“No, that won’t do”, said Aunt Maggie and gave the needling back to Louisa. ”You must do it all from beginning.”
“Oh, no”, moaned Louisa. “Please, Aunty! If I hide the errors under the seams…”
”The MacDonald women never hide any errors under the seams”, pointed Aunt Maggie. ”Do as I tell you, you naughty lassie.”
Louisa sat down on her footstool and took her scissors. Aunt Maggie was a cruel, unfeeling woman! She sighed and looked out to the yard, where Myra and Ethel were playing. Sun was shining, the birch trees were as green as they ever could be, the blue sky beamed over the earth.
“Please, Aunty, can’t I continue that in the evening?”
“No”, said Aunt Maggie. ”I didn’t tell you to put the frog into Mrs Macaulay’s basket.”
“But, Aunty! Myra had taken the frog up from the pond — it was only a little one — and I heard you saying to Mommy that Mrs Macaulay is worse than Ebenezer Scrooge, when she didn’t give a penny for the church repairing!”
“Shut up, lassie. It’s not your business to listen adult’s speeches. In any case, Mrs Macaulay almost fainted when the frog hopped into her arms. She hardly ever forgives us.”
“That is the worst. Your mother never knows when to hold her mouth.”
Louisa jumped up.
”Don’t ever say anything like that about Mommy!”
”Sit down, child, I didn’t mean anything. But really, if that Macaulay woman hears that you haven’t even been punished, she’ll go and tell all around how you girls are spoiled. Sit down and do your work. You can go and play when you’re ready with that line.”
Louisa obeyed. For a while there was a complete silence in the dining-room, then the girl folded up her needlework and put it into her sewing basket.
”I’m ready now, Aunty. May I go?”
”Go on, lassie. But don’t you tear your new apron!”
Louisa did not hear those words of her. She was running through the hall and down the steps.
Five Cherry Trees was an old-fashioned, cold, damp manor. It was owned by Angus MacDonald, a sea-captain, who usually was in some unknown corner of the world with his ship, and his wife Laura, unmarried sister Margaret, and three daughters tried to look after the place.
Like Edward Waverley, the MacDonald girls were used to play among ”the family ghosts”. The old Scottish manor had seen many wars and rebellions — the girls swam in the pond, where great-uncle Donald was drowned when he was only eleven; they raced in the little wood, where great-great-grandmother Felicity was killed with her four children by the Englishmen during the ‘Fifteen; the garret, where they used to make plays and circus on rainy days, was filled with stories about Jacobite heroes and beautiful maidens, who preferred dying to getting into the hands of the Englishmen.
But those days were gone, and the girls were not often remembering the noble and sad history of Five Cherry Trees. They just played, as all the girls do, quarrelled and had fun.
“Are you free now?” asked Myra, when Louisa rushed to the the yard. Myra was a little beauty with auburn hair and eyes, and dimples on her rosy cheeks. She was ten, old enough to play a little lady whenever needed.
“I thought Aunty’ll keep you in till supper”, told Ethel, a tiny lassie of eight with pale brown hair. “She was so furious about the frog.”
“Oh, that’ll be all right. I guess Aunty does laugh at it as Mommy did, though she don’t want us to see.” Louisa smiled. She knew her Aunty better than Aunt Maggie even guessed. “And now, we’ll have some fun. Mommy’ll be home not until late, she said.” Louisa swinged her thick plait, She was the eldest, twelve, and her sisters adored her as the wisest and best girl in the world — despite of some frogs in visitors’ baskets.
”I know”, said Ethel. ”Let’s go to the Wood. We’ll play something there.”
“I don’t want to play”, said Myra, because it was Ethel who had suggested it. “Ladies never play.”
”Oh, it’s your ‘I’m-a-lady-and-a-fool’ day”, teased Louisa. “C’mon, now. Mommy told me a story in the morning and I’m going I to tell it to you.”
”A story?” breathed both Myra and Ethel.
“Yep, about how Five Cherry Trees was founded. She told it to me when I made dishes with her.”
”Okay, I think the Wood’s all right”, admitted Myra.
After a while they sat under the old spruces in the Wood. Every girl had her own place; Louisa, as the story-teller, lolled before the warm side of a great grey stone; Ethel had laid herself in the middle of flowers, and Myra sat neatly by a little birch.
“It’s a romantic story”, began Louisa, who had made a horror in Sunday school with a comment, “I’m sad because there’s no romantic stories in the Bible.” “And it happened two hundred and fifty years ago, when our great-great-great-grandfather Gordon was a young man.”
Ethel sighed with delight. She loved her great-great-great-ones.
”At that time our family lived in a little house not far away, and Gordon was the youngest of the five brothers. That’s why he had to seek his fortune away, because there was no food and work for all the sons.
“He tried to work for lairds and lords, but he was too proud of his family — and I don’t blame him for that! — so he got fired in every little while. Finally he went down to London town, and after some weeks he became a stable-boy in the Court. It was Charles II who reigned Britannia at that time, and he heard about the Scottish lad in the stables. So he called for Gordon, and in he went to the fine hall with all his dirty clothes, because he thought he was a MacDonald and fine enough to meet the King.”
Ethel and Myra shut their eyes as to see better the dirty young man, their ancestor, who was so brave.
“The ladies in the hall almost fainted for horror”, continued Louisa. “But the King just laughed and asked, if Gordon hadn’t any better clothes. ‘Yes sire, I do have’, Gordon said. ‘But if these ones are fine enough for the royal horses, they are fine enough for royal people, too.’ The King liked Gordon and asked him to step nearer. ‘You are just the man I’ve been seeking for. I need a strong and brave man to command my army.’
“So Gordon became a soldier, and a fine one he was, too. He never deceived his King, and Charles was very grateful to him. When the King was old, he gave Gordon fifteen acres of land in the Highlands. ‘Get married and make a home for you and your wife and children and grandchildren’, the King said.
“As a boy, Gordon had had a very good friend called Mary. And now, he gave back his sword, rode up to the Highlands, and asked Mary to marry him.”
“Was the girl waiting for him?” cried Ethel.
“Of course she was. In that time, Mommy said, girls weren’t as useless as nowadays. Well, Mary agreed to the proposal, and Gordon had the manor built. He was going to call it just MacDonald Hall or something boring, but then he bought five cherry trees as a wedding gift to his young wife, and Mary asked him to call the manor Five Cherry Trees. And so it’s called ever after.”
“What happened to Gordon’s brothers?” Myra wanted to know.
Louisa bit her lip. Mother had not told that. But with her imagination she solved the problem.
“They envied him, of course, because he was the youngest and now the richest. But he was very kind to them, and at last they were proud of being his kinsmen.”
Ethel turned on her back and looked up to the sky.
“I wonder if they were happy here — Gordon and Mary, I mean.”
“Of course they were. They had ten children, Mommy told me, seven boys and three daughters.”
“Oh”, said Myra. “The children must have had fun!”
“I’d like to have brothers”, Ethel said. “Isn’t it a shame we don’t have one?”
“Aunty would say we should be grateful of what we do have”, warned Louisa. “I dunno, lads are fine, but I don’t like them at school. They always pull my plait.”
“Oh, aye, Geordie Kerr does”, said Myra with knowing airs. “But I don’t believe you don’t like him — you do, very much!”
“I do not”, Louisa cried. “Take back your words, Myra Anne MacDonald!”
“You like him! You like him! You like him!” Myra flew up and rushed through the Wood. “Louisa like Geordie! They’ll get married some day!”
Louisa ran after her, and Ethel followed her sisters. Myra crossed the old bridge over the pond and danced through the little orchard, where the grandchildren of the ancient five cherry trees still were living, to the way that led from the village.
At the same time a woman was coming along the way. She was Laura MacDonald, who had to make sewings for the village people to get enough money for the manor — her husband’s salary was not enough. She had told the girls she would stay late, but now she hurried up the road with a letter in the hand. When laughing Myra dropped into her way with furious Louisa and Ethel after her, she stopped them all.
“Calm down, girls”, she said, holding Myra and Louisa away from each other. “Calm down and listen to me. I got a letter.”
“A letter?” Ethel stared at it. “From whom?”
“From my old friend. Would you girls like to have a brother?”