A party of five descended from the wagon as the wide doors were flung open by the housekeeper, and a kindly welcome greeted them, as well as comfortable fires.
“My! how cold it is,” exclaimed a fresh young voice, as the speaker hurried close to the generous heater.
“Be careful, dear, or you will burn your coat,” warned an older lady, while a stalwart young fellow tenderly loosed the seal wrap in question.
Placing the fair wearer in a great arm-chair, he said: “There, Mademoiselle Jessie, be a good girl—if you can. Now, sister ours, what can I do for you?” turning gallantly to the other lady.
“Thanks, you foolish boy,” was the pleasant rejoinder; “look after those parcels and those live commodities shivering there.”
The live commodities were a maltese cat, a canary bird, and two raw recruits from Erin; and the “foolish boy” at once set about assigning places for people and things.
“There’s a kitchen somewhere back here; come along, Michael. All right, Katie, follow me, and fetch the menagerie with you.”
Duly installing them in their domain, the young man made his way back through the wide, chilly rooms that intervened, and joined the ladies who were fast making themselves at home.
“A trifle bleak this, isn’t it?” he said, rubbing his hands before the blazing logs. “But just take note of that fragrant beefsteak. Say, girls, I don’t see any table set anywhere;” and he looked ruefully around.
“Give us time, sir,” remonstrated the elderly lady. “Here is a move in the right direction already,” she added, as the housekeeper entered with the tea tray.
“Mabel, can’t we have muffins?” pleaded the young voice.
“Muffins! Not on such short notice; but you may have toast and eggs.”
“You’ll disenchant me with your enormous appetite,” chaffed the young fellow, and got a saucy slap for his pains.
“Riding hours and hours on that horrid train is enough to starve any one,” was the ready defense; “you only came from New York. Come on, everybody, while the steak is hot.” And they gathered round to do justice to the repast.
Mabel and Jessie Winthrop were orphan sisters, the one fifteen years the elder, and was mother as well as sister to her idolized charge. Her own life romance was a buried chapter, and now she was chiefly concerned for the happiness of the two young persons seated there.
George Randolph was a distant cousin, and was to be married to Jessie Winthrop in two weeks’ time. They had come down to make ready the seaside villa, which was their favorite home. It stood upon a winding river close to shore, and commanded a view of the surrounding country for many miles.
It was an immense house, containing some twenty-five rooms, and full of unexpected niches, nooks, and crannies. It was kept furnished throughout, but was locked up in the winter months. An unlooked-for cold wave, speeding from the northwest, had made the coming of the prospective bridal party a somewhat dreary affair.