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- The Old Stone House - 6/41 -
"Why, you see there were a good many girls in the dormitory, and we always had plum-cake, eclairs, and French candy; and then I have no doubt but that the servants took their share," said Bessie, with a half sob.
"And why was your name selected for the bills?"
"I don't know, unless because I was,--the,--the,--"
"The ringleader?" suggested Hugh.
"I am afraid so," murmured Bessie, hiding her face.
"Have you got this man's bill?" said Hugh, after a pause.
"Ah! yes. He sent it to me weeks ago."
"Let me have it, please."
"Oh, Hugh! what are you going to do with it?"
"Pay it, of course."
"Pay it! How can you?"
"So long as it is paid, what do you care about it, Brownie?"
"But I do care, Hugh; and I shall not give it to you unless you tell me."
"Well then, listen, Miss Obstinate. You may not know that Sibyl and I have some money coming to us this month. We shall be quite rich. I shouldn't wonder if there were five hundred dollars in all. Quite a fortune, you see! And I shall take mine to pay the debts of my foolish little cousin, who must be a real sugar-dolly to have eaten so much candy," said Hugh, laughing.
"Oh, Hugh! you splendid, generous fellow," said Bessie, with the tears still shining in her eyes; "but I shall not let you do it."
"Yes you will, Bessie; you would do the same for me."
"That is true enough; but I hate to take your money, Hugh."
"You don't take it; 'J. Evins' takes it," said Hugh merrily. "Come, give me the bill, and say no more about it, or we shall quarrel." So it was settled, and there were two light hearts in the studio that bright June morning.
While Aunt Faith was busy with her house-keeping duties, she heard Sibyl's touch on the piano,--giving full value to every note, and exact time to every measure. Sibyl was an accurate musician, and several hours of each day were invariably devoted to piano practice. She never turned over a pile of sheet-music, trying now a little of this, and now a little of that; but, having made her selections, she played the piece entirely through, note for note, exactly as it was written. Most people liked to hear Miss Warrington play, for the performance was very complete. She sat gracefully at the piano, showed no nervous anxiety, interpreted the notes conscientiously, and finished the music to the very last octave. But Aunt Faith detected a want of expression in this studied mechanism; it seemed to her that Sibyl did not, in her heart, feel the spirit of the music which her fingers played. Coming in from the kitchen, this morning, after setting in motion the household wheels for the day, she again noticed this automatic execution in the strains of Mendelssohn's "Spring-Song," and it grated on her ear as she tended the hanging baskets on the piazza. Continuing her round from her plants to her birds and gold-fish, Aunt Faith kept listening to the monotonous sound of the piano. "I wonder if Sibyl has a heart?" she thought; "sometimes I am tempted to think she has none. How can she practise so steadily when she has so much to decide? This visit to Saratoga will mean more than it looks. The decision will be between religion and the world. If she deliberately makes up her mind to go, it will show me that Mr. Leslie's influence has not been strong enough to subdue her worldliness and secret ambition. Poor child! she is like her mother. And yet, Mabel Fitzhugh became an earnest Christian before she died. God grant that her daughter may grow in grace also. Hugh, now, is all Warrington; he is like his father, with all his father's faults and all his father's generosity. Dear James! my favorite brother!" and Aunt Faith wiped away a tear, as she crossed the hall and entered the parlor where Sibyl was practising.
The parlor in the old stone house was the counterpart of the sitting-room, large and square, with two north and two south windows,--for the main body of the house contained only the length of the apartments finished by a north and south piazza, while the other rooms ran off on either side in wings and projections, as though the designer had tried to cover as much ground as possible. The parlor was plainly furnished as regards cost, for there was no superb set of furniture, no tall mirror, no velvet carpet or lace curtains. Easy-chairs of various patterns were numerous, the carpet was small figured, in neutral tints, and the plain, gray walls brought out the beauties of the two fine pictures which lighted up the whole room with their vivid idealism; the piano was a perfect instrument, filling a corner of its own, and opposite to it was an open book-case filled with pleasant-looking, well-used books, well worn too, like old friends, so much better than new ones. The crimson lounge seemed to invite the visitor with its generous breadth and softness, and the white muslin curtains were in perfect keeping with the old-fashioned windows, through which came the perfume of the old-fashioned flowers in the garden.
"Sibyl," said Aunt Faith, as her niece paused in her practising; "shall we talk over your plans for the summer now?"
"Yes, if you please, aunt; I can finish my practising another time," said Sibyl, carefully replacing the sheet-music in its portfolio.
"Mrs. Leighton is very kind to invite you, Sibyl; such a summer excursion will be expensive."
"Yes, Aunt, I suppose so; but cousin Jane knows that the addition of a young lady will add to the attractions of her party."
"Do you really wish to go, dear?"
"I have been thinking it over, Aunt Faith. While I was practising I looked at the subject in all lights, and I have almost decided to go; there is nothing to keep me here, and no doubt the society at Saratoga and Newport would be of great advantage to me."
"In what way, Sibyl?"
"In giving me the acquaintance of persons and families who will be desirable friends for a lifetime. I am not rich, as you know, Aunt Faith, and I do not wish to be a burden upon Hugh. I consider it prudent to look to the future, and see life as it really is; I do not believe in fancies,--I must have something sure."
Aunt Faith looked at the speaker in silence for a moment. Then she said, "There is nothing sure in this life, Sibyl, but our trust in God."
"I know that, Aunt; I hope you do not think I have been remiss in my religious duties?"
"No, child no," replied Aunt Faith with a half-sigh; "but are you sure there is nothing in Westerton that interests you more than the fashionable life at Saratoga!"
"Nothing, Aunt; except affection for all of you, of course." Sibyl's voice did not waver, neither did the shade of color in her oval cheek deepen; Aunt Faith, who was watching her closely, said no more on that subject, but turned the discussion towards the arrangements for the journey. "You will need some additions to your wardrobe, I suppose, my dear?"
"Yes, Aunt; I think I shall take that money that is coming to me this month for the purpose. I do not care for many dresses, but they must be perfect of their kind, and I think I shall purchase that antique set of pearls at Carton's,"
"But they are very costly, Sibyl."
"Of course they are. I should not wish them if they were not rare. Pearls become me, and the antique setting will set me off far better than anything modern; a white organdie, long and flowing, with the pearls, would be just my style," said Sibyl in a musing voice, as though she saw herself so arrayed. As she spoke, a vision rose before Aunt Faith's eyes: Sibyl at Saratoga, her classical head and hair adorned with the antique circlet, rising in simple beauty from the soft, white draperies. "She will look like a Greek statue," thought the elder lady; "after all, how beautiful she is!"
The discussion went on, arranging the details of the various toilets, a committee of ways and means highly important in Sibyl's eyes.
"At any rate, you need not begin immediately, Sibyl," said Aunt Faith; "if you only wish two or three dresses; and those are to be so simple, a week will be time enough to devote to them. You can have a full month of quiet here with all of us, dear; and, after all, something may happen to change your plans."
"I think not, Aunt Faith. Are you going? Then I may as well finish my practising;" and for the next hour the Spring-song filled the parlor with its oft-repeated harmony.
Down in the back garden, Tom and Gem were deeply engaged in the construction of an underground shanty. The grassy terrace behind the north piazza sloped down in a gentle declivity towards the vegetable garden, and at the base of this small hill the two sappers and miners were at work, their operations being marked by a convenient growth of currant-bushes at the top. The three dogs watched the proceedings with great interest. Turk, always thoughtful of his own comfort, had stretched himself out near by under the shadow of the bushes, and Pete Trone, in the excess of his zeal, had burrowed so far into the hill that nothing was to be seen but his tail and hind legs; Grip, however, persisted in tearing around the garden in wild circles, barking furiously every time he passed his master as if to encourage him in his labors. "This will never do!" said Tom, pausing and wiping his forehead; "Grip will spoil everything with his ridiculous barking, and the whole neighborhood will come to see what is the matter. Here, Grip! Here, this minute! Very well, sir! _ver-y_ well! _ex-treme-ly_ well! You'd better come, sir! You'd _bet-ter_,--oh! you're coming, are you? There! get into that tub, sir, and don't let me see you so much as wag your tail without permission!"
So Grip sat mournfully _in his_ tub, and watched the work in silence, resting his nose on the side, and blinking his eyes at every fresh shovel-full of earth. The sun shone out warmly, and the laborers felt
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