Mr. Coulson stood up to make his chairman's speech and to tell them he was very glad to come back to Forest Glen. Elizabeth thought his address was wonderfully clever, her partial eyes failing to notice that he was big and awkward, that he did not know what to do with his hands, and that he was more than usually nervous. There was another pair of eyes, besides Elizabeth's, that, when they dared lift themselves, looked upon his blundering performance with tender pride. But Miss Gordon gazed at him coldly, thanking herself that she had put an end to all nonsense between him and Annie before it was too late. The grandson of a tavern-keeper, though he might rise to have good morals, could never reach the height of genteel manners.
At last the chairman's halting remarks were concluded, and the programme fairly started. First came a chorus by all the girls of the school, and such of the boys as could be coaxed or driven to the platform; the masculine portion of the artists having suddenly developed an overwhelming modesty. But the girls were all eager to perform; and they sang "Flow gently, sweet Afton" with great vigor, and, as Mr. Coulson said afterwards, "just like the robins in springtime."
As they burst into the second verse, Elizabeth, who stood directly behind Mary, and had to view the audience through the halo, was surprised to see a boy down near the stove making vigorous signs to attract her attention. She stared in amazement, and almost stopped singing. It was Horace! There he was in a brand new velvet suit, smiling at her with the greatest glee, and pointing her out to his companions. He sat between two ladies, the very two Elizabeth had seen enter with Mr. Coulson. One was a tall, thin lady in a sealskin coat, probably Horace's mamma, as he called her. The other lady was very stout and wonderfully dressed. Elizabeth could scarcely see her face for the enormous plumed hat she wore. She seemed to be a very grand lady, indeed, for, every time she moved, jewels glittered on her hat or at her throat.
Elizabeth quite forgot the words of the song watching her, and was absently singing:
"There oft as mild evening weeps over the Tea, There daily I wander as noon rises high,"
when Rosie poked her back to consciousness.
When they had come down from the platform and the stir of preparation for the next number was going on behind the billowing sheets, Elizabeth felt herself pulled vigorously from behind. She whirled about; Horace was beside her, all smiles.
"Hello," he cried cordially. "Say, you sang just jolly, Lizzie."
"Hello!" responded Elizabeth, forgetting in her delight that this was not a genteel salutation. "I'm awful glad to see you, Horace." This was quite true; since he did not appear in the role of beau any more, she was genuinely pleased at the sight of her old playmate. Rosie expressed the same sentiment rapturously. Susie and Katie followed, and even Eppie faltered out some words of welcome.
"How did you come to be here?" Elizabeth asked.
"Mr. Coulson told me there was a concert, and I just coaxed mamma to let me come until she was nearly crazy and just had to let me. I can manage her all right. Papa's different, though. He wouldn't let me come with Mr. Coulson alone, and I wanted to!" His handsome face curled up in a pout. "They always tag round after me as if I was a kid. But Mr. Coulson fixed it up. Say, he's a dandy. He came over and coaxed papa to let me come, and he got Aunt Jarvis to come, too. That's Aunt Jarvis next the stove. She likes Mr. Coulson awful well and said she'd come to oblige him, and then mamma said she'd come, too. Madeline intended to come, too, but she was going to a party. She goes to one 'most every night. I wish I could, but I always get sick. Say, Lizzie, I've got a new dog, and I hitch him to my sleigh, and oh, say, he's the dandiest fun——"
But Elizabeth was not listening. She was too much overcome by the wonderful news. Mrs. Jarvis, the fairy god-mother, who had always seemed unreal, was really and truly there in the flesh! She could scarcely believe it.
Horace, finding his audience inattentive, moved away, chatting volubly to all his old friends, and the next moment Jean came crushing her way through the crowd to Elizabeth's side, her eyes shining with excitement.
"Lizzie, aunt sent me to tell you to do your very, very best. Mrs. Jarvis is really and truly down there," she whispered excitedly. "And she says to be sure and smooth your hair just before your dialogue, and don't for the world let your boot laces come untied. And when it's all over, aunt says you're to come down with her and be introduced."
Elizabeth did not hear a word of her sister's admonitions. She realized only that Mrs. Jarvis was there to watch her act in a dialogue! Her heart stood still at the thought, and then went on again madly.
Meanwhile, Mary had spread the news of the town visitors, and all the girls were in a flutter.
"It's too bad," Katie Price whispered to Rosie, "that Lizzie Gordon's got that awful lookin' pinny on. Mrs. Jarvis 'll be ashamed of her. And her hair ain't curled even."
"She can beat anybody in the school at speakin' a dialogue, anyhow," declared Rosie loyally. "And Martha Ellen's goin' to dress her up in long clothes anyway, so it don't matter."
The concert was going steadily on, each performer showing signs of the epidemic of excitement that the arrival of the town visitors had produced. Lottie Price stopped short three times in reciting "Curfew must not ring to-night," and had to be helped from behind the sheets by Miss Hillary. No one felt very sorry, for, as Teenie Robertson said, "Lottie Price was just showing off, anyhow, and it served her right." But everyone else seemed to go wrong from the moment the strangers were announced, and to Elizabeth's dismay even poor Rosie did not escape.
The programme partook largely of a temperance sentiment, and Rosie's song was "Father, dear father, come home with me now," a selection which at the practices had almost moved the spectators to tears. Joel Davis, because he was the biggest boy in the school, and hadn't anything to do but sit still, acted the part of Rosie's father. He sat at a table with three or four companions, all arrayed in rags, and drank cold tea from a vinegar jar. Rosie came in, and taking Joel by the sleeve, sang:
"Father, dear father, come home with me now, The clock in the steeple strikes one, You said you were coming right home from the shop, As soon as your day's work was done."
Then from behind the curtain some of the bigger girls, led by Martha Ellen Robertson, sang softly:
"Come home, come home, Please, father, dear father, come home."
Rosie sang another verse at two o'clock, and still another at three, singing the hands right round to twelve, and still the obdurate Joel sat immovable and still drank tea.
It had been considered, even by Miss Hillary, one of the best pieces on the programme, and Elizabeth was almost as excited over it as she was over her dialogue. And to-night Rosie looked so beautiful in her white dress and pink bow that Elizabeth felt sure Mrs. Jarvis would think her the sweetest, dearest girl in the whole wide world.
But what was the dismay of all the singer's friends, and the rage and humiliation of the singer's mother, when she emerged from Miss Hillary's hands and stood before the audience! All her glory of sash and beads and frills was swallowed up in Mrs. Robertson's shawl—the old, ragged "Paisley" she wore only when she went to milk the cows or feed the chickens! Miss Hillary had even taken the pink ribbon out of the poor little singer's curls; and Rosie confided to Elizabeth afterwards, with sobs, she had actually bidden her take off her boots and stockings and go barefoot! Rosie had been almost overwhelmed by this stripping of her ornaments, but she found spirit enough remaining to rebel at this last sacrifice. And, as Elizabeth indignantly declared, even a worm would turn at being commanded to take off its boots, when they were a brand new copper-toed pair with a lovely loud squeak! But even the copper toes were concealed by the trailing ends of Mrs. Robertson's barnyard shawl, and the poor little worm was none the better for her turning.
The song was a melancholy failure. Rosie sang in such a dismayed, quavering voice that no one could hear her, and everyone was relieved when she finally broke down and had to leave before the clock in the steeple had a chance to strike more than ten.
Rosie's mother had sat through the pitiful performance, fairly boiling over with indignation, and as soon as the Paisley shawl, heaving with sobs, had disappeared behind the sheets, she followed it and "had it out" violently with Miss Hillary. Wasn't her girl as good as anybody else's girl, was what she wanted to know, that she had to be dressed up like a tinker's youngster before all those people from town? Miss Hillary tried to explain that the play's the thing, and the artist must make sacrifices to her art, but all in vain. Mrs. Carrick took Rosie away weeping, before the concert was over, and Miss Hillary sat down behind the sheets and cried until the Red Cutter had to come up and make her stop.
One disaster was followed by another. Elizabeth suffered even more agony in the next number, for this was a reading by John. Why he should have been chosen for an elocutionary performance no one could divine, except that he flatly refused to do anything else in public, and his teacher was determined he should do something. With Elizabeth's help, John had faithfully practiced in the privacy of his room, but had never once got through his selection without breaking down with laughter. It was certainly the funniest story in the world, Elizabeth was sure—so funny they had not submitted it to Aunt Margaret. It was about a monkey named Daniel that had been trained to wait upon his master's table, and Elizabeth would dance about and scream over the most comical passages, and had been of little assistance to her brother in his efforts at self-control.
At first the elocutionist did fairly well, reading straight ahead in his low monotone, and, hoping all would be well, Elizabeth ceased to squirm and twist her braid. But as John approached the funniest part, he forgot even the elegant strangers. Daniel grew more enchanting every moment; grew irresistible at last, and the droning voice of his exponent stopped short—lost in a spasm of silent laughter. He recovered, read a little further, and collapsed again. Once more he started, his face twisted in agony, his voice husky, but again he fell before the side-splitting antics of Daniel.
The audience had not caught any of the monkey's jokes as yet, but they fully appreciated the joke of the performance; and as the elocutionist labored on, striving desperately to overcome his laughter and always being overcome by it, the schoolhouse fairly rocked with merriment. Elizabeth, who had begun to fear no one would hear all Daniel's accomplishments, was greatly relieved, and laughed louder than anyone else. John was enjoying himself, and the audience was enjoying itself, and she was so proud of him and so glad everyone was having such a good time!
But, as the reader finally choked completely and had to retire amidst thunderous applause before Daniel's last escapade was finished, she was brought to a realization of the real state of affairs by glancing back at her aunt. Miss Gordon was sitting up very straight, with crimson checks, and an air of awful dignity which Elizabeth's dismayed senses told her belonged only to occasions of terrible calamity. Annie, too, was looking very much distressed, and Jean and Malcolm wore expressions of anger and disgust. Elizabeth's heart sank. Evidently John had disgraced the family, poor John, and she thought he had made such a hit! This was awful! First Rosie and then John! There came over her a chill of terror, a premonition of disaster. When those two stars had fallen from the firmament, how could she expect to shine with Mrs. Jarvis sitting there in front of her?
Had she guessed how much her aunt was depending upon her, she would have been even more terrified. Miss Gordon was keenly alive to the fact that this evening might make or mar Elizabeth's fortune. Mrs. Jarvis had from time to time recognized her namesake by a birthday gift and had often intimated that she should like to see the little girl. Miss Gordon had dreams of her adopting Elizabeth, and making the whole family rich. And now she was to see the child for the first time, and under favorable auspices. Elizabeth certainly showed talent in her acting. The others were like wooden images in comparison to her.
As the curtains were drawn back for the dialogue in which she figured, Miss Gordon drew a great breath. If Mrs. Jarvis didn't feel that she must give that child an education after seeing how she could perform, then all the stories of that lady's generosity, which she had heard, must be untrue.
But, alas, for any hopes centered upon Elizabeth! Miss Gordon told herself bitterly, when the dialogue was over, that she might have known better. The vivacious actress, who had thrown herself into her part at home, making it seem real, came stumbling out upon the little stage, hampered by Annie's long skirts, and mumbled over her lines in a tone inaudible beyond the front row of seats. Poor Elizabeth, the honor of performing before Mrs. Jarvis had been too much for her. She did her part as badly as it was possible to do it, growing more scared and white each moment, and finally forgetting it altogether. Miss Gordon hung her proud head, and Mrs. Oliver exclaimed quite audibly, "Dear me, how did that poor child ever come to be chosen to take part?"
Elizabeth had not awakened from her stage-struck condition when the concert was over, and her aunt, with set face, came to straighten her pinafore, smooth her hair, and get her ready for presentation to the ladies from town.
Many, many times had Elizabeth pictured this meeting, each time planning with greater elaboration the part she should act. But when at last she stood before the lady in the sealskin coat, realizing only what a miserable failure she had been, she could think of not one of the clever speeches she had prepared, but hung her head in a most ungenteel manner and said nothing.
Her aunt's voice sounded like a forlorn hope as she presented her.
"This is your namesake, Mrs. Jarvis," she said.
Mrs. Jarvis was a tall, stately lady, with a sallow, discontented face. Her melancholy, dark eyes had a kindly light in them, however, and occasionally her face was lit up with a pleasant smile. She was richly but quietly dressed, and in every way perfectly met Miss Gordon's ideal. Her companion was something of a shock, however. Mrs. Oliver was stout and red-faced, and was dressed to play the part of twenty when Manager Time had cast her for approaching fifty. Miss Gordon would have pronounced any other woman, with such an appearance and a less illustrious relative, not only ungenteel but quite common, and the sort of person Lady Gordon would never have recognized on the streets of Edinburgh.
But Mrs. Jarvis was Mrs. Jarvis, and whoever was related to her must surely be above the ordinary in spite of appearances.
Mrs. Jarvis was looking down at Elizabeth with a smile illuminating her sad face. "So this is the little baby with the big eyes my dear husband used to talk so much about." She heaved a great sigh. "Ah, Miss Gordon, you cannot understand what a lonely life I have led since my dear husband was taken from me."
Miss Gordon expressed warm sympathy. She was a little surprised at the expression of grief, nevertheless, for she had always understood that, as far as the companionship of her husband went, Mrs. Jarvis had always led a lonely life.
"Mr. Jarvis was always very much interested in Elizabeth," she said diplomatically. "I understand it was he who named her."
"She doesn't seem to have inherited your talent for the stage, Aunt Jarvis," said the stout lady, laughing. "Horace, did you hear me telling you to put on your overcoat? We must go at once."
Miss Gordon looked alarmed. It would be fatal if they left without some further word.
"I am sure Elizabeth would like to express her pleasure at meeting you, Mrs. Jarvis," she said, suggestively. "She has been wanting an opportunity to thank you for your many kind remembrances."
She glanced down at her niece, and Elizabeth realized with agony that this was the signal for her to speak. She thought desperately, but not a gleam of one of those stately speeches she had prepared showed itself. She was on the verge of disgracing her aunt again when Mrs. Oliver mercifully interposed.
"Aunt Jarvis," she cried sharply, "we really must be going. The horses are ready. Come, Horace, put on your overcoat this instant, sir."
But Master Horace was not to be ordered about by a mere mother. He jerked himself away from her and caught his aunt's hand.
"Aunt Jarvis," he said in a wheedling tone, "we're coming out here to visit Lizzie's place some day, ain't we? You promised now, don't you remember?"
Mrs. Jarvis patted his hand.
"Well, I believe I did, boy," she said, "and we'll come some day," she added graciously, "provided the owners of The Dale would like to have us."
Miss Gordon hastened to reply. "The owners of The Dale." That sounded like the reprieve of a sentence. "Indeed we should all be very much pleased," she said, striving to hide her excitement. "Just tell me when it would be most convenient for you to come. You see, since leaving my old associations in Edinburgh, I have dropped all social duties. You can understand, of course, that one in my position would be quite without congenial companionship in a rural community. So I shall look forward to your visit with much pleasure."
Mrs. Jarvis appeared visibly impressed. Evidently Miss Gordon was not of common clay. "Now let me see," she said, "perhaps Horace and I might drive out."
"I don't see how you can possibly find time, Aunt Jarvis," cried Mrs. Oliver, who was forcing her unwilling son into his overcoat. "We have engagements for three months ahead, I am sure!"
Miss Gordon drew herself up rigidly. She had heard enough of Horace's artless chatter the summer before, to understand his mother's jealousy. Mrs. Oliver lived in a panic of fear lest the money that should be her children's might stray elsewhere.
There was further enlightenment waiting. Mrs. Jarvis deliberately turned her back upon her niece.
"You are so kind," she said to Miss Gordon with elaborate emphasis, "and indeed I shall be exceedingly glad to accept. Horace and I shall come, you may be sure, provided he has not too many engagements; and then," her words became more emphatic and distinct, "we shall have more opportunity to discuss what is to be done with little Elizabeth." She turned to where her namesake was standing, her kindly smile illuminating her face.
"What do you want most in the world, little Elizabeth?" she asked alluringly.
Miss Gordon held her breath. This surpassed even her brightest dreams!
"Elizabeth," she said, her voice trembling. "Do you hear what Mrs. Jarvis is asking you?"
Yes, Elizabeth had heard, and was looking up with shining eyes, her answer ready. But as usual she was busy exercising that special talent she possessed for doing the unexpected.
She had been glancing about her for some means of escape from her embarrassing position, when she had espied Eppie. The little girl, muffled in her grandfather's old tartan plaid, for the cold drive homeward, was slipping past, glancing wistfully at Elizabeth, the center of the grand group from town. Elizabeth instantly forgot her own troubles in a sudden impulse to do Eppie a good turn. This was an opportunity not to be lost. She caught her little friend by the hand and drew her near.
"Oh, Mrs. Jarvis!" she cried, grown quite eloquent now that she had found a subject so near her heart, "I'd rather have Eppie stay on the farm than anything else in the wide, wide world!"
"Elizabeth!" cried her aunt in dismay, "what are you saying?"
Mrs. Jarvis looked down with a puzzled expression at the quaint little figure wrapped in the old plaid. But she smiled in a very kindly way.
"What is she talking about?" she inquired.
Elizabeth hung her head, speechless again. She had been importuned to speak only a moment before, but, now that she had found her tongue, apparently she had made a wrong use of it.
Horace came to the rescue. He spoke just whenever he pleased, and he knew all about this matter. He had not been Elizabeth's and Rosie's chum for two weeks without hearing much of poor Eppie's wrongs.
"That's Eppie, auntie, Eppie Turner, and that's her grandpa over there," he explained, nodding to where old Sandy stood with a group of men. "Mr. Huntley sold his farm, and he won't leave it."
Mrs. Jarvis glanced at the bent figure of the old Highlander, and then at the shy face of his little granddaughter; those two whose lives could be made or marred by a word from her. But this was not the sort of charity that appealed to Mrs. Jarvis. It meant interfering in business affairs and endless trouble with lawyers. She remembered that romantic young Mr. Coulson had bothered her about either this or some affair like it not so long ago.
"Horace, my dear," she said wearily, "don't you know by this time that the very mention of lawyers and all their business gives your poor auntie a headache?" She patted Eppie's cheek with her gloved fingers. "A sweet little face," she murmured. "Good-by, Miss Gordon. I shall see you and your charming family very soon, I hope."
She shook hands most cordially, but Miss Gordon was scarcely able to hide her chagrin. Elizabeth had let the great chance of her life slip through her fingers! The good-bys were said, even Mrs. Oliver, now that her aunt had for the moment escaped temptation, bidding the lady of The Dale a gracious farewell.
And not until Miss Gordon had collected her family and was seated in Wully Johnstone's sleigh, ready for the homeward drive, did she remember that in her anxiety over Elizabeth she had not once within the last dangerous half-hour given a glance towards Annie!
For the remainder of the winter, Elizabeth lived under the shadow of Mrs. Jarvis's expected visit. And though she was supposed to be the one who should benefit chiefly from it, a shadow it indeed proved. Did she tear her pinafore, burst through the toes of her boots, run, leap, scream, or do any one of the many ungenteel things she was so prone to do, the stern question faced her: What did she suppose Mrs. Jarvis would think of a big girl, going on twelve, who could conduct herself in such a shocking manner? Elizabeth mourned over her shortcomings, and longed to be proper and genteel. At the same time, while she condemned herself for the traitorous thought, she had almost come to look upon the expected visit as a not altogether unmixed blessing. For the Mrs. Jarvis of reality was not the glorious creature of Elizabeth's dreams. Her queens were one by one abdicating their thrones. The beautiful teacher was steadily growing less worshipful, in spite of much incense burned before her, and now even the fairy god-mother was proving but mortal. She had laid aside her golden scepter at that moment when, with perfect faith, her namesake had looked up to her as to a goddess and asked for a blessing upon Eppie. But as yet Elizabeth's soul refused to acknowledge the loss of either idol; and she lived in a state of excitement and worry over the impending visit.
At school she escaped from the thraldom of being the lady's namesake, for Miss Hillary of course made no allusion to the fatal name of Jarvis, and the Red Cutter averted nearly all other troubles. So, in the reaction from home restrictions, Elizabeth gave herself up almost entirely to drawing pictures and weaving romances. For Joan of Arc never disappointed one. She was always great and glorious, being composed entirely of such stuff as dreams are made of, and Elizabeth turned to her from fallible mortals with much joy and comfort.
But Mary's reports of school-life always showed the dreamer at the foot of her class, and Miss Gordon grew apprehensive. Mrs. Jarvis might arrive any day, ready to repeat the glorious offer she had already made to that improvident child. But if she found her dull and far behind her classmates, how could she be expected to offer anything in the way of higher education?
"Elizabeth," her aunt said one evening as the family were gathered about the dining-room table, all absorbed in their lessons, except the troublesome one, "I do wish you had some of Jean's ambition. Now, don't you wish you could pass the entrance next summer with John and Charles Stuart?"
Elizabeth glanced across the table at those two working decimals, with their heads close together. Mr. MacAllister had come over to get advice on the Long Way, and had brought his son with him.
"Oh, my, but wouldn't I love to!" she gasped.
"Then why don't you make an effort to overtake them? I am sure you could if you applied yourself."
"But I'm only in the Junior Fourth yet, aunt, and besides I haven't got a—something Jean told me about. What is it I haven't got, Jean?"
Jean, in company with Malcolm, was absorbed in a problem in geometry.
"I don't think you've got any common sense, Lizzie Gordon, or you wouldn't interrupt," she said sharply.
"I mean," persisted Elizabeth, who never quite understood her smart sister, "I mean what is it I haven't got that makes me always get the wrong answer to sums?"
"Oh! A mathematical head, I suppose. There, Malc, I've got it. See; the angle A.B.C. equals the angle B.C.D."
"Yes, that's what's the matter," said Elizabeth mournfully. "I haven't a mathematical head. Miss Hillary says so, too."
"But you might make up for it in other things," said Annie, who was knitting near. "It would be lovely to pass the entrance before you are quite twelve, Lizzie. Jean is the only one, so far, that passed at eleven. You really ought to try."
After this Elizabeth did try, spasmodically, for nearly a week, but gradually fell back into her old idle habits of compiling landscapes and dreaming dreams.
Miss Gordon questioned Miss Hillary next in regard to the difficult case. There was an afternoon quilting-bee at Mrs. Wully Johnstone's, to which some young people had been invited for the evening, and there she met the young schoolmistress. As a rule, the lady of The Dale mingled very little in these social gatherings. The country folk were kind and neighborly, no doubt; and, living amongst them, one must unbend a little, but she felt entirely out of her social element at a tea-party of farmers' wives—she who had drunk tea in Edinburgh with Lady Gordon. But Auntie Jinit McKerracher had asked her on this occasion, and even Lady Gordon herself might have hesitated to offend that important personage, particularly as there had so lately been danger of a breach between the families. So, suppressing her pride, Miss Gordon went, and sat in stately grandeur at the head of the quilt, saying little until the young schoolmistress appeared. She, at least, did not murder Her Majesty's English when she spoke, though her manners were not by any means quite genteel.
Miss Gordon opened the conversation by inquiring after the attainments of her family in matters scholastic.
They were all doing very well indeed, Miss Hillary reported. She spoke a little vaguely, to be sure. The Red Cutter appeared with such pleasant frequency these days that she was not quite sure what her pupils were doing. But she remembered that the Gordons were generally at the head of their classes, and said so, adding the usual reservation which closed any praise of the family, "except Elizabeth."
Miss Gordon sighed despairingly. "Elizabeth does not seem as bright as the rest," she mourned. "I cannot understand it at all. Her father was extremely clever in his college days; indeed, his course was exceptional, his professors all said. All our family were of a literary turn, you know, Miss Hillary. Sir William Gordon's father—Sir William is the cousin for whom my brother was named—wrote exceedingly profound articles, and my dear father's essays were spoken of far and wide. No; I do not at all understand Elizabeth. I am afraid she must be entirely a MacDuff."
It did not seem so much lack of ability, Miss Hillary said, as lack of application. Lizzie always seemed employed at something besides her lessons. But perhaps it was because she hadn't a mathematical head. Then she changed the subject, feeling she was on uncertain ground. She was secretly wondering whether it was Rosie Carrick or Lizzie Gordon who never got a mark in spelling.
Elizabeth was made aware, by her aunt's remarks that evening, as they sat around the table for the usual study hour, that she had been transgressing again; but just how, she failed to understand. Miss Gordon talked in the grieved, vague way that always put Elizabeth's nerves on the rack. To be talked at this way in public was far worse even than being scolded outright in private. For one never knew what was one's specific sin, and there was always the horrible danger of breaking down before the boys.
Before retiring she sought an explanation from Mary. Yes, Mary knew; she had overheard aunt telling Annie that Miss Hillary had complained about Lizzie not doing her sums. This was a blow to Elizabeth. It was not so dreadful that anyone should complain of her to Aunt Margaret; that was quite natural; but that Miss Hillary should do the complaining! Her teacher persistently refused to sit upon the throne which Elizabeth raised again and again for her in her heart. Miss Hillary did not understand—did not even care whether she understood or not, while her pupil's worshiping nature still made pitiful attempts to put her where a true teacher could have ruled so easily and with such far-reaching results.
But the unmathematical head was not long troubled over even this disaster. It was soon again filled with such glorious visions as drove out all dark shadows of unspellable words and unsolvable problems. Elizabeth's ambition reached out far beyond the schoolroom. There was no romance or glory about getting ninety-nine per cent. in an arithmetic examination, as Rosie so often did, after all, and Elizabeth could not imagine Joan of Arc worrying over the spelling of Orleans. So she solaced herself with classic landscapes, with rhymes written concerning the lords and ladies that peopled them, and with dreams of future glory.
And so the days of anxious waiting for the great visit sped past; and in the interval Elizabeth might have fallen hopelessly into idle habits had it not been for the one person who, quietly and unnoticed, exercised the strongest influence over her life. To the little girl's surprise, Mother MacAllister was the one person who held out no hopes concerning Mrs. Jarvis. It seemed strange; for Mother MacAllister was the most sympathetic person in the whole wide world, and, besides, the only person who could always be depended upon to understand. But she did not seem to care how rich or great or glorious that great lady was, and took no interest whatever in the hopes of her coming visit. But she did take a vital interest in her little girl's progress at school, and one day she managed to find the key to those intellectual faculties which Elizabeth had kept so long locked away.
It was a Saturday afternoon, and the two comrades—the tall, stooped woman with the white hair and the beautiful wrinkled face, and the little girl with the blue-checked pinafore, the long, heavy braid, and the big inquiring eyes—were washing up the supper dishes. They were alone, for Charles Stuart and his father and Long Pete Fowler, the hired man, were away at the barn attending to the milking and the chores. The long bars of golden light from the setting sun came slanting down through the purple pines of the Long Hill. The snowy fields were gleaming with their radiance—rose pink and pure gold with deep blue shadows along the fences and in the hollows. The old kitchen, spotlessly clean, was flooded with the evening light—the yellow painted floor, the shining kettle sputtering comfortably on the stove, and the tin milk-pans ranged along the walls all gave back the sunset glow. This was the hour Elizabeth enjoyed most—the hour when she and Mother MacAllister were safe from the teasing and tormenting of Charles Stuart.
She was wiping the cups and saucers with great pride and care. They were the half-dozen blue willow-pattern cups and saucers which Mother MacAllister had saved from the wreck of her once complete set. They were used only on rare occasions, but to-night Elizabeth had been permitted to set them out. She never tired of hearing their romantic story, and Mother MacAllister told it again, as they washed and wiped and put them away on the top shelf of the cupboard.
They had been Mother MacAllister's finest wedding present, given just before she left the Old Country, years and years ago, when she and Father MacAllister were young, and there was no Charles Stuart. They had packed the precious blue dishes in a barrel with hay, and had brought them safely over all the long way. The stormy sea voyage of two months in a sailing vessel, the oft-interrupted train and boat journey from Quebec to Toronto, the weary jolting of the wagon-trail to the Holland Landing, and the storms of Lake Simcoe—the blue dishes, safe in their hay nest, had weathered them all. But the great disaster came when they were near home, just coming along the rough wagon track cut through the bush from Cheemaun—Champlain's Road, they called it even then. And such a road as it was, little Lizzie never saw—all stumps and roots, and great mud-holes where the wagon wheels sunk to the axle. There were two wagons tied together and drawn by a team of oxen, and the barrel of precious dishes was in the first one. And just as they were coming bumping and rattling down Arrow Hill, the hind wagon came untied and went crashing into the front one. And the tongue went straight through the barrel of blue dishes—from end to end—smashing everything except these few cups and saucers that had laid along the sides.
Elizabeth wiped one of the cracked cups very carefully and a lump arose in her throat. She always felt the pathos of the story, though Mother MacAllister expressed no regrets. But somehow, as the woman held one of the treasured dishes in her hard, worn hands, the tenderness in her eyes and voice conveyed to the child something of what their loss typified. They seemed to stand for all the beauty and hope and light of the young bride's life, that had been ruthlessly destroyed by the hardness and drudgery of the rough new land.
"They are to be yours when you grow up, you mind, little Lizzie," Mother MacAllister said, as she always did when the story of the blue cups and saucers was finished. Elizabeth sighed rapturously. "Oh, I'd just love them!" she cried, "but I couldn't bear to take them away from here. The cupboard would look so lonesome without them. I suppose I wouldn't need to, though, if I married Charles Stuart, would I?" she added practically.
Mother MacAllister turned her back for a few minutes. When she looked at Elizabeth again there was only a twinkle in her deep eyes.
"You would be thinking of that?" she asked quite seriously.
"Oh, I suppose so," said Elizabeth with a deep sigh, as of one who was determined to shoulder bravely life's heaviest burdens. "Of course aunt thinks Mrs. Jarvis may take me away and make a lady of me, but I don't really see how she could; do you, Mother MacAllister?"
"I would not be thinking about that, hinny. Mother MacAllister would be sad, sad to see her little girl carried away by the cares o' the world and the deceitfulness of riches."
"I hope I won't ever be," said Elizabeth piously. "Sometimes I think I'd like to be a missionary, cause girls can't be like Joan of Arc now. But it says in the g'ogerphy that there's awful long snakes in heathen lands. I don't believe I'd mind the idols, or the black people without much clothes on, though of course it wouldn't be genteel. But Martha Ellen says we shouldn't mind those things for the sake of the gospel. But, oh, Mother MacAllister! Think of a snake as long as this room! Malcolm heard a missionary in Cheemaun tell about one. I think I'd be too scared to preach if they were round. And I couldn't take your lovely dishes away amongst people like that anyway; so sometimes I think I'll just marry Charles Stuart when I get big."
Mother MacAllister busied herself arranging the dishes on the top shelf of the cupboard. Her twinkling eyes showed not the slightest resentment that her son should be chosen only as an alternative to savages and boa constrictors.
"Well, well," she said at last, very gently, "you and Charles Stuart would be too young to be thinking of such things for a wee while, lovey. But, indeed, it's Mother MacAllister prays every day that you may both be led to serve the dear Master no matter where He places you. Eh, eh, yes indeed, my lassie."
Elizabeth swung her dish-towel slowly, standing with eyes fixed on the pink and gold stretch of snow that led up to the glory of the skies above the Long Hill.
"I'm going to try when I grow big," she whispered.
"But you don't need to be waiting for that, little Lizzie," said Mother MacAllister, and seeing this was an opportunity for a lesson, added, "Come and we will be sitting down for a rest now, until the boys come in."
The dishes were all away, the oil-cloth covered table was wiped spotlessly clean and the shining milkpans were laid out upon it. There was nothing more to be done until Charles Stuart and Long Pete Fowler came in with the milk. So Mother MacAllister sat down in the old rocker by the sun-flooded window with her knitting, and Elizabeth sat on an old milking-stool at her feet. And there in the midst of the golden glow reflected from the skies, while one pale star far above in the delicate green kept watch over the dying day, there the little girl was given a new vision of One who, though He was rich, yet for Elizabeth's sake became poor, who, though He stretched out those shining heavens as a curtain, and made the glowing earth His footstool, had lived amongst men and for thirty-three beautiful years had performed their humblest tasks.
"Run and bring the Book, Lizzie," Mother MacAllister said at last, "and we'll jist be readin' a word or two about Him."
Elizabeth had not far to run. The old Bible, with the edges of its leaves all brown and ragged—and most brown and ragged where the well-read psalms lay—was always on the farthest window-sill with Father MacAllister's glasses beside it. She brought it, and, sitting again at Mother MacAllister's feet, heard story after story of those acts of love and gracious kindness that had made His life the wonder and the worship of the ages.
And didn't little Lizzie want to do something for Him? Mother MacAllister asked, and Elizabeth nodded, unable to speak for the great lump in her throat. And then the wise woman showed her how He was pleased with even a tidy desk at school, or a sum with the right answer or all the words correct in a spelling lesson.
The memory of that golden afternoon never left Elizabeth, never ceased to illuminate her after-life. Always a shining sunset recalled that winter evening; the view from the broad, low window of the glorious staircase of earth leading up to the more glorious heavens, the reflection from it all flooding the old kitchen, lighting up the sacred pages, and the beautiful face and white hair bent above her. And, best of all, the memory of the lesson she had learned that evening at Mother MacAllister's knee never lost its influence over her life. It was part of the glory and the most radiant part, that vision of the One who is the center of all beauty and joy and life.
Sometimes in later years the brightness of the vision waned, often it almost faded from view; but there always remained a gleam towards which Elizabeth's soul ever looked. And one day the vision began to brighten, slowly and imperceptibly, like the coming of the dawn, but as surely and steadily, until at last its glory filled her whole life and made it beautiful and noble, meet for the use of Him who is the Father of Lights.
Meantime, without any warning or apparent reason, Elizabeth suddenly began to learn her lessons. No one but Mother MacAllister understood why, but everybody saw the results. The connection between Elizabeth's heart and brain had been made, and that done she even began to develop a mathematical head. It was no easy task getting over her idle habits; and it was so easy when a complex fraction proved stubborn to turn one's slate into an easel. But the Saturday afternoon talks always turned upon the subject of the vital connection between fractions and the glories of the infinite, and every Monday Elizabeth went back to her tasks with renewed vim. And soon she began to taste something of the joy of achievement. It was fairly dazzling to feel oneself slowly creeping up from the foot of the class, and she found a strange exhilaration in setting herself against a rival and striving to outspell her in a match. Here was glory right ready to hand. She was Joan of Arc herself, riding through the arithmetic and slaying every complex fraction that lay in her path.
Miss Gordon witnessed the transformation in Elizabeth with amazement, and with devout thankfulness that by the judicious use of Mrs. Jarvis's name she had at last succeeded in arousing her niece's ambition. Rosie saw and was both proud and puzzled. It seemed so queer to see Lizzie working in school. Mary gave up all hopes of ever catching up to her, and John and Charles Stuart were sometimes seized with spasms of alarm lest by some unexpected leap she might land some morning in their class.
Elizabeth's days were not too full of work to preclude other interests, and just as the winter was vanishing in sunshiny days and little rivers of melting snow, two very great events occurred. Just the last day before the Easter vacation, Miss Hillary bade Forest Glen farewell and rode away for the last time in the red cutter. Elizabeth and Rosie left their decimals and the Complete Speller to take care of themselves for fully an hour, while with their heads on the desk they wept bitterly. For, after all, Miss Hillary was a teacher, and parting with even the poorest kind of teacher, especially one who was so pretty, was heart-breaking.
That was bad enough, but on the very same day old Sandy McLachlan came to the school and took Eppie away. Fortunately, her two friends did not know until the evening that Eppie, too, was gone forever; but when they did discover it, Elizabeth's grief was not to be assuaged.
The next morning Eppie and her grandfather drove away from Forest Glen. Jake Martin had not resorted to the law as he had threatened, neither had Tom Teeter relaxed his vigilance. The old man's Highland pride had at the last driven him forth. The hardest part of it all had been that the thrust that had given him his final hurt had come from his closest friend. Noah Clegg was the warmest-hearted man in Forest Glen and would have given over his whole farm to Sandy if he would have accepted it. But, as Tom Teeter declared hotly, Noah had no tact and was a blazing idiot beside, and a well-intentioned remark of his sent old Sandy out of the community. Noah was not a man of war and was so anxious that his old friend should give up his untenable position peaceably that he had very kindly and generously explained to Sandy that it would be far better for him to come and live on a neighbor that wanted him than on a man like Jake Martin, who didn't.
That very day, proud, angry, and cut to the heart, Sandy packed his household goods and left the place. There was much talk over the affair and everyone expressed deep regret—even Jake Martin. But he wisely refrained from saying much, for Tom Teeter excelled all his former oratorical nights in his hot denunciation of such a heartless crocodile, who could dance on his neighbor's grave and at the same time weep like a whited sepulchre. Long after the countryside had given up talking of poor Sandy's flitting, they discussed Tom's wonderful speech.
Elizabeth and Rosie had one letter from Eppie. They were living in Cheemaun, she said, and grandaddy was working in a big garden nearby and she was going to a great school where there were six teachers. Elizabeth's sorrow changed to admiration and envy; and soon the excitement of having a new teacher drove Eppie from her mind.
And still the winter slowly vanished and spring advanced, and still Mrs. Jarvis did not come. Vigilance at The Dale was never relaxed through the delay, however. Everything was kept in a state of preparation, and Miss Gordon ordered her household as soldiers awaiting an onset of the enemy. Sarah Emily had a clean apron every morning, and the house was kept in speckless order from the stone step of the front porch to the rain-barrel by the back door of the woodshed. Even the barnyard was swept every morning before the younger Gordons left for school, and every day their Sabbath clothes were laid out in readiness to slip on at the sight of a carriage turning in off Champlain's Road.
But the days passed and no carriage appeared, neither did a line come from the expected lady explaining her tardiness. Hope deferred made Miss Gordon's nerves unsteady and her heart hard towards the cause of her daily disappointment. By some process of unreason which often develops in the aggrieved feminine mind, she conceived of Elizabeth as that cause, and the unfortunate child found herself, all uncomprehending as usual, fallen from the heights of approbation to which her progress at school had raised her, to the old sad level of constant wrong-doing.
And so the days passed until once more May came down Arrow Hill with her arms full of blossoms, and turned the valley into a garden. Dandelions starred the green carpet by the roadside, violets and marigolds draped the banks of the creek with a tapestry of purple and gold. The wild cherry-trees fringed Champlain's Road with a white lacey hedge, heavy with perfume and droning with bees. The clover fields flushed a soft lilac tint, the orchards were a mass of pink and white blossoms, and the whole valley rang with the music of birds from the robin's first dawn note to the whip-poor-will's evensong.
Elizabeth tried not to be wildly happy, in view of her shortcomings, but found it impossible. May was here and she, too, must be riotously joyful. The boys were wont to be off on fishing expeditions once more, and over hill and dale she followed them in spite of all opposition. One radiant afternoon John and Charles Stuart went, as usual, far afield on their homeward journey from school. They crossed the creek far below the mill and, making a wide circuit round the face of Arrow Hill, came home by way of Tom Teeter's pasture-field. They had chosen this route on purpose to rid themselves of Elizabeth, but she had dogged their footsteps; and now arrived home with them, weary but triumphant. As they approached the old stone house, she remembered that she bore dismaying signs of her tumultuous journey. She had met with many accidents by the way, among others a slip into a mud-hole as they crossed the creek. So, when they reached the low bars that led from Tom's property into The Dale field, she allowed the boys to go on alone, while she sat upon the grass and strove to repair damages.
As she was scraping the mud from her wet stockings and struggling to re-braid her hair, she heard voices coming from Tom Teeter's barnyard. Glancing through the tangle of alder and raspberry bushes she was overjoyed to see Annie standing by the strawstack talking to Granny Teeter. Annie was the old woman's especial pet, and often went over to keep her company when Tom was in town or on an oratorical tour. Elizabeth sighed happily. She would wait and go home with Annie. One was almost always safe in her company.
So she sat down on the end of a rail, teetering contentedly. The rattle of a wagon could be heard on Champlain's Road. Tom was driving in at the gate, coming from town. He would be sure to have some sweeties, and would probably send them home with Annie. Granny was hobbling about the barnyard, a red and black checked shawl round her head and shoulders, a stick in her hand, which she used as much to rap the unruly pigs and calves as for a support. She was complaining in her high querulous voice about her turkeys, the contrary little bastes, that would nivir stay to home at all, at all, no matter if ye give them the whole farm to ate up. Tom rode up and stood talking with them, and Elizabeth, watching him through the raspberry bushes for signs of a package of candy, saw him take a letter from his pocket. Then he pointed to the straying turkeys going "peep, peep" over the hillside, and, as Granny turned to look at them, he slipped the letter into Annie's hand. Elizabeth remembered having seen Tom do this once or twice before, when he came over of an evening. She wondered what this could be about, and decided to ask Annie as soon as she came. Suppose it should be a letter from Mrs. Jarvis, saying she had started!
Her sister was a long time in coming, and when she did appear at last, walking along the path, she came very slowly. She was reading the letter and smiling very tenderly and happily over it.
"Hello, Annie!" shouted Elizabeth, scrambling up on the fence top. The letter disappeared like a flash into the folds of Annie's skirt; and at once Elizabeth's older self told her she must not ask questions about that letter, must not even allude to it. Some faint recollection of that early dawn when she had seen the farewell in their orchard drifted through her mind.
"Why, Lizzie," said her older sister, "how did you come here?" She caught sight of the books. John carried the dinner-pail on condition that Elizabeth bore the school-bag. "Haven't you got home yet?"
"No. The boys went 'way round, miles below the mill to hunt moles, and I got into the creek. And just look at my stockings, Annie!"
"Oh, Lizzie!" cried her sister in distress, "what will aunt say?" then added that which always attached itself to Elizabeth's misdemeanors, "What would Mrs. Jarvis think if she were to come to-day?"
"Oh, bother! I don't believe she'll ever come for years and years," said Elizabeth recklessly. "Do you, Ann; now, really?"
"Ye-s, I think she might soon be here now." Something in her big sister's voice made Elizabeth look up quickly. Dimples were showing in Annie's cheeks. Her eyes were radiant.
"Oh, do you think so? Well, Horace promised to come anyway, but what makes you think she'll come soon?"
Annie shook her head, still smiling. "Aw, do tell me," coaxed Elizabeth. "Did aunt get a letter?"
"No," the dimples were growing deeper, the eyes brighter, "but if she's coming at all she's coming this week, because—because the year's nearly up." She added the last words in a whisper and looked startled as soon as she had uttered them.
"Because what?" cried Elizabeth, bristling with curiosity.
"Nothing, nothing," said Annie hastily. "It's," she was whispering again, "it's got something to do with our secret, Lizzie, and you mustn't ask me like a good little girl. And you won't tell what I said, will you?"
Elizabeth was quite grown-up now. "Oh, no, I won't ever, ever tell. But you're not quite sure she's coming, are you? 'Cause I never finished working the motto she sent me."
"No, I'm not quite sure. But I think she will."
Elizabeth nodded. She understood perfectly, she told herself. That letter was from Mrs. Jarvis, but having something to do with Annie's secret—which meant Mr. Coulson—its contents must not be disclosed.
She went to work at her lessons that evening and forgot all about the letter and Mrs. Jarvis, too. Decimals were not so alluring since the May flowers had blossomed. A thousand voices of the coming summer called her away from her books. But Elizabeth was determined to finish a certain exercise that week, for Mother MacAllister was looking for it. Malcolm and Jean were sitting down on the old pump platform doing a Latin exercise. Elizabeth could not understand anyone studying there, with the orioles building their nest above and the vesper-sparrows calling from the lane. So she took her books up to her room, pulled down the green paper blind to shut out all sights and sounds, lit the lamp, and there in the hot, airless little place knelt by a chair and crammed her slate again and again with figures.
Miss Gordon had been darning on the side porch, but had left her work a moment and gone out to the kitchen to request Sarah Emily to sing—provided it were necessary to sing at all—a little less boisterously. Tom Teeter was in the study with Mr. Gordon, and, to show her indifference, Sarah Emily was calling forth loud and clear the chronicles of all those "finest young gents that ever were seen," who had come a-courting all in vain.
The singer being reduced to a sulky silence, the mistress of the house passed out on a tour of inspection. She glanced approvingly at the two eager young students in the orchard, calling softly to Jean not to remain out after the dew began to fall. The little boys were playing in the lane. Mary was with them, but the absence of noise showed that Elizabeth was not. Miss Gordon moved quietly upstairs. The door of Elizabeth's room was closed; she tapped, then opened it.
Elizabeth's face, hot and flushed, was raised from her slate. The lamp was flaring, and the room was stifling and smelt of kerosene. But she looked up at her aunt with some confidence. She half-expected to be commended. She was certainly working hard and surely was not doing anything wrong.
For a moment Miss Gordon stood staring. She was seized with a sudden fear that perhaps Elizabeth was not quite in her right senses. Then she noted the extravagant consuming of kerosene in the day-time.
"Elizabeth," she said despairingly, "how is it possible that you can act so strangely? Is the daylight not good enough that you must shut yourself up here? Take your books and go downstairs immediately, and blow out the lamp and tell Sarah Emily to clean it again. Really, I cannot understand you!"
Elizabeth went tumultuously down the stairs. No, her aunt didn't understand, that was just the trouble. If she ever showed any signs of doing so, one might occasionally explain. She flung her books upon the kitchen table and went out to the back kitchen door and, sitting down heavily upon a bench there, gave herself up to despair. She gazed drearily at Malcolm and Jean and listened to the laughter from the lane without wanting to join either group. Mr. MacAllister had come over a few minutes earlier, bringing the Pretender as usual. John and the latter were upstairs. Elizabeth knew they were planning to run away from her on the Queen's Birthday, but she did not care. She told herself she did not care about anything any more. Her heart was broken, and if Mrs. Jarvis were to drive in at the gate that very moment she would not take ten million dollars from her, though she begged her on her bended knees.
Miss Gordon went back to her darning on the side porch, and worked at it feverishly, wondering if the child were really in her right mind. She had much to worry her these days, poor lady. Her ambition for the family threatened to be disappointed. Mrs. Jarvis was evidently not coming. Malcolm and Jean would probably graduate from the High School and there their education must stop. And Annie was acting so strangely. She could not but remember that it was just one year ago that evening that she had bidden Annie dismiss her undesirable suitor. And now, rumor said the young man bade fair to be highly desirable, and no other lover had as yet appeared. Of course, Mr. Coulson had gone, declaring his exile would last a year, and then he would return. But Miss Gordon had little faith in young men.
Annie had not fretted, only for a day or so—that was the strange part—but their life together had never been the same. There were no pretty, sweet confidences from her favorite, such as used to make Miss Gordon feel young and happy, and lately Annie had been so silent and yet with a face that shone with an inner light. Her aunt felt lonely and shut out of the brightness of the girl's life. Much she wondered and speculated. But Annie's firm mouth closed tightly and the steady eyes looked far away when the young school-teacher's name was mentioned.
Well, it was a blessing the girl did not fret, the aunt said to herself, for there was little likelihood of his returning. He had probably forgotten all about her since last winter—young men were like that. She sighed as she confessed it, remembering one who had declared he would come back—but who had remained away in forgetfulness.
As she sat there in gloomy meditation, a rumbling noise made her look up. A carriage was coming swiftly along Champlain's Road, one of those smart buggies that came only from the town. It stopped at the gate, and the driver, a young man, alighted. Elizabeth saw him, too, and suddenly forgot her despondency. She had seen Annie but ten minutes before, walking across the pasture-field towards Granny Teeter's. She arose with a spring and went tearing through the orchard, bringing forth indignant remarks from her studious brother and sister as she flashed past. Annie had just reached the gate leading from the orchard. Elizabeth flung herself upon her.
"Oh, Annie!" she gasped, radiant and breathless. "Somebody's coming. And you'll never, never guess, 'cause it's Mrs. Jarvis, and she's brought Mr. Coulson!"
THE DREAM OF LIFE
"Miss Gordon is wanted in the Principal's room at once."
The Science Master of Cheemaun High School put his head in at the door of the room where the "Moderns" teacher was instructing his class in French grammar. There was a flutter among the pupils as a tall young lady in a neat dark-blue dress arose. The flutter had something of apprehension in it. Miss Gordon was a prime favorite—and this was not the first time she had been summoned to what was known amongst her schoolmates as The Judgment Hall.
"Oh, Beth!" giggled the fair, plump young lady who shared her seat. "He's found you out certain!"
"You're in for it, Beth!" whispered another. "Old Primmy's seen your picture!"
Miss Gordon's deep gray eyes took on a look of mock terror. She went out with bent head and a comical air of abject humility that left the room in a titter. The "Moderns" teacher frowned. Miss Gordon was irrepressible.
Nevertheless, when she found herself passing down the wide echoing hall alone, the young lady was seized with misgivings. For which of her misdemeanors was she to be arraigned this time? There was that dreadful caricature she had drawn of the Principal—the one with the shining expanse of bald head towards which swarms of flies and mosquitoes, bearing skates and toboggans and hockey-sticks, were hurrying gayly, while upon poor old Dr. Primrose's one tuft of hair shone the conspicuous sign, "This way to the Great Slide."
Now, what on earth had she done with that picture? Oh, yes, Horace Oliver had borrowed it to show to Parker Raymond. Perhaps Park had lost it—he was such a careless fellow—and Dr. Primrose had found it! And there was that poem, too, the one on little Mr. Kelly, the Science Master. It was a long, lugubrious effusion, telling of the search by a heart-broken chemistry class for a beloved teacher, who had unaccountably disappeared. It described them as wandering about weeping pitifully, looking into desks and ink-bottles, and under books; until at last they discovered to their horror that a careless girl had dropped her pen-wiper upon him and smothered him! That poem had circulated through the class, causing much merriment. And where was it now? The poetess could not remember. Suppose someone had dropped it and Mr. Kelly had found it? He was so small, and so sensitive about his size. No wonder Miss Gordon went very slowly to the Principal's room.
Usually her days were all unalloyed joy. High School, except for occasional skirmishes with troublesome teachers, was a delight. For Elizabeth Gordon had arrived at a place in life where one could have a good time without hurting anyone; there was so much fun in the world, laughter was so easy—and nobody seemed ever to be in trouble any more. Even as she tapped at the door beyond which probable retribution lay, she smiled at the nodding lilac bush with its bunch of amethyst blossoms that waved a greeting to her from the open window. Miss Gordon's mind was prone to wander thus from the subject in hand to such sights, her teachers often found. The song of a yellow warbler in the school maples, the whirl of scarlet leaves across the window pane, or the gleam of snow on the far-off hilltops, would drive away every item of knowledge concerning the value of (a+b)2 or the characteristics of a parallelogram.
The door swung suddenly open and the Principal's bald head shot into view. His eyes were stern. Evidently he had come in war and not in peace.
"Ah, Miss Gordon!" he said, briskly. "Yes, Miss Gordon! Just step this way a minute!"
He held open the door and Miss Gordon stepped in, leaving all her courage on the other side. She slipped sideways into a chair and looked up at him with scared attention. Evidently it was the picture.
"Miss Gordon," said the Principal, seating himself in his revolving chair, which creaked in a way that reminded Miss Gordon horribly of stories of the guillotine, "I am making out the list of those whom I consider competent to write on the final examinations, and I feel it my duty to notify you that I cannot see my way clear to include your name."
Elizabeth fairly crumpled up in her chair. This was awful—the thing she had most feared had come upon her at last. She sat speechless.
"Your papers on mathematics are quite hopeless," he continued, growing more querulous because his pity was aroused. "It's out of the question that you should write. I've done my best to show you that you should give less time to English subjects and devote more to Algebra and your Euclid." He arose and blustered up and down the room.
"You haven't a mathematical head," he was saying for the third time when a sharp rap upon the door interrupted. Dr. Primrose, looking very much relieved, opened it. Miss Gordon turned away to the window to hide the rising tears.
There was a short, hurried conversation at the door, and the teacher turned to his victim. He had a big, warm heart that was vastly relieved at the prospect of escape from a most unpleasant duty.
"Ah, Miss Gordon," he said briskly. "Here are two gentlemen to see you. You have permission to go home early this afternoon, by special request. Kindly bear in mind what I have told you."
He stepped quickly aside, and ushered in two tall, young men, at the same time closing the door behind him.
At the same instant all Miss Gordon's troubles were shut out with him, and her face lit up with rapturous delight. She skipped across the room with a joyful scream.
"Oh, John, John Gordon, you dear old sneak; why didn't you tell me you were coming to-day?"
She flung her arms about his neck and gave him a sounding kiss. John Gordon had been a whole year in college, but he had not yet become sufficiently grown-up to accept a salute from his sister. He drew back rather embarrassed, but his blue eyes shone in his dark face. He was tremendously glad to see Lizzie again, and could not quite hide the fact.
The other young man seemed equally pleased. "I say, Lizzie!" he exclaimed, as she joyously shook both his hands. "You're grown about a yard. And her neck's longer than ever, isn't it, John?"
"You mean old Pretender," she said with a pout; nevertheless, she did not look offended. Miss Gordon had quite changed her views regarding the possession of a long neck. Estella Raymond, her dearest chum, who was short and plump, had declared many times that she would give ten thousand dollars—not specifying how she was to come by such a sum—if she could have a neck one-half as long and slim and graceful as Beth Gordon's.
"Never mind, she's getting better looking, I do declare," the Pretender added. "How's everybody?"
"Oh, just splendid—that is, they were when I was home last. I don't go every Friday, you know. When did you come? Am I to go home with you?"
"We just got here on the noon train," her brother explained, "and we swarmed up to Annie's and she gave us the dinner of our lives."
"Say, it didn't taste much like boarding-house hash, did it?" cried Mr. MacAllister fervently.
"And John Coulson's going to stand a treat for the whole family, and drive us all out to The Dale—the Kid and all. And you're to come along. Scoot and get your hat."
Elizabeth danced away down the hall to the cloakroom dizzy with joy. Examinations, mathematics, principals of High Schools, all unkind and troublesome things had vanished in a rosy mist. The old delight of getting "off with the boys," was as strong at seventeen as at ten. The boys themselves seemed to have changed their minds in the intervening years as to the advisability of allowing Lizzie to "tag after them." John's deep blue eyes, looking after her dancing figure, showed the love and pride in his sister which he was always so careful to hide, and his companion looked with somewhat the same expression and withal a little puzzled—as one who had seen something unexpected which had dazzled him.
It was but the work of a moment for Elizabeth to put on her hat and gloves. She did not linger over the correct adjustment of the former as she so often did. Miss Gordon was prone to look much in the mirror these days. It was always the fixing of a bow or a frill of lace or some other ornament that took her attention. She scarcely looked, as yet, at the shining wealth of nut-brown hair, with the golden strand through it, nor at the deep gray eyes, nor the straight line of teeth that gleamed when she laughed. Miss Gordon was not interested in these, but she could become absorbed in the arrangement of ribbon at such length that her sister, Mrs. John Coulson, sometimes worried for fear Lizzie was growing vain.
As she hurried to the main entrance where the boys stood waiting, a group of young ladies came straying out of the classroom for the afternoon recess.
"Beth Gordon!" cried the fair, plump one, making a dive at her friend. "Are you expelled or are you off for a holiday, you mean thing? Who's out there?" She craned her short neck. "Goodness, what swells! Are they waiting for you?"
"It's only our John and Stuart MacAllister, they've just got in from Toronto, and I'm going home with them."
"MacAllister and Gordon! Goodness gracious! I'm going to ask them if they've ever met Ted Burns at 'Varsity. Ted's just crazy to get me to correspond with him."
She tore down the hall and was soon in hilarious conversation with her two old schoolmates, while Elizabeth remained behind to explain her sudden departure.
"Just look at Estella!" cried a tall sallow girl, regarding that vivacious young lady with disgust.
"How is it she always has so much attention from boys?" asked Elizabeth Gordon, half-wistfully.
"My goodness, you're so innocent, Beth! Can't you see she runs after them and demands attention. I wouldn't stoop to the means she employs not if a boy never spoke to me again, would you?"
Elizabeth was silent. Somehow she could not help thinking it would be most enjoyable to have two or three swains always dancing attendance on one, the way they did on Estella Raymond, even though one did have to encourage them. Of course Estella did resort to means that were not quite genteel—but then boys seemed to always come about her, anyway, as bees did about a flower; while Madeline Oliver never had a beau. Elizabeth had to confess that she hadn't one herself—except Horace, who, of course, didn't count. She sighed. It really would be nice to be like Stella, even though one hadn't Madeline's dignity.
"Good-by, girls!" she called gayly. "I'll bring you some lady's-slippers if they're out," and she ran out to the group on the steps.
It took some time for the two young men to tear themselves away from Miss Raymond's gentle hands. They were further delayed by her following Elizabeth to the gate, her arm about her waist, while she implored her darling Beth to come back soon, and kissed her twice before she let her go. They got away at last, and the three went down the leafy street.
They were a very different looking trio from the one that used to stray over field and through woods about The Dale, fishing, berry-picking, nutting, or merely seeking adventure. They had not been separated very long. During the boys' first year in the High School, Elizabeth had worked madly, and when she managed to graduate from Forest Glen, Mother MacAllister had insisted that Charles Stuart take the buck-board and the sorrel mare and that the three inseparables drive to and from the town to school.
For though Mrs. Jarvis had really appeared in the flesh at The Dale for that one visit, she had never repeated it nor her munificent offer to discuss Elizabeth's future. Her talk had all been of Annie, and what a good match young Mr. Coulson would make. And Miss Gordon had to be content, never guessing that the astute young man whose cause the lady championed, and not her own influence had brought Mrs. Jarvis to The Dale.
So Elizabeth's fortune had not been made after all, but she had managed to get on quite well without a fortune, it would seem. Her High School days had been days of perfect joy. Even when the boys had graduated and gone to Toronto, she had managed to be happy. For Annie lived in Cheemaun by this time, lived in a fine brick house too in the best part of the town, and Elizabeth had spent this last year with her. And now nearly five years had passed, and not Mrs. Jarvis, but Mr. Coulson had become the family's hope.
Miss Gordon had long ago become reconciled to the tavern-keeping ancestor. It would appear that social lines could not be strictly drawn in this new country, and when one lived in Canada apparently one must marry as Canadians married. For it would appear also that here Jack was not only as good as his master, but might be in the master's place the next day. And certainly John Coulson was a model husband, and a rising lawyer besides. On the whole, Miss Gordon was perfectly satisfied with the match she now firmly believed she had made for her niece. Each year she grew more absorbed in her ambition for William's family. They were all responding so splendidly to her efforts. She would raise them to social eminence, she declared to herself, in spite of William's neglect and Mrs. Jarvis's indifference. With John Coulson's help Malcolm had secured a position in the bank of a neighboring town. Jean was teaching school in Toronto, and because Jean must needs do the work of two people, she was reading up the course Charles Stuart was taking in the University and attending such lectures as she could. Even Elizabeth, through Annie's goodness, was getting such learning as she was capable of taking. And John was at college learning to be a doctor. That was the hardest task of all, the sending of John to college. And only Miss Gordon knew how it had been accomplished. She had managed it somehow for the first year, and John was to earn money during his first summer vacation for his next year.
Down the long leafy street Elizabeth was moving now between the two tall figures. There was so much to tell, so many questions to ask, and she talked all the time. To the boys' disgust they could extract from her very little information respecting any person except the one supreme personage who now ruled her days—Annie's baby. She was overcome with indignation that Annie had not already displayed him. What if he was asleep! It was a shame to make anybody wait five minutes for a sight of such a vision. Why, he was the most angelic and divinely exquisite, sweetest, dearest, darlingest pet that ever gladdened the earth. He was a vision, that's what he was! Just a vision all cream satin and rose-leaf and gold. Elizabeth described him at such length that the boys in self-defense uttered their old, old threat. They would climb a fence and run away—and Elizabeth, whose long skirts now precluded the possibility of her old defiant counter-threat to follow them, desisted and bade them "just wait."
They were climbing the heights that formed the part of the town called Sunset Hill. It was a beautiful spot, with streets embowered in maple trees and bordered by lawns and gardens. At the end of each leafy avenue gleamed Cheemaun Lake with its white sails. Sunset Hill was not only the prettiest residential part of the town, it was the region of social eminence; and it were better to dwell in a cot on those heights and have your card tray filled with important names, than exist in luxury down by the lake shore and not be known by Society. The houses on Sunset Hill were all of red brick with wide verandas supported by white pillars—the wider the veranda, and the thicker the pillars, the greater the owner's social distinction. For some years this form of architecture was the only one accepted by people of fashion, until Mr. Oliver, who was a wealthy lumberman, inadvertently put an end to it. He too built his new house on Sunset Hill, and Mrs. Oliver, just to outpillar the other pillars of society, had her veranda supported by groups of columns, three in a group. Thereafter builders lost courage, seeming to feel that the limit had been reached. Shortly after, a daring young contractor put up a gray stone house with slim black veranda posts, and no one raised a protest. And fashion, having been chased in this manner from pillar to post, so to speak, Society turned its attention to other than architectural fields. But the dull red bricks of Sunset Hill with their white ornamentations mellowing in the keen Canadian winters, stood thereafter as a title clear to unquestionable social standing.
It had always been a source of great satisfaction to Elizabeth that John Coulson had taken Annie to a white-pillared home on Sunset Hill; for Madeline and Horace lived in the finest home there, and Estella, though on the wrong side of Elm Crescent, the street that, curving round Sunset Hill, divided it from the vulgar world, dwelt in a very fine residence indeed. Elizabeth had learned many things besides French and Chemistry in Cheemaun High School.
They found a big carriage drawn up before the door of Annie's house, and Annie already in it holding the Vision, now merely a bundle of lace and shawls. Elizabeth grasped the bundle from her sister's arms and proceeded to display its many charms. "Oh, John, just look at him! Look, Stuart, see him's dear dear itty nose, an' him's grea' big peepers! Isn't he the darlingest pet——"
The boys attempted to be sufficiently admiring, but just as they were lamely trying to say something adequate to the great occasion, to Elizabeth's dismay, the Vision opened its mouth and yelled lustily.
"Betsey, you're a nuisance!" said John Coulson, with that indulgent look he always bent upon the young sister-in-law, who had been such a help to him in those days when he sorely needed help. "Come, tumble in, everybody. All aboard for The Dale,—Champlain and Cheemaun R. R.!" The Vision was quieted, the travelers sprang in, the whip cracked, the wheels rattled, the horses pranced, and away they spun down the leafy streets—down, down, to the long level stretch of Champlain's Road that ran straight out into the country.
There was much to be told of college pranks and college work, and the telling of it lasted until the horses climbed Arrow Hill and the old familiar valley lay stretched before them.
"Yook, yook, Dackie!" chattered Aunt Elizabeth, clutching the Vision, whose big blue eyes were gazing wonderingly from the depths of his wrappings. "Yook at de pitty pitty wobin! A teenty weenty itty wobin wed best!"
There was a groan from the front seat.
"Do you often get it as bad as that, Lizzie?" asked John anxiously.
"Remember The Rowdy, Lizzie?" asked Charles Stuart, "the fellow that used to sing in the hawthorn bush?"
"I should think I do—and Granny Teeter. Listen, there is The Rowdy's lineal descendant, for sure!"
It seemed to be The Rowdy's very reincarnation, singing and shouting from an elm bough by the roadside.
"That's a gay bachelor all right," said John Coulson, who, because he was so supremely happy in his married life, had to make allusion to his condition as often as possible, even if only by way of contrast.
"He sounds more like a widower," said Elizabeth gloomily; "one that had been bereaved about a year."
"Hush, hush, Betsey!" cried her brother-in-law. "Remember whose land he's on."
"That's just what I am remembering."
"You don't mean that Jake's beginning to 'take notice,' surely?" asked John Gordon, in wicked delight. For only the spring before poor worn-out Mrs. Martin had suddenly ceased her baking, churning, and hoeing, and had gone to her long rest in the Forest Glen churchyard, and already rumor said that Jake was on the lookout for another baker, churner, and hoer.
"I'm afraid he is," said John Coulson. "There he is now prowling round his asparagus beds. He's probably got his eye on Betsey."
Elizabeth was not prepared to answer this sally. She was looking out eagerly for some glimpse of Susie. All the elder Martins had left home just as soon as they were old enough to assert their independence. But Susie's strength had given way before the hard work, and she lay all day in bed, or dragged her weary limbs about the house, a hopeless invalid, and her father's chief grievance in life. Elizabeth's warm heart was always filled with a passionate pity for Susie, and she rarely visited home without running across the fields to brighten a half-hour for the sick girl.
Just at this moment there arose from the fields opposite the Martin farm a rollicking song—loud, clear, compelling attention, and poured forth in a rich baritone.
"O, and it's whippity-whoppity too, And how I'd love to sing to you, I'd laugh and sing With joy and glee, If Mistress McQuarry would marry me, If Mistress McQuarry would marry me!"
The last line was fairly shouted in a way that showed the singer was anxious to be heard.
"Tom's trying to outsing the robins," cried John Coulson, pulling up his horses. Mr. Teeter was coming across a rich brown field behind his harrow. John Coulson waved his hat.
"Hello, Tom, I tell you they lost a fine singer when they made an orator out of you! Give us a shake!"
Tom was over the fence in a twinkling, and shaking the newcomers' hands.
"Sure it's awful college swells ye're gettin' to be, wid your high collars. Have ye made up yer mind to be a preacher yet?" He looked at Charles Stuart.
"No, I haven't," said Charles Stuart hastily.
"Well ye ought to be ashamed o' yerself, wid the mother ye've got. So ye heard me singin' now?" His eyes gleamed with mischievous delight. "I was shoutin' for a purpose." He jerked his thumb over his shoulder in the direction of the man working in the Martin fields. "Look at that say-sarpent wigglin' over there. It makes him so mad he could set fire to me." He laughed so explosively that the horses started. "He's coortin'. Yes, siree, but he don't like to have it advertised."
"Who's the poor woman?" asked Mrs. Annie in distress.
"Auntie Jinit McKerracher! They say she throwed the dish-water on him the last time he went sparkin'. Hi! young shaver!" This to the Vision, who had insisted upon sitting erect, and was now looking about him. "Oh, he's the broth of a boy, sure enough, Lizzie. Now ye'll be sure all o' yez to come over and see mother; don't ye dare go back widout. I suppose yous two didn't hear anything o' poor Sandy and the wee girl in Toronto, did ye?"
John shook his head. "We heard they were living with Eppie's father. He kept a corner grocery store in the east end, but we couldn't find them."
"Eh, eh," sighed Tom, "poor Sandy. A fine old fellow. Eh, I hope he's not in want." He shook his fist towards his neighbor. "An' jist go on robbin' widows an' tramplin' on orphans till ye perish in the corruption o' yer own penuriousness. Yes, an' me lady Jarvis too!" he cried, abruptly finishing his apostrophe. "She'll have to answer for old Sandy an' the wee thing, see if she don't." The company smiled in spite of his earnestness, all but Elizabeth. She regarded him with big solemn eyes. "Now yous 'll be over to see mother early, mind," he added as he swung one leg over the fence.
As they drove away they heard his song rising again loud and clear—
"O, and it's whippity-whoppity too, And how I'd love to sing to you."
"Tom's a great lad," laughed John Coulson. "He'll never grow old. I wonder why he never married," he added, returning to his favorite topic.
"Does Sarah Emily still think he's pining for her?"
"She's sure of it," said Elizabeth. "And poor old granny is so angry that Tom won't get married. 'Aw wirra wurra, if Tom'd only git a wife now.'" She wrung her hands and imitated old Granny Teeter's wail to perfection. "'Sure an' he nades a wife to tind to the chickens an' the pigs an' the turkeys—the contrary little bastes that'll niver be stayin' at home, at all at all.'"
The young men laughed, and John Coulson looked admiringly at her. John Coulson was too apt to encourage Lizzie in this sort of thing, Annie felt. She smiled indulgently at her sister, but said nothing. Mrs. John Coulson alone knew why poor unselfish Tom had never married, but hers was a loyal friendship and she had kept his secret as faithfully as he had once kept hers.
And now they had come prancing out from behind the screen of elm trees, and The Dale lay spread out before them—the big gate between the old willows, the long lane bordered by blossoming cherry-trees, and the old stone house with its prim flower beds in front. Their homecoming was a few days earlier than expected, and Mr. Gordon was all unconsciously hoeing at the back of the field, but Sarah Emily spied them as they pulled up at the gate, and came running round the house shouting in a most ungenteel but warm-hearted fashion that the folks was come home.
Elizabeth sprang from the carriage and ran down the lane to meet Mary. Though she came home often, the joy of reunion with her family never palled. There was no place like The Dale for Elizabeth, no folk like her own folk. She did not even notice in her joyous hurry that Charles Stuart had left and was striding homeward down Champlain's Road.
Mary came running out to meet her. She was a tall girl now, taller than Elizabeth, but her delicately beautiful face was wasted and pale, except for two pink spots on her cheeks. Miss Gordon was just behind her. She had not grown much older looking in the past few years, and unconsciously had lost some of her stately rigidity. She looked extremely handsome, her face flushed and alight with happiness. She did not kiss the visitors, except Baby Jackie, but her eyes shone with welcome. As she greeted John, she laid one hand for a moment on his shoulder. She looked at him closely, noting with pride the new air of gentility even one year at college had given the boy. But as she took Annie's boy into her arms Miss Gordon's face grew positively sweet.
She had not the privilege of bearing the precious bundle far. Sarah Emily, who had rushed back to the house to don a clean apron, met her at the door, and snatching the Vision fled upstairs with him, inquiring loudly of the blessed petums if it wasn't just Sarah Emily's ownest, darlingest love.
Mr. Gordon came hurrying in from the field, and after he had made them all welcome over again, he followed John about in a happy daze, saying again and again that if only Mary and Malcolm were here—no, no, Archie and Lizzie—tuts, it was Malcolm and Jean he meant,—if they were only home now, the family would be complete—"almost complete," he added. And then his eyes once more took on their far-away look, and he slipped away into the study, whither Elizabeth softly followed him.
In the late afternoon the younger boys came home from school, and the excitement had to be all lived through again. They all wandered about the old house, everyone following in the wake of the baby. The Dale rooms were not the bare, echoing spaces they once were. Just two years before, Cousin Griselda had passed quietly away, and her little annuity, as well as the property in McGlashan Street, had passed to Miss Gordon. The latter had experienced much real grief over her loss, and had taken pains in the intervening time to impress upon all her family that this bereavement was part of the sacrifice she had deliberately made for them. Nevertheless, the Gordons had benefited some from the slight addition to their income, and there were many comforts in the big stone house which had been absent in the early days. Early in the evening Mother MacAllister and Charles Stuart came over, and Granny Teeter returned their visit, bringing with her Auntie Jinit McKerracher, who had dropped in. Elizabeth and Mary and Sarah Emily, when they were not quarreling over who should nurse Baby Jackie, managed to set the table for a second late tea. A grand tea it was too, with the big shining tablecloth Aunt Margaret had brought from the Old Country, and the high glass preserve dish that always had reminded Elizabeth in her early years of the pictures of the laver in the tabernacle court. It was a great day altogether, and Elizabeth enjoyed so much the old joy of straying down the lane and over the fields with John and Charles Stuart, that when John Coulson drove up to the door, and Annie with the Vision, once more a bundle of shawls, was put into the carriage, she was glad she was to remain at home till Monday.