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- Peg O' My Heart - 40/72 -
"I don't think it's necessary."
She looked into his eyes: They were fixed upon her. Without quite knowing why she found herself giving him her hand.
He grasped it firmly.
"Not yet now," she answered half defiantly, half frightenedly.
"I'll wager we will be."
"Don't put much on it, ye might lose."
"I'll stake my life on it."
"Ye don't value it much, then."
"More than I did. May you be very happy amongst us, Peg."
A door slammed loudly in the distance. Peg distinctly heard her aunt's voice and Alaric's. In a moment she became panic-stricken. She made one bound for the stairs and sprang up them three at a time. At the top she turned and warned him:
"Don't tell any one ye saw me."
"I won't," promised the astonished young man.
But their secret was to be short-lived.
As Peg turned, Ethel appeared at the top of the stairs and as she descended, glaring at Peg, the unfortunate girl went down backwards before her. At the same moment Mrs. Chichester and Alaric came in through the door.
They all greeted Jerry warmly.
Mrs. Chichester was particularly gracious. "So sorry we were out. You will stay to lunch?"
"It is what I came for," replied Jerry heartily. He slipped his arm through Alaric's and led him up to the windows:
"Why, Al, your cousin is adorable!" he said enthusiastically.
"What?" Alaric gasped in horror. "You've met her?"
"Indeed I have. And we had the most delightful time together. I want to see a great deal of her while she's here."
"You're joking?" remarked Alaric cautiously.
"Not at all. She has the frank honest grip on life that I like better than anything in mankind or womankind. She has made me a convert to Home Rule already."
The luncheon-gong sounded in the distance. Alaric hurried to the door:
"Come along, every one! Lunch!"
"Thank goodness," cried Jerry, joining him. "I'm starving."
Peg came quietly from behind the newell post, where she had been practically hidden, and went straight to Jerry and smiling up at him, her eyes dancing with amusement, said:
"So am I starvin' too. I've not had a bite since six."
"Allow me," and Jerry offered her his arm.
Mrs. Chichester quickly interposed.
"My niece is tired after her journey. She will lunch in her room."
"Oh, but I'm not a bit tired," ejaculated Peg anxiously. "I'm not tired at all, and I'd much rather have lunch down here with Mr. Jerry."
The whole family were aghast.
Ethel looked indignantly at Peg.
Mrs. Chichester ejaculated: "What?"
Alaric, almost struck dumb, fell back upon: "Well, I mean to say! "
"And you SHALL go in with Mr. Jerry," said that young gentleman, slipping Peg's arm through his own. Turning to Mrs. Chichester he asked her: "With your permission we will lead the way. Come--Peg," and he led her to the door and opened it.
Peg looked up at him, a roguish light dancing in her big expressive eyes.
"Thanks. I'm not so sure about that wager of yours. I think yer life is safe. I want to tell ye ye've saved mine." She put one hand gently on her little stomach and cried: "I am so hungry me soul is hangin' by a thread."
Laughing gaily, the two new-found friends went in search of the dining-room.
The Chichester family looked at each other.
It seemed that the fatal first day of June was to be a day of shocks.
"Disgraceful!" ventured Ethel.
"Awful!" said the stunned Alaric.
"She must be taken in hand and at once!" came in firm tones from Mrs. Chichester. "She must never be left alone again. Come quickly before she can disgrace us any further to-day."
The unfortunate family, following in the wake of Peg and Jerry, found them in the dining-room chattering together like old friends. He was endeavouring to persuade Peg to try an olive. She yielded just as the family arrived. She withdrew the olive in great haste and turning to Jerry said: "Faith, there's nothin' good about it but it's colour!" In a few moments she sat down to the first formal meal is the bosom of the Chichester family.
THE PASSING OF THE FIRST MONTH
The days that followed were never-to-be-forgotten ones for Peg. Her nature was in continual revolt. The teaching of her whole lifetime she was told to correct. Everything she SAID, everything she LOOKED, everything she DID was wrong.
Tutors were engaged to prepare her for the position she might one day enjoy through her dead uncle's will. They did not remain long. She showed either marked incapacity to acquire the slightest veneer of culture--else it was pure wilfulness.
The only gleams of relief she had were on the occasions when Jerry visited the family. Whenever they could avoid Mrs. Chichester's watchful eyes they would chat and laugh and play like children. She could not understand him--he was always discovering new traits in her. They became great friends.
Her letters to her father were, at first, very bitter, regarding her treatment by the family. Indeed so resentful did they become that her father wrote to her in reply urging her, if she was so unhappy, to at once return to him on the next steamer. But she did NOT. Little by little the letters softened. Occasionally, toward the end of that first month they seemed almost contented. Her father marvelled at the cause.
The month she had promised to stay was drawing to an end. But one more day remained. It was to be a memorable one for Peg.
Jerry had endeavoured at various times to encourage her to study. He would question her, and chide her and try to stimulate her. One day he gave her a large, handsomely-bound volume and asked her to read it at odd times and he would examine her in it when she had mastered its contents. She opened it wonderingly and found it to be "Love Stories of the World."
It became Peg's treasure. She kept it hidden from every one in the house. She made a cover for it out of a piece of cloth so that no one could see the ornate binding. She would read it at night in her room, by day out in the fields or by the sea. But her favourite time and place was in the living-room, every evening after dinner. She would surround herself with books--a geography, a history of England, a huge atlas, a treatise on simple arithmetic and put the great book in the centre; making of it an island--the fount of knowledge. Then she would devour it intently until some one disturbed her. The moment she heard anyone coming she would cover it up quickly with the other books and pretend to be studying.
The book was a revelation to her. It gave all her imagination full play. Through its pages treaded a stately procession of Kings and Queens--Wagnerian heroes and heroines: Shakespearian creations, melodious in verse; and countless others. It was indeed a treasure- house. It took her back to the lives and loves of the illustrious and passionate dead, and it brought her for the first time to the great fount of poetry and genius.
Life began to take on a different aspect to her.
All her rebellious spirit would soften under the spell of her imagination; and again all her dauntless spirit would assert itself under the petty humiliations the Chichester family frequently inflicted upon her.
Next to Mrs. Chichester she saw Alaric the most.
Although she could not actively dislike the little man her first
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