A Summer Daisy by Eugenia Dunlap Potts
Story type: Literature
“Heighho!” yawned Carroll Hamilton, picking up his long legs from the grass, “this is not making hay while the sun shines,” and he proceeded leisurely to place a camp stool in position, erect an easel, and spread out sketching materials.
A few bold, rapid strokes transferred a pretty bit of rural landscape to the canvas, and this much gained, the amateur artist lit a fine Havana and lazily drifted off again into reverie. His thoughts were not of a pleasant nature. Why couldn’t a man do as he liked in this world? Here the particular man in his mind–to-wit his own agreeable self, had devoted his twenty-four years to acquiring sundry dazzling accomplishments, zonly to have his interest in life dampened by a matrimonial scheme, hatched long ago in the fertile brains of his own parents and the parents of his prospective dulcinea in conspiracy.
Yes, a regular wet blanket had awaited his return from Italia’s classic shores. What an insufferable bore to be pledged, promised, all but tied to an unknown female whose only merit, he wilfully wagered, lay in her invincible ground rents.
“Why, my son,” his doting mother said, “think of it–two hundred thousand dollars in her own right, and all yours for the asking.”
He did think of it; and he vowed in his own mind to do something–anything; run away, commit suicide, before he would join himself for life to any girl he had never seen, especially old Thornton’s daughter, who seemed so willing to jump at him. Not he. In vain they urged him to cultivate the fair damsel. Not till he had braced his nerves with country air, he said. This tonic secured, he graciously consented to be introduced, but would reserve the ratification of the wedding treaty till later.
What’s the use in having fathers and mothers, anyhow? They only plague the life out of one. They don’t ever think of letting a fellow alone once in a while. They–
What other heinousness they would be guilty of would never be shaped into thought, for at this moment down came a dainty little slipper, with a dainty little rosette, from the tree above, plump on to his sketch, and a violent start and a glance upward revealed a bewildering little pink-stockinged foot, which was the daintiest of all.
The abrupt spring to his feet brought down the camp stool, cigar, easel and all, but not the foot, for the rest of the apparition was caught and hidden by the clustering young shoots of the apple tree.
A whistle–quite involuntary, if not polite–was shaping itself a brief distance below his staring eyes, when, recovering himself and tiptoeing to his full height, he peered into the branches and said, a little irrelevantly:
“I beg pardon!”
Two milk-white hands parted the leaves, and a flushed pink-and-white face appeared at the opening.
“It’s only me,” cooed a musical voice, and as if the sound had unlocked the pent-up silence, two rows of pearls shone between two red lips, two large blue eyes twinkled with fun, and as charming a peal of laughter as was ever vouchsafed to mortal ears rippled merrily on the air.
“And who is me, may I ask?” rather saucily asked the routed artist.
“Why, Daisy–Daisy Merrifield; don’t you know?”
“Why, no, I don’t know; that is, I didn’t know, but of course I know now; and I’m delighted to know.”
At all these “knows”, the maiden laughed her merry laugh again.
“May I ask what you are doing up there?”
“Doing nothing–just what you are doing down here.”
“Ah, but I was doing something very nice down here, only you have nearly spoiled it,” and with mock regret the young man picked up the slipper and comically surveyed its Cinderella proportions.
“So I did,” was the regretful reply, “you see it was awfully poky, having to sit so still. I must have grown desperate at last and kicked it off–I am sorry.”
“Well, I am not one bit sorry,” he said. “I’ll do another picture, and next time I’ll sketch the tree,” he added, his brown eyes twinkling with amusement.
“But how did you get up there, and how will you get down?” were his next queries, putting the little slipper into the pocket of his jacket.
“Well, I climbed up,” she admitted. “I suppose I’ll have to jump down. Reach out your hands,” she cried, and a sudden rustle showed she was preparing to spring. “Good gracious me!” was her next exclamation, as the willing hands were extended, “my hair is all caught.”
“Hold perfectly still till I get up there,” he said with concern, and replacing the stool, he was soon on a level with the fair prisoner.
Patiently he disentangled the long golden locks from the infringing boughs, and gathering them all in her little hands, she gave them a vigorous twist forward over her face out of further mischief.
“Now, my slipper, please,” as the young fellow retreated. Obediently restoring the truant article, she deftly adjusted it, and cried, “All ready!”
It is hardly to be wondered at that her descent was arrested, and her rounded form tenderly lowered to terra firma.
“I like this out here, don’t you?” was her next remark, shaking out her fairy muslin skirts and placidly surveying the scene. “I’ve been out every day these–let me see–yes, three days. Aunt Hepsy says I’ll get tanned, but I don’t mind. You know Aunt Hepsy, don’t you? Everybody does.”
“No, but I’d like to,” he said, and he meant it.
“She lives at the farm-house yonder–she and Uncle Reuben. They are the best old souls! So this is what you were doing,” she abruptly added, picking up the sketch. “You wouldn’t think I could draw, but I can,” with a proud little toss of the hair.
“I would think you could do anything,” he gallantly replied.
But she was intent upon the picture, with its bold, true outlines.
“This isn’t bad,” was her sage critcism.
“Didn’t you wear a hat, or something?” he asked, looking around and up into the tree.
“No–yes–I wore this,” and pulling from her pocket a large blue square of cotton, she tied it under her chin with the utmost naivete.
“It’s Aunt Hepsy’s,” she explained. “There, do you hear that bell? That’s for dinner,” and taking a tiny watch from an elf-like pocket, she added, “Only half-past eleven. But, to be sure, we ate breakfast with the chickens. It’s horrible.”
“Don’t you live here?”
“Live here?” she echoed. “No, I’m only visiting. Good-bye, I must go. I am much obliged, though,” and as if the recollection were overpowering, she again burst out into her ringing laugh.
“It was too funny you didn’t see me; and I so scared I was afraid to breathe. Good-bye, I hope you will have a good time with your picture.”
“But you are not going to dismiss me, are you? Mayn’t I take you home?”
“Yes, if you like; only you musn’t stay long. I’ve got to do Rollin and Plutarch while I’m out here, and can’t be bothered.”
With difficulty repressing an explosion, the young man walked beside the woodland sprite, with his goods and chattels thrown across his shoulders, and found himself falling–yes, tumbling–headlong in love. Such an airy, fairy, exquisite piece of humanity it had never been his fortune to behold.
“You are too young to worry your brain with dry old fossils like Rollin and Plutarch,” he said, with what gravity he could.
“I am a person of twenty,” she affirmed with demure satisfaction, as she tripped along in a manner quite enchanting.
At the door of the farm-house a fair, motherly face smiled a welcome from the border of a spotless cap, then sobered a little at the sight of a stranger.
“This is Aunt Hepsy,” simply said Daisy, “and you are–?” hesitating.
A flush not born of the sunshine mounted to his brow as with swift thought he saw the shoals ahead, and did not dare reveal his identity.
“John Smith,” he said, with his natural ease.
“Oh!” half exclaimed Daisy, upon hearing such a very common name from such very uncommon lips; but checking it, and softly humming a tune, she retired to an inner room to prepare for dinner.
This episode was the beginning of elysium for John Smith. Every day saw him at the farm-house. Every day revealed some new charm in the Daisy he had found. She was as industrious and sensible as she was petite and pretty. Rollin and Plutarch were discarded for modern authors, or for simple chit-chat about mamma, papa, and little ones at home.
But when the day came for John Smith to tell his love, he met with a shock that quite paralyzed his senses.
Looking up with her big blue eyes, she said:
“You mustn’t talk like that; I’m engaged.”
“Engaged?” he stammered, “engaged?”
“Yes, I’m engaged.”
“And to whom? May I ask?”
“Oh, I can’t tell you his name; it’s a secret yet. He is a person I never saw.”
“Sheer madness!” was his horrified ejaculation. “Never saw him, and going to marry him?”
“I promised, you know; I must, if he wants me,” she said in her unconcerned way.
“But don’t you love me, Daisy?”
“Yes, I suppose I do, but that can’t be helped; a promise is a promise.”
“Who is to prevent it?” he exclaimed impatiently. “I say it shall be helped.”
There was not time for further rhapsodies. Aunt Hepsy appeared with a telegram, calling Daisy home; and home she went next day, leaving Mr. John Smith in despair. In vain he laid siege to Aunt Hepzibah and Uncle Reuben; they could not help him.
Then, in a mighty wrath, he too went home, and desperately resolved to have it out with the Thornton girl, one way or the other; but not “the other” if Daisy could be brought to terms.
It was easy travelling where the way was all prepared. So a lovely moonlight evening found him in Squire Thornton’s parlor. In a few moments there floated down to him from the invisible upper regions a cloud of blue muslin, and the laughing face of Daisy Merrifield was before him.
“Oh, Daisy, what a surprise! and how sweet you are!” as impulsively he strained her to his heart. “What joy to find you here!”
“Don’t crush my dress,” she said, righting up the ruffles; “it’s new. Yes, I am here. Didn’t you come to see me?”
“No–that is–I came to see Miss Thornton,” and his face fell.
“There is no Miss Thornton,” she said, her dimples playing mischievously. “It is only I—now don’t you know?”
“But how is it? I was told–I understood–“
“Pshaw! you stupid!” she said, with a bewitching pout, “if you had been a little more civil, you would have known that I am Mrs. Thornton’s daughter–not Mr. Thornton’s; that mamma is mamma, but papa isn’t papa, and–“
But in an ecstacy of surprise and joy the rest of her sentence was entirely smothered.
“And you knew from the first?” he asked, reproachfully.
“Not from the first, but almost. They were all in the plot. I meant to snub you outright, only–well, somehow you didn’t look as horrid as you really were! The ‘John Smith’ was almost too much for me, but I stood it. Then when the letter came–it was well for you I had seen you under the tree. So you wouldn’t marry the heiress,” she said, archly. “I did my very best to teach you a lesson, young man. Have you learned it?”
The answer was fervently though silently given the merry, rosy, smiling lips.