A ROMANCE OF THE PROVINCES.
C.W. COATES, MONTREAL, QUE. S.F. HUESTIS, HALIFAX, N.S.
Entered according to the Act of the Parliament of Canada, in the year one thousand eight hundred and ninety-five, by WILLIAM BRIGGS, Toronto, in the office of the Minister of Agriculture, at Ottawa.
Transcriber's Note: Minor typos have been corrected.
A ROMANCE OF THE PROVINCES.
INTRODUCTORY—1864 AND WAR TIME.
The war between the North and South has sent a wail of grief into thousands of homes throughout the land, and the dreadful death-roll is daily being added to, for battle follows battle, and the slaughter is appalling, even to those who have been hardened to the sight by months of action. No wonder that the faces of wives and mothers are white with anguish—that fearful death-list has carried desolation to their hearts, and others, just as dear, are obeying the command, "Forward to Spotsylvania."
Men stop to discuss the situation at street-corners, or hurry to the telegraph or newspaper offices for the latest news, their anxious faces telling how their lives have been touched by this outbreak of strife.
Among those who pass along the streets of a New England town, is one whose genial countenance attracts attention. He is above the average height, strong and well proportioned, and his quick and energetic step and wide-awake appearance proclaim him of New England birth.
As he nears a house in the suburbs, a shout of welcome greets him, and he lifts his eyes and smiles upon a group of young faces in an upper window; a moment more and the door is thrown open, and childish forms hurl themselves upon him.
As soon as the children's noisy greeting was over, Mr. Sherwood entered the room where his wife awaited his appearance, and drawing a chair near the couch where she was reclining, related the news of the day.
"Yes, I am later than usual, but I received a despatch from mother, and that detained me," said he, in answer to her remark. "I have arranged to run down to the farm to-morrow, as mother says my immediate presence is necessary."
"And is there no word from Charley yet? His name is not in the list of killed or wounded, but I fear the worst."
"His wife was at the telegraph office while I was there," said Mr. Sherwood, as they entered the dining-room. "She expected news every hour, and will send you word directly she gets a message. I tried to persuade her to return with me, but she was too anxious to leave the office until she had some reply to her despatch."
"This is a trying time for wives and sisters, and Charley was my favorite brother. But what new trouble has happened at the farm, that you are needed in such haste?" Mrs. Sherwood asked, as she poured out the tea.
"It seems that mother has heard that I intend joining the new company, if it is called out, and she has objections which she wishes to make personally. You know mother is not a Unionist; her southern prejudices are too strong for that, and the possibility of my joining the northern army has embittered her mind. You might come with me to-morrow; the change would do you good," he added.
"My visits to the farm are doubtful pleasures," replied Mrs. Sherwood, who had but little sympathy with her husband's people, "but any change will be welcome while this uncertainty exists about my brother. Can I trust you all to be good and obedient if I leave you in charge of Nurse Johnson?" she asked, lifting her eyes to the young faces around the table.
The best of behavior being readily promised, Mrs. Sherwood soon left the room to make preparations for the unexpected journey, and early next morning Mr. Sherwood and his wife were on the train bound for Crofton, the nearest station to the old home farm.
While they are on the way, a glance at the history of his parents will explain how matters stand at the homestead.
Squire Sherwood was a well-to-do farmer, who was well known outside of his own village, having held several public offices at various times, but these had been given up in order to superintend his fine farm, which years of toil had brought into a high state of cultivation. Early in life, while doing business in Louisiana, he had married a southern lady; but a few years later he came into possession of the farm, and they moved North.
His wife found the change very great, and often sighed for the luxurious life of her southern home; but she fell into New England ways more readily than might have been expected. When she moved north, she brought Dinah, who was her particular property, with her; indeed, Dinah was so much attached to her young mistress that she refused to be left behind, and life on the farm was made more endurable by her services. When, in the course of time, a son was born, he was placed in Dinah's care, and little Clarence was as fond of his black nurse as was ever the southern-born child of its black "mammy" of the southern plantation.
But Mrs. Sherwood did not lose her individuality by her marriage. The peculiar institution of the South she would like to have seen extended to the North as well, and when the disruption took place her sympathies were with those of her old home; she was heart and soul a southerner. Up to this time the same friendly feeling existed between mistress and maid as when they had lived under a sunnier sky; but the sentiments engendered by the hated Abolitionists, soon found vent in sharp words, and other abuses, that hitherto the faithful creature had never known.
Dinah felt keenly the change in her mistress, but bore it patiently, thinking it would soon pass; but village gossip soon spread the report of Mrs. Sherwood's treatment of her black servant, and the southern sentiments, so openly expressed, caused the family to lose the estimation of their neighbors, and gained instead their animosity. Party feeling ran high, and the villagers declared that if there was another draft made, the son should be made to fight against the avowed principles of the mother, and as the sentiments of both parties grew stronger as the war advanced, it brought matters to a crisis.
Hence the telegram requesting the son's presence at the farm.
When the train arrived at Crofton, the carriage was waiting for the travellers, in charge of the hired man, and they were soon driving along the familiar road to the homestead.
"What is the matter at home, Joe?" said Mr. Sherwood. "Are all well?"
"Yes, all well, sir," and Joe touched the horse lightly with the whip; "but the war news is troubling them, and making your mother very anxious about you."
Joe was an old and trusted servant, having lived with the family for years, and so much confidence was placed in him that he seemed like one of the family. When they arrived at the farmhouse, the son wished to know at once why he was sent for in such haste, but his father replied: "Plenty time, Clarence, plenty time ahead of us to talk about the matter; let us have dinner before we discuss troublesome questions."
But the mother's heart was too full of anxiety to wait, and she asked: "Is it true, Clarence, that you are going to join the Union army?"
"Well, I am ready to do my duty, mother," he replied, in a conciliating tone, "but I have not yet joined the company, so you need not be anxious about me until you have cause."
"But I have cause already! I hear that another draft is soon to be made, and the people around here are determined that you shall be drawn into the fight, if only to spite me, but if you enter the army at all it should not be on the Unionists' side; that would be taking up arms against your kith and kin, and no son of mine must do that!"
A look of terror spread over the face of the son's wife. Was her husband to be torn from her side, as the mother feared?
"I cannot argue this question with you, mother, lest we should not agree," said the son, gently. "It is a pity that as a family our interests are so divided; but others have placed their interests against kith and kin, and, if duty called, I should have to do the same. I own that at present I shrink from the call, as the forces seem concentrated near my sister Annie's home. I wish she would come north, but that cannot be expected while her husband is in danger. He has command of an important position, but Sherman is sure to dislodge him, and I fear the result will be disastrous. But I see you have something else in your mind at present, so what is it that you wish me to do, mother?"
"I want you to leave the country, Clarence. I cannot bear the thought of you being drafted to fight against my home and people, and your own natural affections should cry out against uniting with the slayers of your kindred."
"Oh! this cruel, cruel war!" cried the son's wife. "We are indeed a divided family, for my brother is with Sherman near Atalanta, fighting against my husband's people. Oh! Clarence, do as your mother wishes, and let us leave the country, for my heart will break if you are drafted!"
"You must leave at once, if at all," said the mother; "even a week's delay may be too late, for the neighbors boast that before the month is out I shall see my son march away to Washington! I would give every dollar we possess to help the southern cause, if what they threaten should come to pass!" she added, in an angry tone.
"Well, mother," replied the son with a smile, "my patrimony is too precious to run such a risk, and as I am not very anxious to shoot anyone, or be shot at either, I will do as you wish, and let you live in peace. I feel confident that a few months will end the struggle, or my decision would be different; but where do you wish me to go?"
"Go!" her countenance softening at once. "You can decide that for yourself; as long as you are out of the reach of the Unionists, that is all I ask. So, go to Halifax, if you like!"
"Very well, mother, to Halifax I'll go, but you do not seem to have the welfare of your only son very much to heart, after all, by the way you speak."
"Nonsense! Clarence, you know my heart better than that! I mean that it matters little where you settle, so long as you are out of American territory until the war is over."
"Oh! Halifax will suit me very well, mother. Ever since I can remember you have threatened to send me to Halifax; so now I'll go, and I do not believe I shall find it a place of torment either. Nelson, who was in partnership with me when I was in Augusta, has moved his family there, and I may join him again in business. He is buying up horses and sending them to headquarters. What! you surely would not object to me making some money out of the Unionists?" he asked, in answer to his mother's quick look of surprise.
The discussion lasted some time, but to the relief of the son's wife they decided to return home the following day, that her husband might have an opportunity to settle his business in time to catch the first boat to Halifax.
Becoming aware of the hostility which prevailed among the neighbors, on account of Dinah's presence at the farmhouse, Mr. Sherwood proposed to take her with them to Halifax as their hired nurse. He had a kindly feeling for the good, old woman, who was such a faithful and partial nurse to him in his boyhood, and he could not help seeing that she was less kindly treated than formerly, and to his surprise his mother consented to the plan. Dinah made no objection when the matter was laid before her, for like many colored women of her age she had an intense love for children. This love had grown stronger during the years there had been no children at the farmhouse to lavish it upon, and the short visits that the grandchildren made at the farm were red-letter days to Aunt Dinah.
Mrs. Sherwood found her cares much lessened with Dinah installed as nurse. The care of children was always a wearisome burden to the rather indolent mother, so the irksome duties were readily placed on the willing shoulders of Dinah.
While Mrs. Sherwood awaited her husband's directions, her brother's wife appeared one day, bearing the sad announcement that Charley had fallen in the last battle; and though Mrs. Sherwood had been expecting this from the first, her grief was more distressing to witness than that of the afflicted, sad-faced wife.
But there had been no hope in Mrs. Sherwood's heart since her brother had bidden them farewell, and marched away with his comrades; and her fears being realized, she was more anxious than ever to leave the country that might yet claim her husband also, and when word came from Halifax that a furnished house awaited the family, Mrs. Sherwood easily persuaded her bereaved sister in-law to accompany them thither.
A few weeks later, the family—consisting of Mrs. Sherwood and her brother's childless widow; Gussie and Dexie, twin girls of sixteen; Louie, aged thirteen, Georgie ten, Flossie three, and a year-old baby in the arms of black Dinah—arrived in Halifax, where this story properly begins.
The new home awaiting the family was situated in the south end of the city. The house, which is still considered a desirable residence, was built in a style very common in Halifax, for the accommodation of two tenants. The owner, a Mr. Gurney, lived in one part of it; he was a native of England, but at the solicitation of his brother, who was an officer in one of the regiments, he had removed to Nova Scotia, and was doing a prosperous business on Granville Street.
Mr. Gurney had a large family. Cora, the eldest, was just out of her teens; then came Launcelot or Lancy, as he was usually called; then Elsie, and so on, till you came to an infant in arms. As the cabs containing the Sherwood family drove up to the house, the nursery windows in the second story of the Gurney household were filled with childish faces, anxious to see what sort of playmates their new neighbors might be; and when the young strangers alighted on the sidewalk they observed the happy faces and smiled back in return, thus pleasantly intimating that they hoped to be friends. But when Dinah appeared with the baby, the faces in the window betrayed their astonishment. "Oh! a black nurse! and the baby don't seem a bit frightened of her!" they exclaimed in surprise.
"I wonder if they love her when she is so very black," said little Gracie. "I shouldn't love to kiss her, would you, Percy?" looking at their own fair-faced nurse in loving approval.
Mrs. Sherwood was surprised to find the house so neatly and comfortably arranged, but she soon learned that she was indebted to Mrs. Gurney for this pleasant state of affairs, for she had given Mr. Sherwood much material assistance in making the rooms look home-like and cheerful.
In the evening, when the family were assembled in the parlor, Mrs. Gurney tapped lightly at the door, and her cordial greeting seemed more like that of a friend than the first meeting of strangers, and when Mrs. Sherwood began to thank her for the thoughtful attentions that had made their home-coming so pleasant, she stopped her with a word.
"Do not thank me, I beg of you, Mrs. Sherwood," she said, with a smile. "I have only done for you what I wish someone had done for me when I first came to Halifax. I know by experience," she added, as a smile lit up her motherly face, "what it is to come into a strange place, among strange people, with a hundred things needing to be done at once, and a family of children to attend to besides. I felt sure you would like the place better if you found it a bit home-like and settled, but I have come in to explain. I was afraid you might think I was making myself too busy in your affairs. Now, I do hope, Mrs. Sherwood, that you will not make strangers of us after this." Her face beamed with kindness as she spoke, and after a short and friendly conversation she withdrew.
The next day was a busy one in the Sherwood household, but in the afternoon the twin girls were invited to go for a walk with the young ladies next door, while Louie was persuaded to go up to the nursery with the Gurney children.
Louie felt very shy when she found herself among so many little strangers, but the kind, good-natured nurse, in white cap and apron, who presided over this restless brood, soon set her at ease by bidding the children show Louie their toys. And what a store of them there were to be sure. There were several miniature sets of dishes of various patterns, and whole families of dolls, from the aged grandmother in a white frilled cap, to the tiny china specimen that was too small to be dressed. There were Noah's arks that held animals that would have astonished old Noah himself, and rocking-horses in various stages of dilapidation, from the bright new one with only a scratch on his leg, to the headless and tailless steed that rocked in a melancholy way in the corner. Then there was a swing that hung from the ceiling, and a springy teeter-board that could bounce the little ones quite into the air. These and other treasures were duly inspected by the shy Louie, who soon entered heartily into the games started for her amusement.
The twin girls were delighted with their walk. They had viewed the city from Citadel Hill, and had extended their walk to other spots of interest, but it seemed to them that they had moved nearer the seat of war, instead of away from it, for the sword and gun-bearing officers and soldiers whom they met in different parts of the city seemed more warlike than those who had passed through the streets of their old home, as they journeyed toward headquarters.
In a short time the family settled down to the routine of home-life that comes natural in all households, and having secured competent help, Mrs. Sherwood was able to order her household without much exertion on her part; in fact, she began to feel that she might now take life comparatively easy, and, little by little, the duties of housekeeper were laid upon Aunt Jennie.
Dinah found the burden and exactions of her small charges quite bearable, so the not-over-anxious mother was relieved from trouble in that quarter also. But Dinah seemed well satisfied. Her love for the little ones placed under her care had been strong enough to silence the superstitious dread that had filled her heart when she first learned the destination of the family; but in spite of her efforts to please everyone, Dinah could not overcome the strong dislike which Biddy openly and emphatically expressed for all "nagers." Consequently, a wordy warfare spiced the day's doings occasionally, but, thanks to Aunt Jennie's tact and kindness, even this grew less and less, as occasion for them vanished.
A few weeks later, Mr. Sherwood accompanied Mr. Nelson to Prince Edward Island, on a horse-buying expedition, but we will not follow them, as our story has to do with those in Halifax; it is sufficient to say that they secured a number of valuable animals for the New York market, at a price that surprised Mr. Sherwood until he understood that the Island farmers were ready to dispose of all products "cheap for cash."
As might be supposed, the friendly intercourse between the members of the two families grew stronger as the taste of each became more apparent.
Dexie and Elsie were "chums" at once, though each possessed an opposite nature; one supplied what the other lacked, so they agreed charmingly.
Gussie was older in appearance than her twin, Dexie, and preferred the society of a "grown-up" young lady, and Cora Gurney found her a pleasant companion.
Launcelot Gurney, or Lancy, was the musical genius of the Gurney family, and this soon caused a feeling of friendship to spring up between him and Dexie Sherwood, and few days passed in which they did not spend considerable time in each other's society. But the closest observer could find no fault with this intimacy. It sprang from the similarity of tastes, and the frank, straightforward manner which marked their intercourse denied the existence of any foolish sentimentality. Though younger than Cora, Lancy seemed by his steady ways and manly behavior to be the eldest of the family. Perhaps the fact that his father talked so much with him, and interested him in matters that seldom claim the attention of youths of his age, had something to do with his manner, but behind his usual calm exterior there was an amount of conceit not always apparent to others, a conceit that placed himself above the ordinary High School boys who had been his daily associates. This they had felt intuitively, and with his precise habits and nicety of dress had caused him to be dubbed "the dandy."
Another member of the Gurney household must also be mentioned, for Hugh McNeil belonged to the family almost as much as Lancy himself, seeing that he had been cared for by Mrs. Gurney before Lancy was born. He was the son of a strange marriage, a marriage that had turned out disastrously. His father had been valet to Mr. Gurney's eldest brother, and, while attending his master in Paris, had fallen in love with a pretty French waitress, and secretly married her. On returning to England with his master, the French wife followed him and revealed the marriage, and this so enraged McNeil's master that he discharged him on the spot. Whereupon McNeil, after securing a comfortable lodging for his wife, left for Australia, intending to send for her as soon as he obtained permanent employment. Before he had done so, the French wife died in giving birth to little Hugh; and the matter coming to the knowledge of Mrs. Gurney, she had pitied the motherless babe and had him placed in a comfortable home. As he grew older, Mrs. Gurney became so fond of her young protege that he was taken into the family, and was given an education that enabled him, in later years, to be of much service to his benefactors.
In looks he favored both parents, inheriting the strong, sturdy frame of his Scotch father, with the dark features and piercing black eyes of his mother. At present, he occupied the position of clerk or general factotum to Mr. Gurney; his quickness and ability to grasp the requirements of business, with the general activity of his movements, made him invaluable, and Mr. Gurney trusted him like a son. Amongst other duties, Hugh frequently attended auction sales, to watch for bargains in their line of business, and it was at one of these sales that Mrs. Sherwood met him. She had accompanied Mrs. Nelson to a sale of bankrupt stock, and wishing to secure some desired articles she asked Hugh's assistance, and he served her so well that he was asked to call, and he was received so graciously by more than one member of the family that the call was often repeated, and he soon had the "freedom of the house," as Dexie laughingly expressed it.
The English custom of playing at charades or tableaux, was much in vogue in the Gurney household, and on rainy days the children were sure to be found in the attic, where a mimic stage had been erected, and drop curtains of a peculiar style and pattern added to the attractions of the place. The young neighbors next door were soon initiated into the mysteries of the "green room," and their added numbers made the audience seem immense, since it took every available box and board to construct "opera chairs" for the crowd; but every chair was sure to be filled when the new "star," Signora Dexina, was announced to appear before the footlights, and if these latter were but candles left from the last Christmas tree, what mattered it?
One day while up in the attic rehearsing a new piece, the idea occurred to them that a private entrance into each other's apartments, by way of the attic, would be a great convenience, so they eagerly searched the partition for a loose board. Finding one that was quite broad, they put forth every exertion, and after much shoving and prying, during which their fingers received many splinters and bruises, they succeeded in getting the board loose from the floor. By shoving it aside, they could squeeze through the opening into the opposite attic, then the board would swing back to its old position.
The "convenience" of this private entrance only children could explain, as it seemed hardly worth the exertion to climb three pair of stairs for the pleasure of entering the house of their next-door neighbor by this narrow doorway, but the children were delighted with it. In after-years others, long past childhood, did not scruple to use this doorway, and silently bless the hands that formed it.
The good old custom of family worship was daily practised in the Gurney household, and appearing suddenly in the dining-room one morning, just as the family were about to "take books," Dexie stayed to prayers, and was so impressed with the charm and simplicity of the devotions, that she asked permission to come again.
The exercises consisted of reading, verse about, a portion of Scripture, then a verse or two of some well-known hymn was sung, after which Mr. Gurney made a short prayer, using simple words within the comprehension of the little ones. Special mention was made of the needs of the family. If any of them were ill, they were mentioned by name, and it gave Dexie a curious feeling the first time she knelt with the family to hear Mr. Gurney ask for a "particular blessing to rest on our young neighbor, who worships with us this morning." The charm of it all seemed to be in the feeling of reality there was about it, the decorous behavior of the little ones showing that it meant more than outside form to them. None of the Gurney family was excused from this morning worship unless sickness made it impossible to appear, and it soon became a regular thing for Dexie Sherwood to make her appearance with her Bible when the bell rang for prayers. Dexie thoroughly enjoyed these exercises, her religious education having been limited to the little she had learned in Sunday School, for the Bible was not a very well read book in the Sherwood household, and its treasures were almost unknown, until they were opened to her eyes by the Gurneys.
Aunt Jennie was much surprised when she learned the cause of Dexie's frequent morning visits next door. The evident desire for instruction which made her niece seek from others what should have been imparted to her at home, came like a reproach to her heart. She had been reared in a Christian home, where Bible truths had been imparted to her from her cradle up, so she now endeavored to supply what was lacking in the religious education of her young relatives. It was done quietly and without ostentation, but the last half hour of the day was given to Dexie, and she spent it with her aunt in the privacy of her chamber, where they studied the Book together. Dexie tried to persuade Gussie to join these readings, but with no success, for Gussie, like many others, "cared for none of these things."
When Mr. Sherwood returned from New York, he was accompanied by a Mr. Plaisted, a gentleman of a speculative turn of mind, who had attached himself to Mr. Sherwood with a persistency that showed he had "the cheek of a drummer," and he had invited himself to accompany Mr. Sherwood to his home in Halifax. Although fond of horses, there was nothing about the appearance of Mr. Plaisted to suggest the jockey: he was what would have been termed in a later day a fair specimen of the genus dude. He was of medium height, and was decidedly foppish in his manner, and with his elaborate neck-ties and perfumed curls, he was, in his own estimation at least, quite irresistible. His hands and feet were unusually small for a man. The latter he was very proud of, always encasing them in boots of the very latest style; and, no doubt, the "cold cream" and other cosmetics which he nightly used helped to give his hands and face the fair appearance that so delighted himself.
His presence in the household seemed to have an opposite effect on the twin girls. Gussie was delighted with his fine appearance and gallant speeches, but Dexie seemed to see the ignoble nature behind and kept him at a distance.
A few evenings after his arrival, when the family were assembled in the parlor, Mr. Plaisted, who was leaning back in his chair, in an attitude peculiar to Americans, asked: "Have you a son living in Boston, Sherwood? I met a young fellow in a broker's office bearing your name. Any relation of yours?"
"No, neither a son nor a relation; this is my only boy," Mr. Sherwood replied, reaching for Georgie's ear in a playful manner.
"Ah! that's a pity now! a grown-up son would have been some use to you. If one of the twins had happened to be a boy, you would have had quite an assistant by now."
Dexie was sitting behind the window curtain, watching the passers-by. She resented this speech, and the rude way it was uttered provoked her into replying:
"One does not need to be born a boy to be of use in this world, allow me to tell you, Mr. Plaisted! for in all things that he needs help, I am my father's boy—not ghost!" she laughingly added, as Plaisted, startled by her sudden appearance, almost overbalanced in his chair.
"Bless me! I didn't notice you were there, Miss Dexie," said he, regaining his equilibrium with an effort. "Guess you've been studying Shakespeare for my benefit, eh, Miss Dexie?"
"Oh! that's just like Dexie," said Gussie, with a frown. "She always likes to make a scene when she can. She will want to go on the stage, I expect, by and by."
"What nonsense! Gussie," said Dexie, smiling good-naturedly, "when all the theatrical performances we are allowed to attend are those that take place up in the attic."
"Oh! come now, Miss Dexie. How often do you slip off to plays with that young chap next door?" said Plaisted, with a sly wink at Gussie. "I often see you down street together."
"Your eyesight must be remarkably good, then," was the icy reply, "for I think no one else can accuse me of 'slipping off' with any person."
"By the way, Miss Dexie, I have been wondering what your name is, ever since I came. Is it an abbreviation or a nick-name?" said Plaisted, anxious to turn the conversation. "I have never met with a young lady bearing your name before."
"And you are not likely to meet one again," was the quick reply, as a flush of anger covered her face.
Mr. Sherwood looked across at Dexie, knowing full well that Plaisted could not have broached a more unfortunate subject. Dexie's full name was her chief annoyance, so he answered in a quiet tone, "Her name is Dexter, but she would like us all to forget the fact, and call her Dexie instead."
"Since Mr. Plaisted is so inquisitive, it would be wise to gratify his curiosity at once, and have done with it," and Dexie turned sharply around and faced the rest. "He had better learn the whole of our names, and the history of them as well, and then, perhaps, he will be kind enough to drop the subject forever. Here is the story: At the time father was married he was doing business in Augusta, Maine; but it happened, unfortunately, that mother was born and brought up in Dexter. For some reason, that I have never been able to fathom, when we twins appeared we were honored by being called after those respective places! Gussie was the smartest and best-looking baby, I suppose, so she was selected to bear the name of the capital city, while I had to bear the burden of Dexter! It is a wonder how I managed to survive the christening, for the very name was enough to finish one! Oh! I have wished a thousand times that the town of Dexter had been visited by a conflagration, and wiped out of existence, before mother's people ever went there! But there! I daresay they would have gone to Skowhegan! Norrigewock! Mattawamkeg! or some other place with an outlandish name, and, of course, I should have been named after it, just the same! Dexie is bad enough, but Skowie, think of it!"
A peal of laughter interrupted Dexter's hot-spoken words; but the mention of her name always touched a tender spot, and she added, in an injured tone, that made her father smile in spite of himself:
"And there is Louie. Everybody thinks her name is Louisa, so she escapes the questions of the curious; but her name is Louisiana, after the State where grandma's old home is. We were there for a long visit when she was a baby, and she is not likely to forget that fact all her life. Then papa has a sister in Georgia; so of course we went to see her, too; but her plantation was so lovely we were all delighted when papa consented to stay there a year or two and help Uncle Edward set out some new groves, and get everything in good running order. We were there when Georgie was born, so he got off comparatively easy; but then! boys always do!"
Plaisted's shouts of laughter forbade further expressions of displeasure, and Dexie turned her back again and looked out the window, while she regained her composure. Nothing so aroused her indignation as the mention of her name consequently few knew what it really was. Louie liked her name, for by bearing it she became her grandmother's favorite, and Gussie could look on the matter with indifference.
"I quite sympathize with Dexie," said Mrs. Sherwood, "but her father has a New Englander's love for novel names, and gives no thought to the unnecessary burden that it puts upon the children, one which they have to bear all their lives."
"Oh! well, Gussie can't complain, I'm sure," said Mr. Sherwood. "No one will become inquisitive over her name," he laughingly added.
"I have no doubt that Miss Gussie feels thankful she secured first choice," said Plaisted, "and that her good looks entitled her to it," and he looked over at Gussie with bold admiration in his glance.
"I don't think looks had anything to do with it," said Mr. Sherwood, "else this curly pate would have had first choice," reaching over to pass his hand over the brown rings of hair.
"Seems to me this conversation is much too personal," said Dexie, rising from her seat. "I think a change would be welcome to one and all," and she sat down before the piano.
Mr. Sherwood smiled his approval. He was very proud of his daughter's musical ability, for she could sing and play to suit the taste of any audience, and could arouse the inner emotions of those who had any feelings that were capable of being stirred at all. One of her accomplishments, which she seldom exhibited before strangers, was that of whistling. Few people have heard the exquisite notes that can be produced by an adept in the art, but there are whistlers and whistlers, whose notes differ as much as those of the linnet and the crow. While accompanying herself on the piano, Dexie could produce such wonderful trills and quavers, with such purity of tone, that she could almost rival the very birds themselves, and she never failed to surprise and charm all that heard her. Wishing to please her father, as well as convince Mr. Plaisted that her name did not make her a "ninny," she selected some of her best pieces and sang her most charming songs; then, after a few soft notes, she broke into a bird-song, whistling the notes so faithfully true that Mr. Plaisted was startled as well as delighted, and the conversation he had begun with Gussie came to an abrupt end.
"Well, Miss Dexie, I must confess that you have surprised me," said he, as Dexie resumed her seat at the window. "I never heard the equal of that from the boards of any concert-room in New York. No one would object to paying 'dear for his whistle,' if that quality was purchasable. You would make a fortune on the stage."
"I hope Dexie will never use her whistle as a money-making gift," said her father; "but I think, myself, it is about as pretty music as one ever hears."
"You can bet your life, Sherwood, she would create such a furore in musical circles that she would make something besides money for you. Bring her out, Sherwood; it will pay you better than speculating with horses."
"Heaven forbid!" replied Mr. Sherwood, extremely annoyed at the way Plaisted spoke of his favorite daughter. "I fancy I can make a comfortable living for my family, without turning my daughter into a public character."
"Thank you, papa," came the clear-cut tones from the window; "but pray do not waste any more sentiment on Mr. Plaisted. He happens to be one of that kind of men who would sell their own mothers for profit! But he can't help it, poor man, he was born that way!" and before Plaisted could recover from his surprise, Dexie had left the room.
"That was a pretty good slap, and no mistake," exclaimed Plaisted as he drew out his handkerchief to wipe his hot face. "I meant no offence, Sherwood, 'pon honor."
"Well, as my daughter did not take it so, be kind enough to be more guarded in your remarks in the future. However, in a battle of words, I fancy she is able to hold her own, and come off victor every time, too."
The matter was dismissed with a laugh, though memory lingered long over the plain-spoken words; but in his secret heart Mr. Sherwood was glad that Dexie had so answered this New York gentleman. Dexie had won her position in her father's heart by her prompt and willing service. She it was who could be depended on to do the numberless little tasks, insignificant in themselves, perhaps, but of the greatest moment when taken together, for the joy and comfort of home-life very largely depends on the way these little things are attended to. Her sister, Gussie, was too fond of pleasing herself to be of much service to others; but Dexie was quick to see another's need, and she found it a pleasure to wait on her dear papa, who, however active and energetic he might be when about his business, dearly loved to be waited on when once he was inside his own home. He always found Dexie willing and ready to give all her time for his pleasure. She had even changed the style of her handwriting so as to help her father with his correspondence, and she proved herself such an able assistant that, on giving her verbal instructions, she could write out his letters quite as clearly and business-like as if his own hand held the pen. Once, in Dexie's absence, he had pressed Gussie into service, but Mr. Sherwood never repeated the request, for Gussie's writing resembled the "sprawls of a many-legged spider that had fallen into the ink bottle, and then wiped his legs on the writing-paper," according to Mr. Sherwood's description of it.
But Gussie was pretty if she was not useful. She was a perfect blonde, with a wealth of yellow hair, which she twisted round her head like a golden coronet. Her eyes were as blue as fresh spring violets, and her slight, willowy figure gave promise of much grace when fully developed. Her twin sister, Dexie, was much unlike her in every way, having dark brown eyes, while a mass of short, light-brown curls covered the well-poised head, giving her something of a boyish air. She had a clear complexion, but was not so fair as Gussie, and her figure was shorter and more rounded. She was quick and alert in all her movements, and laughed when Gussie called her a tomboy, but she was only thoroughly wide-awake, and enjoyed life with a zest that was but natural in a girl of her years. She scorned the languid air that Gussie affected, and looked with disdain on the one-legged storks that her sister delighted to transfer to canvas, and she wondered how it was possible for anyone to sit for hours over a bit of fancywork the usefulness of which was doubtful; but this was the only kind of work that Gussie ever cared to do.
Since Aunt Jennie had taken up her abode in the family, Dexie had found great delight in solving some of the mysteries of cookery, and the toothsome articles she evolved, under her aunt's direction, were exhibited with as much pride as Gussie felt when she adorned the new sofa pillow with such gorgeous butterflies that no one dared use it thereafter. But Dexie was at her best when seated before the piano; then her face glowed with a beauty far exceeding that of her sister's, for the soul shone in her face, and she would make the instrument respond to her feelings like a human being. However ruffled her state of mind might be—for, be it known, Dexie was not blessed with a very even temper—she could pour out her troubles to her beloved instrument, as she would to a dear friend, and she always found peace and consolation there.
One evening, when Mr. Plaisted was still in Halifax, there was a small party held at Mrs. Gurney's, to which the Sherwoods were invited. Although the party was only for "grown-ups," as Elsie Gurney said, invitations were given to Gussie and Dexie, as company for the young members of the party. Among those present was Major Gurney, and several of his brother officers, whose gaily-attired figures added much to the beauty of the rooms.
During the evening music was introduced, and it need hardly be said that most of the songs sung were thoroughly English, and of course much applauded; but Dexie, in her loyalty to the land she called home, though living out of its borders, could scarcely conceal her annoyance, and turning to a table near, she picked up a book of views in order to hide her vexation. Presently she became aware that the book before her was composed of views that were unmistakably English; and no sooner was their nationality noted than she dropped the book as if it had burnt her fingers.
"The idea of that little spot on the earth lording it over all creation!" she said to herself, and her lip curled in scorn.
Just then the young man at the piano struck up the notes of "Rule Britannia," which was caught up at once by all the red-coated gentlemen present, as if the very words were a sweet morsel under their tongues. It ended at last with a crash, and Dexie gave a sigh of relief when she saw the piano stool vacant.
But Mr. Gurney was making his way towards her, and, bending over her, said in a low voice:
"Will you favor the company with some music, Miss Dexie? I have often listened to some very enchanting strains from your fingers."
"Well, I think I can play something that will be quite as enchanting as that we have just listened to," Dexie replied. "I don't believe that piece was ever meant to be sung inside four walls, and those officers shout as if they intended to raise the roof. I am afraid my playing will seem very tame after all that bluster," she laughingly added.
"No fear of that," said Mr. Gurney, smiling. "Try and see if you cannot beat them at their own game."
Dexie looked up quickly, and caught his meaning, and as she crossed the room her thoughts were flying through her brain, trying to bring to mind some song that would answer those "red-coated braggarts." A smile came to her lips, as memory served her. Yes, she could sing something that was quite as musical as "Rule Britannia," anyway, and echo the praise of her own land as well. So when she passed her father she whispered:
"Give me the help of your best bass in the chorus;" and bending over Gussie, who was listening to the remarks of a many-striped officer, who was standing near her chair, she said in a low tone: "Give me your help this once, Gussie, and let your alto be heard clear to the citadel."
Seating herself at the piano, she struck a few chords, and then her rich, ringing voice, with every word clear and distinct, sounded through the room:
"Of all the mighty nations in the east or in the west, Our glorious Yankee nation is the brightest and the best; We have room for all creation, and our banner is unfurled With a cordial invitation to the people of the world. So, come along, come along; make no delay; Come from every nation; come from every way. The land it is broad enough; you need not be alarmed, For Uncle Sam has land enough to give you all a farm."
An amused look passed over the faces of those present as the sentiments of the singer reached their ears, and Plaisted said, half aloud:
"Good for you, Miss Dexie; I back you there!" and when the chorus was reached, his fine tenor was equal to any that had been heard during the evening, his "Come along" ringing out like a bold challenge.
"Hurrah for the Stars and Stripes!" cried Lieutenant Layton, as he joined in the applause that arose as soon as the song had ended. "Your nationality is quite apparent, Miss Sherwood. That's right; don't let your own broad country be sung down."
Dexie found herself immediately surrounded, and was overwhelmed with entreaties to sing again, for the "back slap" had been as diverting as it was unexpected, and she found it impossible to leave the piano without singing again. But she thought that one song in that strain was enough, though Mr. Gurney came over to her side, saying:
"Give us another like the last, Miss Dexie. It is good for these red-coated fellows to remember that they have not conquered all the people on the face of the earth."
"I am afraid it will offend someone," said Dexie, softly. "I couldn't resist the temptation of letting them know that I don't think England is supreme. I am a loyal American, even if I do reside in Halifax."
"Oh! there is no danger of offending," Mr. Gurney replied. "The lion has roared quite enough for one evening, so let the starry flag play awhile in the breeze."
But Dexie did not like to flaunt the flag too near the lion's face, and in his own den, as it were; so remembering some of the beautiful, pathetic songs, that had been inspired by the war, she thought they would be quite as much enjoyed.
Lancy Gurney was seldom far from the piano, and as Dexie finished her song she motioned him to her side. A few whispered words passed between them, then Lancy sat down beside her, when there rang out a symphony that delighted every ear.
In a few minutes, Dexie took advantage of the movement she had brought about on purpose to relieve herself, and rose from the piano, leaving Lancy seated at the instrument.
This musical treat brought Dexie into social prominence, as there were several members of the "Song and Glee Club" present, and she was much surprised to receive invitations for herself and sister to join the club.
This club contained some of the best singers in the city, but had no members so young as those now invited to join them. The invitation was never regretted, however, for they soon acknowledged that the "Sherwood twins" were quite an acquisition.
The pleasant evening was over at last, and the twins had received compliments enough to turn older heads than theirs; but Dexie did not dwell on the flattering remarks as Gussie did. Her singing and playing came as natural to her as it did to talk, and she was not puffed up by the praise bestowed on her for it. But Gussie was always vain of her good looks, and she magnified the remarks that her pretty face had elicited, and when they were about to retire Gussie had quite the air of a society belle as she said:
"I have made quite an impression on Lieutenant Morton. I feel quite sure he is almost in love with me already." But, receiving no answer to this remark, she added:
"I hope you are not jealous, Dexie, because I received so many compliments from those fine-looking officers?"
"Pooh! you silly thing! Jealous! Well, that's rich, I must say," replied Dexie, in a tone of scorn. "You seem to think it is a fine thing to be complimented by soldiers, but not so I. Why, didn't Mrs. Gurney tell us one time that it was not considered respectable to be seen talking to soldiers on the street, and I can't see how it makes so much difference if you talk to them behind closed doors."
"Oh, but there was not one soldier invited to Mrs. Gurney's party; they were all officers, every one of them," was Gussie's reply.
"Pshaw! what difference do a few ornaments on a man's coat make to the man inside of it, I'd like to know? I expect that half of them, at least, were common soldiers once themselves, and were bossed around like the very meanest of them. I declare, I'd rather be a black on auntie's plantation than be under some of those bawling officers we met to-night."
But Gussie did not care to discuss the matter further, as it required some time to think the matter out seriously, if she would discover why an officer should be less open to objection than a common soldier, for it was true enough that many who wore the stripes had stepped up from the ranks; yet how few of the better class care to make friends with the common soldier, be he ever so respectable as a private individual. Was it likely that a cloak of uncommon respectability was put on with the officer's uniform? Hardly; else some of them lost the cloak very shortly after it was put on.
Mr. Sherwood, accompanied by Mr. Plaisted, made a trip to Prince Edward Island before the winter set in, and though they did not make a very extensive purchase, they travelled through the country and learned its resources, visiting many farms where salable horses could be secured in the spring. They took the horses they purchased direct to New York, where they were disposed of to good advantage, after which Mr. Sherwood returned to Halifax and settled down for the winter.
Mr. Plaisted remained in New York, but promised to be in Halifax early in the spring, and be ready for the first boat that crossed to the Island.
The first winter in Halifax passed very pleasantly to the Sherwoods. The winter sports were new, and keenly enjoyed, and the "Sherwood twins" soon became as good skaters as those who had practised the art for years. Yet no one must imagine that everything ran as smoothly as clockwork in the Sherwood household, for there are few families who can boast of such perfect regulations that there is never a jar.
Mrs. Sherwood had been only too willing to throw off all responsibility and place her duties on Aunt Jennie's shoulders, but there were many things that must of necessity be left to Mrs. Sherwood herself, and when such things were put off indefinitely they were apt to prove annoying; consequently, when "patience ceased to be a virtue," the domestic atmosphere was sometimes cleared by a small-sized storm.
There are also times when domestic helps are apt to be exasperating in the extreme, and a word of rebuke or remonstrance is like a match to a can of gunpowder; the powder is apt to go off, and the girl just as likely, and both leave an unpleasantness behind them. Queer, too, that both are apt to go off at the most unexpected and inconvenient moment; but so it is.
The Sherwood family were not exempt from this experience, for Biddy raised a storm because Dinah seemed to be made more of than she was herself. No explanations or smooth words would bridge over the difficulty. She refused to stay in a house where "a big nager could stay in the room wid the missus and hould the baby as long as she plased;" so she left the house, and quite suddenly, too.
This disarranged household matters somewhat for awhile, as it was some time before a capable servant could be found, and Mrs. Sherwood was obliged to exert herself a little and attend to the wants of the baby, while Dinah filled the vacant place in the kitchen.
But rheumatism had laid its torturing clutches on poor old Dinah's limbs, and she could not be expected to get through the same amount of work that Biddy accomplished, so the help of the twins was frequently necessary to keep agoing the domestic machinery.
This was no hardship to Dexie; but Gussie, oh dear! it was just horrible to have to wash up the breakfast dishes, and to polish the silver. And the rooms never needed to be dusted so often before, that she was sure! and wherever the dusters went to after she was done with them was a daily mystery. Dexie offered to solve this trying enigma, but Gussie's wrath waxed hot when she read the words which Dexie printed in large letters on a piece of wrapping-paper and stuck on the wall, for the moral was obvious—
"There is a place for everything; THEREFORE, put the dusters back in their own place when you are done with them, and you will be sure to find them again.
"(NO CHARGE FOR THIS ADVICE.)"
But things moved along somehow, as they always do, yet everyone was glad when the new Biddy appeared, who answered to the name of Nancy, and the ways of the household fell back into former grooves; while the sigh of relief which Gussie gave as she took up her neglected fancywork again, might have been heard—well, quite a distance away.
As the weeks went by, the enforced idleness became irksome to Mr. Sherwood; and having at one time been on the staff of a leading newspaper, he took up his pen again—or rather Dexie did, as his amanuensis—while he brought forth from memories' halls, things interesting, amusing or instructive. He had travelled extensively, and always saw the ludicrous side of things, so he was able to tell many amusing incidents that to others might have passed as commonplace. His productions were eagerly accepted, and, what is better, liberally paid for as well.
The short winter days passed very quickly. Time pleasantly spent is sure to fly fast, and skating and sleighing parties are always merry gatherings; thus so many evenings were given to Glee Club practice, church socials and other like entertainments, that an evening at home was a delightful change. During the winter the Sherwoods had the opportunity of becoming well acquainted with many of the military fraternity, but Dexie's reserved manner forbade the least familiarity. They were merely friends of her friends, and her dislike to the red-coated gentlemen caused her much good-natured chaffing; but it never annoyed her, for she always had an answer ready for the keenest shaft. Lancy Gurney could always depend on having Dexie Sherwood's company when these little pleasure-parties were made up; and when he brought his sleigh out for a "spin" Elsie and Dexie were sure to occupy the back seat, and the vacant place by Lancy's side was never long empty, for the wit and vivacity of his companion made the seat very desirable.
Hugh McNeil always had a share in the pleasures of the rest of the family, and no matter how many offered to fill his sleigh he always kept a seat for Gussie Sherwood, for he had paid her much attention from the first. Gussie found it very pleasant to have someone to take her here and there, and feed her vanity with admiring looks and soft speeches; but if Gussie had a chance to secure another escort more to her mind, she thought nothing of snubbing Hugh unmercifully, yet was willing enough to smile him back to her side when no other gentleman offered his company. But few men care to be made the plaything of a young girl's caprice, and there came a time when Gussie's smile lost its power to charm. Her pretty face had been the attraction; but having ample opportunity of seeing Gussie under the different light of home-life, he could not help seeing the shallow nature that lay behind her outward sweetness, or that this sweetness was more ready to come to the front when self was to be gratified.
But Hugh's heart had been touched for the first time, and when his eyes were opened he was loth to displace his idol, even though he knew that common clay was its substance. For a long time he gave no sign of the change that had taken place in his feelings; he was to all appearances as devoted to Gussie as ever.
One day, along the first of March, Lancy Gurney walked hastily home from the store, and entering the Sherwood household, inquired for Dexie.
"What is it, Lancy?" said Dexie, peeping over the stair rail at Lancy in the hall below.
"Come down, Dexie; I want to speak to you. Can you come for a drive with me?" he asked, as Dexie reached his side. "Father wishes me to do a little business for him a few miles out of town, and I want company. Will you come?"
"Yes, if you will take Elsie as well," was the reply. "How soon are you going, Lancy?"
"In about half an hour, if we can get ready; but I don't want to take Elsie. We will take the single sleigh, and three in a seat will not be comfortable."
"It will be three in a seat or one, Sir Launcelot; so take your choice. Run in and see if Elsie can go, then I will get ready also. No use coaxing; your half an hour is rapidly passing," she added, smilingly, as Lancy lingered, endeavoring to change her decision.
But "three in a seat" was not so uncomfortable as Lancy had imagined, and they were soon speeding over the road, and in due time reached their destination.
They were detained much longer than they expected, and so were late starting for home, and the snow which had been falling in fine, light particles, soon increased in volume, and it was quite apparent that a severe storm was upon them.
When they reached the open road, they found they were to suffer for the delay, for the sharp wind cut their faces and almost blinded them with the drifting snow.
All landmarks were soon obliterated, and, though the way was familiar under different circumstances, Lancy found it hard to distinguish the road from the open field, as the snow fell so thick they could see only a short distance beyond the horse's head.
The girls were soon so benumbed with cold that they were glad to creep beneath the sleigh robes, and the roads were becoming so blocked with drifts that their progress was very slow indeed. Several times they stuck fast, and Lancy had to get out and tramp down the snow, while, with encouraging words, he urged the horse along; but in one of these heavy drifts, snap! went the shaft.
This was a misfortune indeed, for a thorough search in pockets and sleigh-box failed to produce a string or strap of any kind.
Elsie had been on the verge of crying for some time, and this new disaster brought the tears in earnest.
"We shall all freeze to death here!" she sobbed. "Whatever shall we do?"
"You can stop crying, Elsie," said Lancy, who felt bewildered by this new difficulty. "I am bothered enough already. I suppose it is no use to ask you girls if you have any kind of string in your pockets," he added.
"No, of course we haven't," replied Elsie, quite cross. "Girls don't fill their pockets with trash!"
"Here is my belt, Lancy," and Dexie held up a strap of Russian leather. "Do you think you can bind up the shaft with that?"
After some delay, the shaft was strapped together, and they slowly pressed onward.
"How far do you think we are from Halifax, Lancy?" Dexie asked, after they had travelled some distance through the drifts.
"I can hardly say, Dexie, we have come so slowly; but I fear we are not more than halfway."
This was indeed the truth, and the storm seemed increasing in violence; but if a thought of danger passed through their minds, no voice was given to it.
Presently they passed a farmhouse, and they almost decided to stop and ask shelter; but just here the road seemed better, so they pressed on, knowing that their absence would make those at home very anxious. For some distance the road was less drifted, owing to the shelter of a line of trees that skirted it, but farther on they came to drifts that were high and hard packed, through which the horse gave a plunge, breaking the other shaft, and this brought matters to a crisis.
"It is no use, girls; we can't get home to-night. It is a pity we did not stop at that farmhouse," said Lancy, as he ascertained damages. "We will have to get back somehow, I'm afraid."
But how to get back was a question. They had passed the farmhouse such a long time ago that it seemed as if it must be miles behind. Lancy was almost in despair as he felt the broken shaft. How could they reach the farmhouse in this disabled condition? Although suffering intensely from the cold, he thought little of it, but he began to have serious misgivings as to the safety of the girls.
"I am so sorry I asked either of you to come with me," he said, as he bent his head to speak to the shivering girls. "I shall have to cut the reins and tie up the shaft with them, but I fear it will be slow work retracing our way."
"Oh, Lancy, you can't cut the reins! How are you going to drive if you do that?" said Dexie, in alarm.
"I can walk and lead the horse. There is nothing else to do."
"Wait, Lancy! Here is my silk scarf; it is real long and strong," and Dexie forced her cold fingers to untie from under her wraps, the pretty scarf that encircled her neck, which Lancy found to answer his purpose very well.
The sleigh had become so imbedded in the drift, that Lancy was afraid the shafts would pull apart if the horse put forth sufficient strength to extract it, so he decided to take the horse out and turn the sleigh himself. But when the horse found himself free, he refused to stand still, and Dexie insisted on getting out to hold him. Leading the horse around the drift to regain the road, Lancy found there was a level stretch extending in the same direction, and he concluded to follow it and thus regain the farmhouse. He assisted Dexie through the drifts, and as she held the reins he endeavored to turn the sleigh. But he had not quite accomplished his task when a cry from Dexie came through the storm:
"Oh, Lancy! come quick! I cannot hold him, and I hear water running somewhere! Oh, the horse is in!"
What new calamity had overtaken them! Their only hope of safety seemed in the horse, and he had disappeared from sight, leaving only his head showing above the white mass around him. Lancy was soon at Dexie's side, and understood the situation at once. The level stretch of snow was but the covering of a frozen stream that here flowed parallel with the road. He had led the horse near a weak spot, and the ice had given away beneath him. The water might not be deep enough to drown him, but Lancy saw at once it would be impossible to get the horse out without assistance. He helped Dexie back to the sleigh, saying,
"You and Elsie must cover yourselves up in the sleigh, and wait here till I walk back to that house for help."
"Oh, Lancy! is there no other way?" Dexie cried, her courage giving way at the thought of him leaving them. "You will get lost in the storm, and we will surely freeze to death before help reaches us."
But there seemed no other way out of the difficulty, and he hurriedly tucked the robes around them, while he tried to quiet Elsie, who was almost wild with terror when she learned her brother's intention.
"Hush! Elsie, dear. If I stay with you we shall all freeze. You need not be afraid. I will surely reach the house and send someone to you if I cannot come back myself. Don't cry, dear. See how bravely Dexie bears it."
"But you are not her brother," she sobbed; "she has only herself to think of. Oh, what shall we do if you are lost in the storm! How I wish I had never come!" and she buried her face in the seat before her.
Lancy's heart ached for both of them. Yet to leave them seemed their only chance of life, for it grew colder every moment. He must find help soon, or they would not survive the night. Bending over Elsie, he kissed her tenderly, saying, "Don't be afraid, Elsie. I will find someone to send to you before I give up; so don't fret. We'll see mother again, never fear." And bending over to see that she was well covered with the robes, he whispered, "Good-bye, Elsie; pray for help," and he kissed her again.
Passing round to the other side of the sleigh, he secured the robes around Dexie so that the wind could not displace them; then putting his face down close to hers, said, "I am sorry to have brought you into such danger, Dexie; but you know I did not mean to. Will you kiss me good-bye?"
Dexie lifted her face at once, her heart strangely stirred by the tone in which he spoke; but she realized their danger, and this might be, indeed, good-bye.
"Do not fret about us, Lancy," she said. "Think only of yourself, for I am so afraid you will be lost in the storm."
"Never fear, Dexie. But remember this, girls: Don't go to sleep; keep awake, no matter how hard it may be to do so. Get up in the sleigh and jump and scream rather than run the risk of falling asleep here in the cold. Remember, now! Good-bye, girls; and may Heaven keep you both safe," and Lancy disappeared in the storm, leaving a comforting feeling behind him with his last words.
"Oh, Dexie! do you think we shall ever see Lancy again?" Elsie asked, in a choking voice. "Just think how they will fret at home if anything happens to us!"
Dexie could not control her voice just then, so she made no reply.
"I wonder if the poor horse will drown or freeze to death; but perhaps it is warmer in the water than in the wind," and Elsie's thoughts turned again to Lancy.
Then they put their arms around each other, and talked in a weary, desultory way. But it was hard to talk when there was nothing pleasant in their thoughts, and they were so cold, so very cold.
Presently Elsie's head fell over on Dexie's shoulder, and it aroused Dexie to a sense of their danger. Was she really falling asleep, and allowing Elsie to do so as well, after the caution Lancy had given? She lifted Elsie's head gently, saying, "Sit up, Elsie, dear. I'm afraid you are getting sleepy, and you must not go to sleep, you know."
"Oh, do—leave me—alone! I'm—so tired."
"But I can't leave you, Elsie; you are getting sleepy, and don't you remember what Lancy said?" and Dexie lifted her up and gave her a gentle shake.
"Oh, do stop—just a moment."
"No, not a moment!"
Dexie was fully aroused now, and realized Elsie's danger.
"Come, Elsie, you must sit up, for I do not intend to let you sleep;" and she shook her roughly in her alarm, for Elsie had laid her head on the seat, in spite of all her efforts to arouse her.
"Here, if you don't lift up your head and wake up, I'll have to rub your face with snow; so sit up at once. Oh! do, Elsie, dear."
Elsie allowed herself to be lifted into another position, but she seemed dazed, and Dexie was thoroughly frightened and shook her by the arm, as she cried, "Oh, Elsie, can't you hear me? Don't you know that if you fall asleep you will surely freeze to death?"
"Oh, Dexie, I'm freezing now," was the low reply.
Dexie seized her hands and clapped them between her own stiff angers, which felt like lead, they seemed so heavy, but she succeeded in rousing Elsie so that she would talk to her.
"Let us try to sing," said Dexie at last; "perhaps it will be easier than talking," and she began "Jesus, lover of my soul."
But before the verse was finished she became aware that she was scarcely murmuring the words herself, while Elsie had stopped altogether.
"I'm not going to sleep; so, there!" she said aloud. "I will stay awake somehow, and make Elsie, too."
She found that the effort she had made to speak aloud had aroused herself. The drowsy feeling was dispelled, and she bent over Elsie and shook her until she received a faint answer.
"Do you think Lancy has arrived at the house, Elsie?" she asked a few minutes later. No answer, for Elsie's head had fallen back on the seat. She was oblivious to all remarks.
"Dear me, this will never do! However shall I keep her awake more than a minute at a time? What if Lancy returns and finds her stiff and cold?"
The thought was awful, and for the next few minutes there were some lively movements under the sleigh robes; but the terror that filled Dexie's heart gave way to a feeling of relief as Elsie sat up and reproached her friend for being "so rough."
"But I shall have to use you roughly, Elsie, if you don't stay awake," Dexie answered, as she placed the robes around her; "so keep talking, then I'll be sure of you."
But the intense cold seemed to freeze the words on her lips, and soon an unintelligible murmur was the only answer to Dexie's questions.
"What shall I do? She will be asleep in another minute, if I don't look out. If I could only get her cross she would give me less trouble."
As a general thing Elsie was very easy-going, though she had quite a temper when once it was aroused, but with the excellent training she received from her mother, she seldom lost control of herself. When she did, she was cross clear through, and it took her a long time to get over it. Dexie thought that this was a time when a burst of temper might be justifiable; so she determined to pick a quarrel with her, and hoped the end would justify the means.
Shaking her roughly to gain her attention, a few sarcastic remarks soon started a wordy warfare, and sharp words went back and forth for some time. Presently their situation occurred to Elsie, and she burst into tears of repentance.
"Oh, do forgive me, Dexie; to think I would say such things while we are in such danger! I do not know what is the matter with me."
"It is my fault," cried Dexie, unable to keep up the quarrel under such contrite circumstances. "I have been provoking you on purpose to make you scold me; but I didn't mean a word of the unkind things I said to you. I only wanted to keep you awake;" and thus confessing to one another, they calmed down into a state that was almost too angelic for safety, but before they had time to drop asleep again shouts were heard in the distance, telling of relief close at hand.
Lancy had a hard struggle to break through the drifts, and began to fear he would sink down with exhaustion before he had secured help, but he reached the farmhouse at last, having walked back much faster than the horse had travelled in going the same distance.
A few words of explanation were enough to arouse the family, and even while Lancy spoke, the two men in the room began to pull on their boots and get into their outer garments in a way that showed that they "meant business."
Mr. Taylor and his big son would gladly have gone alone to rescue the girls, thinking Lancy was not in a fit state to return, but the possible fate of those dear to him filled Lancy with dread; he must return and see to their safety. He eagerly drank the hot mixture that Mrs. Taylor placed in his hand, and when the men declared themselves ready, he felt able to accompany them.
"This is a terrible night to be out-of-doors," said Mr. Taylor, as he pulled his coat collar around his ears. "This is the worst storm we have had for years, and it will be a mercy if your sisters are not badly frost-bitten, before we can get them to the house. Push on after Tom, and I will be with you in a minute," and he turned toward the stables.
Lancy found it easier to retrace his steps than when he struggled alone through the blinding snow, and presently Mr. Taylor passed them on the back of a horse, carrying a coil of rope and a bundle of rugs, and he was the first to reach the snow-covered sleigh.
"Are you all right?" he called in a cheery voice.
"We are alive, and that's about all," Dexie answered.
"Well, cheer up; your brother is just behind," and as he spoke Lancy joined him.
"Now, young man," said Mr. Taylor, "Tom and I will see after your horse, while you pilot your sisters to the house. They can both ride back on my horse; he will carry them through the drifts better than they can walk. Here are some rugs. Now, shall I help you to mount?" turning to Dexie.
"We are so cold I fear we can't hold on," she replied, her teeth chattering an accompaniment to her words. "I feel as if I had no feet at all," she added, as they lifted her up and brushed the snow from her garments.
"Oh, Lancy! I can't ride a horse," said Elsie, who was being brushed and rubbed back to life. "I never could sit on a rocking-horse itself. I'll be sure to fall."
"Well, you won't have far to fall, so let that comfort you," said Dexie, who was settling herself to her unusual position. "Lift her up, Lancy. There! now hold on tight, Elsie, for if you fall off we can't stop to dig for you!" and the awkward riders moved slowly through the drifts, while Mr. Taylor and his son disappeared down the bank, and very soon their shouts told that the submerged horse was rescued.
The poor animal was thoroughly chilled, but warm rugs were spread over him, and when, in the shelter of the stable, he was rubbed and doctored, he seemed none the worse for his cold bath. Meanwhile, the women in the house—good Samaritans, if ever there were any—had everything prepared for the comfort of the travellers. Rousing fires were blazing in different rooms, and garments were being warmed before them, while a steaming kettle, containing some stimulating beverage, was waiting on the hearth. When the half-frozen girls entered the house they received a warm welcome—warm in more than one sense of the word, for the quick-handed women soon divested them of their wearing apparel and placed warm garments upon them—and before they had time to realize the change, they found themselves seated before the fire, wrapped in warm blankets, sipping hot negus, a delicious sense of warmth seeming to pervade their whole being; but as Dexie possessed the most vitality she was the first to respond to the efforts put forth for their relief.
Elsie did not rally so quickly. Her teeth chattered and her limbs trembled long after she thought she was well warmed, but her heart was full of gratitude as she said:
"I did not know there were such good, kind people in the world. It was almost worth while to be caught in the storm to be treated so well by strangers."
And Dexie, from the folds of her blanket, turned her large dark eyes on the women who were kneeling beside them rubbing their feet, and said in a low voice:
"We could not expect our best friends to treat us more kindly. Everything seemed prepared for our comfort before you ever saw us. I'm sure I can't think of one more thing that could be done for us."
"But there is one more thing to be done, my dears," and Mrs. Taylor smiled kindly into their young faces. "We must put you to bed."
"Oh, dear! I feel too comfortable to move," and Dexie leaned back in her big chair with a sigh of content.
"Well, it is a pity to disturb you, but to bed you must go," and, much to Dixie's surprise, a pair of strong arms lifted her as if she were a child, and a moment later she found herself in the next room, where a comfortable bed received her.
"How do you like being a baby again, Elsie?" she laughingly asked, as Elsie was placed beside her.
"I think I rather like it, but we have made trouble enough for these good women without letting them carry us to bed. How is it that you can be so good to strangers?" and Elsie lifted her eyes to the motherly face.
"My dear! have you never read the words, 'I was a stranger, and ye took Me in.' You know there is such a thing as entertaining angels unawares."
"I thought you were that kind of people," Elsie whispered, as Mrs. Taylor bent to kiss her cheek.
"Did you, dear? Then I need not remind you that your thanks are due elsewhere, for I am sure you both have grateful hearts to-night."
"Will you please tell us how Lancy is before you go? We have not heard his voice since we came in," said Dexie.
"To be sure! but you need not be anxious about him. Your brother is in the kitchen, snug and warm, by this time. I must go and put him to bed; but I don't think I shall offer to carry him there," and she laughed softly, adding, as she reached the door. "Do not get up in the morning till I give you leave. You cannot get home until the roads are broken; so stay in bed till the house is well warmed. Good-night, my dears."
There was an interval of silence; then Elsie said softly, "I wonder if our mothers will be frightened because we are not home. I am afraid mother would cry if she knew we were out in the storm to-night."
"Oh! they'll not fret, at least my mother will not. They know that Lancy will look after us."
"Lancy kissed you to-night, didn't he, Dexie? Do you know I believe he has fallen in love with you," said Elsie, in a confidential tone.
"Oh, Elsie! how can you say such a thing?" and Dexie blushed in the darkness. "He kissed you good-bye, and, considering our danger, it was natural enough to treat me the same; indeed he seems like a brother. Even the people here think I am your sister."
"Oh! you needn't mind me, Dexie. Our folks all like you and would have no objections, for I heard mamma tell Cora that she was pleased at Lancy's choice, and thought you would get on very well together."
"Nonsense! Elsie; you must have misunderstood what they were talking about. Lancy and I have been much together on account of our music, and your mother would rather he spent his time over the piano with me, than with the wild young men about the city; that is what she meant. It is only the music that Lancy thinks of; so don't get foolish notions into your head, Elsie."
"Well, perhaps mamma did mean that, but I'm sure she didn't say it so. I thought she meant—something else," and whatever suspicions had been aroused in Elsie's innocent heart were lulled to rest for the time.
But this revelation aroused various feelings in Dexie's heart. She never thought that the friendship existing between Lancy and herself would be so differently construed. She liked Lancy very much, and never hesitated to affirm it, but it made the blood rush to her face when she thought of Lancy's good-bye kiss in the way Elsie had spoken of it.
"Such silliness! Our good times will all be spoiled if people begin to imagine such nonsense about us. How shall I be able to meet him in the morning? But there! it is only Elsie's foolish mistake; I will not think of it any more," so, resolutely putting the subject from her mind, she fell asleep.
It was quite late when the young people opened their eyes next morning, and the unfamiliar surroundings made Dexie lift her head with a start; but the sparkle that came from the glowing wood fire in the old-fashioned grate spoke of friendly cheer, and she turned a bright face to her companion as she asked after her welfare.
"My head aches a little, and I feel stiff and sore, but I suppose you feel the same," was the languid reply.
"Not I. I never felt better in my life. I would like to get up and see what the world looks like around here."
Just then the door opened, and Mrs. Taylor stepped into the room.
"So my snow-birds are awake at last; and how do they feel this cold morning?" was the cheery question.
"I am quite well, thank you; but Elsie feels rather tired, I fear," Dexie replied. "May we get up, please?"
"Well, I'll not punish you by making you stay in bed," was the smiling reply, "but I think your sister would be the better of another hour's rest," then adding a few sticks to the blazing logs, she left the room.
Dexie was soon dressing before the fire, her lively tongue keeping up a pleasant chattering as she glanced occasionally through the frosty window-panes to the white world outside, and Elsie soon roused from her lethargy and showed some inclination to bestir herself also.
When Mrs. Taylor returned, bearing a dainty breakfast, she found them standing before the fire, their arms around each other's shoulders, and she thought them very loving sisters, though their looks betrayed no such relationship.
They were indeed a contrast as they stood together before the fire. Dexie was all aglow, her cheeks dimpled and rosy, her merry brown eyes full of life and her pretty hair falling in rings about her forehead, making her look much younger than she really was; while poor Elsie's face looked all the paler against the background of dark hair that grew low on her brow, and hung in two long braids down her back. Her grey eyes looked dull and heavy, and she lacked the sparkle that made Dexie so attractive.
"Come now, and have your breakfast," and Mrs. Taylor drew the little table nearer the fire. "I am going to let you enjoy it alone, but when you are ready step into the room across the hall. Your brother is anxious to see how you look after your adventure."
Dexie was just going to explain that she was no relation to Elsie, when the conversation of the night before came into her mind, and while she hesitated Mrs. Taylor left the room. As the door opened they could hear Lancy's voice as he conversed with the family, and for the first time it brought a flush to Dexie's face. She shrank from the thought of meeting him, but this diffidence was owing more to Elsie's remarks than to any change in her own feelings.
"Come," said Elsie, at last, "we don't want to sit here all day. Let us go and find Lancy."
She stepped at once to his side as they entered the room, and gave him a sisterly embrace, making Dexie's quiet "good morning" seem a cool greeting in comparison; there seemed a strange restraint between them that neither had felt before, which forbade any show of feeling on either side. This was noticed at once by Mrs. Taylor, who was brightening up the fire, and she said:
"Seems to me you haven't such a warm welcome for your brother as your sister gives him, yet he has been inquiring very particularly after you."
"He is not my brother, Mrs. Taylor. I do not know how the mistake has been made, but we are no relation whatever."
"Not your brother! Then who are you, my dear?" smiling at Dexie's blushing face.
"Lancy, introduce me properly," and Dexie rose to her feet.
Catching the spirit of mischief that shone in her eyes, he stepped quickly to her side, and with a flourish made the introduction.
"Allow me to make you acquainted with our next-door neighbor, Miss Dexie Sherwood."
Dexie bowed graciously to the several occupants of the room, who rose to their feet, and all embarrassment fled at once.
"Next-door neighbors those two may be," was the whispered comment of the young girls who were stepping back and forth as they prepared the mid-day meal, "but there is every sign of a closer relationship in the future, if their looks do not belie them."
But the only sentiment in Dexie's heart was gratitude and love to a Higher Power. As she turned the leaves of a music-book she had picked up from the table she passed the book to Lancy, saying in a low tone:
"If I were home, I would like to sit down to the piano and play that."
Lancy glanced at the page, and his eyes told her that he understood, for the words of the anthem to which Dexie referred began, "Out of the depths cried I, and thou, O Lord, hast heard."
"Does the owner of these books play?" and Lancy turned to address Mrs. Taylor, a sudden thought like an inspiration coming to his mind.
"Only a little. Our Susan is wild over music; but our little old piano is all she has to practise on, and during the winter she can only go into Halifax once a week for a lesson. Susan, show them into the sitting-room, and perhaps Miss Sherwood will play something for us."
As Dexie entered the room she took in at a glance the many pretty and tasteful things which adorned the walls and brackets, and she wondered if Susan's fingers had accomplished such marvels in autumn leaves and other little adornments.
The fireplace was a thing of beauty, with its polished andirons, and the ruddy tongues of flame that leaped forth from the heaped-up wood made a cheerful picture.
Several big cushioned chairs were drawn near the hearth and a basket of knitting work was "handy" on a table, while in the old-fashioned rocker the family cat peacefully reposed.
Lancy had no eyes for anything but the piano, and as Susan opened it she smilingly exclaimed:
"Confess, now, that you think there is little music to be got out of this ancient-looking thing."
"Well, it is an odd make, certainly, but some of these old pianos have a fine tone. Sit down and play something for us, Miss Taylor," and he drew the music-stool in place.
"Oh, no! I couldn't think of it!" she replied, smiling. "My playing is not of an entertaining kind as yet, for even mother flies to the kitchen when I try a new piece, but you will find me a good listener."