PEGGY RAYMOND'S VACATION
* * * * * *
HARRIET LUMMIS SMITH
Pollyanna of the Orange Blossoms $2.00 (Trade Mark)
Pollyanna's Jewels $2.00 (Trade Mark)
Pollyanna's Debt of Honor $2.00 (Trade Mark)
The Uncertain Glory $2.00
Pat and Pal $2.00
The Peggy Raymond Series, each $1.75
Peggy Raymond's Success or The Girls of Friendly Terrace.
Peggy Raymond's Vacation or Friendly Terrace Transplanted.
Peggy Raymond's School Days or Old Girls and New.
Peggy Raymond's Friendly Terrace Quartette.
Peggy Raymond's Way or Blossom Time at Friendly Terrace.
Pollyanna's Western Adventure $2.00 (Trade Mark)
* * * * * *
PEGGY RAYMOND'S VACATION
Or Friendly Terrace Transplanted
HARRIET LUMMIS SMITH
Author of "Peggy Raymond's Success," "Peggy Raymond's Schooldays," "Peggy Raymond at 'The Poplars,'" "Peggy Raymond's Way."
A. L. Burt Company Publishers New York
Published by arrangement with L. C. Page & Company.
Printed in U. S. A.
Copyright, 1913 By The Page Company All rights reserved
Chapter Page I. THE EXODUS 1 II. A COTTAGE RE-CHRISTENED 18 III. GETTING ACQUAINTED 33 IV. A STUDY IN NATURAL HISTORY 51 V. A SAFE AND SANE FOURTH 69 VI. THE PICNIC 90 VII. THE COTTAGE BESIEGED 107 VIII. HOBO TO THE RESCUE 125 IX. RUTH IN THE ROLE OF HEROINE 143 X. MRS. SNOOKS' EDUCATION 161 XI. DOROTHY GETS INTO MISCHIEF 175 XII. THE NEW LUCY 190 XIII. A BENEFIT PERFORMANCE 205 XIV. AUNT ABIGAIL IS MISLAID 218 XV. PRISCILLA'S LOOKING-GLASS 233 XVI. PEGGY MAKES A SPEECH 247 XVII. A PLAIN TALK 262 XVIII. THE CASTAWAYS 275 XIX. THE RESCUE 292 XX. HOME SWEET HOME 307
PEGGY RAYMOND'S VACATION
"Do you know, Peggy Raymond, that you haven't made a remark for three-quarters of an hour, unless somebody asked you a question?—and, even then, your answers didn't fit."
It was mid-June, and as happens not unfrequently in the month acknowledging allegiance to both seasons, spring had plunged headlong into summer, with no preparatory gradations from breezy coolness to sultry days and oppressive nights. Friendly Terrace wore an air of relaxation. School was over till September, and now that the bugbear of final examinations was disposed of, no one seemed possessed of sufficient energy to attempt anything more strenuous than wielding a palm-leaf fan.
On Amy Lassell's front porch a quartet of wilted girls lounged about in attitudes expressive of indolent ease. Tall Priscilla occupied the hammock, and Ruth was ensconced in a willow rocking-chair, with a hassock at her feet. Peggy had made herself comfortable on the top step, with sofa cushions tucked skilfully at the small of her back, and behind her head. Amy herself sat cross-legged like a Turk on the porch floor and fanned vigorously to supplement the efforts of the lazy breeze.
Peggy, pondering her friend's accusation with languid interest, dimpled into a smile which acknowledged its correctness. "Yes, you're right, Amy," she admitted. "And, if you want to know the reason, it's only that my thoughts were wandering. The fact is, girls, I'm just hankering for the country."
"Then what's the matter—"
The suggestion on the tip of Amy's tongue never got any farther, for Peggy, seemingly certain that it would prove inadequate, shook her head with a vigor hardly to be expected from her general air of lassitude.
"No, Amy! I don't mean going to the park, or taking a trolley ride out to one of the suburbs. What I want is the sure-enough country, without any sidewalks, you know, and with roads that wind, and old hens clucking around, and cow-bells tinkling off in the pastures, and oceans of room—"
"And sunsets where the sun goes down behind green trees, instead of peoples' houses," Ruth interrupted dreamily. "And birds singing like mad to wake you up in the morning."
"Yes, and berries growing alongside the road, where you can help yourself," broke in Amy with animation. "And apples and nuts lying around under the trees, and green corn that melts in your mouth, and—"
"Not all at the same time, though." The correction came from Priscilla's hammock. "You wouldn't find many nuts dropping from the trees at this time of the year."
Before Amy could reply, the conversation was interrupted by the appearance of the most universally popular visitor ever gracing Friendly Terrace by his presence. He came often, without any danger of wearing out his welcome. Every household watched for his arrival, and felt injured if he passed without stopping. On Amy's porch four necks craned, the better to view his advance, and four pairs of eyes were expectant.
"If there's anything for me," observed Peggy hopefully, "mother'll wave, I know." But Mrs. Raymond, who sat sewing on her own porch, opened the solitary letter the postman handed her, and proceeded to acquaint herself with its contents in full view of the watchers on the other side of the street.
"This must be Mother's Day," Amy exclaimed disapprovingly, when, a moment later, she accepted from the letter-carrier's hand a fat blue envelope directed to Mrs. Gibson Lassell. But, in spite of her rather resentful tone, she scrambled to her feet, and carried the letter through to the shaded back room where her mother lay on the couch, with a glass of ice-tea beside her, devoting herself to the business of keeping cool.
Some time passed before Amy's return. Priscilla's hammock barely stirred and the rhythmic creak of Ruth's rocking-chair grew gradually less frequent. Peggy, cuddling down among the cushions, let her thoughts stray again to the joys of being without sidewalks, and all that was implied in such a lack. The porch with the silent trio would not have seemed out of place in that enchanted country where the sleeping princess and her subjects dreamed away a hundred years.
All at once there was a rush, a slam, a series of little rapturous squeals. The Amy who had carried the blue envelope indoors, had been mysteriously replaced by a young person so bubbling over with animation as to be unable, apparently, to express herself, except by ecstatic gurgles and a mad capering about the porch.
Had a crisp October breeze all at once dissipated the languors of the June day, the effect on the occupants of the porch could hardly have been more immediate. Priscilla came out of the hammock with a bound. Peggy's cushions rolled to the bottom of the steps, as Peggy leaped to her feet. And so precipitately did Ruth arise, that her rocking-chair went over backward, and narrowly escaped breaking a front window.
"Amy Lassell!" Peggy seized her friend by the shoulders and gave her a vigorous shake. "Stop acting this crazy way, and tell us what's happened."
"Talk of fairy godmothers!" gasped Amy, coherent at last. "Talk of dreams coming true! Oh, girls!"
"What is it?" Three exasperated voices screamed the question, and even Amy began to realize that her explanation had lacked lucidity. She tried again.
"That letter, you know. It's the strangest coincidence I ever heard of. But haven't you noticed lots of times—"
"Oh, Amy," Ruth implored, "do let that part wait, and get to the point."
"Why, this is the point. That letter was from an old friend of mother's, Mrs. Leighton. She has a home up in the country, Sweet Fern Cottage I think they call it, or is it Sweet Briar—"
"Sweet chocolate, perhaps," suggested Priscilla with gentle sarcasm. "One will do as well as another. Go on."
"It's the real country, Peggy, for you have to take a four-mile stage ride to get to the railway station. And Mrs. Leighton wanted to know if some of us wouldn't like to use the cottage, as she is going to Europe this summer. And, right away, mother said it would be so nice for us girls to have it."
The clamor that broke out made further explanations impossible. It was Amy's turn to be superior.
"Girls, if you all keep talking at once, how can I ever tell you the rest? The cottage is all furnished, Mrs. Leighton says, and we would only have to bring bedding and towels, and things of that sort. And she says you can buy milk and vegetables very reasonably of the farmers in the neighborhood, so it wouldn't be expensive when we divided it up among us."
"We could do the cooking ourselves," interrupted Peggy.
"Of course. Mrs. Leighton takes up her own servants, but if we found somebody to do our washing, and scrub us up occasionally, we could manage the rest."
For half an hour the excited planning went on, and then four enthusiastic girls separated to subject the enterprise to the more cautious consideration of fathers and mothers. And that was the end of listlessness on Friendly Terrace for that hot wave, at least. At almost any hour of day, one might see a girl running across the street, or bursting into another girl's house without warning, in order to set forth some new and brilliant idea which had just popped into her head, or to ask advice on some perplexing point, or to answer the objections somebody had raised. Though only four families on the Terrace were personally interested in the solution of the problem, the whole neighborhood took it up. It was generally agreed that the girls had worked hard in school, and were tired, and a summer in what Peggy called "the sure-enough country" would be the best thing in the world for them all.
Elaine Marshall, whom Peggy waylaid as she came home from her work, not long after the plan had been broached, gave it her immediate approval, pluckily trying to hide her consternation at the thought of Friendly Terrace without Peggy. But, in spite of her brave fluency, something in her eyes betrayed her, as she knew when Peggy slipped an arm about her waist and hugged her remorsefully.
"Now, Peggy Raymond, don't go to being sorry for me, and spoiling your fun. You mustn't fancy you're so indispensable," she ended with a feeble laugh.
"If only you had two months' vacation, instead of two weeks," mourned Peggy.
"I'm lucky to get two weeks, when I've been in your uncle's office such a little while. And, anyway, Peggy, I couldn't leave home for long as things are, even if my vacation lasted all summer."
And it really was Elaine Marshall, speaking in that cheery, matter-of-fact tone, scorning the luxury of self-pity, conquering the temptation to look on herself as an object of sympathy. Peggy regarded her with affectionate admiration, quite unaware how important a factor she herself had been in bringing about a transformation almost beyond belief.
After twenty-four hours of reflection Friendly Terrace was practically a unit on the question. The fathers saw no reason why the girls should not go, and the mothers found a variety of reasons why they should. The question of a chaperon had been a temporary stumbling-block, for none of the mothers especially concerned had felt that she could be spared from home. But before the difficulty had begun to seem serious, Amy had exclaimed: "I believe Aunt Abigail would jump at the chance."
"Aunt Abigail!" Priscilla repeated, with a thoughtful frown. "I don't remember ever hearing you speak of her."
"She's father's aunt, you know, but I always call her Aunt Abigail."
There was a pause. "Then she must be a good deal like a grandmother," Ruth hinted delicately.
"Why, yes. Aunt Abigail is seventy-five or six, I don't remember which."
Priscilla and Ruth looked at Peggy, their manner implying that the crisis demanded the exercise of her undeniable tact. Peggy made a brave effort to be equal to the emergency.
"Don't you think, Amy, dear," she hazarded, "that it would be a little trying to the nerves of an old lady to chaperon a lot of noisy girls—"
Amy's burst of laughter was such an unexpected interruption that Peggy's considerate appeal halted midway and the other girls stared. And Amy screwing her eyes tightly shut, as was her habit when highly amused, finished her laugh at her leisure, before she deigned an explanation.
"You'd know how funny that sounded if you'd ever seen Aunt Abigail. She's along in her seventies, so I suppose you would call her old, but in a good many ways she's as young as we are—Oh, yes, younger, as young as Peggy's Dorothy."
There was something fascinating in the idea of a chaperon, characterized by such singular extremes. The girls listened breathlessly.
"Mother says it's all because she's lived in such an unusual way. You see, her husband was an artist, and they used to travel around everywhere. Sometimes they'd board at a hotel, and sometimes they'd have rooms, and do light housekeeping, and, then again, they'd camp, and live in a tent for months at a time. And Aunt Abigail hasn't any idea of getting up to breakfast at any special hour, or being on hand to dinner."
The expression of anxious interest was fading gradually from the faces of the three listeners, and cheerful anticipation was taking its place.
"She forgets everything she promises to do," Amy continued. "It isn't because she's old, either. She's been that way ever since mother can remember. She's always losing things, and getting into the most awful scrapes. We should have to look after her, just as if she were a child. And then she's the jolliest soul you ever knew, and she's a regular Arabian Nights' entertainment when it comes to telling stories."
After the vision of a nervous old lady who would demand that the house be very quiet, and get into a nervous flutter if a meal were delayed fifteen minutes, Amy's realistic sketch was immensely appealing. "Girls," Peggy exclaimed, "I move we invite Aunt Abigail to chaperon our crowd!" And the motion was carried not only unanimously, but with an enthusiasm Aunt Abigail would certainly have found gratifying, though it might have surprised her, in view of her grand-niece's candid statement.
Peggy had pleaded to be allowed to take Dorothy along. "I can't bear to think of that darling child spending July and August in a fourth-floor flat, looking down on the tops of street-cars. And I don't think she'd bother you girls a bit."
"Bother!" cried Amy generously. "We need something to fall back on for rainy days, and Dorothy's a picnic in herself. Between her and Aunt Abigail we'll be entertained whatever happens."
Priscilla, too, had suggested an addition to the party. "You've heard me speak of Claire Fendall, girls. I saw a good deal of her at the conservatory, and she's as sweet as she can be. Well, we've talked of her visiting me this vacation, and I don't feel quite like announcing that I'm going off for the entire summer without asking her if she'd like to go too."
The girls had fallen in with the suggestion with the thoughtless cordiality characteristic of their years. It was Amy who suggested later to Peggy that sometimes she thought there was such a thing as a girl's being too sweet. "I met Claire Fendall once when I went with Priscilla to a recital," Amy remarked. "And—Oh, well, I'm not one of the people who like honey for breakfast every morning of the year." But the only reply this Delphic utterance called forth from Peggy was a reproachful pinch.
In a week's time they were ready. A special delivery letter had carried to Mrs. Leighton the grateful acceptance of her offer, and the keys had come by express the following day, rattling about in a tin box, and with the tantalizing air of secrecy and suggestiveness which always attaches itself to a bunch of keys. Aunt Abigail had been invited to chaperon the party and had accepted by telegraph. Peggy's father had made an excuse for a business trip to New York, and had brought his small granddaughter home with him, full of the liveliest anticipation regarding her summer. And Priscilla had received a twenty-page letter from Claire Fendall, declaring that it would be perfectly heavenly to spend two months anywhere in Priscilla's society, and that nothing in the world could possibly prevent her from coming.
There had been no time during that week for lounging on porches, or swinging in hammocks. Afternoon naps were sternly eliminated from the daily program, and the day began early enough to satisfy the originator of the maxim which gives us to understand that early rising is synonymous with health, wealth and wisdom. Trunks were packed, amid prolonged discussion as to what to take and what to leave behind. The mothers, as is the way of mothers the world over, insisted on warm flannels, and wraps, rubbers and rain-coats, to provide for all extremes of weather. Peggy's suggestion that the country was a fine place for wearing out old clothes, had been received with enthusiasm, and faded ginghams and lawns of a bygone style, far outnumbered the new frocks with which the Terrace girls had made ready for the season.
The June day appointed for the departure dawned with such radiant brightness that all along the Terrace it was accepted as a good omen. Early and hurried breakfasts were in order in a number of homes. Dorothy viewing her oatmeal with an air of disfavor, launched into the discussion of a subject which had occupied her thoughts for some time.
"Aunt Peggy, if I should see a bear up in the country, do you s'pose I'd be 'fraid? I'd jus' say to him, 'Scat, you old bear!'"
"Eat your oatmeal, Dorothy." Peggy's voice betrayed that her excitement was almost equal to Dorothy's own. "There aren't any bears where we're going."
"Ain't there?" Dorothy's tone indicated regretful surprise. "I guess God jus' forgot to make 'em," she sighed, and fell to watching her grandmother's efforts to make the oatmeal more tempting, by adding another sprinkling of sugar to a dish already honey-sweet.
But even such a disappointment as this could not continue in the face of the thrilling nearness of departure. The trunks had gone to the station the night before, and now upon the porches of the various houses, suitcases, travelling bags, and nondescript rolls of shawls and steamer rugs began to make their appearance. Conversations were carried on across the street in a fashion that might have been annoying if everybody along the Terrace had not been astir to see the girls off. Elaine Marshall already dressed for the office, slipped through the opening in the hedge which separated her home from Peggy's, and took possession of a shawl-strap and umbrella.
"Of course I'm going to the station with you," she said, replying to Peggy's look. "There'll be room enough, won't there, if Dorothy sits in my lap?"
"I guess you'd better hold Aunt Peggy 'stead of me," Dorothy objected promptly, "'cause I'm going to have a birf-day pretty soon, and I'm getting to be a big girl." And then she forgot her offended dignity, for the hacks were in sight.
It was well that these conveyances had arrived early, for the process of saying good-by was not a rapid one. There were so many kisses to be exchanged, so many last cautions to be given, so many promises to write often to be repeated,—reckless promises which if literally fulfilled would have required the services of an extra mail-carrier for Friendly Terrace—so many anxious inquiries as to the whereabouts of somebody's suitcase or box of luncheon, to say nothing of Amy's discovery at the last minute that she had left her railway ticket in the drawer of her writing desk, that for a time the outlook for ever getting started was gloomy indeed. But at last they were safely stowed away, and while the girls threw kisses in the direction of upper windows, where dishevelled heads were appearing, and little groups on doorsteps and porches waved handkerchiefs, and "Good-by" sounded on one side of the street and then on the other, like an echo gone distraught, the foremost driver cracked his whip and they were off.
"My gracious me," a pleasantly garrulous old lady said to Mrs. Raymond half an hour later, "ain't it going to be lonesome without that bunch of girls. It's the first time I ever knew Friendly Terrace to seem deserted."
"It will seem a little lonely, I imagine," Mrs. Raymond answered cheerily, and then she went indoors and found a dark corner where she could wipe her eyes unseen. But when Dick came around to express his opinion as to the team that would win the pennant that season, she was able to give him as interested attention as if two long months were not to elapse before she saw Peggy again.
A COTTAGE RE-CHRISTENED
The stage creaked up the slope. The four horses, sedate enough during the long drive, wound up with a flourish, the off-leader prancing, and all four making that final exhibition of untamed spirit, which is the stage-driver's secret. And from the body of the vehicle arose a chorus of voices.
"Is this it? Oh, girls, this can't really be it!"
The stage-driver took it on himself to answer the question.
"You asked for Leighton's place, and this here's it. Now, if you want suthin' else, all you've got to do is to say so." He folded his arms with the air of being only too well accustomed to the vagaries of city people, an implication which his passengers were too elated to notice. They scrambled out, not waiting for his assistance, Peggy first, extending a hand to Aunt Abigail, who waved it briskly aside, and jumped off the steps like a girl. Her bright dark eyes—she never used spectacles except for reading—twinkled gaily. And her cheeks crisscrossed with innumerable fine wrinkles, were as rosy as winter apples.
Dorothy followed Aunt Abigail, flinging herself headlong into Peggy's extended arms, and then wriggling free to satisfy herself as to what the country was like, as well as to scan the landscape for a possible bear. The others crowded after, and the stage-driver relenting, began to throw off the trunks.
The Leighton cottage was a rambling structure, suggesting a series of architectural after-thoughts. Its location could hardly have been surpassed, for it stood on a rise of ground so that in any direction one looked across fertile valleys to encircling hills. A porch ran about three sides of the house, shaded here and there by vines. In spite of a certain look of neglect, emphasized by the straggling branches of the untrimmed vines, and the cobwebs everywhere visible, its appearance was distinctly prepossessing.
"Going to get these doors open any time to-day?" asked the stage-driver, apparently struggling for resignation.
"The keys, Aunt Abigail!" Amy cried.
"Bless you, child, I haven't any keys!" the old lady answered. Then, with no apparent loss of serenity, "Oh, yes, I do remember that you handed them to me. But I haven't an idea where they are now."
The girls looked reproachfully at Amy. After having set forth the peculiarities of her relative in such detail, she should have known better than to have entrusted her with anything as important as keys. But clearly it was no time for recrimination, and after a moment all of them were following Peggy's example, and hastily examining the various articles of hand luggage which contained Aunt Abigail's belongings. Owing to the old lady's habitual forgetfulness these were numerous, for the articles which had been left out when her trunk was packed had made the journey in shawlstraps and large pasteboard boxes. Just as every one had become thoroughly convinced that the keys had been left behind in Friendly Terrace, Dorothy made a discovery.
"I hear bells," she announced dreamily, "little tinkly bells like fairies."
Aunt Abigail jumped, and this time everybody's ears were sharp enough to hear the fairy-like chime.
"Of course," cried Aunt Abigail beaming. "They're in the pocket. I told my dressmaker that if I was the only woman in the United States to boast a pocket, I wouldn't be satisfied without one. I will say for her though, that she located it in the most inaccessible place she could possibly have chosen. Girls, come and help me find it."
Aunt Abigail stood resignedly, while a group of girls made a rush, like hounds attacking a stag. The pocket was located without much difficulty, though some valuable time was expended in finding the opening. At last the keys were produced in triumph, the front door was unlocked, and the stage-driver grunting disdainfully, carried in the trunks.
Indoors the cottage lived up to the promise of its exterior. The front door opened into a big living-room furnished comfortably, though simply, and with a large brick fireplace at one end. Beyond this were the dining-room and kitchen, with store-room and pantry, and a long woodshed running off to one side. The second floor consisted of a number of small bedrooms, each with just enough in the way of furnishings to provide for the comfort of the occupants, without adding to housekeeping cares. From this story a staircase of ladder-like steepness, led up to an unfinished garret, empty, except for a few pieces of dilapidated furniture and sundry piles of magazines and paper-covered books, which had undoubtedly contributed to the entertainment of the cottagers in past seasons.
Thanks to an early start, it was little past noon when the arrivals from Friendly Terrace took possession. Luncheon was first in order. The dust of the winter having been removed from the dining-table, various alluring pasteboard boxes were placed upon it, and seven hungry people ranged themselves in expectant rows. The piles of sandwiches melted away as if by magic, and as they disappeared, the rooms silent for so long, echoed to the whole-hearted laughter which is the best of all aids to digestion.
The meal over, the trunks were ransacked for old dresses, gingham aprons, and sweeping caps, and under Peggy's leadership, the girls fell to work.
"Now we'll divide up, so as not to get in each other's way. Priscilla, suppose you and Claire take the up-stairs rooms. Ruth and I will start here in the living-room, and Amy—where is Amy, anyway?"
Amy's sudden appearance in the doorway was the signal for a general shriek of protest. The evening before, her father had presented her with a kodak, which she now pointed toward the group of girls in their house-maid's uniforms, with the air of a hold-up man, demanding one's money or one's life.
"Oh, don't please," cried Claire, cowering and hiding her face. She wore her gingham apron with an unaccustomed air, and had looked askance at the sweeping cap, before she had followed the example of the other girls, and pulled it over her soft, brown hair. "Please don't take my picture," she implored in a doleful whimper. "I look like such a fright."
"Oh, do stand in a row with your brooms and mops over your shoulders," pleaded Amy. "You look perfectly dear—and so picturesque."
Peggy perceived that Claire's consternation was real, and sternly checked her friend. "Amy Lassell, put that camera away, and get to work. It will be time enough to take pictures when this house is fit to sleep in."
By four o'clock at least a superficial order had been secured. The fresh breezes blowing from the windows on all sides, had aided the efforts of the girl housekeepers in banishing dust and mustiness, and they were ready to wait another day for the luxury of clean windows. By this time, too, most of the girls were frankly sleepy, for the prospect of an early start had interfered seriously with the night's rest of some of them, and the freshly aired, newly made beds presented an irresistible temptation.
The indefatigable Peggy however, emerging from the wash-bowl as glowing as a rose, scorned the suggestion of a nap. "Couldn't think of wasting this gorgeous afternoon that way. I'm going over to the farmhouse Mrs. Leighton spoke of, and make arrangements about eggs, butter, milk, and all that sort of thing."
"And fresh vegetables too," exclaimed Amy with surprising animation, considering that she was in the middle of a tremendous yawn.
"Yes, of course. And girls, if the farmer's wife will make our bread, I think it will be lots more sensible to buy it of her, than to bother with baking."
"Oh, you fix things up just as you think best," exclaimed Priscilla. "The rest of us will stand by whatever you agree to." A drowsy murmur of corroboration went the rounds, and Peggy, making open mock of them all for a company of "sleepy-heads," went blithely on her way toward the particular column of smoke which she felt sure was issuing from the chimney of the Cole farmhouse.
A very comfortable, pleasant farmhouse it was, though quite eclipsed by the big red barn which loomed up in the background. Something in the appearance of the front door suggested to Peggy that it was not intended for daily use, and she made her way around to the side and knocked. A child not far from Dorothy's age, with straight black hair, and elfish eyes, opened the door, looked her over, and shrieked a staccato summons.
"Ro-set-ta! Ro-set-ta Muriel!"
"Well, what do you want?" demanded a rather querulous voice, and at the end of the hall appeared the figure of a slender girl, her abundant yellow hair brought down over her forehead to the eyebrows, and tied in place by a blue ribbon looped up at one side in a flaunting bow. Her frock of cheap blue silk was made in the extreme of the mode, and as she rustled forward, Peggy found herself thinking that she was as unlike as possible to her preconceived ideas of a farmer's daughter. As for Rosetta Muriel, she looked Peggy over with the unspoken thought, "Well, I'd like to know if she calls them city styles."
Peggy, in a two-year-old gingham, quite unaware that her appearance was disappointing, cheerfully explained her errand and was invited to walk in. Mrs. Cole, a stout, motherly woman, readily agreed to supply the party at the cottage with the necessary provisions, including bread, twice a week. And having dispatched the business which concerned the crowd, Peggy broached a little private enterprise of her own.
"Mrs. Cole, I thought I'd like to try my luck at raising some chickens this summer. Just in a very small way, of course," she added, reading doubt in the eyes of the farmer's wife. "If you'll sell me an old hen and a setting of eggs, that will be enough for the first season."
"'Tisn't an extry good time, you know," said Mrs. Cole. "Pretty near July. But, if you'd like to try it, I daresay we've got some hens that want to set."
"The old yellow hen's a-settin'," exclaimed the little girl who had listened with greedy interest to every word of the conversation. Rosetta Muriel looked wearily out of the window, as if she found herself bored by the choice of topics.
"Yes, seems to me I did hear your pa say something about the old yellow wanting to set, and him trying to break it up."
"He drove her out of the woodshed three times yesterday," said the little girl. "And Joe tried to throw water on her, but she flew off a-squawking and Joe splashed the water over himself." She broke into a delighted giggle at the recollection of Joe's discomfiture, and Peggy smiled in sympathy with her evident enjoyment. Peggy's heart was tender to all children, and this small, communicative creature was so nearly Dorothy's size as to appeal to her especially.
"I think you are about the age of my little niece," said Peggy in her usual friendly fashion. "You must come to play with her some day. You see, she is the only little girl among a lot of big ones, and she might get lonely."
"I'll come along with you this afternoon," said the child readily, whereat Rosetta Muriel uttered a horrified gasp, and her mother hastily interposed.
"Annie Cole! You won't do any such thing. Folks that snap up invitations like a chicken does a grasshopper, ain't going to be asked out very often."
It was arranged that Peggy should carry home a basket of provisions for the evening meal, and that Joe should come over in the morning with a larger supply, bringing at the same time the yellow hen who was desirous of assuming the cares of a family. During the discussion of these practical matters, Rosetta Muriel had maintained a disdainful silence. But when Mrs. Cole went to pack a basket, the daughter, for the first time, took an active part in the conversation.
"I guess you'll find it pretty dull up here, with no moving picture shows nor nothing."
Peggy disclaimed the idea in haste. "Dull! I think it's perfectly lovely. I couldn't think of missing anything up here, except folks, you know."
"Moving pictures ain't any rarity to me," said Rosetta Muriel, trying to appear sophisticated. "I've seen 'em lots of times. But I get awfully tired of the country. I've got a friend who clerks in a store in your town. Maybe you know her. Her name's Cummings, Gladys Cummings."
Peggy had never met Miss Cummings, and said so. Rosetta Muriel went on with her description.
"It's an awful stylish store where she works, Case and Rosenstein's. And Gladys, she's awfully stylish, too. She looks as if she'd just stepped out of a fashion plate." And something in her inflection suggested even to Peggy that from Rosetta Muriel's standpoint, she had failed to live up to her opportunities. Certainly in a gingham frock two seasons old, and faded by frequent washings, Peggy did not remotely suggest those large-eyed ladies of willowy figure, so seldom met with outside the sheets of fashion periodicals.
"I'll be glad to call on you some day soon," said Rosetta Muriel following Peggy to the door. And Peggy, basket in hand, assured her that she would be welcome, and so made her escape. The air was sweet with myriad unfamiliar fragrances. Over in the west, the cloudless blue of the sky was streaked with bands of pink. Peggy reached the road, guiltless of sidewalks, and winding, according to specifications, and broke into a little song as she walked along its dusty edge. Such a beautiful world as it was, and such a beautiful summer as it was going to be. "If I couldn't sing," exclaimed Peggy, breaking off in the middle of her refrain, "I believe I should burst."
Something rustled the grass behind her, and she turned her head. A gaunt dog, of no particular breed, had been following her stealthily, but at her movement he stopped short, apparently ready to take to flight at any indication of hostility on her part. He was by no means a handsome animal, but his big, yellowish-brown eyes had the look of pathetic appeal which is the badge of the homeless, whether dogs or men.
That hunted look, and a little propitiating wag of the tail, which was not so much a wag as a suggestion of what he might do if encouraged, went to Peggy's heart. "Poor fellow!" she exclaimed, and the mischief was done. Instantly the dog had classified her. She was not the stone-throwing sort of person, who said "get out." He bounded forward and pressed his head against her so insinuatingly that Peggy found it impossible not to pat it, then gave a little expressive whimper, and fell back at her heels. Whenever Peggy looked behind, during the remainder of her walk, he was following as closely and almost as silently as a shadow.
Peggy had the time to get supper preparations well under way before the other girls made their appearance, pink and drowsy-eyed after their long naps. Priscilla was the first to come down, and she started at the sight of the tawny body stretched upon the doorstep.
"Mercy, Peggy. What's that?"
"It's a dog, poor thing, and the thinnest beast I ever imagined."
"I hope you haven't been giving him anything to eat, Peggy."
The flush in Peggy's cheeks was undoubtedly due to the heat of a blazing wood-fire. "I guess we won't miss a few dried-up sandwiches," she said with spirit.
"Oh, it isn't that. It's only that if you feed him, we'll never get rid of him. Doesn't he look dirty though, like a regular tramp?"
The other girls slipped down one by one, and if there were any truth in the saying that many cooks spoil the broth, Peggy's anticipations for the supper she had planned, would never have been realized. The meal was almost ready to be put on the table, when Amy appeared, demanding anxiously what she should do to help.
"We really don't need you a mite," Peggy assured, with a laugh. "But I'd hate to disappoint such industry. Come here and stir this milk gravy so it won't burn."
Amy moved to her post of duty without any unbecoming alacrity.
"I'm not industrious," she retorted. "And I don't want to be. I intend to work when you girls make me and that's all. This is my vacation and I'm going to use it recuperating."
"I really can't see the need myself," Claire whispered to Priscilla, but Priscilla did not return her smile. Amy's plumpness was a joke which Amy enjoyed as well as anybody, but Claire's covered whisper seemed to put another face on it. Priscilla bent over a loaf of bread on the board and sliced away with an impassive face.
"And that reminds me," continued Amy cheerfully, "that I feel like re-naming this cottage for the season. Mrs. Leighton wouldn't care what we called it."
"Why, I think Sweet Briar Cottage is a beautiful name," Claire protested.
"I think so, too. But it's too dressy to suit my ideas. I'm sure I never could live up to it. Say, girls, I move we call it Dolittle Cottage."
And, in spite of Claire's manifest disapproval, the motion was carried.
The squawking of the yellow hen served as an alarm-clock for the late sleepers in Dolittle Cottage the next morning. Peggy who was up, but was loitering over her toilet, in a most un-Peggy-like fashion, scrambled frantically into her clothes and went flying down-stairs. As she threw open the kitchen door, a gaunt dog seated on the top step, greeted her with a courteous waggle, quite as if he were the head of the establishment and bent on doing the honors.
"He wouldn't let me come no nearer," said a lanky, grinning individual who stood at a respectful distance, with a basket on either arm. "Looks like he'd adopted you."
"Yes, it does rather look that way," returned Peggy, and bestowed an appreciative pat on the dog's head. It might have been her imagination, but she fancied that a few hours of belonging somewhere, had wrought a marked change in him. If he had been human, she would have said that he seemed more self-respecting. He neither cringed nor cowered, but scrutinized Farmer Cole's hired man with an alert gravity, as if demanding that he show his credentials.
"Mis' Cole sent you over this here truck," Joe explained, "and she says she'll have Annie bring the bread, after she's through baking. Where d'you want this hen?"
Peggy led the way to the woodshed, improving the opportunity to sound Joe on the subject of raising chickens. And that unsophisticated youth, who in the beginning of the interview had seemed as painfully conscious of his hands and feet, as if these appendages were brand new, and he had not had time to get accustomed to having them about, lost his embarrassment in view of her evident teachableness, and fairly swamped her with information.
The eighteen eggs for the setting were in a little basket by themselves. Peggy hung over them breathlessly, and saw in fancy eighteen balls of yellow down, teetering on toothpick legs. Then her imagination leaped ahead, and the cream-colored eggs had become eighteen lusty, pin-feathered fowls, worth forty cents a pound in city markets. Peggy's heart gave a jubilant flutter. Many a fortune had started, she was sure, with less than that basket of eggs.
The work dragged in Dolittle Cottage that morning. It was not that there was so much to do, but there were so many distractions. Peggy's business enterprise had been the occasion of much animated comment at the breakfast table, and when Peggy mixed some corn meal and carried it out to the woodshed, the girls dropped their various tasks and came flocking after her. The yellow hen was already on her eggs, and she ruffled her feathers in a hostile fashion at the approach of her new owner. Peggy placed her offering conveniently near the nest, raised a warning finger to the chattering girls, as if there had been a baby asleep in the soap-box the yellow hen was occupying, and then tiptoed off, with an air of exaggerated caution.
"You see, she's very excited and nervous," Peggy explained, in a subdued voice. "But Joe said she was hungry, and I guess she'll get off the eggs long enough to eat. Sh! She's coming now!"
The yellow hen had indeed yielded to the temptation of Peggy's hasty-pudding. She popped out of the box, gobbled a little of the corn meal, took one or two hasty swallows of water, and then rushed back to her maternal duties. The girls broke into irreverent giggles.
"I shouldn't call her a beauty," Ruth declared, as the yellow hen settled down on her eggs, spreading out her feathers till she looked as large as a small turkey.
"Her legs remind me of feather dusters," Amy remarked pertly.
"It looks to me as if she were trying to revive the fashion of pantalets," suggested Priscilla.
Peggy was forced to join in the general laugh. "Her legs may not be much to look at, girls," she admitted, "but those feathers are a sign of Breed." And with this master-stroke she led the way back to the kitchen, the dog, who had followed them into the woodshed, with every appearance of being at home, stalking at her heels.
"Peggy," Priscilla inquired suspiciously, "have you fed that dog again this morning?"
"He's a splendid watch-dog," replied Peggy, evading a direct answer. "He wouldn't let Joe come near the house."
"I suppose that means you've decided to add a dog to your menagerie."
"I don't think I've been consulted about it," laughed Peggy. "He took matters into his own hands,—or, I should say, teeth."
"Probably you've named him already."
"Of course. His name is Hobo," answered Peggy on the spur of the moment, and Priscilla replied with dignity that he looked the part, and returned to her cooling dish water.
"It really isn't safe picking up a strange dog that way," Claire murmured, sympathetically, as she reached for a dish towel. "He might turn on us at any minute." Priscilla whose criticism had been only half serious, found the implication annoying, and when, under her stress of feeling, she set a tumbler down hard, and cracked it, the experience did not tend to relieve her sense of vexation.
"Girls," Ruth, who was sweeping the porch, put her head in the door, "there's a boy here who wants to know if we'd like some fresh fish."
Various exclamations sounding up-stairs and down, indicated that the proposition was a welcome one, and Peggy stepped out of the back door to interview the dealer. A boy in nondescript costume, with a brimless straw hat on the back of his head, held up a string of fish without speaking.
"Yes, I think I'll like them if they're fresh and cheap," said Peggy firmly, resolved to be business-like.
It appeared that the fish had been caught that morning and the price impressed Peggy as extremely reasonable. She was about to conclude the bargain when Priscilla's echoing whisper summoned her to the screen door.
"Peggy, tell him we'll buy fish of him several times a week if he'll clean them. Fish scales are so messy and awful."
Peggy thought well of the proposition, and the young fisherman offered no objection. With a grunt of acquiescence he seated himself on the steps, pulled out his pocket knife and began operations. Then as Hobo took his stand where he could view proceedings, the boy turned abruptly to Peggy. She saw that his brown eyes were keen, and his features clear-cut. "Why, if he'd only fix up a little," she thought with surprise, "he'd be quite nice looking."
"That your dog?" the boy was demanding, and Peggy hesitated, then laughed as she remembered her conversation with Priscilla.
"He seems to think so," she acknowledged. "He followed me home last night, and he doesn't have any intention of going away, as far as anybody can see."
"That dog hasn't had a square deal," said the boy with sudden heat. "Dogs don't have as a rule, but this one's worse off than most. He used to belong to some folks who lived on the Drierston pike, raised him from a puppy they had, and he saved one of the kids from drowning, one time. More fool he, I say."
Peggy gasped an expostulation. The boy silenced her with a vindictive gesture of the hand that held the knife.
"You wait till I tell you. Their house burned down and they moved off and they just left the dog behind, as if he had been rubbish. That was more'n a year ago. And ever since he's been sneaking and skulking and stealing his victuals, and been stoned and driven off with whips, and shot at till it's a wonder he don't go 'round biting everybody he sees."
It was evident that Hobo's lot had been a hard one, and that through no fault of his own. "Poor fellow," Peggy said, resolving to atone, as far as a few weeks of kindness could, for that dreadful year of homelessness. "You seem to like animals," she remarked, finding Hobo's champion oddly interesting.
The boy cut off the head of a fish with a crunch. "I'd ought to," he returned grimly. "I've got to like something and I don't like folks."
"What folks do you mean?"
"Don't like any folks," the boy persisted, and slashed on savagely.
Peggy was not prepared to believe in such universal misanthropy on the part of one so young. She guessed it to be a pose, and resolved that she would not encourage it by appearing shocked. "I don't think you show very good taste," she observed calmly, "disliking everybody in a lump that way. There are as many kinds of people as there are birds or flowers."
"You ask any of the folks 'round here about Jerry Morton," the boy exclaimed. "They'll tell you what a good-for-nothing lazy-bones he is. They'll say he isn't worth the powder and shot to blow him up with."
Peggy did some rapid thinking. "Are you Jerry Morton?"
"You bet I am." His tone was defiant.
"Oh, I see," said Peggy to herself. "People don't like him, and so he fancies that he doesn't like people." This explanation which, by the way, fits more misanthropes than Jerry, resulted in making Peggy sorry for the boy in spite of the unbecoming sullenness of his face at that moment.
"Well, Jerry," she said gently, "if your neighbors think that of you, I'm sure they are as much mistaken as you are in what you think of them." She counted out the change into his hand. "This is Thursday, isn't it? Can you bring us some more fish Saturday?"
"Yes, I'll bring 'em," said the boy in a more subdued fashion than he had yet spoken. He dropped his earnings into his pocket uncounted, and went away without a good-by. Peggy carried the fish indoors, and was greeted by mocking laughter.
"You've added one tramp to the establishment," said Priscilla, shaking a warning finger in her friend's absorbed face; "don't try to annex another."
Peggy was too much in earnest to notice the banter. "That poor boy! He thinks he hates everybody, and I guess the trouble is that he wants to be liked. I'm going to ask Mrs. Cole or some other nice, motherly person about him." Then her eyes fell upon the clock and she uttered an exclamation of dismay.
"Girls, where does the time go to? I meant to suggest that we go berrying this morning, but now we've got to wait till after dinner. I hope there are no naps to be taken this afternoon. I'm going berrying if I have to go alone."
"You can count on me, darling," Amy cried, flinging her arms about Peggy's neck. And Dorothy chimed in bravely, "An' you can count on me, Aunt Peggy. But—but what are you going to bury?"
While Peggy was explaining, Claire laid her hand on Priscilla's arm, and looked tenderly into her eyes.
"We're going for a walk, you know. You promised last evening."
Priscilla looked up in surprise.
"Why, I know I said we'd take a walk. But this will be a walk and a lot of fun beside."
"But, don't you see," Claire leaned toward her and spoke rapidly, "it can't take the place of strolling through the woods just with you alone? There are so many of us girls that I'm simply hungry to have you to myself. I've just been living on the thought of it ever since you promised me last night."
"Very well," said Priscilla compressing her lips. She resolved to be very careful what she said to Claire, if any casual remark could be construed into a binding promise. With dismay she realized that it was not yet twenty-four hours since their arrival, and already Claire's demonstrations of affection were becoming irksome.
If she had cherished the hope that Claire would relent, she was destined to disappointment. An early dinner was eaten, and the dishes washed with an alacrity in agreeable contrast to the dilatory methods of the morning. Then the party divided, Claire and Priscilla going off in the direction of the woods—Priscilla walking with more than her usual erectness—while the others took the route to the pastures where the raspberries grew, Peggy having ascertained their exact location in her talk with Joe that morning.
The array of tin pails with the berrying party suggested the probability that the occupants of Dolittle Cottage would eat nothing but raspberries for a week. Aunt Abigail and Dorothy had insisted on equipping themselves with the largest size of pail, though it was noticeable that when they were once in the pasture, most of the berries they gathered went into their mouths. And in this they were undoubtedly wise, for a raspberry fresh from the bushes, warmed by the sun, and fragrant as a rose, with perhaps a blood-red drop of fairy wine in its delicate cup, is vastly superior to its subdued, civilized self, served in a glass dish and smothered in sugar.
It was not long before Aunt Abigail and Dorothy were taking their ease under a tree and placidly eating a few berries which had found a temporary respite at the bottom of their pails. Ruth picked with painstaking conscientiousness, and Peggy with the enjoyment which converts industry into an art. As for Amy, she wandered about the pasture always sure that the next spot was a more promising field of operations than the nearer. She was some distance from the others when her search was rewarded by the discovery of a clump of bushes unusually full.
"There!" exclaimed Amy triumphantly, as if answering the argument of her almost empty pail. "I knew I'd find them thicker. Peggy—oh, Peg—"
Her summons broke off in a startled squeal. There was a rustle on the other side of the bushes, and Amy took a flying leap which landed her on her knees with her overturned pail beside her. She screamed again, and a girl in a gingham dress and sunbonnet of the same material, ran out from behind the leafy screen.
"Oh, I'm sorry if I frightened you," she exclaimed. "I hope you're not hurt."
Amy scrambled to her feet with a sigh of immense relief.
"No, indeed, and I shouldn't have been scared only I thought it was a cow."
The grave young face set in the depths of the sunbonnet broke into a smile that quite transformed it.
"Even if it had been," the girl suggested, "it wouldn't have been so very dangerous, you know."
"Maybe not." Amy's tone was dubious. And then as Peggy and Ruth came hurrying to the spot, she turned to give them an explanation of the scream which had summoned them in such haste. All four laughed together, and the girl in the sunbonnet had an odd sense of being well acquainted with the friendly invaders.
"I suppose introductions are in order," Amy rattled on, "but, you see, I don't know your name."
"I'm Lucy Haines."
"Well, this is Peggy Raymond, our mistress of ceremonies, and this is Ruth Wylie, who thinks everything that Peggy does is exactly right, and I'm the scatterbrain of the lot."
Lucy Haines looked a little bewildered as she met the girls' smiles, when Peggy came to the rescue. "A crowd of us are in Mrs. Leighton's cottage for the summer, and this is our first berrying. Don't you think I've had good luck?" She tilted her pail to show its contents, and Lucy Haines admired as in duty bound.
"Let's see how you've done," suggested Amy, and Lucy brought from the other side of the raspberry bushes a large-sized milk-pail so heaping full that the topmost berries looked as if they were contemplating escape. The girls exclaimed in chorus.
"You don't mean that you've picked those all yourself," cried Amy, remembering the scanty harvest she had spilled in her tumble.
"Your family must be very fond of raspberries," observed Ruth.
"Raspberry jam, I suppose," said the practical Peggy, but the sunbonnet negatived the suggestion by a slow shake.
"No. It's not that. I pick berries for pay. I send them into the city on the express train every night as long as the season lasts. I want to go to school," she ended rather abruptly, "and I'm ready to do anything I can to make a little money."
"And did you really pick them all to-day?" persisted Amy, eyeing the milk-pail respectfully. "It would take me a year, at the least calculation."
Lucy Haines smiled gravely at the extravagance. "I've been doing it all my life," she said. "That makes a difference."
"Then you've lived here always?"
"Yes, and my mother before me, and her mother, too. When I was a little girl I used to love to hear grandmother tell how one time she was picking blackberries in this very pasture, and she heard a sound and peered around the bush. And there sat a brown bear, eating berries as fast as he could."
"I'm glad Dorothy isn't around to hear that story," Peggy cried laughing; "she'd be sure it was bears whenever anything rustled." But Amy's face was serious.
"That's worse than cows!" she exclaimed. "The next time I hear a noise on the other side of a bush, I shan't even dare to scream."
Lucy Haines shifted her pail from her left hand to her right. "Well, I guess I'll call my stint done for to-day. Good-by!"
"Good-by," the others echoed, and Peggy added, with her friendly smile, "I suppose we'll see you again some day. I hope so, I'm sure."
She repeated the wish a little later, as the sunbonnet went out of sight over the brow of the hill. "Because she seems such a nice sort of girl. I'm going to like this place, I know. There are such interesting people in it."
"Oh, Peggy," Amy cried with a teasing laugh, "you know you'd like any place, and you find all kinds of people interesting." And then because the sight of Lucy Haines' full pail had made them somewhat dissatisfied with the results of their own efforts, they all fell to picking with a tremendous display of industry.
Priscilla and Claire were on the porch when the others came home laden with their spoils. Claire wore a noticeable air of complacency, but Priscilla looked a little tired and despondent. All through their stroll Claire had harped on the joy of being by themselves at last, and had insisted on walking with her arm about Priscilla's waist, which on a narrow path was inconvenient, to say the least. Priscilla was rather ashamed to acknowledge even to herself that she found Claire's devotion wearisome. Of course, Claire was a very sweet girl, but it was so easy to have a surfeit of sweets.
"I hope you left a few on the bushes," she said rather resentfully, when the berry-pickers had recounted their experiences with an enthusiasm which gave to the expedition through the pasture the glamor of real adventure, "I'd like the fun of picking some real berries myself."
"We might go to-morrow," Claire suggested in a careful undertone. Priscilla's face flushed, and Peggy seeing her look of annoyance, created a diversion by springing to her feet.
"Time to get supper. I'm as hungry as a wolf, now that I stop to think about it. How does cornbread and fried fish strike the crowd?"
"O Peggy," Priscilla forgot her vexation in the importance of the announcement to be made, "the frying-pan has been borrowed!"
"Borrowed!" Peggy stood motionless in her astonishment. "But who—but why—"
"It's a woman who lives down the road a way. I suppose she's what you call a neighbor up here. What did she say her name was, Claire?"
"Snooks. Mrs. Snooks."
"Oh, yes. And she was very much interested in everything about us, and asked all kinds of questions. But she came especially to borrow the frying-pan. Can you get along without it, Peggy?"
"Why, if you can't have what you want, you can always make something else do," returned Peggy, unconsciously formulating one of the axioms in her philosophy of life. "But a frying-pan seems such a strange thing to borrow, Priscilla. She must have one of her own, and it's not a thing one's likely to mislay. However," she added hastily, as if fearful of seeming to blame the over-generous lender, "we'll get along. Well just forget that we ever had a frying-pan, and that it was borrowed."
But, as Peggy was soon to learn, it was not going to be an easy matter to forget Mrs. Snooks.
A STUDY IN NATURAL HISTORY
From the very start the big brick fireplace in the living-room had held an irresistible fascination for the Terrace girls, accustomed as they were to the unromantic register. And when five days of their outing had passed and no fire had been kindled on the blackened hearth, Priscilla thought they were missing golden opportunities, and said so.
"The last of June isn't the best time in the year for open fires," suggested Peggy. "But I do think that to-night seems a little cooler. Perhaps we might have a fire and not swelter."
"We could roast apples, couldn't we?" Amy cried. "And chestnuts. Only there aren't any chestnuts."
"And just a few very wormy apples," added Ruth. "But we can tell stories, and sit around in a circle, and not have any light in the room, except the light of the fire."
The prospect was so alluring that supper was dispatched in haste, and one or two of the girls went so far as to suggest letting the dishes wait over till the next day. But as Peggy expressed horror at this unhousewifely proceeding, and Amy called attention to the fact that left-over dishes are doubly hard to wash, the motion failed to carry. Five pairs of busy hands made short work of the necessary task, and when the dishes were out of the way, and Peggy was conducting Dorothy up-stairs to bed, the others made a rush to the woodshed and filled their gingham aprons with pine knots and shavings.
Dorothy suspecting delights from which she was to be excluded, was inclined to make slow work of undressing, and relieved the tedium of the process by frantic demonstrations of affection. "Wish you'd go to bed with me, Aunt Peggy. 'Cause I love you so awfully."
"Oh, this isn't bedtime for big girls. They won't be sleepy for a long while yet."
"I won't be sleepy for a long while, either. Won't you sit beside my bed, Aunt Peggy, 'cause I'm 'fraid. If a bear should come—"
"Oh, Dorothy, don't think so much about bears. Think about the little angels that watch good children when they are asleep."
Dorothy fell into a fit of musing. "I wish those little angels would play with me when I was awake, 'stead of watching me when I was asleep. Say, Aunt Peggy, which would you rather have, wings or roller-skates?"
Peggy steered the conversation away from this delicate question to Dorothy's prayers, which Dorothy galloped through with cheerful irreverence. On the "Amen" her eyes flashed open.
"Now, Aunt Peggy, you've got to tack down my eyelids, same as my mamma does."
"Why, of course." Peggy patiently kissed the long-lashed lids shut, stimulated by Dorothy's cheerfully impersonal comments on her performance, and even drove a few extra "tacks," in quite unnecessary spots, as, for example, the corners of Dorothy's roguish mouth, and the dimple showing in the curve of her pink cheek. And by that time even Dorothy could think of no further excuses for detaining her.
Down-stairs the preliminary steps to the realization of the romance of a real wood fire on a real hearth had proved prosaic enough. In the beginning the fire had frankly sulked, and instead of blazing up brightly, had emitted clouds of smoke out of all proportion to its size. Every one was coughing as Peggy came into the room, and handkerchiefs were busy wiping tears from brimming eyes, so that outwardly the scene was anything but joyous. But the draught from the open windows finally stimulated the lazy chimney to greater exertions, and just as Peggy crossed the threshold, a brave little flame leaped up from the smoking, smouldering mass, and a cheery crackle made music plainly audible above the chorus of coughing.
"Lovely!" cried Peggy, and warmed her hands at the blaze as if it had been midwinter. "As long as I didn't have any of the trouble of making the fire, I'll brush up the shavings and things."
"I'm not sure but you've got the worst end of it," remarked Priscilla, casting a dismayed glance about her. "How in the world did shavings get scattered over this room from one end to the other?"
As no one had anything to offer in explanation, Peggy went to find the dustpan and was absent for some minutes. By this time the fire was blazing merrily, and throwing off an amount of heat quite unnecessary for a mild June evening. Even while the girls were exchanging congratulations on their success, it was to be noticed that they did not form a compact circle about the fireplace, but sat in the most remote corners of the room, and fanned themselves with newspapers.
"It's the strangest thing," announced Peggy returning, "I can't find the dustpan high or low."
Amy jumped. "Didn't she bring it back?"
"Who? Not Mrs Snooks?"
"Yes, she came when you'd gone to pay Mrs. Cole, and she said she'd send her little girl back with it in half an hour or so."
"It's certainly strange," said Peggy, giving evidences of exasperation, "that when we've only one of a thing, that's exactly what Mrs. Snooks wants to borrow. Of course it's nice for neighbors to help one another out, especially in a place like this where you are so far from a store. If it was baking-powder, I wouldn't say a word. But a dustpan."
"It was baking-powder yesterday," suggested Amy. "Sweep the shavings into a corner, Peg, and let's start on the stories. Now, Aunt Abigail, here's your chance to shine."
"Oh, yes, Aunt Abigail," echoed Peggy, for it had early been decided that Amy should not be allowed a monopoly in the use of that affectionate title. "We've heard you were the best ever, since the woman in the Arabian Nights—what was her name—Scheherezade,—and we want to know if Amy was exaggerating."
Aunt Abigail smiled complacently.
"What sort of story do you want?" she asked. "Something pathetic, or a story of adventure, or a humorous story or a ghost story or—"
An approving shout interrupted her. "Oh, a ghost story, Aunt Abigail!"
Priscilla clapped her hands. "Isn't this simply perfect! The firelight on the wall, and shadows flickering, and then a ghost story to crown everything. Do make it a creepy one, Aunt Abigail."
Aunt Abigail hardly needed urging along that line. She had been an omnivorous reader all her days, and from books, as well as from what she had picked up on her travels, she had acquired an unsurpassed collection of weird incidents which she now began to recount with dramatic effect. The girls sat spellbound, and when, at the conclusion of the first story, a faint little wail sounded from the distance, the general start was indicative of tense nerves.
But it was only Dorothy, awake and standing at the head of the stairs. "Aunt Peggy!"
"Go back to bed, darling."
"But, Aunt Peggy, what d'you s'pose those little angels have done now? They've bited me right on my fourhead."
"Oh, my!" Peggy ran up the stairs, to a justly aggrieved Dorothy, indicating an inflamed lump on her forehead, as a proof of misplaced confidence. Peggy lit the candle and after some search discovered a swollen mosquito, perched on the head of Dorothy's bed, ready to resume operations at the first opportunity. Gluttony had lessened his natural agility, and at Peggy's avenging hand he paid the penalty of his crime. Peggy lingered to correct Dorothy's misapprehension, and then went down-stairs, to find another blood-curdling tale in progress, and the girls sitting breathless, while the firelight threw fantastic shapes upon the wall, and the shadows looked startlingly black by contrast.
Ten o'clock was the sensible bedtime decided on in Dolittle Cottage, but on this occasion the big clock chimed ten unheeded. Apparently Aunt Abigail's repertoire was far from being exhausted. She had rung the changes on all the familiar horrors in a dozen stories, and yet no one seemed willing to have her stop. It was quarter of eleven when Peggy remarked reluctantly: "Girls, if we're going to get up any time to-morrow, we'd better-be going to bed."
The suggestion was not received with enthusiasm. Priscilla declared that she wasn't a bit sleepy, and the others all echoed the statement. Then Aunt Abigail was appealed to, for just one more, and complied without any pretence of reluctance. Aunt Abigail was enjoying herself hugely, and it was characteristic of her amiable irresponsibility that it never occurred to her that there might be undesirable consequences, from thus stimulating the vivid imaginations of a party of sensitive girls.
It was very near midnight when at last they filed up-stairs to bed. The fire was out, after having played its part so efficiently as to render it necessary to open to its widest extent every door and window in the cottage. It was a rather silent crowd that climbed the stairs. The girls went to their respective rooms without any of the laughter and gay chatter which usually characterized the hour of retiring. Peggy said to herself that they were all too tired to talk.
But Amy knew better. While Peggy shared Dorothy's quarters, and Priscilla and Claire occupied the room next to Aunt Abigail's, Amy and Ruth were tucked into a snug little box of a bedroom on the opposite side of the hall. As Amy hastily lighted the candle on the little table at the side of the bed, she turned a perturbed face on her roommate.
"Oh, why did I let her do it?" she exclaimed tragically. "Why did I ever listen? I know I'm not going to sleep a wink to-night."
"Why, Amy, what nonsense!" Ruth remonstrated, but she was aware that her heartbeats had quickened. It was one thing to listen to Aunt Abigail's harrowing recitals, in a room made cheerful by firelight and companionship, and another to recall the same horrors in comparative solitude. "You're not foolish enough to believe in things of that sort," Ruth remarked, with a brave effort to maintain her air of superiority.
"No, I'm not foolish enough to believe in them," Amy acknowledged, "but I'm foolish enough so they scare me dreadfully. Oh, dear! Won't I be glad when it is to-morrow!"
She repeated the wish a little later, when both girls were in bed, and Ruth answered her a trifle tartly that it was very nearly to-morrow, and that she wanted to go to sleep some time before morning, if Amy didn't. Then for a matter of thirty minutes silence reigned. The hour was late and the girls were tired. In spite of her gloomy prophecy, Amy was surprised and pleased to find a delicious drowsiness creeping over her.
All at once she sat up in bed. "Ruth," she exclaimed in a frightened whisper, "what was that?"
"What was what?"
"That rustling noise."
"O, Amy!" Ruth's whispered exclamation conveyed an extraordinary amount of exasperation for three syllables. And then as Amy remained up-right, staring intently into the darkness, Ruth was conscious of a curious pricking of the scalp. For she herself distinctly heard the sound to which Amy referred, and, truth to tell, it was not unlike the rustling of the unseen garments which had figured so frequently in the stories to which they had lately been listening.
"I can hear it as plain as anything, Amy. Do you suppose it is the maple-tree back of the window?"
"Of course it's the maple-tree," Ruth replied in a husky whisper. How she envied Amy. Amy frankly acknowledged to being a coward, and poor Ruth wished that she herself did not have a reputation for courage to sustain. For certainly that sound was not the whisper of the wind in the boughs of the maple. It was in the room, apparently at the foot of the bed.
A long silence followed Ruth's bravely mendacious assurance. Amy lay down at length and drew the coverlet over her head. The thumping of Ruth's heart gradually steadied into an ordinary beat. Just as she was telling herself that Amy's foolish fancies had made her nervous, and she had imagined the peculiar sound, her heart jumped again. Amy's shivering body suddenly huddled against hers, gave convincing testimony to the fact that Ruth's ears were not the only ones to catch something unusual.
"What do you suppose it is?" choked Amy.
This time Ruth made no attempt to hold the maple-tree responsible. "I don't know," she whispered. The sound that vibrated through the room was such as might be produced if a finger-nail were drawn across the window screen. The thought entered Ruth's mind, that perhaps some one was trying to enter the room by the window, and supernatural horrors paled beside this possibility.
But this demonstration also was succeeded by a puzzling silence. Gradually the tense muscles of the two frightened girls relaxed, and they ventured to exchange perplexed comments on the mysterious interruptions to the peace of the night. "It certainly was the screen," declared Amy. "Do you suppose that the wind blowing through it could make a noise like that?"
Ruth did not think it likely, but forbore to say so, and after half an hour of quiet, weariness again asserted itself and she began to feel agreeably drowsy. Then Amy caught her arm and with the startled pinch, Ruth's hopes of sleep were indefinitely postponed.
"There it is again," said Amy, her teeth fairly chattering. "There's that rustling."
"Sh!" Ruth whispered back and her hand found Amy's in the dark. This time the rustling continued. It was a curiously elusive sound, as difficult to locate as to understand. At one minute it seemed at the foot of the bed, and again off in the corner of the room, and once Ruth was almost sure that it was over her head. And that was the time when it seemed to her that her heart must stop beating.
"Ruth!" Amy snatched away her hand in her consternation. "Ruth—I'm going to sneeze!"
"You mustn't!" protested Ruth panic-stricken. What appalling consequences were to be apprehended from so rash an act, she herself could not have told. But she was certain that if Amy sneezed, her own self-control would give way, and she would scream. "Smother it," she commanded fiercely.
Amy grasped the sheet in a heroic effort to obey, but she was too late. She sneezed, and to poor Ruth's unstrung nerves, the sound was only to be compared in volume to a peal of thunder. The mysterious rustling ceased, and just outside the door a board creaked.
"Girls!" The tentative whisper stole softly through the half-open door. "Girls, are you awake?"
"Oh, Peggy!" There was untold relief in that brief welcome. Peggy's presence brought a sense of reinforcement, even against supernatural terrors. Noiselessly Peggy crept into the room, and perched on the edge of the bed. Considering the lateness of the hour, her air was peculiarly alert.
"I knew by Amy's sneeze that she was awake, too, and I thought I'd come in. I never had such a wakeful night in my life."
"Have you been hearing things, too?" demanded Amy, with an immediate accession of respect for her own fears if Peggy shared them.
Peggy hesitated. "Well, it hasn't seemed as quiet as most of the nights," she replied, evasively.
"Rustling in all the corners, and the screen twanging, that's what we've had," exclaimed Ruth in an excited whisper.
Peggy's silence indicated that such phenomena did not surprise her. "I suppose," she remarked at length, in her most judicial manner, "that we all got nervous over those uncanny stories, and so we're ready to imagine—Oh!"
Something had swooped by her, almost brushing her cheek, and stirring her hair with the breeze made by its passing. Peggy's muffled shriek had two echoes.
"What is it?" demanded Amy, a hysterical catch in her voice. "Oh, Peggy, what has happened?" And Peggy's only reply was a stern demand for the matches.
The little candle, flaring up at last, showed nothing unusual, unless three girls wide awake at half-past two in the morning could be included under that head. Peggy stared incredulously about the empty room, and then faced her friends.
"Girls, I don't know what ails us all," said Peggy honestly, "but I'm pretty sure none of us will go to sleep till daylight. So, if you've no objection, I'm going to sit here and talk till the sun's up."
Nobody had any objection. In fact, with the little candle flickering on the table, and Peggy sitting at the foot of the bed, discussing commonplace things, Amy and Ruth felt an immediate accession of courage. Luckily their time of waiting was not long. Daybreak comes early on a summer morning, and by the time the candle was burned to the socket, the pale daylight had stolen into the room and all three watchers were certain that they could go to sleep.
It seemed to Peggy that she had barely dozed off, before Dorothy awoke her. Dorothy was standing by the window with one stocking on. When Dorothy's toilet had progressed to the point of putting on one stocking, she generally thought of something else more interesting.
"Oh, Dorothy dear," implored poor Peggy, turning on her pillow, "it can't be time to get up yet."
Dorothy crossed the room, and stood beside the bed. "Aunt Peggy," she inquired gravely, "did you ever see a mousie with an umbrella?"
"A mouse—with an umbrella!" repeated Peggy stupidly, wondering if she were too sleepy to understand, or if Dorothy were only talking nonsense. "Of course not."
"Well, I did. There's one hanging to our screen."
Peggy arose with alacrity. Suspended head downward from the screen, was indeed a mouse-like shape, with the folded wings of a gnome, which Dorothy had not unnaturally mistaken for an umbrella. Apparently the little creature had passed an active night, and was now enjoying his well-earned repose. Peggy took one look and crossed the hall with a bound. Amy and Ruth were sound asleep, but Peggy was too excited to be merciful.
"Girls! Girls! Come quick and see our ghost before it wakes up!"
The startling summons brought the sleepers to their feet in a twinkling and when Peggy introduced the explanation of the night's mystery, there was a good deal of shame-faced laughter. Tacitly the girls agreed that the joke would be more enjoyable if its circulation were strictly limited, and even when at the breakfast-table Aunt Abigail remarked that she never saw such air for producing sound sleep, three heavy-eyed girls exchanged glances, and kept their own counsel.
But a little later Dorothy was anxious for enlightenment on a point in natural history. "Aunt Peggy, what makes you call a mousie a goose?"
"Why, I didn't, dear. A mouse and a goose aren't the least bit alike."
"But I heard you say it, Aunt Peggy. When I showed you the mousie, you ran and said, 'Here's our goose.'"
As good luck would have it, Ruth and Amy were the only ones to overhear the remark, and Peggy was not called upon to satisfy more than Dorothy's curiosity.
"That funny little thing that looks like a mouse, Dorothy, except for its horrid black wings, is called a bat. And the goose was only Aunt Peggy."
"And Ruth, another," remarked the owner of that name.
"And I was Number Three. Three gooses instead of three graces," was Amy's addition, after which the three laughed in the fashion which Dorothy found so mystifying, and consequently objectionable.
That was not the last of the story-telling evenings by any means. Aunt Abigail had abundant opportunity to display her repertoire. She told pathetic stories, which brought the tears to the girls' eyes, and funny stories, which made them laugh until they cried, and the most thrilling tales of adventure. But she was never called upon to duplicate her early success. In the opinion of her entire audience, apparently, one night of ghost stories was enough for the entire summer.
A SAFE AND SANE FOURTH
"The three-legged race is what I'm dying to see," Amy declared. "It sounds so mysterious, you know, like some new kind of quadruped. No, I don't mean that," she added hastily, as Peggy laughed. "Quadrupeds have to have four legs, don't they? Well, anyway, it sounds like something queer."
The village celebration of the approaching Fourth of July had for some days been the chief topic of conversation in Dolittle Cottage. The idea of a picnic, with the whole community invited, was in itself a startling innovation to girls who were city-bred, and the entertainment promised in the shape of various contests, winding up with a baseball game between the "Fats" and the "Leans" appealed to them all, more or less strongly. Peggy, with that faculty for picking up information which would have made her an unqualified success as a newspaper reporter, was continually announcing new items of interest, that Farmer Cole's Joe was to pitch for the "Leans," or that Jerry Morton had won the potato race the previous Fourth, and meant to enter again, or that Rosetta Muriel disdained the promiscuous appeal of the picnic, but thought she might bring herself to view the fireworks in the evening.
The morning of the third was for the most part given up to preparing the picnic luncheon, and Jerry Morton, who sampled Peggy's doughnuts still hot from the kettle, carried away a new-born respect for the accomplishments of that versatile young person. Mrs. Snooks, too, arriving when the house was fragrant with the mingled odors of blueberry turnovers, spiced cake and gingersnaps, sniffed appreciatively, and lost no time in expressing her surprise.
"Well, I want to know. I've heard tell that city folks most generally bought their cake and stuff, instead of baking it. Dreadful shiftless way, I call it. I just dropped in to see if you could let me have half a pail of lard and a table-spoonful of soda."
Even the generous Peggy rejoiced that the opportunity to say no had arrived at last.
"I've just used up the last of the lard, Mrs. Snooks, and we haven't thought to get any soda yet."
"You don't mean to tell me that you've been getting along without baking-soda," exclaimed Mrs. Snooks with unconcealed disappointment. "Well, well! Young folks are certainly thoughtless. And here you've used up all your lard, and to-morrow the Fourth, and the store shut." From all appearances Mrs. Snooks was having something of a struggle to control her irritation at such evidences of short-sightedness. It was clear, however, that her efforts had been crowned with success, when she announced with an explosive sigh, "Well, if you haven't lard or baking-soda, I'll take a cup of granulated sugar, and a ball of darning cotton. Yes, black, I guess, though if you're out of black, 'most any color will do."
It was certainly disappointing when after such preparations and anticipations, the girls were waked on the morning of the Fourth by the beating of rain on the roof. The most optimistic of weather prophets could have seen no promise of clearing in the lowering sky. The girls had roused a little early, in honor of the occasion, and they came down-stairs with gloomy faces, and over the oatmeal and bacon exchanged condolences. "To think that the first really rainy day had to be the Fourth," scolded Priscilla. "And when we had made up our minds to be so patriotic, too."
"And that three-legged race," mourned Amy. "Probably I'll never get a chance to see another. Peggy, I warn you that when you look so—preposterously cheerful, it makes me feel like throwing something."
Peggy laughed, and helped herself to toast. "I was only thinking that if we were going to keep the Fourth of July indoors, we'd have to have a flag of some sort."
"You don't mean you'd go three miles in this rain after a flag, Peggy. And, anyway, the store would be closed for the Fourth."
"Oh, I didn't mean to buy one. I thought we'd make it."
"Make a flag!" exclaimed Claire Fendall. "Who ever heard of such a thing?"
"Betsy Ross did it," Peggy reminded her. "Let's us hurry through the dishes and see if we can't do as much."
Even though the prospect of emulating Betsy Ross was an unsatisfactory substitute for the anticipated excitements of the day, Peggy's suggestion was noticeably successful in raising the drooping spirits of the crowd. The work of the morning was dispatched in haste, and the girls flocked to the living-room where a fire less ambitious than their first attempt had been kindled on the hearth. Peggy had produced a large-sized white towel from her trunk, and she at once began to explain her plan.
"This will do for a foundation, girls. It's soft and it will drape nicely. Now all we need is a blue patch in one corner, and red stripes. Who's got any red ribbon?"
"I've got that red ribbon I use for a sash," responded Amy. "But I'd hate to have it cut."
"Oh, we won't need to cut it. You see, this flag is going to be draped over the fireplace, so its shortcomings won't be in evidence, and we'll turn the ribbon on the side that doesn't show. Bring me all the red ribbons in the house. Amy's sash won't be enough."
So with much animated discussion, the flag grew apace. Nobody was exactly sure whether the outer stripe should be red or white, and for economical reasons, Peggy decided on the latter. "We'll begin with white, girls, for that will make seven white stripes and only six red ones. And we've got plenty of white towel, while red ribbon is a little scarce."
Another perplexing question arose when Peggy had sacrificed the dark blue sailor collar of an old blouse, to form the blue field in the upper corner of the flag. "Now we can cut white stars out of paper and sew them on," exclaimed Peggy, standing back to admire her handiwork. "How many are there, anyway?"
Nobody was able to answer. Peggy gazed around the circle with a mingling of indignation and incredulity.
"What! All of us high school girls and not know how many states there are in the Union! This is really awful. Aunt Abigail, you must know."
"Dear me, child," replied Aunt Abigail serenely, "I have an impression that there were in the neighborhood of thirty-six at the time of the Centennial Exposition. And since then I've lost track."
"I wonder if we could count them up," mused Peggy, wrinkling her forehead. "Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont—"
"What's the use?" protested Amy. "Who counts the stars on the flag, anyway? We'll crowd in forty or fifty, enough to pretty well cover the blue, and it will look all right."
Ruth had a suggestion to offer. "As long as this is a sort of Betsy Ross flag, why not have thirteen stars, just as she had?"
As this proposal afforded a satisfactory solution to the difficulty, the thirteen stars were promptly cut from white paper and sewed in place, and the finished flag was draped above the fireplace. Peggy's anticipations in regard to its shortcomings had been realized. The red stripes were not of uniform width, or of the same shade, and the blue field was a trifle small in proportion to the size of the flag, owing to the limitations of the original sailor collar. Yet when it was in place, with the stripes composed of Dorothy's hair-ribbons drawn up artistically, so that the wrinkles didn't show, the effect was most impressive. And along with their pride in their success, the girls experienced that indescribable thrill which is the heart's response to the challenge of our national emblem.
"Now, girls," Peggy was looking at the clock, "we've got time for just one thing more before we start to get dinner. Each one of us must write a patriotic conundrum, and then we'll put them around at each other's plates, and we'll have to guess them before we can eat a mouthful."
The girls groaned in a dismay half real, half assumed. "I don't see how a conundrum can be patriotic," objected Claire.
"Oh, if it's about your native land, or George Washington, or the flag, it'll do," conceded Peggy, and the words were hardly out of her mouth when Amy made a dart for the writing desk. "Oh, let me have a pencil, quick," she begged, "before I forget it."
"You don't mean that you've thought of one already!" Ruth cried, but the radiant satisfaction on Amy's countenance was answer enough. With an expression of mingled wonder and envy, Ruth found a pencil and scrap of paper, and set to work to produce her own conundrum in the allotted half hour. With the exception of Amy, none of the girls could boast of any inspiration for the task. Every face wore an expression of stern and relentless absorption, in striking contrast to Amy's air of carefree content.
The ample provision made for a picnic dinner the previous day rendered the preparation of the midday meal unusually easy, and the girls gathered at the dinner-table less eager to sample the pressed meat and potato chips than to examine the folded slips of paper placed under each plate. Peggy was the first to unfold hers.
"Why is Peggy like Betsy Ross?" she read aloud. "Oh, Amy Lassell! No wonder it only took a half minute." Her tone was reproachful, but Amy beamed upon the company with no decrease of complacency.
"That's what I call a good conundrum," she declared; "it's patriotic, and it's easy to guess. The trouble with most conundrums is that nobody can guess them except the people who make them."
"That's the case with this one, I think," said Aunt Abigail, scrutinizing her conundrum through her lorgnette. "What do you make of this? At the top of the paper are the letters W. P. H. and underneath is the question 'Why are these letters like the Father of his country?'"
It was some time before any ray of light was thrown on this dark mystery. "Whoever made it up will have to explain it," Amy declared for the tenth time. "It's Peggy, of course, for she hasn't helped in the guessing. Now, my conundrum—"
"Wait," cried Priscilla, sitting up suddenly, "I know. First in war—"
"To be sure W is first in war, and P first in peace. A little far-fetched, but not bad for a beginner," said Aunt Abigail patronizingly, while Ruth patted Priscilla's tall head, not without difficulty, and Amy read aloud. "'What is the most important of the United States?' New York, I suppose, though of course I like my own state lots better."
"No, it's matrimony." In her haste to explain, Ruth forgot to wait for the guesses that might come nearer the mark. "But I can't see that it's particularly patriotic, though it is about our native land, and I'm dreadfully afraid it's not so very original."
"Original enough. Even in Solomon's time there was nothing new under the sun," Peggy consoled her. "Now, Priscilla." But Priscilla had colored fiercely on unfolding her paper and crumpled it in her hand. Even if she had not instantly recognized the handwriting she would have had no difficulty in ascribing the sentiment to its rightful source.
"Who is it that I love better than my native land? Can my dearest Priscilla guess?"
"Read yours, Claire," Peggy said hastily, interrupting Amy who was about to protest against the suppression of a single conundrum, and Claire read obediently, "Why was Martha Washington like the captain of a ship?" It was Peggy who distinguished herself by suggesting, "Because Washington was her second mate," and Priscilla, whose flushed cheeks were rapidly regaining their natural hue, pronounced the answer correct. "Rather suspicious," Amy declared. "Priscilla guesses Peggy's, and Peggy, Priscilla's. Looks as if it was all fixed up beforehand. Well, Ruth, yours is the last."
The last conundrum proved to be the most puzzling. "What battle of the Revolution is like a weather-cock?" Various explanations of the mysterious affinity were offered, and each in turn rejected. Aunt Abigail, the author, was finally appealed to.
"Why, dear me!" Aunt Abigail smiled upon the circle of interested faces. "I haven't the slightest idea, but I was sure that if any battle of the Revolution was the least bit like a weather-cock, one of you smart young folks would find it out."
After this auspicious beginning, the cheeriness of the midday meal was in pleasing contrast to the gloom of breakfast. Even Amy forgot to mourn over missing the three-legged race, and Ruth, who, under Graham's tutelage, had become an ardent devotee of baseball, was reconciled to her failure to witness the unique contest between the Fats and the Leans. The morning had passed so rapidly, and so pleasantly on the whole, that every one was inclined to be hopeful regarding the remainder of the day, and to wait with tranquillity the further unfoldment of Peggy's plans.
When dinner was over, the dining-room in order, and the last shining dish replaced on the cupboard shelves, expectant eyes turned in Peggy's direction, as if to ask "What next?" And Peggy, as was her custom, promptly rose to the occasion.
"Now for this afternoon—"
A reverberating rap immediately behind her, caused Peggy to turn with a start and throw open the door, whereupon the figure on the step entered without waiting for an invitation. It was Jerry Morton, but a Jerry startlingly unlike his every-day self. Even the fact that he was dripping with rain could not obscure the magnificence of his toilet, including very pointed tan shoes, and a hand-painted necktie. Under his coat was partially concealed some bulging object which gave him an appearance singularly unsymmetrical.
Peggy was the first to recover herself. "Why, good afternoon, Jerry. But I guess we shan't want any fish to-day."
"You don't suppose I'd sell fish on the Fourth, do you?" demanded Jerry with the impressive scorn of a patriot misjudged. "I thought maybe you'd like—like a little music, seeing it's raining cats and dogs." He had thrown apart his soaked coat as he spoke, and the bulging object proved to be a banjo, in a little flannel case, which Jerry hastily removed, twanging the strings of the instrument in his anxiety to ascertain the effect of the dampness on their constitution.
"Music! Why, that's very nice of you, Jerry. Come into the next room and let me introduce you to Mrs. Tyler." Peggy was a little in doubt as to the light in which Aunt Abigail would regard this unceremonious call from the youthful fish-vender. But the shrewd old lady was familiar with the customs of too many lands, not to be able to accommodate herself to the democratic simplicity of a country community. She gave Jerry her hand, insisted that he should take a seat by the fire, where his damp clothing would gradually dry, and forthwith called for "Dixie." And hardly was the stirring melody well under way before the girls were keeping time with toes and fingers, and a general animation was replacing the temporary frigidity induced by Jerry's advent. Jerry really played surprisingly well, and on a stormy day such an accomplishment stands its possessor in good stead.