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- Sara, a Princess - 31/43 -
"I have heard of your sorrows and your joys through my good aunt. Tell me one thing, is your life any happier, broader, better, amid these new surroundings?"
"Yes," said Sara, "I believe it is; and yet, sometimes my very soul is sick for the sight and sound of the sea, and for the roughest greeting from one of our good old weather-beaten fishermen at home."
"I am glad that is so. You are too loyal to forget easily; but still you would not go back, would you?"
"No, never;" smiling up into his face. "There is no plan for going back in my life; only for going forward."
He smiled in return, but the bustle of taking their seats prevented any answer. When all was quiet again, Sara had time to notice that she had been placed where she could observe every motion of her hostess, and even as the thought crossed her mind, she caught that lady's eye and a telegraphic glance passed between them. Sara's said, "Help me!" Mrs. Macon's replied, "Watch me!" at which both smiled slyly, and turned to the next neighbor with some light remark.
Morton and Molly had been so drilled in their deportment before they came, that each sat now stiff and solemn as martinets awaiting some command; Morton, eying hopelessly the tiny bouillon-cup before him, with the healthy appetite of a boy who had not eaten anything since an early breakfast; while Molly, after a stony rigidity of perhaps two minutes, suddenly gave a little twist and drew a sigh as long and lugubrious as the wail of an autumn blast. Professor Macon looked at her with twinkling eyes.
"Don't be discouraged, Miss Molly," he whispered leaning towards her, "there is a turkey somewhere, I'm sure, for I had a sniff of it myself some time ago." Her eyes brightened, and she whispered back in the same confidential way,--
"You see, I don't like beef-tea very well, and I do love turkey. But, of course, if it's the thing"--and she submissively took up her spoon, prepared to attack the decoction.
Sara's cheeks had grown red at this; but when the professor added,--
"Between you and me, Molly, I think it's only fit for sick folks myself; but I suppose, as the saying is, we must eat by the card;" at which everybody laughed good-naturedly, her worried feeling wore off, and she began to think it would not, perhaps, be an unforgivable offence if one of them did commit a blunder or two.
In fact, by the time the bouillon disappeared to make room for the next course, she had quite forgotten her worries, so deeply was she interested in what Robert was telling her of the wonderful growth and vigor of his city home, Chicago; while the children, unwatched and well occupied, fell into order like well-trained soldiers; Molly now and then flinging out some _naive_ remark which sent a ripple of laughter around the table, at which Morton would begin trying to frown her down, in his elder-brotherly way, and end by laughing with the rest.
When the ladies had returned to the drawing-room and coffee, leaving the gentlemen deep in a political discussion in the professor's snuggery, just off the dining-room, Mrs. Macon saw the children happily interested in some beautiful photographs of European scenes, viewed through a powerfully mounted lens, then turned to the others.
"Come," she said, "I want you to go up-stairs with me, and see Sara's dress. My dressmaker has done wonders the past week, and it is nearly ready."
They followed her to the little sewing-room, which Sara so well remembered as the first apartment of this hospitable house into which she had ever been introduced, and there lay the white gown over a chair. After viewing it critically, Sara in a quiet rapture, and madame with all a French woman's enthusiasm and epithets, Mrs. Macon said impulsively,--
"Do try it on, Sara; I'm a little afraid about this skirt; it looks short in front, and you know she has had to go almost entirely by measure, so far; here, let me pin the rest of this swan's-down in place, while you take off your dress."
Sara obeyed without a murmur, feeling all the delight of any young girl in trying on her first evening gown, while her two tire-women stood by, patting, punching, pulling, and commenting, as women will, pronouncing it a perfect fit, and quite long enough. When it was finally adjusted, they stepped back, and the little madame drew a long breath.
"Ah! but she is beautiful!" she said in her own language; "she might be one of the old noblesse," while Mrs. Macon, controlling her delight, remarked,--
"It is becoming, my dear: you have one of those peculiar complexions dead white only enhances. You look taller, too, a full inch, in that train. Really, the children ought to see you; let's go down-stairs and take them by surprise."
Sara, believing them still alone, did not object; and Mrs. Macon, if she had heard a closing door, and steps through the hall below, did not think it necessary to mention the circumstance. So down they went, the two attendants in front, and Sara following, with possibly a little intensification of her usual measured and stately tread. Thus they entered the drawing-room, the two ladies parting to right and left before her, as might two maids of honor attending some royal personage, the stately white-robed figure advancing, with head slightly bent, as if in modest disclaiming of all this parade over one so young.
"Oh!" cried Molly shrilly, "it's Sara, and she looks like a queen!" while the three gentlemen, farther down the room, turned quickly from their talk, and one said, under his breath,--
"A princess, indeed!"
Then they all surrounded her, even dignified Professor Macon showing his enjoyment of the masquerade, while Professor Grandet spread out both hands, and cried, "Beautifool! Beautifool!" in a French rapture.
Only Robert Glendenning said nothing more, unless eyes speak; but Sara did not seem to miss the lack of words on his part.
"It is strange, now," observed the host reflectively, after the first outburst had subsided, "what a transformation dress is! I shall never again quite dare to think of Miss Sara as a little girl; she has crossed the brook, she has entered into woman's kingdom, and all because of a long white gown!"
Sara turned to him.
"Oh, please, sir, I'd rather be the little girl. I"--with a pathetic tremble in her voice, "I'm barely twenty yet, and I've never had much of a girlhood."
The little cry, right from her heart, sent a thrill through every one; and there was not a person in the room, even to careless Molly, who did not, then and there, resolve that whatever was in their power should be done to bring that brightness into her life, in which it had been so greatly lacking. Robert Glendenning sought his aunt's eyes, and in his she saw an indomitable resolution, while in hers he read a sudden yielding, which made his heart leap with joy; for he knew no step could be a happy one for him which did not meet with her full approval.
The rest of the evening passed swiftly and merrily away, Sara once more in her plain black dress, modestly bearing her part in the bright, animated conversation, in which even the children were interested, as well as instructed. When they separated to their homes, Robert said,--
"Miss Sara, with your permission, I will walk home with you; I want to see where you live, and besides, there are a good many lawless students on the street to-night."
"And won't we see you again, Mr. Glendenning?" asked his hostess.
"I fear not, Mrs. Macon; I leave to-morrow at nine o'clock."
"Your stay is short."
"Yes, very; a business trip mostly, which I managed to bring about to take in Thanksgiving Day. Let me thank you for helping to make it one of the happiest I have ever known."
"I think," smiling mischievously, as she gave him her hand, "your thanks are due elsewhere; but as I never refuse anything that is offered me, so I won't these; and allow me to say," with intense meaning, "as far as I am concerned, you are _most welcome!_"
"Thank you again! Miss Olmstead, are you ready? I'll be home soon, aunt; good-night, Professor Macon," and Sara was conducted down the steps, her heart beating, and her head whirling with new, strange, unfathomable thoughts.
The dinner-party came off in due course of events, and Sara went through the ordeal with credit to her quartet of guardians. Indeed, she made so favorable an impression upon several that they really longed for a more extended acquaintance, and, for a time, invitations became quite a common affair. But she accepted these most sparingly.
"I can never return them," she said to Mrs. Macon, "and I do not like to be under obligations, except to those I love," with a sweet look into her friend's face.
"Yes, my dear, that is right, only in these cases the people expect no return, knowing fully your circumstances; your acceptance and enjoyment repay them sufficiently."
But Sara shook her head. She had her own ideas of these things, and besides, it was no trial for her, the doing without society. Here, as in Killamet, she preferred books to people; though she was often charmed to find herself deeply interested in some individual, who upon acquaintance developed qualities she had only dreamed of before. But it was simply as individuals that these interested her; taken _en masse_ the world of men and women seemed cold almost to cruelty. After one or two evenings out, she went back to her books with a warm feeling of attachment.
"You cannot disappoint me, dear old friends!" she whispered lovingly, and the next invitation was answered by a formal regret.
So the winter passed quietly and swiftly away; for busy time is always swift time, and all three of our Olmstead household were thoroughly busy: Sara with her writing added to the museum work; Morton with his studies, in which he was growing deeply interested; and Molly in a little of everything. She had no special fondness for books, but a real genius for cookery and housework, most of which now devolved upon her in
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