BOOKS FOR GIRLS
By Laura E. Richards
The MARGARET SERIES
Three Margarets Margaret Montfort Peggy Rita Fernley House
The HILDEGARDE SERIES
Queen Hildegarde Hildegarde's Holiday Hildegarde's Home Hildegarde's Neighbors Hildegarde's Harvest
DANA ESTES & COMPANY Publishers Estes Press, Summer St., Boston
BY LAURA E. RICHARDS
AUTHOR OF "CAPTAIN JANUARY," "MELODY," "QUEEN HILDEGARDE," "GEOFFREY STRONG," ETC.
Illustrated by ETHELDRED B. BARRY
BOSTON DANA ESTES & COMPANY PUBLISHERS
Copyright, 1901 BY DANA ESTES & COMPANY
All rights reserved
Colonial Press Electrotyped and Printed by C. H. Simonds & Co. Boston, Mass., U.S.A.
I. A DUET 11
II. MRS. PEYTON'S COMPANION 23
III. AN ARRIVAL 33
IV. UNCLE JOHN'S IDEA 46
V. A VISION 58
VI. ALI BABA 70
VII. MORE ARRIVALS 86
VIII. HISTORY REPEATS ITSELF 100
IX. ABOUT NOTHING IN PARTICULAR 114
X. GRACE'S SYSTEM 128
XI. THE MYSTERIES OF FERNLEY 143
XII. THE EGG OF COLUMBUS 161
XIII. IN THE TWILIGHT 168
XIV. THE FIRE 183
XV. JEWELS: AND AN AWAKENING 195
XVI. FOR AULD LANG SYNE 205
XVII. IN THE GARDEN 217
XVIII. UNCLE JOHN'S BIRTHDAY 225
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
PAGE "HUGH AND MARGARET, ALL UNCONSCIOUS OF HER SCRUTINY, WERE ENJOYING THEMSELVES EXTREMELY" Frontispiece
"MARGARET DID THE HONORS, STILL FEELING VERY SHY" 29
"AT THIS MOMENT POLLY APPEARED, RED-CHEEKED AND BREATHLESS" 33
"SHE WAS A SLENDERER PEGGY, WITH THE SAME BLUE, HONEST EYES" 86
"SHE LOOKED UP, AND SAW GRACE SITTING ON A BROAD, LOW BRANCH" 137
"ON THE SECOND LANDING THEY PAUSED TO SALUTE THE OLD PORTRAITS" 148
"A TALL, SLENDER FIGURE HALF RAN, HALF TOTTERED INTO THE ROOM" 181
"'I PROPOSE . . . THE HEALTH OF THE BEST MAN . . . THAT LIVES UPON THIS EARTH TO-DAY; . . . THE HEALTH OF MY UNCLE JOHN!'" 238
"Well, Uncle John!"
"Not a word to throw at a dog, as Rosalind says?"
"You are not a dog, Uncle John. Besides, you know all about it without my saying a word, so why should I be silly, and spoil your comfortable cigar? Dear children! They will have a delightful time, I hope; and of course it is perfectly right that they should go to their father when he wants them; and—the summer will pass quickly."
"Very quickly!" Mr. Montfort assented, watching his smoke rings float upward.
"And Peggy is coming; and—oh, we shall be all right, of course we shall; only—we do miss them, don't we, Uncle?"
"I should think we did! A house is a poor place without children; and we flatter ourselves that our two—eh, Margaret?"
"Oh, they are the dearest children in the world," said Margaret with conviction. "There is no possible doubt about that."
She sighed, and took up her work; Mr. Montfort blew smoke rings and watched them melt into the air. There was an interval of sympathetic silence.
The children, Basil and Susan D., Margaret's cousins, had hardly been gone two hours, yet the time seemed already long to Margaret Montfort. Fernley House, which only this morning had been so running over with joy and sunlight, and happy noise and bustle, seemed suddenly to have become a great empty barrack, full of nothing but silence. Margaret, after putting away, sadly enough, the things that the children had left about, had been glad to join her uncle on the pleasant back verandah that overlooked the garden.
Fernley was in the full glory of early summer. The leaves were still young, and too soft to rustle in the gently moving air; the laburnums and honey-locusts were in blossom, and the bees came and went, heavy-laden. The sombre, trailing branches of the great Norway spruces touched the smooth green turf, starred here and there with English daisies. Farther back, the tulip-trees towered stately, and the elm branches swept the crest of the tall box hedges.
Margaret's eyes kept wandering from her work. How could she stitch, when things were looking like this? There was the oriole, swinging on the bough beside his nest, pouring out his song, "Joy! joy! joy!" The eggs might be hatched to-day. Basil had begged her to promise that she would let neither cat nor squirrel meddle with the young birds. What should she do, if she saw a cat up there, forty feet from the ground? Dear Basil! he never could understand why she could not climb trees as well as he and Susan D. Dear Basil! dearest of boys! how nice he looked in his new blue suit; and who would mend the first "barndoor" that he tore in jacket or trousers?
And little Susan D.! the warm clasp of her arms seemed still about Margaret's neck, in that last strangling hug of parting. She had grown so dear, the little silent child! "I will be good," she whispered. "Cousin Margaret, I will try not to die without you, and I will remember the things you told me about papa; but don't make me stay very long, because I haven't got enough goodness to last very long, you know I haven't."
Margaret was roused from her reverie by her uncle's voice.
"When did you say Peggy was coming, my dear?"
"Next week, Uncle John. School closes on the eighteenth. Dear little Peggy! think of her being a senior! it seems hardly possible. She is afraid I shall tell her to put her hair up; I certainly shall not, at least while she is here. I am sure you prefer the pigtail, don't you, Uncle John?"
"Yes! oh, yes!" said Mr. Montfort, abstractedly. "Pigtail—yes, by all means. And how will you and Peggy amuse yourselves, my dear? No Rita this summer to electrify us all. You will not find it dull?"
"Dull, Uncle John? how could Fernley possibly be dull? Why, Peggy and I are going to be as happy as possible. I have all kinds of plans made. You see, it is time Peggy was learning something about housekeeping and that sort of thing, and I thought this summer would be the very best time to show her a little. Of course, when she is at home, she wants to be doing twenty thousand things on the farm, just as she always has done, and the time goes so quickly, she has not begun to think yet about the indoor things; so I am going to be the Humdrum-major, Uncle, and give her some lessons; if you approve, that is."
"Highly, my dear, highly. Every woman should be able to take care of her own house, and the only way for her to learn is to begin upon some one else's. I should think Peggy might make a vigorous little housekeeper, if a chaotic one. Don't let her loose in the library, Margaret, that is my only prayer."
"Uncle John, I really do believe that you think housekeeping consists entirely in dusting and setting things to wrongs, as you call it."
"Well, my love, I confess that has always seemed to me a prime element in the art. But I also confess my ignorance, and the depth and darkness thereof. Am I humble enough? Now I must go and take the puppies for an airing. Till dinner-time, May Margaret!"
Mr. Montfort strolled away, and Margaret bent with renewed energy over her work, giving herself a little shake as she did so. Her uncle's words still sounded in her ears: "You will not find it dull?" She had answered out of the fulness of her heart, thinking it impossible that dulness should come where Uncle John was, especially as he happened to be at Fernley House, the most enchanting place in the world. Yet—and yet—it was going to be very, very different, of course, from the life of the past year, so filled full and running over with delight. It was not only that she missed the children; it was that in the care of them, the watching over the growing bodies and the eager minds, she was learning so much herself, feeling the world grow, almost hourly, bigger and brighter and sweeter. The mother-nature was strong in Margaret Montfort, and the children were bringing out all that was best and strongest in her. Well, she must do without that now for awhile; and there was no doubt that the prospect seemed a little flat, even with Peggy to brighten it. Dear Peggy! Margaret loved her fondly; but she was so grown up now, so strong herself, so helpful and self-reliant, that there was no question of taking care of her any more. "Why, she knows twenty times as much as I do," said Margaret, "about most things, except history. I don't suppose she will ever remember the difference between Mary Stuart and Mary Tudor. But, foolish creature," cried Margaret to herself, "what have you just been saying to Uncle John? Here is all the world of housekeeping, about which Peggy knows little or nothing, and which, thanks to Elizabeth and Frances, you do begin to understand a little. Is it a small thing, I ask you, to teach the qualities and fine shades of damask, and the high-lights of huckaback? or the different cuts of meat, and when what is in season? I am ashamed of you, Margaret Montfort! And then there are the puppies, too! Don't let me hear another word of dulness from you, miss, do you hear? Perhaps you would like to be weaving cotton in a factory this heavenly day, or selling yards of hot stuffs in a shop? Go away!" and Margaret shook her head severely, and was surprised at herself.
The puppies were two fine young setters, Nip and Tuck by name, which the wise uncle had bought on purpose to soften the blow of the parting with the children. Margaret had never known dogs before, and though Messrs. Nip and Tuck were being strictly trained, and had to spend much of their time in the stable-yard, she still had many a pleasant half-hour with them, when her uncle took them for a run over hill and dale, or gave them a lesson in the garden. Her one anxiety was lest they should meet the Queen of Sheba, her great Angora cat, and there should be trouble; for the Queen was a person of decided temper. Margaret had taken infinite pains, ever since the arrival of the puppies, to keep them out of one another's sight; but Mr. Montfort warned her that she was merely putting off the inevitable, and that the day must come when cat and dogs should meet.
It seemed a little hard that this meeting must take place when the master was not present; but the finger of Fate pointed, and at this very moment, while Margaret was sitting with her peaceful thoughts, Michael, the stable-boy, chanced to drop the leash in which he was leading the puppies to their master. Three minutes later, Nip and Tuck were careering wildly around Margaret, leaping on her with frantic caresses, and talking both at once, and very loud, as dear dogs will sometimes do.
"Down, Nip!" cried Margaret. "Tucky, do behave yourself. Now, boys, however did you get away? Charge, do, like dear boys, and wait for the master; he will be here in a minute."
Nip and Tuck explained breathlessly that they had just got out by the luckiest chance in the world, that they loved her to distraction, and that, upon the whole, they preferred her society to that of any one else in the world, if only she would let them lick her nose. This Margaret firmly refused to do, and they lay down panting for a moment, but only for a moment. Again the finger of Fate pointed; and so it came to pass that as Mr. Montfort came round one corner in search of his run-aways, the Queen of Sheba came round the other. There seemed but one white flash as the two puppies, recognizing their destiny on the instant, flew to meet it, yelling like demons of the pit.
"Oh, Uncle John!" cried Margaret, starting up in distress. "My poor Queen! my poor Sheba! they will—"
"I wouldn't worry, Margaret," said Mr. Montfort. "Sheba can take care of herself, if I am not greatly mistaken."
The great cat stiffened herself into a bristling bow, and waited the charge with gleaming eyes. The dogs' frenzied rush carried them within a foot of her whiskers, and there they stopped. This was not what they had looked for. They had seen cats before, and had chased them, with infinite joy; their mother had taught them that cats were made to be chased, with a special eye to the healthful amusement of good little dogs. But this furry, glaring creature, radiating power and menace,—could this be a cat?
Nip and Tuck put their heads on one side and considered. The Queen of Sheba advanced one step, slowly; the puppies retired, too, and sat down, wagging their tails. Perhaps, after all, it was a kind of dog; their minds were cheerfully open to new impressions, and they were full of good will toward all creation. Perceiving their innocence, the Queen of Sheba, who had seen many generations of puppies, lowered her warlike arch, and, sitting down opposite them, proceeded to wash herself elaborately. Nip and Tuck looked on with open-mouthed admiration. Presently Tuck, who was a bold dog, gave a short bark of decision, and, stepping forward, began with infinite politeness to assist in the washing. Sheba received the attention with regal condescension. Five minutes later, all three walked off together, rubbing sides cordially, and presumably in quest of rats.
Margaret drew a long breath. "Did you ever see anything like that?" she cried. "Look, Uncle John; they are talking to one another; you can almost hear the words. Isn't it wonderful?"
"Very pretty," said Mr. Montfort. "Now they'll be friends for life, you'll see. Sheba will be of great assistance in their education. It takes an intelligent cat to understand puppies, and Sheba is a remarkably intelligent cat. Well, May Margaret, and now shall we take our four-legged children for a walk?"
"Oh, Uncle John, I was so afraid you were not going to ask me! Will you wait just half a minute while I get my hat? and on the way back I will stop and see Mrs. Peyton. I have not been there since the dogs came or the children went, and I ought to be ashamed."
Margaret ran up-stairs lightly, saying to herself as she ran, "Dull, with that man? and Peggy and the puppies beside? Margaret Montfort, I am ashamed of you!"
MRS. PEYTON'S COMPANION
"Dear me!" said Mrs. Peyton. "Here is Patience, down off her monument, come all this way to smile at Grief! I am Grief, my dear; allow me to introduce myself. Well, Margaret, and how do you get on without your brats—I beg pardon! I mean your pets?"
"As well as could be expected," said Margaret, lightly, as she stooped to kiss the ivory forehead. Mrs. Peyton was charming, but one did not confide one's troubles to her. "We are behaving beautifully, Mrs. Peyton. Not only have we dried our tears and hung our pocket-handkerchiefs out to dry, but we have set up some new pets already."
"Not more children? Not another set of 'The Orphans of Fernley,' bound in blue denim? That would be unendurable."
"No; four-legged pets this time. We have two dogs, Mrs. Peyton; beautiful Gordon setters. I hope you are fond of dogs."
"Oh!—dogs? Yes, I like dogs. As a rule I like them better than two-legged torments. You are a two-legged torment, Margaret, when you move about the room in that exasperatingly light-footed manner. I don't suppose you actually do it to make me feel my helplessness, but it has that effect. Do sit down! you are not a bird. And don't, for pity's sake, look patient! If there is one thing I cannot abide, it is to see people look patient when I insult them. If I had only known—but John Montfort always did like to thwart me, it's his nature—if I had only known, I say, that those brats of yours were going away, I need not have set up a menagerie of my own. It's too late now, the creature's coming."
"What do you mean, Mrs. Peyton?" asked Margaret, always prepared for any whim of her whimsical neighbor. "Are you setting up a dog too?"
"No! nothing half so comfortable as a dog. A fox, or wolf, or hyena, or something of that kind. Don't be stupid, Margaret; I am not up to explanations to-day. A companion, simpleton! A Miss Fox or Miss Wolfe, I can't remember which. I don't think it was Miss Hyena, but it might be. It's an unusual name, but she is recommended as an unusual person."
"Mrs. Peyton! you said you never would try it again. And you know I am always ready to come and read to you."
"I know you are a little Fra Angelico angel, with your halo laid in your top bureau drawer among your collars, for fear people should see it; but I have a little scrap of conscience about me somewhere,—not much, only about a saltspoonful,—and if you came every day it would get up and worry me, and I can't be worried. Besides, the doctor ordered it, positively."
"Doctor Flower? has he been out again?"
"Yes, he came on Monday. I thought I was going to die, and wanted him to see how prettily I should do it. I'll never send for him again; he always tells me to get up and do things. Tiresome man! I told him I was perfectly exhausted by simply listening to him for half an hour. He replied by ordering this Miss Fox, or whoever she is. I am to try her for a month; I sha'n't probably keep her a week."
"No, not a trained nurse. She means to be one, goes to the hospital in the autumn. He thinks she has a gift, or something. I detest people with a gift. Probably she has a squint, too. You will have to receive her when she comes, Margaret, and take the edge off her. I fancy her unendurable, but I promised to try; I really must be going to die, I am growing so amiable. Which of my gems do you want? I am going to make my will this time. You needn't laugh, Margaret Montfort."
"I was laughing at your dying of amiability, Mrs. Peyton!" said Margaret. "When is this young lady—I suppose she is young, if she is going to study nursing—when is she coming?"
"To-morrow, I believe; or is it to-day? where is the note? Tuesday! Is this Tuesday? It cannot be."
"Yes, this is Tuesday, and the three o'clock train—I suppose that is the train she will come by—must be in by this time. Hark! there are wheels this moment. Can she be coming now, Mrs. Peyton?"
"My dear, it would be exactly like the conception I have formed of her. Go down and see her, will you, Margaret? Tell her I have a headache, or Asiatic cholera, or anything you like. I cannot possibly see her to-day. Her name is Fox—or Wolfe, I can't remember which. Bless you, child! you save my life. Show her the Calico Room. Hand me the amethyst rope before you go; I must compose my nerves."
With a smile and a sigh, Margaret ran down-stairs, and met the newcomer on the doorstep. A tall, pale, grave-looking girl, with deep-set blue eyes, and smooth bands of brown hair—a rather remarkable-looking person, Margaret thought.
"Miss Fox?" she said, hurriedly, holding out her hand. "Oh, how do you do? Pray come in. Mrs. Peyton asked me to receive you,—I am a friend and neighbor,—and show you your room and make you comfortable. She has a bad headache, and does not feel able to welcome you herself."
She led the way into the dining-room, and rang the bell. "You will have lunch?" she said, "or would you rather have tea?"
"Tea, please," said the stranger; and her voice had a deep, musical note, that fell pleasantly on Margaret's ear.
"I am sorry Mrs. Peyton is unable to see me. Is it a real headache, or doesn't she want to?"
Margaret colored and hesitated. The blue eyes looked straight into hers with a compelling gaze; a gleam of comprehension seemed to lurk in their depths. Margaret was absolutely truthful, and, consequently, was sometimes at a loss when speaking of her invalid friend.
"Doctor Flower told me somewhat about her," Miss Fox went on. "He thinks—he wants me to rouse her to effort."
She spoke so quietly, her whole air was one of such calm and repose, that Margaret looked at her wonderingly.
"If Doctor Flower has explained the case to you," she said, at last, "you probably know more about it than I do. Mrs. Peyton often seems to suffer a great deal. She is fanciful, too, no doubt, at times; I suppose most invalids are."
"I have just been staying with a woman who had had both feet cut off by a train," said Miss Fox, tranquilly. "She was not fanciful."
It was a relief when the tea came. Margaret did the honors, still feeling very shy, she could not tell why, before this grave person, who could not be more than a year or two older than herself.
"Have you come far to-day, Miss Fox?" she asked, for the sake of saying something. The stranger put her head on one side, and gave her a quaint look. "Any addition to one's personal menagerie is always interesting," she said; "but one has one's favorites in the Zoo. If it is not taking a liberty—why Fox?"
Margaret started, and blushed violently. "I beg your pardon," she said. "Mrs. Peyton was not sure—she could not remember—is it Miss Wolfe, then? I hope you will forgive me, Miss Wolfe!"
"Please don't," said Miss Wolfe. She smiled for the first time, and Margaret thought she had never seen so sweet a smile. "It is not your fault that I am philologically quadruped, surely. So long as I am not called Zebra, I really don't mind. I always associate Zebra with Zany, don't you know? they were in my Alphabet together. But you were saying something which I was rude enough to interrupt."
"I only asked if you had come far."
"Not very far, if you put it in miles; only from New York; if you mean by impressions, a thousand leagues. It is at least that from that maelstrom to this quiet green place. How should one have nerves in a place like this? To sit here in peace and turn slowly into a lettuce—that would be the natural thing; but life is not natural, if you have observed."
Margaret laughed. "Mrs. Peyton is certainly not in the least like a lettuce; I don't know whether you see any signs of the change in me; I have only been here two years, though."
Miss Wolfe surveyed her critically. "N—no!" she said, slowly. "I see nothing indicating lettuce—as yet. You are cool and green—no offence, I hope! I pay you one of the highest compliments I know of when I call you green; it is the color of rest and harmony; cool and green enough, and pleasantly wavy in your lines, but you have too much expression as yet, far too much. Placidity—absence of emotion—that is what superinduces the lettuce habit." She waved her hand gracefully, and seemed to fall into a reverie. Margaret surveyed her in growing wonder.
At this moment Mrs. Peyton's bell rang violently; and presently a maid appeared to say that her mistress was feeling better, and would see the lady now. Miss Wolfe rose and glanced significantly at Margaret. "Curiosity overcomes distaste!" she said. "Are you coming?"
"No," said Margaret. "I think I'd better not. I will slip away quietly. But I shall see you soon again. I will run over this evening, perhaps; and you must come over to Fernley whenever Mrs. Peyton can spare you. It is very near, just across the park."
"Fernley!" repeated Miss Wolfe, pausing and looking at Margaret with an altered expression.
"Fernley House, Mr. Montfort's place. That is where I live. Why—I have never introduced myself all this time, have I? I am Mr. Montfort's niece; my name is Montfort, too, Margaret Montfort."
"Oh, my prophetic soul! my aunt!" exclaimed Miss Wolfe. "I beg your pardon; nothing of the sort. I am somewhat mad at times. Good morning, Miss Montfort; I am glad to know you. To be continued in our next!"
She nodded, kissed her hand gravely to Margaret, and turning, followed the maid up-stairs.
Margaret looked after her for a moment in amazement. "What a very extraordinary girl!" she said. "She seemed to know my name. I wonder how."
She paused, shook her head, then went soberly home across the park, wondering how the new venture would turn out.
"What can the dogs be barking at, Elizabeth?" asked Margaret, looking up from the table-cloth she was examining. "I'm afraid they have got a squirrel again."
"I thought I heard the sound of wheels, Miss," said the sedate Elizabeth, who had just entered, her arms full of shining damask. "Just as I was coming up the stairs, Miss Margaret. I told Polly run and see who it was, and send 'em away if they was a tramp. It do be mostly tramps, these days; Frances says she'll poison the next one, Miss, but she always feeds 'em so as they go off and send all their friends."
At this moment Polly appeared, red-cheeked and breathless. A gentleman was below, asking for Mr. Montfort, and she couldn't find Mr. Montfort nowhere in the house; so then he said could he see Miss Margaret?
"Is it any one I know, Polly?" asked Margaret.
"I don't know, Miss Marget; I niver see him. A lame gentleman with a crutch; he looks just lovely!" added Polly, with effusion.
"Miss Margaret didn't ask you how he looked, Polly!" said Elizabeth, severely. "You let your tongue run away with you."
"Tell him I will be down directly, Polly," said Margaret.
"Now, Miss Margaret, do you think you'd better?" asked Elizabeth. "If it's not a tramp—"
"Indeed, and he's no tramp!" broke in Polly, indignantly. "He's a gentleman, if ever I see one, Miss Margaret; and him in lovely white clothes and all, just like young Mr. Pennyfeather as was here last year."
"Polly, will you learn to speak when you are spoken to, and not interrupt your elders?" demanded Elizabeth. "If he's not a tramp, I was saying, Miss Margaret, he's likely an agent of some kind, and why should you be annoyed, with all the linen to go over? He can call again, most likely."
Elizabeth spoke with some feeling under her grave and restrained words. The examination of the house-linen was to her mind the most important event of the week, and already they had been disturbed once by a sudden incursion of the dogs, bringing a dead squirrel.
"No, Elizabeth," said Margaret, "I must go down. Tell the gentleman I will be down directly, Polly; show him into the library, please. Dear Elizabeth, you can finish the table-cloths just as well without me. You always did it before I came."
"Not at all, Miss," said Elizabeth, with patient resignation; "you'll find me in the sewing-room, Miss, whenever you are ready for me. It's best that you should go over the things yourself, and then you will be satisfied, and no mistakes made."
Margaret nodded, with a little inward sigh over the rigidity of Elizabeth's ideal of a perfect housekeeper; patted her hair hurriedly to make sure that it was neat, confirmed the pat by a glance in the mirror, and went quickly down-stairs.
A tall, slender figure rose, leaning on a stick, as she entered the library. "What a sad face!" was Margaret's first thought; but, when the stranger smiled, it changed to "What a beautiful one!"
"Cousin Margaret?" said the young man, inquiringly.
"Yes—I am Margaret," said the girl. "But who—oh! are you—can it be Peggy's Hugh? It is, I see. Oh, how do you do, Cousin? I am so very, very glad to see you."
They shook hands cordially, scanning each other with earnest and friendly eyes.
"I should have known you, of course, from your picture, if not from Peggy's ardent descriptions," said Hugh Montfort.
"And I ought to have known you, surely," cried Margaret; "only, not knowing you were in this part of the country, you see—"
"Uncle John did not get my letter? It ought to have reached him some days ago. I was coming on to Cambridge, and wrote as soon as I started. No wonder you were surprised, being hailed as cousin by an unheralded vagabond with a stick."
"Oh, why do you stand?" cried Margaret. "Sit down, Cousin Hugh; to think of its being really you; I have wanted to see and know you ever since—oh, for ever so long. Hark! there comes Uncle John now. How delighted he will be!"
"Margaret, my dear!" called Mr. Montfort from the hall. "I have just had a letter—most surprising thing—from—hallo! what's all this? Hugh, my dear fellow, I'm delighted to see you. Got here before your letter, eh? How did that happen? Never mind, so long as you are here now. Well, well, well! sit down here, and let me look at you. This is a pleasure indeed. Your father's eyes; I should know them in a Chinaman; not that you look like a Chinaman. How are they all at home? How's your father? When did you leave home? Have you had anything to eat? What would you like? Margaret, my dear, get Hugh something to eat, he's probably starved."
Hugh laughingly disclaimed starvation, and begged to wait till their tea-time. "I am not hungry, truly I am not," he said. "There is so much to say, too, isn't there, Uncle John? Father is very well and hearty. I have a pipe for you in my bag. I brought a bag with me; do you suppose you could put me up for a few days, Uncle?"
Reassured by Mr. Montfort's earnest assurance that he should keep him all summer, Hugh leaned back in his chair, and looked about him with eager eyes.
"This is the library!" he said. "Uncle John, ever since I learned to read, one of my dreams has been to see this room. Father has always told us about it, and where his favorite books were, and where you all used to sit when you came here to read."
He rose and, crossing the room, took a book from a shelf without a moment's hesitation. "Here is the 'Morte d'Arthur,'" he said; "you see I knew where to find it. And Father used to sit on top of that stepladder."
"So he did!" cried Mr. Montfort, delighted. "I can see him now, with one leg curled under him, eating apples and shouting about Lancelot and Tristram."
"And you sat in the great copper coal-hod—ah! there it is!—and read Froissart, the great folio with the colored prints. I see it, just in the place father described."
"Uncle John," said Margaret, reproachfully, "you never told me that you sat in the coal-scuttle. I know papa's perch, the mantel-piece, because he could get at the little Shakespeares from there."
Mr. Montfort laughed.
"Leave me some remnant of dignity, Meg," he said. "How can you expect me to confess that I sat in the coal-scuttle? Have you no reverence for gray hairs?"
"Oh, a very great deal, dear Uncle; but there were no gray hairs in the coal-scuttle days; and my only regret about you is the not having known you when you were a boy."
"Horrid monkey, I have been given to understand," said her uncle, lightly. "Go on, Hugh; tell us some more of the things that Jim—your father—remembers. Old Jim! it's a great shame that he never comes to look up the old place himself."
"It is indeed, sir!" said Hugh. "I've always thought so, and now that I see the place—oh, I shall send him, that's all, as soon as ever I get home. There are the Indian clubs; oh, the carved one—is it true that that was given to Grandfather Montfort by a Fiji chief, or was the Pater fooling us? He sometimes makes up things, he acknowledges, just for the fun of it."
"True enough, I believe!" said Mr. Montfort, taking down the great club, covered from end to end with strange and delicate carving.
"Did he ever tell you how near he came to breaking my head with this club? He may have forgotten; I have not. We used to keep it in our room, the great nursery up-stairs, Margaret; you must show that to Hugh by and by. I woke up one night, and was afraid the crow that I was taming in the back garden might be hungry. I got out of the window and shinned down the spout. The crow was all right; but when I came back, Jim woke up, and took me for a burglar, and went for me with the club, thinking it the chance of his life. I was only half-way through the bars when he caught me a crack—I can hear my skull rattle with it now."
"Oh, Uncle John! and you held on?"
"My dear, I held on; it would have been rather unfortunate for me to let go at the moment. I sung out, of course; and when I got through I fell upon my friend James, and Roger had to wake up and come and drag us from under the bed before he could separate us. Sweet boys! do you and your brothers indulge in these little endearments, Hugh? Jim was a glorious fighter."
Hugh laughed. "Jim and George used to have pretty lively scraps sometimes," he said. "It wasn't so much in my line, but I took it out in airs, I fancy. The poor fellows couldn't punch my head, and it must have been hard lines for them sometimes. As for Max and Peter, they are twins, you know. I doubt if either of them knows exactly which is himself and which is the other, so they don't have real scraps, just puppy-play, rolling over and over and pounding each other."
"Oh, what good times they would have with Basil and Susan D.!" cried Margaret. "What a pity they cannot know one another, all these dear boys!"
"So it is! so it is!" said Mr. Montfort, heartily. "We must bring it about, one of these days; we must surely bring it about. Fond of dogs, Hugh? I've got a pair of nice puppies here; like to go and see them before tea, or shall Margaret show you your room?"
Hugh elected in favor of the puppies, and uncle and nephew walked off together, well content. Margaret looked after them, thinking what a noble pair they made. Hugh walked lame, to be sure, yet not ungracefully, she thought; and though slender, still his shoulders were square and manly.
Then her thoughts turned to matters of practical hospitality, and she sped to the kitchen, to tell the good news to Frances.
"Oh, Frances, Mr. Hugh has come, my Uncle Jim's son; Miss Peggy's brother, Frances! He has come all the way from Ohio, and I want you to give him the very best supper that ever was, please!"
Now Frances had that moment discovered that her best porcelain saucepan was cracked; she therefore answered with some asperity. "Indeed, then, Miss Margaret, what is good enough for Mr. Montfort must be good enough for his nephew or any other young gentleman. My supper is all planned, and I can't be fashed with new things at this time of day."
"Now, Frances, don't be cross, that's a dear! I want you to see Mr. Hugh. Look, there he is this minute, crossing the green with Uncle John."
Frances looked; looked again, long and earnestly; then straightway she fell into a great bustle. "Dear me, Miss Margaret, run away now, that's a good young lady. How can I be doing, and you all about the kitchen like a ball of string? He's lame, the beautiful young gentleman; you never told me he was lame. I did think as how we might be doing with the cold fowl, and French fried potatoes and muffins, but that's nothing to show the heart. Run away now, Miss, and if you was going up-stairs, be so good as send me Polly. She's idling her time away, I'll be bound, and not a soul to help me with my salad and croquettes. Dear! dear! I be pestered out of my life, mostly."
"Don't kill us, Frances!" cried Margaret, as she ran away, laughing. "I really think the cold fowl will be quite enough."
Frances deigned no reply; and Margaret hastened up-stairs, to tell the good news to Elizabeth. Elizabeth was in the sewing-room, waiting, with plaintive dignity, till Margaret should please to go over the rest of the table-cloths; but at the tidings of the advent of a dear and honored guest, she dropped thimble and scissors, and rose hastily, declaring that the Blue Room must be cleaned instantly, and put in order for Mr. Montfort's nephew.
"But you swept it yesterday, Elizabeth, and I dusted all the ornaments myself, and put them back in place. It only needs a few fresh flowers, I am sure," said Margaret.
Elizabeth turned on her a face of affectionate reproach. "Miss Margaret, you don't mean that. Mr. Montfort's own nephew, and the room not touched to-day! I'll go this minute and see to it. But if you would pick out the towels you think he would like best, Miss, please; gentlemen do be that fussy about towels, as there's no pleasing some of them, though being Mr. Montfort's nephew, likely he'll be different. Give him the finest huckaback, and Mr. Montfort is easy satisfied, so long as there's no fringes. He never could abide fringe to his towels, and there's no person with sense as wouldn't agree with him. And if you would see to the bureau-scarf and the flowers, Miss Margaret—there! she's gone, and not a word about what table-napkins I am to use! I like to see them young, so I do, but they're terrible heedless. I expect I'd best put the finest out, for Mr. Montfort's nephew."
UNCLE JOHN'S IDEA
"Margaret, I have an idea!"
"I am so glad, Uncle John; your ideas are always pleasant ones, especially when they make your eyes twinkle. Is this about more dogs?"
"No, no, child. Do you think I have no soul except for dogs? I was thinking—why, you see,—this is a delightful fellow, this nephew of mine."
"Isn't he, Uncle? I never saw a more interesting person, I think. How well he talks, and how much he knows!"
"Yes, and right-minded, too; singularly right-minded. Jim has done well, certainly, by his children, and is very fortunate in them. H'm! yes. Who would have thought, thirty years ago, that things would have turned out in this way? Old Jim!"
Here Mr. Montfort fell into a brown study, and only roused himself after some time, to ask Margaret what were her orders for the day.
"Why, Uncle John! And you have never told me your idea."
"Bless me! so I haven't. Age, my dear child, age! Such a fine idea as it is, too. Listen, then! as I was saying, Hugh Montfort is a charming fellow."
"Yes, Uncle John."
"And Peggy Montfort is a charming girl."
"Certainly she is. Dear Peggy!"
"We may not unreasonably infer, therefore, that other members of the family may be charming also. Now, my idea is this. Peggy is not going home this summer; why would it not be a good plan to send for her nearest sister—Jean, isn't she?—to come here and meet her brother and sister, and all have a good time together? What do you say?"
"Uncle John! I say that you are the very cleverest person in the world, as well as the dearest."
"A little house-party, you see," Mr. Montfort went on, beaming with pleasure at the delight that shone in Margaret's face. "And—we shall want another lad, it seems to me, possibly two lads. Why not ask young Merryweather and his brother for a couple of weeks? You liked the young fellow?"
"Oh, certainly, Uncle John!" Margaret suddenly became interested in tying up the Crimson Rambler that was straying over the verandah-rail. "Yes, indeed, I thought him very nice."
"And you like the idea? You don't think it would make too much work, too much responsibility, my dear little niece?"
Margaret was still busy with the rose, which proved quite refractory, but it was clear that she thought nothing of the sort. It would be altogether delightful, she said; and as for care—why, she had been longing for something to take her mind off missing the children, and—
"And to see Jean, too!" she cried, suddenly emerging from the rose-vine, with an unusual flush on her delicate cheek, and her gray eyes shining; "I have always wanted so to know the other Peggypods, as you call them, Uncle John; and now to have Hugh here, and Jean coming—oh, Uncle John, you are so dear!"
"Then that is all right," said Uncle John; "and I will go and telegraph to old Jim and tell him to send the little girl along. Shall we tell Peggy, or leave it for a surprise, eh? What do you say?"
"The surprise, by all means; Peggy loves a surprise, you know. Oh, how can I wait a whole week to see her?"
Mr. Montfort looked with pleasure at Margaret's sparkling eyes and rosy cheeks. He had hit on the right thing, evidently. Young people wanted young people; didn't he remember well enough—here he fell into a muse again, and said "Rose!" to himself two or three times. Perhaps he was thinking of the Crimson Rambler.
"Now, about rooms!" he said, waking up after a few minutes. "And we must get more help, Margaret. Frances—"
"I'll tell Elizabeth first, I think," said Margaret, thoughtfully. "She has a way of breaking things gradually to Frances, and taking the edge off them; she is really very clever about it."
"Elizabeth is a treasure," said Mr. Montfort. "So is Frances, of course, a treasure—only with dragon attachment."
"And as for the room, Uncle John—let me see! Peggy's own room is big enough for her and Jean, and I am quite sure they would like to be together. Then there are the two little east rooms that are very pleasant—or we could give the two Mr. Merryweathers the big nursery."
"That's it!" said Mr. Montfort, decidedly. "Boys like the nursery; it was made for boys. Nothing breakable in it except the crockery, and plenty of room for skylarking. Yes, my dear, get the nursery ready for them—if they come!" he added. "We are counting our chickens in fine style, Margaret. Suppose we find that Jean is in San Francisco and the Merryweathers in Alaska."
"Oh, they won't be!" cried Margaret. "They wouldn't have the heart to spoil our party. I have read about house-parties all my life, and to think that I am going to have one! Why, it is a fairy tale, Uncle John."
"So it is, my dear; so it is. You are the fairy princess, and I am the old magician—or the bear, if you like better, that used to be a prince when he was young."
"The king that used to be a bear would be more like it," said Margaret, gaily. "How about John Strong, Mr. Montfort?"
"John Strong was a useful fellow!" said her uncle, gravely. "I had a regard for John; he is getting lazy now, and rheumatic besides, and he neglects his roses shamefully, but there are still points about John. Bring me my old hat, and the pruning-shears, and you shall see him in the flesh, Miss Margaret."
Margaret enjoyed nothing more than what she called a "rose-potter" with her uncle. He was never weary of tending his favorite flowers, and handled and spoke of them as if they were real persons. Coming now to join him, with the great shears, and the faithful old straw hat in which, as John Strong the gardener, she had first seen the beloved uncle, she found him bending over a beautiful "La France" with anxious looks.
"My dear, this lovely person is not looking well to-day. Something is wrong with her."
"Oh, Uncle, I am sorry. She had her bath last night, I know, for I gave it to her myself. What do you think is the matter? To me, she looks as silvery-lovely as usual; but you have a special pair of eyes, I know, for roses."
"I fear—I think—ah! here he is, the beast! Yes, Margaret; a caterpillar, curled up—see him! Right in the heart of this exquisite bud. No wonder the whole plant has sickened; she is very sensitive, La France. There, Madame, he is gone. Now, a little shower of quassia, just to freshen you up; eh? See, Margaret, how gratefully the beautiful creature responds. Now, Jack here,"—he passed on to a Jacqueminot rose, covered with splendid crimson blossoms,—"Jack is thick-skinned, quite a rhinoceros by contrast with La France or the Bride. Here are—one—two—five—my patience! here are seven aphides on his poor leaves, and yet he has not curled up so much as the edge of one. Take him for all in all, Jack is as good a fellow as I know. Responsive, cordial, ready for anything—not expecting to have the whole world waiting on him, as some of these people do—ah, Hugh! Finished your letters? That's right!"
Hugh Montfort, who had come in unobserved, was leaning on his stick, watching them with some amusement.
"Who is this Jack, if I may ask, Uncle John? He seems to be a rather remarkable sort of chap."
Mr. Montfort looked slightly confused. "Only my fantastic way of speaking of my roses," he said. "They seem like real people to me, and I am apt to call them by their names. A shame, to be sure, to take such liberties with the General. Permit me to present you in due form! M. le General Jacqueminot, I have the honor to present to you Mr. Hugh Montfort, my nephew, and—may I say admirer? The General is sensitive to admiration."
"You may indeed!" said Hugh, bowing gravely to the splendid plant. "General, your most obedient servant! I have known others of your family, some of them, I may say, intimately, and I can truly say that I never saw a finer specimen of the race."
The General glowed responsive, and Mr. Montfort glowed too, with pleasure. "Fond of roses?" he said; "that's good! that's good! why, boy, you seem to have a great many of my tastes. How's that, hey? your father never knew one flower from another."
There was a very tender light in Hugh's eyes as he returned his uncle's look. "When I was a little chap, sir," he said, "my father used to tell me a good deal about you and Uncle Roger, the two best fellows he ever knew. I used to think—and I think still—that if I could be like them in anything I should do well; so I took to flowers because you loved them, and to books because they were Uncle Roger's delight. The big things seemed pretty big, but I thought the little ones would be better than nothing."
The glow deepened on John Montfort's cheek, and the light in his eyes; in Margaret's eyes the quick tears sprang; and with one impulse she and her uncle held out their hands. Hugh grasped them both, and there was a moment of silence that was better than speech. Hugh was the first to break it. "I have two new friends!" he said, in his sweet, cordial voice. "This day is better than I dreamed, and that is saying a good deal. But now, go on with the roses, Uncle John, please; there are several kinds here that I do not know. What is this cream-colored beauty?"
"Why, that, Hugh, is my special pride. That is a sport of my own raising; Victoria, I call her. She took a first prize at the flower show last year. We were proud, weren't we, Margaret?"
"Indeed we were, Uncle John. Think, Hugh, she had two hundred and seven buds and blossoms when we sent her. She looked like a snow-drift at sunrise; didn't you, Victoria?"
"Could you send a plant of this size without injury? Ah! I see; pot sunk. Well, she is a marvel of beauty, certainly. I have some slips coming from home for you, Uncle; the box ought to be here to-day or to-morrow. There are one or two things that I think you may not have. But you have a noble collection; what a joy a rose-garden is!"
"Mine used to be the greatest pleasure I had," said Mr. Montfort, "until I took to cultivating another kind of flower, the human variety." He pinched Margaret's ear affectionately, and she returned the pinch with a confidential pat on his arm.
"For many years," he continued, "I lived something of a hermit life, Hugh. There were reasons—no matter now—at all events I preferred solitude, and save for my good aunt, your great-aunt Faith, about whom Margaret will have a great deal to tell you, I saw practically no one from year's end to year's end. Very foolish, as I am now aware; criminally foolish. I have got beyond all that, thank Heaven! During this secluded period, my garden, and my roses in particular, were my chief resource, next to my books. Indeed, in summer time the books had to take the second place, and it should be so. You remember Bacon, Hugh: 'God Almighty first planted a garden; it is the purest of human pleasures,' etc. I used to know that essay by heart. In summer time, the Great Book, sir, the Book of Nature, is opened for us, spread open by a divine hand; it were thankless as well as stupid to refuse to study it. So I studied my garden first, and after that, my fields and woods and pastures. Great reading in a broken pasture! When I wanted human companionship—apart from that sweet and gracious influence of her who was my second mother—I found it in my friends between the covers, who were always ready to talk or be silent, as my mood inclined. I thought I did well enough with Shakespeare and Montaigne and the rest; I have learned now that one living voice, speaking in love and kindness, is worth them all for 'human nature's daily food.'"
Margaret listened, wondering. Her uncle had seldom said so much about his own life even to her, his housemate and intimate companion these two years; while Hugh, without a word, simply from some power of silent sympathy that lay in him, had drawn out this frank speech a few hours after their first meeting. She wondered; and then asked herself, why should she wonder, since she herself felt the same drawing toward her new-found relative. "This must be what it is like to have a brother!" she said to herself; and felt her heart quicken with a new sense of comfort and happiness. "Such a pleasant world!" said Margaret.
Hugh Montfort was having a delightful morning. He had been at Fernley three days now, and already knew every nook and corner on the place. With his uncle's consent he had appropriated for his own use the little summer-house, covered with clematis and York and Lancaster roses, that looked out over the south wall of the garden, and away toward the sea. Here he had brought his desk (an old one belonging to his father, that Margaret had found in the garret), and had tacked up a shelf for a few favorite books; and here he was sitting, on the fairest of June days, with a volume of Greek plays open before him, considering the landscape, and enjoying himself thoroughly.
Hugh was no less delighted with his uncle and cousin than they with him. Always and necessarily a student and observer rather than a man of action, he felt an instant sympathy with the man and woman of books and thought. He loved dearly his own family, active, strenuous people, overflowing with strength and energy; but he often felt himself out of place among them, and reproached himself with the frequent languor and headache that so often kept him from sharing in their full-throated, whole-hearted mirth. He had graduated from a Western university, and was now going to study for a post-graduate degree at Harvard; he was tired, and the quiet at Fernley, the sense of perfect congeniality with his uncle, and Margaret's serene face and musical, even-toned voice, were like balm to his over-strung nerves.
This morning his head ached, and he did not feel like study. The book open before him gave him a kind of moral support, but he did hardly more than glance at it from time to time. His eyes roved far and wide over the lovely prospect that lay outside, broad stretches of sunny, rolling meadows, dotted with clumps of trees, and framed in the arched opening of the summer-house. This summer-house had been a favorite playhouse of his father and uncles in their boyhood. He knew a dozen stories about it; and now his eyes turned to the lattice walls, carved everywhere with the familiar initials, and the devices of the four brothers Montfort: John's egg and Jim's oyster, Roger's book and Dick's ship. What glorious boys they must have been! This was where they used to play Curtius, and Monte Cristo, and all manner of games; leaping over the wall into the meadow below, deep in fern and daisies, or swinging themselves down by the hanging branches of the old willow that peeped round one side of the arch. Glorious boys! And then Hugh thought of his own brothers, and said "Good old Jim!" under his breath.
Thus musing, he was aware of a voice under his latticed bower, as of some one in the meadow below; a woman's voice, calm and melodious as Margaret's own, but with a deeper and graver note in it.
"What did he want then, a Lovely Person? Did he want her to love him? Well, she did, ardently; so that is all right."
A rustling followed, and the voice spoke again:
"No, he mustn't kiss her; that is not permitted. He may lie at her feet, and gaze at her with his large, brown eyes, Philip her King, but no kissing. She is surprised at his suggesting such a thing."
Hugh sat mute, in great perplexity. What interview was this, at which he was unwillingly assisting? Were two rustic lovers below, taking their ease under the old willow, whose twisted roots made an admirable seat, as he knew? And, if so, should he be guilty of the greater offence by keeping still, or by going away? He knew every board in the summer-house floor, and there was not one that would not betray him with a loud creak; on the whole, it seemed best to sit still; after all, they need never know that any one was there. Hark! the young woman—the voice was certainly young—was speaking again:
"He was perfectly beautiful, that was what he was. Yes! he had the loveliest eyes in the world, without any exception; and his ears were a dream of perfection, and, as for his coat and waistcoat, words fail her to describe them. Now if he will sit still, she will tell him something; no, not on her dress; a little farther off, a precious Poppet!"
A curious sound followed; something between a loud sneeze and an equally loud yawn, accompanied with lively and prolonged rustling of the willow branches; but no articulate word from her companion. She seemed satisfied, however, for she went on,—a delightful quality of voice; Hugh felt it creeping in his ears like music:
"That is right. Yes, she understands perfectly; she knows all about it, and she loves him to distraction. Well, Lovely One, that Lady is a Cat; that is what she is."
Another sneeze and yawn, louder than before.
"Precisely; you think so, too. A cat! 'cat, puss, tit, grimalkin, tabby, brindle; whoosh!' was he fond of Dickens, a Pink-nosed Pearl? She is no more sick than you are, Beloved. She has been, no doubt, and now she has forgotten how to be anything else, but she is liable to find out. Your Aunt, beloved, proposes to put this lady through a Course of Sprouts. Tu-whit! your Aunt has spoken. We may also remark, in this connection only, tu-whoo!"
Her companion's only reply to this speech was a loud breathing, which might be caused by emotion, or by heat and fatigue; at all events, he did not seem inclined to speak. A thought flashed through Hugh's mind,—the man might be a deaf-mute. What a terrible affliction! It was bad enough to be lame; but to be deaf, and in company with a girl with a voice like that! Hark! she was speaking again, slowly and meditatively, rather as if talking to herself than to some one else:
"Your Aunt has not got her plan entirely laid out yet. She knows what must finally happen: the patient must be got out of that house, and away on a sea-voyage; but there will have to be various occurrences first. Your Aunt's ingenuity, Adonis, will be put to a severe strain. At present your Aunt is alone, and in difficulties. Many oxen come about her, fat bulls of Bashan compass her on every side, as the Scripture hath it; you are not acquainted with the Scripture, Adonis, so there is no earthly use in your putting on that look of keen intelligence. But there may be balm in Gilead; I think Gilead may be in this very place above our head, my Popolorum Tibby. Now, what is the matter with him?"
At this moment a sound was heard,—a bark, distant at first, but coming momently nearer; a loud, joyous, inquiring bark. It was answered from below by a sound combining bark, sneeze, and snort; there was a violent shaking of the branches, and, next moment, a brown and white setter sprang out from under the wall, and stood at gaze. Another instant, and a second dog, his exact image, appeared on the brow of the slope, careering toward him. There was a rapturous duet of barking and sneezing, and then the two swept away over the brow, and were gone.
"That is the most heartless puppy I ever saw," the voice said, slowly. "A woodchuck, I suppose. 'Twas ever thus. The moral is, don't make love to strange puppies, however beautiful; but he was lovely, and he understood me. No more of him! The question is, what should I find at the top of this beanstalk—I should say, willow-tree? There is an—answer to—every question—if—you only ask it—quick enough!"
The last words were spoken so low that Hugh did not catch their import. Alarmed, however, by the continued rustling of the willow branches, he rose hurriedly to his feet, and was about to steal away as quietly as might be; but at that moment a hand was laid on the coping of the wall,—a brown hand, slender but muscular; the next moment an arm followed, and a young woman swung herself across the opening, and, leaning on the wall, looked full in his face.
It was the vision of an instant only; the lithe figure, the face full of careless power, the deep-set blue eyes, startling into black as they met his, while the slender brows met above them in angry amazement; then one hand reached back to the willow branch, the girl dropped from sight, and he heard her rustle from branch to branch, and then heard the light, swift sound of running feet through the fern, and dying away in the distance.
* * * * *
"Is this a pleasant neighborhood, Margaret?" asked Hugh, as they sat on the verandah after dinner. "Have you any pleasant—a—friends, of your own age?"
"None of my own age," said Margaret. "Indeed, our only near neighbor is Mrs. Peyton, an invalid lady, whom I go to see quite often. She is very charming, but—no, there is no one else; the places are large and scattered, you see, all about here. The next one on the other side belongs to Miss Desmond, and she is always abroad, and has not been here at all since I have."
"You don't think she may have returned lately, without your knowing it?"
"No, I am sure she cannot; I heard of her only a few days ago, in Egypt; Uncle John had a letter from her. Why do you ask, Hugh?"
"Oh—idle curiosity; or curiosity, whether idle or not. And—there are no other young girls?"
"None; that is why I missed Peggy and Rita so terribly, as I was telling you last night. Then the dear children came, and they were my comfort and joy; I shall have them again when the summer is over; happy day it will be when they come back. But, you see, having first the girls and then the children has rather spoiled Uncle John and me, and that is why it was so very particularly nice of you to come, Cousin Hugh."
"Suppose we drop the 'cousin,' and be just Hugh and Margaret?" suggested her cousin. "I am used to having sisters about me, you know, and don't know how to get along without them; some day it may be 'Sister Margaret.' Should you mind?"
Margaret colored high with pleasure, and again the foolish tears came into her eyes. "I have wanted a brother all my life!" she said, simply; and again Hugh's smile told her that he understood all about it. He was certainly a most wonderful person.
They sat in comfortable silence for a few minutes; then—"I did not tell the exact truth," said Margaret, "when I said there were no young people here. Just now it happens there is one, a newcomer, a girl of my own age."
She paused. "Yes?" said Hugh, suggestively. "Some one you know?"
"Yes—and no! I have met her once. She is a Miss Wolfe, who has come to be a sort of companion to Mrs. Peyton. A singular-looking girl, with a most interesting face. I want to see her again; and yet,—somehow,—I am rather afraid of her."
"Is she formidable, this she-wolf?"
"Not formidable, but—well, I don't know how to describe her. She impresses me as different from anybody I have ever seen. Wild is not the word; Rita was wild, but it was something totally different."
"Peggy is wild, too," said Hugh, "wild as a mountain goat, or was, before you took her in hand, Margaret. Is this young lady like Peggy?"
"Oh, not in the very least. She is not shy, not a bit; not shy, and yet not bold. She seems simply absolutely without self-consciousness; it is as if she said and did exactly what she felt like doing, with no thought as to whether it was—well, customary or not. I am afraid I am rather conventional, Cousin—I mean Hugh; not in thought, I hope, but—in temperament, perhaps. This girl strikes me very strangely; that is the only way I can describe her. Yet she attracted me strongly, the only time I saw her, which was the very day you came, by the way. I ought to have gone over to see her before this. I think I will go this evening, while you and Uncle John are having your after-supper smoke."
"I think I would," said Hugh Montfort.
Margaret went over duly that evening, meaning to be very friendly to the strange young woman; but it happened to be one of Mrs. Peyton's bad times, and she sent down word that she needed Miss Wolfe, and could not possibly spare her. Margaret left a civil message, and went home disappointed, and yet the least bit relieved: she had rather dreaded a long tete-a-tete with her new neighbor.
"How absurd you are, Margaret Montfort," she said, severely, as she walked across the park. "Here you have been longing for a girl to talk to, and the moment one comes, you are seized with what Peggy calls 'the shyies,' just because she happens to be cut from a different pattern from your own."
Hugh was on the verandah, waiting for her, and seemed really disappointed when he heard that she had not seen Miss Wolfe; that showed how wide and cordial his interest was, and how much thought he took for others, Margaret told herself. What could he care about the meeting of a cousin he had just begun to know with a girl whom he never had seen?
Next day, however, she forgot all about Miss Wolfe, for the time being. Gerald and Philip Merryweather had accepted Mr. Montfort's invitation with amazing alacrity, and Jean had telegraphed her rapture of anticipation from Ohio. Uncle John and Hugh were left to their own devices, while she plunged, with Elizabeth and Frances and Polly, into intricacies of hospitable preparation. Stores must be ordered, linen examined, silver and china looked out. In regard to the silver, Margaret had an experience that showed her that, even after two years, she did not know all the resources of Fernley House. Her uncle called her into his study after breakfast, and handed her a key of curious pattern. "This is the key of the iron cupboard, Margaret," he said. Seeing her look of surprise, he added, "You surely know about the iron cupboard, my dear?"
"No, Uncle John. I remember hearing Aunt Faith speak of something of the kind once, but I did not rightly understand, and, being shy then,—it was before I knew our Dear so well,—I did not like to ask."
"Oh, there is no mystery, my child. No secret staircase this time, no ghosts in velvet jackets. But in a house like Fernley, that has been inhabited for many generations, there is necessarily an accumulation of certain kinds of things, above all, silver. We keep out all that an ordinary family would be likely to use, and the rest is stored in this safe cupboard, in case of fire or robbery. Very stupid of me not to have told my careful little housekeeper of this before. To tell the truth, I forget all about this hoard most of the time, and might not have thought of it now, if Elizabeth had not come to me with an important face and asked me if I did not think Miss Margaret ought to have the opportunity of putting out The Silver if she wished to do so, being as the house was to be full of company. That meant that Elizabeth herself wanted to display to the astonished eyes of Hugh and the Merryweather boys the resources of the house that she and Frances rule (on the whole, wisely), through you and me, their deputies and servants. I see no reason why the good souls should not be gratified do you?"
"On the contrary, I see every reason why they, and I too, should be gratified. Uncle John, I am glad I did not know about it before. It is the most delightful thing about Fernley, that one never seems to come to the end of it. I thought I knew everything by this time, and here is another enchanting mystery; for say what you will, Uncle John, an iron cupboard full of old silver, that nobody knows about,—or hardly anybody,—is a mystery. Now I am sure there are others, too; I shall never feel again that I know all about the house. Some day, when I am old and gray, I shall come upon another secret staircase, or a trap-door, or a hidden jewel-casket, or a lost will."
"Why, as to jewel-caskets," said Mr. Montfort, smiling, "there is perhaps something that might be said; but as you say, it would never do to find out everything at once, May Margaret. Run away now, and examine your tea-kettles; there are about forty, if I remember rightly."
"Uncle John! is there really a jewel-casket? What do you mean? There cannot be any more than those Aunt Faith had, surely."
"Can't there?" said Mr. Montfort, with a provoking smile. "Doubtless you know best, my dear." And not another word would he say on the subject; but he told Margaret where to find the iron cupboard, and she ran off in such a flutter that Peggy would hardly have known her model and mentor. Old silver was one of Margaret's weak points; indeed, she had a strong feeling about heirlooms of every kind, and treasured carefully every scrap of paper even that had any association with past times.
Seeing Hugh in the library, she called to him. "Hugh! come with me and see the Treasure Chamber of the Montforts. Don't you want to see the ancestral silver?"
"Of course I do!" said Hugh, laying down his book and coming to join her. "Ancestral silver? My mother went to housekeeping with six teaspoons and a butter-knife, and thought herself rich. Uncle John wanted to send a trunkful of family silver, I have been told, but the Pater refused to be bothered with it. Poor Mother would have been glad enough of it, I fancy, but in those days he was masterful, and bent on roughing it, and would not hear of anything approaching luxury, or even convenience. Where is this wonderful treasury?"
"Come, and you shall see. Uncle John has told me how to find it. Come through this door; here we are in his own study, you see. Now—let me see! I will light this lamp—for the cupboard is dark—while you look and find Inigo Jones."
"Yes. A tall blue morocco quarto, about the middle of the fourth shelf of the bookcase behind Uncle John's desk. Ah! I see him!"
Springing forward, Margaret drew the stately volume from its place. "Look!" she cried. "A keyhole. Hugh, isn't this exactly like the 'Mysteries of Udolpho?' 'Inigo Jones' is his joke, you see, or somebody's joke. Do you mind if I turn the key, Hugh?"
"Turn away!" said Hugh, much amused at the excitement of his staid little cousin.
With a trembling hand Margaret turned the key, and gave a pull, as she had been told. A section of the bookcase, with its load of books, swung slowly forward, revealing a dark opening. Margaret stepped in, and Hugh followed, holding the lamp aloft.
"Well, upon my word!" he said. "I never heard of anything like this, out of the 'Arabian Nights.'"
Margaret was looking about her, too much absorbed for words. The Iron Cupboard was a recess some ten feet deep and seven or eight wide, lined with shelves. These shelves were literally packed with silver, some in boxes, much in bags, glimmering in the half-light like dwarfish ghosts; but the greater part uncovered, glittering in tarnished splendor wherever the lamplight fell. Rows upon rows of teapots, tall and squat, round and oval, chased, hammered, and plain; behind them, coffee-pots looking down, in every possible device. There were silver pitchers and silver bowls; porringers and fruit-dishes, salvers and platters. Such an array as might dazzle the eyes of any silversmith of moderate ambition.
"Well, Margaret," said Hugh, somewhat impressed, but more amused, at sight of all this hoarded treasure, "what do you say? I shall leave the expression of emotion to you."
But Margaret was in no jesting mood. With clasped hands she turned to her cousin. "Oh, Hugh," she cried, "isn't it wonderful? to think of all those beautiful things living here alone,—I don't mean alone, but all by themselves—year after year, with no one to see them, or take them out and polish them. Oh, I never saw such things! Look at this perfect pitcher, will you? did you ever see anything so graceful? This must come in, if nothing else does. The milk shall be poured from it from this day forward, as long as I am the Mistress of Fernley. That is just a play-name, of course," she hastened to explain, blushing as she did so. "Uncle John gave it to me in sport, when I first began to try to keep house."
"It seems to me a most appropriate name," said Hugh. "There has never been another, has there? in this generation, I mean. Uncle John was never married, was he?"
"No; isn't it a pity? I have so often wondered why. I asked Aunt Faith once,—well, Hugh, of course she was Mistress of Fernley as long as she lived, though she would always speak of herself as a visitor,—and she only sighed and shook her head, and said, 'Poor John! poor dear lad!' and then changed the subject. But—do you suppose any one can hear us here, Hugh?"
"I do not, Margaret. I should say that you might safely tell me anything, of however fearful a nature, in this iron-bound retreat."
"Oh, it really isn't anything—or perhaps it is not—but my own fancy. I have built up a kind of air-castle of the past, that is all. You know Uncle John's passion for roses? Well, and sometimes, when he is sitting quietly and has forgotten that any one is near, he will say to himself, 'Rose! Rose!' softly, just like that, and as if it were something he loved to say. I have wondered whether he once cared a great deal for some one whose name was Rose.—What do you think, Hugh? and she died, and that is why he has never married. There! I have never spoken of this before, not even to Peggy. Don't tell any one, will you?"
She looked anxiously in her cousin's face, and met the grave, sweet look that always made her feel safe and quiet; she did not know how else to express it.
"Tell any one? No indeed, my dear little cousin. It is a young girl's fancy, and a very sweet and graceful one."
"Then you don't think it may be true?" asked Margaret, disappointed.
"Certainly it may be true; I should think it highly probable that something of the sort had happened, to keep a man like Uncle John single all his days; but—well, I don't see that anything can be done about it now, do you?"
"Hugh, I am afraid you are practical, after all!" said Margaret. "And I was hoping you would turn out romantic."
Hugh only laughed, and asked her if she had chosen all the silver she wanted. This question put a stop at once to Margaret's romantic visions. Enough? but, she had only just begun, she said. Did he think she was going to take one pitcher and leave all the rest of these enchanting treasures?
"And we have not explored the boxes yet!" she cried. "See, they all have dear little ivory labels. Do reach me down that fat square box, please! 'Col. Montfort's Tankard, 1814.' Oh, that was our great-great-grandfather, Hugh! Do let us open this!"
The black leathern box, being opened, revealed a stately glass-bottomed tankard, with a dragon's curling tail for a handle. On the front was an inscription, "Presented to Col. Peter Montfort, in token of respect and affection, by the officers of his mess, July, 1814."
"His portrait is up in the long gallery," said Margaret. "Don't you remember, with the high ruffled stock? I don't see how he could speak, with his chin so very high in the air. Now I must have that oval green case; I am sure that is something interesting. 'General Washington's Gift.' Oh, Hugh!"
This time Hugh was as much interested as she, and both bent eagerly over the box as Margaret opened it. The case was of faded green morocco, lined with crimson satin. Within was an oval cup or bowl, of exquisite workmanship; it was what is called a loving-cup, and Margaret looked in vain for an inscription.
"There must be one!" said Hugh. "Papa Patriae would not have been so unkind as to leave such a thing unmarked. Look on the bottom, Margaret!"
Margaret looked, and there, to be sure, was a tolerably long inscription, in minute script.
"Hold the light nearer, please; I can hardly read this, it is so fine. Oh, listen to this, Hugh! 'For my worthy Friend and Host, Roger Montfort Esquire, and his estimable Lady, in grateful Recollection of my agreeable Stay beneath their hospitable Roof. From their obliged Friend and Servant, G. Washington. 1776.'"
"That is a treasure!" said Hugh, handling the bowl with reverent care. "I knew that General Washington had spent some days at Fernley, but I never heard of this relic of his stay. Margaret, this is really extremely interesting. Go on, and open more of them. Perhaps we shall find tokens of all the Continental Congress. I shall look for at least a model of a kite in silver, with the compliments of B. Franklin. Suppose we try this next. It looks very inviting."
He took down an oblong box of curious pattern, and opened it. "What upon earth—Margaret, what are these? Grape-scissors? Asparagus-tongs? They don't look like either."
"I should think not!" said Margaret, taking the object from his hand. "Why, it is a pair of curling-tongs. What queer things! No inscription on these; there isn't room for one. Here is a piece of paper in the box, though."
She took up a yellowish scrap, and read: "'My niece Jemima's curling-tongs, with which she, being impatient to make a Show above her Sisters, did burn off one Side of her Hair. Preserved as a Warning to young Women by me, Tabitha Montfort. 1803.' Poor Jemima! She was punished enough, without being held up to posterity in this way."
"She was an extravagant young lady," said Hugh, "with her silver tongs; I think it may have been good for her soul, if not her hair, to suffer this infliction. Are you going to keep these out, Margaret, for use? I do hope you will be more careful than Aunt Jemima was. Your hair—excuse me!—looks as if you had not used the irons for some time."
Margaret laughed, and patted the smooth waves of her hair. "It is some time!" she said. "Yours, on the other hand, Hugh, has more curl than may be altogether natural. I may have suspected you of the tongs, but at least I have had the charity to keep my suspicions to myself."
"You are extremely good, Miss Montfort. What have you got hold of now?"
"'Dear Johnny's Rattle!'" said Margaret, reading the label on a small box. "I wonder if that was Uncle John. See! silver bells; what a sweet tone!"
She shook a merry peal from the tiny bells. Hugh, who had been rummaging at the other end of the cupboard, replied with a clear blast blown on a small silver trumpet, which he now held up in triumph. "Here we are!" he cried. "This is the instrument for me. This was presented to Captain Hugh Montfort of the navy. What on earth could the gallant commander do with this at sea?"
"Whistle for a wind, of course," said Margaret, merrily. "What else? Come here and look at Grandfather Montfort's gold-bowed spectacles; they are big enough for an ox."
So the talk went on merrily, and box after box, bag after bag, was opened, sometimes with astonishing results. The bygone Montforts seemed to have been fond of silver, and to have vied with one another in their ingenious applications of it to domestic uses.
Many of the objects had historic or personal interest, and the two cousins might have spent the day there, if Mr. Montfort had not suddenly appeared, asking whether he was to have any dinner or not. Margaret had her arms full by this time, while Hugh was trying his best to carry a splendid fruit-bowl, a salver, two pitchers, and three vases, all at once. Mr. Montfort burst out laughing at sight of the pair. "Cassim and Ali Baba!" he cried. "And I, the Robber Captain, with not a single one of all the Forty Thieves at my back. Margaret, for charity's sake! you are not going to bring all that rubbish into the house? Isn't there enough already? I'm sorry I told you anything about it."
Margaret looked up, guilty but happy, from her effort at capturing a fourth vase with her little finger, the only one left unencumbered. "Dear Uncle, you never would be so cruel!" she said. "See! I have only taken one chocolate-pot, and there are five, such beauties! Yes, I know we don't drink chocolate, but some of our guests might, and you would not have me neglect the guests, would you, Uncle John?"
"Sooner than have a guest take his chocolate from a china pot," said Mr. Montfort, gravely, "I would go to the stake. At present, if you will pardon a very old joke, my dear Margaret, I should prefer to go to the beefsteak, which I have reason to think is on the table at this moment. Come out, both of you young thieves, and let Inigo Jones go in again!"
The great day came, the day of the arrivals. Jean was the first to come, by an early train, having arrived in New York the night before, where Hugh met her and brought her in triumph to Fernley. Margaret was at the door to receive her, and Peggy's sister had no cause to complain of the warmth of her reception. She was a slenderer Peggy, with the same blue, honest eyes, the same flaxen hair and rosy cheeks. Her dress, however, was far more tasteful and neat than Peggy's had been on her first arrival. Margaret recalled the green flannel, all buttoned awry, and looked with approval on Jean's pretty gray travelling-dress.
"Dear Jean!" she said, kissing her cousin warmly. "Most welcome to Fernley, dear child! Oh, I am so glad to see you! I have been counting the days, Jean."
"Oh, so have I!" said Jean, looking up with a shy, sweet smile,—Peggy's very own smile. Margaret kissed her again for it. "The last day did seem awfully long, Cousin Margaret—well, Margaret, then! I'm sure I never call you anything but Peggy's Margaret when I think of you. Peggy hasn't come yet?"
"Not yet. She will be here this afternoon, on the three o'clock train. She knows nothing about your coming, Jean. In her very last letter, she was talking about being glad to come here, and so on, and she said the only thing wanting would be you."
"Oh, goody! I'm awfully glad—that she doesn't know, I mean. It will be just lovely to surprise her. Dear old Peg!" Jean relapsed into bashful silence when Margaret took her into the library to greet her uncle; but Mr. Montfort's smile and cordial greeting soon put her at her ease.
"Isn't he just lovely?" she whispered to Margaret, as they went up-stairs. "I was afraid he would be awful, somehow, but he isn't a bit; he's just lovely."
Margaret assented, making a mental note of the fact that this child seemed to have but two adjectives in her vocabulary. "Peggy will see to that!" she said to herself. "Peggy has improved so wonderfully in her English this last year. She will be quicker than I to notice and take up the little mistakes."
This was not strictly true, though modest Margaret meant it so. Peggy certainly had learned much at school, but her teachers had no expectation of her becoming an eminent English scholar.
"I have put you with Peggy," said Margaret, leading the way into the pretty room, hung with red-poppy chintz, where Peggy had spent a few sad and many happy hours. "I thought you would rather be together."
"Oh, yes, indeed! You are awfully kind, Cous—Margaret. I haven't seen Peggy for a year, you know. We missed her awfully at Christmas, of course, but she had a lovely time here; and it would have been awful if she had come home and got the measles, wouldn't it?"
"Yes, we did have a very good time. The children were here,—Basil and Susan D.,—and they and Peggy were fast friends. Oh, yes, it was a great holiday. Now, dear, you will want to rest a little, so I will leave you. Peggy will not be here till after lunch, so you will have time for a good rest, and to explore the garden, too, if you like. I am going now to arrange my flowers."
"Oh, might I help? I am not a bit tired, and I just love to arrange flowers. Do let me help, Margaret!"
"Very well," said Margaret, with a little inward sigh. She had her own ideas, and very definite ones, about the arrangement of flowers, in which she had exquisite taste; and her recollection of the way in which Peggy used to squeeze handfuls of blossoms tight into a vase, without regard to color or form, made her dread the assistance so heartily proffered; but Jean was quicker than Peggy had been at her age, and one glance at Margaret's first "effect," a rainbow combination of sweet-peas, showering over the side of a crystal bowl, filled her with ambition to emulate its beauty. The morning passed happily and busily, the more so that Hugh came in presently, with a chapter of Thoreau that Margaret "really must hear!" He read well, and his taste and Margaret's being much alike, they spent many pleasant hours together, he reading aloud, she with her flowers or her work. Jean, who had never heard of Thoreau, and was not bookish, tried to listen, but did not make much of it. She fell to meditating instead, and her bright eyes wandered curiously from one intent face to the other. Hugh never thought of reading aloud at home. To be sure, he was the only one who cared about reading, or had time for it. He and Margaret seemed to know each other very well, seeing what a short time he had been here. Jean, with all the eager romance of fifteen, straightway began the building of an air-castle, which seemed to her a fine structure indeed. Meantime, Hugh and Margaret, all unconscious of her scrutiny, were enjoying themselves extremely.
"'As polishing expresses the vein in marble and grain in wood, so music brings out what of heroic lurks anywhere. . . . When we are in health, all sounds fife and drum to us; we hear notes of music in the air, or catch its echoes dying away when we awake in the dawn. Marching is when the pulse of the hero beats in unison with the pulse of Nature, and he steps to the measure of the universe; then there is true courage and invincible strength.'"
"How beautiful that is!" said Margaret.
"Yes; that is the particular passage I wanted to read to you. Have you ever had that feeling, fancying that you wake to the sound of music? I often have, when I have been sleeping out in the open—never within doors."
"No," said Margaret, "I don't think I ever have, Hugh; but what a pleasant thing it must be! I have never slept in the open, but even if I should, I fear my waking would be plain prose, like myself."
Hugh laughed, and glanced at her affectionately. "I haven't found much prose about you, Margaret," he said. "If I had, I should not have read you my secrets when Thoreau tells them for me. That reminds me, do you sing? I have not heard you, have I?"
"No; I wish I did, for I love music very much. Oh, I sing a very little, enough to join in a chorus—if there ever were a chorus at Fernley. I used to enjoy Rita's singing intensely; she has a very sweet voice."
"Some one was singing last night," Hugh went on; "I don't know why, but this passage reminds me—I heard a woman's voice singing,—a remarkable voice."
"Indeed? Where were you? Not in your room? I am sure there is no one in the house who sings."
"No; it was pretty warm, and the moon—well, you remember, it was all you could do to go to bed yourself, Margaret. After Virtue, in the shape of yourself and Uncle John, had gone to bed, Vice, in my shape, wandered about the garden, I don't know how long. It was wonderful there, with the trees, and the smell of the roses and box, and—and the whole thing, you know. Down at the foot of the garden, over in the meadow below, some one was singing; some one with a remarkable voice; rather deep-toned, not loud, and yet full, with an extraordinary degree of melody; or, so it seemed at a distance. I wondered who it was, that was all. You have no idea, I suppose?"
"No! I wonder too, very much. No one from this house, I am sure of that. Now that I think of it, though, Polly sings—Polly, the under housemaid; she has a pretty little bird-like voice, but nothing such as you describe. I'll make inquiries, though—"
"Oh, pray don't!" said Hugh, hastily, "I'd rather not! I—I mean, of course, it is not of the smallest consequence, Margaret. It is pleasant to hear singing at night, but perhaps all the pleasanter when the singer is unseen and unknown. Now let us go on with our Thoreau."
* * * * *
"Margaret! Margaret! Margaret!"
It was all Peggy could say at first. All the way up the avenue her heart had been beating high; at sight of the brown chimney-stacks of Fernley, it seemed to give a great jump up in her throat; and when the carriage swept round the curve, and she saw the whole front of the great house, and Margaret, her own Margaret, standing on the steps, with arms outstretched to welcome her, there was nothing for it but to cry out, with the full power of her healthy lungs. Almost before Bannan could stop the horses, she had scrambled out, and was on her cousin's neck, strangling her with hugs, and smothering her with kisses at the same instant. "Margaret! Margaret! I am really here! Do you know that I am really here?"
Speech was impossible for Margaret, but a voice from behind broke in:
"Come, come! what is all this? My niece done to death on my own doorstep? Let go, Peggy, and come and kill me instead. I am older, and shall be less missed."
Peggy loosed her hold, somewhat abashed, but received an embrace from her uncle so warm that she brightened again instantly.
"Oh, Uncle John, how do you do? It was only that I was so glad to see my darling Margaret. Did I hurt you, dearest? I have pulled all your lovely hair down; Margaret, I am more clumsy than ever, I do believe."
"Dear Peggy! as if I cared whether you are clumsy or not! though it is convenient to have the use of my windpipe, I confess. Well, and here you are, indeed. Why, Peggy!"
"What is it, Margaret?"
"Oh, dear! what is the matter? Is my hat wrong side before? I know my necktie is crooked, but I couldn't help that, truly I couldn't, Margaret; the strap is broken, and it will work round under my ear. I'll mend it—"
"I wasn't looking at your necktie, child. Peggy, you are taller than I am! How dare you, miss?"
"Oh, Margaret! I really thought I had done something—why, yes, so I am taller; but only just the least little bit, Margaret."
"And your shoulders—why, Peggy, you are a great big creature! How can any one grow so in six months? We shall have to call you Brynhild."
"What's that?" asked Peggy, simply. "I haven't grown enough to understand outlandish words, Margaret, so you need not try them on me. Oh,"—she looked around her with delighted eyes,—"how beautiful everything looks, Uncle John. Why, the yellow birch has grown as much as I have; it is quite a fat tree. And—you have put out more chestnuts, haven't you? And—oh, Uncle John, I haven't told you my great news! The most wonderful news! I wouldn't write about it, because I wanted to surprise you. Hugh, our Hugh, is coming East. He is—"
"What is he?" said another voice, and Hugh came forward laughing, and took his sister in his arms. "Well, little girl,—big, enormous, colossal little girl, how are you? Shut your eyes, Peg of Limavaddy, or they will drop out, and then what should we do?"
"Hugh! what does it mean? When—how did you get here? You weren't to start till next week."
"So I wasn't," said Hugh, composedly. "But you see I did. If you are not glad to see me, Margaret will let me stay in the back kitchen, I am sure, till you go away."
Peggy's only reply was a hug as powerful as the one she had given Margaret; it set her brother coughing and laughing till the tears came to his eye. "My dear sister," he said, "have you been studying grips with a grizzly bear? I felt one rib go, if not two."
"Not really, Hugh? I didn't really hurt you?" cried Peggy, anxiously.
"No, no! not really. See now, Margaret wants you. Run along, Samsonina."
Peggy ran into the house, casting delighted glances all about her.
"How beautiful the hall looks! Oh, Margaret, what flowers! why, it is a perfect flower show! Did you do them all yourself? for me? Oh, you darling!" and again Margaret's breath was extinguished by a powerful embrace. "And, oh, the surprise of seeing Hugh! You know I love a surprise. You planned it for me, didn't you, darling Margaret? You are the most angelic—"
"Peggy! Peggy! Peggy! no extravagance!"
"No, Margaret, I won't. Only how can I help it, when I am so happy, and you are so—"
But here Margaret fairly laid her hand over Peggy's mouth. "I did not plan Hugh's coming," she said. "I was as much surprised, and as pleasantly, as you, Peggy. He came earlier than he had expected, on account of some business for Uncle James. Only, we all agreed that we would not tell you, because we knew your fondness for surprises. Do you think you could bear another, Peggy, or is this enough for to-day?"
"What do you mean, Margaret? There can't be anything more. Nothing could count after the joy of seeing Hugh. Oh, Margaret, isn't he dear? Don't you love him?"
"Indeed I do!" said Margaret, heartily. "You never said half enough about him, Peggy. Oh, we are such friends, Uncle John and Hugh and I. But is there no other thing you can think of that you would like, Peggy, dear? No one else you would like very, very much to see?"
They were now at the door of Peggy's room, and Margaret's hand was on the door. Peggy turned and looked at her in wonder. "What do you mean, Margaret? Why do you look like that?" At this moment a sound was heard on the other side of the door, something between a cry, a sniffle, and a sob.
"Who is in there?" cried Peggy, her eyes opening to their fullest and roundest extent.
"Go in and see," said Margaret, and she opened the door and pushed Peggy gently in, and shut it again.
She heard a great cry. "Jean! my Jean!" "Oh, Peggy! Peggy!" then kissing and hugging; and then sounds which made her open the door and come quickly into the room. Peggy and Jean were seated on the floor, side by side, their heads on each other's shoulder, crying as if their hearts would break.
HISTORY REPEATS ITSELF
"What do you think of them?"
"Oh, I think they are just lovely. I like the tall one best, don't you? Though the red-haired one is awfully nice, too."
"Goose! I didn't mean them. I meant Uncle John and Margaret. Aren't they dear? Did I say half enough about them, Jean?"
"No, not half. Margaret is just too lovely for anything, and Uncle John—well, of course, I am awfully afraid of him, but he is just lovely, too."
"Look here, young one!" said Peggy the Venerable, gravely. "Can't you say anything except 'awful' and 'lovely?' I would enlarge my vocabulary, if I were you."
Jean opened her eyes to their roundest. "Vocabulary! What's that? Don't tell me that you are going to set up for a school-teacher, Peggy. Why, you used to say 'awful' yourself, all the time."
"Oh, no, Jean, not quite all the time."
"Well, awfully often, anyhow. I know you did."
"Oh, Jean, I know I did. But first Margaret told me about it, and then I began to notice for myself. I've been taking Special English this year, and I find I notice more and more. It's really a pity, as Margaret says, to have only two or three words and work them to death, when there are so many good ones that we never use at all. Grace used to call it 'Cruelty to Syllables.'"
"Well, what shall I say? I don't know anything else."
"Yes, you do; don't be absurd, child. Margaret made me a list of adjectives and adverbs once, I remember, the first time I was here; I was just your age then, Jean, and I have no doubt I did say 'awfully' most of the time; anyhow, I did it enough to trouble Margaret aw—very much indeed. Let me see: there is 'very,' of course; 'remarkably, extremely, uncommonly, exceedingly, and excessively;' then for adjectives, 'charming, delightful, pretty, exquisite, pleasant, agreeable, entertaining,'—well, there were a great many more, but that is all I can think of now; all these will do instead of 'awful' and 'lovely,' Jean."
"Oh, Peggy, dear, you are a regular school-ma'am. Please don't let us talk about all these horrid things, the first night I am here. I am perfectly dying to know what you think about the two Mr. Merryweathers, and about Hugh and Margaret."