PEGGY STEWART NAVY GIRL AT HOME
GABRIELLE E. JACKSON AUTHOR OF "SILVER HEELS," "THREE GRACES" SERIES, "CAPT. POLLY" SERIES, ETC.
WITH FRONTISPIECE BY NORMAN ROCKWELL
THIS LITTLE STORY OF ANNAPOLIS IS MOST AFFECTIONATELY INSCRIBED TO
WHOSE SUNNY SOUL AND CHEERY VOICE HELPED TO MAKE MANY AN HOUR HAPPY FOR THE ONE HE CALLED "LITTLE MOTHER"
I. SPRINGTIDE II. THE EMPRESS III. "DADDY NEIL" IV. IN OCTOBER'S DAYS V. POLLY HOWLAND VI. A FRIENDSHIP BEGINS VII. PEGGY STEWART: CHATELAINE VIII. A SHOCKING DEMONSTRATION OF INTEMPERANCE IX. DUNMORE'S LAST CHRISTMAS X. A DOMESTIC EPISODE XI. PLAYING GOOD SAMARITAN XII. THE SPICE OF PEPPER AND SALT XIII. THE MASQUERADERS' SHOW XIV. OFF FOR NEW LONDON XV. REGATTA DAY XVI. THE RACE XVII. SHADOWS CAST BEFORE XVIII. YOU'VE SPOILED THEIR TEA PARTY XIX. BACK AT SEVERNDALE
"Peggy, Maggie, Mag, Margaret, Marguerite, Muggins. Hum! Half a dozen of them. Wonder if there are any more? Yes, there's Peggoty and Peg, to say nothing of Margaretta, Gretchen, Meta, Margarita, Keta, Madge. My goodness! Is there any end to my nicknames? I mistrust I'm a very commonplace mortal. I wonder if other girls' names can be twisted around into as many picture puzzles as mine can? What do YOU think about it Shashai!" [Footnote: Shashai. Hebrew for noble, pronounced Shash'a-ai.] and the girl reached up both arms to draw down into their embrace the silky head of a superb young colt which stood close beside her; a creature which would have made any horse-lover stop stock-still and exclaim at sight of him. He was a magnificent two-year-old Kentuckian, faultless as to his points, with a head to set an artist rhapsodizing and a-tingle to put it upon his canvas. His coat, mane and tail were black as midnight and glossy as satin. The great, lustrous eyes held a living fire, the delicate nostrils were a-quiver every moment, the faultlessly curved ears alert as a wild creature's. And he WAS half wild, for never had saddle rested upon his back, girth encircled him or bit fretted the sensitive mouth. A halter thus far in his career had been his only badge of bondage and the girl caressing him had been the one to put it upon him. It would have been a bad quarter of an hour for any other person attempting it. But she was his "familiar," though far from being his evil genius. On the contrary, she was his presiding spirit of good.
Just now, as the splendid head nestled confidingly in her circling arms, she was whispering softly into one velvety ear, oh, so velvety! as it rested against her ripe, red lips, so soft, so perfect in their molding. The ear moved slightly back and forth, speaking its silent language. The nostrils emitted the faintest bubbling acknowledgment of the whispered words. The beautiful eyes were so expressive in their intelligent comprehension.
"Too many cooks spoil the broth, Shashai. Too many grooms can spoil a colt. Too many mistresses turn a household topsy-turvy. How about too many names, old boy? Can they spoil a girl? But maybe I'm spoiled already. How about it?" and a musical laugh floated out from between the pretty lips.
The colt raised his head, whinnied aloud as though in denial and stamped one deer-like, unshod fore-hoof as though to emphasize his protest; then he again slid his head back into the arms as if their slender roundness encompassed all his little world.
"You old dear!" exclaimed the girl softly, adding: "Eh, but it's a beautiful world! A wonderful world," and broke into the lilting refrain of "Wonderful world" and sang it through in a voice of singularly, haunting sweetness. But the words were not those of the popular song. They had been written and set to its air by Peggy's tutor.
She seemed to forget everything else, though she continued to mechanically run light, sensitive fingers down the velvety muzzle so close to her face, and semi-consciously reach forth the other hand to caress the head of a superb wolfhound which, upon the first sweet notes, had risen from where she lay not far off to listen, thrusting an insinuating nose under her arm. She seemed to float away with her song, off, off across the sloping, greening fields to the broad, blue reaches of Bound Bay, all a-glitter in the morning sunlight.
She was seated in the crotch of a snake-fence running parallel with the road which ended in a curve toward the east and vanished in a thin-drawn perspective toward the west. There was no habitation, or sign of human being near. The soft March wind, with its thousand earthy odors and promises of a Maryland springtide, swept across the bay, stirring her dark hair, brushed up from her forehead in a natural, wavy pompadour, and secured by a barrette and a big bow of dark red ribbon, the long braid falling down her back tied by another bow of the same color. The forehead was broad and exceptionally intellectual. The eyebrows, matching the dark hair, perfectly penciled. The nose straight and clean- cut as a Greek statue's. The chin resolute as a boy's. The teeth white and faultless. And the eyes? Well, Peggy Stewart's eyes sometimes made people smile, sometimes almost weep, and invariably brought a puzzled frown to their foreheads. They were the oddest eyes ever seen. Peggy herself often laughed and said:
"My eyes seem to perplex people worse than the elephant perplexed the 'six blind men of Hindustan' who went to SEE him. No two people ever pronounce them the same color, yet each individual is perfectly honest in his belief that they are black, or dark brown, or dark blue, or deep gray, or SEA green. Maybe Nature designed me for a chameleon but changed her mind when she had completed my eyes."
Peggy Stewart would hardly have been called a beautiful girl gauged by conventional standards. Her features were not regular enough for perfection, the mouth perhaps a trifle too large, but she was "mightily pleasin' fer to study 'bout," old Mammy insisted when the other servants were talking about her baby.
"Oh, yes," conceded Martha Harrison, the only white woman besides Peggy herself upon the plantation. "Oh, yes, she's pleasing enough, but if her mother had lived she'd never in this world a-been allowed to run wild as a boy, a-getting tanned as black as a—a, darky."
Martha was a most devoted soul who had come from the North with her mistress when that lady left her New England home to journey to Maryland as Commander Stewart's bride. He was only a junior lieutenant then, but that was nearly eighteen years before this story opens. She had not seen many colored people while living in the Massachusetts town in which she had been born and her experience with them was limited to the very few who, after the Civil War, had drifted into it. Of the true Southern negro, especially those of the ante-bellum type, she had not the faintest conception. It had all been a revelation to her. The devotion of the house servants to their "white folks," to whom so many had remained faithful even after liberation, was a never-ending source of wonder to the good soul. Nor could she understand why those old family retainers stigmatized the younger generations as "shiftless, no-account, new-issue niggers." That there could be marked social distinctions among these colored people never occurred to her.
That generations of them had been carefully trained by master and mistress during the days of slavery, and that the younger generations had had no training whatever, was quite beyond Martha's grasp. Colored people were COLORED PEOPLE, and that ended it.
But as the years passed, Martha learned many things. She had her own neatly-appointed little dining-room in her own well-ordered little wing of the great, rambling colonial house which Peggy Stewart called home, a house which could have told a wonderful history of one hundred eighty or more years. We will tell it later on. We have left Peggy too long perched upon her snake-fence with Shashai and Tzaritza.
The lilting song continued to its end and the dog and horse stood as though hypnotized by the melody and the fingers' magnetic touch. Then the song ended as abruptly as it had begun and Peggy slid lightly from her perch to the ground, raised both arms, stretching hands and fingers and inclining her head in a pose which would have thrilled a teacher of "Esthetic Posing" in some fashionable, faddish school, though it was all unstudied upon the girl's part. Then she cried in a wonderfully modulated voice:
"Oh, the joy, joy, joy of just being ALIVE on such a day as this! Of being out in this wonderful world and free, free, free to go and come and do as we want to, Shashai, Tzaritza! To feel the wind, to breathe it in, to smell all the new growing things, to see that water out yonder and the blue overhead. What is it, Dr. Llewellyn says: 'To thank the Lord for a life so sweet.' WE all do, don't we? I can put it into words, or sing it, but you two? Yes, you can make God understand just as well. Let's all thank Him together—you as He has taught you, and I as He has taught me. Now:"
It was a strange picture. The girl standing there in the beautiful early spring world, her only companions a thoroughbred, half-wild Kentucky colt and a Russian wolfhound, literally worth their weight in gold, absolutely faultless in their beauty, and each with their wonderfully intelligent eyes fixed upon her. At the word "Now," the colt raised his perfect head, drew in a deep breath and then exhaled it in a long, trumpet-like whinny. The dog voiced her wonderful bell-like bay; the note of joy sounded by her kind when victory is assured.
The girl raised her head, and parting her lips gave voice to a long- drawn note of ecstasy, ending in a little staccato trill and the same upflinging of the arms.
It was all a rhapsody of springtide, the semi-wild things' expression of intoxicating joy at being alive and their absolute mutual harmony. The animals felt it as the girl did, and surely God acknowledged the homage. Such spontaneous, sincere thanks are rare.
"Let's go now."
The horse's slender flanks quivered; his withers twitched with the nervous energy awaiting an outlet; the dog stood alert for the first motion.
Resting one hand upon those sensitive withers the girl gave a quick spring, landing lightly as thistledown astride the colt's back, holding the halter strap in her firm, brown fingers. Her costume was admirably adapted to this equestrian if somewhat unusual feat for a young lady. It consisted of a dark blue divided riding skirt of heavy cloth, and a midshipman's jumper, open at the throat, a black regulation neckerchief knotted sailor-fashion on her well-rounded chest. Anything affording freer action could hardly have been designed for her sex. And a bonny thing she looked as she sat there, the soft wind toying with the loose hairs which had escaped their bonds, and bringing the faintest rose tint into her cheeks. It was still too early in the spring for the clear, dark skin to have grown "black as a darky's." "On to the end of nowhere!" she cried. "We'll beat you to the goal, Tzaritza. Go!"
At the word the colt sprang forward with an action so true, so perfect that he and the girl seemed one. The dog gave a low bark like a laugh at the challenge and with incredibly long, graceful leaps circled around and around the pair, now running a little ahead, then executing a wide circle, and again darting forward with that derisive bark.
Shashai's speed was not to be scorned—his ancestors held an international fame for swiftness, endurance and jumping—but no horse can compete with a wolfhound.
On, on they sped, the happiest, maddest, merriest trio imaginable, down the road to the point where the perspective seemed to end it but where in reality it turned abruptly, leaving the one following its course the choice of taking a sudden dip down to the water's edge or wheeling to the right and leaping "brake, bracken and scaur." The girl did not tighten her single guiding strap, she merely bent forward to speak softly into one ear laid back to catch the words:
Just beyond was a high fence dividing the lane where it crossed two estates. It was surmounted by a stile of four steps. There was no pause in the colt's or dog's speed. Tzaritza cleared it like a—wolfhound. Shashai with his rider skimmed over like a bird, landing upon the soft turf beyond with scarcely a sound.
Oh, the beauty of it all! Then on again through a patch of woodland which looked as though a huge gossamer veil had been laid over it. If ever pastelle colors were displayed to perfection Nature here held her exhibition. Soft pinks, pale blues, silver grays, the tenderest greens with here and there a touch of the maple buds' rich mahogany reds, and above and about the maddest melody of bird songs from a hundred throats.
As the horse swung along in his perfect gait, the great dog making playful leaps and feinted snaps at his beautiful muzzle with a dog's derisive smile and sense of humor, and if any one doubts that dogs have this quality they simply don't know the animal, the girl sang at the top of her voice.
They covered the ground with incredible swiftness and presently the lane grew broader, giving evidence of more traffic where a wood road crossed it at right angles. Just a little beyond this point an old gentleman appeared in sight. He was walking with his hands clasped behind him and his head bent to examine every foot of the roadway. Evidently he was too absorbed to be aware of the trio bearing down upon him. He wore the clerical garb of the Church of England, and his face would have attracted attention in any part of the world, it was so pure, so refined, so like a cameo in its delicacy of outline, and the skin held the wonderful softness and clearness we sometimes see in old age. He must have been over seventy.
Just then he became aware of the colt's light hoofbeats and looked up. He was tall and slight but very erect, and his face lighted up with a smile absolutely illuminating as he recognized his approaching friends.
The girl bent forward to say:
"One bell, Shashai." Whereupon her mount slackened his gait to the gentlest amble, but the dog went bounding on to greet the newcomer. First she dropped down at his feet, burying her nose in her forepaws as though to make obeisance, but at his words:
"Ah, Tzaritza! Good Tzaritza, welcome!" she instantly sprang up, rested her forepaws upon his shoulders, and looked into his face with the most limpid pair of eyes ever seen; eyes filled with something deeper than human love can ever summon to human eyes, for those have human speech to supplement their appeal.
"Tzaritza. Dear, faithful Tzaritza," said the old man in the tenderest tone as he caressed the magnificent, silky head now nestling against his face as a child's might have nestled. "Good dog. Good dog. But here are Peggy and Shashai. My little girl, warm greetings," he cried as Shashai came to an instant statue-like standstill at Peggy's one word, "Halt!" and she slid from his back, braced at "attention" and saluted in all gravity, the clergyman returning the salute with much dignity. Then in an instant the martial attitude and air were discarded and springing forward the girl slipped to his side, caught one hand and by a quick, graceful motion circled his arm about her waist and laid her head upon his shoulder just where Tzaritza's had but a moment before rested, her face alight with affection as she exclaimed:
"To meet you 'way, 'way out here, Compadre!"
"'Far from the madding crowd,' Filiola. Five miles to the good for these old legs of seventy-four summers. They have served me well. I have no fault to find with them. They are stanch friends and have carried me many a mile. But you, my child? You and Tzaritza and Shashai? Come hither, my beauty," and the free hand was extended to the colt which instantly advanced for the proffered caress.
"Ah, thou bonny, bonny creature! Thou jewel among thy fellows. Ah, but you possess a masculine frailty. Ah, yes, I've detected it. Oh, Shashai, Shashai, is thy heart reached only through thy stomach?" for now the colt was nozzling most insinuatingly at one of the ample pockets of the old gentleman's top coat. Never had those pockets failed him since the days when he had ceased to be nourished by his dam's milk, and his faith in their bounty was not misplaced, for a slender white hand was inserted to be withdrawn with the lump of sugar Shashai had counted upon and held forth upon the palm from which the velvety lips took it as daintily as a young lady's fingers could have taken it.
Three was the dole evidently for when three had been eaten Shashai gravely bowed his head three times in acknowledgment of his treat and then turned to nibble at the budding trees, his benefactor returning to Peggy.
"So this is heyday and holiday, dear heart, is it? Saturday's emancipation from your old Dominie Exactus when you may range wood and field unmolested, with never a thought for his domination and tyranny."
"As though you ever dominated or tyrannized over me!" protested the girl. "I'd do anything, ANYTHING for you—you know that, don't you?" There was deep reproach in her voice. Then, it changed suddenly as she asked:
"But where is Doctor Claudius?"
"In his stall, eating his fill. I wished to use my own legs today," smiled her companion. "His are exceptionally good ones, but my own will grow stiff if I do not use them more."
Just then Shashai suddenly raised his head and stood with ears alert and nostrils extended. Tzaritza rose from the ground where she had dropped down after greeting Dr. Llewellyn, and stood with ears raised, though neither man nor girl yet heard the faintest sound.
"Some one's coming and coming in a hurry," said Peggy quietly, "or THEY wouldn't look like THAT."
As she spoke the dull thud of hoofs pounding rapidly upon soft turf was borne to their ears, and a moment later a big gray horse ridden by a little negro boy, as tattered a specimen of his race as one might expect to see, came pounding into sight. With some difficulty he brought the big horse to a standstill in front of them and grabbing off his ragged cap stammered out his message:
"Howdy, Massa Dominie. Sarvint, Missy Peggy, but Josh done sont me fer ter fin' yo' an' bring you back yon' mighty quick, kase—kase, de—de sor'el mar' done got mos' kilt an' lak' 'nough daid right dis minit. He say, please ma'am, come quick as Shazee kin fotch yo' fo' de Empress, she mighty bad an'—"
"What has happened to her, Bud?" interrupted Peggy, turning to spring upon Shashai's back, but pausing to learn some particulars. The Empress was one of the most valuable brood mares upon the estate and her foal, still dependent upon her for its nourishment, was Peggy's pride and joy.
"She done got outen de paddock and nigh 'bout bus' herself wide open on de flank on dat dummed MAS-CHINE what dey trims de hedges wid. She bleeged ter bleed ter death, Joshi say."
Peggy turned white. "Excuse me, please—I must go as fast as I can. Home, Shashai, four bells and a jingle!" she cried and the colt swept away like a tornado, Tzaritza in the lead.
"Golly, but she's one breeze, ain' she, sah?"
"She is a wonderful girl and will make a magnificent woman if not spoiled in the next ten years," replied Dr. Llewellyn, though the words were more an oral expression of his own thoughts than a reply to the negro boy.
As the half-wild colt swept up to the paddock from which the valuable brood mare Empress had made her escape, Peggy was met by one of the stable hands.
"Where is she?" she asked, her dark eyes full of concern and anxiety.
"Up yonder in de paster," answered the negro, pointing to a green upland. A touch with her heel started Shashai. A moment later she slipped from her mount to hurry to a little group gathered around a dark object lying upon the ground. With the pitiful little cry:
"Oh, Empress! My beauty," Peggy was upon her knees beside the splendid animal.
"Shelby, Shelby, how did it happen? Oh, how did it?" she cried as she lifted the horse's head to her lap. The panting creature looked at her with great appealing, terror-stricken eyes, as though imploring her to save the life-spark now flickering so fitfully.
"God knows, miss," answered the foreman of the paddock. "We did not find her until a half hour ago. If I'd a-found her sooner it would never a- come to this. We ain't never had no such accident on the estate since I been on it, and I'd give all I'm worth if we could a-just have missed THIS one. Some fool, I can't find out who, left them hedge shears a-hanging wide open across the gate and the gate unlatched, and she must a run foul of 'em, 'cause we found 'em and all the signs o' what had happened, but we couldn't find HER for more 'n hour, and then THIS is what we found. I sent Bud for you and Jim for the Vet, but we've all come too late." The man spoke low and hurriedly, and never for a moment ceased his care for the mare. The veterinary who had arrived but a few moments before Peggy stood by helpless to do more than had already been done by Shelby, the veteran horse-trainer who had been on the estate for years, and who loved the animals as though they were his children. It was evident that the Empress' moments were numbered. She had severed one of the great veins in her flank and had nearly bled to death before discovered. Her little foal stood near, surprised at his dam's indifference to his needs, his little baby face and great round eyes, so like his mother's, filled with questioning doubt. As Peggy bent over the beautiful dying mare's head, tears streaming from her eyes, for she had cared for her and loved her since colthood, the little foal gave a low nicker and coming up behind the girl, thrust his soft muzzle over her shoulder and nestled his head against her face, trembling and quivering with a terror he could not understand. Peggy raised one arm to clasp it around the little creature's warm neck. The Empress tried to nicker an answer to her baby but the effort cost her last breath and heart-throb. It ended in a fluttering sigh and her head lay still and at rest upon Peggy's lap. The splendid animal, which had so often carried Peggy upon her back, the mother of Shashai, and many another splendid horse whose fame was widely known, lay lifeless. Her little son nestled closer to the one he knew and loved best as though begging her protection. Peggy held him close, sobbing upon his warm neck.
"You'd better get up, Miss Peggy," said Shelby kindly.
Peggy bent and kissed the great silky head. "Good-bye, Empress. I'll care for your baby," she said. Shelby lifted the splendid head from the girl's lap and helped her to her feet. The little colt still huddled close to her.
"Have you any orders, miss, about her?" asked Shelby, nodding toward the dead mare.
"She shall be buried in the circle and shall have a monument. We owe her much. Her foal shall be my charge."
"And I reckon mine, too. If we raise him now it will be a miracle. He's going to miss his dam's milk."
"I think I can manage," answered Peggy. "Bud, come with me. I wish you to go down to Annapolis with a note to Doctor Feldmeyer. He will understand what I wish to do. Ride in on Nancy Lee. Come, little one," and with the little colt's neck beneath her circling arm Peggy walked slowly back to the paddock from which barely three hours before the splendid mare, now lying lifeless in the pasture, had dashed, leaving a trail of her life's blood behind her to guide those who came too late. It was all the outcome of one person's disregard of orders: One of the hands had quit his work to gossip, leaving his great hedge shears hanging carelessly across the gate, and the gate unfastened. The Empress, gamboling with her foal, had rushed upon them, cut herself cruelly, then maddened by the pain and terrified by the flowing blood, had dashed away as only a frightened horse can, running until she fell from exhaustion.
Peggy went back to the inclosure in which the Empress, as the most honored of the brood mares, had lived with her foal. The little stable, a very model of order and appointment, stood at one end of it. She opened the gate, intending to leave the colt in the inclosure, but he huddled closer and closer to her side.
"Why Roy, baby, what is it!" asked Peggy, as she would have spoken to a child. The little thing could only press closer and nicker its baby nicker. Peggy hesitated a moment, then said: "It will never do to leave you now. You are half starved, you poor little thing. Eight weeks are NOT many to have lived. Come." And as though he understood every word and was comforted, the baby horse nickered again and walked close by her side. She went straight to the house, circling the garden, rich in early spring blossoms, to enter a little inclosure around which the servants' quarters were built, one building, a trifle more pretentious than the rest, evidently that of some upper servant. As Peggy and her four-footed companion drew near, a trim little old colored woman looked out of the door. She was immaculate in a black and white checked gingham, a large white apron and a white turban, suggestive of ante-bellum days. Instantly noting signs of distress upon her young mistress' face she hurried toward her, crying softly in her melodious voice:
"Baby! Honey! What's de matter? 'What's done happen? What fo' yo' bring Roy up hyer? Where de Empress at?"
"Oh Mammy, Mammy, the Empress is dead. She—"
"What dat yo' tellin' me, baby? De Empress daid? Ma Lawd, wha' Massa Neil gwine do to we-all when he hyar DAT? He gwine kill SOMEBODY dat's sartin suah. What kill her?"
Peggy told the story briefly, Mammy Lucy, who had been mammy to her and her father before her, listening attentively, nodding her head and clicking her tongue in consternation. Such news was overwhelming.
But Mammy Lucy had not lived on this estate for over sixty years without storing up some wisdom for emergencies, and before Peggy had finished the pitiful tale she was on her way to the great kitchen at the opposite end of the inclosure where Aunt Cynthia ruled as dusky goddess of the shining copper kettles and pans upon the wall.
"Sis Cynthy, we-all in trebbilation and we gotter holp dis hyer pore chile. She lak fer ter breck her heart 'bout de Empress and she sho will if dis hyer colt come ter harm. Please, ma'am, gimme a basin o' fresh, warm milk. Bud he done gone down ter 'Napolis fer a nussin' bottle, but dat baby yonder gwine faint an' die fo' dat no 'count nigger git back wid dat bottle. I knows HIM, I does."
"Howyo' gwine mak' dat colt drink?" asked Cynthia skeptically.
"De Lawd on'y knows, but HE gwine show me how," was Mammy Lucy's pious answer. The next second she cried "Praise Him! I got it," and ran into her cabin to return with a piece of snowy white flannel. Meanwhile Cynthia had warmed the bowlful of milk. Hastily catching up a huge oilcloth apron, Mammy enveloped herself in it and then hurried back to Peggy and her charge.
From that moment Roy's artificial feeding began. Peggy raised his head while Mammy opened his mouth by inserting a skilful finger where later the bit would rest, then slipped in the milk-sopped woolen rag. After a few minutes the small beastie which had never known fear, understood and sucked away vigorously, for he had not fed for hours and the poor inner- colt was grumbling sorely at the long fast. The bowlful of milk soon disappeared, and he stood nozzling at Peggy ready for a frolic, his woes forgotten.
"Now what yo' gwine do wid him, honey?" asked Mammy.
"I'd like to put him to sleep on the piazza, but I'm afraid I can't," answered Peggy, smiling sadly, for the loss of the Empress had struck deeply.
"No, yo' suah cyant do dat," was Mammy's reply. "You'll be bleeged fer ter put him yonder in de paddock."
"He will be so lonesome," said Peggy doubtfully. Just then the great wolfhound came bounding up. She thrust her nose into her mistress' hand and gave a low bark of delight. She was almost as tall as the colt, and seemed to understand his needs. She then turned to give a greeting lick upon the colt's nose. He jerked away, as though resenting the lady's familiarity, but nickered softly. He had known Tzaritza from the first moment he became aware of things terrestrial and they had often gamboled together when the Empress was disinclined for a frolic. Peggy's eyes brightened.
The splendid hound raised her head to look into her young mistress' eyes with keen intelligence.
"Come," and followed by the hound and colt Peggy hurried back to the stables. They had brought the Empress down from the pasture and laid her upon the soft turf of the large circular grass-plot in front of the main building. The men were now digging her grave.
"Tzaritza, scent," commanded Peggy, stroking the Empress' neck.
The hound made long, deep sniffs at the still form.
"Come." Peggy then laid her hand upon the little colt's neck. The scent was the same. Tzaritza understood.
"Guard," said Peggy.
"Woof-woof," answered Tzaritza deep down in her throat.
Peggy then led the way to the Empress' paddock. Roy capered through the gate; Tzaritza, with her newly-assumed responsibility upon her, entered with dignity. From that hour she scarcely left her charge, lying beside him when he rested in the shade of the great beeches, nestling close in the little stable at night, following him wherever he chose to go during his liberty hours of the day, for thenceforth he was rarely confined to the paddock.
Before the Empress was laid away Bud returned with the nursing bottle. The rubber nipples were thrust into the Empress' mouth and thus getting the mother scent all else was very simple. Roy tugged away at his bottle like a well-conducted, well-conditioned baby, Tzaritza watching with keen intelligent eyes. She soon knew the feeding hours as well as Peggy or Mammy, and promptly to the minute led her charge to Mammy's door. If Mammy happened to be elsewhere she sought Cynthia, and so had the interest grown that there was not a man, woman or child upon the place who would not have dropped anything in order to minister to the needs of Tzaritza's charge.
And so passed the early springtide, Roy waxing fat and strong, Tzaritza never relaxing her care, though at first it was a sore trial to her to remain behind with her foster-son while her beloved mistress galloped away upon Shashai. But that word "Guard" was sacred.
In the course of a few weeks, however, Roy was well able to follow his half-brother, Shashai, and Tzaritza's freedom was restored. The trio was rarely separated and to see Peggy in her hammock on the lawn, or on the piazza, meant to see the colt and Tzaritza also, though Roy was rapidly outgrowing piazzas and lawns, and Peggy was beginning to be puzzled as to what was to be done with him when he could no longer come clattering up the steps and across the piazza after his foster-mother.
With the summer came word that her father would come home on a month's leave and August was longed for with an eagerness he could not have dreamed. Everything must be in perfect order to receive him, and Peggy flew from house to garden, from garden to stables, from stables to paddock keyed to a state of excitement which infected every member of the household. Dr. Llewellyn smiled sympathetically. Harrison, the housekeeper, stalked after her, doing her best to carry out her orders, while announcing that: NOW, she guessed, there would be some hope of making Mr. Neil see the folly of letting a girl of Peggy's age run wild as a hawk forever and a day. She'd have one talk with him he'd do well to take heed to or she'd know why. Mammy Lucy said little but watched her young mistress' radiant face. It was eight months since Master Neil had been home and deep in her tender old heart she understood better than any one else what his coming meant to Peggy. Harrison might have a better idea of what was wise and best for her young charge, but Mammy's love taught her many things which Harrison could never learn.
Meanwhile Peggy spent the greater part of her days down at the paddock, for Shashai must be broken to saddle and bridle in order to receive his master in proper style. A blanket and halter might answer for the mad gallops across country which they had hitherto taken, but Daddy Neil was coming home for a month and the horses must do the place credit.
With this end in view, Peggy betook herself to the paddock one morning before breakfast, saddle and bridle borne behind her by Bud. Shashai welcomed her with his clear nicker, sweeping up to the gate in his long, rocking stride so like the Empress'. Tzaritza with her foster-son followed in Peggy's wake, Tzaritza sniffing inquiringly at the saddle, Roy pranking thither and yonder, rich just in the joy of being alive. Shashai had never quite overcome his jealousy of his young half-brother, and now laid back his ears in reproof of his unseemly gambols; Shashai's own babyhood was not far enough in the background for him to be tolerant.
Peggy entered the paddock and Shashai at once nozzled her for his morning lumps of sugar. For the first time in his memory they were not forthcoming, and his great eyes looked their wondering reproach.
"Not yet, Shashai. "We must keep them for a reward if you behave well." She slipped an arm over the beautifully arched neck and laid her face against the satiny smoothness. Shashai approved the caress but would have approved the sugar much more.
"Give me the saddle, Bud."
The little negro boy handed her the light racing saddle; a very featherweight of a saddle.
The colt stood like a statue expecting the girl as usual to spring upon his back. Instead she placed upon it a stiff, leather affair which puzzled him not a little, and from which dangled two curious contrivances. These, however, she quickly caught up and fastened over the back and their metallic clicking ceased to annoy him. The buckling was a little strenuous. Hitherto a surcingle had served to hold the blanket upon his back, but this contraption had TWO surcingles and a stiff leather strap to boot, which Peggy's strong hands pulled tighter than any straps had ever before been pulled around him. He quivered slightly but stood the test and—a lump of sugar was held beneath his eager nostrils, If THAT followed it was worth while standing to have that ugly, stiff thing adjusted.
"Now the headstall, Bud. Did you coat the bit with the melted sugar as I told you?"
"Yes'm, missie. It's fair cracklin' wid sugar, an' onct he gits a lick ob dat bit he ain' never gwine let go, yo' hyar me."
"Now, my bonny one, we'll see," said Peggy, as she unstrapped the bit, and the headstall without it was no more than the halter to which Shashai had been accustomed. Then very gently she held the bit toward him. He tried to take it as he would have taken the sugar and his look of surprise when his lips closed over the hard metal thing was amusing. Nevertheless, it tasted good and he mouthed and licked it, gradually getting it well within his mouth. At an opportune moment Peggy slipped the right buckle into place, quickly following it by the left one. Shashai started.
"Steady, Shashai. Steady, boy," she said gently and the day was won. No shocks, no lashings, no harsh words to make the sight of that headstall throw him into a panic whenever it was produced. Dozens of horses had been so educated by Peggy Stewart. Shashai sucked at his queer mouthpiece as a child would suck a stick of candy, and while he was enjoying its sweetness Peggy brought forth lump number two. Four was his daily allowance, and as he enjoyed number two she let down the stirrups which had seemed likely to startle him.
"Stand outside, Bud, he may be a little frightened when the saddle creaks." The boy left the paddock.
"Stand, Shashai," commanded Peggy, resting her hand upon the colt's withers. He knew perfectly well what to expect, but why that strange groaning and creaking? The blanket had never done so. The sensitive nerves quivered and he sprang forward, but Peggy had caught her stirrups and her low voice quieted him as she swayed and adapted herself to his gait. Around and around the paddock they loped in perfect harmony of motion. She did not draw upon the bridle rein, merely holding it as she had been accustomed to hold her halter strap, guiding by her knees. Shashai tossed his head partly in nervous irritation at the creaking saddle, partly in the joy of motion, and joy won the day. Then Peggy began to draw slightly upon her reins. The colt shook his head impatiently as though asking: "Wherefor the need? I know exactly where you wish to go."
"Oh, my bonny one, my bonny one, that is just it! I know that you know, but someday someone else won't know, and if I don't teach you now just what the bit means the poor mouth may pay the penalty. It may anyway, in spite of all I can do, but I'll do my best to make it an easy lesson. Oh why, why will people pull and tug as they do on a horse's mouth when there is nothing in this world so sensitive, or that should be so lightly handled. So be patient, Shashai. We only use it because we must, dear. Now, right, turn!" And with the words she pressed her right knee against the colt, at the same time drawing gently upon the right rein. Shashai turned because he had always done so at the words and the pressure, accepting the bit's superfluous hint like the gentleman he was.
"Open the gate, Bud. We'll go for a spin," ordered Peggy as she swung around the paddock.
"Won't yo' jump, missie?" asked Bud eagerly. The delight of his life was to see his young mistress take a fence.
"Not this time," answered Peggy over her shoulder. Bud opened the gate as they came around again and as Peggy cried: "Four bells, Shashai," the colt sprang through, Tzaritza and Roy joining in with a happy bark and neigh.
All so simply, so easily done by love's gentle rule.
"Stand there, little girl. Why, why—how has it come about! When did you do it? I went away nine months ago leaving a little girl in Mammy Lucy's and Harrison's charge and I have returned to find a young lady. Peggy, baby, what have you done with my little girl?"
Commander Stewart stood in the big living-room of Severndale, his hand upon Peggy's shoulder as he held her at arm's length to look at her in puzzled surprise. He had just experienced one of those startling revelations which often arouse parents to the fact that their children have stolen a march upon them, and sprung into very pleasing young men or women while they themselves have been in an unobserving somnolent state. It is invariably a shock and one which few parents escape.
Peggy laughed, colored a rosy pink but obeyed, a little thrill of innocent triumph passing over her, for Daddy Neil's eyes held something more than surprise, and Peggy's feminine soul detected the underlying pride and admiration.
"By the great god Neptune, you've taken a rise out of me this time, child. How old ARE you, anyway!"
"As though you didn't know perfectly well, you tease," laughed Peggy, turning swiftly and nestling in his arms. The arms held her closely and the sun-tanned cheek rested upon her dark, silky hair. The eyes were singularly soft and held a suggestion of moisture. It did not seem so very long ago to Daddy Neil since Peggy's beautiful mother had been in that very room with him nestling in his arms in that same confiding little manner. How like her Peggy had grown in looks and a thousand little mannerisms. From the moment Peggy had met him at the Round Bay station to this one, he had lived in a sort of waking dream, partly in the past, partly in the present, and in the strangest possible mental confusion. His memory picture of Peggy as he had left her in October of the previous year was of the little hoyden in short skirts, laughing and prancing from morning till night, and leading Mammy Lucy a life of it.
In nine months the little romp had blossomed into a very charming young girl, dainty and sweet as a wild rose in her white duck sailor suit, with its dark red collar, her hair braided in soft coils about her head and adorned with a big red bow. The embryo woman stood before him.
"Yes, HOW old are you?" he insisted, looking at her with mingled, puzzled eyes.
"Oh, Daddy, you know I was fourteen in January," she said half reproachfully. "You sent me such beautiful things from Japan."
"Yes, but you might be eighteen now from your looks and height. And living here alone with the servants. Why—why, it's, it's all out of order; you are off your course entirely. You must have someone with you, or go somewhere, or—or—well SOMETHING has got to be done and right off, too," and poor perplexed Neil Stewart ran his hand through his curly, gray-tinged hair in a distracted manner. Peggy looked startled, then serious. Such a contingency as this incumbent upon growing up had never entered her head. Must the old order of things which she so loved, and all the precious freedom of action, give way to something entirely new? Harrison had more than once hinted that such would be the case when Daddy Neil came home and found a young lady where he expected to find a little girl.
"Oh, Daddy, please don't talk about that now. You've only just got here and I've ten thousand things to tell and show you. Let's not think of the future just yet. It's such a joy to just live now. To have you here and see you and hug you, and love you hard," cried Peggy suiting her actions to her words. Mr. Stewart shook his head, but did not beggar his response to the caress. It sent a glow all through him to feel that this beautiful young girl was his daughter, the mistress of the home he so loved, but so rarely enjoyed.
"We'll have a truce for a week, honey, and during that time we'll do nothing but enjoy each other. Then we'll take our reckoning and lay our course by chart, for I'm convinced that I, at least, have been running on dead reckoning and you—well—I guess the good Lord's been at the helm and taken in hand my job with a good deal of credit to Himself and confounded little to me. But it's my watch from now on. I wish your mother were here, sweetheart. You need her now," and Neil Stewart again drew the young girl into his strong, circling arm. "I'd resign tomorrow if—if—well, when I resign I want four stripes at least on my sleeve to leave you as a memory in the years to come. Now show me the ropes. I'm a stranger on board my own ship."
For an hour Peggy did the honors of the beautiful home, Jerome, the old butler, who had been "Massa Neil's body servant" before he entered the Academy at eighteen, where body servants had no place, hovering around, solicitous of his master's comfort; Harrison making a hundred and one excuses to come into the room; Mammy Lucy, with the privileges of an old servant making no excuses at all but bobbing in and out whenever she saw fit.
Luncheon was soon served in the wonderful old dining-room, one side of which was entirely of glass giving upon a broad piazza overlooking Round Bay. From this room the view was simply entrancing and Neil Stewart, as he sat at the table at which Peggy was presiding with such grace and dignity, felt that life was certainly worth while when one could look up and encounter a pair of such soft brown eyes regarding him with such love and joy, and see such ripe, red lips part in such carefree, happy smiles.
"Jerome, don't forget Daddy Neil's sauce.
"Yes, missie, lamb. I knows—I knows. Cynthy, she done got it made to de very top-notch pint," answered Jerome, hurrying away upon noiseless feet and in all his immaculate whiteness from the crown of his white woolly head to his duck uniform, for the Severndale servants wore the uniforms of the mess-hall rather than the usual household livery. Neil Stewart could not abide "cit's rigs." Moreover, in spite of the long absences of the master, everything about the place was kept up in ship-shape order; Harrison and Mammy Lucy cooperated with Jerome in looking well to this.
"Now, Daddy," cried Peggy happily when luncheon ended, "come out to the stables and paddock; I've a hundred things to show you."
"A stable and a paddock for an old salt like me," laughed her father. "I wonder if I shall know a horse's hock from his withers? Yet it DOES seem good to see them, and smell the grass and woods and know it's all mine and that YOU are mine," he cried, slipping his arm through hers and pacing off with her. "Some day," he added, "I am coming here to settle down with you to enjoy it all, and when I do I mean to let four legs carry me whenever there is the least excuse for so doing. My own have done enough pacing of the quarter-deck to have earned that indulgence."
"And won't it be just—paradise," cried Peggy rapturously.
They were now nearing the paddock. To one side was a long row of little cottages occupied by the stable hands' families. Mr. Stewart paused and smiled, for out of each popped a funny little black woolly head to catch a glimpse of "Massa Captain," as all the darkies on the place called him.
"Good Lord, where DO they all come from, Peggy? Have they all been born since my last visit? There were not so many here then."
"Not quite all," answered Peggy laughing. "Most of them were here before that, though there are some new arrivals either in the course of nature or new help. You see the business is growing, Daddy, and I've had to take on new hands."
Neil Stewart started. "Was this little person who talked in such a matter-of-fact way about "taking on new hands" his little Peggy?
"Yes, yes—I dare say," he answered in a sort of daze.
Peggy seemed unaware of anything the least unusual and continued:
"I want you to see THIS family. It is Joshua Jozadak Jubal Jones'. They might all be of an age, but they are not—quite. Come here, boys, and see Master Captain," called Peggy to the three piccaninnies who were peeping around the corner of the cottage. Three black, grinning little faces, topped by the kinkiest of woolly heads, came slowly at her bidding, each one glancing half-proudly, yet more or less panic- stricken, at the big man in white flannels.
"Hello, boys. Whose sons are you? Miss Peggy tells me you are brothers."
"Yas, sir. We is. We's Joshua Jozadak Jubal Jones's boys. I'se Gus—de ol'es. Der's nine haid o' us, but we's de oniest boys. De yethers ain' nothin' but gurls."
"And how old are you!"
"I'se nine I reckons."
"And what is your name?"
"My name Gus, sah."
"That's only HALF a name. Your whole name is really Augustus remember." The "Massa Captain's" voice boomed with the sound of the sea. Augustus and his brothers were duly impressed. If Gus really meant Augustus, why Augustus he would be henceforth. The Massa Captain had said it and what the Massa Captain said—went, especially when he gave a bright new dime to enforce the order.
"And YOUR name?" continued the questioner, pointing at number two.
"I'se jist Jule, sah," was the shy reply.
"That's a nickname too. I can't have such slipshod, no-account names for my hands' children. It isn't dignified. It isn't respectful. It's a disgrace to Miss Peggy. Do you hear?"
"Yas—yas—sir. We—we hears," answered the little darkies in chorus, the whites of their eyes rolling and their knees fairly smiting together. How could they have been guilty of thus slighting their adored young mistress?
"Please, sah, wha's his name ef taint Jule?" Augustus plucked up heart of grace to ask.
"He is Julius, JUL-I-US, do you understand?"
"Yas—sir. Yas—sir." Another dime helped the memory box.
"And YOUR name?" asked the Massa Captain of quaking number three.
There was a long, significant pause, then contortions as though number three were suffering from a violent attack of colic. At length, after two or three futile attempts he blurted out:
"I'se—I'se Billyus, sah!"
There was a terrific explosion, then Neil Stewart tossed the redoubtable Billyus a quarter, crying: "You win," and walked away with Peggy, his laughter now and again borne back to his beneficiaries.
Peggy never knew where that month slipped to with its long rides on Shashai, Daddy Neil riding the Emperor, the magnificent sire of all the small fry upon the place, from those who had already gone, or were about to be sent out into the great world beyond the limits of Severndale, to Roy, the latest arrival. Neil Stewart wondered and marveled more and more as each day slipped by.
Then, too, were the delightful paddles far up the Severn in Peggy's canoe, exploring unsuspected little creeks, with now and again a bag in the wild, lonely reaches of the river, followed by a delicious little supper of broiled birds, done to a turn by Aunt Cynthia. There were, too, moonlight sails in Peggy's little half-rater, which she handled with a master hand. As a rule, one of the boys accompanied her, for the mainsail and centerboard were pretty heavy for her to handle unaided, but with Daddy Neil on board—well, not much was left to be desired. During that month Peggy learned "how lightly falls the foot of time which only treads on flowers," and was appalled when she realized that only five more days remained of her father's leave.
Neil Stewart, upon his part, was sorely perplexed, for it had come to him with an overwhelming force that Peggy was almost a young lady, and to live much longer as she had been living was simply out of the question. Yet how solve the problem? He and Dr. Llewellyn talked long and earnestly upon the subject when Peggy was not near, and fully concurred in their view-point; a change must be made, and made right speedily. Should Peggy be sent to school? If so, where? Much depended upon the choice in her case. Her whole life had been so entirely unlike the average girl's. Why she scarcely knew the meaning of companions of her own age of either sex. Neil Stewart actually groaned aloud as he thought of this.
Dr. Llewellyn suggested a companion for the young girl.
Mr. Stewart groaned again. Whom should he choose? So far as he knew there was not a relative, near or remote, to whom he could turn, and a hit-or-miss choice among strangers appalled him.
"I give you my word, Llewellyn, I'm aground—hard and fast. I can't navigate that little cruiser out yonder," and he nodded toward the lawn where Peggy was giving his first lessons to Roy in submitting to a halter. It was a pretty picture, too, and one deeply imprinted upon Neil Stewart's memory.
"We will do our best for her and leave the rest to the dear Lord," answered the good Doctor, his cameo-like face turned toward the lawn to watch the girl whom he loved as a daughter. "He will show us the way. He has never yet failed to."
"Well, in all reverence, I wish He'd show it before I leave, for I tell you I don't like the idea of going away and leaving that little girl utterly unprotected."
"I should call her very well protected," said Dr. Llewellyn mildly.
"Oh, yes, in a way. You are here off and on, and the servants all the time, but look at the life she leads, man. Not a girl friend. Nothing that other girls have. I tell you it's bad navigating and she'll run afoul rocks or shoals. It isn't natural. For the Lord's sake DO something. If I could be here a month longer I'd start something or burst everything wide open. It's simply got to be changed." And Neil Stewart got up from his big East India chair to pace impatiently up and down the broad piazza, now and again giving an absent-minded kick to a hassock, or picking up a sofa pillow to heave it upon a settee, as though clearing the deck for action. He was deeply perturbed.
Peggy glanced toward him, and quick to notice signs of mental disturbance, left her charge to Tzaritza's care and came running toward the piazza. As she ran up the four steps giving upon the lawn she asked half laughingly, half seriously:
"Heavy weather, Daddy Neil? Barometer falling?"
Neil Stewart paused, looked at her a moment and asked abruptly:
"Peggy, how would you like to go to a boarding school?"
"To boarding school!" exclaimed Peggy in amazement. "Leave Severndale and all this and go away to a SCHOOL?" The emphasis upon the last word held whole volumes.
Her father nodded.
"I think I'd die," she said, dropping upon a settee as though the very suggestion had deprived her of strength.
Her father's forehead puckered into a perplexed frown. If Peggy were sent to boarding school the choice of one would be a nice question.
"Well, what SHALL I do with you?" demanded the poor man in desperation.
"Leave me right where I am. Compadre will see that I'm not quite an ignoramus, Harrison keeps me decently clad and properly lectured, and Mammy looks to my feeding when I'm well and dosing when I'm not, which, thank goodness, isn't often. Why Daddy, I'm so happy. So perfectly happy. Please, please don't spoil it," and Peggy rose to slip her arm within her father's and "pace the deck" as he called it.
"But you haven't a single companion of your own age or station," he protested.
"Do I look the maiden all forlorn as the result?" she asked, laughing up at him.
"You look—you look—exactly like your mother, and to me she was the most beautiful woman I have ever seen," and Peggy found herself in an embrace which threatened to smother her. She blushed with pleasure. To be like her mother whom she scarcely remembered, for eight years had passed since that beautiful mother slipped out of her life, was the highest praise that could have been bestowed upon her.
"Daddy, will you make a truce with me?"
Her father stopped to look down at her, doubtful of falling into a snare, for he had wakened to the fact that his little fourteen-year-old daughter had a pretty long head for her years. Peggy's white teeth gleamed behind her rosy lips and her eyes danced wickedly.
"What are you hatching for your old Dad's undoing, you witch?"
"Nothing but a truce. It is almost the first of September. Will you give me just one more year of this glorious freedom? I shall be nearly sixteen then, and then if you still wish it, I'll go to a finishing school, or any other old school you say to be polished off for society and to do the honors of Severndale properly when you retire. But, Daddy, please, please, don't send me this year. I love it all so dearly—and I'll be good—I truly will."
At the concluding words the big dark eyes filled. Her father bent down to kiss away the unshed tears. His own eyes were troublesome.
"I sign the truce, sweetheart, for one year, but I want a detailed report every week, do you understand?"
"You shall have it, accurate as a ship's log."
Five days later he had joined his ship and Peggy was once more alone, yet, even then, over yonder under the shadow of the dome of the chapel at the Naval Academy the future was being shaped for the young girl: a future so unlike one those who loved her best could possibly have foreseen or planned.
IN OCTOBER'S DAYS
September slipped by, a lonely month for Peggy as contrasted with August. At first she did not fully realize how lonely, but as the days went by she missed her father's companionship more and more. Formerly, after one of his brief visits she had taken up her usual occupations, fallen back into the old order of things, and been happy in her dumb companions. But this time she could not settle down to anything. She was restless, and as nearly unhappy as it was possible for Peggy Stewart to be. She could not understand it. Poor little Peggy, how could she analyze it? How reason out that her life, dearly as she loved it, was an unnatural one for a young girl, and, consequently, an unsatisfactory one.
Dr. Llewellyn was troubled. Tender, wise and devoted to the girl, he had long foreseen this crisis. It was all very well for the child Peggy to run wild over fields and woodland, to ride, drive, paddle, sail, fish or do as the whim of the moment prompted, happy in her horses and her dogs. Mammy and Harrison were fully capable of looking to her corporal needs and he could look to her mental and spiritual ones, and did do so.
Situated as Severndale was, remote from the other estates upon the river and never brought into social touch with its neighbors, Peggy was hardly known. When Neil Stewart came home on leave he was only too glad to get away from the social side of his life in the service, and the weeks spent with his little girl at Severndale had always been the delight of his life. They took him into a new world all his own in which the small vexations of the outer service world were entirely forgotten.
And how he looked forward to those visits. He rarely spoke of them to his friends, mentioned Severndale to very few and hardly a dozen knew of Peggy's existence. It was a peculiar attitude, but Neil Stewart had never been reconciled to the cruel fate which had taken from him the beautiful wife he had loved so devotedly, and the thought of guests at Severndale without her there to entertain them as she had been accustomed to, was peculiarly abhorent to him. He became almost morbid on the subject and did not realize that he was growing selfish in his sorrow and making Peggy pay the penalty.
But something in the way of an awakening had come to him during his recent visit, and it had shocked him. The child Peggy was a child no longer but a very charming young girl on the borderland of womanhood. In a year or two she would be a young woman and entitled to her place in the social world. Poor Neil Stewart, more than once upon retiring to his bedroom after one of his delightful evenings spent with Peggy, desperately ran his fingers through his curly hair and asked aloud: "What under the sun AM I to do? I can't leave that child vegetating here any longer, yet who will come to live with her or where shall I send her?"
But the question was still unanswered when he left Severndale and now Peggy was beginning to experience something of her father's unrest.
October came. Her work with Dr. Llewellyn was resumed. Each Sunday she drove into Annapolis to old St. Ann's with Harrison; a modest, unobtrusive little figure who attended the service and slipped away again almost unnoticed. Indeed, if given a thought at all she was vaguely supposed to be some connection of the eminently respectable elderly woman accompanying her. Harrison was a rather stately imposing body in her black taffeta, or black broadcloth, as the season demanded. People did not inquire. It was not their affair. The rector on one or two occasions had spoken to Harrison, but Harrison had been on her dignity. She replied politely but did not encourage intimacy and, if the truth must be confessed, Dr. Smith, rather piqued, decided that he had done his duty and would make no further advances. This had happened some time before the beginning of this story.
In October, as usual, a number of colts were disposed of. Some were sold to people in the adjacent towns or counties, others sent to remote purchasers who had seen them in their baby days, followed their up- bringing and training, and waited patiently for them to arrive at the stipulated age, four years, before becoming their property. No colt was ever sold under four years of age. This was an inviolable law of Severndale, mutually agreed upon by Dr. Llewellyn, the business manager, Shelby, the foreman, and Peggy, the mistress.
"Ain't going to have no half-baked stock sent off THIS place if I have the say-so," had been Shelby's fiat. "I've seen too many fine colts mined by being BRUCK too young and then sold to fools who don't seem to sense that a horse's backbone's like gristle 'fore he's turned three. Then they load him down fit to kill him, or harness him in a way no horse could stand, or drive him off his legs, and, when he's played out, they get back at the man who sold him to them, and like as not there's a lawsuit afoot that the price of the colt four times over couldn't square, to say nothing of a reputation NO stock-farm can afford to have."
Shelby's sense was certainly very sound horse-sense and was rigidly abided by. Consequently, the colts which left Severndale were in the pride and glory of their young horsehood, and this year they were a most promising lot. There were eleven to be disposed of, and, thanks to Peggy's care and training, as fine a bunch of horseflesh as could be found in the land. She had trained—not broken, she could not tolerate that word—every one and each knew his or her name and came at Peggy's call as a child, loving and obeying her implicitly. Among them were two exceptionally beautiful creatures—a splendid chestnut with a white star in the middle of his forehead, and a young filly, half-sister to the chestnut and little Boy. The chestnut was called Silver Star, the filly Columbine, for the singular gentleness of her disposition. She was a golden bay, slender and lithe as a fawn, with great fawn-like brown eyes full of gentleness and love for all, and for Peggy in particular. She had been sold, under the usual conditions during the previous year and was soon to be sent to her new home.
One morning, the second week in October, Peggy opened a letter which held unusual interest for her. It was from a lady whose home was in Wilmot Hall in Annapolis. Wilmot Hall was the hotel near the Naval Academy and mostly patronized by the officers and their families. The letter was from the wife of a naval officer who wished either to hire or purchase a riding horse for her niece who would spend the winter with her. She stated very explicitly that the horse must be well broken ("Yes, broken!" fairly snorted Peggy. "Broken! I wonder if she would want a literally 'broken' horse? Why will they never say trained!") and gentle, as her niece had ridden very little. The letter then went on to ask if Mrs. Harold might call some day and hour agreed upon. But what amused Peggy most, and caused her to laugh aloud as she took a spoonful of luscious sliced peaches, was the manner in which the letter was addressed.
Old Jerome who was serving her in the pretty delft breakfast-room took an old retainer's privilege to ask:
"What 'musin' you, honey-chile?"
"Didn't know I was an esquire, did you, Jerome? Well I am, because this letter says so. It is addressed to M. C. Stewart, Esq. As I am the only M. C. Stewart I must be the esquire to boot. Wonder what the lady will think when I sign myself Margaret C. Stewart," and Peggy's silvery laugh filled the room.
"Don' yo' mind what dey calls yo', baby. How dey gwine know yo's our young mist'ess? Don' yo' let dat triflin' trebble yo' pretty haid," said the faithful old soul, fearful lest his mistress' pride might be touched, and hastening to serve the second course of her breakfast in his best "quality style."
"It doesn't trouble me even a little bit, Jerome. It's just funny. I'm going to answer that letter right after breakfast, and I wish I could see my correspondent's face when she finds that her 'esquire' is one of her own sex. But I'll never dare let her guess I'm just a girl."
"Jes' a gurl! Jes' a gurl," sputtered Jerome. "Kyant yo' just give her a hint dat yo's a yo'ng lady and we-all's mistiss?"
"'Fraid not, Jerome. She will have to learn that when she comes out here to see Silver Star, if she really comes. I'd let her have Columbine if she were not sold. If that girl, who ever she is, could not ride Columbine she would fall out of a rocking chair. But Star is a darling and never cuts pranks unless Shashai sets him a bad example. I fear Shashai will never forget his colt tricks," and Shashai's mistress wagged her pretty head doubtfully.
"Shas'ee's all right, Miss Peggy. Don' yo' go fer ter 'line him. When I sees yo' two a kitin' way over de fiel's an' de fences, I says ter ma sef, Gawd-a-mighty, Je'ome, yo's got one pintedly hansome yo'ng mistess AN' she kin ride for fair."
"And that same young mistress is in a fair way to be spoiled by your flattery that is pretty certain," laughed Peggy, rising from the breakfast table and gathering up the pile of letters she had been reading.
"Huh, Huh. Spiled nothin'," protested Jerome as she disappeared into the adjoining library.
Seating herself at her very business-like desk she wrote in a clear, angular hand:
Severndale, Round Bay Station. October 20, 19—
Mrs. G. F. Harold, Wilmot Hall, Annapolis, Md.
Your favor of October eighteenth has been duly received and contents noted. In reply would say that I shall be very glad to have you call and inspect our stock.
We have one colt, a four-year old, sired by the Emperor, dam the Empress, which I shall be glad to show you. There are also others, but I am considering pedigree, disposition and gait since you state that you wish a horse for an inexperienced rider.
Would suggest that you run out to Round Bay Station, via B. A. Short Line R. R. on Saturday, October the twenty-third, 1.30 P. M. weather permitting, where I shall meet and convey you to Severndale.
Awaiting your pleasure I am
Very truly yours,
Margaret C. Stewart
How little it often requires to change our whole future. Little did Peggy guess as she wrote that letter in Dr. Llewellyn's most approved form, that it was destined to entirely revolutionize her life, introduce her to a hitherto unknown world and round out her future in a manner beyond the fondest hopes of "Daddy Neil."
This is a big world of little things.
The letter went upon its way and in the course of the morning Peggy almost forgot it.
At ten o'clock Dr. Llewellyn came for the regular morning lessons. If these were a little unusual for a girl of Peggy's age she was certainly none the worse for her very practical knowledge of mathematics, her ability to conduct correctly the business side of the estate, for upon this, as the business manager, good Dr. Llewellyn insisted, and if that bonny, well-poised, level little head sometimes grew weary over investments, and interest, and profits and losses, and nestled down confidingly upon his shoulder, the subjects were none the less fully digested, and Peggy knew to a dollar, as he did, whence her income was derived and to what use it was put.
Then, too, Dr. Llewellyn in his love for the classics made them a fairy world for the girl and the commingling of the practical with the ideal maintained the balance.
When one o'clock came dinner was served and after that Dr. Llewellyn went his way and Peggy hurried off to her beloved horses.
On this day Columbine was to bid good-bye to Severndale. As Peggy entered the big airy stable with its row upon row of scrupulously neat box stalls, for no other sort was permitted in Severndale, Columbine greeted her from one of them, as though asking: "Why am I kept mewed up in here while all my companions are enjoying their daily liberty out yonder?"
Peggy opened the gate and entered the stall. The beautiful creature nestled to her like a petted child.
"Oh, my bonny one, my bonny one, how can I send you away?" asked Peggy softly. "Will they be good to you out yonder? Will they understand what a prize they have got? Washington is far away and so big and so fashionable, they tell me. It would break my heart to have you misused."
The filly nickered softly.
"I am going to send a little message with you. If they read it they will surely pay heed to it."
She drew from the pocket of her blouse a little package. It was not over an inch wide or three long, and was carefully sealed in a piece of oil silk. Parting the thick, luxuriant mane, she tied her missive securely underneath. When the silky hair fell back in place the little message was completely concealed. Peggy clasped her arms about the filly's neck, kissed the soft muzzle and said:
"Good-bye, dear. I'll never forget you and I wonder if I shall ever hear of you or see you again?"
Her eyes were full of tears as she left the stable. Two hours later Columbine was led from her happy home. What later befell her we will learn in a future volume of Peggy Stewart. Meanwhile we must follow Peggy's history.
On the following Saturday, in the golden glow of an October afternoon, with the hills a glory of color and the air as soft as wine, Peggy drove Comet and Meteor, her splendid carriage horses, to the Bound Bay station to meet Mrs. Harold and her niece. Tzaritza bounded along beside the surrey and old Jess, the coachman of fifty years, sat beside his young mistress, almost bursting with pride as he watched the skill with which she handled the high-spirited animals, for Jess had taught her to drive when she was so tiny that he had to hold her upon his lap, and keep the little hands within the grasp of his big black ones.
Leaving the horses in his care she stepped upon the little platform which did primitive duty as a station, to await the arrival of the electric car which could already be heard humming far away up the line.
As her guests stepped from the car she advanced to meet them, saying as she extended her hand to Mrs. Harold:
"This is Mrs. Harold, I reckon. I am Peggy Stewart. I am glad to meet you."
There was not the least hesitation or self-consciousness and the frank smile which accompanied the words revealed all her pretty, even teeth. "I got your message and I am right glad to welcome you to Severndale."
The lady looked a trifle bewildered. She had expected to meet the owner of Severndale, or, certainly, a mature woman. Her correspondence had, it is true, been with a Margaret C. Stewart, whom she assumed to be Mr. Stewart's wife or some relative. Intuitively Peggy grasped the situation, but kept a perfectly sober face.
"I am very glad to come," said her guest, and added: "This is my niece, Polly Howland."
"It's nice to see and know you. I don't see many girls of my own age. Will you come to the surrey?" and she indicated with a graceful motion of her hand the carriage in waiting just beyond. Mrs. Harold and her niece followed their guide.
Old Jess made a sweeping bow. He must do the honors properly. Peggy helped her guests into the rear seat, then sprang lightly into the front one, drew on a pair of chamois gloves, and taking the reins from Jess, gave a low, clear whistle. Instantly Tzaritza bounded up from beneath some shrubbery where she had lain hidden, and cavorting to the horses' heads made playful snaps at their muzzles. The next second they had reared upon their hind legs. Mrs. Harold gave a little cry of terror and Polly laid hold of the side of the surrey. Peggy flashed an amused, dazzling smile over her shoulder at them as she said reassuringly:
"Don't be frightened. Down, Tzaritza. Steady, my beauties."
At her words the beautiful span settled down as quiet as lambs and swung into a gait which whirled the surrey along the picturesque, woodland road at a rate not to be despised, while Peggy drove with the master- hand of experience. Indeed she seemed to guide more by words than reins, or some perfectly understood signal to the splendid creatures which arched their necks, or laid back an ear to catch each low spoken word.
For a time Peggy's guests were too absorbed in watching her marvelous skill and almost uncanny power over her horses to make any comment. Then the young girl broke into a perfect ecstasy of delight as she cried:
"Oh, how do you do it? How beautiful they are and what a superb dog. It is a Russian wolfhound, isn't it?"
"Yes, she is a wolfhound. But I don't quite understand. Do what?" and Peggy glanced back questioningly.
"Why drive like that. Make them obey you so perfectly."
"Oh! Why I reckon it is because I have driven all my life. I can't remember when I haven't, and I love and understand them so well. That is all there is to it, I think. They will do almost anything for me. You see I was here when they were born and they have known me from the very first. That makes a lot of difference. And I have a great deal to do about the paddock. I superintend it. The horses are never afraid of me and if they don't know the meaning of fear one can do almost anything with them,"
How simple it was all said. Mrs. Harold was more and more puzzled. The drive was longer than she had expected it to be and she had ample time to observe her young hostess.
"And your mother or aunt, whom I infer is my correspondent, shall I meet her at Severndale!"
"My mother is not living, Mrs. Harold, and I have no own aunt; only an aunt by marriage, the widow of Daddy's only brother, but I have never seen her."
"Then I am at a loss to understand with whom I have been corresponding about a wonderful horse called Silver Star. Someone who signs her letters Margaret C. Stewart, and who evidently knows what she is writing about, too, for she writes to the point and has told me a dozen things which no one but an experienced business woman would think of telling. Yet you tell me there is neither a Mrs. nor Miss Stewart at Severndale."
"I am afraid I am the only Miss Stewart at Severndale, though I am never called Miss Stewart. I'm just Miss Peggy to the help, and Peggy to my friends. But, of course, when I write business letters I have to sign my full name."
"You write business letters. Do you mean to tell me you wrote those letters'?"
"I'm the only Margaret Stewart," answered Peggy, her eyes twinkling. "But here we are at Severndale."
The span made a sharp turn and sped along a beautiful avenue over-arched by golden beeches and a moment later swept up to a stately old colonial mansion which must have looked out over the reaches of Round Bay for many generations.
It must be admitted that during the drive from the station Peggy's curiosity concerning her guests had been fully as lively as theirs regarding her. She had never known girl friends; there was but one home within reasonable reach of her own which harbored a girl near her own age and during the past year even this one had been sent off to boarding school, her parents realizing that the place was too remote to afford her the advantages her age demanded. Consequently, Peggy experienced a little thrill when she met Polly Howland. Here was a girl of her own age, her own station, and, if intuition meant anything, a kindred spirit. The moment of their introduction had been too brief for Peggy to have a good look at Polly, but now that they had reached Severndale she meant to have it, and while Mrs. Howland and Polly were exclaiming over the beauty of the old place, and the former was wondering how she could have lived in Annapolis so long without even being aware of its existence, Peggy, while apparently occupied in caring for her guests' welfare, was scrutinizing those guests very closely.
What she saw was a lady something past forty, a little above the average height, slight and graceful, with masses of dark brown hair coiled beneath a very pretty dark blue velvet toque, a face almost as fresh and fair as a girl's, large, dark brown expressive eyes, which held a light that in some mysterious manner appealed to Peggy and drew her irresistibly. They were smiling eyes with a twinkle suggestive of a sense of humor, a sympathetic understanding of the view-point of those of fewer years, which the mouth beneath corroborated, for the lips held a little curve which often betrayed the inward emotions. Her voice was soft and sweet and its intonation fell soothingly upon Peggy's sensitive ears. Taken altogether, her elder guest had already won Peggy's heart, though she would have found it hard to explain why.
And Polly Howland?
To describe Polly Howland in cold print would be impossible, for Polly was something of a chameleon. What Peggy saw was a young girl not quite as tall as herself, but slightly heavier and straight and lithe as a willow. Her fine head was topped with a great wavy mass of the deepest copper-tinted hair, perfectly wonderful hair, which glinted and flashed with every turn of the girl's head, and rolled back from a broad forehead white and clear as milk. The eyes beneath the forehead were a perfect cadet blue, with long lashes many shades darker than the hair. They were big eyes, expressive and constantly changing with Polly's moods, now flashing, now laughing, again growing dark, deep and tender. The nose had an independent little tilt, but the mouth was exquisitely faultless and mobile and expressive to a rare degree. Polly's eyes and mouth would have attracted attention anywhere.
Of course Peggy did not take quite this analytical view of either of her guests, though in a vague way she felt it all and an odd sense of happiness filled her soul which she would have found it hard to explain.
She led the way through the spacious hall and dining-room to the broad piazza from which the view was simply entrancing, and said:
"Won't you and Miss Howland be seated, Mrs. Harold; I am sure you must be hungry after your ride through this October air. We will have some refreshments and then go out to the paddock to see Silver Star."
Touching a little silver bell, which was promptly answered by Jerome, she ordered:
"Something extra nice for my guests, Jerome, and please send word to Shelby that we will be out to the paddock in half an hour."
"Yes, missie, lamb, I gwine bring yo' a dish fitten f o' a queen."
Mrs. Harold dropped into one of the big East India porch chairs, saying:
"This is one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. Polly, dear, look at the wonderful reds of those wings contrasted with the foliage back of them. Why have we never known of Severndale? Have you lived here long, Miss Stewart?"
"Would you mind calling me just Peggy? Miss Stewart makes me feel so old and grown-up," said Peggy unaffectedly.
Mrs. Harold smiled approvingly and Polly cried:
"Yes, doesn't it? I hate to be called Miss Howland. I'm not, anyway, for I have an older sister. Have you, too?"
"No," answered Peggy. "I have no one in the world but Daddy Neil, and he is away nearly all the time. I wish he were not. I miss him terribly. He spent August with me and I have never before missed him as I do this time. I have always lived here, Mrs. Harold. I was born here," she concluded in reply to Mrs. Harold's question.
"But your companions?" Mrs. Harold could not refrain from asking.
"That was Daddy Neil's deepest concern during his last visit. He had not thought much about it before, I guess. I dare say you will think it odd, but my companions are mostly four-footed ones, though I am—what shall I call it? Guarded? chaperoned? cared for? by Harrison, Mammy Lucy and Jerome, with my legal guardian, Dr. Llewellyn to keep me within bounds. I dare say most people would consider it very unusual, but I am very happy and never lonely. Yes, Jerome, set the tray here, please," she ended as the butler returned bearing a large silver tray laden with a beautiful silver chocolate service, egg-shell cups straight from Japan, a plate of the most delicate, flaky biscuits, divided, buttered and steaming, flanked by another plate piled high with little scalloped- edged nut cakes, just fresh from Aunt Cynthia's oven.
Taking her seat beside the table Peggy poured and Jerome served in his most dignified manner, while Mrs. Harold marveled more and more and Polly thought she had never in all her life seen a girl quite like Peggy.
"It is one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen," said Mrs. Harold.
"I am glad you like it, for I love it. Few people know of it. I mean few who come to Annapolis. I have lived here so quietly since Mamma's death when I was six years old. Daddy comes whenever he can, but he has asked for sea duty since Mamma left us. He has missed her so."
"In which class did your father graduate, Miss Peggy!"
"In 18—, Mrs. Harold."
"Why then he must have been in the Academy when Mr. Harold was there. He graduated two years later. I wonder if they knew each other. Mr. Harold would have been a youngster, and your father a first-classman, and first-classmen HAVE been known to notice youngsters."
Peggy looked puzzled. Although she had always lived within ten miles of the Academy, she had never entered its gates, and knew nothing of its ways or rules. Polly was wiser, having spent a month with her aunt. She laughed as she explained:
"A first-classman is a lordly being who is generally at odds with a second-classman, but inclined to protect a third-classman, or youngster, simply because the second-classman is inclined to make life a burden for him, just as he in turn is ready to torment the life out of a fourth- classman, or plebe. I am just beginning to understand it. It seemed perfectly ridiculous at first, but I guess some of those boys are the better for the running they get. I've only been here since the first of October, but I've learned a whole lot in four weeks. Maybe you will come over to see us some time and you will understand better then."
"I'd love to, I am sure. But may I offer you something more? No? Then perhaps we would better go down to the paddock."
They stepped from the piazza and walked through the beautifully kept garden. On either side late autumn flowers were blooming, the box hedges were a deep, waxen green, and gave forth a rich, aromatic odor. Polly cried:
"I just can't believe that you—you—why that you are the mistress of all this. I don't believe you can be one bit older than I am."
"I was fourteen last January," answered Peggy simply.
"And I fifteen last August," cried Polly with the frankness of her years.
"Then you are exactly five months older than I am, aren't you?" Peggy's smile was wonderfully winning.
"And when I look at all this and hear you talk I feel just about five YEARS YOUNGER," was Polly's frank reply. "Why I've never done a single thing in my life.''
"Not one?" asked Mrs. Harold, smiling significantly.
"Oh well, nothing like all THIS," protested Polly.
They had now reached a large inclosure. At the further end were a number of low buildings, evidently stables. Nearer at hand, outside the inclosure, were larger buildings—barns and offices. The inclosure was still soft and green in its carpeting of turf and patches of clover. Eight or ten horses were running at large, free and halterless. Further on was another inclosure in which several brood mares were grazing quietly or frisking about with, their colts. Some had come to the high paling to gaze inquiringly at the strangers.
"Oh, Tanta, Tanta, just look at them," cried Polly in a rapture. "And which is to be mine?"
"None of those spindle-legs yonder," was Peggy's amused answer. "They will be running at large for a long time yet. I don't even begin training them until they are a year old—at least not in anything but loving and obeying me. But most of them learn that very quickly. You must look in this paddock for Silver Star, Miss Polly. Shall I call him?"
"Will he really come?" asked Polly incredulously.
For answer Peggy slipped into the paddock, saying as she shot back the bolt:
"We used to have a much simpler fastening, but they learned how to undo it and make their escape. For that reason we are obliged to have these high fences. They have a strain of hunter blood and a six-foot barrier doesn't mean much to some of them."
How bonny the girl looked as she stood there. The horses which were in a little group near the buildings at the opposite end of the paddock, raised their heads inquiringly. The girl gave a long, clear whistle which was instantly answered by a chorus of loud neighs, as the group broke into a mad gallop and bore down upon her. It seemed to Mrs. Harold and Polly as though the on-rushing creatures must bear her down, but just when the speed was the maddest, when heads were tossing most wildly, and tails and manes waving like banners, Peggy cried:
"Halt! Steady, my beauties!" and as one the beautiful animals came to a standstill their hoofs stirring up a cloud of dust, so suddenly did they brace their forefeet. The next second they were crowding around her, nuzzling her hair, her shoulders, her hands, evidently begging in silent eloquence for some expected dainty.
Peggy carried a small linen bag. She opened it and instantly the air was filled with the soft, bubbling whinny with which a horse begs.
"Quiet, Meteor. Be patient, Don. Wait, Queen. Oh, Shashai, will you never learn manners?" she cried as her pet stretched his long neck and catching the little bag in his teeth snatched it from her hands, then, with all the delight of a child who has played a clever trick, away he dashed across the paddock.
"Shashai! Shashai, how dare you! Halt!" she called after him, but the graceful creature had no idea of halting.
For a moment Peggy looked at her guests very much as a baffled schoolmistress might look in the event of her pupil's open defiance, then cried:
"This will never, never do. If he disobeys me once I shall never be able to do anything with him again. Please excuse me a moment. I must catch him."
"Are you in the habit of chasing whirlwinds?" asked Mrs. Harold laughing.
"You must be able to run faster than most people," laughed Polly, but even as she spoke Peggy cried:
"Star! Star! Come." And out from the group slipped a superb chestnut. He came close to the girl, slipping his beautiful head across her shoulder and nestling against her face with the affection of a child. She clasped her arm up around the satiny neck and said softly:
"We must catch Shashai, Star," then turning like a flash, she rested one hand lightly upon his withers, gave a quick spring and sat astride the horse's back.
Polly gave a little cry and clasped her hands, her eyes sparkling with delight at this marvelous equestrian feat. Mrs. Harold was too amazed to speak.
"After him! Four bells, Star," cried Peggy, and away rushed the pair as though horse and rider were one creature, Peggy's divided cloth skirt, which up to that moment Mrs. Harold had not noticed, fluttering back to reveal the nattiest little patent leather riding boots imaginable. It was one of the prettiest pictures Mrs. Harold and Polly had ever beheld.