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Author: Alcott, Louisa May, 1832-1888
Title: Work: a Story of Experience
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Title: Work: A Story of Experience

Author: Louisa May Alcott

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WORK:

A STORY OF EXPERIENCE.

BY

LOUISA M. ALCOTT,

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

"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. ACTRBSS
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.





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.

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.

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.

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."

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.





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.

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. Pletcher 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 tilings 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. Pletcher, 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:

"NO, I THANK YOU."

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

"Distinctly and decidedly my final answer, Mr, Pletcher."

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.

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
halt-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 rny 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 beads 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 clown 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.

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 gome 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.

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'."

"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.





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.

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
sotfy 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.





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 blanchis-seuse 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 spiritnl
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
corne 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 conies, 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 homceopathically.

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.





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 vise 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; rny father used to say that
when we went looking for early violets, and these lovely ones
reminded me of it," explained Christie, rather abashed.

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 whirns. 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 gore 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 XL

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.

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 youthf ul 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.

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. Tour 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.





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, van ished 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.

"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?





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 herj 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. Flctcher'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 tie 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: 'Corne 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
clear 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."

"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, rny 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 Pletcher, 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."

"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."

"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.

"Each ready to do her part to hasten the coming of the happy end."




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