Peggy Stewart, Navy Girl, at Home

Produced by Juliet Sutherland, Charles Franks
and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team.

PEGGY STEWART
NAVY GIRL
AT HOME

BY
GABRIELLE E. JACKSON
AUTHOR OF “SILVER HEELS,” “THREE GRACES”
SERIES, “CAPT. POLLY” SERIES, ETC.
WITH FRONTISPIECE BY
NORMAN ROCKWELL

1920

THIS LITTLE STORY OF ANNAPOLIS IS
MOST AFFECTIONATELY INSCRIBED TO

H.W.H.
WHOSE SUNNY SOUL AND CHEERY
VOICE HELPED TO MAKE MANY AN
HOUR HAPPY FOR THE ONE HE CALLED
“LITTLE MOTHER”

CONTENTS

CHAPTER
I. SPRINGTIDE
II. THE EMPRESS
III. “DADDY NEIL”
IV. IN OCTOBER’S DAYS
V. POLLY HOWLAND
VI. A FRIENDSHIP BEGINS
VII. PEGGY STEWART: CHATELAINE
VIII. A SHOCKING DEMONSTRATION OF INTEMPERANCE
IX. DUNMORE’S LAST CHRISTMAS
X. A DOMESTIC EPISODE
XI. PLAYING GOOD SAMARITAN
XII. THE SPICE OF PEPPER AND SALT
XIII. THE MASQUERADERS’ SHOW
XIV. OFF FOR NEW LONDON
XV. REGATTA DAY
XVI. THE RACE
XVII. SHADOWS CAST BEFORE
XVIII. YOU’VE SPOILED THEIR TEA PARTY
XIX. BACK AT SEVERNDALE

CHAPTER I

SPRINGTIDE

“Peggy, Maggie, Mag, Margaret, Marguerite, Muggins. Hum! Half a dozen of
them. Wonder if there are any more? Yes, there’s Peggoty and Peg, to say
nothing of Margaretta, Gretchen, Meta, Margarita, Keta, Madge. My
goodness! Is there any end to my nicknames? I mistrust I’m a very
commonplace mortal. I wonder if other girls’ names can be twisted around
into as many picture puzzles as mine can? What do YOU think about it
Shashai!” [Footnote: Shashai. Hebrew for noble, pronounced Shash’a-ai.]
and the girl reached up both arms to draw down into their embrace the
silky head of a superb young colt which stood close beside her; a
creature which would have made any horse-lover stop stock-still and
exclaim at sight of him. He was a magnificent two-year-old Kentuckian,
faultless as to his points, with a head to set an artist rhapsodizing
and a-tingle to put it upon his canvas. His coat, mane and tail were
black as midnight and glossy as satin. The great, lustrous eyes held a
living fire, the delicate nostrils were a-quiver every moment, the
faultlessly curved ears alert as a wild creature’s. And he WAS half
wild, for never had saddle rested upon his back, girth encircled him or
bit fretted the sensitive mouth. A halter thus far in his career had
been his only badge of bondage and the girl caressing him had been the
one to put it upon him. It would have been a bad quarter of an hour for
any other person attempting it. But she was his “familiar,” though far
from being his evil genius. On the contrary, she was his presiding
spirit of good.

Just now, as the splendid head nestled confidingly in her circling arms,
she was whispering softly into one velvety ear, oh, so velvety! as it
rested against her ripe, red lips, so soft, so perfect in their molding.
The ear moved slightly back and forth, speaking its silent language. The
nostrils emitted the faintest bubbling acknowledgment of the whispered
words. The beautiful eyes were so expressive in their intelligent
comprehension.

“Too many cooks spoil the broth, Shashai. Too many grooms can spoil a
colt. Too many mistresses turn a household topsy-turvy. How about too
many names, old boy? Can they spoil a girl? But maybe I’m spoiled
already. How about it?” and a musical laugh floated out from between the
pretty lips.

The colt raised his head, whinnied aloud as though in denial and stamped
one deer-like, unshod fore-hoof as though to emphasize his protest; then
he again slid his head back into the arms as if their slender roundness
encompassed all his little world.

“You old dear!” exclaimed the girl softly, adding: “Eh, but it’s a
beautiful world! A wonderful world,” and broke into the lilting refrain
of “Wonderful world” and sang it through in a voice of singularly,
haunting sweetness. But the words were not those of the popular song.
They had been written and set to its air by Peggy’s tutor.

She seemed to forget everything else, though she continued to
mechanically run light, sensitive fingers down the velvety muzzle so
close to her face, and semi-consciously reach forth the other hand to
caress the head of a superb wolfhound which, upon the first sweet notes,
had risen from where she lay not far off to listen, thrusting an
insinuating nose under her arm. She seemed to float away with her song,
off, off across the sloping, greening fields to the broad, blue reaches
of Bound Bay, all a-glitter in the morning sunlight.

She was seated in the crotch of a snake-fence running parallel with the
road which ended in a curve toward the east and vanished in a thin-drawn
perspective toward the west. There was no habitation, or sign of human
being near. The soft March wind, with its thousand earthy odors and
promises of a Maryland springtide, swept across the bay, stirring her
dark hair, brushed up from her forehead in a natural, wavy pompadour,
and secured by a barrette and a big bow of dark red ribbon, the long
braid falling down her back tied by another bow of the same color. The
forehead was broad and exceptionally intellectual. The eyebrows,
matching the dark hair, perfectly penciled. The nose straight and clean-
cut as a Greek statue’s. The chin resolute as a boy’s. The teeth white
and faultless. And the eyes? Well, Peggy Stewart’s eyes sometimes made
people smile, sometimes almost weep, and invariably brought a puzzled
frown to their foreheads. They were the oddest eyes ever seen. Peggy
herself often laughed and said:

“My eyes seem to perplex people worse than the elephant perplexed the
‘six blind men of Hindustan’ who went to SEE him. No two people ever
pronounce them the same color, yet each individual is perfectly honest
in his belief that they are black, or dark brown, or dark blue, or deep
gray, or SEA green. Maybe Nature designed me for a chameleon but changed
her mind when she had completed my eyes.”

Peggy Stewart would hardly have been called a beautiful girl gauged by
conventional standards. Her features were not regular enough for
perfection, the mouth perhaps a trifle too large, but she was “mightily
pleasin’ fer to study ’bout,” old Mammy insisted when the other servants
were talking about her baby.

“Oh, yes,” conceded Martha Harrison, the only white woman besides Peggy
herself upon the plantation. “Oh, yes, she’s pleasing enough, but if her
mother had lived she’d never in this world a-been allowed to run wild as
a boy, a-getting tanned as black as a—a, darky.”

Martha was a most devoted soul who had come from the North with her
mistress when that lady left her New England home to journey to Maryland
as Commander Stewart’s bride. He was only a junior lieutenant then, but
that was nearly eighteen years before this story opens. She had not seen
many colored people while living in the Massachusetts town in which she
had been born and her experience with them was limited to the very few
who, after the Civil War, had drifted into it. Of the true Southern
negro, especially those of the ante-bellum type, she had not the
faintest conception. It had all been a revelation to her. The devotion
of the house servants to their “white folks,” to whom so many had
remained faithful even after liberation, was a never-ending source of
wonder to the good soul. Nor could she understand why those old family
retainers stigmatized the younger generations as “shiftless, no-account,
new-issue niggers.” That there could be marked social distinctions among
these colored people never occurred to her.

That generations of them had been carefully trained by master and
mistress during the days of slavery, and that the younger generations
had had no training whatever, was quite beyond Martha’s grasp. Colored
people were COLORED PEOPLE, and that ended it.

But as the years passed, Martha learned many things. She had her own
neatly-appointed little dining-room in her own well-ordered little wing
of the great, rambling colonial house which Peggy Stewart called home, a
house which could have told a wonderful history of one hundred eighty or
more years. We will tell it later on. We have left Peggy too long
perched upon her snake-fence with Shashai and Tzaritza.

The lilting song continued to its end and the dog and horse stood as
though hypnotized by the melody and the fingers’ magnetic touch. Then
the song ended as abruptly as it had begun and Peggy slid lightly from
her perch to the ground, raised both arms, stretching hands and fingers
and inclining her head in a pose which would have thrilled a teacher of
“Esthetic Posing” in some fashionable, faddish school, though it was all
unstudied upon the girl’s part. Then she cried in a wonderfully
modulated voice:

“Oh, the joy, joy, joy of just being ALIVE on such a day as this! Of
being out in this wonderful world and free, free, free to go and come
and do as we want to, Shashai, Tzaritza! To feel the wind, to breathe it
in, to smell all the new growing things, to see that water out yonder
and the blue overhead. What is it, Dr. Llewellyn says: ‘To thank the
Lord for a life so sweet.’ WE all do, don’t we? I can put it into
words, or sing it, but you two? Yes, you can make God understand just as
well. Let’s all thank Him together—you as He has taught you, and I as
He has taught me. Now:”

It was a strange picture. The girl standing there in the beautiful early
spring world, her only companions a thoroughbred, half-wild Kentucky
colt and a Russian wolfhound, literally worth their weight in gold,
absolutely faultless in their beauty, and each with their wonderfully
intelligent eyes fixed upon her. At the word “Now,” the colt raised his
perfect head, drew in a deep breath and then exhaled it in a long,
trumpet-like whinny. The dog voiced her wonderful bell-like bay; the
note of joy sounded by her kind when victory is assured.

The girl raised her head, and parting her lips gave voice to a long-
drawn note of ecstasy, ending in a little staccato trill and the same
upflinging of the arms.

It was all a rhapsody of springtide, the semi-wild things’ expression of
intoxicating joy at being alive and their absolute mutual harmony. The
animals felt it as the girl did, and surely God acknowledged the homage.
Such spontaneous, sincere thanks are rare.

“Let’s go now.”

The horse’s slender flanks quivered; his withers twitched with the
nervous energy awaiting an outlet; the dog stood alert for the first
motion.

Resting one hand upon those sensitive withers the girl gave a quick
spring, landing lightly as thistledown astride the colt’s back, holding
the halter strap in her firm, brown fingers. Her costume was admirably
adapted to this equestrian if somewhat unusual feat for a young lady. It
consisted of a dark blue divided riding skirt of heavy cloth, and a
midshipman’s jumper, open at the throat, a black regulation neckerchief
knotted sailor-fashion on her well-rounded chest. Anything affording
freer action could hardly have been designed for her sex. And a bonny
thing she looked as she sat there, the soft wind toying with the loose
hairs which had escaped their bonds, and bringing the faintest rose tint
into her cheeks. It was still too early in the spring for the clear,
dark skin to have grown “black as a darky’s.” “On to the end of
nowhere!” she cried. “We’ll beat you to the goal, Tzaritza. Go!”

At the word the colt sprang forward with an action so true, so perfect
that he and the girl seemed one. The dog gave a low bark like a laugh at
the challenge and with incredibly long, graceful leaps circled around
and around the pair, now running a little ahead, then executing a wide
circle, and again darting forward with that derisive bark.

Shashai’s speed was not to be scorned—his ancestors held an
international fame for swiftness, endurance and jumping—but no horse
can compete with a wolfhound.

On, on they sped, the happiest, maddest, merriest trio imaginable, down
the road to the point where the perspective seemed to end it but where
in reality it turned abruptly, leaving the one following its course the
choice of taking a sudden dip down to the water’s edge or wheeling to
the right and leaping “brake, bracken and scaur.” The girl did not
tighten her single guiding strap, she merely bent forward to speak
softly into one ear laid back to catch the words:

“Right—turn!”

Just beyond was a high fence dividing the lane where it crossed two
estates. It was surmounted by a stile of four steps. There was no pause
in the colt’s or dog’s speed. Tzaritza cleared it like a—wolfhound.
Shashai with his rider skimmed over like a bird, landing upon the soft
turf beyond with scarcely a sound.

Oh, the beauty of it all! Then on again through a patch of woodland
which looked as though a huge gossamer veil had been laid over it. If
ever pastelle colors were displayed to perfection Nature here held her
exhibition. Soft pinks, pale blues, silver grays, the tenderest greens
with here and there a touch of the maple buds’ rich mahogany reds, and
above and about the maddest melody of bird songs from a hundred throats.

As the horse swung along in his perfect gait, the great dog making

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