Gabrielle E. Jackson.

Peggy Stewart: Navy Girl at Home online

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"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

"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

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
playful leaps and feinted snaps at his beautiful muzzle with a dog's
derisive smile and sense of humor, and if any one doubts that dogs have
this quality they simply don't know the animal, the girl sang at the top
of her voice.

They covered the ground with incredible swiftness and presently the lane
grew broader, giving evidence of more traffic where a wood road crossed
it at right angles. Just a little beyond this point an old gentleman
appeared in sight. He was walking with his hands clasped behind him and
his head bent to examine every foot of the roadway. Evidently he was too
absorbed to be aware of the trio bearing down upon him. He wore the
clerical garb of the Church of England, and his face would have
attracted attention in any part of the world, it was so pure, so
refined, so like a cameo in its delicacy of outline, and the skin held
the wonderful softness and clearness we sometimes see in old age. He
must have been over seventy.

Just then he became aware of the colt's light hoofbeats and looked up.
He was tall and slight but very erect, and his face lighted up with a
smile absolutely illuminating as he recognized his approaching friends.

The girl bent forward to say:

"One bell, Shashai." Whereupon her mount slackened his gait to the
gentlest amble, but the dog went bounding on to greet the newcomer.
First she dropped down at his feet, burying her nose in her forepaws as
though to make obeisance, but at his words:

"Ah, Tzaritza! Good Tzaritza, welcome!" she instantly sprang up, rested
her forepaws upon his shoulders, and looked into his face with the most
limpid pair of eyes ever seen; eyes filled with something deeper than
human love can ever summon to human eyes, for those have human speech to
supplement their appeal.

"Tzaritza. Dear, faithful Tzaritza," said the old man in the tenderest
tone as he caressed the magnificent, silky head now nestling against his
face as a child's might have nestled. "Good dog. Good dog. But here are
Peggy and Shashai. My little girl, warm greetings," he cried as Shashai
came to an instant statue-like standstill at Peggy's one word, "Halt!"
and she slid from his back, braced at "attention" and saluted in all
gravity, the clergyman returning the salute with much dignity. Then in
an instant the martial attitude and air were discarded and springing
forward the girl slipped to his side, caught one hand and by a quick,
graceful motion circled his arm about her waist and laid her head upon
his shoulder just where Tzaritza's had but a moment before rested, her
face alight with affection as she exclaimed:

"To meet you 'way, 'way out here, Compadre!"

"'Far from the madding crowd,' Filiola. Five miles to the good for these
old legs of seventy-four summers. They have served me well. I have no
fault to find with them. They are stanch friends and have carried me
many a mile. But you, my child? You and Tzaritza and Shashai? Come
hither, my beauty," and the free hand was extended to the colt which
instantly advanced for the proffered caress.

"Ah, thou bonny, bonny creature! Thou jewel among thy fellows. Ah, but
you possess a masculine frailty. Ah, yes, I've detected it. Oh, Shashai,
Shashai, is thy heart reached only through thy stomach?" for now the
colt was nozzling most insinuatingly at one of the ample pockets of the
old gentleman's top coat. Never had those pockets failed him since the
days when he had ceased to be nourished by his dam's milk, and his faith
in their bounty was not misplaced, for a slender white hand was inserted
to be withdrawn with the lump of sugar Shashai had counted upon and held
forth upon the palm from which the velvety lips took it as daintily as a
young lady's fingers could have taken it.

Three was the dole evidently for when three had been eaten Shashai
gravely bowed his head three times in acknowledgment of his treat and
then turned to nibble at the budding trees, his benefactor returning to

"So this is heyday and holiday, dear heart, is it? Saturday's
emancipation from your old Dominie Exactus when you may range wood and
field unmolested, with never a thought for his domination and tyranny."

"As though you ever dominated or tyrannized over me!" protested the
girl. "I'd do anything, ANYTHING for you - you know that, don't you?"
There was deep reproach in her voice. Then, it changed suddenly as she

"But where is Doctor Claudius?"

"In his stall, eating his fill. I wished to use my own legs today,"
smiled her companion. "His are exceptionally good ones, but my own will
grow stiff if I do not use them more."

Just then Shashai suddenly raised his head and stood with ears alert and
nostrils extended. Tzaritza rose from the ground where she had dropped
down after greeting Dr. Llewellyn, and stood with ears raised, though
neither man nor girl yet heard the faintest sound.

"Some one's coming and coming in a hurry," said Peggy quietly, "or THEY
wouldn't look like THAT."

As she spoke the dull thud of hoofs pounding rapidly upon soft turf was
borne to their ears, and a moment later a big gray horse ridden by a
little negro boy, as tattered a specimen of his race as one might expect
to see, came pounding into sight. With some difficulty he brought the
big horse to a standstill in front of them and grabbing off his ragged
cap stammered out his message:

"Howdy, Massa Dominie. Sarvint, Missy Peggy, but Josh done sont me fer
ter fin' yo' an' bring you back yon' mighty quick, kase - kase, de - de
sor'el mar' done got mos' kilt an' lak' 'nough daid right dis minit. He
say, please ma'am, come quick as Shazee kin fotch yo' fo' de Empress,
she mighty bad an' - "

"What has happened to her, Bud?" interrupted Peggy, turning to spring
upon Shashai's back, but pausing to learn some particulars. The Empress
was one of the most valuable brood mares upon the estate and her foal,
still dependent upon her for its nourishment, was Peggy's pride and joy.

"She done got outen de paddock and nigh 'bout bus' herself wide open on
de flank on dat dummed MAS-CHINE what dey trims de hedges wid. She
bleeged ter bleed ter death, Joshi say."

Peggy turned white. "Excuse me, please - I must go as fast as I can.
Home, Shashai, four bells and a jingle!" she cried and the colt swept
away like a tornado, Tzaritza in the lead.

"Golly, but she's one breeze, ain' she, sah?"

"She is a wonderful girl and will make a magnificent woman if not
spoiled in the next ten years," replied Dr. Llewellyn, though the words
were more an oral expression of his own thoughts than a reply to the
negro boy.



As the half-wild colt swept up to the paddock from which the valuable
brood mare Empress had made her escape, Peggy was met by one of the
stable hands.

"Where is she?" she asked, her dark eyes full of concern and anxiety.

"Up yonder in de paster," answered the negro, pointing to a green
upland. A touch with her heel started Shashai. A moment later she
slipped from her mount to hurry to a little group gathered around a dark
object lying upon the ground. With the pitiful little cry:

"Oh, Empress! My beauty," Peggy was upon her knees beside the splendid

"Shelby, Shelby, how did it happen? Oh, how did it?" she cried as she
lifted the horse's head to her lap. The panting creature looked at her
with great appealing, terror-stricken eyes, as though imploring her to
save the life-spark now flickering so fitfully.

"God knows, miss," answered the foreman of the paddock. "We did not find
her until a half hour ago. If I'd a-found her sooner it would never a-
come to this. We ain't never had no such accident on the estate since
_I_ been on it, and I'd give all I'm worth if we could a-just have
missed THIS one. Some fool, _I_ can't find out who, left them hedge
shears a-hanging wide open across the gate and the gate unlatched, and
she must a run foul of 'em, 'cause we found 'em and all the signs o'
what had happened, but we couldn't find HER for more 'n hour, and then
THIS is what we found. I sent Bud for you and Jim for the Vet, but we've
all come too late." The man spoke low and hurriedly, and never for a
moment ceased his care for the mare. The veterinary who had arrived but
a few moments before Peggy stood by helpless to do more than had already
been done by Shelby, the veteran horse-trainer who had been on the
estate for years, and who loved the animals as though they were his
children. It was evident that the Empress' moments were numbered. She
had severed one of the great veins in her flank and had nearly bled to
death before discovered. Her little foal stood near, surprised at his
dam's indifference to his needs, his little baby face and great round
eyes, so like his mother's, filled with questioning doubt. As Peggy bent
over the beautiful dying mare's head, tears streaming from her eyes, for
she had cared for her and loved her since colthood, the little foal gave
a low nicker and coming up behind the girl, thrust his soft muzzle over
her shoulder and nestled his head against her face, trembling and
quivering with a terror he could not understand. Peggy raised one arm to
clasp it around the little creature's warm neck. The Empress tried to
nicker an answer to her baby but the effort cost her last breath and
heart-throb. It ended in a fluttering sigh and her head lay still and at
rest upon Peggy's lap. The splendid animal, which had so often carried
Peggy upon her back, the mother of Shashai, and many another splendid
horse whose fame was widely known, lay lifeless. Her little son nestled
closer to the one he knew and loved best as though begging her
protection. Peggy held him close, sobbing upon his warm neck.

"You'd better get up, Miss Peggy," said Shelby kindly.

Peggy bent and kissed the great silky head. "Good-bye, Empress. I'll
care for your baby," she said. Shelby lifted the splendid head from the
girl's lap and helped her to her feet. The little colt still huddled
close to her.

"Have you any orders, miss, about her?" asked Shelby, nodding toward the
dead mare.

"She shall be buried in the circle and shall have a monument. We owe her
much. Her foal shall be my charge."

"And I reckon mine, too. If we raise him now it will be a miracle. He's
going to miss his dam's milk."

"I think I can manage," answered Peggy. "Bud, come with me. I wish you
to go down to Annapolis with a note to Doctor Feldmeyer. He will
understand what I wish to do. Ride in on Nancy Lee. Come, little one,"
and with the little colt's neck beneath her circling arm Peggy walked
slowly back to the paddock from which barely three hours before the
splendid mare, now lying lifeless in the pasture, had dashed, leaving a
trail of her life's blood behind her to guide those who came too late.
It was all the outcome of one person's disregard of orders: One of the
hands had quit his work to gossip, leaving his great hedge shears
hanging carelessly across the gate, and the gate unfastened. The
Empress, gamboling with her foal, had rushed upon them, cut herself
cruelly, then maddened by the pain and terrified by the flowing blood,
had dashed away as only a frightened horse can, running until she fell
from exhaustion.

Peggy went back to the inclosure in which the Empress, as the most
honored of the brood mares, had lived with her foal. The little stable,
a very model of order and appointment, stood at one end of it. She
opened the gate, intending to leave the colt in the inclosure, but he

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Online LibraryGabrielle E. JacksonPeggy Stewart: Navy Girl at Home → online text (page 1 of 14)