Neb seized him and pulled him from the aperture with a desperate agility which strained his aged limbs. “Fo’ de Lawd’s sake, now, Marse Frank,” he cried, “don’t yo’ dare look t’rough dat stable winder!”
Frank, now, was badly frightened. “Is there some one in there with Queen Bess?” he asked.
“A young pusson to see you, suh,” Neb admitted.
“And you let that person have the key?”
“No, suh; it were taken from me.”
Layson was in panic. “Heaven knows,” he exclaimed, “what can have happened here!” He rushed to the stable door and pounded on it with his fists. “Open at once, or I’ll break in the door,” he cried.
Neb, now, had gone up to the window and looked through it with desperate glance. What he saw was reassuring. He turned back toward his master smiling. “Hol’ on, Marse Frank, de young pusson am a-comin’ out,” he said.
“Well,” said Layson, threateningly, “I’m ready for him.” He braced himself to spring upon some malefactor.
The door opened and Madge appeared before their astonished eyes, garbed in a gown which she had fashioned after that which Barbara had worn up in the hills.
“Madge!” cried Frank, amazed.
The Colonel, laughing, approached the girl with outstretched hand; Neb, relieved, dived through the stable door; Miss Alathea, who had been under a great strain while the dramatic little scene had been in progress, dropped limply on Neb’s bench.
Madge, with a retentive memory of the way Miss “Barbarous” had greeted her back in the mountains, stepped toward that much-astonished maiden, opened her red parasol straight in her face, and courtesied to the rest.
“Howdy, folks; howdy!” she said, happily.
The party stood, nonplussed. Frank was first to show signs of recovery, and, after a moment of completely dazed astonishment, advanced to Madge with hand outstretched. Her appearance, astonishing as it had been, had been as great a relief as he had ever known in all his life. Neb’s worry and insubordination had filled him with the keenest apprehension. But he had no doubts of Madge. If she had been there with the mare, the mare was certainly all right, no matter how puzzling the affair might seem to be upon its surface.
“Why, little one, this is, indeed, a great surprise and pleasure!” he exclaimed, with sincere gallantry.
Madge looked at him with doubtful eyes, from which the doubt, however, was fast clearing. “Oh, say; are you-uns r’ally glad to see me?”
“No one could be more welcome,” he assured her, and the honest pleasure in his eyes convinced her that he did not speak for mere politeness’ sake.
And now Miss Alathea, recovering from the shock of all that had preceded the girl’s unexpected appearance, went to her cordially. “We are more than glad, my child,” she told her.