Read CHAPTER VII - MERRY WEATHER SIGNS of Hildegarde's Harvest , free online book, by Laura E. Richards, on ReadCentral.com.

BUT the best of all, perhaps, was telling about it afterward. Sitting by the fire that evening, in the pleasant sitting-room, Hildegarde told her mother all about the Great Frisk, as she called it; and it would have been hard to say whether narrator or listener were the more interested.

“But, child,” said Mrs. Grahame, “how was it possible for you to do so much, and see so many people in three days, or, rather, two days and a half? I cannot comprehend it!”

“Nor can I!” laughed Hildegarde. “But it just happened, you know! Why, dear, it seemed to rain friends! Wherever I turned I ran into some one I loved. Oh, I feel so rich, rich in every way! The money in my pocket is the least part of it all, and yet I am glad enough of that, too. Only think of my getting such a price! And eight or ten dozen to send every week! It is like a fairy story, isn’t it, darling? And then to meet Helena, dear Helena! Oh, she was so delightful! And just to see her was enough to fill one with beauty for the whole day. She wears her hair brushed back now, you remember how it waves, wonderful hair! And she was in dark blue velvet, trimmed with chinchilla, and and altogether, my love, if the Queen of Sheba had seen her, her spirit would have died within her twice over. And just the same dear, whole-souled creature as ever! She never can change. She promises to come out here before she goes to Washington.”

“That will be delightful!” said Mrs. Grahame. “I shall be very glad to see Helena again; I have always hoped that when she came back you would see something of her again. She was the one of your schoolmates that my heart always warmed to. How came Mrs. Desmond to be willing to leave Paris? When she went away, she said it was for life.”

“Oh, Helena would come!” said Hildegarde. “She told me about it; they must have had a scene. She said to her mother, ’Mamma, I am an American! I have never committed any crime, and I refuse to be exiled from my native country any longer. If you will come with me, it will be much the pleasantest thing; if not, I go alone.’ Well, it was not the thing to say, of course, but ”

“I am not sure about that!” said Mrs. Grahame, flushing slightly. “I am inclined to think Helena was perfectly justified. When a woman has not sense enough to guide her daughter, she must submit to be guided. The idea of keeping that girl over there five years, frittering about the continent; preposterous! My sympathy is entirely with Helena.”

Mrs. Grahame sat very erect, and her eyes were very bright; then, catching Hildegarde’s eyes, full of laughter, she relaxed her muscles, and began to laugh too.

“I am sorry, dear,” she said. “I never could like Mrs. Desmond.”

“I should think not!” said Hildegarde, promptly. “I should be under the painful necessity of disowning you if you did. But you love Mrs. Honiton, Mammina!”

“Ah, Mrs. Honiton! how could two sisters be so different? It is Margaret Honiton who should be Helena’s mother, they are wonderfully alike.”

“Yes. Helena feels that. She is lovely with her mother, firm, but devoted, but Aunt Margaret is the one of the world to her. It is a terrible thing for a girl to have an incompetent mother!”

“Yes, darling, it is indeed,” said Mrs. Grahame, meekly. “I feel it so in your case. No, don’t kill me, Hildegarde! my time is not yet come. Tell me more about Rose and her husband. She is very happy, you say?”

“Happy as the day is long. I told you I did not see Doctor Flower, the only one I missed, really; he was in Philadelphia. But their house is as pretty as pretty; it is evident that he furnished it, you know what taste he has; and everywhere roses, roses! carved and painted and embroidered, it is really the Rose-bower, as he calls it. Her own little sitting-room, up-stairs oh, such a little rosy-posy nest! rosewood desk, and everything soft covered with rose-flowered chintz curtains, too, and the most de-lightful sofa I ever did see! And her little work-table, and oh, well, Mammina, I think, after all, that made me happier than anything, unless it was the sight of Nurse Lucy’s face when she recognised me! But, remembering all that Rose suffered, and all the cramped, anxious days and years, and then seeing her, a rose in full bloom, in her own pretty house, with such signs of loving care all about her, it was good, good!”

“Yes, indeed!” said Mrs. Grahame, heartily. “I am sure that was a real treat, darling. And Bubble you say he is grown such a fine lad!”

“Bubble is enchanting! not handsome well, but you need not laugh, Mammina, for he is very good looking, and certainly has an air of distinction. He holds his head so well; and he walks well, and, altogether oh, I am proud of Bubble. And Rose says that Doctor Flower is sure the boy has a career before him; he never had so apt a pupil. And he speaks such beautiful English, Rose says.”

“Rose says!” repeated Mrs. Grahame. “I thought you had a good little talk with the boy himself.”

“Oh, so I had, but he would not talk anything but the broadest Yankee. He insisted that he was precisely the same freckled boy that he was when I first saw him; and he carried on in the most absurd way. He was almost like Gerald; dear Gerald! I didn’t see any of the Merryweathers, Mamma; so there was something lacking, after all.”

“It would be a weary world if there were not,” said her mother. “But speaking of the Merryweathers have you noticed, Hilda dear, whether the night is clear?”

“Whether the night is clear, Mammina? No, I did not look. What do you mean, darling? Shall I go to the door ”

“No; not to the door,” said Mrs. Grahame. “Go to the window, child; the west window, that looks across the hedge. Tell me if the stars are out.”

Wondering greatly at this sudden solicitude about the weather, Hildegarde crossed the room and drew the curtain.

“Clear as a bell,” she said. “Stars all out, and wind, oh, oh, Mammina! Why, there are lights in the windows of Pumpkin House! Mamma, they have come!”

She turned upon her mother with eyes alight with happy inquiry.

“They have come,” Mrs. Grahame repeated. “Some of them, that is. Oh, things can happen here as well as in New York, mademoiselle! They came yesterday, Mrs. Merryweather and Kitty and ”

“And you never told me!” cried Hildegarde. “And you have let me talk on and on for three, four hours, oh, Mrs. Grahame!”

“You never asked me,” replied that lady, demurely. “You had a great deal to tell, and I wanted very much to hear it; perhaps, too, I did not want to have your mind distracted until I had had my turn. Mrs. Merryweather is looking very well.”

“Oh, the dear!” cried Hildegarde. “Oh, Mammina, do you think I might go over? Do you think it is too late? It is only half-past eight. Don’t you think I might run over now?”

“Hark!” said Mrs. Grahame, raising her hand. “What is that?”

Hildegarde, in full tide of excitement, checked herself, and listened. Under the window some unseen hand swept the strings of a guitar, lightly, yet firmly; and next moment a voice broke out, singing the old air of “Gentle Zitella.”

“Under thy window,
Maiden, I sing,
Though the night’s chilly
For this kind of thing.
Weather is merry,
Hearts too are light;
Speak to thy Jerry,
Hilda the Bright!”

Hildegarde threw up the sash.

“Come in, Gerald!” she cried. “Oh, you dear boy, I am so glad to see you hear you, rather! come in, quick!”

She shut the window hastily.

“Did you feel the air, Mamma? I thought if I opened it just for a second, the room seemed pretty warm. Sure you are not cold, love?”

Mrs. Grahame was quite positive; but Hildegarde must feel her hands to make assurance doubly sure; must tuck a shawl round her mother’s shoulders, and throw an encouraging glance towards the fire, before she turned to the door, which now opened to admit Mr. Gerald Merryweather.

“You dear boy!” she repeated, going to meet him with outstretched hand. “To think that you have been here two days without my seeing you. Gerald, how you have grown!”

“‘Great weeds do grow apace,’” said the tall lad, looking down on her. “I forestall the remark, you observe. It is the one with which I am commonly greeted by my affectionate family. But it’s awfully good to see you, Hilda. I say, how well you’re looking!”

“You, too,” said Hilda. “And they are all well? and all here, or coming? Oh, sit down and tell me all about everything, do!”

“I have already told her, Gerald,” said Mrs. Grahame; “but I don’t think she paid much attention; you may as well tell her over again.”

“Well, I was so excited, you see!” cried the girl. “I have been having the most wonderful time in town; and then to come out here and find you, my cup is rather brimming over, that’s all. Now tell, Jerry.”

“We came,” said Gerald, curling up his long legs on the hearth-rug; “we have seen several things; we expect to conquer shortly the dust, and to get the house to rights. Our holidays Ferguson’s and mine began on Saturday, so the Mater thought we’d better come right down and get things ready for the others. Then she reflected that she could not trust us; so she decided to come herself; then she further reflected that she could not possibly leave the kids alone with the Pater, so she brought them along. Behold us! Bell and Toots arrive next week, and the Codger at some time known to himself. He is in Arizona, or somewhere this side of it, sent for to inspect a mine, and see whether it is a good place for planting cabbages.”

“Gerald!” said Hildegarde.

“Honoured miss!” replied the boy. “I may not be quite accurate in the details, but there is a mine, I do assure you.”

“And what kind of winter have you all had? You have been in Boston all the time, that is, your mother and father?”

“In Boston, yes. The winter has been such as might have been expected, far from the sun which etcetera. Barring the fact that we have all existed in a state of acute anguish at being separated from you, we have all been exceedingly well, thank you.”

“And how do you and Phil like college? Is it as much fun as you thought it would be? Do you like your rooms? Are you doing all right in your Greek?”

“Hilda,” put in Mrs. Grahame, “do let the boy draw breath, and allow yourself to do so. Two such panting young creatures I have seldom seen. And Gerald is not going away on the night train.”

“I suppose not!” said Hildegarde. “But, oh, it does seem so long since I have heard anything about him and Phil. Bell, you see, writes the most enchanting letters, but they are mostly about college and music, her college, I mean; and she tucks in a little postscript to say that all are well at home, and that is all the news I get.”

“Which accounts for your pallid and emaciated appearance!” said Gerald.

“’Thy cheek, my love, of late a living rose,
Which could the bulbul cheat with its rich hue,
Looks pale ’

“I don’t remember any more. I learned that in the Finden book, when I was six years old.”

“Why, Gerald, did you have the Finden books, too? How delightful! Dear, ridiculous books! We have them now. I still think the ‘Diamond’ lady the most beautiful creature that ever lived, and simpered. But you are not telling me a word about college!”

“I have had so much opportunity, you observe!” said Gerald, appealing to Mrs. Grahame. “My natural diffidence has been allowed such free play by the silent and unconversational attitude of your daughter ”

Mrs. Grahame shook her head, and declared that there was a pair of them, and she would have nothing to say on either side.

Finally, however, boy and girl settled down into an amicable and more or less coherent exchange of information. It appeared that the boys were doing well in college, enjoying the new life to the full, and keeping well in their classes.

“Of course we started in with about three times as much sail as we could carry. I had five courses, and Ferguson seven. But some of them were half ones, and after the first term we began to see where we were a bit, and to perceive that Roger and Pater were right. We couldn’t see it at first, of course, being such as we are.”

“And such as boys have been since the beginning of colleges!” said Mrs. Grahame.

“Dear madam, how well you know! Well, Greek has been pretty stiff, but still we peg away, and like it no end. Then we both have Che, that’s great sport! I blew myself up ”

“Gerald!”

“Fact, I assure you! Pounding something in a mortar nice little glass mortar, you know, pounding away, having fine sport; suddenly I pounded a little too hard, old Comprehensive told us we must not pound hard, and away went the mortar, and away went I. My eyebrows are only just growing out; and you never noticed!” And the boy looked deeply injured.

“My dear boy! What a narrow escape! Oh, your mother must have had a fright!”

“Rather!” said Gerald. “Roger, you know, had that bad time ten years ago, and she thought I had done something of that sort, and would have to live on dark room and excruciating tortures for months. But I got my eyes shut all right, you see; so it only burned my hyacinthine locks a bit, and took off my eyebrows, and spoiled a good suit of clothes. But I learned something, and now I pound the way old Comp tells me to.”

“What is the professor’s name?” inquired Hildegarde.

“Comprehensive? Oh, well, his real name is Worcester, you know. Of course no one could stand that, and he is so short that it would never do to call him ‘Unabridged,’ so I suggested ‘Comprehensive,’ which is the size you have in school, you know; and the fellows took to it, and now he is called that altogether, or ‘Comp’ for short.”

“I see! By the way, what are you and Phil called? Anything except your own names, I suppose!”

“Pretty much!” Gerald admitted. “Phil is called the ’Holy Poker’ don’t know why, I’m sure! and ’Thumbling,’ he has grown about nine feet, Phil has; really, he is a whole head taller than I am!”

“Dear me!” said Hildegarde, innocently. “I had no idea your head was so big as that, Gerald! of course I knew it was rather

“Mrs. Grahame!” cried Gerald, in a tone of anguish. “Will you speak to her, please? She is trampling all over my delicate sensibilities, and talking slang besides!”

“Hildegarde,” said Mrs. Grahame, “I am surprised at you!”

“Yes, dear madam!” said Hildegarde, meekly. “You didn’t hear the things he said. Go on with the names, Gerald!”

“They call him ‘Bottle-washer,’ too, and ‘Cappadocia.’ I think that is rather the favourite name for Ferguson.”

Why ‘Cappadocia?’” asked Hildegarde.

“Oh, well, there isn’t really much reason, but then, it doesn’t take much. They call me ‘Capsicum,’ you see, and we are twins, and ‘Cappadocia’ begins, surely I need explain no further even to a person of limited intelligence?”

“Go on, Master Impudence! Do they call you ‘Cayenne,’ too?”

“Yes, indeed! And ‘Bricks,’ and ‘Mortar,’ and ’Flag,’ short for ’Conflagration,’ and everything of that sort. I don’t care; I don’t mind any of these; but when they call me ‘Hamlet,’ I knock them down.”

“Dear Jerry! Why do they call you ‘Hamlet?’”

“Oh! just some idiot started it, you can’t tell how these things start. One comfort is, I called him the ‘Grave-digger,’ and it will stick to him through college, for he looks it to the life. And the joke of it, I don’t know whether it’s safe to tell you the joke of it, Hilda.”

“Try and see!”

“Well, the real joke of it is that his father is an undertaker, and I never knew it.

“But I haven’t finished about the courses!” he added, hastily, seeing Hilda look serious. “I am taking French, and Ferguson German. We have delightful conversations every evening, I speaking my language, and he his. You shall have a specimen when you see us togeth Hullo! What’s that?”

Mrs. Grahame uttered a slight cry, and rose hastily to her feet.

“I I don’t know,” she said. “I thought I surely did see a face looking in at the window. Hark!”

They listened, and heard a rustling in the great linden-tree outside. Then something gleamed white at the window, a face, beyond all doubt.

“Ferguson!” said Gerald. “If I don’t give it to him for startling you, Mrs. Grahame; he shall be flayed, I assure you! Set your mind at rest on that point! Flayed an inch at a time!”

“May I come in?” asked Phil’s voice, as he swayed back and forth on the linden branch.

“’Begging for a dole of crumbs,
Little Robin Redbreast comes!’”

“Quick!” said Hildegarde, as she threw up the window once more. “When will you boys learn to move and act like reasonable mortals? How are you, Phil? I am delighted to see you!”

Phil wriggled his length swiftly into the room, and closed the sash with a single quick movement. Then, after shaking hands warmly with his two friends, he fixed a withering glance on his brother.

“How about that box?” he asked.

“Now may Julius Cæsar promote you to a captaincy in the Skidmore Guards!” replied Gerald, with great sweetness. “I clean forgot the box, sweet chuck! And I just threatening to flay you! Didst open it with thine own fairy paws, beloved?”

“I didst, beloved! And I intend to do the same by thy head, at a convenient season. He promised to be back in ten minutes,” Phil added, turning to Mrs. Grahame, “to open a box for the Mater. I was putting up bookcases the while. It’s frightful, the way books multiply in our family. I’ve put them up all along all the up-stairs passages now, and it gives us a little breathing-space, but not enough.”

“That is a good idea!” said Mrs. Grahame. “We must remember that, Hilda; though, indeed, there is still plenty of space in these rooms.”

“I wish there were in ours,” said Phil. “The disadvantage of the passage bookcase is, that the whole family stops and reads as it goes along, and we seldom get anywhere. Which reminds me! I’m afraid I must go back, Mrs. Grahame, and take this wretched object with me. It is nearly ten o’clock, and my Obadiah should have been tucked up in his little nest some time ago.”

“Your Obadiah will inquire into the condition of your little nest before he sleeps!” said Gerald, threateningly.

“But remember that the Mater said the next time we scrapped a bedstead to pieces, we must sleep in the pieces. Come along, Child of Doom!”

And with many hearty greetings, and promises to meet the next day, the friends separated, the boys saying good-night, and clattering off down the stairs like a regiment of horse.