Books by Laura E. Richards.
"Mrs. Richards has made for herself a little niche apart in the literary world, from her delicate treatment of New England village life."—Boston Post.
THE CAPTAIN JANUARY SERIES.
CAPTAIN JANUARY. 16mo, cloth, 50 cents.
A charming idyl of New England coast life, whose success has been very remarkable. One reads it, is thoroughly charmed by it, tells others, and so its fame has been heralded by its readers, until to-day it is selling by the thousands, constantly enlarging the circle of its delighted admirers.
SAME. Illustrated Holiday Edition. With thirty half-tone pictures from drawings by Frank T. Merrill. 4to, cloth, $1.25.
MELODY. The Story of a Child. 16mo, 50 cents.
"Had there never been a 'Captain January,' 'Melody' would easily take first place."—Boston Times.
SAME. Illustrated Holiday Edition. With thirty half-tone pictures from drawings by Frank T. Merrill. 4to, cloth, $1.25.
MARIE. 16mo, 50 cents.
"Seldom has Mrs. Richards drawn a more irresistible picture, or framed one with more artistic literary adjustment."—Boston Herald.
"A perfect literary gem."—Boston Transcript.
NARCISSA, and a companion story, IN VERONA. 16mo, cloth, 50 cents.
"Each is a simple, touching, sweet little story of rustic New England life, full of vivid pictures of interesting character, and refreshing for its unaffected genuineness and human feeling."—Congregationalist.
JIM OF HELLAS; or, IN DURANCE VILE, and a companion story, BETHESDA POOL. 16mo, 50 cents.
SOME SAY, and a companion story, NEIGHBOURS IN CYRUS. 16mo, 50 cents.
ROSIN THE BEAU. 16mo, 50 cents. A sequel to "Melody."
ISLA HERON. A charming prose idyl of quaint New England life. Small quarto, cloth, 75 cents.
NAUTILUS. A very interesting story, with illustrations; uniquely bound, small quarto, cloth, 75 cents.
FIVE MINUTE STORIES. A charming collection of short stories and clever poems for children. Small quarto, cloth, $1.25.
THREE MARGARETS. One of the most clever stories for girls that the author has written. 16mo, cloth, handsome cover design, $1.25.
MARGARET MONTFORT. The second volume in the series of which "Three Margarets" was so successful as the initial volume. 16mo, cloth, handsome cover design, $1.25.
PEGGY. The third volume in the series of which the preceding ones have been so successful. 16mo, cloth, handsome cover design, $1.25.
LOVE AND ROCKS. A charming story of one of the pleasant islands that dot the rugged Maine coast. With etching frontispiece by Mercier. Tall 16mo, unique cover design on linen, gilt top, $1.00.
Dana Estes & Company, Publishers, Boston.
BY LAURA E. RICHARDS
AUTHOR OF "CAPTAIN JANUARY," "MELODY," "QUEEN HILDEGARDE," ETC.
Illustrated by ETHELDRED B. BARRY
BOSTON DANA ESTES & COMPANY PUBLISHERS
Copyright, 1899 BY DANA ESTES & COMPANY
Colonial Press: Electrotyped and Printed by C. H. Simonds & Co. Boston, Mass., U. S. A.
I. A NEW WORLD 11
II. THE BOX FROM FERNLEY 31
III. IN THE "GYM." 51
IV. ENTER THE SCAPEGOAT 72
V. TO THE RESCUE 89
VI. THE OWL'S NEST 102
VII. WEDDING BELLS 121
VIII. BY MOONLIGHT 141
IX. FACULTY MEETING AND BEDLAM 160
X. TEACHER AND PUPIL 182
XI. DECORATION—AND OTHER THINGS 194
XII. AN ADVENTURE 210
XIII. PEGGY VICTRIX 224
XIV. ON SPY HILL 240
XV. WHAT WAS THE MATTER WITH LOBELIA PARKINS? 253
XVI. THE TERROR BY NIGHT 268
XVII. WAITING 279
XVIII. THE END AND THE BEGINNING 297
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS.
"'PEACE BE TO THIS DWELLING'" (p. 79) Frontispiece
"'BERTHA, LOOK AT THIS, WILL YOU?'" 36
"UP THEY WENT, HAND OVER HAND." 69
THE GRAND TELL IN THE OWL'S NEST 120
"'HERE! TAKE MY HAND AND SCRAMBLE OUT'" 207
"WITH ONE OF HER SUDDEN MOVEMENTS SHE HAD THROWN OFF HER ASSAILANTS" 237
"'OH, GRACE, SHE HAS FAINTED!'" 272
"'WE FOUR AGAINST THE WORLD!'" 308
A NEW WORLD.
"Miss Montfort!" said the Principal.
Peggy looked about her.
"I wonder if it's another cousin!" she said to herself. "It can't be, or Margaret would have known. Dear Margaret! now if she were only here, she could answer, and everybody would—"
"Miss Montfort!" said the Principal again, rather sharply.
"Isn't that your name?" whispered the girl who sat beside Peggy. "You'll have to answer, you know!"
Peggy started violently, and, looking up, met the Principal's eyes bent upon her. She struggled to her feet, feeling herself one blush from head to foot.
"I—I beg your pardon!" she faltered. "I didn't suppose—did you mean me?"
"You are Miss Montfort, are you not?"
"Oh, no! my cousins are both—that is,—I am just Peggy!"
There was a general titter, which the Principal checked with her pencil. "Young ladies!" she said in a warning tone. "Miss Montfort, you will have room No. 18, in the second corridor. You will be alone for the present."
"Oh, goody!" cried Peggy. "I mean—I'm ever so much obliged, thank you! Can I go now?"
"You may go now!" said the Principal, with a slight emphasis on the auxiliary.
Peggy stumbled over the foot of the girl next her, stepped on her own dress, tripped and came to her knees; picked herself up, with a sound of rending cloth, and finally got out of the room. This time the titter was not so easily checked. Peggy heard it rippling behind her as she fled. Even Miss Russell smiled as she rapped on the desk, and said one word to herself: "Untrained!"
But the girl who had sat beside Peggy rubbed her foot, which hurt a good deal, and said three words: "Poor little thing!"
No. 18 in the second corridor was a good-sized room, with two windows, one of them crossed on the outside by a fire-escape. Its present aspect was bare and unhomelike. The furniture consisted of an iron bedstead, a bureau and wash-stand, two chairs and a small table, all neat, but severely plain. The small square of carpet on the floor was a cold gray mixture with brown flowers on it. As Peggy Montfort looked about her, her heart sank. Was she to live here, to spend her days and nights here, for a whole endless year? She thought of her room at home, the great sunny room that she shared with her sister Jean. That had four windows, which were generally flung wide open; it was bare, because she and Jean liked to have plenty of space for gymnastics and wrestling; but that was a homelike, accustomed bareness, and they loved it. The great old four-post bed, with the round balls on which they loved to stand and perform circus tricks; the hammock slung across one end; the birds' nests and hawks' wings that adorned the walls in lieu of pictures; the antlers on which they hung their hats,—all these, or the thought of them, smote Peggy's stout heart, and sent it lower and lower down.
A maid knocked at the door: here was Miss Montfort's trunk, and would she unpack it, please, as the man would be coming again to take the empty trunks to the attic.
Peggy fell to work with ardour; here, at least, was something to do, in this strange, lonesome place. Arriving in the afternoon, a day or two after the beginning of school, her lessons were not to begin till the next morning.
Every dress, as she lifted it out, seemed a bit of home. Here was the triangular tear in her blue gingham, that Jean mended for her. One could hardly see it now! Dear Jean! she was neat-handed, and she had a little look of Margaret, the same soft hair and clear, quiet eyes. Here was her beloved bicycle skirt! Ah, there was something heavy in the pocket. Peggy explored, and drew forth an apple; that brought the tears, which were not very far off in the first place, and there was a good deal of salt in the apple as she ate it. She was so determined to make the best of everything, however, that she fought back the homesickness that was rising like a flood within her, and even managed to whistle a tune as she hung up her dresses and laid her stockings and handkerchiefs in the drawers. Then the shoe-bag must be hung against the closet door, the bag that Margaret had made and worked with her initials. Dearest Margaret! and here was the pincushion that Flora gave her, and the writing-case from Brother Hugh— Oh! she would write to him every week of her life, indeed she would! and so on and so on.
When the trunk was empty, the room looked less forlorn, though still pretty bare, for in Peggy's home little thought was given to anything not of practical use. The door was open, and happening to look up she caught a glimpse of the opposite room, on the other side of the narrow corridor. Here, too, the door stood open, and Peggy gazed open-eyed. A greater contrast could hardly be imagined. Here every available inch of wall-space was covered, with photographs, with Japanese fans and umbrellas, with posters and ribbons and flags. The room itself was choked, it seemed to Peggy, with chairs and tables, low tables covered with books, with cups and saucers, with knickknacks of every possible description. The whole effect was bewildering, but so gay and cheerful that Peggy sighed as she glanced back at her own bare white walls, at the bureau with its sober brush and comb, and the polished table where the writing-case lay in solitary state. She could not imagine living in a room like that other: she should stifle, and throw half the things out of the window; but it would be nice to have just a few more things! If she had only thought! Jean would have been glad to share the nests with her, and she could have had the rattlesnake skin, for had she not killed him herself? and then there were the fossils!
As Peggy meditated, steps came along the corridor, and halted at her door. A face peeped in. "May I come in?" asked the girl who had sat beside her in the class-room.
"Oh, do! I wish you would!" cried Peggy, eagerly. "I am so glad to see you! Sit down! I wanted to tell you—you were awfully kind to let me know she meant me. You see, I never was called Miss Montfort in my life before."
The girl sat down, and looked kindly at Peggy. She was a singular-looking girl, short and dark, with a curious effect of squareness in her thickset figure. Her face was plain, but one forgot that when one met the bright, intelligent gaze of her dark eyes.
"I ought to introduce myself!" she said. "My name is Bertha Haughton. I'm a neighbour of yours. No!" she added, laughing, as Peggy glanced involuntarily across the way. "That is Vanity Fair. I don't live there; I live in the Owls' Nest, some way down the corridor."
"Are all the rooms named?" asked Peggy, wondering.
"Most of them, on this corridor, at least. There's Vanity Fair and Rag Fair and the Smithsonian Institute on the other side—oh! and the China Shop and the Corner Grocery, too. And on this side is ours, the Owls' Nest, and Bedlam, and the Soap Factory, and the Nursery, and this room of yours."
"Oh, how interesting!" cried Peggy. "Do tell me what the names mean! Why Owls' Nest?"
"Oh, well, we got the name of studying hard, that's all. We don't study harder than ever so many others, but in our freshman year we—my chum and I—passed an examination that a good many failed in, and so we got the name of owls. That's really all! And the China Shop—well! Ada Bull had it last year, and she had a mania for china-painting; and that with the name, together, you see! Then there is the Soap Factory,—that is quite a story! you really want to hear it? well!
"You know we are not allowed to buy candy, or to have it sent to us. This girl's mother—I won't tell her name, she's in college now—was a very silly person, and she sent her a great box of chocolate, five or six pounds (though she knew the rules, mind you!), all done up like soap."
"Like soap!" repeated Peggy.
"Yes! the box was marked soap, and the chocolate was in little cakes, just like the little sample cakes of soap they send round, don't you know? and each cake wrapped up in paper, with 'Savon de Chocolat' stamped on it. It came from Paris, I believe.
"Well, of course the girl ought to have told Miss Russell at once, but she didn't. She kept the box under her bed, and told all the girls she knew; and of course they kept coming into her room all day long, and her pocket was always full, and, however it happened, at last Miss Russell suspected something. One day she came suddenly upon Margie in the hall, and saw that she was eating something, and asked her what it was. We're not allowed to eat going about the house, of course. Margie had just bitten off half a cake, and she had the other half in her hand, with the printed side up, 'Savon de Chocolat!' and she said 'Soap!'
"'Soap!' said Miss Russell.
"'Yes!' said Margie. 'Soap, Miss Russell.'
"The Principal looked at her a minute, and then I suppose she smelt the chocolate. She told her to wait, and then she went into her own room and came out with a little cake of tar soap—sample cake—that looked for all the world like chocolate soap.
"'Pray try this!' she said, as grave as a judge. 'I am sure you will find it excellent. I must insist upon your trying it, since you have a taste for soap.'
"Poor Margie! she had a good deal of pluck, and when she saw there was no help for it, she took a bite of the soap. But it was too horrid; she couldn't swallow it. She choked, and ran to her own room; the Principal followed her, and then the whole story came out. Margie never told us just what Miss Russell said. The chocolate was sent to the Orphans' Home next day, and she was a pretty serious girl for some time after. So now you know why that room is called the Soap Factory."
"That's a splendid story!" cried Peggy. "Why, I think this is great. Did this room have a name, too? I'm sure it must have! Do tell me what it is!"
A queer look crossed the dark girl's face.
"It has been called Broadway!" she said. "I hope it may be changed now." She hesitated, and was about to speak again, when two girls came along arm in arm.
"Look!" said Bertha Haughton. "There are your opposite neighbours, Vanity and Vexation of Spirit. I'll call them over and introduce them."
"Oh, please don't!" cried Peggy, under her breath, catching her companion's arm. But it was too late.
"V. V.," called Bertha, in her clear, hearty voice, "come and be introduced to Miss Montfort."
The girls turned and came forward, one eagerly, the other rather unwillingly.
"Miss Viola Vincent, Miss Vivia Varnham," said Bertha Haughton, "this is Miss—Peggy, did you say?—Miss Peggy Montfort."
Miss Varnham simply bowed, but Viola Vincent advanced with outstretched hand.
"How do you do?" she cried; and she lifted Peggy's hand to the level of her chin, and shook it gently from side to side. "Awfully glad to see you! It's been too perfectly horrid to have this room empty; hasn't it, V?"
"A great bore!" assented Miss Varnham, who looked thoroughly bored herself.
Both girls had entered the room, and were standing, looking about them. Peggy stood, too, feeling unspeakably shy and awkward, and not knowing what to say. Bertha Haughton gave her a quick, friendly glance, and made a slight motion with her head toward a chair. Peggy started, and coloured violently.
"I beg your pardon!" she stammered. "Won't you sit down? here are two chairs; and you and I can sit on the bed!" she turned to Miss Haughton with an air of relief; she seemed already an old friend.
Peggy's timid glances at the newcomers showed her that they belonged to a species unknown to her. Living on a great prairie farm, she had known no girls save her sisters and the two cousins with whom she had spent a happy summer at Fernley House, the home of her uncle, Mr. John Montfort, a year before.
But neither sisters nor cousins, nor Bertha Haughton herself, bore any resemblance to the two young women who now seated themselves on her two straight-backed chairs. Both were dressed in the extreme of the fashion, which was not a specially graceful one. Both wore their hair elaborately dressed, with a profusion of gold and silver pins, a passing fancy easily carried to extravagance. Both were pretty, and there was even a kind of likeness between them, though it vanished when one looked closely. Viola Vincent had limpid blue eyes, and long lashes which she had a way of dropping, as she had been told that they looked well on her cheek, which was clear and delicately tinted. She smiled a good deal, and in doing so showed a pretty dimple in one cheek. In spite of a certain affectation, Peggy thought her charming.
Vivia Varnham was less attractive, in spite of her bright hazel eyes and pretty fluffy hair; there was a supercilious lift to her eyebrows, an unamiable droop to the corners of her mouth. Peggy did not make this analysis; she only thought, "I shall not like her, I know I sha'n't!"
The girls chattered away without much regard to her, and she only half understood their talk.
"My dear! Have you heard?" This was from Viola to Bertha Haughton. She patted herself all over while she talked, now her hair, now her collar, now her blouse, little approving pats.
"You never hear anything, you owls! When is the Snowy coming back? She has been away forty years! I simply can't exist without her. Why, my dear, we are to have the straw-ride after all. Miss Russell says we may. Isn't it perf'ly fine?"
"Are you sure?" said Bertha Haughton, doubtfully. "You know last time she said we couldn't go again, because Grace acted so, pulling out the linch-pin and dropping us all into the road."
"My dear, I know! that's just it! The Goat went to her this morning and said she would stay at home and do double lessons if the rest of us could only go. Noble of the Goat, I call it; only it won't be half so much fun without her, and Billy gone, too. Oh, you can't possibly imagine how we miss Billy. How forlorn this room looks without all her pretty things!" She glanced about the room. "Perf'ly awful, isn't it?" she said.
Poor Peggy flushed scarlet. Bertha Haughton flashed her a glance of indignant sympathy.
"Billy had the room simply ridiculous!" she said, hastily. "Almost as bad as your toyshop, Vanity. I can't abide a frippy room!"
Viola Vincent opened her blue eyes wide. "What ruffled you up, Fluffy?" she said. "I didn't say anything about the Nest." Then, happening to glance at Peggy, she realised what she had said, and blushed a little herself.
"I'm sure I didn't mean anything!" she cried, with a little giggle. "Of course when Miss Montfort gets all her things out and arranged, it will be quite charming, I'm sure it will."
"I haven't any more things!" said honest Peggy. She managed to keep her voice steady, but the tears would come into her eyes, and she raged at herself.
"Oh, you'll accumulate them!" said good-natured Viola, who liked to have people comfortable, if it did not take too much trouble. "Won't she, V.? We had hardly anything when we came, had we, V.? Barns, my dear, were nothing to us, were they, V.?"
"Oh, of course not!" assented Miss Varnham; but her smile was so like a sneer, and her glance about the room so cold and contemptuous, that Peggy felt dislike hardening at her heart.
"What is all that noise in the entry?" exclaimed Bertha Haughton, anxious to change the conversation. "It sounds as if an elephant were coming to call."
Viola Vincent fluttered to the door, patting her waist affectionately as she went.
"My dear!" she cried, in high-pitched staccato tones. "It's a box, an express box. Oh, it's a perfect monster, a mammoth! Vi, this must be your dresses. Hurrah! we'll have a grand trying on."
Vivia Varnham looked out. A burly expressman was staggering forward with an enormous box, almost as big as a packing-case.
"Take it in there!" she said, imperiously, motioning across the corridor. "Put it down carefully, mind! Miss Varnham, is it?"
"No, miss," said the man, respectfully. "Miss Montfort!"
"Me!" cried Peggy, starting to her feet. "Oh, there must be some mistake. I wasn't—there's nothing coming for me."
"It must be for you!" said Bertha Haughton. "There is no other Miss Montfort in the school. Look at the address, and you may know the handwriting!"
Peggy looked. In a clear, bold hand was written:
Miss Peggy Montfort, At Miss Russell's School, Pentland.
Glass, with care. All charges paid.
"Oh!" she cried, clasping her hands. "It is for me! It's from Uncle John! Oh, what do you suppose—what can it be?"
"Bring it in here, please," said Bertha Haughton, quietly, to the man, who still stood balancing the box. "There! set it against the wall; thank you! Now," as the man departed, "we need a screw-driver. Have you one, Viola?"
"My dear! I had one, but the Goat broke it, using it for a step, you know, to get up to the next story. I use a can-opener now, but that will only do for small boxes. I don't have—well, State Houses, coming every day," she added, with a good-natured laugh, glancing at the great box.
Bertha Haughton ran to fetch a screw-driver from her room, and the other two girls moved toward the door. Vivia Varnham looked black. She had made sure the box was for her, and felt aggrieved at the stupid freshman who appropriated it. Viola Vincent, on the other hand, was delighted. "I'm awfully glad!" she said. "It's simply dandy, having a box come. Ta, ta! I hope it will be something perf'ly splendid, dresses and hats and all kinds of giddiness. I love giddiness! When you want to be giddy, you must come to us; the Owls are too worthy. There's Fluffy back again with the screw-driver. Ta again! Awfully glad!"
Peggy was half inclined to ask Viola to stay, but still it was rather a relief when the opposite door closed. Whatever the box contained, she could not have enjoyed it with those sharp, cold eyes of Viola Varnham looking on.
"Here is the screw-driver!" cried Bertha, out of breath with her flight along the corridor. "It's very strong, you need not be afraid of pressing on it. Can I do anything more to help you? If not, I must go. I hope it is something very nice indeed!"
"Go! you!" cried Peggy. "Oh, must you? Can't you stay and help me see what it is? It isn't any fun opening boxes alone," she added, piteously.
The girl does not live who would not rather unpack a box than eat her dinner. "If you are sure you want me," said Bertha. "I didn't want to be in the way, that was all."
"In the way! Oh, Miss Haughton! Why, you are the only friend I have here in this lonesome place."
"If I am going to be your friend, I am not going to be Miss Haughton another minute. Do you really want me to stay, Peggy?"
"I do, Bertha, indeed I do."
"Hurrah, then! And now for the box!"
THE BOX FROM FERNLEY.
The box was no ordinary rough affair, knocked together for simple purposes of transportation. It was neatly and carefully made, the edges fitting closely together, the lid furnished with hinges.
"We must take care how we open this!" said Bertha. "It would be a shame to spoil such a fine box."
Peggy was used to tools of every description, and she drew out the screws deftly, then lifted the lid. Both girls bent eagerly forward. Nothing was visible but white paper, neatly fitted to the top of the box. Yes! on the paper lay a card, on which was written, "For Peggy's housekeeping. From Uncle John and Margaret, with best love."
The handwriting was Margaret's, and Peggy seized and kissed it before going further. "It is Margaret!" she said. "Dear, darling Margaret, the best friend I have in the world. Oh, how dear and kind and lovely of them both! What do you suppose they have sent me?"
"Suppose we see!" said Bertha Haughton. Yet both girls lingered a moment, tasting the joy of suspense.
It was not a joy to be long indulged, however. Together they lifted the paper, and lo! more paper, but this time enveloping various mysterious packages neatly tied with pink tape.
"Margaret's tape!" cried Peggy. "Uncle John gave her a great big spool of it, because she said she had never seen enough in her life. Oh, what a fat bundle! You shall open it, Bertha, because you have been so good to me."
"Open your bundle!" cried Bertha. "Indeed I will not! I never heard of such a thing. Be quick, though, for I do want to see."
The big square parcel revealed an afghan, knitted in long stripes of red and blue, the colours rich and warm, and harmonising pleasantly.
"Oh, what a beauty!" cried Bertha, while Peggy gazed in silent delight. "My dear, it warms the whole room! and the length of it, and the breadth! why, it will go on double. I never saw such a splendid one."
Indeed, the great afghan had been Margaret's "pick-up work" ever since she first heard that Peggy was going to school, and loving thoughts were knitted into every stripe.
"What next?" said Bertha. "My dear, sofa-pillows!"
So they were, four of them, each prettier than the other.
"But what shall I do with them?" said Peggy, with a comical glance around the room. "There's no sign of a sofa. Never mind! they are perfect beauties. Oh, and what can this be? Oh, Bertha, see, it is a bookcase!"
The six pieces of polished wood were quickly fitted together, and there was indeed a bookcase, not very large, but still ample to contain all the books Peggy would be likely to need.
"Where are your books?" asked Bertha, innocently; and Peggy hung her head.
"My Bible is in my drawer," she said. "I—I didn't bring any other books. I'm a dreadful dunce," she added, timidly. "I might as well tell you now, for you'd find it out anyhow, the very first time you talked about books. I don't—care—about them, much."
"Oh!" and Bertha looked a little blank, being a bookworm herself. "But there must be some books you are fond of, Peggy?"
Peggy shook her head despondently. "I don't believe there are," she said. "Oh, of course I like 'Treasure Island,' and 'Robin Hood,' and that kind of thing. But history, and the Waverley Novels—why, Margaret would like to read the Waverley Novels all day; and they put me to sleep in five minutes."
She looked anxiously at her new friend, to see the effect of this dreadful confession; but Bertha only laughed. "Well, I love the Waverleys very much myself," she said; "but I know everybody doesn't care for them. But when you want to read, Peggy, what do you do?"
"But I don't want to read," said Peggy, humbly. "It—it seems such a waste of time; except Coues, of course, and he wouldn't go in my trunk, and Pa is going to send him by express."
"What do you mean?" asked Bertha, puzzled in her turn. "Cows!"
"Yes, the book, you know! Oh, I couldn't live without that."
"Do you mean a herd-book? Of course, you said you lived on a farm. You mean that you study pedigrees and that kind of thing?"
Now it was Peggy's turn to laugh, as she explained that she meant Prof. J. Elliott Coues's admirable book on birds.
"Pa has Samuels," she added, "but I couldn't bring that, because it is out of print, and too valuable. Besides, he isn't so thorough as Coues, don't you know, especially in anatomy and that part. Is there a good class in anatomy here? Of course I shall want to join that."
"Oh, dear!" cried Bertha, in comical dismay, "I don't know! Peggy Montfort, you are not a dunce at all; you are just shamming. The idea of any one wanting to study anatomy!"
"The idea of wanting to study anything else," cried Peggy, "except physics and geometry. It's this horrible literature and stuff that I cannot bear. But we can't stop and talk, with the box only half unpacked. Oh, pictures! Now I do like pictures, when they are the right kind. Bertha, look at this, will you?"
With difficulty she lifted out a large picture which filled the box from end to end. Both girls uttered a cry of delight. It was the "Automedon" of Henri Regnault. The great horses rearing and plunging, the heroic figure of the charioteer, seemed to take Peggy's breath. "It—it's the kind of thing you dream about, isn't it?" she said. "They are alive; I believe they'll break through the glass in another minute. Oh, there can't be anything else as splendid as this!"
But when she drew out next a fine photograph of "The Night Watch," she hardly knew what to say. The gleaming eyes of the lions, prowling among the ruined columns, fascinated her almost as much as the wild horses had done. She had less to say to the beautiful photograph of the Sistine Madonna, which came next; yet she looked at it with eyes of wistful affection. It was Margaret's favourite picture, and she loved it on that account as well as its own. Yet her taste was for "critters," as she freely acknowledged; and she glowed again as Bertha held up an engraving of "Sheridan's Ride," with the great captain riding straight out of the picture at her.
"That's the kind of thing she wants!" Mr. Montfort had said, when he and his niece Margaret were having their delightful "Peggy-lark," as he called it. "The Sistine by all means, Meg; but no more old masters for our Peggy. She won't understand them, and she won't like them. What was it she said about your pet St. Anthony?"
"She said he looked as if he had gone out for clams and fallen into the mud!" said Margaret, rather ruefully. "I suppose you are right, Uncle John; but, oh, do look at this lovely Murillo angel! How could she help loving this?"
"The anatomy of it would distress her," said Mr. Montfort, dryly. "You know Peggy is strong on anatomy. Better take the 'Automedon.'"
"Which you said was out of drawing!" cried Margaret, with a flash of mischief. "Oh, if you are going to put false ideas into her head, Uncle John—" on which she was very properly told to choose her pictures, and not be saucy.
The last picture in the box had not been chosen in any picture-shop; and at sight of it Peggy sat down on the bed and began to cry.
"Oh, dear!" she said. "What shall I do? Oh, Margaret, Margaret, what shall I do?"
Kind-hearted Bertha was distressed. "Don't cry, dear!" she said. "I know! I know just how it feels. Is it your father and sister?"
"No! oh, no!" said Peggy, wiping her eyes. "Of course it's different with Pa and the girls, because I shall be going home every vacation, you know. But I never was so happy in all my life as I was there; and seeing it—it is Fernley, and Uncle John and Margaret."
The large photograph showed a stately house shadowed by lofty trees. Standing on the stone verandah were two figures, one, that of a tall man in a black velvet coat, with bright dark eyes; the other a slender girl with a sweet, thoughtful face. Both seemed to be looking straight at Peggy, and she felt Uncle John's kind look and Margaret's tender smile like warmth at her heart.
"I—I'm only crying because—I'm—glad!" she said. And Bertha seemed to understand that, too.
But the wonderful box was not yet empty; it really seemed like the famous bag of the Fairy Blackstick. Out came a gay Oriental cloth, which made another thing of the chilly little polished table; item, a bureau-cover embroidered with gold-coloured chrysanthemums; item, a wonderful work-basket, fitted with everything that a needlewoman's heart could desire; item, a spirit-lamp and a hot-water bottle, and a neat little tool-chest. Peggy sighed over the work-basket, and resolved to do her very best, but at sight of the tool-chest her eyes sparkled, and she seized upon it with delight, and caressed each shining implement as if it were a living and beloved creature.
"Did you ever see such a little duck of a saw?" she cried. "Oh, I must go to work and make something this very day. Only, these two dears have sent me everything that I could ever possibly need. What is that, Bertha? There can't be anything more!"
There could, though, and was. The bottom of the box was fitted with a cushion or mattress of chintz, chrysanthemums again, on a pale green ground; and the last parcel of all contained several yards of the same material.
"What do you suppose— Oh, I see!" cried Peggy. "The box,—we wondered why it was such a good box, don't you know? It is to be a kind of sofa, or window-seat, or something; and this is the cushion, and the rest is for a flounce and curtains. Oh, dear, did you ever hear of anything so perfectly lovely? Dear Uncle John, dear Margaret!" and she wept again, and, in default of Margaret, hugged the biggest sofa-pillow, a wonderful affair of soft yellow silk, with ruffles and puffles.
"Come," said Bertha, "this will never do, Peggy! We must get these all arranged before tea, mustn't we? The gong will sound in a few minutes."
Peggy dried her tears, and the two girls went to work with right good will. In ten minutes the dreary room was as cheerful and homelike a place as heart could desire. The pictures were hung (I forgot to mention that the fairy box contained picture-hooks and wire, hidden away in a corner), the cushions fitted, the chintz tacked in a neat flounce around the box, which straightway became a divan, and looked positively Oriental with the pillows heaped with careful carelessness on it.
Peggy stood and surveyed the whole effect with shining eyes. "When the curtains are up—" she said, and looked inquiringly at Bertha.
"When the curtains are up," said Bertha, "it will be one of the pleasantest rooms in the whole school."
And then the gong sounded, and they went down to tea.
A throng of girls was pouring into the great dining-room. Few of them noticed the newcomer, being taken up with their own concerns, laughing and chatting, hurrying to their places; yet Peggy felt as if all eyes were upon her. She clung close to Bertha Haughton's arm; but now that friendly arm was drawn away.
"I must leave you here, Peggy," said Bertha.
"Oh, don't leave me! Oh, can't I sit by you?" asked poor Peggy, in an agonised whisper.
"No, dear, I have to go over there, quite to the other side of the room. See, Miss Russell is beckoning to you. You are to sit at her table, with the other freshmen. Cheer up, Peggy, it'll be all right after the first minute."
Bertha nodded kindly, and took her way across the hall, while Peggy stumbled along, tripping over several dresses (she always stumbled when she was embarrassed), to the table where the Principal sat. There were six tables, twelve girls to each table, with a teacher at the head. Miss Russell greeted Peggy pleasantly, and it occurred to our friend for the first time that the Principal was not a Gorgon, but a human being, with a grave face, it is true, but with kind and friendly eyes.
"I trust you have been resting after your journey, Miss Montfort! Yes? That is good. Coming so late yesterday you did not meet your classmates, who had already gone to their rooms. Miss Parkins, Miss Barclay, Miss Manton,—this is Miss Peggy Montfort. I hope you will introduce her to the other young ladies after tea."
The three girls nearest Peggy bowed, all more or less shyly; it was comforting to feel that there were others who felt as strange as she did. In fact, Miss Parkins, who sat on her left, was so manifestly and miserably frightened that Peggy felt herself a lion by comparison, and, by way of improving acquaintance, asked her boldly for the salt.
Miss Parkins gasped, shivered, clutched the pepper-pot, and dropped it into her own plate. The other freshmen giggled nervously, but Peggy glowed with compassion and sympathy.
"Never mind!" she whispered. "That's just the kind of thing I am doing all the time. There is the salt; why, I can reach it myself, and nobody ever wants pepper, anyhow. There, that's all right!"
The girl lifted a pair of eyes so red with crying, so humble and grateful and altogether piteous, that Peggy's own eyes almost overflowed. She put her hand under the table, found a little limp, cold paw, and gave it a hearty squeeze. "Cheer up!" she said. "It'll be better pretty soon, I—I guess. I am—homesick—too!"
Then, finding a sob rising in her throat, she hastily filled her mouth with buttered toast, choked, and caught herself with a wild sound, half cough, half snort, that brought the eyes of the whole table upon her. The strange thing was, Peggy did not seem to care this time. They were only freshmen like herself. Any one of them might have choked just as well as she, and she was bigger than any of them. If those other girls had seen, now! not Bertha, but the other two! She glanced over to the opposite table, where the two V's sat facing her; but they were chattering away, with no thought of freshmen or their doings. Viola Vincent looked very pretty in a pale blue blouse and white pique skirt; she was evidently in high spirits, and was patting her hair and her waist with perfect satisfaction.
"Perf'ly fine!" came to Peggy's ears, in her clear piping voice. "My dear, it will be simply dandy!"
Peggy glanced at the Principal, she hardly knew why, except that Margaret disliked slang; and she saw her brows contract with a momentary look of vexation. "It does sound rather horrid!" she thought. "I wonder if I shall have to give up saying 'awfully!' That would be perfectly awful. Besides, it sounds awfully affected to talk like a book all the time."
Thus meditating, Peggy let her napkin slip down to the floor. Her neighbour saw it, and both stooped at the same time to pick it up. Their heads came together with a violent crack. "Ow!" cried Peggy, and rubbed her flaxen poll vigorously. Miss Parkins was too frightened to know whether she was hurt or not. "Never mind!" said Peggy. "It was my fault just as much as yours. Did you get an awful crack? Oh! I mean, did you hurt yourself?"
The poor girl murmured something, but it was more like a sob than a speech; and Peggy could only press the limp hand again, and resolve that when she knew the girl a little better she would try to put some spirit into her. Her own spirit was rising. She felt that ten pairs of eyes were watching her furtively; that her companions were taking notes, and that every spoonful she ate was counted and criticised; but still her courage was good, and she was even able to notice that the biscuits were light and the peach preserves delicious.
I said ten pairs of eyes, for the eleventh had never been lifted above the level of the table-cloth, save for that one grateful glance over the spilt pepper. Certainly Miss Parkins was a queer-looking little person. Very small and slight, with a certain wizened look that did not belong to so young a face; a long, thin nose, and two small reddish-brown eyes that looked as if they had always been given to crying. The child—she did not look more than a child—had no beauty of any kind; yet a certain gentleness of look redeemed the poor little face from absolute ugliness. She was queerly dressed, too. Her gown was of good, even rich material, but in questionable taste, and cut in a fashion that might have suited her grandmother. Peggy's own ideas of dress were primitive, and she was not very observant, but she did feel that blue poplin stamped with large red roses was not a suitable dress for a schoolgirl, even if she were not small and plain and wizened, and even if it were not cut in a bygone fashion.
Peggy saw, or fancied she saw, glances of amused contempt thrown at her poor little neighbour.
"All the more reason," she thought, "why I should make friends with her."
"Do you—did you come yesterday, or the day before?" she asked, as cheerfully as she could.
"Oh! yes, I think so!" was the reply, in a gasping whisper. This was not very encouraging, but Peggy proceeded.
"Did you have far to come? I came all the way from Ohio."
"Oh! no, I don't think so!"
"It took me all day to get here. It's horrid travelling alone, don't you think so?"
"Oh! I—don't know! I never travelled."
On the whole, the girl seemed so distressed that Peggy felt it would be a cruel kindness to pursue the conversation. "I needn't talk to the others," she said to herself. "They came before I did; they can talk to me if they want to."
But now supper was over, and the girls rose with a whirr, like a flock of pigeons, and fluttered out of the dining-room. Peggy looked longingly after Bertha Haughton; indeed, Bertha seemed to be lingering, looking for her; but at that moment two or three girls swooped down upon the junior, and began a hubbub of questions. Peggy felt all her shyness rushing back in a flood. Turning to flee, she almost fell over little Miss Parkins, who was hastening on her way, too. "Come!" said Peggy. "We are both strange cats; suppose we stay together! What happens now, do you know? This is my first evening here. It's awfully queer, isn't it?"
"Oh!" gasped Miss Parkins. "They—she—read something last night. Don't you think I might go to my room? I want to go to my room! Don't you think I might?"
"Of course you may!" said Peggy, on fire with sympathy. "It's a pity if you've got to hear reading when you don't want to. Cut along, young 'un!"
Her brother's familiar phrase rose naturally to her lips; it was unfortunate that at that moment one of the teachers happened to pass by. She was a long, sallow woman, with greenish eyes set too near together, and the gaze she fixed upon Peggy was appalling in its severity.
"Young ladies are required to attend the reading!" she said. "Your expression is an improper one, Miss Montfort!" and pinching her lips together she passed on.
"My goodness gracious me!" whispered Peggy. "Who is that?"
"Oh! hush! oh, don't!" whispered Lobelia Parkins, miserably. "She's going to read to-night, because the Principal has a cold; I heard them saying so. That is Miss Pugsley!"
IN THE "GYM."
Peggy's pillow was quite damp when she went to sleep that night. To be sure she had been cheered by a friendly call from Bertha Haughton, but even that could not keep the homesickness from triumphing, when she was left alone, and the sounds in the corridor died away, and the light was out. Home seemed so far, so endlessly far away; she felt so utterly alone in the world! Education seemed a foolish and meaningless thing beside the love and comfort of home. What would she not give to be able to put out her hand and feel her sister Jean beside her, warm and loving, her own flesh and blood!
So the pillow was damp, as I have said; but Peggy was young and healthy, and she fell asleep after awhile, and when she woke again the sun was up and the pillow was dry. Now she did put out her hand for Jean, forgetting where she was; and finding nothing but a cold wall, lay looking around her, coming back to the present. The room looked very strange at first. "Maybe I'm not awake!" said Peggy, wisely; then she pinched herself, and with the pinch the whole thing came back.
"Why, of course!" she said. "Oh, dear! well, here I am; and I wanted to come, and I've been thinking about it for months, and then it goes and is like this!" She sighed, and wondered what they were doing at home, and at Fernley; then she became interested in her pretty room, and her heart overflowed once more with love to her dear ones at Fernley, who had made it so bright and charming for her. "I know what Margaret would say!" exclaimed Peggy, raising her head from the pillow. "She would say, 'Now you are there, my dear, try to make the best of it;' and so I will! You hear me!" These last words were spoken aloud with some severity, and appeared to be addressed to the brush and comb, which took no notice whatever. And then Peggy made the best of that moment, and got up.
Breakfast was another ordeal, but not so bad as the tea of the night before; after breakfast came prayers, and then the class-room. Peggy found herself seated at a desk, beside one of her classmates, Rose Barclay, a pretty brunette, with rosy cheeks and bright dark eyes. In the brief pause before study-time, the two girls made acquaintance, and Peggy learned that theirs was the largest freshman class the school had ever had. All the others were in the west wing, where the freshmen belonged.
"You came late," said Rose Barclay, "and that's why you are over among the Jews and Seas. That's what they call the juniors and seniors; I've learned so much already!" she said, laughing. "They seem to have nicknames for everything and everybody in this place."
"Yes!" said Peggy. "Even the rooms are named!" and she told of Vanity Fair and the Owls' Nest.
"Corridor A?" asked Rose Barclay. "Oh, they must be Jews. That is Judea, I am pretty sure; and the Senior Corridor is the Mediterranean. It's awfully silly, isn't it? and yet it's funny, too. I suppose we shall get into the swing of it after awhile. You homesick?"
"So'm I! Cry last night?"
Peggy nodded again.
"So did I! but not so much as the girl next door to me. My! she must have cried about all night, I should think. I woke up two or three times, and she was crying every time, and I heard her sniffing in her bath this morning."
"Why didn't you go in and try to cheer her up?" demanded Peggy, rather fiercely.
Rose Barclay stared. "Oh, I couldn't do that! why, I've never spoken to her; it was that queer little piece that sat next to you. Besides, she looks as if she'd die if any one spoke to her."
The school was called to order, and Peggy soon forgot homesickness and everything else in the keen joy of mathematics.
She had chosen the scientific course—there were three courses in the school—in order to get as much of practical and as little of literary knowledge as might be. Geometry was her delight, and it was geometry over which she was bending now.
Most of the teachers at Pentland School expected little of the new pupil from Ohio. The written examinations that Peggy had passed had caused many a head-shaking. The history teacher sighed; the gentle mistress of English literature groaned, and said, "Why must this child come here?" Only Miss Boyle, the mistress of mathematics, had nodded her head over the papers. "Here's a girl who knows what she is about!" she said. Accordingly, when Peggy entered class this morning, she was surprised at the cordial greeting she received from the bright-eyed lady at the central desk; and an indefinable sense of being at home and among friends stole gradually over her, as she wrestled with one delightful problem after another.
Rose Barclay, at her side, was biting her pencil and twisting her pretty forehead into hard knots, and making little progress; but Peggy had forgotten her existence. The period passed like a moment, as theorem after theorem was disposed of.
"Let EDF and BAC be two triangles, having the angle E equal to the angle B, the angle F to the angle C, and the included side EF to the included side BC; then will the triangle EDF be equal to the triangle BAC?"
"Of course it will!" Peggy drew triangles in swift and accurate demonstration. "Put the side EF on its equal BC, and let the point E fall on B, and the point F on C. Then, you see, of course—"
"I don't see how any one is ever to do this!" murmured her neighbour, in despair. "Why! why, you've done yours. Oh, just let me see, won't you? I never can work it out in the world, so do let me copy yours!"
Peggy reddened to the tips of her ears. "Do you—can you—are we allowed to do that?" she stammered.
"Oh! Just as you please!" said Rose Barclay, coldly. "I thought you might be willing to oblige me, that's all. It's of no consequence!"
"Oh! But you don't understand!" whispered Peggy, eagerly; but Rose had turned away, and paid no heed to her; and Miss Boyle tapped with her pencil and said, "Young ladies! No whispering in class, if you please!"
In a few minutes a bell rang, and all the girls sprang up in great relief; geometry was not generally popular, and now came the "gym" hour, dear to all. Peggy turned at once to her neighbour, sure that she would be able to explain everything to the satisfaction of both. To her amazement and distress she met a look so cold and hostile that it seemed to freeze the words on her lips.
"Miss Barclay!" she said, imploringly. "You didn't understand me, indeed you didn't. I should be perfectly delighted to help you, of course I should, only I thought it might be against the rules. Of course, I might have known you would know what is allowed. I'm awfully sorry!"
Rose Barclay hesitated; her face seemed to soften for a moment; then it hardened again, and another change came over it which Peggy did not comprehend.
"I don't know what you mean!" she muttered. "Please excuse me, I am in a hurry." She was gone, and Peggy, turning in great distress, found Miss Boyle standing at her elbow. Had she heard? Peggy was sure she could not have heard, for there was no look of surprise or of anything peculiar in her pleasant face.
"You like geometry, Miss Montfort?"
"Oh, yes, I love geometry! Oh, please, are we allowed to help each other, Miss Boyle?"
"Certainly not!" said Miss Boyle, quietly. "Not upon any account. You can see for yourself that there would be no use in a girl's taking geometry if she cannot do the work herself."
"Yes, I see! I thought so, only—thank you very much. Do you—shall I go now?"
She looked around, and was startled to see that all the other girls had disappeared, and she was alone with the teacher.
Miss Boyle smiled, and her smile was so friendly that it warmed poor Peggy's heart.
"Yes, you may go now," she said; "but I shall hope to see something of you, Miss Montfort. If you will come to my room some evening, I will show you some pretty problems that are not in the text-books."
With this, the highest compliment she could pay a pupil, Miss Boyle went on her way; and Peggy, after wandering through two or three deserted class-rooms, and breaking in upon a senior committee-meeting of a highly private nature, and walking into a pantry, found herself at last in the gymnasium.
This was a lofty and spacious room, fitted with every possible appliance for gymnastic exercises. Peggy's eyes brightened as she gazed about her, at the rope-ladders, the parallel bars, the rings and vaulting-horses and spring-boards. If this were not Paradise, Peggy did not know what was, that was all.
Some of the girls were already arrayed in blouse and full trousers, and were taking their place in ranks, under the eye of an alert, graceful young woman in a pretty dark blue suit. Others were hurrying up from some apartment on a lower floor, and from the stairway came a hum of voices which showed that others were still making ready.
Bertha Haughton, in crimson blouse and black trousers, hurried up to Peggy.
"Here you are!" she cried. "I have been trying to find you. Where are your gym things? Haven't got any? Oh, how too bad!"
"I didn't know!" said poor Peggy. "It didn't say in the programme, did it? Can't I do anything without them? Oh, dear."
Her face, so bright a moment before, clouded so instantly with disappointment and mortification, that the experienced junior could hardly repress a smile.
"My dear! my dear!" she cried. "Do wait till I tell you. You can wear the Snowy's things. She hasn't come back yet, and you can wear them just as well as not till she comes."
"The Snowy?" repeated Peggy. She remembered vaguely that she had heard the name, but it meant nothing to her in her trouble.
"Yes, my chum, the Snowy Owl. I'm the Fluffy one, don't you remember? The Snowy is a bit taller than you, but that is no matter; you can wear them perfectly well, I tell you. Come along, and I'll get you into them."
Peggy hung back, protesting faintly against appropriating the clothes of a person she had never seen; but finally she yielded to Bertha's vigorous pulls, and followed her down a winding stair, into a narrow room filled with a hubbub of girls in every stage of dressing and undressing. Viola Vincent fluttered up to her (it is difficult to flutter in a gymnasium suit, and only Viola's supremely butterfly quality enabled her to do it), a charming vision of pale blue, with a profusion of tiny brass buttons twinkling wherever a button could be put.
"Here you are!" she cried, airily. "I haven't seen you for an age. I've been telling everybody about you, the V. V's vis-a-vis. It sounds so quaint, doesn't it? I adore quaintness. How do you like my new suit, Fluffy? Isn't it too cute for anything? This is the first time I've worn it; I think it is too perfectly sweet to live in, don't you?"
"I hope not!" said Bertha, laughing. "We should be sorry to have you pass away, Vanity, because your dress is too sweet."
"No, but really!" continued Viola, earnestly. "Do I exaggerate, Fluffy? Isn't it the sweetest thing you ever saw? I ask because I want to know, you know!"
Bertha's only reply was to pull her pink ear good-naturedly, and then dive head-foremost into a locker.
"You find the Fluffy quaint?" said Viola to Peggy. "Yes? she is quaint, but delicious! So is the Snowy! I simply could not exist without them; they are the guiding stars of the corridor, don't you know? What are you about, Fluffy? What are you doing with the Snowy's togs? She has not come back, no!" clasping her hands in ecstasy. "Don't tell me the Snowy has come back, Fluff!"
"I certainly won't!" said Bertha, coolly. "She isn't coming back till day after to-morrow. Peggy Montfort is going to wear her things till her own are ready, that's all. Don't excite yourself too much, Vanity; it'll take the colour out of your hair."
"No! Do you think so?" replied Viola; "really? ah! here's V., ready at last. What I have to endure, V., waiting while you prink, no tongue can tell. Ta, dears, come up soon!" and she fluttered away, arm in arm with her chum.
"Is she always like that?" asked Peggy, bewildered.
"Who? Vanity? Oh, yes! there's no possible harm in Vanity; she is really the best hearted creature in the world. The other, though,—well, you want to be a little on your guard with Vivia. Oh, we are the best friends in the world, of course; only, her temper is a little uncertain at times, and it's just as well to know about it. There! why, the trousers fit you to perfection!" The trousers, as wide as the Flying Dutchman's, certainly fell comfortably enough about Peggy's stout knees.
"Now for the blouse! I'll put it over your head!"
A silent but breathless struggle followed, from which Peggy emerged panting and crimson, but victorious. "Oh, I do hope she—your chum—won't mind!" she cried. "I am so afraid I shall get them dirty!" for it was a whim of the Snowy Owl's to wear a white gym suit, and it was as fresh as if it were just out of the tub, as indeed it was.
"Oh, that is no matter! She washes them every week; she likes to wash; it's one of her accomplishments. Come along now!"
They ran up-stairs, and found the class just forming in ranks. A gesture bade them fall into line with the rest, and Peggy stood with her toes on a chalk mark, waiting the word of command.
It came. "Left foot forward—fall out!" At the command every girl put out her left foot as far as she could, and flung her whole weight forward on it. Peggy did the same, and fell on her nose with a resounding crash. The class giggled, but were sharply checked by the teacher.
"We will try this once more. Try to balance the body carefully! Take time! Once more! Left foot forward—fall out!"
Again the line dropped forward with one motion; and again our poor Peggy fell on her nose. This time the nose protested in its way, and bled; great crimson drops fell on the white plumage of the Snowy Owl. Almost crying with distress and mortification, Peggy felt for her handkerchief. Alas! she was not used to trousers, and no pocket could she find, though there was one, and her handkerchief was in it. What should she do? She was just about to make a bolt for the stairs, when a handkerchief was thrust into her hand. She clapped it to her suffering nose, and looked gratefully at her left-hand neighbour in the ranks. The girl nodded slightly, and said, "All serene! better ask leave to retire. Hold arms over head, stop it!" She was a slender girl, with a pensive face and melancholy blue eyes. Her hair was plainly parted, Madonna-fashion, and there was something remote and old-world about her whole look and air.
"Oh, thank you!" murmured poor Peggy. "You're awfully kind!" She hoped the tiresome bleeding would stop on the instant, but it did not; she was obliged to ask leave to go down-stairs; and receiving it, dashed down headlong, and cannoned violently against Vivia Varnham, who had gone down for something she had forgotten.
"Oh, I beg your pardon!" gasped Peggy. "I'm—awfully clumsy—"
"I think you are!" said the other, with a flash of her hazel eyes. "Perhaps you'll let me pass now, please, before you make another exhibition of yourself." She went on, with a scornful toss of her head.
Poor Peggy! her tears flowed fast over the friendly handkerchief. "I wish I was dead!" she sobbed. "I wish I had never come to this horrid, odious place, where everybody is so hateful. And I can't hold up my arms when I have to hold this to my nose all the time."
"Quite so!" said a quiet voice behind her. The sad-looking girl took her hands and held them straight up in one of her own, the other keeping the handkerchief in position. No word was spoken, but in five minutes the bleeding was stopped.
"Basin—water!" said the stranger. "Don't mention it!" as Peggy tried to falter her thanks. And she was gone.
Peggy waited till she felt sure of herself and her nose. Then she spoke severely to herself, and asked what Uncle John would say to such behaviour. "Everybody isn't hateful!" she said. "And anyhow, there are some things there that I can do, if I haven't learned this trick. I won't give up till I've gone up that rope."
Her eye had been caught by a stout rope dangling from the ceiling. This was in her own line, and she felt that if she could redeem herself in her own eyes, she should not care so much about all those other laughing eyes. And yet, perhaps she thought more about those eyes than she was aware of, for our Peggy was very human.
This time fortune favoured her. As she emerged from the lower regions, a girl was just trying to climb the rope; in fact, there were three ropes hanging side by side, and the climbing of them was part of the regular exercise. She sought Bertha, who was most sympathetic, not having been near enough to help Peggy.
"Climb the rope? Oh, you'd better not try that, Peggy! it takes a lot of practice. Why, I've been here two years, and I can't get to the top yet. Really, it's very hard. Let's come and swing on the ring, if you are quite sure about your poor nose."
But Peggy did not want to swing on the rings, nor to do anything else that Bertha proposed; she wanted to climb that rope, and she meant to do it; the prairie blood was roused.
"Well, I'll ask Miss Brent," said good-natured Bertha, finding her determined. "You say you have had some experience in climbing? Perhaps she'll let you go a little way up."
Miss Brent, interrogated, came and looked Peggy over carefully; felt her muscles, asked her a few questions, and then said, "You may have the next turn, Miss Montfort."
The girl on the rope next her was having a sad time of it. She swung this way and that; her legs waved wildly in the air; and at length she came down "all abroad," having only ascended a few feet. At the same moment, the girl on the next rope dropped, so that two were left unoccupied. Peggy advanced and laid her hand upon one rope, just as Vivia Varnham took possession of the other. On the third, the pensive girl with the Madonna braids was swinging easily, half-way up to the ceiling; she twisted her feet around the rope, and, so resting, observed the progress of the other two.
Up they went, hand over hand. Vivia Varnham gave a glance of disdain when she saw who her rival was. She was light and agile, and did not for an instant think that this heavy, clumsy creature could make any headway against her. She went up lightly and easily, but somehow the heavy, clumsy creature managed to keep abreast of her; was even gaining upon her, drawing up, up, above her head. Vivia put on a spurt, and passed Peggy, climbing very swiftly—for a moment; then the ache in her wrists compelled her to slacken her rate of speed, and the thickset figure came up, up, steadily and surely. Truth to tell, though Peggy Montfort was awkward, she was as strong as a steer. Her weight was not fat, but sheer bone and brawn; and her one hundred and forty pounds were easy enough for her to carry, even up a rope thirty feet long. But Vivia Varnham, with all her lightness and quickness, had little strength in her wrists. They ached painfully, but she would not give up. Her face flushed, her breath came in distressful gasps, she struggled on and up. They were more than half-way up; they had passed the quiet observer, swinging comfortably with her feet twisted in her rope. "Better go down, V.!" said the girl with the sad eyes. "She's too many for you!"
Vivia shook her head with an angry gesture. Her eyes swam, the pain in her wrists was unendurable; but she set her teeth, and struggled on, till from below came the voice of Miss Brent, calm and authoritative.
"Come down, Miss Varnham! You have gone far enough."
Most unwillingly, with sullen face and fluttering breath, Vivia slid to the floor. She expected, everybody expected, to hear the order repeated for the benefit of the newcomer, the audacious freshman who had ventured upon junior ground; for the rope-climbing was not generally attempted till the third year. But Miss Brent kept her eyes on Peggy, and smiled, and made no sign.
Peggy was enjoying herself immensely. She was not a swift climber, but there was no tiring her, and this, as she said to herself, was "great!" She wished Margaret could see her! No! It would frighten dear Margaret. Rita, then! Rita loved feats of skill; probably she could climb far better than she, Peggy, could; Rita was so light, so graceful, so fearless.
A shout rang from below. Something passed her on the next rope, light and swift as a bird in flight. She could almost touch the ceiling now; she looked up; there, at the very top of the next rope, was her friend of the dressing-room, gazing at her with melancholy blue eyes, and holding out a slender hand.
"Shake!" said the girl with the Madonna braids.
ENTER THE SCAPEGOAT.
Peggy was sitting alone in her room that evening, studying, when there rose a hubbub outside her window; wheels, and the trampling of horses, and girls' voices. She ran to the window and looked out; there was a great hay-rigging, drawn by four stout horses, and comfortably lined with straw. Girls were climbing into it on every side, and more and more came pouring out of the house. It was full moon, and their faces shone so clear and merry in the light, that Peggy could not help feeling a pang, not of envy, but of longing. Of course there had been no question of her going; it was a junior affair; but they all looked so happy and jolly, and it was so lonely here! As she stood longing, Viola Vincent popped her pretty head in to say good-bye.
"Thought you might like to see my toque!" she said, fluttering in the doorway. "It's the first time I have had it on. Isn't it dandy? Isn't it perfectly sweet?"
Peggy thought it charming, and said so; she was rapidly losing her heart to her pretty butterfly neighbour.
"I thought you'd like to see it!" said Viola, naively. "It makes it easier to study, if you see something pretty. Ta, dear! I wish you were going. We shall have a dandy time, simply dandy!"
She fluttered out, and left the door ajar behind her, so that Peggy could not help hearing the half-whispered colloquy that ensued in the corridor.
"Went to say good-bye to the Veezy Vee. Why shouldn't I?"
"Why should you? You'll have her around your neck if you don't take care, like a lump, as she is."
"Hush, V.! you're quite vinegar, aren't you? Why? She's perfectly harmless, and I find her quaint. You know I adore quaintness!"
"Oh, come along, and don't talk flummery to me; you know I can't stand it."
The two passed on, and Peggy's ears burned uncomfortably. Evidently Vivia Varnham had taken a violent dislike to her; well, she certainly returned it. And of course that would prevent her from ever seeing much of the other, sweet pretty thing. Well, of course she should have to be alone most of the time. She went to the window again, and saw the two V's climbing in; then there was a great shouting and waving of handkerchiefs, and they drove away. Peggy sighed, and sat down once more to her task. It was rhetoric, and her whole nature cried out against it; but the study was prescribed, and the teacher, Miss Pugsley, was reported to be very strict. Peggy put her elbows on the table, and her head on her hands, and bent in good earnest over the book.
"'Both prepositions and conjunctions are called connectives.'
"Oh, dear! then why can't we call them connectives, and have one word to remember, instead of three?
"'When I say the hen barks'—why, that makes nonsense! Oh, I got two lines mixed up. 'When I say the dog barks, I speak of some particular dog.' Well, anybody can see that. Oh, I do wonder if Flora will remember to wash Peter's ear, where he had the canker! It was almost well, but still it will need washing. Dear Peter! dear dogs! they will miss me, I know they will. If one could only have a dog here, it wouldn't be half so bad. I could have a basket for him to sleep in, you know, and then in the morning he would get up on the bed, and we'd have a beautiful time. There's a dog barking now! He wants to be let in, poor dear! How perfectly idiotic some people are, not to know what a dog wants. I remember that stupid man at home beating poor Peter,—beating him with a hoe, when all the time Peter was telling him that a tramp was stealing the melons. Yes; but when Petie saw that the man was an idiot, he went and attended to the tramp himself, and you never saw a tramp so scared in your life. Oh, dear! well!
"'He was in the room, and went out of it.' I wish I could go out of this room; but I don't know where I should go to. Bertha went, of course, with the others. If it wasn't for Bertha, I really don't think I could possibly stay here."
A knock at the door; and Bertha's square, cheerful face looked in. "Any chance to study here? there's something the matter with my lamp, why,—Peggy!"
For Peggy had jumped up and thrown her arms around her friend's neck, and given her a hug which took her breath.
"Oh, you dear!" cried Peggy. "I never was so glad to see anybody in my life. Here, take this chair, Bertha. Oh, it was just lovely of you to come in. You knew I would be forlorn, I know that was why you came. But why didn't you go on the straw-ride? I supposed of course you had gone."
"One question at a time," pleaded Bertha; "and I can't answer any if you destroy my breathing apparatus, Hippolyta."
"Oh; she was Queen of the Amazons, don't you know? Only because you are so strong, my dear."
"No," said Peggy, dolefully. "I never heard of her. Margaret would know, but I am awfully stupid, I told you I was. Do you have rhetoric, Bertha?"
"Not this year. I had it the first two years. It's not so bad; in fact, I was rather fond of it."
Peggy gazed at her in such unfeigned amazement that Bertha could not help laughing; but there was never any sneer in Bertha's laugh. "Come!" she said. "Now we'll sit down and study our prettiest. See! I have a lot of Greek to do. Peggy, don't look like that! What is the matter?"
Peggy had recoiled in horror, her blue eyes opened to their widest extent.
"Greek!" she cried. "You don't—I sha'n't have to take Greek, shall I? because I would rather die, and I should die!"
"Nonsense! no, I don't know that you will have to take it at all. What course have you taken,—scientific? Oh, no, you don't have Greek in that. What have you had to-day?"
"Geometry! Of course that was splendid."
"Oh, indeed! was it?"
"Why, yes; I just love geometry. I could do it all day, but we only have it one hour." And Peggy looked injured.
"Well," said Bertha, "you are a queer girl, Peggy Montfort. But there'll be one happy person in this school, and that is Miss Boyle."
"I don't understand you! Don't most girls,—don't you like geometry, Bertha?"
"My dear, I regard everything in the shape of mathematics with terror and disgust. I don't know any geometry, nor any algebra. I've been through them both, and the more I learned, the more I didn't know. As to arithmetic, I know that four quarts make a gallon, and that really is all my mind is equal to. But if you won't let me study my Greek, Peggy, I shall go home again to the Nest."
"Oh, I do! I will!" cried poor Peggy; and there was silence for a time, both girls studying in earnest, the silence only broken by the turning of a page, or a heartfelt sigh from Peggy as she dealt with parts of speech.
So thoroughly were they absorbed in their task that they did not hear sundry noises outside the window. The window was open, for the night was warm as well as bright; indeed, the upper half of it was pushed entirely down, so that it was like a double half-door of glass. Outside this window was the black skeleton of the fire-escape; and if the two girls had been on the alert, they might have heard various unobtrusive sounds from this direction. As it was, they both started violently when a clear voice addressed them in quiet and thoughtful tones.
"Peace to this dwelling!" said the voice.
Peggy looked up hastily. There, leaning on the window-sash, as calm and composed as she had been at the top of the rope, was the stranger with the melancholy eyes and the Madonna braids.
"Peace!" she repeated. "Piece of pie! have some!" She held out a large segment of pie, and added, "Any admittance for the Goat?"
Peggy was still too startled to find breath to answer, but Bertha sprang up, crying, "Grace! how could you frighten us so?"
"Not Grace!" said the stranger, with an unmoved countenance. "Goat! let us not deceive the Innocent! A scapegrace is one thing, a scapegoat is another, and from some points a preferable one. But the Innocent is abroad, I perceive. Innocent, I am the Scapegoat. Is there admittance?"
"Oh!" gasped Peggy, blushing and faltering. "Oh, please come in! I—I didn't know you were waiting for me to— Sha'n't I open it from the bottom?"
"If you will take the pie," said the stranger, gravely; "thank you; that is your piece, this is mine,—already bitten, or I would offer it to the Fluffy."
Relieved of two large pieces of pie, she laid one hand on the sash, and vaulted lightly over; then she shook hands solemnly with Peggy, took her own piece of pie, and, seating herself on the floor, proceeded to eat it daintily.
"It is a good pie!" she said. "If not afraid of pollution, Fluffy, a bite?"
Bertha was looking half amused, half angry. "Grace, how can you act so?" she said.
"How?" said Grace. "My sweet child, it is as easy as breathing. I will give instruction at any time, without charge."
"I thought you were doing double lessons," Bertha went on, "and being as good as gold. Grace, you can be so good!"
"Can't I!" said Grace; her tone was one of admiring gravity; her blue eyes kept their look of pensive sadness.
"And it's a thing I admire, goodness!" she went on, shaking her head. "That's why I practise it. Double lessons? I'll warrant you! this is the second time I have been down here to-night, for example; other things in proportion." She waved her hand, and fell to again at her pie.
Peggy had been sitting open-eyed, watching this singular person, not knowing what to say. Now, however, meeting the solemn gaze of the large sad eyes, she felt compelled to speech.
"It—it's delicious!" she said, timidly. "Wouldn't you rather sit in a chair, Miss—" she hesitated, not liking to say "Grace."
"Oh, dear!" said Bertha, still put out. "You make me forget my manners and everything, Grace. Peggy, this is Miss Grace Wolfe; Grace, Miss Peggy Montfort."
"Charmed!" said Miss Wolfe. "But we have met before, Fluffy, or I should not have descended."
"We met, 'twas on a rope, And I thought she had done me; I felt, I could not feel, For my fate was upon me.
"If it hadn't been for your possession of peas, you would have beaten me, Miss Montfort. As it was, here's to our next meeting under the ceiling!" She took a large bite of pie, and regarded Peggy benevolently.
"Of peas?" repeated Peggy, vaguely, feeling that this might be English, but was not sense.
"Precisely. Avoir du pois, literally, to possess a pea! The French language. But you should have seen Vexation!" this strange person added, turning to Bertha. "Did see her? Well, she was a pleasant sight. Noxious animal, Vexation! It is a joy to see her taken down occasionally."
"I notice you are good friends enough, where any mischief is afoot!" said Bertha, bluntly. She broke a corner off the pie, and added, "Goat, this is mince pie!"
"It is! it is!" said Miss Wolfe. "Ever discriminating, my own! And good? Say it is good, Fluffy!"
"Yes, it is uncommonly good!" said Bertha. "Where did you get it? You've no business to have it, of course!"
"I got it out of a bandbox, sweet one!" replied Grace Wolfe. "It lives—they live, I should say, for there are three of them, thanks be to praise!—in a bandbox. A round one, or, to be more exact, oval in form, covered with wall-paper, whereon purple scrolls dispute the mastery with pink lozenges. It's the sweetest thing in bandboxes that I've seen since time was."
"Yes, but the pies!"
"The pies! as I was saying, three of them; ample, full moons of rapture!
"They came in beauty, side by side, They filled one home with glee. Their bones are scattered—"
She paused with an expressive gesture.
"The best of it is,—you will admit that this is neat, Fluffy, even if your slavery to the virtues compels your disapproval,—the best of it is, the bandbox is the property of our Puggy."
"Miss Pugsley's bandbox! Oh, Grace!"
"Precisely! Our Puggy goes heavily without it, I am told. What would you? It was outside her door, while sweeping was going on; one is human, after all. She was out, with the best bonnet on her head. Poor head! Poor bonnet! My hearty commiseration for both! When she returned, no bandbox! At present she harries the domestics; she hasn't thought of me yet, for a wonder. To-morrow, or the day after, I shall finish the pies—alas! Then I return the repository, and her bonnet acquires a fine, full, fruity flavour that annihilation alone can remove.
"You may break, you may shatter The tile if you will, But the scent of the brandy Will cling round it still."
"Grace! What a diabolical plot! and you have been lying awake, I suppose, chuckling over this!"
Miss Wolfe waved her hand in deprecation. "Not lying awake, sweet one! Too slight a thing for that; still, it served to amuse. One must live, even you will admit that. What's this? Greek? Give it me!" She stretched out her hand for the book, but Bertha held it fast.
"No! no, Goat; I want it myself, and besides, you have no business here, you know you haven't."
"No; and you?" replied the other, coolly.
"I have permission; my lamp is out of order, and I asked Miss Russell if I might study in here," said Bertha. "But you will get into trouble if you stay, Grace, you know you will. Be good now, and go home!"
Grace Wolfe gazed pensively at her.
"You would check the interchange of souls?" she said. "I feel drawn to this Innocent, Fluff! I feel that she may have an influence over me for good. You would not part us? Could'st love a Goat, Innocent?" she added, turning to Peggy, and fixing her eyes on her with mournful intensity.
Peggy blushed, but before she could reply Bertha struck in decidedly.
"Grace, just one word! Peggy Montfort is a stranger, and I am not going to let her get into trouble if I can help it. And I don't want you to get into trouble, either!" she added, more gently. "You know, my dear—"
She stopped suddenly, for Grace Wolfe threw up her hand with a warning gesture; then, with a single swift movement, she rolled under the bed, and was out of sight.
"Study!" said Bertha, in a low whisper. "Study hard!"
Wholly bewildered, Peggy fixed her eyes on her book. She had heard no sound before, but now came a footfall in the corridor. A knock at the door, and Miss Russell opened it and looked in.
"Your lamp is in order now, Bertha," she said. "I thought I would tell you, as I was going by; but you can stay a little longer, if you like. How charming you have made your room, Miss Montfort."
"Won't—won't you come in, Miss Russell?" stammered poor Peggy, conscious of Grace Wolfe's eyes under the bed, yet feeling that civility admitted of only one answer.
"Not now, thank you! Some day soon I shall come and make you a little visit, though, with pleasure. Good night, young ladies!"
She nodded kindly, closed the door, and passed on.
The girls drew breath. A moment, and Grace Wolfe rolled out again, rose, and shook her neat dress.
"So much for Buckingham!" she said. "The good point about Principie is, she is respectable. Now, my Puggy would have looked through the keyhole first. But I foresee a visit to my own humble cot, to see whether I have learned my lessons.
"Oh! Farewell, friends! Here Thisbe ends!"
She waved her hand, vaulted once more over the window, and was gone. An occasional faint, cat-like sound told of her progress up the fire-escape; then a window creaked slightly overhead, and all was silent.
Bertha Haughton ruffled up her curly black locks with a gesture of exasperation.
"And the worst of it is," she said, "that girl will know her Greek better than any one in class. That's half the trouble; she learns so quickly, her lessons don't take half her time, and she puts the rest into mischief."
"She seems awfully clever!" said Peggy, timidly.
Bertha nodded. "She is just that, my dear; awfully clever! I'll tell you more about her to-morrow, but now we must study hard, for we've only twenty minutes left. Only, my dear, when you think of the Goat, remember three things: she is D. D. D.,—dear, delightful,—and dangerous!"
TO THE RESCUE.
The next morning proved a hard one for Peggy; the rhetoric lesson was the first that must be recited. She had studied it hard, but somehow the rules seemed to make little impression. Whenever she tried to fix them in her mind, there came between her and the page two melancholy blue eyes, and she seemed to hear a voice of singular quality, a voice with a thrill in it, saying, "Could'st love a Goat, Innocent?"
So she was not as well prepared as she should have been when she went into the class; and on meeting Miss Pugsley's cold greenish brown eye, what she did know seemed to evaporate from the top of her head, leaving a total blank. She stumbled and floundered; she did not know what an antecedent was, and she could not remember ever to have heard of a reciprocal pronoun.
"Pray, Miss Montfort, were you asleep or awake when you studied this lesson?" inquired Miss Pugsley, with acrid calm.
"I don't know!" replied Peggy, now thoroughly bewildered.
"Well, if you were asleep, let me recommend you to try it again when you wake up; or if you were awake, perhaps you might do it better in your sleep."
Peggy flushed scarlet, and the ready tears sprang into her eyes; but she forced them back, bit her lip, and tried not to feel the eyes of the whole class bent on her in amused astonishment. Miss Pugsley seemed to take positive pleasure in her ignorance and embarrassment. She put one question after another, each more ingeniously contrived than the last—or so it seemed—to show what Peggy did not know. At last, in self-defence, the poor child took refuge in one simple and invariable answer: "I don't know!" So confused was she that these words were the only ones she could utter, even when she knew the correct answer, or would have done so if she could have collected her wits. By the end of the hour, Peggy was entirely convinced that she was the dunce and butt of the school; that she knew nothing, and never would know anything.
It seemed a cruel stroke of fate that this terrible period should be followed by that of general history, for Peggy detested history, as some of my readers already know. She went into the next class-room with an aching head, and a heart throbbing with a sense of utter worthlessness in herself, and of bitter cruelty in others. She did not even look up at the teacher, but kept her eyes fixed on her desk, and answered the few questions that meant anything to her, sullenly and unwillingly. She did try at first to follow the lesson, but her head ached so, the words seemed to sing themselves into mere nonsense, and she soon gave up the attempt; the more so as this teacher, who had been observing her pretty closely, for some reason or other asked her very few questions. At last, however, the blow fell.
"Where did Philip of Macedon come from, Miss Montfort?"
"I don't know," said Peggy.
"Oh, I think you do," said Miss Cortlandt, with a pleasant smile, and checking, with a warning glance, the rising giggle.
"Try again, Miss Montfort. Philip the Great, Philip of Macedon,—where did he come from? Surely you can tell me!"
"I don't know," said Peggy, doggedly; and at the moment she actually did not.
"My dear child," said the teacher, "did you ever hear what was the colour of Washington's gray mare?"
"No, ma'am," said Peggy.
"Well, what was it?"
"I don't know."
Emily Cortlandt had graduated from college the year before. She laid down her pencil, and looked very kindly at the distracted girl.
"I think you are not feeling well, Miss Montfort," she said. "Does your head ache?"
"Yes, ma'am," said Peggy. She could not have said another word; her whole strength was needed to keep back the flood of tears that was rising, rising.
"You need not stay through the lesson," Miss Cortlandt went on, and the sympathy in her voice only brought the flood higher and nearer.
"You can make up the lesson to me some other time. Now, you would better go and lie down for a little, and then take a turn in the fresh air. Miss Bangs, what was the date of Philip's first invasion?"
Peggy never knew how she got out of the class-room. She longed to give at least a grateful look at the kind soul who had saved her, but her eyes were already swimming in tears. She fled along the corridor, sobbing hysterically, blinded with tears, conscious of only one thing, the desperate resolve to get to her room, before she broke down altogether. Flying thus around a corner, she rushed headlong into a group of girls who were gathered around something, she could not tell what. So violent was the shock that Peggy reeled and struck her head sharply against the wall. This brought her to herself. She caught back the sob on her lips, and dashed the tears from her eyes before any one saw them,—or so she hoped; then she looked to see what was going on. Next moment she had forgotten that there were such things as tears in the world.
There were six or eight girls in the group, mostly sophomores, though a few were freshmen. They were looking down at something—somebody—crouching on the floor against the wall, and their laughter, checked for an instant by Peggy's onset, broke out afresh. "Here's Peggy Montfort, just in time to see the fun. Look, Miss Montfort, and see the fashions! Straight from Paris, and the very last thing!"
The speaker was Blanche Haight, a tall sophomore with bleached hair, and eyes set too near together. She was considered a wit, and every time she spoke the other girls giggled and screamed.
The person crouching on the floor was Lobelia Parkins. Her head was pressed against the wall, her face hidden in her hands; misery and terror were in every line of her poor little shrinking figure, but this only gave added delight to her tormentors.
"Look, ladies, at the new sleeve!" cried Miss Haight, lifting the skinny arm, from which the blue poplin sleeve hung in an awkward fashion. "Did you ever see anything so exquisite? Look at the fringe, will you, and the pattern? I'm going to get Miss Russell to put her up on exhibition, so the whole school can have the benefit; it's a shame to keep it to ourselves!"
"He! he! he!" went all the girls. "Blanche, you are too funny for anything!"
"Where did your mother get it?" asked another; and this, as Peggy saw with a shock, was pretty Rose Barclay. "Did the ragman bring it around, or did she pick it up in the gutter? Say, Miss Parkins, I wish you'd tell us, 'cause we all want to know."
"Yes, of course we want to know!" cried Miss Haight. "I'm going to write this very night, to see if Mumma can't get me one like it. I never shall be happy till I—"
That sentence never was finished. The speaker found her own arm seized in a grip of iron, which forced her to drop the poor little arm in the blue sleeve. She was forced back against the wall, and found herself confronted by a pair of blue eyes blazing with righteous wrath.
"How dare you?" cried Peggy Montfort, in a voice that quivered with rage. "You mean, cowardly brute, how dare you? Touch her again, and I'll choke the words down your throat!"
Blanche Haight gasped for a moment; indeed, the whole group was cowed by this sudden vision of strength and fury. But she recovered herself in a moment.
"Well, indeed!" she said. "I should like to know what this means, Miss Montfort? I should like to know who gave you authority to choke people, and abuse them, and call them names?"
"You'll find out what it means!" said Peggy, waiving the second question, and replying to the first. "If you touch that child again, or so much as speak to her, I'll choke you."
"Girls, do you hear this?" cried Blanche Haight. "Are you going to stand by, and let this girl ride over us?"
"Shame!" cried the girls. "Bully!"
"Bully!" cried Peggy, dropping her hold of Miss Haight, and turning to face the others. "You call me a bully, and you yourselves, eight great grown girls, standing around to torment and torture this poor helpless child? Shame on you! Shame on you all, every one! I'm ashamed to be in the same school with you. I—" (Here, I am sorry to say, Peggy forgot that she was a young lady, forgot everything save that she was the daughter of hot-blooded James Montfort.) "I could whip the whole lot of you, and I'll do it if you dare to say 'Boo!' but you don't!"
It was a fact that no one did say "Boo!" There was a pause, Peggy standing with folded arms before the shrinking child, her whole figure dilated with passion, till she seemed to tower above the rest, who for their part cowered before her.
Rose Barclay was the first to speak.
"We are very fortunate to find a leader for the freshman class," she said, spitefully, "and such a leader! Miss Montfort is too high-toned to help a classmate with her lesson, but not too high-toned to talk like a Bowery rowdy. Come, along, girls! I for one don't care to listen to any more such refined, elegant talk!"
"Yes, you'd better go along!" said Peggy, the Valkyr, briefly.
"Pray, may I ask," said Blanche Haight, with a bitter sneer, "are you monitor of this corridor?"
"No," said a voice behind her; "but I am."
A girl had come quietly up the stairs, and was now standing close beside the excited group, none of whom had seen or heard her,—a tall girl, with red-gold hair, dressed as if she had just come from a journey.
"I am the monitor of this corridor," she repeated. "Please go to your rooms, or I shall be obliged to report you."
The girls shrunk together, whispering, the freshmen questioning the sophomores.
"Who is it? Who is it?"
"Hush! It's the junior president. Come along!"
The group melted away; another moment, and all were gone save Peggy, who was now on the floor, with her arms around the little miserable creature, who still shrank close against the wall, as if her life depended on the contact.
"There, dear!" she cried. "They are gone. Come! Don't huddle up so, you poor little thing. Those brutes are gone, and there's nobody here but me, Peggy, and—" she glanced up at the tall girl. "Oh! won't you help me?" she cried. "I think—she doesn't seem to hear what I am saying. Oh, is she dead?"
"No," said the monitor. "I think she has fainted, though, poor little soul! We must carry her to her room. Do you know where it is? I have only just come back, and don't know where the freshmen are."
"No, I don't know, but I'll take her to my room; I'm in No. 18. Oh, I can carry her alone; she's all skin and bone; she doesn't weigh anything."
The little figure in the staring poplin gown hung quite limp, as Peggy lifted it. "You'd better let me help," said the tall girl, kindly. "We can make her more comfortable; so!"
Together they carried her to Peggy's room, and laid her on the bed. It was really more fright and distress than actual fainting, for she soon opened her eyes, and looked eagerly at Peggy, but closed them again with a faint cry, at sight of the stranger.
"You needn't be afraid of her!" cried Peggy, eagerly. "She isn't one of them; she's none of that horrid crowd. I don't know who you are," she said, "but I'm ever and ever and ever so much obliged to you. I don't know whether you heard what they were saying."
And she poured out an indignant account of the cruelty she had witnessed and put a stop to. The stranger's eyes were stern enough, as she listened. "I heard only the end of it," she said, briefly, "but where I see Blanche Haight, I am never surprised at anything cruel or cowardly. I am very glad to know you; it was a mercy that you happened to come along just then. I hope we shall be friends, Miss—is it Miss Montfort?"
"Oh, that I will!" cried Peggy, responding with all her warm heart to the sweet smile and the lovely look in the clear blue eyes. "Oh, I should like to ever so much; but I don't know your name, do I?"
The stranger smiled again. "They call me the Snowy Owl," she said, "but my name is Gertrude Merryweather."
THE OWL'S NEST.
When Peggy escorted Lobelia Parkins back to her room, she found that it was the one directly above her own. Point for point, the rooms were alike, fire-escape and all,—so far as the actual outlines were concerned; there, however, the likeness ended. There had been no Uncle John, no Margaret, in this case. The room was furnished, evidently, by the same hand that had dressed the girl, and with equal taste. The carpet on the floor was costly, but hideous as staring colours and execrable design could make it. The furniture was cumbrous, and the fact that the ugly chairs were rosewood, and their cushions brocade, made them neither beautiful nor comfortable. On the bureau were some bottles of red Bohemian glass, such as were thought handsome fifty years ago; an elephant of a writing-desk, staring with plush and gilding, almost covered the table. Altogether, the room was as desolate as its occupant; more could not be said. Lobelia seemed smaller and more shrunken than ever amid all this tasteless display; she seemed conscious of it, too, as she gazed piteously at Peggy. She had been crying, in a furtive, frightened way; and, gazing at her, Peggy felt that it must be years ago that she was crying, too, and hoping for nothing in the world save to get to her room and have a good solid deluge of tears. At present it seemed hardly likely that she should ever weep again; she felt strong and confident, and was still burning with indignation, none the less hotly that the outward flame had gone down. Her kind companion had been obliged to leave them, with the promise of seeing them soon again. Peggy thought she might stay a few minutes, though the gong for gym had already rung.
"Now, Lobelia," she was saying,—"I am going to call you Lobelia, you know, and you are to call me Peggy, and we are going to be friends. Now, Lobelia, mind what I say! if those girls ever give you any more trouble, you are to come straight to me. Do you hear?"
"Yes," said Lobelia, faintly.
"Have they tormented you before? Beasts! Or was this the first time?"
"Oh, not—not so much!" said the girl, deprecatingly. "A little yesterday; but—I don't know whether they meant to be unkind, Peggy. I know that my dress is queer!"
"Don't be so meek!" cried Peggy, unable to repress a little stamp of her foot, which made Lobelia start. "Have some spirit of your own, Lobelia. I tell you, these girls are mean, cowardly wretches, not fit for girls like the Owls to speak to. They don't speak to them much, either," she added, "and I'm not going to any more than I can help."
Lobelia looked more miserable than ever. "Don't!" she said. "I can't bear to have any one get into trouble on my account. It—it needn't matter to you, Peggy. Of course you are very, very kind, and I think I should have died if you had not come along just then, for I couldn't seem to bear much more; but I don't want you to get into trouble."
"Who's going to get into trouble?" demanded Peggy. "Guess I can take care of myself against such a set as that."
"I don't want you to get into trouble!" repeated Lobelia; and, as she spoke, she glanced around the room with a peculiar shrinking look, one would say a look of dread, that Peggy did not understand.
"Who's next door to you?" she asked, briefly. "Rose Barclay, for one, I know. Who is on the other side?"
Lobelia thought it was another freshman, but was not sure.
"Have they troubled you?" asked Peggy, suspiciously.
But Lobelia shook her head, and seemed so distressed at the question that Peggy did not know what to think.