by Laura E. Richards
CHAPTER I. A
CHAPTER II. MRS.
CHAPTER III. AN
CHAPTER V. A
CHAPTER VI. ALI
ABOUT NOTHING IN
CHAPTER XI. THE
CHAPTER XII. THE
EGG OF COLUMBUS
CHAPTER XIII. IN
CHAPTER XIV. THE
JEWELS: AND AN
CHAPTER XVI. FOR
AULD LANG SYNE
CHAPTER XVII. IN
CHAPTER I. A DUET
Well, Uncle John!
Not a word to throw at a dog, as Rosalind says?
You are not a dog, Uncle John. Besides, you know all about it
without my saying a word, so why should I be silly, and spoil your
comfortable cigar? Dear children! They will have a delightful time, I
hope; and of course it is perfectly right that they should go to their
father when he wants them; andthe summer will pass quickly.
Very quickly! Mr. Montfort assented, watching his smoke rings
And Peggy is coming; andoh, we shall be all right, of course we
shall; onlywe do miss them, don't we, Uncle?
I should think we did! A house is a poor place without children;
and we flatter ourselves that our twoeh, Margaret?
Oh, they are the dearest children in the world, said Margaret with
conviction. There is no possible doubt about that.
She sighed, and took up her work; Mr. Montfort blew smoke rings and
watched them melt into the air. There was an interval of sympathetic
The children, Basil and Susan D., Margaret's cousins, had hardly
been gone two hours, yet the time seemed already long to Margaret
Montfort. Fernley House, which only this morning had been so running
over with joy and sunlight, and happy noise and bustle, seemed suddenly
to have become a great empty barrack, full of nothing but silence.
Margaret, after putting away, sadly enough, the things that the
children had left about, had been glad to join her uncle on the
pleasant back verandah that overlooked the garden.
Fernley was in the full glory of early summer. The leaves were still
young, and too soft to rustle in the gently moving air; the laburnums
and honey-locusts were in blossom, and the bees came and went,
heavy-laden. The sombre, trailing branches of the great Norway spruces
touched the smooth green turf, starred here and there with English
daisies. Farther back, the tulip-trees towered stately, and the elm
branches swept the crest of the tall box hedges.
Margaret's eyes kept wandering from her work. How could she stitch,
when things were looking like this? There was the oriole, swinging on
the bough beside his nest, pouring out his song, Joy! joy! joy! The
eggs might be hatched to-day. Basil had begged her to promise that she
would let neither cat nor squirrel meddle with the young birds. What
should she do, if she saw a cat up there, forty feet from the ground?
Dear Basil! he never could understand why she could not climb trees as
well as he and Susan D. Dear Basil! dearest of boys! how nice he looked
in his new blue suit; and who would mend the first barndoor that he
tore in jacket or trousers?
And little Susan D.! the warm clasp of her arms seemed still about
Margaret's neck, in that last strangling hug of parting. She had grown
so dear, the little silent child! I will be good, she whispered.
Cousin Margaret, I will try not to die without you, and I will
remember the things you told me about papa; but don't make me stay very
long, because I haven't got enough goodness to last very long, you know
Margaret was roused from her reverie by her uncle's voice.
When did you say Peggy was coming, my dear?
Next week, Uncle John. School closes on the eighteenth. Dear little
Peggy! think of her being a senior! it seems hardly possible. She is
afraid I shall tell her to put her hair up; I certainly shall not, at
least while she is here. I am sure you prefer the pigtail, don't you,
Yes! oh, yes! said Mr. Montfort, abstractedly. Pigtailyes, by
all means. And how will you and Peggy amuse yourselves, my dear? No
Rita this summer to electrify us all. You will not find it dull?
Dull, Uncle John? how could Fernley possibly be dull? Why, Peggy
and I are going to be as happy as possible. I have all kinds of plans
made. You see, it is time Peggy was learning something about
housekeeping and that sort of thing, and I thought this summer would be
the very best time to show her a little. Of course, when she is at
home, she wants to be doing twenty thousand things on the farm, just as
she always has done, and the time goes so quickly, she has not begun to
think yet about the indoor things; so I am going to be the
Humdrum-major, Uncle, and give her some lessons; if you approve, that
Highly, my dear, highly. Every woman should be able to take care of
her own house, and the only way for her to learn is to begin upon some
one else's. I should think Peggy might make a vigorous little
housekeeper, if a chaotic one. Don't let her loose in the library,
Margaret, that is my only prayer.
Uncle John, I really do believe that you think housekeeping
consists entirely in dusting and setting things to wrongs, as you call
Well, my love, I confess that has always seemed to me a prime
element in the art. But I also confess my ignorance, and the depth and
darkness thereof. Am I humble enough? Now I must go and take the
puppies for an airing. Till dinner-time, May Margaret!
Mr. Montfort strolled away, and Margaret bent with renewed energy
over her work, giving herself a little shake as she did so. Her uncle's
words still sounded in her ears: You will not find it dull? She had
answered out of the fulness of her heart, thinking it impossible that
dulness should come where Uncle John was, especially as he happened to
be at Fernley House, the most enchanting place in the world. Yetand
yetit was going to be very, very different, of course, from the life
of the past year, so filled full and running over with delight. It was
not only that she missed the children; it was that in the care of them,
the watching over the growing bodies and the eager minds, she was
learning so much herself, feeling the world grow, almost hourly, bigger
and brighter and sweeter. The mother-nature was strong in Margaret
Montfort, and the children were bringing out all that was best and
strongest in her. Well, she must do without that now for awhile; and
there was no doubt that the prospect seemed a little flat, even with
Peggy to brighten it. Dear Peggy! Margaret loved her fondly; but she
was so grown up now, so strong herself, so helpful and self-reliant,
that there was no question of taking care of her any more. Why, she
knows twenty times as much as I do, said Margaret, about most things,
except history. I don't suppose she will ever remember the difference
between Mary Stuart and Mary Tudor. But, foolish creature, cried
Margaret to herself, what have you just been saying to Uncle John?
Here is all the world of housekeeping, about which Peggy knows little
or nothing, and which, thanks to Elizabeth and Frances, you do begin to
understand a little. Is it a small thing, I ask you, to teach the
qualities and fine shades of damask, and the high-lights of huckaback?
or the different cuts of meat, and when what is in season? I am ashamed
of you, Margaret Montfort! And then there are the puppies, too! Don't
let me hear another word of dulness from you, miss, do you hear?
Perhaps you would like to be weaving cotton in a factory this heavenly
day, or selling yards of hot stuffs in a shop? Go away! and Margaret
shook her head severely, and was surprised at herself.
The puppies were two fine young setters, Nip and Tuck by name, which
the wise uncle had bought on purpose to soften the blow of the parting
with the children. Margaret had never known dogs before, and though
Messrs. Nip and Tuck were being strictly trained, and had to spend much
of their time in the stable-yard, she still had many a pleasant
half-hour with them, when her uncle took them for a run over hill and
dale, or gave them a lesson in the garden. Her one anxiety was lest
they should meet the Queen of Sheba, her great Angora cat, and there
should be trouble; for the Queen was a person of decided temper.
Margaret had taken infinite pains, ever since the arrival of the
puppies, to keep them out of one another's sight; but Mr. Montfort
warned her that she was merely putting off the inevitable, and that the
day must come when cat and dogs should meet.
It seemed a little hard that this meeting must take place when the
master was not present; but the finger of Fate pointed, and at this
very moment, while Margaret was sitting with her peaceful thoughts,
Michael, the stable-boy, chanced to drop the leash in which he was
leading the puppies to their master. Three minutes later, Nip and Tuck
were careering wildly around Margaret, leaping on her with frantic
caresses, and talking both at once, and very loud, as dear dogs will
Down, Nip! cried Margaret. Tucky, do behave yourself. Now, boys,
however did you get away? Charge, do, like dear boys, and wait for the
master; he will be here in a minute.
Nip and Tuck explained breathlessly that they had just got out by
the luckiest chance in the world, that they loved her to distraction,
and that, upon the whole, they preferred her society to that of any one
else in the world, if only she would let them lick her nose. This
Margaret firmly refused to do, and they lay down panting for a moment,
but only for a moment. Again the finger of Fate pointed; and so it came
to pass that as Mr. Montfort came round one corner in search of his
run-aways, the Queen of Sheba came round the other. There seemed but
one white flash as the two puppies, recognizing their destiny on the
instant, flew to meet it, yelling like demons of the pit.
Oh, Uncle John! cried Margaret, starting up in distress. My poor
Queen! my poor Sheba! they will
I wouldn't worry, Margaret, said Mr. Montfort. Sheba can take
care of herself, if I am not greatly mistaken.
The great cat stiffened herself into a bristling bow, and waited the
charge with gleaming eyes. The dogs' frenzied rush carried them within
a foot of her whiskers, and there they stopped. This was not what they
had looked for. They had seen cats before, and had chased them, with
infinite joy; their mother had taught them that cats were made to be
chased, with a special eye to the healthful amusement of good little
dogs. But this furry, glaring creature, radiating power and
menace,could this be a cat?
Nip and Tuck put their heads on one side and considered. The Queen
of Sheba advanced one step, slowly; the puppies retired, too, and sat
down, wagging their tails. Perhaps, after all, it was a kind of dog;
their minds were cheerfully open to new impressions, and they were full
of good will toward all creation. Perceiving their innocence, the Queen
of Sheba, who had seen many generations of puppies, lowered her warlike
arch, and, sitting down opposite them, proceeded to wash herself
elaborately. Nip and Tuck looked on with open-mouthed admiration.
Presently Tuck, who was a bold dog, gave a short bark of decision, and,
stepping forward, began with infinite politeness to assist in the
washing. Sheba received the attention with regal condescension. Five
minutes later, all three walked off together, rubbing sides cordially,
and presumably in quest of rats.
Margaret drew a long breath. Did you ever see anything like that?
she cried. Look, Uncle John; they are talking to one another; you can
almost hear the words. Isn't it wonderful?
Very pretty, said Mr. Montfort. Now they'll be friends for life,
you'll see. Sheba will be of great assistance in their education. It
takes an intelligent cat to understand puppies, and Sheba is a
remarkably intelligent cat. Well, May Margaret, and now shall we take
our four-legged children for a walk?
Oh, Uncle John, I was so afraid you were not going to ask me! Will
you wait just half a minute while I get my hat? and on the way back I
will stop and see Mrs. Peyton. I have not been there since the dogs
came or the children went, and I ought to be ashamed.
Margaret ran up-stairs lightly, saying to herself as she ran, Dull,
with that man? and Peggy and the puppies beside? Margaret Montfort, I
am ashamed of you!
CHAPTER II. MRS. PEYTON'S COMPANION
Dear me! said Mrs. Peyton. Here is Patience, down off her
monument, come all this way to smile at Grief! I am Grief, my dear;
allow me to introduce myself. Well, Margaret, and how do you get on
without your bratsI beg pardon! I mean your pets?
As well as could be expected, said Margaret, lightly, as she
stooped to kiss the ivory forehead. Mrs. Peyton was charming, but one
did not confide one's troubles to her. We are behaving beautifully,
Mrs. Peyton. Not only have we dried our tears and hung our
pocket-handkerchiefs out to dry, but we have set up some new pets
Not more children? Not another set of 'The Orphans of Fernley,'
bound in blue denim? That would be unendurable.
No; four-legged pets this time. We have two dogs, Mrs. Peyton;
beautiful Gordon setters. I hope you are fond of dogs.
Oh!dogs? Yes, I like dogs. As a rule I like them better than
two-legged torments. You are a two-legged torment, Margaret, when you
move about the room in that exasperatingly light-footed manner. I don't
suppose you actually do it to make me feel my helplessness, but it has
that effect. Do sit down! you are not a bird. And don't, for pity's
sake, look patient! If there is one thing I cannot abide, it is to see
people look patient when I insult them. If I had only knownbut John
Montfort always did like to thwart me, it's his natureif I had only
known, I say, that those brats of yours were going away, I need not
have set up a menagerie of my own. It's too late now, the creature's
What do you mean, Mrs. Peyton? asked Margaret, always prepared for
any whim of her whimsical neighbor. Are you setting up a dog too?
No! nothing half so comfortable as a dog. A fox, or wolf, or hyena,
or something of that kind. Don't be stupid, Margaret; I am not up to
explanations to-day. A companion, simpleton! A Miss Fox or Miss Wolfe,
I can't remember which. I don't think it was Miss Hyena, but it
might be. It's an unusual name, but she is recommended as an unusual
Mrs. Peyton! you said you never would try it again. And you know I
am always ready to come and read to you.
I know you are a little Fra Angelico angel, with your halo laid in
your top bureau drawer among your collars, for fear people should see
it; but I have a little scrap of conscience about me somewhere,not
much, only about a saltspoonful,and if you came every day it would
get up and worry me, and I can't be worried. Besides, the doctor
ordered it, positively.
Doctor Flower? has he been out again?
Yes, he came on Monday. I thought I was going to die, and wanted
him to see how prettily I should do it. I'll never send for him again;
he always tells me to get up and do things. Tiresome man! I told him I
was perfectly exhausted by simply listening to him for half an hour. He
replied by ordering this Miss Fox, or whoever she is. I am to try her
for a month; I sha'n't probably keep her a week.
No, not a trained nurse. She means to be one, goes to the hospital
in the autumn. He thinks she has a gift, or something. I detest people
with a gift. Probably she has a squint, too. You will have to receive
her when she comes, Margaret, and take the edge off her. I fancy her
unendurable, but I promised to try; I really must be going to die, I am
growing so amiable. Which of my gems do you want? I am going to make my
will this time. You needn't laugh, Margaret Montfort.
I was laughing at your dying of amiability, Mrs. Peyton! said
Margaret. When is this young ladyI suppose she is young, if she is
going to study nursingwhen is she coming?
To-morrow, I believe; or is it to-day? where is the note? Tuesday!
Is this Tuesday? It cannot be.
Yes, this is Tuesday, and the three o'clock trainI suppose that
is the train she will come bymust be in by this time. Hark! there are
wheels this moment. Can she be coming now, Mrs. Peyton?
My dear, it would be exactly like the conception I have formed of
her. Go down and see her, will you, Margaret? Tell her I have a
headache, or Asiatic cholera, or anything you like. I cannot possibly
see her to-day. Her name is Foxor Wolfe, I can't remember which.
Bless you, child! you save my life. Show her the Calico Room. Hand me
the amethyst rope before you go; I must compose my nerves.
With a smile and a sigh, Margaret ran down-stairs, and met the
newcomer on the doorstep. A tall, pale, grave-looking girl, with
deep-set blue eyes, and smooth bands of brown haira rather
remarkable-looking person, Margaret thought.
Miss Fox? she said, hurriedly, holding out her hand. Oh, how do
you do? Pray come in. Mrs. Peyton asked me to receive you,I am a
friend and neighbor,and show you your room and make you comfortable.
She has a bad headache, and does not feel able to welcome you herself.
She led the way into the dining-room, and rang the bell. You will
have lunch? she said, or would you rather have tea?
Tea, please, said the stranger; and her voice had a deep, musical
note, that fell pleasantly on Margaret's ear.
I am sorry Mrs. Peyton is unable to see me. Is it a real headache,
or doesn't she want to?
Margaret colored and hesitated. The blue eyes looked straight into
hers with a compelling gaze; a gleam of comprehension seemed to lurk in
their depths. Margaret was absolutely truthful, and, consequently, was
sometimes at a loss when speaking of her invalid friend.
Doctor Flower told me somewhat about her, Miss Fox went on. He
thinkshe wants me to rouse her to effort.
She spoke so quietly, her whole air was one of such calm and repose,
that Margaret looked at her wonderingly.
[Illustration: MARGARET DID THE HONORS, STILL FEELING VERY SHY.]
If Doctor Flower has explained the case to you, she said, at last,
you probably know more about it than I do. Mrs. Peyton often seems to
suffer a great deal. She is fanciful, too, no doubt, at times; I
suppose most invalids are.
I have just been staying with a woman who had had both feet cut off
by a train, said Miss Fox, tranquilly. She was not fanciful.
It was a relief when the tea came. Margaret did the honors, still
feeling very shy, she could not tell why, before this grave person, who
could not be more than a year or two older than herself.
Have you come far to-day, Miss Fox? she asked, for the sake of
saying something. The stranger put her head on one side, and gave her a
quaint look. Any addition to one's personal menagerie is always
interesting, she said; but one has one's favorites in the Zoo. If it
is not taking a libertywhy Fox?
Margaret started, and blushed violently. I beg your pardon,
she said. Mrs. Peyton was not sureshe could not rememberis it Miss
Wolfe, then? I hope you will forgive me, Miss Wolfe!
Please don't, said Miss Wolfe. She smiled for the first time, and
Margaret thought she had never seen so sweet a smile. It is not your
fault that I am philologically quadruped, surely. So long as I am not
called Zebra, I really don't mind. I always associate Zebra with Zany,
don't you know? they were in my Alphabet together. But you were saying
something which I was rude enough to interrupt.
I only asked if you had come far.
Not very far, if you put it in miles; only from New York; if you
mean by impressions, a thousand leagues. It is at least that from that
maelstrom to this quiet green place. How should one have nerves in a
place like this? To sit here in peace and turn slowly into a
lettucethat would be the natural thing; but life is not natural, if
you have observed.
Margaret laughed. Mrs. Peyton is certainly not in the least like a
lettuce; I don't know whether you see any signs of the change in me; I
have only been here two years, though.
Miss Wolfe surveyed her critically. Nno! she said, slowly. I
see nothing indicating lettuceas yet. You are cool and greenno
offence, I hope! I pay you one of the highest compliments I know of
when I call you green; it is the color of rest and harmony; cool and
green enough, and pleasantly wavy in your lines, but you have too much
expression as yet, far too much. Placidityabsence of emotionthat is
what superinduces the lettuce habit. She waved her hand gracefully,
and seemed to fall into a reverie. Margaret surveyed her in growing
At this moment Mrs. Peyton's bell rang violently; and presently a
maid appeared to say that her mistress was feeling better, and would
see the lady now. Miss Wolfe rose and glanced significantly at
Margaret. Curiosity overcomes distaste! she said. Are you coming?
No, said Margaret. I think I'd better not. I will slip away
quietly. But I shall see you soon again. I will run over this evening,
perhaps; and you must come over to Fernley whenever Mrs. Peyton can
spare you. It is very near, just across the park.
Fernley! repeated Miss Wolfe, pausing and looking at Margaret with
an altered expression.
Fernley House, Mr. Montfort's place. That is where I live. WhyI
have never introduced myself all this time, have I? I am Mr. Montfort's
niece; my name is Montfort, too, Margaret Montfort.
Oh, my prophetic soul! my aunt! exclaimed Miss Wolfe. I beg your
pardon; nothing of the sort. I am somewhat mad at times. Good morning,
Miss Montfort; I am glad to know you. To be continued in our next!
She nodded, kissed her hand gravely to Margaret, and turning,
followed the maid up-stairs.
Margaret looked after her for a moment in amazement. What a very
extraordinary girl! she said. She seemed to know my name. I wonder
She paused, shook her head, then went soberly home across the park,
wondering how the new venture would turn out.
[Illustration: AT THIS MOMENT POLLY APPEARED RED-CHEEKED AND
CHAPTER III. AN ARRIVAL
What can the dogs be barking at, Elizabeth? asked Margaret,
looking up from the table-cloth she was examining. I'm afraid they
have got a squirrel again.
I thought I heard the sound of wheels, Miss, said the sedate
Elizabeth, who had just entered, her arms full of shining damask. Just
as I was coming up the stairs, Miss Margaret. I told Polly run and see
who it was, and send 'em away if they was a tramp. It do be mostly
tramps, these days; Frances says she'll poison the next one, Miss, but
she always feeds 'em so as they go off and send all their friends.
At this moment Polly appeared, red-cheeked and breathless. A
gentleman was below, asking for Mr. Montfort, and she couldn't find Mr.
Montfort nowhere in the house; so then he said could he see Miss
Is it any one I know, Polly? asked Margaret.
I don't know, Miss Marget; I niver see him. A lame gentleman with a
crutch; he looks just lovely! added Polly, with effusion.
Miss Margaret didn't ask you how he looked, Polly! said Elizabeth,
severely. You let your tongue run away with you.
Tell him I will be down directly, Polly, said Margaret.
Now, Miss Margaret, do you think you'd better? asked Elizabeth.
If it's not a tramp
Indeed, and he's no tramp! broke in Polly, indignantly. He's a
gentleman, if ever I see one, Miss Margaret; and him in lovely white
clothes and all, just like young Mr. Pennyfeather as was here last
Polly, will you learn to speak when you are spoken to, and not
interrupt your elders? demanded Elizabeth. If he's not a tramp, I was
saying, Miss Margaret, he's likely an agent of some kind, and why
should you be annoyed, with all the linen to go over? He can call
again, most likely.
Elizabeth spoke with some feeling under her grave and restrained
words. The examination of the house-linen was to her mind the most
important event of the week, and already they had been disturbed once
by a sudden incursion of the dogs, bringing a dead squirrel.
No, Elizabeth, said Margaret, I must go down. Tell the gentleman
I will be down directly, Polly; show him into the library, please. Dear
Elizabeth, you can finish the table-cloths just as well without me. You
always did it before I came.
Not at all, Miss, said Elizabeth, with patient resignation;
you'll find me in the sewing-room, Miss, whenever you are ready for
me. It's best that you should go over the things yourself, and then you
will be satisfied, and no mistakes made.
Margaret nodded, with a little inward sigh over the rigidity of
Elizabeth's ideal of a perfect housekeeper; patted her hair hurriedly
to make sure that it was neat, confirmed the pat by a glance in the
mirror, and went quickly down-stairs.
A tall, slender figure rose, leaning on a stick, as she entered the
library. What a sad face! was Margaret's first thought; but, when the
stranger smiled, it changed to What a beautiful one!
Cousin Margaret? said the young man, inquiringly.
YesI am Margaret, said the girl. But whooh! are youcan it
be Peggy's Hugh? It is, I see. Oh, how do you do, Cousin? I am so very,
very glad to see you.
They shook hands cordially, scanning each other with earnest and
I should have known you, of course, from your picture, if not from
Peggy's ardent descriptions, said Hugh Montfort.
And I ought to have known you, surely, cried Margaret; only, not
knowing you were in this part of the country, you see
Uncle John did not get my letter? It ought to have reached him some
days ago. I was coming on to Cambridge, and wrote as soon as I started.
No wonder you were surprised, being hailed as cousin by an unheralded
vagabond with a stick.
Oh, why do you stand? cried Margaret. Sit down, Cousin Hugh; to
think of its being really you; I have wanted to see and know you ever
sinceoh, for ever so long. Hark! there comes Uncle John now. How
delighted he will be!
Margaret, my dear! called Mr. Montfort from the hall. I have just
had a lettermost surprising thingfromhallo! what's all this?
Hugh, my dear fellow, I'm delighted to see you. Got here before your
letter, eh? How did that happen? Never mind, so long as you are here
now. Well, well, well! sit down here, and let me look at you. This is a
pleasure indeed. Your father's eyes; I should know them in a Chinaman;
not that you look like a Chinaman. How are they all at home? How's your
father? When did you leave home? Have you had anything to eat? What
would you like? Margaret, my dear, get Hugh something to eat, he's
Hugh laughingly disclaimed starvation, and begged to wait till their
tea-time. I am not hungry, truly I am not, he said. There is so much
to say, too, isn't there, Uncle John? Father is very well and hearty. I
have a pipe for you in my bag. I brought a bag with me; do you suppose
you could put me up for a few days, Uncle?
Reassured by Mr. Montfort's earnest assurance that he should keep
him all summer, Hugh leaned back in his chair, and looked about him
with eager eyes.
This is the library! he said. Uncle John, ever since I learned to
read, one of my dreams has been to see this room. Father has always
told us about it, and where his favorite books were, and where you all
used to sit when you came here to read.
He rose and, crossing the room, took a book from a shelf without a
moment's hesitation. Here is the 'Morte d'Arthur,' he said; you see
I knew where to find it. And Father used to sit on top of that
So he did! cried Mr. Montfort, delighted. I can see him now, with
one leg curled under him, eating apples and shouting about Lancelot and
And you sat in the great copper coal-hodah! there it is!and
read Froissart, the great folio with the colored prints. I see it, just
in the place father described.
Uncle John, said Margaret, reproachfully, you never told me that
you sat in the coal-scuttle. I know papa's perch, the mantel-piece,
because he could get at the little Shakespeares from there.
Mr. Montfort laughed.
Leave me some remnant of dignity, Meg, he said. How can you
expect me to confess that I sat in the coal-scuttle? Have you no
reverence for gray hairs?
Oh, a very great deal, dear Uncle; but there were no gray hairs in
the coal-scuttle days; and my only regret about you is the not having
known you when you were a boy.
Horrid monkey, I have been given to understand, said her uncle,
lightly. Go on, Hugh; tell us some more of the things that Jimyour
fatherremembers. Old Jim! it's a great shame that he never comes to
look up the old place himself.
It is indeed, sir! said Hugh. I've always thought so, and now
that I see the placeoh, I shall send him, that's all, as soon as ever
I get home. There are the Indian clubs; oh, the carved oneis it true
that that was given to Grandfather Montfort by a Fiji chief, or was the
Pater fooling us? He sometimes makes up things, he acknowledges, just
for the fun of it.
True enough, I believe! said Mr. Montfort, taking down the great
club, covered from end to end with strange and delicate carving.
Did he ever tell you how near he came to breaking my head with this
club? He may have forgotten; I have not. We used to keep it in our
room, the great nursery up-stairs, Margaret; you must show that to Hugh
by and by. I woke up one night, and was afraid the crow that I was
taming in the back garden might be hungry. I got out of the window and
shinned down the spout. The crow was all right; but when I came back,
Jim woke up, and took me for a burglar, and went for me with the club,
thinking it the chance of his life. I was only half-way through the
bars when he caught me a crackI can hear my skull rattle with it
Oh, Uncle John! and you held on?
My dear, I held on; it would have been rather unfortunate for me to
let go at the moment. I sung out, of course; and when I got through I
fell upon my friend James, and Roger had to wake up and come and drag
us from under the bed before he could separate us. Sweet boys! do you
and your brothers indulge in these little endearments, Hugh? Jim was a
Hugh laughed. Jim and George used to have pretty lively scraps
sometimes, he said. It wasn't so much in my line, but I took it out
in airs, I fancy. The poor fellows couldn't punch my head, and it must
have been hard lines for them sometimes. As for Max and Peter, they are
twins, you know. I doubt if either of them knows exactly which is
himself and which is the other, so they don't have real scraps, just
puppy-play, rolling over and over and pounding each other.
Oh, what good times they would have with Basil and Susan D.! cried
Margaret. What a pity they cannot know one another, all these dear
So it is! so it is! said Mr. Montfort, heartily. We must bring it
about, one of these days; we must surely bring it about. Fond of dogs,
Hugh? I've got a pair of nice puppies here; like to go and see them
before tea, or shall Margaret show you your room?
Hugh elected in favor of the puppies, and uncle and nephew walked
off together, well content. Margaret looked after them, thinking what a
noble pair they made. Hugh walked lame, to be sure, yet not
ungracefully, she thought; and though slender, still his shoulders were
square and manly.
Then her thoughts turned to matters of practical hospitality, and
she sped to the kitchen, to tell the good news to Frances.
Oh, Frances, Mr. Hugh has come, my Uncle Jim's son; Miss Peggy's
brother, Frances! He has come all the way from Ohio, and I want you to
give him the very best supper that ever was, please!
Now Frances had that moment discovered that her best porcelain
saucepan was cracked; she therefore answered with some asperity.
Indeed, then, Miss Margaret, what is good enough for Mr. Montfort must
be good enough for his nephew or any other young gentleman. My supper
is all planned, and I can't be fashed with new things at this time of
Now, Frances, don't be cross, that's a dear! I want you to see Mr.
Hugh. Look, there he is this minute, crossing the green with Uncle
Frances looked; looked again, long and earnestly; then straightway
she fell into a great bustle. Dear me, Miss Margaret, run away now,
that's a good young lady. How can I be doing, and you all about the
kitchen like a ball of string? He's lame, the beautiful young
gentleman; you never told me he was lame. I did think as how we might
be doing with the cold fowl, and French fried potatoes and muffins, but
that's nothing to show the heart. Run away now, Miss, and if you was
going up-stairs, be so good as send me Polly. She's idling her time
away, I'll be bound, and not a soul to help me with my salad and
croquettes. Dear! dear! I be pestered out of my life, mostly.
Don't kill us, Frances! cried Margaret, as she ran away, laughing.
I really think the cold fowl will be quite enough.
Frances deigned no reply; and Margaret hastened up-stairs, to tell
the good news to Elizabeth. Elizabeth was in the sewing-room, waiting,
with plaintive dignity, till Margaret should please to go over the rest
of the table-cloths; but at the tidings of the advent of a dear and
honored guest, she dropped thimble and scissors, and rose hastily,
declaring that the Blue Room must be cleaned instantly, and put in
order for Mr. Montfort's nephew.
But you swept it yesterday, Elizabeth, and I dusted all the
ornaments myself, and put them back in place. It only needs a few fresh
flowers, I am sure, said Margaret.
Elizabeth turned on her a face of affectionate reproach. Miss
Margaret, you don't mean that. Mr. Montfort's own nephew, and the room
not touched to-day! I'll go this minute and see to it. But if you would
pick out the towels you think he would like best, Miss, please;
gentlemen do be that fussy about towels, as there's no pleasing some of
them, though being Mr. Montfort's nephew, likely he'll be different.
Give him the finest huckaback, and Mr. Montfort is easy satisfied, so
long as there's no fringes. He never could abide fringe to his towels,
and there's no person with sense as wouldn't agree with him. And if you
would see to the bureau-scarf and the flowers, Miss Margaretthere!
she's gone, and not a word about what table-napkins I am to use! I like
to see them young, so I do, but they're terrible heedless. I expect I'd
best put the finest out, for Mr. Montfort's nephew.
CHAPTER IV. UNCLE JOHN'S IDEA
Margaret, I have an idea!
I am so glad, Uncle John; your ideas are always pleasant ones,
especially when they make your eyes twinkle. Is this about more dogs?
No, no, child. Do you think I have no soul except for dogs? I was
thinkingwhy, you see,this is a delightful fellow, this nephew of
Isn't he, Uncle? I never saw a more interesting person, I think.
How well he talks, and how much he knows!
Yes, and right-minded, too; singularly right-minded. Jim has done
well, certainly, by his children, and is very fortunate in them. H'm!
yes. Who would have thought, thirty years ago, that things would have
turned out in this way? Old Jim!
Here Mr. Montfort fell into a brown study, and only roused himself
after some time, to ask Margaret what were her orders for the day.
Why, Uncle John! And you have never told me your idea.
Bless me! so I haven't. Age, my dear child, age! Such a fine idea
as it is, too. Listen, then! as I was saying, Hugh Montfort is a
Yes, Uncle John.
And Peggy Montfort is a charming girl.
Certainly she is. Dear Peggy!
We may not unreasonably infer, therefore, that other members of the
family may be charming also. Now, my idea is this. Peggy is not going
home this summer; why would it not be a good plan to send for her
nearest sisterJean, isn't she?to come here and meet her brother and
sister, and all have a good time together? What do you say?
Uncle John! I say that you are the very cleverest person in the
world, as well as the dearest.
A little house-party, you see, Mr. Montfort went on, beaming with
pleasure at the delight that shone in Margaret's face. Andwe shall
want another lad, it seems to me, possibly two lads. Why not ask young
Merryweather and his brother for a couple of weeks? You liked the young
Oh, certainly, Uncle John! Margaret suddenly became interested in
tying up the Crimson Rambler that was straying over the verandah-rail.
Yes, indeed, I thought him very nice.
And you like the idea? You don't think it would make too much work,
too much responsibility, my dear little niece?
Margaret was still busy with the rose, which proved quite
refractory, but it was clear that she thought nothing of the sort. It
would be altogether delightful, she said; and as for carewhy, she had
been longing for something to take her mind off missing the children,
And to see Jean, too! she cried, suddenly emerging from the
rose-vine, with an unusual flush on her delicate cheek, and her gray
eyes shining; I have always wanted so to know the other Peggypods, as
you call them, Uncle John; and now to have Hugh here, and Jean
comingoh, Uncle John, you are so dear!
Then that is all right, said Uncle John; and I will go and
telegraph to old Jim and tell him to send the little girl along. Shall
we tell Peggy, or leave it for a surprise, eh? What do you say?
The surprise, by all means; Peggy loves a surprise, you know. Oh,
how can I wait a whole week to see her?
Mr. Montfort looked with pleasure at Margaret's sparkling eyes and
rosy cheeks. He had hit on the right thing, evidently. Young people
wanted young people; didn't he remember well enoughhere he fell into
a muse again, and said Rose! to himself two or three times. Perhaps
he was thinking of the Crimson Rambler.
Now, about rooms! he said, waking up after a few minutes. And we
must get more help, Margaret. Frances
I'll tell Elizabeth first, I think, said Margaret, thoughtfully.
She has a way of breaking things gradually to Frances, and taking the
edge off them; she is really very clever about it.
Elizabeth is a treasure, said Mr. Montfort. So is Frances, of
course, a treasureonly with dragon attachment.
And as for the room, Uncle Johnlet me see! Peggy's own room is
big enough for her and Jean, and I am quite sure they would like to be
together. Then there are the two little east rooms that are very
pleasantor we could give the two Mr. Merryweathers the big nursery.
That's it! said Mr. Montfort, decidedly. Boys like the nursery;
it was made for boys. Nothing breakable in it except the crockery, and
plenty of room for skylarking. Yes, my dear, get the nursery ready for
themif they come! he added. We are counting our chickens in fine
style, Margaret. Suppose we find that Jean is in San Francisco and the
Merryweathers in Alaska.
Oh, they won't be! cried Margaret. They wouldn't have the heart
to spoil our party. I have read about house-parties all my life, and to
think that I am going to have one! Why, it is a fairy tale, Uncle
So it is, my dear; so it is. You are the fairy princess, and I am
the old magicianor the bear, if you like better, that used to be a
prince when he was young.
The king that used to be a bear would be more like it, said
Margaret, gaily. How about John Strong, Mr. Montfort?
John Strong was a useful fellow! said her uncle, gravely. I had a
regard for John; he is getting lazy now, and rheumatic besides, and he
neglects his roses shamefully, but there are still points about John.
Bring me my old hat, and the pruning-shears, and you shall see him in
the flesh, Miss Margaret.
Margaret enjoyed nothing more than what she called a rose-potter
with her uncle. He was never weary of tending his favorite flowers, and
handled and spoke of them as if they were real persons. Coming now to
join him, with the great shears, and the faithful old straw hat in
which, as John Strong the gardener, she had first seen the beloved
uncle, she found him bending over a beautiful La France with anxious
My dear, this lovely person is not looking well to-day. Something
is wrong with her.
Oh, Uncle, I am sorry. She had her bath last night, I know, for I
gave it to her myself. What do you think is the matter? To me, she
looks as silvery-lovely as usual; but you have a special pair of eyes,
I know, for roses.
I fearI thinkah! here he is, the beast! Yes, Margaret; a
caterpillar, curled upsee him! Right in the heart of this exquisite
bud. No wonder the whole plant has sickened; she is very sensitive, La
France. There, Madame, he is gone. Now, a little shower of quassia,
just to freshen you up; eh? See, Margaret, how gratefully the beautiful
creature responds. Now, Jack here,he passed on to a Jacqueminot
rose, covered with splendid crimson blossoms,Jack is thick-skinned,
quite a rhinoceros by contrast with La France or the Bride. Here
areonetwofivemy patience! here are seven aphides on his poor
leaves, and yet he has not curled up so much as the edge of one. Take
him for all in all, Jack is as good a fellow as I know. Responsive,
cordial, ready for anythingnot expecting to have the whole world
waiting on him, as some of these people doah, Hugh! Finished your
letters? That's right!
Hugh Montfort, who had come in unobserved, was leaning on his stick,
watching them with some amusement.
Who is this Jack, if I may ask, Uncle John? He seems to be a rather
remarkable sort of chap.
Mr. Montfort looked slightly confused. Only my fantastic way of
speaking of my roses, he said. They seem like real people to me, and
I am apt to call them by their names. A shame, to be sure, to take such
liberties with the General. Permit me to present you in due form! M. le
Général Jacqueminot, I have the honor to present to you Mr. Hugh
Montfort, my nephew, andmay I say admirer? The General is sensitive
You may indeed! said Hugh, bowing gravely to the splendid plant.
General, your most obedient servant! I have known others of your
family, some of them, I may say, intimately, and I can truly say that I
never saw a finer specimen of the race.
The General glowed responsive, and Mr. Montfort glowed too, with
pleasure. Fond of roses? he said; that's good! that's good! why,
boy, you seem to have a great many of my tastes. How's that, hey? your
father never knew one flower from another.
There was a very tender light in Hugh's eyes as he returned his
uncle's look. When I was a little chap, sir, he said, my father used
to tell me a good deal about you and Uncle Roger, the two best fellows
he ever knew. I used to thinkand I think stillthat if I could be
like them in anything I should do well; so I took to flowers because
you loved them, and to books because they were Uncle Roger's delight.
The big things seemed pretty big, but I thought the little ones would
be better than nothing.
The glow deepened on John Montfort's cheek, and the light in his
eyes; in Margaret's eyes the quick tears sprang; and with one impulse
she and her uncle held out their hands. Hugh grasped them both, and
there was a moment of silence that was better than speech. Hugh was the
first to break it. I have two new friends! he said, in his sweet,
cordial voice. This day is better than I dreamed, and that is saying a
good deal. But now, go on with the roses, Uncle John, please; there are
several kinds here that I do not know. What is this cream-colored
Why, that, Hugh, is my special pride. That is a sport of my own
raising; Victoria, I call her. She took a first prize at the flower
show last year. We were proud, weren't we, Margaret?
Indeed we were, Uncle John. Think, Hugh, she had two hundred and
seven buds and blossoms when we sent her. She looked like a snow-drift
at sunrise; didn't you, Victoria?
Could you send a plant of this size without injury? Ah! I see; pot
sunk. Well, she is a marvel of beauty, certainly. I have some slips
coming from home for you, Uncle; the box ought to be here to-day or
to-morrow. There are one or two things that I think you may not have.
But you have a noble collection; what a joy a rose-garden is!
Mine used to be the greatest pleasure I had, said Mr. Montfort,
until I took to cultivating another kind of flower, the human
variety. He pinched Margaret's ear affectionately, and she returned
the pinch with a confidential pat on his arm.
For many years, he continued, I lived something of a hermit life,
Hugh. There were reasonsno matter nowat all events I preferred
solitude, and save for my good aunt, your great-aunt Faith, about whom
Margaret will have a great deal to tell you, I saw practically no one
from year's end to year's end. Very foolish, as I am now aware;
criminally foolish. I have got beyond all that, thank Heaven! During
this secluded period, my garden, and my roses in particular, were my
chief resource, next to my books. Indeed, in summer time the books had
to take the second place, and it should be so. You remember Bacon,
Hugh: 'God Almighty first planted a garden; it is the purest of human
pleasures,' etc. I used to know that essay by heart. In summer time,
the Great Book, sir, the Book of Nature, is opened for us, spread open
by a divine hand; it were thankless as well as stupid to refuse to
study it. So I studied my garden first, and after that, my fields and
woods and pastures. Great reading in a broken pasture! When I wanted
human companionshipapart from that sweet and gracious influence of
her who was my second motherI found it in my friends between the
covers, who were always ready to talk or be silent, as my mood
inclined. I thought I did well enough with Shakespeare and Montaigne
and the rest; I have learned now that one living voice, speaking in
love and kindness, is worth them all for 'human nature's daily food.'
Margaret listened, wondering. Her uncle had seldom said so much
about his own life even to her, his housemate and intimate companion
these two years; while Hugh, without a word, simply from some power of
silent sympathy that lay in him, had drawn out this frank speech a few
hours after their first meeting. She wondered; and then asked herself,
why should she wonder, since she herself felt the same drawing toward
her new-found relative. This must be what it is like to have a
brother! she said to herself; and felt her heart quicken with a new
sense of comfort and happiness. Such a pleasant world! said Margaret.
CHAPTER V. A VISION
Hugh Montfort was having a delightful morning. He had been at
Fernley three days now, and already knew every nook and corner on the
place. With his uncle's consent he had appropriated for his own use the
little summer-house, covered with clematis and York and Lancaster
roses, that looked out over the south wall of the garden, and away
toward the sea. Here he had brought his desk (an old one belonging to
his father, that Margaret had found in the garret), and had tacked up a
shelf for a few favorite books; and here he was sitting, on the fairest
of June days, with a volume of Greek plays open before him, considering
the landscape, and enjoying himself thoroughly.
Hugh was no less delighted with his uncle and cousin than they with
him. Always and necessarily a student and observer rather than a man of
action, he felt an instant sympathy with the man and woman of books and
thought. He loved dearly his own family, active, strenuous people,
overflowing with strength and energy; but he often felt himself out of
place among them, and reproached himself with the frequent languor and
headache that so often kept him from sharing in their full-throated,
whole-hearted mirth. He had graduated from a Western university, and
was now going to study for a post-graduate degree at Harvard; he was
tired, and the quiet at Fernley, the sense of perfect congeniality with
his uncle, and Margaret's serene face and musical, even-toned voice,
were like balm to his over-strung nerves.
This morning his head ached, and he did not feel like study. The
book open before him gave him a kind of moral support, but he did
hardly more than glance at it from time to time. His eyes roved far and
wide over the lovely prospect that lay outside, broad stretches of
sunny, rolling meadows, dotted with clumps of trees, and framed in the
arched opening of the summer-house. This summer-house had been a
favorite playhouse of his father and uncles in their boyhood. He knew a
dozen stories about it; and now his eyes turned to the lattice walls,
carved everywhere with the familiar initials, and the devices of the
four brothers Montfort: John's egg and Jim's oyster, Roger's book and
Dick's ship. What glorious boys they must have been! This was where
they used to play Curtius, and Monte Cristo, and all manner of games;
leaping over the wall into the meadow below, deep in fern and daisies,
or swinging themselves down by the hanging branches of the old willow
that peeped round one side of the arch. Glorious boys! And then Hugh
thought of his own brothers, and said Good old Jim! under his breath.
Thus musing, he was aware of a voice under his latticed bower, as of
some one in the meadow below; a woman's voice, calm and melodious as
Margaret's own, but with a deeper and graver note in it.
What did he want then, a Lovely Person? Did he want her to love
him? Well, she did, ardently; so that is all right.
A rustling followed, and the voice spoke again:
No, he mustn't kiss her; that is not permitted. He may lie at her
feet, and gaze at her with his large, brown eyes, Philip her King, but
no kissing. She is surprised at his suggesting such a thing.
Hugh sat mute, in great perplexity. What interview was this, at
which he was unwillingly assisting? Were two rustic lovers below,
taking their ease under the old willow, whose twisted roots made an
admirable seat, as he knew? And, if so, should he be guilty of the
greater offence by keeping still, or by going away? He knew every board
in the summer-house floor, and there was not one that would not betray
him with a loud creak; on the whole, it seemed best to sit still; after
all, they need never know that any one was there. Hark! the young
womanthe voice was certainly youngwas speaking again:
He was perfectly beautiful, that was what he was. Yes! he had the
loveliest eyes in the world, without any exception; and his ears were a
dream of perfection, and, as for his coat and waistcoat, words fail her
to describe them. Now if he will sit still, she will tell him
something; no, not on her dress; a little farther off, a precious
A curious sound followed; something between a loud sneeze and an
equally loud yawn, accompanied with lively and prolonged rustling of
the willow branches; but no articulate word from her companion. She
seemed satisfied, however, for she went on,a delightful quality of
voice; Hugh felt it creeping in his ears like music:
That is right. Yes, she understands perfectly; she knows all about
it, and she loves him to distraction. Well, Lovely One, that Lady is a
Cat; that is what she is.
Another sneeze and yawn, louder than before.
Precisely; you think so, too. A cat! 'cat, puss, tit, grimalkin,
tabby, brindle; whoosh!' was he fond of Dickens, a Pink-nosed Pearl?
She is no more sick than you are, Beloved. She has been, no doubt, and
now she has forgotten how to be anything else, but she is liable to
find out. Your Aunt, beloved, proposes to put this lady through a
Course of Sprouts. Tu-whit! your Aunt has spoken. We may also remark,
in this connection only, tu-whoo!
Her companion's only reply to this speech was a loud breathing,
which might be caused by emotion, or by heat and fatigue; at all
events, he did not seem inclined to speak. A thought flashed through
Hugh's mind,the man might be a deaf-mute. What a terrible affliction!
It was bad enough to be lame; but to be deaf, and in company with a
girl with a voice like that! Hark! she was speaking again, slowly and
meditatively, rather as if talking to herself than to some one else:
Your Aunt has not got her plan entirely laid out yet. She knows
what must finally happen: the patient must be got out of that house,
and away on a sea-voyage; but there will have to be various occurrences
first. Your Aunt's ingenuity, Adonis, will be put to a severe strain.
At present your Aunt is alone, and in difficulties. Many oxen come
about her, fat bulls of Bashan compass her on every side, as the
Scripture hath it; you are not acquainted with the Scripture, Adonis,
so there is no earthly use in your putting on that look of keen
intelligence. But there may be balm in Gilead; I think Gilead may be in
this very place above our head, my Popolorum Tibby. Now, what is the
matter with him?
At this moment a sound was heard,a bark, distant at first, but
coming momently nearer; a loud, joyous, inquiring bark. It was answered
from below by a sound combining bark, sneeze, and snort; there was a
violent shaking of the branches, and, next moment, a brown and white
setter sprang out from under the wall, and stood at gaze. Another
instant, and a second dog, his exact image, appeared on the brow of the
slope, careering toward him. There was a rapturous duet of barking and
sneezing, and then the two swept away over the brow, and were gone.
That is the most heartless puppy I ever saw, the voice said,
slowly. A woodchuck, I suppose. 'Twas ever thus. The moral is, don't
make love to strange puppies, however beautiful; but he was lovely, and
he understood me. No more of him! The question is, what should I find
at the top of this beanstalkI should say, willow-tree? There is
ananswer toevery questionifyou only ask itquick enough!
The last words were spoken so low that Hugh did not catch their
import. Alarmed, however, by the continued rustling of the willow
branches, he rose hurriedly to his feet, and was about to steal away as
quietly as might be; but at that moment a hand was laid on the coping
of the wall,a brown hand, slender but muscular; the next moment an
arm followed, and a young woman swung herself across the opening, and,
leaning on the wall, looked full in his face.
It was the vision of an instant only; the lithe figure, the face
full of careless power, the deep-set blue eyes, startling into black as
they met his, while the slender brows met above them in angry
amazement; then one hand reached back to the willow branch, the girl
dropped from sight, and he heard her rustle from branch to branch, and
then heard the light, swift sound of running feet through the fern, and
dying away in the distance.
* * * * *
Is this a pleasant neighborhood, Margaret? asked Hugh, as they sat
on the verandah after dinner. Have you any pleasantafriends, of
your own age?
None of my own age, said Margaret. Indeed, our only near neighbor
is Mrs. Peyton, an invalid lady, whom I go to see quite often. She is
very charming, butno, there is no one else; the places are large and
scattered, you see, all about here. The next one on the other side
belongs to Miss Desmond, and she is always abroad, and has not been
here at all since I have.
You don't think she may have returned lately, without your knowing
No, I am sure she cannot; I heard of her only a few days ago, in
Egypt; Uncle John had a letter from her. Why do you ask, Hugh?
Ohidle curiosity; or curiosity, whether idle or not. Andthere
are no other young girls?
None; that is why I missed Peggy and Rita so terribly, as I was
telling you last night. Then the dear children came, and they were my
comfort and joy; I shall have them again when the summer is over; happy
day it will be when they come back. But, you see, having first the
girls and then the children has rather spoiled Uncle John and me, and
that is why it was so very particularly nice of you to come, Cousin
Suppose we drop the 'cousin,' and be just Hugh and Margaret?
suggested her cousin. I am used to having sisters about me, you know,
and don't know how to get along without them; some day it may be
'Sister Margaret.' Should you mind?
Margaret colored high with pleasure, and again the foolish tears
came into her eyes. I have wanted a brother all my life! she said,
simply; and again Hugh's smile told her that he understood all about
it. He was certainly a most wonderful person.
They sat in comfortable silence for a few minutes; thenI did not
tell the exact truth, said Margaret, when I said there were no young
people here. Just now it happens there is one, a newcomer, a girl of my
She paused. Yes? said Hugh, suggestively. Some one you know?
Yesand no! I have met her once. She is a Miss Wolfe, who has come
to be a sort of companion to Mrs. Peyton. A singular-looking girl, with
a most interesting face. I want to see her again; and yet,somehow,I
am rather afraid of her.
Is she formidable, this she-wolf?
Not formidable, butwell, I don't know how to describe her. She
impresses me as different from anybody I have ever seen. Wild is not
the word; Rita was wild, but it was something totally different.
Peggy is wild, too, said Hugh, wild as a mountain goat, or was,
before you took her in hand, Margaret. Is this young lady like Peggy?
Oh, not in the very least. She is not shy, not a bit; not shy, and
yet not bold. She seems simply absolutely without self-consciousness;
it is as if she said and did exactly what she felt like doing, with no
thought as to whether it waswell, customary or not. I am afraid I am
rather conventional, CousinI mean Hugh; not in thought, I hope,
butin temperament, perhaps. This girl strikes me very strangely; that
is the only way I can describe her. Yet she attracted me strongly, the
only time I saw her, which was the very day you came, by the way. I
ought to have gone over to see her before this. I think I will go this
evening, while you and Uncle John are having your after-supper smoke.
I think I would, said Hugh Montfort.
CHAPTER VI. ALI BABA
Margaret went over duly that evening, meaning to be very friendly to
the strange young woman; but it happened to be one of Mrs. Peyton's bad
times, and she sent down word that she needed Miss Wolfe, and could not
possibly spare her. Margaret left a civil message, and went home
disappointed, and yet the least bit relieved: she had rather dreaded a
long tête-à-tête with her new neighbor.
How absurd you are, Margaret Montfort, she said, severely, as she
walked across the park. Here you have been longing for a girl to talk
to, and the moment one comes, you are seized with what Peggy calls 'the
shyies,' just because she happens to be cut from a different pattern
from your own.
Hugh was on the verandah, waiting for her, and seemed really
disappointed when he heard that she had not seen Miss Wolfe; that
showed how wide and cordial his interest was, and how much thought he
took for others, Margaret told herself. What could he care about the
meeting of a cousin he had just begun to know with a girl whom he never
Next day, however, she forgot all about Miss Wolfe, for the time
being. Gerald and Philip Merryweather had accepted Mr. Montfort's
invitation with amazing alacrity, and Jean had telegraphed her rapture
of anticipation from Ohio. Uncle John and Hugh were left to their own
devices, while she plunged, with Elizabeth and Frances and Polly, into
intricacies of hospitable preparation. Stores must be ordered, linen
examined, silver and china looked out. In regard to the silver,
Margaret had an experience that showed her that, even after two years,
she did not know all the resources of Fernley House. Her uncle called
her into his study after breakfast, and handed her a key of curious
pattern. This is the key of the iron cupboard, Margaret, he said.
Seeing her look of surprise, he added, You surely know about the iron
cupboard, my dear?
No, Uncle John. I remember hearing Aunt Faith speak of something of
the kind once, but I did not rightly understand, and, being shy
then,it was before I knew our Dear so well,I did not like to ask.
Oh, there is no mystery, my child. No secret staircase this time,
no ghosts in velvet jackets. But in a house like Fernley, that has been
inhabited for many generations, there is necessarily an accumulation of
certain kinds of things, above all, silver. We keep out all that an
ordinary family would be likely to use, and the rest is stored in this
safe cupboard, in case of fire or robbery. Very stupid of me not to
have told my careful little housekeeper of this before. To tell the
truth, I forget all about this hoard most of the time, and might not
have thought of it now, if Elizabeth had not come to me with an
important face and asked me if I did not think Miss Margaret ought to
have the opportunity of putting out The Silver if she wished to do so,
being as the house was to be full of company. That meant that Elizabeth
herself wanted to display to the astonished eyes of Hugh and the
Merryweather boys the resources of the house that she and Frances rule
(on the whole, wisely), through you and me, their deputies and
servants. I see no reason why the good souls should not be gratified do
On the contrary, I see every reason why they, and I too, should be
gratified. Uncle John, I am glad I did not know about it before. It is
the most delightful thing about Fernley, that one never seems to come
to the end of it. I thought I knew everything by this time, and here is
another enchanting mystery; for say what you will, Uncle John, an iron
cupboard full of old silver, that nobody knows about,or hardly
anybody,is a mystery. Now I am sure there are others, too; I
shall never feel again that I know all about the house. Some day, when
I am old and gray, I shall come upon another secret staircase, or a
trap-door, or a hidden jewel-casket, or a lost will.
Why, as to jewel-caskets, said Mr. Montfort, smiling, there is
perhaps something that might be said; but as you say, it would never do
to find out everything at once, May Margaret. Run away now, and examine
your tea-kettles; there are about forty, if I remember rightly.
Uncle John! is there really a jewel-casket? What do you mean? There
cannot be any more than those Aunt Faith had, surely.
Can't there? said Mr. Montfort, with a provoking smile. Doubtless
you know best, my dear. And not another word would he say on the
subject; but he told Margaret where to find the iron cupboard, and she
ran off in such a flutter that Peggy would hardly have known her model
and mentor. Old silver was one of Margaret's weak points; indeed, she
had a strong feeling about heirlooms of every kind, and treasured
carefully every scrap of paper even that had any association with past
Seeing Hugh in the library, she called to him. Hugh! come with me
and see the Treasure Chamber of the Montforts. Don't you want to see
the ancestral silver?
Of course I do! said Hugh, laying down his book and coming to join
her. Ancestral silver? My mother went to housekeeping with six
teaspoons and a butter-knife, and thought herself rich. Uncle John
wanted to send a trunkful of family silver, I have been told, but the
Pater refused to be bothered with it. Poor Mother would have been glad
enough of it, I fancy, but in those days he was masterful, and bent on
roughing it, and would not hear of anything approaching luxury, or even
convenience. Where is this wonderful treasury?
Come, and you shall see. Uncle John has told me how to find it.
Come through this door; here we are in his own study, you see. Nowlet
me see! I will light this lampfor the cupboard is darkwhile you
look and find Inigo Jones.
Yes. A tall blue morocco quarto, about the middle of the fourth
shelf of the bookcase behind Uncle John's desk. Ah! I see him!
Springing forward, Margaret drew the stately volume from its place.
Look! she cried. A keyhole. Hugh, isn't this exactly like the
'Mysteries of Udolpho?' 'Inigo Jones' is his joke, you see, or
somebody's joke. Do you mind if I turn the key, Hugh?
Turn away! said Hugh, much amused at the excitement of his staid
With a trembling hand Margaret turned the key, and gave a pull, as
she had been told. A section of the bookcase, with its load of books,
swung slowly forward, revealing a dark opening. Margaret stepped in,
and Hugh followed, holding the lamp aloft.
Well, upon my word! he said. I never heard of anything like this,
out of the 'Arabian Nights.'
Margaret was looking about her, too much absorbed for words. The
Iron Cupboard was a recess some ten feet deep and seven or eight wide,
lined with shelves. These shelves were literally packed with silver,
some in boxes, much in bags, glimmering in the half-light like dwarfish
ghosts; but the greater part uncovered, glittering in tarnished
splendor wherever the lamplight fell. Rows upon rows of teapots, tall
and squat, round and oval, chased, hammered, and plain; behind them,
coffee-pots looking down, in every possible device. There were silver
pitchers and silver bowls; porringers and fruit-dishes, salvers and
platters. Such an array as might dazzle the eyes of any silversmith of
Well, Margaret, said Hugh, somewhat impressed, but more amused, at
sight of all this hoarded treasure, what do you say? I shall leave the
expression of emotion to you.
But Margaret was in no jesting mood. With clasped hands she turned
to her cousin. Oh, Hugh, she cried, isn't it wonderful? to think of
all those beautiful things living here alone,I don't mean alone, but
all by themselvesyear after year, with no one to see them, or take
them out and polish them. Oh, I never saw such things! Look at this
perfect pitcher, will you? did you ever see anything so graceful? This
must come in, if nothing else does. The milk shall be poured from it
from this day forward, as long as I am the Mistress of Fernley. That is
just a play-name, of course, she hastened to explain, blushing as she
did so. Uncle John gave it to me in sport, when I first began to try
to keep house.
It seems to me a most appropriate name, said Hugh. There has
never been another, has there? in this generation, I mean. Uncle John
was never married, was he?
No; isn't it a pity? I have so often wondered why. I asked Aunt
Faith once,well, Hugh, of course she was Mistress of Fernley as long
as she lived, though she would always speak of herself as a
visitor,and she only sighed and shook her head, and said, 'Poor John!
poor dear lad!' and then changed the subject. Butdo you suppose any
one can hear us here, Hugh?
I do not, Margaret. I should say that you might safely tell me
anything, of however fearful a nature, in this iron-bound retreat.
Oh, it really isn't anythingor perhaps it is notbut my own
fancy. I have built up a kind of air-castle of the past, that is all.
You know Uncle John's passion for roses? Well, and sometimes, when he
is sitting quietly and has forgotten that any one is near, he will say
to himself, 'Rose! Rose!' softly, just like that, and as if it were
something he loved to say. I have wondered whether he once cared a
great deal for some one whose name was Rose.What do you think, Hugh?
and she died, and that is why he has never married. There! I have never
spoken of this before, not even to Peggy. Don't tell any one, will
She looked anxiously in her cousin's face, and met the grave, sweet
look that always made her feel safe and quiet; she did not know how
else to express it.
Tell any one? No indeed, my dear little cousin. It is a young
girl's fancy, and a very sweet and graceful one.
Then you don't think it may be true? asked Margaret, disappointed.
Certainly it may be true; I should think it highly probable that
something of the sort had happened, to keep a man like Uncle John
single all his days; butwell, I don't see that anything can be done
about it now, do you?
Hugh, I am afraid you are practical, after all! said Margaret.
And I was hoping you would turn out romantic.
Hugh only laughed, and asked her if she had chosen all the silver
she wanted. This question put a stop at once to Margaret's romantic
visions. Enough? but, she had only just begun, she said. Did he think
she was going to take one pitcher and leave all the rest of these
And we have not explored the boxes yet! she cried. See, they all
have dear little ivory labels. Do reach me down that fat square box,
please! 'Col. Montfort's Tankard, 1814.' Oh, that was our
great-great-grandfather, Hugh! Do let us open this!
The black leathern box, being opened, revealed a stately
glass-bottomed tankard, with a dragon's curling tail for a handle. On
the front was an inscription, Presented to Col. Peter Montfort, in
token of respect and affection, by the officers of his mess, July,
His portrait is up in the long gallery, said Margaret. Don't you
remember, with the high ruffled stock? I don't see how he could speak,
with his chin so very high in the air. Now I must have that oval green
case; I am sure that is something interesting. 'General Washington's
Gift.' Oh, Hugh!
This time Hugh was as much interested as she, and both bent eagerly
over the box as Margaret opened it. The case was of faded green
morocco, lined with crimson satin. Within was an oval cup or bowl, of
exquisite workmanship; it was what is called a loving-cup, and Margaret
looked in vain for an inscription.
There must be one! said Hugh. Papa Patriæ would not have
been so unkind as to leave such a thing unmarked. Look on the bottom,
Margaret looked, and there, to be sure, was a tolerably long
inscription, in minute script.
Hold the light nearer, please; I can hardly read this, it is so
fine. Oh, listen to this, Hugh! 'For my worthy Friend and Host, Roger
Montfort Esquire, and his estimable Lady, in grateful Recollection of
my agreeable Stay beneath their hospitable Roof. From their obliged
Friend and Servant, G. Washington. 1776.'
That is a treasure! said Hugh, handling the bowl with
reverent care. I knew that General Washington had spent some days at
Fernley, but I never heard of this relic of his stay. Margaret, this is
really extremely interesting. Go on, and open more of them. Perhaps we
shall find tokens of all the Continental Congress. I shall look for at
least a model of a kite in silver, with the compliments of B. Franklin.
Suppose we try this next. It looks very inviting.
He took down an oblong box of curious pattern, and opened it. What
upon earthMargaret, what are these? Grape-scissors? Asparagus-tongs?
They don't look like either.
I should think not! said Margaret, taking the object from his
hand. Why, it is a pair of curling-tongs. What queer things! No
inscription on these; there isn't room for one. Here is a piece of
paper in the box, though.
She took up a yellowish scrap, and read: 'My niece Jemima's
curling-tongs, with which she, being impatient to make a Show above her
Sisters, did burn off one Side of her Hair. Preserved as a Warning to
young Women by me, Tabitha Montfort. 1803.' Poor Jemima! She was
punished enough, without being held up to posterity in this way.
She was an extravagant young lady, said Hugh, with her silver
tongs; I think it may have been good for her soul, if not her hair, to
suffer this infliction. Are you going to keep these out, Margaret, for
use? I do hope you will be more careful than Aunt Jemima was. Your
hairexcuse me!looks as if you had not used the irons for some
Margaret laughed, and patted the smooth waves of her hair. It is
some time! she said. Yours, on the other hand, Hugh, has more curl
than may be altogether natural. I may have suspected you of the tongs,
but at least I have had the charity to keep my suspicions to myself.
You are extremely good, Miss Montfort. What have you got hold of
'Dear Johnny's Rattle!' said Margaret, reading the label on a
small box. I wonder if that was Uncle John. See! silver bells; what a
She shook a merry peal from the tiny bells. Hugh, who had been
rummaging at the other end of the cupboard, replied with a clear blast
blown on a small silver trumpet, which he now held up in triumph. Here
we are! he cried. This is the instrument for me. This was presented
to Captain Hugh Montfort of the navy. What on earth could the gallant
commander do with this at sea?
Whistle for a wind, of course, said Margaret, merrily. What else?
Come here and look at Grandfather Montfort's gold-bowed spectacles;
they are big enough for an ox.
So the talk went on merrily, and box after box, bag after bag, was
opened, sometimes with astonishing results. The bygone Montforts seemed
to have been fond of silver, and to have vied with one another in their
ingenious applications of it to domestic uses.
Many of the objects had historic or personal interest, and the two
cousins might have spent the day there, if Mr. Montfort had not
suddenly appeared, asking whether he was to have any dinner or not.
Margaret had her arms full by this time, while Hugh was trying his best
to carry a splendid fruit-bowl, a salver, two pitchers, and three
vases, all at once. Mr. Montfort burst out laughing at sight of the
pair. Cassim and Ali Baba! he cried. And I, the Robber Captain, with
not a single one of all the Forty Thieves at my back. Margaret, for
charity's sake! you are not going to bring all that rubbish into the
house? Isn't there enough already? I'm sorry I told you anything about
Margaret looked up, guilty but happy, from her effort at capturing a
fourth vase with her little finger, the only one left unencumbered.
Dear Uncle, you never would be so cruel! she said. See! I have only
taken one chocolate-pot, and there are five, such beauties! Yes, I know
we don't drink chocolate, but some of our guests might, and you would
not have me neglect the guests, would you, Uncle John?
Sooner than have a guest take his chocolate from a china pot, said
Mr. Montfort, gravely, I would go to the stake. At present, if you
will pardon a very old joke, my dear Margaret, I should prefer to go to
the beefsteak, which I have reason to think is on the table at this
moment. Come out, both of you young thieves, and let Inigo Jones go in
CHAPTER VII. MORE ARRIVALS
The great day came, the day of the arrivals. Jean was the first to
come, by an early train, having arrived in New York the night before,
where Hugh met her and brought her in triumph to Fernley. Margaret was
at the door to receive her, and Peggy's sister had no cause to complain
of the warmth of her reception. She was a slenderer Peggy, with the
same blue, honest eyes, the same flaxen hair and rosy cheeks. Her
dress, however, was far more tasteful and neat than Peggy's had been on
her first arrival. Margaret recalled the green flannel, all buttoned
awry, and looked with approval on Jean's pretty gray travelling-dress.
Dear Jean! she said, kissing her cousin warmly. Most welcome to
Fernley, dear child! Oh, I am so glad to see you! I have been counting
the days, Jean.
[Illustration: SHE WAS A SLENDERER PEGGY, WITH THE SAME BLUE,
Oh, so have I! said Jean, looking up with a shy, sweet
smile,Peggy's very own smile. Margaret kissed her again for it. The
last day did seem awfully long, Cousin Margaretwell, Margaret, then!
I'm sure I never call you anything but Peggy's Margaret when I think of
you. Peggy hasn't come yet?
Not yet. She will be here this afternoon, on the three o'clock
train. She knows nothing about your coming, Jean. In her very last
letter, she was talking about being glad to come here, and so on, and
she said the only thing wanting would be you.
Oh, goody! I'm awfully gladthat she doesn't know, I mean. It will
be just lovely to surprise her. Dear old Peg! Jean relapsed into
bashful silence when Margaret took her into the library to greet her
uncle; but Mr. Montfort's smile and cordial greeting soon put her at
Isn't he just lovely? she whispered to Margaret, as they went
up-stairs. I was afraid he would be awful, somehow, but he isn't a
bit; he's just lovely.
Margaret assented, making a mental note of the fact that this child
seemed to have but two adjectives in her vocabulary. Peggy will see to
that! she said to herself. Peggy has improved so wonderfully in her
English this last year. She will be quicker than I to notice and take
up the little mistakes.
This was not strictly true, though modest Margaret meant it so.
Peggy certainly had learned much at school, but her teachers had no
expectation of her becoming an eminent English scholar.
I have put you with Peggy, said Margaret, leading the way into the
pretty room, hung with red-poppy chintz, where Peggy had spent a few
sad and many happy hours. I thought you would rather be together.
Oh, yes, indeed! You are awfully kind, CousMargaret. I haven't
seen Peggy for a year, you know. We missed her awfully at Christmas, of
course, but she had a lovely time here; and it would have been awful if
she had come home and got the measles, wouldn't it?
Yes, we did have a very good time. The children were here,Basil
and Susan D.,and they and Peggy were fast friends. Oh, yes, it was a
great holiday. Now, dear, you will want to rest a little, so I will
leave you. Peggy will not be here till after lunch, so you will have
time for a good rest, and to explore the garden, too, if you like. I am
going now to arrange my flowers.
Oh, might I help? I am not a bit tired, and I just love to arrange
flowers. Do let me help, Margaret!
Very well, said Margaret, with a little inward sigh. She had her
own ideas, and very definite ones, about the arrangement of flowers, in
which she had exquisite taste; and her recollection of the way in which
Peggy used to squeeze handfuls of blossoms tight into a vase, without
regard to color or form, made her dread the assistance so heartily
proffered; but Jean was quicker than Peggy had been at her age, and one
glance at Margaret's first effect, a rainbow combination of
sweet-peas, showering over the side of a crystal bowl, filled her with
ambition to emulate its beauty. The morning passed happily and busily,
the more so that Hugh came in presently, with a chapter of Thoreau that
Margaret really must hear! He read well, and his taste and Margaret's
being much alike, they spent many pleasant hours together, he reading
aloud, she with her flowers or her work. Jean, who had never heard of
Thoreau, and was not bookish, tried to listen, but did not make much of
it. She fell to meditating instead, and her bright eyes wandered
curiously from one intent face to the other. Hugh never thought of
reading aloud at home. To be sure, he was the only one who cared about
reading, or had time for it. He and Margaret seemed to know each other
very well, seeing what a short time he had been here. Jean, with all
the eager romance of fifteen, straightway began the building of an
air-castle, which seemed to her a fine structure indeed. Meantime, Hugh
and Margaret, all unconscious of her scrutiny, were enjoying themselves
'As polishing expresses the vein in marble and grain in wood, so
music brings out what of heroic lurks anywhere. . . . When we are in
health, all sounds fife and drum to us; we hear notes of music in the
air, or catch its echoes dying away when we awake in the dawn. Marching
is when the pulse of the hero beats in unison with the pulse of Nature,
and he steps to the measure of the universe; then there is true courage
and invincible strength.'
How beautiful that is! said Margaret.
Yes; that is the particular passage I wanted to read to you. Have
you ever had that feeling, fancying that you wake to the sound of
music? I often have, when I have been sleeping out in the opennever
No, said Margaret, I don't think I ever have, Hugh; but what a
pleasant thing it must be! I have never slept in the open, but even if
I should, I fear my waking would be plain prose, like myself.
Hugh laughed, and glanced at her affectionately. I haven't found
much prose about you, Margaret, he said. If I had, I should not have
read you my secrets when Thoreau tells them for me. That reminds me, do
you sing? I have not heard you, have I?
No; I wish I did, for I love music very much. Oh, I sing a very
little, enough to join in a chorusif there ever were a chorus at
Fernley. I used to enjoy Rita's singing intensely; she has a very sweet
Some one was singing last night, Hugh went on; I don't know why,
but this passage reminds meI heard a woman's voice singing,a
Indeed? Where were you? Not in your room? I am sure there is no one
in the house who sings.
No; it was pretty warm, and the moonwell, you remember, it was
all you could do to go to bed yourself, Margaret. After Virtue, in the
shape of yourself and Uncle John, had gone to bed, Vice, in my shape,
wandered about the garden, I don't know how long. It was wonderful
there, with the trees, and the smell of the roses and box, andand the
whole thing, you know. Down at the foot of the garden, over in the
meadow below, some one was singing; some one with a remarkable voice;
rather deep-toned, not loud, and yet full, with an extraordinary degree
of melody; or, so it seemed at a distance. I wondered who it was, that
was all. You have no idea, I suppose?
No! I wonder too, very much. No one from this house, I am sure of
that. Now that I think of it, though, Polly singsPolly, the under
housemaid; she has a pretty little bird-like voice, but nothing such as
you describe. I'll make inquiries, though
Oh, pray don't! said Hugh, hastily, I'd rather not! II mean, of
course, it is not of the smallest consequence, Margaret. It is pleasant
to hear singing at night, but perhaps all the pleasanter when the
singer is unseen and unknown. Now let us go on with our Thoreau.
* * * * *
Margaret! Margaret! Margaret!
It was all Peggy could say at first. All the way up the avenue her
heart had been beating high; at sight of the brown chimney-stacks of
Fernley, it seemed to give a great jump up in her throat; and when the
carriage swept round the curve, and she saw the whole front of the
great house, and Margaret, her own Margaret, standing on the steps,
with arms outstretched to welcome her, there was nothing for it but to
cry out, with the full power of her healthy lungs. Almost before Bannan
could stop the horses, she had scrambled out, and was on her cousin's
neck, strangling her with hugs, and smothering her with kisses at the
same instant. Margaret! Margaret! I am really here! Do you know that I
am really here?
Speech was impossible for Margaret, but a voice from behind broke
Come, come! what is all this? My niece done to death on my own
doorstep? Let go, Peggy, and come and kill me instead. I am older, and
shall be less missed.
Peggy loosed her hold, somewhat abashed, but received an embrace
from her uncle so warm that she brightened again instantly.
Oh, Uncle John, how do you do? It was only that I was so glad to
see my darling Margaret. Did I hurt you, dearest? I have pulled all
your lovely hair down; Margaret, I am more clumsy than ever, I do
Dear Peggy! as if I cared whether you are clumsy or not! though it
is convenient to have the use of my windpipe, I confess. Well, and here
you are, indeed. Why, Peggy!
What is it, Margaret?
Oh, dear! what is the matter? Is my hat wrong side before? I know
my necktie is crooked, but I couldn't help that, truly I couldn't,
Margaret; the strap is broken, and it will work round under my ear.
I'll mend it
I wasn't looking at your necktie, child. Peggy, you are taller than
I am! How dare you, miss?
Oh, Margaret! I really thought I had done somethingwhy, yes, so I
am taller; but only just the least little bit, Margaret.
And your shoulderswhy, Peggy, you are a great big creature! How
can any one grow so in six months? We shall have to call you Brynhild.
What's that? asked Peggy, simply. I haven't grown enough to
understand outlandish words, Margaret, so you need not try them on me.
Oh,she looked around her with delighted eyes,how beautiful
everything looks, Uncle John. Why, the yellow birch has grown as much
as I have; it is quite a fat tree. Andyou have put out more
chestnuts, haven't you? Andoh, Uncle John, I haven't told you my
great news! The most wonderful news! I wouldn't write about it, because
I wanted to surprise you. Hugh, our Hugh, is coming East. He is
What is he? said another voice, and Hugh came forward laughing,
and took his sister in his arms. Well, little girl,big, enormous,
colossal little girl, how are you? Shut your eyes, Peg of Limavaddy, or
they will drop out, and then what should we do?
Hugh! what does it mean? Whenhow did you get here? You weren't to
start till next week.
So I wasn't, said Hugh, composedly. But you see I did. If you are
not glad to see me, Margaret will let me stay in the back kitchen, I am
sure, till you go away.
Peggy's only reply was a hug as powerful as the one she had given
Margaret; it set her brother coughing and laughing till the tears came
to his eye. My dear sister, he said, have you been studying grips
with a grizzly bear? I felt one rib go, if not two.
Not really, Hugh? I didn't really hurt you? cried Peggy,
No, no! not really. See now, Margaret wants you. Run along,
Peggy ran into the house, casting delighted glances all about her.
How beautiful the hall looks! Oh, Margaret, what flowers! why, it
is a perfect flower show! Did you do them all yourself? for me? Oh, you
darling! and again Margaret's breath was extinguished by a powerful
embrace. And, oh, the surprise of seeing Hugh! You know I love a
surprise. You planned it for me, didn't you, darling Margaret? You are
the most angelic
Peggy! Peggy! Peggy! no extravagance!
No, Margaret, I won't. Only how can I help it, when I am so happy,
and you are so
But here Margaret fairly laid her hand over Peggy's mouth. I did
not plan Hugh's coming, she said. I was as much surprised, and as
pleasantly, as you, Peggy. He came earlier than he had expected, on
account of some business for Uncle James. Only, we all agreed that we
would not tell you, because we knew your fondness for surprises. Do you
think you could bear another, Peggy, or is this enough for to-day?
What do you mean, Margaret? There can't be anything more. Nothing
could count after the joy of seeing Hugh. Oh, Margaret, isn't he dear?
Don't you love him?
Indeed I do! said Margaret, heartily. You never said half enough
about him, Peggy. Oh, we are such friends, Uncle John and Hugh and I.
But is there no other thing you can think of that you would like,
Peggy, dear? No one else you would like very, very much to see?
They were now at the door of Peggy's room, and Margaret's hand was
on the door. Peggy turned and looked at her in wonder. What do you
mean, Margaret? Why do you look like that? At this moment a sound was
heard on the other side of the door, something between a cry, a
sniffle, and a sob.
Who is in there? cried Peggy, her eyes opening to their fullest
and roundest extent.
Go in and see, said Margaret, and she opened the door and pushed
Peggy gently in, and shut it again.
She heard a great cry. Jean! my Jean! Oh, Peggy! Peggy! then
kissing and hugging; and then sounds which made her open the door and
come quickly into the room. Peggy and Jean were seated on the floor,
side by side, their heads on each other's shoulder, crying as if their
hearts would break.
CHAPTER VIII. HISTORY REPEATS ITSELF
What do you think of them?
Oh, I think they are just lovely. I like the tall one best, don't
you? Though the red-haired one is awfully nice, too.
Goose! I didn't mean them. I meant Uncle John and Margaret. Aren't
they dear? Did I say half enough about them, Jean?
No, not half. Margaret is just too lovely for anything, and Uncle
Johnwell, of course, I am awfully afraid of him, but he is just
Look here, young one! said Peggy the Venerable, gravely. Can't
you say anything except 'awful' and 'lovely?' I would enlarge my
vocabulary, if I were you.
Jean opened her eyes to their roundest. Vocabulary! What's that?
Don't tell me that you are going to set up for a school-teacher, Peggy.
Why, you used to say 'awful' yourself, all the time.
Oh, no, Jean, not quite all the time.
Well, awfully often, anyhow. I know you did.
Oh, Jean, I know I did. But first Margaret told me about it, and
then I began to notice for myself. I've been taking Special English
this year, and I find I notice more and more. It's really a pity, as
Margaret says, to have only two or three words and work them to death,
when there are so many good ones that we never use at all. Grace used
to call it 'Cruelty to Syllables.'
Well, what shall I say? I don't know anything else.
Yes, you do; don't be absurd, child. Margaret made me a list of
adjectives and adverbs once, I remember, the first time I was here; I
was just your age then, Jean, and I have no doubt I did say
'awfully' most of the time; anyhow, I did it enough to trouble Margaret
awvery much indeed. Let me see: there is 'very,' of course;
'remarkably, extremely, uncommonly, exceedingly, and excessively;' then
for adjectives, 'charming, delightful, pretty, exquisite, pleasant,
agreeable, entertaining,'well, there were a great many more, but that
is all I can think of now; all these will do instead of 'awful' and
Oh, Peggy, dear, you are a regular school-ma'am. Please don't let
us talk about all these horrid things, the first night I am here. I am
perfectly dying to know what you think about the two Mr. Merryweathers,
and about Hugh and Margaret.
Why, I think the Merryweathers seem very nice boys indeed. I like
the funny one best, I think; Gerald, is his name? But the other one is
nice, too. He has such kind eyes, and such a pleasant voice. Somehow he
looks more like Gertrude than Gerald does, even though Gerald has her
hair. Oh, Jean, I wish you could see my Snowy Owl! She is so dear, and
beautiful, and strong; next to you and Margaret, she is the very
dearest girl in the world, except one.
May I come in? said Margaret's voice at the door. She was greeted
by a duet of Come in, do! and entering, found her two cousins seated
on the floor, hair-brush in hand, brushing out their long fair hair.
'Maud and Madge in their robes of white,
The prettiest nightgowns under the sun!'
quoted Margaret. How comfortable you look, girls! May I do my hair
here, too? I knew you would be sitting up, chattering. Who is the very
dearest girl in the world except one, Peggy? And who is the one? I
heard the end of your sentence before I knocked.
Yes, but you didn't hear the beginning, said Peggy, or you would
know that you two here are the very dearest, and that the others
only come after you. I was speaking of Gertrude Merryweather; oh! how
you and she will love each other, Margaret! I don't see how I can wait
to have you know each other. And by the 'except one,' I meant Grace
Wolfe, our Horny Owl, and our Goat, and a good many other things.
Where is she now? asked Margaret. Have you heard from her
No, said Peggy, sadly. None of us have heard at school. She wrote
Miss Russell some time ago that she was going to try a new departure,
and expected either to go mad or make her fortune; but she didn't say
what it was. She never writes many letters, you know. We have all
written again and again, but it makes no difference. Hark! what is that
What noise? I heard nothing, said Margaret.
I thought I heard some one speak, outside the window.
They listened for a moment, but all was quiet.
It may have been Uncle John and Hugh in the garden, said Margaret.
It is early yet, you know, not ten o'clock; they often walk about for
an hour and more after we come up. Speaking of Grace Wolfe, Peggy,
Tu-whit! said a voice. In this connection only, I may be
permitted to remark, tu-whoo!
Grace! cried Peggy, in such a voice that the other girls
sprang to their feet. Peggy was at the window before them, snatching
back the curtain. The night was warm, and the upper sash had been
lowered completely. Leaning over the sash was a slender figure
shimmering white in the moonlight. Any admittance for the Goat? said
a deep, melodious voice. Peace, Innocent! for Peggy was trying to
drag her in over the sash by main force.
I address the mistress of the dwelling. Is there admittance for a
miscellaneous quadruped, Margaret Montfort?
But now Margaret had her other hand, and laughing and crying, the
girls had her in, and again Peggy displayed the powerful development of
her muscles in a strangling embrace, from which Grace emerged panting,
but unruffled. Giving Peggy a sedate kiss, she turned to Margaret, who
still held her hand, gazing in wonder and bewilderment; for this was
Mrs. Peyton's companion.
You pardon the informality? she said; and her smile was like light
in the room. I could not come to call on Peggy, or on Peggy's
Margaret, with my bonnet on. And it is a great wall to climb!
she added, wistfully. I don't know when I have enjoyed myself so;
there is little climbing in these sad days. Now you see why I did not
want to be Miss Fox.
Oh, my dear! cried Margaret. How could you keep me in the dark?
How stupidhow utterly stupid of me, not to know you! And yet, how
could I have guessed that Mrs. Peyton's companion was Peggy's own
beloved Grace? You must be my Grace, too, please; I will have neither
wolves nor foxes, but only Grace, or the Horned Owl.
She kissed Grace, who returned the kiss warmly. But now Peggy, who
had been silent for a moment in sheer amazement, broke in:
What does this all mean? she cried. Have you dropped from the
moon, Grace Wolfe, or where do you come from? You and Margaret have met
before? Where, and how, and when? I must know all about it, this very
The situation was soon explained. Jean, who had hung back, shy and
frightened, was brought forward and introduced; and soon all four girls
were seated comfortably on the floor, talking as if nothing astonishing
had happened. Only every few minutes Peggy would put her hand out and
touch Grace's shoulder, as if to make sure that she was genuine flesh
and blood, and not some phantom conjured up out of the moonlight.
I have tried twice to see you, Margaret said. Both times I seemed
to have come just at the wrong moment. Do tell me how you are getting
on, Grace! How has Mrs. Peyton been since you have been there? It is
very seldom that I am so many days without seeing her.
Singular lady! said Grace. Beautiful, but singular. She thinks me
mad, so matters are equal. Why, we get onsomewhere! I am not sure
where. At present, I am in disgrace. She did not like her chocolate
this morning, and being in a pet, bade me throw it out of window; I
obeyed. It appears the cup was valuable, which was a pity, as its bones
are scattered far and wide.
You threw the cup, too? Grace!
Naturally I threw the cup. I am going on the principle of doing
exactly what she tells me to do; thus she may discover the unreason of
her conduct. Tu-whit! Yesterday she was displeased with an embroidered
muslin jacket, and said she never wanted to see it again. I tore it up;
she was displeased. To-night she took a dislike to my dress, and told
me not to come near her till morning. Behold me here; I think it
probable that at this moment she is raising the house for me and
desiring greatly to be rubbed. These things are instructive to her. I
have put her to sleep every night by rubbing, and now she will not
sleep. Poor lady; so sad for her!
All this was said quietly, pensively, with an air of mild
consideration. Margaret looked at her, wondering. No one had ever
crossed Mrs. Peyton before. One companion after another had been
engaged, been tyrannized over for a few weeks, and then dismissed. What
would be the effect of this opposite treatment? Timid herself, she had
always met the vagaries of her beautiful friend with, at most, a gentle
protest. If matters were too bad, she stayed away for a week, and was
sure to find the lady in her most winning mood at the end of that time;
but she had never attempted any more severe measure than this.
Do you thinkdo you feel as if you were getting hold of her at
all, Grace? she asked. She is really very fascinating, when she wants
I am not fascinated! said Grace; and for a moment the
half-whimsical, half-reckless look, which was her usual expression,
gave way to one that was stern enough. Mrs. Peyton appears to me to be
a wholly selfish person; a thing rarely met with in such entirety. I
have promised my Good Physician that I will try to rouse her, and see
if there is any scrap of woman left inside this pretty shell; I am
going to do my best. I think it doubtful if there is, but I am going to
do my best.
Peggy gazed at her with adoring eyes and felt absolute assurance
that Mrs. Peyton would shortly be converted into an angel. Did not
Grace always do what she undertook to do?
With one of her sudden movements, Grace turned to her, and put her
hands on her shoulders. Behold my Innocent happy! she said. What of
the other Owls, Babe? Do they hoot happily, and flap friskily?
Oh, Grace, they want to hear from you so much! The Snowy is really
anxious. She is afraid you are sick, oror something. Do write to her,
dear; won't you?
The Snowy, said Grace, is one of the few wholly satisfactory
persons in the world. I have an immense respect for the Snowy, as well
as a strong affection. If I could write to anybody, I think it would be
to her. It may even be done, Innocent. Who knows?
She was afraid Peggy hesitated.
She was afraid, said Grace, coolly, that I was going on the
variety stage. Yes; but you see, I did not. But I admit there are
groundsyes, I will write, Innocent. And now I must go, she added,
rising. I may come again, Margaret? Tie a white ribbon on the
window-tassel when you do not want me. Good night!
Oh, but, my dear, you are not going out in that way! cried
Margaret, in distress. Why not go down-stairs and out of the door,
like a Christian?
There is nothing distinctively unchristian, I hold, in going by way
of the window, replied Grace, her hand already on the sash. Consider,
I pray you, the rapture of the one method, the futile stupidity of the
other. Enough! I am gone.
She slipped lightly over the sill and was gone, leaving the others
staring at each other. Peggy ran to the window and looked after her.
She is all right, Margaret! she cried; for Margaret was visibly
distressed and alarmed. The woodbine is very thick and strong, and
there is the spout, too. There! She is down now, all safe. Good night!
oh, good night, dear Goat!
About this time, Hugh Montfort, having said good night to his uncle
and the two Merryweathers, sauntered down the garden walk, for one more
turn, one more look at the night. It was a wonderful night. The moon
was full, and Fernley lay bathed in a flood of silver light, that
seemed to transform the old brown house into a fairy palace, stately
and splendid. There was no wind, and no sound broke the stillness; yes,
it might well be an enchanted palace, where every living thing lay fast
bound by some mighty spell. The leaves drooped motionless from the
branches; beyond the dark masses of trees, the broad lawns lay in green
It's more like something Greek! said Hugh. Tempe, or some such
place. If a dryad, now, were to come out from that great
He stopped short, in the deep shadow of a clump of chestnut-trees.
Something moved, behind the very tree he was looking at. A figure came
lightly out into the open; a woman's figure, slight and supple, clad in
shadowy white. A dryad? No! the girl he had seen in the summer-house.
He knew the face, as it shone upturned in the moonlight; knew the firm
mouth and chin, the blue eyes, the look of careless power; seen once
only, it was as if he had known the face all his life.
What was she doing? A smile lighted her grave eyes suddenly. She
extended her arms, her face still raised to the moon. Her whole figure,
light as thistle-down, began to sway, to drift hither and thither over
the silver-green lawn. Dancing, was she? It was no human dance, surely;
the name was too common for this marvel of motion. A wave cresting and
curling toward its break; a cloud blown lightly along a summer sky by a
gentle wind; a field of grain, bending and rippling under the same
wind. Hugh thought of all these things, and rejected each in turn, as
unworthy of comparison to this, the most beautiful thing he had ever
seen. He watched her, as if in a dream of delight; each moment it
seemed that he must wake, and find the lovely vision gone. It was too
rare, too perfect to be real. It seemed as if all the moonlight in the
world were drawn to this one spot, to shine on that white figure,
dancing, swaying, hither and thither
Ah! it was over. She stopped; threw, it seemed, some words upward
toward the moon, accompanying them with a wave of her hand. Then she
turned away, and passed slowly out of sight, under the dark trees. As
she went, she began to sing; softly at first, a mere breath of sound;
but as she passed farther and farther on, her song rang out clear and
sweet; the voice and the song that he had heard the night before, in
the field beyond the wall:
Trois anges sont venus ce soir,
M'apportaient de bien belles choses!
CHAPTER IX. ABOUT NOTHING IN
Jerusalem! said Philip Merryweather.
And Madagascar! responded his twin brother. Well, what did I tell
you, old Towser?
Yes, I know; but last night, you see, I was half-asleep, and didn't
see it all. This is what I call a room.
Phil sat up in bed, and looked about the great nursery, into which
the early sun was shining brightly.
The bigness of it! he said, if nothing more. You could have quite
a track round this, do you know it? Most rooms are all walls; I hate
walls. Shove the furniture into the middle, and chalk a six-foot
trackhey? What do you say?
This! replied Gerald, throwing a pillow with accurate aim. Does
it occur to your arboreal, if not river-drift mind, that there are
people under this room? Heehaw! excuse me for not sooner addressing you
in your own language. Here, belay that! I want to know what you think
of them all.
Jolly! was Phil's brief but emphatic verdict. But Gerald seemed to
demand something more. Isn't Mr. Montfort the most corking person you
Except three, I should say he was. That lame chap is a corker, too.
Reminds me a bit of the Codger, I don't know why.
So he does! said Gerald, eagerly. I didn't see it before. Queer
stunt, too, because she always makes me think of Hildegarde.
Who? Miss Peggy? I don't
No, no! Who said anything about Miss Peggy? Miss Montfort, of
They are all Miss Montforts. You mean Miss Margaret? WellI see
what you mean. She hasn't Hildegarde's beauty, though. Very attractive,
That's what I mean! said Gerald, eagerly. There's something of
that quiet way, that takes hold of you andoh, I didn't mean that they
would be taken for sisters. Look here, Elderly Ape, was you thinking of
getting up, or should I bring his gruel, and feed him wiz a 'poon, a
A pretty toddlekins will break your pretty noddlekins, replied
Philip. Avast there, and heave sponges! And the conversation ended in
a grand splashing duet executed in two enormous bath-tubs that stood in
different corners of the great room.
It was a merry party that met at breakfast. John Montfort looked
round the table with pleasure, and wondered how he had ever sat here
alone, year after year, when this kind of thing was to be had,
apparently for the asking. Margaret's sweet face, opposite him, was
radiant; it struck Mr. Montfort that he had never seen her look so
pretty before. The delicate rose-flush on her cheek, the light in her
eyes, an indescribable air of gaiety, of lightness, about her whole
Why, this is what she needed! said Mr. Montfort to himself. The
children were all very well; I am all very well myself, for an old
uncle, but children and old uncles are not all that a lassie needs. Ah,
well, it is all as it should be. We remember, Rose!
Gerald, at Margaret's left hand, was talking eagerly. If her face
was radiant, his was sparkling. For the first time in his life, it is
probable, he seemed to take little heed of his breakfast.
Do you remember the thunder-storm, Miss Montfort? and the way that
little chap ran around the long corridor? He's going to make a great
runner some day. Corkvery nice little fellow. You say he isn't here
now? I'm sorry! I wanted the Ape to see him.
The Old Un. My brother, Long-leggius Ridiculus. Christian name
Philip, but what has he done that I should call him that?
Margaret laughed. She did not fully understand, but everything
Gerald said seemed to her funny. What does he call you? she asked.
Or do you invent new names every day? Last night I heard you calling
himwhat was it? Ornithorhynchus Paradoxus?
It might have been! said Gerald, with modest pride. I can 'gleek
upon occasion.' I can also sling a syllable with the next man. It is
only at monosyllables that I draw the line. When I call him Ape, I have
to tack an adjective to it, or things happen. Miss Montfort, you don't
know how glad I was to come. It was awfully kind of Mr. Montfort to ask
us. I've always wanted to come again, and I didn't know when I should
have a chance. Therethere isn't any other place like this in the
world, I believe. I've told the Ape a lot about it, and he was keen to
see it, too. What a corkthat is, what an extremely fine fellow your
cousin appears to be.
Do you mind if I ask, said Margaret; is 'cork' a complimentary
Gerald blushed. Why, you see, he said, rather ruefully, I made up
my mind that I would drop it when I came here. 'Corker,' and
'corking'well, it means that a person is all right, don't you know?
That he's awfully jolly, andandcorking, in short. It's the thing
fellows say nowadays. I get into the way of it, and then I go home, and
the Mater says things to me. She doesn't like slang, and of course you
don't either, Miss Montfort. I'll try not to do it again, truly I
Oh, but I don't mind that kind of slang! said Margaret; and she
wondered at herself even as she spoke. Itit seems so funny, somehow.
I suppose when slang is really funny
She looked up and caught her uncle looking at her with an expression
of amusement. She blushed in her turn, stammered, and took refuge
behind her coffee-urn.
Meantime Peggy and Philip had fallen deep in conversation. He was
the brother of Gertrude Merryweather, the beloved Snowy Owl of Peggy's
happiest school-days; that was enough for Peggy. She was used to boys
and brothers, and felt none of the shyness that often made Margaret's
tongue trip and stammer in spite of her two years' advantage. Peggy was
full of eager questionings:
How is she looking? dear lovely thing! Do you think she will go to
college this fall? Oh, do try to make her! I do so want to have her
back again,near us, I mean. The Fluffy enters this fall, you know;
the Snowy ought to come, too. Do try to make her, won't you, Mr.
Phil looked grave. Said the kangaroo to the duck, this requires a
little reflection! he said. The child Toots has her good points, as
you observe, Miss Montfort. She is a rather nice child, and we like to
have her at home. She has been at this old school three years, and I
don't see the good of sisters if they are somewhere else all the time.
Not that I should wish to stand in the way of the child Toots; but you
see, Bell is off, too, and the Mater has been having things the matter
with her,rheumatism and that,and the child Toots is useful at
home,uncommon useful she is.
Oh! butof course I'm awdreadfully sorry your mother isn't well;
butbut Gertrude wants to come, doesn't she? Oh, well, I shall hope it
will be all right. And oh! what do you think, Mr. Merryweather? The
most astonishing thing happened last night. I must write and tell
Gertrude all about it. The Horny is near here.
The Horny? Not
Yes, Grace Wolfe. Think of it! Do you know her? Well, of course
Gertrude has told you all about her. She is the most wonderful person
in the world, and she is living close by here, taking care of some
one,you know she means to be a nurse. You know how wonderful she was
when that poor girl was so sick at schooland she has been staying at
Doctor Flower's, and he persuaded her to come and take care of this
lady. You must see her,I want everybody to see her. She isn't like
anybody else, you know. Why, just when you look at her you feel that; I
don't know what it is,I can't explain,but it's there. And then her
voice! When she sings, it'sit's like magic, somehow. Oh, dear! I wish
I could express myself; I never know how to say things.
You are saying them beautifully! said gallant Philip. Besides, of
course, Toots has told me a good deal about your wonderful friend. Does
she still go climbing all about, disdaining doors and stairs, and using
Oh, hush! said Peggy. I don't know whether we are to speak of it
or not, butshe came up the wall, and in at our window last night.
Yes, she did. Don't tell anybody, because she might not like it.
She fluttered in like a bird, and stayed awhile, and then fluttered out
again. And thenwe heard her singing in the distance as she went back,
and really and truly, it seemed like fairy music.
Something made Peggy look up at this moment, and she caught Hugh
Montfort's eyes fixed on her with so intent a gaze that she stumbled
and blushed, and thought she had said something wrong. Don't ask me
anything about it, she murmured to her neighbor. Perhapsthey may
not like to have people climb up the walls here; I wouldn't get Grace
into trouble for twenty worlds.
Hugh, said Mr. Montfort, I am going to get you to do the honors
of the garden and stables to these young gentlemen, as I am busy this
morning. The girls have a dozen plans, no doubt; but perhaps Peggy and
Jean would like to go with you and see the puppies, while Margaret sees
to her housekeeping. How does that suit you all?
Every one acquiesced in the arrangement, and, as they went out into
the garden, Peggy managed to slip beside her brother.
What did I say that was wrong, Hugh? You were looking at me as if I
had done all kinds of things. Would Uncle John mind her climbing up the
wall, do you think? She couldn't possibly hurt it; she is light as a
feather; and Margaret didn't say anything about her not doing it
A faint color crept into Hugh's brown cheek.
My dear little Peggy, he said, you must not be so imaginative. It
is a new trait in you. What possible objection could there be to a
young lady climbing up the wall if she enjoys it? It seemeda little
unusual, I suppose, and so I was interested. Was I indiscreet? I hardly
supposed you would be having confidences with young Merryweather quite
Hugh, don't be ridiculous. Then it's all right, and I am so glad!
Thank you, dear.
She was springing away, but Hugh called her back.
One moment, Peggy. Thisthis friend of yours seems to be a
remarkable person. Has she other accomplishments besides climbing? Did
I hear you speak of singing?
Oh, Hugh, I wish you could hear her sing! You might have heard her
last night, if you had only been out. It was full moon, and the moon
makes her mad, she says. Anyhow, when the moon is out she is wilder
than ever, fuller ofwhatever it is that she is full of; I don't know,
something like a spirit, or a bird. Once I saw her dance in the
moonlight, and I shall never forget it as long as I live.
No more shall I, said Hugh, under his breath. Thank you, Peggy,
he said aloud. Don't let me keep you, my dear; or were you coming with
Oh, I don't know, Hugh; I want to do so many things, all at once. I
want to show Jean the house, and the garden, and the summer-houses,
andoh! oh, you darlings! you beauties! Hugh, do look at these lovely
The lovely duckies were Nip and Tuck, who came leaping and dancing
up the walk, wagging and sneezing, with every demonstration of frantic
Which is which? Nip, oh, you dear! Give a paw! Do they know how to
give a paw, Hugh?
They know how to fetch, said Hugh. Here, Tuck! here, boys! What
have I got?
He held up a stick; straightway the dogs went mad, and yelled and
danced, sneezed and yapped, like wild creatures. Fetch! said Hugh,
throwing the stick. Together the puppies flashed off in pursuit; fell
upon the stick and each other, and rolled over and over, still in
frenzied voice and motion; finally came to an understanding, and,
taking each an end in his mouth, came cantering abreast up to Hugh,
and, laying the stick at his feet, looked up and asked for more, as
plainly as ever did Oliver Twist. Here was a pleasant amusement for
young people. The grave Hugh and the gay Merryweathers, Peggy and Jean,
all became absorbed in picking up sticks and throwing them. There was
no end to the puppies' enthusiasm, apparently; they yelled, and rushed,
and yelled and rushed again; and when Margaret came out an hour
afterward, anxious lest her guests should find time hang heavy on their
hands, she found one and all flushed and breathless, hurling sticks and
stones, and making almost half as much noise as the dogs themselves. At
sight of Margaret, cool and pearly in her white dress, Gerald and Peggy
dropped their sticks, and looked abashed; but Hugh called to her
merrily: Margaret, they are making great progress. I think my pupil
has got farther than yours, though. Miss Margaret and I are training
them for a prize contest, he added, turning to Gerald. This is an
extension of their usual practice, that is all.
Hurrah! said Gerald, much relieved. I was afraid she would
thinkI didn't know whether she would approve, he concluded, somewhat
It was amazing. It was rather as if the Venus of Milo had
begun to sing light opera, Gerald thought; but after all, how much
pleasanter if she should, than to stand there all day and wonder how
she was going to eat her breakfast without any arms. With this shocking
reflection, Master Gerald betook himself once more to the throwing of
sticks, and the sport went on till Margaret called the puppies off,
declaring that they would be too tired for their afternoon run.
She takes care of everything, you see! said Gerald, aside to his
brother. All without any fuss; that's just like Hilda, too.
Yes, said Phil. Appears to be a corker!
I wish you wouldn't talk so much slang, Phil! said Gerald. What
kind of word is that to use in speaking of Miss Montfort?
Philip looked up in amazement, and saw his brother flushed, and
evidently annoyed in earnest.
Well, may I be split and buttered! said Phil.
I wish you were! said Gerald, forcing a laugh. Come along, and
don't be an ass!
CHAPTER X. GRACE'S SYSTEM
Yes, Mrs. Peyton.
Is that door shut? lock it, will you? andjust go and look out of
the window, please. No one there? Thank you!
She sank back on her pillows with a sigh of relief.
What is it? asked Margaret, soothingly. What troubles you, dear
I am frightened! said Emily Peyton.
Yes. I am afraid of that girl, Margaret.
What girl? You cannot possibly mean Grace?
Mrs. Peyton glanced around her. Evidently she did mean Grace.
She behaves so! she said, in a low voice. I don't think she is in
her right mind, to begin with; it is terrible to be with a person who
may break out into madness at any moment.
My dear, said Margaret, you are absolutely and wholly mistaken.
Grace is as sane as I am. She is one of the sanest persons I have ever
known, it seems to me. Of course she is singulareccentric, if you
like. But what has she been doing, to disturb you so?
Mrs. Peyton glanced around her again, with an apprehensive glance.
Well! she said, II suppose I may as well tell you, Margaret. I
have been ill so long, I may have becomea little unreasonable. There
is nobody who cares; I never saw any reason why I should be reasonable.
Having to lie here, it is a pity if I may not have my own way, don't
you think so? I have had it, at any rate; I don't say that it has
always been a sensible way; I detest sensible things and people. I
can't imagine how I have endured you so long. I should not, if you were
not pretty and prim.
Thank you! said Margaret, soberly.
Don't interrupt me! This has been on my mind for two weeks, and I
want to get rid of it. There is nobody else I can tell. Doctor Flower,
like a veritable fiend, after sending me this firebrand, goes off to
Europe. A physician should be indicted for going to Europe. WellI
don't know what to tell you, or where to begin. Sheshe frightens me,
I say. I never know what she is going to do next. YesterdayI felt
wretchedly yesterday, Margaret; I was in acute pain all day. I suppose
I was pretty impatient. Iwell, I threw something out of the window in
a pet,my amethyst rope it was,and she stood and looked at me
quietly, as if she were taking notes of my appearance. I couldn't bear
it; I told her to go after it. Just a little impatient cry, it was. My
dear, in an instant she was out of the window. Gone, out of sight like
a flash. I shrieked; no one heard me. Iyou will not believe this,
MargaretI got out of bed, and dragged myself to the window, expecting
to see her dead and shattered at the bottom. There she stood, cool as
crystal, shaking the leaves from her dress. She looked up and saw me,
and if ever I saw an elfish lookdo you believe in witchcraft,
Margaret? my nurse did; she told me some strange tales when I was a
No need of witchcraft in this case, said Margaret, smiling. Grace
is as active as a cat, and her special delight is to climb up and down
walls. There is a grape-vine under this window, isn't there? That would
be quite enough for the Goat, as they called her at school.
That isn't all, said Mrs. Peyton. She's not right, I tell you;
not canny, as Nurse used to say. You may laugh, Margaret Montfort. I
tell you, lying here year after year, one gets to thinking all kinds of
things. I could tell youwho knows the old woman was not right after
all?listen to this. Yesterday, this very yesterday, she was standing
there by the mantel-piece, talking as quietly as we are talking now.
Suddenly, without a word, down she falls in a swoon, or trance, or
something unearthly. I had let the maids go out; we two were alone in
the house. There she lay, and I thought she was dead. I got up again!
No one knows what it cost me, Margaret. I have forgotten how to walk; I
merely dragged myself across to where she lay. She was breathing; I
could not see that she was paler than usualshe never has any color,
you know. I called and screamed; I raved and wept, I believe; you
cannot fancy how terrible it was, that living, breathing form, lying
there, the lips almost smiling, but no sign, no twitching of an eyelid,
only the beating of the heart, to tell me that she was not dead. Hush!
do you know the story of Christy Moran? My nurse's grandmother used to
know her. She wasI don't know what she wasbut she used to do this
very thing. They would find her sitting in her chair, breathing, but
without speech or motion, and afterward they would hear of some
devilish act or other, committed at that very hour, in some distant
town or village, by a figure wearing her likeness. Don't laugh! don't
laugh! I tell you, we don't know everything in this civilization that
we talk so much about. I tried to say a prayer, Margaret,I used to
say them regularly,butand I had hardly begun before she opened her
eyes and smiled at me like a child. 'Did you ever hear of catalepsy?'
she says, and she went out of the room without another word, and left
me to get back to bed as best I could.
Margaret was silent, not knowing what to say. She had no doubt that
Grace was acting upon some theory of her own, and was playing these
wild pranks in the hope of rousing her patient to action and exercise.
Certainly, to get Mrs. Peyton out of bed twice in two days was no small
feat; still, Margaret's gentle mind shrank from the thought of forcing
one so frail, so enfeebled by years of invalidism, into sudden activity
which might be injurious, or even fatal to her. She could not betray
Gracewhat should she say? But there was no need of her saying
anything, for Mrs. Peyton went on, hurriedly, hardly glancing at her
auditor. Evidently it was a relief to her to free her mind.
Why don't I send her away, you may ask. Margaret, I ask myself the
same question twenty times a day. My dear, she is too fascinating! She
interests me so! Have you heard her sing, and tell stories? I have not
been so interested for years. She makes me restless, I tell you; she
makes me think of things I had forgotten, or that I said good-by to
years and years ago. Look! she sits down on the floor here, beside the
bedin the night, often, when I cannot sleep, and she has been rubbing
methat is another reason why I do not let her go, Margaret; her touch
is like healing balm; there is magic in it, I tell you. She sits down
there, with her long hair falling all about her, in the moonlight,
looking like nothing earthly, and she talksor chants, rather,there
isn't anything like it, so I don't know what to call itabout foreign
countries. She has never seen them, or she says she never has. That is
a little matter to her; she knows all about them, twenty times as much
as I do, though I used to travel till I hated the sight of a railway or
a steamer. She tells me things about Sicily, and Norway, and the
Hebrides,old Icelandic legends,about Burnt Njal, and those people;
she makes me want to see the places, actually. There are plenty of
places I have not seen. She says Iceland is a flower-garden in summer.
Margaret, don't laugh at what I am going to say!
Indeed, I am not laughing, dear Mrs. Peyton.
She saysthis girl saysshe thinks I couldget up. Get up and do
things, I mean, like other people. Did you ever hear of such nonsense?
Mrs. Peyton laughed; but she looked eagerly at Margaret, and there
was something in her eyes that had never been there before.
Margaret leaned over her, and kissed the beautiful forehead. I am
sure you could! she said; and at the moment she did feel sure.
Something of Grace's spirit seemed to pass into her, and she felt a
hope, a confidence, that had never come into her mind before. Why not?
Why should it not be? Mrs. Peyton was still in middle life; she ought
to have years of life before her. Why might she not be roused, be
taught over again how to live, and to enjoy the good and glorious
earth? Margaret's eyes kindled.
I am sure you could! she repeated. Let us try! Let me help Grace,
and let us all try our very best, dear Mrs. Peyton. Just think how
wonderful it would be to get well; to go about again, and be alive
among live people. Oh, my dear, let us try!
But the lady's mood changed. In a flash, even as Margaret was gazing
at her with eager, loving eyes,eyes in which stood tears of affection
and anxiety,she changed. The mocking smile crept back to her lips,
the light of interest died from her eyes.
Bah! she said. Little goose, what do you know about life and live
people? It was to get away from them that I took to my bed, do you
hear? There, go away! I have been talking great nonsense; forget all
about it! Sick folks often talk nonsense. Give me something to play
with, and go away! I had a new toy yesterday, an amber ball. It's in
the top drawer. Ah! isn't that a beauty? Give it to me! See, how smooth
and cool it is, Margaret! Do you think an amber necklace would be
becoming to me? I can wear yellow, you know; blondes of my type rarely
can, but it always suited me. Do you remember a story about the Amber
Gods? It is one of the few stories I ever cared for. To-morrow I'll
order a set of amber jewelry, bracelets and necklace, and
She stopped suddenly, seeing the grave compassion in Margaret's
[Illustration: SHE LOOKED UP, AND SAW GRACE SITTING ON A BROAD, LOW
Don't speak to me! she cried, angrily. You are thinkingI know
what you are thinkingthat I cannot wear necklaces in bed. You think I
am a wretched, helpless, faded old woman. I hate you! Go away! and
As she passed along the garden-walk with bent head, musing soberly
enough, something struck her lightly on the head,a cherry, which fell
at her feet. She looked up, and saw Grace sitting on a broad, low
Come up! said the Goat.
Margaret smiled, and shook her head. My dear Grace, I never climbed
a tree in my life. I should not know where to begin.
Time you learned! said Grace, gravely. There is no knowing when
the race will return to arboreal habits. Come, Margaret, I want you!
Margaret hesitated, and was lost. She looked about, half fearing,
half hoping that somebody was in sight. No! no gardener came with his
watering-can, no boy with his wheelbarrow. She turned back, to meet
once more the compelling glance, and see the hand stretched out to help
her. How it was accomplished, Margaret never knew, but, after a
breathless moment, she found herself seated on the branch, too,
clinging fast to the rugged bark, and not daring to look below.
All right! said Grace, composedly. See, now, what good cherries
these are! I have permission from Madame to kill myself with them, and
am doing my best. They are white oxhearts, the finest cherry that
Oh, but I daren't let go my hold of the branch, said poor
Margaret; and my head is so dizzy. Dear Grace, how shall I ever get
down again? Won't you help me?
Not now! Now it is necessary that you should stay for a space, and
learn to accept this, as other situations. Begin gradually to look down
and about you. Fix your eye on that apple-tree, the one with the
hump-back; then let your eyes travel slowly, slowly, over the ground,
till they come here, under our feet. There! you see it is easy. Is the
It is certainly much better. I think perhaps, in a little while, I
may get used to it, but I am quite sure I never shall like it. Why do
you like to climb so, Grace? Why is it more comfortable to sit in a
tree than on a pleasant, safe seat on the grass?
Grace shrugged her shoulders. Who can say? she said. I have
always supposed that the soul of my grandam inhabited a bird.
Shakespeare! And you know I am an owl myself in regular, if not in
good, standing. What would you? It is my nature. And how do we find the
Patient to-day? Did she tell you that she left her bed twice
Yes. Grace, it frightens me, all this wild work. Are you sure what
you are doing?
I am sure that there is nothing the matter with this lady. I think
she can be brought back to health by foul means, but not by fair. I
think that in this case the end justifies the means. Voilà!
Margaret looked at her earnestly; she met a gaze so full, so clear,
so brave, that her own spirit rose to meet it.
Suddenly Grace held out her hand. Come! she said. Trust me,
Margaret! I am not a hobgoblin, though I may pose as one now and then.
Trust me; andby and bytry to love me a little, for I loved you
before ever I saw you.
Margaret took the slender hand and pressed it cordially. I will
trust you! she said. I have doubted, Grace, I confess; doubted and
feared; but now I shall not fear any more. Onlyoh, my dear, don't
frighten her more than you have to. She really thinks you arenot
right; and some of the things she told me were certainly rather
terrifying. That trance, or whatever it waswellwhat was it, Grace?
Grace laughed, a laugh so merry and clear that the robins left off
eating cherries to see what the sound might be. What was it? My child,
it was nothing. I fell down, I shut my eyesagain, voilà! Her
mind was prepared for the marvellous, and she found it. Nothing simpler
But you said something aboutcatalepsy! the very sound of that
word always frightens me, because of a story I read once. I don't
wonder it frightened Mrs. Peyton.
I asked her if she had ever heard of it. A simple question!
Apparently she had. Come, let us eat cherries, and strive to
approximate the lettuce. Do you feel any green crinkles in your veins
yet? And how is the Innocent to-day? I love that child.
Dear Peggy! I left her trying to teach Tuck to keep a biscuit on
his nose while she counted twenty. When I left, he could not get beyond
ten, when it was devoured with yelps of joy. But I have no doubt Peggy
will succeed in time; she has plenty of patience, and plenty of
Grace nodded sagely. Plenty of patience and plenty of
perseverance! she repeated. Great qualities, Margaret. I wonder if I
have them. I am going to find out. Nowwho is the tall person who is
lame, and sits in a summer-house?
Margaret laughed. He doesn't sit in a summer-house all the time,
she said. That is Peggy's brother, Hugh Montfort. I want you to know
him, Grace; he is so delightful; I know you will be friends. Come over
to tea this evening, won't you? Mrs. Peyton promised me you should; you
know we have been trying for you ever since Peggy came. Do come! Uncle
John is planning something for us; he will not tell me what, but it is
sure to be something delightful. Promise that you will come; and then
you must really help me get down, my dear, for the girls will be
wondering where I am.
Your hands hereso! Let yourself swing cleardon't be afraid;
hang stillnow drop easily! There! was that so very dreadful? Good-by,
cool, green, lovely one! I will come to-night; good-by!
What will Rita say, Margaret questioned herself as she took her
way homeward, when I write her that I have been climbing cherry-trees,
and getting down from them without a ladder?
CHAPTER XI. THE MYSTERIES OF FERNLEY
Now, Uncle John!
Don't be tormenting, sir! You know that you promised us a new
Mystery of Fernley, if we would all be good. We have been good; virtue
shines from every one of us, doesn't it, Hugh?
My eyes are dazzled, replied her cousin. Most of it seems to come
from the feminine side of the house, though, I fear. All that the boys
and I have done has been to abstain from actual crime.
Oh, cherries! said Phil.
Up into the tree of cherry,
Who should climb but little Jerry?
Pooh! pooh! said Mr. Montfort. What are cherries for except to
eat, I should like to know? Yes, you have all been good children, and
it is true that I promisedsomething. Sit down now, all of you, and I
will tell you the story of the Lost Casket.
The young people clustered about him, sitting on the floor, on
cushions and footstools, on anything rather than the prosaic seat of an
ordinary chair. Mr. Montfort looked around on their bright, eager
faces. Margaret sat next him, his own Margaret, fair and sweet in her
white dress, with the bright, joyous look that had grown so habitual to
her of late. Next to her was Gerald Merryweather; it struck Mr.
Montfort suddenly that Gerald Merryweather usually was beside Margaret.
Beyond them again, Peggy and Jean, with Phil between them; Phil, who as
yet preferred his sister Gertrude's society to that of any girl he had
ever seen. At the other side of the ring, Grace Wolfe, sitting a little
apart, with the curious air of solitariness that seemed to surround her
even in company. Hugh Montfort was not far off, though, and his deep
brown eyes were gazing at her intently.
Once upon a time, Mr. Montfort began, and was greeted with a
chorus of disappointment. Oh, Uncle John! You said it was true.
Not a fairy story this time, sir, please; give us the real thing!
Will you be quiet, you impetuous creatures? asked Uncle John. It
is true, so far as I know. And if you interrupt me again
We will not!
Hear us swear! cried the young people.
Once upon a time, then, some hundred and fifty years ago, there
lived here at Fernley Mr. Peter Montfort, the great-great-grandfather
of some of you. He was a worthy gentleman, with a pretty taste for
engravings; that Raphael Morghen print of the Transfiguration,
Margaret, that you are so fond of, is from his collection. He travelled
about Europe a good deal, buying engravings; that is the only thing I
know about him, except the fact that he married twice; and on this
marrying twice hangs our story. Listen now, and you shall hear. His
first wife (she was a Miss Rhinefels) died, leaving him with an only
daughter, Christina Montfort. The only time the name Christina appears,
I believe, in the family annals. At the time of her mother's death
Christina was a woman grown; a handsome person, to judge from her
miniature, and of strong feelings. She kept house for her father, and
expected to do so all her days, as an early disappointment had
disinclined her for marriage. When, after a couple of years, her
father, being then a man of seventy, brought home a wife of
twenty-five, Christina was, not unnaturally, incensed. She refused to
speak to the newcomer, shut herself up in her own apartments, and had a
special servant to wait upon her. This uncomfortable state of things
continued for some time, when she sickened of some acute distemper, and
died in a short time. She possessed some fine jewels, which she had
inherited from her mother, and she was heard to say repeatedly that her
stepmother should never lay a finger on one of them. It is supposed
that she, or her servant acting under her orders, hid the casket
containing these jewels somewhere in this house; at all events, they
were never found after her death, and have never, it is said, been seen
to this day.
Oh, Uncle John! but has any one looked for them?
My dear Peggy, every one has looked for them. I cannot tell you how
many Montfort ladies, in all these generations, have fretted their
nerves and worn out their finger-nails, hunting for this Lost Casket. I
specially requested your Aunt Faith, Margaret, not to mention it to you
or your cousins when you were here together. I had seen so many vain
searches, and heard of so many heart-burnings, in connection with it,
that I thought it best to defer the information tilltill later. This,
however, seems a very favorable time. You are all too sensible, girls,
to be unhappy if you do not find it. To tell the truth, I used to hunt
for it when I was a boy. But you can have a grand game of hide and
seek, with an object, imaginary or actual, at the end of it; and I wish
you a merry game, young people, and I return to my conversation with
the Sieur de Montaigne.
He was surrounded in an instant, kissed, caressed, and thanked till
he declared his life was in danger, and threatened to take up the
hearth-broom in self-defence; finally they trooped off, to hold a
consultation in the hall.
Shall we divide our forces and go in small parties? inquired Hugh,
looking at Grace.
I say we go just as it happens, said Peggy. I think that will be
much more exciting.
Perhaps it will, said Hugh, becoming resigned, as he saw Peggy
link her arm in Grace's. Come on, then, girls and boys! Suppose we
begin with the garret; Margaret has been promising to show me its
wonders ever since I came.
On the second landing they paused to salute the old portraits, and
Hugh must point out this or that one that had a familiar look.
This might be Margaret's self, I always think, Miss Wolfe; this
sweet-faced lady in the silvery green gown. See! she has the same
clear, quiet, true eyes, and her hair is the same shade of soft brown.
A lovely face.
Are you looking at the Sea-green Me? asked Margaret over his
shoulder. Our dear Rita liked it, and used to call it her Sea-green
Margaret. But come now and look at the glorious Regina, who actually
has a look of Rita herself. And I want Grace to see Hugo, too.
[Illustration: ON THE SECOND LANDING THEY PAUSED TO SALUTE THE OLD
She passed on, and Grace was about to follow, but Hugh detained her.
Just one moment, he said, speaking low. This is a fine collection,
Miss Wolfe, but I see no portrait of the Wood-nymph.
Yes. Do you not know that a dryad haunts this garden of Fernley?
Sometimes she is not seen, only heard in the dusk, singing magical
songs, that fill whoever hears them with a strange feeling akin to
madness. But sometimessometimes she leaves her tree, and comes out in
the moonlight, anddances
He paused. Grace had started, and now looked up at him with a
curious expression, in which anger, mirth, and fear seemed struggling
for the upper hand. Before she could reply, a terrific scream rang
through the gallery, startling the whole party. Turning, they saw Jean,
who had run on before the rest in her eagerness to explore, standing at
the farther end of the corridor, with open mouth and staring eyes, the
very image of terror.
My dear child, cried Margaret, running toward her, what is it?
Are you hurt?
What is it, Jeanie? said Peggy, who was the first to reach her
sister, and already had her in her arms. Jean, don't gasp so! You have
seen something; is that it? Margaret, what did I always tell you?
Jean nodded, still gasping, and clung to Peggy with eager, trembling
hands. Oh! she moaned. Peggy, save me! take me away! the closet; oh,
What closet, dear? This one? Why, this is the broom closet. There
is nothing here to frighten you, Jean.
The woman! murmured Jean. The dreadful dead woman! Peggy, I saw
her eyes, and her long hair. Oh, I shall die, I know I shall!
Oh, you poor lamb! cried Margaret, laughing in spite of her
compassion. She hurried to the closet and flung the door wide open. It
is only Mrs. Body! she said. Come and look again, Jean; it is the
lay-figure, dear, nothing else in the world.
Lay figure? faltered Jean, still trembling and hanging back.
Yes, the model. Grandmother Montfort used to paint a great deal,
and she had this creature made to stand for the figure. Come and look
at it, dear child.
Gently and persuasively she drew the trembling girl forward; the
others all pressed behind her.
There on the floor of the closet lay a figure which might at the
first glance have alarmed a stouter heart than fifteen-year-old
Jean's,the figure of a woman, scantily draped in white. The arms were
stretched out stiffly, the face, with its staring eyeballs, over which
fell some lank wisps of hair, was turned toward the door. No wonder
Jean was terrified.
I am so sorry! said Margaret. The children, Basil and Susan D.,
found her in the garret last winter. They begged to be allowed to have
her for a plaything, so they kept her in here, and had great fun with
her. Her name is Mrs. Body, but she can take any part, from Ophelia to
Simple Susan. She took tea with us once, when Uncle John was away, and
she behaved beautifully; so you see you really must not mind her, Jean,
It's no wonder she was frightened, though, said Gerald. My right
arm cleaves to the roof of my mouth, even now that I know who she is.
Mrs. Body, my respects to you, ma'am, and I desire you of less
While they were all laughing over Mrs. Body, and commenting upon her
various points, Gerald slipped round to Margaret's side.
Miss Montfort, he said, speaking in a low tone, do you remember
Indeed I do, Mr. Merryweather. Do you know, you never showed me the
place. You had to go away the next day, you remember.
That is just what I was thinking, said Gerald. I have never
forgotten that burning moment when Mrs. Cook and I foregathered in the
dark. I was thinking, what if the Lost Casket should happen to be
somewhere about that place in the wall? and anyhow, it would be fun to
explore it, and I promised to show it to you, and I like to keep my
promises, because virtue is my only joy. Won't you come with me now,
and let the rest go on? Awfully nice in the garret, I am sure,
butwon't you come, please?
Oh, said Margaret, that would be delightful! Butit is quite
dark, isn't it? and they have all the candles.
All except this, said Gerald, drawing a slender cylinder from his
pocket. Electric candle; you have seen them, of course. I brought it
with me, intending some such exploration, if permitted. I ran up and
got it, at Mr. Montfort's first word of this search. Come! the
down-stairs hall. This way; oh, please, this way.
Margaret hesitated, looking doubtfully at him. Idon't know if I
ought, she said. I should like it of all things, if I thought
Don't think! said Gerald, hastily. Great mistake to think; wastes
the tissues awfully. Action first, thought afterward! aphorism! Or if
you must indulge in the baneful pursuit, think how much poor Jerry
wants you. Poor Jerry! child of misfortune!
Is that the way you get everything you want? said Margaret,
laughing, as she followed him half-reluctantly down-stairs.
One way; there are others. This is the best, since it procures me
your company. See, now! in this niche here, behind the big picture!
He passed his hand along a panel; it swung back, revealing
Margaret stared. I never knew that was a door! she said. Mr.
Merryweather, do you know, I think the person who built this house must
have been a smuggler, a magician, and a detective, all in one.
Fine combination! said Gerald. I should like to have known the
old codgI mean gentleman. No deep mystery here, though, beyond the
secret door. He did love secret doors, that ancestor of yours. He may
have been an architect, and have thought door-handles unsightly, as
they are. But see!
They were now standing in a deep recess, and he waved his candle to
and fro. This would appear to have been originally used as a kind of
store-room, or drying-room. See those hooks; probably for hamsif not
for hanging, he added. If you prefer tragedy, Miss Montfort, you
shall have it. There is room for ten persons to hang here, without
touching. Their ghastly upturned faces, their blood-stained robes,
glimmering spectral white in the
Oh, don't! said Margaret. You really frighten me. Yes, they must
be for hams; now I think of it, I have heard Frances speak of the
drying-closet. This wall is warm; it must be close against the kitchen
Jerusalem! exclaimed Gerald. Here are steps, Miss Montfort. Stone
steps, leading down to a trap-door. Shall I help you down, orno, I
will go alone. When I open the door, a hollow groan will be heard, and
the clank of iron fetters. Would you rather have me descend to Hades
with a loud squeak, or shall a headless spectre arise, grinning
andbeg pardon! anatomy at fault; grinning requires a head. That's the
way! my genius is always checked in its soaring flight, and pulled back
to earth by idiot facts.
Running on thus, Gerald descended the stone steps, Margaret
following to their top, timidly. Sure enough, there was a trap-door at
the bottom, with a ring in it; a perfectly orthodox trap-door, suitable
for the Arabian Nights or anything else. Gerald took hold of the ring,
prepared for a vigorous pull; then paused, and looked at his companion.
I hear voices! he said. Hark!
They listened. A low murmur came up from below; the voices were
muffled, by distance or intervening substances, and could not be
Oh, do you think we'd better open it? said Margaret, who had such
a wholesome awe of the Mysteries of Fernley that she was prepared for
anything in the way of the marvellous.
That is what I think! said Gerald, cheerfully. That's what it was
made for, you see. A door that does not fulfil its destiny might just
as well be something else, skittles, or a pump, orother things. Now
As he spoke, he gave a vigorous pull; the door lifted, but at the
same instant the candle slipped from his hand, and fell rattling into
some unseen depth below, leaving them in blank darkness. Margaret
uttered a cry of alarm. Don't fall! Oh, pray be careful, Mr.
All right! said Gerald. Stay just where you are, for a moment,
while I explore thisaperture. Ha! the steps continue. You don't mind
if I leave you in the dark for just a minute, Miss Montfort?
Margaret did not mind, once assured that her companion was not
engaged in the congenial pursuit of breaking his neck. She began
feeling about her in the darkness, darkness so thick it was like black
velvet, she said to herself. She found the wall; it was warm, as she
said; she began passing her hand mechanically along the bricks,
A cheerful voice came up from below: I have found the
doughnutsgood ones!and theseem to beyes! sweet pickles.
Corking! Andnow you've done it, my son! Jam, by all that's adhesive!
Put my whole hand in. Jerusalem and Mad
At this instant there was a sound as of a door thrown violently
open; a flood of light filled the place; light, and an angry voice.
Who's this here in my pantry? Come out of that, ye rascal, before I
set the dogs on ye!
Gerald Merryweather uttered a yell of delight. Destiny! he
shouted. My fate cries out. Quits, Mrs. Cook, quits! Come to my arms!
And Margaret, peeping fearfully down through the trap-door, beheld
her guest waving one hand, a crimson one, in the air, and with the
other embracing the ample form of Frances the cook; while behind them
the grave Elizabeth looked wide-eyed, shading her candle with her hand.
For shame, sir! said Frances. Do behave, now, Mr. Gerald! I never
see such a bold boy since born I was.
No, no! not bold; don't say bold, Mrs. Cook! Witness my blushing
eyes, my tearful cheek, my stammering nose! Hush, listen, there's a
good soul. Your doughnuts are food for the gods; also for Jerry. Poor
Jerry; never had enough doughnuts in his life. You weep for him; let
him dry the starting tear!
Drawing out his pocket-handkerchief, he gravely applied it to
Frances's eyes and went on. We are looking for the Lost Casket, Miss
Montfort and I. If you can help us to it, Mrs. Cook,
I'll dress thee all in pongo silk,
And crown thee with a bowl of milk;
And hail thee, till my last breath passes,
The queen of sugar and molasses.
A poet, as you observe. Nothing to what I can do, give me time and a
yard measure. Now tell me
Margaret's voice from above interrupted him.
Mr. Merryweather, there is a loose brick here. I can pull it quite
out; andyesthere is a space behind it, andoh, can you bring the
To snatch the lamp from Frances's hand, blow her a kiss, and
scramble up the steps again, was the work of an instant with Gerald. He
found Margaret pale, with shining eyes, holding something in her hands.
No! cried Gerald. I say, you haven'tyou have! eccentric Jiminy,
you have found it!
I think I have! said Margaret, who was fairly trembling with
excitement. Look! the letters on the lid! oh, Mr. Merryweather!
The object she held was a box some eight inches square, of ebony or
some other dark wood, banded with silver. On the lid were inlaid, also
in silver, the letters C. M.
Christina Montfort! said Margaret. Oh, to think of my being the
one to find it!
I should like to know who else had the right to find it! said
Gerald. Punch theirI mean, of course, if they were fellows; I beg
your pardon, Miss Montfort.
It is locked, said Margaret. We must wait, and try some of Uncle
Take care! exclaimed Gerald. The bottom is dropping out. Hold
your hand under it!
As he spoke, the bottom of the box, which was of some soft wood and
had rotted through, dropped, and something rolled out and fell into
Margaret's hand. She held it up to the light. It was a hawk's egg,
CHAPTER XII. THE EGG OF COLUMBUS
Why, yes! said Mr. Montfort. It is my egg, certainly.
Oh, Uncle John!
Well, sir, then
Then you know all the
Tell am what
Mr. Montfort put his hands resolutely over his ears, and shut his
eyes. When you are still, he said, I will tell you all about it;
till then I am a blind deaf-mute, with no benefit of modern
A swift rustle, followed by dead silence. Cautiously opening his
eyes, Mr. Montfort saw the whole company seated on the floor around his
chair, gazing at him with imploring eyes, but motionless and mute. He
laughed heartily, and threw himself back in his chair.
I promised you a merry game, he said. Have you had it?
The young people nodded like mandarins, but uttered no sound.
I promised you nothing more. In fact, I warned you not to expect
anything more. On your own heads be egg and emptiness.
Well, well! he added, since you are so good and dutiful, you
shall have the whole truth. I found the box some forty years ago, when
I first stumbled on that closet. My dear mother was timid, and had a
great dread of the Mysteries of Fernley, imagining a secret staircase
in every wall, and an oubliette under every floor. Somebody had
frightened her when she came here as a child, by showing her I forget
what dark passage or closet. So we were never officially told of the
various pleasant places devised by the eccentric old ancestor, Peter,
who, I have always believed, was a smuggler before he was a patriot,
and hid kegs as well as commanders in his smoke-closet. You know the
story of General Blankley and the hams, Hugh? Remind me to tell you
some day. Well, this being so, of course we youngsters were keen set on
discovery; and we formed a league, called the Hovering Hawks. Each of
us had his private totem or sign; and when he made a discovery, he left
a totem to tell that he had been there. Jim's was an oyster-shell,
because he considered the world his oyster; Dick's was a ship, because
he always meant to be a sailor; Roger's was a book, of course, for
obvious reasons; and mine was an egg, Columbus's egg, because I meant
to find things out. You see there was no overstock of modesty among us,
more than there is among most healthy boys. We were ready for anything
and everything. I dare say some of you may have found oyster-shells
about, in various inaccessible places?
Grace started, and blushed; then hung her head. II found one,
she admitted. It was in a cubbyhole in the parapet of the roof. I
thought of bringing it away, but it seemed as if some one had wanted to
leave it there, so I didn't touch it.
Jim's Retreat, said Mr. Montfort. He stayed up there two days
once, in a fit of sulks, and frightened my poor dear mother almost into
an illness. Father Montfort was away from home the first day; the
second day he came home, and went up after Master James. He was a
powerful man, Father Montfort, and an excellent climber. Yes, poor old
Jim! he did not climb again for several days. Well, as I was saying,
after all this very egotistical digression, I found the box in question
some forty years ago. I withdrew theacontentsand substituted for
them my totem. The contents I putelsewhere.
He looked round the circle, smiling. Margaret, gazing earnestly at
him, saw his face, for the second time since she had known him, change
from that of a grave, thoughtful man into that of a mischievous boy,
the eager eyes alight with fun, the lips twitching with laughter.
Wouldn'tyouliketoknow? he began slowly, his eyes turning
from one to the other. Suddenly he broke off.
There! the play is over, children. Margaret, you found the casket,
you shall find therun your hand along the back of my chair here, my
dear; where it feels cold, press downward.
Margaret obeyed. A long narrow box or drawer shot out from the
rolling back of the great mahogany chair. Obeying Mr. Montfort's
gesture, Margaret lifted out of the nest of silky cotton something that
sparkled and glittered in the firelight. There was a long-drawn sigh
from the girls, a grunt of surprise from the men, but still no one
The pearls are for you, Margaret. I always meant them for you, my
dear. I have taken them out every birthday and Christmas and looked at
them, but there was always something else I wanted to give you just
then, so I put the pretty playthings back again. Peggy, these pink
topazes were made expressly for you, even if they have been waiting
some time. No earrings, thank heaven! I could not see my girls in
earrings. The diamonds I sent to Rita as a wedding present; you
remember them, Margaret. Deceitful, was I, not to tell you their
history? My child, I said they were family jewels, and so they were.
The turquoises must be Jean's; put them on at once, little girl! Very
pretty; very becoming. Now,any more? It seems to me I remember one
Margaret drew out a long, delicate, glittering chain. At sight of
it, Grace uttered a low cry of delight. What is it? she said. I
never saw anything so beautiful. Water and moonlight? What are the
stones, Mr. Montfort, please?
Aquamarine, said Mr. Montfort. They are beautiful, though not of
great value. Now what shall I do with this last trinket, I wonder?
There is only one person who can possibly wear it, said Hugh,
under his breath. His uncle heard him, and shot a keen, quizzical
glance at him, which caused the philosopher to retire suddenly behind
the shadow of the curtain. Margaret glided to her uncle's side, and
whispered in his ear. Mr. Montfort nodded, smiling. Just what I was
thinking, Margaret, he said. You read my thoughts accurately. My dear
Miss Graceby the way, isn't it time for me to leave off the 'Miss,'
considering my age, and how well we know each other? 'Miss Grace'
suggests 'disgrace,' which can have no possible connection with you. My
dear Grace, then, as Margaret and others have said, there is only one
person present who ought to wear this chain, and that person is
yourself. Will you accept it as a little gift from Margaret and me, and
from Cousin Christina?
Grace drew back, her eyebrows coming together in a look Peggy knew
well. IYou must excuse me, she began; but Mr. Montfort, going to
her, took her hand kindly: My child, do not refuse me this little
pleasure. You surely do not expect me to wear the chain myself? and
Margaret has more trumpery than is good for her already. Besides, as I
said, the thing was manifestly made for you, and for you alone. And,
besides, again, Grace,he drew her nearer, and spoke low,besides,
again, you are an explorer, too; if you had lived twenty-five years
ago, we should have had great excursions together. Take it, my dear, if
for no other reason, because it is the gift of the boy who put the egg
in the box!
CHAPTER XIII. IN THE TWILIGHT
How strange it seems without the boys! said Jean.
And Uncle John! said Margaret.
And Hugh! said Peggy. I wish they hadn't gone.
Oh, no, you don't, Peggy! said Margaret. It was such a great
chance, to have the day on that wonderful yacht. Just think what a good
time they are having! I only wish you could have gone too, but it is a
bachelor party, you see.
Of course! Oh, I want them to have the fun, and it was very good of
Captain Storm to let Uncle John take them all. Yes, they will have a
glorious time; onlywell, we miss them so horribly. Dear me, Margaret,
isn't it strange that you should get to know people so well in such a
short time? Why, I seem to know Gerald and Phil as wellbetter, in
some ways, than I know Hugh. But then, I never feel as if I understood
Hugh, he is sohe knows so much. Margaret, dear, it makes me happy all
through to have you and Hugh know each other, and be such friends.
Indeed, it cannot make you so happy as it does me, Peggy, said
Margaret, smiling. He is a wonderful person, that brother of yours.
Yes, he does know a most amazing amount, but he never makes one
uncomfortable with his knowledge, as some clever people do. He is like
a delightful book, that you can read when you want to, and when you
don't it stays quiet on its shelf. When I want to know about anything,
and Uncle John is somewhere else, or is busy, I just turn over a page
of Hugh, and there I have it. Oh, by the bye, Grace, what was that
stanza he was quoting to you this morning, just before he went away?
Don't you remember? we were coming through the orchard, he and I, and
we met you, and he said this. I have been trying all day to recall it.
Keats! said Grace, briefly.
Yes, I know that; it was from 'La Belle Dame sans Merci,' but I
cannot get the whole stanza. Won't you repeat it? I know you have
almost the whole of Keats by heart.
Grace hesitated, and murmured something about a time for
everything, but finally, half-reluctantly, she repeated the stanza:
'I met a lady in the meads,
Full beautiful, a fairy's child;
Her hair was long, her foot was light,
And her eyes were wild.'
Yes, said Margaret. Wellthank you, Grace! I just wanted to hear
it in your voice; what I was thinking of was, that Hugh always knows
just what to say about everything and everybody. He has the whole
Golden Treasury in his head, and he always turns the right page. Do you
remember the other day, when Michael was so stupid!
Michael is always stupid! said Jean.
Poor Michael! He is not very clever. (Michael was the stable-boy
at Fernley, a new importation from Ireland, with a good deal of
peat-bog still sticking to his brains.) Well, the other day he was
more stupid than usual, for he was sent in town to get some rolled oats
that Frances wanted. Well, he brought back just plain oats; and when
Frances wanted to know what he meant by that, he said, 'Sure, it's
meself can rowl 'em about for yez, as well as that feller in the white
jacket.' Frances explained the situation to him with more force than
amiability. She was in a perfect storm, and poor Michael stood meekly,
feeling of his ear as if she had actually boxed it, though really she
only threatened to, and wondering what it was all about. Well, Hugh and
I came along, and Hugh just looked at him, and said:
'The ass upon the pivot of his skull
Turned round a long left ear!'
There is no other quotation in the English language that would have
fitted the case so perfectly.
You and Grace seem to know Hugh about a hundred times as well as
Peggy and I do, said Jean, pouting a little.
Because they are clever, my dear, and we are not, said Peggy,
cheerfully. If you would learn things, Jean, English literature and
all that, you might be able to talk to Hugh. As it is
Well, I think Phil and Gerald are ever so much more fun, anyhow!
said Jean, saucily. Hugh is poky!
Seeing an elder-sisterly cloud gathering on Peggy's brow, Margaret
hastened to interfere. Girls, she said, I have a confession to make.
I was just going to make it, when the quotations turned me off the
track. You know what Peggy was saying, about our all getting to know
each other so well from staying in the house together. That reminded me
of something, something I am very much ashamed of; and I think it would
be good for my soul to confess it. But you must promise never to tell.
We promise! We promise! cried all the girls.
Margaret, said Grace, I have been looking for your sins ever
since I came, but you were too clever for me; now I shall learn.
Not my fault, said Margaret, merrily, if you are a bat as well as
a dozen other animals, my dear. Well, girlsoh, I am ashamed, and it
really is most astonishingly virtuous of me to tell you about it.
Peggy, just before you came, I was very blue; deeply, darkly, most
Margaret! you, blue?
Hear Peggy making rhymes! Yes, I, blue. You see, the children were
gone, and I did miss them so, I hardly knew how to bear it. It is
impossible for any one to have any idea, girls, how children, children
that are little enough to need one's care, you know, andand watching,
and thinking about, and allhow they get inside your heart and just
live there, all curled up in it, bless them! and these particular
children are the very dearest ones that ever lived, I do believe. Well,
so they were gone, and my heart seemed empty; wickedly and abominably
empty, for there was my own dearest uncle, and there were you, my own
Peggy, coming to spend the whole summer with me, and as if that were
not joy enough for three people, let alone one, I made all kinds of
plans, about studying, and teaching you housekeeping, and embroidery,
and all kinds of things. We were going to read so many hours a day, and
work so many hours,my poor Peggy! you would have had an unmerciful
kind of time!and everything was going to be quiet and regular and
cheerful; I never got beyond cheerfulness in my brightest dreams of the
summer. But even the cheerfulness was far ahead, and just thenbefore
you cameI really had difficulty sometimes in keeping a cheerful face
for Uncle John when he came in. Whymust I tell the whole?
Yes, Margaret, every word!
I used to go up to Susan D.'s room and cry over her little
pinafores and things. As for my pincushion, I fairly soaked it with
tears when I first found it. I told you about the pincushion, didn't I?
Why, that little lamb, for days before she went, was working away at
something, she would not let me see what. After she was gone, I went up
to my room for a quiet cry, and there was a gorgeous new pincushion,
and 'I love you,' on it in pins. My dear little girl! Well, girls,
sothat was the way I felt, and the way I acted, most absurdly; and
thenall this happened. First Hugh dropped from the skies; and then
Uncle proposed the house party, and you came, Jean, and the
Merryweathers; and then you, Peggy; and we discovered our dear Grace;
and so, instead of a quiet, rather humdrum summer, I am having the most
enchanting, Arabian-nights kind of time that ever was. And how do you
think I feel?
Phil would say 'like thirty cents!' said Jean, who was certainly a
little inclined to be pert.
If I hear you say anything of the kind, young one, I'll swat
Peggy, dearest! murmured Margaret, softly.
I'll speak to you very severely. I am ashamed of you,
Look here, Peggy, I won't stand that! said Jean. You promised me,
when I first came, that you wouldn't call me that.
Then don't behave like a kid! retorted Peggy. There, that's
enough. Yes, Margaret, it has all been perfectly delightful and
fairy-like; and then the Mysteries, too, and the hunting, and the
Silver Closet, and all. Oh, I am so glad we didn't find out everything
that first summer. I suppose Uncle John thought we were too young and
silly then; not that you were ever silly, you dear darling thing. But,
Margaret, there is one thing wanting to it all, and only you and I know
what that is.
Margaret nodded. Yes, she said, with a little sigh. We want our
Princess, Peggy. Oh, Grace, if you only knew our Rita! How you and she
would love each other! Peggy, you said that just at the right moment,
for I have her last letter in my pocket, on purpose to read to you, and
I am sure the others would like to hear it, too. Would you, girls?
There seemed no possible doubt on the subject. All the girls
gathered about Margaret, sitting on the floor, as they liked best to
do. Margaret herself took possession of her favorite low chair, and
drawing the letter from her pocket, began to read:
BELOVED MARGUERITE:I am of return only
yesterday from an expedition to the hills, and
I find your precious letter waiting for me. No
need to tell you that I pressed it to my heart,
covered it with kisses. Jack says your letters
are the sole thing of which he is jealous. I
grieve to hear that you must lose those little
ones whom you love so well, even for a short
time; but courage, Margarita mia; there are
other flowers besides roses, and summer is a
pleasant time. You will have Peggy with you,
dear Peggy! She sends me a photograph, which
shows her little changed in the face; still the
dimples, still the soft roundness of cheek and
chin. Best of Peggys; if I had her here, what
great joy! But I must tell you of our ride. We
went, Jack and I, up to the hill camp, where we
went last year, after the terrible ride you
know of. There we spent three happy days,
camping in the green hollow among the hills,
with only Juan to cook for us and care for the
horses. Ah, Marguerite, what a time was that!
We visited every spot made sacred to us by our
love. The hiding-place, near poor Don
Annunzio's house, where I first saw my hero,
swinging in his hammock. Have I told you that I
thought him a skulker, a coward hiding to
escape warfare? How often we have laughed over
that! Then we passed along the road, so
peaceful now, so wild and horrent then (how is
this word, 'horrent,' Marguerite? I find it in
a poem, it seems to me noble; I tell Jack, he
laughs, and says something like 'high falu' I
cannot tell what!). We paused to weep over the
gray heap where once smiled the residencia,
where that kind old woman and her good vast
husband sheltered the wandering maiden,
protected her at the risk of their own lives,
andone of them, as you knowdied to save her
and others. Then farther, to Carlos's old camp,
where Manuela and I lived, and where I first
learned to be of a little use in the world. Ah,
the memories, how they came crowding back! I
have told you that Manuela is married to Pepe?
Yes; two months ago. The wedding was charming!
I gave her her wedding-gown, of finest muslin,
suitable to her condition, with plenty of
lace and ribbons, which the poor child values
highly, and I dressed her hair (poor Manuela!
She would have done it far better herself; she
has a wonderful gift. My present maid is a poor
creature, but Manuela is to give her lessons),
and arranged the veil and wreath. She was a
vision of enchantment, and really thrown away
on poor Pepe, who never looked at either dress
or veil. Jack says 'neither did he.' My dear,
these men! To what purpose do we adorn
ourselves, exhaust the treasure of our souls,
in efforts to please them? But I wander from my
story. My child, this expedition, carrying back
heart as well as body to the scenes of before
our marriage, has told me over again the story
of my happiness. Marguerite, how to deserve it,
this wonderful bliss? I study, I try, the dear
Saint teaches me always many thingsin vain! I
am debtor to the whole world, and how much more
to the gracious Power above worlds! But enough
of this, my Pearl! Your time will come; till
then you know nothing of it. I pant for your
awakening, I burn, Marguerite, but I am
powerless. If I had you here, there is a friend
of ours, a paladin, a Roland, second only to my
Jackno! This makes you laugh, I feel it, I
see your cool, pearly smile. I am angry with
you for laughing, yet I laugh, too. So! now of
other things. I think of you always; Jack also;
I have told him so much, he assassinates
himself with desire to see you all. The time
will come! Margueriteno matter! One word
only! Our beloved Uncle's birthday; I remember
the day, the Fourteenth. You will honor it, I
know, as such a day should be honored, the day
which blessed the earth with the best
manexcept onethat breathes mortal breath.
Marguerite, if on that day a trifle should come
from the far-away cousins, you will receive it
kindly? Ah, how well I know the answer! Bless
you, my treasure! I must go to my housekeeping.
Dear Donito Miguelito is staying with us now;
you can fancy the joy of tending this saintly
old man in his feebleness. I prepare myself the
little dishes that please him; it is a sacred
task; it is like feeding a holy butterfly.
Adios, my Marguerite!
Ever and ever your devoted
You ask of Concepcion. She is married to Diego
Moreno, and, as I hear, is very unhappy. Poor
woman, I compassionate her!
After the reading of the letter, Grace slipped away to return to her
patient, and the three cousins sat together, talking in low tones of
Rita, and of Grace herself. Jean maintained stoutly that Rita could not
be so fascinating as Grace. Peggy and Margaret insisted that, though
totally different in quality, neither could outdo the other in amount
They are both the kind of girls you would do anything for! said
Peggy; just anything in the world, no matter how foolish, just because
they wanted you to. It isn't a thing you can describe; it just is, and nobody can help it.
Well, I should think the difference would be in the kind of thing
they would ask you to do, said Jean, with wisdom beyond her years.
Grace wouldn't ask you anything foolish, and I should think Cousin
Grace! exclaimed Peggy; and then checked herself loyally. Grace
wasn't always so wise as she is now, young one! she said, simply.
Well, she's a dear, anyhow; I think Mrs. Peyton might have let her
stay all night. It's horribly poky, with Uncle John and the boys and
everybody away. Why, Margaret, there isn't a single man about the
place, is there? Bannan drove them over, and then he was going to the
cattle-show, and so was Michael. Suppose there should be robbers, or
Suppose there should! said Peggy, coolly. If Frances and I and
the dogs could not arrange matters with a robber, it would be a pity.
Margaretwhat is this queer light? Has everything turned red, all of a
[Illustration: A TALL, SLENDER FIGURE HALF RAN, HALF TOTTERED INTO
The moon rises late to-night, said Margaret. I have no idea what
time it is now. It seems an hour since Grace went.
The moon isn't red, anyhow! said Peggy. I believe
As she spoke, she rose and went to the window. Girls! she cried.
There is a fire somewhere near. Come and look!
Margaret and Jean pressed hastily forward to the window. It was a
strange scene on which they looked. All of a sudden, the world seemed
turned to red and black. A crimson light suffused the sky; against it
the trees stood black as ebony. Even as they looked, a crest of flame
sprang up above the tree-tops, wavered, and broke into a shower of
sparks; at the same instant their nostrils were filled with the acrid,
pungent smell of wood smoke.
Oh, what is it? Where can it be? cried Margaret.
Maybe it's only a bonfire! said Jean.
Peggy shook her head. Too big for a bonfire! she said. I'll go
out and see, Margaret. What a pity the boys should miss it! I'll come
back and let you knowmercy! what's this?
The door opened, and a tall, slender figure half ran, half tottered
into the room. Margaret! cried a wild voice of terror. Margaret
Montfort, save me!
Good heavens! Mrs. Peyton!
Yes, Emily Peyton. My house is burning. I ran all the way here.
Margaret and Peggy caught her as she fell forward, and laid her on
the sofa, and while Jean ran for water and Elizabeth, chafed her hands
and her temples, looking the while anxiously at each other.
Can you tell us what happened? asked Margaret, trying to keep her
voice quiet and even, for Mrs. Peyton was in the wildest agitation.
You escaped, thank Heaven! butis the fire serious? Who is there now?
Where is Grace Wolfe?
Don't leave me! said the sick woman, with a ghastly look.
Margaret, if you leave me I shall die. Sheshe went back for the
jewels. She is in the house now.
CHAPTER XIV. THE FIRE
The three girls reached the door in the same instant, but Mrs.
Peyton followed, and still held Margaret's arm in a desperate clutch.
Don't leave me! she repeated. Margaret, don't leave me to die!
But Margaret put the clinging hands away. You are not going to
die, she said. You are going to sit down in this chair, Mrs. Peyton,
and be quiet till I come back. See, here is Elizabeth, with water and
cologne, and everything comfortable. By and by you shall go up-stairs,
but rest here now; nothing can happen to you, and I will come back as
soon as I can.
Wondering at her own hardihood, Margaret ran out, shunning the wild
pleading of the beautiful eyes which she knew were bent upon her. Jean
was waiting for her on the step, but Peggy had disappeared.
She said we were to go on, said Jean, and she would catch us up.
Which way, Margaret? I don't know the way.
Margaret led the way through the garden, running as she had never
run before. They had not gone a hundred yards when Peggy was at their
side. She had a coil of rope slung over her arm.
It may be wanted, she said. I remembered where it always hung.
Oh, if the boys were only here!
They ran on in silence, Margaret echoing the cry in her heart. At
every step the glare grew brighter, the rolling smoke thicker. Margaret
noticed, and wondered at herself for noticing, that the under side of
some of the leaves above her head shone red like copper, while others
were yellow as gold. Every patch of fern and brake, every leaf of box
or holly, stood out, clear as at noonday.
On, down the long cedar alley, the dew dripping from the branches as
they closed behind them; over the sunk fence, and across the lower
garden to the summer-house, Hugh's summer-house. Once Margaret would
have shuddered at the drop into the meadow below, but Grace's climbing
lessons had not been given in vain, and, without a moment's hesitation,
she followed Peggy down the old willow-tree, landing knee-deep in fern
Now they could hear the roar of the flames, the crackling and
snapping of burning wood, and, looking up, they saw on the brow of the
rise beyond, the flames tossing and beckoning over the dark firs of
Five minutes more, and, breathless with running, they stood on the
lawn before the burning house.
The side facing them was already wrapped in flames. Long wavering
tongues shot through the open windows, and curled round the woodwork,
lapping it; they purred and chuckled like live creatures over their
food; they leaped up toward the roof, running along its edge, feeling
their way higher and higher, while now and then one sprang aloft,
tossing its scarlet crest over the rooftree itself. Evidently the fire
had started in the upper story, for in the lower one, though the smoke
poured dense and black through the open windows, there were no flames
to be seen yet. Furniture, books, and knick-knacks of every description
were scattered about the lawn in wild confusion, and two men, half
stifled with smoke, were struggling frantically with a grand piano, one
hacking at the window-frame with an axe to widen the opening, the other
trying desperately to unscrew the legs, as if that would mend matters.
Seven people out of ten, at a fire, will leave untouched pictures and
books that can never be replaced, and spend their time and energies in
trying to save the piano.
The group of frightened women huddled together on the lawn had made
their attempt, too, to save some of their mistress's property. Even in
her terror and anguish, Margaret could hardly keep back the thought of
a smile at their aspect. One clasped a sofa-pillow, one a pair of
vases. A stout woman, evidently the cook, had a porcelain kettle on
either arm, and another on her head, while her hands clutched a variety
of spoons, ladles, cups, and dippers. She evidently had her wits about
her more than the others, and she was scolding the parlor-maid, a
trembling, weeping creature, who was holding a small china bowl in both
hands, as if it were a royal treasure.
She likes her malted milk in it, you know she does, Mary, said the
girl. Only yesterday she was telling me never bring her any bowl
except this. It's cruel of you to harry me for trying to save what she
You green goose! What will she want wid the bowl and you not
leaving her a spoon to sup wid! Where is the key of the safe, I'm
askin' ye! Maybe James could get it out yet.
Oh, I don't know! I don't know! I expect I dropped it. I was going
to get the silver myself; I'd ha' got all of it, without you telling
me, but when I opened the pantry door, the fire leapt out at me,
roaring like the pit, and I dropped the key and run. I'm awful sorry,
but I've got the bowl, and I do wish you'd let me be.
A little apart stood Antonia, the French maid, bearing on her
outstretched arms a superb tea-gown of violet velvet, embroidered with
pearls. On it lay a pile of costly laces, slightly blackened by smoke,
but uninjured. Antonia had done her best, and had saved the treasure of
her heart. Margaret ran up to her.
Antonia, where is Miss Wolfe?
The woman did not seem to hear the question, but burst into agitated
speech. Oh, mademoiselle, mademoiselle! she cried. Ah, the tragedy!
of all the robes arrived from Paris last week, but only last week, this
only remaining! It was all I could save, all! I tried; I burned myself
the hands, mademoiselle, to rescue the others, the blue crape, the
adorable lace jacquettes, the satin rose-thèin vain,
all gone, all devoured! Mon Dieu, and madame had not even had
them on! But the lace, Mademoiselle Montfort, the point d'Alençon, the
Valenciennes, all, I have it safe. See, mademoiselle, regard for
yourself, un peu noirci, a leetle blackened, voilà tout!
It is without price, the point d'Alençon, you know, Mademoiselle
Antonia, do you hear me? What do I care about the laces? Where is
She's mazed, miss! said Mary, the cook. She can't talk about
nothin' but that stuff. Sure Miss Wolfe is at Fernley wid the mistress.
It's wondher ye didn't meet them on the way, miss. She went wid Mrs.
Peyton, and me and the other girls stopped behind to see what we could
Oh, no! cried Margaret. Mrs. Peyton came alone. She said Miss
Wolfe came backfor the jewels. She said she was in the house now.
Lord help her then! said the parlor-maid. If she's in the house
now, she's as good as dead, and worse, too. The stairs has fallen in;
Thomas seen 'em fall. Oh, dear! oh, dear! what an awful time!
Be still, Eliza! said the cook. Where's Jenny? She was in the
sewing-room, next to Miss Wolfe's; maybe she'd know something. Who saw
Jenny since we come out? Good Lord, where is the child? I thought she
come with me.
Oh, Jenny's all right! moaned Eliza. She'll have gone straight
home. She was going home to spend the night anyway, Mary; don't be
scaring us worse. It's bad enough to lose Miss Wolfe, poor young lady,
and she so bold and daring!
Hold your tongue! said Peggy. Listen to me, girls, and
answer plainly, and not all at once like a flock of foolish sheep. Did
any one see Miss Wolfe go into the house?
No, miss, no; we see her go with Mrs. Peyton, and we never thought
but she was all right.
She may not be there after all! said Peggy. Her room is on the
other side, isn't it, Margaret? Come on!
They ran round to the other side of the house. This was apparently
still untouched, though the fiery tongues came darting over the
rooftree every now and then, hissing and lapping, and the roof itself
was covered with sparks and great patches of burning tinder, fragments
of the costly stuffs and tissues that the house-owner had so dearly
prized. The windows were closed and silent, but all was bright as day
in the red glare of the fire.
Call, Peggy! whispered Margaret. I have no voice.
Even as she spoke, a window in the second story was thrown up, and
there stood Grace herself, very pale, but quiet as usual.
There's a young woman faint here, she said. Too much smoke. The
stairs are gone. Is there a ladder, Peggy? Ah, rope! Much better.
Clever child! When I say threethrow!
Oh, the good days on the Western farm, when little Peggy, on her
rough pony, scampered here and there, lassoing the sheep and calves,
and getting well scolded in consequence! Oh, the other good days at
school, where nerve and muscle learned to follow the quick eye, so that
thought and action seemed to flash together!
The rope hissed upward like a flying snake, but a cloud of smoke
drove past the window, and the outstretched hands missed it. Again it
flew, and this time it was caught, drawn up, and knotted tight inside
Now if I had a ladder! muttered Peggy.
I saw one, cried Margaret; I am sure I did. Wait!
She flew off, and returned followed by a boy with a ladder. It
proved short by several feet.
Oh, what shall we do! cried Margaret.
Hold the ladder steady! said Peggy. She'll see to that end, and I
can manage this. Hold it!
Margaret and the boy grasped the ladder; Peggy ran up it, and stood
on the top rung, holding the lower end of the rope.
All ready, Goat! she called.
Ay, ay! said the quiet voice within. Coming, Innocent!
The women had followed Margaret and Peggy, and now a cry broke from
She's got her!
'Tis Jenny! She was in there all the time!
She's not; she's living, I see her move. Oh, Mother of Mercy,
they'll both be killed before their own eyes!
What was Grace doing? The form she held in her arms was that of a
slight girl of fifteen or so. She was knotting something round her,
under arms and over breast; something half sling, half rope; towels,
perhaps, tied strongly together. Now she brought the ends over her own
shoulders, bending forward.
With the unconscious child bound to her back, Grace leaned out and
grasped the rope; another moment and she was swinging on it, clinging
with hands and feet, the old school way.
Margaret covered her face with her hand and prayed. Peggy, steadying
the rope with one hand, held out the other, and waited.
Down, hand over hand! Slender hands, to bear the double burden.
Delicate shoulders, to carry the dead weight that hangs on them. Are
they elastic steel, those fingers that grip the rope, never slipping,
never relaxing their hold?
Down, hand over hand! the hands are bleeding now; no matter! the
white dress is black with smoke, and blood drips on it here and there;
what of that? it is nearly over.
Now? Peggy asked, quietly.
Steadying herself, Peggy left the rope, and received the burden in
her arms. Grace, holding the rope with one hand, with the other loosed
the knot, and laid the limp arms over Peggy's neck.
All right? she said.
Ainsi long! and as Peggy carefully slowly descended the
ladder, Grace turned and began quickly and steadily to climb the rope
Grace! Grace! cried Margaret. For God's sake, what are you about?
Come down! There is no time to lose; come down!
And behold, all is vanity! said Grace; and she disappeared inside
the burning house.
But Margaret could bear no more. She helped to take the senseless
girl from Peggy's arms and lay her on the grass; then the world seemed
to slip from her, and she dropped quietly with her head on Jenny's
CHAPTER XV. JEWELS: AND AN AWAKENING
Are you better? said Gerald. Are you truly better, Miss Margaret?
I am going to drown myself anyhow in the first bucket I find, and if
you don't feel better I shall make it a dipper, and that would be so
inconvenient, don't you know?
Margaret looked at him, only half hearing what he said.
Yes, I am better; I am very well, thank you. What happened? Did I
Yes! you fainted, just as we came up. They wanted to pour water
over you, but I always think it's such a shame, in books, to spoil
their clothes, and you have such pretty clothes. So I wouldn't let
them. It wasn't Peggy, it was a lot of fool cooks and things.
Did something hurt me? asked Margaret, vaguely, still feeling that
she was somebody else making friendly inquiries about herself.
Yes, II pinched you, you dear, sweet, prettyat least, I don't
mean that! at least I do mean it, every word, only highly improper
under the circumstances, but I don't care so long as you are better.
Making a strong effort, Margaret sat up and looked about her. She
was still on the Silverfield lawn, but some one had drawn her away from
the neighborhood of the burning house, now a shapeless mass, though
still burning fiercely, and had pillowed her head on a rolled-up coat.
Her companion was in his shirt-sleeves, so it was evident whose coat it
As she gazed at the blazing ruins, memory came back in a flood.
Grace! she cried, wildly. Where is Grace?
Safe, said Gerald, quickly. Safe and sound. Not a hair singed,
though it sounds impossible. Most astonishing person I ever saw in my
life. Came down the rope like a foretopman, hung all over with jewels:
brooches, chains, and owches, you know,Scripture,kind of
rope-walking Tiffany. You never saw such a thing in your life. Hadn't
much more than touched the ground, when the roof fell in. Standing luck
of the British Army, I call that!
Oh, thank God! thank God! but where is she? where are they all?
Mostly gone to take the fainted girl home. She didn't come to just
right; choked with the smoke, Hugh thought. Phil and Peggy are carrying
her, and Miss Wolfe giving moral support. Hugh has gone for the nearest
doctor. The fool cooks have gone in search of their wits, I suppose;
they didn't seem to be anywhere round here.
AndJean? she was here too; is she all right?
Gerald hung his head. She was left to take care of you, he said.
I told her I was a medical man, which is strictly untrue, and asked
her to go back to Fernley to get something, cologne, or rum, or
mustard,I forget what I did say. The women bothered and made a noise,
so I advised them to proceed in the direction of Jericho. Great place,
Jericho! They wentthere or elsewhere. Don't get up yet, please don't!
it's always better to lie still after a fire, or a faint; how much more
after both combined!
Oh, I must! said Margaret. I must go home at once, Mr.
Merryweather, truly. Oh, thank you, but I can get up perfectly
wellonly my head is queer still. I wishwhy did you send Jean away?
I didn't want her, said Gerald, meekly. You looked so pretty
Please don't talk nonsense!
I'm not. It's my truthful nature. It comes out in spots, like
measles, in spite of me. When I was only six years old, I told my nurse
she was a hideous old squunt, and she was. Fact, or at least
justifiable fiction. If you must get up, won't you take poor Jerry's
arm? just once, before he drowns himself? it's your last chance!
What do you mean? Why should you drown yourself?
Because I missed all the fun, and let you faint, and Miss Wolfe get
nearly burned up, and Miss Peggy a sight to behold with smoke and
water, and Hugh all tied up in t l k's, and all for a day's yachting.
Not that it wasn't great yachting, but there is a sense of proportion.
What are t l k's? asked Margaret, smiling faintly. She was
recovering her composure, and Gerald noted with inward thankfulness her
returning color. His running fire of nonsense, kept up in the hope of
rousing her to interest, covered an anxious heart, but he gave no sign.
T l k's? true lover's knots! none of my business, of course, but
the professor appears to be interested in the
fairacrobatacrobatessacrobatiawhat you will! Give you my word,
when he came round the corner and saw her coming down that rope, I
thought he would curl up into knots himself. Jolly stunt! when I first
came I was awfully afraid Gerald pulled himself up suddenly, and
Afraid? said Margaret, innocently. Afraid of what?
Of bats! When they squeak, I desire to pass away.
If you call me Mr. Merryweather any more, I shall pass away,
without benefit of buckets. Say Gerald! just try it, and see how pretty
it sounds. Gerald! 'tis a melting mouthful! Sentimental, if you will,
but what then?
Margaret laughed in spite of herself. I must say, as Frances did, I
never see such a bold boy since born I was! she said. Well, Gerald,
then; and now, Gerald, here we are at the house, and would you please
go round the north way, and not come into the library just now? Thank
you ever so much for helping me! No, I must go in, I truly must.
* * * * *
Mrs. Peyton was sitting bolt upright on the sofa on which they had
laid her. Her face was absolutely colorless; it might have been an
ivory statue, but for the ghastly look of the blue eyes. She fixed her
eyes on Margaret, but said nothing. Margaret ran to her, and put her
arms round her. Oh, how could they leave you alone? she cried. She
is safe; every one is safe, dear Mrs. Peyton. No one hurt, only Jenny
overcome with the smoke a little. I thought Jean would have told you.
The ivory figure began to tremble. With shaking hands she tried to
put Margaret away from her; then, with a sudden revulsion of feeling,
she clung to her and burst into tears.
I sent them away! she whispered through her sobs. I would not
have them look at me. Margaretare you sure? that girl, is she truly
Truly and honestly, dear Mrs. Peyton. It was a most marvellous
escape, but she is absolutely unharmed, and she saved another life
beside her own. But for Grace, poor little Jenny must have been lost.
She is a heroine, our Grace!
I did not mean to kill her! said the poor woman. I did not
realize what it meant. I said, 'My jewels! my jewels!' and I don't know
what other nonsense. She never said a word, just turned and went back.
Thenoh! then, when you were all gone, I understood, I saw, that I had
sent her to her death for thosethose horrible things. Nevernever
let me see them again! I have been sitting hereyears, it seems to
mewaiting to hear that she was dead; perhaps to see her body brought
Oh, hush, hush, Mrs. Peyton! You will make yourself ill. You are
only distressing yourself beyond all need. She is safe, I tell you. In
a few moments you will see for yourself
At this moment the door opened, and Grace stood before them. She was
a strange figure indeed. Black with smoke, her fair hair gray with
ashes, her dress torn and discolored; but sparkling with jewels as
never was any ballroom belle. Superb necklaces of diamond and emerald
hung around her neck; her arms glittered with bracelets, her fingers
were loaded with rings, while ropes of amethyst and pearl were wound
around her head and even about her waist.
All the way over, said Grace, I have been pitying the robber who
didn't meet me, and so lost the great chance of his life. So sad for
Margaret recalled Gerald's expression, a rope-walking Tiffany, and
could not help smiling in spite of her anxiety; but Mrs. Peyton hid her
face in her hands.
Take them away! she said. Take them off, Grace! I never want to
see them again. Horrible things, all blood and flame! who knows how
many other lives they have cost? and it is no fault of mine that they
have not cost yours. No fault of mine!
This was so true, that neither Grace nor Margaret spoke. Mrs. Peyton
rose, and moved restlessly about the room.
Incidentally, she said, I have got well.
Grace glanced at Margaret, but still neither spoke. Mrs. Peyton gave
Grace a strange look. You didn't set fire to the house deliberately, I
suppose? she said.
I did not! said Grace, bluntly. To be honest, I have thought of
itthought, I mean, of the effect it might produce; but it isn't a
thing one does in general society.
I remember! said Mrs. Peyton, dreamily. I remember. I did it
Did it yourself? cried Margaret, aghast. Grace was silent.
I threw the candle down. I had been looking in the glass, and I
found a new wrinkle, a horrible one. I threw the candle down, and it
fell on a roll of cotton wool. How it went! I can hear the sound now,
and see the fire runrun!
I wouldn't talk about it any more, said Grace, quietly.
I must. I must tell it all. SheGrace, therefound me; it had
caught my bed, and the curtains were blazing. She carried me out of the
room and down the stairs herself. What is she made of? She isn't so
tall as I. Thenat the doorshe set me down and told me to run, and I
ran. We ran together, till the devil brought these things into my mind,
and I sent her back to be burned up for my vanity.
I wasn't burned up, said Grace, composedly; and as you remarked
just now, Mrs. Peyton, you have got well. Do you want to know what I
I thinkthat the game was worth the candle!
CHAPTER XVI. FOR AULD LANG SYNE
Confess that I have surprised you, John Montfort! said Mrs.
I do confess it, Emily, Mr. Montfort answered, gravely. But I am
truly glad that my house has been able to afford you shelter when you
were in need of it.
That is as much as to say, that under other circumstancesnever
mind! I am not going to quarrel with you, John.
I trust not, said Mr. Montfort, still speaking with grave
If Margaret had been present, she would have wondered at the change
in her uncle's face. The warmth, the genial light of kindness, was
clean gone out of it; it was an older and a sterner man who sat in the
great armchair and looked steadily and quietly at his visitor.
Mrs. Peyton smiled, then frowned; at last she sighed.
I never meant to hurt you, John, she said, softly. Thirty years
is a long time to hate a person whowho never hated you.
I have never hated you, Emily, said Mr. Montfort, not unkindly.
Our paths have not crossed
Mrs. Peyton laughed. No, they have not crossed. You took care of
that. They have only run alongside each otherwith the garden wall
And nothing else? said John Montfort.
She was silent for a moment. Then, I never meant to make trouble
between you and Rose!
You never did, said Mr. Montfort, tranquilly.
I know! butyou thought I tried. I did tell you a lie that night,
when I said she would not see you. How could I know that she was going
to die before you came back from the West? II wanted to see you
myself; that was no such dreadful sin, was it? I was sorrysorry, I
tell you, when I heard of her death. Thirty years ago, and I have never
been able to speak to you alone till to-day. II had to burn my house
down to get a chance to make my peace with you, John Montfort. No, I
don't mean that I did it on purpose, though I am not sure that it
wouldn'taren't you going to forgive me, John, after all these years?
Mr. Montfort rose. He was very pale, but he spoke steadily. Emily,
it is hardly strange that I do not care to open old wounds. If I have
been unkind, I am sorry for it. I do forgive you, fully and freely.
Now, let the past alone. What can I do for you in the present, and how
help you to provide for the future? I have not been a good neighbor, I
confess it; I will try to prove myself a better one henceforward.
Mrs. Peyton laughed her little mocking laugh. It will be easier
than you think, John. I am going to Europe, and I don't know whether I
shall ever come back.
Going to Europe, Emily? Are you strong enough?
I am perfectly well! said Mrs. Peyton, simply. Doctor Flower has
been telling me for several years that there was nothing really the
matter with me any more, and that I could be well if I wanted. Grace
Wolfe made me feel the same thing. Well, now I do want it. The fire
lighted up a good many things for me, and showed me the way. I have no
house to live in; I am alone in the world; I may as well be doing
things as staying in bed, of which I am really very tired. I am writing
to my man of business to take places for Antonia and me on next week's
steamer for Paris. I've half a mind to take Grace Wolfe, too, if she
I have asked Grace to make her home with us for the present, said
Mr. Montfort, quickly. Next year I expect to take her and Margaret
Mrs. Peyton laughed again. I can't even have her! Wellnever mind.
I love her, but she frightens me. She might have catalepsy
again,though I rather think that was a clever device for getting me
out of bed,and I want to forget everything connected with sickness.
ButJohnthere is something you can do for me. This girl risked her
life to save my jewels, the playthings I have tried to amuse myself
with these many years. I want you to sell them for me, and give her the
Sell your jewels, Emily!
Yes. I never want to see them again. She shuddered slightly, but
her voice was firm and steady.
They are all here, in this basket. Lock them up now, and the next
time you go to town sell them, and invest the money for Grace Wolfe.
Will you do this for me, John? It is the only thing I shall ever be
likely to ask you.
Indeed I will, Emily! said Mr. Montfort, speaking with much more
warmth than he had hitherto shown. It will be a grateful commission.
Shall I look?these things are of great value, Emily. There are
thousands of dollars' worth of trumpof trinkets here.
So much the better for Grace!
There is nothing you would like to keep? None of these diamonds?
No; I detest diamonds! When a complexion begins to gonever mind!
Stay, though! Margaret liked that pink pearl; sweet little prim
Margaret, who has given me most of the little pleasure I have had these
last three years. You'll let her have it, John? I beg you to let me
give it to her!
Surely, surely, my dear Emily. It is a beautiful gem, and I am glad
that my Margaret should have something to remember you by while you are
gone. And now shake hands, for I must be off.
You are going away?
For the night only. I was to have spent two or three days in town
on business, but hurried home on hearing of the fire. I shall be back
to-morrow, or next day at latest.
AndI may stay here till then, John?
My dear Emily, I earnestly beg that you will stay as long as it is
convenient to you. You must have many things to arrange; pray consider
Fernley as your own house until you have everything comfortably
Thank you, John! I heard your own voice then, the kindest voice
thatgood-by, John Montfort!
* * * * *
Gone, you say, Margaret? When did she go? I fully expected to see
This afternoon, Uncle John. We could not persuade her to stay
longer. Her man of business came down this morning early, and arranged
everything with the farmer and the servants, and finally took her and
Antonia back with him. It is very sudden! I should be frightened at her
attempting the voyage, but Grace says it is just what Doctor Flower has
been wishing and hoping for. Poor Mrs. Peyton! I shall miss her very
much, Uncle John. She is very, very lovable; and, somehow, these few
days have so softened and changed herI hardly know how to put it, but
it is as if her heart had waked up after a long sleep.
Perhaps it has! said Mr. Montfort, thoughtfully. Poor Emily! she
has had an unhappy life; yet when she was your age, Margaret, Emily
Silverton thought she had the world at her feet. Life is instructive,
my child. Did she tell you what she had done about Grace?
Margaret shook her head. She said you would have something to tell
me, but she would not say anything more. She was bent on keeping
control over her nerves, I think, so I tried just to keep things quiet
and cheerful, and I saw that was what she wanted. What is it about
Thereupon Mr. Montfort told the story of the jewels, and how he had
taken them to town with him the day before. It will be a great change
for our Grace, he said. She has had very little money, I think you
told me, Margaret?
Oh, almost none, Uncle John. She has had a very, very hard time;
and since her father died last yearshe seems to have no other
relationsshe has supported herself entirely. Oh, this is a kind thing
of Mrs. Peyton; and I understand just how she feels and why she wants
to do it. Aren't the jewels worth a good deal, Uncle John?
Guess how much, little girl!
How can I? Perhaps as much as a thousand dollars? Oh, Uncle John!
Perhaps, Margaret; my child, Tiffany's head man thinks,he could
not price them all exactly,but, roughly speaking, he thinksthat
this collection is worthfifty thousand dollars. Grace is,
comparatively speaking, a rich woman.
Margaret stood speechless, in utter amazement. At this moment there
was a sound, as of a book falling to the ground, and a smothered
exclamation. Both started and looked round, as Hugh Montfort rose from
the corner where he had been seated and came slowly forward. He was
very pale, and seemed to bear more heavily on his stick than usual.
You knew I was here, Margaret? he said, with a look that tried to
be unconcerned. I trust I have not overheard anything that I should
not. I was writing, and thought you saw me when you came in.
No secrets, my boy, no secrets! said Mr. Montfort, heartily. You
heard this great piece of news about our little friend, did you? She
does not know it herself yet; Margaret must tell her. Margaret, you
have deserved this pleasure, my dear, and I rejoice in making it over
The good man was glowing with pleasure and good will; but for once
he met no response from Hugh, who, pale and gloomy, stared before him
as if he had seen a ghost.
My dear fellow, cried Mr. Montfort, changing his tone at once,
you are not well. How pale you are! oryou have had no bad news,
Hugh? Nobody ill at home, eh? Your father
No, no, sir, all well! Father is in perfect trim; I have just been
reading a letter from him, Uncle John; you must hear it, sometime when
you are not busy. Don't look at me like that, Margaret! Imy head
aches a little, if I must confess. Did you never see any one with a
Was it possible that Hugh was out of temper? Neither Mr. Montfort
nor Margaret could believe it at first; both gazed at him, expecting
the usual kindly smile to begin in his eyes and break gradually over
his face; but no smile came. Mr. Montfort, who had lived many years and
seen many things, was the first to recover himself; he passed Hugh with
a friendly pat on the shoulder, and, nodding to Margaret, went out of
the room. Margaret remained still, looking earnestly in her cousin's
face, unconscious of offence.
Dear Hugh, she said, affectionately, I am so sorry! Let me get
you somethingone of those tablets that relieved you last time.
No, no! said Hugh. It is nothing, Margaret, nothing at all. So
Miss Wolfe is a rich woman, is she, and spoilt for life? And you are
glad, you and Uncle John! Well, I am sorry, for my part; sorry from the
bottom of my heart. It is an iniquity.
It is! She will grow into an idle fine lady, like this very Mrs.
Peyton, who throws about her gewgaws at every whim. Her life will be
frittered away over dresses and frippery and fashion. Instead of a
worker, a real woman, with a woman's work and aims, you will have a
butterfly, pretty and useless, fluttering about in the sunshine, unable
to bear rough weather. A fine piece of work it will be, the ruining of
a girl like that.
Margaret stood aghast, and for a few moments found no words. Her
cousin's face showed that he was only too deeply in earnest; his eyes
glowed with sombre fire, and a dark red spot burned in his cheek. When
Margaret did speak at last, her eyes were tender, but her voice was
grave, almost stern. Hugh, she said, I hardly know you; and I see
that you do not know Grace in the least. I thoughtI thought you
didunderstand her, better perhaps than any one else did; but if you
can say such things as these, I see I was utterly mistaken. She,
spoiled by a little prosperity? Oh, how can you? For shame, Hugh!
Hugh looked up at her suddenly. Oh, Margaret! he said. Margaret,
have patience with me! II am not myself to-day. My headthere is
something wrong with me.
Yes, dear, said Margaret, tenderly. Go and lie down, Hugh, won't
you? And I'll bring you some cracked ice. That always helps a little.
I don't want to lie down, and I don't want any cracked ice; thank
you all the same, good little sister-cousin! I'll go out into the
garden, I think. The trees will be the best thing for me to-day.
AndMargaretforget what I said, will you? It is none of my business,
of course; onlygood-by, little girl!
CHAPTER XVII. IN THE GARDEN
My dear, please don't be absurd!
My angel, I am not half so absurd as you are. Why, in the name of
all that is incongruous, should I take this lady's money? Is thy
servant a dog, that she should do this thing?
Listen, Grace! You are wholly, utterly wrong. Listen to me! Let us
sit down here by the summer-house and have it out. No, you have said
enough; it is my turn now. You talk about yourself, and your
independence and freedom, and I don't know what. My dear, I want you to
forget yourself, and think of her.
Of her? What difference does it make to her?
All the difference in the world, it may be. What is that noise?
It is I! said Hugh, emerging from the summer-house. I seem fated
to be an eavesdropper, and yet I am not one by nature. Pardon me, young
He was about to pass them with a formal bow, but Margaret, with a
sudden inspiration, caught his arm. No! she cried, I want you to
hear what I am going to say. You, too, misunderstandsit down, Hugh,
and listen! Please! she added, in the tone that seldom failed to win
Hugh hesitated, but finally sat down, looking very grim, and stared
at the box-tree in front of him. Margaret went on, hurriedly, moved for
once out of her gentle calm.
This ladyI must speak plainly, though she is my friendhas lived
a selfish, empty, idle life. She was very beautiful and very rich,
really one of the great beauties and heiresses, andand that was all.
She was brought up by a worldly aunther mother died when she was
littleand married to some one whom she cannot have cared for very
much, I am afraid; and she never had any children. Then came all this
ill health. Oh, Grace, I can't help it if it wasn't all real, she
certainly has suffered a great deal; and through it all she has been
alone, loving no one, and with no one to love her. She will not see any
of her own people, cousinsshe has no one nearer; she says they are
all mercenary. I don't know, of course, but it is one of the terrible
things about having a great deal of money, that you think everybody
wants it, whether they do or not. Now, at last, before it was too
late,oh, I am so thankful for that,the change has come. She has
waked up, and it is all owing to you, Grace. Yes, it is! I have been
fond of her, and she has petted me, and been very good to me, and given
me things, but I never could open her eyes, try as I would. Now, you
have done it, dear. You not only saved her life actuallyyes, you did,
Grace; she told me all about it; she never would have got out of that
room alive but for youyou not only saved her life, but you have given
her some idea of how to live. She wants to do something in return. It
is the first time, I do believe, that she has wanted really to
help some one else. When she gave me prettinesses, it was because it
amused her to do it, not because I needed them, nor because she was
thinking specially about me.
Grace, if you refuse this; if you shut back the kindly impulse, the
desire to help some one, I tell you you will be doing a wrong thing. It
is nothing in the world but pride, selfish pride, that is speaking in
you. Tell me againtell Hugh, what Mrs. Peyton said to you when she
She said Grace's voice had not its usual cool evenness, but was
husky, and faltered now and thenshe said, 'Do not refuse my last
wish! I do not tell you what it is, for fear you should refuse at once,
and shut me up with myself again. Do not refuse, for the sake of
Christian kindness, of which I have known nothing hitherto, but which I
mean to learn something about if I can.'
And thenshe kissed meMargaret, it is brutal of you to make me
tell this!she kissed me twice, and said Grace's voice broke.
Icannot! she faltered.
Margaret rose to her feet with a sudden impulse. Hark! she said.
Is that Uncle John calling me? Wait here, please, both of you! and
she ran off, never looking behind her. It was the first and last
deceitful act of Margaret Montfort's life.
There was a long silence. Hugh Montfort stared at the box-tree.
Grace cried a little, quietly; then wiped away her tears, not noticing
them much, and observed an ant running along the path. At last, Well?
Well! said Grace. I am sorry to have made such a spectacle of
myself. Is there anything to say?
Hugh plucked a box-leaf and scrutinized it carefully.
They make these things so even! he said.
Machinery never couldLet me tell you a story. Do you mind? Once
upon a time there was a manorwell, call him a man! He was part of
one, anyhow, as much as accident allowed. He was not strong, but he
could work, and he meant to work, and do things he cared about, and
lead as good a life as he knew how. He had been a good deal alone,
somehow, though he had dear good people of his own; he was an odd
stick, I suppose, as odd as the one he walked with.
He stopped, glanced at his stick, with its handle worn smooth as
glass; then he went on.
He had never seen much of women, except his own family; never
thought about them much as individuals, though always in his mind there
was a dreamI suppose all men have itof some one he should meet some
day, who would turn the world from gray to gold. One dayhe saw a
vision; andafter thathe learned, not all at once, but little by
little, that life was not full and rounded, as he had thought it, but
empty and one-sided and unprofitable, if this vision could not be
always before his eyes; if this one woman could not come into his life,
to be his star, his light, his joy and happiness. She was poor, like
himself. He thought of working for her, of sharing with her the honest,
laborious, perhaps helpful life he had planned, the life of a Western
forester, living among the woods and mountains, studying the trees he
loved, learning the secrets of nature at first hand, teaching his
beloved all the little he knew, and learning more, a thousandfold more,
from every look of her eyes, every tone of her wonderful voice.
Wellwhile he dreamedsomething happened. Suddenly, by a wave of
a wand, as in the fairy tales, his maiden was transformed. Instead of
the orphan girl, working bravely with her brave hands to earn her
bread, he sawa rich woman! saw the woman he loved condemned by the
idle whim of an idle pleasure-seeker to sit with folded hands, or play
with toys and trinkets. He was filled with rage; he hated the very
sound of the word money, becauseit seemed to him that this money
would rob him of his darling. Ihe
Hugh broke off suddenly. I am the greatest fool in the world! he
said. Grace, do you understand me? Do you know what I am trying to
It was the merest whisper that replied, I don'tknow
Yes, you do. Hugh caught the slender hands, and held them close.
You know, you must know, that I have cared for you ever since that
first wonderful moment, when you broke through the leaves like
sunshine, and I saw the face I had dreamed of all my life. You must
have felt it, all these weeks. Oh, Margaret is right, I suppose. All
she says is true enough; if you can help this poor woman by taking her
wretched money, I suppose you will have to do it. Butbut I lose my
princess, before ever I could win her. I can't ask a rich woman to be
While Hugh was speaking, Grace's head had drooped lower and lower,
as if she shrank under the weight that was laid upon her; but now she
looked up bravely, with a lovely light in her eyes. Can't you, Hugh?
she said. It's a pity you can't, Hugh, becauseyou could have her for
CHAPTER XVIII. UNCLE JOHN'S BIRTHDAY
If Timothy Bannan has had scant mention in these pages, it is not
because he was not an important personage at Fernley. King of the
stable, governor of the dogs, chief authority on all matters pertaining
to what Gerald called four-leggers, he was as much a part of the
establishment as Frances herself. In person he was a small man, with
reddish-gray whiskers, an obstinate chin, and a kindly twinkling eye.
He usually wore a red waistcoat with black sleeves, and he was
suspected of matrimonial designs on Elizabeth.
One morning, not long after the events of which I have been telling,
Bannan approached his master, who was tying up roses, Margaret, as
usual, attending him with shears and ball of twine.
If you please, sir, said Bannan, touching his hat, would it be
convenient for me to take a horse this evening, sir?
Mr. Montfort straightened himself, and looked with friendly interest
at his retainer.
A horse, Bannan? Certainly! What horse do you want?
Bannan looked embarrassed. I was thinking of taking Chief, if you
was anyways willing, sir. Now Chief was the pride of the Fernley
stable. Mr. Montfort opened his eyes a little.
Going far, Bannan?
Nnot so very far, sir. I was wishful to try him with the new
cart, if you had no objections.
The new cart was a particularly stylish and comfortable wagonette,
bought for Margaret to take her young friends out in, and Mr.
Montfort's eyes opened still wider.
Well, Bannanof course you will be careful. You want to take some
friends out, eh?
This simple question seemed to embarrass Bannan strangely. He
reddened, and taking off his cap, turned it round and round in his
hands. No, sir, I shouldn't presumethat is to say, not exactly
friends, sir, and yet not anyways the reverse. But if it's not
agreeable to you, sir, I'll take the old mare and the Concord wagon.
No, no, said Mr. Montfort, kindly. Take Chief and the cart by all
means, Bannan. I wish you a pleasant drive with yourfriends. Bannan
thanked him and withdrew, and Mr. Montfort turned to Margaret with a
smile and a sigh. Does that mean Elizabeth and matrimony, Margaret?
What will Frances say?
Indeed, Uncle, I am quite sure that Elizabeth would disapprove as
much as Frances of Bannan's taking Chief and the wagonette. You are too
indulgent, dear sir.
I suppose I am, said Mr. Montfort. I suppose, also, that I am too
old to change. But I never knew Bannan to do such a thing before.
Meanwhile, Bannan was standing at the kitchen door, fuming. If ever
I do sich a thing again, Frances, you may cut me up and serve me in a
Nobody'd touch ye! said Frances. Ye've got to have juice to make
gravy, ye little bones-bag. I told ye let me see to it; men-folks
always messes when they try to manage nice things. It's like as if you
started to whip cream with a garding hose.
I don't care! said Bannan. 'Twas me the telegram come to, and
'twas me they expected to see to it. You'd like to boss everything and
everybody on the place, Frances.
I'll boss you with this mop, little man, if you give me any sauce,
said Frances, with massive calm. Go away now and feed your beasts;
it's what you're best at.
But you'll have the supper ready and all, Frances? If I can feed
beasts, you can feed their masters, I'm bound to own that, said
Bannan, presenting this transparent sop with an air of hopeful
Go 'long with ye! said Frances, loftily, yet with a suggestion of
softening in her voice. I've kep' Mr. John's birthday for twenty
years, but I reckon you'd better tell me how to do it this time.
And you'll tell nobody aboutthem
But here Frances raised the mop with such a businesslike air that
Bannan took himself off, grumbling and shaking his head.
Left alone, Frances fell into a frenzy of preparation, and when
Margaret found her half an hour later, she was beating eggs, stoning
raisins, and creaming butter, apparently all at the same moment. An
ardent consultation followed. What flavor would Mr. John (Frances would
never say Mr. Montfort) like best for the ice-cream? and the
cakewould a caramel frosting be best, or a boiled frosting with
candied fruits chopped into it? and for the small cakes, now, and the
Mr. Montfort's birthday came, as most birthdays do, once a year.
Considering this, it was a singular thing that he, the most methodical
of men, who turned his calendar as regularly as he wound his watch,
never seemed to remember it. He never failed to be astonished at
Margaret's morning greeting. More than this, he apparently forgot it as
soon as it was over, for he always had a fresh stock of astonishment on
hand for the health-imperilling feast that Frances was sure to arrange
for the evening. To-day he took no notice of the fact that wherever he
went he came upon some girl or boy carrying armfuls of flowers and
ferns, or arranging them in bowls, jars, and vases. When he found his
desk heaped with a tangle of clematis and wild lilies,Peggy had
dropped them there just for a minute, half an hour before,this
excellent man merely said Charming, and rescued his pet Montaigne
from the wet sprays which covered it. In the course of the morning,
Fernley House was transformed into a bower of greenery, lit up with
masses of splendid color. Everywhere drooped or nodded clusters of
ferns, the ostrich fern and the great Osmunda Regalis, with here and
there masses of maiden-hair, most delicate and beautiful of all. In the
library, especially, the ferns were arranged with all the skill and
care that Margaret possessed. They outlined the oaken shelves, their
delicate tracery seeming to lie lovingly against the rich mellow tints
of morocco and vellum; they waved from tall vases of crystal and
porcelain; they spread their lace-like fronds in flat bowls and dishes.
I don't see how there can be any left, said Peggy; it seems as if we
had all the ferns in the world, and yet in the woods it didn't seem to
make any difference. Oh, Jean, isn't it just splendid!
Corking! said Jean.
Jean, I won't have you say that.
Well, the Merryweathers say it all the time, Peggy. They never say
anything else, except when Margaret is round; you know they don't.
The Merryweathers are boys, and you are a girl, and there is all
the difference in the world, said Peggy, loftily. Jean, it is high
time you went to school.
Oh, bother school! I have two ponies to break this fall, and Pa has
promised to let me drive the reaper around the hundred-acre field.
Peggy said nothing, being a wise as well as an affectionate elder
sister; but she resolved to consult Hugh, and to write to Pa without
So the morning passed in preparation and mystery. Then in the
afternoon came a drive in the great open car, a delightful vehicle,
holding eight people comfortably. Peggy sat on the boxhappy
Peggy!and drove the spirited black horses. Uncle John was by her
side, and they recalled merrily the day when, as John Strong, he took
his first drive with her, and decided that she was to be trusted with a
Oh, what fun we did have that summer! cried Peggy. Onlywe had
no Uncle John. Oh, Uncle, if we had Rita here, wouldn't it be too
absolutely perfect for anything?
It would be very delightful, said Mr. Montfort. I would give a
good deal to see that dark-eyed lassie and her gallant Jack. I think I
must take you and Margaret to Cuba one of these days, Peggy, to see
them. How would you like that, Missy?
Oh, Uncle John! cried Peggy; and she almost dropped the whip, in
the effort to squeeze his arm and turn a corner at the same moment.
But the best of all was when the whole family assembled in the
library before supper, the girls in their very prettiest dresses, with
flowers in their hair, the lads brave in white duck waistcoats, with
roses and ferns in their buttonholes. Then the girls presented the
gifts they had made for the beloved uncle; Margaret's book, a fine old
copy of the Colloquies of Erasmus, bound by her own hands in
gold-stamped brown leather, Peggy's mermaid-penwiper, with a long tail
of sea-green sewing silk, and the pincushion on which Jean had spent
many painful hours in her efforts to make the ferns look like ferns
instead of like green hen feathers. Grace had woven a basket of sweet
rushes, of quaint and graceful pattern, which Mr. Montfort declared was
what he had dreamed of all his life, while Hugh produced a box of
wonderful cigars, which had a history as mysterious and subtle as their
fragrance. Lastly, the Merryweathers, declaring that they had no gift
but themselves, and that if Mr. Montfort would be graciously pleased to
accept them, they were his, proceeded to go through a series of
acrobatic performances, which brought cries of admiration from all the
While this was going on, Margaret took advantage of the interlude
(though she was loth to lose one of Gerald's graceful postures) to run
out and see if supper was ready. She came back with a rueful
countenance, and whispered to Peggy, Supper will not be ready for ten
minutes yet, and Frances is in a most frightful temper. She actually
drove me out of the kitchen; said she would not be bothered with
foolish children, and she would not send supper in till Bannan came
back, if it cost her her place.
Bannan? What has Bannan to do with supper?
Bringing something, I suppose; some extra frill she has prepared as
a surprise. She is always savage when she has a surprise on foot. Hark!
There are wheels now. Listen! Yes, they are going round to the back
door. Bannan has come, then, and we may hope for food. Oh, do look at
those boys! Did you ever see anything like that?
All eyes were fixed on the twins, who, after every variety of
separate antic, now proceeded to perform what they called a patent
reversible waltz. Standing on their hands, they twined their feet
together in the air, and revolved gracefully, moving in unison, and
keeping time to the waltz they whistled. The whole company was watching
this proceeding with such absorbed attention that no one saw the door
at the back of the hall open silently; no one noticed the figure that
stole noiselessly through, and now stood motionless in the doorway. A
young woman, slender, richly dressed, beautiful exceedingly; with a
certain foreign grace, which struck the eye even more than her beauty.
But it was neither the grace nor the beauty that was first to be seen
now; it was the light of love in the large dark eyes, the soft fire of
joy and tenderness and mirth that shone from them, and seemed to
irradiate her whole figure as she stood there, erect, yet seeming to
sway forward, her hand on the door, her eyes bent on the group before
her. Her gaze wandered for a moment to the guests: the revolving boys,
Grace and Hugh in their quiet corner together, Jean staring with open
eyes and mouth; but after a wondering look, it came back and settled
again on the central group, Mr. Montfort, in his great armchair, Peggy
and Margaret each on a stool beside him, leaning against his knees. Was
the group complete? or was there room for another by that good man's
Jean was the first to look up and see the newcomer. She started
violently. My goodness! she cried, who is that? The next instant a
cry rang out, as Margaret and Peggy sprang forward, Rita! Rita!
But Rita was too quick for them. Before they were well on their feet
she had them both in her arms, and was weeping, sobbing, laughing, and
kissing, all in a breath. With the next breath she had sunk at Mr.
Montfort's feet, and, seizing his hand, pressed it passionately to her
My dear child, cried Uncle John, blushing like a girl, and drawing
away his hand in great discomposure. Don't, my love; pray don't. Rita!
is it possible that this is really you? What does it mean?
What does it mean, my uncle? It means that even in Cuba we know the
days of the month. Dearest and best of men, I wish you a thousand
returns of the day,five, ten thousand returns, and each one more
blissful than the last. Marguerite, my angel, you are more beautiful
than ever. Angel is no longer the word; you are a seraph! Embrace me
again! Peggy, you are a mountain; but a veritable mountain of roses and
cream! Dear little huge creature, I adore you. But where, then, is the
rest of me? Jack! Figure to yourself a husband who skulks in doorways
at a moment like this! Come forth, thou!
Jack Del Monte advanced laughing; behind him in the passage the
three conspirators, Frances, Elizabeth, and Bannan, peered triumphant.
My dear, said Jack, I was merely waiting for my cue. You would not
have had me spoil your entrance, you know you would not. Uncle JohnI
may say Uncle John? thanks!I hope you will forgive Rita's little
stratagem for the sake of the pleasure it has given her.
My dear nephew, said Uncle John, you have brought me the most
enchanting birthday gift that ever a man had. Let me look at you again,
Rita! If ever happiness agreed with a personbut I must not begin upon
compliments now. I want you to know these cousins and friends. Here is
Hugh Montfort and Jean; here is Grace Wolfe, who is to be your cousin
one of these good days; and here are our friends Gerald and Philip
Merryweather. You have all heard of one another; let us all be friends
at once, without further ceremony, and keep this joyful feast
Supper is served, sir, said Elizabeth.
A joyful feast it was indeed. The table, decked with ferns and
roses, was covered with every good thing that Frances could think of,
and she could think of a good many. The candles shed their cheerful
light on all, though the faces hardly needed the artificial light. Amid
general mirth, Rita told of her plan; her letter of inquiry to Frances
and Elizabeth, asking if all were well, and if their coming would make
any inconvenience. Then the telegram to Bannan, and the arrival, to
find him awaiting them with the best horse the stable afforded; and,
finally, their stealthy entrance at the back door. All had been
triumphantly successful, and as Rita told her story, she laughed and
clapped her hands with the glee of a child, while every face glowed
[Illustration: 'I PROPOSE . . . THE HEALTH OF THE BEST MAN . . .
THAT LIVES UPON THIS EARTH TO-DAY; . . . THE HEALTH OF MY UNCLE
And now, said Rita Del Monte, springing to her feet, and lifting
high her glass, I wish to propose a toastthe only fitting toast for
this night. I propose, dear friends, and dear strangers whom I hope to
have for friends, the health of the best manah, Jack, you have not
had time yet, nor you others; but courage, time is before you!of the
best man, I say, that lives upon this earth to-day; the dearest, the
kindestoh, all please drink to the health of my Uncle John!
One and all were upon their feet; all bending forward, glass in
hand, eager and joyous, their eyes shining with love and admiration;
and from one and all came the same glad cry, Uncle John!
Because if one hasn't the luck to be really his nephew, said
Gerald, the least one can do is to make a bluff at it.
And here, at this happy moment, let us leave our friends. Good-by,
Margaretdear Margaret! Good-by, Peggy and Rita, Hugh and Grace,
Gerald and Phil,we may see you again, boys,Jean and Jack! Good-by,
and good luck to you! Last of all, good-by to you, John Montfort. If
you are not the best man in the world, you are at least a good one!
Wise and strong, courteous and kindly, brave and true, long may you
live, as now you sit, in your own beautiful home, surrounded by those
you love best in the world. Love, kindness, and truth; having these,
what more do you lack? Good-by, John Montfort.