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CHAPTER XIV A PRODIGAL RETURNS
Aunt Olivia and the Story Girl lived in a whirlwind of dressmaking after that, and enjoyed it hugely. Cecily and Felicity also had to have new dresses for the great event, and they talked of little else for a fortnight. Cecily declared that she hated to go to sleep because she was sure to dream that she was at Aunt Olivia's wedding in her old faded gingham dress and a ragged apron.
"And no shoes or stockings," she added, "and I can't move, and everyone walks past and looks at my feet."
"That's only in a dream," mourned Sara Ray, "but I may have to wear my last summer's white dress to the wedding. It's too short, but ma says it's plenty good for this summer. I'll be so mortified if I have to wear it."
"I'd rather not go at all than wear a dress that wasn't nice," said Felicity pleasantly.
"I'd go to the wedding if I had to go in my school dress," cried Sara Ray. "I've never been to anything. I wouldn't miss it for the world."
"My Aunt Jane always said that if you were neat and tidy it didn't matter whether you were dressed fine or not," said Peter.
"I'm sick and tired of hearing about your Aunt Jane," said Felicity crossly.
Peter looked grieved but held his peace. Felicity was very hard on him that spring, but his loyalty never wavered. Everything she said or did was right in Peter's eyes.
"It's all very well to be neat and tidy," said Sara Ray, "but I like a little style too."
"I think you'll find your mother will get you a new dress after all," comforted Cecily. "Anyway, nobody will notice you because everyone will be looking at the bride. Aunt Olivia will make a lovely bride. Just think how sweet she'll look in a white silk dress and a floating veil."
"She says she is going to have the ceremony performed out here in the orchard under her own tree," said the Story Girl. "Won't that be romantic? It almost makes me feel like getting married myself."
"What a way to talk," rebuked Felicity, "and you only fifteen."
"Lots of people have been married at fifteen," laughed the Story Girl. "Lady Jane Gray was."
"But you are always saying that Valeria H. Montague's stories are silly and not true to life, so that is no argument," retorted Felicity, who knew more about cooking than about history, and evidently imagined that the Lady Jane Gray was one of Valeria's titled heroines.
The wedding was a perennial source of conversation among us in those days; but presently its interest palled for a time in the light of another quite tremendous happening. One Saturday night Peter's mother called to take him home with her for Sunday. She had been working at Mr. James Frewen's, and Mr. Frewen was driving her home. We had never seen Peter's mother before, and we looked at her with discreet curiosity. She was a plump, black-eyed little woman, neat as a pin, but with a rather tired and care-worn face that looked as if it should have been rosy and jolly. Life had been a hard battle for her, and I rather think that her curlyheaded little lad was all that had kept heart and spirit in her. Peter went home with her and returned Sunday evening. We were in the orchard sitting around the Pulpit Stone, where we had, according to the custom of the households of King, been learning our golden texts and memory verses for the next Sunday School lesson. Paddy, grown sleek and handsome again, was sitting on the stone itself, washing his jowls.
Peter joined us with a very queer expression on his face. He seemed bursting with some news which he wanted to tell and yet hardly liked to.
"Why are you looking so mysterious, Peter?" demanded the Story Girl.
"What do you think has happened?" asked Peter solemnly.
"My father has come home," answered Peter.
The announcement produced all the sensation he could have wished. We crowded around him in excitement.
"Peter! When did he come back?"
"Saturday night. He was there when ma and I got home. It give her an awful turn. I didn't know him at first, of course."
"Peter Craig, I believe you are glad your father has come back," cried the Story Girl.
"'Course I'm glad," retorted Peter.
"And after you saying you didn't want ever to see him again," said Felicity.
"You just wait. You haven't heard my story yet. I wouldn't have been glad to see father if he'd come back the same as he went away. But he is a changed man. He happened to go into a revival meeting one night this spring and he got converted. And he's come home to stay, and he says he's never going to drink another drop, but he's going to look after his family. Ma isn't to do any more washing for nobody but him and me, and I'm not to be a hired boy any longer. He says I can stay with your Uncle Roger till the fall 'cause I promised I would, but after that I'm to stay home and go to school right along and learn to be whatever I'd like to be. I tell you it made me feel queer. Everything seemed to be upset. But he gave ma forty dollars - every cent he had - so I guess he really is converted."
"I hope it will last, I'm sure," said Felicity. She did not say it nastily, however. We were all glad for Peter's sake, though a little dizzy over the unexpectedness of it all.
"This is what I'D like to know," said Peter. "How did Peg Bowen know my father was coming home? Don't you tell me she isn't a witch after that."
"And she knew about your Aunt Olivia's wedding, too," added Sara Ray.
"Oh, well, she likely heard that from some one. Grown up folks talk things over long before they tell them to children," said Cecily.
"Well, she couldn't have heard father was coming home from any one," answered Peter. "He was converted up in Maine, where nobody knew him, and he never told a soul he was coming till he got here. No, you can believe what you like, but I'm satisfied at last that Peg is a witch and that skull of hers does tell her things. She told me father was coming home and he come!"
"How happy you must be," sighed Sara Ray romantically. "It's just like that story in the Family Guide, where the missing earl comes home to his family just as the Countess and Lady Violetta are going to be turned out by the cruel heir."
"There's some difference, I guess. The earl had been imprisoned for years in a loathsome dungeon."
Perhaps Peter's father had too, if we but realized it - imprisoned in the dungeon of his own evil appetites and habits, than which none could be more loathsome. But a Power, mightier than the forces of evil, had struck off his fetters and led him back to his long-forfeited liberty and light. And no countess or lady of high degree could have welcomed a long-lost earl home more joyfully than the tired little washerwoman had welcomed the erring husband of her youth.
But in Peter's ointment of joy there was a fly or two. So very, very few things are flawless in this world, even on the golden road.
"Of course I'm awful glad that father has come back and that ma won't have to wash any more," he said with a sigh, "but there are two things that kind of worry me. My Aunt Jane always said that it didn't do any good to worry, and I s'pose it don't, but it's kind of a relief."
"What's worrying you?" asked Felix.
"Well, for one thing I'll feel awful bad to go away from you all. I'll miss you just dreadful, and I won't even be able to go to the same school. I'll have to go to Markdale school."
"But you must come and see us often," said Felicity graciously. "Markdale isn't so far away, and you could spend every other Saturday afternoon with us anyway."
Peter's black eyes filled with adoring gratitude.
"That's so kind of you, Felicity. I'll come as often as I can, of course; but it won't be the same as being around with you all the time. The other thing is even worse. You see, it was a Methodist revival father got converted in, and so of course he joined the Methodist church. He wasn't anything before. He used to say he was a Nothingarian and lived up to it - kind of bragging like. But he's a strong Methodist now, and is going to go to Markdale Methodist church and pay to the salary. Now what'll he say when I tell him I'm a Presbyterian?"
"You haven't told him, yet?" asked the Story Girl.
"No, I didn't dare. I was scared he'd say I'd have to be a Methodist."
"Well, Methodists are pretty near as good as Presbyterians," said Felicity, with the air of one making a great concession.
"I guess they're every bit as good," retorted Peter. "But that ain't the point. I've got to be a Presbyterian, 'cause I stick to a thing when I once decide it. But I expect father will be mad when he finds out."
"If he's converted he oughtn't to get mad," said Dan.
"Well, lots o' people do. But if he isn't mad he'll be sorry, and that'll be even worse, for a Presbyterian I'm bound to be. But I expect it will make things unpleasant."
"You needn't tell him anything about it," advised Felicity. "Just keep quiet and go to the Methodist church until you get big, and then you can go where you please."
"No, that wouldn't be honest," said Peter sturdily. "My Aunt Jane always said it was best to be open and above board in everything, and especially in religion. So I'll tell father right out, but I'll wait a few weeks so as not to spoil things for ma too soon if he acts up."
Peter was not the only one who had secret cares. Sara Ray was beginning to feel worried over her looks. I heard her and Cecily talking over their troubles one evening while I was weeding the onion bed and they were behind the hedge knitting lace. I did not mean to eavesdrop. I supposed they knew I was there until Cecily overwhelmed me with indignation later on.
"I'm so afraid, Cecily, that I'm going to be homely all my life," said poor Sara with a tremble in her voice. "You can stand being ugly when you are young if you have any hope of being better looking when you grow up. But I'm getting worse. Aunt Mary says I'm going to be the very image of Aunt Matilda. And Aunt Matilda is as homely as she can be. It isn't" - and poor Sara sighed - "a very cheerful prospect. If I am ugly nobody will ever want to marry me, and," concluded Sara candidly, "I don't want to be an old maid."
"But plenty of girls get married who aren't a bit pretty," comforted Cecily. "Besides, you are real nice looking at times, Sara. I think you are going to have a nice figure."
"But just look at my hands," moaned Sara. "They're simply covered with warts."
"Oh, the warts will all disappear before you grow up," said Cecily.
"But they won't disappear before the school concert. How am I to get up there and recite? You know there is one line in my recitation, 'She waved her lily-white hand,' and I have to wave mine when I say it. Fancy waving a lily-white hand all covered with warts. I've tried every remedy I ever heard of, but nothing does any good. Judy Pineau said if I rubbed them with toad-spit it would take them away for sure. But how am I to get any toadspit?"
"It doesn't sound like a very nice remedy, anyhow," shuddered Cecily. "I'd rather have the warts. But do you know, I believe if you didn't cry so much over every little thing, you'd be ever so much better looking. Crying spoils your eyes and makes the end of your nose red."
"I can't help crying," protested Sara. "My feelings are so very sensitive. I've given up trying to keep THAT resolution."
"Well, men don't like cry-babies," said Cecily sagely. Cecily had a good deal of Mother Eve's wisdom tucked away in that smooth, brown head of hers.
"Cecily, do you ever intend to be married?" asked Sara in a confidential tone.
"Goodness!" cried Cecily, quite shocked. "It will be time enough when I grow up to think of that, Sara."
"I should think you'd have to think of it now, with Cyrus Brisk as crazy after you as he is."
"I wish Cyrus Brisk was at the bottom of the Red Sea," exclaimed Cecily, goaded into a spurt of temper by mention of the detested name.
"What has Cyrus been doing now?" asked Felicity, coming around the corner of the hedge.
"Doing NOW! It's ALL the time. He just worries me to death," returned Cecily angrily. "He keeps writing me letters and putting them in my desk or in my reader. I never answer one of them, but he keeps on. And in the last one, mind you, he said he'd do something desperate right off if I wouldn't promise to marry him when we grew up."
"Just think, Cecily, you've had a proposal already," said Sara Ray in an awe-struck tone.
"But he hasn't done anything desperate yet, and that was last week," commented Felicity, with a toss of her head.
"He sent me a lock of his hair and wanted one of mine in exchange," continued Cecily indignantly. "I tell you I sent his back to him pretty quick."
"Did you never answer any of his letters?" asked Sara Ray.
"No, indeed! I guess not!"
"Do you know," said Felicity, "I believe if you wrote him just once and told him your exact opinion of him in good plain English it would cure him of his nonsense."
"I couldn't do that. I haven't enough spunk," confessed Cecily with a blush. "But I'll tell you what I did do once. He wrote me a long letter last week. It was just awfully SOFT, and every other word was spelled wrong. He even spelled baking soda, 'bacon soda!'"
"What on earth had he to say about baking soda in a love-letter?" asked Felicity.
"Oh, he said his mother sent him to the store for some and he forgot it because he was thinking about me. Well, I just took his letter and wrote in all the words, spelled right, above the wrong ones, in red ink, just as Mr. Perkins makes us do with our dictation exercises, and sent it back to him. I thought maybe he'd feel insulted and stop writing to me."
"And did he?"
"No, he didn't. It is my opinion you can't insult Cyrus Brisk. He is too thick-skinned. He wrote another letter, and thanked me for correcting his mistakes, and said it made him feel glad because it showed I was beginning to take an interest in him when I wanted him to spell better. Did you ever? Miss Marwood says it is wrong to hate anyone, but I don't care, I hate Cyrus Brisk."
"Mrs. Cyrus Brisk WOULD be an awful name," giggled Felicity.
"Flossie Brisk says Cyrus is ruining all the trees on his father's place cutting your name on them," said Sara Ray. "His father told him he would whip him if he didn't stop, but Cyrus keeps right on. He told Flossie it relieved his feelings. Flossie says he cut yours and his together on the birch tree in front of the parlour window, and a row of hearts around them."
"Just where every visitor can see them, I suppose," lamented Cecily. "He just worries my life out. And what I mind most of all is, he sits and looks at me in school with such melancholy, reproachful eyes when he ought to be working sums. I won't look at him, but I FEEL him staring at me, and it makes me so nervous."
"They say his mother was out of her mind at one time," said Felicity.
I do not think Felicity was quite well pleased that Cyrus should have passed over her rose-red prettiness to set his affections on that demure elf of a Cecily. She did not want the allegiance of Cyrus in the least, but it was something of a slight that he had not wanted her to want it.
"And he sends me pieces of poetry he cuts out of the papers," Cecily went on, "with lots of the lines marked with a lead pencil. Yesterday he put one in his letter, and this is what he marked:
"'If you will not relent to me
Then must I learn to know
Darkness alone till life be flown.
Here - I have the piece in my sewing-bag - I'll read it all to you."
Those three graceless girls read the sentimental rhyme and giggled over it. Poor Cyrus! His young affections were sadly misplaced. But after all, though Cecily never relented towards him, he did not condemn himself to darkness alone till life was flown. Quite early in life he wedded a stout, rosy, buxom lass, the very antithesis of his first love; he prospered in his undertakings, raised a large and respectable family, and was eventually appointed a Justice of the Peace. Which was all very sensible of Cyrus.
Turn to the next chapter: CHAPTER XV THE RAPE OF THE LOCK