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Title: Hildegarde's Harvest
Author: Richards, Laura Elizabeth Howe, 1850-1943
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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HILDEGARDE'S HARVEST.



THE

"Queen Hildegarde" Series.

By Laura E. Richards.


=HILDEGARDE'S HARVEST.=

          The _fifth volume_ of the Hildegarde Series.
          Illustrated with eight full-page cuts. Square
          16mo, cloth, $1.25.

A new volume in the "Hildegarde" series, some of the best and most
deservedly popular books for girls issued in recent years. This new
volume is fully equal to its predecessors in point of interest, and is
sure to renew the popularity of the entire series.

=HILDEGARDE'S NEIGHBORS.=

          Fourth volume. Illustrated from original designs.
          Illustrated by L. J. Bridgman. Square 16mo, cloth,
          $1.25.

=HILDEGARDE'S HOME.=

          Third volume. Illustrated with original designs by
          Merrill. Square 16mo, cloth, $1.25.

=HILDEGARDE'S HOLIDAY.=

          Second volume. Illustrated with full-page plates
          by Copeland. Square 16mo, cloth, $1.25.

=QUEEN HILDEGARDE.=

          First volume. Illustrated from original designs by
          Garrett (292 pp.). Square 16mo, cloth, $1.25.

"We would like to see the sensible, heroine-loving girl in her early
teens who would not like this book. Not to like it would simply argue a
screw loose somewhere."--_Boston Post._

=THE HILDEGARDE SERIES.=

as above. 5 vols., square 16mo, put up in a neat box, $6.25.

***Next to Miss Alcott's famous "LITTLE WOMEN" series they easily rank,
and no books that have appeared in recent times may be more safely put
into the hands of a bright, intelligent girl than these five "Queen
Hildegarde" books.

=Estes & Lauriat, Publishers, Boston.=

[Illustration: "HILDEGARDE DANCED THE VIRGINIA REEL WITH THE COLONEL."]



HILDEGARDE'S HARVEST

BY

LAURA E. RICHARDS

        AUTHOR OF "CAPTAIN JANUARY," "HILDEGARDE'S NEIGHBOURS,"
                     "QUEEN HILDEGARDE," ETC.



        Illustrated



        BOSTON
        DANA ESTES & COMPANY
        PUBLISHERS


          _Copyright, 1897,_
          BY ESTES AND LAURIAT.

          Colonial Press:
          Electrotyped and Printed by C. H. Simonds & Co.
          Boston, Mass., U.S.A.



CONTENTS.


          CHAPTER                         PAGE

             I. THE MORNING MAIL             9

            II. THE CHRISTMAS DRAWER        21

           III. AUNT EMILY                  41

            IV. GREETINGS                   59

             V. AT THE EXCHANGE             73

            VI. MORE GREETINGS              96

           VII. MERRY WEATHER SIGNS        117

          VIII. CHRISTMASING               137

            IX. AN EVENING HOUR            162

             X. DIE EDLE MUSICA            176

            XI. THE BOYS                   196

           XII. JIMMY'S POND               217

          XIII. MERRY CHRISTMAS            238

           XIV. BELLEROPHON                257

            XV. AT LAST                    279



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS.


                                                           PAGE

    "HILDEGARDE DANCED THE VIRGINIA REEL WITH THE
          COLONEL"                                    _Frontispiece_

    BELL'S LETTER                                           14

    "MRS. DELANSING SCRUTINISED HER AS SHE CAME
          THROUGH THE LONG ROOM"                            50

    "'HILDEGARDE GRAHAME, IN THE NAME OF ALL
          THAT'S WONDERFUL!'"                               91

    "'CONSIDER THE BEAUTY OF YOUR OFFSPRING'"              140

    DIE EDLE MUSICA                                        177

    ON JIMMY'S POND                                        223

    "A LITTLE FIGURE . . . STOOD OUT CLEAR AGAINST
          THE DARK FIRS"                                   274



HILDEGARDE'S HARVEST.



CHAPTER I.

THE MORNING MAIL.


HILDEGARDE was walking home from the village, whither she had gone to
get the mail. She usually rode the three miles on her bicycle, but she
had met a tack on the road the day before, and must now wait a day or
two till the injured tire could be mended.

Save for missing the sensation of flying, which she found one of the
most delightful things in the world, she was hardly sorry to have the
walk. One could not see so much from the wheel, unless one rode slowly;
and Hildegarde could not ride slowly,--the joy of flying was too great.
It was good to look at everything as she went along, to recognise the
knots on the trees, and stop for a friendly word with any young sapling
that looked as if it needed encouragement. Also, the leaves had fallen,
and what could be pleasanter than to walk through them, stirring them
up, and hearing the crisp, clean crackle of them under her feet?
Also,--and this was the most potent reason, after all,--she could read
her letters as she walked, and she had good letters to-day.

The first that she opened was addressed in a round, childish hand to
"Mis' Hilda," the "Grahame" being added in a different hand. The letter
itself was written in pencil, and read as follows:

          "MY DEER,

          "I hop you are well. I am well. Aunt Wealthy is
          well. Martha is well. Dokta jonSon is well; these
          are all the peple that is well. Germya has the
          roomatiks so bad he sase he thinks he is gon this
          time for sure. I don't think he is gon, he has had
          them wers before. Aunt Wealthy gave me a bantim
          cock and hens, his nam is Goliath of Gath, and
          there nams is Buty and Topknot. The children has
          gon away from Joyus Gard; they were all well and
          they went home to scool. I miss them; I go to
          scool, but I don't lik it, but I am gone to have
          tee with Mista Peny pakr tonite, Aunt Wealthy sade
          I mite. He has made a new hous and it is nise.

                                 "So goodbi from
                                           "BENNY."

Hildegarde laughed a good deal over this letter, and then wiped away a
tear or two that certainly had no business in her happy eyes.

"Dear little Benny!" she said. "Dear little boy! But when is the
precious lamb going to learn to spell? This is really dreadful! I
suppose 'Germya' is Jeremiah, though it looks more like some new kind of
porridge. And Mr. Pennypacker with a new house! This is astonishing! I
must see what Cousin Wealthy says about it."

The next letter, bearing the same postmark, of Bywood, and written in a
delicate and tremulous hand, was from Miss Bond herself. It told
Hildegarde in detail the news that Benny had outlined; described the
happy departure of the children, who had spent their convalescence at
the pleasant summer home, all rosy-cheeked, and shouting over the joy
they had had. Then she went on to dilate on the wonderful qualities of
her adopted son Benny, who, it appeared, was making progress in every
branch of education.

"I may be prejudiced, my dear," the good old lady wrote, "but I am bound
to say that Martha agrees with me in thinking him a _most remarkable_
child."

Miss Bond further told of the event of the neighbourhood, the building
of Mr. Galusha Pennypacker's new house. The neighbourhood of so many
little children, his friendship with Benny, "but more than all, his
_remembrance of you_, my dear Hildegarde," had, it appeared, wrought a
marvellous change in the old hermit. The kindly neighbours had met him
half-way in his advances, and were full of good-will and helpfulness;
and when, by good fortune, his miserable old shanty had burned down one
summer night, the whole neighbourhood had turned out and built him a
snug cottage which would keep him comfortable for the rest of his days.

          "Mr. Pennypacker came here yesterday to invite
          Benny to drink tea with him (I employ the current
          expression, my dear, though of course the child
          drinks nothing but milk at his tender age; I have
          always considered tea a beverage for the aged, or
          those who are not robust), and in the course of
          conversation, he begged me _most earnestly_ to
          convey to you the assurance that, in his opinion,
          the comfort which surrounds his later days is
          owing entirely to you. His actual expression,
          though not refined, was forcible, and Martha
          thinks you would like to hear it:

          "'I was a-livin' a hog's life, an' I should ha'
          died a hog's death if it hadn't been for that
          gal.'

          "I trust your dear mother will not think it coarse
          to have repeated these words. There is something
          in the very mention of swine that is repugnant to
          ears polite, but Martha was of the opinion that
          you would prefer to have the message in his own
          words. And I am bound to say that Galusha
          Pennypacker, though undoubtedly _an eccentric_, is
          a thoroughly well-intentioned person."

"Dear Cousin Wealthy!" said Hildegarde, as she folded the delicate sheet
and put it back into its pearl-gray envelope with the silver seal. "It
must have cost her an effort to repeat Mr. Pennypacker's words. Poor old
man! I am glad he is comfortable. I must send him a little box at
Christmas,--some little things to trim up his new house and prettify it.
Oh! and now, Bell, now for your letter! I have kept it for the last, my
dear, as if it were raisins or chocolate, only it is better than
either."

[Illustration: BELL'S LETTER]

The fat square envelope that she now opened contained several sheets of
paper, closely covered, every page filled from top to bottom with a
small, firm handwriting, but no line of crossing. The Merryweathers were
not allowed to cross their letters, under penalty of being condemned to
write entirely on postal cards. Let us peep over Hildegarde's shoulder,
and see what Bell has to say.

          "DEAREST HILDEGARDE:

          "It is two full weeks since I have written, and I
          am ashamed; but it is simply because they _have_
          been full weeks,--very full! There is so much to
          tell you, I hardly know where to begin. A week ago
          to-night our play came off,--'The Mouse Trap.' It
          went beautifully,--not a hitch anywhere, though we
          had only had five rehearsals. I was Willis, as I
          told you. I wore my ulster without the cape, and
          really looked quite masculine, I think. I had a
          curly, dark-brown wig (my hair tucked down my
          neck,--it didn't show at all!) and the prettiest
          little moustache! Marion Wilson was Amy, and she
          screamed most delightfully. In fact, they all
          screamed in such a natural and heartfelt way, that
          some of the ladies in the audience seemed to feel
          quite uncomfortable, and I am sure I saw Madame
          Mirabelle tuck her skirts close around her
          feet, and put her feet up on the bench in front of
          her. Well, we all did our best, though Clarice
          Hammond was the best; she is a born actress! and
          the audience was very cordial, and we were called
          before the curtain five times; and altogether it
          was a great success. I enclose a flower from a
          bouquet that was thrown at me. It was a beauty,
          and it struck me right on the head. I thought it
          was for Clarice, and was going to hand it to her,
          but somebody in the audience cried out, 'Why don't
          you speak for yourself, Willis?' and everybody
          laughed, and they said it was really for me, so I
          kept it, and was pleased and proud. I have pressed
          two or three flowers in my blue-print book, with
          the pictures of the play. I am going to send you
          some as soon as I can print some more. The girls
          snatched all the first batch, so that I have not a
          single one left.

          "Let me see! What comes next? Oh, next you must
          hear about my surprise party. I was in my room one
          evening, grinding hard at my Greek (do you think
          your mother would object to 'grinding?' It is such
          old, respectable college slang, mamma allows it
          once in a while), when I heard whispering and
          giggling in the hall outside. I don't mind telling
          you, my dear, that my heart sank, for I had a good
          lot of Pindar to do, and there is no sense in
          shirking one's lessons. But I went to the door
          with as good a grace as I could, and there was our
          dear Gerty, and Clara Lyndon, and three or four
          other girls from Miss Russell's school. They said
          they had double permission, from Miss Russell at
          that end, and Mrs. Tower at this, to come and give
          me a surprise party; and here they were, and they
          were coming in whether I liked it or not. Of
          course I did like it after the first minute, for
          they were all so dear and jolly. They had borrowed
          chairs as they came along through the hall, and
          one had her pocket full of spoons, and another had
          a basket,--oh, but I am getting on too fast. Well,
          Gerty and I sat on the bed, and the others on the
          chairs, and we chattered away, and I heard all the
          school news. Then presently Mabel Norton opened a
          basket, and took out--oh, Hilda! the most
          beautiful, _beautiful_ rose-bush, simply covered
          with blossoms. It was for me, with a card from
          Miss Russell and the whole school; and when I
          asked what it all meant, why, it seems that this
          was the anniversary of the day last year when I
          pulled a little girl out of the river, down near
          the mill-dam. It was the simplest thing in the
          world to do, for any one who was strong and knew
          how to tread water; but these dear people had
          remembered the date, and had done this lovely
          thing to--well, Hilda, I didn't cry that evening,
          but somehow I want to now, when I come to tell you
          about it. You will understand! It is so lovely to
          have such dear, kind friends, that I cannot help
          it. Well, then out of another basket came a most
          wonderful cream tart, with my initials on it in
          caramel, and a whole lot, dozens and dozens, of
          the little sponge-cakes that I am so fond of. They
          cannot make them anywhere in the world, I think,
          except at Miss Russell's, and dear good Miss Cary,
          the housekeeper, remembered that I was fond of
          them. Oh, and a huge box of marshmallows; and we
          all knew what _that_ meant. Marshmallows are
          the--what shall I say?--the unofficial emblem of
          Miss Russell's school; and soon two or three were
          toasting over the gas on hat-pins, and I was
          cutting the tart, and Gerty was handing round the
          sponge-cakes, and we were all as happy as
          possible. I ran and asked the girls along the hall
          to come in, and as many of them did come as could
          get in the door, and the rest sat in a semicircle
          on the floor in the hall, and we sang everything
          we could think of. All of a sudden we heard a
          knocking at the window. I ran and looked out, and
          there was something hanging and bobbing against
          the glass. I opened the window, and drew in a
          basket, full of all kinds of things, oranges and
          bananas and candy, with a card, 'Compliments of
          the Third Floor!' So of course I was running up to
          thank them, and say how sorry we were that there
          was not room for them, when I almost ran plump
          into Mrs. Tower, who was coming along the entry,
          very stately and superb. She had heard all about
          it, and she came to say that, if we liked, we
          might dance for half an hour in the parlour. You
          can imagine--no, you cannot, for you never were at
          college!--the wild rush down those stairs. We
          called the third floor (they are mostly freshmen),
          and they came careering down like a herd of
          ponies; and the first floor came out of their
          studies when they heard the music, and we had the
          wildest, merriest, most enchanting dance for just
          half an hour. Then it was hurry-scurry off, for
          Miss Russell's girls were on the very edge of
          their time allowance, and had to run most of the
          way home (it is only a very little way, and one of
          the maids had come with them, and waited for
          them). And we all thanked Mrs. Tower as prettily
          as we knew how, and she said pleasant things, and
          then some of the girls helped me to take back the
          chairs and straighten things up generally. So the
          great frolic was over, and most delightful it
          was; but, my dear, I had to get up at five o'clock
          to finish my Greek next morning, and the ground
          floor was not much better off with its philosophy.
          And now there are no more gaieties, for the
          examinations are 'on,' and we must buckle to our
          work in good earnest. I don't expect to have much
          trouble, as I have kept up pretty well; but there
          is enough for any one to do, no matter how well up
          she is. So this is the last letter you will have,
          my dear, before the happy day that brings us all
          out to the beloved Pumpkin House. Oh, what a
          glorious time we shall have, all together once
          more! Roger is still out West, but hopes to get
          back for the last part of the holidays, at least;
          and Phil's and Jerry's vacation begins two days
          before Gerty's and mine. Altogether, the prospect
          is enchanting, and one of the very best parts of
          it is the seeing you again, dear Hilda. Only three
          weeks more! Gerty paints a star on her screen for
          every day that is gone. Funny little Gerty! Give
          my love to your mother, please, and believe me
          always, dear Hilda,

                                 "Your affectionate
                                    "ISABEL MERRYWEATHER."

Hildegarde gave a half-sigh, as she finished this letter, and walked on
in silence, thinking many things. Bell's life seemed very free and full
and joyous; it suited her exactly, the strong, sensible, merry girl; and
oh, how much she was learning! This letter said little about studies,
but Hildegarde knew from former ones how much faithful work was going
on, and how firm a foundation of scholarship and thoroughness her friend
was laying.

"Whereas I," she said aloud, "am as ignorant as a hedge-sparrow."

As she spoke, a sparrow hopped upon a twig close by her, and cocked his
bright eye at her expressively.

"I beg your pardon!" said Hildegarde, humbly. "No doubt you are right,
and I am a hundred times more ignorant. I could not even imagine how to
build a nest; but neither can you crack a nut--ask Mr. Emerson!--or play
the piano."

The sparrow chirped defiance, flirted his tail saucily, and was gone.

"And all girls cannot be students!" said Hildegarde, stopping to address
a young maple that looked strong-minded. "Everybody cannot go to
college; there must be some who are to be just girls,--plain girls,--and
stay at home. As for a girl going to college when there is only herself
to--to help make a home--why,--she might as well be Nero, and done with
it."

She nodded at the maple-tree, as if she had settled it entirely, and
walked on more quickly; the cloud--it was a slight one, but still a
cloud--vanished from her brow, leaving it clear and sunny.

"The place one is in," she said, "is the place to be happy in. Of course
I do miss them all; of--course--I do! but if ever any girl ought to be
thankful on her knees all day long for blessings and happinesses,
Hildegarde Grahame, why, you know who she is, and that she does not
spell her name Tompkins."



CHAPTER II.

THE CHRISTMAS DRAWER.


CHRISTMAS was coming. Christmas was only three weeks off. Oh, how the
time was flying! "How shall I ever get ready?" cried Hildegarde,
quickening her pace as she spoke, as if the holiday season were chasing
her along the road.

"One is always busy, of course; but it does seem as if I were going to
be about five times as busy as I ever was before. Naturally! there are
so many more people that I want to make presents for. Last Christmas,
there was Mammina, and Col. Ferrers and Hugh, and the box to send to
Jack,--dear Jack!--and Auntie, and Mrs. Lankton and the children,
and,--well, of course, Cousin Wealthy and Benny, and all the dear people
at Bywood,--why, there were a good many, after all, weren't there? But
now I have all my Merryweathers in addition, you see. Of course I
needn't give anything to the boys,--or to any of them, for that
matter,--but I do want to, so very much; if only there were a little
more time! I will go up this minute, if Mammina does not want me, and
look over my drawer. I really haven't looked at it--thoroughly, that
is--for three days! Hilda Grahame, what a goose you are!"

By this time she had arrived at Braeside, the pretty house where she and
her mother passed their happy, quiet life. Running lightly up the steps,
and into the house, the girl peeped into the sitting-room and parlour,
and finding both empty, went on up the stairs. She paused to listen at
her mother's door; there was no sound from within, and Hildegarde hoped
that her mother was sleeping off the headache, which had made the
morning heavy for her. Kissing her hand to the door, she went on to her
own room, which always greeted her as a friend, no matter how many times
a day she entered it. She looked round at books and pictures with a
little sigh of contentment, and sank down for a moment in the low
rocking-chair. "Just to breathe, you know!" she said. "One must breathe
to live." Involuntarily her hand moved towards the low table close by,
on which lay a tempting pile of books. Just one chapter of "The Fortunes
of Nigel," while she was getting her breath?

"No," she said, replying to herself with severity, "nothing of the kind.
You can rest just as well while you are looking over the drawer. I am
surprised,--or rather, I wish I were surprised at you, Hilda Grahame.
You are a hard case!"

Exchanging a glance of mutual sympathy and understanding with Sir Walter
Scott, who looked down on her benignly from the wall, Hildegarde now
drew her chair up beside a tall chest of drawers, and proceeded to open
the lowest drawer, which was as deep and wide as the whole of some
modern bureaus. It was half filled with small objects, which she now
took out one by one, looking them over carefully before laying them
back. First came a small table-cover of heavy buff linen, beautifully
embroidered with nasturtiums in the brilliant natural colors. It was
really a thing of beauty, and the girl looked at it first with natural
pride, then went over it carefully, examining the workmanship of each
bud and blossom.

"It will pass muster!" she said, finally. "It is well done, if I do say
it; the Beloved Perfecter will be satisfied, I think."

This was for her mother, of course; and she laid it back, rolled
smoothly round a pasteboard tube, and covered with white tissue paper,
before she went on to another article. Next came a shawl, like an
elaborate collection of snowflakes that had flitted together, yet kept
their exquisite shapes of star and wheel and triangle. Cousin Wealthy
would be pleased with this! Hildegarde felt the same pleasant assurance
of success. "There ought to be a bit of pearl-coloured satin ribbon
somewhere! Oh, here it is! A bit of ribbon gives a finish that nothing
else can. There! now that is ready, and that makes two. Now, Benny, my
blessed lamb, where are you?"

She drew out a truly splendid scrap-book, bound in heavy cardboard, and
marked "Benny's Book," with many flourishes and curlicues. Within were
pictures of every imaginable kind, the coloured ones on white, the black
and white on scarlet cardboard. Under every picture was a legend in
Hildegarde's hand, in prose or verse. For example, under a fine portrait
of an imposing black cat was written:

          "Is this Benny's pillow-cat?
           No! it is not half so fat!
           No! it is not half so fair,
           So it mews in sad despair,
           Feeling that it has not any
           Chance for to belong to Benny."

Hildegarde had spent many loving hours over this book; her verses were
not remarkable, but Benny would like them none the less for that, she
thought, and she laid the book back with a contented mind. Then there
was a noble apron for Martha, with more pockets than any one else in the
world could use; and a pincushion for Mrs. Brett, and a carved
tobacco-stopper for Jeremiah. Beside the tobacco-stopper lay a pipe,
also carved neatly, and Hildegarde took this up with a sigh. "I don't
like to part with it!" she said. "Papa brought it from Berne, all those
years ago, and I am so used to it; but after all, I am _not_ likely to
smoke a pipe, even if I have succumbed to the bicycle, and I do want to
send some little thing to dear Mr. Hartley. Dear old soul! how I should
like to see him and Marm Lucy! We really must make a pilgrimage to
Hartley's Glen next summer, if it is a possible thing. Marm Lucy will
like this little blue jug, I know. We have the same taste in blue jugs,
and she will not care a bit about its only costing fifteen cents. Ah! if
everything one wanted to buy cost fifteen cents, one would not be so
distracted; but I _do_ want to get 'Robin Hood' for Hugh, and where am I
to get the three dollars, I ask you?"

She addressed William the Silent; the hero drew her attention, in his
quiet way, to his own sober dress and simple ruff, and seemed to think
that Hugh would be just as well off without the record of a ruffling
knave who wore Lincoln green, and was not particular how he came by it.

"Ah! but that is all you know, dear sir!" said Hildegarde. "We all have
our limitations, and if you had only known Robin, you would see how
right I am."

And then Hildegarde fell a-dreaming, and imagined a tea-party that she
might give, to which should come William of Orange and Robin Hood, Alan
Breck Stuart and Jim Hawkins.

"And who else? let me see! Hugh, of course, and Jack, if he were here,
and the boys and--and Captain Roger; only I am afraid he would think it
nonsense. But Bell would love it, and I would invite Dundee, just to
show her how wrong she is about him. And--oh, none of the King Arthur
knights, because they had no sense of humour, and Alan would be at their
throats in five minutes; but--why, I have left out David Balfour
himself,--Roger would love David, anyhow,--and Robin might bring Little
John and Will Scarlet and Allan-a-Dale. We would have tea out on the
veranda, of course, and Auntie would make one of her wonderful chicken
pies, and I would ask Robin whether it was not just as good as a
venison pasty. Alan would have his hand at his sword, ready to leap up
if it was denied; but jolly Robin would make me a courtly bow, and say
with his own merry smile--Come in! oh! what is it?"

Rudely awakened from her pleasant dream by a knock at the door,
Hildegarde looked up, half expecting to see one of her heroes standing
cap in hand before her. Instead, there stood, ducking and sidling,--the
Widow Lankton.

"How do you do, Mrs. Lankton?" said Hildegarde, with an effort. It was a
sudden change, indeed, from Robin Hood and Alan Breck, to this forlorn
little body, with her dingy black dress and crumpled bonnet; but
Hildegarde tried to "look pleasant," and waited patiently for the
outpouring that she knew she must expect.

"_Good_-mornin', dear!" said the widow, ducking a little further to one
side, so that she looked like an apologetic crab in mourning for his
claws. "I hope your health is good, Miss Grahame. There! you look
pretty well, I must say!"

"I hope you are not sorry, Mrs. Lankton," smiling; for the tone was that
of heartfelt sorrow.

"No, dear! why, no, certainly not! I'm pleased enough to have you look
young and bloomin' while you can. Looks ain't allers what we'd oughter
go by, but we must take 'em and be thankful for so much, as I allers
say. Yes, dear. Your blessed mother's lyin' down, Mis' Auntie told me.
_She_ seems slim now, don't she? If I was in your place, I should be
dretful anxious about her, alone in the world as you'd be if she was
took. The Lord's ways is--"

"Did you want to see me about anything special, Mrs. Lankton?" said
Hildegarde, interrupting. She felt that she was not called upon to bear
this kind of thing.

The widow sniffed sadly and shook her head.

"Yes, dear! You're quick and light, ain't you, as young folks be! Like
to brisk up and have done with a thing. Well, I come to see if I could
borry a crape bunnit, to go to a funeral; there, Miss Grahame, I hope
you won't think me forth-puttin', but I felt that anything your blessed
ma had worn would be a privilege, I'm sure, and so regardin' it, I
come."

"Oh!" said Hildegarde, with a little shudder. "We--we have no crape,
Mrs. Lankton. My father--that is, my mother never wore it."

"Didn't!" said Mrs. Lankton. "Well, now, folks has their views. I was
one that never liked to spare where feelin's was concerned. Ah! I've
wore crape enough in my time to bury me under, you might say. When my
poor husband died, I got a veil measured three yards, countin' the hem;
good crape it was, too. There! I took and showed it to him the day
before he was took. He'd been failin' up quite a spell, and I was never
one to hide their end from them that was comin' to it. 'There, Peleg!'
says I. 'I want you should know that I sha'n't slight nothin' when
you're gone,' I says. 'I'll keep you as long as I can,' I says, 'and
I'll have everything right and fittin' as far as my means goes,' I
says. He was real gratified. I was glad to please him, goin' so soon as
he was.

"He turned up his toes less than twenty-four hours after I said them
words; died off real nice. His moniment is handsome, if I do say it. I
have it scrubbed every spring, come house-cleanin' time, and it looks as
good as new. Yes, dear! I've got a great deal to be thankful for, if I
have suffered more than most."

Hildegarde set her teeth. Inwardly she was saying, "You dreadful old
ghoul! When will you stop your grisly recollections, and go away?" But
all she said aloud was, "Well, Mrs. Lankton, I am sorry that we cannot
help you. Perhaps one of the neighbours,--but I ought to ask,--I trust
it is no near relative that is dead?"

"No, dear!" replied the widow, with unction. "No relation, only by
marriage. My sister's husband married this man's sister for his third
wife; old man Topliffe it is, keeps the grocery over t' the Corners."

"Why, I did not know he was dead!" said Hildegarde.

"Not yet he ain't, dear!" said Mrs. Lankton. "But he's doomed to die,
and the doctors don't give him more than a few hours. I'm one that likes
to be beforehand in such matters,--there's them that looks to me to do
what's right and proper,--and I shouldn't want to be found without a
bunnit provided. Well, dear, I must be goin'. Ah! 'twill seem nat'ral to
be goin' to a funeral again, Miss Grahame. I ain't b'en to one for as
much as five months. I've seen the time when three funerals a week was
no uncommon thing round these parts, and most all of 'em kin to me by
blood _or_ marriage. Yes, no one knows what I've b'en through. You're
gettin' fleshy, ain't you, dear? I hope the Lord'll spare you _and_ your
ma,--she's like a mother to me, I allers say,--through _my_ time. It
ain't likely to be long, with these spells that ketches me. _Good_-by,
dear!"

With a tender smile, and another sidelong duck, the widow took herself
off; and Hildegarde drew a long breath, and felt like opening all the
windows, to let the sunshine come in more freely. The door of her room
being still open, she became aware of sounds from below; sounds as of
clashing metal, and rattling crockery.

What could Auntie be about? she would wake Mamma at this rate.

Running down-stairs, Hildegarde went into the kitchen, and was
confronted by the sight of Auntie, perched on top of a tall step-ladder,
with the upper part of her portly person buried in the depths of a
cupboard.

"Auntie, what _are_ you about?" she cried. "Do you know what a noise you
are making? Mamma is asleep, and I don't want her to wake till tea-time,
for her head has ached all day."

Auntie did not seem to hear at first, but continued to rattle tins in an
alarming way; till Hildegarde, in despair, grasped the step-ladder, and
shook it with some force. Then the good woman drew her head out of the
depths, and looked down in astonishment.

"Why, for goodness sake, honey, is dat you?" she said. "I t'ought 'twas
dat old image cacklin' at me still. She gone, is she? well, dat's mercy
enough for one day!"

She sat down on the top of the ladder and panted; and Hildegarde burst
out laughing.

"Auntie, did you go up there to get rid of Mrs. Lankton?"

"For shore I did, chile! I'd ha' riz through de roof if I could, but dis
was as fur as I could git. She was in hyar an hour, 'most, 'fore she
went up-stairs,--and I told her not go near you, but she snoke up, and I
dassn't holler, fear ob waking yer ma,--and my head is loose on my
shoulders now, listenin' to her clack. So when I hear her comin' down
again, I jest put up de ladder here, and I didn't hear no word she said.
Did she hab de imp'dence to ask you lend her a crape bunnit?"

"Yes; that is what she came for. We had none, of course."

Auntie snorted. "None ob her business whedder you had none or a
hunderd!" she said. "I tole her if she ask you dat, I'd pull her own
bunnit off'n her next time she come; and I will so!"

"Oh, no, you won't, Auntie!" said Hildegarde.

"Well, now, you'll see. Miss Hildy chile! I had 'nuff ob dat woman. Ole
barn-cat, comin' snoopin' round here to see what she can git out'n you
and yer ma, 'cause she sees yer like two chillen. What yer want for
supper, honey, waffles, or corn-pone?"

"Waffles," said Hildegarde, with decision. "But--Auntie, what have you
there? No, not the pitcher; those little tin things that you just laid
down. I want to see them, please."

"I been rummagin' dis shelf," said Auntie. "I put a lot ob odd concerns
up here,--foun' em in de place when we come,--and dey ain't no good, and
I want de room. Dose? Dem's little moulds, I reckon. Well, now, I don't
seem as if I noticed dem before. Kin' o' pretty, ain't dey, honey?"

She handed down a set of tin moulds, of fairy size and quaint, pretty
shapes. Tulips, lilies, crocuses,--"Why, it is a tin flower-bed!" cried
Hildegarde. "Why did you never show me these before, Auntie?"

But Auntie was not conscious of having noticed them before. She had
cleaned them,--of course,--but her mind must have been on her cooking,
and she did not remember them.

"And what could one do with them?" Hildegarde went on. "Oh, see! here is
a scrap of parchment fastened to the ring of one of them. 'The moulds
for the almond cakes. The receipt is in the manuscript book with yellow
covers.' Why, how interesting this is! Almond cakes! It sounds
delightful! Do you remember where I put that queer old book, Auntie? You
thought the receipts so extravagant that I have not used it at all. Oh!
here it is, in your table-drawer. I might have been sure that you would
know exactly where it was. Now let us see. This may be a special
providence, Auntie."

"I don't unnerstand what you talkin' 'bout, chile," said Auntie,
good-naturedly. "I made you almond cake last week, and I guess dat was
good 'nuff, 'thout lookin' in de grandmother books. But you can
see,--mebbe you find somethin' different."

Hildegarde was already deep in the old manuscript book. Its leaves were
yellow with age, the ink faded, but the receipts were perfectly
legible, many of the later ones being in Miss Barbara Aytoun's fine,
crabbed, yet plain hand.

"'Bubble and Squeak!' Auntie, I wish you would give us Bubble and Squeak
for dinner some day. You are to make it of cold beef, and then at the
end of the receipt she tells you that pork is much better.--'China
Chilo! Mince a pint basin of undressed neck of mutton'--How _is_ one to
mince a basin, do you suppose? I should have to drop it from the roof of
the house, and then it would not be fine enough.--'Serve it fried of a
beautiful colour'--no! that's not it!--'Pigs' feet. Wash your feet
thoroughly, and boil, or rather stew them gently'--Miss Barbara, I am
surprised at you!--'Ramakins'--those might be good. 'Excellent
Negus'--ah! here we are! 'Almond cakes!' H'm! 'Beat a pound of almonds
fine'--and a pleasant thing it is to do--'with rose water--half a pound
of sifted sugar--beat with a spoon'--ah, this is the part I was looking
for, Auntie! 'Bake them in the flower-moulds, watching carefully; when a
beautiful light gold colour, take them out, and fill when cold with
cream into which is beat shredded peaches or apricots.' O--oh! doesn't
that sound good, Auntie?"

"Good 'nuff," Auntie assented, nodding her turbaned head. "Good deal of
bodder to make, 'pears to me, Miss Hildy. I'm gittin' old for de fancy
cakes, 'pears like."

"Oh, you dear soul! I don't want you to make them," cried Hildegarde. "I
want to make them myself. Now, Auntie, I am going to be very
confidential."

Auntie's dark face glowed with pleasure. She loved a little confidence.

"You see," Hildegarde went on, "I want some money. Not that I don't have
enough for everything; but I want to earn a little myself, so that I can
make all the Christmas presents I want, without feeling that I am taking
it out of the family purse. You understand, I am sure, Auntie!" and
Auntie, who had held Hildegarde in her arms when she was a baby, nodded
her head, and understood very well.

"So I thought that possibly I might make something to send to the
Woman's Exchange in New York. I saw in a magazine the other day that the
ladies who give a great many lunches are always wishing to find new
little prettinesses for their tables. I saw something of that myself,
when I was there this fall." But Hildegarde checked herself, feeling
that she was getting rather beyond Auntie's depth.

"And I had been wondering what I could make, this very afternoon, and
thinking of one thing and another; and when I saw these pretty little
moulds, it seemed the very thing I had been looking for. What do you
think, Auntie?"

"T'ink? I t'ink dem Noo York ladies better be t'ankful to git anything
you make for 'em, Miss Hildy; dat's my 'pinion! And I'll help ye make de
cake, and fuss round a little wid de creams, too, if you let me."

But Hildegarde declared she would not let her have any hand whatever in
the making of the almond cakes, and ran off, hearing her mother's voice
calling her from up-stairs.

"My dear suz!" said the black woman, gazing after her. "T'ink ob my
little baby missy growed into dat capable young lady, wat make anything
she touch her finger to. Ain't her match in Noo York, tell yer; no, nor
Virginny, nudder!"



CHAPTER III.

AUNT EMILY.


"AND you really think I would better stay several days, Mammina? I don't
like to leave you alone. Some one might come and carry you off! How
should I feel if I came back next week, and found you gone?" Hildegarde
looked down at her mother, as she sat in her low chair by the fire; she
spoke playfully, but with an undertone of wistfulness. Mrs. Grahame had
grown rather shadowy in the last year; she looked small and pale beside
Hildegarde's slender but robust figure; and the girl's eyes dwelt on her
with a certain anxiety. But nothing could be brighter or more cheerful
than Mrs. Grahame's smile, nor could a voice ring more merrily than hers
did as she responded to Hildegarde's tone, rather than her words.

"There _have_ been rumours of a griffin lurking in the neighbourhood. He
is said to have a particular fancy for old--there, there, Hilda! don't
kill me!--well, for middle-aged ladies, and his preference is for the
small and bony. I feel that I am in imminent peril; but still, under all
the circumstances, I prefer to abide my fate; and I think you would
decidedly better spend two or three days at least with your Aunt Emily.
She has never invited you before, and her note sounds pretty forlorn,
poor old lady! Besides, if you really want to do something at the
Exchange, you could hardly manage it in one day. So you shall pack the
small trunk, and take an evening gown, and make a little combination
trip, missionary work and money-making."

"And what will you do?" asked Hildegarde, still a little wistfully.

"Clean your room!" replied her mother, promptly.

"Mamma! as if I would let you do that while I was away!"

"Kindly indicate how you would prevent it while you were away, my dear!
But indeed, I don't mean a revolutionary, spring cleaning; I just want
to have the curtains washed, and the paint touched up a little; I saw
several places where it was getting shabby. Indeed, Hilda, I think the
trip to New York is rather a special providence, do you know?"

"Humph!" said Hildegarde, looking suspiciously at her parent. "And while
I _am_ gone, it might be a good plan to take up the matting, and
re-cover some of the chairs, and have the sofa done over, you think?"

"Exactly!" said Mrs. Grahame, falling innocently into the trap.
Whereupon she was pounced on, shaken gently, embraced severely, and
forbidden positively to attempt anything of the kind. Finally a
compromise was effected, allowing the washing of the curtains, but
leaving the details of painting, etc., till Hildegarde's return; and the
rest of the evening was spent in the ever-pleasant and congenial task of
making out a list.

"You cannot be expected to make visits, of course, dear, in so short a
stay; but there are one or two people you ought to see if possible,"
said Mrs. Grahame.

Hildegarde looked up apprehensively from her jottings of towels, gloves,
and ribbons to be bought. Her mother's ideas of family duty were largely
developed.

"Aunt Emily will expect you to call on Cousin Amelia, and no doubt the
girls will come to see you. Your Aunt Anna is in Washington."

"For what we are about to escape--" murmured the daughter.

"Hildegarde, I wonder at you!"

"Yes, dear mamma! what else were you going to say?"

Mrs. Grahame tried to look severe for a moment, did not succeed, and put
the subject by.

"Then there is old Madam Burlington; she would take it as a kindness if
you went to see her; you need not stay more than a quarter of an hour. A
Cranford call is all that is necessary, but do try to find an hour to go
and sit with poor Cousin Harriet Wither; it cheers her so to see some
young life. Poor Harriet! she is a sad wreck! You will probably dine at
your Cousin Robert Grahame's, and if Aunt Emily wishes you to call on
any of the Delansings--"

"Were you expecting me to stay away over Christmas?" inquired
Hildegarde, calmly.

"Why, darling, surely not! what do you mean?"

"Only that you seem to have started on a month's programme, my love,
that's all. Don't look so, angel! I will go to see all of them; I will
spend a month with each in turn; only don't look troubled!"

By and by everything was settled as well as might be. Mother and
daughter went to sleep with peaceful hearts, and the next day Hildegarde
departed for New York, determined to make as short a visit as she could
in propriety to Aunt Emily Delansing.

Of her reception by that lady she herself shall tell:

          "BLESSEDEST MOTHER:

          "As usual, you were quite right, and I am glad I
          came. Hobson was at the station, and brought me up
          here in a hansom, and Aunt Emily was in the
          drawing-room to receive me. She is very kind, and
          seems glad to have me here. I have not done much
          yet, naturally, as I have not been here two hours
          yet. I could not let the six o'clock mail go
          without sending you a line, just to say that I am
          safe and well. Very well indeed, dearest, and no
          more homesick than is natural, and loving you more
          than you can possibly imagine. But oh, the streets
          are so noisy, and there are no birds, and--no, I
          will not! I will be good. Good-bye, dearest and
          best!            Always your very ownest,

                                          "HILDA."

Hilda sealed and addressed her letter, and then rang the bell. A grave
footman in plum-coloured livery appeared, received the letter as if it
were an official document of terrible import, and departed. Then, when
the door was closed and she was alone again, Hildegarde leaned back in
her chair and gave herself up to reverie. Her eyes wandered over the
room in which she was sitting,--a typical city room, large and lofty,
with everything proper in the way of furnishing. "Everything proper, and
nothing interesting!" said Hildegarde, aloud. The oak furniture was like
all other oak furniture; the draperies were irreproachable, but without
character; the pictures were costly, and that was all.

Rather wearily Hildegarde rose and began the somewhat elaborate toilet
which was necessary to please the taste of the aunt with whom she had
come to stay. Mrs. Delansing was her father's aunt. Since Mr. Grahame's
death, his widow and child had seen little of her. She considered their
conduct, in moving to the country, reprehensible in the extreme, and
signified to Mrs. Grahame that she could never regard her as a sane
woman again. Mrs. Grahame had borne this affliction as bravely as she
might, and possibly, in the quietly happy years that followed the move,
she and her daughter did not give much thought to Aunt Emily or her
wrath. She was well, and did not need them, and they were able to get on
very tolerably by themselves. Now, however, things had happened. Mrs.
Delansing was much out of health; her own daughters were settled in
distant homes, and could not leave their own families to be with her;
she felt her friends dropping away year by year, and loneliness coming
upon her. For the first time in years, Emily Delansing felt the need of
some new face, some new voice, to keep her from her own thoughts.
Accordingly she had written to Mrs. Grahame a note which meant to be
stately, and was really piteous, holding out the olive-branch, and
intimating that she should be glad to have a visit from Hildegarde,
unless her mother thought it necessary to keep the girl buried for her
whole life.

In replying, Mrs. Grahame did not think it necessary to reply to the
last remark, nor to remind Mrs. Delansing that Hildegarde had spent a
month in New York the winter before, with an aunt on the Bond side, who
was not in the Delansing set. She said simply that Hildegarde would be
very glad to spend a few days in Gramercy Park, and that she might be
expected on the day set. And, accordingly, here Hildegarde was. She had
fully agreed with her mother that it was her duty to come, if Aunt Emily
really needed her; but she confessed to private doubts as to the reality
of the need. "And you do want me, Mrs. Grahame, deny it if you dare!"
she said.

"Heigh ho!" said Hildegarde again, looking about her for something to
talk to, as was her way. "Well, so I packed my trunk, and I came away,
and here I am." She addressed a small china sailor, who was sitting on a
pink barrel that contained matches.

"And if you think I like it so far, my friend, why, you have less
intelligence than your looks would indicate. What dress would you put
on, if you were I? I think your pink-striped shirt would be extremely
becoming to me, but I don't want to be grasping. You advise the brown
velveteen? I approve of your taste!"

Hildegarde nodded to the sailor, feeling that she had made a friend; and
proceeded to array herself in the brown velveteen gown. It was a pretty
gown, made half-low, with full elbow-sleeves, and heavy old lace in the
neck. When Hildegarde had clasped the gold beads round her slender neck,
she felt that she was well dressed, and sat down with a quiet conscience
to read "Montcalm and Wolfe" till dinner-time. Presently came a soft
knock at the door, and the announcement that dinner was served; and
Hildegarde laid aside her book and went down to the drawing-room.

[Illustration: "MRS. DELANSING SCRUTINISED HER AS SHE CAME THROUGH THE
LONG ROOM."]

Mrs. Delansing, seated in her straight, high-backed armchair, was on the
watch for her grandniece, and scrutinised her as she came through the
long room. Then she nodded, and, rising, laid her hand on the arm that
Hildegarde offered her.

"Who taught you to enter a room?" she asked, abruptly. "You have been
taught, I perceive."

"My mother," said Hildegarde, quietly.

"Humph!" said Mrs. Delansing. "In my time, one of the most important
accomplishments was to enter a room properly. Nowadays I see young women
skip, and shuffle, and amble into the drawing-room; I do not often see
one enter it properly. You will, perhaps, tell your mother that I have
mentioned this; she may be gratified."

Hildegarde bowed in silence, and as they came into the dining-room, took
the place to which her aunt motioned her, at the foot of the table. It
was a long table, and Hildegarde could only see the bows of Mrs.
Delansing's cap over the stately epergne that rose between them; but she
was conscious of the old lady's sharp black eyes watching her through
the ferns and roses. This awoke a rebellious spirit in our young friend,
and she found herself wondering what would be the effect of her putting
her knife in her mouth, or drinking out of the finger-bowl. The dinner
seemed interminable. It is not easy to talk to some one whom you cannot
see; but Hildegarde replied as well as she could to the occasional
searching questions that were darted at her like spear-points through
the ferns, preserved her composure, and was not too unhappy to enjoy the
good food set before her.

It was a relief to go back to the drawing-room, which seemed a shade
less formal than the one they left; also, she found a comfortable chair,
and received permission to take out her embroidery.

"Where did you get that lace?" asked Mrs. Delansing, suddenly, after a
silence during which Hildegarde had thought her asleep, till, on
looking up, she met the steady gaze of the black eyes, still fixed on
her.

"It is extremely valuable lace; are you aware of it?" The tone was
reproachful, but Hildegarde preserved a quiet mind.

"Yes, I know it is valuable!" she said. "Old Mr. Aytoun left all his
personal property to Mamma, you know, Aunt Emily; there was a great deal
of lace, some of it very fine indeed; this is a small piece that went
with some broad flounces. Beautiful flounces they are!"

Mrs. Delansing's eyes lightened, and her fingers moved nervously. Lace
was one of her few passions, and she could not see it, or even hear of
it, unmoved.

"And what does your mother propose to do with all this lace?" she asked.
"She cannot wear it herself, in the wilderness that she chooses to live
in."

"Oh, she keeps it!" said Hildegarde. "It is delightful to have good
lace, don't you think so? even if you don't wear it. And when either of
us wants a bit to put on a gown,--like this, for example,--why, there it
is, all ready."

"It seems wanton; it seems almost criminal," said Mrs. Delansing, with
energy, "to keep valuable lace shut up in a mouldering country-house.
I--it distresses me to think of it. I shall feel it a point of duty to
write to your mother."

Hildegarde wondered what her aunt would feel it her duty to say. It was
hardly her mother's fault that the lace had been left to her; it seemed
even doubtful whether she should be expected to mould her life upon the
lines of lace; but this seemed an unsafe point to suggest.

"That is very beautiful lace on your dress, Aunt Emily!" said this wily
young woman.

Mrs. Delansing's brow smoothed, and she looked down with a shade of
complacency. "Yes, this is good," she said. "This is very good. Your
grandfather,--I should say your great-uncle, bought this lace for me in
Brussels. It is peculiarly fine, you may perceive. The young woman who
made it lost her eyesight in consequence."

"Oh, how dreadful!" cried Hildegarde. "How could you--" "How could you
bear to wear it?" was what she was going to say, but she checked
herself, and the old lady went on, placidly.

"Your great-uncle paid something more than the price asked on that
account. He thought something more was due; he was a man of great
benevolence. This is point lace."

"Yes," said Hildegarde, "Point d'Alençon; I never saw a more delicate
piece."

"Ah! you know point lace!" said Mrs. Delansing. Her voice took on a new
tone, and she looked at the girl with more friendly eyes. "I did not
know that any young women of the new generation understood point. These
matters seem to be thought of little consequence nowadays. I have myself
spent months in the study of a special point, and felt myself well
repaid."

She put some searching questions, relative to the qualities of Spanish,
Venice, and Rose point, and nodded her head at each modest but
intelligent answer. Hildegarde blessed her mother and Cousin Wealthy,
who had expounded to her the mysteries of lace. At the end of the
catechism, the old lady sighed and shook her head.

"It is an exceptional thing," she said, "to find any knowledge of laces
in the younger generations. I instructed my own daughters most carefully
in this branch of a gentlewoman's education, but they have not thought
proper to extend the instruction to their own children. I--a shocking
thing happened to me last year!" She paused, and Hildegarde looked up in
sympathy.

"What was it, Aunt Emily?" she asked.

Mrs. Delansing was still silent, lost in distressful reverie. At length,
"It is painful to dwell upon," she said, "and yet these things are a
warning, and it is, perhaps, a duty to communicate them. You have met my
granddaughters, your cousins, Violette and Blanche?"

"Oh, yes!" said Hildegarde, smiling a little, and colouring a little
too. These cousins were rather apt to attempt the city-cousin rôle, and
to treat her as a country cousin and poor relation. She did not think
they had had the best of it at their last meeting. "Yes, I know them,"
she said, simply.

"They are girls of lively disposition," Mrs. Delansing continued.
"Their mother--your Cousin Amelia--has been something of an invalid,--I
make allowance for all this, and yet there are things--" She broke off;
then, after a moment, went on again. "Violette made me a visit last
winter, here, in this house. She was engaged in what she called fancy
work, for a bazaar (most objectionable things to my mind), that was to
be held in the neighbourhood. One day she came to Hobson--I was unwell
at the time--and said,--Hobson remembers her very words:

"'Oh, Hobson, see what a lovely thing I have made out of a bit of old
rubbishy lace that was in this bureau drawer.'

"Hobson looked, and turned pale to her soul, as she expressed it in her
homely way. She recognised the pattern of the lace.

"'I cut out the flowers,' said the unhappy girl, 'and applied them'--she
_said_ 'appliquéd' them, a term which I cannot reproduce--'applied them
to this crimson satin ribbon; it will make a lovely picture-frame; so
unique!'

"She had--she had taken a piece of my old Mechlin, which Hobson had
just done up and had laid in the drawer till I should feel strong enough
to examine and approve its appearance,--she had taken this and cut it to
pieces, cut out the flowers, to sew them-- There are things that have to
be lived through, my dear. It was weeks before Hobson felt able to tell
me what had occurred. I was in danger of a relapse for several weeks,
though she did it as delicately as possible,--good Hobson. I did not
trust myself to speak to Violette in person; I sent for her mother, and
told her of the occurrence. She--she--laughed!"

There was silence for some minutes. Hildegarde wanted to show the
sympathy that she truly felt, for she liked lace, and the idea of its
stupid destruction filled her with indignation. She ventured to lay her
hand timidly on the old lady's arm, but Mrs. Delansing took no notice of
the caress; she sat bolt upright, gazing out of the window with stony
eyes. Presently she said:

"You may ring for Hobson, if you please. I feel somewhat shaken, and
will have my malted milk in my own room. Another evening, I may ask
your patience in a game of backgammon,--you have been taught to play
backgammon? Yes; but not to-night. You will find books in the library,
and the piano does not disturb me. Good-night, my niece."

She shook hands with Hildegarde, and departed on Hobson's arm, looking
old and feeble, though holding herself studiously erect. Hildegarde went
to her room, feeling half sad, half amused, and wholly homesick. She
greeted the china sailor with effusion, as if he were a friend of years.
"Oh, you dear fellow!" she said. "You are young, aren't you? and happy,
aren't you? Well, mind you stay so, do you hear?" She nodded vehemently
at him, and took up her book, to read till bedtime.



CHAPTER IV.

GREETINGS.


THERE was no family breakfast at the house in Gramercy Park. A smiling
chambermaid brought up a tray to Hildegarde's room, with all manner of
pleasant things under suggestive little covers. Hilda ate and was
thankful, and then, finding that her aunt would not be visible before
noon, she put on her hat and went for a walk. The streets were chilly,
in the November morning, but the air was fresh and good, and Hildegarde
breathed it in joyously.

This was just a walk, she said to herself. She had many visits to make,
of course, and more or less shopping to do, but there was time enough
for all that. Now she would walk, and get her bearings, and consider
that one might live well in a city. The brick sidewalks seemed at once
strange and familiar; she had known the brown-stone streets all her
life. Once they had seemed her own, the only place worth walking in; now
they were a poor apology, indeed, for shady lanes and broad sunny roads
along which the feet trod or the wheel spun, winged by "the joy of mere
living." She passed the house where her childhood had been spent, and
paused to look up at the tall windows, in loving thought of the dear
father who had made that early home so bright and full of cheer. Dear
Father! There was his smoking-room window, where he used to sit and read
aloud to her, so many happy hours. How he would dislike those heavy
brocade curtains; he used to thunder, almost as loud as Colonel Ferrers,
about curtains that kept out the blessed sunshine. How--the house was a
corner one, and at this moment, as Hildegarde stood gazing up at the
windows, a gentleman turned the corner, and ran plump into her.

"Upon my soul," said the gentleman, with great violence, "it is a most
extraordinary thing that a human being should turn himself into a post
for the express purpose of--I beg your pardon, madam. I was not
conscious that I was addressing a lady! Can I serve you in any way?
Command me, I beg of you!"

The moment Hildegarde caught the sound of the gentleman's voice, she
turned her head away, so that he could not see her face; and now she
spoke over her shoulder.

"A place in thy memory, dearest--sir, is all that I ask at thy hands. It
is hard to be forgotten so soon, so utterly!"

"What! what! what! what!" said the Colonel. "Who! who! why--why the
mischief will you not turn your head round, young woman? There is only
one young woman in the world who would address me in this manner, and
she is a hundred miles away. Now, in the name of all that is elfish,
Hildegarde Grahame, what are you doing here?"

Hildegarde turned round, her eyes full of happy laughter, and took her
friend's arm.

"And in the name of all that is occult, and necromantic, and
Rosicrucian, Colonel Ferrers, what are _you_ doing here?" she asked. "I
thought you were in Washington."

"I was, till last night!" the Colonel replied. "We have seen all the
sights, the boy and I, and now we have come to see the sights here on
our way home. Well! well! and the first sight I see is the best one for
sair een that I know. What a pity I left the boy at the hotel! He was
still asleep. We arrived late last night. I went to wake him, and I give
you my word, I could as soon have thought of waking an angel from a
dream of paradise; the little fellow smiled, you understand, Hildegarde,
and--and moved his little arms, and--I came away, sir,--my dear, I
should say,--and left him to sleep as long as he would. Where are you
going now, my child? have you had breakfast? if not,--"

"Oh, yes, I have had breakfast, dear sir!" said Hildegarde. "And you
were thinking, if I had had it, how pleasant for me to go in and
surprise that blessed lamb in his crib; now, weren't you?"

"The point, as usual!" cried the Colonel. "Country neighbours learn to
know each others' thoughts, they say, but I never believed it, till I
had neighbours. Well, shall we go? Now, upon my soul, this is the most
surprising and delightful thing that has happened to me for forty years.
But you have not told me where you are staying, Hilda, nor why you are
here, nor in fact anything; have simply wormed information out of the
confiding friend, and remained silent yourself!" and the Colonel looked
injured, and twirled his moustaches with mock ferocity.

"I like that!" said Hildegarde. "That really pleases me! Kindly
indicate, dear sir, the moment at which I could have got in a word
edgewise, since you began your highly interesting remarks! I have been
simply panting with eagerness to tell you that I left home yesterday,
and arrived in New York at five o'clock in the afternoon; that I am
staying with my great-aunt in Gramercy Park; that I am wofully homesick,
and that the sound of your voice was the most ecstatic sound I have
heard for half a century."

"Ha!" said the Colonel. "Humph! mockery, I perceive! of the aged, too!
Very well, Miss Grahame, your punishment will be decided hereafter.
Meanwhile, here we are at my hotel, and we will go straight up and wake
the boy,--if he seems to be ready to wake, my dear. I am sure you will
agree with me that it would be a pity to rouse him from a sound sleep.
'Sleep, that knits up the ravelled sleeve of care,' you remember,
Hildegarde!"

"Yes, dear Colonel Ferrers!" said Hildegarde. "But I don't believe
Hugh's sleeve is very deeply ravelled, do you? and indeed, it is high
time for him to be awake."

They turned in at a great white marble portal, and the elevator soon
brought them to the Colonel's door. He opened it softly with a
latch-key, and led the way into the apartment; then paused, and beckoned
Hilda to come in quietly.

"Listen!" he whispered. "Hugh is awake!"

They listened, and heard a clear, sweet voice discoursing calmly:

"I have three pillows to my head, though I am not ill. I wish that
other boy was here, that was in bed, and made songs about himself, and
said it was the Land of Counterpane. He was the Giant great and still,
that sits upon the pillow-hill, and I am that kind of giant too. Now I
play he is here, and he sits up against that pillow, and I sit up
against this. And I say, 'How can you say all the things that come in
your mind? I can have the things in my mind, too, but they will not have
rhyme-tails to them. How do you make the rhyme-tails?'

"And then he says,--I call him Louis, for that is the prettiest part of
his name,--Louis says, 'It has to be a part of you. I think of things in
short lines, and after every line I look for the rhyme-tail, and I see
it hanging somewhere. But perhaps your Colonel can help you about that,'
Louis says.

"But I say, 'No! my Colonel cannot help me about that. My Colonel is
good, and I love him with love that grows like a tree, but he cannot
make rhymes. Now, if my Beloved were here, she might be able to help me;
but she is far away, and the high walls shut her out from me. The walls
are very high here, Louis, and my Colonel has gone away now, and I don't
know how soon he will come back; so don't you leave me, Louis, for I am
alone in a sandy waste, and there are no quails. But manna would be
nasty, I think.'"

At this point the listeners could bear no more. Hilda ran into the room,
and had Hugh in her arms, and was laughing and crying and cooing over
him all at once. The Colonel followed, very red in the face, blowing his
nose and clearing his throat portentously.

"Why, darling," Hilda was saying between the kisses, "darling Boy, did
you want me? and did you think your Colonel would leave you for more
than a few little minutes? Of course he would not! And where do you
suppose I came from, Boy, when I heard you say you wanted me? Do you
think I came down the chimney?"

Hugh gravely inspected her spotless attire; the blue serge showed no
wrinkle, no speck of dust.

"I should say _not_ the chimney!" he announced, "But from some strange
where you must have come, Beloved, if it was a place where you heard me
talking when I was not there. Was it the up-stairs of the Land of
Counterpane?" he added, his eyes lighting up with their whimsical look.
"Was it the Counterpane Garret? Then it must have been over the top of
the bed that you came from, and you seemed to come in at the door. Did
Louis tell you to come?"

"Louis?" said the Colonel. "What does the boy mean? Stuff and nonsense!
I met your Beloved in the street, ran into her, and thought she was a
post; and then I brought her along, and here she is; and what do you
think about breakfast, Young Sir?"

Young Sir thought very well of breakfast, but he could not think of
eating it without his two friends looking on; so Hildegarde waited in
the parlour, chatting merrily with the Colonel till Young Sir's toilet
was completed, and then breakfast was brought, and Hugh ate, and the
others watched him; and Hildegarde found that she was quite hungry
enough to eat Black Hamburg grapes, even if it was only two hours since
breakfast, and altogether they were very merry.

"And what shall we do now?" asked the Colonel, when the pleasant meal
was over. "The Metropolitan, eh? The boy must see pictures, Hilda, hey?
'The eye that ne'er on beauty dwells,' h'm! ha! folderol! I forget the
rest, but the principle remains the same. Never seen any pictures except
those at home, and the few in Washington. Chiefly rubbish there, I
observe. What do you say, Miss Braeside? Will you give Roseholme the
honour of your company as far as the Metropolitan?"

"Why not?" thought Hildegarde. "Hobson said positively that Aunt Emily
would not see me before lunch, and there is no one else that I need go
to see quite so very immediately."

"Yes, I will go with pleasure!" she said. So off they started, the
cheerfullest three in New York that morning. Busy men, hurrying
down-town to their business, turned to look back at them, and felt the
load of care lightened a little just by the knowledge that there were
three people who had no care, and were going to enjoy themselves
somewhere. Hugh walked in the middle, holding a hand of each friend,
chattering away, and looking up from one to the other with clear, joyful
looks that made the whole street brighter. The Colonel was in high
feather; flourishing his stick, he strode along, pointing out the
various objects of interest on the way. He paused before a mercer's
window, filled with shimmering silks and satins.

"Now here," he said, "is frippery of a superior description; frippery
enough to delight the hearts of a dozen women."

"Possibly of two dozen, dear sir," put in Hildegarde; "consider the
number of yards in all those shining folds."

"Hum! ha! precisely!" said the Colonel. "Now, Hildegarde, you have some
taste in dress, I believe; you appear to me to be a well-dressed young
woman. Now, I say, what seems to you the handsomest gown in all this
folderol, hey? the handsomest, mind you?"

"'Said the Kangaroo to the Duck, this requires a little reflection!'"
Hildegarde quoted.

"Perhaps, on the whole, that splendid purple velvet; don't you think so,
Colonel Ferrers?"

"Hum!" said the Colonel. "Ha! possibly; but--ha! hum! that--I may be
wrong, Hildegarde--but that seems to me hardly suited to a young person,
hey? More a gown for a dowager, it strikes me? I may be wrong, of
course."

"Not in the least wrong, dear sir," said Hilda, laughing. "But you said
nothing about a young person. You said 'the handsomest.'"

"Precisely," said the Colonel again. "And after all, a gown is a
temporary thing, Hugh. Now, a bit of jewelry--but now, Hildegarde, I put
it to you, if you were going to choose a gown for Elizabeth Beadle, for
example; suppose Hugh and I were going to take a present home to
Elizabeth Beadle; there's no better woman of her station in the mortal
universe, sir, I don't care who the second may be. What do you think
suitable, hey?"

"Oh, Guardian!" and "Oh, Colonel Ferrers!" cried Hugh and Hildegarde, in
a breath. "How delightful!"

"I think Hugh ought to choose," said Hildegarde, with some self-denial;
and she added to herself:

"If only he will not choose the blue and red plaid; though there is
nothing she would like so well, to be sure!"

Hugh surveyed the shining prospect with radiant eyes.

"I think you are the very kindest person in all the world!" he said. "I
think--my mind is full of thoughts, but now I will make my choice."

He was silent, and the three stood absorbed, heedless of the constantly
increasing crowd that surged and elbowed past them.

"My great-aunt is fond of bright colours," said the child, at last.
Hildegarde shivered.

"She would like best the red and blue plaid. _But_, people must not
always have the things they like best. You remember the green apples,
Guardian, and how they weren't half as good as the medicine was horrid."

"Most astonishing boy in the habitable universe!" murmured the Colonel,
under his breath. "Don't undertake to say what kind of boys there may
be in Mars, you understand, but so far as this planet goes,--hey? Ha!
well, have you made your choice, Young Sir?"

Hugh pointed out a gray silk, with a pretty purple figure. "That is the
very best thing for my great-aunt," he said.

"That will fill her with delirious rapture, and it will not put out the
eyes of anybody. We shall all be happy with that silk."

So in they went to the shop, and Hugh bought the silk, and the Colonel
paid for it, and then they all went off to the Metropolitan, and spent
the rest of the morning in great joy.



CHAPTER V.

AT THE EXCHANGE.


"AND how have you spent the morning, my dear?" asked Mrs. Delansing.

They were sitting at the luncheon-table. Hildegarde could just see the
tip of her aunt's cap above the old-fashioned epergne which occupied the
centre of the table; but her tone sounded cheerful, and Hildegarde
hastened to tell of her delightful morning. She had enjoyed herself so
heartily that she made the recital with joyful eagerness, forgetting for
the moment that she was not speaking to her mother, who always enjoyed
her good times rather more than she did herself; but a sudden
exclamation from Mrs. Delansing brought her to a sudden realisation of
her position.

"What!" exclaimed the old lady, and at her tone the very ferns seemed to
stiffen. "What are you telling me, Hildegarde? You have been spending
the morning with--with a gentleman, and that gentleman--"

"Colonel Ferrers!" said Hildegarde, hastily, fearing that she had not
been understood. "Surely you know Colonel Ferrers, Aunt Emily."

"I _do_ know Thomas Ferrers!" replied Mrs. Delansing, with awful
severity; "but I do _not_ know why--I must add that I am at a loss to
imagine _how_--my niece should have been careering about the streets of
New York with Thomas Ferrers or any other young man."

Hildegarde was speechless for a moment; indeed, Mrs. Delansing only
paused to draw breath, and then went on.

"That your mother holds many dangerous and levelling opinions I am
aware; but that she could in any degree countenance anything so--so
monstrous as this, I refuse to believe. I shall consider it my duty to
write to her immediately, and inform her of what you have done."

Hildegarde was holding fast to the arms of her chair, and saying over
and over to herself, "Never speak suddenly or sharply to an old
person!" It was one of her mother's maxims, and she had never needed it
before; but now it served to keep her still, though the indignant outcry
had nearly forced itself from her lips. She remained silent until she
was sure of her voice; then said quietly, "Aunt Emily, there is some
mistake! Colonel Ferrers is over sixty years old; he was a dear friend
of my father's, and--and I have already written to my mother."

Mrs. Delansing was silent; Hildegarde saw through the screen of leaves a
movement, as if she put her hand to her brow. "Sixty years old!" she
repeated. "Wild Tom Ferrers,--sixty years old! What does it mean?
Then--then how old am I?"

There was a painful silence. Hildegarde longed for her mother; longed
for the right word to say; the wrong word would be worse than none, yet
this stillness was not to be endured. Her voice sounded strange to
herself as she said, crumbling her bread nervously:

"He is looking very well indeed. He has been in Washington with little
Hugh, his ward; he had been suffering a great deal with rheumatism, but
the warm weather there drove it quite away, he says."

There was no reply.

"Colonel Ferrers is the kindest neighbour that any one could possibly
have!" the girl went on. "I don't know what we should have done without
him, mamma and I; he has really been one of the great features in our
life there. You know he is a connection of dear papa's,--on the
Lancaster side,--as well as a lifelong friend."

"I was not aware of it!" said Mrs. Delansing. She had recovered her
composure, and her tone, though cold, was no longer like iced
thunderbolts.

"I withdraw my criticism of your conduct,--in a measure. But I cannot
refrain from saying that I think your time would have been better
employed in your room, than in gadding about the street. I was
distinctly surprised when Hobson told me that you had gone out. Hobson
was surprised herself. She has always lived in the most careful
families."

Hildegarde "saw scarlet." "Aunt Emily," she said, "blame me if you will;
but I cannot suffer any reflection on my mother. I do not consider that
it would be possible for any one to be more careful of every sensible
propriety than my mother is; though she does not mould her conduct on
the opinions of servants!" she added. She should not have said this, and
was aware of it instantly; but the provocation had been great.

"You admit that your mother is human?" said the old lady, grimly. "She
has faults, I presume, in common with the rest of humankind?"

"She may have!" said Hildegarde. "I have never observed them."

Silence again. Hildegarde tried to eat her chicken, but every morsel
seemed to choke her; her heart beat painfully, and she saw through a
mist of angry tears. Oh, why had she come here? What would she not give
to be at home again!

Presently Mrs. Delansing spoke again, and her tone was perceptibly
gentler.

"My dear, you must not think that I mean to be unkind, nor did I
mean--consciously--to reflect upon your mother, for whom your affection
is commendable, though perhaps strongly expressed."

"I am sorry!" said Hildegarde, impulsively. "I ought not to have spoken
so. I beg your pardon, Aunt Emily!"

Mrs. Delansing bowed. "You are freely pardoned! I was about to say, when
this little interruption occurred, that I had hoped you could be content
for a few days under my roof, without seeking pleasure elsewhere; but
age is poor company for youth."

"But you could not see me this morning, Aunt Emily! You said last night
that you never saw anybody before lunch. And what should I do in my
room? It is a charming room, but you surely did not expect me to stay in
it all the morning, doing nothing?"

"I should have thought you might find plenty of occupation!" said Mrs.
Delansing. "In my time it was thought not too much for a young lady to
devote the greater part of the day to the care of her person; this, of
course, included fine needlework and other feminine occupations."

"I did not bring any work with me," said Hildegarde. "You see, I must go
back to-morrow, Aunt Emily, and there are so many errands that I have to
do. This afternoon I must go out again; and is there anything I can do
for you? I shall be going by Arnold's, if you want anything there."

"I thank you; Hobson makes my purchases for me!" said Mrs. Delansing,
stiffly. "She would better accompany you to Arnold's; there is apt to be
a crowd in these large shops, which I consider unsuited for gentlewomen.
I will tell Hobson to accompany you."

But Hildegarde protested against this, saying, with truth, that she must
pay a visit first. The idea of going about with Hobson at her heels was
intolerable for the girl who had spent the first sixteen years of her
life in New York.

She finally carried her point, and also obtained permission to read to
her aunt for an hour before going out. It was a particularly dull weekly
that was chosen, but she read as well as she knew how, and had the
pleasure of seeing Mrs. Delansing's stern face relax into something like
cheerfulness as she went through two chapters of the vapid,
semi-religious story. At length the cold, gray eyes closed; the stately
head nodded forward; Aunt Emily was asleep. Hildegarde read on for some
time, till she was sure that the slumber was deep and settled. Then she
sat for a moment looking at the old lady, and contrasting her face and
form, rigid even in sleep, with those of dear Cousin Wealthy Bond, who
always looked like the softest and most kissable elderly rose in her
afternoon nap. "Poor soul," she said, softly, as she slipped out of the
room to find Hobson. "So lonely, and so unloved and unloving! I can't
bear to hear Blanche and Violette speak of her,--I can hardly keep my
hands off them,--and yet--why exactly should they be fond of her? She is
not fond of them, or of anybody, I fear, unless it be Hobson."

       *       *       *       *       *

The visit was paid, and Hildegarde took her way towards the Woman's
Exchange, with a beating heart. It beat happily, for she had enjoyed
the half-hour's talk with the kind cousin, an elderly woman, who seldom
moved from her sofa, but whose life was full of interest, and who was
the friend and confidante of all the young people in the neighbourhood.
She had heard with pleasure of the proposed plan, and had given
Hildegarde a note to the manager of the Exchange, whom she knew well;
had tasted a crumb of one of the cakes, and predicted a ready sale for
them. Moreover, and this was the best of all, she had talked so wisely
and kindly, and with such a note of the dear mother in her voice, that
Hildegarde's homesickness had all floated away, and she had decided that
it was not, after all, such a hardship to spend three days in New York
as she had thought it an hour ago.

As I said, she took her way towards the Exchange, carrying her neat
paper box carefully. As she went, she amused herself by building
castles, _à la_ Perrette. How many things she would buy with the money,
if she sold the cakes; and she should surely sell them. No one could
resist who once tasted them, and she had made several tiny ones for
samples; just a mouthful of "goody" in each.

Fine linen, several yards of it, and gold thread, and "Underwoods" in
green morocco,--that was really _almost_ a necessity, for Mamma's
birthday; and some pink chiffon to freshen up her silk waist,
and--and--here she was almost run over, and was shouted at and seized by
a policeman, and piloted gently to a place of safety, with an admonition
to be more careful.

Much ashamed, Hildegarde stood still to look about her, and found
herself at the very door of the Exchange. She went in. The room was
filled with customers. "I ought to have come in the morning," she said
to herself, and the quick blush mounted to her cheeks, as she made her
way to the counter at the back of the shop, where a sweet-faced woman
was trying to answer four questions at once.

"No, the Nuns have not come in yet. Yes, they are generally here before
this. No, I cannot tell the reason of the delay. Yes, it happened once
before, when the maker was ill. I do not know why more people do not
make them. Yes, just the one person, so far as I know. Marguerites? Yes,
madam,--in one moment. The orange biscuits will come in at two o'clock.
No, we have never had them earlier than that. Perhaps you are thinking
of the lemon cheese-cakes. These are the lemon cheese-cakes."

She paused for breath, and looked anxiously round. It was plain that she
was expecting assistance, and equally plain that it was late in coming.
Hildegarde stepped quietly round behind the counter.

"Can I help you?" she whispered.

The lady gave her a grateful glance. "I should be so thankful," she
murmured. "All these ladies must be served instantly. The prices are all
marked."

The lady who had demanded the "Nuns" had also paused for breath, being
stout as well as clamorous; but she now returned to the attack.
Hildegarde met her with a calm front, and eyes which tried not to smile.

"Can you--oh! this is a different person. Perhaps _you_ can tell me why
the Nuns are not here. It really seems an extraordinary thing that they
should not be here at the usual time."

"The messenger may have lost a train, or something of that sort,"
suggested Hildegarde, soothingly.

"Oh, but that would be no excuse! No excuse at all! When one is in the
habit of supplying things to people of consequence, one must not lose
trains. Now, are you _perfectly sure_ that they have not come? You know
what they are, do you? Little round cakes, with a raisin in the middle,
and flavoured with something special. I don't remember what the flavour
is, but it is something special, of that I am sure. Have you
looked--have you looked everywhere? What is in that box at your elbow?
They might have been brought in and laid down without your noticing it.
Oblige me by looking in that box at your elbow."

A sudden thought flashed into Hildegarde's mind; she began to unfasten
the box, which was her own, whispering at the same time into the ear of
her companion in distress.

"Oh! Oh, yes, certainly!" said the latter, also in a whisper. "Anything,
I am sure, that will give satisfaction! If you can only--"

"Stop her noise," was evidently what the patient saleswoman longed to
say; but she checked the words, and only gave Hildegarde an eloquent
glance, as she turned to meet a wild onset in demand of macaroons.

Perhaps Hildegarde's fingers trembled a little as she untied the narrow
blue ribbon that bound up her hopes; perhaps she was purposely slow,
collecting her thoughts and words. The stout lady fumed and fidgeted.
"You should never allow things to be tied in a hard knot! It should be
one of the first rules in a place like this, that boxes should be
fastened with india-rubber bands. Surely you know the usefulness of
india-rubber bands? I hope those Nuns are fresh. If you did not see them
come in, or speak to the person who brought them, how can you be sure
of their being fresh? Stale cakes are out of the question, you know;
nobody could think of enduring stale cakes; and Nuns, in particular,
must be eaten the same day they--"

"These are not Nuns, madam," said Hildegarde, as she opened the box.
"Perhaps you would like to see--"

"_Not Nuns!_ Then why did you tell me they were Nuns? What are they, I
should like to know? H'm! ha! very pretty! What do you call these?"

"Novices!" said Hildegarde, with a flash of inspiration.

"Aha! Novices, eh? Yes, yes! a good name, if they are--are they
something new? I have never seen them here before."

"Entirely new!" Hildegarde assured her. "This is the first box that has
ever been brought in."

"Eh? the first? Then how do you know they are good? How can you
conscientiously recommend them? I always expect conscientious treatment
here, you know."

"Will you try one?"

Hildegarde handed her the box; and she was soon crunching and nodding
and smiling, all at the same moment.

"De-licious! I assure you, delicious! something entirely new--Novices!
Why, they are exactly what I want for my party to-night. Much better
than Nuns,--Nuns have really become quite tiresome. What is the price of
the Novices?"

Hildegarde hesitated, and glanced at the saleswoman. The latter leaned
swiftly forward, looked, tasted a crumb,--

"Five cents apiece!" she said, quietly. Five! Hildegarde had thought of
three, and had built all her castles on that basis.

But the stout lady was crying to heaven against the price. "Impossible!
absurd! Why, Nuns were only two cents apiece, Marguerites only three!
The price was ridiculous, exorbitant. She could not think of paying--"

Here a small lady, richly but quietly dressed, came up, and looked at
the box. "Pretty!" she said. "Graceful and ingenious! Five cents
apiece, you say? Give me a dozen and a half, please! I should like to
have them sent to me once a week for the season; they are just the
things to please my daughter's lunch-club."

She nodded kindly to Hildegarde, and passed on. The stout lady gazed
after her reverentially.

"Mrs. Cameron Pine!" she murmured. "She will make them the fashion
instantly. I--I will take the rest!" she cried, wildly. "Put them up,
and send them to me,--Mrs. Newcomb Rich, Madison Avenue. Send me two
dozen every week,--wait! send them the _day before_ you send Mrs.
Pine's, do you hear? the day before! Don't forget! It is most
important!" and puffing and nodding, she, too, went on.

There was a little lull now, during which the saleswoman turned to thank
Hildegarde so heartily that our heroine would have felt well repaid even
if she had not sold all her cakes.

"I cannot imagine where Miss Berden is; she is always so punctual. This
is our busiest day, and one of our busiest hours, and some of the
ladies, as you saw, rather hard to please. I really don't know what I
should have done if you had not helped me; it was very kind and
thoughtful of you." She gazed earnestly at Hildegarde, and added, "You
have a good mother, I know, who has taught you to think and help."

Hildegarde nodded and smiled, but said nothing, for the tears came
springing to her eyes.

"And you sold all the pretty cakes!" added the saleswoman. "I knew they
would make a hit the moment I saw them. That was partly why I put a good
price on them; but it was also because I knew there must be a good deal
of nice and careful work in making them. I wonder--you have been so
good, I am ashamed to ask you anything more, but there is no one here
now; would you be willing to hold the fort while I run to the corner and
post a letter?"

Hildegarde assented cheerfully, and Miss Adams (for by this name she now
introduced herself) put on her hat and went out. Hildegarde remained
mistress of the situation, and occupied herself in tidying up the marble
counter, brushing away the crumbs, and rearranging some biscuits that
had fallen from their dainty pyramid.

[Illustration: "'HILDEGARDE GRAHAME, IN THE NAME OF ALL THAT'S
WONDERFUL!'"]

Now voices were heard at the door, and a gay group entered. A splendid
carriage stood without, and these rustling, high-plumed ladies had
evidently just dismounted from it. There were four of them, and they
were joined in another moment by two or three more. Apparently, all had
been at some concert, for they were talking all at once, and Hildegarde
heard the words, "Exquisite!" "Technique!" "Andante!" etc., repeated
over and over. She became interested, and forgot for the moment her
position, when something curious recalled it to her. She recognised, in
one of the younger ladies, her cousin Blanche Van Dene, one of Mrs.
Delansing's granddaughters; and almost at the same instant, she became
aware that Blanche had recognised her, and that she was anxious to avoid
any open recognition. Her eyes had met Hildegarde's for one second; the
next, she had turned her back squarely, and was chattering volubly in
the ear of her neighbour.

A wave of anger surged over Hildegarde, leaving the very tips of her
ears pink as it receded; but the wave of amusement followed it quickly,
and the second wave bore a little spray of malice. Should she call to
her, and say, "Dearest Blanche, how is your dear mother?" Or she might
put on a twang--Hildegarde had an excellent twang at her disposal, and
say, "Hello, Blanchey! Haow's yer haalth, and haow's the folks to home?"
Oh! it would be fun! And surely the girl deserved it! Such bad form, to
say nothing of bad feeling! But here Hildegarde seemed to hear a certain
familiar voice saying, "My dear, a debt of rudeness is one that should
never be paid!" So she held her tongue, and contented herself with
looking hard at Blanche's back, which showed consciousness and
discomfort in every line.

So intent was Hildegarde on her cousin's back, that she did not notice
that one of the other ladies had turned round, and was gazing at her in
perplexity; next moment a shout rang out, in a clear, joyous voice that
made every one start.

"Hilda Grahame, in the name of all that is wonderful! My dear, what sky
have you dropped from?"

Hildegarde started, and saw a splendid vision advancing towards her with
outstretched hand. A girl somewhat older than herself, with the walk and
figure of a goddess and the dress of a queen; a face of almost faultless
beauty, and large clear eyes through which looked a soul like a child's;
she was one of the famous beauties of the day, famous alike for her
loveliness, her great fortune, and the pride of her ancient name.

"My dear," she repeated, taking both Hildegarde's hands in hers, "what
sky have you dropped from, and what are you doing here?"

"Dear Imperia!" said Hildegarde, calling her by the old familiar school
name that came naturally to her lips. "How delightful to see you! I am
selling cakes; will you have some? There were some that I made myself,
but they are all sold. Here are various others, doubtless inferior, but
still good."

"Of course I will have some!" cried Imperia. "Why, this is perfectly
delightful! Do you really come here? regularly, I mean, and have all the
cakes you want? I never heard of such fun. Give me three dozen of
everything, and we'll have a carouse. Here, girls!" she turned and
called to the others, who were looking curiously at the two; "come here,
and tell me who this is! Shade of Madame Haut-ton, hover over us, and
bless this reunion!"

"Hildegarde Grahame! Hilda! Queen Hildegarde!" cried several voices; and
Hildegarde was instantly surrounded by the crowd of butterflies, all
caressing and questioning, laughing and talking at once. One or two
looked puzzled, other one or two sad, as they saw their gay schoolmate
of former days standing behind the counter, quiet and self-possessed,
and apparently entirely at home. But visible distress was on one
countenance, and Hildegarde, charitable, refrained from looking at her
cousin, when Imperia exclaimed, "Why, here is Blanche Van Dene! She is
your cousin, isn't she? Blanche, here is Hilda, who used to be so good
to you at school, and help you with your spelling. Dear me, Hilda, _do_
you remember how Blanchey used to spell?"

Hildegarde shook hands with her cousin composedly, and only her dancing
eyes showed any consciousness of the situation. Blanche muttered some
greeting, and then recollected an engagement and hurried off. The lady
Imperia looked after her with good-natured contempt.

"Same little animal, my dear! I beg your pardon, Hilda, but really, you
know, we remember her in her pinafores, and she was a snob then. But now
tell us all about it, like a good girl! You are not in trouble, dear old
thing?"

At this moment the door opened and Miss Adams came hurrying in,
breathless and apologetic. There had been a block in the street--she was
on the wrong side and could not get back--would Hildegarde _please_
excuse her for being so long?

"Oh, but I have had a delightful time, Miss Adams!" cried Hildegarde.
"And I have sold three dozen of everything--was that a real offer,
Imperia?"

Imperia vowed that it was; and Hildegarde and Miss Adams together tied
up the parcels, while all chatted together like old friends. The
situation was explained, and so many dozens of "Novices" were ordered
for every week that Hildegarde declared her intention of taking back
with her to Braeside a _chef_ and three kitchen-maids to help her in the
manufacture. Finally, she was whirled away in her friend's purple
chariot for a drive in the park, and had the pleasure of passing her
cousin Blanche on the way, looking sad and sorry.



CHAPTER VI.

MORE GREETINGS.


"AND you won't think better of it? Hilda, I am in despair! Think of it,
my dear! Calvé, and both the De Reszkes--there will never be such a
performance again, perhaps, in our lifetimes! And all the good time we
should have between the acts--and our box will be simply _full_ of
people all the evening--oh, you must come, Hilda Grahame!"

People said of Helena Desmond that if she had a fault, it was that of
speaking too loud. She was so full of the joy of living, so powerful and
vigorous in all her emotions, pleasurable or painful, that her clear,
resonant voice was apt to be heard like the sound of a trumpet,
dominating other and feebler organs. Mrs. Delansing, sitting erect
behind her tea equipage, heard it, and shivered slightly; but
Hildegarde's reply was spoken so low that she could not catch a
syllable. Then came: "No, no, I shouldn't! Don't tell me! I should do
nothing of the sort! We are to take our opportunities as they
come,--time enough for sacrifices when Lent comes. You know I don't mean
that, Hilda; and you know you are a dear, dear,--" here followed the
sound of good hearty kisses, and Mrs. Delansing shivered again; then the
door closed with a solid slam, and all was silent.

Hildegarde came into the room, her hands full of roses.

"Aunt Emily," she said, "Helena Desmond sent you these! She would have
come in, but she was late already for a reception. Aren't they lovely?"

Mrs. Delansing bent her head over the flowers; they were among the few
things she enjoyed.

"Beautiful!" she said. "It was very kindly done of Miss Desmond. I
should have been glad to see her. Was--was that she at the door,
speaking so loud?"

"Yes," said Hildegarde. "She was speaking rather loud, perhaps; but her
voice is so musical, I don't think one minds it in her, somehow. She is
a glorious creature!"

Mrs. Delansing seemed absent and disturbed. "She--it is not always
possible to avoid overhearing portions of conversations, when carried on
in a high key--I gathered that some invitation had been extended to you,
Hildegarde--for this evening."

"Yes!" said Hildegarde, rather reluctantly. "She wanted me to go to the
opera with her, but I didn't think I would better."

"Why not?" demanded her aunt, severely. "Miss Desmond is not accustomed
to have her invitations refused,--and you are bound to take advantage of
such opportunities as may present themselves to you, living in the
extraordinary way that your mother thinks suitable for you."

"Oh, well!" said Hildegarde, "Helena understood perfectly, and I thought
it best not to go."

She was arranging the flowers as she spoke, and did not see the curious
change that seemed to come over Mrs. Delansing's face. It was as if the
stony repose of her features were broken,--some shifting light seemed
to pass over her, changing into shadow, but a shadow softened into
something approaching tenderness.

"Hildegarde, it is not on my account that you are making this sacrifice?
I cannot permit--"

Hildegarde looked up; then laid down her roses, and crossed the room to
lay her hand on her aunt's shoulder.

"Of course it is, Aunt Emily!" she said, impulsively. "I came here to
see you, not to go to the opera. I have been out already more than I
should to-day, but--but things happened, somehow. And this is the last
evening we shall have together, and you know we are to play the grand
final rubber; and--and I _wanted_ to stay."

The old lady began to tremble in her chair; a mist came over her keen
black eyes.

"My grandchildren would have gone!" she cried. "Blanche and Violette
would have gone, and not have thought it necessary even to tell me. I
have done everything for them, and nothing-- Blanche has been here this
afternoon!" she added, in a different voice, struggling for her usual
composure. "She said--but it is of no consequence what she said."

"No, it really isn't, Aunt Emily!" said Hildegarde, venturing to stroke
the silken shoulder affectionately. "Suppose we don't mind about Blanche
now; she is very young for her age, don't you think? I can finish that
story before I go to dress for dinner."

But Mrs. Delansing had something else to say.

"Thomas Ferrers came to see me, also!" she said. "Did you ask him to do
so?"

"Oh--no!" said Hildegarde. "I--I only told him that you did not go out
very much, and--and he said at once that he should come to see you
before he left town."

"He is grown an old man!" said Mrs. Delansing. "Wild Tom Ferrers! We had
a great deal of talk; much of it about you. I am bound to say that he
gave me a different impression of your life. You--you must all be very
happy there together!"

The tone was piteous in its wistfulness, and Hildegarde responded
heartily. "You must come and see for yourself some day, Aunt Emily! We
_are_ happy, as happy as the day is long!"

The evening passed quickly and pleasantly. Mrs. Delansing unbent more
than Hildegarde could have supposed possible, and even smiled as she
told, over the backgammon board, some anecdotes of Colonel Ferrers's
wild youth. One could not imagine her laughing under any circumstances,
but her smile, when she was amused, was fine and delicate, and made a
wonderful difference in her face.

When bedtime came, she held Hildegarde's hands in hers for several
minutes, looking at her with a searching gaze.

"You have not found it too dull?" she said. "Hobson says she heard you
singing in your room to-day! You do not find this a dreary cage, where
no young life could be happy?"

Hildegarde had found it so the first day, but now all was changed, and
she could answer heartily, "No, indeed, Aunt Emily! I have had a very
pleasant visit, and I am--oh, _so_ glad I came! I don't believe I
should ever have known you if I had not been here in the house; and I am
very, very glad to know you, Aunt Emily. May I come again?" She bent,
and kissed the old lady's cheek, and was delighted to have her kiss
warmly returned.

"Come whenever you will, my child!" Mrs. Delansing said. "Come as often
as you can; I shall be better for every time I see you."

So it was arranged that later in the winter Hildegarde was to come to
Gramercy Park for a good visit, and hear the German opera; and when the
aunt and niece finally said good-bye at the bedroom door, Hildegarde
felt that she had made a new friend; while the lonely old woman went to
bed with a warmer heart than she had felt in her bosom for years.

"Why, mum," said Hobson, "I declare to goodness, you look ten years
younger since that young lady come here!"

"I _am_ ten years younger, Hobson!" said Mrs. Delansing, gravely. "I
will have the nightcap with the Valenciennes frill, if you please."

Hildegarde sent her little trunk off by the expressman, and after
bidding good-bye to Hobson, who begged her most earnestly to come again
soon, started off for her final shopping-bout. She had some idea of
lunching at Purcell's, and taking an afternoon train for home. There
were still several things to be attended to, and she might--it was not
very far from Blank & Blank's--she might be able to run round and see if
Rose Flower were at home. It was doubtful, for she had been away most of
the fall, but there was always a chance of her having returned. The dear
Rose! How good it would be to see her, and Doctor Flower, and, perhaps,
Bubble!

It was eleven o'clock before she reached Blank & Blank's, and the vast
shop was filled with a surging crowd of women, young and old, smart and
dowdy, rich and poor. Here and there a lone man was seen, standing
bewildered, with a sample in his hand of something that he was to match;
here and there, too, stood the floor-walkers, in calm and conscious
dignity, the heroes of the shopping-world; but these were only
occasional flecks on the frothing tide of womanhood. Hildegarde, after
several vain attempts, succeeded in reaching the counter she sought.
Before it stood a row of women, elbow to elbow, each bent on her own
quest; behind it were the shop-women, endeavouring to satisfy all
demands at one and the same moment.

Endeavouring, most of them, that is; but even the shop-woman, tried as
she is in the furnace, is not always pure gold. The young woman who
stood near Hildegarde may have been too tired, or may have been ill; she
certainly was rude. Hildegarde had taken her stand directly behind a
plainly dressed, elderly woman, shrewdly judging that she would be
likely to make some definite purchase and then depart, instead of
fingering half the goods on the counter, as many of the customers were
doing. The elderly woman was evidently in haste. She held up the black
cashmere that she had been examining, and said, civilly, "Will you
please tell me the price of this?" The question was repeated several
times; the shop-woman, after one glance at the quiet, unstylish figure,
turned her shoulder, and began to press some goods volubly on a
departing shopper.

"Please!" said the quiet woman again. "I am in haste, and want to buy
some of this. Will you please tell me the price?"

"You'll have to wait your turn, lady!" was the reply; and voice and tone
were equally ill-bred. "I can't wait on everybody at once."

"I have been waiting fifteen minutes," was the reply; "and my turn has
come over and over again."

That was enough for Hildegarde. She reached over the woman's shoulder,
and rapped sharply on the counter. "Will you tell the lady the price of
this cashmere, or shall I call Mr. Jones?"

The shop-woman looked up hastily, caught sight of two blazing eyes, and
a face like white lightning, and quailed.

"I--I'm sure I was doing my best!" she muttered. "It's sixty cents a
yard."

"If this is your best, you have no place here!" said the flashing person
before her. "How many yards would you like, madam? You shall--oh! oh,
my dear! Oh, Nurse Lucy, it is not really you?"

"Oh, my blessed lamb!" cried Nurse Lucy, "Am I awake or dreaming, I says
to myself the minute I heard your darling voice!"

And the stately maiden in blue serge, and the gray-haired woman in black
alpaca, fell on each other's neck, and fairly cried for joy, while the
roar of the shopping actually ceased--for one moment. Then it rose
again,--what did it matter to anybody, when a bargain sale was on, who
met or who parted? And the two friends, holding each other fast by the
hand, got into a quiet corner apart, in a haven dedicated to Marseilles
quilts, which nobody was buying, and sat down on two stools, and gazed
their fill.

"I wonder what is the meaning of it all!" cried Hildegarde. "One after
another, I keep meeting all the people I care most about; first one
friend, and then another,--and now you, you dear, blessed Nurse Lucy.
Oh! what _are_ you doing here? and where is Mr. Hartley? and--and--have
you seen Rose and Bubble? I was wondering whether I could find them.
And--oh, do tell me all about everything, _please_!"

She paused, breathless, and Nurse Lucy took up the tale, drying her
joyful tears the while.

"My pretty! to think of it being you! and me thinking of you miles away,
and wishing I could run down and see you and your blessed mother, as
you've asked me a many times so kind. And Jacob,--why, he's right
outside, dear, waiting for me. He can't abear a crowd of people, you
know, and New York almost smothers him anyway, poor soul. We came up for
the day, dear, to see Pinkrosia, and Bubble, and the Doctor. We had a
note from Doctor Flower--ah! what a good man he is!--and he wouldn't
take no for an answer, but we must come up and see them in their own
home; and so here we are,--came up on the early train this morning, as
Jacob had business in the city. And now!--and my dear looking so well
and so beautiful, and the living spirit of her mother--"

"Oh, hush, Nurse Lucy! you must not flatter me!" cried Hildegarde. "See!
there is your parcel all done up! I will take it for you; and I don't
think that young woman will neglect a customer again for one while."

Arm in arm, they passed through the crowd. As they reached the street,
Mrs. Hartley pressed Hildegarde's arm. "Hush, dear! stop a minute!
there's Jacob; waiting so patient, poor soul! To think how surprised he
will be! What shall we say to him?"

"I know!" said Hildegarde. "Let me tell him, Nurse Lucy!"

A tall, stalwart man was standing with his back to them; his legs were
rather wide apart, his shoulders squared, and he seemed to have planted
himself against the throng of people that hurried and jostled by him.
Discontent was visible in every line of his figure, and Hildegarde knew
just how his mouth was puckered, though she could not see it.

Hildegarde stepped up softly behind him, and spoke in his ear.

"And what do you expect to get for winter wheat, Mr. Hartley?"

The farmer turned round as if he had been shot. "What in--now take me
away! take me away home, before I lose any senses this place has left
me. This ain't Huldy Grahame, no way of the world!"

Convinced that it was that young person herself, he seized her two
hands, and drew her forcibly along, as he made his way through the
crowd. "Lucy found ye?" he said. "I bet Lucy found ye. Nothin' like
women! I've been thinkin' about ye all this blessed day, and looked at
every gal that went by, and they was about ten thousand of 'em, and not
one I'd look at twice. Come along, Lucy! I've done all the shoppin' I
want! Let's get home to Doctor Flower's, and have a sight at this gal,
before I wake up and find she's a dream!"

As the good man spoke, he hurried Hildegarde along at a surprising rate,
Nurse Lucy following as best she might. Hildegarde was fairly bewildered
by all these sudden meetings. She began to feel as if every street
corner must reveal some new vision; she looked for Bubble,--for the
Merryweathers; it seemed to her, too, almost dreamlike in its
strangeness. Yet after all, there is nothing wonderful in meeting all
sorts and conditions of men in the course of two days in New York.

A short walk brought them to a quiet, pleasant street, where the usual
brown stone houses had rather a special look of care and neatness. There
were many flowers in the windows; the curtains were more often muslin
than lace, but they were fresh and white, and one felt that it was a
pleasant neighbourhood, a neighbourhood of homes.

"You have been here before, dear?" asked Mrs. Hartley.

"No," replied Hildegarde. "I have been meaning all the fall to come,
ever since they came back from Europe and took this house, but one thing
and another has prevented. As I told you, I meant to try to see them
to-day, in any case. But Rose does not know I am in town; it will be
another surprise. Dear Rose!"

"Well, I do suppose Pinkrosia'll be glad to see you!" said Jacob
Hartley. "But if she sets up to be as glad as Marm Lucy and I be, she'll
have to hear something, that's all. Huldy Grahame's my gal this time,
and no mistake!"

Hildegarde wondered what the Colonel would say to this; wondered also if
there were any one else--but the thought dismissed itself unfinished.

Here they were now, in a pretty, homelike parlour, hung with
rose-colour,--ah! Doctor Fowler always had the prettiest ideas!--waiting
for their hostess. A light step on the stairs! As it came down, quickly
and steadily, Hildegarde saw many pictures, all in a moment. First, a
girl in a wheeled chair, pale and sweet-faced, saying quietly that she
could not walk,--that she had not walked since she was three years
old,--pointing out the beauty and convenience of her precious chair, in
which she was a prisoner. Then, herself, Hildegarde Grahame, walking up
and down the anteroom of the hospital, waiting in an agony of suspense
for news; then her mother's face, and Doctor Flower behind her, both
smiling, and the blessed words, "It is all right!"

The tears sprang to her eyes. Then came the vision of their two selves,
herself and her friend, in their happy, happy holiday summer at Cousin
Wealthy Bond's; the gradual recovery, the roses coming in the pale
cheeks, the step, growing ever firmer, more elastic. Then--but there was
time for no more. Here she was at the door, Rose Flower, no longer a
cripple, no longer even an invalid, but the happy wife of one of the
best men in the world.

Rose's cry of surprise was very different from the clarion shout with
which Helena Desmond had greeted her friend. It was soft and low,--a
note like that of a bird coming home to its nest. "Hilda! my Hilda! oh,
happy, happy day!"

The two girls (for Rose was a girl still, if she was a married woman!)
held each other close for a little, without a word; the words did not
come, nor was there need of them; each knew the other's heart was full
of love that had had steady life and growth for five years. "My dear!"
they said; and then again, "My dear!" and that was all.

But a few minutes later, when all four were seated in a circle, the
girls hand in hand, the old people looking from one to the other with
eyes of delight, the words came fast enough.

Rose had to tell of her summer abroad, of all the new worlds that had
opened before the country-bred girl,--worlds of which she had dreamed
all her life, which she had never thought to see with her bodily eyes.
Then Hildegarde must tell of her summer, all the wonders of the camp,
the new friends, grown so dear in so short a time; of Hugh and the
Colonel, and all the delights of Braeside and Roseholme; and then both
girls must hear all about affairs at Hartley's Glen, from the greatest
to the least.

"Oh, Nurse Lucy, is the old yellow hen still alive--Mrs. Whittaker, I
mean? Surely you know the hen we always called Mrs. Whittaker. She used
to tell us her name whenever she laid an egg. And the cats! How are the
dear cats? Do you think Camaralzaman remembers me, Nurse Lucy? And do
you try to say his whole name once in a while, so that he will not
forget it? And how are all the people in the village? How is Miss Bean?
Does she still trim hats?-- Oh, Rose, do you remember the funny hats?
There was a green satin one, the first time I went there--my dear! she
wanted me to buy it! But she was so good, and kind, and nice! Everybody
in the village is nice!"

"Hilda, do you remember when Bubble sprained his ankle, and the letter
he wrote you? Oh, such a funny letter, wasn't it?"

"Remember it? I have it in one of my most precious portfolios! But, oh,
Nurse Lucy, you haven't told us a word about the cows. Dear cows! How
are they all?"

And so on, and so on, happy, foolish talk, with laughter breaking
through it at every moment, as one recollection brought up another. And
in the midst of it all, who is this tall youth who comes silently into
the hall, and stands silent in the doorway, gazing at all the merry
talkers? No one sees him; he stands and looks from one to the other,
with shining eyes. A slight, trim figure, well-dressed, alert, quickness
and energy in every line of it; a face not handsome, certainly, but so
full of life and intelligence and good-will that whoever looks at it
once is sure to look again. There he stands, silent, absorbed; and so
standing, he, too, sees visions. A garden, and a boy at work in it; a
freckled, towsled boy, fighting weeds with a hoe, but keeping one eye on
a tattered spelling-book that lies beside him. Ten weeds to a word, that
was the rule; big weeds, of course,--he did not count chickweed. What
was the word,--ah! yes! _anticipate!_ That was it! And then he looked
up, and saw the face looking through the hedge,--the beautiful face,
with the proud, pretty mouth, and the bright eyes. It had hardly
changed, save that the mouth was now gentle, instead of proud. And then
she came forward, and talked to him,--to him, in his old shirt and
trousers, and asked about his lessons, and offered to teach him. Ah,
yes! that was the beginning of it all, the new life, the new world, the
new joy!

There was a suspicion of moisture in the youth's bright blue eyes, but
they twinkled nevertheless; and when he spoke, it was in the old,
homely speech that he loved, and in the very words that he had spoken
that day, all these happy years ago.

"I swan!" said Zerubbabel Chirk. "I reelly do! I swan to man!"



CHAPTER VII.

MERRY WEATHER SIGNS.


BUT the best of all, perhaps, was telling about it afterward. Sitting by
the fire that evening, in the pleasant sitting-room, Hildegarde told her
mother all about the Great Frisk, as she called it; and it would have
been hard to say whether narrator or listener were the more interested.

"But, child," said Mrs. Grahame, "how was it possible for you to do so
much, and see so many people in three days, or, rather, two days and a
half? I cannot comprehend it!"

"Nor can I!" laughed Hildegarde. "But--it just happened, you know! Why,
dear, it seemed to _rain_ friends! Wherever I turned I ran into some one
I loved. Oh, I feel so rich,--rich in every way! The money in my pocket
is the least part of it all, and yet I am glad enough of that, too. Only
_think_ of my getting such a price! And eight or ten dozen to send
every week! It is like a fairy story, isn't it, darling? And then to
meet Helena,--dear Helena! Oh, she was so delightful! And just to see
her was enough to fill one with beauty for the whole day. She wears her
hair brushed back now,--you remember how it waves,--wonderful hair! And
she was in dark blue velvet, trimmed with chinchilla, and--and
altogether, my love, if the Queen of Sheba had seen her, her spirit
would have died within her twice over. And just the same dear,
whole-souled creature as ever! She never can change. She promises to
come out here before she goes to Washington."

"That will be delightful!" said Mrs. Grahame. "I shall be very glad to
see Helena again; I have always hoped that when she came back you would
see something of her again. She was the one of your schoolmates that my
heart always warmed to. How came Mrs. Desmond to be willing to leave
Paris? When she went away, she said it was for life."

"Oh, Helena would come!" said Hildegarde. "She told me about it; they
must have had a scene. She said to her mother, 'Mamma, I am an American!
I have never committed any crime, and I refuse to be exiled from my
native country any longer. If you will come with me, it will be much the
pleasantest thing; if not, I go alone.' Well, it was not the thing to
say, of course, but--"

"I am not sure about that!" said Mrs. Grahame, flushing slightly. "I am
inclined to think Helena was perfectly justified. When a woman has not
sense enough to guide her daughter, she must submit to be guided. The
idea of keeping that girl over there five years, frittering about the
continent; preposterous! My sympathy is entirely with Helena."

Mrs. Grahame sat very erect, and her eyes were very bright; then,
catching Hildegarde's eyes, full of laughter, she relaxed her muscles,
and began to laugh too.

"I am sorry, dear," she said. "I never could like Mrs. Desmond."

"I should think not!" said Hildegarde, promptly. "I should be under the
painful necessity of disowning you if you did. But you love Mrs.
Honiton, Mammina!"

"Ah, Mrs. Honiton! how could two sisters be so different? It is Margaret
Honiton who should be Helena's mother,--they are wonderfully alike."

"Yes. Helena feels that. She is lovely with her mother,--firm, but
devoted,--but Aunt Margaret is the one of the world to her. It is a
_terrible_ thing for a girl to have an incompetent mother!"

"Yes, darling, it is indeed," said Mrs. Grahame, meekly. "I feel it so
in your case. No, don't kill me, Hildegarde! my time is not yet come.
Tell me more about Rose and her husband. She is very happy, you say?"

"Happy as the day is long. I told you I did not see Doctor Flower,--the
only one I missed, really; he was in Philadelphia. But their house is as
pretty as pretty; it is evident that he furnished it,--you know what
taste he has; and everywhere roses, roses! carved and painted and
embroidered,--it is really the Rose-bower, as he calls it. Her own
little sitting-room, up-stairs--oh, such a little rosy-posy nest!
rosewood desk,--and everything soft covered with rose-flowered
chintz--curtains, too,--and the most de-lightful sofa I ever did see!
And her little work-table, and--oh, well, Mammina, I think, after all,
that made me happier than anything,--unless it was the sight of Nurse
Lucy's face when she recognised me! But, remembering all that Rose
suffered, and all the cramped, anxious days and years, and then seeing
her, a rose in full bloom, in her own pretty house, with such signs of
loving care all about her,--it was good, good!"

"Yes, indeed!" said Mrs. Grahame, heartily. "I am sure that was a real
treat, darling. And Bubble--you say he is grown such a fine lad!"

"Bubble is enchanting! not handsome--well, but you need not laugh,
Mammina, for he is _very_ good looking, and certainly has an air of
distinction. He holds his head so well; and he walks well, and,
altogether--oh, I am proud of Bubble. And Rose says that Doctor Flower
is sure the boy has a career before him; he never had so apt a pupil.
And he speaks such beautiful English, Rose says."

"Rose says!" repeated Mrs. Grahame. "I thought you had a good little
talk with the boy himself."

"Oh, so I had, but he _would_ not talk anything but the broadest Yankee.
He insisted that he was precisely the same freckled boy that he was when
I first saw him; and he carried on in the most absurd way. He was almost
like Gerald; dear Gerald! I didn't see any of the Merryweathers, Mamma;
so there was something lacking, after all."

"It would be a weary world if there were not," said her mother. "But
speaking of the Merryweathers--have you noticed, Hilda dear, whether the
night is clear?"

"Whether the night is clear, Mammina? No, I did not look. What do you
mean, darling? Shall I go to the door--"

"No; not to the door," said Mrs. Grahame. "Go to the window, child; the
west window, that looks across the hedge. Tell me if the stars are
out."

Wondering greatly at this sudden solicitude about the weather,
Hildegarde crossed the room and drew the curtain.

"Clear as a bell," she said. "Stars all out, and wind,--oh, oh, Mammina!
Why, there are lights in the windows of Pumpkin House! Mamma, they have
come!"

She turned upon her mother with eyes alight with happy inquiry.

"They have come," Mrs. Grahame repeated. "Some of them, that is. Oh,
things can happen here as well as in New York, mademoiselle! They came
yesterday,--Mrs. Merryweather and Kitty and--"

"And you never told me!" cried Hildegarde. "And you have let me talk on
and on for three,--four hours,--oh, Mrs. Grahame!"

"You never asked me," replied that lady, demurely. "You had a great deal
to tell, and I wanted very much to hear it; perhaps, too, I did not want
to have your mind distracted until I had had my turn. Mrs. Merryweather
is looking very well."

"Oh, the dear!" cried Hildegarde. "Oh, Mammina, do you think I might go
over? Do you think it is too late? It is only half-past eight. _Don't_
you think I might run over now?"

"Hark!" said Mrs. Grahame, raising her hand. "What is that?"

Hildegarde, in full tide of excitement, checked herself, and listened.
Under the window some unseen hand swept the strings of a guitar,
lightly, yet firmly; and next moment a voice broke out, singing the old
air of "Gentle Zitella."

          "Under thy window,
           Maiden, I sing,
           Though the night's chilly
           For this kind of thing.
           Weather is merry,
           Hearts too are light;
           Speak to thy Jerry,
           Hilda the Bright!"

Hildegarde threw up the sash.

"Come in, Gerald!" she cried. "Oh, you dear boy, I _am_ so glad to see
you--hear you, rather! come in, quick!"

She shut the window hastily.

"Did you feel the air, Mamma? I thought if I opened it just for a
second,--the room seemed pretty warm. Sure you are not cold, love?"

Mrs. Grahame was quite positive; but Hildegarde must feel her hands to
make assurance doubly sure; must tuck a shawl round her mother's
shoulders, and throw an encouraging glance towards the fire, before she
turned to the door, which now opened to admit Mr. Gerald Merryweather.

"You dear boy!" she repeated, going to meet him with outstretched hand.
"To think that you have been here two days without my seeing you.
Gerald, how you have grown!"

"'Great weeds do grow apace,'" said the tall lad, looking down on her.
"I forestall the remark, you observe. It is the one with which I am
commonly greeted by my affectionate family. But it's awfully good to see
you, Hilda. I say, how well you're looking!"

"You, too," said Hilda. "And they are all well? and all here, or coming?
Oh, sit down and tell me all about everything, do!"

"I have already told her, Gerald," said Mrs. Grahame; "but I don't think
she paid much attention; you may as well tell her over again."

"Well, I was so excited, you see!" cried the girl. "I have been having
the most wonderful time in town; and then to come out here and find
you,--my cup is rather brimming over, that's all. Now tell, Jerry."

"We came," said Gerald, curling up his long legs on the hearth-rug; "we
have seen--several things; we expect to conquer--shortly--the dust, and
to get the house to rights. Our holidays--Ferguson's and mine--began on
Saturday, so the Mater thought we'd better come right down and get
things ready for the others. Then she reflected that she could not trust
us; so she decided to come herself; then she further reflected that she
could not possibly leave the kids alone with the Pater, so she brought
them along. Behold us! Bell and Toots arrive next week, and the Codger
at some time known to himself. He is in Arizona, or somewhere this side
of it,--sent for to inspect a mine, and see whether it is a good place
for planting cabbages."

"Gerald!" said Hildegarde.

"Honoured miss!" replied the boy. "I may not be quite accurate in the
details, but there is a mine, I do assure you."

"And what kind of winter have you all had? You have been in Boston all
the time,--that is, your mother and father?"

"In Boston, yes. The winter has been such as might have been expected,
far from the sun which etcetera. Barring the fact that we have all
existed in a state of acute anguish at being separated from you, we have
all been exceedingly well, thank you."

"And how do you and Phil like college? Is it as much fun as you thought
it would be? Do you like your rooms? Are you doing all right in your
Greek?"

"Hilda," put in Mrs. Grahame, "do let the boy draw breath, and allow
yourself to do so. Two such panting young creatures I have seldom seen.
And Gerald is not going away on the night train."

"I suppose not!" said Hildegarde. "But, oh, it does seem so long since I
have heard anything about him and Phil. Bell, you see, writes the most
enchanting letters, but they are mostly about college and music,--her
college, I mean; and she tucks in a little postscript to say that all
are well at home, and that is all the news I get."

"Which accounts for your pallid and emaciated appearance!" said Gerald.

            "'Thy cheek, my love, of late a living rose,
             Which could the bulbul cheat with its rich hue,
             Looks pale--'

"I don't remember any more. I learned that in the Finden book, when I
was six years old."

"Why, Gerald, did you have the Finden books, too? How delightful! Dear,
ridiculous books! We have them now. I still think the 'Diamond' lady the
most beautiful creature that ever lived,--and simpered. But you are not
telling me a word about college!"

"I have had so much opportunity, you observe!" said Gerald, appealing to
Mrs. Grahame. "My natural diffidence has been allowed such free play by
the silent and unconversational attitude of your daughter--"

Mrs. Grahame shook her head, and declared that there was a pair of them,
and she would have nothing to say on either side.

Finally, however, boy and girl settled down into an amicable and more or
less coherent exchange of information. It appeared that the boys were
doing well in college, enjoying the new life to the full, and keeping
well in their classes.

"Of course we started in with about three times as much sail as we could
carry. I had five courses, and Ferguson seven. But some of them were
half ones, and after the first term we began to see where we were a
bit,--and to perceive that Roger and Pater were right. We couldn't see
it at first, of course, being such as we are."

"And such as boys have been since the beginning of colleges!" said Mrs.
Grahame.

"Dear madam, how well you know! Well, Greek has been pretty stiff, but
still we peg away, and like it no end. Then we both have Chem.
2,--that's great sport! I blew myself up--"

"Gerald!"

"Fact, I assure you! Pounding something in a mortar--nice little glass
mortar, you know,--pounding away, having fine sport; suddenly I pounded
a little too hard,--old Comprehensive told us we must not pound
hard,--and away went the mortar, and away went I. My eyebrows are only
just growing out; and you never noticed!" And the boy looked deeply
injured.

"My dear boy! What a narrow escape! Oh, your mother must have had a
fright!"

"Rather!" said Gerald. "Roger, you know, had that bad time ten years
ago, and she thought I had done something of that sort, and would have
to live on dark room and excruciating tortures for months. But I got my
eyes shut all right, you see; so it only burned my hyacinthine locks a
bit, and took off my eyebrows, and spoiled a good suit of clothes. But I
learned something, and now I pound the way old Comp tells me to."

"What is the professor's name?" inquired Hildegarde.

"Comprehensive? Oh, well, his real name is Worcester, you know. Of
course no one could stand that, and he is so short that it would never
do to call him 'Unabridged,' so I suggested 'Comprehensive,' which is
the size you have in school, you know; and the fellows took to it, and
now he is called that altogether, or 'Comp' for short."

"I see! By the way, what are you and Phil called? Anything except your
own names, I suppose!"

"Pretty much!" Gerald admitted. "Phil is called the 'Holy Poker'--don't
know why, I'm sure!--and 'Thumbling,'--he has grown about nine feet,
Phil has; really, he is a whole head taller than I am!"

"Dear me!" said Hildegarde, innocently. "I had no idea your head was so
big as _that_, Gerald! of course I knew it was _rather_--"

"Mrs. Grahame!" cried Gerald, in a tone of anguish. "Will you speak to
her, please? She is trampling all over my delicate sensibilities, and
talking slang besides!"

"Hildegarde," said Mrs. Grahame, "I am surprised at you!"

"Yes, dear madam!" said Hildegarde, meekly. "You didn't hear the things
_he_ said. Go on with the names, Gerald!"

"They call him 'Bottle-washer,' too, and 'Cappadocia.' I think that is
rather the favourite name for Ferguson."

"_Why_ 'Cappadocia?'" asked Hildegarde.

"Oh, well, there isn't really much reason,--but then, it doesn't take
much. They call me 'Capsicum,' you see, and we are twins, and
'Cappadocia' begins,--surely I need explain no further even to a person
of limited intelligence?"

"Go on, Master Impudence! Do they call you 'Cayenne,' too?"

"Yes, indeed! And 'Bricks,' and 'Mortar,' and 'Flag,'--short for
'Conflagration,'--and everything of that sort. I don't care; I don't
mind any of these; but when they call me 'Hamlet,' I knock them down."

"Dear Jerry! Why do they call you 'Hamlet?'"

"Oh! just some idiot started it,--you can't tell how these things start.
One comfort is,--I called him the 'Grave-digger,' and it will stick to
him through college, for he looks it to the life. And the joke of
it,--I don't know whether it's safe to tell you the joke of it, Hilda."

"Try and see!"

"Well, the real joke of it is that his father is an undertaker, and I
never knew it.

"But I haven't finished about the courses!" he added, hastily, seeing
Hilda look serious. "I am taking French, and Ferguson German. We have
delightful conversations every evening, I speaking my language, and he
his. You shall have a specimen when you see us togeth--Hullo! What's
that?"

Mrs. Grahame uttered a slight cry, and rose hastily to her feet.

"I--I don't know," she said. "I thought--I surely did see a face looking
in at the window. Hark!"

They listened, and heard a rustling in the great linden-tree outside.
Then something gleamed white at the window,--a face, beyond all doubt.

"Ferguson!" said Gerald. "If I don't give it to him for startling you,
Mrs. Grahame; he shall be flayed, I assure you! Set your mind at rest
on that point! Flayed an inch at a time!"

"May I come in?" asked Phil's voice, as he swayed back and forth on the
linden branch.

          "'Begging for a dole of crumbs,
           Little Robin Redbreast comes!'"

"Quick!" said Hildegarde, as she threw up the window once more. "When
will you boys learn to move and act like reasonable mortals? How are
you, Phil? I am delighted to see you!"

Phil wriggled his length swiftly into the room, and closed the sash with
a single quick movement. Then, after shaking hands warmly with his two
friends, he fixed a withering glance on his brother.

"How about that box?" he asked.

"Now may Julius Cæsar promote you to a captaincy in the Skidmore
Guards!" replied Gerald, with great sweetness. "I clean forgot the box,
sweet chuck! And I just threatening to flay you! Didst open it with
thine own fairy paws, beloved?"

"I didst, beloved! And I intend to do the same by thy head, at a
convenient season. He promised to be back in ten minutes," Phil added,
turning to Mrs. Grahame, "to open a box for the Mater. I was putting up
bookcases the while. It's frightful, the way books multiply in our
family. I've put them up all along all the up-stairs passages now, and
it gives us a little breathing-space, but not enough."

"That is a good idea!" said Mrs. Grahame. "We must remember that, Hilda;
though, indeed, there is still plenty of space in these rooms."

"I wish there were in ours," said Phil. "The disadvantage of the passage
bookcase is, that the whole family stops and reads as it goes along, and
we seldom get anywhere. Which reminds me! I'm afraid I must go back,
Mrs. Grahame, and take this wretched object with me. It is nearly ten
o'clock, and my Obadiah should have been tucked up in his little nest
some time ago."

"Your Obadiah will inquire into the condition of _your_ little nest
before he sleeps!" said Gerald, threateningly.

"But remember that the Mater said the next time we scrapped a bedstead
to pieces, we must sleep in the pieces. Come along, Child of Doom!"

And with many hearty greetings, and promises to meet the next day, the
friends separated, the boys saying good-night, and clattering off down
the stairs like a regiment of horse.



CHAPTER VIII.

CHRISTMASING.


THE next day seemed to be largely spent in running to and fro between
the two houses. Kitty and Willy were at Braeside before breakfast, eager
to embrace their dear Mrs. Grahame and Hilda, and full of wonderful
tales of school and play. Then, as soon as Hildegarde had finished
breakfast, she must go back with them to greet Mrs. Merryweather, and
tell her how delighted she was at their coming, and hear a more detailed
account of the girls' movements. Mrs. Merryweather was sitting at her
desk, with a pile of papers before her, and books heaped as high as her
head on every side.

"My dear," she said, after greeting Hildegarde most affectionately, "I
am just looking for the girls' letter. It came this morning, and I put
it somewhere,--in quite a safe place, as I knew the boys would want to
see it, and then I meant to send it on to your father,--I mean to their
father, of course. Here it--oh, no! that is an old one! Now, this is
really unfortunate, for I was to send something to Gertrude, and I
cannot remember what it was. Dear me! I am really too--would you mind
saying over a few things, Hildegarde, that she would be likely to want?
Perhaps it will come back to me; and I can keep on looking all the
while, not to lose time."

Much amused, Hildegarde began to suggest,--"Boots, hat, muff,
handkerchiefs, gloves,"--but at each article named Mrs. Merryweather
shook her head, and sighed as she sorted papers.

"No, dear, no! Thank you just as much; but it was none of those. This
only shows, dear Hildegarde, the dreadful misfortune of being
unmethodical. I have no manner of doubt that I have wasted at least ten
good years of life in looking for things. My sister-in-law, now, could
find a needle in a top bureau drawer at midnight, without a moment's
hesitation. It is a gift! I trust you cultivate--now, you see, I may
spend half the morning hunting for this letter, when I might--what
amuses you, my dear?"

For Hildegarde's eyes were dancing, and her whole face eloquent of fun.

"Dear Mrs. Merryweather,--I know you will excuse me,--but is not that
the letter, pinned to your dress? It looks like Gertrude's handwriting."

Mrs. Merryweather looked down, and gave a sigh of relief.

"My child, your coming in was providential, nothing less. Of course, I
remember now, I pinned it there for fear I should do--what I thought I
had done. Well, well! and it is a Roman sash that the child wants,--I am
sure I should never have thought of that. Ah, dear! I do miss my girls,
Hildegarde. You see, they inherit from their father a sense of
order,--in a measure,--and they help me a great deal. Are my glasses on
my forehead, dear? Whereas Gerald and Phil are rather like me, I am
afraid. I wonder if Gerald has found his waistcoat yet? He is
wearing--ah, there he is now! Gerald, you are really an object for a
circus, my son."

[Illustration: "'CONSIDER THE BEAUTY OF YOUR OFFSPRING.'"]

Gerald looked down thoughtfully at himself. He was attired in white
corduroy knickerbockers, an ancient swallow-tail coat so large that it
hung in folds upon him, and a red velvet waistcoat reaching to his knee.

"I hesitated about coming in," he said. "Hildegarde is so susceptible, I
fear the impression I shall make upon her tender heart. The lily is
painted, the fine gold is gilded. Hilda, confess that I am the dream of
your existence."

"What does it mean?" asked Hildegarde, laughing.

"Trunks not come yet; not mine, at least. Upset a bath-tub over my only
suit this morning,--lo, the result! Wouldst not that I were ever habited
thus, mirific Mammy? Consider the beauty of your offspring."

He seated himself on his mother's desk, drawing the folds of the
dress-coat about him, and beamed upon her.

"If you would send him away, dear Mrs. Merryweather," said Hildegarde,
"I should be so glad to help you a little with the papers and books. I
have a whole hour to spare,--do let me help!"

"My dear, I should be only too thankful," said Mrs. Merryweather.
"Jerry, go away, and find something to do! You might unpack the
blankets, like a dear."

But Gerald declared that a wet blanket was the only one with which he
had any concern after this cruel treatment, and retired weeping
bitterly, wiping his eyes with a long coat-tail.

Hildegarde devoted the morning to helping her friends, and when she went
home at noon the rooms wore a very different aspect. The books were all
off the chairs and on the tables, or in the bookcases.

"Not that it makes any permanent difference," said Mrs. Merryweather,
plaintively. "They _will_ put books on the chairs, Hildegarde. It is
against the rules,--but it is their nature. I made a rhyme about it
once:

          "'The book is on the chair,
           And the hat is on the stair,
           And the boots are anywhere,
               Children mine!'"

Hildegarde especially enjoyed helping to arrange the girls' room,
tacking up the curtains, and putting fresh flowers (from the Roseholme
greenhouse) in the vases. To-morrow she would see those dear girls, and
then who so happy as she!

And to-morrow came, and with it Bell and Gertrude, escorted by their
father. All the Merryweathers were now here, except Roger. The question
was on Hildegarde's lips several times, "When will he come?" but somehow
she waited a little each time, and the moment passed, till she heard Mr.
Merryweather say:

"A letter from Roger, Miranda! He will be here next week,--day
uncertain, but surely in time for Christmas."

A chorus of joy arose, in which Hildegarde joined heartily.

"Think!" said Bell. "We have not seen Roger since the summer; hardly
since we have seen you, Hildegarde. Oh, my dear, how long it seems since
camp! and yet when you look at it the other way, it might be yesterday.
Heigh, ho! whose turn is it to get supper to-night? and who is going to
get the fish for the chowder?"

"Dear, happy days!" said Hildegarde. "I have not lost a minute of one
of them, Bell. If I should wake up to-morrow morning and find myself at
camp, I should not be in the least surprised, but should just 'put the
kettle on and stand by to go about.'"

"Dear old camp motto!" said Bell. "It makes a pretty good one anywhere,
Hilda, do you know? If they give me the class oration,--the girls are
talking about it,--I might take that for my text."

"Are you talking camp and graduation," put in Gertrude, who came into
the room at this moment, "when Christmas is almost here? Oh, think of
it, and we have not planned what we are going to do, or--or anything!"

"Speak for yourself, Gertrude," laughed Hildegarde. "I have three bureau
drawers full of things ready, and I ought to be tying up a box this
minute, to go out West."

"Missionary box?" asked Bell.

"No,--at least, not in the regular way. But there are some distant
cousins out in Colorado,--they have a hard time to get along, and there
are a great many of them,--and Mamma and I always send them a box at
Christmas. A kind of grab-bag box, with clothes and whatever we can
think of."

"My dear," cried Bell, sitting up with shining eyes, "don't you want
some contributions? Let me tell you,--this is the position! We also have
such cousins,--fourteen in number,--in Minnesota. And there was an
auction at school, and I got all kinds of odd picknickles and
bucknickles, thinking they would do for the box,--and I returned to find
that Mother had sent it off three days ago, filled to overflowing. You
see, the boys are just behind ours in age and size, so there are always
lots of jackets (never any trousers, of course), and she thought they
would be needed for the cold weather,--and I forgot to tell her about my
purchases. What do you say, Hilda? Oh, come up into my room, and see
some of the things! They are rather nice, some of them, and others just
funny. Come on!"

Away went the three girls, up to Bell's sunny room, where the trunks
stood open, with trays of hats on the bed, and a general effect of
"just-arrived-and-haven't-had-time-to-get-settled" pervading all. Bell
cleared a chair for Hildegarde, and bidding Gertrude "perch where she
could," began to pull things out of the big, brown trunk, talking as she
went.

"You see, girls, the way of it was this. There is always an auction at
the end of the year, and generally things stay over for that; but this
time there had been a fire in the town, and a good many poor families
were left destitute. Mrs. Tower suggested that, perhaps, we might make
up a little purse, or take charge of one family for the winter. We
agreed to do the latter, and made up a committee to order coal and wood,
and another to make clothes for the children,--seven children, poor
little things! and the father so badly hurt in saving the youngest baby
that he will not be able to work for several weeks. Well, I was on the
committee to order the things; but when I came to collect the money,
some of the girls, who wanted most to help, were very hard up, myself
included. So near the end of the term, you see, and we had been buying
Christmas things and all. So I said, 'Suppose we have an auction!' for
there were some girls--not many, but I suppose there are a few
everywhere--who didn't care a bit about the poor family, and yet we knew
they had money, and we were bound to get some of it. I had the sale in
my room. It was great fun. I hung out a red flag, and posted flaming
notices in all the halls and corridors; and we had a great crowd. Me!
oh, no, I was not auctioneer! I could not possibly talk fast enough.
Caroline Hazen did it splendidly. Her mother was Irish, and she can drop
into the most delicious brogue you ever heard, and she was so funny, we
were in fits of laughter all the time. We made twenty dollars,--think of
it!--all in a little over an hour. And some of these things I bought
with what little money I had, and the rest were just left over, and as
the girls would not take them back, I brought them along for the box.
See! here is a pair of knitted shoes,--really perfectly new. Anna Waring
said that she had a dear aunt who sent her a pair every Christmas and
every birthday, and she has ten pair now, and never hopes to catch up.
Three pair were sold beside these; got them for ten cents, and see how
pretty they are!"

"Why, charming!" cried Hildegarde. "Bell, why don't you wear these
yourself?"

"I! Perish the thought! I never wear _any_ shoes in my room, Hilda; bare
feet are part of my creed."

"But--but you have no carpet here, dear," said Hildegarde, with a little
shiver. "And it must be very cold--"

"Delightfully cold!" cried Bell. "I know few things pleasanter than the
touch of a good cold floor to the bare feet on a winter morning."

"She is volcanic, Hilda!" put in Gertrude. "She sleeps under a sheet all
winter, and never looks at a blanket; it is true!"

Bell nodded gaily in answer to Hildegarde's horrified look. "No use,
dear! I am hardened in mind as well as in body, and cannot change my
ways. Look here! Perhaps one of the boys might like this?"

She held up a string of chenille monkeys, and danced them up and down.

"Of course he would," said Hildegarde. "And what--what _is_ that, Bell
Merryweather?"

Bell looked rather ruefully at the object she now drew from the trunk.

"Nobody else would buy it," she said. "The girl who brought it down is
new and shy, and--well, somehow, you felt that she wanted to help, and
had nothing else to bring. I was so sorry for her,--I gave my last
quarter for it."

It was a long strip of coarse twine lace, with a yellow ribbon quilted
in and out its entire length. One of those objects that sometimes appear
at fancy fairs, for which no possible use can be imagined.

"It _is_ queer," said Bell. "I suppose it must have been meant for
something; I didn't like to ask her what."

"Oh, but, my dear, it is a lovely ribbon!" said Hildegarde. "Why not
take the ribbon out, and make bows and things? I am sure you must want
ribbon for some of your Christmasings."

Bell confessed that she might, and the ribbon was carefully laid aside,
freed from its snarl of twine.

"Here," said Bell, diving into the trunk again, "is a highly interesting
article, _mesdames!_ a pheasant, you see, carved,--Swiss, I
suppose,--with all his feathers spread out. Now, I think I did pretty
well to bring that home without breaking. Is there a boy in your box,
Hilda? I meant this for a boy."

"There is, indeed, and I know he will be enchanted with such a pretty
thing. Oh, and the marbles! Now, Bell, will you tell me what college
girls do with marbles?"

"I will," said Bell, laughing. "She--Martha Sinclair--is very
near-sighted, poor thing. She thought these were moth-balls. She brought
a lot of them from home, and put them up with her furs this spring, and
was horrified to find them--the furs--all moth-eaten this fall. Poor
Martha! That, Hildegarde, is the sad tale of the marbles. They are very
good ones! I should not dare to let Willy see them,--here, put them in
your pocket! Here are assorted pen-handles,--went in one lot,--forty
cents for the dozen of them. Some of them are rather nice, I think."

"This is a beauty!" cried Gertrude. "This Scotch plaid one. May I have
this, Bell?"

"Certainly, dear! Hilda shall have the pearl one,--there! This is the
prettiest, Hilda--"

"But why am I to have all the prettiest?" inquired Hildegarde. "You are
very reckless, Bell."

"No, my love, I am not," said Bell. "Pen-handles are, generally
speaking, a drug in this family. For several Christmases Willy--dear
child!--could not think of anything else to give us, so we had
pen-handles all round--how many years, Gertrude?"

"Three, I think," said Gertrude. "Then some one laughed, and hurt his
dear little feelings, and he never gave us any more. I miss the
Christmas pen-handle myself, for I always get mine nibbled pretty short
in the course of the fall term. It is the only way I can possibly write
a composition."

"And is your next composition to be on the 'Scottish Chiefs?'" asked
Hildegarde. "Or do you hope to cure yourself by the taste of varnish
and red paint?"

"Puppies!" cried Bell, emerging once more from the depths of the trunk.
"Five china puppies in a row. And thereby hangs a tale."

"I don't see a sign of a tail," said Gertrude, inspecting the five
little terriers, all sitting up very straight, with their paws exactly
on a line.

"Spell it the other way, miss; and don't forget your Shakespeare," said
her sister.

"This reminds me of the very most foolish charade I ever heard. We were
playing one evening in Martha Sinclair's room; and Janet Armour took
this row of puppies from the mantelpiece and set it on the floor, and
told us to look at it. Then she kicked it over with her foot, and told
us it was a word of three syllables, all three and the whole word given
at once. See if you can guess, Hildegarde? You give it up? Well, it is
too silly to guess. 'Kick-a-row,' do you see? Cicero, Gertrude, my lamb.
I explain on account of your tender years."

"She must be a silly girl," said Gertrude. "We wouldn't put up with such
a poor charade as that here, would we, Hilda?"

"There are different kinds of brains," said Bell, laughing. "Janet
Armour leads the whole college in mathematics, and is head of the
basket-ball team. So you see, dear, talents vary. Well, Hildegarde, I am
afraid there is nothing else that would do; unless you would like this
cologne-bottle doll? She is a superior doll."

"Very," said Hildegarde. "And you know Kitty would be enchanted with
her. No, Bell, I shall take nothing else, and I am ever so much obliged
for all these nice things. Now you must come over with me and help me
fasten up the box. You, too, dear Gertrude."

The three raced across the lawn and through the hedge, and were soon in
Hildegarde's room. Bell looked round her with a sigh, half admiration,
half regret.

"Hilda, there is no room but this!" she said. "How do you make it
so--so--well, your own portrait in a way? If I were to be shown into
this room in the furthest corner of the Soudan I should say, 'And is
Hildegarde in, or shall I wait for her?'"

Hildegarde laughed, and looked about her, her eyes resting lovingly on
this or the other treasure of picture or book.

"Dear room!" she said. "I am glad you like it, for I love it very much.
And if it looks like me--"

"You must be pretty good-looking!" cried Gertrude. "Is that what you
were going to say, Hilda?"

"No, you absurd child, it was not. But--well, girls, of course it is
different when people have two or three places, in town and country, and
move about as you do, to and from school and college, and all that. But
this, you see, is my home, my only home and abiding-place; and so my own
things grow to be very real to me, and very much a part of my life. I
suppose that is it. I know--you will understand what I mean,
Bell--whenever I go out of this room, it seems as if one part of me
stayed here, and was ready to greet me when I came back. But that is
enough about me," she added, lightly. "Here is the box! Now we shall
see how nicely all Bell's prettinesses will fit into the corners!

"This is Mamma's present for Cousin Ursula. A nice, fat down puff, for
her feet in winter; it is very cold there, and she is not strong, poor
dear. And I trimmed this hat for Mary, the daughter. Rather pretty, do
you think?"

"Rather pretty!" cried both girls. "Hilda, it is a perfect beauty! Oh,
how did you learn to do these things? Will you trim all our hats for us,
for the rest of our lives?"

"I should be delighted," said Hildegarde, laughing. "I learned all I
know from my mother. She _is_ clever, if you will. I cannot compare with
her in skill. Yet I was once offered a position as assistant to a
milliner. These things underneath are things we have worn, but they are
all good."

"This has never been worn!" exclaimed Bell, lifting a pretty gray silk
blouse, trimmed with knots of cherry-coloured ribbon. "This is just out
of the box, Hildegarde. Oh, what a pretty, dainty thing!"

Hildegarde laughed. "I am proud of that!" she said. "I made that out of
an old underskirt of Mamma's. Yes, I did!" as the girls exclaimed with
one accord. "It was good silk to begin with, you see. I washed it, and
pressed it, and made it up on the other side; and it really does look
very nice, I think. The ribbon is some that Mamma had had put away ever
since the last time they wore cherry colour,--twenty-five years, she
says. Lovely ribbon! Well, and I knew that Mary, the daughter, is just
my age, so I had to 'run for luck,' and make it to fit me. I do hope she
will like it!"

"Like it!" exclaimed Bell. "If she does not like it, she deserves to
wear brown gingham all her life. It is as pretty a blouse as I ever
saw."

"What is the matter with brown gingham?" asked Hildegarde. "One of my
pet dresses, a year or two, was a brown gingham."

"Oh, but not like _our_ brown gingham!" said Bell. "You see--well, it is
treasonable, I know, Gerty, but Hildegarde is almost like ourselves. You
see, our blessed Mammy (this was long ago, when Toots was a baby, and
the boys still in kilts) got tired of all our clothes, and felt as if
she could not bear to think about them for a while. So she got a whole
piece of brown check gingham,--forty mortal yards,--and had it all made
up into clothes for us. Oh, dear! Shall I ever forget those clothes? It
was a small check, rather coarse, stout gingham, because she thought
that would wear better than the Scotch. It did! I had four frocks of it,
and the boys each had three kilt suits, and even the baby wore brown
slips. You cannot remember it, Toots?"

Gertrude shook her head.

"I remember the effect on the family mind," she said, laughing.

"Yes," said Bell. "I don't know whether you have ever noticed,
Hildegarde, that none of us ever wear brown? Well, we never do! Pater
will never see it. He did not realise for some time what had been done.
But one day,--oh, you ought to hear the Mammy tell about this! I can't
begin to make it as funny as she does. One day he came home, and the
twinnies were playing in the front yard. He stood and looked at them for
a while.

"'Are you making mud pies, boys?'

"'No, Papa!'

"'Then why have you on these clothes?'

"The boys didn't know much about their clothes; he looked at them a
little more, and then he came into the house. There was I, in my brown
gingham, playing with my doll.

"'Great Cæsar!' says Papa. 'Here's another! Been making mud pies,
Pussy?'

"'No, Papa! I am playing with my dolly.'

"'Do you get dirty, playing with your dolly?'

"'Why, no, Papa!'

"'Then why do you wear such things as this?'

"I was just going to tell him that 'this' was the dress I was wearing
every day and all day, when dear Mammy came out of the sitting-room with
the baby. And, Hilda, the baby wore a brown gingham slip, and Mammy had
on a long, brown gingham apron.

"'Napoleon Bonaparte!' said Papa. 'Here's two more of 'em.' Then he sat
down on the stairs, and looked from one to the other. Then he went to
the door and called the boys; and he took us all into the sitting-room,
and stood us in a row, and sat and looked at us.

"'Miranda,' he said, 'What have you been doing here?'

"'Doing, my dear Miles?' said Mamma. 'What should I have been doing?
Dressing baby after her afternoon nap, to be sure.'

"'Dressing her!' says Pater. '_Dressing_ her!' Then he broke off, Mammy
says, and put his hand to his forehead, as if he were in a kind of
dream.

"'Miranda,' he said, 'I have been greatly occupied for the last few
weeks, and have not fully realised what was going on. I have been dimly
aware that, when I came home, the whole world seemed to turn brown and
dingy. At first I thought it was the weather; then I thought it was the
condition of business; at last I began to think that my sight must be
failing, and cataracts forming, or something of the kind, so that I
could see nothing without a brownish tinge over it. Now, I--I realise
what the matter is; and I ask what--_what_ is this stuff in which my
family is masquerading?'

"'Masquerading, Miles? I don't understand you. This is brown gingham, a
most excellent material, inexpensive, durable, and neat. I bought forty
yards of it, so that the children might all be dressed alike, and
without all this fuss and expense of different materials. You know you
said we must economise this summer, and I--'

"'Yes,' said Pater. 'Yes, I understand now. Miranda, you are a good
woman, but you have your limitations.'

"He would not say another word, but went off into the garden to smoke.
We forgot all about what he said, all but Mammy, and she thought he
would get used to the brown gingham in time, and, anyhow, she had meant
to do the best, dear darling.

"Hildegarde, the next morning, when we all came to dress, our clothes
were gone."

"Gone!" repeated Hildegarde.

"Gone,--vanished; frock and kilt, slip and apron. Not an atom of brown
gingham was to be found in the house. And the rest of the piece, which
Mammy had meant to make into a gown for herself, was gone, too. Mammy
looked everywhere, but in a few minutes she understood how it was. She
didn't say a word, but just put on our old dresses, such as were left of
them. They were pretty well outworn and outgrown, but we were glad to
get into them. We hardly knew how we had hated the brown gingham
ourselves, till we got out of it. Well, that day there came from one of
the big shops a box of clothes; an enormous box, big as a packing-case.
Oh! dresses and dresses, frocks and pinafores and kilts, everything you
can imagine, and all in the brightest colours,--pink and blue, yellow
and green,--a perfect flower-garden. White ones, too, three or four
apiece; and the prettiest slips for Baby, and a lovely flowered silk for
Mammy. You can imagine how I danced with joy; the boys were delighted,
too, and as for old Nursey, she beamed all over like an Irish sun. When
Papa came home that afternoon, we were all dressed up, the boys in
little white sailor suits, I in a ruffled pink frock, and Mammy and Baby
most lovely in white and flowers. He looked us all over again. 'Ha!' he
said, 'once more I have a family, and not a shoal of mud-fish. Thank
you, my dear.' And none of us has ever worn brown since that day,
Hildegarde."

"Poor, _dear_ Mrs. Merryweather!" cried Hildegarde, laughing. "I think
it was pretty cruel, all the same. And--did you ever find the brown
gingham?"

"Oh, that _was_ naughty!" cried Gertrude. "He buried it all in the back
garden. That was truly naughty of Papa. Mammy found them there a week
after, when she was setting out the asters. They were all neatly laid in
a box, and buried quite deep down. But Mammy took them up, and sent them
to the Orphans' Home. Dear Mammy!"



CHAPTER IX.

AN EVENING HOUR.


"AND what shall we play this evening?" asked Mrs. Merryweather.

Hildegarde and her mother had been taking tea at Pumpkin House. Hugh was
there, too, and now Colonel Ferrers had come in, so the cheerful party
was nearly complete.

"If we only had Roger and Papa!" sighed Bell. "Nothing seems just right
without the whole clan together."

"We shall have them soon," said her mother. "Meanwhile let us be merry,
and honour their name. It is too soon after tea for charades, I suppose.
Why not try the Alphabet Stories?"

"Alphabet Stories?" repeated Hildegarde. "Is that a new game? I don't
seem to remember it."

"Brand-new!" cried Gerald. "Mater invented it one evening, to keep us
quiet when Pater had a headache. Jolly good game, too. Tell Hildegarde
one or two of yours, Mater, to show how it's played."

"Let me see! Can I remember any? Oh, yes, here is one! Listen, Hilda,
and you will catch the idea at once. This is called 'The Actions of
Alcibiades:' Alcibiades, brilliant, careless, dashing, engaging fop,
guarded Hellas in jeopardy, king-like led many nobles on. Pouncing quite
rashly, stole (though unduly, violently wailing) Xerxes's young zebra.

"That is the story. You see, it must have twenty-six words, no more, no
less; each word beginning with a successive letter of the alphabet."

"Oh! delightful! enchanting!" cried Hildegarde. "Mammina, this is the
very game for you and me. We have been longing for a new one, ever since
we played 'Encyclopædics' to death. Tell us another, please, Mrs.
Merryweather!"

"Let me see! Oh, but they are not all mine! Bell made some of the best
ones. I will give you another, though. This is 'A Spanish Serenade.'
Andalusian bowers, castanets, dances, enraptured Figaro. Gallant
hidalgo, infuriately jealous, kittenish lady, made nocturnal orisons.
'Peri! Queen! Star!' Then, under veiled windows, Ximena yielded.
Zounds!"

"That is extremely connotative!" said Mrs. Grahame. "This really is an
excellent game. Colonel Ferrers, shall we enter the list?"

"Not I, my dear madam. Curls my brain up into bow-knots, I assure you.
Clever people, word-plays,--that sort of thing always floors me
completely. Delightful, you understand! I enjoy it immensely, if I may
be allowed to play the listener. Let us hear some more, hey?
'Alcibiades'--hum, ha! How did that go? Quite a ring to it, hey?"

"I have one," said Bell; "but it is a good deal like Mammy's Spanish
one. Still, perhaps it will pass. It is called 'An Elopement.' Arbitrary
barber, charming daughter, engaging foreigner, graceful, handsome,
insinuating. Jealously kept lady. Midnight nuptials; opposing parent.
Questing, raged savage tonsor,--'Ungrateful! Vamosed with Xenophon
Young? Zooks!'"

"Oh, but that is a beauty!" cried Hildegarde. "Where do you get your X's
and Z's? I cannot think of one."

"There aren't many," said Bell. "And I rather fear we have used them all
up. Try, though, Hilda, if you can make one. I am sure you can."

"Give me a few minutes. I am at work,--but, oh, I must have pencil and
paper. How do you keep them in order in your head?"

"_Habeo! Habeo!_" cried Gerald, who had had his head buried in a
sofa-pillow for the past few minutes. "Through all the flash of words I
have maintained the integrity of mine intellect." (This was lofty!)
"Hear, now, 'A Tale of Troy.' Agamemnon brutally called Diomed
'Elephant!' Fight! Great Hector, insolently jocular, kicked Lacedæmonian
Menelaus's nose. 'O Phoebus! Quit!' roared Stentor. Turning, Ulysses
valiantly waded Xanthus. 'Yield, zealots!'"

A general acclamation greeted Gerald's story as the best yet. But Bell
looked up with shining eyes.

"Strike, but hear me!" she cried. "Shall Smith yield to Harvard? Perish
the thought! Hear, gentles all, the tale of 'The Light of Persia.'
Antiochus, braggart chief, devastated Ecbatana; finding golden hoards,
invested Jericho. Median nobles, overcome, plead quarter! Rescuing,
springs through underbrush, victorious, wielding Xerxes's
yataghan,--Zoroaster."

"Hurrah!" cried both boys. "Good for you, Smith College! That is a
buster!"

"Boys!" said Mrs. Merryweather.

"Yes, Mater! We did not mean that. We meant 'that is an exploder!'"

"You are very impertinent boys!" said their mother. "Shall I send them
away, Mrs. Grahame?"

"Oh, please don't!" said that lady, laughing. "I am sure we have not had
all the stories yet. Phil, you have not given us one."

"Mine won't come right," said Phil, rather ruefully. "I shall have to
cheat on my X. Have I leave?"

"Well,--for once, perhaps," said his mother. "It must not be a
precedent, however. Let us hear!"

And Phil gave what he called "A Mewl of Music." "A bandit--cheerful
dog!--enjoyed fiddling. 'Go home!' insolently jawing ki-yied local
musician. 'Nay! Oh, peace, queasy rustic! Take unappreciated violin. We
execrate your zither!'"

"Yes!" said Mrs. Merryweather. "That is imperfect, but the first part is
good. Next?"

"I think," said Hildegarde, rather timidly, "I _think_ I have one ready.
I hope it is correct,--shall I try it? It is 'The Sea.' Amid briny,
cavernous depths, entrancing fishes gambol, hilarious, iridescent
jewels. Kittenish, laughing mermaids nod; or perhaps, quietly resting,
softly twine, under vanished wave-worn xebecs, yellow zoophytes."

"My dear Hildegarde, that is the best of all!" said Mrs. Merryweather,
warmly. "That is a little poem, a little picture. We shall have nothing
prettier than that to-night, and as we must not overdo a good thing,
suppose we stop the stories for this time, and try something else.
Where is our music, girls?"

Bell glanced at Hildegarde, and then at Colonel Ferrers. She had heard
something of the passages between Jack Ferrers and his uncle, and knew
that classical music was not the thing to make the Colonel enjoy
himself. But Hildegarde nodded brightly in return.

"Let us sing!" she said. "Let us all have a good sing, as we used at
camp. Where is the old song-book?"

Bell, comprehending, fetched an ancient volume, rubbed and thumbed into
a comfortable mellowness.

"Here it is!" she said. "Come, boys, now for a chorus! Sing it as we
used to sing it, sixteen campers strong, etc."

The whole family clustered round the piano, Kitty and Will and Hugh
close beside Bell, Hildegarde and Gertrude looking over their shoulders,
while Phil and Gerald did what the latter called the giraffe act in the
background. And then they sang! One song after another, each choosing in
turn, the chorus rolling out nobly, in such splendid songs as
"October," "A-hunting we will go," and "John Peel." Then Hildegarde must
sing "Annie Laurie" for the Colonel, and she sang it in a way that
brought tears to the eyes of the ladies, and made the Colonel himself
cough a good deal, and go to the window to study the weather.

"Ah, Colonel Ferrers," said Hildegarde, when the sweet notes had died
away, and it was time for the silence to be broken, "where is the lad
who should play that for us, better than any human voice could sing it?
When shall we have our Jack home again?"

The Colonel hummed and hawed, and said it was absurd to suppose that any
fiddle, however inoffensive,--and he acknowledged that his nephew's
fiddle gave as little offence as any he had ever heard,--still it was
absurd to think for an instant that it could be compared with the sound
of the human voice.

"Give me a young woman's voice, my dear madam," he said, turning to Mrs.
Grahame; "give me that organ, singing a song with melody and feeling in
it,--none of your discordant Dutch cobwebs, none of your Italian
squalling, or your French caterwauling, but a _song_,--a thing which is
necessarily in the English language,--and I ask nothing more,--except
that the singer be young and good-looking."

"Are you so very reasonable, I wonder, as you think, my dear Colonel?"
said Mrs. Grahame, laughing. "Surely we cannot expect that every person
who sings shall be beautiful."

"Then she has no business to sing, madam," said the Colonel. "My
opinion,--worth nothing, I am aware, from a musical point of view. Now,
when I was in Washington last week,--stayed at a friend's
house,--delightful people,--very good to the Boy here. Weren't they,
Young Sir?"

"They were fountains in the valley!" said Hugh. "They were ducks,--but
they quacked, instead of singing."

"Precisely! Exactly! The child has described it, my dear madam. There
were two young ladies in the family,--charming girls,--when they kept
their mouths shut. The moment they opened them to sing,--a pair of
grinning idols. I do not exaggerate, Mrs. Merryweather,--grinning
idols, madam!"

"Really!" said Mrs. Merryweather. "How distressing!"

"Distressing? My dear lady, it was excruciating! They opened their
mouths--"

"But, _dear_ Colonel Ferrers!" cried Hildegarde. "They _had_ to open
their mouths, surely! You would not have had them sing with closed
lips?"

"I am aware that they had to open their mouths, my child, to some
extent. They were not, I conceive, forced to assume the aspect of the
dentist's chair. They opened their mouths, I say,--red gulfs, in which
every molar could be counted,--and they shut their eyes. They hunched
their shoulders, and they wriggled their bodies. Briefly, such an
exhibition that I wondered their mother did not shut them in the
coal-cellar, or anywhere else where they might escape being seen.
Frightful, I assure you! frightful!"

Hildegarde and Bell exchanged glances; the Colonel was on his high
horse, and riding it hard.

"And what did they sing?" asked Bell.

"They _squalled_, my dear young lady,--I refuse to call such performance
singing,--some Italian macaroni kind of stuff. Macaroni and
soap-suds,--that was what it made me think of. When I was a young lad,
they made a song about the Italian opera,--new, it was then, and people
didn't take to it at first,--how did that go, now? Hum, ha! I ought to
be able to remember that."

"Was it 'Meess Nancy,' perhaps, Colonel?" asked Mrs. Merryweather. "I
think I can recall that for you."

"My dear lady, the very thing! 'Meess Nancy said unto me'--if you would
be so obliging, Mrs. Merryweather."

And Mrs. Merryweather sang, to the funniest little languishing tune:

          "Meess Nancy said unto me one day,
           'Vill you play on my leetle guitar?'
           Meess Nancy said unto me one day,
           'Vill you play on my leetle guitar?
           Vich goes "tinky-tink-ting!"
           Vich goes "tanky-tank-tang!"
           Vich goes "ting,"
           Vich goes "tang,"
           Vich goes "ta!"'"

"Exactly!" said the Colonel. "Precisely! tanky-tank-tang! that is the
essence of half the drawing-room music one hears; and the other half is
apt to be the kind of cacophonous folderol that my nephew Jack tortures
the inoffensive air with. By the way, Hildegarde,--hum, ha! nothing of
the sort!"

"I beg your pardon, Colonel Ferrers!" said Hildegarde, somewhat
perplexed, as was no wonder.

"Nothing of the slightest consequence," said the Colonel, looking
slightly confused. "My absent way, you know. Oblige us with another
song, will you, my dear? 'Mary of Argyle,' if you have no special
preference for anything else. My mother was fond of 'Mary of Argyle';
used to sing it when I was a lad,--hum, ha! several years ago."

"In one moment, Colonel Ferrers. I just wanted to ask you, since you
spoke of Jack,--have you any idea when we shall see the dear fellow? Is
there any chance of his getting home in time for Christmas?"

But here the Colonel became quite testy. He vowed that his nephew Jack
was the most irresponsible human being that ever lived, with the
exception of his father. "My brother Raymond--Jack's father, you are
aware, Mrs. Grahame--never knows, it is my belief, whether it is time to
get up or to go to bed. As to eating his meals--it is a marvel that the
man is alive to-day. Never sits down at a Christian table when he is
alone. Housekeeper has to follow him round with plates of victuals, and
put them under his nose wherever he happens to stand still. Never sits
down, my brother Raymond. Like Shelley the poet in that respect--"

"Did Shelley never sit down?" asked Bell, innocently. "I never heard--"

"I--hum, ha!--alluded to the other peculiarity," said the Colonel.
"Shelley would stand--or sit--for hours, I have been told, with his
dinner under his nose, entirely unconscious of it. I have never believed
the story that he wrote a sonnet with a stalk of asparagus one day,
taking it for a pen. Was surprised, you understand, at finding nothing
on the paper. Ha!"

"Colonel Ferrers," said Hildegarde, gravely, "it is my belief that you
made up that story this very instant."

"Quite possible, my dear," said the Colonel, cheerfully. "Absence of
mind, you know--"

"Or presence!" said the girl, significantly. "I wonder why we are not to
hear about our Jack."

"Possibly, my love, because I do not intend to tell you," said the
Colonel, with his most beaming smile. "Did you say you would be so very
obliging as to sing 'Mary of Argyle' for me?"

And Hildegarde sang.



CHAPTER X.

_DIE EDLE MUSICA._


BELL MERRYWEATHER was sitting alone in the parlour at Braeside. She was
waiting for Hildegarde to finish some piece of work up-stairs before
going for a twilight walk. So waiting, she naturally drifted to the
piano, and, opening it, began to play.

[Illustration: DIE EDLE MUSICA.]

Bell might love her Greek and her botany, might delight, too, in rowing
and riding, and in all the out-door life that kept her strong, young
body in such perfect condition; but, after all, these things filled the
second and third place only in her life; her music was first, once and
always. All through school and college she had kept it up steadily,
seeking always the best instruction, loving always the best music; till
now, at eighteen, she was at once mistress and faithful servant of her
beloved art. Hildegarde played with taste and feeling, but she never
cared to touch the piano when she might listen to Bell instead; there
was all the difference in the world, and she knew it far better than
modest Bell herself. So when Hildegarde now, up-stairs, heard the firm,
light touch on the keys below, she nodded to herself, well pleased, and
went on with her work. "Such a treat for Mammina!" she said. "And I do
want to finish this, and the dear girl will not know whether she plays
five minutes or an hour."

Hildegarde was right. Bell played on and on, one lovely thing after
another; and forgot her friend up-stairs, and her walk, and everything
else in the world, save herself and _die edle Musica_.

Now, it happened about this time,--or it may have been half an hour
after,--that some one else stood and listened to the music that filled
the early December twilight with warmth and beauty and sweetness. A
young man had come running lightly up the steps of the veranda, with a
tread that spoke familiarity, and eagerness, too; had hastened towards
the door, but paused there, at the sound of the piano. A young man, not
more than twenty at the most, very tall, with a loose-jointed spring to
his gait, that might have been awkwardness a year or two ago, but sat
not ungracefully on him now. He had curly brown hair, and bright blue
eyes, set rather far apart under a broad, white forehead; not a handsome
face, but one so honest and so kindly that people liked to look at it,
and felt more cheerful for doing so.

The blue eyes wore a look of surprise just now; surprise which rapidly
deepened into amazement.

"Oh, I say!" he murmured. "That can't be,--and yet it must, of course.
How on earth has she learned to play like this?" He listened again. The
notes of Schumann's "_Faschingsschwank_" sounded full and clear. The
bright scene of the Vienna carnival rose as in a magic vision; the
flower-hung balconies, the gardens and fountains, the bands of dancers,
like long garlands, swinging hand in hand through the white streets. The
young man saw it all, almost as clearly as his bodily eyes had seen it
a year before. And the playing! so sure and clear and brilliant, so full
of fire and tenderness--

"But she cannot have learned all this in two years!" said Jack Ferrers.
"It's incredible! She must have worked at nothing else; and she has
never said a word-- Ah! but, my dear girl, you must have the violin for
that!"

The player had struck the opening chords of the great Mendelssohn
Concerto for piano and violin.

The youth lifted something that he had laid down on the veranda
seat,--an oblong black box; lifted it as tenderly as a mother lifts her
sleeping child. Then he stepped quietly into the twilight hall.

So it came to pass that Bell, who was very near the gate of heaven
already, heard suddenly, as it seemed to her, the music of angels; a
tone mingling with her own, pure, thrilling, ecstatic; lifting her on
wings of lofty harmony, up, up,--far from earth and its uncertain
voices, nearer and ever nearer to where love and light and music were
blended in one calm blessedness. It never occurred to her to stop;
hardly even to wonder what it meant, or who was doing her this service
of heavenly comradeship. She played on and on, as she had never played
before; only dreading the end, when the spirit would leave her, and she
must sink to earth again, alone.

When the end did come, there was silence in the room. It was nearly
dark. Any form that she should see on turning round would needs be vague
and shadowy, yet she dreaded to turn; and she found herself saying
aloud, unconsciously:

"Oh! I thought I was in heaven!"

"I _knew_ I was!" said Jack Ferrers. "Oh, Hilda, how have you done it?
How was it possible for you to do it? My dear--"

He was stepping forward eagerly; but two voices cried out suddenly, one
in terror, it seemed, the other,--was it joy or pain? The girl at the
piano turned round; even in the dark, Jack knew instantly that it was
not his cousin. He looked helplessly towards the door, and there stood
another shadowy figure; what did it all mean? But now, after that pause
of an instant, this second figure came forward with outstretched arms.

"My dear, dearest old Jack! I have been listening; I could not speak at
first. Oh, welcome, dear old fellow! Welcome home a hundred thousand
times!"

Ah! now Jack knew where he was. This was the welcome he had thought of,
dreamed of, all the way home across the ocean. This was the surprise
that he had planned, and carried out so perfectly. This was Hilda
herself, in flesh and blood; his best friend, better than any sister
could be. These were her kind, tender eyes, this was her sweet, cordial
voice, in which you felt the heart beating true and steady,--all was
just as he had pictured it in many a lonely hour during the past two
years. Only,--only, who was it he had gone to heaven with just now? A
stranger!

Before his bewildered mind could grasp anything more, Hildegarde had put
out her hand, and caught the silent shape that was flitting past her
through the doorway.

"No!" she cried. "You shall not go! It is absurd for you two to pretend
to be strangers, after you have been playing together like that; absurd,
and you both know it. Bell, of course you know this is my cousin Jack,
whom I have so wanted you to meet. Jack, I have written you of my friend
Isabel Merryweather. Oh, oh, my dears! It was so beautiful! So
beautiful! And I am so happy,--I really think I am going to cry!"

"Oh, don't!" cried Bell and Jack together; and the sheer terror in their
voices made Hildegarde laugh instead.

"And you thought it was I!" she cried, still a little hysterical. "Jack,
how could you? I thought better of you!"

"I--I didn't see how it could be," said honest Jack. "I didn't see how
you could possibly have done it in two years, or,--or in a lifetime, for
that matter; but how could I suppose,--how could I know--"

"You couldn't, of course. Oh, and to think of all the delight you are
going to give us, the two of you! Jack, your playing is--I can't tell
you what it is. My dear, I am afraid to light the lamp. Shall I see a
totally different Jack from the old one? You have learned such an
infinity, haven't you?"

"I should be a most hopeless muff if I hadn't learned something!" said
her cousin. "But you needn't be afraid to light the lamp, Hilda. You
will see the ostrich, or the giraffe, or the kangaroo, whichever you
prefer. But first I must thank Miss Merryweather for playing so
delightfully. You have played with the violin before, of course? I felt
that instantly."

There was no reply; for Bell, feeling simply, desperately, that she must
get away, must relieve the two cousins of her presence, since it could
not by any possibility be welcome, had seen her moment, and slipped
quietly out while Hildegarde was busy with the lamp.

The light sprang up, and both looked eagerly round.

"Why, she is gone!" cried Jack. "I say! And I never thanked her. What an
idiot she must think me!"

"She thought nothing of the sort," said Hildegarde. "She is the most
modest, unselfish creature in the world, and she thought we would rather
be without her. I know her!"

"Well, I suppose she was right," yet Hildegarde fancied a shade of
regret in his hearty tone; "anyhow, she is a brick, isn't she?"

"How would you define a brick?" asked Hildegarde, demurely.

"A musician," said Jack, emphatically; "and a--a good fel--Oh, well, you
know what I mean, Hilda! And isn't it pretty hard, now, when a fellow
has been away two years, that he should come back and have the girl of
his heart begin to tease him within five minutes? Oh, I say, Hilda, how
well you're looking! You have grown prettier; I didn't suppose you could
grow prettier. Would you mind shaking hands again?"

Hildegarde held out her hand gladly, and laughed and blushed when her
cousin raised it to his lips in the graceful European fashion.

"You have learned something besides violin-playing, Jack," she said. "If
any one had proposed your kissing hands two years ago, what would you
have done?"

"Taken to the woods," replied Jack, promptly. "But--well, they all do it
there, of course; and I saw the _gnadige Frau_--Frau J.--expected it
when I went to dine there, so--so I learned. But all the time, Hilda, I
thought I was only learning so that I could kiss your mother's
hand,--and yours!"

"Dear lad!" said Hilda. "Mamma will be pleased; she always wishes people
would be 'more graceful in their greetings.' Can't you hear her say it?
But why do we stand here, when she is waiting for us in her room? She
has rheumatism to-day, so I would not let her come down, poor darling;
and here I am keeping you all to myself, like the highwayman I am."

"Yes, I always thought you were cut out for a highwayman," said Jack.
"Come along, then! I have a thousand things to tell you both."

Hand in hand, like happy children, the two ran up-stairs. Mrs. Grahame
was waiting with open arms. Indeed, she had been the first to hear the
notes of the violin; and her cry--"Hilda! Jack is come! our boy is
come!"--had brought Hildegarde flying from the recesses of the
linen-closet. Her eyes were full of happy tears; and when Jack bent to
kiss her hand, she folded him warmly in her arms, and pressed more than
one kiss on his broad forehead.

"My boy!" she said. "My boy has come back to me! Hilda, it is your
brother; do you understand? It is as if my little son, who went away so
long ago, had been sent back to me."

"Yes, Mother," said Hildegarde, softly. "I know; we both know, Jack and
I. Dear Mother, blessed one! let the tears come a little; it will do you
good."

They were silent for a little. The two young people pressed close to the
elder woman, who felt the years surge up around her like a flood; but
there was no bitterness in the waters, only sweet and sacred depths of
love and memory. The boy and girl, filled with a passionate longing to
cheer and comfort her whom they loved so dearly, felt perhaps more pain
than she did, for they were too young to have seen the smile on the
face of sorrow.

But now Mrs. Grahame was smiling again.

"Dears!" she said. "Dear children! They are such happy tears, you must
not mind them. And now they are all gone, and that is enough about me,
and too much. Jack, sit down on that stool; draw it close, so that I can
see you in the firelight. So! And you are there, Hilda?"

"On the other stool!" said Hildegarde. "Here we are, love, close beside
you."

"That is good! And now, Odysseus, let us hear! Mr. Ferrers has the
floor."

"He certainly has a good deal of it!" said Jack, looking rather ruefully
at his long legs, which did extend a prodigious distance along the
hearth-rug.

"What do you think of my having grown two whole inches since I went
away? I call it a shame! Uncle Tom measured me with his stick before I
had been in the house five minutes; six feet four! It is disgraceful,
you know!"

"Dear Colonel Ferrers!" cried Hildegarde. "Isn't he coming soon, to tell
us how happy he is? Why, Jack, do you know, he was so funny about you
last night! I asked when you were coming, and he quite growled, the
dear, and called you irresponsible, and wouldn't tell us a thing."

"Of course he wouldn't! Spoil my surprise, that I had planned so
carefully? It is well he did not! But he told me about it, too,--about
last night, I mean. He said you would persist in asking questions, and
looking straight at him as you asked them, so that his only refuge was
in gruffness. Yes, Hilda, he is coming over after tea,--I may stay to
tea, mayn't I? He--I thought they wouldn't mind being alone for a
bit,--Oh, wait! I haven't come to that yet. Where shall I begin? Come
back to Leipsic with me, will you?"

Both ladies signified their willingness to take the voyage at once.

"I have spread the magic carpet!" cried Jack. "Be seated, if you please!
Whisk! Presto! Behold us in Leipsic. _Mesdames_, let me have the honour
of presenting you to Herr J,----the greatest living violinist. Herr
Professor, these are the people I love best in the world, except two.
Well, you see it is very simple, after all. The Maestro was going on a
tour in Russia; was invited to play before the Czar, and all kinds of
things. He will be gone all winter; so he said, why should I not come
home and see my father and uncle, and talk over plans with them? He--the
Maestro--wants me to work for the Royal Medal. It's only given out once
in three years, and it's a pretty big thing, but he thinks I would
better try for it. I--did I write you about the scholarship I got? No?
Well, I think I did, but it must have been in my last letter, and Uncle
Tom thinks my last letters did not get posted, or something. Well, yes;
I got a pretty good scholarship, enough to pay my expenses both ways,
and leave me a hundred dollars besides."

"Oh, Jack! how splendid!" cried Hildegarde, in delight. "That is pretty
glorious, I do think. Wasn't Colonel Ferrers enchanted? Oh! and when can
you see your father? Is he still in Virginia? Of course you want to fly
to him."

"Not in the least!" replied Jack. "I am coming to that presently. I
think that hundred dollars rather went to my head. The first thing I did
when I got it was to cable to my father that I was coming on the
_Urania_. Then I shut myself up in my room and played a bit, and then I
turned somersaults till my head was like--like an apple dumpling; and
then I went shopping."

"Shopping, Jack? I can hardly fancy you shopping."

"Well, I did! I got a pipe for my father,--oh, a beauty!--meerschaum, of
course, carved with a head of Schumann, the most perfect likeness!
Hilda, when the smoke comes out of it, you expect to hear it sing the
'Davidsbündler,' one after another. Of course anybody except Schumann
would have been ridiculous, but it seems to suit him. Then for Uncle
Tom--a pipe is horror to him, of course--I got a walking-stick, ebony,
with no end of a Turk's head on it. He hates the Turks so, you know. I
knew he would enjoy squeezing it, and rapping it up against things, and
he does like it, I think. And then--" the boy began to fumble in his
pockets, blushing with eagerness--"Mrs. Grahame, I--I saw this in a
shop, and--it made me think of you. Will you put it somewhere, please,
where you will see it now and then, and--and think of me?"

The tiny parcel he held out was wrapped in folds of soft,
foreign-looking paper. Mrs. Grahame, opening it, found an exquisite
little copy of the Nuremburg Madonna, the sweetest and tenderest figure
of motherhood and gracious womanliness.

"My dear boy!" she said, much moved. "What a beautiful, beautiful thing!
Is it really mine? How can I thank you enough?"

"So glad you like it! Is it right, Hilda?"

"Quite right," said Hilda; and they nodded and smiled at each other,
while the mother bent over her treasure, absorbed in its beauty.

"And you, Hilda!" said Jack, searching his pockets again. "Do you
suppose I have anything for you? Do you really suppose I had time to
stop and think about you?"

The boy was in such a glow of happiness, the joy so rippled and shone
from him, that Hildegarde could not take her eyes from his face.

"Dear fellow!" she said. "As if I needed anything but just the sight of
you, and the sound of your--fiddle! And yet,--oh, Jack! Jack! How could
you? How could you _let_ yourself do it?"

Jack had put something into her hands, and was now leaning back in
perfect content, watching her face in turn, and delighted with every
light that danced over it. The something was a bracelet; a little,
shining garland of stars, each star a cluster of "aquamarine" stones,
clear as crystal, with the faintest, most delicate shade of green,
hardly seen in the full light. Not a jewel of great value, but as pretty
a thing as ever a girl saw.

"Jack!" sighed Hilda again. "How could you? There never was anything so
beautiful in the world; that is confessed."

"And the clasp is the moon, you see!" Jack explained, eagerly. "I
thought it looked like the Moonlight Sonata, Hilda, and you used to like
me to play it, you know; and so I thought--you do like it? Now I am
quite happy! Fate has nothing better for me than this. Except one
thing!" he added, turning with boyish shyness from Hilda's warm, almost
reproachful thanks,--she was hardly reconciled to his spending his
hard-earned money on trinkets for her, yet she was genuinely delighted
with the exquisite gift, as any right-minded girl would have been.

"There is one thing more!" said Jack. "And I think I am going to have
that now. Hark! Is not that a step on the veranda? May he--may they come
up here, dear Mrs. Grahame?"

Mrs. Grahame hesitated a moment, glancing at her dainty tea-gown, and
then around at the perfection of the pleasant sitting-room.

"Certainly!" she said, heartily. "If you do not think Colonel Ferrers
will mind,--such an old friend, and he knows I am not well to-day."

Jack and Hilda flew down-stairs as fast as they had flown up; indeed,
Hilda was nearly overthrown by her cousin's impetuous rush.

"I haven't told you yet!" he cried. "Hilda, you guess, don't you? You
know what the best of all is to be? He is here! He--here he is!"

He threw open the door. Colonel Ferrers's stalwart form loomed against
the pale evening sky, and behind it was a tall, slender figure, stooping
somewhat, with a shrinking air like a shy boy.

"Hilda, it is my father!" cried Jack, now at the top of his heaven, and
"Hilda, my dear, my brother Raymond!" cried the Colonel, not a whit less
pleased. Hilda found her hand taken between two slender, white hands,
that trembled a little, as they drew her towards the light.

"My boy's best friend!" said Mr. Ferrers; and Hilda thought that the
gentle blue eyes were even kinder than those fierce gray ones of the
Colonel's, now twinkling with tears, which he brushed away with furious
impatience.

"My boy's kind sister and helper! God bless you, my dear! I owe you a
great debt, which only love can repay. And now take me to your mother. I
have not seen her for many a long year."

Hildegarde hardly knew how they all got up-stairs, she was so flurried,
so joyfully shaken and melted and confused. But it was only a moment
before the tall man was bending over her mother's chair, taking her
hands in turn, and gazing at her wistfully, tenderly.

"Mildred Bond!" said Raymond Ferrers. "Am I fifty years old, or fifteen,
Mildred? Where are the years gone, my child? You are utterly unchanged."

But this was more than the Colonel could bear.

"Raymond, you are as great an ass as ever!" he cried, bringing down his
hand with formidable violence on the slender, stooping shoulder. "Jack,
what did I tell you? I said he was a mixture of angel and idiot. Look at
him! Hear him! and contradict me if you dare." And then, as his brother
turned and laid an arm round his shoulder, the Colonel fairly broke
down, and was heard to mutter behind his handkerchief that the world
consisted principally of a parcel of fools, and that he was the biggest
of them.



CHAPTER XI.

THE BOYS.


"MAMMINA!"

"Yes, Hilda!"

"Are you quite sure you will not mind my asking?"

"I am not at all sure! Suppose you try it, and find out."

"Well,--I don't believe you will really mind. But--was not Mr. Raymond
Ferrers--very fond of you, dear?"

Mrs. Grahame coloured like a girl.

"Yes, dear, he was. He was--I am afraid--very fond of me, Hilda. It was
years and years ago, of course; he was only a lad. But,--well, it
happened that we had never met since, you see; I think we were both a
little overcome, for I, too, was very fond of him, Hilda, though not in
the way he wished. Poor Raymond!"

"You--you couldn't care for him, dear?"

"My child! I had seen your father; how could I think of any one else?
But Raymond did not know that; and--and it was hard for him. I trust I
did not appear foolish, Hilda?"

She spoke anxiously, and Hilda laughed outright.

"Darling, you appeared like an angel, and were perfectly calm. I never
should have guessed it from you; but--he, it was all over him, at the
first glance."

"Poor Raymond!" said Mrs. Grahame again, meditatively. "And yet he was
very happy in his marriage, I have always heard. His wife was a lovely
person, and sincerely attached to him. But--I suppose the seeing me
brought back his boyhood, and some of the old feeling,--we are singular
creatures, Hilda. Perhaps you think I might have told you of this
before, Hilda. You see, I never thought of it as anything belonging to
me, dear."

"Of course," said Hilda. "I know! And I should not have asked if--if he
had not made it so _very_ obvious. But, oh, how charming,--how lovely he
is! And how beautiful to see him with Jack, and the dear Colonel with
both of them! My mother, do you know that we have the very most
delightful friends in the habitable universe?"

"It really does seem so," said her mother. "And what a Christmas we
shall have, with so many of them around us! Let me see! Mr. Merryweather
came to-day. Now the whole Smiling Signal Service, as absurd Gerald
calls it, is here,--except the good Roger."

Except, indeed! Hildegarde's heart gave a great bound, and she felt the
colour rushing to cheek and forehead.

"We shall be very glad to see Roger?" said Mrs. Grahame. "Very glad,
daughter dear?"

"Very glad indeed, dearest mother!" said Hilda. She met her mother's
loving glance bravely, with her own bright smile; here, the blushing did
not matter, for the two hearts, mother's and daughter's, beat in such
true time together that words were hardly needed to carry the swift
thought from mind to mind.

There was a moment's pause; then Mrs. Grahame went on.

"And are they not planning all kinds of merrymaking for Christmas week?
Dear me! Why, it is this very coming week, Hilda! Where has the month
gone?"

"Oh, it is to be a great time!" said Hildegarde. "The flower party, and
lots of people coming down from town for it; and a toboggan-party,--if
the snow will only come! and the tree at Roseholme, and I don't know
what else. Do you know, I almost thought the Colonel and Mr.
Merryweather would quarrel about the tree; both wanted it so much. And
then they both gave up at the same minute, and each insisted that the
other should have it, till I thought they would quarrel over that. But
it all ended most happily. Hugh, of course! He came up quietly, and held
out two straws; and they drew, and neither said another word. Oh,
Mother, Hugh is so happy with Jack! I met them just now; his little face
was shining like a star. Jack was chattering German to him, and he did
not understand a word, but that made no difference at all. And dear old
Jack! I believe he would have liked to kiss every stone in the garden
wall--there! he is calling me now! I promised to go for a walk when my
work was done. Are you sure you don't want anything, darling? absolutely
sure? Then good-bye for an hour!"

Hildegarde ran down, and found Jack pacing the veranda with yard-long
strides.

"Do you remember," he said, abruptly, "the first time I came here,
Hilda?"

"Of course I do!" said Hilda.

"How I fell over a chair, and then knocked down a hanging-basket? Hilda,
I do believe I should have made away with myself that night, if there
had been any weapons about. I was simply _full_ of rage and misery; I
hated everybody, myself included; and it did seem to me as if you might
let me alone, and not insist upon making me talk. I _couldn't_ talk, you
know."

"No, dear, you certainly could not; but you had to learn. And you are
not sorry now, Jack?"

"Sorry! well, rather not! Fancy, if I had stayed the hateful noodle that
I was that night! Fact is, I was brimful of my own self; that was the
trouble with me. Ah--who are all these people Uncle Tom has been telling
me about, next door, in the yellow house? I didn't bargain for
strangers, Hilda!" And my lord looked slightly injured.

"No, dear!" said Hildegarde. "Of course we ought to have thought of
that, and have prevented their coming here. We don't own the house, it
is true, but we might have turned the hose on them, or put rat-poison
about, or kept them off in some way."

"Oh, there you go!" cried Jack. "I say! I haven't been teased for two
years. I forget what it's like. But seriously, are they really nice? Do
you care for them? I--I really _am_ jealous, Hilda; you needn't laugh. I
thought I was going to have you all to myself, and now here are a lot of
people,--with unreasonable names, it seems to me,--and Uncle Tom says
they are your most intimate friends, and that he loves them all like
brothers."

"That was one of them you met last night," said Hildegarde, demurely.

"Oh, I say! I was going to ask you,--was it, though? of course; I didn't
notice her name much, but I remember now. Well, Hilda, she is a
musician, and of course I'm glad you have had such a friend as that. I
liked her face, too,--"

"You couldn't see her face!"

"Oh, I saw enough. I saw her eyes just for a minute, and I know what
she's like, anyhow; didn't I play the Mendelssohn Concerto with her? So
that's all right, and I mean to get her to play with me a lot, if she
will. I like to play with the piano, only you so seldom find any
one--any pianist--who understands the violin; they are generally
thinking about their own playing. But--well, what was I saying? It is so
jolly to be talking one's own language again, and talking to you. I just
want to go on and on, whether I say anything or not."

"So I infer!" said Hildegarde.

"Oh, I say!" cried Jack again. "But--well, to go back to these
people,--there are a lot of them, aren't there? A lot of fellows, or
something?"

"There are!" said Hildegarde, gravely "Here are two of them coming now,
Jack. These are the twins, Phil and Gerald; they are particularly nice
fellows, and I want you to meet them."

"Look here, Hilda! I can't, you know. I'm going to cut across the field
here. I didn't expect to see anybody this first morning. You won't mind
if I--"

"I shall mind very much indeed!" said Hildegarde, with decision. "Jack,
you must not be absurd! You are behaving like a child.

"Oh, good-morning, Phil! Good-morning, Gerald! I am so glad to see you!
This is my cousin, John Ferrers, who came last night, and is staying at
Roseholme. Jack, these are my neighbours, Philip and Gerald
Merryweather."

The three bowed with mutual distrust.

"Glad to see you!" said Phil, in a tone which contradicted his words.

"Fine morning!" said Gerald. "You had a pretty rough passage, I ho--I'm
afraid!"

"Thanks!" said Jack, with a detestable little drawl, which Hildegarde
had never heard before. "I had an excellent passage."

The three drew back and looked at each other, so exactly like strange
dogs that the tails only were wanting, it seemed to Hildegarde. She had
difficulty in keeping her countenance. "What a comfort," she thought,
"if I could only shake them all, and tell them to behave themselves!"
But outwardly she was calm and smiling, looking from one scowling face
to the other as if all were wreathed in smiles.

"And whither are you bound, boys?" she asked. "And what frolic is there
on hand for to-day? If the snow would only come! I do want some
tobogganing."

"There is good skating on Jimmy's Pond!" said Gerald. "We were just
coming to see if you would go this afternoon, Hilda."

At the familiar name, Jack Ferrers glared so ferociously that Hildegarde
almost expected to hear him bark, and to see him spring at the other
lad's throat. Gerald perceived the impression, and hastened in pure
malice to deepen it.

"I have been counting on a skate with you, Hilda; you remember the last
we had together? I never shall forget it!"

Now Hildegarde had never skated with Gerald in her life, and she had no
idea of putting up with this kind of thing.

"I shall be delighted to come!" she said, with a little ring of steel in
her voice that all three lads knew very well; "if you can find a pair of
skates for my cousin. I know you have a whole closet full of them. You
would like very much to come, Jack? Very well, then, that is settled! We
will be ready at three o'clock. Good-morning, boys! Bell and Gertrude
will come, too, of course!"

And with a quick, decided nod she walked on, Jack following after, after
a defiant bow which was returned with interest.

The cousins walked on in silence for a few steps; then--

"I don't think you really misunderstood what I said, Hildegarde!" said
Jack, coldly. "I did _not_ say that I should like to go skating. I said
I should be unable to go. Of course it is of no consequence."

"Of none in the world!" said Hildegarde, turning upon him with gleaming
eyes. "The absurd behaviour of three ridiculous boys,--Jack! How could
you? I was so mortified,--so ashamed of you all! All! But you are my
own; I am responsible for your behaviour. I never--" but here she caught
a glimpse of Jack's face, and suddenly burst into a fit of laughter.

"Oh, it was so funny! Jack, none of you will ever know how funny it was.
I am very angry, but I--cannot--help laughing."

"I am glad you are amused!" said Jack Ferrers, stiffly. "It was worth
while to come home for that."

"Jack! I--I won't laugh any more--if I can help it! Oh, dear! If you had
only seen--"

But Hildegarde saw that her cousin was really hurt. Instantly she
controlled her laughter, and laid her hand quietly on his arm.

"Dear lad," she said, "you are not really angry, any more than I was.
Dear Jack, think about it a little!"

They walked on in silence. Jack was still smarting under a sense of
injury; yet the steady, friendly hand on his arm seemed to smooth down
his ruffled feelings, whether he would or no.

"You know how it is," he said, presently, speaking in a more natural
voice. "I have been thinking so long about the home-coming! I thought it
was going to be--just the same. I thought I should have you all to
myself; and now--"

"Jack, dear," said Hildegarde, quietly, "are you thinking of falling in
love with me, by any chance?"

Jack looked down at her with startled eyes.

"Why--no! I wasn't, Hilda; but I will, if you want me to. I--what makes
you say that? I thought we were brother and sister."

"I thought so, too," said Hildegarde, smiling. "But if my brother is
going to show his teeth and growl at all the other dogs--I mean boys--he
meets, I don't think I shall find it comfortable. There was a dog in a
manger once; perhaps you have heard of him."

Jack winced, but owned he had.

"And--and even if you were not my brother," Hildegarde went on, "the
idea of being jealous of the twins is so funny that--well, when you
know them, Jack, you will laugh as much as I did. They are not that
_kind_ of boy, at all. No boys were ever less so."

"That red-haired fellow," said Jack, still distrustful; "what was he
saying about skating with you before? I thought he _sounded_ decidedly
spoony, Hilda. I won't be disagreeable any more, but I say this
seriously."

"Gerald! naughty, naughty Gerald! that was so like him! He is quick as a
flash, Jack, and he said that just to torment you. I have never skated
with him in my life; I never knew them till this last summer. Oh, he is
such a funny boy! Come on, and I will tell you some of his pranks as we
go along!"

       *       *       *       *       *

Gerald and Philip Merryweather walked home in moody silence. They came
upon a loose stone, and kicked it along before them with savage and
purposeful kicks. Neither mentioned the fact of the stone's representing
any particular person, but when either made a specially successful
kick, he looked at the other for sympathy, and found it in a grim nod
and chuckle. Only once did they break silence.

"Poor Codger!" said Gerald.

"H'm!" growled Philip, assenting.

"Know when he's coming?"

"No! Don't suppose it will make any difference, though."

"S'pose not!"

"H'm!"

"H'm!"

Reaching the house, they sat down on the steps and pitched gravel stones
in gloomy rivalry. So sitting, it chanced that Bell came upon them;
Bell, with a face more than commonly bright (though she was always one
of the most cheerful of mortals), with her hands full of ground pine,
fresh from a walk in the woods, humming a fragment of the Mendelssohn
Concerto.

"What's the matter with my boys?" she demanded, promptly.

"Nothing!" responded the twins, with alacrity. And they lowered like
toppling thunderclouds.

"Then tell me all about it!" said Sister Bell, sitting down on the step,
and taking a hand of each.

"What happened to my twinnies? Did some one throw away their tadpoles,
or did the dog eat their molasses candy?"

This allusion to early misfortunes could generally bring a smile, but
this time it failed, and Bell looked from one to the other in genuine
concern.

"Phil! Jerry! What is it?" she asked again. "Oh, there has been no bad
news, boys? Roger!--"

Gerald groaned.

"Roger!" he said. "That's just it, Bell! No, nothing of the kind you
mean. He's well, poor dear old Codger. Better than he will be, when he
hears what is going on."

"What _is_ going on? Come, boys, I really must know."

"We met Hilda just now," said Gerald. "Her cousin's come; kind of
fiddler-chap from Germany. I'm afraid it's all up with the Codger,
Bell."

"Indeed!" said Bell, quietly. "And what makes you think that, Jerry?"

"Oh, we met them just now! He--he's about nine feet tall, to begin
with."

"That _is_ a beginning! Where does he expect to end? But I have seen Mr.
Ferrers, Jerry. I saw him last night."

"You did? Why didn't you tell a fellow?"

"Oh, I--I--hardly know!" said downright Bell, unused to even the whitest
fib. She really could not, perhaps, have put into words the feeling that
had kept her silent about the scene of the night before.

"But that is no matter!" she went on. "What else is the matter with him,
besides height? He can't help that, you know."

"I don't suppose he can. But he can help making up to Hilda, Bell, and
he'd better!" savagely. "Only it's too late now, I suppose!"
despondently. "Why on earth the fellow couldn't stay and fiddle over
there, where he's wanted,--don't admire their taste, by the
way!--instead of coming over here to spoil everything, is more than _I_
know!"

"Horrid shame!" murmured Phil, taking careful aim with a pebble at an
innocent cat that was crossing the lawn.

Bell struck his hand up.

"I won't have the cats teased, Phil! And as for all this nonsense--"

"It isn't nonsense!" cried both boys, earnestly.

"I tell you we met them just now," Gerald went on, "and when he saw us,
he looked black as thunder, and had hardly manners to speak to us.
Perfectly odious; wasn't he, Ferguson?"

"Absolutely!" echoed Phil.

"And you were very cordial to him, of course?" said Bell. "You let him
see that you were glad to meet him, and that as Hilda's warm friends you
were anxious to welcome her cousin cordially, and to show him all the
courtesy you could?"

The twins looked at each other. Bell had an extraordinary way of putting
things sometimes.

"We didn't do anything of the sort!" said Phil, with an attempt at
bluster.

"Because if you did not," his sister went on, "I am afraid you must
have seemed very rude, my children. Rude and silly!"

"I wouldn't call names, Tintinnabula!" said Gerald, turning red.

"Sorry to be obliged to," retorted his sister, in perfect good humour.
"But if you looked at Mr. Ferrers as you are looking now, there really
can be no doubt about the matter. Now listen, boys! I know--Hilda has
told me--a great deal about this Mr. Jack Ferrers. Hilda loves him
dearly, as dearly as if he were her own brother, and in exactly the same
way. You need not shake your heads and try to look wise, my dears,
because you are _not_ wise! You are two very foolish boys, who are
trying to run your heads against a stone wall when there is no wall
there. That is the state of the case about Mr. Ferrers. I know
Hildegarde pretty well, and I am sure of what I am saying. You need have
no fear of him. As for Roger,--well, I don't think you need have any
fear for Roger either."

"Has he--has she--do you think they are--"

"Hush!" cried Bell, putting a hand over the mouth of each. "I don't
think anything! At least--well, that isn't true, of course; but it does
no good to talk about these things, dear boys. I do not think Hilda and
Roger are--are engaged." Bell dropped her voice to a whisper. "But I
feel quite sure they will be some day, when the time comes. I think they
understand each other very well. Roger will be here soon; suppose you
leave it all to him, Phil and Jerry, and don't worry about it. But there
is one thing you can do, and it should be done soon."

"What?" cried both boys, eagerly.

"Put on your good clothes, and your good manners, and go to call at
Roseholme."

"We'll be shot if we will!" cried the twins.

"Be just as nice as you know how to be to Mr. Jack Ferrers. He--he is a
remarkable person, I have reason to think. You see," she spoke rather
hastily, "Hilda has told me so much about him. And I--well, I heard him
play last night, and he is a very wonderful performer, boys. You never,
in your little lives, heard anything like his playing. He is too much
in love with his art to think of any such nonsense as has been troubling
your silly heads; you will understand that, the moment you hear him."

Gerald made a feeble protest to the effect that he hated fiddling, but
there was little hope in his tone. And he was promptly reminded of his
having spent his last fifty cents the winter before on a ticket for
Sarasate's concert, and saying that it was the best investment he ever
made.

The boys knew that their cause was lost; and when Bell added, as a
clincher, "Ask Mammy, and see what she says," they retired from the
unequal contest.

"Oh, we know what Mammy will say! Don't hit us when we are down, Bell.
We'll go, and make asses of ourselves as well as we know how."

"Oh, not that, dears, I entreat!" cried Bell; and then ran swiftly into
the house, laughing.

The twins resumed their occupation of pitching gravel stones, but a
change had come over their spirits. Phil was actually whistling, and
Gerald hummed a bass with perfect cheerfulness. The cat came back across
the lawn, and they threw stones before her nose and behind her tail,
avoiding contact with her person (for she was a beloved cat, in hours of
joy), and contenting themselves with seeing her skip hither and thither
in uninjured surprise.

"Philly!"

"Yes, Jerry!"

"Us feels a lot better, don't us, Philly?"

"H'm!" said Phil, and the sound was now one of content and peace.

"She's not a bad sort, the Tintinnabula!" Gerald went on, meditatively.
"She doesn't harry a fellow, as some fellows' sisters do. She pokes you
up and smooths you down at the same time, somehow. That's the way a girl
ought to be--my opinion. Come along, Ferguson, and let's do something to
celebrate!"

"All right!" said Phil. "What shall we do?"

"Oh, any old thing! Come along!"

And they went and wrestled in the conservatory, and broke three
flower-pots, and had a delightful morning.



CHAPTER XII.

JIMMY'S POND.


SO it came to pass that, as Jack Ferrers was strolling about the garden
with Hugh after dinner, talking about old times, and pausing at every
other step to greet some favourite shrub or stick or stone,--it came to
pass that he heard steps at the gate, and, turning, saw the Messrs.
Merryweather, holding themselves very straight, and looking very
sheepish. They had compromised with Bell on skating dress, instead of
the detested "good clothes," and Gerald carried several pairs of skates
in his hand. They fumbled with the latch a moment, during which Jack
felt extremely young, and was conscious of redness creeping up to his
ears. But then, they were quite as red, he reflected; and, after all, as
Hilda said, he was two years older than these boys, and if they really
were all she made them out to be--why--

So it was a very different-looking Jack who advanced to meet the
embarrassed boys at the gate. It was perhaps the first time in his young
life that Gerald had been embarrassed, and he found the sensation
unpleasant.

Before any of them could speak, however, a joyous whoop was heard from
another quarter. Hugh had been investigating an old nest, and had just
caught sight of the friends from Pumpkin House. He came running now, his
face alight with welcome.

"Oh, Jerry! How do you do? How _do_ you do, Phil? I am very well, thank
you! Do you know my Jack? Because he has come home; and he is almost the
dearest person in the world. And he has grown up his own beanstalk, he
says, and that is what makes him so tall. And he has brought me the most
beautiful soldiers that ever were, and we are going to have battles,
even the prancings, the prancings of their mighty ones! Hurrah!"

"Hurrah it is!" said Jack. "How d'ye do?" And he held out his hand
cordially enough. "Awfully good of you to bring the skates! Come in,
won't you, and see my father and my uncle?"

"Didn't know whether you liked Acmes or Clubs," said Gerald, "so I
brought both. Clubs are the best, we all think."

"So do I! These are just right, I think. Awfully good of you, I'm sure!
You ought to see the things they wear in Germany; like the old ones
Uncle Tom has hanging up in that trophy in the hall."

Chatting cheerfully, they moved on towards the house, taking note of one
another as they went. Jack found the tones of the boys' voices very
clear and good, free from any nasal quality; Phil and Gerald decided
that there must be a good deal of muscle in those long, lean arms, and
that it would not be so easy to "lick" the stranger as they had thought
on first seeing him.

On Phil's remarking that his sisters and the "kids" had gone across the
fields to the pond, there to await the rest of the party, Jack said he
would be ready in three minutes, and ushered them into the library,
where the two reunited brothers were peacefully smoking together. The
Colonel received the boys most cordially, and, while Jack hurried away
to put on jersey and knickerbockers, presented them to "My brother
Raymond. Jack's father, young gentlemen! I trust you and my nephew Jack
will be friends. The young should be friendly,--eh, Raymond? My brother
Raymond, boys, is a man of genius. He is probably studying the lines of
a fiddle at this moment,--an imaginary fiddle, you understand,--and I
doubt if he is aware of your presence, or of one word I have been
saying."

"Not quite so bad as that, Tom!" said Mr. Ferrers, holding out his hand
to the boys, with the peculiarly sweet smile that won all hearts to him
at the first glance, "not quite so bad as that. I am delighted to see
you, young gentlemen. I have already heard a good deal about your
cheerful circle here. I am, it is true, somewhat absent-minded,--"

"Absent-minded! Jupiter Capitolinus! When it comes to a man putting
sugar and cream on his mutton-chop at breakfast,--"

"How do you know that I do not prefer it so, Tom? We have many curious
customs in Virginia, you know. It wasn't bad, really!"

"Not bad!" snorted the Colonel. "Five-year-old mutton, hung a fortnight,
and broiled by Elizabeth Beadle; and this man treats it as a pudding,
and then says it was not bad! Elizabeth Beadle wept when Giuseppe told
her about it; shed tears, sir! Said there was no pleasure in feeding
you."

"Poor Elizabeth!" said Raymond Ferrers, laughing. "Dear, good soul! I
must go and ask her to make me some molasses cookies with scalloped
edges. Will that pacify her, Tom? Where is the boy?"

"Raymond, do not try me further than I can bear!" said his brother, with
marked ferocity. "Ask for the boy every five minutes, my dear brother! a
shorter interval than that is beyond my powers of endurance, which have
their limits. The boy, sir, if you persist in applying that epithet to a
young giraffe who has already scraped more paint off my lintels than I
can supply in six months,--well, I will make it three, if you specially
desire it,--is putting on his togs, to go skating with these young
fellows. And what is more, Raymond, I know two old fellows who are going
to be asses enough to put on _their_ togs and go skating with the
youngsters. Come along, sir! Jimmy's Pond, Ray! Come along!"

[Illustration: ON JIMMY'S POND.]

A pleasant sight was Jimmy's Pond an hour later, when all the party had
assembled. Hildegarde came in regal state, escorted by Colonel Ferrers
and his brother, one walking on either side, while the three tall lads
strode along before, now thoroughly at ease with each other, and Hugh
capered and curveted in the rear. The child had a horse's tail fastened
to his belt behind, and was Pegasus on Helicon, oblivious of all things
earthly.

They found Bell and Gertrude awaiting them, their cheeks already glowing
from a preliminary tour of the pond. In the distance Willy and Kitty
could be seen tugging each other valiantly along, falling and scrambling
down and up. Bell was looking her best, in her trim suit of brown
velveteen, with the pretty little mink cap. Hildegarde thought her
more like a snow-apple than ever, and hoped Jack saw how pretty and
sweet she was. Air-castles are pleasant building, and our Hildegarde had
one well under way already; a castle whose walls should rise to the
sound of music, and in which two happy people should play, play, play,
all day and every day.

Hildegarde herself, in dark blue corduroy trimmed with chinchilla, was
very good to look at, and more than one pair of eyes followed her as she
swept along in graceful curves, holding Hugh's hands in hers.

"A very lovely young creature, Tom!" said Raymond Ferrers, as he stood a
while, after fastening his skates. "Not so beautiful as her mother. I
find Mildred more beautiful than ever, Tom."

"You were always near-sighted, Raymond, you will allow me to observe!"
cried the Colonel, ruffling instantly. "I admire Mrs. Grahame beyond any
woman--of her age--that lives. She is a noble woman, sir! an admirable
creature! But to say that she compares in looks with a blooming creature
like that,--a princess, by Jove! A young Diana, the very sight of whom
makes a man young again. By the way, Raymond," he added, after a pause,
in an altered voice. "I don't know, my dear fellow, whether you have
noticed any--a--resemblance, any look of--eh?"

"Yes, indeed, my dear Tom; I noticed it instantly. Sweet Hester! This
might be her younger sister. Yes! yes! _Tempo passato_, eh, brother? We
are old fellows, but we once were young."

"Stuff and nonsense!" cried the Colonel, throwing off his mood with
sudden violence. "Speak for yourself, sir! If a man chooses to spend his
days hunched over a table, making fiddles, I don't say how things may
turn out with him; but for myself,--here, Young Sir! bring me a
hockey-stick, will you?"

Hugh, prancing by in full career, paused, and surveyed his guardian with
dreamy eyes.

"Hi-hi-hi!" he replied, with a creditable attempt at a whinny.

The Colonel stiffened to "attention."

"What did I understand you to remark, sir?" he inquired. "I experience
a difficulty in following your interesting observation."

"Hi-hi-hi!" repeated the boy. "I am Pegasus; I do not understand your
language. I will find Bellerophon, and send him to you."

He retired a few paces, and gravely removed his tail, then came back,
beaming with cheerfulness, every inch a boy.

"What was it you wanted, Guardian?" he cried. "I was a horse then, you
see, so I really couldn't; please excuse me!"

"I wanted a hockey-stick, sir!" said the Colonel, with some severity.
"And it is my opinion that two-legged horses would better keep their
wits about them.

"A game of hockey, Raymond," here he turned to his brother, "will warm
your blood, and bring back your wits. 'Polo,' they call it nowadays;
parcel of fools! It's my belief that nine-tenths of the human race
to-day don't know what they are talking about. Don't understand their
own language, sir! Polo, indeed! Ha! here are the sticks. Now we shall
see about this 'old fellow' business!"

Indeed, it was a marvellous thing to see the agility of the Colonel in
his favourite sport. He swept here and there, he made the most
astonishing hits, he hooked the ball from under the very noses of the
amazed and delighted boys. Raymond Ferrers, too, after watching the
sport for a few minutes, yielded to the spirit of the hour, and was soon
cutting away with the best of them.

A pleasant sight was Jimmy's Pond, indeed! The pond itself was a thing
of beauty, a disk of crystal dropped down in a hollow of dark woods;
dropped into the middle of this again, a tiny islet, with a group of
slender firs, lovely to behold. And dotted here and there on the shining
gray-silver of the ice, these happy players, young and old, darted
hither and thither, filled with the joy of the hour and the pleasure of
each other's presence.

It might have been interesting, could one have stood invisible on the
bank, to hear the fragments of talk, as the different groups swept by in
the chase. They seemed to drop naturally into couples, without any
special prearrangement. First came the two brothers, intent on the
ball, bent on keeping it ahead of them, and unconscious of anything
else.

"Now, sir!" the Colonel would cry. "Let me see you beat that! Hi! There
she--no! she doesn't! Ha! ha! Beat you that time, sir!

          "'Poor old Raymound,
           Fell into a hay-mound!'

"Do you remember that, sir? Only rhyme I ever made in my life; proud as
a peacock I was of it, sir! And what was the scurrilous verse you made
about me?"

          "'Tommy, Tommy Tantrum,
           Crowing like a bantrum!'"

said his brother, laughing.

"I always call them 'bantrums,' always shall. Aha! Where are you now,
boy? Off she goes!"

Next came Gertrude and Phil, swinging easily along together.

"So glad he is really nice, because he looks so, and it would be so
horrid if he were horrid, wouldn't it, Phil? And Bell says he plays--oh,
wonderfully, you know."

"Playing isn't everything in the world, Toots! But he does seem to be a
good fellow enough. Told us a lot, coming over here, about the way he
lived over in Germany. I say! I'd like to go there! Two or three duels
every day; great sport, it must be!"

Now it was Willy and Kitty, skating away sturdily, with short, energetic
strokes, and holding each other up bravely.

"So he asked me if I would swap with him for another hard one, and I
said yes, if it was hard enough; for this Mexican one, you see, was very
hard indeed. He said it was.

"So I said all right, hand it over. Well, it was just the end of recess,
and he handed it over, all scrumpled up, in a kind of hurry, and I
crammed it into my pocket without looking. And when I came to look at it
after school, it was a mean old three-cent 'Norji.' So I knocked him
down, and it just happened that one of his old teeth was loose, and it
came out. I was glad of it, and so were all the fellows, for he meant to
cheat, you see; that's why I had the black marks."

Now come Jack and Bell, she a little out of breath, being unused to
skating with a giraffe; he all unconscious, discoursing high themes.

"Yes, a good many people play it short, with a kind of choppiness. I
hate to hear a violin chop. But J---- gives it with a long, smooth
crescendo that seems to carry you straight out of the room, you know,
out into the open air, and up among tree-tops. Do you ever feel that
way? You seem to feel the air blowing all about you, and--hear all the
voices that are shut up in the trees and flowers, and can't get out
generally. You know what I mean, I am sure!"

"Yes," says Bell, softly. "But they are all answering to the violin,
don't you think? They would not speak to the piano in that way."

"Depends upon who plays it," says gallant Jack. And Hildegarde, close
behind, hears, and stumbles a little, and catches Gerald's hand,
laughing.

"Take them both!" says Gerald. "Take, incidentally, my heart with them;
unless its size and its lacerated condition would make the burden
unwelcome, Hilda?"

"I doubt if I should notice," says Hildegarde. "Yes, I will take both
hands, Jerry; let us try the outer edge, now. There! that is a
delightful swing! You do skate very well, my child."

"Ah! you should see Roger skate!" cried loyal Gerald; and is rewarded by
seeing a very pretty blush deepen in his companion's bright cheek.

"Good old Codger! I wish he were here, skating with you, Hilda!"

"Thank you!" says Hilda. "I am sorry to incommode you, Gerald. I can
skate perfectly well alone, thank you. There! Don't be absurd, Jerry!
You'll get out of step if you don't take care. Do you think we could do
a figure of eight together? Let's try!"

Last of all, alone, yet in a world peopled with fantastic joys, came
little Hugh. He had his tail on again, and he was skating with a
high-stepping gait, rather more suggestive of trotting than was
compatible with safety. He murmured to himself as he went, and his talk
was far from hockey or any delights of skating.

"Yonder, dear Bellerophon! look yonder, far down below this fleecy
cloud that I am just going to plunge into! Now wait till I get through
it, and you will see. The cloud is all full of monsters, whales, and
crocodiles, and--hairy mammoths; and we have to plunge through them, and
they claw after us and try to catch us. But I switch my tail, dear
Bellerophon" (here he switched the tail vigorously), "and that frightens
them, so that they crawl back into their holes, the ugly things. But
down on the earth there, do you see three little spires of smoke, right
by the mouth of that black hole? That is the Chimæra, Bellerophon! We
have come all the way, and now we are going to have the most terrible
fight that any one ever had,--Samson or Hercules or any one else. Aha!
now is the time, you see, for me to say 'Aha' among the trumpets; that
is why I made you bring your trumpet along. My neck is clothed with
thunder, and I am pawing in the valley. See me paw!"

Alas, for the winged steed! Pawing in the valley is a dangerous pastime
on smooth ice, and unsustained by hind legs. Pegasus, his head high in
air, looking forward to battle and glory, paid little attention to
things at his feet. His skate caught in a crack, and, checked in full
speed, he came heavily to the ground, and lay motionless.

Hildegarde and Gerald heard the crash, and were at his side in a moment,
raising him. The little fellow was stunned, and there was an ugly cut on
his forehead.

"Hugh, dear!" cried Hildegarde. "Is it very bad, little boy? You are all
right now; Jerry and I are here, and you will be feeling better in a
moment."

She took the child's head in her lap, and stanched the blood with her
handkerchief, rubbing his temples gently, while Gerald chafed his hands.
Presently Hugh opened his eyes. At first his look was vacant, but soon
the light came back into the blue eyes, and he tried to smile.

"I pawed too hard!" he whispered. "Beloved, it wasn't the right valley
to paw in."

Hildegarde and Gerald exchanged glances.

"He's a little out!" murmured Gerald. "We'd better get him home as
quick as we can. Phil and I will carry him."

By this time the others, looking back, had seen that something was
wrong, and came hurrying back. Colonel Ferrers turned very white when he
saw Hugh lying motionless, his head pillowed on Hildegarde's lap, and
the red stain on his temple.

"My little boy!" he gasped. "Jack, where are you? The child! The child
is hurt!" Jack was already bending over Hugh; indeed, the anxious group
pressed so close that Hildegarde motioned them to back.

"I don't think he is much hurt," she said, looking up at the Colonel,
and speaking as cheerfully as she could. "He spoke to me just now,
Colonel Ferrers. He was stunned by the fall. I don't think the cut
amounts to anything, really."

"No," said Jack, who had been examining the cut, "this isn't anything,
Uncle Tom. It's the shock that is the trouble, and he'll be over that in
a minute. You're better already, aren't you, old chap?"

Hugh opened his eyes again, but slowly, as if it were an effort.

"How do you do?" he said, politely. "Yes, I am better, thank you, but
not quite well yet. You did not seem to understand what I said, so I
thought I would wait till I could speak better."

Seeing Jack look bewildered, Gerald whispered, "He was talking nonsense.
He takes you for me now; it was to me he was talking."

"I was not talking nonsense!" said Hugh, clearly. "I said I had been
pawing in the valley, and that this was not the right valley to paw in.
It wasn't! My Beloved will understand what I mean, if she uses her
mind."

"He was a horse!" cried the Colonel. "Astonishing thing, that nobody can
understand that child, when he is speaking perfectly rationally. He was
a horse, I tell you! Whinnied at me, sir, when I asked him to get me a
hockey-stick. Try it again, Boy! Let's hear you once more, eh?"

Hugh smiled, but could not do more than shake his head.

"Thank you for explaining, Guardian!" he said. "I was Pegasus, you see,
and Bellerophon and I were just going to plunge down through the clouds
and kill the Chimæra; but I forgot where I was for a minute, and began
to paw in the valley, and say 'Aha!' and, of course, the cloud broke
through, and down we went. I hope dear Bellerophon isn't hurt."

"Bellerophon is all right!" said Jack. "Right as a trivet. He says he
thinks you'd better go home, old man; he thinks it will be better
Chimæra-hunting to-morrow, anyhow."

"Yes! yes!" cried the Colonel, making a brave effort to enter into the
child's idea.

"Go back to the stable, Boy,--I mean Dobbin, or whatever your name is,
and--and have some hay!"

But Hugh's brow contracted.

"Pegasus didn't eat hay!" he murmured, still leaning against
Hildegarde's shoulder.

"No, dear," said the girl. "The Colonel did not mean hay; he meant
asphodels and amaranth and moly."

"That sounds better," said Hugh.

"I say," whispered Gerald, who was beginning to recover from his alarm,
"you know, I suppose, that asphodel is a kind of pigweed?"

"Hush! Yes! There is no need of the child's knowing it yet. How shall we
get him home, Jack?"

"But I will walk home!" cried Hugh, hearing the last words. "I will
perhaps trot home, only slowly."

He tried to rise, but sank back again.

"It appears as if there were wheels in my head," he murmured. "They go
round too fast."

"Of course they do," said Jack, in the most matter-of-fact way. "I'm
going to harness myself into them, and take you home that way. Put him
up on my back, will you, Merryweather? So! there we are!"

Delighted to find himself in the once familiar position, Hugh looked up
to smile at the anxious Colonel, who stood wiping his brow, and wishing
for once that he were twenty and a giraffe.

"I'm all right now, Guardian!" he said. "All right, Beloved! My Jack is
an ostrich again, and I am not Pegasus any more just now. I am only
Hugh. Good-bye! Good hunting!"

"Only Hugh!" repeated Colonel Ferrers, gazing after the two, as they
went across the field, Jack walking steadily, with long, even steps,
very different from his usual hop-skip-and-jump method of progression.

"Only Hugh! Only the greater part of the world--eh? what are you saying,
Hilda, my dear?"

"Only that we will go home together, dear Colonel Ferrers!" said
Hildegarde, who had already taken off her skates. "We will go back
together, and the others can follow whenever they are ready. We shall
find him comfortable already, with Mrs. Beadle tucking him up in bed,
and talking about chicken broth and wine jelly, neither of which he will
need in the least. Come, dear sir!"

"I will come!" said the Colonel. "You are a good child, Hilda! I--I am
rather shaken, I believe. I will come with pleasure, my love! Be good
enough to take my arm!"



CHAPTER XIII.

MERRY CHRISTMAS.


HILDEGARDE awoke in the dark, with the sound of bells in the air. Her
first thought was that of all women in similar case--fire! She sat up in
bed and listened; but these were no fire-bells that rang so joyously,
breaking through the hush of the winter morning with glad rejoicing.
"Glory to the newly born!" she said, softly, and was silent for a
little. Presently she waved her hand in a comprehensive greeting to the
friends on walls and shelves, whom she could not yet see.

"Merry Christmas!" she cried. "Merry Christmas, Sir Walter! Merry
Christmas, Viscount, and you too, Saint William! What a pity I cannot
say it in Dutch!"

She hummed a carol to herself, as she recalled the night before,
Christmas Eve, which she had spent with the Merryweathers. They had
gone together to the carol service at the little church, which they had
all helped to make beautiful with spruce and fir and hemlock. After that
they sang hymns and carols at home, in full chorus, with such hearty
good-will and earnest feeling as it was a joy to remember; and then came
the hanging of the stockings. An only child for so long, Hildegarde had
never seen before the bewildering, enchanting bustle of Christmas Eve in
a large family; the hanging of the stockings, six in a row, the whole
length of the great fireplace in the nursery; the delightful mysteries,
the parcels which no one saw, the whisperings which no one heard save
those to whom they were addressed, the tiptoeing hither and thither, the
rustle of tissue-paper,--ah! it was all very pleasant! The kind friends
had begged her to stay with them, and share the morning fun, which they
declared to be the best of all; but that Hildegarde could not do.

"Mamma and I have only each other!" she said. "You would not really have
me leave her alone, dear people!" and the Merryweathers were obliged to
confess that they would not, upon any account. So they had parted, with
many plans and promises for the next day,--the great, the blessed day of
the year. And now it was here! and oh, was it--could it really be
snowing?

Hildegarde listened, and heard a sound as of fairy hands beating softly
on the window-panes. It was growing lighter every moment, but the light
came through a soft, white dimness. Hildegarde ran to the window; the
ground was white, the dark branches of the evergreens were bending under
a weight of snow, and it was snowing still, not furiously, but in a
quiet, determined way, that meant business. Oh, joy! At last, the
longed-for winter had come! This ungrateful girl had already received
many favours from the Frost King; she had skated, she had had icicles to
eat, she had broken through the ice, and got a good wetting,--still she
was not content, but longed for snow; and now she had her heart's
desire.

          "And we'll all go tobogganing,
           Bog, bog, bogganing!"

she sang, as she dressed herself, stopping now and then to dance about
the room a little when she felt cold; for the morning was evidently
sharp, and the cold had got into the house in good earnest.

Running down-stairs, she found the breakfast-room warm and bright with a
crackling, leaping fire on the hearth. Mrs. Grahame was already down,
and her long, silent embrace was the first and best Christmas greeting.
Then it was "Merry Christmas!" and again "Merry Christmas!" as Auntie
came into the room, bringing the fragrant coffee, and the tray piled
high with good things.

"Oh, and the mail has come!" cried Hildegarde, fairly dancing round the
table to her place. "See, my love! Letters from everybody, heaps upon
heaps! Oh, what joy!"

There were greetings from all the distant friends, it seemed; from all
the good people at Bywood, from Rose and Doctor Flower, from the dear
old couple at Hartley's Glen.

"Oh, how good every one is!" cried Hildegarde. "And here is a
parcel--Mammina, what can this be? It looks like Aunt Emily's hand."

"It seems a desperate measure to propose," said Mrs. Grahame, "but I
_have_ heard of parcels being opened in such a case. I should not wish
to influence you--"

"Oh, my dear!" cried the girl, who had been acting on the suggestion,
and undoing the box tied carefully with floss silk. "My Respected
Parent, will you look at this?"

It was the prettiest watch, surely, that ever was seen, set with blue
enamel and pearls; and with it came a stately little note, assuring "my
grandniece" that this was a slight return indeed for the pleasure that
she had given to her affectionate E. D.

"Poor dear Aunt Emily!" cried Hildegarde. "She has so little pleasure, I
suppose every little attention counts for a good deal. Oh, aren't you
glad we sent her the Mechlin tabs? She and Hobson will have good times
over them, I am sure. Well, Auntie, what now?"

Auntie brought in a huge box. "Dis ain't for you, Miss Hildy, chile, dis
for you' Ma. You can' 'spec' to have everyt'ing, young lady!"

"Flowers, Mammina! Oh, the lovely things! Do let me see--From Mr.
Raymond Ferrers! The dear thing! Why, we shall be a perfect bower, for I
know the Colonel is going to send you a box. Dear me! What a delightful
time we are having, aren't we, love?"

"If you don't eat your breakfast, Hilda, I shall have all these things
taken away, and kept till dinner."

"Oh, I will eat, I will indeed! See me! Observe me sacrificing myself to
rolls and orange marmalade! But do you see that it is snowing, my own?
And do you know what that means? Tobogganing this afternoon, if there is
any faith in Merryweathers."

Hildegarde was so excited it was really difficult for her to eat
anything like enough to satisfy the demands of Auntie.

"You ain't goin' to no chu'ch on no empty stomick!" that potentate
announced; and she actually stood over Hildegarde till a fair portion of
her good things was disposed of. Then, when church-time came, she must
see personally that both her "Missies" were properly wrapped, and
properly toasted before going out.

"You ain't no right to go out at all, Mis' Grahame, and you knows it
well as I do; but dere ain't no holdin' you some times, and dis is one
of 'em, I know. Nothin' for old woman to do, 'cept just see dat you's
fixed up right. You' bonnet ain't straight, mum; I should go crazy if
you started out like ob dat."

The chore-man had already been at work with shovel and broom, so that
there was a path cleared through the snow to the road; the snow was
already quite deep, and Hildegarde and her mother were glad of their
high snow-boots, as they picked their way along. Hildegarde stopped
every other moment to take a handful of snow from some hanging branch,
sometimes to eat it, oftener to toss it in the air for pure joy. It was
beautiful snow, soft and dry, the crystals showing with exquisite
distinctness.

"I feel about ten years old, darling!" the girl announced, as she
frisked hither and thither.

"So I perceive!" said Mrs. Grahame, who was walking soberly along, even
deigning to protect her bonnet with a prosaic umbrella.

"I feel rather doubtful about taking you, Hildegarde. Suppose you should
turn round and smile at the little boy behind you, as you did the first
time I took you to church!"

But by the time they reached the old stone church, Hildegarde was grave
enough. This was the best of all, she said to herself, as she took her
place in the choir, and heard Bell's firm touch on the keys of the organ
behind her.

The Pastoral Symphony! Hildegarde gave a long sigh of pure happiness,
and leaned back in her seat. She might have known Bell would play it!
She knew that her friend was to take the organist's place during the
Christmas vacation; but she did not know that somehow, in all the hurry
and happy bustle of yesterday, two young musicians had contrived, by
hook or by crook, to get an hour's practice together in the church, as a
Christmas surprise for her very own self, and when, above the deep,
throbbing tones of the organ, rose the exquisite voice of the violin,
Hildegarde felt her cup very full indeed, and hardly tried to check the
thankful tears that sprang to her eyes. The church was full of the warm
fragrance of balsam fir; the long garlands of green clothed the old gray
walls with a lovely grace; she saw her mother's face in the pew near by;
the music soared heavenward and her soul mounted with it. "Glory to God
in the highest, and on earth peace, good-will to men!" When it came her
turn to sing, she felt heaven near, indeed, and the peace of blessedness
descending on her.

By noon it had stopped snowing; by three o'clock the sky was clear and
the world lay white and glittering, a new thing under a sky of crystal.

"Just like the biggest plummy cake that ever was baked!" cried Willy
Merryweather as he capered about before his toboggan. The clan was
gathering for the first tobogganing of the season. Here was Mr.
Merryweather, tall and stalwart, in a fur cap big enough for the Czar of
all the Russias; Here were all the children, big and little, in "muffs
and furs and fluffs," all rosy and happy and beaming; here was
Hildegarde, in moccasins, and the prettiest scarlet blanket-suit;
finally, here was Jack Ferrers, striding across the fields at a
tremendous rate when he saw that the others were waiting for him.

"Oh, Jack! couldn't Hugh come?" cried Hildegarde, as her cousin came up.
"He looked pretty pale this morning, I thought, dear little fellow! Is
he feeling badly to-day?"

Hugh had not been like himself since the fall on the ice. He had a good
deal of headache, and seemed heavy and drowsy, not at all his own bright
self. Hildegarde spoke anxiously, and Jack answered her look as well as
her question.

"Not much the matter, I hope, but Uncle Tom thought he'd better keep
quiet this afternoon, so as to be all fit for the tree this evening. His
head does ache, Hilda, but he says it isn't bad, and he sent you all
kinds of messages, and said you were to have twice as good a time, for
his sake, as you would have had if he had been on hand. Poor little
chap! I promised him I would give you a famous time; so come on, Hilda,
and don't let me see those grave looks any more."

"You are darkening the sky, Hilda," cried Gerald, "and we can't have our
Christmas sunshine spoiled! Look at the Pater! Isn't he immense? Like a
Russian Boyar, or a Wallachian Hospodar, or something of that kind."

"We might all find some good, snowy title!" said Bell. "You shall be a
Starosta, Jerry, and Phil a Voevoda, and Mr. Ferrers a Magyar."

"Oh, there are plenty more titles!" said Jack. "We must have a Sotnik,
and a Hetman, and a--"

"Who is coming tobogganing?" cried Mr. Merryweather. "Is this a
_conversazione_, or an expedition?"

They all started off, talking and laughing, for the nearest hill. They
chose the well-known slope that swept round the foot of Braeside, beyond
the stone wall that separated it from Roseholme. Climbing the slope,
Hildegarde remembered the first time she had climbed it, and how she
climbed a tree, too, and was caught by Colonel Ferrers in the act, and
taken for a marauding boy. How long ago it all seemed; and how strange
to think of their ever having been strangers to their dear Colonel, or
to any of the good friends who had grown so near and so dear.

At the top, they paused to draw breath, for the ascent was steep; then
Mr. Merryweather, as commander-in-chief, marshalled his forces, and
arranged them in line of march.

"Let me see! Hilda, will you come with me? and Gertrude? So! Now, Phil,
you shall take Bell and Kitty; and you and Mr. Ferrers, Gerald, take the
little one. There! How will that do?"

All declared themselves satisfied, and proceeded to take their places on
the toboggans. The girls tucked up their skirts carefully, the boys
pressed their caps down firmly over their ears.

"All ready?" asked the Chief. "Now then! one, two, three--off!"

Down swept the toboggans; down, down, down! Hildegarde was clutching Mr.
Merryweather's leather belt, and she felt as if it were the only thing
that kept her from flying off entirely. The swift motion took her
breath away; the light snow, puffing in her face, rising up in clouds on
every side, half blinded her. On and on, gliding now over the long
meadow at the foot of the hill, still with the flight of an arrow; till
at last, with a skilful turn, they were brought up alongside the stone
wall that bounded the field, and landed in a good soft drift.

Up they all jumped, rosy and snow-powdered, shouting with glee.

"Oh! wasn't it glorious!" cried Hildegarde. "We kept the lead, didn't
we, Mr. Merryweather? And I kept the top of my head on, which is more
than could have been expected. I really never felt anything so
delightful in my life. Where are Jack and Gerald?"

"There they come! They went round the other way, down the steep side."

"The steep side! Oh, me! Is there a steeper side? Why, they must have
turned somersaults all the way down. Oh! oh, my poor dears!"

The boys came round the curve in fine style, shooting straight as a
dart, both leaning back, and evidently enjoying themselves to the full.
Suddenly, as if propelled by some invisible engine, they shot into the
air, the toboggan followed, and for a moment there was an extraordinary
vision of legs and arms, caps and splinters, all whirling together. Then
they plunged into an enormous drift, and disappeared.

The girls cried out in terror, but Mr. Merryweather and Phil shouted
with laughter, and ran to the spot.

"Gone to ground!" they cried. "Dig 'em out, Phil!" cried the Chief.
"Here's a foot; give a good pull, now!"

Phil gave a vigorous pull, and was rewarded by a kick which sent him
sprawling on his back in the snow. Then, laughing and spluttering, the
boys emerged from the drift, rubbing the snow from their eyes, and
shaking it from their clothing.

"I say!" cried Jack. "What do you keep in this field, sir? Was it a
torpedo, or an electric eel?"

"It's your uncle's field, young man!" replied Mr. Merryweather. "I
suspect it was nothing more than a rock, however. I thought the hill
was all smooth grass."

"You might try it, sir!" said Gerald. "If there is a sound bone in my
body, write me down Hollander. How are you, Ferrers? Anything broken?"

"No, indeed! Lost a button, and--where is my other mitten? Oh! thank
you, Hilda! Did we make a pretty picture, flying through the air?"

"Lovely!" said Hilda. "If I had only had my camera! But I was really
frightened. I am hardly sure now that you are not killed, you did go so
very hard!"

"The toboggan _is_ killed!" said Gerald, ruefully. "Kindling-wood, poor
old thing! Just look at it!" He dragged to light some forlorn remnants,
which certainly did not look as if they could be of service again save
in some humble capacity.

"Too bad!" said his father. "Fortune of war, my boy! But there is plenty
of room for you and Ferrers on the two others. We must see about this
stone, and get it out of the way."

Search revealed a big, jagged stone, so fitted into the slope of the
hill that the snow had lain smoothly over it; but it had caught the
toboggan in mid-flight. It was soon torn from its bed, rolled down the
hill, and deposited on the other side of the wall. Then they all climbed
the hill again, trying as they went to sing the Tobogganing Song;
failing for lack of breath, panting, singing again, and all the while
struggling upward, laughing and chattering and pelting each other with
the soft snow.

          "When the field lies clear in the moon, boy,
             And the wood hangs dark on the hill,
           When the long white way shows never a sleigh,
             And the sound of the bells is still,

          "Then hurry, hurry, hurry!
             And bring the toboggans along!
           A last 'Never fear!' to Mother-my-dear,
             Then off with a shout and a song.

          "A-tilt on the billowy slope, boy,
             Like a boat that bends to the sea,
           With the heart a-tilt in your breast, boy,
             And your chin well down on your knee,

          "Then over, over, over,
             As the boat skims over the main,
           A plunge and a swoop, a gasp and a whoop,
             And away o'er the glittering plain!

          "The boat, and the bird, and the breeze, boy,
             Which the poet is apt to sing,
           Are old and slow and clumsy, I know,
             By us that have never a wing.

          "Still onward, onward, onward,
             Till the brook joins the meadow below,
           And then with a shout, see us tumbling out,
             To plunge in the feathery snow.

          "Back now by the side of the hedge, boy,
             Where the roses in summer grow,
           Where the snow lies deep o'er their winter sleep,
             Up, up the big hill we go.

          "And stumbling, tumbling, stumbling,
             Hurrah! 'tis the top we gain!
           Draw breath for a minute before you begin it--
             Now over, and over again!"

"How are you, noble Hetman?" said Hildegarde, finding herself near
Gerald, as they gained the top of the hill. "Aren't you all full of
snow, my poors, and very cold and wet?"

"'Oh, days of me boyhood, I'm dreamin' of ye now!'" quoted Gerald. "I
never thought that my mother's words would come true in my person:

          "'Woffsky-poffsky, Woffsky-poffsky,
             Once he was a Cossack hetman;
           But he fell into the Dnieper,
             And became a Cossack wetman.'

"And to speak sooth, sweet chuck, there may be a matter of half a bushel
of snow--if you measure it by bushels,--it's a matter of fancy--down my
manly back at this moment."

"Oh, Gerald! But do go home, my dear, and change your things! You will
get your death of cold, if you go about in this state."

"I'll move into the adjoining territory at once!" said Gerald. "But calm
yourself, angelic being! Consider that in this manner I avoid all danger
of sunstroke! Every man his own refrigerator; patent applied for; no
Irish need apply."

"What is the use of talking to people like this!" cried Hildegarde.
"Jack, are you as wet as that? Because if you are,--"

"As wet as what?" said Jack. "I am not, anyhow, if you are going to
look at me in that way. Just wet enough to cool me off delightfully;
very sultry to-day, don't you think so?"

"Mr. Merryweather," cried Hildegarde. "Will you use your authority,
please, and try to get some sense out of these boys? They are both wet
through to the skin, and they will not--"

"Wet, are they?" said the Chief, cheerily. "Best thing in the world for
'em, my dear! Quicken the circulation, and keep the pores open. Now
then, boys and girls, we must pack closer this time. Sit close, Kitty!
Hilda, hold tight, my dear! All ready? Now, one, two, three, and off we
go!"

And off they went.



CHAPTER XIV.

BELLEROPHON.


"ALL ready, boys?" asked the Colonel.

"All ready!" responded the boys, namely, Raymond Ferrers, aged sixty,
Jack Ferrers, aged twenty, and Hugh Allen, aged nine. Barring more or
less difference in height, and a trifle of gray hair in one case, they
all appeared of much the same age; nor had the Colonel, evidently, a day
the advantage of them. On the contrary, he was the youngest of the four,
as he walked round and round the Christmas Tree, poking among the
branches, readjusting a string of pop-corn here, or a glittering
ornament there. It was their own tree, every twig, every needle of it
their own. Not Hildegarde herself, nor her mother, nor any Merryweather,
had had a word to say, or knew a single detail about it. They were
invited,--they were coming; that was their part; all the rest had
belonged to the four boys. Had they not gone in town together, and gone
to Schwartz's, and bought out the greater part of the shop? And had they
not spent the greater part of the day (save dinner-time, and
church-time, and the hour that Jack had taken for tobogganing) in
decorating their plaything, and tying on the presents? Surely, such a
tree had never been seen! It glittered from top to toe with icicles; it
shone with globes of gold and silver; it was powdered with diamond snow,
and hung with golden nuts; silver cobwebs draped it, hanging in long
festoons from every bough, while round and round, in graceful festoons,
went the long garlands of snowy pop-corn. Now nothing was left to do,
save to light the candles; and still the Colonel walked and looked,
puffing with pleasure, and still Brother Raymond followed at his heels,
and Jack followed Raymond, and Hugh kept close behind Jack. And
Elizabeth Beadle, surveying this scene from the depth of the hall, was
so moved by it that she retired to the kitchen and wept for a quarter of
an hour, for pure joy.

"Sure you have the pail of water handy, Jack?"

"Yes, sir, quite sure! Stepped into it just now."

"Then you had it footy, not handy!" murmured Hugh. His guardian turned,
and looked anxiously at the boy.

"Hum, ha!" he said. "Talk a little nonsense, eh, Young Sir? That's
right! Feel quite well this evening, hey?"

Hugh certainly did not look well. His rosy color was gone, and there
were dark circles under his blue eyes; but he answered so brightly, and
was so full of joy and delightful anticipation, that Colonel Ferrers
smiled even as he sighed, and turned to his brother.

"Pretty sight, Raymond?" he said, for perhaps the twentieth time.
"Pretty custom, eh? Give you my word, sir, I haven't enjoyed anything so
much for years."

"If you go on at this rate, Tom," rejoined his brother, "you will be in
short jackets again in a year or two. After all, what is there in the
world so good as youth, my dear fellow? Let us hold it fast, say I, as
long as we can!"

"Yes!" growled the Colonel. "But you wouldn't have said that before you
came here, Raymond Ferrers; and I shouldn't have said it before
Hildegarde Grahame came here,--"

"And her mother!" put in Raymond.

"And her mother, of course!" cried the Colonel, testily. "She never
thought of coming here without her mother, did she? Don't be a quibbler,
my good fellow! If there is one thing I find it difficult to have
Christian patience with, it is a quibbler. I tell you, sir, that before
those people came here my life was a stagnant fish-pond, sir; with no
fish in it, either, and--and it shows what a young woman can do, sir,
when she is willing just to _be_ a young woman, and to minister
cheerfulness and joy and--and affection to the people around her. Three
years ago I had not a friend in the world,--or thought I had not, which
amounts to the same thing,--except a round-shouldered fiddle-maker in
another State, whom I never expected to see again. I was morose, sir! I
was unfit for human companionship! And now--" the Colonel stopped to
wipe his eye-glasses, and blew his nose portentously--"now I have a son
in my own house,--two sons just now, for if you pretend that Jack is
more your son than mine, I scoff at you, sir, and I deride you!--and a
daughter close by, who will come to me if my little finger aches. And to
that daughter, sir,--under Providence," and the Colonel bowed his head
and dropped his voice,--"to Hildegarde Grahame, I owe all this, and
more. So I say,--"

"Here they come!" cried Hugh, who had been watching from the window.
"Here they all come, Guardian! My Beloved and her mother, and after them
all the others. Oh! but Captain Roger is not with them!"

The four hosts hurried out into the hall to meet their guests, and many
and warm were the greetings. Hildegarde in white, Bell in pink, and
Gertrude in blue, looked like a posy of fresh flowers, and Kitty like
the little rosebud she was. Mrs. Merryweather and Mrs. Grahame were
already taking off their wraps, and Miles Merryweather and Phil brought
up the rear, with Willy.

"Where's the Professor?" cried the hospitable Colonel, rubbing his
hands. "Where is Professor Roger? I was definitely promised that he
would be here."

Where was Roger? Hildegarde's heart echoed the question; and though she
greeted the Colonel with her own bright smile, it was rather an effort
to be as gay as usual; for the disappointment had been severe. Roger had
telegraphed that he would be with them that afternoon without fail; and
now all the trains had come and gone, and no Roger had come. All the
Merryweathers were crying out, and saying that some tiresome man of
science must have captured him, and carried him off. Hildegarde was only
a little more silent than usual; she slipped quietly into the
drawing-room, and took her seat by Mr. Raymond Ferrers, whose smile
always seemed like a kind of sublimated music,--music that soothed while
it cheered. But when she saw her little Hugh, with his pale face, and
the suffering look in his dear blue eyes, she reproached herself for a
selfish, unloving girl, and went and sat with her arm round the child,
looking affectionately and anxiously at him, and listening to his story
of the joy of the blessed day.

"And Gerald?" now cried the Colonel. "Am I to be robbed of half my
guests, I ask you? Mrs. Merryweather, my dear madam, this is positively
unfriendly, I must inform you. A Christmas Tree without Gerald
Merryweather,--the idea is incongruous! I can say nothing more."

"Oh, Colonel Ferrers, that is my fault!" cried Hildegarde. "Gerald will
be here in a moment; he ought to be here now, indeed. I very carelessly
forgot something,--a little parcel that I wanted to bring,--and Gerald
was so kind as to go back for it."

"Quite right, my child!" said the Colonel. "Of course you sent him!
Preposterous if you had done anything else." He bustled off, and
Hildegarde turned to look out of the window; for truth to tell, the
parcel that she had left behind contained a little gift for the Colonel
himself (it was a copy of "Underwoods." Hildegarde would have given
copies of "Underwoods" to all her friends, if she could have afforded
it), and she wanted to catch the first glimpse of Gerald. How long he
was in coming! They were lighting the candles, Hugh whispered her; Jack
and Mr. Raymond Ferrers and Mr. Merryweather were to light them as soon
as the party was assembled. Gerald was wanted to take the second tenor
in the carol. Why had she been so careless? Ah! there he was at last!

Hildegarde ran out to the porch, to receive the precious parcel.

"Oh," she cried, "how long you have been, child! I thought you would
never come!"

"So did I," said a voice that certainly did not belong to Gerald, "but
that is no reason why you should be out here with nothing on your head,
and the thermometer at zero."

Hildegarde felt her two hands grasped, and herself drawn firmly back
into the house.

"They do not take proper care of you!" said Roger. "And are you glad to
see me, Hilda?"

Everything seemed misty to Hildegarde after that. She heard the
welcomes and rejoicings; heard Gerald's voice of panting
apology,--"Couldn't keep up with the Codger, you know! Couldn't, 'pon my
word, he was in such a hurry!"--and received the Colonel's book in time
to tie it on the tree. She took her part in the carol, too, and wondered
that her voice should be so strong, and not tremble, as the rest of her
seemed to be trembling. Yes, and she saw the glorious Tree, in all its
splendour, and helped untie the presents, and sat with her lap full of
pretty things, sharing the wild delight of Will and Kitty, and the
quieter raptures of Hugh.

Yes, the lion was truly splendid; she had never heard such a roar, or
seen such a mane. She should really be afraid to come to Pumpkin House,
if she would be in danger of meeting him on the stairs. And Hugh's fleet
was a joy, and,--yes, certainly they would go sailing together; and
they'd go to the Dee, and the Jellybolee, over the land and over the
sea--

And all the time, the girl felt that she was in a dream, in which the
only real thing was the tall, broad-shouldered figure that moved so
lightly and cheerfully among the rest; was the deep, sweet voice that
was talking, explaining, parrying, the attack of the Colonel and all his
own family?

"Well, but it is true, my dear Miranda. I could not have helped it;
really I could not. No, I dined with no other friends. I dined on a cold
sausage, at a railway restaurant. I have travelled day and night to get
here, and I do not mean to be abused for my efforts. There was a railway
accident,--"

"An accident! Oh, Roger! are you hurt? Where are you hurt? How did it
happen? Tell us all about it? Whose fault was it? Was any one killed?"

Thus the Merryweathers in chorus, with Colonel Ferrers thundering a
bass. Roger Merryweather looked from one to the other; his eyes
twinkled, but he was silent.

"Well, sir?" cried his brother Miles, in a fine baritone solo.

"Well, sir!" retorted Roger. "I thought you were all doing it so
beautifully, it was a pity to interrupt. No,--no one was hurt. A
freight train broke down, and blocked all the trains on the road. The
delay was apparently endless; there seemed no particular reason why we
should ever go on. Finally, I ran ahead, and found the engineer of the
night express, the first train in the block, fighting mad, and vowing
that he would plough his way through the freight train, if they didn't
get it out of the road in five minutes. A lot of us took hold in good
earnest, and in ten minutes the track was free. Then the express driver
found that his fireman was hurt,--I forgot him! He was really the only
one,--and he was madder than ever, and said he could not go on without a
fireman. So I said I was his fireman, and his long-lost uncle besides;
and I jumped on, and off we went. It was an exhilarating ride. We were
an hour late, and we made up half of it; but that did not let me make my
connections. Finally, here am I; the question is, are you glad to see
me, or shall I go back?"

Well, there seemed little doubt that they were glad to see him. It
seemed to Hildegarde, still sitting in her corner, with Hugh's hand in
hers, as if the other children would fairly devour him; and the elders
were not much better. Miles must hear all about the mines, and piled
question upon question till his brother cried for mercy. Will and Kitty
hung about his neck, Bell and Gertrude could hardly take their eyes off
him. Only Gerald, after the first moment, came and sat by Hildegarde,
and asked if he should not take Hugh, and if she did not want to go and
join the others.

"No!" cried Hildegarde. "Go yourself, Jerry, and hear all about it. I--I
shall hear it all another time."

"I met him, you see!" said Gerald, guiltily. "I heard it all as--as we
came from the other house. We came along together, and then he--he got
ahead of me somehow, and came in first."

Hildegarde heard him, but only half understood what he said. Now,
however, there came a change in the boy's voice, and he rose hastily.

"I--I think I will go, Hilda, if you really don't mind,--if you will
excuse me. I think Phil wants me for something--"

He vanished, and Hildegarde turned to find Roger at her elbow.

"I have a little gift for you," he was saying. "I--I won't give it to
you to-night, I think, but bring it to-morrow, if I may. It is something
I made myself, and I am rather proud of it. May I come to-morrow
morning? Oh, it is good to be at home again! Good to see what one has
been dreaming about for all these--"

"Supper! supper!" cried the Colonel, rubbing his hands. "Come, young
folks! the tree is stripped, and now for an honest, old-fashioned
supper. None of your kickshaws and folderols! No flummery, that leaves a
man tired and hungry when he leaves the table. Food, my dear madam, is
one of the blessings--what was it this Boy said about food the other
day, Raymond? Hugh, you understand, Mrs. Grahame; more and more
astonishing that child grows, as he grows older. He was disappointed the
other day,--Hildegarde could not come as he expected, or something
happened,--hum, ha! And he was distressed; a good deal distressed. Then
he ate his supper,--ate it like a man, and I told him so, sir, and
congratulated him on keeping his appetite. He looks up at me, and says
he, 'Food stops sorrow!' His very expression, give you my word! Food
stops sorrow! Ha, ha! so it does, my dear madam, so it does! This way,
if you please! Hildegarde, my child, you will bring the Boy? He is--hum,
ha!--not quite up to concert pitch to-night. Nothing much the
matter,--growing boys, eh, Mrs. Grahame? Come on, all hands!"

Well, the supper was great, and the games were glorious. Hildegarde did
her very best to appear just as usual, and, indeed, no one who had seen
her flying down the long drawing-room in the Virginia reel (the Colonel
had engaged her for it a month before) would have thought her anything
but the gayest of the gay; but, happy though she was, the world still
seemed misty, the rooms confused, the talk mere babble; and she was
glad, for once, when the frolic was over, and the greetings said, and
she was at home once more, in her own quiet room.

There was a cosy little fire burning on the hearth, and late though it
was, Hildegarde was in no mood for going to bed. She sat down by the
window and looked out. The snow lay clear and white in the moonlight;
here and there the dark evergreens rose like steadfast guardians; all
was peaceful and lovely. Lovely! How brown and handsome he looked! And
had he really been glad to see her? She thought so; yes, surely he was
glad, only somebody interrupted him every time he came near her. Of
course, selfish creature that she was! They were his own dear people, he
was theirs; he belonged to them. They had not seen him for months, and
how preposterous of her to expect to have any of his time the very first
evening. Besides, he said particularly that he was coming in the
morning. Would the day be fair? But men did not mind weather, certainly
not the Merryweather men. And--and her mother would be so glad to have a
good talk with him.

Were they all asleep now, the good, merry neighbours? They made a good
deal of noise sometimes, but they all meant so well, and were so hearty
and genuine. Gerald was the most like Roger, after all; she had never
noticed before how much alike they were. Dear Jerry! He had always been
her favourite, though Phil was as nice as he could be, and, of course,
she was very, very fond of Bell, and all of them. How perfectly clear
and still it was! Silver and pearl and diamond,--oh, what beauty!

          "Deep on the convent roof the snows
           Are sparkling to the moon."

She wondered if her white dress was really the one she should have worn,
or whether--whether any one would have thought the pink one prettier.
No; he always liked white; she remembered his saying so. There was a
light in the corner room of Pumpkin House; ah, yes! it was Roger's room.
Such a funny room, all full of minerals and dried specimens, and with
lengths of copper wire hanging all about the walls. Jerry said that
Roger had put them there against the time he should be crossed in love,
so that he could hang himself whenever he felt like it. What was it he
had brought for her? A specimen, probably. No! for he had made it
himself. What was he doing now, she wondered. Oh, it was so good, so
good, to know that he was near, and that she should see him in the
morning!

"But now," said Hildegarde, shaking her shoulders, and pulling herself
together, "you are going to bed, miss! Let me have no more of this
ridiculous moon-gazing, do you hear? Have you any sense? Take one look
at the white glory of it, and then off with you!"

Wrapping a shawl round her (for she was still in her white evening
dress, though it was an hour and more since she came back from
Roseholme), she opened the window for an instant,--softly, for fear of
rousing her mother, and leaned out, to take one deep draught of the
magical beauty of the night. As she gazed, held as with a charm,--what
was that, that seemed to move by the corner of the hedge? What was it,
white against the snow, that was stealing along by the garden wall,
silent as a dream? Was she, indeed, dreaming? Hildegarde's heart stood
still for a moment. A little figure came forward now across the
lawn,--it stood out clear against the dark firs. Good heavens! It was
little Hugh! Barefoot, in his white nightgown, his head held high, his
eyes gazing straight forward, the child came on, with swift, certain
steps. One more glance told Hildegarde the truth; he was walking in his
sleep.

[Illustration: "A LITTLE FIGURE ... STOOD OUT CLEAR AGAINST THE DARK
FIRS."]

In a flash she had stolen down the stairs, only stopping to snatch a
warm cloak from the hall as she went. The bar and chain delayed her, for
she dared not strike a match,--her mother's light sleep was too
precious,--still, it seemed only an instant before she was on the lawn,
gazing wildly about her. The child was gone! An instant she stood
undecided; was it possible that the whole had been a vision, a
hallucination, brought on by excitement and fatigue? No! For here were
the little footprints in the snow.

Oh, the little, tender feet, stung by the bitter cold! How was it
possible that the touch of the snow had not waked him? But here was her
clue; in another moment, surely, she should have him in her arms.
Breathless and panting, Hildegarde ran round the corner of the house,
following those little white tracks--and stopped. The footsteps broke
off short. Looking up, bewildered, she uttered a low cry of terror. Hugh
was climbing up the wall. This part of the house was low, a kind of shed
or outhouse, seldom used. It was easy climbing enough, a window-sill
here, a cornice there, and a spout that ran the whole way up to the
shingled roof. Hildegarde had climbed it herself, in pursuit of a
runaway kitten; if the child would only stop at the shed roof she could
easily follow him. But above rose the steep-pitched upper roof! What
should she do if he went on? What should she do? She dared not call, for
now the little figure, steadily climbing upward, stood on the shed roof;
hesitated a moment, turned half towards her,--then turned back, and set
his foot on the short ladder that led to the upper roof. Instantly
Hildegarde's knee was on the first low window-sill. She was reaching up,
on the point of raising herself to her feet, when she started violently,
and nearly lost her balance. A hand was laid on her shoulder; a steady,
restraining hand.

"What upon earth does this mean?" asked Roger Merryweather.

His voice was stern, or Hildegarde fancied it so; she answered like a
child:

"I am going after Hugh!"

"Going after--" began Roger, stupefied. Then following her upward
gesture, he broke off short.

"Go into the house, my child!" he said, quickly, in his own kind tone.
"Go at once; you must not stay out another moment in this thin dress. I
will bring him to you in the house. It will be only a minute now, and he
will be quite safe."

With that he was up like a cat, clinging here, springing there, never
pausing, never seeming to take his eyes from the little white figure,
which had now reached the summit of the steep-pitched roof. Hildegarde
gave one glance at the child, and saw him standing with outstretched
arms on the ridge-pole itself. His voice came down, clear and calm.

"I am ready, dear Bellerophon! We will fly together now, down, down,--"

The girl covered her face, and prayed. It was a breath of time, it was
eternity, before Roger's voice came down to her, strong and cheerful.

"We will go down together, Hughie. I was up here, too, and I will take
you down, because you will be more comfortable that way. Put your arms
round my neck, so! Hold on tight--that's right! Now, down we go!"

Hildegarde stood still in the snow, her hands still clutching the
window-sill. She seemed incapable of speech or motion; could only listen
to the quiet, steady voice, as it soothed the now awake and frightened
child.

"Why, I suppose you went up to get a ball, or something that had been
thrown up there. Eh? No? Something about Bellerophon? Where is he? Well,
he may be in the house, laddie. We'll go in and see, anyhow. Your
Beloved is there, you know, and she will be--_Hildegarde_!"

"Yes, Roger!" said Hildegarde, faintly.

"I told you to go into the house!"

"Yes, Roger; I am going!" And then Hildegarde sank down in a little
white heap at Roger's feet, and knew nothing more.



CHAPTER XV.

AT LAST.


HILDEGARDE was sitting by Hugh's bedside. He had been laid in her bed
that night; how long ago was it? She hardly knew,--and was still too ill
to be moved. A concussion of the brain, the doctor said, the result of
his fall on the ice. There was danger of brain fever, but it might be
averted. Absolute quiet for a few days, and the trouble might pass off
without any serious developments. Meantime, a shaded room, plenty of
ice, no noise, and as little change of faces around him as might
be,--they would hope for the best.

Hildegarde had hardly left his side, save when Auntie came in to watch
through the night, or her mother took her place for the short time that
her strength allowed. Mrs. Grahame was far from strong, and was not
allowed to take charge of the nursing, as she would so gladly have
done. Colonel Ferrers hung about the house all day, like a man
distracted; and it took all Mrs. Grahame's tact, and all his brother's
and Jack's watchful devotion, to keep him out of the sick child's room.
He seemed to have aged ten years in these few short days. His ruddy
colour was gone; his eyes had lost their fiery spark; his military
stride had given place to an anxious shuffle.

"We shall have you ill, sir!" Elizabeth Beadle remonstrated, with many
tears.

"You ain't like Mr. Raymond, sir; you cannot go without your food. It's
hard enough as I can't go to my baby, my own dear niece's child, to
nurse him myself, as go I would if I was let, though Miss Hilda may be a
better nurse, as you say; but blood is thicker than water, Colonel
Ferrers, and if I have to have you sick, too, it will be more than I can
bear, sir; yes, it will!" Thus Mrs. Beadle, with her apron at her eyes.
The Colonel, roused for a moment from his anxious musing, turned upon
her with something like his natural fury.

"_You_ go to the child, Elizabeth Beadle? You, who cannot keep from
crying for ten minutes together? If you would stop poisoning my food
with salt water, ma'am, you might have less complaint to make of my not
eating. You have no more sense, ma'am,--no more sense than--than some
other people have. Don't look at me in that manner, I desire you! God
bless you, my dear old soul; go along, will you, or I shall be crying,
too."

Rumours of these things, and others like them, came to Hildegarde, as
she sat hour after hour by the sick child's side, shifting his pillow
now and then when it grew hot, laying the cool wet cloths on his
forehead, giving him food, drink, medicine, at the appointed times. The
whole world seemed narrowed down to this one room; everything outside
was unreal, all save the scene in white and black that she saw whenever
she closed her eyes,--the moonlight on the snow, the black firs, the
child in his white dress, fronting death with his sleeping smile, and by
her side the friend who was to save him. How long ago was it? Had she
been sitting here three days, or three weeks?

Little Hugh lay still, with his eyes shut. He seemed unconscious for the
most part. Only now and then came a motion of the head, a low moan that
was hardly more than a whisper; then the blue-veined lids would lift
heavily for an instant, and the sweet eyes look out, but with no light
in them; and after a moment the lids would fall again wearily, and the
heavy sleep close round him again like a curtain. How long would it
last?

More snow had fallen. She heard the sound of bells, and the soft swish
of sleigh-runners passing swiftly by. The voices of her neighbours came
to her, now and then, but never calling loud and joyous, as they were
wont to do. Every sound was subdued; every one moved softly and spoke
low, with the sick child constantly in their thoughts.

Guests came to Pumpkin House; long-invited guests, who could not well be
put off. Hildegarde knew this, and knew that her friends loved her and
the child no less because they were now forced to play the hosts, and to
make pleasure for the holiday visitors. Was this the evening of the
Flower Party? Her dress was hanging ready in the closet. Such a pretty
dress! She was to be a wild rose, and the graceful pink petals curved
over the skirt, and curled upward to form the bodice.

What a pity that some one could not wear it! She might send it over, in
case some one of the guests had no costume ready. Bell was to be an
apple-blossom; Gertrude, a lily. The twins would be splendid as Larkspur
and Scarlet Runner. And would Roger--would he go in fancy dress? She
could not imagine him doing anything of the kind, somehow. She thought
of him in boating dress, or in his camp jersey and knickerbockers--or,
as she saw him last, in evening dress, climbing over the snowy
roofs--she shuddered, and laid her hand on Hugh's arm, to make sure that
he was there. The child was safe, at any rate. He was not going to die.
Hildegarde kept this thought resolutely away from her, and was only
conscious of it as a dim horror, lurking in a corner of her brain. He
would be better soon, perhaps in a day or two. It might even be that she
would see Roger before he went back to the West,--for he would be going
soon, no doubt. He would be sorry, she thought, to go without seeing
her. But she had his gift; he had sent it to her the day after
Christmas. She put her hand to her throat, to make sure it was
there--the brooch that he had made himself for her, digging the gold,
refining, hammering, fashioning it, all with his own hands. She would
never wear any other brooch! Dear old Jack, too. He was missing her from
his vacation, she knew. Her mother said that he and Bell were practising
together every day, and that all the Merryweathers were delighted with
him. He and the twins were becoming fast friends. But they all missed
her. They all said that there was no luck about any of the houses, with
Hildegarde awa'. The tears came to the girl's eyes. Everybody was so
good to her, so kind, so loving!

Hugh moved uneasily, and she bent over him; his lips moved. "Play!" said
the child.

"Dear!" said Hildegarde, softly. "My laddie! Do you want something?"

Hugh did not open his eyes, but a smile, or the shadow of a smile,
hovered about his lips for an instant.

"Play--Jack--play!" he whispered.

"Yes, dear! He shall come. We will send for him; rest now, my boy,
quietly!"

But now, seeing her mother at the door, Hildegarde stole softly to her,
and told of the whispered words. "Will you ask the doctor? He might--it
might--do him good, if he is thinking about it? You will see what is
best, dear!"

Mrs. Grahame nodded, and went away. An hour passed, as all the others
passed. Then Hildegarde heard steps on the veranda; the door opened and
closed quietly; the next moment the voice of the violin came stealing
through the house. Ah! what was it? Were angels singing the child to
sleep? Schubert's Cradle Song; there is no sweeter melody on earth, and
many times had Jack played little Hugh to sleep with it, in the days
before he went abroad. Hildegarde watched the child intently. At the
first note of the music he stirred, and opened and closed his hands,
which lay listless on the counterpane. Then, as the song flowed on, so
low, so tender, it seemed the voice of a spirit, or of some wandering
wind, caught and trained to melody; the brows which had been knitted, as
if in an effort to think, relaxed, a smile came to the sweet lips and
settled there happily.

          "Schlafe, schlafe, süsser, holder Knabe!
           Leise wiegt dich deiner Mutter Hand."

"Sing!" whispered Hugh; and Hildegarde sang, her heart beating high with
joy and hope; for this was the first time she had been sure of his
knowing her. She bent over him, hoping for a glance of recognition; but
he did not open his eyes. His face seemed to clear and lighten every
moment; it was as if a cloud were passing, and the day shining out fair
and lovely; but he turned his head drowsily, and whispered, "Sleepy!"

Now Jack was playing the Chopin _berceuse_, and all the world seemed
lulling to sleep; the sound floated in waves through the darkened room,
whispering in corners, rippling round the drowsy child, bearing him on,
away, through the gates of pearl, till now he was asleep, in no heavy
lethargy this time, but lying easily, breathing deeply, his whole little
form at rest, at peace. And seeing this, the weary girl beside him laid
her head on the child's pillow, and borne on those waves of dreamy
sound, she, too, passed through the white gates, and slept.

They slept so all through that night. Mrs. Grahame and Auntie, coming to
relieve Hildegarde, could not bear to wake her. The doctor put his head
in at the door, gazed for a moment, and then nodded, and tiptoed off
down-stairs and home to bed, wiping his eyes as he went. The Colonel and
Jack, making their last call for the night, heard the joyful report, and
departed treading on air. And still they slept. The black woman nodded
in her chair in the corner; she had put Mrs. Grahame to bed, and
returned to watch the night with her charge, all the more precious now
that her "own chile" was sleeping beside him. Now and then a coal fell,
and tinkled in the fireplace; the night-light burned steadily, but the
fire flared, and drooped, and leaped up again, filling the quiet room
with flitting lights and shadows. Were they spirits, bending over those
two fair heads on the pillow, side by side? The angels might be glad to
come a good way to see such a sight as that, Auntie said to herself. And
she nodded, and dreamed of the Golden City, and woke again to see always
the same quiet room, to hear always the same sweet breathing of peace
and rest and returning health.

It was morning when Hildegarde awoke; dim, early morning, with the stars
still shining, but with a faint, pearly radiance growing momently
stronger in the east. She wondered at first what was the matter, and why
she was sitting up in bed, rather stiff, with soft things wrapped round
her. Before she moved her eyes fell on the little face beside her, and
she remembered all, and gave thanks to God for his mercy before she
stirred. Raising herself softly, she saw Auntie sitting in her great
chair, bolt upright, but sound asleep.

"Poor dear!" thought the girl. "She need not have come at all. We did
not need anything, Hugh and I. We have had a good, good rest."

Beyond changing her position, and stretching her limbs, cramped by
staying so long in one posture, she did not move, but sat with folded
hands, full of such happy thoughts that the morning seemed to come on
wings of gold.

The sun was up before Auntie woke, and her frightened exclamation, "Fo'
gracious goodness! ef I ain't be'n 'sleep myself!" though hardly spoken
above a whisper, echoed sharply through the silent room.

Hugh opened his eyes, and his glance fell directly on Hildegarde. He
smiled, and stretched out his arms.

"Beloved," he said, "I am very glad to see you; but what are you doing
in my room?"

Hildegarde made no answer. She bent over and took the child in her arms;
raised him a little, with his head resting on her shoulder, so that he
could see beyond her. His eyes travelled round the room, growing rounder
and larger every moment, as in the broadening light one object after
another shone out, familiar, and yet strange.

"Beloved," he said, "I beg your pardon! But what am _I_ doing in _your_
room? Will you make me understand, please?"

"You have been asleep, darling!" said Hildegarde. "You were not very
well, and--and you happened to be here at the time, and so--we put you
to bed here, you see."

"I don't see very well!" said Hugh, in quite his own manner. "But
probably I shall in a little while. How long have I been asleep?"

"Oh, quite a long time. But aren't you hungry now, little boy? See, here
is Auntie, and she is going to bring you up some breakfast, the very
best breakfast you can think of. What do you say to chicken broth?"

Hugh nodded and smiled at Auntie, who stood devouring him with her eyes.

"Thank you!" he said. "I think I shall be hungry,--when my think comes
back a little more. My think--my mind--has been asleep, I am pretty
sure!" he added, looking up at Hildegarde with his quiet, penetrating
gaze.

"If I had only just gone to sleep with my eyes, Beloved, I should
remember about it; and I don't--remember--much of anything."

"Oh, never mind about it now, Hughie! When you feel stronger we will
talk it all over. See! I want to bathe your face and smooth your hair
before breakfast comes. Now you shall be my baby, and I will curl your
golden locks for you. Shall I put something good in the water? There!
Isn't that nice and fresh? And now you shall put on my dressing-jacket;
my beautiful new dressing-jacket, that Bell made for me. Here it is, all
fluttering with pink ribbons. Wasn't it dear of Bell to make it?"

"Bell!" said Hugh, meditatively; he seemed to be searching for something
in his mind.

"Bell--Bellerophon!"

"Never mind about Bellerophon now, dear," said Hildegarde, trying to
hide her anxiety, and to speak lightly. "We will have Bellerophon by and
by; we don't want him here."

But Hugh was not to be turned aside; his brain was now fully awake, and
at work, but his look was so calm and clear, his voice so natural and
peaceful, that Hildegarde felt relieved in spite of herself.

"I have to consider a little, Beloved," he said, cheerfully, "just to
straighten out my think, which appears to be somewhat mixed.
What--was--I--doing--on a roof?"

Hildegarde held her peace. The child must take his own way, she felt;
she did not dare to cross him.

"I went up--on a roof!" Hugh went on. "I _think_ it was a roof,
Beloved?"

Hildegarde nodded.

"And there--I was Pegasus, you remember; I have been Pegasus a great
deal lately, but I shall not be him for a good while now, because I have
had enough,--I was Pegasus, and I wanted Bellerophon. The Christmas Tree
frightened him away, so I came--somewhere--perhaps here? and I thought
it was a mountain. I thought it was Helicon, and if I climbed up to the
top, Bellerophon would come to me, and we would fly down and kill the
Chimæra, don't you see?"

"I see, dear, of course! And then--?"

"Then I called out to Bellerophon that I was ready, and we would fly.
But--but just as we were going to fly, some strong person took hold of
me, and I looked, and I was on a roof, with Captain Roger holding me.
Where is Captain Roger, Beloved? And where was the roof?"

"The roof was here, dear child! You were walking in your sleep, Hugh.
You climbed up to the upper roof, and--and Captain Roger saw you, and
went after you, and brought you down. That is how you came to be in my
room, Hugh. Now you understand it all, darling, and you will not worry
any more about it."

Hugh looked relieved.

"Now I shall not worry any more about it!" he repeated, with
satisfaction. "It _was_ puzzling me dreadfully, Beloved, and I could not
get straight till I saw how it was, but now I see. My head has been
queer ever since I fell down on the ice; I think Bellerophon got bumped
into it, don't you? But now he is bumped out again, and he may go and
kill the Chimæra himself, for I sha'n't stir a step."

His laughter rang out fresh and joyous; and at the sound Mrs. Grahame
came running in, at first in great anxiety, fearing delirium; but when
she saw the two happy faces, beaming with smiles, and heard Hugh
addressing her in his own quaint fashion, and hoping that she had slept
very well indeed, she could not keep back the tears of joy. Seeing these
tears, Hildegarde must needs weep a little, too; but they were such
tears as did no one any harm, and Hugh said at once, "This is a
sun-shower! And now we shall have a rainbow, and after that some
breakfast."

When the breakfast came, you may be sure it was served on the very best
tray the house afforded,--the gold-lacquered one, with the bronze dragon
curling about it; and the broth was in the blue Sèvres bowl, with golden
pheasants strutting round it.

"Dem's de nearest to chick'ns I could find!" said Auntie, and Hildegarde
forbore to point out to her that she, Hildegarde, had never been allowed
to so much as dust this precious piece of china, much less to eat out of
it. And the toast was like thin strips of edible gold, so that both
Hugh and Hildegarde declared King Midas could not have had such a bad
time of it after all, if he had a cook anything like Auntie. It was hard
to tell who most enjoyed the broth and toast, Hugh who ate it, Auntie
who made it, or Hildegarde who held the spoon, and broke off the crisp
bits. It was a happy little feast, and the doctor was a joyful man when
he looked in on it an hour or so later. He said that all would go well
now.

"Slowly! slowly! No hurry! Keep him here a while yet, and don't let him
see too many people; no excitable folks, who will weep over him,"--Hilda
and her mother exchanged a guilty glance,--"keep him in bed for a day or
two, till he gets his balance entirely. Good-bye! God bless you!"

The good man trotted off briskly, and they heard him greeting some one
on the veranda below.

"Doing finely! finely! All right now; a little quiet, a little
care,--going in? Yes! Oh, yes! See you all right! Told them to keep
noisy folks away. Good-morning!"

Mrs. Grahame went out, and spoke in a low voice with some one now in the
hall. Some one was speaking in return, very low; yet not so low but that
Hildegarde's heart began to throb, and the colour to mount high over
cheek and brow; not so low but that Hugh, who had the fine ear of some
woodland creature, sat up in bed, and clapped his hands.

"It is Captain Roger, Beloved! It is himself; do you hear his voice? And
he must come up, please, this moment of time, to see me, and to let me
tell him what is in my heart for him."

Hildegarde hesitated; there was a tumult within her that made her feel
uncertain what was best to do or say; but in this moment Mrs. Grahame
had brought Roger up-stairs, and now he was here, on the threshold. He
was in the room; he was holding her hand, and looking at her with his
bright, kind gaze.

Neither of them spoke; it was Hugh who broke the silence. Roger had sat
down by him, after that first silent greeting, and kissed his forehead,
and took both the child's hands in his.

"I heard you, Captain Roger; I heard the first tone of your voice, and
you sounded like an angel."

"Did I, Hugh? I don't think I look like an angel, do you? Did you ever
see a picture of one with a moustache?"

"Perhaps not; but it says that they don't always look like themselves,
you know. Many times they looked just like common men in the Bible. And
you were an angel when you came to me on the roof the other night."

Roger glanced quickly at Hildegarde; the girl nodded.

"He knows," she said. "I could not keep it from him, the moment he was
himself again. He pieced it all out, with hardly any help from me."

Roger looked grave, but his anxious look rested on Hildegarde, not on
Hugh.

"Did you take cold?" he asked.

"I? No, certainly not! Why should I take cold?"

"In your thin evening dress!" said Roger, reproachfully. "With slippers
on your feet,--there you stood in the snow, and would not go in when I
told you. I have thought of nothing but pneumonia and consumption ever
since. But--you look pretty well, I think!"

Hildegarde laughed in spite of herself.

"I--I thought you believed in being wet!" she said.

"For myself--of course! We are all polar bears, more or less; but it is
different with you."

"Very different!" said Hildegarde. "I had snow-boots on, Captain Roger,
all the time! Your anxiety has been thrown away, you see."

"So!" said Roger, with a look of intense relief. "I never thought of
that! I--I didn't think--"

"You didn't think I had sense enough!" cried Hildegarde. "No more I had!
They just happened to be on my feet, because I hadn't taken them off. I
had been sitting and looking out of the window, ever since the Christmas
Tree."

"So had I!" said Roger. "That was how we both happened to see. The moral
is--"

He did not say what the moral was, but sat pulling his moustache, and
looking at Hildegarde. Hildegarde felt herself blushing again; she tried
to speak of some trivial thing, but the words died on her lips; the
silence deepened every moment, and it seemed as if she and Roger were
drowning in it, going deeper and deeper down, down,--

Hugh looked cheerfully from one to the other; he saw that they were
embarrassed for some reason, and came to the rescue with his usual calm
philanthropy.

"Have you forgotten what you wanted to say? When I am going to say
anything, and then forget what I wanted to say, I say, 'I love you!'"

Roger broke into a short laugh.

"Thank you, Hugh!" he said. "There is not much need of my saying it,
but--shall I, Hilda?"

Hildegarde could not speak. She looked up, and meeting her eyes, Roger
held out his hand across the little bed,--the strong, faithful hand that
had helped her now so many times,--and she laid hers in it, and felt
its earnest clasp, and knew that there was no more any parting between
Roger and her.


THE END.

       *       *       *       *       *

Transcriber's Notes:

Obvious punctuation errors repaired.

Page 46, "Good-by" changed to "Good-bye" (Good-bye, dearest and)

Page 74, "gentlemen" changed to "gentleman" (a gentleman, and that)





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