THE GOLDEN ROAD
By L. M. Montgomery
"Life was a rose-lipped comrade With purple flowers dripping from her fingers." —The Author.
TO THE MEMORY OF Aunt Mary Lawson WHO TOLD ME MANY OF THE TALES REPEATED BY THE STORY GIRL
Once upon a time we all walked on the golden road. It was a fair highway, through the Land of Lost Delight; shadow and sunshine were blessedly mingled, and every turn and dip revealed a fresh charm and a new loveliness to eager hearts and unspoiled eyes.
On that road we heard the song of morning stars; we drank in fragrances aerial and sweet as a May mist; we were rich in gossamer fancies and iris hopes; our hearts sought and found the boon of dreams; the years waited beyond and they were very fair; life was a rose-lipped comrade with purple flowers dripping from her fingers.
We may long have left the golden road behind, but its memories are the dearest of our eternal possessions; and those who cherish them as such may haply find a pleasure in the pages of this book, whose people are pilgrims on the golden road of youth.
THE GOLDEN ROAD
CHAPTER I. A NEW DEPARTURE
"I've thought of something amusing for the winter," I said as we drew into a half-circle around the glorious wood-fire in Uncle Alec's kitchen.
It had been a day of wild November wind, closing down into a wet, eerie twilight. Outside, the wind was shrilling at the windows and around the eaves, and the rain was playing on the roof. The old willow at the gate was writhing in the storm and the orchard was a place of weird music, born of all the tears and fears that haunt the halls of night. But little we cared for the gloom and the loneliness of the outside world; we kept them at bay with the light of the fire and the laughter of our young lips.
We had been having a splendid game of Blind-Man's Buff. That is, it had been splendid at first; but later the fun went out of it because we found that Peter was, of malice prepense, allowing himself to be caught too easily, in order that he might have the pleasure of catching Felicity—which he never failed to do, no matter how tightly his eyes were bound. What remarkable goose said that love is blind? Love can see through five folds of closely-woven muffler with ease!
"I'm getting tired," said Cecily, whose breath was coming rather quickly and whose pale cheeks had bloomed into scarlet. "Let's sit down and get the Story Girl to tell us a story."
But as we dropped into our places the Story Girl shot a significant glance at me which intimated that this was the psychological moment for introducing the scheme she and I had been secretly developing for some days. It was really the Story Girl's idea and none of mine. But she had insisted that I should make the suggestion as coming wholly from myself.
"If you don't, Felicity won't agree to it. You know yourself, Bev, how contrary she's been lately over anything I mention. And if she goes against it Peter will too—the ninny!—and it wouldn't be any fun if we weren't all in it."
"What is it?" asked Felicity, drawing her chair slightly away from Peter's.
"It is this. Let us get up a newspaper of our own—write it all ourselves, and have all we do in it. Don't you think we can get a lot of fun out of it?"
Everyone looked rather blank and amazed, except the Story Girl. She knew what she had to do, and she did it.
"What a silly idea!" she exclaimed, with a contemptuous toss of her long brown curls. "Just as if WE could get up a newspaper!"
Felicity fired up, exactly as we had hoped.
"I think it's a splendid idea," she said enthusiastically. "I'd like to know why we couldn't get up as good a newspaper as they have in town! Uncle Roger says the Daily Enterprise has gone to the dogs—all the news it prints is that some old woman has put a shawl on her head and gone across the road to have tea with another old woman. I guess we could do better than that. You needn't think, Sara Stanley, that nobody but you can do anything."
"I think it would be great fun," said Peter decidedly. "My Aunt Jane helped edit a paper when she was at Queen's Academy, and she said it was very amusing and helped her a great deal."
The Story Girl could hide her delight only by dropping her eyes and frowning.
"Bev wants to be editor," she said, "and I don't see how he can, with no experience. Anyhow, it would be a lot of trouble."
"Some people are so afraid of a little bother," retorted Felicity.
"I think it would be nice," said Cecily timidly, "and none of us have any experience of being editors, any more than Bev, so that wouldn't matter."
"Will it be printed?" asked Dan.
"Oh, no," I said. "We can't have it printed. We'll just have to write it out—we can buy foolscap from the teacher."
"I don't think it will be much of a newspaper if it isn't printed," said Dan scornfully.
"It doesn't matter very much what YOU think," said Felicity.
"Thank you," retorted Dan.
"Of course," said the Story Girl hastily, not wishing to have Dan turned against our project, "if all the rest of you want it I'll go in for it too. I daresay it would be real good fun, now that I come to think of it. And we'll keep the copies, and when we become famous they'll be quite valuable."
"I wonder if any of us ever will be famous," said Felix.
"The Story Girl will be," I said.
"I don't see how she can be," said Felicity skeptically. "Why, she's just one of us."
"Well, it's decided, then, that we're to have a newspaper," I resumed briskly. "The next thing is to choose a name for it. That's a very important thing."
"How often are you going to publish it?" asked Felix.
"Once a month."
"I thought newspapers came out every day, or every week at least," said Dan.
"We couldn't have one every week," I explained. "It would be too much work."
"Well, that's an argument," admitted Dan. "The less work you can get along with the better, in my opinion. No, Felicity, you needn't say it. I know exactly what you want to say, so save your breath to cool your porridge. I agree with you that I never work if I can find anything else to do."
"'Remember it is harder still To have no work to do,"'
quoted Cecily reprovingly.
"I don't believe THAT," rejoined Dan. "I'm like the Irishman who said he wished the man who begun work had stayed and finished it."
"Well, is it decided that Bev is to be editor?" asked Felix.
"Of course it is," Felicity answered for everybody.
"Then," said Felix, "I move that the name be The King Monthly Magazine."
"That sounds fine," said Peter, hitching his chair a little nearer Felicity's.
"But," said Cecily timidly, "that will leave out Peter and the Story Girl and Sara Ray, just as if they didn't have a share in it. I don't think that would be fair."
"You name it then, Cecily," I suggested.
"Oh!" Cecily threw a deprecating glance at the Story Girl and Felicity. Then, meeting the contempt in the latter's gaze, she raised her head with unusual spirit.
"I think it would be nice just to call it Our Magazine," she said. "Then we'd all feel as if we had a share in it."
"Our Magazine it will be, then," I said. "And as for having a share in it, you bet we'll all have a share in it. If I'm to be editor you'll all have to be sub-editors, and have charge of a department."
"Oh, I couldn't," protested Cecily.
"You must," I said inexorably. "'England expects everyone to do his duty.' That's our motto—only we'll put Prince Edward Island in place of England. There must be no shirking. Now, what departments will we have? We must make it as much like a real newspaper as we can."
"Well, we ought to have an etiquette department, then," said Felicity. "The Family Guide has one."
"Of course we'll have one," I said, "and Dan will edit it."
"Dan!" exclaimed Felicity, who had fondly expected to be asked to edit it herself.
"I can run an etiquette column as well as that idiot in the Family Guide, anyhow," said Dan defiantly. "But you can't have an etiquette department unless questions are asked. What am I to do if nobody asks any?"
"You must make some up," said the Story Girl. "Uncle Roger says that is what the Family Guide man does. He says it is impossible that there can be as many hopeless fools in the world as that column would stand for otherwise."
"We want you to edit the household department, Felicity," I said, seeing a cloud lowering on that fair lady's brow. "Nobody can do that as well as you. Felix will edit the jokes and the Information Bureau, and Cecily must be fashion editor. Yes, you must, Sis. It's easy as wink. And the Story Girl will attend to the personals. They're very important. Anyone can contribute a personal, but the Story Girl is to see there are some in every issue, even if she has to make them up, like Dan with the etiquette."
"Bev will run the scrap book department, besides the editorials," said the Story Girl, seeing that I was too modest to say it myself.
"Aren't you going to have a story page?" asked Peter.
"We will, if you'll be fiction and poetry editor," I said.
Peter, in his secret soul, was dismayed, but he would not blanch before Felicity.
"All right," he said, recklessly.
"We can put anything we like in the scrap book department," I explained, "but all the other contributions must be original, and all must have the name of the writer signed to them, except the personals. We must all do our best. Our Magazine is to be 'a feast of reason and flow of soul."'
I felt that I had worked in two quotations with striking effect. The others, with the exception of the Story Girl, looked suitably impressed.
"But," said Cecily, reproachfully, "haven't you anything for Sara Ray to do? She'll feel awful bad if she is left out."
I had forgotten Sara Ray. Nobody, except Cecily, ever did remember Sara Ray unless she was on the spot. But we decided to put her in as advertising manager. That sounded well and really meant very little.
"Well, we'll go ahead then," I said, with a sigh of relief that the project had been so easily launched. "We'll get the first issue out about the first of January. And whatever else we do we mustn't let Uncle Roger get hold of it. He'd make such fearful fun of it."
"I hope we can make a success of it," said Peter moodily. He had been moody ever since he was entrapped into being fiction editor.
"It will be a success if we are determined to succeed," I said. "'Where there is a will there is always a way.'"
"That's just what Ursula Townley said when her father locked her in her room the night she was going to run away with Kenneth MacNair," said the Story Girl.
We pricked up our ears, scenting a story.
"Who were Ursula Townley and Kenneth MacNair?" I asked.
"Kenneth MacNair was a first cousin of the Awkward Man's grandfather, and Ursula Townley was the belle of the Island in her day. Who do you suppose told me the story—no, read it to me, out of his brown book?"
"Never the Awkward Man himself!" I exclaimed incredulously.
"Yes, he did," said the Story Girl triumphantly. "I met him one day last week back in the maple woods when I was looking for ferns. He was sitting by the spring, writing in his brown book. He hid it when he saw me and looked real silly; but after I had talked to him awhile I just asked him about it, and told him that the gossips said he wrote poetry in it, and if he did would he tell me, because I was dying to know. He said he wrote a little of everything in it; and then I begged him to read me something out of it, and he read me the story of Ursula and Kenneth."
"I don't see how you ever had the face," said Felicity; and even Cecily looked as if she thought the Story Girl had gone rather far.
"Never mind that," cried Felix, "but tell us the story. That's the main thing."
"I'll tell it just as the Awkward Man read it, as far as I can," said the Story Girl, "but I can't put all his nice poetical touches in, because I can't remember them all, though he read it over twice for me."
CHAPTER II. A WILL, A WAY AND A WOMAN
"One day, over a hundred years ago, Ursula Townley was waiting for Kenneth MacNair in a great beechwood, where brown nuts were falling and an October wind was making the leaves dance on the ground like pixy-people."
"What are pixy-people?" demanded Peter, forgetting the Story Girl's dislike of interruptions.
"Hush," whispered Cecily. "That is only one of the Awkward Man's poetical touches, I guess."
"There were cultivated fields between the grove and the dark blue gulf; but far behind and on each side were woods, for Prince Edward Island a hundred years ago was not what it is today. The settlements were few and scattered, and the population so scanty that old Hugh Townley boasted that he knew every man, woman and child in it.
"Old Hugh was quite a noted man in his day. He was noted for several things—he was rich, he was hospitable, he was proud, he was masterful—and he had for daughter the handsomest young woman in Prince Edward Island.
"Of course, the young men were not blind to her good looks, and she had so many lovers that all the other girls hated her—"
"You bet!" said Dan, aside—
"But the only one who found favour in her eyes was the very last man she should have pitched her fancy on, at least if old Hugh were the judge. Kenneth MacNair was a dark-eyed young sea-captain of the next settlement, and it was to meet him that Ursula stole to the beechwood on that autumn day of crisp wind and ripe sunshine. Old Hugh had forbidden his house to the young man, making such a scene of fury about it that even Ursula's high spirit quailed. Old Hugh had really nothing against Kenneth himself; but years before either Kenneth or Ursula was born, Kenneth's father had beaten Hugh Townley in a hotly contested election. Political feeling ran high in those days, and old Hugh had never forgiven the MacNair his victory. The feud between the families dated from that tempest in the provincial teapot, and the surplus of votes on the wrong side was the reason why, thirty years after, Ursula had to meet her lover by stealth if she met him at all."
"Was the MacNair a Conservative or a Grit?" asked Felicity.
"It doesn't make any difference what he was," said the Story Girl impatiently. "Even a Tory would be romantic a hundred years ago. Well, Ursula couldn't see Kenneth very often, for Kenneth lived fifteen miles away and was often absent from home in his vessel. On this particular day it was nearly three months since they had met.
"The Sunday before, young Sandy MacNair had been in Carlyle church. He had risen at dawn that morning, walked bare-footed for eight miles along the shore, carrying his shoes, hired a harbour fisherman to row him over the channel, and then walked eight miles more to the church at Carlyle, less, it is to be feared, from a zeal for holy things than that he might do an errand for his adored brother, Kenneth. He carried a letter which he contrived to pass into Ursula's hand in the crowd as the people came out. This letter asked Ursula to meet Kenneth in the beechwood the next afternoon, and so she stole away there when suspicious father and watchful stepmother thought she was spinning in the granary loft."
"It was very wrong of her to deceive her parents," said Felicity primly.
The Story Girl couldn't deny this, so she evaded the ethical side of the question skilfully.
"I am not telling you what Ursula Townley ought to have done," she said loftily. "I am only telling you what she DID do. If you don't want to hear it you needn't listen, of course. There wouldn't be many stories to tell if nobody ever did anything she shouldn't do.
"Well, when Kenneth came, the meeting was just what might have been expected between two lovers who had taken their last kiss three months before. So it was a good half-hour before Ursula said,
"'Oh, Kenneth, I cannot stay long—I shall be missed. You said in your letter that you had something important to talk of. What is it?'
"'My news is this, Ursula. Next Saturday morning my vessel, The Fair Lady, with her captain on board, sails at dawn from Charlottetown harbour, bound for Buenos Ayres. At this season this means a safe and sure return—next May.'
"'Kenneth!' cried Ursula. She turned pale and burst into tears. 'How can you think of leaving me? Oh, you are cruel!'
"'Why, no, sweetheart,' laughed Kenneth. 'The captain of The Fair Lady will take his bride with him. We'll spend our honeymoon on the high seas, Ursula, and the cold Canadian winter under southern palms.'
"'You want me to run away with you, Kenneth?' exclaimed Ursula.
"'Indeed, dear girl, there's nothing else to do!'
"'Oh, I cannot!' she protested. 'My father would—'
"'We'll not consult him—until afterward. Come, Ursula, you know there's no other way. We've always known it must come to this. YOUR father will never forgive me for MY father. You won't fail me now. Think of the long parting if you send me away alone on such a voyage. Pluck up your courage, and we'll let Townleys and MacNairs whistle their mouldy feuds down the wind while we sail southward in The Fair Lady. I have a plan.'
"'Let me hear it,' said Ursula, beginning to get back her breath.
"'There is to be a dance at The Springs Friday night. Are you invited, Ursula?'
"'Good. I am not—but I shall be there—in the fir grove behind the house, with two horses. When the dancing is at its height you'll steal out to meet me. Then 'tis but a fifteen mile ride to Charlottetown, where a good minister, who is a friend of mine, will be ready to marry us. By the time the dancers have tired their heels you and I will be on our vessel, able to snap our fingers at fate.'
"'And what if I do not meet you in the fir grove?' said Ursula, a little impertinently.
"'If you do not, I'll sail for South America the next morning, and many a long year will pass ere Kenneth MacNair comes home again.'
"Perhaps Kenneth didn't mean that, but Ursula thought he did, and it decided her. She agreed to run away with him. Yes, of course that was wrong, too, Felicity. She ought to have said, 'No, I shall be married respectably from home, and have a wedding and a silk dress and bridesmaids and lots of presents.' But she didn't. She wasn't as prudent as Felicity King would have been."
"She was a shameless hussy," said Felicity, venting on the long-dead Ursula that anger she dare not visit on the Story Girl.
"Oh, no, Felicity dear, she was just a lass of spirit. I'd have done the same. And when Friday night came she began to dress for the dance with a brave heart. She was to go to The Springs with her uncle and aunt, who were coming on horseback that afternoon, and would then go on to The Springs in old Hugh's carriage, which was the only one in Carlyle then. They were to leave in time to reach The Springs before nightfall, for the October nights were dark and the wooded roads rough for travelling.
"When Ursula was ready she looked at herself in the glass with a good deal of satisfaction. Yes, Felicity, she was a vain baggage, that same Ursula, but that kind didn't all die out a hundred years ago. And she had good reason for being vain. She wore the sea-green silk which had been brought out from England a year before and worn but once—at the Christmas ball at Government House. A fine, stiff, rustling silk it was, and over it shone Ursula's crimson cheeks and gleaming eyes, and masses of nut brown hair.
"As she turned from the glass she heard her father's voice below, loud and angry. Growing very pale, she ran out into the hall. Her father was already half way upstairs, his face red with fury. In the hall below Ursula saw her step-mother, looking troubled and vexed. At the door stood Malcolm Ramsay, a homely neighbour youth who had been courting Ursula in his clumsy way ever since she grew up. Ursula had always hated him.
"'Ursula!' shouted old Hugh, 'come here and tell this scoundrel he lies. He says that you met Kenneth MacNair in the beechgrove last Tuesday. Tell him he lies! Tell him he lies!'
"Ursula was no coward. She looked scornfully at poor Ramsay.
"'The creature is a spy and a tale-bearer,' she said, 'but in this he does not lie. I DID meet Kenneth MacNair last Tuesday.'
"'And you dare to tell me this to my face!' roared old Hugh. 'Back to your room, girl! Back to your room and stay there! Take off that finery. You go to no more dances. You shall stay in that room until I choose to let you out. No, not a word! I'll put you there if you don't go. In with you—ay, and take your knitting with you. Occupy yourself with that this evening instead of kicking your heels at The Springs!'
"He snatched a roll of gray stocking from the hall table and flung it into Ursula's room. Ursula knew she would have to follow it, or be picked up and carried in like a naughty child. So she gave the miserable Ramsay a look that made him cringe, and swept into her room with her head in the air. The next moment she heard the door locked behind her. Her first proceeding was to have a cry of anger and shame and disappointment. That did no good, and then she took to marching up and down her room. It did not calm her to hear the rumble of the carriage out of the gate as her uncle and aunt departed.
"'Oh, what's to be done?' she sobbed. 'Kenneth will be furious. He will think I have failed him and he will go away hot with anger against me. If I could only send a word of explanation I know he would not leave me. But there seems to be no way at all—though I have heard that there's always a way when there's a will. Oh, I shall go mad! If the window were not so high I would jump out of it. But to break my legs or my neck would not mend the matter.'
"The afternoon passed on. At sunset Ursula heard hoof-beats and ran to the window. Andrew Kinnear of The Springs was tying his horse at the door. He was a dashing young fellow, and a political crony of old Hugh. No doubt he would be at the dance that night. Oh, if she could get speech for but a moment with him!
"When he had gone into the house, Ursula, turning impatiently from the window, tripped and almost fell over the big ball of homespun yarn her father had flung on the floor. For a moment she gazed at it resentfully—then, with a gay little laugh, she pounced on it. The next moment she was at her table, writing a brief note to Kenneth MacNair. When it was written, Ursula unwound the gray ball to a considerable depth, pinned the note on it, and rewound the yarn over it. A gray ball, the color of the twilight, might escape observation, where a white missive fluttering down from an upper window would surely be seen by someone. Then she softly opened her window and waited.
"It was dusk when Andrew went away. Fortunately old Hugh did not come to the door with him. As Andrew untied his horse Ursula threw the ball with such good aim that it struck him, as she had meant it to do, squarely on the head. Andrew looked up at her window. She leaned out, put her finger warningly on her lips, pointed to the ball, and nodded. Andrew, looking somewhat puzzled, picked up the ball, sprang to his saddle, and galloped off.
"So far, well, thought Ursula. But would Andrew understand? Would he have wit enough to think of exploring the big, knobby ball for its delicate secret? And would he be at the dance after all?
"The evening dragged by. Time had never seemed so long to Ursula. She could not rest or sleep. It was midnight before she heard the patter of a handful of gravel on her window-panes. In a trice she was leaning out. Below in the darkness stood Kenneth MacNair.
"'Oh, Kenneth, did you get my letter? And is it safe for you to be here?'
"'Safe enough. Your father is in bed. I've waited two hours down the road for his light to go out, and an extra half-hour to put him to sleep. The horses are there. Slip down and out, Ursula. We'll make Charlottetown by dawn yet.'
"'That's easier said than done, lad. I'm locked in. But do you go out behind the new barn and bring the ladder you will find there.'
"Five minutes later, Miss Ursula, hooded and cloaked, scrambled soundlessly down the ladder, and in five more minutes she and Kenneth were riding along the road.
"'There's a stiff gallop before us, Ursula,' said Kenneth.
"'I would ride to the world's end with you, Kenneth MacNair,' said Ursula. Oh, of course she shouldn't have said anything of the sort, Felicity. But you see people had no etiquette departments in those days. And when the red sunlight of a fair October dawn was shining over the gray sea The Fair Lady sailed out of Charlottetown harbour. On her deck stood Kenneth and Ursula MacNair, and in her hand, as a most precious treasure, the bride carried a ball of gray homespun yarn."
"Well," said Dan, yawning, "I like that kind of a story. Nobody goes and dies in it, that's one good thing."
"Did old Hugh forgive Ursula?" I asked.
"The story stopped there in the brown book," said the Story Girl, "but the Awkward Man says he did, after awhile."
"It must be rather romantic to be run away with," remarked Cecily, wistfully.
"Don't you get such silly notions in your head, Cecily King," said Felicity, severely.
CHAPTER III. THE CHRISTMAS HARP
Great was the excitement in the houses of King as Christmas drew nigh. The air was simply charged with secrets. Everybody was very penurious for weeks beforehand and hoards were counted scrutinizingly every day. Mysterious pieces of handiwork were smuggled in and out of sight, and whispered consultations were held, about which nobody thought of being jealous, as might have happened at any other time. Felicity was in her element, for she and her mother were deep in preparations for the day. Cecily and the Story Girl were excluded from these doings with indifference on Aunt Janet's part and what seemed ostentatious complacency on Felicity's. Cecily took this to heart and complained to me about it.
"I'm one of this family just as much as Felicity is," she said, with as much indignation as Cecily could feel, "and I don't think she need shut me out of everything. When I wanted to stone the raisins for the mince-meat she said, no, she would do it herself, because Christmas mince-meat was very particular—as if I couldn't stone raisins right! The airs Felicity puts on about her cooking just make me sick," concluded Cecily wrathfully.
"It's a pity she doesn't make a mistake in cooking once in a while herself," I said. "Then maybe she wouldn't think she knew so much more than other people."
All parcels that came in the mail from distant friends were taken charge of by Aunts Janet and Olivia, not to be opened until the great day of the feast itself. How slowly the last week passed! But even watched pots will boil in the fulness of time, and finally Christmas day came, gray and dour and frost-bitten without, but full of revelry and rose-red mirth within. Uncle Roger and Aunt Olivia and the Story Girl came over early for the day; and Peter came too, with his shining, morning face, to be hailed with joy, for we had been afraid that Peter would not be able to spend Christmas with us. His mother had wanted him home with her.
"Of course I ought to go," Peter had told me mournfully, "but we won't have turkey for dinner, because ma can't afford it. And ma always cries on holidays because she says they make her think of father. Of course she can't help it, but it ain't cheerful. Aunt Jane wouldn't have cried. Aunt Jane used to say she never saw the man who was worth spoiling her eyes for. But I guess I'll have to spend Christmas at home."
At the last moment, however, a cousin of Mrs. Craig's in Charlottetown invited her for Christmas, and Peter, being given his choice of going or staying, joyfully elected to stay. So we were all together, except Sara Ray, who had been invited but whose mother wouldn't let her come.
"Sara Ray's mother is a nuisance," snapped the Story Girl. "She just lives to make that poor child miserable, and she won't let her go to the party tonight, either."
"It is just breaking Sara's heart that she can't," said Cecily compassionately. "I'm almost afraid I won't enjoy myself for thinking of her, home there alone, most likely reading the Bible, while we're at the party."
"She might be worse occupied than reading the Bible," said Felicity rebukingly.
"But Mrs. Ray makes her read it as a punishment," protested Cecily. "Whenever Sara cries to go anywhere—and of course she'll cry tonight—Mrs. Ray makes her read seven chapters in the Bible. I wouldn't think that would make her very fond of it. And I'll not be able to talk the party over with Sara afterwards—and that's half the fun gone."
"You can tell her all about it," comforted Felix.
"Telling isn't a bit like talking it over," retorted Cecily. "It's too one-sided."
We had an exciting time opening our presents. Some of us had more than others, but we all received enough to make us feel comfortably that we were not unduly neglected in the matter. The contents of the box which the Story Girl's father had sent her from Paris made our eyes stick out. It was full of beautiful things, among them another red silk dress—not the bright, flame-hued tint of her old one, but a rich, dark crimson, with the most distracting flounces and bows and ruffles; and with it were little red satin slippers with gold buckles, and heels that made Aunt Janet hold up her hands in horror. Felicity remarked scornfully that she would have thought the Story Girl would get tired wearing red so much, and even Cecily commented apart to me that she thought when you got so many things all at once you didn't appreciate them as much as when you only got a few.
"I'd never get tired of red," said the Story Girl. "I just love it—it's so rich and glowing. When I'm dressed in red I always feel ever so much cleverer than in any other colour. Thoughts just crowd into my brain one after the other. Oh, you darling dress—you dear, sheeny, red-rosy, glistening, silky thing!"
She flung it over her shoulder and danced around the kitchen.
"Don't be silly, Sara," said Aunt Janet, a little stimy. She was a good soul, that Aunt Janet, and had a kind, loving heart in her ample bosom. But I fancy there were times when she thought it rather hard that the daughter of a roving adventurer—as she considered him—like Blair Stanley should disport herself in silk dresses, while her own daughters must go clad in gingham and muslin—for those were the days when a feminine creature got one silk dress in her lifetime, and seldom more than one.
The Story Girl also got a present from the Awkward Man—a little, shabby, worn volume with a great many marks on the leaves.
"Why, it isn't new—it's an old book!" exclaimed Felicity. "I didn't think the Awkward Man was mean, whatever else he was."
"Oh, you don't understand, Felicity," said the Story Girl patiently. "And I don't suppose I can make you understand. But I'll try. I'd ten times rather have this than a new book. It's one of his own, don't you see—one that he has read a hundred times and loved and made a friend of. A new book, just out of a shop, wouldn't be the same thing at all. It wouldn't MEAN anything. I consider it a great compliment that he has given me this book. I'm prouder of it than of anything else I've got."
"Well, you're welcome to it," said Felicity. "I don't understand and I don't want to. I wouldn't give anybody a Christmas present that wasn't new, and I wouldn't thank anybody who gave me one."
Peter was in the seventh heaven because Felicity had given him a present—and, moreover, one that she had made herself. It was a bookmark of perforated cardboard, with a gorgeous red and yellow worsted goblet worked on it, and below, in green letters, the solemn warning, "Touch Not The Cup." As Peter was not addicted to habits of intemperance, not even to looking on dandelion wine when it was pale yellow, we did not exactly see why Felicity should have selected such a device. But Peter was perfectly satisfied, so nobody cast any blight on his happiness by carping criticism. Later on Felicity told me she had worked the bookmark for him because his father used to drink before he ran away.
"I thought Peter ought to be warned in time," she said.
Even Pat had a ribbon of blue, which he clawed off and lost half an hour after it was tied on him. Pat did not care for vain adornments of the body.
We had a glorious Christmas dinner, fit for the halls of Lucullus, and ate far more than was good for us, none daring to make us afraid on that one day of the year. And in the evening—oh, rapture and delight!—we went to Kitty Marr's party.
It was a fine December evening; the sharp air of morning had mellowed until it was as mild as autumn. There had been no snow, and the long fields, sloping down from the homestead, were brown and mellow. A weird, dreamy stillness had fallen on the purple earth, the dark fir woods, the valley rims, the sere meadows. Nature seemed to have folded satisfied hands to rest, knowing that her long wintry slumber was coming upon her.
At first, when the invitations to the party had come, Aunt Janet had said we could not go; but Uncle Alec interceded in our favour, perhaps influenced thereto by Cecily's wistful eyes. If Uncle Alec had a favourite among his children it was Cecily, and he had grown even more indulgent towards her of late. Now and then I saw him looking at her intently, and, following his eyes and thought, I had, somehow, seen that Cecily was paler and thinner than she had been in the summer, and that her soft eyes seemed larger, and that over her little face in moments of repose there was a certain languor and weariness that made it very sweet and pathetic. And I heard him tell Aunt Janet that he did not like to see the child getting so much the look of her Aunt Felicity.
"Cecily is perfectly well," said Aunt Janet sharply. "She's only growing very fast. Don't be foolish, Alec."
But after that Cecily had cups of cream where the rest of us got only milk; and Aunt Janet was very particular to see that she had her rubbers on whenever she went out.
On this merry Christmas evening, however, no fears or dim foreshadowings of any coming event clouded our hearts or faces. Cecily looked brighter and prettier than I had ever seen her, with her softly shining eyes and the nut brown gloss of her hair. Felicity was too beautiful for words; and even the Story Girl, between excitement and the crimson silk array, blossomed out with a charm and allurement more potent than any regular loveliness—and this in spite of the fact that Aunt Olivia had tabooed the red satin slippers and mercilessly decreed that stout shoes should be worn.
"I know just how you feel about it, you daughter of Eve," she said, with gay sympathy, "but December roads are damp, and if you are going to walk to Marrs' you are not going to do it in those frivolous Parisian concoctions, even with overboots on; so be brave, dear heart, and show that you have a soul above little red satin shoes."
"Anyhow," said Uncle Roger, "that red silk dress will break the hearts of all the feminine small fry at the party. You'd break their spirits, too, if you wore the slippers. Don't do it, Sara. Leave them one wee loophole of enjoyment."
"What does Uncle Roger mean?" whispered Felicity.
"He means you girls are all dying of jealousy because of the Story Girl's dress," said Dan.
"I am not of a jealous disposition," said Felicity loftily, "and she's entirely welcome to the dress—with a complexion like that."
But we enjoyed that party hugely, every one of us. And we enjoyed the walk home afterwards, through dim, enshadowed fields where silvery star-beams lay, while Orion trod his stately march above us, and a red moon climbed up the black horizon's rim. A brook went with us part of the way, singing to us through the dark—a gay, irresponsible vagabond of valley and wilderness.
Felicity and Peter walked not with us. Peter's cup must surely have brimmed over that Christmas night. When we left the Marr house, he had boldly said to Felicity, "May I see you home?" And Felicity, much to our amazement, had taken his arm and marched off with him. The primness of her was indescribable, and was not at all ruffled by Dan's hoot of derision. As for me, I was consumed by a secret and burning desire to ask the Story Girl if I might see HER home; but I could not screw my courage to the sticking point. How I envied Peter his easy, insouciant manner! I could not emulate him, so Dan and Felix and Cecily and the Story Girl and I all walked hand in hand, huddling a little closer together as we went through James Frewen's woods—for there are strange harps in a fir grove, and who shall say what fingers sweep them? Mighty and sonorous was the music above our heads as the winds of the night stirred the great boughs tossing athwart the starlit sky. Perhaps it was that aeolian harmony which recalled to the Story Girl a legend of elder days.
"I read such a pretty story in one of Aunt Olivia's books last night," she said. "It was called 'The Christmas Harp.' Would you like to hear it? It seems to me it would just suit this part of the road."
"There isn't anything about—about ghosts in it, is there?" said Cecily timidly.
"Oh, no, I wouldn't tell a ghost story here for anything. I'd frighten myself too much. This story is about one of the shepherds who saw the angels on the first Christmas night. He was just a youth, and he loved music with all his heart, and he longed to be able to express the melody that was in his soul. But he could not; he had a harp and he often tried to play on it; but his clumsy fingers only made such discord that his companions laughed at him and mocked him, and called him a madman because he would not give it up, but would rather sit apart by himself, with his arms about his harp, looking up into the sky, while they gathered around their fire and told tales to wile away their long night vigils as they watched their sheep on the hills. But to him the thoughts that came out of the great silence were far sweeter than their mirth; and he never gave up the hope, which sometimes left his lips as a prayer, that some day he might be able to express those thoughts in music to the tired, weary, forgetful world. On the first Christmas night he was out with his fellow shepherds on the hills. It was chill and dark, and all, except him, were glad to gather around the fire. He sat, as usual, by himself, with his harp on his knee and a great longing in his heart. And there came a marvellous light in the sky and over the hills, as if the darkness of the night had suddenly blossomed into a wonderful meadow of flowery flame; and all the shepherds saw the angels and heard them sing. And as they sang, the harp that the young shepherd held began to play softly by itself, and as he listened to it he realized that it was playing the same music that the angels sang and that all his secret longings and aspirations and strivings were expressed in it. From that night, whenever he took the harp in his hands, it played the same music; and he wandered all over the world carrying it; wherever the sound of its music was heard hate and discord fled away and peace and good-will reigned. No one who heard it could think an evil thought; no one could feel hopeless or despairing or bitter or angry. When a man had once heard that music it entered into his soul and heart and life and became a part of him for ever. Years went by; the shepherd grew old and bent and feeble; but still he roamed over land and sea, that his harp might carry the message of the Christmas night and the angel song to all mankind. At last his strength failed him and he fell by the wayside in the darkness; but his harp played as his spirit passed; and it seemed to him that a Shining One stood by him, with wonderful starry eyes, and said to him, 'Lo, the music thy harp has played for so many years has been but the echo of the love and sympathy and purity and beauty in thine own soul; and if at any time in the wanderings thou hadst opened the door of that soul to evil or envy or selfishness thy harp would have ceased to play. Now thy life is ended; but what thou hast given to mankind has no end; and as long as the world lasts, so long will the heavenly music of the Christmas harp ring in the ears of men.' When the sun rose the old shepherd lay dead by the roadside, with a smile on his face; and in his hands was a harp with all its strings broken."
We left the fir woods as the tale was ended, and on the opposite hill was home. A dim light in the kitchen window betokened that Aunt Janet had no idea of going to bed until all her young fry were safely housed for the night.
"Ma's waiting up for us," said Dan. "I'd laugh if she happened to go to the door just as Felicity and Peter were strutting up. I guess she'll be cross. It's nearly twelve."
"Christmas will soon be over," said Cecily, with a sigh. "Hasn't it been a nice one? It's the first we've all spent together. Do you suppose we'll ever spend another together?"
"Lots of 'em," said Dan cheerily. "Why not?"
"Oh, I don't know," answered Cecily, her footsteps lagging somewhat. "Only things seem just a little too pleasant to last."
"If Willy Fraser had had as much spunk as Peter, Miss Cecily King mightn't be so low spirited," quoth Dan, significantly.
Cecily tossed her head and disdained reply. There are really some remarks a self-respecting young lady must ignore.
CHAPTER IV. NEW YEAR RESOLUTIONS
If we did not have a white Christmas we had a white New Year. Midway between the two came a heavy snowfall. It was winter in our orchard of old delights then,—so truly winter that it was hard to believe summer had ever dwelt in it, or that spring would ever return to it. There were no birds to sing the music of the moon; and the path where the apple blossoms had fallen were heaped with less fragrant drifts. But it was a place of wonder on a moonlight night, when the snowy arcades shone like avenues of ivory and crystal, and the bare trees cast fairy-like traceries upon them. Over Uncle Stephen's Walk, where the snow had fallen smoothly, a spell of white magic had been woven. Taintless and wonderful it seemed, like a street of pearl in the new Jerusalem.
On New Year's Eve we were all together in Uncle Alec's kitchen, which was tacitly given over to our revels during the winter evenings. The Story Girl and Peter were there, of course, and Sara Ray's mother had allowed her to come up on condition that she should be home by eight sharp. Cecily was glad to see her, but the boys never hailed her arrival with over-much delight, because, since the dark began to come down early, Aunt Janet always made one of us walk down home with her. We hated this, because Sara Ray was always so maddeningly self-conscious of having an escort. We knew perfectly well that next day in school she would tell her chums as a "dead" secret that "So-and-So King saw her home" from the hill farm the night before. Now, seeing a young lady home from choice, and being sent home with her by your aunt or mother are two entirely different things, and we thought Sara Ray ought to have sense enough to know it.
Outside there was a vivid rose of sunset behind the cold hills of fir, and the long reaches of snowy fields glowed fairily pink in the western light. The drifts along the edges of the meadows and down the lane looked as if a series of breaking waves had, by the lifting of a magician's wand, been suddenly transformed into marble, even to their toppling curls of foam.
Slowly the splendour died, giving place to the mystic beauty of a winter twilight when the moon is rising. The hollow sky was a cup of blue. The stars came out over the white glens and the earth was covered with a kingly carpet for the feet of the young year to press.
"I'm so glad the snow came," said the Story Girl. "If it hadn't the New Year would have seemed just as dingy and worn out as the old. There's something very solemn about the idea of a New Year, isn't there? Just think of three hundred and sixty-five whole days, with not a thing happened in them yet."
"I don't suppose anything very wonderful will happen in them," said Felix pessimistically. To Felix, just then, life was flat, stale and unprofitable because it was his turn to go home with Sara Ray.
"It makes me a little frightened to think of all that may happen in them," said Cecily. "Miss Marwood says it is what we put into a year, not what we get out of it, that counts at last."
"I'm always glad to see a New Year," said the Story Girl. "I wish we could do as they do in Norway. The whole family sits up until midnight, and then, just as the clock is striking twelve, the father opens the door and welcomes the New Year in. Isn't it a pretty custom?"
"If ma would let us stay up till twelve we might do that too," said Dan, "but she never will. I call it mean."
"If I ever have children I'll let them stay up to watch the New Year in," said the Story Girl decidedly.
"So will I," said Peter, "but other nights they'll have to go to bed at seven."
"You ought to be ashamed, speaking of such things," said Felicity, with a scandalized face.
Peter shrank into the background abashed, no doubt believing that he had broken some Family Guide precept all to pieces.
"I didn't know it wasn't proper to mention children," he muttered apologetically.
"We ought to make some New Year resolutions," suggested the Story Girl. "New Year's Eve is the time to make them."
"I can't think of any resolutions I want to make," said Felicity, who was perfectly satisfied with herself.
"I could suggest a few to you," said Dan sarcastically.
"There are so many I would like to make," said Cecily, "that I'm afraid it wouldn't be any use trying to keep them all."
"Well, let's all make a few, just for the fun of it, and see if we can keep them," I said. "And let's get paper and ink and write them out. That will make them seem more solemn and binding."
"And then pin them up on our bedroom walls, where we'll see them every day," suggested the Story Girl, "and every time we break a resolution we must put a cross opposite it. That will show us what progress we are making, as well as make us ashamed if we have too many crosses."
"And let's have a Roll of Honour in Our Magazine," suggested Felix, "and every month we'll publish the names of those who keep their resolutions perfect."
"I think it's all nonsense," said Felicity. But she joined our circle around the table, though she sat for a long time with a blank sheet before her.
"Let's each make a resolution in turn," I said. "I'll lead off."
And, recalling with shame certain unpleasant differences of opinion I had lately had with Felicity, I wrote down in my best hand,
"I shall try to keep my temper always."
"You'd better," said Felicity tactfully.
It was Dan's turn next.
"I can't think of anything to start with," he said, gnawing his penholder fiercely.
"You might make a resolution not to eat poison berries," suggested Felicity.
"You'd better make one not to nag people everlastingly," retorted Dan.
"Oh, don't quarrel the last night of the old year," implored Cecily.
"You might resolve not to quarrel any time," suggested Sara Ray.
"No, sir," said Dan emphatically. "There's no use making a resolution you CAN'T keep. There are people in this family you've just GOT to quarrel with if you want to live. But I've thought of one—I won't do things to spite people."
Felicity—who really was in an unbearable mood that night—laughed disagreeably; but Cecily gave her a fierce nudge, which probably restrained her from speaking.
"I will not eat any apples," wrote Felix.
"What on earth do you want to give up eating apples for?" asked Peter in astonishment.
"Never mind," returned Felix.
"Apples make people fat, you know," said Felicity sweetly.
"It seems a funny kind of resolution," I said doubtfully. "I think our resolutions ought to be giving up wrong things or doing right ones."
"You make your resolutions to suit yourself and I'll make mine to suit myself," said Felix defiantly.
"I shall never get drunk," wrote Peter painstakingly.
"But you never do," said the Story Girl in astonishment.
"Well, it will be all the easier to keep the resolution," argued Peter.
"That isn't fair," complained Dan. "If we all resolved not to do the things we never do we'd all be on the Roll of Honour."
"You let Peter alone," said Felicity severely. "It's a very good resolution and one everybody ought to make."
"I shall not be jealous," wrote the Story Girl.
"But are you?" I asked, surprised.
The Story Girl coloured and nodded. "Of one thing," she confessed, "but I'm not going to tell what it is."
"I'm jealous sometimes, too," confessed Sara Ray, "and so my first resolution will be 'I shall try not to feel jealous when I hear the other girls in school describing all the sick spells they've had.'"
"Goodness, do you want to be sick?" demanded Felix in astonishment.
"It makes a person important," explained Sara Ray.
"I am going to try to improve my mind by reading good books and listening to older people," wrote Cecily.
"You got that out of the Sunday School paper," cried Felicity.
"It doesn't matter where I got it," said Cecily with dignity. "The main thing is to keep it."
"It's your turn, Felicity," I said.
Felicity tossed her beautiful golden head.
"I told you I wasn't going to make any resolutions. Go on yourself."
"I shall always study my grammar lesson," I wrote—I, who loathed grammar with a deadly loathing.
"I hate grammar too," sighed Sara Ray. "It seems so unimportant."
Sara was rather fond of a big word, but did not always get hold of the right one. I rather suspected that in the above instance she really meant uninteresting.
"I won't get mad at Felicity, if I can help it," wrote Dan.
"I'm sure I never do anything to make you mad," exclaimed Felicity.
"I don't think it's polite to make resolutions about your sisters," said Peter.
"He can't keep it anyway," scoffed Felicity. "He's got such an awful temper."
"It's a family failing," flashed Dan, breaking his resolution ere the ink on it was dry.
"There you go," taunted Felicity.
"I'll work all my arithmetic problems without any help," scribbled Felix.
"I wish I could resolve that, too," sighed Sara Ray, "but it wouldn't be any use. I'd never be able to do those compound multiplication sums the teacher gives us to do at home every night if I didn't get Judy Pineau to help me. Judy isn't a good reader and she can't spell AT ALL, but you can't stick her in arithmetic as far as she went herself. I feel sure," concluded poor Sara, in a hopeless tone, "that I'll NEVER be able to understand compound multiplication."
"'Multiplication is vexation, Division is as bad, The rule of three perplexes me, And fractions drive me mad,'"
"I haven't got as far as fractions yet," sighed Sara, "and I hope I'll be too big to go to school before I do. I hate arithmetic, but I am PASSIONATELY fond of geography."
"I will not play tit-tat-x on the fly leaves of my hymn book in church," wrote Peter.
"Mercy, did you ever do such a thing?" exclaimed Felicity in horror.
Peter nodded shamefacedly.
"Yes—that Sunday Mr. Bailey preached. He was so long-winded, I got awful tired, and, anyway, he was talking about things I couldn't understand, so I played tit-tat-x with one of the Markdale boys. It was the day I was sitting up in the gallery."
"Well, I hope if you ever do the like again you won't do it in OUR pew," said Felicity severely.
"I ain't going to do it at all," said Peter. "I felt sort of mean all the rest of the day."
"I shall try not to be vexed when people interrupt me when I'm telling stories," wrote the Story Girl. "but it will be hard," she added with a sigh.
"I never mind being interrupted," said Felicity.
"I shall try to be cheerful and smiling all the time," wrote Cecily.
"You are, anyway," said Sara Ray loyally.
"I don't believe we ought to be cheerful ALL the time," said the Story Girl. "The Bible says we ought to weep with those who weep."
"But maybe it means that we're to weep cheerfully," suggested Cecily.
"Sorter as if you were thinking, 'I'm very sorry for you but I'm mighty glad I'm not in the scrape too,'" said Dan.
"Dan, don't be irreverent," rebuked Felicity.
"I know a story about old Mr. and Mrs. Davidson of Markdale," said the Story Girl. "She was always smiling and it used to aggravate her husband, so one day he said very crossly, 'Old lady, what ARE you grinning at?' 'Oh, well, Abiram, everything's so bright and pleasant, I've just got to smile.'
"Not long after there came a time when everything went wrong—the crop failed and their best cow died, and Mrs. Davidson had rheumatism; and finally Mr. Davidson fell and broke his leg. But still Mrs. Davidson smiled. 'What in the dickens are you grinning about now, old lady?' he demanded. 'Oh, well, Abiram,' she said, 'everything is so dark and unpleasant I've just got to smile.' 'Well,' said the old man crossly, 'I think you might give your face a rest sometimes.'"
"I shall not talk gossip," wrote Sara Ray with a satisfied air.
"Oh, don't you think that's a little TOO strict?" asked Cecily anxiously. "Of course, it's not right to talk MEAN gossip, but the harmless kind doesn't hurt. If I say to you that Emmy MacPhail is going to get a new fur collar this winter, THAT is harmless gossip, but if I say I don't see how Emmy MacPhail can afford a new fur collar when her father can't pay my father for the oats he got from him, that would be MEAN gossip. If I were you, Sara, I'd put MEAN gossip."
Sara consented to this amendment.
"I will be polite to everybody," was my third resolution, which passed without comment.
"I'll try not to use slang since Cecily doesn't like it," wrote Dan.
"I think some slang is real cute," said Felicity.
"The Family Guide says it's very vulgar," grinned Dan. "Doesn't it, Sara Stanley?"
"Don't disturb me," said the Story Girl dreamily. "I'm just thinking a beautiful thought."
"I've thought of a resolution to make," cried Felicity. "Mr. Marwood said last Sunday we should always try to think beautiful thoughts and then our lives would be very beautiful. So I shall resolve to think a beautiful thought every morning before breakfast."
"Can you only manage one a day?" queried Dan.
"And why before breakfast?" I asked.
"Because it's easier to think on an empty stomach," said Peter, in all good faith. But Felicity shot a furious glance at him.
"I selected that time," she explained with dignity, "because when I'm brushing my hair before my glass in the morning I'll see my resolution and remember it."
"Mr. Marwood meant that ALL our thoughts ought to be beautiful," said the Story Girl. "If they were, people wouldn't be afraid to say what they think."
"They oughtn't to be afraid to, anyhow," said Felix stoutly. "I'm going to make a resolution to say just what I think always."
"And do you expect to get through the year alive if you do?" asked Dan.
"It might be easy enough to say what you think if you could always be sure just what you DO think," said the Story Girl. "So often I can't be sure."
"How would you like it if people always said just what they think to you?" asked Felicity.
"I'm not very particular what SOME people think of me," rejoined Felix.
"I notice you don't like to be told by anybody that you're fat," retorted Felicity.
"Oh, dear me, I do wish you wouldn't all say such sarcastic things to each other," said poor Cecily plaintively. "It sounds so horrid the last night of the old year. Dear knows where we'll all be this night next year. Peter, it's your turn."
"I will try," wrote Peter, "to say my prayers every night regular, and not twice one night because I don't expect to have time the next,—like I did the night before the party," he added.
"I s'pose you never said your prayers until we got you to go to church," said Felicity—who had had no hand in inducing Peter to go to church, but had stoutly opposed it, as recorded in the first volume of our family history.
"I did, too," said Peter. "Aunt Jane taught me to say my prayers. Ma hadn't time, being as father had run away; ma had to wash at night same as in day-time."
"I shall learn to cook," wrote the Story Girl, frowning.
"You'd better resolve not to make puddings of—" began Felicity, then stopped as suddenly as if she had bitten off the rest of her sentence and swallowed it. Cecily had nudged her, so she had probably remembered the Story Girl's threat that she would never tell another story if she was ever twitted with the pudding she had made from sawdust. But we all knew what Felicity had started to say and the Story Girl dealt her a most uncousinly glance.
"I will not cry because mother won't starch my aprons," wrote Sara Ray.
"Better resolve not to cry about anything," said Dan kindly.
Sara Ray shook her head forlornly.
"That would be too hard to keep. There are times when I HAVE to cry. It's a relief."
"Not to the folks who have to hear you," muttered Dan aside to Cecily.
"Oh, hush," whispered Cecily back. "Don't go and hurt her feelings the last night of the old year. Is it my turn again? Well, I'll resolve not to worry because my hair is not curly. But, oh, I'll never be able to help wishing it was."
"Why don't you curl it as you used to do, then?" asked Dan.
"You know very well that I've never put my hair up in curl papers since the time Peter was dying of the measles," said Cecily reproachfully. "I resolved then I wouldn't because I wasn't sure it was quite right."
"I will keep my finger-nails neat and clean," I wrote. "There, that's four resolutions. I'm not going to make any more. Four's enough."
"I shall always think twice before I speak," wrote Felix.
"That's an awful waste of time," commented Dan, "but I guess you'll need to if you're always going to say what you think."
"I'm going to stop with three," said Peter.
"I will have all the good times I can," wrote the Story Girl.
"THAT'S what I call sensible," said Dan.
"It's a very easy resolution to keep, anyhow," commented Felix.
"I shall try to like reading the Bible," wrote Sara Ray.
"You ought to like reading the Bible without trying to," exclaimed Felicity.
"If you had to read seven chapters of it every time you were naughty I don't believe you would like it either," retorted Sara Ray with a flash of spirit.
"I shall try to believe only half of what I hear," was Cecily's concluding resolution.
"But which half?" scoffed Dan.
"The best half," said sweet Cecily simply.
"I'll try to obey mother ALWAYS," wrote Sara Ray, with a tremendous sigh, as if she fully realized the difficulty of keeping such a resolution. "And that's all I'm going to make."
"Felicity has only made one," said the Story Girl.
"I think it better to make just one and keep it than make a lot and break them," said Felicity loftily.
She had the last word on the subject, for it was time for Sara Ray to go, and our circle broke up. Sara and Felix departed and we watched them down the lane in the moonlight—Sara walking demurely in one runner track, and Felix stalking grimly along in the other. I fear the romantic beauty of that silver shining night was entirely thrown away on my mischievous brother.
And it was, as I remember it, a most exquisite night—a white poem, a frosty, starry lyric of light. It was one of those nights on which one might fall asleep and dream happy dreams of gardens of mirth and song, feeling all the while through one's sleep the soft splendour and radiance of the white moon-world outside, as one hears soft, far-away music sounding through the thoughts and words that are born of it.
As a matter of fact, however, Cecily dreamed that night that she saw three full moons in the sky, and wakened up crying with the horror of it.
CHAPTER V. THE FIRST NUMBER OF "OUR MAGAZINE"
The first number of Our Magazine was ready on New Year's Day, and we read it that evening in the kitchen. All our staff had worked nobly and we were enormously proud of the result, although Dan still continued to scoff at a paper that wasn't printed. The Story Girl and I read it turnabout while the others, except Felix, ate apples. It opened with a short
With this number Our Magazine makes its first bow to the public. All the editors have done their best and the various departments are full of valuable information and amusement. The tastefully designed cover is by a famous artist, Mr. Blair Stanley, who sent it to us all the way from Europe at the request of his daughter. Mr. Peter Craig, our enterprising literary editor, contributes a touching love story. (Peter, aside, in a gratified pig's whisper: "I never was called 'Mr.' before.") Miss Felicity King's essays on Shakespeare is none the worse for being an old school composition, as it is new to most of our readers. Miss Cecily King contributes a thrilling article of adventure. The various departments are ably edited, and we feel that we have reason to be proud of Our Magazine. But we shall not rest on our oars. "Excelsior" shall ever be our motto. We trust that each succeeding issue will be better than the one that went before. We are well aware of many defects, but it is easier to see them than to remedy them. Any suggestion that would tend to the improvement of Our Magazine will be thankfully received, but we trust that no criticism will be made that will hurt anyone's feelings. Let us all work together in harmony, and strive to make Our Magazine an influence for good and a source of innocent pleasure, and let us always remember the words of the poet.
"The heights by great men reached and kept Were not attained by sudden flight, But they, while their companions slept, Were toiling upwards in the night."
(Peter, IMPRESSIVELY:—"I've read many a worse editorial in the Enterprise.")
ESSAY ON SHAKESPEARE
Shakespeare's full name was William Shakespeare. He did not always spell it the same way. He lived in the reign of Queen Elizabeth and wrote a great many plays. His plays are written in dialogue form. Some people think they were not written by Shakespeare but by another man of the same name. I have read some of them because our school teacher says everybody ought to read them, but I did not care much for them. There are some things in them I cannot understand. I like the stories of Valeria H. Montague in the Family Guide ever so much better. They are more exciting and truer to life. Romeo and Juliet was one of the plays I read. It was very sad. Juliet dies and I don't like stories where people die. I like it better when they all get married especially to dukes and earls. Shakespeare himself was married to Anne Hatheway. They are both dead now. They have been dead a good while. He was a very famous man.
(PETER, MODESTLY: "I don't know much about Shakespeare myself but I've got a book of his plays that belonged to my Aunt Jane, and I guess I'll have to tackle him as soon as I finish with the Bible.")
THE STORY OF AN ELOPEMENT FROM CHURCH
This is a true story. It happened in Markdale to an uncle of my mothers. He wanted to marry Miss Jemima Parr. Felicity says Jemima is not a romantic name for a heroin of a story but I cant help it in this case because it is a true story and her name realy was Jemima. My mothers uncle was named Thomas Taylor. He was poor at that time and so the father of Miss Jemima Parr did not want him for a soninlaw and told him he was not to come near the house or he would set the dog on him. Miss Jemima Parr was very pretty and my mothers uncle Thomas was just crazy about her and she wanted him too. She cried almost every night after her father forbid him to come to the house except the nights she had to sleep or she would have died. And she was so frightened he might try to come for all and get tore up by the dog and it was a bull-dog too that would never let go. But mothers uncle Thomas was too cute for that. He waited till one day there was preaching in the Markdale church in the middle of the week because it was sacrament time and Miss Jemima Parr and her family all went because her father was an elder. My mothers uncle Thomas went too and set in the pew just behind Miss Jemima Parrs family. When they all bowed their heads at prayer time Miss Jemima Parr didnt but set bolt uprite and my mothers uncle Thomas bent over and wispered in her ear. I dont know what he said so I cant right it but Miss Jemima Parr blushed that is turned red and nodded her head. Perhaps some people may think that my mothers uncle Thomas shouldent of wispered at prayer time in church but you must remember that Miss Jemima Parrs father had thretened to set the dog on him and that was hard lines when he was a respektable young man though not rich. Well when they were singing the last sam my mothers uncle Thomas got up and went out very quitely and as soon as church was out Miss Jemima Parr walked out too real quick. Her family never suspekted anything and they hung round talking to folks and shaking hands while Miss Jemima Parr and my mothers uncle Thomas were eloping outside. And what do you suppose they eloped in. Why in Miss Jemima Parrs fathers slay. And when he went out they were gone and his slay was gone also his horse. Of course my mothers uncle Thomas didnt steal the horse. He just borroed it and sent it home the next day. But before Miss Jemima Parrs father could get another rig to follow them they were so far away he couldent catch them before they got married. And they lived happy together forever afterwards. Mothers uncle Thomas lived to be a very old man. He died very suddent. He felt quite well when he went to sleep and when he woke up he was dead.
MY MOST EXCITING ADVENTURE
The editor says we must all write up our most exciting adventure for Our Magazine. My most exciting adventure happened a year ago last November. I was nearly frightened to death. Dan says he wouldn't of been scared and Felicity says she would of known what it was but it's easy to talk.
It happened the night I went down to see Kitty Marr. I thought when I went that Aunt Olivia was visiting there and I could come home with her. But she wasn't there and I had to come home alone. Kitty came a piece of the way but she wouldn't come any further than Uncle James Frewen's gate. She said it was because it was so windy she was afraid she would get the tooth-ache and not because she was frightened of the ghost of the dog that haunted the bridge in Uncle James' hollow. I did wish she hadn't said anything about the dog because I mightn't of thought about it if she hadn't. I had to go on alone thinking of it. I'd heard the story often but I'd never believed in it. They said the dog used to appear at one end of the bridge and walk across it with people and vanish when he got to the other end. He never tried to bite anyone but one wouldn't want to meet the ghost of a dog even if one didn't believe in him. I knew there was no such thing as ghosts and I kept saying a paraphrase over to myself and the Golden Text of the next Sunday School lesson but oh, how my heart beat when I got near the hollow! It was so dark. You could just see things dim-like but you couldn't see what they were. When I got to the bridge I walked along sideways with my back to the railing so I couldn't think the dog was behind me. And then just in the middle of the bridge I met something. It was right before me and it was big and black, just about the size of a Newfoundland dog, and I thought I could see a white nose. And it kept jumping about from one side of the bridge to the other. Oh, I hope none of my readers will ever be so frightened as I was then. I was too frightened to run back because I was afraid it would chase me and I couldn't get past it, it moved so quick, and then it just made one spring right on me and I felt its claws and I screamed and fell down. It rolled off to one side and laid there quite quiet but I didn't dare move and I don't know what would have become of me if Amos Cowan hadn't come along that very minute with a lantern. And there was me sitting in the middle of the bridge and that awful thing beside me. And what do you think it was but a big umbrella with a white handle? Amos said it was his umbrella and it had blown away from him and he had to go back and get the lantern to look for it. I felt like asking him what on earth he was going about with an umbrella open when it wasent raining. But the Cowans do such queer things. You remember the time Jerry Cowan sold us God's picture. Amos took me right home and I was thankful for I don't know what would have become of me if he hadn't come along. I couldn't sleep all night and I never want to have any more adventures like that one.
Mr. Dan King felt somewhat indisposed the day after Christmas—probably as the result of too much mince pie. (DAN, INDIGNANTLY:—"I wasn't. I only et one piece!")
Mr. Peter Craig thinks he saw the Family Ghost on Christmas Eve. But the rest of us think all he saw was the white calf with the red tail. (PETER, MUTTERING SULKILY:—"It's a queer calf that would walk up on end and wring its hands.")
Miss Cecily King spent the night of Dec. 20th with Miss Kitty Marr. They talked most of the night about new knitted lace patterns and their beaus and were very sleepy in school next day. (CECILY, SHARPLY:—"We never mentioned such things!")
Patrick Grayfur, Esq., was indisposed yesterday, but seems to be enjoying his usual health to-day.
The King family expect their Aunt Eliza to visit them in January. She is really our great-aunt. We have never seen her but we are told she is very deaf and does not like children. So Aunt Janet says we must make ourselves scarece when she comes.
Miss Cecily King has undertaken to fill with names a square of the missionary quilt which the Mission Band is making. You pay five cents to have your name embroidered in a corner, ten cents to have it in the centre, and a quarter if you want it left off altogether. (CECILY, INDIGNANTLY:—"That isn't the way at all.")
WANTED—A remedy to make a fat boy thin. Address, "Patient Sufferer, care of Our Magazine."
(FELIX, SOURLY:—"Sara Ray never got that up. I'll bet it was Dan. He'd better stick to his own department.")
Mrs. Alexander King killed all her geese the twentieth of December. We all helped pick them. We had one Christmas Day and will have one every fortnight the rest of the winter.
The bread was sour last week because mother wouldn't take my advice. I told her it was too warm for it in the corner behind the stove.
Miss Felicity King invented a new recete for date cookies recently, which everybody said were excelent. I am not going to publish it though, because I don't want other people to find it out.
ANXIOUS INQUIRER:—If you want to remove inkstains place the stain over steam and apply salt and lemon juice. If it was Dan who sent this question in I'd advise him to stop wiping his pen on his shirt sleeves and then he wouldn't have so many stains.
F-l-x:—Yes, you should offer your arm to a lady when seeing her home, but don't keep her standing too long at the gate while you say good night.
(FELIX, ENRAGED:—"I never asked such a question.")
C-c-l-y:—No, it is not polite to use "Holy Moses" or "dodgasted" in ordinary conversation.
(Cecily had gone down cellar to replenish the apple plate, so this passed without protest.)
S-r-a:—No, it isn't polite to cry all the time. As to whether you should ask a young man in, it all depends on whether he went home with you of his own accord or was sent by some elderly relative.
F-l-t-y:—It does not break any rule of etiquette if you keep a button off your best young man's coat for a keepsake. But don't take more than one or his mother might miss them.
Knitted mufflers are much more stylish than crocheted ones this winter. It is nice to have one the same colour as your cap.
Red mittens with a black diamond pattern on the back are much run after. Em Frewen's grandma knits hers for her. She can knit the double diamond pattern and Em puts on such airs about it, but I think the single diamond is in better taste.
The new winter hats at Markdale are very pretty. It is so exciting to pick a hat. Boys can't have that fun. Their hats are so much alike.
This is a true joke and really happened.
There was an old local preacher in New Brunswick one time whose name was Samuel Clask. He used to preach and pray and visit the sick just like a regular minister. One day he was visiting a neighbour who was dying and he prayed the Lord to have mercy on him because he was very poor and had worked so hard all his life that he hadn't much time to attend to religion.
"And if you don't believe me, O Lord," Mr. Clask finished up with, "just take a look at his hands."
GENERAL INFORMATION BUREAU
DAN:—Do porpoises grow on trees or vines?
Ans. Neither. They inhabit the deep sea.
(DAN, AGGRIEVED:—"Well, I'd never heard of porpoises and it sounded like something that grew. But you needn't have gone and put it in the paper."
FELIX:—"It isn't any worse than the things you put in about me that I never asked at all."
CECILY, SOOTHINGLY:—"Oh, well, boys, it's all in fun, and I think Our Magazine is perfectly elegant."
FELICITY, FAILING TO SEE THE STORY GIRL AND BEVERLEY EXCHANGING WINKS BEHIND HER BACK:—"It certainly is, though SOME PEOPLE were so opposed to starting it.")
What harmless, happy fooling it all was! How we laughed as we read and listened and devoured apples! Blow high, blow low, no wind can ever quench the ruddy glow of that faraway winter night in our memories. And though Our Magazine never made much of a stir in the world, or was the means of hatching any genius, it continued to be capital fun for us throughout the year.
CHAPTER VI. GREAT-AUNT ELIZA'S VISIT
It was a diamond winter day in February—clear, cold, hard, brilliant. The sharp blue sky shone, the white fields and hills glittered, the fringe of icicles around the eaves of Uncle Alec's house sparkled. Keen was the frost and crisp the snow over our world; and we young fry of the King households were all agog to enjoy life—for was it not Saturday, and were we not left all alone to keep house?
Aunt Janet and Aunt Olivia had had their last big "kill" of market poultry the day before; and early in the morning all our grown-ups set forth to Charlottetown, to be gone the whole day. They left us many charges as usual, some of which we remembered and some of which we forgot; but with Felicity in command none of us dared stray far out of line. The Story Girl and Peter came over, of course, and we all agreed that we would haste and get the work done in the forenoon, that we might have an afternoon of uninterrupted enjoyment. A taffy-pull after dinner and then a jolly hour of coasting on the hill field before supper were on our programme. But disappointment was our portion. We did manage to get the taffy made but before we could sample the result satisfactorily, and just as the girls were finishing with the washing of the dishes, Felicity glanced out of the window and exclaimed in tones of dismay,
"Oh, dear me, here's Great-aunt Eliza coming up the lane! Now, isn't that too mean?"
We all looked out to see a tall, gray-haired lady approaching the house, looking about her with the slightly puzzled air of a stranger. We had been expecting Great-aunt Eliza's advent for some weeks, for she was visiting relatives in Markdale. We knew she was liable to pounce down on us any time, being one of those delightful folk who like to "surprise" people, but we had never thought of her coming that particular day. It must be confessed that we did not look forward to her visit with any pleasure. None of us had ever seen her, but we knew she was very deaf, and had very decided opinions as to the way in which children should behave.
"Whew!" whistled Dan. "We're in for a jolly afternoon. She's deaf as a post and we'll have to split our throats to make her hear at all. I've a notion to skin out."
"Oh, don't talk like that, Dan," said Cecily reproachfully. "She's old and lonely and has had a great deal of trouble. She has buried three husbands. We must be kind to her and do the best we can to make her visit pleasant."
"She's coming to the back door," said Felicity, with an agitated glance around the kitchen. "I told you, Dan, that you should have shovelled the snow away from the front door this morning. Cecily, set those pots in the pantry quick—hide those boots, Felix—shut the cupboard door, Peter—Sara, straighten up the lounge. She's awfully particular and ma says her house is always as neat as wax."
To do Felicity justice, while she issued orders to the rest of us, she was flying busily about herself, and it was amazing how much was accomplished in the way of putting the kitchen in perfect order during the two minutes in which Great-aunt Eliza was crossing the yard.
"Fortunately the sitting-room is tidy and there's plenty in the pantry," said Felicity, who could face anything undauntedly with a well-stocked larder behind her.
Further conversation was cut short by a decided rap at the door. Felicity opened it.
"Why, how do you do, Aunt Eliza?" she said loudly.
A slightly bewildered look appeared on Aunt Eliza's face. Felicity perceived she had not spoken loudly enough.
"How do you do, Aunt Eliza," she repeated at the top of her voice. "Come in—we are glad to see you. We've been looking for you for ever so long."
"Are your father and mother at home?" asked Aunt Eliza, slowly.
"No, they went to town today. But they'll be home this evening."
"I'm sorry they're away," said Aunt Eliza, coming in, "because I can stay only a few hours."
"Oh, that's too bad," shouted poor Felicity, darting an angry glance at the rest of us, as if to demand why we didn't help her out. "Why, we've been thinking you'd stay a week with us anyway. You MUST stay over Sunday."
"I really can't. I have to go to Charlottetown tonight," returned Aunt Eliza.
"Well, you'll take off your things and stay to tea, at least," urged Felicity, as hospitably as her strained vocal chords would admit.
"Yes, I think I'll do that. I want to get acquainted with my—my nephews and nieces," said Aunt Eliza, with a rather pleasant glance around our group. If I could have associated the thought of such a thing with my preconception of Great-aunt Eliza I could have sworn there was a twinkle in her eye. But of course it was impossible. "Won't you introduce yourselves, please?"
Felicity shouted our names and Great-aunt Eliza shook hands all round. She performed the duty grimly and I concluded I must have been mistaken about the twinkle. She was certainly very tall and dignified and imposing—altogether a great-aunt to be respected.
Felicity and Cecily took her to the spare room and then left her in the sitting-room while they returned to the kitchen, to discuss the matter in family conclave.
"Well, and what do you think of dear Aunt Eliza?" asked Dan.
"S-s-s-sh," warned Cecily, with a glance at the half-open hall door.
"Pshaw," scoffed Dan, "she can't hear us. There ought to be a law against anyone being as deaf as that."
"She's not so old-looking as I expected," said Felix. "If her hair wasn't so white she wouldn't look much older than your mother."
"You don't have to be very old to be a great-aunt," said Cecily. "Kitty Marr has a great-aunt who is just the same age as her mother. I expect it was burying so many husbands turned her hair white. But Aunt Eliza doesn't look just as I expected she would either."
"She's dressed more stylishly than I expected," said Felicity. "I thought she'd be real old-fashioned, but her clothes aren't too bad at all."
"She wouldn't be bad-looking if 'tweren't for her nose," said Peter. "It's too long, and crooked besides."
"You needn't criticize our relations like that," said Felicity tartly.
"Well, aren't you doing it yourselves?" expostulated Peter.
"That's different," retorted Felicity. "Never you mind Great-aunt Eliza's nose."
"Well, don't expect me to talk to her," said Dan, "'cause I won't."
"I'm going to be very polite to her," said Felicity. "She's rich. But how are we to entertain her, that's the question."
"What does the Family Guide say about entertaining your rich, deaf old aunt?" queried Dan ironically.
"The Family Guide says we should be polite to EVERYBODY," said Cecily, with a reproachful look at Dan.
"The worst of it is," said Felicity, looking worried, "that there isn't a bit of old bread in the house and she can't eat new, I've heard father say. It gives her indigestion. What will we do?"
"Make a pan of rusks and apologize for having no old bread," suggested the Story Girl, probably by way of teasing Felicity. The latter, however, took it in all good faith.
"The Family Guide says we should never apologize for things we can't help. It says it's adding insult to injury to do it. But you run over home for a loaf of stale bread, Sara, and it's a good idea about the rusks. I'll make a panful."
"Let me make them," said the Story Girl, eagerly. "I can make real good rusks now."
"No, it wouldn't do to trust you," said Felicity mercilessly. "You might make some queer mistake and Aunt Eliza would tell it all over the country. She's a fearful old gossip. I'll make the rusks myself. She hates cats, so we mustn't let Paddy be seen. And she's a Methodist, so mind nobody says anything against Methodists to her."
"Who's going to say anything, anyhow?" asked Peter belligerently.
"I wonder if I might ask her for her name for my quilt square?" speculated Cecily. "I believe I will. She looks so much friendlier than I expected. Of course she'll choose the five-cent section. She's an estimable old lady, but very economical."
"Why don't you say she's so mean she'd skin a flea for its hide and tallow?" said Dan. "That's the plain truth."
"Well, I'm going to see about getting tea," said Felicity, "so the rest of you will have to entertain her. You better go in and show her the photographs in the album. Dan, you do it."