By Laura E. Richards
Each large 12mo, cloth decorative, illustrated, per volume, $1.75
Queen Hildegarde Hildegarde's Holiday Hildegarde's Home Hildegarde's Neighbors Hildegarde's Harvest Three Margarets Margaret Montfort Peggy Rita Fernley House The Merryweathers
The above eleven volumes boxed as a set, $19.25
L. C. PAGE & COMPANY 53 Beacon Street, Boston, Mass.
THE HILDEGARDE SERIES
A STORY FOR GIRLS
LAURA E. RICHARDS
"The Margaret Series," "The Hildegarde Series," "Captain January," "Melody," "Five Minute Stories," etc.
THE PAGE COMPANY
Copyright, 1891 BY ESTES AND LAURIAT
Made in U. S. A.
Twenty-fourth Impression, May, 1927 Twenty-fifth Impression, January, 1930
THE COLONIAL PRESS C. H. SIMONDS CO., BOSTON, U. S. A.
To H. R.
I. INTRODUCTORY 11
II. MISS WEALTHY 20
III. THE ORCHARD 34
IV. THE DOCTORS 53
V. ON THE RIVER 74
VI. A MORNING DRIVE 94
VII. A "STORY EVENING" 126
VIII. FLOWER-DAY 151
IX. BROKEN FLOWERS 178
X. THE HOUSE IN THE WOOD 201
XI. "UP IN THE MORNING EARLY" 222
XII. BENNY 241
XIII. A SURPRISE 254
XIV. TELEMACHUS GOES A-FISHING 278
XV. THE GREAT SCHEME 300
XVI. THE WIDOW BRETT 314
XVII. OLD MR. COLT 337
XVIII. JOYOUS GARD 354
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
PAGE "'DO TELL US ABOUT HER, PLEASE!'" (p. 128) Frontispiece "'AND EVERYTHING IS RIGHT FOR SUPPER, MARTHA?'" 23 "'DO SAY IT'S ALL RIGHT, JEREMIAH!'" 77 "THEN THEY HUGGED EACH OTHER A LITTLE" 111 "'DON'T YOU THINK WE HAVE ENOUGH FLOWERS, ROSY?'" 174 "SO DOWN PLUMPED HILDEGARDE" 194 "'OH, SUCH A DEE OLE KITTY!'" 247 "'NOT A THING IN THE HOUSE!'" 333
In a small waiting-room at Blank Hospital a girl was walking up and down, with quick, impatient steps. Every few minutes she stopped to listen; then, hearing no sound, she resumed her walk, with hands clasped and lips set firmly together. She was evidently in a state of high nervous excitement, for the pupils of her eyes were so dilated that they flashed black as night instead of gray; and a bright red spot burned in either cheek. In the corner, in an attitude of anxious dejection, sat a small dog. He had tried following his mistress at first, when she began her walk, and finding that the promenade took them nowhere and was very monotonous, had tried to vary the monotony by worrying her heels in a playful manner; whereupon he had been severely reprimanded, and sent into the corner, from which he dared not emerge. He was trying, with his usual lack of success, to fathom the motives which prompted human beings to such strange and undoglike actions, when suddenly a door opened, and a lady and gentleman came in. The girl sprang forward. "Mamma!" she cried. "Doctor!"
"It is all right, my dear," said the doctor, quickly; while the lady, whose name was Mrs. Grahame, took the girl in her arms quietly, and kissed her. "It is all right; everything has gone perfectly, and in a few days your lovely friend will be better than she has ever been since she was a baby."
Hildegarde Grahame sat down, and leaning her head on her mother's shoulder, burst into tears.
"Exactly!" said the good doctor. "The best thing you could do, my child! Do you want to hear the rest now, or shall I leave it for your mother to tell?"
"Let her hear it all from you, Doctor," said Mrs. Grahame. "It will do her more good than anything else."
Hildegarde looked up and nodded, and smiled through her tears.
"Well," said the cheerful physician, "Miss Angel (her own name is an impossibility, and does not belong to her) has really borne the operation wonderfully. Marvellously!" he repeated. "The constitution, you see, was originally good. There was a foundation to work upon; that means everything, in a case like this. Now all that she requires is to be built up,—built up! Beef tea, chicken broth, wine jelly, and as soon as practicable, fresh air and exercise,—there is your programme, Miss Hildegarde; I think I can depend upon you to carry it out."
The girl stretched out her hand, which he grasped warmly. "Dear, good doctor!" she said; whereupon the physician growled, and went and looked out of the window.
"And how soon will she be able to walk?" asked the happy Hildegarde, drying her eyes and smiling through the joyful tears. "And when may I see her, Doctor? and how does she look, Mamma darling?"
"Place aux dames!" said the Doctor. "You may answer first, Mrs. Grahame, though your question came last."
"Dear, she looks like a white rose!" replied Mrs. Grahame. "She is sleeping quietly, with no trace of pain on her sweet face. Her breathing is as regular as a baby's; all the nurses are coming on tiptoe to look at her, and they all say, 'Bless her!' when they move away."
"My turn now," said Dr. Flower. "You may see her, Miss Hildegarde, the day after to-morrow, if all goes well, as I am tolerably sure it will; and she will be able to walk—well, say in a month."
"Oh! a month!" cried Hildegarde, dolefully. "Do you mean that she cannot walk at all till then, Doctor?"
"Why, Hilda!" said Mrs. Grahame, in gentle protest. "Pink has not walked for fourteen years, remember; surely a month is a very short time for her to learn in."
"I suppose so," said the girl, still looking disappointed, however.
"Oh, she will begin before that!" said Dr. Flower. "She will begin in ten days, perhaps. Little by little, you know,—a step at a time. In a fortnight she may go out to drive; in fact, carriage exercise will be a very good thing for her. An easy carriage, a gentle horse, a careful driver—"
"Oh, you best of doctors!" cried Hildegarde, her face glowing again with delight. "Mamma, is not that exactly what we want? I do believe we can do it, after all. You see, Doctor—Oh, tell him, Mammy dear! You will tell him so much better."
"Hildegarde has had a very delightful plan for this summer, Doctor," said Mrs. Graham, "ever since you gave us the happy hope that this operation, after the year of treatment, would restore our dear Rose to complete health. A kinswoman of mine, a very lovely old lady, who lives in Maine, spent a part of last winter with us, and became much interested in Rose,—or Pink, as we used to call her."
"But we don't call her so now, Mammy!" cried Hildegarde, impetuously. "Rose is exactly as much her own name, and she likes it much better; and even Bubble says it is prettier. But I didn't mean to interrupt, Mammy dear. Go on, please!"
"So," continued Mrs. Grahame, smiling, "Cousin Wealthy invited the two girls to make her a long visit this summer, as soon as Rose should be able to travel. I am sure it would be a good thing for the child, if you think the journey would not be too much for her; for it is a lovely place where Cousin Wealthy lives, and she would have the best of care."
"Capital!" cried Dr. Flower; "the very thing! She shall be able to travel, my dear madam. We will pack her in cotton wool if necessary; but it will not be necessary. It is now—let me see—May 10th; yes, quite so! By the 15th of June you may start on your travels, Miss Hildegarde. There is a railway near your cousin's home, Mrs Grahame?"
"Oh, yes!" cried Hilda. "It goes quite near, doesn't it, Mamma?"
"Within two or three miles," said Mrs. Grahame; "and the carriage road is very good."
"That is settled, then!" said Dr. Flower, rising; "and a very good thing too. And now I must go at once and tell the good news to that bright lad, Miss Rose's brother. He is at school, I think you said?"
"Yes," replied Hildegarde. "He said he would rather not know the exact day, since he could not be allowed to help. Good Bubble! he has been so patient and brave, though I know he has thought of nothing else day and night. Thank you, Doctor, for being so kind as to let him know. Good-by!"
But when Dr. Flower went out into the hall, he saw standing opposite the door a boy, neatly dressed and very pale, with burning eyes, which met his in an agony of inquiry.
"She is all right," said the physician, quickly. "She is doing extremely well, and will soon be able to walk like other people. How upon earth did you know?" he added, in some vexation, seeing that the sudden relief from terrible anxiety was almost more than the lad could bear. "What idiot told you?"
Bubble Chirk gave one great sob; but the next moment he controlled himself. "Nobody told me," he said; "I knew. I can't tell you how, sir, but—I knew!"
It was the 17th of June, and Miss Wealthy Bond was expecting her young visitors. Twice she had gone over the house, with Martha trotting at her heels, to see that everything was in order, and now she was making a third tour of inspection; not because she expected to find anything wrong, but because it was a pleasure to see that everything was right.
Miss Wealthy Bond was a very pretty old lady, and was very well aware of the fact, having been told so during seventy years. "The Lord made me pleasant to look at," she was wont to say, "and it is a great privilege, my dear; but it is also a responsibility." She had lovely, rippling silver hair, and soft blue eyes, and a complexion like a girl's. She had put on to-day, for the first time, her summer costume,—a skirt and jacket of striped white dimity, open a little at the neck, with a kerchief of soft white net inside. This kerchief was fastened with quite the prettiest brooch that ever was,—a pansy, made of five deep, clear amethysts, set in a narrow rim of chased gold. Miss Wealthy always wore this brooch; for in winter it harmonized as well with her gown of lilac cashmere as it did in summer with the white dimity. At her elbow stood Martha; it was her place in life. She seldom had to be called; but was always there when Miss Wealthy wanted anything, standing a step back, but close beside her beloved mistress. Martha carried her aureole in her pocket, or somewhere else out of sight; but she was a saint all the same. Her gray hair was smooth, and she wore spectacles with silver rims, and a gray print gown, with the sleeves invariably rolled up to the elbows, except on Sundays, when she put on her black cashmere, and spent the afternoon in uneasy state.
"I think the room looks very pretty, Martha," said Miss Wealthy, for the tenth time.
"It does, Mam," replied Martha, as heartily as if she had not heard the remark before. "Proper nice it looks, I'm sure."
"You mended that little place in the curtain, did you, Martha?"
"I did, Mam. I don't think as you could find it now, unless you looked very close."
"And you put lavender and orange-flower water in the bottles? Very well; then that's all, I think."
Miss Wealthy gave one more contented look round the pretty room, with its gay rose-flowering chintz, its cool straw matting, and comfortable cushioned window-seats, and then drew the blinds exactly half-way down, and left the room, Martha carefully closing the door.
In the cool, shady drawing-room all was in perfect order too. There were flowers in the tall Indian vases on the mantelpiece, a great bowl of roses on the mosaic centre-table, and, as usual, a bunch of pansies on the little round table by the armchair in which Miss Wealthy always sat. She established herself there now, and took up her knitting with a little sigh of contentment.
"And everything is right for supper, Martha?" she asked.
"Yes, Mam," said Martha. "A little chicken-pie, Mam, and French potatoes, and honey. I should be making the biscuit now, Mam, if you didn't need me."
"Oh no, Martha," said the old lady, "I don't need anything. We shall hear the wheels when they come."
She looked out of the window, across the pleasant lawn, at the blue river, and seemed for a moment as if she were going to ask Martha whether that were all right. But she said nothing, and the saint in gray print trotted away to her kitchen.
"Dear Martha!" said Miss Wealthy, settling herself comfortably among her cushions. "It is a great privilege to have Martha. I do hope these dear girls will not put her out. She grows a little set in her ways as she grows older, my good Martha. I don't think that blind is quite half-way down. It makes the whole room look askew, doesn't it?"
She rose, and pulled the blind straight, patted a tidy on the back of a chair, and settled herself among her cushions again, with another critical glance at the river. A pause ensued, during which the old lady's needles clicked steadily; then, at last, the sound of wheels was heard, and putting her work down in exactly the same spot from which she had taken it up, Miss Wealthy went out on the piazza to welcome her young guests.
Hildegarde sprang lightly from the carriage, and gave her hand to her companion to help her out.
"Dear Cousin Wealthy," she cried, "here we are, safe and sound. I am coming to kiss you in one moment. Carefully, Rose dear! Lean on me, so! there you are! now take my arm. Slowly, slowly! See, Cousin Wealthy! see how well she walks! Isn't it delightful?"
"It is, indeed!" said the old lady, heartily, kissing first the glowing cheek and then the pale one, as the girls came up to her. "And how do you do, my dears? I am very glad indeed to see you. Rose, you look so much better, I should hardly have known you; and you, Hilda, look like June itself. I must call Martha—" But Martha was there, at her elbow. "Oh, Martha! here are the young ladies."
Hildegarde shook hands warmly with Martha, and Rose gave one of her shy, sweet smiles.
"This is Miss Hildegarde," said the old lady; "and this is Miss Rose. Perhaps you will take them up to their rooms now, Martha, and Jeremiah can take the trunks up. We will have supper, my dears, as soon as you are ready; for I am sure you must be hungry."
"Yes, we are as hungry as hunters, Cousin Wealthy!" cried Hildegarde. "We shall frighten you with our appetites, I fear. This way, Martha? Yes, in one minute. Rose dear, I will put my arm round you, and you can take hold of the stair-rail. Slowly now!"
They ascended the stairs slowly, and Hildegarde did not loose her hold of her friend until she had seated her in a comfortable easy-chair in the pretty chintz bedroom.
"There, dear!" she said anxiously, stooping to unfasten her cloak. "Are you very dreadfully tired?"
"Oh no!" replied Rose, cheerfully; "not at all dreadfully tired, only comfortably. I ache a little, of course, but—Oh, what a pleasant room! And this chair is comfort itself."
"The window-seat for me!" cried Hildegarde, tossing her hat on the bed, and then leaning out of the window with both arms on the sill. "Rose, don't move! I forbid you to stir hand or foot. I will tell you while you are resting. There is a river,—a great, wide, beautiful river, just across the lawn."
"Well, dear," said quiet Rose, smiling, "you knew there was a river; your mother told us so."
"Yes, Goose, I did know it," cried Hildegarde; "but I had not seen it, and didn't know what it was like. It is all blue, with sparkles all over it, and little brown flurries where the wind strikes it. There are willows all along the edge—"
"To hang our harps on?" inquired Rose.
"Precisely!" replied Hildegarde. "And I think—Rose, I do see a boat-house! My dear, this is bliss! We will bathe every morning. You have never seen me dive, Rose."
"I have not," said Rose; "and it would be a pity to do it out of the window, dear, because in the first place I should only see your heels as you went out, and in the second—"
"Peace, paltry soul!" cried Hilda. "Here comes a scow, loaded with wood. The wood has been wet, and is all yellow and gleaming. 'Scow,'—what an absurd word! 'Barge' is prettier."
"It sounds so like Shalott," said Rose; "I must come and look too.
"'By the margin, willow-veiled, Slide the heavy barges, trailed By slow horses.'"
"Yes, it is just like it!" cried Hildegarde. "It is really a redeeming feature in you, Rose, that you are so apt in your quotations. Say the part about the river; that is exactly like what I am looking at."
"Do you say it!" said Rose, coming softly forward, and taking her seat beside her friend. "I like best to hear you."
And Hildegarde repeated in a low tone,—
"Willows whiten, aspens quiver, Little breezes dusk and shiver Through the wave that runs forever By the island in the river Flowing down to Camelot."
The two girls squeezed each other's hand a little, and looked at the shining river, and straightway forgot that there was anything else to be done, till a sharp little tinkle roused them from their dream.
"Oh!" cried Hildegarde. "Rose, how could you let me go a-woolgathering? Just look at my hair!"
"And my hands!" said Rose, in dismay. "And we said we were as hungry as hunters, and would be down in a minute. What will Miss Bond say?"
"Well, it is all the river's fault," said Hildegarde, splashing vigorously in the basin. "It shouldn't be so lovely! Here, dear, here is fresh water for you. Now the brush! Let me just wobble your hair up for you, so. There! now you are my pinkest Rose, and I am all right too; so down we go."
Miss Wealthy had been seriously disturbed when the girls did not appear promptly at sound of the tea-bell. She took her seat at the tea-table and looked it over carefully. "Punctuality is so important," she said, half to herself and half to Martha, who had just set down the teapot,—"That mat is not quite straight, is it, Martha?—especially in young people. I know it makes you nervous, Martha,"—Martha did not look in the least nervous,—"but it will probably not happen again. If the butter were a little farther this way! Thank you, Martha. Oh, here you are, my dears! Sit down, pray! You must be very hungry after—But probably you felt the need of resting a little, and to-morrow you will be quite fresh."
"No, it wasn't that, Cousin Wealthy," said Hildegarde, frankly. "I am ashamed to say that we were looking out of the window, and the river was so lovely that we forgot all about supper. Please forgive us this once, for really we are pretty punctual generally. It is part of Papa's military code, you know."
"True, my dear, true!" said Miss Wealthy, brightening up at once. "Your father is very wise. Regular habits are a great privilege, really. Will you have tea, Hilda dear, or milk?"
"Oh, milk, please!" said Hilda. "I am not to take tea till I am twenty-one, Cousin Wealthy, nor coffee either."
"And a very good plan," said Miss Wealthy, approvingly. "Milk is the natural beverage—will you cut that pie, dear, and help Rose, and yourself?—for the young. When one is older, however, a cup of tea is very comforting. None for me, thank you, dear. I have my little dish of milk-toast, but I thought the pie would be just right for you young people. Martha's pastry is so very light that a small quantity of it is not injurious."
"Rose!" said Hildegarde, in tones of hushed rapture, "it is a chicken-pie, and it is all for us. Hold your plate, favored one of the gods! A river, a boat-house, and chicken-pie! Cousin Wealthy, I am so glad you asked us to come!"
"Are you, dear?" said Miss Wealthy, looking up placidly from her milk-toast, "Well, so am I!"
Next morning, when breakfast was over, Miss Wealthy made a little speech, giving the two girls the freedom of the place.
"You will find your own way about, my dears," she said. "I will only give you some general directions. The orchard is to the right, beyond the garden. There is a pleasant seat there under one of the apple-trees, where you may like to sit. Beyond that are the woods. On the other side of the house is the barnyard, and the road goes by to the village. You will find plenty of flowers all about, and I hope you will amuse yourselves."
"Oh, indeed we shall, Cousin Wealthy!" cried Hildegarde. "It is delight enough just to breathe this delicious air and look at the river."
They were sitting on the piazza, from which the lawn sloped down to a great hedge of Norway fir, just beyond which flowed the broad blue stream of the Kennebec.
"How about the river, Cousin Wealthy?" asked Hildegarde, timidly. "I thought I saw a boat-house through the trees. Could we go out to row?"
Miss Wealthy seemed a little flurried by the question. "My dear," she said, and hesitated,—"my dear, have you—do your parents allow you to go on the water? Can you swim?"
"Oh, yes," said Hildegarde, "I can swim very well, Cousin Wealthy,—at least, Papa says I can; and I can row and paddle and sail."
"Oh, not sail!" cried Miss Wealthy, with an odd little catch in her breath,—"not sail, my dear! I could not—I could not think of that for a moment. But there is a row-boat," she added, after a pause,—"a boat which Jeremiah uses. If Jeremiah thinks she is perfectly safe, you can go out, if you feel quite sure your parents would wish it."
"Oh, I am very sure," said Hildegarde; "for I asked Papa, almost the last thing before we left. Thank you, Cousin Wealthy, so much! We will be rather quiet this morning, for Rose does not feel very strong; but this afternoon perhaps we will try the boat. Isn't there something I can do for you, Cousin Wealthy? Can't I help Martha? I can do all kinds of work,—can't I, Rose?—and I love it!"
But Martha had a young girl in the kitchen, Miss Wealthy said, whom she was training to help her; and she herself had letters to write and accounts to settle. So the two girls sauntered off slowly, arm in arm; Rose leaning on her friend, whose strong young frame seemed able to support them both.
The garden was a very pleasant place, with rhubarb and sunflowers, sweet peas and mignonette, planted here and there among the rows of vegetables, just as Jeremiah's fancy suggested. Miss Wealthy's own flower-beds, trim and gay with geraniums, pansies, and heliotrope, were under the dining-room windows; but somehow the girls liked Jeremiah's garden best. Hildegarde pulled some sweet peas, and stuck the winged blossoms in Rose's fair hair, giving a fly-away look to her smooth locks. Then she began to sniff inquiringly. "Southernwood!" she said,—"I smell southernwood somewhere, Rose. Where is it?"
"Yonder," said Rose, pointing to a feathery bush not far off.
"Oh! and there is lavender too, Hilda! Do you suppose we may pick some? I do like to have a sprig of lavender in my belt."
At this moment Jeremiah appeared, wheeling a load of turf. He was "long and lank and brown as is the ribbed sea-sand," and Hildegarde mentally christened him the Ancient Mariner on the spot; but he smiled sadly and said, "Good-mornin'," and seemed pleased when the girls praised his garden. "Ee-yus!" he said, with placid melancholy. "I've seen wuss places. Minglin' the blooms with the truck and herbs was my idee, as you may say,—'livens up one, and sobers down the other. She laughs at me, but she don't keer, s'long as she has all she wants. Cut ye some mignonette? That's very favoryte with me,—very favoryte."
He cut a great bunch of mignonette; and Rose, proffering her request for lavender, received a nosegay as big as she could hold in both hands.
"The roses is just comin' on," he said. "Over behind them beans they are. A sight o' roses there'll be in another week. Coreopsis is pooty, too; that's down the other side of the corn. Curus garding, folks thinks; but, there, it's my idee, and she don't keer."
Much amused, the girls thanked the melancholy prophet, and wandered away into the orchard, to find the seat that Miss Wealthy had told them of.
"Oh, what a lovely, lovely orchard!" cried Hildegarde, in delight; and indeed it was a pretty place. The apple-trees were old, and curiously gnarled and twisted, bending this way and that, as apple-trees will. The short, fine grass was like emerald; there were no flowers at all, only green and brown, with the sunlight flickering through the branches overhead. They found the seat, which was curiously wedged into the double trunk of the very patriarch of apple-trees.
"Do look at him!" cried Hildegarde. "He is like a giant with the rheumatism. Suppose we call him Blunderbore. What does twist them so, Rose? Look! there is one with a trunk almost horizontal."
"I don't know," said Rose, slowly. "Another item for the ignorance list, Hilda. It is growing appallingly long. I really don't know why they twist so. In the forest they grow much taller than in orchards, and go straight up. Farmer Hartley has seen one seventy feet high, he says."
"Let us call it vegetable rheumatism!" said Hildegarde. "How is your poor back this morning, ma'am?" She addressed an ancient tree with respectful sympathy; indeed, it did look like an aged dame bent almost double. "Have you ever tried Pond's Extract? I think I must really buy a gallon or so for you. And as long as you must bend over, you will not mind if I take a little walk along your suffering spine, and sit on your arm, will you?"
She walked up the tree, and seated herself on a branch which was crooked like a friendly arm, making a very comfortable seat. "She's a dear old lady, Rose!" she cried. "Doesn't mind a bit, but thinks it rather does her good,—like massage, you know. What do you suppose her name is?"
"Dame Crump would do, wouldn't it?" replied Rose, looking critically at the venerable dame.
"Of course! and that ferocious old person brandishing three arms over yonder must be Croquemitaine,—
"'Croquemitaine! Croquemitaine! Ne dinerai pas 'vec toi!'
I think they are rather a savage set,—don't you, Rosy?—all except my dear Dame Crump here."
"I know they are," said Rose, in a low voice. "Hush! the three witches are just behind you, Hilda. Their skinny arms are outstretched to clasp you! Fly, and save yourself from the caldron!"
"Avaunt!" cried Hilda, springing lightly from Dame Crump's sheltering arm. "Ye secret, black, and midnight hags, what is 't ye do?"
"A deed without a name!" muttered Rose, in sepulchral tones.
"I think it is, indeed!" cried Hildegarde, laughing. "Poor old gouty things! they can only claw the air, like Grandfather Smallweed, and cannot take a single step to clutch me."
"Just like me, as I was a year ago," said Rose, smiling.
"Rose! how can you?" cried Hildegarde, indignantly; "as if you had not always been a white rosebush."
"On wheels!" said Rose. "I often think of my dear old chair, and wonder if it misses me. Hildegarde dear!"
"My lamb!" replied Hildegarde, sitting down by her friend and giving her a little hug.
"I wish you could know how wonderful it all is! I wish—no, I don't wish you could be lame even for half an hour; but I wish you could just dream that you were lame, and then wake up and find everything right again. Having always walked, you cannot know the wonder of it. To think that I can stand up—so! and walk—so! actually one foot before the other, just like other people. Oh! and I used to wonder how they did it. I don't now understand how 'four-leggers,' as Bubble calls them, move so many things without getting mixed up."
"Dear Rose! you are happy, aren't you?" exclaimed Hildegarde, with delight.
"Happy!" echoed Rose, her sweet face glowing like her own name-flower. "But I was always happy, you know, dear. Now it is happiness, with fairyland thrown in. I am some wonderful creature, walking through miracles; a kind of—Who was the fairy-knight you were telling me about?"
"Lohengrin?" said Hildegarde. "No, you are more like Una, in the 'Faerie Queene.' In fact, I think you are Una."
"And then," continued Rose, "there is another thing! At least, there are a thousand other things, but one that I was thinking of specially just now, when you named the trees. That was only play to you; but, Hilda, it used to be almost quite real for me,—that sort of thing. Sitting there as I used, day after day, year after year, mostly alone,—for mother and Bubble were always at work, you know,—you cannot imagine how real all the garden-people, as I called them, were to me. Why, my Eglantine—I never told you about Eglantine, Hilda!"
"No, heartless thing! you never did," said Hildegarde; "and you may tell me this instant. A pretty friend you are, keeping things from me in that way!"
"She was a fair maiden," said Rose. "She stood against the wall, just by my window. She was very lovely and graceful, with long, slender arms. Some people called her a sweetbrier-bush. She was my most intimate friend, and was always peeping in at the window and calling me to come out. When I came and sat close beside her in my chair, she would bend over me, and tell me all about her love-affairs, which gave her a great deal of trouble."
"Poor thing!" said Hildegarde, sympathetically.
"She had two lovers," continued Rose, dreamily, talking half to herself. "One was Sir Scraggo de Cedar, a tall knight in rusty armor, who stood very near her, and loved her to distraction. But she cared nothing for him, and had given her heart to the South Wind,—the most fickle and tormenting lover you can imagine. Sometimes he was perfectly charming, and wooed her in the most enchanting manner, murmuring soft things in her ear, and kissing and caressing her, till I almost fell in love with him myself. Then he would leave her alone,—oh! for days and days,—till she drooped, poor thing! and was perfectly miserable. And then perhaps he would come again in a fury, and shake and beat her in the most frightful manner, tearing her hair out, and sometimes flinging her right into the arms of poor Sir Scraggo, who quivered with emotion, but never took advantage of the situation. I used to be very sorry for Sir Scraggo."
"What a shame!" cried Hildegarde, warmly. "Couldn't you make her care for the poor dear?"
"Oh, no!" said Rose. "She was very self-willed, that gentle Eglantine, in spite of her soft, pretty ways. There was no moving her. She turned her back as nearly as she could on Sir Scraggo, and bent farther and farther toward the south, stretching her arms out as if imploring her heartless lover to stay with her. I fastened her back to the wall once with strips of list, for she was spoiling her figure by stooping so much; but she looked so utterly miserable that I took them off again. Dear Eglantine! I wonder if she misses me."
"I think she was rather a minx, do you know?" said Hildegarde. "I prefer Sir Scraggo myself."
"Well," replied Rose, "one respected Sir Scraggo very much indeed; but he was not beautiful, and all the De Cedars are pretty stiff and formal. Then you must remember he was older than Eglantine and I,—ever and ever so much older."
"That does make a difference," said Hildegarde. "Who were some other of your garden people, you funniest Rose?"
"There was Old Moneybags!" replied Rose. "How I did detest that old man! He was a hideous old thorny cactus, all covered with warts and knobs and sharp spines. Dear mother was very proud of him, and she was always hoping he would blossom, but he never did. He lived in the house in winter, but in spring Mother set him out in the flower-bed, just beside the double buttercup. So when the buttercup blossomed, with its lovely yellow balls, I played that Old Moneybags, who was an odious old miser, was counting his gold. Then, when the petals dropped, he piled his money in little heaps, and finally he buried it. He wasn't very interesting, Old Moneybags, but the buttercups were lovely. Then there were Larry Larkspur and Miss Poppy. I wonder—No! I don't believe you would."
"What I like about your remarks," said Hildegarde, "is that they are so clear. What do you mean by believing I wouldn't? I tell you I would!"
"Well," said Rose, laughing and blushing, "it really isn't anything; only—well, I made a little rhyme about Larry Larkspur and Miss Poppy one summer. I thought of it just now; and first I wondered if it would amuse you, and then I decided it wouldn't."
"You decided, forsooth!" cried Hildegarde. "'"Who are you?" said the caterpillar.' I will hear about Larry Larkspur, if you please, without more delay."
"It really isn't worth hearing!" said Rose. "Still, if you want it you shall have it; so listen!
"Larry Larkspur, Larry Larkspur, Wears a cap of purple gay; Trim and handy little dandy, Straight and smirk he stands alway.
"Larry Larkspur, Larry Larkspur, Saw the Poppy blooming fair; Loved her for her scarlet satin, Loved her for her fringed hair.
"Sent a message by the night-wind: 'Wilt thou wed me, lady gay? For the heart of Larry Larkspur Beats and burns for thee alway.'
"When the morning 'gan to brighten, Eager glanced he o'er the bed. Lo! the Poppy's leaves had fallen; Bare and brown her ugly head.
"Sore amazed stood Larry Larkspur, And his heart with grief was big. 'Woe is me! she was so lovely, Who could guess she wore a wig?'"
Hildegarde was highly delighted with the verses, and clamored for more; but at this moment some one was seen coming toward them through the trees. The some one proved to be Martha, with her sleeves rolled up, beaming mildly through her spectacles. She carried a tray, on which were two glasses of creamy milk and a plate of freshly baked cookies. Such cookies! crisp and thin, with what Martha called a "pale bake" on them, and just precisely the right quantity of ginger.
"Miss Rose doesn't look over and above strong," she explained, as the girls exclaimed with delight, "and 't would be a pity for her to eat alone. The cookies is fresh, and maybe they're pretty good."
"Martha," said Hildegarde, as she nibbled a cooky, "you are a saint! Where do you keep your aureole, for I am sure you have one?"
"There's a pair of 'em, Miss Hilda," replied Martha. "They build every year in the big elm by the back door, and they do sing beautiful."
"My dears," said Miss Wealthy, as they sat down to dinner,—the bell rang on the stroke of one, and the girls were both ready and waiting in the parlor, which pleased the dear old lady very much,—"my dears, when I made the little suggestions this morning as to how you should amuse yourselves, I entirely forgot to mention Dr. Abernethy. I cannot imagine how I should have forgotten it, but Martha assures me that I did. Dr. Abernethy is entirely at your service in the mornings, but I generally require him for an hour in the afternoon. I am sure Rose will be the better for his treatment; and I trust you will both find him satisfactory, though possibly he may seem to you a little slow, for he is not so young as he once was."
"Dr.—Oh, Cousin Wealthy!" exclaimed Hildegarde, in dismay. "But we are perfectly well! At least—of course, Rose is not strong yet; but she is gaining strength every day, and we have Dr. Flower's directions. Indeed, we don't need any doctor."
Cousin Wealthy smiled. She enjoyed a little joke as much as any one, and Dr. Abernethy was one of her standing jokes.
"I think, my dear," she said, "that you will be very glad to avail yourself of the Doctor's services when once you know him. Indeed, I shall make a point of your seeing him once a day, as a rule." Then, seeing that both girls were thoroughly mystified, she added: "Dr. Abernethy is a very distinguished physician. He gives no medicine, his invariable prescription being a little gentle exercise. He lives—in the stable, my dears, and he has four legs and a tail."
"Oh! oh! Cousin Wealthy, how could you frighten us so!" cried Hildegarde. "You must be kissed immediately, as a punishment." She flew around the table, and kissed the soft cheek, like a crumpled blush rose. "A horse! How delightful! Rose, we were wishing that we might drive, weren't we? And what a funny, nice name! Dr. Abernethy! He was a great English doctor, wasn't he? And I was wondering if some stupid country doctor had stolen his name."
"I had rather a severe illness a few years ago," said Miss Wealthy, "and when I was recovering from it my physician advised me to try driving regularly, saying that he should resign in favor of Dr. Horse. So I bought this excellent beast, and named him Dr. Abernethy, after the famous physician, whom I had seen once in London, when I was a little girl."
"It was he who used to do such queer things, wasn't it?" said Hildegarde. "Did he do anything strange when you saw him, Cousin Wealthy?"
"Nothing really strange," said Miss Wealthy, "though it seemed so to me then. He came to see my mother, who was ill, and bolted first into the room where I sat playing with my doll.
"'Who's this? who's this?' he said, in a very gruff voice. 'Little girl! Humph! Tooth-ache, little girl?'
"'No, sir,' I answered faintly, being frightened nearly out of my wits.
"'Head-ache, little girl?'
"'Stomach-ache, little girl?'
"'Oh, no, sir!'
"'Then take that!' and he thrust a little paper of chocolate drops into my hand, and stumped out of the room as quickly as he had come in. I thought he was an ogre at first; for I was only seven years old, and had just been reading 'Jack and the Beanstalk;' but the chocolate drops reassured me."
"What an extraordinary man!" exclaimed Rose. "And was he a very good doctor?"
"Oh, wonderful!" replied Miss Wealthy. "People came from all parts of the world to consult him, and he could not even go out in the street without being clutched by some anxious patient. They used to tell a funny story about an old woman's catching him in this way one day, when he was in a great hurry,—but he was always in a hurry,—and pouring out a long string of symptoms, so fast that the doctor could not get in a word edgewise. At last he shouted 'Stop!' so loud that all the people in the street turned round to stare. The old lady stopped in terror, and Dr. Abernethy bade her shut her eyes and put her tongue out; then, when she did so, he walked off, and left her standing there in the middle of the sidewalk with her tongue out. I don't know whether it is true, though."
"Oh, I hope it is!" cried Hildegarde, laughing. "It is too funny not to be true."
"We had a very queer doctor at Glenfield some years ago," said Rose. "He must have been just the opposite of Dr. Abernethy. He was very tall and very slow, and spoke with the queerest drawl, using always the longest words he could find. I never shall forget his coming to our house once when Bubble had the measles. He had come a day or two before, but I had not seen him. This time, however, I was in the room. He sat down by the bed, and began stroking his long chin. It was the longest chin I ever saw, nearly as long as the rest of his face.
"'And is there any amelioration of the symptoms this morning?' he asked Mother,—'ame-e-lioration?' (He was very fond of repeating any word that he thought sounded well.)
"Poor dear mother hadn't the faintest idea what amelioration was; and she stammered and colored, and said she hadn't noticed any, and didn't think the child had it. But luckily I was in the 'Fifth Reader' then, and had happened to have 'amelioration' in my spelling-lesson only a few days before; so I spoke up and said, 'Oh, yes, Dr. Longman, he is a great deal better, and he is really hungry to-day.'
"'Ah!' said Dr. Longman, 'craves food, does he?—cra-aves food!'
"Just then Bubble's patience gave out. He was getting better, and it made him so cross, poor dear! he snapped out, in his funny way, 'I've got a bile comin' on my nose, and it hurts like fury!'
"Dr. Longman stooped forward, put on his spectacles, and looked at the boil carefully. 'Ah!' he said, 'furunculus,—furunculus! Is it—ah—is it excru-ciating?'
"I can't describe the way in which he pronounced the last word. As he said it, he dropped his head, and looked over his spectacles at Bubble in a way that was perfectly irresistible. Bubble gave a sort of howl, and disappeared under the bedclothes; and I had a fit of coughing, which made Mother very anxious. Dear mother! she never could see anything funny about Dr. Longman."
At this moment Martha entered, bringing the dessert,—a wonderful almond-pudding, such as only Martha could make. She stopped a moment, holding the door as if to prevent some one's coming in.
"Here's the Doctor wants terrible to come in, Mam!" she said. "Will I let him?"
"Yes, certainly," said Miss Wealthy, smiling. "Let the good Doctor in!"
The girls looked up in amazement, half expecting to see a horse's head appear in the doorway; but instead, a majestic black "coon" cat, with waving feathery tail and large yellow eyes, walked solemnly in, and seeing the two strangers, stopped to observe them.
"My dears, this is the other Doctor!" said Miss Wealthy, bending to caress the new-comer "Dr. Samuel Johnson, at your service. He is one of the most important members of the family. Doctor, I hope you will be very friendly to these young ladies, and not take one of your absurd dislikes to either of them. All depends upon the first impression, my dears!" she added, in an undertone, to the girls. "He is forming his opinion now, and nothing will ever alter it."
Quite a breathless pause ensued; while the magnificent cat stood motionless, turning his yellow eyes gravely from one to the other of the girls. At length Hildegarde could not endure his gaze any longer, and she said hastily but respectfully, "Yes, sir! I have read 'Pilgrim's Progress,' I assure you!—read it through and through, a number of times, and love it dearly."
Dr. Johnson instantly advanced, and rubbing his head against her dress, purred loudly. He then went round to Rose, who sat opposite, and made the same demonstration of good-will to her.
"Dear pussy!" said Rose, stroking him gently, and scratching him behind one ear in a very knowing manner.
Miss Wealthy drew a long breath of satisfaction. "It is all right," she said. "Martha, he is delighted with the young ladies. Dear Doctor! he shall have some almond-pudding at once. Bring me his saucer, please, Martha!"
Martha brought a blue saucer; but Miss Wealthy looked at it with surprise and disapproval.
"That is not the Doctor's saucer, Martha," she said. "Is it possible that you have forgotten? He has always had the odd yellow saucer ever since he was a kitten."
"I'm sorry, Mam," said Martha, gently. "Jenny broke the yellow saucer this morning, Mam, as she was washing it after the Doctor's breakfast. I'm very sorry it should have happened, Mam."
"Broke the yellow saucer!" cried Miss Wealthy. Her voice was as soft as ever, but Hildegarde and Rose both felt as if the Russians had entered Constantinople. There was a moment of dreadful silence, and then Miss Wealthy tried to smile, and began to help to the almond-pudding. "Yes, I am sure you are sorry, Martha!" she said;—"Hilda, my dear, a little pudding?—and probably Jenny is sorry too. You like the sauce, dear, don't you? We think Martha's almond-pudding one of her best. I should not have minded so much if it had been any other, but this was an odd one, and seemed so appropriate, on account of Hogarth's 'Industrious Apprentice' done in brown on the inside. Is it quite sweet enough for you, my dear Rose?"
This speech was somewhat bewildering; but after a moment Rose succeeded in separating the part that belonged to her, and said that the pudding was most delicious.
"Jenny broke a cup last winter, did she not, Martha?" asked Miss Wealthy.
"A very small cup, Mam," replied Martha, deprecatingly. "That's all she has broken since she came. She's young, you know, Mam; and she says the saucer just slipped out of her hand, and fell on the bricks."
Miss Wealthy shivered a little, as if she heard the crash of the broken china. "I cannot remember that you have broken anything, Martha," she said, "in thirty years; and you were young when you came to me. But we will not say anything more, and I dare say Jenny will be more careful in future. The pudding is very good, Martha; and that will do, thank you." Martha withdrew, and Miss Wealthy turned to the girls with a sad little smile. "Martha is very exact," she said. "A thing of this sort troubles her extremely. Very methodical, my good Martha!"
"Hildegarde," said Rose, wishing to turn the subject and cheer the spirits of their kind hostess, "what did you mean, just now, by telling Dr. Johnson that you had read 'Pilgrim's Progress'? I am much puzzled!"
Hildegarde laughed. "Oh!" she said, "he understood, but I will explain for your benefit. When I was a little girl I was not inclined to like 'Pilgrim's Progress' at first. I thought it rather dull, and liked the Fairy Book better. I said so to Papa one day; and instead of replying, he went to the bookcase, and taking down Boswell's 'Life of Johnson,' he read me a little story. I think I can say it in the very words of the book, they made so deep an impression on me: 'Dr. Johnson one day took Bishop Percy's little daughter on his knee, and asked her what she thought of 'Pilgrim's Progress.' The child answered that she had not read it. 'No!' replied the Doctor; 'then I would not give one farthing for you!' And he set her down, and took no further notice of her.' When Papa explained to me," continued Hildegarde, laughing, "what a great man Dr. Johnson was, it seemed to me very dreadful that he should think me, or another little girl like me, not worth a farthing. So I set to work with right good-will at 'Pilgrim's Progress;' and when I was once fairly in the story, of course I couldn't put it down till I had finished it."
"Your father is a very sensible man," said Miss Wealthy, approvingly. "'Pilgrim's Progress' is an important part of a child's education, certainly! Let me give you a little more pudding, Hilda, my dear! No! nor you, Rose? Then, if the Doctor is ready, suppose we go into the parlor."
They found the parlor very cool and pleasant, with the blinds, as usual, drawn half-way down. Miss Wealthy drew one blind half an inch lower, compared it with the others, and pushed it up an eighth of an inch.
"And what are you going to do with yourselves this afternoon, girlies?" she asked, settling herself in her armchair, and smelling of her pansies, which, as usual, stood on the little round table at her elbow.
"Rose must go and lie down at once!" said Hildegarde, decidedly. "She must lie down for two hours every day at first, Dr. Flower says, and one hour by and by, when she is a great deal stronger. And I—oh, I shall read to her a little, till she begins to be sleepy, and then I shall write to Mamma and wander about. This is such a happy place, Cousin Wealthy! One does not need to do anything in particular; it is enough just to be alive and well." Then she remembered her manners, and added: "But isn't there something I can do for you, Cousin Wealthy? Can't I write some notes for you,—I often write notes for Mamma,—or wind some worsted, or do something useful? I have been playing all day, you know."
Miss Wealthy looked pleased. "Thank you, my dear!" she said warmly. "I shall be very glad of your help sometimes; but to-day I really have nothing for you to do, and besides, I think the first day ought to be all play. If you can make yourself happy in this quiet place, that is all I shall ask of you to-day. I shall probably take a little nap myself, as I often do after dinner, sitting here in my chair."
Obeying Hildegarde's imperative nod, Rose left her seat by the window, half reluctantly, and moved slowly toward the door. "It seems wicked to lie down on such a day!" she murmured; "but I suppose I must."
As she spoke, she heard a faint, a very faint sigh from Miss Wealthy. Feeling instinctively that something was wrong, she turned and saw that the tidy on the back of the chair she had been sitting in had slipped down. She went back quickly, straightened it, patted it a little, and then with an apologetic glance and smile at the old lady, went to join Hildegarde.
"A very sweet, well-mannered girl!" was Miss Wealthy's mental comment, as her eyes rested contentedly on the smooth rectangular lines of the tidy. "Two of the sweetest girls, in fact, that I have seen for a good while. Mildred has brought up her daughter extremely well; and when one thinks of it, she herself has developed in a most extraordinary manner. A most notable and useful woman, Mildred! Who would have thought it?"
Rose slept in the inner bedroom, which opened directly out of Hildegarde's, with a curtained doorway between. It was a pretty room, and very appropriate for Rose, as there were roses on the wall-paper and on the soft gray carpet. Here the ex-invalid, as she began to call herself, lay down on the cool white bed, in the pretty summer wrapper of white challis, dotted with rosebuds, which had been Mrs. Grahame's parting present. Hildegarde put a light shawl over her, and then sat down on the window-seat.
"Shall I read or sing, Rosy?" she asked.
"Oh! but are you quite sure you don't want to do something else, dear?" asked Rose.
"Absolutely sure!" said Hildegarde. "Quite positively sure!"
"Then," said Rose, "sing that pretty lullaby that you found in the old song-book the other day. So pretty! it is the one that Patient Grissil sings to her babies, isn't it?"
So Hilda sang, as follows:—
"'Golden slumbers kiss your eyes, Smiles awake you when you rise. Sleep, pretty wantons, do not cry, And I will sing a lullaby. Rock them, rock them, lullaby.
"'Care is heavy, therefore sleep you; You are care, and care must keep you. Sleep, pretty wantons, do not cry, And I will sing a lullaby. Rock them, rock them, lullaby.'"
Hildegarde glanced at the bed, and saw that Rose's eyes were just closing. Still humming the last lines of the lullaby, she cast about in her mind for something else; and there came to her another song of quaint old Thomas Dekker, which she loved even more than the other. She sang softly,—
"'Art thou poor, yet hast thou golden slumbers? O sweet Content! Art thou rich, yet is thy mind perplexed? O Punishment! Dost laugh to see how fools are vexed To add to golden numbers golden numbers? O sweet Content, O sweet, O sweet Content!
"'Canst drink the waters of the crisped spring? O sweet Content! Swim'st thou in wealth, yet sink'st in thine own tears? O Punishment! Then he that patiently Want's burden bears No burden bears, but is a king, a king. O sweet Content, O sweet, O sweet Content.'"
Once more Hildegarde glanced at the bed; then, rising softly and still humming the lovely refrain, she slipped out of the room; for Rose, the "sweet content" resting like sunshine on her face, was asleep.
ON THE RIVER.
Hildegarde went softly downstairs, and stood in the doorway for a few minutes, looking about her. The house was very still; nothing seemed to be stirring, or even awake, except herself. She peeped into the parlor, and saw Cousin Wealthy placidly sleeping in her easy-chair. At her feet, on a round hassock, lay Dr. Johnson, also sleeping soundly. "It is the enchanted palace," said Hildegarde to herself; "only the princess has grown old in the hundred years,—but so prettily old!—and the prince would have to be a stately old gentleman to match her." She went out on the lawn; still there was no sound, save the chirping of grasshoppers and crickets. It was still the golden prime of a perfect June day; what would be the most beautiful thing to do where all was beauty? Read, or write letters? No! that she could do when the glory had begun to fade. She walked about here and there,—"just enjoying herself," she said. She touched the white heads of the daisies; but did not pick them, because they looked so happy. She put her arms round the most beautiful elm-tree, and gave it a little hug, just to thank it for being so stately and graceful, and for bending its branches over her so lovingly. Then a butterfly came fluttering by. It was a Camberwell Beauty, and Hildegarde followed it about a little as it hovered lazily from one daisy to another.
"Last year at this time," she said, thinking aloud, "I didn't know what a Camberwell Beauty was. I didn't know any butterflies at all; and if any one had said 'Fritillary' to me, I should have thought it was something to eat." This disgraceful confession was more than the Beauty could endure, and he fluttered away indignant.
"I don't wonder!" said the girl. "But you'd better take care, my dear. I know you now, and I don't think Bubble has more than two of your kind in his collection. I promised to get all the butterflies and moths I could for the dear lad, and if you are too superior, I may begin with you."
At this moment a faint creak fell on her ear, coming from the direction of the garden. "As of a wheelbarrow!" she said. "Jeremiah!—boat!—river!—now I know what I was wanting to do." She ran round to the garden; and there, to be sure, was Jeremiah, wheeling off a huge load of weeds.
"Oh, Jeremiah!" said Hildegarde, eagerly, "is the—do you think the boat is safe?"
Jeremiah put down his load and looked at her with sad surprise. "The boat?" he repeated. "She's all safe! I was down to the wharf this mornin'. Nobody's had her out, 's I know of."
"Oh, I didn't mean that!" said Hildegarde, laughing. "I mean, is she safe for me to go in? Miss Bond said that I could go out on the river, if you said it was all right. Do say it's all right, Jeremiah!"
Jeremiah never smiled, but his melancholy lightened several shades. "She's right enough," he said,—"the boat. She isn't hahnsome, but she's stiddy 's a rock. She don't like boats, any way o' the world, but I'll take ye down and get her out for ye."
Rightly conjecturing that the last "her" referred to the boat, Hildegarde gladly followed the Ancient Mariner down the path that sloped from the garden, through a green pasture, round to the river-bank. Here she found the boat-house, whose roof she had seen from her window, and a gray wharf with moss-grown piers. The tide was high, and it took Jeremiah only a few minutes to pull the little green boat out, and set her rocking on the smooth water.
"Oh, thank you!" said Hildegarde. "I am so much obliged!"
"No need ter!" responded Jeremiah, politely. "Ye've handled a boat before, have ye?"
"Oh, yes," she said. "I don't think I shall have any trouble." And as she spoke, she stepped lightly in, and seating herself, took the oars that he handed her. "And which is the prettiest way to row, Jeremiah,—up river, or down?"
Jeremiah meditated. "Well," he said, "I don't hardly know as I can rightly tell. Some thinks one way's pooty; some thinks t' other. Both of 'em 's sightly, to my mind."
"Then I shall try both," said Hildegarde, laughing. "Good-by, Jeremiah! I will bring the boat back safe."
The oars dipped, and the boat shot off into midstream. Jeremiah looked after it a few minutes, and then turned back toward the house. "She knows what she's about!" he said to himself.
Near the bank the water had been a clear, shining brown, with the pebbles showing white and yellow through it; but out here in the middle of the river it was all a blaze and ripple and sparkle of blue and gold. Hildegarde rested on her oars, and sat still for a few minutes, basking in the light and warmth; but soon she found the glory too strong, and pulled over to the other side, where high steep banks threw a shadow on the water. Here the water was very deep, and the rocks showed as clear and sharp beneath it as over it. Hildegarde rowed slowly along, sometimes touching the warm stone with her hand. She looked down, and saw little minnows and dace darting about, here and there, up and down. "How pleasant to be a fish!" she thought. "There comes one up out of the water. Plop! Did you get the fly, old fellow?
"'They wriggled their tails; In the sun glanced their scales.'"
Then she tried to repeat "Saint Anthony's Sermon to the Fishes," of which she was very fond.
"Sharp-snouted pikes, Who keep fighting like tikes, Now swam up harmonious To hear Saint Antonius. No sermon beside Had the pikes so edified."
Presently something waved in the shadow,—something moving, among the still reflections of the rocks. Hildegarde looked up. There, growing in a cranny of the rock above her, was a cluster of purple bells, nodding and swaying on slender thread-like stems. They were so beautiful that she could only sit still and look at them at first, with eyes of delight. But they were so friendly, and nodded in such a cheerful way, that she soon felt acquainted with them.
"You dears!" she cried; "have you been waiting there, just for me to come and see you?"
The harebells nodded, as if there were no doubt about it.
"Well, here I am!" Hildegarde continued; "and it was very nice of you to come. How do you like living on the rock there? He must be very proud of you, the old brown giant, and I dare say you enjoy the water and the lights and shadows, and would not stay in the woods if you could. If I were a flower, I should like to be one of you, I think. Good-by, dear pretties! I should like to take you home to Rose, but it would be a wickedness to pick you."
She kissed her hand to the friendly blossoms, and they nodded a pleasant good-by, as she floated slowly down stream. A little farther on, she came to a point of rock that jutted out into the river; on it a single pine stood leaning aslant, throwing a perfect double of itself on the glassy water. Hildegarde rested in the shadow. "To be in a boat and in a tree at the same moment," she thought, "is a thing that does not happen to every one. Rose will not believe me when I tell her; yet here are the branches all around me, perfect, even to the smallest twig. Query, am I a bird or a fish? Here is actually a nest in the crotch of these branches, but I fear I shall find no eggs in it." Turning the point of rock, she found on the other side a fairy cove, with a tiny patch of silver sand, and banks of fern coming to the water's edge on either side. Some of the ferns dipped their fronds in the clear water, while taller ones peeped over their heads, trying to catch a glimpse of their own reflection.
Hildegarde's keen eyes roved among the green masses, seeking the different varieties,—botrychium, lady-fern, delicate hart's-tongue; behind these, great nodding ostrich-ferns, bending their stately plumes over their lowlier sisters; beyond these again a tangle of brake running up into the woods. "Why, it is a fern show!" she thought. "This must be the exhibition room for the whole forest. Visitors will please not touch the specimens!"
She pulled close to the bank. Instantly there was a rustle and a flutter among the ferns; a little brown bird flew out, and perching on the nearest tree, scolded most violently. Very carefully Hildegarde drew the ferns aside, and lo! a wonderful thing,—a round nest, neatly built of moss and tiny twigs; and in it four white eggs spotted with brown.
"It is too good to be true," thought the girl. "I am asleep, and I shall wake in a moment. I haven't done anything to deserve seeing this. Rose is good enough; I wish she were here."
But the little brown bird was by this time in a perfect frenzy of maternal alarm; and very reluctantly, with an apology to the angry matron, Hildegarde let the ferns swing back into place, and pulled the boat away from the bank. On the whole, it seemed the most beautiful thing she had ever seen; but everything was so beautiful!
The girl's heart was very full of joy and thankfulness as she rowed along. Life was so full, so wonderful, with new wonders, new beauties, opening for her every day. "Let all that hath life praise the Lord!" she murmured softly; and the very silence seemed to fill with love and praise. Then her thoughts went back to the time, a little more than a year ago, when she neither knew nor cared about any of these things; when "the country" meant to her a summer watering-place, where one went for two or three months, to wear the prettiest of light dresses, and to ride and drive and walk on the beach. Her one idea of life was the life of cities,—of one city, New York. A country-girl, if she ever thought of such a thing, meant simply an ignorant, coarse, common girl, who had no advantages. No advantages! and she herself, all the time, did not know one tree from another. She had been the cleverest girl in school, and she could not tell a robin's note from a vireo's; as for the wood-thrush, she had never heard of it. A flower to her meant a hot-house rose; a bird was a bird; a butterfly was a butterfly. All other insects, the whole winged host that fills the summer air with life and sound, were included under two heads, "millers" and "bugs."
"No, not quite so bad as that!" she cried aloud, laughing, though her cheeks burned at her own thoughts. "I did know bees and wasps, and I think I knew a dragon-fly when I saw him."
But for the rest, there seemed little to say in her defence. She was just like Peter Bell, she thought; and she repeated Wordsworth's lines,—
"A primrose by a river's brim A yellow primrose was to him, And it was nothing more."
Here was this little brown bird, for example. Bird and song and eggs, all together could not tell her its name. She drew from her pocket a little brown leather note-book, and wrote in it, "Four white eggs, speckled with brown; brown bird, small, nest of fine twigs, on river-bank;" slipped it in her pocket again, and rowed on, feeling better. After all, it was so very much better to know that one had been a goose, than not to know it! Now that her eyes were once open, was she not learning something new every day, almost every hour?
She rowed on now with long strokes, for the bank was steep and rocky again, and there were no more fairy coves. Soon, however, she came to an island,—a little round island in the middle of the river, thickly covered with trees. This was a good place to turn back at, for Rose would be awake by this time and looking for her. First, however, she would row around the island, and consider it from all sides.
The farther side showed an opening in the trees, and a pretty little dell, shaded by silver birches,—a perfect place for a picnic, thought Hildegarde. She would bring Rose here some day, if good Martha would make them another chicken-pie; perhaps Cousin Wealthy would come too. Dear Cousin Wealthy! how good and kind and pretty she was! One would not mind growing old, if one could be sure of being good and pretty, and having everybody love one.
At this moment, as Hildegarde turned her boat up river, something very astonishing happened. Not ten yards away from her, a huge body shot up out of the water, described a glittering arc, and fell again, disappearing with a splash which sent the spray flying in all directions and made the rocks echo. Hildegarde sat quite still for several minutes, petrified with amazement, and, it must be confessed, with fear. Who ever heard of such a thing as this? A fish? Why, it was as big as a young whale! Only whales didn't come up rivers, and she had never heard of their jumping out of water in this insane way. Suppose the creature should take it into his head to leap again, and should fall into the boat? At this thought our heroine began to row as fast as she could, taking long strokes, and making the boat fairly fly through the water; though, as she said to herself, it would not make any difference, if her enemy were swimming in the same direction.
Presently, however, she heard a second splash behind her, and turning, saw the huge fish just disappearing, at some distance down river. She recovered her composure, and in a few minutes was ready to laugh at her own terrors.
Homeward now, following the west bank, as she had gone down along the east. This side was pretty, too, though there were no rocks nor ferny coves. On the contrary, the water was quite shallow, and full of brown weeds, which brushed softly against the boat. Not far from the bank she saw the highway, looking white and dusty, with the afternoon sun lying on it. "No dust on my road!" she said exultingly; "and no hills!" she added, as she saw a wagon, at some distance, climbing an almost perpendicular ascent. "I wonder what these water-plants are! Rose would know, of course."
Now came the willows that she had seen from the window,—the "margin willow-veiled" that had reminded her of the Lady of Shalott. It was pleasant to row under them, letting the cool, fragrant leaves brush against her face. Here, too, were sweet-scented rushes, of which she gathered an armful for Rose, who loved them; and in this place she made the acquaintance of a magnificent blue dragon-fly, which alighted on her oar as she lifted it from the water, and showed no disposition to depart. His azure mail glittered in the sunlight; his gauzy wings, as he furled and unfurled them deliberately, were like cobwebs powdered with snow. He evidently expected to be admired, and Hildegarde could not disappoint him.
"Fair sir," she said courteously, "I doubt not that you are the Lancelot of dragon-flies. Your armor is the finest I ever saw; doubtless, it has been polished by some lily maid of a white butterfly, or she might be a peach-blossom moth,—daintiest of all winged creatures. The sight of you fills my heart with rapture, and I fain would gaze on you for hours. Natheless, fair knight, time presses, and if you would remove your chivalrous self from my unworthy oar,—really not a fit place for your knighthood,—I should get on faster."
Sir Lancelot deigning no attention to this very civil speech, she splashed her other oar in the water, and exclaimed, "Hi!" sharply, whereupon the gallant knight spread his shining wings and departed in wrath.
And now the boat-house was near, and the beautiful, beautiful time was over. Hildegarde took two or three quick strokes, and then let the boat drift on toward the wharf, while she leaned idly back and trailed her hand in the clear water. It had been so perfect, so lovely, she was very loath to go on shore again. But the thought of Rose came,—sweet, patient Rose, wondering where her Hilda was; and then she rowed quickly on, and moored the boat, and clambered lightly up the wharf.
"Good-by, good boat!" she cried. "Good-by, dear beautiful river! I shall see you to-morrow, the day after, every other day while I am here. I have been happy, happy, happy with you. Good-by!" And with a final wave of her hand, Hildegarde ran lightly up the path that led to the house.
A MORNING DRIVE.
Punctually at ten o'clock the next morning Dr. Abernethy stood before the door, with a neat phaeton behind him; and the girls were summoned from the piazza, where Rose was taking her French lesson.
"My dears," said Miss Wealthy, "are you ready? You said ten o'clock, and the clock has already struck."
"Oh, yes, Cousin Wealthy!" cried Hildegarde, starting up, and dropping one book on the floor and another on the chair. "We are coming immediately. Rose, nous allons faire une promenade en voiture! Repetez cette phrase!"
"Nous allong—" began Rose, meekly; but she was cut short in her repetition.
"Not allong, dear, allons, ons. Keep your mouth open, and don't let your tongue come near the roof of your mouth after the ll. Allons! Try once more."
"You need not wait, Jeremiah," said Miss Wealthy, in a voice that tried not to be plaintive. "I dare say the young ladies will be ready in a minute or two, and I will stand by the Doctor till they come."
Hildegarde heard, smote her breast, flew upstairs for their hats and a shawl and pillow for Rose. In three minutes they were in the carriage, but not till a kiss and a whispered apology from Hildegarde had driven the slight cloud—not of vexation, but of wondering sadness; it seemed such a strange thing, not to be ready and waiting when Dr. Abernethy came to the door—from Miss Wealthy's kind face.
"Good-by, dear Cousin Wealthy!" and "Good-by, dear Miss Bond!" cried the two happy girls; and off they drove in high spirits, while Miss Wealthy went back to the piazza and picked up the French books, wiped them carefully, and then went upstairs and put them in the little bookcase in Hildegarde's room.
"She is a very dear girl," she said, shaking her head; "a little heedless, but perhaps all girls are. Why, Mildred—oh! but Mildred was an exception. I suppose," she added, "they call me an old maid. Very likely. Not these girls,—for they are too well-mannered,—but people. An old maid!" Miss Wealthy sighed a little, and put her hand up to the pansy breastpin,—a favorite gesture of hers; and then she went into the house, to make a new set of bags for the curtain-tassels.
Meanwhile the girls were driving along, looking about them, and enjoying themselves immensely. Jeremiah had given them directions for a drive "just about so long," and they knew that they were to turn three times to the left and never to the right. And first they went up a hill, from the top of which they saw "all the kingdoms of the earth," as Rose said. The river valley was behind them, and they could see the silver stream here and there, gleaming between its wooded banks. Beyond were blue hills, fading into the blue of the sky. But before them—oh! before them was the wonder. A vast circle, hill and dale and meadow, all shut in by black, solemn woods; and beyond the woods, far, far away, a range of mountains, whose tops gleamed white in the sunlight.
"There is snow on them," said Rose. "Oh, Hildegarde! they must be the White Mountains. Jeremiah told me that we could see them from here. That highest peak must be Mount Washington. Oh, to think of it!"
They sat in silence for a few moments, watching the mountains, which lay like giants at rest.
"Rose," said Hildegarde, at length, "the Great Carbuncle is there, hidden in some crevice of those mountains; and the Great Stone Face is there, and oh! so many wonderful things. Some day we will go there, you and I; sometime when you are quite, quite strong, you know. And we will see the Flume and the wonderful Notch. You remember Hawthorne's story of the 'Ambitious Guest'? I think it is one of the most beautiful of all. Perhaps—who knows?—we may find the Great Carbuncle." They were silent again; but presently Dr. Abernethy, who cared nothing whatever about mountains or carbuncles, whinnied, and gave a little impatient shake.
"Of course!" said Hildegarde. "Poor dear! he was hot, wasn't he? and the flies bothered him. Here is our turn to the left; a pine-tree at the corner,—yes, this must be it! Good-by, mountains! Be sure to stay there till the next time we come."
"What was that little poem about the Greek mountains that you told me the other day?" asked Rose, as they drove along,—"the one you have copied in your commonplace book. You said it was a translation from some modern Greek poet, didn't you?"
"Yes," said Hildegarde; "but I don't know what poet. I found it in a book of Dr. Felton's at home."
She thought a moment, and then repeated the verses,—
"'Why are the mountains shadowed o'er? Why stand they darkened grimly? Is it a tempest warring there, Or rain-storm beating on them?
"'It is no tempest warring there, No rain-storm beating on them, But Charon sweeping over them, And with him the departed.'"
"Look!" she cried, a few moments after. "There is just such a cloud-shadow sweeping over that long hill on the left. Is it true, I wonder? I never see those flying shadows without thinking of 'Charon sweeping over them.' It is such a comfort, Rose, that we like the same things, isn't it?"
"Indeed it is!" said Rose, heartily. "But, oh! Hilda dear, stop a moment! There is some yellow clover. Why, I had no idea it grew so far north as this!"
"Yellow clover!" repeated Hildegarde, looking about her. "Who ever heard of yellow clover? I don't see any."
"No, dear," said Rose; "it does not grow in the sides of buggies, nor even on stone-walls. If you could bend your lofty gaze to the ditch by the roadside, you might possibly see it."
"Oh, there!" said Hildegarde, laughing. "Take the reins, Miss Impudence, and I will get them." She sprang lightly out, and returned with a handful of yellow blossoms.
"Are they really clover?" she asked, examining them curiously. "I had no idea there were more than two kinds, red and white."
"There are eight kinds, child of the city," said Rose, "beside melilot, which is a kind of clover-cousin. This yellow is the hop-clover. Dear me! how it does remind me of my Aunt Caroline."
"And how, let me in a spirit of love inquire, does it resemble your Aunt Caroline? Is she yellow?"
"She was, poor dear!" replied Rose. "She has been dead now—oh! a long time. She was an aunt of Mother's; and once she had the jaundice, and it seems to me she was always yellow after that. But that was not all, Hilda. There was an old handbook of botany among Father's books, and I used to read it a great deal, and puzzle over the long words. I always liked long words, even when I was a little wee girl. Well, one day I was reading, and Aunt Caroline happened to come in. She despised reading, and thought it was an utter waste of time, and that I ought to sew or knit all the time, since I could not help Mother with the housework. She was very practical herself, and a famous housekeeper. So she looked at me, and frowned, and said, 'Well, Pink, mooning away over a book as usual? Useless rubbish! yer ma'd ought to keep ye at work.' I didn't say anything; I never said much to Aunt Caroline, because I knew she didn't like me, and I suppose I was rather spoiled by every one else being too good to me. But I looked down at my old book, which was open at 'Trefolium: Clover.' And there I read—oh, Hilda, it is really too bad to tell!—I read: 'The teeth bristle-form'—and hers did stick out nearly straight!—'corolla mostly withering or persistent; the claws'—and then I began to laugh, for it was exactly like Aunt Caroline herself; she was so withering, and so persistent! And I sat there and giggled, a great girl of thirteen, till I got perfectly hysterical. The more I laughed, the angrier she grew, of course; till at last she went out into the kitchen and slammed the door after her. But I heard her telling Mother that that gal of hers appeared to be losing such wits as she had,—not that 't was any great loss, as fur as she could see. Wasn't that dreadful, Hildegarde? Of course I was wheeled over to her house the next day, and begged her pardon; but she was still withering and persistent, though she said, 'Very excusable!' at last."
"Why, Rose!" said Hildegarde, laughing. "I didn't suppose you were ever naughty, even when you were a baby."
"Oh, indeed I was!" answered Rose; "just as naughty as any one else, I suppose. Did I ever tell you how I came near making poor Bubble deaf? That wasn't exactly naughty, because I didn't mean to do anything bad; but it was funny. I must have been about five years old, and I used to sit in a sort of little chair-cart that Father made for me. One day Mother was washing, and she set me down beside the baby's cradle (that was Bubble, of course), and told me to watch him, and to call her if he cried. Well, for a while, Mother said, all was quiet. Then she heard Baby fret a little, and then came a queer sort of noise, she could not tell what, and after that quiet again. So she thought what a nice, helpful little girl I was getting to be; and when she came in she said, 'Well, Pinkie, you stopped the baby's fretting, didn't you?'
"'Oh, yes, Mother!' I said, as pleased as possible. 'I roared in his ear!' You may imagine how frightened Mother was; but fortunately it did him no harm."
Here the road dipped down into a gully, and Dr. Abernethy had to pick his way carefully among loose stones. Presently the stone-walls gave place to a most wonderful kind of fence,—a kind that even country-bred Rose had never seen before. When the great trees, the giants of the old forest, had been cut, and the ground cleared for farm-lands and pastures, their stumps had been pulled up by the roots; and these roots, vast, many-branched, twisted into every imaginable shape, were locked together, standing edgewise, and tossing their naked arms in every direction.
"Oh, how wonderful!" cried Hildegarde. "Look, Rose! they are like the bones of some great monster,—a gigantic cuttlefish, perhaps. What huge trees they must have been, to have such roots as these!"
"Dear, beautiful things!" sighed Rose. "If they could only have been left! Isn't it strange to think of people not caring for trees, Hilda?"
"Yes!" said Hilda, meekly, and blushing a little. "It is strange now; but before last year, Rose, I don't believe I ever looked at a tree."
"Oh, before last year!" cried Rose, laughing. "There wasn't any 'before last year.' I had never heard of Shelley before last year. I had never read a ballad, nor a 'Waverley,' nor the 'Newcomes,' nor anything. Let's not talk about the dark ages. You love trees now, I'm sure."
"That I do!" said Hildegarde. "The oak best of all, the elm next; but I love them all."
"The pine is my favorite," said Rose. "The great stately king, with his broad arms; it always seems as if an eagle should be sitting on one of them. What was that line you told me the other day?—'The pine-tree spreads his dark-green layers of shade.' Tennyson, isn't it?"
"Yes," replied Hildegarde. "But it was 'Cranford' that made me think of it. And it isn't 'pine-tree,' after all. I looked, and found it was 'cedar.' Mr. Holbrook, you remember,—Miss Matty's old lover,—quotes it, when they are taking tea with him. Dear Miss Matty! do you think Cousin Wealthy is the least little bit like her, Rose?"
"Perhaps!" said Rose, thoughtfully. "I think—Oh, Hilda, look!" she cried, breaking off suddenly. "What a queer little house!"
Hildegarde checked Dr. Abernethy, who had been trotting along quite briskly, and they both looked curiously at the little house on their left, which certainly was "queer,"—a low, unpainted shanty, gray with age, the shingles rotting off, and moss growing in the chinks. The small panes of glass were crusted with dirt, and here and there one had been broken, and replaced with brown paper. The front yard was a tangle of ribbon-grass and clover; but a tuft of straggling flowers here and there showed that it had once had care and attention. There was no sign of life about the place.
"Rose!" cried Hildegarde, stopping the horse with a pull of the reins; "it is a deserted house. Do you know that I have never seen one in my life? I must positively take a peep at it, and see what it is like inside. Take the reins, Bonne Silene, while I go and reconnoitre the position." She jumped out, and making her way as best she might through the grassy tangle, was soon gazing in at one of the windows. "Oh!" she cried, "it isn't deserted, Rose! At least?—well, some one has been here. But, oh, me! oh, me! What a place! I never, never dreamed of such a place. I—"
"What is the matter?" cried Rose. "If you don't tell me, I shall jump out!"
"No, you won't!" said Hildegarde. "You'd better not, Miss! but oh, dear! who ever, ever dreamed of such a place? My dear, it is the Abode of Dirt. Squalid is no word for it; squalor is richness compared to this house. I am looking—sit still, Rose!—I am looking into a room about as big as a comfortable pantry. There is a broken stove in it, and a table, and a stool; and in the room beyond I can see a bed,—at least, I suppose it is meant for a bed. Oh! what person can live here?"
"I am coming, Hilda," said Rose. "The only question is whether I get out with your help or without."
"Obstinate Thing!" cried Hildegarde, flying to her assistance. "Well, it shall see the lovely sight, so it shall. Carefully, now; don't trip on these long grass-loops. There! isn't that a pretty place? Now enjoy yourself, while I get out the tie-rein, and fasten the good beast to a tree."
In hunting for the tie-rein under the seat of the carriage, Hildegarde discovered something else which made her utter an exclamation of surprise. "Luncheon!" she cried. "Rose, my dear, did you know about this basket? Saint Martha must have put it in. Turnovers, Rose! sandwiches, Rose! and, I declare, a bottle of milk and a tin cup. Were ever two girls so spoiled as we shall be?"
"How kind!" said Rose. "I am not in the least hungry, but I should like a cup of milk. Oh, Hildegarde!"
"What now?" asked that young woman, returning with the precious basket, and applying her nose once more to the window. "Fresh horrors?"
"My dear," said Rose, "look! That is the pantry,—that little cupboard, with the door hanging by one hinge; and there isn't anything in it to eat, except three crackers and an onion."
Both girls gazed in silence at the forlorn scene before them. Then they looked at each other. Hildegarde gave an expressive little shake to the basket. Rose smiled and nodded; then they hugged each other a little, which was a foolish way they had when they were pleased. Very cautiously Hildegarde pushed the crazy door open, and they stood in the melancholy little hovel. All was even dirtier and more squalid than it had looked from outside; but the girls did not mind it now, for they had an idea, which had come perhaps to both at the same moment. Hilda looked about for a broom, and finally found the dilapidated skeleton of one. Rose, realizing at once that search for a duster would be fruitless, pulled a double handful of long grass from the front yard, and the two laid about them,—one vigorously, the other carefully and thoroughly. Dust flew from doors and windows; the girls sneezed and coughed, but persevered, till the little room at last began to look as if it might once have been habitable.
"Now you have done enough, Rosy!" cried Hildegarde. "Sit down on the doorstep and make a posy, while I finish."
Rose, being rather tired, obeyed. Hildegarde then looked for a scrubbing-brush, but finding none, was obliged to give the little black table such a cleaning as she could with the broom and bunches of grass. Behind the house was a lilac-bush, covered with lovely fragrant clusters of blossoms; she gathered a huge bunch of them, and putting them in a broken pitcher with water, set them in the middle of the table. Meanwhile Rose had found two or three peonies and some sweet-william, and with these and some ribbon-grass had made quite a brilliant bouquet, which was laid beside the one cracked plate which the cupboard afforded. On this plate the sandwiches were neatly piled, and the turnovers (all but two, which the girls ate, partly out of gratitude to Martha, but chiefly because they were good) were laid on a cluster of green leaves. As for the milk, that, Hildegarde declared, Rose must and should drink; and she stood over her till she tilted the bottle back and drained the last drop.
"Oh, dear!" said Rose, looking sadly at the empty bottle; "I hope the poor thing doesn't like milk. It couldn't be a child, Hildegarde, could it? living here all alone. And anyhow he—or she—will have a better dinner than one onion and—" But here she broke off, and uttered a low cry of dismay. "Oh, Hilda! Hilda! look there!"
Hildegarde turned hastily round, and then stood petrified with dismay; for some one was looking in at the window. Pressed against the little back window was the face of an old man, so withered and wrinkled that it looked hardly human; only the eyes, bright and keen, were fixed upon the girls, with what they thought was a look of anger. Masses of wild, unkempt gray hair surrounded the face, and a fragment of old straw hat was drawn down over the brows. Altogether it was a wild vision; and perhaps it was not surprising that the gentle Rose was terrified, while even Hildegarde felt decidedly uncomfortable. They stood still for a moment, meeting helplessly the steady gaze of the sharp, fierce eyes; then with one impulse they turned and fled,—Hildegarde half carrying her companion in her strong arms. Half laughing, half crying, they reached the carriage. Rose tumbled in somehow, Hildegarde flew to unfasten the tie-rein; and the next moment they were speeding away at quite a surprising rate, Dr. Abernethy having, for the first time in years, received a smart touch of the whip, which filled him with amazement and indignation.
Neither of the girls spoke until at least a quarter of a mile lay between them and the scene of their terror; then, as they came to the foot of a hill, Hildegarde checked the good horse to a walk, and turned and looked at Rose. One look,—and they both broke into fits of laughter, and laughed and laughed as if they never would stop.
"Oh!" cried Hildegarde, wiping the tears which were rolling down her cheeks. "Rose! I wonder if I looked as guilty as I felt. No wonder he glowered, if I did."
"Of course you did," said Rose. "You were the perfect ideal of a Female Burgler, caught with the spoons in her hand; and I—oh! my cheeks are burning still; I feel as if I were nothing but a blush. And after all, we were breaking and entering, Hilda!"
"But we did no harm!" said Hilda, stoutly. "I don't much care, now we are safe out of the way. And I'm glad the poor old glowering thing will have a good dinner for once. Rose, he must be at least a hundred! Did you ever see anything look so old?"
Rose shook her head meditatively. "It's dreadful to think of his living all alone there," she said. "For he must be alone. There was only one plate, you know, and that wretched bed. Oh, Hilda!" she added, a moment later, "the basket! we have left the basket there. What shall we do? Must we go back?"
"Perish the thought!" cried Hildegarde, with a shudder half real, half playful. "I wouldn't go back there now for the half of my kingdom. Let me see! We will not tell Cousin Wealthy to-day—"
"Oh, no!" cried Rose, shrinking at the bare thought.
"Nor even to-morrow, perhaps," continued Hildegarde. "She would be frightened, and might expect you to be ill; we will wait a day or two before we tell her. But Martha is not nervous. We can tell her to-morrow, and say that we will get another basket. After all, we were doing no harm,—none in the world."
But the best-laid plans, as we all know, "gang aft agley;" and the girls were not to have the telling of their adventure in their own way.
That evening, as they were sitting on the piazza after tea, they heard Miss Wealthy's voice, saying, "Martha, there is some one coming up the front walk,—an aged man, apparently. Will you see who it is, please? Perhaps he wants food, for I see he has a basket."
Hildegarde and Rose looked at each other in terror.
"Oh, Hilda!" whispered Rose, catching her friend's hand, "it must be he! What shall we do?"
"Hush!" said Hildegarde. "Listen, and don't be a goose! Do? what should he do to us? He might recite the 'Curse of Kehama,' but it isn't likely he knows it."
Martha, who had been reconnoitring through a crack of the window-blind, now uttered an exclamation. "Well, of all! Mam, it's old Galusha Pennypacker, as sure as you stand there."
"Is it possible?" said Miss Wealthy, in a tone of great surprise. "Martha, you must be mistaken. Galusha Pennypacker coming here. Why should he come here?"
But for once Martha was not ready to answer her mistress, for she had gone to open the door.
The girls listened, with clasped hands and straining ears.
"Why, Mr. Pennypacker!" they heard Martha say. "This is never you?"
Then a shrill, cracked voice broke in, speaking very slowly, as if speech were an unaccustomed effort. "Is there—two gals—here?"
"Two gals?" repeated Martha, in amazement. "What two gals?"
"Gals!" said the old man's voice,—"one on 'em highty-tighty, fly-away-lookin', 'n' the other kind o' 'pindlin'; drivin' your hoss, they was."
"Why—yes!" said Martha, more and more astonished. "What upon earth—"
"Here's their basket!" the old man continued; "tell 'em I—relished the victuals. Good-day t' ye!"
Then came the sound of a stick on the steps, and of shuffling feet on the gravel; and the next moment Miss Wealthy and Martha were gazing at the guilty girls with faces of mute amazement and inquiry which almost upset Hildegarde's composure.
"It's true, Cousin Wealthy!" she said quickly. "We meant to tell you—in a little while, when you would not be worried. We thought the house was deserted, and I went and looked in at the window. And—it looked so wretched, we thought we might—"
"There was only an onion and three crackers," murmured Rose, in deprecating parenthesis.
"We thought we might leave part of our luncheon, for Martha had given us such a quantity; and just when we had finished, we saw a face at the window—oh, such a dreadful old face!—and we ran away, and forgot the basket. So you see, Martha," she added, "it was partly your fault, for giving us so much luncheon."
"I see!" said Martha, chuckling, and apparently much amused.
But Miss Wealthy looked really frightened. "My dear girls," she said, "it was a very imprudent thing to do. Why, Galusha Pennypacker is half insane, people think. A dreadful old miser, who lives in filth and wretchedness, while he has plenty of money hidden away,—at least people say he has. Why, it terrifies me to think of your going into that hovel."
"Oh! Cousin Wealthy," said Hildegarde, soothingly, "he couldn't have hurt us, poor old thing! if he had tried. He looks at least a hundred years old. And of course we didn't know he was a miser. But surely it will do no harm for him to have a good dinner for once, and Martha's turnovers ought really to have a civilizing effect upon him. Who knows? Perhaps it may make him remember nicer ways, and he may try to do better."
Miss Wealthy was partly reconciled by this view of the case; but she declared that Rose must go to bed at once, as she must be quite exhausted.
At this moment Martha, who was still holding the basket, gave an exclamation of surprise. "Why," she said, "there's things in this! Did you leave these in the basket, Miss Hilda?"
"I? No!" cried Hildegarde, wondering. "I left nothing at all in it. What is there?"
All clustered eagerly round Martha, who with provoking deliberation took out two small parcels which lay in the bottom of the basket, and looked them carefully over before opening them. They were wrapped in dirty scraps of brown paper.
"Oh! there is writing on them!" cried Hildegarde. "Martha dear, do tell us what it says!"
Martha studied the inscriptions for some minutes, and then read aloud: "'The fly-away gal' and 'the pail gal.' Well, of all!" she cried, "it's presents, I do believe. Here, Miss Hilda, this must be for you."
Hildegarde opened the little parcel eagerly. It contained a small shagreen case, which in its turn proved to contain a pair of scissors of antique and curious form, an ivory tablet, yellow with age, a silver bodkin, and a silver fruit-knife, all fitting neatly in their places; the whole case closing with a spring. "It is the prettiest thing I ever saw!" cried Hildegarde. "See, Cousin Wealthy, isn't it delightful to think of that poor old dear—But what have you, Rose-red? You must be the 'pail gal,' of course, though you are not pale now."