Hildegarde's Neighbors by Laura E. Richards
Chapter XVI. Good-By.
The golden morning passed all too quickly; the mornings always did, out at camp. There was the merry dish-washing, the sweeping and setting to rights, and then all separated to their different tasks,--fishing, boat-mending, cooking, photographing or surveying, till the hour of noon brought them together again for the swimming. Roger departed on his wheel, having business in the village.
The three girls sat down before a huge basket of mending, "Three against Thebes," as Bell said, and plied their needles diligently. Hildegarde felt as if she were sewing in a dream; her fingers flew, for she could almost sew in her sleep, but her thoughts were away in the Lonely Cove, with the wild creatures and the stillness. She would like to go back there, she thought, with-- well, she would like to go back there, and stay, long hours, till the spirit of the place had sunk deep into her heart. She had felt it, the touch of its hand in passing, the brushing of its robe, but that only showed her how little she knew, how infinitely more there was to learn, to see, to love. She shut her eyes and tried to call back the scene, all grey and silver, glimmering in the faint early light.
Was not this really life, the life of nature, of the woods and fields? Would not one grow better, purer, to stay always in this lovely wilderness, where every leaf had a voice, every stone showed forth its steadfast lesson, every morning and evening was full of joy and peace? Why should one ever go back to places where people talked and gossiped and made formal calls?
Such new worlds, too, were opening before her! Not only this great one of nature, but the sister world of science, which till now had been only a name. She had always thought of "scientific people" much as she would of the inhabitants of Mars, never having been thrown with any in this short life, which seemed to her so long, so full. As she said to her friend here, she had had many lives already, all beautiful, joyful beyond measure; but this strange world, where they spoke a language of their own, where all the men wore spectacles and long beards, and all the women short hair and spectacles,--this world she had never thought even to peep into. And now--behold! the magic door had been opened by friendly hands; opened only a little way, it was true, but wide enough for her to see at least beyond the threshold,--and it was fairy-land! As for the long beards and the spectacles,--Hildegarde laughed to herself, a little soft, happy laugh.
Gerald, who was lying at her feet, looked up, and laughed too, for pure good-will.
"Good joke!" he said; "excellent joke! See here, Miss Hilda--"
"Do leave off that tiresome 'Miss,' Jerry! You know I told you to, ages ago."
"I know! but my manners are so superlative. Well, Hilda, then, just listen to this! I have been improving a little on one of your old ballads--"
"Improving? sacrilegious wretch!"
"Oh, but listen! Why should a ballad be too old to be improved? This goes beautifully.
"Our lads are to the fishing gane, A-fishing with a line and float, And they hae grippet Hilda the Grahame, For stealing o' the Codger's boat."
"I didn't steal it!" cried Hilda, aiming a neatly folded stocking- ball at the boy's head; but Gerald avoided it, and went on.
"And they hae tied her hand and foot, And brought her to the camp, wuss luck! The lads and lasses met her there, Cried 'Hilda Grahame, thou art a duck!'"
"Obadiah, you are a very impudent boy. Wait till Monday week, that's all! But go on; let me hear all this villainy."
"Up then spake the brave Gerald, As he sat by the Codger's knee, 'Fifteen horned pouts I'll give to you, If you'll let Hilda the Grahame go free.' "'Oh haud your tongue,' says Roger the Codger, 'And wie your pleading let me be; For though-'"
"What is the matter?" asked Bell, who had been listening with high approval to the ballad. "Why, here is the Codger himself, back again. I thought he was not coming till night. What's up, Codger?"
Bell and Hildegarde rose, with a vague feeling of uneasiness, and as they did so, Roger advanced to meet them. Hilda fancied he looked grave, and her heart leaped into quick alarm. "You have no bad news, Captain Roger?" she cried. "My mother--Cousin Wealthy--!"
"Both well, quite well!" said Roger, hastily. "I called at the house as I came by, and found Mrs. Grahame there, looking extremely well, I thought."
"Mamma there!" cried Hilda. "Why--when did she come? Why did she not write that she was coming? I ought to have been there to meet her. You are sure you have nothing bad to tell me, Captain Roger? You looked so grave as you came up. I would rather know at once, please, if anything is wrong."
Roger smiled, and his honest eyes reassured the startled girl.
"You may believe me," he said, simply. "If I looked grave, it was not on your account, Miss Hilda, but on our own. A letter must have gone astray, your mother thinks. You should have heard from her several days ago; and--and she is expecting visitors to- morrow, and--well, if I must tell the truth, the carriage is here, and I am to drive you home as soon as you are ready."
A cry of dismay broke from the lips of the whole family; a cry so hearty, so full of distress, of affectionate concern, that it brought the quick tears to Hilda's eyes. She smiled through the tears at Bell, who already had her in her arms, and declared she could not let her go; while Will and Kitty pulled at her gown, and cried frantically that Hilda was theirs, and should never go away, never at all. Mrs. Merryweather smoothed her hair, and murmured kind, understanding words in a low tone; and Gertrude sat down on the ground and wept piteously.
"Oh," said Hilda to all these good friends, "you know it is not because I don't want to go to my blessed mother; of course you all know that--"
"Of course we do, dear!" cried Bell and her mother, soothingly. "Of course you want to go, and we ought to want you to go; but we don't; and it has come so quickly, and all."
"And we were going to the Painted Rocks to-morrow!" cried Phil.
Gerald began to mutter something under his breath about
"Little Gerald was my brudder, Merry Mater was my mudder, Nebber heard ob any udder."
But his adaptation was checked by a look from his mother, and he relapsed into gloom. "It's a horrid, atrocious shame!" he said. "I can't help it, and Hilda needn't speak to me again if she doesn't want to; but I cannot tell a lie, and I am not glad that Mrs. Grahame has come home, and I never shall be."
"Dear Jerry!" said Hilda. "We have had such good times, haven't we? And you will be coming back, you know, to town some day, and I shall hear all about the merrymakings--"
But here her voice broke, and deeply ashamed of herself, she hurried into the house to put her things together. The kind Merryweathers went with her, and vied with each other in helping her make her preparations. Since it must be, it should be as cheerfully done as possible; so Bell packed her trunk, and Gertrude buttered bread with ardour, that Hilda might have luncheon before she went; a good many tears fell into the butter, but Hilda said she did not mind that.
Soon, too soon, alas! all was ready; the little trunk packed and strapped, and Hilda in jacket and hat--the first time in a month that she had worn either--smiling as well as she could, and kissing and shaking hands, almost in silence.
Mr. Merryweather had just come up from the boathouse, and joined his regrets to the general chorus.
"And who is the captain of this black-sailed ship that carries our little girl away from us?" he asked. "Are you going to drive her in, Gerald?"
"No, father," said Gerald, hastily. "I think Roger is going in."
"Yes," said Roger; "I am going in, Miles."
"Oh!" said Mr. Merryweather. "Is there anything special you want to see to in town, Roger?"
"Why--no; I am going for--"
"Then, if it's all the same, suppose you let Phil drive Hilda in. I want your help this afternoon, very much, on the Keewaydin. The boys aren't quite strong enough to tackle her. What do you say, Hilda? You would just as lief have Phil, I dare say, and it will be a treat to him."
What could our poor dear Hilda say? What could she do but smile her assent, when she saw Phil's honest face radiant with pleasure?
Gerald, after looking round in vain for his mother and Bell, who had gone into the house to get something, did indeed mutter that he wanted Phil dreadfully, to do something of great importance, it did not appear precisely what; but he was promptly set down by his father.
Roger Merryweather stood silent. The habit of giving way to others, of letting the youngsters have all the pleasure possible, and taking the workaday parts of life for himself, was strong upon him. And when had he refused his brother Miles anything?
Miles Merryweather nodded in satisfaction, and went into the house to get his letters.
"I am going to send Phil in with Hilda, instead of Roger," he announced, cheerfully. "Is there anything--"
"Oh, father, how could you?" cried Bell, springing to her feet.
"How could I what?" asked her father. "Miranda, have you any errands for Phil to do?"
He looked at his wife, and opened his eyes wide; for the placid woman was ruffling all over, like an angry partridge.
"Don't speak to me, Miles Merryweather!" she cried. "Don't dare to say a word to me! You are a great stupid, stupid,--and Roger is another! Why I ever married into such a family--"
She ruffled away out of the house; Bell hurried after her without a word, only casting a reproachful glance at her father as she went. Mr. Merryweather stood still in utter bewilderment.
"Are these people mad?" he said. "What on earth is the matter? Gerald, will you give these letters to Phil, and tell him--now what is the matter with you, I should like to know?"
For Gerald's bright face was clouded over with unmistakable ill- humour,--a circumstance so amazing that one might well wonder. He actually scowled at his father, whom he adored.
"Donki foolumque cano!" he said. "No disrespect to anybody, sir, but I am thinking of emigrating. This family is too much for me."
He stalked out again, leaving Mr. Merryweather more puzzled than ever.
"Decidedly, they are mad!" he murmured. "Thank goodness, there is one sensible head among all these feathertops! Oh, here you are, Roger! Give these letters to Phil, will you, please, and tell him not to forget the mail."
Roger took the letters, and laughed. His cheek was slightly flushed, and his eyes danced with something very unlike their usual calm intelligence. "All right!" he said. "Give me the letters, Miles. They shall be mailed." He took the packet, and started to leave the room, but turned back for a moment, to lay his hand affectionately on his brother's shoulder. "I am a codger, Miles," he said, "but--do you know--I think you are a bit of a codger, too. It runs in the blood, I suppose. Good-by, old fellow! and let the Keewaydin wait until to-morrow, will you?"
He ran out. His brother, now speechless, followed him: saw him put Phil aside with a word and a smile; saw him lift Hildegarde lightly into the wagon, and take his seat beside her; saw the girl, her face bright as a flower, leaning forward to say farewell, and the other faces crowding round her, eager, loving, sorrowful; saw handkerchiefs and caps waving, and heard the cries of "Good-by, dear Hilda! Come again! Oh, come back to us soon!"
Then the woods closed in behind the carriage and it was gone.
Gerald looked long after it; then he advanced to the middle of the piazza, and deliberately turned three back somersaults.
"Would anybody like to tread on the tail of my coat?" he said, joyously. "Phil, you are a double-barrelled, self-revolving idiot, but I love you. Join me, then, in three cheers for the Codger. Long may he wave! Now, then, hip, hip, hurrah!"
"Hurrah!" cried Phil, who had received enlightenment in some way, and was beaming like his brother.
"Hurrah!" cried Mrs. Merryweather and Bell in concert, fixing eyes of triumph on their husband and father.
"Hurrah it is, doubtless," said Mr. Merryweather, looking slightly nettled,--a rare thing in the most cheerful of men. "But may I ask why my arrangements are changed without a word to me? I intended that Phil should--"
"Dear Miles!" said his wife. "I am sorry I called you names."
"Dear papa!" said the Merryweathers in chorus; "we all love you so much!"
"And were you ever young?" asked Mrs. Merryweather, no longer swelling, partridge-like, but taking her husband's arm with her sweetest smile.
"And did you ever see a girl you liked, Miles Merryweather? and if you ever had, would you have let another boy drive her in town while the breath was in you? Would you?"
"Oh!" said Miles Merryweather.