Peggy Stewart at School


E-text prepared by Roger Frank
and the Project Online Distributed Proofreading Team












Copyright, 1918 by Barse & Hopkins



The September morning was warmer and more enervating than September mornings in Maryland usually are, though the month is generally conceded to be a trying one. Even at beautiful Severndale where, if at any point along the river, a refreshing breeze could almost always be counted upon, the air seemed heavy and lifeless, as though the intense heat of the summer had taken from it every particle of its revivifying qualities.

In the pretty breakfast room the long French windows, giving upon the broad piazza, stood wide open; the leaves upon the great beeches and maples which graced the extensive lawn beyond, hung limp and motionless; the sunlight even at that early hour beat scorchingly upon the dry grass, for there had been little rain during August and the vegetation had suffered severely; every growing thing was coated like a dusty miller. But within doors all looked most inviting. The room was scrupulous; its appointments indicated refined taste and constant care; the breakfast table, laid for two, was dainty and faultless in its appointments; our old friend, Jerome, moved about noiselessly, giving last lingering touches, lest any trifle be omitted which might add to the comfort and sense of harmony which seemed so much a part of his young mistress’s life. As he straightened a fruit knife here, or set right a fold of the snowy breakfast cloth, he kept up a low-murmured monologue after the manner of his race. Very little escaped old Jerome’s sharp eyes and keen ears, and within the past forty-eight hours they had found plenty to see or hear, for a guest had come to Severndale. Yes, a most unusual type of guest, too. As a rule Severndale’s guests brought unalloyed pleasure to its young hostess and her servants, or to her sailor father if he happened to be enjoying one of his rare leaves, for Captain Stewart had been on sea-duty for many successive years, preferring it to land duty since his wife’s death when Peggy, his only child, was but six years of age. Severndale had held only sad memories for him since that day, nearly ten years ago, in spite of the little girl growing up there, cared for by the old housekeeper and the servants, some of whom had been on the estate as long as Neil Stewart could remember.

But nine years had slipped away since Peggy’s mother’s death, and the little child had changed into a very lovely young girl, with whom the father was in reality just becoming acquainted. He had spent more time with her during the year just passed than he had ever spent in any one of the preceding nine years, and those weeks had held many startling revelations for him. When he left her to resume command of his ship, his mind was in a more or less chaotic state trying to grasp an entirely new order of things, for this time he was leaving behind him a young lady of fifteen who, so it seemed to the perplexed man, had jumped over at least five years as easily as an athlete springs across a hurdle, leaving the little girl upon the other side forever. When Neil Stewart awakened to this fact he was first dazed, and then overwhelmed by the sense of his obligations overlooked for so long, and, being possessed of a lively sense of duty, he strove to correct the oversight.

Had he not been in such deadly earnest his efforts to make reparation for what he considered his inexcusable short-sightedness and neglect, would have been funny, for, like most men when confronted by some problem involving femininity, he was utterly at a loss how to set about “his job” as he termed it.

As a matter of fact, a kind fate had taken “his job” in hand for him some time before, and was in a fair way to turn out a pretty good one too. But Neil Stewart made up his mind to boost Old Lady Fate along a little, and his attempts at so doing came pretty near upsetting her equilibrium; she was not inclined to be hustled, and Neil Stewart was nothing if not a hustler, once he got under way.

And so, alack! by one little move he completely changed Peggy’s future and for a time rendered the present a veritable storm center, as will be seen.

But we will let events tell their own story.

Old Jerome moved about the sunny breakfast-room; at least it would have been sunny had not soft-tinted awnings and East-Indian screens, shut out the sun’s glare and suffused the room in a restful coolness and calm, in marked contrast to the vivid light beyond the windows.

Jerome himself was refreshing to look upon. The old colored man was quite seventy years of age, but still an erect and dignified major-domo. From his white, wool-fringed old head, to the toes of his white canvas shoes, he was immaculate. No linen could have been more faultlessly laundered than Jerome’s; no serviette more neatly folded. All was in harmony excepting the old man’s face; that was troubled. A perplexed pucker contracted his forehead as he spoke softly to himself.

“‘Taint going to do no how! It sure ain’t. She ain’t got de right bran’, no she ain’t, and yo’ cyant mate up no common stock wid a tho’oughbred and git any sort of a span. No siree, yo’ cyant. My Lawd, what done possess Massa Neil fer ter ‘vite her down hyer? She cyant ‘struct an’ guide our yo’ng mist’ess. Sho! She ain’ know de very fust rudimints ob de qualities’ ways an’ doin’s. Miss Peggy could show her mo’ in five minutes dan she ever is know in five years. She ain’t,—she ain’t,—well I ain’t jist ‘zackly know how I’se gwine speechify it, but she ain’t like we all,” and Jerome wagged his head in deprecation and forced his tongue against his teeth in a sound indicating annoyance and distaste, as he moved his mistress’ chair a trifle.

Just then Mammy Lucy stuck her white-turbaned head in at the door to ask:

“Whar dat chile at? Ain’t she done come in fer her breckfus yit? It’s nine o’clock and Sis Cynthia’s a-stewin’ an’ a steamin’ like her own taters.”

“She say she wait fer her aunt, an’ her aunt say she cyant breckfus befo’ half-pas’ nine, no how,” answered Jerome.

“Huh, huh! An’ ma chile gotter wait a hull hour pas’ her breckfus time jist kase Madam Fussa-ma-fiddle ain’t choose fer ter git up? I bait yo’ she git up when she ter home, and I bait yo’ she ain’t gitting somebody ter dress her, an’ wait on her han’ an’ foot like Mandy done been a-doin’ sense yistiddy; ner she ain’ been keepin’ better folks a-waiting fer dey meals. I’se pintedly put out wid de way things is been gwine in dis hyer ‘stablishmint fer de past two days, an’ ‘s fur ‘s I kin see dey ain’ gwine mend none neider. No, not fer a considerbul spell lessen we has one grand, hifalutin’ tornader. Yo’ hyar me!”

“I sho’ does hyar yo’ Mis’ Lucy, an’ I sho’ ‘grees wid yo’ ter de very top notch. Dere’s gwine ter be de very dibble—’scuse me please, ma’am, ‘scuse me, but ma feelin’s done got de better of ma breedin’—ter pay ef things go on as dey’ve begun since de Madam—an’ dat dawg—invest deyselves ‘pon Severndale. But yonder comin’ our yo’ng mistiss,” he concluded as a clear, sweet voice was heard singing just beyond the windows, and quick decisive footsteps came across the broad piazza, and Peggy Stewart, only daughter and heiress of beautiful “Severndale,” entered the room. By her side Tzaritza, her snowy Russian wolfhound, paced with stately mien; a thoroughbred pair indeed.

“Oh, Jerome, I am just starved. That breakfast table is irresistible. Mammy, is Aunt Katherine ready?”

“I make haste fer ter inquire, baby,” answered the old nurse, hurrying from the room.

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