The Lesley clan of Harmony Harbor was having a family conclave at Cloud of Spruce. Marigold Lesley, the youngest of the family, was perfectly furious because she was not allowed to attend.
"It's ridiculous," she muttered sulkily to her grey cat Hermes. She was perched on the worn sandstone step at the front door of Cloud of Spruce, scowling out at the red roads leading to Harmony Harbor. Her face was as irate as a sweet, flower-like face ever can be. "I'm fifteen years old now. Surely that's old enough to be part of the family gatherings! Why should I be treated like a child? And in my own home! After all, Old Grandmother did tell me that Cloud of Spruce was to be mine. They wouldn't like it very much if I suddenly threw them all out of my house."
For a moment Marigold amused herself by imagining the reactions of all her family members if she suddenly marched in there and made them leave. She could see Grandmother's horrified face…Mother's piteous shock…Salome's indignation…Aunt Marigold's surprise…and Uncle Klon's laughter. Oh yes, Uncle Klon would laugh all right.
Marigold shook her head. Even imaginary revenges on her family couldn't satisfy her right now. Her grievances were too great. She stood up with a sigh, shook her yellow skirt out—yellow was her latest favorite color, ever since Uncle Klon told her she looked like her namesake flower in it—and wandered down to the gate, looking wistfully at the house next door. If Budge hadn't gone to Charlottetown with Tad Austin to visit Tad's grandmother for the week she would have gone over and poured out her woes to him—although, had she thought about it, she did much more listening than speaking to Budge these days. Still, it would have been a comfort to have her only friend around. She leaned on the gate and sighed disconsolately.
Had Marigold known it, the only reason she was not part of this meeting was because she was the subject of it. Her family had been worried about her for quite a while, and Grandmother finally had decided to discuss it with Aunt Marigold, who was still a M.D. first and foremost, despite fifteen years of marriage to Horace "Klondike" Lesley.
Marigold had had several growth spurts that summer and never really regained her strength. She'd spent most of her time drooping around Cloud of Spruce, or letting Budge dictate her every move. Her spirits had dropped, and the unutterable charm and magic she'd always had seemed to vanish. Even Grandmother had started to worry when Marigold snapped at Lorraine one morning. Marigold never spoke sharply to her mother.
Something needed to be done, and Aunt Marigold thought she had just the solution.
Marigold couldn't believe her ears when Lorraine told her the results of the conclave. "I'm being sent where?"
"Blair Water, dear," Lorraine answered patiently. She was desolate at losing her daughter for a whole year, but she knew it was for the best and she was determined to put a good face on the matter. "Aunt Marigold's own aunt, Edna Babcock, lives there with her daughter Miranda, and they've said they'd be happy to have you stay with them this year. Grandmother knows the Babcocks quite well, and has agreed to let you go."
"A whole year?" Marigold asked piteously. "But why?"
"Because you need to go someplace to regain your strength, dear," explained Lorraine. "This summer hasn't been a good one for you, and Aunt Marigold thinks you need a complete change of scenery and pace to recover your strength." And spirits, she could have added, but didn't.
"But why can't I go to Queen's?" asked Marigold. "That's something completely different." She had passed her Entrance Exam that June, but Grandmother had decreed that she was not to go, as no Lesley woman had ever had to work for her living. "Gwennie will be there, you know."
Personally, Lorraine would have been proud to see Marigold attend Queen's, but Aunt Marigold had said no. "Aunt Marigold doesn't think you're strong enough for Queen's, dearest. She's afraid you'll have a breakdown, and then it will take you twice as long to recover and then try again. No, you need someplace quiet and peaceful, with nothing to worry you."
"Blair Water's certainly that," muttered Marigold sulkily. "Nothing ever happens there."
"Really Marigold, I do not appreciate you using that tone with me," said Lorraine, finally reaching the end of her patience. She rose from her daughter's bed. "You are going to Blair Water whether you want to or not, but I can assure you it will be a much more pleasant year if you go with a good attitude."
Marigold felt slightly ashamed of herself. She sprang up and impulsively flung her arms around Lorraine. "I'm sorry, Mums. I know you all are just trying to do what's best for me. But it is hard to be exiled from one's home for a whole year."
Lorraine hid a smile at Marigold's dramatic tone. She kissed her daughter's forehead. "Tell you what, dear. You'll need some new things to take to Blair Water. Why don't we see if Uncle Klon can drive us into the village so we can go shopping, just you and me."
"No Grandmother?" asked Marigold, her eyes lighting up. Grandmother never let her get the clothes she really wanted.
"No Grandmother," answered Lorraine, glad to see some interest return to Marigold's face.
They went down the stairs together and out to the car. "Mother," whispered Marigold. "May I get pajamas?"
Lorraine looked doubtful for a moment, then laughed. "As long as Grandmother doesn't find out. And maybe we can get you a new bathing suit, too."
"Oh!" said Marigold, leaning back in her seat with clasped hands. Maybe this trip to Blair Water wouldn't be so bad after all.
Three days later, sitting in her small bedroom at Misty Hollow, Marigold wasn't so sure. Uncle Klon had no sooner left her there than she was overwhelmed with a great wave of homesickness. She wanted desperately to go back to Cloud of Spruce. When she thought that she was going to be at Misty Hollow for an entire year, it seemed almost too much to bear.
She already hated everything about it. Misty Hollow was an old house nestled in a little dell, surrounded by pine trees and an ancient stone fence. There was no orchard here, but a delightful old-fashioned garden filled almost the entire backyard, with a little brook running right through one corner. The house itself was of weathered grey boards, large and comfortable and very welcoming. Marigold's bedroom looked right out over the garden. It was small but quaint: white walls with yellow trim, ruffled yellow curtains, a yellow-and-white quilt on the high, old-fashioned bed, and a round yellow rag rug on the polished hardwood floor. Marigold stood up and walked over to the round mirror over her chest of drawers. The polished glass showed a scowling visage back at her.
"I wish it had all been ugly," she muttered rebelliously. "I wish Cousin Mira and Aunt Edna were hideous old hags who were mean and hateful and who lived in a broken-down old shack. Then they wouldn't have sent me here. I could have gone home with Uncle Klon…and slept in my own little room…and seen Budge…oh, oh, oh!" She flung herself down on the bed and bust into tears.
She'd been sobbing for several minutes when she heard a cheery whistle right outside her open window. Feeling slightly curious, she got up and looked out.
A tall, thin, lanky young man stood beneath her window, grinning up at her miserable face. In one hand he carried a bouquet of farewell-summers and Japanese anemones. With his free hand he lifted his cap off his head, revealing a shock of dark hair. He wasn't handsome, but there was something about his pleasant, good-natured face that made Marigold feel a bit better despite herself.
"Afternoon, miss," he called up in a thick Acadian accent. "Welcome to Misty Hollow. Name's Mickey. I work for your Aunt Edna." He brandished the bouquet. "Thought you might like some flowers to sorter make you feel at home."
Marigold couldn't help but dimple down at him. "Thank you," she called back, trying to inconspicuously wipe her face clean of tears. "Shall I come down and get them?"
"Aye, do," Mickey replied. "And then I can show you the rest of the garden."
Marigold ran lightly down the stairs and out the side door. Mickey presented her bouquet with a dramatic flourish, causing her golden laugh to ring out. Cousin Mira, standing hidden by a window, smiled in satisfaction.
"I think Mickey will be just the friend she needs."
Mickey showed Marigold all over the garden with a naïve sort of pride. He explained that he was a sailor originally, and had sailed all over the world before landing on P.E.I. and taking on the job as gardener and general handyman to Aunt Edna.
"I tell you, I feel mighty lucky to have gotten work, too," he told her, scratching his head reflectively. "With this here Depression going on, there's many a fine lad that's out o' luck. Your aunt's a fine woman, Miss Marigold."
"Is she?" asked Marigold doubtfully. Her impression of Aunt Edna was of a tiny, fierce old woman with snapping black eyes and a sharp tongue.
Mickey chuckled. "She's got a tongue on her, alright, but she's also got a heart o' gold. There ain't many like her, let me tell you. She expects things done proper, but so long as you foller her directions, she's jest fine."
Marigold decided that she liked Mickey. There was no pretence or false pride about him. He was who he was, and he was quite content with that. He admitted quite openly that he was dreadfully uneducated.
"I can read a little…write some…figger a bit. Don't need much else in my line o' work. Don't make me no better or worse a person."
All in all, when Marigold went inside finally, she felt much better about her prospects. She still wished she could be home, but she didn't even cry herself to sleep as she'd planned. As she changed into her new blue and white sailor-style pajamas, she tried to squeeze out a few tears, but she just couldn't do it. Her mind was too full of fresh air, flowers, and a young Acadian's simple wisdom.