It was a warm, hazy June afternoon. Markdale harbour mirrored the vast expanse of clear blue sky, calm and cloudless with no portents of storm. Bees hummed languidly about the blue-eyed grasses and ladies' slippers that fringed the long, red road on the manse hill, along which Geordie Frewen was walking rather absentmindedly. He was going to Carlisle, ostensibly to bring Mrs. Rev. Peter Craig her mail.
There are plenty of women in Carlisle, and out of it, who would have idled away on a hot summer day. But Mrs. Reverend Craig was noted for her industriousness; there was not a house neater, or a pantry better stocked, than that of the Carlisle Presyterian manse. It was itself a handsome clapboard building, meticulously whitewashed with sparkling windows and freshly painted gingerbread on the porch. Elms and willows shaded the yard, where the sight and scent of fresh laundy testifed Mrs. Craig's industriousness. Mrs. Craig herself was seated on the porch, taking an entirely justified rest for the first time since being up at six in the morning, but she rose again immediately as Geordie opened the gate, calling out to him that she would have tea ready in just a minute.
Mrs. Reverend Craig had the reputation of being remarkably beautiful. She was born Felicity King, and in her younger days had been the belle of the north shore. When she was a girl of eighteen a famous artist wanted to paint her portrait, and when she was nineteen she had a proposal of marriage from the Earl Grey after dancing every dance with him at a Charlottetown ball. She declined to have the portrait painted because she didn't hold with the trade - "artists and tramps are tarred with the same brush, and I think it's entirely improper for my face to be hanging in goodness knows whose home," and she married instead her childhood sweetheart, Peter Craig, who had been her father's hired boy but had grown up to be a kind and honourable minister.
"Why, If I had married the Earl Grey I would never have known another decent meal in my life," Felicity was wont to say, half bragging, half complacently. "He told me he's so rich he hires his cooking done. They don't allow Countesses to cook, and do you suppose I could trust my kitchen to some french cuisine?"
For Mrs. Reverend Craig also had the reputation of being a remarkably good cook. Even yet, Geordie's mouth watered as she laid out her hot lemon biscuits and tripped away to fetch her rhubarb pie. He barely had a chance to explain himself, but alas, a fellow had other duties. He stopped the bustling lady in her tracks.
"No ma'am, I'm awf'lly sorry, but I can't stay for tea. I've got to go over to the Dan King's across the road."
"Hmpfff! As you please. But Kitty Marr never knew how to brew a proper pot of tea. The stuff is as thin as water, and her cups are always cold by the time she's finished pouring." Mrs. Reverend Craig uttered with disdain.
"Sorry mum, awful sorry, was jest bringing you this," he stammered, and thrust a packet of letters into her lap. He had run away bashfully before the Craigs could say thank you.
"Going to court Olivia King, no doubt," Felicity gossiped with no malicious prepense. "Kitty Marr's daughter is the beauty of the clan." she admitted with a sigh. She thought it was hardly fair that her niece resembled herself more than her own daughter did. Who knew that Dan King, whose mouth was too big, and Kitty Marr, who had been tall and gangly, could produce a golden haired creature with such a rose-leaf complexion!
"Tea-time, Cecily Jane!" she shouted impatiently through the open kitchen door.
A tall girl with brown skin and a bushel of brown curls dashed out of the spruce copse. She had a dog-eared book in hand, and grass stains on her skirt. "I told you to call me Cece," she muttered resentfully.
Cece Craig detested her prim, old fashioned name. She knew nothing of the sweet, gentle Aunt Cecily she was named after, who had died long before Cece was born. Her Uncle Dan often told her that she was as unlike Aunt Cecily as ever could be, for Cece was bold and impulsive, sunburned, freckled, and careless. She lived outdoors and in the world of books.
"I wouldn't mind so much if she kept the outdoors where it was instead of bringing it all over the house." Felicity sniffed.
Cece liked to fill her cherry vase - which she inherited from her namesake aunt - with armfuls of apple blossoms and daffodils. She caught spotted turtles and kept them in the bathtub, and sometimes - when her mother wasn't looking - she fed bits of her dinner to the toad in her pocket. She coaxed her father to let a blue jay, whom she had befriended, fly freely around in the house. But her especial love was the gray barn cat she had adopted from the King farm, raised to wax fat and luxurious, and was a magnificent, if temperamental animal.
"She's the Story Girl through and through," her father opined, as Paddy trot about her heels.
"She's a disgrace to the minister's family and Presbyterians," Mrs. William Fraser declared, when a june-bug crawled out of Cece's hat at church. Whereupon Cece turned around in her pew and stuck her tongue out at Mrs. Fraser before her mother could stop her- for wasn't Mrs. Willy Fraser just plain old Sara Ray in her girlhood, and such a crybaby that she was a disgrace to her friends? Uncle Dan had told her all about it.
Cece had come home from Queen's a week ago, but she was waiting eagerly for her brothers and cousins to return from Redmond, so that summer could begin in earnest. "Any news from the boys?" she asked offhandedly, eyeing the pile of letters on the table.
"You're too old to run around so with the boys, Cece" her mother scolded. "Why can't you chum with Olivia? She's a good, gentle little girl, and I should love to have her over at the manse more often."
Cece made a face. "Olivia is frightfully dull, and stupid."
"Cece!" Mrs. Craig was horrified.
Cece crimsoned and finished her cake as fast as she could. She pushed away the table sulkily and reached for her castaway novel.
"Now," Mrs. Craig yelled after her. "If you're going to be reading a novel" - Felicity uttered the syllables as if it were profanity - she did not hold with novels anymore than she did with painting pictures or play-acting, but Rev. Craig declared that there was nothing wicked in reading good literature - "you may as well read me my letters while I do my dishes. I haven't time to sit at leisure and read, what with beans to be shelled and cherries to be stoned!" She glared at Cece, as if to add "And a daughter who can't help!"
Cece shifted uncomfortably - for if Felicity Craig couldn't teach her to cook, no one could - and drew the newspaper and letters into her lap.
"Do you care for the news, Ma?" she asked in a cowed voice.
"Only if there's anything that concerns us." Felicity replied.
"The Archduke Ferdinand was murdered in Europe, it's all over the headlines..."
"Seems to me the dukes and countesses of Europe are always being killed one way or another. Goodness knows whether I'd still be alive if I had married the Earl Grey. I wonder what my cousin Sara can be thinking, letting her child run wild in Paris and associating with foreigners every day."
"Is she the one I'm like?" Cece asked interestedly.
"I wouldn't boast of it, Cece. What else is there?"
"A letter from Uncle Felix in Toronto, a postcard from Uncle Bev in Japan - "
"I wonder why that blessed boy has to live amongst Chinese heathens, even if he is a journalist -"
"Japan, Ma, not China. And wouldn't it be splendid to be a journalist and travel as Uncle Bev does?"
"Bev was always queer, like the Story Girl." Felicity replied crisply. "Is that all?"
"No... here's a letter postmarked from France, from a Mme. Leroux - doesn't the name sound familiar?
"One french name sounds like just another to me, and you know I don't correspond with any frenchwomen, Cece."
"No, Ma - but isn't that - could it be - why, I do believe that it's from Aunt Sara herself!"
"Good heavens! What does she say? Sara Le - I for one can never pronounce her husband's french name, I haven't heard from Sara Stanley these seven years! What does she say?"
"It is very short, and she says only this: That she thinks it will be better for her daughter to be in Canada than Europe, and if we couldn't take her for a year or so. Oh, couldn't we, Ma!"
Cece's eyes shone with real delight at the prospect of having another girl in the house. She had heard so much of the Story Girl that she thought she was sure to like her daughter.
"So Sara's come to her senses and realized she ought to raise her daughter in a decent country. Of course I'll write her to send her here. It's a wonder the Story Girl isn't coming home herself. Although," Felicity added darkly as Cece's toad hopped across the floor, "heaven knows what will become of the manse with two little girls just like the Story Girl."