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- Peggy Stewart: Navy Girl at Home - 5/34 -
the past, partly in the present, and in the strangest possible mental confusion. His memory picture of Peggy as he had left her in October of the previous year was of the little hoyden in short skirts, laughing and prancing from morning till night, and leading Mammy Lucy a life of it.
In nine months the little romp had blossomed into a very charming young girl, dainty and sweet as a wild rose in her white duck sailor suit, with its dark red collar, her hair braided in soft coils about her head and adorned with a big red bow. The embryo woman stood before him.
"Yes, HOW old are you?" he insisted, looking at her with mingled, puzzled eyes.
"Oh, Daddy, you know I was fourteen in January," she said half reproachfully. "You sent me such beautiful things from Japan."
"Yes, but you might be eighteen now from your looks and height. And living here alone with the servants. Why--why, it's, it's all out of order; you are off your course entirely. You must have someone with you, or go somewhere, or--or--well SOMETHING has got to be done and right off, too," and poor perplexed Neil Stewart ran his hand through his curly, gray-tinged hair in a distracted manner. Peggy looked startled, then serious. Such a contingency as this incumbent upon growing up had never entered her head. Must the old order of things which she so loved, and all the precious freedom of action, give way to something entirely new? Harrison had more than once hinted that such would be the case when Daddy Neil came home and found a young lady where he expected to find a little girl.
"Oh, Daddy, please don't talk about that now. You've only just got here and I've ten thousand things to tell and show you. Let's not think of the future just yet. It's such a joy to just live now. To have you here and see you and hug you, and love you hard," cried Peggy suiting her actions to her words. Mr. Stewart shook his head, but did not beggar his response to the caress. It sent a glow all through him to feel that this beautiful young girl was his daughter, the mistress of the home he so loved, but so rarely enjoyed.
"We'll have a truce for a week, honey, and during that time we'll do nothing but enjoy each other. Then we'll take our reckoning and lay our course by chart, for I'm convinced that I, at least, have been running on dead reckoning and you--well--I guess the good Lord's been at the helm and taken in hand my job with a good deal of credit to Himself and confounded little to me. But it's my watch from now on. I wish your mother were here, sweetheart. You need her now," and Neil Stewart again drew the young girl into his strong, circling arm. "I'd resign tomorrow if--if--well, when I resign I want four stripes at least on my sleeve to leave you as a memory in the years to come. Now show me the ropes. I'm a stranger on board my own ship."
For an hour Peggy did the honors of the beautiful home, Jerome, the old butler, who had been "Massa Neil's body servant" before he entered the Academy at eighteen, where body servants had no place, hovering around, solicitous of his master's comfort; Harrison making a hundred and one excuses to come into the room; Mammy Lucy, with the privileges of an old servant making no excuses at all but bobbing in and out whenever she saw fit.
Luncheon was soon served in the wonderful old dining-room, one side of which was entirely of glass giving upon a broad piazza overlooking Round Bay. From this room the view was simply entrancing and Neil Stewart, as he sat at the table at which Peggy was presiding with such grace and dignity, felt that life was certainly worth while when one could look up and encounter a pair of such soft brown eyes regarding him with such love and joy, and see such ripe, red lips part in such carefree, happy smiles.
"Jerome, don't forget Daddy Neil's sauce.
"Yes, missie, lamb. I knows--I knows. Cynthy, she done got it made to de very top-notch pint," answered Jerome, hurrying away upon noiseless feet and in all his immaculate whiteness from the crown of his white woolly head to his duck uniform, for the Severndale servants wore the uniforms of the mess-hall rather than the usual household livery. Neil Stewart could not abide "cit's rigs." Moreover, in spite of the long absences of the master, everything about the place was kept up in ship-shape order; Harrison and Mammy Lucy cooperated with Jerome in looking well to this.
"Now, Daddy," cried Peggy happily when luncheon ended, "come out to the stables and paddock; I've a hundred things to show you."
"A stable and a paddock for an old salt like me," laughed her father. "I wonder if I shall know a horse's hock from his withers? Yet it DOES seem good to see them, and smell the grass and woods and know it's all mine and that YOU are mine," he cried, slipping his arm through hers and pacing off with her. "Some day," he added, "I am coming here to settle down with you to enjoy it all, and when I do I mean to let four legs carry me whenever there is the least excuse for so doing. My own have done enough pacing of the quarter-deck to have earned that indulgence."
"And won't it be just--paradise," cried Peggy rapturously.
They were now nearing the paddock. To one side was a long row of little cottages occupied by the stable hands' families. Mr. Stewart paused and smiled, for out of each popped a funny little black woolly head to catch a glimpse of "Massa Captain," as all the darkies on the place called him.
"Good Lord, where DO they all come from, Peggy? Have they all been born since my last visit? There were not so many here then."
"Not quite all," answered Peggy laughing. "Most of them were here before that, though there are some new arrivals either in the course of nature or new help. You see the business is growing, Daddy, and I've had to take on new hands."
Neil Stewart started. "Was this little person who talked in such a matter-of-fact way about "taking on new hands" his little Peggy?
"Yes, yes--I dare say," he answered in a sort of daze.
Peggy seemed unaware of anything the least unusual and continued:
"I want you to see THIS family. It is Joshua Jozadak Jubal Jones'. They might all be of an age, but they are not--quite. Come here, boys, and see Master Captain," called Peggy to the three piccaninnies who were peeping around the corner of the cottage. Three black, grinning little faces, topped by the kinkiest of woolly heads, came slowly at her bidding, each one glancing half-proudly, yet more or less panic- stricken, at the big man in white flannels.
"Hello, boys. Whose sons are you? Miss Peggy tells me you are brothers."
"Yas, sir. We is. We's Joshua Jozadak Jubal Jones's boys. I'se Gus--de ol'es. Der's nine haid o' us, but we's de oniest boys. De yethers ain' nothin' but gurls."
"And how old are you!"
"I'se nine I reckons."
"And what is your name?"
"My name Gus, sah."
"That's only HALF a name. Your whole name is really Augustus remember." The "Massa Captain's" voice boomed with the sound of the sea. Augustus and his brothers were duly impressed. If Gus really meant Augustus, why Augustus he would be henceforth. The Massa Captain had said it and what the Massa Captain said--went, especially when he gave a bright new dime to enforce the order.
"And YOUR name?" continued the questioner, pointing at number two.
"I'se jist Jule, sah," was the shy reply.
"That's a nickname too. I can't have such slipshod, no-account names for my hands' children. It isn't dignified. It isn't respectful. It's a disgrace to Miss Peggy. Do you hear?"
"Yas--yas--sir. We--we hears," answered the little darkies in chorus, the whites of their eyes rolling and their knees fairly smiting together. How could they have been guilty of thus slighting their adored young mistress?
"Please, sah, wha's his name ef taint Jule?" Augustus plucked up heart of grace to ask.
"He is Julius, JUL-I-US, do you understand?"
"Yas--sir. Yas--sir." Another dime helped the memory box.
"And YOUR name?" asked the Massa Captain of quaking number three.
There was a long, significant pause, then contortions as though number three were suffering from a violent attack of colic. At length, after two or three futile attempts he blurted out:
"I'se--I'se Billyus, sah!"
There was a terrific explosion, then Neil Stewart tossed the redoubtable Billyus a quarter, crying: "You win," and walked away with Peggy, his laughter now and again borne back to his beneficiaries.
Peggy never knew where that month slipped to with its long rides on Shashai, Daddy Neil riding the Emperor, the magnificent sire of all the small fry upon the place, from those who had already gone, or were about to be sent out into the great world beyond the limits of Severndale, to Roy, the latest arrival. Neil Stewart wondered and marveled more and more as each day slipped by.
Then, too, were the delightful paddles far up the Severn in Peggy's canoe, exploring unsuspected little creeks, with now and again a bag in the wild, lonely reaches of the river, followed by a delicious little supper of broiled birds, done to a turn by Aunt Cynthia. There were, too, moonlight sails in Peggy's little half-rater, which she handled with a master hand. As a rule, one of the boys accompanied her, for the mainsail and centerboard were pretty heavy for her to handle unaided, but with Daddy Neil on board--well, not much was left to be desired. During that month Peggy learned "how lightly falls the foot of time which only treads on flowers," and was appalled when she realized that only five more days remained of her father's leave.
Neil Stewart, upon his part, was sorely perplexed, for it had come to him with an overwhelming force that Peggy was almost a young lady, and to live much longer as she had been living was simply out of the question. Yet how solve the problem? He and Dr. Llewellyn talked long and earnestly upon the subject when Peggy was not near, and fully concurred in their view-point; a change must be made, and made right speedily. Should Peggy be sent to school? If so, where? Much depended
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