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- Peggy Stewart: Navy Girl at Home - 4/34 -
gate; Tzaritza, with her newly-assumed responsibility upon her, entered with dignity. From that hour she scarcely left her charge, lying beside him when he rested in the shade of the great beeches, nestling close in the little stable at night, following him wherever he chose to go during his liberty hours of the day, for thenceforth he was rarely confined to the paddock.
Before the Empress was laid away Bud returned with the nursing bottle. The rubber nipples were thrust into the Empress' mouth and thus getting the mother scent all else was very simple. Roy tugged away at his bottle like a well-conducted, well-conditioned baby, Tzaritza watching with keen intelligent eyes. She soon knew the feeding hours as well as Peggy or Mammy, and promptly to the minute led her charge to Mammy's door. If Mammy happened to be elsewhere she sought Cynthia, and so had the interest grown that there was not a man, woman or child upon the place who would not have dropped anything in order to minister to the needs of Tzaritza's charge.
And so passed the early springtide, Roy waxing fat and strong, Tzaritza never relaxing her care, though at first it was a sore trial to her to remain behind with her foster-son while her beloved mistress galloped away upon Shashai. But that word "Guard" was sacred.
In the course of a few weeks, however, Roy was well able to follow his half-brother, Shashai, and Tzaritza's freedom was restored. The trio was rarely separated and to see Peggy in her hammock on the lawn, or on the piazza, meant to see the colt and Tzaritza also, though Roy was rapidly outgrowing piazzas and lawns, and Peggy was beginning to be puzzled as to what was to be done with him when he could no longer come clattering up the steps and across the piazza after his foster-mother.
With the summer came word that her father would come home on a month's leave and August was longed for with an eagerness he could not have dreamed. Everything must be in perfect order to receive him, and Peggy flew from house to garden, from garden to stables, from stables to paddock keyed to a state of excitement which infected every member of the household. Dr. Llewellyn smiled sympathetically. Harrison, the housekeeper, stalked after her, doing her best to carry out her orders, while announcing that: NOW, she guessed, there would be some hope of making Mr. Neil see the folly of letting a girl of Peggy's age run wild as a hawk forever and a day. She'd have one talk with him he'd do well to take heed to or she'd know why. Mammy Lucy said little but watched her young mistress' radiant face. It was eight months since Master Neil had been home and deep in her tender old heart she understood better than any one else what his coming meant to Peggy. Harrison might have a better idea of what was wise and best for her young charge, but Mammy's love taught her many things which Harrison could never learn.
Meanwhile Peggy spent the greater part of her days down at the paddock, for Shashai must be broken to saddle and bridle in order to receive his master in proper style. A blanket and halter might answer for the mad gallops across country which they had hitherto taken, but Daddy Neil was coming home for a month and the horses must do the place credit.
With this end in view, Peggy betook herself to the paddock one morning before breakfast, saddle and bridle borne behind her by Bud. Shashai welcomed her with his clear nicker, sweeping up to the gate in his long, rocking stride so like the Empress'. Tzaritza with her foster-son followed in Peggy's wake, Tzaritza sniffing inquiringly at the saddle, Roy pranking thither and yonder, rich just in the joy of being alive. Shashai had never quite overcome his jealousy of his young half-brother, and now laid back his ears in reproof of his unseemly gambols; Shashai's own babyhood was not far enough in the background for him to be tolerant.
Peggy entered the paddock and Shashai at once nozzled her for his morning lumps of sugar. For the first time in his memory they were not forthcoming, and his great eyes looked their wondering reproach.
"Not yet, Shashai. "We must keep them for a reward if you behave well." She slipped an arm over the beautifully arched neck and laid her face against the satiny smoothness. Shashai approved the caress but would have approved the sugar much more.
"Give me the saddle, Bud."
The little negro boy handed her the light racing saddle; a very featherweight of a saddle.
The colt stood like a statue expecting the girl as usual to spring upon his back. Instead she placed upon it a stiff, leather affair which puzzled him not a little, and from which dangled two curious contrivances. These, however, she quickly caught up and fastened over the back and their metallic clicking ceased to annoy him. The buckling was a little strenuous. Hitherto a surcingle had served to hold the blanket upon his back, but this contraption had TWO surcingles and a stiff leather strap to boot, which Peggy's strong hands pulled tighter than any straps had ever before been pulled around him. He quivered slightly but stood the test and--a lump of sugar was held beneath his eager nostrils, If THAT followed it was worth while standing to have that ugly, stiff thing adjusted.
"Now the headstall, Bud. Did you coat the bit with the melted sugar as I told you?"
"Yes'm, missie. It's fair cracklin' wid sugar, an' onct he gits a lick ob dat bit he ain' never gwine let go, yo' hyar me."
"Now, my bonny one, we'll see," said Peggy, as she unstrapped the bit, and the headstall without it was no more than the halter to which Shashai had been accustomed. Then very gently she held the bit toward him. He tried to take it as he would have taken the sugar and his look of surprise when his lips closed over the hard metal thing was amusing. Nevertheless, it tasted good and he mouthed and licked it, gradually getting it well within his mouth. At an opportune moment Peggy slipped the right buckle into place, quickly following it by the left one. Shashai started.
"Steady, Shashai. Steady, boy," she said gently and the day was won. No shocks, no lashings, no harsh words to make the sight of that headstall throw him into a panic whenever it was produced. Dozens of horses had been so educated by Peggy Stewart. Shashai sucked at his queer mouthpiece as a child would suck a stick of candy, and while he was enjoying its sweetness Peggy brought forth lump number two. Four was his daily allowance, and as he enjoyed number two she let down the stirrups which had seemed likely to startle him.
"Stand outside, Bud, he may be a little frightened when the saddle creaks." The boy left the paddock.
"Stand, Shashai," commanded Peggy, resting her hand upon the colt's withers. He knew perfectly well what to expect, but why that strange groaning and creaking? The blanket had never done so. The sensitive nerves quivered and he sprang forward, but Peggy had caught her stirrups and her low voice quieted him as she swayed and adapted herself to his gait. Around and around the paddock they loped in perfect harmony of motion. She did not draw upon the bridle rein, merely holding it as she had been accustomed to hold her halter strap, guiding by her knees. Shashai tossed his head partly in nervous irritation at the creaking saddle, partly in the joy of motion, and joy won the day. Then Peggy began to draw slightly upon her reins. The colt shook his head impatiently as though asking: "Wherefor the need? I know exactly where you wish to go."
"Oh, my bonny one, my bonny one, that is just it! I know that you know, but someday someone else won't know, and if I don't teach you now just what the bit means the poor mouth may pay the penalty. It may anyway, in spite of all I can do, but I'll do my best to make it an easy lesson. Oh why, why will people pull and tug as they do on a horse's mouth when there is nothing in this world so sensitive, or that should be so lightly handled. So be patient, Shashai. We only use it because we must, dear. Now, right, turn!" And with the words she pressed her right knee against the colt, at the same time drawing gently upon the right rein. Shashai turned because he had always done so at the words and the pressure, accepting the bit's superfluous hint like the gentleman he was.
"Open the gate, Bud. We'll go for a spin," ordered Peggy as she swung around the paddock.
"Won't yo' jump, missie?" asked Bud eagerly. The delight of his life was to see his young mistress take a fence.
"Not this time," answered Peggy over her shoulder. Bud opened the gate as they came around again and as Peggy cried: "Four bells, Shashai," the colt sprang through, Tzaritza and Roy joining in with a happy bark and neigh.
All so simply, so easily done by love's gentle rule.
"Stand there, little girl. Why, why--how has it come about! When did you do it? I went away nine months ago leaving a little girl in Mammy Lucy's and Harrison's charge and I have returned to find a young lady. Peggy, baby, what have you done with my little girl?"
Commander Stewart stood in the big living-room of Severndale, his hand upon Peggy's shoulder as he held her at arm's length to look at her in puzzled surprise. He had just experienced one of those startling revelations which often arouse parents to the fact that their children have stolen a march upon them, and sprung into very pleasing young men or women while they themselves have been in an unobserving somnolent state. It is invariably a shock and one which few parents escape.
Peggy laughed, colored a rosy pink but obeyed, a little thrill of innocent triumph passing over her, for Daddy Neil's eyes held something more than surprise, and Peggy's feminine soul detected the underlying pride and admiration.
"By the great god Neptune, you've taken a rise out of me this time, child. How old ARE you, anyway!"
"As though you didn't know perfectly well, you tease," laughed Peggy, turning swiftly and nestling in his arms. The arms held her closely and the sun-tanned cheek rested upon her dark, silky hair. The eyes were singularly soft and held a suggestion of moisture. It did not seem so very long ago to Daddy Neil since Peggy's beautiful mother had been in that very room with him nestling in his arms in that same confiding little manner. How like her Peggy had grown in looks and a thousand little mannerisms. From the moment Peggy had met him at the Round Bay station to this one, he had lived in a sort of waking dream, partly in
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