Why was Pilot put into the beach wagon instead of the buggy? Because it was the wedding anniversary of the Reverend Timothy Chanter and his Susan, and they were going on their annual picnic together. Unlike the Gilpin pair of immortal memory, they did not take the children with them. The children saw them off at the door, with many injunctions to be good, and to have a wonderful time, and not to get lost, as they did two years ago.
"Kitty," cried Lina, "do blaze a tree at the place where you leave them, won't you? They are not to be trusted in the least."
On this one day of the year, the minister and his wife cast care to the winds, locked duty up in the cupboard, and even shut the door on parental responsibility. They were no longer Drudge and Drudgess, as the girls, exasperated at the vanity of efforts to "save Pa and Ma," sometimes called them: they were Tim and Sue off on their holiday. They were to be taken first for a spin behind Pilot, because that was the greatest treat the Reverend Timothy could offer his faithful partner; then they were to be left at a certain [pg 253] place near the Lancaston Road, where the wood dipped sharply to a cup, enclosing a round pool, with a waterfall above it, and a ribbon of streamlet winding away at either end. Here they would sit and eat their luncheon, carefully prepared by Daughters; cold chicken (dear Madam Flynt always sent them a chicken the day before, one of her own prize Rhode Island Reds!), nut bread (Zephine's specialty), coffee and sponge cake (which no one could make like Lina), and some of dear Nelly's cream peppermints to top off with.
These cates disposed of, the Reverend Timothy would light his pipe, and lean back against a sun-warmed boulder, at peace with the world, while Mrs. Chanter read aloud a certain chapter of "Prue and I" which had been the precipitating drop in their cup of happiness twenty-three years before. Then he would go to sleep, dear man, and she would knit, and think what a happy woman she was, and wonder if there was enough mutton for to-morrow, or if she must have a vegetable chowder. By and by, when the sunbeams began to slant through the firs, she would wake her lord, who would fear he had missed that last sentence, my love! and the two would wander happily through the wood and along the elm-shaded road, and so home in time for the wonderful supper the girls would have ready, and the glorified table round which all six children would be gathered. A golden day, for two golden hearts! May their fiftieth anniversary find them hale and vigorous as their twenty-third!
This was Mrs. Chanter's first spin behind Pilot; it [pg 254] should be her last, she resolved, as she clung terrified to the low railing of the beach wagon. It was a bright June morning, and Pilot was "feelin' extry good," as John Tucker had intimated to Kitty; he flung the miles behind him in a nonchalant rapture that was all his own. Once Mrs. Chanter opened her lips to cry out, but a glance at her husband's face of delight closed them again. After all, the children were all grown!
"Thank you, Kitty!" cried Mr. Chanter, as they dismounted at the edge of the Lancaston woods. "Thank you, my dear! this has been a wonderful, wonderful treat; hasn't it, Susan?"
"Wonderful!" echoed Mrs. Chanter, dryly. "Next time I'll have Podasokus, please, Kitty; or if he has left us, then that nice old woolly thing: Crummles, is he? No more Pilot for me, my dear!"
Kitty laughed and sped away, leaving the worthy couple to gaze admiringly after her for a moment before they turned into the wood, hand in hand.
"Glorious girl!" said the Reverend Timothy. "Glorious horse!"
"He'll break her neck some day!" said his Susan.
Joy of the road on a June morning! Elms arching overhead, in long feathery arcades, or giving way to groups of singing pines, and clusters of white birches that rustled and whispered together like Nausicaa and her maidens. Under these, stretches of gray stone wall along which the chipmunks whisked, trying in vain to keep pace with Pilot's flying feet; stretches, again, of stump fence, the silver-bleached bones of ancient giants, with sturdy new growth of fir and [pg 255] hemlock pushing up between their locked skeleton-arms. Between fence or wall and the white ribbon of road, a strip of green a few yards wide, sown thick with the jewels of early summer. Ferns of every variety, from the lady-fern which Kitty always thought so like Mother, in the pale green dresses she loved, to towering plumes of ostrich fern and tumbled masses of Osmunda regalis. There was maiden-hair, too, Kitty knew, hiding in the crannies of the stone wall, but that could not be seen from the road. The cinnamon roses were out, sweet and untidy as Herrick's tempestuously-petticoated girl; "Virgin's Bower" flung its white-starred veil over rock and tangle. Kitty, flashing quick glances, as she sped along, saw and loved it all. The world held no tears any more; how should it, on a day like this?
"My heart leaps up when I behold, Pilot!" cried the girl. "Can't you hear it, Beloved? And oh—and oh—and Oh! pearl of Poppets, do you see whom we are overhauling? Do you see, Pilot? If my middle name is not Clotho"——
Melissa and Bobby were walking slowly along the road. Bobby had come over for the Anniversary Supper, of course. It was one of Melissa's free afternoons (the library was open only three days in the week); it was all perfectly simple. Bobby came pretty often nowadays, and Sister Lissy happened to be passing the station about train time. They were near the village now. The two were deep in talk, and paid no heed to the approaching wheels. Melissa, who hardly knew a baseball from a football, was listening with [pg 256] bated breath and kindling eyes to a highly technical description of yesterday's game.
"Binks got base on balls, you see, and walked; then Joyce threw to third to put out Bacon, but Hodges fumbled, so Bacon ran home, and Binks went to second, and then I got in a three-bagger and made a home-run."
"Oh, Bobby! how splendid! What a wonderful game! I wish I could see one!"
"You can!" said Bobby kindly. "I'll make one of the girls bring you over next time. And I'll get you a Corona banner!" he added. "A sister ought to wear her brother's colors, what, Lissy?"
It is not stated whose color it was that flamed in Lissy's cheeks as she looked up with shining eyes; it was very pretty anyhow, Bobby thought. He had never realized till lately what a pretty girl Lissy was. Hazel eyes were warmer, somehow, than gray, though of course——
"Hilo!" cried Kitty, checking Pilot with a touch.
No living horse, she always maintained, not even Angel Dan, made such a beautiful stop as Pilot.
"Hilo, folks! Don't you want a lift?" Glancing at Lissy's face, she added quickly, "I don't mean just home. I'm going to give this Lamb a little speed along the State Road. Will you come?"
"Gee! Won't we?" cried Bobby. A speed behind Pilot was a thing rarely offered, and not to be refused by any Cyrus youth. "Come on, Lissy!"
Melissa hung back. She was mortally afraid of Pilot, and of Kitty's reckless driving. Besides—ought [pg 257] she not to leave them? Would he not rather—A little cold snake seemed to creep about the girl's heart. It wasn't fair! Kitty didn't want him till she saw some one else—oh, Lissy! Lissy!
"Jump in, Lissy!" cried Bobby joyously. "You scared of Pilot? I believe she is, Kitty! now, then! In you go!"
In Lissy went, Bobby following; off went Pilot, at a three minute clip. Past fled the landscape, a blur of green, blue and white. Melissa, all in a moment her mother's daughter, sat crouched on the seat, clutching the rail. Bobby, in a state of high delight, glanced at her for sympathy, and saw her pale and trembling, her eyes brimming with frightened tears.
"Why, Lissy!" he said. Involuntarily he held out his hand; a little cold trembling hand slid instantly into it and was warmly grasped. Poor little hand! it quivered like a frightened bird, yet nestled close in his, as a bird would not.
"Don't be scared!" cried Bobby. "Pilot's steady as a rock, isn't he, Kitty? Perhaps," he added, "you might slow down just a scrap, though, Kitty. I hate to, but——"
This was heroic of Bobby, who loved fast driving as his father did.
Kitty said a word to Pilot, who cocked an indulgent ear, and slowed down to four minutes.
"Why, Lissy," she laughed over her shoulder, "rocks are flighty compared to Pilot; positively flighty! You saw how he stopped. I can stop him any instant, just like that. Lean back and enjoy yourself!"
[pg 258] Absorbed in her rôle of the youngest Fate, and used to fast driving from her cradle, Kitty could not realize the state of mind of an extremely timid girl, assailed by mingled pangs of terror and jealousy. It was not till they had reached the spot she had in mind for the development of her plan that, glancing round, she comprehended how for pleasure she was giving on the one hand anguish, and on the other embarrassment, if not distress. Melissa was leaning against her companion's shoulder with closed eyes and compressed lips: Bobby, red-faced and round-eyed, was holding her hand. His eyes met Kitty's with an expression of mingled deprecation, admiration and reprobation, which was too much for that young woman's composure.
"Ha! ha! ha!" her laughter broke out bell-like; then she checked herself.
"Oh! I am so sorry! Lissy, you poor child, I never thought—I never dreamed—Sst, Pilot!"
Pilot stopped, and stood like the least flighty of rocks.
"I am so sorry!" Kitty repeated penitently. "Bobby, why didn't you tell me? Are you going to give me in charge for fast driving?"
"Oh, I say!" cried a distracted Bobby. "Gee, Kitty, it was perfectly great, as far as I am concerned, but I do suppose we were going a pretty good clip, what? Poor little Lissy!"
"Now, I'll tell you what!"
Clotho Kitty advanced to her second parallel.
"This is where I really meant to stop. I want you [pg 259] both to see the view from that high rock!" she nodded toward a huge boulder that frowned from the hillside above the road. "It's really beautiful, and you said the other day you had never climbed the rock, Lissy. It's only a minute's climb, with a good strong paw like Bobby's to pull you up. It will shake your crinkles out, and steady your nerves; and we will crawl home, Lissy dear!" said penitent Kitty.
Lissy dismounted and stretched her cramped limbs. Bobby followed, with a doubtful glance at Kitty. Was she sure Pilot would stand? Sure she didn't want him to——? Reassured on that point by her laughing shake of the head, he turned to the big rock. It was a brief, but a stiff little climb; all his energies were required to pilot Melissa, timid and unused to climbing. Neither of them heard the low, clear whistle, or saw the black horse toss his head in reply, then settle down in the shafts like a cat settling to her spring. They gained the top, prepared to enjoy the view, which really was fine; when Melissa uttered a cry,
"Oh! oh, Bobby, look! Kitty!"
Pilot was off. Had something startled him, or was it the inherent viciousness of which Melissa had always felt sure? Off down the road like an arrow.
"He is running away!" cried Melissa. "She can't hold him any more than she could the wind. Oh, what shall we do? What shall we do?"
"Sit down!" commanded Bobby. "Sit still, Lissy, till I come back!" With the word, he slithered down the rock and set out running along the road at his best pace. It was a good pace; Bobby Chanter was the best [pg 260] runner in Corona. Even in her terror, Melissa noticed how beautifully he ran, how nobly he threw his head back, how splendid——what horse could cope with a Marathon runner? Then a new pang assailed her. She crouched on the rock and wrung her hands in an ecstasy of terror. He might be hurt, trying to stop the mad creature. He might be trampled on! Wicked, hateful horse! wicked girl to drive such a creature, risking lives that were more precious——
Bobby, reaching a curve in the road, saw Pilot skimming swallow-like along the next reach. At that moment, Kitty turned in her seat, and saw him. A flash, a smile, a wave of the hand—she shot round a second curve and vanished. Bobby Chanter stopped abruptly.
"She's got him under!" he muttered. "She's going to turn and come back."
He waited for some minutes, but in vain. No one came. Sorely puzzled, Bobby retraced his steps, looking over his shoulder from time to time. That horse wasn't bolting. She had him under control all right. What upon earth—Bobby positively scowled in his perplexity. Had Kitty meant to leave them behind? And why? Why? It was freakish; Kitty never used to be freakish. It was hardly even kind; poor little Lissy, scared to death there up on the rock. She would never have played Kitty a trick like that. She was very sweet. How her little hand trembled as it rested in his! A girl ought not to be too independent, though of course Kitty was the finest——
Bobby Chanter stopped short; the blood rushed singing up into his ears, and he stood in the middle of [pg 261] the road, as if he had been struck. What was that Kitty said to him, the last time he tried—A strange thing to say, he thought at the moment.
"Bobby, how foolish you are! I really wonder at you. You are like the man that lighted his lantern, a beautiful, clear, bright, little lantern, and then put it down and went after a will-o'-the-wisp."
"I don't in the least understand you, Kitty!" he had said ruefully, for her tone was almost sharp.
"No more did the bat; I mean the man!" snapped Kitty, and she turned her back and left him. It was at the Library door, and Melissa was just coming out. How pretty she looked that day, too; her eyes seemed to light up when she looked at a fellow! Was——was that what Kitty meant? He was walking again, faster now; thinking hard as he went, putting two and two together in a fashion new to his simple, objective mind.
Was that what Kitty meant? Other words of hers came flocking back to him.
"I want you to be happy, Bobby! You might be so happy, if you weren't just a little stupid, Bobby dear!"
That seemed rather cruel at the time, when he had pulled through those rotten exams. What if she hadn't meant that at all? What if——she was awfully fond of Lissy, he knew; and he knew she liked him, too, she said she did, though she never offered to be a sister to him, as Lissy did. Lissy had a rotten time at home, he guessed, with that Wilse, and her mother always putting him first. She was too soft and gentle to stand up for herself. What was that Kitty said again? He ought to have a sweet, gentle, feminine [pg 262] girl, not a daughter of Jehu, who drove furiously. He hadn't understood that, either. Had he been a Nut all this time? Hark! what was that?
A sound came to his ears; a breathless, sobbing wail.
"Bobby! oh! Bobby!! oh, my heart!"
A great clump of lilacs hid the road ahead. Hastening round it, he saw Melissa running toward him, crimson, panting, the tears rolling down her cheeks as she sobbed and ran and sobbed again.
"Allow two minutes!" says Mr. Ezra Barkley in an immortal Tale. Bobby did not allow one. In ten seconds he had gathered his little sweetheart in his arms, pulled her in behind the big lilac bush, and was soothing, comforting, pouring tender words into her ear.
"There, dear; there, Lissy! there, my little girl! You are my little girl, aren't you? My own dear little girl! Don't cry, sweetheart! What frightened you, Lissy?"
"Oh! oh!" sobbed Lissy. "I thought he would trample on you. I thought you would be lying on the road all dead and bleeding. Oh, Bobby! Bobby! Did he hurt you?"
"Did who hurt me, darling? Here! let's sit down! Put your dear little head on my shoulder; so! comfy? Did who hurt me, Lissy?"
"The dreadful horse! I thought he would trample on you! oh! oh!"
She started at Bobby's shout of laughter.
"Lissy! honestly! you didn't think I could catch Pilot? Gee! that is a good one!"
[pg 263] The great lilac bush had seen lovers in its day; sheltered them, too. A generation ago, it had marked a gateway; the cellar hole of the house still yawned in the field, half filled with wild raspberry bushes. If not Jemmy and Jessamy, at least Zekle and Huldy, or their prototypes, had sauntered down the lawn with arms linked, and had sat under the great bush, sheltered from lane and road by tossing, purple plumes. Yes, the lilac bush knew all about it, and bent kindly over Bobby and Lissy as they sat in their turn, hand in hand, pouring out the wonderful new story that had never, never, never been told before.
By and by (for not even new love could make Bobby unconscious of Dinner Time!) they walked home, and the road was paved with gold, and the skies above were diamond and sapphire, and the world was very fair.
And Kitty? If the truth must be told, they did not once think of Kitty till they reached the Wibird door. Then Melissa, with a conscience-stricken blush, wondered if Kitty was all right, and Bobby, with another, guessed she was. Then his honest heart smote him, and after one last look and handclasp, he went straight off to Ross House and told Kitty all about it. Then who so happy as Clotho Kitty? She took Bobby's hands and danced up and down the hall with him. She had not been so happy, she vowed, since she was probably arboreal. Never mind what she meant! She was just sitting down to dinner, all alone, and Bobby must and should sit down with her. They would have a feast, the Feast of Friendship. There was chicken pie!
"Come on, Bobby! we'll drink all our healths in [pg 264] pineapple lemonade. Sarepta! Sarepta! Put another plate, will you? Bobby is stopping to dinner!"
Sarepta laid another plate, outwardly grim, inwardly rejoicing. Men folks seemed to have more real understanding of pastry than what women-folks did, some way of it. She thawed visibly with every crunch of Bobby's enraptured teeth. She brought ham and tongue and little crisp home-made sausages the size of Bobby's little finger, over which he fairly groaned with delight.
"Honestly, Sarepta!" he kept saying. "Honestly! On the square now, I never did!"
When it came to fruit jelly with whipped cream, Bobby sighed deeply, and Kitty had an inspiration. She caught up the pretty dish and rose from table.
"You are to take this straight down to Lissy and eat it with her!" she commanded. "Hush! not a word! Sarepta, a fringed doily, please! Bobby is going to take this to——may I Bobby? Sarepta is a tomb of secrecy!——to his dear, sweet, darling Melissa, and eat it with her. One more glass, Bobby! Sarepta must have one too! To the health of Mr. and Mrs. Robert Chanter! Hip! hip! hooray!"
"Honestly, Kitty!" Bobby's voice faltered and broke. "Honestly! You are the greatest girl in the world—bar one, I'll have to say now, won't I? Good-bye! God bless you, Kitty!"
"Well, of all the Actions!" said Sarepta Darwin.