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- The Old Stone House - 4/41 -
Aunt Faith sighed, and laid her hand gently on the young girl's dark curls. "My child," she said in a low voice, "I cannot bring myself to pray that you may learn the lesson of trust, for it is a very hard one. But I fear it will come to you, as, sooner or later, it comes to almost all of us."
"Dear Aunt Faith," said the impulsive Bessie, throwing her arms around her aunt's neck, "of all your children, not one loves you more truly than I do!"
"I believe you do, my child," said Aunt Faith, returning the caress.
Arrayed in her ordinary dress, Bessie Darrell went down the back stairs and seated herself on the porch steps. In a few moments Hugh joined her. "Do you feel tired?" he asked.
"Tired! No, indeed. Horseback riding never tired me. You will take me again to-morrow night?"
"I think it is you that takes me, Brownie. Is Marr there?"
"Yes; quoting poetry like everything. I heard him out of the front-hall window; something about 'a rosy cloud,' I believe."
"Are they sitting directly under the hall window?" asked Hugh.
"Yes; in two arm-chairs, side by side."
"Let us go up and have a look at them," said Hugh. So up they stole, and took their places at the upper window.
The old stone house was two stories high, with wings on each side, which projected out beyond the main building; the space enclosed by stone walls on three sides was floored with stone, and lofty stone pillars ran up to the overhanging room. There was no intersection at the second story, so that the view of the piazza from the upper windows was uninterrupted. It was a pleasant piazza, fronting towards the south, overlooking the old-fashioned garden with its little box-bordered paths, and entirely cut off from the lake winds, which are apt to have an easterly sharpness in them. On this piazza sat Sibyl and Graham Marr, and the two listeners above caught fragments of their poetical conversation. "I say, Bessie, do you know what a 'lambent waif' is?" whispered Hugh. "What a calf that Marr is! How can Sibyl listen to him? He has not common sense."
"I believe he is to have uncommon cents, sometime," said Bessie, punning atrociously. "However, if my knowledge of Sibyl is worth anything, I should say she really prefers Mr. Leslie."
"What, the minister!" exclaimed Hugh; "I am surprised. Not that I object at all, but ministers' wives sometimes have a hard life."
"Gideon Fish says, that ministers' wives ought to be the happiest women on earth, because their husbands are always at home, brightening the domestic shrine with their presence," quoted Bessie, with a dramatic tone.
"That is a fish-story; I know it by the sound. I say, Bessie, wouldn't it be fine fun to throw the great red blanket down on their heads in the middle of the next verse?"
As Bessie highly approved of this suggestion, the two conspirators crept away softly to find their blanket. But it was safely packed away in the bottom of a chest, and some search was necessary to bring it to the surface; in the midst of which, Tom and Gem appeared on the scene, curious to know what was going on.
"Run away, children, and shut the door after you!" said Hugh, coming up from the chest with a red face.
"No, Mr. Fitz!" replied Tom, deliberately seating himself on a box; "not one step do I go until I know what you're up to--some fun, I know. Come, Bessie; tell us, that's a good fellow."
"We shall have to tell them, Hugh," said Bessie, "or they might spoil the whole thing." So the plan was hastily explained.
"Come along, Gem," said Tom, in great glee.
"All right, Bessie, we won't spoil your fun."
The two children ran off down the back stairs and out upon the terrace behind the house. "Don't you say one word, Gem Morris," said Tom in an excited whisper, "but I'm going to be in this game, if I know myself. The blanket's very well, but the dogs are better, and Graham Marr is terribly afraid of 'em. I never liked him since he called me 'my lad,' and this will be a good chance to pay him off." So saying, Tom started towards the carriage-house, closely followed by Gem; for, as Hugh said, they always hunted in couples, and whether they played or quarrelled, they were always together.
Opening a side door of the carriage-house, Tom called out Pete and Grip; Turk had a kennel of his own, and sleepily obeyed his master's summons.
"Now Gem," said Tom, "I shall go round to the big barberry-bush, and when the blanket comes down I shall send the dogs at it. They won't hurt anybody,--they never do,--but they'll make believe to be awful savage, and Grip will bark like mad. You'd better slip round into the parlor and look through the blinds; it's dark there." Gem obeyed softly, and Tom disappeared around the corner of the house, followed by the dogs, who understood from their master's low order, that a secret reconnaissance was to be made, and moved stealthily behind him single file, big Turk first, then Pete Trone, Esq., and last of all plebeian Grip, his tail fairly sweeping the ground in the excess of his caution.
On the piazza all was peaceful and romantic. No thought of coming danger clouded the poet's fancies, as he repeated a stanza composed the previous evening by the light of the moon. "I never write by gas-light, Miss Warrington," he said, "but I keep pencil and paper at hand to transcribe the poetical thoughts that come to me in the moonlight. Here is a verse that floated into my mind when the moon was at its highest splendor last night:--
'Shine out, Oh moon! in the wide sky,-- The creamy cloud,--the dreamy light-- My heart is seething in the night. Shine out, Oh moon! and let me die.'"
"I think we'd better let him, don't you?" whispered Hugh to Bessie at the upper window. She assented, and down went the great blanket on the heads of the two below, enveloping them in sudden darkness. At the same instant the three dogs plunged forward and pawed at the dark mass; Grip barking furiously, and Pete nosing underneath as if he was in search of a rat-hole. The noise brought Aunt Faith to the door.
"What is it?" she said in alarm, gazing at the struggling blanket with her near-sighted eyes.
"Nothing, Aunt Faith, but some of the children's nonsense," answered Sibyl, extricating herself, and stepping out from the stifling covering. "Mr. Marr, I hope you are not alarmed or hurt."
"Not in the least,--oh!--oh!--" gasped poor Graham, crawling out of the blanket. "Those dogs!--oh!--get out!--get down, sir!"
"They will not hurt you," said Sibyl, coming to the rescue. "Grip, be quiet! Pete get down, sir! You are not going, Mr. Marr?"
"I think,--yes,--I think I will," said the discomfited poet; "it is getting late. I was on the point of making my adieu when,--when the children played their little joke. Ha!--ha!--really, a very good joke. Quite amusing! Good-evening, ladies! Really,--quite amusing!"
When Graham had gone, Aunt Faith stepped out on the piazza. "Tom," she said, in a severe tone, "I am ashamed of you! Such pranks are only fit for a child!" But no answer came from the silent garden.
"Grace, you are there somewhere! come out and show yourself," said Aunt Faith. But still no reply. Then she called the dogs, but they, too, had mysteriously disappeared.
"Sibyl," she said, going back into the sitting room, "I am very sorry the children were so rude. I am afraid Mr. Marr will feel seriously offended."
"Oh, as to that, Aunt Faith, it is a matter of small consequence what he feels. But I see Pete has torn off part of the trimming of my skirt; I will mend it before I go to bed. Good-night,--" and Sibyl kissed her aunt in her gentle way, and went off to her room in the wing.
"I don't believe she cares for the calf after all," whispered Hugh to Bessie, as, after watching this scene from the top of the stairs, they separated for the night.
A few minutes later, when Aunt Faith went up to her room, all her children seemed to be unusually sound asleep; the lights were all out, and Tom's snores came through his half-opened door with astonishing regularity.
"It's of no use, my dears," called out Aunt Faith, standing at the door of her room; "I know you are all wide awake, and know you were all in that blanket-and-dog affair." A burst of stifled laughter greeted this announcement, and, when Aunt Faith got safely in her own room and closed the door, she laughed too.
LIFE AT THE OLD STONE HOUSE.
"Come, come, children," said Aunt Faith, as she went down the stairs, "do not waste so much time in talking or you will be late for prayers."
The talking consisted of a dialogue between Tom and Gem, carried on through the half-closed door of their respective rooms during the morning toilet, and the subject, as usual, was Pete Trone, Esq. "Who did Pete vote for?" began Gem.
"Pete voted the Republican ticket, like a sensible dog!" replied Tom, in a high key.
"He did not! I watched him at the polls. He is an out-and-out
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