Upon a morning later in this ninth summer of her life Mary was perched high up in an apple tree enjoying the day, the green apples, and herself. The day was a glorious one in mid July, the apples were of a wondrous greenness and hardness, and Mary, for the first time in many weeks, was free to enjoy her own society. A month ago a grandmother and a maiden aunt had descended out of the land which had until then given forth only letters, birthday presents, and Christmas cards. And they had proved to be not at all the idyllic creatures which these manifestations had seemed to prophesy, but a pair of very interfering old ladies with a manner of over-ruling Mary’s gentle mother, brow-beating her genial father and cloistering herself.
This morning had contributed another female assuming airs of instant intimacy. She had gone up to the last remaining spare chamber, donned a costume all of crackling white linen, and had introduced herself, entirely uninvited, into the dim privacy of Mary’s mother’s room, whence Mary had been sternly banished.
“Another aunt!” was the outcast’s instant inference, as in a moment of accountable preoccupation on the part of the elders she had escaped to her own happy and familiar country—the world of out-of-doors—where female relatives seldom intruded, and where the lovely things of life were waiting.
When she had consumed all the green apples her constitution would accept, and they seemed pitifully few to her more robust mind, she descended from the source of her refreshment and set out upon a comprehensive tour of her domain. She liked living upon the road to Camelot. It made life interesting to be within measurable distance of the knights and ladies who lived and played and loved in the many-towered city of which one could gain so clear a view from the topmost branches of the hickory tree in the upper pasture. She liked to crouch in the elder bushes where a lane, winding and green-arched, crossed a corner of the cornfield, and to wait, through the long, still summer mornings for Lancelot or Galahad or Tristram or some other of her friends to come pricking his way through the sunshine. She could hear the clinking of his golden armor, the whinnying of his steed, the soft brushing of the branches as they parted before his helmet or his spear; the rustling of the daisies against his great white charger’s feet. And then there was the river “where the aspens dusk and quiver,” and where barges laden with sweet ladies passed and left ripples of foam on the water and ripples of light laughter in the air as, brilliant and fair bedight, they went winding down to Camelot.
This morning she revisited all these hallowed spots. She thrilled on the very verge of the river and quivered amid the waving corn. She scaled the sentinel hickory and turned her eyes upon the Southern city. It was nearly a week since she had been allowed to wander so far afield, and Camelot seemed more than ever wonderful as it lay in the shimmering distance gleaming and glistening beyond the hills. Trails of smoke waved above all the towers, showing where Sir Beaumanis still served his kitchen apprenticeship for his knighthood and his place at the Table Round. Thousands of windows flashed back the light.