And then, suddenly, even while she was laughing at the cherubs, a thought struck her which sent a pang through her heart. The cherubs would still smile, just the same, when she was gone! Ah! it was not all delight, this great news. There was sorrow mingled with the rapture. Her heart was with her parents, of course. The mere thought of seeing her mother’s face, of hearing her father’s voice, sent the blood dancing through her veins. And yet—she must leave the farm; she must leave Nurse Lucy and the farmer, and they would miss her. They loved her; ah! how could they help it, when she loved them so much? And the pain came again at her heart as she recalled the sad smile with which the farmer had handed her this letter. “Good news for you, Huldy,” he said, “but bad for the rest of us, I reckon!” Had he had word also, or did he just know that this was about the time they had meant to return? Oh, but she would come out so often to the farm! Papa and mamma would be willing, would wish her to come; and she could not live long at a time in town, without refreshing herself with a breath of real air, country air. She might have wilted along somehow for sixteen years; but she had never been really alive—had she?—till this summer.
Pink and Bubble too! they would miss her almost as much. But that did not trouble her, for she had a plan in her head for Pink and Bubble,—a great plan, which was to be whispered to Papa almost the very moment she saw him,—not quite the very moment, but the next thing to it. The plan would please Nurse Lucy and the farmer too,—would please them almost as much as it delighted her to think about it.
Happy thought! She would go down now and tell the farmer about it. Nurse Lucy was lying down with a bad headache, she knew; but the farmer was still in the kitchen. She heard him moving about now, though he had said he was going off to the orchard. She would steal in softly and startle him, and then—
Full of happy and loving thoughts, Hildegarde slipped quietly down the stairs and across the hall, and peeped in at the kitchen-door to see what the farmer was doing. He was at the farther end of the room, with his back turned to her, stooping down over his desk. What was he doing? What a singular attitude he was in! Then, all in a moment, Hilda’s heart seemed to stop beating, and her breath came thick and short; for she saw that this man before her was not the farmer. The farmer had not long elf-locks of black hair straggling over his coat-collar; he was not round-shouldered or bow-legged; above all, he would not be picking the lock of his own desk, for this was what the man before her was doing. Silent as her own shadow, Hildegarde slipped back into the hall and stood still a moment, collecting her thoughts. What should she do? Call Dame Hartley? The “poor dear” was suffering much, and why should she be disturbed? Run to find the farmer? She might have to run all over