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´╗┐Title: Mildred's New Daughter
Author: Finley, Martha, 1828-1909
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Mildred's New Daughter" ***

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MILDRED'S NEW DAUGHTER

By MARTHA FINLEY

(MARTHA FARQUHARSON)

Author of the Famous ELSIE BOOKS

    "A sweet, heartlifting cheerfulness,
    Like springtime of the year,
    Seemed ever on her steps to wait."
                              --Mrs. Hale.

A. L. BURT COMPANY Publishers--New York



COPYRIGHT, 1894,
BY
DODD, MEAD & COMPANY



CHAPTER I.


The clock on the mantel, striking six, woke Ethel and Blanche Eldon, two
little sisters lying side by side in their pretty bed.

"Ah, it is morning, Blanche, and time for you and me to be up," said
Ethel, smiling pleasantly into her younger sister's eyes.

"Yes; in a minute, Ethel," replied Blanche, turning toward her sister
and patting her cheek affectionately.

At the same moment the door into the hall opened softly and the mother
came in, her dark eyes shining, her thin, pale face wreathed in smiles.

"Good-morning, my darlings," she said, speaking softly, for fear of
waking the two younger children in the nursery beyond. "Have you slept
well?" she asked, bending over to kiss first one, then the other.

"Yes, mamma, dear," they answered, speaking together. "And so have Harry
and Nannette," added Ethel, "and they are sound asleep yet, I think."

"And we will not wake them," responded the mother.

"Did you sleep well, mamma? and is dear papa better?" asked the little
girls with eager, anxious looks up into her face, Ethel adding, "Oh, I
am sure of it, because you look so happy!"

"Yes, dears, I am very glad and happy, very thankful to our kind
Heavenly Father, that your papa slept unusually well and seems easier
and brighter this morning than I have seen him for weeks," Mrs. Eldon
replied, with tears of joy shining in her eyes. "He has asked to see his
children, and when you are dressed and have eaten your breakfast, you
shall come to him for a few minutes."

"Oh, we are so glad we may see him, mamma," they cried in a breath,
Ethel adding, "I hope papa will soon be so well that we can go back to
our own dear home again and see our own dear grandma and grandpa."

"Yes, I hope so, darling. And now you two may get up and when dressed
help Harry and Nannette with their toilet."

"Then have our breakfast and after that go in to see papa?" exclaimed
Blanche joyously. "And may we kiss him, mamma?"

"I think he will be able to kiss his children all around," the mother
answered the little questioner, with a loving smile. "But I must go back
to him now, dears," she added; and with another tender kiss she turned
and went quickly from the room.

The two little girls were already out of bed and dressing as fast as
they could; but that was not so very rapidly, for Ethel, the eldest, was
only eight years old, Blanche nearly two years younger.

Their father had been ill for a long while, and it was now some days
since they had seen him; their mother was his devoted nurse, with him
almost constantly, so that of late the children had been left very much
to themselves and the companionship of the young girl, Myra, who
combined in her person the calling of both child's-nurse and housemaid.
Ethel was scarcely dressed when the little brother and sister woke and
were heard demanding assistance with their dressing.

"Oh, hush, hush! do hush, children!" cried Ethel, running to them,
"don't make such a noise. You forget that our dear papa is very sick and
your noise may make him worse. I don't know where Myra is, but you may
get up and I will help you to dress; then we will have breakfast, and
after that we will go into dear papa's room; for mamma says we may."

"Oh! oh! can we, Ethel?" they asked in delight. "We're so glad! 'cause
we haven't seen our dear papa for ever so long."

"And Nanny wants mamma to tum and dress her," whimpered Nannette.

"Oh, no, Nan, dear; mamma is too busy taking care of our poor sick papa,
so I'll dress you and we'll have our breakfast, and then we are to go in
to see him," returned Ethel. "Now be a dear, good girl and don't cry,"
she added coaxingly; "because if dear papa should hear you it might make
him worse. Now let me wash you and put on your clothes and brush your
hair and then we'll have our breakfast."

The little maid worked away while she talked, dressing the baby sister,
and little Blanche helped Harry with his toilet.

Before they had finished Myra came to their assistance.

"Your papa is better this morning, Miss Ethel," she said, "and your
breakfast's ready now. Your mamma says you may go in to see the captain
when you are done eatin', and then you are to have your morning walk."

"Oh, yes, we know," said Blanche; "mamma told us papa was better, and
we're just as glad as can be."

"We hope he'll soon be quite, quite well," added Ethel, taking the hand
of Nannette and leading the way to the breakfast room.

The four were quite merry over their porridge, feeling in excellent
spirits because of the good news about their father, whom they dearly
loved.

When all had finished their meal and been made tidy again, they were
taken to him. He greeted them with a loving smile and a few low spoken
words of endearment. Alas! he was still so ill as to be scarce able to
lift his head from the pillow, and when each had had a few loving words
and a tender kiss of fatherly affection, mamma bade them run away to
their play, promising that they should come in again for a few minutes
when papa felt able to see them.

She led them to the door and kissed each in turn, saying low and
tenderly, "Mamma's own dear, dear children! no words can tell how mamma
loves you all." The baby she kissed several times, holding her close as
if loth to let her go. Setting her down at last with a heavy sigh, "Go,
my darlings," she said, "and try to be quiet while you are in the house
lest you disturb poor, dear papa."

With that she stepped back into the room again and softly closed the
door.

Nannette was beginning to cry, "Nanny wants to go back to dear mamma and
stay wis her," but Ethel put her arms about her, saying cheerily,
"There, there, little sister, don't cry; we are going to take a nice
walk out in the green fields and gather flowers under the hedge-rows for
our dear papa and mamma. Won't that be pleasant?"

"Oh yes, yes! I so glad!" cried the little one with sudden change of
look and tone. "Put Nan's hat on dus now; dis minute."

"Yes, darling, we'll go and get it at once; and Blanche and Harry and I
will put our hats on too, and oh, such a good time as we shall have!"

At that Nannette dried her eyes and began prattling delightedly about
the flowers she hoped to gather, and the birds that would be singing in
the tree-tops, or flying to and fro building their nests.

Harry and Blanche were scarcely less elated, and even staid little Ethel
grew blithe and gay as they passed down the village street and turned
aside into the green lanes and meadows.

The house grew very quiet when the children had gone. Captain Eldon had
fallen into a doze and his devoted wife sat close by his side, one thin
hand fast clasped in hers, while she almost held her breath lest she
should rouse him from that slumber which might prove the turning point
in the long illness that had brought him to the very borders of the
grave.

Mrs. Eldon was a West Indian from the island of Jamaica; and the
captain, belonging to an English regiment stationed there, had won her
heart, courted and married her. She was the only living child of a
worthy couple, a wealthy planter and his wife, who had made no objection
to their daughter's acceptance of the gallant British officer who had
made himself agreeable to them as well as to her.

He proved a kind and indulgent husband. They were a devotedly attached
couple and very happy during the first eight years of their married
life; then Captain Eldon's health began to fail, the climate was
pronounced most unfavorable by his medical adviser, and obtaining a
furlough, he returned to his native land, taking wife and children with
him; but the change had little effect; he rallied somewhat for a time,
then he grew weaker and now had scarcely left his bed for weeks.

He had no near relatives living except two brothers, who had, years
before, emigrated to America; he was too ill to seek old friends and
acquaintances, and taking possession of a cottage advertised for rent,
on the outskirts of a village and near the seashore, he, with his wife
and little ones, had passed a secluded life there, seeing few visitors
besides the physician who was in attendance.

Mrs. Eldon insisted on being her husband's sole nurse and determinedly
persisted in believing in his final recovery, often talking hopefully of
the time when they might return to her island home on the other side of
the ocean, and the fond parents who were wearying of the prolonged
absence of their only child and her little ones. But to-day as she sat
with her eyes riveted upon his sleeping face and noted its haggard
look--so thin, wan and marked with lines of suffering--her heart misgave
her as never before. Was he--the light and joy of her life--about to pass
away to that bourn whence no traveller returns? Oh, the anguish of that
thought! how could life ever be endured without him? Her heart almost
stood still with terror and despair.

"Oh, my darling!" she moaned, as suddenly the sunken eyes opened and
gazed mournfully into hers, "do not leave me! I cannot live without
you," and as she spoke she pressed her hand upon her heart and gasped
for breath.

His lips moved but no sound came from them, the fingers of the hand she
held closed convulsively over hers, he drew a long sighing breath, and
was gone.

The sound of a heavy fall brought the cook and housemaid running from
the kitchen to find the captain dead and the new-made widow lying prone
upon the floor by his bedside, apparently as lifeless as he.

"Dear, dear!" cried the cook, stooping over the prostrate form, "there
don't seem to be a bit more life in her than in him. Take hold here with
me, Myra, and we'll lift her to the couch yonder. Poor thing, poor
thing! between nursin' and frettin' she's just about killed, and I
shouldn't wonder if she wouldn't be long a-following o' him, if she
hasn't done it already."

"Betty, I'm afraid she has!" sobbed the girl, "and what will the poor
children do? She was just the sweetest lady I ever saw, so she was."

"There now, Myra, don't go on so, but run and bring somethin' to bring
her to. Oh, there's the doctor's gig at the gate! Run and let him in,
quick as you can go."

In another minute the doctor entered the room, followed by the sobbing
Myra. He glanced first at the still form on the bed. "Yes, the poor
gentleman has gone!" he said, sighing as he spoke; "but it is only what
was to be expected."

He turned quickly to the couch where lay the still form of Mrs. Eldon,
the face as pale and deathlike as that of the husband, laid his finger
on her wrist, turned hastily, caught up a hand-glass lying on the bureau
and held it to her lips for a moment, then laying it down with a sigh:

"She too is gone," he said in a low, moved tone, "and I am hardly
surprised."

"Oh, sir, what ailed her?" sobbed Myra, "She scarce ever complained of
being ill."

"No, but I knew she had heart trouble likely to carry her off should she
be subjected to any great or sudden shock."

"And he's been took that suddent! and she so fond o' him," groaned
Betty. "Well, well, well! we've all got to die, but when my time comes I
'ope I'll go a bit slower; that I do!"

The doctor was looking at his watch. "I must be going," he said, "for I
have other patients needing attention; but I'll drive to the vicarage
and ask Mrs. Rogers to come and oversee matters here. By the way, can
either of you tell me where any relatives are to be found?"

"No, sir, that we can't," replied the cook, sighing heavily. "Leastways
I don't remember so much as oncet hearing the capting nor Mrs. Eldon
mention no relations 'cept it might be some o' her folks 'way acrost the
sea somewheres."

"Too far away to be of any use in this extremity," muttered the
physician meditatively. Then a little louder, "Well," he said, "I'll go
for the vicar's wife, and she'll see to all the necessary arrangements.
Where are the children?"

"Out walkin' in the fields, sir," answered Myra. "Oh, dear, the poor
little things! Whatever will they do? What's to become o' them without
no father nor no mother?"

"I dare say there are relations somewhere," returned the doctor, then
hurried out to his gig, and in another minute was driving rapidly in the
direction of the parsonage.

Not far from the house he came upon the little group of children
returning from their walk.

"Oh, doctor," cried Ethel, and perceiving that she wanted to speak to
him, he reined in his horse for a moment, "have you been to our house?
and did you find papa better? Oh, I hope--I think he is very much better,
and will soon be well."

"Yes, my dear," returned the kind-hearted physician after a moment's
pause, as if considering the question and the best reply to make. "I
found him entirely free from the pain from which he has been so long
suffering; and I am sure you and your little brother and sisters will be
glad of it."

"Oh, yes, indeed, sir! just as glad as we can be; as I am sure dear
mamma must be."

The doctor drove on, sighing to himself, "Poor little orphans! I wonder
what is to become of them. If I were only a rich man instead of a poor
one with a family of my own to support--ah, well! I hope there are
relatives somewhere who will see that they are clothed, fed, and
educated."



CHAPTER II.


"Oh, papa is better, dear, dear papa!" cried Ethel, jumping and dancing
in delight.

"Oh, I'm so glad! I'm so glad!" cried Blanche and Harry in chorus.

"I so blad! I so blad!" echoed Nannette. "But I don't want to doe home,
Ethel; I'se tired."

"Then we'll go and sit down a while under the trees by the little brook
over yonder," returned Ethel in soothing tones. "You will like that,
Blanche and Harry, won't you?"

A ready assent was given, and all three turned aside and spent an hour
or more in the pleasant spot, rolling on the grass, picking flowers,
throwing them into the water, and watching them sail away out of sight.

At length Nannette began fretting. "I so tired, so s'eepy. Me wants to
doe home see papa and mamma."

"So you shall, Nan. I want to see them, too," returned Ethel, rising and
taking her little sister's hand as she spoke. "Come, Blanche and Harry."

"Yes, I'm ready," said Harry, flinging the last pebble into the water.
"I want to see papa and mamma; 'sides I'm hungry for my lunch."

"So am I," said Blanche, and they followed on behind Ethel and the baby
sister, laughing and chatting merrily as they went.

Myra met the little party at the gate, her eyes red with weeping.

"O Myra, what's the matter?" asked Ethel in alarm.

"Never mind," returned the little maid evasively. "Your lunch is ready,
and you'd best come and eat first thing, 'cause I know you must be
hungry."

So saying she led the way into the house and on to the dining room.

They had come in with appetites sharpened by exercise in the open air,
and were too busy satisfying them to indulge in much chatter. Nannette
at length fell asleep in her chair and was carried to her bed by Myra,
whither Harry presently followed her.

"Has mamma had her lunch yet, Myra?" asked Ethel.

Myra seemed not to have heard, and the question was repeated.

"No, miss," she replied, and Ethel noticed a suspicious tremble in her
voice.

"O Myra, I hope mamma isn't sick," exclaimed the little girl. "She has
been looking so pale of late!"

"She--she's lying down--asleep," Miss Ethel, Myra returned with
difficulty, swallowing a lump in her throat and hurrying from the room.

"How oddly Myra acts! and she looks as if she'd been crying ever so long
and hard," remarked Ethel, half to herself, half to Blanche.

But Blanche had thrown herself on the bed beside the two little ones,
and was so nearly asleep that she scarcely heard or heeded.

Ethel seated herself in a large easy-chair by the window with a book in
her hand; but all being so quiet within and without the house, she too,
rather weary with the walk and sports of the morning, was presently
wandering in the land of dreams.

She was roused from her slumber by someone bending over her and softly
pressing a kiss upon her forehead. Her eyes opened and looked up into
the kind face of Mrs. Rogers, the vicar's wife.

"Oh, I thought it was mamma!" exclaimed the little girl in a tone of
keen disappointment.

"No, dear, but I kissed you for her--your dear mother," returned the lady
with emotion.

"But why didn't mamma come herself?" asked Ethel, growing frightened
though she could scarcely have told why. "You are very kind, Mrs.
Rogers, but oh, I do want mamma! Can I go to her now?" She sprang to her
feet as she spoke.

"My poor child, my poor dear little girl," the lady said tremulously,
seating herself and drawing Ethel into her arms.

"Oh, ma'am, why do you say that?" queried Ethel in terror. "Is anything
the matter with mamma? is papa worse? Oh, what shall I do? Can't I go to
them now? I'll be very quiet and good."

"Oh, my child, my poor dear child, how shall I tell you!" cried the
lady, folding the little girl close in her arms, while great tears
chased each other down her cheeks. "Your dear father has gone to his
heavenly home, Ethel, and to the dear Saviour whom he loved and served
while here upon earth."

"Do you mean that papa is dead?" almost shrieked Ethel. "Oh, oh, my
papa, my dear papa!" and hiding her face in her hands she sobbed
violently for a moment.

"But I must go to mamma!" she cried, dashing away her tears; "she will
be wanting me to comfort her, for there's nobody else to do it now. Oh,
let me go! I must!" as Mrs. Rogers held her fast.

"No, dear child," she said with emotion, "your mamma does not need you
or any other earthly comforter now, for God Himself has wiped away all
tears from her eyes and she will never know sin or sorrow or suffering
any more."

A dazed look up into the lady's face was Ethel's only rejoinder for a
moment, then she stammered, "I--I don't know what you mean, ma'am.
I--I--mamma has taught me that it is only in heaven there is no sin or
sorrow or pain."

"Yes, darling, and it is there she is now with the dear husband--your
father--whom she so dearly loved!"

"Oh, you can't mean it! it can't be that both are gone, and nobody left
to love us or take care of us--Blanche and Harry, and Nan and me! Oh, no,
no, it can't be possible!" cried the little girl, covering her face with
her hands and bursting into an agony of sobs and tears. "Mamma, mamma,
mamma, oh, I can never, never, never do without you!"

Mrs. Rogers drew her closer and spoke in low, comforting tones, her own
tears falling fast the while, "Dear child, God will take care of you and
your little brother and sisters. He calls Himself the father of the
fatherless. He pities and loves you and will raise up friends and
helpers for you. Can you not trust Him for that, dear child, and be glad
for papa and mamma, that they are safe with Him and will never again be
sick or in pain? and that if you love and serve Him while on earth He
will one day take you to be with Him and them?"

"I don't want to die, and I cannot, I cannot do without my dear papa and
mamma!" wailed the well-nigh heartbroken child.

Her cry waked the three younger ones; a trying scene ensued.



CHAPTER III.


To Ethel and Blanche the memories of the next few days seemed, through
the rest of their lives, ever like a dreadful dream. Then they were
taken on board an ocean steamer bound for the city of Philadelphia in
the United States of America, where two brothers of their father had
settled years before. They were merchants doing a large wholesale and
retail business, and were known to be abundantly able to provide for the
orphan children of their deceased brother.

The address of the parents of Mrs. Eldon was not known to those who made
the arrangements, so that they were not even advised of their daughter's
death.

There were no relatives to take charge of the forlorn little ones on
their voyage, but they were given into the care of the wife of a soldier
who was going out to join her husband in Canada, a Mrs. McDougal, a
warm-hearted earnest Christian, childless herself, but with a heart full
of love and tenderest sympathy for the sadly bereaved little ones
committed to her care. She petted, soothed, comforted them, attended
faithfully to all their physical needs, and spent many an hour amusing
them with quaint stories of Scottish life and manners, of brownies,
elves, and fairies; tales that would interest and amuse, yet teach no
harmful lesson.

Before the good and gallant vessel had reached her destination the
mutual love between the kind caretaker and her young charges had grown
very strong, and it was with a heavy heart that Mrs. McDougal looked
forward to the coming separation.

The announcement of the deaths of their brother and his wife, and that
the children would be sent directly to them, had reached the firm of the
Eldon Brothers only a few hours before the arrival of the vessel
bringing them.

It was a great and not altogether welcome surprise, yet their hearts
were moved with pity for the forlorn little ones, and together they
repaired at once to the dock and boarded the newly arrived vessel in
search of them.

They found them on the deck with their kind caretaker, Nannette on her
lap, the others grouped about her.

"Ah, here they are! I'd know that little lad anywhere as poor Harry's
boy!" exclaimed Mr. Albert Eldon, the younger of the two, with emotion,
and laying a hand tenderly upon the child's head, as he spoke.

"That's my name, sir; and it was my papa's name too. Mamma called him
that, but most folks said captain when they talked to him," volunteered
the little fellow in return.

"Ah? then I'm your uncle Albert; and this gentleman," indicating his
brother, "is your uncle George."

"Oh I thought so for you resemble papa; at least as he was before he was
taken so ill," Ethel said, lifting tearful eyes to the face of Mr.
George Eldon.

"Do I, my dear? I believe there is said to be a strong family
resemblance among us all," he returned. "At all events we are your
father's brothers, and therefore own uncles to all of you little ones,"
he added, stooping to caress them in turn, as his brother was doing.

Then the gentlemen held a conversation with Mrs. McDougal in
which--perceiving how loth the children were to be separated from her,
clinging to her with tears and entreaties that she would not leave
them--they proposed that she should remain in charge of them for a few
days or weeks while they were becoming familiar with their new
surroundings.

She replied that she could do so for only a day or two, as she must
embrace the first opportunity to rejoin her husband.

"I am sorry to hear that," returned Mr. Albert Eldon, "but do us the
favor to stay while you can; and let it be at my house; for we will not
try separating these little folks while you are with them, whatever
arrangement we may decide upon later. Will not that be the better plan,
brother?"

"For the present--till we have time to talk the matter over with our
wives? Yes, I think so."

A carriage was waiting on the wharf, in which Mrs. McDougal and the
children were presently bestowed, Mr. Albert Eldon following, after a
moment's low-toned chat with his brother and an order to the driver. He
seated himself and took Harry on his knee.

"Where are we doin' now?" asked Nannette, peering out of the window as
the vehicle moved on.

"To my house--Uncle Albert's house, little one," replied Mr. Eldon in
pleasant tones. "You will find some little cousins, a girl and a boy,
and I hope have nice times playing with them."

"What's the boy's name, Uncle Albert?" queried Harry.

"Charles Augustus; the little girl is Leonora; but they are usually
called Gus and Lena, or Nora, for short."

"Are they all the children you have, uncle?" asked Ethel with shy look
and tone.

"Oh, no," he replied; "there are Albert and Arabella, nearly grown up,
and Olive and Minnie; Minnie is twelve and Olive fourteen."

"Has dey dot a papa and mamma?" asked Nannette.

"Yes; your Aunt Augusta is their mamma and I am their papa."

"And we haven't any; our papa and mamma both went away to heaven,"
sighed Blanche.

"Where they are very, very happy, dear child," returned her uncle,
laying a hand tenderly on her head as she sat by his side.

Then he called their attention to something passing in the street, and
exerted himself to amuse them in various ways till the carriage drew up
in front of a spacious dwelling.

"Ah, here we are," he said, throwing open the door, alighting and
handing them out one after the other.

"Why, who in the world can they be? And what is papa bringing them here
for?" exclaimed a little girl, leaning out from an upper window and
scanning with eager curiosity the new arrivals whom her father was
marshalling up the front door steps, and at once admitted to the hall
with his dead-latch key.

"What's that? More company coming, Min?" queried another voice, and
Olive's head appeared beside that of her sister, just as the hack in
which the little party had arrived turned and drove away. "Pooh! nobody
of any consequence; they came in a hired hack."

"But they were children--except one woman--their nurse, I suppose; and
papa with them! There, I hear them coming up the stairs now, and I mean
to find out all about it," and with the words Minnie threw down her
books and ran from the room, Olive following close at her heels.

They heard their father's voice coming from the nursery, and rushed in
there, asking breathlessly:

"Papa, whom have you got here? And what did you bring them for?"

"These children are your little cousins," he answered pleasantly. "Come
and speak to them, all of you. They are the children of your Uncle
Henry, of whom you have often heard me speak. Ethel, here, Charles
Augustus, is just about your age, and Blanche might be Lena's twin;
Harry is two years younger, and Nannette, a baby girl, the youngest of
all."

The greetings over:

"But, papa, where are Uncle Harry and--and their mother?" asked Minnie,
more than half regretting her query as she saw the tears gathering in
Ethel's eyes.

"In heaven, I trust," her father replied in low and not unmoved tones.
"There, my dears, do what you can to make your cousins comfortable and
happy, I must go and speak to your mamma." So saying he left the room.

Mrs. Eldon, lying on the sofa in her dressing room, looked up in mild
surprise as her husband entered.

"Why, Albert," she said, closing her book with a yawn, "what fortunate
circumstance brings you home at this unusual hour?" Then as he drew
nearer: "What is it, my dear? Why, actually, there are tears in your
eyes. Oh," half starting up, "is there anything wrong with Albert or----"

"No," he said huskily, "but bad news from England reached us this
morning. My brother Henry is no more; he and his wife died within a few
minutes of each other. She had heart disease, we are told, was strongly
attached to him, worn out with long and arduous nursing, and the shock
of his decease was more than her enfeebled frame could bear."

"How very sad! I am really sorry for you, my dear. And they left some
children, did they not?"

"Yes, four little ones--a boy and three girls, the eldest only about
eight years of age. They have grandparents, probably very well to do,
somewhere in the West Indies, but no one knows their name or address. So
the little orphans have been sent to us. The steamship came in this
morning, only a few hours after the letter was received telling us all
this, and which was forwarded by a vessel bound to a Canadian port but
delayed somewhat in her voyage, so that, starting some days before the
other, she reached port only a day or two ahead of her."

"And you are going down to the vessel to get the children?"

"No; we went down--George and I--at once on learning that she was in,
found the little folks there all right, and I have just brought them
home with me."

"But surely we are not to be expected to keep the whole four? Surely
George and his wife will take two, as they have the same right as we to
be at the expense and trouble."

"I think so, eventually; but just at present, while the poor little
things feel themselves strangers in a strange place, it would be hard
for them to be separated; so I have engaged to keep the whole for a few
days," he replied; then seeing that she looked ill-pleased with the
arrangement:

"But, I do not intend they shall be any trouble to you, my dear," he
added hastily. "The woman who had charge of them on the voyage will
remain with them for a few days, and except when they are taken out for
air and exercise, they can be kept in the nursery and adjoining rooms."

"Well," she sighed, returning to her book, "I suppose I may as well
resign myself to the inevitable."

"Do you think it more than their nearest relatives should do for our
children, were they so sorely bereaved?" he asked.

"No, I suppose not; but I have given my consent and what more would you
ask?"

"Nothing more, Augusta, except that you will encourage our children to
be kind and considerate toward their orphan cousins."

"Really I know of no one but their father who would expect them to be
anything else," she returned in a not particularly pleasant tone.

"I do not expect it," he said; "yet think it might be as well to call
their attention to the fact that the little orphans are entitled to
their kindly sympathy. But I am needed at my place of business and must
return at once. Good-by till dinner time, my dear;" and with the last
word he left the room.

"Dear me! as if we hadn't children enough of our own!" exclaimed Mrs.
Eldon in a petulant tone, and impatiently tossing aside her book as the
sound of her husband's footsteps died away in the distance. "Albert
needn't talk as if they were to be no trouble to me. Who else is to do
the shopping for their clothes, decide how they are to be made and find
somebody to do the work? for of course if they don't look all right,
people will talk and say we don't treat them as well as we do our own."

At that moment the patter of little feet was heard in the hall without,
the door opened and her youngest two came rushing in.

"Oh, mamma," they exclaimed half breathlessly, "papa has brought us some
cousins, nice little things, and we like 'em and want you to see them
too. Mayn't we bring 'em in here?"

"Oh, yes, if you will only be quiet. Will you never learn not to be so
noisy?"

"Maybe some day when we're growed up like you and papa," said Nora.
"Come, Gus, let's go and bring 'em," and away they ran, to return in a
few moments leading Blanche and Harry and followed by the nurse carrying
Nannette; Ethel keeping close at her side.

They were pretty, winsome looking children, and Mrs. Eldon was roused to
something like interest. She sat up and took Nannette on her lap for a
few minutes, spoke kindly to the others, and asked some questions in
regard to their former homes and the voyage across the ocean.

Most of the replies came from Ethel, and her timid, retiring, yet
ladylike manner found favor with her interrogator.

"You are a nice little girl," she said at length, smoothing her hair
caressingly and giving her a kiss, "and so are your sisters. I am
pleased with Harry, also, for he seems a manly little fellow, and I hope
you and my little folks will get along happily together while you stay.
There, run back to the nursery now, all of you, for it is time for me to
dress."

They all started to obey, but as they reached the door, "Oh, mamma,"
cried Charles Augustus, turning toward her again, "mayn't we go down to
the yard? 'cause I want to show cousins the pups and rabbits."

"Yes, yes! anything if you will go and leave me in peace," she replied
with some impatience.

"Come along then, Ethel and the rest of you," cried Charlie, leading the
way.



CHAPTER IV.


The Eldon brothers lived in adjoining houses, large, handsome, and with
more extensive grounds than are usually connected with a city residence;
a low hedge separated those of the one from the other, and a gate in
that gave to each household free access to both, which, by the way, was
a convenience more esteemed by the brothers and their children than by
the wives and mothers, who had few interests in common--Mrs. George Eldon
occupying herself almost exclusively with home cares and economies and
outside charities, while her sister-in-law was a butterfly of fashion,
considering herself a martyr to social duties and leaving the care of
house, children, and her husband's comfort to those who could be hired
to attend to them. As a natural consequence each secretly despised and
avoided the other.

When the brothers parted at the wharf that day, the elder one went
immediately to his place of business, where he found his wife waiting to
speak with him in his private counting room.

"Ah," she said as he entered, "I am glad you have come at last; for I
have been waiting here for at least a full hour. Where on earth have you
been?"

"Out seeing to some very important business; a matter demanding
immediate attention," he replied somewhat coldly.

"Something which your wife is not to know about, I presume?"

"I have not said so, nor have I the least intention to keep it secret
from you. Let me read you this"--unfolding a letter as he spoke.

It was the one he had just received from England, telling of the decease
of Captain and Mrs. Eldon, and the sending of their children to America.
She listened in almost breathless surprise.

"You have hardly mentioned that brother for years, and I had almost
forgotten his existence," she remarked as he refolded the letter and
laid it aside.

"Too true," he responded with a heavy sigh, "and my heart reproaches me
for my neglect. Poor Harry! if he had left that climate sooner he might
perhaps have lived to be an old man; lived to support and bring up his
children himself; but now all that I can do is to help in that work."

"As if you hadn't family enough of your own!" she exclaimed indignantly.

"I have two, my brother Albert six; and I have quite as large an income
as he."

"And a wife that doesn't spend the half that his does," she added
drawing herself up with dignity.

"Quite true, and, therefore, I should take certainly not less than half
the burden of providing for Harry's helpless little ones."

"No doubt you will do your full share," she said coldly, "and your wife
will be expected to do more than hers in the way of seeing that the
children are trained and taught, fed and clothed; things that such a
butterfly of fashion as Mrs. Albert does not trouble her head about for
her own offspring, and certainly would not for others."

"Well, my dear, fortunately for us we will not be called upon to give an
account for her sins of omission or commission; but I have heard you
say, certainly more than once or twice, that you consider it a duty to
care for the poor with purse, time, and effort; and surely relationship
to your husband should not be looked upon as a bar to such ministrations
on the part of his wife. My brother, I am happy to say, is more than
willing to do his full share, and I certainly do not want him to do
more."

He was magnanimous enough not to mention her orphan niece whom he was
supporting and educating, and she had the grace to feel somewhat ashamed
of her display of unwillingness to do a little for his fatherless and
motherless nephew and nieces. But she did not condescend to say so much
in words.

"Well, how soon are we to expect them?" she asked.

"They are already here," he replied, "and the errand from which I have
just returned was to the vessel that brought them. Albert proposes to
keep the whole four for a few days, till they have had time to become
somewhat acquainted with us, and parted with the good woman--the wife of
a soldier in Canada--who had charge of them on the voyage."

"And after that?"

"We propose to make a division--each taking two; our wives, of course,
having a vote as to which two each of them may prefer to take."

"And they have been already sent up to your brother's, I suppose? I
wonder how Augusta likes it."

"Surely she can hardly be without some feeling of compassion for the
sorely bereaved little ones," he returned with emotion.

"They are to be pitied," she said, her voice softening somewhat. "Well,
I came for a little money to spend in doing good--helping some of the
unfortunates in our midst. Can you spare it?"

"Certainly," he replied, opening his his purse and handing her a small
roll of banknotes.

"Thank you," she said; "I'll see to it that your bounty is not wasted."

"I'm sure of it, Sarah; I never knew you to be wasteful."

She smiled at that, understanding it as a well deserved compliment; then
took a hasty leave, as she perceived that someone was at the door
seeking an interview with Mr. Eldon.

"Well, it's a bad business," she sighed to herself as she hurried along
the street; "as if it was not enough to be plagued with my own brother's
child, I must have his too. And really there's no necessity for it; it
would be a charity to pay somebody to take charge of the four, saving
them the trial of being separated and helping the caretaker to make a
living; decidedly I think it is a brilliant idea and that I shall have
no difficulty in persuading Augusta to join me in insisting upon having
it carried out."

Mrs. Augusta was in her dressing room, just completing her dinner
toilet, when to her intense surprise a tap at her door was followed by
the entrance of her sister-in-law.

"Ah, you had no idea it was I coming upon you so unceremoniously,"
remarked the caller with a grim smile, and seating herself without
waiting to be invited; "but I came to have a bit of chat with you about
this invasion of our homes by uninvited young guests. I for one see no
reason why we should be expected to take charge of them, our husbands
being amply able to pay someone else to do so, someone who may be glad
to add in that way to a meagre income."

"Why, Sarah, that's a brilliant idea! If only such a person--one whom
George and Albert would be willing to trust--can be found," exclaimed
Mrs. Augusta, her eyes sparkling with pleasure. "Have you anyone in
mind?"

"Yes, I have thought of that poor Irish curate, Coote, who is so
continually applying for help. Wasteful creatures he and his wife must
be to need it so often, with never a chick or child of their own to
support."

"I should think so; and I can't bear him--red-headed, pompous,
dictatorial, domineering creature that he is! He should never have
charge of a child of mine."

"Well, don't, I beg of you, be silly enough to say that to your husband
or mine."

"Of course not; if they can't see for themselves, why should you or I
enlighten them? Still I do feel a little sorry at the thought of giving
him a chance to domineer over those poor little orphans."

"Let them behave themselves and they will do fairly well, I have no
doubt," returned Mrs. Sarah with a frown. "They must be taught to expect
to support themselves from the time they can be made capable of doing
so, and lessons in self-control and the endurance of some hardship will
be a decided benefit to them."

"So we will endeavor to believe, at all events," laughed Mrs. Augusta.

Then they consulted together as to the best plan for approaching their
husbands on the subject; and decided that their wisest course would be
to say nothing at present, but wait till some trouble between the
newcomers and their own children should so annoy the gentlemen that they
would be ready to purchase peace at almost any price.



CHAPTER V.


Things went pretty smoothly with the little orphans while their friend
Mrs. McDougal stayed. She managed to keep the peace between them and
their cousins by soothing and petting her young charges and interesting
all the occupants of the nursery with her fairy tales, her stories of
Wallace, the Bruce, and Robin Hood and his merry men.

But all too soon came the day when she must leave Philadelphia and go to
the husband who was wearying for his good wife; a sad, sad day to the
poor little fatherless and motherless children! They clung to her until
the last moment, and she had to tear herself away leaving the whole four
weeping bitterly.

Their uncles were kind, but because of business cares seldom seen; the
aunts took little notice of the young strangers, each being absorbed in
her usual round of occupation, while the treatment of the cousins, older
and younger, varied with their varying moods--sometimes they were kind,
disposed to pet and humor their forlorn little relatives, and
again--without any apparent reason for a change--treated them with
coldness and indifference.

That was hard to bear, and caused many a fit of home-sickness and bitter
weeping for the loss of the dear father and mother whom they would never
see more upon earth.

Ethel, who was, in spite of her tender years, a very womanly little
girl, earnestly strove to act a mother's part to her younger sisters and
little brother--soothing and comforting them in their griefs and seldom
giving vent to her own except in the darkness and silence of night when
none but God, her Heavenly Father, could see and know it. Her pillow was
often wet with tears as she sobbed herself to sleep while pouring all
her sorrows into His sympathizing ear, as both her mother and Mrs.
McDougal had taught her to do, repeating to her again and again that
command and precious promise, "Call upon Me in the day of trouble; I
will deliver thee and thou shalt glorify Me."

"Oh, if I could only find our dear grandpa and grandma," she sometimes
said to herself; "they would love us as dear mamma and papa did, and
take us home to live with them, and we would be, oh, so happy!"

Then she would comfort herself with the hope that perhaps some day they
would be found, and she and her brother and sisters be taken to the
sweet and lovely home she could remember as a half forgotten dream,
where no one would think them in the way; but they would be loved and
petted and made much of, instead of being barely tolerated as those of
whose presence their entertainers would gladly be relieved.

But scarcely a week had elapsed after the departure of their beloved
caretaker, Mrs. McDougal, when the little orphans were subjected to yet
another trial in the removal of Blanche and Harry to the house of their
uncle George and the custody of his cold-mannered, unsympathetic wife.

The enforced separation was a bitter thing to both themselves and the
other two. But tears and cries brought only reproof and punishment;
especially to Harry, who proved, under the tyrannical rule of his
uncle's wife, a very determined little rebel, bringing upon himself
punishments so many and severe that to hear of them, as she did in one
way and another, almost broke Ethel's heart.

She sorrowed for Blanche too, and for Nannette and herself; for their
situation was only slightly better than that of their brother and
sister.

Things grew worse and worse with all four until at length their uncles,
wearied out with complaints from their wives and feeling that it was sad
to have the children separated, began to talk of trying to find a good
home for them elsewhere.

Then Mrs. George Eldon broached her idea that it would be a help to poor
Mr. Coote if he and his wife were paid to take charge of the little
orphans, and at the same time a pleasant change for the children, as the
whole four could be together.

She did not add the information that she had already written privately
to Coote, telling of her plan and advising him to casually call in upon
her husband and his brother, speak of his cramped circumstances and
remark that he was thinking of trying to get a few boarding pupils to
help himself and wife eke out their small income.

The uncles hesitated over Mrs. George's suggestion, but finally
consented to let the experiment be tried, provided Coote and his wife
might like to try it; or if not they, someone else likely to prove a
suitable person could be found.

It seemed to them quite a providence when a day or two later Coote
called at their place of business and made known his desire for just
such an opportunity for increasing his meagre means, asking if they
could recommend him to someone who had the guardianship of children in
need of a good home where they would receive parental care and training.

The brothers exchanged glances of relief and pleasure.

"Yes, Mr. Coote," replied the elder Mr. Eldon, "we ourselves are wanting
just such a home and caretaking for the orphan children of a deceased
brother; four little ones--the eldest eight, the youngest about three
years of age."

"Possible?" cried Coote, simulating delighted surprise, laughing in a
gleeful way and rubbing his hands together with a look of great
satisfaction. "Well, sirs, you may rest assured that if committed to my
care and that of my estimable wife they will not long miss their
departed parents, and will be trained up in so godly a manner that they
will no doubt be reunited to them in a better world."

"Not too soon, I hope," observed Mr. Albert dryly. "I desire them to
live to years of maturity, becoming happy, honorable, and useful
citizens of this free land which we have adopted as our own."

"Oh, certainly, sir," responded Coote, "and I'm thinking they'll be more
likely to live and thrive in the wholesome air of the country town in
which I am located than here in the city."

"I hope so indeed," said the elder Mr. Eldon; "but if we trust them to
you and Mrs. Coote it must be with the distinct understanding that they
are to be well fed and clothed, and to receive truly parental care and
affection."

"Oh, certainly, certainly, sir," again responded Coote; "my wife and I
will look upon and treat the poor little orphans quite as if they were
our own."

"Better, I trust, than some people treat their own," returned Mr. Eldon.
"Well, sir, if my brother approves, we will, I think, give you an
opportunity to show yourself a kind and wise guardian to these little
ones who, as the offspring of our deceased brother, are very near and
dear to us."

In reply Mr. Coote gave renewed assurances that he felt a great interest
in the little orphans, and that he and his wife would be as father and
mother to them, doing for them all that the best of parents could do.

The uncles then consented to put them in his care for an indefinite
period, reserving the right to remove them if at any time they saw
reason to be dissatisfied with the treatment they received.

"I certainly shall give you no occasion for it," remarked Coote suavely;
"as I have said, my wife and I will be as tender and careful of the
little darlings as though, they were our own flesh and blood."

"How soon will you be ready for them?" asked Mr. George Eldon.

"At once, sir, at once. And if you please I should greatly prefer to
take them with me on my return this afternoon. It would save me another
trip to the city, and in my circumstances that expense would count."

"And since the change has to be made it would perhaps be as well to make
it at once," remarked Mr. Eldon thoughtfully, adding, "I hope the poor
little creatures may be happier with you, Mr. Coote, than they have been
with us, if only for the simple reason that the whole four will be
together; for I never saw children fonder of each other than they are."

"Nor I," assented his brother; "and Ethel, young as she is, seems very
like a mother to Harry and Nannette, poor child! I am really sorry to
part with her. I'll go up with you, Coote, explain matters to her, bid
good-by to the whole four, and see them off."

Things had gone very wrong that morning with Blanche and Harry, and
Ethel was nearly heartbroken over the sore punishment meted out to them
by Mrs. George. That made the news her Uncle Albert brought her much
less distressing than it would otherwise have been; for how, she asked
herself, was it possible things could go worse anywhere than here? And
it seemed a blessing indeed that she and all three of the younger ones
would be together again.

She loved Uncle Albert, clung tearfully to him for a moment when he had
told her of the new arrangement, then almost cheerfully gathered
together the few small possessions of herself, brother, and sisters.

By direction of the aunts the children's trunk had been already packed
with the most of their clothing, so that it was the work of but a few
minutes to get everything in readiness for their hasty departure.

The little ones were almost dazed by the suddenness of the thing, and
scarcely realized what had happened till they found themselves in the
cars alone with their new and unknown guardian. Their Uncle Albert had
gone with them to the train, and in bidding them good-by he laid a box
of candies in Ethel's lap, saying, "That is for you and your brother and
sisters to eat on the way;" and bestowed a large, luscious orange on
each, of the four.

Ethel threw her arms about his neck and held him tight for a moment,
while her sobs came thick and fast.

"Oh, Uncle, dear Uncle Albert," she cried chokingly, "won't I ever see
you any more?"

"Yes, yes, dear child," he said soothingly, "I shall run up to look at
you and the others one of these days, when business grows slack; and
perhaps--who knows but you'll be back with us again some day? But there,
I must go now. Be good children, all of you, and Uncle Albert won't
forget you at Christmas time."

And with a hasty caress bestowed on each of the others he hurried from
the car.

Ethel dried her eyes, opened the box, gave a bit of the candy to each of
the other three, then seeing that Mr. Coote was eying them as though he
too would like a share, she held out her box to him, asking timidly,
"Will you have a piece too, sir?"

His only reply was to seize the box, help himself to half its contents,
then hand it back with a gruff, "Candy isn't at all good for children,
and if your uncle had consulted me he wouldn't have wasted his money
buying it for you."

"Oh, dear, that man's got most all of our candy; and Uncle Albert said
it was for us," wailed Harry, taking a peep into the half-emptied box.

"Be quiet, sir!" commanded Coote, turning a flushed and angry face upon
the little boy.

"Give back that candy and I'll be quiet enough," returned Harry
sturdily.

"What a hog of a man to be robbing those poor little children of their
candy!" exclaimed a motherly-looking country woman in the next seat,
apparently addressing her remark to a young girl at her side, but
speaking loud enough for Coote and other near-by passengers to hear.

The train was just starting. Coote leaned over the back of the seat,
bringing his mouth near to Harry's ear.

"You keep quiet, you young dog," he said savagely, "or I'll pitch you
out the window and let the train run over you and kill you."

"Oh, you wicked, wicked man!" cried Ethel, with a burst of tears,
putting her arm round Harry and holding him close; "if you do you'll get
hung for murder."

"Take care, miss; it wouldn't take long to send you after him," was the
threatening rejoinder, and Coote leaned back in his seat again, took a
newspaper from his pocket, and sat looking over it while devouring with
evident enjoyment the candy of which he had robbed the children.



CHAPTER VI.


It was a lovely day early in October, and the children enjoyed gazing
out upon the landscape, so new to them, the gorgeous coloring of the
forest trees particularly attracting their attention. They were close
together, having possession of a corner near the door of the car, where
two seats at right angles gave them abundance of room to move about and
gaze their fill, now on the outer world, now at the occupants of the
seats near at hand. They were pretty quiet, and disturbed no one but
each other with their prattle and fidgeting.

The sun was near its setting when they arrived at their destination.
They were bundled very unceremoniously out of the car and hurried along
the street by Mr. Coote, who seemed in hot haste to reach his parsonage,
some two or three squares distant. Poor little Nannette found it very
hard--indeed quite impossible--to keep up with him in his rapid strides,
though Ethel on one side and Blanche on the other were doing their
utmost to help her along. And even they, without that hindrance, could
not possibly have kept pace with their conductor. Nor could Harry, and
he too fell behind with them, and all four were crying more or less when
they reached the gate where Coote stood awaiting their coming, with a
scowl of impatience upon his ugly features.

"I thought you were close behind me. You'll have to learn to walk
faster. Dawdling along is something I'll not put up with," he growled,
snatching Nannette up roughly and carrying her into the house, the
others following in obedience to the gruff order, "Come along in, all o'
you."

A middle-aged woman--tall, rawboned, of scowling countenance and stiffly
starched in manner, stood waiting in the hall.

"So you've brought 'em," she said in icy tones. "Well, they'll make
trouble and work enough, but the pay will help to eke out that
starvation salary of yours."

"Take care, Sarah," he muttered, setting down the sobbing Nannette, none
too gently, upon the floor, "little pitchers have big ears, and there's
no knowing when or where they might blab."

"Just let me catch 'em at it and they'll not be apt to do it a second
time," she said, turning upon the trembling little ones a look so angry
and threatening that they clung together in affright, tears coursing
down their cheeks and their young bosoms heaving with sobs.

"Stop your crying, every one of you!" she commanded. "Come right in here
and eat your suppers," opening a door near where she stood, "and then
you shall go to bed. But no. Pull off your hats and coats first and hang
them here on the rack in the hall. You must learn to wait on yourselves,
and that there's a place for everything and everything must be in its
place, and the sooner you learn it the better it'll be for you; for dirt
and disorder are never allowed in the house where I'm at the head of
affairs. I'll help you this time, but you've got to help yourselves
after this."

She had seized Nannette as she spoke, and was jerking off her coat.
"Well, I declare if you aint all sticky with candy!" she exclaimed, in a
tone of disgust. "What on earth did you let her have it for, Coote?"

"'Twas none o' my doing," he replied; "their uncle gave it to 'em, but I
can tell you it'll be one while before they get any more."

At that Nannette looked up piteously, and with quivering lip, into
Ethel's face, but did not dare to so much as whimper. It was a very
faint and watery smile Ethel gave her in reply.

They were hurried into the dining room, a barely furnished apartment
with whitewashed walls, green paper window blinds, and rag carpet;
exquisitely neat and clean, but wearing like its mistress a cold and
cheerless aspect in striking contrast with the beautiful homes of their
uncles, which the children had left but a few hours before.

The table was covered with a very white and smoothly ironed but coarse
cloth, and on it stood a pitcher of milk, a plate of bread, and four
bowls of heavy ironstone china, each with a silver-plated spoon beside
it. The children were quickly seated, told to fold their hands and shut
their eyes while repeating a short grace after Mrs. Coote. Then milk was
poured into each bowl, a piece of bread laid beside it, and they were
ordered to break the bread into the milk, take up their spoons and eat,
which they did, Mrs. Coote seating herself opposite them and watching
with eagle eyes every movement they made.

No one of the four ventured a word, much less to refuse obedience to the
order given. Both bread and milk were sweet and good, and after the
first taste the little folks ate with appetite, Mrs. Coote refilling the
bowls and supplying the bread without stint.

"Eat all you want," she said in a slightly softened tone; "I was never
one to starve man or beast; you'll not be fed on dainties here, but
shall have all you can eat of good, wholesome victuals."

Presently the sound of heavy footsteps in the hall was followed by the
opening of the door of the dining room, and Mr. Coote put in his head,
saying: "Here's the trunk, Sarah; what'll you have done with it?"

"They'll sleep in the room over the kitchen; have it carried up there,"
she replied.

When the children had finished their meal, "Now," she said, "you shall
go up to your room and beds," and they followed submissively as she led
the way through the hall and up a back staircase.

The room into which she presently ushered them looked as scrupulously
clean and orderly, and also as bare and desolate, as the dining room.
There was a double bed which she told the little girls they were to
occupy, and in another corner a cot bed which she said was for Harry.
The remaining pieces of furniture were a washstand with bowl and
pitcher, a chest of drawers with a small mirror over it, two wooden
chairs of ordinary height and two little ones.

"Sit down on those chairs, every one of you, and keep still while I take
out your night clothes from this trunk," said Mrs. Coote. "Where's the
key?" looking at Ethel.

"In my pocket, ma'am," returned the little girl, producing it with all
possible despatch. "The nurse told me she had put all our nightgowns
right on top."

"Yes, here they are; looking well rumpled too. Plenty o' folks in this
world that don't care whether they do a thing right or wrong. I hope
you'll not make one of that sort, Ethel."

"I'll try not to, ma'am," replied the little girl meekly.

"Well, help your sisters and brother to undress, hang their clothes up
neatly on those pegs along the wall there--so they'll get a good airing
through the night--then undress yourself and do the same with your own
clothes. Don't forget your prayers either. I'm going downstairs now, but
I'll be in again presently to see that you are all snug and comfortable,
and to finish unpacking your trunk." With these concluding words she
hurried out, closing the door after her.

"Oh, me don't 'ike dis place; me wants to go home," sobbed Nannette.

"So do I," said Harry, tears rolling down his cheeks. Blanche too was
crying, though softly, and Ethel's eyes were full of tears. But she
tried to be cheerful and brave.

"We'll make haste to bed and to sleep, and in the morning we'll all feel
better," she said, trying to speak cheerfully. "Blanche and I will
undress you little ones, then get undressed ourselves, and soon we'll
all be in bed."

And so they were, Ethel last of all; the other three were asleep when at
last her weary little head was laid upon its pillow. Her young heart was
sad and sore, for it seemed a cheerless sort of home they had come
to--oh, so different from that which had been theirs but a few short
months before, with the dear parents whom she would see never again upon
earth. With that thought in her mind she wept herself to sleep.



CHAPTER VII.


In the meantime Mr. and Mrs. Coote were in the dining room, partaking of
a much more elaborate meal than had been given to their young charges.

"Well, what do you think of them?" queried Coote, stirring and tasting
his tea, then reaching for the sugar bowl and helping himself to another
spoonful of its contents.

"I can tell more about that when I've had time to make their
acquaintance," she answered dryly.

"The boy's an impudent little rascal," remarked her husband, reddening
with anger as he spoke; then, in reply to her enquiring look, he went on
to tell the story of the candy.

She listened in silence and with a look of growing contempt.

"Well, have you nothing to say?" he at length demanded in an irate tone.

"Nothing, except that if I was a man--or called myself one--I'd be a
little above robbing such a mite of a child of his sweets."

"No; in your great kindness of heart you'd prefer to let him make
himself sick eating them," he retorted in a sarcastic tone.

"I think I'd as lief risk it for him as for myself," she returned
significantly; "specially as the stuff had been given by the uncle to
them, not to me."

"Young children haven't the same digestive powers that a hearty grown
person has," he said rather angrily, "and I maintain that it was neither
more nor less than an act of kindness to make away with some of the
dangerous stuff by eating it myself." A slight, scornful laugh was the
wife's only reply; then she began questioning him with regard to the
amount to be paid them for the board, care, and education of the
children. She was well pleased with his reply, for the terms offered by
the uncles were liberal.

"They being so young, of course most of the care and labor will fall to
your share, my dear," remarked Coote suavely.

"Oh, of course! when was it otherwise with any of your undertakings?"
she asked with withering sarcasm.

"Well, that's exactly what you should do. What was Eve made for but to
be Adam's helpmeet?" he returned with an unpleasant laugh.

"Yes, a helpmeet, and that implies that he was to do his share. However,
I expect and intend to do more than mine for these little orphans. They
shall not be neglected if I can help it, and I'll keep them out of your
way as much as I can; for their sakes as well as yours. They shall have
their meals and be out of the way before we take ours. I'll not pamper
them, but they shall have abundance of good, wholesome victuals. They
shall be kept clean and neat too, comfortably dressed according to the
weather, though I shall not pay much attention to finery and fashion. I
don't expect to pet and fondle them--I haven't any of that motherly
instinct--and I intend to bring them up to be neat and orderly, but they
shall have their plays and fun too, for children need it; they can have
their games in the garden in pleasant weather and in their own room when
it storms."

"Very well; you may do as you like," he returned graciously. "I'm
particularly pleased to hear that they are to be kept out of my way.
Children are troublesome animals in my estimation; so the less I'm
obliged to see of them the better."

"It's something to be thankful for that we've never had any of our own,"
she returned dryly. "Better for them and better for us."

Mrs. Coote had several domestic duties to attend to after the conclusion
of the meal, and the children had been in bed fully an hour before she
re-entered their room. She was careful to make no noise as she opened
the door, came softly in, and lighted the gas.

Harry's breathing told that he was sleeping soundly. So were Blanche and
Nannette. Ethel too slumbered, but with tears upon her pillow and her
cheek, while at intervals her young bosom heaved with a long-drawn,
sobbing sigh.

An emotion of pity stirred in the heart of the stern, cold-mannered
woman as she looked and listened.

"Poor little thing! I dare say she misses her dead father and mother,"
she sighed to herself as she turned away, "and she seems to try her
prettiest to supply a mother's place to the younger ones. I don't
believe I'll have any trouble with her, unless on account of the rest;
but I'll do my duty by them all."

The unpacking of the children's trunk and re-arranging its contents in
closet and drawers took but a few minutes, for Mrs. Coote was a rapid
and energetic worker, a quiet one also, and the children slept on while
she finished what she had come to do, then turned off the gas and went
out, softly closing the door after her.

It was broad daylight when Ethel woke amid her new and strange
surroundings, for a moment forgetting where she was. But only for a
moment, then memory recalled the events of yesterday, and she knew that
she and her little sisters and brother were strangers in a strange
place.

Her little heart grew heavy with the thought; then recalling the
teachings of her departed mother and Mrs. McDougal, that God, her
Heavenly Father, was everywhere present, as near to her in one place as
in another, and ever ready to hear the cry for help, even from a little
child, she slipped from the bed to the floor and, kneeling there, poured
into His ear all her sorrows, fears, and desires; asking for help to be
good, to do right always, and to know how to comfort and care for
Nannette, Harry, and Blanche.

Having thus rolled her burden on the Lord she felt stronger and happier,
and rising from her knees made haste with the duties of the toilet, then
helped the others, who were now awake also, with theirs. She had just
finished when the door opened and Mrs. Coote looked in.

"Ah, so you are all up, washed and dressed, I see," she remarked in a
pleased tone. "That is right; and now you may come down to your
breakfast."

With that she led the way, the children following.

They found hot baked potatoes, bread, butter, and milk awaiting them;
all excellent of their kind, and they ate with relish.

"Don't you eat breakfast, ma'am?" asked Harry innocently.

"Of course," replied Mrs. Coote. "I had my breakfast along with my
husband half an hour ago or more. Grown folks should always be served
first, children afterward."

"Mamma and papa didn't do that way," remarked Harry, "'cept when papa
was too sick to come to the table."

"But I like it best," said Blanche, with a timid glance at the stern
face of Mrs. Coote.

"It's all the same to me whether you do or not," she returned in an icy
tone. "I'm the one to decide what is best, and it's not my way to
consult children's fancies. Now be quiet, all of you; don't waste time
in talk or you'll not be ready for prayers when Mr. Coote comes in."

After prayers Ethel was directed to put their outdoor garments upon her
little brother and sisters and take them out to play in the yard, while
she put in order the room they had occupied and made the beds. She
obeyed promptly.

"Oh, children, don't for the world do any mischief," she said anxiously,
when she had led them out and taken a hasty survey of their
surroundings, "for you'd be sure to get punished for it, and that would
'most break my heart. Don't go on the grass either till the sun dries up
the dew, or you'll be sick, and oh, dear! what could I do for you then?
And there's nobody here to be good to any of us."

"Don't be afraid, Ethel, we'll be good," said Blanche, "we won't get our
feet wet and we won't meddle with the flowers or anything."

The other two made the same promise, and Ethel hurried back to the
house, for Mrs. Coote's sharp voice was calling her in impatient tones.

"You'll have to learn to be quicker in your movements," she said as the
little girl reached her side. "Come right upstairs now, and I'll show
you how to make the beds properly and put the room to rights."

"Yes, ma'am," replied Ethel meekly, and at once set to work, doing her
best to follow directions.

"Now notice and remember exactly how I want you to do everything, so
that after this you can do it all without instruction or help," said
Mrs. Coote, adding: "you're none too young to learn to make yourself
useful, and just as like as not you'll have to earn your own living all
your days."

"Yes, ma'am, I mean to learn all I can," returned the little girl
meekly, then sighed to herself: "Oh, if we could find our dear, kind
grandma and grandpa, they would take care of us all, and have me
learning lessons, 'stead of doing house-work while I'm such a little
girl."

Mrs. Coote was very neat and particular and required everything done
exactly in what she deemed the best manner, but when all was
finished--the floor carefully swept, the beds made, the furniture dusted,
she spoke a few words of praise which sounded very pleasant in Ethel's
ears.

"Now," she added, "you can go out and play with the others. I approve of
play for children when work's done, for--as the saying is--'all work and
no play makes Jack a dull boy.' I don't mean to be hard on you or the
younger ones, and we won't begin lessons till next week."

"Thank you, ma'am; you're very kind, and I'll try not to give you any
trouble," returned Ethel gratefully. "I think I can make the bed and
tidy the room by myself another time."

"I daresay, for you seem a bright, capable child," was the not
ungracious rejoinder.

The ice of Mrs. Coote's manner seemed to be thawing under the influence
of Ethel's patient efforts to please and to make herself useful.

Ethel hastened out into the grounds in search of her brother and
sisters, for she had been feeling anxious about them, lest, without her
care and oversight, they should get into mischief, or in some way incur
the displeasure of Mrs. Coote.

They were all three at the dividing fence between the parsonage yard and
that of the next neighbor. A prettily dressed and attractive looking
little girl, about the age of Nannette, stood near by on the other side
of the fence, and the four seemed to be making acquaintance.

"What oo name, little girl?" Nannette was asking as Ethel drew near.

"I'se Mary Keith. What all of you names?"

"I'se Nan, an' dis is Blanche nex' to me," was the reply.

"And I'm Harry, and here comes Ethel, our big sister," announced the
little boy. "What made you stay away so long, Ethel?"

"I had to do some work. I've just finished," she answered; "but now I
have leave to stay with you till we're called to our dinner."

Two ladies seated on the porch overlooking that part of the grounds were
watching the little ones with interest.

"Who are they? I never saw any children there before; did you, Flora?"
asked the elder one.

"No, mother, but Mrs. Coote's girl told ours that they are some orphan
little ones whom the Cootes have taken to bring up. Poor little dears,
they are very young to be both fatherless and motherless!"

"Yes, indeed! and they are very attractive looking children, too."

"So they are, and my heart aches for them, for there is nothing motherly
in Mrs. Coote's looks or ways--nothing the least fatherly about him."

"Indeed, no! though he might perhaps have been different if they had
been blessed with children of their own."

"Ah, Hannah is baking ginger snaps! How good they smell! Mary and her
little new friends must have some;" and with the words Mrs. Keith rose
and went into the house.

She returned presently with a heaping plateful, which she handed first
to her mother Mrs. Weston, then carried out to the garden where she
bestowed a liberal supply upon little Mary and her new friends. Mary
introduced them.

"Mamma, dis little dirl is Nan; de boy is named Harry; he is Nan's
bruver, and dose big dirls is Ethel and Blanche; dey's Nan's and Harry's
big sisters."

"Not so very big, I think," said Mrs. Keith, smiling kindly upon them.
"Where are you from, my dear?" addressing Ethel. "And have you come to
stay here with Mr. and Mrs. Coote?"

"Yes, ma'am," answered Ethel as clearly as she could speak, in spite of
the lump rising in her throat; "our uncles in Philadelphia sent us here
to be taught. They didn't say for how long, but Mr. Coote told me we are
to stay till we grow big enough to take care of ourselves."

"Well, dear, I hope you will be happy and prove pleasant playfellows for
my little Mary," returned the lady kindly. "If you are the good children
I take you for, I should be glad to have you with her a good deal,
because it will be pleasant for her, and you, too, I hope."

"Yes, ma'am," replied Ethel, dropping a little courtesy, "thank you. It
will be very pleasant for us, I'm sure, for she seems a dear little
girl; so we will come sometimes, if Mrs. Coote will let us."

"Mayn't dey tum in now, mamma?" pleaded little Mary.

"Certainly, if Mrs. Coote says they may," replied her mother; then
seeing Mrs. Coote near at hand she called to her and preferred the
request.

"It's no matter to me if you like to be bothered with them," was the
almost surly rejoinder. "To my way of thinking children are little else
than a torment and pest, and I'm willing enough to have them out of my
way if I know they're safe."

"As I think you may be pretty sure they will be with us," returned Mrs.
Keith in a slightly indignant tone, and with a glance of pity directed
toward the young strangers. "Poor little orphans!" she added in a lower
tone, "it will be really a pleasure to me if I can put some brightness
into their lives."

The next two hours passed very delightfully to the little Eldons,
playing with their young hostess about the garden and in the porch of
her father's house, and making acquaintances with her mother,
grandmother, and baby sister, her dollies and other toys, of which she
possessed a goodly number.

In a kindly, sympathizing way Mrs. Weston questioned Ethel about her
parents and her former home, and she was both greatly interested and
much moved by the pathetic story told with the artless simplicity of a
young and trustful child.

"My dear little girl," she said, softly stroking Ethel's hair when the
tale had all been told, "truly I feel for you. It was a sad thing,
indeed, to part so early from your dear parents, but God our Heavenly
Father knows what is best for us, and loves His children more than any
earthly parents can. The Bible tells us that He is a Father of the
fatherless, and He can never die, will never leave nor forsake those who
put their trust in Him. Go to Him with all your sorrows, all your
troubles and trials, and He will be sure to hear and help you."

Ethel listened with tears in her eyes. "I will, ma'am," she said; "I do
tell Him all my troubles and my little brother's and sisters' troubles,
too, and ask Him to help us, and I'm sure He does. But oh, ma'am, why
did He take away our dear father and mother while we are so little and
need them so badly?"

"Perhaps to teach you to keep very near to Him, loving and trusting Him
instead of any earthly creature," the lady answered tenderly. "It is a
grand lesson to learn; one that will make you better and happier all the
days of your life. Jesus said to Peter, 'What I do thou knowest not now,
but shalt know hereafter'; and I think he is saying the same to you,
dear child. When we get home to heaven we shall see and know just why
all our trials were sent us--just how necessary they were and that our
kind, wise Heavenly Father sent each one for our good."

"Yes, ma'am," returned the little girl thoughtfully, "I will try to
remember it all and to be very patient and good."



CHAPTER VIII.


Mrs. Weston had hardly finished what she was saying to Ethel when Mrs.
Coote's harsh voice was heard summoning her young charges to their
dinner. They hastened to obey, quite as much for fear that any delay
would anger the woman and bring dire consequences upon themselves, as
from a desire to satisfy their appetites.

The meal, like those that had preceded it, was plain but palatable, and
the healthy little folks found it enjoyable.

"Now go out to your plays again," was Mrs. Coote's order when they had
finished; "this is Saturday and I'm very busy, a great deal too busy to
be tormented with a pack of children; so don't venture to come in again
till you're called."

"Let's go back to that other house," proposed Harry, when they had
obeyed the order and were out upon the gravel walk leading to the front
gate.

"Oh, no!" said Ethel, "don't you remember that our mamma used to tell us
not to go too often to any of our neighbors' houses, because we would
make them tired of us? There was a Bible text she used to repeat about
it: 'Withdraw thy foot from thy neighbor's house lest he be weary of
thee, and so hate thee.' We want them to love us and feel glad to see us
when we go there; so we won't go very often when we're not invited. The
grass is dry now on this side of the yard and we can have a nice time
playing here together."

"Oh, yes," said Blanche, "we can play 'Pussy wants a corner.' That's
good fun and we'll be careful not to run too hard and do mischief."

"And not to make too much noise," added Ethel; "we mustn't shout or
laugh too loud, lest we vex Mrs. Coote."

"Oh, dear!" sighed Harry, "I do like to make a noise. I guess all boys
do, and I do wish we didn't have to live where the folks want us to be
quiet all the time."

"But we can't help it, Harry," sighed Ethel, "we will just have to try
to be quiet and good all the time."

"Me will," assented Nannette; "I is doin' to be very dood."

"So'll I," said Harry, "but I don't like it a single bit."

They played several games; then Nannette began to cry. She was tired and
sleepy. Mrs. Coote heard her, came to the door, and understanding what
was the matter, bade Ethel take her little sister up to their own room
and lay her on the bed.

"And when she wakes up," added Mrs. Coote, "it will be time for you all
to have your Saturday bath; for everybody must be particularly clean for
Sunday."

"Yes, ma'am," returned Ethel, "our own mamma always had us bathed on
Saturday."

"In which she showed her sense," said Mrs. Coote. "Now hurry up to your
room every one of you, and see if you can keep quiet there. You may as
well all take a nap, for you have nothing better to do."

"There, there, don't cry, Nan dear; we'll soon get up to the top of
these stairs and into our room," Ethel said in soothing tones, doing her
utmost to help her baby sister in the weary task of climbing the rather
steep flight of stairs that led to that desired haven.

"I so tired," sobbed Nan.

"Yes, dear; and these stairs are high for your poor little legs. But
never mind; we're most up now. Ah, here we are, and you shall lie down
and have oh! such a good sleep, with Blanche on one side and me on the
other and Harry on his own bed over there in the corner."

Nothing loth, the baby girl cuddled down on the bed; the others climbed
into their places, and tired with their play the whole four were
presently sleeping soundly.

The nap was followed by the promised bath, that by their supper, and
directly upon leaving the table they were sent to bed.

They were taken to Sunday-school the next morning, then brought back to
the house and ordered to stay within doors until the return of Mr. and
Mrs. Coote from church, the latter remarking that she had no intention
of being bothered with other people's children, and directing Ethel to
teach some Bible texts to the younger ones and commit to memory several
verses herself, all to be recited to Mr. Coote in the afternoon.

Ethel felt dismayed, for it would be a new thing for Harry and
especially so for baby Nan, of whom nothing in the form of lessons had
ever yet been required.

"I'll try, ma'am," she said, "but please don't be hard with them if they
can't say a verse perfectly, for they've never had to learn lessons
before, except to say their A B Cs."

"High time for them to begin then," was the curt rejoinder. "Now mind
what I say and do exactly as you're told, or you'll wish you had when
Mr. Coote gets hold of you." With that she walked away, Ethel looking
after her with frightened eyes.

"O Blanche, whatever shall we do?" she exclaimed tearfully. "I'm afraid
Nan can't learn a verse."

"Oh, yes, Ethel, she can; so don't you cry," returned Blanche, putting
her arms round Ethel's neck and giving her a kiss. "Don't you remember
that little one that's just two words? 'Jesus wept.' Nan can learn that
I'm sure; so can Harry."

"Course I can," said Harry, straightening himself proudly. "I'm not a
baby, I know that verse now: 'Jesus wept.' But, say, why did He do that,
Ethel? what was He so sorry about?"

"Because Lazarus, the man He loved, was dead and his sisters, Mary and
Martha, were so full of grief. He loved them, too, and was sorry for
them."

"Tell us the story 'bout it, Ethel," requested the little fellow.

Ethel complied, and then he and Nan repeated over and over the short
verse, "Jesus wept."

"Now we must learn ours, Blanche," said Ethel.

"I've thought of one that mamma used to teach us," returned Blanche: "'I
love them that love me; and those that seek me early shall find me.'"

"Yes, I remember that mamma taught us that, and that she said they were
God's own words. Let's all love Him and He will love us and care for us
even if nobody in all this world does. I've thought of a verse too:
'Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not; for of
such is the kingdom of heaven.' Mamma said they were Jesus' own words
and they meant that I might pray to Him, telling Him all my joys and all
my troubles, and He would listen even more lovingly than she did when I
told them to her, and would give me strength to bear them or help me out
of them. Oh, I have often been so glad, since dear mamma and papa went
away to heaven, so glad to know that; and I have told my troubles to
Jesus and I'm sure He has heard me and helped me to bear them, and that
He will help me, and everybody that tries it, to bear every trouble and
trial He sends."

"But what for does He send troubles and trials?" asked Blanche. "I
should think if He loves us so much He wouldn't let us have any at all."

"I remember I asked mamma that once," replied Ethel thoughtfully, "and
she said it was to make us good and to keep us from loving this world
too well; just as she sometimes punished us to make us good, because to
be good is the only way to be happy; and she taught me this verse, 'As
many as I love I rebuke and chasten; be zealous therefore and repent.'
Oh," added the little girl, with a burst of tears, "if we only had mamma
now to help us to be good!"

"She and papa have gone to be with God, you know, Ethel, and don't you
believe they ask Him to help us to be good?" asked Blanche, tears
shining in her eyes also.

"Yes, yes, indeed!" returned Ethel, "and it makes me so glad to think of
that."

"O Ethel, you have to say more than one verse, haven't you?" asked
Blanche.

"Oh, yes, so I have. 'Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be
saved,' is another one that mamma taught me. I'll say it. Such a sweet
verse, isn't it?"

"Yes, indeed," returned Blanche.

"Saved from what, Ethel?" asked Harry. "I don't want to live here with
these horrid folks. I wish He'd saved us from that."

"But it would be a great deal worse to live in that dreadful place where
the devil and his angels are," said Ethel with grave earnestness; "and
that's what mamma said Jesus would save us from; that and the love of
sin. Oh, now I remember some verses she taught me about heaven: 'And God
shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more
death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain;
for the former things are passed away.' Oh, just think, children! never
a headache, or backache, or heartache, or hurt feelings, or any sort of
pain or ache, but always to feel bright and happy and well. And that's
where papa and mamma are--well and glad all the time."

"O Ethel, how delightful!" exclaimed Blanche. "And then oughtn't we to
be glad for them?"

"Yes, indeed! though we can't help being sorry for ourselves and each
other, because we must do without them till we get there too."

Jane, the servant girl, opened the door and looked in at that moment.
"Come, you young uns, and eat your dinners," she said. "You's to eat
fust this time 'fore de folks gits home from church."

The children obeyed right willingly, but were disappointed to find only
the usual plain fare.

"I 'spected a nice dinner to-day," grumbled Harry; "chicken or birds,
and mashed potatoes and cranberries and good pie and cake."

"O Harry, dear, hush, hush!" Ethel said warningly, but half under her
breath. "I'm afraid you'll get beaten or starved if--if they should find
out that you talked so."

"Oh, it's too hard!" sighed Blanche. "I didn't want to stay with that
hateful, cross old Aunt Sarah though."

"I didn't either," said Harry. "But 'most everybody's bad to us since
papa and mamma went away."

Here Jane, who had gone back to her kitchen, poked in her head at the
communicating door. "You'd better stop talkin' and get you dinners eat
up 'fore the folks gits home from chu'ch; 'cause ef ye don't maybe
you'll have to stop hungry."

The thought of that alarming possibility at once silenced every
complaint, and hardly another word was spoken till their appetites were
fully satisfied. A hasty washing of hands and faces followed and was
scarcely over when the Cootes returned, and the little folks were
summoned to the study and required to recite their verses of Scripture
to the frowning, loud-voiced, impatient dominie, while the dinner for
him and his wife was being set upon the table. It seemed a dreadful
ordeal to the trembling little ones, and a great relief when it was over
and they were ordered up to their own room for the remainder of the day.



CHAPTER IX.


Considering her extreme youthfulness, it was a hard and toilsome life
that had now begun for Ethel. Day and night she had charge of her little
brother and sisters; she must wash and dress them--or teach them to do
those things for themselves, and see in every way to their comfort and
amusement; also teach Nannette and Harry their little lessons. Besides
she must learn her own, keep their room in order, and spend an hour or
two every day in the use of her needle, under the instruction of Mrs.
Coote, who was very strict and exacting, though she occasionally
bestowed a few words of warm praise when she considered it to have been
well earned.

On such occasions Ethel's cheek would flush and her eyes brighten as she
listened, a feeling akin to love for the usually cold-mannered woman
tugging at her heart strings; but ere she could summon up courage for
the expression of her pleasure and budding affection, the cold, distant
manner had returned, and chilled and disappointed she could say no more
than, "Yes, ma'am; thank you for praising my work. I mean to try always
to do it as well as ever I can."

Meantime the intimacy between the Eldons and little Mary Keith grew and
increased. From the first they seemed to take great pleasure in each
other's society, and would play together in unbroken harmony by the
hour; generally in Mr. Keith's grounds as Mrs. Coote was entirely
willing to have them there, Mary's mother and grandmother no less so;
and when Ethel's tasks were finished she was allowed to join the others.
Her gentle, quiet, ladylike manner made her a great favorite with the
ladies and she was sometimes allowed to do her stint of needlework
there, sitting quietly with them while the younger children romped and
played about the garden or on the porches.

There were some pictures on the wall of the pretty sitting room where
the ladies spent most of their time, one of which particularly attracted
Ethel's attention; it was a woodland scene--a little valley, a small
creek with a dam, running through, it, near by a horse tethered to a
sapling, and at a little distance, partly hidden by a thicket, a noble
looking man in Continental uniform, on his knees in prayer.

"Mrs. Weston, who is that gentleman praying there in the woods?" Ethel
at length ventured to ask.

"That is a picture of our Washington at Valley Forge," answered the
lady, bestowing a look of loving admiration upon the kneeling figure.

"Washington?" repeated Ethel enquiringly. "I think I never heard of him
before. He was a good man, I suppose?"

"Yes, my dear, and a great one also. I think there was never a better or
greater mere man. He is called the father of his country because, with
the help of God, he did more to gain her liberties than any other man."

"Oh, if it isn't too much trouble, will you please tell me about him and
what he did?" Ethel asked eagerly, adding, "I'm only a little girl, you
know, ma'am, and haven't lived in America very long; so I don't know
much about its history."

The lady smiled, and softly stroking the child's hair, "Do you call
yourself English, my dear?" she asked in a pleasant tone.

"No-o, ma'am," returned Ethel doubtfully; "papa was English but--but
mamma, you know, was born on this side of the ocean, so I suppose I'm
only half English, and Cousin George told me I'd have to be an American
now, as I've come to live in this country."

"And you don't object?"

"Oh, no, ma'am; America seems a very good country and my cousins are all
Americans, because they were born here."

"Yes; the generality of us Americans think these United States, taken
all together, make the best land the sun shines on, as it certainly is
the freest."

"Are all the people in it good, ma'am?" queried Ethel innocently.

"No, my dear, I am sorry to have to acknowledge that that is far from
being the case. True very many of the wicked ones--burglars, murderers,
and the like--are of foreign birth or parentage, but some are natives and
the children of natives. But I must answer your question about
Washington. He was the great-grandson of a gentleman named John
Washington, who came over from England and settled in Virginia, which
was then an English colony, as were the other twelve States. There were
thirteen in all of those that formed the Union in the beginning. Do you
know anything about how the colonies were settled in the first place?"

"No, ma'am."

"Well, then, I must tell you that one of these days. But now you want to
know about the picture. What you see there occurred during the first war
with England, the war which set us free and made the colonies States.
This country was then far smaller and poorer than it is now; for we have
now many large and flourishing States; more than three times as many as
there were then."

"Yes, ma'am; Cousin George told me I ought to be glad to be an American,
because this was the very best and freest country in the world."

Mrs. Weston gave the little girl a pleased smile. "I entirely agree with
Cousin George," she said, "and ever since I can remember have been glad
and thankful that God gave me my birth in this dear, Christian land,
many of whose people came here when it was but a desolate wilderness, in
order that they might be free to worship God according to the dictates
of their own consciences.

"But I must tell you about the picture. Washington was the
commander-in-chief of our armies during the war of the Revolution, which
ended in making us free States.

"That war began in the year 1775; the Declaration of Independence was
made in the summer of 1776; but it took years of fighting to induce the
King of England and his Cabinet to acknowledge that we were actually a
free and independent people, no longer subject to their oppressive acts;
a long and terrible struggle was necessary to bring that about.

"By the fall of 1777 a good many battles had been fought; one of
them--the battle of Saratoga--won a great victory for the Americans; but
things had not gone so well for us farther south. Washington had
suffered defeat at the battle of the Brandywine and in consequence the
British had got possession of Philadelphia. Our troops must if possible
be kept together through the cold winter, and that in some place from
which the British could be watched and prevented from getting away to
any great distance, to do mischief to the people of the land.

"There was no town that would answer the purpose, and the place that
suited best was Valley Forge on the Schuylkill River, twenty-one miles
above Philadelphia. It was a little valley lying between two ridges or
hills and covered by a thick forest. The poor soldiers had no tents and
were in sore need of clothes, also of blankets and shoes. They--even the
officers--were astonished when Washington ordered the trees cut down and
log huts built of them. But they spent their Christmas holidays at the
work and were much surprised and delighted at their success, when they
found that they had changed the forest into cabins thatched with boughs,
in the order of a regular encampment.

"But oh, what suffering they still had to undergo for lack of food and
clothing! Many were almost, some entirely, naked.

"For more than two years the war had been going on and for four months
they had been fighting the enemies of their country, marching and
counter-marching day and night in order to baffle the designs of the foe
against their dear native land; and they had come to this spot with
naked, bleeding feet and destitute of supplies of every kind.

"It was a dreadful winter for that poor army. Washington did all he
could, but it was out of his power to relieve anything like all the
suffering; and Congress was strangely apathetic, and slow to do what it
might have done to give relief.

"Because of their sad neglect the condition of the poor, patient
soldiers grew worse and worse so that men died for want of straw or
other bedding to raise them at night from the damp, cold earth; and
sometimes they had no fuel to make fires, for want of shoes and
stockings to enable them to go through the snow and cut it in the woods
near at hand; often they had no meat, sometimes no bread, and there was
danger that they would perish with famine or have to disperse in search
of food."

"And why didn't they?" asked Ethel. "I should think anything would be
better than staying there freezing and starving to death."

"Because they loved their country and her liberties better than they
loved themselves," replied Mrs. Weston. "They were fighting for her, for
their own homes, wives, and children, yet, as I have said, Congress was
most shamefully neglecting them, while most of the people in the
vicinity of their camp were Tories--that is in favor of the British,
unwilling to do anything for the cause of freedom, and ready to help the
foes of their country, for which these poor, starving, bleeding,
freezing men were willing to lay down their lives.

"But Washington was their friend, doing all in his power for them,
showing a fatherly concern and fellow-feeling for all their troubles and
privations, exerting himself in every way to help and encourage them,
and urging Congress to come to their relief.

"Washington was a Christian man; so he carried the troubles and
distresses of his poor soldiers, and the woes of his bleeding country to
God, who is the hearer and answerer of prayer. Probably the woods were a
more private place than any other to which he had access at that time;
and I presume he never knew that any earthly creature had ever seen him
at his devotions."

"Who was it that saw him, Mrs. Weston?" asked Ethel.

"The man at whose house he was lodged: Mr. Isaac Potts. He owned the
dam, and one day was strolling toward it, along the bank of the creek,
when he heard a solemn voice, and walking quietly in the direction of
the sound, he saw Washington's horse tied to a sapling and near by, in a
thicket, the dear man himself on his knees in prayer, with the tears
coursing down his cheeks."

"Did Washington see him--Mr. Potts?" asked Ethel, gazing with eager
interest into the lady's face.

"No; doubtless his eyes were closed, and Mr. Potts, feeling that he was
on holy ground, stole quietly away, back to his own house, with eyes
full of tears. His wife noticed them as he entered and asked what was
the matter. Then he told her what he had just seen, adding, 'If there is
anyone on this earth whom the Lord will listen to, it is George
Washington; and I feel a presentiment that under such a commander there
can be no doubt of our eventually establishing our independence, and
that God in his providence has willed it so.'"

"And that's what the picture is about?" Ethel said musingly, gazing upon
it with redoubled interest. "I'm glad the Americans had such a good man
for their general, and that God helped them to get free."

"Yes, as one of our poets has said:

    "Oh, who shall know the might
      Of the words he utter'd there?
    The fate of nations there was turned
      By the fervor of his prayer.

    "But wouldst thou know his name
      Who wandered there alone?
    Go, read enroll'd in Heaven's archives,
      The prayer of Washington."

"Ah, I like those verses," Ethel said, her eyes shining. Then turning
them again upon the picture, "He was praying for his poor soldiers then,
wasn't he? I think you said so."

"No doubt; I know his heart bled for them in their sore extremities, for
they were sore indeed. I have read that one day a foreign officer was
walking with Washington among the huts where his soldiers were
quartered, when they heard voices coming from between the logs of which
they were built: 'No pay, no provisions, no rum!' and one poor fellow
whom they saw going from one hut to another, was naked except that he
had a dirty blanket wrapped about him. Then that officer despaired of
ever seeing the Americans gain their freedom."

"They did though, and I'm ever so glad of it!" Ethel said with
satisfaction. "But--but you said they wanted rum. Were they drunkards,
Mrs. Weston?"

"In those days, my dear, almost everybody took a little and did not
think it wrong," replied the lady, adding, "though now we think it is."

"I hope God heard Washington's prayer and soon made that bad Congress
take better care of the poor soldiers who were fighting for them," Ethel
said enquiringly, still gazing earnestly at the picture.

"I am sorry to have to say that it was some time before Congress did
much for their relief," returned Mrs. Weston. "Indeed two winters later
they--the poor soldiers--were in much the same condition at Morristown,
where they were encamped at that time, having only beds of straw on the
ground and but a single blanket to each man; while still their clothing
was very poor and some had no shoes.

"It was a very severe winter, the snow early in January being from four
to six feet deep and so obstructing the roads that they could not travel
back and forth to get provisions, and in consequence were often for days
at a time without bread, then again as long without meat; and the cold
and hunger made the poor fellows so weak that they were hardly fit for
fighting or for building their huts."

"Oh, the poor, poor things!" exclaimed Ethel, tears starting to her
eyes. "Did they ever try to run away or to steal something from the
farmers to eat, when they were so dreadfully hungry?"

"Yes, they sometimes did steal sheep, hogs, and poultry; but since they
were starving and their just wages kept back from them, one can hardly
feel like blaming them very severely for taking a little food from those
whom they were defending.

"There was only one decided mutiny; that was on the 1st of January,
1781, by about two thousand men of the Pennsylvania troops, stationed at
Morristown and under the command of General Wayne.

"They had made their preparations secretly, appointing a sergeant major
their commander, calling him major-general. At a preconcerted signal
all, excepting a part of three regiments, paraded under arms without
officers, marched to the magazines and supplied themselves with
ammunition and provisions; then they seized six fieldpieces and took
horses from General Wayne's stables to draw them."

"And nobody tried to stop them?" exclaimed Ethel enquiringly.

"Yes; hearing what was going on their officers tried to do so, calling
on the men who did not join in the revolt to help. But the mutineers
fired, killing a captain and wounding several others; then they ordered
the men who had not revolted to come over to their side, threatening
that if they did not they would kill them with their bayonets; and they
went over. Then General Wayne tried his influence with the men, who all
loved him, using both persuasion and threats to bring them back to their
duty. But they refused to listen even to him, and when he cocked his
pistol at them they pointed their bayonets at his breast, saying, 'We
respect and love you; you have often led us into the field of battle,
but we are no longer under your command; we warn you to be on your
guard, for if you fire your pistol or attempt to force us to obey your
commands we will instantly put you to death.'

"Wayne then tried to persuade them, speaking to them of their love for
their country. They answered by reminding him how shamefully Congress
was treating them. He spoke of the pleasure and encouragement their
conduct would give to the enemy. In reply to that they called his
attention to their tattered garments and how thin they themselves were
from starvation; they told him they dearly loved the cause of freedom
and wanted to fight its battles, if only Congress would see to it that
their sore need was relieved."

"I don't think that was asking too much, do you, Mrs. Weston?" asked
Ethel.

"No, not at all."

"And did General Wayne give them what they asked and had a right to
ask?"

"He could not do that, but he supplied them with provisions and then
marched them to Princeton, where he heard their demands and referred
them to the civil authority of Pennsylvania.

"In the mean time the British general, Sir Henry Clinton, heard the
story of the revolt, and not understanding the spirit and motives of the
troops, sent a British sergeant and a New Jersey Tory named Ogden, with
a written offer to them that if they would lay down their arms and march
to New York they should receive in hard cash the money owed them by the
American Congress, be well clothed, and have free pardon for having
fought against the King of England; and not be required to fight on his
side and against their country, unless they chose to do so of their own
accord."

Ethel looked intensely interested. "And did they do it?" she asked half
breathlessly.

"No, indeed," replied Mrs. Weston; "they were not fighting for money,
but for liberty, their homes, their wives and little ones; but the money
Congress owed them, the food and clothes, were necessary even to keep
them alive, so that they felt justified in using their weapons in
redressing their grievances while still looking with horror upon the
armed oppressors of their country, and feeling that they would rather
die than prove traitors to her. 'See, comrades,' one of them said to the
others, 'he takes us for traitors. Let us show him that America can
furnish but one Arnold, and that America has no truer friends than
ourselves.'

"The others approved his sentiments. They immediately seized Clinton's
spies and papers and took them to General Wayne, stipulating that the
men should not be executed till their own affairs with Congress were
settled, and that if their complaints were not attended to the prisoners
should be delivered up to them again when they demanded them."

"Did Congress do what they asked of them?" inquired Ethel.

"Yes; then the spies were executed, and the reward which it appears had
been offered for their apprehension, would have been given to the men
who had seized them, but the brave, patriotic fellows refused to accept
it, poor as they were, saying that necessity had forced them to demand
justice from Congress, but they wanted no reward for doing their duty to
their bleeding country."

"I like them for that!" exclaimed Ethel, "and I don't think they were at
all to blame for making that Congress pay them what they had earned by
working and fighting so long and so hard."

"No, nor do I," returned Mrs. Weston, "and I am proud to own them as my
countrymen."

"It is a very interesting story; thank you for telling it to me, Mrs.
Weston," said Ethel. "I'd like to know more about that good General
Washington and that war. All the English people didn't want the
Americans abused so, did they?"

"Oh, no, my dear! Some of them tried hard to have their wrongs
redressed. Some day I will tell you more about it, but now I hear Mrs.
Coote calling you."



CHAPTER X.


Ethel had been greatly interested in Mrs. Weston's story of Washington
and the Revolution. She was eager to hear more, and found both ladies of
the Keith family kindly ready to gratify her whenever she was allowed to
carry her needlework over there instead of doing it in the room in the
parsonage appropriated to the use of herself, brother, and sisters. She
was given very little time for recreation, so could not read much for
herself on that or any other subject; perceiving which, Mrs. Weston
often read to her, pausing now and then to explain anything the little
girl did not seem to entirely comprehend, so helping the child to a
great deal of information which at that time she could have gained in no
other way.

Ethel was very grateful; and, loving, generous little soul that she was,
wanted others to share her pleasure; so repeated to Harry and the little
sisters all she thought they could understand of what she had learned
from the ladies. Also, supposing that Mrs. Coote was well read on the
subject, she ventured to ask some questions of her.

"I know nothing about those old times in this country, and what's more,
I don't want to know; so let me hear no more about it," was the
ungracious rejoinder, and Ethel dared not venture another word.

"You're no American," Mrs. Coote went on presently, "so why should you
care about those old stories?"

"I--I believe I'm half American," Ethel returned hesitatingly. "I was
born in Jamaica and so was my dear mamma."

"Eh! I didn't know that before. But Jamaica is only a tolerably large
island, and though it's on this side the ocean it belongs to England.
And your father was born in old England, wasn't he?"

"Yes: and I like England, but Cousin George says as we've come to
America to live for the rest of our lives, we're Americans now."

"Humph! So as you behave well I for one don't care whether you are
Americans or English," returned. Mrs. Coote; and there the conversation
dropped.

Whenever the weather was at all suitable the three younger children were
sent out of doors to play, Ethel joining them when her task was done,
and usually they were all invited into Mrs. Keith's yard or house.

But stormy days had to be spent shut up in their own small room, and
poor little Ethel was almost at her wit's end to keep Harry and Nannette
from making such a disturbance as would bring reproof and sometimes sore
punishment upon them.

They had little or no love for Mrs. Coote, who never lavished any
demonstrations of affection upon them, and from her husband they shrank
as from a dangerous foe. Fortunately they rarely saw him except when
summoned to a recitation of the verses of Scripture which they were
compelled to learn for the express purpose of enabling him to show off
to chance visitors as one who was successfully training up in the way
they should go the young orphans committed to his fatherly care.

As their Uncle Albert had promised, they were remembered at Christmas
time by the relatives in Philadelphia, a box being sent direct to Ethel,
in Mr. Coote's care. Fortunately it reached the house one day in his
absence, and Mrs. Coote put it privately away, never breathing a word to
him of its arrival.

On Christmas morning, soon after breakfast, she opened it herself in
presence of the children, first telling them whence it had come and
cautioning them to be perfectly quiet, or they might lose some of the
contents.

There were fruits, cakes, candies, and toys; all in such plentiful
supply that the children were almost wild with delight.

All four urged Mrs. Coote to share with them. She looked pleased that
they should wish it, accepted a very little, then saying, "If you like
you can, after a bit, carry some over to your friends at Mr. Keith's;
and, Ethel, to-morrow you may write a little letter of thanks to your
uncles and the rest in Philadelphia, and I will mail it for you," she
left them to the enjoyment of their gifts.

If anything could have added to their felicity it was the note from Mrs.
Keith, presently brought in by her servant girl, inviting all four to
take their Christmas dinner with little Mary, and to come as early as
possible with Mrs. Coote's consent.

"Oh, Mrs. Coote, can't we go this minute?" asked Blanche and Harry in a
breath, while Nannette piped, "Me wants to go, dus now; dis minute," and
Ethel's soft brown eyes made the same request.

"Yes, yes; I'll be only too glad to be rid of your noise and chatter for
the rest of the day," was the rather ungracious reply. "But you've all
got to be dressed in your best first," she added, going to the closet
and taking down the dresses the little girls were wont to call their
"Sunday frocks," in which she presently proceeded to array them.

That did not take long, and they were soon at the door of Mr. Keith's
hospitable dwelling, exchanging a merry Christmas with the ladies and
little Mary, displaying the toys sent by their relatives in
Philadelphia, and offering a share of their sweets from the same source.

Then they were led into the parlor where was a beautiful Christmas tree
loaded with ornaments and gifts.

"Oh," cried Ethel, tears starting to her eyes as she spoke, "how it
reminds me of Christmas times when our dear papa and mamma were with
us!"

"Yes, I remember the one we had last Christmas," said Blanche; "and I
think this one is just as pretty as it was."

"So do I," said Harry. "Oh, thank you, ma'am!" as Mrs. Keith took down a
bag of marbles and another of candy and handed them to him.

"And this is for dear little Nannette," she said, disengaging a doll
from the tree and putting it into the hands of the baby girl, who
received it in almost speechless delight.

There was another almost exactly like it for her own little Mary, a
larger one for Blanche, a neat housewife and pretty book for Ethel, and
a bag of candies for each of the five; for little Mary had waited for
hers until the coming of her guests.

What a happy day it was to the children! The grown people seemed to lay
themselves out for their enjoyment; games and stories filled most of the
time not taken up with the partaking of the grand Christmas dinner of
turkey and all the usual accompaniments for the first course--plum
pudding, ice-cream, fruits, and cake for the dessert.

The Eldons were sent for by Mrs. Coote at their usual early bedtime, and
obeyed the summons without a murmur.

"Dear Mrs. Keith, you and Mrs. Weston are so good and kind to us; we've
had such a pleasant time," Ethel said as she bade good-night.

"You are very welcome, dear child," was the kindly response, "and I hope
you and my little Mary will have many a pleasant time together while you
are living so near us."

"Thank you, ma'am; I hope so, too," returned Ethel gratefully, then
hurried away with her little brother and sisters.

Mrs. Coote met them at the parsonage door. "Go right up to your room and
to bed everyone of you," she said, and they silently obeyed.

"Strange that their uncles didn't send some Christmas remembrance to the
children," remarked Mr. Coote to his wife as they sat together at the
tea table.

"Possibly they may have thought they had enough to do in providing for
their own, and that you and I might find some little thing for those you
promised to treat as if they were your own," she rejoined in a slightly
sarcastic tone.

"Humph! we're not in circumstances to do much for our own if we had
'em," he sniffed angrily; "so I don't consider myself pledged to do
anything of the kind."

"And the children didn't expect it, I'm sure; nobody would ever mistake
you for a Santa Claus," she returned with a not particularly pleasant
laugh.

He colored and flashed an angry look at her, but let the remark pass in
silence. Neither then nor afterward did his wife let him know of the
Christmas box sent to the children. She had given them only a part of
the sweets that day, but they received the rest in small instalments
till all were gone.

So long as the weather was pleasant a part of nearly every day was spent
at the house of their kind neighbors, but when it stormed their only
refuge for the greater part of the time was the small room appropriated
to them over the kitchen in their temporary home. It was hard for all,
but especially for Harry and Nannette, to be so constantly confined to
such close quarters, and Ethel could not always keep them quiet; they
sometimes played noisily, at others fretted and cried aloud because they
were so tired of staying in that little room where there was so small
space for running and romping.

Neither Mr. nor Mrs. Coote would tolerate such noise, and again and
again the hearts of Ethel and Blanche were made to ache by the sore
punishment meted out to the little brother and sister. And sometimes
they themselves were in disgrace and severely dealt with for failures in
their tasks, or anger or too much sympathy shown the other two when they
were punished.

These were great trials, as also was the reciting of their Bible verses
to Mr. Coote, and being made to repeat them before company. They were
warned not to tell any tales to the neighbors, and threatened with dire
consequences if they disobeyed. So most of their troubles were kept to
themselves.

Ethel looked and longed for the promised visit from her uncle Albert,
but he did not come; he seemed to have forgotten his promise. Then after
a while Mr. Coote took to reading to the children letters which he said
came from their uncles, reproving and threatening them with punishment
for rebellious conduct toward those who now had them in charge, and
bidding them be very obedient and submissive.

Those letters were deliberate forgeries, but the innocent little ones
never dreamed of such deceit and wickedness on the part of the man who
professed to be so good, and poor Ethel was well nigh heartbroken that
her uncles should think so ill of her and her dear little brother and
sisters, and write so cruelly to them.

She tried very hard to be good and industrious at her tasks, wanting the
time to come as soon as possible when she would be able to support
herself, Blanche, Harry, and Nannette.

Thinking of that she put forth every effort to learn the various kinds
of needlework Mrs. Coote undertook to teach her, with the assurance that
if she became expert in them all she could some day earn money in that
way.

At times the child's heart beat high with hope that when she was grown
up she would be able to make with her own earnings a little home for
herself, brother, and sisters. Remembering the unkind treatment they had
often received at the hands of the aunts and cousins in Philadelphia she
was not at all sure that they would be much better off could they return
there--and if they could go back how hard it would be to bid farewell to
the kind friends next door--but what could be more delightful than to get
away from these stern guardians often so unkind and unjust. And then,
when she was old enough to know how to set about it, perhaps she could
find her maternal grandparents, and they would give a good home to their
daughter's orphan children.

Their uncle Albert did at length make them a hasty visit, but Mr. Coote
took good care that they should not be left for a moment alone with him.
Also he treated them with the greatest and most effusive kindness in
their uncle's presence, so that Mr. Eldon left them there feeling
assured that they had a very happy home.

Thus two years rolled slowly away to Ethel and Blanche, Harry and
Nannette, bringing little change except that they all grew older and
taller; wiser too in some respects and more than ever fondly attached to
each other, and the next-door neighbors who treated them so kindly.



CHAPTER XI.


At length a change came suddenly to the little orphans. One unfortunate
day Mr. Coote was in an unusually bad humor, and under a very slight
provocation from Harry, who was more inclined for play than study, the
weather being warm and fields and garden seeming far more inviting than
books, he flew at the child in a rage and gave him a most unmerciful
beating; making it all the more severe because the little fellow
screamed so loudly that more than one neighbor came running to enquire
what was wrong with the child, supposing some dreadful accident had
befallen him, and Ethel, Blanche, and Nannette, lingering in the hall
without, wept and sobbed as if their hearts would break.

"Stop beating that little fellow! stop this instant, you inhuman wretch,
or I'll go for a policeman and have you arrested for cruelty to
children," exclaimed a very decent looking woman, the wife of the grocer
at the next corner, rushing up to the window of the room where the
beating was going on.

"You mind your own business," retorted Coote, letting go the child and
pushing him angrily away from him. "He's had no more than he deserves;
no, nor half so much, the idle, good-for-nothing little rascal."

"I only wish I had the strength to give you your deserts," returned the
woman in indignant tones. "I wouldn't hesitate for a minute, and you'd
find yourself good for nothing but bed for at least a week. The idea of
such a wretch as you calling himself a Christian! You're worse than a
heathen; and I declare I will have you arrested if you dare to strike
that child again."

Coote tossed his whip into a corner and glared at the woman, while poor
little Harry slunk away out the room, moving as if he had scarcely
strength to walk.

His sisters instantly gathered about him, crying bitterly. Ethel caught
him in her arms and held him close, sobbing out her grief and pity.

"O Harry, Harry, dear little brother, I am so, so, _so_ sorry for you!"

"I, too," sobbed Blanche. "Oh, I wish our uncles would take us away and
put us with somebody that would be kind and good to us."

"So do I," chimed in Nannette, tears rolling down her cheeks. "Oh, I
wish, we could live with Mrs. Keith and little Mary; if only they wanted
more children over there."

"Oh, hush, hush, Nan," said Ethel warningly; for Mrs. Coote was coming
toward them, having just seen the last of the enquiring neighbors out of
the gate, dismissing them with a promise that she would see to the
welfare of the children and not permit them to be abused.

"You needn't be afraid," she said to Ethel. "I've no intention of adding
to Harry's punishment, for I think he has already had quite enough. I
will help him upstairs, and the rest of you had best come along."

Taking the child's hand she led him a little way, but finding he was
hardly able to stand or move, she lifted him in her arms and carried him
up the stairs to the children's room, the others following. Laying him
on his bed she went from the room, to return almost immediately with a
basin of warm water and some soothing ointment, with which she proceeded
to make the poor little fellow as comfortable as possible, undressing
him and laying him in his little bed again, handling him almost as
tenderly as though he had been her own, though she said very little,
leaving the children in some doubt whether she did or did not approve of
her husband's barbarous treatment.

"I'm going down now," she said when she had finished. "You needn't have
any more lessons to-day, any of you. I think it would be as well for you
girls to stay here with Harry. You may play, sleep, or do whatever you
please so that you don't get into mischief or make a racket that can be
heard down in the study."

"Yes, ma'am, thank you," returned Ethel, "we'll be quiet as mice and as
good as we know how."

Mrs. Coote had hardly gone when the little boy raised himself in the bed
and looking with tearful eyes at his sisters grouped together beside
him:

"I'll be a man some o' these days," he sobbed, "and then if I don't take
that old rascal down and beat him harder'n he beat me to-day--it--it'll be
queer. Yes, I'll just thrash him till he can't move, so I will."

"I couldn't feel sorry for him, I couldn't," sobbed Ethel, "but, O
Harry, dear, we must try to forgive him; because the Bible says,
'Forgive your enemies. Forgive and ye shall be forgiven.' And we all
need to have forgiveness from God. So we will ask our Heavenly Father to
help us to forgive this cruel, cruel man, and to help us to get away
from him so that he can't ever hurt us any more."

"Yes," said Harry, "after he's had one good, sound thrashing from me. I
just ache to give it to him, and I will, just as soon as I'm big
enough."

"Maybe God will punish him before that," sobbed Blanche. "I'm sure I
hope so."

"Me too," said Nannette, wiping her tearful eyes. "I'll ask God to
punish the naughty man every time I say my prayers."

"Oh, no," said Ethel persuasively; "instead of that let's all ask Him to
take us away from here and put us in a good home where we'll never see
these cruel people any more."

While this talk was going on among the children Mrs. Coote had gone down
to the study, where she found her husband striding angrily to and fro.
He glanced at his wife as she came in and read scorn and contempt in the
look she gave him.

"So you, I see, are ready to uphold that young rascal in his wrongdoing;
and the meddlesome neighbors who come interfering here, as well," he
said wrathfully.

"The neighbors were perfectly right," she answered in an icy tone, "and
I'm not at all sure they haven't saved you from murder and the hangman's
rope. That's what your awful temper will bring you to some of these
days, if you don't learn to exercise some self-control."

She paused for an instant, then went on in a tone of stern
determination: "And I warn you to beware how you lay a hand on one of
those orphan children again; for as sure as you do I'll let the uncles
know all about this thing, and they'll be promptly taken away out of
your reach, inhuman brute that you are."

"Take care how you talk, woman," he said menacingly, though his cheek
paled at her threat. "I'm the stronger of the two, and you may live to
regret it."

"The stronger, but by far the more cowardly," she returned with a
disagreeable laugh. "I'm not afraid o' you, Patrick Coote; you're too
well aware of my worth to you to try doing me any deadly harm."

"Deadly harm?" he repeated, "who talks of deadly harm? 'Twas you that
said it, not I. But I'll have you, as well as those unruly youngsters,
to know who's master in this house."

So saying he took up his hat and walked out through the front yard and
down the street, Mrs. Coote standing at the window and sending after him
a glance of mingled contempt and disdain.

"I haven't wasted any fondling on those children," she said to herself,
"but I'd sooner take a beating myself than give that bit of a boy such a
thrashing for next to nothing, and I'll see that it isn't done again."

Mr. Coote stalked on down the street in by no means a happy frame of
mind, everybody he met seeming to him to regard him with contempt and
aversion; for the whole neighborhood was roused by the story of his
abuse of the little orphan boy unfortunately committed to his care--a
story quickly circulated by those who had heard Harry's screams and
rushed to the house to discover the cause and aid the sufferer.

One of his own parishioners, meeting, accosted him:

"See here, sir, you'd best be careful how you abuse those little orphans
in your care, for we Americans don't approve of any such doings and
you'll get yourself into trouble, you may depend on it."

With a muttered, "You will please attend to your own affairs and leave
me to attend to mine," Coote pushed past the speaker and stalked on his
way.

Harry's screams had been heard at Mr. Keith's, and the grocer's wife had
stopped at their gate on her way home to tell the story of the brutal
treatment the poor child had received. The two ladies shed tears over it
and longed to go to the rescue of the poor little ones, yet refrained
for the present, and took time to consider what would be the best plan
to adopt for their relief. They talked the matter over together, and
finally decided that the uncles must be informed of the true state of
affairs, when doubtless they would take steps to secure the children
from a repetition of such cruel treatment.

"Ethel writes a very neat hand," remarked Mrs. Keith. "I wonder she has
not complained to them long before this."

"Doubtless her letters, if she has written any, have all passed through
the hands of Mr. or Mrs. Coote and been suppressed if she ventured any
complaint of their treatment," returned Mrs. Weston.

"Yes, I dare say that is so," said Mrs. Keith. "Well, the very next time
Ethel comes over here I shall ask her if she would like to write to any
of her relatives and knows their address, offering her writing materials
and postage stamp and promising to mail the letter for her."

"A very good plan if she knows the address, which I doubt," returned
Mrs. Weston.

They did not know it, but Ethel in her room watching beside Harry, who
had sobbed himself to sleep, was considering the same question, namely,
how she could let her uncles know how badly she and her little brother
and sisters were being treated. She had been ignorant of the address
until the day before, when Mrs. Coote had bidden her carry out the
scrap-basket from the study and empty it into the coal scuttle in the
kitchen, and in doing so she had seen and secured an envelope bearing
the address of the firm of Eldon Brothers. It could do no harm to take
it, she thought, as otherwise it would only be burned up; and having an
ill-defined feeling that some day it might prove of service to her, she
had hastily put it in her pocket. It was there still, and now taking it
out she gazed at it with her tear-dimmed eyes, trying to think how she
could get writing materials and postage stamp, make use of them, and
post her letter, when written, without the knowledge of Mr. or Mrs.
Coote, who, if they knew, would be sure to prevent her from sending it.

"I will ask God to help me," she said to herself, and at once dropping
on her knees sent up a silent but most fervid prayer that a way might be
opened for the accomplishment of her wish.



CHAPTER XII.


It was some days before Ethel's prayers seemed to be answered or the
kind plans of Mrs. Keith and her mother could be carried out, for the
children were forbidden to go over there. They were permitted to be out
for only a short time each day for exercise, and were under strict
orders to keep to the side of the parsonage grounds farthest from Mr.
Keith's, though no reason was assigned.

But at last, it having occurred to Mrs. Coote that the very fact of the
children being so suddenly and entirely deprived of the privilege of
paying frequent visits to the home of little Mary--their favorite
resort--would tend to confirm any evil report that might have reached the
Keiths, she gave them leave, one afternoon, to go over there for an hour
or two; a permission of which they promptly availed themselves.

They received a hearty welcome from both, the ladies and little Mary,
accompanied with kind enquiries in regard to their health and why they
had stayed away so long.

"We weren't allowed to come," replied Harry; "they ordered us to stay
over there in their yard ever since that horrid man gave me such an
awful beating for just nothing at all 'cept that I couldn't study; 'twas
so hot, you know, and I wanted to be out-doors under the trees."

"Ah, you were lazy, were you, Harry?" said Mrs. Weston, with difficulty
repressing an inclination to smile.

"Yes, ma'am, I s'pose so," returned the little lad, "but boys can't help
that sometimes when it's warm and they're tired of lessons and the birds
are singing and the bees humming and all the little creatures out-doors
having such a good time."

"Ah, but the bees are gathering honey and the birds building their
nests, hatching their eggs, or rearing their young; they catch worms and
insects for them to eat, don't you know? I think all the creatures God
has made have something to do."

"But they don't work all the time, do they?" he queried. "And oughtn't
boys to have some time to play?"

"Oh, yes, indeed! some time--after the lessons have been learned and
recited."

"Well, I believe I'll go and play now with the girls out there under the
trees," he said, and ran out whistling and laughing.

But Ethel lingered behind. She had brought no work with her, but seemed
inclined to stay with the ladies.

"Sit down in this low rocking-chair, dear, and tell us what you have
been doing with yourself for the last week or two, that you have not
been in to see us," said Mrs. Keith, in a kindly, caressing tone.

"Oh, thank you, ma'am, I have wanted to come over here so badly! But it
is just as Harry said, we weren't permitted," said Ethel, taking the
offered chair. "Mrs. Coote always ordered us to stay on the other side
of the garden. She didn't say why, and we are never allowed to ask that
question."

"And that has been ever since the day we heard such dreadful screams
from Harry and saw people running to the parsonage door and windows to
find out what ailed him," said Mrs. Keith. "We were told that Mr. Coote
was beating him, and it seems it was true?"

"Yes, ma'am," replied Ethel, tears springing to her eyes. "Oh, I thought
he was just killing him! and for next to nothing. He's such a little
fellow, and wanted to play when he was told to study his lesson. It was
hot and close in the house, you know, and looked so pleasant out of
doors!"

"Yes. The little fellow ought to have attended better to his work, it is
true, and taken his recreation when school hours were over," said Mrs.
Keith, "but I cannot think he deserved treatment so severe as was given
him, and if I were in your place, Ethel, I should write to my uncles and
tell them all the facts. I think they would manage in some way to
prevent a repetition of such severe punishment, especially for so slight
an offence."

"Yes, ma'am, I have been wanting to write to my uncles and tell them
everything about it, but I couldn't, because I have no pen, ink, or
paper, no postage stamp, no money to buy anything with, and even if I
had I wouldn't be permitted to send a letter without Mr. or Mrs. Coote
reading it first. And if they found I'd written all that to my uncles
they'd whip me for doing it and tear my letter up instead of sending it,
or maybe put it in the fire."

"Well, dear child, if you want to write such a letter, I will furnish
you now with all the materials needed, and mail it for you when it is
done; because your uncles ought to be informed of the cruel treatment
received by their nephew and nieces." Mrs. Keith rose as she spoke,
opened her writing desk, took from it pen, paper, and stamped envelope,
and made Ethel seat herself at the table.

Ethel's eyes sparkled. She took from her pocket the envelope containing
the address of the Eldon brothers, and was about to seat herself before
the desk; but a sudden thought seemed to strike her.

"Oh, Mrs. Keith," she exclaimed, "I can't write fast, and I'm ever so
afraid that Mrs. Coote will call us to come home before I could possibly
get the letter done!"

"Well, then, suppose I write it at your dictation, and you sign it when
finished," said the lady.

Ethel gave a joyful assent, dictated quite rapidly, telling of Harry's
sore punishment for his slight fault, and the severity to which they
were all subjected more or less, and begging that they might be taken
from the care of those who treated them so ill; adding that she was
almost sure Harry would be a good boy if he were with someone who would
be kind and patient with him; but Mr. Coote was never that.

"There, I believe that is all I need to say, Mrs. Keith," concluded the
little girl.

"Well, dear child," said Mrs. Keith, "suppose you sit down here and add
in your own handwriting that this has been, written at your dictation,
and sign your name to it."

Ethel did so, Mrs. Keith directed an envelope, enclosed the letter in
it, and sent it by a trusty messenger directly to the post-office.

"Oh," asked Ethel, "do you think, Mrs. Weston and Mrs. Keith, that my
uncles can be angry with me for doing this?"

"No, dear, I am very sure they would never be willing to have their
brother's orphan children so ill treated," said Mrs. Weston, "and I
think they will not let many days pass before they come to see about
it."

Mrs. Keith expressed the same opinion and the little girl gave a sigh of
relief; then her face clouded.

"But oh, I shall be so sorry to go away where I can never see you dear
ladies!" she exclaimed, looking lovingly into their faces, while tears
gathered in her eyes--"or little Mary again."

"Don't worry about that, dear child," said Mrs. Keith kindly; "we are
not so very far from Philadelphia, and I think your uncles will let you
come sometimes to see us."

That comforted Ethel and she grew quite cheerful.

The Eldon brothers entered their office together the next morning and as
usual found a pile of letters, brought by the early mail, awaiting them.

"Ah, where does this come from, I wonder!" remarked Mr. George, taking
up one directed in a delicate female hand.

He broke the seal and glanced over the contents. "Ah!" he exclaimed, "a
post-script signed by our little niece Ethel. The letter was written by
her dictation, she says, because she cannot write very fast, and every
word in it is true. Dear, dear, what a wretch is that Coote!" Then he
read the missive aloud to his brother.

"The scoundrel! the unfeeling monster!" exclaimed Mr. Albert in hot
indignation. "He shall not be allowed another opportunity to abuse those
poor little ones. I'll go for them at once and have them safe in my own
house before night. I shall take them out of his clutches without a
moment's delay." He drew out his watch as he spoke, and glancing at it,
"There is barely more than time for me to catch the first train," he
said, "but I need no preparation."

"Except some money, I presume," said his brother, handing him a roll of
bank-bills which he had just taken from the safe.

"Ah, yes! that is very essential!" he returned, pocketing them and
taking up his hat. "Good-by; you may look for my return this afternoon
with the four children."

"Yes, I hope so," said his brother, "and in the meantime I shall do what
I can to prepare our wives to receive the poor little things and give
them a kind and cordial welcome."

Ethel and her little brother and sisters had just finished their dinner
when the door bell rang and their Uncle Albert's voice was heard in the
hall asking for them.

Ethel's heart beat fast with mingled hope and fear. Had he come in
response to her letter? and if so was it in anger toward her oppressors?
Her eyes turned enquiringly upon the face of Mrs. Coote, where she read
both surprise and suppressed wrath.

"Is this some of your doing?" she muttered menacingly; but before the
frightened child could reply the door opened and Mr. Coote put in his
head, saying:

"Mr. Eldon is here, asking to see the children. Let them come right in.
No help for it, Sarah," he added in a lower tone and with a look of
suppressed anger and apprehension. "I can't say yet whether it's any
tale-telling that's brought him; but if that's the case somebody'll have
to suffer for it." And he too looked menacingly at poor trembling little
Ethel.

"There then, go along all o'you," said Mrs. Coote, who had just finished
wiping their hands and faces, "and mind what you say and do, or you may
get yourselves into trouble."

Then Ethel spoke up bravely, "Don't be afraid, Nan," for the little one
looked sadly frightened and ready to cry; "we needn't any of us be
afraid of our own dear kind Uncle Albert," and with that they all
hastened into his presence.

He received them most affectionately, hugging and kissing them in turn.

"I have come to take you home with me," he said, "and we will start just
as soon as you and your luggage can be got ready. You may go and pack
all your belongings, for you shall never spend another night in this
house."

Then turning to Coote:

"And you, sir, may be thankful that after your brutal treatment of my
little nephew I allow you to escape with no greater punishment than the
loss of the salary that is due you for the care--such care as it has been
too! of these poor little helpless children--my deceased brother's
orphans. My blood boils with indignation when I think of it, and I feel
that it would be a satisfaction to thrash you within an inch of your
life. But I have decided simply to take the children where it will be
out of your power to torment and ill-use them as you have been doing,
leaving your punishment to Him who has said: 'Ye shall not afflict any
widow or fatherless children. If thou afflict them in any wise, and they
cry at all unto me, I will surely hear their cry; and my wrath shall wax
hot and I will kill you with the sword.' I wonder you are not afraid of
God's judgments lighting upon you, for in His Word He is called the
deliverer of the fatherless, their judge, their helper, and their
father. And you who profess to be His minister ought to be well
acquainted with His Word."

"And you who are only a layman, should not dare to so accuse and abuse
me--one of the clergy!" exclaimed Coote wrathfully, yet paling visibly as
he spoke. "Pray, sir, what proof can you bring of your insulting
accusations? which I declare to be false, for I have--according to
promise--treated these ill-behaved, rebellious children with all the
lenity and fatherly kindness I should had they been my own offspring."

The children were still lingering in the room listening in round-eyed
wonder to the strange and excited colloquy between the two men.

"Ethel, dear child," said her uncle turning to her, "do not fear to
speak out and tell me in the presence of this man how he has beaten and
abused you all, particularly your brother."

"You are going to take us away, uncle?" she asked, with a timid glance
at the wrathful countenance of Coote.

"Yes, at once; so that he will never again have an opportunity to
ill-use any one of you."

"He has been very cruel to us, uncle," Ethel said in reply; "to poor
Harry most of all. I'm afraid he would have killed him that last time if
the people hadn't come to the doors and windows and made him stop. Poor
Harry could hardly walk for days afterward," she added with a burst of
sobs and tears.

"Yes, uncle, he 'most killed me, and I've got some of the marks on me
yet," said Harry, pulling up his coat-sleeve and displaying some marks
on his arm. "Guess he would have killed me if folks hadn't come and
stopped him. But I'm going to pay him back well when I'm a big man. I'll
just thrash him till he can't stand."

"I think you'll forget about the smart and be willing to forgive him
before that," returned Mr. Eldon with a half smile, drawing the little
fellow to him and smoothing his hair caressingly.

Coote was striding angrily to and fro across the floor, clenching his
fists, grinding his teeth, and scowling at the little group as though
fairly aching to knock them all down.

Mrs. Coote was not there; she had lingered but a moment in the hall,
then, having heard the announcement of Mr. Eldon that he had come to
take the children away, had hastened to their room and set to work with
much energy and despatch to gather together and pack up all that
belonged to them.

"There now, my dears, go and get ready for your journey," said Mr.
Eldon, releasing Harry from his embrace and smiling kindly upon all
four. "Gather up all your possessions--at least all that you care to
keep. No doubt Mrs. Coote will help you with the work, and as soon as
you are ready we will start for the station." Then noting the look of
apprehension on each young face, he said: "Harry and Nannette may as
well stay here with me; so many of you would only be in Mrs. Coote's
way, and their hats and coats can be put on here."

"But they don't look so very well dressed, uncle," said Ethel
hesitatingly; "and wouldn't you like them to have their best clothes
on?"

"Ah, yes; that is well thought of," he replied. "Well, get them ready
first and send them down here to me; then follow as soon as you and the
trunk are ready."

At that all four hurried obediently from the parlor and up to the room
in which most of their time had been passed since their coming to the
house. Mrs. Coote was there, down on her knees, packing their trunk with
great expedition. She turned her head and looked grimly at them as they
entered.

"Somebody's been telling tales, I reckon," she remarked gruffly. "Well,
it'll rid me of a good deal of care and bother. I shall breathe freer
when you're gone, for you've been no end of trouble."

"I'm sorry if we have, ma'am," said Ethel. "I've really tried to be good
and helpful."

"Yes, you have, Ethel, and I've been fonder of you than I ever thought
to be of any child," returned Mrs. Coote, her voice softening. "But I've
got to give you up now, and there's no use fretting. There, children,
I've laid out all your best clothes on the bed. Get into them as fast as
you can while I finish packing your trunk."

They made haste to obey, Ethel and Blanche helping the younger two, and
in a very short time they and their trunk were ready.

In the meanwhile Mr. Eldon had settled with Mr. Coote in full for all
that was owing on the children's account; a carriage was waiting at the
gate, and the moment they appeared for their journey, he rose, told them
to say good-by, then took his leave, leading Nannette, while the other
three followed.

Mrs. Weston, Mrs. Keith, and little Mary were out on their own porch,
watching with interest what was going on next door, fearing they were
about to lose their little friends.

"Oh," cried Blanche, "there are our friends who've been so good to us
and whom we love dearly. Uncle Albert, mayn't we run over and say
good-by to them before we go?"

"Yes, certainly," he said. "I will go too and thank them for helping
Ethel to send me word that you were not well treated or happy here."

It had been a hasty farewell, as it was near train time, and some tears
were shed, but Mr. Eldon tried to comfort them all with the hope that
the separation need not be for so very long, inviting the ladies and
little Mary to visit his nephew and nieces at his house, and promising
some day to bring Ethel, Blanche, Harry, and Nannette to see them.



CHAPTER XIII.


For more than an hour after his brother's departure Mr. George Eldon was
very busy in his office, buying and selling; then came a lull for a
short space, giving him time to think again of Ethel's letter and what
might be done to secure a kindly welcome for the little orphans at his
own house and that of his brother.

"Albert will be back with them before night, and our wives ought to have
warning that they are coming. It would be hardly fair to take them
entirely by surprise. I promised my brother too, that I would endeavor
to prepare them for the unexpected arrival," he mused. "Well, I think I
can spare the time now as easily as later."

At that instant the door into the counting room opened and his eldest
son came in.

"Ah, George," said the father, "I was just about to call you. I am going
up home to see your mother and aunt, to tell them of the contents of
this letter," handing Ethel's missive to him as he spoke.

George took it, glanced rapidly over the contents, then turning to his
father with flushing cheeks and flashing eyes, "The inhuman scoundrel!"
he exclaimed, "You will take the poor little things away from him as
soon as possible, I hope."

"Yes; your Uncle Albert has gone for them and will doubtless have them
here before night. I must go up home at once with the news, leaving
matters here in your care until I get back."

"Yes, sir, I think I can attend to them to your satisfaction," returned
the son. "And I hope you will find mother and Aunt Augusta entirely
willing to take those poor little orphans in to share our homes. That
Coote has always seemed to me a fawning hypocrite, and I am sure of it
now."

"I am of pretty much the same opinion, and he shall never again, with my
consent, have an opportunity to abuse those little ones, or any child
committed to my care."

There had been some changes in Mr. George Eldon's family in the last two
years. A fall on the icy pavement one winter day had so injured Mrs.
Eldon's spine as to make her a cripple for life, never able to leave her
room unless carried from it. At first she felt the trial well-nigh
unendurable, but gradually she had grown submissive; gentle, patient,
and resigned; thankful too for the blessings still hers--a good home,
kind and affectionate husband, sons, and niece, a competent and
efficient housekeeper and abundant means. Also that she still had the
use of all her senses, her hands and eyes, so that she could read, sew,
and crochet, making herself useful to her family and helpful to the
needy.

In the family of Mr. Albert Eldon there had been little change except
such as time inevitably brings to all; the boys and girls were growing
up, Albert and Arabella were beginning to go into society, and the
younger ones had a governess, Miss Annie West, who also gave lessons in
music and the languages to Dorothy Dean, Mrs. George's niece.

Mrs. Augusta still devoted much of her time to novel-reading and what
she deemed the claims of society, yet paid a little more attention to
those of household, husband, and children.

Mrs. George, in an easy-chair and propped up with cushions, was busily
crocheting when she heard the front door open and shut, then her
husband's step on the stairs.

"Ah! I wonder what brings George home at this time of day?" was her
mental exclamation, and as he entered by the open door of her room she
turned toward him with a welcoming smile.

"A pleasant surprise, my dear!" she said.

"Yes, to me as well as yourself," he said, returning the smile. "How are
you now? Free from pain, I hope."

"Yes, quite comfortable, thank you. Ah, I see you have a letter," as he
drew it from his pocket, at the same time taking possession of a chair
close at her side.

"Yes, from my little niece Ethel." And without further preface he began
reading it aloud.

"Why, the poor little things!" she exclaimed when he had finished. "We
must send for them, George, and provide them with a better home, either
here or elsewhere. I never thought the Cootes could be so cruel."

"No, nor I. The letter came this morning. My brother and I were roused
to indignation by its perusal, and he has gone for the children--will
have them here, I confidently expect, sometime this afternoon."

"They shall be welcome," she returned. "Fortunately Mrs. Wood is fond of
children, and I dare say, being two years older, and having been so
cowed and kept down, they will be much more easily managed than they
were before."

"Yes, I hope so; and you need have no trouble whatever with them; our
good housekeeper and Dorothy can certainly do all that is needed. Will
you order the necessary preparations, or shall I?"

"I do not want to take too much of your valuable time," she replied,
"so, if you like to trust Mrs. Wood and me, I will talk matters over
with her and get her to do what is necessary."

"Very well, then, I will go at once to Augusta with the news, that she,
too, may have time for needed preparations."

He found Augusta in her dressing room, the older three of her daughters
and Dorothy Dean engaged in examining fashion plates and discussing
weighty questions in regard to what materials they should purchase for
their fall dresses, and in what style they should have them made up.

"Ah, I see I am interrupting a solemn council," said Mr. Eldon with
playful look and tone, "but do not be too much distressed; I shall take
but a very few minutes of your precious time, my own being equally
valuable." With that he opened and read aloud Ethel's letter.

All present seemed excited to indignation, Dorothy perhaps the most of
any.

"The poor little things!" she exclaimed. "Uncle, do have them brought
here at once, even if we must take the whole four."

"We'll not let you do that. We'll do our share," said Mrs. Augusta. "I
should never have been in favor of sending them to the Cootes if I had
dreamed they could be guilty of treating the poor little creatures with
such barbarous cruelty."

"No, nor would any of us," said Arabella. "Has papa gone for them, Uncle
George?"

"Yes, and will probably have them here in a few hours. I did not want
you or my wife taken by surprise, Augusta, so came up to forewarn you of
their expected arrival. And now I must hurry back to my business; so
good-morning to you all," and with the last word he bowed himself out of
the room.

"Dear me, what a shame it is!" exclaimed Dorothy. "I'd just enjoy having
that cruel wretch of a Coote thrashed within an inch of his life."

"I, too," said Olive. "How I wish papa and Uncle George had found him
out long ago; still more that they had never given him a chance to abuse
those poor children."

"I'm afraid we were none of us quite so kind to them as we might have
been," said Arabella, "but now we are going to have a chance to make it
up to them."

"Yes, remember that, all of you," said their mother. "Minnie, go and
tell Miss Norris I wish to see her at once if she is at leisure." Minnie
hastened to do the errand, the housekeeper came, listened with evident
interest to the story of the little orphan nephew and nieces expected to
arrive that afternoon, received Mrs. Eldon's directions in regard to the
necessary preparations, and at once set to work to carry them out.

So the little party, arriving in due time, received a hearty welcome in
both families and were made very comfortable, very happy; for though
domiciled in the two houses, they were together a great deal through the
day. Also they enjoyed their studies under the tuition of the kindest
and most patient of governesses.

Mrs. Wood too was very kind to Blanche and Harry; so were their uncles,
Cousins George and William, and Dorothy Dean. They seldom saw their Aunt
Sarah, but when they did, found her far kinder than she had been when
they were with her before. So were the relatives in the other house
also, and to the four young orphans life was far more enjoyable than it
had been since the death of their parents.

Yet there were days when things went wrong with them and they longed for
a home of their own where they could all be together. Ethel in especial
looked forward to such a time, and tried to learn all she could that
would enable her to earn money to make a home and support herself and
the others; and when any one of them was in trouble, she tried to cheer
and comfort that one with the hope that some day the bright dream would
become a reality.

She still indulged a faint hope that some day they would find, or be
found by their maternal grandparents; but lest they should not, she was
careful not to slacken her exertions to prepare for self-support. She
was obliging and helpful by nature, and her older cousins soon fell into
the habit of calling upon her to do their errands about the house, then
occasionally at the stores, and to assist them in dressing for parties
and calls, at length making quite a Cinderella of her. Her dress was
simple and inexpensive, while they wore silks and rich laces and
diamonds. She bore it all without murmur or complaint, making herself as
useful as she could, never confiding her plans and wishes to them, but
using her spare moments for the beautiful needlework taught her by Mrs.
Coote, hoping that at some future time she would be able to dispose of
it for money which would help in the carrying out of her plans for the
future of herself and dear brother and sisters.

Thus two years passed, bringing no remarkable event. Then one October
day--it was in the year 1859--Ethel, who had continued to feel a great
interest in the history of the country she now esteemed her own, was
much excited by the conversation she heard going on among her older
relatives, who were discussing the exciting topic of the raid of John
Brown into Virginia, and his seizure of the United States arsenal at
Harper's Ferry.

She was only a listener to the talk, but afterward she searched the
newspapers for information on the subject, and felt very sorry for John
Brown because he lost his life in trying to set men free, which she
thought was a noble thing to do--for to be a slave must be very dreadful,
and surely God had given everyone a right to freedom, unless he had
forfeited that right by some dreadful crime.

It was a time of great excitement among the Eldons as well as others;
the sons, who had been born in America, feeling it even more than their
fathers, who were but naturalized citizens. But they, as well as their
boys, were opposed to slavery and anxious for the preservation of the
Union.

George and William, the sons of the older Mr. Eldon, were frequently in
at their Uncle Albert's, talking over the subject with him and his
oldest son Albert; and George at length noticed the deep interest taken
by Ethel in all they were saying.

"Well, little coz," he said at length, "what do you think of it all?"

"Oh," she returned excitedly, "I do hope this great, grand big Union
won't be broken up! Do you think it will, Cousin George?"

"Oh, no," he said with a reassuring smile. "The Southerners are only
talking, I think; they would hardly be so foolish as to begin a war when
the far greater part of the Union would be opposed to them."

"Oh, I am glad to hear that!" she said with a sigh of relief, "for war
must be a dreadful thing."

"Yes; especially a civil war."

"Civil?" she returned in a tone of surprise. "I thought civil--was--was--I
understood that it was right and good manners to be civil to people."

"Ah, yes," he said, smiling and patting the small hand she had laid on
his knee, while gazing earnestly and enquiringly into his face; "it
sometimes means to be courteous, polite, well-bred, but when applied to
war it means a fight between people of the same race and country."

"And a dreadful kind of war it is when brother fights against brother,"
sighed his father, sitting near. "But I can hardly think it will come to
that in this case. I think there are few besides the leaders in the
South, who would be willing to imbrue their hands in the blood of their
brethren."

"And they are not oppressed, uncle?"

"No, not by any means; they have been having only too much, of their own
way and domineering over the rest of the nation. Slavery has had by no
means a good effect upon them; it has made them proud, haughty,
heartless, selfish, and cruel."

"No," said her Uncle Albert, "they have been the oppressors rather than
the oppressed; caring only for getting and keeping wealth and power for
themselves, and treating their fellow-citizens of the North as beneath
them; 'the mud-sills of the North,' they are calling us."

"It is easy to call names," remarked William; "that sort of warfare
requires neither courage nor talent; and so long as they content
themselves with that the North will, I think, let them alone severely;
but let them secede and attempt to set up a separate government and it
is at least doubtful if the loyal North will continue to let them
alone."

Ethel listened eagerly and her fears were relieved for a time. But the
very next day came the news that South Carolina had seceded, and it
seemed no one could tell what would follow. The daily papers were read
with eager interest. The Southern leaders seemed to be crazed, and
whirled their States out of the Union one after another without pausing
to learn the wishes of the rest of the people; many of whom were
strongly opposed to their action and certainly had as indisputable a
right to remain in the Union as those leaders to go out.

Ethel hardly understood what was going on, but continued to read the
papers and listen to the talk of her elders with a dazed and confused
feeling that a great danger was drawing near.

But one Saturday evening, April 13, 1861, news came flashing over the
wires that almost struck the hearers dumb with astonishment and dismay.
This was the despatch: "Fort Sumter has fallen after a terrific
bombardment of thirty-six hours."

People heard it with sinking of hearts. Was the Union to be destroyed?
Was it, could it be possible, that those who should have loved and
honored the dear old flag--the beautiful, starry emblem of our
liberties--had so insulted it? It was a bitter thought, and men wept as
at the loss of a dear and honored friend.

The Sunday that followed was a sad one; but by Monday morning a reaction
had come; at whatever cost the nation should live was the verdict of the
people; the President had written with his own hand a proclamation, and
the telegraph was flashing it east and west to every city and town:

"I, Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States, in virtue of the
power in me vested by the Constitution and the laws, have thought fit to
call forth, and do call forth, the militia of the several States of the
Union to the aggregate number of seventy-five thousand, in order to
suppress this combination against the laws, and to cause the laws to be
duly executed."

At the call patriotism awoke and showed itself in a furor of love to the
Union and the flag as the emblem of its power and glory, and rapid
voluntary enlistments for its defence followed, soon furnishing more
troops than the President had called for.

The young men in the Eldon families were as full of patriotic excitement
as any others, George and Albert being among the first volunteers in
their State, their fathers giving a ready consent, mothers and sisters
also, though many and bitter tears were shed over the parting, by Ethel
as well as the nearer relatives, for she had grown to love them both,
especially her cousin George.

Then the mothers and older girls joined the aid societies and busied
themselves with work for the soldiers--making shirts, knitting stockings,
scraping lint--and Ethel, full of interest for the cause and of pity for
those who must do the fighting for the Union, spent as much time as
could be spared from lessons and waiting upon her aunt and cousins, in
sharing in those labors; doing so gladly and without any urging or
solicitation; she only wished herself old enough to be a nurse, since,
being neither boy nor man, she could not enlist as a soldier.

The younger children, too, were anxious to help and took such part in
the work as their tender years permitted. It was hoped the war would not
last very long; almost everybody thought it would be over in a few
months; yet no one could be certain that his or her dear ones might not
be killed or sorely wounded in the meantime, or that the struggle might
not be prolonged far beyond the time for which enlistments were made at
the start.

Mrs. Weston and Mrs. Keith had not forgotten the Eldon children or
ceased to feel an interest in them, and occasionally Ethel had a letter
from one or the other, which she answered with great painstaking,
telling frankly such news of herself, brother, and sisters as she
thought they would care to hear.

A letter from Mrs. Weston came for her about the time that her cousins
left with the other Philadelphia troops in response to the President's
call, and from it she learned that Mr. Keith, too, had enlisted; also
some of his brothers living in Indiana.

"And now," continued Mrs. Weston, "we women who cannot do the fighting,
are banding together to do all in our power to add to the comfort of our
soldiers engaged in the struggle to save our dear country from being
rent in pieces. We expect to be very busy, but not too busy to be glad
to see you and your brother and sisters if you are allowed to pay us a
visit this summer. Mrs. Rupert Keith will probably be with us for a
time, perhaps all summer, but that need not interfere with a visit from
you little folks."

That invitation Ethel and the others were allowed to accept in the
summer vacation. How much had happened meantime! the attack on the
Massachusetts troops as they passed through Baltimore in response to the
President's call; the seizure of Harper's Ferry and Norfolk Navy Yard,
besides several battles, some in the East and some in the West.

And the very day of their arrival at Mr. Keith's came the sad news of
the battle of Bull Run, speedily followed by the President's call for
three hundred thousand more men to suppress the rebellion.

It was a time full of excitement, of almost heart-breaking distress,
over the disaster, followed by the determination that the rebellion must
and should be crushed, cost what it might.

Mrs. Rupert Keith was in sore anxiety and distress till the welcome news
arrived that her husband, though in the battle, had been neither wounded
nor taken prisoner. The other ladies, though in deep distress for the
land they loved, were suffering less keenly than she, as they knew that
Mr. Donald Keith was too far West to have been in the battle.

Ethel and Blanche wept bitterly, fearing that their cousins George and
Albert had been in the fight and were killed or wounded. But in a day or
two a letter from Dorothy brought the welcome news that though among the
troops engaged, they had escaped unharmed.



CHAPTER XIV.


As the war went on and Ethel heard frequent allusions among the older
people to its great expense and the rapid rise in the price of all the
necessaries of life, she felt an increasing desire to be able to support
herself, and her brother and sisters. Except to them she said nothing to
any one of her relatives of that ardent wish, though constantly
revolving plans in her mind and asking help of God to carry out some one
of them.

She was so young, however, that for several years praying, thinking, and
trying to learn every useful art that those about her could teach, was
all she could do.

Every summer she, Blanche, Harry, and Nannette had the great pleasure of
a visit to Mr. Donald Keith's; and to the ladies there Ethel opened her
heart, earnestly asking advice as to her future course.

Both replied, "You are too young yet to go into any kind of business,
and are doing the right thing in trying to learn all you can." That gave
her great encouragement, though she felt it hard to wait, and often
wished she could grow up faster.

The Cootes had moved away in less than a year after the children were
taken from them, and another and very different man, with a lovely wife
and several children, had taken charge of the church and possession of
the parsonage; all of which added very much to Ethel's enjoyment of her
visit to that neighborhood.

Both there and at home the war was ever the principal and most absorbing
topic of conversation; each victory for the National arms brought
joy--alas! not unmingled with poignant regret, often almost
heart-breaking sorrow for the slain--to each family. George and Albert
Eldon were in many engagements, both were wounded at different times,
yet they escaped without loss of life or limb. First one and then the
other came home on a short furlough--for they had re-enlisted for the
war--were made much of by friends and relatives, their parents and
sisters in particular, and wept over anew when at the expiration of
their time of leave they went back to rejoin their regiment; for they
belonged to the same one.

Mrs. Keith or her mother occasionally wrote to Ethel. In March of 1865 a
letter came, telling the young girl they would be in the city the next
day to get a sight of Mr. Rupert Keith--who had been at home for a time,
a paroled prisoner, but was now returning to his regiment, having been
exchanged--and of his nephews, Percy Landreth and Stuart Ormsby, lads of
seventeen, who had just enlisted and were with their uncle on their way
to the seat of war--and inviting her to meet them at the station, as they
would like to see her and felt sure she would like to see the soldiers,
who were ready to give their lives for the salvation of their country.

Ethel was delighted and easily obtained permission to go.

The troops dined in Philadelphia, and the Keith party had time for a
brief interview with their relatives and friends with whom Ethel was.
She was introduced to and shook hands with them. She was pleased with
the looks of both uncle and nephews, and their evident ardent devotion
to the cause of the Union for whose defence they had enlisted.

She and others watched with tear-dimmed eyes as again the troops took up
their line of march for the South, keeping step to the music of the
band. Would they ever tread those streets again? or were they doomed to
die on some battlefield, or starve and freeze in those filthy
prison-pens of Andersonville, Belle Isle, and Libby? Ah, who could say?
And when would this dreadful war be over?

The last soldier had disappeared from sight, and with a sigh Mrs. Keith
turned to Ethel.

"We have a little shopping to do, my dear," she said; "so will have to
bid you good-by unless you may go with us and care to do so."

"Thank you, ma'am, I think I must go home now, when I have done an
errand or two for Aunt Augusta and Cousin Adelaide," replied the young
girl. "But aunt told me to invite you ladies to go home with me to
dinner. Won't you?"

"No, my dear; we must finish our shopping and hurry home to our little
folks, who are sure to be wanting mother and grandma. Take our thanks to
your aunt, and tell her we hope to see her at our house one of these
days."

So the good-bys were said, and the two ladies walked away in one
direction and Ethel in another.

She visited several of the larger stores, making small purchases with
which she had been entrusted, then turned into a side street and was
pursuing her homeward way, when passing a drygoods retail store some
little fancy articles in the window attracted her attention, and she
went in to look at them more closely and price them.

She was waited on by a middle-aged woman of very pleasing countenance,
with whom she presently fell into conversation. There were ready-made
articles of women's and children's wear on the counter and in the show
case, and in the back part of the store was a sewing machine with a
partly finished garment upon it.

"I see you have some very pretty aprons and other ready-made things for
children," remarked Ethel, "and you make them yourself, I suppose?"
glancing toward the machine as she spoke.

"Yes, miss, but I don't get much time for sewing since I have no one but
myself to tend the store; except when mother finds time now and then to
wait on a customer. That's not often, though, for the house-work and the
children keep her busy pretty much all the time from daylight to dark."

"Then I should think it might pay you to have a young girl to wait on
customers."

"Yes, miss, if I could get the right sort; but most young things are
giddy and thoughtless, some inclined to be saucy to customers, and
others not perfectly honest. I've had several that tried me in those
ways; then I had a really good, honest, and capable one; but she had to
leave because her father and brothers went off to the war, the only
sister left at home took sick, and she--Susy, the one that was with
me--had to go and help the poor mother to do the work and take care of
the invalid."

A thought--a hope that here might be an opening for her--had struck Ethel,
and timidly she put a few questions in regard to the work required, the
time that must be given to it, and the wages paid.

The woman answered her queries pleasantly and patiently, then asked her
if she knew of someone who wanted such a situation and would be at all
likely to suit.

"No, I--I am not certain, but I think perhaps she might if--if her friends
won't object," stammered Ethel confusedly and with a vivid blush.

"Is it yourself, miss?" asked Mrs. Baker, the storekeeper, smiling
kindly into the sweet, childish face. "I feel right sure we could get
along nicely together if you're willing to make the trial, though to be
sure you're rather young."

"Oh, I should like to," returned Ethel in eager delight. "I--I'm an
orphan, and have a dear little brother and two little sisters, and I
want to earn something to make a home for us all, so that we can be
together and be independent."

"That's right; independence is a grand thing. But if it's not an
impertinent question, where and how do you live now?" asked Mrs. Baker,
with a look of keen interest.

"We have two very kind uncles who give us homes--two of us in one house
and two in the other. We see each other every day, but that's not just
the same as living together."

"Well, but, dear child, you couldn't support four--yourself and two
others."

"Not now, but maybe after a while, if--if I learn how to make money and
work very hard and don't spend any more than is really necessary."

"Your wish to do all that does you a deal of credit, but I'm afraid you
can hardly accomplish so much. My husband is gone to the war, and it's
almost more than I can do to make a living for mother and the children
and myself. So you see I couldn't pay a big salary to a young thing like
you or to anybody; especially till you, or whoever it was, had learned
something of the business."

"Oh, no, certainly not! But I'd willingly work for a little till I learn
enough to be really worth more," returned Ethel half breathlessly; for
she seemed to see some hope--some prospect of an opportunity to begin her
long-desired effort to attain to the little home she and Blanche, Harry
and Nannette, had been talking of for years.

"Well, I like your looks, and--perhaps we might try it," Mrs. Baker said
after a moment's cogitation, "though I'm afraid maybe your folks may not
be quite willing."

Ethel colored at that. "I think I'll try it, if you are willing," she
said. "I think I could sell goods--wait on customers, I mean, make
change, and all that; and I know how to use the sewing machine--we have
one at my uncle's where I live, and I've learned on it. So I could help
with that, if you want me to. Indeed, I'd try to make myself so useful
that you wouldn't want to get rid of me," she added with a smile.

"I don't believe I should," returned Mrs. Baker pleasantly. "Well, you
may come and try it, if you like."

"Oh, thank you!" exclaimed Ethel, her eyes shining. "When shall I
begin?"

"To-morrow, if you like; but if you're really decided to come we'd
better settle about the terms. You'd expect to board and sleep here, I
suppose?"

"I suppose so, if you want me to," returned Ethel with a sigh, thinking
of Nannette's distress on learning that she was to be left alone at
Uncle Albert's.

"Yes, I'd rather you would," said Mrs. Baker. "I've a right nice little
bedroom for you opening into mine. Shall I show it to you?"

"Yes, if you please."

They went into the back part of the house, leaving the store in the care
of Mrs. Ray, the mother of Mrs. Baker, up a narrow winding stairway and
into a small room opening on one side into the hall, on another into a
larger bedroom. Everything looked neat and clean, but the furniture was
scant and plain, by no means an agreeable contrast to the room Ethel now
occupied at her uncle's, or indeed with any room in his large and
commodious dwelling.

Ethel was conscious of some sinking of the heart at the thought of the
not pleasant exchange, but independence was sweet; still sweeter the
thought of getting even one step nearer the realization of her dream of
the little home of their own for herself, brother, and sisters.

And it was quite as good a room--as well furnished at least--as the one
they had occupied at Mr. Coote's.

Mrs. Baker could almost read the young girl's thoughts in her speaking
countenance.

"I dare say your room at your uncle's must be far better furnished and
larger than this," she remarked. "I wish for your sake I had a nicer one
to offer you."

"But one can't have everything in this world," returned Ethel, forcing a
smile, "and I had rather be independent even in a small and poorly
furnished ten by ten room than living on somebody else in a palace."

"That's a right feeling, I think," said Mrs. Baker. "I don't have any
great amount of respect for folks that are willing to live at other
people's expense when they might take care of themselves."

With that she led the way down the stairs and into the store again,
where they continued their talk till they came to a definite
arrangement. It was that Ethel should come in a day or two and try how
she liked the business, and how well she could suit her employer. She
told of the needlework she had been doing at odd moments for the past
years since her return to the city, and of which she had now accumulated
a large supply, and asked if Mrs. Baker would like to buy them of her
for sale in the store.

"I don't know," was the reply in a meditative tone. "Bring them along if
you like and let me see them. I'm inclined to think your better plan
would be to buy some muslin and make up the garments; then sell them on
your own account here in the store; you may do it and welcome."

"Oh, thank you! how kind you are!" exclaimed Ethel joyously. Then with a
promise to be there early the next day, she bade good-by and hastened on
her homeward way in a nutter of excitement. She was, oh, so glad that at
last a prospect was opening before her of being some day able to earn
money for the support of herself, and her brother and sisters. And how
delightful that she could at once relieve her uncles of all expense for
her own maintenance. They would surely be pleased that she was to become
at once self-supporting; for only a day or two before this she had
overheard some talk between her cousins Arabella and Olive in which they
spoke of the expense their father and uncle were at in supporting their
orphan cousins, pronouncing it a shame that it should be so now when
everything was so costly in consequence of the war.

It had made Ethel feel very badly, and greatly increased her longing
desire to be able to earn her own living; and surely, taking all this
into consideration, her uncles must approve of the effort she was about
to make.

And it could hardly be worse to work in that store for so pleasant and
kind a woman, as Mrs. Baker evidently was, than to be expected to wait
at all times and seasons upon her aunt and cousins, meekly receiving and
obeying all their orders, and bearing fault-finding and scolding without
retort or remonstrance, no matter how unkind and unjust she might feel
it to be. The only hard part would be the separation from her brother
and younger sisters, particularly Nannette, who was so accustomed to
lean upon her and had been so long her special charge. The tears would
fall as she thought of that.

But suddenly realizing that she had certainly been out much longer than
she had expected, and would probably be assailed with a torrent of
reproaches on her arrival at home, she hastily wiped away her tears and
quickened her steps.

Her reception on her arrival was even worse than she had feared.

"Mrs. Eldon wants you up there in her dressin' room right away, Miss
Ethel," said the girl who opened the door and admitted her in answer to
her ring.

"Very well," Ethel replied, and tripped lightly up the stairs, though
her heart beat at the prospect before her.

She found her aunt lying idly on the sofa in her dressing gown and
slippers, her hair in curl papers, and a paper-covered novel in her
hand. "Well, miss," she exclaimed, "a pretty time you have been gone,
leaving me lying here with nobody to read to me; for your cousins are
all too busy of course, and not one of them has a voice so well suited
to allay the nervousness that drives me so nearly distracted."

"I'm sorry, Aunt Augusta," replied the young girl in a patient tone. "I
did not mean to stay so long, but I had some errands----"

"Oh, did you match that lace?"

"Yes, ma'am," Ethel answered, taking a little roll from her pocket.
"Here it is."

"Then make haste and carry it to the sewing room, and tell Miss Finch to
baste it in the neck and sleeves of that new black silk of mine. Then
leave your hat and sack in your own room and come here and read to me."

Ethel, though longing to go in search of Nannette, from whom she must
part, in a large measure, so soon, also to consider and gather together
what she would need to take with her to Mrs. Baker's, obeyed the order
without any show of reluctance, and spent the next hour in reading to
her aunt.

By that time Mrs. Eldon had fallen asleep, perceiving which the young
girl stole silently from the room and went to her own.

But she had scarcely reached it and shut herself in when the door was
opened again by someone on the outside and Arabella put in her head,
asking, "Where's that sewing silk I told you to get me? and the buttons?
did you match them?"

"Yes; here they are," returned Ethel, taking them from her pocket and
handing them to her cousin.

"And why did you not bring them to me at once when you got home?"

"Aunt Augusta has kept me busy ever since."

"You are not in her room now, are you?" queried Arabella sarcastically.

"No, but I have just come from it, and I really forgot all about the
purchases for you, Arabella."

"Well let me advise you not to forget so readily another time," was the
haughty rejoinder, and Arabella hurried away; but Ethel heard her remark
to Minnie and Olive as she went into the room across the hall, "That
girl isn't worth her salt, and papa doing everything for her--feeding,
clothing, and educating her. Really it would be a fine thing for him and
us if she'd show spirit enough to go off and earn a living for herself."

"She's too young," said Olive, "papa wouldn't think of letting her do
it; and after all she is quite useful to us--doing many a little job of
mending and fixing that we wouldn't care to do for ourselves."

"Well, yes, she does; but if she were not here we'd do them ourselves
and papa would be saved that much needless expense."

"Needless?"

"Yes; for she is now old enough to earn her own living. There's many a
younger girl than she doing that."

"Nonsense! you know well enough, that neither papa nor Uncle George
would let her do it," Ethel heard her cousin Minnie exclaim; but then,
with a sudden recollection that she was hearing what was perhaps not
intended for her ear, she closed the door with tears of wounded feeling
rolling down her cheeks, and began her work of gathering together
articles of clothing and other things she must take with her to her new
abode.

She was glad that she had said positively she would go, for if her
uncles should object she could tell them she had made a promise and must
be allowed to keep it. Yet, oh, how she dreaded the telling!

At the six o'clock dinner she was very silent and a close observer might
have detected traces of tears on her cheeks, but her uncle's thoughts
were upon the news of the day and some business transaction, and he
failed to notice anything peculiar about his little niece.

On leaving the table he went into the library and took up the evening
paper. His wife and older daughters had gone to their own apartments to
dress for an evening party or concert, the younger children to the
playroom, and he was alone till Ethel stole quietly in after him.

He glanced up at her as she drew near his chair.

"What is it, Ethel, my dear? have you something to say to me?" he asked
pleasantly, "something you want no one else to hear?" Then noticing how
her color came and went, that her eyes were full of tears and she was
trembling visibly, "Why, what is it, child?" and he drew her near to his
side, put an arm about her as he spoke, and bade her not to be afraid to
tell him all that troubled her.

"Oh, uncle, you are so kind!" she sobbed, the tears now rolling down her
cheeks; "I do love you so, but--but I can't bear to stay here and be such
an expense and burden to you when you have so many children of your own
to provide for and I ought to be earning my own living."

"Tut, tut, who has put all that nonsense into your head?" he asked in a
tone of mingled amusement and irritation. "I won't have it. I am
entirely able to take care of my brother's little girl as well as my
own. So stop crying, dry your eyes, and be as happy and merry as you
can, nor ever think that uncle grudges you your home, victuals, and
clothes."

"Oh, I don't, I don't think that, dear Uncle Albert," she said, putting
her arms about his neck and kissing him with ardent affection; "but I'm
almost a woman now and I want to earn my own living and, as soon as I'm
able, to help my brother and sisters; and, and--oh, please don't be angry
with me, but I--I've made an engagement to be a clerk in a little store
with a very nice kind woman who will treat me just like one of the
family and----"

"Is it possible, Ethel!" exclaimed Mr. Eldon, and his tone was full of
displeasure. "Indeed I shall allow nothing of the kind. Let my brother's
daughter go into a store? No, indeed! not while I have abundant means to
support her as well as my own family."

"But, uncle, I've promised," sobbed Ethel, "and you know we must keep
our promises."

"I dare say the woman will release you from the promise; at least for a
consideration, if not without. Ah, here comes your Uncle George," as
just then that gentleman entered the room.

"What do you think, brother? This foolish child has--without consulting
you or me, or anybody else for that matter--engaged herself as clerk to a
woman keeping a little thread and needle store."

"Well, that's astounding news!" exclaimed Mr. George Eldon, seating
himself and looking very hard, with something of a frown on his face, at
Ethel. "Come here, child, and tell me all about it."

Ethel obeyed, wiping her eyes and saying pleadingly, "Please, uncle,
don't be angry with me. I--I can't bear to be such an expense to Uncle
Albert now when I'm getting so old, and so----"

"Ay, yes, very big and very old," he returned, taking her hand and
drawing her to him; "so big and so old that it must cost a great deal to
feed and dress you. Uncle Albert ought to be very glad to get rid of
such an expense. And you are never of any use; don't do any errands for
Aunt Augusta or her daughters or make yourself useful in any way." He
looked so grave and spoke in such a serious tone that Ethel felt
puzzled.

"I have tried to be of use, uncle," she said humbly, "but I know they
can do very well without me. And I want to learn to make money, so that
I can help Blanche and Harry and Nannette; because after a while it will
cost a great deal to clothe and feed and educate them; and you and Uncle
Albert have your own children to take care of."

"Well, really! she's not so much of a baby as I had thought," he said,
looking searchingly into her face with a grim sort of a smile on his
own. "How old are you, Ethel, my sage niece?"

"In my sixteenth year, uncle. So you see I'm not a baby but almost a
woman."

"Ah, well! let us hear all about these plans and prospects."

Thus encouraged, Ethel went at once into all the particulars of her
interview with Mrs. Baker, what she had engaged to do, and what she
hoped to accomplish. Her uncles listened attentively, and finding they
could not persuade her to a willing relinquishment of her project,
finally consented to allow her to make the trial; stipulating however
that if she found the exertion too great, or for any reason was unhappy
or uncomfortable in her new quarters, she should at once give up the
effort at self-support, and return to her present home; Uncle Albert
assuring her of a warm welcome there.



CHAPTER XV.


From the library Ethel went up to the schoolroom, where Nannette and the
younger cousins were engaged with their tasks for the morrow.

"Oh, I'm so glad you've come at last, Ethel, dear," said Nannette. "It
always seems lonesome without you, and besides I want your help with
this lesson; it's so hard, and you always know how to explain things and
make them easy."

Ethel's eyes filled. What would Nan, dear little Nan, do without her big
sister, who had always tried to bear every burden for her? But
conquering her emotion by a great and determined effort, she took a seat
by her little sister's side and gave the needed help.

The children were required to study only one hour in the evening, and
soon books were laid aside and they ran off to the nursery for a game of
romps before going to bed. But Ethel lingered behind, and Miss Olney,
the governess, presently enquired in a kindly tone if there was anything
she wanted to say to her. Then Ethel's story came out, and with tears
she confessed that the hardest part was the leaving of Nannette without
her sisterly care and assistance with her tasks.

"Never mind that, dear child," Miss Olney said, softly stroking the
young girl's hair; "I will take your place in that. And though I am
sorry indeed to part with so docile and industrious a pupil as yourself,
I think you are doing just right; and I believe the Lord will bless and
help you. And you know you will not be far away and we may hope to see
you frequently. From what you tell me of Mrs. Baker I feel assured that
she will prove a kind and pleasant employer, making you feel yourself
just one of the family--not a stranger about whom they care nothing. Also
I think the knowledge that you can come back to your home here at any
time if you will, sure of a welcome from your kind uncle--and I dare say
all the family--will make it all the easier for you to be happy in your
new surroundings."

"Yes, ma'am, my uncles are very, very kind to me, to my brother and
sisters too; and Harry and the girls can come to Mrs. Baker's sometimes
to see me; any of the rest of course, but I hardly suppose my aunt,
uncles, or cousins will care to do that."

"But possibly I may, one of these days," returned Miss Olney with a
smile.

"I'd be delighted to see you," Ethel said, her eyes shining. "Oh, I
don't think I need feel unhappy or as if I were alone in the world.
Would you tell Nan about it to-night, Miss Olney?"

"No, I think not. Let her sleep in peace. I wouldn't tell her until
after breakfast to-morrow."

Ethel intended to act in accordance with that advice, but on going to
her own room found Nan there standing with her eyes fastened upon the
trunk her sister had been packing.

"Why, what's this trunk doing here?" she asked. "Are we going away,
sister? Oh, I hope it's to visit at Mr. Keith's again, though I didn't
suppose we'd be going there so early in the season."

"No, we are not, Nan, dear," returned Ethel in trembling tones, and
catching her little sister in her arms she held her close, kissing her
again and again while the great tears rolled down her cheeks and sobs
almost choked her.

"O, Ethel, what's the matter?" cried Nan in affright. "Oh, don't say
you're going away from me! If you are going you must take me along, for
I could never, never do without you! You know I couldn't."

Ethel struggled with her emotion, and presently finding her voice, "I'm
not going very far, Nan, dear," she said with a fresh burst of sobs;
"and I ought not to cry for it's best I should go--it will be the best in
the end I'm sure, and our uncles are willing."

"Going where?" asked Nan wildly. "Oh, you shan't go! I can't do without
you, you know I can't!"

"But it's to make the home for you and Blanche and Harry and me;
besides, I'll not be far away and we can often visit each other, and
when at last we get the dear home, oh, how happy we shall be!"

"But where are you going? and how do you expect to make the home?"

In answer to that Ethel told the whole story, winding up with, "You see,
Nan, dear, it will not be so very hard; in fact, I think I shall like it
very much--it will be so nice to feel that I am earning money toward the
dear home we shall surely have some day. The worst of it is leaving you;
but then it is not at all as if I were going far away; we can see each
other very often, perhaps almost every day, and you can tell me all your
little secrets just as you always have, and whatever I can do to help
you I will. You're sure of that, aren't you, darling little sister?"

"Yes, yes; but oh, I shall miss you so much! I don't see what I can do
without you."

"You won't be all alone, dear," returned Ethel soothingly; "the dear
Lord Jesus will be just as near and able to help and comfort you as
ever, and just as ready to hear your prayers as if you were a woman. You
won't forget that?"

"No; but oh, I shall want you too!" wailed Nan, hiding her face on
Ethel's shoulder.

"But, remember, I'm not going far away, dear Nan, and we may see each
other very often," repeated Ethel. "Besides, you will be here with dear
Uncle Albert; and the cousins are almost always kind nowadays. Now let
us kneel down and say our prayers and then get into bed and go to sleep,
and you will feel better in the morning."

"O Ethel, is this the last time we'll sleep together?" sobbed Nan,
creeping into her sister's arms as they laid themselves down upon the
bed.

"For a while, I suppose," returned Ethel, trying hard to speak
cheerfully. "But don't think about that, dear Nan, but about the good
time coming, when we shall have our own home--all four of us together--and
oh, such a good, happy time!"

"But oh, it will be so long to wait," sighed the little girl, and Ethel
felt like echoing the sigh, for her heart was very sore over Nan's
distress as well as her own sorrow, that they must now learn to live
apart, at least for a time. But both at length wept themselves to sleep.

The situation did not look very much brighter to them in the morning,
and there were traces of tears upon the cheeks of both when they took
their places at the breakfast table.

Their aunt had not come down. She was seldom present at that early meal.
But all the cousins except Arabella were in their places, and it seemed
that all the older ones looked askance and with no very pleasant
expression at her.

But her uncle said good-morning in a very kindly tone, and heaped her
plate and Nannette's with the most tempting viands the table afforded.

Ethel's heart was very full. She ate with but little appetite and had
finished her meal before any of the rest had satisfied their appetites.
Her uncle saw it, and on leaving the table called her into the library,
where he could speak to her alone.

"Well, my child," he said, "I hope you have thought better of it by this
time and do not want to leave us."

At that Ethel's tears began to fall. "I'm sorry, oh, so sorry, to leave
you, uncle," she replied, "but you know promises have to be kept, and I
did promise to try it. So please don't be angry with me."

"I am sorry, like yourself, my dear child," he said; "but do not blame
you. Perhaps it is best you should try the plan; for as you can come
back whenever you wish, it will not be risking a great deal, and I fear
you will never be content until you have made the experiment. Your aunt
and cousins all know about it and naturally are rather displeased,
thinking it a proof that you do not value your home here as you might."

"Oh, uncle, how can they think that! I am very, very grateful for your
kindness in giving me such a home for so many years; but it would be
asking too much of you to keep on supporting me and my sister Nannette
now when I have grown old enough to do something for myself and may
hope, if I begin at once to learn to make money, that in a few years I
may be able to help her and Blanche and Harry till they too are able to
earn their own living. Don't you really think, uncle, that it is what is
right and best for me to do?"

"That is a question we need not discuss now, since you are decided to
try it," he said, looking at his watch. "Well, child, I must be off to
my business now; so let me kiss you good-by, and do not forget that if
you want to come back at any time, your Uncle Albert's door is always
open to you--his dead brother's daughter." He took her in his arms and
caressed her tenderly as he spoke.

"Dear uncle, you have always been so good, so good and kind to me!" she
sobbed, clinging about his neck. "Oh, don't ever think for one minute
that it's because I don't love you dearly, dearly, that I'm going away."

"No, I do not think that," he said soothingly, caressing her hair and
cheek with his hand, "but if you come back soon to stay with me, I shall
think that is a proof that you do love me."

"Indeed, indeed, I do!" she exclaimed earnestly, the tears coursing down
her cheeks as she spoke. "And mayn't I come here to see you when I wish
and can be spared from the store?"

"Certainly; and it is possible I may some day call in upon you. Give me
your address."

She gave it, and he wrote it down in his notebook.

"How soon do you go?" he asked.

"I promised to be there by nine o'clock this morning," she replied.

"So soon? Well, then I think it will not be best for you to see your
aunt before starting. She is not likely to be up and would not wish to
be disturbed, and you will be in again soon. So just leave your good-by
with the girls."

Ethel was well content with that arrangement, for she had dreaded the
parting interview with Mrs. Eldon; besides she was pressed for time to
finish her packing and take leave of the others.

The adieus of her cousins were very coldly spoken, and no interest shown
in her new enterprise. That saddened her, though she had hardly expected
anything else. But the parting with Nannette, who wept and clung to her
in an almost frantic abandonment of grief and despair, was the hardest
thing of all. Blanche and Harry also were much distressed over the
parting, but forgot their own sorrow in efforts to soothe and comfort
poor little Nannette. At last Blanche succeeded in doing so in a measure
by promising that when they were out for their walk that afternoon they
would all go to see Ethel in her new abode.

"Oh, yes, so you must! That's a good idea, Blanche," exclaimed Ethel. "I
don't think Mrs. Baker will mind, and I shall be just as glad to see you
as you will be to see me."

"But are we sure to be able to find the place?" asked Harry, standing
near. "Here, I'll write it down--street and number, I mean," taking a
small blank book from his pocket as he spoke, "and then we'll be sure
not to forget."

"That's right, Harry," Ethel said with a faint smile. "I think you are
going to make a good business man, as Uncle Albert says." She gave the
requested information, then a hasty and last good-by to each and hurried
away, leaving Nannette in tears, the other two looking distressed and
woe-begone.



CHAPTER XVI.


Ethel left her uncle's house in tears, but before reaching her
destination had wiped them away and assumed an air of determined
cheerfulness. Mrs. Baker gave her a kindly reception, said she was glad
to see her, hoped she would never find reason to regret having come, and
bade her sit down by the stove and get well warmed before taking off her
hat and sack, for it was a cold, blustering March day.

"We'll not be likely to have much custom to-day," she remarked
presently; "it's so raw and cold out that I should think folks that have
no particular call to go abroad would be likely to stay at home. Perhaps
it's a good thing for us, as we'll have time to look over the bits of
needlework you were telling me of. You have brought them along, I
suppose?"

"I put them in my trunk," replied Ethel.

"And that's come and been carried up to your room; and when you're right
warm you may bring them down, if you choose."

Ethel presently availed herself of the permission, and Mrs. Baker and
her mother, Mrs. Ray, both examined the work with interest. "I think
they are very handsome indeed, and shouldn't wonder if she'd find a
customer for them--some of them, anyhow--directly," remarked the old lady.
"I never saw as pretty work done by one so young."

"I quite agree with you, mother, and hope she'll make a good deal on
them," returned Mrs. Baker, with a pleasant smile into Ethel's face, now
rosy with pleasure at their warm commendation of her work. "I advise you
to keep on, Ethel, as you tell me you have been doing, using spare
moments in adding to your stock, and I think you'll find it paying you
well one of these days," she continued, addressing the young girl. "If
you wish, I'll buy a piece of muslin for you some day soon when I'm out
purchasing goods for the store. I think maybe I can get a better bargain
than you could, seeing you are so young and not used, as I am, to such
business; then I'll help you with the cutting out of the garments, so
that they'll be ready when you can find time to work on them."

"Oh, thank you, ma'am," exclaimed Ethel, tears of gratitude springing to
her eyes, "you are very kind to me."

"Tut, child, I haven't done anything yet to speak of," laughed the
kind-hearted woman. "But I want to do by you as I'd want anyone to do by
my little Jenny, if she should ever be left fatherless and motherless,
poor little soul!" glancing with moistened eyes at her four-year-old
daughter, who was playing about the floor.

"Dear little thing!" Ethel said, holding out her hand to the child, who
had paused in her play to look wonderingly from one to the other, "she
reminds me of what my little sister Nan was when God took our father and
mother to heaven."

"My papa aint gone dere," lisped the little one, gazing up into Ethel's
face; "he's gone to de war to fight de rebs."

"Has he?" said Ethel; "so have two of my cousins. Oh," turning to Mrs.
Baker, "I hope this dreadful war will soon be over!"

"So do I," was the emphatic rejoinder; "or rather I wish it; things
don't look so very hopeful just at present. But folks seem to think the
new general may be expected to make better progress against the rebels
than the others did, I think myself it's more than likely, considering
what he has done out West."

"And we are all praying for him, that the Lord will give him wisdom and
success with his plans, so that this awful war may come to an end, and
the country be saved," said Mrs. Ray. "The men at the head of the
rebellion have a great deal to answer for. They were not oppressed, but
were dreadful oppressors--of the negro first, then of the whites both
North and South, in order to hold on to slavery, which they found so
profitable to their pockets, besides ministering to their wicked pride."

"Well, I am sure the backbone of the rebellion is broken now; they know
it can't succeed, and I for one can't see how the consciences of the
rebel leaders can allow them to go on with the struggle--sacrificing so
many lives to no purpose," sighed Mrs. Baker. "Now, Ethel, I will show
you round the store and make you acquainted with the places of the
different articles we have for sale, so that you will be able to find
them when called for."

"And I must go and see to household matters," her mother said, hurrying
away in the direction of the kitchen.

Ethel was kept very busy all day, except for a little while in the
afternoon, when Blanche came with Harry and Nannette to see her in her
new quarters.

Mrs. Baker received them kindly and invited them to come again for
Ethel's sake, and though some tears were shed by the three girls at
parting, they all felt better contented than they had before.

As the days, weeks, and months rolled on, Ethel was more comfortable and
found things going more smoothly with her at Mrs. Baker's than she had
dared to hope. Waiting upon customers was not repugnant to her, she was
fond of her needlework, and not averse to using the sewing-machine;
though Mrs. Baker was kindly careful not to let her do too much of that
last, lest she should injure her health; also she kindly contrived some
errand for her every day, squares away from the store, that she might
have the benefit of outdoor air and exercise.

And there were many exchanges of visits between herself and her younger
sisters and brother; occasional letters from Mrs. Keith and her mother
to be read and replied to, and interesting news from the seat of war,
the daily papers being eagerly searched for it by Mrs. Kay, Mrs. Baker,
and herself.

With what a thrill of horror they read of the awful massacre by the
savage Forrest and his troops at Fort Pillow, taken by a resort to
trickery under a flag of truce; the terrible battles of the Wilderness,
Spottsylvania, Cold Harbor, and others of the sanguinary conflicts of
that last year of the war of the rebellion!

These divided Ethel's attention with her needlework, waiting upon
customers, doing errands for Mrs. Baker, and chatting with the little
ones, who were a source of entertainment, and of whom there were two
boys in addition to Jenny. They were but little fellows, going to school
until the summer holidays began, but full of fun and frolic when at
home, and Ethel and they soon became fast friends.

One day early in the fall Ethel received a letter from Mrs. Keith, in
which she told of the coming home of her husband, a paroled prisoner
from Andersonville, where he had been for some time, suffering so
terribly that his health seemed ruined for life. His parents and other
near relatives in Indiana were anxious to see him, she added, and they
had decided to go out there for some weeks, taking the children with
them. She hoped the trip would prove of benefit to Mr. Keith, and that
he would return home looking and feeling more as he did before going
into the army, for now he was so pale and thin that it almost broke her
heart to look at him and hear his sad story of the barbarous treatment
he and his fellow-prisoners had received at the hands of their cruel
jailors; then from that she went on to tell of the starvation, filth,
exposure to the weather, and shooting down on the slightest protest,
which made of Andersonville prison-pen a veritable hell upon earth.

Ethel read that part of the letter first to herself, then aloud to Mrs.
Baker and Mrs. Ray, with the tears streaming down her cheeks, while her
hearers wept with her.

"Ah," sighed Mrs. Baker, "God grant this cruel war may soon be over, and
that my poor husband may never be a prisoner in the hands of those worse
than savage men!"

"And oh, I hope my poor cousins, George and Albert, may escape it too!"
exclaimed Ethel. "How very, very dreadful it is! how can men be so
cruel? worse than any wild beast."

"Oh, hark!" exclaimed Mrs. Baker. "What is it that newsboy is crying?
Atlanta taken? I must have a paper!" and she rushed to the door,
beckoned to the lad, and in a minute was back again with the paper in
her hand, and reading aloud to her mother and Ethel.

They rejoiced together in this new proof that the Union cause was
gaining, the rebellion nearing its end.

Ethel had come to feel very much at home with these good women; though
her wages were but small, she had succeeded so well in the disposal of
the garments she had made on her own account and adorned with the
specimens of needlework she had brought with her, that she felt in good
spirits and very hopeful of being, at no very distant day, able to carry
out her plan of starting in a business of her own and making a home for
herself, her brother and sisters.

She was extremely desirous of doing that; yet she had become so attached
to the two good women she was with that it gave her something of a
heartache to think of leaving them.

She had thought she might be able to accomplish her desire at the end of
her first year with Mrs. Baker, but her means were not sufficient, and
all the friends she consulted esteemed her too young for such an
undertaking; they also thought that while the war lasted she would not
be so likely to succeed as in the better times to be hoped for at its
close. So she waited and worked on with patience and perseverance,
comforting herself with the thought of the future.

In April came the glad news of Lee's surrender, which virtually ended
the war. It was glorious news to her and those she was with, as well as
to all other loyal Americans, filling their hearts with joy and
gratitude to the Giver of all good; but alas! how quickly followed by
intense grief and indignation over the cruel and cowardly assassination
of him who had guided the ship of state through the breakers and the
fearful storm that had raged about her, threatening her destruction for
the last four years.

On Saturday morning, April 15, the news reached Philadelphia,
telegraphed from Washington, that President Lincoln had been shot the
previous night and had just died of his wound.

The early breakfast was over at Mrs. Baker's, the store was in order,
and Ethel sitting behind the counter engaged upon a bit of needlework
while awaiting the coming of customers. Mrs. Ray was busy in the back
part of the house, little Jenny playing about on the pavement in front
of the door, and Mrs. Baker had gone to market, taking the two boys with
her.

As Ethel's needle flew in and out, her thoughts were busy with the glad
news of a few days before--that Lee had surrendered to Grant.

"The war must be just about over," she said to herself, "and how glad
dear, good President Lincoln and all the people that love the Union must
feel! I don't think one wants to punish the rebels now, much as we have
lost and suffered through the efforts of the Confederates to destroy
it--the grand old Union--we just say 'They've given up now, and we will do
all we can to help them to repair their losses and begin to prosper
again.' But, oh, hark! what's that the newsboys are crying?"

With the last words she dropped her work and ran to the door.

The newsboy, drawing nearer, was literally crying, sobs mingling with
the words, "President Lincoln shot----"

"Oh, what--what's that he's saying?" cried Mrs. Ray, rushing in from the
back room and through the front door. "Here, boy, bring me a paper! Oh,
it can't be possible that anybody'd be so wicked as to fire at the
President! Was he much hurt?" as she took the paper from the hand of the
weeping boy and gave him the money for it.

"Oh, ma'am, he's dead! he's dead! He was shot last night and died just a
few minutes ago. And they've murdered two or three more o' the big men
in Washington," and with the last words, accompanied by a sob, the lad
passed on, repeating his mournful cry.

"Oh, I can't believe it! I don't know how to believe anybody, even a
reb, could be so wicked," sobbed Mrs. Ray, hastily glancing over the
headings. "Yes, yes: here it is! but I can't believe it; it's surely a
hoax; for who could be so wicked as to murder such a good, kind man as
dear Mr. Lincoln?"

"I can't believe it either!" exclaimed Ethel, tears raining down her
cheeks, "but read it aloud, won't you, Mrs. Ray?"

"I can't--I can't! the tears come so fast. You--you may," thrusting the
paper into Ethel's hand.

The young girl did as requested, but with many a pause to wipe away the
falling tears and check the sobs that well-nigh choked her utterance.

She had not finished when Mrs. Baker and her boys returned, all three
weeping.

"Oh, mother, mother, so you've got the news! I thought you would before
we could get home, for it has gone over the city like wildfire, and
almost everybody's heartbroken!" cried Mrs. Baker, laying on the counter
a parcel she carried and wiping her streaming eyes.

"Not just everybody, mother; you forget that mean, bad woman we saw get
paid off so well in the market," exclaimed Mark, the eldest boy, his
eyes flashing through tears. "You and Miss Ethel should have seen it,
grandmother. We were buying some fish for dinner, the fishwoman and
everybody round talking about the dreadful news, and most of them crying
to think of dear, good President Lincoln being murdered, when up came a
woman dressed in her best--at least I should think it might be her very
best--and she says to the fishwoman, 'How much do you ask for these fine
shad? I'll buy one, for I'm bound and determined to have an extra good
dinner to-day to show how delighted I am at the good news I've heard.'
'And what may that be?' the other woman asked. 'Why, that that old
tyrant, Abe Lincoln, is killed!' and she'd hardly got the words out when
that big shad was flapping round her ears in the liveliest kind of a
way; and it went on flapping till it was all broken to pieces, her face
smeared with the fish, and her bonnet crushed and broken and soiled till
nobody would ever want to wear it again."

"Just what she deserved," said his grandmother. "I can't pity her in the
least."

"And nobody did," said Mark exultingly; "the crowd around just cheered
the fishwoman, and groaned and hissed at the other, till she was glad to
hurry away as fast as she could. There, mother, now you tell about what
we saw and heard on Walnut Street."

"Yes," said Mrs. Baker. "As we were coming home along that street a
servant girl was scrubbing off the pavement in front of one of those
big, handsome residences, and, a gentleman going past, she hailed him
with, 'An' it's the good news we've got this marnin', sor; that ould
Lincoln's shot to death an' won't nivver----' But there he interrupted
her, his eyes fairly flashing with anger and his fists clenched. 'If you
weren't a woman I'd knock you down!' he said in a tone as if it would be
a great satisfaction to him to do it. Then the gentleman of the house
came to the door (I had seen him step to the parlor window as the girl
began her remark) and said in a tone as if he would enjoy knocking her
down, 'You may consider yourself dismissed from my service, Bridget. You
shall never enter my doors again with my knowledge and consent. I'll
have your clothes sent out to you and you may go at once.'"

"I don't blame him," said a lady customer who had just come in; "it was
exactly what she deserved. Think of anybody being so heartless as to
rejoice in such a murder--the assassination of a man so patient and kind
to all, desirous to have rebels forgiven who in any other country would
be speedily executed for their attempt to destroy the government.
People's hearts are very sore," she went on, weeping as she spoke, "and
no wonder they cannot and will not stand hearing any rejoicing over this
terrible calamity that has befallen the country--the dear land just saved
from the dismemberment which threatened it! They are draping the public
buildings with black, putting all the flags at half mast, and tying them
with crape. Men shed tears; some women will wear deep mourning as for a
near relative; others rosettes of the national colors and black ribbon.
I came in here to look for the ribbons needed for mine."

Ethel waited upon her and while she did so another customer came in on
the same errand. Her eyes were also wet with tears.

"Oh, isn't it dreadful?" she sobbed. "I think I could hardly feel worse
if I'd lost my own father. And to think that some folks talk of the
awful deed as if they were delighted that it was done. The heartless
wretches! They might know, if they had any sense, that the loyal
people--who were just rejoicing that the dreadful fight was over and the
country saved--can't and won't stand it. I don't know whether it's true
or not, but I just heard that a fellow who was so heartless as to be
openly rejoicing over the dastardly deed, was knocked down for
expressing his exultation and kicked along the pavement by the
exasperated crowd till he was dead, and that a soldier shot down another
such rejoicer at one of the depots and nobody made any attempt to arrest
him for it."

"Oh, those are dreadful things!" exclaimed Mrs. Kay. "It is certainly
wrong to kill a man for expressing his opinion; but they should have
sense enough to keep such opinions and feelings to themselves while
loyal people's hearts are so sore over this dreadful, dreadful thing."

"Well there is one comforting thought--that the dear man was certainly a
Christian, ready to die, and is now done with all earth's troubles and
trials," said Mrs. Baker, tears of mingled joy and sorrow shining in her
eyes. "How sweet the rest and peace of heaven must be to him--so worn and
weary as he was with the griefs and cares of the last four dreadful
years. We must weep for our own great and irreparable loss, and for all
he suffered before God took him home, but at the same time we may
rejoice in the blessedness that is now his in that better land."

"Yes, indeed," responded the two lady customers, one of them adding, "I
don't know how anyone can doubt that he was a Christian man, well
prepared to die; for he certainly displayed a Christian spirit toward
all--even the rebels who were his deadly foes and had planned to murder
him on his way to his first inauguration. It must be a blessed change
for him; but oh, what is the country to do without him!"

"Oh, ma'am, our God still lives," said Mrs. Ray. "He is our Rock and
Refuge, a very present help in trouble."

"Oh, mother, all the stores are putting black over their doors and
windows," exclaimed Mark, peering out into the street; "tying their
flags with crape too. Can't we do the same with ours?"

"Yes, yes, to be sure," she replied. "I'll go at once and buy some yards
of black stuff and we'll fasten it along under the windows of our second
story and around the doors here."

"Get some crape for the flag, too," said her mother. "Here, I'll pay for
it," taking out her purse as she spoke. "And hadn't you better lay in a
fresh supply of black, red, blue, and white ribbons for making the
rosettes? I feel sure that a great many folks will be putting them on as
a sign of mourning for him--the dear, murdered President!"

"Yes, mother, I'll lay in a fresh stock, and the sooner I get off to see
about it the better; for I'm pretty certain that there will be a great
demand for it before the day is over," replied Mrs. Baker--and hurried on
her way.

A busy day followed--a day full of sad, heart-breaking excitement. Troops
were in hot pursuit of the murderers--the one who had slain the
President, and his confederates, him who had attacked Secretary Seward,
and those who had aided and abetted them.

The newsboys' cry of "Extry! Extry!" was frequently heard, and the
papers sold rapidly. All loyal hearts rejoiced that though evidently it
had been the intention of the conspirators to slay Secretary Seward,
perhaps General Grant also, both had escaped with life, though the
secretary had been severely wounded by his would-be assassin.

Cavalry and a heavy police force were speedily sent out in pursuit of
the criminals, who were finally taken and brought back to Washington to
receive the punishment due to their crimes--with the exception of Booth
who, refusing to surrender, was shot and killed in the barn which, he
had made his hiding place.

When it was known that he was no longer at large, had not escaped with
impunity after his awful deed--people seemed to breathe more freely,
their hearts to be a little less sore, though they still mourned deeply
for the loss of their martyred President, who was borne to the grave
amid the tears and lamentations of almost the entire nation. There were
few who did not mourn for him as for one very near and dear; one whose
place could never be filled.



CHAPTER XVII.


Those were very bright faces which gathered about Mrs. Baker's breakfast
table one morning early in the next June.

"Father's coming home from the war to-day!" cried the children
exultingly; "the fighting is all done and father's coming home to stay."

"Yes," returned their mother, tears of mingled joy and thankfulness
shining in her eyes. "Oh, how thankful I am that he has never been
wounded or taken prisoner--to starve and freeze to death, as so many of
our poor, dear soldiers did. Oh, children, let us thank God every day of
our lives for that!"

"Yes, yes, indeed!" exclaimed Mrs. Ray. "You will all want to go and see
the train come in with the soldiers," she added, "but I'll stay at home
and get the best dinner for John that he ever had in his life."

"Thank you for that kind offer, mother, dear," said Mrs. Baker. "I'll be
very glad to go and take the children." Then turning to Ethel, "And what
are you going to do, young woman?" she asked in a sprightly tone.

"To go to the station to meet my cousins and the Keiths, if I can be
spared," returned Ethel, with a smile that told of a light and happy
heart.

"Yes, indeed, you are at liberty to go," was the kindly rejoinder; "I
was sure you would wish to, and so have engaged your friend Carry Brown
to take your place in the store here for to-day."

Ethel expressed her warm thanks, adding, "I will see that everything
about the store is in perfect order before I go, and will show Carry the
places of things likely to be called for."

"That will be well," returned Mrs. Baker, as they left the table
together.

Ethel was flitting about the store, dusting and putting things in place,
humming a tune in the gladness of her heart at the thought that the war
was over and the poor, weary, homesick soldiers about to be restored to
their dear ones--particularly that her cousins George and Albert, were
expected among the arrivals that day--when, glancing through the window,
she saw the postman coming.

She ran to the door to meet him. He handed her a letter bearing her own
name in the well-known handwriting of her kind friend, Mrs. Donald
Keith. Ethel hastened to break the seal and read the enclosed note.

It was a brief one, telling her that they--Mr. and Mrs. Keith--would be in
Philadelphia that morning in time to meet the train from Washington on
which their brother, Colonel Rupert Keith, and his wife and two nephews,
Stuart Ormsby and Percy Landreth, were expected to arrive. They would
probably be at the depot for an hour or more before the Washington train
would come in, and would be pleased to have Ethel spend that hour there
with them, if she could be spared from the store.

This was good news to Ethel, who had not for months seen Mrs. Keith, one
of the best and kindest friends she and her orphan brother and sisters
had ever known.

She made haste with what must be done before leaving the store to Miss
Brown's care, then hurried to the depot, reaching it some minutes ere
the train from New Jersey was due; so that she and Mrs. Keith had time
for a good long chat before the arrival of that from Washington,
bringing their homeward bound soldier friends and relatives.

It came at last, there was a joyous meeting between the Keith brothers
and other relatives, then the young men shook hands with Ethel,
remembering having met her before on their way to the seat of war.

As they told each other in after years, Ethel and Percy Landreth each
noted a change in the other; both had grown in stature, she nearing
beautiful womanhood, he thought, while the impression she gained of him,
in the few minutes of their brief interview, was that he was becoming a
noble-looking man, one of whom his parents, sisters, and other relatives
might well feel proud; and she rejoiced for him and them, that he had
escaped wounds and imprisonment in any one of those earthly
hells--Andersonville, Libby, Belleisle, Danville, Charleston,
Salisbury--and other notorious rebel prison-pens.

They were all eager for home and could not be persuaded to miss the
first train that would carry them on their westward way; therefore the
interview was brief.

Mr. and Mrs. Keith returned to their home by a train that left only a
few minutes later, and Ethel, after a short but very joyful interview
with her returned soldier cousins, went back to her work at the store.

She found the Baker family rejoicing over their returned soldier with
joy too deep, on the part of the older ones, for anything but tears.

Mr. Baker proved a pleasant-tempered, kindly-mannered man, and in no way
interfered with Ethel's comfort as a member of the family. He was a
mechanic, and in a few days was working busily at his trade again, while
his wife, with Ethel's assistance, still carried on her business.

Thus a year passed away during which Ethel gained in stature, in
self-reliance, and knowledge of the work by which she hoped one day to
support herself, and her brother and sisters. Her day-dreams were
constantly of the little home she longed and hoped to provide for them
and herself.

Her friend Carry Brown had similar aspirations, and finally they decided
to go into business together. Their means were not large, but their plan
was to buy goods in small quantities and on short credit, paying for
them partly by sales, partly by doing a good deal of machine-sewing;
Ethel also to continue her fine needlework as time and opportunity were
afforded.

They found a suitable place only a few squares distant from Mrs.
Baker's, a small house with one room back of the store, which they
decided should be their parlor, three bedrooms in the second story with
an attic over them, a basement kitchen, a cellar, and a small dining
room.

The house was in pretty good repair. They rented it, freshened the
appearance of the rooms with some cheap but delicately tinted paper on
the walls, putting it on themselves to save expense, bought a scant
supply of cheap, second-hand furniture, oilcloths and carpets for the
floors, and the necessary utensils for the kitchen and dining room. The
house and its furnishings were indeed small and mean in comparison with
those of Ethel's uncles, yet she, her friend, brother, and sisters took
very joyful possession of it one summer afternoon, feeling that at last
they had a home of their own, and the next morning the store was open
for customers.

Blanche, now in her sixteenth year, undertook the housekeeping under her
older sister's direction and superintendence. They would decide the
night before what they might spend on their three meals and what they
wanted that would come within their means, and the next morning would
make the purchases. Blanche liked doing the marketing, and she soon
learned to economize and to prepare dainty little dishes at small
expense, developing quite a talent for cookery.

They could not afford to keep a servant, and most of the house-work as
well as the cooking fell to her share; Ethel and Carry devoting
themselves to making articles for sale in the store and waiting upon
customers.

Harry and Nannette too made themselves very useful out of school hours,
doing errands and helping with the work about the house.

But Ethel did more than anyone else, so anxious was she to succeed in
paying her way and making a living for them all. She was cheerful and
happy, but greatly overworked; always very glad of the Sabbath rest, as
they all were indeed, but eager to begin her labors again on Monday
morning.

There was no one to watch over and warn her of the danger of overtasking
her strength. Her uncles were so displeased that she was so determined
to earn her own living and that of her younger brother and sisters, that
they would not visit or assist her in any way, and naturally it was the
same with their wives and children.

They saw nothing of each other on the Sabbath, Ethel choosing to attend
a nearer church of the same denomination. They were all regular
attendants upon the church services and at Bible-class and
Sunday-school. Ethel and Blanche were in the same class and soon became
greatly attached to their teacher, Miss Seldon, a lovely Christian woman
who was deeply interested in all her scholars, but especially in this
little family of orphans, struggling so hard to make their own way in
the world. It soon became no unusual thing for her to call at their
humble little home, invite their confidence, and, being a woman of
means, in the kindest and most delicate manner render them assistance
when she discovered that they were in any financial difficulty. But of
that Ethel, in her pride of independence, would accept very little.

Miss Seldon did not know how hard and constantly the young girl worked,
therefore did not warn her, as she certainly would had she known.

So things went on for nearly a year--all working industriously, but Ethel
bearing the heaviest end of the burden, both physical and mental; for it
was she who must plan how to meet all necessary payments. Often on
waking in the morning she found it required a great effort to rise,
dress, and resume her daily duties, and at last there came a time when
the effort to do so was utterly vain; she could scarcely stir, and to
rise from her couch was an impossibility.

She called to Blanche, and with her assistance finally succeeded in
getting into her clothes and crawling downstairs to the store. Her
breakfast was brought to her there, and having eaten it she took up her
needlework, but it required a great exertion of will-power to do even
that, while to run the sewing-machine was impossible.

"Oh, what ails me? what shall I do?" she exclaimed at length, dropping
the work into her lap and clasping her hands together with a gesture of
despair.

"You have been working too hard and constantly," said Carry, "and will
just have to take a rest."

"I can't; there's too much to do," groaned Ethel.

"You'll have to have a doctor," said Blanche, her eyes full of tears.
"But you must; you shall," in reply to Ethel's mournful, dissenting
shake of the head. "I'll go this minute for that one round the
corner--Dr. Jones; I've heard people say he's a good one."

"We can't afford it," sighed Ethel.

"We certainly can't afford to let you die, or break down so that you
can't do anything; so I'm going for him now, this minute," returned
Blanche, snatching up her hat and putting it on as she went.

She was so fortunate as to find the doctor in and was back again in a
very few minutes, bringing him with her. After examining and
cross-questioning his patient, he pronounced the trouble utter
exhaustion from overwork, and ordered entire rest for weeks to come. She
must go at once to her bed and stay there, refraining from any exertion
of mind or body.

He was very kind and sympathetic, half carried her up to her room
himself, and saw her comfortably established there; then repeating his
order to her to refrain from every kind of exertion of body or mind, and
promising to call again the following day, he left her.

"Is there much the matter, doctor?" asked Carry, as he passed through
the store on his way out.

"She is utterly worn out," was the reply. "With absolute rest she may,
and I hope will, recover completely in time; but it is very important
that she should be relieved from all care and anxiety."

"I don't see how we are to manage that," sighed Carry to herself, as he
passed out, and she said the same thing to Blanche when she came into
the room a few moments later.

"I don't know either," returned Blanche, tears filling her eyes,
"unless--unless my uncles will help us a little."

"I'd go to see them and tell them all about it, if I were you," said
Carry.

"To be sure; that's just what I will do," exclaimed Blanche,
brightening. "I've got to do some errands out anyway, and, after
attending to them, I'll go right on to my uncles' store and tell--'my
tale of woe,'" she concluded with a vain attempt at mirthfulness.

With that she ran up to her room and hastened to attire herself neatly
for her errand. She had left Ethel in bed and alone, the physician
having enjoined it upon her to go to sleep as speedily and soundly as
possible.

Blanche found her uncles in their office. They looked somewhat surprised
at sight of her, but greeted her kindly, asking if she and her brother
and sisters were all well.

At that Blanche burst into tears and sobbed hysterically for a moment.

"What is it, dear child?" asked her Uncle Albert, taking her hand and
drawing her to a seat upon his knee. "I fear you are having a hard time
of it, trying to support yourselves. Is some one of you ill?"

"Yes, sir; Ethel--Ethel has--has broken down," sobbed the little girl.
"Oh, uncle, I'm so afraid she'll die! The doctor says she's all worn
out; for she has just worked, and worked, and worked from early in the
morning till late at night every day but Sunday; and she can't get out
of her bed now--and--and oh, I don't know what we will do, for she's the
head one that directs all the rest of us."

"Ah, she should not be so wilful," remarked Mr. George Eldon grimly.
"However, you needn't fret, child; of course we, your uncles, will see
that you do not come to want; that you are provided with all necessary
things."

"Of course we will," said Uncle Albert, "and Ethel must do as the doctor
advises--not exert herself in the least till he pronounces her entirely
recovered. I will go back with you, Blanche, see Ethel, and do what lies
in my power to make her easy in body and mind. And you may feel sure
that none of you will be allowed to want for anything your uncles can
supply."

"Yes, that will be well," said his brother, "and tell Ethel from me that
I shall be round to see her before long, probably either this evening or
to-morrow morning. But she is not to stay awake expecting me," he added
with a slight smile. "Come here, Blanche, and give your old uncle a kiss
before you go. There," putting an arm about her as she stood at his
side, and kissing her affectionately, "don't fret, little girl, while
you have two uncles able and willing to provide you and the others with
whatever may be needful to make you comfortable."

At that moment his son George coming in exclaimed: "Why, is this you,
Blanche? I have not seen you for months; and how you have grown, child!"
and he bent down and kissed her cheek. "Why, you have been crying! Is
anything wrong with you or the others?" he asked. "I hope not, I am
sure. I was thinking only this morning that I must hunt you up and see
how you were getting along."

"Thank you, Cousin George," returned the little girl in tremulous tones;
"we were doing right nicely till--till now that Ethel has broken down
because--the doctor says it is because she's been working too constantly
and hard."

"Ah! why, she shouldn't do that when we're all able and willing to help
her. But don't fret, little coz; she'll probably be all right in a few
days, and we'll tell her she must not work so hard any more."

"You're very kind, Cousin George," returned Blanche, smiling through her
tears, "and so are my uncles, but we don't like to be a burden to them
when they have so many children of their own to provide for, and it has
seemed very pleasant for us to be all together in a little home of our
own, even though it is very plain and humble."

"Well, yes, that's a very right sort of feeling," he said, "and makes
one all the more willing to help you."

"There, that must do for the present, George," said his father. "You can
call round to see Ethel and the rest any time after business hours, but
your uncle is going to take Blanche home now and see what is needed.
Good-by, child," taking her hand for a moment and giving her a parting
caress, "and don't ever be afraid to come to your Uncle George for help
when you are in trouble."

"Good-by and thank you, uncle. Good-by, Cousin George, and do come to
see us," she said, and slipping her hand into that of her Uncle Albert,
they went out together.

Ethel had just waked from a comfortable nap when Blanche returned
bringing their Uncle Albert with her.

The interview was a pleasant one, for Mr. Eldon was very kind,
sympathetic and appreciative of the efforts his young niece had put
forth in order to earn a living for herself and her sisters and brother;
he praised her for it, yet added: "But now you see, Ethel, that you are
too young and feeble for so great an undertaking. However," noting with
concern the cloud of care and disappointment his words called to her
tell-tale countenance, "we will not talk any more of that to-day. Try,
my dear child, just to dismiss all vexing thoughts; trust to your uncles
to ward off from you, your brother, and sisters, all danger from want of
means, and with a mind at ease get well and strong again as soon as
possible. When you have accomplished that it will be time enough to
think of those other matters."

"You are very, very kind, uncle," she returned with tears shining in her
eyes. "I will try to put away anxious and vexing thoughts and trust in
you--but still more in the Lord--till I'm able to work again."

"Only till you are able to work again?" he said with a slight smile.
"Really I fear my niece Ethel has some obstinacy in her nature; yet that
is not altogether a bad thing; it is much to be preferred to
vacillation, I think; yet young people should be willing to be guided
and controlled to some extent at least by older ones who have claims to
their respect and obedience."

"Yes, sir, I acknowledge that," she said with a slight sigh, "and I
intend to try to obey you and Uncle George in all that I can."

"That is right," he responded with a pleased look, "and remember you
have no need to be troubled with anxious cares, for your Uncle George
and I will see that you and the rest are provided with all necessary
things. Now I will leave you to take another nap. Good-by, dear child,"
giving her a parting kiss; "I shall be in again in a day or two to see
how you are getting along. Now, Blanche," as he and his younger niece
left the room together, "show me about the house and let me see how
comfortable you have managed to make yourselves."

Blanche obeyed very willingly, for she was right proud of Ethel's
success in making so good and comfortable a home for them all, and Uncle
Albert noted and commended all that was worthy of it, and made no
remarks about the defects that he perceived. He said truly that he
thought they had done wonders, while at the same time he mentally
resolved that if they persisted in staying there, many a comfort and
convenience should be added to their slender store.

In taking leave he put some money into Blanche's hand, bidding her see
that Ethel was well fed, for he was sure she needed nourishing food and
rest more than anything else.

"Oh, uncle, thank you!" Blanche exclaimed, her eyes sparkling with
delight. "Yes, indeed, I'm sure she does, and I'll see that she has it."

At that moment Nannette came rushing in through the store, Harry
following.

"Oh, Uncle Albert!" they cried at sight of him, Nannette springing
forward and holding up her face for a kiss, adding, "It's such a long
while that I haven't seen you, and I'm so glad you've come to see us at
last."

"Ah, little one! I thought you had forgotten all about Uncle Albert," he
returned, giving the caress with hearty good will. "But how you have
grown! Harry also," shaking the boy's hand heartily. "Well, I am just
going, but I hope we will see each other oftener in the future."

With that he was hastening toward the outer door, when seemingly struck
by a second thought he turned toward them again, saying: "Harry, my boy,
put down your satchel of books and come with me. I want you to act as my
errand boy for once in a way."

"Do you, uncle? Oh, I'd like to," cried the boy, hastening to obey.

"It strikes me that you are growing out of your clothes, laddie," his
uncle remarked, with a scrutinizing glance down at Harry as they walked
briskly along the street.

"Yes, sir," Harry returned, blushing, "I can't help growing fast, and of
course Ethel can't make enough money to be always buying new clothes for
me. But I can stand it," he added cheerfully, "and I hope one of these
days I'll be able to make enough to dress myself and all my sisters,
too."

"Great expectations, my boy," his uncle said with a smile; "but if you
make use of all your advantages I dare say they may be realized some
day. And by the way, Harry, if you do make yourself fit for the place,
I'll take you into the store one of these days, should you happen to
fancy the business."

"Oh, uncle, will you?" cried the boy. "I'd like it so much, and I'll try
my very best to qualify myself for it."

While this conversation was going on between Mr. Eldon and Harry,
Blanche was giving Nannette a detailed account of the doings of that
afternoon--her calling in of the doctor, the visit she had afterward paid
to her uncles at their place of business and their Uncle Albert's call
upon them, his talk with Ethel and then with herself as she conducted
him over the house. Nannette listened to it all with intense interest,
then, after a moment's silence, burst out:

"It's just too bad that Uncle Albert doesn't know how Ethel and I were
always treated by his daughters--as if we weren't their equals; if he did
he wouldn't blame Ethel for trying to make a home for us and herself.
But she couldn't tell him, of course."

"No, no, indeed! I'm sure neither Ethel nor any of the rest of us would
be willing to give him the pain of knowing about it; yet it does seem
right hard that for that reason we can't show him the reasonableness of
our desire for a home of our very own."

"Yes," sighed Nannette, "it does seem hard, because it looks as if we
were ungrateful to him for all his kindness; but maybe some day they'll
feel sorry for treating us so and tell him of it themselves."

"I hope so," said Blanche, but her tone and the accompanying sigh seemed
to indicate that the hope was but faint.

"I think I'll go up now to see Ethel," said Nannette. "I hope she's
feeling better for uncle's visit."

"Yes, so do I," returned Blanche; "but I wouldn't go up just yet, she
may be asleep; besides it's time for us to be getting supper. You'll set
the table, won't you, while I make the toast and tea?"

"Yes, indeed," answered Nannette cheerfully, and they set to work.

Just as everything was ready for the meal, Harry came rushing in with a
joyful little shout.

"Hello, girls! look at me!" and he danced about the kitchen, clapping
his hands and acting like one fairly wild with delight. His sisters
looked up and uttered simultaneous exclamations of surprise and delight.

"O Harry, how fine--how nice you look! Why, where did you get that new
suit?"

"It's a present from Uncle Albert!" exclaimed the boy half breathlessly,
"coat and pants; and aren't they splendid? And this isn't all; he's
given me a handsomer suit than this for Sunday. Oh, but he's a brick!
now isn't he? And see what he's bought for Ethel and the rest of us," he
added, stepping to the door and bringing in a good-sized basket. "I
didn't show it at first, because I wanted your undivided attention given
to my clothes."

"Oh! oh! such elegant grapes and peaches and pears!" cried Nannette,
peeping into the basket; "and--and what's that at the bottom?"

"Why, what do you think?" laughed Harry.

"We'll have to take it out of the basket and the paper it's wrapped in,
before we can tell," replied Blanche, proceeding to lift out the fruit
and place it carefully on a large dish. "Oh, birds picked and cleaned
all ready for the gridiron! They must be for Ethel; and how good of
uncle to buy them for her."

"He said they were for all of us," returned Harry, "that there would be
enough for each of us to have one, and leave one for Ethel's breakfast;
and to-morrow he's going to send us some more or something else quite as
good."

"He's just as kind as he can be!" was Nannette's rejoinder, Blanche
adding, "Indeed he is! I do love him and wish everybody had as good and
kind an uncle."

"Some folks have fathers, and I suppose they do just as well as uncles,"
laughed Harry.



CHAPTER XVIII.


"You have been gone a good while, Albert; I hope it was not because of
finding the child ill?" Mr. George Eldon remarked enquiringly when his
brother re-entered their office.

"She is worn out and a long rest will be very necessary, I think," was
the reply in an anxious tone, "and I for one shall do what I can to make
her take it. She is certainly a bright girl and one to be proud of,
George. There are none too many who would exert themselves as she has
done when they might live at ease, depending on relatives able and
willing to care for them."

"No, I dare say not, but I have sometimes felt that I should prefer to
have her a trifle less independent. But," glancing at the clock, "sit
down and give me an account of your visit, and the state in which you
found her and the others. I see we have time enough for a chat before
starting for home."

The request was complied with, a consultation held as to how much, and
in what way Ethel and the others should be assisted, then, still
conversing together on the subject, the brothers started for their
homes.

It was the topic of conversation at the dinner table at Mr. George
Eldon's that evening, and Dorothy and the two young men seemed much
interested.

"She is a brave, industrious little woman," said George. "I doubt if
there are many girls who would have voluntarily undertaken all that she
has."

"There are certainly a great many who wouldn't," said William, "and I
own that I am more proud of her than of my very dressy, fashionable
cousins next door."

"Or of the one sitting here, I presume," laughed Dorothy. "I don't blame
you, Will; but perhaps I might try going into business too if your
mother did not insist that she needs me here."

"Of course she does, and so do we," said her uncle. "There must be
somebody to sew on buttons and strings and attend to various other small
matters affecting our comfort."

"And certainly Dorothy deserves the credit of attending faithfully to
those small but necessary matters," said George.

"That's true," said his brother, "and of making quantities of garments
for other people besides. She's a regular Dorcas, as I've heard mother
say more than once."

"Be careful, young men, or you'll have me so puffed up there'll be no
living in the same house with me," returned Dorothy with merry look and
tone, "and then who'll sew on your buttons and strings?"

"We'll carry them to mother," replied William with gravity. "She can't
go round the house and hunt things up, but we will do that part, and
she'll be both able and willing to tack the things on for us."

"And you, of course, are not likely to tire of your part of the work,"
returned Dorothy, "nor ever to forget to hunt up the garments and carry
them to aunt in good season to have them got ready for wear when wanted.
I should really like to see that poor girl--Ethel," she continued
presently. "I wonder if she would care to see me."

"I am going round there this evening--in about an hour from now," said
her uncle. "Would you like to go with me?"

"Yes, sir; yes, indeed, if I may."

"I shall be pleased to have you," he returned, "as I am partial to
ladies' society and your aunt cannot go with me."

"Have you told mother of Ethel's break-down, sir?" asked his son George.

"Not yet, but I am going up to do so now," Mr. Eldon replied, as they
all rose from the table.

Mrs. Eldon heard the story with interest, her husband recounting to her
all that his brother had told him of the little home Ethel had made for
herself and the younger ones, its comforts and conveniences, and what
was lacking in that line; also how completely she had overworked herself
in her determined effort to provide for her little family.

"Now what can we do to help her?" she asked when he had finished. "She
is worthy of help, for she has shown herself wonderfully brave,
self-reliant, and industrious."

"She has indeed," he responded, "and must be prevented from beginning
work too soon. I am going to warn her to be careful, assuring her that
Albert and I will provide all that is necessary, at least until she has
fully recovered her health, and strength; and I shall insist that she
allows us to do so. Her father would certainly have done the same by my
children had the situation be reversed; and so I shall tell her."

"Yes; and lest she should doubt my willingness to have you do so, tell
her I think it no more than one brother should do for the children of
another, if he finds himself as able as you are."

"Thank you, my dear. And now I will go at once that I may get back to
you the sooner."

He found Dorothy ready, waiting for him in the parlor below, and they
set off at once.

They were joyfully welcomed on their arrival at their destination. Ethel
was surprised and touched at this evidence of feeling for her on the
part of her Uncle George and Dorothy. They found her awake, talked very
kindly to her, showing much interest in her and the younger ones, but,
perceiving that her greatest need was rest and sleep, left early,
promising to come again soon. Her uncle bade her an affectionate
good-by, telling her not to fret or worry about anything, but to take
matters easily, trusting in Providence, and her uncles as His
instruments. He took her hand as he spoke and left something in it,
which on examination she found to be a five-dollar bill.

"How good in him!" she murmured; glad, grateful tears chasing each other
down her cheeks.

"Uncle," said Dorothy, as they walked along together, "I think those
children need some clothes; excepting Harry, perhaps. Did you notice
what a neat, new suit he had on?"

"Yes; it was a present this afternoon from his Uncle Albert. It would be
no more than my share to provide for the girls whatever may be needed."

"Well, uncle, if you'll furnish the money I'll do the work. Aunt and I
have been working for the Dorcas society--helping to clothe the poor--and
it really seems to me that the needy ones of our own family have the
very first claim."

"That is my view of the matter," he said, "and I am ready to pay for all
the material you and your aunt may think it best to buy and make up for
them."

"Oh, thank you, sir! Shall we not have a talk with aunt about it when we
get home?"

"Certainly. She will be apt to know just what should be bought, and, if
you like, you can do the buying to-morrow. I will furnish the funds."

On reaching home they went directly to Mrs. Eldon's room, gave a
detailed account of their visit and the discoveries made regarding the
needs of Ethel and the others, then of their plan for affording relief,
of which Mrs. Eldon highly approved, and which she and Dorothy began
carrying out the next morning.

The result was a joyful surprise to the three girls and a lightening of
Ethel's burden of care which greatly assisted her recovery. She strove,
and with some measure of success, not to think of business cares and
anxieties for some days, but as soon as she was able to be up and at
work again, she proposed to her partner that they should go over their
books, take an inventory of goods on hand, and find out exactly how they
stood with their creditors. They did so and discovered to their dismay
that, so far from having made anything, they were in debt.

"There," exclaimed Carry, "I shall just stop right here; for if we go on
I'll only get deeper and deeper into debt."

"Oh, no!" said Ethel. "I see where we have made mistakes. We'll avoid
them after this and will make something next year."

"I shan't try," said Carry, in a despairing tone. "You, of course, will
do as you like, but I'm done with the business."

"I don't think I am," said Ethel.

"Then suppose you buy me out; I'll sell cheap," said Carry, forcing a
laugh to keep from crying.

"Yes, if you'll wait a little for your money," replied Ethel, a sudden
conviction coming to her that she could do better alone, as she and
Carry did not always agree in regard to the wisdom of proposed measures.

"Yes," said Carry, "I think it would be only fair that you should settle
with the creditors first, and I know you will pay me as soon afterward
as you can."

So it came about that Ethel was soon sole proprietor of the little
store, and could manage all parts of the business to suit herself. She
bought goods on short credit and was very careful to pay promptly. She
did not know that her uncles privately went security for her, and was
rather surprised to find the wholesale merchants with whom she dealt so
willing to trust her to any amount, though she never bought very
largely, being far too cautious for that. She managed so well that in
less than a year she was entirely free from debt and had a good run of
custom; for so pleasing was her manner, so thoroughly well done her
work, her stock of goods so carefully selected, that those who bought of
her once were very apt to come again; also to recommend her to others.

Her uncles were kind, though her continuance in business did not meet
with their warm approval. Dorothy came in occasionally to see her and
her sisters. Harry was given the half-promised place in his uncle's
store, and Miss Seldon was a not infrequent visitor and customer as
well. She was very kind, bought of them herself, and recommended the
store to others. She would sometimes accept an invitation to stay and
take tea with them, all esteeming it a delight to entertain her--she was
so kind-hearted and showed such an interest in them and their affairs.

She was in easy circumstances, had travelled a good deal in this and in
foreign countries, and her conversation was both interesting and
instructive.

One evening a casual mention of having some years before spent a number
of weeks on the island of Jamaica aroused a degree of excitement among
them that surprised her.

"Jamaica!" exclaimed Blanche. "Oh, Miss Seldon, did you meet any of the
well-to-do people? any of the rich planters?"

"Yes," was the reply, "I had letters of introduction to several families
and found them very hospitable; some of them most interesting and
agreeable people. I particularly remember one old couple, of English
descent, without children, I think--at least I did not hear of any--who
made my visit of a couple of days very enjoyable, indeed."

"What was their name, Miss Seldon?" asked Ethel half breathlessly, for
her heart was beating fast between a newly aroused hope and the fear
that it might not be realized.

"Eyre," returned Miss Seldon. "But why do you ask? Oh, what is it?" for
every face at the table had brightened visibly, and there was an
exchange of rejoicing, exulting, excited glances.

"I think they must have been our grandparents," said Ethel, scarcely
able to speak from emotion, "mamma's father and mother, whom we have
never been able to find because we did not know their address. Oh, how
glad--how glad I am!" and she wept for joy and thankfulness.

Harry and the others were scarcely less excited; they could talk of
nothing else while together at the table, but soon after leaving it,
Ethel, taking Miss Seldon with her, accompanied by Harry as escort, set
out for her old home to inform her uncles of the discovery just made,
and ask their advice in regard to the best way of opening communication
with her grandparents.

"This is good news, Ethel--at least I hope it will prove so," said her
Uncle George when the story had been told; "but I am extremely doubtful
if your grandparents are still living; for in that case they would
surely have been hunting up their daughter's children. But we must set
on foot such enquiries as will remove all doubt, and in case of their
death recover for you and your brother and sisters any property they may
have left."

At that Ethel's eyes filled. "I want my dear grandparents a great deal
more than I do their property," she said.

"I have no doubt of that, Ethel," said her Uncle Albert, "but in case of
their death the property will be yours by right, and not to be despised;
and they of course would have wished it to fall to their daughter's
children rather than to anyone else."

"I should think so; yes, I am quite sure of it," she said, adding with a
smile, "and it will be a great help to us all in getting a start in the
world."

"Yes," he returned, "and for that reason I shall be very glad if it
turns out that there is a good deal of it."

"We will make enquiries for you, Ethel," said her Uncle George, "and set
about it at once. So you need give yourself no farther trouble, my
dear."

"Thank you both very much, indeed, uncles," was her reply in a tone full
of grateful affection. "I think, though, that I will write a letter to
my grandparents to say how dearly I love them, and how I have longed
ever since dear mamma and papa died to be with them in the sweet old
home I can just remember, but did not write till now because of not
knowing their address. Shall I not do so?"

"I do not believe they are living, child," replied her Uncle George.
"Had they been, you surely would have heard from them in some way before
this."

"But they have not known where we were," she returned, tears starting to
her eyes again. "So I think I had better write."

"Yes, do so if you wish. It cannot do any harm," said her uncle Albert.

Blanche and Nannette eagerly awaited the return of their brother and
sister, and on their coming besieged them with questions, asking what
their uncles thought and said, and what was going to be done to find
"Grandpa and Grandma Eyre." Neither Ethel nor Harry was disposed to keep
anything back, but the others were disappointed that there was so little
to tell, and were almost indignant that it should be thought that their
grandparents were dead. They urged Ethel to write at once and find out
certainly whether they were or not.

"It is just what I intend doing," she said, "and now, if you will be
quiet, I will set to work at once. I'll make my letter short, promising
to write again as soon as we hear from them."

The letter was written, read to the others for their approval, and
mailed by Harry before they went to bed that night.

Some weeks of anxious suspense followed, then news was received of the
death, some years before, of both Mr. and Mrs. Eyre. They had left
property which, their daughter's children heired, but only a part of it
was recovered for them.

In the meantime the young people had talked much together of their dear
old home in Jamaica, and the grandparents who had so loved and petted
them in their babyhood; Ethel, at the request of the others, repeating
again and again all that she could remember of the lovely place, and
their life there, so different from that they were now leading, and, as
they talked, the desire to return to that beautiful home and those
doating grandparents grew apace.

It was therefore a sore disappointment when they learned that death had
robbed them of the dear old people, orphaning them a second time. For
the first few days after hearing the sad news they were almost
inconsolable in their grief and disappointment, but gradually they
recovered from that and felt glad and thankful because of their
increased means; for though by no means sufficient to free them from the
necessity of exertion, life was made easier and advantages were secured
which without it were beyond their reach.

A capable woman was found who took Blanche's place as housekeeper and
cook, so that she could go back to school and resume her studies, and a
young girl, who did errands and sometimes waited upon customers, was
also added to the establishment.



CHAPTER XIX.


Several years had passed, bringing to the members of our little family
scarce any changes except such as time brings to the young and growing
everywhere. Ethel was more mature in looks and manners, Harry becoming
quite manly in appearance, and in character also, the two younger girls
were budding into lovely womanhood, Nannette being especially winsome in
manner. They were all strongly attached to each other and made a very
harmonious and happy little household.

But a change came: Nan took cold in the spring, and all through the
summer was feeble and more or less ailing.

The others were troubled and anxious about her, but she was almost
always cheerful, said there was not much the matter, she only felt
languid and weak, but hoped to be strong and have more energy when the
cool autumn weather came. But alas! instead, her feebleness increased
till at last she was forced to take to her bed. Then Ethel, greatly
alarmed, at once let her uncles know, and without delay the best medical
advice was furnished and everything done that loving care and solicitude
could do to improve her condition. She grew a little better for a time,
so that she was able to be about the house again, but never went out
except when one of her uncles or cousins took her for a drive as they
sometimes did.

They were very kind and affectionate, coming often to see her, even when
the weather was such that she could not be taken out. Dorothy was
frequently there too, sometimes in the capacity of nurse, when business
or domestic cares kept Nannette's sisters away from the sick room, and
showing herself very kind, thoughtful, and skilful.

Miss Seldon did likewise, evidently feeling deep interest in the young
invalid; bringing dainties to tempt the failing appetite, and
interesting books to make the time pass pleasantly.

Their pastor came too, and by his sympathy and kindness endeared himself
greatly to the little family. He succeeded at length in so winning Nan's
love and confidence that she became very open and communicative with
him; talking freely of her thoughts, feelings, and desires, her hopes
and aspirations; and very gently and tenderly he, after a time, told her
that her physicians thought it very unlikely she would ever be restored
to health in this world, but was slowly and surely nearing that blessed
land where the inhabitants shall never say "I am sick"; the land where
pain and sickness, death, sin, and sorrow are unknown.

It was a new idea to Nannette, for she had looked confidently forward to
final restoration to health, and for some moments she seemed stunned
with surprise and affright.

"Do not be afraid, dear child," said the minister in tones tremulous
with emotion; "remember those sweet words of the psalmist, 'Yea, though
I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil;
for Thou art with me; Thy rod and Thy staff they comfort me.' Trust in
Jesus--Jesus only--and He will be with you, and carry you safely through
the valley, and over the river of death, to the beautiful Celestial
city, where you will dwell with Him in such bliss as eye hath not seen
nor ear heard, nor hath it entered into the heart of man to conceive."

"And where my dear father and mother are," she said softly, the big
tears coursing down her cheeks. "Oh, I shall not be sorry to go! How
good; oh, how good the Lord is to let me go there so soon!"

"Yes, dear child. Is it because He sees any good in you, do you think?"

"No, sir; oh, no, there isn't any, not any of my own righteousness: but
I think, I believe, oh, I know that He has covered me with the beautiful
robe of His perfect righteousness, so that when God looks upon me He
will see only that and none of the filthy rags of my own. And He will
wash away in His precious blood all my sins, all the evil that is in me,
and make me fit for a home in that blessed land. With Jesus and like
him! Oh, how happy I shall be!" Then after a moment's pause, "Do my
brother and sisters know?" she asked.

"I think not," he said, "though doubtless they will not be greatly
surprised to learn the truth in regard to your serious condition."

"Then tell them; please tell them," she entreated; "Ethel and Blanche at
least, and perhaps they will tell Harry when he comes home from the
store to-night."

Just then footsteps were heard on the stairs, the door opened, and
Dorothy entered.

"How do you do, sir?" she said, holding out her hand to the minister,
then turning toward Nannette, "Ah, little coz, you are better, I think!
Your cheeks are like roses and your eyes are very bright. What is it,
dear?" as the beautiful eyes filled with tears, "are you in pain?" and
she bent over her, softly caressing her hair and cheek.

The minister had slipped away unobserved. Nannette put an arm round
Dorothy and drew her down closer. "I--I know it now," she panted. "He has
told me, and--and oh, I--I'm afraid Ethel's heart will break, for--for she
loves me so dearly!"

"What is it, dear? You haven't told me yet," returned Dorothy in half
tremulous tones. "You--you are not worse?"

"I shall never be any better," faltered Nannette; "never till--till I
reach that land where the inhabitants shall not say 'I am sick.'"

"O Nan, you don't know! I--I think you are getting better," Dorothy
returned, tears streaming from her eyes. "And how could we ever do
without you? I have grown to love you very, very dearly since I have
been with you so much, seeing how dear and good and patient you are in
all your pain and weakness. Cheer up, for I do think you will be
stronger when the warm weather comes."

But Nannette shook her head. "No," she said, "the doctors say I will not
be here long; that I am going home to heaven to be with Jesus and the
dear father and mother who went so long ago. O Dorothy, though the news
was like a shock at first, I am very glad now, if--if only I did not have
to leave Ethel and Blanche behind; Harry too, and you and my uncles and
cousins. Oh, how sweet it would be if we could only all go together!"

"O Nan," cried Dorothy, weeping, "I can't help hoping the doctors are
mistaken; you know they sometimes are, and perhaps you will get well
yet. I'll tell Uncle George, and perhaps he will take you south to
Florida or the West Indies. I think it would do him good to go himself,
for he has a cough of late."

"You are very kind, Dorothy," Nan said with a grateful look up into her
eyes, "and so are my uncles. I believe they would do anything in their
power to save my life; but I fear it is too late, and if I am to die I'd
rather die here at home with all the dear ones about me."

"But, O Nan, we can't go with you!" exclaimed a voice half choked with
grief; "and how can we let you go alone!" for Ethel had come in
unperceived and dropped on her knees close by the bedside. "Oh, my
darling, darling little sister, what can I ever do without you? You have
been my special charge almost ever since you were born. I don't know how
I can live if you are taken from me!"

"You know the others will need you, dear," said Nan, clinging about her
neck, "and papa and mamma and I will be waiting for you all on the other
side of the river; and oh, what a happy time it will be when we are all
there together!"

"But oh, darling, it seems so long to wait!" groaned Ethel, holding her
close, and weeping as if her heart would break; "so long to live without
you!"

"Maybe it won't be so long; perhaps He will soon let you follow me."

"When her work for Him on earth is done," said Dorothy, weeping with
them. "But, Ethel, dear, you know He never sends a burden without the
strength to bear it. Don't forget the sweet promise, 'As thy days, so
shall thy strength be,' or the sweet assurance, 'We know that all things
work together for good to them that love God.'"

"Oh, it is so easy to forget!" sighed Ethel. "I am glad you reminded me.
I have need to pray as the disciples did, 'Lord, increase our faith.'"

A moment's silence, while the sisters, closely clasped in each other's
arms, mingled their tears together, then Ethel asked, low and
tremulously, "Nan, dear, you are not afraid?"

"No, sister, dear, for though you can't go with me, Jesus has said that
He will. Don't you remember those lovely texts in Isaiah, 'But now thus
saith the Lord that created thee, O Jacob, and he that formed thee, O
Israel, Fear not: for I have redeemed thee, I have called thee by thy
name; thou art mine. When thou passest through the waters, I will be
with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when
thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall
the flame kindle upon thee.' I was reading those verses only this
morning, and they seemed so sweet."

"They are for us both," sobbed Ethel; "for when I think of parting with
you, my darling little sister, doing without you all the rest of my
life--the waters seem very, very deep, the floods overflow me. Oh, what
should I do if I had not Jesus to cling to?"

"'And a man shall be as a hiding place from the wind, and a covert from
the tempest,'" repeated Nan in low, tender tones; "'as rivers of water
in a dry place, as the shadow of a great rock in a weary land.' I know
it means Jesus, and if we cling close to him he will be all that to us."

"Yes; oh, yes! and you are clinging to him, Nan, dear?"

"Yes; oh, yes! I have no other refuge; and what other need anyone want?
for 'He is able to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by Him,
seeing He ever liveth to make intercession for them.' You remember that
Jesus said, 'And this is the will of Him that sent me, that everyone
which seeth the Son and believeth on Him, may have everlasting life: and
I will raise him up at the last day.' I believe; oh, I have not the
least doubt that Jesus is God, that He is able and willing to save, for
He invites all to come to Him for salvation--'Look unto me, and be ye
saved, all the ends of the earth.' 'Him that cometh to me I will in no
wise cast out.' I know I cannot do anything to deserve salvation--that
all my righteousness is as filthy rags; but He has offered me His, and I
have accepted it, so that now it is mine and I feel the truth of what
the Bible says, 'And the work of righteousness shall be peace; and the
effect of righteousness, quietness and assurance forever.' Oh, I am full
of joy at the thought that I am so soon to be with Jesus and to be like
Him."

"Yes, I am glad for you, dear Nan," Ethel said, amid her fast falling
tears, "but my heart is almost broken for myself and our brother and
sister; for we all love you so dearly that it will be terrible for us to
see you go."

"Should we not let her rest now?" asked Dorothy gently. "She is looking
very weary."

"Yes, I fear I have talked too long," returned Ethel, with an anxious
look at the face on the pillow, "and it is time she had something to
eat," and with that she left the room.

She found Harry seated in the little parlor below, looking over the
evening paper.

"How is Nan?" he asked, glancing up at her as she entered. Then noticing
that she had been weeping, "O Ethel, is she worse?"

At first Ethel answered only with tears and sobs; then in low, tremulous
tones she said, "She is nearing home, Harry. The doctors say she can be
with us only--a little longer--a few weeks or--perhaps but a few days."

Harry had dropped his paper, and tears were coursing down his cheeks. "I
don't believe it! Dear little Nan! we can't let her die. What could we
ever do without her? something must be done to save her."

Blanche had come in just in time to hear Harry's last words, and was
standing as if struck dumb with astonishment and dismay. "What is it?
oh, what is it?" she asked wildly. "Nan can't be so very ill with that
lovely color in her cheeks and her eyes so bright. Oh, I'm sure she'll
soon be better! quite well, perhaps, when the warm spring days come and
the flowers are in bloom." But tears fell fast from her eyes even as she
spoke.

"It's an old saying that while there's life there's hope," said Harry,
trying hard to make his tones steady; "so we'll just hope on, at the
same time doing everything that can be done to--to prolong her precious
life; for she's just the loveliest and dearest little sister that ever
anybody had."

"Yes," said Ethel, "and nothing is impossible with God. Oh, let us all
three pray that she may be spared to us if it is best for her and for
us. I must go now and get her supper ready and carry it up to her."

"It is ready now; broiled bird, toast, fruit, tea, and cake. I thought
they would all taste good to her, and you know the doctors say she may
eat anything and everything she fancies."

"That seems to show that they don't consider her so very, very ill,"
remarked Harry hopefully. "Let us all go up with the supper. I haven't
seen her since morning, you know."

They did so, and were so cheerfully and pleasantly greeted by the dear
young invalid that Harry was more than ever convinced that the doctors
had sounded a false alarm.

The sisters too grew hopeful, Dorothy also, and they made quite a
cheerful little party about the tea table; the maid-of-all-work sitting
with Nannette while they all ate.

But not so with the uncles, to whom the same report of the doctors'
opinion had been carried. They came in together just as the young people
rose from the table, and though they did not express their fears,
something in their air and manner remarked those of the others; Ethel's
especially. She knew they had come to see Nannette, and quickly led the
way to her room.

The face on the pillow brightened visibly on their entrance. "Oh, Uncle
George and Uncle Albert," she exclaimed, holding out her hand with a
bright, sweet smile, "how good in you to come to see me to-night! I'm so
very glad to see you."

"Are you, dear?" said Uncle George, bending down to kiss the sweet lips.
"I think not more glad than we are to see you--our own dear little niece;
and if there is anything you want--anything that would add to your
comfort--you must tell us so without the least hesitation."

"Yes, indeed, dear child," added Uncle Albert, caressing her in his
turn, "we are ready and desirous to do anything and everything we can to
relieve and make you better."

"Thank you, dear uncles," she returned with a very grateful look up into
their faces, "you are both so good and kind to me always. I don't know
of anything more that I want, but I love you both so dearly, dearly.
Please remember that, whenever you think of me after--after I'm gone."

"We won't think of that; we will hope to keep you for a long time, dear
little Nan," returned her Uncle Albert, his voice betraying some
emotion.

Nan gave him a look of yearning affection and slipped a hand into his.

"I know I haven't very long to stay in this world, dear uncle," she said
softly, "but no one need be sorry, because I am not; for oh, it will be
so sweet to go and live with the dear Saviour, free from sin and sorrow
and pain. And I think it will seem only a very little while till all my
loved ones will come to be there with me."

"God grant none of us may miss it!" he exclaimed low and feelingly.

"I'm very glad to find you so free from fear of death," remarked her
Uncle George, taking her other hand and holding it in a tender, loving
clasp, "for it will be easier for you on that account, whatever the
future may have in store for you. Try, dear child, just to leave the
whole matter in the Lord's hands and be ready to go or stay as He may
see fit to appoint."

"And if I am taken, you will try to comfort my dear sisters and brother,
won't you, uncles? for I know they will be full of sorrow, for a time at
least."

Both gave the promise she asked; then after a little more tenderly kind
talk they bade her an affectionate good-night and went away, for they
saw that she was weary and in need of rest.

But they and some of the cousins were there frequently during the few
weeks that she lingered on this side of the river of death, doing all in
their power to add to her comfort and happiness. But the nursing fell to
Dorothy and the brother and sisters, who one and all esteemed it a
privilege to be with and wait upon the patient, uncomplaining sufferer.

They were all about her when, one lovely spring morning, she passed away
to the better land, going so peacefully and quietly that they scarcely
knew the precise moment when the redeemed spirit took its flight.

It was Dorothy who first perceived that the change had come.

"Dear blessed one!" she sobbed, her tears falling like rain as she bent
down over the still form, laid a hand tenderly upon the cold forehead,
and gently closed the eyes. "She has left us to be forever with the
Lord, and is even now singing the song of redeeming love."

"Yes; it is a blessed change for her," sobbed Ethel, kneeling on the
other side of the bed with one cold hand fast clasped in hers, "but oh,
how can we ever learn to live without her!"

"Oh, how can we!" cried Blanche, weeping as if her heart would break,
while Harry, with a groan of anguish, rushed from the room to lock
himself in his own.

"Dear girls," said Dorothy softly, "be comforted with the thought that
though she cannot come back to you--and oh, she would not if she
could--you may one day go to her--to that blessed land where parting is
unknown."



CHAPTER XX.


The uncles, themselves grieving over the departure of their dear young
niece, were most kind to the bereaved brother and sisters; doing all
they could to comfort them, attending to the arrangements and expenses
connected with the funeral and the putting on of mourning by Ethel and
Blanche.

Nor did they stop at that, but perceiving that the sisters were worn out
with the long nursing, and needed rest and change of scene, counselled
them to go away for a time, offering to bear for them all the expense
involved in so doing.

A very kind and sympathetic letter had been received from Mrs. Keith
only the day before, urging them to come to her for a few weeks, and now
they decided to accept the invitation, closing their store and letting
their maid-of-all-work take a holiday also.

Harry went with them for a few hours' stay, then returned to his
business, taking up his abode, for the time of their absence, in his old
home at the house of their Uncle George.

It was at first something of a disappointment to Ethel and Blanche to
find that Mrs. Keith had other guests than themselves--her husband's
sister Mildred and her two daughters Marcia and Fanny--but a few hours in
their pleasant society more than reconciled them to this unexpected
addition to the little party; both mother and daughters proving very
kind, congenial, and sympathetic; listening with evident interest to the
loving remembrances of Nannette indulged in by the sisters and Mrs.
Keith and her Mary.

The girls grew very intimate, and Marcia and Fan talked a great deal
about their brothers Percy and Stewart and their cousin Stuart Ormsby,
sometimes reading aloud portions of letters received from them. They
talked of their home too, expressing a hope that some day Ethel and
Blanche might visit them there, of their father, grandparents, and other
relatives, in a way that showed them to be warm-hearted, affectionate,
happy girls.

Industrious ones also they evidently were, very apt to have a bit of
work of one kind or another on hand as they talked. Marcia had a decided
and well cultivated talent for drawing, and when out driving or walking
would often be taking a sketch from nature; at other times drawing
designs for engravers or patterns for manufacturers of dress goods, wall
papers, or carpets. Fan too employed much of her time in the same way,
though her taste and talent seemed hardly so strong in those directions
as were her sister's, and she proved a help to her aunt and cousins in
remodelling dresses and bonnets and fashioning new ones. Blanche had her
sewing also, and Ethel some of the fine needlework taught her years
before by Mrs. Coote. They could not forget their recent bereavement,
and often when alone together their tears would fall as they thought or
talked of Nannette, rejoicing for her that she had safely reached the
better land, but mourning for themselves that they would see her dear
face no more upon earth.

Thus two weeks had passed and they were thinking of going home, when one
evening two young men walked in who proved to be Percy Landreth and his
cousin Stuart Ormsby. Their coming was a surprise to all, but they
received a joyful welcome. "I am very glad to see you, boys," their aunt
said when greetings had been exchanged all round; "that is if you
haven't come with the intention of taking sister Mildred and her
daughters away from us."

"I must confess that that was our design in part, Aunt Flora," returned
Percy, "and if you can't do without mother and my sisters we will gladly
carry you back with us; indeed be rejoiced to do so whether you feel
prepared to spare them or not."

"That is right, Percy," said his mother. "I should like nothing better
than to carry the whole family--from your uncle Don down to the baby back
with me and keep them there for a long visit. What do you say to it,
brother?"

"Thank you kindly, Milly," Mr. Keith returned. "I should like dearly
well to accept your invitation, but cannot leave my business just at
present, yet am willing to spare wife and children to you for a time, if
mother Weston will come and keep house for me while they are gone."

"She is not here now?" Percy said half enquiringly, and glancing about
as if in search of her.

"No; she has been with one of her other daughters for some weeks past,"
replied his uncle.

"Well," said Mrs. Keith, "let us just give ourselves up to the enjoyment
of each other's society for to-night and settle all these questions
to-morrow or later. Now, lads, tell us all about the dear ones left
behind you."

"Especially my dear old father and mother," added her husband.

"We left them and all the others quite well," replied Stuart Ormsby,
"and were sent off with many injunctions to bring Aunt Mildred and the
girls back with us; also as many of you as we could prevail upon to
come."

With that the conversation became general, though Ethel and Blanche did
little more than listen. Ethel was thinking with some concern that the
house would surely be very full now, and wishing she had not delayed her
return home. After a little she stole from the room, thinking she would
at once make some preparation for departure early the next day; but Mrs.
Keith had divined her thoughts, and followed her to her room.

"Ethel, dear," she said, putting an arm round the young girl's waist,
"yours is such a tell-tale face that I know what you have been thinking
of since the arrival of our nephews. But you need not be troubled; there
is plenty of room for them and you and your sister also. There is a room
in the third story, which can be made very comfortable for the
lads--especially compared with their quarters when in camp during the
late war--and I want you and Blanche to get well acquainted with them and
know what bright, good, promising young fellows they are."

"Dear Mrs. Keith, you are and always have been so very kind to us,
though we never had the slightest claim upon you," returned Ethel,
grateful tears shining in her eyes; "but our visit here has already been
longer than we expected to make it when we came. Besides I know so large
a family must cost a great deal in both work and money."

"Never you mind about all that," laughed Mrs. Keith; "we don't need to
count the pennies, and must always expect to pay in more ways than one
for the pleasures we have."

"Oh, please believe that I--I did not mean to be impertinent," stammered
Ethel with a blush; "but I've had to count pennies almost ever since I
can remember, and it has made me feel very reluctant to use up those of
other people."

"My dear girl," said Mrs. Keith with a smile, "I'll forgive the
impertinence if you will promise to stay another week or two."

It did not take much persuasion to win Ethel's consent, for she dreaded
going back to the home where Nannette was not, and that seemed so
desolate without her sunny presence.

The ten days or more that followed seemed to the young people to fly
very fast in each other's pleasant society, and by the end of that time
their acquaintance had progressed beyond what it might in years of more
ordinary intercourse. Percy and Ethel, Stuart and Blanche, felt that
they knew each other well, had become mutually attached, and there was a
double betrothal and a looking forward to a double wedding when a year
or so should establish the young men more fully in business, increasing
their means, and bring to the girls a feeling that the mourning
garments, now worn in memory of Nannette, might be willingly and with
propriety laid aside.

The relatives of the young men, including Percy's mother and sisters,
were all pleased, for having for years heard a great deal of these young
girls, through their New Jersey relatives, they felt that they already
knew them well.

"Dear girl, I want you to feel that you are no longer motherless,"
Mildred said, taking Ethel into a close, loving embrace when Percy had
told his story, in the privacy of her own room, "for I shall be glad to
claim you as one of my daughters, as I am sure Percy's father will also;
so that you must no longer feel yourself an orphan."

"Thank you, dear Mrs. Landreth. It will be, oh, so sweet, to have a
mother again," returned Ethel in low, tremulous tones, "though I do not
feel worthy of such an one as you."

"Quite as worthy as I am of such a daughter as yourself, dear girl,"
Mildred said with a smile and another caress; "one who has shown herself
such a brave, capable, energetic little woman, preferring to earn her
own living rather than to live idly dependent upon others."

"It is very, very kind in you to say that, dear Mrs. Landreth," returned
Ethel with a blush and a smile. "I know there are many who would despise
me for having worked with my own hands for my daily bread, as do even
some of my own dear kindred."

"Well, dear girl, I should not let that trouble me, since God's command
is 'Six days shalt thou labor and do all thy work,' and Paul bids us
'Work with your own hands,' and again, 'This we command you, that if any
would not work, neither should he eat.' The Bible--and the Bible only--is
our God-given rule of faith and practice."

"Yes, I have tried to make it mine," Ethel said, "and not to care for
the cold and scornful looks of those who despise others who labor with
their hands. I must go back to my work to-morrow," she added with a
smile, "for I have now been absent longer than was intended when we left
home."

"And I am going with her, mother, to ask her uncles' consent. She thinks
they will give it without hesitation," he added with an admiring smile
into the eyes of his betrothed; "and should they not, I will try
argument and persuasion; which should be quite in a lawyer's line."

"Yes; but I hardly fear you will need to use much of either," replied
his mother with a look that seemed to say anyone might be proud to claim
relationship to her boy.

But a gentle tap on the door of the room interrupted the conversation at
that moment, and at a quiet "Come in" from Mrs. Landreth, Stuart Ormsby
entered with Blanche upon his arm.

"We have come for your blessing, Aunt Mildred, as the nearest
representative of my father and mother," he said, turning a beaming face
upon her, "for this dear girl has promised to be mine; if her uncles do
not object, which she assures me they will not. And, perhaps she will
give herself to me even if they should prove so unreasonable and
unkind."

"Don't be too sure of that, Mr. Ormsby," said Blanche demurely; "one
should show great respect for the opinions of one's elders. Do you not
think so, Mrs. Landreth?"

"Yes, dear child," returned Mildred, drawing the young girl to her and
bestowing upon her a tender caress, "and I think we need scarcely fear
to do so in this case; for my sister's son seems to his Aunt Mildred
worthy to mate with the best and greatest lady in the land."

Stuart's eyes sparkled as he said heartily, "Many thanks, auntie; I
could not ask for a higher recommendation than that."

"Now," said Mildred, leading the way, "suppose we go downstairs and see
what your Uncle Don and the other relatives here have to say about it."

Uncle Don had no objection to offer, nor did he or anyone else seem
other than well pleased with the turn affairs had taken.

Ethel and Blanche returned home the next day accompanied by their
suitors, who were not long in entering their plea with the uncles who,
knowing all about them as relatives of the Keiths, and fellow-soldiers
and intimates of their own sons during the last year of the war, at once
gave a hearty consent, and claimed the privilege and pleasure of
entertaining the young men during their stay of a day or two in the city
of brotherly love.

Ethel and Blanche were also persuaded to become for a few days the
guests of their uncles, and it was only after the departure of Percy and
Stuart that they went back again to their own little home and reopened
their store.

Harry returned to them, and it was hard at first to feel that Nannette
would never again make one of the little family, yet gradually they
learned to do without her dear presence and to go cheerfully about their
daily tasks--the care of house and store and the making up of garments,
daintily adorned, for the trousseaus likely to be wanted for the coming
year.

Harry was not displeased at the prospect before his sisters, yet felt,
and sometimes remarked, that their gain would be his loss. Hearing him
talk in that way one day, his Uncle George said:

"You must come back to your old home with us, my boy, when your sisters
go. And if that does not satisfy you, perhaps we may decide to open a
branch house in their town and put you in charge of it."

"Oh, Uncle George, what a delightful idea!" exclaimed Blanche; "for then
all our little family would be together."

"And you won't miss your uncles at all," he returned half sadly, yet
with a faint smile, and laying a hand caressingly upon her shoulder as
she sat on the sofa by his side.

"Oh, uncle, yes; yes, indeed!" she answered earnestly, tears springing
to her eyes, "you have been so very, very good to us. And oh, I shall be
sorry to leave Dorothy, who nursed Nannette so kindly and has been such
a lovely comforter and helper to us in all our sorrow and cares."

"Yes, Dorothy is a good, kind-hearted, helpful girl," he responded,
"almost as dear to me as my own nieces; even the two who have no father
to love and care for them."

"Dear uncle, it makes me feel very happy to hear you say you love Ethel
and me. I don't remember that ever you told me so before, though I
always thought you did--at least a little bit," Blanche returned, her
eyes shining, while she ventured to put an arm about his neck and touch
his cheek with her lips.

"A good big bit, my dear child," he said in reply, putting an arm about
her and returning her caress with interest. "I hope you will be very
happy in the new home which that young man is getting ready for you, but
that you won't entirely forget your old uncles who have loved and tried
to provide for their dead brother's children."

"Not dead, uncle dear, but only gone before to the better land," Ethel
said in tones tremulous with emotion. "No, no, indeed; we could not
possibly forget you or Uncle Albert, who has been so very kind to us; if
we could we ought to be considered the basest of ingrates."

"I agree with you there, Ethel," said Harry. "And Uncle George, I am
delighted with the idea you have advanced. I think I should like nothing
better; and in case you decide to try the experiment I promise to do my
very best to make it a success."

"Well, my boy, I will talk to my brother about it. Ah, here he is," as
at that moment Mr. Albert Eldon entered the room.

"What was that you were talking of as I came in?" he asked when he had
exchanged greetings with his nieces and taken an offered armchair.

At that his brother told of the suggestion he had made to Harry,
concluding by asking his opinion of the matter.

"I think it might be very well to try it," returned Mr. Albert, "but we
will be better able to decide that question after learning more about
the place from Percy and Stuart; their fathers too, who will probably be
the better judges of the wisdom of such an undertaking."

"Very well, then, we will take the thing into consideration; and in the
meantime let you, Harry, make the needed enquiries," said Mr. George;
then turned the talk upon other topics, asking his nieces what was the
time fixed upon for the weddings.

"It is not fixed yet, uncle," replied Ethel with a blush and smile, "but
we talk of some day early in June."

"The month of roses!" he said. "There is no lovelier time in the year to
my thinking, and I hope weather and everything else may prove
propitious. But what about the trousseau for each of you? Your Uncle
Albert and I wish to provide that."

"Thank you very, very much, uncles!" exclaimed both the girls in a
breath; "but we think you have already done more than we had any right
or reason to expect."

"Not more by any means than we are disposed to do for our dead brother's
children," he replied, Mr. Albert adding, "No, nor nearly so much. I
will give each a hundred dollars to be laid out in that way."

"And I will do the same," added their Uncle George, "and I want the
double wedding to take place in my parlor, Albert and I dividing the
expense between us. We have talked it all over calculating the probable
cost."

"Oh, how kind and generous you are, uncles!" exclaimed Ethel, her eyes
full of grateful tears; "but it will make so much work for----"

"No matter for that," interrupted her Uncle George with simulated
gruffness. "Mrs. Wood and Dorothy will be only too glad of the
opportunity to make a grand display of refreshments and so forth, and
will enjoy seeing how the brides are dressed, how pretty they look, and
how they behave--with what modest grace they carry off their honors.
Besides your Aunt Sarah wants to see the ceremony and cannot well get
out to look upon it in any other place."

"And there is no place that I should like better, uncle," said Blanche,
her face beaming with pleasure. "It is my old home, where I was always
so kindly treated by you, and no other place could be more like a
father's house for me to be married from."

"But mine I hope would not be less like a father's house to you,
Blanche?" remarked Mr. Albert Eldon, looking affectionately into her
eyes.

"No, uncle, dear, yours would be just about the same, for I cannot make
up my mind which of you I love the best," returned Blanche, giving to
him also a look of ardent affection. "I have only one regret in going
away to my new home--that I must leave you two, and other dear relatives
behind."

"That is my case also," said Ethel, "but we will hope for many a good
visit from the dear ones we must part from for a time when we go."

"And the visits must be returned," said Uncle Albert, "and you two being
so much younger than my good brother and I, must expect to give two to
one."

"Yes, that would be only fair," said his brother. "Ah, Ethel, I hear
that my prospective nephews are making ready some pretty cages for their
birds."

"They are both building, sir," replied Ethel with a smile and a blush;
"but the cages are to accommodate themselves as well as their mates, and
each is to be a gift from the father of the future owner. They have sent
us the plans, and we are delighted with them."

"They are submitted to us for any alteration we may desire to suggest,"
added Blanche, "but we can think of scarcely any improvement. They are
to be side by side, the gardens running together, and face the river,
which we are told is a beautiful stream of clear, rapidly flowing water,
the banks green to its very edge. And the houses of the parents of the
male birds," she added with a merry laugh, "are less than a square away.
Would you like to see the plans, uncles?"

The reply was a pleased assent from both, and she brought them. They
examined them with evident interest, making favorable comments, asking
some questions, and suggesting a few slight alterations which they
thought would be improvements.

"Very desirable residences they seem likely to be," was Mr. George
Eldon's comment when they had finished their inspection, "and I trust
they will prove happy homes to my nieces."

"Ethel and I mean to try to make them such to their owners," remarked
Blanche with an arch look and smile. "Of course, having never seen the
place ourselves, we can only take the word of those who have as to the
beauty of the surroundings; but I feel sure I shall better enjoy gazing
upon a beautiful, clear, swiftly flowing river, grass, flowers, and
trees, than upon brick pavements and white shutters, white marble
doorsteps and the like, so trying to the eyes."

"No doubt of it," said her Uncle Albert, "but life will have its
troubles and trials, whether it be passed in city or country. You must
not expect paradise, even in a snug little home of your own with a kind
husband indoors, and clear flowing waters, flowers, and other lovely
things outside."

"No, I do not, uncle," she said laughingly, "yet I cannot divest myself
of the idea--the hope--that the contemplated change will be for the
better, even if I have the troublesome charge of a man's happiness
committed to my care; his happiness at least so far as a neat, well-kept
home and well-spread table can secure it."

"Well, my dear child, though not everything, they are a great deal to a
man, and if you add a cheerful, sunny temper, and all needed care and
attention to his comfort in other matters, I think he will be blessed
with a happy home and a wife whom he can respect and love, probably with
increasing affection as the years roll by, your own love for him
increasing also."

"You are looking very grave, Ethel," he added, turning to her, "do you
not agree with me in the sentiments I have expressed?"

"Oh, yes, sir; yes, indeed!" she answered in earnest tones, "and I have
a very ardent desire, a very determined purpose to do all in my power to
make a happy home for Percy--to be as good a wife and housekeeper as his
mother is. I think there could not be a better, judging from all I have
heard from him and the relatives we were with this summer--and I am
resolved to learn all I can on those subjects from her. I wish you and
Uncle George knew her, she is so lovely, so dear and good and kind. Oh,
I think it will be delightful to be numbered among her
daughters--especially after having been so long motherless."

"Yes; I am glad for you, my dear," he said, then turning to her sister,
"But you, Blanche, it seems have not seen your future mother-in-law
yet?"

"No, sir; but I am willing to risk the danger of finding her
disagreeable, for Stuart has assured me she is no less lovable than his
aunt, whom I like fully as much as Ethel does. Indeed _like_ is hardly a
strong enough word to express my feelings for either her or her
daughters. I love them--all three of them--dearly."

"That is right," he said. "When do you give up here?" he asked, turning
to Ethel. "Your year is out in April, is it not?"

"Yes, sir."

"And the wedding is to be in June. I want you to come to my house to
spend the weeks that intervene. You can make your preparations there,
having all the help you want from dressmakers and seamstresses."

"Don't take more than your fair share, Albert," said his brother; "a
part of their time should be spent with us."

"But you are going to give the wedding. Ah, well! they may come and go
between the two houses as may suit their convenience and inclination,
and you must let me bear my share of all the expenses."

"Yes, brother, we will have an amicable settlement when all is over,"
returned Mr. George as he rose to take leave, for it was nearing
bedtime; and with an affectionate good-night to the nieces and nephew
the two took their departure.

"Who has kinder uncles than ours?" exclaimed Blanche, as the door closed
upon them. "It fairly gives me a heartache to think of going where I
shall perhaps never see them again!" and she heaved a sigh which seemed
to come from the bottom of her heart.

"Yes," sighed Ethel, "how few earthly pleasures there are that do not
bring some sorrow with them. But oh! it will not be so in the better
land, for the Bible tells us there shall be no more death, sorrow,
crying, or pain."

"And Nan is there; dear, dear Nan, so peaceful and happy! Oh, I am sure
she would not come back to earth if she could," said Blanche softly, and
wiping away a tear.



CHAPTER XXI.


Dorothy came in the next morning soon after breakfast, looking cheerful
and bright.

"You two girls are to come to our house directly after shutting up
here," she said. "I arranged it all with your uncles last evening--that
is Aunt Sarah and I; we both want you, and so do uncle and the boys.
They say you have hardly been there to make any stay at all, Ethel, and
that it is Blanche's old home; so of course you ought both to come, and
we have coaxed Uncle Albert to consent. You see I told him I wanted to
help with your sewing and that you could run in to have a talk with him
in the evenings, or he come into our house; and as he couldn't see much
of you at any other time--being down at his store all day--he finally gave
up with pretty good grace and said I might have it my own way. I am sure
it is only right that I should, for I really care more about you than
any of his girls do. Now tell me honestly wouldn't you be as willing to
spend those last weeks with us as with them?"

"Well," returned Ethel with a smile, "I cannot deny that I should. I do
not know which of my uncles I love best; and you, Dorothy, are more
congenial and seem to care more for us than Uncle Albert's daughters. So
I am well pleased with the arrangement you propose. It is very kind in
you to offer your help with our sewing too."

"Yes, indeed," said Blanche. "You are more like an own cousin to us than
any one of the girls in the other house; and I'm very fond of Uncle
George and his boys; of Aunt Sarah too, for she has been really kind to
us for years."

"Then you'll come to us?"

"Yes, gladly," returned both girls, Blanche adding, "I am sure it will
be the best and pleasantest plan that could be thought of; especially as
we can see about as much of Uncle Albert as if we were spending our days
and nights in his house."

"Good girls!" said Dorothy. "And you'll let me help with your shopping,
won't you?" A glad assent was given to that, for Dorothy was an
excellent shopper, and Ethel and Blanche felt that to have her taste and
judgment to rely upon would be a great help to them. They said as much,
and Dorothy looked highly pleased.

They were in the back part of the store, Blanche running the
sewing-machine while Ethel busied herself with a bit of needlework, for
no customer was in at the moment.

"I don't think I have seen all you have been at work upon for your
wedding outfits," said Dorothy.

"No," replied both girls, "we have not shown you nearly all," Blanche
adding, "You take her upstairs and show her both yours and mine, Ethel.
I will stay here to attend to any customer who may happen to come in."

"No, sister," said Ethel, "it would hardly be fair for me to have all
that pleasure, leaving you to do all the work. I will show my own, then
come down and let you go up and exhibit yours."

"Very well," laughed Blanche, "anything to please you, sister mine."
Then to Dorothy, "Isn't she the most unselfish, girl you ever saw?"

"I never saw one who had less selfishness in her, and I think Percy
Landreth a most fortunate fellow," replied Dorothy, giving Ethel a look
of mingled admiration and affection.

"And I think I am the fortunate one," Ethel said with a joyous smile.
"Percy Landreth is no common man, and how he came to fancy me passes my
comprehension."

"Ah, there is no accounting for tastes, my dear," laughed Dorothy as
they left the room together. "Ah, what lovely work!" she exclaimed as
Ethel took garment after garment from a bureau drawer and spread them
about on the bed, for her inspection. "You must have been very
industrious to have accomplished so much in so short a time."

"No," said Ethel, "some of it was done months ago and intended for
sale."

"Oh, yes; before your engagement?"

"Yes; you see I had no other employment for my fingers while chatting
with Mrs. Landreth and the others in Mrs. Keith's parlor or on the
porches during the day. Of course in the evening, after sundown, we all
gave our eyes and fingers a rest."

"But not ears and tongues, I presume," laughed Dorothy. "Well, it seems
there will hardly need to be much more sewing done except on the
dresses. The shopping for them will be very enjoyable, I think; for I
dearly love to look at pretty things. Suppose we make a beginning this
afternoon. The uncles will supply the needed money if we go down to the
office for it. Indeed we can buy a good deal from them, telling them
they are to let us have the goods at wholesale prices; and if they
object that they are not retailers, we will consent to take them in
wholesale quantities."

"That might do very well," Ethel said with a smile, "if you will engage
to be bridesmaid and wear a dress off the same piece with Blanche's and
mine."

"No objection in the world to that, if Blanche agrees to it," said
Dorothy. "But what a pity your uncles haven't kept the kind of goods you
sell! It might have been such a help to you. Now please run down and
send Blanche up to show me her pretty things. After that, if you like,
we will start out on our expedition."

Ethel did as requested. Blanche's garments were displayed, and received
as high commendation as those of her sister; then Ethel dressed for the
street, and she and Dorothy started out for the proposed call upon the
uncles, and the shopping that was to follow.

"Ah, young ladies, how do you do? Whatever may have brought you, I am
pleased to see your bonny faces," was Mr. George Eldon's greeting as
they entered his office, where they found him alone, his brother having
gone out on some errand connected with their business. "Sit down and
tell me your errand; for I presume you have one."

"Yes, uncle, we are out shopping for wedding dresses," returned Dorothy
laughingly.

"And want some money, I suppose," he said, turning to his desk.

"Yes, sir, or goods; we would be willing to take a whole piece of white
silk or satin at wholesale price, if you will let us have it out of your
store and provide the money to pay for it."

"Would you, indeed?" he asked with a grim smile. "Well, perhaps I might
as well close at once with so good and desirable an offer as that--really
such an one I never had before. Come along, both of you, into the store
and we will see what we can find."

He showed them the goods himself, looking gratified with the delight
they manifested in gazing upon them, commenting upon their beauties,
exclaiming again and again, "Oh, how lovely! What a beautiful dress
might be made of that!" "Oh, that is fit for a queen!"

"Well, Ethel, which will you have?" he asked at length.

"Oh, uncle," she said, "I fear they are all too beautiful and expensive
for me; something not so----"

"Whichever you choose is to go at wholesale price, remember," he said,
not allowing her to finish her sentence, "and your uncles are to settle
the bill, so take whichever you prefer without reference to the price."

"Oh, uncle, you are too good and kind!" she said, her eyes filling with
tears of gratitude.

"Not a bit, my dear," he returned in kindest tones. "But choose quickly,
for my time is precious. How would this answer?" indicating a beautiful
grosgrain silk. "I think it contains about three dress patterns and
would make up prettily for you, your sister, and Dorothy here. Will it
suit you both?"

"Yes, sir; oh, yes! It is only too lovely, too costly for--for me."

"Not a bit of it!" cried Dorothy, "though it may be for me, as I am to
be only a bridesmaid."

"In that case you can lay it aside for use when you become a bride
yourself," said Mr. Eldon. "Here, Smith," to one of the clerks, "take
charge of this package and see that it is sent up to my house some time
in the course of the day. Now, young ladies," leading the way to another
part of the store, where he showed them some beautiful laces, saying,
"Select whichever you like best for trimming the dresses and bridal
veils."

"Oh, uncle, it is too much!" exclaimed Ethel humbly. "It would be
lovely, but we can do very well without such things."

"Yes," he said, "I presume the knots could be tied just as tight without
any such adornment for the brides, but I must acknowledge that I shall
take some pride and pleasure in seeing my nieces suitably adorned for
their bridal. Nor am I going to ruin myself doing it. I have no
daughters of my own, you know, so may well afford it for you and
Blanche; Dorothy, also, when her turn comes."

"Thank you, uncle," laughed Dorothy, "but I am doubtful of ever wanting
bridal attire; good men and true are so scarce, you know--out of the
family, I mean, of course--but I am exceedingly obliged for the
bridesmaid's dress you have so generously bestowed upon me."

"You are most welcome," he replied. "Will you take the lace with you? or
shall I send it with the dress goods?"

"Oh, I will carry it myself if you'll let me," said Dorothy. "Blanche
must see it, and I promise to take the best possible care of it."

"Very well," he returned. "We will go back to the office now, for I must
give you some money to do such shopping as must needs be done
elsewhere."

"I feel as if I were really in danger of impoverishing you, uncle,
dear," said Ethel as he put a roll of banknotes in her hand.

"Not at all, as you don't marry every day," he said laughingly. "In that
case it might do some damage. I wish you success with your shopping, and
shall be glad to see you, Blanche, and Harry too whenever you see fit to
close out your business and come to make your home with us until you
want to change for the western one in prospect before you. Your Aunt
Sarah and I are both ready to give you a warm welcome."

"Dear uncle," Ethel said with emotion, "you could scarcely be kinder to
us if we were your own daughters."

"I almost wish you were," he returned, "though that would make it all
the harder to part with you for the benefit of those young men from the
West. Good-by now for the present, and I wish you success with your
shopping. Give my love to your sister, and tell her I hope the silk and
lace will be suited to her taste."

"O Dorothy, isn't he kind? whose uncles are better than ours?" exclaimed
Ethel as they walked up the street.

"Who, indeed!" said Dorothy. "Uncle George has always been good as gold
to me. O Ethel, what perfectly lovely silk and lace he has given us! I
shall be surprised if Blanche does not go almost wild with delight when
she sees them."

"Yes, they seem too beautiful and costly for girls so poor as we are.
Yet I can't help feeling greatly pleased to have them. The Landreths are
wealthy, as perhaps you know, and I own I did feel a little reluctant to
go among them poorly dressed, especially as a bride."

"Well, you see you won't have to, and I am sure your uncles never meant
you should; they have too much family pride for that, even if they did
not love the girls and Harry also, and I am sure they do."

"Yes, I know they do," said Ethel, "and I esteem their fatherly
affection a very great blessing; as I should even if they were not able
to help us at all."

"I do not doubt it in the least. But to change the subject--you must have
a travelling dress, and I think a certain shade of gray, with a hat and
feather to match, would be the very thing."

"I agree with you," said Ethel, "and they would be pretty for Blanche
too."

"Yes; but hers might be of a slightly different shade, as you don't--at
least I presume you don't want to dress exactly alike and have people
taking you for twins," she concluded laughingly.

"No, not exactly, except in our wedding dresses," returned Ethel with a
smile. "But if we choose, we can have them made up a little differently;
the way of putting on the lace might be different if nothing else."

"Yes, and that will be quite enough difference to prevent you or anybody
else from mistaking one for the other or thinking you a pair of twins. I
think you ought each to have a handsome black silk too, and some pretty
home and morning dresses. But fortunately we don't need to purchase, or
even to decide on, everything to-day."

"No, we don't, and it is well, for I want to consult my sister first.
She has as much right as I to decide these questions."

"I agree with you," said Dorothy, "but you are better than some sisters
or you wouldn't be so ready to own it; some would say, 'I'm the eldest,
and things ought all to be as I want them.'"

"Blanche always wants me to have my own things exactly as I want them,
and reserves the same privilege for herself, which I think is the better
way; for what is becoming to one is not always equally so to the other."

"No, your complexions are different, but both beautiful. I have never
been able to decide which was the prettier, and would be only too
thankful to exchange with either of you," said Dorothy in her merry
tones.

"O Dorothy, how can you say that?" exclaimed Ethel. "I call you very
pretty; you are not fair, but your skin is so smooth and soft, and you
have such a lovely bright color in your cheeks, such large handsome eyes
with long, silky lashes that curl so prettily, such beautiful teeth
and----"

"Oh, stop, stop, you little flatterer!" exclaimed Dorothy. "You'll have
me as vain as a peacock, which will entirely spoil any pretensions to
beauty that I may be supposed to have. Ah, let us go in here. They have
the loveliest dress goods, and I dare say we can find the very shade of
gray cloth wanted for your travelling suit."

Several hours were spent in shopping; then they returned to Ethel's
little home laden with parcels, though the heavier bundles had all been
left to be sent, either there or to Mr. George Eldon's.

"Oh, I am glad to see you!" cried Blanche as they entered, "and though
you do look tired, I know by your happy faces that you've been
successful, and by the looks of your satchels that you have a good many
pretty little things to show me; but dinner's just ready and I can wait
till you have refreshed yourselves with food. We will all enjoy the
exhibition better after that has been attended to; so come out to the
dining room," and she led the way as she spoke.

"Really I don't know whether we can wait to make our important
communications," said Dorothy, laying down her satchel and removing her
hat and coat. "However, Ethel, it may be the wisest plan, if we consider
Blanche's good; since what we have to say and to show might destroy her
appetite for this dinner, which certainly smells very nice and
appetizing. I think you will discover that I have not lost, by the way,
my relish for good, substantial, well-prepared food. Partaking of it
will doubtless greatly assist me in abstaining from unwisely making
prompt revelation concerning the doings and happenings of our late
expedition--the raids we have made upon merchants, wholesale and retail."

"And the plunder you have brought off, eh?" queried Blanche sedately,
but with a twinkle of fun in her eye.

"That is included, of course," returned Dorothy.

"It is not according to one's strongest inclinations--this proposed
waiting," Ethel said laughingly, "but let us show how bravely we can
battle against them when we feel called upon to do so. Shall I help you
to some oysters, Dorothy?"

"Indeed you may, my dear girl. I am particularly fond of oysters when
well prepared, as I have always found them here, and hungry enough to
eat almost anything."

"I am glad to hear it," said Blanche, "since it will tend to cause you
to more highly appreciate our humble fare."

"Now don't put on any airs of mock humility, if you please, Miss Eldon,"
returned Dorothy. "I say this dinner is fit for a king; sufficient
variety, and everything done to a turn. These oysters, this Sally Lunn,
these baked potatoes are all delicious; and I never drank a better cup
of coffee. So what more could any reasonable mortal ask?"

"I don't know really," returned Blanche, "except in my case--that I may
be told what you two have seen, and done, and bought. Did you find our
uncles in?"

"The senior partner was there in his office, the other out; so that we
missed seeing him altogether. You will hear the rest after we have fully
satisfied our appetites; but remember, my lady, it was not your things
but Ethel's we were buying to-day. You have probably been told more than
once in the course of your short life, that older people must be
attended to first, younger ones wait patiently till their turn comes."

"Yes, I remember to have been told something of the sort several times
in my life," said Blanche; "but I venture to predict that I shall not
hear it very often after a certain ceremony expected to be performed
within the next two or three months."

"Ah, after that you will probably consider yourself a much more
important personage than--such of your sex as see fit to live in single
blessedness."

"Possibly," returned Blanche with an arch look and smile.

So they chatted on for some little time, then Dorothy exclaimed, "There,
we are all done eating, I see, so suppose we proceed now, Ethel, to
display our purchases to Blanche's astonished eyes."

"Yes," Ethel replied, "but let us carry them into the parlor so that we
can be on the watch for customers while Bridget eats her dinner."

They did so and Dorothy was in her element, opening packages and
displaying the contents to Blanche's delighted eyes.

"Oh, everything is just lovely!" she said, her eyes dancing with mirth.
"I doubt if you could have done better even with my assistance and
advice--valuable as my friends have always found them."

"Possibly not," returned Dorothy; "but wind and weather permitting, and
nothing else interfering, I hope to take you out to-morrow, my little
dear, and give you the opportunity to show your talent in this line. Now
we have shown you everything we bought to-day except the wedding dress
and its trimmings."

"Oh, did you get them? Let me see them!" cried Blanche in an eager,
excited tone.

"Unfortunately we cannot show the dress, or rather dresses--for Uncle
George gave us a whole piece of the loveliest white silk, enough to make
three gowns--one for Ethel, one for you, and one for myself, and----"

"Oh, did he? How kind and generous!" cried Blanche half breathlessly.

"Yes, and this lace to trim them with," said Dorothy, taking the last
remaining package from her satchel, adding as she undid it, "but I can't
show you the silk because it was ordered to be sent right up to his
house. I dare say it's there by this time, and you can call and look at
it when you will. There! what do you think of that?" throwing open her
package and holding up a portion of the lace to view.

"Oh! oh! oh! it's the loveliest thing I ever saw!" was Blanche's excited
exclamation. "Did you say Uncle George gave it to us! I don't see how he
could afford it, for it must have cost a mint of money."

"He said we were to have it at wholesale price and take the money to pay
for it from him."

"Oh!" gasped Blanche, "I hope he won't ruin himself."

"No danger, my dear; for though very, very generous he is exceedingly
careful too; as a business man should be."

"Or a business woman, or any other kind of man or woman," added Ethel
with a smile. "I think both our uncles are exceedingly kind to us all. I
often wish it were in my power to make them some adequate return."

"Perhaps it may be some day," said Blanche; "or, if not to them, to
their children."

"Yes," said Dorothy, "there are so many ups and downs in this world;
perhaps I might say particularly in this country. I must go home now,
girls; it won't do to leave Aunt Sarah alone all day. But see that you
are ready for your turn at shopping early to-morrow morning, Blanche, if
the weather is at all suitable. Better make out a list of necessary
articles, so that we won't forget and spend the money on the wrong ones.
By the way, girls, I shouldn't buy any more handsome dresses--except of
course Blanche's travelling suit--till we see what your Uncle Albert will
do to get even with his brother in that line."

"Yes, he too is exceedingly generous," said Ethel; "but I think he
should remember that he has more children of his own to provide for than
Uncle George has."

"Yes; and not the most economical ones in the world either," laughed
Dorothy as she stood before the glass, putting on her hat. "I must go
now," she said, picking up her satchel, "and I'll expect you bright and
early in the morning, Blanche. You'd better come for me so that you can
take a look at the silk for the wedding dresses."

"So I will; I want to see it, as who wouldn't if she expected to be
married in it?" returned Blanche as she and Ethel went with Dorothy to
the door.



CHAPTER XXII.


"There's Blanche now!" exclaimed Dorothy at the breakfast table the next
morning, as she filled her uncle's coffee cup for the second time. "Ah,
Blanche," as the door opened and the young girl walked in, "you are good
in obeying orders, and I'm glad to see you."

"As we all are," said her uncle. "Come, take a seat here by my side and
have a cup of coffee."

"Thank you, sir, I have been to breakfast," she said, taking the
indicated seat and exchanging a morning salutation with her Cousins
George and William. "And oh, uncle, I want to thank you for the lovely
lace you have given me, and the beautiful dress. I know it's beautiful,
though I haven't had the pleasure of seeing it yet."

"Well, you shall have that pleasure presently, when we are all done with
breakfast," he said. "I am glad you like my gift, but I expect some
return for it."

"And I will be delighted to give anything in my power," she replied,
smiling up into his eyes. "Please tell me in what coin you will take
your pay."

"The same that Johnnie, who stayed so long at the fair, wanted to have
for the fair ring he promised to bring his lady-love."

"And will you buy me a bunch of blue ribbon to tie up my bonny brown
hair?" she asked with a merry look and smile.

"Not brown, Blanche, darling, it's pure gold," laughed her Cousin
William.

"And gold and blue look quite as pretty together as blue and brown,"
remarked Dorothy.

"I'll buy you as many bunches of blue ribbon as you want and are willing
to pay for in the same kind of coin," said Uncle George, laying aside
the napkin he had just been using, turning toward Blanche, taking her
face between his hands, and bestowing several kisses upon the rosy
cheeks and red lips.

"There, uncle, you helped yourself, but I didn't give you any," she said
laughingly, as he released her, then putting her arms around his neck
she returned his caresses.

"That's the right kind of coin," he said, "and I think I must spare you
a few minutes of my valuable time. We are all done eating, and we will
go up now to your aunt's room to say good-morning to her and show you
the wedding silk; for she wants the pleasure of seeing how you like it.
Come along, Dorothy, George, and Will, if you care to see what
impression it makes."

All accepted the invitation and followed quickly after him and Blanche
as he led her up the stairs and into Mrs. Eldon's room, where she sat in
her invalid chair, looking over the morning paper. She turned toward
them as they entered, saying in a pleasant tone, "Ah, good-morning,
Blanche, I am glad to see you. Good-morning, my sons. Help your cousin
and yourselves to seats. My dear, you are as much at home here as I am.
I'm pleased that you found time to come up again before leaving for the
store. Dorothy, will you please get out the packages and let Blanche see
what she thinks of the goods?"

Dorothy opened a closet door and brought out several packages done up in
brown paper, handing one to her uncle. "I think you are the one to show
this, sir," she said with a smile.

"Very well," he replied, and in another moment Blanche was gazing with
delighted eyes upon the rich folds of the white silk intended for her
wedding dress.

"Oh, I think it is the very loveliest thing I ever saw!" she exclaimed,
clasping her hands in an ecstasy of admiration. "Thank you, uncle, thank
you a thousand times! Oh, what a beautiful dress it will make trimmed
with that lovely, lovely lace you have given Ethel and me for that
purpose."

"Yes, it is very handsome, and you must have veils too," said her aunt,
enjoying the sight of the young girl's pleasure almost as much as she
did that of the silk. "Show her the material for them, Dorothy."

Dorothy obeyed, saying, "This is Aunt Sarah's own gift toward your
trousseaus."

"Oh, auntie, thank you very much," cried Blanche, examining it
critically, "it is just lovely, and I am sure will make up beautifully."

"I am glad you like it," Mrs. Eldon said with a gratified look.

"And these two dress patterns, of different shades of gray silk, are
from Uncle Albert," remarked Dorothy, opening another package. "He
thought you would not want to be always dressed exactly alike, and says
you are to decide for yourselves which shall have which."

"Ethel, as the eldest, should be the one to settle that question," said
Blanche. "I think them both so beautiful that I shall not care which is
left for me. Oh, how kind in Uncle Albert to give them to us!"

"And here is enough handsome black silk to make a dress for each of
you," continued Dorothy, opening still another package and displaying
its contents. "It is Aunt Augusta's wedding gift."

"I--I am almost overwhelmed!" cried Blanche, scarcely able to speak from
emotion. "I who never before had even one perfectly new silk dress! Oh,
Uncle George, I am afraid you and Uncle Albert will ruin yourselves
doing so much for us!"

"I have no great apprehensions of that, my little girl," he returned
with a fatherly smile. "You are the only nieces we have to provide
for--except Dorothy here for me, and I don't mean to let her go for a
good while yet," smiling affectionately upon her; "so it would be a sad
pity if we couldn't open our hearts enough to give you a few wedding
clothes. But I must go now, and I think it would be well for you and
Dorothy to start out pretty soon to attend to that important shopping
which I hear you have on hand."

With that the three gentlemen withdrew from the room, and after a few
minutes' chat with their aunt about the purchases to be made that
morning, Dorothy and Blanche started out also.

They returned to Ethel at dinner time to report as good success with
their shopping as hers of the previous day. Blanche had bought a gray
travelling dress of a different shade from that of her sister, a hat and
gloves to match it, besides various smaller articles needed to complete
her trousseau, and Ethel admired and approved to the entire satisfaction
of the purchasers.

"Now," said Dorothy, "I think we need do very little, if any more,
shopping for some weeks, when the spring fashions have come out; but
there is plenty of sewing connected with what we have already bought to
keep us all three busy. How I wish you were ready to come to us at once,
so that we could get fairly to work immediately."

"Dorothy, how very kind you are," said Ethel, giving her a bright look
and smile. "I doubt if many girls in your place would think it any
concern of theirs whether our sewing was done in season or not, or offer
us any assistance with it."

"Ah, but you see I am naturally fond of such doings as you have on hand
at present," laughed Dorothy. "Now, can't you decide to close out
earlier than you have been intending to--say in two or three weeks, if
not sooner? I know perfectly well that aunt and uncle would be delighted
to have you come to them so much sooner than you have intended, to say
nothing of the boys and the girl Dorothy."

"Then perhaps you may be glad to hear of something that occurred this
morning while you two were shopping. A woman called in to say that,
hearing I was going to give up the house this spring, she would like to
look at it with a view to taking it. So I took her over it from attic to
cellar. She seemed to think it would exactly suit her, and if it would
not inconvenience me to move out sooner than I had intended--say in a
week or two--she would be very glad to take it off my hands, buying the
fixtures, most of the furniture, and the goods also--as she means to keep
the same kind of stock--and settling for the rent I should have to pay
the landlord if I had stayed on as long as I had intended."

"Oh, delightful!" cried Dorothy. "I hope you closed with the offer at
once?"

"No, not exactly," replied Ethel, smiling at Dorothy's earnestness, "but
I told her I would give her my answer to-morrow or next day. I wanted
time you see to consult my uncles, and to make sure I should not
inconvenience anybody by accepting the invitation from Uncle George and
Aunt Sarah so much earlier than they and we had expected."

"I can assure you you needn't hesitate one minute about that," returned
Dorothy. "Suppose you come up and talk with Aunt Sarah and the uncles
this evening and have it settled. Then you can see some pretty things we
were showing Blanche this morning."

"Oh, yes, Ethel; some lovely gifts to us from Uncle Albert and the two
aunts."

"Oh, hush!" cried Dorothy, "don't tell what they are, but let her be
surprised as you were this morning."

"Why, you cruel thing! the idea of keeping her waiting so long!"
exclaimed Blanche in simulated wrath.

"Oh, I can wait," laughed Ethel; "mysteries and expectations are really
delightful things sometimes. Now I think of it, as we do not often have
much custom in the evenings, Harry and you and I, Blanche, might go to
Uncle George's after tea and talk the matter over with him and Uncle
Albert; see the pretty things too, and thank them and the aunts for
their gifts."

The others thought well of the plan and it was duly carried out

The uncles highly approved of the immediate closing up of Ethel's
business, and the coming to their houses of both nieces and nephew
without any unnecessary delay. In consequence they were all, in less
than a fortnight, installed as temporary members of their Uncle George's
family, the girls very busy with the necessary preparations for their
approaching nuptials, and Dorothy equally so as their most kind helper.

The young lady cousins next door took a languid interest and prepared
some little wedding gifts for each of the prospective brides, but that
was the utmost of their helpfulness.

Busy though they were--very busy with their preparations--Ethel and
Blanche managed to find time to carry on a brisk correspondence with
Percy and Stuart, whose letters kept them informed of the progress made
from week to week in the building of their houses and the laying out of
the grounds, assuring them that they confidently hoped to have the
pretty homes ready in good season for their occupants. Their fathers, so
they wrote, would give them, not the grounds and houses alone, but
furniture for them also, and it was their intention to buy carpets,
curtains, and parlor furniture at least, in Philadelphia when they went
on for their brides. These would be sent immediately to Pleasant Plains,
as their town was called, and arranged in the houses by their Aunt Annis
and others of the family who intended to remain at home while the bridal
party made their wedding trip, visiting various places of note in the
Eastern and Middle States.

"Oh, how pleasant!" exclaimed Dorothy on hearing of these arrangements;
"you can go right into your own homes just as soon as you reach the
town. I should like nothing better if I were in your place."

"It suits us exactly," said Ethel.

"Aunt Sarah was saying only this morning that it was time to be
preparing invitations to the wedding and sending them out," remarked
Dorothy, "and she wants you girls to make out a list of the relatives
and friends of the bridegroom that are to be, who ought to receive
cards, so that she can attend to the business, which is just in her
line, as she can do it sitting in her chair and with very little
exertion."

"It is most kind in aunt, and we will write at once for such a list,"
replied Ethel, looking highly gratified; for both she and Blanche wished
to show every attention to the relatives of Percy and Stuart, but had
not thus far felt that they had any right to invite them, or anyone, to
the house of their uncle; and he had expressed a wish to have the
ceremony performed in his own parlor.

The letters were promptly written, sent by the next train for the West,
and a reply containing the requested list came by the return of mail.

It gave the names of relatives only, few besides the Keiths, Aunt
Wealthy Stanhope, and such of the Dinsmores as were related to Mrs.
Marcia Keith, the maternal grandmother of Percy and Stuart, including,
of course, those of New Jersey who had for years so kindly befriended
Ethel, Blanche, and their younger brother and sister.

The girls had few friends or acquaintances outside of the families of
their two uncles, and desiring a quiet wedding because of their recent
bereavement, none others were invited.

They were very busy with their preparations, yet had time enough to take
matters easily and not be so overworked as to mar their good looks or
exhaust their strength. They were almost at leisure and looking rosy and
happy, when their intended partners for life walked in upon them some
days before the one appointed for the important ceremony.

The arrival was not unexpected, for it had been agreed upon that they
should come in good season to allow time for each young couple to make
their purchases of household goods and have them shipped for Pleasant
Plains before the wedding.

Some two or three days were spent most enjoyably in this fascinating
work of choosing the adornments of their future homes, Dorothy sometimes
accompanying them, by invitation, that they might have the benefit of
her excellent taste and judgment.

In the meantime letters of acceptance or declination, accompanied by
gifts--principally of handsome jewelry or silver ware--came pouring in
from the invited relatives, causing the most pleasurable excitement
Ethel and Blanche had ever known.

Dorothy heartily rejoiced with and for them, fairly going into ecstasies
over a diamond pin for each, from Mr. Horace Dinsmore and his father,
and lovely bracelets from Mr. Travilla and his wife, the dear Cousin
Elsie of whom they had often heard Mrs. Landreth speak.

These handsome gifts were accompanied by letters expressing kindly
interest and the hope of making the acquaintance of the young brides at
some future day, but declining to attend the wedding, as it was not
convenient for any of them to leave home just at that time.

Aunt Wealthy, too, declined for the same reason, and because of her
advanced years, but sent a piece of silver ware to each of the brides
and a warm, even urgent invitation for a visit to her on their homeward
way.

"Dear old auntie!" exclaimed Percy on reading the letter, which Ethel
had handed to him, "I think, Stuart, we should try to manage it; if our
brides are willing," he added with a smiling glance at the two girls
sitting near. "It will not take us very much out of our way, and would
be such a gratification to her."

"With all my heart, if the ladies do not object," returned Stuart with
an enquiring look at them. "I do not believe either of them would regret
it, for she is, as you say, 'a dear old lady.' A very amusing one, also,
at times," he added with a mirthful look.

"Oh, yes; I have heard your mother and sisters speak of her, Percy, and
I should like nothing better than to pay her a little visit in her own
house, and engage her to make a return, if possible," Ethel said, her
eyes sparkling with pleasure at the very idea.

"I, too," exclaimed Blanche. "Oh, it would be lovely! better than going
to the Eastern States, if we cannot do both."

"Oh, we can do both," said Stuart, "if we do not stay too long at any
one place."

"Yes, of course, we do not expect ever to have another honeymoon,"
laughed Percy. "If nobody objects, I'll write at once to Aunt Wealthy
that we hope and expect to accept her invitation." A moment of silence,
then Blanche said:

"I think you are safe in doing so, as we have all expressed a desire to
make the visit."

"Yes; then I'll write to-night," said Percy. "Oh, by the way, I received
a letter from Cousin Horace Dinsmore, junior--who is about my own
age--accepting an invitation I sent him the other day to be one of our
groomsmen."

"I am pleased to hear it," said Ethel. "Having heard a great deal about
the family I have wanted very much to see them."

"Which I intend you shall one of these days, if I have to take you all
the way down there," laughed Percy.

"Possibly you maybe able to induce them to pay us a visit this coming
summer or fall," said Stuart. "I own to a strong desire to see them
myself; so many years having passed since there was an exchange of
visits that I have no recollection of any of the family."

"I should think not," laughed Percy; "for if I am not mistaken none of
them have visited our part of the country since you were born. I was
taken down there in my babyhood, but, of course, have no recollection of
the circumstances, or of the relatives I saw there. But we have heard so
much talk about them, and read so many of their letters, that it almost
seems as if we had seen and known them."

"Yes, I believe you are right," Stuart said musingly. "I shall be
pleased to make the acquaintance of Horace, junior, so am very glad he
is coming. It brings up the number of our groomsmen to six--Horace, Harry
Eldon, Stuart Landreth, and the three cousins of the brides--George,
William, and Albert."

"And we have the same number of bridesmaids," remarked Blanche; "your
sister and Percy's two, his and your cousin Mary Keith, our cousin
Minnie Eldon, and Dorothy. Aunt Sarah says we must have a rehearsal
to-night."

"Yes," said Stuart, "and another after Horace Dinsmore gets here, as he
will to-morrow, I think."

"And we expect all our party from Pleasant Plains to be here in the city
by that time," added Percy; "so that we may hope to get all the intended
bridesmaids and groomsmen together for that second one."

"I think they will get in to-night," said Stuart; "and it will be well
if they do, as that will give them--I mean the girls, particularly--time
to rest a bit before going through the ordeal."

"The rehearsal will be scarcely an ordeal, but----" It was Blanche who
spoke, but she paused without finishing her sentence, and assuming a
comical expression of pretended fright and apprehension.

"The actual ceremony will?" queried Stuart laughingly.

"Yes; remembering that I have heard more than once that men are
deceivers," she sighed. "Alas! if I should be mistaken in the one to
whose keeping I commit my happiness."

"It would be dreadful," returned Stuart regarding her with admiring,
laughing eyes, "and perhaps equally so should I be mistaken in the
little woman to whom I commit mine. But I am not afraid."

"Nor need you be, Blanche, let me assure you," said Percy. "Try to be as
reasonable and trustful as Ethel, who I feel convinced is not the least
afraid of me," he added with a happy little laugh, and a glance of
ardent affection at his betrothed.

"Ah, who shall say that that is not because she is a brave--if not
particularly bright woman?" laughed Ethel.

"I," said Percy; "you, Miss Eldon, are the only person who will be
permitted to utter such a slander concerning her in my presence."

The next few days seemed taken up by a whirl of pleasurable
excitement--introductions to new friends, soon to become relatives, the
reception of many beautiful presents, the rehearsals of those who were
to take part in the ceremony, the trimming of the house with flowers,
the trying on of wedding finery, and selecting of flowers--orange
blossoms--for the adornment of the brides.

There was scarcely time to think of the pain of the coming partings from
brother, uncles, and other relatives; pain it would be, yet not to be
compared with that of many a young bride who must leave father, mother,
home, and more than one loved brother and sister.

The wedding was a pronounced success; brides and bridesmaids looking
their best--groom and groomsmen also--and each going through his or her
part of the ceremony in an altogether creditable manner.

A wedding feast followed; then came the leave-takings and the scattering
of the guests and the bridal party, the latter taking the cars for New
York, where they spent some days in sight-seeing; from there they went
on to Boston, where a week was spent visiting places in the city and its
vicinity interesting from a historical point of view. Then they returned
to New York, went up the Hudson on a fine steamer to West Point, where
they spent a day and a night; then by boat again up to Albany, where
they made but a brief halt, then took the cars for Saratoga, spent a few
days there, during which they visited the battlefield--all being
intensely interested in everything connected with the struggle that had
made us a nation.

Their next pause was at Niagara, where they made a brief stay to see the
Falls. From there they went to Lansdale, O., to pay the promised visit
to Aunt Wealthy, which would be their last halt on their homeward way.



CHAPTER XXIII.


It was on a lovely June morning that our bridal party arrived in
Lansdale. They were met at the depot by Aunt Wealthy's nephew Mr. Harry
Duncan, and driven directly to the pretty cottage which had been for so
many years the home of the dear old lady. She met them on its porch with
both hands outstretched in cordial greeting to the dearly loved
grandnephews, and their wives of whom this was her first sight, gave
them the tenderest of greetings, then led them within doors and gave
them in charge to Mrs. Duncan and Mrs. Lottie Allison, who conducted
them to their respective rooms and left them there to refresh themselves
by the removal of the dust of travel and a change of raiment.

An excellent dinner, served in Aunt Wealthy's dining room and partaken
of by all the members of the three families, followed in due season, the
dear old lady herself taking the head of the table and doing the honors
as gracefully as though she had seen but half the years which had
actually passed over her head.

Ethel felt strongly drawn to her and the attraction seemed mutual.

"I am greatly obliged to you, boys," Aunt Wealthy said in her sweet,
silvery tones, glancing from Ethel to Blanche and back again, "for
furnishing me with two such sweet and lovable grand-nieces. I only wish
I could keep you and them near me without robbing our dear ones in your
native town. Now if you could persuade your parents and grandparents to
leave Pleasant Plains for Lansdale and you to settle here also, it would
be very delightful to your old auntie."

"It would be very delightful for us to have her near at hand," returned
Percy with a smile, "but surely much easier to carry her there with us,
than to bring all our numerous tribe here. What do you say to the idea
of joining our party when we start for home again, Aunt Wealthy?"

"Ah, no, laddie! I'm too old a fixture to be moved," returned the old
lady, shaking her head. "I am only living from day to day with the
feeling that home is all ready for me in that better land and that I may
at any moment hear the glad summons to go to it and the dear Master who
has prepared it for me."

"And yet how very peaceful and happy you look, auntie," remarked
Blanche. "Do you not dread that summons at all?"

"Oh, no, child. Why should I or anyone dread a call to go home to the
Father's house on high? I can truly say I do not dread it half so much
as I should the earthly journey from here to Pleasant Plains. That would
cause me much weariness; the other none at all."

"I think you are to be envied, Aunt Wealthy," said Blanche. "I don't
think it is altogether because you are old and weary of life either,
because our dear young sister Nannette seemed as glad to go to that dear
home as anybody could be."

"I hope you will tell us all about her while you are here," remarked
Mrs. Duncan, with a look of interest.

"Yes," said Mrs. Allison, "and also about your wedding, for we have
heard absolutely nothing so far."

"Our mothers, and the rest at Pleasant Plains, have been too busy to
write, I presume," observed Stuart; "but you shall have all the
particulars you care for from us before we leave."

"Yes, you must please tell us all about it this evening when Dr. and
Mrs. Prince will be in to hear it too."

"Now, Aunt Wealthy, do you know that, as usual, you have lowered my
father's rank?" queried Mrs. Allison with an amused look and smile. "You
will forget, you dear old soul, that he is a King--not merely a prince."

"Ah, yes; it is a sad mistake and one that I make very often, and I fear
I'm too young now to hope to reform in that respect."

"Ah, well, auntie, do not be discouraged," said Mr. Duncan; "you know
you are getting older every day and may hope to arrive finally at years
of discretion."

"Ah, Harry, Harry, you are a sad fellow, considering that you belong to
the family of such a fine young father; such an one should never think
of making game of his old auntie in that fashion," returned Miss
Stanhope with affected gravity, but a twinkle of fun in her eye. Then
turning to Percy, "Did Mr. Travilla and Elsie get to your wedding?" she
asked.

"No, ma'am; none of the family except young Horace, who was one of our
groomsmen. I own that I was disappointed, for I have a great desire to
meet them all; especially Cousin Elsie. She has been here several times,
has she not?"

"Yes, years ago when she was quite young--eighteen--and Mr. Travilla came
after her, but was not her--yes, he was her lover, but she thought of him
only as a kind of uncle. Then her father brought her again when she had
found out that she cared for Mr. Torville, and engaged him to marry her.
Ah, he's as pleasant a gentleman as ever you saw!"

"You were at the wedding, were you not, Aunt Wealthy?" asked Stuart.

"Yes, indeed! They wouldn't have missed me for a good deal, and from the
sole of her head to the crown of her foot she was the loveliest bride
that I ever saw."

"So mother has often told me, and that she was as lovely in character as
in person," said Percy.

"An assertion which no one at all acquainted with her would hesitate to
confirm," said Mr. Allison. "I know her well as the daughter of my
esteemed brother-in-law, Mr. Horace Dinsmore, and have known her since
she was a little lass about nine years old."

"How I should like to see her!" exclaimed Blanche.

"We have photographs at home," said Stuart. "I think them lovely, but
mother and the others who remember her say they do not do her justice."

"We have some very good ones here," said Aunt Wealthy, "and everyone who
cares to look at them can do so."

They were leaving the table as she spoke and Blanche, speaking aside to
Stuart, urged him to ask his aunt to show them the old-fashioned
treasures in her parlor of which she had heard him and Percy tell.

"Yes, dearest, I will," he said with a mirthful look. "I own to a great
desire to see them myself, having heard so much about them from mother,
grandma, and Aunt Mildred."

But there was no need to prefer the request, as it was to the parlor
Miss Stanhope now led the way, and she was presently exhibiting with
pardonable pride the old furniture that had been in the family since
before her time, her grandmother's sampler framed and hanging on the
wall, the embroidered chair cushions which she said were filled with
that grandmother's own feathers, and were valued by herself more than
their weight in gold, though much faded and somewhat worn in spite of
the excellent care she had always taken of them--the old, old portraits
on the walls, the cabinet of curiosities brought from over the seas by
an ancestor who had been a sea captain.

All these were examined with interest, then Percy enquired for the
photographs.

"Ah, they are here," replied Miss Stanhope, taking up a photographic
album and handing it to him. "Let us see if you can pick out your Cousin
Elsie."

"Easily," he returned, "since I have often seen one in mother's
possession;" and as he opened the album his wife, Blanche, and Stuart
drew around him to gaze with eager curiosity upon the lovely face which
he pronounced an excellent likeness of Mrs. Travilla, judging from those
he had seen and the description of her often given him by the members of
the family who knew her.

Our little bridal party spent some days at Lansdale, then urgent
messages from home hurried them away. They reached Pleasant Plains about
the middle of the afternoon of another lovely June day.

As they alighted from the train they were greeted most rejoicingly by
their fathers and mothers--Dr. and Mrs. Landreth and Mr. and Mrs.
Ormsby--each couple being conducted to a waiting carriage, and presently,
when the baggage had been attended to, they were whirled away to the
house of the young men's grandfather, Mr. Keith, where they found the
other members of the connection waiting to greet and welcome them.

Then, after a few minutes' chat, they were conducted to their own new
homes, which had been thoroughly cleaned and furnished with the carpets,
curtains, and other articles bought in Philadelphia for that purpose.

All four were filled with delight at the neat and tasteful appearance of
each dwelling, and the many comforts and conveniences that had been
provided through the thoughtful love and effort of parents and friends.

The grounds were prettily laid out, sodded and planted with trees,
shrubs, and flowers, and presented an attractive appearance for places
so new to cultivation, giving promise of great beauty in coming years;
and from porches and balconies charming views might be obtained of the
surrounding country and the beautiful swiftly flowing river.

Ethel and Blanche were evidently greatly pleased, and their young
husbands scarcely less so.

When all these things had been viewed and rapturously commented upon,
the young couples were left to themselves, with an injunction to come
over to their grandfather's again when ready for tea, as all the family
were to be assembled there to rejoice together over their safe arrival,
and that those to whom the brides were strangers, as yet, might have an
opportunity to make their acquaintance.

It proved a delightful family party, but as the travellers were somewhat
weary with their long journey, and the watchful mothers divined that
they were longing for the privacy and rest to be found in their own
little homes, they proposed at an early hour that the old father should
lead them all in a short service of prayer and praise, then all disperse
to their several abodes, hoping to meet again on the morrow, when rested
and refreshed by sleep.

They separated with kind good-nights, and a few moments later Percy and
his Ethel were standing together on their own porch gazing out upon the
moonlit landscape.

"What a beautiful river it is!" she said in tones tremulous with
emotion, "and, oh, what a dear, lovely home you have brought me to! I
had hardly hoped ever to have one so sweet and fair, or to be so loved
as I firmly believe my husband loves me."

"You deserve it all, dearest," he said with feeling; "yes, far more than
I deserve the happiness of having so sweet a wife for my very own. And
God grant we may live and love together here for many years, should it
please Him to spare our lives."

THE END.



THE MILDRED SERIES

A Companion Series of the "Elsie" Books

By MARTHA FINLEY

(Martha Farquharson)

    MILDRED KEITH
    MILDRED AT ROSELANDS
    MILDRED AND ELSIE
    MILDRED'S MARRIED LIFE
    MILDRED AT HOME
    MILDRED'S BOYS AND GIRLS
    MILDRED'S NEW DAUGHTER





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