Hildegarde's Neighbors by Laura E. Richards
Chapter XII. A-Sailing We Will Go.
"Friends," said Mrs. Merryweather, "the day is before us. What is the plan of action?"
"I go a-fishing," said Roger; "and with me Willy, to take his first lesson in bass-fishing."
"I tinker the wharf," said Phil; "and with me Obadiah, to take his first lesson in useful occupation."
"Verily and in good sooth," put in Gerald, "the most useful occupation I can think of, my peripatetic food-absorber, would be to heave thee into the glassy deep."
"Like to see you try it!" said Ferguson.
"Anything to oblige!" replied Obadiah, rising with, alacrity.
"Don't booby, boys!" said Roger, with quiet authority. "Let other people have a chance to speak."
"Hilda and I will make a pie!" said Bell; "'which is werse,' said Mr. Peggotty, 'though sich were not my intentions.'"
"And I have gingerbread to make, and raspberries to pick," said Gertrude, "so Kitty must help me."
"But what do I see?" cried Gerald, in tragic tones. "A vessel in the offing, headed in this direction. Now who do you suppose has the cheek to come here?"
"Probably some lunatic is thirsty," said Phil, "and wants a glass of water. You know, Miss Hilda, they come here by the boatload, asking for water, and we show them the lake and tell 'em to help themselves. It makes them hop with rage. They say, 'What! do you drink this?' Then, when we tell them that all their water supply comes from this lake, they grin like a dog and go about the city,- -I mean depart on their imbecile way. But these people are all dressed up. Oh, Momus and Comus! There are girls on board! Come on, Obadiah!"
The twins vanished, and the others looked curiously at the approaching craft. It was a small steam launch, gayly adorned with paint and streamers; in the bow stood a light, girlish figure, waving a handkerchief and gesticulating with fervour.
"Who can it be?" asked Mrs. Merryweather. "The boat is from Pollock's Cove, isn't it, Roger?"
"Yes; but I see no one on board that I know. That young lady evidently thinks she is coming among friends, however. Look! they are putting out a boat. I will go and see what is wanted."
He went to the wharf, and the rest waited in some amusement, thinking that a mistake had been made. To their amazement they saw Roger, after a moment's parley, help the young lady out of the boat, which straight-way returned to the launch; before they had time to exchange wonderments, she was advancing toward them with outstretched arms.
"My dearest, dearest Hildegarde! Do I see you again, after so many years? Quel plaisir! what joy!"
The young lady was dressed in the extreme of fashion, with little boots, and little gloves, and a dotted veil, and a chiffon parasol, and Hildegarde was folded in a perfumed embrace before she had fairly recognised her visitor.
"Madge!" she cried, "is it really you?"
"Myself, cherie! your own Madge. I heard that you were in the wilderness and flew to you. What a change, my dearest, from---"
"Mrs. Merryweather," said Hildegarde, her cheeks burning, but her voice quiet and courteous, "this is Margaret Everton, an old school-mate of mine. Mrs. Merryweather, Madge, with whom I am staying. Miss Merryweather, Professor Merryweather, Miss Everton."
"Oh, hum--mum-m-m-m-m-m!" said Madge, or something that sounded like it. The Merryweathers welcomed her courteously, and Mrs. Merryweather asked if she had come over from Pollock's Cove.
"Oh, yes! I am staying there for a day or two. Some friends of mine are there, charming people, and I heard that Hildegarde was here, and of course I flew to see her. She is my oldest and dearest friend, Mrs. Merryweather."
"Indeed!" said Mrs. Merryweather, with friendly interest.
"Yes, indeed. We were at school together, and like twins, except for the difference in colouring. Ah, les beaux jours d'enfance, Hilda, my love! And you are quite, quite unchanged since the happy days at Madame Haut Ton's. 'Queen Hildegarde' we used to call her then, Miss Merryweather. Yes, indeed! she was the proudest, the most exclusive girl on Murray Hill. The little aristocratic turn of her head when she saw anything vulgar or common was quite too killing. Turn your head, Hilda, my love!"
Hildegarde coloured hotly. "Please don't be absurd, Madge!" she said.
"Pray turn your head, Miss Grahame!" said Roger Merryweather, gravely. "I am sure it would interest us."
Hildegarde shot an imploring glance at him, and turned in desperation to her visitor.
"It is a long time since I have heard from you, Madge," she said. "I am sure you must have a great deal to tell me. If Mrs. Merryweather will excuse us, suppose we go for a little walk together."
"Surely, my dear!" exclaimed Mrs. Merryweather, with perhaps unnecessary cordiality.
But Madge had made herself very comfortable on the verandah, and had no intention of stirring just yet. Go scrambling about over rocks, and tearing herself to pieces among bushes? Hardly. Besides, one glance had shown her that Professor Merryweather was uncommonly good-looking. She settled herself gracefully in her chair, and gave a pretty little sigh.
"Dear child, I am a wretched walker, alas! You know I never was strong, and this winter's gaiety quite finished me. I am ordered to rest, positively, this summer, under the severest penalties. It was really a terrible winter in New York. Every one said it was a wonder the girls were not killed, they went such a pace. Do you never come over to Pollock's Cove, Professor Merryweather? we had such a charming hop there last night; danced till two o'clock, with such music! You must positively come over for the next one; we are to have them every week."
Roger thanked her, but was not a dancing man, and hops were hardly in their line out here.
"Not a dancing man! What a confession, Professor Merryweather! But I am sure you really dance beautifully; doesn't he, Hilda?"
"I don't know!" said Hilda, laughing. "He has never asked me to dance, Madge."
"Ah! you are quizzing me. I will never believe he could be so ungallant. But Hilda, I hear that really you live in positive seclusion, like a nun without a convent. My dear, how tragic, to pass your best years in this way! I told mamma that I should positively implore you to come to me this winter, and she said it was my duty. To think of you, Hilda, forswearing the world! It is too bizarre! But we have not forgotten our little queen on Murray Hill; no, no, dear!"
"You are mistaken, Madge," said Hilda. "I was in New York for several weeks last winter, staying with Aunt Anna; but you were in Washington at the time."
"Oh, but I heard of you!" cried Madge, archly. "I heard how the whole Hill was at Miss Grahame's feet, and how Bobby Van Sittart nearly went into a decline because she would not smile on his suit. I heard--"
"I think you heard a great deal of nonsense, Madge!" said Hilda with some asperity. "Come! you would like to see something of the island before the steamer comes to take you back. I will get the canoe and take you for a paddle."
Madge recoiled with a pretty shriek.
"Oh, horrors! Trust myself in a horrid tippy canoe, with a girl? Never, my dear! I value my life too highly, I assure you. But there is a sailboat! I dote on sailing, and I am sure Professor Merryweather is a superb sailor."
Professor Merryweather rose with a smile, and would be charmed to take the young ladies out in the Keewaydin.
"Oh, but, Captain Roger, you were going out fishing!" cried Hildegarde, her cheeks crimson with mortification.
Roger looked at her with a twinkle. "The fishes are not expected to migrate just yet, and there is a good wind for sailing. Pray come, Miss Grahame!"
Madge was already on her feet, fluttering with coquetry; and Hildegarde, after a despairing glance at Mrs. Merryweather, saw that she could do nothing but lead the way to the wharf.
"Won't you come, Bell?" she asked wistfully; but Bell was cruel, and said she must attend to her cooking; adding for the special edification of the stranger that she had the floor to scrub and the fish to clean. In silence Hildegarde walked down the wharf; she was thoroughly upset, and turning to look back to the house, it did not restore her composure to see Obadiah and Ferguson standing on their hands on the piazza, waving their feet in the air with every demonstration of frantic joy.
The little rowboat was unmoored, and a few quick strokes brought them alongside the Keewaydin. Hildegarde had never thought it could be anything but pleasure to her to board this beloved vessel, but she found herself now wishing that sailing had never been invented. She glanced timidly at Roger, but there was no expression in his face as he handed Madge on board, and replied gravely to her lively questions. Madge was treading on air. They had told her at Pollock's Cove that she would not be able to get a word out of the handsome young professor; and here he was at her side, perhaps--who knew?--soon to be at her feet. A little absent- minded, to be sure, but they were often that way when a strong impression had been made. As for poor Hilda, it was really lamentable to see how utterly she had lost her savoir-faire, living in the wilderness. Here was this charming man, really with the bel air, and distinguished in some way or other, and she was as mute as a fish. Really, it was a charity to come and see her.
"Would you like to take the helm, Miss Hilda?" asked Roger.
Hilda thanked him with a glance, and took her place at the tiller in silence.
"Oh, Professor Merryweather! are you really going to trust us to Hilda's steering? I am sure, now, you think girls are too ignorant to know anything about that sort of thing. I wonder at you! Our lives may not be of much consequence, because, of course, we are only silly little girls, but to risk your own life so, really, I am surprised."
She paused for the compliment that should follow, but Roger only said, "Bear away, please!" and loosened the sheet a little.
"Did your ears burn yesterday, Professor Merryweather? I am sure they must have. Everybody was talking about you at the hotel, and they said you had done something so remarkable,--something about a prism, wasn't it? You remember, Hilda, all the prisms on the chandeliers at Madame Haut Ton's! Do yours go on a chandelier, Professor Merryweather?"
"Not exactly!" said Roger. "You have a large party at Pollock's, I believe, Miss Everton? I think I heard the Sinclairs say they were to be there this month."
"Oh, aren't the Sinclairs enchanting?" cried Madge, with effusion. "And isn't Jack simply delicious? I danced with him ten times last night, and each dance was better than the last. Professor Merryweather, I shall give you no peace till you promise to come over for the next hop."
"We are not to expect peace in this world, are we?" said Roger, smiling. "Steady, Miss Grahame! as you are!"
"I think nautical terms are too delicious!" cried Madge. "And that reminds me, Hilda, Grace Atherleigh has just come back from Europe. She has been away three years, you know; in Paris most of the time,--dear Paris! Don't you adore it, Professor Merryweather? And she has brought back forty-three dresses. Yes, my dear, it is true, for I had it from her aunt, Mrs. Gusham. Forty-three dresses, all made this spring. And she had the most horrible time at the custom-house--"
"Madge," said Hildegarde, as patiently as she could, "will you please wait for the stories till we get back to the wharf? I must attend to the steering, and I cannot listen at the same time."
"My dear, I am dumb! I only just want to tell you before I forget it--you know what a wretched memory I have--what happened--"
"Luff!" said Roger, suddenly. "Luff, child, luff!"
Startled and confused, Hildegarde tried to do as she was told, but, in her distress, did exactly the opposite, and bore away; a grating sound was heard: the boat slid forward a few feet and stopped short.
"Oh, what have I done?" cried poor Hilda.
"Nothing of consequence! We have run on a shoal, that is all. Sit steady, please, ladies!"
Roger was overboard in an instant, up to his waist in water, pushing at the boat. Hilda sat dumb and scarlet, and even Madge was subdued for the time, and murmured exclamations under her breath. It was only a moment; a few vigorous shoves set the Keewaydin afloat again, and Roger leaped lightly in.
"Perhaps I would better take the tiller this time!" he said. "The bottom seems to be shoal all about here. And if you and Miss Everton will sit a little forward, Hilda, you will be more comfortable; I fear I cannot help dripping like hoary Nereus all over the stern here."
He had never called her by her name before. Hildegarde reflected that for once she could not blush, being already a Tyrian purple. Of course it slipped out without his knowing it; but she was conscious of Madge's gaze, and for once was thankful for her crimson cheeks.
This incident, or something else, had a quieting effect upon Miss Everton, and the sail home was a silent one. Roger was not inclined to talk, and he had a power of silence which was apt to extend to his companions; so they were all relieved when the Keewaydin glided gracefully to her moorings, and Ferguson appeared in the small boat to take them ashore.
"This is my brother Philip, Miss Everton!" said Roger. "Now if you will step into the boat, he will take you and Miss Grahame ashore, while I make all fast here. If you will take his hand, and be careful to step in the middle of the boat. In the middle of the boat, Miss Everton! Ah!" For Madge, with an airy leap, had alighted full on the gunwale. Down went the boat; the girl tried to regain her balance, but in vain, and after a few moments' frantic struggle, fell headlong into the water.
Phil had thrown himself to starboard the moment he felt the shock of her alighting, hoping to counterbalance her weight; but he was too light. Now, however, he leaned swiftly forward, and caught the little French boots as they disappeared under the clear water. There was nothing else to be done. In this ignominious way, feet foremost, poor Madge had to be dragged in over the gunwale, dripping and shrieking.
"You odious boy!" she cried, as soon as she could find breath. "You did it on purpose! You tried to drown me, I know you did!"
Hildegarde hastened to her assistance. Roger, his face set like a rock, but his eyes dancing wickedly, proffered his aid, but was peevishly repulsed. As for Phil, he could only try to control himself, and murmured broken excuses between the gusts of laughter which shook him like a reed. Madge was a sorry sight, all her gay plumes broken and dripping, her spotted veil in a little wet mop over one eye, her floating curls reduced to forlorn strings of wet hair, her light dress clinging about her. How different from the bright bird of paradise that had so lately fluttered down on the camp, bent on conquest! Now her only thought was to escape. Mrs. Merryweather met her on the wharf with open arms and a warm blanket, and she was brought to the camp, and dried and warmed as quickly as possible. But Madge's temper, none of the sweetest by nature, was completely spoiled; she had only peevish or sullen answers for all the expressions of sympathy and condolence that were poured out by the kindly campers. It was all the boy's fault, and there was no excuse for him. She ought to have known better than to come among such. But here Hilda pressed her hand, and said "Be still!" in a low tone, but with a flash of the eye that so forcibly recalled the "Queen Hildegarde" of old days that Madge subsided, and whimpered to herself till the steamer came to take her back to Pollock's Cove.
When she was gone Hildegarde slipped away, saying that she would pick some apples for tea; and on reaching the apple tree, she sat down under its hanging branches and indulged in a good cry, a rare luxury for her. It was a comfort to let the tears come, and to tell the friendly tree over and over again that he would never forgive her; that she was the most imbecile creature that ever lived, and that Madge was the only person she deserved to have for a friend, and that, now the others had found her out, the sooner she went home to her mother the better. Her mother would not expect her to be sensible; her mother knew better than to expect things of her. She was not fit to be with these people, who were so terribly clever, and knew so many things: and so on and so on, in the most astonishing way, our quiet, self-possessed girl sobbing and crying as if her heart would break, utterly amazed at herself, and wondering all the time what was the matter with her, and whether she would ever be able to stop.
She stopped suddenly enough; for Roger, coming through the fields with the milk, heard this piteous sobbing, and setting down his cans, parted the branches of the apple tree, saying in his kindest voice: "Why, my Kitty, my Pretty, what is the matter with you? who hurt my little--I--I beg your pardon, Miss Grahame!"
Hildegarde felt the hand of fate very heavy on her, but was quite helpless, and sobbed harder than ever.
What was a poor professor to do? Fortunately, Roger had plenty of sisters, and knew that a girl did not kill herself when she cried. After a moment's thought, in which he reminded himself severely that he was getting to be an old fellow, and might be this child's uncle, he came under the tree and sat down on the grass.
"Can you tell me what troubles you?" he asked, still in the gentle voice that was rather specially Kitty's privilege. "You have had no bad news?"
Hilda shook her head.
"Perhaps if you were to tell me what the trouble is, I could help you; or would you rather I would go away and not bother you?"
No! Hildegarde, to her own amazement, would rather he stayed. Whereupon, Roger, drawing from his experience of girls, perceived that there was nothing to do but sit and wait till the storm had spent itself. So he picked the apples within his reach, and reflected on the feminine character.
Presently a small and shaken voice said from under the handkerchief, "I--am so sorry--you got wet, Captain Roger!"
"Got wet?" said Roger, vaguely. He was generally more or less wet, being an amphibious creature, and did not for the moment grasp Hildegarde's meaning.
"I ran--the--boat aground, and you jumped overboard, and got--all wet!" and Hildegarde sobbed afresh.
"You don't mean--" said Roger. "You are not troubled about that?"
But it appeared that Hildegarde was troubled about that.
"My dear child, do you think I did not see that it was not your fault? You were doing beautifully, if that--if Miss Everton had let you alone for an instant. And do you think I mind a wetting, or twenty wettings? Miss Hilda, I thought you knew better than that."
"I was so stupid!" said Hildegarde, wiping her eyes, and trying to speak evenly. "I thought you were very angry, because you were so silent. I thought you would never--"
"Silent, was I? Well, you know I am in a brown study half the time. Isn't that why they call me Roger the Codger? But this time,--oh, I remember! I was trying to make out how that shoal came to be there, when it is not buoyed out on the map. Come, Miss Hilda, you must laugh now!"
And Hilda laughed, and dried her eyes, and looked up,
"All kinder smily round the lips, And teary round the lashes."
"That's right!" said Roger, heartily. "Now you shall be Kitty, and we will---we will shake hands and be friends, and eat an apple together. Kitty and I always do that when we have had a tiff."
So they did; and the apples on that tree were the best apples in the world.