Barbara, still crouching on the other side of the hedge, heard everything that was said.
Susan was all this time, as her friend Rose had guessed, busy at home. She had been kept by her father’s returning later than usual. His supper was ready for him nearly an hour before he came home, and Susan swept the hearth twice, and twice put on wood to make a cheerful blaze for him. At last, when he did come in, he took no notice of the blaze or of Susan; and when his wife asked him how he was, he made no answer, but stood with his back to the fire, looking very gloomy. Susan put his supper upon the table, and set his own chair for him, but he pushed away the chair and turned from the table, saying, “I shall eat nothing, child. Why have you such a fire to roast me at this time of year?”
“You said yesterday, father, I thought, that you liked a little cheerful wood-fire in the evening, and there was a great shower of hail. Your coat is quite wet. We must dry it.”
“Take it, then, child,” he said, pulling it off, “I shall soon have no coat to dry. Take my hat, too,” he went on, throwing it upon the ground.
Susan hung up his hat, put his coat over the back of a chair to dry, and then stood looking at her mother, who was not well. She had tired herself with baking, and now, alarmed by her husband’s strange conduct, she sat down pale and trembling. The father threw himself into a chair, folded his arms, and gazed into the fire.
Susan was the first who ventured to break the silence. Fondling her father, she tried to coax him to eat the supper prepared for him. This, however, she could not persuade him to do, but he said, with a faint smile, that he thought he could eat one of her guinea-hen’s eggs. Susan thanked him, and showed her eagerness to please her dear father by running as fast as she could to her neat chicken-yard. Alas! the guinea-fowl was not there. It had strayed into the garden of Mr. Case. She could see it through the paling. Going to the garden-gate, Susan timidly opened it, and seeing Miss Barbara walk slowly by, she asked if she might come in and take her guinea-fowl.
Barbara, who at that moment was thinking of all she had heard the village children say, started when she heard Susan’s voice.
“Shut the gate,” she said crossly, “you have no business in our garden. As for the hen, I shall keep it; it is always flying in here and plaguing us, and my father told me I might catch it and keep it the next time it got in, and it is in now.” Then Barbara called to her maid Betty and bid her catch the mischievous bird.
“Oh, my guinea-hen! my pretty guinea-hen!” cried Susan, as mistress and maid hunted the frightened, screaming creature from corner to corner.
“Now we have it!” said Betty, holding it fast by the legs.
“Then pay damages, Queen Susan, or you may say good-by to your pretty guinea-hen,” said Barbara in a rude tone.