THE GREEN SATIN GOWN
Who ever wore such a queer-looking thing? I wore it myself, dear, once upon a time; yes, I did! Perhaps you would like to hear about it, while you mend that tear in your muslin. Sit down, then, and let us be cosy.
I was making a visit in Hillton once, when I was seventeen years old, just your age; staying with dear old Miss Persis Elderby, who is now dead. I have told you about her, and it is strange that I have never told you the story of the green satin gown; but, indeed, it is years since I looked at it. We were great friends, Miss Persis and I; and we never thought much about the difference in our ages, for she was young for her years, and I was old for mine. In our daily walk through the pretty, sleepy Hillton street—we always went for the mail, together, for though Miss Persis seldom received letters, she always liked to see mine, and it was quite the event of the day—my good friend seldom failed to point out to me a stately mansion that stood by itself on a little height, and to say in a tone of pride, "The Le Baron place, my dear; the finest place in the county. Madam Le Baron, who lives there alone now, is as great a lady as any in Europe, though she wears no coronet to her name."
I never knew exactly what Miss Persis meant by this last remark, but it sounded magnificent, and I always gazed respectfully at the gray stone house which sheltered so grand a personage. Madam Le Baron, it appeared, never left the house in winter, and this was January. Her friends called on her at stated intervals, and, to judge from Miss Persis, never failed to come away in a state of reverential enthusiasm. I could not help picturing to myself the great lady as about six feet tall, clad in purple velvet, and waving a peacock-feather fan; but I never confided my imaginings even to the sympathetic Miss Persis.
One day my friend returned from a visit to the stone house, quite breathless, her pretty old face pink with excitement. She sat down on the chair nearest the door, and gazed at me with, speechless emotion.
"Dear Miss Persis!" I cried. "What has happened? Have you had bad news?"
Miss Persis shook her head. "Bad news? I should think not, indeed!Child, Madam Le Baron wishes to see you. More I cannot say at present.Not a word! Put on your best hat, and come with me. Madam Le Baronwaits for us!"
It was as if she had said, "The Sultan is on the front door-step." I flew up-stairs, and made myself as smart as I could in such a hurry. My cheeks were as pink as Miss Persis's own, and though I had not the faintest idea what was the matter, I felt that it must be something of vital import. On the way, I begged my companion to explain matters to me, but she only shook her head and trotted on the faster. "No time!" she panted. "Speech delays me, my dear! All will be explained; only make haste."
We made such haste, that by the time we rang at the door of the stone house neither of us could speak, and Miss Persis could only make a mute gesture to the dignified maid who opened the door, and who looked amazed, as well she might, at our burning cheeks and disordered appearance....