So the girl’s happy thoughts flew on through the years that were to come, weaving golden fancies even as her fingers were weaving the gay chains of shining leaves; but let us hope the fancy-chains, airy as they were, were destined to become substantial realities long after the golden wreaths had faded.
But now the garlands were ready, and none too soon; for the shadows were lengthening, and she heard Nurse Lucy downstairs, and Farmer Hartley would be coming in soon to his tea. She took from a drawer her one white frock, the plain lawn which had once seemed so over-plain to her, and with the wreaths of scarlet and gold she made a very wonderful thing of it. Fifteen minutes’ careful work, and Hilda stood looking at her image in the glass, well pleased and a little surprised; for she had been too busy of late to think much about her looks, and had not realized how sun and air and a free, out-door life had made her beauty blossom and glow like a rose in mid-June. With a scarlet chaplet crowning her fair locks, bands of gold about waist and neck and sleeves, and the whole skirt covered with a fantastic tracery of mingled gold and fire, she was a vision of almost startling loveliness. She gave a little happy laugh. “Dear old Farmer!” she said, “he likes to see me fine. I think this will please him.” And light as a thistledown, the girl floated downstairs and danced into the kitchen just as Farmer Hartley entered it from the other side.
“Highty-tighty!” cried the good man, “what’s all this? Is there a fire? Everything’s all ablaze! Why, Hildy! bless my soul!” He stood in silent delight, looking at the lovely figure before him, with its face of rosy joy and its happy, laughing eyes.
“It’s a tree-party,” explained Hildegarde, taking his two hands and leading him forward. “I’m part of it, you see, Farmer Hartley. Do you like it? Is it pretty? It’s to celebrate our good fortune,” she added; and putting her arm in the old man’s, she led him about the room, pointing out the various decorations, and asking his approval.
Farmer Hartley admired everything greatly, but in an absent way, as if his mind were preoccupied with other matters. He turned frequently towards the door, as if he expected some one to follow him. “All for me?” he kept asking. “All for me and Marm Lucy, Hildy? Ye—ye ain’t expectin’ nobody else to tea, now?”
“No,” said Hilda, wondering. “Of course not. Who else is there to come? Bubble has sprained his ankle, you know, and Pink—”
“Yes, yes; I know, I know!” said the farmer, still with that backward glance at the door. And then, as he heard some noise in the yard, he added hurriedly: “At the same time, ye know, Hildy, people do sometimes drop in to tea—kind o’ onexpected-like, y’ understand. And—and—all this pretty show might—might seem to—indicate, ye see—”
“Jacob Hartley? what are you up to?” demanded Nurse Lucy, rather anxiously, as she stood at the shed-door watching him intently. “Does your head feel dizzy? You’d better go and lie down; you’ve had too much excitement for a man of—”