HotFreeBooks.com
Hildegarde's Holiday - a story for girls
by Laura E. Richards
Previous Part     1  2  3  4     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

Rose opened her parcel, and found, in a tiny box of faded morocco, an ivory thimble exquisitely carved with minute Chinese figures. It fitted her slender finger to perfection, and she gazed at it with great delight, while Miss Wealthy and Martha shook their heads in amazement and perplexity.

"Galusha Pennypacker, with such things as these!" cried one.

"Galusha Pennypacker making presents!" exclaimed the other. "Well, wonders will never cease!"

"The thimble is really beautiful!" said Miss Wealthy. "He was a seafaring man in his youth, I remember, and he must have brought this home from one of his voyages, perhaps fifty or sixty years ago. Dear me! how strangely things do come about! But, my dear Rose, you really must go to bed at once, for I am sure you must be quite exhausted."

And the delighted girls went off in triumph with their treasures, to chatter in their rooms as only girls can chatter.



CHAPTER VII.

A "STORY EVENING."

The next evening was chilly, and instead of sitting on the piazza, the girls were glad to draw their chairs around Miss Wealthy's work-table and bring out their work-baskets. Hildegarde had brought two dozen napkins with her to hem for her mother, and Rose was knitting a soft white cloud, which was to be a Christmas present for good Mrs. Hartley at the farm. As for Miss Wealthy, she, as usual, was knitting gray stockings of fine soft wool. They all fell to talking about old Galusha Pennypacker, now pitying his misery, now wondering at the tales of his avarice. Hildegarde took out the little scissors-case, and examined it anew. "Do you suppose this belonged to his mother?" she asked. "You say he never married. Or had he a sister?"

"No, he had no sister," replied Miss Wealthy. "His mother was a very respectable woman. I remember her, though she died when I was quite a little girl. He had an aunt, too,—a singular woman, who used to be very kind to me. What is it, my dear?" For Hildegarde had given a little cry of surprise.

"Here is a name!" cried the girl. "At least, it looks like a name; but I cannot make it out. See, Cousin Wealthy, on the little tablet! Oh, how interesting!"

Miss Wealthy took the tablet, which consisted of two thin leaves of ivory, fitting closely together. On the inside of one leaf was written in pencil, in a tremulous hand. "Ca-ira."

"Is it a name?" asked Rose.

Miss Wealthy nodded. "His aunt's name," she said,—"Ca-iry[1] Pennypacker. Yes, surely; this must have belonged to her. Dear, dear! how strangely things come about! Aunt Ca-iry we all called her, though she was no connection of ours. And to think of your having her scissors-case! Now I come to remember, I used to see this in her basket when I used to poke over her things, as I loved to do. Dear, dear!"

"Oh, Cousin Wealthy," cried Hildegarde, "do tell us about her, please! How came she to have such a queer name? I am sure there must be some delightful story about her."

Miss Wealthy considered a minute, then she said: "My dear, if you will open the fourth left-hand drawer of that chest between the windows, and look in the farther right-hand corner of the drawer, I think you will find a roll of paper tied with a pink ribbon."

Hildegarde obeyed in wondering silence; and Miss Wealthy, taking the roll, held it in her hand for a moment without speaking, which was very trying to the girls' feelings. At last she said,—

"There is an interesting story about Ca-iry Pennypacker, and, curiously enough, I have it here, written down by—whom do you think?—your mother, Hilda, my dear!"

"My mother!" cried Hildegarde, in amazement.

"Your mother," repeated Miss Wealthy. "You see, when Mildred was a harum-scarum girl—" Hildegarde uttered an exclamation, and Miss Wealthy stopped short. "Is there something you want to say, dear?" she asked gently. "I will wait."

The girl blushed violently. "I beg your pardon, Cousin Wealthy," she said humbly. "Shall I go out and stand in the entry? Papa always used to make me, when I interrupted."

"You are rather too big for that now, my child," said the old lady, smiling; "and I notice that you very seldom interrupt. It is better never done, however. Well, as I was saying, your mother used to make me a great many visits in her school holidays; for she was my god-daughter, and always very dear to me. She was very fond of hearing stories, and I told her all the old tales I could think of,—among them this one of Aunt Ca-iry's, which the old lady had told me herself when I was perhaps ten years old. It had made a deep impression on me, so that I was able to repeat it almost in her own words, in the country talk she always used. She was not an educated woman, my dear, but one of sterling good sense and strong character. Well, the story impressed your mother so much that she was very anxious for me to write it down; but as I have no gift whatever in that way, she finally wrote it herself, taking it from my lips, as you may say,—only changing my name from Wealthy to Dolly,—but making it appear as if the old woman herself were speaking. Very apt at that sort of thing Mildred always was. And now, if you like, my dears, I will read you the story."

If they liked! Was there ever a girl who did not love a story? Gray eyes and blue sparkled with anticipation, and there was no further danger of interruption as Miss Wealthy, in her soft, clear voice, began to read the story of—

CA-IRY AND THE QUEEN.

What's this you've found? Well, now! well, now! where did you get that, little gal? Been rummagin' in Aunt Ca-iry's bureau, hev you? Naughty little gal! Bring it to me, honey. Why, that little bag,—I wouldn't part with it for gold! That was give me by a queen,—think o' that, Dolly,—by a real live queen, 'cordin' to her own idees,—the Queen o' Sheba.

Tell you about her? Why, yes, I will. Bring your little cheer here by the fire,—so; and get your knittin'. When little gals come to spend the day with Aunt Ca-iry they allus brings their knittin',—don't they?—'cause they know they won't get any story unless they do. I can't have no idle hands round this kitchen, 'cause Satan might git in, ye know, and find some mischief for them to do. There! now we're right comf'table, and I'll begin.

You see, Dolly, I've lived alone most o' my life, as you may say. Mother died when I was fifteen, and Father, he couldn't stay on without her, so he went the next year; and my brother was settled a good way off: so ever since I've lived here in the old brown house alone, 'cept for the time I'm goin' to tell ye about, when I had a boarder, and a queer one she was. Plenty o' folks asked me to hire out with them, or board with them, and I s'pose I might have married, if I'd been that kind, but I wasn't. Never could abide the thought of havin' a man gormineerin' over me, not if he was the lord o' the land. And I was strong, and had a cow and some fowls, and altogether I knew when I was well off; and after a while folks learned to let me alone. "Queer Ca-iry," they called me,—in your grandfather's time, Dolly,—but now it's "Aunt Ca-iry" with the hull country round, and everybody's very good to the old woman.

How did I come to have such a funny name? Well, my father give it to me. He was a great man for readin', my father was, and there was one book he couldn't ever let alone, skurcely. 'T was about the French Revolution, and it told how the French people tried to git up a republic like ourn. But they hadn't no sense, seemin'ly, and some of 'em was no better nor wild beasts, with their slaughterin', devourin' ways; so nothin' much came of it in the end 'cept bloodshed.

Well, it seems they had a way of yellin' round the streets, and shoutin' and singin', "Ca-ira! Ca-ira!" Made a song out of it, the book said, and sang it day in and day out. Father said it meant "That will go!" or somethin' like that, though I never could see any meanin' in it myself. Anyhow, it took Father's fancy greatly, and when I was born, nothin' would do but I must be christened Ca-ira. So I was, and so I stayed; and I don't know as I should have done any better if I'd been called Susan or Jerusha. So that's all about the name, and now we'll come to the story.

One day, when I was about eighteen years old, I was takin' a walk in the woods with my dog Bluff. I was very fond o' walkin', and so was Bluff, and there was woods all about, twice as much as there is now. It was a fine, clear day, and we wandered a long way, further from home than we often went, 'way down by Rollin' Dam Falls. The stream was full, and the falls were a pretty sight; and I sat lookin' at 'em, as girls do, and pullin' wintergreen leaves. I never smell wintergreen now without thinkin' of that day. All of a suddent I heard Bluff bark; and lookin' round, I saw him snuffin' and smellin' about a steep clay bank covered with vines and brambles. "Woodchuck!" I thought; and I called him off, for I never let him kill critters unless they were mischeevous, which in the wild woods they couldn't be, of course. But the dog wouldn't come off. He stayed there, sniffin' and growlin', and at last I went to see what the trouble was.

My dear, when I lifted up those vines and brambles, what should I see but a hole in the bank!—a hole about two feet across, bigger than any that a woodchuck ever made. The edges were rubbed smooth, as if the critter that made it was big enough to fit pretty close in gettin' through. My first idee was that 't was a wolf's den,—wolves were seen sometimes in those days in the Cobbossee woods,—and I was goin' to drop the vines and slip off as quiet as I could, when what does that dog do but pop into the hole right before my eyes, and go wrigglin' through it! I called and whistled, but 't was no use; the dog was bound to see what was in there.

I waited a minute, expectin' to hear the wolf growl, and thinkin' my poor Bluff would be torn to pieces, and yet I must go off and leave him, or be treated the same myself. But, Dolly, instead of a wolf's growl, I heard next minute a sound that made me start more 'n the wolf would ha' done,—the sound of a human voice. Yes! out o' the bowels o' the earth, as you may say, a voice was cryin' out, frightened and angry-like; and then Bluff began to bark, bark! Oh, dear! I felt every which way, child. But 't was clear that there was only one path of duty, and that path led through the hole; for a fellow creature was in trouble, and 't was my dog makin' the trouble. Down I went on my face, and through that hole I crawled and wriggled,—don't ask me how, for I don't know to this day,—thinkin' of the sarpent in the Bible all the way.

Suddenly the hole widened, and I found myself in a kind of cave, about five feet by six across, but high enough for me to stand up. I scrambled to my feet, and what should I see but a woman,—a white woman,—sittin' on a heap o' moose and sheep skins, and glarin' at me with eyes like two live coals. She had driven Bluff off, and he stood growlin' in the corner.

For a minute we looked at each other without sayin' anything; I didn't know what upon airth to say. At last she spoke, quite calm, in a deep, strange voice, almost like a man's, but powerful sweet.

"What seek you," she said, "slave?"

Well, that was a queer beginnin', you see, Dolly, and didn't help me much. But I managed to say, "My dog come in, and I followed him—to see what he was barkin' at."

"He was barkin' at me," said the woman. "Bow down before me, slave! I am the Queen!"

And she made a sign with her hand, so commandin'-like that I made a bow, the best way I could. But, of course, I saw then that the poor creature was out of her mind, and I thought 't would be best to humor her, seein' as I had come in without an invitation, as you may say.

"Do you—do you live here, ma'am?" I asked, very polite.

"Your Majesty!" says she, holdin' up her head, and lookin' at me as if I was dirt under her feet.

"Do you live here, your Majesty?" I asked again.

"I am stayin' here," she said. "I am waitin' for the King, who is comin' for me soon. You did not meet him, slave, on your way hither?"

"What king was your Majesty meanin'?" says I.

"King Solomon, of course!" said she. "For what lesser king should the Queen of Sheba wait?"

"To be sure!" says I. "No, ma'am,—your Majesty, I mean,—I didn't meet King Solomon. I should think you might find a more likely place to wait for him in than this cave. A king wouldn't be very likely to find his way in here, would he?"

She looked round with a proud kind o' look. "The chamber is small," she said, "but richly furnished,—richly furnished. You may observe, slave, that the walls are lined with virgin gold."

She waved her hand, and I looked round too at the yellow clay walls and ceilin'. You never could think of such a place, Dolly, unless you'd ha' seen it. However that poor creature had fixed it up so, no mortal will ever know, I expect. There was a fireplace in one corner, and a hole in the roof over it. I found out arterwards that the smoke went out through a hollow tree that grew right over the cave. There was a fryin'-pan, and some meal in a kind o' bucket made o' birch-bark, some roots, and a few apples. All round the sides she'd stuck alder-berries and flowers and pine-tassels, and I don't know what not. There was nothin' like a cheer or table, nothin' but the heap o' skins she was settin' on,—that was bed and sofy and everything else for her, I reckon.

And she herself—oh, dear! it makes me want to laugh and cry, both together, to think how that unfortinit creature was rigged up. She had a sheepskin over her shoulders, tied round her neck, with the wool outside. On her head was a crown o' birch-bark, cut into p'ints like the crowns in pictures, and stained yeller with the yeller clay,—I suppose she thought it was gold,—and her long black hair was stuck full o' berries and leaves and things. Under the sheepskin she had just nothin' but rags,—such rags as you never seed in all your days, Dolly, your mother bein' the tidy body she is. And moccasins on her feet,—no stockin's; that finished her Majesty's dress. Well, poor soul! and she as proud and contented as you please, fancyin' herself all gold and di'monds.

I made up my mind pretty quick what was the right thing for me to do; and I said, as soothin' as I could,—

"Your Majesty, I don't reelly advise you to wait here no longer for King Solomon. I never seed no kings round these woods,—it's out o' the line o' kings, as you may say,—and I don't think he'd be likely to find you out, even if he should stroll down to take a look at the falls, same as I did. Haven't you no other—palace, that's a little more on the travelled road, where he'd be likely to pass?"

"No," she said, kind o' mournful, and shakin' her head,—"no, slave. I had once, but it was taken from me."

"If you don't mind my bein' so bold," I said, "where was you stayin' before you come here?"

"With devils!" she said, so fierce and sudden that Bluff and I both jumped. "Speak not of them, lest my wrath descend upon you."

This wasn't very encouragin'; but I wasn't a bit frightened, and I set to work again, talkin' and arguin', and kind o' hintin' that there'd been some kings seen round the place where I lived. That weren't true, o' course, and I knew I was wrong, Dolly, to mislead the poor creature, even if 't was for her good; but I quieted my conscience by thinkin' that 't was true in one way, for Hezekiah King and his nine children lived not more 'n a mile from my house.

Well, to make a long story short, I e'en persuaded the Queen o' Sheba to come home with me, and stay at my house till King Solomon turned up. She didn't much relish the idee of staying with a slave,—as she would have it I was,—but I told her I didn't work for no one but myself, and I wasn't no common kind o' slave at all; so at last she give in, poor soul, and followed me as meek as a lamb through the hole, draggin' her big moose-skin—which was her coronation-robe, she said, and she couldn't leave it behind—after her, and Bluff growlin' at her heels like all possessed.

Well, I got her home, and gave her some supper, and set her in a cheer; and you never in all your life see any one so pleased. She looked, and looked, and you'd ha' thought this kitchen was Marble Halls like them in the song. It did look cheerful and pleasant, but much the same as it does now, after sixty years, little Dolly. And if you'll believe it, it's this very arm-cheer as I'm sittin' in now, that the Queen o' Sheba sot in. It had a flowered chintz cover then, new and bright. Well, she sat back at last, and drew a long breath.

"You have done well, faithful slave!" she said. "This is my own palace that you have brought me to. I know it well,—well; and this is my throne, from which I shall judge the people till the King comes."

This is what the boys would call "rather cool;" but I only said, "Yes, your Majesty, you shall judge every one there is to judge,"—which was me and Bluff, and Crummy the cow, and ten fowls, and the pig. She was just as pleasant and condescendin' as could be all the evenin', and when I put her to bed in the fourposter in the spare room, she praised me again, and said that when the King came she would give me a carcanet of rubies, whatever that is.

Just as soon as she was asleep, the first thing that I did was to open the stove and put her rags in, piece by piece, till they was all burnt up. The moose-skin, which was a good one, I hung out on the line to air. Then I brought out some clothes of Mother's that I'd kep' laid away,—a good calico dress and some underclothing, all nice and fresh,—and laid them over the back of a cheer by her bed. It seemed kind o' strange to go to bed with a ravin' lunatic, as you may say, in the next room; but I knew I was doin' right, and that was all there was to it. The Lord would see to the rest, I thought.

Next mornin' I was up bright and early, and soon as I'd made the fire and tidied up and got breakfast under way, I went in to see how her Majesty was. She was wide awake, sittin' up in bed, and lookin' round her as wild as a hawk. Seemed as if she was just goin' to spring out o' bed; but when she saw me, she quieted down, and when I spoke easy and soothin' like, and asked her how she'd slept, she answered pleasant enough.

"But where are my robes?" said she, pointin' to the clothes I'd laid out. "Those are not my robes."

"They's new robes," I said, quite bold. "The old ones had to be taken away, your Majesty. They weren't fit for you to wear, really,—all but the coronation robe; and that's hangin' on the line, to—to take the wrinkles out."

Well, I had a hard fight over the clothes; she couldn't make up her mind nohow to put 'em on. But at last I had an idee. "Don't you know," I said, "the Bible says 'The King's Daughter is all radiant within, in raiment of wrought needlework'? Well, this is wrought needlework, every bit of it."

I showed her the seams and the stitches; and, my dear, she put it on without another word, and was as pleased as Punch when she was dressed up all neat and clean. Then I brushed her hair out,—lovely hair it was, comin' down below her knees, and thick enough for a cloak, but matted and tangled so 't was a sight to behold,—and braided it, and put it up on top of her head like a sort o' crown, and I tell you she looked like a queen, if ever anybody did. She fretted a little for her birch-bark crown, but I told her how Scripture said a woman's glory was her hair, and that quieted her at once. Poor soul! she was real good and pious, and she'd listen to Scripture readin' by the hour; but I allus had to wind up with somethin' about King Solomon.

Well, Dolly, the Queen o' Sheba stayed with me (I must make my story short, Honey, for your ma'll be comin' for ye soon now) three years; and I will say that they was happy years for both of us. Not yourself could be more biddable than that poor crazy Queen was, once she got wonted to me and the place. At first she was inclined to wander off, a-lookin' for the King; but bimeby she got into the way of occupyin' herself, spinnin'—she was a beautiful spinner, and when I told her 't was Scriptural, I could hardly get her away from the wheel—and trimmin' the house up with flowers, and playin' with Bluff, for all the world like a child. And in the evenin's,—well, there! she'd sit on her throne and tell stories about her kingdom, and her gold and spices, and myrrh and frankincense and things, and all the great things she was goin' to do for her faithful slave,—that was me, ye know; she never would call me anything else,—till it all seemed just as good as true. 'T was true to her; and if 't had been really true for me, I shouldn't ha' been half so well off as in my own sp'ere; so 't was all right.

My dear, my poor Queen might have been with me to this day, if it hadn't been for the meddlesomeness of men. I've heerd talk o' women meddling, and very likely they may, when they live along o' men; but it don't begin with women, nor yet end with 'em. One day I'd been out 'tendin' to the cow, and as I was comin' back I heerd screams and shrieks, and a man's voice talkin' loud. You may believe I run, Dolly, as fast as run I could; and when I came to the kitchen there was Hezekiah King and a strange man standin' and talkin' to the Queen. She was all in a heap behind the big chair, poor soul, tremblin' like a leaf, and her eyes glarin' like they did the fust time I see her; and she didn't say a word, only scream, like a panther in a trap, every minute or two.

I steps before her, and "What's this?" says I, short enough.

"Mornin', Ca-iry," says Hezekiah, smilin' his greasy smile, that allus did make me want to slap his face. "This is Mr. Clamp, from Coptown. Make ye acquainted with Miss Ca-iry Pennypacker, Mr. Clamp. I met up with Mr. Clamp yesterday, Ca-iry, and I was tellin' him about this demented creatur as you've been shelterin' at your own expense the last three years, as the hull neighborhood says it's a shame. And lo! how myster'ous is the ways o' Providence! Mr. Clamp is sup'n'tendent o' the Poor Farm down to Coptown, and he says this woman is a crazy pauper as he has had in keer for six year, ever since she lost her wits along o' her husband bein' drownded. She run away three year ago last spring, and he ain't heard nothin' of her till yisterday, when he just chanced to meet up with me. So now he's come as in dooty bound, she belongin' to the deestrick o' Coptown, to take her off your hands, and thank ye for—"

He hadn't no time to say more. I took him by the shoulders,—I was mortal strong in those days, Dolly; there wasn't a man within ten miles but I could ha' licked him if he'd been wuth it,—and shot him out o' the door like a sack o' flour. Then I took the other man, who was standin' with his mouth open, for all the world like a codfish, and shot him out arter him. He tumbled against Hezekiah, and they both went down together, and sat there and looked at me with their mouths open.

"You go home," says I, "and take care o' yourselves, if you know how. When I want you or the like o' you, I'll send for you. Scat!" And I shut the door and bolted it, b'ilin' with rage, and came back to my poor Queen.

She was down on the floor, all huddled up in a corner, moanin' and moanin', like a dumb beast that has a death wound. I lifted her up, and tried to soothe and quiet her,—she was tremblin' all over,—but 't was hard work. Not a word could I get out of her but "Devil! Devil!" and then "Solomon!" over and over again. I brought the Bible, and read her about the Temple, and the knops and the flowers, and the purple, and the gold dishes, till she was quiet again; and then I put her to bed, poor soul! though 't was only six o'clock, and sat and sang "Jerusalem the Golden" till she dropped off to sleep. I was b'ilin' mad still, and besides I was afraid she'd have a fit o' sickness, or turn ravin', after the fright, so I didn't sleep much myself that night. Towards mornin', however, I dropped off, and must have slept sound; for when I woke it was seven o'clock, the sun was up high, the door was swingin' open, and the Queen o' Sheba was gone.

Don't ask me, little Dolly, how I felt, when I found that poor creature was nowhere on the place. I knew where to go, though. Something told me, plain as words; and Bluff and I, we made a bee-line for the Rollin' Dam woods. The dog found her first. She had tried to get into her hole, but the earth had caved in over it; so she had laid down beside it, on the damp ground, in her nightgown. Oh, dear! oh, dear! How long she'd been there, nobody will ever know. She was in a kind o' swoon, and I had to carry her most o' the way, however I managed to do it; but I was mortal strong in those days, and she was slight and light, for all her bein' tall. When I got her home and laid her in her bed, I knowed she'd never leave it; and sure enough, before night she was in a ragin' fever. A week it lasted; and when it began to go down, her life went with it. My poor Queen! she was real gentle when the fiery heat was gone. She lay there like a child, so weak and white. One night, when I'd been singin' to her a spell, she took this little bag from her neck, where she'd allus worn it, under her clothes, and giv' it to me.

"Faithful slave," she said,—she couldn't speak above a whisper,—"King Solomon is comin' for me to-night. I have had a message from him. I leave you this as a token of my love and gratitude. It is the Great Talisman, more precious than gold or gems. Open it when I am gone. And now, good slave, kiss me, for I would sleep awhile."

I kissed my poor dear, and she dozed off peaceful and happy. But all of a sudden she opened her eyes with a start, and sat up in the bed.

"Solomon!" she cried, and held out her arms wide. "Solomon, my King!" and then fell back on the piller, dead.

There, little Dolly! don't you cry, dear! 'T was the best thing for the poor thing. I opened the bag, when it was all over, and what do you think I found? A newspaper slip, sayin', "Lost at sea, on March 2, 18—, Solomon Marshall, twenty-seven years," and a lock o' dark-brown hair. Them was the Great Talisman. But if true love and faith can make a thing holy, this poor little bag is holy, and as such I've kept it.

There's your ma comin', Dolly. Put on your bonnet, Honey, quick! And see here, dear! you needn't tell her nothin' I said about Hezekiah King, I clean forgot he was your grandfather.

FOOTNOTE:

[1] Pronounced Kay-iry.



CHAPTER VIII.

FLOWER-DAY.

"Cousin Wealthy," said Hildegarde at breakfast the next morning, "may I tell you what it was that made me so rude as to interrupt you last night?"

"Certainly, my dear," said Miss Wealthy; "you may tell me, and then you may forget the little accident, as I had already done."

"Well," said Hildegarde, "you spoke of the time when Mamma was a 'harum-scarum girl;' and the idea of her ever having been anything of the sort was so utterly amazing that—that was why I cried out. Is it possible that Mammy was not always quiet and blessed and peaceful?"

"Mildred!" exclaimed Miss Wealthy. "Mildred peaceful! My dear Hilda!"

An impressive pause followed, and Hildegarde's eyes began to twinkle. "Tell us!" she murmured, in a tone that would have persuaded an oyster to open his shell. Then she stroked Miss Wealthy's arm gently, and was silent, for she saw that speech was coming in due time.

Miss Wealthy looked at her teacup, and shook her head slowly, smiled, and then sighed. "Mildred!" she said again. "My dear, your mother is now forty years old, and I am seventy. When she came to visit me for the first time, I was forty years old, and she was ten. She had on, when she arrived, a gray stuff frock, trimmed with many rows of narrow green braid, and a little gray straw bonnet, with rows of quilled satin ribbon, green and pink." The girls exchanged glances of horror and amazement at the thought of this headgear, but made no sound. "I shall never forget that bonnet," continued Miss Wealthy, pensively, "nor that dress. In getting out of the carriage her skirt caught on the step, and part of a row of braid was ripped; this made a loop, in which she caught her foot, and tumbled headlong to the ground. I mended it in the evening, after she was in bed, as it was the frock she was to wear every morning. My dears, I mended that frock every day for a month. It is the truth! the braid caught on everything,—on latches, on brambles, on pump-handles, on posts, on chairs. There was always a loop of it hanging, and the child was always putting her foot through it and tumbling down. She never cried, though sometimes, when she fell downstairs, she must have hurt herself. A very brave little girl she was. At last I took all the braid off, and then things went a little better."

Miss Wealthy paused to sip her coffee, and Hildegarde tried not to look as if she begrudged her the sip. "Then," she went on, "Mildred was always running away,—not intentionally, you understand, but just going off and forgetting to come back. Once—dear, dear! it gives me a turn to think of it!—she had been reading 'Neighbor Jackwood,' and was much delighted with the idea of the heroine's hiding in the haystack to escape her cruel pursuers. So she went out to the great haystack in the barnyard, pulled out a quantity of hay, crept into the hole, and found it so comfortable that she fell fast asleep. You may imagine, my dears, what my feelings were when dinner-time came, and Mildred was not to be found. The house was searched from garret to cellar. Martha and I—Martha had just come to me then—went down to the wharf and through the orchard and round by the pasture, calling and calling, till our throats were sore. At last, as no trace of the child could be found, I made up my mind that she must have wandered away into the woods and got lost. It was a terrible thought, my dears! I called Enoch, the man, and bade him saddle the horse and ride round to call out the neighbors, that they might all search together. As he was leading the horse out, he noticed a quantity of hay on the ground, and wondered how it had come there. Coming nearer, he saw the hole in the stack, looked in, and—there was the child, fast asleep!"

"Oh! naughty little mother!" cried Hildegarde. "What did you do to her, Cousin Wealthy?"

"Nothing, my dear," replied the good lady. "I was quite ill for several days from the fright, and that was enough punishment for the poor child. She never meant to be naughty, you know. But my heart was in my mouth all the time. Once, coming home from a walk, I heard a cheery little voice crying, 'Cousin Wealthy! Cousin! see where I am!' I looked up. Hilda, she was sitting on the ridge-pole of the house, waving her bonnet by a loop of the pink quilled ribbon,—it was almost as bad as the green braid about coming off,—and smiling like a cherub. 'I came through the skylight,' she said, 'and the air up here is so fresh and nice! I wish you would come up, Cousin!'

"Another time—oh, that was the worst time of all! I really thought I should die that time." Miss Wealthy paused, and shook her head.

"Oh, do go on, dear!" cried Hildegarde; "unless you are tired, that is. It is so delightful!"

"It was anything but delightful for me, my dear, I can assure you," rejoined Miss Wealthy. "This happened several years later, when Mildred was thirteen or fourteen. She came to me for a winter visit, and I was delighted to find how womanly she had grown. We had a great deal of bad weather, and she was with me in the house a good deal, and was most sweet and helpful; and as I did not go out much, I did not see what she did out of doors, and she always came home in time for dinner and tea. Well, one day—it was in March, and the river was just breaking up, as we had had some mild weather—the minister came to see me, and I began to tell him about Mildred, and how she had developed, and how much comfort I took in her womanly ways. He was sitting on the sofa, from which, you know, one can see the river very well. Suddenly he said, 'Dear me! what is that? Some one on the river at this time! Very imprudent! Very—' Then he broke off short, and gave me a strange look. I sprang up and went to the window. What did I see, my dear girls? The river was full of great cakes of ice, all pressed and jumbled together; the current was running very swiftly; and there, in the middle of the river, jumping from one cake to another like a chamois, or some such wild creature, was Mildred Bond."

"Oh!" cried Rose, "how dreadful! Dear Miss Bond, what did you do?"

Hildegarde was silent. It was certainly very naughty, she thought; but oh, what fun it must have been!

"Fortunately," said Miss Wealthy, "I became quite faint at the sight. Fortunately, I say; for I might have screamed and startled the child, and made her lose her footing. As it was, the minister went and called Martha, and she, like the sensible girl she is, simply blew the dinner-horn as loud as she possibly could. It was the middle of the afternoon; but as she rightly conjectured, the sound, without startling Mildred, gave her to understand that she was wanted. The minister watched her making her way to the shore, leaping the dark spaces of rushing water between the cakes, apparently as unconcerned as if she were walking along the highway; and when he saw her safe on shore, he was very glad to sit down and drink a glass of the wine that Martha had brought to revive me. 'My dear madam,' he said,—I was lying on the sofa in dreadful suspense, and could not trust myself to look,—'the young lady is safe on the bank, and will be here in a moment. I fear she is not so sedate as you fancied; and as she is too old to be spanked and put to bed, I should recommend your sending her home by the coach to-morrow morning. That girl, madam, needs the curb, and you have been guiding her with the snaffle.' He was very fond of horses, good man, and always drove a good one himself."

"And did you send her home?" asked Hildegarde, anxiously, thinking what a dreadful thing it would be to be sent back in disgrace.

"Oh, no!" said Miss Wealthy, "I could not do that, of course. Mildred was my god-child, and I loved her dearly. But she was not allowed to see me for twenty-four hours, and I fancy those were very sad hours for her. Dear Mildred! that was her last prank; for the next time she came here she was a woman grown, and all the hoyden ways had been put off like a garment. And now, dears," added Miss Wealthy, rising, "we must let Martha take these dishes, or she will be late with her work, and that always distresses her extremely."

They went into the parlor, and Hildegarde, as she patted and "plumped" the cushions of the old lady's chair, reminded her that she had promised them some work for the morning, but had not told them what it was.

"True!" said Miss Wealthy. "You are right, dear. This is my Flower-day. I send flowers once a week to the sick children in the hospital at Fairtown, and I thought you might like to pick them and make up the nosegays."

"Oh, how delightful that will be!" cried Hildegarde. "And is that what you call work, Cousin Wealthy? I call it play, and the best kind. We must go at once, so as to have them all picked before the sun is hot. Come, Rosebud!"

The girls put on their broad-brimmed hats and went out into the garden, which was still cool and dewy. Jeremiah was there, of course, with his wheelbarrow; and as they stood looking about them, Martha appeared with a tray in one hand and a large shallow tin box in the other. Waving the tray as a signal to the girls to follow, she led the way to a shady corner, where, under a drooping laburnum-tree, was a table and a rustic seat. She set the tray and box on the table, and then, diving into her capacious pocket, produced a ball of string, two pairs of flower-scissors, and a roll of tissue paper.

"There!" she said, in a tone of satisfaction, "I think that's all. Pretty work you'll find it, Miss Hilda, and it's right glad I am to have you do it; for it is too much for Miss Bond, stooping over the beds, so it is. But do it she will; and I almost think she hardly liked to give it up, even to you."

"Indeed, I don't wonder!" said Hildegarde. "There cannot be anything else so pleasant to do. And thank you, Martha, for making everything so comfortable for us. You are a dear, as I may have said before."

Martha chuckled and withdrew, after telling the girls that the flowers must be ready in an hour.

"Now, Rose," said Hildegarde, "you will sit there and arrange the pretty dears as I bring them to you. The question is now, where to begin. I never, in all my life, saw so many flowers!"

"Begin with those that will not crush easily," said Rose, "and I will lay them at the bottom. Some of those splendid sweet-williams over there, and mignonette, and calendula, and sweet alyssum, and—"

"Oh, certainly!" cried Hildegarde. "All at once, of course, picking with all my hundred hands at the same moment. Couldn't you name a few more, Miss?"

"I beg pardon!" said Rose, laughing. "I will confine my attention to the laburnum here. 'Allee same,' I don't believe you see that beautiful mourning-bride behind you."

"Why mourning, and why bride?" asked Hildegarde, plucking some of the dark, rich blossoms. "It doesn't strike me as a melancholy flower."

"I don't know!" said Rose. "I used to play that she was a princess, and so wore crimson instead of black for mourning. She is so beautiful, it is a pity she has no fragrance. She is of the teasel family, you know."

"Lady Teazle?" asked Hildegarde, laughing.

"A different branch!" replied Rose, "but just as prickly. The fuller's teasel,—do you know about it, dear?"

"No, Miss Encyclopaedia, I do not!" replied Hildegarde, with some asperity. "You know I never know anything of that kind; tell me about it!"

"Well, it is very curious," said Rose, taking the great bunch of mourning-bride that her friend handed her, and separating the flowers daintily. "The flower-heads of this teasel, when they are dried, are covered with sharp curved hooks, and are used to raise the nap on woollen cloth. No machine or instrument that can be invented does it half so well as this dead and withered blossom. Isn't that interesting?"

"Very!" said Hildegarde. "Oh, dear! oh, dear!"

"What is the matter?" cried Rose, in alarm. "Has something stung you? Let me—"

"Oh, no!" said Hildegarde, quickly. "I was only thinking of the appalling number of things there are to know. They overwhelm me! They bury me! A mountain weighs me down, and on its top grows a—a teasel. Why, I never heard of the thing! I am not sure that I am clear what a fuller is, except that his earth is advertised in the Pears' soap-boxes."

They both laughed at this, and then Hildegarde bent with renewed energy over a bed of feathered pinks of all shades of crimson and rose-color.

"A mountain!" said Rose, slowly and thoughtfully, as she laid the blossoms together and tied them up in small posies. "Yes, Hilda, so it is! but a mountain to climb, not to be buried under. To think that we can go on climbing, learning, all our lives, and always with higher and higher peaks above us, soaring up and up,—oh, it is glorious! What might be the matter with you to-day, my lamb?" she added; for Hildegarde groaned, and plunged her face into a great white lily, withdrawing it to show a nose powdered with virgin gold. "Does your head ache?"

"I think the sturgeon is at the bottom of it," was the reply. "I have not yet recovered fully from the humiliation of having been so frightened by a sturgeon, when I had been brought up, so to speak, on the 'Culprit Fay.' I have eaten caviare too," she added gloomily,—"odious stuff!"

"But, my dear Hilda!" cried Rose, in amused perplexity, "this is too absurd. Why shouldn't one be frightened at a monstrous creature leaping out of the water just before one's nose, and how should you know he was a sturgeon? You couldn't expect him to say 'I am a sturgeon!' or to carry a placard hung round his neck, with 'Fresh Caviare!' on it." Hildegarde laughed. "You remind me," added Rose, "that my own ignorance list is getting pretty long. Get me some sweet-peas, that's a dear; and I can ask you the things while you are picking them." Hildegarde moved to the long rows of sweet-peas, which grew near the laburnum bower; and Rose drew a little brown note-book from her pocket, and laid it open on the table beside her. "What is 'Marlowe's mighty line'?" she demanded bravely. "I keep coming across the quotation in different things, and I don't know who Marlowe was. Yet you see I am cheerful."

"Kit Marlowe!" said Hildegarde. "Poor Kit! he was a great dramatist; the next greatest after Shakspeare, I think,—at least, well, leaving out the Greeks, you know. He was a year younger than Shakspeare, and died when he was only twenty-eight, killed in a tavern brawl."

"Oh, how dreadful!" cried gentle Rose. "Then he had only begun to write."

"Oh, no!" said Hildegarde. "He had written a great deal,—'Faustus' and 'Edward II.,' and 'Tamburlaine,' and—oh! I don't know all. But one thing of his you know, 'The Passionate Shepherd,'—'Come live with me and be my love;' you remember?"

"Oh!" cried Rose. "Did he write that? I love him, then."

"And so many, many lovely things!" continued Hildegarde, warming to her subject, and snipping sweet-peas vigorously. "Mamma has read me a good deal here and there,—all of 'Edward II.,' and bits from 'Faustus.' There is one place, where he sees Helen—oh, I must remember it!—

"'Was this the face that launched a thousand ships, And burnt the topless towers of Ilium?'

Isn't that full of pictures? I see them! I see the ships, and the white, royal city, and the beautiful, beautiful face looking down from a tower window."

Both girls were silent a moment; then Rose asked timidly, "And who spoke of the 'mighty line,' dear? It must have been another great poet. Only three words, and such a roll and ring and brightness in them."

"Oh! Ben Jonson!" said Hildegarde. "He was another great dramatist, you know; a little younger, but of the same time with Shakspeare and Marlowe. He lived to be quite old, and he wrote a very famous poem on Shakspeare, 'all full of quotations,' as somebody said about 'Hamlet.' It is in that that he says 'Marlowe's mighty line,' and 'Sweet Swan of Avon,' and 'Soul of the Age,' and all sorts of pleasant things. So nice of him!"

"And—and was he an ancestor of Dr. Samuel's?" asked Rose, humbly.

"Why, darling, you are really quite ignorant!" cried Hildegarde, laughing. "How delightful to find things that you don't know! No, he had no h in his name,—at least, it had been left out; but he came originally from the Johnstones of Annandale. Think of it! he may have been a cousin of Jock Johnstone the Tinkler, without knowing it. Well, his father died when he was little, and his mother married a brick-layer; and Ben used to carry hods of mortar up ladders,—oh me! what a strange world it is! By-and-by he was made Laureate,—the first Laureate,—and he was very great and glorious, and wrote masques and plays and poems, and quarrelled with Inigo Jones—no! I can't stop to tell you who he was," seeing the question in Rose's eyes,—"and grew very fat. But when he was old they neglected him, poor dear! and when he died he was buried standing up straight, in Westminster Abbey; and his friend Jack Young paid a workman eighteenpence to carve on a stone 'O Rare Ben Jonson!' and there it is to this day."

She paused for breath; but Rose said nothing, seeing that more was coming. "But the best of all," continued Hildegarde, "was his visit to Drummond of Hawthornden. Oh, Rose, that was so delightful!"

"Tell me about it!" said Rose, softly. "Not that I know who he was; but his name is a poem in itself."

"Isn't it?" cried Hildegarde. "He was a poet too, a Scottish poet, living in a wonderful old house—"

"Not 'caverned Hawthornden,' in 'Lovely Rosabelle'?" cried Rose, her eyes lighting up with new interest.

"Yes!" replied Hildegarde, "just that. Do you know why it is 'caverned'? That must be another story. Remind me to tell you when we are doing our hair to-night. But now you must hear about Ben. Well, he went on a walking tour to Scotland, and one of his first visits was to William Drummond, with whom he had corresponded a good deal. Drummond was sitting under his great sycamore-tree, waiting for him, and at last he saw a great ponderous figure coming down the avenue, flourishing a huge walking-stick. Of course he knew who it was; so he went forward to meet him, and called out, 'Welcome, welcome, royal Ben!' 'Thank ye, thank ye, Hawthornden!' answered Jonson; and then they both laughed and were friends at once."

"Hildegarde, where do you find all these wonderful things?" cried Rose, in amazement. "That is delightful, enchanting. And for you to call yourself ignorant! Oh!"

"There is a life of Drummond at home," said Hildegarde, simply. "Of course one reads lovely things,—there is no merit in that; and the teasel still flaunts. But I do feel better. That is just my baseness, to be glad when you don't know things, you dearest! But do just look at these sweet-peas! I have picked all these,—pecks! bushels!—and there are as many as ever. Don't you think we have enough flowers, Rosy?"

"I do indeed!" answered Rose. "Enough for a hundred children at least. Besides, it must be time for them to go. The lovely things! Think of all the pleasure they will give! A sick child, and a bunch of flowers like these!" She took up a posy of velvet pansies and sweet-peas, set round with mignonette, and put it lovingly to her lips. "I remember—" She paused, and sighed, and then smiled.

"Yes, dear!" said Hildegarde, interrogatively. "The house where you were born?"



"One day I was in dreadful pain," said Rose,—"pain that seemed as if it would never end,—and a little child from a neighbor's house brought a bunch of Ragged Robin, and laid it on my pillow, and said, 'Poor Pinky! make she better!' I think I have never loved any other flower quite so much as Ragged Robin, since then. It is the only one I miss here. Do you want to hear the little rhyme I made about it, when I was old enough?"

Hildegarde answered by sitting down on the arm of the rustic seat, and throwing her arm round her friend's shoulder in her favorite fashion. "Such a pleasant Rosebud!" she murmured. "Tell now!"

And Rose told about—

RAGGED ROBIN.

O Robin, ragged Robin, That stands beside the door, The sweetheart of the country child, The flower of the poor,

I love to see your cheery face, Your straggling bravery; Than many a stately garden bloom You're dearer far to me.

For you it needs no sheltered nook, No well-kept flower-bed; By cottage porch, by roadside ditch, You raise your honest head.

The small hedge-sparrow knows you well, The blackbird is your friend; With clustering bees and butterflies Your pink-fringed blossoms bend.

O Robin, ragged Robin, The dearest flower that grows, Why don't you patch your tattered cloak? Why don't you mend your hose?

Would you not like to prank it there Within the border bright, Among the roses and the pinks, A courtly dame's delight?

"Ah no!" says jolly Robin, "'T would never do for me; The friend of bird and butterfly, Like them I must be free.

"The garden is for stately folk, The lily and the rose; They'd scorn my coat of ragged pink, Would flout my broken hose.

"Then let me bloom in wayside ditch, And by the cottage door, The sweetheart of the country child, The flower of the poor."



CHAPTER IX.

BROKEN FLOWERS.

Miss Wealthy was sitting on the back piazza, crocheting a tidy. The stitch was a new one, and quite complicated, and her whole mind was bent upon it. "One, two, purl, chain, slip; one, two, purl"—when suddenly descended upon her a whirlwind, a vision of sparkling eyes and "tempestuous petticoat," crying, "Please, Cousin Wealthy, may I go with Jeremiah? The wagon is all ready. Mayn't I go? Oh, please say 'yes'!"

Miss Wealthy started so violently that the crochet-hook fell from her hands. "My dear Hilda!" she said plaintively, "you quite take my breath away. I—really, my dear, I don't know what to say. Where do you want to go?"

"With Jeremiah, to Fairtown, with the flowers—to see the children!" cried Hildegarde, still too much out of breath to speak connectedly, but dropping on one knee beside the old lady, and stroking her soft hand apologetically. "He says he will take care of me; and Rose has a long letter to write, and I shall be back in time for dinner. Dear, nice, pretty, sweet, bewitching Cousin Wealthy, may I go?"

Miss Wealthy was still bewildered. "Why, my dear," she said hesitatingly. "Yes—you may go, certainly—if you are quite sure—"

But Hildegarde waited for no "ifs." She whirled upstairs, flew out of her pink gingham and into a sober dark blue one, exchanged her garden hat for a blue "sailor," whirled downstairs again, kissed Rose on both cheeks, dropped another kiss on Miss Wealthy's cap, and was in the wagon and out of sight round the corner before any one with moderately deliberate enunciation could have said "Jack Robinson."

Miss Wealthy dropped back in her chair, and drew a long, fluttering breath. She looked flushed and worried, and put her hand nervously up to the pansy brooch. Seeing this, Rose came quietly, picked up the crochet-hook, and sat down to admire the work, and wonder if she could learn the stitch. "Perhaps some time you would show it to me, dear Miss Bond," she said; "and now may I read you that article on window-gardening that you said you would like to hear?"

So Rose read, in her low, even tones, smooth and pleasant as the rippling of water; and Miss Wealthy's brow grew calm again, and the flush passed away, and her thoughts passed pleasantly from "one, two, purl, slip," to gloxinias and cyclamen, and back again; till at length, the day being warm, she fell asleep, which was exactly what the wily Rose meant her to do.

Meantime Hildegarde was speeding along toward the station, seated beside Jeremiah in the green wagon, with the box of flowers stowed safely under the seat. She was in high spirits, and determined to enjoy every moment of her "escapade," as she called it. Jeremiah surveyed her bright face with chastened melancholy.

"Reckon you're in for a junket," he said kindly. "Quite a head o' steam you carry. 'T'll do ye good to work it off some."

"Yes!" cried Hildegarde. "It is a regular frolic, isn't it, Jeremiah? How beautiful everything looks! What a perfection of a day it is!"

"Fine hayin' weather!" Jeremiah assented. "We sh'll begin to-morrow, I calc'late. Pleasant, hayin' time is. Now, thar's a field!" He pointed with his whip to a broad meadow all blue-green with waving timothy, and sighed, and shook his head.

"Isn't it a good field?" asked Hildegarde, innocently.

"Best lot on the place!" replied the prophet, with melancholy enthusiasm. "Not many lots like that in this neighborhood! There's a power o' grass there. Well, sirs! grass must be cut, and hay must be eat,—there's no gainsayin' that,—'in the sweat o' thy brow,' ye understand; but still there's some enj'yment in it."

Hildegarde could not quite follow this sentence, which seemed to be only half addressed to her; so she only nodded sagely, and turned her attention to the ferns by the roadside.

It was less than an hour's trip to Fairtown, nor was the walk long through the pleasant, elm-shaded streets. The hospital was a brick building, painted white, and looking very neat and trim, with its striped awnings, and its flagged pathway between rows of box. One saw that it had been a fine dwelling-house in its day, for the wood of the doorway was cunningly carved, and the brass knocker was quite a work of art.

Jeremiah knocked; and when the door was opened by a neat maidservant, he brought the box of flowers, and laid it on a table in the hall. "Miss Bond's niece!" he said, with a nod of explanation and introduction. "Thought she'd come herself; like to see the young ones. I'll be back for ye in an hour," he added to Hildegarde, and with another nod departed.

After waiting a few minutes in a cool, shady parlor, where she sat feeling strange and shy, and wishing she had not come, Hildegarde was greeted by a sweet-faced woman in spotless cap and apron, who bade her welcome, and asked for Miss Bond. "It is some time since she has been here!" she added. "We are always so glad to see her, dear lady. But her kindness comes every week in the lovely flowers, and the children do think so much of them. Would you like to distribute them yourself to-day? A new face is always a pleasure, if it is a kind one; and yours will bring sunshine, I am sure."

"Oh, thank you!" said Hildegarde, shyly. "It is just what I wanted, if you really think they would like it."

Mrs. Murray, as the matron was called, seemed to have no doubt upon this point, and led the way upstairs, the servant following with the flowers. She opened a door, and led Hildegarde into a large, sunny room, with little white beds all along the wall. On every pillow lay a little head; and many faces turned toward the opening door, with a look of pleasure at meeting the matron's cheery smile. Hildegarde opened her great box, and taking up three or four bouquets, moved forward hesitatingly. This was something new to her. She had visited girls of her own age or more, in the New York hospitals, but she was not used to little children, being herself an only child. In the first cot lay a little girl, a mite of five years, with a pale patient face. She could not move her hands, but she turned her face toward the bunch of sweet-peas that Hildegarde laid on the pillow, and murmured, "Pitty! pitty!"

"Aren't they sweet?" said Hildegarde. "Do you see that they have little wings, almost like butterflies? When the wind blows, they flutter about, and seem to be alive, almost."

The child smiled, and put her lips to the cool fragrant blossoms. "Kiss butterf'ies!" she said; and at this Hildegarde kissed her, and went on to the next crib.

Here lay a child of seven, her sweet blue eyes heavy with fever, her cheeks flushed and burning. She stretched out her hands toward the flowers, and said, "White ones! give me white ones, Lady! Red ones is hot! Minnie is too hot. White ones is cold."

A nurse stood beside the crib, and Hildegarde looked to her for permission, then filled the little hands with sweet alyssum and white roses.

"The roses were all covered with dew when I picked them," she said softly. "See, dear, they are still cool and fresh." And she laid them against the burning cheek. "There was a great bed of roses in a lovely garden, and while I was at one end of it, a little humming-bird came to the other, and hovered about, and put his bill into the flowers. His head was bright green, like the leaves, and his throat was ruby-red, and—"

"Guess that's a lie, ain't it?" asked the child, wearily.

"Oh, no!" said Hildegarde, smiling. "It is all true, every word. When you are better, I will send you a picture of a humming-bird."

She nodded kindly, and moved on, to give red roses to a bright little tot in a red flannel dressing-gown, who was sitting up in bed, nursing a rubber elephant. He took the roses and said, "Sanks!" very politely, then held them to his pet's gray proboscis. "I's better," he explained, with some condescension. "I don't need 'em, but Nelephant doos. He's a severe case. Doctor said so vis mornin'."

"Indeed!" said Hildegarde, sympathetically. "I am very sorry. What is the matter with him?"

"Mumps 'n' ague 'n' brown kitties 'n' ammonia 'n' fits!" was the prompt reply; "and a hole in his leg too! Feel his pult!"

He held up a gray leg, which Hildegarde examined gravely. "It seems to be hollow," she said. "Did the doctor think that was a bad sign?"

"It's fits," said the child, "or a brown kitty,—I don't know which. Is you a nurse?"

"No, dear," said Hildegarde; "I only came to bring the flowers. I must go away soon, but I shall think of you and the elephant, and I hope he will be better soon."

"Sing!" was the unexpected reply, in a tone of positive command.

"Benny!" said Mrs. Murray, who came up at this moment; "you mustn't tease the young lady, dear. See! the other children are waiting for their flowers, and you have these lovely roses."

"She looks singy!" persisted Benny. "I wants her to sing. Doctor said I could have what I wanted, and I wants vat."

"May I sing to him?" asked Hildegarde, in a low tone. "I can sing a little, if it would not disturb the others."

But Mrs. Murray thought the others would like it very much. So Hildegarde first gave posies to all the other children in the room, and then came back and sat down on Benny's bed, and sang, "Up the airy mountain," in a very sweet, clear voice. Several little ones had been tossing about in feverish restlessness, but now they lay still and listened; and when the song was over, a hoarse voice from a corner of the room cried, "More! more sing!"

"She's my more! she isn't your more!" cried Benny, sitting erect, with flashing eyes that glared across the room at the offender. But a soft hand held a cup of milk to his lips, and laid him back on the pillow; and the nurse motioned to Hildegarde to go on.

Then she sang, "Ring, ting! I wish I were a primrose;" and then another of dear William Allingham's, which had been her own pet song when she was Benny's age.

"'Oh, birdie, birdie, will you, pet? Summer is far and far away yet. You'll get silken coats and a velvet bed, And a pillow of satin for your head.'

"'I'd rather sleep in the ivy wall! No rain comes through, though I hear it fall The sun peeps gay at dawn of day, And I sing and wing away, away.'

"'Oh, birdie, birdie, will you, pet? Diamond stones, and amber and jet, I'll string in a necklace fair and fine, To please this pretty bird of mine.'

"'Oh, thanks for diamonds and thanks for jet, But here is something daintier yet. A feather necklace round and round, That I would not sell for a thousand pound.'

"'Oh, birdie, birdie, won't you, pet? I'll buy you a dish of silver fret; A golden cup and an ivory seat, And carpets soft beneath your feet.'

"'Can running water be drunk from gold? Can a silver dish the forest hold? A rocking twig is the finest chair, And the softest paths lie through the air. Farewell, farewell to my lady fair!'"

By the time the song was finished, Benny was sleeping quietly, and the nurse thanked Hildegarde for "getting him off so cleverly. He needed a nap," she said; "and if he thinks we want him to go to sleep, he sets all his little strength against it. He's getting better, the lamb!"

"What has been the matter?" asked Hildegarde.

"Pneumonia," was the reply. "He has come out of it very well, but I dread the day when he must go home to a busy, careless mother and a draughty cottage. He ought to have a couple of weeks in the country."

At this moment the head nurse—a tall, slender woman with a beautiful face—came from an inner room, the door of which had been standing ajar. She held out her hand to Hildegarde, and the girl saw that her eyes were full of tears. "Thank you," she said, "for the song. Another little bird has just flown away from earth, and he went smiling, when he heard you sing. Have you any sweet little flowers, pink and white?"

The quick tears sprang to Hilda's eyes. She could not speak for a moment, but she lifted some lovely sprays of blush rosebuds, which the nurse took with a smile and a look of thanks. The girl's eyes followed her; and before the door closed she caught a glimpse of a little still form, and a cloud of fair curls, and a tiny waxen hand. Hildegarde buried her face in her hands and sobbed; while Benny's gentle nurse smoothed her hair, and spoke softly and soothingly. This was what she had called a "frolic,"—this! She had laughed, and come away as if to some gay party, and now a little child had died almost close beside her. Hildegarde had never been so near death before. The world seemed very dark to her, as she turned away, and followed Mrs. Murray into another room, where the convalescent children were at play. Here, as she took the remaining flowers from the box, little boys and girls came crowding about her, some on crutches, some with slings and bandages, some only pale and hollow-eyed; but all had a look of "getting well," and all were eager for the flowers. The easiest thing seemed to be to sit down on the floor; so down plumped Hildegarde, and down plumped the children beside her. Looking into the little pallid faces, her heart grew lighter, though even this was sad enough. But she smiled, and pelted the children with bouquets; and then followed much feeble laughter, and clutching, and tumbling about, while the good matron looked on well pleased.

"What's them?" asked one tiny boy, holding up his bunch.

"Those are pansies!" answered Hildegarde. "There are little faces in them, do you see? They smile when the sun shines, and when children are good."

"Nein," said a small voice from the outside of the circle, "dat iss Stiefmuetterlein!"

"Du Bluemlein fein!" cried Hildegarde. "Yes, to be sure. Come here, little German boy, and we will tell the others about the pretty German name."



A roly-poly lad of six, with flaxen hair and bright blue eyes, came forward shyly, and after some persuasion was induced to sit down in Hildegarde's lap. "See now!" she said to the others; "this pansy has a different name in Germany, where this boy—"

"Namens Fritzerl!" murmured the urchin, nestling closer to the wonderful Fraeulein who knew German.

"Where Fritzerl came from. There they call it 'Stiefmuetterlein,' which means 'little stepmother.' Shall I tell you why? See! In front here are three petals just alike, with the same colors and the same marking. These are the stepmother and her own two daughters; and here, behind, are the two step-daughters, standing in the background, but keeping close together like loving sisters. I hope the little stepmother is kind to them, don't you?"

"I've got one!" piped up a little girl with a crutch. "She's real good, she is. Only she washes my face 'most all day long, 'cause she's 'feared she won't do her duty by me. She brought me red jelly yesterday, and a noil-cloth bib, so's I wouldn't spill it on my dress. My dress 's new!" she added, edging up to Hildegarde, and holding up a red merino skirt with orange spots.

"I see it is," said Hilda, admiringly; "and so bright and warm, isn't it?"

"I've got a grandma to home!" cried another shrill voice. "She makes splendid mittens! She makes cookies too."

"My Uncle Jim's got a wooden leg!" chimed in another. "He got it falling off a mast. He kin drive tacks with it, he kin. When I'm big I'm going to fall off a mast and git a wooden leg. You kin make lots o' noise with it."

"My grandma's got a wig!" said the former speaker, in triumph. "I pulled it off one day. She was just like an aig on top. Are you like an aig on top?"

Here followed a gentle pull at one of Hildegarde's smooth braids, and she sprang up, feeling quite sure that her hair would stay on, but not caring to have it tumbling on her shoulders. "I think it is nearly time for me to go now," she was beginning, when she heard a tiny sob, and looking down, saw a very small creature looking up at her with round blue eyes full of tears. "Why, darling, what is the matter?" she asked, stooping, and lifting the baby in her strong young arms.

"I—wanted—" Here came another sob.

"What did you want? Come, we'll sit here by the window, and you shall tell me all about it."

"Ze uzzers told you sings, and—I—wanted—to tell you sings—too!"

"Well, pet!" said Hildegarde, drying the tears, and kissing the round velvet cheek, "tell me then!"

"Ain't got no—sings—to tell!" And another outburst threatened; but Hilda intervened hastily.

"Oh, yes, I am sure you have things to tell, lots of things; only you couldn't think of them for a minute. What did you have for breakfast this morning?"

Baby looked doubtful. "Dat ain't a sing!"

"Yes, it is," said Hildegarde, boldly. "Come, now! I had a mutton chop. What did you have?"

"Beef tea," was the reply, with a brightening look of retrospective cheer, "and toasty strips!"

"Oh, how good!" cried Hilda. "I wish I had some. And what are you going to have for dinner?"

"Woast tsicken!" and here at last came a smile, which broadened into a laugh and ended in a chuckle, as Hilda performed a pantomime expressing rapture.

"I never heard of anything so good!" she cried. "And what are you going to eat it with,—two little sticks?"

"No-o!" cried Baby, with a disdainful laugh. "Wiz a worky, a weal worky."

"A walk!" said Hildegarde, puzzled.

"Es!" said Baby, proudly. "A atta worky, dess like people's!"

"Please, he means fork!" said a little girl, sidling up with a finger in her mouth. "Please, he's my brother, and we've both had tripod fever; and we're going home to-morrow."

"And the young lady must go home now," said Mrs. Murray, laying a kind hand on the little one's shoulder. "The man has come for you, Miss Grahame, and I don't know how to thank you enough for all the pleasure you have given these dear children."

"Oh, no!" cried Hildegarde. "Please don't! It is I who must thank you and the children and all. I wish Rose—I wish my friend had come. She would have known; she would have said just the right thing to each one. Next time I shall bring her."

But "Nein! Muessen selbst kommen!" cried Fritzerl; and "You come, Lady!" shouted all the others. And as Hildegarde passed back through the long room where the sick children lay, Benny woke from his nap, and shouted, "Sing-girl! my sing-girl! come back soon!"

So, half laughing and half crying, Hildegarde passed out, her heart very full of painful pleasure.



CHAPTER X.

THE HOUSE IN THE WOOD.

Rose was wonderfully better. Every day in the clear, bracing air of Bywood seemed to bring fresh vigor to her frame, fresh color to her cheeks. She began to take regular walks, instead of strolling a little way, leaning on her friend's stronger arm. Together the girls explored all the pleasant places of the neighborhood, which were many; hunted for rare ferns, with tin plant-boxes hanging from their belts, or stalked the lonely cardinal-flower, as it nodded over some woodland brook. Often they took the little boat, and made long expeditions down the pleasant river,—Hildegarde rowing, Rose couched at her ease in the stern. Once they came to the mouth of a stream which they pleased themselves by imagining to be unknown to mankind. Dipping the oars gently, Hildegarde drew the boat on and on, between high, dark banks of hemlock and pine and white birch. Here were cardinal-flowers, more than they had ever seen before, rank behind rank, all crowding down to the water's edge to see their beauty mirrored in the clear, dark stream. They were too beautiful to pick. But Hildegarde took just one, as a memento, and even for that one the spirit of the enchanted place seemed to be angered; for there was a flash of white barred wings, a loud shrill cry, and they caught the gleam of two fierce black eyes, as something whirred past them across the stream, and vanished in the woods beyond.

"Oh! what was it?" cried Hildegarde. "Have we done a dreadful thing?"

"Only a kingfisher!" said Rose, laughing. "But I don't believe we ought to have picked his flower. This is certainly a fairy place! Move on, or he may cast a spell over us, and we shall turn into two black stones."

One day, however, they had a stranger adventure than that of the Halcyon Stream, as they named the mysterious brook. They had been walking in the woods; and Rose, being tired, had stopped to rest, while Hildegarde pursued a "yellow swallow-tail" among the trees. Rose established herself on the trunk of a fallen tree, whose upturned roots made a most comfortable armchair, all tapestried with emerald moss. She looked about her with great content; counted the different kinds of moss growing within immediate reach, and found six; tried to decide which was the prettiest, and finding this impossible, gave it up, and fell to watching the play of the sunshine as it came twinkling through the branches of oak and pine. Green and gold!—those were the colors the fairy princes always wore, she thought. It was the most perfect combination in the world; and she hummed a verse of one of Hildegarde's ballads:—

"Gold and green, gold and green, She was the lass that was born a queen. Velvet sleeves to her grass-green gown, And clinks o' gold in her hair so brown."

Presently the girl noticed that in one place the trees were thinner, and that the light came strongly through, as from an open space beyond. Did the wood end here, then? She rose, and parting the leaves, moved forward, till all of a sudden she stopped short, in amazement. For something strange was before her. In an open green space, with the forest all about it, stood a house,—not a deserted house, nor a tumbledown log-hut, such as one often sees in Maine, but a trim, pretty cottage, painted dark red, with a vine-covered piazza, and a miniature lawn, smooth and green, sloping down to a fringe of willows, beyond which was heard the murmur of an unseen brook. The shutters were closed, and there was no sign of life about the place, yet all was in perfect order; all looked fresh and well cared for, as if the occupants had gone for a walk or drive, and might return at any moment. A drive? Hark! was not that the sound of wheels, even at this moment, on the neat gravel-path? Rose drew back instinctively, letting the branches close in front of her. Yet, she thought, there could be no harm in her peeping just for a moment, to see who these forest-dwellers might be. A fairy prince? a queenly maiden in gold and green? Laughing at her own thoughts, she leaned forward to peep through the leafy screen. What was her astonishment when round the corner came the familiar head of Dr. Abernethy, with the carryall behind him, Jeremiah driving, and Miss Wealthy sitting on the back seat! Rose could not believe her eyes at first, and thought she must be asleep on the tree-trunk, and dreaming it all. Her second thought was, why should not Miss Bond know the people of the house? They were her neighbors; she had come to make a friendly call. There was nothing strange about it. No! but it was strange to see the old lady, after mounting the steps slowly, draw a key from her pocket, deliberately open the door, and enter the house, closing the door after her. Jeremiah drove slowly round to the back of the house. In a few moments the shutters of the lower rooms were flung back. Miss Wealthy stood at the window for a few minutes, gazing out thoughtfully; then she disappeared.

Rose was beginning to feel very guilty, as if she had seen what she ought not to see. A sense of sadness, of mystery, weighed heavily on her sensitive spirit. Very quietly she stole back to her tree-trunk, and was presently joined by Hildegarde, flushed and radiant, with the butterfly safe in her plant-box, a quick and merciful pinch having converted him into a "specimen" before he fairly knew that he was caught. Rose told her tale, and Hildegarde wondered, and in her turn went to look at the mysterious house.

"How very strange!" she said, returning. "I hardly know why it is so strange, for of course there might be all kinds of things to account for it. It may be the house of some one who has gone away and asked Cousin Wealthy to come and look at it occasionally. The people may be in it, and like to have the blinds all shut. And yet—yet, I don't believe it is so. I feel strange!"

"Come away!" said Rose, rising. "Come home; it is a secret, and not our secret."

And home they went, very silent, and forgetting to look for maiden-hair, which they had come specially to seek.

But girls are girls; and Hildegarde and Rose could not keep their thoughts from dwelling on the house in the wood. After some consultation, they decided that there would be no harm in asking Martha about it. If she put them off, or seemed unwilling to speak, then they would try to forget what they had seen, and keep away from that part of the woods; if not—

So it happened that the next day, while Miss Wealthy was taking her after-dinner nap, the two girls presented themselves at the door of Martha's little sewing-room, where she sat with her sleeves rolled up, hemming pillow-cases. It was a sunny little room, with a pleasant smell of pennyroyal about it. There was a little mahogany table that might have done duty as a looking-glass, and indeed did reflect the wonderful bouquet of wax flowers that adorned it; a hair-cloth rocking-chair, and a comfortable wooden one with a delightful creak, without which Martha would not have felt at home. On the walls were some bright prints, and a framed temperance pledge (Martha had never tasted anything stronger than shrub, and considered that rather a dangerous stimulant); and the Deathbed of Lincoln, with a wooden Washington diving out of stony clouds to receive the departing spirit.

"May we come in, Martha?" asked Hildegarde. "We have brought our work, and we want to ask you about something."

"Come in, and welcome!" responded Martha. "Glad to see you,—if you can make yourselves comfortable, that is. I'll get another chair from—"

"No, indeed, you will not!" said Hildegarde. "Rose shall sit in this rocking-chair, and I will take the window-seat, which is better than anything else; so, there we are, all settled! Now, Martha—" She hesitated a moment, and Rose shrank back and made a little deprecatory movement with her hand; but Hildegarde was not to be stopped. "Martha, we have seen the house in the wood. We just happened on it by chance, and we saw—we saw Cousin Wealthy go in. And we want to know if you can tell us about it, or if Cousin Wealthy would not like us to be told. You will know, of course."

She paused. A shadow had crossed Martha's cheerful, wise face; and she sighed and stitched away in silence at her pillow-case for some minutes, while the girls waited with outward patience. At last, "I don't know why I shouldn't tell you, young ladies," she said slowly. "It's no harm, and no secret; only, of course, you wouldn't speak of it to her, poor dear!"

She was silent again, collecting her words; for she was slow of speech, this good Martha. "That house," she said at last, "belongs to Miss Bond. It was built just fifty years ago by the young man she was going to marry." Hildegarde drew in her breath quickly, with a low cry of surprise, but made no further interruption.

"He was a fine young gentleman, I've been told by all as had seen him; tall and handsome, with a kind of foreign way with him, very taking. He was brought up in France, and almost as soon as he came out here (his people were from Castine, and had French blood) he met Miss Bond, and they fell in love with each other at sight, as they say. She lived here in this same house with her father (her mother was dead), and she was as sweet as a June rose, and a picture to look at. Ah! dear me, dear me! Poor lamb! I never saw her then. I was a baby, as you may say; leastwise a child of three or four.

"Old Mary told me all about it when first I came,—old Mary was housekeeper here forty years, and died ten year ago. Well, she used to say it was a picture to see Miss Wealthy when she was expecting Mr. La Rose (Victor La Rose was his name). She would put on a white gown, with a bunch of pansies in the front of it; they were his favorite flowers, Mary said, and he used to call her his Pansy, which means something in French, I don't rightly know what; and then she would come out on the lawn, and look and look down river. Most times he came up in his sail-boat,—he loved the water, and was more at home on it than on land, as you may say. And when she saw the white boat coming round the bend, she would flush all up, old Mary said, like one of them damask roses in your belt, Miss Hilda; and her eyes would shine and sparkle, and she'd clap her hands like a child, and run down to the wharf to meet him. Standing there, with her lovely hair blowing about in the wind, she would look more like a spirit, Mary would say, than a mortal person. Then when the boat touched the wharf, she would hold out her little hands to help him up; and he, so strong and tall, was glad to be helped, just to touch her hand. And so they would come up to the house together, holding of hands, like two happy children. And full of play they was, tossing flowers about and singing and laughing, all for the joy of being together, as you may say; and she always with a pansy for his button-hole the first thing; and he looking down so proud and loving while she fastened it in. And most times he'd bring her something,—a box of chocolate, or a new book, or whatever it was,—but old Mary thought she was best pleased when he came with nothing but himself. And both of them that loving and care-taking to the old gentleman, as one don't often see in young folks courting; making him sit with them on the piazza after tea, and the young man telling all he'd seen and done since the last time; and then she would take her guitar and sing the sweetest, old Mary said, that ever was sung out of heaven. Then by and by old Mr. Bond would go away in to his book, and they would sit and talk, or walk in the moonlight, or perhaps go out on the water. She was a great hand for the water, Mary said; and never's been on it since that time. Not that it's to wonder at, to my mind. Ah, dear me!

"Well, my dears, they was to be married in the early fall, as it might be September. He had built that pretty house, so as she needn't be far from her father, who was getting on in years, and she his only child. He furnished it beautiful, every room like a best parlor,—carpets and sofys and lace curt'ins,—there was nothing too good. But her own room was all pansies,—everything made to order, with that pattern and nothing else. It's a sight to see to-day, fifty years since 't was all fresh and new.

"One day—my dear young ladies, the ways of the Lord are very strange by times, but we must truly think that they are his ways, and so better than ours,—one day Miss Wealthy was looking for her sweetheart at the usual time of his coming, about three o'clock in the afternoon. The morning had been fine, but the weather seemed to be coming up bad, Mary thought; and old Mr. Bond thought so, too, for he came out on the piazza where Mary was sorting out garden-herbs, and said, 'Daughter, I think Victor will drive to-day. There is a squall coming up; it isn't a good day for the water.'

"And it wasn't, Mary said; for an ugly black cloud was coming over, and under it the sky looked green and angry.

"But Miss Wealthy only laughed, and shook her yellow curls back,—like curling sunbeams, Mary said they was, and said, 'Victor doesn't mind squalls, Father dear. He has been in gales and hurricanes and cyclones, and do you think he will stop for a river flaw? See! there is the boat now, coming round the bend.' And there, sure enough, came the white sailboat, flying along as if she was alive, old Mary said. Miss Wealthy ran out on the lawn and waved her handkerchief, and they saw the young man stand up in the boat and wave his in return. And then—oh, dear! oh, dear me!—Mary said, it seemed as if something black came rushing across the water and struck the boat like a hand; and down she went, and in a moment there was nothing to see, only the water all black and hissing, and the wind tearing the tree-tops."

"Oh! but he could swim!" cried Hildegarde, pale and breathless.

"He was a noble swimmer, my dear!" said Martha, sadly. "But it came too sudden, you see. He had turned to look at his sweetheart, poor young gentleman, and wave to her, and in that moment it came. He hadn't time to clear himself, and was tangled in the ropes, and held down by the sail. Oh, don't ask me any more! But he was drowned, that is all of it. Death needs only a moment, and has that moment always ready. Eh, dear! My poor, sweet lady!"

There was a pause; for Rose was weeping, and Hildegarde could not speak, though her eyes were dry and shining.

Presently Martha continued: "The poor dear fell back into her father's arms, and he and Mary carried her into the house; and then came a long, sad time. For days and days they couldn't make her believe but that he was saved, for she knew he was a fine swimmer; but at last, when all was over, and the body found and buried, they brought her a little box that they found in his pocket, all soaked with water,—oh, dear!—and in it was that pin,—the stone pansy, as she always wears, and will till the day she dies. Then she knew, and she lay back in her bed, and they thought she would never leave it. But folks don't often die that way, Miss Hilda and Miss Rose. Trouble is for us to live through, not to die by; and she got well, and comforted her father, and by and by she learned how to smile again, though that was not for a long time. The poor gentleman had made a will, giving the new house to her, and all he had; for he had no near kin living. Mr. Bond wanted her to sell it; but, oh! she wouldn't hear to it. All these years—fifty long years, Miss Hilda!—she has kept that house in apple-pie order. Once a month I go over, as old Mary did before me, and sweep it from top to bottom, and wash the windows. And three times a week she—Miss Bond—goes over herself, as you saw her to-day, and sits an hour or so, and puts fresh pansies in the vases; and Jeremiah keeps the lawn mowed, odd times, and everything in good shape. It's a strange fancy, to my idea; but there! it's her pleasure. In winter, when she can't go, of course, for the snow, she is always low-spirited, poor lady! I was so glad Mrs. Grahame asked her to go to New York last winter!

"And now, young ladies," said Martha, gathering up her pillow-cases, "I should be in my kitchen, seeing about supper. That is all the story of the house in the wood. And you'll not let it make you too sad, seeing 't was the Lord's doing; and to look at her now, you'd never think but what her life had been of her own choosing, and she couldn't have had any other."

Very quietly and sadly the girls went to their rooms, and sat hand in hand, and talked in whispers of what they had heard. The brightness of the day seemed gone; they could hardly bear the pain of sympathy, of tender pity, that filled their young hearts. They could not understand how there could ever be rallying from such a blow. They knew nothing of how long passing years turn bitter to sweet, and build a lovely "House of Rest" over what was once a black gulf of anguish and horror.

Miss Wealthy's cheerful face, when they went down to tea, struck them with a shock; they had almost expected to find it pale and tear-stained, and could hardly command their usual voices in speaking to her. The good lady was quite distressed. "My dear Rose," she said, "you look very pale and tired. I am quite sure you must have walked too far to-day. You would better go to bed very early, my dear, and Martha shall give you a hop pillow. Very soothing a hop pillow is, when one is tired. And, Hilda, you are not in your usual spirits. I trust you are not homesick, my child! You have not touched your favorite cream-cheese."

Both girls reassured her, feeling rather ashamed of themselves; and after tea Hildegarde read "Bleak House" aloud, and then they had a game of casino, and the evening passed off quite cheerfully.



CHAPTER XI.

"UP IN THE MORNING EARLY."

"One! two! three! four! five! six!" said the clock in the hall.

"Yes, I know it!" replied Hildegarde, sitting up in bed; and then she slipped quietly out and went to call Rose.

"Get up, you sleepy flower!" she said, shaking her friend gently,—

"A l'heure ou s'eveille la rose, Ne vas-tu pas te reveiller?"

Rose sighed, as she always did at the sound of the "impossible language," as she called the French, over which she struggled for an hour every day; but got up obediently, and made a hasty and fragmentary toilet, ending with a waterproof instead of a dress. Then each girl took a blue bundle and a brown bath towel, and softly they slipped downstairs, making no noise, and out into the morning air, and away down the path to the river. Every blade of grass was awake, and a-quiver with the dewdrop on its tip; the trees showered pearls and diamonds on the two girls, as they brushed past them; the birds were singing and fluttering and twittering on every branch, as if the whole world belonged to them, as indeed it did. On the river lay a mantle of soft white mist, curling at the edges, and lifting here and there; and into this mist the sun was striking gold arrows, turning the white to silver, and breaking through it to meet the blue flash of the water. Gradually the mist rose, and floated in the air; and now it was a maiden, a young Titaness, rising from her sleep, with trailing white robes, which caught on the trees and the points of rock, and hung in fleecy tatters on the hillside, and curled in snowy circles through the coves and hollows. At last she laid her long white arms over the hill-tops, and lifted her fair head, and so melted quite away and was gone, and the sun had it all his own way.

Then Hildegarde and Rose, who had been standing in silent delight and wonder, gave each a sigh of pleasure, and hugged each other a little, because it was so beautiful, and went into the boat-house. Thence they reappeared in a few minutes, clad in close-fitting raiment of blue flannel, their arms bare, their hair knotted in Gothic fashion on top of their heads. Then Hildegarde stood on the edge of the wharf, and rose on the tips of her toes, and joined her palms high above her head, then sprang into the air, describing an arc, and disappeared with a silver splash which rivalled that of her own sturgeon. But Rose, who could not dive, just sat down on the wharf and then rolled off it, in the most comfortable way possible. When they both came up, there was much puffing, and shaking of heads, and little gasps and shrieks of delight. The water by the wharf was nearly up to the girls' shoulders, and farther than this Rose could not go, as she could not swim; so a rope had been stretched from the end of the wharf to the shore, and on this she swung, like the mermaids on the Atlantic cable, in Tenniel's charming picture, and floated at full length, and played a thousand gambols. She could see the white pebbled bottom through the clear water, and her own feet as white as the pebbles (Rose had very pretty feet; and now that they were no longer useless appendages, she could not help liking to look at them, though she was rather ashamed of it). Now she swung herself near the shore, and caught hold of the twisted roots of the great willow that leaned over the water, and pulled the branches down till they fell like a green canopy over her; and now she splashed the water about, for pure pleasure of seeing the diamond showers as the sunlight caught them. But Hildegarde swam out into the middle of the river, cleaving the blue water with long, regular strokes; and then turned on her back, and lay contemplating the universe with infinite content.

"You are still in the shade, you poor Rosebud!" she cried. "See! I am right in the sparkle. I can gather gold with both hands. How many broad pieces will you have?" She sent a shower of drops toward the shore, which Rose returned with interest; and a battle-royal ensued, in which the foam flew left and right, and the smooth water was churned into a thousand eddies.

"I am the Plesiosaurus!" cried Hildegarde, giving a mighty splash. "Beware! beware! my flashing eyes, my floating hair!"

"Shade of Coleridge, forgive her!" exclaimed Rose, dashing a return volley of pearly spray. "And the Plesiosaurus had no hair; otherwise, I may say I have often observed the resemblance. Well, I am the Ichthyosaurus! You remember the picture in the 'Journey to the Centre of the Earth'?"

Hildegarde replied by plunging toward her, rearing her head in as serpentine a manner as she could command; and after a struggle the two mighty saurians went down together in a whirlpool of frothing waves. They came up quite out of breath, and sat laughing and panting on the willow root, which in one place curved out in such a way as to make a charming seat.

Previous Part     1  2  3  4     Next Part
Home - Random Browse