But, although Junius Keswick walked rapidly, Peggy, who had started first for the house, kept well in advance of him. Away she went, skipping, running, dancing. Once she stopped and turned, and saw that the buggy, with the mud-colored horse, was being driven away, and that Master Junius was coming along the road to the house. Then she started off, and ran steadily, the rapid show of the light-colored soles of her feet behind her suggestive of a steamer’s wake. Up the broad stile she went, two steps at a time, and down the other side in a couple of jumps; a dozen skips took her across the lawn; and she bounded up to the porch as if each wooden step had been a springing board. She rushed up-stairs, and stood at the open door of Miss Roberta’s room where that lady reclined upon a lounge.
“Hi’, Miss Rob!” she exclaimed, involuntarily snapping her fingers as she spoke. “Mahs’ Junius comin’, all by hese’f, an’ I done sent de udder gemman clean off, kitin’!”
Junius Keswick was received by Miss Roberta in the parlor. Her face was colder and sterner than he had ever seen it before, and his countenance was very much troubled. Each wished to speak first, and ask questions, but the lady went immediately to the front.
“How did it happen that you and Mr Croft were coming here together? Where had you been?”
“We came from the Green Sulphur Springs, where I called on him this morning.”
“I thought he was obliged to return immediately to the North. What made him change his mind?”
“Perhaps it will be better not to discuss that now,” said Junius.
“I wish to discuss it,” was the reply. “What induced him not to go?”
“I did,” answered Junius, looking steadfastly at her. “Did you not wish to see him?”
For a moment Miss Roberta did not answer, but her face grew pale, and she threw herself back in the chair in which she was sitting. “Never in my life,” she said, “have I been subjected to such mortification! Of course I wished him to come, but to come of his own accord, and not at my bidding. How do you suppose I would have felt if he had presented himself, and asked me what I wished to say to him? It is an insult you have offered me.”
“It is not an insult,” said Keswick quietly. “It was a service of—of affection. I saw that you were annoyed and troubled by Mr Croft’s failure to keep his engagement, and what I did was simply—”
“Stop!” said Roberta peremptorily. “I do not wish to talk of it any more.”
Junius stood before her a moment in silence, and then he said: “Will you tell me if my Aunt Keswick is ill or dead, and why did Mr Brandon go there?”
“She is neither;” answered Roberta, “and he went there on business.” And with this she arose and left the room.
Peggy, who had been in the hall, now made a bolt down the back stairs into the basement regions, where was situated the kitchen. In this spacious apartment she found Aunt Judy, the cook, sitting before a large wood fire, and holding in her hand a long iron ladle. There was nothing near her which she could dip or stir with a ladle, and it was probably retained during her period of leisure as a symbol of her position and authority.