LAURA E. RICHARDS
AUTHOR OF "CAPTAIN JANUARY," "MELODY," "QUEEN HILDEGARDE," "GEOFFREY STRONG," ETC.
Illustrated by JULIA WARD RICHARDS
BOSTON DANA ESTES & COMPANY PUBLISHERS
Copyright, 1904 BY DANA ESTES & COMPANY
* * * * *
All rights reserved
Colonial Press Electrotyped and Printed by C. H. Simonds & Co. Boston, Mass., U. S. A.
H. H. F., Jr.
WITH AFFECTIONATE GREETING.
The sunlight falls in gold upon the golden fields, The ruffling wave gives back the sky in blue; The asters fringe the meadow's skirts in purple pride, And proud the goldenrod is standing, too.
Oh! clear and far across the lonely water, The wild bird calls his mate at close of day; My heart cries out, my heart cries out in answer, And oh, I fondly think of them that's far away.
Oh, fair the fields where now their feet are treading! Oh, green the trees that blossom o'er their head! Oh, deep and sweet the skies above them spreading, And on their hearth the fire-glow warm and red!
Still may they hear, across the lonely water, The wild bird call his mate at close of day; Still may their hearts, still may their hearts make answer; Still may they kindly think of them that's far away!
I. THE ARRIVAL 11
II. THE CAMP 26
III. AUF DAS WASSER ZU SINGEN 39
IV. AFTER THE PICNIC 55
V. KITTY AND WILLY 75
VI. A DISCUSSION 90
VII. WATER PLAY 106
VIII. THE MAIL 119
IX. MR. BELLEVILLE 138
X. PUPPY PLAY 155
XI. MRS. MERRYWEATHER'S VIGIL 171
XII. "SHOULD AULD ACQUAINTANCE BE FORGOT" 186
XIII. ABOUT VISITING 204
XIV. MOONLIGHT AGAIN 220
XV. CONCERNING VARIOUS THINGS 239
XVI. ON THE DOWN 259
XVII. THE SNOWY OWL 273
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
"'TU-WHOO!' SAID THE SNOWY OWL" (See page 281) Frontispiece
"'HERE IS YOURS,' SAID BELL; 'NEXT TO OURS'" 28
"''TIS NOT A PLATE SHIP!'" 81
"'COME ON! COME IN!'" 107
"MR. CLAUD BELLEVILLE WAS A TALL, PALLID YOUTH" 138
MRS. MERRYWEATHER'S VIGIL 175
"'SIMPLY FIERCE, YOUR REVERENCE!' SAID I" 217
"HE WAS STIRRING THE PORRIDGE INDUSTRIOUSLY, WHILE SHE MIXED THE JOHNNY-CAKE" 233
"OH, Peggy, I am afraid!"
"Yes, I am. I feel very shy and queer, going among strangers. You see, I have never really been away in my life; never in this way, I mean. I was always with father; and then—afterward—I went to Fernley; and though so many people have come into my life, dear, delightful people, I have never somehow gone into theirs. And now, to go into a whole great big family, only two of whom—I mean which—oh, dear me! I don't know what I mean, but I have only seen two of them, you know, and it is formidable, you will admit, Peggy."
"Well, I feel just a scrap queer myself," said Peggy; "but I never thought you would. And anyhow, we needn't; we both know the boys so well, and though you have not actually seen the Snowy, you really know her very well. Darling thing! Oh, I cannot wait till we get there! Do you think we ever shall get there, Margaret? This is the longest journey I ever made in my life."
"How about the journey from Ohio?"
"Oh, that is different. I know all the places along the road, and they slip by before one can think. Besides, a long journey always seems shorter, because you know it is long. Well, you needn't laugh, you know perfectly well what I mean. Oh, Margaret, I saw a glimpse of blue behind the trees. Do you suppose that is the lake? do you think we are nearly there? Oh! I am so excited! Is my hat on straight?"
Margaret Montfort, by way of reply, straightened her cousin's hat, and then proceeded to administer sundry coaxing pats to her hair and her ribbons.
"You are a trifle flyaway, dear!" she said. "There! now, when you have taken the black smut off your nose, you will be as trim as possible. Am I all right?"
"You!" said Peggy, with a despairing look, as she rubbed away at her nose; "as if you ever had a pin or an eyelash out of place! Margaret, how do you do it? Why does dust avoid you, and cling to me as if I were its last refuge? How do you make your collar stay like that? I don't see why I was born a Misfit Puzzle. Oh—ee! there is the lake! just look, how blue it is! Oh! Margaret, I must scream!"
"You must not scream!" said Margaret with quiet decision, pulling Peggy down into the seat beside her. "You must be good, and sit still. See! that old gentleman is watching us, Peggy. He will be scandalized if you carry on so."
"He doesn't look a bit scandalized; he looks awfully jolly."
"Well, he does, Margaret. Do you suppose Mr. Merryweather is anything like that? Margaret!"
"What is it, Peggy? please don't speak so loud!"
"Perhaps it is Mr. Merryweather. I think—I am almost perfectly sure it must be. Why, he is positively staring at us. It must be Mr. Merryweather!"
"Is Mr. Merryweather specially addicted to staring? I should not suppose so. This gentleman is not in the least my idea of Mr. Merryweather; and if he does stare,—there! he is looking away now,—it is because he sees a great big girl dancing and jumping in her seat as if she were Polly Peppercorn."
"Next station Merryweather!" chanted the brakeman.
"There! Margaret, he is getting his things together. It is! it is, I tell you. Oh! I shall scream!"
Peggy's threat was uttered in so loud a stage whisper, that Margaret looked up in alarm, fearing that the gentleman must have heard. She met a glance so kind, so twinkling with sympathetic merriment, that she smiled in spite of herself.
The gentleman lifted his hat, instantly, and stepped forward. He was not tall, but broad and muscular, with keen, dark eyes that sparkled under shaggy white eyebrows; a most vigorous, positive-looking old gentleman.
"A thousand pardons!" he said, in a deep, gruff voice which was the very essence of heartiness. "You also are getting off at Merryweather, young ladies? I beg the privilege of assisting you with your parcels; I insist upon it! Permit me, madam!" and he took possession of Margaret's travelling-bag, Margaret blushing and protesting, while Peggy's blue eyes grew to absolute circles, and her little mouth opened to another.
"You are very kind!" said Margaret. "Indeed, I can carry it perfectly—thank you so very much! Yes, we are going to Mr. Merryweather's camp. Do you know—"
"Harry Monmouth!" exclaimed the old gentleman. "Astonishing! Going there myself. Permit me to introduce myself—Colonel Ferrers, at your service."
He lifted his hat again, and bowed low.
"Our name is Montfort," said Margaret timidly, attracted and yet alarmed by his explosive utterance, so different from the quiet speech of the Montfort men.
"Not John's daughters!" cried the Colonel. "I'll be shot if you are John's daughters!"
"Oh! no," cried Margaret, her eyes lightening. "Not his daughters, but his nieces. Do you know Uncle John, Colonel Ferrers?"
"Know John Montfort? know the nose on my face? not that there is any resemblance; fine-looking man. I have known John Montfort, my dear young ladies, ever since he was in petticoats. John, Dick, Jim, Roger—fine lads! used to stay at Roseholme—my place in Dutchess County—forty years ago. School-boys when I was in college. All over the place, climbing, hunting, fishing, falling off the roofs—great boys! haven't heard of them for twenty years. Where are they now? all living, I—eh, what?"
"My father, Roger Montfort, is dead," said Margaret, softly; "so is Uncle Richard. Uncle John and Uncle James are living, Colonel Ferrers; this is Uncle James's daughter. Peggy dear, Colonel Ferrers! and I live with Uncle John at Fernley House. Oh! how delightful to meet some one who knows Uncle John!"
"Pleasure is mine, I assure you!" said the Colonel, gallantly. "Harry Monmouth! takes me back forty years. Knew Roger, your father, well, Miss Montfort. Great scholar; fine fellow! nose in his books all day long, just like my brother Raymond; great chums, Roger and Raymond. I remember once—ha! here we are!"
"Merryweather!" shouted the brakeman. The train drew up beside a little wayside station. On one side of the track, a platform and a shed, with a few barrels and boxes lying about; on the other, a long stretch of dark blue water, ruffling into brown where the wind swept it.
The three travellers, emerging, found three persons awaiting them on the platform. Gerald Merryweather was first, his hand on the rail, his face alight with joy and eagerness; close beside him was another person, a tall girl in gray, at sight of whom Peggy, who had been apparently stricken dumb by the aspect of Colonel Ferrers, shouted aloud and tumbled off the car-step, to the imminent peril of life and limb.
"Snowy! Snowy! is it really you?"
"You dear Peggy!" cried Gertrude Merryweather, taking her in her arms, and giving her a hearty kiss. "I am so glad! and this is Margaret—oh! welcome, most welcome, to Merryweather! Dear Colonel Ferrers, how do you do? it was so good of you to come! But where is Hugh? haven't you brought him?"
Colonel Ferrers drew her a step aside.
"My dear Gertrude," he said, in a confidential tone, "there is no need of my telling you that Hugh is one of the most astonishing—I will say the most astonishing boy I ever saw in my life. Expected to come; looking forward to it for weeks, greatest pleasure of the summer. Yesterday morning, Elizabeth Beadle had an attack of lumbago; painful thing; confined to her bed; excellent woman, none better in the world. Never could understand why good people should have lumbago; excellent complaint for scoundrels; excellent! well, the boy—his great-aunt, you understand!—refuses to leave her. Says she likes to have him read to her! Preposterous! I insisted, Elizabeth Beadle insisted, with tears in her eyes; tears, sir! I mean my dear! Boy immovable; Gibraltar vacillating beside him; tottering, sir, on its foundations. I had to come away and leave him, perfectly happy, reading Tennyson to Elizabeth Beadle. Ask somebody else to coerce a boy like that; Thomas Ferrers is not the man for it. Where's my Cochin China Chittagong?"
"Jack?" said Gertrude, laughing. "He is behind the shed, with the horses. The old horse doesn't like the train, and will not stand tying. As soon as Jerry gets the trunks—"
"Checks?" cried the Colonel, in answer to Gerald's request. "Two of them, sir. Sole-leather trunk, green carpet-bag. Anything for me by express? box, hamper, basket, that sort of thing, eh, what?"
"I should think there was, sir!" said Gerald. "A basket of peaches as big as the camp, or very near it; and a hamper that says 'salmon!' as plainly as if it could speak. You're awfully good, sir!"
"Nothing of the sort!" retorted the Colonel. "Pity if I can't have a little gratification once in a way. Ah! there is my Cochin China—how are you, sir, how are you? prancing, as usual, like an Egyptian war-horse. Come here, and be introduced to the Miss Montforts! We are in luck, sir! Miss Montfort, Miss—eh? thank you! Miss Peggy Montfort, my nephew, John Ferrers. Here sir! take the bags, will you? Which way, Gerald? eh? what?"
While the colonel was explaining (and exploding) to Gerald and Gertrude, and Margaret looking and listening in quiet amusement, Peggy had been hanging back, overcome in her turn by the shyness which her companion had conquered. But now Gertrude took her by the hand, and while the trunks were being hoisted on the wagon by Gerald and Jack, aided by a tall and powerful lad in blue overalls, the two walked up and down the little platform in earnest talk. Fragments of it reached Margaret where she stood, as they passed and repassed.
"Yes, last week. She is very well, she says, and fluffier than ever, on account of the heat. She has enjoyed her school very much. She wanted Grace to join her, and I think she might have, if all this had not come about. Oh, Peggy, I was so glad!"
"Blissful, my dear, is no word for it! they have no eyes for any one else. He can't remember that there is any one else, and she—"
"Well, I always said that if Grace did care for any one—"
"Yes, in October. The wedding is to be at Fernley, and—"
"Anybody coming with me?" inquired Gerald, wistfully. "Margaret, will you risk life and limb with me and the old horse?"
"With pleasure!" said Margaret. "Is he very wild? He doesn't look so."
"Only by comparison with the young horse!" said Gerald. "Jacob, don't strain your back lifting that carpet-bag!"
Jacob, the youth in blue overalls, smiled calmly, and swung a large trunk over his shoulder as if it were a hand-satchel.
"It's you I'm scared about, Gerald," he said slowly; "fear you'll do yourself a hurt pulling on the reins. Frank hasn't been out since yesterday."
"I'll risk him!" said Gerald. "Now, Margaret." He held out his hand, and Margaret stepped lightly up to the seat of the Concord wagon.
"Now," said Gerald, "Jack, if you'll drive the beach-wagon—is that all right, Toots?"
"Certainly!" said Gertrude. "Peggy, you and I will sit together behind; that is, if you do not mind the front seat, Colonel Ferrers? So! all right now, Jack! we'd better let the old horse go first, for he doesn't like to stay behind the new one. Oh! Jacob! how are you going home? we must make room for you somewhere."
"I'll go across lots," said the blue youth, "and be there to take the horses when you get there. You better hurry them up the least mite, so's I sha'n't have to wait too long!"
With a benign smile he vaulted over a five-barred gate, and went with a long, leisurely stride across the fields.
"He'll run when he gets round the corner!" said Gerald. "I know that's the way he does it. Get up, Frank! do play you are alive, just for once. Oh, Margaret, I am so glad to see you. I thought September would never come. It has been the longest summer I ever knew. Haven't you found it so?"
"Why, no!" said truthful Margaret. "It has seemed very short to me."
"Oh, well, of course it has been short too, summers always are; like the dachshund!"
"The dachshund!" repeated Margaret. "What can a dachshund have to do with summer, Gerald?"
"A description I once heard," said Gerald. "I was walking with Beppo, my dachs, and a little boy stopped to look at him. 'Ain't he long?' he said. 'My! ain't he short?' Even so summer. Oh, I am glad to see you. Get up, Frank!"
A LONG, low, irregular building, with a wide verandah in front, the lake rippling and ruffling almost up to the piers; beyond, great hills rolling up and away. To right and left, boat-houses and tents; hammocks swung between the trees, fishing-rods ranged along the sides of the building. This was the Camp. As the wagons drove up, Mrs. Merryweather hurried from the house, and Mr. Merryweather and Phil came up with long strides from the wharf. Amid a chorus of eager welcome, a babel of questions and answers, the travellers were helped out and escorted to the verandah.
"Most welcome, all!" cried Mrs. Merryweather. "Are you very tired? No? that is good! Well, but you must be hungry, I am sure. There are doughnuts and milk on the table; or if you would rather have tea—"
"They are not hungry, Miranda!" said Mr. Merryweather. "They cannot be hungry at three o'clock. Dined at Wayport, Ferrers? Of course! Jack, show your uncle his tent! Miss Montfort—"
"I'll show them the way, Papa!" said Gertrude. "Where is Bell, Mammy? Oh, there she is! Bell, here are Margaret and Peggy; girls, this is Bell!"
Bell Merryweather, a sturdy, blue-eyed girl with the general aspect of a snow apple, greeted the guests with a hearty shake of a powerful hand, and a cordial smile.
"We have been looking forward so to your coming!" she said. "Don't you want to come out to your tent? Here, I'll take your bag, Margaret; shall I say 'Margaret' at once? it will be so much nicer. This way!"
She led the way, Margaret following, Gertrude and Peggy after them, still talking eagerly. A row of flagstones led past the boat-house, and on under solemn pines and feathery birches to where a line of tents stood facing the water.
"Here is yours," said Bell; "next to ours, this big one; we are three, you see. Yours is small, but I hope you can be comfortable."
"Comfortable!" echoed Peggy; "I should think so! Oh, Margaret, do look! how perfect everything is! Oh, what ducky beds! the red blankets are just like home; our boys have red blankets. Oh, I shall be perfectly happy here!"
Margaret, accustomed to the wide spaces and ample closets of Fernley House, was a little bewildered at the first glance around her. The tent was hardly bigger than the stateroom of a moderate-sized steamer. Could two persons live here in anything approaching comfort? A second glance showed her how compactly and conveniently everything was arranged. The narrow cots, with their scarlet blankets and blue check pillows, stood on either side; between them was a table, with blotter of birch bark, and an inkstand made by hollowing out a quaintly shaped piece of wood and sinking in the hollow a small glass tumbler. Above the head of each bed hung a long shoe-bag with many pockets, while opposite the foot were rows of hooks for dresses, a shelf on which stood pitcher, basin, etc., and a chest of drawers. All was fresh, neat, and tidy.
"Yes, I am sure we shall be happy!" said Margaret, repeating Peggy's words.
"Here is the hook for your lantern," said Bell. "Here is a little jar for crackers, but be sure to keep it covered, or the squirrels will carry them off. I hope you will not mind a squirrel coming in now and then? they are so tame, they come hopping in to see if we have anything for them; I often leave a bit of something."
"Oh! what fun!" said Peggy. "I love to tame squirrels. Ours at home will come and eat from our hands. Will yours do that?"
"Not often; at least, not for me. The boys can bring them sometimes. I think they like boys best. But I have a dear little field-mouse who brings me her babies to look at now and then, just to show me how they are growing. There, now, we go on chattering, when I know you ought to rest awhile, and unpack and stow away. It takes quite a bit of planning for two persons to fit into a tent. By and by, when you are all settled, would you like to go out on the water? Hurrah! we'll come for you. Come on, Toots!"
The two sisters walked slowly down the long slip that led to the floating wharf, and sat down with their feet hanging over the edge.
"Well, Bell!" said Gertrude, eagerly.
"Well!" said Bell, slowly.
"What do you think of them? Isn't she lovely? and isn't Peggy a dear?"
"Yes," said Bell. "I think you have just hit it, Toots. Peggy is a dear; just a hearty, jolly dear; but Margaret is lovely. Do you see a little hint of Hilda? I can't tell where it is; not in the features, certainly, nor in the coloring. I think it is in the brow and eyes; a kind of noble look; I don't know how else to put it. You wouldn't say anything false or base to this girl, any more than you would to Hilda; you wouldn't dare. My lamb! I speak as if falseness and baseness were the usual note of your conversation."
"I thought you were a trifle severe," said Gertrude, smiling. "Well, anyhow, it is a joy to have them here, and dear Colonel Ferrers, too. What shall we do this evening? Here come the boys for a council."
The twins, Gerald and Phil, came running down the wharf, followed by Jack Ferrers. The latter, whom some of my readers may have known as an awkward, "leggy" boy, was now a man. Very tall, towering three or four inches above the six-foot Merryweathers, he still kept his boyish slenderness and spring, though the awkward angles were somehow softened away. He no longer stooped and shambled, but held his head up and his shoulders back; and if he did still prance, as his uncle declared, like the Mighty Ones of Scripture, it was not an ungraceful prancing. Briefly, Jack Ferrers was a fine-looking fellow.
"Council of War?" asked Gerald; "or do we intrude?"
"Sit down!" said Bell. "We were just beginning to plan the evening. What are your ideas, if any?"
The boys—for they were still the boys, even if they had passed one and twenty—stretched themselves along the wharf in picturesque attitudes.
"I would sing!" announced Gerald. "Prose will not express my feelings at this juncture.
"My fertile brain is simmering, My fancy's fire is glimmering; I'd fain betake Me to the lake, When bright the moonlight's shimmering.
"Your turn, Ferguson. Go on; the song upraise!"
"Let me see!" said Phil. "Well—on the whole—
"I can't agree with himmering; My fancy's fire is dimmering; If you would know The thing I'd doe, Methinks I'll go a swimmering."
"Oh! no, Phil," said Gertrude. "Not the very first night the girls are here; it will take them a day or two to get used to camp ways, Margaret at least; and we want to do something all together, something that Colonel Ferrers will like, too. I think—"
"Sing it! sing it!" cried Gerald. "The song upraise, Tintinnabula! no escape! 'Trimmering' is still left you."
"Is there only one vowel?" demanded Bell, laughing. "I refuse to be fettered. Wait a second!—now I have it.
"Forbear, forbear your clamoring, And cease this hasty hammering; I think, with Jerry, 'Twere wise and merry To row by moonlight glamouring.
Your turn, Toots!"
"I cannot!" said Gertrude. "You know I cannot, Bell. Besides, there aren't any more rhymes."
"Oh!" cried Gerald, "you know what you are telling, and you know what happens to people who tell them. Perpend, Tootsina!
"You yodel, yodel yammering, You stutter, stutter stammering; And when you cry, 'I will not try!' We know you're only shammering."
"Gracious!" said Gertrude. "Don't you suppose I would make rhymes if I could? It's really a dreadful thing to be the only prose member of a large family. But Jack comforts me; you can't make them either, can you, Jack?"
"Not to save my life!" said Jack. "Never could see how they do it."
"But you can set them to music!" said Gertrude. "That is the delightful thing about you."
"And you can illustrate them! That is one of the many delightful things about you!" said Jack, with a low bow.
"'They built it up for forty miles, With mutual bows and pleasing smiles!'"
quoted Gerald. "A truce to this badinage! Compliment, unless paid to myself, wearies me. We go, then, in canoes?"
"In canoes!" replied the others in chorus.
"'Tis well! Any special stunts in the way of arrangement?"
"Oh!" said Jack, "in plain prose—Bell, will you come with me? It's our turn to get supper, isn't it? and I have an idea—just a little one—which we can talk over while we are getting it."
"Oh, guard it, guard it tenderly, Thy one idea—thy first!"
"And we, the while, console ourselves; 'Twill be the last, at worst!
Nay! nay!" he went on, as Jack seized him by the shoulders, and made a motion toward the water.
"Duck not the bard, the tuneful bard, Who all thy soul reveals; To hear the truth, I own, is hard, Yet dry thy tearful squeals!"
"False construction!" said Bell. "You cannot dry squeals."
"They were tearful ones!" Gerald protested. "It was the tears I would have dried. Tears, idle tears, I know not whence they come; tears from the depth of some despairing fiddler."
"Suppose you dry up!" said Jack, dipping Gerald's head lightly in the water.
"No ducking between swims!" proclaimed Phil. "Law of the Medes and Persians!"
"Besides, it is time to be making the fire!" said Bell, rising. "Leave him to his conscience, Jack, and come along!"
"Yes, leave me to me conscience!" said Gerald.
"'Twill cradle me with songs of Araby; Arrah be aisy! hear it sing to me!"
"Jerry, what has got into you?" asked Gertrude, a few minutes later, when Phil had followed the others to the house, leaving the two Reds, as their mother called them, together. "Has the rhyming spider bitten you? you are really wild!"
"Nice little sister!" said Gerald, rolling over, and resting his head on Gertrude's knee. "Nice little red-haired, cream-colored, comfortable sister! If I were as good-looking as you, Toots, who knows? As it is—but still I am happy, my child, happy! I say! Toots!"
"What do you think of her?"
"Oh, Jerry, she is a darling!"
"Dixisti!" cried Gerald. "Thou hast spoken."
AUF DAS WASSER ZU SINGEN
"HARRY MONMOUTH!" said Colonel Ferrers. "This is pleasant. Merryweather, you are a lucky dog!" As he spoke, he looked around him, and repeated, "A lucky dog, sir!"
The horn had just blown for supper, three long blasts, and already the campers were in their places at the long table, with its shining white cover. Mr. and Mrs. Merryweather, their six children, Bell, Gertrude, and Kitty, Gerald, Philip, and Willy, the two Montforts, with the Colonel and his nephew, made a party of twelve, and filled the table comfortably, though there was still room for more. The room was a long one, with a vast open fireplace stretching half across one side. At one end were rows of book-shelves, filled to overflowing; at the other, the walls were adorned with models for boats, sketches in water-color and pen and ink, birds' nests, curious fungi, and all manner of odds and ends. It was certainly a cheerful room, and so Miles Merryweather thought, as his eyes followed the Colonel's.
"We like it!" he said, simply. "It suits us, the place and the life. It's good for young and old both, to get away from hurry and bustle, and live for a time the natural life."
"Nature, sir!" said the Colonel. "Nature! that's it; nothing like it! When I was a lad, young men were sent abroad, after their school or college course; the grand tour, Paris, Vienna, that sort of thing: very good thing in its way, too, monstrous good thing. But before he sees the world, sir, a lad should know how to live, as you say, the natural life. Ought to know what a tree is when he sees it; upon my soul, he ought. Now my milksop—best fellow in the world, I give you my word, except that little fellow at home there—well, sir! when he came to me, he didn't know the difference between an oak and an elm, give you my word he didn't. Remember one day—he heard me giving directions to Giuseppe about cutting some ashes—clump of them in the field below the house, needed thinning out—and he wanted to know how ashes could be cut; thought I meant those in the fireplace, sir. Monstrous! Well, I taught him a little, and you and your young folks have taught him a great deal. H'm! I don't know that he is now more disgracefully ignorant than nine-tenths of the young men of his age. Set of noodles! I'll tell you what, Merryweather! You ought to have a kind of summer school here: get other boys, a dozen, two dozen; teach 'em to see with their eyes, and all the rest of it. I knew a boy once who thought a bat was a bird, give you my word I did. And another who thought oysters grew on bushes. Get up a school, sir, and I'll come myself, and be a boy again."
"That is a great inducement," said Mr. Merryweather, laughing: "but, Colonel, I hope you have brought a boy's appetite with you, at least. Who are the cooks to-night, Miranda? Oh, I see; Bell and Jack. Well, that is all right, Colonel; they make one of our best combinations. What have you there, Jack?"
Jack, in a white cap, and an apron reaching not quite half-way to his knees, advanced bearing a mighty dish, from which rose fragrant steam.
"H'm! ha!" said the Colonel, sniffing. "Smells good! you had no hand in this, I'll be bound, sir!"
"Indeed, Colonel Ferrers," said Bell, who followed with the teapot and a plate piled high with feathery rolls, "it is all Jack's doing, every bit. It is his famous pilaff, that the old Greek professor taught him to make in Germany; and it is almost the best thing you ever tasted in your life."
"H'm!" said the Colonel, frowning heavily, and looking immensely pleased. "So this is what he was doing while he was supposed to be studying. I always knew the rascal was deceiving me. Ha! it is good; it's uncommon good! So you did learn something besides fiddling, eh, Jack?"
"Cooking is a part of chemistry, Uncle," said Jack, soberly; "a very important part. This dish is chemically prepared, sir; please regard it as a demonstration!"
"And please try my fried potatoes as a further demonstration!" said Bell. "Margaret, you are not eating anything."
"She never does!" said Peggy.
"Oh!" cried Margaret, "but I never ate so much before. Oh, please not!" as Phil tried to heap her plate with potatoes. "They are delicious, but I really cannot!"
"I can!" said Gertrude, holding out her plate.
"I'll warrant you!" said Phil. "No one doubted that, sweet Chuck!"
"We do not look for the Camp Appetite till after twenty-four hours," said Mrs. Merryweather. "Give Margaret time! in two days she will eat twice as much as she does now."
"Harry Monmouth!" exclaimed the Colonel. "At that rate, it is fortunate for you all that I do not outstay my two days. Twice as much as I am eating now would clear your larder, dear madam. Yes, thanks, Merryweather, a little more!"
"Oh, Colonel Ferrers!"
"Oh, Uncle Tom! you are not going away in two days? We counted on a week at least!" cried all in chorus.
"Impossible, dear people, impossible! Like nothing better; enchanted to stay all summer; delightful place. But—Elizabeth Beadle's condition, you understand; and the boy—I must get back. He is too young to have the responsibility. Most amazing boy in the world; I haven't the slightest doubt that he is doing her more good than all the doctors in the world—parcel of fools, mostly—but still he is too young; I must get back."
"Let me go, Uncle!" said Jack.
"Or me, Colonel Ferrers!" cried Gertrude. "Any one of us would love to go!"
The Colonel beamed on them with his kindliest smile, but shook his head resolutely. "Thanks! thanks!" he said, heartily. "Good children! kind and thoughtful children! but I must go. Couldn't be easy, you understand."
"The fact is," said Jack, "Uncle Tom cannot be comfortable for more than twenty-four hours away from Hugh. After that length of time he becomes restive, and symptoms develop which—"
"Hold your tongue, sir!" cried the Colonel. "Nothing of the sort, sir! Mrs. Merryweather, I hoped you were teaching this fellow better manners. Symptoms, indeed! You have seen no symptoms in me, of anything except pure pleasure—pleasure in everything except the gabbling of a goose!"
"Surely not, dear friend!" said Mrs. Merryweather, laughing. "But all the same, I think I should not try to detain you when once you had made up your mind that Hugh needed you."
"All against me!" cried the Colonel. "'The little dogs and all'—I beg ten thousand pardons, my dear madam; you know the quotation! Well," he added, his face changing suddenly as he turned to Mrs. Merryweather and spoke in a lower tone, "fortunate old fellow, eh? to have one young face—two, perhaps, for my Giraffe loves me too—brighten when one comes. Ah! you, with all your wealth—richest woman of my acquaintance, give you my honor!—cannot tell what these boys mean to me. Hilda, too: most astonishing how I miss that child! but all your young people are so good to me—"
"Colonel!" cried Gertrude from the other end of the table. "Will you come with me in my canoe after tea?"
"Will I?" cried the Colonel. "Won't I? Lead the way, my dear!"
* * * * *
The young moon shone bright; the lake lay a broad sheet of luminous black, with a silver path stretching across it. Four canoes lay beside the wharf, and the campers were taking their places. In the birch canoe, the original Cheemaun, Mrs. Merryweather was going as passenger, with her husband and Phil at bow and stern; in the Nahma was Colonel Ferrers, with Gertrude and Peggy; Kitty and Willy in the Rob Roy, Gerald and Margaret in the Wenonah.
"All ready?" asked the chief. "Where shall we go? Where are Jack and Bell?"
"Oh, they started ahead," said Phil. "They had some stunt on hand, and we are to meet them over by the Black Shore."
"Ready—give way all!"
The paddles dipped, the canoes shot out along the silver path, gliding swift and silent as spirits. For a time no one spoke. The Cheemaun, with the powerful arms at either end, took the lead and kept it easily: next came the Nahma and the Rob, nearly abreast, and vying with each other; but the Wenonah lagged behind, and seemed in no special hurry.
"Like it?" asked Gerald, presently.
"Oh!" said Margaret, softly.
Gerald gave a little grunt of content, and was silent again. The paddle dipped noiseless in the liquid silver, the dark prow crept noiseless along the shining way.
"It is another world!" said Margaret presently, still speaking under her breath. "I never dreamed of anything like it. A silver world! Oh!"
"What is it?"
"Nothing—I was only thinking—one ought to be very good, to live in a world so beautiful as this, Gerald!"
"Some of us are, Margaret!"
"I'm awfully glad you like it!" said Gerald. "I hoped you would. I've—I've been looking forward all summer to your coming."
"I was very glad to come," said Margaret, simply. "I was afraid, but I was glad, too."
"Afraid? I should like to know what you were afraid of!"
"Oh—I don't know! I have never been with many people, you know. I have never seen a large family together before. How happy you all are!"
"That's what we are!" said Gerald. "Especially now! I say, Margaret! the child Toots has fallen a victim."
"Fallen a—what do you mean, Gerald? not into the water?"
"Charms!" said Gerald. "Yours. Bowled her over completely. Nice child, the child Toots. Think so?"
"I think she looks as good as she is beautiful," said Margaret. "Does she really like me? I am very glad, for I know I shall love her."
"Don't you think she is the image of me?" asked Gerald, plaintively.
"No, I never thought of it!" said downright Margaret. "Oh! hark, Gerald; what is that? I hear music."
They listened. Directly in front of them lay a deep black shadow, and forth from this shadow stole notes of music, low, sweet, almost unearthly in their purity and clearness.
"Evidently the stunt of Tintinnabula and the Camelopard!" said Gerald. "That is the Black Shore yonder, and the noise is that of the Tree-browser's fiddle, in sooth a goodly noise. Approach we along the moonglade! that is what we call the wake here. Pretty?"
"Lovely!" murmured Margaret. "Oh! but hush, and listen!"
The other canoes had slackened their speed, and now all four crept on abreast over the luminous water. From the black shadow ahead forms began to detach themselves, black rocks, dark trees stooping to the water's edge, fir and pine, with here and there a white birch glimmering ghostlike; and still the music rose, ever clearer and sweeter, thrilling on the silent air. It seemed no voice of anything made by man; it was as if the trees spoke, the rocks, the water, the very silence itself. But now—now another tone was heard; a human voice this time, a full, rich contralto, blending with the aerial notes of the violin.
"Over all the mountains is peace; Among the tree-tops Hardly a breath is stirring; The birds are silent, Silent in the woodland; Only wait! only wait! Soon thou too shalt rest."
"Harry Monmouth!" murmured the Colonel under his breath. "Am I alive, or is this the gate of Heaven?"
"Oh! who is it?" whispered Margaret.
"Tintinnabula! rather a neat thing in voices, the Tintinnabula's. Nor does the song altogether excite to strenutation. Ah! but that is the best yet!"
The notes changed. It was Schubert's Serenade now that rose from voice and violin together. No one stirred. The canoes were now close inshore, and the long, soft fingers of fir and cedar brushed Margaret's cheek as she sat motionless, spellbound. It was a world of soft darkness, black upon black: the silver world they had just left seemed almost garish as she looked back on it. Here in the cool shadow, the voices of the night pouring forth their wonderful melody—"Oh!" she thought; "if this might last forever!"
But it was over. Floating round a great rock that stretched far out from the shore, they came upon the musicians, their canoe drawn up close to the rock.
"Here they are!" cried Willy. "It's Bell and Jack, Kitty; I knew it was. You are such a silly!"
"I don't care!" pouted Kitty. "It did sound like nymphs; I am sure that is just the way they sound."
"You are quite right, Kitty," said her mother. "Children, you have given us a great treat. May we not have some more?"
"Oh, we were only waiting for you," said Bell; "now we must have choruses, many of them!"
And lying close together, the paddles stretched across from one canoe to another, the Merryweathers sang, to Jack's accompaniment, song after song in chorus: German student songs, with merry refrain of "vivallera la" and "juch heira sa sa!" Scottish ballads and quaint old Highland boat-songs; till Mr. Merryweather declared that it was time to go home.
So home they went, down the moonglade once more, across the glimmering floor of the lake, singing as they went; till, twinkling through the fringe of trees, they saw the lights of the Camp, and the long outline of the float, and the boats swinging at their moorings.
AFTER THE PICNIC
"AND what comes next on the programme?" asked the Chief.
"Coma, I should say," replied Colonel Ferrers. "After that watermelon, I see nothing else for it. It's my avowed belief that my nephew there could not stir if his life depended on it; it stands to reason. The boy has eaten more than his own weight. Monstrous!"
"What a frightful calumny!" cried Jack, laughing. "Really, Uncle Tom, you cannot expect me to sit still under that."
He rose lightly to his feet, and grasping a branch of the tree above his head, drew himself up, and after kicking his long legs several times in the air, finally twisted them round the branch, and in another moment had disappeared in the shadowy depths of the great hemlock.
"Oh! I say!" his voice floated down. "This is a great tree to climb. You'd better come up, Uncle Tom, if you feel the slightest symptoms of coma."
The other lads did not wait to be invited, but flung themselves at the tree, and were soon lost to sight, though not to sound. Colonel Ferrers turned to his hostess with a frown which tried hard not to turn into a smile.
"Now, did you ever hear of such impudence as that?" he asked. "These young fellows of to-day are the most impudent scoundrels I ever came across. Time was, though, when we could have climbed a tree with the best of them; eh, Merryweather?"
"I have no doubt you could now, Colonel," said his host, "if you were put to it; but I confess it is more comfortable under a tree than in it, nowadays, especially after a Gargantuan feast like this."
It had indeed been a great picnic. The boys, while on a tramp, had discovered a grove of pines and hemlocks, huge old trees, which had unaccountably escaped the woodman's axe. The pines shot up straight and tall for a hundred feet and more, their trunks seamed and scarred, their clouds of dusky green plumes tossing far overhead; the hemlocks were no less massive in girth, but they were twisted into all manner of grotesque shapes, and their feathery branches hung low, making a dense canopy over the heads of the picnickers. Here, under one of these hemlocks, the cloth had been laid, and decorated with ferns and hemlock tassels. Then the baskets were unpacked, and the campers feasted as only dwellers in the open air can feast. Ham and pasty, sandwiches and rolls, jam and doughnuts—nothing seemed to come amiss; and they finished off with a watermelon of such mighty proportions that it took all the united energies of the boys to dispose of it.
But it was finally disposed of, and now came the hour that is apt to be a little difficult at picnics; the hour between the feast and the going home.
"I have a new game," said Mrs. Merryweather. "Perhaps you would like to try it presently; but first, Colonel Ferrers, while the boys are skylarking, or rather tree-larking, up there, I want to hear the story you were telling Miles on the drive over. I could not hear very well on the back seat, and besides, I was making up my game. It was some adventure of yours when you were a boy."
"Capital story!" said Mr. Merryweather. "Do tell it, Colonel; I want to hear it again."
The Colonel smiled, and puffed meditatively at his cigar.
"Story of the barrel, eh?" he said. "Upon my word, now, I think it is pretty hard to make me tell that story before all these young people. What do you say, Gertrude? you don't want to hear about your old friend's being a young fool, do you?"
"Oh! Colonel Ferrers," said Gertrude; "a story that makes your eyes twinkle so must be one that we all want to hear. Do begin, please!"
And all the girls, who had been putting away the table-cloth and "tidying-up" generally, gathered about the Colonel in an eager group.
"Well! well!" he said, glancing from one bright face to another. "After all, what are we old fogies for, but to point a moral and adorn a tale? Listen, then. This happened when I was a young jackanapes of about my nephew's age; I knew everything in the world then, you understand, and nobody else knew much of anything. That was my belief, as it is the belief of most young men."
"Uncle," said a voice from above, "there are three young men up here who are prepared to drop things on your head if you slander their generation."
"Slander your generation, sir?" cried the Colonel, "by likening it to my own? Of all the monstrous insolence I ever heard—you may be thankful, sir, that I name yours in the same breath with it. Be good enough to hold your tongue, sir, and attend to your business, which is that of listening to me. Well, my dear madam, at the period of which I speak, I was in the office of my uncle, Marmaduke Ferrers, India merchant, importer of tea, silks, that sort of thing. Learning the trade, you understand; though, as I say, I was not aware that there was anything in particular to learn. This is one of the lessons I did learn. One day I was sent to the warehouse to count some barrels, and see them stowed away in the vault where they belonged. They were a special thing, barrels of minerals for some collection museum, I forget what. Out of our own line, but we had undertaken to store and keep them for a time. The vault was directly under the warehouse, which was some way from the office. So! I went down and found no one there; The men were at their dinner, you understand. They may have been a little in a hurry, may have started a few minutes before the bell rang; I don't know how it was. At any rate, I was in a towering passion; thought the whole business was going to the dogs for want of discipline, wanted to dismiss every man in the warehouse. Men who had been there before I was born, and knew more about tea than I was likely to know in my lifetime. Well, sir, it came into my ass's head that I would give these men a lesson, show them that there was some one in the place that meant to have things done when he wanted them done. I would stow those barrels myself. I was strong as a bull, you remember—I beg ten thousand pardons! you and your husband were infants when this happened; not out of long clothes, I am positive. But I was uncommonly strong, and thought Milo and Hercules would have found me a tough subject to tackle. Well—speaking of tackle—there was the rope and pulley, all ready for lowering; block up at the ceiling, rope dangling,—just over the trap that led into the vault. There were the barrels; nothing was easier, I thought. Child's play; I would have every one of the barrels lowered and stowed before those scoundrels came back from their dinner. I pushed the first barrel to the edge of the trap (lifted the trap-door first, you understand), hooked on the 'fall,' pleased as Punch with myself—the only man in the world, I give you my word; then I got a good hold on the rope, and—kicked the barrel over the edge."
"Oh! Colonel Ferrers!" cried the girls.
"Ha! ha! ha!" roared the boys in the tree.
"Loaded with minerals, you understand! stone, metal, I don't know what. The barrel went down, and I went up."
"Oh! Colonel Ferrers!"
"Up to the ceiling, I give you my word. High room, too, great warehouse, twenty feet if it was one. There I hung, and there I swung, a spectacle for gods and men."
"What did you do?" asked Mrs. Merryweather, as soon as she could control her laughter. "Dear friend, it is most heartless to laugh, but how can we help it? How did you ever get down? did you have to wait till the men came back?"
"No, madam. My pride would not allow that. I learned my lesson, or a part of it, while I hung there like Mahomet's coffin; I learned that Gravitation did not trouble itself about superior young men; but I did not learn all that there was to learn; that took the sequel. Well, I hung there, as I say, revolving slowly; centrifugal force, you understand; I was really exemplifying the workings of natural forces; interesting demonstration, if there had been any one there to see. My crumb of comfort was that there was no one. I must get down before those men came back from dinner; that was the one thing necessary in the world at that moment. I measured the space of the trap as I swung; I prided myself on my correct eye; you see I was a most complete ass: I have seen only a few completer. I thought I could jump down astride of the trap, so to speak, and get no harm. I came down the rope, hand over fist, till I got to the end of it; only about six feet between me and safety: then I jumped."
"And did you—"
"No, my dear madam, I did not. I went down into the cellar, on top of the barrel, and I carry the mark of the edge of that barrel on my shoulders to this day, and shall to my latest day. And the moral of this story," the Colonel concluded, glancing up into the depths of the great hemlock, "the moral, my young friends, is: wait till you know something before you decide that you know everything."
When the laughter had subsided, Mr. Merryweather said: "Your story, Colonel, reminds me of a scrape that Roger and I once got into, years ago. No, it wasn't Roger, it was my brother Will. My children all know it, but it may be new to you and our other guests. It happened when we were out sailing one day, on this very pond. The water was pretty low that year, and we got over into a cove on the north side, where we seldom went, and didn't know the ground thoroughly. Indeed, in very low water, one is apt to find that one doesn't know any ground thoroughly. New ledges and rocks are constantly cropping out—as you shall hear. Well, we were sailing along in fine style, before a fair wind, when suddenly—we ran aground."
"On the shore?" asked the Colonel.
"No; on a rock. It was getting dark, and we could not see very well, but I could see a nose of rock, and it looked like the end of a ledge. 'I'll get out and shove her off!' said I. I sounded with an oar, and found the water barely ankle-deep on the ledge. So I took off my shoes and stockings, rolled up my trousers a little, and stepped in—up to my neck!"
"Ha! ha!" roared the Colonel. "Ho! ho! that was sport. I wish I had seen you."
"Wait a moment!" said the Chief. "The picture is not ready for exhibition yet. When Will had got through laughing at me, he went to work—I found I could not stir the boat alone—he went to work and got ready. Stripped to the skin—he had on a new suit, and was something of a dandy in those days—stepped carefully overboard—and landed in water three inches deep."
"Merryweather, you are making this up!"
"Indeed I am not, my dear sir. There we stood, I up to my chin, he with his toes under water, and laughed till we were so weak that we had to go ashore and sit down before we had strength to push that boat off. There is my Roland for your Oliver, Colonel. And now, Miranda, I think we are ready for your game. Come down, boys!"
The boys came scrambling down, still laughing over the stories, and soon all were seated on the carpet of dry, fragrant pine-needles. The girls had found some oak-leaves ("It is my belief," said Mr. Merryweather, "that if Bell went to a picnic in a coal-mine or on a sand-bank, she would still manage to find oak-leaves somewhere!"), and were busily twining garlands for the heads of the company.
"Are we all ready?" asked Mrs. Merryweather. "Well! my game—a very simple one—is called Vocabulary. It came from my reading the other day an admirable little book written by a wise professor, in which he deplores the poverty of our vocabularies, and makes a suggestion for our enlarging them. He advises us to add two or three words to our list every week. The first time we use a new word, he says, it will be embarrassing to us and, it may be, amusing to our hearers; but if we have courage and patience, we shall be doing a good work not only for ourselves, but for all our generation and the generations that are to come. Well, this naturally appealed to me, and I was thinking of proposing it to you all this evening; and then, as we were driving over, it occurred to me that it might be made into a rather amusing game."
"Miranda," said her husband, "is there anything in life that you do not think can be made into a rather amusing game? But go on!"
"Dear Mammy!" said Phil. "Do you remember when you and I both had the toothache, and you thought it might be amusing to count the jumps and see how many there were in a minute?"
"Well, so it would have been," said his mother, "if we had only had a little more fortitude. Now if you are all going to laugh at me, you shall not learn the game."
"Oh, we will be good!" exclaimed the Merryweathers. "We truly will."
"The game of Vocabulary," said Mrs. Merryweather, "is played thus. One—I, for example—begins to tell a story. I say, 'I went out to walk this morning, and I met—' there I stop short, and you, in turn, give a verb synonymous, more or less, with 'met.' This goes around the circle till some one cannot find a verb, and that some one must continue the story, stopping at any word he likes. I fear this is not very clear; perhaps we can illustrate it best playing it. I will begin as I suggested. I went out to walk this morning, and on my way I met—" she stopped.
"Encountered!" said Mr. Merryweather.
"Approached!" said the Colonel.
"Ran up against!" said Gerald.
"Fell afoul of!" said Phil.
"Fell in with!" said Bell.
"Peggy, you come next."
"Oh! I can't!" cried poor Peggy. "They have said everything; Mrs. Merryweather, I can't ever play anything of this kind, you know. I am too stupid."
"Nonsense, my child; you are not in the least stupid. If you cannot think of a word, go on with the story."
"But I don't know how!" cried Peggy, her eyes growing large and round, with a look that Gertrude and Margaret knew only too well. The tears were not far behind those round blue eyes; and Margaret hastened to the rescue. "You met a man, dear!" she whispered. "That is all you need say."
"Well—I met a man!" said Peggy, with a gasp.
"I object to the definition!" said Mrs. Merryweather. "In case of a false definition, the falsifier takes up the thread. Go on, Jerry."
"This man (he was a chump, you'll see!) was so ugly that not a crow dared to stay in the same county with him, and so disagreeable that it gave one spasms to look at him; also, he had not the manners to take off his hat—" he stopped short.
"I give in!" cried the Colonel. "I cannot think of another thing, so I continue the tale.
"This odious person, after passing me in the unmannerly fashion described, was about to proceed further; but I, seizing him by the coat collar, lifted my stout stick, and gave him a good sound—"
"Dear me!" cried Mrs. Merryweather. "This is rather terrible, I think. There seem to be more terms to express personal violence than anything else."
"We haven't begun to give them all, either!" said Phil. "If we are allowed to use modern slang—I know you prefer ancient, Mammy—"
"I know you are a saucy boy!" said his mother.
"My dear friends," said the Chief, rising. "This is all very fine: but the simple fact is, it is beginning to rain, and I think it advisable for us to beat, fustigate, (where did you get that, Miranda?) or wallop, a retreat!"
Then there was scrambling up, and running to and fro, and gathering up of baskets and shawls. The good old horse, which had been grazing peacefully in a clearing hard by, was harnessed, and Mr. and Mrs. Merryweather, Colonel Ferrers, and the impedimenta bundled in and off as hastily as might be. Finally, as the rain began to pour down in good earnest, the younger campers gathered into a solid phalanx and walked home across the fields, singing in chorus, and informing all whom it might concern that they were
"Marching along, Fifty score strong, Great-hearted gentlemen, singing this song!"
KITTY AND WILLY
"MA!" said Willy Merryweather.
"Baa!" replied his mother, without looking up from her writing.
Willy fidgeted, and looked over his shoulder. "Mammy, I wish you would speak to Kitty."
"Speak to Kitty? certainly. How do you do, Kitty?"
Willy looked uncomfortable, but went on.
"I spoke for the Rangeley boat, and now she wants it. She always wants it, and it isn't fair."
"I don't always want it, Willy! I haven't been in it for two days. I think you are very unkind."
By this time Mrs. Merryweather had finished her sentence; she looked up, and surveyed the two children with a half-abstracted gaze.
"Who are you?" she asked, abruptly. "I thought Kitty and Willy were here."
Kitty took hold of the hem of her apron, and Willy felt of the knife in his pocket.
"Who are you?" repeated Mrs. Merryweather in a tone of wonder. "You should always answer a question, you know."
"We are Kitty and Willy ourselves!" murmured the children, the red beginning to creep around their ears.
"Oh, no!" said Mrs. Merryweather, reprovingly. "Don't say such things as that, my dears. I know Kitty and Willy perfectly well; they are brother and sister, two cheerful, affectionate children, who love each other. I don't know anything about you two; run away, please, for I am busy."
As the children moved slowly away, she called after them: "If you should see Kitty and Willy, you might send them to me, if you please!"
Round on the other side of the big oak-tree, sheltered from the eyes that looked so abstractedly over their glasses, Willy rubbed his shoulders uncomfortably against the bark, while Kitty kicked a bit of stick to and fro.
"There isn't any use in talking to Mammy when she does that way!" said Willy, half to himself, but with a side glance at Kitty. "If she would have only listened to me—"
"She never will!" said Kitty, responding to the half glance. "She always says there is no need of quarrelling, and she doesn't see why she should have to hear disagreeable remarks."
"Other children scrap," said Willy. "I don't see why we can't now and then."
"Well, she just won't have it, Will, so where's the use? Never mind about the Rangeley; you may have it, and I'll take the Wobbler."
"I don't care!" said Willy. "You may have her."
"So may you!"
Silence. Willy rubbing his shoulders, Kitty kicking her bit of stick.
Presently Kitty looked up brightly, and shook her curls back. "I've got over mine, Willy!" she announced. "Are you getting over yours?"
"Ye-es!" said Willy, slowly. "I—s'pose I am."
"Why don't we go together?" asked Kitty. "Then we can both have the Rangeley."
"All right!" said Willy, brightening at once. "Where shall we go? We might play Pirate a bit—"
"And then go for the milk! That would be great!"
"All right, come on, Kit."
"Oh! but, Willy—"
"We must go and tell Mammy first."
Once more the two children presented themselves before their mother, who was still writing busily. At the first "Mammy!" she looked up quickly.
"Well, dears!" she said, "I was wondering where you were. What are you going to play this afternoon?"
"We thought perhaps we might have the Rangeley together, and play Pirate!" said Willy.
"And then go for the milk!" said Kitty.
"To be sure!" said Mrs. Merryweather. "Yes, Papa said you might have the boat if you wanted it. That will be very nice, only be careful, dears. Give Mammy a kiss, and have a great good time."
* * * * *
"Run her up!" said the Pirate Captain.
"Ay, ay, sir!" replied the mate.
The Jolly Roger fluttered up to the mast-head: skull and crossbones black as ink could make them, ground very nearly white; it was a splendid flag. The Captain was a terrible figure, clad in yellow oilskins many sizes too big for him, with ferocious mustaches curling up to his eyes. His belt contained a perfect armory of weapons; item, a pistol that had lost its barrel; item, three wooden daggers, assorted sizes; item, one tomahawk, home-made. The mate was scarcely less terrifying, for though a blue petticoat showed beneath his oilskin jacket, and curls flowed from under his sou'wester, he made up for it by a mass of oakum beard and whisker that was truly awe-inspiring. Also, he had the truncheon which used to be a curling stick, and a deadly weapon of singular appearance which was understood to be a boomerang.
"Look out, Bill! avast there! dost see any foes about?"
"Ay, ay, sir! I see a craft on the jib boom—"
"Lee bow, Kitty!—I mean Bill; not jib boom! You are always saying that."
"I meant lee bow!" said Bill, anxious to please. "Anyhow, I see a craft, your Honor. I think she is a plate ship from the Spanish Main. Shall we run her down?"
"Give me the glass!" exclaimed the Pirate Captain: and through that instrument, which the ignorant might have mistaken for a battered tin horn, he scrutinized the "craft," which lay on the water at some distance.
"'Tis not a plate ship!" he announced at length. "I think we have had enough plate ships lately. This is a Dutch lugger from Samarcand, laden with raisins and fig-paste and lichi nuts and cream dates. I shouldn't wonder if she had narghiles too, and scimitars,—I need a new scimitar,—and all sorts of things. Up helm, and crowd on all sail in pursuit!"
"Ay, ay, sir! stunsels?"
"Stunsels, balloon-jibs, topgallant spinnakers, royal skyscrapers, everything you can think of. Ha! we are off! Row hard now, Bill! The lubbers are asleep, and we shall run them down easily. Are the cutlasses ready?"
"Ay, ay, sir!"
"Ho! we are gaining on them. Ho, ho! bend to your oars, my hearties! grappling-chains ready there! ho! on to the chase!"
Now Phil was very busy making a fly for lake trout, and explaining the manufacture of it to Peggy; and Peggy was absorbed in watching him, and in counting the number of separate aches she felt after her first lesson in rowing. Moreover, the bloody pirates had conducted their conversation in a half-whisper, and the wind was the other way. But suddenly, Peggy looked up and saw them, now at only a few yards distance.
"Good gracious!" she cried. "What is it? Do look, Phil!"
Phil looked hastily around; chuckled, and fell into an attitude of abject terror. "Mercy! mercy!" he cried; cowering down in his seat. ("It's the kids; please be frightened!) Oh! what will become of us? We are lost!"
"Oh! save me, spare me!" cried Peggy, following suit, and clasping her hands in supplication.
The pirate bark ran alongside, and grappling-irons were tossed aboard the ill-fated merchantman. The Pirate Captain, standing in the stern of his vessel, surveyed them with baleful looks.
"What ship is this?"
"The Weeping Woodchuck, Captain Zebedee Moses of Squedunk, please your Honor's Worship!"
"Well I am Captain England, and this is the Gory Griffin. If you have a cargo of raisins and fig-paste and cream dates, hand them over; otherwise, prepare to walk the plank this instant!"
"Oh, spare us! spare this tender maiden!" cried Phil. "I have no fig-paste, but wouldn't fresh doughnuts do as well, O man of blood? Life is sweet—and fish is needed for supper!"
At these remarks the pirate's ferocious scowl relaxed somewhat. "Hand over your doughnuts!" he said, briefly. "This once I spare ye, but cross not my path again! I jolly well forgot about tea," he added, as Phil tossed him some doughnuts; "I suppose it must be about time to go for the milk, perhaps, is it?"
Phil looked at his watch. "Well, I should say it jolly well was!" he replied. "You'd better be off, young ones—I mean Scourges of the Deep!"
* * * * *
It was quite a pull over to the point where the milk-cans were waiting, but Kitty and Willy were both good oars, and the doughnuts were crisp and fortifying.
"Let's take the point by storm!" suggested the gallant England, who had not had his fill of glory. "The cans might be treasure, you know, and we can creep up silently."
"But there's no one to hear us be silent!" said Kitty.
"Oh, that's nothing! We can hear ourselves, and, anyhow, it is good practice. Come on, now! Be silent as the grave!" Leaving the boat on the shore, they crept up the beach, pounced on the milk-can,—a tall "separator" which held the whole provision for the family supper and breakfast,—and bore it in triumph to the boat. But, alas! for the gallant pirates! In getting aboard, one of them slipped; the other stumbled; between the two, neither could tell just how, the tall can toppled, and fell into the boat; the stopper flew out—"Then all the mighty floods were out!"
* * * * *
"But where can the children be?" asked Mrs. Merryweather, for the tenth time.
The horn had blown for supper, the fish were fried, the campers were hungry and thirsty; and the milk had not come.
"Where can they be?" said every one.
Mr. Merryweather put down the glass with which he had been sweeping the lake. "They are out there!" he said. "I see them, but they don't seem to be rowing. Give me the megaphone, will you, Jerry? Thanks!"
A calm roar went out across the lake. "Come—in—to—tea!"
A faint pipe was heard in reply. "Don't—want—any—tea!"
The second roar was still calm, but peremptory. "Come—in!"
Slowly, very slowly, the oars rose and fell, and the boat crept over the water. What could be the matter with the children?
"Too much bloodshed has upset the gallant England!" said Phil. "When it comes to Willy's not wanting his tea!"
"They have had some accident!" said Mr. Merryweather. "Broken an oar, probably, or lost a rowlock. No. They are both rowing. Well, here they come."
The whole family started for the wharf, but a piteous wail arose from the now approaching boat.
"Please don't everybody come down! we want just Papa and Mamma."
"Stay here, dear people, please!" said Mrs. Merryweather; and both parents hurried down to the wharf, toward which two dejected little figures were now tugging a very heavy boat.
"What's the matter, Will?" said Mr. Merryweather. "Speak up, son."
"We—spilt the milk!" said Willy, in a carefully measured tone.
"Oh, my dears! all of it?" inquired their mother.
"Every drop!" said Willy, grimly.
"Oh, Mammy, we are so sorry!" cried Kitty. "The old can—just—upset! and we are so wet, and it keeps splashing all over my legs!"
"There! there! come ashore; never mind about the milk!" said Mr. Merryweather.
"Never mind!" echoed Mrs. Merryweather, heartily. "My poor chicks, where have you been all this time? Why didn't you come straight home?"
"We were—afraid!" sobbed Kitty. "We have been rowing around for ever and ever so long, and we are so tired, and hungry, and—wet—"
But by this time Kitty was near enough for her father to bend down and lift her bodily out of the boat, and put her, all dripping milk as she was, into her mother's arms. On her mother's shoulder she sobbed out the rest of the pitiful little story. Kitty was twelve, and not specially small of her age; but she was the baby, and Mrs. Merryweather sat down on the wharf and rocked to and fro, hushing her.
"There! there!" she said, soothingly. "My lamb! as if all the milk in the world were worth your crying about! and crying into the spilt milk, too, and making the boat all the wetter! Hush! hush! Run along, Papa and Willy—dear little boy, it really is only funny, so don't fret, not one little scrap. Kitty and I will come in about two minutes."
THE morning reading was over, but the girls lingered in the pine parlor, where the whole family had been gathered to hear some thrilling chapters of Parkman. Margaret and Bell had their sewing, Gertrude her drawing-board; Peggy was carving the handle of a walking-stick, while Kitty struggled with some refractory knitting-needles.
It was a pleasant place in which they were sitting: a little clear space of pine-needles, embroidered here and there with tiny ferns, and shut in by walls of dusky pine, soft and fragrant. The tree-trunks made excellent (though sometimes rather sticky) chair-backs; the sunshine filtered in through the branches overhead, making a golden half-light which was the very essence of restfulness.
"Oh, pleasant place!" said Margaret, breaking the silence that had followed the departure of the rest of the family. "How strange it seems, sitting here in this green peace and quiet, to read of all those terrible happenings. How can it be the same world?"
"He was a man, that La Salle!" exclaimed Peggy. "I never heard of such a man. Think of that winter voyage! Think of that man, brought up in luxury, with every kind of accomplishment, and that kind of thing, wading in snow-water up to his knees, and sleeping on the frozen ground, rolled in his blanket, while his clothes dried and froze stiff on the trees! think of him standing alone against courts and savages, and winning every time—till he was killed by those wretches. It is the greatest story I ever read. Now, if all history were like this, Margaret, I never should complain."
"Don't you like history, Peggy?" asked Bell, looking up in wonder.
"I used to detest it," said Peggy, laughing. "Julius Caesar, and William the Conqueror, and all those people used to bore me dreadfully, though Margaret did her very best to make them interesting; didn't you, you dear?"
"I tried, Peggy," said Margaret, with a smile; "but you never would admit that they were real people, just as real as if they were alive to-day."
"Oh, well, of course I know they were alive once, but so were mummies, and you can't expect me to be interested in them. However, I think I really am improving. 'Hereward' brought William alive for me, it truly did; and this Parkman book delights me. Oh! I should like to have made that voyage down the Mississippi, girls! I think, on the whole, I would rather be Cavalier de La Salle than any one I ever heard of."
"In spite of all the suffering and tragedy?" said Gertrude. "I could not say that, much as I admire him."
"Who would you be, if you could choose? Let us all say!" cried Bell. "A new game! two minutes for reflection!" and she took out her watch with a business-like air.
"Oh!" cried Gertrude. "But there are so many!"
"Silence!" said Bell; and there was an instant of absolute stillness. Taking advantage of it, a chipmunk ran across the brown carpet, and pausing midway, sat up on his haunches and surveyed the new and singular mountain ranges that had risen on his horizon. One of the mountains stirred—whisk! he was gone.
"Time's up!" said Bell. "Margaret, I will begin with you. With all history to choose from, who will you be?"
"Oh! must I be first?" cried Margaret. "As Gertrude says, there are so many; and yet when you come to think them over, there is something against every one; I mean something one would not like to do or to suffer. But,—on the whole,—I think I would be Elizabeth of Hungary."
"Our Lady of the Roses? Well, she was lovely, though I should be sorry to marry her husband. The story would have been somewhat different if I had; but I am not a saint. Peggy, your turn!"
"This man we are reading about!" said Peggy, decidedly. "La Salle!"
"Bell, you know I never can decide between Shakespeare and Raphael. I have to be both; they lived quite far enough apart for separate incarnations."
"Greedy, grasping girl!" said Bell. "Kitty, who are you?"
"Jim Hawkins!" said Kitty, promptly.
"No fiction allowed this time, Missy, only history!"
"Oh, dear! well, then—Francis Drake!"
"Bound to have a pirate, aren't you, Kitty?" said Gertrude, mischievously.
"He wasn't a pirate!" cried Kitty, indignantly. "He was a great hero."
"L'un n'empechait pas l'autre, in those days!" said Bell.
"Well, now for yourself, Bell!" said Margaret. "It is your turn."
"Oh, I didn't need any two minutes," said Bell. "I am always William the Silent. I should be Beethoven if it were not for the deafness, but that I could not have borne."
"You all want to be men, don't you?" observed Margaret, thoughtfully.
"Why—yes, so we do! you are the only one who chose a woman."
"Everybody would be a man if they could!" cried Peggy, throwing grammar to the winds, as she was apt to do when excited.
"No, indeed, everybody would not!" cried Margaret, her soft eyes lighting up. "Nothing would induce me to be a man."
"I don't think you would make a very good one, to be sure!" said Peggy, looking affectionately at her cousin. "But I bet—I mean wager—you told me I might say 'wager,' Margaret!—that none of the other girls would hesitate a minute if they had the chance. I wouldn't! Think of it! No petticoats, no fuss, no having to remember to do this, and not to do that; and no hairpins, or gloves, or best hats—"
"Ah!" said Bell; "that is only the smallest part, Peggy. I don't mind the hairpin part—though of course it is a joy to get out here and dispense with them—but still, that is only a trifle. The thing I think about is the freedom, the strength, the power to go right ahead and do things!" and, as she spoke, Bell threw her head back and stretched her arms abroad with a vigorous gesture. "Of course we girls are all well and strong, but it isn't the same strength as a man's. We are constantly running up against things we cannot, ought not to do. I do envy the boys, I cannot help it."
"Yes!" cried Margaret, leaning forward, a soft flush rising to her cheeks. "I know—it is glorious to see them; but, Bell, isn't the very weakness part of our strength? Isn't it just because women know the—the things they cannot do, that they are able to understand and sympathize, and—and help, in ways that men cannot, because they do not know?"
"I think Margaret is right!" said Gertrude, slowly. "And besides, there is strength and strength, Bell. For long endurance of pain or hardship, the woman will outlast the man nine times out of ten, I believe; and I heard Doctor Strong say once that women would often bear pain quietly that would set a man raving. Yes, I come over to your side, May Margaret. I would take Joan of Arc, if it were not for the stake. Let me see—oh, I know! I will be Grace Darling."
"Who was she?" asked Kitty.
"The lighthouse-keeper's daughter, at Longstone, off the Yorkshire coast. A ship, the Forfarshire, was wrecked on the rocks near by, and there seemed no chance of saving any of the crew; but Grace persuaded her father to try, and just those two rowed out, in a most terrible storm, to the reef on which the vessel had been wrecked, and saved the nine men, all that were left out of sixty-three, who were clinging to the rocks, waiting for death. Why wasn't that just as fine as commanding an army, or even leading a forlorn hope in battle? Then there was dear Margaret Roper—I think she is the one for you, May Margaret!—and Cochrane's Bonny Grizzy, and—oh, ever and ever so many of them. Yes, I take up my stand once and for all on my own side."
"Well!" said Bell, shaking her head. "I hear what you say, Betsy, but it makes no difference,—does it, Peggy?—though I admit the force of your remarks."
"Not a bit!" said Peggy. "I wouldn't have been Mrs. La Salle for a farm."
"There wasn't any!" said Margaret.
"The principle remains the same," said Peggy, "as Miss Russell used to say."
"There is another thing!" said Margaret. "Your life out here, Bell, shows me how much girls can do; I mean in the active, outdoor, athletic way. More than I ever dreamed they could do. It really seems to me that, except just for the petticoats, you have very few drawbacks. I suppose it is having all the brothers. Why, you know as much as they do about the woods and all."
"Yes, it's partly the boys," said Bell; "but it is much more Papa. You see, from the time we could walk, he has always taken us out into the woods and fields, and made us use our eyes and ears, and talked to us about things. We should not know anything, if it were not for Papa."
"He does seem to know almost everything!" said Margaret. "I never saw any one like him."
"There isn't any one like him," said Gertrude, decidedly. "What have you got there, Margaret?"
Margaret had drawn a letter from her pocket, and was looking it over.
"An argument on my side," she said, smiling. "May I read it aloud?"
"Do! do!" cried all the girls.
Margaret smoothed out the crumpled pages affectionately. "He carried it in his pocket two days before he remembered to post it!" she said. "I judge from the date, and the appearance of the envelope. There was candy in his pocket, and"—she sniffed at the letter—"yes! tar, without doubt. Now listen!
"'DEAR COUSIN MARGARET:—We miss you awfully, and Uncle John says it is no kind of a house without you, and it isn't. We went a walk yesterday, Susan D. and me and the dogs, because you know it was Sunday; Uncle John was coming too, but he had roomatizm and coud not. Well Cousin Margaret, we walked over the big hill and just then the dogs began howling and yelling in the most awful manner, and running round and round like they were crazy; and we ran to see what was up, and we found out, I tell you! It was white hornets, about ten thousand of them, and the dogs had rolled in a nest of them, and they were stinging their noses, and they flew at us with perfeck fewry, I mean the hornets did. I hollered and ran, but Susan D. said wait she knew what to do, so she said "Come on," and we ran down to the brook and she took mud and put it on my stings before she touched her own, and it took a good deal of the pane out though not all. And then she put it on the dogs' noses, and they understood like persons, and poked them into the mud themselves and soon forgot their pane. But I thought I would tell you this Cousin Margaret, because Susan D. did really behave like a perfeck brick, and you always said girls were as brave as boys but I never thought so before but now I do; because I hollered right out when they stung me which I am ashamed of. You said confession was good for the sole, and so I think: so now I will say good-by from
"What a dear boy!" cried Gertrude.
"Oh, he is!" said Margaret, the happy tears springing to her eyes. "He is one of the very dearest boys that ever lived, Gertrude; so manly and honest, and so funny, too. Gerald knows him!" she added, shyly. "I wish he had been at home when you were there, Peggy."
"Yes; he must be a brick!" said Peggy. "Now, Margaret, you know he is, and you know that nothing but 'brick' expresses what I mean. Girls, I appeal to you. Margaret wants me to talk like a professor all the time, and I am not a professor, and am never likely to be one. Bell, isn't 'brick' all right?"
Bell looked conscious. "I confess I say it, Peggy; I confess it seems much heartier than the same thing in what my mother calls good English. Still—I believe it would sound very queer to me if she used it; the mother, I mean."
"Grace used to say 'a quadrangular piece of baked clay!'" said Gertrude. "Don't you remember, Peggy?"
"So she did—dear thing! Well, but, Bell, would you have girls talk just the way grown-up people do? It would sound awfully stiff and poky. I don't mean that it sounds so when your mother talks!" she cried; "of course you know I don't mean that. But girls aren't grown-up, you know."
"But they are going to be!" said Margaret. "If they don't learn good English now, how are they going to do it later? It does seem to me a terrible pity, with all our great, glorious language, to use so little of it, and to use it so often wrong. You may think me priggish and professorial, and anything else you like, Peggy dear, but that is what I think."
"I love you to distraction," said Peggy; "you are an angel, but I think you carry it too far. What would you say instead of 'brick?' how would you describe this boy—who simply is a brick?"
Margaret reflected. "I should say he was a nice, manly boy!" she said, presently.
"Nice! now, Margaret! 'nice' is niminy, you know it is, and piminy too."
"The great advantage of 'brick,'" said Bell, "is that it is one word, and 'nice manly boy' is three, and doesn't mean the same thing then."
"There!" cried Peggy, in triumph. "What do you say to that, Margaret? Find one word in your old 'good English' that does express 'brick?'"
"Well—it isn't easy!" Margaret admitted. "'Trump' is the only one I can think of, and I suppose that was slang fifty years ago."
"The mother says that when a word has held its own for twenty years, it isn't slang any more," said Gertrude. "The question is—"
At this moment the sound of a horn was heard; a long, ringing blast, followed by a second and a third.
The girls sprang to their feet. "Hurrah for a swim!" cried Bell. "Come, bricks and trumps—I'll race you all to the tents!" And off they went with a flash of petticoats, leaving the chipmunk to speculate on the sudden upheavals of nature.
THE floating wharf, as has been said, lay at the end of a long, narrow slip that ran out on piers over the water. Down the slip, one by one, now came the Merryweathers and their guests, in bathing array, the boys shouting and skylarking,—the girls singing and tossing their long hair about. Jack and Phil brought out a long spring-board, and set it up at the end of the wharf; and then the fun began. Mr. Merryweather was the first to run along the board, and take a sober and dignified dive. He was followed by Gerald, turning handsprings, and carolling to the effect that he was a pirate king, he was; hurrah for the pirate king! Next came Jack, who turned a back somersault, ending with a noble splash; and so, one by one, like so many ducks, they dove and leaped and tumbled in, and splashed and swam about in the clear water. Peggy was with the rest, splashing as merrily as any of them; but Margaret sat on the wharf, in her pretty blue bathing-dress, her feet tucked under her, looking on.
"Come on, Margaret!" cried Peggy. "Come on! come in! It's perfectly great!"
"In a minute," said Margaret. "I like to watch you a bit first; it takes me a little while to get my courage up."
"Come, oh, come with me!" sang Gerald, emerging from the water, at her feet, and clinging to the wharf, while he shook the drops from his hair and eyes. "Come swim with me and be my swan! Come where the duckweed twineth! Come!"
"Oh, Gerald, yes; in just a minute. Is it very cold?"
"Cold? No; just right. Liquid crystal, sparkling sapphire, perfection! Come, you must have your swimming lesson. Forget the cheerful swain,—behold the stern instructor!"
He held out his hand with an imperative gesture. Margaret laid hers in it timidly.
"Let me get near the rope!" she said, rather nervously.
"Here is the rope, close by your hand. Now, then, hold fast! There we go!"
With one hand on the rope, and the other in Gerald's, Margaret slid into the water, giving a little cry as it bubbled up about her. "Gerald!"
"Right here, my lady. There; both hands on the rope now. Take it easy! Now you are all right."
"Ye'—yes, Gerald. Oh, isn't it glorious?"
"Rather! It's really the element to live in, you see. A mistake was made somewhere. If I had but gills, I should ask no more of fate. As it is—"
He dove, and came up on the other side of the rope. "Don't you think I would be charming with gills,—pretty little quivering, rosy gills,—instead of side whiskers?"
"I never saw you in side whiskers," said Margaret, demurely, "so I cannot tell. You certainly don't seem to need the gills, though. How do you manage to keep under so long? Yesterday, when you stayed down picking up these pebbles, I was sure something had happened. Really, Gerald, I was very much frightened."
"I ought to have been switched," said Gerald. "I never thought of your noticing. I say, come down with me, and I'll show you the trick of it. It's just as easy!"
"Not for worlds!" cried Margaret, clutching the rope, as if she expected to be dragged from it by force. "I never should come up alive. Oh, look, Gerald! what are they going to do now?"
"Going to dive over the elephants. Do you mind—oh, here is the child, Toots. Toots, will you stay here by Margaret, while I take my place in the ring? You are sure you are all right, Margaret?"
"Oh, yes; do go. I want to see it. Gertrude, what are they doing?"
"Look and see," said Gertrude. "Put your arms on the rope, and lift yourself higher. That's right."
Phil and Jack and Willy had placed themselves side by side, on their hands and knees, at the edge of the wharf, and were calling loudly for Gerald. He stepped back to the farther end of the float, then, running forward, soared into the air, over the backs of the "elephants," and came down straight as an arrow into the water; then, scrambling out, took his place in the row, while Phil performed the same manoeuvre. Over and over and over they went, running, rising, plunging, rising again. Margaret grew dizzy watching them. Now Mr. Merryweather advanced, holding a rubber hoop, which was neither more nor less than the discarded tire of a bicycle. This he and Gerald held out at arm's length, and the other boys dove through it, amid the applause of the girls.
"Oh, pretty!" cried Peggy. "Do you do that, girls?"
"Gertrude does; I haven't tried it yet," said Bell, who was floating placidly, her arms under her head, her face turned to the sky.
"I am going to try," said Peggy. "May I, Mr. Merryweather?"
"By all means!" said the Chief, heartily. "Take a good run—steady, Jerry. Hold it out well—there! hurrah!"
For Peggy had gone through the hoop like a bird, and after a clean dive, was coming up again, radiant and panting.
"Oh, Peggy, how splendid!" cried Margaret, her eyes shining with pleasure and pride in her Peggy's prowess. "Gertrude, didn't she do it well? Such a pretty, graceful thing to do."
"C'etait une corquerre!" said Gerald, heartily. "Elle est aussi une corquerre, la Peggy. You will be doing it soon yourself."
"Oh, never, never! You cannot seem to understand, Gerald, that I am not made for these things. I love to see them; I admire them intensely, but I cannot so much as think of trying."
"Point de stonte pour Marguerite?" said Gerald. "Alas the day! Because you really would do them so corkingly, you know, if only you should do them. Well, see here, I am going to give you a troll. You will like that, I am sure."
"A troll? I thought they were mountain goblins. I don't want one, thank you, sir! water nixies and pixies are as much as I can bear in the goblin line."
"Verb, not substantive!" replied Gerald.
"I troll, thou lettest thyself be trolled, he, she, or it sees you being trolled and wishes that he, she, or it had such luck. Observe!"
He climbed into one of the Rangeley boats that lay near the float, loosed her moorings, and, taking up the oars, brought her close to the rope. "Now, Margaret, catch hold; here, at the stern!"
"What are you going to do with me, Gerald? I fear thee, ancient mariner, I fear thy skinny hand!"
"I hold you with my glittering eye, you cannot choose but come. I am going to take you off a-trolling. Hold on tight with your hands, and let all the rest of you go, as if you had nothing to do with it."
He took a few strokes, slowly and easily. Margaret, clinging to the stern, was drawn along without effort or motion of her own. Her long hair floated behind her; her white arms gleamed like ivory through the clear water; her face was alight with pleasure.
"'Not wholly bad, Lysander Pratt?'" quoted Gerald, interrogatively.
"Oh, Gerald! it is almost too perfect! no, you needn't stop, I only said almost. The water feels like silk flowing by me: no, silk is rough beside it; it feels like—like—"
"Like water, possibly?" said Gerald; "stranger things have been."
"Well, there isn't anything else like it, is there? Oh! are you sure you will not take cold or anything, Gerald? I could go on forever, floating here—trolling, I mean."
"Nothing easier," said Gerald, pulling on with long, steady strokes. "We will just keep on; I ask nothing better. Years passed. A form was seen, gray and bent with age, feebly tugging at a pair of oars. Trailing behind the crazy boat, another figure might be distinguished—I forbear further description, Margaret: I may grow old, but not you; please stay as you are always. Anyhow, the people will flock to the shore. Ha! the Muse! the afflatus descends.
"The people thronged the rocky shore, And viewed that graybeard old and hoar; 'Oh! why thus dodderest at the oar, Unhappy soul?' The answer came: 'Forever more She wished to troll!'"
"Gerald, I think we'd better go back now."
"Wait! she hasn't finished. Never interrupt a Muse! it isn't the thing to do.
"And still along that rocky coast, A gibbering yet a gallant ghost, He dodders, dodders at his post, Nor nears the goal; For she, the spook he cares for most, Still loves to troll."
"Gerald, take me back, please! see, we are ever so far from shore, and it is time for me to go in, I am sure."
"Just look down, Margaret! see the bottom, all white sand; isn't that pleasant? Hi! there's a bream watching his nest. See him fanning about over it, never leaving the place. He'll keep that up for hours at a time. Domestic party, the bream! this is an excellent opportunity to study the habits of—"
"Gerald, I am cold!"
"We'll be there in two minutes!" said Gerald, settling to his oars. "Hold tight, now, Margaret! troll as the wolves of Apennine were all upon your track!" and with long, powerful strokes he sent the boat flying through the water, while Margaret fairly shrieked with delight and excitement.
Her face had been turned away from the float; but now she was speeding toward it, and looked eagerly to see what the others of the party were doing. To her great amazement, no one was in sight. The wharf lay wet and glistening in the sunshine, but no blue-clad figures leaped and pranced across it, no merry faces emerged from the blue, sparkling water. All was silent and solitary.
"Why, Gerald," cried Margaret, "where are they all? have they gone in? Surely I heard their voices just a moment ago, and a great splash: where can they be?"
"A stunt!" replied Gerald. "For our benefit, I presume, but I scorn their levity. I advise you to take no notice of their childish pranks. I myself was young, once upon a time, but what then?"
They were now at the float, and Margaret looked about her, in utter amazement. All was silent; not a voice, not a whisper; no soul was in sight. It was as if she and Gerald were alone in the world. She stepped out on the float: at the instant, up from under her feet rose a sound as if the biggest giant that ever swung a club were sneezing. "A—tchoo!"
Margaret screamed outright. "Gerald! what is it?"
"Come out from there!" cried Gerald. "They are under the float, imbeciles that they are. The Pater has gone ashore, and the others manifest their nature, that is all. Come out, Apes of the Apennines! or I'll—"
The threat remained unfinished, for the Merryweathers came out. Swarming up from under the float, where they had been treading water at their ease, with plenty of breathing-space, they flung themselves with one accord upon Gerald's boat, capsized it, and dragged him into the water. A great splashing contest ensued, with much shouting and merriment, and they were still hard at it when "All in!" sounded from the boat-house.
"STILL raining, Phil?" asked Mrs. Merryweather, looking up from her writing.
"Still, honored parent! or rather, to be exact, anything but still. Up on the hill, the wind is fierce. I had to ride round the blast once or twice, instead of going through it. Solid old wind, that!"
He threw off his dripping oilskin jacket, and came in, unslinging the letter-bag from his shoulder as he came.
"Letters! letters!" he cried. "Who wants letters?"
Every one gathered around him, holding out eager hands.
"One for me, Phil!"
"For me, Protector of the Poor!"
"Oh! please, Phil! I want three at least."
"If there is none for me, Fergy my boy, I shudder at the consequences for you!"
Phil distributed letters and papers; the family subsided on chairs and benches with their treasures, and for some minutes nothing was heard but the rustle of paper and the steady downpour of the rain.
"Oh!" cried Peggy, presently. "Oh—eee! splendid!"
"Sapolio!" exclaimed Gerald; and "Well! well!" said Mrs. Merryweather.
The three exclamations were simultaneous, and Bell, who had no letters, raised her hand with an imperative gesture. "Exclamation must be followed by explanation!" she said. "Law of the Medes and Persians. We shall be glad to hear from the exclaimers."
"Who? me? did I?" asked Peggy, looking up with sparkling eyes. "Semiramis has eight puppies. Think of it! eight whole puppies!"
"I never buy more than half a puppy at a time," said Gerald, "unless it is for a veal and ham pie."
"Well, it's a fact, Mater; I never do. What kind of puppies, thou of Limavaddy?"
"Gordon setters, black and tan: oh, she says they are perfect beauties. She says—this is Jean, you know, my sister—'they are all like Semmy except one, and he is blue.' Who ever heard of a blue puppy? You shall have one, Snowy: I promised you one, don't you remember? oh—eee! and the new colt is a perfect beauty too, and they have named her Peggy. Oh!"
Peggy looked down at her letter, then looked up again shyly. "I—don't suppose you would care to hear any of it?" she said, interrogatively.
"Indeed we should!" said Mrs. Merryweather, heartily. "We should like it extremely, Peggy. A letter from the Far West; why, it will be a journey for all of us."
"Great!" said Phil.
"Corking!" said Gerald. And one and all, in their several ways, expressed their desire to hear the letter.