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- A Romance of Billy-Goat Hill - 2/51 -
there are on this."
"Buying a farm, is he?" The Colonel waxed a deeper mahogany. "Well, this place is not for sale. I should think he could find something better to do with his time than hanging around here. For two weeks I haven't been able to sit on this porch for five minutes without having him under my feet! What's the sense of his coming so often?"
Miss Lady caught him by the ears, and turned his irate face up to her own.
"He comes to see me!" she announced, emphasizing each word with a nod. "He likes horses and dogs and me, and I like horses and dogs and him. But I like you, too, Daddy."
The Colonel refused to be beguiled by such blandishments.
"I'll speak to him when he comes. He needn't think just because he is a city fellow, he can take a daughter of mine racing all over the country on Sunday afternoon!"
"Why, Dad, that's absurd! Don't you take me yourself almost every Sunday? And don't I go with Noah, and the Brooks boys whenever I like?"
"Well, you can't go to-day."
"But this is Donald's last day. He goes back to town to-night, and he may go abroad next week to stay ever and ever so long."
The Colonel brought his fist down on his knees: "I don't care a hang where he goes. It's _you_ we are talking about. You've got to promise me not to go with him this afternoon."
"Because," the Colonel argued feebly, "because it's Sunday."
Miss Lady sat for a moment looking straight before her and there was a contraction of her lips that might have passed for a comic imitation of her father's had it not softened into a smile.
"Suppose I won't promise?" she said.
The Colonel's free hand gripped the arm of the chair, and he looked as if he had every intention in the world of being firm.
"You see, if it is wrong for me to go riding on Sunday," went on Miss Lady, "it's wrong for you to go fishing. Suppose we both reform and stay at home?"
The Colonel's eyes involuntarily flew to his cherished tackle, lying ready for action on the top step, then they came back with a snap to the top of a locust tree.
Miss Lady squeezed his arm and laughed: "Of course you don't want to stay at home this glorious afternoon, neither do I! Now, that's settled. Here comes Noah; I'll go and fix your lunch."
It was not by any means the first time the daughter of the house of Carsey had scored in a contest with her father. His subjection had begun on that morning now nearly twenty years ago, when she had been placed in his arms, a motherless bundle of helplessness without even a personal name to begin life with.
That question of a name had baffled him. He had consulted all the neighbors, considered all the possibilities in the back of the dictionary, and even had recourse to the tombstones in the old cemetery, but the haunting fear that in days to come she might not like his choice, held him back from a final decision. In the meanwhile she was "The Little Lady," then "Lady," and finally through the negroes it got to be "Miss Lady." So the Colonel weakly compromised in the matter by deciding to wait until she was old enough to name herself. When that time arrived she stubbornly refused to exchange her nickname for a real one. A halfhearted effort was made to harness her up to "Elizabeth," but she flatly declined to answer to the appellation.
She and Noah Wicker, the son of a neighboring farmer, had run wild on the big place, and it was Miss Lady who invariably got to the top of the peach tree first, or dared to wade the farthest into the stream. All through the summer days her little bare legs raced beside Noah's sturdier brown ones. She could handle a fishing rod as well as her father, could ride and drive and shoot, and was on terms of easy friendship with every neighbor who passed over the brow of Billy-goat Hill.
The matter of education had been the first serious break in this idyllic existence. After romping through the country school, she had had several young and pretty governesses, all of whom had succumbed to the charms of neighboring country swains, and abandoned their young charge, to start establishments of their own. Then came wise counsel from without and after many tears she was sent to a boarding school in the city.
The older teachers at Miss Gibbs' Select School for Young Ladies still recall their trials during the one year Miss Lady was enrolled. She was pretty, yes, and clever, and lovable, oh, yes! And at this point usually followed a number of stories of her generosity and impulsive kindness; "but," the conclusion always ran, "such a strange, wild little creature, so intolerant of convention, in dress, in education, in religion. Quite impossible in a young ladies' seminary."
After one term of imprisonment Miss Lady escaped to the outdoor world again, and implored her devoted "Dad" to let her grow up in ignorance, protesting passionately that she did not want puffs on her head, and heels on her shoes, and whalebones about her waist. That she didn't care whether X plus Y equaled Z, or not, and that going to church and saying the same thing a dozen times, drove all ideas of religion out of her head. She would study at home, she declared, anything, everything he suggested, if only she could do it, in her own way, out of doors.
So the sorely puzzled Colonel had procured her the necessary text- books, and she had plunged into her original method of self-education. She usually fought out her mathematical battles down by the river, using a stick on the sand for her calculations; history she studied in the fork of an old elm, declaiming the most dramatic episodes aloud, to the edification of the sparrows.
In the long winter months her favorite haunt was a little unused room over the front hall, traditionally known as the library. Its only possible excuse for the name was its one piece of furniture, a battered secretary containing a small collection of musty volumes that did credit to the taste of some long-departed Carsey.
Miss Lady had discovered the library in her paper-doll days, and had ruthlessly clipped small bonneted ladies with flounced skirts from magazines that dated back to the first year of publication. Later she had discovered that some of the ladies had jokes on their backs, or rather pieces of jokes, the rest of which she hunted up in the old magazines. It was an easy step from the magazines to the books, and in time she knew them all, from the little dog-eared copy of Horace in the upper left-hand corner, to the fat Don Quixote in the lower right.
In this neglected little room, with its festoons of cobwebs, its musty smell and its sense of old, forgotten things and people, she would tuck herself away with a pocket full of apples, to study and read by the hour.
The Colonel had done his part, and she was determined to do hers; for three years she kept sturdily at it, devouring the things she could understand, and blithely skipping those she could not, extracting meanwhile a vast amount of pleasure out of each passing day. For the thing that differentiated Miss Lady from the rest of her fellow kind was that she was usually glad. She liked to get up in the morning and to go to bed at night, a peculiarity in itself sufficiently great to individualize her. She greeted each new experience with enthusiasm and managed to extract the largest possible quota of happiness out of the smallest and most insignificant occasion.
As she went singing through the hall, the Colonel tried to frown over his glasses, but he was only partially successful. She was too satisfying a sight with her shining hair and eyes, and lithe, supple figure, every motion of which bespoke that quick, unconscious freedom of body peculiar to children and those favored of the gods, who never grow old.
The tall, awkward young man who had by this time arrived at the porch, followed the Colonel's gaze, and then, without speaking, sat down on the steps and clasped his hands about his knees. Noah Wicker's awkwardness, however manifest to others, was evidently a matter of small moment to him. He had apparently accepted the companionship of unmanageable arms and legs without question, and without embarrassment. His stubby blond hair rose straight from a high, broad forehead, and grew down in square patches in front of his ears. His eyes, small and steady, surveyed the world with profound indifference.
When Miss Lady disappeared the Colonel turned upon him suddenly:
"What about this rich young fellow over at your house? Who is he anyhow?"
"Morley?" Noah crossed his knees deliberately. "Why, he's a brother- in-law of Mr. Sequin."
"Not Basil Sequin, the president of the People's Bank! You don't say!" The Colonel paused for a moment to digest this fact, then he went on: "Hell-bent on farming I hear; wants your father to look around for a place."
This not being in the form of a question, Noah conserved his energies.
"Don't amount to a hill of beans, I'll warrant," continued the Colonel, with a watchful eye on Noah for denial or confirmation, but Noah was noncommittal. "When a fellow gets to be twenty-three years old and can't find anything better to do than to run around the country spending his money, and playing with the girls, there's a screw loose somewhere. What does he know about stock-farming?"
"Says he's been reading up."
"Fiddlesticks!" roared the Colonel. "You can't learn farming out of a book! What does he know about horses?"
"Oh! He's on to horses all right," Noah grinned ambiguously. "You and I couldn't teach him anything about horses."
"Can he shoot?"
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