt Marjorie had her way, and was sufficiently happy in her present life to forget the dull days which must follow, and to cease to think of the deserted house when Hilda, and wealth, and luxury, went away.
It was the evening before the wedding-day, when Babs came solemnly into the room where her sister was sitting, and presented her with her wedding gift.
"It's darning-cotton," said Babs, in her gentle, full, satisfied fashion. "Sutton said it would be useful, and that Jasper wouldn't scold you if you had it handy."
"What treason are you talking, Babs?" asked Quentyns, who was standing by Hilda's side.
He stooped down, and mounted her on his shoulder.
"Sutton says that husbands always scold their wives," said Babs.
"Nonsense, child! Sutton doesn't speak the truth. I would far rather scold myself than Hilda."
"Well, at any rate here's the cotton. I spent all my money on it except the ten shillings in the Savings Bank; and, Hilda, you will use it when Jasper's socks get into holes."
"Of course I will, you dear little darling," said Hilda. "I think it is a perfectly sweet present. Give it to me; I was just packing my work-basket, and in it shall go this minute. I'll think of you every time I use a thread of this cotton, Babs."
"Babs, Miss Mills says it is quite time for you to go to bed," said Judy, who was standing at the back of Hilda's chair, softly touching her bright head from time to time with the tips of her little fingers.
Quentyns laughed when Judy spoke in her solemn voice.
"And what about Judy's time for going to bed?" he asked.
"Oh, I am much older than Babs, and Hilda said——"
"Yes, Jasper; I said Judy should have a little talk with me all by myself to-night," said Hilda, putting back her hand and drawing her little sister forward. "Here's a tiny bit of my chair for you to sit upon, Judy dearest."
"Then I'll take Babs upstairs," said Jasper. "Put your arms tightly round my neck, you quaint monkey, and I'll race up to your room with you."
"Hilda," said Judy, the moment the door had closed behind the two, "I haven't given you my present yet."
"My darling," said Hilda, "when we love as you and I love each other, presents mean nothing—nothing at all. I know you have no money, dearest little Judy and I think it was so sweet of you not to ask for any. Your present to me is your thoughtfulness; no gift could be sweeter."
"Hilda, may I rest my head against your shoulder?"
"Of course, darling. Now aren't we cozy?"
"We are; I feel warm now, and—and happy. I won't be able to sit like this for a long time again."
"Yes you will, for you're coming to stay with us; as soon as ever we get into our house, or our flat, or wherever we shall live, you are to come. One of the very first rooms I shall furnish will be your little bedroom, my Judy."
"And then I can sit close to you every night. But oh, Hilda, he'll be there, he won't like it."
"Yes, he will; he'll like anything that I like. There is an old proverb that I must repeat for your benefit—'Love me, love my dog.' That means that those whom I love you ought to love."
"Ought I? Very well, I'll try to love—Jasper. Anything that you say I'll try to do. Hilda, why does loving a person give pain? I have an ache in my heart—a big ache. There now, what a horrid girl I am! I am making your eyes fill with tears. You shan't be unhappy just when you're going to be made into a beautiful white bride. Sutton says it is unlucky for a bride to cry. You shan't cry, Hilda, you shan't—you mustn't."
"But I can't help crying, Judy, when I think that you are unhappy, and when you speak of your love to me as a pain."