"Has she so?" exclaimed the farmer, fixing his keen gray eyes on the girl. "Waal! waal! to think o' that! Why, we sh'll hev her milkin' that cow soon, after all; hey, Huldy?"
Hildegarde looked up bravely, with a little smile. "I will try," she said, cheerfully, "if you will risk the milk, Farmer Hartley."
The old farmer returned her smile with one so bright and kind and genial that somehow the ice bent, then cracked, and then broke. The old Hilda shrank into so small a space that there was really very little left of her, and the new Hilda rose from table feeling that she had gained a new friend.
So it came to pass that about an hour later our heroine was walking beside the farmer on the way to the barnyard, talking merrily, and swinging the basket which she was going to fill with eggs. "But how shall I find them," she asked, "if the hens hide them away so carefully?"
"Oh, you'll hear 'em scrattlin' round!" replied the farmer. "They're gret fools, hens are,—greter than folks, as a rule; an' that is sayin' a good deal."
They crossed the great sunny barn-yard, and paused at the barn-door, while Hilda looked in with delight. A broad floor, big enough for a ballroom, with towering walls of fragrant hay on either side reaching up to the rafters; great doors open at the farther end, showing a snatch of blue, radiant sky, and a lovely wood-road winding away into deep thickets of birch and linden; dusty, golden, cobwebby sunbeams slanting down through the little windows, and touching the tossed hay-piles into gold; and in the middle, hanging by iron chains from the great central beam, a swing, almost big enough for a giant,—such was the barn at Hartley Farm; as pleasant a place, Hilda thought, as she had ever seen.
"Waal, Huldy, I'll leave ye heer," said the farmer; "ye kin find yer way home, I reckon."
"Oh, yes, indeed!" said Hilda. "But stop one moment, please, Farmer Hartley. I want to know—will you please—may I teach Bubble Chirk a little?" The farmer gave a low whistle of surprise; but Hilda went on eagerly: "I found him studying, this morning, while he was weeding the garden,—oh! studying so hard, and yet not neglecting his work for a minute. He seems a very bright boy, and it is a pity he should not have a good education. Could you spare him, do you think, for an hour every day?" She stopped, while the farmer looked at her with a merry twinkle in his eye.
"You teach Bubble Chirk!" he said. "Why, what would your fine friends say to that, Miss Huldy? Bubble ain't nothin' but a common farm-boy, if he is bright; an' I ain't denyin' that he is."
"I don't know what they would say," said Hildegarde, blushing hotly, "and I don't care, either! I know what mamma would do in my place; and so do you, Farmer Hartley!" she added, with a little touch of indignation.
"Waal, I reckon I do!" said Farmer Hartley. "And I know who looks like her mother, this minute, though I never thought she would. Yes!" he said, more seriously, "you shall teach Bubble Chirk, my gal; and it's my belief 'twill bring you a blessin' as well as him. Ye are yer mother's darter, after all. Shall I give ye a swing now, before I go; or are ye too big to swing!"
"I—don't—know!" said Hildegarde, eying the swing wistfully. "Am I too big, I wonder?"
"Yer ma warn't, when she was here three weeks ago!" said the farmer. "She just sot heer and took a good solid swing, for the sake of old times, she said."
"Then I will take one for the sake of new times!" cried Hilda, running to the swing and seating herself on its broad, roomy seat. "For the sake of this new time, which I know is going to be a happy one, give me three good pushes, please, Farmer Hartley, and then I can take care of myself."
One! two! three! up goes Queen Hildegarde, up and up, among the dusty, cobwebby sunbeams, which settle like a crown upon her fair head. Down with a rush, through the sweet, hay-scented air; then up again, startling the swallows from under the eaves, and making the staid and conservative old hens frantic with anxiety. Up and down, in broad, free sweeps, growing slower now, as the farmer left her and went to his work. How perfect it was! Did the world hold anything else so delightful as swinging in a barn? She began to sing, for pure joy, a little song that her mother had made for her when she was a little child, and used to swing in the garden at home. And Farmer Hartley, with his hand on the brown heifer's back, paused with a smile and a sigh as he heard the girl's sweet fresh voice ring out gladly from the old barn. This was the song she sang:—
If I were a fairy king (Swinging high, swinging low), I would give to you a ring (Swinging, oh!) With a diamond set so bright That the shining of its light Should make morning of the night (Swinging high, swinging low)— Should make morning of the night (Swinging, oh!).
On each ringlet as it fell (Swinging high, swinging low) I would tie a golden bell (Swinging, oh!); And the golden bells would chime In a little merry rhyme, In the merry morning time (Swinging high, swinging low)— In the happy morning time (Swinging, oh!).
You should wear a satin gown (Swinging high, swinging low), All with ribbons falling down (Swinging, oh!). And your little twinkling feet, O my Pretty and my Sweet! Should be shod with silver neat (Swinging high, swinging low)— Shod with silver slippers neat (Swinging, oh!).
But I'm not a fairy, Pet (Swinging high, swinging low), Am not even a king, as yet (Swinging, oh!). So all that I can do Is to kiss your little shoe, And to make a queen of you (Swinging high, swinging low), Make a fairy queen of you (Swinging, oh!).
How many girls, among all the girls who may read this little book, have seen with their own eyes Hartley's Glen? Not one, perhaps, save Brynhild and the Rosicrucian, for whom the book is written. But the others must try to see it with my eyes, for it is a fair place and a sweet as any on earth. Behind the house, and just under the brow of the little hill that shelters it, a narrow path dips down to the right, and goes along for a bit, with a dimpled clover-meadow on the one hand, and a stone wall, all warm with golden and red-brown lichens, on the other. Follow this, and you come to a little gateway, beyond which is a thick plantation of larches, with one grim old red cedar keeping watch over them. If he regards you favorably, you may pass on, down the narrow path that winds among the larches, whose feathery finger-tips brush your cheek and try to hold you back, as if they willed not that you should go farther, to see the wonders which they can never behold.
But you leave them behind, and come out into the sunshine, in a little green glade which might be the ballroom of the fairy queen. On your right, gleaming through clumps of alder and black birch, is a pond,—the home of cardinal flowers and gleaming jewel-weed; a little farther on, a thicket of birch and maple, from which comes a musical sound of falling water. Follow this sound, keeping to the path, which winds away to the left. Stop! now you may step aside for a moment, and part the heavy hanging branches, and look, where the water falls over a high black wall, into a sombre pool, shut in by fantastic rocks, and shaded from all sunshine by a dense fringe of trees. This is the milldam, and the pond above is no natural one, but the enforced repose and outspreading of a merry brown brook, which now shows its true nature, and escaping from the gloomy pool, runs scolding and foaming down through a wilderness of rocks and trees. You cannot follow it there,—though I have often done so in my barefoot days,—so come back to the path again. There are pines overhead now, and the ground is slippery with the fallen needles, and the air is sweet—ah! how sweet!—with their warm fragrance. See! here is the old mill itself, now disused and falling to decay. Here the path becomes a little precipice, and you must scramble as best you can down two or three rough steps, and round the corner of the ruined mill. This is a millstone, this great round thing like a granite cheese, half buried in the ground; and here is another, which makes a comfortable seat, if you are tired.
But there is a fairer resting-place beyond. Round this one more corner, now, and down,—carefully, carefully!—down this long stairway, formed of rough slabs of stone laid one below the other. Shut your eyes now for a moment, and let me lead you forward by the hand. And now—now open the eyes wide, wide, and look about you. In front, and under the windows of the old mill, the water comes foaming and rushing down over a rocky fall some sixty feet high, and leaps merrily into a second pool. No sombre, black gulf this, like the one above, but a lovely open circle, half in broad sunshine, half dappled with the fairy shadows of the boughs and ferns that bend lovingly over it. So the little brook is no longer angry, but mingles lovingly with the deep water of the pool, and then runs laughing and singing along the glen on its way down to the sea. On one side of this glen the bank rises abruptly some eighty feet, its sides clothed with sturdy birches which cling as best they may to the rocky steep. On the other stretches the little valley, a narrow strip of land, but with turf as fine as the Queen's lawn, and trees that would proudly grace Her Majesty's park,—tall Norway firs, raising their stately forms and pointing their long dark fingers sternly at the intruders on their solitude; graceful birches; and here and there a whispering larch or a nodding pine. The other wall of the valley, or glen, is less precipitous, and its sides are densely wooded, and fringed with barberry bushes and climbing eglantine.
And between these two banks, and over this green velvet carpet, and among these dark fir-trees,—ah! how the sun shines. Nowhere else in the whole land does he shine so sweetly, for he knows that his time there is short, and that the high banks will shut him out from that green, pleasant place long before he must say good-night to the more common-place fields and hill-sides. So here his beams rest right lovingly, making royal show of gold on the smooth grass, and of diamonds on the running water, and of opals and topazes and beryls where the wave comes curling over the little fall.
And now, amid all this pomp and play of sun and of summer, what is this dash of blue that makes a strange, though not a discordant, note in our harmony of gold and green? And what is that round, whitish object which is bobbing up and down with such singular energy? Why, the blue is Hildegarde's dress, if you must know; and the whitish object is the head of Zerubbabel Chirk, scholar and devotee; and the energy with which said head is bobbing is the energy of determination and of study. Hilda and Bubble have made themselves extremely comfortable under the great ash-tree which stands in the centre of the glen. The teacher has curled herself up against the roots of the tree, and has a piece of work in her hands; but her eyes are wandering dreamily over the lovely scene before her, and she looks as if she were really too comfortable to move even a finger. The scholar lies at her feet, face downwards, his chin propped on his hands, his head bobbing up and down. The silence is only broken by the noise of the waterfall and the persistent chirping of some very cheerful little bird.
Presently the boy raised his head and cried joyfully, "I've fetched him, Miss Hildy! I know it, now, jest like pie!" Whereupon he stood up, and assuming a military attitude, submitted to a severe geographical catechising, and came off with flying colors.
"That was a very good recitation," said Hilda, approvingly, as she laid the book down. "You shall have another ballad to-day as a reward. But, Bubble," she added, rather seriously, "I do wish you would not use so much slang. It is so senseless! Now what did you mean by saying 'just like pie,' in speaking of your lesson just now?"
"Oh! come now, Miss Hildy!" said Bubble, bashfully, "the' ain't no use in your tellin' me you don't know what pie is."
"Of course I know what pie is, you silly boy!" said Hilda, laughing. "But what has pie to do with your geography lesson?"
"That's so!" murmured the boy, apologetically. "That's a fact, ain't it! I won't say 'like pie' no more; I'll say 'like blazes,' instead."
"You needn't say 'like' anything!" cried Hilda, laughing again; "just say, I know my lesson 'well,' or 'thoroughly.' There are plenty of real words, Bubble, that have as much meaning as the slang ones, and often a great deal more."
"That's so," said Bubble, with an air of deep conviction. "I'll try not to talk no more slang, Miss Hildy. I will, I swan!"
"But, Bubble, you must not say 'I swan' either; that is abominable slang."
Bubble looked very blank. "Why, what shall I say?" he asked, simply. "Pink won't let me say 'I swow,' 'cause it's vulgar; an' if I say 'by' anything, Ma says it's swearin',—an' I can't swear, nohow!"
"Of course not," said Hilda. "But why must you say anything, Bubble,—anything of that sort, I mean?"
"Oh!" said the boy, "I d' 'no 's I kin say ezackly why, Miss Hildy; but—but—wal, I swan! I mean, I—I don't mean I swan—but—there now! You see how 'tis, Miss Hildy. Things don't seem to hev no taste to 'em, without you say somethin'."
"Let me think," said Hilda. "Perhaps I can think of something that will sound better."
"I might say, 'Gee Whittekers!'" suggested Bubble, brightening up a little. "I know some fellers as says that."
"I don't think that would do," replied Hilda, decidedly. "What does it mean?"
"Don't mean nothing as I knows on," said the boy; "but it sounds kind o' hahnsome, don't it?"
Hilda shook her head with a smile. She did not think "Gee Whittekers" a "hahnsome" expression.
"Bubble," she said after a few moments' reflection, during which her scholar watched her anxiously, "I have an idea. If you must say 'something,' beside what you actually have to say, let it be something that will remind you of your lessons; then it may help you to remember them. Instead of Gee—what is it?—Gee Whittekers, say Geography, or Spelling, or Arithmetic; and instead of 'I swan,' say 'I study!' What do you think of this plan?"
"Fustrate!" exclaimed Bubble, nodding his head enthusiastically. "I like fustrate! Ge-ography! Why, that sounds just like pie! I—I don't mean that, Miss Hildy. I didn't mean to say it, nohow! It kind o' slipped out, ye know." Bubble paused, and hung his head in much confusion.
"Never mind!" said Hilda, kindly. "Of course you cannot make the change all at once, Bubble. But little by little, if you really think about it, you will bring it about. Next week," she added, "I think we must begin upon grammar. You are doing very well indeed in spelling and geography, and pretty well in arithmetic; but your grammar, Bubble, is simply frightful."
"Be it?" said Bubble, resignedly. "I want to know!"
"And now," said the young instructress, rising, and shaking out her crumpled frock, "that is enough for to-day, Bubble. We must be going home soon; but first, I want to take a peep at the lower part of the old mill, that you told me about yesterday. You have been in there, you say? And how did you get in?"
"I'll show ye!" cried Bubble, springing up with alacrity, and leading the way towards the mill. "I'll show ye the very place, Miss Hildy. 'Tain't easy to get in, and 'tain't no place for a lady, nohow; but I kin git in, jist like—like 'rithmetic!"
"Bravo, Bubble!" said Hilda, laughing merrily. "That is very well for a beginning. How long is it since the mill was used?" she asked, looking up at the frowning walls of rough, dark stone, covered with moss and lichens.
"Farmer Hartley's gran'f'ther was the last miller," replied Bubble Chirk. "My father used to say he could just remember him, standin' at the mill-door, all white with flour, an' rubbin' his hands and laughin', jes' the way Farmer does. He was a good miller, father said, an' made the mill pay well. But his eldest son, that kem after him, warn't no great shakes, an' he let the mill go to wrack and ruin, an' jes' stayed on the farm. An' then he died, an' Cap'n Hartley came (that's the farmer's father, ye know), an' he was kind o' crazy, and didn't care about the mill either, an' so there it stayed.
"This way, Miss Hildy!" added the boy, breaking off suddenly, and plunging into the tangled thicket of shrubs and brambles that hid the base of the mill. "Thar! ye see that hole? That's whar I get in. Wait till I clear away the briers a bit! Thar! now ye kin look in."
The "hole" was a square opening, a couple of feet from the ground, and large enough for a person of moderate size to creep through. Hildegarde stooped down and looked in. At first she saw nothing but utter blackness; but presently her eyes became accustomed to the place, and the feeble light which struggled in past her through the opening, revealed strange objects which rose here and there from the vast pit of darkness,—fragments of rusty iron, bent and twisted into unearthly shapes; broken beams, their jagged ends sticking out like stiffly pointing fingers; cranks, and bits of hanging chain; and on the side next the water, a huge wheel, rising apparently out of the bowels of the earth, since the lower part of it was invisible. A cold, damp air seemed to rise from the earth. Hilda shivered and drew back, looking rather pale. "What a dreadful place!" she cried. "It looks like a dungeon of the Inquisition. I think you were very brave to go in there, Bubble. I am sure I should not dare to go; it looks so spectral and frightful."
"Hy Peters stumped me to go," said Bubble, simply, "so o' course I went. Most of the boys dassent. And it ain't bad, after the fust time. They do say it's haunted; but I ain't never seed nothin'."
"Haunted!" cried Hilda, drawing back still farther from the black opening. "By—by what, Bubble?"
"Cap'n's ghost!" replied the boy. "He used to go rooklin' round in there when he was alive, folks say, and some thinks his sperit haunts there now."
"Oh, nonsense!" said Hildegarde, with a laugh which did not sound quite natural. "Of course you don't believe any such foolishness as that, Bubble. But what did the old—old gentleman—want there when he was alive? I can't imagine any one going in there for pleasure."
"Dunno, I'm sure!" replied Bubble. "Father, he come down here one day, after blackberries, when he was a boy. He hearn a noise in there, an' went an' peeked in, an' there was the ol' Cap'n pokin' about with his big stick in the dirt. He looked up an' saw father, an' came at him with his stick up, roarin' like a mad bull, father said. An' he cut an' run, father did, an' he hearn the ol' Cap'n laughin' after him as if he'd have a fit. Crazy as a loon, I reckon the Cap'n was, though none of his folks thought so, Ma says."
He let the wild briers fly back about the gloomy opening, and they stepped back on the smooth greensward again. Ah, how bright and warm the sunshine was, after that horrible black pit! Hilda shivered again at the thought of it, and then laughed at her own cowardice. She turned and gazed at the waterfall, creaming and curling over the rocks, and making such a merry, musical jest of its tumble into the pool. "Oh, lovely, lovely!" she cried, kissing her hand to it. "Bubble, do you know that Hartley's Glen is without exception the most beautiful place in the world?"
"No, miss! Be it really?" asked Zerubbabel, seriously. "I allays thought 'twas kind of a sightly gully, but I didn't know't was all that."
"Well, it is," said Hilda. "It is all that, and more; and I love it! But now, Bubble," she added, "we must make haste, for the farmer will be wanting you, and I have a dozen things to do before tea."
"Yes, miss," said Bubble, but without his usual alacrity.
Hilda saw a look of disappointment in his honest blue eyes, and asked what was the matter. "I ain't had my ballid!" said Zerubbabel, sadly.
"Why, you poor lad, so you haven't!" said Hildegarde. "But you shall have it; I will tell it to you as we walk back to the farm. Which one will you have,—or shall I tell you a new one?"
The blue eyes sparkled with the delight of anticipation. "Oh, please!" he cried; "the one about the bold Buckle-oh!"
Hilda laughed merrily. "The bauld Buccleugh?" she repeated. "Oh! you mean 'Kinmont Willie.' Yes, indeed, you shall have that. It is one of my favorite ballads, and I am glad you like it."
"Oh, I tell yer!" cried Bubble. "When he whangs the table, and says do they think his helmet's an old woman's bunnit, an' all the rest of it,—I tell ye that's some, Miss Hildy!"
"You have the spirit of the verse, Bubble," said Hilda, laughing softly; "but the words are not quite right." And she repeated the splendid, ringing words of Buccleugh's indignant outcry:
"Oh! is my basnet a widow's curch, Or my lance a wand o' the willow-tree, Or my arm a lady's lily hand, That an English lord should lightly me?
"And have they ta'en him, Kinmont Willie, Against the truce of Border tide, And forgotten that the bauld Buccleugh Is warden here o' the Scottish side?
"And have they e'en ta'en him, Kinmont Willie, Withouten either dread or fear, And forgotten that the bauld Buccleugh Can back a steed or shake a spear?"
Zerubbabel Chirk fairly danced up and down in his excitement "Oh! but begin again at the beginning, please, Miss Hildy," he cried.
So Hilda, nothing loth, began at the beginning; and as they walked homeward, recited the whole of the noble old ballad, which if any girl-reader does not know, she may find it in any collection of Scottish ballads.
"And the best of it is, Bubble," said Hilda, "that it is all true,—every word of it; or nearly every word."
"I'll bet it is!" cried Bubble, still much excited. "They couldn't make lies sound like that, ye know! You kind o' know it's true, and it goes right through yer, somehow. When did it happen, Miss Hildy?"
"Oh! a long time ago," said Hildegarde; "near the end of the sixteenth century. I forget just the very year, but it was in the reign of Queen Elizabeth. She was very angry at Buccleugh's breaking into Carlisle Castle, which was an English castle, you see, and carrying off Lord Scroope's prisoner; and she sent word to King James of Scotland that he must give up Buccleugh to her to punish as she saw fit. King James refused at first, for he said that Lord Scroope had been the first to break the truce by carrying off Kinmont Willie in time of peace; but at length he was obliged to yield, for Queen Elizabeth was very powerful, and always would have her own way. So the 'bauld Buccleugh' was sent to London and brought before the great, haughty English queen. But he was just as haughty as she, and was not a bit afraid of her. She looked down on him from her throne (she was very stately, you know, and she wore a crown, and a great stiff ruff, and her dress was all covered with gold and precious stones), and asked him how he dared to undertake such a desperate and presumptuous enterprise. And Buccleugh—O Bubble, I always liked this so much!—Buccleugh just looked her full in the face, and said, 'What is it a man dare not do?' Now Queen Elizabeth liked nothing so much as a brave man, and this bold answer pleased her. She turned to one of her ministers and said, 'With ten thousand such men our brother in Scotland might shake the firmest throne in Europe.' And so she let him go, just because he was so brave and so handsome."
Bubble Chirk drew a long breath, and his eyes flashed. "I wish't I'd ben alive then!" he said.
"Why, Bubble?" asked Hilda, much amused; "what would you have done?"
"I'd ha' killed Lord Scroope!" he cried,—"him and the hull kit of 'em. Besides," he added, "I'd like t' ha' lived then jest ter see him,—jest ter see the bold Buckle-oh; that's what I call a man!" And Queen Hildegardis fully agreed with him.
They had nearly reached the house when the boy asked: "If that king was her brother, why did she treat him so kind o' ugly? My sister don't act that way."
"What—oh, you mean Queen Elizabeth!" said Hilda, laughing. "King James was not her brother, Bubble. They were cousins, but nothing more."
"You said she said 'brother,'" persisted the boy.
"So I did," replied Hilda. "You see, it was the fashion, and is still, for kings and queens to call each other brother and sister, whether they were really related to each other or not."
"But I thought they was always fightin'," objected Bubble. "I've got a hist'ry book to home, an' in that it says they fit like time whenever they got a chance."
"So they did," said Hilda. "But they called each other 'our royal brother' and 'our beloved sister;' and they were always paying each other fine compliments, and saying how much they loved each other, even in the middle of a war, when they were fighting as hard as they could."
"Humph!" said Bubble, "nice kind o folks they must ha' been. Well, I must go, Miss Hildy," he added, reluctantly. "I've had a splendid time, an' I'm real obleeged to ye. I sh'll try to larn that story by heart, 'bout the bold Buckle-oh. I want to tell it to Pink! She'd like it—oh, my! wouldn't she like it, jest like—I mean jest like spellin'! Good by, Miss Hildy!" And Bubble ran off to bring home the cows, his little heart swelling high with scorn of kings and queens, and with a fervor of devotion to Walter Scott, first lord of Buccleugh.
One lovely morning Hildegarde stood at the back door, feeding the fowls. She wore her brown gingham frock with the yellow daisies on it, and the daisy-wreathed hat, and in her hands she held a great yellow bowl full of yellow corn. So bright a picture she made that Farmer Hartley, driving the oxen afield, stopped for pure pleasure to look at her. Around her the ducks and hens were fighting and squabbling, quacking, clucking, and gobbling, and she flung the corn in golden showers on their heads and backs, making them nearly frantic with greedy anxiety.
"Wal, Huldy," said the farmer, leaning against Bright's massive side, "you look pooty slick in that gown, I must say. I reckon thar ain't no sech gown as that on Fifth Avenoo, hey?"
"Indeed, I don't believe there is, Farmer Hartley," replied Hilda, laughing merrily; "at least I never saw one like it. It is pretty, I think, and so comfortable! And where are you going this morning with the mammoths?"
"Down to the ten-acre lot," replied the farmer. "The men are makin' hay thar to-day. Jump into the riggin' and come along," he added. "Ye kin hev a little ride, an' see the hay-makin'. Pooty sight 'tis, to my thinkin'."
"May I?" cried Hilda, eagerly. "I am sure these fowls have had enough. Go away now, you greedy creatures! There, you shall have all there is!" and she emptied the bowl over the astonished dignitaries of the barn-yard, laid it down on the settle in the porch, and jumped gayly into the "rigging," as the great hay-cart was called.
"Haw, Bright! hoish, Star!" said the farmer, touching one and then the other of the great black oxen lightly with his goad. The huge beasts swayed from side to side, and finally succeeded in getting themselves and the cart in motion, while the farmer walked leisurely beside them, tapping and poking them occasionally, and talking to them in that mystic language which only oxen and their drivers understand. Down the sweet country lane they went, with the willows hanging over them, and the daisies and buttercups and meadow-sweet running riot all over the banks. Hilda stood up in the cart and pulled off twigs from the willows as she passed under them, and made garlands, which the farmer obediently put over the oxen's necks. She hummed little snatches of song, and chatted gayly with her kind old host; for the world was very fair, and her heart was full of summer and sunshine.
"And have you always lived here, Farmer Hartley?" she asked. "All your life, I mean?"
"No, not all my life," replied the farmer, "though pooty nigh it. I was ten year old when my uncle died, and father left sea-farin', and kem home to the farm to live. Before that we'd lived in different places, movin' round, like. We was at sea a good deal, sailin' with father when he went on pleasant voyages, to the West Indies, or sich. But sence then I ain't ben away much. I don't seem to find no pleasanter place than the old farm, somehow."
"I don't believe there is any pleasanter place in the world!" said Hilda, warmly. "I am sure I have never been so happy anywhere as I have here."
Farmer Hartley looked up with a twinkle in his eye. "Ye've changed yer views some, Huldy, hain't ye, sence the fust day ye kem heer? I didn't never think, then, as I'd be givin' you rides in the hay-riggin', sech a fine young lady as you was."
Hilda gave him an imploring glance, while the blood mounted to her temples. "Please, Farmer Hartley," she said in a low voice, "please try to forget that first day. It isn't my views that have changed," she added, "it is I myself. I don't—I really don't think I am the same girl who came here a month ago."
"No, my gal," said the farmer, heartily, "I don't think ye are." He walked along in silence for a few minutes, and then said, "'Tis curus how folks kin sometimes change 'emselves, one way or the other. 'Tain't so with critturs; 't least so fur's I've obsarved. The way they're born, that way they'll stay. Now look at them oxen! When they was young steers, hardly more'n calves, I began to train them critturs. An' from the very fust go-off they tuk their cue an' stuck to it. Star, thar, would lay out, and shake his head, an' pull for all he was wuth, as if there was nothin' in the world to do but pull; and Bright, he'd wait till Star was drawin' good an' solid, an' then he'd as much as say, 'Oh! you kin pull all that, kin ye? Well, stick to it, my boy, an' I'll manage to trifle along with the rest o' the load.' Wo-hoish, Star! haw, Bright! git up, ye old humbug! You're six year old now, an' you ain't changed a mite in four years, though I've drove you stiddy, and tried to spare the other every time."
The green lane broke off suddenly, and such a blaze of sunlight flashed upon them that Hilda involuntarily raised her hand to shield her eyes. The great meadow lay open before them, an undulating plain of gold. The haycocks looked dull and gray-green upon it; but where the men were tossing the hay with their long wooden rakes, it flashed pale-golden in the sunlight, and filled the air with flying gleams. Also the air was filled with the sweetness of the hay, and every breath was a delight. Hilda stood speechless with pleasure, and the old farmer watched her glowing face with kindly gratification.
"Pooty sightly, ain't it?" he said. And then, in a graver tone, and removing his battered straw hat, "I don't never seem to see the glory of the Lord no plainer than in a hay-field, a day like this. Yes, sir! if a man can't be a Christian on a farm in summer, he can't be it nowhere. Amen!" and Farmer Hartley put on his hat and proceeded straightway to business. "Now, Huldy," he said, "here ye be! I'm goin' to load up this riggin', an' ye kin stay round here a spell, if ye like, an' run home when ye like. Ye kin find the way, I reckon?"
"Oh, yes!" said Hilda; "yes, indeed! But I shall stay here for a while, and watch you. And mayn't I toss the hay too a little?"
But her courage failed when she found that to do this she must mingle with the crowd of strange haymakers; and besides, among them she saw the clumsy form and shock head of Caliban, as she had secretly named the clownish and surly nephew of her good host. This fellow was the one bitter drop in Hilda's cup. Everything else she had learned to like, in the month which had passed since she came to Hartley's Glen. The farmer and his wife she loved as they deserved to be loved. The little maidservant was her adoring slave, and secretly sewed her boot-buttons on, and mended her stockings, as some small return for the lessons in crochet and fancy knitting that she had received from the skilful white fingers which were a perpetual marvel to her. But Simon Hartley remained what she had at first thought him,—a sullen, boorish churl. He was a malevolent churl too, Hildegarde thought; indeed she was sure of it. She had several times seen his eyes fixed on his uncle with a look of positive hatred; and though Farmer Hartley was persistently kind and patient with him, trying often to draw him into conversation, and make him join in the pleasant evening talks which they all enjoyed, his efforts were unsuccessful. The fellow came in, gobbled his food, and then went off, if his work was over, to hide himself in his own room. Hilda was quite sure that Nurse Lucy liked this oaf no better than she herself did, though the good woman never spoke impatiently or unkindly to him,—and indeed it would be difficult for any one to like him, she thought, except possibly his own mother.
Our Queen took presently her seat on a right royal throne of fragrant hay, and gave herself up to the full delight of the summer morning, and of the "Field of the Cloth of Gold," as she had instantly named the shining yellow plain, which more prosaic souls knew as "the ten-acre lot." The hay rustled pleasantly as she nestled down in it, and made a little penthouse over her head, to keep off the keen, hot sun-arrows. There was a great oak-tree too, which partly shaded this favored haycock, and on one of its branches a squirrel came running out, and then sat up and looked at Hildegarde with bright, inquisitive eyes. A maiden, all brown and gold, on a golden haycock! What strange apparition was this? Had she come for acorns? Did she know about the four young ones in the snug little house in the hollow just above the first branch! Perhaps—dreadful thought!—she had heard of the marvellous beauty of the four young ones, and had come to steal them. "Chip!" whisk! and Madam Squirrel was off up the branch like a streak of brown lightning, with its tail up.
Hilda laughed at the squirrel's alarm, and then turned her attention to a large green grasshopper who seemed to demand it. He had alighted on her knee, and now proceeded to exhibit his different points before her admiring gaze with singular gravity and deliberation. First he slowly opened his wings, to show the delicate silvery gauze of the under-wings; then as slowly closed them, demonstrating the perfect fit of his whole wing-costume and the harmony of its colors. He next extended one leg, calling her attention to its remarkable length and muscular proportions. Then, lest she should think he had but one, he extended the other; and then gave a vigorous hop with both of them, to show her that he did not really need wings, but could get on perfectly well without them. Finally he rubbed himself all over with his long antennae, and then, pointing them full at her, and gazing at her with calm and dispassionate eyes, he said plainly enough: "And now, Monster, what have you to show me?"
Hildegarde was wondering how she could best dispel the scorn with which this majestic insect evidently regarded her, when suddenly something new appeared on her gown,—something black, many-legged, hairy, most hideous; something which ran swiftly but stealthily, with a motion which sent a thrill of horror through her veins. She started up with a little shriek, shaking off the unlucky spider as if it had been the Black Death in concrete. Then she looked round with flaming cheeks, to see if her scream had been heard by the hay-makers. No, they were far away, and too busy to take heed of her. But the charm was broken. Queen Hildegarde had plenty of courage of a certain sort, but she could not face a spider. The golden throne had become a "siege perilous," and she abdicated in favor of the grasshopper and his black and horrent visitor.
What should she do now? The charm of the morning had made her idle and drowsy, and she did not feel like going home to help Nurse Lucy in making the butter, though she often did so with right good-will. She looked dreamily around, her eyes wandering here and there over the great meadow and the neat stone walls which bounded it. Presently she spied the chimneys and part of the red roof of a little cottage which peeped from a thick clump of trees just beyond the wall. Who lived in that cottage, Hilda wondered. Why should she not go and see? She was very thirsty, and there she might get a glass of water. Oh! perhaps it was Bubble's cottage, where he and his mother and his sister Pink lived. Now she thought of it, Bubble had told her that he lived "over beyont the ten-acre lot;" of course this must be the place. Slowly she walked across the meadow and climbed the wall, wondering a good deal about the people whom she was going to see. She had often meant to ask Bubble more about his sister with the queer name; but the lesson-hour was so short, and there were always so many questions for Bubble to ask and for her to answer besides the regular lesson, that she always forgot it till too late. Pink Chirk! what could a girl be like with such a name as that? Hilda fancied her a stout, buxom maiden, with very red cheeks and very black eyes—yes, certainly, the eyes must be black! Her hair—well, one could not be so sure about her hair; but there was no doubt about her wearing a pink dress and a blue checked apron. And she must be smiling, bustling, and energetic. Yes! Hilda had the picture of her complete in her mind. She wondered that this active, stirring girl never came up to the farm; but of course she must have a great deal of work to do at home.
By this time Hildegarde had reached the cottage; and after a moment's hesitation she knocked softly at the green-painted door. No one came to open the door, but presently she heard a clear, pleasant voice from within saying, "Open the door and come in, please!" Following this injunction, she entered the cottage and found herself directly in the sitting-room, and face to face with its occupant. This was a girl of her own age, or perhaps a year older, who sat in a wheeled chair by the window. She was very fair, with almost flaxen hair, and frank, pleasant blue eyes. She was very pale, very thin; the hands that lay on her lap were almost transparent; but—she wore a pink calico dress and a blue checked apron. Who could this be? and whoever it was, why did she sit still when a visitor and a stranger came in? The pale girl made no attempt to rise, but she met Hilda's look of surprise and inquiry with a smile which broke like sunshine over her face, making it for the moment positively beautiful. "How do you do?" she said, holding out her thin hand. "I am sure you must be Miss Hilda Graham, and I am Bubble's sister Pink.
"Please sit down," she added. "I am so very glad to see you. I have wanted again and again to thank you for all your kindness to my Bubble, but I didn't know when I should have a chance. Did Bubble show you the way?"
Hildegarde was so astonished, so troubled, so dismayed that she hardly knew what she was saying or doing. She took the slender fingers in her own for an instant, and then sat down, saying hastily: "Oh, no! I—I found my way alone. I was not sure of its being your cottage, though I thought it must be from what Bubble told me." She paused; and then, unable to keep back longer the words which sprang to her lips, she said: "I fear you have been ill, you are so pale. I hope it has not been serious. Bubble did not tell me—"
Pink Chirk looked up with her bright, sweet smile. "Oh, no! I have not been ill," she said. "I am always like this. I cannot walk, you know, but I am very well indeed."
"You cannot walk?" stammered Hilda.
The girl saw her look of horror, and a faint color stole into her wan cheek. "Did not Bubble tell you?" she asked, gently; and then, as Hilda shook her head, "It is such a matter of course to him," she said; "he never thinks about it, I suppose, dear little fellow. I was run over when I was three years old, and I have never been able to walk since."
Hildegarde could not speak. The thought of anything so dreadful, so overwhelming as this, coming so suddenly, too, upon her, seemed to take away her usually ready speech, and she was dumb, gazing at the cheerful face before her with wide eyes of pity and wonderment. But Pink Chirk did not like to be pitied, as a rule; and she almost laughed at her visitor's horror-stricken face.
"You mustn't look so!" she cried. "It's very kind of you to be sorry, but it isn't as if I were really ill, you know. I can almost stand on one foot,—that is, I can bear enough weight on it to get from my bed to my chair without help. That is a great thing! And then when I am once in my chair, why I can go almost anywhere. Farmer Hartley gave me this chair," she added, looking down at it, and patting the arm tenderly, as if it were a living friend; "isn't it a beauty?"
It was a pretty chair, made of cherry wood, with cushions of gay-flowered chintz; and Hilda, finding her voice again, praised it warmly. "This is its summer dress," said Pink, her eyes sparkling with pleasure. "Underneath, the cushions are covered with soft crimson cloth, oh, so pretty, and so warm-looking! I am always glad when it's time to take the chintz covers off. And yet I am always glad to put them on again," she added, "for the chintz is pretty too, I think: and besides, I know then that summer is really come."
"You like summer best?" asked Hilda.
"Oh, yes!" she replied. "In winter, of course, I can't go out; and sometimes it seems a little long, when Bubble is away all day,—not very, you know, but just a little. But in summer, oh, then I am so happy! I can go all round the place by myself, and sit out in the garden, and feed the chickens, and take care of the flowers. And then on Sunday Bubble always gives me a good ride along the road. My chair moves very easily,—only see!" She gave a little push, and propelled herself half way across the little room.
At this moment the inner door opened, and Mrs. Chirk appeared,—a slender, anxious-looking woman, with hair prematurely gray. She greeted Hilda with nervous cordiality, and thanked her earnestly for her kindness to Zerubbabel. "He ain't the same boy, Miss Graham," she said, "sence you begun givin' him lessons. He used to fret and worrit 'cause there warn't no school, and he couldn't ha' gone to it if there was. Pinkrosia learned him what she could; but we hain't many books, you see. But now! why that boy comes into the house singin' and spoutin' poetry at the top of his lungs,—jest as happy as a kitten with a spool. What was that he was shoutin' this mornin', Pinkrosia, when he scairt the old black hen nigh to death?"
"'Charge for the golden lilies! Upon them with the lance!'" murmured Pink, with a smile.
"Yes, that was it!" said Mrs. Chirk. "He was lookin' out of the window and pumpin' at the same time, an' spoutin' them verses too. And all of a sudden he cries out, 'Ther's the brood of dark My Hen, scratchin' up the sweet peas. Upon them with the lance!' And he lets go the pump-handle, and it flies up and hits the shelf and knocks off two plates and a cup, and Bubble, he's off with the mop-handle, chasin' the old black hen and makin' believe run her through, till she e'enamost died of fright. Well, there, it give me a turn; it reelly did!" She paused rather sadly, seeing that her hearers were both overcome with laughter.
"I—I am very sorry, Mrs. Chirk, that the plates were broken," said Hilda; "but it must have been extremely funny. Poor old hen! she must have been frightened, certainly. Do you know," she added, "I think Bubble is a remarkably bright boy. I am very sure that he will make a name for himself, if only he can have proper training."
"Presume likely!" said Mrs. Chirk, with melancholy satisfaction. "His father was a real smart man. There warn't no better hayin' hand in the county than Loammi Chirk. And I'm in hopes Zerubbabel will do as well, for he has a good friend in Farmer Hartley; no boy couldn't have a better."
Eminence in the profession of "haying" was not precisely what Hilda had meant; but she said nothing.
"And my poor girl here," Mrs. Chirk continued after a pause, "she sets in her cheer hay-times and other times. You've heard of her misfortune, Miss Graham?"
Pink interposed quickly with a little laugh, though her brows contracted slightly, as if with pain. "Oh, yes, Mother dear!" she said; "Miss Graham has heard all about me, and knows what a very important person I am. But where is the yarn that I was to wind for you? I thought you wanted to begin weaving this afternoon."
"Oh!" exclaimed Hildegarde. "Never mind the yarn just now, Pink! I want to give you a little ride before I go back to the farm. May she go, Mrs. Chirk? It is such a beautiful day, I am sure the air will do her good. Would you like it, Pink?"
Pink looked up with a flush of pleasure on her pale cheek. "Oh," she said, "would I like it! But it's too much for you to do, Miss Graham."
"An' with that beautiful dress on too!" cried Mrs. Chirk. "You'd get it dusty on the wheel, I'm afraid. I don't think—"
"Oh yes, you do!" cried Hilda, gayly, pushing the chair towards the door. "Bring her hat, please, Mrs. Chirk. I always have my own way!" she added, with a touch of the old imperiousness, "and I have quite set my heart on this."
Mrs. Chirk meekly brought a straw sun-bonnet, and Hilda tied its strings under Pink's chin, every fibre within her mutely protesting against its extreme ugliness. "She shall not wear that again," said she to herself, "if I can help it." But the sweet pale face looked out so joyously from the dingy yellow tunnel that the stern young autocrat relented. "After all, what does it matter?" she thought. "She would look like an angel, even with a real coal-scuttle on her head." And then she laughed at the thought of a black japanned scuttle crowning those fair locks; and Pink laughed because Hilda laughed; and so they both went laughing out into the sunshine.
"Nurse Lucy," said Hildegarde that evening, as they sat in the porch after tea, "why have you never told me about Pink Chirk,—about her being a cripple, I mean? I had no idea of it till I went to see her to-day. How terrible it is!"
"I wonder that I haven't told you, dear!" replied Nurse Lucy, placidly. "I suppose I am so used to Pink as she is, I forget that she ever was like other people. She is a dear, good child,—his 'sermon,' Jacob calls her. He says that whenever he feels impatient or put out, he likes to go down and look at Pink, and hear her talk. 'It takes the crook right out of me!' he says. Poor Jacob!"
"But how did it happen?" asked Hilda. "She says she was only three years when she—Oh, think of it, Nurse Lucy! It is too dreadful. Tell me how it happened."
"Don't ask me, my dear!" said Dame Hartley, sadly. "Why should you hear anything so painful? It would only haunt your mind as it haunted mine for years after. The worst of it was, there was no need of it. Her mother was a young, flighty, careless girl, and she didn't look after her baby as she should have done. That is all you need know, Hilda, my dear! Poor Susan Chirk! it took the flightiness out of her, and made her the anxious, melancholy soul she has been ever since. Then Bubble was born, and soon after her husband died, and since then she has had a hard time to fend for herself. But Pink has never been any trouble to her, only a help and a comfort; and her neighbors have done what they could from time to time."
Dame Hartley might have said that she and her husband had kept this desolate widow and her children from starvation through many a long winter, and had given her the means of earning her daily bread in summer; had clothed the children, and provided comforts for the crippled girl. But this was not Nurse Lucy's way. The neighbors had done what they could, she said; and now Bubble was earning good wages for a boy, and was sure to get on well, being bright and industrious; and Mrs. Chirk took in weaving to do for the neighbors, and went out sometimes to work by the day; and so they were really getting on very well,—better than one could have hoped.
Hildegarde laid her head against the good Dame's shoulder and fell into a brown study. Nurse Lucy seemed also in a thoughtful mood; and so the two sat quietly in the soft twilight till the red glow faded in the west, and left in its stead a single star, gleaming like a living jewel in the purple sky. All the birds were asleep save the untiring whippoorwill, who presented his plea for the castigation of the unhappy William with ceaseless energy. A little night-breeze came up, and said pleasant, soft things to the leaves, which rustled gently in reply, and the crickets gave their usual evening concert, beginning with a movement in G sharp, allegro con moto. Other sound there was none, until by and by the noise of wheels was heard, and the click of old Nancy's hoofs; and out of the gathering darkness Farmer Hartley appeared, just returned from the village, whither he had gone to make arrangements about selling his hay.
"Wal, Marm Lucy," he said, cheerfully, throwing the reins on Nancy's neck and jumping from the wagon, "is that you settin' thar? 'Pears to me I see somethin' like a white apun gloomin' out o' the dark."
"Yes, Jacob," answered "Marm Lucy," "I am here, and so is Hilda. The evening has been so lovely, we have not had the heart to light the lamps, but have just been sitting here watching the sunset. We'll come in now, though," she added, leading the way into the house. "You'll be wanting some supper, my man. Or did ye stop at Cousin Sarah's?"
"I stopped at Sary's," replied the farmer. "Ho! ho! yes, Sary gave me some supper, though she warn't in no mood for seein' comp'ny, even her own kin. Poor Sary! she was in a dretful takin', sure enough!"
"Why, what was the matter?" asked Dame Hartley, as she trimmed and lighted the great lamp, and drew the short curtains of Turkey red cotton across the windows. "Is Abner sick again!"
"Shouldn't wonder if he was, by this time," replied the farmer; "but he warn't at the beginnin' of it. I'll tell ye how 'twas;" and he sat down in his great leather chair, and stretched his legs out comfortably before him, while his wife filled his pipe and brought it to him,—a little attention which she never forgot. "Sary, she bought a new bunnit yisterday!" Farmer Hartley continued, puffing away at the pipe. "She's kind o' savin', ye know, Sary is [Nurse Lucy nodded, with a knowing air], and she hadn't had a new bunnit for ten years. (I d' 'no' 's she's had one for twenty!" he added in parenthesis; "I never seed her with one to my knowledge.) Wal, the gals was pesterin' her, an' sayin' she didn't look fit to go to meetin' in the old bunnit, so 't last she giv' way, and went an' bought a new one. 'Twas one o' these newfangled shapes. What was it Lizy called it? Somethin' Chinese, I reckon. Fan Song! That was it!"
"Fanchon, wasn't it, perhaps?" asked Hilda, much amused.
"That's what I said, warn't it?" said the farmer. "Fan Song, Fan Chong,—wal, what's the odds? 'Twas a queer lookin' thing, anyhow, I sh'd think, even afore it— Wal, I'm comin' to that. Sary showed it to the gals, and they liked it fust-rate; then she laid it on the kitchen table, an' went upstairs to git some ribbons an' stuff to put on it. She rummaged round consid'able upstairs, an' when she kum down, lo and behold, the bunnit was gone! Wal, Sary hunted high, and she hunted low. She called the gals, thinkin' they'd played a trick on her, an' hidden it for fun. But they hadn't, an' they all set to an' sarched the house from garrit to cellar; but they didn't find hide nor hair o' that bunnit. At last Sary give it up, an' sot down out o' breath, an' mad enough to eat somebody. 'It's been stole!' says she. 'Some ornery critter kem along while I was upstairs,' says she, 'an' seed it lyin' thar on the table, an' kerried it off!' says she. 'I'd like to get hold of her!' says she; 'I guess she wouldn't steal no more bunnits for one while!' says she. I had come in by that time, an' she was tellin' me all about it. Jest at that minute the door opened, and Abner kem sa'nterin' in, mild and moony as usual 'Sary,' says he,—ho! ho! ho! it makes me laugh to think on't,—'Sary,' says he, 'I wouldn't buy no more baskets without handles, ef I was you. They ain't convenient to kerry,' says he. And with that he sets down on the table—that Fan Chong bunnit! He'd been mixin' chicken feed in it, an' he'd held it fust by one side an' then by the other, an' he'd dropped it in the mud too, I reckon, from the looks of it: you never seed sech a lookin' thing in all your born days as that bunnit was. Sary, she looked at it, and then she looked at Abner, an' then at the bunnit agin; an' then she let fly."
"Poor Sarah!" said Nurse Lucy, wiping tears of merriment from her eyes. "What did she say?"
"I can't tell ye what she said," replied the farmer. "What did your old cat say when Spot caught hold of her tail the other day? An' yet there was language enough in what Sary said. I tell ye the hull dictionary was flyin' round that room for about ten minutes,—Webster's Unabridged, an' nothin' less. An' Abner, he jest stood thar, bobbin' his head up an' down, and openin' an' shettin' his mouth, as if he'd like to say somethin' if he could get a chance. But when Sary was so out of breath that she couldn't say another word, an' hed to stop for a minute, Abner jest says, 'Sary, I guess you're a little excited. Jacob an' me'll go out an' take a look at the stock,' says he, 'and come back when you're feelin' calmer.' An' he nods to me, an' out we both goes, before Sary could git her breath agin. I didn't say nothin', 'cause I was laughin' so inside 't I couldn't. Abner, he walked along kind o' solemn, shakin' his head every little while, an' openin' an' shettin' his mouth. When we got to the stable-door he looked at me a minute, and then he said, 'The tongue is a onruly member, Jacob! I thought that was kind of a curus lookin' basket, though!' and that was every word he said about it."
"Oh, what delightfully funny people!" cried Hilda. "What did the wife say when you came in to supper, Farmer Hartley?"
"She warn't thar," replied the farmer. "She had a headache, the gals said, and had gone to bed. I sh'd think she would have had a headache,—but thar," he added, rising suddenly and beginning to search in his capacious pockets, "I declar' for 't, if I hain't forgotten Huldy's letter! Sary an' her bunnit put everything else out of my head."
Hilda sprang up in delight to receive the envelope which the farmer handed to her; but her face fell a little when she saw that it was not from her parents. She reflected, however, that she had had a double letter only two days before, and that she could not expect another for a week, as Mr. and Mrs. Graham wrote always with military punctuality. There was no doubt as to the authorship of the letter. The delicate pointed handwriting, the tiny seal of gilded wax, the faint perfume which the missive exhaled, all said to her at once, "Madge Everton."
With a feeling which, if not quite reluctance, was still not quite alacrity, Hildegarde broke the pretty seal, with its Cupid holding a rose to his lips, and read as follows:—
SARATOGA, July 20.
MY DEAREST, SWEETEST HILDA,—Can it be possible that you have been away a whole month, and that I have not written to you? I am awfully ashamed! but I have been so TOO busy, it has been out of the question. Papa decided quite suddenly to come here instead of going to Long Branch; and you can imagine the frantic amount of work Mamma and I had to get ready. One has to dress so much at Saratoga, you know; and we cannot just send an order to Paris, as you do, my dear Queen, for all we want, but have to scratch round (I know you don't allow your subjects to use slang, but we DO scratch round, and nothing else can express it), and get things made here. I have a lovely pale blue Henrietta-cloth, made like that rose-colored gown of yours that I admire so much, and that you SAID I might copy. Mamma says it was awfully good of you, and that she wouldn't let any one copy her French dresses if she had them; but I told her you were awfully good, and that was why. Well, then I have a white nun's-veiling, made with triple box-plaits, and a lovely pointed overskirt, copied from a Donovan dress of Mamma's; and a dark-red surah, and oh! a perfect "frou-frou" of wash-dresses, of course; two sweet white lawns, one trimmed with valenciennes (I hate valenciennes, you know, but Mamma will make me have it, because she thinks it is jeune fille!), and one with the new Russian lace; and a pink sateen, and two or three light chambrays.
But now I know you will be dying to hear about my hats; for you always say that the hat makes the costume; and so it does! Well, my dearest, I have one Redfern hat, and only one. Mamma says I cannot expect to have more until I come out, which is bitter. However, this one is a beauty, and yet cost only thirty dollars. It goes well with nearly all my dresses, and is immensely becoming, all the girls say: very high, with long pointed wings and stiff bows. Simple, my dear, doesn't express it! You know I LOVE simplicity; but it is Redferny to a degree, and everybody has noticed it.
Well, my dearest Queen, here am I running on about myself, as if I were not actually EXPIRING to hear about you. What my feelings were when I called at your house on that fatal Tuesday and was told that you had gone to spend the summer on a farm in the depths of the country, passes my power to tell. I could not ask your mother many questions, for you know I am always a little bit AFRAID of her, though she is perfectly lovely to me! She was very quiet and sweet, as usual, and spoke as if it were the most natural thing in the world for a brilliant society girl (for that is what you are, Hilda, even though you are only a school-girl; and you NEVER can be anything else!) to spend her summer in a wretched farm-house, among pigs and cows and dreadful ignorant people. Of course, Hilda dearest, you know that my admiration for your mother is simply IMMENSE, and that I would not for worlds say one syllable against her judgment and that of your military angel of a father; but I MUST say it seemed to me MORE than strange. I assure you I hardly closed my eyes for several nights, thinking of the MISERY you must be undergoing; for I KNOW you, Hildegarde! and the thought of my proud, fastidious, high-bred Queen being condemned to associate with clowns and laborers was really MORE than I could bear. Do write to me, darling, and tell me HOW you are enduring it. You were always so sensitive; why, I can see your lip curl now, when any of the girls did anything that was not tout a fait comme il faut! and the air with which you used to say, "The little things, my dear, are the only things!" How true it is! I feel it more and more every day. So do write at once, and let me know all about your dear self. I picture you to myself sometimes, pale and thin, with the "white disdain" that some poet or other speaks of, in your face, but enduring all the HORRORS that you must be subjected to with your OWN DIGNITY. Dearest Hilda, you are indeed a HEROINE!
Always, darling, Your own deeply devoted and sympathizing MADGE.
Hildegarde looked up after reading this letter, and, curiously enough, her eyes fell directly on a little mirror which hung on the wall opposite. In it she saw a rosy, laughing face, which smiled back mischievously at her. There were dimples in the cheeks, and the gray eyes were fairly dancing with life and joyousness. Where was the "white disdain," the dignity, the pallor and emaciation? Could this be Madge's Queen Hildegarde? Or rather, thought the girl, with a sudden revulsion of feeling, could this Hildegarde ever have been the other? The form of "the minx," long since dissociated from her thoughts and life, seemed to rise, like Banquo's ghost, and stare at her with cold, disdainful eyes and supercilious curl of the lip. Oh DEAR! how dreadful it was to have been so odious! How could poor dear Papa and Mamma, bless them, have endured her as they did, so patiently and sweetly? But they should see when they came back! She had only just begun yet; but there were two months still before her, and in that time what could she not do? They should be surprised, those dear parents! And Madge—why, Madge would be surprised too. Poor Madge! To think of her in Saratoga, prinking and preening herself like a gay bird, in the midst of a whirl of dress and diamonds and gayety, with no fields, no woods, no glen, no—no kitchen! Hilda looked about the room which she had learned so to love, trying to fancy Madge Everton in it; remembering, too, the bitterness of her first feeling about it. The lamplight shone cheerily on the yellow painted walls, the shining floor, the gleaming brass, copper, and china. It lighted up the red curtains and made a halo round good Nurse Lucy's head as she bent over her sewing; it played on the farmer's silver-bowed spectacles as he pored with knitted brows and earnest look over the weekly paper which he had brought from the village. The good, kind farmer! Hilda gazed at him as he sat all unconscious, and wondered why she had not seen at once how handsome he really was. The broad forehead, with its deep, thoughtful furrows; the keen, yet kindly blue eyes; the "sable-silvered" hair and beard, which, if not exactly smooth, were still so picturesque, so leonine; the firm, perhaps obstinate, mouth, which could speak so wisely and smile so cordially,—all these combined to make up what the newspapers would call a "singularly attractive exterior." And "Oh! how good he has been to me!" thought Hilda. "I believe he is the best man in the world, next to papa." Then she thought of Madge again, and tried to fancy her in her Redfern hat,—pretty Madge, with her black eyes and curly fringe, under the "simplicity" of the heaven-aspiring wings and bows; and as she smiled at the image, there rose beside it the fair head of Pink Chirk, looking out like a white rose from the depths of her dingy straw tunnel. Then she fancied herself saying airily (she knew just how she used to say it), "The little things, my dear, are the only things!" and then she laughed aloud at the very funniness of it.
"Hut! tut!" said Farmer Hartley, looking up from his paper with a smile. "What's all this? Are ye keepin' all the jokes to yerself, Huldy?"
"It is only my letter that is so funny," replied Hilda. "I don't believe it would seem so funny to you, Farmer Hartley, because you don't know the writer. But have you finished your paper, and are you ready for Robin Hood?"
"Wal, I am, Huldy!" said the good farmer, laying aside his paper and rubbing his hands with an air of pleasurable anticipation. "'Pears to me we left that good-lookin' singin' chap—what was his name?"
"Allan-a-Dale!" said Hilda, smiling.
"Ah!" said the farmer; "Allan-a-Dale. 'Pears to me we left him in rayther a ticklish situation."
"Oh, but it comes out all right!" cried Hilda, joyously, rising to fetch the good brown book which she loved. "You will see in the next chapter how delightfully Robin gets him out of the difficulty." She ran and brought the book and drew her chair up to the table, and all three prepared for an hour of solid enjoyment. "But before I begin," she said, "I want you to promise, Farmer Hartley, to take me with you the next time you go to the village. I must buy a hat for Pink Chirk."
THE OLD CAPTAIN.
"Let—me—see!" said Farmer Hartley, as he gathered up the reins and turned old Nancy's head towards the village, while Hildegarde, on the seat beside him, turned back to wave a merry farewell to Nurse Lucy, who stood smiling in the porch. "Let—me—see! Hev you ben off the farm before, Huldy, sence you kem here?"
"Not once!" replied Hilda, cheerily. "And I don't believe I should be going now, Farmer Hartley, if it were not for Pink's hat. I promised myself that she should not wear that ugly straw sun-bonnet again. I wonder why anything so hideous was ever invented."
"A straw bunnit, do ye mean?" said the farmer; "somethin' like a long sugar-scoop, or a tunnel like?"
"Yes, just that!" said Hilda; "and coming down over her poor dear eyes so that she cannot see anything, except for a few inches straight before her."
"Wal!" said the farmer, meditatively, "I remember when them bunnits was considered reel hahnsome. Marm Lucy had one when she was a gal; I mind it right well. A white straw it was, with blue ribbons on top of it. It come close round her pooty face, an' I used to hev to sidle along and get round in front of her before I could get a look at her. I hed rayther a grudge agin the bunnit on that account; but I supposed it was hahnsome, as everybody said so. I never see a bunnit o' that kind," he continued, "without thinkin' o' Mis' Meeker an' 'Melia Tyson. I swan! it makes me laugh now to think of 'em."
"Who were they?" asked Hildegarde, eagerly, for she delighted in the farmer's stories. "Please tell me about them!"
The farmer shook his head, as was his wont when he was about to relapse into reminiscences, and gave old Nancy several thoughtful taps with the whip, which she highly resented.
"Ol' Mis' Meeker," he said, presently, "she was a character, she was! She didn't belong hereabouts, but down South somewhere, but she was cousin to Cephas Tyson, an' when Cephas' wife died, she came to stop with him a spell, an' look out for his children. Three children there was, little Cephas, an' Myrick, an' 'Melia. 'Melia, she was a peart, lively little gal, with snappin' black eyes, an' consid'ble of a will of her own; an' Mis' Meeker, she was pooty stout, an' she took things easy, jest as they kem, an' let the children—an' 'Melia specially—do pooty much as they'd a mind to. Wal, one day I happened in to see Cephas about a pair o' steers I was thinkin' o' buyin'. Cephas was out; but Mis' Meeker said he'd be right in, she reckoned, an' asked me to take a cheer an' wait. So I sot down, an' while I was waitin', in come 'Melia, an' says she, 'Say, Aunt Cilly (Mis' Meeker's name was Priscilla)—Say, Aunt Cilly, can I go down an' play with Eddie? He wants me to come, reel bad. Can I, Aunt Cilly?' 'Not to-day, dearie,' says Mis' Meeker; 'you was down to play with Eddie yesterday, an' I reckon that'll do for one while!' she says. I looked at little 'Melia, an' her eyes was snappin' like coals. She didn't say nothin', but she jest took an' shoved her elbow right through the plate-glass winder. Ho! ho! Cephas had had his house made over, an' he was real proud of his plate-glass winders. I d' 'no' how much they'd cost him, but 'twas a pooty good sum. An' she shoved her elbow right through it and smashed it into shivers. I jumped up, kind o' startled by the crash. But ol' Mis' Meeker, she jes' looked up, as if she was a leetle bit surprised, but nothin' wuth mentionin'. 'Why, honey!' says she, in her slow, drawlin' kind o' way, 'I didn't know ye wanted to go that bad! Put on yer bunnit, an' go an' play with Eddie this minute!' says she. Ho! ho! ho! Them was her very words. An' 'Melia, she tossed her bunnit on (one o' them straw Shakers it was, an' that's what made me think o' the story), and jes' shook the glass out'n her sleeve,—I d' 'no' why the child warn't cut to pieces, but she didn't seem t' have got no hurt,—and made a face at her aunt, an' off she went. That's the way them children was brought up."
"Poor things!" cried Hilda. "What became of them, Farmer Hartley?"
"'Melia, she run off an' married a circus feller," replied the farmer, "an' the boys, I don't rightly know what become of 'em. They went out West, I b'lieve; an' after 'Melia married, Cephas went out to jine 'em, an' I ain't heerd nothin' of 'em for years."
By this time they were rattling through the main street of the little village, and presently stopped before an unpretending little shop, in the window of which were displayed some rather forlorn-looking hats and bonnets.
"Here y'are, Huldy!" said the farmer, pointing to the shop with a flourish of his whip. "Here's whar ye git the styles fust hand. Hev to come from New York to Glenfield to git the reel thing, ye see."
"I see!" laughed Hilda, springing lightly from the wagon.
"I'll call for ye in 'bout half an hour;" and with a kindly nod the farmer drove away down the street.
Hildegarde entered the dingy little shop with some misgivings, "I hope I shall find something fresh!" she said to herself; "those things in the window look as if they had been there since the Flood." She quickly made friends with the brisk little milliner, and they were soon turning over the meagre store of hats, trimmed and untrimmed.
"This is real tasty!" said the little woman, lifting with honest pride an alarming structure of green satin, which some straggling cock's feathers were doing their best to hide.
Hilda shuddered, but said pleasantly, "Rather heavy for summer; don't you think so? It would be better for a winter hat. What is this?" she added, drawing from the farthest recesses of the box an untrimmed hat of rough yellow straw. "I think perhaps this will do, Miss Bean."
"Oh my land, no! you don't want that!" cried the little milliner, aghast. "That's only common doin's, anyhow; and it's been in that box three years. Them shapes ain't worn now."
"Never mind!" said Hilda, merrily; "it is perfectly fresh, and I like the shape. Just wait till you see it trimmed, Miss Bean. May I rummage a little among your drawers? I will not toss the things about."
A piece of dotted mull and a bunch of soft pink roses rewarded her search; and with these and a bit of rose-colored ribbon she proceeded to make the rough straw into so dainty and bewitching a thing that Miss Bean sat fairly petrified with amazement on her little hair-cloth sofa in the back shop. "Why! why!" she said. "If that ain't the beat of all! It's the tastiest hat I ever see. You never told me you'd learned the trade!"
This last was rather reproachfully said; and Hilda, much amused, hastened to reassure the good woman.
"Indeed, I never learned the trade," she said. "I take to it naturally, I think; and I have watched my mother, who does it much better than I."
"She must be a first-class trimmer, then!" replied Miss Bean, emphatically. "Works in one o' them big houses in New York, I reckon, don't she?"
Hildegarde laughed; but before she could reply, Miss Bean went on to say: "Wal, you're a stranger to me, but you've got a pooty good count'nance, an' ye kem with Farmer Hartley; that's reference enough." She paused and reflected, while Hildegarde, putting the finishing touches to the pretty hat, wondered what was coming. "I wasn't calc'latin' to hire help this summer," continued the milliner; "but you're so handy, and yer ma could give ye idees from time to time. So if ye'd like a job, I d' 'no' but I'd like to hire ye."
The heiress of all the Grahams wanted to laugh at this naive proposal, but good feeling and good manners alike forbade. She thanked Miss Bean for her kind offer, and explained that she was only spending her school vacation at Hartley Farm; that her time was fully occupied, etc., etc.
The little milliner looked so disappointed that Hilda was seized with a royal impulse, and offered to "go over" the hats in the window while she waited for Farmer Hartley, and freshen them up a bit.
"Well, I wish't ye would!" said poor Miss Bean. "Fact is, I ain't done so well as I c'd wish this season. Folks is dretful 'fraid o' buyin' new things nowadays."
Then followed a series of small confidences on the hair-cloth sofa, while Hilda's fingers flew about the forlorn hats and bonnets, changing a ribbon here and a flower there, patting and poking, and producing really marvellous results. Another tale of patient labor, suffering, privation. An invalid mother and an "innocent" brother for this frail little woman to support. Doctors' bills and hard times, and stingy patrons who were "as 'fraid of a dollar-bill as if 'twas the small-pox." Hilda's eyes filled with tears of sympathy, and one great drop fell on the green satin hat, but was instantly covered by the wreath of ivy which was replacing the staring cock's feathers.
"Wal, I declare to gracious!" exclaimed Miss Bean. "You'd never know that for the same hat, now, would ye? I thought 'twas han'some before, but it's enough site han'somer now. I shouldn' wonder a mite if Mis' Peasley bought that hat now. She's been kind o' hankerin' arter it, the last two or three times she was in here; but every time she tried it on, she'd say No, 'twas too showy, she guessed. Wal, I do say, you make a gret mistake not goin' into the trade, for you're born to it, that's plain. When a pusson's born to a thing, he's thrown away, you may say, on anything else. What was you thinkin'—"
But at this moment came a cheery call of "Huldy! Huldy!" and Hildegarde, cutting short the little woman's profuse thanks and invitations to call again, bade her a cordial good-by, and ran out to the wagon, carrying her purchase neatly done up in brown paper.
"Stiddy thar!" said the farmer, making room for her on the seat beside him. "Look out for the ile-can, Huldy! Bought out the hull shop, hev ye? Wal, I sh'll look for gret things the next few days. Huddup thar, Nancy!" And they went jingling back along the street again.
As they passed the queer little shops, with their antiquated signboards, the farmer had something to say about each one. How Omnium Grabb here, the grocer, missed his dried apples one morning, and how he accused his chore-boy, who was his sister's son too, of having eaten them,—"As if any livin' boy would pick out dried apples to eat, when he hed a hull store to choose from!" and how the very next day a man coming to buy a pair of boots, Omnium Grabb hooked down a pair from the ceiling, where all the boots hung, and found them "chock full" of dried apples, which the rats had been busily storing in them and their companion pairs.
How Enoch Pillsbury, the "'pottecary, like t' ha' killed" Old Man Grout, sending him writing fluid instead of the dark mixture for his "dyspepsy."
How Beulah Perkins, who lived over the dry-goods store, had been bedridden for nineteen years, till the house where she was living caught fire, "whereupon she jumped out o' bed an' grabbed an umbrella an' opened it, an' ran down street in her red-flannel gownd, with the umbrella over her head, shoutin', 'Somebody go save my bedstid! I ain't stirred from it for nineteen years, an' I ain't never goin' to stir from it agin. Somebody go save my bedstid!'"
"And was it saved?" asked Hilda, laughing.
"No," said the farmer; "'t wa'n't wuth savin', nohow. Besides, if't hed been, she'd ha' gone back to it an' stayed there. Hosy Grout, who did her chores, kicked it into the fire; an' she was a well woman to the day of her death."
Now the houses straggled farther and farther apart, and at last the village was fairly left behind. Old Nancy pricked up her ears and quickened her pace a little, looking right and left with glances of pleasure as the familiar fields ranged themselves along either side of the road. Hilda too was glad to be in the free country again, and she looked with delight at the banks of fern, the stone walls covered with white starry clematis, and the tangle of blackberry vines which made the pleasant road so fragrant and sweet. She was silent for some time. At last she said, half timidly, "Farmer Hartley, you promised to tell me more about your father some day. Don't you think this would be a good time? I have been so much interested by what I have heard of him."
"That's curus, now," said Farmer Hartley slowly, flicking the dust with the long lash of his whip. "It's curus, Huldy, that you sh'd mention Father jest now, 'cause I happened to be thinkin' of him myself that very minute. Old Father," he added meditatively, "wal, surely, he was a character, Father was. Folks about here," he said, turning suddenly to Hilda and looking keenly at her, "think Father was ravin' crazy, or mighty nigh it. But he warn't nothin' o' the sort. His mind was as keen as a razor, an' as straight-edged, 'xcept jest on one subject. On that he was, so to say, a little—wal—a little tetched."
"And that was—?" queried Hilda.
"Why, ye see, Huldy, Father had been a sea-farin' man all his days, an' he'd seen all manner o' countries an' all manner o' folks; and 'tain't to be wondered at ef he got a leetle bit confoosed sometimes between the things he'd seen and the things he owned. Long'n short of it was, Father thought he hed a kind o' treasure hid away somewhar, like them pirate fellers used to hev. Ef they did hev it!" he added slowly. "I never more'n half believed none o' them yarns; but Father, he thought he hed it, an' no mistake. 'D'ye think I was five years coastin' round Brazil for nothin'?' he says. 'There's di'monds in Brazil,' he says, 'whole mines of 'em; an' there's some di'monds out o' Brazil too;' and then he'd wink, and laugh out hearty, the way he used. He was always laughin', Father was. An' when times was hard, he'd say to my mother, 'Wealthy, we won't sell the di'monds yet a while. Not this time, Wealthy; but they're thar, you know, my woman, they're thar!' And when my mother'd say, 'Whar to goodness be they, Thomas?' he'd only chuckle an' laugh an' shake his head. Then thar was his story about the ruby necklace. How we youngsters used to open our eyes at that! Believed it too, every word of it."
"Oh! what was it?" cried Hilda. "Tell me, and I will believe it too!"
"He used to tell of a Malay pirate," said the farmer, "that he fit and licked somewhere off in the South Seas,—when he sailed the 'Lively Polly,' that was. She was a clipper, Father always said; an' he run aboard the black fellers, and smashed their schooner, an' throwed their guns overboard, an' demoralized 'em ginerally. They took to their boats an' paddled off, what was left of 'em, an' he an' his crew sarched the schooner, an' found a woman locked up in the cabin,—an Injin princess, father said she was,—an' they holdin' her for ransom. Wal, Father found out somehow whar she come from,—Javy, or Mochy, or some o' them places out o' the spice-box,—an' he took her home, an' hunted up her parents an' guardeens, an' handed her over safe an' sound. They—the guardeens—was gret people whar they lived, an' they wanted to give Father a pot o' money; but he said he warn't that kind. 'I'm a Yankee skipper!' says he. ''Twas as good as a meal o' vittles to me to smash that black feller!' says he. 'I don't want no pay for it. An' as for the lady, 'twas a pleasure to obleege her,' he says; 'an' I'd do it agin any day in the week, 'xcept Sunday, when I don't fight, ez a rewl, when I kin help it.' Then the princess, she tried to kiss his hand; but Father said he guessed that warn't quite proper, an' the guardeens seemed to think so too. So then she took a ruby necklace off her neck (she was all done up in shawls, Father said, an' silk, an' gold chains, an' fur an' things, so 's 't he couldn' see nothin' but her eyes; but they was better wuth seein' than any other woman's hull face that ever he see), and gave it to him, an' made signs that he must keep that, anyhow. Then she said somethin' to one o' the guardeens who spoke a little Portuguese, Father understandin' it a little too, and he told Father she said these was the drops of her blood he had saved, an' he must keep it to remember her. Jest like drops of blood, he said the rubies was, strung along on a gold chain. So he took it, an' said he warn't likely to forget about it; an' then he made his bow, an' the guardeens said he was their father, an' their mother, an' their great-aunt, an' I d' 'no' what all, an' made him stay to supper, an' he didn't eat nothin' for a week arterward."
The farmer paused, and Hildegarde drew a long breath, "Oh!" she cried, "what a delightful story, Farmer Hartley! And you don't believe it? I do, every word of it! I am sure it is true!"
"Wal, ye see," said the farmer, meditatively; "Ef' t was true, what become o' the necklace? That's what I say. Father believed it, sure enough, and he thought he hed that necklace, as sure as you think you hev that bunnit in yer hand. But 'twarn't never found, hide nor hair of it."
"Might he not have sold it?" Hilda suggested.
Farmer Hartley shook his head, "No," he said, "he warn't that kind. Besides, he thought to the day of his death that he hed it, sure enough. 'Thar's the princess's necklace!' he'd say; 'don't ye forgit that, Wealthy! Along with the di'monds, ye know.' And then he'd laugh like he was fit to bust. Why, when he was act'lly dyin', so fur gone 't he couldn' speak plain, he called me to him, an' made signs he wanted to tell me somethin'. I stooped down clost, an' he whispered somethin'; but all I could hear was 'di'monds,' and 'dig,' and then in a minute 'twas all over. Poor old Father! He'd been a good skipper, an' a good man all his days."
He was silent for a time, while Hilda pondered over the story, which she could not make up her mind to disbelieve altogether.
"Wal! wal! and here we are at the old farm agin!" said the farmer presently, as old Nancy turned in at the yellow gate. "Here I've been talkin' the everlastin' way home, ain't I? You must herry and git into the house, Huldy, for I d' 'no' how the machine's managed to run without ye all this time. I sha'n't take ye out agin ef I find anythin's wrong."
A PARTY OF PLEASURE.
On a certain lovely afternoon the three happiest people in the world (so they styled themselves, and they ought to know) were gathered together in a certain spot, which was next to the prettiest spot in the world.
"You should have had the prettiest, Pink," said Hilda, "but we could not get your chair down into the glen, you know. My poor, dear Pink, you have never seen the glen, have you?"
"No," answered Pink Chirk, cheerily. "But I have heard so much about it, I really feel as if I had seen it, almost. And indeed I don't think it can be much lovelier than this place."
However that might be, the place they had chosen was certainly pretty enough to satisfy any one. Not far from Mrs. Chirk's cottage was a little pine-grove, easy of access, and with trees far enough apart to allow the wheeled chair to pass between them. And in the grove, just in a little open space where two or three trees had been cut away, was a great black rock, with ferns growing in all its cracks and crannies, and a tiny birch-tree waving like a green and white plume on its top. And at the foot of the rock—oh, what a wonderful thing!—a slender thread of crystal water came trickling out, as cold as ice and as clear as—as itself; for nothing else could be so clear. Bubble had made a little wooden trough to hold this fairy stream, and it gurgled along the trough and tumbled over the end of it with as much agitation and consequence as if it were the Niagara River in person. And under the rock and beside the stream was a bank of moss and ferns most lovely to behold, most luxurious to sit upon. On this bank sat Queen Hildegarde, with Bubble at her feet as usual; and beside her, in her chair, sat sweet Pink, looking more like a white rose than ever, with her fresh white dimity gown and her pretty hat. Hilda was very busy over a mysterious-looking basket, from whose depths she now drew a large napkin, which she spread on the smooth green moss. A plate of sandwiches came next, and some cold chicken, and six of Dame Hartley's wonderful apple-turnovers.
"Now, Bubble," said Hilda, "where are those birch-bark cups that you made for us? I have brought nothing to drink out of."
"I'll fetch 'em, Miss Hildy," cried Bubble, springing up with alacrity. "I clean forgot 'em. Say, Pink, shall I—? would you?" and he made sundry enigmatical signs to his sister.
"Yes, certainly," said Pink; "of course."
The boy ran off, and Hilda fell to twisting pine tassels together into a kind of fantastic garland, while Pink looked on with beaming eyes.
"Pink," said Hilda, presently, "how is it that you speak so differently from Bubble and your mother,—so much better English, I mean? Have you—but no; you told me you never went to school."
"It was Faith," said Pink, with a look of tender sadness,—"Faith Hartley. She wanted to be a teacher, and we studied together always. Dear Faith! I wish you had known her, Miss Graham."
"You promised not to call me Miss Graham again, Pink," said Hildegarde, reproachfully. "It is absurd, and I won't have it."
"Well, Hilda, then," said Pink, shyly. "I wish you had known Faith, Hilda; you would have loved her very much, I know."
"I am sure I should," said Hilda, warmly. "Tell me more about her. Why did she want to teach when she was so happy at home?"
"She loved children very much," said Pink, "and liked to be with them. She thought that if she studied hard, she could teach them more than the district school teachers about here generally do, and in a better way. I think she would have done a great deal of good," she added, softly.
"Oh! why did she die?" cried Hilda. "She was so much needed! It broke her father's heart, and her mother's, and almost yours, my Pink. Why was it right for her to die?"
"It was right, dear," said Pink, gently; "that is all we can know. 'Why' isn't answered in this world. My granny used to say,—
"'Never lie! Never pry! Never ask the reason why!'"
Hilda shook her head, and was about to reply earnestly; but at this moment Bubble came bounding back with something in his arms,—something covered with an old shawl; something alive, which did not like the shawl, and which struggled, and made plaintive little noises, which the boy tried vainly to repress.
"Say, Miss Hildy," he cried, eagerly, "do ye like—be still, ye critter; hesh, I tell ye!—do you like purps?"
"'Purps,' Bubble?" repeated Hilda, wonderingly. "What are they? And what have you there,—your poor old cat? Let her go! For shame, you naughty boy!"
"Puppies, he means," whispered Pink.
"'Cause if ye do," cried the breathless Bubble, still struggling with his shrouded captive, "I've got one here as—Wal, thar! go 'long, ye pesky critter, if ye will!" for the poor puppy had made one frantic effort, and leaped from his arms to the ground, where it rolled over and over, a red and green plaid mass, with a white tail sticking out of one end. On being unrolled, it proved to be a little snow-white, curly creature, with long ears and large, liquid eyes, whose pathetic glance went straight to Hilda's heart.
"Oh, the little darling!" she cried, taking him up in her arms; "the pretty, pretty creature! Is he really for me, Bubble? Thank you very much. I shall love him dearly, I know."
"I'm glad ye like him," said Bubble, looking highly gratified. "Hosy Grout giv him an' another one to me yes'day, over 't the village. He was goin' to drownd 'em, an' I wouldn' let him, an' he said I might hev 'em ef I wanted 'em. I knew Pink would like to hev one, an' I thought mebbe you liked critters, an' so—"
"Good Bubble!" said Hilda, stroking the little dog's curly head. "And what shall I call him, Pink? Let us each think of a name, and then choose the best."
There was a pause, and then Bubble said, "Call him Scott, after the bold Buckle-oh!"
"Or Will, for 'the wily Belted Will,'" said Pink, who was as inveterate a ballad-lover as her brother.
"I think Jock is a good name," said Hildegarde,—"Jock o' Hazeldean, you know. I think I will call him Jock." The others assented, and the puppy was solemnly informed of the fact, and received a chicken-bone in honor of the occasion. Then the three friends ate their dinner, and very merry they were over it. Hildegarde crowned Pink with the pine-tassel wreath, and declared that she looked like a priestess of Diana.
"No, she don't," said Bubble, looking up from his cold chicken; "she looks like Lars Porsena of Clusium sot in his ivory cheer, on'y she ain't f'erce enough. Hold up yer head, Pinky, an' look real savage, an' I'll do Horatius at the Bridge."
Pink did her best to look savage, and Zerubbabel stood up and delivered "Horatius" with much energy and appropriate action, to the great amusement of his audience. A stout stick, cut from a neighboring thicket, served for the "good Roman steel;" and with this he cut and slashed and stabbed with furious energy, reciting the lines meanwhile with breathless ferocity. He slew the "great Lord of Luna," and on the imaginary body he—
"Right firmly pressed his heel, And thrice and four times tugged amain, Ere he wrenched out the steel."
But when he cried—
"What noble Lucumo comes next To taste our Roman cheer?"
the puppy, who had been watching the scene with kindling eyes, and ears and tail of eager inquiry, could bear it no longer, but flung himself valiantly into the breach, and barked defiance, dancing about in front of Horatius and snapping furiously at his legs. Alas, poor puppy! He was hailed as "Sextus," and bade "welcome" by the bold Roman, who forthwith charged upon him, and drove him round and round the grove till he sought safety and protection in the lap of Lars Porsena herself. Then the bridge came down, and Horatius, climbing nimbly to the top of the rock, apostrophized his Father Tiber, sheathed his good sword by his side (i.e., rammed his stick into and through his breeches pocket), and with his jacket on his back plunged headlong in the tide, and swam valiantly across the pine-strewn surface of the little glade.
Bubble's performance was much applauded by the two girls, who, in the characters of Lars Porsena and Mamilius, "Prince of the Latian name," had surveyed the whole with dignified amazement. And when the boy, exhausted with his heroic exertions, threw himself down on the pine-needles and begged "Miss Hildy" to sing to them, she readily consented, and sang "Jock o' Hazeldean" and "Come o'er the stream, Charlie!" so sweetly that the little fat birds sat still on the branches to listen. A faint glow stole into Pink's wan cheek, and her blue eyes sparkled with pleasure; while Bubble bobbed his head, and testified his delight by drumming with his heels on the ground and begging for more. "A ballid now, Miss Hildy, please," he cried.