Scanned by Deidre Johnson for her 19th-Century Girls' Series webpage. Please do not use on other pages without permission.
CHAPTER VIII: PEACE MAYTHORNE
AFTER you have seen Mrs. Littlejohn, and explained why she went supperless last night," said Mrs. Breynton, " I want you to do an errand for me."
" What is it ? " asked Gypsy, pleasantly. She felt very humble, and much ashamed, this morning, and anxious to make herself useful.
"I want you to find out where Peace Maythorne's room is, -- it is in the same house, -- and carry her this, with my love."
Mrs. Breynton took up a copy of " Harper's Magazine," and handed it to Gypsy.
" Tell her I have turned the leaf down at some articles I think will interest her, and ask her if the powder I left her put her to sleep."
"Who is Peace Maythorne?" asked Gypsy, wondering. " Is she poor ? "
" How funny to send her a ' Harper's,' " said Gypsy. " Why don't you give her some money, or something ? "
" Some things are worth more than money to some people," said Mrs. Breynton, smiling.
"Why! then you had been into that house before I found Mrs. Littlejohn ? " said Gypsy, as the thought first struck her.
" Oh, yes ; many times."
Gypsy started off, with the Magazine under her arm, wondering if there were a house in town, filled with these wretched poor, in which her mother was not known as a friend.
Her heart sank a little as she climbed the dark stairs to Mrs. Littlejohn's room. She had begged of her mother a tiny pailful of green. peas, with which she hoped to pacify the old woman, but she was somewhat in dread of hearing her talk, and ashamed to confess her own neglect.
Mrs. Littlejohn was eating the very nice breakfast which Mrs. Rowe had sent over, and groaning dolefully over it, as Gypsy entered.
" Good morning," said Gypsy.
" Good morning," said Mrs. Littlejohn, severely.
" I went out to play in the hay with Sarah Rowe, and forgot all about your supper last night, and I'm just as sorry as I can be," said Gypsy, coming to the point frankly, and without any attempt to excuse herself.
" Oh, of course! " said Mrs. Littlejohn, in the tone of a martyr. It's all I expect. I'm a poor lone widdy with a bone broke, and I'm used to bein' forgot. Little gals that has everything they want, and five dollars besides, and promises me salmon and such, couldn't be expected to remember the sufferin' and afflicted,-of course not."
It was not an easy nor a pleasant thing to apologize to a person to whom she had played the charitable lady the day before; and Mrs. Littlejohn's manner of receiving the explanation certainly made it no easier. But Gypsy, as the saying goes, " swallowed her pride," and felt that she deserved it.
" I've brought you some peas," she said, meekly.
"Oh!" said the old woman, relenting a little; "you have, have you? Well, I'm obleeged to you, and you can set 'em in the cupboard."
Gypsy emptied her peas into a yellow bowl which she found in the cupboard, and then asked,--
' ' Can I do anything for you ? "
' ' I'm terrible thirsty! " said Mrs. Littlejohn, with a long groan. "There's some water in that air pail."
Gypsy went into the corner where the pail stood, and filled the mug with water; then, not being able to think of anything more to say, she concluded to go.
" Good mornin'," said Mrs. Littlejohn, in a forgiving tone; " I hope you'll come agin."
Gypsy secretly thought it was doubtful if she ever did. Her charity, like that of most young people of her age and experience, was not of the sort calculated to survive under difficulties, or to deal successfully with shrewish old women.
After inquiring in vain of the group of staring children where Peace Maythorne's room was, Gypsy resorted to her friend, the red-faced woman, who directed her to a door upon the second story.
It was closed, and Gypsy knocked.
" Come in," said a quiet voice. Gypsy went in, wondering why Peace Maythorne did not get up and open the door, and if she did not know it was more polite. She stopped short, as she entered the room, and wondered no longer.
It was a plain, bare room, but neat enough, and not unpleasant nor unhomelike, because of the great flood of morning sunlight that fell in and touched everything to golden warmth. It touched most brightly, and lingered longest, on a low bed drawn up between the windows. A girl lay there, with a pale face turned over on the pillows, and weak, thin hands, folded on the counterpane. She might, from her size, have been about sixteen years of age; but her face was like the face of a woman long grown old. The clothing of the bed partially concealed her shoulders, which were cruelly rounded and bent. '
So Peace Maythorne was a cripple.
Gypsy recovered from her astonishment with a little start, and said, blushing, for fear she had been rude, --
"Good morning. I'm Gypsy Breynton. Mother sent me down with a magazine."
"I am glad to see you," said Peace Maythorne, smiling. " Won't you sit down ? "
Gypsy took a chair by the bed, thinking how pleasant the old, pale face, was, after all, and how kindly and happy the smile.
"Your mother is very kind," said Peace; "she is always doing something for me. She has given me a great deal to read."
"Do you like to read?-1 don't," said Gypsy.
"Why, yes ! " said Peace, opening her eyes wide; "I thought everybody liked to read. Besides I can't do anything else, you know."
" Nothing at all ? " asked Gypsy.
' 'Only sometimes, when the pain isn't very bad, I try to help aunt about her sewing, I can't do much."
"Oh, you live with your aunt ?" said Gypsy.
" Yes. She takes in sewing. She's out, just now."
"Does your back pain you a great deal?" asked Gypsy.
"Oh, yes; all the time. But, then, I get used to it, you know, " said Peace.
"All the time!-oh, I am so sorry!" said Gypsy, drawing a long breath.
" Oh, it might be worse," said Peace, smiling.
" I've only lain here three years. Some people can't move for forty. The doctor says I sha'n't live so long as that."
Gypsy looked at the low bed, the narrow room, the pallid face and shrunken body cramped there, moveless, on the pillows. Three years ! Three years to lie through summer suns and winter snows, while all the world was out at play, and happy !
" Well," said Gypsy, as the most appropriate comment suggesting itself; "you are rather different from Mrs. Littlejohn ! "
Peace smiled. There was something rare about Peace Maythorne's smile.
"Poor Mrs. Littlejohn ! You see, she isn't used to being sick, and I am ; that makes the difference."
"Oh, I forgot!" said Gypsy, abruptly, " mother said I was to ask if those powders she left you put you to sleep."
"Nicely. They're better than anything the doctor gave me ; everything your mother does seems to be the best sort, somehow. She can't touch your hand, or smooth your pillow, without doing it differently from other people."
" That's so! " said Gypsy, emphatically. There isn't anybody else like her. Do you lie awake very often ? "
Peace answered in the two quiet words that were on her lips so often, in the quiet voice that never complained,--
" Oh, yes."
There was a little silence. Gypsy was watching Peace. Peace had her eyes turned away from her visitor, but she was conscious of every quick, nervous breath Gypsy drew, and every impatient little flutter of her hands.
The two girls were studying each other. Gypsy's investigations, whatever they were, seemed to be very pleasant, for she started at last with a bit of a sigh, and announced the result of them in the characteristic words,- "I like you!"
To her surprise, Peace just turned up her eyes and turned them away, and the eyes were full of tears. After a moment,-
' ' Thank you. I don't see many people so young-except the children. I tell them stories sometimes."
" But you won't like me," said Gypsy.
" I rather think I shall."
"No you won't," said Gypsy, shaking her head decidedly ; "not a bit. I know you won't. I'm silly, -- well, I'll tell you what I am by-and-by. First, I want to hear all about you, -- everything, I mean," she added, with a quick delicacy, of which, for " blundering Gypsy," she had a great deal,-"everything that you care to tell me."
"Why, I've nothing to tell," said Peace, smiling, "cooped up here all the time; it's all the same."
"That's just what I want to hear about. About the being cooped up. I don't see how you bear it!" said Gypsy, impetuously.
Peace smiled again. Gypsy had a fancy that the smile had stolen one of the sunbeams that lay in such golden, flickering waves, upon the bed.
Too much self-depreciation is often a sign of the extremest vanity. Peace had nothing of this. Seeing that Gypsy was in earnest in her wish to hear her story, she quietly began it without further parley. It was very simple, and quickly told.
' ' We used to live on a farm on the mountains-father and mother and I. There were a great many cattle, and so much ground it tired me to walk across it. I always went to school, and father read to us in the evenings. I suppose that's the way I've learned to love to read, and I've been so glad since. I was pretty small when they died, - first father, then mother. I remember it a little ; at least I re- member about mother,-she kissed me so, and cried. Then Aunt Jane came for me, and brought me here. We lived in a pleasant house up the street, at first. I used to work in the mill, and earned enough to pay aunt what I cost her. Then one day, when I was thirteen years old, we were coming out at noon, all of us girls, in a great hurry and frolic, and I felt sick and dizzy watching the wheels go round, and, -- well, they didn't mean to, -- but they pushed me, and I fell."
"All the way, -- it was a long, crooked flight. I struck my spine on every step."
"Oh, Peace!" said Gypsy, half under her breath.
"I was sick for a little while; then I got better. I thought it was all over. Then one day I found a little curve between my shoulders, and so,-well, it came so slowly I hardly knew it, till at last I was in bed with the pain. We had come here because it was hard times, and aunt had to support me,-and then there were the doctor's bills."
"Doesn't he say you can ever get well? never sit up a little while ? "
" Oh, no."
Gypsy gasped a little, as if she were suffocating.
" And your aunt, -- is she kind to you ? "
A certain flitting expression, that the face of Peace caught with the words, Gypsy could not help seeing.
"But I mean, real kind. Does she love you ? "
The girl's cheek flushed to a pale, quick crimson, then faded slowly.
' ' She is very good tome. I am a great trouble. You know I am not her own. It is very hard for her that I can't support myself. "
Gypsy said something just then, in her innermost thought of thoughts, about Aunt Jane, that Aunt Jane would not have cared to hear.
"If I could only earn something!" said Peace, with a quick breath, that sounded like a sigh. "That is hardest of all. But it's all right somehow."
"Peace Maythorne!" said Gypsy, in a little flash, "I don't see! never to go out in the wind and jump on the hay, and climb the mountains, and run and row and snowball,- why, it would kill me! And you lie here so sweet and patient, and you haven't said a cross word all the while you've been telling me about it. I don't understand! How can you, can you bear it ? "
"I couldn't, if I didn't tell Him," said Peace, softly.
There was a long silence. Gypsy looked out of the window, winking very hard, and Peace lay quite still upon the bed.
"There!" said Gypsy, at last, with a jump, " I shall be late to school."
"Oh," said Peace, "you haven't told me anything about yourself; you said you would."
"Well," said Gypsy, tying on her hat, " that's easy enough done. I'm silly and cross, and forgetful and blundering."
"I don't believe it," said Peace, laughing.
"I am," said Gypsy, confidentially; "it's all true; and I'm always tearing my dresses, and worrying father, and getting mad at Winnie, and bothering Miss Melville, and romping round, and breaking my neck! and then, when things don't go right, how I scold!"
Peace smiled, and looked incredulous.
" It's just so, " said Gypsy, giving a little sharp nod to emphasize her words. "And here you lie, and never think of being cross and impatient, and love everybody and everybody loves you, and-well, all I have to say is, if I were you I should have scolded everybody out of the house long before this! "
"You mustn't talk so about me," said Peace, a faint shadow of pain crossing her face. "You don't know how wicked I am -nobody knows; I am cross very often. Sometimes when my back aches as if I should scream, and aunt is talking, I hide my face under the clothes, and don't say a word to her."
"You call that being cross!" said Gypsy, with her eyes very wide open. She buttoned on her sack, and started to go, but stopped a minute.
' ' I don't suppose you'd want me to come again-I'm so noisy, and all."
"Oh, I should be so glad!" said Peace, with one of those rare smiles: ' ' I didn't dare to ask you."
"Well; I'll come. But I told you you wouldn't like me."
"I do," said Peace. "I like you very much."
"How funny!" said Gypsy. Then she bade her good-by, and went to school.
"Mother," she said, at night, "did you have any particular reason in sending me to Peace Maythorne ? "
"Perhaps so," said Mrs. Breynton, smiling. "Why?"
" Nothing, only I thought so. You were a very wise woman."
A while after she spoke up, suddenly.
" Mother, don't the Quakers say good matches are made in heaven ? "
"Who's been putting sentimental ideas into the child's head ? " said her father, in an undertone.
"Why, Gypsy Breynton!" said Winnie, looking very much shocked; "you hadn't ought to say such things. Of course, the brimstone falls down from hell, and they pick it up and put it on the matches!"
"What made you ask the question?" said Mrs. Breynton, when the laugh had subsided.
" Oh, I was only thinking, I guessed Peace Maythorne's name was made in heaven. It so exactly suits her."
After that, the cripple's little quiet room "became one of the places Gypsy loved best in Yorkbury.
Two or three weeks after that Mrs. Littlejohn, who had been gaining rapidly in strength and good temper under Mrs. Breynton's wise and kindly care, took it into her head one morning, when she was alone, to walk across the room, and look out of the window. The weakened limb was not in a fit state to be used at all, and the shock given to it was very great. Inflammation set in, and fever, and the doctor shook his head, and asked if the old woman had any friends living anywhere; if so, they had better be sent for. But the poor creature seemed to be desolate enough; declared she had no relatives, and was glad of it; she only wanted to be let alone, and she should get well fast enough.
She never said that when Mrs. Breynton was in the room. Gypsy went down one evening with her mother, to help her carry a bundle of fresh bed-clothing, and she was astonished at the gentleness which had crept into the old withered face and peevish voice. Mrs. Littlejohn called her up to the bed, just as she started to go.
" I say, little gal, I told ye a fib the day ye fust come. I did have a dinner, though it war a terrible measly one-Mrs. Breynton, marm! "
Mrs. Breynton stepped up to her. "What was that ye read t'other day, 'bout liars not goin' into the kingdom of heaven ?-1 'most forgot."
Gypsy crept out, softly. She was wondering how her mother had managed her charity to this fretful old woman so wisely, that her words, unfitly spoken, were becoming a trouble to herself, and her hours of increasing pain turned into hours of late, faint repentance. Perhaps the charm lay in a certain old book, dog-eared and worn, and dusty from long disuse on the cupboard shelf. This little book
Mrs. Breynton had found, and she had read in it many times, until that painful groaning ceased.
And so one night it chanced that the old yellow cat sat blinking at the light, and the yellow, furrowed face turned over on the pillow and smiled, and lay still. The light burned out, and the morning came; the cat jumped purring upon the bed, and seeing what was there, curled up by it, with a mournful mewing cry.
' ' Peace Maythorne says, " said Gypsy, ' ' that if Mrs. Littlejohn went to heaven, she will be so happy to find she doesn't scold! Isn't it funny, in Peace, to think of such things ? "
CHAPTER IX: CAMPING OUT
o you remember Mr. Gough's famous story of the orator who, with a great flourish of rhetoric as prelude, announced to his audience the startling fact that there was a "great difference in people ? " On the strength of this original statement, it has been supposed that there were a variety of tastes to be suited in selecting for the readers of " Gypsy Breynton " the most entertaining passages of this one summer in her life. The last two chapters were for the quiet young people. This one is for the lively young people - the people who like to live out of doors, and have adventures, and get into difficulties, and get over them. The quiet people aforesaid need not read it, if they don't want to.
Did you ever " camp out " ? If you ever did, or ever very much wanted to, you will know how Gypsy felt one morning after her summer vacation had begun, and she was wondering what she should do with herself all day, when Tom came into her room and said,-
"Gypsy, don't you wish you were a boy? I'm going to spend a week at Ripton, with Hallam."
"Mr. Hallam!" exclaimed Gypsy. Mr. Guy Hallam was a lawyer about thirty years old; but Tom had the natural boy's feeling about "mistering" any one, that he had gone on fishing excursions with, ever since he could remember; while Gypsy was more respectful.
"Ripton!" said Gypsy, again; "Oh, dear me! "
"And going to camp out and have a fire,
and cook our trout, and shoot our rabbits," said Tom, with an aggravating appearance of
indifference, as if these were only a specimen of innumerable delights unmentioned.
"Oh, dear me!" said Gypsy, with along sigh.
" There are several disadvantages in being a girl, my dear, as you will find out, occasionally," said Tom, with a lordly air.
"Girls are just as good as boys!" answered Gypsy, flashing up.
" Only they can't camp out."
" I'm not so sure of that, sir."
"Girls do camp out; I've heard about it, parties of ladies and gentlemen go out up on the Adirondacks. You might take Sarah Rowe and me."
Tom smiled a very superior smile.
" Come, Tom, do-there's a good fellow ! "
" Take along a couple of girls that can't fish, and scream when you shoot a squirrel, and are always having headaches, and spraining their ankles, and afraid to be left alone ? No, thank you! "
" I can fish, and I'm no more afraid to be left alone than you are! " said Gypsy, indignantly. " I'll go and ask mother."
She ran down stairs, slamming all the doors, and rushed noisily into the parlor.
"Oh, mother!" Tom's going to camp out with Mr. Guy Hallam, and can't Sarah and I go, too ? "
"Oh, what now?" said Mrs. Breynton, laughing, and laying down her work.
" Only for a week, mother, up Ripton-just think! With a tent and a fire, and Mr. Hallam to take care of us."
This last remark was a stroke of policy on Gypsy's part, for Tom had come in, and it touched a bit of boy's pride, of which Gypsy was perfectly aware he had a good deal.
"As if I couldn't take as good care of you as Guy Hallam, or the next man! " he said, in an insulted tone.
"Then Tom is willing you should go," observed Mrs. Breynton.
"Why -- I don't know," said Tom, who had not intended to commit himself; " I didn't say so."
" But you will say so-now, there's a dear, good Tom!" said Gypsy, giving him a soft kiss on one cheek. Gypsy did not very often kiss Tom unless he asked her, and it was the best argument she could have used; for, though Tom always pretended to be quite above any interest in such tender proceedings, yet this rogue of a sister looked so pink and pretty and merry, with her arms about his neck and her twinkling eyes looking into his, that there was no resisting her. Gypsy was quite conscious of this little despotism, and was enough of a diplomatist to reserve it for rare and important occasions.
"We-ell," said Tom, slowly; "I don't know as I care, if Hallam doesn't-just for once, you understand; you're not to ask me again as long as you live."
"There, there!" cried Gypsy, clapping her hands, and jumping up and down. "Tom, you are a cherub-a wingless cherub. Now, mother! "
"But supposing it rains?" suggested Mrs. Breynton.
"Oh, we'll take our water-proofs."
"The tent will be dry enough," put in Tom, bringing in his forces like a good soldier, now he was fairly enlisted.
" But if you catch cold and get sick, my dear; Tom won't want to cut short his excursion to bring you home."
"There's Mr. Fisher, right on top of the mountain; he'd bring me in his wagon. Besides, I wouldn't be silly enough to get sick."
"But Sarah might."
" Sarah does as I tell her," said Gypsy, significantly. " I should take care of her."
"But Mrs. Rowe may not be willing Sarah should go, and Mr. Guy Hallam must be asked, Gypsy."
"Well, but-," persisted Gypsy; "if Mrs. Rowe and Mr. Hallam and everybody are willing, may I go ? "
" Well," said Mrs. Breynton, after a few minutes' thinking, " I guess so; if Tom will take good care of you; and if you will promise to go to Mr. Fisher's the rainy nights-I mean if it rains hard."
" Oh, mother, mother Breynton! There never was such a dear little woman in this world! "
" Why, my dear! " said Mr. Breynton, when he heard of it; " how can you let the child do such a thing ? She will fall off the precipice, or walk right into a bear's den, the first thing."
"Oh, I'll trust her, "answered her mother, smiling; "and then, Mrs. Fisher will be so near, and so ready to take care of her if it is cold or wet; it isn't as if she were going off into a wild place; of course, then, I shouldn't let her go without some grown woman with them."
" Well, my dear, I suppose you know best. I believe I agreed to let you do as you pleased with your girl, seeing she's the only one."
Mrs. Rowe was willing if Mrs. Breynton were willing; Mr. Guy Hallam had no objections. Sarah was delighted, Gypsy radiant,. Tom patronizing, and Winnie envious, and so, amid a pleasant little bustle, the preparations began, and one sunny morning the party stowed themselves and their baggage comfortably away in Mr. Suriy's double-seated wagon (much to the horror of his excellent wife, who looked out of the window, and wondered if Miss Rowe did expect that wild young un of hers to come home alive), and trotted briskly out of Yorkbury, along the steep, uneven road that led to the mountain. Ripton was a long ride from Yorkbury, and the wagon was somewhat crowded, owing to the presence of Mr. Surly, who was by no means a thin man, and who acted, as driver.
He was to return with his "team," as the Vermont farmers invariably call their vehicles, and when the party were ready to come home Mr. Fisher was to be hired to bring them down. It would have been unsafe for any but an experienced driver to hold the reins on those mountain roads, as Gypsy was convinced, afresh, before the ride was over.
For the first few miles the way led along the beautiful valley of the Otter Creek, and then grew suddenly steep as they began to ascend the mountain. Such beautiful pictures unfolded before them, as they wound slowly up, that even Gypsy did not feel like talking, and it was a very silent party.
They passed through pine forests, dense and still, where the wind was hoarse, and startled squirrels flew over the fallen trunks and boughs of ruined trees. They rode close to the edge of sheer precipices four hundred feet down, with trout-brooks, like silver threads, winding through the gorges. Great walls of rock rose above and around them, and seemed to shut them in with a frown. Sharp turns in the road brought them suddenly to the edge of abysses from which, in dark nights, they might have easily ridden off. Gay flowers perfumed the fresh, high winds, and rank mosses grew and twined, and hung thickly upon old stones and logs and roadside banks, where the mountain sloped steeply. Far above were the tops of those tall, sentinel trees, called, by Vermonters, the Procession of Pines, the tower above their lesser comrades two by two, regular, solemn, and dark against the sky for miles of forest-track. Between these were patches and glimpses of a sky without a cloud. Gypsy had seen it all many times before; but it was always new and grand to her; it always made the blood leap in her veins and the stars twinkle in her eyes, and set her happy heart to dreaming a world of pleasant dreams.
She was leaning back against the wagon-seat, with her face up-turned, to watch the leaves. flutter in the distant forest-top, when Mr. Surly reined up suddenly, and the wagon stopped with a jerk.
"I declare!" said Mr. Guy Hallam.
"Waal, this is sum'at of a fix neow," said Mr. Surly, climbing out over the wheel.
"What's the matter?" asked Gypsy and Sarah, in one breath, jumping up to see.
" Matter enough," said Tom. For, turning a sharp corner just ahead of them, was a huge wood-cart, drawn by two struggling horses. The road was just wide enough for one vehicle; where their wagon stood, it would have been simply impossible to place two abreast. At their right, the wooded slope rose like a wall. At their left, a gorge two hundred feet deep yawned horribly, and the trout-brook gurgled over its stones.
' 'You hold on there," shouted the driver of the wood-cart; "I'll turn in here anigh the mountain. You ken git by t'other side, can't you ? "
' 'Reckon so," said Mr. Surly, measuring the distance with his eye. He climbed in again, and took the reins, and the driver of the woodcart wheeled up into a semi-circular widening of the road where a sand-heap had been dug away. The space left was just wide enough for a carriage to pass closely without grazing the. wheels of the wood-cart, or the low log" which formed the only fence on the edge of the ravine.
"Oh, we shall certainly tip over and be killed! Oh dear, let me get out! " cried Sarah, as the wagon passed slowly forward.
"Hush up!" said Gypsy, quickly. "Tom won't let us go, if you act so. Don't you suppose four grown men know better than we do whether it's safe? I'm. not afraid a bit."
Nevertheless, Gypsy and Tom, and even Mr. Hallam, looked narrowly at the old frail log, and down into the gorge where the water was gurgling. Once the wheels grazed the log, and it tilted slightly. Sarah screamed aloud. Mr. Surly knew what he was about, however, and .knew how to do it. He passed on safely into the wider .road, and the wood-cart rattled composedly on.
' ' There a'r'd a ben a purty close shave in the night," he remarked, coolly, pointing with his whip down the precipice. " There was a team went down here five years ago,-jist off that maple-tree there,-horse, wagin, and all, an' two men, brothers they was, too; one man hung onto a branch or suthin', and was ketched .and saved; t'other one got crushed to jelly. It was a terrible dark night."
Even Gypsy gave a little shiver during this entertaining conversation, and was glad they had come up in the daytime.
Mr. Surly drove to a certain by-road in the woods, where he left them, and returned home; and the party proceeded on foot, with their baggage, to the place Mr. Hallam had chosen as a camp-ground.
It was a pleasant spot, far enough in the woods to be still and wild, near enough to the little settlement on top of the mountain to be free from bears, as Sarah had required to be informed ten separate times, on the way. There was a little, natural clearing among the trees, which Mr. Hallam and Tom made larger by cutting down the shrubbery and saplings. They had brought hatchets with them, as well as guns, knives, and fish-hooks. It seemed very warlike and real, Gypsy thought-quite as. if they intended to spend the rest of their lives there. She almost wished a party of Indians. would come and attack them, or a bear or a wolf.
Having selected a smooth, level spot for the tents, Mr. Hallam thought they had better put them up immediately. It chanced that he and Tom each owned one, which was a much better arrangement than the dividing of one into two apartments. The two were placed side by side, and the girls' tent was distinguished and honored by a bit of a flag on top, and an extra fold of rubber-cloth in front, to keep out the rain. There was also a ditch dug around it, to drain off the water in case of a severe storm.
" Besides, if it rains very hard, they can be sent to Mr. Fisher's," said Tom.
" Catch me! " said Gypsy. " Why, it would lie all the fun to sleep out in the rain."
While Mr. Hallam and Tom were setting up the tents-and it took a long time-the two girls busied themselves unpacking the baggage. They were really astonished to find how much they had brought, when it was all taken out of the baskets and boxes and bags, and each article provided with a place within or without the tents. To begin with, the little girls had each a bag of such things as were likely to be necessary for their mountain toilet, consisting principally of dry stockings; for, as Gypsy said, they expected to wet their feet three or four times a day, and she should enjoy it for once. Then they had brought their long water-proof cloaks, in which they considered themselves safe from a deluge. There were plenty of fish-lines, and tin pans and kettles, and knives and steel forks, and matches, and scissors and twine and needles, and the endless variety of accoutrements necessary to a state of highly-civilized camp-life. There were plates and mugs and pewter teaspoons,-Mrs. Breynton would not consent to letting her silver ones go,-and Gypsy thought the others were better, because it seemed more like "being wild." Indeed, she would have dispensed with spoons altogether, but Sarah gave a little scream at the idea, and thought she couldn't possibly eat a meal without. Then the provision basket was full of bread and butter and cake and pies, and summer apples and salt and pepper, and Indian meal and coffee, and eggs and raw meat, and fresh vegetables. They expected, however, to live chiefly on the trout which Mr. Hallam and Tom were to catch, and Mrs. Fisher would supply them with fresh milk from her dairy.
The girls made their toilet arrangements in one corner of their tent. A rough box served as a dressing-table, and Sarah had brought a bit of a looking-glass, which she put on top of it. They collected piles of sweet, dry leaves for a bed, and a certain thoughtful mother had tucked into their bags a pair of sheets and a blanket; so they were nicely fitted out. Gypsy had a secret apprehension that they were pre- paring for a very luxurious sort of camp-life. After a little consultation, they decided to make two rooms out of their tent, as they were sadly in need of a kitchen. Accordingly they took their heavy blanket shawls, tied them together by the fringe, and hung them up as a curtain across the middle of the tent. The front apartment served nicely as a kitchen, and the provisions and crockery were moved in there, in spite of Tom's ungallant remark that he and Mr. Hallam should never see any of the pies he knew.
By way of recompense, he took the guns, and all dangerous implements, under his own care.
The afternoon was nearly spent, when their preparations were at last completed, and they were ready to begin house-keeping.
"Let's have supper," said Gypsy. Gypsy was always ready to have supper, whenever dinner-time was passed.
"We haven't a single trout," said Tom.
" It is rather late to fish," said Mr. Hallam.
"The little girls are tired and hungry,-indeed we all are, for that matter,-and I guess we will have supper."
Gypsy installed herself as housekeeper-in-general, and she and Sarah lost no time in unpacking the cake and bread and butter. Tom collected some light, dry brushwood fur a fire, and he and Mr. Hallam made the coffee. It seemed as if no supper had ever tasted as that supper did. The free mountain air was so fresh and strong, and the breath of the pines so sweet. It was so pleasant to sit on the moss around a fire, and eat with your fingers if you chose, without shocking anybody. Then the woods looked so wide and lonely and still, and it was so strange to watch the great red sunset dying like a fire through the thick green net-work, where the pine-boughs and the maple interlaced.
For about five minutes after supper was cleared away, when the great shadows began to darken among the trees, Sarah discoursed in a vague, scientific way, about the habits of bears, and Gypsy had a dim notion that she shouldn't so very much object to see her mother come walking up the mountain, seized with an uncontrollable desire to spend a night. in a tent. But Tom was so pleasant and merry, and Mr. Hallam told such funny stories, that they were laughing before they knew it, and the evening passed happily away.
Gypsy could not sleep for some time that night, for delight at spending a night out doors in a real tent on a real mountain, that was known to have an occasional real bear on it. She did not feel afraid in the least, although Sarah had a very uncomfortable way of asking her, every ten minutes, if she were perfectly sure it was safe.
"Oh, don't!" said Gypsy, at last. "I am having such a good time thinking that I'm really here. You go to sleep."
Sarah was so much accustomed to doing as Gypsy told her, that she turned over and went to sleep without another word. It was not a good thing for Gypsy to be so much with just such a girl as Sarah. She was physically the weaker of the two, as well as the more timid, and she had fallen into a habit of obeying, and Gypsy of commanding, by a sort of mutual tacit agreement. It was partly for this reason, as was natural enough, that Gypsy chose her so often for a companion, but principally because Sarah never refused any romp or adventure ; other timid girls liked to have their own way and choose their own quiet plays. Sarah's timidity yielded to Gypsy's stronger will. If Gypsy took a fancy to climb a ruined windmill, Sarah would scream all the way, but follow. If Gypsy wanted to run at .full speed down a dangerous steep hill, where there were walls to be leaped, and loose, rolling stones to be dodged, Sarah scolded a little, but went.
A girl more selfish than Gypsy would have been ruined by this sort of companionship. Her frank, impulsive generosity saved her from becoming tyrannical or dictatorial. The worst of it was, that she was forced to form such a habit of always taking the lead.
She lay awake some time that night after Sarah had fallen asleep, listening to the strange whispers of the wind in the trees, and making plans for to-morrow, until at last her happy thoughts faded into happy dreams.
She did not know how long she had been asleep, when something suddenly woke her. She was a little startled at first by the unfamiliar sight of the tent-roof, and narrow, walled space which shut her in. The wind was sighing drearily through the forest, the distant scream of an owl had an ugly sound; and-why no- but yes!-another sound, more ugly than the cry of a night-bird, was distinct at the door of the tent-the sound of a quick, panting breath !
Gypsy sat upright in bed, and listened.
It grew louder, and came nearer ; quick, and hoarse, and horrible-like the breathing of a hungry animal.
Sarah slept like a baby; there was not a movement from Tom and Mr. Hallam in the other tent ; everything was still but that terrible sound. Gypsy had good nerves and was not easily frightened, but it must be confessed she thought of those traditionary bears which had been seen at Ripton. She had but a moment in which to decide what to do, for the creature was now sniffing at the tent-door, and once she was sure she saw a dark paw lift the sail-cloth. She might wake Sarah, but what was the use ? She would only scream, and that would do no good, and might do much harm. If it were a bear, and they kept still, he might go away and leave them. Yet, if it were a bear, Tom must know it in some way.
All these thoughts passed through Gypsy's mind in that one instant, while she sat listening to the panting of the brute without.
Then she rose quickly and went on tiptoe to the tent-door. Her hand trembled a little as she touched the canvas gently-so gently that it scarcely stirred. She held her breath, she put her eye to the partition, she looked out and saw-
Mr. Fisher's little black dog !
Tom was awakened by a long, merry laugh that rang out like a bell on the still night air, and echoed through the forest. He thought Gypsy must be having another fit of somnambulism, and Sarah jumped up, with a scream, and asked if it wasn't an Indian.
The night passed without further adventure, and the morning sun woke the girls by peering in at a hole in the tent-roof, and making a little round golden fleck, that danced across their eyelids until they opened.
They were scarcely dressed, when Tom's voice, with a spice of mischief in it, called Gypsy from outside. The girls hurried out, and there he sat with Mr. Hallam, before a crackling fire over which some large fresh trout were frying in Indian meal.
"Oh, why didn't you let us go, too?" said Gypsy.
"We took the time while you were asleep, on purpose," said Tom, in his provoking fashion. ' ' Nobody can do any fishing while girls are round."
" Tom doesn't deserve any for that speech," said Mr. Hallam, smiling; "and I shall have to tell of .him. It happens that I caught the fish while a certain young gentleman was dreaming."
"0-oh, Tom! Well; but, Mr. Hallam, can't we go fishing to-day ? "
" To be sure, you can."
"How long do you suppose you'll stand it? -girls always give out in half an hour."
" I'll stand it as long as you will, sir!"
The trout were done to that indescribable luscious point of brown crispness, and the breakfast was, if possible, better than the supper.
After breakfast, they started on a fishing excursion down the gorge. It was a perfect day. It seemed to the girls that no winds from the valley were ever so sweet and pure as those winds, and no lowland sunshine so golden. The brook foamed and bubbled down its steep, rocky bed, splashed up jets of rainbow spray into the air, and plunged in miniature cascades over tiny gullies; the wet stones flashed in the light upon the banks, and tall daisies, peering over, painted shifting white outlines of themselves in the swelling current and the shallow pools; here and there, too, where the water was deep, the fish darted to the surface, and darted out of sight.
" Isn't it beau-tiful! " cried Sarah. " Pretty enough," said Gypsy, affecting carelessness, and trying to unwind her line in as au fait and boyish a manner as possible.
" You girls keep this pool. Mr. Hallam and I are going a little ways up stream," said Tom. "Now don't speak a word, and be sure you don't scream if you catch a fish by any chance between you, and frighten them all away."
"As if I didn't know that! Here, Sarah, hold your rod lower," said Gypsy, assuming a professional air. Mr. Hallam and Tom walked away, and the girls fished for just half an hour in silence. That is to say, they sat on the bank, and held a rod. Sarah had had one faint nibble, but that was all that had happened, and the sun began to be very warm. •
"I'm going out on those stones," said Gypsy. " I believe I see a fish out there."
So she stepped out carefully on the loose stones, which tilted ominously under her weight.
" Oh, you'll fall! " said Sarah.
" Hush-sh! I see one."
Up went the rod in the air with a jerk, over went the stone, and down went Gypsy. She disappeared from sight a moment in the shallow water; then splashed up with a gasp, and stood, dripping.
" Oh, dear me! " said Sarah.
Tom came up, undecided whether to laugh or scold.
"Well, Gypsy Breynton, you've done it now! Now I suppose you must go directly home, and you'll catch cold before you can get there. This is a pretty fix! "
"N-no," gasped Gypsy, rubbing the water out of her eyes; " I have dry clothes up in the tent. Mother said I should want them. I guess I'll go right up. I'm-rather-wet, I believe. "
Tom looked at his watch, as Gypsy toiled dripping up the bank. The temptation was too great to be resisted, and he called out,-
' ' Precisely half an hour! Gypsy, my dear, I'd stay all long, as the boys do, by all means!" It was a very good thing about Gypsy, that she was quite able to relish a joke at her own expense. She laughed as merrily as Tom did, and the morning's adventure made quite as much fun as they would have gained from a string of perfectly respectable fishes, properly and scientifically caught, with dry feet and a warm seat on the bank under a glaring sun. Mr. Hallam and Tom brought up plenty for dinner; so no one went hungry.
That afternoon, it chanced that the girls were left alone for about one hour. Mr. Hallam had taken Tom some distance up the stream for a comfortable little fish by themselves, and left the girls to prepare supper, with strict injunctions not to go out of sight of the tents.
They were very well content with the arrangement for a while, but at last Gypsy be- came tired of having nothing but the trees to look at, and suggested a visit to the brook. She had seen some checker-berry leaves growing in the gorge, and was seized with a fancy to have them for supper. Sarah, as usual, made no objections, and they went.
"It's only just out of sight of the tent," said Gypsy, as they ran down over the loose stones; "and we won't be gone but a minute."
But they were gone many minutes. They had little idea how long the time had been, and were surprised to find it growing rapidly dark in the forest when they came panting back to the tent, out of breath with the haste they had made.
"They must be back by this time," said Gypsy; "Tom!"
There was no answer.
"Tom! Thom-as! Mr. Hallam!"
A bird chirped in a maple-bough overhead, and a spark cracked out of the smouldering hickory fire; there was no other sound.
" I guess they're busy in their tent," said Gypsy, going up to it. But the tent was empty.
" They haven't come ! " exclaimed Sarah.
" It's real mean in them to leave us here," said Gypsy, looking round among the trees.
"You know," suggested Sarah, timidly, "you know Mr. Hallam said we were to stay at the tents. Perhaps they came while we were gone, and couldn't find us, and have gone to hunt us up."
"Oh!" said Gypsy, quickly, "I forgot." She turned away her face a moment, so that Sarah could not see it ; then she turned back, and said, slowly,-
" Sarah, I'm very sorry I took you off. This is rather a bad fix. We must make the best of it now."
' Let's call again," said Sarah, faintly.
They called again, and many times; but there was no reply. Everything was still but the bird, and the sparks that crackled now and then from the fire. The heavy gray shadows grew purple and grew black. The little foot-paths in the woods were blotted out of sight, and the far sky above the tree-tops grew dusky and dim.
"We might go to Mr. Fisher's,-do, Gypsy ! I can't bear to stay here," said Sarah, looking around.
"No," said Gypsy, decidedly. "We can't go to Mr. Fisher's, because that would mislead them all the more. We must stay here now till they come."
"I'm afraid!" said Sarah, clinging to her arm; "it is so dark. Perhaps we'll have to stay here alone all night,-oh, Gypsy ! "
' ' Nonsense ! " said Gypsy, looking as bold as possible; ' ' it wouldn't be so dreadful if we did. Besides, of course, we sha'n't; they'll be back here before long. You go in the tent, if you feel any safer there, and I'll make up a bright fire. If they see it, they'll know we've come."
Sarah went into the tent, and covered her head up in the bed-clothes; but in about ten minutes she came back, feeling a little ashamed of her timidity, and sat down by Gypsy before the fire. It was a strange picture-the ghostly white tents and tangled brushwood gilded with the light; the great forest stretching away darkly beyond; the fitful shadows and glares from the flickering fire that chased each other in strange, uncouth shapes, among the leaves, and the two children sitting there alone with frightened, watching eyes.
"I'm not a bit afraid," said Gypsy, after a silence, in a tone as if she were rather arguing with herself than with Sarah. " I think it's rather nice. Tom left his gun all loaded, and we can defend ourselves against anything. I'm going to get it, and we'll play we're Union refugees hiding in the South."
So she went into Tom's tent, and brought out his gun.
"Look out!" said Sarah, shrinking, "it may go off."
"Go off? Of course it can't, unless I pull the trigger. I know how to manage a gun,- hark ! what's that ? "
"Oh dear, oh dear ! " said Sarah, beginning to cry. " I know it's a bear."
"Hush! Let's listen."
They listened. A curious, irregular tramping round broke the stillness.
Gypsy stood up quickly, and put the gun into position upon her shoulder.
"It isn't Tom and Mr. Hallam, then there would be two. This is only one, and it doesn't sound like a man, I declare."
"Oh, it's a bear, it's a bear ! We shall be eaten up alive,-oh, Gypsy, Gypsy ! "
" Keep still ! I can shoot him if it is ; but I know it isn't ; just wait and see." The curious sound came nearer; tramped through the underbrush; crushed the dead twigs. Gypsy's finger was on the trigger; her face a little pale. She thought the idea of the bear all nonsense; she did not know what she feared; the very mystery of the thing had thoroughly frightened her.
" Keep still, Sarah; you hit me. I don't want to fire till I see."
" Oh, it's coming, it's coming ! " cried Sarah, starting back with a scream. She clung, in her terror, to Gypsy's arm; jerked it; the trigger snapped, and a loud explosion echoed and re-echoed and reverberated among the trees.
It was followed by a sound the most horrible Gypsy had heard in all her life.
It was a human cry. It was Tom's voice.
On to chapter 10
Return to main page