Chapter XVIII. How Kissing Was Discovered
 

AN August evening, calm, golden, dewless, can be very lovely. At sunset, Felicity, Cecily, and Sara Ray, Dan, Felix, and I were in the orchard, sitting on the cool grasses at the base of the Pulpit Stone. In the west was a field of crocus sky over which pale cloud blossoms were scattered.

Uncle Roger had gone to the station to meet the travellers, and the dining- room table was spread with a feast of fat things.

"It's been a jolly week, take it all round," said Felix, "but I'm glad the grown-ups are coming back to-night, especially Uncle Alec."

"I wonder if they'll bring us anything," said Dan.

"I'm thinking long to hear all about the wedding," said Felicity, who was braiding timothy stalks into a collar for Pat.

"You girls are always thinking about weddings and getting married," said Dan contemptuously.

"We ain't," said Felicity indignantly. "I am never going to get married. I think it is just horrid, so there!"

"I guess you think it would be a good deal horrider not to be," said Dan.

"It depends on who you're married to," said Cecily gravely, seeing that Felicity disdained reply. "If you got a man like father it would be all right. But s'posen you got one like Andrew Ward? He's so mean and cross to his wife that she tells him every day she wishes she'd never set eyes on him."

"Perhaps that's why he's mean and cross," said Felix.

"I tell you it isn't always the man's fault," said Dan darkly. "When I get married I'll be good to my wife, but I mean to be boss. When I open my mouth my word will be law."

"If your word is as big as your mouth I guess it will be," said Felicity cruelly.

"I pity the man who gets you, Felicity King, that's all" retorted Dan.

"Now, don't fight," implored Cecily.

"Who's fighting?" demanded Dan. "Felicity thinks she can say anything she likes to me, but I'll show her different."

Probably, in spite of Cecily's efforts, a bitter spat would have resulted between Dan and Felicity, had not a diversion been effected at that moment by the Story Girl, who came slowly down Uncle Stephen's Walk.

"Just look how the Story Girl has got herself up!" said Felicity. "Why, she's no more than decent!"

The Story Girl was barefooted and barearmed, having rolled the sleeves of her pink gingham up to her shoulders. Around her waist was twisted a girdle of the blood-red roses that bloomed in Aunt Olivia's garden; on her sleek curls she wore a chaplet of them; and her hands were full of them.

She paused under the outmost tree, in a golden-green gloom, and laughed at us over a big branch. Her wild, subtle, nameless charm clothed her as with a garment. We always remembered the picture she made there; and in later days when we read Tennyson's poems at a college desk, we knew exactly how an oread, peering through the green leaves on some haunted knoll of many fountained Ida, must look.

"Felicity," said the Story Girl reproachfully, "what have you been doing to Peter? He's up there sulking in the granary, and he won't come down, and he says it's your fault. You must have hurt his feelings dreadfully."

"I don't know about his feelings," said Felicity, with an angry toss of her shining head, "but I guess I made his ears tingle all right. I boxed them both good and hard."

"Oh, Felicity! What for?"

"Well, he tried to kiss me, that's what for!" said Felicity, turning very red. "As if I would let a hired boy kiss me! I guess Master Peter won't try anything like that again in a hurry."

The Story Girl came out of her shadows and sat down beside us on the grass.

"Well, in that case," she said gravely, "I think you did right to slap his ears--not because he is a hired boy, but because it would be impertinent in any boy. But talking of kissing makes me think of a story I found in Aunt Olivia's scrapbook the other day. Wouldn't you like to hear it? It is called, 'How Kissing Was Discovered.' "

"Wasn't kissing always discovered?" asked Dan.

"Not according to this story. It was just discovered accidentally."

"Well, let's hear about it," said Felix, "although I think kissing's awful silly, and it wouldn't have mattered much if it hadn't ever been discovered."

The Story Girl scattered her roses around her on the grass, and clasped her slim hands over her knees. Gazing dreamily afar at the tinted sky between the apple trees, as if she were looking back to the merry days of the world's gay youth, she began, her voice giving to the words and fancies of the old tale the delicacy of hoar frost and the crystal sparkle of dew.

"It happened long, long ago in Greece--where so many other beautiful things happened. Before that, nobody had ever heard of kissing. And then it was just discovered in the twinkling of an eye. And a man wrote it down and the account has been preserved ever since.

"There was a young shepherd named Glaucon--a very handsome young shepherd-- who lived in a little village called Thebes. It became a very great and famous city afterwards, but at this time it was only a little village, very quiet and simple. Too quiet for Glaucon's liking. He grew tired of it, and he thought he would like to go away from home and see something of the world. So he took his knapsack and his shepherd's crook, and wandered away until he came to Thessaly. That is the land of the gods' hill, you know. The name of the hill was Olympus. But it has nothing to do with this story. This happened on another mountain-- Mount Pelion.

"Glaucon hired himself to a wealthy man who had a great many sheep. And every day Glaucon had to lead the sheep up to pasture on Mount Pelion, and watch them while they ate. There was nothing else to do, and he would have found the time very long, if he had not been able to play on a flute. So he played very often and very beautifully, as he sat under the trees and watched the wonderful blue sea afar off, and thought about Aglaia.

"Aglaia was his master's daughter. She was so sweet and beautiful that Glaucon fell in love with her the very moment he first saw her; and when he was not playing his flute on the mountain he was thinking about Aglaia, and dreaming that some day he might have flocks of his own, and a dear little cottage down in the valley where he and Aglaia might live.

"Aglaia had fallen in love with Glaucon just as he had with her. But she never let him suspect it for ever so long. He did not know how often she would steal up the mountain and hide behind the rocks near where the sheep pastured, to listen to Glaucon's beautiful music. It was very lovely music, because he was always thinking of Aglaia while he played, though he little dreamed how near him she often was.

"But after awhile Glaucon found out that Aglaia loved him, and everything was well. Nowadays I suppose a wealthy man like Aglaia's father wouldn't be willing to let his daughter marry a hired man; but this was in the Golden Age, you know, when nothing like that mattered at all.

"After that, almost every day Aglaia would go up the mountain and sit beside Glaucon, as he watched the flocks and played on his flute. But he did not play as much as he used to, because he liked better to talk with Aglaia. And in the evening they would lead the sheep home together.

"One day Aglaia went up the mountain by a new way, and she came to a little brook. Something was sparkling very brightly among its pebbles. Aglaia picked it up, and it was the most beautiful little stone that she had ever seen. It was only as large as a pea, but it glittered and flashed in the sunlight with every colour of the rainbow. Aglaia was so delighted with it that she resolved to take it as a present to Glaucon.

"But all at once she heard a stamping of hoofs behind her, and when she turned she almost died from fright. For there was the great god, Pan, and he was a very terrible object, looking quite as much like a goat as a man. The gods were not all beautiful, you know. And, beautiful or not, nobody ever wanted to meet them face to face.

"'Give that stone to me,' said Pan, holding out his hand.

"But Aglaia, though she was frightened, would not give him the stone.

"'I want it for Glaucon,' she said.

"'I want it for one of my wood nymphs,' said Pan, 'and I must have it.'

"He advanced threateningly, but Aglaia ran as hard as she could up the mountain. If she could only reach Glaucon he would protect her. Pan followed her, clattering and bellowing terribly, but in a few minutes she rushed into Glaucon's arms.

"The dreadful sight of Pan and the still more dreadful noise he made, so frightened the sheep that they fled in all directions. But Glaucon was not afraid at all, because Pan was the god of shepherds, and was bound to grant any prayer a good shepherd, who always did his duty, might make. If Glaucon had not been a good shepherd dear knows what would have happened to him and Aglaia. But he was; and when he begged Pan to go away and not frighten Aglaia any more, Pan had to go, grumbling a good deal--and Pan's grumblings had a very ugly sound. But still he went, and that was the main thing.

"'Now, dearest, what is all this trouble about?' asked Glaucon; and Aglaia told him the story.

"'But where is the beautiful stone?' he asked, when she had finished. 'Didst thou drop it in thy alarm?'

"No, indeed! Aglaia had done nothing of the sort. When she began to run, she had popped it into her mouth, and there it was still, quite safe. Now she poked it out between her red lips, where it glittered in the sunlight.

"'Take it,' she whispered.

"The question was--how was he to take it? Both of Aglaia's arms were held fast to her sides by Glaucon's arms; and if he loosened his clasp ever so little he was afraid she would fall, so weak and trembling was she from her dreadful fright. Then Glaucon had a brilliant idea. He would take the beautiful stone from Aglaia's lips with his own lips.

"He bent over until his lips touched hers--and then, he forgot all about the beautiful pebble and so did Aglaia. Kissing was discovered!

"What a yarn!" said Dan, drawing a long breath, when we had come to ourselves and discovered that we were really sitting in a dewy Prince Edward Island orchard instead of watching two lovers on a mountain in Thessaly in the Golden Age. "I don't believe a word of it."

"Of course, we know it wasn't really true," said Felicity.

"Well, I don't know," said the Story Girl thoughtfully. "I think there are two kinds of true things--true things that are, and true things that are not, but might be."

"I don't believe there's any but the one kind of trueness," said Felicity. "And anyway, this story couldn't be true. You know there was no such thing as a god Pan."

"How do you know what there might have been in the Golden Age?" asked the Story Girl.

Which was, indeed, an unanswerable question for Felicity.

"I wonder what became of the beautiful stone?" said Cecily.

"Likely Aglaia swallowed it," said Felix practically.

"Did Glaucon and Aglaia ever get married?" asked Sara Ray.

"The story doesn't say. It stops just there," said the Story Girl. "But of course they did. I will tell you what I think. I don't think Aglaia swallowed the stone. I think it just fell to the ground; and after awhile they found it, and it turned out to be of such value that Glaucon could buy all the flocks and herds in the valley, and the sweetest cottage; and he and Aglaia were married right away."

"But you only think that," said Sara Ray. "I'd like to be really sure that was what happened."

"Oh, bother, none of it happened," said Dan. "I believed it while the Story Girl was telling it, but I don't now. Isn't that wheels?"

Wheels it was. Two wagons were driving up the lane. We rushed to the house-- and there were Uncle Alec and Aunt Janet and Aunt Olivia! The excitement was quite tremendous. Every body talked and laughed at once, and it was not until we were all seated around the supper table that conversation grew coherent. What laughter and questioning and telling of tales followed, what smiles and bright eyes and glad voices. And through it all, the blissful purrs of Paddy, who sat on the window sill behind the Story Girl, resounded through the din like Andrew McPherson's bass--"just a bur-r-r-r the hale time."

"Well, I'm thankful to be home again" said Aunt Janet, beaming on us. "We had a real nice time, and Edward's folks were as kind as could be. But give me home for a steady thing. How has everything gone? How did the children behave, Roger?"

"Like models," said Uncle Roger. "They were as good as gold most of the days."

There were times when one couldn't help liking Uncle Roger.