Chapter XVIII. The Garden Fete
 

It was a perfect evening--the very last of the perfect June days. Chelton lay like a contented babe in Nature's lap--contented, but not asleep, for it was the evening of the masked garden fete.

The bright-colored lanterns throughout the spacious grounds of the Kimball home flickered like eager fireflies, and the splendid dancing platform, erected on the broad lawn, fairly glistened with its coat of wax under the strings of tiny electric lights that canopied the pavilion.

It was not deemed necessary to have any one at the gate. In Chelton there were not many strangers and suppose some urchins did enter, Cora said, it would be a pity to deny them a glimpse of the pretty sight.

A tall Antonio, in a garb of the most somber black, strolled about, hoping to find his Portia. Priscilla was there, in her collar and cap, but where was John Alden? Would the dainty little Bo-peep, who looked like a bisque doll, ever find her straying sheep?

Then motor "togs"--a long linen duster, with a cap and goggles--seemed a most convenient mask for so many young men, who were not vain enough to want to don doublet and hose.

But there were some courtiers, and they did look romantic. Perhaps that stout girl in the white Empire gown, with a baby cap on her head, and a rattler around her neck, might be Bess Robinson.

But the Winter girls were both stout--as stout as Bess. Then that thin creature, so tall that she suggested a section of sugar cane (could she actually be in one piece), might be Belle. The Psyche knot at the back of her head, and the wreath of wild olive, certainly bespoke Belle.

What had Cora done? Whom had she impersonated? There were many who wished to know this, and there were so many pretty persons that very likely she might have taken a very simple character. Cora disliked too much trouble, where trouble did not seem to count.

That splendid figure of Liberty might be she. Or that indolent Cleopatra on the rustic bench under the white birch tree--she made a pretty picture. But Cora would not pose as this one was doing. The vacant seat beside the girl was too glaring an invitation for Cora to offer. Perhaps she might be that suffragette, who went about demanding "Votes for women!" See! There she is now, holding up Marc Anthony!

A most attractive figure was Night or Luna. The coloring would have suited Cora--the black hair and the silvery trimmings of the robe to represent the moon but it was not like Cora to seek the dark spots of the garden that her moonbeams might be the brighter. The boys had a certain fancy for moonlight--hand made.

"I'll wager you are Bess," whispered a very handsome Adonis in a real Greek costume--all but the pedestal.

"Yes," answered the girl with a titter. "As you please--but, I pray you, fair sir, am I not a good milkmaid?"

"The best ever," replied Adonis. "Pray let us stroll in yonder meadow."

Slipping his hand into the bare arm of the milkmaid, Adonis drew the figure down a pith toward the small lake that was on one edge of the Kimball property.

"Now I have some one to talk to," he declared with evident satisfaction.

"Oh, is that all?" replied the maid in some contempt "I can't see just why I should fill in that way," and she arose from her seat at the water's edge. "Besides," she added, "I hate Greeks. They are so vain!" and with this she hurried after a girl in a nun's costume, who was walking along the path to the pavilion.

"Well!" exclaimed the disappointed youth, "that was hard luck. And just as I was going to say something nice, too. However, it'll keep, I suppose," and he followed the two figures--the nun and the milkmaid--toward the dancing platform.

A veritable Rosebud was bowing on the porch to the row of unmasked patronesses, several ladies of Mrs. Kimball's set, who had volunteered to help her receive.

The Rosebud wore a plaited garb of rose pink, with velvet petals about her waist, and green velvet leaves about her throat. The costume was so beautiful, and the figure so graceful, to say nothing of the natural rose perfume it exhaled, that every one stopped to admire.

The bell for the cotillion sounded, and when the ribbons were cast to the gentlemen it was the Greek Adonis who caught the blue end. He would lead.

For his partner he walked up to the saucy milkmaid, and claiming her by right, proudly marched with her on his arm back to the center of the platform.

A murmur of disapproval was heard. Why had he not chosen Cleopatra?

But Marc Anthony was eagerly waiting, and quickly sprang to the fair charmer's side. Antonio, the silent, strode over to the market woman--the height of incongruity.

A clown somersaulted to the Rosebud.

Night hung back. She seemed particular with whom she danced, and when a very handsomely proportioned courtier stepped up to her she refused him with a toss of her head. A star fell from her black tresses, but the answer seemed final, and the courtier walked away.

Finally the music started, and the dancers with it. How delightful it was to be some one else! And how splendidly Adonis led! At each turn where the waltz varied the figures he effected a wonderful change of partners, and it usually happened just when he was saying something most interesting to the young lady.

But this afforded a splendid chance for coquetry--a very pardonable affectation under a mask.

The little nun was creeping around the platform. She seemed like a dark spirit in the midst of such merrymaking, almost like a warning of a fate to come.

"Now!" the Rosebud heard her partner whisper as the nun passed. And the Rosebud had for a partner--Antonio,

"Who?" Psyche heard the nun ask of the same Antonio. "Who is it to go to?"

Psyche wondered what it meant. With a quick move, at the signal for a change, Antonio was whirling off with the nun, and Psyche was left without a partner.

But a few moments later Antonio came back to her.

"I just wanted to see if I could make the little nun dance," he whispered, "and I did--all the way off the platform, for she's gone."

"She is standing there by the side of Adonis," replied Psyche directly. "And she seems to be in the way."

"Soliciting alms," almost sneered Antonio. "That's her business, I suppose."

Psyche was glad when the waltz ended, and at the next figure she came in contact with Rosebud. It was to be a ladies' bouquet, and Rosebud made the centerpiece, with all the other pretty sprites in a circle about her. Then the boys, in an outer ring, threw their flower-chained hands into the inner circle, thus each capturing a pretty partner.

The milkmaid fell into Antonio's arms. He almost caught her up from the floor.

"Don't!" she objected as she felt his hands on her bare arm. "Your hands are--are too damp. They'll take all the starch out of my sleeves."

"Sign of a warm heart," he answered as he led her away.

Adonis was with Rosebud. What a charming couple they made! And how perfectly they both danced!

Close beside them fluttered Night. She was with the clown and seemed to enjoy the contrast.

One of the most distinguished masculine figures was Hiawatha, the Indian lad. His face was made up with real skill, and his bow and quiver hung gracefully at his back as he strode about. He had not danced, but he was evidently having a most delightful time with the Moon figure and Buttercup.

At the intermission a general onslaught was made by the young men to penetrate the disguises worn by the ladies.

"Plagued awkward," complained Hiawatha when he had failed to ascertain who Luna was. "I might be making love to my own--"

"Sister!" snapped the girl, laughing at the youth's discomfiture.

"But won't you tell me just this?" he pleaded. "Who on earth is the girl in the black robe--the nun? See, there she goes off toward the lake with Antonio."

"How can I tell?" answered Luna. "But if you really want to know, suppose we follow them?"

"Great idea!" agreed the Indian. "There goes Rosebud and Adonis. My, but they are hitting the trail, if you will pardon the language of an early settler. Suppose we go around this way? Then we can have a full view of both pairs in this mystery."

"As you please," answered Luna with some condescension as they started toward the little lake.

"Shall we sit here?"

It was Adonis speaking to Rosebud. She sank down upon a rustic bench and instantly noticed a couple turn behind the spruce hedge.

They were both in black. It was Antonio and the nun.