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Three Margarets

Laura Elizabeth Howe Richards

  Produced by Roger Frank and the Online DistributedProofreading Team at




  BOOKS FOR GIRLSBy Laura E. Richards


  Three Margarets Margaret Montfort Peggy Rita Fernley House


  Queen Hildegarde Hildegarde's Holiday Hildegarde's Home Hildegarde's Neighbors Hildegarde's Harvest

  DANA ESTES & COMPANYPublishersEstes Press, Summer St., Boston




  Author Of "Captain January," "Melody,""Queen Hildegarde," Etc.

  Illustrated byETHELRED B. BARRY

  BostonDana Estes & CompanyPublishers


  Copyright, 1897By Estes and Lauriat

  Colonial Press:Electrotyped and Printed by C. H. Simonds & Co.Boston, Mass., U. S. A.




  I. The Arrival 9II. First Thoughts 21III. The White Lady of Fernley 36IV. Confidence 51V. The Peat-bog 65VI. The Family Chest 81VII. The Garret 98VIII. Cuba Libre 115IX. Day by Day 131X. Looking Backward 147XI. Heroes and Heroines 163XII. In the Saddle 187XIII. In the Night 208XIV. Explanations 220XV. Farewell 237



  Uncle John and the Young Cubans FrontispieceAunt Faith's Room 43Peggy at the Bog 73In the Garret 105"Cuba Libre" 125Peggy Writes Home 143Horseback 201Rita's Apology 227





  Long ago and long ago, And long ago still, There dwelt three merry maidens Upon a distant hill.

  Christina G. Rossetti.

  The rain was falling fast. It was a pleasant summer rain that plashedgently on the leaves of the great elms and locusts, and tinkledmusically in the roadside puddles. Less musical was its sound as itdrummed on the top of the great landau which was rolling along theavenue leading to Fernley House; but the occupants of the carriage paidlittle attention to it, each being buried in her own thoughts. The nightwas dark, and the carriage-lamps threw an uncertain gleam on the threefigures leaning back in their corners, muffled and silent. The avenuewas long,--interminably long, it seemed to one of the three travellers;and finally the silence so oppressed her that she determined to conquerher shyness and break it.

  "What a _very_ long avenue!" she said, speaking in a low, sweet voice.

  There was no reply. She hesitated a moment, and then added timidly,"Don't you think that, as we are cousins, we might introduce ourselvesand make acquaintance? My name is Margaret Montfort."

  "Why, so is mine!" exclaimed the traveller opposite her. "And mine!"added the third, from the further corner.

  The voice of the second speaker sounded as if it might be hearty, and asif only awkwardness gave it a sullen tone. The third spoke with a soft,languid utterance and the faintest shade of a foreign accent.

  "How strange!" exclaimed the first Margaret Montfort. "Of course I knewthat we had the same surname, as our fathers were brothers; but that weshould all three be named--and yet it is not strange, after all!" sheadded. "Our grandmother was Margaret, and it was natural that we shouldbe given her name. But how shall we manage? We cannot say First, Second,and Third Margaret, as they do on the stage."

  "I am never called anything but Peggy," said the second girl, still in ahalf-sullen, half-timid tone.

  And "My home name is Rita," murmured the third reluctantly; and sheadded something in an undertone about "short acquaintance," which thefirst Margaret did not choose to hear.

  "Oh, how pretty!" she said cordially. "Then I may call you Peggy andRita? About myself"--she stopped and laughed--"I hardly know what tosay, for I have always been called Margaret, since I was a baby."

  "But one of us might as well _be_ Margaret," answered Peggy. "Andsomehow, your voice sounds as if you looked like it. If this road wereever coming to an end, we might see."

  "Oh, I do see!" cried Margaret, leaning forward to look out of thewindow. "I see the lights! I see the house! We are really here at last!"

  As she spoke, the carriage drove up before a long building twinklingwith lights, and stopped at a broad flight of steps, leading to astone-paved veranda. As the coachman opened the carriage-door, the doorof the house opened too, and a cheerful light streamed out upon thethree weary travellers. Two staid waiting-women, in spotless caps andaprons, were waiting to receive them as they came up the steps.

  "This way, young ladies, if you please!" said the elder of the two. "Youmust be tired with your long drive. This is the library; and will yourest here a while, or will you be shown your rooms at once?"

  "Oh, thank you!" said Margaret, "let us stay here a little while! Whatdo you say, cousins?"

  "All right!" said Peggy. The girl whose home name was Rita had alreadythrown herself down in an armchair, and seemed to think no replynecessary.

  "Very well, miss," said the dignified waiting-woman, addressing herselfmarkedly to Margaret. "Susan will come in ten minutes to show you therooms, miss, and supper will be ready in half an hour. I am Elizabeth,miss, if you should want me. The bell is here in the corner."

  Margaret thanked her with a cordial smile, the other two never glancingin her direction, and the woman withdrew.

  "Just ten minutes," said Margaret, turning to her cousins, "to makeacquaintance in, and find out what we all look like! Suppose we begin bytaking off our wraps. How delightful the little fire is, even if we arein the middle of June. Let me help you, Peggy!"

  Peggy was fumbling at her veil, which was tied in a hard knot; but in afew minutes everything was off, and the three Margaret Montforts stoodsilent, gazing at each other.

  Nearest the fire stood the girl who was called Peggy. She was apparentlyabout sixteen, plump and fair, with a profusion of blonde hair whichlooked as if it were trying to fly away. Her round, rosy cheeks, blueeyes, and pouting lips gave her a cherubic contour which was comicallyat variance with her little tilted nose; but she was pretty, in spite ofher singularly ill-devised and ill-fitting costume of green flannel.

  Reclining in the armchair next her, the Margaret who was called Ritawas a startling contrast to the rosy Peggy. She was a year older, slightand graceful, her simple black gown fitting like a glove and saying"Paris" in every seam. Her hair was absolutely black, her eyes large anddark, her delicate features regular and finely cut; but the beautifulface wore an expression of discontent, and there were two fine verticallines between the eyebrows. Her complexion had the clear pallor of aCape J

  Facing these two, and looking with thoughtful eyes from one to theother, stood the girl whom we have spoken of as the first Margaret. Shewas seventeen, within two months of the age of her dark-eyed cousin.Lacking the brilliant colouring of the other two, her face had its owncharm. Her eyes were dark gray, with violet shades in them, deepened bythe long and heavy black lashes. The faint tinge of colour in her smoothcheeks was that of the wild rose; her wavy chestnut hair had glints ofgold here and there in it, and though her nose was nothing inparticular, she had the prettiest mouth in the world, and a dimplebeside it. In conclusion, she was dressed in dark blue, simply, yettastefully too.

  "Well," said Peggy, breaking the silence with an embarrassed giggle, "Ihope we shall know each other the next time we meet."

  Margaret blushed. "I fear I have been staring rudely!" she said. "But Ihave never had any cousins before,--never seen any, that is, and I amreally so glad to know you both! Let us shake hands, girls, and try tobe friends!"

  She spoke so pleasantly that Peggy's plump hand and Rita's delicatewhite fingers were at once extended. Holding them in her own, Margarethesitated a moment, and then, bending forward, kissed both girls timidlyon the cheek.

  "Our fathers were own brothers," she said. "We must try to be fond ofeach other. And now," she added, "let us all tell our tells, as thechildren say. Rita, you shall begin. Tell us about yourself and yourhome, and anything else that you will."

  Rita settled herself comfortably in her chair, and looked meditativelyat the tip of her little boot.

  "My home," she said, "is in Havana. My mother was a Spaniard, a SanReal. My father is Richard Montfort. My mother died three years ago, andmy father has lately married again, a girl of my own age. You mayimagine that I do not find home particularly attractive now, so I wasglad to accept my Uncle John's invitation to spend the summer here. As Ihave money in my own right, I was at liberty to do as I pleased; nor intruth did my father object, but the contrary. I have never seen myuncle."

  "Nor I!" "Nor I!" exclaimed the other two.

  "But I received this note from him a month ago."

  She produced a note from her reticule, and read as follows.


  The thought has occurred to me that it would be well for you to make some acquaintance with the home of your fathers. I therefore invite you to spend the coming summer here, with the daughters of my brothers James and Roger, to whom I have extended a similar invitation. Business will unhappily prevent me from receiving you in person, but my cousin and yours, Mrs. Cheriton, who resides at Fernley, will pay you every attention.

  Trusting that this plan will meet with your approval and that of your father,

  I am, my dear niece, Your affectionate uncle, JOHN MONTFORT."

  "Well, I never!" cried Peggy, drawing a long breath. "Why, it's word forword like my note."

  "And like mine!" said Margaret.

  The three notes were laid side by side, and proved to be exactly alike,even to the brief flourish under the signature; with the one differencethat in Margaret's the words "and that of your father," were omitted.

  "He must be a very methodical man!" said Margaret thoughtfully. "Isn'tit strange that none of us has ever seen him? And yet one can understandhow it has been. The other brothers, our fathers, left home when theywere quite young,--that is what Papa has told me,--and soon formed tieselsewhere. Uncle John stayed with Grandfather till he died; then he wentabroad, and was gone many years; and since he came back, he has livedhere alone. I suppose he has grown a recluse, and does not care to seepeople. I know Papa often and often begged him to come and make us avisit, and once or twice the time was actually set; but each timesomething happened to prevent his coming, and he never did come. I thinkhe would have come last year, when dear Papa died, but he had had someaccident, and had injured his foot so that he could not walk."

  "Pa read us the letter you wrote him then," said Peggy, with an awkwardattempt at condolence. "He said he thought you must be a nice girl."

  The tears came quickly to Margaret's eyes, and she turned her head tohide them. Peggy instantly plunged into a description of her ninebrothers and sisters, and their life on the great Western farm wherethey lived; but she was hardly under way when the demure Susan tapped atthe door, and said with gentle firmness that she had come to show theyoung ladies their rooms.

  There was a sudden clutching of hats, cloaks, and bags, and the nextmoment the three maidens were ascending the wide staircase, castinglooks of curiosity and wonderment about them.

  "What beautiful twisted balusters!" whispered Margaret.

  "And such queer old pictures!" said Peggy. "My! How they stare!Wondering who we are, I suppose."

  Arrived in the wide upper hall, Susan threw open the doors of threerooms, two side by side, the third opposite.

  "This is yours, Miss Montfort," she said. "This is the young lady's fromthe South, and this the other young lady's. Mr. Montfort arranged it allbefore he left."

  "How kind and thoughtful!" cried Margaret.

  "How precise and formal!" murmured Rita.

  Peggy said nothing, but stared with round eyes. These rooms were notlike the great whitewashed chamber at home, where she and her threesisters slept in iron bedsteads. These rooms were not large, but oh, sopretty and cosy! In each was an open fireplace, with a tiny fireburning,--"just for looks," Susan explained. Each contained a prettybrass bedstead, a comfortable chair or two, and curtains and cushions offlowered chintz. Rita's chintz showed deep red poppies on a pale buffground; Peggy's was blue, with buttercups and daisies scattered overit; while Margaret's--oh, Margaret's was not chintz after all, butold-fashioned white dimity, with a bewilderment of tufts, andball-fringe, and tassels. Candles were lighted on the trimdressing-tables; everything was spotless, fresh, and inviting, and thethree tired girls sank each into her soft-cushioned easy chair with adelightful sense of being at home.

  "The tea-bell will ring in half an hour, if you please," said Susan, andshe closed the three doors.