Lucy Maud Montgomery Short Stories, 1902 to 1903
Lucy Maud Montgomery Short Stories, 1896 to 1901 Lucy Maud Montgomery Short Stories, 1902 to 1903 Lucy Maud Montgomery Short Stories, 1904 Lucy Maud Montgomery Short Stories, 1905 to 1906 Lucy Maud Montgomery Short Stories, 1907 to 1908 Lucy Maud Montgomery Short Stories, 1909 to 1922
* * * * *
Short Stories 1902 to 1903
A Patent Medicine Testimonial 1903 A Sandshore Wooing 1903 After Many Days 1903 An Unconventional Confidence 1903 Aunt Cyrilla's Christmas Basket 1903 Davenport's Story 1902 Emily's Husband 1903 Min 1903 Miss Cordelia's Accommodation 1903 Ned's Stroke of Business 1903 Our Runaway Kite 1903 The Bride Roses 1903 The Josephs' Christmas 1902 The Magical Bond of the Sea 1903 The Martyrdom of Estella 1902 The Old Chest at Wyther Grange 1903 The Osborne's Christmas 1903 The Romance of Aunt Beatrice 1902 The Running Away of Chester 1903 The Strike at Putney 1903 The Unhappiness of Miss Farquhar 1903 Why Mr. Cropper Changed His Mind 1903
A Patent Medicine Testimonial
"You might as well try to move the rock of Gibraltar as attempt to change Uncle Abimelech's mind when it is once made up," said Murray gloomily.
Murray is like dear old Dad; he gets discouraged rather easily. Now, I'm not like that; I'm more like Mother's folks. As Uncle Abimelech has never failed to tell me when I have annoyed him, I'm "all Foster." Uncle Abimelech doesn't like the Fosters. But I'm glad I take after them. If I had folded my hands and sat down meekly when Uncle Abimelech made known his good will and pleasure regarding Murray and me after Father's death, Murray would never have got to college—nor I either, for that matter. Only I wouldn't have minded that very much. I just wanted to go to college because Murray did. I couldn't be separated from him. We were twins and had always been together.
As for Uncle Abimelech's mind, I knew that he never had been known to change it. But, as he himself was fond of saying, there has to be a first time for everything, and I had determined that this was to be the first time for him. I hadn't any idea how I was going to bring it about; but it just had to be done, and I'm not "all Foster" for nothing.
I knew I would have to depend on my own thinkers. Murray is clever at books and dissecting dead things, but he couldn't help me out in this, even if he hadn't settled beforehand that there was no use in opposing Uncle Abimelech.
"I'm going up to the garret to think this out, Murray," I said solemnly. "Don't let anybody disturb me, and if Uncle Abimelech comes over don't tell him where I am. If I don't come down in time to get tea, get it yourself. I shall not leave the garret until I have thought of some way to change Uncle Abimelech's mind."
"Then you'll be a prisoner there for the term of your natural life, dear sis," said Murray sceptically. "You're a clever girl, Prue—and you've got enough decision for two—but you'll never get the better of Uncle Abimelech."
"We'll see," I said resolutely, and up to the garret I went. I shut the door and bolted it good and fast to make sure. Then I piled some old cushions in the window seat—for one might as well be comfortable when one is thinking as not—and went over the whole ground from the beginning.
Outside the wind was thrashing the broad, leafy top of the maple whose tallest twigs reached to the funny grey eaves of our old house. One roly-poly little sparrow blew or flew to the sill and sat there for a minute, looking at me with knowing eyes. Down below I could see Murray in a corner of the yard, pottering over a sick duck. He had set its broken leg and was nursing it back to health. Anyone except Uncle Abimelech could see that Murray was simply born to be a doctor and that it was flying in the face of Providence to think of making him anything else.
From the garret windows I could see all over the farm, for the house is on the hill end of it. I could see all the dear old fields and the spring meadow and the beech woods in the southwest corner. And beyond the orchard were the two grey barns and down below at the right-hand corner was the garden with all my sweet peas fluttering over the fences and trellises like a horde of butterflies. It was a dear old place and both Murray and I loved every stick and stone on it, but there was no reason why we should go on living there when Murray didn't like farming. And it wasn't our own, anyhow. It all belonged to Uncle Abimelech.
Father and Murray and I had always lived here together. Father's health broke down during his college course. That was one reason why Uncle Abimelech was set against Murray going to college, although Murray is as chubby and sturdy a fellow as you could wish to see. Anybody with Foster in him would be that.
To go back to Father. The doctors told him that his only chance of recovering his strength was an open-air life, so Father rented one of Uncle Abimelech's farms and there he lived for the rest of his days. He did not get strong again until it was too late for college, and he was a square peg in a round hole all his life, as he used to tell us. Mother died before we could remember, so Murray and Dad and I were everything to each other. We were very happy too, although we were bossed by Uncle Abimelech more or less. But he meant it well and Father didn't mind.
Then Father died—oh, that was a dreadful time! I hurried over it in my thinking-out. Of course when Murray and I came to look our position squarely in the face we found that we were dependent on Uncle Abimelech for everything, even the roof over our heads. We were literally as poor as church mice and even poorer, for at least they get churches rent-free.
Murray's heart was set on going to college and studying medicine. He asked Uncle Abimelech to lend him enough money to get a start with and then he could work his own way along and pay back the loan in due time. Uncle Abimelech is rich, and Murray and I are his nearest relatives. But he simply wouldn't listen to Murray's plan.
"I put my foot firmly down on such nonsense," he said. "And you know that when I put my foot down something squashes."
It was not that Uncle Abimelech was miserly or that he grudged us assistance. Not at all. He was ready to deal generously by us, but it must be in his own way. His way was this. Murray and I were to stay on the farm, and when Murray was twenty-one Uncle Abimelech said he would deed the farm to him—make him a present of it out and out.
"It's a good farm, Murray," he said. "Your father never made more than a bare living out of it because he wasn't strong enough to work it properly—that's what he got out of a college course, by the way. But you are strong enough and ambitious enough to do well."
But Murray couldn't be a farmer, that was all there was to it. I told Uncle Abimelech so, firmly, and I talked to him for days about it, but Uncle Abimelech never wavered. He sat and listened to me with a quizzical smile on that handsome, clean-shaven, ruddy old face of his, with its cut-granite features. And in the end he said,
"You ought to be the one to go to college if either of you did, Prue. You would make a capital lawyer, if I believed in the higher education of women, but I don't. Murray can take or leave the farm as he chooses. If he prefers the latter alternative, well and good. But he gets no help from me. You're a foolish little girl, Prue, to back him up in this nonsense of his."
It makes me angry to be called a little girl when I put up my hair a year ago, and Uncle Abimelech knows it. I gave up arguing with him. I knew it was no use anyway.
I thought it all over in the garret. But no way out of the dilemma could I see. I had eaten up all the apples I had brought with me and I felt flabby and disconsolate. The sight of Uncle Abimelech stalking up the lane, as erect and lordly as usual, served to deepen my gloom.
I picked up the paper my apples had been wrapped in and looked it over gloomily. Then I saw something, and Uncle Abimelech was delivered into my hand.
The whole plan of campaign unrolled itself before me, and I fairly laughed in glee, looking out of the garret window right down on the little bald spot on the top of Uncle Abimelech's head, as he stood laying down the law to Murray about something.
When Uncle Abimelech had gone I went down to Murray.
"Buddy," I said, "I've thought of a plan. I'm not going to tell you what it is, but you are to consent to it without knowing. I think it will quench Uncle Abimelech, but you must have perfect confidence in me. You must back me up no matter what I do and let me have my own way in it all."
"All right, sis," said Murray.
"That isn't solemn enough," I protested. "I'm serious. Promise solemnly."
"I promise solemnly, 'cross my heart,'" said Murray, looking like an owl.
"Very well. Remember that your role is to lie low and say nothing, like Brer Rabbit. Alloway's Anodyne Liniment is pretty good stuff, isn't it, Murray? It cured your sprain after you had tried everything else, didn't it?"
"Yes. But I don't see the connection."
"It isn't necessary that you should. Well, what with your sprain and my rheumatics I think I can manage it."
"Look here, Prue. Are you sure that long brooding over our troubles up in the garret hasn't turned your brain?"
"My brain is all right. Now leave me, minion. There is that which I would do."
Murray grinned and went. I wrote a letter, took it down to the office, and mailed it. For a week there was nothing more to do.
There is just one trait of Uncle Abimelech's disposition more marked than his fondness for having his own way and that one thing is family pride. The Melvilles are a very old family. The name dates back to the Norman conquest when a certain Roger de Melville, who was an ancestor of ours, went over to England with William the Conqueror. I don't think the Melvilles ever did anything worth recording in history since. To be sure, as far back as we can trace, none of them has ever done anything bad either. They have been honest, respectable folks and I think that is something worth being proud of.
But Uncle Abimelech pinned his family pride to Roger de Melville. He had the Melville coat of arms and our family tree, made out by an eminent genealogist, framed and hung up in his library, and he would not have done anything that would not have chimed in with that coat of arms and a conquering ancestor for the world.
At the end of a week I got an answer to my letter. It was what I wanted. I wrote again and sent a parcel. In three weeks' time the storm burst.
One day I saw Uncle Abimelech striding up the lane. He had a big newspaper clutched in his hand. I turned to Murray, who was poring over a book of anatomy in the corner.
"Murray, Uncle Abimelech is coming. There is going to be a battle royal between us. Allow me to remind you of your promise."
"To lie low and say nothing? That's the cue, isn't it, sis?"
"Unless Uncle Abimelech appeals to you. In that case you are to back me up."
Then Uncle Abimelech stalked in. He was purple with rage. Old Roger de Melville himself never could have looked fiercer. I did feel a quake or two, but I faced Uncle Abimelech undauntedly. No use in having your name on the roll of Battle Abbey if you can't stand your ground.
"Prudence, what does this mean?" thundered Uncle Abimelech, as he flung the newspaper down on the table. Murray got up and peered over. Then he whistled. He started to say something but remembered just in time and stopped. But he did give me a black look. Murray has a sneaking pride of name too, although he won't own up to it and laughs at Uncle Abimelech.
I looked at the paper and began to laugh. We did look so funny, Murray and I, in that advertisement. It took up the whole page. At the top were our photos, half life-size, and underneath our names and addresses printed out in full. Below was the letter I had written to the Alloway Anodyne Liniment folks. It was a florid testimonial to the virtues of their liniment. I said that it had cured Murray's sprain after all other remedies had failed and that, when I had been left a partial wreck from a very bad attack of rheumatic fever, the only thing that restored my joints and muscles to working order was Alloway's Anodyne Liniment, and so on.
It was all true enough, although I dare say old Aunt Sarah-from-the-Hollow's rubbing had as much to do with the cures as the liniment. But that is neither here nor there.
"What does this mean, Prudence?" said Uncle Abimelech again. He was quivering with wrath, but I was as cool as a cucumber, and Murray stood like a graven image.
"Why, that, Uncle Abimelech," I said calmly, "well, it just means one of my ways of making money. That liniment company pays for those testimonials and photos, you know. They gave me fifty dollars for the privilege of publishing them. Fifty dollars will pay for books and tuition for Murray and me at Kentville Academy next winter, and Mrs. Tredgold is kind enough to say she will board me for what help I can give her around the house, and wait for Murray's until he can earn it by teaching."
I rattled all this off glibly before Uncle Abimelech could get in a word.
"It's disgraceful!" he stormed. "Disgraceful! Think of Sir Roger de Melville—and a patent medicine advertisement! Murray Melville, what were you about, sir, to let your sister disgrace herself and her family name by such an outrageous transaction?"
I quaked a bit. If Murray should fail me! But Murray was true-blue.
"I gave Prue a free hand, sir. It's an honest business transaction enough—and the family name alone won't send us to college, you know, sir."
Uncle Abimelech glared at us.
"This must be put an end to," he said. "This advertisement must not appear again. I won't have it!"
"But I've signed a contract that it is to run for six months," I said sturdily. "And I've others in view. You remember the Herb Cure you recommended one spring and that it did me so much good! I'm negotiating with the makers of that and—"
"The girl's mad!" said Uncle Abimelech. "Stark, staring mad!"
"Oh, no, I'm not, Uncle Abimelech. I'm merely a pretty good businesswoman. You won't help Murray to go to college, so I must. This is the only way I have, and I'm going to see it through."
After Uncle Abimelech had gone, still in a towering rage, Murray remonstrated. But I reminded him of his promise and he had to succumb.
Next day Uncle Abimelech returned—a subdued and chastened Uncle Abimelech.
"See here, Prue," he said sternly. "This thing must be stopped. I say it must. I am not going to have the name of Melville dragged all over the country in a patent medicine advertisement. You've played your game and won it—take what comfort you can out of the confession: If you will agree to cancel this notorious contract of yours I'll settle it with the company—and I'll put Murray through college—and you too if you want to go! Something will have to be done with you, that's certain. Is this satisfactory?"
"Perfectly," I said promptly. "If you will add thereto your promise that you will forget and forgive, Uncle Abimelech. There are to be no hard feelings."
Uncle Abimelech shrugged his shoulders.
"In for a penny, in for a pound," he said. "Very well, Prue. We wipe off all scores and begin afresh. But there must be no more such doings. You've worked your little scheme through—trust a Foster for that! But in future you've got to remember that in law you're a Melville whatever you are in fact."
I nodded dutifully. "I'll remember, Uncle Abimelech," I promised.
After everything had been arranged and Uncle Abimelech had gone I looked at Murray. "Well?" I said.
Murray twinkled. "You've accomplished the impossible, sis. But, as Uncle Abimelech intimated—don't you try it again."
A Sandshore Wooing
Fir Cottage, Plover Sands. July Sixth.
We arrived here late last night, and all day Aunt Martha has kept her room to rest. So I had to keep mine also, although I felt as fresh as a morning lark, and just in the mood for enjoyment.
My name is Marguerite Forrester—an absurdly long name for so small a girl. Aunt Martha always calls me Marguerite, with an accent of strong disapproval. She does not like my name, but she gives me the full benefit of it. Connie Shelmardine used to call me Rita. Connie was my roommate last year at the Seminary. We correspond occasionally, but Aunt Martha frowns on it.
I have always lived with Aunt Martha—my parents died when I was a baby. Aunt Martha says I am to be her heiress if I please her—which means—but, oh, you do not know what "pleasing" Aunt Martha means.
Aunt is a determined and inveterate man-hater. She has no particular love for women, indeed, and trusts nobody but Mrs. Saxby, her maid. I rather like Mrs. Saxby. She is not quite so far gone in petrifaction as Aunt, although she gets a little stonier every year. I expect the process will soon begin on me, but it hasn't yet. My flesh and blood are still unreasonably warm and pulsing and rebellious.
Aunt Martha would be in danger of taking a fit if she ever saw me talking to a man. She watches me jealously, firmly determined to guard me from any possible attack of a roaring and ravening lion in the disguise of nineteenth-century masculine attire. So I have to walk demurely and assume a virtue, if I have it not, while I pine after the untested flesh-pots of Egypt in secret.
We have come down to spend a few weeks at Fir Cottage. Our good landlady is a capacious, kindly-souled creature, and I think she has rather a liking for me. I have been chattering to her all day, for there are times when I absolutely must talk to someone or go mad.
This sort of life is decidedly dull. The program of every day is the same. I go to the sandshore with Aunt Martha and Mrs. Saxby in the morning, read to Aunt in the afternoons, and mope around by my disconsolate self in the evenings. Mrs. Blake has lent me, for shore use, a very fine spyglass which she owns. She says her "man" brought it home from "furrin' parts" before he died. While Aunt and Mrs. Saxby meander up and down the shore, leaving me free to a certain extent, I amuse myself by examining distant seas and coasts through it, thus getting a few peeps into a forbidden world. We see few people, although there is a large summer hotel about a mile up the beach. Our shore haunts do not seem to be popular with its guests. They prefer the rocks. This suits Aunt Martha admirably. I may also add that it doesn't suit her niece—but that is a matter of small importance.
The first morning I noticed a white object on the rocks, about half a mile away, and turned my glass on it. There—apparently within a stone's throw of me—was a young man. He was lounging on a rock, looking dreamily out to sea. There was something about his face that reminded me of someone I know, but I cannot remember whom.
Every morning he has reappeared on the same spot. He seems to be a solitary individual, given to prowling by himself. I wonder what Aunt would say if she knew what I am so earnestly watching through my glass at times.
I shall have to cease looking at the Unknown, I am afraid.
This morning I turned my glass, as usual, on his pet haunt. I nearly fell over in my astonishment, for he was also looking through a spyglass straight at me, too, it seemed. How foolish I felt! And yet my curiosity was so strong that a few minutes afterward I peeped back again, just to see what he was doing. Then he coolly laid down his glass, rose, lifted his cap and bowed politely to me—or, at least, in my direction. I dropped my glass and smiled in a mixture of dismay and amusement. Then I remembered that he was probably watching me again, and might imagine my smile was meant for him. I banished it immediately, shut my glass up and did not touch it again. Soon after we came home.
Something has happened at last. Today I went to the shore as usual, fully resolved not even to glance in the forbidden direction. But in the end I had to take a peep, and saw him on the rocks with his glass levelled at me. When he saw that I was looking he laid down the glass, held up his hands, and began to spell out something in the deaf-mute alphabet. Now, I know that same alphabet. Connie taught it to me last year, so that we might hold communication across the schoolroom. I gave one frantic glance at Aunt Martha's rigid back, and then watched him while he deftly spelled: "I am Francis Shelmardine. Are you not Miss Forrester, my sister's friend?"
Francis Shelmardine! Now I knew whom he resembled. And have I not heard endless dissertations from Connie on this wonderful brother of hers, Francis the clever, the handsome, the charming, until he has become the only hero of dreams I have ever had? It was too wonderful. I could only stare dazedly back through my glass.
"May we know each other?" he went on. "May I come over and introduce myself? Right hand, yes; left, no."
I gasped! Suppose he were to come? What would happen? I waved my left hand sorrowfully. He looked quite crestfallen and disappointed as he spelled out: "Why not? Would your friends disapprove?"
I signalled: "Yes."
"Are you displeased at my boldness?" was his next question.
Where had all Aunt Martha's precepts flown to then? I blush to record that I lifted my left hand shyly and had just time to catch his pleased expression when Aunt Martha came up and said it was time to go home. So I picked myself meekly up, shook the sand from my dress, and followed my good aunt dutifully home.
When we went to the shore this morning I had to wait in spasms of remorse and anxiety until Aunt got tired of reading and set off along the shore with Mrs. Saxby. Then I reached for my glass.
Mr. Shelmardine and I had quite a conversation. Under the circumstances there could be no useless circumlocution in our exchange of ideas. It was religiously "boiled down," and ran something like this:
"You are not displeased with me?"
"No—but I should be."
"It is wrong to deceive Aunt."
"I am quite respectable."
"That is not the question."
"Cannot her prejudices be overcome?"
"Mrs. Allardyce, who is staying at the hotel, knows her well. Shall I bring her over to vouch for my character?"
"It would not do a bit of good."
"Then it is hopeless."
"Would you object to knowing me on your own account?"
"Do you ever come to the shore alone?"
"No. Aunt would not permit me."
"Must she know?"
"Yes. I would not come without her permission."
"You will not refuse to chat with me thus now and then?"
"I don't know. Perhaps not."
I had to go home then. As we went Mrs. Saxby complimented me on my good colour. Aunt Martha looked her disapproval. If I were really ill Aunt would spend her last cent in my behalf, but she would be just as well pleased to see me properly pale and subdued at all times, and not looking as if I were too well contented in this vale of tears.
I have "talked" a good deal with Mr. Shelmardine these past four days. He is to be at the beach for some weeks longer. This morning he signalled across from the rocks: "I mean to see you at last. Tomorrow I will walk over and pass you."
"You must not. Aunt will suspect."
"No danger. Don't be alarmed. I will do nothing rash."
I suppose he will. He seems to be very determined. Of course, I cannot prevent him from promenading on our beach all day if he chooses. But then if he did, Aunt would speedily leave him in sole possession of it.
I wonder what I had better wear tomorrow.
Yesterday morning Aunt Martha was serene and unsuspicious. It is dreadful of me to be deceiving her and I do feel guilty. I sat down on the sand and pretended to read the "Memoirs of a Missionary"—Aunt likes cheerful books like that—in an agony of anticipation. Presently Aunt said, majestically: "Marguerite, there is a man coming this way. We will move further down."
And we moved. Poor Aunt!
Mr. Shelmardine came bravely on. I felt my heart beating to my very finger tips. He halted by the fragment of an old stranded boat. Aunt had turned her back on him.
I ventured on a look. He lifted his hat with a twinkle in his eye. Just then Aunt said, icily: "We will go home, Marguerite. That creature evidently intends to persist in his intrusion."
Home we came accordingly.
This morning he signalled across: "Letter from Connie. Message for you. I mean to deliver it personally. Do you ever go to church?"
Now, I do go regularly to church at home. But Aunt Martha and Mrs. Saxby are both such rigid church people that they would not darken the doors of the Methodist church at Plover Sands for any consideration. Needless to say, I am not allowed to go either. But it was impossible to make this long explanation, so I merely replied: "Not here."
"Will you not go tomorrow morning?"
"Aunt will not let me."
"Coaxing never has any effect on her."
"Would she relent if Mrs. Allardyce were to call for you?"
Now, I have been cautiously sounding Aunt about Mrs. Allardyce, and I have discovered that she disapproves of her. So I said: "It would be useless. I will ask Aunt if I may go, but I feel almost sure that she will not consent."
This evening, when Aunt was in an unusually genial mood, I plucked up heart of grace and asked her.
"Marguerite," she said impressively, "you know that I do not attend church here."
"But, Aunt," I persisted, quakingly, "couldn't I go alone? It is not very far—and I will be very careful."
Aunt merely gave me a look that said about forty distinct and separate things, and I was turning away in despair when Mrs. Saxby—bless her heart—said: "I really think it would be no harm to let the child go."
As Aunt attaches great importance to Mrs. Saxby's opinion, she looked at me relentingly and said: "Well, I will think it over and let you know in the morning, Marguerite."
Now, everything depends on the sort of humour Aunt is in in the morning.
This morning was perfect, and after breakfast Aunt said, condescendingly: "I think you may attend church if you wish, Marguerite. Remember that I expect you to conduct yourself with becoming prudence and modesty."
I flew upstairs and pulled my prettiest dress out of my trunk. It is a delicate, shimmering grey stuff with pearly tints about it. Every time I get anything new, Aunt Martha and I have a battle royal over it. I verily believe that Aunt would like me to dress in the fashions in vogue in her youth. There is always a certain flavour of old-fashionedness about my gowns and hats. Connie used to say that it was delicious and gave me a piquant uniqueness—a certain unlikeness to other people that possessed a positive charm. That is only Connie's view of it, however.
But I had had my own way about this dress and it is really very becoming. I wore a little silvery-grey chip hat, trimmed with pale pink flowers, and I pinned at my belt the sweetest cluster of old-fashioned blush rosebuds from the garden. Then I borrowed a hymn book from Mrs. Blake and ran down to undergo Aunt Martha's scrutiny.
"Dear me, child," she said discontentedly, "you have gotten yourself up very frivolously, it seems to me."
"Why, Aunty," I protested, "I'm all in grey—every bit."
Aunt Martha sniffed. You don't know how much Aunt can express in a sniff. But I tripped to church like a bird.
The first person I saw there was Mr. Shelmardine. He was sitting right across from me and a smile glimmered in his eyes. I did not look at him again. Through the service I was subdued enough to have satisfied even Aunt Martha.
When church came out, he waited for me at the entrance to his pew. I pretended not to see him until he said "Good morning," in a voice vibrating and deep, which sounded as though it might become infinitely tender if its owner chose. When we went down the steps he took my hymnal, and we walked up the long, bowery country road.
"Thank you so much for coming today," he said—as if I went to oblige him.
"I had a hard time to get Aunt Martha's consent," I declared frankly. "I wouldn't have succeeded if Mrs. Saxby hadn't taken my part."
"Heaven bless Mrs. Saxby," he remarked fervently. "But is there any known way of overcoming your aunt's scruples? If so, I am ready to risk it."
"There is none. Aunt Martha is very good and kind to me, but she will never stop trying to bring me up. The process will be going on when I am fifty. And she hates men! I don't know what she would do if she saw me now."
Mr. Shelmardine frowned and switched the unoffending daisies viciously with his cane.
"Then there is no hope of my seeing you openly and above-board?"
"Not at present," I said faintly.
After a brief silence we began to talk of other things. He told me how he happened to see me first.
"I was curious to know who the people were who were always in the same place at the same time, so one day I took my telescope. I could see you plainly. You were reading and had your hat off. When I went back to the hotel I asked Mrs. Allardyce if she knew who the boarders at Fir Cottage were and she told me. I had heard Connie speak of you, and I determined to make your acquaintance."
When we reached the lane I held out my hand for the hymnal.
"You mustn't come any further, Mr. Shelmardine," I said hurriedly. "Aunt—Aunt might see you."
He took my hand and held it, looking at me seriously.
"Suppose I were to walk up to the cottage tomorrow and ask for you?"
I gasped. He looked so capable of doing anything he took it into his head to do.
"Oh, you wouldn't," I said piteously. "Aunt Martha would—you are not in earnest."
"I suppose not," he said regretfully. "Of course I would not do anything that would cause you unpleasantness. But this must not—shall not be our last meeting."
"Aunt will not let me come to church again," I said.
"Does she ever take a nap in the afternoon?" he queried.
I wriggled my parasol about in the dust uneasily.
"I shall be at the old boat tomorrow afternoon at two-thirty," he said.
I pulled my hand away.
"I couldn't—you know I couldn't," I cried—and then I blushed to my ears.
"Are you sure you couldn't?" bending a little nearer.
"Quite sure," I murmured.
He surrendered my hymnal at last.
"Will you give me a rose?"
I unpinned the whole cluster and handed it to him. He lifted it until it touched his lips. As for me, I scuttled up the lane in the most undignified fashion. At the turn I looked back. He was still standing there with his hat off.
On Monday afternoon I slipped away to the shore while Aunt Martha and Mrs. Saxby were taking their regular nap and I was supposed to be reading sermons in my room.
Mr. Shelmardine was leaning against the old boat, but he came swiftly across the sand to meet me.
"This is very kind of you," he said.
"I ought not to have come," I said repentantly. "But it is so lonely there—and one can't be interested in sermons and memoirs all the time."
Mr. Shelmardine laughed.
"Mr. and Mrs. Allardyce are on the other side of the boat. Will you come and meet them?"
How nice of him to bring them! I knew I should like Mrs. Allardyce, just because Aunt Martha didn't. We had a delightful stroll. I never thought of the time until Mr. Shelmardine said it was four o'clock.
"Oh, is it so late as that?" I cried. "I must go at once."
"I'm sorry we have kept you so long," remarked Mr. Shelmardine in a tone of concern. "If she should be awake, what will the consequences be?"
"Too terrible to think of," I answered seriously. "I'm sorry, Mr. Shelmardine, but you mustn't come any further."
"We will be here tomorrow afternoon," he said.
"Mr. Shelmardine!" I protested. "I wish you wouldn't put such ideas into my head. They won't come out—no, not if I read a whole volume of sermons right through."
We looked at each other for a second. Then he began to smile, and we both went off into a peal of laughter.
"At least let me know if Miss Fiske rampages," he called after me as I fled.
But Aunt Martha was not awake—and I have been to the shore three afternoons since then. I was there today, and I'm going tomorrow for a boat sail with Mr. Shelmardine and the Allardyces. But I am afraid the former will do something rash soon. This afternoon he said: "I don't think I can stand this much longer."
"Stand what?" I asked.
"You know very well," he answered recklessly. "Meeting you in this clandestine manner, and thereby causing that poor little conscience of yours such misery. If your aunt were not so—unreasonable, I should never have stooped to it."
"It is all my fault," I said contritely.
"Well, I hardly meant that," he said grimly. "But hadn't I better go frankly to your aunt and lay the whole case before her?"
"You would never see me again if you did that," I said hastily—and then wished I hadn't.
"That is the worst threat you could make," he said.
It is all over, and I am the most miserable girl in the world. Of course this means that Aunt Martha has discovered everything and the deserved punishment of my sins has overtaken me.
I slipped away again this afternoon and went for that boat sail. We had a lovely time but were rather late getting in, and I hurried home with many misgivings. Aunt Martha met me at the door.
My dress was draggled, my hat had slipped back, and the kinks and curls of my obstreperous hair were something awful. I know I looked very disreputable and also, no doubt, very guilty and conscience-stricken. Aunt gave me an unutterable look and then followed me up to my room in grim silence.
"Marguerite, what does this mean?"
I have lots of faults, but untruthfulness isn't one of them. I confessed everything—at least, almost everything. I didn't tell about the telescopes and deaf-mute alphabet, and Aunt was too horror-stricken to think of asking how I first made Mr. Shelmardine's acquaintance. She listened in stony silence. I had expected a terrible scolding, but I suppose my crimes simply seemed to her too enormous for words.
When I had sobbed out my last word she rose, swept me one glance of withering contempt, and left the room. Presently Mrs. Saxby came up, looking concerned.
"My dear child, what have you been doing? Your aunt says that we are to go home on the afternoon train tomorrow. She is terribly upset."
I just curled up on the bed and cried, while Mrs. Saxby packed my trunk. I will have no chance to explain matters to Mr. Shelmardine. And I will never see him again, for Aunt is quite capable of whisking me off to Africa. He will just think me a feather-brained flirt. Oh, I am so unhappy!
I am the happiest girl in the world! That is quite a different strain from yesterday. We leave Fir Cottage in an hour, but that doesn't matter now.
I did not sleep a wink last night and crawled miserably down to breakfast. Aunt took not the slightest notice of me, but to my surprise she told Mrs. Saxby that she intended taking a farewell walk to the shore. I knew I would be taken, too, to be kept out of mischief, and my heart gave a great bound of hope. Perhaps I would have a chance to send word to Francis, since Aunt did not know of the part my spyglass had played in my bad behaviour.
I meekly followed my grim guardians to the shore and sat dejectedly on my rug while they paced the sand. Francis was on the rocks. As soon as Aunt Martha and Mrs. Saxby were at a safe distance, I began my message: "All discovered. Aunt is very angry. We go home today."
Then I snatched my glass. His face expressed the direst consternation and dismay. He signalled: "I must see you before you go."
"Impossible. Aunt will never forgive me. Good-bye."
I saw a look of desperate determination cross his face. If forty Aunt Marthas had swooped down upon me, I could not have torn my eyes from that glass.
"I love you. You know it. Do you care for me? I must have my answer now."
What a situation! No time or chance for any maidenly hesitation or softening aureole of words. Aunt and Mrs. Saxby had almost reached the point where they invariably turned. I had barely time to spell out a plain, blunt "yes" and read his answer.
"I shall go home at once, get Mother and Connie, follow you, and demand possession of my property. I shall win the day. Have no fear. Till then, good-bye, my darling."
"Marguerite," said Mrs. Saxby at my elbow, "it is time to go."
I got up obediently. Aunt Martha was as grim and uncompromising as ever, and Mrs. Saxby looked like a chief mourner, but do you suppose I cared? I dropped behind them just once before we left the shore. I knew he was watching me and I waved my hand.
I suppose I am really engaged to Francis Shelmardine. But was there ever such a funny wooing? And what will Aunt Martha say?
After Many Days
The square, bare front room of the Baxter Station Hotel—so called because there was no other house in the place to dispute the title—was filled with men. Some of them were putting up at the hotel while they worked at the new branch line, and some of them had dropped in to exchange news and banter while waiting for the mail train.
Gabe Foley, the proprietor, was playing at checkers with one of the railroad men, but was not too deeply absorbed in the game to take in all that was said around him. The air was dim with tobacco smoke, and the brilliant, scarlet geraniums which Mrs. Foley kept in the bay window looked oddly out of place. Gabe knew all those present except one man—a stranger who had landed at Baxter Station from the afternoon freight. Foley's hotel did not boast of a register, and the stranger did not volunteer any information regarding his name or business. He had put in the afternoon and early evening strolling about the village and talking to the men on the branch line. Now he had come in and ensconced himself in the corner behind the stove, where he preserved a complete silence.
He had a rather rough face and was flashily dressed. Altogether, Gabe hardly liked his looks, put as long as a man paid his bill and did not stir up a row Gabe Foley did not interfere with him.
Three or four farmers from "out Greenvale way" were drawn up by the stove, discussing the cheese factory sales and various Greenvale happenings. The stranger appeared to be listening to them intently, although he took no part in their conversation.
Presently he brought his tilted chair down with a sharp thud. Gabe Foley had paused in his manipulation of a king to hurl a question at the Greenvale men.
"Is it true that old man Strong is to be turned out next week?"
"True enough," answered William Jeffers. "Joe Moore is going to foreclose. Stephen Strong has got three years behind with the interest and Moore is out of patience. It seems hard on old Stephen, but Moore ain't the man to hesitate for that. He'll have his own out of it."
"What will the Strongs do?" asked Gabe.
"That's the question everyone in Greenvale is asking. Lizzie Strong has always been a delicate little girl, but maybe she'll manage to scare up a living. Old Stephen is to be the most pitied. I don't see anything for him but the poorhouse."
"How did Stephen Strong come to get into such a tight place?" the stranger asked suddenly. "When I was in these parts a good many years ago he was considered a well-to-do man."
"Well, so he was," replied William Jeffers. "But he began to get in debt when his wife took sick. He spent no end of money on doctors and medicines for her. And then he seemed to have a streak of bad luck besides—crops failed and cows died and all that sort of thing. He's been going behind ever since. He kind of lost heart when his wife died. And now Moore is going to foreclose. It's my opinion poor old Stephen won't live any time if he's turned out of his home."
"Do you know what the mortgage comes to?"
"Near three thousand, counting overdue interest."
"Well, I'm sorry for old Stephen," said Gabe, returning to his game. "If anybody deserves a peaceful old age he does. He's helped more people than you could count, and he was the best Christian in Greenvale, or out of it."
"He was too good," said a Greenvale man crustily. "He just let himself be imposed upon all his life. There's dozens of people owes him and he's never asked for a cent from them. And he's always had some shiftless critter or other hanging round and devouring his substance."
"D'ye mind that Ben Butler who used to be in Greenvale twenty years ago?" asked a third man. "If ever there was an imp of Satan 'twas him—old Ezra Butler's son from the valley. Old Stephen kept him for three or four years and was as good to him as if he'd been his own son."
"Most people out our way do mind Ben Butler," returned William Jeffers grimly, "even if he ain't been heard tell of for twenty years. He wasn't the kind you could forget in a hurry. Where'd he go? Out to the Kootenay, wasn't it?"
"Somewhere there. He was a reg'lar young villain—up to every kind of mischief. Old Stephen caught him stealing his oats one time and 'stead of giving him a taste of jail for it, as he ought to have done, he just took him right into his family and kept him there for three years. I used to tell him he'd be sorry for it, but he always persisted that Ben wasn't bad at heart and would come out all right some day. No matter what the young varmint did old Stephen would make excuses for him—'his ma was dead,' or he 'hadn't had no bringing-up.' I was thankful when he did finally clear out without doing some penitentiary work."
"If poor old Stephen hadn't been so open-handed to every unfortunate critter he came across," said Gabe, "he'd have had more for himself today."
The whistle of the mail train cut short the discussion of Stephen Strong's case. In a minute the room was vacant, except for the stranger. When left to himself he also rose and walked out. Turning away from the station, he struck briskly into the Greenvale road.
About three miles from the station he halted before a house built close to the road. It was old-fashioned, but large and comfortable-looking, with big barns in the rear and an orchard on the left slope. The house itself was in the shadow of the firs, but the yard lay out in the moonlight and the strange visitor did not elect to cross it. Instead, he turned aside into the shadow of the trees around the garden and, leaning against the old rail fence, gave himself up to contemplation of some kind.
There was a light in the kitchen. The window-blind was not down and he had a fairly good view of the room. The only visible occupant was a grey-haired old man sitting by the table, reading from a large open volume before him. The stranger whistled softly.
"That's old Stephen—reading the Bible same as ever, by all that's holy! He hasn't changed much except that he's got mighty grey. He must be close on to seventy. It's a shame to turn an old man like him out of house and home. But Joe Moore always was a genuine skinflint."
He drew himself softly up and sat on the fence. He saw old Stephen Strong close his book, place his spectacles on it, and kneel down by his chair. The old man remained on his knees for some time and then, taking up his candle, left the kitchen. The man on the fence still sat there. Truth to tell, he was chuckling to himself as he recalled all the mischief he had done in the old days—the doubtful jokes, tricks, and escapades he had gone through with.
He could not help remembering at the same time how patient old Stephen Strong had always been with him. He recalled the time he had been caught stealing the oats. How frightened and sullen he had been! And how gently the old man had talked to him and pointed out the sin of which he had been guilty!
He had never stolen again, but in other respects he had not mended his ways much. Behind old Stephen's back he laughed at him and his "preaching." But Stephen Strong had never lost faith in him. He had always asserted mildly that "Ben would come out all right by and by." Ben Butler remembered this too, as he sat on the fence.
He had "always liked old Stephen," he told himself. He was sorry he had fallen on such evil times.
"Preaching and praying don't seem to have brought him out clear after all," he said with a chuckle that quickly died away. Somehow, even in his worst days, Ben Butler had never felt easy when he mocked old Stephen. "Three thousand dollars! I could do it but I reckon I'd be a blamed fool. I ain't a-going to do it. Three thousand ain't picked up every day, even in the Kootenay—'specially by chaps like me."
He patted his pocket knowingly. Fifteen years previously he had gone to the Kootenay district with visions of making a fortune that were quickly dispelled by reality. He had squandered his wages as soon as paid, and it was only of late years that he had "pulled up a bit," as he expressed it, and saved his three thousand dollars.
He had brought the money home with him, having some vague notion of buying a farm and "settling down to do the respectable." But he had already given up the idea. This country was too blamed quiet for him, he said. He would go back to the Kootenay, and he knew what he would do with his money. Jake Perkins and Wade Brown, two "pals" of his, were running a flourishing grocery and saloon combined. They would be glad of another partner with some cash. It would suit him to a T.
"I'll clear out tomorrow," he mused as he walked back. "As long as I stay here old Stephen will haunt me, sure as fate. Wonder what he was praying for tonight. He always used to say the Lord would provide, but He don't appear to have done it. Well, I ain't His deputy."
The next afternoon Ben Butler went over to Greenvale and called at Stephen Strong's. He found only the old man at home. Old Stephen did not recognize him at first, but made him heartily welcome when he did.
"Ben, I do declare! Ben Butler! How are you? How are you? Sit down, Ben—here, take this chair. Where on earth did you come from?"
"Baxter just now—Kootenay on the large scale," answered Ben. "Thought I'd come over and see you again. Didn't expect you'd remember me at all."
"Remember you! Why, of course I do. I haven't ever forgot you, Ben. Many's the time I've wondered where you was and how you was getting on. And you tell me you've been in the Kootenay! Well, well, you have seen a good bit more of the world than I ever have. You've changed a lot, Ben. You ain't a boy no longer. D'ye mind all the pranks you used to play?"
Ben laughed sheepishly.
"I reckon I do. But it ain't myself I come here to talk about—not much to say if I did. It's just been up and down with me. How are you yourself, sir? They were telling me over at Baxter that you were kind of in trouble."
The old man's face clouded over; all the sparkle went out of his kind blue eyes.
"Yes, Ben, yes," he said, with a heavy sigh. "I've kind of gone downhill, that's a fact. The old farm has to go, Ben—I'm sorry for that—I'd have liked to have ended my days here, but it's not to be. I don't want to complain. The Lord does all things well. I haven't a doubt but that it all fits into His wise purposes—not a doubt, Ben, although it may be kind of hard to see it."
Ben was always skittish of "pious talk." He veered around adroitly.
"I dunno as the Lord has had much to do with this, sir. Seems to me as if 'twas the other one as was running it, with Joe Moore for deputy. The main thing, as I look at it, is to get a cinch on him. How much does the mortgage amount to, sir?"
"About three thousand dollars, interest and all."
Old Stephen's voice trembled. The future looked very dark to him in his old age.
Ben put his hand inside his coat and brought out a brand-new, plump pocketbook. He opened it, laid it on his knee, and counted out a number of crisp notes.
"Here, sir," he said, pushing them along the table. "I reckon that'll keep you out of Joe Moore's clutches. There's three thousand there if I ain't made a mistake. That'll set you clear, won't it?"
"Ben!" Old Stephen's voice trembled with amazement. "Ben, I can't take it. It wouldn't be fair—or right. I could never pay you back."
Ben slipped the rubber band around his wallet and replaced it airily.
"I don't want it paid back, sir. It's a little gift, so to speak, just to let you know I ain't ungrateful for all you did for me. If it hadn't been for you I might have been in the penitentiary by now. As for the money, it may seem a pile to you, but we don't think anything more of a thousand or so in the Kootenay than you Greenvale folks do of a fiver—not a bit more. We do things on a big scale out there."
"But, Ben, are you sure you can afford it—that you won't miss it?"
"Pop sure. Don't you worry, I'm all right."
"Bless you—bless you!" The tears were running down old Stephen's face as he gathered up the money with a shaking hand. "I always knew you would do well, Ben—always said it. I knew you'd a good heart. I just can't realize this yet—it seems too good to be true. The old place saved—I can die in peace. Of course, I'll pay you back some of it anyhow if I'm spared a while longer. Bless you, Ben."
Ben would not stay long after that. He said he had to leave on the 4:30 train. He was relieved when he got away from the old man's thanks and questions. Ben did not find it easy to answer some of the latter. When he was out of sight of the house he sat on a fence and counted up his remaining funds.
"Just enough to take me back to the Kootenay—and then begin over again, I s'pose. But 'twas worth the money to see the old fellow's face. He'd thank the Lord and me, he said. How Jake and Wade'd roar to hear them two names in partnership! But I'm going to pull up a bit after this, see if I don't, just to justify the old man's faith in me. 'Twould be too bad to disappoint him if he's believed for so long that I was going to turn out all right yet."
When the 4:30 train went out Ben Butler stood on the rear platform. Gabe Foley watched him abstractedly as he receded.
"Blamed if I know who that fellow was," he remarked to a crony. "He never told his name, but seems to me I've seen him before. He has a kind of hang-dog look, I think. But he paid up square and it is none of my business."
An Unconventional Confidence
The Girl in Black-and-Yellow ran frantically down the grey road under the pines. There was nobody to see her, but she would have run if all Halifax had been looking on. For had she not on the loveliest new hat—a "creation" in yellow chiffon with big black choux—and a dress to match? And was there not a shower coming straight from the hills across the harbour?
Down at the end of the long resinous avenue the Girl saw the shore road, with the pavilion shutting out the view of the harbour's mouth. Below the pavilion, clean-shaven George's Island guarded the town like a sturdy bulldog, and beyond it were the wooded hills, already lost in a mist of rain.
"Oh, I shall be too late," moaned the Girl. But she held her hat steady with one hand and ran on. If she could only reach the pavilion in time! It was a neck-and-neck race between the rain and the Girl, but the Girl won. Just as she flew out upon the shore road, a tall Young Man came pelting down the latter, and they both dashed up the steps of the pavilion together as the rain swooped down upon them and blotted George's Island and the smoky town and the purple banks of the Eastern Passage from view.
The pavilion was small at the best of times, and just now the rain was beating into it on two sides, leaving only one dry corner. Into this the Girl moved. She was flushed and triumphant. The Young Man thought that in all his life he had never seen anyone so pretty.
"I'm so glad I didn't get my hat wet," said the Girl breathlessly, as she straightened it with a careful hand and wondered if she looked very blown and blowsy.
"It would have been a pity," admitted the Young Man. "It is a very pretty hat."
"Pretty!" The Girl looked the scorn her voice expressed. "Anyone can have a pretty hat. Our cook has one. This is a creation."
"Of course," said the Young Man humbly. "I ought to have known. But I am very stupid."
"Well, I suppose a mere man couldn't be expected to understand exactly," said the Girl graciously.
She smiled at him in a friendly fashion, and he smiled back. The Girl thought that she had never seen such lovely brown eyes before. He could not be a Haligonian. She was sure she knew all the nice young men with brown eyes in Halifax.
"Please sit down," she said plaintively. "I'm tired."
The Young Man smiled again at the idea of his sitting down because the Girl was tired. But he sat down, and so did she, on the only dry seat to be found.
"Goodness knows how long this rain will last," said the Girl, making herself comfortable and picturesque, "but I shall stay here until it clears up, if it rains for a week. I will not have my hat spoiled. I suppose I shouldn't have put it on. Beatrix said it was going to rain. Beatrix is such a horribly good prophet. I detest people who are good prophets, don't you?"
"I think that they are responsible for all the evils that they predict," said the Young Man solemnly.
"That is just what I told Beatrix. And I was determined to put on this hat and come out to the park today. I simply had to be alone, and I knew I'd be alone out here. Everybody else would be at the football game. By the way, why aren't you there?"
"I wasn't even aware that there was a football game on hand," said the Young Man, as if he knew he ought to be ashamed of his ignorance, and was.
"Dear me," said the Girl pityingly. "Where can you have been not to have heard of it? It's between the Dalhousie team and the Wanderers. Almost everybody here is on the Wanderers' side, because they are Haligonians, but I am not. I like the college boys best. Beatrix says that it is just because of my innate contrariness. Last year I simply screamed myself hoarse with enthusiasm. The Dalhousie team won the trophy."
"If you are so interested in the game, it is a wonder you didn't go to see it yourself," said the Young Man boldly.
"Well, I just couldn't," said the Girl with a sigh. "If anybody had ever told me that there would be a football game in Halifax, and that I would elect to prowl about by myself in the park instead of going to it, I'd have laughed them to scorn. Even Beatrix would never have dared to prophesy that. But you see it has happened. I was too crumpled up in my mind to care about football today. I had to come here and have it out with myself. That is why I put on my hat. I thought, perhaps, I might get through with my mental gymnastics in time to go to the game afterwards. But I didn't. It is just maddening, too. I got this hat and dress on purpose to wear to it. They're black and yellow, you see—the Dalhousie colours. It was my own idea. I was sure it would make a sensation. But I couldn't go to the game and take any interest in it, feeling as I do, could I, now?"
The Young Man said, of course, she couldn't. It was utterly out of the question.
The Girl smiled. Without a smile, she was charming. With a smile, she was adorable.
"I like to have my opinions bolstered up. Do you know, I want to tell you something? May I?"
"You may. I'll never tell anyone as long as I live," said the Young Man solemnly.
"I don't know you and you don't know me. That is why I want to tell you about it. I must tell somebody, and if I told anybody I knew, they'd tell it all over Halifax. It is dreadful to be talking to you like this. Beatrix would have three fits, one after the other, if she saw me. But Beatrix is a slave to conventionality. I glory in discarding it at times. You don't mind, do you?"
"Not at all," said the Young Man sincerely.
The Girl sighed.
"I have reached that point where I must have a confidant, or go crazy. Once I could tell things to Beatrix. That was before she got engaged. Now she tells everything to him. There is no earthly way of preventing her. I've tried them all. So, nowadays, when I get into trouble, I tell it out loud to myself in the glass. It's a relief, you know. But that is no good now. I want to tell it to somebody who can say things back. Will you promise to say things back?"
The Young Man assured her that he would when the proper time came.
"Very well. But please don't look at me while I'm telling you. I'll be sure to blush in places. When Beatrix wants to be particularly aggravating she says I have lost the art of blushing. But that is only her way of putting it, you know. Sometimes I blush dreadfully."
The Young Man dragged his eyes from the face under the black-and-yellow hat, and fastened them on a crooked pine tree that hung out over the bank.
"Well," began the Girl, "the root of the whole trouble is simply this. There is a young man in England. I always think of him as the Creature. He is the son of a man who was Father's especial crony in boyhood, before Father emigrated to Canada. Worse than that, he comes of a family which has contracted a vile habit of marrying into our family. It has come down through the ages so long that it has become chronic. Father left most of his musty traditions in England, but he brought this pet one with him. He and this friend agreed that the latter's son should marry one of Father's daughters. It ought to have been Beatrix—she is the oldest. But Beatrix had a pug nose. So Father settled on me. From my earliest recollection I have been given to understand that just as soon as I grew up there would be a ready-made husband imported from England for me. I was doomed to it from my cradle. Now," said the Girl, with a tragic gesture, "I ask you, could anything be more hopelessly, appallingly stupid and devoid of romance than that?"
The Young Man shook his head, but did not look at her.
"It's pretty bad," he admitted.
"You see," said the Girl pathetically, "the shadow of it has been over my whole life. Of course, when I was a very little girl I didn't mind it so much. It was such a long way off and lots of things might happen. The Creature might run away with some other girl—or I might have the smallpox—or Beatrix's nose might be straight when she grew up. And if Beatrix's nose were straight she'd be a great deal prettier than I am. But nothing did happen—and her nose is puggier than ever. Then when I grew up things were horrid. I never could have a single little bit of fun. And Beatrix had such a good time! She had scores of lovers in spite of her nose. To be sure, she's engaged now—and he's a horrid, faddy little creature. But he is her own choice. She wasn't told that there was a man in England whom she must marry by and by, when he got sufficiently reconciled to the idea to come and ask her. Oh, it makes me furious!"
"Is—is there—anyone else?" asked the Young Man hesitatingly.
"Oh, dear, no. How could there be? Why, you know, I couldn't have the tiniest flirtation with another man when I was as good as engaged to the Creature. That is one of my grievances. Just think how much fun I've missed! I used to rage to Beatrix about it, but she would tell me that I ought to be thankful to have the chance of making such a good match—the Creature is rich, you know, and clever. As if I cared how clever or rich he is! Beatrix made me so cross that I gave up saying anything and sulked by myself. So they think I'm quite reconciled to it, but I'm not."
"He might be very nice after all," suggested the Young Man.
"Nice! That isn't the point. Oh, don't you see? But no, you're a man—you can't understand. You must just take my word for it. The whole thing makes me furious. But I haven't told you the worst. The Creature is on his way out to Canada now. He may arrive here at any minute. And they are all so aggravatingly delighted over it."
"What do you suppose he feels like?" asked the Young Man reflectively.
"Well," said the Girl frankly, "I've been too much taken up with my own feelings to worry about his. But I daresay they are pretty much like mine. He must loathe and detest the very thought of me."
"Oh, I don't think he does," said the Young Man gravely.
"Don't you? Well, what do you suppose he does think of it all? You ought to understand the man's part of it better than I can."
"There's as much difference in men as in women," said the Young Man in an impersonal tone. "I may be right or wrong, you see, but I imagine he would feel something like this: From boyhood he has understood that away out in Canada there is a little girl growing up who is some day to be his wife. She becomes his boyish ideal of all that is good and true. He pictures her as beautiful and winsome and sweet. She is his heart's lady, and the thought of her abides with him as a safeguard and an inspiration. For her sake he resolves to make the most of himself, and live a clean, loyal life. When she comes to him she must find his heart fit to receive her. There is never a time in all his life when the dream of her does not gleam before him as of a star to which he may aspire with all reverence and love."
The Young Man stopped abruptly, and looked at the Girl. She bent forward with shining eyes, and touched his hand.
"You are splendid," she said softly. "If he thought so—but no—I am sure he doesn't. He's just coming out here like a martyr going to the stake. He knows he will be expected to propose to me when he gets here. And he knows that I know it too. And he knows and I know that I will be expected to say my very prettiest 'yes.'"
"But are you going to say it?" asked the Young Man anxiously.
The Girl leaned forward. "No. That is my secret. I am going to say a most emphatic 'no.'"
"But won't your family make an awful row?"
"Of course. But I rather enjoy a row now and then. It stirs up one's grey matter so nicely. I came out here this afternoon and thought the whole affair over from beginning to end. And I have determined to say 'no.'"
"Oh, I wouldn't make it so irreconcilable as that," said the Young Man lightly. "I'd leave a loophole of escape. You see, if you were to like him a little better than you expect, it would be awkward to have committed yourself by a rash vow to saying 'no,' wouldn't it?"
"I suppose it would," said the Girl thoughtfully, "but then, you know, I won't change my mind."
"It's just as well to be on the safe side," said the Young Man.
The Girl got up. The rain was over and the sun was coming out through the mists.
"Perhaps you are right," she said. "So I'll just resolve that I will say 'no' if I don't want to say 'yes.' That really amounts to the same thing, you know. Thank you so much for letting me tell you all about it. It must have bored you terribly, but it has done me so much good. I feel quite calm and rational now, and can go home and behave myself. Goodbye."
"Goodbye," said the Young Man gravely. He stood on the pavilion and watched the Girl out of sight beyond the pines.
When the Girl got home she was told that the Dalhousie team had won the game, eight to four. The Girl dragged her hat off and waved it joyously.
"What a shame I wasn't there! They'd have gone mad over my dress."
But the next item of information crushed her. The Creature had arrived. He had called that afternoon, and was coming to dinner that night.
"How fortunate," said the Girl, as she went to her room, "that I relieved my mind to that Young Man out in the park today. If I had come back with all that pent-up feeling seething within me and heard this news right on top of it all, I might have flown into a thousand pieces. What lovely brown eyes he had! I do dote on brown eyes. The Creature will be sure to have fishy blue ones."
* * * * *
When the Girl went down to meet the Creature she found herself confronted by the Young Man. For the first, last, and only time in her life, the Girl had not a word to say. But her family thought her confusion very natural and pretty. They really had not expected her to behave so well. As for the Young Man, his manner was flawless.
Toward the end of the dinner, when the Girl was beginning to recover herself, he turned to her.
"You know I promised never to tell," he said.
"Be sure you don't, then," said the Girl meekly.
"But aren't you glad you left the loophole?" he persisted.
The Girl smiled down into her lap.
"Perhaps," she said.
Aunt Cyrilla's Christmas Basket
When Lucy Rose met Aunt Cyrilla coming downstairs, somewhat flushed and breathless from her ascent to the garret, with a big, flat-covered basket hanging over her plump arm, she gave a little sigh of despair. Lucy Rose had done her brave best for some years—in fact, ever since she had put up her hair and lengthened her skirts—to break Aunt Cyrilla of the habit of carrying that basket with her every time she went to Pembroke; but Aunt Cyrilla still insisted on taking it, and only laughed at what she called Lucy Rose's "finicky notions." Lucy Rose had a horrible, haunting idea that it was extremely provincial for her aunt always to take the big basket, packed full of country good things, whenever she went to visit Edward and Geraldine. Geraldine was so stylish, and might think it queer; and then Aunt Cyrilla always would carry it on her arm and give cookies and apples and molasses taffy out of it to every child she encountered and, just as often as not, to older folks too. Lucy Rose, when she went to town with Aunt Cyrilla, felt chagrined over this—all of which goes to prove that Lucy was as yet very young and had a great deal to learn in this world.
That troublesome worry over what Geraldine would think nerved her to make a protest in this instance.
"Now, Aunt C'rilla," she pleaded, "you're surely not going to take that funny old basket to Pembroke this time—Christmas Day and all."
"'Deed and 'deed I am," returned Aunt Cyrilla briskly, as she put it on the table and proceeded to dust it out. "I never went to see Edward and Geraldine since they were married that I didn't take a basket of good things along with me for them, and I'm not going to stop now. As for it's being Christmas, all the more reason. Edward is always real glad to get some of the old farmhouse goodies. He says they beat city cooking all hollow, and so they do."
"But it's so countrified," moaned Lucy Rose.
"Well, I am countrified," said Aunt Cyrilla firmly, "and so are you. And what's more, I don't see that it's anything to be ashamed of. You've got some real silly pride about you, Lucy Rose. You'll grow out of it in time, but just now it is giving you a lot of trouble."
"The basket is a lot of trouble," said Lucy Rose crossly. "You're always mislaying it or afraid you will. And it does look so funny to be walking through the streets with that big, bulgy basket hanging on your arm."
"I'm not a mite worried about its looks," returned Aunt Cyrilla calmly. "As for its being a trouble, why, maybe it is, but I have that, and other people have the pleasure of it. Edward and Geraldine don't need it—I know that—but there may be those that will. And if it hurts your feelings to walk 'longside of a countrified old lady with a countrified basket, why, you can just fall behind, as it were."
Aunt Cyrilla nodded and smiled good-humouredly, and Lucy Rose, though she privately held to her own opinion, had to smile too.
"Now, let me see," said Aunt Cyrilla reflectively, tapping the snowy kitchen table with the point of her plump, dimpled forefinger, "what shall I take? That big fruit cake for one thing—Edward does like my fruit cake; and that cold boiled tongue for another. Those three mince pies too, they'd spoil before we got back or your uncle'd make himself sick eating them—mince pie is his besetting sin. And that little stone bottle full of cream—Geraldine may carry any amount of style, but I've yet to see her look down on real good country cream, Lucy Rose; and another bottle of my raspberry vinegar. That plate of jelly cookies and doughnuts will please the children and fill up the chinks, and you can bring me that box of ice-cream candy out of the pantry, and that bag of striped candy sticks your uncle brought home from the corner last night. And apples, of course—three or four dozen of those good eaters—and a little pot of my greengage preserves—Edward'll like that. And some sandwiches and pound cake for a snack for ourselves. Now, I guess that will do for eatables. The presents for the children can go in on top. There's a doll for Daisy and the little boat your uncle made for Ray and a tatted lace handkerchief apiece for the twins, and the crochet hood for the baby. Now, is that all?"
"There's a cold roast chicken in the pantry," said Lucy Rose wickedly, "and the pig Uncle Leo killed is hanging up in the porch. Couldn't you put them in too?"
Aunt Cyrilla smiled broadly. "Well, I guess we'll leave the pig alone; but since you have reminded me of it, the chicken may as well go in. I can make room."
Lucy Rose, in spite of her prejudices, helped with the packing and, not having been trained under Aunt Cyrilla's eye for nothing, did it very well too, with much clever economy of space. But when Aunt Cyrilla had put in as a finishing touch a big bouquet of pink and white everlastings, and tied the bulging covers down with a firm hand, Lucy Rose stood over the basket and whispered vindictively:
"Some day I'm going to burn this basket—when I get courage enough. Then there'll be an end of lugging it everywhere we go like a—like an old market-woman."
Uncle Leopold came in just then, shaking his head dubiously. He was not going to spend Christmas with Edward and Geraldine, and perhaps the prospect of having to cook and eat his Christmas dinner all alone made him pessimistic.
"I mistrust you folks won't get to Pembroke tomorrow," he said sagely. "It's going to storm."
Aunt Cyrilla did not worry over this. She believed matters of this kind were fore-ordained, and she slept calmly. But Lucy Rose got up three times in the night to see if it were storming, and when she did sleep had horrible nightmares of struggling through blinding snowstorms dragging Aunt Cyrilla's Christmas basket along with her.
It was not snowing in the early morning, and Uncle Leopold drove Aunt Cyrilla and Lucy Rose and the basket to the station, four miles off. When they reached there the air was thick with flying flakes. The stationmaster sold them their tickets with a grim face.
"If there's any more snow comes, the trains might as well keep Christmas too," he said. "There's been so much snow already that traffic is blocked half the time, and now there ain't no place to shovel the snow off onto."
Aunt Cyrilla said that if the train were to get to Pembroke in time for Christmas, it would get there; and she opened her basket and gave the stationmaster and three small boys an apple apiece.
"That's the beginning," groaned Lucy Rose to herself.
When their train came along Aunt Cyrilla established herself in one seat and her basket in another, and looked beamingly around her at her fellow travellers.
These were few in number—a delicate little woman at the end of the car, with a baby and four other children, a young girl across the aisle with a pale, pretty face, a sunburned lad three seats ahead in a khaki uniform, a very handsome, imposing old lady in a sealskin coat ahead of him, and a thin young man with spectacles opposite.
"A minister," reflected Aunt Cyrilla, beginning to classify, "who takes better care of other folks' souls than of his own body; and that woman in the sealskin is discontented and cross at something—got up too early to catch the train, maybe; and that young chap must be one of the boys not long out of the hospital. That woman's children look as if they hadn't enjoyed a square meal since they were born; and if that girl across from me has a mother, I'd like to know what the woman means, letting her daughter go from home in this weather in clothes like that."
Lucy Rose merely wondered uncomfortably what the others thought of Aunt Cyrilla's basket.
They expected to reach Pembroke that night, but as the day wore on the storm grew worse. Twice the train had to stop while the train hands dug it out. The third time it could not go on. It was dusk when the conductor came through the train, replying brusquely to the questions of the anxious passengers.
"A nice lookout for Christmas—no, impossible to go on or back—track blocked for miles—what's that, madam?—no, no station near—woods for miles. We're here for the night. These storms of late have played the mischief with everything."
"Oh, dear," groaned Lucy Rose.
Aunt Cyrilla looked at her basket complacently. "At any rate, we won't starve," she said.
The pale, pretty girl seemed indifferent. The sealskin lady looked crosser than ever. The khaki boy said, "Just my luck," and two of the children began to cry. Aunt Cyrilla took some apples and striped candy sticks from her basket and carried them to them. She lifted the oldest into her ample lap and soon had them all around her, laughing and contented.
The rest of the travellers straggled over to the corner and drifted into conversation. The khaki boy said it was hard lines not to get home for Christmas, after all.
"I was invalided from South Africa three months ago, and I've been in the hospital at Netley ever since. Reached Halifax three days ago and telegraphed the old folks I'd eat my Christmas dinner with them, and to have an extra-big turkey because I didn't have any last year. They'll be badly disappointed."
He looked disappointed too. One khaki sleeve hung empty by his side. Aunt Cyrilla passed him an apple.
"We were all going down to Grandpa's for Christmas," said the little mother's oldest boy dolefully. "We've never been there before, and it's just too bad."
He looked as if he wanted to cry but thought better of it and bit off a mouthful of candy.
"Will there be any Santa Claus on the train?" demanded his small sister tearfully. "Jack says there won't."
"I guess he'll find you out," said Aunt Cyrilla reassuringly.
The pale, pretty girl came up and took the baby from the tired mother. "What a dear little fellow," she said softly.
"Are you going home for Christmas too?" asked Aunt Cyrilla.
The girl shook her head. "I haven't any home. I'm just a shop girl out of work at present, and I'm going to Pembroke to look for some."
Aunt Cyrilla went to her basket and took out her box of cream candy. "I guess we might as well enjoy ourselves. Let's eat it all up and have a good time. Maybe we'll get down to Pembroke in the morning."
The little group grew cheerful as they nibbled, and even the pale girl brightened up. The little mother told Aunt Cyrilla her story aside. She had been long estranged from her family, who had disapproved of her marriage. Her husband had died the previous summer, leaving her in poor circumstances.
"Father wrote to me last week and asked me to let bygones be bygones and come home for Christmas. I was so glad. And the children's hearts were set on it. It seems too bad that we are not to get there. I have to be back at work the morning after Christmas."
The khaki boy came up again and shared the candy. He told amusing stories of campaigning in South Africa. The minister came too, and listened, and even the sealskin lady turned her head over her shoulder.
By and by the children fell asleep, one on Aunt Cyrilla's lap and one on Lucy Rose's, and two on the seat. Aunt Cyrilla and the pale girl helped the mother make up beds for them. The minister gave his overcoat and the sealskin lady came forward with a shawl.
"This will do for the baby," she said.
"We must get up some Santa Claus for these youngsters," said the khaki boy. "Let's hang their stockings on the wall and fill 'em up as best we can. I've nothing about me but some hard cash and a jack-knife. I'll give each of 'em a quarter and the boy can have the knife."
"I've nothing but money either," said the sealskin lady regretfully.
Aunt Cyrilla glanced at the little mother. She had fallen asleep with her head against the seat-back.
"I've got a basket over there," said Aunt Cyrilla firmly, "and I've some presents in it that I was taking to my nephew's children. I'm going to give 'em to these. As for the money, I think the mother is the one for it to go to. She's been telling me her story, and a pitiful one it is. Let's make up a little purse among us for a Christmas present."
The idea met with favour. The khaki boy passed his cap and everybody contributed. The sealskin lady put in a crumpled note. When Aunt Cyrilla straightened it out she saw that it was for twenty dollars.
Meanwhile, Lucy Rose had brought the basket. She smiled at Aunt Cyrilla as she lugged it down the aisle and Aunt Cyrilla smiled back. Lucy Rose had never touched that basket of her own accord before.
Ray's boat went to Jacky, and Daisy's doll to his oldest sister, the twins' lace handkerchiefs to the two smaller girls and the hood to the baby. Then the stockings were filled up with doughnuts and jelly cookies and the money was put in an envelope and pinned to the little mother's jacket.
"That baby is such a dear little fellow," said the sealskin lady gently. "He looks something like my little son. He died eighteen Christmases ago."
Aunt Cyrilla put her hand over the lady's kid glove. "So did mine," she said. Then the two women smiled tenderly at each other. Afterwards they rested from their labours and all had what Aunt Cyrilla called a "snack" of sandwiches and pound cake. The khaki boy said he hadn't tasted anything half so good since he left home.
"They didn't give us pound cake in South Africa," he said.
When morning came the storm was still raging. The children wakened and went wild with delight over their stockings. The little mother found her envelope and tried to utter thanks and broke down; and nobody knew what to say or do, when the conductor fortunately came in and made a diversion by telling them they might as well resign themselves to spending Christmas on the train.
"This is serious," said the khaki boy, "when you consider that we've no provisions. Don't mind for myself, used to half rations or no rations at all. But these kiddies will have tremendous appetites."
Then Aunt Cyrilla rose to the occasion.
"I've got some emergency rations here," she announced. "There's plenty for all and we'll have our Christmas dinner, although a cold one. Breakfast first thing. There's a sandwich apiece left and we must fill up on what is left of the cookies and doughnuts and save the rest for a real good spread at dinner time. The only thing is, I haven't any bread."
"I've a box of soda crackers," said the little mother eagerly.
Nobody in that car will ever forget that Christmas. To begin with, after breakfast they had a concert. The khaki boy gave two recitations, sang three songs, and gave a whistling solo. Lucy Rose gave three recitations and the minister a comic reading. The pale shop girl sang two songs. It was agreed that the khaki boy's whistling solo was the best number, and Aunt Cyrilla gave him the bouquet of everlastings as a reward of merit.
Then the conductor came in with the cheerful news that the storm was almost over and he thought the track would be cleared in a few hours.
"If we can get to the next station we'll be all right," he said. "The branch joins the main line there and the tracks will be clear."
At noon they had dinner. The train hands were invited in to share it. The minister carved the chicken with the brakeman's jack-knife and the khaki boy cut up the tongue and the mince pies, while the sealskin lady mixed the raspberry vinegar with its due proportion of water. Bits of paper served as plates. The train furnished a couple of glasses, a tin pint cup was discovered and given to the children, Aunt Cyrilla and Lucy Rose and the sealskin lady drank, turn about, from the latter's graduated medicine glass, the shop girl and the little mother shared one of the empty bottles, and the khaki boy, the minister, and the train men drank out of the other bottle.
Everybody declared they had never enjoyed a meal more in their lives. Certainly it was a merry one, and Aunt Cyrilla's cooking was never more appreciated; indeed, the bones of the chicken and the pot of preserves were all that was left. They could not eat the preserves because they had no spoons, so Aunt Cyrilla gave them to the little mother.
When all was over, a hearty vote of thanks was passed to Aunt Cyrilla and her basket. The sealskin lady wanted to know how she made her pound cake, and the khaki boy asked for her receipt for jelly cookies. And when two hours later the conductor came in and said the snowploughs had got along and they'd soon be starting, they all wondered if it could really be less than twenty-four hours since they met.
"I feel as if I'd been campaigning with you all my life," said the khaki boy.
At the next station they all parted. The little mother and the children had to take the next train back home. The minister stayed there, and the khaki boy and the sealskin lady changed trains. The sealskin lady shook Aunt Cyrilla's hand. She no longer looked discontented or cross.
"This has been the pleasantest Christmas I have ever spent," she said heartily. "I shall never forget that wonderful basket of yours. The little shop girl is going home with me. I've promised her a place in my husband's store."
When Aunt Cyrilla and Lucy Rose reached Pembroke there was nobody to meet them because everyone had given up expecting them. It was not far from the station to Edward's house and Aunt Cyrilla elected to walk.
"I'll carry the basket," said Lucy Rose.
Aunt Cyrilla relinquished it with a smile. Lucy Rose smiled too.
"It's a blessed old basket," said the latter, "and I love it. Please forget all the silly things I ever said about it, Aunt C'rilla."
It was a rainy afternoon, and we had been passing the time by telling ghost stories. That is a very good sort of thing for a rainy afternoon, and it is a much better time than after night. If you tell ghost stories after dark they are apt to make you nervous, whether you own up to it or not, and you sneak home and dodge upstairs in mortal terror, and undress with your back to the wall, so that you can't fancy there is anything behind you.
We had each told a story, and had had the usual assortment of mysterious noises and death warnings and sheeted spectres and so on, down through the whole catalogue of horrors—enough to satisfy any reasonable ghost-taster. But Jack, as usual, was dissatisfied. He said our stories were all second-hand stuff. There wasn't a man in the crowd who had ever seen or heard a ghost; all our so-called authentic stories had been told us by persons who had the story from other persons who saw the ghosts.
"One doesn't get any information from that," said Jack. "I never expect to get so far along as to see a real ghost myself, but I would like to see and talk to one who had."
Some persons appear to have the knack of getting their wishes granted. Jack is one of that ilk. Just as he made the remark, Davenport sauntered in and, finding out what was going on, volunteered to tell a ghost story himself—something that had happened to his grandmother, or maybe it was his great-aunt; I forget which. It was a very good ghost story as ghost stories go, and Davenport told it well. Even Jack admitted that, but he said:
"It's only second-hand too. Did you ever have a ghostly experience yourself, old man?"
Davenport put his finger tips critically together.
"Would you believe me if I said I had?" he asked.
"No," said Jack unblushingly.
"Then there would be no use in my saying it."
"But you don't mean that you ever really had, of course?"
"I don't know. Something queer happened once. I've never been able to explain it—from a practical point of view, that is. Want to hear about it?"
Of course we did. This was exciting. Nobody would ever have suspected Davenport of seeing ghosts.
"It's conventional enough," he began. "Ghosts don't seem to have much originality. But it's firsthand, Jack, if that's what you want. I don't suppose any of you have ever heard me speak of my brother, Charles. He was my senior by two years, and was a quiet, reserved sort of fellow—not at all demonstrative, but with very strong and deep affections.
"When he left college he became engaged to Dorothy Chester. She was very beautiful, and my brother idolized her. She died a short time before the date set for their marriage, and Charles never recovered from the blow.
"I married Dorothy's sister, Virginia. Virginia did not in the least resemble her sister, but our eldest daughter was strikingly like her dead aunt. We called her Dorothy, and Charles was devoted to her. Dolly, as we called her, was always 'Uncle Charley's girl.'