ELM TREE TALES.
F. IRENE BURGE SMITH.
Little know they who dwell 'mid rural shades, Of life's great struggles. Poverty and want In direst forms, are never seen, where bloom And verdure revel, but within the dark And loathesome cellars of the crowded town, They hide their tattered forms.
Entered, according to Act of Congress, in the year 1855, by MASON BROTHERS, In the Clerk's Office of the District Court, for the Southern District of New York
STEREOTYPED BY Thomas B. Smith, 82 & 84 Beekman Street
PRINTED BY John A. Gray, 97 Cliff St.
"There is a wisdom in calling a thing fitly. Names should note particulars."—PROVERBIAL PHILOSOPHY.
To make the title of this book significant to you, I must transport you to a sylvan nook, far from the city's boundaries, where an old stone cottage peeps forth from the thick foliage. Down through the maple avenue you will take your pleasant route, past the willow and alder clumps, and the ancient mill, that hangs its idle arms listlessly by its sides—on and on, over the little style, and the rustic bridge, which spans the rivulet, until you reach the giant elm that spreads its broad branches far and wide. Books and work are scattered about on the verdant turf, bright flowers peep forth from amid the green, and many a fair face greets you with its frank and cordial welcome. The sky is very blue and clear, and the summer's breath comes refreshingly to you through the leafy screen, as you seat yourself upon a mossy stone and join in the merriments of the happy circle gathered there. But you are quite too late for the manuscript volume which a guest from the city has been reading aloud for the amusement of the group.
Perhaps you have lost nothing, however. I have obtained permission to give it you for a more leisurely perusal. I hope it will please you.
When a stranger goes to your door seeking your regard and patronage, you naturally look for some note of introduction, which generally reads somewhat after this fashion:
"Any attentions you may bestow upon my friend ——, will confer an especial favor upon
BROOKLYN, October 27, 1855.
THE ELM-TREE TALES.
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THE HUCKSTER'S DAUGHTER.
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THE LITTLE CRIPPLE.
THE STREET SWEEPER;
VICISSITUDES OF LIFE.
Poor little girl! How sadly came her wailing tones on the frosty air, while the multitudes that hurried past were hidden from the chilling blasts by warm and furry garments!
There were some humane ones who lifted her softly from the ground, and bore her carefully to the nearest apothecary's, to examine the extent of her injuries—and a slight figure clad in the deepest weeds, followed after and held the child's hand, and bathed her forehead, while the surgeon bound up the broken limb.
"She was such a pinched wee thing to be sweeping those dangerous crossings," said the lady; "no wonder the heedless crowd jostled her down, and nearly crushed her tiny body."
"Is not her consciousness returning, doctor?" continued she, addressing the surgeon, as a slight flush was beginning to be perceptible upon the little girl's cheek.
The child had lain in a kind of stupor from the time of the accident, and now, as her dark eyes slowly opened, she gazed faintly upon the curious faces that were gathered around her, until she met the sweet yet sorrowful glance of the strange lady—then, bursting forth into a wild and bitter sobbing, she cried, "Who now will help my poor weak mother, and my sick and dying father!—nine pennies only have I earned to-day, and all is lost in the muddy street—oh! who will get them bread and coals, now their Jennie can not work!"
"God will provide, only trust Him, poor child," said the kind lady, as she wiped the tears that had moistened her own eyes at sight of the child's grief.
"Where do your parents live, my little girl," asked the benevolent surgeon—"we must be getting you home, or they will be anxious about you now that the night is coming on."
The child started as she heard the word "home," and blushing the deepest crimson, replied, "If you please, sir, I am able to walk now, and will go alone, for dear mamma would be angry if I had strangers with me—she never sees any one but father, now."
"'Twould be madness to send her forth into this wintery air with a newly broken arm," said the lady—"if you will come with me, little Jennie, we will soon satisfy your parents that you are in comfortable quarters, my carriage is at the door, and John shall go alone to your home with a message"—and, calling her servant, she bade him bring one of the soft robes from the carriage, and wrapping it closely about the shivering child, she had her conveyed to her own noble home.
Up, up, up till you reached the very topmost room in a rickety building in —— street, and there they were—a woman in neat but coarse raiment, seated by a flickering candle, stitching for the life, and with every effort for the life, stitching out the life. Near her, on a lowly bed, lay her suffering husband, watching the wan fingers as they busily plied for him who would fain have spent his last strength for their rest.
The frosty breath of a December night came through the chinks in the roof, and around the windows, and left its bitter impress upon the sick and weary. A few coals partially ignited, seemed to mock at the visions of warmth and comfort they inspired, and the simmering of the kettle that hung low over the coals, made the absence of a cheery board, and a happy group around it only the more painfully apparent.
The sick man closed his eyes, as if to shut out the memory of those wasted fingers that were ever so zealously moving, and then looking wistfully at the murmuring kettle, he said, "Has not the child come yet, Mary?—perhaps she has enough for our scanty meal to-night, and yet my heart misgives me on her account—is it not very late for her to stay away? She is such a timid little thing, and always flies to us before the darkness begins to come! Her's is a cruel age, and a loathsome employment. Would God I had died, Mary, ere it had come to this!"—and the poor man hid his face in the bedclothes, and moaned like a stricken child. The patient wife laid aside her work, and taking the well-worn Bible from its sacred resting-place, read to him the thirty-seventh Psalm—then rising and going to the window, she pressed her ear against the pane, and listened for her Jennie's coming. Hark! a step is on the stairs! The husband and wife both started—it was a heavy, lumbering tread—not the soft foot-falls of their gentle little one, that brought music even to their dismal abode:
"Some one is knocking, Mary," said the husband, and, as he spoke, the door opened, and a man appeared with a note and a basket.
"Is Mrs. Grig here," asked the man.
"That is my name," replied the frightened woman whose maternal heart immediately suggested that something had happened to her child.
"Tell me of my darling. Is she hurt? Is she dead?"—then seizing the note which the servant held out to her she read as follows:
"Mr. and Mrs. Grig must not be alarmed about their little Jennie. She has met with a slight accident; but her life is not endangered, and she is where every attention will be bestowed upon her. If they will spare her to me until she is wholly restored, they will confer the greatest of favors upon their friend,
"I send a few delicacies, which I hope her sick father will relish. Jennie wishes to see her mother before she sleeps, will she come to her an hour this evening?"
The servant left the name of the street, and the number of the house where his mistress lived, and departed, with an humble reverence, for there was an innate aristocracy in Mrs. Grig that commanded the respect of all who saw her, even though the vicissitudes of life had robbed her of the external marks of rank and elegance. "God be praised!" said she, as she pressed her lips to the pale brow of her now hopeful husband, "Our house is not left unto us desolate, neither has our Father forsaken us in our time of necessity. Surely He giveth bread to the hungry, and filleth the fainting soul with gladness!" Then spreading the tempting viands before the famished invalid, she smiled with the cheerfulness of her earlier days, as she saw with what relish he ate and drank.
When they had finished their unexpected, but welcome meal, she placed the fragments carefully away, and blowing out the light, which she must save for her midnight toils, she left the house in order to seek her child.
The stars were shining tranquilly, and the moon looked calmly down upon the great and noisy city, imparting their quietness and peace to the heart of the eager mother who threaded her way to her sick child. Long and tedious was the distance, but she felt it not, excepting that she shrunk from the rough contact of brawling and wicked men, who rudely pushed past her, as they hurried on to their nightly debauches.
Oh! how sensitive was she then to the thought of the horrors that ever threaten the innocent and unprotected, if forced by their sad necessity to encounter the vile and polluted!—and how resolutely did she determine thenceforth to shield the child of her love from all such dangers, even though her own life were the forfeit of her care.
She gazed upward into the clear heavens, as if to gather strength for her future trials, and then pressing quickly on, was soon in the presence of Mrs. Dunmore. The transition from her own dreary room to the luxurious and tasteful apartment where she now found herself, was so completely bewildering, that she stood for a moment, as if in a strange and mysterious dream. Every thing that taste could desire, or wealth procure, was lavished upon this sanctum, where Mrs. Dunmore, since her double bereavement, found her chief delight—yet amid all the splendor of the place, were tokens of that presence from which naught can exempt us.
A little portrait draped in black, hung above a crimson couch, whereon lay a child of exquisite beauty. Her tiny form was wrapped in the purest muslin, and a light blue cashmere shawl was thrown negligently over her. One little foot, encased in a delicate slipper, hung over the edge of the couch, and her long dark curls fell about the pillow in the richest profusion.
In one hand she held a pretty vinaigrette, and the other was bound in soft cloths, and slightly confined to her waist by a silken sash. As the door of the room opened, she flung off the shawl that covered her, and tried to rise; but the effort was too much for her exhausted frame, and she fell faintly back, murmuring "Mother, dearest mother!"
In one moment the poor woman was kneeling beside the couch, clasping the sweet child to her bosom, who with her one little arm girdled that sacred neck, and with smiles and kisses awakened her to a perfect consciousness of her safety and of her happy position.
Mrs. Dunmore had all this time been partially concealed by the drapery of the window, but as she moved from the recess Jennie's quick ear caught the sound of her step, and she whispered to her mother, who arose, and with some confusion at the novelty of her situation and the meanness of her attire, advanced to meet the gentle widow, saying, "Jennie tells me you are the kind lady who befriended her in her distress—I have not words to thank you, dear madam, for your pity, and care for my unfortunate child; but if the prayers of an earnest heart will avail before God, the choicest of Heaven's blessings shall be your reward."
"A glance at that portrait," said Mrs. Dunmore, "will betray to you the motive for any unwonted interest in your precious child; but were it simply a humane act, the thought of having performed one's duty is a sufficient recompense—still, I ask another, and that is, that your little one may supply to me the place of my darling 'Bella.' I know," continued she, as she noticed the flush upon the mother's face, and the increased pulsations of her heart, "how great a sacrifice I ask, and I can not press you to give up your own right over the treasure God has bestowed upon you; but I would so far share that blessing with you, as to keep your little Jennie always near me, and to assist you in your care for her comfort and advancement."
Mrs. Grig was struck with the delicacy and refinement of Mrs. Dunmore's manner toward her; instead of bluntly offering to adopt her child, with the evident feeling that it was too good a bargain to require a moment's wavering, she proposed it to her in the light of a favor conferred upon herself, and in which they would both ever have a mutual interest. The poor woman could not see that her own apparent good breeding had—in Mrs. Dunmore's estimation—diminished the distance in their relative positions, so that a free and full sympathy was compatible with her dignity, as well as the dictate of her heart. She looked upon her child as she lay there, in her now adorned loveliness; she gazed about the room so filled with comfort and delight, and as her thoughts wandered from these blessings to her own cheerless home, and to the past few months of destitution; and as visions of weary days of toil, and nights of cold and hunger and wretchedness, and the shadow of that lovely little one returning from her loathsome labors, with muddy garments, and a worn and saddened face, passed before her, she shrunk from the latter alternative, and placing the hand of her child in that of her adopted mother she said, with the calmness of a settled purpose—"It will make a sad void in our desolate home, but God has opened your heart to her before she is left alone, and His goodness shall be my constant theme of gratitude; you will allow her to come to us every day while her poor father lives; his pains will be lightened by her presence, and 'twill comfort me to see the eyes that have beamed upon me these nine long years, more joyously beaming as I hasten to the end of my pilgrimage. You will love this kind lady, will you not, my child?" said she to the little girl, by whom she was again kneeling—"and be to her a dear and dutiful daughter, if you would please your own parents."
"Love her, dear mother? Who could help loving the beautiful and kind, and good!—and is she not beautiful, and has she not been kind and good to me when others did but rail at me, and jostle me down in the crowded street! Oh! yes, I will indeed love her, very, very dearly!" and she clung to the hand of the widow that held her own, and caressingly fondled and kissed it, until her mother laid her gently back upon her pillow, and arose to return to her home.
The sick husband lay watching the moonbeams as they came through the window and played fantastically upon the walls, and his thoughts went far away to a pleasant spot beneath a group of willows, by a gently flowing stream, where the moonbeams once played upon the fair face of his Mary, and he sighed heavily as he reviewed the many changes that had brought them where they now were. Many a sunny hour came flashing upon his memory, with its dear and hallowed associations; the early days of their marriage when their home was green and sylvan—the gathering of friends on every festive occasion—the birth of their sweet babe that brought with it such new and blessed ties; and then the sunny hours departed, and the clouds covered them; the days of sickness came and their property fled away, and with their wealth went their friends from them. Weary months of toil in a strange city was thenceforward their portion; a sick-bed was the strong man's heritage, and days of fasting and misery and labor devolved on the delicate wife. The child that had been nursed in the lap of luxury went out into dirty streets to get her bread from pitying strangers, and the three—husband, wife, and child—were alone in the wide world, with their burden of poverty and woe, all the harder to bear from the fact that they were unused to it. Thus mused the sick man in the solitude of his chamber, and while he mused a mellower gleam of light fell upon his pillow and illumined his shrunken features, and a soft step was by the bed-side, and a beloved voice in his ear, telling him news that made him willing to die. God had sent them a friend! Even when he had been repining at the decrees of His Providence, that Providence was working out his best and truest good. He felt that his days would be few upon the earth, and that his Mary would soon follow him; but their darling Jennie would be sheltered and taught, and that by a true disciple of their Lord and Master. No more anguish lest his precious child should become a prey to the wary and dissolute; no more grief at her withered, cheerless youth; no more sorrowings for the wants that he could not appease. "Oh! too much! too much mercy and goodness hast thou shown toward Thine unworthy servants, my Saviour and my God!" murmured he, and a violent hemorrhage ensued, occasioned by the sudden shock of the unlooked for joy.
Before another week had elapsed, Mr. and Mrs. Grig were comfortably settled in a pleasant cottage belonging to Mrs. Dunmore, whose increasing benevolence had found a delightful impulse in the certainty that the poor woman was no other than one of her school-girl acquaintances, whom she had most dearly loved, but of whom she had heard little since they had completed their studies. They had married, and in their new relationships lost sight of each other, until, by a mysterious Providence, they were now united. It would have been but a mockery in Mrs. Grig to appear at all reluctant to accept the support she so much needed, since her own precarious health, and her husband's approaching dissolution rendered it impossible for her to obtain her own livelihood. Gladly, therefore, and with alacrity, they left the scene of their past troubles and necessities for the pretty cottage and the congenial society of their disinterested friend, yet scarcely were they established in their new abode when the messenger of death came to claim his victim. The child was there, with her young head nestling in her dying father's bosom; the wife stood by with a deep but subdued grief, and the faithful friend was near with pious words of sympathy and comfort.
The sick man had given his parting embrace to the beloved objects of his affection, and had assured them of his perfect confidence in a rest and peace beyond the grave, but now his mind seemed wandering to other scenes.
"Down by the willows, dear Mary," said he, "I wish to cross the river once more; it is chilly here, but do you see how warmly the sun is shining upon the green banks opposite! There are bright flowers there, too, such as we have often gathered, and the birds sing so sweetly! Oh! let us cross the river, once more, dear Mary!" His words grew fainter and fainter, and they heard them no more, for he had crossed the river, and was wandering where the sun shines more resplendently than earthly sun can shine, and where brighter flowers, and sweeter birds than mortal ever saw or heard, forever bloom and sing; but his Mary still lingered on the other shore, detained by an invisible Power, who calleth home whom he will, and when he will. But two short months she lingered, and then the husband and wife were roaming together beside the pure river of life, that floweth out from the Throne of God and of the Lamb, and the child was left, but not alone.
The month of June saw Mrs. Dunmore settled in her country-house for the summer. It was a pretty, unobtrusive cottage, standing upon a sloping lawn, and facing the east. In the distance lay a sylvan lake, beyond which, through the trees, gleamed the white spires of an adjoining village. All around were lofty mountains covered with verdure and glory. On the north of the house was a dense grove of chestnut, and walnut, and maple, and pine, where multitudes of squirrels had their hiding-places, and the birds sang unmolested.
There little Bella used to love to play, while nurse Nannie gathered flowers to deck the neck of her pet lamb, or, when the nuts began to fall, helped her to fill her tiny basket; and there her mother had her laid, when she could no longer play, with her folded hands clasping some forest-buds, and a wreath of wild-flowers around her brow. There was a pure white monument at the head of her grave, in the sunniest and happiest spot in the whole grove, with a rose carved upon it, and a beauteous bud broken from the parent stem; and there Jennie stood with old Nannie, a few days after their arrival, wondering that the bud on the tombstone should be broken, and listening to Nannie as she talked about the "angel child," as she called her departed darling.
"She was too good for this world, Miss Jennie," said she; and then the faithful old creature rocked to and fro as she sat upon the trunk of a tree that had fallen down, and wiped her eyes with her clean checked-apron, sobbing as if her grief was even then but new.
"You are just like her in all your little ways," continued she, as Jennie stole up to her and patted her black head with her tiny hand, as if to soothe her sorrows; "Missus would have been clean gone and done with this life if she had not lighted upon you to take the sadness out of her heart for her Bella."
"But, Nannie, I am not Bella," said the child. "Do you think I can ever be as dear as she was, so that her mother may forget that she is dead? I saw her weeping the other day as she came from the grove, and I was afraid she did not love me, and was sorry I was here to make her think of her loss."
"Not love you, Miss Jennie! how can you say so, when she took you, poor little beggar as you was, all from the mire and dirt to be her own child."
"You must not tell me of that time, Nannie, it makes me ache here;" said she, putting her hand to her heart. "Many a long day have I gone back and forth on that sad walk, trembling for fear the lumbering omnibuses would run over me, and not one penny did I ever ask, for I could not beg, Nannie, and if some kind gentlemen and ladies had not noticed me, and sometimes given me a sixpence or two, I should have gone home to my poor father and mother with nothing for my hard day's work, and then we must have starved, for dear mamma was not able to get bread for us all, and nurse my sick father besides. You must not speak of that time again, Nannie, for it takes me away from this pleasant sunny spot, and puts me back in a dismal room, with no light, nor warmth, nor greenness."
"What is the matter with my little girl?" said Mrs. Dunmore, who just then approached the child, and perceived the traces of recent tears on her sweet face. "Is she not happy among the birds, and squirrels, and flowers?"
"Oh! yes, very happy indeed, dear mamma," and Jennie took the hand that was extended to her, and kissed it with all the ardor of her impetuous nature; "but I was thinking of the dreary home that was mine before you found me and cared for me."
"Sit down here, my darling, and talk to me a little. Is the thought of the past very sad to my Jennie; and can she see no reason to be grateful, even for that time of darkness and sorrow? Do you remember how the black clouds came yesterday, and quite hid the sun from our sight, and the strong wind shook the house, so that we were almost afraid of its fury, and the heavy rain fell and bowed some of our beauteous shrubs nearly to the ground; then the clouds passed away and the sun shone more brightly than ever, and the fierce winds were hushed, and the shrubs lifted up their drooping heads all the more graceful and lovely for the crushing storm. So it is when God sends trials and sufferings upon us—the world looks black and dreary, and we are bowed very low in our affliction, and His purpose in it all is to make our hearts better and purer, and more beauteous in His sight when the troubles shall have passed away."
"Did the world seem very dismal to you, dear mamma, when Bella died?"
"Very dismal, my child, until God sent me another little daughter to lighten the grief that was pressing me down; now the clouds are parting, and the sunlight comes beaming through, and I think we may be very happy, my darling, if we will. But here comes Mr. Colbert. Let us go to meet him, he used to love dear Bella, and will be glad to see you, I know."
Mr. Colbert was the clergyman of the parish and lived near Mrs. Dunmore with his widowed mother, and often, as he took his daily walk, he bent his steps toward the cottage of his friend whom he had known in her joys and her sorrows, and from whose subdued and Christian conversation he derived both pleasure and profit. He had baptized and buried her little Bella, and now as he gave Mrs. Dunmore a kind and earnest greeting, he looked with painful interest upon the child who stood modestly by her side, and in whom he traced a striking resemblance to the departed. Mrs. Dunmore instantly perceiving the impression made upon him, hastened to present her young protegee, saying, "You have doubtless noticed how like my sweet Bella, the child of my adoption is in feature and expression—I trust to you, my dear sir, to aid me in trying to make her as truly like her in heart and life. It is a weighty responsibility that I have assumed; but He who directed the impulse to make her my own, will impart the strength and wisdom to guide her aright."
"You do me honor in admitting me to a participation in your new and sacred duties, dear madam," replied the clergyman, "be assured, I shall most gladly improve every opportunity offered me for the welfare of your little Jennie. Bella used often to walk with me," continued he, taking the hand of the little girl, "will you sometimes join me as I ramble about these woods and hills? Perhaps we can find some pleasant things to tell each other when we are better acquainted."
Jennie's dark eyes sparkled, as she looked to her mother for her assent to the kind minister's proposition, and as Mrs. Dunmore willingly agreed to it, she sprang with a glad step to meet old Nannie, who had come to call them to lunch. Mr. Colbert declined joining them on the plea of extending his walk, and bidding them good morning, soon disappeared amid the trees.
One moment he lingered by the little grave, and gathering from it a bunch of violets, he followed the path through the woods to the road, and then turned toward his home. His way led through an avenue of maples, whose dense foliage quite obscured the sky above his head. On either side, stretched green meadows, enameled with the fresh spring flowers; and beyond him, in the distance, the avenue seemed to open into the pure blue heavens, athwart which the fleecy clouds were ever and anon flitting like angels busied in doing their Master's will. The scene was rich and hallowed, and called forth the sweetest and purest emotions. "If the pathway through life was ever thus tranquil and serene," thought he, "and if the eye caught only such visions of beauty and grace as are now before me, how like Paradise would this earth seem! But it can not be; I must tread a rough and sometimes disagreeable road, and engage in fierce and bitter conflicts, ere I can emerge into the glories of that better land of which the beauteous scene I now survey always reminds me!" and, as he mused, he reached the top of the hill, and leaving the silent avenue, seated himself upon a rustic bench that was placed beneath an old maple near his home. The quaint old mansion stood alone upon a slight eminence, and on every side luxurious meadows, and orchards spread themselves out, until they reached the mountains. From various points three lovely lakes were visible—one, half hidden by its green belt of forest trees, another glistening in the broad sunlight, and a third lying in calm and placid beauty.
All about, in the rich pastures, cattle were quietly grazing, or resting beneath the shadows of the old trees, or frisking in the glad spring-time. The light and shade played upon the fresh landscape, as bright and somber imaginings sweep over a youthful heart; and as the young clergyman drank in all the glory and loveliness of the scene, his soul was filled with a rapture, which none can ever know but the earnest Christian, who sees in every bud and leaf the evidences of a beneficent Father's love.
Long he sat reveling in that unbroken quietness and beauty, nor did he perceive the soft footsteps of his mother, until a gentle hand was laid upon his brow, and she said, "My son, I am glad you have returned; poor Sam Lisle has been twice for you to visit his daughter, who can not survive through the day. He seemed greatly distressed on not finding you, and begged me to send you immediately to them when I should see you."
"I can not stop, now, dear mother," said he, as she pressed him to remain but one moment for refreshments. "I fear I am already too late," and he turned quickly away from the contemplation of the glories of nature, and passed again through the silent avenue, and on to the village, to wrestle with the sorrows of this weary life, where there was poverty, and suffering, and death.
Who that saw the little Jennie on the first Sunday morning, in her summer home, would have imagined that but a few months before she was sweeping the dirty crossings of Broadway, a thin, meager, half-clad child, scorned by the passers-by, and loved only by two wretched ones, as pitiable and unsought as herself!
As Mrs. Dunmore, at early dawn, entered the pleasant room, once Bella's, but now appropriated to the newly-found, the child lay with her dimpled arms thrown over her head, upon the soft pillows, and her sweet mouth half parted with a smile at some innocent but illusive fancy that filled her happy dreams.
Old Nannie had stolen into the chamber, and stood peeping over the shoulder of her mistress at her young charge. She had put her finger upon her lip, as if to hush her to deeper slumbers, when, suddenly, a glad sunbeam shot from the east, and fell upon the sleeper's face. With one bound she freed herself from the bedclothes, and stood by the window, pointing toward the glorious vision that had so long been hidden from her sight. Never had she seen the blessed sun rise since a wee child of four years, in the home of her birth, which had almost from that early age been the possession of strangers, and now, as she stood in her simple night-dress, with her long curls loosened and floating in the pure breeze, she seemed some new-born spirit wondering at the display of the Creator's mighty power. Her face was flushed with a hallowed emotion, and as the sun stood forth above the horizon in its full splendor, she sank upon her knees, and expressed her gushing feelings in the simple yet sublime words first uttered by Divine lips, amid the consecrated scenes of the Holy Land.
Mrs. Dunmore instinctively knelt while the child poured forth her humble adoration, and she prayed most earnestly, that the deep feeling of reverence she had just witnessed in her adopted one, might never be displaced or blunted by contact with an impious and careless world.
Jennie had been so wholly absorbed in her joy at the beauteous vision before her, that she had scarcely noticed the presence of her mother, until Mrs. Dunmore approached her and said, "My darling is up betimes on this hallowed morning, and I am glad to see that she is not unmindful of Him who giveth us all our blessings." Then the little girl looked up with a happy smile, and giving her accustomed kiss, hastened to prepare for family devotions, and for the services of the village church. It was a pleasant little church, and in former years, many a good old saint had gone from its portals to the Church triumphant in Heaven; but now few came to her solemn feasts, and there was a languishing, sleepy aspect about it that often sickened the hearts of the little band of zealous ones who were striving to keep it alive. Many a time was its faithful minister almost ready to faint in his apparently useless labors; but on this day one little soul gazed earnestly on him, as if thirsting for the spiritual nourishment he was imparting, and his heart was revived and strengthened. In the afternoon was the funeral of poor Bessie Lisle, and as the small group of mourners moved away from the place of burial, Mr. Colbert, Mrs. Dunmore, and Jennie, lingered in the peaceful cemetery to gather lessons of wisdom for their own summons to another world. This cemetery was on a high hill overlooking the village. Here and there drooped a willow over some loved tomb, or a rose-bush bent to scatter its burden of perfume and petals. On one new-made grave—the quiet resting-place of a mother and her daughter, snatched from their friends by some sudden and terrible casuality—were strewn fresh and beauteous flowers, the fragrant offering of a gentle girl, who daily sought that sacred spot to weep over the loved and lost. Near this, beneath a shady yew, was the lowly bed of the poor man's daughter, whose remains had just been placed therein.
Mrs. Dunmore leaned thoughtfully against the tree, and sighed as she recalled her own bereavements, and her Christian heart was busy in suggesting some means of consolation for the stricken parents. Mr. Colbert was stooping by a distant tomb reading its epitaph to little Jennie, who listened with the deepest interest. There was no sound to mar the stillness of that peaceful retreat, the whispering winds went, dirge-like, through the waving grass, and the leaves rustled softly above the quiet sleepers.
Even the child felt the awful solemnity of the place, and crept nearer to the kind minister, as he told her of the dear lamb that was so early called away to the green pastures. The stone at her head was somewhat like that at Bella's grave, and violets grew all over the turf, too, and Jennie gathered a bunch of the sweetest and took them to her mother, who crushed them in her bosom and moistened them with her tears. Slowly and regretfully they left the spot so fraught with sad yet chastening influences, and sought their happy homes, yet not without leaving their prayers and their sympathies at the mourner's humble cottage.
The summer went joyously on, and the minister and child roamed about amid the green things of the earth. All the loveliest haunts of that pleasant spot had echoed the grave, but gentle tones of the man of God, and the answering prattle of the little one who went tripping on by his side, sometimes thoughtful and earnest, sometimes merry and glad; and now the time had come for Mrs. Dunmore to return to her city residence, and they must bid their kind friends at the Rectory good-by. Mrs. Colbert sat with her son upon the rustic bench, and the child was between them holding a hand of each. Mr. Colbert pushed her dark hair from her forehead, and said, as he looked in her tearful eyes; "Jennie is sorry to part with her old friends, but perhaps she will forget them before another summer?"
"I fear we shall not be able to return to —— for several years to come;" said Mrs. Dunmore. "I have just received a summons from my husband's mother, who is in very feeble health, and as I shall devote myself to her during her life, I must forego the pleasure of my summer home for awhile. Jennie will be placed at Madame La Blanche's school during my absence, and my separation from her will be another pang added to that which I feel on leaving you all for an indefinite period." A shade passed over the face of the young minister; but it gave place to a smile as the child said, "But you promised that I should come back some day, and keep house for you in this good old place, and then you know"—she added, smiling through the tears that had bedimmed her eyes, "I should go away no more, but we could be always happy here together."
Jennie could not understand Mrs. Colbert's earnest manner as she pressed her fondly to her bosom, and said "God grant it, my sweet child!" but she returned the caresses so lavishly heaped upon her, and then jumped down to play with old Skip, the house-dog, who was leaping about her as if to share in the adieus. Mrs. Dunmore took the vacant seat, and the three friends conversed long and seriously upon the former years of happiness spent in each other's society, and the interval that might ensue ere they should be gathered again beneath the spreading maples; and as they conversed, one heart dwelt with greater than usual tenderness upon the little figure that was flitting about in the soft twilight.
The night came, the twilight had faded out, and the little figure, too, had vanished, leaving that one breast desolate, save when a lightsome shadow flitted across its ever-verdant memory. The summer cottage looked dreary, with its closed blinds, and the autumn leaves rustling about it in the bleak winds; but the little tombstone still gleamed in the sunlight, that cast a pleasant and warm halo upon it, and the birds and squirrels sung and leaped about in the beauteous grove as blithesome and glad as if life's rolling seasons brought no sad changes. The man of God walked quietly up and down the silent avenue, striving to think only of the blue sky into which it seemed to open. The gentle widow went out on her mission of love and mercy, to smooth the dying pillow of the sick and aged, and the child was again in the heart of the mighty city, not a penniless, uncared-for thing, but surrounded by a joyous group of happy children, and watched over by a kind and faithful teacher.
"Who will share a room with little Jennie Dunmore?" said Madame La Blanche, on the day of the child's arrival at school. "Who will set her an example of patience and perseverance in her studies, and aid her in her difficulties and trials? Who will help her to be obedient, and industrious, and good?" Many an eager hand was raised as the school girls looked upon the sweet face of the new-comer, who stood near her teacher, timidly glancing at the strange band before her; but Rosalie Moore sprung from her seat, and, throwing her arm around Jennie's waist, looked up so pleadingly at Madame La Blanche, that she said, "Remember, dear children, I give you to each other as kind and loving sisters, not to foster in each other the love of dress and show, not to uphold each other in acts of rebellion and sin, but to strive together for that inward adorning both of heart and mind, which is far better than any outward ornament, and to walk hand in hand, so long as your pathway shall be the same, toward that better land, where I trust we may all one day again mingle. To-day shall be a holiday among you, and to-morrow Jennie will enter upon her new duties, which I hope will be pleasant to her. I need not ask you to remember the basket of charity-work, which each will find in her room, since you all know how much happier you are in your recreations after some act of benevolence and kindness. Jennie will go with me on my round of visiting on Saturday," continued she, as the girls, with a hop, skip, and jump, left the school-room.
Rosalie was very proud to show Jennie their neat little bedroom, with its snowy curtains and white counterpane, and its pleasant view from the windows. There were two windows with wide seats, where they could sit and work, or study, and these looked out upon a beautiful garden, and the sweet odor of the flowers came up and refreshed them. It was so rare and delightful, in the midst of the city, to find such freshness and beauty that it was all the more appreciated, and Jennie felt that she could be very happy there. She and Rosalie got the stand with the basket of work upon it, and placed it near one of the windows, and both sat together there and worked on the coarse garments.
"Who are these for?" asked Jennie, "and what does Madame La Blanche mean by my going 'the rounds' with her on Saturday?"
"These are for very poor people," said Rosalie, "and every week our teacher takes as many as we can finish, and goes with one of us to carry them. Have you ever seen any poor people, Jennie? and do you know how dreadfully they suffer in the cold winters for want of clothes and food?"
Jennie did not answer, but she covered her face with both hands, and Rosalie could see the tears as they trickled through her fingers and fell upon her work. She thought it very strange; but she said as she drew her closely to her and kissed her tenderly, "Never mind, we will talk about something else. I've been so much among them that I am used to their poverty now. What do you mean to study Jennie? I hope you will be in all my classes, although you are a great deal younger than I, I know, for I was eleven the day before yesterday," and Rosalie tossed her old head and looked at her companion in a very patronizing way.
"I was ten in April," said Jennie, "and this is October, so you see we are not very wide apart; but I do not know about my studies—mamma said that Madame La Blanche would direct them."
"Have you ever studied French?" asked Rosalie. "I am reading 'Corinne' already, and Hattie Mann, who is two years older than I, has but just commenced the language."
"I read 'Corinne' with dear mamma just before she died," said Jennie, "but I should like very much to read it with you again if Madame La Blanche pleases."
"Is your mother dead, Jennie? and is not that lady she whom you call mamma?"
"God took my own dear mother and father from me, Rosalie; but before they left, He sent the kind lady to them who made me her child, and they were quite willing to go, when they knew I should not be alone in the world."
"Did you live in a beautiful house when your father and mother were alive, Jennie, and were there birds and flowers all around it, and had you a nice little pony that you could call your own, and a dear little sister with golden curls? That is the way my home is," continued she without waiting for an answer, "and some vacation I am to invite any one of the girls that I please to go with me to my mother's, and I know who it will be, too, don't you, darling Jennie?" and she jumped up, and putting her needle in her work, she kissed the astonished child again, and went singing down the stairs as merry as a lark. Jennie sat quietly in the window, thinking of the contrast between her sometime home in the city and the one described by her happy school-mate, and she would have grown very sad over her solitary musings; but a gay laugh in the garden below diverted her from them, and looking out, she saw Rosalie, with a garland of leaves around her head, and in her hand a bouquet of fall flowers, which she was vainly endeavoring to throw up to her new sister. Her merriment attracted the other girls, and soon Jennie stood among them, with no trace of sorrow upon her brow, and the memory of the bitter past wholly swallowed up in the enjoyment of the bright and blessed present.
Saturday morning was a busy time at Madame La Blanche's school. Little fingers stitched with untiring industry upon the coarse raiment that was to give warmth to many an otherwise shivering body, and by the hour appointed for the visits, the teacher was surprised at the great results of such tiny efforts. She smiled approvingly on her pupils, and summoning a servant to take charge of the weighty bundle, she took Jennie by the hand and left the house.
Out through the pleasant garden, past the magnificent mansions of the rich they went—on, and on, amid throngs of the gay and fashionable, till the streets grew dingy with a motley crowd of the miserable and ragged, who seemed to herd together, as if thus to hide their degradation and shame. Some looked upon them, as they walked along, with a bold and impudent stare; but others shrunk from their observation, and drew their tattered shawls more closely around them as they moved hastily away. There were some bargaining at the markets for withered or decaying vegetables, and others purchasing, at a diminished price, stale bread from dirty bakeries, and many a one loitering along in his filth and squalor, with no object nor aim save to dawdle away the time that hung too wearily upon him. It was a sad and loathsome sight, so near the gorgeous thoroughfare of this mighty city, to see the pitiable objects of unmitigated want; but there they were, and in all that teeming mass but two ministering spirits were visible, gliding on with their offerings of kindness and mercy.
Down through a dark alley, whose fetid odors were quite sufficient to deter the dainty from penetrating beyond—they went, and into a miserable room where was scarcely space for them to stand, so huddled was it with broken furniture and ragged children. A fire was burning in a shattered grate, and an untidy woman stood ironing by a table whereon was the remnant of their meager dinner. Her husband crouched over the coals as if the day was not warm and sunny. His clothes hung about his limbs in large folds, and his sunken eyes told that disease was making fearful ravages upon him. Madame La Blanche opened her bundle, and, handing him a comfortable dressing-gown nicely quilted, said, "I am sorry to find you so low, Michael, but God's will be done, perchance He means to deliver you from the pinchings of a bitter season. It is but little I can do for you," she continued, as the grateful man smoothed down the warm garment, and thanked her with tremulous lips; "my children made it for you, and this little one I have taken with me that she may learn to be the more thoughtful of those who have a scanty supply of the good things of this life, and the more thankful for the blessings of abundance and health bestowed upon her."
"Ah! yes, miss," said the old man, running his lank arms into the nice garment, and wrapping it closely about him; "'Blessed is he that considereth the poor, the Lord will remember him in the time of trouble.' Many's the time I shall think of the little hands that sewed on this for the sick old man, and I'll pray, miss, that you may never know what it is to suffer want nor sorrow in this weary world, and that you may all be sure to go to a better when you die."
Madame La Blanche read a chapter to him from her pocket-Bible, and with a few words of advice and comfort to the woman, and a picture-book for the children, she went from the unwholesome room up a crazy staircase to one a shade better, because kept with some degree of cleanliness. A young man arose and gave chairs to the lady and the child, and his mother welcomed them with a joy which the poor never feign toward a true friend. "How is John's cough?" said Madame La Blanche. "It seems to me he has failed since I saw him last; but perhaps it is because I have not been here for some time that he looks thinner than usual to me."
"Oh! no, ma'am, 'tisn't that," said the mother; "poor Johnny's going fast. He coughs so o' nights, it fairly makes me ache for him. It puts me so in mind of Aby, I can't hardly bear it."
"I wish he was like Aby," said the lady; "Aby was a perfect example of faith and patience, and he died as a Christian should die, with a firm confidence in Him whom he had trusted. John knows that he can not live long," continued she, "and I hope he is not afraid to die. He has the same heavenly Father to go to for support in these last hours that Aby had."
"Aby, was a good boy," said the mother; whose heart seemed constantly to revert to her dead son. "He'd a been twenty years old next month if he'd a lived, and John won't be till March; but I don't expect he'll live to see that time, John won't live to be twenty year old, John won't," and the afflicted woman turned away her head and looked from the window to hide her grief. Jennie stood all this time looking around upon the meanly-furnished apartment, and upon its thinly clad inmates, and as she saw a young girl looking wistfully at a pretty scarf which she wore, she whispered earnestly to her teacher, and then untying it, she put it around the neck of the poor girl, who seemed almost beside herself for joy. The kind lady then left some money to procure something for John's cough, and some woolen waistcoats from her pack, and, promising to go often to read to the sick boy, they departed; but the breath of their kindness lingered upon the hearts of those forlorn ones, and cheered them in their struggles for life.
The air in those loathsome streets was scarcely less unwholesome and impure than in the close and crowded rooms, yet the lady and the child kept on still further from the cleanly portions of the city, to seek out other objects of pity and benevolence; and as they walked, they saw a woman running up the street, and heard her say to a respectable-looking gentleman: "Doctor, if you have time, won't you please to stop at our house?"
Madame La Blanche observed the physician more attentively, and found that it was one of her old friends. He, at the same time, turning from a poor man to whom he had been talking, recognized her, and on learning her errand, he asked her to accompany him to see one of his patients. "It is a melancholy case, madam," said he, "the girl is afflicted with a species of hysteria, induced by constant pining for a worthless lover, who ran away, not long since, with another woman. She is in a terrible state, weeping incessantly. I think, perhaps, you may be able to comfort her a little; you know we of the sterner mold have not much power in such emergencies. There it is," said he, as they reached a dusky building, at the entrance of which stood a strange group of idlers, torn and dirty. The sick girl lived on the second floor, with her grandmother and one sister, and as the strangers entered, she shrunk still further back into the corner where she was sitting. A strip of faded calico lay upon her lap, and now and then she would put a stitch in it, but oftener she raised it to her face and wiped away the tears that were constantly falling. Her grandmother seemed troubled and sad as the doctor looked thoughtfully upon her, and when he asked "If she had been any worse, and why they did not send for him before?" she replied, "Why she seems about the same, doctor; we sent her into the country to see what change of air and scene would do for her, but she isn't much better for it. She seems to be in a study all the time, and sits still and cries a great deal. We try to rouse her, and to make her take notice of things, but she falls back into one of her studies again."
"Come here, Jessie," said the doctor, "and sit in the light where I can see you. Does your side pain you any now?" The girl moved languidly from her dark corner and stood quietly by the window, but she answered the doctor only in monosyllables, and appeared uneasy while out of her accustomed retreat; and so soon as he turned to ask her sister some questions about her she glided noiselessly back, and sunk into the old seat, wiping her eyes again with the faded cloth. Madame La Blanche drew near to her, and talked to her in a calm and soothing manner, and Jennie seemed really distressed, as she vainly tried to divert her from her grief by emptying the treasures of her pocket before her. The room was as clean as it could possibly be, and the persons of its occupants neat and tidy, but every thing betokened severe and pinching poverty. The bed for the three was in one corner, and this, with one table and a few chairs, comprised all their worldly goods. The healthy girl was washing for those who never knew how many a tale of want and woe their finely-embroidered clothes could tell. A line was stretched across the narrow space, and there hung the fine linen and muslin, streaming out the death-mist upon the weakened lungs of that wretched girl in the corner; and the old woman, with her tremulous hands, was smoothing out the robes that were to rustle amid scenes of pleasure and folly, while the wearers never bestowed a thought upon the lowly ones who helped to adorn them.
"There is a prescription for Jessie," said the doctor, as they rose to go; "it will cost you a dollar, for the medicine is a valuable one."
The old woman took the paper and looked vacantly upon it, while her thoughts dwelt upon the many comfortable things that one dollar would buy for the approaching winter. Jessie's life, to be sure, was most precious to her, but to what purpose would it be saved, if, after all, the poor child should suffer for the necessaries of life. The medicine must be got, but oh! there were so many other things indispensable!
How her heart was lifted up, as the kind physician said, "You may send to the dispensary for it, however, and it will cost you nothing!"
"Oh! thank you, doctor," said she with a beaming face, "times is so hard; we don't mean to complain, but a dollar goes a great ways with poor people;" and then with a cheerful step she followed her visitors to the door, internally blessing the benevolent physician, and the glorious dispensary; but her cup of joy was full to overflowing when she turned back again into the room, and found the nice suit for the sick girl, and a new cap and warm sack for herself. "This will be so grand to go to the pump with," said she, as she laid it carefully away in a box which she drew from under the bed. "Come cheer up, Jessie, better times is coming, and it seems ongrateful-like to sit there moping when there is so much good fortune in the house."
As the little party reached Broadway again, they met some officers leading a man who had been detected in some dreadful crime, and the doctor offered to go to the city prison with Madame La Blanche, that they might show Jennie where wicked people were confined. The stout high walls looked very cheerless and gloomy, after the splendor and brightness of Broadway, and the child dreaded to enter them; but she kept close to her guides, and as they stood within the yard where was a green park, and a pretty fountain playing, she thought it much pleasanter than the brown and loathsome places she had just left. Madame La Blanche seemed to read her thoughts, and said, "This is very pretty and nice, my dear; but you shall tell me what you think about prison life when we reach home again. We have yet much to see within these high walls; very few are allowed to walk in this pleasant yard." Then the prison physician went with them inside and they wandered up and down the long corridors, and looked through the iron doors at the criminals, and Jennie shuddered as their guilty eyes looked out upon her through the gratings.
Here and there, at the different cells, were wives, or sisters, or mothers, talking through the massive bars. The cells were capacious, and neat, and the prisoners looked careless, and indifferent to their punishment; but Madame La Blanche and Jennie both felt that however light-hearted and cheerful they might appear in the broad day, with their friends all about them, in the darkness and silence of the night, terrors must take hold upon them, and almost drive them mad.
In the female department, they saw only those who were committed for vagrancy and drunkenness; but as they observed a woman stretched out upon a bed in one of the cells, lost in the deep sleep of the inebriate, they thought that no measures for the abolishment of so beastly a vice could be too strenuous. Sitting in the door of a cell was one with coarse features, bloated, and ugly, hugging to her depraved bosom a delicate and lovely child. Madame La Blanche stopped to give the weak mother a few words of wholesome advice, and she spoke to her of the little creature in her arms, and plead with her, for her sake, if from no higher motive, to put away her sin. The woman seemed touched, and hiding her face in the child's neck, she wept. The little blue-eyed thing looked sadly weary of the dull walls, and Jennie longed to lead her away from the lonesome place to a home as bright as she had found. She stroked her silken hair, and caressed her as if she had been a sister, and giving her a few toys from her rich pocket, she hurried on to overtake her teacher who was descending the stairs that led to the lowest corridor, and thence to the yard.
The night was coming on, and husbands and wives, mothers and sisters, were leaving the prison walls with a burden of grief and shame for the loved yet lost ones within; and as Jennie and her kind teacher, one hour later, entered the peaceful abode of innocence and joy, the light had wholly departed from the long corridors of that gloomy building, and the doors were closely secured upon the shuddering inmates of those dismal cells, who crept into their beds, and covered their heads with the thick clothes to shut out the demons that were hovering about them in the polluted air.
"Rosalie," said Jennie, as she tossed to and fro upon their soft bed that night; "I can not sleep for the thought of those poor creatures we saw to-day. Come closer to me and put your arm around me, every time I close my eyes some of those miserable objects are before me with their pinched and haggard looks. I can not go with Madame La Blanche again, for it takes away all the pleasure and beauty of my life, and it can do them no good since I have so little power to relieve them."
"But," said Rosalie, "Madame La Blanche says 'it is our duty to visit them, even though we have nothing to offer them but our sympathy, and kind words are often better to the poor then costly gifts.' I felt as you do when I first went among them, but I don't believe our teacher would ever excuse us from going since she thinks it right. I should think," continued Rosalie, twining her arms lovingly about her companion, and drawing as near to her as possible, "that what you have seen to-day would make you enjoy this pleasant room, and these nice comforts all the more."
"But, Rosalie," said Jennie, "how can I sleep when there are so many sick and weary ones down in those dirty streets who have no resting-place for their tired bodies, although they need it so much more than I do? It makes me uneasy and troubled. Don't you think we should be a great deal happier if all the people in the world had an equal share of the comforts of life?"
"Sometimes I think so, Jennie, but Madame La Blanche says 'it is God that makes us to differ; that He gives to some poverty, and to others riches, and that if we only have contented minds we shall be happy, whether we are rich or poor.'"
"That is not exactly what I mean, Rosalie; you know I am rich now, but I am sad about others, and don't you suppose that people who suffer for things that they need feel badly when they see others with more than enough for their wants, so that they even waste it or throw it away."
"I don't know, Jennie, I suppose they must. It does seem strange to me, sometimes, that some have so much more than is necessary to their comfort, while others lack even their daily bread; but Madame La Blanche, says 'we must never allow ourselves to raise such questions, even in our own minds; but that we must feel that whatever God does for His children is right, even as we feel that our earthly parents will do every thing for our best good, though they may do many things that we can not understand, and withhold from us much that we earnestly desire.'"
"Well, Rosalie, it is a comfort to have a higher wisdom than our own to depend upon! that's what my own dear mother used often to say to me, and the very day she died—I never can forget that!—she put her hand upon my head, and said 'Remember, my Jennie, God is to be all your wisdom and strength, all your wisdom and strength.'"
Poor child! in her own strength what perfect weakness; even while repeating the word she sunk into a calm and peaceful slumber, and this weary world, with its burden of sorrows and woes, faded away from her mental vision also, giving place to hopeful and cheering dreams. Madame La Blanche entered the room, as was her custom before retiring to her own couch, and as she looked upon the gentle sleepers before her, and contrasted them with the pitiable ones who, perchance were even then wakeful and sinning, her heart went up toward the Dispenser of all blessings, in earnest supplication that the objects of her love might be ever preserved unblemished in purity, and those of her compassion be brought from their blackness and stain unto the fountain of all goodness and cleansing.
Three winters passed rapidly and profitably in the busy school-room, and Jennie's thirteenth spring-time found her, with her friend Rosalie, riding about the lawn upon the pretty pony, or playing with her golden-haired sister.
"Jennie," said Rosalie, one lovely morning as they were amusing themselves upon the lawn; "would you not like to go to the old Buttonwood and swing? All the girls meet there, and we have such nice times!" To the old Buttonwood was quite a pleasant walk from Rosalie's mother's, and they went merrily on, leading the little girl, and chatting busily, when a silvery-headed old man on a seat within a garden near, attracted Jennie's attention, and she asked her companion who he was.
"Oh! that's my 'grandpa,' as I call him," said Rosalie—"he isn't my grandpa, you know, but he likes to have me call him so, and since it makes him happier, why shouldn't I?—mamma says she has known him for several years, and that he had once a darling daughter who married against his will, so that he would never receive her to his house again, and one day, when he heard that she was dead, he lost his reason; but he will not harm any one. He loves children dearly, and we often go in to sit with him and talk. Poor old man! let's go in now, Jennie, perhaps he will be glad to change the scene a little"—and the three girls went and stood before the old gentleman, who at first looked vacantly at them.
"It's me, grandpa. Don't you remember your own dear little Rosalie? Jennie," continued she in an under tone, "you stand a little behind me, and then he will see me alone;" but the old man caught the words, and a flash of intelligence for one moment illumined his eyes as he said,
"Yes, that's it—Jennie, dear little Jennie! come back to your old father, my darling. All day long has he sat by the gate watching for you. Did you think he was angry with his own precious child?"—and as he spoke he drew Jennie to his bosom and held her there while he murmured constantly in tones of endearment, "Call me father, my pet child; nobody shall take her away again; little Jennie, dear little Jennie!" and he looked around with a sort of menacing air, as if some one was near who would seek to rob him of his treasure, and then smiled fondly on the young girl, caressing her with the deepest tenderness.
"I haven't seen him smile so for many a long year, miss," said the old butler who was near them. "Will you come often to speak to him? It does my heart good to see him so like old times. It's the name miss, it's all the name."
Jennie was somewhat frightened by the old man's eager manner, but when she said softly, "Let me go and swing awhile, dear father, and then I'll come to you again," he gently relaxed his embrace and kissing her, again let her go.
His Jennie used to go so often to the "old Buttonwood"—it was all natural to hear her speak of that; and then it was so pleasant to have her come again with elastic step, and rosy cheek, to spring into his arms for her welcome kiss! Oh, yes! he was willing she should go to the "old Buttonwood;" but as her slight figure vanished in the distance, he seemed sad and uneasy, and the old expression came again, and it staid through the long day. That night as the old butler stood in his master's room, and looked upon a lovely portrait that hung at the foot of the old gentleman's bed, he kept repeating to himself, "It can't be all in the name; the likeness is amazin'! amazin'!"
"Rosalie," said Jennie the next day, "Let's go and see the old gentleman again. What's his name?—you know I promised to return to him."
"His name is Halberg."
"Does he live alone in that pleasant place with only the servants to care for him?"
"Oh, no," said Rosalie, "he has a married son who lives there with him, but he has gone to Europe with his wife and three daughters, and grandpa stays alone until their return. Mamma says they are expected next month, and Carrie Halberg is to go to Madame La Blanche's school—that's my friend, Carrie; she's such a dear good girl! You'll love her, Jennie, I know! But there's grandpa watching for us."
The old man stood at the gate, leaning upon his cane and looking intently down the street toward the "old Buttonwood." He had taken his hat from his head and was shading his eyes with it, and his thin locks were scattered carelessly over his brow. He seemed eager and expectant, and as they approached the gate they heard him say, "Simon, you'd better go to the swing for little Jennie; perhaps she's fallen and got a hurt."
"Here she is, sir," said the butler, and the old gentle man dropped his hat and cane and opened his arms to the little girl, who sprang into them and nestled there as if it were her happiest resting-place. There was something so child-like in the old man's tenderness toward her, that she returned it as if he had been one of her youthful playmates. The wandering of his intellect had robbed him of that dignity and superiority which the young stand so much in awe of, and although the children respected him, they felt that their amusements were suited to his capacity—therefore they crowded around the seat in the garden, and every day Jennie would sit beside him and read or sew, while he wound her curls over his thin fingers, or the three would play beneath the old trees, while he would gaze at them as contentedly as if it were the chief end of his existence.
It was sad to think of separating them, but Jennie must return to her school, and the poor old man be left to his weariness and vacancy. On the day of the child's departure, he looked vainly for her appearance until the time of her usual coming was passed, and then, with a low moan and a pitiful face, he sank back upon the bench. Old Simon tried to arouse and interest him, but he only shook his head, and looked about him with the old air of melancholy, and murmured, "Little Jennie—dear little Jennie."
"Simon," said Mrs. Halberg, as they were alighting from their carriage at the garden gate a few weeks after, "how has the old gentleman been during our absence? Does he seem any thing like his former self?"
"Oh! he's very bad, very bad, ma'am, since the young lady that was visiting Miss Rosalie left. He took wonderfully to her, and seemed as happy as could be while she was here. I thought, perhaps, 'twas the name, but the likeness was amazin'!"
The lady did not hear the latter remark, but she merely said, "What was the name, Simon!" scarcely heeding his reply, as she went up the avenue to the house, stopping one moment to say "How d'ye do" to the old man.
"Oh! 'tis so pleasant to be home again!" said Carrie, the youngest daughter, and springing lightly from the carriage, she ran up to the old gentleman, and, throwing her arms around his neck, she kissed him again and again, saying "'Twas cruel to leave you so long alone, dear grandpa, wasn't it? I wouldn't give any thing for all Europe in comparison with this blessed home and one pleasant day beneath these old trees; and I've missed you so, grandpa. Oh! 'tis too pleasant to be at home again!"
"Do save your raptures, Carrie, until we are free from observation," said her sister Ellen, as she went sauntering up the walk, followed by her other sister, neither of them bestowing more than a glance upon their afflicted grandfather.
A group of village boys were peeping through the fence, evidently much interested in the arrivals and the affectionate greeting which Carrie bestowed upon the old man.
"Nobody will ever suspect that we have traveled if you are so unsophisticated in your feelings and expressions," continued Ellen; but observing that her reproof received no attention, she and Mary went into the house, leaving the sweet child with the pure breath of nature all around her, and her own heart as fresh and uncontaminated. The old man returned her caresses, and smiled upon her as he said, "My Jennie! dear little Jennie!"
Carrie was so delighted at her grandfather's apparent joy on seeing her that she cared little for the name, yet supposing he had only forgotten it, she said, "Carrie, grandpa—Carrie;" but he only murmured still, "Dear little Jennie! dear little Jennie!"
"What does it mean, Simon," said she; "doesn't he remember me?"
"'Twas a nice young lady that was called Jennie; she was here with Miss Rosalie, and your grandpa, miss, was so happy all the time she staid. He has been very low, miss, ever since she left till you came. Maybe he thinks 'tis she come again; you're not unlike her, Miss Carrie."
"Well, I'll be called Jennie, too, since you prefer it, grandpa. See what I've brought you! 'way across the blue waters, from Scotland! Isn't it a bonnie plaid?" and she held out before him a real Highland shawl, and, folding it, threw it around his shoulders. "'Tis so nice to wear out here, dear grandpa, when it is chilly."
The old man looked at the bright colors, and felt of the soft wool, and then his eyes rested fondly upon his grandchild, who was scattering sugar-plums among the little group without the gate. Eagerly they gathered them up in their greedy hands, and went scampering off to their homes to exhibit their treasures, while Carrie went to the house accompanied by her proud father, on whose arm the old gentleman was feebly leaning. That evening, as the newly-returned party was seated around the center-table, Carrie stole quietly to her grandfather's room, and leaning her elbows upon his knees, looked wonderingly up into his mild eyes, while he muttered softly, "Dear little Jennie! dear little Jennie!"
Rosalie came betimes to see her young friend, and as they walked together around the garden, they had much to say about the long journey, and the many strange things that Carrie had seen and heard, and then they came back again to home events, and to the school that Rosalie had just left, and that Carrie would soon enter, and this led them to speak of Jennie, who was to be Carrie's roommate.
"Has she no other name?" said Carrie to Rosalie; "I hear nothing but 'Jennie, Jennie,' all the time."
"Oh! her mother's name is Dunmore—that is, her adopted mother. Her own mother is dead; but isn't it strange, I never thought to ask her what her real name is! You can not help loving her, Carrie, I know. In the first place, she's beautiful, and that goes for something, I think; and then, she's as good as she is pretty. Why, Carrie, I do believe you are a little like her! There, throw your hat back, and let your hair fall about your shoulders, so—'tis strange! I should think you were sisters."
"Well, well, Rosalie, I should like to put my hat on when you have done admiring me; I suppose I shall see this paragon of a Jennie on Monday, if I live."
"She will not seem a paragon to you, Carrie, but a simple, loving, truthful girl, and before you know it, you'll have your arm around her neck and your lips to hers as if you had been friends all your life."
"What do you think of Madame La Blanche, Rosalie? Shall I be much afraid of her?"
"Afraid of her! Why, Carrie, she's as kind as my own mother, and many a time, when the girls are sad or home-sick, she sends for them to go to her pleasant room, and there she amuses them with pictures and curiosities until they forget all their sorrows. She doesn't seem like a school-teacher, Carrie, but like some dear affectionate relative."
"Well, it is very pleasant here in my own lovely home, and I dread leaving so soon again; and then, there's grandpa, I can not bear to be away from him. Nobody seems to cheer him as I can—can they, grandpa?" and the dear child sat down beside the old man upon the bench which they had just reached, and looked thoughtfully upon the bowed figure near her.
"You'll come every day to see him while I am gone—won't you, Rosalie? and try to keep him contented and happy? It seems so sad," continued she, "to have no real comfort in life excepting one little gleam, and then to have even that taken from you! Never mind, grandpa, Jennie will come back again, soon."
The old man picked up, one by one, some white petals that had fallen upon his knees from a tree near them, and, letting them drop again, said, "Don't stay long, dear little Jennie. Simon, is the swing safe? You'd better see that it is tied firmly to the branches."
"Yes, sir," said Simon; "I'll attend to it, sir. It is well, miss," he added, "that we have the old swing to fall back upon. Every day while you were gone, when your grandpa seemed uneasy about you, and asked often for you, I'd have to say, 'she's down to the old Buttonwood, sir—only down to the old Buttonwood;' and then he'd rest easy like. The time seemed weary and long to me, miss, as I put him off from day to day; but a year and a day is all the same to him, miss—all the same."
"Well, Simon," said Carrie, "I'm so glad you are here with him; I should never take a bit of comfort if you were not. Even in those strange countries, where there was so much that was new and beautiful to interest me, I could not forget the dear old figure beneath the trees at home, and the thought that you understood him and could cheer him was all that kept me contented and happy."
"Ah, miss, it's a dreadful bereavement!" said the old butler, shaking his head. "Such a noble-looking old gentleman as your grandfather was before this came upon him! I used to watch him as he walked up and down these avenues with Miss Jennie, that's dead and gone, upon his arm, and a prouder father I never saw. He's only a wreck now, Miss Carrie, a pitiful wreck!" and the good servant drew his coat-sleeve across his face, and turned hastily away.
Meantime frequent communications had passed between Mrs. Dunmore and her daughter, and now came glad anticipations of a speedy return to the home and child of her love. Her mission was accomplished. "The silver string was loosed, the golden bowl broken;" and the old and wearied body laid away for its long and peaceful rest. For months had she soothed its pains, and rendered its pathway to the tomb easy and pleasant, and now that the green earth covered it, and its repose could be no more disturbed, her heart yearned toward the child of her adoption, and the hours lagged heavily that must intervene before they could meet again. Business transactions in connection with the possessions of the deceased still required her presence for awhile, and she must yield to the demands of duty. Jennie would have been quite impatient, had not Carrie Halberg's arrival reconciled her to another school term before rejoining her mother in their delightful home.
"Rosalie has told me so much about you," said she, as she ushered her into their cosey room. "I feel as if I quite know you already. It would be strange if we did not know each other, when we have the same grandpa, wouldn't it?"
"Oh yes, Rosalie told me how fond grandpa was of you, and I'm sure I owe you a great deal of affection for going so often to see him while he was alone. Simon said he was sad indeed after you came away, and that he would stand for hours by the gate looking down the street toward the old Buttonwood for you. I never knew him to fancy any one but Rosalie besides me, before; but Rosalie and Simon both think we are alike, and I suppose he thought you were me."
"Very likely," said Jennie; "but Carrie, what made him fancy the name so? I heard Simon say 't was all in the name."
"Oh! that was the name of my aunt that's dead; she was an only daughter. Didn't you see her portrait hanging in my grandfather's room?"
"I was never in the house, Carrie, for there were none but servants there, you know, and then the garden was so pleasant! Was your aunt pretty?"
"I never hear any one but father speak of her, and he often visits her portrait, and never leaves it without weeping—it is very beautiful! But you shall see it, Jennie, for my father promises me you shall return with me to my home. He is so delighted to add to my grandfather's comfort in any way. Isn't it dreadful, Jennie, to be in this lovely world with so much around you to charm and please, and yet the sense of enjoyment gone, and brightness and beauty all the same as if it were brown and sere? You'll find me a dull companion, I fear, Jennie, for I've grown old and thoughtful by seeing so much of poor grandpa."
"Perhaps I am made thoughtful, too, by past troubles, Carrie! It doesn't need age to bring sorrows upon us."
"What griefs can have bowed those youthful heads so early, my darlings?" said Madame La Blanche, who had softly entered the room and caught part of Jennie's sentence. "It is better to recount the many mercies of our lot, rather than to dwell upon the ills of life! Indeed, our very sorrows often prove blessings to us if we will but permit them to work the effect designed;" and sitting down in one of the wide windows, she drew the young girls to her and placing one on either side, there, while the shadows were lengthening in the beautiful garden, and the night came creeping silently on, she talked to them as a gentle mother would, of the great object and aim of this mortal life, and the high destiny which all may attain if they only so far desire it as to strive after it, and as the evening stole upon them, and the stars came quietly out in the mild heavens, she kissed them tenderly and left them to the sweet influences of the calm night, and of their own subdued thoughts. For a long time the two girls sat gazing earnestly upward, while one heart dwelt lovingly upon the old figure with silvery locks, and the other upon the spirits of her departed parents that seemed even then hovering about her.
"Only three weeks more to vacation," said Mary Halberg, as she entered the parlor one morning with an open letter in her hand.
"What does Carrie say about her young friend?" said her father, looking up from his newspaper. "Has she prevailed upon her to accompany her home?"
"Oh! yes, and you know that rich widow Dunmore, whom we met at the Springs? Well, she's coming to remain in —— while Jennie is with us. It seems she has carried out one of her eccentric whims and taken some foundling to be her own child, and we are upholding her by admitting the girl to our house on an intimate footing with Carrie."
"I don't see," said Ellen, "what good all our advantages of education and travel will do us, if we are to mingle with all sorts of people, and, as to Carrie, she is quite careless enough now in her choice of associates, without our seeking those of the lower order for her."
"No good, my daughters, will either your knowledge or your position do you, if they are to exalt you so far above your fellow-creatures as to render any of them contemptible in your estimation," said Mr. Halberg; "I rejoice that the heart of your sister is, as yet, only susceptible to warm and kindly emotions, and I trust you will both treat with politeness the young stranger who—whatever her former station in life may have been—is, as the adopted child of Mrs. Dunmore, entitled to every attention and courtesy from us all."
Mary looked abashed as her father arose and left the room; but her sister only muttered. "I'm sure it makes no difference to me whether she comes or not—'tis precious little I shall trouble myself about her. What do you think Rosalie told me the other day?" continued she, addressing Mary; "why, that this Jennie used to sweep the dirty crossings of Broadway, and herd with vulgar beggars, and that Mrs. Dunmore took her from this vile condition to her own house, as her own child. It came pretty straight, for one of Mrs. Dunmore's servants told old Jimmy, Mr. Mann's coachman, and so it got to Hattie, who is at Madame La Blanche's school."
"I thought Rosalie was as much in love with her as Carrie," said Mary.
"Well, so she is; but she did not know any thing about this until Hattie Mann wrote to her the other day. I don't suppose it would make any difference to her, however, for she says that Jennie is more lady-like, and further advanced in her studies than any of the girls, and that she would choose her for a companion rather than any of them, even if she had once been a street-sweeper."
"Spoken like my own good sister," said Henry Moore, thrusting aside the vines that shaded the window where the young ladies were sitting. "Pardon, mademoiselles! I was not intentionally an eaves-dropper; but hearing your voices in this direction I came to seek you, and thus heard that little heroic of my pet Rosalie."
"Why, Henry, where did you come from?" said Mary; "I thought you were still safe within college bounds."
"Oh!" said Henry, "I left my Alma Mater in disgust yesterday morning. Did you suppose even her kindly embrace could keep me away from —— during these pleasant months? My motto is 'recreation as well as labor.' But come, Nellie, lay aside that embroidery, and go with Mary and me to Blinkdale—the sun has dried the dew, and the birds are having a perfect concert among the old trees—Rosalie is waiting for us at the gate."
"Grandpa's going too," said Rosalie, as her brother and their two friends reached her; "you must lead the way, for we have to walk very slowly you know," and, taking the old man's hand, she led him as gently as if he were a child; and when they found the pleasant dale she arranged a nice seat for him in the shade, and lifting his hat from his head she fanned him with it until he seemed cool and comfortable, and then joined the little group near. Henry had watched her with a heart full of affection, and Mary could not help being moved by her quiet and natural kindness; but Ellen laughed heartily as she said "You are a capital nurse, Rosalie; if old Simon should happen to drop off some day, we shall know where to look for a substitute."
Rosalie blushed as she caught her brother's earnest eye, but she only said "I'm always happy to wait on grandpa. Isn't Carrie coming soon? and Jennie, too," continued she. "I can scarcely wait much longer to see them!"
"Three weeks will soon vanish, and then I suppose you'll have a merry time together," said Ellen. "Carrie writes in high spirits, and one would think from her delight at returning that there was no place in the whole world equal to this stupid village."
"I don't consider it stupid at all," said Rosalie, with some spirit; "I am sure I would not exchange it for any place I ever saw!"
"Oh, well, Rosalie, we all acknowledge that your means of comparison are very extensive," replied Ellen; "I don't care to quarrel with my native place, but I must confess it has not so many attractions for me as you seem to see in it."
Rosalie did not exactly understand Ellen's sneer, but the remark disturbed her serenity, and she moved softly away from the sisters and sat down beside the old gentleman, weaving garlands for him to pull in pieces, and thinking of the happy time, so soon coming, when she could once more be with her young companions.
"Who is this Jennie that my sister talks so much about?" said Henry.
"She's a protegee of Mrs. Dunmore's, and manages to win the love of all who know her, I should think, from all I hear concerning her," said Mary. "She visited Rosalie while we were in Europe, and my grandfather took a great fancy to her because of her name, and my father insists upon her coming home with Carrie to spend the vacation. Perhaps there'll be another heart missing when you see her, Henry."
"In that case," said the young man, "it will be hardly safe to extend my term of absence from my studies until the arrival of your guest. I don't see what I am to do among such a bevy of you girls," continued he, as they strolled leisurely homeward; "it will be rather a dangerous position."
"Not at all so, unless we catch you eaves-dropping again," said Mary, laughing, as he bade them good-morning, and turned to assist Rosalie in the care of the old man. It was pleasant to see them walking up the village street—the strong and vigorous youth lending itself to the support of that tottering frame, and the child-like, rosy girl giving her sweet care and sympathy to his withered, dependent age.
Signs of life were again visible about the great house in the avenue. The blinds were thrown open, and the rich drapery hung gracefully by the open windows. Grocers' and butchers' boys were hurrying in through the gates to empty their heavy baskets, while little beggar-children emerged from them with theirs richly laden. The passers-by looked gladly up, rejoicing that the long-deserted mansion was once more occupied. The walks were neatly swept, the lawns well trimmed, and the shrubs carefully trained. A little fountain leaped joyously in one of the grass-plots, pet canaries warbled from their cages among the green vines, and every thing around the place betokened the approaching return of its refined and tasteful mistress. The expectant servants ran hither and thither from window to door, and from door to window, thrusting out their woolly heads at every sound of carriage-wheels. Never lagged the time so wearily, and never was house more joyous than that, as the waning day brought the loved ones beneath its roof.
Mrs. Dunmore lay upon the couch in her pleasant boudoir, weary and travel-worn, yet not insensible to the delight of being once more at home. By her side, on a low ottoman, was the child of her adoption, her hand clasping that of her mother, whose eyes were fixed upon her with tenderness and love. Both hearts were almost too full for utterance; the mother seemed content to watch the varying emotions as they played upon the face of her sweet child, and the young girl betrayed her earnest, affectionate feelings in frequent but silent caresses. It was such a mercy to be spared so many years to meet again, and to find each other all that they desired—the one the same kind, devoted, Christian mother, and the other as warm-hearted as ever, repaying all the care and regard lavished upon her by a corresponding improvement, and by an unmeasured gratitude and esteem. It was such a happiness, too, to Mrs. Dunmore to feel that, in braving the world's opinion and taking to her bosom an outcast and deserted one, she was so fully compensated by the companionship of the graceful and beautiful girl who was now competent to sympathize in all that pleased or disturbed her. What was all her wealth, what were the elegances and luxuries that surrounded her, what the fashionable friends who crowded to welcome her, compared to that one fresh, trusting, loving heart, that clung to hers with such strength and ardor of affection!
Many a time during their long separation had her spirit gone yearningly out toward the child, and now she was beside her again with deep eyes beaming earnestly upon her, and red lips pressed ever and anon to her own with an overflowing fondness.
The twilight was in the room, and through its dimness the little portrait on the wall was visible, no longer shrouded in somber weeds, but in its brightness and simplicity gazing down upon the two loving ones beneath it, and seeming to share in their deep and hallowed joy.
The young girl bowed her head until it rested softly upon the bosom of her mother, as she said, "It is so sweet to be here, dear mamma! Often have I walked past this desolate house, with the feeling that it might never again open to receive me, and it seems so like a dream that I am here once more, with the cold world wholly shut out from me, and your warm, warm heart beating so close to mine again!"
"Has the world indeed been cold to you, my darling," said Mrs. Dunmore, "and have you found no kind friends to make my absence less weary? I had hoped that Madame La Blanche would prove a fond and faithful mother."
"And so she has, dear mamma, but thoughts of the past would sometimes come up to trouble me, and then I needed you to help me bear it, and to bring sunshine and peace from it all. This was at first when I felt quite alone in the world, after you had gone; but I tried afterward to do as Madame La Blanche said was the better way—to put every thing bitter from me, and try to think only of the good that was all around me. When we were gloomy or dispirited, she would say, 'I know it is very trying, my children, to be separated from your parents and friends; but you must remember that so long as you are with me, I stand in the same relationship to you all; and that my heart will be cast down and pained if you fail to come freely to me with all your little burdens and sorrows.' She said too, that 'we were as one dear and pleasant family, and that each of us must strive to bring as much brightness as possible into our little household, and then we could not help being happy.' Nobody could be kinder nor better than Madame La Blanche, and Rosalie and Carrie were as sweet sisters to me; but there were some things I could never speak to them about, and I am so glad that you who know me so truly are here again! I shall have nothing now to ask excepting that you go away from your poor child no more."
"Never fear, my darling," said Mrs. Dunmore, "nothing shall again come between us so long as God permits us to dwell upon the earth; but we must not forget to prepare for a severance that must one day come, so that we may be reunited where all partings shall forever be over."
Jennie clasped still tighter the hand of her mother, as she thought how severely that long separation would try one or the other of them; but she said nothing, for her heart was busy with the memory of the loved ones who had gone before her to the home above, and she felt that she had indeed many incentives to struggle for the same blessed inheritance.
The twilight went out into thick darkness, leaving the mother and child to their happy communings in the boudoir, amid the blest associations of a cherished past.
The hum of the streets was hushed. Few sounds came from without; but the silence that had so long reigned in the mansion, was broken by the gentle tones of loving and glad voices.
"Well, Henry, how shall we kill time this evening?" said Fred. Burling to Henry Moore, as the two colleagues sauntered up and down the gallery of Mr. Moore's house.
"If by killing time you mean spending the hours pleasantly, I think we had better go and chat awhile with Mr. Halberg's pretty daughters," replied Henry; "I believe you consider yourself quite a connoisseur in beauty. Perhaps we shall both find our beau-ideal there to-night. Mary told me they were expecting a visit from a young friend who is skilled in captivating hearts, and Rosalie says she arrived this morning. Have you seen her, Rosalie?" continued he, addressing his sister, who appeared at the door as they were walking past it.
"Why, Henry, there are so many hers in the world, and even in our own little village, that it would take a better clairvoyant than myself to decide which you mean," said Rosalie, glancing upon him with a sparkle in her merry eye.
"I supposed," said Henry, "your mind would be so full of your friend that she would immediately occur to you as the object of my inquiry."
"I hope you don't mean to insinuate that I have but one friend!" answered the sister, with another roguish twinkle of her mischievous eye; "because, dear brother, I have a great, great many, I flatter myself; but to tease you no longer, I have seen her, and she is just as winning and lovely as ever."
"Well, Fred," said Henry, "if it does not appear too formidable to your susceptibility, we will venture to meet the young ladies. Get your hat, Rosalie," he added, as his sister moved away; "we need you to enliven our walk."
"I am afraid you will scarcely appreciate so brilliant a companion," said Rosalie; "but no matter, I'll go, I may glean a few bright ideas by contact with a certain classical duo that I wot of;" and the blithe young girl hastened away, and soon returned equipped for their stroll.
"Miss Rosalie," said Fred, as he drew her hand within his arm; "tell me all about this friend of yours. I believe that is sufficiently definite to distinguish the new comer, is it not?"
"Oh, yes," said his companion, "I was only bantering Henry a little; but, really, Mr. Burling, I have nothing to tell you concerning Jennie, excepting that we were schoolmates for a long time, and that in consequence we feel a great deal of fondness and affection for each other."
"I thought," said Fred, "there was some mystery about her birth and history—so Henry says."
"And so there is to me," replied Rosalie, "but I can not attempt to solve it, since she was never communicative with regard to her early life; there was a good deal of gossiping among the girls at school, on account of a report which came through an old servant of Mrs. Dunmore's that she was of very humble origin; but she was so lady-like, and so much beloved by us all that we quite discredited the story, although, for my own part, I don't care a straw what her parentage was, since she is worthy and refined."
"You will perceive," said Henry, "that this little sister of mine is a very independent young lady, and founds her likes and dislikes upon her own opinions, rather than upon the prejudices and conventionalities of society."
"It is well," returned Fred, "that there are some who make merit or demerit the distinguishing marks instead of rank or wealth. I confess that my own notions wholly accord with those of Miss Rosalie. What! are we here so soon?" continued he, as they reached the entrance to Mr. Halberg's grounds.
"I should think we were in the region of the Dryads!" said Henry, as several white figures were visible amid the trees. "Who's eaves-dropping, now," added he, as Mary came suddenly upon him from behind a neighboring shrub.
"I plead, not guilty," said Mary; "but, Henry, where are your offerings? you should not come into the presence of deities without suitable gifts."
"Permit me to present to you my friend Mr. Burling, Miss Halberg," said Henry, as the young man approached with Rosalie and Ellen.
"You see I have not forgotten the custom to bring some propitiatory sacrifice."
"A very acceptable one in these days of dearth," said Mary, blushing. "We are a very secluded race," continued she, addressing Mr. Burling, "and the arrival of friends is quite an era in our quiet life."
"It is a wonder that we do not wholly vegetate," said Ellen. "Do not you think, Henry, that we are in danger of dissipating too much, now that our coterie is so greatly enlarged?"
The young man looked thoughtfully upon her for a moment, and then replied "There needs not an increased circle, nor the seductions of a fashionable clique, Nellie, to lead us to excess; the soul may run riot, and indulge in vain repinings for the follies and vanities of life, even in the remotest solitudes. But come, let us go to the piazza, I see your youngest sister there, and wish also to make the acquaintance of your guest."
Just then Carrie and Jennie espied Rosalie, and, running forward, met her with the warmest manifestations of delight, and seizing upon her, they hurried her on to see grandpa, who sat in his arm-chair on the piazza, with the cool breeze refreshing his fevered brow.
It was a beautiful sight, the three young girls just bursting into womanhood, with their earnest and pure natures, ministering to the faint old man who was fast wasting away from this earthly being. Henry and his friend were deeply impressed by it, and dreaded to disturb so charming a picture, but as they advanced to greet Mr. and Mrs. Halberg, Carrie sprang to meet her old friend Henry, and leading him to her grandfather's seat, introduced him to Jennie, and placed a chair for him by her side. The young girl looked up with a sweet smile as he asked her some question concerning her escape from school, and shaking back the heavy mass of ringlets that shaded her forehead, she replied, "School was any thing but a prison-house to me, yet I love very much to be occasionally free from a fixed routine of duties, especially when I find so pleasant a retreat as this, and so dear a charge as grandpa. We all have a care for him," she added, taking in Carrie and Rosalie with her fond glance.