Home
  By Author [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Title [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Language
all Classics books content using ISYS

Download this book: [ ASCII ]

Look for this book on Amazon


We have new books nearly every day.
If you would like a news letter once a week or once a month
fill out this form and we will give you a summary of the books for that week or month by email.

Title: Work: A Story of Experience
Author: Alcott, Louisa May
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Work: A Story of Experience" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



Work: A Story of Experience

by Louisa May Alcott


AUTHOR OF “LITTLE WOMEN,” “LITTLE MEN,” “AN
OLD-FASHIONED GIRL,” “HOSPITAL SKETCHES,” ETC.

[Illustration]

“An endless significance lies in work; in idleness alone is there
perpetual despair.”—CARLYLE.

BOSTON:
1901.

TO
MY MOTHER,
WHOSE LIFE HAS BEEN A LONG LABOR OF LOVE, THIS BOOK IS GRATEFULLY INSCRIBED

BY
HER DAUGHTER.


Contents

 I. CHRISTIE
 II. SERVANT
 III. ACTRESS
 IV. GOVERNESS
 V. COMPANION
 VI. SEAMSTRESS
 VII. THROUGH THE MIST
 VIII. A CURE FOR DESPAIR
 IX. MRS. WILKINS’S MINISTER
 X. BEGINNING AGAIN
 XI. IN THE STRAWBERRY BED
 XII. CHRISTIE’S GALA
 XIII. WAKING UP
 XIV. WHICH?
 XV. MIDSUMMER
 XVI. MUSTERED IN
 XVII. THE COLONEL
 XVIII. SUNRISE
 XIX. LITTLE HEART’S-EASE
 XX. AT FORTY


LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS,

FROM DRAWINGS BY SOL EYTINGE.

 “How doth the little busy bee”
 Christie
 Aunt Betsey’s Interlarded Speech
 Mrs. Stuart.
 Hepsey
 Christie as Queen of the Amazons
 Mr. Philip Fletcher
 Mrs. Saltonstall and Family
 “No, I thank you”
 Helen Carrol
 Mrs. King and Miss Cotton
 The Rescue
 “C. Wilkins, Clear Starcher”
 Lisha Wilkins
 Mrs. Wilkins’ “Six Lively Infants”
 Mr. Power
 Mrs. Sterling
 David and Christie in the Greenhouse
 Mr. Power and Christie in the Strawberry Bed
 A Friendly Chat
 Kitty.
 “One Happy Moment”
 David
 “Then they were married”
 “Don’t mourn, dear heart, but WORK”
 “She’s a good little gal; looks consid’able like you”
 “Each ready to do her part to hasten the coming of the happy end”



WORK: A STORY OF EXPERIENCE.



CHAPTER I.
CHRISTIE.


[Illustration: CHRISTIE.]

“Aunt Betsey, there’s going to be a new Declaration of Independence.”

“Bless and save us, what do you mean, child?” And the startled old lady
precipitated a pie into the oven with destructive haste.

“I mean that, being of age, I’m going to take care of myself, and not
be a burden any longer. Uncle wishes me out of the way; thinks I ought
to go, and, sooner or later, will tell me so. I don’t intend to wait
for that, but, like the people in fairy tales, travel away into the
world and seek my fortune. I know I can find it.”

Christie emphasized her speech by energetic demonstrations in the
bread-trough, kneading the dough as if it was her destiny, and she was
shaping it to suit herself; while Aunt Betsey stood listening, with
uplifted pie-fork, and as much astonishment as her placid face was
capable of expressing. As the girl paused, with a decided thump, the
old lady exclaimed:

“What crazy idee you got into your head now?”

“A very sane and sensible one that’s got to be worked out, so please
listen to it, ma’am. I’ve had it a good while, I’ve thought it over
thoroughly, and I’m sure it’s the right thing for me to do. I’m old
enough to take care of myself; and if I’d been a boy, I should have
been told to do it long ago. I hate to be dependent; and now there’s no
need of it, I can’t bear it any longer. If you were poor, I wouldn’t
leave you; for I never forget how kind _you_ have been to me. But Uncle
doesn’t love or understand me; I _am_ a burden to him, and I must go
where I can take care of myself. I can’t be happy till I do, for
there’s nothing here for me. I’m sick of this dull town, where the one
idea is eat, drink, and get rich; I don’t find any friends to help me
as I want to be helped, or any work that I can do well; so let me go,
Aunty, and find my place, wherever it is.”

“But I do need you, deary; and you mustn’t think Uncle don’t like you.
He does, only he don’t show it; and when your odd ways fret him, he
ain’t pleasant, I know. I don’t see why you can’t be contented; I’ve
lived here all my days, and never found the place lonesome, or the
folks unneighborly.” And Aunt Betsey looked perplexed by the new idea.

“You and I are very different, ma’am. There was more yeast put into my
composition, I guess; and, after standing quiet in a warm corner so
long, I begin to ferment, and ought to be kneaded up in time, so that I
may turn out a wholesome loaf. You can’t do this; so let me go where it
can be done, else I shall turn sour and good for nothing. Does that
make the matter any clearer?” And Christie’s serious face relaxed into
a smile as her aunt’s eye went from her to the nicely moulded loaf
offered as an illustration.

“I see what you mean, Kitty; but I never thought on’t before. You be
better riz than me; though, let me tell you, too much emptins makes
bread poor stuff, like baker’s trash; and too much workin’ up makes it
hard and dry. Now fly ’round, for the big oven is most het, and this
cake takes a sight of time in the mixin’.”

“You haven’t said I might go, Aunty,” began the girl, after a long
pause devoted by the old lady to the preparation of some compound which
seemed to require great nicety of measurement in its ingredients; for
when she replied, Aunt Betsey curiously interlarded her speech with
audible directions to herself from the receipt-book before her.

[Illustration: AUNT BETSEY’S INTERLARDED SPEECH.]

“I ain’t no right to keep you, dear, ef you choose to take (a pinch of
salt). I’m sorry you ain’t happy, and think you might be ef you’d only
(beat six eggs, yolks and whites together). But ef you can’t, and feel
that you need (two cups of sugar), only speak to Uncle, and ef he says
(a squeeze of fresh lemon), go, my dear, and take my blessin’ with you
(not forgettin’ to cover with a piece of paper).”

Christie’s laugh echoed through the kitchen; and the old lady smiled
benignly, quite unconscious of the cause of the girl’s merriment.

“I shall ask Uncle to-night, and I know he won’t object. Then I shall
write to see if Mrs. Flint has a room for me, where I can stay till I
get something to do. There is plenty of work in the world, and I’m not
afraid of it; so you’ll soon hear good news of me. Don’t look sad, for
you know I never could forget you, even if I should become the greatest
lady in the land.” And Christie left the prints of two floury but
affectionate hands on the old lady’s shoulders, as she kissed the
wrinkled face that had never worn a frown to her.

Full of hopeful fancies, Christie salted the pans and buttered the
dough in pleasant forgetfulness of all mundane affairs, and the
ludicrous dismay of Aunt Betsey, who followed her about rectifying her
mistakes, and watching over her as if this sudden absence of mind had
roused suspicions of her sanity.

“Uncle, I want to go away, and get my own living, if you please,” was
Christie’s abrupt beginning, as they sat round the evening fire.

“Hey! what’s that?” said Uncle Enos, rousing from the doze he was
enjoying, with a candle in perilous proximity to his newspaper and his
nose.

Christie repeated her request, and was much relieved, when, after a
meditative stare, the old man briefly answered:

“Wal, go ahead.”

“I was afraid you might think it rash or silly, sir.”

“I think it’s the best thing you could do; and I like your good sense
in pupposin’ on’t.”

“Then I may really go?”

“Soon’s ever you like. Don’t pester me about it till you’re ready; then
I’ll give you a little suthing to start off with.” And Uncle Enos
returned to “The Farmer’s Friend,” as if cattle were more interesting
than kindred.

Christie was accustomed to his curt speech and careless manner; had
expected nothing more cordial; and, turning to her aunt, said, rather
bitterly:

“Didn’t I tell you he’d be glad to have me go? No matter! When I’ve
done something to be proud of, he will be as glad to see me back
again.” Then her voice changed, her eyes kindled, and the firm lips
softened with a smile. “Yes, I’ll try my experiment; then I’ll get
rich; found a home for girls like myself; or, better still, be a Mrs.
Fry, a Florence Nightingale, or”—

“How are you on’t for stockin’s, dear?”

Christie’s castles in the air vanished at the prosaic question; but,
after a blank look, she answered pleasantly:

“Thank you for bringing me down to my feet again, when I was soaring
away too far and too fast. I’m poorly off, ma’am; but if you are
knitting these for me, I shall certainly start on a firm foundation.”
And, leaning on Aunt Betsey’s knee, she patiently discussed the
wardrobe question from hose to head-gear.

“Don’t you think you could be contented any way, Christie, ef I make
the work lighter, and leave you more time for your books and things?”
asked the old lady, loth to lose the one youthful element in her quiet
life.

“No, ma’am, for I can’t find what I want here,” was the decided answer.

“What do you want, child?”

“Look in the fire, and I’ll try to show you.”

The old lady obediently turned her spectacles that way; and Christie
said in a tone half serious, half playful:

“Do you see those two logs? Well that one smouldering dismally away in
the corner is what my life is now; the other blazing and singing is
what I want my life to be.”

“Bless me, what an idee! They are both a-burnin’ where they are put,
and both will be ashes to-morrow; so what difference doos it make?”

Christie smiled at the literal old lady; but, following the fancy that
pleased her, she added earnestly:

“I know the end is the same; but it does make a difference how they
turn to ashes, and how I spend my life. That log, with its one dull
spot of fire, gives neither light nor warmth, but lies sizzling
despondently among the cinders. But the other glows from end to end
with cheerful little flames that go singing up the chimney with a
pleasant sound. Its light fills the room and shines out into the dark;
its warmth draws us nearer, making the hearth the cosiest place in the
house, and we shall all miss the friendly blaze when it dies. Yes,” she
added, as if to herself, “I hope my life may be like that, so that,
whether it be long or short, it will be useful and cheerful while it
lasts, will be missed when it ends, and leave something behind besides
ashes.”

Though she only half understood them, the girl’s words touched the kind
old lady, and made her look anxiously at the eager young face gazing so
wistfully into the fire.

“A good smart blowin’ up with the belluses would make the green stick
burn most as well as the dry one after a spell. I guess contentedness
is the best bellus for young folks, ef they would only think so.”

“I dare say you are right, Aunty; but I want to try for myself; and if
I fail, I’ll come back and follow your advice. Young folks always have
discontented fits, you know. Didn’t you when you were a girl?”

“Shouldn’t wonder ef I did; but Enos came along, and I forgot ’em.”

“My Enos has not come along yet, and never may; so I’m not going to sit
and wait for any man to give me independence, if I can earn it for
myself.” And a quick glance at the gruff, gray old man in the corner
plainly betrayed that, in Christie’s opinion, Aunt Betsey made a bad
bargain when she exchanged her girlish aspirations for a man whose soul
was in his pocket.

“Jest like her mother, full of hifalutin notions, discontented, and sot
in her own idees. Poor capital to start a fortin’ on.”

Christie’s eye met that of her uncle peering over the top of his paper
with an expression that always tried her patience. Now it was like a
dash of cold water on her enthusiasm, and her face fell as she asked
quickly:

“How do you mean, sir?”

“I mean that you are startin’ all wrong; your redic’lus notions about
independence and self-cultur won’t come to nothin’ in the long run, and
you’ll make as bad a failure of your life as your mother did of her’n.”

“Please, don’t say that to me; I can’t bear it, for I shall never think
her life a failure, because she tried to help herself, and married a
good man in spite of poverty, when she loved him! You call that folly;
but I’ll do the same if I can; and I’d rather have what my father and
mother left me, than all the money you are piling up, just for the
pleasure of being richer than your neighbors.”

“Never mind, dear, he don’t mean no harm!” whispered Aunt Betsey,
fearing a storm.

But though Christie’s eyes had kindled and her color deepened, her
voice was low and steady, and her indignation was of the inward sort.

“Uncle likes to try me by saying such things, and this is one reason
why I want to go away before I get sharp and bitter and distrustful as
he is. I don’t suppose I can make you understand my feeling, but I’d
like to try, and then I’ll never speak of it again;” and, carefully
controlling voice and face, Christie slowly added, with a look that
would have been pathetically eloquent to one who could have understood
the instincts of a strong nature for light and freedom: “You say I am
discontented, proud and ambitious; that’s true, and I’m glad of it. I
am discontented, because I can’t help feeling that there is a better
sort of life than this dull one made up of everlasting work, with no
object but money. I can’t starve my soul for the sake of my body, and I
mean to get out of the treadmill if I can. I’m proud, as you call it,
because I hate dependence where there isn’t any love to make it
bearable. You don’t say so in words, but I know you begrudge me a home,
though you will call me ungrateful when I’m gone. I’m willing to work,
but I want work that I can put my heart into, and feel that it does me
good, no matter how hard it is. I only ask for a chance to be a useful,
happy woman, and I don’t think that is a bad ambition. Even if I only
do what my dear mother did, earn my living honestly and happily, and
leave a beautiful example behind me, to help one other woman as hers
helps me, I shall be satisfied.”

Christie’s voice faltered over the last words, for the thoughts and
feelings which had been working within her during the last few days had
stirred her deeply, and the resolution to cut loose from the old life
had not been lightly made. Mr. Devon had listened behind his paper to
this unusual outpouring with a sense of discomfort which was new to
him. But though the words reproached and annoyed, they did not soften
him, and when Christie paused with tearful eyes, her uncle rose,
saying, slowly, as he lighted his candle:

“Ef I’d refused to let you go before, I’d agree to it now; for you need
breakin’ in, my girl, and you are goin’ where you’ll get it, so the
sooner you’re off the better for all on us. Come, Betsey, we may as wal
leave, for we can’t understand the wants of her higher nater, as
Christie calls it, and we’ve had lecterin’ enough for one night.” And
with a grim laugh the old man quitted the field, worsted but in good
order.

“There, there, dear, hev a good cry, and forgit all about it!” purred
Aunt Betsey, as the heavy footsteps creaked away, for the good soul had
a most old-fashioned and dutiful awe of her lord and master.

“I shan’t cry but act; for it is high time I was off. I’ve stayed for
your sake; now I’m more trouble than comfort, and away I go.
Good-night, my dear old Aunty, and don’t look troubled, for I’ll be a
lamb while I stay.”

Having kissed the old lady, Christie swept her work away, and sat down
to write the letter which was the first step toward freedom. When it
was done, she drew nearer, to her friendly confidante the fire, and
till late into the night sat thinking tenderly of the past, bravely of
the present, hopefully of the future. Twenty-one to-morrow, and her
inheritance a head, a heart, a pair of hands; also the dower of most
New England girls, intelligence, courage, and common sense, many
practical gifts, and, hidden under the reserve that soon melts in a
genial atmosphere, much romance and enthusiasm, and the spirit which
can rise to heroism when the great moment comes.

Christie was one of that large class of women who, moderately endowed
with talents, earnest and true-hearted, are driven by necessity,
temperament, or principle out into the world to find support,
happiness, and homes for themselves. Many turn back discouraged; more
accept shadow for substance, and discover their mistake too late; the
weakest lose their purpose and themselves; but the strongest struggle
on, and, after danger and defeat, earn at last the best success this
world can give us, the possession of a brave and cheerful spirit, rich
in self-knowledge, self-control, self-help. This was the real desire of
Christie’s heart; this was to be her lesson and reward, and to this
happy end she was slowly yet surely brought by the long discipline of
life and labor.

Sitting alone there in the night, she tried to strengthen herself with
all the good and helpful memories she could recall, before she went
away to find her place in the great unknown world. She thought of her
mother, so like herself, who had borne the commonplace life of home
till she could bear it no longer. Then had gone away to teach, as most
country girls are forced to do. Had met, loved, and married a poor
gentleman, and, after a few years of genuine happiness, untroubled even
by much care and poverty, had followed him out of the world, leaving
her little child to the protection of her brother.

Christie looked back over the long, lonely years she had spent in the
old farm-house, plodding to school and church, and doing her tasks with
kind Aunt Betsey while a child; and slowly growing into girlhood, with
a world of romance locked up in a heart hungry for love and a larger,
nobler life.

She had tried to appease this hunger in many ways, but found little
help. Her father’s old books were all she could command, and these she
wore out with much reading. Inheriting his refined tastes, she found
nothing to attract her in the society of the commonplace and often
coarse people about her. She tried to like the buxom girls whose one
ambition was to “get married,” and whose only subjects of conversation
were “smart bonnets” and “nice dresses.” She tried to believe that the
admiration and regard of the bluff young farmers was worth striving
for; but when one well-to-do neighbor laid his acres at her feet, she
found it impossible to accept for her life’s companion a man whose soul
was wrapped up in prize cattle and big turnips.

Uncle Enos never could forgive her for this piece of folly, and
Christie plainly saw that one of three things would surely happen, if
she lived on there with no vent for her full heart and busy mind. She
would either marry Joe Butterfield in sheer desperation, and become a
farmer’s household drudge; settle down into a sour spinster, content to
make butter, gossip, and lay up money all her days; or do what poor
Matty Stone had done, try to crush and curb her needs and aspirations
till the struggle grew too hard, and then in a fit of despair end her
life, and leave a tragic story to haunt their quiet river.

To escape these fates but one way appeared; to break loose from this
narrow life, go out into the world and see what she could do for
herself. This idea was full of enchantment to the eager girl, and,
after much earnest thought, she had resolved to try it.

“If I fail, I can come back,” she said to herself, even while she
scorned the thought of failure, for with all her shy pride she was both
brave and ardent, and her dreams were of the rosiest sort.

“I won’t marry Joe; I won’t wear myself out in a district-school for
the mean sum they give a woman; I won’t delve away here where I’m not
wanted; and I won’t end my life like a coward, because it is dull and
hard. I’ll try my fate as mother did, and perhaps I may succeed as
well.” And Christie’s thoughts went wandering away into the dim, sweet
past when she, a happy child, lived with loving parents in a different
world from that.

Lost in these tender memories, she sat till the old moon-faced clock
behind the door struck twelve, then the visions vanished, leaving their
benison behind them.

As she glanced backward at the smouldering fire, a slender spire of
flame shot up from the log that had blazed so cheerily, and shone upon
her as she went. A good omen, gratefully accepted then, and remembered
often in the years to come.



CHAPTER II.
SERVANT.


A fortnight later, and Christie was off. Mrs. Flint had briefly
answered that she had a room, and that work was always to be found in
the city. So the girl packed her one trunk, folding away splendid hopes
among her plain gowns, and filling every corner with happy fancies,
utterly impossible plans, and tender little dreams, so lovely at the
time, so pathetic to remember, when contact with the hard realities of
life has collapsed our bright bubbles, and the frost of disappointment
nipped all our morning glories in their prime. The old red stage
stopped at Enos Devon’s door, and his niece crossed the threshold after
a cool handshake with the master of the house, and a close embrace with
the mistress, who stood pouring out last words with spectacles too dim
for seeing. Fat Ben swung up the trunk, slammed the door, mounted his
perch, and the ancient vehicle swayed with premonitory symptoms of
departure.

Then something smote Christie’s heart. “Stop!” she cried, and springing
out ran back into the dismal room where the old man sat. Straight up to
him she went with outstretched hand, saying steadily, though her face
was full of feeling:

“Uncle, I’m not satisfied with that good-bye. I don’t mean to be
sentimental, but I do want to say, ‘Forgive me!’ I see now that I might
have made you sorry to part with me, if I had tried to make you love me
more. It’s too late now, but I’m not too proud to confess when I’m
wrong. I want to part kindly; I ask your pardon; I thank you for all
you’ve done for me, and I say good-bye affectionately now.”

Mr. Devon had a heart somewhere, though it seldom troubled him; but it
did make itself felt when the girl looked at him with his dead sister’s
eyes, and spoke in a tone whose unaccustomed tenderness was a reproach.

Conscience had pricked him more than once that week, and he was glad to
own it now; his rough sense of honor was touched by her frank
expression, and, as he answered, his hand was offered readily.

“I like that, Kitty, and think the better of you for’t. Let bygones be
bygones. I gen’lly got as good as I give, and I guess I deserved some
on’t. I wish you wal, my girl, I heartily wish you wal, and hope you
won’t forgit that the old house ain’t never shet aginst you.”

Christie astonished him with a cordial kiss; then bestowing another
warm hug on Aunt Niobe, as she called the old lady in a tearful joke,
she ran into the carriage, taking with her all the sunshine of the
place.

Christie found Mrs. Flint a dreary woman, with “boarders” written all
over her sour face and faded figure. Butcher’s bills and house rent
seemed to fill her eyes with sleepless anxiety; thriftless cooks and
saucy housemaids to sharpen the tones of her shrill voice; and an
incapable husband to burden her shoulders like a modern “Old man of the
sea.”

A little room far up in the tall house was at the girl’s disposal for a
reasonable sum, and she took possession, feeling very rich with the
hundred dollars Uncle Enos gave her, and delightfully independent, with
no milk-pans to scald; no heavy lover to elude; no humdrum district
school to imprison her day after day.

For a week she enjoyed her liberty heartily, then set about finding
something to do. Her wish was to be a governess, that being the usual
refuge for respectable girls who have a living to get. But Christie
soon found her want of accomplishments a barrier to success in that
line, for the mammas thought less of the solid than of the ornamental
branches, and wished their little darlings to learn French before
English, music before grammar, and drawing before writing.

So, after several disappointments, Christie decided that her education
was too old-fashioned for the city, and gave up the idea of teaching.
Sewing she resolved not to try till every thing else failed; and, after
a few more attempts to get writing to do, she said to herself, in a fit
of humility and good sense: “I’ll begin at the beginning, and work my
way up. I’ll put my pride in my pocket, and go out to service.
Housework I like, and can do well, thanks to Aunt Betsey. I never
thought it degradation to do it for her, so why should I mind doing it
for others if they pay for it? It isn’t what I want, but it’s better
than idleness, so I’ll try it!”

Full of this wise resolution, she took to haunting that purgatory of
the poor, an intelligence office. Mrs. Flint gave her a recommendation,
and she hopefully took her place among the ranks of buxom German,
incapable Irish, and “smart” American women; for in those days foreign
help had not driven farmers’ daughters out of the field, and made
domestic comfort a lost art.

At first Christie enjoyed the novelty of the thing, and watched with
interest the anxious housewives who flocked in demanding that rara
avis, an angel at nine shillings a week; and not finding it, bewailed
the degeneracy of the times. Being too honest to profess herself
absolutely perfect in every known branch of house-work, it was some
time before she suited herself. Meanwhile, she was questioned and
lectured, half engaged and kept waiting, dismissed for a whim, and so
worried that she began to regard herself as the incarnation of all
human vanities and shortcomings.

“A desirable place in a small, genteel family,” was at last offered
her, and she posted away to secure it, having reached a state of
desperation and resolved to go as a first-class cook rather than sit
with her hands before her any longer.

A well-appointed house, good wages, and light duties seemed things to
be grateful for, and Christie decided that going out to service was not
the hardest fate in life, as she stood at the door of a handsome house
in a sunny square waiting to be inspected.

Mrs. Stuart, having just returned from Italy, affected the artistic,
and the new applicant found her with a Roman scarf about her head, a
rosary like a string of small cannon balls at her side, and azure
draperies which became her as well as they did the sea-green furniture
of her marine boudoir, where unwary walkers tripped over coral and
shells, grew sea-sick looking at pictures of tempestuous billows
engulfing every sort of craft, from a man-of-war to a hencoop with a
ghostly young lady clinging to it with one hand, and had their
appetites effectually taken away by a choice collection of water-bugs
and snakes in a glass globe, that looked like a jar of mixed pickles in
a state of agitation.

[Illustration: MRS. STUART.]

Madame was intent on a water-color copy of Turner’s “Rain, Wind, and
Hail,” that pleasing work which was sold upsidedown and no one found it
out. Motioning Christie to a seat she finished some delicate sloppy
process before speaking. In that little pause Christie examined her,
and the impression then received was afterward confirmed.

Mrs. Stuart possessed some beauty and chose to think herself a queen of
society. She assumed majestic manners in public and could not entirely
divest herself of them in private, which often produced comic effects.
Zenobia troubled about fish-sauce, or Aspasia indignant at the price of
eggs will give some idea of this lady when she condescended to the
cares of housekeeping.

Presently she looked up and inspected the girl as if a new servant were
no more than a new bonnet, a necessary article to be ordered home for
examination. Christie presented her recommendation, made her modest
little speech, and awaited her doom.

Mrs. Stuart read, listened, and then demanded with queenly brevity:

“Your name?”

“Christie Devon.”

“Too long; I should prefer to call you Jane as I am accustomed to the
name.”

“As you please, ma’am.”

“Your age?”

“Twenty-one.”

“You are an American?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

Mrs. Stuart gazed into space a moment, then delivered the following
address with impressive solemnity:

“I wish a capable, intelligent, honest, neat, well-conducted person who
knows her place and keeps it. The work is light, as there are but two
in the family. I am very particular and so is Mr. Stuart. I pay two
dollars and a half, allow one afternoon out, one service on Sunday, and
no followers. My table-girl must understand her duties thoroughly, be
extremely neat, and always wear white aprons.”

“I think I can suit you, ma’am, when I have learned the ways of the
house,” meekly replied Christie.

Mrs. Stuart looked graciously satisfied and returned the paper with a
gesture that Victoria might have used in restoring a granted petition,
though her next words rather marred the effect of the regal act, “My
cook is black.”

“I have no objection to color, ma’am.”

An expression of relief dawned upon Mrs. Stuart’s countenance, for the
black cook had been an insurmountable obstacle to all the Irish ladies
who had applied. Thoughtfully tapping her Roman nose with the handle of
her brush Madame took another survey of the new applicant, and seeing
that she looked neat, intelligent, and respectful, gave a sigh of
thankfulness and engaged her on the spot.

Much elated Christie rushed home, selected a bag of necessary articles,
bundled the rest of her possessions into an empty closet (lent her
rent-free owing to a profusion of cockroaches), paid up her board, and
at two o’clock introduced herself to Hepsey Johnson, her fellow
servant.

Hepsey was a tall, gaunt woman, bearing the tragedy of her race written
in her face, with its melancholy eyes, subdued expression, and the
pathetic patience of a wronged dumb animal. She received Christie with
an air of resignation, and speedily bewildered her with an account of
the duties she would be expected to perform.

A long and careful drill enabled Christie to set the table with but few
mistakes, and to retain a tolerably clear recollection of the order of
performances. She had just assumed her badge of servitude, as she
called the white apron, when the bell rang violently and Hepsey, who
was hurrying away to “dish up,” said:

“It’s de marster. You has to answer de bell, honey, and he likes it
done bery spry.”

Christie ran and admitted an impetuous, stout gentleman, who appeared
to be incensed against the elements, for he burst in as if blown, shook
himself like a Newfoundland dog, and said all in one breath:

“You’re the new girl, are you? Well, take my umbrella and pull off my
rubbers.”

“Sir?”

Mr. Stuart was struggling with his gloves, and, quite unconscious of
the astonishment of his new maid, impatiently repeated his request.

“Take this wet thing away, and pull off my overshoes. Don’t you see
it’s raining like the very deuce!”

Christie folded her lips together in a peculiar manner as she knelt
down and removed a pair of muddy overshoes, took the dripping umbrella,
and was walking away with her agreeable burden when Mr. Stuart gave her
another shock by calling over the banister:

“I’m going out again; so clean those rubbers, and see that the boots I
sent down this morning are in order.”

“Yes, sir,” answered Christie meekly, and immediately afterward
startled Hepsey by casting overshoes and umbrella upon the kitchen
floor, and indignantly demanding:

“Am I expected to be a boot-jack to that man?”

“I ’spects you is, honey.”

“Am I also expected to clean his boots?”

“Yes, chile. Katy did, and de work ain’t hard when you gits used to
it.”

“It isn’t the work; it’s the degradation; and I won’t submit to it.”

Christie looked fiercely determined; but Hepsey shook her head, saying
quietly as she went on garnishing a dish:

“Dere’s more ’gradin’ works dan dat, chile, and dem dat’s bin ’bliged
to do um finds dis sort bery easy. You’s paid for it, honey; and if you
does it willin, it won’t hurt you more dan washin’ de marster’s dishes,
or sweepin’ his rooms.”

“There ought to be a boy to do this sort of thing. Do you think it’s
right to ask it of me?” cried Christie, feeling that being servant was
not as pleasant a task as she had thought it.

“Dunno, chile. I’se shore I’d never ask it of any woman if I was a man,
’less I was sick or ole. But folks don’t seem to ’member dat we’ve got
feelin’s, and de best way is not to mind dese ere little trubbles. You
jes leave de boots to me; blackin’ can’t do dese ole hands no hurt, and
dis ain’t no deggydation to me now; I’s a free woman.”

“Why, Hepsey, were you ever a slave?” asked the girl, forgetting her
own small injury at this suggestion of the greatest of all wrongs.

“All my life, till I run away five year ago. My ole folks, and eight
brudders and sisters, is down dere in de pit now; waitin’ for the Lord
to set ’em free. And He’s gwine to do it soon, soon!” As she uttered
the last words, a sudden light chased the tragic shadow from Hepsey’s
face, and the solemn fervor of her voice thrilled Christie’s heart. All
her anger died out in a great pity, and she put her hand on the woman’s
shoulder, saying earnestly:

“I hope so; and I wish I could help to bring that happy day at once!”

For the first time Hepsey smiled, as she said gratefully, “De Lord
bress you for dat wish, chile.” Then, dropping suddenly into her old,
quiet way, she added, turning to her work:

“Now you tote up de dinner, and I’ll be handy by to ’fresh your mind
’bout how de dishes goes, for missis is bery ’ticular, and don’t like
no ‘stakes in tendin’.”

Thanks to her own neat-handed ways and Hepsey’s prompting through the
slide, Christie got on very well; managed her salver dexterously, only
upset one glass, clashed one dish-cover, and forgot to sugar the pie
before putting it on the table; an omission which was majestically
pointed out, and graciously pardoned as a first offence.

By seven o’clock the ceremonial was fairly over, and Christie dropped
into a chair quite tired out with frequent pacings to and fro. In the
kitchen she found the table spread for one, and Hepsey busy with the
boots.

“Aren’t you coming to your dinner, Mrs. Johnson?” she asked, not
pleased at the arrangement.

“When you’s done, honey; dere’s no hurry ’bout me. Katy liked dat way
best, and I’se used ter waitin’.”

“But I don’t like that way, and I won’t have it. I suppose Katy thought
her white skin gave her a right to be disrespectful to a woman old
enough to be her mother just because she was black. I don’t; and while
I’m here, there must be no difference made. If we can work together, we
can eat together; and because you have been a slave is all the more
reason I should be good to you now.”

If Hepsey had been surprised by the new girl’s protest against being
made a boot-jack of, she was still more surprised at this sudden
kindness, for she had set Christie down in her own mind as “one ob dem
toppin’ smart ones dat don’t stay long nowheres.” She changed her
opinion now, and sat watching the girl with a new expression on her
face, as Christie took boot and brush from her, and fell to work
energetically, saying as she scrubbed:

“I’m ashamed of complaining about such a little thing as this, and
don’t mean to feel degraded by it, though I should by letting you do it
for me. I never lived out before: that’s the reason I made a fuss.
There’s a polish, for you, and I’m in a good humor again; so Mr. Stuart
may call for his boots whenever he likes, and we’ll go to dinner like
fashionable people, as we are.”

There was something so irresistible in the girl’s hearty manner, that
Hepsey submitted at once with a visible satisfaction, which gave a
relish to Christie’s dinner, though it was eaten at a kitchen table,
with a bare-armed cook sitting opposite, and three rows of burnished
dish-covers reflecting the dreadful spectacle.

After this, Christie got on excellently, for she did her best, and
found both pleasure and profit in her new employment. It gave her real
satisfaction to keep the handsome rooms in order, to polish plate, and
spread bountiful meals. There was an atmosphere of ease and comfort
about her which contrasted agreeably with the shabbiness of Mrs.
Flint’s boarding-house, and the bare simplicity of the old home. Like
most young people, Christie loved luxury, and was sensible enough to
see and value the comforts of her situation, and to wonder why more
girls placed as she was did not choose a life like this rather than the
confinements of a sewing-room, or the fatigue and publicity of a shop.

She did not learn to love her mistress, because Mrs. Stuart evidently
considered herself as one belonging to a superior race of beings, and
had no desire to establish any of the friendly relations that may
become so helpful and pleasant to both mistress and maid. She made a
royal progress through her dominions every morning, issued orders,
found fault liberally, bestowed praise sparingly, and took no more
personal interest in her servants than if they were clocks, to be wound
up once a day, and sent away the moment they got out of repair.

Mr. Stuart was absent from morning till night, and all Christie ever
knew about him was that he was a kind-hearted, hot-tempered, and very
conceited man; fond of his wife, proud of the society they managed to
draw about them, and bent on making his way in the world at any cost.

If masters and mistresses knew how skilfully they are studied,
criticised, and imitated by their servants, they would take more heed
to their ways, and set better examples, perhaps. Mrs. Stuart never
dreamed that her quiet, respectful Jane kept a sharp eye on all her
movements, smiled covertly at her affectations, envied her
accomplishments, and practised certain little elegancies that struck
her fancy.

Mr. Stuart would have become apoplectic with indignation if he had
known that this too intelligent table-girl often contrasted her master
with his guests, and dared to think him wanting in good breeding when
he boasted of his money, flattered a great man, or laid plans to lure
some lion into his house. When he lost his temper, she always wanted to
laugh, he bounced and bumbled about so like an angry blue-bottle fly;
and when he got himself up elaborately for a party, this disrespectful
hussy confided to Hepsey her opinion that “master was a fat dandy, with
nothing to be vain of but his clothes,”—a sacrilegious remark which
would have caused her to be summarily ejected from the house if it had
reached the august ears of master or mistress.

“My father was a gentleman; and I shall never forget it, though I do go
out to service. I’ve got no rich friends to help me up, but, sooner or
later, I mean to find a place among cultivated people; and while I’m
working and waiting, I can be fitting myself to fill that place like a
gentlewoman, as I am.”

With this ambition in her mind, Christie took notes of all that went on
in the polite world, of which she got frequent glimpses while “living
out.” Mrs. Stuart received one evening of each week, and on these
occasions Christie, with an extra frill on her white apron, served the
company, and enjoyed herself more than they did, if the truth had been
known.

While helping the ladies with their wraps, she observed what they wore,
how they carried themselves, and what a vast amount of prinking they
did, not to mention the flood of gossip they talked while shaking out
their flounces and settling their topknots.

Later in the evening, when she passed cups and glasses, this
demure-looking damsel heard much fine discourse, saw many famous
beings, and improved her mind with surreptitious studies of the rich
and great when on parade. But her best time was after supper, when,
through the crack of the door of the little room where she was supposed
to be clearing away the relics of the feast, she looked and listened at
her ease; laughed at the wits, stared at the lions, heard the music,
was impressed by the wisdom, and much edified by the gentility of the
whole affair.

After a time, however, Christie got rather tired of it, for there was
an elegant sameness about these evenings that became intensely
wearisome to the uninitiated, but she fancied that as each had his part
to play he managed to do it with spirit. Night after night the wag told
his stories, the poet read his poems, the singers warbled, the pretty
women simpered and dressed, the heavy scientific was duly discussed by
the elect precious, and Mrs. Stuart, in amazing costumes, sailed to and
fro in her most swan-like manner; while my lord stirred up the lions he
had captured, till they roared their best, great and small.

“Good heavens! why don’t they do or say something new and interesting,
and not keep twaddling on about art, and music, and poetry, and cosmos?
The papers are full of appeals for help for the poor, reforms of all
sorts, and splendid work that others are doing; but these people seem
to think it isn’t genteel enough to be spoken of here. I suppose it is
all very elegant to go on like a set of trained canaries, but it’s very
dull fun to watch them, and Hepsey’s stories are a deal more
interesting to me.”

Having come to this conclusion, after studying dilettanteism through
the crack of the door for some months, Christie left the “trained
canaries” to twitter and hop about their gilded cage, and devoted
herself to Hepsey, who gave her glimpses into another sort of life so
bitterly real that she never could forget it.

[Illustration: HEPSEY.]

Friendship had prospered in the lower regions, for Hepsey had a
motherly heart, and Christie soon won her confidence by bestowing her
own. Her story was like many another; yet, being the first Christie had
ever heard, and told with the unconscious eloquence of one who had
suffered and escaped, it made a deep impression on her, bringing home
to her a sense of obligation so forcibly that she began at once to pay
a little part of the great debt which the white race owes the black.

Christie loved books; and the attic next her own was full of them. To
this store she found her way by a sort of instinct as sure as that
which leads a fly to a honey-pot, and, finding many novels, she read
her fill. This amusement lightened many heavy hours, peopled the silent
house with troops of friends, and, for a time, was the joy of her life.

Hepsey used to watch her as she sat buried in her book when the day’s
work was done, and once a heavy sigh roused Christie from the most
exciting crisis of “The Abbot.”

“What’s the matter? Are you very tired, Aunty?” she asked, using the
name that came most readily to her lips.

“No, honey; I was only wishin’ I could read fast like you does. I’s
berry slow ’bout readin’ and I want to learn a heap,” answered Hepsey,
with such a wistful look in her soft eyes that Christie shut her book,
saying briskly:

“Then I’ll teach you. Bring out your primer and let’s begin at once.”

“Dear chile, it’s orful hard work to put learnin’ in my ole head, and I
wouldn’t ’cept such a ting from you only I needs dis sort of help so
bad, and I can trust you to gib it to me as I wants it.”

Then in a whisper that went straight to Christie’s heart, Hepsey told
her plan and showed what help she craved.

For five years she had worked hard, and saved her earnings for the
purpose of her life. When a considerable sum had been hoarded up, she
confided it to one whom she believed to be a friend, and sent him to
buy her old mother. But he proved false, and she never saw either
mother or money. It was a hard blow, but she took heart and went to
work again, resolving this time to trust no one with the dangerous part
of the affair, but when she had scraped together enough to pay her way
she meant to go South and steal her mother at the risk of her life.

“I don’t want much money, but I must know little ’bout readin’ and
countin’ up, else I’ll get lost and cheated. You’ll help me do dis,
honey, and I’ll bless you all my days, and so will my old mammy, if I
ever gets her safe away.”

With tears of sympathy shining on her cheeks, and both hands stretched
out to the poor soul who implored this small boon of her, Christie
promised all the help that in her lay, and kept her word religiously.

From that time, Hepsey’s cause was hers; she laid by a part of her
wages for “ole mammy,” she comforted Hepsey with happy prophecies of
success, and taught with an energy and skill she had never known
before. Novels lost their charms now, for Hepsey could give her a
comedy and tragedy surpassing any thing she found in them, because
truth stamped her tales with a power and pathos the most gifted fancy
could but poorly imitate.

The select receptions upstairs seemed duller than ever to her now, and
her happiest evenings were spent in the tidy kitchen, watching Hepsey
laboriously shaping A’s and B’s, or counting up on her worn fingers the
wages they had earned by months of weary work, that she might purchase
one treasure,—a feeble, old woman, worn out with seventy years of
slavery far away there in Virginia.

For a year Christie was a faithful servant to her mistress, who
appreciated her virtues, but did not encourage them; a true friend to
poor Hepsey, who loved her dearly, and found in her sympathy and
affection a solace for many griefs and wrongs. But Providence had other
lessons for Christie, and when this one was well learned she was sent
away to learn another phase of woman’s life and labor.

While their domestics amused themselves with privy conspiracy and
rebellion at home, Mr. and Mrs. Stuart spent their evenings in chasing
that bright bubble called social success, and usually came home rather
cross because they could not catch it.

On one of these occasions they received a warm welcome, for, as they
approached the house, smoke was seen issuing from an attic window, and
flames flickering behind the half-drawn curtain. Bursting out of the
carriage with his usual impetuosity, Mr. Stuart let himself in and tore
upstairs shouting “Fire!” like an engine company.

In the attic Christie was discovered lying dressed upon her bed, asleep
or suffocated by the smoke that filled the room. A book had slipped
from her hand, and in falling had upset the candle on a chair beside
her; the long wick leaned against a cotton gown hanging on the wall,
and a greater part of Christie’s wardrobe was burning brilliantly.

“I forbade her to keep the gas lighted so late, and see what the
deceitful creature has done with her private candle!” cried Mrs. Stuart
with a shrillness that roused the girl from her heavy sleep more
effectually than the anathemas Mr. Stuart was fulminating against the
fire.

Sitting up she looked dizzily about her. The smoke was clearing fast, a
window having been opened; and the tableau was a striking one. Mr.
Stuart with an excited countenance was dancing frantically on a heap of
half-consumed clothes pulled from the wall. He had not only drenched
them with water from bowl and pitcher, but had also cast those articles
upon the pile like extinguishers, and was skipping among the fragments
with an agility which contrasted with his stout figure in full evening
costume, and his besmirched face, made the sight irresistibly
ludicrous.

Mrs. Stuart, though in her most regal array, seemed to have left her
dignity downstairs with her opera cloak, for with skirts gathered
closely about her, tiara all askew, and face full of fear and anger,
she stood upon a chair and scolded like any shrew.

The comic overpowered the tragic, and being a little hysterical with
the sudden alarm, Christie broke into a peal of laughter that sealed
her fate.

“Look at her! look at her!” cried Mrs. Stuart gesticulating on her
perch as if about to fly. “She has been at the wine, or lost her wits.
She must go, Horatio, she must go! I cannot have my nerves shattered by
such dreadful scenes. She is too fond of books, and it has turned her
brain. Hepsey can watch her to-night, and at dawn she shall leave the
house for ever.”

“Not till after breakfast, my dear. Let us have that in comfort I beg,
for upon my soul we shall need it,” panted Mr. Stuart, sinking into a
chair exhausted with the vigorous measures which had quenched the
conflagration.

Christie checked her untimely mirth, explained the probable cause of
the mischief, and penitently promised to be more careful for the
future.

Mr. Stuart would have pardoned her on the spot, but Madame was
inexorable, for she had so completely forgotten her dignity that she
felt it would be impossible ever to recover it in the eyes of this
disrespectful menial. Therefore she dismissed her with a lecture that
made both mistress and maid glad to part.

She did not appear at breakfast, and after that meal Mr. Stuart paid
Christie her wages with a solemnity which proved that he had taken a
curtain lecture to heart. There was a twinkle in his eye, however, as
he kindly added a recommendation, and after the door closed behind him
Christie was sure that he exploded into a laugh at the recollection of
his last night’s performance.

This lightened her sense of disgrace very much, so, leaving a part of
her money to repair damages, she packed up her dilapidated wardrobe,
and, making Hepsey promise to report progress from time to time,
Christie went back to Mrs. Flint’s to compose her mind and be ready à
la Micawber “for something to turn up.”



CHAPTER III.
ACTRESS.


Feeling that she had all the world before her where to choose, and that
her next step ought to take her up at least one round higher on the
ladder she was climbing, Christie decided not to try going out to
service again. She knew very well that she would never live with Irish
mates, and could not expect to find another Hepsey. So she tried to get
a place as companion to an invalid, but failed to secure the only
situation of the sort that was offered her, because she mildly objected
to waiting on a nervous cripple all day, and reading aloud half the
night. The old lady called har an “impertinent baggage,” and Christie
retired in great disgust, resolving not to be a slave to anybody.

Things seldom turn out as we plan them, and after much waiting and
hoping for other work Christie at last accepted about the only
employment which had not entered her mind.

Among the boarders at Mrs. Flint’s were an old lady and her pretty
daughter, both actresses at a respectable theatre. Not stars by any
means, but good second-rate players, doing their work creditably and
earning an honest living. The mother had been kind to Christie in
offering advice, and sympathizing with her disappointments. The
daughter, a gay little lass, had taken Christie to the theatre several
times, there to behold her in all the gauzy glories that surround the
nymphs of spectacular romance.

To Christie this was a great delight, for, though she had pored over
her father’s Shakespeare till she knew many scenes by heart, she had
never seen a play till Lucy led her into what seemed an enchanted
world. Her interest and admiration pleased the little actress, and
sundry lifts when she was hurried with her dresses made her grateful to
Christie.

The girl’s despondent face, as she came in day after day from her
unsuccessful quest, told its own story, though she uttered no
complaint, and these friendly souls laid their heads together, eager to
help her in their own dramatic fashion.

“I’ve got it! I’ve got it! All hail to the queen!” was the cry that one
day startled Christie as she sat thinking anxiously, while sewing
mock-pearls on a crown for Mrs. Black.

Looking up she saw Lucy just home from rehearsal, going through a
series of pantomimic evolutions suggestive of a warrior doing battle
with incredible valor, and a very limited knowledge of the noble art of
self-defence.

“What have you got? Who is the queen?” she asked, laughing, as the
breathless hero lowered her umbrella, and laid her bonnet at Christie’s
feet.

“You are to be the Queen of the Amazons in our new spectacle, at half a
dollar a night for six or eight weeks, if the piece goes well.”

“No!” cried Christie, with a gasp.

“Yes!” cried Lucy, clapping her hands; and then she proceeded to tell
her news with theatrical volubility. “Mr. Sharp, the manager, wants a
lot of tallish girls, and I told him I knew of a perfect dear. He said:
‘Bring her on, then,’ and I flew home to tell you. Now, don’t look
wild, and say no. You’ve only got to sing in one chorus, march in the
grand procession, and lead your band in the terrific battle-scene. The
dress is splendid! Red tunic, tiger-skin over shoulder, helmet, shield,
lance, fleshings, sandals, hair down, and as much cork to your eyebrows
as you like.”

Christie certainly did look wild, for Lucy had burst into the room like
a small hurricane, and her rapid words rattled about the listeners’
ears as if a hail-storm had followed the gust. While Christie still sat
with her mouth open, too bewildered to reply, Mrs. Black said in her
cosey voice:

“Try it, me dear, it’s just what you’ll enjoy, and a capital beginning
I assure ye; for if you do well old Sharp will want you again, and
then, when some one slips out of the company, you can slip in, and
there you are quite comfortable. Try it, me dear, and if you don’t like
it drop it when the piece is over, and there’s no harm done.”

“It’s much easier and jollier than any of the things you are after.
We’ll stand by you like bricks, and in a week you’ll say it’s the best
lark you ever had in your life. Don’t be prim, now, but say yes, like a
trump, as you are,” added Lucy, waving a pink satin train temptingly
before her friend.

“I will try it!” said Christie, with sudden decision, feeling that
something entirely new and absorbing was what she needed to expend the
vigor, romance, and enthusiasm of her youth upon.

With a shriek of delight Lucy swept her off her chair, and twirled her
about the room as excitable young ladies are fond of doing when their
joyful emotions need a vent. When both were giddy they subsided into a
corner and a breathless discussion of the important step.

Though she had consented, Christie had endless doubts and fears, but
Lucy removed many of the former, and her own desire for pleasant
employment conquered many of the latter. In her most despairing moods
she had never thought of trying this. Uncle Enos considered
“play-actin’” as the sum of all iniquity. What would he say if she went
calmly to destruction by that road? Sad to relate, this recollection
rather strengthened her purpose, for a delicious sense of freedom
pervaded her soul, and the old defiant spirit seemed to rise up within
her at the memory of her Uncle’s grim prophecies and narrow views.

“Lucy is happy, virtuous, and independent, why can’t I be so too if I
have any talent? It isn’t exactly what I should choose, but any thing
honest is better than idleness. I’ll try it any way, and get a little
fun, even if I don’t make much money or glory out of it.”

So Christie held to her resolution in spite of many secret misgivings,
and followed Mrs. Black’s advice on all points with a docility which
caused that sanguine lady to predict that she would be a star before
she knew where she was.

“Is this the stage? How dusty and dull it is by daylight!” said
Christie next day, as she stood by Lucy on the very spot where she had
seen Hamlet die in great anguish two nights before.

“Bless you, child, it’s in curl-papers now, as I am of a morning. Mr.
Sharp, here’s an Amazon for you.”

As she spoke, Lucy hurried across the stage, followed by Christie,
wearing any thing but an Amazonian expression just then.

“Ever on before?” abruptly asked, a keen-faced, little man, glancing
with an experienced eye at the young person who stood before him bathed
in blushes.

“No, sir.”

“Do you sing?”

“A little, sir.”

“Dance, of course?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Just take a turn across the stage, will you? Must walk well to lead a
march.”

As she went, Christie heard Mr. Sharp taking notes audibly:

“Good tread; capital figure; fine eye. She’ll make up well, and behave
herself, I fancy.”

A strong desire to make off seized the girl; but, remembering that she
had presented herself for inspection, she controlled the impulse, and
returned to him with no demonstration of displeasure, but a little more
fire in “the fine eye,” and a more erect carriage of the “capital
figure.”

“All right, my dear. Give your name to Mr. Tripp, and your mind to the
business, and consider yourself engaged,”—with which satisfactory
remark the little man vanished like a ghost.

“Lucy, did you hear that impertinent ‘my dear’?” asked Christie, whose
sense of propriety had received its first shock.

“Lord, child, all managers do it. They don’t mean any thing; so be
resigned, and thank your stars he didn’t say ‘love’ and ‘darling,’ and
kiss you, as old Vining used to,” was all the sympathy she got.

Having obeyed orders, Lucy initiated her into the mysteries of the
place, and then put her in a corner to look over the scenes in which
she was to appear. Christie soon caught the idea of her part,—not a
difficult matter, as there were but few ideas in the whole piece, after
which she sat watching the arrival of the troop she was to lead. A most
forlorn band of warriors they seemed, huddled together, and looking as
if afraid to speak, lest they should infringe some rule; or to move,
lest they be swallowed up by some unsuspected trap-door.

Presently the ballet-master appeared, the orchestra struck up, and
Christie found herself marching and counter-marching at word of
command. At first, a most uncomfortable sense of the absurdity of her
position oppressed and confused her; then the ludicrous contrast
between the solemn anxiety of the troop and the fantastic evolutions
they were performing amused her till the novelty wore off; the martial
music excited her; the desire to please sharpened her wits; and natural
grace made it easy for her to catch and copy the steps and poses given
her to imitate. Soon she forgot herself, entered into the spirit of the
thing, and exerted every sense to please, so successfully that Mr.
Tripp praised her quickness at comprehension, Lucy applauded heartily
from a fairy car, and Mr. Sharp popped his head out of a palace window
to watch the Amazon’s descent from the Mountains of the Moon.

When the regular company arrived, the troop was dismissed till the
progress of the play demanded their reappearance. Much interested in
the piece, Christie stood aside under a palm-tree, the foliage of which
was strongly suggestive of a dilapidated green umbrella, enjoying the
novel sights and sounds about her.

Yellow-faced gentlemen and sleepy-eyed ladies roamed languidly about
with much incoherent jabbering of parts, and frequent explosions of
laughter. Princes, with varnished boots and suppressed cigars, fought,
bled, and died, without a change of countenance. Damsels of
unparalleled beauty, according to the text, gaped in the faces of
adoring lovers, and crocheted serenely on the brink of annihilation.
Fairies, in rubber-boots and woollen head-gear, disported themselves on
flowery barks of canvas, or were suspended aloft with hooks in their
backs like young Hindoo devotees. Demons, guiltless of hoof or horn,
clutched their victims with the inevitable “Ha! ha!” and vanished
darkly, eating pea-nuts. The ubiquitous Mr. Sharp seemed to pervade the
whole theatre; for his voice came shrilly from above or spectrally from
below, and his active little figure darted to and fro like a critical
will-o-the-wisp.

The grand march and chorus in the closing scene were easily
accomplished; for, as Lucy bade her, Christie “sung with all her
might,” and kept step as she led her band with the dignity of a
Boadicea. No one spoke to her; few observed her; all were intent on
their own affairs; and when the final shriek and bang died away without
lifting the roof by its din, she could hardly believe that the dreaded
first rehearsal was safely over.

A visit to the wardrobe-room to see her dress came next; and here
Christie had a slight skirmish with the mistress of that department
relative to the length of her classical garments. As studies from the
nude had not yet become one of the amusements of the elite of Little
Babel, Christie was not required to appear in the severe simplicity of
a costume consisting of a necklace, sandals, and a bit of gold fringe
about the waist, but was allowed an extra inch or two on her tunic, and
departed, much comforted by the assurance that her dress would not be
“a shock to modesty,” as Lucy expressed it.

“Now, look at yourself, and, for my sake, prove an honor to your
country and a terror to the foe,” said Lucy, as she led her _protégée_
before the green-room mirror on the first night of “The Demon’s
Daughter, or The Castle of the Sun!! The most Magnificent Spectacle
ever produced upon the American Stage!!!”

Christie looked, and saw a warlike figure with glittering helmet,
shield and lance, streaming hair and savage cloak. She liked the
picture, for there was much of the heroic spirit in the girl, and even
this poor counterfeit pleased her eye and filled her fancy with martial
memories of Joan of Arc, Zenobia, and Britomarte.

“Go to!” cried Lucy, who affected theatrical modes of speech. “Don’t
admire yourself any longer, but tie up your sandals and come on. Be
sure you rush down the instant I cry, ‘Demon, I defy thee!’ Don’t break
your neck, or pick your way like a cat in wet weather, but come with
effect, for I want that scene to make a hit.”

[Illustration: CHRISTIE AS QUEEN OF THE AMAZONS.]

Princess Caremfil swept away, and the Amazonian queen climbed to her
perch among the painted mountains, where her troop already sat like a
flock of pigeons shining in the sun. The gilded breast-plate rose and
fell with the quick beating of her heart, the spear shook with the
trembling of her hand, her lips were dry, her head dizzy, and more than
once, as she waited for her cue, she was sorely tempted to run away and
take the consequences.

But the thought of Lucy’s good-will and confidence kept her, and when
the cry came she answered with a ringing shout, rushed down the
ten-foot precipice, and charged upon the foe with an energy that
inspired her followers, and quite satisfied the princess struggling in
the demon’s grasp.

With clashing of arms and shrill war-cries the rescuers of innocence
assailed the sooty fiends who fell before their unscientific blows with
a rapidity which inspired in the minds of beholders a suspicion that
the goblins’ own voluminous tails tripped them up and gallantry kept
them prostrate. As the last groan expired, the last agonized squirm
subsided, the conquerors performed the intricate dance with which it
appears the Amazons were wont to celebrate their victories. Then the
scene closed with a glare of red light and a “grand tableau” of the
martial queen standing in a bower of lances, the rescued princess
gracefully fainting in her arms, and the vanquished demon scowling
fiercely under her foot, while four-and-twenty dishevelled damsels sang
a song of exultation, to the barbaric music of a tattoo on their
shields.

All went well that night, and when at last the girls doffed crown and
helmet, they confided to one another the firm opinion that the success
of the piece was in a great measure owing to their talent, their
exertions, and went gaily home predicting for themselves careers as
brilliant as those of Siddons and Rachel.

It would be a pleasant task to paint the vicissitudes and victories of
a successful actress; but Christie was no dramatic genius born to shine
before the world and leave a name behind her. She had no talent except
that which may be developed in any girl possessing the lively fancy,
sympathetic nature, and ambitious spirit which make such girls
naturally dramatic. This was to be only one of many experiences which
were to show her her own weakness and strength, and through effort,
pain, and disappointment fit her to play a nobler part on a wider
stage.

For a few weeks Christie’s illusions lasted; then she discovered that
the new life was nearly as humdrum as the old, that her companions were
ordinary men and women, and her bright hopes were growing as dim as her
tarnished shield. She grew unutterably weary of “The Castle of the
Sun,” and found the “Demon’s Daughter” an unmitigated bore. She was not
tired of the profession, only dissatisfied with the place she held in
it, and eager to attempt a part that gave some scope for power and
passion.

Mrs. Black wisely reminded her that she must learn to use her wings
before she tried to fly, and comforted her with stories of celebrities
who had begun as she was beginning, yet who had suddenly burst from
their grub-like obscurity to adorn the world as splendid butterflies.

“We’ll stand by you, Kit; so keep up your courage, and do your best. Be
clever to every one in general, old Sharp in particular, and when a
chance comes, have your wits about you and grab it. That’s the way to
get on,” said Lucy, as sagely as if she had been a star for years.

“If I had beauty I should stand a better chance,” sighed Christie,
surveying herself with great disfavor, quite unconscious that to a
cultivated eye the soul of beauty was often visible in that face of
hers, with its intelligent eyes, sensitive mouth, and fine lines about
the forehead, making it a far more significant and attractive
countenance than that of her friend, possessing only piquant
prettiness.

“Never mind, child; you’ve got a lovely figure, and an actress’s best
feature,—fine eyes and eyebrows. I heard old Kent say so, and he’s a
judge. So make the best of what you’ve got, as I do,” answered Lucy,
glancing at her own comely little person with an air of perfect
resignation.

Christie laughed at the adviser, but wisely took the advice, and,
though she fretted in private, was cheerful and alert in public. Always
modest, attentive, and obliging, she soon became a favorite with her
mates, and, thanks to Lucy’s good offices with Mr. Sharp, whose
favorite she was, Christie got promoted sooner than she otherwise would
have been.

A great Christmas spectacle was brought out the next season, and
Christie had a good part in it. When that was over she thought there
was no hope for her, as the regular company was full and a different
sort of performance was to begin. But just then her chance came, and
she “grabbed it.” The first soubrette died suddenly, and in the
emergency Mr. Sharp offered the place to Christie till he could fill it
to his mind. Lucy was second soubrette, and had hoped for this
promotion; but Lucy did not sing well. Christie had a good voice, had
taken lessons and much improved of late, so she had the preference and
resolved to stand the test so well that this temporary elevation should
become permanent.

She did her best, and though many of the parts were distasteful to her
she got through them successfully, while now and then she had one which
she thoroughly enjoyed. Her Tilly Slowboy was a hit, and a proud girl
was Christie when Kent, the comedian, congratulated her on it, and told
her he had seldom seen it better done.

To find favor in Kent’s eyes was an honor indeed, for he belonged to
the old school, and rarely condescended to praise modern actors. His
own style was so admirable that he was justly considered the first
comedian in the country, and was the pride and mainstay of the old
theatre where he had played for years. Of course he possessed much
influence in that little world, and being a kindly man used it
generously to help up any young aspirant who seemed to him deserving.

He had observed Christie, attracted by her intelligent face and modest
manners, for in spite of her youth there was a native refinement about
her that made it impossible for her to romp and flirt as some of her
mates did. But till she played Tilly he had not thought she possessed
any talent. That pleased him, and seeing how much she valued his
praise, and was flattered by his notice, he gave her the wise but
unpalatable advice always offered young actors. Finding that she
accepted it, was willing to study hard, work faithfully, and wait
patiently, he predicted that in time she would make a clever actress,
never a great one.

Of course Christie thought he was mistaken, and secretly resolved to
prove him a false prophet by the triumphs of her career. But she meekly
bowed to his opinion; this docility pleased him, and he took a paternal
sort of interest in her, which, coming from the powerful favorite, did
her good service with the higher powers, and helped her on more rapidly
than years of meritorious effort.

Toward the end of that second season several of Dickens’s dramatized
novels were played, and Christie earned fresh laurels. She loved those
books, and seemed by instinct to understand and personate the humor and
pathos of many of those grotesque creations. Believing she had little
beauty to sacrifice, she dressed such parts to the life, and played
them with a spirit and ease that surprised those who had considered her
a dignified and rather dull young person.

“I’ll tell you what it is, Sharp, that girl is going to make a capital
character actress. When her parts suit, she forgets herself entirely
and does admirably well. Her Miggs was nearly the death of me to-night.
She’s got that one gift, and it’s a good one. You’d better give her a
chance, for I think she’ll be a credit to the old concern.”

Kent said that,—Christie heard it, and flew to Lucy, waving Miggs’s cap
for joy as she told the news.

“What did Mr. Sharp say?” asked Lucy, turning round with her face half
“made up.”

“He merely said ‘Hum,’ and smiled. Wasn’t that a good sign?” said
Christie, anxiously.

“Can’t say,” and Lucy touched up her eyebrows as if she took no
interest in the affair.

Christie’s face fell, and her heart sunk at the thought of failure; but
she kept up her spirits by working harder than ever, and soon had her
reward. Mr. Sharp’s “Hum” did mean yes, and the next season she was
regularly engaged, with a salary of thirty dollars a week.

It was a grand step, and knowing that she owed it to Kent, Christie did
her utmost to show that she deserved his good opinion. New trials and
temptations beset her now, but hard work and an innocent nature kept
her safe and busy. Obstacles only spurred her on to redoubled exertion,
and whether she did well or ill, was praised or blamed, she found a
never-failing excitement in her attempts to reach the standard of
perfection she had set up for herself. Kent did not regret his
patronage. Mr. Sharp was satisfied with the success of the experiment,
and Christie soon became a favorite in a small way, because behind the
actress the public always saw a woman who never “forgot the modesty of
nature.”

But as she grew prosperous in outward things, Christie found herself
burdened with a private cross that tried her very much. Lucy was no
longer her friend; something had come between them, and a steadily
increasing coldness took the place of the confidence and affection
which had once existed. Lucy was jealous for Christie had passed her in
the race. She knew she could not fill the place Christie had gained by
favor, and now held by her own exertions, still she was bitterly
envious, though ashamed to own it.

Christie tried to be just and gentle, to prove her gratitude to her
first friend, and to show that her heart was unchanged. But she failed
to win Lucy back and felt herself injured by such unjust resentment.
Mrs. Black took her daughter’s part, and though they preserved the
peace outwardly the old friendliness was quite gone.

Hoping to forget this trouble in excitement Christie gave herself
entirely to her profession, finding in it a satisfaction which for a
time consoled her.

But gradually she underwent the sorrowful change which comes to strong
natures when they wrong themselves through ignorance or wilfulness.

Pride and native integrity kept her from the worst temptations of such
a life, but to the lesser ones she yielded, growing selfish, frivolous,
and vain,—intent on her own advancement, and careless by what means she
reached it. She had no thought now beyond her art, no desire beyond the
commendation of those whose opinion was serviceable, no care for any
one but herself.

Her love of admiration grew by what it fed on, till the sound of
applause became the sweetest music to her ear. She rose with this hope,
lay down with this satisfaction, and month after month passed in this
feverish life, with no wish to change it, but a growing appetite for
its unsatisfactory delights, an ever-increasing forgetfulness of any
higher aspiration than dramatic fame.

“Give me joy, Lucy, I’m to have a benefit next week! Everybody else has
had one, and I’ve played for them all, so no one seemed to begrudge me
my turn when dear old Kent proposed it,” said Christie, coming in one
night still flushed and excited with the good news.

“What shall you have?” asked Lucy, trying to look pleased, and failing
decidedly.

“‘Masks and Faces.’ I’ve always wanted to play Peg. and it has good
parts for you and Kent, and St. George I chose it for that reason, for
I shall need all the help I can get to pull me through, I dare say.”

The smile vanished entirely at this speech, and Christie was suddenly
seized with a suspicion that Lucy was not only jealous of her as an
actress, but as a woman. St. George was a comely young actor who
usually played lovers’ parts with Christie, and played them very well,
too, being possessed of much talent, and a gentleman. They had never
thought of falling in love with each other, though St. George wooed and
won Christie night after night in vaudeville and farce. But it was very
easy to imagine that so much mock passion had a basis of truth, and
Lucy evidently tormented herself with this belief.

“Why didn’t you choose Juliet: St. George would do Romeo so well?” said
Lucy, with a sneer.

“No, that is beyond me. Kent says Shakespeare will never be my line,
and I believe him. I should think you’d be satisfied with ‘Masks and
Faces,’ for you know Mabel gets her husband safely back in the end,”
answered Christie, watching the effect of her words.

“As if I wanted the man! No, thank you, other people’s leavings won’t
suit me,” cried Lucy, tossing her head, though her face belied her
words.

“Not even though he has ‘heavenly eyes,’ ‘distracting legs,’ and ‘a
melting voice?’” asked Christie maliciously, quoting Lucy’s own
rapturous speeches when the new actor came.

“Come, come, girls, don’t quarrel. I won’t ’ave it in me room. Lucy’s
tired to death, and it’s not nice of you, Kitty, to come and crow over
her this way,” said Mamma Black, coming to the rescue, for Lucy was in
tears, and Christie looking dangerous.

“It’s impossible to please you, so I’ll say good-night,” and Christie
went to her room with resentment burning hotly in her heart.

As she crossed the chamber her eye fell on her own figure reflected in
the long glass, and with a sudden impulse she tinned up the gas, wiped
the rouge from her cheeks, pushed back her hair, and studied her own
face intently for several moments. It was pale and jaded now, and all
its freshness seemed gone; hard lines had come about the mouth, a
feverish disquiet filled the eyes, and on the forehead seemed to lie
the shadow of a discontent that saddened the whole face. If one could
believe the testimony of that countenance things were not going well
with Christie, and she owned it with a regretful sigh, as she asked
herself, “Am I what I hoped I should be? No, and it is my fault. If
three years of this life have made me this, what shall I be in ten? A
fine actress perhaps, but how good a woman?”

With gloomy eyes fixed on her altered face she stood a moment
struggling with herself. Then the hard look returned, and she spoke out
defiantly, as if in answer to some warning voice within herself. “No
one cares what I am, so why care myself? Why not go on and get as much
fame as I can? Success gives me power if it cannot give me happiness,
and I must have some reward for my hard work. Yes! a gay life and a
short one, then out with the lights and down with the curtain!”

But in spite of her reckless words Christie sobbed herself to sleep
that night like a child who knows it is astray, yet cannot see the
right path or hear its mother’s voice calling it home.

On the night of the benefit, Lucy was in a most exasperating mood,
Christie in a very indignant one, and as they entered their
dressing-room they looked as if they might have played the Rival Queens
with great effect. Lucy offered no help and Christie asked none, but
putting her vexation resolutely out of sight fixed her mind on the task
before her.

As the pleasant stir began all about her, actress-like, she felt her
spirits rise, her courage increase with every curl she fastened up,
every gay garment she put on, and soon smiled approvingly at herself,
for excitement lent her cheeks a better color than rouge, her eyes
shone with satisfaction, and her heart beat high with the resolve to
make a hit or die.

Christie needed encouragement that night, and found it in the hearty
welcome that greeted her, and the full house, which proved how kind a
regard was entertained for her by many who knew her only by a
fictitious name. She felt this deeply, and it helped her much, for she
was vexed with many trials those before the footlights knew nothing of.

The other players were full of kindly interest in her success, but Lucy
took a naughty satisfaction in harassing her by all the small slights
and unanswerable provocations which one actress has it in her power to
inflict upon another.

Christie was fretted almost beyond endurance, and retaliated by an
ominous frown when her position allowed, threatening asides when a
moment’s by-play favored their delivery, and angry protests whenever
she met Lucy off the stage.

But in spite of all annoyances she had never played better in her life.
She liked the part, and acted the warm-hearted, quick-witted,
sharp-tongued Peg with a spirit and grace that surprised even those who
knew her best. Especially good was she in the scenes with Triplet, for
Kent played the part admirably, and cheered her on with many an
encouraging look and word. Anxious to do honor to her patron and friend
she threw her whole heart into the work; in the scene where she comes
like a good angel to the home of the poor play-wright, she brought
tears to the eyes of her audience; and when at her command Triplet
strikes up a jig to amuse the children she “covered the buckle” in
gallant style, dancing with all the frolicsome abandon of the Irish
orange-girl who for a moment forgot her grandeur and her grief.

That scene was her best, for it is full of those touches of nature that
need very little art to make them effective; and when a great bouquet
fell with a thump at Christie’s feet, as she paused to bow her thanks
for an encore, she felt that she had reached the height of earthly
bliss.

In the studio scene Lucy seemed suddenly gifted with unsuspected skill;
for when Mabel kneels to the picture, praying her rival to give her
back her husband’s heart, Christie was amazed to see real tears roll
down Lucy’s cheeks, and to hear real love and longing thrill her
trembling words with sudden power and passion.

“That is not acting. She does love St. George, and thinks I mean to
keep him from her. Poor dear! I’ll tell her all about it to-night, and
set her heart at rest,” thought Christie; and when Peg left the frame,
her face expressed the genuine pity that she felt, and her voice was
beautifully tender as she promised to restore the stolen treasure.

Lucy felt comforted without knowing why, and the piece went smoothly on
to its last scene. Peg was just relinquishing the repentant husband to
his forgiving wife with those brave words of hers, when a rending sound
above their heads made all look up and start back; all but Lucy, who
stood bewildered. Christie’s quick eye saw the impending danger, and
with a sudden spring she caught her friend from it. It was only a
second’s work, but it cost her much; for in the act, down crashed one
of the mechanical contrivances used in a late spectacle, and in its
fall stretched Christie stunned and senseless on the stage.

A swift uprising filled the house with tumult; a crowd of actors
hurried forward, and the panic-stricken audience caught glimpses of
poor Peg lying mute and pallid in Mabel’s arms, while Vane wrung his
hands, and Triplet audibly demanded, “Why the devil somebody didn’t go
for a doctor?”

Then a brilliant view of Mount Parnassus, with Apollo and the Nine
Muses in full blast, shut the scene from sight, and soon Mr. Sharp
appeared to ask their patience till the after-piece was ready, for Miss
Douglas was too much injured to appear again. And with an unwonted
expression of feeling, the little man alluded to “the generous act
which perhaps had changed the comedy to a tragedy and robbed the
beneficiary of her well-earned reward at their hands.”

All had seen the impulsive spring toward, not from, the danger, and
this unpremeditated action won heartier applause than Christie ever had
received for her best rendering of more heroic deeds.

But she did not hear the cordial round they gave her. She had said she
would “make a hit or die;” and just then it seemed as if she had done
both, for she was deaf and blind to the admiration and the sympathy
bestowed upon her as the curtain fell on the first, last benefit she
ever was to have.



CHAPTER IV.
GOVERNESS.


[Illustration: MR. PHILIP FLETCHER.]

During the next few weeks Christie learned the worth of many things
which she had valued very lightly until then. Health became a boon too
precious to be trifled with; life assumed a deeper significance when
death’s shadow fell upon its light, and she discovered that dependence
might be made endurable by the sympathy of unsuspected friends.

Lucy waited upon her with a remorseful devotion which touched her very
much and won entire forgiveness for the past, long before it was
repentantly implored. All her comrades came with offers of help and
affectionate regrets. Several whom she had most disliked now earned her
gratitude by the kindly thoughtfulness which filled her sick-room with
fruit and flowers, supplied carriages for the convalescent, and paid
her doctor’s bill without her knowledge.

Thus Christie learned, like many another needy member of the gay
profession, that though often extravagant and jovial in their way of
life, these men and women give as freely as they spend, wear warm, true
hearts under their motley, and make misfortune only another link in the
bond of good-fellowship which binds them loyally together.

Slowly Christie gathered her energies after weeks of suffering, and
took up her life again, grateful for the gift, and anxious to be more
worthy of it. Looking back upon the past she felt that she had made a
mistake and lost more than she had gained in those three years. Others
might lead that life of alternate excitement and hard work unharmed,
but she could not. The very ardor and insight which gave power to the
actress made that mimic life unsatisfactory to the woman, for hers was
an earnest nature that took fast hold of whatever task she gave herself
to do, and lived in it heartily while duty made it right, or novelty
lent it charms. But when she saw the error of a step, the emptiness of
a belief, with a like earnestness she tried to retrieve the one and to
replace the other with a better substitute.

In the silence of wakeful nights and the solitude of quiet days, she
took counsel with her better self, condemned the reckless spirit which
had possessed her, and came at last to the decision which conscience
prompted and much thought confirmed.

“The stage is not the place for me,” she said. “I have no genius to
glorify the drudgery, keep me from temptation, and repay me for any
sacrifice I make. Other women can lead this life safely and happily: I
cannot, and I must not go back to it, because, with all my past
experience, and in spite of all my present good resolutions, I should
do no better, and I might do worse. I’m not wise enough to keep steady
there; I must return to the old ways, dull but safe, and plod along
till I find my real place and work.”

Great was the surprise of Lucy and her mother when Christie told her
resolution, adding, in a whisper, to the girl, “I leave the field clear
for you, dear, and will dance at your wedding with all my heart when
St. George asks you to play the ‘Honeymoon’ with him, as I’m sure he
will before long.”

Many entreaties from friends, as well as secret longings, tried and
tempted Christie sorely, but she withstood them all, carried her point,
and renounced the profession she could not follow without self-injury
and self-reproach. The season was nearly over when she was well enough
to take her place again, but she refused to return, relinquished her
salary, sold her wardrobe, and never crossed the threshold of the
theatre after she had said good-bye.

Then she asked, “What next?” and was speedily answered. An
advertisement for a governess met her eye, which seemed to combine the
two things she most needed just then,—employment and change of air.

“Mind you don’t mention that you’ve been an actress or it will be all
up with you, me dear,” said Mrs. Black, as Christie prepared to
investigate the matter, for since her last effort in that line she had
increased her knowledge of music, and learned French enough to venture
teaching it to very young pupils.

“I’d rather tell in the beginning, for if you keep any thing back it’s
sure to pop out when you least expect or want it. I don’t believe these
people will care as long as I’m respectable and teach well,” returned
Christie, wishing she looked stronger and rosier.

“You’ll be sorry if you do tell,” warned Mrs. Black, who knew the ways
of the world.

“I shall be sorry if I don’t,” laughed Christie, and so she was, in the
end.

“L. N. Saltonstall” was the name on the door, and L. N. Saltonstall’s
servant was so leisurely about answering Christie’s meek solo on the
bell, that she had time to pull out her bonnet-strings half-a-dozen
times before a very black man in a very white jacket condescended to
conduct her to his mistress.

A frail, tea-colored lady appeared, displaying such a small proportion
of woman to such a large proportion of purple and fine linen, that she
looked as if she was literally as well as figuratively “dressed to
death.”

Christie went to the point in a business-like manner that seemed to
suit Mrs. Saltonstall, because it saved so much trouble, and she
replied, with a languid affability:

“I wish some one to teach the children a little, for they are getting
too old to be left entirely to nurse. I am anxious to get to the
sea-shore as soon as possible, for they have been poorly all winter,
and my own health has suffered. Do you feel inclined to try the place?
And what compensation do you require?”

Christie had but a vague idea of what wages were usually paid to
nursery governesses, and hesitatingly named a sum which seemed
reasonable to her, but was so much less than any other applicant had
asked, that Mrs. Saltonstall began to think she could not do better
than secure this cheap young person, who looked firm enough to manage
her rebellious son and heir, and well-bred enough to begin the
education of a little fine lady. Her winter had been an extravagant
one, and she could economize in the governess better perhaps than
elsewhere; so she decided to try Christie, and get out of town at once.

“Your terms are quite satisfactory, Miss Devon, and if my brother
approves, I think we will consider the matter settled. Perhaps you
would like to see the children? They are little darlings, and you will
soon be fond of them, I am sure.”

A bell was rung, an order given, and presently appeared an eight-year
old boy, so excessively Scotch in his costume that he looked like an
animated checkerboard; and a little girl, who presented the appearance
of a miniature opera-dancer staggering under the weight of an immense
sash.

“Go and speak prettily to Miss Devon, my pets, for she is coming to
play with you, and you must mind what she says,” commanded mamma.

The pale, fretful-looking little pair went solemnly to Christie’s knee,
and stood there staring at her with a dull composure that quite daunted
her, it was so sadly unchildlike.

“What is your name, dear?” she asked, laying her hand on the young
lady’s head.

“Villamena Temmatina Taltentall. You mustn’t touch my hair; it’s just
turled,” was the somewhat embarrassing reply.

“Mine’s Louy ’Poleon Thaltensthall, like papa’s,” volunteered the other
young person, and Christie privately wondered if the possession of
names nearly as long as themselves was not a burden to the poor dears.

Feeling that she must say something, she asked, in her most persuasive
tone:

“Would you like to have me come and teach you some nice lessons out of
your little books?”

If she had proposed corporal punishment on the spot it could not have
caused greater dismay. Wilhelmina cast herself upon the floor
passionately, declaring that she “touldn’t tuddy,” and Saltonstall,
Jr., retreated precipitately to the door, and from that refuge defied
the whole race of governesses and “nasty lessons” jointly.

“There, run away to Justine. They are sadly out of sorts, and quite
pining for sea-air,” said mamma, with both hands at her ears, for the
war-cries of her darlings were piercing as they departed, proclaiming
their wrongs while swarming up stairs, with a skirmish on each landing.

With a few more words Christie took leave, and scandalized the sable
retainer by smiling all through the hall, and laughing audibly as the
door closed. The contrast of the plaid boy and beruffled girl’s
irritability with their mother’s languid affectation, and her own
unfortunate efforts, was too much for her. In the middle of her
merriment she paused suddenly, saying to herself:

“I never told about my acting. I must go back and have it settled.” She
retraced a few steps, then turned and went on again, thinking, “No; for
once I’ll be guided by other people’s advice, and let well alone.”

A note arrived soon after, bidding Miss Devon consider herself engaged,
and desiring her to join the family at the boat on Monday next.

At the appointed time Christie was on board, and looked about for her
party. Mrs. Saltonstall appeared in the distance with her family about
her, and Christie took a survey before reporting herself. Madame looked
more like a fashion-plate than ever, in a mass of green flounces, and
an impressive bonnet flushed with poppies and bristling with
wheat-ears. Beside her sat a gentleman, rapt in a newspaper, of course,
for to an American man life is a burden till the daily news have been
absorbed. Mrs. Saltonstall’s brother was the possessor of a handsome
eye without softness, thin lips without benevolence, but plenty of
will; a face and figure which some thirty-five years of ease and
pleasure had done their best to polish and spoil, and a costume without
flaw, from his aristocratic boots to the summer hat on his head.

The little boy more checkered and the little girl more operatic than
before, sat on stools eating bonbons, while a French maid and the
African footman hovered in the background.

[Illustration: MRS. SALTONSTALL AND FAMILY.]

Feeling very much like a meek gray moth among a flock of butterflies,
Christie modestly presented herself.

“Good morning,” said Madame with a nod, which, slight as it was, caused
a great commotion among the poppies and the wheat; “I began to be
anxious about you. Miss Devon, my brother, Mr. Fletcher.”

The gentleman bowed, and as Christie sat down he got up, saying, as he
sauntered away with a bored expression:

“Will you have the paper, Charlotte? There’s nothing in it.”

As Mrs. Saltonstall seemed going to sleep and she felt delicate about
addressing the irritable infants in public, Christie amused herself by
watching Mr. Fletcher as he roamed listlessly about, and deciding, in
her usual rash way, that she did not like him because he looked both
lazy and cross, and ennui was evidently his bosom friend. Soon,
however, she forgot every thing but the shimmer of the sunshine on the
sea, the fresh wind that brought color to her pale cheeks, and the
happy thoughts that left a smile upon her lips. Then Mr. Fletcher put
up his glass and stared at her, shook his head, and said, as he lit a
cigar:

“Poor little wretch, what a time she will have of it between Charlotte
and the brats!”

But Christie needed no pity, and thought herself a fortunate young
woman when fairly established in her corner of the luxurious apartments
occupied by the family. Her duties seemed light compared to those she
had left, her dreams were almost as bright as of old, and the new life
looked pleasant to her, for she was one of those who could find little
bits of happiness for herself and enjoy them heartily in spite of
loneliness or neglect.

One of her amusements was studying her companions, and for a time this
occupied her, for Christie possessed penetration and a feminine fancy
for finding out people.

Mrs. Saltonstall’s mission appeared to be the illustration of each new
fashion as it came, and she performed it with a devotion worthy of a
better cause. If a color reigned supreme she flushed herself with
scarlet or faded into primrose, made herself pretty in the bluest of
blue gowns, or turned livid under a gooseberry colored bonnet. Her
hat-brims went up or down, were preposterously wide or dwindled to an
inch, as the mode demanded. Her skirts were rampant with sixteen
frills, or picturesque with landscapes down each side, and a Greek
border or a plain hem. Her waists were as pointed as those of Queen
Bess or as short as Diana’s; and it was the opinion of those who knew
her that if the autocrat who ruled her life decreed the wearing of
black cats as well as of vegetables, bugs, and birds, the blackest,
glossiest Puss procurable for money would have adorned her head in some
way.

Her time was spent in dressing, driving, dining and dancing; in
skimming novels, and embroidering muslin; going to church with a velvet
prayer-book and a new bonnet; and writing to her husband when she
wanted money, for she had a husband somewhere abroad, who so happily
combined business with pleasure that he never found time to come home.
Her children were inconvenient blessings, but she loved them with the
love of a shallow heart, and took such good care of their little bodies
that there was none left for their little souls. A few days’ trial
satisfied her as to Christie’s capabilities, and, relieved of that
anxiety, she gave herself up to her social duties, leaving the ocean
and the governess to make the summer wholesome and agreeable to “the
darlings.”

Mr. Fletcher, having tried all sorts of pleasure and found that, like
his newspaper, there was “nothing in it,” was now paying the penalty
for that unsatisfactory knowledge. Ill health soured his temper and
made his life a burden to him. Having few resources within himself to
fall back upon, he was very dependent upon other people, and other
people were so busy amusing themselves, they seemed to find little time
or inclination to amuse a man who had never troubled himself about
them. He was rich, but while his money could hire a servant to supply
each want, gratify each caprice, it could not buy a tender, faithful
friend to serve for love, and ask no wages but his comfort.

He knew this, and felt the vain regret that inevitably comes to those
who waste life and learn the value of good gifts by their loss. But he
was not wise or brave enough to bear his punishment manfully, and lay
the lesson honestly to heart. Fretful and imperious when in pain,
listless and selfish when at ease, his one aim in life now was to kill
time, and any thing that aided him in this was most gratefully
welcomed.

For a long while he took no more notice of Christie than if she had
been a shadow, seldom speaking beyond the necessary salutations, and
merely carrying his finger to his hat-brim when he passed her on the
beach with the children. Her first dislike was softened by pity when
she found he was an invalid, but she troubled herself very little about
him, and made no romances with him, for all her dreams were of younger,
nobler lovers.

Busied with her own affairs, the days though monotonous were not
unhappy. She prospered in her work and the children soon believed in
her as devoutly as young Turks in their Prophet. She devised amusements
for herself as well as for them; walked, bathed, drove, and romped with
the little people till her own eyes shone like theirs, her cheek grew
rosy, and her thin figure rounded with the promise of vigorous health
again.

Christie was at her best that summer, physically speaking, for sickness
had refined her face, giving it that indescribable expression which
pain often leaves upon a countenance as if in compensation for the
bloom it takes away. The frank eyes had a softer shadow in their
depths, the firm lips smiled less often, but when it came the smile was
the sweeter for the gravity that went before, and in her voice there
was a new undertone of that subtle music, called sympathy, which steals
into the heart and nestles there.

She was unconscious of this gracious change, but others saw and felt
it, and to some a face bright with health, intelligence, and modesty
was more attractive than mere beauty. Thanks to this and her quiet,
cordial manners, she found friends here and there to add charms to that
summer by the sea.

The dashing young men took no more notice of her than if she had been a
little gray peep on the sands; not so much, for they shot peeps now and
then, but a governess was not worth bringing down. The fashionable
belles and beauties were not even aware of her existence, being too
entirely absorbed in their yearly husband-hunt to think of any one but
themselves and their prey. The dowagers had more interesting topics to
discuss, and found nothing in Christie’s humble fortunes worthy of a
thought, for they liked their gossip strong and highly flavored, like
their tea.

But a kind-hearted girl or two found her out, several lively old maids,
as full of the romance of the past as ancient novels, a bashful boy,
three or four invalids, and all the children, for Christie had a
motherly heart and could find charms in the plainest, crossest baby
that ever squalled.

Of her old friends she saw nothing, as her theatrical ones were off on
their vacations, Hepsey had left her place for one in another city, and
Aunt Betsey seldom wrote.

But one day a letter came, telling her that the dear old lady would
never write again, and Christie felt as if her nearest and dearest
friend was lost. She had gone away to a quiet spot among the rocks to
get over her first grief alone, but found it very hard to check her
tears, as memory brought back the past, tenderly recalling every kind
act, every loving word, and familiar scene. She seldom wept, but when
any thing did unseal the fountains that lay so deep, she cried with all
her heart, and felt the better for it.

With the letter crumpled in her hand, her head on her knees, and her
hat at her feet, she was sobbing like a child, when steps startled her,
and, looking up, she saw Mr. Fletcher regarding her with an astonished
countenance from under his big sun umbrella.

Something in the flushed, wet face, with its tremulous lips and great
tears rolling down, seemed to touch even lazy Mr. Fletcher, for he
furled his umbrella with unusual rapidity, and came up, saying,
anxiously:

“My dear Miss Devon, what’s the matter? Are you hurt? Has Mrs. S. been
scolding? Or have the children been too much for you?”

“No; oh, no! it’s bad news from home,” and Christie’s head went down
again, for a kind word was more than she could bear just then.

“Some one ill, I fancy? I’m sorry to hear it, but you must hope for the
best, you know,” replied Mr. Fletcher, really quite exerting himself to
remember and present this well-worn consolation.

“There is no hope; Aunt Betsey’s dead!”

“Dear me! that’s very sad.”

Mr. Fletcher tried not to smile as Christie sobbed out the
old-fashioned name, but a minute afterward there were actually tears in
his eyes, for, as if won by his sympathy, she poured out the homely
little story of Aunt Betsey’s life and love, unconsciously pronouncing
the kind old lady’s best epitaph in the unaffected grief that made her
broken words so eloquent.

For a minute Mr. Fletcher forgot himself, and felt as he remembered
feeling long ago, when, a warm-hearted boy, he had comforted his little
sister for a lost kitten or a broken doll. It was a new sensation,
therefore interesting and agreeable while it lasted, and when it
vanished, which it speedily did, he sighed, then shrugged his shoulders
and wished “the girl would stop crying like a water-spout.”

“It’s hard, but we all have to bear it, you know; and sometimes I fancy
if half the pity we give the dead, who don’t need it, was given to the
living, who do, they’d bear their troubles more comfortably. I know _I_
should,” added Mr. Fletcher, returning to his own afflictions, and
vaguely wondering if any one would cry like that when he departed this
life.

Christie minded little what he said, for his voice was pitiful and it
comforted her. She dried her tears, put back her hair, and thanked him
with a grateful smile, which gave him another pleasant sensation; for,
though young ladies showered smiles upon him with midsummer radiance,
they seemed cool and pale beside the sweet sincerity of this one given
by a girl whose eyes were red with tender tears.

“That’s right, cheer up, take a little run on the beach, and forget all
about it,” he said, with a heartiness that surprised himself as much as
it did Christie.

“I will, thank you. Please don’t speak of this; I’m used to bearing my
troubles alone, and time will help me to do it cheerfully.”

“That’s brave! If I can do any thing, let me know; I shall be most
happy.” And Mr. Fletcher evidently meant what he said.

Christie gave him another grateful “Thank you,” then picked up her hat
and went away along the sands to try his prescription; while Mr.
Fletcher walked the other way, so rapt in thought that he forgot to put
up his umbrella till the end of his aristocratic nose was burnt a deep
red.

That was the beginning of it; for when Mr. Fletcher found a new
amusement, he usually pursued it regardless of consequences. Christie
took his pity for what it was worth, and thought no more of that little
interview, for her heart was very heavy. But he remembered it, and,
when they met on the beach next day, wondered how the governess would
behave. She was reading as she walked, and, with a mute acknowledgment
of his nod, tranquilly turned a page and read on without a pause, a
smile, or change of color.

Mr. Fletcher laughed as he strolled away; but Christie was all the more
amusing for her want of coquetry, and soon after he tried her again.
The great hotel was all astir one evening with bustle, light, and
music; for the young people had a hop, as an appropriate entertainment
for a melting July night. With no taste for such folly, even if health
had not forbidden it, Mr. Fletcher lounged about the piazzas,
tantalizing the fair fowlers who spread their nets for him, and goading
sundry desperate spinsters to despair by his erratic movements. Coming
to a quiet nook, where a long window gave a fine view of the brilliant
scene, he found Christie leaning in, with a bright, wistful face, while
her hand kept time to the enchanting music of a waltz.

“Wisely watching the lunatics, instead of joining in their antics,” he
said, sitting down with a sigh.

Christie looked around and answered, with the wistful look still in her
eyes:

“I’m very fond of that sort of insanity; but there is no place for me
in Bedlam at present.”

“I daresay I can find you one, if you care to try it. I don’t indulge
myself.” And Mr. Fletcher’s eye went from the rose in Christie’s brown
hair to the silvery folds of her best gown, put on merely for the
pleasure of wearing it because every one else was in festival array.

She shook her head. “No, thank you. Governesses are very kindly treated
in America; but ball-rooms like that are not for them. I enjoy looking
on, fortunately; so I have my share of fun after all.”

“I shan’t get any complaints out of her. Plucky little soul! I rather
like that,” said Mr. Fletcher to himself; and, finding his seat
comfortable, the corner cool, and his companion pleasant to look at,
with the moonlight doing its best for her, he went on talking for his
own satisfaction.

Christie would rather have been left in peace; but fancying that he did
it out of kindness to her, and that she had done him injustice before,
she was grateful now, and exerted herself to seem so; in which endeavor
she succeeded so well that Mr. Fletcher proved he could be a very
agreeable companion when he chose. He talked well; and Christie was a
good listener. Soon interest conquered her reserve, and she ventured to
ask a question, make a criticism, or express an opinion in her own
simple way. Unconsciously she piqued the curiosity of the man; for,
though he knew many lovely, wise, and witty women, he had never chanced
to meet with one like this before; and novelty was the desire of his
life. Of course he did not find moonlight, music, and agreeable chat as
delightful as she did; but there was something animating in the fresh
face opposite, something flattering in the eager interest she showed,
and something most attractive in the glimpses unconsciously given him
of a nature genuine in its womanly sincerity and strength. Something
about this girl seemed to appeal to the old self, so long neglected
that he thought it dead. He could not analyze the feeling, but was
conscious of a desire to seem better than he was as he looked into
those honest eyes; to talk well, that he might bring that frank smile
to the lips that grew either sad or scornful when he tried worldly
gossip or bitter satire; and to prove himself a man under all the
elegance and polish of the gentleman.

He was discovering then, what Christie learned when her turn came, that
fine natures seldom fail to draw out the finer traits of those who
approach them, as the little witch-hazel wand, even in the hand of a
child, detects and points to hidden springs in unsuspected spots. Women
often possess this gift, and when used worthily find it as powerful as
beauty; for, if less alluring, it is more lasting and more helpful,
since it appeals, not to the senses, but the souls of men.

Christie was one of these; and in proportion as her own nature was
sound and sweet so was its power as a touchstone for the genuineness of
others. It was this unconscious gift that made her wonder at the
unexpected kindness she found in Mr. Fletcher, and this which made him,
for an hour or two at least, heartily wish he could live his life over
again and do it better.

After that evening Mr. Fletcher spoke to Christie when he met her,
turned and joined her sometimes as she walked with the children, and
fell into the way of lounging near when she sat reading aloud to an
invalid friend on piazza or sea-shore. Christie much preferred to have
no auditor but kind Miss Tudor; but finding the old lady enjoyed his
chat she resigned herself, and when he brought them new books as well
as himself, she became quite cordial.

Everybody sauntered and lounged, so no one minded the little group that
met day after day among the rocks. Christie read aloud, while the
children revelled in sand, shells, and puddles; Miss Tudor spun endless
webs of gay silk and wool; and Mr. Fletcher, with his hat over his
eyes, lay sunning himself like a luxurious lizard, as he watched the
face that grew daily fairer in his sight, and listened to the pleasant
voice that went reading on till all his ills and ennui seemed lulled to
sleep as by a spell.

A week or two of this new caprice set Christie to thinking. She knew
that Uncle Philip was not fond of “the darlings;” it was evident that
good Miss Tudor, with her mild twaddle and eternal knitting, was not
the attraction, so she was forced to believe that he came for her sake
alone. She laughed at herself for this fancy at first; but not
possessing the sweet unconsciousness of those heroines who can live
through three volumes with a burning passion before their eyes, and
never see it till the proper moment comes, and Eugene goes down upon
his knees, she soon felt sure that Mr. Fletcher found her society
agreeable, and wished her to know it.

Being a mortal woman, her vanity was flattered, and she found herself
showing that she liked it by those small signs and symbols which
lovers’ eyes are so quick to see and understand,—an artful bow on her
hat, a flower in her belt, fresh muslin gowns, and the most becoming
arrangement of her hair.

“Poor man, he has so few pleasures I’m sure I needn’t grudge him such a
small one as looking at and listening to me if he likes it,” she said
to herself one day, as she was preparing for her daily stroll with
unusual care. “But how will it end? If he only wants a mild flirtation
he is welcome to it; but if he really cares for me, I must make up my
mind about it, and not deceive him. I don’t believe he loves me: how
can he? such an insignificant creature as I am.”

Here she looked in the glass, and as she looked the color deepened in
her cheek, her eyes shone, and a smile would sit upon her lips, for the
reflection showed her a very winning face under the coquettish hat put
on to captivate.

“Don’t be foolish, Christie! Mind what you do, and be sure vanity
doesn’t delude you, for you are only a woman, and in things of this
sort we are so blind and silly. I’ll think of this possibility soberly,
but I won’t flirt, and then which ever way I decide I shall have
nothing to reproach myself with.”

Armed with this virtuous resolution, Christie sternly replaced the
pretty hat with her old brown one, fastened up a becoming curl, which
of late she had worn behind her ear, and put on a pair of stout, rusty
boots, much fitter for rocks and sand than the smart slippers she was
preparing to sacrifice. Then she trudged away to Miss Tudor, bent on
being very quiet and reserved, as became a meek and lowly governess.

But, dear heart, how feeble are the resolutions of womankind! When she
found herself sitting in her favorite nook, with the wide, blue sea
glittering below, the fresh wind making her blood dance in her veins,
and all the earth and sky so full of summer life and loveliness, her
heart would sing for joy, her face would shine with the mere bliss of
living, and underneath all this natural content the new thought, half
confessed, yet very sweet, would whisper, “Somebody cares for me.”

If she had doubted it, the expression of Mr. Fletcher’s face that
morning would have dispelled the doubt, for, as she read, he was saying
to himself: “Yes, this healthful, cheery, helpful creature is what I
want to make life pleasant. Every thing else is used up; why not try
this, and make the most of my last chance? She does me good, and I
don’t seem to get tired of her. I can’t have a long life, they tell me,
nor an easy one, with the devil to pay with my vitals generally; so it
would be a wise thing to provide myself with a good-tempered, faithful
soul to take care of me. My fortune would pay for loss of time, and my
death leave her a bonny widow. I won’t be rash, but I think I’ll try
it,”

With this mixture of tender, selfish, and regretful thoughts in his
mind, it is no wonder Mr. Fletchcr’s eyes betrayed him, as he lay
looking at Christie. Never had she read so badly, for she could not
keep her mind on her book. It would wander to that new and troublesome
fancy of hers; she could not help thinking that Mr. Fletcher must have
been a handsome man before he was so ill; wondering if his temper was
very bad, and fancying that he might prove both generous and kind and
true to one who loved and served him well. At this point she was
suddenly checked by a slip of the tongue that covered her with
confusion.

She was reading “John Halifax,” and instead of saying “Phineas
Fletcher” she said Philip, and then colored to her forehead, and lost
her place. Miss Tudor did not mind it, but Mr. Fletcher laughed, and
Christie thanked Heaven that her face was half hidden by the old brown
hat.

Nothing was said, but she was much relieved to find that Mr. Fletcher
had joined a yachting party next day and he would be away for a week.
During that week Christie thought over the matter, and fancied she had
made up her mind. She recalled certain speeches she had heard, and
which had more weight with her than she suspected. One dowager had said
to another: “P. F. intends to marry, I assure you, for his sister told
me so, with tears in her eyes. Men who have been gay in their youth
make very good husbands when their wild oats are sowed. Clara could not
do better, and I should be quite content to give her to him.”

“Well, dear, I should be sorry to see my Augusta his wife, for whoever
he marries will be a perfect slave to him. His fortune would be a nice
thing if he did not live long; but even for that my Augusta shall not
be sacrificed,” returned the other matron whose Augusta had vainly
tried to captivate “P. F.,” and revenged herself by calling him “a
wreck, my dear, a perfect wreck.”

At another time Christie heard some girls discussing the eligibility of
several gentlemen, and Mr. Fletcher was considered the best match among
them.

“You can do any thing you like with a husband a good deal older than
yourself. He’s happy with his business, his club, and his dinner, and
leaves you to do what you please; just keep him comfortable and he’ll
pay your bills without much fuss,” said one young thing who had seen
life at twenty.

“I’d take him if I had the chance, just because everybody wants him.
Don’t admire him a particle, but it will make a jolly stir whenever he
does marry, and I wouldn’t mind having a hand in it,” said the second
budding belle.

“I’d take him for the diamonds alone. Mamma says they are splendid, and
have been in the family for ages. He won’t let Mrs. S. wear them, for
they always go to the eldest son’s wife. Hope he’ll choose a handsome
woman who will show them off well,” said a third sweet girl, glancing
at her own fine neck.

“He won’t; he’ll take some poky old maid who will cuddle him when he is
sick, and keep out of his way when he is well. See if he don’t.”

“I saw him dawdling round with old Tudor, perhaps he means to take her:
she’s a capital nurse, got ill herself taking care of her father, you
know.”

“Perhaps he’s after the governess; she’s rather nice looking, though
she hasn’t a bit of style.”

“Gracious, no! she’s a dowdy thing, always trailing round with a book
and those horrid children. No danger of his marrying her.” And a
derisive laugh seemed to settle that question beyond a doubt.

“Oh, indeed!” said Christie, as the girls went trooping out of the
bath-house, where this pleasing chatter had been carried on regardless
of listeners. She called them “mercenary, worldly, unwomanly flirts,”
and felt herself much their superior. Yet the memory of their gossip
haunted her, and had its influence upon her decision, though she
thought she came to it through her own good judgment and discretion.

“If he really cares for me I will listen, and not refuse till I know
him well enough to decide. I’m tired of being alone, and should enjoy
ease and pleasure so much. He’s going abroad for the winter, and that
would be charming. I’ll try not to be worldly-minded and marry without
love, but it does look tempting to a poor soul like me.”

So Christie made up her mind to accept, if this promotion was offered
her; and while she waited, went through so many alternations of
feeling, and was so harassed by doubts and fears that she sometimes
found herself wishing it had never occurred to her.

Mr. fletcher, meantime, with the help of many meditative cigars, was
making up his mind. Absence only proved to him how much he needed a
better time-killer than billiards, horses, or newspapers, for the long,
listless days seemed endless without the cheerful governess to tone him
up, like a new and agreeable sort of bitters. A gradually increasing
desire to secure this satisfaction had taken possession of him, and the
thought of always having a pleasant companion, with no nerves,
nonsense, or affectation about her, was an inviting idea to a man tired
of fashionable follies and tormented with the ennui of his own society.

The gossip, wonder, and chagrin such a step would cause rather pleased
his fancy; the excitement of trying almost the only thing as yet
untried allured him; and deeper than all the desire to forget the past
in a better future led him to Christie by the nobler instincts that
never wholly die in any soul. He wanted her as he had wanted many other
things in his life, and had little doubt that he could have her for the
asking. Even if love was not abounding, surely his fortune, which
hitherto had procured him all he wished (except health and happiness)
could buy him a wife, when his friends made better bargains every day.
So, having settled the question, he came home again, and every one said
the trip had done him a world of good.

Christie sat in her favorite nook one bright September morning, with
the inevitable children hunting hapless crabs in a pool near by. A book
lay on her knee, but she was not reading; her eyes were looking far
across the blue waste before her with an eager gaze, and her face was
bright with some happy thought. The sound of approaching steps
disturbed her reverie, and, recognizing them, she plunged into the
heart of the story, reading as if utterly absorbed, till a shadow fell
athwart the page, and the voice she had expected to hear asked blandly:

“What book now, Miss Devon?”

“‘Jane Eyre,’ sir.”

Mr. Fletcher sat down just where her hat-brim was no screen, pulled off
his gloves, and leisurely composed himself for a comfortable lounge.

“What is your opinion of Rochester?” he asked, presently.

“Not a very high one.”

“Then you think Jane was a fool to love and try to make a saint of him,
I suppose?”

“I like Jane, but never can forgive her marrying that man, as I haven’t
much faith in the saints such sinners make.”

“But don’t you think a man who had only follies to regret might expect
a good woman to lend him a hand and make him happy?”

“If he has wasted his life he must take the consequences, and be
content with pity and indifference, instead of respect and love. Many
good women do ‘lend a hand,’ as you say, and it is quite Christian and
amiable, I’ve no doubt; but I cannot think it a fair bargain.”

Mr. Fletcher liked to make Christie talk, for in the interest of the
subject she forgot herself, and her chief charm for him was her
earnestness. But just then the earnestness did not seem to suit him,
and he said, rather sharply:

“What hard-hearted creatures you women are sometimes! Now, I fancied
you were one of those who wouldn’t leave a poor fellow to his fate, if
his salvation lay in your hands.”

“I can’t say what I should do in such a case; but it always seemed to
me that a man should have energy enough to save himself, and not expect
the ‘weaker vessel,’ as he calls her, to do it for him,” answered
Christie, with a conscious look, for Mr. Fletcher’s face made her feel
as if something was going to happen.

Evidently anxious to know what she would do in aforesaid case, Mr.
Fletcher decided to put one before her as speedily as possible, so he
said, in a pensive tone, and with a wistful glance:

“You looked very happy just now when I came up. I wish I could believe
that my return had any thing to do with it.”

Christie wished she could control her tell-tale color, but finding she
could not, looked hard at the sea, and, ignoring his tender
insinuation, said, with suspicious enthusiasm:

“I was thinking of what Mrs. Saltonstall said this morning. She asked
me if I would like to go to Paris with her for the winter. It has
always been one of my dreams to go abroad, and I do hope I shall not be
disappointed.”

Christie’s blush seemed to be a truer answer than her words, and,
leaning a little nearer, Mr. Fletcher said, in his most persuasive
tone:

“Will you go to Paris as my governess, instead of Charlotte’s?”

Christie thought her reply was all ready; but when the moment came, she
found it was not, and sat silent, feeling as if that “Yes” would
promise far more than she could give. Mr. Fletcher had no doubt what
the answer would be, and was in no haste to get it, for that was one of
the moments that are so pleasant and so short-lived they should be
enjoyed to the uttermost. He liked to watch her color come and go, to
see the asters on her bosom tremble with the quickened beating of her
heart, and tasted, in anticipation, the satisfaction of the moment when
that pleasant voice of hers would falter out its grateful assent.
Drawing yet nearer, he went on, still in the persuasive tone that would
have been more lover-like if it had been less assured.

“I think I am not mistaken in believing that you care for me a little.
You must know how fond I am of you, how much I need you, and how glad I
should be to give all I have if I might keep you always to make my hard
life happy. May I, Christie?”

“You would soon tire of me. I have no beauty, no accomplishments, no
fortune,—nothing but my heart, and my hand to give the man I marry. Is
that enough?” asked Christie, looking at him with eyes that betrayed
the hunger of an empty heart longing to be fed with genuine food.

But Mr. Fletcher did not understand its meaning; he saw the humility in
her face, thought she was overcome by the weight of the honor he did
her, and tried to reassure her with the gracious air of one who wishes
to lighten the favor he confers.

“It might not be for some men, but it is for me, because I want you
very much. Let people say what they will, if you say yes I am
satisfied. You shall not regret it, Christie; I’ll do my best to make
you happy; you shall travel wherever I can go with you, have what you
like, if possible, and when we come back by and by, you shall take your
place in the world as my wife. You will fill it well, I fancy, and I
shall be a happy man. I’ve had my own way all my life, and I mean to
have it now, so smile, and say, ‘Yes, Philip,’ like a sweet soul, as
you are.”

But Christie did not smile, and felt no inclination to say “Yes,
Philip,” for that last speech of his jarred on her ear. The tone of
unconscious condescension in it wounded the woman’s sensitive pride;
self was too apparent, and the most generous words seemed to her like
bribes. This was not the lover she had dreamed of, the brave, true man
who gave her all, and felt it could not half repay the treasure of her
innocent, first love. This was not the happiness she had hoped for, the
perfect faith, the glad surrender, the sweet content that made all
things possible, and changed this work-a-day world into a heaven while
the joy lasted.

She had decided to say “yes,” but her heart said “no” decidedly, and
with instinctive loyalty she obeyed it, even while she seemed to yield
to the temptation which appeals to three of the strongest foibles in
most women’s nature,—vanity, ambition, and the love of pleasure.

“You are very kind, but you may repent it, you know so little of me,”
she began, trying to soften her refusal, but sadly hindered by a
feeling of contempt.

“I know more about you than you think; but it makes no difference,”
interrupted Mr. Fletcher, with a smile that irritated Christie, even
before she understood its significance. “I thought it would at first,
but I found I couldn’t get on without you, so I made up my mind to
forgive and forget that my wife had ever been an actress.”

Christie had forgotten it, and it would have been well for him if he
had held his tongue. Now she understood the tone that had chilled her,
the smile that angered her, and Mr. Fletcher’s fate was settled in the
drawing of a breath.

“Who told you that?” she asked, quickly, while every nerve tingled with
the mortification of being found out then and there in the one secret
of her life.

“I saw you dancing on the beach with the children one day, and it
reminded me of an actress I had once seen. I should not have remembered
it but for the accident which impressed it on my mind. Powder, paint,
and costume made ‘Miss Douglas’ a very different woman from Miss Devon,
but a few cautious inquiries settled the matter, and I then understood
where you got that slight soupcon of dash and daring which makes our
demure governess so charming when with me.”

As he spoke, Mr. Fletcher smiled again, and kissed his hand to her with
a dramatic little gesture that exasperated Christie beyond measure. She
would not make light of it, as he did, and submit to be forgiven for a
past she was not ashamed of. Heartily wishing she had been frank at
first, she resolved to have it out now, and accept nothing Mr. Fletcher
offered her, not even silence.

“Yes,” she said, as steadily as she could, “I was an actress for three
years, and though it was a hard life it was an honest one, and I’m not
ashamed of it. I ought to have told Mrs. Saltonstall, but I was warned
that if I did it would be difficult to find a place, people are so
prejudiced. I sincerely regret it now, and shall tell her at once, so
you may save yourself the trouble.”

“My dear girl, I never dreamed of telling any one!” cried Mr. Fletcher
in an injured tone. “I beg you won’t speak, but trust me, and let it be
a little secret between us two. I assure you it makes no difference to
me, for I should marry an opera dancer if I chose, so forget it, as I
do, and set my mind at rest upon the other point. I’m still waiting for
my answer, you know.”

“It is ready.”

“A kind one, I’m sure. What is it, Christie?”

“No, I thank you.”

“But you are not in earnest?”

“Perfectly so.”

Mr. Fletcher got up suddenly and set his back against the rock, saying
in a tone of such unaffected surprise and disappointment that her heart
reproached her:

[Illustration: “NO, I THANK YOU.”]

“Am I to understand that as your final answer, Miss Devon?”

“Distinctly and decidedly my final answer, Mr Fletcher.”

Christie tried to speak kindly, but she was angry with herself and him,
and unconsciously showed it both in face and voice, for she was no
actress off the stage, and wanted to be very true just then as a late
atonement for that earlier want of candor.

A quick change passed over Mr. Fletcher’s face; his cold eyes kindled
with an angry spark, his lips were pale with anger, and his voice was
very bitter, as he slowly said:

“I’ve made many blunders in my life, and this is one of the greatest;
for I believed in a woman, was fool enough to care for her with the
sincerest love I ever knew, and fancied that she would be grateful for
the sacrifice I made.”

He got no further, for Christie rose straight up and answered him with
all the indignation she felt burning in her face and stirring the voice
she tried in vain to keep as steady as his own.

“The sacrifice would not have been all yours, for it is what we are,
not what we have, that makes one human being superior to another. I am
as well-born as you in spite of my poverty; my life, I think, has been
a better one than yours; my heart, I know, is fresher, and my memory
has fewer faults and follies to reproach me with. What can you give me
but money and position in return for the youth and freedom I should
sacrifice in marrying you? Not love, for you count the cost of your
bargain, as no true lover could, and you reproach me for deceit when in
your heart you know you only cared for me because I can amuse and serve
you. I too deceived myself, I too see my mistake, and I decline the
honor you would do me, since it is so great in your eyes that you must
remind me of it as you offer it.”

In the excitement of the moment Christie unconsciously spoke with
something of her old dramatic fervor in voice and gesture; Mr. Fletcher
saw it, and, while he never had admired her so much, could not resist
avenging himself for the words that angered him, the more deeply for
their truth. Wounded vanity and baffled will can make an ungenerous man
as spiteful as a woman; and Mr. Fletcher proved it then, for he saw
where Christie’s pride was sorest, and touched the wound with the skill
of a resentful nature.

As she paused, he softly clapped his hands, saying, with a smile that
made her eyes flash:

“Very well done! infinitely superior to your ‘Woffington,’ Miss Devon.
I am disappointed in the woman, but I make my compliment to the
actress, and leave the stage free for another and a more successful
Romeo.” Still smiling, he bowed and went away apparently quite calm and
much amused, but a more wrathful, disappointed man never crossed those
sands than the one who kicked his dog and swore at himself for a fool
that day when no one saw him.

For a minute Christie stood and watched him, then, feeling that she
must either laugh or cry, wisely chose the former vent for her
emotions, and sat down feeling inclined to look at the whole scene from
a ludicrous point of view.

“My second love affair is a worse failure than my first, for I did pity
poor Joe, but this man is detestable, and I never will forgive him that
last insult. I dare say I was absurdly tragical, I’m apt to be when
very angry, but what a temper he has got! The white, cold kind, that
smoulders and stabs, instead of blazing up and being over in a minute.
Thank Heaven, I’m not his wife! Well, I’ve made an enemy and lost my
place, for of course Mrs. Saltonstall won’t keep me after this awful
discovery. I’ll tell her at once, for I will have no ‘little secrets’
with him. No Paris either, and that’s the worst of it all! Never mind,
I haven’t sold my liberty for the Fletcher diamonds, and that’s a
comfort. Now a short scene with my lady and then exit governess.”

But though she laughed, Christie felt troubled at the part she had
played in this affair; repented of her worldly aspirations; confessed
her vanity; accepted her mortification and disappointment as a just
punishment for her sins; and yet at the bottom of her heart she did
enjoy it mightily.

She tried to spare Mr. Fletcher in her interview with his sister, and
only betrayed her own iniquities. But, to her surprise, Mrs.
Saltonstall, though much disturbed at the discovery, valued Christie as
a governess, and respected her as a woman, so she was willing to bury
the past, she said, and still hoped Miss Devon would remain.

Then Christie was forced to tell her why it was impossible for her to
do so; and, in her secret soul, she took a naughty satisfaction in
demurely mentioning that she had refused my lord.

Mrs. Saltonstall’s consternation was comical, for she had been so
absorbed in her own affairs she had suspected nothing; and horror fell
upon her when she learned how near dear Philip had been to the fate
from which she jealously guarded him, that his property might one day
benefit the darlings.

In a moment every thing was changed; and it was evident to Christie
that the sooner she left the better it would suit madame. The
proprieties were preserved to the end, and Mrs. Saltonstall treated her
with unusual respect, for she had come to honor, and also conducted
herself in a most praiseworthy manner. How she could refuse a Fletcher
visibly amazed the lady; but she forgave the slight, and gently
insinuated that “my brother” was, perhaps, only amusing himself.

Christie was but too glad to be off; and when Mrs. Saltonstall asked
when she would prefer to leave, promptly replied, “To-morrow,” received
her salary, which was forthcoming with unusual punctuality, and packed
her trunks with delightful rapidity.

As the family was to leave in a week, her sudden departure caused no
surprise to the few who knew her, and with kind farewells to such of
her summer friends as still remained, she went to bed that night all
ready for an early start. She saw nothing more of Mr. Fletcher that
day, but the sound of excited voices in the drawing-room assured her
that madame was having it out with her brother; and with truly feminine
inconsistency Christie hoped that she would not be too hard upon the
poor man, for, after all, it was kind of him to overlook the actress,
and ask the governess to share his good things with him.

She did not repent, but she got herself to sleep, imagining a bridal
trip to Paris, and dreamed so delightfully of lost splendors that the
awakening was rather blank, the future rather cold and hard.

She was early astir, meaning to take the first boat and so escape all
disagreeable rencontres, and having kissed the children in their little
beds, with tender promises not to forget them, she took a hasty
breakfast and stepped into the carriage waiting at the door. The sleepy
waiters stared, a friendly housemaid nodded, and Miss Walker, the
hearty English lady who did her ten miles a day, cried out, as she
tramped by, blooming and bedraggled:

“Bless me, are you off?”

“Yes, thank Heaven!” answered Christie; but as she spoke Mr. Fletcher
came down the steps looking as wan and heavy-eyed as if a sleepless
night had been added to his day’s defeat. Leaning in at the window, he
asked abruptly, but with a look she never could forget:

“Will nothing change your answer, Christie?”

“Nothing.”

His eyes said, “Forgive me,” but his lips only said, “Good-by,” and the
carriage rolled away.

Then, being a woman, two great tears fell on the hand still red with
the lingering grasp he had given it, and Christie said, as pitifully as
if she loved him:

“He has got a heart, after all, and perhaps I might have been glad to
fill it if he had only shown it to me sooner. Now it is too late.”



CHAPTER V.
COMPANION.


Before she had time to find a new situation, Christie received a note
from Miss Tudor, saying that hearing she had left Mrs. Saltonstall she
wanted to offer her the place of companion to an invalid girl, where
the duties were light and the compensation large.

“How kind of her to think of me,” said Christie, gratefully. “I’ll go
at once and do my best to secure it, for it must be a good thing or she
wouldn’t recommend it.”

Away went Christie to the address sent by Miss Tudor, and as she waited
at the door she thought:

“What a happy family the Carrols must be!” for the house was one of an
imposing block in a West End square, which had its own little park
where a fountain sparkled in the autumn sunshine, and pretty children
played among the fallen leaves.

Mrs. Carrol was a stately woman, still beautiful in spite of her fifty
years. But though there were few lines on her forehead, few silver
threads in the dark hair that lay smoothly over it, and a gracious
smile showed the fine teeth, an indescribable expression of
unsubmissive sorrow touched the whole face, betraying that life had
brought some heavy cross, from which her wealth could purchase no
release, for which her pride could find no effectual screen.

She looked at Christie with a searching eye, listened attentively when
she spoke, and seemed testing her with covert care as if the place she
was to fill demanded some unusual gift or skill.

“Miss Tudor tells me that you read aloud well, sing sweetly, possess a
cheerful temper, and the quiet, patient ways which are peculiarly
grateful to an invalid,” began Mrs. Carrol, with that keen yet wistful
gaze, and an anxious accent in her voice that went to Christie’s heart.

“Miss Tudor is very kind to think so well of me and my few
accomplishments. I have never been with an invalid, but I think I can
promise to be patient, willing, and cheerful. My own experience of
illness has taught me how to sympathize with others and love to lighten
pain. I shall be very glad to try if you think I have any fitness for
the place.”

“I do,” and Mrs. Carrol’s face softened as she spoke, for something in
Christie’s words or manner seemed to please her. Then slowly, as if the
task was a hard one, she added:

“My daughter has been very ill and is still weak and nervous. I must
hint to you that the loss of one very dear to her was the cause of the
illness and the melancholy which now oppresses her. Therefore we must
avoid any thing that can suggest or recall this trouble. She cares for
nothing as yet, will see no one, and prefers to live alone. She is
still so feeble this is but natural; yet solitude is bad for her, and
her physician thinks that a new face might rouse her, and the society
of one in no way connected with the painful past might interest and do
her good. You see it is a little difficult to find just what we want,
for a young companion is best, yet must be discreet and firm, as few
young people are.”

Fancying from Mrs. Carrol’s manner that Miss Tudor had said more in her
favor than had been repeated to her, Christie in a few plain-words told
her little story, resolving to have no concealments here, and feeling
that perhaps her experiences might have given her more firmness and
discretion than many women of her age possessed. Mrs. Carrol seemed to
find it so; the anxious look lifted a little as she listened, and when
Christie ended she said, with a sigh of relief:

“Yes, I think Miss Tudor is right, and you are the one we want. Come
and try it for a week and then we can decide. Can you begin to-day?”
she added, as Christie rose. “Every hour is precious, for my poor
girl’s sad solitude weighs on my heart, and this is my one hope.”

“I will stay with pleasure,” answered Christie, thinking Mrs. Carrol’s
anxiety excessive, yet pitying the mother’s pain, for something in her
face suggested the idea that she reproached herself in some way for her
daughter’s state.

With secret gratitude that she had dressed with care, Christie took off
her things and followed Mrs. Carrol upstairs. Entering a room in what
seemed to be a wing of the great house, they found an old woman sewing.

“How is Helen to-day, Nurse?” asked Mrs. Carrol, pausing.

“Poorly, ma’am. I’ve been in every hour, but she only says: ‘Let me be
quiet,’ and lies looking up at the picture till it’s fit to break your
heart to see her,” answered the woman, with a shake of the head.

“I have brought Miss Devon to sit with her a little while. Doctor
advises it, and I fancy the experiment may succeed if we can only amuse
the dear child, and make her forget herself and her troubles.”

“As you please, ma’am,” said the old woman, looking with little favor
at the new-comer, for the good soul was jealous of any interference
between herself and the child she had tended for years.

“I won’t disturb her, but you shall take Miss Devon in and tell Helen
mamma sends her love, and hopes she will make an effort for all our
sakes.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Go, my dear, and do your best.” With these words Mrs. Carrol hastily
left the room, and Christie followed Nurse.

A quick glance showed her that she was in the daintily furnished
boudoir of a rich man’s daughter, but before she could take a second
look her eyes were arrested by the occupant of this pretty place, and
she forgot all else. On a low luxurious couch lay a girl, so beautiful
and pale and still, that for an instant Christie thought her dead or
sleeping. She was neither, for at the sound of a voice the great eyes
opened wide, darkening and dilating with a strange expression as they
fell on the unfamiliar face.

“Nurse, who is that? I told you I would see no one. I’m too ill to be
so worried,” she said, in an imperious tone.

[Illustration: HELEN CARROL]

“Yes, dear, I know, but your mamma wished you to make an effort. Miss
Devon is to sit with you and try to cheer you up a bit,” said the old
woman in a dissatisfied tone, that contrasted strangely with the tender
way in which she stroked the beautiful disordered hair that hung about
the girl’s shoulders.

Helen knit her brows and looked most ungracious, but evidently tried to
be civil, for with a courteous wave of her hand toward an easy chair in
the sunny window she said, quietly:

“Please sit down, Miss Devon, and excuse me for a little while. I’ve
had a bad night, and am too tired to talk just yet. There are books of
all sorts, or the conservatory if you like it better.”

“Thank you. I’ll read quietly till you want me. Then I shall be very
glad to do any thing I can for you.”

With that Christie retired to the big chair, and fell to reading the
first book she took up, a good deal embarrassed by her reception, and
very curious to know what would come next.

The old woman went away after folding the down coverlet carefully over
her darling’s feet, and Helen seemed to go to sleep.

For a time the room was very still; the fire burned softly on the
marble hearth, the sun shone warmly on velvet carpet and rich hangings,
the delicate breath of flowers blew in through the half-open door that
led to a gay little conservatory, and nothing but the roll of a distant
carriage broke the silence now and then.

Christie’s eyes soon wandered from her book to the lovely face and
motionless figure on the couch. Just opposite, in a recess, hung the
portrait of a young and handsome man, and below it stood a vase of
flowers, a graceful Roman lamp, and several little relics, as if it
were the shrine where some dead love was mourned and worshipped still.

As she looked from the living face, so pale and so pathetic in its
quietude, to the painted one so full of color, strength, and happiness,
her heart ached for poor Helen, and her eyes were wet with tears of
pity. A sudden movement on the couch gave her no time to hide them, and
as she hastily looked down upon her book a treacherous drop fell
glittering on the page.

“What have you there so interesting?” asked Helen, in that softly
imperious tone of hers.

“Don Quixote,” answered Christie, too much abashed to have her wits
about her.

Helen smiled a melancholy smile as she rose, saying wearily:

“They gave me that to make me laugh, but I did not find it funny;
neither was it sad enough to make me cry as you do.”

“I was not reading, I was”—there Christie broke down, and could have
cried with vexation at the bad beginning she had made. But that
involuntary tear was better balm to Helen than the most perfect tact,
the most brilliant conversation. It touched and won her without words,
for sympathy works miracles. Her whole face changed, and her mournful
eyes grew soft as with the gentle freedom of a child she lifted
Christie’s downcast face and said, with a falter in her voice:

“I know you were pitying me. Well, I need pity, and from you I’ll take
it, because you don’t force it on me. Have you been ill and wretched
too? I think so, else you would never care to come and shut yourself up
here with me!”

“I have been ill, and I know how hard it is to get one’s spirits back
again. I’ve had my troubles, too, but not heavier than I could bear,
thank God.”

“What made you ill? Would you mind telling me about it? I seem to fancy
hearing other people’s woes, though it can’t make mine seem lighter.”

“A piece of the Castle of the Sun fell on my head and nearly killed
me,” and Christie laughed in spite of herself at the astonishment in
Helen’s face. “I was an actress once; your mother knows and didn’t
mind,” she added, quickly.

“I’m glad of that. I used to wish I could be one, I was so fond of the
theatre. They should have consented, it would have given me something
to do, and, however hard it is, it couldn’t be worse than this.” Helen
spoke vehemently and an excited flush rose to her white cheeks; then
she checked herself and dropped into a chair, saying, hurriedly:

“Tell about it: don’t let me think; it’s bad for me.” Glad to be set to
work, and bent on retrieving her first mistake, Christie plunged into
her theatrical experiences and talked away in her most lively style.
People usually get eloquent when telling their own stories, and true
tales are always the most interesting. Helen listened at first with a
half-absent air, but presently grew more attentive, and when the
catastrophe came sat erect, quite absorbed in the interest of this
glimpse behind the curtain.

Charmed with her success, Christie branched off right and left,
stimulated by questions, led on by suggestive incidents, and generously
supplied by memory. Before she knew it, she was telling her whole
history in the most expansive manner, for women soon get sociable
together, and Helen’s interest flattered her immensely. Once she made
her laugh at some droll trifle, and as if the unaccustomed sound had
startled her, old nurse popped in her head; but seeing nothing amiss
retired, wondering what on earth that girl could be doing to cheer up
Miss Helen so.

“Tell about your lovers: you must have had some; actresses always do.
Happy women, they can love as they like!” said Helen, with the
inquisitive frankness of an invalid for whom etiquette has ceased to
exist.

Remembering in time that this was a forbidden subject, Christie smiled
and shook her head.

“I had a few, but one does not tell those secrets, you know.”

Evidently disappointed, and a little displeased at being reminded of
her want of good-breeding, Helen got up and began to wander restlessly
about the room. Presently, as if wishing to atone for her impatience,
she bade Christie come and see her flowers. Following her, the new
companion found herself in a little world where perpetual summer
reigned. Vines curtained the roof, slender shrubs and trees made leafy
walls on either side, flowers bloomed above and below, birds carolled
in half-hidden prisons, aquariums and ferneries stood all about, and
the soft plash of a little fountain made pleasant music as it rose and
fell.

Helen threw herself wearily down on a pile of cushions that lay beside
the basin, and beckoning Christie to sit near, said, as she pressed her
hands to her hot forehead and looked up with a distressful brightness
in the haggard eyes that seemed to have no rest in them:

“Please sing to me; any humdrum air will do. I am so tired, and yet I
cannot sleep. If my head would only stop this dreadful thinking and let
me forget one hour it would do me so much good.”

“I know the feeling, and I’ll try what Lucy used to do to quiet me. Put
your poor head in my lap, dear, and lie quite still while I cool and
comfort it.”

Obeying like a worn-out child, Helen lay motionless while Christie,
dipping her fingers in the basin, passed the wet tips softly to and fro
across the hot forehead, and the thin temples where the pulses throbbed
so fast. And while she soothed she sang the “Land o’ the Leal,” and
sang it well; for the tender words, the plaintive air were dear to her,
because her mother loved and sang it to her years ago. Slowly the heavy
eyelids drooped, slowly the lines of pain were smoothed away from the
broad brow, slowly the restless hands grew still, and Helen lay asleep.

So intent upon her task was Christie, that she forgot herself till the
discomfort of her position reminded her that she had a body. Fearing to
wake the poor girl in her arms, she tried to lean against the basin,
but could not reach a cushion to lay upon the cold stone ledge. An
unseen hand supplied the want, and, looking round, she saw two young
men standing behind her.

Helen’s brothers, without doubt; for, though utterly unlike in
expression, some of the family traits were strongly marked in both. The
elder wore the dress of a priest, had a pale, ascetic face, with
melancholy eyes, stern mouth, and the absent air of one who leads an
inward life. The younger had a more attractive face, for, though
bearing marks of dissipation, it betrayed a generous, ardent nature,
proud and wilful, yet lovable in spite of all defects. He was very
boyish still, and plainly showed how much he felt, as, with a hasty nod
to Christie, he knelt down beside his sister, saying, in a whisper:

“Look at her, Augustine! so beautiful, so quiet! What a comfort it is
to see her like herself again.”

“Ah, yes; and but for the sin of it, I could find it in my heart to
wish she might never wake!” returned the other, gloomily.

“Don’t say that! How could we live without her?” Then, turning to
Christie, the younger said, in a friendly tone:

“You must be very tired; let us lay her on the sofa. It is very damp
here, and if she sleeps long you will faint from weariness.”

Carefully lifting her, the brothers carried the sleeping girl into her
room, and laid her down. She sighed as her head touched the pillow, and
her arm clung to Harry’s neck, as if she felt his nearness even in
sleep. He put his cheek to hers, and lingered over her with an
affectionate solicitude beautiful to see. Augustine stood silent, grave
and cold as if he had done with human ties, yet found it hard to sever
this one, for he stretched his hand above his sister as if he blessed
her, then, with another grave bow to Christie, went away as noiselessly
as he had come. But Harry kissed the sleeper tenderly, whispered, “Be
kind to her,” with an imploring voice, and hurried from the room as if
to hide the feeling that he must not show.

A few minutes later the nurse brought in a note from Mrs. Carrol.

“My son tells me that Helen is asleep, and you look very tired. Leave
her to Hester, now; you have done enough to-day, so let me thank you
heartily, and send you home for a quiet night before you continue your
good work to-morrow.”

Christie went, found a carriage waiting for her, and drove home very
happy at the success of her first attempt at companionship.

The next day she entered upon the new duties with interest and
good-will, for this was work in which heart took part, as well as head
and hand. Many things surprised, and some things perplexed her, as she
came to know the family better. But she discreetly held her tongue,
used her eyes, and did her best to please.

Mrs. Carrol seemed satisfied, often thanked her for her faithfulness to
Helen, but seldom visited her daughter, never seemed surprised or
grieved that the girl expressed no wish to see her; and, though her
handsome face always wore its gracious smile, Christie soon felt very
sure that it was a mask put on to hide some heavy sorrow from a curious
world.

Augustine never came except when Helen was asleep: then, like a shadow,
he passed in and out, always silent, cold, and grave, but in his eyes
the gloom of some remorseful pain that prayers and penances seemed
powerless to heal.

Harry came every day, and no matter how melancholy, listless, or
irritable his sister might be, for him she always had a smile, an
affectionate greeting, a word of praise, or a tender warning against
the reckless spirit that seemed to possess him. The love between them
was very strong, and Christie found a never-failing pleasure in
watching them together, for then Helen showed what she once had been,
and Harry was his best self. A boy still, in spite of his
one-and-twenty years, he seemed to feel that Helen’s room was a safe
refuge from the temptations that beset one of his thoughtless and
impetuous nature. Here he came to confess his faults and follies with
the frankness which is half sad, half comical, and wholly charming in a
good-hearted young scatter-brain. Here he brought gay gossip, lively
descriptions, and masculine criticisms of the world he moved in. All
his hopes and plans, joys and sorrows, successes and defeats, he told
to Helen. And she, poor soul, in this one happy love of her sad life,
forgot a little the burden of despair that darkened all the world to
her. For his sake she smiled, to him she talked when others got no word
from her, and Harry’s salvation was the only duty that she owned or
tried to fulfil.

A younger sister was away at school, but the others seldom spoke of
her, and Christie tired herself with wondering why Bella never wrote to
Helen, and why Harry seemed to have nothing but a gloomy sort of pity
to bestow upon the blooming girl whose picture hung in the great
drawing-room below.

It was a very quiet winter, yet a very pleasant one to Christie, for
she felt herself loved and trusted, saw that she suited, and believed
that she was doing good, as women best love to do it, by bestowing
sympathy and care with generous devotion.

Helen and Harry loved her like an elder sister; Augustine showed that
he was grateful, and Mrs. Carrol sometimes forgot to put on her mask
before one who seemed fast becoming confidante as well as companion.

In the spring the family went to the fine old country-house just out of
town, and here Christie and her charge led a freer, happier life.
Walking and driving, boating and gardening, with pleasant days on the
wide terrace, where Helen swung idly in her hammock, while Christie
read or talked to her; and summer twilights beguiled with music, or the
silent reveries more eloquent than speech, which real friends may enjoy
together, and find the sweeter for the mute companionship.

Harry was with them, and devoted to his sister, who seemed slowly to be
coming out of her sad gloom, won by patient tenderness and the cheerful
influences all about her.

Christie’s heart was full of pride and satisfaction, as she saw the
altered face, heard the tone of interest in that once hopeless voice,
and felt each day more sure that Helen had outlived the loss that
seemed to have broken her heart.

Alas, for Christie’s pride, for Harry’s hope, and for poor Helen’s
bitter fate! When all was brightest, the black shadow came; when all
looked safest, danger was at hand; and when the past seemed buried, the
ghost which haunted it returned, for the punishment of a broken law is
as inevitable as death.

When settled in town again Bella came home, a gay, young girl, who
should have brought sunshine and happiness into her home. But from the
hour she returned a strange anxiety seemed to possess the others. Mrs.
Carrol watched over her with sleepless care, was evidently full of
maternal pride in the lovely creature, and began to dream dreams about
her future. She seemed to wish to keep the sisters apart, and said to
Christie, as if to explain this wish:

“Bella was away when Helen’s trouble and illness came, she knows very
little of it, and I do not want her to be saddened by the knowledge.
Helen cares only for Hal, and Bella is too young to be of any use to my
poor girl; therefore the less they see of each other the better for
both. I am sure you agree with me?” she added, with that covert
scrutiny which Christie had often felt before.

She could but acquiesce in the mother’s decision, and devote herself
more faithfully than ever to Helen, who soon needed all her care and
patience, for a terrible unrest grew upon her, bringing sleepless
nights again, moody days, and all the old afflictions with redoubled
force.

Bella “came out” and began her career as a beauty and a belle most
brilliantly. Harry was proud of her, but seemed jealous of other men’s
admiration for his charming sister, and would excite both Helen and
himself over the flirtations into which “that child” as they called
her, plunged with all the zest of a light-hearted girl whose head was a
little turned with sudden and excessive adoration.

In vain Christie begged Harry not to report these things, in vain she
hinted that Bella had better not come to show herself to Helen night
after night in all the dainty splendor of her youth and beauty; in vain
she asked Mrs. Carrol to let her go away to some quieter place with
Helen, since she never could be persuaded to join in any gayety at home
or abroad. All seemed wilful, blind, or governed by the fear of the
gossiping world. So the days rolled on till an event occurred which
enlightened Christie, with startling abruptness, and showed her the
skeleton that haunted this unhappy family.

Going in one morning to Helen she found her walking to and fro as she
often walked of late, with hurried steps and excited face as if driven
by some power beyond her control.

“Good morning, dear. I’m so sorry you had a restless night, and wish
you had sent for me. Will you come out now for an early drive? It’s a
lovely day, and your mother thinks it would do you good,” began
Christie, troubled by the state in which she found the girl.

But as she spoke Helen turned on her, crying passionately:

“My mother! don’t speak of her to me, I hate her!”

“Oh, Helen, don’t say that. Forgive and forget if she has displeased
you, and don’t exhaust yourself by brooding over it. Come, dear, and
let us soothe ourselves with a little music. I want to hear that new
song again, though I can never hope to sing it as you do.”

“Sing!” echoed Helen, with a shrill laugh, “you don’t know what you
ask. Could you sing when your heart was heavy with the knowledge of a
sin about to be committed by those nearest to you? Don’t try to quiet
me, I must talk whether you listen or not; I shall go frantic if I
don’t tell some one; all the world will know it soon. Sit down, I’ll
not hurt you, but don’t thwart me or you’ll be sorry for it.”

Speaking with a vehemence that left her breathless, Helen thrust
Christie down upon a seat, and went on with an expression in her face
that bereft the listener of power to move or speak.

“Harry has just told me of it; he was very angry, and I saw it, and
made him tell me. Poor boy, he can keep nothing from me. I’ve been
dreading it, and now it’s coming. You don’t know it, then? Young Butler
is in love with Bella, and no one has prevented it. Think how wicked
when such a curse is on us all.”

The question, “What curse?” rose involuntarily to Christie’s lips, but
did not pass them, for, as if she read the thought, Helen answered it
in a whisper that made the blood tingle in the other’s veins, so full
of ominous suggestion was it.

“The curse of insanity I mean. We are all mad, or shall be; we come of
a mad race, and for years we have gone recklessly on bequeathing this
awful inheritance to our descendants. It should end with us, we are the
last; none of us should marry; none dare think of it but Bella, and she
knows nothing. She must be told, she must be kept from the sin of
deceiving her lover, the agony of seeing her children become what I am,
and what we all may be.”

Here Helen wrung her hands and paced the room in such a paroxysm of
impotent despair that Christie sat bewildered and aghast, wondering if
this were true, or but the fancy of a troubled brain. Mrs. Carrol’s
face and manner returned to her with sudden vividness, so did
Augustine’s gloomy expression, and the strange wish uttered over his
sleeping sister long ago. Harry’s reckless, aimless life might be
explained in this way; and all that had perplexed her through that
year. Every thing confirmed the belief that this tragical assertion was
true, and Christie covered up her face, murmuring, with an involuntary
shiver:

“My God, how terrible!”

Helen came and stood before her with such grief and penitence in her
countenance that for a moment it conquered the despair that had broken
bounds.

“We should have told you this at first; I longed to do it, but I was
afraid you’d go and leave me. I was so lonely, so miserable, Christie.
I could not give you up when I had learned to love you; and I did learn
very soon, for no wretched creature ever needed help and comfort more
than I. For your sake I tried to be quiet, to control my shattered
nerves, and hide my desperate thoughts. You helped me very much, and
your unconsciousness made me doubly watchful. Forgive me; don’t desert
me now, for the old horror may be coming back, and I want you more than
ever.”

Too much moved to speak, Christie held out her hands, with a face full
of pity, love, and grief. Poor Helen clung to them as if her only help
lay there, and for a moment was quite still. But not long; the old
anguish was too sharp to be borne in silence; the relief of confidence
once tasted was too great to be denied; and, breaking loose, she went
to and fro again, pouring out the bitter secret which had been weighing
upon heart and conscience for a year.

“You wonder that I hate my mother; let me tell you why. When she was
beautiful and young she married, knowing the sad history of my father’s
family. He was rich, she poor and proud; ambition made her wicked, and
she did it after being warned that, though he might escape, his
children were sure to inherit the curse, for when one generation goes
free it falls more heavily upon the rest. She knew it all, and yet she
married him. I have her to thank for all I suffer, and I cannot love
her though she is my mother. It may be wrong to say these things, but
they are true; they burn in my heart, and I must speak out; for I tell
you there comes a time when children judge their parents as men and
women, in spite of filial duty, and woe to those whose actions change
affection and respect to hatred or contempt.”

The bitter grief, the solemn fervor of her words, both touched and awed
Christie too much for speech. Helen had passed beyond the bounds of
ceremony, fear, or shame: her hard lot, her dark experience, set her
apart, and gave her the right to utter the bare truth. To her heart’s
core Christie felt that warning; and for the first time saw what many
never see or wilfully deny,—the awful responsibility that lies on every
man and woman’s soul forbidding them to entail upon the innocent the
burden of their own infirmities, the curse that surely follows their
own sins.

Sad and stern, as an accusing angel, that most unhappy daughter spoke:

“If ever a woman had cause to repent, it is my mother; but she will
not, and till she does, God has forsaken us. Nothing can subdue her
pride, not even an affliction like mine. She hides the truth; she hides
me, and lets the world believe I am dying of consumption; not a word
about insanity, and no one knows the secret beyond ourselves, but
doctor, nurse, and you. This is why I was not sent away, but for a year
was shut up in that room yonder where the door is always locked. If you
look in, you’ll see barred windows, guarded fire, muffled walls, and
other sights to chill your blood, when you remember all those dreadful
things were meant for me.”

“Don’t speak, don’t think of them! Don’t talk any more; let me do
something to comfort you, for my heart is broken with all this,” cried
Christie, panic-stricken at the picture Helen’s words had conjured up.

“I must go on! There is no rest for me till I have tried to lighten
this burden by sharing it with you. Let me talk, let me wear myself
out, then you shall help and comfort me, if there is any help and
comfort for such as I. Now I can tell you all about my Edward, and
you’ll listen, though mamma forbade it. Three years ago my father died,
and we came here. I was well then, and oh, how happy!”

Clasping her hands above her head, she stood like a beautiful, pale
image of despair; tearless and mute, but with such a world of anguish
in the eyes lifted to the smiling picture opposite that it needed no
words to tell the story of a broken heart.

“How I loved him!” she said, softly, while her whole face glowed for an
instant with the light and warmth of a deathless passion. “How I loved
him, and how he loved me! Too well to let me darken both our lives with
a remorse which would come too late for a just atonement. I thought him
cruel then,—I bless him for it now. I had far rather be the innocent
sufferer I am, than a wretched woman like my mother. I shall never see
him any more, but I know he thinks of me far away in India, and when I
die one faithful heart will remember me.”

There her voice faltered and failed, and for a moment the fire of her
eyes was quenched in tears. Christie thought the reaction had come, and
rose to go and comfort her. But instantly Helen’s hand was on her
shoulder, and pressing her back into her seat, she said, almost
fiercely:

“I’m not done yet; yon must hear the whole, and help me to save Bella.
We knew nothing of the blight that hung over us till father told
Augustine upon his death-bed. August, urged by mother, kept it to
himself, and went away to bear it as he could. He should have spoken
out and saved me in time. But not till he came home and found me
engaged did he have courage to warn me of the fate in store for us. So
Edward tore himself away, although it broke his heart, and I—do you see
that?”

With a quick gesture she rent open her dress, and on her bosom Christie
saw a scar that made her turn yet paler than before.

“Yes, I tried to kill myself; but they would not let me die, so the old
tragedy of our house begins again. August became a priest, hoping to
hide his calamity and expiate his father’s sin by endless penances and
prayers. Harry turned reckless; for what had he to look forward to? A
short life, and a gay one, he says, and when his turn comes he will
spare himself long suffering, as I tried to do it. Bella was never
told; she was so young they kept her ignorant of all they could, even
the knowledge of my state. She was long away at school, but now she has
come home, now she has learned to love, and is going blindly as I went,
because no one tells her what she must know soon or late. Mamma will
not. August hesitates, remembering me. Harry swears he will speak out,
but I implore him not to do it, for he will be too violent; and I am
powerless. I never knew about this man till Hal told me to-day. Bella
only comes in for a moment, and I have no chance to tell her she must
not love him.”

Pressing her hands to her temples, Helen resumed her restless march
again, but suddenly broke out more violently than before:

“Now do you wonder why I am half frantic? Now will you ask me to sing
and smile, and sit calmly by while this wrong goes on? You have done
much for me, and God will bless you for it, but you cannot keep me
sane. Death is the only cure for a mad Carrol, and I’m so young, so
strong, it will be long in coming unless I hurry it.”

She clenched her hands, set her teeth, and looked about her as if ready
for any desperate act that should set her free from the dark and
dreadful future that lay before her.

For a moment Christie feared and trembled; then pity conquered fear.
She forgot herself, and only remembered this poor girl, so hopeless,
helpless, and afflicted. Led by a sudden impulse, she put both arms
about her, and held her close with a strong but silent tenderness
better than any bonds. At first, Helen seemed unconscious of it, as she
stood rigid and motionless, with her wild eyes dumbly imploring help of
earth and heaven. Suddenly both strength and excitement seemed to leave
her, and she would have fallen but for the living, loving prop that
sustained her.

Still silent, Christie laid her down, kissed her white lips, and busied
herself about her till she looked up quite herself again, but so wan
and weak, it was pitiful to see her.

“It’s over now,” she whispered, with a desolate sigh. “Sing to me, and
keep the evil spirit quiet for a little while. To-morrow, if I’m strong
enough, we’ll talk about poor little Bella.”

And Christie sang, with tears dropping fast upon the keys, that made a
soft accompaniment to the sweet old hymns which soothed this troubled
soul as David’s music brought repose to Saul.

When Helen slept at last from sheer exhaustion, Christie executed the
resolution she had made as soon as the excitement of that stormy scene
was over. She went straight to Mrs. Carrol’s room, and, undeterred by
the presence of her sons, told all that had passed. They were evidently
not unprepared for it, thanks to old Hester, who had overheard enough
of Helen’s wild words to know that something was amiss, and had
reported accordingly; but none of them had ventured to interrupt the
interview, lest Helen should be driven to desperation as before.

“Mother, Helen is right; we should speak out, and not hide this bitter
fact any longer. The world will pity us, and we must bear the pity, but
it would condemn us for deceit, and we should deserve the condemnation
if we let this misery go on. Living a lie will ruin us all. Bella will
be destroyed as Helen was; I am only the shadow of a man now, and Hal
is killing himself as fast as he can, to avoid the fate we all dread.”

Augustine spoke first, for Mrs. Carrol sat speechless with her trouble
as Christie paused.

“Keep to your prayers, and let me go my own way, it’s the shortest,”
muttered Harry, with his face hidden, and his head down on his folded
arms.

“Boys, boys, you’ll kill me if you say such things! I have more now
than I can bear. Don’t drive me wild with your reproaches to each
other!” cried their mother, her heart rent with the remorse that came
too late.

“No fear of that; you are not a Carrol,” answered Harry, with the
pitiless bluntness of a resentful and rebellious boy.

Augustine turned on him with a wrathful flash of the eye, and a warning
ring in his stern voice, as he pointed to the door.

“You shall not insult your mother! Ask her pardon, or go!”

“She should ask mine! I’ll go. When you want me, you’ll know where to
find me.” And, with a reckless laugh, Harry stormed out of the room.

Augustine’s indignant face grew full of a new trouble as the door
banged below, and he pressed his thin hands tightly together, saying,
as if to himself:

“Heaven help me! Yes, I do know; for, night after night, I find and
bring the poor lad home from gambling-tables and the hells where souls
like his are lost.”

Here Christie thought to slip away, feeling that it was no place for
her now that her errand was done. But Mrs. Carrol called her back.

“Miss Devon—Christie—forgive me that I did not trust you sooner. It was
so hard to tell; I hoped so much from time; I never could believe that
my poor children would be made the victims of my mistake. Do not
forsake us: Helen loves you so. Stay with her, I implore you, and let a
most unhappy mother plead for a most unhappy child.” Then Christie went
to the poor woman, and earnestly assured her of her love and loyalty;
for now she felt doubly bound to them because they trusted her.

“What shall we do?” they said to her, with pathetic submission, turning
like sick people to a healthful soul for help and comfort.

“Tell Bella all the truth, and help her to refuse her lover. Do this
just thing, and God will strengthen you to bear the consequences,” was
her answer, though she trembled at the responsibility they put upon
her.

“Not yet,” cried Mrs. Carrol. “Let the poor child enjoy the holidays
with a light heart,—then we will tell her; and then Heaven help us
all!”

So it was decided; for only a week or two of the old year remained, and
no one had the heart to rob poor Bella of the little span of blissful
ignorance that now remained to her.

A terrible time was that to Christie; for, while one sister, blessed
with beauty, youth, love, and pleasure, tasted life at its sweetest,
the other sat in the black shadow of a growing dread, and wearied
Heaven with piteous prayers for her relief.

“The old horror is coming back; I feel it creeping over me. Don’t let
it come, Christie! Stay by me! Help me! Keep me sane! And if you
cannot, ask God to take me quickly!”

With words like these, poor Helen clung to Christie; and, soul and
body, Christie devoted herself to the afflicted girl. She would not see
her mother; and the unhappy woman haunted that closed door, hungering
for the look, the word, that never came to her. Augustine was her
consolation, and, during those troublous days, the priest was forgotten
in the son. But Harry was all in all to Helen then; and it was touching
to see how these unfortunate young creatures clung to one another, she
tenderly trying to keep him from the wild life that was surely
hastening the fate he might otherwise escape for years, and he
patiently bearing all her moods, eager to cheer and soothe the sad
captivity from which he could not save her.

These tender ministrations seemed to be blessed at last; and Christie
began to hope the haunting terror would pass by, as quiet gloom
succeeded to wild excitement. The cheerful spirit of the season seemed
to reach even that sad room; and, in preparing gifts for others, Helen
seemed to find a little of that best of all gifts,—peace for herself.

On New Year’s morning, Christie found her garlanding her lover’s
picture with white roses and the myrtle sprays brides wear.

“These were his favorite flowers, and I meant to make my wedding wreath
of this sweet-scented myrtle, because he gave it to me,” she said, with
a look that made Christie’s eyes grow dim. “Don’t grieve for me, dear;
we shall surely meet hereafter, though so far asunder here. Nothing can
part us there, I devoutly believe; for we leave our burdens all behind
us when we go.” Then, in a lighter tone, she said, with her arm on
Christie’s neck:

“This day is to be a happy one, no matter what comes after it. I’m
going to be my old self for a little while, and forget there’s such a
word as sorrow. Help me to dress, so that when the boys come up they
may find the sister Nell they have not seen for two long years.”

“Will you wear this, my darling? Your mother sends it, and she tried to
have it dainty and beautiful enough to please you. See, your own
colors, though the bows are only laid on that they may be changed for
others if you like.”

As she spoke Christie lifted the cover of the box old Hester had just
brought in, and displayed a cashmere wrapper, creamy-white, silk-lined,
down-trimmed, and delicately relieved by rosy knots, like holly berries
lying upon snow. Helen looked at it without a word for several minutes,
then gathering up the ribbons, with a strange smile, she said:

“I like it better so; but I’ll not wear it yet.”

“Bless and save us, deary; it must have a bit of color somewhere, else
it looks just like a shroud,” cried Hester, and then wrung her hands in
dismay as Helen answered, quietly:

“Ah, well, keep it for me, then. I shall be happier when I wear it so
than in the gayest gown I own, for when you put it on, this poor head
and heart of mine will be quiet at last.”

Motioning Hester to remove the box, Christie tried to banish the cloud
her unlucky words had brought to Helen’s face, by chatting cheerfully
as she helped her make herself “pretty for the boys.”

All that day she was unusually calm and sweet, and seemed to yield
herself wholly to the happy influences of the hour, gave and received
her gifts so cheerfully that her brothers watched her with delight; and
unconscious Bella said, as she hung about her sister, with loving
admiration in her eyes:

“I always thought you would get well, and now I’m sure of it, for you
look as you used before I went away to school, and seem just like our
own dear Nell.”

“I’m glad of that; I wanted you to feel so, my Bella. I’ll accept your
happy prophecy, and hope I may get well soon, very soon.”

So cheerfully she spoke, so tranquilly she smiled, that all rejoiced
over her believing, with love’s blindness, that she might yet conquer
her malady in spite of their forebodings.

It was a very happy day to Christie, not only that she was generously
remembered and made one of them by all the family, but because this
change for the better in Helen made her heart sing for joy. She had
given time, health, and much love to the task, and ventured now to hope
they had not been given in vain. One thing only marred her happiness,
the sad estrangement of the daughter from her mother, and that evening
she resolved to take advantage of Helen’s tender mood, and plead for
the poor soul who dared not plead for herself.

As the brothers and sisters said good-night, Helen clung to them as if
loth to part, saying, with each embrace:

“Keep hoping for me, Bella; kiss me, Harry; bless me, Augustine, and
all wish for me a happier New Year than the last.”

When they were gone she wandered slowly round the room, stood long
before the picture with its fading garland, sung a little softly to
herself, and came at last to Christie, saying, like a tired child:

“I have been good all day; now let me rest.”

“One thing has been forgotten, dear,” began Christie, fearing to
disturb the quietude that seemed to have been so dearly bought.

Helen understood her, and looked up with a sane sweet face, out of
which all resentful bitterness had passed.

“No, Christie, not forgotten, only kept until the last. To-day is a
good day to forgive, as we would be forgiven, and I mean to do it
before I sleep,” Then holding Christie close, she added, with a quiver
of emotion in her voice: “I have no words warm enough to thank you, my
good angel, for all you have been to me, but I know it will give you a
great pleasure to do one thing more. Give dear mamma my love, and tell
her that when I am quiet for the night I want her to come and get me to
sleep with the old lullaby she used to sing when I was a little child.”

No gift bestowed that day was so precious to Christie as the joy of
carrying this loving message from daughter to mother. How Mrs. Carrol
received it need not be told. She would have gone at once, but Christie
begged her to wait till rest and quiet, after the efforts of the day,
had prepared Helen for an interview which might undo all that had been
done if too hastily attempted.

Hester always waited upon her child at night; so, feeling that she
might be wanted later, Christie went to her own room to rest. Quite
sure that Mrs. Carrol would come to tell her what had passed, she
waited for an hour or two, then went to ask of Hester how the visit had
sped.

“Her mamma came up long ago, but the dear thing was fast asleep, so I
wouldn’t let her be disturbed, and Mrs. Carrol went away again,” said
the old woman, rousing from a nap.

Grieved at the mother’s disappointment, Christie stole in, hoping that
Helen might rouse. She did not, and Christie was about to leave her,
when, as she bent to smooth the tumbled coverlet, something dropped at
her feet. Only a little pearl-handled penknife of Harry’s; but her
heart stood still with fear, for it was open, and, as she took it up, a
red stain came off upon her hand.

Helen’s face was turned away, and, bending nearer, Christie saw how
deathly pale it looked in the shadow of the darkened room. She listened
at her lips; only a faint flutter of breath parted them; she lifted up
the averted head, and on the white throat saw a little wound, from
which the blood still flowed. Then, like a flash of light, the meaning
of the sudden change which came over her grew clear,—her brave efforts
to make the last day happy, her tender good-night partings, her wish to
be at peace with every one, the tragic death she had chosen rather than
live out the tragic life that lay before her.

Christie’s nerves had been tried to the uttermost; the shock of this
discovery was too much for her, and, in the act of calling for help,
she fainted, for the first time in her life.

When she was herself again, the room was full of people;
terror-stricken faces passed before her; broken voices whispered, “It
is too late,” and, as she saw the group about the bed, she wished for
unconsciousness again.

Helen lay in her mother’s arms at last, quietly breathing her life
away, for though every thing that love and skill could devise had been
tried to save her, the little knife in that desperate hand had done its
work, and this world held no more suffering for her. Harry was down
upon his knees beside her, trying to stifle his passionate grief.
Augustine prayed audibly above her, and the fervor of his broken words
comforted all hearts but one. Bella was clinging, panic-stricken, to
the kind old doctor, who was sobbing like a boy, for he had loved and
served poor Helen as faithfully as if she had been his own.

“Can nothing save her?” Christie whispered, as the prayer ended, and a
sound of bitter weeping filled the room.

“Nothing; she is sane and safe at last, thank God!”

Christie could not but echo his thanksgiving, for the blessed
tranquillity of the girl’s countenance was such as none but death, the
great healer, can bring; and, as they looked, her eyes opened,
beautifully clear and calm before they closed for ever. From face to
face they passed, as if they looked for some one, and her lips moved in
vain efforts to speak.

Christie went to her, but still the wide, wistful eyes searched the
room as if unsatisfied; and, with a longing that conquered the mortal
weakness of the body, the heart sent forth one tender cry:

“My mother—I want my mother!”

There was no need to repeat the piteous call, for, as it left her lips,
she saw her mother’s face bending over her, and felt her mother’s arms
gathering her in an embrace which held her close even after death had
set its seal upon the voiceless prayers for pardon which passed between
those reunited hearts.

When she was asleep at last, Christie and her mother made her ready for
her grave; weeping tender tears as they folded her in the soft, white
garment she had put by for that sad hour; and on her breast they laid
the flowers she had hung about her lover as a farewell gift. So
beautiful she looked when all was done, that in the early dawn they
called her brothers, that they might not lose the memory of the blessed
peace that shone upon her face, a mute assurance that for her the new
year had happily begun.

“Now my work here is done, and I must go,” thought Christie, when the
waves of life closed over the spot where another tired swimmer had gone
down. But she found that one more task remained for her before she left
the family which, on her coming, she had thought so happy.

Mrs. Carrol, worn out with the long effort to conceal her secret cross,
broke down entirely under this last blow, and besought Christie to tell
Bella all that she must know. It was a hard task, but Christie accepted
it, and, when the time came, found that there was very little to be
told, for at the death-bed of the elder sister, the younger had learned
much of the sad truth. Thus prepared, she listened to all that was most
carefully and tenderly confided to her, and, when the heavy tale was
done, she surprised Christie by the unsuspected strength she showed. No
tears, no lamentations, for she was her mother’s daughter, and
inherited the pride that can bear heavy burdens, if they are borne
unseen.

“Tell me what I must do, and I will do it,” she said, with the quiet
despair of one who submits to the inevitable, but will not complain.

When Christie with difficulty told her that she should give up her
lover, Bella bowed her head, and for a moment could not speak, then
lifted it as if defying her own weakness, and spoke out bravely:

“It shall be done, for it is right. It is very hard for me, because I
love him; he will not suffer much, for he can love again. I should be
glad of that, and I’ll try to wish it for his sake. He is young, and
if, as Harry says, he cares more for my fortune than myself, so much
the better. What next, Christie?”

Amazed and touched at the courage of the creature she had fancied a
sort of lovely butterfly to be crushed by a single blow, Christie took
heart, and, instead of soothing sympathy, gave her the solace best
fitted for strong natures, something to do for others. What inspired
her, Christie never knew; perhaps it was the year of self-denying
service she had rendered for pity’s sake; such devotion is its own
reward, and now, in herself, she discovered unsuspected powers.

“Live for your mother and your brothers, Bella; they need you sorely,
and in time I know you will find true consolation in it, although you
must relinquish much. Sustain your mother, cheer Augustine, watch over
Harry, and be to them what Helen longed to be.”

“And fail to do it, as she failed!” cried Bella, with a shudder.

“Listen, and let me give you this hope, for I sincerely do believe it.
Since I came here, I have read many books, thought much, and talked
often with Dr. Shirley about this sad affliction. He thinks you and
Harry may escape it, if you will. You are like your mother in
temperament and temper; you have self-control, strong wills, good
nerves, and cheerful spirits. Poor Harry is willfully spoiling all his
chances now; but you may save him, and, in the endeavor, save
yourself.”

“Oh, Christie, may I hope it? Give me one chance of escape, and I will
suffer any hardship to keep it. Let me see any thing before me but a
life and death like Helen’s, and I’ll bless you for ever!” cried Bella,
welcoming this ray of light as a prisoner welcomes sunshine in his
cell.

Christie trembled at the power of her words, yet, honestly believing
them, she let them uplift this disconsolate soul, trusting that they
might be in time fulfilled through God’s mercy and the saving grace of
sincere endeavor.

Holding fast to this frail spar, Bella bravely took up arms against her
sea of troubles, and rode out the storm. When her lover came to know
his fate, she hid her heart, and answered “no,” finding a bitter
satisfaction in the end, for Harry was right, and, when the fortune was
denied him, young Butler did not mourn the woman long. Pride helped
Bella to bear it; but it needed all her courage to look down the coming
years so bare of all that makes life sweet to youthful souls, so
desolate and dark, with duty alone to cheer the thorny way, and the
haunting shadow of her race lurking in the background.

Submission and self-sacrifice are stern, sad angels, but in time one
learns to know and love them, for when they have chastened, they uplift
and bless. Dimly discerning this, poor Bella put her hands in theirs,
saying, “Lead me, teach me; I will follow and obey you.”

All soon felt that they could not stay in a house so full of heavy
memories, and decided to return to their old home. They begged Christie
to go with them, using every argument and entreaty their affection
could suggest. But Christie needed rest, longed for freedom, and felt
that in spite of their regard it would be very hard for her to live
among them any longer. Her healthy nature needed brighter influences,
stronger comrades, and the memory of Helen weighed so heavily upon her
heart that she was eager to forget it for a time in other scenes and
other work.

So they parted, very sadly, very tenderly, and laden with good gifts
Christie went on her way weary, but well satisfied, for she had earned
her rest.



CHAPTER VI.
SEAMSTRESS.


For some weeks Christie rested and refreshed herself by making her room
gay and comfortable with the gifts lavished on her by the Carrols, and
by sharing with others the money which Harry had smuggled into her
possession after she had steadily refused to take one penny more than
the sum agreed upon when she first went to them.

She took infinite satisfaction in sending one hundred dollars to Uncle
Enos, for she had accepted what he gave her as a loan, and set her
heart on repaying every fraction of it. Another hundred she gave to
Hepsey, who found her out and came to report her trials and
tribulations. The good soul had ventured South and tried to buy her
mother. But “ole missis” would not let her go at any price, and the
faithful chattel would not run away. Sorely disappointed, Hepsey had
been obliged to submit; but her trip was not a failure, for she
liberated several brothers and sent them triumphantly to Canada.

“You must take it, Hepsey, for I could not rest happy if I put it away
to lie idle while you can save men and women from torment with it. I’d
give it if it was my last penny, for I can help in no other way; and if
I need money, I can always earn it, thank God!” said Christie, as
Hepsey hesitated to take so much from a fellow-worker.

The thought of that investment lay warm at Christie’s heart, and never
woke a regret, for well she knew that every dollar of it would be
blessed, since shares in the Underground Railroad pay splendid
dividends that never fail.

Another portion of her fortune, as she called Harry’s gift, was
bestowed in wedding presents upon Lucy, who at length succeeded in
winning the heart of the owner of the “heavenly eyes” and “distracting
legs;” and, having gained her point, married him with dramatic
celerity, and went West to follow the fortunes of her lord.

The old theatre was to be demolished and the company scattered, so a
farewell festival was held, and Christie went to it, feeling more
solitary than ever as she bade her old friends a long good-bye.

The rest of the money burned in her pocket, but she prudently put it by
for a rainy day, and fell to work again when her brief vacation was
over.

Hearing of a chance for a good needle-woman in a large and
well-conducted mantua-making establishment, she secured it as a
temporary thing, for she wanted to divert her mind from that last sad
experience by entirely different employment and surroundings. She liked
to return at night to her own little home, solitary and simple as it
was, and felt a great repugnance to accept any place where she would be
mixed up with family affairs again.

So day after day she went to her seat in the workroom where a dozen
other young women sat sewing busily on gay garments, with as much
lively gossip to beguile the time as Miss Cotton, the forewoman, would
allow.

For a while it diverted Christie, as she had a feminine love for pretty
things, and enjoyed seeing delicate silks, costly lace, and all the
indescribable fantasies of fashion. But as spring came on, the old
desire for something fresh and free began to haunt her, and she had
both waking and sleeping dreams of a home in the country somewhere,
with cows and flowers, clothes bleaching on green grass, bob-o’-links
making rapturous music by the river, and the smell of new-mown hay, all
lending their charms to the picture she painted for herself.

Most assuredly she would have gone to find these things, led by the
instincts of a healthful nature, had not one slender tie held her till
it grew into a bond so strong she could not break it.

Among her companions was one, and one only, who attracted her. The
others were well-meaning girls, but full of the frivolous purposes and
pleasures which their tastes prompted and their dull life fostered.
Dress, gossip, and wages were the three topics which absorbed them.
Christie soon tired of the innumerable changes rung upon these themes,
and took refuge in her own thoughts, soon learning to enjoy them
undisturbed by the clack of many tongues about her. Her evenings at
home were devoted to books, for she had the true New England woman’s
desire for education, and read or studied for the love of it. Thus she
had much to think of as her needle flew, and was rapidly becoming a
sort of sewing-machine when life was brightened for her by the finding
of a friend.

Among the girls was one quiet, skilful creature, whose black dress,
peculiar face, and silent ways attracted Christie. Her evident desire
to be let alone amused the new comer at first, and she made no effort
to know her. But presently she became aware that Rachel watched her
with covert interest, stealing quick, shy glances at her as she sat
musing over her work. Christie smiled at her when she caught these
glances, as if to reassure the looker of her good-will. But Rachel only
colored, kept her eyes fixed on her work, and was more reserved than
ever.

This interested Christie, and she fell to studying this young woman
with some curiosity, for she was different from the others. Though
evidently younger than she looked, Rachel’s face was that of one who
had known some great sorrow, some deep experience; for there were lines
on the forehead that contrasted strongly with the bright, abundant hair
above it; in repose, the youthfully red, soft lips had a mournful
droop, and the eyes were old with that indescribable expression which
comes to those who count their lives by emotions, not by years.

Strangely haunting eyes to Christie, for they seemed to appeal to her
with a mute eloquence she could not resist. In vain did Rachel answer
her with quiet coldness, nod silently when she wished her a cheery
“good morning,” and keep resolutely in her own somewhat isolated
corner, though invited to share the sunny window where the other sat.
Her eyes belied her words, and those fugitive glances betrayed the
longing of a lonely heart that dared not yield itself to the genial
companionship so freely offered it.

Christie was sure of this, and would not be repulsed; for her own heart
was very solitary. She missed Helen, and longed to fill the empty
place. She wooed this shy, cold girl as patiently and as gently as a
lover might, determined to win her confidence, because all the others
had failed to do it. Sometimes she left a flower in Rachel’s basket,
always smiled and nodded as she entered, and often stopped to admire
the work of her tasteful fingers. It was impossible to resist such
friendly overtures, and slowly Rachel’s coldness melted; into the
beseeching eyes came a look of gratitude, the more touching for its
wordlessness, and an irrepressible smile broke over her face in answer
to the cordial ones that made the sunshine of her day.

Emboldened by these demonstrations, Christie changed her seat, and
quietly established between them a daily interchange of something
beside needles, pins, and spools. Then, as Rachel did not draw back
offended, she went a step farther, and, one day when they chanced to be
left alone to finish off a delicate bit of work, she spoke out frankly:

“Why can’t we be friends? I want one sadly, and so do you, unless your
looks deceive me. We both seem to be alone in the world, to have had
trouble, and to like one another. I won’t annoy you by any impertinent
curiosity, nor burden you with uninteresting confidences; I only want
to feel that you like me a little and don’t mind my liking you a great
deal. Will you be my friend, and let me be yours?”

A great tear rolled down upon the shining silk in Rachel’s hands as she
looked into Christie’s earnest face, and answered with an almost
passionate gratitude in her own:

“You can never need a friend as much as I do, or know what a blessed
thing it is to find such an one as you are.”

“Then I may love you, and not be afraid of offending?” cried Christie,
much touched.

“Yes. But remember I didn’t ask it first,” said Rachel, half dropping
the hand she had held in both her own.

“You proud creature! I’ll remember; and when we quarrel, I’ll take all
the blame upon myself.”

Then Christie kissed her warmly, whisked away the tear, and began to
paint the delights in store for them in her most enthusiastic way,
being much elated with her victory; while Rachel listened with a newly
kindled light in her lovely eyes, and a smile that showed how winsome
her face had been before many tears washed its bloom away, and much
trouble made it old too soon.

Christie kept her word,—asked no questions, volunteered no confidences,
but heartily enjoyed the new friendship, and found that it gave to life
the zest which it had lacked before. Now some one cared for her, and,
better still, she could make some one happy, and in the act of
lavishing the affection of her generous nature on a creature sadder and
more solitary than herself, she found a satisfaction that never lost
its charm. There was nothing in her possession that she did not offer
Rachel, from the whole of her heart to the larger half of her little
room.

“I’m tired of thinking only of myself. It makes me selfish and
low-spirited; for I’m not a bit interesting. I must love somebody, and
‘love them hard,’ as children say; so why can’t you come and stay with
me? There’s room enough, and we could be so cosy evenings with our
books and work. I know you need some one to look after you, and I love
dearly to take care of people. Do come,” she would say, with most
persuasive hospitality.

But Rachel always answered steadily: “Not yet, Christie, not yet. I’ve
got something to do before I can think of doing any thing so beautiful
as that. Only love me, dear, and some day I’ll show you all my heart,
and thank you as I ought.”

So Christie was content to wait, and, meantime, enjoyed much; for, with
Rachel as a friend, she ceased to care for country pleasures, found
happiness in the work that gave her better food than mere daily bread,
and never thought of change; for love can make a home for itself
anywhere.

A very bright and happy time was this in Christie’s life; but, like
most happy times, it was very brief. Only one summer allowed for the
blossoming of the friendship that budded so slowly in the spring; then
the frost came and killed the flowers; but the root lived long
underneath the snows of suffering, doubt, and absence.

Coming to her work late one morning, she found the usually orderly room
in confusion. Some of the girls were crying; some whispering
together,—all looking excited and dismayed. Mrs. King sat majestically
at her table, with an ominous frown upon her face. Miss Cotton stood
beside her, looking unusually sour and stern, for the ancient virgin’s
temper was not of the best. Alone, before them all, with her face
hidden in her hands, and despair in every line of her drooping figure,
stood Rachel,—a meek culprit at the stern bar of justice, where women
try a sister woman.

“What’s the matter?” cried Christie, pausing on the threshold.

[Illustration: MRS. KING AND MISS COTTON.]

Rachel shivered, as if the sound of that familiar voice was a fresh
wound, but she did not lift her head; and Mrs. King answered, with a
nervous emphasis that made the bugles of her head-dress rattle
dismally:

“A very sad thing, Miss Devon,—very sad, indeed; a thing which never
occurred in my establishment before, and never shall again. It appears
that Rachel, whom we all considered a most respectable and worthy girl,
has been quite the reverse. I shudder to think what the consequences of
my taking her without a character (a thing I never do, and was only
tempted by her superior taste as a trimmer) might have been if Miss
Cotton, having suspicions, had not made strict inquiry and confirmed
them.”

“That was a kind and generous act, and Miss Cotton must feel proud of
it,” said Christie, with an indignant recollection of Mr. Fletcher’s
“cautious inquiries” about herself.

“It was perfectly right and proper, Miss Devon; and I thank her for her
care of my interests.” And Mrs. King bowed her acknowledgment of the
service with a perfect castanet accompaniment, whereat Miss Cotton
bridled with malicious complacency.

“Mrs. King, are you sure of this?” said Christie. “Miss Cotton does not
like Rachel because her work is so much praised. May not her jealousy
make her unjust, or her zeal for you mislead her?”

“I thank you for your polite insinuations, miss,” returned the irate
forewoman. “I never make mistakes; but you will find that you have made
a very great one in choosing Rachel for your bosom friend instead of
some one who would be a credit to you. Ask the creature herself if all
I’ve said of her isn’t true. She can’t deny it.”

With the same indefinable misgiving which had held her aloof, Christie
turned to Rachel, lifted up the hidden face with gentle force, and
looked into it imploringly, as she whispered: “Is it true?”

The woful countenance she saw made any other answer needless.
Involuntarily her hands fell away, and she hid her own face, uttering
the one reproach, which, tender and tearful though it was, seemed
harder to be borne than the stern condemnation gone before.

“Oh, Rachel, I so loved and trusted you!”

The grief, affection, and regret that trembled in her voice roused
Rachel from her state of passive endurance and gave her courage to
plead for herself. But it was Christie whom she addressed, Christie
whose pardon she implored, Christie’s sorrowful reproach that she most
keenly felt.

“Yes, it is true,” she said, looking only at the woman who had been the
first to befriend and now was the last to desert her. “It is true that
I once went astray, but God knows I have repented; that for years I’ve
tried to be an honest girl again, and that but for His help I should be
a far sadder creature than I am this day. Christie, you can never know
how bitter hard it is to outlive a sin like mine, and struggle up again
from such a fall. It clings to me; it won’t be shaken off or buried out
of sight. No sooner do I find a safe place like this, and try to forget
the past, than some one reads my secret in my face and hunts me down.
It seems very cruel, very hard, yet it is my punishment, so I try to
bear it, and begin again. What hurts me now more than all the rest,
what breaks my heart, is that I deceived you. I never meant to do it. I
did not seek you, did I? I tried to be cold and stiff; never asked for
love, though starving for it, till you came to me, so kind, so
generous, so dear,—how could I help it? Oh, how could I help it then?”

Christie had watched Rachel while she spoke, and spoke to her alone;
her heart yearned toward this one friend, for she still loved her, and,
loving, she believed in her.

“I don’t reproach you, dear: I don’t despise or desert you, and though
I’m grieved and disappointed, I’ll stand by you still, because you need
me more than ever now, and I want to prove that I am a true friend.
Mrs. King, please forgive and let poor Rachel stay here, safe among
us.”

“Miss Devon, I’m surprised at you! By no means; it would be the ruin of
my establishment; not a girl would remain, and the character of my
rooms would be lost for ever,” replied Mrs. King, goaded on by the
relentless Cotton.

“But where will she go if you send her away? Who will employ her if you
inform against her? What stranger will believe in her if we, who have
known her so long, fail to befriend her now? Mrs. King, think of your
own daughters, and be a mother to this poor girl for their sake.”

That last stroke touched the woman’s heart; her cold eye softened, her
hard mouth relaxed, and pity was about to win the day, when prudence,
in the shape of Miss Cotton, turned the scale, for that spiteful
spinster suddenly cried out, in a burst of righteous wrath:

“If that hussy stays, I leave this establishment for ever!” and
followed up the blow by putting on her bonnet with a flourish.

At this spectacle, self-interest got the better of sympathy in Mrs.
King’s worldly mind. To lose Cotton was to lose her right hand, and
charity at that price was too expensive a luxury to be indulged in; so
she hardened her heart, composed her features, and said, impressively:

“Take off your bonnet, Cotton; I have no intention of offending you, or
any one else, by such a step. I forgive you, Rachel, and I pity you;
but I can’t think of allowing you to stay. There are proper
institutions for such as you, and I advise you to go to one and repent.
You were paid Saturday night, so nothing prevents your leaving at once.
Time is money here, and we are wasting it. Young ladies, take your
seats.”

All but Christie obeyed, yet no one touched a needle, and Mrs. King
sat, hurriedly stabbing pins into the fat cushion on her breast, as if
testing the hardness of her heart.

Rachel’s eye went round the room; saw pity, aversion, or contempt, on
every face, but met no answering glance, for even Christie’s eyes were
bent thoughtfully on the ground, and Christie’s heart seemed closed
against her. As she looked her whole manner changed; her tears ceased
to fall, her face grew hard, and a reckless mood seemed to take
possession of her, as if finding herself deserted by womankind, she
would desert her own womanhood.

“I might have known it would be so,” she said abruptly, with a bitter
smile, sadder to see than her most hopeless tears. “It’s no use for
such as me to try; better go back to the old life, for there are kinder
hearts among the sinners than among the saints, and no one can live
without a bit of love. Your Magdalen Asylums are penitentiaries, not
homes; I won’t go to any of them. Your piety isn’t worth much, for
though you read in your Bible how the Lord treated a poor soul like me,
yet when I stretch out my hand to you for help, not one of all you
virtuous, Christian women dare take it and keep me from a life that’s
worse than hell.”

As she spoke Rachel flung out her hand with a half-defiant gesture, and
Christie took it. That touch, full of womanly compassion, seemed to
exorcise the desperate spirit that possessed the poor girl in her
despair, for, with a stifled exclamation, she sunk down at Christie’s
feet, and lay there weeping in all the passionate abandonment of love
and gratitude, remorse and shame. Never had human voice sounded so
heavenly sweet to her as that which broke the silence of the room, as
this one friend said, with the earnestness of a true and tender heart:

“Mrs. King, if you send her away, I must take her in; for if she does
go back to the old life, the sin of it will lie at our door, and God
will remember it against us in the end. Some one must trust her, help
her, love her, and so save her, as nothing else will. Perhaps I can do
this better than you,—at least, I’ll try; for even if I risk the loss
of my good name, I could bear that better than the thought that Rachel
had lost the work of these hard years for want of upholding now. She
shall come home with me; no one there need know of this discovery, and
I will take any work to her that you will give me, to keep her from
want and its temptations. Will you do this, and let me sew for less, if
I can pay you for the kindness in no other way?”

Poor Mrs. King was “much tumbled up and down in her own mind;” she
longed to consent, but Cotton’s eye was upon her, and Cotton’s
departure would be an irreparable loss, so she decided to end the
matter in the most summary manner. Plunging a particularly large pin
into her cushioned breast, as if it was a relief to inflict that mock
torture upon herself, she said sharply:

“It is impossible. You can do as you please, Miss Devon, but I prefer
to wash my hands of the affair at once and entirely.”

Christie’s eye went from the figure at her feet to the hard-featured
woman who had been a kind and just mistress until now, and she asked,
anxiously:

“Do you mean that you wash your hands of me also, if I stand by
Rachel?”

“I do. I’m very sorry, but my young ladies must keep respectable
company, or leave my service,” was the brief reply, for Mrs. King grew
grimmer externally as the mental rebellion increased internally.

“Then I will leave it!” cried Christie, with an indignant voice and
eye. “Come, dear, we’ll go together.” And without a look or word for
any in the room, she raised the prostrate girl, and led her out into
the little hall.

There she essayed to comfort her, but before many words had passed her
lips Rachel looked up, and she was silent with surprise, for the face
she saw was neither despairing nor defiant, but beautifully sweet and
clear, as the unfallen spirit of the woman shone through the grateful
eyes, and blessed her for her loyalty.

“Christie, you have done enough for me,” she said. “Go back, and keep
the good place you need, for such are hard to find. I can get on alone;
I’m used to this, and the pain will soon be over.”

“I’ll not go back!” cried Christie, hotly. “I’ll do slop-work and
starve, before I’ll stay with such a narrow-minded, cold-hearted woman.
Come home with me at once, and let us lay our plans together.”

“No, dear; if I wouldn’t go when you first asked me, much less will I
go now, for I’ve done you harm enough already. I never can thank you
for your great goodness to me, never tell you what it has been to me.
We must part now; but some day I’ll come back and show you that I’ve
not forgotten how you loved and helped and trusted me, when all the
others cast me off.”

Vain were Christie’s arguments and appeals. Rachel was immovable, and
all her friend could win from her was a promise to send word, now and
then, how things prospered with her.

“And, Rachel, I charge you to come to me in any strait, no matter what
it is, no matter where I am; for if any thing could break my heart, it
would be to know that you had gone back to the old life, because there
was no one to help and hold you up.”

“I never can go back; you have saved me, Christie, for you love me, you
have faith in me, and that will keep me strong and safe when you are
gone. Oh, my dear, my dear, God bless you for ever and for ever!”

Then Christie, remembering only that they were two loving women, alone
in a world of sin and sorrow, took Rachel in her arms, kissed and cried
over her with sisterly affection, and watched her prayerfully, as she
went away to begin her hard task anew, with nothing but the touch of
innocent lips upon her cheek, the baptism, of tender tears upon her
forehead to keep her from despair.

Still cherishing the hope that Rachel would come back to her, Christie
neither returned to Mrs. King nor sought another place of any sort, but
took home work from a larger establishment, and sat sewing diligently
in her little room, waiting, hoping, longing for her friend. But month
after month went by, and no word, no sign came to comfort her. She
would not doubt, yet she could not help fearing, and in her nightly
prayer no petition was more fervently made than that which asked the
Father of both saint and sinner to keep poor Rachel safe, and bring her
back in his good time.

Never had she been so lonely as now, for Christie had a social heart,
and, having known the joy of a cordial friendship even for a little
while, life seemed very barren to her when she lost it. No new friend
took Rachel’s place, for none came to her, and a feeling of loyalty
kept her from seeking one. But she suffered for the want of genial
society, for all the tenderness of her nature seemed to have been
roused by that brief but most sincere affection. Her hungry heart
clamored for the happiness that was its right, and grew very heavy as
she watched friends or lovers walking in the summer twilight when she
took her evening stroll. Often her eyes followed some humble pair,
longing to bless and to be blessed by the divine passion whose magic
beautifies the little milliner and her lad with the same tender grace
as the poet and the mistress whom he makes immortal in a song. But
neither friend nor lover came to Christie, and she said to herself,
with a sad sort of courage:

“I shall be solitary all my life, perhaps; so the sooner I make up my
mind to it, the easier it will be to bear.”

At Christmas-tide she made a little festival for herself, by giving to
each of the household drudges the most generous gift she could afford,
for no one else thought of them, and having known some of the hardships
of servitude herself, she had much sympathy with those in like case.

Then, with the pleasant recollection of two plain faces, brightened by
gratitude, surprise, and joy, she went out into the busy streets to
forget the solitude she left behind her.

Very gay they were with snow and sleigh-bells, holly-boughs, and
garlands, below, and Christmas sunshine in the winter sky above. All
faces shone, all voices had a cheery ring, and everybody stepped
briskly on errands of good-will. Up and down went Christie, making
herself happy in the happiness of others. Looking in at the
shop-windows, she watched, with interest, the purchases of busy
parents, calculating how best to fill the little socks hung up at home,
with a childish faith that never must be disappointed, no matter how
hard the times might be. She was glad to see so many turkeys on their
way to garnish hospitable tables, and hoped that all the dear home
circles might be found unbroken, though she had place in none. No
Christmas-tree went by leaving a whiff of piny sweetness behind, that
she did not wish it all success, and picture to herself the merry
little people dancing in its light. And whenever she saw a ragged child
eying a window full of goodies, smiling even, while it shivered, she
could not resist playing Santa Claus till her purse was empty, sending
the poor little souls enraptured home with oranges and apples in either
hand, and splendid sweeties in their pockets, for the babies.

No envy mingled with the melancholy that would not be dispelled even by
these gentle acts, for her heart was very tender that night, and if any
one had asked what gifts she desired most, she would have answered with
a look more pathetic than any shivering child had given her:

“I want the sound of a loving voice; the touch of a friendly hand.”

Going home, at last, to the lonely little room where no Christmas fire
burned, no tree shone, no household group awaited her, she climbed the
long, dark stairs, with drops on her cheeks, warmer than any melted
snow-flake could have left, and opening her door paused on the
threshold, smiling with wonder and delight, for in her absence some
gentle spirit had remembered her. A fire burned cheerily upon the
hearth, her lamp was lighted, a lovely rose-tree, in full bloom, filled
the air with its delicate breath, and in its shadow lay a note from
Rachel.

“A merry Christmas and a happy New Year, Christie! Long ago you gave me
your little rose; I have watched and tended it for your sake, dear, and
now when I want to show my love and thankfulness, I give it back again
as my one treasure. I crept in while you were gone, because I feared I
might harm you in some way if you saw me. I longed to stay and tell you
that I am safe and well, and busy, with your good face looking into
mine, but I don’t deserve that yet. Only love me, trust me, pray for
me, and some day you shall know what you have done for me. Till then,
God bless and keep you, dearest friend, your RACHEL.”

Never had sweeter tears fallen than those that dropped upon the little
tree as Christie took it in her arms, and all the rosy clusters leaned
toward her as if eager to deliver tender messages. Surely her wish was
granted now, for friendly hands had been at work for her. Warm against
her heart lay words as precious as if uttered by a loving voice, and
nowhere, on that happy night, stood a fairer Christmas tree than that
which bloomed so beautifully from the heart of a Magdalen who loved
much and was forgiven.



CHAPTER VII.
THROUGH THE MIST.


The year that followed was the saddest Christie had ever known, for she
suffered a sort of poverty which is more difficult to bear than actual
want, since money cannot lighten it, and the rarest charity alone can
minister to it. Her heart was empty and she could not fill it; her soul
was hungry and she could not feed it; life was cold and dark and she
could not warm and brighten it, for she knew not where to go.

She tried to help herself by all the means in her power, and when
effort after effort failed she said: “I am not good enough yet to
deserve happiness. I think too much of human love, too little of
divine. When I have made God my friend perhaps He will let me find and
keep one heart to make life happy with. How shall I know God? Who will
tell me where to find Him, and help me to love and lean upon Him as I
ought?”

In all sincerity she asked these questions, in all sincerity she began
her search, and with pathetic patience waited for an answer. She read
many books, some wise, some vague, some full of superstition, all
unsatisfactory to one who wanted a living God. She went to many
churches, studied many creeds, and watched their fruits as well as she
could; but still remained unsatisfied. Some were cold and narrow, some
seemed theatrical and superficial, some stern and terrible, none
simple, sweet, and strong enough for humanity’s many needs. There was
too much machinery, too many walls, laws, and penalties between the
Father and His children. Too much fear, too little love; too many
saints and intercessors; too little faith in the instincts of the soul
which turns to God as flowers to the sun. Too much idle strife about
names and creeds; too little knowledge of the natural religion which
has no name but godliness, whose creed is boundless and benignant as
the sunshine, whose faith is as the tender trust of little children in
their mother’s love.

Nowhere did Christie find this all-sustaining power, this paternal
friend, and comforter, and after months of patient searching she gave
up her quest, saying, despondently:

“I’m afraid I never shall get religion, for all that’s offered me seems
so poor, so narrow, or so hard that I cannot take it for my stay. A God
of wrath I cannot love; a God that must be propitiated, adorned, and
adored like an idol I cannot respect; and a God who can be blinded to
men’s iniquities through the week by a little beating of the breast and
bowing down on the seventh day, I cannot serve. I want a Father to whom
I can go with all my sins and sorrows, all my hopes and joys, as freely
and fearlessly as I used to go to my human father, sure of help and
sympathy and love. Shall I ever find Him?”

Alas, poor Christie! she was going through the sorrowful perplexity
that comes to so many before they learn that religion cannot be given
or bought, but must grow as trees grow, needing frost and snow, rain
and wind to strengthen it before it is deep-rooted in the soul; that
God is in the hearts of all, and they that seek shall surely find Him
when they need Him most.

So Christie waited for religion to reveal itself to her, and while she
waited worked with an almost desperate industry, trying to buy a little
happiness for herself by giving a part of her earnings to those whose
needs money could supply. She clung to her little room, for there she
could live her own life undisturbed, and preferred to stint herself in
other ways rather than give up this liberty. Day after day she sat
there sewing health of mind and body into the long seams or dainty
stitching that passed through her busy hands, and while she sewed she
thought sad, bitter, oftentimes rebellious thoughts.

It was the worst life she could have led just then, for, deprived of
the active, cheerful influences she most needed, her mind preyed on
itself, slowly and surely, preparing her for the dark experience to
come. She knew that there was fitter work for her somewhere, but how to
find it was a problem which wiser women have often failed to solve. She
was no pauper, yet was one of those whom poverty sets at odds with the
world, for favors burden and dependence makes the bread bitter unless
love brightens the one and sweetens the other.

There are many Christies, willing to work, yet unable to bear the
contact with coarser natures which makes labor seem degrading, or to
endure the hard struggle for the bare necessities of life when life has
lost all that makes it beautiful. People wonder when such as she say
they can find little to do; but to those who know nothing of the pangs
of pride, the sacrifices of feeling, the martyrdoms of youth, love,
hope, and ambition that go on under the faded cloaks of these poor
gentle-women, who tell them to go into factories, or scrub in kitchens,
for there is work enough for all, the most convincing answer would be,
“Try it.”

Christie kept up bravely till a wearisome low fever broke both strength
and spirit, and brought the weight of debt upon her when least fitted
to bear or cast it off. For the first time she began to feel that she
had nerves which would rebel, and a heart that could not long endure
isolation from its kind without losing the cheerful courage which
hitherto had been her staunchest friend. Perfect rest, kind care, and
genial society were the medicines she needed, but there was no one to
minister to her, and she went blindly on along the road so many women
tread.

She left her bed too soon, fearing to ask too much of the busy people
who had done their best to be neighborly. She returned to her work when
it felt heavy in her feeble hands, for debt made idleness seem wicked
to her conscientious mind. And, worst of all, she fell back into the
bitter, brooding mood which had become habitual to her since she lived
alone. While the tired hands slowly worked, the weary brain ached and
burned with heavy thoughts, vain longings, and feverish fancies, till
things about her sometimes seemed as strange and spectral as the
phantoms that had haunted her half-delirious sleep. Inexpressibly
wretched were the dreary days, the restless nights, with only pain and
labor for companions. The world looked very dark to her, life seemed an
utter failure, God a delusion, and the long, lonely years before her
too hard to be endured.

It is not always want, insanity, or sin that drives women to desperate
deaths; often it is a dreadful loneliness of heart, a hunger for home
and friends, worse than starvation, a bitter sense of wrong in being
denied the tender ties, the pleasant duties, the sweet rewards that can
make the humblest life happy; a rebellious protest against God, who,
when they cry for bread, seems to offer them a stone. Some of these
impatient souls throw life away, and learn too late how rich it might
have been with a stronger faith, a more submissive spirit. Others are
kept, and slowly taught to stand and wait, till blest with a happiness
the sweeter for the doubt that went before.

There came a time to Christie when the mist about her was so thick she
would have stumbled and fallen had not the little candle, kept alight
by her own hand, showed her how far “a good deed shines in a naughty
world;” and when God seemed utterly forgetful of her He sent a friend
to save and comfort her.

March winds were whistling among the house-tops, and the sky was
darkening with a rainy twilight as Christie folded up her finished
work, stretched her weary limbs, and made ready for her daily walk.
Even this was turned to profit, for then she took home her work, went
in search of more, and did her own small marketing. As late hours and
unhealthy labor destroyed appetite, and unpaid debts made each mouthful
difficult to swallow with Mrs. Flint’s hard eye upon her, she had
undertaken to supply her own food, and so lessen the obligation that
burdened her. An unwise retrenchment, for, busied with the tasks that
must be done, she too often neglected or deferred the meals to which no
society lent interest, no appetite gave flavor; and when the fuel was
withheld the fire began to die out spark by spark.

As she stood before the little mirror, smoothing the hair upon her
forehead, she watched the face reflected there, wondering if it could
be the same she used to see so full of youth and hope and energy.

“Yes, I’m growing old; my youth is nearly over, and at thirty I shall
be a faded, dreary woman, like so many I see and pity. It’s hard to
come to this after trying so long to find my place, and do my duty. I’m
a failure after all, and might as well have stayed with Aunt Betsey or
married Joe.”

“Miss Devon, to-day is Saturday, and I’m makin’ up my bills, so I’ll
trouble you for your month’s board, and as much on the old account as
you can let me have.”

Mrs. Flint spoke, and her sharp voice rasped the silence like a file,
for she had entered without knocking, and her demand was the first
intimation of her presence.

Christie turned slowly round, for there was no elasticity in her
motions now; through the melancholy anxiety her face always wore of
late, there came the worried look of one driven almost beyond
endurance, and her hands began to tremble nervously as she tied on her
bonnet. Mrs. Flint was a hard woman, and dunned her debtors
relentlessly; Christie dreaded the sight of her, and would have left
the house had she been free of debt.

“I am just going to take these things home and get more work. I am sure
of being paid, and you shall have all I get. But, for Heaven’s sake,
give me time.”

Two days and a night of almost uninterrupted labor had given a severe
strain to her nerves, and left her in a dangerous state. Something in
her face arrested Mrs. Flint’s attention; she observed that Christie
was putting on her best cloak and hat, and to her suspicious eye the
bundle of work looked unduly large.

It had been a hard day for the poor woman, for the cook had gone off in
a huff; the chamber girl been detected in petty larceny; two desirable
boarders had disappointed her; and the incapable husband had fallen
ill, so it was little wonder that her soul was tried, her sharp voice
sharper, and her sour temper sourer than ever.

“I have heard of folks putting on their best things and going out, but
never coming back again, when they owed money. It’s a mean trick, but
it’s sometimes done by them you wouldn’t think it of,” she said, with
an aggravating sniff of intelligence.

To be suspected of dishonesty was the last drop in Christie’s full cup.
She looked at the woman with a strong desire to do something violent,
for every nerve was tingling with irritation and anger. But she
controlled herself, though her face was colorless and her hands were
more tremulous than before. Unfastening her comfortable cloak she
replaced it with a shabby shawl; took off her neat bonnet and put on a
hood, unfolded six linen shirts, and shook them out before her
landlady’s eyes; then retied the parcel, and, pausing on the threshold
of the door, looked back with an expression that haunted the woman long
afterward, as she said, with the quiver of strong excitement in her
voice:

“Mrs. Flint, I have always dealt honorably by you; I always mean to do
it, and don’t deserve to be suspected of dishonesty like that. I leave
every thing I own behind me, and if I don’t come back, you can sell
them all and pay yourself, for I feel now as if I never wanted to see
you or this room again.”

Then she went rapidly away, supported by her indignation, for she had
done her best to pay her debts; had sold the few trinkets she
possessed, and several treasures given by the Carrols, to settle her
doctor’s bill, and had been half killing herself to satisfy Mrs.
Flint’s demands. The consciousness that she had been too lavish in her
generosity when fortune smiled upon her, made the present want all the
harder to bear. But she would neither beg nor borrow, though she knew
Harry would delight to give, and Uncle Enos lend her money, with a
lecture on extravagance, gratis.

“I’ll paddle my own canoe as long as I can,” she said, sternly; “and
when I must ask help I’ll turn to strangers for it, or scuttle my boat,
and go down without troubling any one.”

When she came to her employer’s door, the servant said: “Missis was
out;” then seeing Christie’s disappointed face, she added,
confidentially:

“If it’s any comfort to know it, I can tell you that missis wouldn’t
have paid you if she had a been to home. There’s been three other women
here with work, and she’s put ’em all off. She always does, and beats
’em down into the bargain, which ain’t genteel to my thinkin’.”

“She promised me I should be well paid for these, because I undertook
to get them done without fail. I’ve worked day and night rather than
disappoint her, and felt sure of my money,” said Christie,
despondently.

“I’m sorry, but you won’t get it. She told me to tell you your prices
was too high, and she could find folks to work cheaper.”

“She did not object to the price when I took the work, and I have
half-ruined my eyes over the fine stitching. See if it isn’t nicely
done.” And Christie displayed her exquisite needlework with pride.

The girl admired it, and, having a grievance of her own, took
satisfaction in berating her mistress.

“It’s a shame! These things are part of a present, the ladies are going
to give the minister; but I don’t believe he’ll feel easy in ’em if
poor folks is wronged to get ’em. Missis won’t pay what they are worth,
I know; for, don’t you see, the cheaper the work is done, the more
money she has to make a spread with her share of the present? It’s my
opinion you’d better hold on to these shirts till she pays for ’em
handsome.”

“No; I’ll keep my promise, and I hope she will keep hers. Tell her I
need the money very much, and have worked very hard to please her. I’ll
come again on Monday, if I’m able.”

Christie’s lips trembled as she spoke, for she was feeble still, and
the thought of that hard-earned money had been her sustaining hope
through the weary hours spent over that ill-paid work. The girl said
“Good-bye,” with a look of mingled pity and respect, for in her eyes
the seamstress was more of a lady than the mistress in this
transaction.

Christie hurried to another place, and asked eagerly if the young
ladies had any work for her. “Not a stitch,” was the reply, and the
door closed. She stood a moment looking down upon the passers-by
wondering what answer she would get if she accosted any one; and had
any especially benevolent face looked back at her she would have been
tempted to do it, so heart-sick and forlorn did she feel just then.

She knocked at several other doors, to receive the same reply. She even
tried a slop-shop, but it was full, and her pale face was against her.
Her long illness had lost her many patrons, and if one steps out from
the ranks of needle-women, it is very hard to press in again, so
crowded are they, and so desperate the need of money.

One hope remained, and, though the way was long, and a foggy drizzle
had set in, she minded neither distance nor the chilly rain, but
hurried away with anxious thoughts still dogging her steps. Across a
long bridge, through muddy roads and up a stately avenue she went,
pausing, at last, spent and breathless at another door.

A servant with a wedding-favor in his button-hole opened to her, and,
while he went to deliver her urgent message, she peered in wistfully
from the dreary world without, catching glimpses of home-love and
happiness that made her heart ache for very pity of its own loneliness.
A wedding was evidently afoot, for hall and staircase blazed with light
and bloomed with flowers. Smiling men and maids ran to and fro; opening
doors showed tables beautiful with bridal white and silver; savory
odors filled the air; gay voices echoed above and below; and once she
caught a brief glance at the bonny bride, standing with her father’s
arm about her, while her mother gave some last, loving touch to her
array; and a group of young sisters with April faces clustered round
her.

The pretty picture vanished all too soon; the man returned with a
hurried “No” for answer, and Christie went out into the deepening
twilight with a strange sense of desperation at her heart. It was not
the refusal, not the fear of want, nor the reaction of overtaxed nerves
alone; it was the sharpness of the contrast between that other woman’s
fate and her own that made her wring her hands together, and cry out,
bitterly:

“Oh, it isn’t fair, it isn’t right, that she should have so much and I
so little! What have I ever done to be so desolate and miserable, and
never to find any happiness, however hard I try to do what seems my
duty?”

There was no answer, and she went slowly down the long avenue, feeling
that there was no cause for hurry now, and even night and rain and wind
were better than her lonely room or Mrs. Flint’s complaints. Afar off
the city lights shone faintly through the fog, like pale lamps seen in
dreams; the damp air cooled her feverish cheeks; the road was dark and
still, and she longed to lie down and rest among the sodden leaves.

When she reached the bridge she saw the draw was up, and a spectral
ship was slowly passing through. With no desire to mingle in the crowd
that waited on either side, she paused, and, leaning on the railing,
let her thoughts wander where they would. As she stood there the heavy
air seemed to clog her breath and wrap her in its chilly arms. She felt
as if the springs of life were running down, and presently would stop;
for, even when the old question, “What shall I do?” came haunting her,
she no longer cared even to try to answer it, and had no feeling but
one of utter weariness. She tried to shake off the strange mood that
was stealing over her, but spent body and spent brain were not strong
enough to obey her will, and, in spite of her efforts to control it,
the impulse that had seized her grew more intense each moment.

“Why should I work and suffer any longer for myself alone?” she
thought; “why wear out my life struggling for the bread I have no heart
to eat? I am not wise enough to find my place, nor patient enough to
wait until it comes to me. Better give up trying, and leave room for
those who have something to live for.”

Many a stronger soul has known a dark hour when the importunate wish
has risen that it were possible and right to lay down the burdens that
oppress, the perplexities that harass, and hasten the coming of the
long sleep that needs no lullaby. Such an hour was this to Christie,
for, as she stood there, that sorrowful bewilderment which we call
despair came over her, and ruled her with a power she could not resist.

A flight of steps close by led to a lumber wharf, and, scarcely knowing
why, she went down there, with a vague desire to sit still somewhere,
and think her way out of the mist that seemed to obscure her mind. A
single tall lamp shone at the farther end of the platform, and
presently she found herself leaning her hot forehead against the iron
pillar, while she watched with curious interest the black water rolling
sluggishly below.

She knew it was no place for her, yet no one waited for her, no one
would care if she staid for ever, and, yielding to the perilous
fascination that drew her there, she lingered with a heavy throbbing in
her temples, and a troop of wild fancies whirling through her brain.
Something white swept by below,—only a broken oar—but she began to
wonder how a human body would look floating through the night. It was
an awesome fancy, but it took possession of her, and, as it grew, her
eyes dilated, her breath came fast, and her lips fell apart, for she
seemed to see the phantom she had conjured up, and it wore the likeness
of herself.

With an ominous chill creeping through her blood, and a growing tumult
in her mind, she thought, “I must go,” but still stood motionless,
leaning over the wide gulf, eager to see where that dead thing would
pass away. So plainly did she see it, so peaceful was the white face,
so full of rest the folded hands, so strangely like, and yet unlike,
herself, that she seemed to lose her identity, and wondered which was
the real and which the imaginary Christie. Lower and lower she bent;
looser and looser grew her hold upon the pillar; faster and faster beat
the pulses in her temples, and the rush of some blind impulse was
swiftly coming on, when a hand seized and caught her back.

For an instant every thing grew black before her eyes, and the earth
seemed to slip away from underneath her feet. Then she was herself
again, and found that she was sitting on a pile of lumber, with her
head uncovered, and a woman’s arm about her.

[Illustration: THE RESCUE.]

“Was I going to drown myself?” she asked, slowly, with a fancy that she
had been dreaming frightfully, and some one had wakened her.

“You were most gone; but I came in time, thank God! O Christie! don’t
you know me?”

Ah! no fear of that; for with one bewildered look, one glad cry of
recognition, Christie found her friend again, and was gathered close to
Rachel’s heart.

“My dear, my dear, what drove you to it? Tell me all, and let me help
you in your trouble, as you helped me in mine,” she said, as she
tenderly laid the poor, white face upon her breast, and wrapped her
shawl about the trembling figure clinging to her with such passionate
delight.

“I have been ill; I worked too hard; I’m not myself to-night. I owe
money. People disappoint and worry me; and I was so worn out, and weak,
and wicked, I think I meant to take my life.”

“No, dear; it was not you that meant to do it, but the weakness and the
trouble that bewildered you. Forget it all, and rest a little, safe
with me; then we’ll talk again.”

Rachel spoke soothingly, for Christie shivered and sighed as if her own
thoughts frightened her. For a moment they sat silent, while the mist
trailed its white shroud above them, as if death had paused to beckon a
tired child away, but, finding her so gently cradled on a warm, human
heart, had relented and passed on, leaving no waif but the broken oar
for the river to carry toward the sea.

“Tell me about yourself, Rachel. Where have you been so long? I’ve
looked and waited for you ever since the second little note you sent me
on last Christinas; but you never came.”

“I’ve been away, dear heart, hard at work in another city, larger and
wickeder than this. I tried to get work here, that I might be near you;
but that cruel Cotton always found me out; and I was so afraid I should
get desperate that I went away where I was not known. There it came
into my mind to do for others more wretched than I what you had done
for me. God put the thought into my heart, and He helped me in my work,
for it has prospered wonderfully. All this year I have been busy with
it, and almost happy; for I felt that your love made me strong to do
it, and that, in time, I might grow good enough to be your friend.”

“See what I am, Rachel, and never say that any more!”

“Hush, my poor dear, and let me talk. You are not able to do any thing,
but rest, and listen. I knew how many poor souls went wrong when the
devil tempted them; and I gave all my strength to saving those who were
going the way I went. I had no fear, no shame to overcome, for I was
one of them. They would listen to me, for I knew what I spoke; they
could believe in salvation, for I was saved; they did not feel so
outcast and forlorn when I told them you had taken me into your
innocent arms, and loved me like a sister. With every one I helped my
power increased, and I felt as if I had washed away a little of my own
great sin. O Christie! never think it’s time to die till you are
called; for the Lord leaves us till we have done our work, and never
sends more sin and sorrow than we can bear and be the better for, if we
hold fast by Him.”

So beautiful and brave she looked, so full of strength and yet of meek
submission was her voice, that Christie’s heart was thrilled; for it
was plain that Rachel had learned how to distil balm from the
bitterness of life, and, groping in the mire to save lost souls, had
found her own salvation there.

“Show me how to grow pious, strong, and useful, as you are,” she said.
“I am all wrong, and feel as if I never could get right again, for I
haven’t energy enough to care what becomes of me.”

“I know the state, Christie: I’ve been through it all! but when _I_
stood where you stand now, there was no hand to pull me back, and I
fell into a blacker river than this underneath our feet. Thank God, I
came in time to save you from either death!”

“How did you find me?” asked Christie, when she had echoed in her heart
the thanksgiving that came with such fervor from the other’s lips.

“I passed you on the bridge. I did not see your face, but you stood
leaning there so wearily, and looking down into the water, as I used to
look, that I wanted to speak, but did not; and I went on to comfort a
poor girl who is dying yonder. Something turned me back, however; and
when I saw you down here I knew why I was sent. You were almost gone,
but I kept you; and when I had you in my arms I knew you, though it
nearly broke my heart to find you here. Now, dear, come home.

“Home! ah, Rachel, I’ve got no home, and for want of one I shall be
lost!”

The lament that broke from her was more pathetic than the tears that
streamed down, hot and heavy, melting from her heart the frost of her
despair. Her friend let her weep, knowing well the worth of tears, and
while Christie sobbed herself quiet, Rachel took thought for her as
tenderly as any mother.

When she had heard the story of Christie’s troubles, she stood up as if
inspired with a happy thought, and stretching both hands to her friend,
said, with an air of cheerful assurance most comforting to see:

“I’ll take care of you; come with me, my poor Christie, and I’ll give
you a home, very humble, but honest and happy.”

“With you, Rachel?”

“No, dear, I must go back to my work, and you are not fit for that.
Neither must you go again to your own room, because for you it is
haunted, and the worst place you could be in. You want change, and I’ll
give you one. It will seem queer at first, but it is a wholesome place,
and just what you need.”

“I’ll do any thing you tell me. I’m past thinking for myself to-night,
and only want to be taken care of till I find strength and courage
enough to stand alone,” said Christie, rising slowly and looking about
her with an aspect as helpless and hopeless as if the cloud of mist was
a wall of iron.

Rachel put on her bonnet for her and wrapped her shawl about her,
saying, in a tender voice, that warmed the other’s heart:

“Close by lives a dear, good woman who often befriends such as you and
I. She will take you in without a question, and love to do it, for she
is the most hospitable soul I know. Just tell her you want work, that I
sent you, and there will be no trouble. Then, when you know her a
little, confide in her, and you will never come to such a pass as this
again. Keep up your heart, dear; I’ll not leave you till you are safe.”

So cheerily she spoke, so confident she looked, that the lost
expression passed from Christie’s face, and hand in hand they went away
together,—two types of the sad sisterhood standing on either shore of
the dark river that is spanned by a Bridge of Sighs.

Rachel led her friend toward the city, and, coming to the mechanics’
quarter, stopped before the door of a small, old house.

“Just knock, say ‘Rachel sent me,’ and you’ll find yourself at home.”

“Stay with me, or let me go with you. I can’t lose you again, for I
need you very much,” pleaded Christie, clinging to her friend.

“Not so much as that poor girl dying all alone. She’s waiting for me,
and I must go. But I’ll write soon; and remember, Christie, I shall
feel as if I had only paid a very little of my debt if you go back to
the sad old life, and lose your faith and hope again. God bless and
keep you, and when we meet next time let me find a happier face than
this.”

Rachel kissed it with her heart on her lips, smiled her brave sweet
smile, and vanished in the mist.

Pausing a moment to collect herself, Christie recollected that she had
not asked the name of the new friend whose help she was about to ask. A
little sign on the door caught her eye, and, bending down, she managed
to read by the dim light of the street lamp these words:

“C. WILKINS, Clear-Starcher.
“Laces done up in the best style.”


Too tired to care whether a laundress or a lady took her in, she
knocked timidly, and, while she waited for an answer to her summons,
stood listening to the noises within.

A swashing sound as of water was audible, likewise a scuffling as of
flying feet; some one clapped hands, and a voice said, warningly, “Into
your beds this instant minute or I’ll come to you! Andrew Jackson, give
Gusty a boost; Ann Lizy, don’t you tech Wash’s feet to tickle ’em. Set
pretty in the tub, Victory, dear, while ma sees who’s rappin’.”

[Illustration: “C. WILKINS, CLEAR STARCHER.”]

Then heavy footsteps approached, the door opened wide, and a large
woman appeared, with fuzzy red hair, no front teeth, and a plump, clean
face, brightly illuminated by the lamp she carried.

“If you please, Rachel sent me. She thought you might be able”—

Christie got no further, for C. Wilkins put out a strong bare arm,
still damp, and gently drew her in, saying, with the same motherly tone
as when addressing her children, “Come right in, dear, and don’t mind
the clutter things is in. I’m givin’ the children their Sat’day
scrubbin’, and they will slop and kite ’round, no matter ef I do spank
’em.”

Talking all the way in such an easy, comfortable voice that Christie
felt as if she must have heard it before, Mrs. Wilkins led her
unexpected guest into a small kitchen, smelling suggestively of
soap-suds and warm flat-irons. In the middle of this apartment was a
large tub; in the tub a chubby child sat, sucking a sponge and staring
calmly at the new-comer with a pair of big blue eyes, while little
drops shone in the yellow curls and on the rosy shoulders.

“How pretty!” cried Christie, seeing nothing else and stopping short to
admire this innocent little Venus rising from the sea.

“So she is! Ma’s darlin’ lamb! and ketehin’ her death a cold this
blessed minnit. Set right down, my dear, and tuck your wet feet into
the oven. I’ll have a dish o’ tea for you in less ’n no time; and while
it’s drawin’ I’ll clap Victory Adelaide into her bed.”

Christie sank into a shabby but most hospitable old chair, dropped her
bonnet on the floor, put her feet in the oven, and, leaning back,
watched Mrs. Wilkins wipe the baby as if she had come for that especial
purpose. As Rachel predicted, she found herself, at home at once, and
presently was startled to hear a laugh from her own lips when several
children in red and yellow flannel night-gowns darted like meteors
across the open doorway of an adjoining room, with whoops and howls,
bursts of laughter, and antics of all sorts.

How pleasant it was; that plain room, with no ornaments but the happy
faces, no elegance, but cleanliness, no wealth, but hospitality and
lots of love. This latter blessing gave the place its charm, for,
though Mrs. Wilkins threatened to take her infants’ noses off if they
got out of bed again, or “put ’em in the kettle and bile ’em” they
evidently knew no fear, but gambolled all the nearer to her for the
threat; and she beamed upon them with such maternal tenderness and
pride that her homely face grew beautiful in Christie’s eyes.

When the baby was bundled up in a blanket and about to be set down
before the stove to simmer a trifle before being put to bed, Christie
held out her arms, saying with an irresistible longing in her eyes and
voice:

“Let me hold her! I love babies dearly, and it seems as if it would do
me more good than quarts of tea to cuddle her, if she’ll let me.”

“There now, that’s real sensible; and mother’s bird’ll set along with
you as good as a kitten. Toast her tootsies wal, for she’s croupy, and
I have to be extra choice of her.”

“How good it feels!” sighed Christie, half devouring the warm and rosy
little bunch in her lap, while baby lay back luxuriously, spreading her
pink toes to the pleasant warmth and smiling sleepily up in the hungry
face that hung over her.

Mrs. Wilkins’s quick eyes saw it all, and she said to herself, in the
closet, as she cut bread and rattled down a cup and saucer:

“That’s what she wants, poor creeter; I’ll let her have a right nice
time, and warm and feed and chirk her up, and then I’ll see what’s to
be done for her. She ain’t one of the common sort, and goodness only
knows what Rachel sent her here for. She’s poor and sick, but she ain’t
bad. I can tell that by her face, and she’s the sort I like to help.
It’s a mercy I ain’t eat my supper, so she can have that bit of meat
and the pie.”

Putting a tray on the little table, the good soul set forth all she had
to give, and offered it with such hospitable warmth that Christie ate
and drank with unaccustomed appetite, finishing off deliciously with a
kiss from baby before she was borne away by her mother to the back
bedroom, where peace soon reigned.

“Now let me tell you who I am, and how I came to you in such an
unceremonious way,” began Christie, when her hostess returned and found
her warmed, refreshed, and composed by a woman’s three best
comforters,—kind words, a baby, and a cup of tea.

“’Pears to me, dear, I wouldn’t rile myself up by telling any
werryments to-night, but git right warm inter bed, and have a good long
sleep,” said Mrs. Wilkins, without a ray of curiosity in her wholesome
red face.

“But you don’t know any thing about me, and I may be the worst woman in
the world,” cried Christie, anxious to prove herself worthy of such
confidence.

“I know that you want takin’ care of, child, or Rachel wouldn’t a sent
you. Ef I can help any one, I don’t want no introduction; and ef you be
the wust woman in the world (which you ain’t), I wouldn’t shet my door
on you, for then you’d need a lift more’n you do now.”

Christie could only put out her hand, and mutely thank her new friend
with full eyes.

“You’re fairly tuckered out, you poor soul, so you jest come right up
chamber and let me tuck you up, else you’ll be down sick. It ain’t a
mite of inconvenience; the room is kep for company, and it’s all ready,
even to a clean night-cap. I’m goin’ to clap this warm flat to your
feet when you’re fixed; it’s amazin’ comfortin’ and keeps your head
cool.”

Up they went to a tidy little chamber, and Christie found herself laid
down to rest none too soon, for she was quite worn out. Sleep began to
steal over her the moment her head touched the pillow, in spite of the
much beruffled cap which Mrs. Wilkins put on with visible pride in its
stiffly crimped borders. She was dimly conscious of a kind hand tucking
her up, a comfortable voice purring over her, and, best of all, a
motherly good-night kiss, then the weary world faded quite away and she
was at rest.



CHAPTER VIII.
A CURE FOR DESPAIR.

[Illustration: LISHA WILKINS.]

When Christie opened the eyes that had closed so wearily, afternoon
sunshine streamed across the room, and seemed the herald of happier
days. Refreshed by sleep, and comforted by grateful recollections of
her kindly welcome, she lay tranquilly enjoying the friendly atmosphere
about her, with so strong a feeling that a skilful hand had taken the
rudder, that she felt very little anxiety or curiosity about the haven
which was to receive her boat after this narrow escape from shipwreck.

Her eye wandered to and fro, and brightened as it went; for though a
poor, plain room it was as neat as hands could make it, and so
glorified with sunshine that she thought it a lovely place, in spite of
the yellow paper with green cabbage roses on it, the gorgeous plaster
statuary on the mantel-piece, and the fragrance of dough-nuts which
pervaded the air. Every thing suggested home life, humble but happy,
and Christie’s solitary heart warmed at the sights and sounds about
her.

A half open closet-door gave her glimpses of little frocks and jackets,
stubby little shoes, and go-to-meeting hats all in a row. From below
came up the sound of childish voices chattering, childish feet trotting
to and fro, and childish laughter sounding sweetly through the Sabbath
stillness of the place. From a room near by, came the soothing creak of
a rocking-chair, the rustle of a newspaper, and now and then a scrap of
conversation common-place enough, but pleasant to hear, because so full
of domestic love and confidence; and, as she listened, Christie
pictured Mrs. Wilkins and her husband taking their rest together after
the week’s hard work was done.

“I wish I could stay here; it’s so comfortable and home-like. I wonder
if they wouldn’t let me have this room, and help me to find some better
work than sewing? I’ll get up and ask them,” thought Christie, feeling
an irresistible desire to stay, and strong repugnance to returning to
the room she had left, for, as Rachel truly said, it was haunted for
her.

When she opened the door to go down, Mrs. Wilkins bounced out of her
rocking-chair and hurried to meet her with a smiling face, saying all
in one breath:

“Good mornin’, dear! Rested well, I hope? I’m proper glad to hear it.
Now come right down and have your dinner. I kep it hot, for I couldn’t
bear to wake you up, you was sleepin’ so beautiful.”

“I was so worn out I slept like a baby, and feel like a new creature.
It was so kind of you to take me in, and I’m so grateful I don’t know
how to show it,” said Christie, warmly, as her hostess ponderously
descended the complaining stairs and ushered her into the tidy kitchen
from which tubs and flat-irons were banished one day in the week.

“Lawful sakes, the’ ain’t nothing to be grateful for, child, and you’re
heartily welcome to the little I done. We are country folks in our
ways, though we be livin’ in the city, and we have a reg’lar country
dinner Sundays. Hope you’ll relish it; my vittles is clean ef they
ain’t rich.”

As she spoke, Mrs. Wilkins dished up baked beans, Indian-pudding, and
brown bread enough for half a dozen. Christie was hungry now, and ate
with an appetite that delighted the good lady who vibrated between her
guest and her children, shut up in the “settin’-room.”

“Now please let me tell you all about myself, for I am afraid you think
me something better than I am. If I ask help from you, it is right that
you should know whom you are helping,” said Christie, when the table
was cleared and her hostess came and sat down beside her.

“Yes, my dear, free your mind, and then we’ll fix things up right
smart. Nothin’ I like better, and Lisha says I have considerable of a
knack that way,” replied Mrs. Wilkins, with a smile, a nod, and an air
of interest most reassuring.

So Christie told her story, won to entire confidence by the sympathetic
face opposite, and the motherly pats so gently given by the big, rough
hand that often met her own. When all was told, Christie said very
earnestly:

“I am ready to go to work to-morrow, and will do any thing I can find,
but I should love to stay here a little while, if I could; I do so
dread to be alone. Is it possible? I mean to pay my board of course,
and help you besides if you’ll let me.”

Mrs. Wilkins glowed with pleasure at this compliment, and leaning
toward Christie, looked into her face a moment in silence, as if to
test the sincerity of the wish. In that moment Christie saw what
steady, sagacious eyes the woman had; so clear, so honest that she
looked through them into the great, warm heart below, and looking
forgot the fuzzy, red hair, the paucity of teeth, the faded gown, and
felt only the attraction of a nature genuine and genial as the sunshine
dancing on the kitchen floor.

Beautiful souls often get put into plain bodies, but they cannot be
hidden, and have a power all their own, the greater for the
unconsciousness or the humility which gives it grace. Christie saw and
felt this then, and when the homely woman spoke, listened to her with
implicit confidence.

“My dear, I’d no more send you away now than I would my Adelaide, for
you need looking after for a spell, most as much as she doos. You’ve
been thinkin’ and broodin’ too much, and sewin’ yourself to death.
We’ll stop all that, and keep you so busy there won’t be no time for
the hypo. You’re one of them that can’t live alone without starvin’
somehow, so I’m jest goin’ to turn you in among them children to
paster, so to speak. That’s wholesome and fillin’ for you, and goodness
knows it will be a puffect charity to me, for I’m goin’ to be dreadful
drove with gettin’ up curtins and all manner of things, as spring comes
on. So it ain’t no favor on my part, and you can take out your board in
tendin’ baby and putterin’ over them little tykes.”

“I should like it so much! But I forgot my debt to Mrs. Flint; perhaps
she won’t let me go,” said Christie, with an anxious cloud coming over
her brightening face.

“Merciful, suz! don’t you be worried about her. I’ll see to her, and ef
she acts ugly Lisha’ll fetch her round; men can always settle such
things better’n we can, and he’s a dreadful smart man Lisha is. We’ll
go to-morrer and get your belongins, and then settle right down for a
spell; and by-an’-by when you git a trifle more chipper we’ll find a
nice place in the country some’rs. That’s what you want; nothin’ like
green grass and woodsy smells to right folks up. When I was a gal, ef I
got low in my mind, or riled in my temper, I jest went out and grubbed
in the gardin, or made hay, or walked a good piece, and it fetched me
round beautiful. Never failed; so I come to see that good fresh dirt is
fust rate physic for folk’s spirits as it is for wounds, as they tell
on.”

“That sounds sensible and pleasant, and I like it. Oh, it is so
beautiful to feel that somebody cares for you a little bit, and you
ain’t one too many in the world,” sighed Christie.

“Don’t you never feel that agin, my dear. What’s the Lord for ef He
ain’t to hold on to in times of trouble. Faith ain’t wuth much ef it’s
only lively in fair weather; you’ve got to believe hearty and stan’ by
the Lord through thick and thin, and He’ll stan’ by you as no one else
begins to. I remember of havin’ this bore in upon me by somethin’ that
happened to a man I knew. He got blowed up in a powder-mill, and when
folks asked him what he thought when the bust come, he said, real sober
and impressive: ‘Wal, it come through me, like a flash, that I’d served
the Lord as faithful as I knew how for a number a years, and I guessed
He’d fetch me through somehow, and He did.’ Sure enough the man warn’t
killed; I’m bound to confess he was shook dreadful, but his faith
warn’t.”

Christie could not help smiling at the story, but she liked it, and
sincerely wished she could imitate the hero of it in his piety, not his
powder. She was about to say so when the sound of approaching steps
announced the advent of her host. She had been rather impressed with
the “smartness” of Lisha by his wife’s praises, but when a small,
sallow, sickly looking man came in she changed her mind; for not even
an immensely stiff collar, nor a pair of boots that seemed composed
entirely of what the boys call “creak leather,” could inspire her with
confidence.

Without a particle of expression in his yellow face, Mr. Wilkins nodded
to the stranger over the picket fence of his collar, lighted his pipe,
and clumped away to enjoy his afternoon promenade without compromising
himself by a single word.

His wife looked after him with an admiring gaze as she said:

“Them boots is as good as an advertisement, for he made every stitch on
’em himself;” then she added, laughing like a girl: “It’s redick’lus my
bein’ so proud of Lisha, but ef a woman ain’t a right to think wal of
her own husband, I should like to know who has!”

Christie was afraid that Mrs. Wilkins had seen her disappointment in
her face, and tried, with wifely zeal, to defend her lord from even a
disparaging thought. Wishing to atone for this transgression she was
about to sing the praises of the wooden-faced Elisha, but was spared
any polite fibs by the appearance of a small girl who delivered an
urgent message to the effect, that “Mis Plumly was down sick and wanted
Mis Wilkins to run over and set a spell.”

As the good lady hesitated with an involuntary glance at her guest,
Christie said quickly:

“Don’t mind me; I’ll take care of the house for you if you want to go.
You may be sure I won’t run off with the children or steal the spoons.”

“I ain’t a mite afraid of anybody wantin’ to steal them little toads;
and as for spoons, I ain’t got a silver one to bless myself with,”
laughed Mrs. Wilkins. “I guess I will go, then, ef you don’t mind, as
it’s only acrost the street. Like’s not settin’ quiet will be better
for you ’n talkin’, for I’m a dreadful hand to gab when I git started.
Tell Mis Plumly I’m a comin’.”

Then, as the child ran off, the stout lady began to rummage in her
closet, saying, as she rattled and slammed:

“I’ll jest take her a drawin’ of tea and a couple of nut-cakes: mebby
she’ll relish ’em, for I shouldn’t wonder ef she hadn’t had a mouthful
this blessed day. She’s dreadful slack at the best of times, but no one
can much wonder, seein’ she’s got nine children, and is jest up from a
rheumatic fever. I’m sure I never grudge a meal of vittles or a hand’s
turn to such as she is, though she does beat all for dependin’ on her
neighbors. I’m a thousand times obleeged. You needn’t werry about the
children, only don’t let ’em git lost, or burnt, or pitch out a winder;
and when it’s done give ’em the patty-cake that’s bakin’ for ’em.”

With which maternal orders Mrs. Wilkins assumed a sky-blue bonnet, and
went beaming away with several dishes genteelly hidden under her purple
shawl.

Being irresistibly attracted toward the children Christie opened the
door and took a survey of her responsibilities.

Six lively infants were congregated in the “settin’-room,” and chaos
seemed to have come again, for every sort of destructive amusement was
in full operation. George Washington, the eldest blossom, was shearing
a resigned kitten; Gusty and Ann Eliza were concocting mud pies in the
ashes; Adelaide Victoria was studying the structure of lamp-wicks,
while Daniel Webster and Andrew Jackson were dragging one another in a
clothes-basket, to the great detriment of the old carpet and still
older chariot.

Thinking that some employment more suited to the day might be
introduced, Christie soon made friends with these young persons, and,
having rescued the kitten, banished the basket, lured the elder girls
from their mud-piety, and quenched the curiosity of the Pickwickian
Adelaide, she proposed teaching them some little hymns.

The idea was graciously received, and the class decorously seated in a
row. But before a single verse was given out, Gusty, being of a
house-wifely turn of mind, suggested that the patty-cake might burn.
Instant alarm pervaded the party, and a precipitate rush was made for
the cooking-stove, where Christie proved by ocular demonstration that
the cake showed no signs of baking, much less of burning. The family
pronounced themselves satisfied, after each member had poked a grimy
little finger into the doughy delicacy, whereon one large raisin
reposed in proud pre-eminence over the vulgar herd of caraways.

Order being with difficulty restored, Christie taught her flock an
appropriate hymn, and was flattering herself that their youthful minds
were receiving a devotional bent, when they volunteered a song, and
incited thereunto by the irreverent Wash, burst forth with a gem from
Mother Goose, closing with a smart skirmish of arms and legs that set
all law and order at defiance. Hoping to quell the insurrection
Christie invited the breathless rioters to calm themselves by looking
at the pictures in the big Bible. But, unfortunately, her explanations
were so vivid that her audience were fired with a desire to enact some
of the scenes portrayed, and no persuasions could keep them from
playing Ark on the spot. The clothes-basket was elevated upon two
chairs, and into it marched the birds of the air and the beasts of the
field, to judge by the noise, and all set sail, with Washington at the
helm, Jackson and Webster plying the clothes and pudding-sticks for
oars, while the young ladies rescued their dolls from the flood, and
waved their hands to imaginary friends who were not unmindful of the
courtesies of life even in the act of drowning.

[Illustration: MRS. WILKINS’ SIX LIVELY INFANTS.]

Finding her authority defied Christie left the rebels to their own
devices, and sitting in a corner, began to think about her own affairs.
But before she had time to get anxious or perplexed the children
diverted her mind, as if the little flibberty-gibbets knew that their
pranks and perils were far wholesomer for her just then than brooding.

The much-enduring kitten being sent forth as a dove upon the waters
failed to return with the olive-branch; of which peaceful emblem there
was soon great need, for mutiny broke out, and spread with disastrous
rapidity.

Ann Eliza slapped Gusty because she had the biggest bandbox; Andrew
threatened to “chuck” Daniel overboard if he continued to trample on
the fraternal toes, and in the midst of the fray, by some unguarded
motion, Washington capsized the ship and precipitated the patriarchal
family into the bosom of the deep.

Christie flew to the rescue, and, hydropathically treated, the anguish
of bumps and bruises was soon assuaged. Then appeared the appropriate
moment for a story, and gathering the dilapidated party about her she
soon enraptured them by a recital of the immortal history of “Frank and
the little dog Trusty.” Charmed with her success she was about to tell
another moral tale, but no sooner had she announced the name, “The
Three Cakes,” when, like an electric flash a sudden recollection seized
the young Wilkinses, and with one voice they demanded their lawful
prize, sure that now it must be done.

Christie had forgotten all about it, and was harassed with secret
misgivings as she headed the investigating committee. With skipping of
feet and clapping of hands the eager tribe surrounded the stove, and
with fear and trembling Christie drew forth a melancholy cinder, where,
like Casablanca, the lofty raisin still remained, blackened, but
undaunted, at its post.

Then were six little vials of wrath poured out upon her devoted head,
and sounds of lamentation filled the air, for the irate Wilkinses
refused to be comforted till the rash vow to present each member of the
outraged family with a private cake produced a lull, during which the
younger ones were decoyed into the back yard, and the three elders
solaced themselves with mischief.

Mounted on mettlesome broomsticks Andrew and Daniel were riding merrily
away to the Banbury Cross, of blessed memory, and little Vie was
erecting a pagoda of oyster-shells, under Christie’s superintendence,
when a shrill scream from within sent horsemen and architects flying to
the rescue.

Gusty’s pinafore was in a blaze; Ann Eliza was dancing frantically
about her sister as if bent on making a suttee of herself, while George
Washington hung out of window, roaring, “Fire!” “water!” “engine!”
“pa!” with a presence of mind worthy of his sex.

A speedy application of the hearth-rug quenched the conflagration, and
when a minute burn had been enveloped in cotton-wool, like a gem, a
coroner sat upon the pinafore and investigated the case.

It appeared that the ladies were “only playing paper dolls,” when Wash,
sighing for the enlightenment of his race, proposed to make a bonfire,
and did so with an old book; but Gusty, with a firm belief in future
punishment, tried to save it, and fell a victim to her principles, as
the virtuous are very apt to do.

The book was brought into court, and proved to be an ancient volume of
ballads, cut, torn, and half consumed. Several peculiarly developed
paper dolls, branded here and there with large letters, like
galley-slaves, were then produced by the accused, and the judge could
with difficulty preserve her gravity when she found “John Gilpin”
converted into a painted petticoat, “The Bay of Biscay, O,” situated in
the crown of a hat, and “Chevy Chase” issuing from the mouth of a
triangular gentleman, who, like Dickens’s cherub, probably sung it by
ear, having no lungs to speak of.

It was further apparent from the agricultural appearance of the room
that beans had been sowed broadcast by means of the apple-corer, which
Wash had converted into a pop-gun with a mechanical ingenuity worthy of
more general appreciation. He felt this deeply, and when Christie
reproved him for leading his sisters astray, he resented the liberty
she took, and retired in high dudgeon to the cellar, where he appeared
to set up a menagerie,—for bears, lions, and unknown animals, endowed
with great vocal powers, were heard to solicit patronage from below.

Somewhat exhausted by her labors, Christie rested, after clearing up
the room, while the children found a solace for all afflictions in the
consumption of relays of bread and molasses, which infantile
restorative occurred like an inspiration to the mind of their guardian.

Peace reigned for fifteen minutes; then came a loud crash from the
cellar, followed by a violent splashing, and wild cries of, “Oh, oh,
oh, I’ve fell into the pork barrel! I’m drownin’, I’m drownin’!”

Down rushed Christie, and the sticky innocents ran screaming after, to
behold their pickled brother fished up from the briny deep. A spectacle
well calculated to impress upon their infant minds the awful
consequences of straying from the paths of virtue.

At this crisis Mrs. Wilkins providentially appeared, breathless, but
brisk and beaming, and in no wise dismayed by the plight of her
luckless son, for a ten years’ acquaintance with Wash’s dauntless
nature had inured his mother to “didoes” that would have appalled most
women.

“Go right up chamber, and change every rag on you, and don’t come down
agin till I rap on the ceilin’; you dreadful boy, disgracin’ your
family by sech actions. I’m sorry I was kep’ so long, but Mis Plumly
got tellin’ her werryments, and ’peared to take so much comfort in it I
couldn’t bear to stop her. Then I jest run round to your place and told
that woman that you was safe and well, along’r friends, and would call
in to-morrer to get your things. She’d ben so scart by your not comin’
home that she was as mild as milk, so you won’t have no trouble with
her, I expect.”

“Thank you very much! How kind you are, and how tired you must be! Sit
down and let me take your things,” cried Christie, more relieved than
she could express.

“Lor’, no, I’m fond of walkin’, but bein’ ruther hefty it takes my
breath away some to hurry. I’m afraid these children have tuckered you
out though. They are proper good gen’lly, but when they do take to
trainen they’re a sight of care,” said Mrs. Wilkins, as she surveyed
her imposing bonnet with calm satisfaction.

“I’ve enjoyed it very much, and it’s done me good, for I haven’t
laughed so much for six months as I have this afternoon,” answered
Christie, and it was quite true, for she had been too busy to think of
herself or her woes.

“Wal, I thought likely it would chirk you up some, or I shouldn’t have
went,” and Mrs. Wilkins put away a contented smile with her cherished
bonnet, for Christie’s face had grown so much brighter since she saw it
last, that the good woman felt sure her treatment was the right one.

At supper Lisha reappeared, and while his wife and children talked
incessantly, he ate four slices of bread and butter, three pieces of
pie, five dough-nuts, and drank a small ocean of tea out of his saucer.
Then, evidently feeling that he had done his duty like a man, he gave
Christie another nod, and disappeared again without a word.

When she had done up her dishes Mrs. Wilkins brought out a few books
and papers, and said to Christie, who sat apart by the window, with the
old shadow creeping over her face:

“Now don’t feel lonesome, my dear, but jest lop right down on the soffy
and have a sociable kind of a time. Lisha’s gone down street for the
evenin’. I’ll keep the children as quiet as one woman can, and you may
read or rest, or talk, jest as you’re a mind.”

“Thank you; I’ll sit here and rock little Vie to sleep for you. I don’t
care to read, but I’d like to have you talk to me, for it seems as if
I’d known you a long time and it does me good,” said Christie, as she
settled herself and baby on the old settee which had served as a cradle
for six young Wilkinses, and now received the honorable name of sofa in
its old age.

Mrs. Wilkins looked gratified, as she settled her brood round the table
with a pile of pictorial papers to amuse them. Then having laid herself
out to be agreeable, she sat thoughtfully rubbing the bridge of her
nose, at a loss how to begin. Presently Christie helped her by an
involuntary sigh.

“What’s the matter, dear? Is there any thing I can do to make you
comfortable?” asked the kind soul, alert at once, and ready to offer
sympathy.

“I’m very cosy, thank you, and I don’t know why I sighed. It’s a way
I’ve got into when I think of my worries,” explained Christie, in
haste.

“Wal, dear, I wouldn’t ef I was you. Don’t keep turnin’ your troubles
over. Git atop of ’em somehow, and stay there ef you can,” said Mrs.
Wilkins, very earnestly.

“But that’s just what I can’t do. I’ve lost all my spirits and courage,
and got into a dismal state of mind. You seem to be very cheerful, and
yet you must have a good deal to try you sometimes. I wish you’d tell
me how you do it;” and Christie looked wistfully into that other face,
so plain, yet so placid, wondering to see how little poverty, hard
work, and many cares had soured or saddened it.

“Really I don’t know, unless it’s jest doin’ whatever comes along, and
doin’ of it hearty, sure that things is all right, though very often I
don’t see it at fust.”

“Do you see it at last?”

“Gen’lly I do; and if I don’t I take it on trust, same as children do
what older folks tell ’em; and byme-by when I’m grown up in spiritual
things I’ll understan’ as the dears do, when they git to be men and
women.”

That suited Christie, and she thought hopefully within herself:

“This woman has got the sort of religion I want, if it makes her what
she is. Some day I’ll get her to tell me where she found it.” Then
aloud she said:

“But it’s so hard to be patient and contented when nothing happens as
you want it to, and you don’t get your share of happiness, no matter
how much you try to deserve it.”

“It ain’t easy to bear, I know, but having tried my own way and made a
dreadful mess on ’t, I concluded that the Lord knows what’s best for
us, and things go better when He manages than when we go scratchin’
round and can’t wait.”

“Tried your own way? How do you mean?” asked Christie, curiously; for
she liked to hear her hostess talk, and found something besides
amusement in the conversation, which seemed to possess a fresh country
flavor as well as country phrases.

Mrs. Wilkins smiled all over her plump face, as if she liked to tell
her experience, and having hunched sleepy little Andy more comfortably
into her lap, and given a preparatory hem or two, she began with great
good-will.

“It happened a number a years ago and ain’t much of a story any way.
But you’re welcome to it, as some of it is rather humorsome, the laugh
may do you good ef the story don’t. We was livin’ down to the east’ard
at the time. It was a real pretty place; the house stood under a couple
of maples and a gret brook come foamin’ down the rayvine and away
through the medders to the river. Dear sakes, seems as ef I see it now,
jest as I used to settin’ on the doorsteps with the lay-locks all in
blow, the squirrels jabberin’ on the wall, and the saw-mill screekin’
way off by the dam.”

Pausing a moment, Mrs. Wilkins looked musingly at the steam of the
tea-kettle, as if through its silvery haze she saw her early home
again. Wash promptly roused her from this reverie by tumbling off the
boiler with a crash. His mother picked him up and placidly went on,
falling more and more into the country dialect which city life had not
yet polished.

“I oushter hev been the contentedest woman alive, but I warn’t, for you
see I’d worked at millineryin’ before I was married, and had an easy
time on’t, Afterwards the children come along pretty fast, there was
sights of work to do, and no time for pleasuring so I got wore out, and
used to hanker after old times in a dreadful wicked way.

“Finally I got acquainted with a Mis Bascum, and she done me a sight of
harm. You see, havin’ few pies of her own to bake, she was fond of
puttin’ her fingers into her neighborses, but she done it so neat that
no one mistrusted she was takin’ all the sarce and leavin’ all the
crust to them, as you may say. Wal, I told her my werryments and she
sympathized real hearty, and said I didn’t ought to stan’ it, but have
things to suit me, and enjoy myself, as other folks did. So when she
put it into my head I thought it amazin’ good advice, and jest went and
done as she told me.

“Lisha was the kindest man you ever see, so when I up and said I warn’t
goin’ to drudge round no more, but must hev a girl, he got one, and
goodness knows what a trial she was. After she came I got dreadful
slack, and left the house and the children to Hen’retta, and went
pleasurin’ frequent all in my best. I always was a dressy woman in them
days, and Lisha give me his earnin’s real lavish, bless his heart! and
I went and spent ’em on my sinful gowns and bunnets.”

Here Mrs. Wilkins stopped to give a remorseful groan and stroke her
faded dress, as if she found great comfort in its dinginess.

“It ain’t no use tellin’ all I done, but I had full swing, and at fust
I thought luck was in my dish sure. But it warn’t, seein’ I didn’t
deserve it, and I had to take my mess of trouble, which was needful and
nourishin’, ef I’d had the grace to see it so.

“Lisha got into debt, and no wonder, with me a wastin’ of his
substance; Hen’retta went off suddin’, with whatever she could lay her
hands on, and everything was at sixes and sevens. Lisha’s patience give
out at last, for I was dreadful fractious, knowin’ it was all my fault.
The children seemed to git out of sorts, too, and acted like time in
the primer, with croup and pins, and whoopin’-cough and temper. I
declare I used to think the pots and kettles biled over to spite each
other and me too in them days.

“All this was nuts to Mis Bascum, and she kep’ advisin’ and encouragin’
of me, and I didn’t see through her a mite, or guess that settin’ folks
by the ears was as relishin’ to her as bitters is to some. Merciful,
suz! what a piece a work we did make betwixt us! I scolded and moped
’cause I couldn’t have my way; Lisha swore and threatened to take to
drinkin’ ef I didn’t make home more comfortable; the children run wild,
and the house was gittin’ too hot to hold us, when we was brought up
with a round turn, and I see the redicklousness of my doin’s in time.

“One day Lisha come home tired and cross, for bills was pressin’, work
slack, and folks talkin’ about us as ef they’d nothin’ else to do. I
was dishin’ up dinner, feelin’ as nervous as a witch, for a whole batch
of bread had burnt to a cinder while I was trimmin’ a new bunnet, Wash
had scart me most to death swallerin’ a cent, and the steak had been on
the floor more’n once, owin’ to my havin’ babies, dogs, cats, or hens
under my feet the whole blessed time.

“Lisha looked as black as thunder, throwed his hat into a corner, and
came along to the sink where I was skinnin’ pertaters. As he washed his
hands, I asked what the matter was; but he only muttered and slopped,
and I couldn’t git nothin’ out of him, for he ain’t talkative at the
best of times as you see, and when he’s werried corkscrews wouldn’t
draw a word from him.

“Bein’ riled myself didn’t mend matters, and so we fell to hectorin’
one another right smart. He said somethin’ that dreened my last drop of
patience; I give a sharp answer, and fust thing I knew he up with his
hand and slapped me. It warn’t a hard blow by no means, only a kind of
a wet spat side of the head; but I thought I should have flew, and was
as mad as ef I’d been knocked down. You never see a man look so ’shamed
as Lisha did, and ef I’d been wise I should have made up the quarrel
then. But I was a fool. I jest flung fork, dish, pertaters and all into
the pot, and says, as ferce as you please:

“‘Lisha Wilkins, when you can treat me decent you may come and fetch me
back; you won’t see me till then, and so I tell you.’

“Then I made a bee-line for Mis Bascum’s; told her the whole story, had
a good cry, and was all ready to go home in half an hour, but Lisha
didn’t come.

“Wal, that night passed, and what a long one it was to be sure! and me
without a wink of sleep, thinkin’ of Wash and the cent, my emptins and
the baby. Next day come, but no Lisha, no message, no nuthin’, and I
began to think I’d got my match though I had a sight of grit in them
days. I sewed, and Mis Bascum she clacked; but I didn’t say much, and
jest worked like sixty to pay for my keep, for I warn’t goin’ to be
beholden to her for nothin’.

“The day dragged on terrible slow, and at last I begged her to go and
git me a clean dress, for I’d come off jest as I was, and folks kep’
droppin’ in, for the story was all round, thanks to Mis Bascum’s long
tongue.

“Wal, she went, and ef you’ll believe me Lisha wouldn’t let her in! He
handed my best things out a winder and told her to tell me they were
gittin’ along fust rate with Florindy Walch to do the work. He hoped
I’d have a good time, and not expect him for a consider’ble spell, for
he liked a quiet house, and now he’d got it.

“When I heard that, I knew he must be provoked the wust kind, for he
ain’t a hash man by nater. I could have crep’ in at the winder ef he
wouldn’t open the door, I was so took down by that message. But Mis
Bascum wouldn’t hear of it, and kep’ stirrin’ of me up till I was
ashamed to eat ’umble pie fust; so I waited to see how soon he’d come
round. But he had the best on’t you see, for he’d got the babies and
lost a cross wife, while I’d lost every thing but Mis Bascum, who grew
hatefuler to me every hour, for I begun to mistrust she was a
mischief-maker,—widders most always is,—seein’ how she pampered up my
pride and ’peared to like the quarrel.

“I thought I should have died more’n once, for sure as you live it went
on three mortal days, and of all miser’ble creeters I was the
miser’blest. Then I see how wicked and ungrateful I’d been; how I’d
shirked my bounden duty and scorned my best blessins. There warn’t a
hard job that ever I’d hated but what grew easy when I remembered who
it was done for; there warn’t a trouble or a care that I wouldn’t have
welcomed hearty, nor one hour of them dear fractious babies that didn’t
seem precious when I’d gone and left ’em. I’d got time to rest enough
now, and might go pleasuring all day long; but I couldn’t do it, and
would have given a dozin bunnets trimmed to kill ef I could only have
been back moilin’ in my old kitchen with the children hangin’ round me
and Lisha a comin’ in cheerful from his work as he used to ’fore I
spoilt his home for him. How sing’lar it is folks never do know when
they are wal off!”

“I know it now,” said Christie, rocking lazily to and fro, with a face
almost as tranquil as little Vic’s, lying half asleep in her lap.

“Glad to hear it, my dear. As I was goin’ on to say, when Saturday
come, a tremenjus storm set in, and it rained guns all day. I never
shall forgit it, for I was hankerin’ after baby, and dreadful worried
about the others, all bein’ croupy, and Florindy with no more idee of
nussin’ than a baa lamb. The rain come down like a reg’lar deluge, but
I didn’t seem to have no ark to run to. As night come on things got
wuss and wuss, for the wind blowed the roof off Mis Bascum’s barn and
stove in the butt’ry window; the brook riz and went ragin’ every which
way, and you never did see such a piece of work.

“My heart was most broke by that time, and I knew I should give in
’fore Monday. But I set and sewed and listened to the tinkle tankle of
the drops in the pans set round to ketch ’em, for the house leaked like
a sieve. Mis Bascurn was down suller putterin’ about, for every kag and
sarce jar was afloat. Moses, her brother, was lookin’ after his stock
and tryin’ to stop the damage. All of a sudden he bust in lookin’
kinder wild, and settin’ down the lantern, he sez, sez he: ‘You’re
ruthern an unfortinate woman to-night, Mis Wilkins.’ ‘How so?’ sez I,
as ef nuthin’ was the matter already. “‘Why,’ sez he, ‘the spilins have
give way up in the rayvine, and the brook ’s come down like a river,
upsot your lean-to, washed the mellion patch slap into the road, and
while your husband was tryin’ to git the pig out of the pen, the water
took a turn and swep him away.’

“‘Drownded?’ sez I, with only breath enough for that one word.
‘Shouldn’t wonder,’ sez Moses, ‘nothin’ ever did come up alive after
goin’ over them falls.’

“It come over me like a streak of lightenin’; every thin’ kinder slewed
round, and I dropped in the first faint I ever had in my life. Next I
knew Lisha was holdin’ of me and cryin’ fit to kill himself. I thought
I was dreamin’, and only had wits enough to give a sort of permiscuous
grab at him and call out:

“‘Oh, Lisha! ain’t you drownded?’ He give a gret start at that,
swallered down his sobbin’, and sez as lovin’ as ever a man did in this
world:

“‘Bless your dear heart, Cynthy, it warn’t me it was the pig;’ and then
fell to kissin’ of me, till betwixt laughin’ and cryin’ I was most
choked. Deary me, it all comes back so livin’ real it kinder takes my
breath away.”

And well it might, for the good soul entered so heartily into her story
that she unconsciously embellished it with dramatic illustrations. At
the slapping episode she flung an invisible “fork, dish, and pertaters”
into an imaginary kettle, and glared; when the catastrophe arrived, she
fell back upon her chair to express fainting; gave Christie’s arm the
“permiscuous grab” at the proper moment, and uttered the repentant
Lisha’s explanation with an incoherent pathos that forbid a laugh at
the sudden introduction of the porcine martyr.

“What did you do then?” asked Christie in a most flattering state of
interest.

“Oh, law! I went right home and hugged them children for a couple of
hours stiddy,” answered Mrs; Wilkins, as if but one conclusion was
possible.

“Did all your troubles go down with the pig?” asked Christie,
presently.

“Massy, no, we’re all poor, feeble worms, and the best meanin’ of us
fails too often,” sighed Mrs. Wilkins, as she tenderly adjusted the
sleepy head of the young worm in her lap. “After that scrape I done my
best; Lisha was as meek as a whole flock of sheep, and we give Mis
Bascum a wide berth. Things went lovely for ever so long, and though,
after a spell, we had our ups and downs, as is but natural to human
creeters, we never come to such a pass agin. Both on us tried real
hard; whenever I felt my temper risin’ or discontent comin’ on I
remembered them days and kep’ a taut rein; and as for Lisha he never
said a raspin’ word, or got sulky, but what he’d bust out laughin’
after it and say: ‘Bless you, Cynthy, it warn’t me, it was the pig.’”

Mrs. Wilkins’ hearty laugh fired a long train of lesser ones, for the
children recognized a household word. Christie enjoyed the joke, and
even the tea-kettle boiled over as if carried away by the fun.

“Tell some more, please,” said Christie, when the merriment subsided,
for she felt her spirits rising.

“There’s nothin’ more to tell, except one thing that prevented my ever
forgittin’ the lesson I got then. My little Almiry took cold that week
and pined away rapid. She’d always been so ailin’ I never expected to
raise her, and more ’n once in them sinful tempers of mine I’d thought
it would be a mercy ef she was took out of her pain. But when I laid
away that patient, sufferin’ little creeter I found she was the dearest
of ’em all. I most broke my heart to hev her back, and never, never
forgive myself for leavin’ her that time.” With trembling lips and full
eyes Mrs. Wilkins stopped to wipe her features generally on Andrew
Jackson’s pinafore, and heave a remorseful sigh.

“And this is how you came to be the cheerful, contented woman you are?”
said Christie, hoping to divert the mother’s mind from that too tender
memory.

“Yes,” she answered, thoughtfully, “I told you Lisha was a smart man;
he give me a good lesson, and it set me to thinkin’ serious. ’Pears to
me trouble is a kind of mellerin’ process, and ef you take it kindly it
doos you good, and you learn to be glad of it. I’m sure Lisha and me is
twice as fond of one another, twice as willin’ to work, and twice as
patient with our trials sense dear little Almiry died, and times was
hard. I ain’t what I ought to be, not by a long chalk, but I try to
live up to my light, do my duty cheerful, love my neighbors, and fetch
up my family in the fear of God. Ef I do this the best way I know how,
I’m sure I’ll get my rest some day, and the good Lord won’t forgit
Cynthy Wilkins. He ain’t so fur, for I keep my health wonderfle, Lisha
is kind and stiddy, the children flourishin’, and I’m a happy woman
though I be a humly one.”

There she was mistaken, for as her eye roved round the narrow room from
the old hat on the wall to the curly heads bobbing here and there,
contentment, piety, and mother-love made her plain face beautiful.

“That story has done me ever so much good, and I shall not forget it.
Now, good-night, for I must be up early to-morrow, and I don’t want to
drive Mr. Wilkins away entirely,” said Christie, after she had helped
put the little folk to bed, during which process she had heard her host
creaking about the kitchen as if afraid to enter the sitting-room.

She laughed as she spoke, and ran up stairs, wondering if she could be
the same forlorn creature who had crept so wearily up only the night
before.

It was a very humble little sermon that Mrs. Wilkins had preached to
her, but she took it to heart and profited by it; for she was a pupil
in the great charity school where the best teachers are often unknown,
unhonored here, but who surely will receive commendation and reward
from the head master when their long vacation comes.



CHAPTER IX.
MRS. WILKINS’S MINISTER.


[Illustration: MR. POWER.]

Next day Christie braved the lion in his den, otherwise the flinty
Flint, in her second-class boarding-house, and found that alarm and
remorse had produced a softening effect upon her. She was unfeignedly
glad to see her lost lodger safe, and finding that the new friends were
likely to put her in the way of paying her debts, this much harassed
matron permitted her to pack up her possessions, leaving one trunk as a
sort of hostage. Then, with promises to redeem it as soon as possible,
Christie said good-bye to the little room where she had hoped and
suffered, lived and labored so long, and went joyfully back to the
humble home she had found with the good laundress.

All the following week Christie “chored round,” as Mrs. Wilkins called
the miscellaneous light work she let her do. Much washing, combing, and
clean pinaforing of children fell to her share, and she enjoyed it
amazingly; then, when the elder ones were packed off to school she lent
a hand to any of the numberless tasks housewives find to do from
morning till night. In the afternoon, when other work was done, and
little Vic asleep or happy with her playthings, Christie clapped laces,
sprinkled muslins, and picked out edgings at the great table where Mrs.
Wilkins stood ironing, fluting, and crimping till the kitchen bristled
all over with immaculate frills and flounces.

It was pretty delicate work, and Christie liked it, for Mrs. Wilkins
was an adept at her trade and took as much pride and pleasure in it as
any French blanchisseuse tripping through the streets of Paris with a
tree full of coquettish caps, capes, and petticoats borne before her by
a half invisible boy.

Being women, of course they talked as industriously as they worked;
fingers flew and tongues clacked with equal profit and pleasure, and,
by Saturday, Christie had made up her mind that Mrs. Wilkins was the
most sensible woman she ever knew. Her grammar was an outrage upon the
memory of Lindley Murray, but the goodness of her heart would have done
honor to any saint in the calendar. She was very plain, and her manners
were by no means elegant, but good temper made that homely face most
lovable, and natural refinement of soul made mere external polish of
small account. Her shrewd ideas and odd sayings amused Christie very
much, while her good sense and bright way of looking at things did the
younger woman a world of good.

Mr. Wilkins devoted himself to the making of shoes and the consumption
of food, with the silent regularity of a placid animal. His one
dissipation was tobacco, and in a fragrant cloud of smoke he lived and
moved and had his being so entirely that he might have been described
as a pipe with a man somewhere behind it. Christie once laughingly
spoke of this habit and declared she would try it herself if she
thought it would make her as quiet and undemonstrative as Mr. Wilkins,
who, to tell the truth, made no more impression on her than a fly.

“I don’t approve on’t, but he might do wuss. We all have to have our
comfort somehow, so I let Lisha smoke as much as he likes, and he lets
me gab, so it’s about fair, I reckon,” answered Mrs. Wilkins, from the
suds.

She laughed as she spoke, but something in her face made Christie
suspect that at some period of his life Lisha had done “wuss;” and
subsequent observations confirmed this suspicion and another one
also,—that his good wife had saved him, and was gently easing him back
to self-control and self-respect. But, as old Fuller quaintly says,
“She so gently folded up his faults in silence that few guessed them,”
and loyally paid him that respect which she desired others to bestow.
It was always “Lisha and me,” “I’ll ask my husband” or “Lisha’ll know;
he don’t say much, but he’s a dreadful smart man,” and she kept up the
fiction so dear to her wifely soul by endowing him with her own
virtues, and giving him the credit of her own intelligence.

Christie loved her all the better for this devotion, and for her sake
treated Mr. Wilkins as if he possessed the strength of Samson and the
wisdom of Solomon. He received her respect as if it was his due, and
now and then graciously accorded her a few words beyond the usual
scanty allowance of morning and evening greetings. At his shop all day,
she only saw him at meals and sometimes of an evening, for Mrs. Wilkins
tried to keep him at home safe from temptation, and Christie helped her
by reading, talking, and frolicking with the children, so that he might
find home attractive. He loved his babies and would even relinquish his
precious pipe for a time to ride the little chaps on his foot, or amuse
Vic with shadow rabbit’s on the wall.

At such times the entire content in Mrs. Wilkins’s face made tobacco
fumes endurable, and the burden of a dull man’s presence less
oppressive to Christie, who loved to pay her debts in something besides
money.

As they sat together finishing off some delicate laces that Saturday
afternoon, Mrs. Wilkins said, “Ef it’s fair to-morrow I want you to go
to my meetin’ and hear my minister. It’ll do you good.”

“Who is he?”

“Mr. Power.”

Christie looked rather startled, for she had heard of Thomas Power as a
rampant radical and infidel of the deepest dye, and been warned never
to visit that den of iniquity called his free church.

“Why, Mrs. Wilkins, you don’t mean it!” she said, leaving her lace to
dry at the most critical stage.

“Yee, I do!” answered Mrs. Wilkins, setting down her flat-iron with
emphasis, and evidently preparing to fight valiantly for her minister,
as most women will.

“I beg your pardon; I was a little surprised, for I’d heard all sorts
of things about him,” Christie hastened to say.

“Did you ever hear him, or read any of his writins?” demanded Mrs.
Wilkins, with a calmer air.

“Never.”

“Then don’t judge. You go hear and see that blessed man, and ef you
don’t say he’s the shadder of a great rock in a desert land, I’ll give
up,” cried the good woman, waxing poetical in her warmth.

“I will to please you, if nothing else. I did go once just because I
was told not to; but he did not preach that day and every thing was so
peculiar, I didn’t know whether to like it or be shocked.”

“It is kind of sing’lar at fust, I’m free to confess, and not as
churchy as some folks like. But there ain’t no place but that big
enough to hold the crowds that want to go, for the more he’s abused the
more folks flock to see him. They git their money’s wuth I do believe,
for though there ain’t no pulpits and pews, there’s a sight of
brotherly love round in them seats, and pious practice, as well as
powerful preaching, in that shabby desk. He don’t need no commandments
painted up behind him to read on Sunday, for he keeps ’em in his heart
and life all the week as honest as man can.”

There Mrs. Wilkins paused, flushed and breathless with her defence, and
Christie said, candidly: “I did like the freedom and good-will there,
for people sat where they liked, and no one frowned over shut
pew-doors, at me a stranger. An old black woman sat next me, and said
‘Amen’ when she liked what she heard, and a very shabby young man was
on the other, listening as if his soul was as hungry as his body.
People read books, laughed and cried, clapped when pleased, and hissed
when angry; that I did not like.”

“No more does Mr. Power; he don’t mind the cryin’ and the smilin’ as
it’s nat’ral, but noise and disrespect of no kind ain’t pleasin’ to
him. His own folks behave becomin’, but strangers go and act as they
like, thinkin’ that there ain’t no bounds to the word free. Then we are
picked at for their doin’s, and Mr. Power has to carry other folkses’
sins on his shoulders. But, dear suz, it ain’t much matter after all,
ef the souls is well-meanin’. Children always make a noise a strivin’
after what they want most, and I shouldn’t wonder ef the Lord forgive
all our short-comin’s of that sort, sense we are hankerin’ and reachin’
for the truth.”

“I wish I had heard Mr. Power that day, for I was striving after peace
with all my heart, and he might have given it to me,” said Christie,
interested and impressed with what she heard.

“Wal, no, dear, I guess not. Peace ain’t give to no one all of a
suddin, it gen’lly comes through much tribulation, and the sort that
comes hardest is best wuth havin’. Mr. Power would a’ ploughed and
harrered you, so to speak, and sowed good seed liberal; then ef you
warn’t barren ground things would have throve, and the Lord give you a
harvest accordin’ to your labor. Who did you hear?” asked Mrs. Wilkins,
pausing to starch and clap vigorously.

“A very young man who seemed to be airing his ideas and beliefs in the
frankest manner. He belabored everybody and every thing, upset church
and state, called names, arranged heaven and earth to suit himself, and
evidently meant every word he said. Much of it would have been
ridiculous if the boy had not been so thoroughly in earnest; sincerity
always commands respect, and though people smiled, they liked his
courage, and seemed to think he would make a man when his spiritual
wild oats were sown.”

“I ain’t a doubt on’t. We often have such, and they ain’t all empty
talk, nuther; some of ’em are surprisingly bright, and all mean so well
I don’t never reluct to hear ’em. They must blow off their steam
somewheres, else they’d bust with the big idees a swellin’ in ’em; Mr.
Power knows it and gives ’em the chance they can’t find nowheres else.
’Pears to me,” added Mrs. Wilkins, ironing rapidly as she spoke, “that
folks is very like clothes, and a sight has to be done to keep ’em
clean and whole. All on us has to lend a hand in this dreadful mixed-up
wash, and each do our part, same as you and me is now. There’s
scrubbin’ and bilin’, wrenchin’ and bluein’, dryin’ and foldin’,
ironin’ and polishin’, before any of us is fit for wear a Sunday
mornin’.”

“What part does Mr. Power do?” asked Christie, much amused at this
peculiarly appropriate simile.

“The scrubbin’ and the bilin’; that’s always the hardest and the
hottest part. He starts the dirt and gits the stains out, and leaves
’em ready for other folks to finish off. It ain’t such pleasant work as
hangin’ out, or such pretty work as doin’ up, but some one’s got to do
it, and them that’s strongest does it best, though they don’t git half
so much credit as them as polishes and crimps. That’s showy work, but
it wouldn’t be no use ef the things warn’t well washed fust,” and Mrs.
Wilkins thoughtfully surveyed the snowy muslin cap, with its border
fluted like the petals of a prim white daisy, that hung on her hand.

“I’d like to be a washerwoman of that sort; but as I’m not one of the
strong, I’ll be a laundress, and try to make purity as attractive as
you do,” said Christie, soberly.

“Ah, my dear, it’s warm and wearin’ work I do assure you, and hard to
give satisfaction, try as you may. Crowns of glory ain’t wore in this
world, but it’s my ’pinion that them that does the hard jobs here will
stand a good chance of havin’ extra bright ones when they git through.”

“I know you will,” said Christie, warmly.

“Land alive, child! I warn’t thinking of Cynthy Wilkins, but Mr. Power.
I’ll be satisfied ef I can set low down somewheres and see him git the
meddle. He won’t in this world, but I know there’s rewards savin’ up
for him byme-by.”

“I’ll go to-morrow if it pours!” said Christie, with decision.

“Do, and I’ll lend you my bunnit,” cried Mrs. Wilkins, passing, with
comical rapidity, from crowns of glory to her own cherished head-gear.

“Thank you, but I can’t wear blue, I look as yellow as a dandelion in
it. Mrs. Flint let me have my best things though I offered to leave
them, so I shall be respectable and by-and-by blossom out.”

On the morrow Christie went early, got a good seat, and for half an
hour watched the gathering of the motley congregation that filled the
great hall. Some came in timidly, as if doubtful of their welcome; some
noisily, as if, as Mrs. Wilkins said, they had not learned the wide
difference between liberty and license; many as if eager and curious;
and a large number with the look of children gathering round a family
table ready to be fed, and sure that wholesome food would be
bountifully provided for them.

Christie was struck by the large proportion of young people in the
place, of all classes, both sexes, and strongly contrasting faces.
Delicate girls looking with the sweet wistfulness of maidenly hearts
for something strong to lean upon and love; sad-eyed women turning to
heaven for the consolations or the satisfactions earth could not give
them; anxious mothers perplexed with many cares, trying to find light
and strength; young men with ardent faces, restless, aspiring, and
impetuous, longing to do and dare; tired-looking students, with
perplexed wrinkles on their foreheads, evidently come to see if this
man had discovered the great secrets they were delving after; and
soul-sick people trying this new, and perhaps dangerous medicine, when
others failed to cure. Many earnest, thoughtful men and women were
there, some on the anxious seat, and some already at peace, having
found the clew that leads safely through the labyrinth of life. Here
and there a white head, a placid old face, or one of those fine
countenances that tell, unconsciously, the beautiful story of a
victorious soul.

Some read, some talked, some had flowers in their hands, and all sat at
ease, rich and poor, black and white, young and old, waiting for the
coming of the man who had power to attract and hold so many of his
kind. Christie was so intent on watching those about her that she did
not see him enter, and only knew it by the silence which began just in
front of her, and seemed to flow backward like a wave, leaving a sea of
expectant faces turning to one point. That point was a gray head, just
visible above the little desk which stood in the middle of a great
platform. A vase of lovely flowers was on the little shelf at one side,
a great Bible reposed on the other, and a manuscript lay on the red
slope between.

In a moment Christie forgot every thing else, and waited with a curious
anxiety to see what manner of man this was. Presently he got up with an
open book in his hand, saying, in a strong, cheerful voice: “Let us
sing,” and having read a hymn as if he had composed it, he sat down
again.

Then everybody did sing; not harmoniously, but heartily, led by an
organ, which the voices followed at their own sweet will. At first,
Christie wanted to smile, for some shouted and some hummed, some sat
silent, and others sung sweetly; but before the hymn ended she liked
it, and thought that the natural praise of each individual soul was
perhaps more grateful to the ear of God than masses by great masters,
or psalms warbled tunefully by hired opera singers.

Then Mr. Power rose again, and laying his hands together, with a
peculiarly soft and reverent gesture, lifted up his face and prayed.
Christie had never heard a prayer like that before; so devout, so
comprehensive, and so brief. A quiet talk with God, asking nothing but
more love and duty toward Him and our fellow-men; thanking Him for many
mercies, and confiding all things trustfully to the “dear father and
mother of souls.”

The sermon which followed was as peculiar as the prayer, and as
effective. “One of Power’s judgment-day sermons,” as she heard one man
say to another, when it was over. Christie certainly felt at first as
if kingdoms and thrones were going down, and each man being sent to his
own place. A powerful and popular wrong was arrested, tried, and
sentenced then and there, with a courage and fidelity that made plain
words eloquent, and stern justice beautiful. He did not take David of
old for his text, but the strong, sinful, splendid Davids of our day,
who had not fulfilled the promise of their youth, and whose seeming
success was a delusion and a snare to themselves and others, sure to be
followed by sorrowful abandonment, defeat, and shame. The ashes of the
ancient hypocrites and Pharisees was left in peace, but those now
living were heartily denounced; modern money-changers scourged out of
the temple, and the everlasting truth set up therein.

As he spoke, not loudly nor vehemently, but with the indescribable
effect of inward force and true inspiration, a curious stir went
through the crowd at times, as a great wind sweeps over a corn field,
lifting the broad leaves to the light and testing the strength of root
and stem. People looked at one another with a roused expression; eyes
kindled, heads nodded involuntary approval, and an emphatic, “that’s
so!” dropped from the lips of men who saw their own vague instincts and
silent opinions strongly confirmed and nobly uttered. Consciences
seemed to have been pricked to duty, eyes cleared to see that their
golden idols had feet of clay, and wavering wills strengthened by the
salutary courage and integrity of one indomitable man. Another hymn,
and a benediction that seemed like a fit grace after meat, and then the
crowd poured out; not yawning, thinking of best clothes, or longing for
dinner, but waked up, full of talk, and eager to do something to redeem
the country and the world.

Christie went rapidly home because she could not help it, and burst in
upon Mrs. Wilkins with a face full of enthusiasm, exclaiming, while she
cast off her bonnet as if her head had outgrown it since she left:

“It was splendid! I never heard such a sermon before, and I’ll never go
to church anywhere else.”

“I knew it! ain’t it fillin’? don’t it give you a kind of spirital
h’ist, and make things wuth more somehow?” cried Mrs. Wilkins,
gesticulating with the pepper-pot in a way which did not improve the
steak she was cooking, and caused great anguish to the noses of her
offspring, who were watching the operation.

Quite deaf to the chorus of sneezes which accompanied her words,
Christie answered, brushing back her hair, as if to get a better
out-look at creation generally:

“Oh, yes, indeed! At first it was rather terrible, and yet so true I
wouldn’t change a word of it. But I don’t wonder he is misunderstood,
belied, and abused. He tells the truth so plainly, and lets in the
light so clearly, that hypocrites and sinners must fear and hate him. I
think he was a little hard and unsparing, sometimes, though I don’t
know enough to judge the men and measures he condemned. I admire him
very much, but I should be afraid of him if I ever saw him nearer.”

“No, you wouldn’t; not a grain. You hear him preach agin and you’ll
find him as gentle as a lamb. Strong folks is apt to be ruther ha’sh at
times; they can’t help it no more than this stove can help scorchin’
the vittles when it gits red hot. Dinner’s ready, so set right up and
tell me all about it,” said Mrs. Wilkins, slapping the steak on to the
platter, and beginning to deal out fried potatoes all round with
absent-minded lavishness.

Christie talked, and the good soul enjoyed that far more than her
dinner, for she meant to ask Mr. Power to help her find the right sort
of home for the stranger whose unfitness for her present place was
every day made more apparent to the mind of her hostess.

“What took you there first?” asked Christie, still wondering at Mrs.
Wilkins’s choice of a minister.

“The Lord, my dear,” answered the good woman, in a tone of calm
conviction. “I’d heard of him, and I always have a leanin’ towards them
that’s reviled; so one Sabbath I felt to go, and did. ‘That’s the
gospel for me,’ says I, ‘my old church ain’t big enough now, and I
ain’t goin’ to set and nod there any longer,’ and I didn’t.”

“Hadn’t you any doubts about it, any fears of going wrong or being
sorry afterwards?” asked Christie, who believed, as many do, that
religion could not be attained without much tribulation of some kind.

“In some things folks is led; I be frequent, and when them leadin’s
come I don’t ask no questions but jest foller, and it always turns out
right.”

“I wish I could be led.”

“You be, my dear, every day of your life only you don’t see it. When
you are doubtful, set still till the call comes, then git up and walk
whichever way it says, and you won’t fall. You’ve had bread and water
long enough, now you want meat and wine a spell; take it, and when it’s
time for milk and honey some one will fetch ’em ef you keep your table
ready. The Lord feeds us right; it’s we that quarrel with our vittles.”

“I will,” said Christie, and began at once to prepare her little board
for the solid food of which she had had a taste that day.

That afternoon Mrs. Wilkins took her turn at church-going, saw Mr.
Power, told Christie’s story in her best style, and ended by saying:

“She’s true grit, I do assure you, sir. Willin’ to work, but she’s seen
the hard side of things and got kind of discouraged. Soul and body both
wants tinkerin’ up, and I don’t know anybody who can do the job better
’n you can.”

“Very well, I’ll come and see her,” answered Mr. Power, and Mrs.
Wilkins went home well satisfied.

He kept his word, and about the middle of the week came walking in upon
them as they were at work.

“Don’t let the irons cool,” he said, and sitting down in the kitchen
began to talk as comfortably as if in the best parlor; more so,
perhaps, for best parlors are apt to have a depressing effect upon the
spirits, while the mere sight of labor is exhilarating to energetic
minds.

He greeted Christie kindly, and then addressed himself to Mrs. Wilkins
on various charitable matters, for he was a minister at large, and she
one of his almoners. Christie could really see him now, for when he
preached she forgot the man in the sermon, and thought of him only as a
visible conscience.

A sturdy man of fifty, with a keen, brave face, penetrating eyes, and
mouth a little grim; but a voice so resonant and sweet it reminded one
of silver trumpets, and stirred and won the hearer with irresistible
power. Rough gray hair, and all the features rather rugged, as if the
Great Sculptor had blocked out a grand statue, and left the man’s own
soul to finish it.

Had Christie known that he came to see her she would have been ill at
ease; but Mrs. Wilkins had kept her own counsel, so when Mr. Power
turned to Christie, saying:

“My friend here tells me you want something to do. Would you like to
help a Quaker lady with her housework, just out of town?”

She answered readily: “Yes, sir, any thing that is honest.”

“Not as a servant, exactly, but companion and helper. Mrs. Sterling is
a dear old lady, and the place a pleasant little nest. It is good to be
there, and I think you’ll say so if you go.”

“It sounds pleasant. When shall I go?”

Mr. Power smiled at her alacrity, but the longing look in her eyes
explained it, for he saw at a glance that her place was not here.

“I will write at once and let you know how matters are settled. Then
you shall try it, and if it is not what you want, we will find you
something else. There’s plenty to do, and nothing pleasanter than to
put the right pair of hands to the right task. Good-by; come and see me
if the spirit moves, and don’t let go of Mrs. Wilkins till you lay hold
of a better friend, if you can find one.”

Then he shook hands cordially, and went walking out again into the wild
March weather as if he liked it.

“Were you afraid of him?” asked Mrs. Wilkins.

“I forgot all about it: he looked so kind and friendly. But I shouldn’t
like to have those piercing eyes of his fixed on me long if I had any
secret on my conscience,” answered Christie.

“You ain’t nothin’ to fear. He liked your way of speakin’ fust rate, I
see that, and you’ll be all right now he’s took hold.”

“Do you know Mrs. Sterling?”

“Only by sight, but she’s a sweet appearin’ woman, and I wouldn’t ask
nothin’ better ’n to see more of her,” said Mrs. Wilkins, warmly,
fearing Christie’s heart might misgive her.

But it did not, and when a note came saying Mrs. Sterling would be
ready for her the next week, she seemed quite content with every thing,
for though the wages were not high she felt that country air and quiet
were worth more to her just then than money, and that Wilkinses were
better taken homoeopathically.

The spirit did move her to go and see Mr. Power, but she could not make
up her mind to pass that invisible barrier which stands between so many
who could give one another genuine help if they only dared to ask it.
But when Sunday came she went to church, eager for more, and thankful
that she knew where to go for it.

This was a very different sermon from the other, and Christie felt as
if he preached it for her alone. “Keep innocency and take heed to the
thing that is right, for this will bring a man peace at the last,”
might have been the text, and Mr. Power treated it as if he had known
all the trials and temptations that made it hard to live up to.

Justice and righteous wrath possessed him before, now mercy and
tenderest sympathy for those who faltered in well-doing, and the stern
judge seemed changed to a pitiful father. But better than the pity was
the wise counsel, the cheering words, and the devout surrender of the
soul to its best instincts; its close communion with its Maker,
unchilled by fear, untrammelled by the narrowness of sect or
superstition, but full and free and natural as the breath of life.

As she listened Christie felt as if she was climbing up from a solitary
valley, through mist and shadow toward a mountain top, where, though
the way might be rough and strong winds blow, she would get a wider
outlook over the broad earth, and be nearer the serene blue sky. For
the first time in her life religion seemed a visible and vital thing; a
power that she could grasp and feel, take into her life and make her
daily bread. Not a vague, vast idea floating before her, now beautiful,
now terrible, always undefined and far away.

She was strangely and powerfully moved that day, for the ploughing had
begun; and when the rest stood up for the last hymn, Christie could
only bow her head and let the uncontrollable tears flow down like
summer rain, while her heart sang with new aspiration:

“Nearer, my God, to thee,
E’en though a cross it be
    That raiseth me,
Still all my song shall be,
Nearer, my God, to thee.
    Nearer to thee!”


Sitting with her hand before her eyes, she never stirred till the sound
of many feet told her that service was done. Then she wiped her eyes,
dropped her veil, and was about to rise when she saw a little bunch of
flowers between the leaves of the hymn book lying open in her lap. Only
a knot of violets set in their own broad leaves, but blue as friendly
eyes looking into hers, and sweet as kind words whispered in her ear.
She looked about her hoping to detect and thank the giver; but all
faces were turned the other way, and all feet departing rapidly.

Christie followed with a very grateful thought in her heart for this
little kindness from some unknown friend; and, anxious to recover
herself entirely before she faced Mrs. Wilkins, she took a turn in the
park.

The snow was gone, high winds had dried the walk, and a clear sky
overhead made one forget sodden turf and chilly air. March was going
out like a lamb, and Christie enjoyed an occasional vernal whiff from
far-off fields and wakening woods, as she walked down the broad mall
watching the buds on the boughs, and listening to the twitter of the
sparrows, evidently discussing the passers-by as they sat at the doors
of their little mansions.

Presently she turned to walk back again and saw Mr. Power coming toward
her. She was glad, for all her fear had vanished now, and she wanted to
thank him for the sermon that had moved her so deeply. He shook hands
in his cordial way, and, turning, walked with her, beginning at once to
talk of her affairs as if interested in them.

“Are you ready for the new experiment?” he asked.

“Quite ready, sir; very glad to go, and very much obliged to you for
your kindness in providing for me.”

“That is what we were put into the world for, to help one another. You
can pass on the kindness by serving my good friends who, in return,
will do their best for you.”

“That’s so pleasant! I always knew there were plenty of good, friendly
people in the world, only I did not seem to find them often, or be able
to keep them long when I did. Is Mr. Sterling an agreeable old man?”

“Very agreeable, but not old. David is about thirty-one or two, I
think. He is the son of my friend, the husband died some years ago. I
thought I mentioned it.”

“You said in your note that Mr. Sterling was a florist, and might like
me to help in the green-house, if I was willing. It must be lovely
work, and I should like it very much.”

“Yes, David devotes himself to his flowers, and leads a very quiet
life. You may think him rather grave and blunt at first, but you’ll
soon find him out and get on comfortably, for he is a truly excellent
fellow, and my right-hand man in good works.”

A curious little change had passed over Christie’s face during these
last questions and answers, unconscious, but quite observable to keen
eyes like Mr. Power’s. Surprise and interest appeared first, then a
shadow of reserve as if the young woman dropped a thin veil between
herself and the young man, and at the last words a half smile and a
slight raising of the brows seemed to express the queer mixture of pity
and indifference with which we are all apt to regard “excellent
fellows” and “amiable girls.” Mr. Power understood the look, and went
on more confidentially than he had at first intended, for he did not
want Christie to go off with a prejudice in her mind which might do
both David and herself injustice.

“People sometimes misjudge him, for he is rather old-fashioned in
manner and plain in speech, and may seem unsocial, because he does not
seek society. But those who know the cause of this forgive any little
short-comings for the sake of the genuine goodness of the man. David
had a great trouble some years ago and suffered much. He is learning to
bear it bravely, and is the better for it, though the memory of it is
still bitter, and the cross hard to bear even with pride to help him
hide it, and principle to keep him from despair.”

Mr. Power glanced at Christie as he paused, and was satisfied with the
effect of his words, for interest, pity, and respect shone in her face,
and proved that he had touched the right string. She seemed to feel
that this little confidence was given for a purpose, and showed that
she accepted it as a sort of gage for her own fidelity to her new
employers.

“Thank you, sir, I shall remember,” she said, with her frank eyes
lifted gravely to his own. “I like to work for people whom I can
respect,” she added, “and will bear with any peculiarities of Mr.
Sterling’s without a thought of complaint. When a man has suffered
through one woman, all women should be kind and patient with him, and
try to atone for the wrong which lessens his respect and faith in
them.”

“There you are right; and in this case all women should be kind, for
David pities and protects womankind as the only retaliation for the
life-long grief one woman brought upon him. That’s not a common
revenge, is it?”

“It’s beautiful!” cried Christie, and instantly David was a hero.

“At one time it was an even chance whether that trouble sent David to
‘the devil,’ as he expressed it, or made a man of him. That little
saint of a mother kept him safe till the first desperation was over,
and now he lives for her, as he ought. Not so romantic an ending as a
pistol or Byronic scorn for the world in general and women in
particular, but dutiful and brave, since it often takes more courage to
live than to die.”

“Yes, sir,” said Christie, heartily, though her eyes fell, remembering
how she had failed with far less cause for despair than David.

They were at the gate now, and Mr. Power left her, saying, with a
vigorous hand-shake:

“Best wishes for a happy summer. I shall come sometimes to see how you
prosper; and remember, if you tire of it and want to change, let me
know, for I take great satisfaction in putting the right people in the
right places. Good-by, and God be with you.”



CHAPTER X.
BEGINNING AGAIN.


[Illustration: MRS. STERLING.]

It was an April day when Christie went to her new home. Warm rains had
melted the last trace of snow, and every bank was full of pricking
grass-blades, brave little pioneers and heralds of the Spring. The
budding elm boughs swung in the wind; blue-jays screamed among the
apple-trees; and robins chirped shrilly, as if rejoicing over winter
hardships safely passed. Vernal freshness was in the air despite its
chill, and lovely hints of summer time were everywhere.

These welcome sights and sounds met Christie, as she walked down the
lane, and, coming to a gate, paused there to look about her. An
old-fashioned cottage stood in the midst of a garden just awakening
from its winter sleep. One elm hung protectingly over the low roof,
sunshine lay warmly on it, and at every window flowers’ bright faces
smiled at the passer-by invitingly.

On one side glittered a long green-house, and on the other stood a
barn, with a sleek cow ruminating in the yard, and an inquiring horse
poking his head out of his stall to view the world. Many comfortable
gray hens were clucking and scratching about the hay-strewn floor, and
a flock of doves sat cooing on the roof.

A quiet, friendly place it looked; for nothing marred its peace, and
the hopeful, healthful spirit of the season seemed to haunt the spot.
Snow-drops and crocuses were up in one secluded nook; a plump maltese
cat sat purring in the porch; and a dignified old dog came marching
down the walk to escort the stranger in. With a brightening face
Christie went up the path, and tapped at the quaint knocker, hoping
that the face she was about to see would be in keeping with the
pleasant place.

She was not disappointed, for the dearest of little Quaker ladies
opened to her, with such an air of peace and good-will that the veriest
ruffian, coming to molest or make afraid, would have found it
impossible to mar the tranquillity of that benign old face, or disturb
one fold of the soft muslin crossed upon her breast.

“I come from Mr. Power, and I have a note for Mrs. Sterling,” began
Christie in her gentlest tone, as her last fear vanished at sight of
that mild maternal figure.

“I am she; come in, friend; I am glad to see thee,” said the old lady,
smiling placidly, as she led the way into a room whose principal
furniture seemed to be books, flowers, and sunshine.

The look, the tone, the gentle “thee,” went straight to Christie’s
heart; and, while Mrs. Sterling put on her spectacles and slowly read
the note, she stroked the cat and said to herself: “Surely, I have
fallen among a set of angels. I thought Mrs. Wilkins a sort of saint,
Mr. Power was an improvement even upon that good soul, and if I am not
mistaken this sweet little lady is the best and dearest of all. I do
hope she will like me.”

“It is quite right, my dear, and I am most glad to see thee; for we
need help at this season of the year, and have had none for several
weeks. Step up to the room at the head of the stairs, and lay off thy
things. Then, if thee is not tired, I will give thee a little job with
me in the kitchen,” said the old lady with a kindly directness which
left no room for awkwardness on the new-comer’s part.

Up went Christie, and after a hasty look round a room as plain and
white and still as a nun’s cell, she whisked on a working-apron and ran
down again, feeling, as she fancied the children did in the fairy tale,
when they first arrived at the house of the little old woman who lived
in the wood.

Mrs. Wilkins’s kitchen was as neat as a room could be, wherein six
children came and went, but this kitchen was tidy with the immaculate
order of which Shakers and Quakers alone seem to possess the secret,—a
fragrant, shining cleanliness, that made even black kettles ornamental
and dish-pans objects of interest. Nothing burned or boiled over,
though the stove was full of dinner-pots and skillets. There was no
litter or hurry, though the baking of cake and pies was going on, and
when Mrs. Sterling put a pan of apples, and a knife into her new
assistant’s hands, saying in a tone that made the request a favor,
“Will thee kindly pare these for me?” Christie wondered what would
happen if she dropped a seed upon the floor, or did not cut the apples
into four exact quarters.

“I never shall suit this dear prim soul,” she thought, as her eye went
from Puss, sedately perched on one small mat, to the dog dozing upon
another, and neither offering to stir from their own dominions.

This dainty nicety amused her at first, but she liked it, and very soon
her thoughts went back to the old times when she worked with Aunt
Betsey, and learned the good old-fashioned arts which now were to prove
her fitness for this pleasant place.

Mrs. Sterling saw the shadow that crept into Christie’s face, and led
the chat to cheerful things, not saying much herself, but beguiling the
other to talk, and listening with an interest that made it easy to go
on.

Mr. Power and the Wilkinses made them friends very soon; and in an hour
or two Christie was moving about the kitchen as if she had already
taken possession of her new kingdom.

“Thee likes housework I think,” said Mrs. Sterling, as she watched her
hang up a towel to dry, and rinse her dish-cloth when the cleaning up
was done.

“Oh, yes! if I need not do it with a shiftless Irish girl to drive me
distracted by pretending to help. I have lived out, and did not find it
hard while I had my good Hepsey. I was second girl, and can set a table
in style. Shall I try now?” she asked, as the old lady went into a
little dining-room with fresh napkins in her hand.

“Yes, but we have no style here. I will show thee once, and hereafter
it will be thy work, as thy feet are younger than mine.”

A nice old-fashioned table was soon spread, and Christie kept smiling
at the contrast between this and Mrs. Stuart’s. Chubby little pitchers
appeared, delicate old glass, queer china, and tiny tea-spoons; linen
as smooth as satin, and a quaint tankard that might have come over in
the “May-flower.”

“Now, will thee take that pitcher of water to David’s room? It is at
the top of the house, and may need a little dusting. I have not been
able to attend to it as I would like since I have been alone,” said
Mrs. Sterling.

Rooms usually betray something of the character and tastes of their
occupants, and Christie paused a moment as she entered David’s, to look
about her with feminine interest.

It was the attic, and extended the whole length of the house. One end
was curtained off as a bedroom, and she smiled at its austere
simplicity.

A gable in the middle made a sunny recess, where were stored bags and
boxes of seed, bunches of herbs, and shelves full of those tiny pots in
which baby plants are born and nursed till they can grow alone.

The west end was evidently the study, and here Christie took a good
look as she dusted tidily. The furniture was nothing, only an old sofa,
with the horsehair sticking out in tufts here and there; an antique
secretary; and a table covered with books. As she whisked the duster
down the front of the ancient piece of furniture, one of the doors in
the upper half swung open, and Christie saw three objects that
irresistibly riveted her eyes for a moment. A broken fan, a bundle of
letters tied up with a black ribbon, and a little work-basket in which
lay a fanciful needle-book with “Letty” embroidered on it in faded
silk.

“Poor David, that is his little shrine, and I have no right to see it,”
thought Christie, shutting the door with self-reproachful haste.

At the table she paused again, for books always attracted her, and here
she saw a goodly array whose names were like the faces of old friends,
because she remembered them in her father’s library.

Faust was full of ferns, Shakspeare, of rough sketches of the men and
women whom he has made immortal. Saintly Herbert lay side by side with
Saint Augustine’s confessions. Milton and Montaigne stood socially
together, and Andersen’s lovely “Märchen” fluttered its pictured leaves
in the middle of an open Plato; while several books in unknown tongues
were half-hidden by volumes of Browning, Keats, and Coleridge.

In the middle of this fine society, slender and transparent as the
spirit of a shape, stood a little vase holding one half-opened rose,
fresh and fragrant as if just gathered.

Christie smiled as she saw it, and wondered if the dear, dead, or false
woman had been fond of roses.

Then her eye went to the mantel-piece, just above the table, and she
laughed; for, on it stood three busts, idols evidently, but very shabby
ones; for Göthe’s nose was broken, Schiller’s head cracked visibly, and
the dust of ages seemed to have settled upon Linnæus in the middle. On
the wall above them hung a curious old picture of a monk kneeling in a
devout ecstasy, while the face of an angel is dimly seen through the
radiance that floods the cell with divine light. Portraits of Mr. Power
and Martin Luther stared thoughtfully at one another from either side,
as if making up their minds to shake hands in spite of time and space.

“Melancholy, learned, and sentimental,” said Christie to herself, as
she settled David’s character after these discoveries.

The sound of a bell made her hasten down, more curious than ever to see
if this belief was true.

“Perhaps thee had better step out and call my son. Sometimes he does
not hear the bell when he is busy. Thee will find my garden-hood and
shawl behind the door,” said Mrs. Sterling, presently; for punctuality
was a great virtue in the old lady’s eyes.

Christie demurely tied on the little pumpkin-hood, wrapped the gray
shawl about her, and set out to find her “master,” as she had a fancy
to call this unknown David.

From the hints dropped by Mr. Power, and her late discoveries, she had
made a hero for herself; a sort of melancholy Jaques; sad and pale and
stern; retired from the world to nurse his wounds in solitude. She
rather liked this picture; for romance dies hard in a woman, and, spite
of her experiences, Christie still indulged in dreams and fancies. “It
will be so interesting to see how he bears his secret sorrow. I am fond
of woe; but I do hope he won’t be too lackadaisical, for I never could
abide that sort of blighted being.”

Thinking thus, she peeped here and there, but saw no one in yard or
barn, except a workman scraping the mould off his boots near the
conservatory.

“This David is among the flowers, I fancy; I will just ask, and not
bolt in, as he does not know me. “Where is Mr. Sterling?” added
Christie aloud, as she approached.

The man looked up, and a smile came into his eyes, as he glanced from
the old hood to the young face inside. Then he took off his hat, and
held out his hand, saying with just his mother’s simple directness:

“I am David; and this is Christie Devon, I know. How do you do?”

“Yes; dinner’s ready,” was all she could reply, for the discovery that
this was the “master,” nearly took her breath away. Not the faintest
trace of the melancholy Jaques about him; nothing interesting,
romantic, pensive, or even stern. Only a broad-shouldered,
brown-bearded man, with an old hat and coat, trousers tucked into his
boots, fresh mould on the hand he had given her to shake, and the
cheeriest voice she had ever heard.

What a blow it was to be sure! Christie actually felt vexed with him
for disappointing her so, and could not recover herself, but stood red
and awkward, till, with a last scrape of his boots, David said with
placid brevity:

“Well, shall we go in?”

Christie walked rapidly into the house, and by the time she got there
the absurdity of her fancy struck her, and she stifled a laugh in the
depths of the little pumpkin-hood, as she hung it up. Then, assuming
her gravest air, she went to give the finishing touches to dinner.

Ten minutes later she received another surprise; for David appeared
washed, brushed, and in a suit of gray,—a personable gentleman, quite
unlike the workman in the yard.

Christie gave one look, met a pair of keen yet kind eyes with a
suppressed laugh in them, and dropped her own, to be no more lifted up
till dinner was done.

It was a very quiet meal, for no one said much; and it was evidently
the custom of the house to eat silently, only now and then saying a few
friendly words, to show that the hearts were social if the tongues were
not.

On the present occasion this suited Christie; and she ate her dinner
without making any more discoveries, except that the earth-stained
hands were very clean now, and skilfully supplied her wants before she
could make them known.

As they rose from table, Mrs. Sterling said: “Davy, does thee want any
help this afternoon?”

“I shall be very glad of some in about an hour if thee can spare it,
mother.”

“I can, dear.”

“Do you care for flowers?” asked David, turning to Christie, “because
if you do not, this will be a very trying place for you.”

“I used to love them dearly; but I have not had any for so long I
hardly remember how they look,” answered Christie with a sigh, as she
recalled Rachel’s roses, dead long ago. “Shy, sick, and sad; poor soul,
we must lend a hand and cheer her up a bit” thought David, as he
watched her eyes turn toward the green tilings in the windows with a
bright, soft look, he liked to see.

“Come to the conservatory in an hour, and I’ll show you the best part
of a ‘German,’” he said, with a nod and a smile, as he went away,
beginning to whistle like a boy when the door was shut behind him.

“What did he mean?” thought Christie, as she helped clear the table,
and put every thing in Pimlico order.

She was curious to know, and when Mrs. Sterling said: “Now, my dear, I
am going to take my nap, and thee can help David if thee likes,” she
was quite ready to try the new work.

She would have been more than woman if she had not first slipped
upstairs to smooth her hair, put on a fresh collar, and a black silk
apron with certain effective frills and pockets, while a scarlet
rigolette replaced the hood, and lent a little color to her pale
cheeks.

“I am a poor ghost of what I was,” she thought; “but that’s no matter:
few can be pretty, any one can be neat, and that is more than ever
necessary here.”

Then she went away to the conservatory, feeling rather oppressed with
the pity and sympathy, for which there was no call, and fervently
wishing that David would not be so comfortable, for he ate a hearty
dinner, laughed four times, and whistled as no heart-broken man would
dream of doing.

No one was visible as she went in, and walking slowly down the green
aisle, she gave herself up to the enjoyment of the lovely place. The
damp, sweet air made summer there, and a group of slender, oriental
trees whispered in the breath of wind that blew in from an open sash.
Strange vines and flowers hung overhead; banks of azaleas, ruddy,
white, and purple, bloomed in one place; roses of every hue turned
their lovely faces to the sun; ranks of delicate ferns, and heaths with
their waxen bells, were close by; glowing geraniums and stately lilies
side by side; savage-looking scarlet flowers with purple hearts, or
orange spikes rising from leaves mottled with strange colors; dusky
passion-flowers, and gay nasturtiums climbing to the roof. All manner
of beautiful and curious plants were there; and Christie walked among
them, as happy as a child who finds its playmates again.

Coming to a bed of pansies she sat down on a rustic chair, and, leaning
forward, feasted her eyes on these her favorites. Her face grew young
as she looked, her hands touched them with a lingering tenderness as if
to her they were half human, and her own eyes were so busy enjoying the
gold and purple spread before her, that she did not see another pair
peering at her over an unneighborly old cactus, all prickles, and queer
knobs. Presently a voice said at her elbow:

“You look as if you saw something beside pansies there.”

David spoke so quietly that it did not startle her, and she answered
before she had time to feel ashamed of her fancy.

“I do; for, ever since I was a child, I always see a little face when I
look at this flower. Sometimes it is a sad one, sometimes it’s merry,
often roguish, but always a dear little face; and when I see so many
together, it’s like a flock of children, all nodding and smiling at me
at once.”

“So it is!” and David nodded, and smiled himself, as he handed her two
or three of the finest, as if it was as natural a thing as to put a
sprig of mignonette in his own button-hole.

Christie thanked him, and then jumped up, remembering that she came
there to work, not to dream. He seemed to understand, and went into a
little room near by, saying, as he pointed to a heap of gay flowers on
the table:

“These are to be made into little bouquets for a ‘German’ to-night. It
is pretty work, and better fitted for a woman’s fingers than a man’s.
This is all you have to do, and you can use your taste as to colors.”

While he spoke David laid a red and white carnation on a bit of smilax,
tied them together, twisted a morsel of silver foil about the stems,
and laid it before Christie as a sample.

“Yes, I can do that, and shall like it very much,” she said, burying
her nose in the mass of sweetness before her, and feeling as if her new
situation grew pleasanter every minute.

“Here is the apron my mother uses, that bit of silk will soon be
spoilt, for the flowers are wet,” and David gravely offered her a large
checked pinafore.

Christie could not help laughing as she put it on: all this was so
different from the imaginary picture she had made. She was
disappointed, and yet she began to feel as if the simple truth was
better than the sentimental fiction; and glanced up at David
involuntarily to see if there were any traces of interesting woe about
him.

But he was looking at her with the steady, straight-forward look which
she liked so much, yet could not meet just yet; and all she saw was
that he was smiling also with an indulgent expression as if she was a
little girl whom he was trying to amuse.

“Make a few, and I’ll be back directly when I have attended to another
order,” and he went away thinking Christie’s face was very like the
pansies they had been talking about,—one of the sombre ones with a
bright touch of gold deep down in the heart, for thin and pale as the
face was, it lighted up at a kind word, and all the sadness vanished
out of the anxious eyes when the frank laugh came.

Christie fell to work with a woman’s interest in such a pleasant task,
and soon tied and twisted skilfully, exercising all her taste in
contrasts, and the pretty little conceits flower-lovers can produce.
She was so interested that presently she began to hum half
unconsciously, as she was apt to do when happily employed:

“Welcome, maids of honor,
    You do bring
    In the spring,
And wait upon her.
She has virgins many,
    Fresh and fair,
    Yet you are
More sweet than any.”


There she stopped, for David’s step drew near, and she remembered where
she was.

“The last verse is the best in that little poem. Have you forgotten
it?” he said, pleased and surprised to find the new-comer singing
Herrick’s lines “To Violets.” “Almost; my father used to say that when
we went looking for early violets, and these lovely ones reminded me of
it,” explained Christie, rather abashed.

[Illustration: DAVID AND CHRISTIE IN THE GREENHOUSE.]

As if to put her at ease David added, as he laid another handful of
double-violets on the table:

“‘Y’ are the maiden posies,
    And so graced,
    To be placed
Fore damask roses.
Yet, though thus respected,
    By and by
    Ye do lie,
Poor girls, neglected.’


“I always think of them as pretty, modest maids after that, and can’t
bear to throw them away, even when faded.”

Christie hoped he did not think her sentimental, and changed the
conversation by pointing to her work, and saying, in a business-like
way:

“Will these do? I have varied the posies as much as possible, so that
they may suit all sorts of tastes and whims. I never went to a ‘German’
myself; but I have looked on, and remember hearing the young people say
the little bouquets didn’t mean any thing, so I tried to make these
expressive.”

“Well, I should think you had succeeded excellently, and it is a very
pretty fancy. Tell me what some of them mean: will you?”

“You should know better than I, being a florist,” said Christie, glad
to see he approved of her work.

“I can grow the flowers, but not read them,” and David looked rather
depressed by his own ignorance of those delicate matters.

Still with the business-like air, Christie held up one after another of
the little knots, saying soberly, though her eyes smiled:

“This white one might be given to a newly engaged girl, as suggestive
of the coming bridal. That half-blown bud would say a great deal from a
lover to his idol; and this heliotrope be most encouraging to a timid
swain. Here is a rosy daisy for some merry little damsel; there is a
scarlet posy for a soldier; this delicate azalea and fern for some
lovely creature just out; and there is a bunch of sober pansies for a
spinster, if spinsters go to ‘Germans.’ Heath, scentless but pretty,
would do for many; these Parma violets for one with a sorrow; and this
curious purple flower with arrow-shaped stamens would just suit a
handsome, sharp-tongued woman, if any partner dared give it to her.”

David laughed, as his eye went from the flowers to Christie’s face, and
when she laid down the last breast-knot, looking as if she would like
the chance of presenting it to some one she knew, he seemed much
amused.

“If the beaux and belles at this party have the wit to read your
posies, my fortune will be made, and you will have your hands full
supplying compliments, declarations, rebukes, and criticisms for the
fashionable butterflies. I wish I could put consolation, hope, and
submission into my work as easily, but I am afraid I can’t,” he added a
moment afterward with a changed face, as he began to lay the loveliest
white flowers into a box.

“Those are not for a wedding, then?”

“For a dead baby; and I can’t seem to find any white and sweet enough.”

“You know the people?” asked Christie, with the sympathetic tone in her
voice.

“Never saw or heard of them till to-day. Isn’t it enough to know that
‘baby’s dead,’ as the poor man said, to make one feel for them?”

“Of course it is; only you seemed so interested in arranging the
flowers, I naturally thought it was for some friend,” Christie answered
hastily, for David looked half indignant at her question.

“I want them to look lovely and comforting when the mother opens the
box, and I don’t seem to have the right flowers. Will you give it a
touch? women have a tender way of doing such things that we can never
learn.”

“I don’t think I can improve it, unless I add another sort of flower
that seems appropriate: may I?”

“Any thing you can find.”

Christie waited for no more, but ran out of the greenhouse to David’s
great surprise, and presently came hurrying back with a handful of
snow-drops.

“Those are just what I wanted, but I didn’t know the little dears were
up yet! You shall put them in, and I know they will suggest what you
hope to these poor people,” he said approvingly, as he placed the box
before her, and stood by watching her adjust the little sheaf of pale
flowers tied up with a blade of grass. She added a frail fern or two,
and did give just the graceful touch here and there which would speak
to the mother’s sore heart of the tender thought some one had taken for
her dead darling.

The box was sent away, and Christie went on with her work, but that
little task performed together seemed to have made them friends; and,
while David tied up several grand bouquets at the same table, they
talked as if the strangeness was fast melting away from their short
acquaintance.

Christie’s own manners were so simple that simplicity in others always
put her at her ease: kindness soon banished her reserve, and the desire
to show that she was grateful for it helped her to please. David’s
bluntness was of such a gentle sort that she soon got used to it, and
found it a pleasant contrast to the polite insincerity so common. He
was as frank and friendly as a boy, yet had a certain paternal way with
him which rather annoyed her at first, and made her feel as if he
thought her a mere girl, while she was very sure he could not be but a
year or two older than herself.

“I’d rather he’d be masterful, and order me about,” she thought, still
rather regretting the “blighted being” she had not found.

In spite of this she spent a pleasant afternoon, sitting in that sunny
place, handling flowers, asking questions about them, and getting the
sort of answers she liked; not dry botanical names and facts, but all
the delicate traits, curious habits, and poetical romances of the sweet
things, as if the speaker knew and loved them as friends, not merely
valued them as merchandise.

They had just finished when the great dog came bouncing in with a
basket in his mouth.

“Mother wants eggs: will you come to the barn and get them? Hay is
wholesome, and you can feed the doves if you like,” said David, leading
the way with Bran rioting about him.

“Why don’t he offer to put up a swing for me, or get me a doll? It’s
the pinafore that deceives him. Never mind: I rather like it after
all,” thought Christie; but she left the apron behind her, and followed
with the most dignified air.

It did not last long, however, for the sights and sounds that greeted
her, carried her back to the days of egg-hunting in Uncle Enos’s big
barn; and, before she knew it, she was rustling through the hay mows,
talking to the cow and receiving the attentions of Bran with a
satisfaction it was impossible to conceal.

The hens gathered about her feet cocking their expectant eyes at her;
the doves came circling round her head; the cow stared placidly, and
the inquisitive horse responded affably when she offered him a handful
of hay.

“How tame they all are! I like animals, they are so contented and
intelligent,” she said, as a plump dove lit on her shoulder with an
impatient coo.

“That was Kitty’s pet, she always fed the fowls. Would you like to do
it?” and David offered a little measure of oats.

“Very much;” and Christie began to scatter the grain, wondering who
“Kitty” was.

As if he saw the wish in her face, David added, while he shelled corn
for the hens:

“She was the little girl who was with us last. Her father kept her in a
factory, and took all her wages, barely giving her clothes and food
enough to keep her alive. The poor child ran away, and was trying to
hide when Mr. Power found and sent her here to be cared for.”

“As he did me?” said Christie quickly.

“Yes, that’s a way he has.”

“A very kind and Christian way. Why didn’t she stay?”

“Well, it was rather quiet for the lively little thing, and rather too
near the city, so we got a good place up in the country where she could
go to school and learn housework. The mill had left her no time for
these things, and at fifteen she was as ignorant as a child.”

“You must miss her.”

“I do very much.”

“Was she pretty?”

“She looked like a little rose sometimes,” and David smiled to himself
as he fed the gray hens.

Christie immediately made a picture of the “lively little thing” with a
face “like a rose,” and was uncomfortably conscious that she did not
look half as well feeding doves as Kitty must have done.

Just then David handed her the basket, saying in the paternal way that
half amused, half piqued her: “It, is getting too chilly for you here:
take these in please, and I’ll bring the milk directly.”

In spite of herself she smiled, as a sudden vision of the elegant Mr.
Fletcher, devotedly carrying her book or beach-basket, passed through
her mind; then hastened to explain the smile, for David lifted his
brows inquiringly, and glanced about him to see what amused her.

“I beg your pardon: I’ve lived alone so much that it seems a little odd
to be told to do things, even if they are as easy and pleasant as
this.”

“I am so used to taking care of people, and directing, that I do so
without thinking. I won’t if you don’t like it,” and he put out his
hand to take back the basket with a grave, apologetic air.

“But I do like it; only it amused me to be treated like a little girl
again, when I am nearly thirty, and feel seventy at least, life has
been so hard to me lately.”

Her face sobered at the last words, and David’s instantly grew so
pitiful she could not keep her eyes on it lest they should fill, so
suddenly did the memory of past troubles overcome her.

“I know,” he said in a tone that warmed her heart, “I know, but we are
going to try, and make life easier for you now, and you must feel that
this is home and we are friends.”

“I do!” and Christie flushed with grateful feeling and a little shame,
as she went in, thinking to herself: “How silly I was to say that! I
may have spoilt the simple friendliness that was so pleasant, and have
made him think me a foolish stuck-up old creature.”

Whatever he might have thought, David’s manner was unchanged when he
came in and found her busy with the table.

“It’s pleasant to see thee resting, mother, and every thing going on so
well,” he said, glancing about the room, where the old lady sat, and
nodding toward the kitchen, where Christie was toasting bread in her
neatest manner.

“Yes, Davy, it was about time I had a helper for thy sake, at least;
and this is a great improvement upon heedless Kitty, I am inclined to
think.”

Mrs. Sterling dropped her voice over that last sentence; but Christie
heard it, and was pleased. A moment or two later, David came toward her
with a glass in his hand, saying as if rather doubtful of his
reception:

“New milk is part of the cure: will you try it?”

For the first time, Christie looked straight up in the honest eyes that
seemed to demand honesty in others, and took the glass, answering
heartily:

“Yes, thank you; I drink good health to you, and better manners to me.”

The newly lighted lamp shone full in her face, and though it was
neither young nor blooming, it showed something better than youth and
bloom to one who could read the subtle language of character as David
could. He nodded as he took the glass, and went away saying quietly:

“We are plain people here, and you won’t find it hard to get on with
us, I think.”

But he liked the candid look, and thought about it, as he chopped
kindlings, whistling with a vigor which caused Christie to smile as she
strained the milk.

After tea a spider-legged table was drawn out toward the hearth, where
an open fire burned cheerily, and puss purred on the rug, with Bran
near by. David unfolded his newspapers, Mrs. Sterling pinned on her
knitting-sheath, and Christie sat a moment enjoying the comfortable
little scene. She sighed without knowing it, and Mrs. Sterling asked
quickly: “Is thee tired, my dear?” “Oh, no! only happy.”

“I am glad of that: I was afraid thee would find it dull.”

“It’s beautiful!” then Christie checked herself feeling that these
outbursts would not suit such quiet people; and, half ashamed of
showing how much she felt, she added soberly, “If you will give me
something to do I shall be quite contented.”

“Sewing is not good for thee. If thee likes to knit I’ll set up a sock
for thee to-morrow,” said the old lady well pleased at the industrious
turn of her new handmaid.

“I like to darn, and I see some to be done in this basket. May I do
it?” and Christie laid hold of the weekly job which even the best
housewives are apt to set aside for pleasanter tasks.

“As thee likes, my dear. My eyes will not let me sew much in the
evening, else I should have finished that batch to-night. Thee will
find the yarn and needles in the little bag.”

So Christie fell to work on gray socks, and neat lavender-colored hose,
while the old lady knit swiftly, and David read aloud. Christie thought
she was listening to the report of a fine lecture; but her ear only
caught the words, for her mind wandered away into a region of its own,
and lived there till her task was done. Then she laid the tidy pile in
the basket, drew her chair to a corner of the hearth, and quietly
enjoyed herself.

The cat, feeling sure of a welcome, got up into her lap, and went to
sleep in a cosy bunch; Bran laid his nose across her feet, and blinked
at her with sleepy good-will, while her eyes wandered round the room,
from its quaint furniture and the dreaming flowers in the windows, to
the faces of its occupants, and lingered there.

The plain border of a Quaker cap encircled that mild old face, with
bands of silver hair parted on a forehead marked with many lines. But
the eyes were clear and sweet; winter roses bloomed in the cheeks, and
an exquisite neatness pervaded the small figure, from the trim feet on
the stool, to the soft shawl folded about the shoulders, as only a
Quakeress can fold one. In Mrs. Sterling, piety and peace made old age
lovely, and the mere presence of this tranquil soul seemed to fill the
room with a reposeful charm none could resist.

The other face possessed no striking comeliness of shape or color; but
the brown, becoming beard made it manly, and the broad arch of a
benevolent brow added nobility to features otherwise not beautiful,—a
face plainly expressing resolution and rectitude, inspiring respect as
naturally as it certain protective kindliness of manner won confidence.
Even in repose wearing a vigilant look as if some hidden pain or
passion lay in wait to surprise and conquer the sober cheerfulness that
softened the lines of the firm-set lips, and warmed the glance of the
thoughtful eyes.

Christie fancied she possessed the key to this, and longed to know all
the story of the cross which Mr. Power said David had learned to bear
so well. Then she began to wonder if they could like and keep her, to
hope so, and to feel that here at last she was at home with friends.
But the old sadness crept over her, as she remembered how often she had
thought this before, and how soon the dream ended, the ties were
broken, and she adrift again.

“Ah well,” she said within herself, “I won’t think of the morrow, but
take the good that comes and enjoy it while I may. I must not
disappoint Rachel, since she kept her word so nobly to me. Dear soul,
when shall I see her again?”

The thought of Rachel always touched her heart; more now than ever;
and, as she leaned back in her chair with closed eyes and idle hands,
these tender memories made her unconscious face most eloquent. The eyes
peering over the spectacles telegraphed a meaning message to the other
eyes glancing over the paper now and then; and both these friends in
deed as well as name felt assured that this woman needed all the
comfort they could give her. But the busy needles never stopped their
click, and the sonorous voice read on without a pause, so Christie
never knew what mute confidences passed between mother and son, or what
helpful confessions her traitorous face had made for her.

The clock struck nine, and these primitive people prepared for rest;
for their day began at dawn, and much wholesome work made sleep a
luxury.

“Davy will tap at thy door as he goes down in the morning, and I will
soon follow to show thee about matters. Good-night, and good rest, my
child.”

So speaking, the little lady gave Christie a maternal kiss; David shook
hands; and then she went away, wondering why service was so lightened
by such little kindnesses.

As she lay in her narrow white bed, with the “pale light of stars”
filling the quiet, cell-like room, and some one playing softly on a
flute overhead, she felt as if she had left the troublous world behind
her, and shutting out want, solitude, and despair, had come into some
safe, secluded spot full of flowers and sunshine, kind hearts, and
charitable deeds.



CHAPTER XI.
IN THE STRAWBERRY BED.


From that day a new life began for Christie, a happy, quiet, useful
life, utterly unlike any of the brilliant futures she had planned for
herself; yet indescribably pleasant to her now, for past experience had
taught her its worth, and made her ready to enjoy it.

Never had spring seemed so early or so fair, never had such a crop of
hopeful thoughts and happy feelings sprung up in her heart as now; and
nowhere was there a brighter face, a blither voice, or more willing
hands than Christie’s when the apple blossoms came.

This was what she needed, the protection of a home, wholesome cares and
duties; and, best of all, friends to live and labor for, loving and
beloved. Her whole soul was in her work now, and as health returned,
much of the old energy and cheerfulness came with it, a little sobered,
but more sweet and earnest than ever. No task was too hard or humble;
no day long enough to do all she longed to do; and no sacrifice would
have seemed too great for those whom she regarded with steadily
increasing love and gratitude.

Up at dawn, the dewy freshness of the hour, the morning rapture of the
birds, the daily miracle of sunrise, set her heart in tune, and gave
her Nature’s most healing balm. She kept the little house in order,
with Mrs. Sterling to direct and share the labor so pleasantly, that
mistress and maid soon felt like mother and daughter, and Christie
often said she did not care for any other wages.

The house-work of this small family was soon done, and then Christie
went to tasks that she liked better. Much out-of-door life was good for
her, and in garden and green-house there was plenty of light labor she
could do. So she grubbed contentedly in the wholesome earth, weeding
and potting, learning to prune and bud, and finding Mrs. Wilkins was
quite right in her opinion of the sanitary virtues of dirt.

Trips to town to see the good woman and carry country gifts to the
little folks; afternoon drives with Mrs. Sterling in the old-fashioned
chaise, drawn by the Roman-nosed horse, and Sunday pilgrimages to
church to be “righted up” by one of Mr. Power’s stirring sermons, were
among her new pleasures. But, on the whole, the evenings were her
happiest times: for then David read aloud while she worked; she sung to
the old piano tuned for her use; or, better still, as spring came on,
they sat in the porch, and talked as people only do talk when twilight,
veiling the outer world, seems to lift the curtains of that inner world
where minds go exploring, hearts learn to know one another, and souls
walk together in the cool of the day.

At such times Christie seemed to catch glimpses of another David than
the busy, cheerful man apparently contented with the humdrum duties of
an obscure, laborious life, and the few unexciting pleasures afforded
by books, music, and much silent thought. She sometimes felt with a
woman’s instinct that under this composed, commonplace existence
another life went on; for, now and then, in the interest of
conversation, or the involuntary yielding to a confidential impulse, a
word, a look, a gesture, betrayed an unexpected power and passion, a
secret unrest, a bitter memory that would not be ignored.

Only at rare moments did she catch these glimpses, and so brief, so
indistinct, were they that she half believed her own lively fancy
created them. She longed to know more; but “David’s trouble” made him
sacred in her eyes from any prying curiosity, and always after one of
these twilight betrayals Christie found him so like his unromantic self
next day, that she laughed and said:

“I never shall outgrow my foolish way of trying to make people other
than they are. Gods are gone, heroes hard to find, and one should be
contented with good men, even if they do wear old clothes, lead prosaic
lives, and have no accomplishments but gardening, playing the flute,
and keeping their temper.”

She felt the influences of that friendly place at once; but for a time
she wondered at the natural way in which kind things were done, the
protective care extended over her, and the confiding air with which
these people treated her. They asked no questions, demanded no
explanations, seemed unconscious of conferring favors, and took her
into their life so readily that she marvelled, even while she rejoiced,
at the good fortune which led her there.

She understood this better when she discovered, what Mr. Power had not
mentioned, that the little cottage was a sort of refuge for many women
like herself; a half-way house where they could rest and recover
themselves after the wrongs, defeats, and weariness that come to such
in the battle of life.

With a chivalry older and finer than any Spenser sung, Mr. Power
befriended these forlorn souls, and David was his faithful squire.
Whoever knocked at that low door was welcomed, warmed, and fed;
comforted, and set on their way, cheered and strengthened by the sweet
good-will that made charity no burden, and restored to the more
desperate and despairing their faith in human nature and God’s love.

There are many such green spots in this world of ours, which often
seems so bad that a second Deluge could hardly wash it clean again; and
these beneficent, unostentatious asylums are the salvation of more
troubled souls than many a great institution gilded all over with the
rich bequests of men who find themselves too heavily laden to enter in
at the narrow gate of heaven.

Happy the foot-sore, heart-weary traveller who turns from the crowded,
dusty highway down the green lane that leads to these humble inns,
where the sign of the Good Samaritan is written on the face of
whomsoever opens to the stranger, and refreshment for soul and body is
freely given in the name of Him who loved the poor.

Mr. Power came now and then, for his large parish left him but little
time to visit any but the needy. Christie enjoyed these brief visits
heartily, for her new friends soon felt that she was one of them, and
cordially took her into the large circle of workers and believers to
which they belonged.

Mr. Power’s heart was truly an orphan asylum, and every lonely creature
found a welcome there. He could rebuke sin sternly, yet comfort and
uplift the sinner with fatherly compassion; righteous wrath would flash
from his eyes at injustice, and contempt sharpen his voice as he
denounced hypocrisy: yet the eyes that lightened would dim with pity
for a woman’s wrong, a child’s small sorrow; and the voice that
thundered would whisper consolation like a mother, or give counsel with
a wisdom books cannot teach.

He was a Moses in his day and generation, born to lead his people out
of the bondage of dead superstitions, and go before them through a Red
Sea of persecution into the larger liberty and love all souls hunger
for, and many are just beginning to find as they come doubting, yet
desiring, into the goodly land such pioneers as he have planted in the
wilderness.

He was like a tonic to weak natures and wavering wills; and Christie
felt a general revival going on within herself as her knowledge, honor,
and affection for him grew. His strength seemed to uphold her; his
integrity to rebuke all unworthiness in her own life; and the magic of
his generous, genial spirit to make the hard places smooth, the bitter
things sweet, and the world seem a happier, honester place than she had
ever thought it since her father died.

Mr. Power had been interested in her from the first; had watched her
through other eyes, and tried her by various unsuspected tests. She
stood them well; showed her faults as frankly as her virtues, and tried
to deserve their esteem by copying the excellencies she admired in
them.

“She is made of the right stuff, and we must keep her among us; for she
must not be lost or wasted by being left to drift about the world with
no ties to make her safe and happy. She is doing so well here, let her
stay till the restless spirit begins to stir again; then she shall come
to me and learn contentment by seeing greater troubles than her own.”

Mr. Power said this one day as he rose to go, after sitting an hour
with Mrs. Sterling, and hearing from her a good report of his new
protegee. The young people were out at work, and had not been called in
to see him, for the interview had been a confidential one. But as he
stood at the gate he saw Christie in the strawberry bed, and went
toward her, glad to see how well and happy she looked.

Her hat was hanging on her shoulders, and the sun giving her cheeks a
healthy color; she was humming to herself like a bee as her fingers
flew, and once she paused, shaded her eyes with her hand, and took a
long look at a figure down in the meadow; then she worked on silent and
smiling,—a pleasant creature to see, though her hair was ruffled by the
wind; her gingham gown pinned up; and her fingers deeply stained with
the blood of many berries.

“I wonder if that means anything?” thought Mr. Power, with a keen
glance from the distant man to the busy woman close at hand. “It might
be a helpful, happy thing for both, if poor David only could forget.”

He had time for no more castle-building, for a startled robin flew away
with a shrill chirp, and Christie looked up.

“Oh, I’m so glad!” she said, rising quickly. “I was picking a special
box for you, and now you can have a feast beside, just as you like it,
fresh from the vines. Sit here, please, and I’ll hull faster than you
can eat.”

“This is luxury!” and Mr. Power sat down on the three-legged stool
offered him, with a rhubarb leaf on his knee which Christie kept
supplying with delicious mouthfuls.

[Illustration: MR. POWER AND CHRISTIE IN THE STRAWBERRY BED.]

“Well, and how goes it? Are we still happy and contented here?” he
asked.

“I feel as if I had been born again; as if this was a new heaven and a
new earth, and every thing was as it should be,” answered Christie,
with a look of perfect satisfaction in her face.

“That’s a pleasant hearing. Mrs. Sterling has been praising you, but I
wanted to be sure you were as satisfied as she. And how does David
wear? well, I hope.”

“Oh, yes, he is very good to me, and is teaching me to be a gardener,
so that I needn’t kill myself with sewing any more. Much of this is
fine work for women, and so healthy. Don’t I look a different creature
from the ghost that came here three or four mouths ago?” and she turned
her face for inspection like a child.

“Yes, David is a good gardener. I often send my sort of plants here,
and he always makes them grow and blossom sooner or later,” answered
Mr. Power, regarding her like a beneficent genie on a three-legged
stool.

“You are the fresh air, and Mrs. Sterling is the quiet sunshine that
does the work, I fancy. David only digs about the roots.”

“Thank you for my share of the compliment; but why say ‘only digs’?
That is a most important part of the work: I’m afraid you don’t
appreciate David.”

“Oh, yes, I do; but he rather aggravates me sometimes,” said Christie,
laughing, as she put a particularly big berry in the green plate to
atone for her frankness.

“How?” asked Mr. Power, interested in these little revelations.

“Well, he won’t be ambitious. I try to stir him up, for he has talents;
I’ve found that out: but he won’t seem to care for any thing but
watching over his mother, reading his old books, and making flowers
bloom double when they ought to be single.”

“There are worse ambitions than those, Christie. I know many a man who
would be far better employed in cherishing a sweet old woman, studying
Plato, and doubling the beauty of a flower, than in selling principles
for money, building up a cheap reputation that dies with him, or
chasing pleasures that turn to ashes in his mouth.”

“Yes, sir; but isn’t it natural for a young man to have some personal
aim or aspiration to live for? If David was a weak or dull man I could
understand it; but I seem to feel a power, a possibility for something
higher and better than any thing I see, and this frets me. He is so
good, I want him to be great also in some way.”

“A wise man says, ‘The essence of greatness is the perception that
virtue is enough.’ I think David one of the most ambitious men I ever
knew, because at thirty he has discovered this truth, and taken it to
heart. Many men can be what the world calls great: very few men are
what God calls good. This is the harder task to choose, yet the only
success that satisfies, the only honor that outlives death. These
faithful lives, whether seen of men or hidden in corners, are the
salvation of the world, and few of us fail to acknowledge it in the
hours when we are brought close to the heart of things, and see a
little as God sees.”

Christie did not speak for a moment: Mr. Power’s voice had been so
grave, and his words so earnest that she could not answer lightly, but
sat turning over the new thoughts in her mind. Presently she said, in a
penitent but not quite satisfied tone:

“Of course you are right, sir. I’ll try not to care for the outward and
visible signs of these hidden virtues; but I’m afraid I still shall
have a hankering for the worldly honors that are so valued by most
people.”

“‘Success and glory are the children of hard work and God’s favor,’
according to Æschylus, and you will find he was right. David got a
heavy blow some years ago as I told you, I think; and he took it hard,
but it did not spoil him: it made a man of him; and, if I am not much
mistaken, he will yet do something to be proud of, though the world may
never hear of it.”

“I hope so!” and Christie’s face brightened at the thought.

“Nevertheless you look as if you doubted it, O you of little faith.
Every one has two sides to his nature: David has shown you the least
interesting one, and you judge accordingly. I think he will show you
the other side some day,—for you are one of the women who win
confidence without trying,—and then you will know the real David. Don’t
expect too much, or quarrel with the imperfections that make him human;
but take him for what he is worth, and help him if you can to make his
life a brave and good one.”

“I will, sir,” answered Christie so meekly that Mr. Power laughed; for
this confessional in the strawberry bed amused him very much.

“You are a hero-worshipper, my dear; and if people don’t come up to the
mark you are so disappointed that you fail to see the fine reality
which remains when the pretty romance ends. Saints walk about the world
today as much as ever, but instead of haircloth and halos they now
wear”—

“Broadcloth and wide-brimmed hats,” added Christie, looking up as if
she had already found a better St. Thomas than any the church ever
canonized.

He thanked her with a smile, and went on with a glance toward the
meadow.

“And knights go crusading as gallantly as ever against the giants and
the dragons, though you don’t discover it, because, instead of banner,
lance, and shield they carry”—

“Bushel-baskets, spades, and sweet-flag for their mothers,” put in
Christie again, as David came up the path with the loam he had been
digging.

Both began to laugh, and he joined in the merriment without knowing
why, as he put down his load, took off his hat, and shook hands with
his honored guest.

“What’s the joke?” he asked, refreshing himself with the handful of
berries Christie offered him.

“Don’t tell,” she whispered, looking dismayed at the idea of letting
him know what she had said of him.

But Mr. Power answered tranquilly:

“We were talking about coins, and Christie was expressing her opinion
of one I showed her. The face and date she understands; but the motto
puzzles her, and she has not seen the reverse side yet, so does not
know its value. She will some day; and then she will agree with me, I
think, that it is sterling gold.”

The emphasis on the last words enlightened David: his sunburnt cheek
reddened, but he only shook his head, saying: “She will find a brass
farthing I’m afraid, sir,” and began to crumble a handful of loam about
the roots of a carnation that seemed to have sprung up by chance at the
foot of the apple-tree.

“How did that get there?” asked Christie, with sudden interest in the
flower.

“It dropped when I was setting out the others, took root, and looked so
pretty and comfortable that I left it. These waifs sometimes do better
than the most carefully tended ones: I only dig round them a bit and
leave them to sun and air.”

Mr. Power looked at Christie with so much meaning in his face that it
was her turn to color now. But with feminine perversity she would not
own herself mistaken, and answered with eyes as full of meaning as his
own:

“I like the single ones best: double-carnations are so untidy, all
bursting out of the calyx as if the petals had quarrelled and could not
live together.”

“The single ones are seldom perfect, and look poor and incomplete with
little scent or beauty,” said unconscious David propping up the
thin-leaved flower, that looked like a pale solitary maiden, beside the
great crimson and white carnations near by, filling the air with spicy
odor.

“I suspect you will change your mind by and by, Christie, as your taste
improves, and you will learn to think the double ones the handsomest,”
added Mr. Power, wondering in his benevolent heart if he would ever be
the gardener to mix the colors of the two human plants before him.

“I must go,” and David shouldered his basket as if he felt he might be
in the way.

“So must I, or they will be waiting for me at the hospital. Give me a
handful of flowers, David: they often do the poor souls more good than
my prayers or preaching.”

Then they went away, and left Christie sitting in the strawberry bed,
thinking that David looked less than ever like a hero with his blue
shirt, rough straw hat, and big boots; also wondering if he would ever
show her his best side, and if she would like it when she saw it.



CHAPTER XII.
CHRISTIE’S GALA.


On the fourth of September, Christie woke up, saying to herself: “It is
my birthday, but no one knows it, so I shall get no presents. Ah, well,
I’m too old for that now, I suppose;” but she sighed as she said it,
for well she knew one never is too old to be remembered and beloved.

Just then the door opened, and Mrs. Sterling entered, carrying what
looked very like a pile of snow-flakes in her arms. Laying this upon
the bed, she kissed Christie, saying with a tone and gesture that made
the words a benediction:

“A happy birthday, and God bless thee, my daughter!”

Before Christie could do more than hug both gift and giver, a great
bouquet came flying in at the open window, aimed with such skill that
it fell upon the bed, while David’s voice called out from below: “A
happy birthday, Christie, and many of them!”

“How sweet, how kind of you, this is! I didn’t dream you knew about
to-day, and never thought of such a beautiful surprise,” cried
Christie, touched and charmed by this unexpected celebration.

“Thee mentioned it once long ago, and we remembered. They are very
humble gifts, my dear; but we could not let the day pass without some
token of the thanks we owe thee for these months of faithful service
and affectionate companionship.”

Christie had no answer to this little address, and was about to cry as
the only adequate expression of her feelings, when a hearty “Hear!
Hear!” from below made her laugh, and call out:

“You conspirators! how dare you lay plots, and then exult over me when
I can’t find words to thank you? I always did think you were a set of
angels, and now I’m quite sure of it.”

“Thee may be right about Davy, but I am only a prudent old woman, and
have taken much pleasure in privately knitting this light wrap to wear
when thee sits in the porch, for the evenings will soon grow chilly. My
son did not know what to get, and finally decided that flowers would
suit thee best; so he made a bunch of those thee loves, and would toss
it in as if he was a boy.”

“I like that way, and both my presents suit me exactly,” said Christie,
wrapping the fleecy shawl about her, and admiring the nosegay in which
her quick eye saw all her favorites, even to a plumy spray of the
little wild asters which she loved so much.

“Now, child, I will step down, and see about breakfast. Take thy time;
for this is to be a holiday, and we mean to make it a happy one if we
can.”

With that the old lady went away, and Christie soon followed, looking
very fresh and blithe as she ran down smiling behind her great bouquet.
David was in the porch, training up the morning-glories that bloomed
late and lovely in that sheltered spot. He turned as she approached,
held out his hand, and bent a little as if he was moved to add a
tenderer greeting. But he did not, only held the hand she gave him for
a moment, as he said with the paternal expression unusually visible:

“I wished you many happy birthdays; and, if you go on getting younger
every year like this, you will surely have them.”

It was the first compliment he had ever paid her, and she liked it,
though she shook her head as if disclaiming it, and answered brightly:

“I used to think many years would be burdensome, and just before I came
here I felt as if I could not bear another one. But now I like to live,
and hope I shall a long, long time.”

“I’m glad of that; and how do you mean to spend these long years of
yours?” asked David, brushing back the lock of hair that was always
falling into his eyes, as if he wanted to see more clearly the hopeful
face before him.

“In doing what your morning-glories do,—climb up as far and as fast as
I can before the frost comes,” answered Christie, looking at the pretty
symbols she had chosen.

“You have got on a good way already then,” began David, smiling at her
fancy.

“Oh no, I haven’t!” she said quickly. “I’m only about half way up. See
here: I’ll tell how it is;” and, pointing to the different parts of the
flowery wall, she added in her earnest way: “I’ve watched these grow,
and had many thoughts about them, as I sit sewing in the porch. These
variegated ones down low are my childish fancies; most of them gone to
seed you see. These lovely blue ones of all shades are my girlish
dreams and hopes and plans. Poor things! some are dead, some torn by
the wind, and only a few pale ones left quite perfect. Here you observe
they grow sombre with a tinge of purple; that means pain and gloom, and
there is where I was when I came here. Now they turn from those sad
colors to crimson, rose, and soft pink. That’s the happiness and health
I found here. You and your dear mother planted them, and you see how
strong and bright they are.”

She lifted up her hand, and gathering one of the great rosy cups
offered it to him, as if it were brimful of the thanks she could not
utter. He comprehended, took it with a quiet “Thank you,” and stood
looking at it for a moment, as if her little compliment pleased him
very much.

“And these?” he said presently, pointing to the delicate violet bells
that grew next the crimson ones.

The color deepened a shade in Christie’s cheek, but she went on with no
other sign of shyness; for with David she always spoke out frankly,
because she could not help it.

“Those mean love to me, not passion: the deep red ones half hidden
under the leaves mean that. My violet flowers are the best and purest
love we can know: the sort that makes life beautiful and lasts for
ever. The white ones that come next are tinged with that soft color
here and there, and they mean holiness. I know there will be love in
heaven; so, whether I ever find it here or not, I am sure I shall not
miss it wholly.”

Then, as if glad to leave the theme that never can be touched without
reverent emotion by a true woman, she added, looking up to where a few
spotless blossoms shone like silver in the light:

“Far away there in the sunshine are my highest aspirations. I cannot
reach them: but I can look up, and see their beauty; believe in them,
and try to follow where they lead; remember that frost comes latest to
those that bloom the highest; and keep my beautiful white flowers as
long as I can.”

“The mush is ready; come to breakfast, children,” called Mrs. Sterling,
as she crossed the hall with a teapot in her hand.

Christie’s face fell, then she exclaimed laughing: “That’s always the
way; I never take a poetic flight but in comes the mush, and spoils it
all.”

“Not a bit; and that’s where women are mistaken. Souls and bodies
should go on together; and you will find that a hearty breakfast won’t
spoil the little hymn the morning-glories sung;” and David set her a
good example by eating two bowls of hasty-pudding and milk, with the
lovely flower in his button-hole.

“Now, what are we to do next?” asked Christie, when the usual morning
work was finished.

“In about ten minutes thee will see, I think,” answered Mrs. Sterling,
glancing at the clock, and smiling at the bright expectant look in the
younger woman’s eyes.

She did see; for in less than ten minutes the rumble of an omnibus was
heard, a sound of many voices, and then the whole Wilkins brood came
whooping down the lane. It was good to see Ma Wilkins jog ponderously
after in full state and festival array; her bonnet trembling with bows,
red roses all over her gown, and a parasol of uncommon brilliancy
brandished joyfully in her hand. It was better still to see her hug
Christie, when the latter emerged, flushed and breathless, from the
chaos of arms, legs, and chubby faces in which she was lost for several
tumultuous moments; and it was best of all to see the good woman place
her cherished “bunnit” in the middle of the parlor table as a choice
and lovely ornament, administer the family pocket-handkerchief all
round, and then settle down with a hearty:

“Wal, now, Mis Sterlin’, you’ve no idee how tickled we all was when Mr.
David came, and told us you was goin’ to have a galy here to-day. It
was so kind of providential, for ’Lisha was invited out to a day’s
pleasuring so I could leave jest as wal as not. The childern’s ben
hankerin’ to come the wust kind, and go plummin’ as they did last
month, though I told ’em berries was gone weeks ago. I reelly thought
I’d never get ’em here whole, they trained so in that bus. Wash would
go on the step, and kep fallin’ off; Gusty’s hat blew out a winder;
them two bad boys tumbled round loose; and dear little Victory set like
a lady, only I found she’d got both feet in the basket right atop of
the birthday cake, I made a puppose for Christie.”

“It hasn’t hurt it a bit; there was a cloth over it, and I like it all
the better for the marks of Totty’s little feet, bless ’em!” and
Christie cuddled the culprit with one hand while she revealed the
damaged delicacy with the other, wondering inwardly what evil star was
always in the ascendant when Mrs. Wilkins made cake.

“Now, my dear, you jest go and have a good frolic with them childern,
I’m a goin’ to git dinner, and you a goin’ to play; so we don’t want to
see no more of you till the bell rings,” said Mrs. Wilkins pinning up
her gown, and “shooing” her brood out of the room, which they entirely
filled.

Catching up her hat Christie obeyed, feeling as much like a child as
any of the excited six. The revels that followed no pen can justly
record, for Goths and Vandals on the rampage but feebly describes the
youthful Wilkinses when their spirits effervesced after a month’s
bottling up in close home quarters.

David locked the greenhouse door the instant he saw them; and pervaded
the premises generally like a most affable but very watchful policeman,
for the ravages those innocents committed much afflicted him. Yet he
never had the heart to say a word of reproof, when he saw their
raptures over dandelions, the relish with which they devoured fruit,
and the good it did the little souls and bodies to enjoy unlimited
liberty, green grass, and country air, even for a day.

Christie usually got them into the big meadow as soon as possible, and
there let them gambol at will; while she sat on the broken bough of an
apple-tree, and watched her flock like an old-fashioned shepherdess.
To-day she did so; and when the children were happily sailing boats,
tearing to and fro like wild colts, or discovering the rustic treasures
Nurse Nature lays ready to gladden little hearts and hands, Christie
sat idly making a garland of green brakes, and ruddy sumach leaves
ripened before the early frosts had come.

[Illustration: A FRIENDLY CHAT.]

David saw her there, and, feeling that he might come off guard for a
time, went strolling down to lean upon the wall, and chat in the
friendly fashion that had naturally grown up between these
fellow-workers. She was waiting for the new supply of ferns little
Adelaide was getting for her by the wall; and while she waited she sat
resting her cheek upon her hand, and smiling to herself, as if she saw
some pleasant picture in the green grass at her feet.

“Now I wonder what she’s thinking about,” said David’s voice close by,
and Christie straightway answered:

“Philip Fletcher.”

“And who is he?” asked David, settling his elbow in a comfortable niche
between the mossy stones, so that he could “lean and loaf” at his ease.

“The brother of the lady whose children I took care of;” and Christie
wished she had thought before she answered that first question, for in
telling her adventures at diiferent times she had omitted all mention
of this gentleman.

“Tell about him, as the children say: your experiences are always
interesting, and you look as if this man was uncommonly entertaining in
some way,” said David, indolently inclined to be amused.

“Oh, dear no, not at all entertaining! invalids seldom are, and he was
sick and lazy, conceited and very cross sometimes.” Christie’s heart
rather smote her as she said this, remembering the last look poor
Fletcher gave her.

“A nice man to be sure; but I don’t see any thing to smile about,”
persisted David, who liked reasons for things; a masculine trait often
very trying to feminine minds.

“I was thinking of a little quarrel we once had. He found out that I
had been an actress; for I basely did not mention that fact when I took
the place, and so got properly punished for my deceit. I thought he’d
tell his sister of course, so I did it myself, and retired from the
situation as much disgusted with Christie Devon as you are.”

“Perhaps I ought to be, but I don’t find that I am. Do you know I think
that old Fletcher was a sneak?” and David looked as if he would rather
like to mention his opinion to that gentleman.

“He probably thought he was doing his duty to the children: few people
would approve of an actress for a teacher you know. He had seen me
play, and remembered it all of a sudden, and told me of it: that was
the way it came about,” said Christie hastily, feeling that she must
get out of the scrape as soon as possible, or she would be driven to
tell every thing in justice to Mr. Fletcher.

“I should like to see you act.”

“You a Quaker, and express such a worldly and dreadful wish?” cried
Christie, much amused, and very grateful that his thoughts had taken a
new direction.

“I’m not, and never have been. Mother married out of the sect, and,
though she keeps many of her old ways, always left me free to believe
what I chose. I wear drab because I like it, and say ‘thee’ to her
because she likes it, and it is pleasant to have a little word all our
own. I’ve been to theatres, but I don’t care much for them. Perhaps I
should if I’d had Fletcher’s luck in seeing you play.”

“You didn’t lose much: I was not a good actress; though now and then
when I liked my part I did pretty well they said,” answered Christie,
modestly.

“Why didn’t you go back after the accident?” asked David, who had heard
that part of the story.

“I felt that it was bad for me, and so retired to private life.”

“Do you ever regret it?”

“Sometimes when the restless fit is on me: but not so often now as I
used to do; for on the whole I’d rather be a woman than act a queen.”

“Good!” said David, and then added persuasively: “But you will play for
me some time: won’t you? I’ve a curious desire to see you do it.”

“Perhaps I’ll try,” replied Christie, flattered by his interest, and
not unwilling to display her little talent.

“Who are you making that for? it’s very pretty,” asked David, who
seemed to be in an inquiring frame of mind that day.

“Any one who wants it. I only do it for the pleasure: I always liked
pretty things; but, since I have lived among flowers and natural
people, I seem to care more than ever for beauty of all kinds, and love
to make it if I can without stopping for any reason but the
satisfaction.”

“‘Tell them, dear, that if eyes were made for seeing,
“‘Then beauty is its own excuse for being,’”


observed David, who had a weakness for poetry, and, finding she liked
his sort, quoted to Christie almost as freely as to himself.

“Exactly, so look at that and enjoy it,” and she pointed to the child
standing knee-deep in graceful ferns, looking as if she grew there, a
living buttercup, with her buff frock off at one plump shoulder and her
bright hair shining in the sun.

Before David could express his admiration, the little picture was
spoilt; for Christie called out, “Come, Vic, bring me some more
pretties!” startling baby so that she lost her balance, and disappeared
with a muffled cry, leaving nothing to be seen but a pair of small
convulsive shoes, soles uppermost, among the brakes. David took a leap,
reversed Vic, and then let her compose her little feelings by sticking
bits of green in all the button-holes of his coat, as he sat on the
wall while she stood beside him in the safe shelter of his arm.

“You are very like an Englishman,” said Christie, after watching the
pair for a few minutes.

“How do you know?” asked David, looking surprised.

“There were several in our company, and I found them very much alike.
Blunt and honest, domestic and kind; hard to get at, but true as steel
when once won; not so brilliant and original as Americans, perhaps, but
more solid and steadfast. On the whole, I think them the manliest men
in the world,” answered Christie, in the decided way young people have
of expressing their opinions.

“You speak as if you had known and studied a great variety of men,”
said David, feeling that he need not resent the comparison she had
made.

“I have, and it has done me good. Women who stand alone in the world,
and have their own way to make, have a better chance to know men truly
than those who sit safe at home and only see one side of mankind. We
lose something; but I think we gain a great deal that is more valuable
than admiration, flattery, and the superficial service most men give to
our sex. Some one says, ‘Companionship teaches men and women to know,
judge, and treat one another justly.’ I believe it; for we who are
compelled to be fellow workers with men understand and value them more
truly than many a belle who has a dozen lovers sighing at her feet. I
see their faults and follies; but I also see so much to honor, love,
and trust, that I feel as if the world was full of brothers. Yes, as a
general rule, men have been kinder to me than women; and if I wanted a
staunch friend I’d choose a man, for they wear better than women, who
ask too much, and cannot see that friendship lasts longer if a little
respect and reserve go with the love and confidence.”

Christie had spoken soberly, with no thought of flattery or effect; for
the memory of many kindnesses bestowed on her by many men, from rough
Joe Butterfield to Mr. Power, gave warmth and emphasis to her words.

The man sitting on the wall appreciated the compliment to his sex, and
proved that he deserved his share of it by taking it exactly as she
meant it, and saying heartily:

“I like that, Christie, and wish more women thought and spoke as you
do.”

“If they had had my experience they would, and not be ashamed of it. I
am so old now I can say these things and not be misjudged; for even
some sensible people think this honest sort of fellowship impossible if
not improper. I don’t, and I never shall, so if I can ever do any thing
for you, David, forget that I am a woman and tell me as freely as if I
was a younger brother.”

“I wish you were!”

“So do I; you’d make a splendid elder brother.”

“No, a very bad one.”

There was a sudden sharpness in David’s voice that jarred on Christie’s
ear and made her look up quickly. She only caught a glimpse of his
face, and saw that it was strangely troubled, as he swung himself over
the wall with little Vic on his arm and went toward the house, saying
abruptly:

“Baby ’s sleepy: she must go in.”

Christie sat some time longer, wondering what she had said to disturb
him, and when the bell rang went in still perplexed. But David looked
as usual, and the only trace of disquiet was an occasional hasty
shaking back of the troublesome lock, and a slight knitting of the
brows; two tokens, as she had learned to know, of impatience or pain.

She was soon so absorbed in feeding the children, hungry and clamorous
as young birds for their food, that she forgot every thing else. When
dinner was done and cleared away, she devoted herself to Mrs. Wilkins
for an hour or two, while Mrs. Sterling took her nap, the infants
played riotously in the lane, and David was busy with orders.

The arrival of Mr. Power drew every one to the porch to welcome him. As
he handed Christie a book, he asked with a significant smile: “Have you
found him yet?”

She glanced at the title of the new gift, read “Heroes and
Hero-worship,” and answered merrily: “No, sir, but I’m looking hard.”
“Success to your search,” and Mr. Power turned to greet David, who
approached.

“Now, what shall we play?” asked Christie, as the children gathered
about her demanding to be amused.

George Washington suggested leap-frog, and the others added equally
impracticable requests; but Mrs. Wilkins settled the matter by saying:

“Let’s have some play-actin’, Christie. That used to tickle the
children amazin’ly, and I was never tired of hearin’ them pieces,
specially the solemn ones.”

“Yes, yes! do the funny girl with the baby, and the old woman, and the
lady that took pison and had fits!” shouted the children, charmed with
the idea.

Christie felt ready for any thing just then, and gave them Tilly
Slowboy, Miss Miggs, and Mrs. Gummage, in her best style, while the
young folks rolled on the grass in ecstasies, and Mrs. Wilkins laughed
till she cried.

“Now a touch of tragedy!” said Mr. Power, who sat under the elm, with
David leaning on the back of his chair, both applauding heartily.

“You insatiable people! do you expect me to give you low comedy and
heavy tragedy all alone? I’m equal to melodrama I think, and I’ll give
you Miss St. Clair as Juliet, if you wait a moment.”

Christie stepped into the house, and soon reappeared with a white
table-cloth draped about her, two dishevelled locks of hair on her
shoulders, and the vinegar cruet in her hand, that being the first
bottle she could find. She meant to burlesque the poison scene, and
began in the usual ranting way; but she soon forgot St. Clair in poor
Juliet, and did it as she had often longed to do it, with all the power
and passion she possessed. Very faulty was her rendering, but the
earnestness she put into it made it most effective to her uncritical
audience, who “brought down the house,” when she fell upon the grass
with her best stage drop, and lay there getting her breath after the
mouthful of vinegar she had taken in the excitement of the moment.

She was up again directly, and, inspired by this superb success, ran in
and presently reappeared as Lady Macbeth with Mrs. Wilkins’s scarlet
shawl for royal robes, and the leafy chaplet of the morning for a
crown. She took the stage with some difficulty, for the unevenness of
the turf impaired the majesty of her tragic stride, and fixing her eyes
on an invisible Thane (who cut his part shamefully, and spoke in the
gruffest of gruff voices) she gave them the dagger scene.

David as the orchestra, had been performing a drum solo on the back of
a chair with two of the corn-cobs Victoria had been building houses
with; but, when Lady Macbeth said, “Give me the daggers,” Christie
plucked the cobs suddenly from his hands, looking so fiercely scornful,
and lowering upon him so wrathfully with her corked brows that he
ejaculated an involuntary, “Bless me!” as he stepped back quite
daunted.

Being in the spirit of her part, Christie closed with the sleep-walking
scene, using the table-cloth again, while a towel composed the tragic
nightcap of her ladyship. This was an imitation, and having a fine
model and being a good mimic, she did well; for the children sat
staring with round eyes, the gentlemen watched the woful face and
gestures intently, and Mrs. Wilkins took a long breath at the end,
exclaiming: “I never did see the beat of that for gastliness! My sister
Clarissy used to walk in her sleep, but she warn’t half so kind of
dreadful.”

“If she had had the murder of a few friends on her conscience, I dare
say she would have been,” said Christie, going in to make herself tidy.

“Well, how do you like her as an actress?” asked Mr. Power of David,
who stood looking, as if he still saw and heard the haunted lady.

“Very much; but better as a woman. I’d no idea she had it in her,”
answered David, in a wonder-stricken tone.

“Plenty of tragedy and comedy in all of us,” began Mr. Power; but David
said hastily:

“Yes, but few of us have passion and imagination enough to act
Shakspeare in that way.”

“Very true: Christie herself could not give a whole character in that
style, and would not think of trying.”

“I think she could; and I’d like to see her try it,” said David, much
impressed by the dramatic ability which Christie’s usual quietude had
most effectually hidden.

He was still thinking about it, when she came out again. Mr. Power
beckoned to her; saying, as she came and stood before him, flushed and
kindled with her efforts:

“Now, you must give me a bit from the ‘Merchant of Venice.’ Portia is a
favorite character of mine, and I want to see if you can do any thing
with it.”

“No, sir, I cannot. I used to study it, but it was too sober to suit
me. I am not a judicial woman, so I gave it up,” answered Christie,
much flattered by his request, and amused at the respectful way in
which David looked at her. Then, as if it just occurred to her, she
added, “I remember one little speech that I can say to you, sir, with
great truth, and I will, since you like that play.”

Still standing before him, she bent her head a little, and with a
graceful gesture of the hands, as if offering something, she delivered
with heartfelt emphasis the first part of Portia’s pretty speech to her
fortunate suitor:

“You see me, Lord Bassanio, where I stand,
Such as I am: though, for myself alone,
I would not be ambitious in my wish,
To wish myself much better; yet for you,
I would be trebled twenty times myself;
A thousand times more fair, ten thousand times more rich;
That, only to stand high in your account,
I might in virtues, beauties, livings, friends,
Exceed account: but the full sum of me
Is sum of something; which, to term in gross,
Is an unlesson’d girl, unschool’d, unpractis’d:—
Happy in this, she is not yet so old
But she may learn; happier than this,
She is not bred so dull but she can learn;
Happiest of all, is that her willing spirit
Commits itself to yours to be directed,
As from her lord, her governor, her king.”


David applauded vigorously; but Mr. Power rose silently, looking both
touched and surprised; and, drawing Christie’s hand through his arm,
led her away into the garden for one of the quiet talks that were so
much to her.

When they returned, the Wilkinses were preparing to depart; and, after
repeated leave-takings, finally got under way, were packed into the
omnibus, and rumbled off with hats, hands, and handkerchiefs waving
from every window. Mr. Power soon followed, and peace returned to the
little house in the lane.

Later in the evening, when Mrs. Sterling was engaged with a neighbor,
who had come to confide some affliction to the good lady, Christie went
into the porch, and found David sitting on the step, enjoying the
mellow moonlight and the balmy air. As he did not speak, she sat down
silently, folded her hands in her lap, and began to enjoy the beauty of
the night in her own way. Presently she became conscious that David’s
eyes had turned from the moon to her own face. He sat in the shade, she
in the light, and he was looking at her with the new expression which
amused her.

“Well, what is it? You look as if you never saw me before,” she said,
smiling.

“I feel as if I never had,” he answered, still regarding her as if she
had been a picture.

“What do I look like?”

“A peaceful, pious nun, just now.”

“Oh! that is owing to my pretty shawl. I put it on in honor of the day,
though it is a trifle warm, I confess.” And Christie stroked the soft
folds about her shoulders, and settled the corner that lay lightly on
her hair. “I do feel peaceful to-night, but not pious. I am afraid I
never shall do that,” she added soberly.

“Why not?”

“Well, it does not seem to be my nature, and I don’t know how to change
it. I want something to keep me steady, but I can’t find it. So I
whiffle about this way and that, and sometimes think I am a most
degenerate creature.”

“That is only human nature, so don’t be troubled. We are all compasses
pointing due north. We get shaken often, and the needle varies in spite
of us; but the minute we are quiet, it points right, and we have only
to follow it.”

“The keeping quiet is just what I cannot do. Your mother shows me how
lovely it is, and I try to imitate it; but this restless soul of mine
will ask questions and doubt and fear, and worry me in many ways. What
shall I do to keep it still?” asked Christie, smiling, yet earnest.

“Let it alone: you cannot force these things, and the best way is to
wait till the attraction is strong enough to keep the needle steady.
Some people get their ballast slowly, some don’t need much, and some
have to work hard for theirs.”

“Did you?” asked Christie; for David’s voice fell a little, as he
uttered the last words.

“I have not got much yet.”

“I think you have. Why, David, you are always cheerful and contented,
good and generous. If that is not true piety, what is?”

“You are very much deceived, and I am sorry for it,” said David, with
the impatient gesture of the head, and a troubled look.

“Prove it!” And Christie looked at him with such sincere respect and
regard, that his honest nature would not let him accept it, though it
gratified him much.

He made no answer for a minute. Then he said slowly, as if feeling a
modest man’s hesitation to speak of himself, yet urged to it by some
irresistible impulse:

“I will prove it if you won’t mind the unavoidable egotism; for I
cannot let you think me so much better than I am. Outwardly I seem to
you ‘cheerful, contented, generous, and good.’ In reality I am sad,
dissatisfied, bad, and selfish: see if I’m not. I often tire of this
quiet life, hate my work, and long to break away, and follow my own
wild and wilful impulses, no matter where they lead. Nothing keeps me
at such times but my mother and God’s patience.”

David began quietly; but the latter part of this confession was made
with a sudden impetuosity that startled Christie, so utterly unlike his
usual self-control was it. She could only look at him with the surprise
she felt. His face was in the shadow; but she saw that it was flushed,
his eyes excited, and in his voice she heard an undertone that made it
sternly self-accusing.

“I am not a hypocrite,” he went on rapidly, as if driven to speak in
spite of himself. “I try to be what I seem, but it is too hard
sometimes and I despair. Especially hard is it to feel that I have
learned to feign happiness so well that others are entirely deceived.
Mr. Power and mother know me as I am: other friends I have not, unless
you will let me call you one. Whether you do or not after this, I
respect you too much to let you delude yourself about my virtues, so I
tell you the truth and abide the consequences.”

He looked up at her as he paused, with a curious mixture of pride and
humility in his face, and squared his broad shoulders as if he had
thrown off a burden that had much oppressed him.

Christie offered him her hand, saying in a tone that did his heart
good: “The consequences are that I respect, admire, and trust you more
than ever, and feel proud to be your friend.”

David gave the hand a strong and grateful pressure, said, “Thank you,”
in a moved tone, and then leaned back into the shadow, as if trying to
recover from this unusual burst of confidence, won from him by the soft
magic of time, place, and companionship.

Fearing he would regret the glimpse he had given her, and anxious to
show how much she liked it, Christie talked on to give him time to
regain composure.

“I always thought in reading the lives of saints or good men of any
time, that their struggles were the most interesting and helpful things
recorded. Human imperfection only seems to make real piety more
possible, and to me more beautiful; for where others have conquered I
can conquer, having suffered as they suffer, and seen their hard-won
success. That is the sort of religion I want; something to hold by,
live in, and enjoy, if I can only get it.”

“I know you will.” He said it heartily, and seemed quite calm again; so
Christie obeyed the instinct which told her that questions would be
good for David, and that he was in the mood for answering them. “May I
ask you something,” she began a little timidly. “Any thing, Christie,”
he answered instantly. “That is a rash promise: I am a woman, and
therefore curious; what shall you do if I take advantage of the
privilege?” “Try and see.”

“I will be discreet, and only ask one thing,” she replied, charmed with
her success. “You said just now that you had learned to feign
happiness. I wish you would tell me how you do it, for it is such an
excellent imitation I shall be quite content with it till I can learn
the genuine thing.”

David fingered the troublesome forelock thoughtfully for a moment, then
said, with something of the former impetuosity coming back into his
voice and manner:

“I will tell you all about it; that’s the best way: I know I shall some
day because I can’t help it; so I may as well have done with it now,
since I have begun. It is not interesting, mind you,—only a grim little
history of one man’s fight with the world, the flesh, and the devil:
will you have it?”

“Oh, yes!” answered Christie, so eagerly that David laughed, in spite
of the bitter memories stirring at his heart.

“So like a woman, always ready to hear and forgive sinners,” he said,
then took a long breath, and added rapidly:

“I’ll put it in as few words as possible and much good may it do you.
Some years ago I was desperately miserable; never mind why: I dare say
I shall tell you all about it some day if I go on at this rate. Well,
being miserable, as I say, every thing looked black and bad to me: I
hated all men, distrusted all women, doubted the existence of God, and
was a forlorn wretch generally. Why I did not go to the devil I can’t
say: I did start once or twice; but the thought of that dear old woman
in there sitting all alone and waiting for me dragged me back, and kept
me here till the first recklessness was over. People talk about duty
being sweet; I have not found it so, but there it was: I should have
been a brute to shirk it; so I took it up, and held on desperately till
it grew bearable.”

“It has grovn sweet now, David, I am sure,” said Christie, very low.

“No, not yet,” he answered with the stern honesty that would not let
him deceive himself or others, cost what it might to be true. “There is
a certain solid satisfaction in it that I did not use to find. It is
not a mere dogged persistence now, as it once was, and that is a step
towards loving it perhaps.”

He spoke half to himself, and sat leaning his head on both hands
propped on his knees, looking down as if the weight of the old trouble
bent his shoulders again.

“What more, David?” said Christie.

“Only this. When I found I had got to live, and live manfully, I said
to myself, ‘I must have help or I cannot do it.’ To no living soul
could I tell my grief, not even to my mother, for she had her own to
bear: no human being could help me, yet I must have help or give up
shamefully. Then I did what others do when all else fails to sustain
them; I turned to God: not humbly, not devoutly or trustfully, but
doubtfully, bitterly, and rebelliously; for I said in my despairing
heart, ‘If there is a God, let Him help me, and I will believe.’ He did
help me, and I kept my word.”

“Oh, David, how?” whispered Christie after a moment’s silence, for the
last words were solemn in their earnestness.

“The help did not come at once. No miracle answered me, and I thought
my cry had not been heard. But it had, and slowly something like
submission came to me. It was not cheerful nor pious: it was only a
dumb, sad sort of patience without hope or faith. It was better than
desperation; so I accepted it, and bore the inevitable as well as I
could. Presently, courage seemed to spring up again: I was ashamed to
be beaten in the first battle, and some sort of blind instinct made me
long to break away from the past and begin again. My father was dead;
mother left all to me, and followed where I led. I sold the old place,
bought this, and, shutting out the world as much as I could, I fell to
work as if my life depended on it. That was five or six years ago: and
for a long time I delved away without interest or pleasure, merely as a
safety-valve for my energies, and a means of living; for I gave up all
my earlier hopes and plans when the trouble came.

“I did not love my work; but it was good for me, and helped cure my
sick soul. I never guessed why I felt better, but dug on with
indifference first, then felt pride in my garden, then interest in the
plants I tended, and by and by I saw what they had done for me, and
loved them like true friends.”

A broad woodbine leaf had been fluttering against David’s head, as he
leaned on the slender pillar of the porch where it grew. Now, as if
involuntarily, he laid his cheek against it with a caressing gesture,
and sat looking over the garden lying dewy and still in the moonlight,
with the grateful look of a man who has learned the healing miracles of
Nature and how near she is to God.

“Mr. Power helped you: didn’t he?” said Christie, longing to hear more.

“So much! I never can tell you what he was to me, nor how I thank him.
To him, and to my work I owe the little I have won in the way of
strength and comfort after years of effort. I see now the compensation
that comes out of trouble, the lovely possibilities that exist for all
of us, and the infinite patience of God, which is to me one of the
greatest of His divine attributes. I have only got so far, but things
grow easier as one goes on; and if I keep tugging I may yet be the
cheerful, contented man I seem. That is all, Christie, and a longer
story than I meant to tell.”

“Not long enough: some time you will tell me more perhaps, since you
have once begun. It seems quite natural now, and I am so pleased and
honored by your confidence. But I cannot help wondering what made you
do it all at once,” said Christie presently, after they had listened to
a whippoorwill, and watched the flight of a downy owl.

“I do not think I quite know myself, unless it was because I have been
on my good behavior since you came, and, being a humbug, as I tell you,
was forced to unmask in spite of myself. There are limits to human
endurance, and the proudest man longs to unpack his woes before a
sympathizing friend now and then. I have been longing to do this for
some time; but I never like to disturb mother’s peace, or take Mr.
Power from those who need him more. So to-day, when you so sweetly
offered to help me if you could, it quite went to my heart, and seemed
so friendly and comfortable, I could not resist trying it tonight, when
you began about my imaginary virtues. That is the truth, I believe:
now, what shall we do about it?”

“Just go on, and do it again whenever you feel like it. I know what
loneliness is, and how telling worries often cures them. I meant every
word I said this morning, and will prove it by doing any thing in the
world I can for you. Believe this, and let me be your friend.”

They had risen, as a stir within told them the guest was going; and as
Christie spoke she was looking up with the moonlight full upon her
face.

If there had been any hidden purpose in her mind, any false sentiment,
or trace of coquetry in her manner, it would have spoiled that hearty
little speech of hers.

But in her heart was nothing but a sincere desire to prove gratitude
and offer sympathy; in her manner the gentle frankness of a woman
speaking to a brother; and in her face the earnestness of one who felt
the value of friendship, and did not ask or give it lightly.

“I will,” was David’s emphatic answer, and then, as if to seal the
bargain, he stooped down, and gravely kissed her on the forehead.

Christie was a little startled, but neither offended nor confused; for
there was no love in that quiet kiss,—only respect, affection, and much
gratitude; an involuntary demonstration from the lonely man to the
true-hearted woman who had dared to come and comfort him.

Out trotted neighbor Miller, and that was the end of confidences in the
porch; but David played melodiously on his flute that night, and
Christie fell asleep saying happily to herself:

“Now we are all right, friends for ever, and every thing will go
beautifully.”



CHAPTER XIII.
WAKING UP.


[Illustration: KITTY.]

Every thing _did_ “go beautifully” for a time; so much so, that
Christie began to think she really had “got religion.” A delightful
peace pervaded her soul, a new interest made the dullest task
agreeable, and life grew so inexpressibly sweet that she felt as if she
could forgive all her enemies, love her friends more than ever, and do
any thing great, good, or glorious.

She had known such moods before, but they had never lasted long, and
were not so intense as this; therefore, she was sure some blessed power
had come to uphold and cheer her. She sang like a lark as she swept and
dusted; thought high and happy thoughts among the pots and kettles,
and, when she sat sewing, smiled unconsciously as if some deep
satisfaction made sunshine from within. Heart and soul seemed to wake
up and rejoice as naturally and beautifully as flowers in the spring. A
soft brightness shone in her eyes, a fuller tone sounded in her voice,
and her face grew young and blooming with the happiness that
transfigures all it touches.

“Christie ’s growing handsome,” David would say to his mother, as if
she was a flower in which he took pride.

“Thee is a good gardener, Davy,” the old lady would reply, and when he
was busy would watch him with a tender sort of anxiety, as if to
discover a like change in him.

But no alteration appeared, except more cheerfulness and less silence;
for now there was no need to hide his real self, and all the social
virtues in him came out delightfully after their long solitude.

In her present uplifted state, Christie could no more help regarding
David as a martyr and admiring him for it, than she could help mixing
sentiment with her sympathy. By the light of the late confessions, his
life and character looked very different to her now. His apparent
contentment was resignation; his cheerfulness, a manly contempt for
complaint; his reserve, the modest reticence of one who, having done a
hard duty well, desires no praise for it. Like all enthusiastic
persons, Christie had a hearty admiration for self-sacrifice and
self-control; and, while she learned to see David’s virtues, she also
exaggerated them, and could not do enough to show the daily increasing
esteem and respect she felt for him, and to atone for the injustice she
once did him.

She grubbed in the garden and green-house, and learned hard botanical
names that she might be able to talk intelligently upon subjects that
interested her comrade. Then, as autumn ended out-of-door work, she
tried to make home more comfortable and attractive than ever.

David’s room was her especial care; for now to her there was something
pathetic in the place and its poor furnishing. He had fought many a
silent battle there; won many a secret victory; and tried to cheer his
solitude with the best thoughts the minds of the bravest, wisest men
could give him.

She did not smile at the dilapidated idols now, but touched them
tenderly, and let no dust obscure their well-beloved faces. She set the
books in order daily, taking many a sip of refreshment from them by the
way, and respectfully regarded those in unknown tongues, full of
admiration for David’s learning. She covered the irruptive sofa neatly;
saw that the little vase was always clear and freshly filled; cared for
the nursery in the gable-window; and preserved an exquisite neatness
everywhere, which delighted the soul of the room’s order-loving
occupant.

She also—alas, for romance!—cooked the dishes David loved, and liked to
see him enjoy them with the appetite which once had shocked her so. She
watched over his buttons with a vigilance that would have softened the
heart of the crustiest bachelor: she even gave herself the complexion
of a lemon by wearing blue, because David liked the pretty contrast
with his mother’s drabs.

After recording that last fact, it is unnecessary to explain what was
the matter with Christie. She honestly thought she had got religion;
but it was piety’s twin-sister, who produced this wonderful revival in
her soul; and though she began in all good faith she presently
discovered that she was

“Not the first maiden
Who came but for friendship,
And took away love.”


After the birthnight confessions, David found it easier to go on with
the humdrum life he had chosen from a sense of duty; for now he felt as
if he had not only a fellow-worker, but a comrade and friend who
understood, sympathized with, and encouraged him by an interest and
good-will inexpressibly comfortable and inspiring. Nothing disturbed
the charm of the new league in those early days; for Christie was
thoroughly simple and sincere, and did her womanly work with no thought
of reward or love or admiration.

David saw this, and felt it more attractive than any gift of beauty or
fascination of manner would have been. He had no desire to be a lover,
having forbidden himself that hope; but he found it so easy and
pleasant to be a friend that he reproached himself for not trying it
before; and explained his neglect by the fact that Christie was not an
ordinary woman, since none of all the many he had known and helped, had
ever been any thing to him but objects of pity and protection.

Mrs. Sterling saw these changes with her wise, motherly eyes, but said
nothing; for she influenced others by the silent power of character.
Speaking little, and unusually gifted with the meditative habits of
age, she seemed to live in a more peaceful world than this. As George
MacDonald somewhere says, “Her soul seemed to sit apart in a sunny
little room, safe from dust and noise, serenely regarding passers-by
through the clear muslin curtains of her window.”

Yet, she was neither cold nor careless, stern nor selfish, but ready to
share all the joys and sorrows of those about her; and when advice was
asked she gave it gladly. Christie had won her heart long ago, and now
was as devoted as a daughter to her; lightening her cares so skilfully
that many of them slipped naturally on to the young shoulders, and left
the old lady much time for rest, or the lighter tasks fitted for feeble
hands. Christie often called her “Mother,” and felt herself rewarded
for the hardest, humblest job she ever did when the sweet old voice
said gratefully, “I thank thee, daughter.”

Things were in this prosperous, not to say paradisiacal, state, when
one member of the family began to make discoveries of an alarming
nature. The first was that the Sunday pilgrimages to church were
seasons of great refreshment to soul and body when David went also, and
utter failures if he did not. Next, that the restless ambitions of all
sorts were quite gone; for now Christie’s mission seemed to be sitting
in a quiet corner and making shirts in the most exquisite manner, while
thinking about—well, say botany, or any kindred subject. Thirdly, that
home was woman’s sphere after all, and the perfect roasting of beef,
brewing of tea, and concocting of delectable puddings, an end worth
living for if masculine commendation rewarded the labor.

Fourthly, and worst of all, she discovered that she was not satisfied
with half confidences, and quite pined to know all about “David’s
trouble.” The little needle-book with the faded “Letty” on it haunted
her; and when, after a pleasant evening below, she heard him pace his
room for hours, or play melancholy airs upon the flute, she was jealous
of that unknown woman who had such power to disturb his peace, and felt
a strong desire to smash the musical confidante into whose responsive
breast he poured his woe.

At this point Christie paused; and, after evading any explanation of
these phenomena in the most skilful manner for a time, suddenly faced
the fact, saying to herself with great candor and decision:

“I know what all this means: I’m beginning to like David more than is
good for me. I see this clearly, and won’t dodge any longer, but put a
stop to it at once. Of course I can if I choose, and now is the time to
do it; for I understand myself perfectly, and if I reach a certain
point it is all over with me. That point I will not reach: David’s
heart is in that Letty’s grave, and he only cares for me as a friend. I
promised to be one to him, and I’ll keep my word like an honest woman.
It may not be easy; but all the sacrifices shall not be his, and I
won’t be a fool.”

With praiseworthy resolution Christie set about the reformation without
delay; not an easy task and one that taxed all her wit and wisdom to
execute without betraying the motive for it. She decided that Mrs.
Sterling must not be left alone on Sunday, so the young people took
turns to go to church, and such dismal trips Christie had never known;
for all her Sundays were bad weather, and Mr. Power seemed to hit on
unusually uninteresting texts.

She talked while she sewed instead of indulging in dangerous thoughts,
and Mrs. Sterling was surprised and entertained by this new loquacity.
In the evening she read and studied with a diligence that amazed and
rather disgusted David; since she kept all her lively chat for his
mother, and pored over her books when he wanted her for other things.

“I’m trying to brighten up my wits,” she said, and went on trying to
stifle her affections.

But though “the absurdity,” as she called the new revelation, was
stopped externally, it continued with redoubled vigor internally. Each
night she said, “this must be conquered,” yet each morning it rose fair
and strong to make the light and beauty of her day, and conquer her
again. She did her best and bravest, but was forced at last to own that
she could not “put a stop to it,” because she had already reached the
point where “it was all over with her.”

Just at this critical moment an event occurred which completed
Christie’s defeat, and made her feel that her only safety lay in
flight.

One evening she sat studying ferns, and heroically saying over and
over, “Andiantum, Aspidium, and Asplenium, Trichomanes,” while longing
to go and talk delightfully to David, who sat musing by the fire.

“I can’t go on so much longer,” she thought despairingly. “Polypodium
aureum, a native of Florida,” is all very interesting in its place; but
it doesn’t help me to gain self-control a bit, and I shall disgrace
myself if something doesn’t happen very soon.”

Something did happen almost instantly; for as she shut the cover
sharply on the poor Polypods, a knock was heard, and before David could
answer it the door flew open and a girl ran in. Straight to him she
went, and clinging to his arm said excitedly: “Oh, do take care of me:
I’ve run away again!”

“Why, Kitty, what’s the matter now?” asked David, putting back her
hood, and looking down at her with the paternal expression Christie had
not seen for a long time, and missed very much.

“Father found me, and took me home, and wanted me to marry a dreadful
man, and I wouldn’t, so I ran away to you. He didn’t know I came here
before, and I’m safe if you’ll let me stay,” cried Kitty, still
clinging and imploring.

“Of course I will, and glad to see you back again,” answered David,
adding pitifully, as he put her in his easy-chair, took her cloak and
hood off and stood stroking her curly hair: “Poor little girl! it is
hard to have to run away so much: isn’t it?”

“Not if I come here; it’s so pleasant I’d like to stay all my life,”
and Kitty took a long breath, as if her troubles were over now. “Who’s
that?” she asked suddenly, as her eye fell on Christie, who sat
watching her with interest:

“That is our good friend Miss Devon. She came to take your place, and
we got so fond of her we could not let her go,” answered David with a
gesture of introduction, quite unconscious that his position just then
was about as safe and pleasant as that of a man between a lighted
candle and an open powder barrel.

The two young women nodded to each other, took a swift survey, and made
up their minds before David had poked the fire. Christie saw a pretty
face with rosy cheeks, blue eyes, and brown rings of hair lying on the
smooth, low forehead; a young face, but not childlike, for it was
conscious of its own prettiness, and betrayed the fact by little airs
and graces that reminded one of a coquettish kitten. Short and slender,
she looked more youthful than she was; while a gay dress, with gilt
ear-rings, locket at the throat, and a cherry ribbon in her hair made
her a bright little figure in that plain room.

Christie suddenly felt as if ten years had been added to her age, as
she eyed the new-comer, who leaned back in the great chair talking to
David, who stood on the rug, evidently finding it pleasanter to look at
the vivacious face before him than at the fire.

“Just the pretty, lively sort of girl sensible men often marry, and
then discover how silly they are,” thought Christie, taking up her work
and assuming an indifferent air.

“She’s a lady and nice looking, but I know I shan’t like her,” was
Kitty’s decision, as she turned away and devoted herself to David,
hoping he would perceive how much she had improved and admire her
accordingly.

“So you don’t want to marry this Miles because he is not handsome.
You’d better think again before you make up your mind. He is
respectable, well off, and fond of you, it seems. Why not try it,
Kitty? You need some one to take care of you sadly,” David said, when
her story had been told.

“If father plagues me much I may take the man; but I’d rather have the
other one if he wasn’t poor,” answered Kitty with a side-long glance of
the blue eyes, and a conscious smile on the red lips.

“Oh, there’s another lover, is there?”

“Lots of ’em.”

David laughed and looked at Christie as if inviting her to be amused
with the freaks and prattle of a child. But Christie sewed away without
a sign of interest.

“That won’t do, Kitty: you are too young for much of such nonsense. I
shall keep you here a while, and see if we can’t settle matters both
wisely and pleasantly,” he said, shaking his head as sagely as a
grandfather.

“I’m sure I wish you would: I love to stay here, you are always so good
to me. I’m in no hurry to be married; and you won’t make me: will you?”

Kitty rose as she spoke, and stood before him with a beseeching little
gesture, and a confiding air quite captivating to behold.

Christie was suddenly seized with a strong desire to shake the girl and
call her an “artful little hussy,” but crushed this unaccountable
impulse, and hemmed a pocket-handkerchief with reckless rapidity, while
she stole covert glances at the tableau by the fire.

David put his finger under Kitty’s round chin, and lifting her face
looked into it, trying to discover if she really cared for this suitor
who seemed so providentially provided for her. Kitty smiled and
blushed, and dimpled under that grave look so prettily that it soon
changed, and David let her go, saying indulgently:

“You shall not be troubled, for you are only a child after all. Let the
lovers go, and stay and play with me, for I’ve been rather lonely
lately.”

“That’s a reproach for me,” thought Christie, longing to cry out: “No,
no; send the girl away and let me be all in all to you.” But she only
turned up the lamp and pretended to be looking for a spool, while her
heart ached and her eyes were too dim for seeing.

“I’m too old to play, but I’ll stay and tease you as I used to, if
Miles don’t come and carry me off as he said he would,” answered Kitty,
with a toss of the head which showed she was not so childlike as David
fancied. But the next minute she was sitting on a stool at his feet
petting the cat, while she told her adventures with girlish volubility.

Christie could not bear to sit and look on any longer, so she left the
room, saying she would see if Mrs. Sterling wanted any thing, for the
old lady kept her room with a touch of rheumatism. As she shut the
door, Christie heard Kitty say softly:

“Now we’ll be comfortable as we used to be: won’t we?”

What David answered Christie did not stay to hear, but went into the
kitchen, and had her first pang of jealousy out alone, while she beat
up the buckwheats for breakfast with an energy that made them miracles
of lightness on the morrow.

When she told Mrs. Sterling of the new arrival, the placid little lady
gave a cluck of regret and said with unusual emphasis:

“I’m sorry for it.”

“Why?” asked Christie, feeling as if she could embrace the speaker for
the words.

“She is a giddy little thing, and much care to whoever befriends her.”
Mrs. Sterling would say no more, but, as Christie bade her good-night,
she held her hand, saying with a kiss:

“No one will take thy place with me, my daughter.”

For a week Christie suffered constant pin-pricks of jealousy, despising
herself all the time, and trying to be friendly with the disturber of
her peace. As if prompted by an evil spirit, Kitty unconsciously tried
and tormented her from morning to night, and no one saw or guessed it
unless Mrs. Sterling’s motherly heart divined the truth. David seemed
to enjoy the girl’s lively chat, her openly expressed affection, and
the fresh young face that always brightened when he came.

Presently, however, Christie saw a change in him, and suspected that he
had discovered that Kitty was a child no longer, but a young girl with
her head full of love and lovers. The blue eyes grew shy, the pretty
face grew eloquent with blushes now and then, as he looked at it, and
the lively tongue faltered sometimes in speaking to him. A thousand
little coquetries were played off for his benefit, and frequent appeals
for advice in her heart affairs kept tender subjects uppermost in their
conversations.

At first all this seemed to amuse David as much as if Kitty were a
small child playing at sweethearts; but soon his manner changed,
growing respectful, and a little cool when Kitty was most confiding. He
no longer laughed about Miles, stopped calling her “little girl,” and
dropped his paternal ways as he had done with Christie. By many
indescribable but significant signs he showed that he considered Kitty
a woman now and treated her as such, being all the more scrupulous in
the respect he paid her, because she was so unprotected, and so wanting
in the natural dignity and refinement which are a woman’s best
protection.

Christie admired him for this, but saw in it the beginning of a
tenderer feeling than pity, and felt each day that she was one too many
now.

Kitty was puzzled and piqued by these changes, and being a born flirt
tried all her powers on David, veiled under guileless girlishness. She
was very pretty, very charming, and at times most lovable and sweet
when all that was best in her shallow little heart was touched. But it
was evident to all that her early acquaintance with the hard and sordid
side of life had brushed the bloom from her nature, and filled her mind
with thoughts and feelings unfitted to her years.

Mrs. Sterling was very kind to her, but never treated her as she did
Christie; and though not a word was spoken between them the elder women
knew that they quite agreed in their opinion of Kitty. She evidently
was rather afraid of the old lady, who said so little and saw so much.
Christie also she shunned without appearing to do so, and when alone
with her put on airs that half amused, half irritated the other.

“David is my friend, and I don’t care for any one else,” her manner
said as plainly as words; and to him she devoted herself so entirely,
and apparently so successfully, that Christie made up her mind he had
at last begun to forget his Letty, and think of filling the void her
loss had left.

A few words which she accidentally overheard confirmed this idea, and
showed her what she must do. As she came quietly in one evening from a
stroll in the lane, and stood taking off cloak and hood, she caught a
glimpse through the half-open parlor door of David pacing to and fro
with a curiously excited expression on his face, and heard Mrs.
Sterling say with unusual warmth:

“Thee is too hard upon thyself, Davy. Forget the past and be happy as
other men are. Thee has atoned for thy fault long ago, so let me see
thee at peace before I die, my son.”

“Not yet, mother, not yet. I have no right to hope or ask for any
woman’s love till I am worthier of it,” answered David in a tone that
thrilled Christie’s heart: it was so full of love and longing.

Here Kitty came running in from the green-house with her hands full of
flowers, and passing Christie, who was fumbling among the cloaks in the
passage, she went to show David some new blossom.

He had no time to alter the expression of his face for its usual grave
serenity: Kitty saw the change at once, and spoke of it with her
accustomed want of tact.

“How handsome you look! What are you thinking about?” she said, gazing
up at him with her own eyes bright with wonder, and her cheeks glowing
with the delicate carmine of the frosty air.

“I am thinking that you look more like a rose than ever,” answered
David turning her attention from himself by a compliment, and beginning
to admire the flowers, still with that flushed and kindled look on his
own face.

Christie crept upstairs, and, sitting in the dark, decided with the
firmness of despair to go away, lest she should betray the secret that
possessed her, a dead hope now, but still too dear to be concealed.

“Mr. Power told me to come to him when I got tired of this. I’ll say I
am tired and try something else, no matter what: I can bear any thing,
but to stand quietly by and see David marry that empty-hearted girl,
who dares to show that she desires to win him. Out of sight of all
this, I can conquer my love, at least hide it; but if I stay I know I
shall betray myself in some bitter minute, and I’d rather die than do
that.”

Armed with this resolution, Christie went the next day to Mr. Power,
and simply said: “I am not needed at the Sterlings any more: can you
give me other work to do?”

Mr. Power’s keen eye searched her face for a moment, as if to discover
the real motive for her wish. But Christie had nerved herself to bear
that look, and showed no sign of her real trouble, unless the set
expression of her lips, and the unnatural steadiness of her eyes
betrayed it to that experienced reader of human hearts.

Whatever he suspected or saw, Mr. Power kept to himself, and answered
in his cordial way:

“Well, I’ve been expecting you would tire of that quiet life, and have
plenty of work ready for you. One of my good Dorcases is tired out and
must rest; so you shall take her place and visit my poor, report their
needs, and supply them as fast as we can. Does that suit you?”

“Entirely, sir. Where shall I live?” asked Christie, with an expression
of relief that said much.

“Here for the present. I want a secretary to put my papers in order,
write some of my letters, and do a thousand things to help a busy man.
My old housekeeper likes you, and will let you take a duster now and
then if you don’t find enough other work to do. When can you come?”

Christie answered with a long breath of satisfaction: “To-morrow, if
you like.”

“I do: can you be spared so soon?”

“Oh, yes! they don’t want me now at all, or I would not leave them.
Kitty can take my place: she needs protection more than I; and there is
not room for two.” She checked herself there, conscious that a tone of
bitterness had crept into her voice. Then quite steadily she added:

“Will you be kind enough to write, and ask Mrs. Sterling if she can
spare me? I shall find it hard to tell her myself, for I fear she may
think me ungrateful after all her kindness.”

“No: she is used to parting with those whom she has helped, and is
always glad to set them on their way toward better things. I will write
to-morrow, and you can come whenever you will, sure of a welcome, my
child.”

Something in the tone of those last words, and the pressure of the
strong, kind hand, touched Christie’s sore heart, and made it
impossible for her to hide the truth entirely.

She only said: “Thank you, sir. I shall be very glad to come;” but her
eyes were full, and she held his hand an instant, as if she clung to it
sure of succor and support.

Then she went home so pale and quiet; so helpful, patient, and
affectionate, that Mrs. Sterling watched her anxiously; David looked
amazed; and, even self-absorbed Kitty saw the change, and was touched
by it.

On the morrow, Mr. Power’s note came, and Christie fled upstairs while
it was read and discussed.

“If I get through this parting without disgracing myself, I don’t care
what happens to me afterward,” she said; and, in order that she might
do so, she assumed a cheerful air, and determined to depart with all
the honors of war, if she died in the attempt.

So, when Mrs. Sterling called her down, she went humming into the
parlor, smiled as she read the note silently given her, and then said
with an effort greater than any she had ever made in her most arduous
part on the stage:

“Yes, I did say to Mr. Power that I thought I’d better be moving on.
I’m a restless creature as you know; and, now that you don’t need me,
I’ve a fancy to see more of the world. If you want me back again in the
spring, I’ll come.”

“I shall want thee, my dear, but will not say a word to keep thee now,
for thee does need a change, and Mr. Power can give thee work better
suited to thy taste than any here. We shall see thee sometimes, and
spring will make thee long for the flowers, I hope,” was Mrs.
Sterling’s answer, as Christie gave back the note at the end of her
difficult speech.

“Don’t think me ungrateful. I have been very happy here, and never
shall forget how motherly kind you have been to me. You will believe
this and love me still, though I go away and leave you for a little
while?” prayed Christie, with a face full of treacherous emotion.

Mrs. Sterling laid her hand on Christie’s head, as she knelt down
impulsively before her, and with a soft solemnity that made the words
both an assurance and a blessing, she said:

“I believe and love and honor thee, my child. My heart warmed to thee
from the first: it has taken thee to itself now; and nothing can ever
come between us, unless thee wills it. Remember that, and go in peace
with an old friend’s thanks, and good wishes in return for faithful
service, which no money can repay.”

Christie laid her cheek against that wrinkled one, and, for a moment,
was held close to that peaceful old heart which felt so tenderly for
her, yet never wounded her by a word of pity. Infinitely comforting was
that little instant of time, when the venerable woman consoled the
young one with a touch, and strengthened her by the mute eloquence of
sympathy.

This made the hardest task of all easier to perform; and, when David
met her in the evening, Christie was ready to play out her part,
feeling that Mrs. Sterling would help her, if need be. But David took
it very quietly; at least, he showed no very poignant regret at her
departure, though he lamented it, and hoped it would not be a very long
absence. This wounded Christie terribly; for all of a sudden a barrier
seemed to rise between them, and the old friendliness grew chilled.

“He thinks I am ungrateful, and is offended,” she said to herself.
“Well, I can bear coldness better than kindness now, and it will make
it easier to go.”

Kitty was pleased at the prospect of reigning alone, and did not
disguise her satisfaction; so Christie’s last day was any thing but
pleasant. Mr. Power would send for her on the morrow, and she busied
herself in packing her own possessions, setting every thing in order,
and making various little arrangements for Mrs. Sterling’s comfort, as
Kitty was a heedless creature; willing enough, but very forgetful. In
the evening some neighbors came in; so that dangerous time was safely
passed, and Christie escaped to her own room with her usual quiet
good-night all round.

“We won’t have any sentimental demonstrations; no wailing, or tender
adieux. If I’m weak enough to break my heart, no one need know
it,—least of all, that little fool,” thought Christie, grimly, as she
burnt up several long-cherished relics of her love.

She was up early, and went about her usual work with the sad pleasure
with which one performs a task for the last time. Lazy little Kitty
never appeared till the bell rang; and Christie was fond of that early
hour, busy though it was, for David was always before her with blazing
fires; and, while she got breakfast, he came and went with wood and
water, milk and marketing; often stopping to talk, and always in his
happiest mood.

The first snow-fall had made the world wonderfully lovely that morning;
and Christie stood at the window admiring the bridal look of the earth,
as it lay dazzlingly white in the early sunshine. The little parlor was
fresh and clean, with no speck of dust anywhere; the fire burned on the
bright andirons; the flowers were rejoicing in their morning bath; and
the table was set out with dainty care. So homelike, so pleasant, so
very dear to her, that Christie yearned to stay, yet dared not, and had
barely time to steady face and voice, when David came in with the
little posies he always had ready for his mother and Christie at
breakfast time. Only a flower by their plates; but it meant much to
them: for, in these lives of ours, tender little acts do more to bind
hearts together than great, deeds or heroic words; since the first are
like the dear daily bread that none can live without; the latter but
occasional feasts, beautiful and memorable, but not possible to all.

This morning David laid a sprig of sweet-scented balm at his mother’s
place, two or three rosy daisies at Kitty’s, and a bunch of Christie’s
favorite violets at hers. She smiled as her eye went from the scentless
daisies, so pertly pretty, to her own posy full of perfume, and the
half sad, half sweet associations that haunt these blue-eyed flowers.

“I wanted pansies for you, but not one would bloom; so I did the next
best, since you don’t like roses,” said David, as Christie stood
looking at the violets with a thoughtful face, for something in the
peculiarly graceful arrangement of the heart-shaped leaves recalled
another nosegay to her mind.

“I like these very much, because they came to me in the beginning of
this, the happiest year of my life;” and scarcely knowing why, except
that it was very sweet to talk with David in the early sunshine, she
told about the flowers some one had given her at church. As she
finished she looked up at him; and, though his face was perfectly
grave, his eyes laughed, and with a sudden conviction of the truth,
Christie exclaimed!

“David, I do believe it was you!”

“I couldn’t help it: you seemed so touched and troubled. I longed to
speak to you, but didn’t dare, so dropped the flowers and got away as
fast as possible. Did you think it very rude?”

“I thought it the sweetest thing that ever happened to me. That was my
first step along a road that you have strewn with flowers ever since. I
can’t thank you, but I never shall forget it.” Christie spoke out
fervently, and for an instant her heart shone in her face. Then she
checked herself, and, fearing she had said too much, fell to slicing
bread with an energetic rapidity which resulted in a cut finger.
Dropping the knife, she tried to get her handkerchief, but the blood
flowed fast, and the pain of a deep gash made her a little faint. David
sprung to help her, tied up the wound, put her in the big chair, held
water to her lips, and bathed her temples with a wet napkin; silently,
but so tenderly, that it was almost too much for poor Christie.

For one happy moment her head lay on his arm, and his hand brushed back
her hair with a touch that was a caress: she heard his heart beat fast
with anxiety; felt his breath on her cheek, and wished that she might
die then and there, though a bread-knife was not a romantic weapon, nor
a cut finger as interesting as a broken heart. Kitty’s voice made her
start up, and the blissful vision of life, with David in the little
house alone, vanished like a bright bubble, leaving the hard reality to
be lived out with nothing but a woman’s pride to conceal a woman’s most
passionate pain.

“It’s nothing: I’m all right now. Don’t say any thing to worry your
mother; I’ll put on a bit of court-plaster, and no one will be the
wiser,” she said, hastily removing all traces of the accident but her
own pale face.

[Illustration: “ONE HAPPY MOMENT.”]

“Poor Christie, it’s hard that you should go away with a wound like
this on the hand that has done so much for us,” said David, as he
carefully adjusted the black strip on that forefinger, roughened by
many stitches set for him.

“I loved to do it,” was all Christie trusted herself to say.

“I know you did; and in your own words I can only answer: ‘I don’t know
how to thank you, but I never shall forget it.’” And David kissed the
wounded hand as gratefully and reverently as if its palm was not
hardened by the humblest tasks.

If he had only known—ah, if he had only known!—how easily he might
repay that debt, and heal the deeper wound in Christie’s heart. As it
was, she could only say, “You are too kind,” and begin to shovel tea
into the pot, as Kitty came in, as rosy and fresh as the daisies she
put in her hair.

“Ain’t they becoming?” she asked, turning to David for admiration.

“No, thank you,” he answered absently, looking out over her head, as he
stood upon the rug in the attitude which the best men will assume in
the bosoms of their families.

Kitty looked offended, and turned to the mirror for comfort; while
Christie went on shovelling tea, quite unconscious what she was about
till David said gravely:

“Won’t that be rather strong?”

“How stupid of me! I always forget that Kitty does not drink tea,” and
Christie rectified her mistake with all speed.

Kitty laughed, and said in her pert little way:

“Getting up early don’t seem to agree with either of you this morning:
I wonder what you’ve been doing?”

“Your work. Suppose you bring in the kettle: Christie has hurt her
hand.”

David spoke quietly; but Kitty looked as much surprised as if he had
boxed her ears, for he had never used that tone to her before. She
meekly obeyed; and David added with a smile to Christie:

“Mother is coming down, and you’ll have to get more color into your
checks if you mean to hide your accident from her.”

“That is easily done;” and Christie rubbed her pale cheeks till they
rivalled Kitty’s in their bloom.

“How well you women know how to conceal your wounds,” said David, half
to himself.

“It is an invaluable accomplishment for us sometimes: you forget that I
have been an actress,” answered Christie, with a bitter sort of smile.

“I wish I could forget what I have been!” muttered David, turning his
back to her and kicking a log that had rolled out of place.

In came Mrs. Sterling, and every one brightened up to meet her. Kitty
was silent, and wore an injured air which nobody minded; Christie was
very lively; and David did his best to help her through that last meal,
which was a hard one to three out of the four.

At noon a carriage came for Christie, and she said good-by, as she had
drilled herself to say it, cheerfully and steadily.

“It is only for a time, else I couldn’t let thee go, my dear,” said
Mrs. Sterling, with a close embrace.

“I shall see you at church, and Tuesday evenings, even if you don’t
find time to come to us, so I shall not say good-by at all;” and David
shook hands warmly, as he put her into the carriage.

“I’ll invite you to my wedding when I make up my mind,” said Kitty,
with feminine malice; for in her eyes Christie was an old maid who
doubtless envied her her “lots of lovers.”

“I hope you will be very happy. In the mean time try to save dear Mrs.
Sterling all you can, and let her make you worthy a good husband,” was
Christie’s answer to a speech she was too noble to resent by a sharp
word, or even a contemptuous look.

Then she drove away, smiling and waving her hand to the old lady at her
window; but the last thing she saw as she left the well-beloved lane,
was David going slowly up the path, with Kitty close beside him,
talking busily. If she had heard the short dialogue between them, the
sight would have been less bitter, for Kitty said:

“She’s dreadful good; but I’m glad she’s gone: ain’t you?”

“No.”

“Had you rather have her here than me?”

“Yes.”

“Then why don’t you ask her to come back.”

“I would if I could!”

“I never did see any thing like it; every one is so queer and cross
to-day I get snubbed all round. If folks ain’t good to me, I’ll go and
marry Miles! I declare I will.”

“You’d better,” and with that David left her frowning and pouting in
the porch, and went to shovelling snow with unusual vigor.



CHAPTER XIV.
WHICH?.


[Illustration: DAVID.]

Mr. Power received Christie so hospitably that she felt at home at
once, and took up her new duties with the energy of one anxious to
repay a favor. Her friend knew well the saving power of work, and gave
her plenty of it; but it was a sort that at once interested and
absorbed her, so that she had little time for dangerous thoughts or
vain regrets. As he once said, Mr. Power made her own troubles seem
light by showing her others so terribly real and great that she was
ashamed to repine at her own lot.

Her gift of sympathy served her well, past experience gave her a quick
eye to read the truth in others, and the earnest desire to help and
comfort made her an excellent almoner for the rich, a welcome friend to
the poor. She was in just the right mood to give herself gladly to any
sort of sacrifice, and labored with a quiet energy, painful to witness
had any one known the hidden suffering that would not let her rest.

If she had been a regular novel heroine at this crisis, she would have
grown gray in a single night, had a dangerous illness, gone mad, or at
least taken to pervading the house at unseasonable hours with her back
hair down and much wringing of the hands. Being only a commonplace
woman she did nothing so romantic, but instinctively tried to sustain
and comfort herself with the humble, wholesome duties and affections
which seldom fail to keep heads sane and hearts safe. Yet, though her
days seemed to pass so busily and cheerfully, it must be confessed that
there were lonely vigils in the night; and sometimes in the morning
Christie’s eyes were very heavy, Christie’s pillow wet with tears.

But life never is all work or sorrow; and happy hours, helpful
pleasures, are mercifully given like wayside springs to pilgrims
trudging wearily along. Mr. Power showed Christie many such, and
silently provided her with better consolation than pity or advice.

“Deeds not words,” was his motto; and he lived it out most faithfully.
“Books and work” he gave his new charge; and then followed up that
prescription with “healthful play” of a sort she liked, and had longed
for all her life. Sitting at his table Christie saw the best and
bravest men and women of our times; for Mr. Power was a magnet that
drew them from all parts of the world. She saw and heard, admired and
loved them; felt her soul kindle with the desire to follow in their
steps, share their great tasks, know their difficulties and dangers,
and in the end taste the immortal satisfactions given to those who live
and labor for their fellow-men. In such society all other aims seemed
poor and petty; for they appeared to live in a nobler world than any
she had known, and she felt as if they belonged to another race; not
men nor angels, but a delightful mixture of the two; more as she
imagined the gods and heroes of old; not perfect, but wonderfully
strong and brave and good; each gifted with a separate virtue, and each
bent on a mission that should benefit mankind.

Nor was this the only pleasure given her. One evening of each week was
set apart by Mr. Power for the reception of whomsoever chose to visit
him; for his parish was a large one, and his house a safe haunt for
refugees from all countries, all oppressions.

Christie enjoyed these evenings heartily, for there was no ceremony;
each comer brought his mission, idea, or need, and genuine hospitality
made the visit profitable or memorable to all, for entire freedom
prevailed, and there was stabling for every one’s hobby.

Christie felt that she was now receiving the best culture, acquiring
the polish that society gives, and makes truly admirable when character
adds warmth and power to its charm. The presence of her bosom-care
calmed the old unrest, softened her manners, and at times touched her
face with an expression more beautiful than beauty. She was quite
unconscious of the changes passing over her; and if any one had told
her she was fast becoming a most attractive woman, she would have been
utterly incredulous. But others saw and felt the new charm; for no deep
experience bravely borne can fail to leave its mark, often giving power
in return for patience, and lending a subtle loveliness to faces whose
bloom it has destroyed.

This fact was made apparent to Christie one evening when she went down
to the weekly gathering in one of the melancholy moods which sometimes
oppressed her. She felt dissatisfied with herself because her interest
in all things began to flag, and a restless longing for some new
excitement to break up the monotonous pain of her inner life possessed
her. Being still a little shy in company, she slipped quietly into a
recess which commanded a view of both rooms, and sat looking listlessly
about her while waiting for David, who seldom failed to come.

A curious collection of fellow-beings was before her, and at another
time she would have found much to interest and amuse her. In one corner
a newly imported German with an Orson-like head, thumb-ring, and the
fragrance of many meerschaums still hovering about him, was hammering
away upon some disputed point with a scientific Frenchman, whose
national politeness was only equalled by his national volubility. A
prominent statesman was talking with a fugitive slave; a young poet
getting inspiration from the face and voice of a handsome girl who had
earned the right to put M. D. to her name. An old philosopher was
calming the ardor of several rampant radicals, and a famous singer was
comforting the heart of an Italian exile by talking politics in his own
melodious tongue.

There were plenty of reformers: some as truculent as Martin Luther;
others as beaming and benevolent as if the pelting of the world had
only mellowed them, and no amount of denunciatory thunder could sour
the milk of human kindness creaming in their happy hearts. There were
eager women just beginning their protest against the wrongs that had
wrecked their peace; subdued women who had been worsted in the unequal
conflict and given it up; resolute women with “No surrender” written
all over their strong-minded countenances; and sweet, hopeful women,
whose faith in God and man nothing could shake or sadden.

But to Christie there was only one face worth looking at till David
came, and that was Mr. Power’s; for he was a perfect host, and pervaded
the rooms like a genial atmosphere, using the welcome of eye and hand
which needs no language to interpret it, giving to each guest the
intellectual fare he loved, and making their enjoyment his own.

“Bless the dear man! what should we all do without him?” thought
Christie, following him with grateful eyes, as he led an awkward youth
in rusty black to the statesman whom it had been the desire of his
ambitious soul to meet.

The next minute she proved that she at least could do without the “dear
man;” for David entered the room, and she forgot all about him. Here
and at church were the only places where the friends had met during
these months, except one or two short visits to the little house in the
lane when Christie devoted herself to Mrs. Sterling.

David was quite unchanged, though once or twice Christie fancied he
seemed ill at ease with her, and immediately tormented herself with the
idea that some alteration in her own manner had perplexed or offended
him. She did her best to be as frank and cordial as in the happy old
days; but it was impossible, and she soon gave it up, assuming in the
place of that former friendliness, a grave and quiet manner which would
have led a wiser man than David to believe her busied with her own
affairs and rather indifferent to every thing else.

If he had known how her heart danced in her bosom, her eyes brightened,
and all the world became endurable, the moment he appeared, he would
not have been so long in joining her, nor have doubted what welcome
awaited him.

As it was, he stopped to speak to his host; and, before he reappeared,
Christie had found the excitement she had been longing for.

“Now some bore will keep him an hour, and the evening is so short,” she
thought, with a pang of disappointment; and, turning her eyes away from
the crowd which had swallowed up her heart’s desire, they fell upon a
gentleman just entering, and remained fixed with an expression of
unutterable surprise; for there, elegant, calm, and cool as ever, stood
Mr. Fletcher.

“How came he here?” was her first question; “How will he behave to me?”
her second. As she could answer neither, she composed herself as fast
as possible, resolving to let matters take their own course, and
feeling in the mood for an encounter with a discarded lover, as she
took a womanish satisfaction in remembering that the very personable
gentleman before her had once been.

Mr. Fletcher and his companion passed on to find their host; and, with
a glance at the mirror opposite, which showed her that the surprise of
the moment had given her the color she lacked before, Christie occupied
herself with a portfolio of engravings, feeling very much as she used
to feel when waiting at a side scene for her cue.

She had not long to wait before Mr. Power came up, and presented the
stranger; for such he fancied him, never having heard a certain episode
in Christie’s life. Mr. Fletcher bowed, with no sign of recognition in
his face, and began to talk in the smooth, low voice she remembered so
well. For the moment, through sheer surprise, Christie listened and
replied as any young lady might have done to a new-made acquaintance.
But very soon she felt sure that Mr. Fletcher intended to ignore the
past; and, finding her on a higher round of the social ladder, to
accept the fact and begin again.

At first she was angry, then amused, then interested in the somewhat
dramatic turn affairs were taking, and very wisely decided to meet him
on his own ground, and see what came of it.

In the midst of an apparently absorbing discussion of one of Raphael’s
most insipid Madonnas, she was conscious that David had approached,
paused, and was scrutinizing her companion with unusual interest.
Seized with a sudden desire to see the two men together, Christie
beckoned; and when he obeyed, she introduced him, drew him into the
conversation, and then left him in the lurch by falling silent and
taking notes while they talked.

If she wished to wean her heart from David by seeing him at a
disadvantage, she could have devised no better way; for, though a very
feminine test, it answered the purpose excellently.

Mr. Fletcher was a handsome man, and just then looked his best.
Improved health gave energy and color to his formerly sallow, listless
face: the cold eyes were softer, the hard mouth suave and smiling, and
about the whole man there was that indescribable something which often
proves more attractive than worth or wisdom to keener-sighted women
than Christie. Never had he talked better; for, as if he suspected what
was in the mind of one hearer, he exerted himself to be as brilliant as
possible, and succeeded admirably.

David never appeared so ill, for he had no clew to the little comedy
being played before him; and long seclusion and natural reserve
unfitted him to shine beside a man of the world like Mr. Fletcher. His
simple English sounded harsh, after the foreign phrases that slipped so
easily over the other’s tongue. He had visited no galleries, seen few
of the world’s wonders, and could only listen when they were discussed.
More than once he was right, but failed to prove it, for Mr. Fletcher
skilfully changed the subject or quenched him with a politely
incredulous shrug.

Even in the matter of costume, poor David was worsted; for, in a
woman’s eyes, dress has wonderful significance. Christie used to think
his suit of sober gray the most becoming man could wear; but now it
looked shapeless and shabby, beside garments which bore the stamp of
Paris in the gloss and grace of broadcloth and fine linen. David wore
no gloves: Mr. Fletcher’s were immaculate. David’s tie was so plain no
one observed it: Mr. Fletcher’s, elegant and faultless enough for a
modern Beau Brummel. David’s handkerchief was of the commonest sort
(she knew that, for she hemmed it herself): Mr. Fletcher’s was the
finest cambric, and a delicate breath of perfume refreshed the
aristocratic nose to which the article belonged.

Christie despised herself as she made these comparisons, and felt how
superficial they were; but, having resolved to exalt one man at the
expense of the other for her own good, she did not relent till David
took advantage of a pause, and left them with a reproachful look that
made her wish Mr. Fletcher at the bottom of the sea.

When they were alone a subtle change in his face and manner convinced
her that he also had been taking notes, and had arrived at a favorable
decision regarding herself. Women are quick at making such discoveries;
and, even while she talked with him as a stranger, she felt assured
that, if she chose, she might make him again her lover.

Here was a temptation! She had longed for some new excitement, and fate
seemed to have put one of the most dangerous within her reach. It was
natural to find comfort in the knowledge that somebody loved her, and
to take pride in her power over one man, because another did not own
it. In spite of her better self she felt the fascination of the hour,
and yielded to it, half unconsciously assuming something of the “dash
and daring” which Mr. Fletcher had once confessed to finding so
captivating in the demure governess. He evidently thought so still, and
played his part with spirit; for, while apparently enjoying a
conversation which contained no allusion to the past, the memory of it
gave piquancy to that long tete-a-tete.

As the first guests began to go, Mr. Fletcher’s friend beckoned to him;
and he rose, saying with an accent of regret which changed to one of
entreaty, as he put his question:

“I, too, must go. May I come again, Miss Devon?”

“I am scarcely more than a guest myself; but Mr. Power is always glad
to see whoever cares to come,” replied Christie rather primly, though
her eyes were dancing with amusement at the recollection of those love
passages upon the beach.

“Next time, I shall come not as a stranger, but as a former—may I say
friend?” he added quickly, as if emboldened by the mirthful eyes that
so belied the demure lips.

“Now you forget your part,” and Christie’s primness vanished in a
laugh. “I am glad of it, for I want to ask about Mrs. Saltonstall and
the children. I’ve often thought of the little dears, and longed to see
them.”

“They are in Paris with their father.”

“Mrs. Saltonstall is well, I hope?”

“She died six months ago.”

An expression of genuine sorrow came over Mr. Fletcher’s face as he
spoke; and, remembering that the silly little woman was his sister,
Christie put out her hand with a look and gesture so full of sympathy
that words were unnecessary. Taking advantage of this propitious
moment, he said, with an expressive glance and effective tone: “I am
all alone now. You will let me come again?”

“Certainly, if it can give you pleasure,” she answered heartily,
forgetting herself in pity for his sorrow.

Mr. Fletcher pressed her hand with a grateful, “Thank you!” and wisely
went away at once, leaving compassion to plead for him better than he
could have done it for himself.

Leaning back in her chair, Christie was thinking over this interview so
intently that she started when David’s voice said close beside her:

“Shall I disturb you if I say, ‘Good-night’?”

“I thought you were not going to say it at all,” she answered rather
sharply.

“I’ve been looking for a chance; but you were so absorbed with that man
I had to wait.”

“Considering the elegance of ‘that man,’ you don’t treat him with much
respect.”

“I don’t feel much. What brought him here, I wonder. A French salon is
more in his line.”

“He came to see Mr. Power, as every one else does, of course.”

“Don’t dodge, Christie: you know he came to see you.”

“How do you like him?” she asked, with treacherous abruptness.

“Not particularly, so far. But if I knew him, I dare say I should find
many good traits in him.”

“I know you would!” said Christie, warmly, not thinking of Fletcher,
but of David’s kindly way of finding good in every one.

“He must have improved since you saw him last; for then, if I remember
rightly, you found him ‘lazy, cross, selfish, and conceited.’”

“Now, David, I never said any thing of the sort,” began Christie,
wondering what possessed him to be so satirical and short with her.

“Yes, you did, last September, sitting on the old apple-tree the
morning of your birthday.”

“What an inconvenient memory you have! Well, he was all that then; but
he is not an invalid now, and so we see his real self.”

“I also remember that you gave me the impression that he was an elderly
man.”

“Isn’t forty elderly?”

“He wasn’t forty when you taught his sister’s children.”

“No; but he looked older than he does now, being so ill. I used to
think he would be very handsome with good health; and now I see I was
right,” said Christie, with feigned enthusiasm; for it was a new thing
to tease David, and she liked it.

But she got no more of it; for, just then, the singer began to sing to
the select few who remained, and every one was silent. Leaning on the
high back of Christie’s chair, David watched the reflection of her face
in the long mirror; for she listened to the music with downcast eyes,
unconscious what eloquent expressions were passing over her
countenance. She seemed a new Christie to David, in that excited mood;
and, as he watched her, he thought:

“She loved this man once, or he loved her; and tonight it all comes
back to her. How will it end?”

So earnestly did he try to read that altered face that Christie felt
the intentness of his gaze, looked up suddenly, and met his eyes in the
glass. Something in the expression of those usually serene eyes, now
darkened and dilated with the intensity of that long scrutiny,
surprised and troubled her; and, scarcely knowing what she said, she
asked quickly:

“Who are you admiring?”

“Not myself.”

“I wonder if you’d think me vain if I asked you something that I want
to know?” she said, obeying a sudden impulse.

“Ask it, and I’ll tell you.”

“Am I much changed since you first knew me?”

“Very much.”

“For the better or the worse?”

“The better, decidedly.”

“Thank you, I hoped so; but one never knows how one seems to other
people. I was wondering what you saw in the glass.”

“A good and lovely woman, Christie.”

How sweet it sounded to hear David say that! so simply and sincerely
that it was far more than a mere compliment. She did not thank him, but
said softly as if to herself:

“So let me seem until I be”


—and then sat silent, so full of satisfaction in the thought that David
found her “good and lovely,” she could not resist stealing a glance at
the tell-tale mirror to see if she might believe him.

She forgot herself, however; for he was off guard now, and stood
looking away with brows knit, lips tightly set, and eyes fixed, yet
full of fire; his whole attitude and expression that of a man intent on
subduing some strong impulse by a yet stronger will.

It startled Christie; and she leaned forward, watching him with
breathless interest till the song ceased, and, with the old impatient
gesture, David seemed to relapse into his accustomed quietude.

“It was the wonderful music that excited him: that was all;” thought
Christie; yet, when he came round to say good-night, the strange
expression was not gone, and his manner was not his own.

“Shall I ask if I may come again,” he said, imitating Mr. Fletcher’s
graceful bow with an odd smile.

“I let him come because he has lost his sister, and is lonely,” began
Christie, but got no further, for David said, “Good-night!” abruptly,
and was gone without a word to Mr. Power.

“He’s in a hurry to get back to his Kitty,” she thought, tormenting
herself with feminine skill. “Never mind,” she added, with a defiant
sort of smile; “I’ve got my Philip, handsomer and more in love than
ever, if I’m not deceived. I wonder if he will come again?”

Mr. Fletcher did come again, and with flattering regularity, for
several weeks, evidently finding something very attractive in those
novel gatherings. Mr. Power soon saw why he came; and, as Christie
seemed to enjoy his presence, the good man said nothing to disturb her,
though he sometimes cast an anxious glance toward the recess where the
two usually sat, apparently busy with books or pictures; yet, by their
faces, showing that an under current of deeper interest than art or
literature flowed through their intercourse.

Christie had not deceived herself, and it was evident that her old
lover meant to try his fate again, if she continued to smile upon him
as she had done of late. He showed her his sunny side now, and very
pleasant she found it. The loss of his sister had touched his heart,
and made him long to fill the place her death left vacant. Better
health sweetened his temper, and woke the desire to do something worth
the doing; and the sight of the only woman he had ever really loved,
reawakened the sentiment that had not died, and made it doubly sweet.

Why he cared for Christie he could not tell, but he never had forgotten
her; and, when he met her again with that new beauty in her face, he
felt that time had only ripened the blithe girl into a deep-hearted
woman, and he loved her with a better love than before. His whole
manner showed this; for the half-careless, half-condescending air of
former times was replaced by the most courteous respect, a sincere
desire to win her favor, and at times the tender sort of devotion women
find so charming.

Christie felt all this, enjoyed it, and tried to be grateful for it in
the way he wished, thinking that hearts could be managed like children,
and when one toy is unattainable, be appeased by a bigger or a brighter
one of another sort.

“I must love some one,” she said, as she leaned over a basket of
magnificent flowers just left for her by Mr. Fletcher’s servant, a
thing which often happened now. “Philip has loved me with a fidelity
that ought to touch my heart. Why not accept him, and enjoy a new life
of luxury, novelty, and pleasure? All these things he can give me: all
these things are valued, admired, and sought for: and who would
appreciate them more than I? I could travel, cultivate myself in many
delightful ways, and do so much good. No matter if I was not very
happy: I should make Philip so, and have it in my power to comfort many
poor souls. That ought to satisfy me; for what is nobler than to live
for others?”

This idea attracted her, as it does all generous natures; she became
enamoured of self-sacrifice, and almost persuaded herself that it was
her duty to marry Mr. Fletcher, whether she loved him or not, in order
that she might dedicate her life to the service of poorer, sadder
creatures than herself.

But in spite of this amiable delusion, in spite of the desire to forget
the love she would have in the love she might have, and in spite of the
great improvement in her faithful Philip, Christie could not blind
herself to the fact that her head, rather than her heart, advised the
match; she could not conquer a suspicion that, however much Mr.
Fletcher might love his wife, he would be something of a tyrant, and
she was very sure she never would make a good slave. In her cooler
moments she remembered that men are not puppets, to be moved as a
woman’s will commands, and the uncertainty of being able to carry out
her charitable plans made her pause to consider whether she would not
be selling her liberty too cheaply, if in return she got only
dependence and bondage along with fortune and a home.

So tempted and perplexed, self-deluded and self-warned, attracted and
repelled, was poor Christie, that she began to feel as if she had got
into a labyrinth without any clew to bring her safely out. She longed
to ask advice of some one, but could not turn to Mrs. Sterling; and
what other woman friend had she except Rachel, from whom she had not
heard for months?

As she asked herself this question one day, feeling sure that Mr.
Fletcher would come in the evening, and would soon put his fortune to
the touch again, the thought of Mrs. Wilkins seemed to answer her.

“Why not?” said Christie: “she is sensible, kind, and discreet; she may
put me right, for I’m all in a tangle now with doubts and fears,
feelings and fancies. I’ll go and see her: that will do me good, even
if I don’t say a word about my ‘werryments,’ as the dear soul would
call them.”

Away she went, and fortunately found her friend alone in the
“settin’-room,” darning away at a perfect stack of socks, as she
creaked comfortably to and fro in her old rocking-chair.

“I was jest wishin’ somebody would drop in: it’s so kinder lonesome
with the children to school and Adelaide asleep. How be you, dear?”
said Mrs. Wilkins, with a hospitable hug and a beaming smile.

“I’m worried in my mind, so I came to see you,” answered Christie,
sitting down with a sigh.

“Bless your dear heart, what is to pay. Free your mind, and I’ll do my
best to lend a hand.”

The mere sound of that hearty voice comforted Christie, and gave her
courage to introduce the little fiction under which she had decided to
defraud Mrs. Wilkins of her advice. So she helped herself to a very
fragmentary blue sock and a big needle, that she might have employment
for her eyes, as they were not so obedient as her tongue, and then
began in as easy a tone as she could assume.

“Well, you see a friend of mine wants my advice on a very serious
matter, and I really don’t know what to give her. It is strictly
confidential, you know, so I won’t mention any names, but just set the
case before you and get your opinion, for I’ve great faith in your
sensible way of looking at things.”

“Thanky, dear, you’r welcome to my ’pinion ef it’s wuth any thing. Be
these folks you tell of young?” asked Mrs. Wilkins, with evident relish
for the mystery.

“No, the woman is past thirty, and the man ’most forty, I believe,”
said Christie, darning away in some trepidation at having taken the
first plunge.

“My patience! ain’t the creater old enough to know her own mind? for I
s’pose she’s the one in the quanderry?” exclaimed Mrs. Wilkins, looking
over her spectacles with dangerously keen eyes.

“The case is this,” said Christie, in guilty haste. “The ‘creature’ is
poor and nobody, the man rich and of good family, so you see it’s
rather hard for her to decide.”

“No, I don’t see nothin’ of the sort,” returned blunt Mrs. Wilkins. “Ef
she loves the man, take him: ef she don’t, give him the mittin and done
with it. Money and friends and family ain’t much to do with the matter
accordin’ to my view. It’s jest a plain question betwixt them two. Ef
it takes much settlin’ they’d better let it alone.”

“She doesn’t love him as much as she might, I fancy, but she is tired
of grubbing along alone. He is very fond of her, and very rich; and it
would be a fine thing for her in a worldly way, I’m sure.”

“Oh, she’s goin’ to marry for a livin’ is she? Wal, now I’d ruther one
of my girls should grub the wust kind all their days than do that.
Hows’ever, it may suit some folks ef they ain’t got much heart, and is
contented with fine clothes, nice vittles, and handsome furnitoor.
Selfish, cold, silly kinder women might git on, I dare say; but I
shouldn’t think any friend of your’n would be one of that sort.”

“But she might do a great deal of good, and make others happy even if
she was not so herself.”

“She might, but I doubt it, for money got that way wouldn’t prosper
wal. Mis’able folks ain’t half so charitable as happy ones; and I don’t
believe five dollars from one of ’em would go half so fur, or be half
so comfortin’ as a kind word straight out of a cheerful heart. I know
some thinks that is a dreadful smart thing to do; but _I_ don’t, and ef
any one wants to go a sacrificin’ herself for the good of others,
there’s better ways of doin’ it than startin’ with a lie in her mouth.”

Mrs. Wilkins spoke warmly; for Christie’s face made her fiction
perfectly transparent, though the good woman with true delicacy showed
no sign of intelligence on that point.

“Then you wouldn’t advise my friend to say yes?”

“Sakes alive, no! I’d say to her as I did to my younger sisters when
their courtin’ time come: ‘Jest be sure you’re right as to there bein’
love enough, then go ahead, and the Lord will bless you.’”

“Did they follow your advice?”

“They did, and both is prosperin’ in different ways. Gusty, she found
she was well on’t for love, so she married, though Samuel Buck was
poor, and they’re happy as can be a workin’ up together, same as Lisha
and me did. Addy, she calc’lated she wan’t satisfied somehow, so she
didn’t marry, though James Miller was wal off; and she’s kep stiddy to
her trade, and ain’t never repented. There’s a sight said and writ
about such things,” continued Mrs. Wilkins, rambling on to give
Christie time to think; “but I’ve an idee that women’s hearts is to be
trusted ef they ain’t been taught all wrong. Jest let ’em remember that
they take a husband for wuss as well as better (and there’s a sight of
wuss in this tryin’ world for some on us), and be ready to do their
part patient and faithful, and I ain’t a grain afraid but what they’ll
be fetched through, always pervidin’ they love the man and not his
money.”

There was a pause after that last speech, and Christie felt as if her
perplexity was clearing away very fast; for Mrs. Wilkins’s plain talk
seemed to show her things in their true light, with all the illusions
of false sentiment and false reasoning stripped away. She felt clearer
and stronger already, and as if she could make up her mind very soon
when one other point had been discussed.

“I fancy my friend is somewhat influenced by the fact that this man
loved and asked her to marry him some years ago. He has not forgotten
her, and this touches her heart more than any thing else. It seems as
if his love must be genuine to last so long, and not to mind her
poverty, want of beauty, and accomplishments; for he is a proud and
fastidious man.”

“I think wal of him for that!” said Mrs. Wilkins, approvingly; “but I
guess she’s wuth all he gives her, for there must be somethin’ pretty
gennywin’ in her to make him overlook her lacks and hold on so stiddy.
It don’t alter her side of the case one mite though; for love is love,
and ef she ain’t got it, he’d better not take gratitude instid, but
sheer off and leave her for somebody else.”

“Nobody else wants her!” broke from Christie like an involuntary cry of
pain; then she hid her face by stooping to gather up the avalanche of
hosiery which fell from her lap to the floor.

“She can’t be sure of that,” said Mrs. Wilkins cheerily, though her
spectacles were dim with sudden mist. “I know there’s a mate for her
somewheres, so she’d better wait a spell and trust in Providence. It
wouldn’t be so pleasant to see the right one come along after she’d
went and took the wrong one in a hurry: would it? Waitin’ is always
safe, and time needn’t be wasted in frettin’ or bewailin’; for the Lord
knows there’s a sight of good works sufferin’ to be done, and single
women has the best chance at ’em.”

“I’ve accomplished one good work at any rate; and, small as it is, I
feel better for it. Give this sock to your husband, and tell him his
wife sets a good example both by precept and practice to other women,
married or single. Thank you very much, both for myself and my friend,
who shall profit by your advice,” said Christie, feeling that she had
better go before she told every thing.

“I hope she will,” returned Mrs. Wilkins, as her guest went away with a
much happier face than the one she brought. “And ef I know her, which I
think I do, she’ll find that Cinthy Wilkins ain’t fur from right, ef
her experience is good for any thing,” added the matron with a sigh,
and a glance at a dingy photograph of her Lisha on the wall, a sigh
that seemed to say there had been a good deal of “wuss” in her bargain,
though she was too loyal to confess it.

Something in Christie’s face struck Mr. Fletcher at once when he
appeared that evening. He had sometimes found her cold and quiet, often
gay and capricious, usually earnest and cordial, with a wistful look
that searched his face and both won and checked him by its mute appeal,
seeming to say, “Wait a little till I have taught my heart to answer as
you wish.”

To-night her eyes shunned his, and when he caught a glimpse of them
they were full of a soft trouble; her manner was kinder than ever
before, and yet it made him anxious, for there was a resolute
expression about her lips even when she smiled, and though he ventured
upon allusions to the past hitherto tacitly avoided, she listened as if
it had no tender charm for her.

Being thoroughly in earnest now, Mr. Fletcher resolved to ask the
momentous question again without delay. David was not there, and had
not been for several weeks, another thorn in Christie’s heart, though
she showed no sign of regret, and said to herself, “It is better so.”
His absence left Fletcher master of the field, and he seized the
propitious moment.

“Will you show me the new picture? Mr. Power spoke of it, but I do not
like to trouble him.”

“With pleasure,” and Christie led the way to a little room where the
newly arrived gift was placed.

She knew what was coming, but was ready, and felt a tragic sort of
satisfaction in the thought of all she was relinquishing for love of
David.

No one was in the room, but a fine copy of Michael Angelo’s Fates hung
on the wall, looking down at them with weird significance.

“They look as if they would give a stern answer to any questioning of
ours,” Mr. Fletcher said, after a glance of affected interest.

“They would give a true one I fancy,” answered Christie, shading her
eyes as if to see the better.

“I’d rather question a younger, fairer Fate, hoping that she will give
me an answer both true and kind. May I, Christie?”

“I will be true but—I cannot be kind.” It cost her much to say that;
yet she did it steadily, though he held her hand in both his own, and
waited for her words with ardent expectation.

“Not yet perhaps,—but in time, when I have proved how sincere my love
is, how entire my repentance for the ungenerous words you have not
forgotten. I wanted you then for my own sake, now I want you for
yourself, because I love and honor you above all women. I tried to
forget you, but I could not; and all these years have carried in my
heart a very tender memory of the girl who dared to tell me that all I
could offer her was not worth her love.”

“I was mistaken,” began Christie, finding this wooing much harder to
withstand than the other.

“No, you were right: I felt it then and resented it, but I owned it
later, and regretted it more bitterly than I can tell. I’m not worthy
of you; I never shall be: but I’ve loved you for five years without
hope, and I’ll wait five more if in the end you will come to me.
Christie, I need you very much!”

If Mr. Fletcher had gone down upon his knees and poured out the most
ardent protestations that ever left a lover’s lips, it would not have
touched her as did that last little appeal, uttered with a break in the
voice that once was so proud and was so humble now.

“Forgive me!” she cried, looking up at him with real respect in her
face, and real remorse smiting her conscience. “Forgive me! I have
misled you and myself. I tried to love you: I was grateful for your
regard, touched by your fidelity, and I hoped I might repay it; but I
cannot! I cannot!”

“Why?”

Such a hard question! She owed him all the truth, yet how could she
tell it? She could not in words, but her face did, for the color rose
and burned on cheeks and forehead with painful fervor; her eyes fell,
and her lips trembled as if endeavoring to keep down the secret that
was escaping against her will. A moment of silence as Mr. Fletcher
searched for the truth and found it; then he said with such sharp pain
in his voice that Christie’s heart ached at the sound:

“I see: I am too late?”

“Yes.”

“And there is no hope?”

“None.”

“Then there is nothing more for me to say but good-by. May you be
happy.”

“I shall not be;—I have no hope;—I only try to be true to you and to
myself. Oh, believe it, and pity me as I do you!”

As the words broke from Christie, she covered up her face, bowed down
with the weight of remorse that made her long to atone for what she had
done by any self-humiliation.

Mr. Fletcher was at his best at that moment; for real love ennobles the
worst and weakest while it lasts: but he could not resist the
temptation that confession offered him. He tried to be generous, but
the genuine virtue was not in him; he did want Christie very much, and
the knowledge of a rival in her heart only made her the dearer.

“I’m not content with your pity, sweet as it is: I want your love, and
I believe that I might earn it if you would let me try. You are all
alone, and life is hard to you: come to me and let me make it happier.
I’ll be satisfied with friendship till you can give me more.”

He said this very tenderly, caressing the bent head while he spoke, and
trying to express by tone and gesture how eagerly he longed to receive
and cherish what that other man neglected.

Christie felt this to her heart’s core, and for a moment longed to end
the struggle, say, “Take me,” and accept the shadow for the substance.
But those last words of his vividly recalled the compact made with
David that happy birthday night. How could she be his friend if she was
Mr. Fletcher’s wife? She knew she could not be true to both, while her
heart reversed the sentiment she then would owe them: David’s
friendship was dearer than Philip’s love, and she would keep it at all
costs. These thoughts flashed through her mind in the drawing of a
breath, and she looked up, saying steadily in spite of wet eyes and
still burning cheeks:

“Hope nothing; wait for nothing from me. I will have no more delusions
for either of us: it is weak and wicked, for I know I shall not change.
Some time we may venture to be friends perhaps, but not now. Forgive
me, and be sure I shall suffer more than you for this mistake of mine.”

When she had denied his suit before he had been ungenerous and angry;
for his pride was hurt and his will thwarted: now his heart bled and
hope died hard; but all that was manliest in him rose to help him bear
the loss, for this love was genuine, and made him both just and kind.
His face was pale with the pain of that fruitless passion, and his
voice betrayed how hard he strove for self-control, as he said
hurriedly:

“You need not suffer: this mistake has given me the happiest hours of
my life, and I am better for having known so sweet and true a woman.
God bless you, Christie!” and with a quick embrace that startled her by
its suddenness and strength he left her, standing there alone before
the three grim Fates.



CHAPTER XV.
MIDSUMMER.


“Now it is all over. I shall never have another chance like that, and
must make up my mind to be a lonely and laborious spinster all my life.
Youth is going fast, and I have little in myself to attract or win,
though David did call me ‘good and lovely.’ Ah, well, I’ll try to
deserve his praise, and not let disappointment sour or sadden me.
Better to hope and wait all my life than marry without love.”

Christie often said this to herself during the hard days that followed
Mr. Fletcher’s disappearance; a disappearance, by the way, which caused
Mr. Power much satisfaction, though he only betrayed it by added
kindness to Christie, and in his manner an increased respect very
comforting to her.

But she missed her lover, for nothing now broke up the monotony of a
useful life. She had enjoyed that little episode; for it had lent
romance to every thing while it lasted, even the charity basket with
which she went her rounds; for Mr. Fletcher often met her by accident
apparently, and carried it as if to prove the sincerity of his
devotion. No bouquets came now; no graceful little notes with books or
invitations to some coveted pleasure; no dangerously delightful
evenings in the recess, where, for a time, she felt and used the power
which to a woman is so full of subtle satisfaction; no bitter-sweet
hopes; no exciting dreams of what might be with the utterance of a
word; no soft uncertainty to give a charm to every hour that passed.
Nothing but daily duties, a little leisure that hung heavy on her hands
with no hope to stimulate, no lover to lighten it, and a sore, sad
heart that would clamor for its right; and even when pride silenced it
ached on with the dull pain which only time and patience have the power
to heal.

But as those weeks went slowly by, she began to discover some of the
miracles true love can work. She thought she had laid it in its grave;
but an angel rolled the stone away, and the lost passion rose stronger,
purer, and more beautiful than when she buried it with bitter tears. A
spirit now, fed by no hope, warmed by no tenderness, clothed in no fond
delusion; the vital soul of love which outlives the fairest, noblest
form humanity can give it, and sits among the ruins singing the
immortal hymn of consolation the Great Musician taught.

Christie felt this strange comfort resting like a baby in her lonely
bosom, cherished and blessed it; wondering while she rejoiced, and soon
perceiving with the swift instinct of a woman, that this was a lesson,
hard to learn, but infinitely precious, helpful, and sustaining when
once gained. She was not happy, only patient; not hopeful, but
trusting; and when life looked dark and barren without, she went away
into that inner world of deep feeling, high thought, and earnest
aspiration; which is a never-failing refuge to those whose experience
has built within them

“The nunnery of a chaste heart and quiet mind.”


Some women live fast; and Christie fought her battle, won her victory,
and found peace declared during that winter: for her loyalty to love
brought its own reward in time, giving her the tranquil steadfastness
which comes to those who submit and ask nothing but fortitude.

She had seen little of David, except at church, and began to regard him
almost as one might a statue on a tomb, the marble effigy of the
beloved dead below; for the sweet old friendship was only a pale shadow
now. He always found her out, gave her the posy she best liked, said
cheerfully, “How goes it, Christie?” and she always answered,
“Good-morning, David. I am well and busy, thank you.” Then they sat
together listening to Mr. Power, sung from the same book, walked a
little way together, and parted for another week with a hand-shake for
good-by.

Christie often wondered what prayers David prayed when he sat so still
with his face hidden by his hand, and looked up with such a clear and
steady look when he had done. She tried to do the same; but her
thoughts would wander to the motionless gray figure beside her, and she
felt as if peace and strength unconsciously flowed from it to sustain
and comfort her. Some of her happiest moments were those she spent
sitting there, pale and silent, with absent eyes, and lips that
trembled now and then, hidden by the flowers held before them, kissed
covertly, and kept like relics long after they were dead.

One bitter drop always marred the pleasure of that hour; for when she
had asked for Mrs. Sterling, and sent her love, she forced herself to
say kindly:

“And Kitty, is she doing well?”

“Capitally; come and see how she has improved; we are quite proud of
her.”

“I will if I can find time. It’s a hard winter and we have so much to
do,” she would answer smiling, and then go home to struggle back into
the patient mood she tried to make habitual.

But she seldom made time to go and see Kitty’s improvement; and, when
she did run out for an hour she failed to discover any thing, except
that the girl was prettier and more coquettish than ever, and assumed
airs of superiority that tried Christie very much.

“I am ready for any thing,” she always said with a resolute air after
one of these visits; but, when the time seemed to have come she was not
so ready as she fancied.

Passing out of a store one day, she saw Kitty all in her best, buying
white gloves with a most important air. “That looks suspicious,” she
thought, and could not resist speaking.

“All well at home?” she asked.

“Grandma and I have been alone for nearly a week; David went off on
business; but he’s back now and—oh, my goodness! I forgot: I’m not to
tell a soul yet;” and Kitty pursed up her lips, looking quite oppressed
with some great secret.

“Bless me, how mysterious! Well, I won’t ask any dangerous questions,
only tell me if the dear old lady is well,” said Christie, desperately
curious, but too proud to show it.

“She’s well, but dreadfully upset by what’s happened; well she may be.”
And Kitty shook her head with a look of mingled mystery and malicious
merriment.

“Mr. Sterling is all right I hope?” Christie never called him David to
Kitty; so that impertinent little person took especial pains to speak
familiarly, sometimes even fondly of him to Christie.

“Dear fellow! he’s so happy he don’t know what to do with himself. I
just wish you could see him go round smiling, and singing, and looking
as if he’d like to dance.”

“That looks as if he was going to get a chance to do it,” said
Christie, with a glance at the gloves, as Kitty turned from the
counter.

“So he is!” laughed Kitty, patting the little parcel with a joyful
face.

“I do believe you are going to be married:” exclaimed Christie, half
distracted with curiosity.

“I am, but not to Miles. Now don’t you say another word, for I’m dying
to tell, and I promised I wouldn’t. David wants to do it himself.
By-by.” And Kitty hurried away, leaving Christie as pale as if she had
seen a ghost at noonday.

She had; for the thought of David’s marrying Kitty had haunted her all
those months, and now she was quite sure the blow had come.

“If she was only a nobler woman I could bear it better; but I am sure
he will regret it when the first illusion is past. I fancy she reminds
him of his lost Letty, and so he thinks he loves her. I pray he may be
happy, and I hope it will be over soon,” thought Christie, with a
groan, as she trudged away to carry comfort to those whose woes could
be relieved by tea and sugar, flannel petticoats, and orders for a ton
of coal.

It was over soon, but not as Christie had expected.

That evening Mr. Power was called away, and she sat alone, bravely
trying to forget suspense and grief in copying the record of her last
month’s labor. But she made sad work of it; for her mind was full of
David and his wife, so happy in the little home which had grown doubly
dear to her since she left it. No wonder then that she put down “two
dozen children” to Mrs. Flanagan, and “four knit hoods” with the
measles; or that a great blot fell upon “twenty yards red flannel,” as
the pen dropped from the hands she clasped together; saying with all
the fervor of true self-abnegation: “I hope he will be happy; oh, I
hope he will be happy!”

If ever woman deserved reward for patient endeavor, hard-won
submission, and unselfish love, Christie did then. And she received it
in full measure; for the dear Lord requites some faithful hearts,
blesses some lives that seem set apart for silent pain and solitary
labor.

Snow was falling fast, and a bitter wind moaned without; the house was
very still, and nothing stirred in the room but the flames dancing on
the hearth, and the thin hand moving to and fro among the records of a
useful life.

Suddenly the bell rang loudly and repeatedly, as if the new-comer was
impatient of delay. Christie paused to listen. It was not Mr. Power’s
ring, not his voice in the hall below, not his step that came leaping
up the stairs, nor his hand that threw wide the door. She knew them
all, and her heart stood still an instant; then she gathered up her
strength, said low to herself, “Now it is coming,” and was ready for
the truth, with a colorless face; eyes unnaturally bright and fixed;
and one hand on her breast, as if to hold in check the rebellious heart
that would throb so fast.

It was David who came in with such impetuosity. Snow-flakes shone in
his hair; the glow of the keen wind was on his cheek, a smile on his
lips, and in his eyes an expression she had never seen before.
Happiness, touched with the shadow of some past pain; doubt and desire;
gratitude and love,—all seemed to meet and mingle in it; while, about
the whole man, was the free and ardent air of one relieved from some
heavy burden, released from some long captivity.

“O David, what is it?” cried Christie, as he stood looking at her with
this strange look.

“News, Christie! such happy news I can’t find words to tell them,” he
answered, coming nearer, but too absorbed in his own emotion to heed
hers.

She drew a long breath and pressed her hand a little heavier on her
breast, as she said, with the ghost of a smile, more pathetic than the
saddest tears:

“I guess it, David.”

“How?” he demanded, as if defrauded of a joy he had set his heart upon.

“I met Kitty,—she told me nothing,—but her face betrayed what I have
long suspected.”

David laughed, such a glad yet scornful laugh, and, snatching a little
miniature from his pocket, offered it, saying, with the new impetuosity
that changed him so:

“That is the daughter I have found for my mother. You know her,—you
love her; and you will not be ashamed to welcome her, I think.”

Christie took it; saw a faded, time-worn likeness of a young girl’s
happy face; a face strangely familiar, yet, for a moment, she groped to
find the name belonging to it. Then memory helped her; and she said,
half incredulously, half joyfully:

“Is it my Rachel?”

“It is my Letty!” cried David, with an accent of such mingled love and
sorrow, remorse and joy, that Christie seemed to hear in it the
death-knell of her faith in him. The picture fell from the hands she
put up, as if to ward off some heavy blow, and her voice was sharp with
reproachful anguish, as she cried:

“O David, David, any thing but that!”

An instant he seemed bewildered, then the meaning of the grief in her
face flashed on him, and his own grew white with indignant repudiation
of the thought that daunted her; but he only said with the stern
brevity of truth:

“Letty is my sister.”

“Forgive me,—how could I know? Oh, thank God! thank God!” and, dropping
down upon a chair, Christie broke into a passion of the happiest tears
she ever shed.

David stood beside her silent, till the first irrepressible paroxysm
was over; then, while she sat weeping softly, quite bowed down by
emotion, he said, sadly now, not sternly:

“You could not know, because we hid the truth so carefully. I have no
right to resent that belief of yours, for I did wrong my poor Letty,
almost as much as that lover of hers, who, being dead, I do not curse.
Let me tell you every thing, Christie, before I ask your respect and
confidence again. I never deserved them, but I tried to; for they were
very precious to me.”

He paused a moment, then went on rapidly, as if anxious to accomplish a
hard task; and Christie forgot to weep while listening breathlessly.

“Letty was the pride of my heart; and I loved her very dearly, for she
was all I had. Such a pretty child; such a gay, sweet girl; how could I
help it, when she was so fond of me? We were poor then,—poorer than
now,—and she grew restless; tired of hard work; longed for a little
pleasure, and could not bear to waste her youth and beauty in that dull
town. I did not blame my little girl; but I could not help her, for I
was tugging away to fill father’s place, he being broken down and
helpless. She wanted to go away and support herself. You know the
feeling; and I need not tell you how the proud, high-hearted creature
hated dependence, even on a brother who would have worked his soul out
for her. She would go, and we had faith in her. For a time she did
bravely; but life was too hard for her; pleasure too alluring, and,
when temptation came in the guise of love, she could not resist. One
dreadful day, news came that she was gone, never to come back, my
innocent little Letty, any more.”

His voice failed there, and he walked fast through the room, as if the
memory of that bitter day was still unbearable. Christie could not
speak for very pity; and he soon continued, pacing restlessly before
her, as he had often done when she sat by, wondering what unquiet
spirit drove him to and fro:

“That was the beginning of my trouble; but not the worst of it: God
forgive me, not the worst! Father was very feeble, and the shock killed
him; mother’s heart was nearly broken, and all the happiness was taken
out of life for me. But I could bear it, heavy as the blow was, for I
had no part in that sin and sorrow. A year later, there came a letter
from Letty,—a penitent, imploring, little letter, asking to be forgiven
and taken home, for her lover was dead, and she alone in a foreign
land. How would you answer such a letter, Christie?”

“As you did; saying: ‘Come home and let us comfort you.’”

“I said: ‘You have killed your father; broken your mother’s heart;
ruined your brother’s hopes, and disgraced your family. You no longer
have a home with us; and we never want to see your face again.’”

“O David, that was cruel!”

“I said you did not know me; now you see how deceived you have been. A
stern, resentful devil possessed me then, and I obeyed it. I was very
proud; full of ambitious plans and jealous love for the few I took into
my heart. Letty had brought a stain upon our honest name that time
could never wash away; had quenched my hopes in despair and shame; had
made home desolate, and destroyed my faith in every thing; for whom
could I trust, when she, the nearest and dearest creature in the world,
deceived and deserted me. I could not forgive; wrath burned hot within
me, and the desire for retribution would not be appeased till those
cruel words were said. The retribution and remorse came swift and sure;
but they came most heavily to me.”

Still standing where he had paused abruptly as he asked his question,
David wrung his strong hands together with a gesture of passionate
regret, while his face grew sharp with the remembered suffering of the
years he had given to the atonement of that wrong.

Christie put her own hand on those clenched ones, and whispered softly:

“Don’t tell me any more now: I can wait.”

“I must, and you must listen! I’ve longed to tell you, but I was
afraid; now, you shall know every thing, and then decide if you can
forgive me for Letty’s sake,” he said, so resolutely that she listened
with a face full of mute compassion.

“That little letter came to me; I never told my mother, but answered
it, and kept silent till news arrived that the ship in which Letty had
taken passage was lost. Remorse had been tugging at my heart; and, when
I knew that she was dead, I forgave her with a vain forgiveness, and
mourned for my darling, as if she had never left me. I told my mother
then, and she did not utter one reproach; but age seemed to fall upon
her all at once, and the pathetic quietude you see.

“Then, but for her, I should have been desperate; for day and night
Letty’s face haunted me; Letty’s voice cried: ‘Take me home!’ and every
word of that imploring letter burned before my eyes as if written in
fire. Do you wonder now that I hid myself; that I had no heart to try
for any honorable place in the world, and only struggled to forget,
only hoped to expiate my sin?”

With his head bowed down upon his breast, David stood silent, asking
himself if he had even now done enough to win the reward he coveted.
Christie’s voice seemed to answer him; for she said, with heartfelt
gratitude and respect:

“Surely you have atoned for that harshness to one woman by years of
devotion to many. Was it this that made you ’a brother of girls,’ as
Mr. Power once called you? And, when I asked what he meant, he said the
Arabs call a man that who has ‘a clean heart to love all women as his
sisters, and strength and courage to fight for their protection!’”

She hoped to lighten his trouble a little, and spoke with a smile that
was like cordial to poor David.

“Yes,” he said, lifting his head again. “I tried to be that, and, for
Letty’s sake, had pity on the most forlorn, patience with the most
abandoned; always remembering that she might have been what they were,
if death had not been more merciful than I.”

“But she was not dead: she was alive and working as bravely as you. Ah,
how little I thought, when I loved Rachel, and she loved me, that we
should ever meet so happily as we soon shall. Tell me how you found
her? Does she know I am the woman she once saved? Tell me all about
her; and tell it fast,” prayed Christie, getting excited, as she more
fully grasped the happy fact that Rachel and Letty were one.

David came nearer, and his face kindled as he spoke. “The ship sailed
without her; she came later; and, finding that her name was among the
lost, she did not deny it, for she was dead to us, and decided to
remain so till she had earned the right to be forgiven. You know how
she lived and worked, stood firm with no one to befriend her till you
came, and, by years of patient well-doing, washed away her single sin.
If any one dares think I am ashamed to own her now, let him know what
cause I have to be proud of her; let him come and see how tenderly I
love her; how devoutly I thank God for permitting me to find and bring
my little Letty home.”

Only the snow-flakes drifting against the window-pane, and the wailing
of the wind, was heard for a moment; then David added, with brightening
eyes and a glad voice:

“I went into a hospital while away, to look after one of my poor girls
who had been doing well till illness brought her there. As I was
passing out I saw a sleeping face, and stopped involuntarily: it was so
like Letty’s. I never doubted she was dead; the name over the bed was
not hers; the face was sadly altered from the happy, rosy one I knew,
but it held me fast; and as I paused the eyes opened,—Letty’s own soft
eyes,—they saw me, and, as if I was the figure of a dream, she smiled,
put up her arms and said, just as she used to say, a child, when I woke
her in her little bed—‘Why, Davy!’—I can’t tell any more,—only that
when I brought her home and put her in mother’s arms, I felt as if I
was forgiven at last.”

He broke down there, and went and stood behind the window curtains,
letting no one see the grateful tears that washed away the bitterness
of those long years.

Christie had taken up the miniature and was looking at it, while her
heart sang for joy that the lost was found, when David came back to
her, wearing the same look she had seen the night she listened among
the cloaks. Moved and happy, with eager eyes and ardent manner, yet
behind it all a pale expectancy as if some great crisis was at hand:

“Christie, I never can forget that when all others, even I, cast Letty
off, you comforted and saved her. What can I do to thank you for it?”

“Be my friend, and let me be hers again,” she answered, too deeply
moved to think of any private hope or pain.

“Then the past, now that you know it all, does not change your heart to
us?”

“It only makes you dearer.”

“And if I asked you to come back to the home that has been desolate
since you went, would you come?”

“Gladly, David.”

“And if I dared to say I loved you?”

She only looked at him with a quick rising light and warmth over her
whole face; he stretched both arms to her, and, going to him, Christie
gave her answer silently.

Lovers usually ascend straight into the seventh heaven for a time:
unfortunately they cannot stay long; the air is too rarefied, the light
too brilliant, the fare too ethereal, and they are forced to come down
to mundane things, as larks drop from heaven’s gate into their grassy
nests. David was summoned from that blissful region, after a brief
enjoyment of its divine delights, by Christie, who looked up from her
new refuge with the abrupt question:

“What becomes of Kitty?”

He regarded her with a dazed expression for an instant, for she had
been speaking the delightful language of lips and eyes that lovers use,
and the old tongue sounded harsh to him.

“She is safe with her father, and is to marry the ‘other one’ next
week.”

“Heaven be praised!” ejaculated Christie, so fervently that David
looked suddenly enlightened and much amused, as he said quickly: “What
becomes of Fletcher?” “He’s safely out of the way, and I sincerely hope
he will marry some ‘other one’ as soon as possible.” “Christie, you
were jealous of that girl.” “David, you were jealous of that man.” Then
they both burst out laughing like two children, for heavy burdens had
been lifted off their hearts and they were bubbling over with
happiness.

“But truly, David, weren’t you a little jealous of P. F.?” persisted
Christie, feeling an intense desire to ask all manner of harassing
questions, with the agreeable certainty that they would be fully
answered.

“Desperately jealous. You were so kind, so gay, so altogether charming
when with him, that I could not stand by and see it, so I kept away.
Why were you never so to me?”

“Because you never showed that you cared for me, and he did. But it was
wrong in me to do it, and I repent of it heartily; for it hurt him more
than I thought it would when the experiment failed. I truly tried to
love him, but I couldn’t.”

“Yet he had so much to offer, and could give you all you most enjoy. It
is very singular that you failed to care for him, and preferred a poor
old fellow like me,” said David, beaming at her like a beatified man.

“I do love luxury and pleasure, but I love independence more. I’m
happier poking in the dirt with you than I should be driving in a fine
carriage with ‘that piece of elegance’ as Mr. Power called him; prouder
of being your wife than his; and none of the costly things he offered
me were half so precious in my sight as your little nosegays, now
mouldering away in my treasure-box upstairs. Why, Davy, I’ve longed
more intensely for the right to push up the curly lock that is always
tumbling into your eyes, than for Philip’s whole fortune. May I do it
now?”

“You may,” and Christie did it with a tender satisfaction that made
David love her the more, though he laughed like a boy at the womanly
whim.

“And so you thought I cared for Kitty?” he said presently, taking his
turn at the new game.

“How could I help it when she was so young and pretty and fond of you?”

“Was she?” innocently.

“Didn’t you see it? How blind men are!”

“Not always.”

“David, did you see that I cared for you?” asked Christie, turning
crimson under the significant glance he gave her.

“I wish I had; I confess I once or twice fancied that I caught glimpses
of bliss round the corner, as it were; but, before I could decide, the
glimpses vanished, and I was very sure I was a conceited coxcomb to
think it for a moment. It was very hard, and yet I was glad.”

“Glad!”

“Yes, because I had made a sort of vow that I’d never love or marry as
a punishment for my cruelty to Letty.”

“That was wrong, David.”

“I see it now; but it was not hard to keep that foolish vow till you
came; and you see I’ve broken it without a shadow of regret to-night.”

“You might have done it months ago and saved me so much woe if you had
not been a dear, modest, morbidly conscientious bat,” sighed Christie,
pleased and proud to learn her power, yet sorry for the long delay.

“Thank you, love. You see I didn’t find out why I liked my friend so
well till I lost her. I had just begun to feel that you were very
dear,—for after the birthday you were like an angel in the house,
Christie,—when you changed all at once, and I thought you suspected me,
and didn’t like it. Your running away when Kitty came confirmed my
fear; then in came that—would you mind if I said—confounded Fletcher?”

“Not in the least.”

“Well, as he didn’t win, I won’t be hard on him; but I gave up then and
had a tough time of it; especially that first night when this splendid
lover appeared and received such a kind welcome.”

Christie saw the strong hand that lay on David’s knee clenched slowly,
as he knit his brows with a grim look, plainly showing that he was not
what she was inclined to think him, a perfect saint.

“Oh, my heart! and there I was loving you so dearly all the time, and
you wouldn’t see or speak or understand, but went away, left me to
torment all three of us,” cried Christie with a tragic gesture.

“My dearest girl, did you ever know a man in love do, say, or think the
right thing at the right time? I never did,” said David, so penitently
that she forgave him on the spot.

“Never mind, dear. It has taught us the worth of love, and perhaps we
are the better for the seeming waste of precious time. Now I’ve not
only got you but Letty also, and your mother is mine in very truth. Ah,
how rich I am!”

“But I thought it was all over with me when I found Letty, because,
seeing no more of Fletcher, I had begun to hope again, and when she
came back to me I knew my home must be hers, yet feared you would
refuse to share it if you knew all. You are very proud, and the
purest-hearted woman I ever knew.”

“And if I had refused, you would have let me go and held fast to
Letty?”

“Yes, for I owe her every thing.”

“You should have known me better, David. But I don’t refuse, and there
is no need to choose between us.”

“No, thank heaven, and you, my Christie! Imagine what I felt when Letty
told me all you had been to her. If any thing could make me love you
more than I now do, it would be that! No, don’t hide your face; I like
to see it blush and smile and turn to me confidingly, as it has not
done all these long months.”

“Did Letty tell you what she had done for me?” asked Christie, looking
more like a rose than ever Kitty did.

“She told me every thing, and wished me to tell you all her story, even
the saddest part of it. I’d better do it now before you meet again.”

He paused as if the tale was hard to tell; but Christie put her hand on
his lips saying softly:

“Never tell it; let her past be as sacred as if she were dead. She was
my friend when I had no other: she is my dear sister now, and nothing
can ever change the love between us.”

If she had thought David’s face beautiful with gratitude when he told
the happier portions of that history, she found it doubly so when she
spared him the recital of its darkest chapter, and bade him “leave the
rest to silence.”

“Now you will come home? Mother wants you, Letty longs for you, and I
have got and mean to keep you all my life, God willing!”

“I’d better die to-night and make a blessed end, for so much happiness
is hardly possible in a world of woe,” answered Christie to that
fervent invitation.

“We shall be married very soon, take a wedding trip to any part of the
world you like, and our honeymoon will last for ever, Mrs. Sterling,
Jr.,” said David, soaring away into the future with sublime disregard
of obstacles.

Before Christie could get her breath after that somewhat startling
announcement, Mr. Power appeared, took in the situation at a glance,
gave them a smile that was a benediction, and said heartily as he
offered a hand to each:

“Now I’m satisfied; I’ve watched and waited patiently, and after many
tribulations you have found each other in good time;” then with a
meaning look at Christie he added slyly: “But David is ‘no hero’ you
know.”

She remembered the chat in the strawberry bed, laughed, and colored
brightly, as she answered with her hand trustfully in David’s, her eyes
full of loving pride and reverence lifted to his face:

“I’ve seen both sides of the medal now, and found it ‘sterling gold.’
Hero or not I’m content; for, though he ‘loves his mother much,’ there
is room in his heart for me too; his ‘old books’ have given him
something better than learning, and he has convinced me that ‘double
flowers’ are loveliest and best.”



CHAPTER XVI.
MUSTERED IN.


Christie’s return was a very happy one, and could not well be otherwise
with a mother, sister, and lover to welcome her back. Her meeting with
Letty was indescribably tender, and the days that followed were pretty
equally divided between her and her brother, in nursing the one and
loving the other. There was no cloud now in Christie’s sky, and all the
world seemed in bloom. But even while she enjoyed every hour of life,
and begrudged the time given to sleep, she felt as if the dream was too
beautiful to last, and often said:

“Something will happen: such perfect happiness is not possible in this
world.”

“Then let us make the most of it,” David would reply, wisely bent on
getting his honey while he could, and not borrowing trouble for the
morrow.

So Christie turned a deaf ear to her “prophetic soul,” and gave herself
up to the blissful holiday that had come at last. Even while March
winds were howling outside, she blissfully “poked in the dirt” with
David in the green-house, put up the curly lock as often as she liked,
and told him she loved him a dozen times a day, not in words, but in
silent ways, that touched him to the heart, and made his future look so
bright he hardly dared believe in it.

A happier man it would have been difficult to find just then; all his
burdens seemed to have fallen off, and his spirits rose again with an
elasticity which surprised even those who knew him best. Christie often
stopped to watch and wonder if the blithe young man who went whistling
and singing about the house, often stopping to kiss somebody, to joke,
or to exclaim with a beaming face like a child at a party: “Isn’t every
thing beautiful?” could be the sober, steady David, who used to plod to
and fro with his shoulders a little bent, and the absent look in his
eyes that told of thoughts above or beyond the daily task.

It was good to see his mother rejoice over him with an exceeding great
joy; it was better still to see Letty’s eyes follow him with
unspeakable love and gratitude in their soft depths; but it was best of
all to see Christie marvel and exult over the discoveries she made:
for, though she had known David for a year, she had never seen the real
man till now.

“Davy, you are a humbug,” she said one day when they were making up a
bridal order in the greenhouse.

“I told you so, but you wouldn’t believe it,” he answered, using long
stemmed rose-buds with as prodigal a hand as if the wedding was to be
his own.

“I thought I was going to marry a quiet, studious, steady-going man;
and here I find myself engaged to a romantic youth who flies about in
the most undignified manner, embraces people behind doors, sings opera
airs,—very much out of tune by the way,—and conducts himself more like
an infatuated Claude Melnotte, than a respectable gentleman on the
awful verge of matrimony. Nothing can surprise me now: I’m prepared for
any thing, even the sight of my Quakerish lover dancing a jig.”

“Just what I’ve been longing to do! Come and take a turn: it will do
you good;” and, to Christie’s utter amazement, David caught her round
the waist and waltzed her down the boarded walk with a speed and skill
that caused less havoc among the flower-pots than one would imagine,
and seemed to delight the plants, who rustled and nodded as if
applauding the dance of the finest double flower that had ever
blossomed in their midst.

“I can’t help it, Christie,” he said, when he had landed her breathless
and laughing at the other end. “I feel like a boy out of school, or
rather a man out of prison, and must enjoy my liberty in some way. I’m
not a talker, you know; and, as the laws of gravitation forbid my
soaring aloft anywhere, I can only express my joyfully uplifted state
of mind by ‘prancing,’ as you call it. Never mind dignity: let’s be
happy, and by and by I’ll sober down.”

“I don’t want you to; I love to see you so young and happy, only you
are not the old David, and I’ve got to get acquainted with the new
one.”

“I hope you’ll like him better than the frost-bitten ‘old David’ you
first knew and were kind enough to love. Mother says I’ve gone back to
the time before we lost Letty, and I sometimes feel as if I had. In
that case you will find me a proud, impetuous, ambitious fellow,
Christie, and how will that suit?”

“Excellently; I like pride of your sort; impetuosity becomes you, for
you have learned to control it if need be; and the ambition is best of
all. I always wondered at your want of it, and longed to stir you up;
for you did not seem the sort of man to be contented with mere creature
comforts when there are so many fine things men may do. What shall you
choose, Davy?”

“I shall wait for time to show. The sap is all astir in me, and I’m
ready for my chance. I don’t know what it is, but I feel very sure that
some work will be given me into which I can put my whole heart and soul
and strength. I spoilt my first chance; but I know I shall have
another, and, whatever it is, I am ready to do my best, and live or die
for it as God wills.”

“So am I,” answered Christie, with a voice as earnest and a face as
full of hopeful resolution as his own.

Then they went back to their work, little dreaming as they tied roses
and twined smilax wreaths, how near that other chance was; how soon
they were to be called upon to keep their promise, and how well each
was to perform the part given them in life and death.

The gun fired one April morning at Fort Sumter told many men like David
what their work was to be, and showed many women like Christie a new
right to claim and bravely prove their fitness to possess.

No need to repeat the story of the war begun that day; it has been so
often told that it will only be touched upon here as one of the
experiences of Christie’s life, an experience which did for her what it
did for all who took a share in it, and loyally acted their part.

The North woke up from its prosperous lethargy, and began to stir with
the ominous hum of bees when rude hands shake the hive. Rich and poor
were proud to prove that they loved their liberty better than their
money or their lives, and the descendants of the brave old Puritans
were worthy of their race. Many said: “It will soon be over;” but the
wise men, who had warned in vain, shook their heads, as that first
disastrous summer showed that the time for compromise was past, and the
stern reckoning day of eternal justice was at hand.

To no home in the land did the great trouble bring a more sudden change
than the little cottage in the lane. All its happy peace was broken;
excitement and anxiety, grief and indignation, banished the sweet home
joys and darkened the future that had seemed so clear. David was sober
enough now, and went about his work with a grim set to his lips, and a
spark in his eyes that made the three women look at one another pale
with unspoken apprehension. As they sat together, picking lint or
rolling bandages while David read aloud some dismal tale of a lost
battle that chilled their blood and made their hearts ache with pity,
each woman, listening to the voice that stirred her like martial music,
said within herself: “Sooner or later he will go, and I have no right
to keep him.” Each tried to be ready to make her sacrifice bravely when
the time came, and each prayed that it might not be required of her.

David said little, but they knew by the way he neglected his garden and
worked for the soldiers, that his heart was in the war. Day after day
he left Christie and his sister to fill the orders that came so often
now for flowers to lay on the grave of some dear, dead boy brought home
to his mother in a shroud. Day after day he hurried away to help Mr.
Power in the sanitary work that soon claimed all hearts and hands; and,
day after day, he came home with what Christie called the “heroic look”
more plainly written on his face. All that first summer, so short and
strange; all that first winter, so long and hard to those who went and
those who stayed, David worked and waited, and the women waxed strong
in the new atmosphere of self-sacrifice which pervaded the air,
bringing out the sturdy virtues of the North.

“How terrible! Oh, when will it be over!” sighed Letty one day, after
hearing a long list of the dead and wounded in one of the great battles
of that second summer.

“Never till we have beaten!” cried David, throwing down the paper and
walking about the room with his head up like a war-horse who smells
powder. “It is terrible and yet glorious. I thank heaven I live to see
this great wrong righted, and only wish I could do my share like a
man.”

“That is natural; but there are plenty of men who have fewer ties than
you, who can fight better, and whose places are easier to fill than
yours if they die,” said Christie, hastily.

“But the men who have most to lose fight best they say; and to my
thinking a soldier needs a principle as well as a weapon, if he is to
do real service.”

“As the only son of a widow, you can’t be drafted: that’s one comfort,”
said Letty, who could not bear to give up the brother lost to her for
so many years.

“I should not wait for that, and I know mother would give her widow’s
mite if she saw that it was needed.”

“Yes, Davy.” The soft, old voice answered steadily; but the feeble hand
closed instinctively on the arm of this only son, who was so dear to
her. David held it close in both of his, saying gratefully: “Thank you,
mother;” then, fixing his eyes on the younger yet not dearer women, he
added with a ring in his voice that made their hearts answer with a
prompt “Ay, ay!” in spite of love or fear:

“Now listen, you dear souls, and understand that, if I do this thing, I
shall not do it hastily, nor without counting well the cost. My first
and most natural impulse was to go in the beginning; but I stayed for
your sakes. I saw I was not really needed: I thought the war would soon
be over, and those who went then could do the work. You see how
mistaken we were, and God only knows when the end will come. The
boys—bless their brave hearts!—have done nobly, but older men are
needed now. We cannot sacrifice all the gallant lads; and we who have
more to lose than they must take our turn and try to do as well. You
own this; I see it in your faces: then don’t hold me back when the time
comes for me to go. I must do my part, however small it is, or I shall
never feel as if I deserved the love you give me. You will let me go, I
am sure, and not regret that I did what seemed to me a solemn duty,
leaving the consequences to the Lord!”

“Yes, David,” sister and sweetheart answered, bravely forgetting in the
fervor of the moment what heavy consequences God might see fit to send.

“Good! I knew my Spartans would be ready, and I won’t disgrace them.
I’ve waited more than a year, and done what I could. But all the while
I felt that I was going to get a chance at the hard work, and I’ve been
preparing for it. Bennet will take the garden and green-house off my
hands this autumn for a year or longer, if I like. He’s a kind,
neighborly man, and his boy will take my place about the house and
protect you faithfully. Mr. Power cannot be spared to go as chaplain,
though he longs to desperately; so he is near in case of need, and with
your two devoted daughters by you, mother, I surely can be spared for a
little while.”

“Only one daughter near her, David: I shall enlist when you do,” said
Christie, resolutely.

“You mean it?”

“I mean it as honestly as you do. I knew you would go: I saw you
getting ready, and I made up my mind to follow. I, too, have prepared
for it, and even spoken to Mrs. Amory. She has gone as matron of a
hospital, and promised to find a place for me when I was ready. The day
you enlist I shall write and tell her I am ready.”

There was fire in Christie’s eyes and a flush on her cheek now, as she
stood up with the look of a woman bent on doing well her part. David
caught her hands in his, regardless of the ominous bandages they held,
and said, with tender admiration and reproach in his voice:

“You wouldn’t marry me when I asked you this summer, fearing you would
be a burden to me; but now you want to share hardship and danger with
me, and support me by the knowledge of your nearness. Dear, ought I to
let you do it?”

“You will let me do it, and in return I will marry you whenever you ask
me,” answered Christie, sealing the promise with a kiss that silenced
him.

He had been anxious to be married long ago, but when he asked Mr. Power
to make him happy, a month after his engagement, that wise friend said
to them:

“I don’t advise it yet. You have tried and proved one another as
friends, now try and prove one another as lovers; then, if you feel
that all is safe and happy, you will be ready for the greatest of the
three experiments, and then in God’s name marry.”

“We will,” they said, and for a year had been content, studying one
another, finding much to love, and something to learn in the art of
bearing and forbearing.

David had begun to think they had waited long enough, but Christie
still delayed, fearing she was not worthy, and secretly afflicted by
the thought of her poverty. She had so little to give in return for all
she received that it troubled her, and she was sometimes tempted to ask
Uncle Enos for a modest marriage portion. She never had yet, and now
resolved to ask nothing, but to earn her blessing by doing her share in
the great work.

“I shall remember that,” was all David answered to that last promise of
hers, and three months later he took her at her word.

For a week or two they went on in the old way; Christie did her
housework with her head full of new plans, read books on nursing, made
gruel, plasters, and poultices, till Mrs. Sterling pronounced her
perfect; and dreamed dreams of a happy time to come when peace had
returned, and David was safe at home with all the stars and bars a man
could win without dying for them.

David set things in order, conferred with Bennet, petted his womankind,
and then hurried away to pack boxes of stores, visit camps, and watch
departing regiments with a daily increasing certainty that his time had
come.

One September day he went slowly home, and, seeing Christie in the
garden, joined her, helped her finish matting up some delicate shrubs,
put by the tools, and when all was done said with unusual gentleness:

“Come and walk a little in the lane.”

She put her arm in his, and answered quickly:

“You’ve something to tell me: I see it in your face.”

“Dear, I must go.”

“Yes, David.”

“And you?”

“I go too.”

“Yes, Christie.”

That was all: she did not offer to detain him now; he did not deny her
right to follow. They looked each other bravely in the face a moment,
seeing, acknowledging the duty and the danger, yet ready to do the one
and dare the other, since they went together. Then shoulder to
shoulder, as if already mustered in, these faithful comrades marched to
and fro, planning their campaign.

Next evening, as Mrs. Sterling sat alone in the twilight, a tall man in
army blue entered quietly, stood watching the tranquil figure for a
moment, then went and knelt down beside it, saying, with a most
unsoldierly choke in the voice:

“I’ve done it, mother: tell me you’re not sorry.”

But the little Quaker cap went down on the broad shoulder, and the only
answer he heard was a sob that stirred the soft folds over the tender
old heart that clung so closely to the son who had lived for her so
long. What happened in the twilight no one ever knew; but David
received promotion for bravery in a harder battle than any he was going
to, and from his mother’s breast a decoration more precious to him than
the cross of the Legion of Honor from a royal hand.

When Mr. Power presently came in, followed by the others, they found
their soldier standing very erect in his old place on the rug, with the
firelight gleaming on his bright buttons, and Bran staring at him with
a perplexed aspect; for the uniform, shorn hair, trimmed beard, and a
certain lofty carriage of the head so changed his master that the
sagacious beast was disturbed.

Letty smiled at him approvingly, then went to comfort her mother who
could not recover her tranquillity so soon. But Christie stood aloof,
looking at her lover with something more than admiration in the face
that kindled beautifully as she exclaimed:

“O David, you are splendid! Once I was so blind I thought you plain;
but now my ‘boy in blue’ is the noblest looking man I ever saw. Yes,
Mr. Power, I’ve found my hero at last! Here he is, my knight without
reproach or fear, going out to take his part in the grandest battle
ever fought. I wouldn’t keep him if I could; I’m glad and proud to have
him go; and if he never should come back to me I can bear it better for
knowing that he dutifully did his best, and left the consequences to
the Lord.”

Then, having poured out the love and pride and confidence that enriched
her sacrifice, she broke down and clung to him, weeping as so many
clung and wept in those hard days when men and women gave their
dearest, and those who prayed and waited suffered almost as much as
those who fought and died.

When the deed was once done, it was astonishing what satisfaction they
all took in it, how soon they got accustomed to the change, and what
pride they felt in “our soldier.” The loyal frenzy fell upon the three
quiet women, and they could not do too much for their country. Mrs.
Sterling cut up her treasured old linen without a murmur; Letty made
“comfort bags” by the dozen, put up jelly, and sewed on blue jackets
with tireless industry; while Christie proclaimed that if she had
twenty lovers she would send them all; and then made preparations
enough to nurse the entire party.

David meantime was in camp, getting his first taste of martial life,
and not liking it any better than he thought he should; but no one
heard a complaint, and he never regretted his “love among the roses,”
for he was one of the men who had a “principle as well as a weapon,”
and meant to do good service with both.

It would have taken many knapsacks to hold all the gifts showered upon
him by his friends and neighbors. He accepted all that came, and
furnished forth those of his company who were less favored. Among these
was Elisha Wilkins, and how he got there should be told.

Elisha had not the slightest intention of enlisting, but Mrs. Wilkins
was a loyal soul, and could not rest till she had sent a substitute,
since she could not go herself. Finding that Lisha showed little
enthusiasm on the subject, she tried to rouse him by patriotic appeals
of various sorts. She read stirring accounts of battles, carefully
omitting the dead and wounded; she turned out, baby and all if
possible, to cheer every regiment that left; and was never tired of
telling Wash how she wished she could add ten years to his age and send
him off to fight for his country like a man.

But nothing seemed to rouse the supine Elisha, who chewed his quid like
a placid beast of the field, and showed no sign of a proper spirit.

“Very well,” said Mrs. Wilkins resolutely to herself, “ef I can’t make
no impression on his soul I will on his stommick, and see how that’ll
work.”

Which threat she carried out with such skill and force that Lisha was
effectually waked up, for he was “partial to good vittles,” and Cynthy
was a capital cook. Poor rations did not suit him, and he demanded why
his favorite dishes were not forthcoming.

“We can’t afford no nice vittles now when our men are sufferin’ so. I
should be ashamed to cook ’em, and expect to choke tryin’ to eat ’em.
Every one is sacrificin’ somethin’, and we mustn’t be slack in doin’
our part,—the Lord knows it’s precious little,—and there won’t be no
stuffin’ in this house for a consid’able spell. Ef I could save up
enough to send a man to do my share of the fightin’, I should be proud
to do it. Anyway I shall stint the family and send them dear brave
fellers every cent I can git without starvin’ the children.”

“Now, Cynthy, don’t be ferce. Things will come out all right, and it
ain’t no use upsettin’ every thing and bein’ so darned uncomfortable,”
answered Mr. Wilkins with unusual energy.

“Yes it is, Lisha. No one has a right to be comfortable in such times
as these, and this family ain’t goin’ to be ef I can help it,” and Mrs.
Wilkins set down her flat-iron with a slam which plainly told her Lisha
war was declared.

He said no more but fell a thinking. He was not as unmoved as he seemed
by the general excitement, and had felt sundry manly impulses to “up
and at ’em,” when his comrades in the shop discussed the crisis with
ireful brandishing of awls, and vengeful pounding of sole leather, as
if the rebels were under the hammer. But the selfish, slothful little
man could not make up his mind to brave hardship and danger, and fell
back on his duty to his family as a reason for keeping safe at home.

But now that home was no longer comfortable, now that Cynthy had
sharpened her tongue, and turned “ferce,” and now—hardest blow of
all—that he was kept on short commons, he began to think he might as
well be on the tented field, and get a little glory along with the
discomfort if that was inevitable. Nature abhors a vacuum, and when
food fell short patriotism had a chance to fill the aching void. Lisha
had about made up his mind, for he knew the value of peace and
quietness; and, though his wife was no scold, she was the ruling power,
and in his secret soul he considered her a very remarkable woman. He
knew what she wanted, but was not going to be hurried for anybody; so
he still kept silent, and Mrs. Wilkins began to think she must give it
up. An unexpected ally appeared however, and the good woman took
advantage of it to strike one last blow.

Lisha sat eating a late breakfast one morning, with a small son at
either elbow, waiting for stray mouthfuls and committing petty
larcenies right and left, for Pa was in a brown study. Mrs. Wilkins was
frying flap-jacks, and though this is not considered an heroical
employment she made it so that day. This was a favorite dish of
Lisha’s, and she had prepared it as a bait for this cautious fish. To
say that the fish rose at once and swallowed the bait, hook and all,
but feebly expresses the justice done to the cakes by that
long-suffering man. Waiting till he had a tempting pile of the
lightest, brownest flapjacks ever seen upon his plate, and was watching
an extra big bit of butter melt luxuriously into the warm bosom of the
upper one, with a face as benign as if some of the molasses he was
trickling over them had been absorbed into his nature, Mrs. Wilkins
seized the propitious moment to say impressively:

“David Sterlin’ has enlisted!”

“Sho! has he, though?”

“Of course he has! any man with the spirit of a muskeeter would.”

“Well, he ain’t got a family, you see.”

“He’s got his old mother, that sister home from furrin’ parts
somewheres, and Christie just going to be married. I should like to
know who’s got a harder family to leave than that?”

“Six young children is harder: ef I went fifin’ and drummin’ off, who’d
take care of them I’d like to know?”

“I guess I could support the family ef I give my mind to it;” and Mrs.
Wilkins turned a flapjack with an emphasis that caused her lord to bolt
a hot triangle with dangerous rapidity; for well he knew very little of
his money went into the common purse. She never reproached him, but the
fact nettled him now; and something in the tone of her voice made that
sweet morsel hard to swallow.

“’Pears to me you’re in ruther a hurry to be a widder, Cynthy, shovin’
me off to git shot in this kind of a way,” growled Lisha, ill at ease.

“I’d ruther be a brave man’s widder than a coward’s wife, any day!”
cried the rebellious Cynthy: then she relented, and softly slid two hot
cakes into his plate; adding, with her hand upon his shoulder, “Lisha,
dear, I want to be proud of my husband as other women be of theirs.
Every one gives somethin’, I’ve only got you, and I want to do my
share, and do it hearty.”

She went back to her work, and Mr. Wilkins sat thoughtfully stroking
the curly heads beside him, while the boys ravaged his plate, with no
reproof, but a half audible, “My little chaps, my little chaps!”

She thought she had got him, and smiled to herself, even while a great
tear sputtered on the griddle at those last words of his.

Imagine her dismay, when, having consumed the bait, her fish gave signs
of breaking the line, and escaping after all; for Mr. Wilkins pushed
back his chair, and said slowly, as he filled his pipe:

“I’m blest ef I can see the sense of a lot of decent men going off to
be froze, and starved, and blowed up jest for them confounded niggers.”

He got no further, for his wife’s patience gave out; and, leaving her
cakes to burn black, she turned to him with a face glowing like her
stove, and cried out:

“Lisha, ain’t you got no heart? can you remember what Hepsey told us,
and call them poor, long-sufferin’ creeters names? Can you think of
them wretched wives sold from their husbands; them children as dear as
ourn tore from their mothers; and old folks kep slavin eighty long,
hard years with no pay, no help, no pity, when they git past work?
Lisha Wilkins, look at that, and say no ef you darst!”

Mrs. Wilkins was a homely woman in an old calico gown, but her face,
her voice, her attitude were grand, as she flung wide the door of the
little back bedroom. and pointed with her tin spatula to the sight
beyond.

Only Hepsey sitting by a bed where lay what looked more like a
shrivelled mummy than a woman. Ah! but it was that old mother worked
and waited for so long: blind now, and deaf; childish, and half dead
with many hardships, but safe and free at last; and Hepsey’s black face
was full of a pride, a peace, and happiness more eloquent and touching
than any speech or sermon ever uttered.

Mr. Wilkins had heard her story, and been more affected by it than he
would confess: now it came home to him with sudden force; the thought
of his own mother, wife, or babies torn from him stirred him to the
heart, and the manliest emotion he had ever known caused him to cast
his pipe at his feet, put on his hat with an energetic slap, and walk
out of the house, wearing an expression on his usually wooden face that
caused his wife to clap her hands and cry exultingly:

“I thought that would fetch him!”

Then she fell to work like an inspired woman; and at noon a sumptuous
dinner “smoked upon the board;” the children were scrubbed till their
faces shone; and the room was as fresh and neat as any apartment could
be with the penetrating perfume of burnt flapjacks still pervading the
air, and three dozen ruffled nightcaps decorating the clothes-lines
overhead.

“Tell me the instant minute you see Pa a comin’, and I’ll dish up the
gravy,” was Mrs. Wilkins’s command, as she stepped in with a cup of tea
for old “Harm,” as she called Hepsey’s mother.

“He’s a comin’, Ma!” called Gusty, presently.

“No, he ain’t: it’s a trainer,” added Ann Lizy.

“Yes, ’tis Pa! oh, my eye! ain’t he stunnin’!” cried Wash, stricken for
the first time with admiration of his sire.

Before Mrs. Wilkins could reply to these conflicting rumors her husband
walked in, looking as martial as his hollow chest and thin legs
permitted, and, turning his cap nervously in his hands, said
half-proudly, half-reproachfully:

“Now, Cynthy, be you satisfied?”

“Oh, my Lisha! I be, I be!” and the inconsistent woman fell upon his
buttony breast weeping copiously.

If ever a man was praised and petted, admired and caressed, it was
Elisha Wilkins that day. His wife fed him with the fat of the land,
regardless of consequences; his children revolved about him with
tireless curiosity and wonder; his neighbors flocked in to applaud,
advise, and admire; every one treated him with a respect most grateful
to his feelings; he was an object of interest, and with every hour his
importance increased, so that by night he felt like a
Commander-in-Chief, and bore himself accordingly. He had enlisted in
David’s regiment, which was a great comfort to his wife; for though her
stout heart never failed her, it grew very heavy at times; and when
Lisha was gone, she often dropped a private tear over the broken pipe
that always lay in its old place, and vented her emotions by sending
baskets of nourishment to Private Wilkins, which caused that
bandy-legged warrior to be much envied and cherished by his mates.

“I’m glad I done it; for it will make a man of Lisha; and, if I’ve sent
him to his death, God knows he’ll be fitter to die than if he stayed
here idlin’ his life away.”

Then the good soul openly shouldered the burden she had borne so long
in secret, and bravely trudged on alone.

“Another great battle!” screamed the excited news-boys in the streets.
“Another great battle!” read Letty in the cottage parlor. “Another
great battle!” cried David, coming in with the war-horse expression on
his face a month or two after he enlisted.

The women dropped their work to look and listen; for his visits were
few and short, and every instant was precious. When the first greetings
were over, David stood silent an instant, and a sudden mist came over
his eyes as he glanced from one beloved face to another; then he threw
back his head with the old impatient gesture, squared his shoulders,
and said in a loud, cheerful voice, with a suspicious undertone of
emotion in it, however:

“My precious people, I’ve got something to tell you: are you ready?”

They knew what it was without a word. Mrs. Sterling clasped her hands
and bowed her head. Letty turned pale and dropped her work; but
Christie’s eyes kindled, as she answered with a salute:

“Ready, my General.”

“We are ordered off at once, and go at four this afternoon. I’ve got a
three hours’ leave to say good-by in. Now, let’s be brave and enjoy
every minute of it.”

“We will: what can I do for you, Davy?” asked Christie, wonderfully
supported by the thought that she was going too.

“Keep your promise, dear,” he answered, while the warlike expression
changed to one of infinite tenderness.

“What promise?”

“This;” and he held out his hand with a little paper in it. She saw it
was a marriage license, and on it lay a wedding-ring. She did not
hesitate an instant, but laid her own hand in his, and answered with
her heart in her face:

“I’ll keep it, David.”

“I knew you would!” then holding her close he said in a tone that made
it very hard for her to keep steady, as she had vowed she would do to
the last: “I know it is much to ask, but I want to feel that you are
mine before I go. Not only that, but it will be a help and protection
to you, dear, when you follow. As a married woman you will get on
better, as my wife you will be allowed to come to me if I need you, and
as my”—he stopped there, for he could not add—“as my widow you will
have my pension to support you.”

She understood, put both arms about his neck as if to keep him safe,
and whispered fervently:

“Nothing can part us any more, not even death; for love like ours will
last for ever.”

“Then you are quite willing to try the third great experiment?”

“Glad and proud to do it.” “With no doubt, no fear, to mar your
consent.” “Not one, David.” “That’s true love, Christie!”

Then they stood quite still for a time, and in the silence the two
hearts talked together in the sweet language no tongue can utter.
Presently David said regretfully:

“I meant it should be so different. I always planned that we’d be
married some bright summer day, with many friends about us; then take a
happy little journey somewhere together, and come back to settle down
at home in the dear old way. Now it’s all so hurried, sorrowful, and
strange. A dull November day; no friends but Mr. Power, who will be
here soon; no journey but my march to Washington alone; and no happy
coming home together in this world perhaps. Can you bear it, love?”

“Have no fear for me: I feel as if I could bear any thing just now; for
I’ve got into a heroic mood and I mean to keep so as long as I can.
I’ve always wanted to live in stirring times, to have a part in great
deeds, to sacrifice and suffer something for a principle or a person;
and now I have my wish. I like it, David: it’s a grand time to live, a
splendid chance to do and suffer; and I want to be in it heart and
soul, and earn a little of the glory or the martyrdom that will come in
the end. Surely I shall if I give you and myself to the cause; and I do
it gladly, though I know that my heart has got to ache as it never has
ached yet, when my courage fails, as it will by and by, and my selfish
soul counts the cost of my offering after the excitement is over. Help
me to be brave and strong, David: don’t let me complain or regret, but
show me what lies beyond, and teach me to believe that simply doing the
right is reward and happiness enough.”

Christie was lifted out of herself for the moment, and looked inspired
by the high mood which was but the beginning of a nobler life for her.
David caught the exaltation, and gave no further thought to any thing
but the duty of the hour, finding himself stronger and braver for that
long look into the illuminated face of the woman he loved.

“I’ll try,” was all his answer to her appeal; then proved that he meant
it by adding, with his lips against her cheek: “I must go to mother and
Letty. We leave them behind, and they must be comforted.”

He went, and Christie vanished to make ready for her wedding,
conscious, in spite of her exalted state of mind, that every thing was
very hurried, sad, and strange, and very different from the happy day
she had so often planned.

“No matter, we are ‘well on’t for love,’ and that is all we really
need,” she thought, recalling with a smile Mrs. Wilkins’s advice.

“David sends you these, dear. Can I help in any way?” asked Letty,
coming with a cluster of lovely white roses in her hand, and a world of
affection in her eyes.

“I thought he’d give me violets,” and a shadow came over Christie’s
face.

“But they are mourning flowers, you know.”

“Not to me. The roses are, for they remind me of poor Helen, and the
first work I did with David was arranging flowers like these for a dead
baby’s little coffin.”

“My dearest Christie, don’t be superstitious: all brides wear roses,
and Davy thought you’d like them,” said Letty, troubled at her words.

“Then I’ll wear them, and I won’t have fancies if I can help it. But I
think few brides dress with a braver, happier heart than mine, though I
do choose a sober wedding-gown,” answered Christie, smiling again, as
she took from a half-packed trunk her new hospital suit of soft, gray,
woollen stuff.

“Won’t you wear the pretty silvery silk we like so well?” asked Letty
timidly, for something in Christie’s face and manner impressed her very
much.

“No, I will be married in my uniform as David is,” she answered with a
look Letty long remembered.

“Mr. Power has come,” she said softly a few minutes later, with an
anxious glance at the clock.

“Go dear, I’ll come directly. But first”—and Christie held her friend
close a moment, kissed her tenderly, and whispered in a broken voice:
“Remember, I don’t take his heart from you, I only share it with my
sister and my mother.”

“I’m glad to give him to you, Christie; for now I feel as if I had
partly paid the great debt I’ve owed so long,” answered Letty through
her tears.

Then she went away, and Christie soon followed, looking very like a
Quaker bride in her gray gown with no ornament but delicate frills at
neck and wrist, and the roses in her bosom.

“No bridal white, dear?” said David, going to her.

“Only this,” and she touched the flowers, adding with her hand on the
blue coat sleeve that embraced her: “I want to consecrate my uniform as
you do yours by being married in it. Isn’t it fitter for a soldier’s
wife than lace and silk at such a time as this?”

“Much fitter: I like it; and I find you beautiful, my Christie,”
whispered David, as she put one of her roses in his button-hole.

“Then I’m satisfied.”

“Mr. Power is waiting: are you ready, love?”

“Quite ready.”

Then they were married, with Letty and her mother standing beside them,
Bennet and his wife dimly visible in the door-way, and poor Bran at his
master’s feet, looking up with wistful eyes, half human in the anxious
affection they expressed.

Christie never forgot that service, so simple, sweet, and solemn; nor
the look her husband gave her at the end, when he kissed her on lips
and forehead, saying fervently, “God bless my wife!”

A tender little scene followed that can better be imagined than
described; then Mr. Power said cheerily:

“One hour more is all you have, so make the most of it, dearly beloved.
You young folks take a wedding-trip to the green-house, while we see
how well we can get on without you.”

[Illustration: “THEN THEY WERE MARRIED.”]

David and Christie went smiling away together, and if they shed any
tears over the brief happiness no one saw them but the flowers, and
they loyally kept the secret folded up in their tender hearts.

Mr. Power cheered the old lady, while Letty, always glad to serve, made
ready the last meal David might ever take at home.

A very simple little marriage feast, but more love, good-will, and
tender wishes adorned the plain table than is often found at wedding
breakfasts; and better than any speech or song was Letty’s broken
whisper, as she folded her arms round David’s empty chair when no one
saw her, “Heaven bless and keep and bring him back to us.”

How time went that day! The inexorable clock would strike twelve so
soon, and then the minutes flew till one was at hand, and the last
words were still half said, the last good-byes still unuttered.

“I must go!” cried David with a sort of desperation, as Letty clung to
one arm, Christie to the other.

“I shall see you soon: good-by, my husband,” whispered Christie,
setting him free.

“Give the last kiss to mother,” added Letty, following her example, and
in another minute David was gone.

At the turn of the lane, he looked back and swung his cap; all waved
their hands to him; and then he marched away to the great work before
him, leaving those loving hearts to ask the unanswerable question: “How
will he come home?”

Christie was going to town to see the regiment off, and soon followed
with Mr. Power. They went early to a certain favorable spot, and there
found Mrs. Wilkins, with her entire family perched upon a fence, on the
spikes of which they impaled themselves at intervals, and had to be
plucked off by the stout girl engaged to assist in this memorable
expedition.

“Yes, Lisha ’s goin’, and I was bound he should see every one of his
blessed children the last thing, ef I took ’em all on my back. He knows
where to look, and he’s a goin’ to see seven cheerful faces as he goes
by. Time enough to cry byme by; so set stiddy, boys, and cheer loud
when you see Pa,” said Mrs. Wilkins, fanning her hot face, and utterly
forgetting her cherished bonnet in the excitement of the moment.

“I hear drums! They’re comin’!” cried Wash, after a long half hour’s
waiting had nearly driven him frantic.

The two younger boys immediately tumbled off the fence, and were with
difficulty restored to their perches. Gusty began to cry, Ann Elizy to
wave a minute red cotton handkerchief, and Adelaide to kick delightedly
in her mother’s arms.

“Jane Carter, take this child for massy sake: my legs do tremble so I
can’t h’ist her another minute. Hold on to me behind, somebody, for I
must see ef I do pitch into the gutter,” cried Mrs. Wilkins, with a
gasp, as she wiped her eyes on her shawl, clutched the railing, and
stood ready to cheer bravely when her conquering hero came.

Wash had heard drums every five minutes since he arrived, but this time
he was right, and began to cheer the instant a red cockade appeared at
the other end of the long street.

It was a different scene now than in the first enthusiastic, hopeful
days. Young men and ardent boys filled the ranks then, brave by
instinct, burning with loyal zeal, and blissfully ignorant of all that
lay before them.

Now the blue coats were worn by mature men, some gray, all grave and
resolute; husbands and fathers with the memory of wives and children
tugging at their heart-strings; homes left desolate behind them, and
before them the grim certainty of danger, hardship, and perhaps a
captivity worse than death. Little of the glamour of romance about the
war now: they saw what it was, a long, hard task; and here were the men
to do it well.

Even the lookers-on were different. Once all was wild enthusiasm and
glad uproar; now men’s lips were set, and women’s smileless even as
they cheered; fewer handkerchiefs whitened the air, for wet eyes needed
them; and sudden lulls, almost solemn in their stillness, followed the
acclamations of the crowd. All watched with quickened breath and proud
souls that living wave, blue below, and bright with a steely glitter
above, as it flowed down the street and away to join the sea of
dauntless hearts that for months had rolled up against the South, and
ebbed back reddened with the blood of men like these.

As the inspiring music, the grand tramp drew near, Christie felt the
old thrill and longed to fall in and follow the flag anywhere. Then she
saw David, and the regiment became one man to her. He was pale, but his
eyes shone, and his whole face expressed that two of the best and
bravest emotions of a man, love and loyalty, were at their height as he
gave his new-made wife a long, lingering look that seemed to say:

“I could not love thee, dear, so much, Loved I not honor more.”

Christie smiled and waved her hand to him, showed him his wedding roses
still on her breast, and bore up as gallantly as he, resolved that his
last impression of her should be a cheerful one. But when it was all
over, and nothing remained but the trampled street, the hurrying crowd,
the bleak November sky, when Mrs. Wilkins sat sobbing on the steps like
Niobe with her children scattered about her, then Christie’s heart gave
way, and she hid her face on Mr. Power’s shoulder for a moment, all her
ardor quenched in tears as she cried within herself:

“No, I could not bear it if I was not going too!”



CHAPTER XVII.
THE COLONEL.


Ten years earlier Christie made her début as an Amazon, now she had a
braver part to play on a larger stage, with a nation for audience,
martial music and the boom of cannon for orchestra; the glare of
battle-fields was the “red light;” danger, disease, and death, the foes
she was to contend against; and the troupe she joined, not timid girls,
but high-hearted women, who fought gallantly till the “demon” lay dead,
and sang their song of exultation with bleeding hearts, for this great
spectacle was a dire tragedy to them.

Christie followed David in a week, and soon proved herself so capable
that Mrs. Amory rapidly promoted her from one important post to
another, and bestowed upon her the only honors left the women, hard
work, responsibility, and the gratitude of many men.

“You are a treasure, my dear, for you can turn your hand to any thing
and do well whatever you undertake. So many come with plenty of
good-will, but not a particle of practical ability, and are offended
because I decline their help. The boys don’t want to be cried over, or
have their brows ‘everlastingly swabbed,’ as old Watkins calls it: they
want to be well fed and nursed, and cheered up with creature comforts.
Your nice beef-tea and cheery ways are worth oceans of tears and
cart-loads of tracts.”

Mrs. Amory said this, as Christie stood waiting while she wrote an
order for some extra delicacy for a very sick patient. Mrs. Sterling,
Jr., certainly did look like an efficient nurse, who thought more of
“the boys” than of herself; for one hand bore a pitcher of gruel, the
other a bag of oranges, clean shirts hung over the right arm, a rubber
cushion under the left, and every pocket in the big apron was full of
bottles and bandages, papers and letters.

“I never discovered what an accomplished woman I was till I came here,”
answered Christie, laughing. “I’m getting vain with so much praise, but
I like it immensely, and never was so pleased in my life as I was
yesterday when Dr. Harvey came for me to take care of poor Dunbar,
because no one else could manage him.”

“It’s your firm yet pitiful way the men like so well. I can’t describe
it better than in big Ben’s words: ‘Mis Sterlin’ is the nuss for me,
marm. She takes care of me as ef she was my own mother, and it’s a
comfort jest to see her round.’ It’s a gift, my dear, and you may thank
heaven you have got it, for it works wonders in a place like this.”

“I only treat the poor fellows as I would have other women treat my
David if he should be in their care. He may be any hour, you know.”

“And my boys, God keep them!”

The pen lay idle, and the gruel cooled, as young wife and gray-haired
mother forgot their duty for a moment in tender thoughts of the absent.
Only a moment, for in came an attendant with a troubled face, and an
important young surgeon with the well-worn little case under his arm.

“Bartlett ’s dying, marm: could you come and see to him?” says the man
to Mrs. Amory.

“We have got to amputate Porter’s arm this morning, and he won’t
consent unless you are with him. You will come, of course?” added the
surgeon to Christie, having tried and found her a woman with no
“confounded nerves” to impair her usefulness.

So matron and nurse go back to their duty, and dying Bartlett and
suffering Porter are all the more tenderly served for that wasted
minute.

Like David, Christie had enlisted for the war, and in the two years
that followed, she saw all sorts of service; for Mrs. Amory had
influence, and her right-hand woman, after a few months’
apprenticeship, was ready for any post. The gray gown and comforting
face were known in many hospitals, seen on crowded transports, among
the ambulances at the front, invalid cars, relief tents, and food
depots up and down the land, and many men went out of life like tired
children holding the hand that did its work so well.

David meanwhile was doing his part manfully, not only in some of the
great battles of those years, but among the hardships, temptations, and
sacrifices of a soldiers’ life. Spite of his Quaker ancestors, he was a
good fighter, and, better still, a magnanimous enemy, hating slavery,
but not the slave-holder, and often spared the master while he saved
the chattel. He was soon promoted, and might have risen rapidly, but
was content to remain as captain of his company; for his men loved him,
and he was prouder of his influence over them than of any decoration he
could win.

His was the sort of courage that keeps a man faithful to death, and
though he made no brilliant charge, uttered few protestations of
loyalty, and was never heard to “damn the rebs,” his comrades felt that
his brave example had often kept them steady till a forlorn hope turned
into a victory, knew that all the wealth of the world could not bribe
him from his duty, and learned of him to treat with respect an enemy as
brave and less fortunate than themselves. A noble nature soon takes its
proper rank and exerts its purifying influence, and Private Sterling
won confidence, affection, and respect, long before promotion came;
for, though he had tended his flowers like a woman and loved his books
like a student, he now proved that he could also do his duty and keep
his honor stainless as a soldier and a gentleman.

He and Christie met as often as the one could get a brief furlough, or
the other be spared from hospital duty; but when these meetings did
come, they were wonderfully beautiful and rich, for into them was
distilled a concentration of the love, happiness, and communion which
many men and women only know through years of wedded life.

Christie liked romance, and now she had it, with a very sombre reality
to give it an added charm. No Juliet ever welcomed her Romeo more
joyfully than she welcomed David when he paid her a flying visit
unexpectedly; no Bayard ever had a more devoted lady in his tent than
David, when his wife came through every obstacle to bring him comforts
or to nurse the few wounds he received. Love-letters, written beside
watch-fires and sick-beds, flew to and fro like carrier-doves with
wondrous speed; and nowhere in all the brave and busy land was there a
fonder pair than this, although their honeymoon was spent apart in camp
and hospital, and well they knew that there might never be for them a
happy going home together.

In her wanderings to and fro, Christie not only made many new friends,
but met some old ones; and among these one whose unexpected appearance
much surprised and touched her.

She was “scrabbling” eggs in a tin basin on board a crowded transport,
going up the river with the echoes of a battle dying away behind her,
and before her the prospect of passing the next day on a wharf serving
out food to the wounded in an easterly storm.

“O Mrs. Sterling, do go up and see what’s to be done! We are all full
below, and more poor fellows are lying about on deck in a dreadful
state. I’ll take your place here, but I can’t stand that any longer,”
said one of her aids, coming in heart-sick and exhausted by the ghastly
sights and terrible confusion of the day.

“I’ll go: keep scrabbling while the eggs last, then knock out the head
of that barrel and make gruel till I pass the word to stop.”

Forgetting her bonnet, and tying the ends of her shawl behind her,
Christie caught up a bottle of brandy and a canteen of water, and ran
on deck. There a sight to daunt most any woman, met her eyes; for all
about her, so thick that she could hardly step without treading on
them, lay the sad wrecks of men: some moaning for help; some silent,
with set, white faces turned up to the gray sky; all shelterless from
the cold wind that blew, and the fog rising from the river. Surgeons
and nurses were doing their best; but the boat was loaded, and greater
suffering reigned below.

“Heaven help us all!” sighed Christie, and then she fell to work.

Bottle and canteen were both nearly empty by the time she came to the
end of the long line, where lay a silent figure with a hidden face.
“Poor fellow, is he dead?” she said, kneeling down to lift a corner of
the blanket lent by a neighbor.

A familiar face looked up at her, and a well remembered voice said
courteously, but feebly:

“Thanks, not yet. Excuse my left hand. I’m very glad to see you.”

“Mr. Fletcher, can it be you!” she cried, looking at him with pitiful
amazement. Well she might ask, for any thing more unlike his former
self can hardly be imagined. Unshaven, haggard, and begrimed with
powder, mud to the knees, coat half on, and, worst of all, the right
arm gone, there lay the “piece of elegance” she had known, and answered
with a smile she never saw before:

“All that’s left of me, and very much at your service. I must apologize
for the dirt, but I’ve laid in a mud-puddle for two days; and, though
it was much easier than a board, it doesn’t improve one’s appearance.”

“What can I do for you? Where can I put you? I can’t bear to see you
here!” said Christie, much afflicted by the spectacle before her.

“Why not? we are all alike when it comes to this pass. I shall do very
well if I might trouble you for a draught of water.”

She poured her last drop into his parched mouth and hurried off for
more. She was detained by the way, and, when she returned, fancied he
was asleep, but soon discovered that he had fainted quietly away,
utterly spent with two days of hunger, suffering, and exposure. He was
himself again directly, and lay contentedly looking up at her as she
fed him with hot soup, longing to talk, but refusing to listen to a
word till he was refreshed.

“That’s very nice,” he said gratefully, as he finished, adding with a
pathetic sort of gayety, as he groped about with his one hand: “I don’t
expect napkins, but I should like a handkerchief. They took my coat off
when they did my arm, and the gentleman who kindly lent me this doesn’t
seem to have possessed such an article.”

Christie wiped his lips with the clean towel at her side, and smiled as
she did it, at the idea of Mr. Fletcher’s praising burnt soup, and her
feeding him like a baby out of a tin cup.

“I think it would comfort you if I washed your face: can you bear to
have it done?” she asked.

“If you can bear to do it,” he answered, with an apologetic look,
evidently troubled at receiving such services from her.

Yet as her hands moved gently about his face, he shut his eyes, and
there was a little quiver of the lips now and then, as if he was
remembering a time when he had hoped to have her near him in a tenderer
capacity than that of nurse. She guessed the thought, and tried to
banish it by saying cheerfully as she finished:

“There, you look more like yourself after that. Now the hands.”

“Fortunately for you, there is but one,” and he rather reluctantly
surrendered a very dirty member.

“Forgive me, I forgot. It is a brave hand, and I am proud to wash it!”

“How do you know that?” he asked, surprised at her little burst of
enthusiasm, for as she spoke she pressed the grimy hand in both her
own.

“While I was recovering you from your faint, that man over there
informed me that you were his Colonel; that you ‘fit like a tiger,’ and
when your right arm was disabled, you took your sword in the left and
cheered them on as if you ‘were bound to beat the whole rebel army.’”

“That’s Drake’s story,” and Mr. Fletcher tried to give the old shrug,
but gave an irrepressible groan instead, then endeavored to cover it,
by saying in a careless tone, “I thought I might get a little
excitement out of it, so I went soldiering like all the rest of you.
I’m not good for much, but I can lead the way for the brave fellows who
do the work. Officers make good targets, and a rebel bullet would cause
no sorrow in taking me out of the world.”

“Don’t say that! _I_ should grieve sincerely; and yet I’m very glad you
came, for it will always be a satisfaction to you in spite of your
great loss.”

“There are greater losses than right arms,” muttered Mr. Fletcher
gloomily, then checked himself, and added with a pleasant change in
voice and face, as he glanced at the wedding-ring she wore:

“This is not exactly the place for congratulations, but I can’t help
offering mine; for if I’m not mistaken your left hand also has grown
doubly precious since we met?”

Christie had been wondering if he knew, and was much relieved to find
he took it so well. Her face said more than her words, as she answered
briefly:

“Thank you. Yes, we were married the day David left, and have both been
in the ranks ever since.”

“Not wounded yet? your husband, I mean,” he said, getting over the hard
words bravely.

“Three times, but not badly. I think a special angel stands before him
with a shield;” and Christie smiled as she spoke.

“I think a special angel stands behind him with prayers that avail
much,” added Mr. Fletcher, looking up at her with an expression of
reverence that touched her heart.

“Now I must go to my work, and you to sleep: you need all the rest you
can get before you have to knock about in the ambulances again,” she
said, marking the feverish color in his face, and knowing well that
excitement was his only strength.

“How can I sleep in such an Inferno as this?”

“Try, you are so weak, you’ll soon drop off;” and, laying the cool tips
of her fingers on his eyelids, she kept them shut till he yielded with
a long sigh of mingled weariness and pleasure, and was asleep before he
knew it.

When he woke it was late at night; but little of night’s blessed rest
was known on board that boat laden with a freight of suffering. Cries
still came up from below, and moans of pain still sounded from the
deck, where shadowy figures with lanterns went to and fro among the
beds that in the darkness looked like graves.

Weak with pain and fever, the poor man gazed about him half bewildered,
and, conscious only of one desire, feebly called “Christie!”

“Here I am;” and the dull light of a lantern showed him her face very
worn arid tired, but full of friendliest compassion.

“What can I do for you?” she asked, as he clutched her gown, and peered
up at her with mingled doubt and satisfaction in his haggard eyes.

“Just speak to me; let me touch you: I thought it was a dream; thank
God it isn’t. How much longer will this last?” he added, falling back
on the softest pillows she could find for him.

“We shall soon land now; I believe there is an officers’ hospital in
the town, and you will be quite comfortable there.”

“I want to go to your hospital: where is it?”

“I have none; and, unless the old hotel is ready, I shall stay on the
wharf with the boys until it is.”

“Then I shall stay also. Don’t send me away, Christie: I shall not be a
trouble long; surely David will let you help me die?” and poor Fletcher
stretched his one hand imploringly to her in the first terror of the
delirium that was coming on.

“I will not leave you: I’ll take care of you, and no one can forbid it.
Drink this, Philip, and trust to Christie.”

He obeyed like a child, and soon fell again into a troubled sleep while
she sat by him thinking about David.

The old hotel was ready; but by the time he got there Mr. Fletcher was
past caring where he went, and for a week was too ill to know any
thing, except that Christie nursed him. Then he turned the corner and
began to recover. She wanted him to go into more comfortable quarters;
but he would not stir as long as she remained; so she put him in a
little room by himself, got a man to wait on him, and gave him as much
of her care and time as she could spare from her many duties. He was
not an agreeable patient, I regret to say; he tried to bear his woes
heroically, but did not succeed very well, not being used to any
exertion of that sort; and, though in Christie’s presence he did his
best, his man confided to her that the Colonel was “as fractious as a
teething baby, and the domineeringest party he ever nussed.”

Some of Mr. Fletcher’s attempts were comical, and some pathetic, for
though the sacred circle of her wedding-ring was an effectual barrier
against a look or word of love, Christie knew that the old affection
was not dead, and it showed itself in his desire to win her respect by
all sorts of small sacrifices and efforts at self-control. He would not
use many of the comforts sent him, but insisted on wearing an army
dressing-gown, and slippers that cost him a secret pang every time his
eye was affronted by their ugliness. Always after an angry scene with
his servant, he would be found going round among the men bestowing
little luxuries and kind words; not condescendingly, but humbly, as if
it was an atonement for his own shortcomings, and a tribute due to the
brave fellows who bore their pains with a fortitude he could not
imitate.

“Poor Philip, he tries so hard I must pity, not despise him; for he was
never taught the manly virtues that make David what he is,” thought
Christie, as she went to him one day with an unusually happy heart.

She found him sitting with a newly opened package before him, and a
gloomy look upon his face.

“See what rubbish one of my men has sent me, thinking I might value
it,” he said, pointing to a broken sword-hilt and offering her a badly
written letter.

She read it, and was touched by its affectionate respect and manly
sympathy; for the good fellow had been one of those who saved the
Colonel when he fell, and had kept the broken sword as a trophy of his
bravery, “thinking it might be precious in the eyes of them that loved
him.”

“Poor Burny might have spared himself the trouble, for I’ve no one to
give it to, and in my eyes it’s nothing but a bit of old metal,” said
Fletcher, pushing the parcel away with a half-irritated,
half-melancholy look.

“Give it to me as a parting keepsake. I have a fine collection of
relics of the brave men I have known; and this shall have a high place
in my museum when I go home,” said Christie, taking up the “bit of old
metal” with more interest than she had ever felt in the brightest
blade.

“Parting keepsake! are you going away?” asked Fletcher, catching at the
words in anxious haste, yet looking pleased at her desire to keep the
relic.

“Yes, I’m ordered to report in Washington, and start to-morrow.”

“Then I’ll go as escort. The doctor has been wanting me to leave for a
week, and now I’ve no desire to stay,” he said eagerly.

But Christie shook her head, and began to fold up paper and string with
nervous industry as she answered:

“I am not going directly to Washington: I have a week’s furlough
first.”

“And what is to become of me?” asked Mr. Fletcher, as fretfully as a
sick child; for he knew where her short holiday would be passed, and
his temper got the upper-hand for a minute.

“You should go home and be comfortably nursed: you’ll need care for
some time; and your friends will be glad of a chance to give it I’ve no
doubt.”

“I have no home, as you know; and I don’t believe I’ve got a friend in
the world who cares whether I live or die.”

“This looks as if you were mistaken;” and Christie glanced about the
little room, which was full of comforts and luxuries accumulated during
his stay.

His face changed instantly, and he answered with the honest look and
tone never given to any one but her.

“I beg your pardon: I’m an ungrateful brute. But you see I’d just made
up my mind to do something worth the doing, and now it is made
impossible in a way that renders it hard to bear. You are very patient
with me, and I owe my life to your care: I never can thank you for it;
but I will take myself out of your way as soon as I can, and leave you
free to enjoy your happy holiday. Heaven knows you have earned it!”

He said those last words so heartily that all the bitterness went out
of his voice, and Christie found it easy to reply with a cordial smile:

“I shall stay and see you comfortably off before I go myself. As for
thanks and reward I have had both; for you have done something worth
the doing, and you give me this.”

She took up the broken blade as she spoke, and carried it away, looking
proud of her new trophy.

Fletcher left next day, saying, while he pressed her hand as warmly as
if the vigor of two had gone into his one:

“You will let me come and see you by and by when you too get your
discharge: won’t you?”

“So gladly that you shall never again say you have no home. But you
must take care of yourself, or you will get the long discharge, and we
can’t spare you yet,” she answered warmly.

“No danger of that: the worthless ones are too often left to cumber the
earth; it is the precious ones who are taken,” he said, thinking of her
as he looked into her tired face, and remembered all she had done for
him.

Christie shivered involuntarily at those ominous words, but only said,
“Good-by, Philip,” as he went feebly away, leaning on his servant’s
arm, while all the men touched their caps and wished the Colonel a
pleasant journey.



CHAPTER XVIII.
SUNRISE.


Three months later the war seemed drawing toward an end, and Christie
was dreaming happy dreams of home and rest with David, when, as she sat
one day writing a letter full of good news to the wife of a patient, a
telegram was handed to her, and tearing it open she read:

“Captain Sterling dangerously wounded. Tell his wife to come at once.


E. WILKINS.”


“No bad news I hope, ma’am?” said the young fellow anxiously, as his
half-written letter fluttered to the ground, and Christie sat looking
at that fateful strip of paper with all the strength and color stricken
out of her face by the fear that fell upon her.

“It might be worse. They told me he was dying once, and when I got to
him he met me at the door. I’ll hope for the best now as I did then,
but I never felt like this before,” and she hid her face as if daunted
by ominous forebodings too strong to be controlled.

In a moment she was up and doing as calm and steady as if her heart was
not torn by an anxiety too keen for words. By the time the news had
flown through the house, she was ready; and, coming down with no
luggage but a basket of comforts on her arm, she found the hall full of
wan and crippled creatures gathered there to see her off, for no nurse
in the hospital was more beloved than Mrs. Sterling. Many eyes followed
her,—many lips blessed her, many hands were outstretched for a
sympathetic grasp: and, as the ambulance went clattering away, many
hearts echoed the words of one grateful ghost of a man, “The Lord go
with her and stand by her as she’s stood by us.”

It was not a long journey that lay before her; but to Christie it
seemed interminable, for all the way one unanswerable question haunted
her, “Surely God will not be so cruel as to take David now when he has
done his part so well and the reward is so near.”

It was dark when she arrived at the appointed spot; but Elisha Wilkins
was there to receive her, and to her first breathless question, “How is
David?” answered briskly:

“Asleep and doin’ well, ma’am. At least I should say so, and I peeked
at him the last thing before I started.”

“Where is he?”

“In the little hospital over yonder. Camp warn’t no place for him, and
I fetched him here as the nighest, and the best thing I could do for
him.”

“How is he wounded?”

“Shot in the shoulder, side, and arm.”

“Dangerously you said?”

“No, ma’am, that warn’t and ain’t my opinion. The sergeant sent that
telegram, and I think he done wrong. The Captain is hit pretty bad; but
it ain’t by no means desperate accordin’ to my way of thinkin’,”
replied the hopeful Wilkins, who seemed mercifully gifted with an
unusual flow of language.

“Thank heaven! Now go on and tell me all about it as fast as you can,”
commanded Christie, walking along the rough road so rapidly that
Private Wilkins would have been distressed both in wind and limb if
discipline and hardship had not done much for him.

“Well, you see we’ve been skirmishin’ round here for a week, for the
woods are full of rebs waitin’ to surprise some commissary stores
that’s expected along. Contrabands is always comin’ into camp, and we
do the best we can for the poor devils, and send ’em along where
they’ll be safe. Yesterday four women and a boy come: about as
desperate a lot as I ever see; for they’d been two days and a night in
the big swamp, wadin’ up to their waists in mud and water, with nothin’
to eat, and babies on their backs all the way. Every woman had a child,
one dead, but she’d fetched it, ‘so it might be buried free,’ the poor
soul said.”

Mr. Wilkins stopped an instant as if for breath, but the thought of his
own “little chaps” filled his heart with pity for that bereaved mother;
and he understood now why decent men were willing to be shot and
starved for “the confounded niggers,” as he once called them.

“Go on,” said Christie, and he made haste to tell the little story that
was so full of intense interest to his listener.

“I never saw the Captain so worked up as he was by the sight of them
wretched women. He fed and warmed ’em, comforted their poor scared
souls, give what clothes we could find, buried the dead baby with his
own hands, and nussed the other little creeters as if they were his
own. It warn’t safe to keep ’em more ’n a day, so when night come the
Captain got ’em off down the river as quiet as he could. Me and another
man helped him, for he wouldn’t trust no one but himself to boss the
job. A boat was ready,—blest if I know how he got it,—and about
midnight we led them women down to it. The boy was a strong lad, and
any of ’em could help row, for the current would take ’em along rapid.
This way, ma’am; be we goin’ too fast for you?”

“Not fast enough. Finish quick.”

“We got down the bank all right, the Captain standing in the little
path that led to the river to keep guard, while Bates held the boat
stiddy and I put the women in. Things was goin’ lovely when the poor
gal who’d lost her baby must needs jump out and run up to thank the
Captain agin for all he’d done for her. Some of them sly rascals was
watchin’ the river: they see her, heard Bates call out, ‘Come back,
wench; come back!’ and they fired. She did come back like a shot, and
we give that boat a push that sent it into the middle of the stream.
Then we run along below the bank, and come out further down to draw off
the rebs. Some followed us and we give it to ’em handsome. But some
warn’t deceived, and we heard ’em firin’ away at the Captain; so we got
back to him as fast as we could, but it warn’t soon enough.—Take my
arm, Mis’ Sterlin’: it’s kinder rough here.”

“And you found him?”—

“Lyin’ right acrost the path with two dead men in front of him; for
he’d kep ’em off like a lion till the firin’ brought up a lot of our
fellers and the rebs skedaddled. I thought he was dead, for by the
starlight I see he was bleedin’ awful,—hold on, my dear, hold on to
me,—he warn’t, thank God, and looked up at me and sez, sez he, ‘Are
they safe?’ ‘They be, Captain,’ sez I. ‘Then it’s all right,’ sez he,
smilin’ in that bright way of his, and then dropped off as quiet as a
lamb. We got him back to camp double quick, and when the surgeon see
them three wounds he shook his head, and I mistrusted that it warn’t no
joke. So when the Captain come to I asked him what I could do or git
for him, and he answered in a whisper, ‘My wife.’”

For an instant Christie did “hold on” to Mr. Wilkins’s arm, for those
two words seemed to take all her strength away. Then the thought that
David was waiting for her strung her nerves and gave her courage to
bear any thing.

“Is he here?” she asked of her guide a moment later, as he stopped
before a large, half-ruined house, through whose windows dim lights and
figures were seen moving to and fro.

“Yes, ma’am; we’ve made a hospital of this; the Captain’s got the best
room in it, and now he’s got the best miss that’s goin’ anywheres.
Won’t you have a drop of something jest as a stand-by before you see
him?”

“Nothing; take me to him at once.”

“Here we be then. Still sleepin’: that looks well.”

Mr. Wilkins softly led the way down a long hall, opened a door, and
after one look fell back and saluted as the Captain’s wife passed in.

A surgeon was bending over the low bed, and when a hoarse voice at his
elbow asked:

“How is he?” The doctor answered without looking up:

“Done for: this shot through the lungs will finish him before morning
I’m afraid.”

“Then leave him to me: I am his wife,” said the voice, clear and sharp
now with the anguish those hard words had brought.

“Good God, why did no one tell me! My dear lady, I thought you were a
nurse!” cried the poor surgeon rent with remorse for what now seemed
the brutal frankness of his answer, as he saw the white face of the
woman at his side, with a look in her eyes harder to see than the
bitterest tears that ever fell.

“I am a nurse. If you can do nothing, please go and leave him to me the
little while he has to live.”

Without a word the surgeon vanished, and Christie was alone with David.

The instant she saw him she felt that there was no hope, for she had
seen too many faces wear the look his wore to be deceived even by her
love. Lying with closed eyes already sunken by keen suffering, hair
damp with the cold dew on his forehead, a scarlet spot on either cheek,
gray lines about the mouth, and pale lips parted by the painful breaths
that came in heavy gasps or fluttered fitfully. This was what Christie
saw, and after that long look she knew the truth, and sunk down beside
the bed, crying with an exceeding bitter cry:

“O David, O my husband, must I give you up so soon?”

His eyes opened then, and he turned his cheek to hers, whispering with
a look that tried to be a smile, but ended in a sigh of satisfaction:

“I knew you’d come;” then, as a tearless sob shook her from head to
foot, he added steadily, though each breath cost a pang, “‘Yes, dear, I
must go first, but it won’t be hard with you to help me do it bravely.”

In that supremely bitter moment there returned to Christie’s memory
certain words of the marriage service that had seemed so beautiful when
she took part in it: “For better for worse, till death us do part.” She
had known the better, so short, so sweet! This was the worse, and till
death came she must keep faithfully the promise made with such a happy
heart. The thought brought with it unexpected strength, and gave her
courage to crush down her grief, seal up her tears, and show a brave
and tender face as she took that feeble hand in hers ready to help her
husband die.

He saw and thanked her for the effort, felt the sustaining power of a
true wife’s heart, and seemed to have no other care, since she was by
him steadfast to the end. He lay looking at her with such serene and
happy eyes that she would not let a tear, a murmur, mar his peace; and
for a little while she felt as if she had gone out of this turbulent
world into a heavenly one, where love reigned supreme.

But such hours are as brief as beautiful, and at midnight mortal
suffering proved that immortal joy had not yet begun.

Christie had sat by many death-beds, but never one like this; for,
through all the bitter pangs that tried his flesh, David’s soul
remained patient and strong, upheld by the faith that conquers pain and
makes even Death a friend. In the quiet time that went before, he had
told his last wishes, given his last messages of love, and now had but
one desire,—to go soon that Christie might be spared the trial of
seeing suffering she could neither lighten nor share.

“Go and rest, dear; go and rest,” he whispered more than once. “Let
Wilkins come: this is too much for you. I thought it would be easier,
but I am so strong life fights for me inch by inch.”

But Christie would not go, and for her sake David made haste to die.

Hour after hour the tide ebbed fast, hour after hour the man’s patient
soul sat waiting for release, and hour after hour the woman’s
passionate heart clung to the love that seemed drifting away leaving
her alone upon the shore. Once or twice she could not bear it, and
cried out in her despair:

“No, it is not just that you should suffer this for a creature whose
whole life is not worth a day of your brave, useful, precious one! Why
did you pay such a price for that girl’s liberty?” she said, as the
thought of her own wrecked future fell upon her dark and heavy.

“Because I owed it;—she suffered more than this seeing her baby die;—I
thought of you in her place, and I could not help doing it.”

The broken answer, the reproachful look, wrung Christie’s heart, and
she was silent: for, in all the knightly tales she loved so well, what
Sir Galahad had rescued a more wretched, wronged, and helpless woman
than the poor soul whose dead baby David buried tenderly before he
bought the mother’s freedom with his life?

Only one regret escaped him as the end drew very near, and mortal
weakness brought relief from mortal pain. The first red streaks of dawn
shone in the east, and his dim eyes brightened at the sight;

“Such a beautiful world!” he whispered with the ghost of a smile, “and
so much good work to do in it, I wish I could stay and help a little
longer,” he added, while the shadow deepened on his face. But soon he
said, trying to press Christie’s hand, still holding his: “You will do
my part, and do it better than I could. Don’t mourn, dear heart, but
work; and by and by you will be comforted.”

[Illustration: “DON’T MOURN, DEAR HEART, BUT WORK.”]

“I will try; but I think I shall soon follow you, and need no comfort
here,” answered Christie, already finding consolation in the thought.
“What is it, David?” she asked a little later, as she saw his eyes turn
wistfully toward the window where the rosy glow was slowly creeping up
the sky.

“I want to see the sun rise;—that used to be our happy time;—turn my
face toward the light, Christie, and we’ll wait for it together.”

An hour later when the first pale ray crept in at the low window, two
faces lay upon the pillow; one full of the despairing grief for which
there seems no balm; the other with lips and eyes of solemn peace, and
that mysterious expression, lovelier than any smile, which death leaves
as a tender token that all is well with the new-born soul.

To Christie that was the darkest hour of the dawn, but for David
sunrise had already come.



CHAPTER XIX.
LITTLE HEART’S-EASE.


When it was all over, the long journey home, the quiet funeral, the
first sad excitement, then came the bitter moment when life says to the
bereaved: “Take up your burden and go on alone.” Christie’s had been
the still, tearless grief hardest to bear, most impossible to comfort;
and, while Mrs. Sterling bore her loss with the sweet patience of a
pious heart, and Letty mourned her brother with the tender sorrow that
finds relief in natural ways, the widow sat among them, as tranquil,
colorless, and mute, as if her soul had followed David, leaving the
shadow of her former self behind.

“He will not come to me, but I shall go to him,” seemed to be the
thought that sustained her, and those who loved her said despairingly
to one another: “Her heart is broken: she will not linger long.”

But one woman wise in her own motherliness always answered hopefully:
“Don’t you be troubled; Nater knows what’s good for us, and works in
her own way. Hearts like this don’t break, and sorrer only makes ’em
stronger. You mark my words: the blessed baby that’s a comin’ in the
summer will work a merrycle, and you’ll see this poor dear a happy
woman yet.”

Few believed in the prophecy; but Mrs. Wilkins stoutly repeated it and
watched over Christie like a mother; often trudging up the lane in
spite of wind or weather to bring some dainty mess, some remarkable
puzzle in red or yellow calico to be used as a pattern for the little
garments the three women sewed with such tender interest, consecrated
with such tender tears; or news of the war fresh from Lisha who “was
goin’ to see it through ef he come home without a leg to stand on.” A
cheery, hopeful, wholesome influence she brought with her, and all the
house seemed to brighten as she sat there freeing her mind upon every
subject that came up, from the delicate little shirts Mrs. Sterling
knit in spite of failing eyesight, to the fall of Richmond, which, the
prophetic spirit being strong within her, Mrs. Wilkins foretold with
sibylline precision.

She alone could win a faint smile from Christie with some odd saying,
some shrewd opinion, and she alone brought tears to the melancholy eyes
that sorely needed such healing dew; for she carried little Adelaide,
and without a word put her into Christie’s arms, there to cling and
smile and babble till she had soothed the bitter pain and hunger of a
suffering heart.

She and Mr. Power held Christie up through that hard time, ministering
to soul and body with their hope and faith till life grew possible
again, and from the dust of a great affliction rose the sustaining
power she had sought so long.

As spring came on, and victory after victory proclaimed that the war
was drawing to an end, Christie’s sad resignation was broken, by gusts
of grief so stormy, so inconsolable, that those about her trembled for
her life. It was so hard to see the regiments come home proudly bearing
the torn battle-flags, weary, wounded, but victorious, to be
rapturously welcomed, thanked, and honored by the grateful country they
had served so well; to see all this and think of David in his grave
unknown, unrewarded, and forgotten by all but a faithful few.

“I used to dream of a time like this, to hope and plan for it, and
cheer myself with the assurance that, after all our hard work, our long
separation, and the dangers we had faced, David would get some honor,
receive some reward, at least be kept for me to love and serve and live
with for a little while. But these men who have merely saved a banner,
led a charge, or lost an arm, get all the glory, while he gave his life
so nobly; yet few know it, no one thanked him, and I am left desolate
when so many useless ones might have been taken in his place. Oh, it is
not just! I cannot forgive God for robbing him of all his honors, and
me of all my happiness.”

So lamented Christie with the rebellious protest of a strong nature
learning submission through the stern discipline of grief. In vain Mr.
Power told her that David had received a better reward than any human
hand could give him, in the gratitude of many women, the respect of
many men. That to do bravely the daily duties of an upright life was
more heroic in God’s sight, than to achieve in an enthusiastic moment a
single deed that won the world’s applause; and that the seeming
incompleteness of his life was beautifully rounded by the act that
caused his death, although no eulogy recorded it, no song embalmed it,
and few knew it but those he saved, those he loved, and the Great
Commander who promoted him to the higher rank he had won.

Christie could not be content with this invisible, intangible
recompense for her hero: she wanted to see, to know beyond a doubt,
that justice had been done; and beat herself against the barrier that
baffles bereaved humanity till impatient despair was wearied out, and
passionate heart gave up the struggle.

Then, when no help seemed possible, she found it where she least
expected it, in herself. Searching for religion, she had found love:
now seeking to follow love she found religion. The desire for it had
never left her, and, while serving others, she was earning this reward;
for when her life seemed to lie in ashes, from their midst, this
slender spire of flame, purifying while it burned, rose trembling
toward heaven; showing her how great sacrifices turn to greater
compensations; giving her light, warmth, and consolation, and teaching
her the lesson all must learn.

God was very patient with her, sending much help, and letting her climb
up to Him by all the tender ways in which aspiring souls can lead
unhappy hearts.

David’s room had been her refuge when those dark hours came, and
sitting there one day trying to understand the great mystery that
parted her from David, she seemed to receive an answer to her many
prayers for some sign that death had not estranged them. The house was
very still, the window open, and a soft south wind was wandering
through the room with hints of May-flowers on its wings. Suddenly a
breath of music startled her, so airy, sweet, and short-lived that no
human voice or hand could have produced it. Again and again it came, a
fitful and melodious sigh, that to one made superstitious by much
sorrow, seemed like a spirit’s voice delivering some message from
another world.

Christie looked and listened with hushed breath and expectant heart,
believing that some special answer was to be given her. But in a moment
she saw it was no supernatural sound, only the south wind whispering in
David’s flute that hung beside the window. Disappointment came first,
then warm over her sore heart flowed the tender recollection that she
used to call the old flute “David’s voice,” for into it he poured the
joy and sorrow, unrest and pain, he told no living soul. How often it
had been her lullaby, before she learned to read its language; how
gaily it had piped for others; how plaintively it had sung for him,
alone and in the night; and now how full of pathetic music was that
hymn of consolation fitfully whispered by the wind’s soft breath.

Ah, yes! this was a better answer than any supernatural voice could
have given her; a more helpful sign than any phantom face or hand; a
surer confirmation of her hope than subtle argument or sacred promise:
for it brought back the memory of the living, loving man so vividly, so
tenderly, that Christie felt as if the barrier was down, and welcomed a
new sense of David’s nearness with the softest tears that had flowed
since she closed the serene eyes whose last look had been for her.

After that hour she spent the long spring days lying on the old couch
in his room, reading his books, thinking of his love and life, and
listening to “David’s voice.” She always heard it now, whether the wind
touched the flute with airy fingers or it hung mute; and it sung to her
songs of patience, hope, and cheer, till a mysterious peace carne to
her, and she discovered in herself the strength she had asked, yet
never thought to find. Under the snow, herbs of grace had been growing
silently; and, when the heavy rains had melted all the frost away, they
sprung up to blossom beautifully in the sun that shines for every spire
of grass, and makes it perfect in its time and place.

Mrs. Wilkins was right; for one June morning, when she laid “that
blessed baby” in its mother’s arms, Christie’s first words were:

“Don’t let me die: I must live for baby now,” and gathered David’s
little daughter to her breast, as if the soft touch of the fumbling
hands had healed every wound and brightened all the world.

“I told you so; God bless ’em both!” and Mrs. Wilkins retired
precipitately to the hall, where she sat down upon the stairs and cried
most comfortable tears; for her maternal heart was full of a
thanksgiving too deep for words.

A sweet, secluded time to Christie, as she brooded over her little
treasure and forgot there was a world outside. A fond and jealous
mother, but a very happy one, for after the bitterest came the
tenderest experience of her life. She felt its sacredness, its beauty,
and its high responsibilities; accepted them prayerfully, and found
unspeakable delight in fitting herself to bear them worthily, always
remembering that she had a double duty to perform toward the fatherless
little creature given to her care.

It is hardly necessary to mention the changes one small individual made
in that feminine household. The purring and clucking that went on; the
panics over a pin-prick; the consultations over a pellet of chamomilla;
the raptures at the dawn of a first smile; the solemn prophecies of
future beauty, wit, and wisdom in the bud of a woman; the general
adoration of the entire family at the wicker shrine wherein lay the
idol, a mass of flannel and cambric with a bald head at one end, and a
pair of microscopic blue socks at the other. Mysterious little
porringers sat unreproved upon the parlor fire, small garments aired at
every window, lights burned at unholy hours, and three agitated
nightcaps congregated at the faintest chirp of the restless bird in the
maternal nest.

Of course Grandma grew young again, and produced nursery reminiscences
on every occasion; Aunt Letty trotted day and night to gratify the
imaginary wants of the idol, and Christie was so entirely absorbed that
the whole South might have been swallowed up by an earthquake without
causing her as much consternation as the appearance of a slight rash
upon the baby.

No flower in David’s garden throve like his little June rose, for no
wind was allowed to visit her too roughly; and when rain fell without,
she took her daily airing in the green-house, where from her mother’s
arms she soon regarded the gay sight with such sprightly satisfaction
that she seemed a little flower herself dancing on its stem.

She was named Ruth for grandma, but Christie always called her “Little
Heart’s-ease,” or “Pansy,” and those who smiled at first at the
mother’s fancy, came in time to see that there was an unusual fitness
in the name. All the bitterness seemed taken out of Christie’s sorrow
by the soft magic of the child: there was so much to live for now she
spoke no more of dying; and, holding that little hand in hers, it grew
easier to go on along the way that led to David.

A prouder mother never lived; and, as baby waxed in beauty and in
strength, Christie longed for all the world to see her. A sweet,
peculiar, little face she had, sunny and fair; but, under the broad
forehead where the bright hair fell as David’s used to do, there shone
a pair of dark and solemn eyes, so large, so deep, and often so
unchildlike, that her mother wondered where she got them. Even when she
smiled the shadow lingered in these eyes, and when she wept they filled
and overflowed with great, quiet tears like flowers too full of dew.
Christie often said remorsefully:

“My little Pansy! I put my own sorrow into your baby soul, and now it
looks back at me with this strange wistfulness, and these great drops
are the unsubmissive tears I locked up in my heart because I would not
be grateful for the good gift God gave me, even while he took that
other one away. O Baby, forgive your mother; and don’t let her find
that she has given you clouds instead of sunshine.”

This fear helped Christie to keep her own face cheerful, her own heart
tranquil, her own life as sunny, healthful, and hopeful as she wished
her child’s to be. For this reason she took garden and green-house into
her own hands when Bennet gave them up, and, with a stout lad to help
her, did well this part of the work that David bequeathed to her. It
was a pretty sight to see the mother with her year-old daughter out
among the fresh, green things: the little golden head bobbing here and
there like a stray sunbeam; the baby voice telling sweet,
unintelligible stories to bird and bee and butterfly; or the small
creature fast asleep in a basket under a rose-bush, swinging in a
hammock from a tree, or in Bran’s keeping, rosy, vigorous, and sweet
with sun and air, and the wholesome influence of a wise and tender
love.

While Christie worked she planned her daughter’s future, as mothers
will, and had but one care concerning it. She did not fear poverty, but
the thought of being straitened for the means of educating little Ruth
afflicted her. She meant to teach her to labor heartily and see no
degradation in it, but she could not bear to feel that her child should
be denied the harmless pleasures that make youth sweet, the
opportunities that educate, the society that ripens character and gives
a rank which money cannot buy. A little sum to put away for Baby, safe
from all risk, ready to draw from as each need came, and sacredly
devoted to this end, was now Christie’s sole ambition.

With this purpose at her heart, she watched her fruit and nursed her
flowers; found no task too hard, no sun too hot, no weed too
unconquerable; and soon the garden David planted when his life seemed
barren, yielded lovely harvests to swell his little daughter’s portion.

One day Christie received a letter from Uncle Enos expressing a wish to
see her if she cared to come so far and “stop a spell.” It both
surprised and pleased her, and she resolved to go, glad that the old
man remembered her, and proud to show him the great success of her
life, as she considered Baby.

So she went, was hospitably received by the ancient cousin five times
removed who kept house, and greeted with as much cordiality as Uncle
Enos ever showed to any one. He looked askance at Baby, as if he had
not bargained for the honor of her presence; but he said nothing, and
Christie wisely refrained from mentioning that Ruth was the most
remarkable child ever born.

She soon felt at home, and went about the old house visiting familiar
nooks with the bitter, sweet satisfaction of such returns. It was sad
to miss Aunt Betsey in the big kitchen, strange to see Uncle Enos sit
all day in his arm-chair too helpless now to plod about the farm and
carry terror to the souls of those who served him. He was still a
crabbed, gruff, old man; but the narrow, hard, old heart was a little
softer than it used to be; and he sometimes betrayed the longing for
his kindred that the aged often feel when infirmity makes them desire
tenderer props than any they can hire.

Christie saw this wish, and tried to gratify it with a dutiful
affection which could not fail to win its way. Baby unconsciously lent
a hand, for Uncle Enos could not long withstand the sweet enticements
of this little kinswoman. He did not own the conquest in words, but was
seen to cuddle his small captivator in private; allowed all sorts of
liberties with his spectacles, his pockets, and bald pate; and never
seemed more comfortable than when she confiscated his newspaper, and
sitting on his knee read it to him in a pretty language of her own.

“She’s a good little gal; looks consid’able like you; but you warn’t
never such a quiet puss as she is,” he said one day, as the child was
toddling about the room with an old doll of her mother’s lately
disinterred from its tomb in the garret.

“She is like her father in that. But I get quieter as I grow old,
uncle,” answered Christie, who sat sewing near him.

“You be growing old, that’s a fact; but somehow it’s kind of becomin’.
I never thought you’d be so much of a lady, and look so well after all
you’ve ben through,” added Uncle Enos, vainly trying to discover what
made Christie’s manners so agreeable in spite of her plain dress, and
her face so pleasant in spite of the gray hair at her temples and the
lines about her mouth.

It grew still pleasanter to see as she smiled and looked up at him with
the soft yet bright expression that always made him think of her
mother.

“I’m glad you don’t consider me an entire failure, uncle. You know you
predicted it. But though I have gone through a good deal, I don’t
regret my attempt, and when I look at Pansy I feel as if I’d made a
grand success.”

“You haven’t made much money, I guess. If you don’t mind tellin’, what
have you got to live on?” asked the old man, unwilling to acknowledge
any life a success, if dollars and cents were left out of it.

“Only David’s pension and what I can make by my garden.”

“The old lady has to have some on’t, don’t she?” “She has a little
money of her own; but I see that she and Letty have two-thirds of all I
make.”

“That ain’t a fair bargain if you do all the work.” “Ah, but we don’t
make bargains, sir: we work for one another and share every thing
together.”

“So like women!” grumbled Uncle Enos, longing to see that “the property
was fixed up square.”

[Illustration: “SHE’S A GOOD LITTLE GAL! LOOKS CONSID’ABLE LIKE YOU.”]

“How are you goin’ to eddicate the little gal? I s’pose you think as
much of culter and so on as ever you did,” he presently added with a
gruff laugh.

“More,” answered Christie, smiling too, as she remembered the old
quarrels. “I shall earn the money, sir. If the garden fails I can
teach, nurse, sew, write, cook even, for I’ve half a dozen useful
accomplishments at my fingers’ ends, thanks to the education you and
dear Aunt Betsey gave me, and I may have to use them all for Pansy’s
sake.”

Pleased by the compliment, yet a little conscience-stricken at the
small share he deserved of it, Uncle Enos sat rubbing up his glasses a
minute, before he led to the subject he had in his mind.

“Ef you fall sick or die, what then?”

“I’ve thought of that,” and Christie caught up the child as if her love
could keep even death at bay. But Pansy soon struggled down again, for
the dirty-faced doll was taking a walk and could not be detained. “If I
am taken from her, then my little girl must do as her mother did. God
has orphans in His special care, and He won’t forget her I am sure.”

Uncle Enos had a coughing spell just then; and, when he got over it, he
said with an effort, for even to talk of giving away his substance cost
him a pang:

“I’m gettin’ into years now, and it’s about time I fixed up matters in
case I’m took suddin’. I always meant to give you a little suthing, but
as you didn’t ask for’t, I took good care on ’t, and it ain’t none the
worse for waitin’ a spell. I jest speak on’t, so you needn’t be anxious
about the little gal. It ain’t much, but it will make things easy I
reckon.”

“You are very kind, uncle; and I am more grateful than I can tell. I
don’t want a penny for myself, but I should love to know that my
daughter was to have an easier life than mine.”

“I s’pose you thought of that when you come so quick?” said the old
man, with a suspicious look, that made Christie’s eyes kindle as they
used to years ago, but she answered honestly:

“I did think of it and hope it, yet I should have come quicker if you
had been in the poor-house.”

Neither spoke for a minute; for, in spite of generosity and gratitude,
the two natures struck fire when they met as inevitably as flint and
steel.

“What’s your opinion of missionaries,” asked Uncle Enos, after a spell
of meditation.

“If I had any money to leave them, I should bequeath it to those who
help the heathen here at home, and should let the innocent Feejee
Islanders worship their idols a little longer in benighted peace,”
answered Christie, in her usual decided way.

“That’s my idee exactly; but it’s uncommon hard to settle which of them
that stays at home you’ll trust your money to. You see Betsey was
always pesterin’ me to give to charity things; but I told her it was
better to save up and give it in a handsome lump that looked well, and
was a credit to you. When she was dyin’ she reminded me on’t, and I
promised I’d do suthing before I follered. I’ve been turnin’ on’t over
in my mind for a number of months, and I don’t seem to find any thing
that’s jest right. You’ve ben round among the charity folks lately
accordin’ to your tell, now what would you do if you had a tidy little
sum to dispose on?”

“Help the Freed people.”

The answer came so quick that it nearly took the old gentleman’s breath
away, and he looked at his niece with his mouth open after an
involuntary, “Sho!” had escaped him.

“David helped give them their liberty, and I would so gladly help them
to enjoy it!” cried Christie, all the old enthusiasm blazing up, but
with a clearer, steadier flame than in the days when she dreamed
splendid dreams by the kitchen fire.

“Well, no, that wouldn’t meet my views. What else is there?” asked the
old man quite unwarmed by her benevolent ardor.

“Wounded soldiers, destitute children, ill-paid women, young people
struggling for independence, homes, hospitals, schools, churches, and
God’s charity all over the world.”

“That’s the pesky part on ’t: there’s such a lot to choose from; I
don’t know much about any of ’em,” began Uncle Enos, looking like a
perplexed raven with a treasure which it cannot decide where to hide.

“Whose fault is that, sir?”

The question hit the old man full in the conscience, and he winced,
remembering how many of Betsey’s charitable impulses he had nipped in
the bud, and now all the accumulated alms she would have been so glad
to scatter weighed upon him heavily. He rubbed his bald head with a
yellow bandana, and moved uneasily in his chair, as if he wanted to get
up and finish the neglected job that made his helplessness so
burdensome.

“I’ll ponder on ’t a spell, and make up my mind,” was all he said, and
never renewed the subject again.

But he had very little time to ponder, and he never did make up his
mind; for a few months after Christie’s long visit ended, Uncle Enos
“was took suddin’,” and left all he had to her.

Not an immense fortune, but far larger than she expected, and great was
her anxiety to use wisely this unlooked-for benefaction. She was very
grateful, but she kept nothing for herself, feeling that David’s
pension was enough, and preferring the small sum he earned so dearly to
the thousands the old man had hoarded up for years. A good portion was
put by for Ruth, something for “mother and Letty” that want might never
touch them, and the rest she kept for David’s work, believing that, so
spent, the money would be blest.



CHAPTER XX.
AT FORTY.


“Nearly twenty years since I set out to seek my fortune. It has been a
long search, but I think I have found it at last. I only asked to be a
useful, happy woman, and my wish is granted: for, I believe I am
useful; I know I am happy.”

Christie looked so as she sat alone in the flowery parlor one September
afternoon, thinking over her life with a grateful, cheerful spirit.
Forty to-day, and pausing at that half-way house between youth and age,
she looked back into the past without bitter regret or unsubmissive
grief, and forward into the future with courageous patience; for three
good angels attended her, and with faith, hope, and charity to brighten
life, no woman need lament lost youth or fear approaching age. Christie
did not, and though her eyes filled with quiet tears as they were
raised to the faded cap and sheathed sword hanging on the wall, none
fell; and in a moment tender sorrow changed to still tenderer joy as
her glance wandered to rosy little Ruth playing hospital with her
dollies in the porch. Then they shone with genuine satisfaction as they
went from the letters and papers on her table to the garden, where
several young women were at work with a healthful color in the cheeks
that had been very pale and thin in the spring.

“I think David is satisfied with me; for I have given all my heart and
strength to his work, and it prospers well,” she said to herself, and
then her face grew thoughtful, as she recalled a late event which
seemed to have opened a new field of labor for her if she chose to
enter it.

A few evenings before she had gone to one of the many meetings of
working-women, which had made some stir of late. Not a first visit, for
she was much interested in the subject and full of sympathy for this
class of workers.

There were speeches of course, and of the most unparliamentary sort,
for the meeting was composed almost entirely of women, each eager to
tell her special grievance or theory. Any one who chose got up and
spoke; and whether wisely or foolishly each proved how great was the
ferment now going on, and how difficult it was for the two classes to
meet and help one another in spite of the utmost need on one side and
the sincerest good-will on the other. The workers poured out their
wrongs and hardships passionately or plaintively, demanding or
imploring justice, sympathy, and help; displaying the ignorance,
incapacity, and prejudice, which make their need all the more pitiful,
their relief all the more imperative.

The ladies did their part with kindliness, patience, and often
unconscious condescension, showing in their turn how little they knew
of the real trials of the women whom they longed to serve, how very
narrow a sphere of usefulness they were fitted for in spite of culture
and intelligence, and how rich they were in generous theories, how poor
in practical methods of relief.

One accomplished creature with learning radiating from every pore,
delivered a charming little essay on the strong-minded women of
antiquity; then, taking labor into the region of art, painted
delightful pictures of the time when all would work harmoniously
together in an Ideal Republic, where each did the task she liked, and
was paid for it in liberty, equality, and fraternity.

Unfortunately she talked over the heads of her audience, and it was
like telling fairy tales to hungry children to describe Aspasia
discussing Greek politics with Pericles and Plato reposing upon ivory
couches, or Hypatia modestly delivering philosophical lectures to young
men behind a Tyrian purple curtain; and the Ideal Republic met with
little favor from anxious seamstresses, type-setters, and shop-girls,
who said ungratefully among themselves, “That’s all very pretty, but I
don’t see how it’s going to better wages among us now”

Another eloquent sister gave them a political oration which fired the
revolutionary blood in their veins, and made them eager to rush to the
State-house en masse, and demand the ballot before one-half of them
were quite clear what it meant, and the other half were as unfit for it
as any ignorant Patrick bribed with a dollar and a sup of whiskey.

A third well-wisher quenched their ardor like a wet blanket, by reading
reports of sundry labor reforms in foreign parts; most interesting, but
made entirely futile by differences of climate, needs, and customs. She
closed with a cheerful budget of statistics, giving the exact number of
needle-women who had starved, gone mad, or committed suicide during the
past year; the enormous profits wrung by capitalists from the blood and
muscles of their employes; and the alarming increase in the cost of
living, which was about to plunge the nation into debt and famine, if
not destruction generally.

When she sat down despair was visible on many countenances, and
immediate starvation seemed to be waiting at the door to clutch them as
they went out; for the impressible creatures believed every word and
saw no salvation anywhere.

Christie had listened intently to all this; had admired, regretted, or
condemned as each spoke; and felt a steadily increasing sympathy for
all, and a strong desire to bring the helpers and the helped into truer
relations with each other.

The dear ladies were so earnest, so hopeful, and so unpractically
benevolent, that it grieved her to see so much breath wasted, so much
good-will astray; while the expectant, despondent, or excited faces of
the work-women touched her heart; for well she knew how much they
needed help, how eager they were for light, how ready to be led if some
one would only show a possible way.

As the statistical extinguisher retired, beaming with satisfaction at
having added her mite to the good cause, a sudden and uncontrollable
impulse moved Christie to rise in her place and ask leave to speak. It
was readily granted, and a little stir of interest greeted her; for she
was known to many as Mr. Power’s friend, David Sterling’s wife, or an
army nurse who had done well. Whispers circulated quickly, and faces
brightened as they turned toward her; for she had a helpful look, and
her first words pleased them. When the president invited her to the
platform she paused on the lowest step, saying with an expressive look
and gesture:

“I am better here, thank you; for I have been and mean to be a
working-woman all my life.”

“Hear! hear!” cried a stout matron in a gay bonnet, and the rest
indorsed the sentiment with a hearty round. Then they were very still,
and then in a clear, steady voice, with the sympathetic undertone to it
that is so magical in its effect, Christie made her first speech in
public since she left the stage.

That early training stood her in good stead now, giving her
self-possession, power of voice, and ease of gesture; while the purpose
at her heart lent her the sort of simple eloquence that touches,
persuades, and convinces better than logic, flattery, or oratory.

What she said she hardly knew: words came faster than she could utter
them, thoughts pressed upon her, and all the lessons of her life rose
vividly before her to give weight to her arguments, value to her
counsel, and the force of truth to every sentence she uttered. She had
known so many of the same trials, troubles, and temptations that she
could speak understandingly of them; and, better still, she had
conquered or outlived so many of them, that she could not only pity but
help others to do as she had done. Having found in labor her best
teacher, comforter, and friend, she could tell those who listened that,
no matter how hard or humble the task at the beginning, if faithfully
and bravely performed, it would surely prove a stepping-stone to
something better, and with each honest effort they were fitting
themselves for the nobler labor, and larger liberty God meant them to
enjoy.

The women felt that this speaker was one of them; for the same lines
were on her face that they saw on their own, her hands were no fine
lady’s hands, her dress plainer than some of theirs, her speech simple
enough for all to understand; cheerful, comforting, and full of
practical suggestion, illustrations out of their own experience, and a
spirit of companionship that uplifted their despondent hearts.

Yet more impressive than any thing she said was the subtle magnetism of
character, for that has a universal language which all can understand.
They saw and felt that a genuine woman stood down there among them like
a sister, ready with head, heart, and hand to help them help
themselves; not offering pity as an alms, but justice as a right.
Hardship and sorrow, long effort and late-won reward had been hers they
knew; wifehood, motherhood, and widowhood brought her very near to
them; and behind her was the background of an earnest life, against
which this figure with health on the cheeks, hope in the eyes, courage
on the lips, and the ardor of a wide benevolence warming the whole
countenance stood out full of unconscious dignity and beauty; an
example to comfort, touch, and inspire them.

It was not a long speech, and in it there was no learning, no
statistics, and no politics; yet it was the speech of the evening, and
when it was over no one else seemed to have any thing to say. As the
meeting broke up Christie’s hand was shaken by many roughened by the
needle, stained with printer’s ink, or hard with humbler toil; many
faces smiled gratefully at her, and many voices thanked her heartily.
But sweeter than any applause were the words of one woman who grasped
her hand, and whispered with wet eyes:

“I knew your blessed husband; he was very good to me, and I’ve been
thanking the Lord he had such a wife for his reward!”

Christie was thinking of all this as she sat alone that day, and asking
herself if she should go on; for the ladies had been as grateful as the
women; had begged her to come and speak again, saying they needed just
such a mediator to bridge across the space that now divided them from
those they wished to serve. She certainly seemed fitted to act as
interpreter between the two classes; for, from the gentleman her father
she had inherited the fine instincts, gracious manners, and unblemished
name of an old and honorable race; from the farmer’s daughter, her
mother, came the equally valuable dower of practical virtues, a sturdy
love of independence, and great respect for the skill and courage that
can win it.

Such women were much needed and are not always easy to find; for even
in democratic America the hand that earns its daily bread must wear
some talent, name, or honor as an ornament, before it is very cordially
shaken by those that wear white gloves.

“Perhaps this is the task my life has been fitting me for,” she said.
“A great and noble one which I should be proud to accept and help
accomplish if I can. Others have finished the emancipation work and
done it splendidly, even at the cost of all this blood and sorrow. I
came too late to do any thing but give my husband and behold the
glorious end. This new task seems to offer me the chance of being among
the pioneers, to do the hard work, share the persecution, and help lay
the foundation of a new emancipation whose happy success I may never
see. Yet I had rather be remembered as those brave beginners are,
though many of them missed the triumph, than as the late comers will
be, who only beat the drums and wave the banners when the victory is
won.”

Just then the gate creaked on its hinges, a step sounded in the porch,
and little Ruth ran in to say in an audible whisper:

“It’s a lady, mamma, a very pretty lady: can you see her?”

“Yes, dear, ask her in.”

There was a rustle of sweeping silks through the narrow hall, a vision
of a very lovely woman in the door-way, and two daintily gloved hands
were extended as an eager voice asked: “Dearest Christie, don’t you
remember Bella Carrol?”

Christie did remember, and had her in her arms directly, utterly
regardless of the imminent destruction of a marvellous hat, or the bad
effect of tears on violet ribbons. Presently they were sitting close
together, talking with April faces, and telling their stories as women
must when they meet after the lapse of years. A few letters had passed
between them, but Bella had been abroad, and Christie too busy living
her life to have much time to write about it.

“Your mother, Bella? how is she, and where?”

“Still with Augustine, and he you know is melancholy mad: very quiet,
very patient, and very kind to every one but himself. His penances for
the sins of his race would soon kill him if mother was not there to
watch over him. And her penance is never to leave him.”

“Dear child, don’t tell me any more; it is too sad. Talk of yourself
and Harry. Now you smile, so I’m sure all is well with him.”

“Yes, thank heaven! Christie, I do believe fate means to spare us as
dear old Dr. Shirley said. I never can be gay again, but I keep as
cheerful and busy as I can, for Harry’s sake, and he does the same for
mine. We shall always be together, and all in all to one another, for
we can never marry and have homes apart you know. We have wandered over
the face of the earth for several years, and now we mean to settle down
and be as happy and as useful as we can.”

“That’s brave! I am so glad to hear it, and so truly thankful it is
possible. But tell me, Bella, what Harry means to do? You spoke in one
of your first letters of his being hard at work studying medicine. Is
that to be his profession?”

“Yes; I don’t know what made him choose it, unless it was the hope that
he might spare other families from a curse like ours, or lighten it if
it came. After Helen’s death he was a changed creature; no longer a
wild boy, but a man. I told him what you said to me, and it gave him
hope. Dr. Shirley confirmed it as far as he dared; and Hal resolved to
make the most of his one chance by interesting himself in some
absorbing study, and leaving no room for fear, no time for dangerous
recollections. I was so glad, and mother so comforted, for we both
feared that sad trouble would destroy him. He studied hard, got on
splendidly, and then went abroad to finish off. I went with him; for
poor August was past hope, and mamma would not let me help her. The
doctor said it was best for me to be away, and excellent for Hal to
have me with him, to cheer him up, and keep him steady with a little
responsibility. We have been happy together in spite of our trouble, he
in his profession, and I in him; now he is ready, so we have come home,
and now the hardest part begins for me.”

“How, Bella?”

“He has his work and loves it: I have nothing after my duty to him is
done. I find I’ve lost my taste for the old pleasures and pursuits, and
though I have tried more sober, solid ones, there still remains much
time to hang heavy on my hands, and such an empty place in my heart,
that even Harry’s love cannot fill it. I’m afraid I shall get
melancholy,—that is the beginning of the end for us, you know.”

As Bella spoke the light died out of her eyes, and they grew despairing
with the gloom of a tragic memory. Christie drew the beautiful,
pathetic face clown upon her bosom, longing to comfort, yet feeling
very powerless to lighten Bella’s burden.

But Christie’s little daughter did it for her. Ruth had been standing
near regarding the “pretty lady,” with as much wonder and admiration as
if she thought her a fairy princess, who might vanish before she got a
good look at her. Divining with a child’s quick instinct that the
princess was in trouble, Ruth flew into the porch, caught up her latest
and dearest treasure, and presented it as a sure consolation, with such
sweet good-will, that Bella could not refuse, although it was only a
fuzzy caterpillar in a little box.

“I give it to you because it is my nicest one and just ready to spin
up. Do you like pussy-pillars, and know how they do it?” asked Ruth,
emboldened by the kiss she got in return for her offering.

“Tell me all about it, darling,” and Bella could not help smiling, as
the child fixed her great eyes upon her, and told her little story with
such earnestness, that she was breathless by the time she ended.

“At first they are only grubs you know, and stay down in the earth;
then they are like this, nice and downy and humpy, when they walk; and
when it’s time they spin up and go to sleep. It’s all dark in their
little beds, and they don’t know what may happen to ’em; but they are
not afraid ’cause God takes care of ’em. So they wait and don’t fret,
and when it’s right for ’em they come out splendid butterflies, all
beautiful and shining like your gown. They are happy then, and fly away
to eat honey, and live in the air, and never be creeping worms any
more.”

“That’s a pretty lesson for rne,” said Bella softly, “I accept and
thank you for it, little teacher; I’ll try to be a patient
‘pussy-pillar’ though it is dark, and I don’t know what may happen to
me; and I’ll wait hopefully till it’s time to float away a happy
butterfly.”

“Go and get the friend some flowers, the gayest and sweetest you can
find, Pansy,” said Christie, and, as the child ran off, she added to
her friend:

“Now we must think of something pleasant for you to do. It may take a
little time, but I know we shall find your niche if we give our minds
to it.”

“That’s one reason why I came. I heard some friends of mine talking
about you yesterday, and they seemed to think you were equal to any
thing in the way of good works. Charity is the usual refuge for people
like me, so I wish to try it. I don’t mind doing or seeing sad or
disagreeable things, if it only fills up my life and helps me to
forget.”

“You will help more by giving of your abundance to those who know how
to dispense it wisely, than by trying to do it yourself, my dear. I
never advise pretty creatures like you to tuck up their silk gowns and
go down into the sloughs with alms for the poor, who don’t like it any
better than you do, and so much pity and money are wasted in
sentimental charity.”

“Then what shall I do?”

“If you choose you can find plenty of work in your own class; for, if
you will allow me to say it, they need help quite as much as the
paupers, though in a very different way.”

“Oh, you mean I’m to be strong-minded, to cry aloud and spare not, to
denounce their iniquities, and demand their money or their lives?”

“Now, Bella, that’s personal; for I made my first speech a night or two
ago.”

“I know you did, and I wish I’d heard it. I’d make mine to-night if I
could do it half as well as I’m told you did,” interrupted Bella,
clapping her hands with a face full of approval.

But Christie was in earnest, and produced her new project with all
speed.

“I want you to try a little experiment for me, and if it succeeds you
shall have all the glory; I’ve been waiting for some one to undertake
it, and I fancy you are the woman. Not every one could attempt it; for
it needs wealth and position, beauty and accomplishments, much tact,
and more than all a heart that has not been spoilt by the world, but
taught through sorrow how to value and use life well.”

“Christie, what is it? this experiment that needs so much, and yet
which you think me capable of trying?” asked Bella, interested and
flattered by this opening.

“I want you to set a new fashion: you know you can set almost any you
choose in your own circle; for people are very like sheep, and will
follow their leader if it happens to be one they fancy. I don’t ask you
to be a De Staël, and have a brilliant salon: I only want you to
provide employment and pleasure for others like yourself, who now are
dying of frivolity or ennui.”

“I should love to do that if I could. Tell me how.”

“Well, dear, I want you to make Harry’s home as beautiful and
attractive as you can; to keep all the elegance and refinement of
former times, and to add to it a new charm by setting the fashion of
common sense. Invite all the old friends, and as many new ones as you
choose; but have it understood that they are to come as intelligent men
and women, not as pleasure-hunting beaux and belles; give them
conversation instead of gossip; less food for the body and more for the
mind; the healthy stimulus of the nobler pleasures they can command,
instead of the harmful excitements of present dissipation. In short,
show them the sort of society we need more of, and might so easily have
if those who possess the means of culture cared for the best sort, and
took pride in acquiring it. Do you understand, Bella?”

“Yes, but it’s a great undertaking, and you could do it better than I.”

“Bless you, no! I haven’t a single qualification for it but the will to
have it done. I’m ‘strong-minded,’ a radical, and a reformer. I’ve done
all sorts of dreadful things to get my living, and I have neither
youth, beauty, talent, or position to back me up; so I should only be
politely ignored if I tried the experiment myself. I don’t want you to
break out and announce your purpose with a flourish; or try to reform
society at large, but I do want you to devote yourself and your
advantages to quietly insinuating a better state of things into one
little circle. The very fact of your own want, your own weariness,
proves how much such a reform is needed. There are so many fine young
women longing for something to fill up the empty places that come when
the first flush of youth is over, and the serious side of life appears;
so many promising young men learning to conceal or condemn the high
ideals and the noble purposes they started with, because they find no
welcome for them. You might help both by simply creating a purer
atmosphere for them to breathe, sunshine to foster instead of frost to
nip their good aspirations, and so, even if you planted no seed, you
might encourage a timid sprout or two that would one day be a lovely
flower or a grand tree all would admire and enjoy.”

As Christie ended with the figure suggested by her favorite work, Bella
said after a thoughtful pause:

“But few of the women I know can talk about any thing but servants,
dress, and gossip. Here and there one knows something of music, art, or
literature; but the superior ones are not favorites with the larger
class of gentlemen.”

“Then let the superior women cultivate the smaller class of men who do
admire intelligence as well as beauty. There are plenty of them, and
you had better introduce a few as samples, though their coats may not
be of the finest broadcloth, nor their fathers ‘solid men.’ Women lead
in society, and when men find that they can not only dress with taste,
but talk with sense, the lords of creation will be glad to drop mere
twaddle and converse as with their equals. Bless my heart!” cried
Christie, walking about the room as if she had mounted her hobby, and
was off for a canter, “how people can go on in such an idiotic fashion
passes my understanding. Why keep up an endless clatter about gowns and
dinners, your neighbors’ affairs, and your own aches, when there is a
world full of grand questions to settle, lovely things to see, wise
things to study, and noble things to imitate. Bella, you must try the
experiment, and be the queen of a better society than any you can reign
over now.”

“It looks inviting, and I will try it with you to help me. I know Harry
would like it, and I’ll get him to recommend it to his patients. If he
is as successful here as elsewhere they will swallow any dose he
orders; for he knows how to manage people wonderfully well. He
prescribed a silk dress to a despondent, dowdy patient once, telling
her the electricity of silk was good for her nerves: she obeyed, and
when well dressed felt so much better that she bestirred herself
generally and recovered; but to this day she sings the praises of Dr.
Carrol’s electric cure.”

Bella was laughing gaily as she spoke, and so was Christie as she
replied:

“That’s just what I want you to do with your patients. Dress up their
minds in their best; get them out into the air; and cure their ills by
the magnetism of more active, earnest lives.”

They talked over the new plan with increasing interest; for Christie
did not mean that Bella should be one of the brilliant women who shine
for a little while, and then go out like a firework. And Bella felt as
if she had found something to do in her own sphere, a sort of charity
she was fitted for, and with it a pleasant sense of power to give it
zest.

When Letty and her mother came in, they found a much happier looking
guest than the one Christie had welcomed an hour before. Scarcely had
she introduced them when voices in the lane made all look up to see old
Hepsey and Mrs. Wilkins approaching.

“Two more of my dear friends, Bella: a fugitive slave and a laundress.
One has saved scores of her own people, and is my pet heroine. The
other has the bravest, cheeriest soul I know, and is my private
oracle.”

The words were hardly out of Christie’s mouth when in they came;
Hepsey’s black face shining with affection, and Mrs. Wilkins as usual
running over with kind words.

“My dear creeter, the best of wishes and no end of happy birthdays.
There ’s a triflin’ keepsake; tuck it away, and look at it byme by.
Mis’ Sterlin’, I’m proper glad to see you lookin’ so well. Aunt Letty,
how’s that darlin’ child? I ain’t the pleasure of your acquaintance,
Miss, but I’m pleased to see you. The children all sent love, likewise
Lisha, whose bones is better sense I tried the camfire and red
flannel.”

Then they settled down like a flock of birds of various plumage and
power of song, but all amicably disposed, and ready to peck socially at
any topic which might turn up.

Mrs. Wilkins started one by exclaiming as she “laid off” her bonnet:

“Sakes alive, there’s a new picter! Ain’t it beautiful?”

“Colonel Fletcher brought it this morning. A great artist painted it
for him, and he gave it to me in a way that added much to its value,”
answered Christie, with both gratitude and affection in her face; for
she was a woman who could change a lover to a friend, and keep him all
her life.

It was a quaint and lovely picture of Mr. Greatheart, leading the
fugitives from the City of Destruction. A dark wood lay behind; a wide
river rolled before; Mercy and Christiana pressed close to their
faithful guide, who went down the rough and narrow path bearing a
cross-hilted sword in his right hand, and holding a sleeping baby with
the left. The sun was just rising, and a long ray made a bright path
athwart the river, turned Greatheart’s dinted armor to gold, and shone
into the brave and tender face that seemed to look beyond the sunrise.

“There’s just a hint of Davy in it that is very comforting to me,” said
Mrs. Sterling, as she laid her old hands softly together, and looked up
with her devout eyes full of love.

“Dem women oughter bin black,” murmured Hepsey, tearfully; for she
considered David worthy of a place with old John Brown and Colonel
Shaw.

“The child looks like Pansy, we all think,” added Letty, as the little
girl brought her nosegay for Aunty to tie up prettily.

Christie said nothing, because she felt too much; and Bella was also
silent because she knew too little. But Mrs. Wilkins with her kindly
tact changed the subject before it grew painful, and asked with sudden
interest:

“When be you a goin’ to hold forth agin, Christie? Jest let me know
beforehand, and I’ll wear my old gloves: I tore my best ones all to
rags clappin’ of you; it was so extra good.”

“I don’t deserve any credit for the speech, because it spoke itself,
and I couldn’t help it. I had no thought of such a thing till it came
over me all at once, and I was up before I knew it. I’m truly glad you
liked it, but I shall never make another, unless you think I’d better.
You know I always ask your advice, and what is more remarkable usually
take it,” said Christie, glad to consult her oracle.

“Hadn’t you better rest a little before you begin any new task, my
daughter? You have done so much these last years you must be tired,”
interrupted Mrs. Sterling, with a look of tender anxiety.

“You know I work for two, mother,” answered Christie, with the clear,
sweet expression her face always wore when she spoke of David. “I am
not tired yet: I hope I never shall be, for without my work I should
fall into despair or ennui. There is so much to be done, and it is so
delightful to help do it, that I never mean to fold my hands till they
are useless. I owe all I can do, for in labor, and the efforts and
experiences that grew out of it, I have found independence, education,
happiness, and religion.”

“Then, my dear, you are ready to help other folks into the same blessed
state, and it’s your duty to do it!” cried Mrs. Wilkins, her keen eyes
full of sympathy and commendation as they rested on Christie’s
cheerful, earnest face. “Ef the sperrit moves you to speak, up and do
it without no misgivin’s. I think it was a special leadin’ that night,
and I hope you’ll foller, for it ain’t every one that can make folks
laugh and cry with a few plain words that go right to a body’s heart
and stop there real comfortable and fillin’. I guess this is your next
job, my dear, and you’d better ketch hold and give it the right turn;
for it’s goin’ to take time, and women ain’t stood alone for so long
they’ll need a sight of boostin’.”

There was a general laugh at the close of Mrs. Wilkins’s remarks; but
Christie answered seriously: “I accept the task, and will do my share
faithfully with words or work, as shall seem best. We all need much
preparation for the good time that is coming to us, and can get it best
by trying to know and help, love and educate one another,—as we do
here.”

With an impulsive gesture Christie stretched her hands to the friends
about her, and with one accord they laid theirs on hers, a loving
league of sisters, old and young, black and white, rich and poor, each
ready to do her part to hasten the coming of the happy end.

“Me too!” cried little Ruth, and spread her chubby hand above the rest:
a hopeful omen, seeming to promise that the coming generation of women
will not only receive but deserve their liberty, by learning that the
greatest of God’s gifts to us is the privilege of sharing His great
work.

[Illustration: “Each ready to do her part to hasten the coming of the
happy end.”]





*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Work: A Story of Experience" ***

Doctrine Publishing Corporation provides digitized public domain materials.
Public domain books belong to the public and we are merely their custodians.
This effort is time consuming and expensive, so in order to keep providing
this resource, we have taken steps to prevent abuse by commercial parties,
including placing technical restrictions on automated querying.

We also ask that you:

+ Make non-commercial use of the files We designed Doctrine Publishing
Corporation's ISYS search for use by individuals, and we request that you
use these files for personal, non-commercial purposes.

+ Refrain from automated querying Do not send automated queries of any sort
to Doctrine Publishing's system: If you are conducting research on machine
translation, optical character recognition or other areas where access to a
large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the use of
public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help.

+ Keep it legal -  Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for
ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.



Home