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Title: Interrupted
Author: Pansy
Language: English
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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.

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[Transcriber's Note: Bold text is surrounded by =equal signs= and
italic text is surrounded by _underscores_.]

[Illustration: Louis and Alice Ansted call on Claire.    p. 206]



INTERRUPTED

    BY
    PANSY

    AUTHOR OF "AN ENDLESS CHAIN," "MRS. SOLOMON SMITH LOOKING
    ON," "CHRISTIE'S CHRISTMAS," "A HEDGE FENCE," "ESTER
    RIED YET SPEAKING," "THE HALL IN THE GROVE,"
    "CHAUTAUQUA GIRLS," "RUTH ERSKINE'S
    CROSSES," "THE MAN OF THE HOUSE,"
    ETC., ETC.

[Illustration]

    BOSTON
    LOTHROP PUBLISHING COMPANY



    COPYRIGHT, 1885,
    BY
    D. LOTHROP AND COMPANY.

    _All rights reserved._


    PANSY
    TRADE-MARK REGISTERED JUNE 4, 1895.



CONTENTS.


    CHAPTER I.
    REACHING INTO TO-MORROW      7

    CHAPTER II.
    WHY?                        22

    CHAPTER III.
    OUT IN THE WORLD            36

    CHAPTER IV.
    AN OPEN DOOR                51

    CHAPTER V.
    TRYING TO ENDURE            65

    CHAPTER VI.
    LIFTED UP                   79

    CHAPTER VII.
    "OUR CHURCH."               93

    CHAPTER VIII.
    MAKING OPPORTUNITIES       108

    CHAPTER IX.
    OUTSIDE THE CIRCLE         123

    CHAPTER X.
    AN OPEN DOOR               138

    CHAPTER XI.
    A "FANATIC."               153

    CHAPTER XII.
    LOGIC AND LABOR            168

    CHAPTER XIII.
    INNOVATIONS                183

    CHAPTER XIV.
    BLIND                      200

    CHAPTER XV.
    STARTING FOR HOME          218

    CHAPTER XVI.
    LOST FRIENDS               235

    CHAPTER XVII.
    SPREADING NETS             254

    CHAPTER XVIII.
    BUD IN SEARCH OF COMFORT   271

    CHAPTER XIX.
    COMFORTED                  287

    CHAPTER XX.
    BUD AS A TEACHER           303

    CHAPTER XXI.
    ONE OF THE VICTIMS         318

    CHAPTER XXII.
    NEW LINES OF WORK          332

    CHAPTER XXIII.
    UNPALATABLE TRUTHS         347

    CHAPTER XXIV.
    RECOGNITION                362

    CHAPTER XXV.
    DANGERS SEEN AND UNSEEN    376

    CHAPTER XXVI.
    AN ESCAPED VICTIM          391

    CHAPTER XXVII.
    THE SUMMER'S STORY         408

    CHAPTER XXVIII.
    A FAMILY SECRET            423



INTERRUPTED.



CHAPTER I.

REACHING INTO TO-MORROW.


FROM the back parlor there came the sound of fresh young voices
brimming with energy. Several voices at once, indeed, after the
fashion of eager young ladies well acquainted with one another, and
having important schemes to further. Occasionally there were bursts of
laughter, indicating that freedom of speech and good fellowship reigned
among the workers.

The committee, or the society, or the association, whatever it was, was
breaking up, for the door was ajar, one young lady standing near it,
her hand out as if to open it wider, preparatory to departure, while
she waited to say another of the many last things. Others were drawing
wraps about them, or donning furs and overshoes, and talking as they
worked. Their voices, clear and brisk, sounded distinctly down the long
hall.

"And about the Committee on Award; you will attend to that, Claire,
will you not?"

"Oh, and what are we to do about Mrs. Stuart?"

"Why, Claire promised to see her. She is just the one to do it. Mrs.
Stuart will do anything for her."

"And, Claire, you must be sure to see the Snyders before the judge
starts on his Southern trip! If we don't get his positive promise, we
may have trouble."

"Claire Benedict, you promised to help me with my Turkish costume, you
know. I haven't the least idea how to get it up."

Then a younger voice:

"Miss Claire, you will drill me on my recitation, won't you? Mamma says
you are just the one to show me how."

"And, oh! Claire, don't forget to see that ponderous Doctor Wheelock
and get his subscription. It frightens me to think of going to him."

In the sitting-room opposite stood Claire's younger sister, Dora
Benedict. She had just come in from the outer world, and with part of
her wraps still gathered about her, stood watching the falling snow,
and listening to the voices in the back parlor. At this point she spoke:

"Mamma, just hear the girls! They are heaping up the work on Claire,
giving her the planning and the collecting and the drilling, and the
greater portion of the programme to attend to, and she calmly agrees to
do it all."

"Your sister has a great amount of executive ability, my dear, and
is always to be depended on. Such people are sure to have plenty of
burdens to carry."

Mrs. Benedict said this in a gently modulated, satisfied voice, and
leaned back in her easy chair and smiled as she spoke. She delayed a
stitch in her crimson tidy, while she listened a moment to the sound of
Claire's voice, calmly and assuringly shouldering the burdens of work;
promising here, offering there, until the listeners in the sitting-room
were prepared to sympathize with the words spoken in the parlor in a
relieved tone of voice:

"I declare, Claire Benedict, you are a host in yourself! What we should
do without you is more than I can imagine."

"I should think as much!" This from the girl in the brown-plumed hat,
who listened in the next room. "You couldn't do without her! that is
just all there would be about it! Two thirds of your nice plans, for
which you get so much credit, would fall through. Mamma, do you think
Claire ought to attempt so much?"

"Well, I don't know," responded the gentle-faced woman thus appealed
to, pausing again in her fancy work to consider the question. "Claire
has remarkable talent, you know, in all these directions. She is a born
organizer and leader, and the girls are willing to follow her lead. I
don't know but she works too hard. It is difficult to avoid that, with
so many people depending on her I don't myself see how they would
manage without her. You know Doctor Ellis feels much the same. He was
telling your father, only last night, that there was not another young
lady in the church on whom he could depend as he did on her. Your
father was amused at his earnestness. He said he should almost feel
like giving up his pastorate here, if he should lose her. Claire is
certainly a power in the church, and the society generally. I should
feel sorry for them if they were to lose her."

The mother spoke this sentence quietly, with the unruffled look of
peace and satisfaction on her face. No foreboding of loss came to her.
She thought, it is true, of the barely possible time when her eldest
daughter might go out from this home into some other, and have other
cares and responsibilities, but the day seemed very remote. Claire was
young, and was absorbed in her church and home work.

Apparently, even the _suggestion_ of another home had not come to her.
It might never come. She might live always in the dear home nest,
sheltered, and sheltering, in her turn, others less favored. Or in the
event of a change, some time in the future, it might be, possibly, just
from one street in the same city to another, and much of the old life
go on still; and in any event the mother could say "their loss," not
mine; for the sense of possible separation had not come near enough to
shadow the mother's heart as yet; she lived in the dreamland of belief
that a married daughter would be as near to the mother and the home
as an unmarried one. Therefore her face was placid, and she sewed her
crimson threads and talked placidly of what might have been, but was
not; the future looked secure and smiling.

"You see," she continued to the young and but half-satisfied daughter,
"it is an unusual combination of things that makes your sister so
important to this society. There are not many girls in it who have
wealth and leisure, and the peculiar talents required for leadership.
Run over the list in your mind, and you will notice that those who have
plenty of time would not know what to do with it unless Claire were
here to tell them, and those who have plenty of money would fritter it
all away, without her to guide, and set a grand example for them."

"I am not questioning her ability, mamma," the daughter said, with a
little laugh, "that is, her mental ability; but it seems to me they
ought to remember that she has a body, as well as the others. Still,
she will always work at something, I suppose; she is made in that mold.
Mamma, what do you suppose Claire would do if she were poor?"

"I haven't the least idea, daughter. I hope she would do the best she
could; but I think I feel grateful that there seems little probability
of our discovering by experience."

"Still, one can never tell what may happen."

"Oh, no, that is true; I was speaking of probabilities."

Still the mother's face was placid. She called them probabilities,
but when she thought of her husband's wealth and position in the
mercantile world, they really seemed to her very much like certainties.

And now the little coterie in the back parlor broke up in earnest, and,
exclaiming over the lateness of the hour, made haste into the snowy
world outside.

Claire followed the last one to the door; a young and pretty girl,
afraid of her own decided capabilities, unless kissed and petted by
this stronger spirit into using them.

"You will be sure to do well, Alice dear, and remember I depend on you."

This was the last drop of dew for the frightened young flower, and it
brightened visibly under it, and murmured:

"I will do my best; I don't want to disappoint you."

Then Claire came into the sitting-room, and dropped with an air of
satisfied weariness into one of the luxurious chairs, and folded her
hands to rest.

"Dora thinks you are carrying too much on your shoulders, dear." This
from the fancy worker.

"Oh, no, mamma, my shoulders are strong. Everything is in fine train.
I think our girls are really getting interested in missions now, as
well as in having a good time, that is what I am after, you know, but
some of them don't suspect it. Why didn't you come to the committee
meeting, Dora?"

"I have but just come in from Strausser's, on that commission, you
know, and I thought if I appeared, there would be so many questions
to answer, and so much to explain, that the girls would not get away
to-night."

"Oh, did you see Mr. Strausser? Well, what did he say?" And Claire sat
erect, her weariness gone, and gave herself to work again.

The door bell rang, and she was presently summoned to the hall.

"One of your poor persons," was the servant's message.

There seemed to be a long story to tell, and Claire listened, and
questioned, and commented, and rang the bell to give directions for a
certain package from a certain closet to be brought, and sent Dora to
her room for her pocket-book, and finally the "poor person" went away,
her voice sounding cheered and grateful as she said inquiringly:

"Then you will be sure to come over to-morrow?"

Dora laughed, as Claire returned to the easy chair.

"How many things you are going to do to-morrow, Claire? I heard you
promise the girls a dozen or so. And that reminds me that Doctor Ellis
wants to know if you will look in to-morrow, and go with Mrs. Ellis to
call on a new family, of whom he said he told you."

"I know," said Claire, "I was thinking about them this morning. I must
try and go to-morrow. They are people who ought not to be neglected.
Did he say at what hour? Oh, mamma, have you that broth ready for
aunt Kate? I might go around there with it now: I shall not have time
to-morrow, and I promised her I would come myself before the week
closed."

Then the fast falling snow was discussed, and demurred over a little
by mother and younger sister, and laughingly accepted by Claire as a
pleasant accessory to a winter walk; and it ended, as things were apt
to end in that family, in Claire having her own way, and sallying forth
equipped for the storm, with her basket of comforts on her arm.

She looked back to Dora to say that mamma must not worry if she were
detained, for she had promised to look in at Mr. Anstead's and make
some arrangements for to-morrow's committee meeting; and to add that
the papers in the library were to be left as they were, ready for
to-morrow.

"It is the eventful day," she said, laughingly, "our work is to
culminate then. We are to discover what the fruit of all this getting
ready is; we are to have things just as they are to be, without a break
or a pause."

"Perhaps," said Dora.

"Why do you say 'perhaps,' you naughty croaker? Do you dare to think
that anything will be less than perfect after the weeks of labor we
have given it?"

"How can I tell? Nothing is ever perfect. Did you never notice, Claire,
that it is impossible to get through a single day just as one plans it?"

"I have noticed it," Claire answered, smiling, "but I did not know that
your young head had taken it in."

"Ah, but I have. _I_ plan occasionally, myself, but I am like Paul
in one thing, any way, 'how to perform I find not.' It is worse on
Saturday than any other day. I almost never do as I intended."

"I wouldn't quote Bible verses with a twisted meaning, if I were you,
little girl. It is a dangerous habit; I know by experience. They so
perfectly fit into life, that one is sorely tempted. But I am not often
troubled in the way you mention; my plans generally come out all right.
Possibly because I have studied them from several sides, and foreseen
and provided for hindrances. There is a great deal in that. You see,
to-morrow, if I don't get through with all the engagements laid out for
it. I have studied them all, and there really _can't_ anything happen
to throw me very far off my programme."

There was an air of complacency about the speaker, and a satisfied
smile on her face as she tripped briskly away. She was a skilful and
successful general. Was there any harm in her realizing it?

Dora went back to the gentle mother.

"The house will be alive all day to-morrow, mamma. Claire has half a
dozen committee meetings here at different hours, and a great rehearsal
of all their exercises for the literary entertainment. There will be
no place for quiet, well-behaved people like you and me. What do you
suppose is the matter with me? I feel like a croaker. If Claire had not
just scolded me for quoting the Bible to suit my moods, I should have
said to her, 'Boast not thyself of to-morrow, for thou knowest not what
a day may bring forth.'"

Mrs. Benedict looked up searchingly into the face of her young
daughter, who was so unlike her sister, who took life doubtfully,
and bristled with interrogation points, and dreamed while the other
worked, and leaned on Claire everywhere and always, even as she knew
she did herself.

"Claire isn't boastful, dear, I think," she said gently. "It is
right for her to rest in the brightness of the present and to trust
to-morrow."

"Oh, she has planned to-morrow, mamma; there is nothing to trust about."

Then after a moment:

"Mamma, she is good and splendid, just as she always is, and I am
cross."

Whereupon she sprang to meet her father, and before he had divested
himself of his snowy great-coat, she had covered his bearded face with
kisses and dropped some tears on his hands.

It was after family worship that evening, when the father stood with
a daughter on either side of him, with an arm around each, that he
rallied Dora on her tearful greeting.

"Dora is mercurial," her mother said. "Her birthday comes in April, and
there is very apt to be a shower right in the midst of sunshine."

"She has studied too hard to-day," the father said, kissing her fondly.
"After a good night's rest, the sunshine will get the better of the
showers."

"They both need developing in exactly different ways," he said to the
mother when they were left to themselves.

He looked after his two beautiful girls fondly as he spoke, but the
last words they had heard from him were:

"Good-night, daughters! Get ready for a bright to-morrow. The storm is
about over."

"The storm did not trouble me," said Claire. "Real work often gets on
better in a storm; and I think we shall have a chance to try it. I
think papa is mistaken; the sky says to me that we shall have a stormy
day."

When "to-morrow" came, the sun shone brilliantly in a cloudless sky;
but every shutter in the Benedict mansion was closed, and crape
streamed from the doorknobs; and during all that memorable day neither
daughter did one thing that had been planned for the day before.



CHAPTER II.

WHY?


JUST at midnight--that is, just at the dawning of the "to-morrow"
for which so much had been planned--Claire was awakened by a quick,
decisive knock at her door, followed by a voice which expressed haste
and terror:

"Miss Claire, your mother wants you to come right away, and bring Miss
Dora. Your father is sick."

And Claire was alert in an instant, wakening, soothing and helping the
frightened Dora. She herself was not greatly alarmed. It is true, her
father was not subject to sudden illnesses; but then, men were often
sick, and very sick, too, while the attack lasted. She called to mind
the story Nettie Stuart had told her that afternoon, how "papa was
so ill the night before that they really thought he would die, and
everybody in the house was up waiting on him." Yet "papa" had been at
the bank that next day, looking nearly as well as usual. Had it been
her frail mother who was ill, Claire felt that her pulses would have
quickened more than they did now. Mamma did not seem strong enough to
bear much pain, but papa was a man of iron frame, everybody said.

She told over some of these encouraging thoughts to Dora, while she
helped her to dress:

"Don't tremble so, darling; there is nothing to be frightened about.
Papa has one of his dreadful headaches, I presume, and mamma needs us
to help care for him. You know she is not feeling so well as usual.
She promised to call me the next time papa needed nursing. Men are so
unused to suffering, that a pain is something terrible to them while it
lasts."

They sped down the stairs together, Claire having slackened none of her
speed because she believed there was no cause for alarm. Her hand was
on her mother's doorknob, when the door swung open, and the mother's
white face made her start back in affright.

"Where are they?" she said, in a strange, agonized voice, groping about
with her hand as though she did not see distinctly, though the hall
was brightly lighted. "O, children, children, you are too late! Oh,
why"--and she fell senseless at their feet; and Claire was bending over
her, lifting her in trembling arms, trying to speak soothing words, all
the time wondering in a terror-stricken way what all this could mean!
Too late for what?

They had to settle down to inevitable facts, as so many poor souls
before, and since, have had to do. Of course, the first wildness of
grief passed, and they realized but too well that the father who had
kissed them and bade them look out for a bright to-morrow, had gone
away, and taken all the brightness of the to-morrow with him. At first
they could not believe it possible. Father dead! Why, his robust frame
and splendid physique had been the remark of guests ever since they
could remember! He had been fond of boasting that a physician had not
been called for him in twenty years.

Well, the physician arrived too late on this particular night, when
he had been called; another call had been louder, and the father went
to answer to it. Well for him that he had long before made ready for
this journey, and that there was nothing in the summons that would have
alarmed him, had he been given time to have realized it.

The poor widow went over, again and again, the details of that awful
hour:

"We had a little talk together, just as usual. Much of it was about
you; that was natural, too; he talked a great deal about you, children;
and on that evening, he said, after you left the room, that you both
needed developing in different ways, and sometimes it troubled him
to know how it was to be done. I did not understand him, and I asked
what he meant. He said some things that I will try to tell you when my
head is clearer. He was very earnest about it, and asked me to kneel
down with him, and he prayed again for you, dear girls, and for me, a
wonderful prayer. It wasn't like any that I ever heard before. Oh, I
might have known then that it was to prepare me; but I didn't think of
such a thing. I asked him if he felt well, and he said, oh, yes, only
more tired than usual; it had been a hard day, and there were business
matters that were not so smooth as he could wish. But he told me there
was nothing to worry about; only affairs that would require careful
handling, such as he meant to give them. Then he dropped to sleep, and
I lay awake a little, thinking over what he had said about you two, and
wondering if he was right in his conclusions. At last I slept, too, and
I knew nothing more until his heavy breathing awakened me.

"I made all possible haste for lights, and sent for the doctor and for
you just as soon as I could get an answer to the bell; and Thomas was
quick, too, but it seemed an age. The moment I had a glimpse of your
father's face, I knew something dreadful was the matter; but I did not
think, even then, that he was going to leave me."

At this point the desolate wife would break into a storm of tears,
and the daughters would give themselves to soothing words and tender
kisses, and put aside as best they could the consuming desire to know
what that dear father's last thoughts had been for them.

Well, the days passed. Isn't it curious how time moves along steadily,
after the object for which we think time was made has slipped away?

This sudden death, however, had made an unusual break in the usual
order of things. Mr. Benedict's name was too closely identified with
all the business interests of the city, as well as with its moral and
religious interests, not to have his departure from their midst make
great differences, and be widely felt.

The few days following his death were days of general and spontaneous
public demonstration. On the afternoon of the funeral, great
warehouses were closed, because his name was identified with them;
stores were closed, because crape waved from the doors of his, the
largest in the line. The First National Bank was closed, for he was one
of the Directors. The public schools were closed, because he had been
prominent among their Board of Directors; and it was so that on every
street some token of the power of the great man gone was shown.

As for the church, and the Sabbath-school, and the prayer-room, they
were draped in mourning; but that feebly expressed the sense of loss.

"We cannot close our doors to show our sorrow," said Doctor Ellis, his
lips tremulous; "we have need to throw them more widely open, and rally
with renewed effort, for one of the mighty is fallen."

To the widow and her girls, there was, as the hours passed, a sort of
sad pleasure in noting this universal mourning; in listening to the
tearful words expressing a sense of personal loss, which came right
from the hearts of so many men and women and children. They began
to see that they had not half realized his power in the community,
as young men in plain, sometimes rough dress, men whose names they
had never heard, and whose faces they had never seen, came and stood
over the coffin, and dropped great tears as they told in the brief
and subdued language of the heart, of some lift, or word, or touch of
kindness, that this man had given them, just when they needed it most.

Born of these tender and grateful tributes from all classes, was a
drop of bitterness that seemed to spread as Claire turned it over in
her troubled heart. It could all be suggested to those familiar with
the intricacies of the human heart, by that one little word, Why?
It sometimes becomes an awful word, with power to torture the torn
heart almost to madness. "Why was father, a man so good, so true, so
grand, so sadly needed in this wicked world, snatched from it just
in the prime of his power?" She brooded over this in silence and in
secret--not wishing to burden her mother's heart by the query, not
liking to add a suggestion of bitterness to Dora's sorrowful cup. Only
once, when a fresh exhibition of his care for others, and the fruit it
bore, was unexpectedly made to them, she was betrayed into exclaiming:

"I cannot understand why it was!"

Whether the mother understood her or not, she did not know. She hoped
not; she was sorry she had spoken. But presently the mother roused
herself to say gently:

"You girls were on your father's heart in a strange way. That last talk
about you I must try to tell you of, when I can. The substance of it
I have told you. He thought you both needed developing. Dora dear, he
said you needed more self-reliance; that you had too many props, and
depended on them. He might have said the same of me; I depended on him
more than I knew. He said you needed to be thrust out a little, and
learn to stand alone, and brave winds and storms. And Claire, I don't
think I fully understood what he wanted for you, only he said that you
needed to trust less to your own self, and lean on Christ."

After this word from her father, Claire sat in startled silence for a
few minutes, then took it to her room.

Did you ever notice that the storms of life seem almost never to come
in detached waves, but follow each other in rapid succession?

When the Benedict family parted for the night, less than a week after
the father had been laid in the grave, Dora said listlessly to her
sister:

"There is one little alleviation, I think, to a heavy blow--for a
while, at least, nothing else seems heavy. Things that troubled me last
week seem so utterly foolish to-day. I don't this evening seem to care
for anything that could happen to us now; to us three, I mean."

Before noon of the next day she thought of that sentence again with a
sort of dull surprise at her own folly.

How do such things occur? I can not tell. Yet how many times in your
life have you personally known of them--families who are millionnaires
to-day, and beggars to-morrow? It was just that sort of blow which
came to the Benedicts. Came, indeed, because of the other one, and
followed hard after it. Business men tried to explain matters to the
widow. A peculiar complication of circumstances existed, which called
for her husband's clear brain and wise handling. Had he lived, all
would have been well; there was scarcely a doubt of it. Had he been
able to give one week more to business, he would have shaped everything
to his mind; but the call came just at the moment when he could least
be spared, and financial ruin had followed.

Mrs. Benedict, in her widow's cap, with her plaintive white face, her
delicate, trembling hands working nervously in her lap, from which the
crimson fancy work was gone, tried to understand the bewilderments
which, one after another, were presented to her, and grew less and
less able to take in the meaning of the great words, and at last
raised herself from her easy chair, looked round pitifully for Claire,
and sank back among the cushions--her face, if possible, whiter than
before.

The elder daughter came swiftly forward from her obscurity in the back
parlor, and stood beside her mother.

"I beg pardon, gentlemen, but mamma does not understand business terms;
my father never burdened her with them. Will you let me ask you a few
plain questions? Is my father's money all gone?"

The gentlemen looked from one to another, and hesitated. At last the
lawyer among them said he feared--that is, it was believed--it seemed
to be almost certain that when all the business was settled, there
would be a mere pittance left.

The next question caused two red spots to glow on Claire's cheeks, but
she held her head erect, and her voice was steady:

"And do they--does anybody think that my father did wrong in any way?"

"Mamma," with a tender, apologetic glance at her, "people say such
things sometimes, you know, when they do not understand."

But the gentlemen could be voluble now:

"Oh, no! no, indeed! not a breath of suspicion attached to his name.
His intentions were as clear as the sunlight, and the fact was, he had
periled his own fortune in a dangerous time, to help others who were in
straits, and he had been called to leave it at a dangerous time, and
disaster has followed."

One question more:

"Will others be sufferers through this disaster?"

The answer was not so ready. The gentlemen seemed to find it necessary
to look again at one another. They, however, finally admitted, to each
other, that there was property enough to cover everybody's loss, if
that were the wish of the family; this, without any doubt, but there
would be almost nothing left.

"Very well," Claire said, "then we can bear it. We thank you,
gentlemen, and you may be sure of this one thing--that no person shall
lose a penny through our father's loss, if we can help it. Now, may
I ask you to leave further particulars until another time? Mamma has
borne as much as she can to-day."

And the gentlemen, as they went down the steps of the great brownstone
front, said to each other that Benedict had left a splendid girl, with
self-reliance enough to manage for herself and take care of the family.

Yet I suppose there had never been a time when Claire Benedict felt
more as though all the powers which had hitherto sustained her,
were about to desert, and leave her helpless, than she did when she
controlled her own dismay, and helped her mother to bed, and sat beside
her, and bathed her head, and steadily refused to talk, or to hear her
mother talk, about this new calamity, but literally hushed her into
quiet and to sleep.

Then, indeed, she took time to cry, as few girls cry; as Claire
Benedict had never cried before in her life.

Her self-reliance seemed gone. As the passion of her voiceless grief
swayed and fairly frightened her, there stole suddenly into her heart
the memory of the last message: "Claire needs to trust less to herself,
and lean on Christ."



CHAPTER III.

OUT IN THE WORLD.


I AM not sure that I would, even if I could, give you a detailed
account of the days which followed.

What is the use of trying to live pain over again on paper? Yet some
people need practice of this sort to enable them to have any idea of
the sorrows of other hearts.

I wonder if you ever went through a large, elegantly furnished house,
from room to room, and dismantled it? Packing away this thing as far as
possible from curious eyes, soiling the velvet, or the satin, or the
gilding of it, perhaps, with bitter tears while you worked; marking
that thing with a ticket containing two words which had become hateful
to you, "For sale;" hiding away some special treasure in haste, lest
the unexpected sight of it might break a heart that was just now
bearing all it could. Has such experience ever been yours? Then you
know all about it, and can in imagination follow Claire Benedict from
attic to basement of her father's house; and no words of mine can make
the picture plainer. If it is something you have never experienced, or
even remotely touched, you may think you are sympathetic, and you may
gravely try to be, but nothing that printed words can say will be apt
to help you much in realizing the bitterness of such hours.

Isn't it a blessed thing that it is so? Suppose we actually bore on
our hearts the individual griefs of the world? How long would our poor
bodies be in breaking under the strain? "He hath borne our griefs and
carried our sorrows." It took the Infinite to do this.

Through all the miseries of the two weeks during which the process
of dismantling went on, Claire Benedict sustained her character for
self-reliance and systematic energy. She stood between her mother and
the world. She interviewed carmen, and porters, and auctioneers, and
talked calmly about the prices of things, the thought of selling which
made her flesh fairly quiver.

She superintended the moving of heavy furniture, and the packing of
delicate glasses and vases, after they had been chosen from the home
treasures at private sale.

She discussed with possible purchasers the value of this or that
carpet, and calculated back to see how long it had been in use, when
the very bringing of it into the home had marked an anniversary which
made her cheek pale and her breath come hard as she tried to speak the
date.

There were some who tried to shield her from some of these bitter
experiences. There were kind offers of assistance; made, it is true, in
the main, by those who were willing, but incompetent; but Claire was
in the mood to decline all the help she could. Do her best, there was
still so much help actually required, that it made her blush to think
of it.

"There are a hundred things they want to know," she would explain to
those who begged her not to tear her heart and wear her strength
by walking through the rooms with those who had come to purchase,
possibly, certainly to see, and to ask. "There are a hundred things
they want to know that only mamma or I can tell them. It shall never
be mamma, and I would rather face them and wait on them alone, than to
creep out at call, like an ashamed creature, to answer their demands.
There is nothing wicked about it, and I ought to be able to bear what
others have had to."

Nevertheless, it was cruel work. She knew when the two weeks of private
sale were over, and she stood battered and bruised in soul, over the
forlorn wrecks of the ruined home, that she had not understood before
what a strain it was to be. She had almost borne it alone. It was true,
as she had said, that it must be either mamma or herself. Those who in
all loving tenderness had tried to help, realized this after the first
day. "I don't know, really; I will ask Miss Benedict," was the most
frequent answer to the endless questions. Dora's pitiful attempts to
help bear the burden seemed to give her sister more pain than anything
else. And one day, when to the persistent questioning of a woman in a
cotton velvet sack, about the first value of a Persian rug of peculiar
pattern and coloring, Dora dropped down on a hassock in a burst of
tears, and sobbed: "Oh, I don't know how much it cost; but I know papa
brought it when he came from Europe the day I was fourteen. Oh, papa,
papa, what shall I do!" Claire came from the next room, calm, pale,
cold as a statue, just a swift touch of tenderness for Dora as she
stooped over her, saying--

"Run away, darling, I will attend to this," then she was ready to
discuss the merits, possible and probable, of the Persian rug, or of
anything else in the room. When the woman in the sham velvet bunglingly
attempted to explain that she did not mean to hurt poor Dora's
feelings, she was answered quietly, even gently, that no harm had been
done, that Dora was but a child. When the woman was gone, without the
Persian rug--the price having been too great for her purse--Claire
went swiftly to the sobbing Dora, and extracted a promise from her that
she would never, no, never, attempt to enter one of the public rooms
again during those hateful two weeks, and she kept her promise.

The next thing, now that the private sale had closed, and Claire
could be off guard, was house-hunting. Not in the style of some of
her acquaintances, with whom she had explored certain handsome rows
of houses "for rent," feeling secretly very sorry for them that they
had to submit to the humiliation of living in rented houses and be
occasionally subject to the miseries of moving. Claire Benedict had
never moved but once, which was when her father changed from his
handsome house on one avenue to his far handsomer one on a grander
avenue, which experience was full of delight to the energetic young
girl. Very different was this moving to be. She was not looking for
a house; she was not even looking for a handsome half of a double
house, which wore the air of belonging to one family; nor could she
even honestly say she was looking for a "flat," because they must, if
possible, get along with even less room than this. To so low an estate
had they fallen in an hour!

You do not want me to linger over the story, nor try to give you any
of the shuddering details. The rooms were found and rented, Claire
adding another drop to her bitter cup by seeking out Judge Symonds as
her security. They were moved into; not until they had been carefully
cleaned and brightened to the best of the determined young girl's
ability. Two carpets had been saved from the wreck for mother's room
and the general sitting-room; and a pitiful, not to say painful,
effort had been made to throw something like an air of elegance around
"mamma's room." She recognized it the moment she looked on it, with
lips that quivered, but with a face that bravely smiled as she said:
"Daughter, you have done wonders." She wanted, instead, to cry out:
"Woe is me! What shall I do?"

This little mother, used to sheltering hands, had been a constant and
tender lesson to Claire all through the days.

She had not broken down, and lain down and died, as at first Claire
had feared she would; neither had she wept and moaned as one who would
not be comforted. She had leaned on Claire, it is true, but not in
a way that seemed like an added burden; it was rather a balm to the
sore heart to have "mamma" gently turn to her for a decisive word, and
depend on her advice somewhat as she had depended on the father.

It had not been difficult to get a promise from her to have nothing
to do with the dreadful sales. "No, dear," she had said quietly, when
Claire made her plea, "I will not try to help in that direction; I know
that I should hinder rather than help. You can do it all, much better
than I. You are like your father, my child; he always took the hard
things, so that I did not learn how."

The very work with which the mother quietly occupied herself was
pathetic. It had been their pleasure to see her fair hands busy
with the bright wools, and silks and velvets of fancy work, such as
the restless young schoolgirl was too nervous to care for, and the
energetic elder daughter was too busy to find time for. It had been
their pride to point to many delicate pieces of cunning workmanship,
and say they were "mamma's."

"So different from most other mothers," Dora would say, fondly and
proudly.

But on the morning that the sale commenced, the mother had gone over
all the wools, and silks, and canvas, and packed them away with that
unfinished piece of crimson; and thereafter, her needle, though busy,
took the stitches that the discharged seamstress had been wont to take.
Claire found her one day patiently darning a rent in a fast breaking
tablecloth, which had been consigned by the housekeeper to the drawer
for old linen. Scarcely anything in the history of the long, weary day
touched Claire so much as this.

Such power have the little things to sting us! Some way we make
ourselves proof against the larger ones.

There had been very little about the experiences of these trying
weeks that had to be brought before the family for discussion. They
were spared the pain of argument. There had not been two minds about
the matter for a moment. Everything must go; the creditors must be
satisfied to the uttermost farthing, if possible. That, as a matter of
course. Never mind what the law allowed them. They knew nothing about
the law, cared nothing for it; they would even have given up their
keepsakes and their very dresses, had there been need, and they could
have found purchasers.

But there had been no need. Disastrous as the failure had been, it was
found that there was unincumbered property enough to pay every creditor
and have more furniture left than they knew what to do with, besides a
sum of money; so small, indeed, that at first poor Claire, unused to
calculating on such a small scale, had curled her lip in very scorn,
and thought that it might as well have gone with the rest.

There came a day when they were settled in those ridiculously small
rooms, with every corner and cranny in immaculate order, and had
reached the disastrous moment when they might fold their hands and do
nothing. Alas for Claire! If there was one thing that she had always
hated, it was to do nothing. She was almost glad that it was not
possible for her to do this. The absurd little sum set to their credit
in the First National Bank, of which her father had for so many years
been a part, would barely suffice to pay the ridiculously small rent of
these wretched rooms and provide her mother with food and clothing. She
must support herself. She must do more than that: Dora must be kept in
school. But how was all this to be done?

The old question! She had puzzled over it a hundred times for some poor
woman on her list. She thought of them now only with shivers. Executive
ability? Dear! yes, she had always been admired for having it.

But it is one thing to execute, when you have but to put your hand
in your pocket for the money that is needed for carrying out your
designs; or, if there chance not to be enough therein, trip lightly up
the great, granite steps of the all-powerful bank, ask to see "papa"
a minute, and come out replenished. It was quite another thing when
neither pocket nor bank had aught for her, and the first snows of
winter were falling on the father's grave.

She had one talent, marked and cultivated to an unusual degree. She
had thought of it several times with a little feeling of assurance.
Everybody knew that her musical education had been thorough in the
extreme, and that her voice was wonderful.

She had been told by her teachers many a time that a fortune lay locked
up in it. Now was the time for the fortune to come forth. She must
teach music; she must secure a position in which to sing on a salary.
Claire Benedict of two months ago had been given to curling her lip
just a little over the thought that Christian young men and women had
to be paid for contributing with their voices to the worship of God on
the Sabbath day. The Claire Benedict of to-day, with that great gulf
of experience between her and her yesterday, said, with a sob, that
she would never sneer again at any honest thing which women did to earn
their living. She herself would become a salaried singer.

Yes, but how bring it to pass? Did you ever notice how strangely the
avenues for employment which have been just at your side seem to close
when there is need? More than once had representatives of fashionable
churches said wistfully to Claire: "If we could only have your voice in
our choir!" Now, a little exertion on her part served to discover to
her the surprising fact that there were no vacancies among the churches
where salaried singers were in demand.

Yes, there was one, and they sought her out. The offered salary would
have been a small fortune to her in her present need; but she could not
worship in that church; she would not sing the praises of God merely
for money.

There was earnest urging, but she was firm. There was a specious hint
that true worship could be offered anywhere, but Claire replied:

"But your hymns ignore the doctrine on which I rest my hope for this
life and for the future."

It was a comfort to her to remember that when she mentioned the offer
to her mother and sister, and said that she could not accept it, her
mother had replied, promptly: "Of course not, daughter." And even Dora,
who was at the questioning age, inclined to toss her head a little
bit at isms and creeds, and hint at the need for liberal views and a
broader platform, said: "What an idea! I should have supposed that they
would have known better."

But it was the only church that offered. Neither did Claire blame them.
It was honest truth; there was no opening. A year ago--six months
ago--why, even two months ago, golden opportunities would have awaited
her; but just now every vacancy was satisfactorily filled. Why should
those giving satisfaction, and needing the money, be discharged,
to make room for her who needed it no less? Claire was no weak,
unreasoning girl who desired any such thing.

As for two months ago, at that time the thought of the possibility of
ever being willing to fill such a place had not occurred to her.



CHAPTER IV.

AN OPEN DOOR.


WELL, surely there was a chance to teach music to private pupils? No,
if you will credit it, there was not even such a chance! There was less
reasonable explanation for this closed door than the other. Surely,
in the great city, full of would-be musicians, she might have found a
corner! Doubtless she would have done so in time, but it amazed her as
the days went by, and one by one the pupils on whom she had counted
with almost certainty were found to have excellent reasons why they
ought to remain with their present teacher, or why they ought not to
take up music for the present.

In some cases the dilemma was real and the excuse good. In others it
was born simply of fear. Oh, yes, they knew that Miss Benedict was a
brilliant player, there was not her equal in the city; and as for her
voice, it was simply superb; but then it did not follow that a fine
musician was a fine teacher. She had not been educated for a teacher;
that had been the farthest removed from her intention until necessity
forced it upon her. It stood to reason that a girl who had been brought
up in luxury, and had cultivated her musical talent as a passion,
merely for her own pleasure, should know nothing about the principles
of teaching, and have little patience with the drudgery of it. They had
always been warned against broken-down ladies as teachers of anything.

There was a great deal of this feeling; and Claire, as she began to
realize it more, was kept from bitterness because of the honesty of her
nature. She could see that there was truth in these conclusions; and
while she knew that she could give their children such teaching as the
parents might have been glad to get, at any price, she admitted that
they could not know this as she did, and were not to blame for caution.

She was kept from bitterness by one other experience.

There came to see her one evening, a woman who had done plain sewing
for her in the days gone by; whom she had paid liberally and for whom
she had interested herself to secure better paid labor than she had
found her doing. This woman, with a certain confused air, as of one
asking a favor, had come to say that she would take it as a great
thing, if her Fanny could get into Miss Benedict's music class.

Miss Benedict explained kindly that she had no music class, but if she
should form one in the city, it would give her pleasure to count Fanny
as one of her pupils, and the mother could pay for it, if she wished,
in doing a little sewing for them some time, when they should have
sewing again to do. The sentence ended with a sigh. But the caller's
embarrassment increased. She even forgot to thank the lady for her
gracious intention, and looked down at her somewhat faded shawl,
and twisted the fringe of it, and blushed, and tried to stammer out
something. Claire began to suspect that this was but a small part of
her errand, and to be roused to sympathy. Was there anything else she
could do for her in any way, she questioned.

No! oh, no! there was nothing, only would she--would it not be possible
to start a class with her Fanny, and let her pay, not in sewing, but
in money, and the full value of the lessons, too; and here the woman
stopped twisting the fringe of her shawl, and looked up with womanly
dignity. She was doing better, she said; a great deal better than when
Miss Benedict first sought her out. Thanks to her, she had plenty of
sewing, as much as she could do, and of a good, paying kind; and she
had thought--and here the shawl fringe was twisted again--that is, she
had supposed or imagined--well, the long and short of it was, sometimes
all that things wanted was a beginning, and she thought maybe if Miss
Benedict could be so kind as to begin with Fanny, others would come in,
and a good class get started before she knew it.

There was a suspicious quiver of Claire's chin as she listened to this,
but her voice was clear and very gentle as she spoke:

"Tell me frankly, Mrs. Jones, do you think Fanny has a decided talent
for music, which ought to be cultivated? I don't know the child, I
think. Is she a singer?"

Then Mrs. Jones, all unused to subterfuge, and at home in the realm
of frankness, was betrayed at once into admitting that she had never
thought of such a thing as Fanny taking music lessons. No, she didn't
sing: at least, not but very little, and she never said much about
music; what she wanted was to learn to draw, but she, Mrs. Jones, had
thought, as she said--and maybe it was presumption in her to think
so--that what most things needed was to get started. No sooner did
she get started in another kind of sewing, and among another kind
of customers, than work poured in on her faster than she could do,
and she thought Fanny would do maybe to start on. Long before the
conclusion of this sentence the shawl fringe was suffering again.

Claire rose from her seat, and went over and stood before Mrs. Jones,
her voice still clear and controlled:

"I thank you, Mrs. Jones, for your kind thought. So far from being
presumptuous, it was worthy of your warm heart and unselfish nature.
I shall not forget it, and it has done me good. But if I were you, I
would not have Fanny take music lessons, and I would, if I could, give
her drawing lessons. I remember, now, your telling me that she was
always marking up her books with little bits of pictures. She probably
has a good deal of talent in this direction, and not for music; I would
cultivate her talents in the line in which they lie. Miss Parkhurst has
a drawing-class just commencing. She is not very far from your corner,
on Clark street. I hope Fanny can go to her, and if it would be any
convenience to you to pay the bills in sewing, I am quite certain that
Miss Parkhurst would be glad to do it. She was speaking about some
work of the kind only yesterday, and I recommended you to her as one
whom she could trust."

So they dropped once more into their natural characters, Claire the
suggester and helper, and Mrs. Jones the grateful recipient. She went
away thanked and comforted, and convinced that Fanny ought to have a
chance at drawing, since Miss Benedict thought she had a talent.

As for Claire, she went back to her mother with two bright spots
glowing on her cheeks, and knelt down beside her chair, and said:

"Mamma, I have just had the most delicate little bit of thoughtfulness
shown me that I ever received from the world outside, and I'll tell
you one thing it has settled; I mean to accept the first opening, from
whatever source, that will take me away from the city. I am almost sure
there is no work for me in this city."

Yet you are not to suppose that the great world of friends who had
been glad of their recognition forgot them or ignored them. Much less
are you to suppose that the great church--of which Mr. Benedict was
such a prominent part that the projected entertainment for which the
young people had been so nearly ready, missionary though it was, was
indefinitely postponed when he died--forgot them or grew cold. Whatever
the world may do, or whatever solitary individuals in the church may do
under financial ruins, the great heart of the true church beats away
for its own. And bravely they rallied around the widow, and heartily
they tried to be helpful, and were helpful, indeed, so far as warm
words and earnest efforts were concerned.

But they could not make vacancies for Claire in the line in which her
talents fitted her to work. They could not make a strong woman of the
mother, able to shoulder burdens such as are always waiting for strong
shoulders. They could and would have supported them. For a time, at
least, this would have been done joyfully; they longed to do it. They
offered help in all possible delicate ways. The trouble was, this
family would have none of it. Grateful?--oh, yes, but persistent in
gently declining that which was not an absolute necessity.

In the very nature of things, as the days passed, they would be in a
sense forgotten. Claire saw this, and the mother saw it. The rooms they
had taken were very far removed from the old church and the old home
and the old circle of friends. It consumed hours of the day to make the
journey back and forth. Of course, it could not be made often, nor by
many. Of course, the gaps which their changes had made would be filled
in time; it was not reasonable to expect otherwise. Nobody expected it,
but it was very bitter.

And the very first open door that Claire saw was an opportunity
to teach music in a little unpretentious academy, in a little
unpretentious town, away back among the hills, two hundred miles from
the city that had always been her home.

It took talking--much of it--to reconcile the mother and sister to
the thought of a separation. Through all their changes this one had
not been suggested to their minds. They had expected, as a matter of
course, to keep together. But necessity is a wonderful logician. The
bank account was alarmingly small, and growing daily smaller. Even
the unpractical mother and sister could see this. Something must be
done, and here was the open door. Why not enter it at once, instead
of waiting in idleness and suspense through the winter for something
better? Thus argued Claire: "It will not be very easy to leave you,
mamma, as you may well imagine," and here the sensitive chin would
quiver, "but I should feel safe in doing so, for these ugly rooms are
really very conveniently arranged, and Dora would learn to look after
everything that Molly could not do by giving two days of work in a
week. I have made positive arrangements with her for two days, and
she depends upon it; you must not disappoint her. And, mamma, I have
thought of what papa said about us," here the low voice took on a tone
of peculiar tenderness, "perhaps Dora will learn self-reliance if she
is left to shield and care for you; it will be a powerful motive. You
know she leans on me now, naturally."

This was Claire's strongest argument, and, together with the argument
of necessity, prevailed.

Barely four weeks from the "to-morrow" which had contained her last
bright plans, she was installed as music teacher in the plain little
academy building situated in South Plains.

And now I know that I need not even attempt to describe the sinking of
heart with which she moved down the shabby narrow aisle, and seated
herself in the uncushioned pew of the shabby little church on that
first Sabbath morning.

Uncushioned! that was by no means the worst of the pew's failings. The
back was at least four inches lower than it ought to have been, even
for so slight a form as Claire's, and was finished with a moulding that
projected enough to form a decided ridge. Of course, for purpose of
support, the thing was a failure, and, as to appearance, nothing more
awkward in the line of sittings could be imagined.

Fairly seated in this comfortless spot, the homesick girl looked about
her to take in her dreary surroundings. Bare floors, not over clean,
the most offensive looking faded red curtains flapping disconsolately
against the old-fashioned, small-paned soiled windows; a platform,
whose attempts at carpeting represented a large-patterned, soiled
ingrain rag, whose colors, once much too bright for the place, had
faded into disreputable ghosts of their former selves. The whole
effect seemed to Claire by far more dreary than the bare floor of the
aisles. A plain, square, four-legged table, that had not even been
dusted lately, did duty as a pulpit desk, and a plain, wooden-backed,
wooden-seated chair stood behind it. These were the sole attempts
at furnishing. The walls of this desolate sanctuary seemed begrimed
with the smoke of ages; they were festooned with cobwebs, these
furnishing the only attempts at hiding the unsightly cracks. The few
dreary-looking kerosene lamps disposed about the room gave the same
evidence of neglect in their sadly smoked chimneys and general air of
discouragement. However, had Claire but known it, she had cause for
gratitude over the fact that they were not lighted, for they could
prove their unfitness for the place they occupied in a much more
offensive way.

Such, then, in brief, was the scene that greeted her sad eyes that
morning. How utterly homesick and disheartened she was! It was all so
different from the surroundings to which she had all her life been
accustomed! She closed her eyes to hide the rush of tears, and to
think, foolish girl that she was, of that other church miles and miles
away. She could seem to see familiar forms gliding at this moment down
the aisles, whose rich carpets gave back no sound of footfall. How
soft and clear the colors of that carpet were! A suggestion of the
delicately carpeted woods, and the shimmer of sunlight on a summer
day toward the sun setting. She had helped to select that carpet
herself, and she knew that she had an artist's eye for colors and for
harmony. It was not an extravagantly elegant church--as city churches
rank--that one to which her heart went back, but just one of those
exquisitely finished buildings where every bit of color and carving and
design which meet the cultured eye, rests and satisfies. Where the law
of harmony touches the delicately frescoed ceiling, reaches down to the
luxuriously upholstered pews, finds its home in the trailing vines of
the carpet, and breathes out in the roll of the deep-toned organ.

It was in such a church, down such a broad and friendly aisle, that
Claire Benedict had been wont to follow her father and mother on
Sabbath mornings, keeping step to the melody which seemed to steal
of itself from the organ, and fill the lofty room. Can you imagine
something of the contrast?



CHAPTER V.

TRYING TO ENDURE.


OF course there were other contrasts than those suggested by the two
churches which persisted in presenting themselves to this lonely girl.

How could she help remembering that in the old home she had been Sidney
Benedict's daughter? A fact which of itself gave her place and power in
all the doings of the sanctuary. Alas for the changes that a few brief
months can make!

Sidney Benedict lying in his grave, and his daughter an obscure
music-teacher in an obscure boarding and day school; an object to be
stared at, and pointed out by the villagers as the new teacher.

But for another contrast, which from some divine source stole over
her just then, the hot tears which burned her eyes would surely
have fallen. Sidney Benedict was not sleeping in the grave; that was
only the house of clay in which he had lived. She knew, and suddenly
remembered it with a thrill, that his freed soul was in Heaven. What
did that mean? she wondered. In vain her imagination tried to paint the
contrast. There had been times since his going when she had longed with
all the passion of her intense nature to know by actual experience just
what Heaven is. But these were cowardly moments. Generally, she had
been able to feel thankful that she was here to help mamma and Dora.
She remembered this now, along with the memory of her father's joy, and
it helped her to choke back the tears, and struggle bravely with her
homesickness.

Meantime, it was hard for her to forget that she was the observed
of all observers. But she did not half understand why this was so.
She could not know what a rare bit of beauty she looked in the dingy
church; almost like a ray of brightness astray from another world.

From her standpoint, her dress was simplicity itself; and she had
not lived long enough in this outer circle of society to understand
that there are different degrees of simplicity, as well as different
opinions concerning the meaning of the word.

Her black silk dress was very plainly made, and her seal sacque had
been so long worn, that Claire, the millionnaire's daughter, had
remarked only last winter that it had served its time and must be
supplanted by a new one; the present Claire, of course, did not think
of such a thing, but meekly accepted it as part of her cross!

Her plain black velvet hat had no other trimming than the long plume
which swept all around it, and had been worn the winter before. How
could she be expected to have any conception of the effect of her
toilet on the country people by whom she was surrounded. Her world had
been so far removed from theirs, that had one told her that to them
she seemed dressed like a princess, she would have been bewildered and
incredulous.

Her dress was very far from suiting herself. Her mood had been to
envelop herself in heaviest black, and shroud her face from curious
gaze behind folds of crape. The only reason she had not done so, had
been because the strict sense of honor which governed the fallen family
would not allow them to add thus heavily to their expenses. Indeed, to
have dressed in such mourning as would have alone appeared suitable to
them, would have been impossible. The mother had not seemed to feel
this much. "It doesn't matter, children," she had said gently; "they
know we miss papa; we have no need of crape to help us tell that story,
and for ourselves it would not make our sorrow any less heavy." But the
girls had shrunk painfully from curious eyes and conjectured curious
remarks, and had shed tears in secret over even this phase of the
trouble.

The bell whose sharp clang was a continued trial to her cultured ears,
ceased its twanging at last, and then it was the wheezy little cabinet
organ's turn; and, indeed, those who do not know the capabilities for
torture that some of those instruments have, are fortunate. Claire
Benedict set her teeth firmly. This was an hundred degrees more painful
than the bell, for the name of this was music. How could any person be
so depraved in taste as to believe it other than a misnomer!

While the choir of seven voices roared through the hymn, Claire shut
her eyes, grasped her hymn-book tightly with both hands, set her lips,
and endured. What a tremendous bass it was! How fearfully the leading
soprano "sang through her nose," in common parlance, though almost
everybody understands that we mean precisely opposite! How horribly the
tenor flatted, and how entirely did the alto lose the key more than
once during the infliction of those six verses!

The hymn was an old one, a favorite with Claire, as it had been with
her father; but as that choir shrieked out the familiar words--

    I love her gates, I love the road,
      The church adorned with grace,
    Stands like a palace built for God,
      To show his milder face,

it seemed hardly possible for one reared as she had been, to turn
from her surroundings and lose herself in the deep spiritual meaning
intended. Nay, when the line,

    Stands like a palace built for God,

was triumphantly hurled at her through those discordant voices, she
could hardly keep her sad lips from curling into a sarcastic smile, as
she thought of the cracked and smoky walls, the dreadful curtains, the
dust and disorder.

"A palace built for God!" her heart said in disdain, almost in disgust.
"It isn't a decent stopping-place for a respectable man."

Then her momentary inclination to smile yielded to genuine indignation.
What possible excuse could be offered for such a state of things? Why
did respectable people permit such a disgrace? She had seen at least
the outside of several of the homes in South Plains, and nothing like
the disorder and desolation which reigned here, was permitted about
those homes. How could Christian people think they were honoring God
by meeting for his worship in a place that would have made the worst
housekeeper among them blush for shame had it been her own home.

Indignation helped her through the hymn, and with bowed head and
throbbing heart, she tried, during the prayer, to come into accord with
the spirit of worship.

But the whole service was one to be remembered as connected with a
weary and nearly fruitless struggle with wayward thoughts. What was the
burden of the sermon? She tried in vain afterwards to recall it.

A series of well-meant and poorly expressed platitudes. "Nothing wrong
about it," thought poor Claire, "except the sin of calling it the
gospel, and reading it off to these sleepy people as though he really
thought it might do them some good!"

Indeed, the minister was almost sleepy himself, or else utterly
discouraged. Claire tried to rouse herself to a little interest in him,
to wonder whether he were a down-hearted, disappointed man. His coat
was seedy, his collar limp and his cuffs frayed at the edges.

Yes, these were actually some of the things she thought while he said
his sermon over to them!

She brought her thoughts with sharp reprimand back to the work of the
hour, but they roved again almost as quickly as recalled. At last
she gave over the struggle, and set herself to the dangerous work
of wondering what Doctor Ellis was saying this morning in the dear
old pulpit; whether mamma and Dora missed him as much as she did;
whether he looked over occasionally to their vacant seat and missed
all the absent ones, papa most of all. But the seat was not vacant,
probably; already somebody sat at the head of the pew in papa's place,
and somebody's daughters, or sisters, or friends, had her place, and
mamma's and Dora's. The niches were filled, doubtless, and the work of
the church was going on just the same, and it was only they who were
left out in the cold, their hearts bleeding over a gap that would never
be filled. Dangerous thoughts, these!

One little strain in another key came in again to help her: Papa was
not left out; he had gone up higher. What was the old church to him now
that he had entered into the church triumphant? He might love it still,
but there must be a little pity mingled with the love, and a wistful
looking forward to the time when they would all reach to his height,
and at that time, mamma and Dora and she would not be left out.

If this mood had but lasted, it would have been well; but her
undisciplined heart was too much for her, and constantly she wandered
back to the thoughts which made the sense of desolation roll over her.

She was glad when at last the dreary service was concluded, and she
could rush away from the dreary church to the privacy of her small,
plain room in the academy, and throw herself on the bed, and indulge to
the utmost the passionate burst of sorrow.

The tears spent their first force soon, but they left their victim
almost sullen. She allowed herself to go over, in imagination, the
Sundays which were to come, and pictured all their unutterable
dreariness.

Did I tell you about the rusty stoves, whose rusty and cobwebby pipes
seemed to wander at their own erratic will about that church? It was
curious how poor Claire's excited brain fastened upon those stovepipes
as the drop too much in her accumulation of horrors. It seemed to
her that she could not endure to sit under them, no, not for another
Sabbath; and here was a long winter and spring stretching out before
her! She was not even to go home for the spring vacation; her poor,
ruined purse would not admit of any such extravagance. It would be
almost midsummer before she could hope to see mamma and Dora again. And
in the meantime, how many Sundays there were! She vexed herself trying
to make out the exact number and their exact dates.

This mood, miserable as it was, possessed her all the afternoon. It
seemed not possible to get away from it. She crept forlornly from her
bed presently, because of the necessity of seeing to her expiring fire.
She was shivering with the cold; but as she struggled with the damp
wood, trying to blow the perverse smoke into a flame, she went on with
her indignant, not to say defiant thoughts. She went back again to that
dreadful church, and the fires in those neglected stoves.

She determined resolutely that her hours spent in that building should
be as few as possible. Of course, she must attend the morning service;
but nothing could induce her to spend her evenings there.

"I might much better sit in my room and read my Bible, and write good
Sunday letters to mamma and Dora," she told herself, grimly, as the
spiteful smoke suddenly changed its course and puffed in her face.
"At least, I shall not go to church. I don't belong to that church,
I am thankful to remember, and never shall; I have no special duties
toward it; I shall just keep away from it and from contact with the
people here, as much as possible. It is enough for me if I do my duty
toward those giggling girls who think they are to become musicians
under my tuition. I will do my best for them, and I shall certainly
earn all the salary I am offered here; then my work in this place
will be accomplished. I have nothing to do with the horrors of that
church. If the people choose to insult God by worshiping him in such an
abomination of desolations as that, it is nothing to me. I must just
endure so much of it as I am obliged to, until I can get away from
here. I am not to spend my life in South Plains, I should hope."

She shuddered over the possibility of this. She did not understand her
present state of mind. She seemed to herself not Claire Benedict at
all, but a miserable caricature of her. What had become of the strong,
bright, willing spirit with which she had been wont to take hold of
life? Energetic she had always been called; "self-reliant," she had
heard that word applied to herself almost from childhood. "A girl who
had a great deal of executive talent." Yes, she used to have; but she
seemed now to have no talent of any sort. She felt crushed; as though
the motive power had been removed from her.

She had borne up bravely while with her mother and younger sister. She
had felt the necessity for doing so; her mother's last earthly prop
must not fail her, and therefore Claire had done her best. But now
there was no more need for endurance. Her tears could not pain mamma or
Dora; she had a right to give her grief full sway. She felt responsible
to nobody. Her work in the world was done. Not by any intention of
hers, she told herself drearily; she had been willing and glad to work;
she had rejoiced in it, and had planned for a vigorous and aggressive
future, having to do with the best interests of the church. Only think
how full of work her hours had been, that day when the clouds shut down
on her and set her aside! There was nothing more for her to do. Her
plans were shattered, her opportunities swept away, everything had been
cruelly interrupted; she could not help it, and she knew no reason for
it; certainly she had tried to do her best. But, at least, with her
opportunities closed, her responsibility was gone; nothing more could
be expected of her; henceforth she must just _endure_.

This is just the way life looked to the poor girl on this sad Sabbath.
She was still trying to rely on herself; and because herself was found
to be such a miserable source of reliance, she gloomily blamed her hard
fate, and said that at least her responsibility was over. She did not
say in words--"God has taken away all my chances, and he must just be
willing to bear the consequences of my enforced idleness;" she would
have been shocked had she supposed that such thoughts were being nursed
in her heart; but when you look the matter over, what else was she
saying? A great many of our half-formed thoughts on which we brood,
will not bear the clear gaze of a quiet hour when we mean honest work.



CHAPTER VI.

LIFTED UP.


IT was a very quiet, cold-faced girl who presently obeyed the summons
to dinner. Had it not been for those suspiciously red eyes, and a
certain pitiful droop of the eyelids, Mrs. Foster would hardly have
ventured to break the casing of haughty reserve in which her young
music teacher had decided to wrap herself.

A rare woman was Mrs. Foster. I wish you knew her well; my pen pauses
over an attempt to describe her. I believe descriptions of people never
read as the writer intended they should; and there never was a woman
harder to put on paper than this same Mrs. Foster.

Ostensibly she was the principal of this little academy, which was at
present engaged in reaping the results of years of mismanagement and
third-rate work. People shook their heads when she took the position,
and said that she was foolish. She would never earn her living there in
the world; the academy at South Plains was too much run down ever to
revive, and there never had been a decent school there anyway, and they
didn't believe there ever would be. And, of course, people of this mind
did what they could, with their tongues and their apathy, so far as
money and pupils were concerned, to prove the truth of their prophecies.

But Mrs. Foster, wise, sweet, patient woman that she was, quietly bided
her time, and worked her way through seemingly endless discouragements.
She was after much more than bread and butter. In reality there was
never a more persistent and patient and wise and wary fisher for
_souls_ found among quiet and little known human kind than was Mrs.
Foster. Had they but known it, there were communities which could have
afforded to support her for the sake of the power she would have
been in their midst. Nay, there were fathers who could have afforded
to make her independent for life, so far as the needs of this world
were concerned, for the sake of the influence she would have exerted
over their young and tempted sons and daughters. But they did not know
it, and she, being as humble as she was earnest, did not half know it
herself, and expected nothing of anybody but a fair chance to earn her
living, and do all the good she could.

In point of fact, she had some difficulty in getting hold of the
little, badly-used academy at South Plains. The people who thought
she was utterly foolish for attempting anything so hopeless, were
supplemented by the people who thought she could not be much, or she
would never be willing to come to South Plains Academy. So between them
they made it as hard for her as they could.

Claire Benedict did not know it until long afterwards, but the fact
was, that during her father's funeral services she had been selected
as the girl whom Mrs. Foster wanted with her at South Plains. It
happened, so we are fond of saying, that Mrs. Foster was spending a
few days on business in the city that had always been Claire's home,
and she saw how wonderfully large portions of that city were stirred
by one death, when Sydney Benedict went to heaven. She speculated
much over the sort of life he must have led to have gotten the hold
he had on the people. She began to inquire about his family, about
his children. Then she heard much of Claire, and grew interested in
her, in a manner which seemed strange even to herself. And when at the
funeral she first caught a glimpse of the pale face and earnest eyes
of the girl who looked only, and with a certain watchful air at her
mother, as if she would shield her from every touch that she could,
Mrs. Foster had murmured under her breath, "I think this is the girl
I want with me." She prayed about it a good deal during the next few
days, and grew sure of it, and waited only to make the way plain, so
that she could venture her modest little offer, and felt sure that
if the Master intended it thus, the offer would be accepted. And it
was, but in blindness, so far as Claire Benedict was concerned. I have
sometimes questioned whether, if a bright angel had come down out of
heaven and stood beside Claire, and said: "The King wants you to go
with all speed to South Plains; he has special and important work for
you there; he has opened the way for you," the child would not have
been more content, and had much less of the feeling that her work was
interrupted. But I do not know, she might rather have said:

"Why in the world must I go to South Plains? I had work enough to do at
home, and I was doing it; and now it will all come to nought because
there is no leader! It stands to reason that I, in my poverty and
obscurity, down in that out-of-the-way village, can not do as much as
I, with my full purse, and leisure days, and happy surroundings, and
large acquaintances could do here."

We love to be governed by reason, and hate to walk in the dark. I
have always wondered what Philip said when called to leave his great
meeting, where it seemed hardly possible to do without him, and go
toward the south on a desert road. That he went, and promptly, is, I
think, a wonderful thing for Philip.

Well, the red eyes of the young music-teacher by no means escaped the
watchful ones of Mrs. Foster. Neither had her short, almost sharp,
negative in reply to a somewhat timidly put question of a pupil,
as to whether she was going out to church that evening. There were
reasons why Mrs. Foster believed that it would be much better for her
sad-hearted music-teacher to go to church than to remain glooming at
home. There were, indeed, very special reasons on that particular
evening. The Ansted girls' uncle was going to preach, she had heard,
but should she go to this young Christian, of whom she as yet knew but
little, and offer as a reason for church-going that a stranger was to
preach instead of the pastor! However she managed it, Mrs. Foster was
sure she would not do that. Yet it will give you a hint of the little
woman's ways when I tell you that she was almost equally sure she
should manage it in some way.

Half an hour before evening service there was a tap at Claire's door,
and the principal entered, and came directly to the point: Would Miss
Benedict be so kind as to accompany Fanny and Ella Ansted to church
that evening? Miss Parsons was suffering with sick headache, and she
herself could not leave her. There was no other available chaperone
for the young girls, who were not accustomed to going out alone in the
evening, but who were unusually anxious to attend church, as their
uncle, who had been stopped over the Sabbath by an accident, was to
preach.

Miss Benedict had her lips parted, ready to say that she was not
going out, but paused in the act. What excuse could she give? No sick
headache to plead, and nobody to care for; the night was not stormy, if
it was sullen, and the church was not a great distance away. She had
been wont to accommodate people always, but she never felt so little
like it as to-night. However, there stood Mrs. Foster quietly awaiting
an answer, and her face seemed to express the belief that of course,
the answer would be as she wished.

"Very well," came at last from the teacher's lips, and she began at
once to make ready.

"It is for this I was hired," she told herself bitterly. "I must not
forget how utterly changed my life is in this respect as in all others.
I am my own mistress no longer, but even in the matter of church-going
must hold myself at the call of others."

As for the principal, as she closed the door with a gentle "Thank you,"
she told herself that it was much better for the poor child to go; and
that she must see to it what she could do during the week to brighten
that room a little.

The stuffy church was the same; nay, it was more so, for every vile
lamp was lighted now, and sent a sickly, smoky shadow to the ceiling,
and cast as little light upon the surrounding darkness as possible.
But the uncle! I do not know how to describe to you the difference
between him and the dreary reader of the morning! It was not simply
the difference in appearance and voice, though really these were
tremendous, but he had a solemn message for the people, and not only
for the people whose Sabbath home was in that church, but for Claire
Benedict as well.

She did not think it at first. She smiled drearily over the almost
ludicrous incongruity of the text as measured by the surroundings. "If
I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy."

The folly of supposing that any sane person preferred such a desolate,
modern Jerusalem as this above his chief joy! The very care with which
the men brushed a clear spot for their hats on the dusty seats, and the
manner in which the women gathered their dresses about them, to keep
them from contact with the floor, showed the place which the sanctuary
held in their affections.

But as the preacher developed his theme, it would almost seem that
he had selected it for Claire Benedict's special benefit. It was not
what had been done, or was being done, that he desired to impress, but
rather what ought to be done.

The earthly Jerusalem, instead of being one particular church building,
was any church of Christ where a Christian's lot was cast, even for
a single Sabbath. He or she was bound by solemn covenant vows to
do all for that church which lay in his or her power; as fully, as
unreservedly, as though that church, and that alone, represented his
or her visible connection with the great Head. What solemn words were
these, breaking in on the flimsy walls of exclusiveness which this
young disciple had been busy all the afternoon building up about her!
The church at South Plains her place of service! actually bound to it
by the terms of her covenant!

Others had their message from that plainly-worded, intensely-earnest
sermon. I have no doubt there was a special crumb for each
listener--it is a peculiarity belonging to any real breaking of the
bread of life--but Claire Benedict busied herself with none of them.
Her roused and startled heart had enough to do to digest the solid food
that was given as her portion.

The truth was made very plain to her that she had no more right to
build a shell and creep into it, and declare that this church, and this
choir, and this Sunday-school, and this prayer-meeting, yes, and even
this smoking stove and wheezing organ, were nothing to her because she
was to stay in South Plains but a few months, and her home was far
away in the city, than she had to say that she had nothing to do with
the people or the places on this earth, no sense or responsibility
concerning them, no duties connected with them, because she was to be
here only for a few years and her home was in heaven.

Gradually this keen-edged truth seemed to penetrate every fibre of her
being. This very church, cobweb-trimmed, musty-smelling, was for the
time being her individual working ground, to be preferred above her
chief joy! Nay, the very red curtain that swayed back and forth, blown
by the north wind which found its way through a hole in the window, and
which she _hated_, became a faded bit of individual property for which
she was, in a sense, responsible.

She walked home almost in silence. The girls about her chattered of
the sermon; pronounced it splendid, and admitted that they would just
a little rather hear Uncle Eben preach than anybody else, and it was
no wonder that his people almost worshiped him, and had raised his
salary only last month. Claire listened, or appeared to, and answered
directly put questions with some show of knowledge as to what was being
discussed; but for herself, Dr. Ansted had gone out of her thoughts.
She liked his voice, and his manner, and his elocution, but the force
behind all these had put them all aside, and the words which repeated
themselves to her soul were these: "If I prefer not Jerusalem above my
chief joy!" What then? Why, then I am false to my covenant vows, and
the possibilities are that I am none of His.

Mrs. Foster was in the hall when the party from the church arrived.
Wide open as to eyes and mental vision, quiet as to voice and manner,
she had staid at home and ministered to the victim of sick headache.
She had been tender and low-voiced, and deft-handed, and untiring; but
during the lulls when there had been comparative quiet, she had bowed
her head and prayed that the sad-hearted young music-teacher might meet
Christ in his temple that evening, and come home up-lifted. She did not
know how it was to be done.

She knew nothing about the Ansted uncle save that he was an ambassador
of Christ, and she knew that the Lord _could_ use the shabbily-dressed
ambassador of the morning as well as he; she did not rely on the
instruments, except as they lay in the hand of God. She did not ask
for any special thought to be given to Claire Benedict; faith left
that, too, in the hand of the Lord. She only asked that she should
be ministered unto, and strengthened for the work, whatever it was
that he desired of her. And she needed not to question, to discover
that her prayer, while she had yet been speaking, was answered. The
music-teacher did not bring home the same thoughts that she had taken
away with her.

She went swiftly to her room. The fire had been remembered, and was
burning brightly.

The first thing she did was to feed its glowing coals with the letter
that had been commenced to mamma and Dora during the afternoon. Not
that there had been anything in it about her heaped-up sorrows, or her
miserable surroundings, or her gloomy resolves, but in the light of the
present revelation she did not like the tone of it.

She went to her knees, presently, but it would have been noticeable
there that she said almost nothing about resolves, or failures. Her
uttered words were brief; were, indeed, only these: "Dear Christ, it
is true I needed less of self and more of thee. Myself has failed me
utterly; Jesus, I come to thee."



CHAPTER VII.

"OUR CHURCH."


THE dreary weather was not gone by the next morning. A keen wind was
blowing, and ominous flakes of snow were fluttering their signals in
the air; but the music-room was warm, and the music-teacher herself had
gotten above the weather. She was at the piano, waiting for the bell to
ring that should give the signal for morning prayers.

Around the stove were gathered a group of girls who had hushed their
voices at her entrance. They were afraid of the pale music-teacher.
Hitherto they had regarded her with mingled feelings of awe and dislike.

Her very dress, plain black though it was, with its exquisite fit
and finish, seemed to mark her as belonging to another world than
themselves. They expected to learn music of her, but they expected
nothing else.

It was therefore with a visible start of surprise that they received
her first advances in the shape of a question, as she suddenly wheeled
on the piano-stool and confronted them:

"Girls, don't you think our church is just dreadful?"

Whether it was a delicate tact, or a sweet spirit born of the last
evening's experience, that led Claire Benedict to introduce that potent
little "our" into her sentence, I will leave you to judge.

It had a curious effect on the girls around the stove. These
bright-faced, keen-brained, thoroughly-good girls, who had lived
all their lives in a different atmosphere from hers. They were good
scholars in algebra, they were making creditable progress in Latin,
and some of them were doing fairly well in music; but they could no
more set their hats on their heads with the nameless grace which
hovered around Claire Benedict's plainly-trimmed plush one, than they
could fly through the air. This is just one illustration of the many
differences between them. This young lady had lived all her days in
the environments of city culture; they had caught glimpses of city
life, and it meant to them an unattainable fairy-land, full of lovely
opportunities and probabilities, such as would never come to them. It
struck every one of those girls as a peculiarly pleasant thing that
their lovely music-teacher had said "our" instead of "your."

One of the less timid presently rallied sufficiently to make answer:

"Dreadful? It is just perfectly horrid! It fairly gives me the blues
to go to church. Girls, mother has almost spoiled her new cashmere
sweeping the church floor with it. She says she would be ashamed to
have our wood-shed look as badly as that floor does. I don't see why
the trustees allow such slovenliness."

"It is because we can not afford to pay a decent sexton," sighed one of
the others. "We are so awful poor! That is the cry you always hear if
there is a thing said. I don't believe we deserve a church at all."

Claire had partially turned back to the piano, and she touched the keys
softly, recalling a long-forgotten strain about "Girding on the armor,"
before she produced her next startling sentence.

"Girls, let us dress up that church until it doesn't know itself."

If the first words had astonished them, this suggestion for a moment
struck them dumb. They looked at one another, then at the resolute face
of the musician. Then one of them gasped out:

"Us girls?"

"You don't mean it!" from two dismayed voices.

"How could we do anything?" from a gentle timid one.

"But the girl who had found courage to speak before, and to volunteer
her opinion as to the disgraced church, sounded her reply on a
different note:

"When?"

"Right away," said the music teacher, smiling brightly on them all, but
answering only the last speaker.

Then she left the piano, and came over to the centre of the group,
which parted to let her in.

"Just as soon as we can, I mean. We must first secure the money; but I
think we can work fast, with such a motive."

Then came the chorus of discouragements:

"Miss Benedict, you don't know South Plains. We never can raise this
money in the world. It has been tried a dozen different times, and
there are a dozen different parties, as sure as we try to do anything.
Some people won't give toward the old church, because they want a new
one. As if we could ever have a new church! Others think it is well
enough as it is, if it could be swept now and then. And there is one
woman who always goes to talking about the time she gave the most for
that old rag of a carpet on the platform, and then they went and bought
it at another store instead of at theirs, where they ought to, and
for her part, she will never give another cent toward fixing up that
church."

Another voice chimed in:

"Yes; and there is an old man who says honesty comes before
benevolence. He seems to think it would be quite a benevolence to
somebody to fix up that old rookery; and they owe him ten dollars for
coal, and they will never prosper in the world until they pay him."

"Is it true about the society owing him?"

"No, ma'am; it isn't. Father says they paid him more than the coal was
worth. He is an old scamp. But it is just a specimen of the way things
go here; hundreds of reasons seem to pop up to hinder people from
doing a thing; and all the old stories are raked up, and after awhile
everybody gets mad with everybody else, and won't try to do anything.
You never saw such a place as South Plains."

But the music-teacher laughed. She was so sure of what ought to be
done, and therefore, of course, of what could be done, that she could
afford to laugh over the ludicrous side of this doleful story.

The girls, however, did not see the ludicrous side.

"It makes me cold all over, just thinking about trying to beg money in
South Plains for anything; and for the church most of all!"

To be sure this was Nettie Burdick's statement, and she was noted for
timidity; but none of the bolder ones controverted her position.

But Miss Benedict had another bomb-shell to throw into their midst.

"Begging money is dreadful work, I suppose. I never did much of it.
My collecting route lay among people who were pledged to give just so
much, and who as fully expected to pay it when the collector called,
as they expected to pay their gas bill or their city taxes. But don't
let us think of doing any such thing. Let us raise the money right here
among ourselves."

Blank silence greeted her. Had she been able to look into their
hearts, she would have seen something like this: Oh, yes! it is all
very well for you to talk of raising money. Anybody can see by your
dress, and your style, and everything, that you have plenty of it; but
if you expect money from us, you don't know what you are talking about.
The most of us have to work so hard, and coax so long to get decent
things to wear, that we are almost tired of a dress or a bonnet before
it is worn. But this they did not want to put into words. Neither did
Miss Benedict wait for them.

"We must earn it, of course, you know."

"Earn it! How?" Half a dozen voices this time.

"Oh, in a dozen ways," smiling brightly. "To begin with, there is
voluntary contribution. Perhaps we can not all help in that way, but
some of us can, and every little helps. My salary, for instance, is
three hundred a year."

She caught her breath as she said this, and paled a little. It was much
less than Sydney Benedict had allowed his daughter for spending money;
but to those girls it sounded like a little fortune.

"That is twenty-five dollars a month, and a tenth of that is two
dollars and a half. Now I propose to start this scheme by giving the
'tenths' of two months' salary. Come, Nettie, get your pencil, and be
our secretary. We might as well put it in black and white, and make a
beginning."

"Do you always give a tenth of everything you have?"

It was Nannie Howard's question, asked in a hesitating, thoughtful
tone, while Nettie blushing and laughing, went into the depths of her
pocket for a pencil, tore a fly-leaf from her algebra, and wrote Miss
Benedict's name.

"Always!" said the music-teacher, gently, her lip trembling and her
voice quivering a little. "It was my father's rule. He taught it to me
when I was a little, little girl."

They could not know how pitiful it seemed to her that the daughter of
the man who had given his annual thousands as tenths, had really to
spend an hour in planning, so that she might see her way clear toward
giving two dollars and a half a month! Not that this young Christian
intended to wait until she could see her way clear. Her education had
been, The tenth belongs to God. As much more as you can conscientiously
spare, of course; but this is to be laid aside without question. Her
education, built on the rock of Christian principle, had laid it aside
as a matter of course, and then her human nature had lain awake and
planned how to get along without it, and yet not draw on the sacred
fund at the bank.

"I suppose it is a good rule," Mary Burton said, "though I never
thought of doing such a thing. Well," after another thoughtful pause,
"I may as well begin, I suppose. I have a dollar a month to do what I
like with. I'll give two dollars to the fund."

"Good!" said Miss Benedict. "Why, girls, we have a splendid beginning."

But Mary Burton was an exception; not another girl in the group had an
allowance. A few minutes of total silence followed; then a new type of
character came to the front.

"Father gave me a dollar this morning to get me a new pair of gloves;
but I suppose I can make the old ones do. I'll give that."

"O, Kate! your gloves look just horrid." This from a younger sister.

"I know they do, but I don't care," with a little laugh that belied the
words; "so does the church."

"That's true," said Anna Graves. "It gives one the horrors just to
think of it. I gave up all hope of its being fixed, long ago, because I
knew the men would never do it in the world; but if there is anything
we can accomplish, let's do it. I say we try. I was going to trim my
brown dress with velvet. It will cost two dollars. I'll give it up and
trim with the same. Nettie Burdick, put me down for two dollars."

This, or something else, set the two timid ones, who were sisters,
to whispering; presently they nodded their heads in satisfaction.
Whatever their plan was, they kept it to themselves. It undoubtedly
included self-sacrifice, as they belonged to a family who honestly had
but little from which to give, but they presently directed that their
names be set down for a dollar each.

Apparently, the crowning bit of sacrifice came from Ruth Jennings.

"Father has been promising me a piano-stool for more than a year," she
explained, laughing. "This morning he gave me the money, and I have a
note written to Benny Brooks to bring it down with him next Saturday;
but I do so dreadfully hate those red curtains, that if you will
promise to do something with the windows the first thing, I'll sit on
the dictionary and the Patent Office Reports for another year. A stool
such as I was going to get, costs four dollars. Put it down, Nettie,
quick!"

A general clapping of hands ensued. Not a girl present but appreciated
that to Ruth Jennings this was quite a sacrifice. As for Miss Benedict,
her eyes were brimming.

"You dear girls," she said, eagerly, "I feel as though I wanted to
kiss every one of you. We will certainly have our church made over.
I feel sure of it now. I think some of you must prefer it above your
chief joy."

This called forth a chorus of voices:

"O, Miss Benedict, you don't think that velvet ribbons, and gloves, and
such things, are our chief joys, do you?"

"Or even piano-stools!" This from Ruth Jennings, amid much laughter.
But Miss Benedict's face was grave.

"Has the _church_ been?" She asked the question gently, yet in a
sufficiently significant tone.

The reply was prompt.

"I should think not! Such a horrid old den as it is! How could there be
any joy about it!"

The words of the evening's text were repeating themselves so forcibly
in their teacher's heart that she could not refrain from quoting: "Let
my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth, if I prefer not Jerusalem
above my chief joy."

The laughter was hushed.

"But that doesn't mean the building, does it, Miss Benedict?"

"The building is the outward sign of His presence, is it not? And
suggests one of the ways in which we can show our love for the God to
whose worship the church is dedicated?"

As she spoke she wound an arm around the young girl's waist, and was
answered, thoughtfully:

"I suppose so. It seems wrong to talk about worshipping God in a place
that is not even clean, doesn't it?"

How familiar they were growing with their pretty young teacher, of
whom they had thought, only the day before, that they should always be
afraid.

"Isn't she sweet?"

This question they repeated one to another, as, in answer to the bell
summoning them to morning prayers, they moved down the hall.

"So quick-witted and so unselfish!" said a second.

"And not a bit 'stuck up'!" declared a third.

And with their brains throbbing with new ideas, they went in to
prayers. They glanced at one another and smiled, when Mrs. Foster
announced the hymn,

    Work, for the night is coming,
    Work through the morning hour.

They every one meant to work.



CHAPTER VIII.

MAKING OPPORTUNITIES.


THEN began a new era in the life of the girls at South Plains Academy.
They had work to do. A common interest possessed them. They had a
leader; such an one as they had never known before. She was capable of
originating and guiding. She not only knew how to talk, but how to _do_.

Committee meetings became the fashion of the day. No time now for
loitering over lessons, no weary yawning behind the covers of wearisome
text-books.

Promptly at four o'clock was to be a meeting of importance. It
would be "just horrid" to be detained in the recitation-room over
an imperfectly-prepared lesson, while the others hastened to Miss
Benedict's room, to be met with her questioning as to the where and
why of the absent member. Mrs. Foster had never seen better work done
than went on among her girls during the weeks that followed.

There was need for committee meetings, and for almost endless
discussions of ways and means. The voluntary offerings were all in, and
though each had done her best, all knew that the sum total was meager
enough. Money must certainly be earned, but the grave question was, How?

"Oh, there are ways," declared Miss Benedict, with a confidence that of
itself inspired courage. "Of course, there are a good many ways; and we
must think them up. Earning money is never very easy business, and we
must begin by understanding, that as a matter of course, there is work,
and disagreeable work, of some sort, in store for each one of us."

The girls, each and all, declared themselves ready for work, but
totally in the dark. They knew how to save money, the most of them,
provided they could get hold of any to save; but as for earning it,
they really had never earned a cent in their lives. There had been no
opportunity, so they declared.

"We will make opportunities," announced the brave young leader, to
whom money had hitherto flowed in an unbroken stream. But her courage
was contagious, as true courage often is, and the girls laughed,
and announced themselves as ready, even to _make_ opportunities, if
somebody would show them how.

"Let me see," said Miss Benedict; her head dropped a little to one
side, her chin resting on her hand in the attitude that she used to
assume, when Dora said she was planning a house and lot for some
protégé. "To begin with, there are things to be sold by agencies."

Two or three girls gravely shook their heads; one shrugged her
shoulders as an evidence of dismay, not to say disgust, and Ruth
Jennings spoke:

"Book agents! We can't do it, Miss Benedict. There are not three people
in South Plains who ever think of buying a book. One of the creatures
canvassed the whole town last summer; was in every house within three
miles, and she sold just four books. A good book it was, too; but the
people who had money to spare didn't want it, and the people who wanted
it hadn't the money. I was never more sorry for anybody in my life than
I was for that poor girl, who wore out a pair of shoes and a pair of
gloves, and spoiled her bonnet, to say nothing of her temper. And she
was voted the greatest nuisance we ever had in this village, and that
is saying a great deal."

Miss Benedict laughed merrily. Ruth's voluble tongue always amused her.

"I don't mean books," she explained. "There are other things; for
instance, hair-pins."

The sentence closed with a little laugh, and seemed to be suggested
by the dropping of one of the gleaming things at that moment from her
hair; but there was that in her voice which made the girls think there
was a real suggestion hidden in it, though they could not see how.

"Hair-pins!" repeated Ruth, in puzzled tone.

"Yes: really and truly, not metaphorically. I bought some last night
at the store in the village; the best, the clerk gravely assured me,
that were to be had. Wretched things! I wore one for an hour, then
threw it in the stove; it seemed to me that it pulled each hair of
my head during that one hour. Look at the kind we ought to have!"
Whereupon she drew the gleaming thing out again, and passed it around
for minute scrutiny. "Blued steel, they are, you see; that is the trade
mark; each one is finished to a high degree of smoothness. One who has
used a single paper of them could not be persuaded to content herself
with any other kind. Cheap they are, too. Actually cheaper than those
instruments of torture I bought last night. I sent to my sister by the
morning mail, to send me a box forthwith. That suggested the business
to me, I presume. There are worthless imitations, but the genuine sort
can be bought by the quantity very cheaply indeed, and a respectable
profit might be made on them until the people were supplied. It
isn't as though we were at work in a city, where women could supply
themselves without any trouble. It is a work of genuine mercy, I think,
to rescue the ladies from those prongs to which they have to submit."

"Turn hair-pin pedlers!" said Mary Burton. There was a laugh on her
face, but the slightest upward curve to her pretty lip. Mary felt above
the suggestion.

Her father was a farmer, decidedly well-to-do, and owned and lived in
one of the prettiest places about South Plains.

"Yes," said the millionnaire's daughter, who had lived all her life in
a palatial home such as Mary Burton could not even imagine, "pedlers,
if you like the name; why not? It is a good, honest business, if one
keeps good stock, and sells at honest prices.

"I like it very much better than selling cake, and flowers, and
nuts, and candy, in the church, at wicked prices, in the name of
benevolence."

There was a general laugh over this hint. South Plains had had its day
at such work as this, and those girls knew just how "wicked" the prices
were, and how questionable the ways which had been resorted to in order
to secure customers.

"I'd as soon sell hair-pins as anything else," affirmed Ruth Jennings.
"I would like some of them myself; we always get wretched ones down at
the corner store. But, Miss Benedict, do you believe much could be made
just out of hair-pins?"

"Not out of hair-pins alone; but there are other things, plenty of
them; little conveniences, you know, that people do not think of, until
they are brought to their doors, and that are so cheap, it seems a pity
not to buy them, if only for the sake of getting pleasantly rid of a
nuisance." This with a merry glance at Ruth.

"For instance, there are some charming little calendar cards being
gotten up for the holiday sales, on purpose for the children. They
are mounted on an easel, and contain a Bible verse for every day in
the year, with a bit of a quotation from some good author, in verse,
you know; exquisite little selections, just suited to children; on
each Sabbath the card contains the Golden Text of the Sabbath-school
lesson. They are just as pretty as possible, and retail for twenty
cents. I don't believe there are many mothers who could resist the
temptation of buying one for their children. But useful things, viewed
from a practical standpoint, sell the best. I have always heard that
the country was the place to get pies, and custards, and all such good
things?"

"It is," said one of the girls, with a confident nod of her head. "This
is the greatest place for pies you ever saw! I know people who have a
pie of some sort for breakfast, dinner and supper. No use in trying to
start a bakery here. People all make their own, and plenty of it."

Miss Benedict looked her satisfaction.

"Then there are plenty of burnt fingers, I am sure. Nettie, my dear,
you said you helped your mother on Saturday, which I suppose is
baking-day. How many times have you blistered your poor little fingers
trying to lift out a hot and heavy pie from the oven?"

"More times than I should think of trying to count; and, for that
matter, I have done a great deal worse than to burn my fingers. Only
last Saturday I tipped a pumpkin pie upside down on the floor; mother's
clean floor, it had just been mopped. The tin was hot, you see, and
the cloth slipped somehow, so that my bare fingers came right on the
hottest part, and I just squealed, and dropped the whole thing. Oh,
such a mess!"

"Precisely," said Miss Benedict, looking unsympathetically pleased with
the story. "I have no doubt that we should find quite a noble army of
martyrs among you in that very line, or among your mothers; you girls
would be more likely to 'squeal and drop it,' as Nettie has said. But
now I want to know what is to hinder us from being benefactors to our
race, and earning an honest penny in the bargain, by sending for a
box full of pie-lifters, and offering one to every housekeeper in
South Plains? They are cheap, and I don't believe many pie-bakers would
refuse one."

"Pie-lifters!" "I never heard of such an institution." "What in the
world are they?" Three questioning voices.

"Oh, just ingenious little pieces of iron, so contrived that they will
open and shut like an old-fashioned pair of tongs, only much more
gracefully; they adjust themselves to the size of the tin, or plate,
and close firmly, so that even a novice can lift the hottest pumpkin
pie that ever bubbled, and set it with composure and complacency on the
table at her leisure."

"I should think they would be splendid!"

This, in varying phraseology, was the general vote.

"Then I'll tell you of one of the greatest nuisances out. Look here!
Did you ever see a more starched-up linen cuff than this is?"

The girls looked admiringly. No; they never did. It shone with a lovely
polish, the means of securing which was unknown to the most domestic
of them.

"Well," explained Miss Benedict, "it isn't linen at all. By the way, I
am trying to economize in laundry work. It is nothing but paper, but
with such a good linen finish that nobody ever discovers it, and they
answer every purpose. I find they don't keep them at the corner store,
and your young gentleman friends would like them, I am sure. They can
be had at the factory very reasonably, indeed. I shouldn't wonder if
we would better invest in some. But that was not what I started out to
say. When you get a pair of cuffs nicely laundried, so that they are
stiff and shining, how do you enjoy struggling with them to get the
cuff button in, or to get it out--especially if you are in a hurry?"

This query produced much merriment among two of the girls, which the
elder sister presently explained:

"You ought to ask that question of our brother Dick. He does have the
most trying times with his cuff buttons. He wants his cuffs so stiff
they can almost walk alone, and then he fusses and struggles to get the
buttons in so as not to break the cuff. He is just at the age, Miss
Benedict, to be very particular about such things, and sometimes he
gets into such a rage. Last Sunday he split one of his buttons in half
a dozen pieces tugging at it. I tried to help him, but I couldn't get
the thing in; they are a dreadful nuisance."

"Ah, but look at this." A sudden, dexterous movement, and the button
was standing perpendicularly across the button-hole, and could be
slipped in or out with perfect ease.

The girls looked and admired and exclaimed. They had never seen such a
contrivance.

"But they are very expensive, are they not?" This question came from
the ever-practical Ruth.

Miss Benedict readjusted her cuff with a sudden quivering of the lip,
as a rush of memories swept over her. Those heavy gold cuff buttons,
with their rare and delicate designs, had been among her father's
gifts, less than a year ago.

"These are rather so," she said presently, struggling to keep her voice
steady, "but the device for opening and shutting is introduced into
plain buttons, which can be had for twenty-five cents a set; and I
think they are a great comfort especially to young men."

This is only a hint of the talk. It was continued at several meetings,
and plans at last were perfected, and orders made out and sent to the
city for a dozen or more useful articles, none of them bulky, all of
them cheap. The arrangement was, that each young lady should take her
share of the articles, keep her individual account, and thenceforth go
armed; hair-pins and cuff buttons in her pocket, ready, as opportunity
offered, to suggest to a friend the advisability of making a desirable
purchase. If she went to a neighbor's of an errand, she was in duty
bound to take a pie-lifter under her shawl, and describe its merits.
Did she meet a reasonably-indulgent mother, out were to come the pretty
calendar cards, and the agent thereof was to hold herself prepared to
descant eloquently on their beauties. Thus, through the whole stock in
trade.

As for the "nuisance" part, of course it would be a good deal of a
nuisance, and a good deal of a cross; especially when they met with
surly people who did not even know how to _refuse_ politely. But as
workers enlisted for the war, they were to be ready to bear such
crosses, always endeavoring to carry on their work on strictly business
principles; to descend to no urging or unlady-like pressure, but simply
to courteously offer their goods at honest prices; if, after such
effort, they received replies that were hard to bear, they must just
bear them for the sake of the cause. Thus decreed the heroic leader;
adding, by way of emphasis, that all ways of earning money had their
unpleasant side she supposed, and all workers had moments in which
their work could only be looked upon in the light of a cross. _Would_
those girls ever know what a cross it had been to her, Claire Benedict,
to come to South Plains and teach them music? This part she _thought_.
Such crosses were not to be brought out to be talked about. Hers was
connected with such a heavy one, that it would bear mentioning only to
Him who "carried her sorrows."



CHAPTER IX.

OUTSIDE THE CIRCLE.


"WHY are not the Ansted girls included among our workers?"

It was the music-teacher who asked this question, as she waited in
the music-room for recess to close, and her work to begin. Around the
stove gathered the usual group of girls, talking eagerly. An absorbing
topic had been opened before them, one with unending resources. Ruth
Jennings had had unprecedented success, the Saturday before, disposing
of pie-lifters. She was detailing some of her curious experiences. Also
she had received an order for a certain kind of egg-beater, the like
of which had never been seen in South Plains. She had duly reported
the mysteriously-described thing to Miss Benedict, who had at once
recognized it, and sent her order out by the morning mail--not for
one, but two dozen. Why should not other families in South Plains beat
eggs in comfort? It was strange that she had not thought of those nice
little egg-beaters.

This and a dozen other matters of interest were being repeated and
discussed, the lady at the piano being constantly appealed to for
information, or to confirm some surprising statement. During a
momentary lull in the talk, she asked her question.

Ruth Jennings answered:

"Oh, the Ansted girls! Why, Miss Benedict, is it possible that you have
not discovered that they belong to a higher sphere? Dear me! They have
nothing to do with South Plains, except to tolerate it during a few
months of the summer because the old homestead is here, and they can't
very well move it to the city. They live in that lovely place at the
top of Curve Hill. You have been up there, haven't you? It is the only
really lovely spot in South Plains. In summer their grounds are just
elegant!"

Yes, Miss Benedict had been in that direction, and every other. She
rested herself, body and soul, by long, brisk, lonely walks. She had
noticed the place and wondered over it, and had meant to ask its
history. So unlike every other spot in the withered village. Great
broad fields stretching into the distance; handsome iron fence, with
massive gate-posts, guarded by fierce-looking dogs in iron; a trellised
arbor, the outline of a croquet-ground; a hint of wide-spreading,
carefully kept lawns, showing between patches of the snow; a
summerhouse that in the season of vines and blossoms must be lovely;
a circle that suggested an artificial pond, centred with a fountain,
where she could imagine the water playing rainbows with the sunshine in
the long summer days.

And in short, there were all about this place very unmistakable tokens
of the sort of refinement which is only to be secured by a full purse
and an abundance of elegant leisure on the part of some one whose
tastes are cultured to the highest degree. Shrouded in the snows of
midwinter, with a shut-up look about the large, old-fashioned, roomy
house, kept in a state of perfect repair, yet kept carefully for what
it was, a country home, the place was marked and exceptional.

It spoke a language that could be found nowhere else, in the village
or out of it for miles around. Miss Benedict had looked upon it with
loving eyes. It spoke to her of the world from which she had come
away; of the sort of life which had always heretofore been hers. It
did not look elegant to her, except by contrast with the surrounding
shabbiness. She had been used to much greater elegance. It simply said
"home" to her sad heart; and only the Saturday before, she had wondered
whose home it was, and why she never saw people who seemed to match it,
and when it would be opened again for residence, and whether she should
ever get a chance to visit that lovely greenhouse, all aglow even now.

It came to her as a surprise that it really was the home of two of her
pupils.

"Do you mean that the Ansteds _live_ there?" she questioned. "Where is
the family? and why are the girls here?"

"Oh, the family are everywhere. They scatter in the winter like the
birds. Go South, you know, or West, or wherever suits their royal
fancy. They have no home but this, because they can not make up their
minds where to settle down for one, so they board all over the world.
Do business in the city, live in South Plains, and stay in Europe; that
is about their history."

"And the girls remain here while their parents are away?"

"Part of the time, yes'm. Mrs. Ansted was a schoolmate of Mrs. Foster,
I have heard, and respects her very highly, and would prefer having the
girls with her to sending them anywhere else. Mr. Ansted is a merchant
in the city. In the summer he comes out home every night, and some of
them stay in town with him a great deal. It is only ten miles away,
you know. If they did not charge so dreadfully on the new railroad, we
might get a chance to look at its splendors once in a while ourselves;
but the Ansteds don't care for high prices. Mr. Ansted is one of the
directors, and I suppose they ride for nothing, just because they could
afford to pay eighty cents a day as well as not. That seems to be the
way things work."

"But the family attend this church, of course, while they are here. I
should think the girls would be interested to join us."

"Oh, no, ma'am; indeed, they don't. They haven't been inside the church
six times in as many years. They go to town."

"Not to church!"

"Yes'm; they do. Every pleasant day their carriage rolls by our house
about half-past eight, and makes me feel cross and envious all day."

"But do you really mean that they habitually go ten miles to church
each Sabbath, when there is one right at their doors that they might
attend? What denomination are they?"

"The very same as our own," the girl said, laughing over Miss
Benedict's astonished face.

Then the gentle Nettie added her explanation:

"Well, but, girls, you know they don't really go _ten_ miles. There is
an elegant church, Miss Benedict, just about seven, or maybe almost
eight, miles from here. It was built by wealthy people who live out
there in the suburbs, and it is said to be the prettiest church in
town, and the Ansteds go to that."

"But eight miles every Sabbath, and return, must make a busy and
wearying day of the Sabbath, I should think, when there is no occasion.
How came they to fall into the habit of going so far?"

"Why, they did not use to spend their summers here; only a few weeks
during August. They had a house in town, and then Mrs. Ansted was sick,
and the doctors said she could not live in the city, and they had a
little delicate baby, who they said would die unless they kept it in
the country. So, they sold their town house, and came out here to stay
until they decided what to do, and then the railroad was built, and
Mr. Ansted found it easy enough to get back and forth to his business,
and the baby began to grow strong, and they spent a great deal of money
on the place, and grew to liking it, and they just stay on. They keep
rooms in town, and are there a great deal, but they really live in
South Plains."

"And drive to church every Sabbath!"

"Well, every Sabbath when it is pleasant. They are not very regular.
When it is too warm to go, they lounge under the trees, and when it is
too rainy they lounge in their handsome house, I suppose. At any rate,
they don't appear in our church. We don't see much more of them when
they are at home than when they are in Europe, only riding by."

"And do the girls like to be here at school while the family is away?"

"Well, that is a new thing, you see. Mrs. Foster has only been here
since September. Before that, they never looked at our school; but
directly they heard she was coming, the Ansted girls came in, and are
to board here until the family come back from Florida. We never any of
us spoke to Fannie and Ella Ansted in our lives until they appeared
here in October."

Then Mary Burton spoke:

"And we shall not get a chance to speak with their highnesses much
longer. The Ansteds are coming home in two weeks. Lilian, that's the
baby, has had a low fever, and the doctors have decided that she needs
to come home and get braced up, and the house is being aired for their
coming. Ella Ansted told me this morning. She says she and Fannie will
only be here at recitations after next week or week after. She doesn't
know just when the folks will get here, they are going to stop in New
York."

"Girls," said the music-teacher in her most resolute tone, "let us get
the Ansted girls into our circle, and set them at work for the church."

But this met with eager demurs. The Ansteds held themselves aloof from
South Plains. They never made calls among the people, or invited them
to their home, or noticed them in any way. They had nothing to do with
the poor little church; never came to the prayer meetings, nor to the
socials, nor in any way indicated that they belonged to the same flesh
and blood as the worshipers there, and South Plains held its head too
high and thought too much of itself to run after them. The girls were
well enough, Fannie and Ella, and they had been pleasant to them; but
as for stooping to coax them to help, they did not feel that they could
do it, even for Miss Benedict.

"I don't want you to stoop," declared Miss Benedict, "nor to coax. I
want you to give them a good hearty invitation to join us. Poor things!
I am just as sorry for them as I can be! Eight miles away from their
church and all church friends; no prayer meeting to attend, and no
pastor to interest himself in all they do! I have wondered why those
girls seemed so out in the cold. I begin to understand it. You think
you have been cordial; but you have just edged out a little, made a
tiny opening in your circle, and said in effect: 'Oh, you may come in,
if you will crawl in there! We will tolerate you while you are here,
if you won't expect too much, nor ask us to invite you to our special
doings of any sort. You are just outsiders, and we are not going to
stoop to you, and let you be one with us.'"

The girls laughed a little, but Ruth Jennings demurred. Nobody had
wanted them to stay outside; they had chosen to do so. They would not
attend the church, though the trustees had invited Mr. Ansted, and they
never showed in any way an interest in South Plains or its people.

Miss Benedict changed her tactics:

"Girls, wait; let me ask you, are Fannie and Ella Ansted Christians?"

"Not that I ever heard of," Ruth said, and Mary Burton added that she
knew they were not; that one day when they were talking about such
things, Ella asked the strangest questions, almost as though she were a
heathen; and Fannie did not seem to know much better.

"Well, have you made them realize that you young people belong to
Christ, and that it is a pleasant way, and you would like to have them
join it, and work for his cause? Ruth, my dear, do they know that you
desire to have them happy in Christ, and that you pray for this every
day?"

"It isn't likely they do, Miss Benedict, for it isn't true. I never
thought about them twice in my life in that connection, and I know I
never prayed for them."

"And are there any of you who can give a better record than that?"
She looked around upon the silenced group, and waited in vain for an
answer. At last she said, gently:

"Now, girls, there are only two questions more that I want to ask you.
One is: Which is it that stands aloof, and makes no effort to help
others, you or the Ansted girls, if you know Christ and they do not?
And the other is: Will you all agree to invite them to join us, and do
it heartily?"

The pealing bell cut short an answer, if one had been intended. Miss
Benedict was glad. She wanted no answer just then; she had planted her
little seed, and hoped that it would take root and grow.

"She has a way of taking things for granted," said one of the group
which moved out of the music-room, leaving Nettie to take her lesson.
"How does she know that any of us are Christians?"

There was a moment's silence, then Mary Burton asked:

"Do you really suppose there is no difference between us and others?
Can't we be told in any way?"

"I'm sure I don't know how. There hasn't been a communion service since
she came here, and we don't any of us go to prayer meeting. They say
she does. Father said she sat in one corner of that dark old church the
other night; the first woman there, and not many came afterward."

Said Mary Burton:

"I wonder what it means, any way, to come out from among them and be
separate? I came across that verse in my reading the other night, and
I wondered, then, just what it meant. We girls are certainly not any
more 'separate' since we joined the church than we were before, so far
as I know; and yet the verse some way made me think of Miss Benedict;
she seems different from other Christians. I should like to know just
what made the difference?"

"She is 'gooder,'" said Ruth Jennings, laughing a little, "that is
just the whole of it; but I wish she hadn't started out on this idea
about the Ansteds. They won't join us, and I don't want to feel myself
humiliated by asking them."

But Nettie, usually easy to be turned aside, held persistently to the
thought which troubled her.

"I know she is 'gooder,' that is what I say; but ought not we to be the
same? Ought the boys and girls with whom we five spend so much time, to
feel that we just belong to their set, and are in no sense different
from them? We are all the church-members there are among the young
people, you know. When I told Miss Benedict that the other day, she
looked astonished for a minute, and then she said: 'You dear girls,
what a work you have to do!' But I don't feel as though we were doing
it, and I, for one, don't know how; but I wish I did."

There was no answer to that. The little seed was taking root, though
not in the way that the planter had planned.



CHAPTER X.

AN OPEN DOOR.


THEREAFTER Miss Benedict thought much about the Ansteds. She herself
could hardly have told why they interested her so much, though she
attributed it to the fact that the surroundings of the old house spoke
to her of home. The family returned and established themselves there,
and the blinds were thrown open, and through the half-drawn shades,
as she took her after-school walks, she could see glimpses of bright,
beautiful life inside; she longed to get nearer, and saw no way to
accomplish it.

The Ansted girls had been invited to join the workers. Miss Benedict's
influence reached as far as this, though that lady wished she had been
sure that the invitation had sounded cordial and hearty. But they had
hesitated and hesitated, and proposed to talk with mamma about it, and
mamma was reported to have said that it was hardly worth while; they
were such entire strangers to the church and the people that of course
they could not be expected to have the interest in it which others had;
and the girls had tossed their heads and said they knew it would be
just so, they were sorry they had invited them, and they would not be
caught that way again, not even for Miss Benedict.

Meantime, Miss Benedict studied the Ansteds from a distance, and tried
to understand the reasons for their utter isolation from the good
people of the village. She cultivated the friendship of the two girls
who were her pupils, and who, now that they had declined the invitation
to join the others, were more shut off from them than before. Miss
Benedict took care, however, not to refer to this episode; there were
reasons why she did not desire to know the particulars. But she made
herself as winning as she could to the girls, and wondered how and
when she could reach their home.

As is often the case, the way opened unexpectedly.

It was a wintry evening, and she, having walked further than she had
intended, was making the return trip with all speed, lest the darkness
fast closing on the village, should envelop her before she reached the
academy.

"How foolish I was," she told herself, "to go so far! I must have
walked two miles, and it is beginning to snow. What would mamma think
to see me on the dark street alone?"

In common with most city-bred ladies, accustomed to treading the
brightly-lighted city streets with indifference, she looked upon the
darkness and silence of the country with a sort of terror, and was
making swift strides, not pausing even to get the glimpse of "home"
which shone out broadly across the snow from all the front windows of
the house on Curve Hill.

It looked very home-like, but her only home was that plain, little
upper room, at the academy, and thither she must go with all speed.
Underneath the freshly-falling snow lay a treacherous block of ice,
and as the hurrying feet touched it, they slipped from their owner's
control, and she was lying a limp heap at the foot of Curve Hill.

No use to try to rise and hasten on. A very slight effort in that
direction told her that one ankle was useless. What was to be done? She
looked up and down the street; not a person was to be seen in either
direction. Would it be of any use to call through this rising wind for
assistance? How plainly she could see the forms flitting about that
bright room! yet they might as well be miles away, so far as her power
to reach them was concerned. She made a second effort to rise, and fell
back with a groan; it was best not to attempt that again, or she should
faint, and certainly she had need of her senses now. If only one of
those queer-looking wood-sleighs, over which she had laughed only this
afternoon, would come along and pick her up, how grateful she would
be! Somebody else was coming to pick her up.

"What have we here?" said a brisk voice. "Fallen humanity? plenty of
that to be found. What is the immediate cause?" Then in a lower tone:
"I believe it is a woman!" By this time he had reached her side, a
young man, prepared to make merry over the fallen fortunes of some
child; so he had evidently at first supposed.

"I beg pardon, ma'am," he said, and even at that moment he waited to
lift his hat, "did you fall? Are you injured? How can I best help you?"

Claire Benedict of old had one peculiarity which had often vexed her
more nervous young sister: under embarrassing or trying circumstances
of any sort, where the average young woman would be likely to cry, she
was nearly certain to laugh. It was just what she did at this moment.

"I think I have sprained my ankle," she said between her laughs; "at
least, it will not allow me to move without growing faint, so I am
keeping still; I thought I needed my senses just now. If you can think
of any way of securing a wagon of some sort in which I can ride to the
academy, it will help me materially."

"To the academy! Why, that is a mile away! You must take a shorter ride
than that for the first one. You can not be very heavy, I should say.
Allow me." And before she understood what he was planning sufficiently
to attempt a protest, he had stooped and unceremoniously picked her up,
and was taking swift strides across the snow-covered lawn to the side
piazza of the Ansted house. The gate leading to the carriage-drive was
thrown open, so there had been no obstacle in his way.

It was ridiculous to laugh under such circumstances, but this was just
what Claire did, while her porter threw open the door, strode through
the wide hall, and dropped her among the cushions of a luxurious couch,
in one of the bright rooms.

"Here is a maimed lady," he said. "Mamma, Alice, where are some of
you?"

"Oh, Louis!" said a familiar voice, "what's the matter? Did you run
over her? Why, Fannie, it is Miss Benedict! Mamma! Louis, call mamma,
quick!"

And then Claire really accomplished what she had so often threatened,
and fainted entirely away.

"It is only a sprain," she explained, directly her eyes were open
again; "I was very foolish to faint."

A pleasant, motherly face was bending over her, with eyes like Ella and
hair like Fannie; this must be the mother.

"Is it a sprain, do you think?" she asked, "or only a sort of twist?
Those things are sometimes very painful for awhile. We have sent for
a physician, and shall soon know what to do for you. In the meantime,
Fannie, my dear, her boot should be removed."

Thus reminded, Fannie bent with eager fingers over the injured member.

"Did you fall, Miss Benedict? Wasn't it too bad? But since you were
going to fall, I am glad you did it right by our gate."

"Mamma, do you know? This is our music-teacher."

"So I judged, daughter. We are sorry to make her acquaintance in this
manner, and glad to be of service. Bring another pillow, Ella."

It was all gracefully and graciously said. Mrs. Ansted was not a woman
who would have thought of seeking out, and calling in a friendly
way on her daughter's music-teacher; but she was one who, when that
music-teacher appeared at her door in need of assistance, could bestow
it heartily and delicately.

"She is not like mamma in the least--oh, not in any particular--and yet
I think she means to be a good woman, so far as she sees the way to it
out of the environments of her world. I wonder if there is any way in
which I am to help her, and if this is a beginning?"

This was the mental comment of the music-teacher, who was supposed to
be absorbed in her own troubles.

It all arranged itself speedily and naturally. The doctor came and
pronounced the ankle badly sprained, advised entire quiet for a few
days, heartily seconded Mrs. Ansted's suggestion that the prisoner
should remain with them, and when Claire faintly demurred, that lady
said, decidedly:

"Why, of course, it will be the proper thing to do. It is not as though
you were at home. The academy is at best, a poor place in which to
secure quiet, and there is no occasion for submitting to the discomfort
of getting there. This is decidedly the place for you. Since it was the
treacherous ice on our walk that brought you to grief, you must allow
us to make what amends we can. I will send word to Mrs. Foster at once."

Claire yielded gracefully; in truth, she was rather anxious to do so.
She was interested in the Ansteds. She had been wondering how she could
make their acquaintance, and interest them in matters that she believed
required their aid. She had been doing more than wondering. Only this
morning, thinking of the subject, as she locked her door for prayer,
she had carried it to Christ, and asked him for opportunities, if
indeed he meant that she was to work in this direction. What a signal
opportunity! Certainly not of her planning. She must take care how
she closed the door on it. Behold her, then, an hour later, domiciled
in one of the guest chambers of the beautiful old home, where every
touch of taste and refinement, yes, and luxury, soothed her heart like
a breath from home. This was the home to which she had heretofore
been accustomed. More elegant her own had been, it is true, but the
same disregard to money that had characterized the belongings of her
father's house were apparent here; everything spoke of a full purse
and a cultured taste. It was very foolish, but Claire could not help
a little sigh of satisfaction over the delicacy of the curtains and
the fineness of the bed draperies. Had she really missed things of
that sort so much? she asked herself. Yes, she had! her truthful heart
responded. She liked all soft and fair and pretty things; but, after
all, the main reason for their soothing influence now was that they
said "home" and "mother" to her.

Laid aside thus suddenly from her regular line of work, the morning
found her, dressed, and lying on the fawn-colored couch in her pretty
room, considering what there was to do that day. She had already
feasted royally; the delicate breakfast that had been sent up to her
was served on rare old china, and accompanied with the finest of damask
and the brightest of solid silver.

They commented on her in the dining-room below after this fashion:

"Poor creature, I suppose she thinks she has dropped into fairy-land.
She looks as though she could appreciate the little refinements of
life. I quite enjoyed sending her that quaint old cream cup. I fancy
she has taste enough to admire it." This from the mother. Then Alice:

"Mamma, are not such things a sort of cruel kindness? Think of going
back to the thick dishes and cheap knives of the academy after being
served in state for a few days!"

"I know, dear; but we can not help that part. She will probably not
remain long enough to get spoiled. She is really quite interesting. I
wonder if she has seen better days?"

How would Claire have answered this question? "Fairyland?" yes, it was
something of that to her, but she was like a fairy who had been astray
in a new world, and had reached home again. The silver might be choice,
but she had seen as choice, and the china might have been handed
down for generations, yet the style of it and the feel of it were
quite familiar to her. Dainty and delicate things had been every-day
matters in her father's house. "Different" days she had seen, oh, very
different; yet this young girl, so suddenly stranded on what looked
like a rough shore, was already beginning to question whether, after
all, these were not her "better days." Had she ever before leaned her
heart on Christ as she was learning now to do? Busy in his cause she
had always been, eagerly busy, ever since she could remember; but she
began to have a dim feeling that it was one thing to be busy in his
cause, and quite another to walk with him, saying, as a child, "What
next?" and taking up the "next" with a happy unquestioning as to the
right of it. Something of this new experience was beginning to steal
over her; there seemed to be less of Claire Benedict than ever before,
but there was in her place one who was growing willing to be led, and
Claire already felt that she would not be willing to take back the old
Claire Benedict; she was growing attached to this new one.

Before that day closed, the Ansteds had a revelation.

It was Alice, the young lady daughter of the house, who had come up
to show Mrs. Foster the way, and who lingered and chatted with the
cheerful young prisoner after Mrs. Foster had taken her departure. She
stooped for Claire's handkerchief, which had dropped, and said, as her
eye fell on the name:

"I know of a young lady who has your full name. That is singular, is it
not? The name is not a common one."

"Who is she?" asked Claire, interested. "Is she nice? Shall I
immediately claim relationship?"

"I am not in the least acquainted with her, though I fancy from what
I have heard that she may be very 'nice.' She was pointed out to me
once at a concert in Boston, by a gentleman who had some acquaintance
with her. She is the daughter of Sidney L. Benedict, a millionnaire. I
suppose you do not know of her, though she is a namesake. I heard more
about her father perhaps than I did of her. Ever so many people seemed
to admire him as a wonderful man; very benevolent, you know, and sort
of hopelessly good, he seemed to me. I remember telling my brother
Louis that it must be rather oppressive to have such a reputation for
goodness to sustain. Were you ever in Boston?"

The music-teacher was so long in answering, that Miss Alice turned
toward her questioningly, and found that the eyes, but a moment, before
so bright, were brimming with tears.

"I beg your pardon," she said, sympathetically, "does your ankle pain
you so badly? Something ought to be done for it. I will call mamma."

But Claire's hand detained her.

"It is not that," she said gently, and smiled. "I forgot my ankle, and
where I was, and everything. He was a good man, Miss Ansted; good and
true to the heart's core, and his goodness was not oppressive, it was
his joy. He has gone now to wear his crown, and I am proud to be his
daughter Claire. But oh, there are times when the longing to see him
rolls over me so that it swallows every other thought." And then the
poor little teacher buried her head in the lace-trimmed pillows and
cried outright!

"Mamma, what do you think! Louis, can you believe it possible? She is
one of the Boston Benedicts! A daughter of that Sidney L. about whom we
heard so much when we were with the Maitlands!"

"I heard he had gone to smash!" said Louis, when the first astonishment
was over, "but I thought he had done it fashionably, and provided
handsomely for his family."



CHAPTER XI.

A "FANATIC."


I DO not suppose people realize how much such things influence them.
For instance, Alice Ansted was the sort of girl who would have been
ashamed of herself had she realized how much more important a person
Claire Benedict was to her as soon as it became known that she belonged
to the Boston Benedicts. But the fact was very apparent to others,
if not to Alice. She had been very glad, before this, to have Miss
Benedict enjoy the comforts of the house, but now she hovered about
her, and gave her crumbs of personal attention, and found a fascination
in hearing her talk, and, in short, was interested in her to a degree
that she could never have been simply in the poor music-teacher.

She brought her work one morning, and sat by the luxurious chair where
Claire had been imprisoned, with her injured foot skillfully arranged
on a hassock.

"How pretty it is," Claire said, watching the crimson silk flowers grow
on the canvas under skillful fingers; "do you enjoy working on it?"

The tone of voice which answered her was dissatisfied in the extreme:

"Oh, I suppose so; as well as I enjoy anything that there is to do. One
must employ one's self in some way, and we live such a humdrum life
here that there is chance for very little variety. I am puzzled to know
how you manage it, Miss Benedict; you have been accustomed to such
different surroundings. This is a sharp enough contrast to Chester.
Have you been in Chester yet, Miss Benedict? Well, it is just a nice
little city; hardly large enough to be called a city. The society is
good, and there is always something going on, and when I come out here
I am at an utter loss what to do with myself. But then, Chester is very
far from being Boston, and if I had had the advantages of Boston all
my life, as you have, I feel sure I could not endure a month of South
Plains. It is bad enough for me. How do you bear it?"

Claire could only smile in answer to this. There were circumstances
connected with her removal from Boston which were too keenly felt to
touch with a careless hand. She hastened to ask questions.

"What is there pleasant in Chester? I have promised myself to go there
some Saturday, and see what I can find in the library."

"Oh, there is a very fair library there, I believe, for a town of its
size, but I never patronize it; we have books enough. By the way, Miss
Benedict, you are welcome to the use of our library. Papa will be
glad to have some one enjoying the books. The girls have as much as
they can endure of books in school, and Louis is not literary in his
tastes; I am almost the only reader. Mamma is so busy with various city
benevolences that, what with her housekeeping and social cares, she
rarely has time for much reading. Oh, Chester is well enough. There are
concerts, you know, and lectures, or entertainments of some sort; one
can keep busy there, if one accepts invitations. But, to tell you the
truth, the whole thing often bores me beyond endurance, and I am glad
to get out here to be away from it all. I don't like my life. I think
I have talents for something better, if one could only find what it
is--the something better, I mean."

There was a pretty flush on her discontented face as she looked up
eagerly to see how this confidence was being received. Claire's face
was gently sympathetic, and grave. Alice took courage.

"Mamma laughs at me, and says I am visionary, and that I want to have
a career, and that I must be content to fill my sphere in life, as my
ancestors have done before me; but really I am not content. I don't
like the sort of life spread out before me for generations back;
marrying, you know, and keeping up a handsome house, and receiving and
paying visits, and giving a grand party once a year, when you are sure
to offend somebody to whom you were indebted in some way, and whom you
forgot. Now, do you see any particular enjoyment in that sort of thing?"

"No," said Claire unhesitatingly, "I do not."

"I'm real glad to hear you say so. Mamma thinks it is dreadful to be
discontented with one's lot; but I am. I would like a career of some
sort; anything that would absorb me. And yet I don't want to be poor. I
should shrink from that. Do you really find it easier to get along with
life, now that you have not time to think, as you used?"

Another question to be gently put aside. What did this girl know of the
charmed life which she had lived at home, and of the father who had
been its centre? She could not go into the depths of her heart and drag
out its memories, unless there were a very grave reason for so doing.

"I have always lived a very busy life," she answered, evasively; "but
before I can help you with any of my experiences, I must ask one
question: Are you not a Christian, Miss Ansted?"

Apparently it was an amazing question to the young girl. Her cheeks
took a deeper flush; she let her canvas half drop from her hand, and
fixed inquiring eyes on her questioner.

"Why, yes; that is, I suppose I am, or hope I am, or something; I am a
member of the church, if that is what you mean."

"It is not in the least what I mean. That is only the outward
sign--worthless, if it is not indeed a sign of union with Christ. Such
a union as furnishes a career, Miss Ansted, which alone is worthy of
you. Such a union as carries you captive--making your time and your
money, and your talents, not your own, but his. There is nothing
dissatisfying about such a life, my friend. It almost lifts one above
the accident of outward surroundings."

There was an undoubted amazement expressed on Miss Ansted's face now.

"I don't in the least understand you," she said. "What has my being
a member of the church to do with all this time which lies on my
hands just now, I should like to know. If you mean mission bands and
benevolent societies, and all that sort of thing, my tastes don't lie
in that direction, in the least. Mamma does enough of that for the
entire family; she always has some poky board meeting to attend. I have
sat shivering in the carriage, and waited for her last words so many
times, that I am utterly sick of the whole thing. Oh, I am a member, of
course, and give money; that is all they want. But you are mistaken in
supposing that these things help me in the least."

"I don't think so," Claire said, unable to help smiling over the
darkness which had so misunderstood and misinterpreted Christian work,
and yet feeling that it called for tears rather than smiles; "these
things are only more of the 'outward signs.'"

They were interrupted then, and Claire was not sorry. She wanted to
think over her ground. There was no use in casting these pearls of
truth before Alice Ansted, she was too utterly in the dark to see
them. A young lady she was, well educated, in the common acceptation
of that term, accomplished, so far as music and French were concerned,
skillful as regards embroidery and worsted work; but evidently the
veriest child as regarded the Christian life, though she had been a
member of the visible church for years. If she were to be helped at
all, Claire must come down from the heights where she walked and meet
her on some common ground.

"I wonder how the old church would do?" she asked herself. "I wish I
could get her interested in it, both for her sake and for the sake of
the church."

Had she heard the report given below of this brief conversation, she
might have been discouraged, for she was but a young worker after all,
and had not met with many rebuffs.

"Mamma, she is a regular little fanatic," so Alice affirmed. "You ought
to have heard her talk to me! It sounded just like quotations from that
old book of sermons that grandma used to pore over. I didn't know what
she meant."

"Probably she did not either," was the comment of this Christian
mother. "Some very young people occasionally fall into that style,
talking heroics, using theological terms of which they can not grasp
the meaning, and fancy it a higher type of religion. She will probably
know both less and more as she grows older."

Then was Miss Benedict's pupil, Ella, emboldened to come to the rescue
of her teacher's reputation:

"But, mamma, she is not so very young. I saw her birthday book, and the
date made her twenty in September."

"Indeed!" said Mrs. Ansted, with amused smile, "that is quite a
patriarchal age. She certainly ought to be well posted in all
theological dogmas by this time. My dear, it is one of the worst ages
for a young woman--if she isn't absorbed with an engagement by that
time to fancy herself superior."

"Oh, mamma! you don't know Miss Benedict. She doesn't fancy herself
superior to anybody. She is just as sweet and lovely as she can be. All
the girls like her, and I think she has the nicest religion of anybody
I know!" This outburst was from Fannie.

"Very well, dear," answered the mother complacently; "admire her as
much as you like. She is quite as safe a shrine as any for a young girl
like you to worship at. You must always have some one. I am glad the
girls like her, poor thing; her life must be doleful enough at best.
It is certainly a great change." And the benevolent mother sighed in
sympathy. She was glad to be able to put what she thought was a little
sunshine from her elegant home into the poor music-teacher's lot. She
even wondered, as she waited for her carriage to drive down town,
whether the sprained ankle were not a providential arrangement to
enable her to give a few days of rest and luxury to this unfortunate
girl.

This thought she kept quite to herself. She did not quite accept such
strained and peculiar views of Providence. It savored a little of
fanaticism--a thing which she disapproved, and Mr. Ansted disliked; but
then, some people thought such things, and it was barely possible that
they were sometimes correct.

She went out to her carriage still thinking these thoughts, and Claire,
watching her from the upper window, said to herself:

"I wonder if I can help her? I wonder if God means me to? Of course, I
am set down here for something." _She_ had no doubt at all about the
providence in it.

The son of the house had added one sentence to the family discussion:

"You might have known that she would be a fanatic, after you found
that she was Sydney Benedict's daughter. He was the wildest kind of a
visionary. Porter was talking about him to-day. He knew them in Boston.
He says Benedict gave away enough every year to support his family in
splendid style. They are reaping the results of his extravagance."

This is only one of the many different ways which there are of looking
at things.

Nevertheless the fair fanatic seemed to be an attractive object to
the entire family. Louis, not hitherto particularly fond of evenings
at home, found himself lingering in the up-stairs library, whither he
had himself wheeled the large chair with the patient seated therein.
As the days passed, she persisted in making herself useful, and Ella
and Fannie, under her daily tuition, were making very marked progress
in music, as well as in some other things that their mother did not
understand about so well. It was on one of these cosey evenings that
Louis occupied the piano-stool, he and Alice having been performing
snatches of favorite duets, until Alice was summoned to the parlors.

"Come down, won't you, Louis? that is a good boy. It is the Powell
girls, and Dick will be with them, I presume." This had been Alice's
petition just as she was leaving the room.

But Louis had elevated both eyebrows and shoulders.

"The Powell girls!" he repeated. "Not if this individual knows himself!
I never inflict myself on the Powell girls, if there is any possibility
of avoiding it; and as for Dick, I would go a square out of my way any
time, to save boring him. Excuse me, please, Alice; I am not at home,
or I _am_ at home, and indisposed--just as you please; the latter has
the merit of truth. It is my duty to stay here and entertain Miss
Benedict, since the girls have deserted her.

"I have no doubt that you would excuse me with pleasure, but
nevertheless I consider it my duty to stay!" This last was merrily
added, just as Alice closed the door.

Claire did not wait to reply to the banter, but plunged at once into
the centre of the thought which had been growing on her for several
days.

"Mr. Ansted, do you know, I wish I could enlist both you and your
sisters as helpers in the renovation of the old church down town?"

"What! the old brick rookery on the corner? My dear young lady, your
faith is sublime, and your knowledge of this precious village limited!
That concern was past renovating some years before the flood. It was
about that time, or a little later, that my respected grandfather tried
to remodel the seats, and raised such a storm of indignation about his
ears that it took a century to calm the people down; so tradition says.
Whatever you undertake to do will be a failure; I feel it my duty to
inform you of so much. And now I am burning with a desire to ask a rude
question: Why do you care to do anything with it? Why does it interest
you in the least? I beg your pardon if I am meddling with what does not
concern me, but I was amused over the affair when the girls came home
and petitioned to join the charmed circle. Why a lady who was here but
for a passing season or so, should interest herself in the old horror,
was beyond my comprehension. Is it strictly benevolence, may I ask?"

"I don't think it is benevolence at all. It is a plain-faced duty."

"Duty!" The heavy eyebrows were raised again. "I don't comprehend you.
Why should a stranger to this miserable, little, squeezed-up village,
and one who by all the laws of association and affinity will surely not
spend much of her time here, have any duties connected with that old
box, which the church fathers have allowed to run into desolation and
disgrace for so many years, that the present generation accepts it as a
matter of course?"

"Will you allow me to ask _you_ one question, Mr. Ansted? Are you a
Christian?"



CHAPTER XII.

LOGIC AND LABOR.


THE young man thus addressed gave over fingering the piano-keys, as
he had been softly doing from time to time, whirled about on the
music-stool, and indulged in a prolonged and curious stare at his
questioner.

"I beg your pardon," he said at last, with a little laugh, as he
recognized the rudeness of the proceeding; "I am struck dumb, I think.
In all my previous extended experience no more astonishing query has
ever been put to me. I don't know how to take it."

"Won't you simply answer it?"

"Why, it is too astonishing to me that the thing requires an answer!
I don't believe I even know what it is to be the sort of character to
which you refer."

"Then, am I to understand that you don't know but you may be one?"

The young man laughed again, a slightly embarrassed laugh, and gave
his visitor a swift, penetrating glance, as if he would like to know
whether she was playing a part; then finding that she waited, he said:

"Oh, not at all! In fact, I may say I am very certain that I don't
belong to the class in question, even in name."

"May I ask you why?"

"Why!" He repeated the word. There was something very bewildering and
embarrassing about these short, direct, simply-put questions. He had
never heard them before. "Really, that is harder to answer than the
first. What is it to be a Christian, Miss Benedict?"

"It is to love the Lord Jesus Christ with a love that places his honor
and his cause and his commands first, and all else secondary."

"Who does it?"

"He knows. Perhaps there are many. Why are not you one?"

He dropped his eyes now, but answered lightly:

"Hard to tell. I have never given the matter sufficiently serious
thought to be able to witness in the case."

"But is that reply worthy of a reasoning being? Won't you be frank
about the matter, Mr. Ansted? I don't mean to preach, and I did not
intend to be offensively personal. I was thinking this afternoon how
strange it was that so many well-educated, reasoning young men left
this subject outside, and were apparently indifferent to it, though
they professed to believe in the story of the Bible; and I wondered
why it was: what process of reasoning brought them to such a position.
Will you tell me about it? How do young men, who are intelligent, who
accept the Bible as a standard of morals by which the world ought to be
governed, who respect the church and think it ought to be supported,
reason about their individual positions as outsiders? They do not stand
outside of political questions where they have a settled opinion; why
do they in this?"

"I don't know," he answered at last. "The majority of them, perhaps,
never give it a thought; with others the claims which the church makes
are too squarely in contact with pre-arranged plans of life; and
none of them more than half believe in religion as exhibited in the
every-day lives about them."

"Have you given me your reason for being outside, Mr. Ansted?"

"Why, yes, I suppose so; that is, so far as I can be said to have a
reason. I don't reason about these matters."

"Will you tell me which one of the three reasons you gave is yours?"

"Were you educated for the bar, Miss Benedict? Since you press me, I
must say that a mixture of all three might be found revolving about my
inner consciousness. I rarely trouble myself with the subject. That is
foolish. I suppose; but it is really no more foolish than I am about
many things. Then so far as I may be said to have plans, what little
I know of the Bible is dreadfully opposed to the most of them, and,
well, I don't more than one third believe in any of the professions
which are being lived about me."

"But you believe in the Bible?"

"Oh, I believe it is a fine old book, which has some grand reading in
it, and some that is very dull, and I know as little about it as the
majority of men and women."

"Oh, then let me put the question a little differently: Do you believe
in Jesus Christ?"

"Believe in him!"

"Yes, as one who once lived in person on this earth, and died on a
cross, and went back to heaven, and is to come again at some future
time?"

"Oh, yes; I have no particular reason for doubting prophecy or history
on those points. I'm rather inclined to think the whole story is true."

"Do you think his character worthy of admiration?"

"Oh, yes, of course; it is a remarkable character. Even infidels
concede that, you know; and I am no infidel. Bob Ingersoll and his
follies have no charm for me. I have had that disease, Miss Benedict;
like the measles and whooping-cough, it belongs to a certain period
of life, you know, and I am past that. I had it in a very mild form,
however, and it left no trace. The fellow's logic has nothing to stand
on."

She ignored the entire sentence, save the first two words. She had not
the slightest desire to talk about Bob Ingersoll, or to let this gay
young man explain some of Bob's weak mistakes, and laugh with her over
his want of historic knowledge. She went straight to the centre of the
subject:

"Then, Mr Ansted, won't you join his army, and come over and help us?"

Nothing had ever struck the brilliant young man as being more
embarrassing than this simple question, with a pair of earnest eyes
waiting for his answer. It would not do to be merrily stupid and
pretend to misunderstand her question, as he at first meditated, and
ask her whether she really wanted him to join Ingersoll's army. Her
grave eyes were fixed on his face too searchingly for that. There was
nothing for it but to flit behind one of his flimsy reasons:

"Really, Miss Benedict, there are already enough recruits of the sort
that I should make. When I find a Christian man whom I can admire with
all my heart--instead of seeing things in him every day that even I,
with my limited knowledge, know to be contrary to his orders--I may
perhaps give the matter consideration, but, in my opinion, the army is
too large now."

"But you told me you admired Jesus Christ. I do not ask you to be like
any other person--to act in any sense like any other person whom you
ever saw or of whom you ever heard. Will you copy him, Mr. Ansted?"

There was no help for it; there must be a direct answer; she was
waiting.

"I do not suppose I will." This was his reply, but the air of gayety
with which he had been speaking was gone. You might almost have
imagined that he was ashamed of the words.

"Won't you please tell me why?"

Was there ever a man under such a direct fire of personal questions
hard to answer? Banter would not do. There was something in the face
and voice of the questioner which made him feel that it would be a
personal insult to reply other than seriously.

"There are insurmountable difficulties in the way," he said at last,
speaking in a low, grave tone.

"Difficulties too hard for God to surmount? You can not mean that?"

But he did not explain what he meant, and at that moment he received
a peremptory summons from his mother to the parlor. He arose at once,
glad, apparently, of the interruption, but did not attempt to return
to the free and easy tone with which he had carried on part of the
conversation, but bade her a grave and respectful good-night.

Left alone, poor Claire could only sigh in a disappointed way; as
usual, she had not said the words she meant to say, and she could but
feel that she had accomplished nothing. It had been her father's motto
to spend no time alone with a human being without learning whether
he belonged to the army; and if not, making an effort to secure his
enlistment. Claire, looking on, had known more than one young man, and
middle-aged man, and not a few children, who had reported in after
days that a word from her father had been their starting-point. Sadly,
she mourned, oftentimes, because she had not her father's tact and
judgment. It had seemed to her that this young man, with his handsome
face and his handsome fortune, ought to be won for Christ. Why did not
his mother win him, or his sister? Why did not she? She could but try;
so she tried, and apparently had failed; and she was still so young a
worker that she sighed, and felt discouraged, instead of being willing
to drop the seed, and leave the results with God. She belonged to that
great company of seed-sowers who are very anxious to see the mysterious
processes that go on underground, with which they have nothing whatever
to do.

The next day Claire went back to the Academy. Her twisted ankle was
still to be petted and nursed, and the piano had to move from the
music-room to a vacant one next to Claire's own, and the chapel and
dining-room did without her for a while, but the work of the day was
resumed, and went steadily forward.

It was not without earnest protest that she left the home which had
opened so royally to receive her; and it is safe to say that every
member of the family missed her, none more than Alice, who had found a
relief in her conversations from the _ennui_ and unrest which possessed
her. Louis, too, had added his entreaties that the burdens of life
at the Academy should not be assumed so soon, and evidently missed
something from the home after her departure. It was when he was helping
her to the sleigh that he said:

"You did not answer my question about the old church and your interest
in it; may I call some evening, and get my answer?"

"We shall be glad to see you at the Academy," she had replied,
cordially, "but I can answer your question now. It is because it is
the church of Christ, and it is my duty to do for it in every way all
that I can."

"But," he said, puzzled, "how is it that the church fathers, and, for
that matter, the church mothers, have let it get into such a wretched
state of repair? Why haven't they a duty concerning it, rather than a
stranger in their midst?"

"I did not say that they had not; but they don't have to report to me;
the Head of the Church will see to that."

Then Dennis, the Academy man-of-all-work, had taken the reins, while
Louis was in the act of tucking the robes more carefully about her, and
driven rapidly away.

"It is queer how things work," Ruth Jennings said, as a party of the
girls gathered around their teacher to report progress. "There are a
dozen things that have had to lie idle, waiting for you. Why do you
suppose we had to be interrupted in our plans, and almost stand still
and do nothing, while you lay on a couch with a sprained ankle? I'm
sure we were doing nice things and right things, and we needed you,
and it could do no possible good to anybody for you to lie and suffer
up there for a week. I do say it looks sometimes as if things just
_happened_ in this world, or else were managed by somebody who hated
the world and every good plan that was made for it. Don't you really
think that Satan has a good deal of control, Miss Benedict?"

But there were reasons why Miss Benedict thought it would be as
well not to let her pupil wander off just then on a misty sea of
questionings. As for herself, she had no doubt that the interruption
was for some good end; it is true, she could not see the end, but she
trusted it.

You are to remember that she had had her sharper lessons, beside which
all this was the merest child's play. Those girls could not possibly
know how that awful "why" had tortured her through days and nights
until that memorable Sunday night when God gave her victory. What
interruptions had come to her! Father and fortune, and home, and
life-work, cut off in a moment; the whole current of her life changed;
changed in ways that would not do even to hint to the girls; what was
a sprained ankle and a few days of inaction compared with these! Yet
their evident chafing over the loss of time opened her eyes to a new
truth. It seemed such a trivial thing to her, that she could scarce
restrain her lips from a smile over their folly in dwelling on it,
until suddenly there dashed over her the thought:

"What if, in the light of Heaven, my interruptions all seem as small as
this?"

The interrupted work was now taken up with renewed energy, and indeed
blossomed at once into new varieties.

"What we must do next is to give a concert."

This was the spark that the music-teacher threw into the midst of the
group of girls who occupied various attitudes about her chair. It was
evening, and they were gathered in her room for a chat as to ways and
means. Several days had passed, and the foot was so far recovered that
its owner promised it a walk down the church aisle on the following
Sabbath, provided Dennis could arrange to have it taken to the door.
It still, however, occupied a place of honor among the cushions, and
Claire sat back in the depths of a great comfortable rocker that had
been brought from the parlor for her use.

"A concert!" repeated Ruth, great dismay in her voice, "us?"

"Yes, us."

"Who would come?" This from Nettie.

"Everybody will come after we are ready, if we have managed our part of
the work well, and put our tickets low enough, and exerted ourselves to
sell them. Oh, I don't mean _play_! I mean work! We would make ready
for a first-class entertainment. Let me see, are you not all my music
pupils? Yes, every one of you, either vocal or piano pupils. What is
more natural than to suppose that 'Miss Claire Benedict, assisted by
her able and efficient class of pupils,' can 'give an entertainment
in the audience-room of the church,' etc? Isn't that the way the
advertisements head?"

"For the benefit of the church?"

But to this suggestion Miss Benedict promptly shook her head:

"No, for the benefit of ourselves."



CHAPTER XIII.

INNOVATIONS.


I DISLIKE that way of doing things. People are being educated to
suppose that they are engaged in a benevolent enterprise when they
attend a benefit concert or entertainment. Those who can not afford to
go ease their consciences by saying, 'Oh, well, it is for benevolence;'
when it really isn't, you know; it is for self-gratification or
self-improvement, and people who ought to give twenty-five dollars for
a thing learn to tell themselves that they went to the twenty-five
cent supper, or concert, and that is their share, they suppose. Let
us invite them to come to our concert because we believe that we can
entertain them, and that it will pay them to be present.

"The fact is, girls, the church of Christ doesn't _need_ any benefit.
We degrade it by talking as though it did. No, we will divide the
proceeds of the concert in shares among ourselves; that is we, the
workers, will for the time being go into business and earn money that
shall be ours. We will not plead poverty, or ask people to listen to
us because of benevolence; we will simply give them a chance to hear a
good thing if they want to, and the money shall be ours to do exactly
what we please with. Of course, if we please to give every cent of it
to the church, that is our individual affair."

New ground this, for those girls; they had never before heard the like;
but there was an instant outgrowth of self-respect because of it.

"Then we can't _coax_ people to buy tickets?" said Nettie. "I'm so
glad."

"Of course not. The very utmost that propriety will allow us to do will
be to exhibit our goods for sale, so much for such an equivalent, and
allow people the privilege of choosing what they will do, and where
they will go."

The girls, each and all, agreed that from that standpoint they would
as soon offer tickets for sale as not; and instantly they stepped
upon that new platform and argued from it in the future, to the great
amazement and somewhat to the bewilderment of some of their elders.

Thereafter, rehearsals for the concert became the daily order of
things; not much time to spend each day, for nothing could be done
until lessons were over and all regular duties honorably discharged.
The more need then for promptness and diligence on the part of each
helper, and the more glaringly improper it became to delay matters
by having to stay behind for a half-prepared lesson. Never had the
Academy, or the village, for that matter, been so full of eager,
throbbing, healthy life, as those girls made it.

Their numbers grew, also. At first, the music-class was disposed,
like the others, to be exclusive, and to shake its head with a lofty
negative when one and another of the outsiders proposed this or that
thing which they would do to help. But Miss Benedict succeeded in
tiding them over that shoal.

"It is their church, girls, as well as ours. We must not hinder them
from showing their love."

"Great love they have had," sneered one; "they never thought of doing a
thing until we commenced."

But they were all honest, these girls, and this very one who had
offered her sneer, added in sober second thought:

"Though, to be sure, for the matter of that, neither did we, until you
begun it. Well, let them come in; I don't care."

"And we want to do so much," said Miss Benedict, with enthusiasm; "if I
were you I would take all the help I could get."

Meantime, the other schemes connected with this gigantic enterprise
flourished. There seemed no end to the devices for money-making, all of
them in somewhat new channels, too.

"Not a tidy in the enterprise," said Ruth Jennings, gravely, as she
tried to explain some of the work to her mother. "Who ever heard
of a church getting itself repaired without the aid of tidies and
pin-cushions! I wonder when they began with such things, mother? Do you
suppose St. Paul had to patronize fairs, and buy slippers and things,
for the benefit of churches in Ephesus or Corinth?"

The bewildered mother, with a vague idea that Ruth was being almost
irreverent, could not, for all that, decide how to answer her.

"For there isn't any religion in those things, of course," she said to
the equally-puzzled father, "and it did sound ridiculous to hear St.
Paul's name brought into it! That Miss Benedict has all sorts of new
ideas."

In the course of time, the boys (who are quite likely to become
interested in anything that has deeply interested the girls) were
drawn into service. Here, too, the ways of working were unusual and
suggestive. Miss Benedict heard of one who had promised to give all the
cigars he would probably have smoked in two months' time, whereupon she
made this eager comment:

"Oh, what a pity that it is not going to take us fifty years to repair
the church! then we would get him to promise to give us the savings of
cigars until it was done!"

This was duly reported to him, and gave him food for thought.

Another promised the savings from sleigh-rides that he had intended
to take, and another gravely wrote down in Ruth Jennings' note-book:
"Harry Matthews, $1.10; the price of two new neckties and a bottle of
hair oil!" There was more than fun to some of these entries. Some of
the boys could not have kept their pledges if there had not been these
queer little sacrifices.

One evening there was a new development. Ruth Jennings brought the
news. The much-abused, long-suffering, neglectful sexton of the
half-alive church notified the startled trustees that he had received
a louder call to the church on the other corner, and must leave them.
It really was startling news; for bad as he had been, not one in the
little village could be thought of who would be likely to supply his
place.

Ruth reported her father as filled with consternation.

"I wish I were a man!" savagely announced Anna Graves, "then I would
offer myself for the position at once. It is as easy to make three
dollars a month in that way as it is in any other that I know of."

That was the first development of the new idea. Miss Benedict bestowed
a sudden glance, half of amusement, half of pleasure, on her aspiring
pupil, and was silent.

"If it were not for the fires," was Nettie Burdick's slow-spoken
sentence, rather as if she were thinking aloud than talking. That is
the way the idea began to grow.

Then Ruth Jennings, with a sudden dash, as she was very apt to enter
into a subject:

"It is no harder to make fires in church stoves than it is in
sitting-room ones. I've done that often. I say, girls, let's do it!"

Every one of them knew that she meant the church stoves instead of the
sitting-room ones, and that was the way that the idea took on flesh,
and stood up before them.

There followed much eager discussion and of course some demurs. Nothing
ever was done yet, or ever will be, without somebody objecting to it.
At least, this was what Ruth said; and she added that she could not,
to save her life, help being a little more settled in a determination
after she had heard somebody oppose it a trifle.

However, the trustees opposed it more than a trifle. They were amazed.
Such an innovation on the time-honored ways of South Plains had never
been heard of before. Argument ran high. The half-doubtful girls came
squarely over to the aggressive side, and waxed eloquent over the plan.
It was carried at last, as Miss Benedict, looking on and laughing, told
the girls she knew it would be.

"When you get fairly roused, my girls, I observe that you are quite apt
to carry the day." She did not tell them that they were girls after her
own heart, but I think perhaps she looked it.

One request the trustees growled vigorously over, which was that the
new sextons should be paid in advance for a half-year's work. What if
they failed?

"We won't fail," said Ruth indignantly, "and if we do, can't you
conceive of the possibility of our being honest? We will not keep a
cent of the precious money that has not been earned."

Whereupon, Mr. Jennings, in a private conference with the trustees,
went over to the enemy's side, and promised to stand security for
them, remarking apologetically that the girls had all gone crazy over
something, his Ruth among the number. Therefore eighteen dollars were
gleefully added to the treasury. The sum was certainly growing.

The Sabbath following the installation of the new sextons marked
a change in the appearance of the old church. The floors had been
carefully swept and cleansed, the young ladies drawing on their
precious funds for the purpose of paying a woman who had scrubbed
vigorously.

"It would be more fascinating," Ruth Jennings frankly admitted, "to let
all the improvements come in together in one grand blaze of glory; but
then it would be more decent to have those floors scrubbed, and I move
that we go in for decency, to the sacrifice of glory, if need be."

So they did. Not a particle of dust was to be seen on that Sabbath
morning anywhere about the sanctuary. From force of habit, the men
carefully brushed their hats with their coat-sleeves as they took
possession of them again, the service over; but the look of surprise on
the faces of some over the discovery that there was nothing to brush
away, was a source of amusement to a few of the watchful girls.

Also the few stragglers who returned for the evening service were
caught looking about them in a dazed sort of way, as though they deemed
it just possible that there might be an incipient fire in progress
that threatened the building. Not that a new lamp had been added; the
chimneys had simply been washed in soapsuds, and polished until they
shone, and new wicks had been furnished, the workers declaring that
their consciences really would not allow them to do less. The effect of
these very commonplace efforts was somewhat astonishing, even to them.

"It is well we did it," affirmed Anna Graves with serious face. "I
believe we ought to get the people used to these things by degrees or
they will be frightened."

One question Claire puzzled over in silence: Did the minister
really preach a better sermon that evening? Was it possible that
the cleanliness about him might have put a little energy into his
discouraged heart, or had she been so tired with her week of toil, that
to see every one of her dozen girls out to church, and sit back and
look at them through the brightness of clean lamps, was restful and
satisfying? She found that she could not decide on the minister as yet.
Perhaps the carrying of such a load as that church, for years, was what
had taken the spring out of his voice and the life out of his words.

About these things nothing must be said, yet could not something be
done? How could she and her girls help that pastor?

Meantime, some of the girls came to her one evening, bursting with
laughter:

"Oh, Miss Benedict, we have a new recruit! You couldn't guess who. We
shall certainly succeed now, with such a valuable reinforcement. Oh,
girls, we know now why Miss Benedict sprained her ankle, and kept us
all waiting for a week! This is a direct result from that week's work."

"What are you talking about?" said Miss Benedict, with smiling eyes
and sympathetic voice. It was a great addition to her power over those
girls that she held herself in readiness always to join their fun at
legitimate moments. Sad-hearted she often was, but what good that those
young things should see it? "Who is your recruit?"

"Why, Bud!" they said, and then there were shouts of laughter again,
and Ruth could hardly command her voice to explain: "He came to me
last night--tramped all the way up to our house in the snow, after
meeting--because he said he wasn't so ''fraid' of me as he was of 'all
them others.' Was that a compliment, girls, or an insult? Yes, Miss
Benedict, he wants to help; offers to 'tend the fires,' and I shouldn't
wonder if he could do it much better than it has been done at least. It
was real funny, and real pitiful, too. He said it was the only 'livin'
thing he knew how to do,' and _that_ he was sure and certain he could
do, and if it would help any, he would be awful glad to join."

"But doesn't he want to be paid?" screamed one of the girls.

"Paid? not he! I tell you he wants to join us. He said he wanted to do
it to please _her_. That means you, Miss Benedict. You have won his
heart in some way. Oh, it is the fruit of the sprained ankle. You know,
girls, she said it was surely for some good purpose." Then they all
went off into ecstatic laughter again. They were just at the age when
it takes so little to convulse girls.

"But I am not yet enlightened," explained Claire, as soon as there was
hope of her being heard. "Who is Bud?"

"Oh, is it possible you don't remember him? That is too cruel, when he
is just devoted to you! Why, he is the furnace-boy at the Ansteds. I
don't know where he saw you. He muttered something about the furnace
and the register that I did not understand; but he plainly intimated
that he was ready to be your devoted servant, and die for you, if need
be, or at least, make the church fires as many days and nights as you
should want them. Now the question is, what shall we do to the poor
fellow?"

The furnace-boy at the Ansteds! Oh, yes, Claire remembered him, a
great, blundering, apparently half-witted, friendless, hopeless boy.
Claire's heart had gone out in pity for him the first time she ever
saw him. He had been sent to her room to make some adjustment of the
register-screw, and she had asked him if he understood furnaces, and if
he liked to work, and if the snow was deep, and a few other aimless
questions, just for the sake of speaking to him with a pleasant voice,
and seeming to take an interest in his existence. Her father's heart
had always overflowed with tenderness and helpfulness for all such
boys. Claire had pleased herself--or perhaps I might say saddened
herself--with thinking what her father, if he were alive, and should
come in contact with Bud, would probably try to do for him. She could
think of ways in which her father would work to help him, but she
sadly told herself that all that was passed; her father was gone where
he could not help Bud, and there were few men like him; and the boy
would probably have to stumble along through a cold and lonely world.
She had not thought of one thing that _she_ could do for him; indeed,
it had not so much as occurred to her as possible that there could be
anything. After that first day she had not seen him again, until he
came to the music-room with a message for Ella, and she had turned her
head and smiled, and said "Good-morning!" and that was really all that
she knew about Bud. She had forgotten his existence; and she had been
sorrowing because her week at the Ansteds seemed to have accomplished
nothing at all.

Her face was averted for a moment from the girls, and some of them,
noticing, actually thought that their gay banter was offensive, and was
what caused the heightened color on her cheeks as she turned back to
them.

They could not have understood, even had she tried to explain, that
it was a blush of shame over the thought that the one whom possibly
she might have won from that home for the Master's service she had
forgotten, and reached out after those whom, possibly, she was not sent
to reach. Her eyes were open now; she would do what she could to repair
blunders.

"Do with him?" she said, going back to Ruth's last question. "We'll
accept him, of course, and set him to work; I should not be greatly
surprised if he should prove one of the most useful helpers on our list
before the winter is over. Look at the snow coming down, and we have a
rehearsal to-night; don't you believe he can shovel paths, as well as
make fires?"

"Sure enough!" said those girls, and they went away pleased with the
addition to the circle of workers, and prepared every one to greet him
as a helper.



CHAPTER XIV.

BLIND.


I SUPPOSE there was never a project that went forward on swifter wings
than did this one, born of the stranger's sermon preached that night
in the little neglected church at South Plains. Sometimes I am sad
over the thought that he knew nothing about it. Nobody, so far as I am
aware, ever took time to tell him that he was the prime mover in the
entire scheme.

The numerous plans for making money made progress with the rest.
Prospered, indeed, to a degree that filled the young workers with
amazement--I might almost say, with awe. They grew into the feeling
that Miss Benedict was right, and that God himself smiled on their
scheme, and gave it the power of his approval.

As the days went by, the reading spirit in the enterprise grew almost
too busy to write her daily hurried postals to her mother. These same
postals were gradually filled with items that astonished and somewhat
bewildered the mother and daughter who watched so eagerly for them.

"Would mamma be so kind as to call on Mr. Parkhurst, the one who was
chief man at the carpet factory up there by papa's old mill, you know?
Would she, on the next bright day, take the blue car line and ride up
there and talk with him? The ride would do her good, and it would be
such a help to the girls. They would need only a little carpeting, it
was true; but if Mr. Parkhurst would be so kind as to sell to them at
wholesale, factory prices, it would make a great difference with their
purses, and she was sure he would be pleased to do it if mamma would
ask him, because you know, mamma, he felt very grateful to papa for
help years ago."

This was the substance of one postal.

"One would think that Claire had bought the little old church, and was
fitting it up for her future home," commented Dora, a trifle annoyed.
The truth was, her sister seemed almost unpardonably satisfied and
happy away from them.

Another day would bring further petitions: "Would it be too much for
mamma to look at wall-papers, something very neat and plain, not at
all expensive, but suited to a small church; and make an estimate of
the expense in round numbers?" Then would follow a line of figures,
indicating length and breadth and height.

"What a child she is!" would the mother say, sighing and then
smiling--the smiles came last and oftenest in speaking of Claire. "She
was always very much like your father, and it grows on her. Well,
we must see about the wall-paper; perhaps this afternoon will be a
good time to give to it." And the commissions were executed promptly
and with painstaking care; and Claire could see that both mother and
Dora were becoming interested in the old church at South Plains, and
were absorbing a good many of their otherwise leisure and sad hours
in travelling hither and thither in search of shades and grades that
would be likely to give her satisfaction. Samples were sent to her, and
astonishingly low figures accompanied some of them; figures which were
communicated with shining eyes to the deeply-interested girls, and they
sent messages of thanks to the mother and daughter far away.

Meantime, the Ansteds were not forgotten. There was a special committee
meeting one evening in Miss Benedict's room. A letter had come "from
the foreign member of our firm," Miss Benedict had explained, laughing,
meaning her mother, and its contents were to be discussed and voted
upon. In the midst of the interest came a message from Mrs. Foster:
"Would Miss Benedict be kind enough to come to the parlor for a few
minutes, to see Mr. and Miss Ansted?"

"I must go, girls," Claire said, rising quickly. "This is the third
attempt Miss Ansted has made to call on me since their kindness to
me, and I have either been out or engaged in giving lessons. You will
have to excuse me for a little while. I will return as soon as I can.
Meantime, I am going to see if I can't secure help in that direction
for our enterprise."

"You won't," said Mary Burton, emphatically. "They say Alice Ansted is
a good singer, but she has been heard to say that she would as soon
think of singing in a barn as in our church; and that the one time she
heard our organ, she thought it was some mice squealing in the ceiling."

"Wait until we get it tuned, and the pedals oiled," said Ruth Jennings;
"I don't believe it will be such a bad-sounding instrument. At least,
it is my opinion that Alice Ansted will find herself able to endure in
that line what Miss Benedict is. Girls, I heard last night that she is
a beautiful singer. Isn't it queer that she has never sung for us?"

This last was after Claire had left them, but as she was about to close
the door, Ruth Jennings had made a remark which had drawn her back:

"Get Louis Ansted to pledge us the money which he spends in wines each
year, and that will do us good and him too."

"Does he use wines freely?" Claire said, turning back.

"Yes, indeed he does; altogether too freely for his good, if the
village boys can be believed. I heard that he came home intoxicated
only night before last."

"Why, that is nothing new!" added Nettie Burdick; "he often comes home
in that condition. Dick Fuller says it is a common experience; and he
would know what he is talking about, for he has to be at the depot when
the last train comes in. Besides, he makes his money in that way; why
shouldn't he patronize himself?"

"What do you mean?" Claire asked, her face troubled.

"Why, his money is all invested in one of the distilleries. He has a
fortune in his own right, Miss Benedict, left him by his grandmother,
and he invested it in Westlake's distillery. He is one of the owners,
though his name does not appear in the firm; the Ansted pride would
not like that; but I know this is true, for my uncle transacted the
business for him."

Claire started again, making no comment, but this time she moved more
slowly. There were reasons why the news gave her a special thrust.

The callers greeted her with evident pleasure, and expressed their
disappointment at having failed to see her in their other attempts,
and gave her messages from their mother to the effect that she was to
consider their house one of her homes. Fanatic though she was, it was
plainly to be seen that they had resolved to tolerate the fanaticism
for the sake of the pleasure of her society.

There were other callers, and in a few minutes the conversation, which
had been general, dropped into little side channels. Alice Ansted,
occupying a seat near Miss Benedict, turned to her and spoke low:

"I have wanted to see you. What you said to me that day has made
me more dissatisfied than ever, and that was unnecessary; I was
uncomfortable enough before. I did not understand you. What is there
that you want me to do?"

"How do you know I want you to do anything?" Claire could not resist
the temptation to ask the question, and to laugh a little; her
questioner's tone was so nervous, so almost rebellious, and at the same
time so pettish.

"Oh, I know well enough. You expressed surprise, and well--almost
bewilderment--that I did not find absorbing work in a channel about
which I know nothing. Suppose I am a Christian, what then? What do you
want me to do?"

"But, my dear Miss Ansted, I am not the one of whom that inquiry should
be made. If you belong to the Lord Jesus, surely he has work for you,
and is able to point it out, and to fill your heart with satisfaction
while you do his bidding."

There was a gesture almost of impatience.

"I tell you I don't understand such talk. It sounds like 'cant' to me,
and nothing else; that is, it does when other people say it, but you
seem different; you live differently, some way, and interest yourself
about different matters from those which absorb the people whom I have
heard talk that way. Now I ask you a straightforward question: What do
you want me to do? What do you see that I could do, if I were what you
mean by being a Christian?"

Claire's face brightened.

"Oh, that is such a different question!" she said. "I am really very
glad of an opportunity to answer it. I know a dozen things that you
could do. For instance, you could throw yourself into the life of this
neglected, almost deserted church, and help to make it what it should
be; you could give your time, and your money, and your voice, to making
it arise and shine."

"How? What on earth is there that I could do, even if I wanted to do
anything in that direction, which I don't?"

"I know it, but that doesn't hinder me from seeing what you _could_ do.
Why, if you want me to be very specific, if you have no better plan
than we are working on to propose, you could join us with all your
heart, and work with us, and worship with us on Sabbaths, and help us
in our preparations for a concert."

"And sing in that stuffy room, to the accompaniment of that horrid
little organ, and for the benefit of such an audience as South Plains
would furnish! Thank you, I don't mean to do it! What else?"

"Of what special use is it for me to suggest ways, since you receive
them with such determined refusals?"

"That I may have the pleasure of seeing how far your enthusiasm
reaches. I would call it fanaticism if I dared, Miss Benedict, but that
would be rude. Tell me what next?"

Claire considered, Miss Ansted meantime watching her closely. When at
last she spoke, her tone dropped lower, and was graver:

"I wish with all my soul that you would interest yourself in Bud."

"In Bud!" It was impossible not to give a start of surprise, not to
say dismay. "Now, Miss Benedict, that passes comprehension! What on
earth is there that I could do for a great, ignorant, blundering clod
like Bud? He has plenty to eat, and is decently clothed without any
assistance from me. What more can you imagine he wants?"

"He wants God," said Claire, solemnly, "and the knowledge of him in the
face of Jesus Christ. He is to live forever, Miss Ansted, as certainly
as you are; and the time hastens when food and clothing for the soul
will be a necessity for him as well as to you, or he will appear before
God naked and starved, and you will have to meet him there, and bear
some of the blame."

"I never heard a person talk so in my life. Bud is not more than
half-witted. I doubt whether he knows that there is such a being as
God. What can you fancy it possible for me to do for him?"

"Do you think, then, that he has no soul?"

"Why, I did not say that! I suppose he has, of course. He is not an
animal, though I must say he approaches very nearly to the level of
one."

"And don't you think that he will have to die, and go to the judgment,
and meet God?"

"How dreadful all these things are! Of course he will! but how can I
help it?"

"Do you suppose he is ready?"

"I don't suppose he ever thought of such a thing in his life. He hasn't
mind enough, probably, to comprehend."

"Do you really think so? Don't you believe the boy to whom you can
say, 'Close the blinds on the north side, to shut out the wind,' could
understand if you said: 'Bud, God is as surely in the world as the wind
is, though you can not see either. He has said that when you die you
shall see him, and that you shall live with him in a beautiful home, if
you will love him here, and obey his orders; and what he wants you to
do is all printed in a book that you can learn to read?' Do you think
Bud could not comprehend as much as that?"

"I never heard of such an idea in my life!" said Miss Ansted. "I don't
know how to teach such things." And she turned away and talked with a
caller about the travelling opera company who were to sing in the city
on the following evening.

Mr. Ansted had changed his seat, meantime, and was waiting for his
opportunity. He turned to Claire the moment his sister withdrew.

"I came to ask a favor of you this evening; two of them, in fact; but
the first is on such strange ground for me, that I have been studying
all day how to put it."

"And have you decided?"

"No, left it in despair; only praying that the Fates would be favorable
to me, and grant me opportunity and words. Here is the opportunity, but
where are the words?"

"I have always found it comfortable to be as simple and direct as
possible with all communications. Suppose you see how fully you can put
the thought before me in a single sentence."

The gentleman laughed.

"That would be one way to make an interview brief, if such were my
desire. I can not say, however, that that phase of the subject troubles
me any. Well, I will take your advice, and put a large portion of my
thought into a short sentence: I wish you could and would do something
for Harry Matthews."

It was not in the least what she had expected. She supposed his
words were to preface a flattering invitation, or something of that
character. An apparently earnest sentence, concerning a merry young
fellow in whom she was already somewhat interested, filled her with
surprise, and kept her silent.

"Is that brief and abrupt enough?" he asked, and then, without waiting
for answer, continued: "I mean it, strange as it may seem; and I so
rarely do unselfish things that I can imagine it seems strange enough.
I haven't a personal thought in the matter. Harry is a good fellow;
a little fast, the old ladies say, and shake their heads, but they
don't know what they mean by that. The boy is a favorite of mine;
and he is one who has a good deal of force of character without any
will-power, if that is not a contradiction. I fancy you know what I
mean. I am going to speak more plainly now. Away back in some former
generation--no, I am going to tell the naked truth. Do you know
anything of his family, Miss Benedict?"

"Not anything."

"Well, his father was a good man and a drunkard. You think that is
another contradiction of terms. Perhaps it is, as you would mean it,
but not as I do. He was a good, warm-hearted, whole-souled man, and he
drank himself into his grave; shipwrecked his property, and left his
widow and this boy dependant on wealthy relatives, or on themselves.
Harry is trying to be a man, and works hard, and is specially tempted
in the line at which I have hinted. I feel afraid for him, and the only
person in this little wretch of a village whom I think might help him
is yourself. Will you try?"

"Mr. Ansted, why don't you help him?"

It was his turn to be taken aback. He had not expected this answer.
He had looked for an instant and interested affirmative, and he had
expected to tell her more of Harry Matthews, and of his peculiar
associations and temptations.

"I!" he said, and then he laughed. "Miss Benedict, you are most
remarkable as regards your talent for asking strange questions. It is
evident that you are a stranger in South Plains; and I don't know what
the gossips have been about, that they have not posted you better. You
should know that I am really the last person in the neighborhood who is
expected to help anybody; least of all, can I help Harry Matthews. The
most helpful thing that I can think of for the boy is to keep away from
me. My influence over him is altogether bad, and growing worse. What
he needs is to be drawn away from present associations entirely, and,
indeed, from his present associates, of which I am often one. I fancy
that this organization of yours, in which he is already interested,
might be managed in a way to help him, and it occurred to me to
enlighten you in regard to him, and ask for your helping hand."

"Mr. Ansted, I hope you will pardon the rudeness, but your words
sound to me almost like those of an insane person. You recognize
your influence over a young man to be evil, realize it to the extent
that you make an effort to have him withdrawn from it, and yet if
I understand you, make no attempt to change the character of the
influence which you have over him. That can not possibly be your
meaning!"

"I think it is, about that. Don't you understand? What is a mere
entertainment to me--a passing luxury, which I can afford, and which
does me no harm--is the very brink of a precipice to poor Harry, owing
to his unfortunate inherited tendencies. I would like to see him saved,
but there is nothing in particular that I can do."

"Oh," she said in genuine distress, "I wonder if it is possible for
a soul to be so blind! You can do _everything_, Mr. Ansted; and,
moreover, how can you think you have a right to say that you are not
personally in danger from the same source? Men as assured in position
and as strong in mental power as you have fallen by the hundreds.
Surely you know that there is no safety from such a foe save in having
none of him."

"Do you think so? In that we would differ. I am not fanatical in this
matter. I recognize Harry's danger, but I recognize equally that I am
built in a different mold, and have different antecedents."

"And have no responsibilities connected with him?"

"Oh, yes, I have," he said in utmost good humor; "I assumed
responsibility when I came here to ask you to help him. It was the best
thing I could think of to do for the boy. You think I am playing a
part, but upon honor, I am not. I know his mother is anxious."

She wondered afterward whether it were not an unwise question to ask,
but said:

"Is not your mother anxious, Mr. Ansted?"

"Not in the least!" he answered smilingly.



CHAPTER XV.

STARTING FOR HOME.


IT had been a stormy evening, and the little company of busy people who
had gathered in the church for a rehearsal, were obliged to plod home
through an incipient snow-storm; but they were in happy mood, for the
most successful rehearsal of the enterprise had been held, and certain
developments had delighted their hearts.

To begin with: just as they had completed a difficult chorus, the door
leading into the outside world had opened with a decisive bang, and
there had been an energetic stamping of feet in the little entry, and
there appeared Alice and Louis Ansted.

There was still on Alice's face that curious mixture of superiority and
discontent which Claire had always seen in her.

"Here we are!" she said, in a tone that expressed a sort of surprise
with herself at the idea. "It would be difficult to tell why. Now, what
do you want of me?"

Claire went forward to meet them, her face bright with welcome.

"Have you really come to help us?" she asked.

"I suppose so. I don't know why else we should have appeared here in
the storm. It is snowing. I don't mind the storm, though; only, why did
I come? I don't know; if you do, I wish you would tell me."

"Well, I do. I know exactly. You came to take the alto in this
quartette we are arranging. My girls were just assuring me that there
was not an alto voice in our midst that could sustain the other parts.
What do you say now, girls?"

There was a good deal of satisfaction in her tones. It amused her to
think of Ruth's discontented grumble but a moment before:

"If Alice Ansted did not feel so much above us, she would be a glorious
addition to this piece. Miss Benedict, her voice is splendid. I don't
like her, but I would tolerate her presence if we could get her to take
the alto in this."

Then Mary Burton:

"Well, she won't; and you needn't think of such a thing." It was at
that moment that the door had opened, and she came.

Claire went at once to the organ, and the rehearsal of the quartette
began.

I do not know but the girls themselves would have been almost
frightened had they been sufficiently skilled in music to know what a
rare teacher they had. Claire Benedict's voice was a special talent,
God-given as surely as her soul. Time was when it had been one of her
temptations, hard to resist. Such brilliant and flattering futures
had opened before her, if she would but consent to give "private
rehearsals." There is an intoxication about extravagant praise, and
Claire had for weeks been intoxicated to the degree that she could
not tell where the line was drawn, and when the world stepped in
and claimed her as its special prize. It was then that the keen,
clear-seeing wise and tender father had used his fatherly influence,
and showed her the net which Satan had warily spread. She had supposed
herself secure, after that. But when the great financial crash came
upon them, and when the father was gone where he could advise and
shield no more, there had come to her the temptation of her life. It
would have been so easy to have supported her mother and sister in
a style somewhat like that to which they had been accustomed; and
to do this, she need not descend in any sense to that which was in
itself wrong or unladylike. Those who would have bought her voice
were willing that she should be as exclusive as she pleased. But for
the clear-sightedness of the father, in those days when the other
temptations had been met, she would surely have yielded to the pressure.

She came off victorious, but wounded. When she had with determined
face turned from all these flattering offers, and entered the only
door which opened to her conscience--this one at South Plains--she
had told herself that three hundred dollars a year did not hire her
voice. So much of herself she would keep to _herself_. She would do no
singing, either in public or private; not a note. In order to teach
even vocal music, it was not necessary to exhibit her powers of song.
That sermon, however, had swept this theory away, along with many
others. It is true, it had been almost exclusively about the church;
but you will remember that it had dealt with the conscience; and the
conscience awakened on one point, is far more likely to see plainly in
other directions. When next the subject of song presented itself to her
mind, Claire Benedict was somewhat astonished to discover that she had
not given her _voice_ when she gave herself. She had not known it at
the time, but there had evidently been a mental reservation, else she
would not shrink so from using her powers in this direction, in this
her new sphere of life. Some earnest heart-searching had to be done.
Was she vain of her voice? she wondered, that she was so unwilling
to use it in the desolate little sanctuary at South Plains; that she
could not even bring herself to do other than _peep_ the praises of
God in the school chapel. It was a revelation of self that brought
much humiliation with it. It was even humiliating to discover that it
took a long and almost fierce struggle to overcome the shrinking which
possessed her. It was not all pride; there was a relief in remembering
that. There was a sense in which her voice seemed to belong to her
happy and buried past; something which her father had loved, even
exulted in, and which had been largely kept for him. But this thought
of her father helped her. There was never a thought connected with him
that did not help and strengthen. He would not have approved--no, she
did not put it that way, she hated those past tenses as connected with
him--he _did not_ approve of her hiding her talent in a napkin; her
happiness should not be labeled "past;" was she not in God's world?
was she not the child of a King? was not heaven before her, and an
eternity there, with her father who had just preceded the family by
a few days? Did she grudge him that? Was it well for her to sit down
weeping, and dumb, because he had entered the palace a little in
advance?

From this heart-searching, there had come another victory; and if
Claire Benedict did not say in so many solemn words,

    Take my voice, and let me sing
    Always, only, for my King,

she nevertheless consecrated it to His service, and grew joyful over
the thought that she had this talent to give.

In making her selections for the coming concert, she had with rare good
taste kept in mind the character of the audience which would probably
gather to listen, and the capacities of her helpers. She chose simple,
tender melodies, narrative poems, such as appeal to the heart, with
one or two wonderful solos, and this quartette, which was new and
difficult, but full of power.

They sang it presently, for the first time; Claire and Alice Ansted,
Harry Matthews and a friend of his who had been drawn in for the
occasion. It was the first time that even her girls had heard Claire's
voice in its power.

They said not a word when it was ended, but they looked at one another
in a startled way, and presently Ruth Jennings apologized in under tone
for its power over her:

"I'm sure I don't know what was the matter with me. I never cried
before at the sound of music. I have read of people doing it, and I
thought it rather absurd, but I could not help it. Girls, I wonder what
the Ansteds think?"

What Alice Ansted thought might have been expressed, in part, in her
first astonished comment:

"The idea of your singing in South Plains!"

However, she said more than that in the course of the evening; said
things which gave Claire much more pleasure. For instance:

"How horridly out of order that little wretch is! Why don't you have
it tuned? It would be a little more endurable then; or, at least, a
little less intolerable. Our piano-tuner is coming out to-morrow, and
I mean to send him down here. The idea of having nothing but a rickety
chair for a music-stool! Louis, what has become of that piano-stool
we used to have in our library in town? Did you store it with the
other things? Well, just bring it out to-morrow. Miss Benedict will
get another fall if she depends on this old chair any longer. What is
that you are sitting on? A pile of old music-books, I declare! The
whole thing is disgraceful. Miss Benedict, do you sing 'Easter Bells?'
I should think it would just fit your voice. It runs so high that I
can do nothing with it; but I wouldn't mind taking the alto with you.
Louis, suppose you bring out the music to-morrow, and let her look at
it."

And before the evening was over, it became evident to those girls
that Miss Ansted was committed to the concert, at least. They were
half-jealous, it is true. They had enjoyed having their prize all to
themselves. Still, she had bloomed before them that evening into such
an unexpected prize, that they were almost awed, and a little glad that
her glorious voice should have such an appropriate setting as was found
in Alice Ansted; and besides, it was a sort of a triumph to say: "Why,
the Ansteds are going to help us at our concert! They have never sung
in South Plains before!"

Louis, too, contributed something besides his fine tenor voice:

"What makes your stove smoke so, Bud?" he questioned.

And Bud explained, with some stammering, that there was something wrong
about the pipe; one joint did not fit right into another joint--or, as
he expressively stated it, "One j'int was too small, and t'other was
too large, and so they didn't work well."

"I should say not," said Louis, amused. "The wonder is that they work
at all, with such a double difficulty as that to contend with. Well,
Bud, you tell Hawkins to come in to-morrow, and see what is the matter
with the joints, and make the large one small and the small one large,
or fix it in any other way that suits his genius, so that the thing
won't smoke, and send his bill to me. We will have our throats all raw
here, before the important day arrives."

"A music-stool, and an organ-tuner, and a new elbow for the
stove-pipe," commented Ruth Jennings, in a complacent tone, as they
walked home in the snow. "The Ansteds are good for something in the
world, after all."

About the home-going there was some talk. Claire, down by the stove
adjusting her rubbers, caught the watchful, wistful gaze of Bud, and
remembered what Ruth had said about her influence over him. How could
she exert it so that it would tell on Bud forever? What was there that
she could say to him? When was her opportunity? Right at hand, perhaps;
she would try.

"Bud," she said, "are you going to see me home through this snow-storm?
or must you make haste up the hill?"

It gave her a feeling of pain to see the sudden blaze of light on his
dark, swarthy face. What a neglected, friendless life he must have led,
that a kind word or two could have such power over him!

"Me!" he said. "Do you mean it? I'd like to carry your books and
things, and I could take the broom and sweep along before you. Might I
go? Oh, I haven't got to hurry. My work is all done."

She laughed lightly. What a picture it would be for Dora, could she see
her plunging through the freshly-fallen snow, Bud at her side, or a
step ahead, with a broom!

"I don't need the broom," she said; "it has not snowed enough for that;
and I am prepared, if it has; see my boots. I like the snow. You may
carry my books, please, and we will have a nice walk and talk. The
girls are all ready now, I think. You put out the lamps, and I will
wait for you at the door."

Out in the beautiful, snowy world, just as Bud's key clicked in the
look, Louis Ansted came up to Claire.

"Miss Benedict, let me take you home in the sleigh. I am sorry to have
kept you waiting a moment; but my blundering driver had something wrong
about the harness, and the horses were fractious. They are composed
enough now, and Alice is in the sleigh. Let me assist you out to it,
please."

If it had been moonlight, he might have seen the mischievous sparkle in
Claire's eyes. It was so amusing to be engaged to Bud, while his master
held out his hands for her books, as a matter of course, and poor Bud
stood aside, desolate and miserable. Evidently he expected nothing else
but to be left.

Claire's voice rang out clear, purposely to reach Bud's ear:

"Oh, no, thank you, Mr. Ansted! I am fond of walking; I don't mind
the snow in the least, and I have promised myself the pleasure of a
walk through it with Bud. Thank you!" as he still urged, "my ankle is
quite well again, and I have had no exercise to-day; I really want the
walk. We thank you very much for your help this evening, Mr. Ansted.
Good-night! Are you ready, Bud?"

And they trudged away, leaving the discomfited gentleman standing
beside his pawing horses.

"It is some absurd idea of benefiting Bud that has taken possession of
her," explained Alice, as the sleigh flew by the two. "She spoke to me
about trying to help him. She is just as full of queer notions as she
can be. The idea of helping Bud!"

But the master of the horses said nothing. He was prepared to think,
but not to confess, that such as she might help even Bud.

That young man, though his tread was certainly heavy enough, seemed
to himself to be walking on air, such a wonderful thing had come to
him! Years and years had passed since anybody had spoken to him, save
in short, sharp words, to give an order of some sort. Now this one,
who said "Good-morning!" and "Good-evening!" when she met him, as
pleasantly as she spoke to any, who had asked him kind questions about
himself, who had told him that the stoves were very clean, and that
it seemed pleasant to have the church warm, was actually letting him
walk home with her and carry her books! Poor Bud wished there were more
of them, and that they were as heavy as lead, that he might show how
gladly he carried them for her sake. She, meantime, was wondering how
she could best speak, to help him in any way.

"Don't you sing at all?" she asked, her eyes falling on the pile
of music-books, and seizing upon the question as a way of opening
conversation.

"Me!" said Bud, with an embarrassed laugh. "Oh, no, I can't sing, any
more than a calf can."

"But you like music, don't you?" She was still making talk, to try to
put him at his ease.

Bud found voice then for some of the feeling which possessed him.

"I don't like most folks' music a bit; but I like the kind you make, I
do so."

He spoke with tremendous energy; there was no mistaking the intensity
of his conclusions. Claire laughed a little. They were not getting on
very well.

Bud's musical tastes had probably not been cultivated. He liked the
music that she made, because the same voice had spoken kind words
to him. Well, in that case, what would he think of the music of the
angels? she wondered.

Some of the thought she put into words:

"I'll tell you where you will like the music, Bud--when you get to
heaven. Did you ever try to think what that singing would sound like?"

"Me!" said Bud again, and this time there was unutterable amazement in
his voice. It was clear that the idea of hearing the music of heaven
had never dawned on his mind.

Claire replied hesitatingly, in almost a plaintive tone. The desolation
of a soul that had no heaven to look to, touched her strangely just
then:

"Bud, you are going there to hear the music, are you not?"

"I reckon not." He spoke the words gravely, with a singularly mournful
intonation. "Heaven ain't for such as me. You see, ma'am, I'm nothing
but an ignorant, blundering fellow, that hadn't never ought to have
been born."

"Oh, Bud! I am so sorry to hear you speak such dreadful words! I didn't
expect it of you. Why, don't you know you are the same as saying that
the Lord Jesus Christ has not told the truth? He said he came to earth
in order that you might live forever with him in heaven, and he loves
you, Bud, and is watching for you to give yourself to him. And now, you
even say you ought not to have been made!"

"I didn't mean no harm! I was only a-sayin' what I've heard folks say
time and time again about me; they didn't see what I was made for, and
I didn't either."

"You were made to love God, and to do work for him, and to live with
him forever in his beautiful heaven. If you don't go there, it will
make his heart sad. Oh, Bud, if I were you, I wouldn't treat him so!"



CHAPTER XVI.

LOST FRIENDS.


"I NEVER knew nothing about it," Bud said, earnestly. "I never heard as
anybody cared in particular what became of me, only so that I got out
of folks' way and didn't bother."

"Why, Bud! have you never heard the minister urge you to give yourself
to Jesus?"

But Bud shook his head energetically.

"No minister never spoke to me," he said. "I goes to church every
once in a while, because I gets my work all done, and don't know what
else to do. When the horses are gone, and the dog is gone, I'm awful
lonesome up there," inclining his head toward the hill up which the
Ansted horses were now speeding, "and the dog always goes to town to
church, along with the horses, and so I went down here for company kind
of; but the minister never said nothing to me. I've listened a good
bit, off and on, because I felt lonesome, and did not know what else to
do; but he never said nothing about me, nor told me a body cared. It
was all for them other folks, that has homes and good clothes."

What a pitiful story was this, coming up from the depths of the great,
lonesome heart, surrounded on every hand by nominal Christians! Claire
could not keep the tears from her eyes, and dared not speak for a
moment, her voice was so full of them.

"Did you never read any verses in the Bible?" she asked at last. "You
can read, can't you?"

"Oh, yes'm, I can read. I learned how when I lived with Mr. Stokes,
back there in the country. Little Jack, he showed me my letters, and
my easy readings, and all, and I could read to him quite a bit. Jack
wasn't but eight years old; but he was smart, and he was good, and
he died." The lonely story ended with a sigh. There was evidently a
memory of better times enjoyed in the dim past.

Claire questioned to get at the utmost of his knowledge:

"And didn't Jack tell you anything about Jesus and Heaven?"

"He did that, ma'am. He talked a good deal about being sent for to go
there; and he was, too; I make sure of that, for he went away sudden in
the night, the _life_ did, you know, and he had a smile on his face in
the morning, just as he looked when he was very glad about anything,
and I am about sure that it was just as he said it would be about the
angels coming, and all; and he used to think they would come for me,
too. 'Your turn will come, Bud,' he used to say to me. He was a little
fellow, you see"--this last was in an apologetic tone--"he thought the
world of Bud, and he thought everybody else was like him, and that what
was fixed for him would be fixed for Bud. I used to like to hear him
say it, because he was a little fellow, and he liked me; but I knew
that what was for him wasn't for me."

"Bud, you are mistaken. Little Jack was right about it all. There was
no doubt but that the angels came for him, and they will come for you,
if you want to go where Jack is. Jesus Christ, Jack's Saviour, was the
one who told him to tell you about it."

"Eh!" said Bud, in a sort of stupid amaze. "Did you know Jack, ma'am?"

"No, I didn't know him, but I know his Saviour, the one who sent for
him to go home to heaven; and I know that what he told you is true; for
the same one has told me the same thing: told me to coax you, Bud, to
be ready to go where little Jack is. Will you?"

"I'd go on my hands and knees all night through the woods to see little
Jack again, but I don't know the way."

"Bud, did you know that the Bible was God's book, and told all about
Jack's home, and the way to get to it? Have you a Bible?"

"No," said Bud, slowly, "I haven't got no book at all. I never had no
book."

What desolation of poverty was this! Claire took her instant resolution.

"Bud, I have a Bible which I think little Jack and little Jack's
Saviour want me to give to you for your very own. I'll get it for you
to-night, and then I want you to promise me that every day you will
read one verse in it. It is all marked off into verses--and will you
begin to-night?"

"I will so," said Bud, with a note of satisfaction in his voice. "I've
thought a good many times that it would be nice to have one book; but I
didn't much expect to, ever. I'll read in it this very night, ma'am."

And as he received the treasure wrapped in paper, and, tucking it
carefully under his arm, trudged away, Claire, could she have followed
him, would have found that every once in a while, during that long,
homeward walk, he chuckled, and hugged the book closer.

Claire went to her room, and to her knees, her heart full for Bud,
poor, dreary, homeless Bud! If he _could_ be made to understand that
there were home and friends waiting for him! If she had only had time
to mark a few of the verses, some of those very plain ones, over the
meaning of which Bud could not stumble! She was sorry that she had not
retained the book for a day and done this work. It was too late now.
She could only pray that God would lead him toward the right verse.
To-morrow evening she would ask him for his Bible, and on the Sabbath
she would employ her leisure moments in marking such verses as he ought
to know.

As she arose from her knees, a letter lying on her table caught her
eye. A home letter, from Dora, with perhaps a few lines in it from
mamma herself. She seized it like a hungry child, dropping on a hassock
before the fire to enjoy it. Four closely written pages from Dora,
crossed and re-crossed, after the fashion of schoolgirls, who seem to
be provident only in the line of note-paper.

Claire looked at it lovingly, and laid it aside to be enjoyed
afterward. Here was a scrap from mamma; only a few lines on a
half-sheet of paper; after these she dived. Letters from Dora were
delightful, and could wait; the heart of the girl was homesick for
mamma.

It was over the last page of Dora's sheet that she lingered the longest.

"I have not told you our piece of news, yet. We have moved. We kept
it a secret from you, mamma and I, because we were sure you would
think that we could not do such a thing without you; and as we were
well aware that the church at South Plains could not spare you--to
say nothing of the school--we determined to take the burdens of life
upon our own shoulders, and give you nothing to worry over, until we
were settled. It is done, and we are alive and comfortable; so you may
dismiss those troubled wrinkles that I can distinctly see gathering on
your forehead.

"Now for the reason why: the same law which seems of late to have taken
possession of us--necessity. The house you so deftly settled us in was
sold, and three weeks' notice given to renters. We could have held them
for a longer time, as Mr. Winfield indignantly told us, and as we very
well knew, for you know how papa held that house for the Jones family
when the owner said they must vacate. But what was the use? Mamma said
she would rather move at once, than have any words about it. So I felt,
and one day when we went out hunting the proper shade of curtain for
the church you own, we hunted rooms also. Where do you think we found
them? Within a square of our old home! In the Jenkins Block, you know.
They chanced to be vacant, because the former occupants had bought a
place on the square, and gone to housekeeping on a larger scale. The
rent is the same as that which we were paying. I think Mr. Cleveland
made his conscience somewhat elastic in arranging it so, for, while
the rooms are smaller and less convenient than those we vacated, you
know what the neighborhood is. However, he offered them on the same
terms we were then paying, and of course we could not demur. I urged
the taking of them at once, for mamma's sake; for, though I think with
you that the farther we are away from the old home, the better, and
though I hate every spot within a mile of our house, still I could see
that mamma did not share the feeling. There were old friends for whose
faces she pined. Good old friends, you know, who love her for herself,
and not for the entertainments she used to give. And then there was
the old church. I could see mamma's face brighten over the thought of
being there once more; and though I hate that too, for mamma's sake,
I was glad that we listened to Dr. Ellis again last Sabbath. We are
comfortably situated, though you know, better than I can tell you,
what a sort of mockery it is of our former way of living; but for
mamma I think it will be better in every way, and she is the one to be
considered. But I believe in my heart the dear woman thinks I wanted to
come, and imagines that that is why she consented to the plan. I hope
she does. I never mean to let her know how I grind my teeth over it
all. Not fiercely, Claire; I do try to be submissive, and I know that
God knows what is best, and that papa is happy, and that I must not
wish him back; but the bearing it is very bitter all the time.

"I am less like you even than I used to be, and papa said I was to try
to be more like you.

"I wonder if one thing that I have to tell will surprise you, or vex
you, or whether you will not care anything about it? I have held my pen
for a full minute to try to decide, and I find that I don't know. It is
something that has hurt me cruelly, but then I am easily hurt. I don't
want to make you feel as I do; but if you care, you ought to know, and
if you don't care, no harm can come of my telling you.

"Claire, I used to think in the old days that seem to have been fifty
years ago, that you liked Pierce Douglass rather better than the
other young men who used to be so fond of coming to our home; and I
thought--in fact, I felt almost certain--that he liked you better than
he did anybody else. Well, he has returned; and only yesterday I saw
him on Clark Avenue. I was just coming down Reubens street, and I made
all possible haste, because I thought it would be so pleasant to see
his familiar face once more, and to answer his many questions. Besides,
I presume I was silly, but I thought it more than probable that he was
in correspondence with you, and would have some news of you to give
me. I called to him, breathlessly, as I saw he was about to enter a
car, and I thought more than likely he was looking for our address.
'Pierce,' I said, you know I have called him Pierce ever since I was a
little bit of a girl, and he used to help me down the seminary stairs.
He stopped and looked about him, and looked right at me, and made no
movement toward me, though I was hastening to him. 'I am so glad to see
you,' I said, for even then I did not understand. And then he spoke:
'Miss Benedict, is it? Why, I was not aware that you were in the city.
I thought I had heard of a removal. I trust you are having a pleasant
winter, Miss Benedict. We have a good deal of snow for this region,
have we not? You will pardon my haste; I had signaled my car before you
spoke.'

"And he lifted his hat, with one of his graceful bows, and sprang in
and was gone. Yes, I pardoned his haste! I was glad to see the car
swing around the corner. I was burning and choking. The idea of being
met in that way by Pierce Douglass! Only six months since he called
me 'little Doralinda Honora,' and begged me not to forget to mention
his name ten times a day while he was absent. Claire, I could hardly
get home, my limbs trembled so. Mamma was out executing one of your
commissions, and I was glad, for I was not fit to see her for hours.

"I have heard to-day that Pierce has been in town for six weeks, and is
to be married in the spring to Emmeline Van Antwerp. Is that any reason
why he should have insulted me? I am certainly willing that he shall
marry whom he pleases, if he can secure her. Claire, do you remember
how Emmeline's taste in dress used to amuse him? But she is very rich,
you know; at least, she is an only daughter, and her father has not
failed. How does Pierce know but that in six months it will be Mr. Van
Antwerp's turn?

"Well, I only hope, dear Claire, that I was utterly and entirely
mistaken in your friendship for that man. It seems to me now that
I must have been; for, with so base a nature, he could not have
interested you.

"Oh, Claire, do you suppose papa knows of all these little stings that
we have to bear? I can hardly see how he can be happy in heaven if he
does, for he guarded us all so tenderly. Does that old worn-out church
really fill your heart as it seems to, so that you can be happy without
papa? That is wicked, I know, and if you are happy, I am glad you are.
I do try to shield mamma, and she is like you, meek and patient.

"Good-night, dear! I am very weary of this day. I am going to try to
lose the memory of it in sleep."

Claire rose up from reading this sheet, with a pale face out of which
the brightness was strangely gone. It seemed a curious thing to her
afterward, that she had thought to herself while reading it: "I am glad
I spoke those words to Bud; I am glad I told him about a home where
there is nothing but brightness. We need such homes."

She went about with a slow step, setting the little room to rights,
arranging the fire for the night; then she sat down and worked over her
class-book, arranging her averages for the week. She had not meant to
do that work on that evening, but she seized upon it as something that
would keep her thoughts employed. She did not want to think.

Suddenly, in the midst of the figures, she pushed the book from her,
and burying her face in her hands, said to her heart in a determined
way: "Now, what is the matter? Why do I not want to look this thing in
the face? What is wounded, my pride?" After a little she drew a long,
relieved breath, and sat erect. There was no need in covering this
thing away; it would bear looking at.

Dora had been both right and wrong. She had liked him better, yes,
quite a little better than the other young men of her acquaintance.
She had believed in him. When financial ruin came upon them, and
friends gathered around with well-meant, but often blundering words of
sympathy, she had comforted herself with thinking how gracefully Pierce
Douglass would have said and done these things had he been at home.

When the burden of life strained heavily upon her, she had found
herself imagining how heartily he would have shouldered some of the
weights that another could carry, and helped her through. She had not
been in correspondence with him. He had asked to write to her, and she
had, following her father's gently-offered suggestion, assured him that
it would be better not; he was not to be absent many months.

Yet during these weeks at South Plains, she had often told herself
that perhaps Pierce would write a line for friendship's sake. He
would know that a letter of sympathy offered at such a time would be
very different from ordinary correspondence. Yet when no letter came,
she had told herself that of course he would not write; he was too
thoroughly a gentleman to do so after she had, though never so gently,
refused to receive his letters. Sometimes it was this story, and
sometimes she reminded herself that of course he had not her address;
he would not like to inquire for it; there had been nothing in their
friendship to warrant it; when he reached home, and met Dora and her
mother again, as he would assuredly, she would be quite likely to get
a little message from him. Not a thought had crossed her mind but that
he would hasten to the old friends to offer his earnest sympathy and
express his sorrow, for her father had been a friend to him. Now here
was the end of it. Six weeks in town, and nothing to say to Dora but a
comment about the snow! If he had said ice, it would have been more in
keeping. Here was a shattered friendship; and no true heart but bleeds
over such wounds.

Yet, and this was the decision which made her lift her head again.
There was wounded pride, certainly, and wounded feeling; but there was
a sense in which it did not matter how Pierce Douglass met her sister
on the street, or whom he married. She had not known it before; there
had been a time when she had imagined it otherwise; but something
seemed to have come into her life since her brief residence in this
little village, which made her clear-eyed. She knew that she did not
want to marry a man like Pierce Douglass. She knew that had he come
to her, before the revelations of this letter, and asked her to share
his name and home, she would have been grateful and sorrowful, but
she would certainly have said, "I can not." She smiled a little as
she recurred to Dora's letter. Had the old church won her heart?
Surely it could not be anything else in South Plains! Yes, oh, yes,
it was something that she had found at South Plains; she had been
lifted up into daily fellowship with the Lord. She was learning to
live as "seeing him who is invisible," and in the light of his daily
companionship she could not come into close relationship with such an
one as Pierce Douglass, a man who did not profess allegiance to him.

And yet, you who understand the intricacies of the human heart will be
able to see how the letter had stung. She did not want to marry him,
but she wanted to respect him, to look upon him as a friend; to feel
that he cared for her, and not for her father's millions. It was bitter
to feel that here was yet another to whom friendship had been only an
empty name, and to wonder how many more there were, and because of him
to have less faith in the world.

On the whole, I think it was well that at last she cried. They were
healthy tears; and helped to wash away some of the bitterness.



CHAPTER XVII.

SPREADING NETS.


THE morning found her her own quiet self. Her first waking thoughts
were of Bud, and the first thing she did, after her toilet was made,
was to sit down and study her Bible with a view to selecting some
verses that she meant to mark for Bud.

All day she went about her many duties with a quiet heart. Even the
sting of a false friendship seemed to have been taken away. In the
afternoon, she refused to ride with Mr. Ansted, on the plea that she
had a music-lesson to give, but when the scholar failed to appear,
she, in nowise discomfited, set herself to the answering of the home
letters. A long, genial letter to her mother; longer than she had taken
time for of late, fuller of detail as to the work that occupied hands
and heart.

Something about Bud, his lonely life, his one tender memory, her desire
that he might find a Friend who would never fail him; her wish that the
mother would remember him when she prayed; her longing to be in a faint
sense a helper to him, as her father would surely have been, were he on
the earth. "I cannot do for him what papa would," so she wrote, "but
Christ can do much more; and it gives me a thrill of joy to remember
that he is not only in heaven with papa, but here, watching for Bud."

A detailed account of the last evening's rehearsal, and the new
recruits. A hint of her desire to lead this restless Alice into clearer
light--if, indeed, the true Light had ever shined into her heart. A
word even about Louis Ansted: "Would mamma pray for him, too? It was
said that he was in danger from several sources, and he said that his
mother was not at all anxious about him. If you were his mother," so
she wrote, "you would be anxious. Be a mother to him for Christ's
sake, mamma dear, and pray for him, as I am afraid his own mother does
not. Still, I ought not to say that, for she is a member of the church,
and it may be that her son does not know her heart."

To Dora there was but a scrap of paper:

"It is a pity, Doralinda dear, to put you off with this little torn
bit of paper, but I have written all the news to mamma, which means to
you, too, of course, and this bit is just large enough for the subject
about which I want to speak to you alone. Don't worry, little sister,
about me, nor about Pierce Douglass' treatment of me or of you; if his
manliness can afford such a slight as he gave you, we certainly can
afford to bear it. In a sense, it was hard; but much harder, I should
think, for him than for us.

"No, little Dora; the church here has not my whole heart, though I
will own that a large piece of it has gone out to the dreary little
sanctuary so sadly in need of a human friend--for the Lord will not
do what his people ought to do, you know; but I will tell you who is
filling my heart, and keeping me at rest and happy: the Lord Jesus
Christ. Not happy without papa, but happy in the sure hope of meeting
him again, and never parting any more. Don't you remember, dear, there
can never be another parting from papa? Some sorrowful places there may
be for your feet and mine on our journey home; but so far as papa is
concerned, there will be no more need for tears. Bear the thorns of the
way, little sister, in patience, for they are only _on the way_ through
the woods; not a thorn in the home.

"I trust you will be so brave as to dismiss Pierce Douglass from your
thoughts; unless, indeed, you take the trouble to ask him for what he
will let us have some handsome chairs for the pulpit! I remember at
this moment that his money is invested in furniture. But perhaps you
will not like to do that, and he might not let us have them at any
lower rates than we could secure elsewhere. Good-by, darling, brave,
lonely sister. I both laughed and cried over your letter, though the
tears were not about the things you thought would move them."

She folded and addressed this letter with a smile. No need to tell this
sensitive fierce-hearted Dora that the wound rankled for a time, and
did not bring tears only because it was too deep for tears.

Yet assuredly her heart was not broken over Pierce Douglass.

The letter sealed and laid aside, an unemployed half-hour lay before
her; not that there was not plenty to do, but that curious aversion to
setting about any of it, which busy workers so well understand, came
over her in full force. A sort of unreasonable and unreasoning desire
that the hour might be marked by something special hovered around her.
She stood at the window and looked out on the snow, and watched the
sleighs fly past. A sleigh-ride would be pleasant. Why could she not
have known that her music-scholar was to disappoint her, and so had the
benefit of a ride?

Possibly she might have said a word in season to Louis Ansted, though
there was about her the feeling that he was not ready for the word in
season, and would make poor use of it. Perhaps the Master knew that it
was better left unsaid, and so had held her from the opportunity; but
she longed to do something.

A sleigh was stopping at the Academy. The young man who sprang out and
presently pealed the bell, was Harry Matthews. Did he want her? she
wondered, and was this her special opportunity? No, he only wanted
a roll of music, to study the part which he was to sing; but on
learning that the teacher was in, and at leisure, he came to her in the
music-room, and asked questions about this particular song, and about
the rehearsal, and asked to have the tenor played for him, and as he
bent forward to turn the music, the breath of wine floated distinctly
to her. Was this an opportunity? Was there something that she might
say, and ought to say?

It was Louis Ansted's belief that this young man's special danger lay
in this direction; but what a delicate direction it was to touch!

He thanked her heartily for the help which she had given him about the
difficult part, and in that brief time her resolution was taken:

"Now, do you know there is something that I want you to do for me?"

No, he did not know it, but was delighted to hear it. Miss Benedict was
doing so much for them all, that it would certainly be a great pleasure
to feel that he could in any way serve her. He wished he could tell her
how much he and some of the other boys appreciated this opportunity
to study music. There had never been any good singing in South Plains
before.

There was a flush on Claire's cheeks as she replied, holding forward a
little book at the same time.

It _would_ serve me. She could think of scarcely anything else, so
easily done, that would give her greater pleasure than to have him
write his name on her pledgebook; she had an ambition to fill every
blank. There was room for five hundred signers, and she and her sister
at home were trying to see which could get their pledge-book filled
first. Would he give her his name?

And so, to his amazement and dismay, was Harry Matthews brought face to
face with a total abstinence pledge. What an apparently simple request
to make! How almost impossible it seemed to him to comply with it!

He made no attempt to take the little book, but stood in embarrassment
before it.

"Isn't there anything else?" he said, at last, trying to laugh. "I
hadn't an idea that you would ask anything of this sort. I can't sign
it, Miss Benedict; I can't really, though I would like to please you."

"What is in the way, Mr. Matthews? Have you promised your mother not to
sign it?"

The flush on his cheek mounted to his forehead, but still he tried to
laugh and speak gayly.

"Hardly! my mother's petitions do not lie in that direction. But I
really am principled against signing pledges. I don't believe in a
fellow making a coward of himself and hanging his manhood on a piece of
paper."

This was foolish. Would it do to let the young fellow know that she
knew it was?

"Then you do not believe in bonds, or mortgages, or receipts, or
promises to pay, of any sort--not even bank-notes!"

He laughed again.

"That is business," he said.

"Well," briskly, "this is business. I will be very business-like. What
do you want me to do, give you a receipt? Come, I want your name to
help fill my book, and I am making as earnest a business as I know how,
of securing names."

"Miss Benedict, I am not in the least afraid of becoming a drunkard."

"Mr. Matthews, that has nothing whatever to do with the business in
hand. What I want is your name on my total abstinence pledge. If you
do not intend to be a drinker, you can certainly have no objection to
gratifying me in this way."

"Ah! but I have. The promise trammels me unnecessarily and foolishly. I
am often thrown among people with whom it is pleasant to take a sip of
wine, and it does no harm to anybody."

"How can you be sure of that? There are drunkards in the world, Mr.
Matthews; is it your belief that they started out with the deliberate
intention of becoming such, or even with the fear that they might? or
were they led along step by step?"

"Oh, I know all that; but I assure you I am very careful with whom I
drink liquor. There are people who seem unable to take a very little
habitually; they must either let it alone, or drink to excess. Such
people ought to let it alone, and to sign a pledge to do so. I never
drink with any such; and I never drink, any way, save with men much
older than I, who ought to set me the example instead of looking to
me, and who are either masters of themselves, or too far gone to be
influenced by anything that I might do."

Was there ever such idiotic reasoning! But the young man before her
was very young, and did not know his own heart, much less understand
human nature. He was evidently in earnest, and would need any
amount of argument--would need, indeed, a much better knowledge of
himself--before she could convince him of his false and dangerous
position; and her opportunity, if it were one, was swiftly passing.
What was there that she could accomplish here and now? Since he was
in such a state of bewilderment as to logic, she resolved to lay a
delicate little snare for his feet.

"Well, I am sorry that you will not sign my pledge. I do not like your
arguments; I think they are painfully weak. I wish at your leisure you
would look into them carefully, and see if you think them worthy of
lodgment in an honest mind. But in the meantime, there is something
else. This little favor that I am about to ask, will you promise to
grant?"

The young man looked immensely relieved. He had not expected her
to abandon the ground so promptly; he had been on the verge of
pleading fear lest his horse was restive, and so breaking away from
the embarrassment. He tumbled eagerly into the pretty net. What could
she ask that would not be easy enough, now that the total abstinence
pledge was out of the way? He could think of nothing else that a lady
such as Miss Benedict certainly was, could ask, which would not be
comparatively easy of accomplishment.

"I don't believe in that way of doing business," he said, looking
wise, and smiling down on her in a superior way. "As a rule, I promise
nothing with my eyes shut; but I am sure to be able to trust you, and I
will try to do anything else that you ask of me, if only to prove how
sincere I am in my desire to please."

"It is a very good rule, as a rule," she said, quickly; "I would not
violate it often; but this is easy enough to do; I want your signature
to that."

She turned the leaves rapidly, and pointed to a few lines in the
back part of the little book. Two signatures were appended; but the
astounding words that arrested the young man's attention were these:

"I promise that within twenty-four hours after I have taken a taste of
anything that will intoxicate, I will report the same, either in person
or by letter, to my friend, Miss Benedict."

The hot blood spread all over the face of the gay boy before her, as he
read and re-read this singular pledge.

"I am fairly caught," he said at last, in a constrained voice, "and in
a way that I least expected. May I ask you what possible good it can do
you to burden yourself with such senseless confidences as these?"

"You are right," she said, "they are confidences. I should not have
shown you the book if I were not sure that the names there are utterly
unknown to you, and will be likely always to remain so. I had a good
motive, and the effort resulted in good. So much you must believe on
trust. But I did not mean to catch you--at least, not in the way you
mean--and to prove it, I will release you from your promise. I judged
from what you told me that you would not consider it a hard one."

She was speaking with cold dignity now. She was willing that he
should not sign this pledge if he wished to be released. If only his
unwillingness to sign would lead him to think on what dangerous ground
he stood, part of her object would have been attained.

But no, his pride was roused now, and came to the rescue. He refused
to be released. Since she chose to burden herself in this way, he was
quite willing, and should certainly add his name. This he did with a
flourish, trying to be gay again, and went away assuring her that he
was sorry for her, for he always kept a pledge.

After he was gone, she tormented herself as to whether she had
done wisely. She was more than doubtful. Those two other names had
been written by friendless and sorely-tempted boys, who distrusted
themselves and their resolutions to such an extent that she had
devised this little plan for helping them up from the depths of
despair. They were gone now, both of them, where stronger arms than
hers upheld them, where they were forever safe from falling; and Harry
Matthews' knowledge of their names could harm no one. But Harry was
of a different world. Had she been foolish in thus almost stealing
his promise? He had not taken it as she had thought he would. She had
believed him to be gayly indifferent to his habits in this direction;
she had believed that he was unaware how frequently he accepted
business invitations of this character.

On the whole, she was more than doubtful as to the unusual work done
in this leisure half-hour, and looked with apprehension rather than
pleasure at the name in her book. Nevertheless, she prayed over it as
she had been wont to do for those who were gone now. There was nothing
for it but to ask Him who never made mistakes, to overrule hers, if it
was a mistake, and use it in some way for his glory. This rested her.
It was so wonderful to remember that He could make even mistakes serve
him!

Meantime, Bud! The little lamp which belonged to his quarters over the
stable, was left wholly to his care, and he did not get the best. He
often stumbled his way to bed in the dark, rather than take the trouble
of filling the lamp in the daytime. But to-night, with his treasure
under his arm, he rejoiced to remember that part of his morning work
had been to fill that lamp and put it in unusual order. It was with
satisfaction that he lighted and set it on the inverted barrel that he
had improvised for a table. He was to read a verse in a book!

He had little knowledge as to whether the verses were long or short,
whether it would take until midnight or longer to read one, and it had
nothing to do with his promise. He reflected that the lamp was full,
and resolved that as long as it would burn he would work at the verse,
if necessary. But where to begin? What a big book it was! If Clare had
but marked a verse for him as she had planned! Well, what then? It
would not have been likely to have been the one over which he stopped
at random, and slowly spelled out, going back over each word until he
had the sentence complete: "As one whom his mother comforteth, so will
I comfort you, and ye shall be comforted in Jerusalem." What a verse
for poor, ignorant, blundering Bud! Might it not as well have been in
Greek?



CHAPTER XVIII.

BUD IN SEARCH OF COMFORT.


LET me tell you that sentences which you believe will be as Greek to
certain souls, are sometimes fraught with wonderful meaning, because of
an illumination about which you know nothing. It was so with Bud.

Back in his memory of those bright days when little Jack was still in
the flesh, were certain scenes standing out vividly. Little Jack had
a mother, a good, fat, motherly, commonplace sort of woman, with no
knowledge of, or care for, Bud, beyond the fact that she wanted him
always to have enough to eat and a comfortable place in which to sleep,
and was glad that little Jack liked him so well, simply because it was
a liking that gave little Jack pleasure. This was all that she would
have been to you; but to Bud she would have served for his ideal of an
angel, had he known anything about angels.

She was little Jack's mother, and she was motherly, and Bud had never
seen a motherly woman before; perhaps, after all, you get an idea of
why she was glorified in his eyes. His own mother slept in a neglected
grave, when Bud was five years old, but after he came to live at little
Jack's, he had lain awake nights to think how she would have looked,
and acted, and spoken, had she been alive. And she always looked to
him like this one motherly pattern. How Bud longed for her, for the
sound of her voice, for the touch of her hand, only he could have
told you. Little Jack had been in the habit of running to mother with
every disappointment, every grievance, every pain. He had never been
a healthy, rollicking, self-reliant boy, but a gentle, tender one, to
be shielded and petted; and Bud had heard again and again and _again_
these words, spoken oh! so tenderly, that the memory of them now
often brought the tears: "Poor little Jack! mother will comfort him!"
and the words were accompanied with a gesture that framed itself in
Bud's heart--the enveloping of little Jack's frail form within two
strong motherly arms, suggestive to the boy of boundless power and
protectiveness. Could words better fitted to meet Bud's heart have been
marked in his Bible? Would Claire Benedict have been likely to have
marked that particular verse for him?

It is a truth that a certain class of Christian workers need to ponder
deeply, that when we have done our best, according to the measure of
our opportunities, we may safely leave the Holy Spirit to supplement
our work.

The next morning, Bud thoughtfully rubbed the shining coats of the
horses, his mind awake and busy with a new problem. What did the verse
mean, that he had read so many times, that now it seemed to glow before
him on the sun-lighted snow? He had wakened in the night and wondered.
What _could_ it mean? Not that he did not understand some of it; he
was too unenlightened to imagine that plain words could mean other than
they said.

It had not so much as occurred to him that, because they were in the
Bible, they must necessarily have some obscure meaning utterly foreign
to what they appeared to say.

Such logic as that is only the privilege of certain of the educated
classes! Bud knew then, what some of the sentence meant. Somebody was
to be comforted by somebody, and the way it was to be done was as
a mother would do, and Bud, because of little Jack in heaven, knew
how that was. Oh, little Jack! living your short and uneventful life
here below, and oh! commonplace, yes, somewhat narrow-minded mother!
bestowing only the natural instincts of the mother-heart on your
boy--both of you were educating a soul for the King's palace, and you
knew it not!

How wonderful will the revelations of heaven be, when certain whose
lives have touched for a few days and then separated, shall meet, in
some of the cycles of eternity, and talk things over!

Who but the Maker of human hearts could have planned Bud's education in
this way?

Well, he knew another thing. The Comforter promised must be Jesus;
for had not _she_, that only other one who had spoken to him in
disinterested kindness, said that Jesus, the same Jesus who had been
so much to little Jack, was waiting for him, and wanted him to come up
to heaven where Jack was? And if Jesus could do such great things for
Jack, and really wanted _him_ could he not plan the way? Bud believed
it. To be shown the way to reach such a place as Jack told of, and
to be made ready to enter there when he should reach the door, would
certainly be comfort enough. He could almost imagine that One saying
to the little hurts by the way: "Never mind, Bud; it will be all right
by and by." That was what the mother used cheerily to say sometimes to
little Jack, and the verse read, "as one whom his mother comforteth."
You see how the photographs of his earlier years were educating Bud.

But there was one thing shrouded in obscurity. This "comforting" was
to be done at Jerusalem. Now what and where was Jerusalem? Poor Bud!
he had "never had no book," you will remember, and his knowledge of
geography was limited indeed. He knew that this village which had
almost bounded his life was named South Plains; and he knew that back
in the country among the farms was where little Jack had lived, and
he knew the name of the city that lay in the opposite direction; none
of these were Jerusalem. Bud did not know, however, but that the next
city, or town, or even farming region might answer to that name, and
might be the spot to which those who would have comfort were directed.
Little Jack might have lived there, for aught that he knew; they came
from some other place to the farm, Miss Benedict might be from there,
in which case she would know how to direct him! I want you to take
special notice of one thing. It lay clear as sunlight in the boy's
ignorant mind. _To Jerusalem he meant to go._ And as to time: just as
soon as he possibly could, he should start. As to how he should manage
by the way, or what he should do after he reached that country, he made
no speculations; the road was too dark for that. All that he was sure
of was that he would _start_.

"I wouldn't miss of little Jack for anything," he said, rubbing with
energy; "and as for the 'comforting,' if that can be for me--and she
said so--why, I'd go till I dropped, to find it."

A clear voice broke in on his thoughts:

"Bud, mamma wants the light carriage and the pony to be ready to take
her to the 12.20 train."

"Yes'm," said Bud, and he had as yet not a thought of saying anything
else.

But Miss Alice lingered and watched the rubbing; not that she was
interested in that, or, indeed, was thinking about it at all. She was
watching Bud, and thinking of him. What did Claire Benedict find in him
to interest her? What did she suppose that she, Alice Ansted, could
do to help him? The idea seemed fully as absurd as it had when first
suggested.

As if the boy had an idea above the horse he was rubbing so carefully!
He did not look as intelligent as the animal. She had often wondered
what the horses thought about, as they trotted along. What did Bud
think about as he rubbed? Did he think at all?

"You seem to like that work?"

It was Miss Alice's voice again. It startled Bud, the tone was so
gentle, as though possibly she might be saying the words to comfort
him. He dropped the brush with which he had been working; but as he
stooped to pick it up, answered respectfully,

"Yes, ma'am."

Alice's lip curled. The idea of Miss Benedict trying to interest her in
a boor like that, who could not reply to the merest commonplace without
growing red in the face and blundering over his work! She turned to
go. She could not think of anything else to say, and if she could,
what use to say it? But in that one moment of time, Bud had taken his
resolution. The voice had been kind; its echo lingered pleasantly; he
would summon all his courage and ask the question which was absorbing
his thoughts. It might be days before he could see Miss Benedict again,
and he could not wait.

"Miss Ansted," he said, and she noticed that his voice trembled, "would
you tell me one thing that I want to know right away?"

"That depends," she answered lightly; "I may not know. However, if your
question is not too deep, I may try to answer it. What do you want?"

"Why, I've got to know _right away_ where Jerusalem is."

"Jerusalem!" she repeated. "Why on earth do you wish to know that? I
don't know myself, precisely. It is across the ocean somewhere in Asia,
you know. Why do you care, Bud, where it is?"

"I've got to go there," said Bud, with simple dignity.

Miss Ansted's laugh rang out merrily.

"That is an undertaking!" she said, gayly. "When do you intend to
start? and what is the object of the journey, I wonder?" She felt sure
now that Bud was little less than an idiot.

But Bud had another question to ask. His face was grave, almost
dismayed. "Across the ocean!" That sentence appalled. He had heard of
the ocean, and of a storm on it, and a shipwreck. A wandering sailor
once told in his hearing a fearful story of wreck and peril. Yet, be it
recorded that the boy, though appalled, did not for one moment recede
from his fixed resolved to start, and go as far as he could. That
Comforter he meant to find. It had taken such hold of his heart that
he knew he could never give it up again. This was his next timidly-put
question:

"Did you ever go there, Miss Ansted?"

"I never did," she answered, laughing still, and very curious now to
know what queer project poor Bud had on his mind. "Why do you want to
go, Bud?"

The answer was direct and grave.

"I want to go after Him who said He would comfort me. 'Ye shall be
comforted in Jerusalem,' that is what it says, and _she_ said it meant
me, and little Jack went, I make sure, and I mean to go. I _must_ go."

But before that answer, Alice Ansted stood dumb. She had never been
so amazed in her life! What did the fellow mean? What could have so
completely turned his foolish brain? "If this is the outcome of Miss
Benedict's efforts, she ought to know it at once, before the poor idiot
concludes his career in a lunatic asylum."

This was her rapid thought, but aloud she said, at last:

"I don't know what you are talking about, Bud. You have some wild idea
that does not seem to be doing you any good. I would advise you to drop
it and think about the horses; they are your best friends."

"I can't drop it," said Bud, simply; "I read the verse in the Bible;
I promised I would, and I did, and I know all about it, and I want to
have it; _she_ said it was for me."

"What is the verse?" and Miss Alice sat down on a carriage-stool to
listen.

Bud repeated with slow and solemn emphasis the words which were now
so familiar to his ear: "As one whom his mother comforteth, so will I
comfort you: and ye shall be comforted in Jerusalem."

"I know about mothers," he explained. "There was little Jack's mother,
and she used to say to him just that, 'Mother will comfort you,' and
she did. And this one I make sure is Jesus, because _she_ said he
wanted me to go where little Jack is, and I guess he means me, because
I feel as if he did, and I'm going to Jerusalem, if it is across two
oceans."

Evidently his heart gathered strength as he talked; his voice grew
firmer, and the dignity of a fixed resolve began to settle on his face.

Was there ever a more bewildered young lady than this one who sat on
the carriage stool? She surveyed Bud with the sort of half-curious,
half-frightened air, which she might have bestowed on a mild maniac
whose wanderings interested her. What was she to say to him? How
convince him of his queer mistake?

"That doesn't mean what you think it does, Bud," she began at last.

"Why doesn't it?" Bud asked, quickly; almost as one would speak who was
holding on to a treasure which another was trying to snatch from him.

"Because it doesn't. It has nothing to do with the city named
Jerusalem. It is about something that you don't understand. It has a
spiritual meaning; and of course you don't understand what I mean by
that! I haven't the least idea how to explain it to you, and indeed,
it is extremely unnecessary for you to know. You see, Bud, it means
something entirely beyond your comprehension, and has nothing whatever
to do with you."

Bud made not the slightest attempt at answer, but went stolidly on
with his work. And Alice sat still and surveyed him for a few minutes
longer, then arose and shook out her robes, and said, "So I hope you
will not start for Jerusalem yet awhile," and laughed, and sped through
the great, sliding doors, and picked her way daintily back to luxury,
leaving the world blank for Bud.

Miss Ansted was wise about the world, and about books; surely she would
know whether the verse meant him, and whether the word Jerusalem meant
_Jerusalem_. Was it all a mistake?

The pony was brought forward now and had her share of rubbing and
careful handling, and a bit of petting now and then, though the
conversation which generally went on between her and the worker was
omitted this morning. Bud had graver thoughts. While he worked he went
over the old memories. Little Jack, and the comforting mother, and the
facts connected with those experiences, no need to tell him that _they_
did not mean what they appeared to his eyes; he knew better. Then there
were the plain, simple words standing like a solid wall of granite: "As
one whom his mother comforteth, so will I comfort you."

"Stand around!" said Bud, in a tone of authority; and while the gray
pony obeyed, he told her his resolve: "Them words mean _something_,
Dolly, and _she_ knows what they mean, and Bud is going to find out."

You are not to suppose that the pronoun referred to Alice Ansted. She
had said that she could not tell him what they meant.

If anybody had been looking on with wide-open eyes, it would have been
an interesting study in Providence to watch how Bud was led. It was
Alice Ansted who had a very little hand in it again, though she knew
nothing of it. The "leading" was connected, too, with so insignificant
a matter as an umbrella.

Mr. Ramsey had overtaken Louis Ansted in a rain-storm, a few days
before, and had insisted on lending his umbrella, and it suited Louis
Ansted's convenience to direct that it be sent home by Bud that morning.

Why Alice Ansted took the trouble to go herself to Bud with the
order, instead of sending a servant, she hardly knew, neither did she
understand why, after having given it, she should have lingered to say:

"I presume, Bud, that Mr. Ramsey can answer all the questions about
Jerusalem that you choose to ask."

Now Mr. Ramsey was the dreary minister who seemed to Claire Benedict to
have no life nor heart in any of his work.

Bud stood still to reflect over this new thought suggested to him with
a half-laugh. He did not think to thank Miss Alice, and yet he knew
that he was glad. It was true, the minister would be likely to know all
about it, and there might not be a chance to speak to Miss Benedict
again, and Bud felt that he could not wait. So, as he trudged off down
the carriage-drive, he took his resolution. He had never spoken a word
to a minister in his life, but he would ask to see him this morning,
and find out about Jerusalem if he could.



CHAPTER XIX.

COMFORTED.


SATURDAY morning, and the minister in his dingy study struggling with
an unfinished sermon. Struggling with more than this--with an attempt
to keep in the background certain sad and startling facts that his
meat bill was growing larger, and that his last quarter's salary was
still unpaid; that his wife was at this moment doing some of the family
washing which illness had prevented her from accomplishing before, and
taking care of two children at the same time; that his Sunday coat was
growing hopelessly shabby, and there was nothing in his pocket-book
wherewith to replace it with a new one; that the children needed shoes,
and there was no money to buy them; that his wife was wearing herself
out with over-work and anxiety, and he was powerless to help it; that
his people were absorbed in their farms, and stores, and shops, and
cared little for him, or for the truths which he tried to present. What
a spirit in which to prepare a sermon for the Sabbath that was hurrying
on!

The study was dingy from force of necessity. The carpet was faded, and
worn in places into positive holes; the table-spread was faded, because
it had been long worn, and was cheap goods and cheap colors in the
first place. Everything about him was wearing out, and the old-young
minister felt that he was wearing out, too, years before his time. I
do not know that it is any wonder that he frowned when he heard the
knock at the side door. It was nearly Saturday noon; he had not time
for loiterers, yet he must answer that knock; thus much he could save
his wife. He threw down his pen, with which he had just written the
half-formed sentence, "the inexorable and inscrutable decrees of God,"
and went to the door to admit Bud, and the umbrella.

Not much need for delay here, and yet Bud lingered. The umbrella had
been set aside, and the minister had said it was no matter that it had
not been brought before, and still Bud did not go. He held his hat in
his hand, and worked with nervous fingers at the frayed band around it,
and at last, summoning all his courage, dashed into the centre of his
subject:

"If you please, sir, will you tell me where Jerusalem is?"

"Jerusalem!" repeated the minister, and he was even more astonished
than Alice Ansted had been; but he looked into Bud's eager, wistful
face, and saw there something, he did not understand what, which made
him throw the door open wider, and say, "Come in;" and almost before he
knew what he was doing, he had seated Bud in the old arm-chair by the
stove, in the study, and was sitting opposite him.

You don't expect me, I hope, to describe that interview? There have
been many like it, in degree, all over the world, but nothing quite so
strange had ever come to this minister before. Actually a hungry soul
looking for the Jerusalem above, about which he, the minister, had read
that morning, with bated breath and an almost rebellious longing to be
there, where "there shall be no more death, neither sorrow nor crying,
neither shall there be any more pain, for the former things are passed
away."

It was not difficult to show Bud the way. He was like a child who heard
with wide-open wondering eyes, and for the first time, the astounding
fact that the Jerusalem toward which his eyes were turned was near at
hand; that there was no ocean to cross, no dangerous journey to take;
it was simply to put forth the hand and accept the free gift.

I pause, pen in hand, to wonder how I can make plain to you that this
is no made-up story; that Bud is a real character who lives and does
his work in the world to-day. It is so natural in reading what people
call fiction, to turn from the book with a little sigh, perhaps, and
say: "Oh, yes; that is all very well in a _book_, but in real life
things do not happen in this way; and there are no people so ignorant
as that Bud, anyway." But some of us do not write fiction; we merely
aim to present in compact form before thoughtful people, pictures of
the things which are taking place all around them. Bud did live, and
_does_ live; and he was just so ignorant, and he did hear with joy the
simple, wonderful story of the way to the Jerusalem of his desires, and
he did plant his feet firmly on the narrow road, and walk therein.

I want to tell you what that minister did after the door had been
closed on Bud for a few minutes. He walked the floor of his limited
study with quick, excited steps, three times up and down, then he
dropped on his knees and prayed this one sentence, "Blessed be the
Lord God, who only doeth wondrous things!" Then he went out to
the kitchen, and kissed his wife, and made up the fire under her
wash-boiler, and filled two pails with water, and carried Johnnie away
and established him in a high-chair in the study, with pencil and paper
and a picture-book; and then he took the five sheets of that sermon
over which he had been struggling, and tore them in two, and thrust
them, decrees and all, into the stove! Not that he was done with the
decrees, or that he thought less of them than before; but a miracle
had just been worked in his study, and he had been permitted to be the
connecting link in the wondrous chain through which ran the message to
a new-born soul, and the decree which held him captive just then was
that one in which the Eternal God planned to give his Son to save the
world. And he was so glad that this decree was inexorable, that its
inscrutability did not trouble him at all. I am glad that he made up
that fire, and filled those water-pails, and, busy as he had need to
be, gave some gentle attention to Johnnie. A religious uplifting which
does not bubble over into whatever practical work the heart or the
hands find to do, is not apt to continue.

It was on the following Sabbath that Miss Benedict found opportunity to
offer to mark the verses in Bud's Bible.

"Bud," she said, stopping at the bell-rope where he tolled the bell,
"if you will let me take your Bible after church--did you bring it with
you? Well, if you will let me take it, I will mark some verses in it
that I think will help you. Did you read a verse each day?"

"Oh, yes'm," said Bud, and there was that in his voice which made her
turn and look closely at him. "I read it, and I found out the way, and
I went and spoke to Him, and He took me right in, as He said He would,
and there's no comfort like it, I'm sure. I don't miss little Jack's
mother any more."

What did all this mean? Bud began in the middle of things, according
to his wont. He forgot that Miss Benedict had heard nothing about the
promised comfort in Jerusalem, nor the difficulties he had had in
being shown into the right way. Yet there is something in the family
language, however awkwardly used, that conveys a meaning to those of
the same household.

"Bud, do you really mean that you went to Jesus Christ, and he gave
you comfort?"

"I do that, ma'am," said Bud, with hearty voice and shining eyes, and
he gave the bell-rope a vigorous pull. "He was right by my side all the
time, the minister said, when I bothered so about crossing the ocean,
and there wasn't any ocean to cross; and I've got the comfort, and I'm
going to hear the singing that you told about. I didn't think I ever
could, but now I know the way."

Claire turned away silently, and walked softly into church, awed. Had
poor Bud really met the Lord in the way? It looked so. She need have no
more regrets over those unmarked verses. But how wonderful it was! And
that is just the truth, dear, half-asleep Christian; wonders are taking
place all about you, and it is possible that you are merely engaged
in trying to prove to yourself and others that "the age of miracles
is past;" though why you should be very anxious to prove it, does not
clearly appear even to yourself.

The minister, who preached that morning, was the same minister who had
stood behind that desk and read his sermons to that people for seven
years, though some of his hearers rubbed their eyes, and looked about
them in a dazed way, and wondered if this _could_ be so. What had
happened to the man? He had not a scrap of paper before him. In the
estimation of some, he did not preach. Mrs. Graves, who read sermons
aloud at home on Sabbath afternoons, and was inclined to be literary,
said that it was not a _sermon_ at all--that it was just a talk. But
Deacon Graves, who was not literary, replied:

"Well, if he should take to talking very often, we should all have to
wake up and look after our living, for it pretty nigh upset everything
we have done this good while, and I must say it kind of made me feel as
though I should like to see something stirring somewhere."

None of them knew about the minister's uplifting, only Bud, and Bud did
not know that it was an uplifting, or that the minister cared, or that
the sermon had anything to do with him, or, for that matter, that it
was any different from usual. Bud knew _he_ was different, and it gave
him the most intense and exquisite joy to discover that he understood
nearly every word that the minister said; but this he attributed not
to a change in the sermon, but because he had fairly started on his
journey to the heavenly Jerusalem. It is possible that some listeners
need that sort of uplifting before the sermons to which they appear to
listen will ever be other than idle words.

Yes, there was one other who knew that a strange and sweet experience
had come to the disheartened minister. That was his wife. She had known
it ever since he came and kissed her, and made up that fire, and filled
those pails. The kiss would have been very precious to her without the
other, but the human heart is such a strange bit of mechanism, that I
shall have to confess to you, that in the light of that new-made fire,
the tenderness glowed all day.

And now the preparations for the concert went on with rapid strides.
The Ansteds slipped into the programme almost before they realized it,
and were committed to this and that chorus and solo, and planned and
rearranged and advised with an energy that surprised themselves.

It has been intimated to you that opportunities for enjoying good music
were rare at South Plains.

What musical talent they possessed had lain dormant, and the place was
too small to attract concert singers, so an invitation to a musical
entertainment came to the people with all the charm of novelty. Of
course, the girls took care that the invitations should be numerous and
cordial. In fact, for three weeks before the eventful evening, almost
the sole topic of conversation, even in the corner grocery, had been
the young folks' concert and the preparations that were making.

Still, after taking all these things into consideration, both the
girls and their leader were amazed, when at last the hour arrived, to
discover that every available inch of room in the stuffy little church
was taken.

"For once in its life it is full!" announced Anna Graves, peeping
out, and then dodging hastily back. "Girls, it is full to actual
suffocation, I should think; and they have come to hear us sing. Think
of it!"

Well, whether those girls astonished themselves or not, they certainly
did their fathers and mothers. Indeed, I am not sure that their young
teacher did not feel an emotion of surprise over the fact that they
acquitted themselves so well. Their voices, when not strained in
attempting music too difficult for them, had been found capable of
much more cultivation than she had at first supposed, and she had done
her best for them, without realizing until now how much that "best"
was accomplishing. It was really such a success, and, withal, such a
surprise, that some of the time it was hard to keep back the happy
tears. It is true there was one element in the entertainment which the
teacher did not give its proper amount of credit. The fact is, she had
so long been accustomed to her own voice as to have forgotten that to
strangers it was wonderful. I suppose that really part of the charm
of her singing lay in the simplicity of the singer. Her life had been
spent in a city, where she came in daily contact with grand and highly
cultivated voices, and she, therefore, gauged her own as simply one
among many, and a bird could hardly have appeared less conscious of his
powers than did she.

Not so her audience. They thundered their delight until again and again
she was obliged to appear, and each time she sang a simple little song
or hymn, suited to the musical capacities of the audience, so that she
but increased their desire for more.

It was all delightful. Yet really, sordid beings that they were, I
shall have to admit that the crowning delight was when they met the
next morning, tired, but happy, and counted over their gains, and
looked in each other's faces, and exclaimed, and laughed, and actually
cried a little over the pecuniary result.

"Girls," said Miss Benedict, her eyes glowing with delight, "we can
carpet the entire aisles. Think of that!"

Then began work.

"Since we haven't been doing anything for the last two months," said
Mary Burton, with a merry laugh, "I suppose we can have the privilege
of going to work now."

Meantime, the days had been moving steadily on. Christmas holidays had
come and gone, and the boys, as well as the girls, to whom the holiday
season had been apt to be a time of special dissipation and temptation,
had been tided safely over it by reason of being so busy that they
had no time for their usual festivities. The vacation to which Claire
Benedict had looked forward with sad heart, on her first coming to
South Plains, because it would be a time when she might honorably go
home if she could afford it, and she knew she could not, had come and
passed, and had found her in such a whirl of work, so absorbed from
morning until night, as to have time only for postals for the mother
and sister.

"When the rush of work is over," so she wrote, "I will stop for
repairs, and take time to write some respectably lengthy letters, but
just now we are so overwhelmed with our desire to get the church ready
for Easter Sunday that we can think of nothing else. Mamma, I do wish
you and Dora could see it now, and again after it emerges from under
our hands!"

"What _is_ the matter with her?" asked Dora, and then mother and
daughter laughed. It was impossible to be very dreary with those breezy
postals constantly coming from Claire. It was impossible not to have an
almost absorbing interest in the church at South Plains, and think of,
and plan for it accordingly.

"Mamma," Dora said, after having read the latest postal, as she sat
bending it into various graceful shapes, "I suppose that church down
on the beach that the girls of our society are working for, looks
something like the one at South Plains. I think I will join that
society after all; I suppose I ought to be doing something, since
Claire has taken up the repairing of old churches for a life-business."

This last with a little laugh, and the mother wrote to Claire a few
days later:

"Your sister has finally succeeded in overcoming her dislike to joining
the benevolent society again, and is becoming interested in their work.
They have taken up that seaside church again which you were going to do
such nice things for, you know. Dora has felt all the time that there
was nothing for her to do now, because we are poor, and has held aloof,
but yesterday she joined the girls, and brought home aprons to make for
the ready-made department of Mr. Stevenson's store. The plan is that
Mr. Stevenson shall furnish shades for the church windows at cost, and
the girls are to pay him by making up aprons for that department. I am
glad for anything that rouses Dora; not that she is bitter, but she
is sad, and feels herself useless. My dear, you are doing more than
repairing the church at South Plains; you are reaching, you see, away
out to the seaside."



CHAPTER XX.

BUD AS A TEACHER.


IT became a matter of astonishment to discover how many friends the old
church had, and from what unexpected quarters they appeared.

It really seemed as though each worker had an uncle, or brother, or
cousin, of whom she had not given a thought in this connection, who yet
grew interested and offered help.

It was Anna Graves who started this special form of help, by an
announcement that she made one morning:

"Girls, what do you think! My uncle Will is coming to stay two weeks,
and he says he will fresco the church ceiling for us, if we will be
content with plain work that he can do rapidly."

It did not take the eager listeners long to promise to be content with
the very plainest work that could be imagined. Their imagination had
not thought of reaching after frescoed ceilings.

"That is an idea!" said Nettie Burdick. "I wonder if Joe and Charlie
would not help us?"

Now Joe and Charlie were wall-paperers in the city; and it was only a
few days thereafter that Nettie announced with great satisfaction that
they would come out and paper the old church, for their share in the
good work.

Then came Ruth Jennings' brother-in-law who was in business in a
more distant city, and having called for Ruth and waited for her on
the evening when that perplexing question of window-shades was being
discussed, he volunteered a delightful bit of information:

"Didn't they know about the new paper in imitation of stained glass?
So good an imitation that when well laid it would take an expert to
distinguish the difference."

No, indeed, they had never heard of such a thing; and all other
business was suspended while the brother-in-law was plied with
questions, the conclusion of the matter being that he said "their firm"
dealt quite largely in this new invention, and he could have enough for
this little church supplied at cost, if they would like to go into it.
And being able to give in round numbers the probable cost, the girls
gleefully voted to "go into it," provided they could secure any person
who knew how to manage it. This at once developed further resources
belonging to the brother-in-law. He knew all about it, and would lay
the paper for them with pleasure, if some of the "fellows" would help.
He would just as soon spend a day in that way as not.

"Stained-glass windows!" said Ruth Jennings, with a long-drawn sigh
of satisfaction. "As if South Plains had ever dreamed of attaining to
such heights! Girls, _will_ the old red curtains do for dusters, do you
believe, if we wash them tremendously?"

The very next day brought them another surprise. Miss Benedict read
part of a letter from "mamma," wherein it appeared that a certain Mr.
Stuart, of the firm of Stuart, Greenough & Co., had become interested
in the church at South Plains, through Dora's reports of what absorbed
her sister's energies, and in grateful remembrance of certain helps
which Claire's father had given their church in its struggling infancy,
he had selected a walnut desk and two pulpit chairs, which he had taken
the liberty to ship to Miss Claire Benedict, with his kind regards and
earnest wish that her efforts might be prospered, even as her father's
had been before her.

Over this astonishing piece of news some of the girls actually cried.
The pulpit desk and chairs had represented a formidable bill of expense
looming up before them.

Each had been privately sure that they would be obliged at last to take
those which would jar on their esthetic tastes, out of respect to the
leanness of the church purse. And here was solid walnut, selected by a
man of undoubted taste and extensive knowledge in this direction. I
don't think it strange that they cried!

Mary Burton, while she wiped her eyes, made a remark which was
startling to some of the girls:

"How much your father has done for us this winter!" and she looked
directly at Claire Benedict. Didn't Mary remember that the dear father
was dead?

But Miss Benedict understood. Her eyes which had remained bright with
excitement until then, suddenly dimmed; but her smile and her voice
were very sweet.

"Oh, Mary! thank you!" was all she said.

Among the workers it would have been hard to find one more faithful
or more energetic than Bud. He was full of eager, happy life. Much
depended upon him. He could blacken stoves with the skill of a
professional, and none were ever more vigorously rubbed than those
rusty, ash-be-strewn ones which had so long disgraced the church. It
had been good for Bud to have others awaken to the fact that there were
certain things which he could do, and do well.

An eventful winter this was to him. Having made an actual start toward
Jerusalem, it was found that he put more energy into the journey than
many who had been long on the way; and, as a matter of course, before
long it became apparent that he was taking rapid strides.

Miss Alice Ansted was among the first to realize it. She came to Claire
one evening with embarrassed laughter, and a half-serious, half-amused
request for instruction:

"I'm trying to follow out some of your hints, and they are getting me
into more trouble than anything I ever undertook. Sewing societies and
charity parties are as nothing in comparison. I am trying to teach
Bud! He wants to study arithmetic; it is an absurd idea, I think; what
will he ever want of arithmetic? But he was determined, and you were
determined, and between you I have been foolish enough to undertake it,
and now it appears that arithmetic is a very small portion of what he
wants to learn. He wants to know everything that there is in the Bible;
and where church-members get their ideas about all sorts of things,
and what the ministers study in the theological seminary, and why all
the people in the world don't attend prayer-meeting, and I don't know
what not! He acts as though his brain had been under a paralysis all
his life, which had just been removed. I must say he astonishes me
with his questions; but it is easier to _ask_ questions than it is to
answer them. What, for instance, am I to say to ideas like these? Since
you have gotten me into this scrape, it is no more than fair that you
should help me to see daylight."

And then would follow a discussion, nearly always pertaining to some of
the practical truths of the Christian life, or to some direction that
Bud had found in the course of his daily Bible verse, which seemed to
him at variance with the life which was being lived by the professing
Christians about him, and which he turned to his arithmetic-teacher to
reconcile.

Bud, being ignorant, found it impossible to understand why people who
professed to take the Bible for their rule of life, did not follow
its teachings, and he brought each fresh problem to Alice Ansted with
such confident expectation that she knew all about it, that she, who
had only volunteered to explain to him the rules of arithmetic, was
in daily embarrassment. From these conversations, which constantly
grew more close and searching as Bud stumbled on new verses, Claire
Benedict used to turn with a smile of satisfaction, as well as with
almost a feeling of awe, over the wisdom of the Great Teacher. Alice
Ansted might be teaching Bud the principles of arithmetic, but he was
certainly daily teaching her the principles of the religion which she
professed, but did not _live_.

In fact, others beside Alice Ansted were being taught, or, at least,
were being roused, by the newly-awakened mind. The minister had by no
means forgotten the visit which had glorified the study for that day,
and he was still bathing his almost discouraged heart in the brightness
of its memory, when a vigorous knock one morning again interrupted
his studies. His eyes brightened when he saw that the visitor was Bud,
and he invited him in with cordial tone. But no, Bud was in haste.
There was not a trace of the hesitancy and embarrassment which had
characterized his first visit. He spoke with the confidence of one who
had obtained great and sufficient help at this source before, and who
knew that it was the place where help could be found.

"I haven't any time this morning," he said, speaking with a rapidity
which had begun to characterize his newly awakened life. "I'm down at
Snyder's, waiting for the pony to be shod, and there is a fellow there
talking. He says the Bible ain't true; that it is just a lot of made-up
stories to cheat women and children and folks that don't know nothing,
like me. Well, now, I _know_ that it is no such a thing. I know the
Bible is true, because I've tried it; but he hasn't tried it, you see,
sir, and he won't because he don't believe in it, and I thought I would
just run up here and ask you to give me something to show him that it
is all true; something that I can tell him in a hurry, because the
pony will be ready in a few minutes."

What in the world was that minister to say? Was ever such an
embarrassing question thrust at him?

The evidences of Christianity--yes, he had studied them carefully; of
course he had. He had written sermons to prove the truth of the Holy
Scriptures; he had a row of books on the upper shelf of his library,
all of them treating more or less of this subject. He turned and looked
at them; ponderous volumes; it was not possible to take down even the
smallest of them and set Bud to reading it. In the first place, Bud
would no more understand the language in which it was written than he
would understand the Greek Testament which stood by its side; and, in
the second place, Bud wanted knowledge that could be transmitted while
the pony was being shod!

Certainly, this dilemma had its ludicrous side, but had it not also
its humiliating one? Ought there not to be some word which an educated
man like himself could give in haste to an ignorant boy like Bud?
Something so plain that even the pony need not wait while it was being
explained? Suppose the man at the blacksmith-shop had chosen to sneer
over the fact that the earth is round, and Bud had come for an argument
to prove the truth of this fact, how easy it would be to produce one!

Ought he not to be equally ready to defend this much-slandered Bible?
Thoughts are very rapid in their transit. Something like these ideas
rushed through the scholar's mind while he stood looking up at his row
of books, and Bud stood looking up at him with an air of confident
expectation.

"Bud," said the minister, turning suddenly away from his book-shelves,
"how many persons are there at Snyder's?"

"Eight or nine, sir; maybe more."

"Are they from around here?"

"No, sir; mostly from the country; I don't know any of 'em."

"Well, Bud, I want you to listen carefully while I ask two or three
questions. Suppose you had been there before any of those men, and
as one after another began to come in, each should tell of a fire
there had been last night in the city. Suppose you knew that they were
not acquainted with each other, and had not met until they reached
the blacksmith's shop, and suppose they told the same story, without
contradicting one another in any of the important particulars, what do
you believe you would conclude about them? Would you think that they
had told the truth or a made-up story?"

"I reckon it would be the truth, sir; cause how would they know how to
make it up alike?"

"That is just the point," said the gratified minister. While he talked
he had been watching Bud carefully, much in doubt as to whether he had
mind enough to grasp the illustration, but so far it had evidently been
grasped; now he must see if it could be applied.

"Listen! Did you know that thirty-six people told the story of the
Bible, and that many of them not only never saw one another, but many
of them died before others of them were born; and that they told the
same story, without contradicting one another at all?"

"No, sir," said Bud, "I didn't know nothing about it. Is that so?"
Extreme delight glowed in his honest eyes, and he clutched at his cap
and made a movement toward the door. "I thank you, sir; I'll go back
and tell him; it will be a stunner!"

Away went the newly awakened preacher of the Evidences of Christianity,
and the minister went back to his Greek Testament with great
satisfaction. Bud might not be able to convince the scoffer at the
blacksmith's shop; Mr. Ramsey did not expect that he would; he knew
that Satan had many skillful ways of using false weapons and making
them flash like true steel. The thing which gave him pleasure was, that
Bud had understood. He felt nearly certain that the boy's mind would
not leave the question there; it would have to be investigated, and he,
the minister, would have to get ready to help him.

"We ought to be careful to speak about all these things in such a way
that uneducated people could follow us," he said.

And all that morning, while he worked over his sermon for the following
Sabbath, he worked to secure simple words in which to clothe his
thought; he sought illustrations to give it clearness; in short,
he preached to Bud; almost unconsciously he brought the boy before
his mind's eye, cap in hand--a symbol of the people whose thoughts
rested for a moment on what you were saying, and then flitted away to
something else--unless, indeed, the owners were caught during that
moment. This particular minister had never before so fully realized
this truth. He had never before labored so hard to catch the attention
of the unskilled listener; nor had he ever become so intensely
interested in any sermon as he did in that one. If he was to preach it
for Bud, it must be very simple; and in making it very simple, his own
heart took hold of it as a tremendous reality, instead of a thought out
of a book.

I hope I shall be understood when I say that Bud wrote the greater part
of the minister's sermon that week; though he of course, was utterly
unconscious of the fact.



CHAPTER XXI.

ONE OF THE VICTIMS.


MEANTIME there were other interests at stake that winter than those
involved in the renovation of the old church. For instance, there was
Harry Matthews, who kept Claire's heart constantly filled with anxious
thought.

It became more and more apparent that he was in great and growing
danger. Claire saw much of him. He had been one of the most faithful
helpers during the preparations for the concert, and he was still one
of the energetic workers, being included in all their plans. Moreover,
he was a genial, society-loving, warm-hearted young fellow; one of the
sort with whom a sympathetic girl soon becomes intimate. Claire had
often, in the earlier days of her girlhood, sighed over the fact that
she had no brother; and now it seemed sometimes to her as if this Harry
were a sort of brother, over whose interests she must watch. So she
exercised an older sister's privilege in growing very anxious about him.

Neither was he so gayly happy as he had been early in the season. He
had kept his pledge, coming to her at first with laughing eyes and
mock gravity of face, pretending to making confession like the good
little boy in the story book, who is sorry, and won't do so any more
if he can help it. She always received these admissions with a gentle
gravity, so unmistakably tinged with sadness and disappointment,
that they presently ceased to be amusing to him. He was beginning to
make discoveries: first, that it was by no means an agreeable thing
for a manly young man to seek a young woman whom he respected, and
voluntarily admit that he had again been guilty of what he knew she
looked upon with distrust, not only, but with actual dismay; and second
that he had the confession to make much more frequently than he had
supposed could possibly be the case; that, in short, the habit which he
had supposed such a light one, was growing upon him; that on occasions
when he withstood the invitations and temptations, the struggle was a
hard one, which he shrank from renewing. Still he made resolves. It
was absurd to suppose that he could keep running after Miss Benedict,
or sending her notes to say that he had again indulged in a habit that
he had assured her was of no consequence, and that he could break in
a day if he chose. He knew now that this was folly. It was not to be
broken in a day. He began to suspect that possibly he was a slave, with
little or no power to break it at all. The tenor of his notes changed
steadily. The first one ran thus:

    "I have to inform your most gracious majesty that I
    have this day committed the indiscretion of taking
    about two thirds of a glass of champagne with an old
    school chum whom I have not seen for six months. It is
    another chapter of the old story--he 'beguiled me and I
    did' drink. Of course it was no fault of mine; and it
    gives me comfort to inform you that the tempter has
    gone on his way to Chicago, and that I do not expect
    to see him for another six months. So humbly craving
    your majesty's pardon for being thus obliged to trouble
    her--owing to a certain foolish pledge of mine--I
    remain your humble subject.

                                        "HARRY MATTHEWS."

The last one she received was briefly this:

    "_Miss Benedict_:--I have failed again, though I did
    not mean to do so. I beg you will erase my name from
    that page, and care nothing more about it or me."

Over the first note Claire had lingered with a troubled air, but on
this last one there dropped tears. She had adopted Harry by this
time as a young brother, and she could not help carrying his peril
about in her heart. Still, if he had not gone too far, there was more
hope for the writer of this brief note, with its undertone of fierce
self-disgust, than for the one who could so merrily confess what he
believed was, at the worst, a foible.

One evening they walked home together from the church. She was silent,
and her heart was heavy. She had caught the odor of wine about him,
though he had made a weak effort to conceal it with rich spices. They
walked half the distance from the church to the Academy, having spoken
nothing beyond an occasional commonplace. Truth to tell, Claire was
in doubt what to say, or whether to say anything. She had spoken many
words to him; she had written him earnest little notes; what use to say
more? It was he who broke the silence, speaking moodily:

"It is of no use, Miss Benedict; I shall have to ask you to release
me from that pledge. I cannot keep rushing around to the Academy to
tell you what befalls me; it is absurd. And--well, the fact is, as I
am situated, I simply can not keep from using liquor now and then;
oftener, indeed, than I had supposed when I signed that paper. It must
have been a great bore to you, and I owe you a thousand apologies;
but you see how it is, I must be released and left to myself. I have
been true to my promise, as I knew I should be when I made it, but I
can't have you troubled any longer; and, as I say, I _have_ to drink
occasionally."

He did not receive the sort of answer which he had expected. He was
prepared for an earnest protest, for an argument; but Claire said, her
voice very sad the while:

"I know you can not keep from drinking, Harry, and I have known it for
a long while."

Now, although he had told himself several times in a disgusted way that
he was a coward, and a fool, and a slave, and that he did not deserve
to have the respect of a lady, his pride was by no means so far gone
that he liked to hear the admission from other lips than his own that
he was bound in chains which he could not break.

"What do you mean?" he asked, haughtily enough.

"I mean, Harry, that you are tempted, awfully tempted, to become a
drunkard! I mean that I do not think you can help yourself; I think you
have gone beyond the line where your strength would be sufficient. You
inherit the taste for liquor. Never mind how I learned that; I know it,
and have known it for a long time. As surely as Satan lives, he has
you in his toils. Oh, Harry!"

There were tears in her voice. She was not one who easily lost
self-control before others, but this was a subject on which her heart
was sore. He did not know how many times she had said to herself: "What
if he were my brother, and mamma sat at home watching and praying for
him, and he were as he is! And his mother is a widow, and has only this
one, and she sits at home and waits!" And this mother's fast-coming
agony of discovery had burned into her soul until it is no wonder that
the tears choked what else she might have said.

But Harry was haughty still. He was more than that, however; he was
frightened. If the darkness of the night had not shielded his face from
observation, its pallor would have frightened her. He tried, however,
to steady his voice as he said:

"Miss Benedict, what do you mean? I do not understand. Do you mean
that I am foreordained to become a drunkard, and that I can not help
myself?"

"Oh, Harry! I mean that the great enemy of your soul has discovered
just how he can ruin you, body and soul, and he means to do it. You
have toyed with him until you can not help yourself. You _can not_,
Harry. There is no use to fancy that you can. He has ruined many a
young man as self-reliant as you. He is too strong for you, and too
mean! He has ways of dissembling that you would scorn. He is not honest
with you. He has made you believe what was utterly false. He has you
in his toils, and as surely as you are here to-night, just so surely
will you fail in the battle with him. You do not know how to cope with
Satan; you need not flatter yourself that you do. He has played with
many a soul, coaxed it to feel just that sense of superiority over him
which you feel, until it was too late, and then laughed at his victim
for being a dupe."

During the first part of this sentence, Harry Matthews, though
startled, was also angry. He had always prided himself on his
self-control, upon being able to go just so far in a given direction
and no farther unless he chose; and even in this matter, when he had
accused himself of being a slave, he had not believed it; he had
believed simply that he had discovered himself to be more fond of
intoxicants than he had supposed, and that the effect to give them up
involved more self-sacrifice than it was worth while to make; and while
he was vexed that even this was so, he had honestly believed this to be
the whole story. It was not until this moment that the sense of being
in actual peril, and being insufficient for his own rescue, rushed over
him. I do not know why it did at that time, unless the Holy Spirit saw
his opportunity and willed that it should be so.

There was almost mortal anguish in the low voice that sounded at last
in answer to Claire's cry of fear.

"God help me, then! What can I do?"

The question surprised Claire, startled her. She had prayed for it, but
she was like many another Christian worker in that she had not seemed
to expect the answer to her prayer. Verily, He has to be content with
exceeding little faith! Claire had expected the blind young man would
go on excusing himself, and assuring her of her mistake. None the less
was she eager with her answer:

"If you only _meant_ that cry! If you only would give up the unequal
strife, and stand aside and cry out, 'O Lord, undertake for me'! what
a world would be revealed to you. Harry Matthews, there is just One
who fought a battle with Satan and came off victor, and there never
will be another. The victory must come through Him, or it is at best a
very partial, and at all times a doubtful one. In Him are safety and
everlasting strength, and outside of Him is danger."

She did not say another word, nor did he, other than a half-audible
"Good-night!" as he held open the Academy gate for her to pass. She
went in feeling frightened over much that she had said. Ought she
to have spoken so hopelessly to him? What if he turned in despair,
and plunged into excesses such as he had not known before? Men had
reformed, and signed the pledge and kept it, apparently without the aid
of Christ; at least, they had not owned allegiance to him, though well
she knew that his restraining grace was, after all, what kept any man
from rushing headlong to ruin. God held back even those who would not
own his detaining arm. But she had felt so hopeless in regard to Harry,
so certain that nothing short of an acknowledged leaning on Christ
would be sufficient for his needs. The more she had prayed for him,
the more sure had she been that in Christ alone lay his refuge. She
had not meant to say this to him. Yet the thoughts seemed to crowd out
of themselves, when he gave them opportunity. Now she went to her room
shivering and trembling over the possible results.

She had very little opportunity, however, for thought; and there was
that awaiting her which was not calculated to quiet her mind.

It was Alice Ansted who rose up from before the east window, where a
fine view was to be had of the rising moon, and came forward to meet
her as she entered her own room.

"I beg your pardon for having taken possession. There was company in
the parlor, and Mrs. Foster said she thought I might come here and wait
for you. Is there another committee meeting this evening? or can I hope
to have you to myself for five minutes?"

"There is no committee meeting this evening," Clarie said, smiling,
"we have been down to measure the platform, and arrange for the organ,
but I believe now that everything is done. Take this easy-chair. I am
glad you waited for me. There are several things about which I wish to
consult you," she added.

"They have to do with that church, I know. I shall not let you get
started on that topic. I should be perfectly certain not to get you
back to any other to-night; and I want to do the talking myself. I can
not see why you care so much for that church."

Claire laughed.

"We care for anything for which we work, and especially for which we
sacrifice a little, you know. Why, you care for it yourself. Don't you
think you do, a little?"

"I care for you, and for your opinion. I have been telling mamma only
this evening, that when the old barn gets fixed up, I believe I will go
down there to church. I am not so fond of riding that I care to take an
eight-mile ride every Sunday; besides, I think it looks silly. Mamma
thinks we are all becoming idiotic, for all the daughters and the son
sided with me, and papa said he didn't care a rush light which we did;
that it would be easier for the horses to come down here."

"Good news," said Claire, brightly. "I have been hoping for something
of the kind. Then you will begin to attend the prayer-meeting, of
course, and it does need you so much!"

"I'm sure I don't see why I should. I never attended prayer-meeting in
town, and I have belonged to that church for years. The idea of _my_
helping along a prayer-meeting! You do have some very absurd ideas,
Claire Benedict, though I may as well admit that the only reason I
would have for coming here to church would be to give you pleasure. But
this is not in the least what I came to talk to you about, I knew we
should get on that subject, and never get away from it."

"Let us go right away from it, and tell me, please, just what you want
to talk about. Only let me say this one little thing: I want you to
come down to prayer-meeting next Wednesday evening, and discover in how
many ways you can help it. Now I am ready."



CHAPTER XXII.

NEW LINES OF WORK.


BUT Alice hesitated. The subject, whatever it was that she wanted to
talk about, evidently had its embarrassing side. Now that Claire sat
in expectant silence, she grew silent too, and looked down, and toyed
with the fringe of her wrap, her face in a frown that indicated either
perplexity or distrust.

"I don't know why I should come to you," she said, at last, speaking
half-angrily; "I suppose I am a simpleton, and shall get little thanks
for any interference, yet it certainly seems to me as though something
ought to be done, and as though you might do it."

"If there is any way in which I can help you," Claire said, "you hardly
need to have me say how glad I shall be to do so."

"Would you, I wonder? Would you help in a perplexity that seems to
me to be growing into a downright danger, and which I more than half
suspect you could avert?"

There was something so significant in her tone, that Claire looked at
her in wonderment for a moment, then said, choosing her words with care:

"You surely know that I would be only too glad to help you in any way
that was right, and of course you would not ask me to do anything that
I thought wrong."

"Oh, I'm not so sure of that. You have such peculiar ideas of right and
wrong. They are not according to my standard, I presume. How I wish I
knew, without telling you, just what you would think right; it would
settle several questions for me, or else it would unsettle me, for I
might not want to do what was right, you see, any more than you would
want to do what was wrong."

"I am not a witch," said Claire, lightly, "and I confess that I have no
more idea what you mean than if you were speaking in Sanscrit. Suppose
you speak English for a few minutes, my friend, and enlighten me."

"I will, presently. I want to ask you a few general questions first,
which have nothing special to do with the question at hand. Would you
marry a man who was not a Christian?"

"No," said Claire, wondering, startled yet nevertheless prompt enough
with her answer; "that is, I do not now see how I could. In the first
place, I would not be likely to have the opportunity; for I could
not be sufficiently interested in a man who had no sympathy with me
in these vital questions, to ever reach the point as to my possible
opportunities and duties."

"Oh, well, that doesn't materially enlighten me. You see I am talking
about people who _could_ become sufficiently interested to reach a
great many questionings, and not know what to do with them. Let me
suppose a case. We will say the people live in China, and become
deeply interested in each other. In the course of time one of them
goes to the Fiji Islands for instance, and meets a missionary, and
comes somewhat under her influence--enough, we will say, to make her
uncomfortable and to make her suspect that she is a good deal of a
heathen herself, though she was a member in good and regular standing
of a church in China. To make the circumstances more interesting you
may suppose that one of the converted heathen begins to interest
himself in her, and to enlighten her as to the power of genuine
religion over the heathen heart and mind to such an extent that she
is almost sure she knows nothing about it experimentally; and at the
same time has a yearning desire to know and to receive the mysterious
_something_ which she discovers in this one. We will also suppose that
she receives letters from China occasionally, which show her that the
other party has met neither missionary nor heathen to impress him in
any way, and that his plans and determinations are all of the earth
and decidedly earthy, and yet that he is disposed to think that the
lady ought to be thinking about returning to China, and joining him
in his effort to have a good time. What, in your estimation, ought the
half-awakened Fiji resident to do?"

"Alice, is some not very distant city representing China? and is South
Plains Fiji? and is Bud the converted heathen?"

"There is enough witch about you to have secured you a very warm
experience in the olden days. Never mind translating, if you please;
this was not to be in English. What ought the Fiji to do?"

"I should think there could be no question. A half-awakened person
would still be in danger of dropping back into darkness, and should, as
surely as she believes in the petition, 'lead me not into temptation,'
guard against anything that would be a contradiction to that prayer."

"Well, but suppose this half-awakened person were married to the party
in China--what then?"

"That would be a very different matter. The irrevocable vows would have
been taken before the world; the 'until death do you part' would have
been accepted, and there would be no liberty of choice."

"I don't see the reasoning clearly. Suppose a person should take a
vow to commit murder, and announce her determination before the world
to do so, with as solemn a vow as you please, ought her conscience
to hold her? Not," she added, with a slight and embarrassed laugh,
"that I would put the idea of murder as a parallel case with the other
imagining. I don't mean anything, you know, by all this, I am simply
dealing with some imaginary people in China."

But Claire did not smile, and held herself carefully to the analogy of
the illustration:

"You are supposing a moral impossibility, Alice. No one would be
allowed to take a public and solemn oath to commit murder. The very
oath would be a violation of the laws of God and of the land; but in
the other case, the oath taken professes to be in keeping with God's
revealed will and with the demands of respectable society. Surely, you
see what an infinite difference this would make."

"Ah, yes, of course. Well, I'll suppose one thing more. For purposes of
convenience, let us have these two people engaged to each other, but
the pledge not consummated before the public--what then?"

But over this question Claire kept a troubled silence.

"I do not know," she said, at last; "I am not sure how that ought to
be answered. Perhaps it is one of the things which each individual is
called upon to answer for himself, or herself, taking it to God for
special light. A betrothal seems to me a very solemn thing, not to be
either entered into, or broken, lightly, and yet I can conceive of
circumstances wherein it would be right to break the pledge--where it
was wrong ever to have made it--and two wrongs cannot make a right,
you know. But Alice, this is dangerous ground. I am almost inclined to
think it is ground where a third party, on the human side, should not
intermeddle; at least, unless it is one who has far more wisdom than I.
It is not possible for me to advise you in this."

"You _have_ advised me," Alice said, with exceeding gravity. "All I
wanted was your individual opinion, and that you have given plainly,
though you may not be aware of it. When one knows one is doing a thing
that is wrong, I suppose the time has come to draw back."

"If the drawing back can right the wrong."

"It can help toward it. These people--who live in China, remember--are
perhaps among those who ought never to have made the pledge. However,
let us drop them. I want to talk to you about a more important matter."

Still she did not talk, but relapsed again into troubled silence, and
Claire, not knowing what to say, waited, and said nothing.

"Would you marry a man, if you thought you might possibly be the means
of saving his soul?"

Claire was startled and a trifle disturbed to think that the
conversation was still to run in a channel with which she was so
unfamiliar. Still, this first question was comparatively easy to deal
with.

"That might depend on whether I could do so without assuming false
vows. I could not promise a lie for the sake of saving any soul.
Besides, it being wrong in itself, I would have no reason to hope that
it would be productive of any good, for God does not save souls by
means which are sinful. Why do you ask me all these questions, Alice?
I have no experience, and am not wise. I wish you would seek a better
counselor."

"Never mind, I have all the counsel I desire. I am not talking about
those people in China any more, though you think I am. I was thinking
of you, and of somebody who is in danger, and whom I believe you could
save, but I know you won't--at least not in that way. Claire Benedict,
I am troubled about my brother. Tell me this, do you know that he is in
danger?"

"Yes," said Claire, her voice low and troubled.

"Do you know from what source I mean?"

"I think I do."

"I thought you did else I am not sure that my pride would have allowed
me to open my lips. Well, do you know there is something you might do
to help him?"

"Alice."

"No, you are not to interrupt me. I don't mean anything insulting.
There are ways of which I would be more sure, and they are connected
with you, but I know they are out of the question. I am not going to
talk of them. But there is something I want you to do. I want you to
talk with mamma. It is of no use for me to say a word to her. There are
family reasons why she is specially vexed with me just now, and will
not listen reasonably to anything that I might say. But she respects
you, and likes you, and you have more or less influence over her. Are
you willing to use it for Louis' sake?"

"But, my dear Alice, I do not understand you in the least. What could I
say to your mother that she does not already know? and in any case, how
could she materially help your brother? He needs the help of his own
will."

"That is true, but there are ways in which mamma might help him,
if she would. I can tell you of some. In the first place, you are
mistaken as to her knowledge. She knows, it is true, that he takes more
wine occasionally than is good for him, and has violent headaches in
consequence; but she does not know that two nights in a week, at least,
he comes home intoxicated! Isn't that a terrible thing to say of one's
brother? What has become of the Ansted pride, when I can say it to
almost a stranger?"

"Why does not your mother know?"

"Partly because she is blind, and partly because I have promised Louis
not to tell her, and partly because there are reasons why it would
be especially hard on my mother to have this knowledge brought to
her through me. You see there are reasons enough. Now for what she
could do. Claire, she fairly drives him into temptation. There is a
certain house in the city which she is very anxious to see united to
ours. She contrives daily pretexts for sending Louis there, and it is
almost impossible for him to go there without coming home the worse
for liquor. I _wish_ I could talk more plainly to you. I will tell you
this. There is a brother as well as a sister in that house, and it has
been a pet dream of my mother to exchange the sons and daughters. It
is a romantic, Old World scheme, grown up with the families from their
early days; and mamma, who has never been accustomed to having her
plans thwarted, is in danger of seeing all of these come to naught, and
more than half believes that I am plotting against it for Louis, having
first shown myself to be an undutiful and ungrateful daughter. Do you
see how entirely my tongue is silenced? I wonder if you do understand?"

"I understand, my dear friend, and I thank you for your confidence;
but I do not see how a stranger can help, or indeed, can interfere in
any way, without being guilty of gross rudeness. How could I hope to
approach your mother on such subjects as these, without having her feel
herself insulted?"

Alice made a gesture of impatience.

"You _can not_," she said, "if you think more of the irritable words
that a troubled mother may say to you than you do of a soul in peril;
but I did not think you were of that sort."

Claire waited a moment before replying.

"I think I may be trusted to try to do what seems right, even though
it were personally hard," she said at last, speaking very gently;
"but, Alice, I do not understand how words of mine could do other than
mischief."

"I can show you. This family, I have told you, is a continual snare
to Louis. He simply can not go there without being led into great
temptation, and mamma is responsible for the most of his visits. It
would not be difficult for Louis to remain away, if mamma did not make
errands for him. He would go abroad with the Husons next week, and
be safe from this and many other temptations, or he would go to the
Rocky Mountains with Harold Chessney--and he could not be in better
society--if mamma would give her consent, and she would, if she could
be made to realize his peril--if she knew that outsiders were talking
about it. Don't you see?

"Now, who is going to enlighten her? I am not in favor--less so just
at present than ever before; the girls, poor young things, do not know
of our disgrace, and would have no influence with mamma if they did,
and papa would like the alliance from a business point of view as well
as mamma would from a romantic and fashionable one. Do you see the
accumulation of troubles? and do you imagine, I wonder, what it is to
_me_, when I have humbled myself to tell it all to you?"

"And this young lady?" said Claire, ignoring the personal questions.
"Do you feel sure that there is no hope of help from that source? Is
not her interest deep enough and her influence strong enough to come to
the rescue if she fully understood?"

There was again that gesture of extreme impatience.

"That young lady! She has no more character than a painted doll! Claire
Benedict, she is in as great danger to-day as Louis is, and from the
same source! She dances every night, and buoys up her flagging strength
by stimulants every day. I have seen her repeatedly when she was so
excited with wine that I knew she did not know what she was saying."

"Is it possible!" This was Claire's startled exclamation.

"It is not only possible, but is an almost daily occurrence. And she
fills the glass with her own silly little hand, which trembles at the
moment with the excitement of wine, and holds it to my brother, and he,
poor, foolish boy! accepts it because he knows that he likes it better
than anything else in the world--at least, that is attainable. Claire,
if my mother could be prevailed upon to urge Louis to go away with
Harold Chessney, I believe he might be saved."

"Who is Harold Chessney?"

"He is one of God's saints, made for the purpose of showing us what a
man might be, if he would. Claire Benedict, will you try?"



CHAPTER XXIII.

UNPALATABLE TRUTHS.


"YES," said Claire, "I will try."

But she said it with a long-drawn sigh. This was work that was utterly
distasteful to her, and she saw but little hope of accomplishing
anything by attempting it.

She wanted to fight the demon of alcohol wherever found--at least, she
had thought that she did; but who would have supposed that it could
bring her into such strange contact with Mrs. Russel Ansted?

In order that you may understand why this plan of rescue had suggested
itself to Alice Ansted's mind, it will be necessary to explain that the
acquaintance which had been commenced by accident had been allowed to
mature into what might almost be called friendship.

At least, it had pleased Mrs. Ansted to encourage the intimacy between
her young people and the attractive music-teacher.

"It is not as though she had been simply a music-teacher, and nothing
else, all her life," was Mrs. Ansted wont to explain to her city
friends. "She is a daughter of the Boston Benedicts, and, of course,
her opportunities have been rare. She is simply faultless in her
manners; the girls learn a great deal from her, and are devoted to her,
and she really is a charming companion. You know in the country we have
no society."

So Claire had been made almost oppressively welcome to the lovely house
on the hill, and the sleigh or the carriage had been sent for her many
times when she could not go, and in many kind and pleasant ways had
the entire family sought to show their interest in her society. Mrs.
Ansted, indeed, patronized her to such an extent that Alice had made
herself imagine that in this direction might be found the light which
would open the mother's eyes to certain things which she ought to see
and did not.

Claire did not share her hopes. She had always felt herself held back
from real heart intimacy with the fair and worldly woman; had always
detected the tinge of patronage in the kindness shown her, and had
even smiled sometimes at the thought of how the very attentions which
she received placidly, and, in a sense gratefully, would chafe her
hot-headed young sister Dora. It had given her joy of heart and cause
for gratitude to realize that she herself had been lifted above such
chafings. There were trials in her lot, but Mrs. Ansted's patronage was
not one of them. Still it made her feel that little would be gained by
attempted interference in her family affairs. Under the circumstances,
she felt herself intrusive, yet determined to submit and thereby
convince Alice of her willingness and powerlessness. The most she had
to fear was a little drawing up of the aristocratic shoulders, and a
cold and courteous hint that some things belonged exclusively to the
domain of very close friendship.

It was on the following Saturday that opportunity offered for an
attempt. Claire was spending the day with the Ansteds; the invitation
had come from the mother, and was unusually cordial. Louis was in town,
would probably remain over the Sabbath, and the girls were lonely. The
mother did not know how much more readily the invitation was accepted
because Louis was in town.

They were in Mrs. Ansted's own sitting-room. The young girls had been
called to the sewing-room at the mandate of the dressmaker, and Alice,
telegraphing Claire that now was her opportunity, slipped away. Have
you ever observed how much harder it becomes to set about a delicate
and embarrassing duty when circumstances have been carefully made for
you, and you are left to stare in the face the thought "I am to do this
thing, _now_; it is expected of me?"

Immediately Claire began to feel that it would be preposterous in her
to try to advise or enlighten Mrs. Ansted. But that lady unconsciously
helped her by asking:

"Did you ever meet Mr. Harold Chessney in Boston? I believe he calls
that his home, though he is abroad a great deal. I wish he were abroad
now, instead of planning an excursion to the Rocky Mountains and all
sorts of out-of-the-world places, and putting Louis into a fever to
accompany him. I have a horror of those Western expeditions entered
into by young men. Louis will not go contrary to my approval, however,
so I need not worry about it. It is a great comfort to a mother to have
a dutiful son, my dear."

"It must be," Claire hastened to say, but added that she should think
it would be a delightful trip for a young man, and a rare opportunity
to see his own country. She was not personally acquainted with Mr.
Chessney, but she had heard him very highly spoken of.

"Oh, he is perfection, I suppose," Mrs. Ansted said carelessly; "too
perfect, my dear, for ordinary flesh and blood. He is very wealthy
and very eccentric; has innumerable ways for wasting his money on
savages, and all that sort of thing. I should really almost fear his
influence over Louis, he is such an impressible boy. Harold might fancy
it his duty to become a home missionary." This last was spoken with a
little satisfied laugh, as though Louis Ansted's position was too well
assured, after all, to suggest any reasonable fears of his sinking to
the level of a home missionary! The matron speedily composed her face,
however, and added:

"Harold is a magnificent man, I have no doubt, and if Louis were a
young man of depraved tendencies and low tastes, probably I should
hope for nothing better than to exile him for awhile with such a
guard; but in his position, and with his prospects, the idea is, of
course, absurd. I don't know what fancies Alice has in mind, the child
seems quite to favor Louis' going. Alice is a little inclined to be
fanatical, I am afraid, in some things. I hope you will not encourage
such tendencies, my dear. I have seen with pleasure that she is
becoming more interested in religion, and disposed to help poor Bud,
though she has chosen some foolish ways of doing that--but still it
is quite as it should be to rouse to the importance of these things; I
have been pained with her indifference in the past. However, we should
not carry anything to extremes, you know."

They were not getting on. Claire did not feel like a diplomatist. She
was disposed to be straightforward. Would not simple truth serve her
purpose in this case? At least, it would be less humiliating than to
try to worm herself into family confidences. So she spoke her plain
question:

"Mrs. Ansted, has it never seemed to you that it would be well for
Louis to get away for a time from some of his associates who tempt him
in the direction in which he is least able to bear temptation?"

Plain English was not palatable, or else it was not understood. Two red
spots glowed on the mother's cheek, but her eyes were cold.

"And what is that, if you please? I was not aware that my son was
particularly susceptible to any temptation."

Could this be true? Did she not know that he was tempted to reel home
at midnight like a common drunkard? If so, what an awful revelation for
a stranger to make!

Claire hesitated, and the lady looked steadily at her and waited.
Simple truth should serve her again; it would be insulting to offer
anything else.

"Mrs. Ansted, you will pardon me for referring to it, but I know from
your son's own statements that he is tempted in the direction of
liquor, and that he finds it hard to resist these temptations, and I am
afraid he is in great danger. If I were his mother, and had confidence
in this Mr. Chessney, I should beg him to go out with him, and break
away from his present surroundings."

She was deceived in the mother--in the calm with which she listened to
these words. She did not cry out like one amazed and hurt, nor did she
look like one who was being shocked into a faint; and Claire, watching
her, hurried on, determined to make her disagreeable revelations as
brief as she could, and then to get away from the subject. Surely the
mother could not feel much humiliated before her, when she confessed
that she had received these intimations from the son.

But directly her voice ceased, the mother arose, her own tones low and
ladylike as usual:

"I am not aware, Miss Benedict, that our kind treatment of you can
have furnished any excuse for this direct and open insult. I did not
know that you had succeeded in securing my son's confidence to such a
degree that he had been led to traduce his friends. I can not imagine
his motive; but allow me to say that yours is plain, and will fail. The
lady to whom Mr. Louis Ansted has been paying special attention for
years, can not be thrown off, even by his taking a trip to the Rocky
Mountains; and if you hope to ingratiate yourself in the mother's heart
by trying to arouse her fears, you have made a grievous mistake. My
daughters are evidently more susceptible, and I now understand some
things that were before mysterious to me.

"I am sorry for you, Miss Benedict. I can well imagine that it is a
hard thing to be poor; but it is a pity to add disgrace to poverty. You
have been unwise to try to work up fanatical ideas on my son. We are
none of us temperance fanatics."

There was a dangerous fire in Claire's eyes, but she struggled to keep
back the words that hurried forward, clamoring to be spoken. This woman
before her was old enough to be her mother, and was the mother of a
young man whom she would try to save.

Besides, she had the force of habit to help her. The controlled voice
which belongs to the cultured lady, even under strong provocation, was
as much a part of her as it was of Mrs. Ansted.

"I will pass by your personalities, Mrs. Ansted, as unworthy of you,
and ask you to pardon my apparent intrusion into family affairs, on
the sole ground that I have come into possession of some knowledge
concerning your son's danger which I have reason to believe you do not
possess, and I thought I ought, as a Christian woman, to warn you."

Mrs. Ansted was already repenting of some of her words--beginning, that
is, to realize that she had been unnecessarily insulting to a guest in
her own home, and one whom her son, as well as her daughters, liked and
admired. She was not less angry, but more controlled.

"Possibly you mean well," she said, dropping into the patronizing
tone which was habitual, "and I may have spoken too plainly, in my
haste; a mother's feelings, when she considers the characters of her
children insulted, are sometimes not sufficiently held in check. We
will conclude, Miss Benedict, that your motive was good, though your
words were unfortunate, and your conclusions unwarrantable. My son is
entirely capable of taking care of himself. If you are really sincere
in supposing him to be in danger, because he takes an occasional glass
of wine, it only proves you to be lamentably ignorant of the customs of
polite society. And now I must beg you to excuse me. Excitement always
wearies me, and I feel that I must lie down for awhile. I presume my
daughter will be in soon."

And Claire was left alone to gather her startled thoughts and determine
what to do next. She was greatly excited. In all her imaginings of a
mother's heart, nothing of this kind had occurred.

It had been a serious failure, as she had feared it would be, but not
of the kind which she had planned.

She looked about her for paper on which to write a line to Alice; then
determined that she would do no such thing, lest Alice might have to
bear blame in consequence.

She would just slip quietly away, and go home and think. It was
not clear in her mind what ought to be said to Alice. She had been
insulted, and by Alice's mother, and she could not longer remain a
guest in the house; but perhaps it was not necessary that Alice should
know all this. She must wait, and think, and pray.

At least, it would not be wise to make any expression about Mrs.
Ansted until she could think less bitterly of the words spoken to her;
for it is by no means a pleasant thing to be misjudged, and it is
especially difficult to keep one's mouth closed when one has that to
tell which would silence all the hints forever. It had required all
the self-control which Claire possessed not to tell Mrs. Ansted to ask
her son whether the insinuations which had been flung at her meant
anything. Certainly she was not in the mood to have an interview with
Alice.

She hastily and quietly possessed herself of her wraps, and stole out
of the house and down the avenue which had in the few weeks past become
so familiar to her. Bud saw her from the distant stables, but he only
made her a most respectful bow. It was no strange sight to him. He knew
that she came and went often during these days; he did not know she was
thinking that in all probability she would never walk down that avenue
again.

There is no use explaining to you that she cried when she reached
home; cried bitterly, and with a perfect abandon, as though her heart
were broken. She was young and had not had many hard words to bear, and
all her sharp thrusts from life had come upon her lately; her knowledge
of human nature had been increasing with painful rapidity, and there
were times when she shrank from it all, and wanted to go to her father.

But after the crying--or, indeed, in the very midst of it--she prayed:
for herself first--she felt so sore, and ill-used, and friendless; then
for Louis Ansted--the special danger and the special friendlessness of
a man with such a mother, took hold of her with power, and at last she
prayed for the mother; not _at_ her, but for her.

There is a way of praying about a soul with whom we are offended--or,
at least, we call it praying--which is simply pouring out one's
knowledge of that person's shortcomings in an almost vindictive way
before the One whom we almost unconsciously feel ought to come to our
help and administer rebuke. Claire honestly prayed for Louis Ansted's
mother. Her eyes must be opened, but how? Must it be that they were to
be opened by the utter ruin of her only son?

That this might not be necessary, Claire prayed, and rose up presently,
almost forgetful that she had received deep wounds, and quite ready to
shield that mother's shortcomings from her children.



CHAPTER XXIV.

RECOGNITION.


AND now I desire you to imagine the worshipers gathered one morning
in the little church at South Plains. The winter over and gone; the
time of the singing of birds and of sweet-scented flowers had come.
The marvel of the annual resurrection from the grave of winter was
being lived over again in nature. But within the sanctuary it seemed
more than resurrection, almost creation. Was it the same church at
all? What had become of the dusty floors, and the smoky walls, and the
rusty stove-pipe, and the smoking stoves, and the square table, and
the swaying, faded, red curtains, and the faded and worn ingrain rag
which had covered the platform, and the dust, and the rust and the
dreariness? What a strange effect that paper of a quiet tint, and
yet with a suggestion of sunlight in it, had on those hitherto bare
and smoky walls! How high the frescoing made the ceiling look! What
an excellent imitation of "real" were the carefully-grained seats!
How perfectly the carpet harmonized in pattern and coloring with the
paper on the walls! Small wonder, this last, if you had known how
many patient hours mamma and Dora had spent in reaching the important
decision, "Which shall we send?"

As for the pulpit, it was "real," without any paint about it, and
so neat, and pretty, and graceful, that the girls had exhausted all
adjectives on it. And really, the stove-pipe, though it wandered about
according to some wild freak that was considered necessary in order to
"draw," did not look so objectionable now that it was real Russia; and
nothing could glow more brilliantly than the stoves, which smoked no
more. Engineer Bud had been a success.

Still, I know that I can not make you realize the difference in that
church. Unless you were there on that dreary winter morning when
Claire Benedict first looked upon it with utter sinking of heart, and
then were there again on that spring morning, and caught the breath
of the flowers, and saw the shimmer of awakened life over everything
within and without, you will never understand it. Unless, indeed, you
look up some other man-forsaken sanctuary, and try the delightful
experiment of transformation.

There were those in South Plains who knew and felt the difference.

They gathered softly, the worshipers, the men on tiptoe, though they
need not have done that, for the heavy carpet gave back no sound of
footfall, but it was one of their ways of expressing admiration and
reverence. They gave quick, admiring, amazed glances about them, then
riveted their eyes, as the workers had meant they should, on the motto
which glowed before them, strung from lamp to lamp in some spirit-like
fashion which those unacquainted with the management of silver ware
cannot comprehend, and which made the triumphant announcement: "THE
LORD IS IN HIS HOLY TEMPLE." And I tell you that, so much has the
outward and tangible to do with our spiritual vision, there were those
present who grasped this stupendous fact for the first time.

The organ squeaked no more. It had only been a matter of a drop of oil
which quieted that, and yet that congregation had actually sat under
its squeak almost for years! So many things in this world squeak for
the want of a thoughtful hand to administer a drop of oil!

Then the choir--that almost hardest thing in country or city to manage
successfully--had been transformed. There had been no violent wrenches;
occasionally it happens that a combination of circumstances bring about
unlooked-for and delightful results. The discordant alto had married,
bless her, and gone to another town; the flatting tenor had sprained
his ankle, poor man, and must needs abide at home. The tremendous bass
had that rare quality, common-sense, and discovered on the evening
of the concert that South Plains had taken a musical prize, and was
himself the one to propose that Miss Benedict and her class should be
invited to join the choir; and further, that Miss Benedict should be
requested to drill the choir, and had put himself under training, and
his voice being really grand, he bade fair, under culture, to become
the power in song that God designed.

I do not know whether it was accident, or a blessed design, that the
much astonished, much-encouraged, young-old minister, in a new coat
which was an Easter gift from the young men of his congregation, read
the hymn--

    I love her gates, I love the road;
      The church adorned with grace,
    Stands like a palace built for God,
      To show his milder face.

But I know that he read it as that people had never heard him read a
hymn before, with an unction and a quiver of feeling which said almost
as plainly as words:

"The Lord reigneth, and this is his holy temple, and I am his chosen
mouthpiece to this people: I had almost forgotten it, but it is so."
Then when that reconstructed choir rolled out the words, led by the
centre voice of exquisite melody and power, the worshipers felt the
sentiment of the hymn fill their hearts, and admitted that they did
love her gates, and that they must rouse up and show their love as they
had not done heretofore.

Ah! there was more in that church that day than new carpet, and new
furniture, and paint, and paper, and light and beauty. These were all
well enough, and Claire Benedict's sense of the fitness of things
rejoiced in them all. But what were they to the thrill in her heart as
she heard the minister read among the names announced for reception
into the visible communion of the church, that of Hubbard Myers. There
were some who did not know to whom the name belonged; and it was not
surprising, for Hubbard Myers had been called only Bud for so many
years, the wonder was that he remembered his name himself.

There had been great astonishment among some, and not a little
shaking of heads, when Bud presented himself as a candidate for
church-membership. It had not been supposed that he had intellect
enough to understand the meaning of the step. There was close
questioning on the part of the minister, not for himself alone, but for
the enlightenment of others; but before the examination closed, more
than one of the listeners drew out their red handkerchiefs, and blew
their noses suspiciously, and at last, one of the most stolid of them
remarked:

"It is my opinion, brethren, that the boy has been taught of God, and
I think we would do well to accept him without any further delay." And
they did.

There were other trophies. Where would be the church of Christ without
its living, working members? One who was pledged to prefer Jerusalem
above her chief joy, had not been, and in the very nature of the case,
_could not_ have been, content with toiling simply for the outward
adorning of the temple.

A history of the quiet work which had been done in hearts during that
one winter would fill a volume. I have but given you a hint of it here
and there. The head of the Church has the complete record. There is
perhaps little need that I should try to give you even scattered notes
of it. Yet there was one name which made the tears come very near to
falling, as Claire listened for it, fearful that it might not come, and
at the same moment hopeful for it. It was only a transferral from a
church in the city to membership with the one at South Plains, and it
was only Alice Ansted. Her parents were not even present in the church.
But Claire knew that a visible union with the church of Christ meant
to Alice Ansted to-day what it never had before. And she knew that the
two girls, Fanny and Ella Ansted, who sat and cried, in the pew beside
Alice, were only left out because parental authority had asserted
itself, and said they were not to come. Claire knew that they had
united themselves with the great Head, and were members of the church
in the "Jerusalem which is above and is free." They could afford to
bide their time.

And there was another still which gave Claire's heart a peculiar thrill
of joy. Not that his name was read, or that many, as yet, knew about
Satan's defeat with him. It had been recent, and the public recognition
of the fact was yet to come. But the Lord Jesus Christ knew, for he had
been the victor.

It was only the night before, as they were about to leave the
reconstructed church, and Mary Burton, with a long-drawn breath of
repressed excitement, had declared that everything was ready for
to-morrow, and that the victory was complete, that Harry Matthews had
bent toward Claire and murmured:

"Miss Benedict, there has been another victory. You will know that it
is far more wonderful than this. He has 'undertaken' for me."

There had only been time to grasp his hand and flash back an answer
from sympathetic eyes, but there was a song in her heart this morning
over the news. Occasionally she glanced at Harry, and told herself that
she would have known, just to look at him, that the highest experience
this life has for us had come to him.

The little church was unusually full on this triumphant morning, and
yet most of the faces were known to Claire. Strangers were not frequent
at South Plains. Yet there was one, a gentleman, who gave that reverent
heed to the service which even among strangers distinguishes those who
really join in worship from those who merely look on. This man joined,
and with his heart. Claire was sure of it. It was this man that Harry
Matthews watched, a satisfied smile on his face the while. Harry could
imagine just how surprised the stranger was.

On the evening before, when he had reached his room, after giving
his wonderful news to Claire, instead of finding it in darkness, his
kerosene lamp had been turned to its highest capacity, and a gentleman
sat in front of his little stove, feeding it from time to time,
apparently for the sole purpose of brightening the somewhat dismal room.

"Halloo!" had been Harry's greeting.

"Just so," was the quiet response. "You did not know you had company,
did you, my boy?"

And then there had been such eager grasping of hands, and such lighting
up of faces, as evinced the satisfaction of both parties at meeting.
For this was Harry Matthews' favorite uncle, and he must lately have
come from the home where Harry's mother waited for him.

Of course there was a high-tide of question and answer at once. It was
not until an hour afterward that Harry reached the subject of which he
had instantly thought, on seeing his uncle.

"Uncle Harold, didn't you know the Benedicts?"

"What Benedicts?"

"Why, the Boston ones. Sydney L. He failed, and died, less than a year
ago, don't you remember?"

"I remember. I knew him well. I met him abroad."

"And didn't you know his daughter?"

"I knew that he had a daughter, and, in fact, I think I saw her once;
but we were not acquainted."

"Why, I wonder?"

"Why?" with a slightly-curious laugh. "There might be many reasons, I
am sure. Boston spreads over a good deal of ground. Besides, you know I
never spent a great deal of time in Boston, and I am not a society man.
Why do you ask?"

"No reason in particular; only the lady is here, and I thought if you
were old acquaintances, it would be pleasant to meet her."

"Here in South Plains! What in the world is she doing here?"

"Teaching music."

"I wonder if this is where she has hidden herself! I occasionally
hear queries as to what has become of her, but I believe I never met
a person who knew. No, I don't suppose there would be any mutual
pleasure in a meeting. I may be said to be a stranger. I have not the
least idea how she looks; and I may never have met her, though I think
I did somewhere. I remember having a passing interest in seeing how
a daughter of Sydney Benedict would look. He was a grand man, but I
suspected that his daughter was a butterfly of fashion. She lived in
the very centre of that sort of thing, and her father was supposed
to have immense wealth. I suppose she is a poor, crushed little
morsel, done up in crape and disappointment. I am always sorry for
music-scholars who have to take broken-down ladies for teachers. Still,
I don't know but I would like to shake hands with her for her father's
sake. Have you met her?"

"I should say I had! but I don't believe you ever have. You couldn't
draw such a queer picture of her as that, if you had ever seen her.
She doesn't wear crape at all. Somebody told me she did not believe in
mourning for people who had gone to heaven; at least, not in putting on
black clothes and looking doleful, you know. And as to being crushed!
why, uncle Harold, she is the brightest, sweetest, grandest girl I ever
heard of in all my life."

"Possible!" said his uncle, with a good-humored laugh. "Why, my boy,
she must be several years older than you! What does this mean?"

"Oh, nonsense!" was the impatient reply of the excited young man. "It
is just as evident as can be, that you don't know what you are talking
about. If you had been here this winter, and watched things work, and
known the hand that she had in it all, why--look here! you wait until
to-morrow; I can show you a few things, I fancy."

Whereupon he immediately closed his lips; and although his uncle
pretended to be extremely curious, and to be unable to wait until
morning for light, no hints or questions could draw out further
information in the same direction.



CHAPTER XXV.

DANGERS SEEN AND UNSEEN.


IT was this man, then, to whom Harry Matthews' eyes often wandered
during that morning service. The look of profound amazement which had
settled on his uncle's face after the first sweeping glance which he
gave the little church, had caused Harry the keenest satisfaction.
The more so that during the morning he had been addressed after this
fashion:

"The only regret I had, when I found that I could drop off at South
Plains and spend a day or two, was that it was Saturday, and the
Sabbath would have to be spent in that forlorn little box where you go
to church. I have vivid recollections of the day I spent with you a
year ago. Harry, my boy, I don't like to think of your Sabbaths being
passed amid such unpleasant surroundings. I shall be glad when your
engagement here closes. You don't think of renewing it, I hope? I have
plans which I want to talk over with you to-morrow?"

But Harry had been too full of the surprise in store, to make any reply
to these questionings, other than to say:

"Come on, uncle Harold; I sing in the choir, and I promised to be there
in good time."

None the less was he watching for that first look, and it satisfied
him. He wanted to laugh outright, but of course he did no such thing;
instead, he seated his amazed relative in one of the best pews, then
took his place in the choir, all of his face save his eyes in decorous
repose.

All the bright Sabbath afternoon they sat together, uncle and nephew;
the one an eager narrator, the other an attentive listener. Every step
of the colossal plan, as it appeared to others, and was matured and
carried out by the unfaltering zeal of Claire Benedict, was detailed
for the uncle's benefit. And certainly Claire's reputation did not
suffer in the young man's hands. He could not help glorifying her. None
knew better than he, what she had been to him; but of this more sacred
story he as yet said nothing. Its time was to come.

"Why, uncle Harold, you remember Bud," he burst forth afresh after a
moment's silence, "that queer fellow who worked for the Ansteds; he
came down here that night you spent here last spring, with papers, you
know, for Mr. Ansted, and you talked with him a little, and laughed so
over his queer notions. Remember?

"Well, sir, that fellow is simply made over! It is a great deal more
wonderful than the church! We used to think he was not more than
half-witted. I'll tell you what it is: I shouldn't wonder if it turned
out that he was double-witted. You didn't recognize his name to-day,
of course; it is a wonder that he did himself. Hubbard Myers, that's
the boy. Yes, sir, he has joined the church; and a help he will be
to it, too. Uncle Harold, you ought to hear him pray! He says queer
things even in prayer; at least, they sound queer; but in spite of
yourself you can not help wondering sometimes whether it is not because
he has gotten ahead of all the rest, and sees things that they don't
understand. I believe he thinks Miss Benedict is an angel sent here
from heaven to help him. That's no wonder, though; perhaps she is;
anyhow, she has helped him as well, and perhaps better than a real
angel could have done; and she is the first one who ever took any
notice of him, or remembered that he had a soul."

It is no special wonder that the uncle was deeply interested in this
story. It told more than Harry suspected. How came this gay young
nephew, who had cost him many sleepless nights, to be sufficiently
familiar with a prayer-meeting to know who prayed, or how? He studied
the bright face before him most attentively. It was changed, certainly;
he had felt the change in the boy all day. What was it? How much did it
mean? There had certainly been need for change. It made his heart beat
fast to think of Harry's mother, and the possibility of news for her
such as would make her feel young again.

"Harry," he said gently, "do you know, I half hope that I have not
heard the best yet of this wonderful story; that there has been another
'making over.' How is it, my boy?"

A bright flush mantled Harry's face as he bent his eyes closer over the
paper on which he was scribbling his own and his uncle's names with all
sorts of flourishes.

Suddenly he raised his head, and looked full into the kind eyes bent
wistfully on him, and smiled:

"I don't know why I should hesitate to tell you that, I am sure," he
said, speaking in a firm, manly tone. "It is true enough. I have been
made over, I believe. Certainly nobody ever needed it more, and nobody
ever struggled harder against it, as you very well know. At least, you
know part; but I have been lower down than you think, uncle Harold.
Talk about angels! I know that I don't see how any angel can ever do
more for me than Miss Benedict has done! I've engaged for life as a
servant of the Lord Jesus Christ. And I owe more to Miss Benedict, this
minute, than I do to any human being, not excepting even you and my
mother."

The uncle was out of his chair by this time, one hand on the shoulder
of his dear boy, while he held out the other, which was promptly
grasped; but he could not speak yet, and he could not see for the
tears. This young fellow was very dear to him, and the waiting had been
long.

"God bless you!" he said at last, his lips quivering, and unable to
utter another word.

When he could speak again he said:

"My dear boy, have you told your mother?"

"Not yet," said Harry, his eyes shining, "but you can be sure that I am
going to. You see, Uncle Harold, the articles of surrender were only
signed, sealed and delivered, night before last in the middle of the
night. Since then I have not had a moment's time that belonged to me;
but I'll write her such a letter as she has never had from me."

While the uncle walked the parlor of the boarding-house, and waited for
his nephew to make ready for evening service, he had some questions to
settle which were personal. He became aware of the fact that he had
certainly jumped to conclusions regarding some of the workers in the
Master's vineyard which were apparently without foundation. Here was
this Miss Benedict. He had heard her name mentioned frequently in the
days gone by, and always as one of the dependences of the church to
which she belonged; and yet he had always thought of her with curling
lip. "Workers!" he had told himself, being mentally very sarcastic,
"yes, didn't all the initiated know what that meant when applied to a
fashionable young lady who lived in an elegant home and mingled with
the fashionable world? It meant that she helped at the fancy fairs, and
festivals, and bazaars, and what not? Worked them up, probably, with
all their accompanying train of evils. It meant that she was a district
visitor, perhaps, and left a tract on 'Redeeming the Time' in a home
where they were starving for lack of employment, and needed a loaf of
bread." He had seen workers of that sort, and he found it difficult to
feel for them anything but contempt. The thing for which he was now to
take himself to task was the fact that he had classed Claire Benedict
among these, knowing nothing of her, meantime, save that she was a
member of a fashionable up-town church; and that, too, after knowing
her father, and singling him out as a man among thousands. The simple
truth was, that he had imagined a character of which he disapproved,
and named it Claire Benedict, and then let himself disapprove of her
heartily.

"The sole thing that I know about the young woman is that she was once
wealthy, and on this account I have judged her as I have; and I find
that it is what I am apt to do." This is what he told himself as
he walked the length of that little parlor, and waited. He was much
ashamed of himself. "It is an excellent standpoint from which to judge
character," he said, severely. "If there is any justice in it I must be
a worthless person myself. I wonder how many people are setting me down
as one who merely plays at Christian work, because my father left me
one fortune and my old aunt another!"

I am glad that this man had this severe talk with himself. He needed
it. The truth is, he was very apt to judge of people in masses; as
though they were specimens, and belonged to certain types.

The conclusion of his self-examination at this time was, that he
declared that if one third of what Harry thought about this young
person was true, it had taught him a lesson. He went to church that
evening apparently for the purpose of studying the lesson more
thoroughly; at least, he gave some attention to the organist. He had
recognized her in the morning, because she had eyes like her father;
and this evening he decided that her head was shaped like his,
and that she had the firm mouth and yet sweet set of lips that had
characterized the father, and he told himself that he might have known
that the daughter of such a man would be an unusual woman.

After service was concluded, he walked deliberately forward and claimed
acquaintance with Sydney Benedict's daughter. The glow that he brought
to her face, and the tender light which shone in her eyes, when he
mentioned that dear father's name, gave him a glimpse of what the
daughter's memories were.

Harry came up to them eagerly, having been detained by the pastor for a
moment.

"You have introduced yourself, Uncle Harold, I see. Miss Benedict, I
wanted my Uncle Harold to know you for very special reasons."

Uncle Harold was unaccountably embarrassed. What a strange thing
for that boy to say! and what did he propose to say next? But
Claire relieved the embarrassment, and plunged him into a maze of
questioning, by the sudden, eager interest which flashed in her face
with the mention of his name.

"Are you Harold Chessney?" she asked as though a new thought came to
her with the union of the two names, "and are you going to the Rocky
Mountains?"

"I am Harold Chessney," he said, smiling, "and I have in mind a trip
to the Rocky Mountains, if I can make my plans in that direction
what I wish. But why this should be of interest to you passes my
comprehension." Of course this last he thought.

She did not leave him long in doubt.

"Is Louis Ansted going with you?"

"He is if I can prevail upon him to do so. That is part of my errand
here at this time, and has to do with the plans I mentioned." And now
his face plainly asked the question: "Why do _you_ care?"

She seemed to answer the look.

"He needs to go, Mr. Chessney. He needs help; such help as perhaps you
can give him. I don't know. Something must be done for him, and that
soon. Mr. Chessney, I _hope_ you will succeed."

There was no time for more. Alice Ansted came up, and claimed the
stranger as an acquaintance, and stood talking with him for a moment
and expressed extreme anxiety that he should find her brother in the
city the next day.

"He is somewhere in town, but we never know where. Still, I could give
you a dozen addresses, at any one of which you might find him. I hope
you will not return without seeing him."

"I shall not," Mr. Chessney said, decidedly. "Is he inclined to
accompany me, do you think? Has he mentioned to you my designs?"

"Yes, and would go if it were not for--Mr. Chessney, if you could make
mamma understand. No one seems able to. Claire Benedict has tried and
failed; and what she fails in, perhaps can not be done. I don't know,
but something must be done, and that speedily."

Almost Claire Benedict's words repeated. The newcomer walked home in
almost silence. As they neared Harry's door, he said:

"What is young Ansted about just now?"

"Drinking hard, sir; he is running down hill very fast. If you don't
get him away with you, I am afraid he will go to the dogs in a hurry."

"Is he still on terms of special intimacy with the VanMarters?"

"Well, as to that, I do not know. Things look mixed. He rails against
Willis VanMarter once in a while, when he has been taking enough to
make him imprudent, and Miss Alice seems to have broken with them
altogether; at least, Willis does not come out any more, I think,
and Miss Alice is not in town often; but Mrs. Ansted seems to be as
intimate with them as ever, and Louis goes there with his mother. I
don't know anything about it, but it looks like a house divided against
itself. If I had such a mother as Louis Ansted has, I don't believe I
would try to be anybody."

"Mothers don't seem to count for much sometimes, my boy."

"You mean with their sons, and I dare say you mean me, Uncle Harold;
but it is not true. My mother always counted for ten times more than
you think. It was she who held me back. If Louis Ansted had a tenth
part of the craving for liquor that I have, with his mother to push
him, he would have been gone long ago, beyond reach. I don't know but
he is now. He has been going down very fast in the last few weeks."

"What is the accelerating cause?"

"That I don't positively know. Partly, it is the natural result of
a bad habit indulged, I suppose; but there are other influences at
which I can guess. Still, it is pure guesswork. I am not in any one's
confidence, except when Louis has been drinking too much, he says to me
things that he would not want me to know if he were sober, and those,
of course, I don't repeat. I think that his mother is bent on this
union of the two houses, VanMarter's and theirs, and I think neither
Louis nor Miss Alice are of her mind in the matter; and I think,
moreover, that Louis would rather have an hour of Miss Benedict's
society than a lifetime of Miss Eva VanMarter's, and I don't think he
can get what he wants. Now, isn't that an interesting little romance
for a young fellow like me to think out, especially when I don't know a
thing about it? The only fact is that Louis Ansted is in great danger,
and nobody seems to have much influence over him--at least, nobody who
uses it in the right direction."

"His sister seems to be roused. I was surprised to hear her speak as
she did."

"His sister is not the woman she was when you saw her last. She has
been under Miss Benedict's influence all winter."

"Evidently you incline to the belief that Miss Benedict is a remarkable
woman," his uncle said, with a slight laugh. "Why has she not been
exerting her influence to help poor Louis?"

"She has tried as hard as a woman can. But, Uncle Harold, she is not
the sort of woman to promise to marry a man merely to save him from
becoming a drunkard."

"I should hope not," Mr. Chessney answered promptly.



CHAPTER XXVI.

AN ESCAPED VICTIM.


IN the quiet of Harry's own room, his uncle having spent fifteen
minutes in silent and apparently puzzled thought, suddenly asked a
question:

"When did Louis go into town?"

"Several days ago. He has a way of disappearing suddenly, not giving
the family an idea of where he is going or when he expects to return,
and when he does get back he shows to any one who is not blind, that he
has been pretty low down."

"They expect him back to-morrow?"

"Why, as to that, they have been expecting him ever since he went away.
I heard Miss Alice say that he went unexpectedly, leaving word that he
should probably be back to dinner."

"Harry, my boy, I am almost inclined to think that I ought to start out
to-night, and try to look him up."

"To-night! Why, Uncle Harold, how could you? It would be midnight and
after before you could reach the city, and then where would you go? The
addresses that Miss Alice can give you must be respectable places, with
closed doors to-night."

"That is true," Mr. Chessney answered, after a thoughtful pause; "it
would be a wild kind of proceeding, apparently, with very little
excuse; and yet I am someway impressed that it is the thing to do."

Alas for the Christian world which believes in theory, that there is
a direct link between the seen and the unseen, by which the earnest
soul can be told in what way to walk, and, in practice, thinks it must
search out its own way! Mr. Chessney did not go out in search of his
friend. He did not even ask his Master whether it was his will that
the apparently "wild proceeding" should be attempted. He prayed, it is
true; and he prayed for Louis Ansted, but only in a general way; and
he retired to rest, saying within himself that directly after breakfast
he would go into town and see what he could do.

Before he was awake the next morning, the piazza of the little country
hotel, where he stopped, was filled with loungers who had something
unusual and exciting to talk about. There were a dozen different
stories, it is true; but out of them all the interested listener could
glean certain things which were painfully likely to be facts. There
had been a runaway--to that all parties agreed; and Louis Ansted had
been in the carriage, and had been thrown; but whether he was killed,
or only seriously hurt, or whether the horse had taken fright at the
approaching train, or whether the driver had attempted to cross the
railroad-track in the face of the train, or whether there had been
any train at all, authorities differed. It was still early when Harry
Matthews knocked at his uncle's door with the confused particles of
story.

"And you don't know whether he is living, or not?" asked the startled
uncle who was now making his toilet with all possible speed.

"No, I can't find out. Some of them say he was killed instantly, and
others have it that he was only stunned, and has revived. It may be
nothing but a scare. South Plains has so little excitement that it is
apt to make as much as it can out of everything. Uncle Harold, I can't
go up there and find out, for my train will be due in five minutes, and
I must be at the telegraph office, you know."

"Yes; I will be down in less than five minutes, and will go immediately
up there. I hope it is chiefly talk." Yet when he was left alone, he
said aloud and mournfully: "If I had only followed my impressions last
night!"

He had occasion to say it, or, at least, to think it often, in the days
which followed. South Plains had not exaggerated, this time. Louis
Ansted was not dead--at least, the heart was beating; but he lay a
bruised, unconscious heap among the snowy draperies of his bed--his
soiled and matted clothing, which as yet they had not dared remove,
telling to the practiced eye a story of more than a mere runaway. The
skillful doctor, who had already been summoned from the city, was
silent as well as skillful. He issued his orders in as few words as
possible, and kept his own counsel, until, left alone with Mr. Chessney
for a moment, in answer to the question, "What does this stupor mean?"
he shook his head.

"Hard to tell. It was on him before the accident, if that gives you any
light."

It gave him bitter light, and made him groan in spirit over the fact
that he had been tempted to go out in the night and hunt for his
friend, and had not gone.

Later in the day, bits of the facts came to him. Louis Ansted had been
alone; had hired a horse at the livery and started for home. "More
under the influence of liquor than usual, perhaps," the reluctant
hostler at the livery had admitted, "still, I thought he would get
through all right." For the rest, the silent lips on the bed told no
tales. He had been found, not very far from the railroad crossing,
lying under a tree, and the horse had made his way back to the stables.
Whether a train had frightened the animal, or whether being left to
himself while the driver sank into a drunken sleep had caused his
alarm, or how the accident had occurred, was left to conjecture.

His mother continually repeated the story--and succeeded in making
herself believe it--that a vicious horse had been given him, who
evidently became unmanageable at the sound of the locomotive; but some
of the listeners went out and said that there was no train passing
between the hours that the horse left the stables and returned there,
and the doctor shrugged his shoulders and said nothing.

Then followed one of those periods of waiting and watching which some
people know all about; the miseries of which can only be understood by
having to live them. The trip to the Rocky Mountains was indefinitely
postponed, and Harold Chessney, having made a journey to the city, and
rearranged his business, returned to take his place among the watchers.

He was fully roused now; so were all the friends of the sufferer; his
_body_ was in danger. It was not at all difficult to make his mother
understand this, and no means were left untried by which the frail
shell might possibly be rescued from impending ruin.

In this way passed weeks, while the soul of the injured man hovered
on the edge of another world. Gradually the excitement in the village
calmed down, and everywhere outside of that house on the hill every-day
life went on again. Mr. Chessney came and went, keeping a hand on his
business interests where he must, but keeping the most of his thoughts
and the most of his time waiting, in the hope that consciousness would
return once more to the wreck on the bed. There was one other who
watched and waited, too, though she could not now go to the house to
inquire. She could pray; and this she did. Sometimes it seemed to her
that every thought was a prayer for that periled soul. And often and
often she, too, had to think:

"What if I had been more anxious, and earnest, and constant, while the
body was comparatively in health--might not things possibly have been
different?"

It was in the middle of the night, and Mr. Chessney sat alone with the
sick man. There was nothing to do but wait, and he had prevailed upon
other weary watchers to rest, and let him take his turn. So there was
only himself to be startled by a low voice from one who had been for so
many weeks speechless: "Harold, is it you?"

Great was the rejoicing in the troubled home the next morning. Louis
was awake and conscious, knew them all, smiled feebly on his mother,
and watched hungrily every movement of Mr. Chessney.

The worst was over; he would gain rapidly now. So the mother said, with
eager voice and joyful eyes. Alice looked up questioningly when Mr.
Chessney remained silent and grave, and as soon as opportunity came,
asked her anxious question:

"Mr. Chessney, I can see that you do not share mamma's joy. Do you
think the indications unfavorable?"

"I don't know, Miss Ansted. I am not a physician, only a nurse, and I
hope I may be mistaken; but it is true that I am anxious."

And the doctor, when he came, expressed no surprise and no pleasure
over the change.

"But then he is so utterly unimpressible!" said the mother, "one might
almost as well have a marble statue for a physician."

Yet the statue worked faithfully and tirelessly, and, it must be
confessed, hopelessly. To Mr. Chessney he would talk occasionally; and
there came a day when that gentleman followed him out to the lawn.

"Doctor, what do you think?"

"That it is a charming morning."

"Doctor, is our patient gaining?"

"No."

"Is there hope that he will in time?"

"No."

"Do you mean that you have no hope of his recovery?"

"None at all; have not had from the first. Brains like his never
recover from such treatment as they have received."

"But, doctor, this is very sudden. Do you mean he will lie there
helpless for the rest of his life?"

"I don't think he will lie there three weeks longer, but he may; we are
not infallible. I shall have to hasten this morning. Young Marshall
came home in a drunken rage last night, and kicked his wife, and she is
going to die, I think. I don't know what we doctors would do if this
were not a free country, and liquor-sellers had not a right to kill
by inches all the people they choose. This victim over whom you are
watching is only one of many. That ought to comfort the friends, ought
it not? Good-morning."

"I haven't told them," said Mr. Chessney, two hours later, speaking
to Claire. He had come out to get a breath of the sweet morning air,
and to give Claire the news. During the weeks past, he had been very
thoughtful of her anxiety, and very careful that she should receive
daily bulletins. "I have not told them, but I must. Miss Benedict, this
is the hardest task a man ever has to do. How can I tell that mother
that she has robbed herself of her son? She has steadily thwarted for
two years every scheme that I devised to help him; and she did not know
what she was about, either, poor mother!"

"Did you ever try to tell her?"

"Yes, and failed, as you did. Alice told me of your effort. But I ought
to have tried again. I knew she was deceived. She thought me a fanatic,
and I could have told her of scenes that would have made one of her. I
shrank from it."

It was more than two weeks before she saw him again. During this time
she twice received little twisted slips of paper, brought to her by the
faithful Bud, and on them would be written a request that she would
pray for a soul in peril. One long letter, blistered with tears, Alice
wrote to her; the burden of it being the same; and this was all she
knew of what was passing in the house on the hill. She had not entered
it since that day when its mistress turned from her. Not that she would
not quickly have done so, had occasion arisen, but there seemed no need
to force herself on the poor mother.

"I shall never see him again," she told herself, sorrowfully, "and I
have seen him so many times when I might have tried to help him, and
did not!"

Then there came one brief, never-to-be-forgotten note, written
hurriedly by Mr. Chessney:

"I believe that Louis rests in the Everlasting Arms."

One Saturday morning she was summoned to the parlor to see Mr.
Chessney. He came forward quickly, with an anxious air, as of one
having a request to make which he feared might not be granted.

"I have come for you," he said. "Louis wants to see you. I have been
charged to bring you back with me, if possible. I wish I could save you
from this ordeal. Do you shrink from it very much?"

"No," she said with quiet gravity. "Only as one shrinks from seeing
errors that one is powerless to help. Why am I wanted, Mr. Chessney?
What can I do!"

"I do not know. Louis wants you. He wishes to see you and his mother
and his sister Alice together, and I shall have to add that he wants me
to be present. I tried to spare you all this last, but he grew excited
over it."

"I would quite as soon have you present," Claire said, with gentle
wonder. She did not understand why it was supposed to be a time of
special trial to her individually. If she could have heard Mrs.
Ansted's voice in confidential talk with Mr. Chessney, she would have
been enlightened.

"The girl is well enough, Mr. Chessney, and she has been of help to
some of the lower classes here during the winter. I have nothing
against her; on the contrary, I would like to shield her. The simple
fact is that she has become too deeply interested in my son. It is not
strange, I am sure, but it is sad; and that is why I do not wish Alice
to have her here at this time. As a mother, it is my duty to shield
the girl, though I must say she showed very little consideration for a
mother's feelings when she talked with me." All this, and much more,
which Mr. Chessney weighed, putting his nephew's views beside them, and
came to the conclusion that there was an attachment between the two
young people which had not been smiled upon by their elders.

Although Claire knew nothing of this, her appearance in the sick-room
was attended with sufficient embarrassment. Mrs. Ansted received her
with a sort of grave tolerance, as one who was humoring the whim of a
sick man, and doing violence to her own sense of propriety thereby. But
the change in Louis Ansted was so great, that, after the first moment,
it held Claire's thoughts, to the exclusion of all trivial things.

He held toward her a thin and trembling hand, as he said:

"It was good in you to come. I have changed a great deal since that
night you refused to ride with me, haven't I? Yes, I have changed since
then. Has Harold told you that I have found help at last?"

"He has told me wonderful and blessed news of you," Claire said, taking
the chair that Mr. Chessney brought to the bedside. "I do not need to
tell you how glad I was to hear it."

"No, you don't; that is true. You have given ample proof that nothing
which could happen to a friend of yours could rejoice you more. I
wish I had met you earlier; it would have made a difference, a great
difference in my life. I did not know that religion meant much of
anything. Harold, here, was of your mind, but he seemed exceptional--a
kind of fanatic; I could not keep within sight of him. The other people
whom I knew intimately, seemed to have very little to do with their
religion. I beg your pardon, mother, but that was the way it seemed to
me. There are different degrees, I suppose."

"Louis, you are talking too much," here interposed Mr. Chessney, as he
brought the medicine to administer; "your pulse is rising."

"Never mind, it won't hurt me. It is almost over now; you know that,
Chessney, as well as I do. And I have something to say, that for the
good of all parties concerned, must be said now. Mother, I want you
to know one thing: from words which you let fall yesterday, I have
discovered that you have a mistaken idea about one matter. I am going
to die, and I am glad of it. I have gone so far down hill, that to
climb back again, for one so awfully bruised as I am, would be hard,
very hard; perhaps the Lord sees that it would be impossible, and so
gives me this easy way. But, mother, before I go, I want to tell you
something which will remove from your mind a false impression. I saw
my danger some time ago, and struggled for a way of escape. It was a
weak way that I chose; God would not let me build on it. I fancied that
if I could have Claire Benedict for my wife, I could be a good and
true man. I implored her to help me in this way, and she utterly and
hopelessly refused.

"You know why I am telling you this, but she does not, and I ask her to
forgive me."



CHAPTER XXVII.

THE SUMMER'S STORY.


AFTER this Louis Ansted steadily failed. It had seemed as though he
summoned all the strength left in his worn-out body for that one
interview wherein he had resolved that his mother should know the truth
from his lips.

After that the lamp of life burned lower and lower. He rallied again,
two days afterward, and was locked in with his lawyer, and gave
critical attention to business.

"I imagine that he made important changes in his will," Mr. Chessney
said to Claire. "I do not know of what character, though I was called
in as a witness. I hope he made special provision for his sister Alice.
I think that she is likely to disappoint her parents in their schemes,
and it might be greatly to her comfort to be independent, so far as
property is concerned. But Louis kept his own counsel. His lawyer told
me that he might be failing in body, but he had never seen him clearer
in brain. So there will be no trouble about carrying out whatever he
has planned."

"I did not know," Claire said, "that he had property to leave,
independent of his parents."

"Oh, yes; a large estate, willed to him from his grandfather,
absolutely in his own right. It is what has helped to ruin him."

"How good it would be if he could make his money undo, so far as money
could, some of the mischief he has done."

"How could money undo it, my friend?"

"Oh, it couldn't. Still, it might relieve the misery which comes from
want. I was thinking just then of poor little Mrs. Simpson and her
fatherless baby. I have heard that her husband drank his first glass
while in Louis Ansted's employ, and that Louis offered it to him, and
he did not like to refuse for fear of giving offense. He died with the
delirium tremens, and his wife sold her bedclothes and her shoes to buy
food for him at the last. Perhaps she would rather starve than take
money from poor Louis. Haven't I heard that he was connected with one
of the distilleries?"

"Some of his property is invested in that way," Mr. Chessney answered,
startled with the remembrance. "I had not thought of it. Poor Alice!
I am afraid there is great trouble for her in whatever direction one
looks. If Louis leaves his property to her, her father and mother will
violently oppose what her intense temperance principles would advocate.
I wish Louis had felt like talking these things over with me a little."

Well, the day came when they followed the ruined body to the grave. It
rested in a costly coffin, and the funeral appointments were such as
became large wealth and the habit of lavish expenditure.

Later, when the will was read, it appeared that the poor heart had
taken counsel of One who makes no mistakes. He had done what he could
to undo wrong. The income from valuable investments was large, and
was left in trust to his sister Alice, to be used at her discretion
in relieving the woes of those who had been brought low through the
influence of intoxicants. As for the distillery from which half of his
income was derived, its business was immediately to cease, its stock
was to be destroyed, and its buildings to be made into tenement-houses
for the poor.

"The poor boy was not in his right mind when he made such a will,"
the father said. "Why, it is a sinful waste; it is simply throwing
thousands of dollars into the river."

"It is all the influence of that Benedict girl," the mother said, in
bitterness of spirit.

But the will stood, and its directions were obeyed with all the
promptness that the sister to whose trust the work was left, could
force her lawyers. She seemed in feverish haste to have the work of
destruction go on. And when her mother accused her of being hopelessly
under the influence of "that Benedict girl," and having no mind of her
own, her answer was:

"Mamma, you are mistaken. At last I am under the influence of One who
has a right to own me, body and soul. Poor Louis found Him at last, and
yielded to his power, and followed his direction, and it was through
Claire Benedict's influence that he did; and, mamma, if he had known
Claire Benedict a few years earlier, we should have him with us to-day.
Mamma, the time has come for me to speak plainly. Religion has been
nothing but a name to me until lately. I have not believed in its
power. It is Claire Benedict who has shown me my mistake, and helped
me to see Christ as a sufficient Saviour. I belong to him now for time
and eternity, and, mamma, I will never marry a man who does not with
his whole heart own Christ as his Master, and who is not as intense and
fanatical on the temperance question as my brother became."

She had always been strong-willed. The mother had been wont to say,
somewhat boastfully, that her oldest daughter resembled her in strength
of purpose.

Human nature is a curious study. What Mrs. Ansted would do, had been a
matter of extreme solicitude to several people. Mr. Chessney believed
that she would make Alice's life miserable; that she would become
Claire Benedict's enemy, and injure her if she could, and that she
would withdraw her younger daughters from not only Claire's, but their
eldest sister's influence, and from the church to which they had become
attached.

"I do not mean that she will do this in revenge," he said to Claire,
"or that she will really intend to injure anybody. She is one of those
persons who can make herself believe that she is doing God's service
by just such management as this. I am sorry for Alice and for the
young girls. It gives me a sense of relief and joy to remember that
Louis is forever safe from pitfalls, and yet sometimes I can not help
wishing that he could have lived for a few months longer. He had great
influence over his mother. She tried to manage him, and his indolent
will allowed himself to be influenced in a wonderful manner, but when
he did really rouse, he had great power over his mother."

Mrs. Ansted did none of the things which were feared. Instead, she
turned suddenly, and with apparent loathing, from the life which she
had heretofore lived. She sent for Claire one morning, greeted her
with a burst of tears as her dear child, and declared that had she
understood the feeling between Louis and herself nothing would have
given her greater joy than to have welcomed her into the family.

Claire opened her mouth to protest and then closed it again. If
this were the form of cross that she was to bear, it was peculiar,
certainly; but why not bear it as well as any other? Of what use to
explain again, what the son's own lips had told, that she had utterly
refused the honor offered her--that she had never for a moment desired
to be received into this family? If the bereaved mother had really
succeeded in making herself believe such folly as this, why not let
it pass--the grave had closed over the possibility of its ever being
realized?

It was a strange part to play--to accept without outward protest the
position of one who would have been a daughter of the house, to hear
herself mentioned as Louis Ansted's intended wife; to ride, and walk,
and talk with the mother, and help her make believe that she would not
for the world have thwarted her son's desires; but Claire, after a few
attempts at explanation, dropped the effort. The mother did not wish
to believe the truth about this, or many other things, and therefore
closed her eyes to them.

She wished also to impress herself and others with the belief that
Louis had been in every respect an exemplary, and, indeed, a remarkable
young man. She withdrew her connection with the church in town and
united by letter with the one at South Plains; avowedly, because "dear
Louis was interested in it more than in any other church in the world."
She imagined plans that he might have had for the church, and called
them his, and eagerly worked them out. She adopted the minister, and
his wife and his children, because she had often heard Louis say that
he would rather hear that man preach than to hear Doctor Archer; and
once he told her that the minister's little girl had a very sweet face,
and was a cunning little witch whom he liked to tease. She turned with
something like disgust from the very name of VanMarter, protesting that
"poor Louis had had a great deal to bear from their advances," and that
she had no desire to cultivate their acquaintance further.

On all these strange changes in her mother Alice looked with
bewilderment.

"She frightens me," she said to Claire one evening, "I don't know
what to think. She contradicts every theory of life I ever heard her
express. She attributes to Louis graces that he did not possess. She
accuses people of injuring him, who really tried to help him, and she
adopts as plans of his, things of which I know he had not even thought.
I do not know my mother at all; and as I said, it frightens me. Is she
losing her mind?"

Claire had no ready reply to these questionings, for she, too, was
puzzled. But Mr. Chessney, as they walked slowly down from the house on
the hill, discussing once more the strange change in the woman of the
world, advanced a theory which Claire adopted, but which was hardly the
one to explain to Alice.

"I think," said Mr. Chessney, "that she is hushing her conscience. It
would like to speak loudly to her, and tell her that she is responsible
for a ruined life, and she does not mean to listen to it. She is
imagining a life she believes Louis might have lived, after the change
that came to him on his sick-bed, and is making herself believe that
he did live it, and that she was, and is, in hearty accord with it.
It is a strange freak of the bewildering human mind, but unless I am
mistaken, the woman will not find the peace in it that she is seeking.
I think she will have to cry, 'God be merciful to me a sinner,' before
her heart will find rest."

And then he added one sentence which set Claire's heart into a strange
flutter:

"Claire, when I see the energy with which she carries out one of her
imaginings, connected with you, I am very grateful that Louis insisted
on my being present at that first interview between you and him, and
that I heard the truth from his own lips, for the mother is succeeding
in deceiving every one else."

"And I do not know how to help it," Claire said, with troubled voice.
"It seems a strange thing to be living a falsehood; but when I try to
explain to her, she puts me gently aside, and acts as though I had not
spoken; and others have no right to question me about the truth of her
theories."

"Except myself. Have I the right? Was it as emphatic a refusal as poor
Louis understood it? Believe me, I am not asking merely to gratify idle
curiosity."

"There never was anything in it, Mr. Chessney, and there never could
have been."

The passage of all these and many other events not chronicled here,
consumed the greater portion of the summer vacation. For Claire
Benedict was letting the summer slip from her without going home. Sore
had been the trial at first; but a few weeks before the term closed,
opportunity had been offered her to teach a summer class of city
pupils, at prices that were almost equal to her year's salary. What
right had she, who wanted to bestow so many luxuries on her mother,
to close her eyes to such an opportunity as this, merely because she
was homesick for a sight of that mother's face? It had been hard to
reconcile the sister, especially, to this new state of things. The
gentle mother had long ago learned the lesson that what looked like
manifest duty must not be tampered with, no matter how hard to bear;
but the hot-hearted young sister refused to see anything in it except
an added trial too great to be borne. Many letters had to be written
before there was a final reluctant admission that two hundred dollars
more to depend on, paltry sum though it was, would make a great
difference with the mother's winter comforts. The letter in which poor
Dora admitted this was blistered with tears; but the sacrifice was
made, and the extra term had been well entered upon.

There was much outside of the class and the life being lived on the
hill to occupy Claire's thoughts. I hope you do not suppose that the
work on the part of "the girls" had been accomplished during a sort
of "spasm," and that now they were ready to drop back into inaction.
Nothing was farther from their thoughts. If you have imagined so, you
have not understood how thoroughly some of them had sacrificed in order
to do. We never forget that for which we sacrifice.

Besides, the habit of thinking first of the church, and the various
causes which are the tributaries of the church, was formed. That the
work was to go on, was demonstrated in many ways; not the least by the
random remarks which came so naturally from the lips of the workers.

"Girls," had Ruth Jennings said, when they lingered one evening after
prayer-meeting, "when we cushion these seats, we shall have to send
somebody after the material who can carry the carpet and wall paper in
his mind's eye. It will never do to have a false note put in here to
jar this harmony."

"When we cushion the seats!" Claire heard it, and laughed softly. Who
had said that the seats were ever to be cushioned? But she knew they
would be, and that before very long.

On another evening, Mary Burton had said:

"Look here! don't you think our very next thing, or, at least, one of
the next, ought to be a furnace? I _don't_ like those stove pipes, if
they are Russia. A furnace would heat more evenly, and with less dust,
and Bud could manage a furnace as well as he can these stoves."

How naturally they talked about their future sacrifices! What would
have utterly appalled them a few months before, were spoken of
carelessly now as "next things."

Ruth Jennings readily assented to the necessity for a furnace, but
added:

"I don't believe we shall have Bud for engineer. He wants to go to
school, did you know it? And what is more, Mrs. Ansted intends to send
him. Fanny told me about it last night. She says her mother thinks
Louis intended that Bud should have an education, and she wants to
carry out all his plans. I did not know that Louis Ansted ever had any
such plans, did you?"

Then Nettie Burdick, after a thoughtful pause:

"Oh, well, girls, if we can't have Bud for engineer, perhaps we can
have him to preach for us some day. He told me last night that if he
lived he meant to preach; and I believe he will, and preach well, too.
Just think of it: Bud a minister!"



CHAPTER XXVIII.

A FAMILY SECRET.


YOU are not to suppose that during this press of work the moving spirit
in it did not have her homesick hours, when it seemed to her that she
must fly to her mother, and that at once; that she did not have her
anxious hours, when to provide as she would like for that dear mother
and that beautiful young sister seemed a dreary impossibility; that
she did not have her discouraged hours, when new carpet and frescoing
and stained-glass windows seemed only "vanity of vanities," and the
sharp-toned cabinet organ seemed to wheeze loud enough to drive all
other improvements out of mind. But there was always this comfort; she
was much too busy to brood long or often over thoughts like these; and
another thing; weary and disheartened as some rainy evening might
find her, there was forever an undertone of thanksgiving about Bud
and Harry Matthews, not only, but about others as well; not excepting
several of the girls, who, though Christians before she knew them,
had stepped upon higher planes of thought and action--been vitalized,
indeed, in their Christian life, and would never go back to the follies
of the past. Then came the trouble in the Ansted home, and the weeks of
waiting and watching, and the final defeat which was still a triumph.
During the solemnities of those hours, things which had seemed like
trials sank into trivialities, and life grew to her more earnest and
solemn than ever before.

In all these ways the summer waned. And now changes of various
kinds were pending. Harry Matthews was about closing his engagement
with the telegraph company, to enter upon a secretaryship under his
uncle--a position involving grave responsibilities and conscientious
stewardship. What joy it was to remember that the new young man was
equal to the trust. Bud was to be regularly entered as a pupil at the
Academy, and his face was radiant. The Ansteds were to stay at South
Plains all winter, and the girls were happy over the prospect of
uniting with the little church at its coming communion. Mrs. Ansted had
subscribed a hundred dollar addition to the minister's salary, and told
the people that they ought to feel disgraced for not each giving doubly
the original amount; that her son Louis, she felt sure, would have
taken the matter up had he lived, and she could not rest until she saw
it accomplished.

Meantime, there was more or less gossip in the town, of course, about
affairs with which the people, if they had really stopped to think,
had nothing to do. Among other things, there was wonderment as to why
Harold Chessney came to South Plains so often. What business was there
in this direction which could require so much attention? To be sure, he
was one of the Directors of the railroad, but this branch of it had not
heretofore been considered so important as to need constant looking
after by its chief. Also there were some who thought it very strange
that that Miss Benedict would receive so many attentions from him, when
she was as good as Louis Ansted's widow! Of course that was so, for
Mrs. Ansted herself had as good as said so dozens of times; and see how
intimate she was with the entire family. Yes, they knew that Harold
Chessney was a very particular friend of Louis Ansted; but they should
think that would hardly account for such a degree of intimacy, when
Louis had only been buried a few weeks.

Meantime, the central figures of this anxious talk went their busy
ways, and seemed in no sense troubled by the tongues. Harold Chessney
came often, and always visited the Ansteds and the Academy, and the
intimacy between all parties seemed to increase instead of diminish.

It was about this time that Claire received an unusually lengthy letter
from Dora; a letter over which she laughed much, and also shed some
tears.

Dora had some family perplexities to ask advice about, and indulged
rather more than was her wont over forebodings in regard to the coming
winter. Then suddenly she launched into the main channel of her letter
after this fashion:

"Oh, Claire, my dear, you are good! If I could be half like you, or
even one third, it would be such a relief to mamma as well as to
myself. But Claire (this next that I am going to say is mean, and
small, and will serve to show you that I have a correct estimate of
myself), I can not help thinking it would be much easier for me to
be good if I were away off in South Plains, or North Mountains, or
anywhere else than here, right around the corner from the old home. Do
you have any conception of what a difference it makes to be around the
corner from things, instead of being on the same street with them? I
think it possible that I might throw myself intensely into plans for
that North Mountain Church, you know, if I were there, and forget this
one, and these people, and the old ways.

"Claire, part of the time I am pretty good; I am, indeed; but really
and truly, it is hard. The girls try to be good, too, some of them.
Occasionally I think if they did not _try_ so hard, I could get along
better. You see, they stop talking about things when I appear, for
fear I will be hurt, and I am hurt; but it is because they think I
will be foolish enough to care for what they have been saying. Do
you understand that? It reads as though there were no sense in it;
but I know what I mean. It is clothes, half of the time. Clothes are
dreadful! I find I had no conception of their cost. Not that I am
having any new ones. Don't be frightened, dear. I am not so lost to
a sense of what has befallen us as such a proceeding would indicate.
Why, even a pair of gloves is often beyond my means! Neither am I
complaining. It is not the gloves; I am quite willing to go without
them. If mamma could have the things which we used to consider
necessities for her I would be willing to go bare-handed for the rest
of my days.

"Well, what am I talking about? Let me see if I can put it into
words. The girls, you know, are always arranging for this and that
entertainment. I meet them oftener, now that you have insisted on
my going back to the music class. To some of these entertainments I
am invited, and to more of them I am not. I never go, on account of
clothes and some other things.

"Imagine a party of girls gathered in the music-room or the hall, in
full tide of talk about what they will wear, and how they will arrange
their hair, and their ribbons, and all that sort of thing; and imagine
a sudden silence settling over them because I have appeared in sight,
as though I were a grim fairy before whom it was their misfortune to
have to be forever silent about everything that was pretty, or cost
money!

"Now I am going to make a confession, and I know it is just as silly as
it can be, but sometimes I can not help rushing home, and running up
to my room, and locking my door, and crying as though my heart would
break.

"I am thoughtful, though, about choosing times and occasions for these
outbreaks. I generally select an afternoon when mamma is out executing
some of your numerous commissions; but even then I have to bathe my
eyes for half an hour so that the poor, dear, sweet, patient woman will
know nothing about it. I never do let her know, Claire. She thinks that
I am good and happy, and occasionally she tells me that I am growing
self-controlled like you, and then I feel like a hypocrite; but all the
same, for her own good I don't enlighten her.

"Claire, dear, don't you suppose it is the silly parties to which I do
not go which trouble me. I have not the slightest desire to go, and I
don't think of them often; I don't, really. Well, that about having no
desire, needs qualifying. I mean I would not have, if I could go; I
mean I should like to be perfectly able to go if I chose, and then to
choose to remain at home. Do you understand?

"If the girls would only be free and social, and talk with me as
though nothing had happened, I should learn not to care. But it is so
hard to always feel that people are saying: 'Hush! there she comes,
poor thing, don't talk about it now, or we shall hurt her feelings!' I
would rather have them drop me entirely, I believe, as Estelle Mitchell
has done. She doesn't bow to me any more, even when we meet face to
face; doesn't see me, you know, but she does even _that_ politely.
I don't know how she manages. Claire, do you remember the time papa
signed that ten thousand dollar note for her father? Well, never mind.
I am writing a silly and, a wicked letter. I haven't written so to you
before, have I? I'll tell you what has stirred me so, lately, everybody
is in a flutter about the house. Claire, it is sold. You know what
house I mean; the dear old one on the avenue, every separate stone of
which speaks of papa. That Mr. Chessney bought it, who spends half
of his time abroad. There is a rumor that he is to be married some
time--nobody seems to know just when--and bring his bride there to
live. It is well for me that I shall not have a chance to move in her
circle, for I feel almost certain that I should have to hate her a
little.

"It is very absurd, of course, but the girls are actually beginning
already to talk about the possible reception, though they don't even
know who the prospective bride is. Some have located her in Chicago,
and some in Europe. I can not discover that there is an absolute
certainty about there being any bride, and yet some of the young ladies
are planning what would be pretty and unique to wear.

"Estelle Mitchell is sure of being invited, because her brother Dick
used to be quite intimately acquainted with one of the Chessney family;
and Dora Benedict is sure of not being invited, because she is not
intimately acquainted with anybody any more. I wonder who will have our
rooms--our dear old rooms? Yes, that largest blot is a tear. I couldn't
help it, and I haven't time to copy, and could not afford to waste the
paper, if I had. I don't cry very often, but I was foolish enough to
walk by the blessed old home this morning, and look up at the open
window in papa's study!

"Oh, Claire, darling, I wish you could come home, if it is only for a
little while, and we could go away from here. Don't you think mamma
might be made comfortable in South Plains for the winter?

"Oh, that is foolish, I know; and you are a dear, brave,
self-sacrificing sister, to give up your vacation and work away all
summer to help support us. To-morrow I shall not care anything about
this, only to be dreadfully ashamed that I sent you this wicked letter.

"I am going down now to make tea, and a bit of cream toast for mother,
and I shall be as bright as a gold eagle, and hover around her like
a moth-miller in the gaslight, and tell her all sorts of pleasant
nothings, and never a word of the house, or the sale, or the possible
new mistress for the old home. I am learning, dear, though from this
letter you might not think it. But I live such a pent-up, every-day
life that I have to say things to you once in a while, else what would
become of me?"

Claire laughed a great deal over this letter, pitiful as the undertone
in it must have been to a sympathetic heart. The tears came once or
twice; but after all, the predominant feeling seemed to be amusement.
It was not answered promptly; in fact, she waited three days; then came
Mr. Chessney for one of his brief visits, and she read the letter aloud
to him.

What Dora would have thought, could she have seen that proceeding,
passes my imagination.

What would she have thought of human sympathy, could she have heard the
bursts of laughter over parts of it; albeit Mr. Chessney did once or
twice brush away a tear!

What would she have thought could she have heard the conversation which
followed:

"Now, my dear Claire, I hope you are convinced of your
hard-heartedness. Poor Dora ought not to have this strain kept on her
during the autumn, especially when it is so utterly unnecessary.

"The house will be in complete order in a few weeks' time, and Dora's
reception is just the thing. I can write to Phillips, and put every
arrangement into his hands and we can appoint Dora manager-in-chief.

"Claire, I have a plan worth a dozen of yours. Let us have the mother
and Dora here for a visit. They want to see the little church which
they have helped to build. Nothing could be pleasanter. Then all your
girls, and all your boys, could be present at the ceremony. Think what
that would be for Bud! He would never forget it. Neither would this
struggling minister; it would afford an excuse for doing for him just
what we want to do. The law does not regulate the amount of marriage
fees, you know."

Mr. Chessney was an eloquent pleader; and Dora's letter, it must be
confessed, plead against the delay that Claire had thought was wise.
Of course, she demurred; of course, she hinted at the plans that she
had formed for getting ready; but the party on the opposite side had
an answer for every argument. He was sure that the way to do would be
to get ready afterward, when she would have leisure and his invaluable
presence and advice, instead of being hampered with music-scholars,
and he miles away, alone, waiting, and Dora waiting and suffering,
and the mother thinking her sad thoughts. Happy surprises were all
very well; they were delightful. He was entirely in sympathy with her
desire to tell mamma and Dora the story of the new home in person, only
he believed with all his heart that it would be cruel, and therefore
wrong, to burden that young heart with the question of ways and means a
moment longer than was necessary. As for Mrs. Foster, she could supply
Claire's place quietly, and thereby make some poor music-teacher's
heart unexpectedly glad.

Of course, Claire was overruled. She had really not one sensible reason
to offer why she should remain exiled from mamma and Dora any longer.

There was a little feeling of pride, it is true, about the "getting
ready afterward;" but as she looked it over carefully and prayerfully,
it seemed, even to herself, a mean pride, unworthy of the woman who was
to be Harold Chessney's wife.

Then there was a fascination in the thought of Dora planning for that
reception--really being the one to invite whom she would among "the
girls," instead of being the one left out in the cold.

Also it was pleasant to think what an event it would be to her girls,
and to Bud; and her cheeks glowed over the thought of the marriage-fee
that would find its way into the lean pocket-book of the overburdened
minister.

I would like to tell you the whole story in detail: what Dora said
when the letter came imploring her mother and herself to come to South
Plains for a few weeks' visit; how the mother demurred on the ground of
expense, and yet confessed that it made her heart beat wildly to think
of getting her arms around Claire again.

"But I can not think what has become of the dear child's good sense,"
she would add, with a sigh. "Why, Dora dear, she did not come home,
you know, because the trip would cost so much, and here she is planning
for two of us to take it."

"Never mind, mamma," would Dora reply, for Dora was desperately
determined on this trip to South Plains, "Claire has planned a way;
and we shall save our food if we stay two weeks, and that will be
something; and she has sent us the tickets, so the money is spent. Oh,
mamma, let us go _anyway_."

And of course they went. Yes, I would delight to tell you all about it.
What a sensation there was in South Plains, and how full the little
church was, and how well Bud looked walking down the aisle as one of
the ushers, and how people said the Ansteds certainly would not come,
they would feel it a family insult, but how the Ansteds not only came,
but took almost entire charge of everything.

Above all, I should like to have you look in with me at the parsonage,
in the study, where the minister and his wife stopped to break the
seal of that special envelope after it was all over; how he rubbed his
eyes, and looked, and looked again, and turned pale, and said, huskily:

"There is some mistake here, Mary; he has given me the wrong paper."

And how she came and looked over his shoulder, and said:

"Why, it has your full name. How can there be a mistake?" And then she
read, "Pay to Rev. Henry Ramsey, or order, one thousand dollars. ----
----."

Who ever heard of such a marriage-fee as that!

Oh, now, I have; there have been just such marriage-fees as that,
really and truly. There had been such before Harold Chessney and Claire
Benedict were married, and there will be such again. There are poor
ministers and grand, rich men, and there will be, I presume, while the
world stands. More things than some people dream of are going on in
this world of ours.

There is one thing which it gives me great pleasure to record. There
was a reception given in the old home. It was after mamma and Dora had
been established for several days in their old rooms, and it was the
evening after the arrival of the bride and groom, and Estelle Mitchell
was invited to the reception. Not because her brother Dick had been
intimate with one of the Chessneys, but because because--

"My brother Harold gave me liberty to invite whoever I pleased among my
classmates, and it would give me pleasure to see you there."

Dora spoke truth. It really gave her great pleasure to see Estelle
Mitchell at the wedding reception of the Chessneys, and to realize that
she was her guest!

"Oh, you wicked, wicked Dora!" some of them said, when the excitement
caused by the reception cards was at his height, "there you heard us
talking about the new furniture, and wondering as to who was the bride,
and you never gave us so much as a hint!"

Dora laughed, and kept her own counsel. She did not choose to tell
them that during those trying days no hint of it had come to her.
That was their pretty family secret, with which outsiders were not to
intermeddle.

They agreed, every one of them, that Dora made a charming young
hostess, and Estelle Mitchell said she was glad she was back in her old
home, for she just fitted.

There are but two things which remain to tell you. One grew out of Ruth
Jennings' farewell words to her beloved music-teacher, spoken while she
was half-laughing, half-crying, and wholly heart-broken:

"But the organ _does_ squeak horribly; you know it does; and it is
always getting out of tune."

Mr. Chessney heard it, and during their wedding-trip he said to his
wife:

"There is one thing I want you to help me select. I have not made my
thank-offering yet to that blessed little church where I found you.
It must have an organ that will keep in tune, and that will worthily
commemorate the harmony that was begun there."

Imagine, please, for I shall not attempt to tell you, the delight, to
say nothing of the unspeakable wonder, of the girls, and of the entire
community, when the beautifully-finished, exquisitely-toned bit of
mechanism was set up in the church.

Accompanying it were two organ stools, one for the church and one for
Ruth Jennings' home; so she sits on dictionaries and Patent Office
Reports no more.

The other item can be told more briefly. It is embodied in a sentence
which the gentle mother spoke one morning at the breakfast-table:

"By the way, Claire, the committee about the Mission Band entertainment
was here yesterday while you and Harold were out, to see if you would
help them. I told them I thought you would."

The face of the bride flushed deeply, and a peculiarly tender light
shone in her eyes as she said:

"How very strange that is! It is the same Band which was preparing for
that exercise about which I told you. We were to have had it on the
day in which papa was buried."

"It is the same exercise," Dora said, speaking gently. "The girls
dropped it entirely, and could never persuade themselves to take hold
of it again, until last week they voted to attempt it."

"You were only interrupted in your work, you see," Mr. Chessney said,
smiling down on eyes that were filling with tears. "Interrupted, that
you might set some wheels in motion that had been clogged; now you are
called back to finish the other, and I am here to help you."



THE PANSY BOOKS.

By "PANSY" (Mrs. G. R. Alden).

"Mrs. Alden's writings are so pure, earnest, and hopeful that a
daily absorption of her pithiest thoughts must prove an enriching
process."--_N. Y. Witness._


$1.00 per volume.

    54. Dr. Deane's Way.
    55. Miss Priscilla Hunter.
    56. Mrs. Deane's Way.
    57. What She Said.


75 cents per volume.

    58. At Home and Abroad.
    59. Bobby's Wolf and other Stories.
    60. Couldn't Be Bought.
    61. Five Friends.
    62. In the Woods and Out.
    63. Jessie Wells.
    64. Modern Sacrifice (A).
    65. Mrs. Harry Harper's Awakening.
    66. New Year's Tangles.
    67. Next Things.
    68. Older Brother (The).
    69. Pansy's Scrap Book.
    70. Some Young Heroines.
    71. Worth Having.
    72. Young Folks Worth Knowing.


60 cents per volume.

    73. Bernie's White Chicken.
    74. Docia's Journal.
    75. Getting Ahead.
    76. Helen Lester.
    77. Mary Burton Abroad.
    78. Monteagle.
    79. Pansies.
    80. Six Little Girls.
    81. Stories Told for a Purpose.
    82. That Boy Bob.
    83. Two Boys.


50 cents per volume.

    84. Browning Boys (The).
    85. Dozen of Them (A).
    86. Exact Truth (The).
    87. Gertrude's Diary.
    88. Glimpses of Boyhood.
    89. Glimpses of Girlhood.
    90. Grace Holbrook.
    91. Hedge Fence.
    92. Helen the Historian.
    93. Her Mother's Bible.
    94. Kaleidoscope (The).
    95. Little Card (The).
    96. Side by Side.
    97. Six o'Clock in the Evening.
    98. Stories from the Life of Jesus.
    99. Stories of Great Men.
    100. Stories of Remarkable Women.
    101. Story of Puff.
    102. Their Vacation.
    103. We Twelve Girls.
    104. World of Little People (A).

    PANSY
    TRADE-MARK REGISTERED JUNE 4, 1895.

    _At all Bookstores, or sent postpaid upon receipt of price._

    LOTHROP PUBLISHING COMPANY, Boston.



THE PANSY BOOKS.

By "PANSY" (Mrs. G. R. Alden).

"There is something so pure and earnest and elevating in all Mrs.
Alden's writings that no young reader can absorb them without being
morally and spiritually bettered by them."--_Christian Work._


$1.50 per volume.

     1. As in a Mirror.
     2. Aunt Hannah, Martha and John.
     3. Chautauqua Girls at Home.
     4. Chrissy's Endeavor.
     5. Christie's Christmas.
     6. Eighty-Seven.
     7. Endless Chain (An).
     8. Ester Ried.
     9. Ester Ried Yet Speaking.
    10. Four Girls at Chautauqua.
    11. Hall in the Grove (The).
    12. Her Associate Members.
    13. Household Puzzles.
    14. Interrupted.
    15. John Remington, Martyr.
    16. Judge Burnham's Daughters.
    17. Julia Ried.
    18. King's Daughters.
    19. Links in Rebecca's Life.
    20. Little Fishers and Their Nets.
    21. Making Fate.
    22. Man of the House.
    23. Mrs. Solomon Smith Looking On.
    24. New Graft on the Family Tree (A).
    25. One Commonplace Day.
    26. Overruled.
    27. Pocket Measure (The).
    28. Prince of Peace (The).
    29. Randolphs (The).
    30. Ruth Erskine's Crosses.
    31. Sevenfold Trouble (A).
    32. Spun from Fact.
    33. Stephen Mitchell's Journey.
    34. Those Boys.
    35. Three People.
    36. Tip Lewis and His Lamp.
    37. Twenty Minutes Late.
    38. Wanted.
    39. What They Couldn't.
    40. Wise and Otherwise.
    41. Yesterday Framed in To-day.


$1.25 per volume.

    42. Cunning Workmen.
    43. Divers Women.
    44. Echoing and Reëchoing.
    45. From Different Standpoints.
    46. Grandpa's Darlings.
    47. Miss Dee Dunmore Bryant.
    48. Modern Exodus (A).
    49. Modern Prophets.
    50. Only Ten Cents.
    51. Profiles.
    52. Reuben's Hindrances.
    53. Sidney Martin's Christmas.


    PANSY
    TRADE-MARK REGISTERED JUNE 4, 1895.

    _At all Bookstores, or sent postpaid upon receipt of price._

    LOTHROP PUBLISHING COMPANY, Boston.

       *       *       *       *       *

Transcriber's Notes:

Punctuation errors repaired.

Page 49, "daugther" changed to "daughter" (course not, daughter)

Page 52, "supurb" changed to "superb" (it was simply superb)

Page 142, "yon" changed to "you" (best help you)

Page 142, "umbarrassing" changed to "embarrassing" (embarrassing or
trying)

Page 214, "dependent" changed to "dependant" (boy dependant on)

Page 402, "fron" changed to "from" (from this ordeal)

Page 414, "greal" changed to "great" (had great power)

The final two pages, the booklists, seemed to be out of order. This was
retained.





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