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"Oh, oh, and I think I'll soon have to be doing some rooting in the parsley bed," said Judy Plum, as she began to cut Winnie's red crepe dress into strips suitable for "hooking." She was very much pleased with herself because she had succeeded in brow-beating Mrs. Gardiner into letting her have it. Mrs. Gardiner thought Winnie might have got another summer's wear out of it. Red crepe dresses were not picked up in parsley beds, whatever else might be.
But Judy had set her heart on that dress. It was exactly the shade she wanted for the inner petals of the fat, "raised" roses in the fine new rug she was hooking for Aunt Hazel...a rug with golden-brown "scrolls" around its edges and, in the center, clusters of red and purple roses such as never grew on any earthly rosebush.
Judy Plum "had her name up," as she expressed it, for hooked rugs, and she meant that this should be a masterpiece. It was to be a wedding gift for Aunt Hazel, if that young lady really got married this summer, as, in Judy's opinion, it was high time she should, after all her picking and choosing.
Pat, who was greatly interested in the rug's progress, knew nothing except that it was for Aunt Hazel. Also, there was another event impending at Silver Bush of which she was ignorant and Judy thought it was high time she was warned. When one has been the "baby" of a family for almost seven years just how is one going to take a supplanter? Judy, who loved everybody at Silver Bush in reason, loved Pat out of reason and was worried over this beyond all measure. Pat was always taking things a bit too seriously. As Judy put it, she "loved too hard." What a scene she had been after making that very morning because Judy wanted her old purple sweater for the roses. It was far too tight for her and more holy than righteous, if ye plaze, but Pat wouldn't hear of giving it up. She loved that old sweater and she meant to wear it another year. She fought so tigerishly about it that Judy...of course...gave in. Pat was always like that about her clothes. She wore them until they simply wouldn't look at her because they were so dear to her she couldn't bear to give them up. She hated her new duds until she had worn them for a few weeks. Then she turned around and loved them fiercely, too.
"A quare child, if ye'll belave me," Judy used to say, shaking her grizzled head. But she would have put the black sign on anyone else who called Pat a queer child.
"What makes her queer?" Sidney had asked once, a little belligerently. Sidney loved Pat and didn't like to hear her called queer.
"Sure, a leprechaun touched her the day she was born wid a liddle green rose-thorn," answered Judy mysteriously.
Judy knew all about leprechauns and banshees and waterkelpies and fascinating beings like that.
"So she can't ever be just like other folks. But it isn't all to the bad. She'll be after having things other folks can't have."
"What things?" Sidney was curious.
"She'll love folks...and things...better than most...and that'll give her the great delight. But they'll hurt her more, too. 'Tis the way of the fairy gift and ye have to take the bad wid the good."
"If that's all the leppern did for her I don't think he amounts to much," said young Sidney scornfully.
"S...sh!" Judy was scandalized. "Liddle ye know what may be listening to ye. And I'm not after saying it was all. She'll see things. Hundreds av witches flying be night over the woods and steeples on broomsticks, wid their black cats perched behind them. How wud ye like that?"
"Aunt Hazel says there aren't any such things as witches, 'specially in Prince Edward Island," said Sidney.
"If ye don't be belaving innything what fun are ye going to get out av life?" asked Judy unanswerably. "There may niver be a witch in P. E. Island but there's minny a one in ould Ireland even yet. The grandmother ave me was one."
"Are you a witch?" demanded Sidney daringly. He had always wanted to ask Judy that.
"I might be having a liddle av it in me, though I'm not be way av being a full witch," said Judy significantly.
"And are you sure the leppern pricked Pat?"
"Sure? Who cud be sure av what a fairy might be doing? Maybe it's only the mixed blood in her makes her quare. Frinch and English and Irish and Scotch and Quaker...'tis a tarrible mixture, I'm telling ye."
"But that's all so long ago," argued Sidney. "Uncle Tom says it's just Canadian now."
"Oh, oh," said Judy, highly offended, "if yer Uncle Tom do be knowing more about it than meself whativer are ye here plaguing me to death wid yer questions for? Scoot, scat, and scamper, or I'll warm yer liddle behind for ye."
"I don't believe there's either witches or fairies," cried Sid, just to make her madder. It was always fun to make Judy Plum mad.
"Oh, oh, indade! Well, I knew a man in ould Ireland said the same thing. Said it as bould as brass, he did. And he met some one night, whin he was walking home from where he'd no business to be. Oh, oh, what they did to him!"
"What...what?" demanded Sid eagerly.
"Niver ye be minding what it was. 'Tis better for ye niver to know. He was niver the same again and he held his tongue about the Good Folk after that, belave me. Only I'm advising ye to be a bit careful what ye say out loud whin ye think ye're all alone, me bould young lad."
• • •
Judy was hooking her rug in her own bedroom, just over the kitchen...a fascinating room, so the Silver Bush children thought. It was not plastered. The walls and ceiling were finished with smooth bare boards which Judy kept beautifully whitewashed. The bed was an enormous one with a fat chaff tick. Judy scorned feathers and mattresses were, she believed, a modern invention of the Bad Man Below. It had pillowslips trimmed with crocheted "pineapple" lace, and was covered with a huge "autograph quilt" which some local society had made years before and which Judy had bought.
"Sure and I likes to lie there a bit when I wakes and look at all the names av people that are snug underground and me still hearty and kicking," she would say.
The Silver Bush children all liked to sleep a night now and then with Judy, until they grew too big for it, and listen to her tales of the folks whose names were on the quilt. Old forgotten fables...ancient romances...Judy knew them all, or made them up if she didn't. She had a marvelous memory and a knack of dramatic word-painting. Judy's tales were not always so harmless as that. She had an endless store of weird yarns of ghosts and "rale nice murders," and it was a wonder she did not scare the children out of a year's growth. But they were only deliciously goosefleshed. They knew Judy's stories were "lies," but no matter. They were absorbing and interesting lies. Judy had a delightful habit of carrying a tale on night after night, with a trick of stopping at just the right breathless place which any writer of serial stories would have envied her. Pat's favorite one was a horrible tale of a murdered man who was found in pieces about the house...an arm in the garret...a head in the cellar...a hambone in a pot in the pantry. "It gives me such a lovely shudder, Judy."
Beside the bed was a small table covered with a crocheted tidy, whereon lay a beaded, heart-shaped pin-cushion and a shell-covered box in which Judy kept the first tooth of all the children and a lock of their hair. Also a razorfish shell from Australia and a bit of beeswax that she used to make her thread smooth and which was seamed with innumerable fine, criss-cross wrinkles like old Great-great-aunt Hannah's face at the Bay Shore. Judy's Bible lay there, too, and a fat little brown book of "Useful Knowledge" out of which Judy constantly fished amazing information. It was the only book Judy ever read. Folks, she said, did be more interesting than books.
Bunches of dried tansy and yarrow and garden herbs hung from the ceiling everywhere and looked gloriously spooky on moonlight nights. Judy's big blue chest which she had brought out with her from the Old Country thirty years ago stood against the wall and when Judy was in especial good humor she would show the children the things in it...an odd and interesting mélange, for Judy had been about the world a bit in her time. Born in Ireland she had "worked out" in her teens...in a "castle" no less, as the Silver Bush children heard with amazed eyes. Then she had gone to England and worked there until a roving brother took a notion to go to Australia and Judy went with him. Australia not being to his liking he next tried Canada and settled down on a P. E. Island farm for a few years. Judy went to work at Silver Bush in the days of Pat's grandparents, and, when her brother announced his determination to pull up stakes and go to the Klondike, Judy coolly told him he could go alone. She liked "the Island." It was more like the Ould Country than any place she'd struck. She liked Silver Bush and she loved the Gardiners.
Judy had been at Silver Bush ever since. She had been there when "Long Alec" Gardiner brought his young bride home. She had been there when each of the children was born. She belonged there. It was impossible to think of Silver Bush without her. With her flair for picking up tales and legends she knew more of the family history than any of the Gardiners themselves did.
She never had had any notion of marrying.
"I niver had but the one beau," she told Pat once. "He seranaded me under me windy one night and I poured a jug av suds over him. Maybe it discouraged him. Innyway, he niver got any forrarder."
"Were you sorry?" asked Pat.
"Niver a bit, me jewel. He hadn't the sinse God gave geese innyhow."
"Do you think you'll ever marry now, Judy?" asked Pat anxiously. It would be so terrible if Judy married and went away.
"Oh, oh, at me age! And me as gray as a cat!"
"How old are you, Judy Plum?"
"'Tis hardly a civil question that, but ye're too young to know it. I do be as old as me tongue and a liddle older than me teeth. Don't be fretting yer liddle gizzard about me marrying. Marrying's a trouble and not marrying's a trouble and I sticks to the trouble I knows."
"I'm never going to marry either, Judy," said Pat. "Because if I got married I'd have to go away from Silver Bush, and I couldn't bear that. We're going to stay here always...Sid and me...and you'll stay with us, won't you, Judy? And teach me how to make cheeses."
"Oh, oh, cheeses, is it? Thim cheese factories do be making all the cheeses now. There isn't a farm on the Island but Silver Bush that does be making thim. And this is the last summer I'll be doing thim I'm thinking."
"Oh, Judy Plum, you mustn't give up making cheeses. You must make them forever. Please, Judy Plum?"
"Well, maybe I'll be making two or three for the family," conceded Judy. "Yer dad do be always saying the factory ones haven't the taste av the homemade ones. How could they, I'm asking ye? Run be the min! What do min be knowing about making cheeses? Oh, oh, the changes since I first come to the Island!"
"I hate changes," cried Pat, almost in tears.
It had been so terrible to think of Judy never making any more cheeses. The mysterious mixing in of something she called "rennet"...the beautiful white curds next morning...the packing of it in the hoops...the stowing it away under the old "press" by the church barn with the round gray stone for a weight. Then the long drying and mellowing of the big golden moons in the attic...all big save one dear tiny one made in a special hoop for Pat. Pat knew everybody in North Glen thought the Gardiners terribly old-fashioned because they still made their own cheeses, but who cared for that? Hooked rugs were old-fashioned, too, but summer visitors and tourists raved over them and would have bought all Judy Plum made. But Judy would never sell one. They were for the house at Silver Bush and no other.
• • •
Judy was hooking furiously, trying to finish her rose before the "dim," as she always called the twilights of morning and evening. Pat liked that. It sounded so lovely and strange. She was sitting on a little stool on the landing of the kitchen stairs, just outside Judy's open door, her elbows on her thin knees, her square chin cupped in her hands. Her little laughing face, that always seemed to be laughing even when she was sad or mad or bad, was ivory white in winter but was already beginning to pick up its summer tan. Her hair was ginger-brown and straight...and long. Nobody at Silver Bush, except Aunt Hazel, had yet dared to wear bobbed hair. Judy raised such a riot about it that mother hadn't ventured to cut Winnie's or Pat's. The funny thing was that Judy had bobbed hair herself and so was in the very height of the fashion she disdained. Judy had always worn her grizzled hair short. Hadn't time to be fussing with hairpins she declared.
Gentleman Tom sat beside Pat, on the one step from the landing into Judy's room, blinking at her with insolent green eyes, whose very expression would have sent Judy to the stake a few hundred years ago. A big, lanky cat who always looked as if he had a great many secret troubles; continually thin in spite of Judy's partial coddling; a black cat..."the blackest black cat I iver did be seeing." For a time he had been nameless. Judy held it wasn't lucky to name a baste that had just "come." Who knew what might be offended? So the black grimalkin was called Judy's Cat, with a capital, until one day Sid referred to it as "Gentleman Tom," and Gentleman Tom he was from that time forth, even Judy surrendering. Pat was fond of all cats, but her fondness for Gentleman Tom was tempered with awe. He had come from nowhere apparently, not even having been born like other kittens, and attached himself to Judy. He slept on the foot of her bed, walked beside her, with his ramrod of a tail straight up in the air, wherever she went and had never been heard to purr. It couldn't be said that he was a sociable cat. Even Judy, who would allow no faults in him, admitted he was "a bit particular who he spoke to."
"Sure and he isn't what ye might call a talkative cat but he do be grand company in his way."