OF THE DALE
Author of "Treasure Valley," "Duncan Polite," "The Silver Maple," etc.
HODDER & STOUGHTON
GEORGE H. DORAN COMPANY
By GEORGE H. DORAN COMPANY.
I. THE GAY GORDONS II. THE WILD STREAK III. A GENTEEL SABBATH IV. AT THE EDGE OF THE DAWN V. A ROYAL TITLE VI. SCHOOLDAYS VII. THE AGE OF CHIVALRY VIII. A BUDDING ACTRESS IX. THE FAIRY GOD-MOTHER ARRIVES X. GREAT EXPECTATIONS XI. THE DREAM OF LIFE XII. LEFT BEHIND XIII. GETTING INTO SOCIETY AND OUT XIV. WHEN LIFE WAS BEAUTY XV. WHAT OF THE NIGHT? XVI. "THE MORNING COMETH" XVII. DAWN CLOUDS XVIII. DARKNESS XIX. SUNRISE
'LIZBETH OF THE DALE
THE GAY GORDONS
On the side porch of the gray stone house sat Miss Gordon, steadily darning at the eight pairs of stockings belonging to her eight nephews and nieces. The strenuous task of being foster-mother to the eight had long ago taught Miss Gordon the necessity of doing two things at once. At the present moment she was attending to three beside the darning, and had chosen her position with an eye to their accomplishment. Here, where the Virginia creepers shaded her from the afternoon sun, she was near enough to the wall enclosing the backyard to mark that the Saturday raking and tidying of that battleground of the young Gordons suffered no serious interruption. Also, she could watch that little Jamie, tumbling about the grass in front of her, did not stray away to the pond. And, best of all, she commanded a view of the lane leading up to the highway, for a girl in a blue cotton gown and a big white hat was moving up the path to the gate between the willows, and Miss Gordon had awakened to the fact that her eldest niece needed watching.
Miss Annie had remarked a moment before, that she thought she might as well run up to the gate and see if Jerry Patterson, the mailman, was at the post-office yet; and besides, it was time Malcolm and Jean were home from the store, and she might help to carry their parcels; and, anyway, she had nothing to do, because it wasn't time to get the tea ready yet.
Miss Gordon would not have stooped to quote Shakespeare, considering him very irreligious and sometimes quite indelicate, and having forbidden the reading of him in the Gordon family. Nevertheless the unspoken thought of her mind was his—that the lady did protest too much.
Of the eight, Annie was her aunt's favorite. She was pretty and gentle and had caused Miss Gordon less trouble during the four years she had been head of her brother's house, than John or Elizabeth had frequently contributed in one day. But lately it seemed as though her greatest comfort bade fair to become her greatest anxiety. For Annie had suddenly grown up. The fact had been startlingly revealed by the strange actions of young Mr. Coulson, the school-teacher, who was probably at this moment walking across the fields towards the big gate between the willows.
At the thought, Miss Gordon closed her lips tightly and looked severe. To be sure, Annie must marry, and young Coulson seemed a rather genteel, well-made young man. He was studying law in the evenings, too, and might make his way in the world some day. But Auntie Jinit Johnstone, who lived on the next farm, and knew the minute family history of everyone in the county of Simcoe, had informed the last quilting-bee that a certain Coulson—and no distant relative of the young schoolmaster either—had kept a tavern in the early days down by the lake shore. Miss Gordon had made no remark. She never took part in gossip. But she had mentally resolved that she would inquire carefully just how distant this relative was, and then she would take means to place their Annie at a distance from the young man in an inverse ratio to the space between him and the tavern-keeper.
She peered through the tangle of alder and sumach that bordered the lane and saw her suspicions confirmed. Annie was at the gate, her blue dress set against the white background of some blossom-laden cherry-boughs, while down the road, the long limbs of this probable descendant of the tavern-keeper were bearing him swiftly towards her.
Miss Gordon's needle flashed in and out of Malcolm's sock, in a disapproving manner. She tried to look severe, but in spite of herself, her face showed something of pleasant excitement, for Miss Gordon was very much of a woman and could not but find a love affair interesting.
She had been a handsome girl once, and her fine, high-bred face was still almost beautiful. It was covered with innumerable tiny wrinkles, but her dark eyes were bright, and her cheeks bore a fixed pink flush, the birth-mark of the land of heather. Her hair, glossy black, with not a thread of gray, was parted in the middle and lay on either side in perfectly even waves. Her figure was slim and stiffly straight, her hands long and slender. She looked every inch a woman of refinement, and also a woman who would not flinch from any task that duty demanded.
And duty had asked much of her during these last few years—exile, privations, uncongenial tasks, and the mothering of eight orphans. This last demand had been the hardest. Even to their own mother, upon whom the burden had been laid gradually and gently, in Nature's wise way, the task had been a big one; but what had it been to her, who, without a moment's warning, had one day found herself at the head of a family, ranging from sixteen years to six days? Many times she had needed all her strength of character to keep her from dropping it all, and flying back to the peace and quiet of her old Edinburgh home. And yet she had struggled on under the burden for four years—four long years this spring; but even at this late day, she was overcome with a feeling of homesickness, as poignant as it had been in her first Canadian springtime.
She suspended her needle and looked about her as though inquiring the cause of this renewed longing. It was a May-day—a perfect Ontario May-day—all a luxury of blossoms and perfume. In the morning rain had fallen, and though now the clouds lay piled in dazzling white mountain-heaps far away on the horizon, leaving the dome above an empty quivering blue, still the fields and the gardens remembered the showers with gratitude and sparkled joyously under their garniture of diamond-drops. The wild cherry-trees bordering the lane and the highway, and the orchard behind the house were smothered in odorous blossoms of white and pink. A big flower-laden hawthorn grew in the lane, near the little gate leading from the garden. From its topmost spray a robin was pouring forth an ecstatic song—a song so out of proportion to his tiny body that he was fairly shaken by his own tumult—trills and whistles, calls and chuckles, all incoherently mingled and shouted forth in glorious hysteria. Miss Gordon looked up at the mad little musician and her face grew sad. She had recognized the cause of her renewed longing for home. At the little gate of her Edinburgh garden there grew just such a hawthorn, and the perfume of this one was telling her not of the joy and beauty before her, but of all she had left behind.
Miss Gordon had never seen the loveliness nor felt the lure of this new land—a garden-land though it was, of winding flower-fringed roads, of cool, fairy-dells, and hilltops with heart-thrilling glimpses of lake and forest and stream. Her harp was always hanging on the willows of this Canadian Babylon in mourning for the streets of Edinburgh. She could never quite rise above a feeling of resentment against the land that held her in bondage, and never once dreamed that, should she go back to the prim little house in McGlashan Street, with Cousin Griselda and their cats and their embroidery and their cup of tea at exactly half-past four in the afternoon, she would long for the old stone house in the far-off Canadian valley, and the love and companionship of the merry rioters who now made her days a burden.
Her grievance against Canada was due to the fact that she had crossed the ocean merely to make one short summer's visit to brother William and had been held a prisoner ever since.
It had all come about through Cousin Griselda's mistaken idea that to be truly genteel one must travel. The cousins had ever set before themselves perfect refinement and gentility as the one condition to be devoutly striven for, and the only one in keeping with the Gordon traditions. They lived in a quiet old house on a silent old street, with a sleepy old servant and two somnolent old cats. They were always excessively polite to each other and to everyone with whom they came in contact, even to the cats. Every afternoon of their lives, except Sunday, and once a month when the Ladies' Guild met at the manse, they wore their second-best black dresses, their earrings and bracelets, and sat in the parlor with the two cats and dozed and embroidered until half-past four when the tea was brought in. They always spoke slowly and carefully, and conversed upon genteel subjects. Nothing less important than the doings of the Royal Family, or at least the nobility, and, of course, once a week, the minister's sermon, was ever discussed in their tiny parlor. And as Cousin Griselda often remarked privately, Who were more able to discourse with ease upon such themes? For did there not live, right in Edinburgh, Sir William Gordon, who was almost a second cousin to both, and whose wife, Lady Gordon, had once called on them right there in McGlashan Street.
But Cousin Griselda was not content even with perfect refinement and titled relatives, and her vaulting ambition had led to the great mistake of Margaret's life. The draper's wife next door had called, and when she had gone and Keziah had carried away the three tea-cups, Cousin Griselda had remarked upon the almost genuine air of grandeur possessed by Mrs. Galbraith. Margaret had asked how it could be, for Mrs. Galbraith had no family connections and a husband in trade, and Cousin Griselda had thereupon expressed the firm conviction that it was because Mrs. Galbraith had traveled. She had been twice to London and several times to Liverpool. Cousin Griselda concluded by declaring that though a baronet in the family, and good blood were essential to true gentility, no one could deny that travel in foreign lands gave an air of distinction which nothing else could bestow.
The cousins were thoroughly disturbed in their minds thereafter and talked much of travel, to the neglect of the Royal Family. And even while the subject was absorbing them there had come to Margaret her brother William's letter from far-off Canada inviting her to visit him. The bare thought that Margaret might go, set the cousins into a flutter of excitement. To be sure, Margaret argued, Canada was a very wild and frost-bound country, scarcely the place one would choose to travel over in search of further refinement. But Griselda declared that surely, no matter where dear William's lot might be cast, being a Gordon, he would be surrounded by an atmosphere of gentility. And so, little by little, the preposterous idea grew into a reality, and by the time the cousins had discussed the matter for a year, it was finally decided that Margaret should go.
All through the twenty years of his absence, William's letters had been just as beautifully written and as nicely phrased, as they had in his student days in Edinburgh. The paper was not always what true refinement called for, but one could overlook that, when one remembered that it probably came to him on dog-sleds over mountains of snow. One had to surmise much, of course, regarding William's experience in Canada. His letters were all of his inner life. He said much regarding his spiritual condition, of his grievous lapses of faith, of his days on the Delectable Mountains and of his descents into the Slough of Despond, but very little of the hills and valleys of his adopted country. Once, shortly after his arrival, he had stated that he was living in a shanty where the bush came right up to the door. Margaret had had some misgivings, but Cousin Griselda had explained that a shanty was in all probability a dear little cottage, and the bush might be an American rose bush, or more likely a thorn, which in springtime would be covered with May.
But now William lived in a comfortable stone house, had married, and had a family growing up around him, who were all anxious to see their Old Country aunt. And so the unbelievable at last came to pass and his sister sailed for Quebec.
In the home land William Gordon had entered training for the ministry. His parents had died, owning their chief regret that they could not see their son in the pulpit, and his sister received the bitterest disappointment of her life, when he abandoned the calling. But William was largely Celt by blood and wholly so by nature and had visions. In one of them he had seen himself before the Great White Throne, worthless, sin-stricken. What was he that dared to enter such a holy calling as the ministry? He who was as the dust of the earth, a priest of the Most High God! He beat his brow at the blasphemy of the thought. It was Nadab or Abihu he was or a son of Eli, and the Ark would depart forever from God's people, did he dare to raise his profaning hands in its ministry. And so, partly to escape his sister's reproaches, he had sailed away to Canada. Here he had tried various occupations, and finally settled down to teaching school away back in the forests of Lake Simcoe. He married, and when a large family was growing up around him, and the ever-menacing poverty had at last seized them, he experienced the first worldly success of his life.
About a mile from the school which had witnessed his latest failure, there lay a beautiful little valley. Here an eccentric Englishman named Jarvis had built a big stone house and for a few years had carried on a semblance of farming. This place he called The Dale, and here he lived alone, except for an occasional visit from his wife, who watched his farming operations with disapproving eye from a neighboring town. The schoolmaster was his only friend, and when he died, while he left the farm to his wife, he bequeathed to William Gordon his big stone house and barns, and the four-acre field in which they stood. Fortune had looked for the first time upon the Gordons, and she deigned them a second glance. Through the energy of his wife and the influence of her people, the MacDonalds, who owned half the township of Oro, William Gordon obtained the position of township clerk. On the modest salary from this office, supplemented by the four acres where they pastured their cow and raised garden produce, the family managed to live; and here the young Gordons grew up, healthy and happy, and quite unconscious of the fact that they were exceedingly poor.
But someone had suffered in the fight against want, and when the worst of the struggle was over the brave mother began to droop. William Gordon had been a kind husband, but he lived with his head in the clouds. His eyes were so dazzled by distant visions that he had failed to notice that most beautiful vision at his side, a noble woman wearing her life away in self-forgetful toil for him and his children. She never spoke of her trials, for her nature was of the kind that finds its highest enjoyment in sacrifice. She was always bright and gay. Her smile and her ready laughter brightened the home in the days of her husband's deepest spiritual gloom. But one day even the smile failed. At the birth of their eighth child she went out into a new life, and the noble sacrifice was complete.
The long-expected aunt from the Old Country sailed a short time before baby Jamie's birth. So when Miss Gordon arrived, it was to an unexpected scene—a darkened home, a brother stunned by his loss, and a family of orphans, the eldest, a frightened-eyed girl of sixteen, the youngest, a wailing infant of a few days.
Miss Gordon was made of good Scotch granite, with a human heart beneath. The veneer of gentility had underneath it the pure gold of character. She seized the helm of the family ship with a heroic hand. She sailed steadily through a sea of troubles that often threatened to overwhelm her; the unaccustomed task of motherhood with its hundred trials, her brother's gloom and despair, the new conditions of the rough country—even the irony of a fate that had set her at hard, uncongenial toil in the very place where she had sought culture. But she succeeded, and had not only held her own poise in the struggle, but had managed to permeate the family life with something of her old-world refinement.
It was four long years since she had seen the hawthorn blooming in her home garden. And now the infant of that dark springtime was the sturdy boy, rolling over the grass with Collie, and the sixteen-year-old girl, with the big frightened eyes, was the tall young woman up there at the gate beside the figure in gray tweed.
Miss Gordon had stood the trial, partly because she had never accepted the situation as final. She would go back to Edinburgh and Cousin Griselda soon, she kept assuring herself, and though the date of her departure always moved forward, rainbow-like at her approach, she found much comfort in following it.
First she decided she must stay until the baby could walk, but when wee Jamie went toddling about the big bare rooms, Annie had just left school, and was not yet prepared to shoulder all the cares of housekeeping. She would wait until she saw Annie capable of managing the home. Then when Annie's skirts came down below her boot-tops, and her hair went up in a golden pile upon her head, and she could bake bread and sweep a room to perfection, the care of the next two children presented itself. Malcolm and Jean had from the first shown marked ability at school, and Miss Gordon's long-injured pride found the greatest solace in them. She determined that Malcolm must be sent to college, and William could never be trusted to do it. By strict economy she had managed to send both the clever ones to the High School in the neighboring town for the past year; how could she leave them now at the very beginning of their career?
And so the date of her return home moved steadily forward. Sometimes it went out of sight altogether and left her in despair. For even if the two brilliant ones should graduate and William should cease to be so shockingly absent-minded, and the younger boys so shockingly boisterous, and Mary so delicate, there was always Elizabeth. Whenever Miss Gordon contemplated the case of her third niece her castles in Edinburgh toppled over. What would become of Elizabeth if she were left unguided? What was to become of Elizabeth in any case, was an ever-present question.
But in spite of all the ties that held her, Miss Gordon had determined that, come what might, her homegoing was finally settled this time. It was to take place immediately after Annie's marriage. For of course Annie would marry—perhaps a rich gentleman from the town—who knew? Then, when Annie was settled, Jean must leave school and keep house, and she would sail away to Edinburgh and Cousin Griselda.
She made this final decision once again, with some stubbornness, as the breath of the hawthorn brought a hint of her old garden. She finished Malcolm's sock with a determined snip of her scissors, and took up John's.
Near the end of the long porch, a door led through the high board wall into the orchard and kitchen-garden. It swung noisily open, and a tall, broad-shouldered young woman, arrayed in a gay print cotton gown, a dusty black velvet sacque, and a faded pink hat, bounced heavily upon the porch.
Miss Gordon glanced up, and her startled look changed to one of relief and finally to severity. She bent over her darning.
"Good-afternoon, Sarah Emily," she remarked frigidly.
The young person was apparently unabashed by her chilling reception. She took one stride to the green bench that stood against the house and dropped upon it, letting her carpet-bag fall with a thud to the floor. She stretched out her feet in their thick muddy boots, untied her pink hat strings, and emitted a sounding sigh.
"Laws—a—day, but I'm dead dog-tired," she exclaimed cordially.
Miss Gordon looked still severer. Evidently Sarah Emily had returned in no prodigal-son's frame of mind. Ordinarily the mistress would have sharply rebuked the girl's manner of speech, but now she bent to her work with an air of having washed her hands finally of this stubborn case.
But Sarah Emily was of the sort that could not be overawed by any amount of dignity. She was not troubled, either, with a burdensome sense of humility—no, not even though this was the third time she had "given notice," and returned uninvited.
"Well," she exclaimed at length, as though Miss Gordon were arguing the case with her, "I jist had to have a recess. There ain't no one could stand the penoeuvres of that young Lizzie, an' the mud she trailed all over the kitchen jist after I'd scrubbed!"
Miss Gordon showed no signs of sympathy. She felt some, nevertheless, and suppressed a sigh. Elizabeth certainly was a trial. She deigned no remark, however, and Sarah Emily continued the one-sided conversation all unabashed.
"I hoofed it every fut o' the road," she remarked aggrievedly.
Miss Gordon took a new thread from her ball and fitted it into her needle with majestic dignity.
Sarah Emily was silent a moment, then hummed her favorite song.
"My grandmother lives on yonder little green, As fine an old lady as ever was seen, She has often cautioned me with care, Of all false young men to beware!
"I couldn't abide that there Mrs. Oliver another five minutes. She had too stiff a backbone for me, by a whole pail o' starch."
Miss Gordon's face changed. Here was news. Sarah Emily had been at service in town during her week's absence, and not only that, she had actually been in one of its most wealthy and influential families! To Miss Gordon, the town, some three miles distant, was a small Edinburgh, and she pined for even a word from someone, anyone, there who moved in its social world. She longed to hear more, but realized she could not afford to relax just yet.
"Perhaps you will understand now what it means to be under proper discipline," she remarked.
"Well, I wasn't kickin' about bein' under that, whatever it is. It was bein' under her thumb I couldn't abide—makin' me wear a white bonnet in the afternoons, jist as if I was an old granny, an' an apron not big enough for a baby's bib!"
Miss Gordon longed to rebuke the girl sharply, but could not bear to lose the glimpse of real genteel life.
"She has one girl an' one boy—an' that there boy! She'd dress him up in a new white get-up, 'bout every five minutes, an' he'd walk straight outside an' wallow in the mud right after. I thought I'd a' had to stand an' iron pants for that young heathen till the crack o' doom, an' I had just one pair too many so I had. An' I up an' told her you'd think she kep' a young centipede much less a human boy with only two legs to him. And then I up and skedaddled."
Miss Gordon's conscience added its protest to that of her dignity, and she spoke.
"I prefer that you should not discuss your various mistresses with me, Sarah Emily. I can have nothing to do with your affairs now, you see."
Sarah Emily lilted the refrain of her song:
"Timmy—eigh timmy—um, timmy—tum—tum—tum, Of all false young men to beware!
"Would you like muffins or pancakes for supper?" she finished up graciously.
Miss Gordon hesitated. Sarah Emily was a great trial to genteel nerves, but she was undeniably a great relief from much toilsome labor that was quite incompatible with a genteel life. Sarah Emily noticed her hesitation and went on:
"When Mrs. Jarvis came she had me make muffins every morning for breakfast."
Miss Gordon dropped her knitting, completely off her guard.
"Why, Sarah Emily!" she cried, "you don't mean—not Elizabeth's Mrs. Jarvis."
Sarah Emily nodded, well-pleased.
"Jist her, no less! She's been visitin' Mrs. Oliver for near a month now, an' she was askin' after Lizzie, too. I told her where I was from. I liked her. Me and her got to be awful good chums, but I couldn't stand Mrs. Oliver. An' Mrs. Jarvis says, 'Why, how's my little namesake?' An' o' course I put Lizzie's best side foremost. I made her out as quiet as a lamb, an' as good an' bidable as Mary."
"Sarah Emily!"—Miss Gordon had got back some of her severity—"you didn't tell an untruth?"
"Well, not exactly, but I guess I scraped mighty nigh one."
"What did Mrs. Jarvis say?"
"She said she wasn't much like her mother then, an' she hoped she wouldn't grow up a little prig, or some such thing. An' she told me"—here Sarah Emily paused dramatically, knowing she was by this reinstating herself into the family—"she told me to tell you she was goin' to drive out some day next week and see you all, an' see what The Dale looked like."
Miss Gordon's face flushed pink. Not since the day Lady Gordon called upon her and Cousin Griselda had she been so excited. It seemed too good to be true that her dream that this rich lady, who had once owned The Dale and for whom little Elizabeth had been called, should really come to them. Surely Lizzie's fortune was made!
She turned gratefully towards her maid. Sarah Emily had arisen and was gathering up her hat and carpet-bag. For the first time her mistress noted the weary droop of the girl's strong frame.
"We needn't have either muffins or pancakes, Sarah Emily," she said kindly. "Put away your things upstairs and I shall tell Jean and Mary to set the table for you."
But Sarah Emily sprang airily towards the kitchen door, strengthened by the little touch of kindness.
"Pshaw, don't you worrit your head about me!" she cried gayly. "I'll slap up a fine supper for yous all in ten minutes." She swung open the kitchen door at the end of the porch, and turned before she slammed it. She stood a moment regarding her mistress affectionately.
"I tell ye what, ma'am," she cried in a burst of gratitude, "bad as ye are, other people's worse!"
She banged the door and strode off singing loudly:
"Timmy—eigh timmy—um, timmy—tum—tum—tum, Of all false young men to beware!
Miss Gordon accepted the doubtfully worded compliment for all it really meant from Sarah Emily's generous heart. But the crudeness of it jarred upon her genteel nerves. Unfortunately Miss Gordon was not so constituted as to see its humor.
She darned on, quickly and excitedly. Her dream that the rich Mrs. Jarvis should one day take a fancy to the Gordons and make their fortune was growing rosier every moment. Little Jamie came wandering over the grass towards her. His hands were full of dandelions and he looked not unlike an overgrown one himself with his towsled yellow curls. He leaned across her knee, his curly head hanging down, and swayed to and fro, crooning a little sleepy song. Miss Gordon's thin hand passed lovingly over his silky hair. Her face grew soft and beautiful. At such times the castles in Edinburgh grew dim and ceased to allure.
She arose and took the child's hand. "Come, Jamie dear," she said, "and we'll meet father." And so great was her good-humor, caused by her hopeful news, that when Annie met her shyly at the garden gate with the young schoolmaster following, her aunt gave him a stately but cordial invitation to supper. In view of the prospects before the family, she felt she could for the time at least let the tavern-keeping ancestor go on suspended sentence.
The Gordons gathered noisily about the supper table, William Gordon, a tall, thin man, strongly resembling his sister, but with all her severity and force of character missing, came wandering in from his study. His eyes bright and kindly, but with a far-away, absent look, beamed over the large table. He sat down, then catching sight of the guest standing beside Annie, rose, and shook him cordially by the hand.
The family seated themselves in their accustomed places, Annie, the pretty one, at her father's right hand, then Malcolm and Jean, the clever ones, John the quiet one, and Mary, the delicate one—a pale little girl with a sweet, pathetic mouth. On either side of their aunt were the two little boys, Archie and Jamie, and there was a plate between Mary and John which belonged to an absent member of the family. Here the visitor sat, and Sarah Emily was squeezed into a corner near her mistress. That Sarah Emily should sit with the family at all was contrary to Miss Gordon's wishes, and one of the few cases in which she yielded to her brother. She had brought Sarah Emily from a Girls' Home four years before, and had decreed that she would show the neighbors the proper Old Country way of treating a servant. Sarah Emily was far from the Old Country type, however, and William seemed to have forgotten that servants had a place of their own since he had lived so long in the backwoods. When the family would arrange themselves at table, with the maid standing properly behind her mistress, Mr. Gordon would wait for her to be seated before asking the blessing, regarding her with gentle inquiring eyes, and finally requesting her in a mildly remonstrating tone to come away and sit down like a reasonable body. And Sarah Emily, highly pleased, would drag a chair across the bare floor and plant herself down with a satisfied thud right on top of the family gentility. Miss Gordon tried many ways to prevent repetition of the indignity by keeping Sarah Emily out of the way. She disliked explaining, for William was rather queer about some things since he had been so long in this country. But Sarah Emily always contrived to be on hand just as the family were being seated. And finally, when her brother inquired anxiously if she wasn't afraid Sarah Emily had Roman Catholic leanings, since she refused to sit down at the table for grace, Miss Gordon gave up the struggle, and to the joy of all the children, Sarah Emily became one of the family indeed.
"Where's Lizzie?" asked the guest, when the pancakes had been circulated. He addressed his host, but looked at Annie. Mr. Gordon gazed around wonderingly. "Lizzie? I didn't miss the wee lamb. Where's our little 'Lizbeth, Margaret?"
Miss Gordon sighed. William never knew where the children were. "Did you forget it's Saturday?" she inquired. "Elizabeth always spends Saturday afternoon with Mrs. MacAllister," she explained to the young man.
"Mrs. MacAllister is very much attached to Elizabeth," she added, feeling very kindly just now toward her most trying child.
"Lizzie always does her home-work over there," ventured Archie, "'cause Charles Stuart does her sums for her." John gave the speaker a warning kick. Archie was only seven and extremely indiscreet, but John was twelve and knew that whatever a Gordon might do or say to his sister in the bosom of his own family, he must uphold her before all outsiders, and particularly in the presence of a school-teacher.
But the school-teacher was in a very happy unprofessional frame of mind. "Never mind," he said, "Lizzie will beat you all at something, some day!"
He knew that a good word for the little sister always brought an approving light into the blue eyes across the table. Annie smiled radiantly.
"What is Lizzie best at?" she inquired with sweet anxiety.
Young Mr. Coulson looked at his plate and thought desperately. To discover any subject in which Lizzie Gordon was efficient was enough to confound any teacher. Then he remembered the caricatures of himself he had discovered on her slate.
"She has a remarkable talent for drawing," he said generously.
Annie beamed still brighter, and Miss Gordon glanced at him approvingly. She really did hope the story about the tavern-keeper was not true.
"Perhaps Elizabeth will be a great artist some day," she suggested.
"And she'll paint all our pictures," added Jean, "and we'll be more like the Primrose family than ever." The Gordons all laughed. They generally laughed when Jean spoke, because she was always supposed to say something sharp.
Mr. Gordon had lately been reading aloud the "Vicar of Wakefield," and, as always when a book was being read by them, the Gordons lived in its atmosphere and spoke in its language.
"Father will be the Vicar," said Annie, "and Aunt Margaret"—she looked half-frightened at her own audacity—"Aunt Margaret will be Mrs. Primrose."
"And you'll be Olivia," added Jean. "I'll be Sophia, with John and Mary for my sheep, and Malcolm can be Moses and wear Annie's hat with the feather in it."
The Gordons all laughed again.
"And who'll be the Squire?" asked little Mary, gazing admiringly at her wonderful sister. "Mr. Coulson would do, wouldn't he?"
Two faces strove to hide their blushes behind the bouquet of cherry blossoms which Sarah Emily had placed upon the table in honor of her return.
There was an intense silence. Mr. Gordon looked up. Nothing aroused him so quickly from his habitual reverie as silence at the table, because it was so unusual. He beheld his second son indulging in one of his spasms of silent laughter.
"What is the fun about?" he inquired genially, and then all the Gordons, except the eldest and the youngest, broke into giggles. Miss Gordon's voice, firm, quiet, commanding, saved the situation. She turned to Mr. Coulson and remarked, in her stateliest manner, that it had been a wonderful rain, just such a downpour as they had in Edinburgh the day after Lady Gordon called—she who was the wife of Sir William Gordon—their cousin for whom her brother had been called.
Young Mr. Coulson seized upon the subject with a mighty interest, and plunged into a description of a terrible storm that had swept over Lake Simcoe in his grandfather's days—thunder and hail and blackness. The storm cleared the atmosphere at the table, and Annie's cheeks were becoming cool again, when the young man brought the deluge upon himself in the most innocent manner.
"There are signs of it yet," he went on. "Did you ever see the old log-house at the first jog in the Ridge Road?" he inquired of Malcolm. "Well, there are holes in the chimney yet where the lightning came through. I can remember my grandfather lifting me up to look at them. He kept tavern there in the bad old days," he added cordially, "but the Coulsons have become quite respectable since."
There was another silence deeper than the last. Even young Archie, smothering himself with a huge slab of bread and butter and caring little about anything else, understood that to be related to a tavern-keeper placed one far beyond the pale of respectability. Annie was looking at her lap now, all her rosiness gone. The young man glanced about him half-puzzled, and Miss Gordon again saved the day by introducing a genteel word about Edinburgh and Lady Gordon.
But, as they left the table, she decided that again her home-going must be postponed until all danger of a Gordon uniting with the grandson of a tavern-keeper was passed.
THE WILD STREAK
The valley where the Gordons lived had narrowly escaped having a village at the corner. The surrounding district held all the requirements of one, but they did not happen to be placed near enough to one another. At the cross-roads in the center of the valley stood a store and post-office. But the blacksmith's shop, which should have been opposite, was missing. In the early days the blacksmith, being a Highland Scot, had refused to work opposite the storekeeper, who was only a Lowlander, and had set up his business over on the proud seclusion of the next concession. The school, too, had got mislaid somehow, away to the south out of sight. So the valley was left to the farms and orchards, and contained only five homes in all its length.
But where man had been neglectful, nature had lavished wealth, performing great feats in the way of landscape gardening. On all sides, the vale was held in by encircling hills. The eastern boundary was steep and straight and was known as Arrow Hill. On its summit stood a gaunt old pine stump, scarred and weather-beaten. Here, an old Indian legend said, the Hurons were wont to tie a captive while they showered their arrows into his quivering body. The children of the valley could point out the very holes in the old trunk where certain arrows, missing their victim, had lodged. Away opposite, forming the western wall, rose the Long Hill, with a moss-fringed road winding lingeringly up its face. Down through the cedars and balsams that hedged its side tumbled a clear little brook, singing its way through the marigolds and musk that lovingly strove to hold it back. Reaching the valley, it was joined by the waters that oozed from a great dark swamp to the south, and swelling into a good-sized stream, it wound its way past The Dale, held in by steep banks, all trilliums and pinks and purple violets and golden touch-me-not, and hedged by a double-line of feathery white-stemmed birches.
From east to west of the valley stretched a straight road, hard and white. Old Indian tales hung about it also. It was an early Huron trail, they said, and the one followed by Champlain when he marched over from the Ottawa valley and found Lake Simcoe hanging like a sapphire pendant from the jewel-chain of the Great Lakes. It was still called Champlain's Road, and had in it something of the ancient Indian character. For it cut straight across country over hill and stream, all unmindful of Government surveys or civilized lines.
Just a few miles beyond Arrow Hill it ran into the little town of Cheemaun, and on market-days its hard, white surface rang with the beat of hoofs and the rattle of wheels. In the early morning the procession rolled forward, strong and eager for the day's bargaining, and at night it swept back bearing some weary ones, some gleeful over their money-getting, some jealous and dissatisfied because of the wealth and ease they had seen, and some glad to return to the quiet and peace of their farm homes. And there were always the few who lurched along, caring not whether they reached home or fell by the wayside, having sold their manhood over the bar of one of Cheemaun's many hotels.
And thus the tide of rural life ebbed and flowed, beating ceaselessly against the town, leaving its impress both for good and ill, bringing back on its waves treasure-trove to be swallowed by the deep of the country, and often, too, carrying on its surface some of the urban community's slime and filth.
On this May evening Champlain's Road stretched across the valley, not white and hard, but softened by the rain, and looking like a great broad lilac ribbon, set here and there with sparkling jewels made by the pools of water. The sun had slipped behind the cedars of the Long Hill and the valley was clothed in a wonderful combination of all shades of blue—the cloak Mother Nature so often throws round her shoulders after a shower. The towering elms, the glossy beeches, and the spreading maples, that grew on either side of the highway, were all bathed in the blue radiance. The old snake fences, smothered in raspberry and alder bushes, were a deep purple, and the white rapture of the cherry-trees and the orchards by the farm-houses had turned a delicate lilac. The valley had taken on heaven's own blue this evening, and smiled back at the gleaming skies with something of their own beauty.
On every side the robins shouted their joy from the treetops, the bob-o'-links tinkled their fairy bells as they wheeled above the clover-fields; and from the dainty line of white-stemmed birches that guarded the stream came the mingled even-song of the frogs and the veeries.
There was but one pedestrian on Champlain's Road this quiet evening. This was a small person who had just emerged from a farm gate at the foot of the Long Hill. Back from the gate stood an old farm-house and at its door a woman was standing. She was knitting a long gray sock, holding her ball under her arm, knitting swiftly, even while her eyes followed lovingly the little figure skipping along the lavender road. The soft blue light touched her silver hair and her white apron and turned the gray homespun dress into a royal robe of purple worthy of the owner's wearing. The little figure danced out of sight behind a clump of cedars and the woman turned from the doorway with a tender smile that ended in a sigh. One evening her own little girl had passed down the lane and along Champlain's Road to the churchyard beyond the hills, and this little one filled somewhat the dreary space in the mother's heart.
Meanwhile, the one pedestrian on the lavender road was going swiftly on. She was clothed in a blue checked pinafore and a sunbonnet of the same material, which absorbed the blue light and glowed with vivid color. Beneath the sunbonnet hung a long heavy braid of shiny brown hair, with a reddish streak down the middle of it. The pinafore was tucked up round the owner's waist to form a bag, in which were carried a pair of stockings and strong, copper-toed boots, three very wrinkled apples, a bunch of wilted marigolds, and a cake of maple-sugar. The small person clutched this bundle in her arms and held up her short skirts in a highly improper manner, while she went splashing through the puddles singing a loud and riotous song.
This was Elizabeth. And this unseemly manner of peregrination displayed just one of Elizabeth's trying peculiarities. For four years she had been faithfully taught that little girls should never go barefoot outside their own gardens, and that when they were on the public highway they must walk quietly and properly on the grass by the roadside. When she remembered, Elizabeth strove to conform to the laws of home and social usage, for she was very docile by nature; but then Elizabeth seldom remembered. When she did, it was only to recall hopelessly her aunt's many times reiterated statement that Lizzie had the wild streak of the MacDuffs in her, and what could you expect? The Gordon family had generally been genteel enough to keep this objectionable MacDuff connection hidden, but occasionally it came out in red hair, deep gray eyes, and a wild, erratic disposition. To be sure, little Elizabeth's hair was not red, but a deep nut-brown, shading to rich yellow at the ends, where it curled upwards. But down the middle of her heavy brown braid ran a thick strand of reddish gold, quite enough to account for the vagaries of her behavior. And there was no doubt about Elizabeth's eyes—those unfathomable gray eyes that looked steel blue or soft gray or deep black, according to the owner's mood. Yes, Elizabeth had the two fatal badges of the wild MacDuffs, coupled with dear knows what inheritance from her mother's people, the fighting MacDonalds, who had been the scandal of the whole countryside in the early days.
Having heard all this many, many times from her aunt, Elizabeth had finally accepted the sad fact that she had "a wild streak" in her, just as she accepted the variegated color of her hair, not without much rebellion against her fate though, and many tears of repentance, and frequent solemn pledges to walk in unstreaked propriety for the rest of her days.
At other times she recklessly concluded that it was impossible to battle against destiny. For one never knew just how one was going to act. For a very chameleon was this strange Elizabeth, always the color of her surroundings. Being just ten-and-a-half, she would act with the wisdom of an ancient sage when in company with Mrs. MacAllister, and the foolishness of a spring lamb when left to gambol with her little brother. To-night her spirit had caught the joyous note of the wonderful spring evening, and she was like the valley, gay and sparkling and noisy with delight. Besides, this was the first time she had ever been allowed to go home alone from Mother MacAllister's, and the sense of freedom went to her head.
So, along the lavender road she skipped, holding her skirts very high, splashing mud over her pinafore and even her sunbonnet, and singing loudly:
"She's ower the border an' awa Wi' Jock o' Hazeldean!"
Mr. MacAllister had sung this song after supper, between the puffs of his pipe, as he sat on the wash bench by the door, and Mother MacAllister had told them the story, as she and Elizabeth washed up the dishes, the story of the lady of high degree who had cast aside wealth and noble lovers to hie awa wi' Jock o' Hazeldean.
Charles Stuart, who was Mother MacAllister's really, truly child, had interrupted to inquire what "ower the border an' awa'" meant, and Elizabeth had felt impatient enough to slap him had she dared. Charles Stuart was very stupid about some things, though he could spell and always got the right answer to a sum in school. Elizabeth knew exactly what it meant, though she could not have explained. It was just what she was doing now, as she leaped from pool to pool with her skirts and her pinafore in a string about her waist—fleeing in ecstasy away, away, to that far-off undiscovered country of dreams, "Ower the border."
Her joyous abandon was rudely checked. There was a quick splash from a pool not a yard ahead of her, where a stone hit the water sharply. Elizabeth stopped in alarm. She whirled round towards the low fence bordering the highway. Its innocent appearance, all draped in woodbine and fringed with alder and raspberry bushes, did not deceive her in the least. "You're a nasty, mean, mean boy, Charles Stuart MacAllister!" she cried indignantly to the thickest clump of alders. She dropped her dress and stepped to the grassy side of the road, filled with rage. Of course it was Charles Stuart. He was always in the direction whence stones and abuse came. It had ever seemed to Elizabeth the strangest injustice that a dear, lovely lady like Mother MacAllister should have been so shabbily treated both in the quantity and quality of the family Providence had given her. For while there were eight Gordons, and every one of them fairly nice at times, there was but one single solitary MacAllister, and a boy at that; yes, and sometimes the very nastiest boy that went to Forest Glen School!
She walked along with a haughtiness her Aunt Margaret might have envied and took not the smallest notice when a little turbulent fox-terrier, with many squeaks and squirms, wriggled through a hole in the fence and came bounding towards her. And she turned her head and gazed absorbedly across the fields when it was followed by a boy who pitched himself over the fence and crossed to her side.
"Hello, Lizzie!" he cried, his brown eyes dancing in his brown face in the friendliest manner. "Mother says I've got to see you home."
Elizabeth's head went higher. She fixed her eyes on the line of white-stemmed birches that guarded the stream. Neither did she deign to notice "Trip," who frisked and barked about her.
Charles Stuart came a step nearer and took hold of the long, heavy braid. "Mud-turtle, Lizzie!" he hissed. "Mud-turtle! Look out there! Your neck's gettin' that long you'll hit the telegraph wires in another minute."
Elizabeth's shoulders came up towards her ears with a quick, convulsive movement. Her dignity vanished. Her long neck, her long hair, her long fingers, and her gray eyes were features over which much teasing had made her acutely sensitive.
She whirled round, made a slap at her tormentor, which he dodged, stumbled over Trip, who was always in the way, and fell full length upon the wet grass, scattering her treasures far and wide. Trip snatched up a boot and began worrying it; Charles Stuart shouted with laughter; and Elizabeth picked herself up, sank upon a stone, and began to cry.
The boy was all repentance immediately. He gathered up the apples, the stockings, the maple sugar, and even the faded bunch of marigolds, rescued the boot from Trip, and handed them all to their owner, remembering contritely how his mother had said he must be kind to little Lizzie on the way home and, above all things, not to make her cry.
Elizabeth received her treasures with averted face. "I wish you'd go back home and leave me alone," she wailed, as she wiped away her tears with the muddy skirt of her pinafore.
"Well, I'd like to," said Charles Stuart honestly; "but mother said I'd got to see you home. Hurrah, Lizzie! Aw, come on, I won't tease you any more."
So Elizabeth rose, not without much of the dignity of a broken heart in her attitude, and walked forward in a very stately fashion indeed.
Charles Stuart did his best to make amends. He pointed out the oriole's little cradle that swung from the elm bough high above their heads. He showed her the ground-hogs' hole beside the hollow stump and the wasps' nest in the fence corner, until at last friendly relations were once more established.
They walked along side-by-side: he, splashing through the blue rainpools; she, envious and proper, stepping over the soft, wet grass. She was slightly disconcerted, too; for a Charles Stuart that walked beside you on the public highway, and did not run and hide nor throw stones, nor even pull your hair, was something to raise even more apprehension than when he behaved naturally.
But the young man was really trying to atone for his sins, for a reason Elizabeth could never have guessed, and he now sidled up to her holding something in his hand.
"Don't you want this?" He handed her, with an embarrassed attempt at nonchalance, a very sticky little candy tablet. It was pretty and pink and had some red printing on it. Elizabeth took it, quite overwhelmed with surprise and gratitude. She was just about to put it into her mouth when she thought of Jamie. The little brother loved sweeties so. Of course she had saved her cake of maple sugar for him, all but one tiny bite; but a pink candy was ever so much better. With a hasty "thanks," she slipped it into her pinafore with her other treasures.
Charles Stuart looked disappointed. He picked up some stones, shied one at the telegraph wires, and another at the green glass fixture at the top of the pole. This last proceeding caused Elizabeth to scream and beseech him to stop. For Malcolm had said that a dreadful man would come out from town and put you in jail if you committed this crime. Charles Stuart, having accomplished his purpose in fixing Elizabeth's attention upon himself once more, desisted, and cast his last stone with a crash into the raspberry bushes by the roadside.
"Ain't you goin' to read it?" he asked, with his back towards her.
"Read what, the candy?"
Elizabeth paused and rummaged in her pinafore. She bundled shoes and stockings aside and fished out the little pink tablet. The legend, inscribed in red letters, was, "Be my girl." She read it aloud quite impersonally. She did not object to it, for fear of hurting Charles Stuart's feelings; but she wished that it had been, "Be my boy," instead. It would have been so appropriate for Jamie. For every day she bribed and coaxed him to be "Diddy's boy," in preference to Mary's or Jean's or even Annie's.
Charles Stuart waited for some comment, feeling that Elizabeth was certainly very dull. No wonder she could never get a sum right at school, and was always foot of the spelling class. He flung another stone to relieve his feelings; this time in the direction of a pair of chiming bob-o'-links that, far over the clover-meadow, went up and down in an airy dance. He felt he must put forth another effort to make his position clear to Elizabeth's dull wits.
"Say, Lizzie, did anybody ever—ever see you home before?"
Elizabeth stared. Surely Charles Stuart must be wandering in his mind, for how could he help knowing that his mother or father or Long Pete Fowler, the hired man, often accompanied indeed by Charles Stuart himself, had always, heretofore, seen her home?
"Of course," she answered wonderingly. "But I'm a big girl now, I'm going on eleven, and I'm too old to have anybody see me home."
This was worse than ever. Charles Stuart looked at her in perplexity. Then he came straight to the point in the wise old way.
"Say, Lizzie, I think you're the nicest girl in all Forest Glen School."
Elizabeth stared again; not so much at the remark, though it was extremely absurd, for Charles Stuart hated all girls, as at his uncomfortable subdued manner, which she now began to notice. She felt vaguely sorry for him. Charles Stuart never acted like that unless his father had been giving him a scolding. Her sympathy made her responsive.
"Do you?" she cried. "Oh, I'm so glad, Charles Stuart."
This was making fine progress. The young man looked vastly encouraged.
"I'm going away to the High School, in Cheemaun, if I pass next summer," he said, with not so much irrelevance as might appear.
Elizabeth was all interest. To "pass" and go to the High School in the neighboring town was the grand ambition of every boy and girl in Forest Glen School.
"Oh, are you, Charles Stuart? Maybe John is, too."
"Yes." He was getting on famously now. "Father says I can. And I'm going to college after."
"And what'll you be?" asked Elizabeth admiringly.
"I'm not sure," said Charles Stuart grandly. "Mother wants me to be a minister, but I think I'd rather be a horse-doctor."
Elizabeth looked dubious. She did not like to differ from Mother MacAllister, but she could not see how it would be possible to make anything like a minister out of such an uncomfortable, hair-pulling stone-thrower as Charles Stuart.
"You'd best be a horse-doctor, Charles Stuart," she advised wisely. After all, that was a very noble calling, Elizabeth felt. Once a horse-doctor had come out from town to Rosie Carrick's place and Rosie's pussy had been sick, and he had given it medicine which cured it. She related the incident for Charles Stuart's encouragement, but he did not seem very favorably impressed. Pulling pussy-cats' tails was more in Charles Stuart's line. He began to show leanings towards the ministry.
"Mother says it's a grander thing to be a minister than anything else in the world," he asserted. "But you have to know an awful lot, I guess."
"And you have to be most awful good," said Elizabeth emphatically.
"Mother says you have to be most awful good no matter what you are," said Charles Stuart, with greater wisdom.
Elizabeth nodded; but she could not allow the ministry to be belittled.
"My father was nearly a minister once, but he said he wasn't good enough, and he's the very, very goodest man that ever lived."
"It'll be easy to be good when we're grown up," said Charles Stuart.
"Oh, yes, ever so easy," said Elizabeth comfortably.
Charles Stuart was looking embarrassed again. "I'm—I'm nearly twelve, you know."
They had reached the big gate between the willows by this time. Elizabeth flung her treasure trove upon the grass and, springing upon the gate, swung out on to the road again.
"Well, I know that," she said, wondering what such gratuitous information had to do either with being a minister or riding a gate, "and I'm going on eleven."
Charles Stuart mounted on the other side and swung, too. It was rather childish, but he was bound to be agreeable until he got something off his mind.
"Well, you know—when I'm done going to college, and we've grown up we'll have to get married, you and me. Long Pete Fowler said so."
Elizabeth did not look at all impressed. Such a proposition did not appeal to her. It was too vague and intangible. People all got married, of course, some day, but not until you were very, very old and staid, and all the joy of life had departed from it—just as everybody died some day. But, though death was inevitable, Elizabeth did not borrow trouble from that solemn fact. Besides, she had far other and greater ambitions than were dreamed of in Charles Stuart's philosophy. She was going to be grand and famous some day—just how, Elizabeth had not yet decided. One day she would be a great artist, the next a missionary in darkest Africa. But Joan of Arc's life appealed to her most strongly, and oftenest her dreams pictured herself clad in flashing armor, mounted on a prancing charger, and leading an army of brave Canadians to trample right over the United States.
So there was nothing very alluring in the prospect of exchanging all this to settle down with Charles Stuart, even though one would be living with dear Mother MacAllister, with whom one was always happy. She looked at Charles Stuart, about to speak out her disdain, when the expression of his face suddenly checked her. Even as a child Elizabeth had a marvelous intuition, which told her when another's feelings were in danger of being hurt. It gave her a strange, quite unacknowledged feeling that she was far older and wiser than the children she played with. There was always an inner self sitting in judgment on all childishness, even when she was on the highroad to every sort of nonsense by way of the wild streak.
That inner self spoke now. It said that Charles Stuart was very young and silly, but he was also very nervous, and she must not hurt him. She must pretend that she thought him very wise. It would not be very wicked, for was she not always pretending? When Jamie said, "Be a bear, Diddy," or "Be a bogey-man," Elizabeth would go down on her knees and growl and roar, or pull her hair over her face, make goggle-eyes, and hop madly about until the little brother was screaming with ecstatic terror. So when Charles Stuart said, "We'll get married," it required less effort to comply than to be a bogey-man, and she nodded radiantly, and said, "All right."
Charles Stuart looked equally radiant, and they swung back and forth smiling at each other over the top of the gate. Elizabeth began to think it would not be such a bad bargain after all. If Charles Stuart was really going to like her, how much happier life would be! For, of course, he would never plot with John to run away from her any more, and they three would play one perpetual game of ball for ever and ever.
They had swung some moments in happy silence when Charles Stuart, with masculine obtuseness, made a blunder that shattered the airy fabric of their dream. He had been looking down into Elizabeth's deep eyes, and exclaimed in honest surprise:
"Say, Lizzie, your eyes are green, I do declare!"
Elizabeth's face turned crimson. To accuse her of having black eyes, as many people did by lamplight, was horrid, horrid mean; to say her eyes were gray was a deadly insult. But to be told they were green! She had only a minute before delicately spared Charles Stuart's feelings, and now he had turned and trampled upon her most tender sensibilities.
"They're not! They're not!" she cried indignantly. "They're blue, and I won't play with you ever again, Charles Stuart MacAllister, you nasty, nasty boy!"
She flung down off the gate and swept up her treasures from the wet grass. The sight of her roused all Charles Stuart's desire to tease. She really looked so funny snatching up a shoe or stocking and dropping it again in her wrath, while Trip grabbed everything she dropped and shook it madly. Charles Stuart jumped from the gate and began imitating her, catching up a stone, letting it fall, with a shriek and crying loudly at the top of his voice, while Trip, enjoying the noise and commotion, went round and round after his tail just because he could think of nothing else to do.
This was too much for Elizabeth. Charles Stuart was heaping insult upon insult. She got the last article of her bundle crushed into her pinafore, and as the boy, going through the same motions, raised his head, she gave him a sounding slap in the face, turned, darted through the gate, and went raging down the lane, dropping a shoe, a stocking, an apple, or a piece of maple sugar at every bound. She was blinded with tears and choking with grief and anger—anger that Charles Stuart should have cajoled her into thinking he intended to be nice to her, and grief that she could have been so cruel. Oh, what a terrible blow she had struck! Her hand tingled from it yet. It must have hurt poor Charles Stuart dreadfully, and after such conduct she could never hope to be a lady. Her aunt would be disgraced, and that wonderful lady, whose name she bore, would never come to see her. She was an outcast whom nobody loved, for not even Mother MacAllister could like her now!
She could not go home, so she flung herself down upon the wet grass in a corner of the lane and wept bitterly. It was always so with Elizabeth. She was up in the clouds one moment and down in the depths the next. Her heart was breaking over the injury she had done. For the first time in her life she experienced a feeling of warm regard towards Charles Stuart, simply because she had hurt him.
She stopped sobbing, and, raising herself from the ground, peeped out through her tears to see if he were in sight. Perhaps he was stunned by the blow and was lying beneath the gate. She could see no sign of him and her heart stood still with dread. She had been vaguely conscious of joyous shouts and cries from the field behind the house and had heard the rifle-crack of a baseball against the bat, telling that there was a game in progress. She was now made aware that the joyous shouts were growing into a noisy clamor of welcome. Above the din she could hear John's roar: "Charles Stuart on our side! I bar Charles Stuart!" And there was her false lover speeding across the field towards her home, Trip at his heels! Elizabeth arose from the ground, dry-eyed and indignant. She wished she had hit him harder. Charles Stuart MacAllister was without doubt the horridest, horridest boy that ever lived and she would never speak to him again—no, not if she lived to be two hundred and went over to his place every Saturday for a thousand years. Just see if she would!
As she passed an alder clump and caught a glimpse of her aunt standing near the garden gate talking with Mr. Coulson, Elizabeth became suddenly overwhelmed with a sense of her shoeless and disheveled condition. She knew that, while untidy hair and a dirty pinafore were extremely reprehensible, bare feet put one quite beyond the possibility of being genteel. That word "genteel" had become the shibboleth of the Gordon family in the last four years. It was poor Elizabeth's chief burden in life. For how could anyone hope to live up to it when she was possessed of a wild streak?
Fortunately, her aunt was in deep conversation with Mr. Coulson, and had not spied her. She dropped upon the grass, safely hidden by the alders, and began to drag her damp stockings over her muddy feet. There would arise dire consequences from this later, but Elizabeth found the evil of the hour sufficient unto it and never added the troubles of the future. As she sat thus busily engaged, she was startled by the sound of footsteps and drew back further behind her flowery screen. The next moment Mr. Coulson strode rapidly past her and up the lane without glancing to the right or left. Elizabeth stared after him. He had passed so close she might have touched him, and how pale and angry he looked! The schoolmaster was one of the objects upon which Elizabeth showered the wealth of her devotion, and she was vaguely disturbed for him. He looked just as if he had been whipping someone in school. Then her own uncomfortable condition obtruded itself once more, and she arose. She straightened her sunbonnet, smoothed down her crumpled skirts and slowly and fearfully took her way down the lane. She dreaded to meet her aunt, knowing by sad experience that as soon as that lady's eye fell upon her, not only would all the misdemeanors of which she was conscious appear silhouetted against Miss Gordon's perfection, but dozens of unsuspected sins would spring to light and stand out black in the glare.
She peeped through the tangle of alders and saw that Aunt Margaret was now talking to Annie, with her back to the lane, and the same instant she spied a way of escape. The lane ran straight past the big stone house and down to the line of birches that bordered the stream, forming the road by which Mr. MacAllister reached his old mill, lying away down there in the hollow. Down in the lower part of the lane where the birches grew, William Gordon was wont to walk in the evenings, and here Elizabeth, with infinite relief, spied him just coming into view from beyond a curve. He was walking slowly with bent head, his long, thin hands clasped behind him. At his side was a young man, of medium height, thick-set, and powerful-looking. This was Mr. Tom Teeter, who worked the farm upon which The Dale stood, and lived only a few hundred yards from the Gordons. Mr. Teeter was an Irishman, with a fine gift for speech-making. He was much sought after, for tea-meetings and during political campaigns, and had won the proud alliterative name of Oro's Orator. Tom was now holding forth hotly upon the "onparalleled rascality and treachersome villainousness" of the Opposition in the Ontario Legislature.
Elizabeth, her eyes alight, ran swiftly past the gate towards her father. She loved each member of her family with all the might of her passionate heart; but she held for her father an especially tender regard. Her love for him had in it something of the sacred grief that clung about the memory of her dead mother, something too of mother-love itself, felt in a longing to comfort and protect him. The stoop of his thin shoulders, the silvering hair on his bowed head, and the sound of his gentle voice all appealed to Elizabeth's heart in the same way as when Jamie cried from a hurt. Whenever he looked unusually sad and abstracted, his little daughter yearned to fling her arms about his neck and pet and caress him. But Elizabeth knew better. Such conduct would be courting death by ridicule at the hands of the Gay Gordons.
She ran to him now, and, as there was only Tom Teeter to see, ventured to slip her hand into his as she walked by his side. Tom Teeter was the bosom friend of every young Gordon, and he pulled her sunbonnet and said:
"Hello, Lizzie! How's the wild streak behavin'?"
Her father looked down at her, apparently just conscious of her presence. His eyes brightened.
"Well, well, little 'Lizbeth," he said. "And where have you been?"
"Over to Mother MacAllister's. And look, I've got three apples and some maple sugar, and there's a piece of it for you, father, and I found the marigolds at the crick."
"Well, well, yes, yes." He seemed suddenly to remember something. "What was it your aunt was saying? Oh, yes, that I must go to the gate and meet you. And here you are!"
Elizabeth beamed. "Come and tell her we're home then," she said warily; and thus fortified, but still fearful, she walked slowly up the garden path to the front door, where Aunt Margaret was standing.
But to Elizabeth's amazement and infinite relief, Aunt Margaret was all smiles and graciousness, even to Tom Teeter. She took no notice of her niece's disheveled appearance, but said cordially:
"Run away in, Elizabeth. Sarah Emily has come back, and she has some news for you. I hope it will help to make you a very good, thankful little girl."
Entranced at this marvelous escape, Elizabeth flew through the old echoing hall and bounded wildly into the kitchen. She welcomed Sarah Emily rapturously, listened with wonder and awe to the news that the fairy god-mother was no dream after all, but was really and truly coming to see her, and finally went shrieking out to join in the game of ball, on Charles Stuart's side, too, all forgetful that not ten minutes before she had vowed against him an undying enmity.
A GENTEEL SABBATH
Elizabeth arose early the next morning, feeling at peace with all the world. For the first time in her life she felt herself an important member of the family. Her aunt had distinguished her by special friendly notice, and had omitted to scold her when she went to bed the night before. Besides, it was Sunday, and on the first day of the week she almost always escaped disaster. First, her aunt was more genial on Sunday, because the family was on its best behavior that day, and came a little nearer to being genteel. Then Elizabeth was clothed in a long, spotlessly clean, dun-colored pinafore, starched to the extremity of discomfort, and her spirits, always colored by her surroundings, were also subdued and confined.
The Gordons assembled for breakfast early on Sunday morning. Miss Gordon saw that the Sabbath was strictly kept, but she believed the idea of rest might be carried to indulgence, especially with young people. So, on this particular morning, breakfast was at the usual hour. Indeed, it was a little early, owing to the fact that Sarah Emily, rejoiced at her reunion with the family, had arisen betimes and broken the Sabbath by making a fine batch of breakfast biscuits. Sarah Emily always sang at her work and had aroused the household, and brought down the stern displeasure of Miss Gordon, who forbade the unholy viands to be brought to the table.
The young Gordons assembled, sniffing hungrily and regretfully at the pleasant odor. Sarah Emily caught their glances and made a sympathetic grimace.
Mary giggled, but Elizabeth looked severe. She was in her best Sabbath mood and felt that Sarah Emily was not at all genteel, nor Mary either. It really gave one such a nice feeling to know one was genteel. Involuntarily she glanced at her aunt for approbation. But Aunt Margaret was looking at Annie, with a strange expression in her eyes, an almost apologetic look Elizabeth would have thought if Aunt Margaret could ever have been in such a mood. But that was quite impossible with one who was always right. She was looking particularly handsome this morning in her black silk dress, with her jet earrings, and the knot of white lace at her throat. Elizabeth gazed at her in profound admiration, and then at Annie with some anxiety. Annie was looking pale this morning. Elizabeth wished she had not given away all her maple sugar to the little boys last night; a bite might have been such a comfort to poor Annie, and she was looking sadly in need of comfort.
When the plates of oatmeal porridge and the big pile of bread-and-butter had disappeared, Annie handed her father his Bible and psalm-book and they all joined in family worship. The little ceremony opened with the singing of a paraphrase:
"O God of Bethel, by whose Hand Thy people still are fed."
The windows were open and the breath of the apple-blossoms came floating in. The bees, droning over the honey-suckle in the garden below, and the song sparrow on the cherry-bough above, both joined in the hymn to the great Father who had made the beautiful world.
Then Mr. Gordon read a chapter; a wonderful chapter, Elizabeth felt. She was in perfect accord with the beauty and peace of the Sabbath Day and every word went to her heart:
"The wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad for them; and the desert shall rejoice and blossom as the rose. It shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice even with joy and singing. The glory of Lebanon shall be given unto it, the excellency of Carmel and Sharon——"
Elizabeth had no idea of its meaning, but its beauty, with some vague hint of its eternal promise of love and joy, made her child's heart swell. She was dismayed to feel her eyes beginning to smart with the rising tears. She did not guess why, but she could have cried out with both joy and pain at the majestic triumph of the close:
"And the ransomed of the Lord shall return and come to Zion with songs and everlasting joy upon their heads. They shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away."
She struggled with her tears. If John should see them! He would wonder why she was crying, and she could never tell him. John would not understand. That was the tragedy of Elizabeth's life. One could never tell things, for nobody understood.
She was relieved when they knelt in prayer and she could hide her tears in a corner of the old sofa. Prayers were very much longer on Sundays than on other mornings, but, though the boys might fidget a little, the most active member of the family never moved. Elizabeth's soul was carried away far above any bodily discomfort. But not even the smallest Gordon made a sound. There had been a dreadful day once when Jamie and Archie, kneeling at one chair with their heads together, had been caught red-handed playing "Put your finger in the crow's nest"; but since then their aunt had knelt between them and the crime had not been repeated.
Prayers ended, and the few household duties attended to, Mr. Gordon shut himself in his study, and the children sat out on the side-porch and studied their Sunday-school lesson, their catechism, and their portion of the 119th Psalm, which Miss Gordon had given them to memorize.
Elizabeth had no trouble with her Golden Text or the Psalm, but the catechism was an insupportable burden. She was always appearing with it before her aunt, certain she could "say it now," only to turn away in disgrace. She sat on the green bench beside John and droned over her allotted portion. John was far ahead wrestling with What is required in the commandments, while poor Elizabeth plodded behind, struggling with the question as to Wherein consisted the sinfulness of that estate whereinto man fell. She rhymed over the profound words in a meaningless jargon:
"The sinfulness of that estate whereunto man fell, consists in the guilt of Adam's first sin, the want of original righteousness, and the corruption of his whole nature, which is commonly called original sin, together with all actual transgressions which proceed from it."
She strove to keep her mind upon it, but the exaltation of the prayer-time had passed, and the vision of Mrs. Jarvis obtruded itself on her Sabbath thoughts. She drove it away—as with tightly-shut eyes and wrinkled brow and swaying body she attempted to get through the answer unaided. But she stuck fast at "the want of original righteousness" and again at "original sin," and was stumbling blindly over "all actual transgressions" when there came a wicked whisper in her ear.
"Lizzie," hissed John, "there's 'The Rowdy'!"
Elizabeth's eyes flew open, and the sinfulness of man's estate flew away. John had turned his grave face towards her, lit up with a quick smile. Elizabeth flashed back at him the same smile, a sudden gleam of white even teeth in a rather generous red mouth. Brother and sister were very much alike in their smiles, but only here, for John's face was solemn almost to dourness, while Elizabeth's countenance was full of light and animation.
"The Rowdy" was enough to provoke laughter even on the Sabbath and under Aunt Margaret's nose. He was the robin whose chief shouting-place was the hawthorn bush in the lane. John and Elizabeth had so named him because he always made such a noise, leaping about and calling "Hi, Hi! Whee! Whoo—Hoo!" in a most rowdy manner indeed.
They had named many other familiar birds in The Dale fields that spring, and now Elizabeth gave a significant nod towards the orchard to announce the song of another favorite. This robin sang from the top of the big duchess tree that peeped over the wall into the front garden. His was a plaintive, quiet song, quite unlike The Rowdy's. They had noticed the pathetic little chant one evening when the schoolmaster sat beside Annie on the front porch. Mr. Coulson had remarked that there was a robin in the orchard who was singing the anthem of the Exile of Erin. But John declared in private to Elizabeth that it wasn't anything of the kind. Anyone could hear he was saying "Oh, wirra-wurra! Wirra-wurra!" just the way old Mrs. Teeter did when she recounted her troubles of the early pioneer days, or when Oro's Orator had been fighting again. So to John and Elizabeth the robin of the duchess tree was known as "Granny Teeter." They listened to him now, complaining away to the pink apple-blossoms; and, knowing it was very wicked and dangerous to laugh just then, they held themselves in convulsions of silent mirth.
Elizabeth forgot all about the sinfulness of man's estate as well as the gorgeousness of Mrs. Jarvis's in listening for sounds of other old friends. There was a pair of meadow larks that had their nest in the pasture field just on the other side of the lane, and now one of them was mounted in his favorite elm, pouring forth his delicious notes in a descending scale of sweetness: "Dear, hear, I am near." Farther down, near the line of birches, in a feathery larch tree, sang a peculiar song sparrow, who pounded four times on a loud silver bell to attract attention before he started his little melody. Then there was a crowd of jolly bob-o'-links over yonder in the clover-meadow who danced and trilled, and a pair of blue-birds in the orchard who talked to each other in sweet, soft notes. There was a loud and joyous oriole, proud of his golden coat, blowing up his ringing little trumpet from the pine tree near the gate, and ever so many flickers, all gorgeously dressed in red and yellow and every color their gaudy taste could suggest, each with his little box of money, Elizabeth explained, which he rattled noisily, just to attract attention when he couldn't sing. But the favorite was a gray cat-bird that sang from the bass-wood tree at the back of the vegetable garden. They liked him best, because he was so naughty and badly behaved, always sneaking round the backyard, and never coming out where there was an audience, as The Rowdy did. And then he could beat everybody, and at his own song, too! He was at them all now, one after the other—robin, song sparrow, oriole, flicker, everything—with a medley of trills and variations worked in just to show that he had a whole lot of music of his own if he only cared to use it.
John's silent laughter was quite safe, but Elizabeth's was of the explosive variety. A chuckle escaped which caused Aunt Margaret to look up from her Sunday-school paper, and the two culprits immediately dived back to their tasks. Elizabeth felt how wicked she was to have allowed her thoughts to wander thus, and for a time gave such good attention to her question that she arrived at original sin with only two slips.
But Mrs. Jarvis came back again, arrayed in all the grandeur in which Elizabeth's imagination always clothed her. She planned how she would act when that great lady came. She would walk very slowly and solemnly into the parlor, just the way Aunt Margaret did, and bow very gravely. Then she would say those French words Jean always used since she had been attending the High School in Cheemaun, "Commay voo, porty voo." That was French for "Good afternoon, Mrs. Jarvis"; and of course Mrs. Jarvis would know French, and be very much impressed. She strove to weave a pious thread of catechism into the wicked fabric of her thoughts—"the sinfulness of that estate whereunto man fell"—perhaps Mrs. Jarvis would ask her to go for a walk with her down the lane, or even a drive in her carriage—"consists in the guilt of Adam's first sin"—of course she would talk only of books, and not let her see the playhouse she and Mary had made in the lane. That was very childish. She would tell how she had read "The Vicar of Wakefield" and "Old Mortality"—of course father had read them to her, but it was all the same thing—and "Hiawatha" and "The Lamplighter"—"the want of original corruption and the righteousness of his whole nature." And surely Mrs. Jarvis would think she was genteel and know that the wild streak had completely disappeared—"together with all actual transgressions which proceed from it." Elizabeth then and there solemnly vowed that she would neither run nor jump, nor climb a fence, not even the little low one between their pasture-field and Tom Teeter's, until Mrs. Jarvis's coming.
And so the morning passed slowly in a struggle between a restless body, a restless mind, and a restless soul, all tending in different directions, and at last they stood in a row before their aunt to recite their morning's task. Even little Jamie had his verse of Scripture to lisp, and was patted on the head when he stammered out:
"De people dat sat in dawkness saw a dwate night."
Everyone acquitted himself well except Elizabeth. The catechism refused to disentangle itself from the jumble of bird-voices and dream-voices with which it was mixed; and she went out to dinner with hanging head and tear-dimmed eyes.
The light lunch of cold boiled beef and potatoes was soon disposed of, and then the hour for starting to Sunday school had arrived, bringing with it a great relief, and making Elizabeth completely forget her troubles.
The Gordons had an old speckled gray horse and a queer basket phaeton, left by the eccentric Englishman in The Dale stables years before. Mr. Gordon used them to convey him to the town hall, some miles distant, where the township council meetings were held, but Miss Gordon always drove to church in this family carriage, accompanied by Malcolm, and with little Jamie on her knee, while the remainder of the family walked.
The church, like the school, lay a couple of miles south of The Dale, away at the other side of a great hill. There were two roads leading thither. The one used by the school children on week-days was called the Short Cut. It ran down The Dale lane, crossed the pond beside MacAllister's mill, went up the opposite bank, over a wild half-cleared stretch of land called The Slash, through old Sandy McLachlan's wood, and by way of his rickety gate out on to the public highway a few yards from the school. It was much shorter this way than going "down the line," though strange to say it took far longer to traverse it on a schoolday, for it was a very enjoyable road indeed, from which one was ever making side excursions after berries or nuts or wild grapes, and which admitted of endless ways of beguiling dull time, and rendering oneself late for school.
For various reasons the church-going population took to the public highway on Sabbaths. Those who drove went this way from necessity, and those who didn't went because they were always picked up before they had gone half a mile. Besides, parents had long since learned that Sabbath clothes as well as Sabbath decorum were apt to suffer from the conveniences of the Short Cut.
William Gordon alone took this solitary road on Sabbath afternoons, for he loved the loneliness and quiet of the woods. This arrangement suited everyone except Elizabeth. Her heart always suffered a pang as they all turned up the lane together, and her father went away alone in the opposite direction. Once she had begged so hard to accompany him that he had yielded, and she had walked by his side, holding his hand, in silent sympathy, all the way over the sunny fields and through the cool green shadows of the woods. She had been quiet and good and he had said she was his little comforter, but Elizabeth had never gone again. It was not that she had found the walk dull in comparison to the companionship of the regular highway, for Elizabeth would have walked through a fiery furnace with her father in preference to any other road. But that wise older self had told her that her father preferred to be alone. She could not have told how she knew, but she was seldom mistaken in her intuition and followed it. And so, though it wrung her heart to see him go alone, she merely watched him with loving eyes, until his bowed head and thin, stooped shoulders disappeared from view in the willowy ravine.
Those who walked started only a few minutes before the phaeton, for if they were not picked up by Martin's big double buggy on the Champlain Road, then the MacAllisters would take them in at the corner, or they would be gathered to the bosoms of the Wully Johnstones before they had gone many rods down the line.
The Martins were a trifle late to-day and, to Elizabeth's joy, they reached the corner where four great elms stretched out their sweeping arms to each other just as MacAllister's ample three-seated buggy came lumbering along. Charles Stuart was there on the front seat beside his father, to be sure; but Mother MacAllister was in the back seat alone. The girls climbed in, Sarah Emily and all, and Archie and John took their places in Wully Johnstone's vehicle that had just emerged from their lane on to the public highway.
Elizabeth sat in her favorite place, close up to Mother MacAllister. At first she decided she would not speak to Charles Stuart, nor look near him. Then, recalling her undignified conduct in the ball game with him, she felt ashamed. It would be no use to act haughtily now, she reflected with a sigh. "I wish I hadn't forgotten," she said to herself. "It's so much easier to forget than forgive." She finally decided to treat Charles Stuart politely but distantly. She must let him see that he had behaved very badly indeed and that, though she might be kind and forgiving, all was over between them.
Just then Charles Stuart turned in his seat and whispered, "Look, Lizzie, look at Trip!"
Elizabeth turned in the direction he indicated. Trip had as usual been forbidden to follow the family to church, but there he was trotting along the roadside, stopping every now and then to lift up one paw and look inquiringly after his master. Elizabeth returned Charles Stuart's glance and they giggled.
Trip was really a very dear and funny little dog and she was very fond of him. To be sure, he was often wild and bad just like Charles Stuart, but then he was so neat and cute and frisky and altogether lovable. He had a cunning face, queerly marked. Round one eye was a large black patch, which gave him a disreputable air, and his habit of putting his little head on one side and looking supernaturally wise, just as though he could not see out of the bad black eye, further emphasized his naughty appearance. He was the noisiest thing of his size that could be found too. He could raise more row over a groundhog's hole, Tom Teeter said, than an army would over the discovery of an ambushed enemy. But to-day he was trotting meekly by the roadside, unmindful of chipmunks or swallows, for he knew right well he was doing wrong, and felt it was safer to be quiet.
"What'll you do with him?" asked Elizabeth anxiously.
"Wait till I catch him at the church. I'll make him scoot for home, you bet."
Elizabeth looked worried. "Oh, Charles Stuart, you won't hurt him?"
"I'll make him mind me, anyhow," said Charles Stuart firmly, and Elizabeth knew from past experience that it would be useless to interfere. Nevertheless, she felt very sorry for the little dog trotting along towards sure disappointment, and once again she quite forgot that she had intended to be cold and distant to Trip's master.
The old buggy rattled along through alternate sunshine and shade. Elizabeth soon forgot Trip and sat gazing off over hill and valley, not even hearing what Annie and Jean were telling Mother MacAllister about their new dresses. She was far above such thoughts. They had dipped down into the hollow where the stream flowed brown and cool beneath the bridge and had begun to climb the big hill where the view of the lovely green earth grew wider at each step. As they went up and up, the rolling hills seemed gradually to fall away, leaving a great space of deep blue sky touched with white bunches of dazzling clouds, for there always seemed more sky in Oro than in any other place. Now the long thread of the little river lying across the valley they had left, gleamed out blue and bright, now it disappeared, and before them another gleam of blue above far-off treetops shone forth, where Lake Simcoe lay sparkling in the sunlight. There was a little green island away out on its shining floor, and Elizabeth, with her dreamy eyes fixed upon it, thought it must look like Heaven. Then it all vanished, sinking like a beautiful dream-lake behind the treetops as they descended into the wooded valley. Elizabeth sighed happily. Here the air smelt cool and sweet, a mingling of damp earth, fragrant blossoms, running water, and wood-violets. The loveliness of the world of forest and sky would on ordinary occasions have driven her to wild abandon, sent her flying over fields and fences as far removed as possible from the genteel. But to-day was Sunday, and Mother MacAllister's arm was about her, and her spirit was filled with a great content.