Part 1 out of 3
Charles Franks and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team.
THE HILDEGARDE SERIES
A STORY FOR GIRLS
BY LAURA E. RICHARDS
"The Margaret Series," "The Hildegarde Series," "Captain January,"
"Melody," "Five Minute Stories," etc.
IN TOKEN OF THE AFFECTION OF MANY YEARS.
I. THE ARRIVAL
II. OLD FRIENDS AND NEW
III. PUMPKIN HOUSE
IV. HESTER'S PLAYROOM
V. TEA AT ROSEHOLME
VI. ANOTHER TEA-PARTY
VII. IN GOOD GREEN WOOD
VIII. "HANDS ACROSS THE SEA"
IX. MERRY WEATHER INDOORS
X. A NEW LIFE
XI. A NIGHT-PIECE
XII. A-SAILING WE WILL GO
XIII. IN PERIL BY WATER
XIV. ROGER THE CODGER
XV. A MORNING HOUR
"Mamma," said Hildegarde Grahame, flying into her mother's room,
"I have news for you, thrilling news! Guess what it is!"
Mrs. Grahame looked up from her sewing.
"The house is on fire," she said, quietly, "or you have found a
Royal Walnut Moth; or, possibly, Hugh has developed wings and
flown away. None of these things would greatly surprise me; but in
the first case I must take action, while in either of the others I
can finish this seam."
"Continue your prosaic labours!" said the girl. "The dress is
mine, and I want it."
She sat down, and fanned herself with her broad straw hat. "It is
hot!" she announced with emphasis.
"And that is the news?" said her mother. "Astonishing! I should
never have guessed it, assuredly."
"Madam, you are a tease! The big yellow house is let, and the
family is moving in today, at this moment! NOW, how do you feel?"
"Much the same, thank you!" was the reply. "Slight acceleration of
the pulse, with fever-flush; nothing more. But it is great news,
certainly, Hilda. Do you know anything of the people?"
"'I saw them come; one horse was blind,
The tails of both hung down behind,
Their shoes were on their feet.'
"Mr. and Mrs. Miles Merryweather, six children, cook, housemaid
and seamstress, two dogs, two cats (at least the basket mewed, so
I infer cats), one canary bird, and fourteen trunks."
"Do I understand that Miss Grahame has been looking through the
gap in the hedge?"
"You do, madam. And oh, mammina, it was such fun! I really could
not help it; and no one saw me; and they came tumbling in in such
a funny, jolly way! I rather think we shall like them, but it will
be strange to have such near neighbours."
"I wonder what the Colonel will say!" Mrs. Grahame commented.
"He is pleased," said Hildegarde; "actually pleased. He knows Mr.
Merryweather, and likes him; in fact, he has just been telling me
"Hildegarde, you are becoming a sad gossip," said Mrs. Grahame,
severely. "I think you would better sit down and work these
buttonholes at once."
"So that I can repeat the gossip to you," said this impertinent
young woman, kissing her mother lightly on the forehead.
"Precisely, dear madam. Where is my thimble? Oh, here! Where are
the buttonholes? Oh, there! Well, now you shall hear. And I fear I
have been a gossip, indeed.
"It began with obedience to my elders and betters. You told me to
go down and see how Mrs. Lankton's 'neurology' was; and I went. I
found the poor old thing in bed, and moaning piteously. I am bound
to say, however, that the moans did not begin till after I clicked
the latch. It is frightful to see how suspicious a course of Mrs.
Lankton always makes me. I went in, and the room was hermetically
sealed, with a roaring fire in the air-tight stove."
"To-day!" exclaimed Mrs. Grahame; "the woman will die!"
"Not she!" said Hildegarde. "I was nearly suffocated, and
protested, with such breath as I could find; but she said, 'Oh,
Miss Grahame, my dear! you don't know anything about trouble or
sickness, and no need to before your time. A breath of air, my
dear, is like the bellers to my neurology--the bellers itself! Ah!
I ain't closed my eyes, not to speak of, since you was here last.'
"I tried to convince her that good air was better than bad, since
she must breathe some kind of air; but she only shook her head and
groaned, and told me about a woman who got into her oven and shut
the door, and stayed there till she was baked 'a beautiful light
brown,' as Mrs. Lincoln says. ''T was a brick oven, dear, such as
you don't see 'em nowadays; and she was cured of her neurology,
slick and slap; but I don't never expect no such help of mine, now
Mr. Aytoun's dead and gone. Not but what your blessed ma is a
mother to me, and so I always tell the neighbours.'
"Do you want any more, missis? I can go on indefinitely, if you
like. I stayed as long as I dared, and managed to hold the door
open quite a bit, so that a little air really did get in; and I
gave her the liniment, and rubbed her poor old back, and then gave
her a spoonful of jelly, and ran. That is the first part of my
tale. Then, I was coming home through the Ladies' Garden, and I
found my Hugh playing Narcissus over a pool, and wondering whether
freckles were dirt on his soul that came out in spots--the lamb!
And I had to stay and talk with him a bit, and he was so dear! And
then I walked along, and just as I came to the gap in the hedge,
Mrs. Grahame, my dear madam, I heard the sound of a lawn-mower on
the other side, and a man's voice whistling. This was amazing, and
I am human, though I don't know whether you ever noticed it. I
looked, I did; and so would others, if they had been there. A
wagon stood at the back door, all piled with trunks and bags and
baskets; I liked the look of the baskets, I can't tell exactly
why. And at that very moment a carriage drove up, with two
delightful brown horses, and a brown man who looked delightful,
too, driving. I know it must be Mr. Merryweather, mammy, and I am
sure we shall like him. Tall and straight and square, with clear
blue eyes and broad shoulders; and handled his horses well, and--
what are you laughing at, Mrs. Grahame, if I may be permitted to
"I was only thinking that this charming individual was, in all
probability, the coachman," said Mrs. Grahame, with mild
"Mamma!" cried Hildegarde, indignantly. "As if I didn't know a
coachman when I saw him! Besides, the Colonel--but wait! Well, and
then there was Mrs. Merryweather--stout and cheerful-looking, and
I should think very absent-minded. Well, but, mother," seeing Mrs.
Grahame about to protest, "she was dressed for driving, not to say
travelling, and she--she had a pen behind her ear. She truly had!
"There were two big girls, and two big boys, and a little girl,
and a little boy. I thought they all looked nice, and the girls
were pretty, and one of the big boys was so full of fun he
twinkled all over. A handsome boy, with red hair and dark blue
eyes; but, oh, such a pity! his name is Obadiah, for I heard the
other call him so. How can intelligent people call a boy Obadiah?"
She sewed for some minutes in silence, her needle darting in and
out with thoughtful regularity, then went on.
"All the family seem to have strange names. The other boy is
called Ferguson, and one girl is Toots, and another is Chucky. I
detest nicknames; but these people all seemed so jolly, and on
such good terms with each other, that I felt a sort of warming to
them. The girl named Toots tumbled out of the wagon, and the
others all laughed, and she laughed, too. She dropped everything
she was carrying, and she was carrying a great deal,--a butterfly-
net, and a mouse-trap, and three books, and a bandbox,--and
everybody seemed to think that the best joke of all. One called
her medicine dropper, and another drop-cake, and another dropped
egg, and so on; and away they all went into the house, laughing
and shouting and tumbling over each other. Such a jolly family.
"Yes, my dear," said Mrs. Grahame, very quietly, but without
"Nothing!" said Hildegarde. "You are an angel, that is all."
Mrs. Grahame sighed, and thought, as Hildegarde had been thinking,
how good it would be to have many children, like a crown of
sunbeams, about her; and thought of a little grave in Greenwood,
where her only boy lay.
Presently she looked up with her usual bright smile.
"This is all very interesting, Hilda, and I fully sympathize with
your feelings behind the hedge; but you have not told me how you
came to know about our new neighbours. Did Colonel Ferrers join
you at your peep-hole?"
"He did, mamma! He did just precisely that. I saw him coming along
the road, swinging his stick, and frowning and humming to
himself,--dear thing! And when he came near the house, and heard
the voices, he stopped and looked, and began to go softly and
slowly; so then I knew that he, too, wanted to see what was going
on. So I slipped to the gate and beckoned to him, and he came in
on tiptoe and joined me. Such fun we had,--just like two
conspirators! He could see over my head, so we could both look at
once; and he kept muttering scraps of information in my ear, so
that it quite buzzed. Yes, I know you are shocked, dear madam, but
it really could not be helped; and you said once to Jack--poor old
Jack!--that his uncle was a criterion of gentle breeding and
manners! So now, Mrs. Grahame!"
"Well," said Mrs. Grahame, "since matters are so, I may as well
hear what my criterion had to say about our new neighbours. A
pretty state of things, truly! the magnate and the maiden, spying
through bushes on these unsuspecting strangers. Say on, unhappy
"Of course he said, 'Hum, ha!' first, a good many times; and we
laughed at each other, under our breath, and were very happy. And
then he said, 'Miles Merryweather, my dear! Excellent person!
Heard he had taken the old house, but had no idea he was coming so
soon. Eminent scientific man, manager of the new chemical works at
Brompton, over yonder. Met him once, some years ago; glad to renew
the acquaintance. Large family, I see, yes, yes; hum, ha! Boy
about Hugh's age; inferior to him in intellect, my dear, I'll bet
a--I should be tolerably certain. Astonishing lad, my Hugh! Ha!
Mrs. Merryweather, presumably; literary, I hear, and that sort of
thing. Don't care for literary people myself; prefer their books;
but looks amiable. Pretty girl that, Hilda, my dear! the tall slip
with the fair hair! Yes, yes! "A pretty girl's the noblest work
of"--you remember? What's that? "An honest man," in the original?
Now, will you hear this girl setting her elders to rights? I
wonder what your mother was thinking of when she brought you up,
young woman!' and so on, and so on, in his own delightful way.
Really, mammina, from what he said, we are going to have a great
acquisition to the little neighbourhood. We must call as soon as
it would be in any way decent, mustn't we? Oh, but wait! I must
tell you the end. We had been so interested in watching the
children, and in seeing them go tumbling down and up into the
house, that we had lost sight of Mr. Merryweather himself. I
suppose he must have driven round to the stable and left the
horses there; for suddenly, almost in our ears, we heard a deep
voice saying, 'A fine hedge, but needs clipping badly; we must set
the boys to work in the morning.' We started back as if we had
been shot. Colonel Ferrers turned purple, and I felt every colour
in the rainbow flooding my cheeks. We made sure we had been seen
or heard, and I think Colonel Ferrers was on the point of stepping
forward like a soldier, and apologizing; but I held his arm for a
moment, in pure cowardice, and the next moment we saw Mr. and Mrs.
Merryweather, arm in arm, gazing calmly at the hedge, and
evidently unconscious of any guilty crouchers on the other side.
Oh, mammy! if you could have seen us stealing away, how you would
have laughed. The Colonel is not very light, you know, bless him!
and to see him mincing along on the tips of his dear toes,
scarcely daring to draw breath, still purple with embarrassment
and suppressed laughter, and looking over his shoulder at every
step, as if he expected to see Mr. Merryweather come bursting
through the hedge in pursuit,--oh, it was too funny! When we got
round the corner we both sat down on the steps and giggled, like
two infants; and then he said he was deeply ashamed of me, and
bade me go in and make confession to you for both of us. So now I
have done it, dear madam, and you are to forgive all our sins,
negligences and ignorances, please, and the Colonel is coming to
tea, with his compliments."
OLD FRIENDS AND NEW.
It did indeed seem that the advent of the new neighbours might
make a great difference in Hildegarde Grahame's life, if, as she
hoped, they were the right kind of neighbours. She was an only
child. She and her mother had lived now for two years at Braeside,
a lovely country place which they had come to look on as home.
Hildegarde was always happy, and was unconscious of any want in
her life; but her mother often longed for another daughter, or a
pleasant girl in the neighbourhood, to be a companion for her dear
one. True, Hildegarde had one young friend, Hugh Allen, the ward
of Colonel Ferrers, their kind and eccentric neighbour; but Hugh,
though a darling, was a little boy, and could not "dovetail" into
a girl's life as another girl might. Perhaps Mrs. Grahame hardly
realized how completely she herself filled Hildegarde's idea of a
friend and companion. The daughter was enough for her; her own
life seemed full and running over with joy and work; but for the
child she wanted always more and more. So her hopes, as well as
Hildegarde's, rose high when she heard of the pleasant-looking
girls who had come to the next-door house. The house was a large,
old-fashioned one; less stately than Roseholme, Colonel Ferrers'
house; less home-like and comfortable, perhaps, than Braeside,--
but that might only be because it had been so long uninhabited,
Hildegarde thought,--yet still pleasant enough, with its tall
columns and broad piazza. The house was yellow, the columns white,
and the cheerful colours were set off by the dark trees, elms and
locusts, that bent over it and almost hid it from the road. A
smooth stretch of lawn lay between the house and the hedge,
through which Hildegarde and the Colonel had made their
observations: a good lawn for tennis, Hildegarde thought. How good
it would be to play tennis again! She had been longing for the
time when Hugh would be big enough to learn, or when Jack Ferrers,
her cousin, would come back from Germany. How surprised Jack would
be when she wrote him that the yellow house was inhabited. What
friends he might make of those two nice-looking boys, unless he
took one of his shy fits, and would have nothing to do with them.
Jack was a trying boy, though very dear.
With these things in her mind, Hildegarde was sauntering toward
the Ladies' Garden, on the day after the new arrival. This was a
favourite haunt of hers, and she was very apt to go there for a
season of meditation, or when she wanted to find Hugh. It was a
curious place,--an old, neglected, forgotten garden, with high,
unclipped box hedges, overhung by whispering larches. Hildegarde
had dreamed many a dream under those larches, sitting beside the
little stream that plashed and fell in a tiny rocky hollow, or
pacing up and down the grassy paths. For the child Hugh, too, this
place had a singular fascination, and he would hang for hours over
a certain still, brown pool at the foot of the garden, thinking
unutterable things, occasionally making a remark to his dog, but
for the most part silent. Knowing his ways, Hildegarde was the
more surprised, on this occasion, to hear the sound of voices in
lively conversation. Whom could the boy have picked up and brought
here? He had no friend of his own age; like herself, he was a lone
child; and it was with a little pang, which she almost laughed to
feel, that she drew near, and softly parted the branches that hung
between her and the pool. The first step was fatal, she thought,
and she was apparently condemned to be a peeper and an
eavesdropper for the rest of her days.
Hugh was sitting beside the pool, but not in his favourite
Narcissus-like attitude. His knees were well up in front of him,
his hands were clasped over them, and facing him, in precisely the
same position, was a boy in blue jean overalls, with a shock of
black hair, and bright, dark eyes.
"What kind of fish?" asked the black-eyed boy, with kindling look.
"Little fish with silver tails," said Hugh, "and shining eyes.
They look at me, and sometimes I think they listen to what I say;
but they cannot speak, you know."
"Ho! I should think not!" said Black-eyes, scornfully. "I mean
what KIND of fish are they, when you catch 'em,--minnows, or dace,
or sticklebacks, or what? What are their names?"
"I do not know that," said Hugh. "I never thought of their names;
and I don't catch them."
"Why not? Wouldn't you be let? Don't the people in the house allow
fishing? I thought you said they were nice people!" and my lord
showed a face of keen disgust.
"I don't want to catch them," said Hugh, quietly. "Why should I?
They swim about, and I see them shine like silver and purple under
the brown water. Sometimes they have crimson spots, like drops of
blood, or ruby stones. Look! there is one now, a ruby-spotted
"Oh, my crickey!" cried the strange boy, jumping up, and dancing
from one foot to the other. "It's a trout, you idiot! Gimme a
line! gimme a net, or something! Gimme--" He snatched off his cap,
and made a frantic effort to catch the trout, which flipped its
tail quietly at him, and withdrew under a rock.
The boy sat down, breathless, and stared at Hugh with all his
"What's the matter with you?" he asked, at length "What kind of a
fellow ARE you, anyhow? Are you loony?"
Hugh pondered, the question being new to him.
"I--don't--know!" he announced, after sufficient thought.
There was a moment of silence, and black eyes and blue exchanged
an ardent gaze. Hugh's eyes were bright, with the brightness of a
blue lake, where the sunbeams strike deep into it, and transfuse
the clear water with light; but the eyes of the strange boy
twinkled and snapped, as when sunshine sparkles from ripple to
ripple. He was the first to break the silence.
"Where do you go to school?" he asked. "How old are you? how far
have you got in arithmetic? fractions? So am I! Hate 'em? so do I!
"No!" said Hugh.
"Isn't there a nine here?"
"Nine?" Hugh turned this over in his mind. "I only know of three
at Roseholme. One is carved ivory, carved all over with dragons,
and of course one could not play with that; and there are two
cricket balls that the Colonel had when he was a boy, and he says
I may play with those some day, when I know enough not to break
windows. Perhaps you have learned that, if you are used to having
The stranger stared again, with a look in which despair was
dawning. "You must be loony!" he muttered. And then, aloud, "Can't
you play anything? What can you do?"
"I can run," said Hugh, after another pause of reflection, "and
swim, of course, and box a little, and fence."
"Fence!" said Black-eyes; his voice took a more respectful tone.
"Where did you learn to fence? You're too young, aren't you?"
"I am nine!" said Hugh. "I began to learn two years ago, and I
have outgrown my first foil, and the Colonel has given me a new
one, almost full size."
"Who's the Colonel?"
"Colonel Ferrers, the gentleman I live with. My great-aunt is his
housekeeper; and he is my dearest friend, except my Beloved and
her mother AND my great-aunt."
"Who is your Beloved? What makes you talk so funny?"
The black-eyed boy no longer spoke scornfully, the fencing having
made a deep impression on him, but he looked more puzzled than
"How do I talk?" asked Hugh, in return. "This is the way I DO
talk, you see. And my Beloved is Miss Grahame, and that is what
you have to call her; but I call her my Beloved, because she is
that; and she is the most beautiful--"
But here the young gentleman was interrupted; there was a hasty
putting aside of the branches, and Hildegarde, with pink cheeks
and a guilty conscience, stood before the two boys. They both
jumped up at once, having good manners; but Hugh's rising was calm
and leisurely, while the black-eyed lad scrambled to his feet, and
darted swift looks here and there, preparing for flight.
"How do you do?" said Hildegarde, coming forward quickly and
holding out her hand. "You are not going, are you? I think you
must be one of our new neighbours, and we ought to make
acquaintance, oughtn't we?"
The boy smiled, a little quick, frightened smile, "just the way a
bird would do if it could," Hildegarde thought, and laid a small
brown paw timidly in hers.
"This is my Beloved!" said Hugh, by way of introduction. "So you
can see for yourself."
"And am I not to hear my neighbour's name?" asked Hildegarde.
"I am Will Merryweather," said the black-eyed boy.
"I am very glad to see you, Will. I hope you and Hugh will be
friends, for it is so nice to have friends of one's own age, and
Hugh has no one. You, of course, have brothers and sisters, and
that is the best of all, isn't it?"
There was no resisting Hildegarde's smile; the young Merryweather
wavered, smiled, smiled again, and in five minutes they were all
seated together, and chatting away like old friends.
It appeared that Master Will was pleased with his new
surroundings, but that the absence of a base-ball nine was a
tragic thing, not lightly to be contemplated. The house was "no
end;" the dwelling they had just left was entirely too small for
"You see," he said, "when we went to that house we weren't born at
all, most of us; that is, there was only Bell and the boys. So it
was big enough then, and they had rooms to themselves, and all
kinds of things. But then we began to come along, and at last it
got so small that the boys had to sleep in the barn, and when
there was more than one visitor I had to go on the parlour sofa,
and it's a beast of a sofa to sleep on,--haircloth, you know, and
you slide off all night; so father thought we'd better move, and
we came here."
"Is Bell your eldest sister?" asked Hildegarde, not sure how far
it would be right to question this frank youth.
"Yes, that's Bell. She's no end nice and jolly; and she's in
college, you know, and we have such larks when she comes home."
In college! Hildegarde's hopes fell. She knew she could not get on
with college girls, though she had great respect for them. Dear
me! Probably Bell would be very learned, and would despise her as
an "unidead girl." Cruel Dr. Johnson, to originate that injurious
At this moment she heard a fresh, joyous voice calling,--
"Will! Willy boy! W--I--Double--L, where are you?"
"That's Bell," cried Will, starting up. "She's come after me."
"Here I am, Bell!" he shouted. "Here's a jolly place; come along!
I say, may she come along?" he added, turning to Hildegarde with a
conscience-stricken look. Hildegarde nodded eagerly, hoping that
his request had not been heard. Just beyond the Ladies' Garden was
a high board-fence which separated Braeside from the neighbouring
place. At the top of this fence appeared two small but strong-
looking hands, and following them, a girl's face, blue-eyed, rosy-
cheeked and smiling.
"You little rascal!" cried the girl; and then she caught sight of
Hildegarde. "Oh, I beg your pardon!" she cried, hastily. "I didn't
know,--I was looking for my brother--"
"Oh, please come up!" cried Hildegarde, running to the fence.
"Please come over! Oh, you mustn't hang by your hands that way;
you'll get splinters in them. You are Miss Merryweather, and I am
Hildegarde Grahame; so now we are introduced, and let me help you
Hildegarde delivered this breathlessly, and held out both hands to
help the stranger; but the latter, with a frank smile and a nod,
drew herself up without more ado, perched on the top of the fence,
then sprang lightly to the ground.
"Thank you so much!" she said, warmly, taking Hildegarde's
outstretched hand. "Of course I didn't know I was trespassing, but
I'm glad I came. And oh, what a lovely place! I didn't know there
was such a place out of a book. Oh, the hedges! and the brook! and
the trees! How can it be real?"
Hildegarde nodded in delight. "Yes!" she said. "That is just the
way I felt when I first saw the place. It was some time before I
could feel it right to come here without apologizing to the
"Your ancestors' ghosts?" said Bell Merryweather, inquiringly.
"Aren't they your own ghosts? Haven't you lived here always?"
Hildegarde explained that the place had belonged to a cousin of
her mother's, who left it to her at his death.
"Oh!" said Miss Merryweather; then she considered a little, with
her head on one side. Hildegarde decided that, though not a
beauty, the new-comer had one of the pleasantest faces she had
"On the whole," the girl went on, "I am rather glad that my theory
was wrong. The truth is less romantic, but it makes you much more
real and accessible, which is, after all, desirable in a country
"Do tell me what you mean!" cried Hildegarde.
Miss Merryweather laughed.
"If you are quite sure you won't mind?" she said, tentatively.
"Well, your place is so beautiful,--even apart from this--this--
bower of nymphs,--it is so shadowed with great trees, and so green
with old turf, that when I saw you this morning walking under the
tree, I made up a romance about you,--a pretty little romance. You
are quite sure you don't mind? You were the last of an ancient
family, and you were very delicate, and your mother kept you in
this lovely solitude, hoping to preserve your precious life. And
now," she burst into a clear peal of laughter, in which Hildegarde
joined heartily, "now I see you near, and you are no more delicate
than I am, and you are not the last of an ancient family. At
least, I hope you are not," she cried, growing suddenly grave.
"Oh! do you like to make romances?" cried Hildegarde, with ready
tact waiving the last question. "It is my delight, too. No, I am
not in the least delicate, as you say, and we have only been here
two years, my mother and I; yet it seems like home, and I hope we
shall always live here now. And are you beginning to feel at all
settled in,--I don't know any name for your house; we have called
it just the 'Yellow House' as it had no special interest, being
uninhabited. But I suppose you will give it a name?"
"If we can decide on one!" said Bell Merryweather, laughing. "The
trouble is, there are so many of us to decide. I want to call it
Gamboge: brief, you see, and simple. But one boy says it must be
Chrome Castle, and another votes for Topaz Tower; so I don't know
how it will end."
"When I was a little girl," said Hildegarde, "I had a book, the
dearest little book, called 'Pumpkin House.' It was about--"
"Oh, DID you have 'Pumpkin House?'" cried Bell Merryweather,
eagerly. "Oh! wasn't it a darling? And didn't you think you never
could be perfectly happy till you could live in a pumpkin? And to
think of my forgetting it now, just when the opportunity has come!
Of course we shall call the new home Pumpkin House!"
"Will the others like it?" asked Hildegarde,
"They'd better!" said Bell. "And they will, of course. It was only
because we had not found the right name that we did not agree.
Thank you so much, Miss Grahame! Oh, I must go now, for I have
fifty thousand things to do! But,--I am so glad to have met you."
"And I to know you," cried Hildegarde, warmly. "I hope we shall
see a great deal of each other. We shall come to call in due form,
as soon as you are ready to receive visitors. But meanwhile, allow
me to present you with the freedom of the fence and of the Ladies'
Garden. See! our two boys are deep in confidences already."
In truth, the black head and the red one were laid close together,
and the two round faces wore the same look of deep importance.
"Mine are green and white," said Will. "That is Austrian, but I
have them Crusaders a good deal of the time."
"Mine are blue," said Hugh, "and sometimes they are Americans, and
sometimes they are Greeks and Trojans. Will you be my friend, and
shall we fight great fights together?"
"All right," said Will Merryweather, shyly.
"We will plan a campaign," cried Hugh, his eyes shining with
"Yes; but now you must come in to your music lesson," said
Hildegarde, taking his hand, and frowning at herself for feeling
another little pang, as Hugh's face turned toward his new
"Read the Talisman?" cried Will. "I'll be Saladin, and you be
"Come along, Will," said his sister, taking him by the shoulders
and marching him toward the fence.
"Lots of sand that will do for Palestine!" "Plains of Marathon
over beyond the stone wall!" "Turbans and lances!" "Horsetail
helmets and real armour!"
Still shouting, Will was pitched bodily over the fence by his
stalwart sister, while Hugh went away holding Hildegarde's hand,
and looking backward as he passed.
"We will fight!" he said, giving a little leap of joy. "Our necks
shall be clothed with thunder, and we shall say, 'Ha! ha!' among
the trumpets. And will you bind my wounds, Beloved?" he added,
looking up in Hildegarde's face. "And will you give me my shield,
and tell me to come back with it or upon it? Will you do that? The
cover of the washboiler will do beautifully for a shield."
"So it will!" said Hildegarde; and they went into the house
When Mrs. Grahame and Hildegarde went to call on their new
neighbours, two days after the meeting in the garden, they found
them already entirely at home, the house looking as if they had
always lived in it. The furniture was plain, and showed marks of
hard usage; but there were plenty of pictures, and the right kind
of pictures, as Hildegarde said to herself, with satisfaction; and
there were books,--books everywhere. In the wide, sunny sitting-
room, into which they were ushered by a pleasant-faced maid, low
bookcases ran all round the walls, and were not only filled, but
heaped with books, the volumes lying in piles along the top. The
centre-table was a magazine-stand, where Saint Nicholas and The
Century, The Forum and The Scientific American jostled each other
in friendly rivalry. Mrs. Merryweather sat in a low chair, with
her lap full of books, and had some difficulty in rising to
receive her visitors. Her hearty welcome assured them that they
had not come a day too soon, as Mrs. Grahame feared.
"My dear lady, no! I am charmed to see you. Bell has had such
pleasure in making friends with your daughter. Miss Grahame, I am
delighted to see you!" and Mrs. Merryweather held out what she
thought was her hand, but Hildegarde shook instead a small morocco
volume, and was well content when she saw that it was the "Golden
"Bell has had such pleasure that I have been most anxious to share
it, and to know you and your daughter. Shall we be neighbourly? I
am the most unceremonious person in the world. Dear me! isn't
there a chair without books on it? Here, my dear Mrs. Grahame, sit
down here, pray! It is Dr. Johnson himself who makes room for you,
and you must excuse the great man for being slow in his
With a merry smile, she offered the chair from which she had just
removed a huge folio dictionary. Hildegarde found an ottoman which
she could easily share with a volume of Punch, and Mrs.
Merryweather beamed at them over her spectacles, and said again
that she was delighted to see them.
"We are getting the books to rights gradually," she said, "but it
takes time, as you see. I have to do this myself, with Bell's
help. She will be down in a moment, my dear. We have established
an overflow bookcase in a cupboard upstairs, and she has just gone
up with a load. Ah! here she is. Bell, my dear, Mrs. and Miss
Grahame. So kind of them to come and see us!"
Bell shook hands warmly, her frank, pleasant face shining with
good-will. "I am so glad to see you!" she cried, sitting down by
Hildegarde on a pile of Punches. "I hoped you would come to-day,
even if the books are not in order yet. They are so dear, the
books; they are part of the family, and we want to be sure that
they have places they like. I suppose Punch ought by rights to go
with people of his own sort--if there is anybody!--but one wants
him close at hand, don't you think so? where one can take him up
any time,--when it rains, or when things bother one. Do you
remember that Leech picture?" and they babbled of Punch, their
beloved, for ten minutes, and liked each other better at every one
of the ten.
"Bell, I want Mrs. and Miss Grahame to see our other children,"
said Mrs. Merryweather, presently. "Where is Toots, and where are
"Toots is upstairs, poor lamb!" Bell replied. "When Mary came to
tell me of our visitors' arrival I was just putting away Sibbes's
'Soul's Conflict,' and various other dreadful persons whom you
would not let me burn; so I dumped them in Toots's arms, and ran
off and left her. Being a ''bedient old soul,' she is probably
standing just where I left her. I will go--"
But at this moment Toots appeared,--a girl of fifteen, tall, shy
and blushing, and was introduced as "my daughter Gertrude." She
confessed, on interrogation, that she had dropped Sibbes's "Soul's
Conflict" out of the window, and was on her way to pick it up.
"Why didn't you drop it down the well?" asked her sister. "It is
so dry, I am sure a wetting would do it good!"
"Sit down, my dear!" said Mrs. Merryweather, comfortably. "One of
the boys is sure to be about, and will bring in the book. Sibbes
IS a little dry, Bell, but very sound writing, much sounder than a
good deal of the controversial writing of--bless me! what's that?"
Something resembling a human wheel had revolved swiftly past the
window, emitting unearthly cries.
Hildegarde blushed and hesitated. "I--I think it was your brother
Obadiah," she said to Bell.
The latter stared, open-eyed. "My brother Obadiah?" she repeated.
"How did you know--I beg your pardon! but why do you say Obadiah?"
Hildegarde glanced at her mother, who was laughing openly. "You
will have to make full confession, Hilda," she said. "I do not
think Mrs. Merryweather will be very severe with you."
"It is a dreadful thing to confess," said Hildegarde, laughing and
blushing. "I--to tell the truth, I happened to be walking in our
garden, on the other side of the tall hedge, just when you drove
up, the other day; and--there is a most convenient little peep-
hole, and I wanted to see our new neighbours, and--and--I peeped!
Are you much shocked, Mrs. Merryweather? I heard several names,--
Bell, and Toots, and--I--I heard the handsome red-haired boy
The Merryweathers laughed merrily, and Mrs. Merryweather was about
to speak, when a voice was heard in the hall, chanting in a
singular, nasal key,--
"Dropsy dropped a book,
And she's going to be shook!
Dropsy dropped a volume,
Which makes her very solume!"
The door was pushed open, and the handsome red-haired boy entered,
walking on his hands, holding aloft between his feet the missing
"My son Gerald," said Mrs. Merryweather, with a wicked smile.
"Gerald, my love, Mrs. and Miss Grahame."
If Hildegarde was crimson (and she undoubtedly was), Gerald
Merryweather was brilliant scarlet when he rose to his feet and
saluted the strangers; but he was also atwinkle with laughter, the
whole lithe, graceful body of him seeming to radiate fun. One
glance at Bell, another at Hildegarde, and the whole party broke
into peal on peal of merriment.
"How do you do?" said Scarlet to Crimson, holding out a strong
brown hand, and gripping hers cordially. "Awfully glad! Please
excuse me, Mrs. Grahame, for coming in like that. I thought there
was no one here but the mother, and she is as used to one end of
me as the other."
"So you are Gerald, and not Obadiah." said Mrs. Grahame. "I
congratulate you on the prettier name."
"Oh, Ferguson calls me Obadiah!" said Gerald, laughing again.
"He's the other of me, you know. Beg pardon! you don't know,
perhaps. We are twins, Ferguson and I."
"And Ferguson, my dear Mrs. Grahame," interposed Mrs.
Merryweather, "is my son Philip. Why these boys cannot call each
other by their rightful names is a family mystery; but so it is."
"Is your brother Fer--Philip like you?" asked Hildegarde, feeling
sure that he was not, as the other boy she had seen certainly had
not red hair.
"Not a bit!" replied Gerald, cheerfully. "No resemblance, I
believe. 'Beauty and the Beast' we call each other, too. Sometimes
I am Beauty, and more times I am the Beast; depends on which has
had his hair cut last."
"Or brushed," said Bell, glancing at the curly hair, which was
certainly in rather a wild condition.
"Oh, yes! beg pardon!" said Gerald, glancing ruefully at the
mirror, and running his hand through his curly mop.
"Beast this time, and no mistake. Grass rather long, you see, and
tore my locks of gold. Happy thought! Desiring to tear your hair
in sorrow, walk on hands through long grass; effect admirable.
Wonder Hamlet never tried it!"
"Hamlet's hair was black," said Toots, seriously.
"And therefore he could not walk on his hands," said Gerald. "I
see! Dropsy, you are a genius; that's the trouble with you."
A long gray leg appeared at the open window, and after waving
wildly for a moment, disappeared suddenly.
"Ferguson!" said Gerald, turning to Hildegarde. "His mountain way!
Becoming aware of your presence, he has retired, to reverse legs,
and will shortly reappear, fondly hoping that you did not see him
Sure enough, in a few moments another tall boy entered, looking
preternaturally grave, with his hair scrupulously smooth.
"Been upstairs, you see," said the irrepressible Gerald, "and
slicked himself all up. Quite the Beauty, Fergs."
"Gerald, do be quiet!" said Mrs. Merryweather. "This is Philip, my
other twin boy, Mrs. Grahame."
Philip greeted Hildegarde and her mother with grave courtesy,
taking no notice of his brother's gibes.
"You find us in a good deal of confusion," he said to Hildegarde,
sitting down on a table, the only available seat. "It takes a long
time to get settled, don't you think so?"
"Oh--yes!" said Hildegarde, struggling for composure, and
conscious of Gerald's eyes fixed intently on her. "But you all
look so home-like and comfortable here."
"Especially Ferguson!" broke in Gerald, sotto voce. "How
comfortable he looks, doesn't he, Miss Grahame? No use, Fergs! We
marked your little footprints in the air, my son."
"Oh!" said Philip, looking much discomposed. "Well, I'll punch
your head, Obe, anyhow."
"Suppose we come out and look at the tennis-court," said Bell. "I
am sure you play tennis, Miss Grahame."
"Indeed I do," said Hildegarde, heartily. "I have often looked
longingly at that nice smooth lawn, and I hoped you were going to
lay it out for a court."
"Phil," said Gertrude aside to her brother, who was still blushing
and uncomfortable, "you needn't mind a bit. Jerry came in walking
on his hands, right into the room, before he saw them at all; and
they are so nice, they didn't care; they liked it."
"Did they?" said Phil, also in a whisper. "Well, that's some
comfort; but I'll punch his head for him, all the same."
And Gerald cried aloud,--
"Away, away to the mountain's brow, For Ferguson glares like an
angry cow. He'll punch my head, and kill me dead, Before I have
time to say 'Bow-wow.'"
And the five young people went off laughing to the tennis-court.
"'THAR!' said the Deacon. 'Naow she'll dew!'"
Hildegarde spoke in a tone of satisfaction, as she looked about
her room. She had been setting it to rights,--not that it was ever
"to wrongs" for any length of time,--for Bell and Gertrude
Merryweather were coming to spend the morning with her, and she
wanted her own special sanctum to look its best. She was very fond
of this large, bare, airy chamber, with its polished floor, its
white wainscoting, and its quaint blue-dragon paper. She had made
it into a picture gallery, and just now it was a flower-show, too;
for every available vase and bowl was filled with flowers from
wood and garden. On the round table stood a huge Indian jar of
pale green porcelain, filled with nodding purple iris; the green
glass bowls held double buttercups and hobble-bush sprays, while
two portraits, those of Dundee and William the Silent, were
wreathed in long garlands of white hawthorn. The effect was
charming, and Hildegarde might well look satisfied. But Bell
Merryweather, when she came into the room, thought that its owner
was the most beautiful part of it. Hildegarde was used to herself,
as she would have said frankly; she knew she was pretty, and it
was pleasant to be pretty, and there was an end of it. But to
Bell, in whose family either brown locks or red were the rule,
this white and gold maiden, with her cool, fresh tints of pearl
and rose, was something wonderful. Hildegarde's dress this morning
was certainly nothing astonishing, simply a white cambric powdered
with buttercups; but its perfect freshness, its trim simplicity,
made it so absolutely the fit and proper thing, that Bell's honest
heart did homage to the lovely vision; there was something almost
like reverence in her eyes as she returned Hildegarde's cordial
greeting. As for the young Gertrude, all the world was fairyland
to her, and Hildegarde was the queen, opening the door of a new
province. The most important thing in life was not to fall or drop
anything on this first visit to the strange and wonderful old
house, as all the Merryweathers persisted in calling Braeside.
Gertrude was always falling and dropping things. At home nobody
expected anything else; but here it was different, and the poor
child was conscious of every finger and toe as she stepped along
gingerly. Gerald's parting words were still ringing in her ears:
"When you feel that you must fall down, Dropsy, be careful not to
fall into shelves of china,--that's all. Bookcases are the best
things to fall into, you'll find; and a book is the best thing to
drop, too, my poor child. When you feel the fit coming on, put
down the teacup and grab a dictionary; then choose the toe you
want it to fall on,--superfluous aunt of the family, or some one
of that sort,--and you are all right. Bless you, Dropsy! Farewell,
Hildegarde took the girls directly up to her room, and they
admired all her arrangements as heartily as she could wish. Bell
exclaimed with amazement at the size of the room.
"To have all this for your own, your castle and defence," she
cried. "What would the girls at college say if they could see such
a room as this, and one girl living in it! Twelve by fourteen is
our rule, and two girls to that."
"Dear me!" said Hildegarde. "Why, I couldn't live without room."
"Oh yes, you could!" said Bell, laughing. "One gets used to
everything. It's rather good fun seeing how closely one can pack.
We have sixty-five pictures in our room, my chum and I. Oh, you
have my William! I didn't know anyone else had just exactly that
"Your William, indeed!" cried Hildegarde, laughing. "Why, he is
mine, my very own, and no one ever began to love him as I do."
The two girls fell into a friendly discussion, and ran lightly
over the history of the Netherlands, with occasional excursions to
Italy, the Highlands, or the south of France, as one picture or
another claimed their attention. Hildegarde was enjoying herself
immensely, and did the honours with ardour, delighted to find that
the "college girl" knew all about the things she loved, without
being in the least bookish or prosy.
"I thought you would be 'primmed up with majestic pride,'" she
said, laughing. "I was frightened when your little brother said
you were at college, and I instantly saw you with spectacles, and
pale, lank hair done up in a bob on the top of your head. And
then--then you came over the top of the fence, looking like--like-
"Like what?" said Bell. "I insist upon knowing."
"You are sure you don't mind?" asked Hildegarde, as Bell herself
had asked the day before. "You looked like an apple,--so exactly
like a nice red and white Benoni I was sure you must be good to
eat. Oh, I am so glad you came!"
"So am I!" said Bell.
"Do you think we might drop the 'Miss' part?" inquired Hildegarde,
"or are you too dignified?"
"Apples must not stand on dignity," replied Bell, gravely. "But I
have wanted to say 'Hildegarde' ever since I came into this room,
because the name just fits the room--and you."
At this point Gertrude, who had forgotten her destiny in the joy
of pictures, and was backing round the walls in silent ecstasy,
saw--or rather did not see--her opportunity, and fell quietly
downstairs. One special feature of Hildegarde's room was the
staircase, her own private staircase, of which she was immensely
proud. It was a narrow, winding stair, very steep and crooked,
leading to the ground floor. When Gertrude disappeared down this
gulf with a loud crash, Hildegarde was much alarmed, and flew to
the rescue, followed more leisurely by Bell.
"Are you much hurt, my dear?" cried Hildegarde. "Wait till I come
and pick you up, poor child!"
"Oh no!" replied Gertrude, softly, from the foot of the stairs,
where she lay doubled up against the door. "Thank you, but I never
hurt myself. I hope I haven't hurt the stairs."
Bell came along, laughing. "Dear Dropsy!" she said. "Here, come
up! She really never does hurt herself," she added, in response to
Hildegarde's look of astonishment. "She falls about so much, and
has done so since she was a baby, that she keeps in training, I
suppose, and her joints and bones are all supple and elastic. This
was a good one, though! Sure you are not bruised, little girl?"
Gertrude picked herself up, declining assistance, and maintained
stoutly that she was sound in wind and limb. "If only I did not
break anything," she said, anxiously. "I came a terrible crack
against the panel here, and it seemed as if something gave as I
fell past it."
Bell bent down, in spite of Hildegarde's assurance that everything
was right, and passed her hand along the wall of the staircase.
"There is no crack," she said. "I think it is all right, Toots."
She tapped the panel critically. "The wall is hollow here," she
said. "Is this your secret chamber, Hildegarde?"
"Hollow?" cried Hildegarde. "What do you mean, Bell? I know of no
hollow place there."
"Have you ever looked for one?" Bell inquired. "Search would
reveal something in there, I am pretty sure."
Thrilled with curiosity, Hildegarde came down, and the three girls
crouched together on the narrow stair, and tapped and rapped here
and there. Beyond a doubt, one panel was hollow. What could it
Bell meditated. "What is on the other side of this place?" she
"I--don't know," said Hildegarde. "Stop a moment, though! It must
be,--yes, it is! The old chimney, the great square stack, comes
near this place. Can there be any space--"
"Then it IS a secret chamber, most likely," said Bell. "I have
heard of such things. Shall we try?"
They tried eagerly, pressing here, pushing there, but for some
time in vain. At length, as Hildegarde's strong fingers pressed
hard on one spot of moulding, she felt it quiver. There was a
faint sound, like a murmur of protest; then slowly, unwillingly,
the panel moved, obedient to the insistent fingers, and slid
aside, revealing a square opening into--the blackness of darkness.
"Oh, it's a dungeon!" cried Gertrude, starting back. "Perhaps the
floor will give way, and let us down into places with knives and
scythes. You remember 'The Dumberdene,' Bell?"
"No fear, Gertrude," said Hildegarde. "Nothing more horrible than
the dining-room is under our feet. But this,--this is very
mysterious. Can you see anything, Bell?"
"I begin to get a faint glimmer," said Bell. "Of course, if it is
a chimney-room there cannot be any particular light. Shall we
creep in? There is evidently a good deal of space."
"By all means," cried Hildegarde. "But let me go first, to bear
the brunt of any horrors there may be. Spiders I would not face,
but they must all be dead years ago."
She crept in on her hands and knees, closely followed by the two
Merryweathers. Growing accustomed to the dimness, they found
themselves in a small square chamber, high enough for them to
stand upright. The walls were smooth, and thick with dust; the
floor was carpeted with something that felt soft and close, like
an Eastern rug.
"We simply MUST have light!" cried Hildegarde. "Wait, girls! I
will bring a candle and matches."
"No! no!" cried Bell. "Wait a moment! I think I have found a
window, or something like one, if I can only get it open."
Again there was a soft, complaining sound, and then a sliding
movement; a tiny panel was pushed aside, and a feeble ray of light
stole in. The girls' faces glimmered white against the blackness.
"Something obstructs the light," said Hildegarde. "See! this is
it." She put her arm out through the little opening, and pushed
away a dense mass of vines that hung down like a thick curtain.
"That is better," she said. "Now let us see where we are."
It was a curious place, surely, to lie hidden in the heart of a
comparatively modern house. A square room, perhaps eight feet
across, neatly papered with the blue-dragon paper of Hildegarde's
own room; on the floor an old rug, faded to a soft, nameless hue,
but soft and fine. On the walls hung a few pictures, quaint little
coloured wood-cuts in gilt frames, representing ladies and
gentlemen in scant gowns and high-shouldered frock-coats. There
were two little chairs, painted blue, with roses on the backs; a
low table, and a tiny chest of drawers. The girls looked at each
other, a new light dawning in their faces.
"It is a doll's room," said Gertrude, softly, with an awe-stricken
"I know! I know whose room it was!" cried Hildegarde. "Wait, oh,
wait! I am sure we shall find something else. I will tell you all
about it in a moment, but now let us look and find all we can."
With beating hearts they searched the corners of the little
chamber. Presently Hildegarde uttered a cry, and drew something
forward into the light of the little window; a good-sized object,
carefully covered with white cloth, neatly stitched together.
Hildegarde took out her pocket scissors, and snipped with ardour,
then drew off the cover. It was a doll's bedstead, of polished
mahogany, with four pineapple-topped posts, exactly like the great
one in which Hildegarde herself slept; and in it, under dainty
frilled sheets, blankets and coverlid, lay two of the prettiest
dolls that ever were seen. Their nightgowns were of fine linen;
the nightcaps, tied under their dimpled chins, were sheer lawn,
exquisitely embroidered. One tiny waxen hand lay outside the
coverlid, and in it was a folded piece of paper.
"Oh, Hildegarde!" cried Bell, "what does it mean?"
Gertrude was in tears by this time, the big crystal drops rolling
silently down her cheeks; her heart was wrung, she did not know
"Hester Aytoun," said Hildegarde, softly. "This must have been her
playroom, Bell. She used to live here; it is about her that I
wanted to tell you. But first let us see what she has written
here. I think she would be willing; we are girls, too, and I don't
think Hester would mind."
There were tears in Hildegarde's voice, if not in her eyes, as she
read the writing, now yellow with age:
"I, Hester Aytoun, being now sixteen years old, am putting away my
dear dolls, the dearest dolls in the world. Sister Barbara says I
am far too old for such childish things; but I shall never be too
old in my heart, though I may well busy myself with household
matters, especially if I must marry Tom in three years, as he
says. So I put away my dear dolls, and I shall shut up the
playroom, also, for I could not think to pass by it each day and
not go in to see them, and that Sister Barbara will not allow. It
may be that no one will find my playroom till I show it myself to
my little children, if God wills that I have them, which I shall
pray always, now that I may not have my dolls any more. But if
that should not be, or I should be taken away, then I think no
harm to pray that a girl like myself may one day find my playroom
that father made for me,--my own room, where I have been a very
happy child. A man would never know what it meant, but a girl
would know, and if it should so hap, I pray her to be gentle with
the bedstead, for one leg is weakly; and if she will leave my dear
dolls, when she has well played with them, I shall bless her
always for a gentle maiden, wherever I be. So farewell, says
All three girls were crying by this time, and little Gertrude laid
her head on her sister's shoulder and sobbed aloud. Bell smoothed
her hair with light, motherly touches, drying her own eyes the
while. Hildegarde sat silent for a while, the letter in her hand;
then she folded it again, and gently, reverently laid it again in
the doll's hand.
"Dear Hester!" she said, "we do know, dear; we do understand,
And then, sitting on the floor by the pretty bedstead, and
speaking softly and tenderly, she told the two girls of that other
maiden who had lived and died in this old house,--the bright,
beautiful Hester Aytoun, who faded in her springtime loveliness,
and died at eighteen years; who had left everywhere the traces of
her presence, soft, fragrant, like the smell of the flowers in her
"I chose my bedroom, that you like," said Hildegarde, "because I
felt sure, somehow, that it had been hers. I never had a sister,
girls, but Hester seems to me like my sister; and sometimes"--she
hesitated, and her voice fell still lower--"sometimes I have felt
as if she wished it to be so,--as if she liked to come now and
then and see the old home, and give a loving look and word to the
things she used to care for so much. I am glad we found this
place, but I don't think I shall tell anyone else about it, except
mamma, of course, and Jack, when he comes home."
Very gently the three girls laid the white covering back over the
little dolls, who lay quiet and rosy, and seemed as content as
ever was Sleeping Beauty in her tower. They peeped into the chest
of drawers, and found it full of dainty frocks and petticoats, all
exquisitely made; there was even a pile of tiny handkerchiefs,
marked "Annabel" and "Celia." This sight made Gertrude's tears
flow afresh; she was a tender-hearted child, and tears fell from
her eyes as softly and naturally as dew from a flower.
When all was seen, they closed the little window, and with a mute
farewell to the sweet guardian spirit of the little place,--the
girl who had loved her dolls, and so made herself dear to all
other girls,--the three withdrew, and softly, reluctantly drew the
sliding panel after them.
"I shall not forget," whispered Hildegarde, who was the last to
leave the secret chamber; "I shall come sometimes, Hester dear,
and sit there, just I myself, and we will talk together, the dolls
and I. I shall not forget."
The panel slid into its place with a faint click; no sign was
left, only the white wainscoting, one panel like another, and the
crooked stair winding up to the open, airy room above.
TEA AT ROSEHOLME.
On a certain lovely evening in June, Hildegarde left the house at
six o'clock, or, to be precise, at five minutes before six, and
took the path that led to Roseholme. It was her eighteenth
birthday, and the Colonel was giving her a tea-party. This was a
great event, for many years had passed since guests had been
invited to Roseholme. The good Colonel, always delighted to be
with Hildegarde and her mother, had still kept up his solitary
habits at home, and save for little Hugh, who flitted about the
dark old house like a sunbeam, it was a lonely place. Now,
however, the Colonel had roused himself and declared that he, and
no other, should give his young friend her birthday treat. The
Merryweathers were invited, all except the two youngest, Will and
Kitty. Mrs. Grahame was already there, having gone over early, at
the Colonel's request, to help in arranging certain little matters
which he considered beyond the province of his good housekeeper;
and now it was time for the "beneficiary," as Gerald Merryweather
called her, to follow.
Hildegarde was dressed in white, of course; she always wore white
in the evening. Miss Loftus, her neighbour in the new stone house,
sometimes expressed wonder at that Grahame girl's wearing white so
much, when they hadn't means to keep so much as a pony to carry
their mail; her wonder might have been set at rest if she could
have peeped into the airy kitchen at Braeside, and seen Hildegarde
singing at her ironing-table in the early morning, before the sun
was hot. Auntie, the good black cook, washed the dresses
generally, though Hildegarde could do that, too, if she was "put
to it;" but Hildegarde liked the ironing, and took as much pride--
or nearly as much--in her own hems and ruffles as she did in the
delicate laces which she "did up" for her mother. Her dress this
evening was sheer white lawn, and she had a white rose in her
hair, and another in her belt, and, altogether, she was pleasant
to look upon. Gerald Merryweather, who with his brother was making
his way along another path in the same direction, saw the girl,
and straightway glowed with all the ardour of seventeen.
"I say!" he exclaimed, under his breath, "isn't she stunning?
Look, Ferg, you old ape! Ever see anything like that?"
Ferguson, who was of a cooler temperament, replied without
enthusiasm, maintaining that there had been, in the history of
womankind, maidens as beautiful as Miss Grahame, or even more so.
Becoming warm in the discussion, the two grappled, and rolled over
and over at Hildegarde's feet. She gave a little scream, and then
laughed. "Any one hurt?" she asked. "If not, perhaps I had better
brush you off a bit before we go into the house."
"A nice opinion you will have of us, Miss Grahame," said Gerald,
as he stood still to be brushed. "We can stand straight, and walk,
too, like other people, though you may not believe it. But, you
see, Ferguson is so exasperating that he disturbs my equilibrium,
and then I have to disturb his, that we may continue in brotherly
companionship. He was just saying that the sun was no brighter
than the stars."
"No more it is, I suppose," said unconscious Hildegarde, "if you
are only near enough to one, or far enough from the other. Shall I
brush you, too, Mr. Ferg--I beg your pardon, Mr. Merryweather?"
"Oh," cried Gerald, dancing on one foot, "observe his blushes!
Observe the cabbage rose in all its purple pride! Isn't he lovely?
But you are not going to call us 'Mister,' in earnest, Miss
Grahame? You cannot have the heart! We are not accustomed to it,
and there is no knowing what effect it may have on my ardent
nature, or on Ferguson's flabby disposition." Ferguson extended a
long arm and shook his brother with calm energy, till his teeth
"Really, if you wouldn't, please," he said, in his quiet voice.
"Gerald is a lunatic, of course, and ought to be kept in a barrel
and fed through the bung-hole,--only my mother has scruples; but
we are 'just the boys,' and nobody ever does call us by handles,
you see. So if you wouldn't mind--"
"I shall be delighted!" said Hildegarde. "Bell and I have already
come to first names, and I am sure you boys are both too jolly to
be ceremonious with; so--Gerald, here we are at the house, and now
you really will have to stay right side up, with care."
They went together into the wide, bare hall, with its dark panels
hung with family portraits. Colonel Ferrers came to meet them,
erect and soldierly. He kissed Hildegarde's cheek, and greeted the
boys with a cordial shake of the hand.
"Glad to see you, young people!" he said, in the gruff voice which
held the very spirit of kindliness. "Glad to see you! Hildegarde,
many happy returns of the day to you, my dear child! Take my arm,
With Hildegarde on his arm, he led the way to the pretty drawing-
room, all white and gold and yellow satin, which was seldom used
in these days. Hildegarde had secretly hoped that they would sit
in the library, a delightful brown-leather sort of room, to which
she had grown well used; but she appreciated the compliment of
opening the drawing-room, and put on her best smile and look of
pleasure. Hugh Allen left his station by Mrs. Grahame's chair, and
came running with open arms to meet his Beloved. "Oh, glory of the
sunrise!" he exclaimed, as he threw his arms round her neck. "I
hope you will live fifty thousand years, and have strawberry jam
every single day of them!"
"Dear me!" cried Hildegarde. "I should beg for gooseberry once a
week, dear boy, if it were going on quite so long as that. Well,
my mother, you look like the Queen of Conspirators. What have you
and Hugh been talking about, that you both look so guilty?"
"Guilty, my dear Hildegarde?" said Mrs. Grahame, drawing herself
up. "The word is a singular one for a daughter to use to her
"Yes," said Hildegarde, "it is! and the thing is a singular one
for a mother to be toward her daughter. If ever I saw PLOT written
all over an expressive countenance,--but no more of this! Dear
Colonel Ferrers, how wonderful the roses are!"
Surely there never were so many roses as at Roseholme. The house
had been ransacked for jars, vases and bowls to hold them, and
every available surface was a mass of glowing blossoms. The girls
hovered from vase to vase, exclaiming with delight at each new
combination of beauties.
Now tea was announced, and this time Colonel Ferrers offered his
arm to Mrs. Merryweather, as the stranger and new-comer in the
neighbourhood; but the good lady protested against anyone but the
"birthday child" being taken in by the host, and the Colonel
yielded, it must be said with a very good grace.
Here, in the long, oak-panelled dining-room were more roses,--
ropes and garlands of them, hanging in festoons along the dark,
shining panels, drooping from the Venetian lustres of the quaint
chandelier. Even the moose's head on the wall behind the Colonel's
chair had a wreath, cocked slightly on one side, which gave a
waggish look to the stately creature. The huge antlers spread
abroad, three feet on either side; the boys eyed the trophy with
"Oh, I say, sir!" cried Gerald, "did you shoot that moose? I never
saw such a fellow. Why, Roger shot one last year that we thought
was the grandfather moose of the world, but he was a baby to this
The Colonel smiled, well-pleased, and told the story of his
shooting the great moose.
"And who is Roger?" he asked, then. "Have you yet more treasures,
Mrs. Merryweather? Surely none old enough, to go moose-hunting?"
"Roger is not my own child, Colonel Ferrers," said Mrs.
Merryweather, smiling. "I always have to remind myself of the
fact, for he seems like my own. He is my husband's half-brother,
many years younger than he,--the dearest fellow in the world, and
really a delightful combination of son and brother. I hope he will
be here before long. And that reminds me,--have I made my
husband's apologies? I am so sorry he could not come!"
"I regret it heartily, my dear madam," said the Colonel, with a
courtly bow; and he recalled how Mr. Merryweather had confided to
him the other day that he drew the line at going out in the
evening, and would not exchange his own fireside for the King of
Dahomey's. He thought it probable that the excellent Miles was at
this moment sitting with pipe and newspaper on the back veranda of
his house; and if it had not been Hildegarde's birthday, the
Colonel might have wished himself beside him. As it was, however,
he devoted himself to his guests with such hearty good-will that
the tea-table soon rang with merry talk and laughter.
The high-tea itself was beyond praise; Mrs. Beadle had seen to
that. Mrs. Grahame's Auntie herself might have been jealous of the
jellied chicken; and salad was green and gold, and rolls were
snowy white, and strawberries glowed like sunset; and over all
were roses, roses, making the whole table a floral offering, as
Gerald said. Then, just before everybody had reached the "no more"
point, the good Guiseppe, who had been standing, stately, behind
his master's chair, darted out, and in a moment returned, bearing
on a huge silver salver,--what was it? Behind Guiseppe was seen
the portly form of good Mrs. Beadle, beaming under her best cap;
Guiseppe's own face was one broad, dark smile. A general chorus
broke from all save the host and Mrs. Grahame; Hugh gave a squeak
of joy in which was no surprise.
"I knew they would like it!" he cried, clapping his hands. "I knew
they would be surprised, and that the hair of their scalps would
be uplifted. It is yours, Beloved; it is for you!"
A cake! Who had ever seen such a cake? It must have been baked in
the biggest cheese-frame that the dairy could supply; or the rim
of a cart-wheel might have been used to frame its monstrous
circle. Certainly, as Guiseppe set it down before Hildegarde, it
seemed to cover the whole width of the great table. On its top the
frosting was piled high, in fantastic shapes. There seemed to be
little hills and valleys; and from among these peeped--and did
they only seem to move?--a number of tiny figures in green and
gold. One sat astride of a snowy pinnacle, another lay stretched
at full length in a hollow, his pretty face only peering out; some
were chasing each other among the elfin hills, others were
standing at ease, their hands on their hearts, their forms bent
gracefully as if in salutation. In the middle rose a white throne,
and on this sat the prettiest fairy of all, with a crown on her
head and a wand in her hand; she was dressed in white and gold,
and round her danced a circle of elves; and every elf held a tiny
"Are you too old for dolls, Hildegarde?" asked the Colonel,
puffing with pleasure as he saw the delight in the girl's face.
"These are birthday fairies, you observe. There are eighteen of
them, and every one of them wishes you good luck, my dear, and
every happiness, every blessing that Heaven can bestow."
The good Colonel had begun merrily enough, but before the end of
his little speech his deep voice trembled, and the tears stood in
Hildegarde's eyes. She tried to speak, but the words did not come;
so, leaving her seat, she went quietly up to the Colonel and
kissed his forehead. "Thank you, dear friend!" she said; and it
was all she could say.
"There! there!" said the Colonel, recovering himself at once.
"Glad you like it, my child! Glad you like it! The fancy was my
mother's; she had a poetic taste, madam." He turned to Mrs.
Merryweather, who was beaming with admiration and delight. "She
had these little figures made long ago,--for another eighteenth
birthday,--a dear young friend of hers. Yes, yes! They have been
kept in cotton-wool forty years, madam. Little candle holders, you
perceive. A pretty fancy, eh? I happened to remember them the
other day,--hunted 'em up,--the result, thanks to Mrs. Grahame and
Elizabeth Beadle. Mrs. Beadle, ma'am, I desire that you will come
in, and not skulk in the doorway there, as if you had reason to be
ashamed of your handiwork. My housekeeper, Mrs. Beadle, ladies and
gentlemen: a good woman, if she will allow me to say so, and a
good cook. Now, Guiseppe, a knife for Miss Grahame, and we will
test the quality of this same cake. Plenty of citron, I trust,
Elizabeth Beadle? No little skimpy bits, but wedges, slabs of
citron? Ha! that is as it should be. She wanted to make a white
cake, my dear,--a light, effervescent kind of thing, that can
hardly be tasted in the mouth; but I refused to insult either you
or my traditions in such a manner. A birthday cake, Mrs. Grahame,
my dear madam, should be as rich as spices and plums, brandy and
citron,--especially citron, which I take to be an epitome of the
Orient, gastronomically speaking,--as rich as all manner of good
things can make it. You agree with me, my young friend?" He nodded
to Gerald, whose eyes met his, flaming with approval.
"Oh, don't I, sir!" cried Gerald. "When they talk about
wholesomeness and that sort of r--of thing,--well, I beg your
pardon, mater dear, but you know you do, sometimes, in a manner to
turn gray the hair,--when they do, I always think it's a dreadful
shame to have wholesome things on your birthday. And--oh, I say!"
Here he relapsed into silence, as the first slice dropped from the
side of the great cake, revealing depth upon depth of richness.
The two mothers shuddered slightly, and exchanged deploring
smiles; but Hugh clasped his hands in rapture, and lifted up his
voice and spoke.
"You are King Solomon to-day, Guardian, aren't you,--instead of
other kings, as sometimes you are? And my great-aunt is the Queen
of Sheba. And--'there came no more such abundance of spices as
these which the Queen of Sheba gave to King Solomon. And gold, and
precious stones, and knops and flowers'--oh, see them all! And,
Guardian,--I mean King Solomon, DO you think there might be an
almug tree in the garden?"
When tea was over, the Colonel bowed the ladies out of the room
with punctilious courtesy, and motioned to Hugh to follow them;
then he turned to the two Merryweather boys.
"May I offer you cigars, young gentlemen?" he asked; and he took a
couple of cheroots from the mantel-piece.
The boys blushed bravely, but Phil said, quietly, "No, thank you,
sir. We are not going to smoke till we are twenty-one. Father
thinks that is soon enough."
The Colonel nodded approvingly. "Your father is right!" he said.
"Very right, indeed, my young friend. I beg you to take notice
that, though obliged by the laws of hospitality to offer you
cigars, I should have thought it unsuitable if you had accepted
them. Thirty years ago I should have been obliged to offer you
wine, also, but happily that is no longer necessary. Forty years
ago,--hum, ha! If you will permit me, I will smoke a cheroot for
the party. Your father prefers a pipe, I believe, but give me a
Manilla cheroot, and I am satisfied."
"Excuse me, sir," said Gerald, "but weren't you going to say
Colonel Ferrers smiled. "You are quick, my boy," he said. "I was
indeed thinking of something that happened forty years ago,--of my
first smoke. Possibly you might be amused to hear about it?"
The boys seemed to think there was no doubt about their being
amused; they drew up two ottomans beside the Colonel's armchair,
and prepared to listen, open-mouthed.
"Forty years ago, then," said the Colonel, "or, to be more exact,
forty-five years, I was a lad of fifteen."
He paused, and smoked in silence for some minutes. Gerald could
not help thinking of Alice and the Mock Turtle, and wondered what
would happen if he should get up and say, "Thank you, sir, for
your interesting story." But he held his peace, and waited.
"Fifteen years old, young gentlemen, and a sad scapegrace, I am
sorry to say. My poor mother had an anxious time of it with me. I
was in the water, or in the fire, or in the clouds from morning
till night, as it seems on looking back. But with all my vagaries,
I had one great desire which had never been gratified,--that was,
to smoke a cigar. My father was a clergyman, and though he had
never forbidden my smoking, I should never have dared to suggest
such a thing to him, for he was strict in his notions, in many
ways. Not too strict, sir, not too strict, by any means, though he
may have seemed so to me then.
"To make a long story short, I fell in with some lads of my own
way of thinking, and we determined to have a smoke. We gathered
sweet fern and dried it, and rolled cigars for ourselves; odd-
looking things they were, but we were vastly proud of them. When
all was ready, we chose a dry, warm spot behind a dyke (for it was
the fall of the year, and the days growing cold), and there we
lighted our cigars and fell to work, puffing away in mighty fine
style. Well, sir, they were horrible things, as you may well
imagine; not one of us, I'll go bail, liked them in his heart, but
we all pretended our best, and praised the cigars, and said what a
fine thing it was to smoke, and thought ourselves men, as sure as
if we had felt our beards pushing.
"By-and-by--I have the feeling of it still, when I think of it--I
chanced to look up, and saw my father standing over the top of the
dyke, looking down on us. The other boys, catching sight of my
face, lifted their eyes and saw him, too; and there was a pretty
moment. He said never a word for some time; no more did we. At
last, 'What are you smoking, boys?' he asked, speaking in his
usual even voice; yet I did not like the sound of it, somehow.
"So we told him, sweet fern; but he shook his head at that. 'That
is poor stuff, indeed,' he said. 'Now, if you must smoke, here is
something worth your while. Take these, Thomas, and share them
with your friends; they are genuine, and I hope you may enjoy
"With that he took a parcel of cigars from his pocket, and handed
them to me; then bowed to us all very grand, and marched off,
never looking behind him.
"I was not comfortable in my mind at this, for I knew my father
pretty well, and had looked for something different; but the other
lads were in high feather, and lighted their cigars on the
instant, bidding me do likewise, and crying out that my father was
a fine old buck, and that I was a lucky fellow to have such a
parent. I could not be behind the rest, so I lit up, too, and for
a few minutes all was as gay as a feast. But, Harry Monmouth, sir!
in half an hour we were the sickest boys in Westchester County. It
was all we could do to crawl home to our beds; and not one of us
but was sure he was dying, and cried to his mother to send for the
doctor before it was too late."
The Colonel laughed heartily, the boys chiming in with a merry
"What were the cigars?" asked Phil.
"The strongest Havanas that were made,--that was all. Fine cigars,
I have no doubt; but I was forty years old before I touched
tobacco again, and I have never smoked anything less delicate than
He puffed in silence, chuckling to himself now and then; the boys
meditated on the tale they had heard.
"Colonel Ferrers," said Gerald, at last.
"Yes, my boy. You are thinking that it is tune to join the ladies?
Quite right; we will go in at once."
"I wanted to ask," said Gerald, "if you don't mind telling us,
that is--well--I was only thinking that perhaps those cigars you
offered us--were they very mild ones, Colonel Ferrers?"
The Colonel looked grave for a moment, then he gave way and
"Found me out, hey?" he said. "Well, since you ask me, Master
Merryweather, I believe they were--not--the mildest that are made.
But you--hark! what was that?"
From the next room came the sound of a crash, and then a cry.
"I am very sorry, sir," said the boys in a breath. "It is probably
our sister Gertrude, who has broken something."
"She has no fingers to her thumbs," added Gerald, "and the result
They passed into the next room, and found that there had indeed
been an accident. Gertrude had knocked down a great pink vase, and
broken it into fifty pieces; she had also fallen over it, and now
sat among the ruins on the floor, too frightened to cry, while the
others picked up the pieces as best they might.
"Colonel Ferrers, what will you think of us?" cried Mrs.
Merryweather, looking up as her host entered the room. "This
unlucky child of mine has done something dreadful. Get up, Gerty,
and let me get the pieces from under you. I do so hope it may be
"Heaven forefend," said Colonel Ferrers, hastily. "Is it--I can
hardly hope it--is it truly the pink vase, the pink vase with the
stag's head on it?"
"Ye--yes!" sobbed poor Gertrude, getting up from the floor, and
seeking vainly for her handkerchief. "Oh, I am so sorry!"
"My dear child," cried the Colonel, and he took Gertrude by both
hands, "my dear young benefactress, how can I ever thank you! You
have relieved me of a heavy burden."
"Why? what?" cried all.
The Colonel pointed to the broken china, and gave a great sigh of
relief. "You behold there," he said, "now happily in fragments,
the bane of my existence. That--that horror--was given me three
years ago by a valued servant and friend, my man Guiseppe. He
bought it for my birthday; spent ten of his hard-earned dollars on
it, foolish, faithful creature that he is. What could I do? It
was,--the enormity you perceive. I was obliged to give it a place
of honour,--fortunately, I seldom use this room when I am alone; I
was forced to praise its tint, which I abominate, and its shape,
which is wholly detestable. What would you? I could not wound my
good Guiseppe; the vase has remained, the chief ornament--in his
eyes--of my drawing-room. Now, thanks to you, my charming child, I
am delivered of this encumbrance, and my poor white and gold can
appear without this hideous blot on its purity."
Gertrude wiped her eyes, much relieved at this novel view of her
infirmity, and all the others laughed heartily.
"And now," said the good Colonel, "is it not time for some games,
Hilda, or something of the kind? Command me, young people. Shall I
be blind man, at your service?"
It was a pleasant sight to see the Colonel, a silk handkerchief
tied over his eyes, chasing the young folks hither and thither;
pulled this way, twitched that, but always beaming under his
bandage, and shouting with merriment. It was a pleasanter sight,
later in the evening, to see him leading out Hildegarde for a
quadrille, and taking his place at the head of the figure with
stately, old-fashioned grace. Mrs. Grahame, turning round a moment
from her place at the piano, saw his fine face aglow with
pleasure, and felt a corresponding warmth at her own heart. She
thought of the gloomy, solitary man he had been a year ago, living
alone with his servants, scarcely seeing or speaking to a soul
outside his own grounds. And who shall blame the mother for saying
in. her heart, with a little thrill of pride, "It was my child who
helped him, who brought the sunshine into this good man's life. It
was my Hildegarde!"
It was the very day after the great affair at Roseholme that
Hildegarde had her own tea-party; in fact, it had been planned for
the birthday itself, and had only been postponed when Colonel
Ferrers made known his kind wish. This was a piazza party. The
broad, out-door room was hung with roses,--some of the very
garlands which had graced the dark walls of Roseholme the night
before; but here they were twined in and out of the vines which
grew on all sides of the piazza, screening it from outside view,
and making it truly a bower and a retreat. The guests had been
asked to come at five o'clock, but it was not more than three when
Hildegarde, coming to the door by chance, saw two or three little
figures hanging about the gate, gazing wistfully in. At sight of
her, their heads went down and their fingers went into their
mouths; they studied the ground, and appeared to know neither
where they were, nor why they had come.
"Euleta!" exclaimed Hildegarde; "is that you, child? and Minnie
and Katie, too. Why, you are here in good time, aren't you?"
She ran down and took the children by the hand, and led them up to
the piazza. "I am very glad to see you, chicks," she said. "Shall
we take off the hats? Perhaps we will leave them on for a little,"
she added, quickly, seeing a shade of distress on Euleta's face;
"they look so--gay and bright, and we might want to walk about the
garden, you see."
Euleta beamed again, and the others with her. They were sisters,
and their careful mother had given them hats just alike, dreadful
mysteries of magenta roses and apple-green ribbon. Their pride was
pleasant to see, and Hildegarde smiled back at them, saying to
herself that the dear little faces would look charming in
anything, however, hideous.
Soon more children came, and yet more: Vesta Philbrook and Martha
Skeat, Philena Tabb and Susan Aurora Bulger,--twelve children in
all, and every child there before the stroke of four.
"Well," said Hildegarde to herself, "the tea-table will not be
quite so pretty as if I had had time to make the wreaths; but they
would rather play than have wreaths, and I should not have left it
till the last hour, sinner that I am." She proposed "Little Sally
Waters," and they all fell to it with ardour.
"Oh, little Sally Waters, sitting in the sun,
Crying, weeping, for your young man;
Rise, Sally, rise, wipe your weeping eyes," etc.
Martha Skeat was the first Sally; she chose Susan Aurora, and
Susan Aurora chose Hildegarde. Down went Hildegarde on the floor,
and wept and wrung her hands so dramatically that the children
paused in alarm, fearing that some real calamity had occurred.
"Oh! oh!" moaned Hildegarde; "my young man! Go on, children. Why
are you stopping? Oh, where IS my young man?" she sobbed; and the
children, reassured by a twinkling smile, shrieked with delight.
"What shall I do?" sobbed the girl. "I--haven't--got--any young
man! Now, children, you MUST say 'Rise, Sally,' or my foot will be
sound asleep, and then I couldn't get up at all, and what would
become of your supper?"
Aghast at this suggestion, the children began to chant, hastily,--
"Rise, Sally, rise,
Wipe your weeping eyes;
Turn to the east,
Turn to the west,
Turn to the one that you love the best!"
Hildegarde sprang to her feet, whirled to the east, with her hands
clasped in entreaty; turned to the west, holding out her arms with
a gesture of intense longing; turned to the south,--and saw a
stranger standing and gazing at her with a look of intense
For once Hildegarde thought that her wits were gone; she stood
still, her arms dropped to her side, and she returned the
stranger's gaze with a look of such simple, absolute dismay that
he could hardly keep his countenance. Hastily advancing, he lifted
his hat. "Miss Grahame," he said, "I beg your pardon for breaking
in in this way. My sister--I am Roger Merryweather, I ought to say
first--Bell wanted to know at what time she should come over, and
as none of the boys were at hand, I ventured to come over with the
His eyes,--they were kind eyes, as Hildegarde noticed in her
distress,--his eyes seemed to say, "I wish you would not mind me
in the least, my child! Have I not sisters of my own, and don't I
know all about Sally Waters?" It almost seemed as if the words
were spoken, and Hildegarde recovered her composure, and came
forward, with a burning blush, it is true, but holding out her
hand with her own sweet cordiality.
"I am very glad to see you, Mr. Merryweather. You are very good
not to laugh at poor Sally's distresses. Tell Bell that the
children are all here, and the sooner she comes the better. But--
will you not come in, Mr. Merryweather? My mother will be
delighted to see you. We have heard so much of you from all the
Roger Merryweather excused himself on the ground of letters that
must be written, but promised himself the pleasure of an early
call; and so, with another kind, sensible look, and a smile and a
friendly word to the children, he withdrew, and Hildegarde saw him
leap lightly over the fence,--a tall, well-knit figure, springy
and light as Gerald's own.
The girl drew a long breath of dismay, but it quavered, and
finally ended in a hearty laugh.
"And how PERFECTLY he behaved!" she said aloud. "If one had to
make a spectacle of one's self,--and apparently it is to be my
fate through life,--surely no one could choose a kinder looking
Here she became aware of the children, standing at gaze, and
evidently waiting for her next word.
"Why, what am I thinking about?" she cried, merrily. "Do you think
we have had enough of 'Sally,' children? I--I think perhaps I
have. And what shall we play next? I fear it is too hot still for
'I Spy;' we must keep that till after tea. What are you saying,
Martha? Speak out, dear, and don't be afraid to say just what you
would like best. This is your own party, you see, and it is to be
the kind of party you all think pleasantest."
Martha murmured inaudibly several times, but spurred by digs in
the ribs with several pairs of sharp elbows, finally spoke aloud
with a sudden yelp. "Oh, PLEASE!--Susan Aurora Bulger, I'll go
right and tell your mother this minute!--please, 'The Highland
Gates to Die.'"
"What?" asked Hildegarde, in amazement. "Say it again, Martha,
please. The Highland--what?"
"Gates to Die!" said Martha Skeat, and all the children took up
the chorus. "'The Highland Gates to Die,' please, Teacher!"
Hildegarde repeated the words to herself, but no light came. "I
don't understand," she said. "You will have to show me how to
play, for I never heard of the game. Highland Gates--well, I shall
learn it quickly, I hope. Euleta, will you take the lead?"
Euleta, a sheep-faced child, with six whitey-brown pigtails,
motioned to the others, who at once joined hands in a circle. Then
she began to pace slowly round the circle, and all the children
broke out into a wild chant:
"Go round and round the level,
Go round and round the level,
Go round and round the level,
The Highland Gates to die."
Now the arms were lifted, and the leader wove her mystic paces in
and out among the children, while the words changed.
"Go in and out the window,
Go in and out the window,
Go in and out the window,
The Highland Gates to die."
Euleta took Vesta Philbrook by the hand, led her into the circle,
and knelt solemnly before her; and the others sang, wildly,--
"Kneel down and face your lover,
Kneel down and face your lover,
Kneel down and face your lover,
The Highland Gates to die."
"What ARE, you playing?" cried Bell Merryweather, who had come in
quietly, and was watching the proceedings in amazement.
"Don't ask me!" Hildegarde replied, "watch and listen, and learn
if you can. Oh, this is tragedy, indeed!" For Euleta had thrown
herself backward, not without a certain dramatic force, and now
lay prone at Vesta's feet; and the children chanted, solemnly,--
"She's dead because she loved him,
She's dead because she loved him,
She's dead because she loved him,
The Highland Gates to die."
This ended the game, and the children smiled joyously, while
Euleta plumed herself like a little peacock, taking to herself the
credit of all the interest shown by the young ladies.
"But what an extraordinary thing!" cried Bell; "Hildegarde, have
you an idea what it can mean?"
Hildegarde shook her head. "It must be something old," she said.
"It must come from some old story or ballad. Oh, if we could only
find out!" They questioned the children eagerly, but could learn
nothing. It was merely, "The Highland Gates to Die," and they had
always played it, and everybody else always played it,--that was
all they knew.
At this moment a well-known brown bonnet was seen bobbing
apologetically up the drive; the Widow Lankton had been making
frantic efforts to catch Hildegarde's eye, and now succeeding,
began a series of crab-like bows.
"Oh!" cried Hildegarde, eagerly, "there is Mrs. Lankton, and she
will know all about it."
"Yes," chimed in the children, in every variety of shrill treble.
"Widder Lankton, SHE'LL know all about it, sure!"
Mrs. Lankton was surrounded in a moment, and brought up on the
piazza. Here she sat, turning her head from side to side, like a
lean and pensive parrot, and struggling to get her breath.
"It's ketched me!" she said, faintly, in reply to the girls'
questions. "Miss Grahame, my dear, it's ketched me in my right
side, and I like t' ha' died on your thrishold. Yes, my dear," she
nodded her head many times, and repeated with unction, "I like t'
ha' died on your thrishold."
"Oh, I am so sorry, Mrs. Lankton!" said Hildegarde, soothingly,
while she quieted with a look Bell's horrified anxiety.
"I think you will be able to go in and get a cup of tea presently,
won't you? And that will take away the pain, I hope."
Mrs. Lankton's countenance assumed a repressed cheerfulness. "You
may be right, dear!" she said. "I shouldn't go to contradict your
blessed mother's darter, not if she told me to get a hull supper,
let alone a cup o' tea, as is warming to the innards, let him deny
it who will. There! I feel it a leetle better now a'ready," she
announced. "Ah, it's a blessed privilege you have, Miss Grahame!"
Without stopping to analyze these remarks too closely, Hildegarde
said a few more soothing words, and then went straight to the
matter in hand.
"Mrs. Lankton, can you tell us anything about a game the children
have been playing, the game of 'The Highland Gates?' We are very
much interested in it, Miss Merryweather and I,--this is Miss
Merryweather,--and we want to know what it means."
"To be sure, my dear!" cried the Widow Lankton. "'The Highland