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- Peggy Stewart: Navy Girl at Home - 6/34 -
upon the choice in her case. Her whole life had been so entirely unlike the average girl's. Why she scarcely knew the meaning of companions of her own age of either sex. Neil Stewart actually groaned aloud as he thought of this.
Dr. Llewellyn suggested a companion for the young girl.
Mr. Stewart groaned again. Whom should he choose? So far as he knew there was not a relative, near or remote, to whom he could turn, and a hit-or-miss choice among strangers appalled him.
"I give you my word, Llewellyn, I'm aground--hard and fast. I can't navigate that little cruiser out yonder," and he nodded toward the lawn where Peggy was giving his first lessons to Roy in submitting to a halter. It was a pretty picture, too, and one deeply imprinted upon Neil Stewart's memory.
"We will do our best for her and leave the rest to the dear Lord," answered the good Doctor, his cameo-like face turned toward the lawn to watch the girl whom he loved as a daughter. "He will show us the way. He has never yet failed to."
"Well, in all reverence, I wish He'd show it before I leave, for I tell you I don't like the idea of going away and leaving that little girl utterly unprotected."
"I should call her very well protected," said Dr. Llewellyn mildly.
"Oh, yes, in a way. You are here off and on, and the servants all the time, but look at the life she leads, man. Not a girl friend. Nothing that other girls have. I tell you it's bad navigating and she'll run afoul rocks or shoals. It isn't natural. For the Lord's sake DO something. If I could be here a month longer I'd start something or burst everything wide open. It's simply got to be changed." And Neil Stewart got up from his big East India chair to pace impatiently up and down the broad piazza, now and again giving an absent-minded kick to a hassock, or picking up a sofa pillow to heave it upon a settee, as though clearing the deck for action. He was deeply perturbed.
Peggy glanced toward him, and quick to notice signs of mental disturbance, left her charge to Tzaritza's care and came running toward the piazza. As she ran up the four steps giving upon the lawn she asked half laughingly, half seriously:
"Heavy weather, Daddy Neil? Barometer falling?"
Neil Stewart paused, looked at her a moment and asked abruptly:
"Peggy, how would you like to go to a boarding school?"
"To boarding school!" exclaimed Peggy in amazement. "Leave Severndale and all this and go away to a SCHOOL?" The emphasis upon the last word held whole volumes.
Her father nodded.
"I think I'd die," she said, dropping upon a settee as though the very suggestion had deprived her of strength.
Her father's forehead puckered into a perplexed frown. If Peggy were sent to boarding school the choice of one would be a nice question.
"Well, what SHALL I do with you?" demanded the poor man in desperation.
"Leave me right where I am. Compadre will see that I'm not quite an ignoramus, Harrison keeps me decently clad and properly lectured, and Mammy looks to my feeding when I'm well and dosing when I'm not, which, thank goodness, isn't often. Why Daddy, I'm so happy. So perfectly happy. Please, please don't spoil it," and Peggy rose to slip her arm within her father's and "pace the deck" as he called it.
"But you haven't a single companion of your own age or station," he protested.
"Do I look the maiden all forlorn as the result?" she asked, laughing up at him.
"You look--you look--exactly like your mother, and to me she was the most beautiful woman I have ever seen," and Peggy found herself in an embrace which threatened to smother her. She blushed with pleasure. To be like her mother whom she scarcely remembered, for eight years had passed since that beautiful mother slipped out of her life, was the highest praise that could have been bestowed upon her.
"Daddy, will you make a truce with me?"
Her father stopped to look down at her, doubtful of falling into a snare, for he had wakened to the fact that his little fourteen-year-old daughter had a pretty long head for her years. Peggy's white teeth gleamed behind her rosy lips and her eyes danced wickedly.
"What are you hatching for your old Dad's undoing, you witch?"
"Nothing but a truce. It is almost the first of September. Will you give me just one more year of this glorious freedom? I shall be nearly sixteen then, and then if you still wish it, I'll go to a finishing school, or any other old school you say to be polished off for society and to do the honors of Severndale properly when you retire. But, Daddy, please, please, don't send me this year. I love it all so dearly--and I'll be good--I truly will."
At the concluding words the big dark eyes filled. Her father bent down to kiss away the unshed tears. His own eyes were troublesome.
"I sign the truce, sweetheart, for one year, but I want a detailed report every week, do you understand?"
"You shall have it, accurate as a ship's log."
Five days later he had joined his ship and Peggy was once more alone, yet, even then, over yonder under the shadow of the dome of the chapel at the Naval Academy the future was being shaped for the young girl: a future so unlike one those who loved her best could possibly have foreseen or planned.
IN OCTOBER'S DAYS
September slipped by, a lonely month for Peggy as contrasted with August. At first she did not fully realize how lonely, but as the days went by she missed her father's companionship more and more. Formerly, after one of his brief visits she had taken up her usual occupations, fallen back into the old order of things, and been happy in her dumb companions. But this time she could not settle down to anything. She was restless, and as nearly unhappy as it was possible for Peggy Stewart to be. She could not understand it. Poor little Peggy, how could she analyze it? How reason out that her life, dearly as she loved it, was an unnatural one for a young girl, and, consequently, an unsatisfactory one.
Dr. Llewellyn was troubled. Tender, wise and devoted to the girl, he had long foreseen this crisis. It was all very well for the child Peggy to run wild over fields and woodland, to ride, drive, paddle, sail, fish or do as the whim of the moment prompted, happy in her horses and her dogs. Mammy and Harrison were fully capable of looking to her corporal needs and he could look to her mental and spiritual ones, and did do so.
Situated as Severndale was, remote from the other estates upon the river and never brought into social touch with its neighbors, Peggy was hardly known. When Neil Stewart came home on leave he was only too glad to get away from the social side of his life in the service, and the weeks spent with his little girl at Severndale had always been the delight of his life. They took him into a new world all his own in which the small vexations of the outer service world were entirely forgotten.
And how he looked forward to those visits. He rarely spoke of them to his friends, mentioned Severndale to very few and hardly a dozen knew of Peggy's existence. It was a peculiar attitude, but Neil Stewart had never been reconciled to the cruel fate which had taken from him the beautiful wife he had loved so devotedly, and the thought of guests at Severndale without her there to entertain them as she had been accustomed to, was peculiarly abhorent to him. He became almost morbid on the subject and did not realize that he was growing selfish in his sorrow and making Peggy pay the penalty.
But something in the way of an awakening had come to him during his recent visit, and it had shocked him. The child Peggy was a child no longer but a very charming young girl on the borderland of womanhood. In a year or two she would be a young woman and entitled to her place in the social world. Poor Neil Stewart, more than once upon retiring to his bedroom after one of his delightful evenings spent with Peggy, desperately ran his fingers through his curly hair and asked aloud: "What under the sun AM I to do? I can't leave that child vegetating here any longer, yet who will come to live with her or where shall I send her?"
But the question was still unanswered when he left Severndale and now Peggy was beginning to experience something of her father's unrest.
October came. Her work with Dr. Llewellyn was resumed. Each Sunday she drove into Annapolis to old St. Ann's with Harrison; a modest, unobtrusive little figure who attended the service and slipped away again almost unnoticed. Indeed, if given a thought at all she was vaguely supposed to be some connection of the eminently respectable elderly woman accompanying her. Harrison was a rather stately imposing body in her black taffeta, or black broadcloth, as the season demanded. People did not inquire. It was not their affair. The rector on one or two occasions had spoken to Harrison, but Harrison had been on her dignity. She replied politely but did not encourage intimacy and, if the truth must be confessed, Dr. Smith, rather piqued, decided that he had done his duty and would make no further advances. This had happened some time before the beginning of this story.
In October, as usual, a number of colts were disposed of. Some were sold to people in the adjacent towns or counties, others sent to remote purchasers who had seen them in their baby days, followed their up- bringing and training, and waited patiently for them to arrive at the stipulated age, four years, before becoming their property. No colt was ever sold under four years of age. This was an inviolable law of Severndale, mutually agreed upon by Dr. Llewellyn, the business manager, Shelby, the foreman, and Peggy, the mistress.
"Ain't going to have no half-baked stock sent off THIS place if I have the say-so," had been Shelby's fiat. "I've seen too many fine colts mined by being BRUCK too young and then sold to fools who don't seem to
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