Bea came up stairs in a little while, with a lovely color in her cheeks, and looking very bewitching indeed, with her soft bright eyes, a posy in her belt, and a merry smile on her lips.
"I met Dr. Barnett" she said, taking off her hat, and smoothing out the ribbons with a little thoughtful air; "he was just going to see that poor widow's little girl, who broke her back last week, and he stopped while I gathered some flowers for him to take to her. He is going to cure her if he can, and not charge anything. Isn't it good and kind in him, mama?"
"Yes, dear, very. He did not tell you so, did he?"
"Oh no; he's too modest. Mrs. Dane told me. She went to see the little girl, and took some things, for they are very poor, you know; and the mother told her, and just cried when she told how good and kind he was, and how he talked, and told Katie stories, when she was afraid to have her back fixed."
"He is a very estimable young man, and a true Christian, I think," said Mrs. Dering, watching Bea's animated face as she talked, and noticing that there was no touch of embarrassment or any trace of color, as she rehearsed her friend's praise.
"When I gave him the flowers," added Bea, taking the posy from her belt, and sniffing at the fragrant leaves, "he gave me these, and said we would exchange. He has a little window-garden in his office. I think that is so nice,—and these grew in it; they need some water now, poor little things. Hand me that vase, Olive! There!"
Mrs. Dering went on with her sewing, and her heart, ever young, went back to the blissful days of her own life, like these in which Bea now lived, and she thought, with a smile:
"Bless the dear innocent little heart. She doesn't suspect yet how happy she is, nor what precious meaning the little exchange of posies will soon take unto themselves."
Olive was thinking of Bea's happy face and blithe laugh, and after her sister had gone singing from the room, she came over to her mother's side, and sat down on a stool there.
"Mama, are you glad?"
"Yes, dear, both glad and sad. A mother always dreads the time when she must begin to prepare herself to have her children leave her; but it must come, so if she can know that their new choice will bring them happiness, it, of course, lessens the pain which comes with losing them. Dr. Barnett is a good Christian, a perfect gentleman, and I think he loves Beatrice. I also think she is quite unconscious of it as yet, and I am very glad. I hope it will continue so. She is young yet, my dear little girl, and when she becomes aware of the new love, then I must be content with second place, and I do not want it to come yet."
"I want to speak of something that may be all imagination on my part, and will take your word to settle it. But don't you think Ralph thinks a great deal of Kittie?"
"Yes, he does; but it is all a brotherly feeling, anything else would be nonsense! Why, they're nothing but children!" said Mrs. Dering a little sharply.
"I know Kittie is, and she never thinks of such a thing any more than a genuine kitten; but Ralph is twenty, mama," said Olive.
"I know; and very old for his age in many things, but at heart he is nothing but a boy. He has always been at home with his mother, and has an almost girlish love and preference for ladies' society. He and Kittie are genial in amusements, just as you and he are in books and ambitions. They love each other as brother and sister, but as nothing more. I should be sorely displeased if any other idea should ever reach either."
"It never will through me," said Olive. She then sat silent for a long time, and finally breaking the pause, by saying:
"Mama, do you remember, one night a long time ago, when we were all telling disappointments?"
"Yes, quite well."
"Of course, it was all nonsense; but I have often thought since, that some time, I would tell you what I wanted to do."
"And am I to hear now?"
Olive smiled, and looked a little wistful.
"Yes, I guess I will tell you, though it will be no surprise to you. I want to study, but I can never do it in Canfield. When I was fourteen, I first thought of going to the city and studying in Cooper's Institute and coming home for over Sunday, and I began to save up my money for it. The money that I gave to papa was that, and I was at work on a head to take with me, because I thought perhaps I would have to have a trial picture. I knew I couldn't go then, because I was too young and inexperienced; but I'm older now, and if you would only say that you are willing, so that I could begin to put just a little money away every month—"
Mrs. Dering laid down her sewing, and looked in amaze at Olive's face, which had become so enthusiastic as she put her plea in a voice that trembled in its eagerness.
"My dear child, I had thought of that same thing for you."
"I had, indeed; and is it possible that it has been your own thought and desire for so long? You have so cheerfully given up your own work and done that less tasteful, and so patiently waited for the time to come when you could use your own money, that I had decided on just this thing, and will draw enough money from the bank to send you. I have a dear old friend in the city who would be delighted to have you board with her during the week, and now that Ralph is here, you can and shall be spared from your work, and shall take a rest in doing the work that you love."
Olive looked speechless. Her eyes were full of sparkling tears, and her lips trembling with a smile. She evidently did not know what to say for some moments, then she exclaimed:
"Oh, mama! Is it really so? It seems too good to believe, I had almost given up hope, for it didn't seem as if I ever could go. Oh, how I will study and draw, so as to make money and make my name;" and overcome with joy and a desire to shed some happy tears, Olive jumped up and ran out.
In a day or two, however, something happened that deferred Olive's studies for a while longer. It was from Jean, a long letter, full of love and longings to see them all, and long reports of what the doctors were doing for her, and how she could stand straight now without her crutch, and would soon be able to take a step. And after all that, she began about Uncle Ridley: how kind and good he was, how she had everything she could think of; how they loved each other; and then came this piece of news:
"He wants one of the girls to come and make a visit, mama. He's often said so; but the other day he told me to write for one of them, which ever one I wanted, and he would pay her expenses. Now you know I never could choose which of the girls I'd love to see most, because I want to see them all so very much. But I think he wants to see Olive; he's often said so; and he's asked me so much about her, and said he'd like to know her because she was so impudent to him. Why was she? Do you know, mama? I think it's so strange, when he's such a dear, darling uncle. Anyhow, I think it would please him very much if she would come, and oh, how very happy I would be. Tell me what you think about it, and I do hope she'll come; and if she can't, please let one of the others, and hurry and let me know. I can hardly wait."
"Of course you'll go," said Kittie, when the letter was finished, and the question open to discussion.
"To be sure," said Kat. "Olive, you're a lucky girl. I wish I had been impudent to him."
"I always have wanted to see Congreve Hall," said Bea, with a little sigh. "How grand it would seem to live in a magnificent place that had a name to it. I suppose you'll stay a long time, Olive?"
"I wish he wanted any of you," said Olive, "and I believe he does. It's all Jeanie's notion, his wanting me. Fix Bea up, mama, and let her go. I have something else on my mind."
But Mrs. Dering shook her head. "I think Jean is right," she said. "Uncle Ridley is a peculiar old man and he thinks Olive is much like the Congreves; he told me so himself, and I think he wants you for that reason."
So great was Olive's consternation, that she sprang right up from her seat in dismay.
"Oh, mama! I want to see Jean; you know I do, but I can't give up my plan any longer; I can't. You don't think I ought to, do you?"
"What do you think about it, Olive?"
"I don't know; I think it's too bad," cried Olive; then fled from the room, as she always did when she found her emotions getting the mastery over her.
"Well, I declare!" exclaimed Kat, in sympathy. "It is too bad when her heart is so set on her studies. That's the disadvantage of having a talent. Don't you suppose Uncle Ridley would be satisfied with me? I'd do my level best to be like the Congreves, if that is such an attraction to him."
"He'd go crazy with such a whirligig about as you," said Bea, a little envious of Olive's good luck. "I think I might go. I'm the oldest, and dear me, how I would enjoy it!"
"I would love to have you all go," said Mrs. Dering, thoughtfully creasing the letter in her fingers. "Congreve Hall was papa's home, and I would enjoy having you see it, would love to go myself, in fact, and when I think of my dear precious little girl, it seems as though I must go. But that cannot be, so it need not be thought of. As to Olive, Uncle Ridley is peculiar and quick, and he took a fancy to her, and if her going to see them would give him any pleasure, I am only too glad and willing to have her go. I am sorry the invitation came just now for the child has waited so patiently to study and work on her art, that delay will be a sore disappointment to her. But she will see through it rightly I am sure and be willing to wait a little longer."
"Mama," said Kat, reflectively, "don't you think Olive has changed very, very much?"
"And especially since Ernestine went away. Why?" asked Kittie.
Mrs. Dering sighed and looked sad; she always did when Ernestine's name was mentioned.
"Olive's was a very unhappy disposition then, a great deal more so than she is now," she said. "What attractions she possessed, she hid by her faults; she did not try to please any one, but took her time in envying Ernestine's natural beauty and power to please. She made herself bitter, morose, and unattractive, then blamed others for showing any preference for her sisters. I think the lesson poor Ernestine taught was one that she took to heart deeply, and has profited much by."
"I notice she does not dislike Uncle Ridley as much as she used to," said Bea, smiling and looking very happy all at once as she caught sight of a gentleman coming up the shady walk. "Mama, here comes Dr. Barnett. I promised him some more flowers to take to little Katie Gregg. If he is not in a hurry I shall ask him in; and, Kat, I advise you to put up your hair. It looks like an Indian's that way."
"Who cares for old Barnett?" said Kat, as Bea flitted out. "My hair suits myself, and if he don't like it, he can look at Kittie's. Hers is as proper as ten commandments, with a killing bow fastened right on an angle with her ear. Now here comes Ralph, and I'm off. Kittie come down to the pond, and let's take a row."
"I will in a little while," said Kittie, putting her sewing aside; "but Ralph is going to help me with that example I couldn't get, and I'll do that first, then I'll be down."
"Well, I'll not look for you," said Kat discontentedly. "After you get your old example, there'll be something else, and then it'll be time to get dinner. I just abominate cousins!" and Kat slammed out of one door, just as Ralph came in at the other.
No one saw Olive again during the day, but just before supper she came down stairs and asked for mother.
"I don't know," said Kittie, flying about the kitchen with her big apron on. "She and Bea went down town this afternoon; I don't know whether they're back or not. If you're going in the sitting-room, tell Ralph to come; he said he'd beat the eggs, if I'd make a puff-cake."
So Olive went into the sitting-room, and sent Ralph out to the feminine employment of egg-beating, then she stood by the window and looked absently out at the shadowy yard. She was going to Virginia; she had decided on that, though the decision had cost some bitter tears and some stern reasoning; for her new plans, long held in check, were doubly precious in the sudden promise of fulfillment, and her whole soul, starved out on book-keeping and dusty offices, begged for a revel in the art she loved so well.
"After all," she mused, deciding grimly to look at the best side of things, "Jean says there is a gallery of grand pictures at Congreve Hall, and I suppose I can study and make copies of the ones that I like; and then"—the thought was a little distasteful to her—"I suppose I was unjust to Mr. Congreve, and ought to make amends if I can. We do owe him more than any amount of gratitude can ever repay, for all he's done for Jean, and I suppose I ought to call him Uncle Ridley, and have the dress made that he sent me; perhaps he'll recognize it;" then she laughed a little, to think what he would say at discovering her just accepting the present made two years ago.
"A laugh sounds encouraging; what brings it Olive?" asked Mrs. Dering, having entered noiselessly.
"Nothing, I was just thinking," answered Olive. "I will go, mama, because I cannot help but think that I ought to, I was just deciding in my mind to call him Uncle Ridley, and have the black dress made. How soon shall I go?"
"I cannot tell yet; there is much that you will need done. I am very glad that you have decided in this way, Olive dear, though I know it was a sacrifice; but your art will become none the less precious through delay, and your decision shows a desire to retract some hasty judgments, and do justice to a peculiar old man, who, with all his faults and vagaries, has a heart as true as gold."
"I guess that's it," said Olive, with a little sigh; and then the supper-bell rang.
At the end of three weeks Olive was ready to go, and it was hard to tell whether she was any more enthusiastic with the idea or not. After the fashion of all young girls, she could not help but be pleased to see the accumulating pile of pretty things; to feel all the time that something, which might prove very pleasant, was going to happen; and that she was the cause of all the little bustle of preparation that filled the house, and engrossed the mind and hands of mother and sisters. There is always something, more or less exciting in the appearance of a trunk, and when packing time actually came, Olive found that she was beginning to indulge in some very pleasing anticipations.
"I expect Jean has grown very tall," said Bea one afternoon, as the girls were all gathered in Olive's room, and the big trunk stood open in the middle of the floor.
"Probably wears long dresses, and does her hair in a chignogger," said Kat, from a perch on the foot-board of the bed, where she rested in idle moments.
"'Tisn't to be supposed that she can be treated so like a young lady, and not get stuck up. Just to think of having a maid, and being called Miss Dering, when you are only twelve. Hollo, Kittie! hand me that pile of skirts, and I'll fold them."
"Dear me," said Kittie, handing over the snowy starched heap. "You have six white skirts, Olive, and three of them trimmed. I'd feel terribly fixed up, and lady-like with so many."
"Pooh! some girls have six dozen, with tucks, and ruffles and puffles on every blessed one of them," said Kat, making the starched cloth rattle with her vigorous folding.
"All nonsense," assented Kittie, down on her knees before the trunk. "Now hand me the things and I'll pack. Kat, you're knocking everything off the table, the way you whisk those skirts around. Hand me the black dress; that's the heaviest and must go in first."
"Where's the other black tip?" asked Bea, who was trimming the travelling hat. "There it is, you blew it behind the table with your whirlwind of skirts; hand it to me, Kat."
"What fun it is to pack and go away," said Kat, fishing out the desired feather with Olive's parasol. "You pack like a captain, Kittie. I'd most likely have put her best hat in the first thing, shoe polish next, and then tumbled in anything that I happened to lay my hands on. Dear me, I wish I was going."
"I really think it's too bad that you haven't a party dress, Olive," said Kittie, with some disapproval.
"Whatever would she do with a party dress," cried Kat, once more enthroned on the foot-board. "Who'd give a party, I'd like to know? One old man, a little girl, and a pile of servants!"
"Young Mr. Congreve is there," corrected Bea.
"S'pose he is; and anyhow, I hope you'll snub him, Olive; he's going to own Congreve Hall, and it ought to have been papa's. If he was a decent man he wouldn't take it. How are you going to treat him?"
"I don't know;—yes, I like the feather that way; you ought to see how nicely my dress hangs," said Olive, in a little flutter of pleasing excitement. "Really, it's quite nice getting ready to go away. I only wish the visit was over and done with, and all this preparation was for sending me off to study."
"Don't worry about your studying, you're twice as smart now as any of us," said Bea, surveying her work, from its perch on her finger. "Now try this on, Olive, I've tipped the feather a little more to one side, and it looks more jaunty—just the thing too; isn't that becoming girls?"
"Perfectly mag!" exclaimed Kat, making an eye-glass of her hands, and falling into a rapture of admiration that pretty near upset her from the foot-board.
"I declare, you're going to be very distinguished looking, Olive," said Kittie, resting from her packing to survey, and pass an opinion. "And a cocked hat is very becoming. The next thing we hear, you will be creating a sensation in Staunton that will shake the whole of Virginia."
"Very likely," laughed Olive; but she looked pleased, for there was honest admiration in each sister's voice; and, after all, it is no small thing to be going off alone, with a trunk filled by loving hands, a new cocked hat that is becoming, and the pleasing thought of looking well in all respects, and perhaps "distinguished."
The day for departure came at last; and in the afternoon sunshine, Olive, trunk and satchel stood on the porch, waiting for the express wagon; and the front door stood open, and there was a great deal of laughing and talking going on within, that sounded very gay and happy. Dr. Barnett had taken advantage of the little excitement to drop in, though he had been around only the evening before, and bid Olive good-bye, with much ceremony and many good wishes; but no one seemed to object to his being on hand again, for Bea looked her unconscious happiness, and Mrs. Dering was cordial and kind, and the young doctor was in a dream of bliss.
"Where's Ralph?" exclaimed Olive, suddenly, when the real good-bye moment had fairly come; if such it could be called, when the whole family were going to the depot with the young traveller.
"He's gone, sure enough!" said Kittie, after some hasty and lusty calling had taken place. "I suppose he's gone on down to the train; but it's funny the wagon don't come."
"I'll trot down to the gate and see if it is in sight," volunteered Kat, who was obliged to keep moving as a vent to excitement; but just as she started, there rattled up to the gate, in great style, the handsomest of Canfield's two hacks, and out of it sprang Ralph.
"I wanted you to go off in style," he said, well pleased with himself when he saw Olive's delighted look. "Here cabby, is the trunk! Now, ladies—hollo, doctor! you going to the train?"
"Well, really," said Dr. Barnett, hesitating, "I hadn't thought, but, if Miss Olive will allow me, I'll be happy."
He said Miss Olive, but, bless you! he looked right straight at Miss Beatrice, and she smiled; and after that, neither ever knew whether Olive was willing or not.
"This is putting on style with a vengeance," said Kat, as the ladies seated themselves in the back, after the trunk had been tossed aloft. "People will think the whole family is departing for Europe."
"That's Olive! that's Olive! Oh I'm so glad; hurry James, there she is!"
It was an eager, childish voice, ringing joyfully through the Staunton depot, and making every one turn and smile at the speaker, who stood in a large carriage, running her eyes over the crowd that gathered as the train came in and stopped; and suddenly breaking into that joyful cry, as she watched for a face, which appeared among so many strange ones.
"Yes, Miss Jean; the young lady in grey?"
"Yes, and hurry; she doesn't see us yet," cried Jean, almost leaping from the carriage in her eager excitement, but James made his way through the crowd, and Olive suddenly found herself confronted by a tall man who lifted his hat.
"Miss Dering? Miss Jean is in the carriage; may I take your satchel? This way, please."
Olive followed, with her heart fluttering wildly; but almost before her quick eye discovered her little sister, James had paused at the carriage, and Jean was laughing and crying on her neck.
"Oh, Olive, I'm so glad and happy, I don't know what to do! I was so afraid you wouldn't come—and Uncle Ridley told me I mustn't get out of the carriage—and cousin Roger couldn't come with me—and I'm so glad you came—and how is mama and the girls—why don't you say something?"
More than one person in hearing of this incoherent outburst, smiled broadly, and James was obliged to lower his head as he assisted Olive into the carriage, lest the twinkle of amusement in his face, should mar his profound dignity and professed stolidity for anything outside his coachmanship.
"Do tell me everything—quick," cried Jean, as the carriage started onward, and she took her seat on Olive's lap. "Didn't mama send her picture, or something? I'd give twenty million dollars, if I had it, if I could just see her for a few little minutes. I guess I've cried about fifty gallons of tears to see you all since I came here."
"Cried, when you are getting well?" laughed Olive, just beginning to realize how much she had wanted to see the little sister, who was now clinging to her with such joyous love.
"Yes, indeed I have; and then Bettine gets so sorry for me, and says it isn't right, but then, I think God ought not to make me love mama and you all so much, if He does not want me to cry to see you."
"And are you ever so much better?" asked Olive.
"Oh yes, I never use my crutch now, only a little cane to help me, and the first time I really walk without any thing, I'm going to have my picture taken for mama."
"I will draw it," exclaimed Olive. "If I am here, and have you standing among the flowers."
"How nice," cried Jean; then drew back a little, and looked at her sister, as though just aware that she was really present.
"Why, Olive, you—seems to me—I don't know; but then, aren't you changed a good deal, someway?"
"I don't know; do you think I am?" asked Olive feeling the color creep into her cheeks, at the honest childish question.
"Yes, it seems to me you are;" and Jean looked undecided whether to go on. "You look so nice and pretty, and then you don't seem a bit cross; is it because you are glad to see me?"
"That's just exactly it," cried Olive, moved to hide her face.
"You don't know how glad I am to see you Jeanie, and if I'm cross a single once while I'm here, you may scold me."
"Oh, Olive," and Jean laughed merrily. "The idea of my scolding you, that's too funny. Don't you ever get cross any more?"
"I try not, but then I do a great many times, I expect; I don't think I will now though, for I'm so glad to be with you, and find that you are just the same little Jeanie, that mama and the girls love and want to see so much. Why Kat said she expected you would have on long dresses, and be a young lady."
"What a funny old girl she is," cried Jean. "I'd give anything to hear her laugh once, it always sounds so pretty."
The rest of the drive was taken up in hasty chattering, as though they were going to be separated in just a few moments, and would leave something untold; and Olive never noticed that they had entered some tall gates, and were going up a white gravel road that wound in and out of the velvet-like lawn; and had quite forgotten her trepidation at meeting Mr. Congreve, until they came to a stand still, and James, throwing open the carriage door, revealed the great entrance portico, the open doors and the cool dark interior to Congreve Hall.
"Where is Uncle Ridley?" was Jean's first question, as James lifted her out and handed her cane, while Olive followed.
"I do not know, Miss Jean," James answered; but at that moment, Mr. Congreve became visible, advancing through the wide hall, and with her heart in a little jump, Olive passed Jean, entered the door, and met him, with outstretched hand.
"How do you do, Uncle Ridley?"
"Uncle Ridley! God bless my soul, just listen," cried the old man, the quizzical look on his face changing to one of blank delighted amazement, "Why, how do you do, my dear child; I didn't know but what you'd take my head off the first thing; you've changed a great deal; yes, bless my soul you have, but it's very becoming, it is indeed. Now come right in and sit down, and let me look at you, for I'd like to do so, yes I would. There—hum! ha, I never expected to get this close to you and be safe. And you called me Uncle Ridley too. Do it of your own accord?"
"Going to do it again?"
"If you want me to?"
"Want you to! God bless my soul! Just listen. I never was a downright, unvarnished heathen, but twice in my life; and I guess you know about both of those times, and my first request is that you let them slide from your memory. The Lord knows I'd like to! Yes, child, I want you to call me uncle, I hoped you would, but I wasn't going to ask you to. Before I die, I would like to be a better uncle to Robert's children than I ever was to him."
Olive found that what little of the old dislike that lingered in her memory was fast vanishing, but before she could speak, he had whisked back into his odd, abrupt way.
"What stupids we are, to be sure; never ask you to take off your things, or wash your face; and it's dirty sure as I'm alive! but then, there's enough smoke and dust and stuff, between here and New York, to dirty the faces of all the angel hosts, so you needn't mind; though I don't suppose you do; bless me! no; but then, you had better go and wash it. Jeanie, Olive is ready to go up stairs."
Jean had been fluttering about Olive's chair in impatient eagerness, and now signified her readiness to act as guide by seizing her hand and hurrying out.
"I was so afraid he would keep you there to talk," she said, as they went up the wide stairway, and through the hall, that made Olive open her eyes in spite of herself, for she never had seen such lavish display of elegance; and she was immediately seized with an old feeling of awkward strangeness, that brought a defiant color to her face, as she thought of any one discovering that she was unused to any elegance or custom that might reign in Congreve Hall.
"Uncle Ridley had these rooms fixed for you," said Jean, throwing open a large door, and ushering her in. "See, aren't they just beautiful?"
"Yes, indeed," exclaimed Olive in quick delight; for they were certainly gems to make a girl rejoice. Three, with a bath-room, all complete, and looking like Titania's bower in their delicate green coloring and bamboo furniture. The carpets were like untouched moss clinging fresh and sweet, to mother-rocks, and to Olive, it seemed almost like sacrilege to tread upon it. From the wide, deep windows was a view, such as would hold the most careless gazer in a moment of ecstasy, and after one quick cry of artistic appreciation, Olive stood mutely entranced. Looking down, there were occasional glimpses of the magnificent lawn, with here and there, a rustic seat, and white statue, thrown in bold relief as seen through the tossing foliage; and looking out, there showed the road winding down through the mountains, every now and then disappearing, until finally lost to view; and farther off, and down in the valley lay Staunton, the busy, beautiful city, with its church spires rising into the hazy atmosphere, as though in defiance to the lofty peaks towering so much higher, and printing themselves against the sky in the far distance, in jagged, immovable lines, that looked like relentless guards to something beyond.
"Do you want a maid?" asked Jean, breaking in upon her reverie. "Uncle Ridley sent to ask you."
"A maid!" exclaimed Olive, feeling blank for a moment. Did she want a maid? No; of course she didn't. Ernestine would have taken a maid; oh, yes; and no one would ever thought but what she had had a maid and untold luxuries all her life. But she—"No, I don't want any maid," she said, almost sharply; then laughed as Jean looked grieved at the quick tone. "What would I do with a maid, Jeanie? She would know a great deal more what to do than I, and that would never do, you know. Besides, I'm too used to dressing myself. Do all young ladies in Virginia have maids?"
"All the rich ones, I guess. Miss Franc Murray,—she is going to marry Cousin Roger, Bettine says; she has one, and scolds her like everything when her hair isn't just right."
"Why, how do you know?" laughed Olive.
"I've been there lots of times. She comes here for me, and tells Uncle Ridley she loves me dearly; but Olive—"
"When she comes, she stays just as long as she can; and if Cousin Roger isn't around, she asks me where he is, and all about him; then I have to promise never to tell."
"But you are telling me."
"Oh, do you think that counts?" cried Jean in alarm. "She didn't ever mean you; but then, perhaps, I better not tell any more until I ask her, for I might break my word."
Olive could not resist kissing the childish, innocent face that looked more like a little angel's than a child of nearly twelve. Surely, no matter how Jean was surrounded, she would always retain that childish sweetness and purity, that had always made her seem more of heaven than earth. Before she left Congreve Hall, Olive many times wondered that the child was not spoiled, for her slightest wish was law, from the owner down to the last servant therein.
When the bell rang for tea, it broke in upon an earnest cosy chat between the sisters, and made them reluctant to leave their seat in the twilight; but Mr. Congreve was punctual to the letter, and required the same of others, so Jean led the way in a moment, and together they descended the stairs and entered the room.
"Here you are, with your face clean, and a posy in your hair," cried Mr. Congreve, from his stand on the rug. "Fine looking girl, you are, my dear, and a Congreve every inch of you. Come here, and shake a paw with your Uncle Ridley."
Olive did so, and conscious that another gentleman was standing outside the circle of light, and doubtless regarding her as she crossed the room to "shake a paw," she advanced, and tried not to think whether she was doing so gracefully or not.
"That's the way," exclaimed Mr. Congreve, drawing her into the brightest light. "Roger, here is your Cousin Olive, and Olive, this is Roger Ridley Congreve at your service, and we will suppose that you are cousins, for the want of a better name. Now shake hands and be friends, children."
The gentleman came forward, and conscious that her face was growing scarlet, Olive bowed slightly, and murmured something wherein no words were audible, but his name, and grew furiously angry with herself, because she had become confused at the sight of a gentleman, where she had expected to see only a youth.
"Hoity-toity!" cried Mr. Congreve. "That will never do; call the boy Roger, Olive, and then we will go to supper."
"The boy" smiled in a friendly fashion, and supposing that her confusion arose from the old gentleman's abrupt manner, he held out his hand.
"Let us shake and be friendly, Cousin Olive, and it is a great wonder that he doesn't command a kiss of greeting, on the strength of our being cousins, more or less distantly removed."
As he spoke, Olive looked up with a startled air, and unconscious that he was holding her hand, she looked straight at him for several moments. Where had she ever seen that face and heard that voice?
"What's the matter?" cried Jean, for the memory was in some way painful to her, and reflected itself so in her face.
"Nothing," exclaimed Olive, withdrawing her hand in mortified haste, and flushing scarlet again.
"I thought perhaps you was getting ready to blow his head off," exclaimed Mr. Congreve, as if in relief. "That's something the way you looked at me, only not so ferocious, no! God bless my soul, no! I should have run if it had been; I should indeed. Now let's go to supper. Jeanie, come and help your old uncle along, and Roger, you take your Cousin Olive, and lead the way."
Olive was angry, mortified and confused, so her reception of Roger's arm was none too gracious, nor the few words she uttered in answer to what he said, anything but barely audible and civil. Sensitively aware that she had allowed her feelings to get possession of her in the commencement, she tried to rectify matters now, and grew so frigid that there was no thawing her out. Roger Congreve's eyes wore a constant twinkle, and he looked at her so frequently that Olive defiantly felt that he was laughing at her awkward confusion, and the thought made his prospects towards gaining her friendship, none too bright. So on the whole, supper was not a successful meal, for Mr. Congreve never, when at the table, allowed any duty or pleasure to interfere with his eating; in consequence of which, he now devoted himself solely to chicken and chocolate, with only an occasional word, shot in edgeways, between bites. Jean was worried, because Olive looked so displeased, and as for Mr. Congreve the younger, he soon found that their guest preferred to say little or nothing, so allowed her to have her way. Immediately at the close of the meal, Jean and Olive went up stairs. Mr. Congreve went to sleep, with a big pocket handkerchief over his head, and his hands folded solemnly over his waistcoat; and the young gentleman took himself away,—to see "Miss Murray," said Jean, as she settled in Olive's lap for a chat. "I know he's going there, because I heard him tell Carl, that's the gardener, to gather a beautiful bouquet."
For the first week the two sisters were left entirely to themselves; and they talked early and late, until every step travelled by each; during their separation, had been gone over, and made familiar with, by the other. Almost every day, Jean wanted to hear Ernestine's story repeated, and each time it seemed to grieve her more, though she never failed to say with a patient trusting faith—"She will come back, I know she will, for I ask God every night, and then somehow I always feel as though he had said to me: 'Wait a little longer Jean, I'm not ready quite yet,' so I'm waiting, Olive."
Such perfect unquestioning faith, was something that Olive could not understand; and many times, when Jean spoke in such a simple trusting way, of how she talked to God, and told Him her little wants and worries, the elder sister would feel, with a thrill of fear, that perhaps God was going to take onto Himself, the child, who, all her short life had seemed to breath the air of Heaven more than of earth; and that up above, she would be united to the sister, who seemed lost to them below.
They wrote home nearly every day, and Olive's letters were such blessings, for were they not filled, from beginning to end, with news of Jean! How she was growing strong and well, and would, perhaps, walk before Fall; how every one, from Uncle Ridley down, were devoted to her, and what a little dream of luxury her life was now, with every want or wish gratified, and everything that heart could wish. "And she is so sweet and unselfish," writes Olive. "A very little angel she seems to me, mama, and every hour that I spend with her, helps me in some way. There is a little lesson for me in all her childish words, and I'm not ashamed to tell you that I wish I could be more like her, though I never can. She seems apart some way, and is a constant study, that becomes more precious to me every day. When I pray, it seems to me like an important extra thing, that I must make some preparation for and be precise about; and then I cannot help feeling, that perhaps I'm not heard after all, which I know is wrong; but it is so different with Jean. She goes to God, as she would to you or papa, and never seems to doubt that every word is heard, and interested in. She is perfectly confident that Ernestine is coming back, and it gives me hope just to be near such perfect faith."
After having given them several days of uninterrupted talk, Mr. Congreve began to lay claims to more of their time. He said he was lonesome for Jean, and that he was not getting any better acquainted with Olive, than as if she had staid at home; and that he thought they might talk to him, five minutes a day, at least; so after that, Jean spent her usual time with him, and Olive brought bits of sewing, or a little sketch she might be working on, down to the library, and they spent hours together. It was a pleasing study, to see how this companionship with the girls, affected the crusty old gentleman. He would sit by the hour with Jean on his knee, listening to her quaint childish talk, and looking alternately at her and at Olive, sketching or sewing, in the window seat; and the dear knows, what all he might be thinking about; but it must have been much; for it sometimes got the better of him, in a way that made easy breathing difficult, and brought the red handkerchief into vigorous use; and then he would jump up, flurry about, as though he were scaring a whole brood of chickens from the room.
"There! clear out, clear out; God bless my soul! I want to read and be quiet awhile. Jeanie, hunt up my glasses, and get down my book, and then trot out, and be quick about it."
The first time he dismissed them in this abrupt fashion, Olive left with dignity, and told Jean that they would not trouble him again; then she thought it over, and changed her mind, and went back the next day as usual, to his evident surprise, for he had noticed her heightened color the day before, and little expected to see her back; so that when she came in, he gave vent to an astonished "humph!" and after a moment's pause, took one or two thoughtful turns around the room.
"So you are determined to put up with the crusty old uncle, are you?" he said, pausing beside her, and looking down at the little sketch that was growing under her busy fingers. "Well, my dear, I'll turn in and help you; but if I ever get too much like a bear to be called human, you must remember that I'm getting old, and rather on the cross-grain; and not mind me any more than you can help. Now I just enjoy seeing you sit here and sketch," he went on more briskly. "Robert used to sit here in this very window, and draw mountains and valleys, and all sorts of things, and he did 'em well, though not as quick and true as you. I suppose he would have been an artist, and a splendid good one, too; but then I didn't want him to, so he gave it up,—a good boy was Robert, a splendid good boy, and I hope the dear Lord will forgive me for ever forgetting what my duty was to him, and letting my thundering temper get the better of me;—there now, draw away; I'm going off for a little tramp in the garden, and I'll be back a great deal sooner than you'll want me, I expect;" and off he went, with a great racket, which he never failed to make, when at all excited.
One day, when he startled them with the usual abrupt dismissal, Olive did not go; instead, she laid down her work, and took his book, which was a ponderous volume of essays.
"Now, Uncle Ridley, don't you want me to read to you?"
"Read to me! God bless my soul! you read to me! Well, I never, I never did, to be sure; where's my snuff-box?—you read to me? No, I think not; you—you'll read too fast, and clatter your words up, and I'll have to work like a steam engine to keep up with you; no, on the whole, I guess not, I guess not."
Olive's first thought was to put the book down, and leave, but her second was the one she acted upon.
"I'll read slow," she said, "and as distinctly as I can; shall I try?"
"Well, humph! I guess you may; sit down there, and go slow," with which remark, he sat back in his chair, spread the red handkerchief over his face, and Olive began to read. She read well, slowly and distinctly, and in a little while, the clear voice attracted another listener, who came in quietly, and studied the young reader's thoughtful face, from his seat in a distant corner.
UNDER THE SHADY GREEN-WOOD TREE.
"Why, Kat, what is the matter?"
"Nothing; not a blessed thing; I'm just trying to see how big a goose I can be. Where did you come from?"
"Down town. Why, child, you look as if you had been crying for hours. What is the matter?"
"Nothing, I tell you; take my word, and get out of the way, for I'm going to jump;" and down she came from above, with a swinging leap that brought a shower of half-ripe apples with her, and filled the air with leaves. "I had the dumps a little, and I've been sitting here in the tree crying over this book, until my nose is so big that I cannot see over it, and my eyes ache terribly."
"I should think they would, and you look dreadfully frowzled," said Bea, smoothing down her own dress, with an air of self-approval. "Really, Kat—"
"Oh, come now, don't. I never was, and never will be a pink of propriety; and I would like to have a little peace and rest from lectures. You and Kittie are getting so orderly and band-boxy-fied, that there's no pleasure living. I'll be glad when Olive comes back, for she isn't quite so distressingly particular!" exclaimed Kat, who was evidently in anything but the best of humors.
"Well, don't get fussy about it, and I won't say any more," promised Bea, with a conciliatory smile. "Besides, I've got some good news. We are invited to Mrs. Raymond's picnic, next Wednesday!"
"You don't say so; hurrah!" cried Kat, in a sudden gale of delight, her eyes beginning to sparkle behind their still wet lashes.
"What oceans of bliss! Who did you see?"
"Clara and Lou; they were just coming out here to invite us, when I met them. It will be splendid; they are going ten miles out, and they supply carriages for all, and there will be boating and dancing, and games, and just everything delightful."
Kat spun around on her heel enthusiastically, and threw a handful of small apples into the air. "Of course there will," she cried. "Raymonds' never do anything except in the most stylish way. That's the fun of being rich."
"I've just been down to call on Miss Barnett," said Bea, stooping to pick some imaginary burr from her dress. "They are invited, too."
"Ah, indeed," said Kat, with a mischievous chuckle, "I suppose of course, you are glad, for you want Miss Barnett to have a good time, don't you?"
"Of course," answered Bea, with much composure, and a little color. "She is a very pleasant young lady, and I would like to invite them here one evening before she goes home."
"Nothing to prevent that I can see," said Kat, "unless the doctor should object; but then, I don't think he will."
"I shall ask mama," continued Bea, without noticing the little sly remark. "I need not have many, about fifteen is enough; and we might have cake, you know."
"Yes, cake and water; cheap and original; she won't expect much, for I suppose the doctor has told her that we are poor as Job's turkey."
"I suppose he has not," corrected Bea, with some mild resentment. "He would have no occasion to mention us in connection with such a subject. Besides, we're not as poor as that."
"Just go by it then," laughed Kat. "But you shall have a party, dear, if I have to paint the hole in the carpet and do all the work. We'll have a party or die."
Very much the same conclusion, only a little more mildly put, Mrs. Dering came to, when Bea made her modest request, with a pretty color in her face.
"I know the parlor furniture is shabby, but it won't show so much at night," Bea explained. "And we might just have cake and coffee, you know, mama."
"Yes, dear, quite a nice little idea; and I think we can do it without any trouble," answered Mrs. Dering, with that degree of motherly interest that is always so encouraging, "How many would you like to have, and on what evening?"
"How good you are!" cried Bea, with a grateful hug, before she answered any questions. "Twelve is enough, don't you think so! Perhaps we'd like to dance, or if the moon should be very bright, we could play croquet and row on the pond."
"Quite delightful ideas. And what evening, dear?"
"Next—the picnic is on Wednesday. I guess on Friday evening would be the best; Miss Barnett goes home on the next Tuesday."
"On Friday evening next. Well, I will spend the meantime studying up my receipt-book, for its been a long time since I made a fancy cake," laughed Mrs. Dering. "As to the parlor, I think you had better go right in and see what is needed there."
"So we had. Come on girls;" and off fluttered Bea, with a blithe song on her lips, and followed by Kittie and Kat, who were consumed with excitement at the prospect of a picnic and party in one week.
The parlors were quite large double rooms that had never been fully furnished, but had received chairs and a table or two, by degrees; a lounge at one time, a couple of stools at another, and, lastly, a what-not, at which point contributions towards furnishing them ceased. The carpet was rather shabby, from long use, and in one or two places was worn perfectly white, which must be remedied in some way, as they looked alarmingly big. The girls opened the door, and Kat immediately said:
"Curtains must be washed."
"Sweeping the carpet with salt and tea-leaves brightens it up," added Kittie, throwing open the blinds, and letting the sunlight in.
"Goodness, how that makes everything look!" cried Bea, in sudden dismay.
"But it doesn't shine at night," said Kat, consolingly. "Bless me! how the back of the big chair is worn! what shall we do?"
"Make a big tidy out of darning-cotton," answered Kittie. "That's pretty and cheap, and I know a lovely stitch, and can put long fringe on."
"Capital idea!" assented Kat, with an approving nod.
"We'll have to bring something in out of the sitting-room," said Bea, pushing the chairs around, with a view to making one fill the space required by two. "There's so much room, and it makes things look so skimpy."
"Don't have everything pushed back so," advised Kittie, giving a twitch here and a pull there, that brought things to more social angles, and left less space. "See that fills out some, and in that corner we can put the wire rack and fill it with flowers and vines."
"But the rack is so rusty," said Bea, only half relieved.
"There's some green paint in the woodshed, and I'll touch it up," said Kittie, becoming thoroughly interested. "We can make a lovely corner-piece out of it; there's all those limestones down in the yard, and some of them are such pretty shapes, that will look lovely set in moss, with vines going over them. We can hang the baskets in the windows, and when the curtains are fresh and clean, it will look so pretty."
"Hurrah for my better half," cried Kat, with a flourish of her hat. "It's bliss to hear you talk. Your words are like wisdom and—butter-scotch."
"What's in the wind?" asked an interested voice from the window. "And what's all this I hear about limestones and butter-scotch and wisdom?"
"Don't you wish you knew?" said Kat, with an unfriendly grimace.
"I do, indeed; and what's more I'm going to find out, because you will tell me, won't you, Posy?" said the new-comer, appealing to Bea, by the nickname which her prettily-colored cheeks had won from him.
"Oh, yes, of course; and you must make yourself useful. I'm going to give a little company for Miss Barnett," said Bea, with a friendly nod, to make up for Kat's ungraciousness.
"So-ho, a party, and we are all going to make our debut, are we?" asked Ralph, swinging himself into the open window, and taking a seat on the sill, with an air of interest. "Good! Tell me what you want done, and I'm ready, Posy."
"We'd like to have you take yourself off, somewhere, and stay till the day after the party," was Kat's uncomplimentary remark.
"And I would like to oblige you, my dear, but I couldn't stay away from you that long," retorted Ralph.
"I'm not your dear, shut up;" cried Kat, flapping her hat, and scowling at the handsome, laughing face.
"There," cried Bea, with a suddenly exhausted air. "I don't see any way of filling that big space between the windows in the back parlor. Dear me, I wish there was more furniture."
"Bring the piano in," advised Ralph. "That's just exactly the place for it, and it ought to be in here on such an occasion."
"Goodness! To be sure, but there's the expense of moving," exclaimed Bea with a longing sigh. "And it would have to go back, of course."
"Why? Leave it here, a parlor's the place for a piano."
"Yes, but that would never do," said Bea with decision. "We always sit in the other room, because it is so much more sunshiny and cozy than these big parlors; and it would seem deserted without the piano there, especially in the evenings."
"Reasons very good and accepted," assented Ralph. "The only thing left to be done, is to decide whether or no, the piano shall come in and go back; ready, those who want it so;—and remember, I'm going to attend to it. Now then: yea or nay?"
"Yea," cried the girls, in one delighted breath; after which, Bea ornamented him with a rose-bud, in token of her thanks, Kittie beamed untold gratitude upon him, and Kat remarked with condescension: "You can be a first-rate trump, when you take a notion."
"I'm overcome," said Ralph, with both hands over his heart, and leaving his seat to make an extravagant bow—"To receive a bud from Posy, a smile from Kittie, and the assurance from my unconquerable Kathleen, that I can be a trump; is too much; I therefore hope you will excuse me for leaving you somewhat abruptly, ladies;" and out of the window he went with a flying leap, and Kat, watching him stroll down the yard, made another astonishing admission:
"He's very handsome, if he is such a bother," she said, putting on her hat with a reflective air. "I don't know, but what he might become quite civilized, if he staid here long enough."
Between the picnic and the party, the girls were kept pretty busy for the next few days, and the house was very merry, for busy hands with happy hearts, bring chattering tongues and joyous laughter; and these summer days were gleeful ones.
To be sure, some accidents happened, both comical and disastrous, and in fact, it never was otherwise, if anything was going on in which Kat had a hand.
On the impulse of an unlucky moment she offered to paint the flower-rack, as Kittie was busy; so rigged in a big torn flat, and a pair of fingerless gloves, she went to work, and painted the bottom first, with flourishing success; but left it out over night, when it rained and splashed her work with mud; then she began over, and did the top first, and then hung the pot on a little hook, and went over the bottom again; but in the midst of her zeal, the pot slipped, turned over, and deluged her head and body with slopping green paint, and would have ruined her eyes, if she hadn't shut them tight with the first gasp of amaze; and when she tried to walk to the house with them closed, the wheel-barrow stood in the way, and over she went, with a shriek of dismay that brought the whole household flying to the spot; after which the afflicted damsel was picked up, and carried tenderly to the kitchen to be worked with.
Ralph finished the rack, and Kat heard him remark, that she had daubed enough paint on one knob, to do for half the rack. It didn't make her feel any better.
In her zeal to get the parlors clean, Bea had climbed the step-ladder to wash some ancient dust from the top of the folding doors, but the ladder tilted, and over she went soap suds and all; and in answer to a wailing cry, the rescuing family once more put in an appearance, to find that the cleanly heroine, had wrenched her ankle, and could not step on it, but must be carried to the sitting-room, to have the afflicted member rubbed with arnica.
"I tried to jump," she explained with pathetic rivers of tears. "Oh dear, what shall I do? I can't go to the picnic—nor have the company—nor anything—and I think it's too b-b-ad."
"Perhaps it is not so serious," said Mrs. Dering, with comfort in her voice, and in her swift careful fingers that were binding the swollen ankle in cool bands. "You will have to be perfectly still, and by Wednesday, I think it will be well; it is only a little twist, so don't feel so cast down dear." But Bea refused to be comforted, and sobbed herself to sleep that night. Not to go to the picnic, when Dr. Barnett had asked her to go in the phaeton with them, oh, it was too bad, surely!
Beyond hammering one of her fingers, till the nail swelled up with insulted feeling, and threatened to come off, nothing happened to Kittie, who considered herself specially blessed, and did her whole head up in papers on Monday night, so as to be sure and have it curl for Wednesday.
When Tuesday arrived, Bea had sunk to the lowest ebb. She knew she couldn't go, and there was no use talking. She was the most unfortunate girl that ever lived, and no one could deny it; and after making this assertion numberless times during the day, she gave up and cried despondingly, giving herself full freedom as she was alone; and so it happened that a young man came up the walk, and finding the front door open, came in, and a moment later, stood transfixed at the sitting-room threshold, to behold that utterly crushed looking figure on the lounge, with dishevelled hair, and hidden face; while the most heart-broken sobs crept out from behind a drenched handkerchief. No wonder he was alarmed, or that his voice trembled when he asked:
"What is the matter—what has happened?"
Bea nearly fell off the lounge in dismay, and only gave him one brief, startled glimpse of her wet face, then she stopped crying, and said after a reflective pause:
"Nothing," he repeated, with a breath of relief, and then began to laugh.
"Won't you come in, Dr. Barnett?" said the discomfited weeper from behind her handkerchief, and with an attempt at dignity, "Excuse me for not rising; I'm—I'm lame."
The little hitch in her voice betrayed her grief; but, dear me! he was all interest now. He drew a chair close to the lounge, professional habit, no doubt, and ventured to touch one of the hands that supported the doleful looking handkerchief.
"Won't you let me see you? When did this happen?"
"Saturday. No, you can't see me; I've been crying an hour."
"Is the pain so great?"
Oh, no wonder this young M.D. was so popular if his voice was always thus tender and anxious in making inquiries.
"Pain! no, but," with a little hysterical sob, "I can't go to the picnic!"
Now you needn't smile at this frank explanation, for he did not. Bless you! no; he looked as if he had three minds to cry too, and if Mrs. Dering hadn't entered at that moment, there's no telling what he might have said by way of sympathy. As it was, he returned her cordial greeting, and began to express his regret in polite terms, but with much warmth of feeling that could not be concealed.
"Is it quite impossible, do you think? Lottie will be so disappointed;" he said, regardless of the fact that he was making Lottie do double duty, in the way of disappointment; but Bea took the remark in all good faith, and thought it was very sweet of Lottie to care whether she went or not.
"I don't know," answered Mrs. Dering, thoughtfully. "It was only a little twist, and she stood on it this morning, didn't you, Bea?"
"Yes, mama," said Bea, coming out from behind her handkerchief in eager interest. "I did for several minutes, and it didn't hurt hardly any."
"Suppose you try again," said Dr. Barnett with unprofessional haste to test an injured member. "Take my arm, and let's see if you cannot walk a step or two."
Bea did so, with a shy blush, and stood up; then after a moment, took a few steps, with the color coming and going in her cheeks, for more reasons than one; and, though it was very pleasant to feel her clinging to his arm in that helpless way, Dr. Barnett made her sit down; but passed his opinion that she could go to the picnic.
"Do you really think so?" said Bea, with delighted eagerness.
"I do, if you will be content to sit in the carriage all day," he answered, looking down at her, as though he thought a much swollen nose and highly colored eyes were the most adorable sights; and Bea looked up at him, then blushed, without any reason whatever, whereupon Mrs. Dering made some hasty remark about the desirable weather for picnics, and the doctor decided, all of a sudden, that he must go, which he accordingly did.
What a glorious hub-bub a picnic morning is, especially when there are several in one home interested in its perfect success. Neither of the girls slept much. Bea couldn't have told what kept her awake, but somehow, her eyes would remain open, and she was dimly conscious, of smiling several times in the dark, and feeling very happy. Once she came very near humming out a little air, that seemed to be singing itself over and over in her heart, but she suppressed the desire, out of consideration for others, who were less blissfully affected. Kittie declared that there was no use trying to sleep, because Kat kept getting up every few minutes, to look out and see if it was going to rain; and Kat, in turn, said that Kittie had sat up all night, because her crimping papers hurt her so she couldn't lie down. At just four o'clock everybody was fully awakened, by the twins clattering down stairs with a great racket, and getting breakfast under headway, and Mrs. Dering, awakened from her morning nap, consoled herself with a fervent—"Bless the children, I'm glad this doesn't happen often."
"It's going to rain," cried Kat, with a despairing wail. "See that cloud?"
"Stuff!" echoed Kittie. "It isn't as big as a door-knob." But nevertheless, they both let breakfast burn, while running every few moments to see if it was swelling any bigger, and were fully rewarded by seeing it dwindle and sail away over the barn before six o'clock.
No, it didn't rain, and before the sun was through his earliest infancy, they were all ready, and Dr. Barnett's phaeton stood at the gate, with Miss Lottie in a pretty picnic suit; and her brother deeply absorbed in the pleasing task of getting Bea down to the gate without hurting her ankle. Ralph officiated on one side of the interesting cripple, and took a wicked satisfaction in doing the greatest share of the supporting; but then the doctor was reasonable, and was as happy as possible with what fell to his share; and Bea,—well, Bea was perfectly content.
They drove off with an accompanying shout from those left behind, and a few moments later, Ralph and the twins departed on foot to meet the carriages that were all to assemble at a certain place.
Quite a little flutter of admiration went round as this trio came up, for Ralph was a very handsome centre piece, and the twins in their very becoming costumes and wide-awake hats, cocked up at one side after the prevailing fashion, made pictures of great attractiveness on each side. Everybody was there, and everybody was laughing and talking merrily, and everybody had a word of greeting for the new arrivals. Of all the old school-girls from Miss Howard's, Kittie and Kat were the only two who did not make pretensions towards young ladyhood; and just now, there was something so girlish and sweet about them, in their fresh calico suits, and bright young faces under the big hats, that one or two strangers asked who they were, all the elder people smiled approval, while the young ones, with an eye on the handsome cousin, nodded sweetly, and were quite attentive.
"Look at Susie Darrow," whispered Kat, under cover of her lowered hat. "All tricked out in silk, and a little gipsy bonnet, with a white plume; and she's been smiling at me every minute, and Ralph thinks she's the biggest goose out. I'll tell her so."
"No, goodness no; let her smile if she wants to, she'll soon find out that it's no use," answered Kittie. "There's Sadie Brooks too, she's been in New York, and has got an eye-glass, dear sakes alive, just watch her use it, will you?"
"Good morning girls, you look a couple of daisies;" said Mrs. Raymond, going by with a nod and a smile. "You and your cousin, are to go in our carriage, the girls want you," and away she went, like a busy happy soul that she was.
"The Raymond girls look sensible," said Kittie, with an air of approval; "see they have on short dresses, and big hats; I think Lou is prettier than Clara, don't you?"
"Rather," answered Kat, too much taken up in watching her former play-mates, to notice others. Susie Darrow had been to boarding-school, Sadie Brooks to New York, and May Moore was going to the sea-side next month; so they were all much uplifted in mind and manner, and took unto themselves the airs of thoroughly initiated society-ladies.
"Girls?" said Miss Brooks, with her little affected drawl, and raising her eye-glass in her lavender kid-fingers. "Which ones do you mean, I do not quite understand?"
"Those two under the big tree," replied her questioner, a visitor in Canfield. "Twins they are, in the big hats."
"Oh! Yes." Miss Brooks's eye-glass went slowly to the place indicated, and took a leisure survey. "You mean the little girls in calico dresses; they are the Derings, I believe, but really, being in the city so long, I find I am quite forgetting old faces."
"Indeed," was the reply, with a respectful air, though the desire to laugh was almost irresistible. The little girls in calico dresses were fifteen, and taller than Miss Brooks, who was just sixteen; but then, dear me, she had on a train of party length, bushels of banged hair, a little wisp of a bonnet, and little fine black marks along her lower eyelid, so altogether she looked about twenty, and was perfectly satisfied with herself. She could not look ahead to the dissatisfaction that would be hers when she became twenty, and looked to be twenty-eight.
When they started, ten merry carriage-loads, everybody stood in their doors, and hung over the front gates to see them off, for Canfield was a social little place, and felt a deep interest in anything going on within its limits; so if good wishes could make a successful day, surely they would have it.
Well, they did have it; yes, indeed, they did; and a happier set of young people were never turned wild in green-woods. To be sure, there were some draw-backs; for instance, when a dozen or so went off to swing in a wild-grape vine, Sadie Brooks couldn't go, her dress was too long, and it would tear her gloves. Likewise, when they played "drop the handkerchief," "blind-man," and "down on this carpet," Susie Darrow couldn't join, because her tie-back would hardly admit of sitting down, let alone racing in the woods; besides, the wind blew her white plume all up, and took the crimp out of her hair, and then she lost her lace handkerchief, and didn't receive much attention from handsome Ralph Tremayne; and altogether, she lost her temper, declared picnics a bore, and told May Moore that no one but romps ever came to them anyhow, which, considering that both she and May were in attendance, was a remark which might have been improved on.
Sitting in a carriage all day proved to be no hardship to Bea, for didn't Dr. Barnett spend nearly all his time there? and at Miss Lottie's proposal, didn't several of them trim the phaeton in boughs and vines, and deck her out in flowers until she looked like a forest queen? and aside from being a favorite, didn't she receive so much sympathy that there was a constant court before and around her throne? and above it all, don't you suppose a certain pair of eyes, as they looked at her that day, told her a certain story more plainly than the owner's lips ever could? That she was the fairest and dearest picture to him, there, or elsewhere?
"Who is that young lady—little girl, I am almost disposed to call her, with the fresh young face and lovely eyes? The one who stands on the bank, there, with the wreath of leaves on her hat?"
Mrs. Raymond's brother asked the question, as he sat with his sister on an elevated spot under a big tree, surveying the gay crowds roaming about in all directions.
"That? It is one of the Dering twins," answered Mrs. Raymond, with a smile of interest. "But I don't know which; they are not to be distinguished; they are lovely girls, so fresh and unaffected. I suppose you have noticed them both?"
"Yes, and I disagree with you, for they are to be distinguished; I have been watching them with considerable interest. There; the other one is coming down the hill now; do you mean to tell me that you see no difference?"
"Well, surely not in face or figure," replied Mrs. Raymond, with a puzzled glance. "I see that the new-comer's hat is hanging to her neck, and has no trimming, that her gloves are gone, and she has the general appearance of having gone through a wind-mill."
"And you have struck the distinction admirably, my dear," was the smiling answer. "There was something in their faces that interested me this morning, and I have noticed them a great deal. So far as I can see, the one has had just as gay a time as the other, and done very nearly as much romping; and yet you see, she looks as fresh and sweet as when starting out, with the addition of much becoming trimming; and where she has gone heartily, yet with a girlish grace, the other has gone pell-mell, as though in defiance of any restriction on feminine gender. Do you know which is which?"
"Indeed, I do not," said Mrs. Raymond, who was not acquainted with the characteristics of the twins. "All I know is that one is Kittie and the other Kat, and that I never know which is which when I am talking to them, never having had time to study them up."
"Well, I will wager my shoe-buckle, that the one on the bank is Kittie, and the hatless one Kat," was the quiet response. "At least, that is the way it ought to be. Now I should like to meet Miss Kittie, and if you—"
"Is it possible?" cried the lady, throwing up her hands in amaze. "You, who would only consent to come, on condition that you need not be introduced, and play the agreeable to the young ladies; well, well! who would have thought it, Paul?"
"The generality of young ladies are bores," was the reply. "I did not expect to meet such a fresh faced, lovely young girl; for society never allows them to remain so, if it gets hold of them."
"It will never be so with these girls," said Mrs. Raymond. "They have too sensible and lovely a mother, and besides, they are a family much devoted among themselves; there are five sisters, you will remember my telling you about the other one, Ernestine, she sang like an angel; and another one is an artist, the youngest a cripple, and—well they all seem to live solely for each other, so require little from society. I admire them all very much."
"So do I, from what I hear," said the gentleman, getting up from his grassy seat, and glancing down at the bank. "Shall I assist you?"
"No, indeed; I'm not old yet, if I am grey," laughed Mrs. Raymond, jumping nimbly up to prove her assertion. "I don't know what the ladies will say, Paul, to see you finally succumbing to feminine attractions; they have all eyed you in your seclusion with evident regret. You know there is something singularly attractive about a widower, young or old; though I suppose you have found that out," she added with a sister's fond belief that her brother is irresistible in every way.
"Yes, I dislike conceit; but I have found out a few things in the last four years," he answered, smiling; then uttering a little exclamation of disappointment, as they reached the foot of the hill, and found that Kittie had disappeared from the bank.
"Great oaks from little acorns grow." Sometimes they do in books, sometimes they do out; and this afternoon in the sunshiny woods, two little acorns had been planted. One of them was when Paul Murray had looked with careless eyes into Kittie Dering's face, and found in its bright girlish sweetness, what had been lacking for him, in any woman's face since he lost his wife; namely—interest. He was a grave, thoughtful faced man, with just a dash of grey on his temples, and a listless air of world-weariness, that made him look beyond his years; for he was only twenty-eight; and yet he had had a vigorous cuffing from the reed-shaken hand of Fortune, and had come to regard himself with a sort of pitying disapprobation, such as falls upon us when we know we have a duty to perform, yet think it too great, and hesitate between self-condolence and accusation.
He had seen the day of wild oats, and had sown them, but had drawn back ere they sprung into life and choked out all else. He had had riches and lost them; had married a lovely loving girl, only to have her taken from him in one short year; then to deaden his grief he had gone to work, regained his wealth, after which he left his infant daughter in tender hands, and had gone abroad, only to again lose all he had in an unfortunate speculation, which brought him home, where he had again gone to work, but with a listless, disinterested way,—that had brought him little success.
So, to-day, he was a lawyer, struggling as though he had just entered the bar. So, I say, he felt like a man without an incentive. To be sure, there was his little daughter, but then he had really seen so little of the child, and for a time there had been almost a bitter feeling against her, because, in gaining her life, she had taken her young mother's, and left him desolate; and then if he was to die, she was amply provided for by her grandmother. He had yet to learn, that, though severely dealt with, he had still much to live for.
The other little acorn had fallen in kindred ground, in no less place, than the loving little heart of Pansy Murray.
The brother and sister were strolling rather aimlessly about, with a word here and there to chattering groups, and an occasional glance around to see if Kittie was in sight, when, who should they see, but that young lady coming slowly towards them, with her arms filled with a familiar bundle, that showed signs of life, as they came in sight of each other. It thus remarked with much excitement:
"I was losted, I was, papa, behind a big tree, an' I was a kyin' dreffully when the lady finded me, I was."
"Lost? Good gracious!" cried Mrs. Raymond, snatching the child in a hurry, and forgetting all introductions. "Why, I told the girls not to lose sight of you, Pansy."
"But they did," said Pansy, with a blissful smile, as though she had done something great. "They bothered me dreadfully, saying: 'Come, Pansy,' 'Don't go there, Pansy,' till I went right off for sure 'thout telling one body, and then I got losted mos' right away, and I wished I could hear somebody say 'Come, Pansy,' but nobody did, so I jes' began to commence to holler, 'th all my might, and the lady camed right off; I think 'twas drefful good for her to."
"Kat lost her breastpin, and I was helping look for it," said Kittie, with a modest blush, being quite overcome with the gratitude visible in both faces before her. "She wasn't very far away."
"I was far away," corrected Pansy with decision. "I was more'n 'leventeen miles, and I expected to see a big bear mos' every minute, I did, and I know one would have camed if the lady hadn't; and I jes' love her very much, I do."
"Oh, yes; excuse me," said Mrs. Raymond, hastily. "Paul, this is Miss Dering; my brother, Mr. Murray; and we're so thankful to you, Kittie."
Kittie bowed and blushed still more, as Mr. Murray repeated his gratitude, but as she turned to leave, Pansy cried vehemently:
"You stay with me, 'cause I want you, and you go home with me and my papa in the little buggy; tell her so quick, right off, papa."
Of course what could Mr. Murray do but say politely:
"I should be most pleased, Miss Dering, if you would allow me to be cruel enough to take you from the gay party."
Kittie did not know the invitation came from a society lion, who refused to be caught, and the depths of her innocent heart never dreamed how pleased he was, at thus being forced into giving it; she only knew that she had much rather go home in the carriage, with the girls, and was quite unconscious that the thought shone in her eyes, but Mr. Murray saw it and hastily added:
"It would be too unkind, after all. Do not consider it another moment; only tell me if you will allow Pansy and me to come and take you to ride some evening soon."
"Yes, thank you," answered Kittie. "I should be very much pleased."
Some one shouted her name through the woods just then, and with a little bow and smile, she went away, leaving Mr. Murray to comfort Pansy, as he said slowly:
"A delightfully natural, and charming little girl! We will go and take her to ride soon; so don't cry, Pansy."
Well the blissful day came to an end, as all days will, though they prolonged it to the last minute and did not reach home until after dark; and then everybody forgot how tired they were, and said with a sigh of pleasing memory, "How delightful it was, to be sure!"
"I had a lovely time," said Bea, smiling to herself in the dark, after they had gone to bed.
"Well, I'm sure I did," added Kittie, hugging her pillow with a tired, contented sigh, and thankful that she had no crimps in the way.
"Well, I didn't find my pin, and I tore my dress, and knocked my head till I saw stars, on that grape vine, but I had a grand tip-top time, and I'd like to go again, yes, I would, if only to see Sadie Brooks wiggle her eye-glass and say, 'How shocking!' when I walked the log across the creek," was Kat's final remark as she dropped into worn-out slumber.
On Friday morning, while the girls were flying busily around, and Mrs. Dering was deep in the task of getting a tall cake browned just to a turn, there came a note from Mrs. Dane.
"How unfortunate," she mused, reading it hurriedly, as the girls ran in to see what it was. "Mr. Dane has gone to the city and will not be back until ten to night, and Mrs. Dane wants me to come and stay with her, as she has one of her dreadful nervous attacks. I feel as though I ought to go, if you can spare me girls!"
"Things will go higgle-ty-piggle-ty, sure as the world," said Kat, balancing on the edge of the table, and fanning with the duster.
"No, they will not either," corrected Bea. "We ought to be ashamed if they do. Go, of course, mama, though I will be dreadfully sorry not to have you here this evening."
"The cake is not quite done, and has to be iced," said Mrs. Dering, glancing from the fire to the clock. "I don't know,—"
"I'll finish it," said Kittie, letting down her dress, and replacing her sweeping cap with a big kitchen apron. "Go, and get ready mama, then come and tell me how to do the icing; the cake will be done by that time."
"It must cool first, but you can get five eggs, and take the whites, get the beater and the sugar, and then I'll be back," replied Mrs. Dering, brushing some flour from her sleeves, and hurrying out.
"Now something is going to happen," said Kat with prophetic certainty. "I feel it in my bones, and I bet you a postage-stamp it will be my fault."
"Then I'd advise you to be careful," said Kittie, taking a hurried peep into the oven.
"Never!" cried Kat. "Something would be sure to go wrong then; it always does when I'm trying my very level best to be a credit to my family. The only thing for me to do, is to go at it with a slap and a bang; then things twist about like proper magic."
"What nonsense!" said Kittie, breaking eggs with deft fingers. "Have you cleaned the lamps yet?"
"No, nor done much else either; it's too hot; the thermometer is boiling, down cellar, and Ralph said that I was so good natured that I'd turn to grease if I got too heated, so I'm being careful, you see," said Kat, with a lazy laugh; and she sat in the window and fanned, with the duster in one hand and the egg-beater in the other.
"Well, I think the parlors look so pretty," said Kittie, with an air of relief, as the last egg deposited its silvery white in the big platter. "What an addition a piano is, and how nicely the curtains are done up; everything seems to be going right."
"I smell the cake; it's burning!" cried Kat, jumping from her seat in a hurry; but Kittie threw open the oven, and jerked out the precious contents which did smell burnt, and was deep black right around one edge.
"What a shame!" she cried regretfully; but Kat resumed her seat with the comforting remark:
"Slice it over, and cover it up with icing; it will never show in the world; you see, if I hadn't been in here, it would have been burnt up."
"I guess I've got a nose," retorted Kittie, beginning to beat eggs with a swiftness that brought high color to her cheeks. "Now go on, Kat, and fix the lamps and help Bea, for she mustn't be on her foot much."
"That's right, beat them just as stiff as possible before you put in the sugar," said Mrs. Dering, coming in with her things on, to note the progress, and leave orders. "Put it on with a large knife as smoothly as possible, then set it down cellar. As to the coffee, you know about that just as well as I do. The milk that is raising cream is on the back swing-shelf, down cellar. That is all, isn't it?"
"Yes'm, and I guess we'll manage all right. Tell Mrs. Dane I'm sorry she's sick. Good-bye."
"Everything looks beautiful, and I hope you'll have a pleasant time, dears," was Mrs. Dering's next remark, as she glanced into the parlors on her way out. "Don't tax your ankle too much, Bea, and Kat, try and not have anything happen to you this time. I suppose I will be here before they all go home, but if I am not, present my compliments and regrets. A merry time to you all. Good-bye."
"There, how does that look?" asked Kat, balancing herself on the step-ladder with a caution born of bitter experience, and looking cock-eyed at the blooming basket she had just hung.
"Beautiful," answered Bea, with her head, in a big sweeping-cap, turned admiringly side-ways. "Yes, that effect is lovely. I hope it will look as pretty by lamp-light. There comes Ralph with two big packages. I wonder what they are: something good, I expect?"
Kat sat down on the ladder to look out the window, as Bea hurried out on to the porch to meet the young man of packages, and receive his burdens, if they were offered to her.
"I was meditating this morning," said Ralph, sitting down on the steps with an exhausted air. "And it struck me, that to drink coffee on such a night as this—with the thermometer at blood heat in an ice chest—would be nothing less than a new order of suicide, so I have brought a substitute, which I venture to hope, will meet with your approval;—lemonade."
"Oh, you're a blessing," cried Bea, with a joyful pounce on to the bundles. "It will be so much nicer, and what splendid big lemons, and enough sugar to make a gallon."
"A gallon won't come amiss, I guess, people are ravenously thirsty such weather as this; why, I feel like I could drink a quart myself this very minute;—where's Kat?" asked Ralph, drawing another package from his pocket.
"Here I am; what's wanted?" answered Kat, putting her head out at the top of the window.
"Here's something that you are fond of—catch," said Ralph, tossing the package, which Kat grasped as it flew by. "I looked all over town for some decent candy for this evening, and couldn't find a thing except that, which I knew would suit Kat, and put her in a good humor."
"Butter-scotch!" cried Kat, with a shriek of delight. "I haven't had any in the natural life of ten coons. What bliss! Ralph you're a top!"
"Thank you. I'm getting along, I see; for I suppose a top is a little higher than a trump, isn't it?"
But Kat had disappeared, so Ralph leaned up lazily against the post, fanning with his big straw hat, while drinking in with dreamy delight the quiet beauty before and around him. How intensely quiet nature can become in the sunshine of a summer afternoon! Even the birds in sheltering nooks among the shady leaves find greatest happiness in helping the solitude; and save a light breeze, touching the tops of the trees, and dipping down to stir the cool grass, lying in deep shade, there is no evidence that nature's pulse still answers to the quiet beating of her heart. The Dering home at a time like this, looked more like an old picture steeped in cool shadows, with glints of sunshine here and there, and one could almost imagine now, in looking at it, that the open windows, with glimpses of snowy curtains, the great front door with the cool, deep hall beyond, the shady, vine-covered porch, and the indolent figure on the steps, with dreamy, dark eyes, and hat idly dropped, were but witcheries of the artist's brush and colors.
Something entirely averse to the idea of a painting, namely, a moving figure, appeared at this moment, coming from the front door, and bearing a small waiter with a glass of cool lemonade.
"Here's something to make your eyes shine!" cried a voice that made him start up from his reverie in a hurry and look delighted.
"Kat! Is it possible? For me? Who made it?"
"I did, to be sure, all alone by myself."
"Where's the other glass?"
"Other? Patience! won't one glass do you?"
"No, but wait; I'll get it," and away he went, coming back in a moment with an empty glass, into which he poured half the cool refreshing contents.
"There! To be more social, you see. Now, mademoiselle, let's drink to health, happiness, and everlasting peace and friendship between us, from this moment henceforth. Shall we?"
"Yes," said Kat, with her brightest smile; so they clinked glasses and drank merrily in the shady porch; then shook hands to strengthen the contract, and made mutual resolves to smoke the pipe of peace forever.
Meantime Kittie, unconscious of the great reconciliation just being sealed, was having a sorry time by herself out in the hot kitchen. The icing wouldn't ice worth a cent, but persisted in being sloppy and unmanageable; and the more she spatted and smoothed, the worse it looked; and finally she called to Bea, in worn-out despair:
"I don't see what in the world is the matter with it," cried the discouraged icer, setting forth her work with a sigh of exhausted energy. "Do you see what's wrong?"
"You've iced it on the wrong side," said Bea, smothering her own disappointment, out of consideration for Kittie's tired despair. "You see the top always puffs and bakes out of shape, so the way to do is to ice the bottom, so it will look smooth and nice."
"Yes, to be sure; what a goose I was not to think! I tried to make it look even by filling the dents up, and they're all perfect little puddles;" cried Kittie in heated disgust. "What shall we do, make another one? Though I'd be afraid to try. I never made any kind but the very plainest and that wouldn't do."
"No, I had rather have this. Put it down cellar in the very coolest place, and I guess it will harden up all right," advised Bea, smothering a little sigh of regretful anxiety, as she tried to give comfort to the discouraged cook. So Kittie carried it down cellar, and throughout the rest of the day made regular trips down to see if it was hardening any; but it wasn't, and her spirits sank so low that the astonishing sight of Ralph and Kat, sworn enemies when last she saw them, coming slowly up from the pond under one umbrella and evidently on such amicable grounds, did not rouse her, except to a moment of amaze; after which, she sank back into a world of troubled dreams, where there seemed to be nothing but cakes, swimming about in puddles of icing, while a dreadful penalty hung above her defenceless head, if the puddles did not congeal into ornamental coverings before a given time.
"Oh, dear, oh! What can the matter be?" sang Ralph, stopping at the kitchen window, just in time to see her coming from the cellar-way with a face bereft of all hope. "What has happened?"
"Oh, Ralph! I don't know what I shall do," she cried, with desponding agony, and then sat down on the wood-box and burst into tears.
"Why, bless your poor little heart! Tell me about it," exclaimed Ralph, swinging himself into the window, and hurrying to turn comforter.
"The ca-ake is ruined," sobbed Kittie, entirely given over to despair and grief. "It's all slopped and soaked to pieces in the old icing—and I don't want to tell Bea—and I don't know what to do, either. I—I—fan—fanned it a whole hour to make it colder, and it didn't do a bit of good, and—oh, dear me!"
"Well, that is a calamity, to be sure," said Ralph, feeling a masculine helplessness since the trouble lay within the domain of cookery. "But then, never mind; we'll drink lemonade, and let the cake go."
"Yes, I'd just as soon, but Bea—she'll be so disappointed, and I hate to tell her," sobbed Kittie, wailing.
"But Bea is reasonable," urged Ralph. "She will know you did your best, and ought to be ashamed if she says anything cross."
"Oh, it isn't that," cried Kittie, hastily. "She knows I tried, and she won't say a word, but then she'll be so disappointed, because she wants everything nice for Miss Barnett, and—and, I hate to tell her."
"Exactly," said Ralph, much touched at this little evidence of sisterly consideration, and feeling a greater desire than ever to do something to help the cause along. "See here, Kittie," he exclaimed suddenly, and Kittie looked up quickly, for there was something promising in the voice. "Do you dry those eyes out in a hurry, and run out doors to get cool and cheerful, and don't ask me any questions."
"Go, I say, and do just as I tell you. Don't give that cake another thought, but go and fix yourself as pretty as you can for this evening, and I promise you everything shall be all right."
"Oh, you blessed boy," cried Kittie, with a gasp of relief.
"Boy! Don't insult me; remember I will vote this Fall."
"To be sure; I beg your pardon," and Kittie began to laugh through her tears. She hadn't the slightest idea what he could do to make matters all right, but then he had said he would, and that was enough. She never doubted but what he could do whatever he set his mind to.
Just after it came time to light the parlors, it became evident to all that something was the matter with Kat. She didn't say anything, but on coming in from a late tow on the pond, and finding everything lighted, she gave a gasp, and stood perfectly still in the parlor door.
"Well, what were you down to the pond this late for?" asked Bea, flitting about in her white dress, with the softest color in her cheeks, a knot of blush roses in her hair, and another in her belt.
"I—I was cool—I mean I wanted to get cool," answered Kat with a stammer, and her eyes going hurriedly from one room to the other.
"What did you light up so early for?"
"I don't call seven o'clock early—there goes the gate now."
Kat groaned, as if in deepest despair, then dashed up stairs, and cast herself into the first chair with a tragic air.
"I knew it! I knew it! oh, what a miserable wretch I am, and whatever will I do? I never never will be anything but a black sheep to the longest day that I live?" After which cheerful prophesy, she ran both hands over her hair by way of smoothing any stray locks, gave her skirts a twist, and herself a general shake, and started slowly down stairs again, with a grimly resigned air.
It was only the most informal of little evening company, so every one came early, and in a little while the quiet evening air grew musical with merry voices and gay laughter, then became quieter, and was replaced by notes from the piano, or some one voice trilling out a popular song or a pretty ballad. Everything went flourishingly; to be sure, there were more ladies than gentlemen, which required much watching and managing on Bea's part, that no lady should suffer a dearth of masculine attention. Once, Ralph was missing from the room for some little time, which worried her greatly, but when he came back, she noticed that he nodded and smiled to Kittie, which was unintelligible to her, but was readily understood by her sister, to mean that everything was right. Just as the young hostess had decided that it was time to serve refreshments, some one asked her to sing.
"I? Oh, I never sing," she said with a modest blush, and drawing back, while her heart began to flutter nervously.
"I'm quite sure you do," persisted the young lady; whereupon the request was strengthened by all voices; and conscious that it would be impolite to still refuse, Bea walked to the piano, with her fingers growing cold as ice, and a die-away feeling in her throat. It took a few minutes to spin up the stool and decide what to sing, then in a voice that would quaver, she began a little Scotch song, and was just through the first verse when things began to look strange. Was it because she was so nervous, or was it growing dark? She played a few rambling chords, then she stopped and looked at the lamp with a chilly foreboding, and—it was going out!
Somebody else had noticed it before she did, and now as she sat in blank, dazed mortification, some one crossed the room, and lifting the lamp, blew it out, saying with a careless laugh:
"Several adventurous bugs were burning themselves to death, so I have ended their, and our misery, by putting out what they were slowly killing, and now while they are being dislodged, and the lamp relighted, shall we adjourn to the porch, ladies and gentlemen? The moon is coming up gorgeously."
Bea could have gone down on her knees in gratitude to him, and Kat, the terrible, actually threw him a kiss in the dark, before she rushed out to the kitchen, where Bea had carried the lamp.
"It's all my fault, every bit," she cried remorsefully. "I thought this morning, when I cleaned the lamps, that I would wait until it got cooler to go up after the coal-oil, and then I forgot it, clean as a shingle, and I'll do anything under the sun if you'll forgive me."
"Don't talk," said Bea sharply, too excited and nervous to say much. "Go, bring every lamp in the house, quick!"
"Never mind," exclaimed Kittie, coming hurriedly in, as Kat went off on a rush. "Don't feel bad, Bea, not a soul noticed it, and you were singing beautifully; besides you just ought to look in the dining-room; there's the most magnificent cake that you ever saw, and a freezer of delicious ice-cream!"
Bea dropped the lamp-top from her trembling fingers, and turned her face with incredulous relief and delight.
"Yes, and I'm going right out now to distribute plates and napkins, and let them eat out in the moonlight; it's nearly as light as day, so don't worry another bit; the other big lamp will burn over two hours, yet, and you can empty enough from the little ones into this to make it go, and everybody but Dr. Barnett thinks it was bugs. Only hurry and come out;" and away fluttered Kittie, with the memory of Bea's brightened face, to provide the young guests with plates and expectations.
So, when Bea replaced the lamp in the parlor, with its blaze high and bright, and came out on to the porch, she found the merriest party imaginable, and there were generous saucers of cream going round amid "Oh's," and "Ah's" of satisfaction, and Kat following after them with an immense cake, its top shining white as snow in the moonlight. Bea knew only too well who was the author of all this generosity, and she seized the first opportunity of giving Ralph's hand a squeeze of inexpressible gratitude, to which he made answer by giving her a fraternal pat on the shoulder, as they stood in the shadow of the vine, and whispered slyly:
"Barnett's a trump, isn't he? I never saw anything neater."
Bea thought so and was treasuring up a little speech of thanks to make him when the good-night moment should arrive, but she didn't make it, for that moment turned out to be something so different from what she expected. It was this way. After having reduced the cake and lemonade to a state of bankruptcy, and made way with all the ice-cream, the young people strolled around the yard for a while in the moonlight, took rides in the Water-Rat across the pond, and then decided that it was time to go home, and began making their parting thanks accordingly; so that in a few moments every one was gone but Dr. Barnett and his sister; and that sister, with feminine quickness, understood that this moment might be the very one her brother wanted, so she engaged Kittie and Kat in a lively conversation, and together they all went up stairs for her wrappings.
"It was so kind in you," began Bea when she found that they were quite alone on the porch. "I don't know what I should have done, and it was so terribly mortifying, but then—" and there she came to a pause, for looking up, she met his eyes, wearing an expression, such as chased all further words from her lips, and made her forget entirely what it was that she was going to say next.
"Don't you suppose," began the young doctor rather hurriedly, "that it is very pleasant for me to know that I saved you any pain, and don't you know that I wish I might feel that you would give me the right to do so always? don't you, Beatrice?"
"Oh—I—don't know;" stammered Bea, with a foolish little quaver to her voice, and dropping her face clean out of sight, yet making no resistance when she found her hands imprisoned.
"Please look at me," was the first request, in very tender tones. "I need some encouragement. Won't you give me a little? If you love me ever so little, dear, won't you put your hand in mine again?"
Bea dropped her head still lower, all in a tremor of happy, shy delight, and looked at the hand which he had released, and was waiting to claim from her. Should she give it? She knew she would, even while she hesitated, for didn't she love him from the top to the bottom of her devoted little heart? Yes, of course she did. And didn't she foolishly think that the loveliest music in heaven could never be more delightful to listen to than his voice asking for her love? To be sure she did. Oh, it's wonderful how such times affect us all!
"I'm waiting, Beatrice," said Dr. Walter, with a very proper degree of beseeching impatience. "Don't you love me any, darling?"
Up came her head with a little flash of courage, giving him one glance of the shy, happy eyes, then down it went again, as she held out her hand, and felt it covered with an eager firmness, while something was said close to her rosy ear that did well enough for her to hear, but cannot be told to you.
It is wonderful how much time Miss Lottie managed to consume in putting on a single wrap—a fleecy covering over her head; but she realized the importance of keeping out of the way a while, so loitered and chatted and admired the moon-lit view from the windows, and finally started slowly down stairs, fervently hoping that the important words had been spoken.
They evidently had, for both parties looked so happy, and when the doctor bade the twins good night, it really seemed as though he would shake their hands off, in the excess of some feeling that possessed him; and there is no mistake about it, he certainly kissed Bea in the shadow of the vines, as he said to her in parting:
"To-morrow, I am coming to see your mother, and then I hope to put my seal on this little hand that you have given to me."
At first, Bea did not know whether to tell the girls or not, but then, of course they knew, for after they were alone, what unheard-of capers they did go through with, such winks, and sighs, and groans, and tragic acting. So Bea sat over in the shadow where they couldn't see her face, and said with a laugh:
"Stop your nonsense, if you want me to tell you about it."
"Tell!" echoed Kat. "As if we didn't know, and hadn't seen for months. I've been nearly dead to tease, 'cause you're such a good subject, but then mama said we shouldn't. Engaged! Oh, here's a go!"
"What did you both say?" asked Kittie, in romantic interest, and feeling as though a great hole had been made in the family, with Bea set apart from them in some way.
"Not much," answered Bea, with a little smile to think how quickly it had all been done. "I hear voices at the gate; it's mama and Mr. Dane; I guess I'll go down and meet her;" so off she went, leaving the twins to laugh and mourn over the event.
Dr. Barnett came the next day, and he and Mrs. Dering talked in the sitting-room together for a long time. Then Bea was sent for, and after a while, when she came out with a quiet, almost sad happiness in her face, she wore a rim of gold on her left hand, and for a long time she sat alone in her room, thinking much, shedding a few tears, and saying a little prayer, as though she felt that she stood on the threshold of something that would require help, and that was hard for her to realize.
After this, the summer days came and went, with little to disturb the quiet life at the Dering's. The heat was so intense that amusements of all kinds were laid aside, just as little work done as possible, and the greater portion of the long days spent out on the old roof, where it was constantly shady. So nothing further happened until the time came for Ralph to return to home and studies. The prospect of such an event drove despair into the hearts of the girls and made them extensively rebellious. Even Kat mourned and felt a great deal more than she showed, for with all pretensions to dislike, would it have been possible to have had Ralph Tremayne there for six months, and not like him?
"I'll come back," he would say over and over again, as though in some way, he gained comfort himself from the assertion. "In two years I'll be through with my studies, and my very first trip will be here and then—" but somehow, he never finished, but would look thoughtful for a little while, as though the move after then, was going to be a very important one.