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L.C. PAGE & COMPANY (Inc.) 53 Beacon Street Boston, Mass.
THE HILDEGARDE SERIES
A STORY FOR GIRLS
LAURA E. RICHARDS
"The Margaret Series," "The Hildegarde Series," "Captain January," "Melody," "Five Minute Stories," etc.
THE PAGE COMPANY BOSTON . PUBLISHERS
Copyright, 1889, by THE PAGE COMPANY Copyright renewed, 1917
Made in U.S.A.
Thirty-second Impression, August, 1927
THE COLONIAL PRESS C.H. SIMONDS CO., BOSTON, U.S.A.
MY BELOVED SISTER,
Maud Howe Elliott.
I. HILDEGARDIS GRAHAM 9
II. DAME AND FARMER 31
III. THE PRISONER OF DESPAIR 49
IV. THE NEW HILDA 73
V. THE BLUE PLATTER 94
VI. HARTLEY'S GLEN 111
VII. PINK CHIRK 135
VIII. THE LETTER 160
IX. THE OLD CAPTAIN 178
X. A PARTY OF PLEASURE 198
XI. THE WARRIOR QUEEN 218
XII. THE OLD MILL 237
XIII. THE TREE-PARTY 272
THE LAST WORD 289
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS.
"SHE GLANCED INTO THE LONG CHEVAL-GLASS" (See page 32) Frontispiece
"SHE PUSHED THE BUSHES ASIDE AND CAME TOWARDS HIM" 47
"SHE BENT IN REAL DISTRESS OVER THE CURRANTS" 89
"SHE FLUNG THE CORN IN GOLDEN SHOWERS ON THEIR HEADS" 117
"THE PALE GIRL MADE NO ATTEMPT TO RISE" 155
"'SAY, MISS HILDY,—DO YOU LIKE PURPS?'" 205
"EACH TOOK A SKIMMER AND SET EARNESTLY TO WORK" 227
"'TAKE IT AND OPEN IT!'" 267
"And have you decided what is to become of Hilda?" asked Mrs. Graham.
"Hilda?" replied her husband, in a tone of surprise, "Hilda? why, she will go with us, of course. What else should become of the child? She will enjoy the trip immensely, I have no doubt."
Mrs. Graham sighed and shook her head. "I fear that is impossible, dear George!" she said. "To tell the truth, I am a little anxious about Hilda; she is not at all well. I don't mean that she is actually ill," she added quickly, as Mr. Graham looked up in alarm, "but she seems languid and dispirited, has no appetite, and is inclined to be fretful,—an unusual thing for her."
"Needs a change!" said Mr. Graham, shortly. "Best thing for her. Been studying too hard, I suppose, and eating caramels. If I could discover the man who invented that pernicious sweetmeat, I would have him hanged!—hanged, madam!"
"Oh, no, you wouldn't, dear!" said his wife, laughing softly; "I think his life would be quite safe. But about Hilda now! She does need a change, certainly; but is the overland journey in July just the right kind of change for her, do you think?"
Mr. Graham frowned, ran his fingers through his hair, drummed on the table, and then considered his boots attentively. "Well—no!" he said at last, reluctantly. "I—suppose—not. But what can we do with her? Send her to Fred and Mary at the seashore?"
"To sleep in a room seven by twelve, and be devoured by mosquitoes, and have to wear 'good clothes' all the time?" returned Mrs. Graham. "Certainly not."
"Aunt Emily is going to the mountains," suggested Mr. Graham, doubtfully.
"Yes," replied his wife, "with sixteen trunks, a maid, a footman, and three lapdogs! That would never do for Hilda."
"You surely are not thinking of leaving her alone here with the servants?"
The lady shook her head. "No, dear; such poor wits as Heaven granted me are not yet entirely gone, thank you!"
Mr. Graham rose from his chair and flung out both arms in a manner peculiar to him when excited. "Now, now, now, Mildred!" he said impressively, "I have always said that you were a good woman, and I shall continue to assert the same; but you have powers of tormenting that could not be surpassed by the most heartless of your sex. It is perfectly clear, even to my darkened mind, that you have some plan for Hilda fully matured and arranged in that scheming little head of yours; so what is your object in keeping me longer in suspense? Out with it, now! What are you—for of course I am in reality only a cipher (a tolerably large cipher) in the sum—what are you, the commander-in-chief, going to do with Hilda, the lieutenant-general? If you will kindly inform the orderly-sergeant, he will act accordingly, and endeavor to do his duty."
Pretty Mrs. Graham laughed again, and looked up at the six-feet-two of sturdy manhood standing on the hearth-rug, gazing at her with eyes which twinkled merrily under the fiercely frowning brows. "You are a very disorderly-sergeant, dear!" she said. "Just look at your hair! It looks as if all the four winds had been blowing through it—"
"Instead of all the ten fingers going through it," interrupted her husband. "Never mind my hair; that is not the point. What—do—you—propose—to—do—with—your daughter—Hildegarde, or Hildegardis, as it should properly be written?"
"Well, dear George," said the commander-in-chief (she was a very small woman and a very pretty one, though she had a daughter "older than herself," as her husband said; and she wore a soft lilac gown, and had soft, wavy brown hair, and was altogether very pleasant to look at)—"well, dear George, the truth is, I have a little plan, which I should like very much to carry out, if you fully approve of it."
"Ha!" said Mr. Graham, tossing his "tempestuous locks" again, "ho! I thought as much. If I approve, eh, little madam? Better say, whether I approve or not."
So saying, the good-natured giant sat himself down again, and listened while his wife unfolded her plan; and what the plan was, we shall see by and by. Meanwhile let us take a peep at Hilda, or Hildegardis, as she sits in her own room, all unconscious of the plot which is hatching in the parlor below. She is a tall girl of fifteen. Probably she has attained her full height, for she looks as if she had been growing too fast; her form is slender, her face pale, with a weary look in the large gray eyes. It is a delicate, high-bred face, with a pretty nose, slightly "tip-tilted," and a beautiful mouth; but it is half-spoiled by the expression, which is discontented, if not actually peevish. If we lifted the light curling locks of fair hair which lie on her forehead, we should see a very decided frown on a broad white space which ought to be absolutely smooth. Why should a girl of fifteen frown, especially a girl so "exceptionally fortunate" as all her friends considered Hilda Graham? Certainly her surroundings at this moment are pretty enough to satisfy any girl. The room is not large, but it has a sunny bay-window which seems to increase its size twofold. In re-furnishing it a year before, her father had in mind Hilda's favorite flower, the forget-me-not, and the room is simply a bower of forget-me-nots. Scattered over the dull olive ground of the carpet, clustering and nodding from the wall-paper, peeping from the folds of the curtains, the forget-me-nots are everywhere. Even the creamy surface of the toilet-jug and bowl, even the ivory backs of the brushes that lie on the blue-covered toilet table, bear each its cluster of pale-blue blossoms; while the low easy-chair in which the girl is reclining, and the pretty sofa with its plump cushions inviting to repose, repeat the same tale. The tale is again repeated, though in a different way, by a scroll running round the top of the wall, on which in letters of blue and gold is written at intervals: "Ne m'oubliez pas!" "Vergiss mein nicht!" "Non ti scordar!" and the same sentiment is repeated in Spanish, Latin, Greek, and Hebrew, of all which tongues the fond father possessed knowledge.
Is not this indeed a bower, wherein a girl ought to be happy? the bird in the window thinks his blue and gold cage the finest house in the world, and sings as heartily and cheerily as if he had been in the wide green forest; but his mistress does not sing. She sits in the easy-chair, with a book upside-down in her lap, and frowns,—actually frowns, in a forget-me-not bower! There is not much the matter, really. Her head aches, that is all. Her German lesson has been longer and harder than usual, and her father was quite right about the caramels; there is a box of them on the table now, within easy reach of the slim white hand with its forget-me-not ring of blue turquoises. (I do not altogether agree with Mr. Graham about hanging the caramel-maker, but I should heartily like to burn all his wares. Fancy a great mountain of caramels and chocolate-creams and marrons glaces piled up in Union Square, for example, and blazing away merrily,—that is, if the things would burn, which is more than doubtful. How the maidens would weep and wring their hands while the heartless parents chuckled and fed the flames with all the precious treasures of Maillard and Huyler! Ah! it is a pleasant thought, for I who write this am a heartless parent, do you see?)
As I said before, Hilda had no suspicion of the plot which her parents were concocting. She knew that her father was obliged to go to San Francisco, being called suddenly to administer the estate of a cousin who had recently died there, and that her mother and—as she supposed—herself were going with him to offer sympathy and help to the widow, an invalid with three little children. As to the idea of her being left behind; of her father's starting off on a long journey without his lieutenant-general; of her mother's parting from her only child, whom she had watched with tender care and anxiety since the day of her birth,—such a thought never came into Hilda's mind. Wherever her parents went she went, as a matter of course. So it had always been, and so without doubt it always would be. She did not care specially about going to California at this season of the year,—in fact she had told her bosom friend, Madge Everton, only the day before, that it was "rather a bore," and that she should have preferred to go to Newport. "But what would you?" she added, with the slightest shrug of her pretty shoulders. "Papa and mamma really must go, it appears; so of course I must go too."
"A bore!" repeated Madge energetically, replying to the first part of her friend's remarks. "Hilda, what a very singular girl you are! Here I, or Nelly, or any of the other girls would give both our ears, and our front teeth too, to make such a trip; and just because you can go, you sit there and call it 'a bore!'" And Madge shook her black curls, and opened wide eyes of indignation and wonder at our ungrateful heroine. "I only wish," she added, "that you and I could be changed into each other, just for this summer."
"I wish—" began Hilda; but she checked herself in her response to the wish, as the thought of Madge's five brothers rose in her mind (Hilda could not endure boys!), looked attentively at the toe of her little bronze slipper for a few moments, and then changed the subject by proposing a walk. "Console yourself with the caramels, my fiery Madge," she said, pushing the box across the table, "while I put on my boots. We will go to Maillard's and get some more while we are out. His caramels are decidedly better than Huyler's; don't you think so!"
A very busy woman was pretty Mrs. Graham during the next two weeks. First she made an expedition into the country "to see an old friend," she said, and was gone two whole days. And after that she was out every morning, driving hither and thither, from shop to dressmaker, from dressmaker to milliner, from milliner to shoemaker.
"It is a sad thing," Mr. Graham would say, when his wife fluttered in to lunch, breathless and exhausted and half an hour late (she, the most punctual of women!),—"it is a sad thing to have married a comet by mistake, thinking it was a woman. How did you find the other planets this morning, my dear? Is it true that Saturn has lost one of his rings? and has the Sun recovered from his last attack of spots? I really fear," he would add, turning to Hilda, "that this preternatural activity in your comet-parent portends some alarming change in the—a—atmospheric phenomena, my child. I would have you on your guard!" and then he would look at her and sigh, shake his head, and apply himself to the cold chicken with melancholy vigor.
Hilda thought nothing of her father's remarks,—papa was always talking nonsense, and she thought she always understood him perfectly. It did occur to her, however, to wonder at her mother's leaving her out on all her shopping expeditions. Hilda rather prided herself on her skill in matching shades and selecting fabrics, and mamma was generally glad of her assistance in all such matters. However, perhaps it was only under-clothing and house-linen, and such things that she was buying. All that was the prosy part of shopping. It was the poetry of it that Hilda loved,—the shimmer of silk and satin, the rich shadows in velvet, the cool, airy fluttering of lawn and muslin and lace. So the girl went on her usual way, finding life a little dull, a little tiresome, and most people rather stupid, but everything on the whole much as usual, if her head only would not ache so; and it was without a shadow of suspicion that she obeyed one morning her mother's summons to come and see her in her dressing-room.
Mr. Graham always spoke of his wife's dressing-room as "the citadel." It was absolutely impregnable, he said. In the open field of the drawing-room or the broken country of the dining-room it might be possible—he had never known such a thing to occur, but still it might be possible—for the commander-in-chief to sustain a defeat; but once intrenched behind the walls of the citadel, horse, foot, and dragoons might storm and charge upon her, but they could not gain an inch. Not an inch, sir! True it was that Mrs. Graham always felt strongest in this particular room. She laughed about it, but acknowledged the fact. Here, on the wall, hung a certain picture which was always an inspiration to her. Here, on the shelf above her desk, were the books of her heart, the few tried friends to whom she turned for help and counsel when things puzzled her. (Mrs. Graham was never disheartened. She didn't believe there was such a word. She was only "puzzled" sometimes, until she saw her way and her duty clear before her, and then she went straight forward, over a mountain or through a stone wall, as the case might be.) Here, in the drawer of her little work-table, were some relics,—a tiny, half-worn shoe, a little doll, a sweet baby face laughing from an ivory frame: the insignia of her rank in the great order of sorrowing mothers; and these, perhaps, gave her that great sympathy and tenderness for all who were in trouble which drew all sad hearts towards her.
And so, on this occasion, the little woman had sat for a few moments looking at the pictured face on the wall, with its mingled majesty and sweetness; had peeped into the best-beloved of all books, and said a little prayer, as was her wont when "puzzled," before she sent the message to Hilda,—for she knew that she must sorely hurt and grieve the child who was half the world to her; and though she did not flinch from the task, she longed for strength and wisdom to do it in the kindest and wisest way.
"Hilda, dear," she said gently, when they were seated together on the sofa, hand in hand, with each an arm round the other's waist, as they loved best to sit,—"Hilda, dear, I have something to say that will not please you; something that may even grieve you very much at first." She paused, and Hilda rapidly reviewed in her mind all the possibilities that she could think of. Had anything happened to the box of French dresses which was on its way from Paris? Had a careless servant broken the glass of her fernery again? Had Aunt Emily been saying disagreeable things about her, as she was apt to do? She was about to speak, but at that moment, like a thunderbolt, the next words struck her ear: "We have decided not to take you with us to California." Amazed, wounded, indignant, Hilda could only lift her great gray eyes to meet the soft violet ones which, full of unshed tears, were fixed tenderly upon her. Mrs. Graham continued: "Your father and I both feel, my darling, that this long, fatiguing journey, in the full heat of summer, would be the worst possible thing for you. You have not been very well lately, and it is most important that you should lead a quiet, regular, healthy life for the next few months. We have therefore made arrangements to leave you—"
But here Hilda could control herself no longer. "Mamma! mamma!" she cried. "How can you be so unkind, so cruel? Leave me—you and papa both? Why, I shall die! Of course I shall die, all alone in this great house. I thought you loved me!" and she burst into tears, half of anger, half of grief, and sobbed bitterly.
"Dear child!" said Mrs. Graham, smoothing the fair hair lovingly, "if you had heard me out, you would have seen that we had no idea of leaving you alone, or of leaving you in this house either. You are to stay with—"
"Not with Aunt Emily!" cried the girl, springing to her feet with flashing eyes. "Mamma, I would rather beg in the streets than stay with Aunt Emily. She is a detestable, ill-natured, selfish woman."
"Hildegarde," said Mrs. Graham gravely, "be silent!" There was a moment of absolute stillness, broken only by the ticking of the little crystal clock on the mantelpiece, and then Mrs. Graham continued: "I must ask you not to speak again, my daughter, until I have finished what I have to say; and even then, I trust you will keep silence until you are able to command yourself. You are to stay with my old nurse, Mrs. Hartley, at her farm near Glenfield. She is a very kind, good woman, and will take the best possible care of you. I went to the farm myself last week, and found it a lovely place, with every comfort, though no luxuries, save the great one of a free, healthy, natural life. There, my Hilda, we shall leave you, sadly indeed, and yet feeling that you are in good and loving hands. And I feel very sure," she added in a lighter tone, "that by the time we return, you will be a rosy-cheeked country lass, strong and hearty, with no more thought of headaches, and no wrinkle in your forehead." As she ceased speaking, Mrs. Graham drew the girl close to her, and kissed the white brow tenderly, murmuring: "God bless my darling daughter! If she knew how her mother's heart aches at parting with her!" But Hilda did not know. She was too angry, too bewildered, too deeply hurt, to think of any one except herself. She felt that she could not trust herself to speak, and it was in silence, and without returning her mother's caress, that she rose and sought her own room.
Mrs. Graham looked after her wistfully, tenderly, but made no effort to call her back. The tears trembled in her soft blue eyes, and her lip quivered as she turned to her work-table; but she said quietly to herself: "Solitude is a good medicine. The child will do well, and I know that I have chosen wisely for her."
Bitter tears did Hildegarde shed as she flung herself face downward on her own blue sofa. Angry thoughts surged through her brain. Now she burned with resentment at the parents who could desert her,—their only child; now she melted into pity for herself, and wept more and more as she pictured the misery that lay before her. To be left alone—alone!—on a squalid, wretched farm, with a dirty old woman, a woman who had been a servant,—she, Hildegardis Graham, the idol of her parents, the queen of her "set" among the young people, the proudest and most exclusive girl in New York, as she had once (and not with displeasure) heard herself called!
What would Madge Everton, what would all the girls say! How they would laugh, to hear of Hilda Graham living on a farm among pigs and hens and dirty people! Oh! it was intolerable; and she sprang up and paced the floor, with burning cheeks and flashing eyes.
The thought of opposing the plan did not occur to her. Mrs. Graham's rule, gentle though it was, was not of the flabby, nor yet of the elastic sort. Her decisions were not hastily arrived at; but once made, they were final and abiding. "You might just as well try to oppose the Gulf Stream!" Mr. Graham would say. "They do it sometimes with icebergs, and what is the result? In a few days the great clumsy things are bowing and scraping and turning somersaults, and fairly jostling each other in their eagerness to obey the guidance of the insidious current. Insidious Current, will you allow a cup of coffee to drift in my direction? I shall be only too happy to turn a somersault if it will afford you—thanks!—the smallest gratification."
So Hildegarde's first lessons had been in obedience and in truthfulness; and these were fairly well learned before she began her ABC. And so she knew now, that she might storm and weep as she would in her own room, but that the decree was fixed, and that unless the skies fell, her summer would be passed at Hartley's Glen.
DAME AND FARMER.
When the first shock was over, Hilda was rather glad than otherwise to learn that there was to be no delay in carrying out the odious plan. "The sooner the better," she said to herself. "I certainly don't want to see any of the girls again, and the first plunge will be the worst of it."
"What clothes am I to take?" she asked her mother, in a tone which she mentally denominated "quiet and cold," though possibly some people might have called it "sullen."
"Your clothes are already packed, dear," replied Mrs. Graham; "you have only to pack your dressing-bag, to be all ready for the start to-morrow. See, here is your trunk, locked and strapped, and waiting for the porter's shoulder;" and she showed Hilda a stout, substantial-looking trunk, bearing the initials H.G.
"But, mamma," Hilda began, wondering greatly, "my dresses are all hanging in my wardrobe."
"Not all of them, dear!" said her mother, smiling. "Hark! papa is calling you. Make haste and go down, for dinner is ready."
Wondering more and more, Hildegarde made a hasty toilet, putting on the pretty pale blue cashmere dress which her father specially liked, with silk stockings to match, and dainty slippers of bronze kid. As she clasped the necklace of delicate blue and silver Venetian beads which completed the costume, she glanced into the long cheval-glass which stood between the windows, and could not help giving a little approving nod to her reflection. Though not a great beauty, Hildegarde was certainly a remarkably pretty and even distinguished-looking girl; and "being neither blind nor a fool," she soliloquized, "where is the harm in acknowledging it?" But the next moment the thought came: "What difference will it make, in a stupid farm-house, whether I am pretty or not? I might as well be a Hottentot!" and with the "quiet and cold" look darkening over her face, she went slowly down stairs.
Her father met her with a kiss and clasp of the hand even warmer than usual.
"Well, General!" he said, in a voice which insisted upon being cheery, "marching orders, eh? Marching orders! Break up camp! boot, saddle, to horse and away! Forces to march in different directions, by order of the commander-in-chief." But the next moment he added, in an altered tone: "My girl, mamma knows best; remember that! She is right in this move, as she generally is. Cheer up, darling, and let us make the last evening a happy one!"
Hilda tried to smile, for who could be angry with papa? She made a little effort, and the father and mother made a great one,—how great she could not know; and so the evening passed, better than might have been expected.
The evening passed, and the night, and the next day came; and it was like waking from a strange dream when Hilda found herself in a railway train, with her father sitting beside her, and her mother's farewell kiss yet warm on her cheek, speeding over the open country, away from home and all that she held most dear. Her dressing-bag, with her umbrella neatly strapped to it, was in the rack overhead, the check for her trunk in her pocket. Could it all be true? She tried to listen while her father told her of the happy days he had spent on his grandfather's farm when he was a boy; but the interest was not real, and she found it hard to fix her mind on what he was saying. What did she care about swinging on gates, or climbing apple-trees, or riding unruly colts! She was not a boy, nor even a tomboy. When he spoke of the delights of walking in the country through woodland and meadow, her thoughts strayed to Fifth Avenue, with its throng of well-dressed people, the glittering equipages rolling by, the stately houses on either side, through whose shining windows one caught glimpses of the splendors within; and to the Park, with its shady alleys and well-kept lawns. Could there be any walking so delightful as that which these afforded? Surely not! Ah! Madge and Helen were probably just starting for their walk now. Did they know of her banishment? would they laugh at the thought of Queen Hildegardis vegetating for three months at a wretched—
"Glenfield!" The brakeman's voice rang clear and sharp through the car. Hilda started, and seized her father's hand convulsively.
"Papa!" she whispered, "O papa! don't leave me here; take me home! I cannot bear it!"
"Come, my child!" said Mr. Graham, speaking low, and with an odd catch in his voice; "that is not the way to go into action. Remember, this is your first battle. So, eyes front! charge bayonets! quick step! forward, march!"
The train had stopped. They were on the platform. Mr. Graham led Hilda up to a stout, motherly-looking woman, who held out her hand with a beaming smile.
"Here is my daughter, Mrs. Hartley!" he said, hastily. "You will take good care of her, I know. My darling, good-by! I go on to Dashford, and home by return train in an hour. God bless you, my Hilda! Courage! Up, Guards, and at them! Remember Waterloo!" and he was gone. The engine shrieked an unearthly "Good-by!" and the train rumbled away, leaving Hilda gazing after it through a mist which only her strong will prevented from dissolving in tears.
"Well, my dear," said Dame Hartley's cheery voice, "your papa's gone, and you must not stand here and fret after him. Here is old Nancy shaking her head, and wondering why she does not get home to her dinner. Do you get into the cart, and I will get the station-master to put your trunk in for us."
Hilda obeyed in silence; and climbing into the neat wagon, took her seat and looked about her while Dame Hartley bustled off in search of the station-master. There was not very much to look at at Glenfield station. The low wooden building with its long platform stood on a bare spot of ground, from which the trees all stood back, as if to mark their disapproval of the railway and all that belonged to it. The sandy soil made little attempt to produce vegetation, but put out little humps of rock occasionally, to show what it could do. Behind, a road led off into the woods, hiding itself behind the low-hanging branches of chestnut and maple, ash and linden trees. That was all. Now that the train was gone, the silence was unbroken save by the impatient movements of the old white mare as she shook the flies off and rattled the jingling harness.
Hilda was too weary to think. She had slept little the night before, and the suddenness of the recent changes confused her mind and made her feel as if she were some one else, and not herself at all. She sat patiently, counting half-unconsciously each quiver of Nancy's ears. But now Dame Hartley came bustling back with the station-master, and between the two, Hilda's trunk was hoisted into the cart. Then the good woman climbed in over the wheel, settled her ample person on the seat and gathered up the reins, while the station-master stood smoothing the mare's mane, ready for a parting word of friendly gossip.
"Jacob pooty smart!" he asked, brushing a fly from Nancy's shoulder.
"Only middling," was the reply. "He had a touch o' rheumatiz, that last spell of wet weather, and it seems to hang on, kind of. Ketches him in the joints and the small of his back if he rises up suddin."
"I know! I know!" replied the station-master, with eager interest. "Jest like my spells ketches me; on'y I have it powerful bad acrost my shoulders, too. I been kerryin' a potato in my pocket f'r over and above a week now, and I'm in hopes 't'll cure me."
"A potato in your pocket!" exclaimed Dame Hartley. "Reuel Slocum! what do you mean?"
"Sounds curus, don't it?" returned Mr. Slocum. "But it's a fact that it's a great cure for rheumatiz. A grea-at cure! Why, there's Barzillay Smith, over to Peat's Corner, has kerried a potato in his pocket for five years,—not the same potato, y' know; changes 'em when they begin to sprout,—and he hesn't hed a touch o' rheumatism all that time. Not a touch! tol' me so himself."
"Had he ever hed it before?" asked Dame Hartley.
"I d'no as he hed," said Mr. Slocum, "But his father hed; an' his granf'ther before him. So ye see—"
But here Hilda uttered a long sigh of weariness and impatience; and Dame Hartley, with a penitent glance at her, bade good-morning to the victim of rheumatism, gave old Nancy a smart slap with the reins, and drove off down the wood-road.
"My dear child," she said to Hilda as they jogged along, "I ought not to have kept you waiting so long, and you tired with your ride in the cars. But Reuel Slocum lives all alone here, and he does enjoy a little chat with an old neighbor more than most folks; so I hope you'll excuse me."
"It is of no consequence, thank you," murmured Hildegarde, with cold civility. She did not like to be called "my dear child," to begin with; and besides, she was very weary and heartsick, and altogether miserable. But she tried to listen, as the good woman continued to talk in a cheery, comfortable tone, telling her how fond she had always been of "Miss Mildred," as she called Mrs. Graham, and how she had the care of her till she was almost a woman grown, and never would have left her then if Jacob Hartley hadn't got out of patience.
"And to think how you've grown, Hilda dear! You don't remember it, of course, but this isn't the first time you have been at Hartley's Glen. A sweet baby you were, just toddling about on the prettiest little feet I ever saw, when your mamma brought you out here to spend a month with old Nurse Lucy. And your father came out every week, whenever he could get away from his business. What a fine man he is, to be sure! And he and my husband had rare times, shooting over the meadows, and fishing, and the like."
They were still in the wood-road, now jolting along over ridges and hummocks, now ploughing through stretches of soft, sandy soil. Above and on either side, the great trees interlaced their branches, sometimes letting them droop till they brushed against Hilda's cheek, sometimes lifting them to give her a glimpse of cool vistas of dusky green, shade within shade,—moss-grown hollows, where the St. John's-wort showed its tarnished gold, and white Indian pipe gleamed like silver along the ground; or stony beds over which, in the time of the spring rains, little brown brooks ran foaming and bubbling down through the woods. The air was filled with the faint cool smell of ferns, and on every side were great masses of them,—clumps of splendid ostrich-ferns, waving their green plumes in stately pride; miniature forests of the graceful brake, beneath whose feathery branches the wood-mouse and other tiny forest-creatures roamed secure; and in the very road-way, trampled under old Nancy's feet, delicate lady-fern, and sturdy hart's-tongue, and a dozen other varieties, all perfect in grace and sylvan beauty. Hilda was conscious of a vague delight, through all her fatigue and distress How beautiful it was; how cool and green and restful! If she must stay in the country, why could it not be always in the woods, where there was no noise, nor dust, nor confusion?
Her revery was broken in upon by Dame Hartley's voice crying cheerily,—
"And here we are, out of the woods at last! Cheer up, my pretty, and let me show you the first sight of the farm. It's a pleasant, heartsome place, to my thinking."
The trees opened left and right, stepping back and courtesying, like true gentlefolks as they are, with delicate leaf-draperies drooping low. The sun shone bright and hot on a bit of hard, glaring yellow road, and touched more quietly the roofs and chimneys of an old yellow farm-house standing at some distance from the road, with green rolling meadows on every side, and a great clump of trees mounting guard behind it. A low stone wall, with wild-roses nodding over it, ran along the roadside for some way, and midway in it was a trim, yellow-painted gate, which stood invitingly open, showing a neat drive-way, shaded on either side by graceful drooping elms. Old Nancy pricked up her ears and quickened her pace into a very respectable trot, as if she already smelt her oats. Dame Hartley shook her own comfortable shoulders and gave a little sigh of relief, for she too was tired, and glad to get home. But Hilda tightened her grasp on the handle of her dressing-bag, and closed her eyes with a slight shiver of dislike and dread. She would not look at this place. It was the hateful prison where she was to be shut up for three long, weary, dismal months. The sun might shine on it, the trees might wave, and the wild-roses open their slender pink buds; it would be nothing to her. She hated it, and nothing, nothing, nothing could ever make her feel differently. Ah! the fixed and immovable determination of fifteen,—does later life bring anything like it?
But now the wagon stopped, and Hilda must open her eyes, whether she would or no. In the porch, under the blossoming clematis, stood a tall, broad-shouldered man, dressed in rough homespun, who held out his great brown hand and said in a gruff, hearty voice,—
"Here ye be, eh? Thought ye was never comin'. And this is little miss, is it? Howdy, missy? Glad to see ye! Let me jump ye out over the wheel!"
But Hilda declined to be "jumped out;" and barely touching the proffered hand, sprang lightly to the ground.
"Now, Marm Lucy," said Farmer Hartley, "let's see you give a jump like that. 'Tain't so long, seems to me, sence ye used to be as spry as a hoppergrass."
Dame Hartley laughed, and climbed leisurely down from the cart. "Never mind, Jacob!" she said; "I'm spry enough yet to take care of you, if I can't jump as well as I used."
"This missy's trunk?" continued the farmer. "Let me see! What's missy's name now? Huldy, ain't it! Little Huldy! 'Pears to me that's what they used to call ye when ye was here before."
"My name is Hildegardis Graham!" said Hilda in her most icy manner,—what Madge Everton used to call her Empress-of-Russia-in-the-ice-palace-with-the-mercury-sixty-degrees-below-zero manner.
"Huldy Gardies!" repeated Farmer Hartley. "Well, that's a comical name now! Sounds like Hurdy-gurdys, doosn't it? Where did Mis' Graham pick up a name like that, I wonder? But I reckon Huldy'll do for me, 'thout the Gardies, whatever they be."
"Come, father," said Dame Hartley, "the child's tired now, an' I guess she wants to go upstairs. If you'll take the trunk, we'll follow ye."
The stalwart farmer swung the heavy trunk up on his shoulder as lightly as if it were a small satchel, and led the way into the house and up the steep, narrow staircase.
THE PRISONER OF DESPAIR.
As she followed in angry silence, Hilda had a glimpse through a half-open door of a cosey sitting-room; while another door, standing fully open at the other end of the little hall, showed, by a blaze of scarlet tiger-lilies and yellow marigolds, where the garden lay. And now the farmer opened a door and set down the trunk with a heavy thump; and Dame Hartley, taking the girl's hand, led her forward, saying: "Here, my dear, here is your own little room,—the same that your dear mamma slept in when she was here! And I hope you'll be happy in it, Hilda dear, and get all the good we wish for you while you're here!" Hilda bowed slightly, feeling unable to speak; and the good woman continued: "You must be hungry as well as tired, travelling since morning. It's near our dinner-time. Or shall I bring ye up something now,—a cup o' tea and a cooky, eh? Or would you like solid victuals better?"
"Thank you!" said Hilda. "I am not at all hungry; I could not possibly eat anything. My head aches badly!" she added, nervously forestalling her hostess's protestations. "Perhaps a cup of tea later, thank you! I should like to rest now. And I shall not want any dinner."
"Oh! you'll feel better, dear, when you have rested a bit," said Dame Hartley, smoothing the girl's fair hair with a motherly touch, and not seeming to notice her angry shrinking away. "It's the best thing you can do, to lie down and take a good nap; then you'll wake up fresh as a lark, and ready to enjoy yourself. Good-by, dearie! I'll bring up your tea in an hour or so." And with a parting nod and smile, the good woman departed, leaving Hilda, like the heroine of a three-volume novel, "alone with her despair."
Very tragic indeed the maiden looked as she tossed off her hat and flung herself face downward on the bed, refusing to cast even a glance at the cell which was to be her hateful prison. "For of course I shall spend my time here!" she said to herself. "They may send me here, keep me here for years, if they will; but they cannot make me associate with these people." And she recalled with a shudder the gnarled, horny hand which she had touched in jumping from the cart,—she had never felt anything like it; the homely speech, and the nasal twang with which it was delivered; the uncouth garb (good stout butternut homespun!) and unkempt hair and beard of the "odious old savage," as she mentally named Farmer Hartley.
After all, however, Hilda was only fifteen; and after a few minutes, Curiosity began to wake; and after a short struggle with Despair, it conquered, and she sat up on the bed and looked about her.
It was not a very dreadful cell. A bright, clean, fresh little room, all white and blue. White walls, white bedstead, with oh! such snowy coverings, white dimity curtains at the windows, with old-fashioned ball fringes, a little dimity-covered toilet-table, with a quaint looking-glass framed with fat gilt cherubs, all apparently trying to fold their wings in such a way as to enable them to get a peep at themselves in the mirror, and not one succeeding. Then there was a low rocking-chair, and another chair of the high-backed order, and a tall chest of drawers, all painted white, and a wash-hand-stand with a set of dark-blue crockery on it which made the victim of despair open her eyes wide. Hilda had a touch of china mania, and knew a good thing when she saw it; and this deep, eight-sided bowl, this graceful jug with the quaint gilt dragon for a handle, these smaller jugs, boxes, and dishes, all of the same pattern, all with dark-blue dragons (no cold "Canton" blue, but a rich, splendid ultramarine), large and small, prancing and sprawling on a pale buff ground,—what were these things doing in the paltry bedroom of a common farm-house? Hilda felt a new touch of indignation at "these people" for presuming to have such things in their possession.
When her keen eyes had taken in everything, down to the neat rag-carpet on the floor, the girl bethought her of her trunk. She might as well unpack it. Her head could not ache worse, whatever she did; and now that that little imp Curiosity was once awake, he prompted her to wonder what the trunk contained. None of the dresses she had been wearing, she was sure of that; for they were all hanging safely in her wardrobe at home. What surprise had mamma been planning? Well, she would soon know. Hastily unlocking the trunk, she lifted out one tray after another and laid them on the bed. In the first were piles of snowy collars and handkerchiefs, all of plain, fine linen, with no lace or embroidery; a broad-brimmed straw hat with a simple wreath of daisies round it; another hat, a small one, of rough gray felt, with no trimming at all, save a narrow scarlet ribbon; a pair of heavy castor gloves; a couple of white aprons, and one of brown holland, with long sleeves. The next tray was filled with dresses,—dresses which made Hilda's eyes open wide again, as she laid them out, one by one, at full length. There was a dark blue gingham with a red stripe, a brown gingham dotted with yellow daisies, a couple of light calicoes, each with a tiny figure or flower on it, a white lawn, and a sailor-suit of rough blue flannel. All these dresses, and among them all not an atom of trimming. No sign of an overskirt, no ruffle or puff, plaiting or ruching, no "Hamburg" or lace,—nothing! Plain round waists, neatly stitched at throat and wrists; plain round skirts, each with a deep hem, and not so much as a tuck by way of adornment.
Hildegarde drew a deep breath, and looked at the simple frocks with kindling eyes and flushing cheeks. These were the sort of dresses that her mother's servants wore at home. Why was she condemned to wear them now,—she, who delighted in soft laces and dainty embroideries and the clinging draperies which she thought suited her slender, pliant figure so well? Was it a part of this whole scheme; and was the object of the scheme to humiliate her, to take away her self-respect, her proper pride?
Mechanically, but carefully, as was her wont, Hilda hung the despised frocks in the closet, put away the hats, after trying them on and approving of them, in spite of herself ("Of course," she said, "mamma could not get an ugly hat, if she tried!"), and then proceeded to take out and lay in the bureau drawers the dainty under-clothing which filled the lower part of the trunk. Under all was a layer of books, at sight of which Hilda gave a little cry of pleasure. "Ah!" she said, "I shall not be quite alone;" for she saw at a glance that here were some old and dear friends. Lovingly she took them up, one by one: "Romances of the Middle Ages," Percy's "Reliques," "Hereward," and "Westward, Ho!" and, best-beloved of all, the "Adventures of Robin Hood," by grace of Howard Pyle made into so strong an enchantment that the heart thrills even at sight of its good brown cover. And here was her Tennyson and her Longfellow, and Plutarch's Lives, and the "Book of Golden Deeds." Verily a goodly company, such as might even turn a prison into a palace. But what was this, lying in the corner, with her Bible and Prayer-book, this white leather case, with—ah! Hilda—with blue forget-me-nots delicately painted on it? Hastily Hilda took it up and pressed the spring. Her mother's face smiled on her! The clear, sweet eyes looked lovingly into hers; the tender mouth, which had never spoken a harsh or unkind word, seemed almost to quiver as if in life. So kind, so loving, so faithful, so patient, always ready to sympathize, to help, to smile with one's joy or to comfort one's grief,—her own dear, dear mother! A mist came before the girl's eyes. She gazed at the miniature till she could no longer see it; and then, flinging herself down on the pillow again, she burst into a passion of tears, and sobbed and wept as if her heart would break. No longer Queen Hildegardis, no longer the outraged and indignant "prisoner," only Hilda,—Hilda who wanted her mother!
Finally she sobbed herself to sleep,—which was the very best thing she could have done. By and by Dame Hartley peeped softly in, and seeing the child lying "all in a heap," as she said to herself, with her pretty hair all tumbled about, brought a shawl and covered her carefully up, and went quietly away.
"Pretty lamb!" said the good woman. "She'll sleep all the afternoon now, like enough, and wake up feeling a good bit better,—though I fear it will be a long time before your girlie feels at home with Nurse Lucy, Miss Mildred, dear!"
Sure enough, Hilda did sleep all the afternoon; and the soft summer twilight was closing round the farm-house when she woke with a start from a dream of home.
"Mamma!" she called quickly, raising herself from the bed. For one moment she stared in amazement at the strange room, with its unfamiliar furnishing; but recollection came only too quickly. She started up as a knock was heard at the door, and Dame Hartley's voice said:
"Hilda, dear, supper is ready, and I am sure you must be very hungry. Will you come down with me?"
"Oh! thank you, presently," said Hildegarde, hastily. "I am not—I haven't changed my dress yet. Don't wait for me, please!"
"Dear heart, don't think of changing your dress!" said Dame Hartley. "You are a country lassie now, you know, and we are plain farm people. Come down just as you are, there's a dear!"
Hilda obeyed, only waiting to wash her burning face and hot, dry hands in the crystal-cold water which she poured out of the blue dragon pitcher. Her hair was brushed back and tied with a ribbon, the little curls combed and patted over her forehead; and in a few minutes she followed her hostess down the narrow staircase, with a tolerably resigned expression on her pretty face. To tell the truth, Hilda felt a great deal better for her long nap; moreover she was a little curious, and very, very hungry,—and oh, how good something did smell!
Mrs. Hartley led the way into the kitchen, as the chief room at Hartley Farm was still called, though the cooking was now done by means of a modern stove in the back kitchen, while the great fireplace, with the crane hanging over it, and the brick oven by its side, was used, as a rule, only to warm the room. At this season the room needed no warming, and feathery asparagus crowned the huge back-log, and nodded between the iron fire-dogs. Ah! it was a pleasant room, the kitchen at Hartley Farm,—wide and roomy, with deep-seated windows facing the south and west; with a floor of dark oak, which shone with more than a century of scrubbing. The fireplace, oven, and cupboards occupied one whole side of the room. Along the other ran a high dresser, whose shelves held a goodly array of polished pewter and brass, shining glass, and curious old china and crockery. Overhead were dark, heavy rafters, relieved by the gleam of yellow "crook-neck" squashes, bunches of golden corn, and long festoons of dried apples. In one window stood the good dame's rocking-chair, with its gay patchwork cushion; and her Bible, spectacles, and work-basket lay on the window-seat beside it. In another was a huge leather arm-chair, which Hilda rightly supposed to be the farmer's, and a wonderful piece of furniture, half desk, half chest of drawers, with twisted legs and cupboards and pigeon-holes and tiny drawers, and I don't know what else. The third window Hilda thought was the prettiest of all. It faced the west, and the full glory of sunset was now pouring through the clustering vines which partly shaded it. The sash was open, and a white rose was leaning in and nodding in a friendly way, as if greeting the new-comer. A low chair and a little work-table, both of quaint and graceful fashion, stood in the recess; and on the window-seat stood some flowering-plants in pretty blue and white pots.
"I suppose I am expected to sit there!" said Hilda to herself. "As if I should sit down in a kitchen!" But all the while she knew in her heart of hearts that this was one of the most attractive rooms she had ever seen, and that that particular corner was pretty enough and picturesque enough for a queen to sit in. You are not to think that she saw all these things at the first glance; far from it. There was something else in the room which claimed the immediate attention of our heroine, and that was a square oak table, shining like a mirror, and covered with good things,—cold chicken, eggs and bacon, golden butter and honey, a great brown loaf on a wonderful carved wooden platter, delicate rolls piled high on a shallow blue dish, and a portly glass jug filled with rich, creamy milk. Here was a pleasant sight for a hungry heroine of fifteen! But alas! at the head of this inviting table sat Farmer Hartley, the "odious savage," in his rough homespun coat, with his hair still very far from smooth (though indeed he had brushed it, and the broad, horny hands were scrupulously clean). With a slight shudder Hilda took the seat which Dame Hartley offered her.
"Well, Huldy," said the farmer, looking up from his eggs and bacon with a cheery smile, "here ye be, eh? Rested after yer journey, be ye?"
"Yes, thank you!" said Hilda, coldly.
"Have some chick'n!" he continued, putting nearly half a chicken on her plate. "An' a leetle bacon, jes' ter liven it up, hey? That's right! It's my idee thet most everythin' 's the better for a bit o' bacon, unless it's soft custard. I d' 'no ez thet 'ud go with it pitickler. Haw! haw!"
Hilda kept her eyes on her plate, determined to pay no attention to the vulgar pleasantries of this unkempt monster. It was hard enough to eat with a steel fork, without being further tormented. But the farmer seemed determined to drag her into conversation.
"How's yer ha-alth in gineral, Huldy? Pooty rugged, be ye? Seems to me ye look kin' o' peaked."
"I am quite well!" It was Queen Hildegarde who spoke now, in icy tones; but her coldness had no effect on her loquacious host.
"I s'pose ye'll want ter lay by a day or two, till ye git used ter things, like; but then I sh'll want ye ter take holt. We're short-handed now, and a smart, likely gal kin be a sight o' help. There's the cows ter milk—the' ain't but one o' them thet's real ugly, and she only kicks with the off hind-leg; so 't's easy enough ter look out for her."
Hilda looked up in horror and amazement, and caught a twinkle in the farmer's eye which told her that he was quizzing her. The angry blood surged up even to the roots of her hair; but she disdained to reply, and continued to crumble her bread in silence.
"Father, what ails you?" said kind Dame Hartley. "Why can't you let the child alone? She's tired yet, and she doesn't understand your joking ways.—Don't you mind the farmer, dear, one bit; his heart's in the right place, but he do love to tease."
But the good woman's gentle words were harder to bear, at that moment, than her husband's untimely jesting. Hilda's heart swelled high. She felt that in another moment the tears must come; and murmuring a word of excuse, she hastily pushed back her chair and left the room.
An hour after, Hilda was sitting by the window of her own room, looking listlessly out on the soft summer evening, and listening to the melancholy cry of the whippoorwill, when she heard voices below. The farmer was sitting with his pipe in the vine-clad porch just under the window; and now his wife had joined him, after "redding up" the kitchen, and giving orders for the next morning to the tidy maidservant.
"Well, Marm Lucy," said Farmer Hartley's gruff, hearty voice, "now thet you have your fine bird, I sh'd like to know what you're a-goin' to do with her. She's as pretty as a pictur, but a stuck-up piece as ever I see. Don't favor her mother, nor father either, as I can see."
"Poor child!" said Dame Hartley, with a sigh, "I fear she will have a hard time of it before she comes to herself. But I promised Miss Mildred that I would try my best; and you said you would help me, Jacob."
"So I did, and so I will!" replied the farmer. "But tell me agin, what was Miss Mildred's idee? I got the giner'l drift of it, but I can't seem to put it together exactly. I didn't s'pose the gal was this kind, anyhow."
"She told me," Dame Hartley said, "that this child—her only one, Jacob! you know what that means—was getting into ways she didn't like. Going about with other city misses, who cared for nothing but pleasure, and who flattered and petted her because of her beauty and her pretty, proud ways (and maybe because of her father's money too; though Miss Mildred didn't say that), she was getting to think too much of herself, and to care too much for fine dresses and sweetmeats and idle chatter about nothing at all." (How Hilda's cheeks burned as she remembered the long seances in her room, she on the sofa, and Madge in the arm-chair, with the box of Huyler's or Maillard's best always between them! Had they ever talked of anything "worth the while," as mamma would say? She remembered mamma's coming in upon them once or twice, with her sweet, grave face. She remembered, too, a certain uneasy feeling she had had for a moment—only for a moment—when the door closed behind her mother. But Madge had laughed, and said, "Isn't your mother perfectly sweet? She doesn't mind a bit, does she?" and she had answered, "Oh, no!" and had forgotten it in the account of Helen McIvor's new bonnet.) "And then Miss Mildred said, 'I had meant to take her into the country with me this summer, and try to show the child what life really means, and let her learn to know her brothers and sisters in the different walks of this life, and how they live, and what they do. I want her to see for herself what a tiny bit of the world, and what a silly, useless, gilded bit, is the little set of fashionable girls whom she has chosen for her friends. But this sudden call to California has disarranged all my plans. I cannot take her with me there, for the child is not well, and country air and quiet are necessary for her bodily health. And so, Nurse Lucy,' she says, 'I want you to take my child, and do by her as you did by me!'
"'Oh! Miss Mildred,' I said, 'do you think she can be happy or contented here? I'll do my best; I'm sure you know that! But if she's as you say, she is a very different child to what you were, Miss Mildred dear.'
"'She will not be happy at first,' says Miss Mildred. 'But she has a really noble nature, Nurse Lucy, and I am very sure that it will triumph over the follies and faults which are on the outside.'
"And then she kissed me, the dear! and came up and helped me set the little room to rights, and kissed the pillows, sweet lady, and cried over them a bit. Ah me! 'tis hard parting from our children, even for a little while, that it is."
Dame Hartley paused and sighed. Then she said: "And so, here the child is, for good or for ill, and we must do our very best by her, Jacob, you as well as I. What ailed you to-night, to tease her so at supper? I thought shame of you, my man."
"Well, Marm Lucy," said the farmer, "I don't hardly know what ailed me. But I tell ye what, 'twas either laugh or cry for me, and I thought laughin' was better nor t'other. To see that gal a-settin' there, with her pretty head tossed up, and her fine, mincin' ways, as if 'twas an honor to the vittles to put them in her mouth; and to think of my maid—" He stopped abruptly, and rising from the bench, began to pace up and down the garden-path. His wife joined him after a moment, and the two walked slowly to and fro together, talking in low tones, while the soft summer darkness gathered closer and closer, and the pleasant night-sounds woke, cricket and katydid and the distant whippoorwill filling the air with a cheerful murmur.
Long, long sat Hildegarde at the window, thinking more deeply than she had ever thought in her life before. Different passions held her young mind in control while she sat motionless, gazing into the darkness with wide-open eyes. First anger burned high, flooding her cheek with hot blushes, making her temples throb and her hands clench themselves in a passion of resentment. But to this succeeded a mood of deep sadness, of despair, as she thought; though at fifteen one knows not, happily, the meaning of despair.
Was this all true? Was she no better, no wiser, than the silly girls of her set? She had always felt herself so far above them mentally; they had always so frankly acknowledged her supremacy; she knew she was considered a "very superior girl:" was it true that her only superiority lay in possessing powers which she never chose to exert? And then came the bitter thought: "What have I ever done to prove myself wiser than they?" Alas for the answer! Hilda hid her face in her hands, and it was shame instead of anger that now sent the crimson flush over her cheeks. Her mother despised her! Her mother—perhaps her father too! They loved her, of course; the tender love had never failed, and would never fail. They were proud of her too, in a way. And yet they despised her; they must despise her! How could they help it? Her mother, whose days were a ceaseless round of work for others, without a thought of herself; her father, active, energetic, business-like,—what must her life seem to them? How was it that she had never seen, never dreamed before, that she was an idle, silly, frivolous girl? The revelation came upon her with stunning force. These people too, these coarse country people, despised her and laughed at her! The thought was more than she could bear. She sprang up, feeling as if she were suffocating, and walked up and down the little room with hurried and nervous steps. Then suddenly there came into her mind one sentence of her mother's that Dame Hartley had repeated: "Hilda has a really noble nature—" What was the rest? Something about triumphing over the faults and follies which lay outside. Had her mother really said that? Did she believe, trust in, her silly daughter? The girl stood still, with clasped hands and bowed head. The tumult within her seemed to die away, and in its place something was trembling into life, the like of which Hilda Graham had never known, never thought of, before; faint and timid at first, but destined to gain strength and to grow from that one moment,—a wish, a hope, finally a resolve.
THE NEW HILDA.
The morning came laughing into Hilda's room, and woke her with such a flash of sunshine and trill of bird-song that she sprang up smiling, whether she would or no. Indeed, she felt happier than she could have believed to be possible. The anger, the despair, even the self-humiliation and anguish of repentance, were gone with the night. Morning was here,—a new day and a new life. "Here is the new Hildegarde!" she cried as she plunged her face into the clear, sparkling water. "Do you see me, blue dragons? Shake paws, you foolish creatures, and don't stand ramping and glaring at each other in that way! Here is a new girl come to see you. The old one was a minx,—do you hear, dragons?" The dragons heard, but were too polite to say anything; and as for not ramping, why they had ramped and glared for fifty years, and had no idea of making a change at their time of life.
The gilt cherubs round the little mirror were more amiable, and smiled cheerfully at Hilda as she brushed and braided her hair, and put on the pretty blue gingham frock. "We have no clothes ourselves," they seemed to say, "but we appreciate good ones when we see them!" Indeed, the frock fitted to perfection. "And after all," said the new Hilda as she twirled round in front of the glass, "what is the use of an overskirt?" after which astounding utterance, this young person proceeded to do something still more singular. After a moment's hesitation she drew out one of the white aprons which she had scornfully laid in the very lowest drawer only twelve hours before, tied it round her slender waist, and then, with an entirely satisfied little nod at the mirror, she tripped lightly downstairs and into the kitchen. Dame Hartley was washing dishes at the farther end of the room, in her neat little cedar dish-tub, with her neat little mop; and she nearly dropped the blue and white platter from her hands when she heard Hilda's cheerful "Good morning, Nurse Lucy!" and, turning, saw the girl smiling like a vision of morning.
"My dear," she cried, "sure I thought you were fast asleep still. I was going up to wake you as soon as I had done my dishes. And did you sleep well your first night at Hartley's Glen?"
"Oh, yes! I slept very sound indeed," said Hilda, lightly. And then, coming close up to Dame Hartley, she said in an altered tone, and with heightened color: "Nurse Lucy, I did not behave well last night, and I want to tell you that I am sorry. I am not like mamma, but I want to grow a little like her, if I can, and you must help me, please!"
Her voice faltered, and good Nurse Lucy, laying down her mop, took the slender figure in her motherly arms, from which it did not now shrink away.
"My lamb!" she said; "Miss Mildred's own dear child! You look liker your blessed mother this minute than I ever thought you would. Help you? That I will, with all my heart!—though I doubt if you need much help, coming to yourself so soon as this. Well, well!"
"Coming to herself!" It was the same phrase the good dame had used the night before, and it struck Hilda's mind with renewed force. Yes, she had come to herself,—her new self, which was to be so different from the old. How strange it all was! What should she do now, to prove the new Hilda and try her strength? Something must be done at once; the time for folded hands and listless revery was gone by.
"Shall I—may I help you to get breakfast?" she asked aloud, rather timidly.
"Breakfast? Bless you, honey, we had breakfast two hours ago. We farmers are early birds, you know. But you can lay a plate and napkin for yourself, if you like, while I drop a couple of fresh eggs and toast a bit of bacon for you. Do you like bacon, then?"
Rather disappointed at the failure of her first attempt to be useful, Hilda laid the snowy napkin on the shining table, and chose a pretty blue and white plate from the well-stocked shelves of the dresser.
"And now open that cupboard, my lamb," said her hostess, "and you'll find the loaf, and a piece of honeycomb, and some raspberries. I'll bring a pat of butter and some milk from the dairy, where it's all cool for you."
"Raspberries!" cried Hilda. "Oh, how delightful! Why, the dew is still on them, Nurse Lucy! And how pretty they look, with the cool green leaves round them!"
"Ay!" said the good woman, "Jacob brought them in not ten minutes ago. He thought you would like them fresh from the bushes."
Hilda's cheek rivalled the raspberries in bloom as she bent over them to inhale their fragrance. The farmer had picked these himself for her,—had probably left his work to do so; and she had called him an odious old savage, and an unkempt monster, and—oh dear! decidedly, the old Hilda was a very disagreeable girl. But here were the eggs, each blushing behind its veil of white, and here was the milk, and a little firm nugget in a green leaf, which was too beautiful to be butter, and yet too good to be anything else. And the new Hilda might eat her breakfast with a thankful heart, and did so. The white rose nodded to her from the west window much more cordially than it had done the night before. It even brought out a little new bud to take a peep at the girl who now smiled, instead of scowling across the room. The vines rustled and shook, and two bright black eyes peeped between the leaves. "Tweet!" said the robin, ruffling his scarlet waistcoat a little. "When you have quite finished your worms, you may come out, and I will show you the garden. There are cherries!" and away he flew, while Hilda laughed and clapped her hands, for she had understood every word.
"May I go out into the garden?" she asked, when she had finished her breakfast and taken her first lesson in dish-washing, in spite of Dame Hartley's protest. "And isn't there something I can do there, please? I want to work; I don't want to be idle any longer."
"Well, honey," replied the dame, "there are currants to pick, if you like such work as that. I am going to make jelly to-morrow; and if you like to begin the picking, I will come and help you when my bread is out of the oven."
Gladly Hilda flew up to her room for the broad-leaved hat with the daisy-wreath; and then, taking the wide, shallow basket which Dame Hartley handed her, she fairly danced out of the door, over the bit of green, and into the garden.
Ah! the sweet, heartsome country garden that this was,—the very thought of it is a rest and a pleasure. Straight down the middle ran a little gravel path, with a border of fragrant clove-pinks on either side, planted so close together that one saw only the masses of pale pink blossoms resting on their bed of slender silvery leaves. And over the border! Oh the wealth of flowers, the blaze of crimson and purple and gold, the bells that swung, the spires that sprang heavenward, the clusters that nodded and whispered together in the morning breeze! Here were ranks upon ranks of silver lilies, drawn up in military fashion, and marshalled by clumps of splendid tiger-lilies,—the drum-majors of the flower-garden. Here were roses of every sort, blushing and paling, glowing in gold and mantling in crimson. And the carnations showed their delicate fringes, and the geraniums blazed, and the heliotrope languished, and the "Puritan pansies" lifted their sweet faces and looked gravely about, as if reproving the other flowers for their frivolity; while shy Mignonette, thinking herself well hidden behind her green leaves, still made her presence known by the exquisite perfume which all her gay sisters would have been glad to borrow.
Over all went the sunbeams, rollicking and playing; and through all went Hildegarde, her heart filled with a new delight, feeling as if she had never lived before. She talked to the flowers. She bent and kissed the damask rose, which was too beautiful to pluck. She put her cheek against a lily's satin-silver petals, and started when an angry bee flew out and buzzed against her nose. But where were the currant-bushes? Ah! there they were,—a row of stout green bushes, forming a hedge at the bottom of the garden.
Hilda fell busily to work, filling her basket with the fine, ruddy clusters. "How beautiful they are!" she thought, holding up a bunch so that the sunlight shone through it. "And these pale, pinky golden ones, which show all the delicate veins inside. Really, I must eat this fat bunch; they are like fairy grapes! The butler fay comes and picks a cluster every evening, and carries it on a lily-leaf platter to the queen as she sits supping on honey-cakes and dew under the damask rose-bush."
While fingers and fancy were thus busily employed, Hilda was startled by the sound of a voice which seemed to come from beyond the currant-bushes, very near her. She stood quite still and listened.
"A-g, ag," said the voice; "g-l-o-m, glom,—agglom; e-r er,—agglomer; a-t-e, ate,—agglomerate." There was a pause, and then it began again: "A-g, ag; g-l-o-m, glom," etc.
Hilda's curiosity was now thoroughly aroused; and laying down her basket, she cautiously parted the leaves and peeped through. She hardly knew what she expected to see. What she did see was a boy about ten years old, in a flannel shirt and a pair of ragged breeches, busily weeding a row of carrots; for this was the vegetable garden, which lay behind the currant-bushes. On one side of the boy was a huge heap of weeds; on the other lay a tattered book, at which he glanced from time to time, though without leaving his work. "A-n, an," he was now saying; "t-i, ti,—anti; c-i-p, cip,—anticip; a-t-e, ate,—anticipate. 'To expect.' Well! that is a good un. Why can't they say expect, 'stead o' breakin' their jawsen with a word like that? Anticip-ate! Well, I swan! I hope he enjoyed eatin' it. Sh'd think 't'd ha giv' him the dyspepsy, anyhow."
At this Hilda could contain herself no longer, but burst into a merry peal of laughter; and as the boy started up with staring eyes and open mouth, she pushed the bushes aside and came towards him. "I am sorry I laughed," she said, not unkindly. "You said that so funnily, I couldn't help it. You did not pronounce the word quite right, either. It is anticipate, not anticip-ate."
The boy looked half bewildered and half grateful. "Anticipate!" he repeated, slowly. "Thanky, miss! it's a onreasonable sort o' word, 'pears ter me." And he bent over his carrots again.
But Hilda did not return to her currant-picking. She was interested in this freckled, tow-headed boy, wrestling with four-syllabled words while he worked.
"Why do you study your lesson out here?" she asked, sitting down on a convenient stump, and refreshing herself with another bunch of white currants. "Couldn't you learn it better indoors?"
"Dunno!" replied the boy. "Ain't got no time ter stay indoors."
"You might learn it in the evening!" suggested Hilda.
"I can't keep awake evenin's," said the boy, simply. "Hev to be up at four o'clock to let the cows out, an' I git sleepy, come night. An' I like it here too," he added. "I can l'arn 'em easier, weedin'; take ten weeds to a word."
"Ten weeds to a word?" repeated Hilda. "I don't understand you."
"Why," said the boy, looking up at her with wide-open blue eyes, "I take a good stiff word (I like 'em stiff, like that an—anticipate feller), and I says it over and over while I pull up ten weeds,—big weeds, o' course, pusley and sich. I don't count chickweed. By the time the weeds is up, I know the word, I've larned fifteen this spell!" and he glanced proudly at his tattered spelling-book as he tugged away at a mammoth root of pusley, which stretched its ugly, sprawling length of fleshy arms on every side.
Hilda watched him for some moments, many new thoughts revolving in her head. How many country boys were there who taught themselves in this way? How many, among the clever girls at Mademoiselle Haut-ton's school, had this sort of ambition to learn, of pride in learning? Had she, the best scholar in her class, had it? She had always known her lessons, because they were easy for her to learn, because she had a quick eye and ear, and a good memory. She could not help learning, Mademoiselle said. But this,—this was something different!
"What is your name?" she asked, with a new interest.
"Bubble Chirk," replied the freckled boy, with one eye on his book, and the other measuring a tall spire of pigweed, towards which he stretched his hand.
"WHAT!" cried Hilda, in amazement.
"Bubble Chirk!" said the boy. "Kin' o' curus name, ain't it? The hull of it's Zerubbabel Chirk; but most folks ain't got time to say all that. It trips you up, too, sort o'. Bubble's what they call me; 'nless it's Bub."
The contrast between the boy's earnest and rather pathetic face, and his absurdly volatile name, was almost too much for Hilda's gravity. But she checked the laugh which rose to her lips, and asked: "Don't you go to school at all, Bubble? It is a pity that you shouldn't, when you are so fond of study."
"Gin'lly go for a spell in the winter," replied Bubble. "They ain't no school in summer, y' know. Boys hes to work, round here. Mam ain't got nobody but me 'n Pink, sence father died."
"Who is Pink?" asked Hilda, gently.
"My sister," replied Bubble. "Thet ain't her real name, nuther. Mam hed her christened Pinkrosia, along o' her bein' so fond o' roses, Mam was; but we don't call her nothin' only Pink."
"Pink Chirk!" repeated Hilda to herself. "What a name! What can a girl be like who is called Pink Chirk?"
But now Bubble seemed to think that it was his turn to ask questions. "I reckon you're the gal that's come to stay at Mr. Hartley's?" he said in an interrogative tone.
Hilda's brow darkened for a moment at the word "gal," which came with innocent frankness from the lips of the ragged urchin before her. But the next moment she remembered that it was only the old Hilda who cared about such trifles; so she answered pleasantly enough:
"Yes, I am staying at Mr. Hartley's. I only came yesterday, but I am to stay some time."
"And what mought your name be?" inquired Master Chirk.
"Hildegardis Graham." It was gently said, in a very different voice from that which had answered Farmer Hartley in the same words the night before; but it made a startling impression on Bubble Chirk.
"Hildy—" he began; and then, giving it up, he said simply: "Well, I swan! Do ye kerry all that round with ye all the time?"
Hilda laughed outright at this.
"Oh, no!" she said; "I am called Hilda generally."
"But you kin spell the hull of it?" asked the boy anxiously.
"Yes, certainly!" Bubble's eager look subsided into one of mingled awe and admiration.
"Reckon ye must know a heap," he said, rather wistfully. "Wish't I did!"
Hilda looked at him for a moment without speaking. Her old self was whispering to her. "Take care what you do!" it said. "This is a coarse, common, dirty boy. He smells of the stable; his hair is full of hay; his hands are beyond description. What have you in common with such a creature? He has not even the sense to know that he is your inferior." "I don't care!" said the new Hilda. "I know what mamma would do if she were here, and I shall do it,—or try to do it, at least. Hold your tongue, you supercilious minx!"
"Bubble," she said aloud, "would you like me to teach you a little, while I am here? I think perhaps I could help you with your lessons."
The boy looked up with a sudden flash in his blue eyes, while his face grew crimson with pleasure.
"Would I like it?" he cried eagerly. But the next moment the glow faded, and he looked awkwardly down at his ragged book and still more ragged clothes. "Guess I ain't no time to l'arn that way," he muttered in confusion.
"Nonsense!" said Hilda, decidedly. "There must be some hour in the day when you can be spared. I shall speak to Farmer Hartley about it. Don't look at your clothes, you foolish boy," she continued, with a touch of Queen Hildegardis' quality, yet with a kindly intonation which was new to that potentate. "I am not going to teach your clothes. You are not your clothes!" cried Her Majesty, wondering at herself, and a little flushed with her recent victory over the "minx." The boy's face brightened again.
"That's so!" he said, joyously; "that's what Pink says. But I didn't s'pose you'd think so," he added, glancing bashfully at the delicate, high-bred face, with its flashing eyes and imperial air.
"I do think so!" said Hilda. "So that is settled, and we will have our first lesson to-morrow. What would you—"
"Hilda! Hilda! where are you, dear?" called Dame Hartley's voice from the other side of the currant-bush-hedge. And catching up her basket, and bidding a hasty good-by to her new acquaintance and future scholar, Hildegarde darted back through the bushes.
Zerubbabel Chirk looked after her a few moments, with kindling eyes and open mouth of wonder and admiration.
"Wall!" he said finally, after a pause of silent meditation, "I swan! I reelly do! I swan to man!" and fell to weeding again as if his life depended on it.
THE BLUE PLATTER.
"Merry it is in the green forest, Among the leaves green!"
Thus sang Hildegarde as she sat in the west window, busily stringing her currants. She had been thinking a great deal about Bubble Chirk, making plans for his education, and wondering what his sister Pink was like. He reminded her, she could not tell why, of the "lytel boy" who kept fair Alyce's swine, in her favorite ballad of "Adam Bell, Clym o' the Clough, and William of Cloudeslee;" and the words of the ballad rose half unconsciously to her lips as she bent over the great yellow bowl, heaped with scarlet and pale-gold clusters.
"Merry it is in the green forest, Among the leaves green, Whenas men hunt east and west With bows and arrowes keen,
"For to raise the deer out of their denne,— Such sights have oft been seen; As by three yemen of the north countree: By them it is, I mean.
"The one of them hight Adam Bell, The other Clym o' the Clough; The third was Willyam of Cloudeslee,— An archer good enough.
"They were outlawed for venison, These yemen every one. They swore them brethren on a day To English wood for to gone.
"Now lythe and listen, gentylmen, That of myrthes loveth to hear!"
At this moment the door opened, and Farmer Hartley entered, taking off his battered straw hat as he did so, and wiping his forehead with a red bandanna handkerchief. Hilda looked up with a pleasant smile, meaning to thank him for the raspberries which he had gathered for her breakfast; but to her utter astonishment the moment his eyes fell upon her he gave a violent start and turned very pale; then, muttering something under his breath, he turned hastily and left the room.
"Oh! what is the matter?" cried Hilda, jumping up from her chair. "What have I done, Nurse Lucy? I have made the farmer angry, somehow. Is this his chair? I thought—"
"No, no, honey dear!" said Nurse Lucy soothingly. "Sit ye down; sit ye down! You have done nothing. I'm right glad of it," she added, with a tone of sadness in her pleasant voice. "Seeing as 'tis all in God's wisdom, Jacob must come to see it so; and 'tis no help, but a deal of hindrance, when folks set aside chairs and the like, and see only them that's gone sitting in them." Then, seeing Hilda's look of bewilderment, she added, laying her hand gently on the girl's soft hair: "You see, dear, we had a daughter of our own this time last year. Our only one she was, and just about your age,—the light of our eyes, our Faith. She was a good girl, strong and loving and heartsome, and almost as pretty as yourself, Hilda dear; but the Father had need of her, so she was taken from us for a while. It was cruel hard for Jacob; cruel, cruel hard. He can't seem to see, even now, that it was right, or it wouldn't have been so. And so I can tell just what he felt, coming in just now, sudden like, and seeing you sitting in Faith's chair. Like as not he forgot it all for a minute, and thought it was herself. She had a blue dress that he always liked, and she'd sit here and sing, and the sun coming in on her through her own window there, as she always called it: like a pretty picture she was, our Faith."
"Oh!" cried Hilda, taking the brown, motherly hand in both of hers, "I am so very, very sorry, dear Nurse Lucy! I did not know! I will never sit here again. I thought—"
But she was ashamed to say what she had thought,—that this chair and table had been set for her to tempt her to sit down "in a kitchen!" She could hear herself say it as she had said it last night, with a world of scornful emphasis. How long it seemed since last night; how much older she had grown! And yet—and yet somehow she felt a great deal younger.
All this passed through her mind in a moment; but Nurse Lucy was petting her, and saying: "Nay, dearie; nay, child! This is just where I want you to sit. 'Twill be a real help to Farmer, once he is used to it. Hark! I hear him coming now. Sit still! To please me, my dear, sit still where ye are."
Hilda obeyed, though her heart beat painfully; and she bent in real distress over the currants as Farmer Hartley once more entered the room. She hardly knew what she feared or expected; but her relief was great when he bade her a quiet but cheerful "Good-day!" and crossing the room, sat down in his great leather arm-chair.
"Dinner'll be ready in five minutes, Jacob!" said the good dame, cheerily; "I've only to lay the table and dish the mutton."
"Oh! let me help," cried Hilda, springing up and setting her bowl of currants on the window-sill.
So between the two the snowy cloth was laid, and the blue plates and the shining knives and forks laid out. Then they all sat down, and the little maid-servant came too, and took her place at the end of the table; and presently in came a great loutish-looking fellow, about one or two and twenty, with a great shock of sandy hair and little ferret-eyes set too near together, whom Dame Hartley introduced as her nephew. He sat down too, and ate more than all the rest of them put together. At sight of this man, who gobbled his food noisily, and uttered loud snorts between the mouthfuls, the old Hilda awoke in full force. She could not endure this; mamma never could have intended it! The Hartleys were different, of course. She was willing to acknowledge that she had been in the wrong about them; but this lout, this oaf, this villainous-looking churl,—to expect a lady to sit at the same table with him: it was too much! She would ask if she might not dine in her own room after this, as apparently it was only at dinner that this "creature" made his appearance.
Farmer Hartley had been very silent since he came in, but now he seemed to feel that he must make an effort to be sociable, so he said kindly, though gravely,—
"I see ye're lookin' at that old dish, Huldy. 'Tis a curus old piece, 'n' that's a fact. Kin ye read the motter on it?"
Hilda had not been looking at the dish, though her eyes had been unconsciously fixed upon it, and she now bent forward to examine it. It was an oblong platter, of old blue and white crockery. In the middle (which was now visible, as the "creature" had just transferred the last potato to his own plate, stabbing it with his knife for that purpose) was a quaint representation of a mournful-looking couple, clad in singularly ill-fitting aprons of fig-leaves. The man was digging with a spade, while the woman sat at a spinning-wheel placed dangerously near the edge of the deep ditch which her husband had already dug. Round the edge ran an inscription, which, after some study, Hilda made out to be the old distich:
"When Adam delved, and Eve span, Where was then the gentleman?"
Hilda burst out laughing in spite of her self.
"Oh, it is wonderful!" she cried. "Who ever heard of Eve with a spinning-wheel? Where did this come from, Farmer Hartley? I am sure it must have a history."
"Wa-al," said the farmer, smiling, "I d'no ez 't' hes so to speak a hist'ry, an' yit there's allays somethin' amoosin' to me about that platter. My father was a sea-farin' man most o' his life, an' only came to the farm late in life, 'count of his older brother dyin', as owned it. Well, he'd picked up a sight o' queer things in his voyages, father had; he kep' some of 'em stowed away in boxes, and brought 'em out from time to time, ez he happened to think of 'em. Wa-al, we young uns growed up (four of us there was, all boys, and likely boys too, if I do say it), and my brother Simon, who was nex' to me, he went to college. He was a clever chap, Simon was, an' nothin' would do for him but he must be a gentleman.
"'Jacob kin stick to the farm an' the mill; if he likes,' says he, 'an' Tom kin go to sea, an' William kin be a minister,—'t's all he's good fer, I reckon; but I'm goin' ter be a gentleman!' says Simon. He said it in father's hearin' one day, an' father lay back in his cheer an' laughed; he was allays laughin', father was. An' then he went off upstairs, an' we heard him rummagin' about among his boxes up in the loft-chamber. We dassn't none of us tech them boxes, we boys, though we warn't afeard of nothin' else in the world, only father. Presently he comes down again, still a-laughin', an' kerryin' that platter in his hand. He sets it down afore Simon, an' says he, 'Wealthy,' says he (that was my mother), 'Wealthy,' says he, 'let Simon have his victuals off o' this platter every day, d'ye hear? The' ain't none other that's good enough for him!' an' then he laughed again, till he fairly shook, an' Simon looked black as thunder, an' took his hat an' went out. An' so after Simon went to college, every time he come home for vacation and set down to table with his nose kind o' turned up, like he was too good to set with his own kith and kin, father 'ud go an git the old blue platter and set it afore him, an' say, 'Here's your dish, Simon; been diggin' any lately, my son?' and then lay back in his cheer and laugh."
"And did Simon become—a—a gentleman?" asked Hilda, taking her own little lesson very meekly, in her desire to know more.
Farmer Hartley's brow clouded instantly, and the smile vanished from his lips. "Poor Simon!" he said, sadly. "He might ha' been anythin' he liked, if he'd lived and—been fortunate."
"Simon Hartley is dead, Hilda dear," interposed Dame Hartley, gently; "he died some years ago. Will you have some of your own currants, my dear?—Hilda has been helping me a great deal, Father," she added, addressing her husband. "I don't know how I should have got all my currants picked without her help."