"Well," said Hildegarde, nothing loth, "what shall it be?"
"One with some fightin' in it," replied Bubble, promptly.
So Hildegarde began:—
"Down Deeside cam Inverey, Whistling and playing; He's lighted at Brackley gates At the day's dawing."
And went on to tell of the murder of "bonnie Brackley" and of the treachery of his young wife:—
"There's grief in the kitchen, And mirth in the ha'; But the Baron o' Brackley Is dead and awa'."
So the ballad ended, leaving Bubble full of sanguinary desires anent the descendants of the false Inverey. "I—I—I'd like jest to git holt o' some o' them fellers!" he exclaimed. "They wouldn't go slaughterin' round no gret amount when I'd finished with em', I tell ye!" And he flourished his stick, and looked so fierce that the puppy yelped piteously, expecting another onslaught.
"And now, Pink," said Hilda, "we have just time for a story before we go home. Bubble has told me about your stories, and I want very much to hear one."
"Oh, Hilda, they are not worth telling twice!" protested Pink; "I just make them for Bubble when he takes me out on Sunday. It's all I can do for the dear lad."
"Don't you mind her, Miss Hildy," said Bubble; "they're fustrate stories, an' she tells 'em jest like p—'rithmetic. Go ahead, Pink! Tell the one about the princess what looked in the glass all the time."
So Pink, in her low, sweet voice, told the story of
THE VAIN PRINCESS.
Once upon a time there lived a princess who was so beautiful that it was a wonder to look at her. But she was also very vain; and her beauty was of no use or pleasure to anybody, for she sat and looked in her mirror all day long, and never thought of doing anything else.
The mirror was framed in beaten gold, but the gold was not so bright as her shining locks; and all about its rim great sapphires were set, but they were dim and gray, compared with the blue of her lovely eyes. So there she sat all day in a velvet chair, clad in a satin gown with fringes of silver and pearl; and nobody in the world was one bit the better for her or her beauty.
Now, one day the princess looked at herself so long and so earnestly that she fell fast asleep in her velvet chair, with the golden mirror in her lap. While she slept, a gust of wind blew the casement window open, and a rose that was growing on the wall outside peeped in. It was a poor little feeble white rose, which had climbed up the wall in a straggling fashion, and had no particular strength or beauty or sweetness. Every one who saw it from the outside said, "What a wretched little plant! Why is it not cut down?" and the rose trembled when it heard this, for it was as fond of life as if it were beautiful, and it still hoped for better days. Inside, no one thought about it at all; for the beautiful princess never left her chair to open the window.
Now, when the rose saw the princess it was greatly delighted, for it had often heard of her marvellous beauty. It crept nearer and nearer, and gazed at the golden wonder of her hair, her ivory skin under which the blushes came and went as she slept, and her smiling lips. "Ah!" sighed the rose, "if I had only a tinge of that lovely red, I should be finer than all the other roses." And as it gazed, the thought came into its mind: "Why should I not steal a little of this wondrous beauty? Here it is of no use to anybody. If I had it, I would delight every one who passed by with my freshness and sweetness, and people would be the better for seeing a thing so lovely."
So the rose crept to the princess's feet, and climbed up over her satin gown, and twined about her neck and arms, and about her lovely golden head. And it stole the blush from her cheek, and the crimson from her lips, and the gold from her hair. And the princess grew pale and paler; but the rose blushed red and redder, and its golden heart made the room bright, and its sweetness filled the air. It grew and grew, and now new buds and leaves and blossoms appeared; and when at last it left the velvet chair and climbed out of the casement again, it was a glorious plant, such as had never before been seen. All the passers-by stopped to look at it and admire it. Little children reached up to pluck the glowing blossoms, and sick and weary people gained strength and courage from breathing their delicious perfume. The world was better and happier for the rose, and the rose knew it, and was glad.
But when the princess awoke, she took up her golden mirror again, and looking in it, saw a pale and wrinkled and gray-haired woman looking at her. Then she shrieked, and flung the mirror on the ground, and rushed out of her palace into the wide world. And wherever she went she cried, "I am the beautiful princess! Look at me and see my beauty; for I will show it to you now!" But nobody looked at her, for she was withered and ugly; and nobody cared for her, because she was selfish and vain. So she made no more difference in the world than she had made before. But the rose is blossoming still, and fills the air with its sweetness.
* * * * *
"My Pink," said Hildegarde, tenderly, as she walked beside her friend's chair on their homeward way, "you are shut up like the princess; but instead of the rose stealing your sweetness, you have stolen the sweetness of all the roses, and taken it into your prison with you."
"I 'shut up,' Hilda?" cried Pink, opening wide eyes of wonder and reproach. "Do you call this being shut up? See what I have had to-day! Enough pleasure to think about for a year. And even without it,—even before you came, Hilda,—why, I am the happiest girl in the world, and I ought to be."
Hildegarde stooped and kissed the pale forehead. "Yes, dear, I think you are," she said; "but I should like you to have all the pleasant and bright and lovely things in the world, my Pink."
"Well, I have the best of them," said Pink Chirk, smiling brightly,—"home and love, and friends and flowers. And as for the rest, why, dear Hilda, what is the use in thinking about things one has not?"
After this, which was part of Pink's little code of philosophy, she fell a-musing happily, while Hilda walked beside her in a kind of silent rage, almost hating herself for the fulness of vigor, the superabundant health and buoyancy, which she felt in every limb. She looked sidelong at the transparent cheek, the wasted frame, the unearthly radiance of the blue eyes. This girl was just her own age, and had never walked! It could not, it must not, be so always. Thoughts thronged into her mind of the great New York physicians and the wonders they had wrought. Might it not be possible? Could not something be done? The blood coursed more quickly through her veins, and she laid her hand on that of the crippled girl with a sudden impulse of protection and tenderness.
Pink Chirk looked up with a wondering smile. "Why, Hildegarde," she said, "you look like the British warrior queen you told me about yesterday. I was just thinking what a comfort it is to live now, instead of in those dreadful murdering times that the ballads tell of."
"I druther ha' lived then!" cried Bubble, from behind the chair. "If I hed, I'd ha' got hold o' that Inverey feller."
THE WARRIOR QUEEN.
Happily, happily, the days and weeks slipped by at Hartley Farm; and now September was half gone, and in two weeks more Hilda's parents would return. The letter had just arrived which fixed the date of their homecoming and Hildegarde had carried it upstairs to feast on it in her own room. She sat by the window in the little white rocking-chair, and read the words over and over again. In two weeks—really in two little weeks—she should see her mother again! It was too good to be true.
"Dragons, do you hear?" she cried, turning towards the wash-handstand. "You have seen my mother, Dragons, and she has washed her little blessed face in your bowl. I should think that might have stopped your ramping, if anything could. Or have you been waving your paws for joy ever since? I may have been unjust to you, Dragons."
The blue dragons, as usual, refused to commit themselves; and, as usual, the gilt cherubs round the looking-glass were shocked at their rudeness, and tried to atone for it by smiling as hard as they possibly could.
"Such dear, sympathetic cherubs!" said the happy girl, bending forward to kiss one of them as she was brushing her hair. "You do not ramp and glower when one tells you that one's mother is coming home. I know you are glad, you dear old things!"
And then, suddenly, even while she was laughing at the cherubs, a thought struck her which sent a pang through her heart. The cherubs would still smile, just the same, when she was gone! Ah! it was not all delight, this great news. There was sorrow mingled with the rapture. Her heart was with her parents, of course. The mere thought of seeing her mother's face, of hearing her father's voice, sent the blood dancing through her veins. And yet—she must leave the farm; she must leave Nurse Lucy and the farmer, and they would miss her. They loved her; ah! how could they help it, when she loved them so much? And the pain came again at her heart as she recalled the sad smile with which the farmer had handed her this letter. "Good news for you, Huldy," he said, "but bad for the rest of us, I reckon!" Had he had word also, or did he just know that this was about the time they had meant to return? Oh, but she would come out so often to the farm! Papa and mamma would be willing, would wish her to come; and she could not live long at a time in town, without refreshing herself with a breath of real air, country air. She might have wilted along somehow for sixteen years; but she had never been really alive—had she?—till this summer.
Pink and Bubble too! they would miss her almost as much. But that did not trouble her, for she had a plan in her head for Pink and Bubble,—a great plan, which was to be whispered to Papa almost the very moment she saw him,—not quite the very moment, but the next thing to it. The plan would please Nurse Lucy and the farmer too,—would please them almost as much as it delighted her to think about it.
Happy thought! She would go down now and tell the farmer about it. Nurse Lucy was lying down with a bad headache, she knew; but the farmer was still in the kitchen. She heard him moving about now, though he had said he was going off to the orchard. She would steal in softly and startle him, and then—
Full of happy and loving thoughts, Hildegarde slipped quietly down the stairs and across the hall, and peeped in at the kitchen-door to see what the farmer was doing. He was at the farther end of the room, with his back turned to her, stooping down over his desk. What was he doing? What a singular attitude he was in! Then, all in a moment, Hilda's heart seemed to stop beating, and her breath came thick and short; for she saw that this man before her was not the farmer. The farmer had not long elf-locks of black hair straggling over his coat-collar; he was not round-shouldered or bow-legged; above all, he would not be picking the lock of his own desk, for this was what the man before her was doing. Silent as her own shadow, Hildegarde slipped back into the hall and stood still a moment, collecting her thoughts. What should she do? Call Dame Hartley? The "poor dear" was suffering much, and why should she be disturbed? Run to find the farmer? She might have to run all over the farm! No; she would attend to this herself. She was not in the least afraid. She knew pretty well what ugly face would look up at her when she spoke; for she felt sure that the slouching, ungainly figure was that of Simon Hartley. Her heart burned with indignation against the graceless, thankless churl who could rob the man on whose charity he had been living for two years. She made a step forward, with words of righteous wrath on her lips; then paused, as a new thought struck her. This man was an absolute ruffian; and though she believed him to be an absolute coward also, still he must know that she and Dame Hartley were alone in the house. He must know also that the farmer was at some distance, else he would not have ventured to do this. What should she do? she asked herself again. She looked round her, and her eyes fell upon the old horse-pistol which rested on a couple of hooks over the door. The farmer had taken it down only a day or two before, to show it to her and tell her its story. It was not loaded, but Simon did not know that. She stepped lightly up on a chair, and in a moment had taken the pistol down. It was a formidable-looking weapon, and Hildegarde surveyed it with much satisfaction as she turned once more to enter the kitchen. Unloaded as it was, it gave her a feeling of entire confidence; and her voice was quiet and steady as she said:
"Simon Hartley, what are you doing to your uncle's desk?"
The man started violently and turned round, his hands full of papers, which he had taken from one of the drawers. He changed color when he saw "the city gal," as he invariably termed Hilda, and he answered sullenly, "Gitt'n someth'n for Uncle."
"That is not true," said Hildegarde, quietly, "I have heard your uncle expressly forbid you to go near that desk. Put those papers back!"
The man hesitated, his little, ferret eyes shifting uneasily from her to the desk and back again. "I guess I ain't goin' to take orders from no gal!" he muttered, huskily.
"Put those papers back!" repeated Hildegarde sternly, with a sudden light in her gray eyes which made the rascal step backward and thrust the papers hurriedly into the drawer. After which he began to bluster, as is the manner of cowards. "Pooty thing, city gals comin' hectorin' round with their airs an'—"
"Shut the drawer!" said Hildegarde, quietly.
But Simon's sluggish blood was warmed by his little bluster, and he took courage as he reflected that this was only a slight girl, and that no one else was in the house except "Old Marm," and that many broad meadows intervened between him and the farmer's stout arm. He would frighten her a bit, and get the money after all.
"We'll see about that!" he said, taking a step towards Hilda, with an evil look in his red eyes. "I'll settle a little account with you fust, my fine lady. I'll teach you to come spyin' round on me this way. Ye ain't give me a civil word sence ye come here, an' I'll pay ye—"
Here Simon stopped suddenly; for without a word Hildegarde had raised the pistol (which he had not seen before, as her hand was behind her), and levelled it full at his head, keeping her eyes steadily fixed on him. With a howl of terror the wretch staggered back, putting up his hands to ward off the expected shot.
"Don't shoot!" he gasped, while his color changed to a livid green. "I—I didn't mean nothin', I swar I didn't, Miss Graham. I was only—foolin'!" and he tried to smile a sickly smile; but his eyes fell before the stern glance of the gray eyes fixed so unwaveringly on him.
"Go to your room!" said Hilda, briefly. He hesitated. The lock clicked, and the girl took deliberate aim.
"I'm goin'!" shrieked the rascal, and began backing towards the door, while Hilda followed step by step, still covering him with her deadly(!) weapon. They crossed the kitchen and the back hall in this way, and Simon stumbled against the narrow stairs which led to his garret room.
"I dassn't turn round to g' up!" he whined; "ye'll shoot me in the back." No answer; but the lock clicked again, more ominously than before. He turned and fled up the stairs, muttering curses under his breath. Hildegarde closed the door at the foot of the stairs, which generally stood open, bolted it, and pushed a heavy table against it. Then she went back into the kitchen, sat down in her own little chair, and—laughed!
Yes, laughed! The absurdity of the whole episode, the ruffian quaking and fleeing before the empty pistol, her own martial fierceness and sanguinary determination, struck her with irresistible force, and peal after peal of silvery laughter rang through the kitchen. Perhaps it was partly hysterical, for her nerves were unconsciously strung to a high pitch; but she was still laughing, and still holding the terrible pistol in her hand, when Dame Hartley entered the kitchen, looking startled and uneasy.
"Dear Hilda," said the good woman, "what has been going on? I thought surely I heard a man's voice here. And—why! good gracious, child! what are you doing with that pistol?"
Hildegarde saw that there was nothing for it but to tell the simple truth, which she did in as few words as possible, trying to make light of the whole episode. But Dame Hartley was not to be deceived, and saw at once the full significance of what had happened. She was deeply moved. "My dear, brave child," she said, kissing Hilda warmly, "to think of your facing that great villain and driving him away! The courage of you! Though to be sure, any one could see it in your eyes, and your father a soldier so many of his days too."
"Oh! it was not I who frightened him," said honest Hilda, "it was the old pistol." But Nurse Lucy only shook her head and kissed her again. The thought of Simon's ingratitude and treachery next absorbed her mind, and tears of anger stood in her kind blue eyes.
"It was a black day for my poor man," she said, "when he brought that fellow to the house. I mistrusted him from the first look at his sulky face. A man who can't look you in the eyes,—well, there! that's my opinion of him!"
"Why did the farmer bring him here?" asked Hilda. "I have often wondered."
"Why, 'tis a long story, my dear," said Nurse Lucy, smoothing her apron and preparing for a comfortable chat ("For," she said, "Simon will not dare to stir from his room, even if he could get out, which he can't."). "Of all his brothers, my husband loved his brother Simon best. He was a handsome, clever fellow, Simon was. Don't you remember, my dear, Farmer speaking of him one day when you first came here, and telling how he wanted to be a gentleman; and I turned the talk when you asked what became of him?" Hilda nodded assent "Well," Nurse Lucy continued, "that was because no good came of him, and I knew it vexed Farmer to think on it, let alone Simon's son being there. It was all through his wanting to be a gentleman that Simon got into bad ways. Making friends with people who had money, he got to thinking he must have it, or must make believe he had it; so he spent all he had, and then—oh, dear!—he forged his father's name, and the farm had to be mortgaged to get him out of prison; and then he took to drinking, and went from bad to worse, and finally died in misery and wretchedness. Dear, dear! it almost broke Jacob's heart, that it did. He had tried, if ever man tried, to save his brother; but 'twas of no use. It seemed as if he was bound to ruin himself, and nothing could stop him. When he died, his wife (he married her, thinking she had money, and it turned out she hadn't a penny) took the child and went back to her own people, and we heard nothing more till about two years ago, when this boy came to Jacob with a letter from his mother's folks. She was dead, and they said they couldn't do for him any longer, and he didn't seem inclined to do for himself. Well, that is the story, Hilda dear. He has been here ever since, and he has been no comfort, no pleasure to us, I must say; but we have tried to do our duty by him, and I hoped he might feel in his heart some gratitude to his uncle, though he showed none in his actions. And now to think of it! to think of it! How shall I tell my poor man?"
"What was his mother like?" asked Hildegarde, trying to turn for the moment the current of painful thought.
Nurse Lucy gave a little laugh, even while wiping the tears from her eyes. "Poor Eliza!" she said. "She was a good woman, but—well, there! she had no faculty, as you may say. And homely! you never saw such a homely woman, Hilda; for I don't believe there could be two in the world. I never think of Eliza without remembering what Jacob said after he saw her for the first time. He'd been over to see Simon; and when he came back he walked into the kitchen and sat down, never saying a word, but just shaking his head over and over again. 'What's the matter, Jacob?' I said. 'Matter?' said he. 'Matter enough, Marm Lucy' (he's always called me Marm Lucy, my dear, since the very day we were married, though I wasn't very much older than you then). 'Simon's married,' he said, 'and I've seen his wife.' Of course I was surprised, and I wanted to know all about it. 'What sort of a girl is she?' I asked. 'Is she pretty? What color is her hair?' But Jacob put up his hand and stopped me. 'Thar!' he says, 'don't ask no questions, and I'll tell ye. Fust place, she ain't no gal, no more'n yer Aunt Saleny is!' (that was a maiden aunt of mine, dear, and well over forty at that time.) 'And what does she look like?' 'Wal! D'ye ever see an old cedar fence-rail,—one that had been chumped out with a blunt axe, and had laid out in the sun and the wind and the snow and the rain till 'twas warped this way, and shrunk that way, and twisted every way? Wal! Simon's wife looks as if she had swallowed one o' them fence-rails, and shrunk to it! Dear, dear! how I laughed. And 'twas true, my dear! It was just the way she did look. Poor soul! she led a sad life; for when Simon found he'd made a mistake about the money, there was no word too bad for him to fling at her."
At this moment Farmer Hartley's step was heard in the porch, and Nurse Lucy rose hurriedly. "Don't say anything to him, Hilda dear," she whispered,—"anything about Simon, I mean. I'll tell him to-morrow; but I don't want to trouble him to-night. This is our Faith's birthday,—seventeen year old she'd have been to-day; and it's been a right hard day for Jacob! I'll tell him about it in the morning."
Alas! when morning came it was too late. The kitchen door was swinging idly open; the desk was broken open and rifled; and Simon Hartley was gone, and with him the savings of ten years' patient labor.
THE OLD MILL.
It was a sad group that sat in the pleasant kitchen that bright September morning. The good farmer sat before his empty desk, seeming half stupefied by the blow which had fallen so suddenly upon him, while his wife hung about him, reproaching herself bitterly for not having put him on his guard the night before. Hildegarde moved restlessly about the kitchen, setting things to rights, as she thought, though in reality she hardly knew what she was doing, and had already carefully deposited the teapot in the coal-hod, and laid the broom on the top shelf of the dresser. Her heart was full of wrath and sorrow,—fierce anger against the miserable wretch who had robbed his benefactor; sympathy for her kind friends, brought thus suddenly from comfort to distress. For she knew now that the money which Simon had stolen had been drawn from the bank only two days before to pay off the mortgage on the farm.
"I shouldn't ha' minded the money," Farmer Hartley was saying, even now, "if I'd ha' been savin' it jest to spend or lay by. I shouldn't ha' minded, though 'twould ha' hurt jest the same to hev Simon's son take it,—my brother Simon's son, as I allus stood by. But it's hard to let the farm go. I tell ye, Marm Lucy, it's terrible hard!" and he bowed his head upon his hands in a dejection which made his wife weep anew and wring her hands.
"But they will not take the farm from you, Farmer Hartley!" cried Hilda, aghast. "They cannot do that, can they? Why, it was your father's, and your grandfather's before him."
"And his father's afore him!" said the farmer, looking up with a sad smile on his kindly face. "But that don't make no difference, ye see, Hildy. Lawyer Clinch is a hard man, a terrible hard man; and he's always wanted this farm. It's the best piece o' land in the hull township, an' he wants it for a market farm."
"But why did you mortgage it to him?" cried Hilda.
"I didn't, my gal; I didn't!" said the farmer, sadly. "He'd kep' watch over it ever sence Simon began to get into trouble,—reckon he knew pooty well how things would come out; an' bimeby Jason Doble, as held the mortgage, he up an' died, an' then Lawyer Clinch stepped in an' told the 'xecutors how Jason owed him a big debt, but he didn't want to do nothin' onfriendly, so he'd take the mortgage on Hartley's Glen and call it square. Th' executors was kind o' fool people, both on 'em—I d'no' what possessed Jason Doble to choose them for 'xecutors, when he might ha' hed the pick o' the State lunatic asylum an' got some fools as knew something; but so 'twas, an' I s'pose so 'twas meant to be. They giv' it to him, an' thanked him for takin' it; and he's waited an' waited, hopin' to ketch me in a tight place,—an' now he's done it. An' that's about all there is to it!" added Farmer Hartley, rising and pushing back his massive gray hair. "An' I sha'n't mend it by sittin' an' mowlin' over it. Thar's all Simon's work to be done, an' my own too. Huldy, my gal!" he held out his honest brown hand to Hildegarde, who clasped it affectionately in both of hers, "ye'll stay by Marm Lucy and chirk her up a bit. 'T'll be a hard day for her, an' she hasn't no gal of her own now to do for her. But ye've grown to be almost a daughter to us, Huldy. God bless ye, child!"
His voice faltered as he laid his other hand for a moment on the girl's fair head; then, turning hastily away, he took up his battered straw hat and went slowly out of the house, an older man, it might have been by ten years, than he had been the night before.
Right daughterly did Hilda show herself that day, and Faith herself could hardly have been more tender and helpful. Feeling intuitively that work was the best balm for a sore heart, she begged for Nurse Lucy's help and advice in one and another item of household routine. Then she bethought her of the churning, and felt that if this thing was to befall, it could not have better befallen than on a Tuesday, when the great blue churn stood ready in the dairy, and the cream lay thick and yellow in the shining pans.
"Well, that's a fact!" sighed Nurse Lucy. "If I hadn't forgotten my butter in all this trouble! And it must be made, sorrow or smiles, as the old saying is. Come with me, Hilda dear, if you will. Your face is the only bright thing I can see this sad day."
So they went together into the cool dairy, where the light came in dimly through the screen of clematis that covered the window; Hilda bared her round white arms, and Nurse Lucy pinned back her calico sleeves from a pair that were still shapely, though brown, and each took a skimmer and set earnestly to work. The process of skimming cream is in itself a soothing, not to say an absorbing one. To push the thick, yellow ripples, piling themselves upon the skimmer, across the pan; to see it drop, like melted ivory, into the cream-bowl; to pursue floating cream islands round and round the pale and mimic sea,—who can do this long, and not be comforted in some small degree, even in the midst of heavy sorrow? Also there is joy and a never-failing sense of achievement when the butter first splashes in the churn. So Nurse Lucy took heart, and churned and pressed and moulded her butter; and though some tears fell into it, it was none the worse for that.
But as she stamped each ball with the familiar stamp, showing an impossible cow with four lame legs—"How many more times," said the good woman, "shall I use this stamp; and what kind of butter will they make who come after me?" and her tears flowed again. "Lawyer Clinch keeps a hired girl, and I never saw real good butter made by a hired girl. They haven't the feeling for it; and there's feeling in butter-making as much as in anything else."
But here Hilda interposed, and gently hinted that there ought now to be "feeling" about getting the farmer's dinner. "We must have the things he likes best," she said; "for it will be hard enough to make him eat anything. I will make that apple-pudding that he likes so much; and there is the fowl for the pie, you know, Nurse Lucy."
The little maid was away on a vacation, so there was plenty of work to be done. Dinner-time came and went; and it was not till she had seen Dame Hartley safe established on her bed (for tears and trouble had brought on a sick headache), and tucked her up under the red quilt, with a bottle of hot water at her and a bowl of cracked ice by her side,—it was not till she had done this, and sung one or two of the soothing songs that the good woman loved, that Hilda had a moment to herself. She ran out to say a parting word to the farmer, who was just starting for the village in the forlorn hope, which in his heart he knew to be vain, of getting an extension of time from Lawyer Clinch while search was being made for the wretched Simon.
When old Nancy had trotted away down the lane, Hilda went back and sat down in the porch, very tired and sad at heart. It seemed so hard, so hard that she could do nothing to save her friends from the threatening ruin. She thought of her father, with a momentary flash of hope that made her spring from her seat with a half articulate cry of joy; but the hope faded as she remembered that he had probably just started for the Yosemite Valley, and that there was no knowing when or where a despatch would reach him. She sighed, and sank back on the bench with a hopeless feeling. Presently she bethought her of her little dog, whom she had not seen all day. Jock had grown very dear to her heart, and was usually her inseparable companion, except when she was busy with household tasks, to which he had an extreme aversion. A mistress, in Jock's opinion, was a person who fed one, and took one to walk, and patted one, and who was in return to be loved desperately, and obeyed in reason. But sweeping, and knocking brooms against one's legs, and paying no attention to one's invitations to play or go for a walk, were manifest derelictions from a mistress's duty; accordingly, when Hilda was occupied in the house, Jock always sat in the back porch, with his back turned to the kitchen door, and his tail cocked very high, while one ear listened eagerly for the sound of Hilda's footsteps, and the other was thrown negligently forward, to convey the impression that he did not really care, but only waited to oblige her. And the moment the door opened, and she appeared with her hat on, oh, the rapture! the shrieks and squeaks and leaps of joy, the wrigglings of body and frantic waggings of tail that ensued!
So this morning, what with all the trouble, and with her knowledge of his views, Hildegarde had not thought to wonder where Jock was. But now it struck her that she had exchanged no greeting with him since last night; that she had heard no little impatient barks, no flapping of tail against the door by way of reminder. Where could the little fellow be? She walked round the house, calling and whistling softly. She visited the barn and the cow-shed and all the haunts where her favorite was wont to linger; but no Jock was to be seen. "Perhaps he has gone over to see Will," she thought, with a feeling of relief. Indeed, this was very possible, as the two dogs were very brotherly, and frequently exchanged visits, sometimes acting as letter-carriers for their two mistresses, Pink and Hilda. If Jock was at Pink's house, he would be well cared for, and Bubble would—but here Hildegarde started, as a new perplexity arose. Where was Bubble? They had actually forgotten the boy in the confusion and trouble of the day. He had not certainly come to the house, as he invariably did; and the farmer had not spoken of him when he came in at noon. Perhaps Pink was ill, Hilda thought, with fresh alarm. If it should be so, Bubble could not leave her, for Mrs. Chirk was nursing a sick woman two or three miles away, and there were no other neighbors nearer than the farm. "Oh, my Pink!" cried Hilda; "and I cannot go to you at once, for Nurse Lucy must not be left alone in her trouble. I must wait, wait patiently till Farmer Hartley comes back."
Patiently she tried to wait. She stole up to her room, and taking up one of her best-beloved books, "The Household of Sir Thomas More," lost herself for a while in the noble sorrows of Margaret Roper. But even this could not hold her long in her restless frame of mind, so she went downstairs again, and out into the soft, golden September air, and fell to pacing up and down the gravel walk before the house like a slender, white-robed sentinel. Presently there was a rustling in the bushes, then a hasty, joyful bark, and a little dog sprang forward and greeted Hildegarde with every demonstration of affection. "Jock! my own dear little Jock!" she cried, stooping down to caress her favorite. But as she did so she saw that it was not Jock, but Will, Pink's dog, which was bounding and leaping about her. Much puzzled, she nevertheless patted the little fellow and shook paws with him, and told him she was glad to see him. "But where is your brother?" she cried. "Oh! Willy dog, where is Jock, and where is Bubble? Bubble, Will! speak!" Will "spoke" as well as he could, giving a short bark at each repetition of the well-known name. Then he jumped up on Hilda, and threw back his head with a peculiar action which at once attracted her attention. She took him up in her arms, and lo! there was a piece of paper, folded and pinned securely to his collar. Hastily setting the dog down, she opened the note and read as follows:—
Simon Hartley he come here early this mornin and he says to me I was diggin potaters for dinner and he come and leaned on the fence and says he I've fixed your city gal up fine he says and I says what yer mean I mean what I says he says I've fixed her up fine. She thinks a heap of that dorg I know that ain't spelled right but it's the way he said it don't she says he I reckon says I Well says he you tell her to look for him in the pit of the old mill says he. And then he larf LAUGHED I was bound I'd get it Miss Hildy I don't see why they spell a thing g and say it f and went away. And I run after him to make him tell me what he d been up to and climbin over the wall I ketched my foot on a stone and the stone come down on my foot and me with it and I didn't know anything till Simon had gone and my foot swoll up so s I couldn't walk and I wouldnt a minded its hurtin Miss Hildy but it s like there wornt no bones in it Pink says I sprante it bad and I started to go over to the Farm on all fours to tell ye but I didn't know anythin g agin and Pink made me come back. We couldnt nether on us get hold of Will but now we got him I hope he l go straite, Miss Hildy Pink wanted to write this for me but I druther write myself you aint punk tuated it she says. She can punk tuate it herself better n I can I an ti cip ate I says. From
P.S. I wisht I could get him out for ye Miss Hildy.
If Bubble's letter was funny, Hilda had no heart to see the fun. Her tears flowed fast as she realized the fate of her pretty little pet and playfellow. The vindictive wretch, too cowardly to face her again, had taken his revenge upon the harmless little dog. All day long poor Jock had been in that fearful place! He was still only a puppy, and she knew he could not possibly get out if he had really been thrown into the pit of the great wheel. But—and she gave a cry of pain as the thought struck her—perhaps it was only his lifeless body that was lying there. Perhaps the ruffian had killed him, and thrown him down there afterwards. She started up and paced the walk hurriedly, trying to think what she had best do. Her first impulse was to fly at once to the glen; but that was impossible, as she must not, she felt, leave Dame Hartley. No one was near: they were quite alone. Again she said, "I must wait; I must wait till Farmer Hartley comes home." But the waiting was harder now than it had been before. She could do nothing but pace up and down, up and down, like a caged panther, stopping every few minutes to throw back her head and listen for the longed-for sound,—the sound of approaching wheels.
Softly the shadows fell as the sun went down. The purple twilight deepened, and the stars lighted their silver lamps, while all the soft night noises began to make themselves heard as the voices of day died away. But Hilda had ears for only one sound. At length, out of the silence (or was it out of her own fancy?) she seemed to hear a faint, clicking noise. She listened intently: yes, there it was again. There was no mistaking the click of old Nancy's hoofs, and with it was a dim suggestion of a rattle, a jingle. Yes, beyond a doubt, the farmer was coming. Hildegarde flew into the house, and met Dame Hartley just coming down the stairs. "The farmer is coming," she said, hastily; "he is almost here. I am going to find Jock. I shall be back—" and she was gone before the astonished Dame could ask her a question.
Through the kitchen and out of the back porch sped the girl, only stopping to catch up a small lantern which hung on a nail, and to put some matches in her pocket. Little Will followed her, barking hopefully, and together the two ran swiftly through the barn-yard and past the cow-shed, and took the path which led to the old mill. The way was so familiar now to Hilda that she could have traversed it blindfold; and this was well for her, for in the dense shade of the beech-plantation it was now pitch dark. The feathery branches brushed her face and caught the tendrils of her hair with their slender fingers. There was something ghostly in their touch. Hilda was not generally timid, but her nerves had been strung to a high pitch all day, and she had no longer full control of them. She shivered, and bending her head low, called to the dog and hurried on.
Out from among the trees now, into the dim starlit glade; down the pine-strewn path, with the noise of falling water from out the beechwood at the right, and the ruined mill looming black before her. Now came the three broken steps. Yes, so far she had no need of the lantern. Round the corner, stepping carefully over the half-buried mill-stone. Groping her way, her hand touched the stone wall; but she drew it back hastily, so damp and cold the stones were. Darker and darker here; she must light the lantern before she ventured down the long flight of steps. The match spurted, and now the tiny yellow flame sprang up and shed a faint light on the immediate space around her. It only made the outer darkness seem more intense. But no matter, she could see two steps in front of her; and holding the lantern steadily before her, she stepped carefully down and down, until she stood on the firm greensward of the glen. Ah! how different everything was now from its usual aspect. The green and gold were turned into black upon black. The laughing, dimpling, sun-kissed water was now a black, gloomy pool, beyond which the fall shimmered white like a water-spirit (Undine,—or was it Kuehleborn, the malignant and vengeful sprite?). The firs stood tall and gaunt, closing like a spectral guard about the ruined mill, and pointing their long, dark fingers in silent menace at the intruder upon their evening repose. Hildegarde shivered again, and held her lantern tighter, remembering how Bubble had said that the glen was "a tormentin' spooky place after dark." She looked fearfully about her as a low wind rustled the branches. They bent towards her as if to clutch her; an angry whisper seemed to pass from one to the other; and an utterly unreasoning terror fell upon the girl. She stood for a moment as if paralyzed with fear, when suddenly the little dog gave a sharp yelp, and leaped up on her impatiently. The sound startled her into new terror; but in a moment the revulsion came, and she almost laughed aloud. Here was she, a great girl, almost a woman, cowering and shivering, while a tiny puppy, who had hardly any brains at all, was eager to go on. She patted the dog, and "taking herself by both ears," as she expressed it afterwards, walked steadily forward, pushed aside the dense tangle of vines and bushes, and stooped down to enter the black hole which led into the vault of the mill.
A rush of cold air met her, and beat against her face like a black wing that brushed it. It had a mouldy smell. Holding up the lantern, Hildegarde crept as best she could through the narrow opening. A gruesome place it was in which she found herself. Grim enough by daylight, it was now doubly so; for the blackness seemed like something tangible, some shapeless monster which was gathering itself together, and shrinking back, inch by inch, as the little spark of light moved forward. The gaunt beams, the jagged bits of iron, bent and twisted into fantastic shapes, stretched and thrust themselves from every side, and again the girl fancied them fleshless arms reaching out to clutch her. But hark! was that a sound,—a faint sound from the farthest and darkest corner, where the great wheel raised its toothed and broken round from the dismal pit?
"Jock! my little Jock!" cried Hildegarde, "are you there?"
A feeble sound, the very ghost of a tiny bark, answered her, and a faint scratching was heard. In an instant all fear left Hilda, and she sprang forward, holding the lantern high above her head, and calling out words of encouragement and cheer. "Courage, Jock! Cheer up, little man! Missis is here; Missis will save you! Speak to him, Will! tell him you are here."
"Wow!" said Will, manfully, scuttling about in the darkness. "Wa-ow!" replied a pitiful squeak from the depths of the wheel-pit. Hilda reached the edge of the pit and looked down. In one corner was a little white bundle, which moved feebly, and wagged a piteous tail, and squeaked with faint rapture. Evidently the little creature was exhausted, perhaps badly injured. How should she reach him? She threw the ray of light—oh! how dim it was, and how heavy and close the darkness pressed!—on the side of the pit, and saw that it was a rough and jagged wall, with stones projecting at intervals. A moment's survey satisfied her. Setting the lantern carefully at a little distance, and bidding Will "charge" and be still, she began the descent, feeling the way carefully with her feet, and grasping the rough stones firmly with her hands. Down! down! while the huge wheel towered over her, and grinned with all its rusty teeth to see so strange a sight. At last her feet touched the soft earth; another instant, and she had Jock in her arms, and was fondling and caressing him, and saying all sorts of foolish things to him in her delight. But a cry of pain from the poor puppy, even in the midst of his frantic though feeble demonstrations of joy, told her that all was not right; and she found that one little leg hung limp, and was evidently broken. How should she ever get him up? For a moment she stood bewildered; and then an idea came to her, which she has always maintained was the only really clever one she ever had. In her pre-occupation of mind she had forgotten all day to take off the brown holland apron which she had worn at her work in the morning, and it was the touch of this apron which brought her inspiration. Quick as a flash she had it off, and tied round her neck, pinned up at both ends to form a bag. Then she stooped again to pick up Jock, whom she had laid carefully down while she arranged the apron. As she did so, the feeble ray from the lantern fell on a space where the ground had been scratched up, evidently by the puppy's paws; and in that space something shone with a dull glitter. Hildegarde bent lower, and found what seemed to be a small brass handle, half covered with earth. She dug the earth away with her hands, and pulled and tugged at the handle for some time without success; but at length the sullen soil yielded, and she staggered back against the wheel with a small metal box in her hands. No time now to examine the prize, be it what it might. Into the apron bag it went, and on top of it went the puppy, yelping dismally. Then slowly, carefully, clinging with hands and feet for life and limb, Hilda reascended the wall. Oh, but it was hard work! Her hands were already very sore, and the heavy bundle hung back from her neck and half choked her. Moreover the puppy was uncomfortable, and yelped piteously, and struggled in his bonds, while the sharp corner of the iron box pressed painfully against the back of her neck. The jutting stones were far apart, and several times it seemed as if she could not possibly reach the next one. But the royal blood was fully up. Queen Hildegarde set her teeth, and grasped the stones as if her slender hands were nerved with steel. At last! at last she felt the edge; and the next moment had dragged herself painfully over it, and stood once more on solid ground. She drew a long breath, and hastily untying the apron from her neck, took poor Jock tenderly in one arm, while with the other she carried the lantern and the iron box. Will was jumping frantically about, and trying to reach his brother puppy, who responded with squeaks of joy to his enraptured greeting.
"Down, Will!" said Hilda, decidedly. "Down, sir! Lie still, Jocky! we shall be at home soon now. Patience, little dog!" And Jock tried hard to be patient; though it was not pleasant to be squeezed into a ball while his mistress crawled out of the hole, which she did with some difficulty, laden with her triple burden.
However, they were out at last, and speeding back towards the farm as fast as eager feet could carry them. Little thought had Hilda now of spectral trees or ghostly gloom. Joyfully she hurried back, up the long steps, along the glade, through the beach-plantation; only laughing now when the feathery fingers brushed her face, and hugging Jock so tight that he squeaked again. Now she saw the lights twinkling in the farm-house, and quickening her pace, she fairly ran through lane and barnyard, and finally burst into the kitchen, breathless and exhausted, but radiant. The farmer and his wife, who were sitting with disturbed and anxious looks, rose hastily as she entered.
"Oh, Hilda, dear!" cried Dame Hartley, "we have been terribly frightened about you. Jacob has been searching—But, good gracious, child!" she added, breaking off hastily, "where have you been, and what have you been doing to get yourself into such a state!"
Well might the good woman exclaim, while the farmer gazed in silent astonishment. The girl's dress was torn and draggled, and covered with great spots and splashes of black. Her face was streaked with dirt, her fair hair hanging loose upon her shoulders. Could this be Hilda, the dainty, the spotless? But her eyes shone like stars, and her face, though very pale, wore a look of triumphant delight.
"I have found him!" she said, simply. "My little Jock! Simon threw him into the wheel-pit of the old mill, and I went to get him out. His leg is broken, but I know you can set it, Nurse Lucy. Don't look so frightened," she added, smiling, seeing that the farmer and his wife were fairly pale with horror; "it was not so very bad, after all." And in as few words as might be, she told the story of Bubble's note and of her strange expedition.
"My child! my child!" cried Dame Hartley, putting her arms round the girl, and weeping as she did so. "How could you do such a fearful thing? Think, if your foot had slipped you might be lying there now yourself, in that dreadful place!" and she shuddered, putting back the tangle of fair hair with trembling fingers.
"Ah, but you see, my foot didn't slip, Nurse Lucy!" replied Hilda, gayly. "I wouldn't let it slip! And here I am safe and sound, so it's really absurd for you to be frightened now, my dear!"
"Why in the name of the airthly didn't ye wait till I kem home, and let me go down for ye?" demanded the farmer, who was secretly delighted with the exploit, though he tried to look very grave.
"Oh! I—I never thought of it!" said Hildegarde. "My only thought was to get down there as quickly as possible. So I waited till I heard you coming, for I didn't want to leave Nurse Lucy alone; and then—I went! And I will not be scolded," she added quickly, "for I think I have made a great discovery." She held one hand behind her as she spoke, and her eyes sparkled as she fixed them on the farmer. "Dear Farmer Hartley," she said, "is it true, as Bubble told me, that your father used to go down often into the vault of the old mill?"
"Why, yes, he did, frequent!" said the farmer, wondering. "'Twas a fancy of his, pokin' about thar. But what—"
"Wait a moment!" cried Hilda, trembling with excitement. "Wait a moment! Think a little, dear Farmer Hartley! Did you not tell me that when he was dying, your father said something about digging? Try to remember just what he said!"
The farmer ran his hand through his shaggy locks with a bewildered look. "What on airth are ye drivin' at, Hildy?" he said. "Father? why, he didn't say nothin' at the last, 'cept about them crazy di'monds he was allus jawin' about. 'Di'monds' says he. And then he says 'Dig!' an' fell back on the piller, an' that was all."
"Yes!" cried Hilda. "And you never did dig, did you? But now somebody has been digging. Little Jock began, and I finished; and we have found—we have found—" She broke off suddenly, and drawing her hand from behind her back, held up the iron box. "Take it!" she cried, thrusting it into the astonished farmer's hands, and falling on her knees beside his chair. "Take it and open it! I think—oh! I am sure—that you will not lose the farm after all. Open it quickly, please!"
Now much agitated in spite of himself, Farmer Hartley bent himself to the task of opening the box. For some minutes it resisted stubbornly, and even when the lock was broken, the lid clung firmly, and the rusted hinges refused to perform their office. But at length they yielded, and slowly, unwillingly, the box opened. Hilda's breath came short and quick, and she clasped her hands unconsciously as she bent forward to look into the mysterious casket. What did she see?
At first nothing but a handkerchief,—a yellow silk handkerchief, of curious pattern, carefully folded into a small square and fitting nicely inside the box. That was all; but Farmer Hartley's voice trembled as he said, in a husky whisper, "Father's hankcher!" and it was with a shaking hand that he lifted the folds of silk. One look—and he fell back in his chair, while Hildegarde quietly sat down on the floor and cried. For the diamonds were there! Big diamonds and little diamonds,—some rough and dull, others flashing out sparks of light, as if they shone the brighter for their long imprisonment; some tinged with yellow or blue, some with the clear white radiance which is seen in nothing else save a dewdrop when the morning sun first strikes upon it. There they lay,—a handful of stones, a little heap of shining crystals; but enough to pay off the mortgage on Hartley's Glen and leave the farmer a rich man for life.
Dame Hartley was the first to rouse herself from the silent amaze into which they had fallen. "Well, well!" she said, wiping her eyes, "the ways of Providence are mysterious. To think of it, after all these years! Why, Jacob! Come, my dear, come! You ain't crying, now that the Lord, and this blessed child under Him, has taken away all your trouble?"
But the farmer, to his own great amazement, was crying. He sobbed quietly once or twice, then cleared his throat, and wiped his eyes with the old silk handkerchief. "Poor ol' father," he said, simply. "It seems kind o' hard that nobody ever believed him, an' we let him die thinkin' he was crazy. That takes holt on me; it does, Marm Lucy, now I tell ye! Seems like's if I'd been punished for not havin' faith, and now I git the reward without havin' deserved it."
"As if you could have reward enough!" cried Hildegarde, laying her hand on his affectionately. "But, oh! do just look at them, dear Farmer Hartley! Aren't they beautiful? But what is that peeping out of the cotton-wool beneath? It is something red."
Farmer Hartley felt beneath the cotton which lined the box, and drew out—oh, wonderful! a chain of rubies! Each stone glowed like a living coal as he held it up in the lamp-light. Were they rubies, or were they drops of blood linked together by a thread of gold?
"The princess's necklace!" cried Hilda. "Oh, beautiful! beautiful! And I knew it was true! I knew it all the time."
The old man fixed a strange look, solemn and tender, on the girl as she stood at his side, radiant and glowing with happiness. "She said—" his voice trembled as he spoke, "that furrin woman—she said it was her heart's blood as father had saved. And now it's still blood, Hildy, my gal, our heart's blood, that goes out to you, and loves and blesses you as if you were our own child come back from the dead." And drawing her to him, he clasped the ruby chain round Hilda's neck.
Another golden day! But the days would all be golden now, thought Hildegarde. "Oh, how different it is from yesterday!" she cried to Nurse Lucy as she danced about the kitchen. "The sun shone yesterday, but it did us no good. To-day it warms my heart, the good sunshine. And yesterday the trees seemed to mock me, with all their scarlet and gold; but to-day they are dressed up to celebrate our good fortune. Let us call them in to rejoice with us, Nurse Lucy. Let us have a tree-party, instead of a tea-party!"
"My dear," said Dame Hartley, looking up with a puzzled smile, "what do you mean?"
"Oh! I don't mean to invite the whole forest to supper," said Hildegarde, laughing. "But you shall see, Nurse Lucy; you shall see. Just wait till this afternoon. I must run now over to Pink's, and tell her all the wonderful things that have happened, and see how poor Bubble is."
Away she went like a flash, through the golden fields, down the lane, where the maples made a flaming tent of scarlet over her head, bursting suddenly like a whirlwind into the little cottage, where the brother and sister, both now nearly helpless, sat waiting with pale and anxious faces. At sight of her Pink uttered a cry of delight, while Bubble flushed with pleasure; and both were about to pour out a flood of eager questions, when Hilda laid her hand over Pink's mouth and made a sign to the boy. "Two minutes to get my breath!" she cried, panting; "only two, and then you shall hear all." She spent the two minutes in filling the kettle and presenting Bubble with a pot of peach-marmalade that Dame Hartley had sent him; then, sitting down by the invalid's chair, she told from beginning to end the history of the past two days. The recital was thrilling enough, and before it was over the pale cheeks were crimson, and the two pairs of blue eyes blazed with excitement.
"Oh!" cried Bubble, hopping up and down in his chair, regardless of the sprained ankle. "Oh, I say, Miss Hildy! I dunno what to say! Wouldn't he ha' liked it, though? My! 'twas jest like himself. Jes' exactly what he'd ha' done."
"What who would have done, Bubble?" asked Hilda, laughing.
"Why, him! Buckle-oh!" said the boy. "I was jest sayin' over the ballid when I saw ye comin'. Warn't it like him, Pink, say?"
But Pink drew the stately head down towards her, and kissed the glowing cheek, and whispered, "Queen Hildegarde! my queen!"
The tears started to Hilda's eyes as she returned the kiss; but she brushed them away, and rose hastily, announcing her intention of "setting things to rights" against Mrs. Chirk's return. "You poor dears!" she cried, "how did you manage yesterday? If I had only known, I would have come and got dinner for you."
"Oh! we got on very well indeed," replied Pink, laughing, "though there were one or two mishaps. Fortunately there was plenty of bread in the cupboard, where we could easily reach it; and with that and the molasses jug, we were in no danger of starvation. But Mother had left a custard-pie on the upper shelf, and poor Bubble wanted a piece of it for dinner. But neither of us cripples could get at it; and for a long time we could think of no plan which would make it possible. At last Bubble had a bright idea. You remember the big fork that Mother uses to take pies out of the oven? Well, he spliced that on to the broom-handle, and then, standing well back, so that he could see (on one foot, of course, for he couldn't put the other to the ground), he reached for the pie. It was a dreadful moment, Hilda! The pie slid easily on to the fork, and for a moment all seemed to promise well; but the next minute, just as Bubble began to lower it, he wavered on his one foot—only a little, but enough to send the poor pie tumbling to the ground."
"Poor pie!" cried Bubble. "Wal, I like that! Poor me, I sh'd say. I'd had bread'n m'lasses three meals runnin', Miss Hildy. Now don't you think that old pie might ha' come down straight?"
"You should have seen his face, poor dear!" cried Pink. "He really couldn't laugh—for almost two minutes."
"Wal, I s'pose 'twas kind o' funny," the boy admitted, while Hilda laughed merrily over the catastrophe. "But thar! when one's used to standin' on two legs, it's dretful onhandy tryin' to stand on one. We'll have bread and jam to-day," he added, with an affectionate glance at the pot of marmalade, "and that's a good enough dinner for the Governor o' the State."
"Indeed, you shall have more than that!" cried Hildegarde. "Nurse Lucy does not need me before dinner, so I will get your dinner for you."
So the active girl made up the fire anew, swept the floor, dusted tables and chairs, and made the little room look tidy and cheerful, as Pink loved to see it. Then she ran down to the cellar, and reappeared with a basket of potatoes and a pan of rosy apples.
"Now we will perform a trio!" she said. "Pink, you shall peel and core the apples for apple-sauce, and Bubble shall pare the potatoes, while I make biscuit and gingerbread."
Accordingly, she rolled up her sleeves and set busily to work; the others followed her example, and fingers and tongues moved ceaselessly, in cheerful emulation of each other.
"I'd like to git hold o' Simon Hartley!" said Bubble, slicing vengefully at a big potato. "I wish't he was this tater, so I do! I'd skin him! Yah! ornery critter! An' him standin' thar an' grinnin' at me over the wall, an' I couldn't do nothin'! Seemed's though I sh'd fly, Miss Hildy, it did; an' then not to be able to crawl even! I sw—I tell ye, now, I didn't like that."
"Poor Bubble!" said Hilda, compassionately, "I'm sure you didn't. And did he really start to crawl over to the farm, Pink?"
"Indeed he did!" replied Pink. "Nothing that I could say would keep him from trying it; so I bandaged his ankle as well as I could, and off he started. But he fainted twice before he got to the gate, so there was nothing for it but to crawl back again, and—have the knees of his trousers mended."
"Dear boy!" said Hilda, patting the curly head affectionately. "Good, faithful boy! I shall think a great deal more of it, Bubble, than if you had been able to walk all the way. And, after all," she added, "I am glad I had to do it myself,—go down to the mill, I mean. It is something to remember! I would not have missed it."
"No more wouldn't I!" cried Bubble, enthusiastically. "I'd ha' done it for ye twenty times, ye know that, Miss Hildy; but I druther ha' hed you do it;" and Hildegarde understood him perfectly.
The simple meal prepared and set out, Hilda bade farewell to her two friends, and flitted back to the farm. Mrs. Chirk was to return in the evening, so she felt no further anxiety about them.
She found the farmer just returned from the village in high spirits. Squire Gaylord had examined the diamonds, pronounced them of great value, and had readily advanced the money to pay off the mortgage, taking two or three large stones as security. Lawyer Clinch had reluctantly received his money, and relinquished all claim upon Hartley's Glen, though with a very bad grace.
"He kind o' insinuated that the di'monds had prob'ly ben stole by Father or me, he couldn't say which; and he said somethin' about inquirin' into the matter. But Squire Gaylord shut him up pooty quick, by sayin' thar was more things than that as might be inquired into, and if he began, others might go on; and Lawyer Clinch hadn't nothin' more to say after that."
When dinner was over, and everything "redded up," Hildegarde sent Dame Hartley upstairs to take a nap, and escorted the farmer as far as the barn on his way to the turnip-field. Then, "the coast being clear," she said to herself, "we will prepare for the tree-party."
Accordingly, arming herself with a stout pruning-knife, she took her way to the "wood-lot," which lay on the north side of the house. The splendor of the trees, which were now in full autumnal glory, gave Hilda a sort of rapture as she approached them. What had she ever seen so beautiful as this,—the shifting, twinkling myriads of leaves, blazing with every imaginable shade of color above the black, straight trunks; the deep, translucent blue of the sky bending above; the golden light which transfused the whole scene; the crisp freshness of the afternoon air? She wanted to sing, to dance, to do everything that was joyous and free. But now she had work to do. She visited all her favorite trees,—the purple ash, the vivid, passionate maples, the oaks in their sober richness of murrey and crimson. On each and all she levied contributions, cutting armful after armful, and carried them to the house, piling them in splendid heaps on the shed-floor. Then, after carefully laying aside a few specially perfect branches, she began the work of decoration. Over the chimney-piece she laid great boughs of maple, glittering like purest gold in the afternoon light, which streamed broadly in through the windows. Others—scarlet, pink, dappled red, and yellow—were placed over the windows, the doors, the dresser. She filled the corners with stately oak-boughs, and made a bower of the purple ash in the bow-window,—Faith's window. Then she set the tea-table with the best china, every plate and dish resting on a mat of scarlet leaves, while a chain of yellow ones outlined the shining square board. A tiny scarlet wreath encircled the tea-kettle, and even the butter-dish displayed its golden balls beneath an arch of flaming crimson. This done, she filled a great glass bowl with purple-fringed asters and long, gleaming sprays of golden-rod, and setting it in the middle of the table, stood back with her head a little on one side and surveyed the general effect.
"Good!" was her final comment; "very good! And now for my own part."
She gathered in her apron the branches first selected, and carried them up to her own room, where she proceeded to strip off the leaves and to fashion them into long garlands. As her busy fingers worked, her thoughts flew hither and thither, bringing back the memories of the past few days. Now she stood in the kitchen, pistol in hand, facing the rascal Simon Hartley; and she laughed to think how he had shaken and cowered before the empty weapon. Now she was in the vault of the ruined mill, with a thousand horrors of darkness pressing on her, and only the tiny spark of light in her lantern to keep off the black and shapeless monsters. Now she thought of the kind farmer, with a throb of pity, as she recalled the hopeless sadness of his face the night before. Just the very night before, only a few hours; and now how different everything was! Her heart gave a little happy thrill to think that she, Hilda, the "city gal," had been able to help these dear friends in their trouble. They loved her already, she knew that; they would love her more now. Ah! and they would miss her all the more, now that she must leave them so soon.
Then, like a flash, her thoughts reverted to the plan she had been revolving in her mind two days before, before all these strange things had happened. It was a delightful little plan! Pink was to be sent to a New York hospital,—the very best hospital that could be found; and Hildegarde hoped—she thought—she felt almost sure that the trouble could be greatly helped, if not cured altogether. And then, when Pink was well, or at least a great, great deal better, she was to come and live at the farm, and help Nurse Lucy, and sing to the farmer, and be all the comfort—no, not all, but nearly the comfort that Faith would have been if she had lived. And Bubble—yes! Bubble must go to school,—to a good school, where his bright, quick mind should learn everything there was to learn. Papa would see to that, Hilda knew he would. Bubble would delight Papa! And then he would go to college, and by and by become a famous doctor, or a great lawyer, or—oh! Bubble could be anything he chose, she was sure of it.
So the girl's happy thoughts flew on through the years that were to come, weaving golden fancies even as her fingers were weaving the gay chains of shining leaves; but let us hope the fancy-chains, airy as they were, were destined to become substantial realities long after the golden wreaths had faded.
But now the garlands were ready, and none too soon; for the shadows were lengthening, and she heard Nurse Lucy downstairs, and Farmer Hartley would be coming in soon to his tea. She took from a drawer her one white frock, the plain lawn which had once seemed so over-plain to her, and with the wreaths of scarlet and gold she made a very wonderful thing of it. Fifteen minutes' careful work, and Hilda stood looking at her image in the glass, well pleased and a little surprised; for she had been too busy of late to think much about her looks, and had not realized how sun and air and a free, out-door life had made her beauty blossom and glow like a rose in mid-June. With a scarlet chaplet crowning her fair locks, bands of gold about waist and neck and sleeves, and the whole skirt covered with a fantastic tracery of mingled gold and fire, she was a vision of almost startling loveliness. She gave a little happy laugh. "Dear old Farmer!" she said, "he likes to see me fine. I think this will please him." And light as a thistledown, the girl floated downstairs and danced into the kitchen just as Farmer Hartley entered it from the other side.
"Highty-tighty!" cried the good man, "what's all this? Is there a fire? Everything's all ablaze! Why, Hildy! bless my soul!" He stood in silent delight, looking at the lovely figure before him, with its face of rosy joy and its happy, laughing eyes.
"It's a tree-party," explained Hildegarde, taking his two hands and leading him forward. "I'm part of it, you see, Farmer Hartley. Do you like it? Is it pretty? It's to celebrate our good fortune," she added; and putting her arm in the old man's, she led him about the room, pointing out the various decorations, and asking his approval.
Farmer Hartley admired everything greatly, but in an absent way, as if his mind were preoccupied with other matters. He turned frequently towards the door, as if he expected some one to follow him. "All for me?" he kept asking. "All for me and Marm Lucy, Hildy? Ye—ye ain't expectin' nobody else to tea, now?"
"No," said Hilda, wondering. "Of course not. Who else is there to come? Bubble has sprained his ankle, you know, and Pink—"
"Yes, yes; I know, I know!" said the farmer, still with that backward glance at the door. And then, as he heard some noise in the yard, he added hurriedly: "At the same time, ye know, Hildy, people do sometimes drop in to tea—kind o' onexpected-like, y' understand. And—and—all this pretty show might—might seem to—indicate, ye see—"
"Jacob Hartley? what are you up to?" demanded Nurse Lucy, rather anxiously, as she stood at the shed-door watching him intently. "Does your head feel dizzy? You'd better go and lie down; you've had too much excitement for a man of—"
"Oh, you thar, Marm Lucy?" cried the farmer, with a sigh of relief that was half a chuckle, "Now, thar! you tell Hildy that folks does sometimes drop in—onexpected-like—folks from a consid'able distance sometimes. Why, I've known 'em—" But here he stopped suddenly. And as Hilda, expecting she knew not what, stood with hands clasped together, and beating heart, the door was thrown open and a strong, cheery voice cried, "Well, General!" Another moment, and she was clasped in her father's arms.
THE LAST WORD.
The lovely autumn is gone, and winter is here. Mr. and Mrs. Graham have long since been settled at home, and Hildegarde is with them. How does it fare with her, the new Hildegarde, under the old influences and amid the old surroundings? For answer, let us take the word of her oldest friend,—the friend who "knows Hildegarde!" Madge Everton has just finished a long letter to Helen McIvor, who is spending the winter in Washington, and there can be no harm in our taking a peep into it.
"You ask me about Hilda Graham; but, alas! I have NOTHING pleasant to tell. My dear, Hilda is simply LOST to us! It is all the result of that dreadful summer spent among swineherds. You know what the Bible says! I don't know exactly what, but something terrible about that sort of thing. Of course it is partly her mother's influence as well. I have always DREADED it for Hilda, who is so sensitive to impressions. Why, I remember, as far back as the first year that we were at Mme. Haut-Ton's, Mrs. Graham saying to Mamma, 'I wish we could interest our girls a little in sensible things!' My dear, she meant hospitals and soup-kitchens and things! And Mamma said (you know Mamma isn't in the least afraid of Mrs. Graham, though I confess I AM!), 'My dear Mrs. Graham, if there is one thing Society will NOT tolerate, it is a sensible woman. Our girls might as well have the small-pox at once, and be done with it.' Wasn't it clever of Mamma? And Mrs. Graham just LOOKED at her as if she were a camel from Barnum's.
"Well, poor Hildegarde is sensible enough now to satisfy even her mother. Ever since she came home from that odious place, it has been one round of hospitals and tenement-houses and sloughs of horror. I don't mean that she has given up school, for she is studying harder than ever; but out of school she is simply swallowed up by these wretched things. I have remonstrated with her almost on my KNEES. 'Hildegarde,' I said one day, 'do you REALIZE that you are practically giving up your whole LIFE? If you once lose your place in Society among those of your own age and position, you NEVER can regain it. Do you REALIZE this, Hilda? for I feel it a SOLEMN DUTY to warn you!' My dear, she actually LAUGHED! and only said, 'Dear Madge, I have only just begun to have any life!' And that was all I could get out of her, for just then some one came in. But even this is not the worst! Oh, Helen! she has some of the creatures whom she saw this summer, actually staying in the house,—in THAT house, which we used to call Castle Graham, and were almost afraid to enter ourselves, so stately and beautiful it was! There are two of these creatures,—a girl about our age, some sort of dreadful cripple, who goes about in a bath-chair, and a freckled imp of a boy. The girl is at —— Hospital for treatment, but spends every Sunday at the Grahams', and Hilda devotes most of her spare time to her. The boy is at school,—one of the best schools in the city. 'But who are these people?' I hear you cry. My dear! they are simply ignorant paupers, who were Hilda's constant companions through that disastrous summer. Now their mother is dead, and the people with whom Hilda stayed have adopted them. The boy is to be a doctor, and the girl is going to get well, Dr. George says. (He calls her a beautiful and interesting creature; but you know what that means. Any diseased creature is beautiful to him!) Well, and THESE, my dear Helen, are Hilda Graham's FRIENDS, for whom she has deserted her OLD ones! for though she is unchanged towards me when I see her, I hardly ever do see her. She cares nothing for my pursuits, and I certainly have NO intention of joining in hers. I met her the other day on Fifth Avenue, walking beside that odious bath-chair, which the freckled boy was pushing. She looked so lovely (for she is prettier than ever, with a fine color and eyes like stars), and was talking so earnestly, and walking somehow as if she were treading on air, it sent a PANG through my heart. I just paused an instant (for though I trust I am not SNOBBISH, Helen, still, I draw the line at bath-chairs, and will not be seen standing by one), and said in a low tone, meant only for her ear, 'Ah! has Queen Hildegarde come to this?' My dear, she only LAUGHED! But that girl, that cripple, looked up with a smile and a sort of flash over her face, and said, just as if she knew me, 'Yes, Miss Everton! the Queen has come to her kingdom!'"
Selections from The Page Company's Books for Young People
* * * * *
THE BLUE BONNET SERIES
Each large 12mo, cloth decorative, illustrated, per volume $1.75
A TEXAS BLUE BONNET
By CAROLINE E. JACOBS.
"The book's heroine, Blue Bonnet, has the very finest kind of wholesome, honest, lively girlishness."—Chicago Inter-Ocean.
BLUE BONNET'S RANCH PARTY
By CAROLINE E. JACOBS AND EDYTH ELLERBECK READ.
"A healthy, natural atmosphere breathes from every chapter."—Boston Transcript.
BLUE BONNET IN BOSTON
By CAROLINE E. JACOBS AND LELA HORN RICHARDS.
"It is bound to become popular because of its wholesomeness and its many human touches."—Boston Globe.
BLUE BONNET KEEPS HOUSE
By CAROLINE E. JACOBS AND LELA HORN RICHARDS.
"It cannot fail to prove fascinating to girls in their teens."—New York Sun.
By LELA HORN RICHARDS.
An interesting picture of the unfolding of life for Blue Bonnet.
BLUE BONNET OF THE SEVEN STARS
By LELA HORN RICHARDS.
"The author's intimate detail and charm of narration gives the reader an interesting story of the heroine's war activities."—Pittsburgh Leader.
BY LELA HORN RICHARDS.
Cloth decorative, 12mo, illustrated $1.90
"It is an inspiring story of the unfolding of life for a young girl—a story in which there is plenty of action to hold interest and wealth of delicate sympathy and understanding that appeals to the hearts of young and old."—Pittsburgh Leader.
HENRIETTA'S INHERITANCE: A Sequel to "Only Henrietta"
BY LELA HORN RICHARDS.
Cloth decorative, 12mo, illustrated $1.90
"One of the most noteworthy stories for girls issued this season. The life of Henrietta is made very real, and there is enough incident in the narrative to balance the delightful characterization."—Providence Journal.
THE YOUNG KNIGHT
By I.M.B. of K.
Cloth decorative, 12mo, illustrated $1.75
The clash of broad-sword on buckler, the twanging of bow-strings and the cracking of spears splintered by whirling maces resound through this stirring tale of knightly daring-do.
THE YOUNG CAVALIERS
By I.M.B. of K.
Cloth decorative, 12mo, illustrated $1.75
"There have been many scores of books written about the Charles Stuarts of England, but never a merrier and more pathetic one than 'The Young Cavaliers.'"—Family Herald.
"The story moves quickly, and every page flashes a new thrill before the reader, with plenty of suspense and excitement. There is valor, affection, romance, chivalry and humor in this fascinating tale."—Kansas City Kansan.
THE MARJORY-JOE SERIES
By ALICE E. ALLEN
Each one volume, cloth decorative, 12mo, illustrated, per volume $1.50
JOE, THE CIRCUS BOY AND ROSEMARY
These are two of Miss Allen's earliest and most successful stories, combined in a single volume to meet the insistent demands from young people for these two particular tales.
THE MARTIE TWINS: Continuing the Adventures of Joe, the Circus Boy
"The chief charm of the story is that it contains so much of human nature. It is so real that it touches the heart strings."—New York Standard.
MARJORY, THE CIRCUS GIRL
A sequel to "Joe, the Circus boy," and "The Martie Twins."
MARJORY AT THE WILLOWS Continuing the story of Marjory, the Circus Girl.
"Miss Allen does not write impossible stories, but delightfully pins her little folk right down to this life of ours, in which she ranges vigorously and delightfully."—Boston Ideas.
MARJORY'S HOUSE PARTY: Or, What Happened at Clover Patch
"Miss Allen certainly knows how to please the children and tells them stories that never fail to charm."—Madison Courier.
This new addition to the popular MARJORY-JOE SERIES is as lovable and original as any of the other creations of this writer of charming stories. We get little peeps at the precious twins, at the healthy minded Joe and sweet Marjory. There is a bungalow party, which lasts the entire summer, in which all of the characters of the previous MARJORY-JOE stories participate, and their happy times are delightfully depicted.
THE YOUNG PIONEER SERIES
By HARRISON ADAMS
Each 12mo, cloth decorative, illustrated, per volume $1.65
THE PIONEER BOYS OF THE OHIO; OR, CLEARING THE WILDERNESS.
"Such books as this are an admirable means of stimulating among the young Americans of to-day interest in the story of their pioneer ancestors and the early days of the Republic."—Boston Globe.
THE PIONEER BOYS ON THE GREAT LAKES; OR, ON THE TRAIL OF THE IROQUOIS.
"The recital of the daring deeds of the frontier is not only interesting but instructive as well and shows the sterling type of character which these days of self-reliance and trial produced."—American Tourist, Chicago.
THE PIONEER BOYS OF THE MISSISSIPPI; OR, THE HOMESTEAD IN THE WILDERNESS.
"The story is told with spirit, and is full of adventure."—New York Sun.
THE PIONEER BOYS OF THE MISSOURI; OR, IN THE COUNTRY OF THE SIOUX.
"Vivid in style, vigorous in movement, full of dramatic situations, true to historic perspective, this story is a capital one for boys."—Watchman Examiner, New York City.
THE PIONEER BOYS OF THE YELLOWSTONE; OR, LOST IN THE LAND OF WONDERS.
"There is plenty of lively adventure and action and the story is well told."—Duluth Herald, Duluth, Minn.
THE PIONEER BOYS OF THE COLUMBIA; OR, IN THE WILDERNESS OF THE GREAT NORTHWEST.
"The story is full of spirited action and contains much valuable historical information."—Boston Herald.
THE FRIENDLY TERRACE SERIES
By HARRIET LUMMIS SMITH
Each one volume, cloth, decorative, 12mo, illustrated, per volume $1.75
THE GIRLS OF FRIENDLY TERRACE
"It is a book that cheers, that inspires to higher thinking; it knits hearts; it unfolds neighborhood plans in a way that makes one tingle to try carrying them out, and most of all it proves that in daily life, threads of wonderful issues are being woven in with what appears the most ordinary of material, but which in the end brings results stranger than the most thrilling fiction."—Belle Kellogg Towne in The Young People's Weekly, Chicago.
PEGGY RAYMOND'S VACATION
"It is a clean, wholesome, hearty story, well told and full of incident. It carries one through experiences that hearten and brighten the day."—Utica, N.Y., Observer.
PEGGY RAYMOND'S SCHOOL DAYS
"It is a bright, entertaining story, with happy girls, good times, natural development, and a gentle earnestness of general tone."—The Christian Register, Boston.
THE FRIENDLY TERRACE QUARTETTE
"The story is told in easy and entertaining style and is a most delightful narrative, especially for young people. It will also make the older readers feel younger, for while reading it they will surely live again in the days of their youth."—Troy Budget.
PEGGY RAYMOND'S WAY
"The author has again produced a story that is replete with wholesome incidents and makes Peggy more lovable than ever as a companion and leader."—World of Books.
"It possesses a plot of much merit and through its 324 pages it weaves a tale of love and of adventure which ranks it among the best books for girls."—Cohoe-American.
FAMOUS LEADERS SERIES
By CHARLES H.L. JOHNSTON
Each large 12mo, cloth decorative, illustrated, per volume $2.00
FAMOUS CAVALRY LEADERS
"More of such books should be written, books that acquaint young readers with historical personages in a pleasant, informal way."—New York Sun.
FAMOUS INDIAN CHIEFS
"Mr. Johnston has done faithful work in this volume, and his relation of battles, sieges and struggles of these famous Indians with the whites for the possession of America is a worthy addition to United States History."—New York Marine Journal.
"It is the kind of a book that will have a great fascination for boys and young men."—New London Day.
FAMOUS PRIVATEERSMEN AND ADVENTURERS OF THE SEA
"The tales are more than merely interesting; they are entrancing, stirring the blood with thrilling force."-Pittsburgh Post.
FAMOUS FRONTIERSMEN AND HEROES OF THE BORDER
"The accounts are not only authentic, but distinctly readable, making a book of wide appeal to all who love the history of actual adventure."—Cleveland Leader.
FAMOUS DISCOVERERS AND EXPLORERS OF AMERICA
"The book is an epitome of some of the wildest and bravest adventures of which the world has known."—Brooklyn Daily Eagle.
FAMOUS GENERALS OF THE GREAT WAR
Who Led the United States and Her Allies to a Glorious Victory.
"The pages of this book have the charm of romance without its unreality. The book illuminates, with life-like portraits, the history of the World War."—Rochester Post Express.
FAMOUS LEADERS SERIES (Con.)
By EDWIN WILDMAN
FAMOUS LEADERS OF INDUSTRY.—First Series
"Are these stories interesting? Let a boy read them; and tell you."—Boston Transcript.
FAMOUS LEADERS OF INDUSTRY.—Second Series
"As fascinating as fiction are these biographies, which emphasize their humble beginning and drive home the truth that just as every soldier of Napoleon carried a marshal's baton in his knapsack, so every American youngster carries potential success under his hat."—New York World.
THE FOUNDERS OF AMERICA (Lives of Great Americans from the Revolution to the Monroe Doctrine)
"How can one become acquainted with the histories of some of the famous men of the United States? A very good way is to read 'The Founders of America,' by Edwin Wildman, wherein the life stories of fifteen men who founded our country are told"—New York Post.
FAMOUS LEADERS OF CHARACTER (Lives of Great Americans from the Civil War to Today)
"An informing, interesting and inspiring book for boys."—Presbyterian Banner.
" ... Is a book that should be read by every boy in the whole country...."—Atlanta Constitution.
FAMOUS AMERICAN NAVAL OFFICERS
With a complete index.
By CHARLES LEE LEWIS
Professor, United States Naval Academy, Annapolis
"Professor Lewis does not make the mistake of bringing together simply a collection of biographical sketches. In connection with the life of John Paul Jones, Stephen Decatur, and other famous naval officers, he groups the events of the period in which the officer distinguished himself, and combines the whole into a colorful and stirring narrative."—Boston Herald.
STORIES BY EVALEEN STEIN
Each, one volume, cloth decorative, 12mo, illustrated, with a jacket in color $1.65
THE CHRISTMAS PORRINGER
This story happened many hundreds of years ago in the quaint Flemish city of Bruges and concerns a little girl named Karen, who worked at lace-making with her aged grandmother.
GABRIEL AND THE HOUR BOOK
"No works in juvenile fiction contain so many of the elements that stir the hearts of children and grown-ups as well as do the stories so admirably told by this author."—Louisville Daily Courier.
A LITTLE SHEPHERD OF PROVENCE
"The story should be one of the influences in the life of every child to whom good stories can be made to appeal."—Public Ledger.
THE LITTLE COUNT OF NORMANDY
"This touching and pleasing story is told with a wealth of interest coupled with enlivening descriptions of the country where its scenes are laid and of the people thereof"—Wilmington Every Evening.
WHEN FAIRIES WERE FRIENDLY
"The stories are music in prose—they are like pearls on a chain of gold—each word seems exactly the right word in the right place; the stories sing themselves out, they are so beautifully expressed."—The Lafayette Leader.
PEPIN: A Tale of Twelfth Night
"This retelling of an old Twelfth Night romance is a creation almost as perfect as her 'Christmas Porringer.'"—Lexington Herald.