HARVEST OF YEARS
NEW YORK G.P. PUTNAM'S SONS 182 Fifth Avenue 1880
Copyright by G.P. PUTNAM'S SONS 1880
TO MY FAMILY
THIS RECITAL OF MY LIFE IS AFFECTIONATELY DEDICATED.
Old friends and other days have risen about me as I have written, recalling, through my pen, these treasured experiences; and the pictured characters are to me as real as earthly hands, whose touch we feel. I have written as the story runs, with no effort at adorning, and those who love me best will not bring to it the cold criticisms that may come from other readers. To illustrate the truth of "a little leaven's leavening the whole lump" has been my purpose, and if this purpose can be even partially achieved, I shall deem myself sufficiently rewarded. To those whom in previous years I have met in the field of my mission, whose heart-felt sympathy and interest became the tide which bore me on, as from public platform (as well as in private ways) I have, for truth's dear sake, been impelled to utterances, to these friends I may hope this volume will not come as a stranger, but that through it I may receive, as in the days gone by, the grasp of their friendly hands.
New Haven, Conn., June, 1880.
I.—Emily Did It 1
II.—From Girlhood to Womanhood 5
IV.—Our New Friend 18
V.—Louis Robert 31
VI.—A Question and a Problem 49
VII.—Wilmur Benton 60
VIII.—Fears and Hopes 71
IX.—The New Faith 84
X.—Matthias Jones 95
XI.—The Teaching of Hosea Ballou 109
XII.—A Remedy for Wrong-talking 123
XIV.—Louis returns 150
XV.—Emily finds peace 164
XVI.—Mary Harris 177
XVII.—Precious Thoughts 210
XVIII.—Emily's Marriage 226
XIX.—Married Life 240
XX.—Life Pictures and Life Work 254
XXI.—John Jones 274
XXII.—Clara leaves us 290
XXIII.—Aunt Hildy's Legacy 317
THE HARVEST OF YEARS
"EMILY DID IT."
Among my earliest recollections these three words have a place, coming to my ears as the presages of a reprimand. I had made a frantic effort to lift my baby-brother from his cradle, and had succeeded only in upsetting baby, pillows and all, waking my mother from her little nap, while brother Hal stood by and shouted, "Emily did it." I was only five years of age at that eventful period, and was as indignant at the scolding I received when trying to do a magnanimous act, take care of baby and let poor, tired mother sleep, as I have been many times since, when, unluckily, I had upset somebody's dish, and "Emily did it" has rung its hateful sound in my ears. To say I was unlucky was not enough; I was untimely, unwarranted and unwanted, I often felt, in early years in everything I attempted, and the naturally quick temper I possessed was only aggravated and tortured into more harassing activity, rendering me on the whole, perhaps, not very amiable. Interesting I could not be, since whatever I attempted I seemed fated to say or do something to hurt somebody's feelings, and, mortified at my failures, I would draw myself closer to myself, shrinking from others, and saying again and again, "Emily, why must you do it?"
Introducing myself thus clouded to your sympathy, I cannot expect my reader would be interested in a rehearsal of all my early trials.
You can imagine how it must have been as I marched along from childhood through girlhood into womanhood, while I still clung to my strange ways and peculiar sayings; upsetting of inkstands at school, mud tracking over the carpet in the "best room" at home, unconscious betrayal of mischief plans, etc., etc., made up the full catalogue of my days and their experiences, and although I did have a few warm friends, I could not be as other girls were, generally happy and beloved.
Mother was the only real friend I had; it seemed to me, as I grew older, she learned to know that I was too often blamed, where at heart I was wholly blameless, and when sometimes she stroked my hair, and said, "My dear child, how unlucky you are," I felt that I could do anything for her, and she never, to my remembrance, said "Emily did it."
From my father I often heard it. Hal rarely, if ever, said anything else, and if I did sometimes darn his stockings a little too thick, it was not such a heinous crime. He was handsome, and I was as proud of his face as I was ashamed of my own; I know now that my features were not so bad, but my spirit never shone through them, while Hal carried every thought right in his face. My face also might have looked attractive if I had only been understood, but I blame no one for that, when I was covered even as a "leopard with spots," indicating everything but the blessed thoughts I sometimes had and the better part of my nature. The interval of years between my fifth and sixteenth birthdays was too full of recurring mishaps of every kind to leave within my memory distinct traces of the little joys that sometimes crept in upon me. I number them all when I recall the face of my more than blessed mother and the mild eyes of Mary Snow, who was kinder and nearer to me than the others of my school-mates.
Hal grew daily more of a torment, and being five years my senior, "bossed" me about to his satisfaction, except at such times as I grew too vexed with him to restrain my anger, and turning upon him would pour volleys of wrath upon his head. On these occasions he seemed really afraid of me, and, for a time after, I would experience a little peace. Learning from experience that keeping my thoughts to myself was the best means of quiet, I grew, after leaving school, less inclined to associate with anyone except sweet Mary Snow. One blessed consciousness grew daily on me, and that was that I came nearer my mother's heart, and as I was never lazy, I shared many of her joys and trials and learned to keep my rebellious nature almost wholly in check. Father was a good man, but unfortunate in business affairs, and the first time he undertook to carry out an enterprise of his own, he pulled everything over on to his head—just as I did the baby. This was of course a misfortune of which his wife had her share, but she never complained. The lines about her eyes grew darker, and she ceased to sing at her work as before, and I knew, for she told me, that in the years that followed, I grew so close to her, I became a great help to her and really shared her burdens. My little brother, Ben, varied Hal's "Emily did it," and with him "Emily will do it" was a perfect maxim. Kites I made without number, and gave my spare time to running through the meadows with him to help him fly them and to the making of his little wheelbarrows, and I loved him dearly. I seemed now to be less unlucky, and at home, at least, contented, but society had no charms for me and I had none for society; consequently we could happily agree to let each other alone, but, without repining, I had still sometimes, oh! such longings—for something, I knew not what.
FROM GIRLHOOD TO WOMANHOOD.
The old adage of a poor beginning makes a good ending, may have been true in my case; certain it is that my sorest mishaps, or those I had least strength to bear, came between my fifth and sixteenth birthdays. After this came the happy period in which I was helpmeet to my mother, and the gaining of an almost complete victory over my temper, even when teased by Hal, who at that time was developing rapidly into manhood and was growing very handsome.
I was not changed outwardly, unless my smile was more bright and frequent, as became my feelings, and my eyes, I know, shot fewer dark glances at those around me when mishaps, although less frequent, came sometimes to me. My good angel was with me oftener then, I thought, and as I often told mother, it seemed to me I had daily a two-fold growth, meaning that there was the growing consciousness of a nature pulsating as a life within my heart that seemed like a strong full tide constantly bearing me up. I scarcely understood it then, but now I know I had, as every one has, a dual nature, one side of which had never been allowed to appear above its earthly covering.
My daily trials, coming always from luckless mistakes of my own, were equal in their effect to the killing of my blossoms, for if any dared to show their heads an untimely word or deed would bring a reproach—if only in the three words, "Emily did it"—and this reproach was like the stamping of feet on violet buds, breaking, crushing and robbing them of their sweet promise. The life then must go back into the roots and a long time elapse ere they could again burst forth; so all my better nature, with its higher thoughts longing to develop, was forced down and back, and now, in the enjoyment of more favorable environment, I was beginning to realize the fruitful life which daily grew upon me, and with it came strength of mind and purpose and an imagery of thought that filled my soul to a delicious fullness.
What a power those conditions were to me! I drank joy in everything. My mother's step was as music, and her teachings even in household affairs a blessing to my spirit. I remember how one day in September I was dishing soup for dinner, the thought—suppose that she dies—came rushing over me like a cold wave, and I screamed aloud; dropping my soup-dish and all, and frightening poor mother almost out of her senses.
"Have you scalded yourself, dear?" she cried, running toward me, and I was nearly faint as I replied:
"Only a thought. I am so sorry about the soup, but it was a terrible thought," and then I told her.
No word of chiding came from her lips. I thought I saw tears in her eyes as she said: "I should not like to leave you, dear. We are very happy here together," and I know my eyes were moist as I thought, "Emily did it," but her mother understands her.
How necessary all those days of feeling, full and deep, combined with the details of practical life were to me, and although I shall never date pleasant memories back to my earlier years, still if I had been too carefully handled and nursed I never could have enjoyed those days so much.
Nearly twenty-four months of uninterrupted work and enjoyment passed over me—and here is a thought from that first experience in soul growth; I cannot ever believe that people will enjoy themselves lazily in heaven more than here; I have another, only a vague idea of how it will be, but I cannot think of being idle there—when a little change appeared, only to usher in what proved to be a greater one, and the days of the June month in which the first came I shall never forget. It was when Hal came to me, hemming and thinking under my favorite tree in the old orchard, while beside me lay my scrap-book in which I from time to time jotted thoughts as they came to me. Hal sat down beside me and said at once:
"I'm going to try it, Emily." I dropped hemming and thinking together, and said:
"Try my luck."
I was only bewildered by his answer, and he continued:
"Emily, I'm determined to carry out the desires of my life, and now I am intent on a Western city as the place best calculated to inspire me with the courage and strength I need to carry out my aims and purposes, and I thought I'd tell you now that I feel decided, and you will tell mother for me; will you?"
Never before in my life had I felt Hal so near to me. His manner toward me had changed, of course, as he grew into manhood, and "Emily, will you sew on this button?" or "Emily, are my stockings ready?" were given in place of "Emily did it," but now, as he looked full in my face, and even passed his arm about me with true brotherly affection, he seemed so near, that the hot tears chased each other down my cheeks, and I sat speechless with the feelings that overcame me. I thought of the handsome face—always handsome in whatever mood—opposite me at the table, of the manly form and dignified carriage I had watched with pride, and when I could speak, I said,
"Hal I cannot let you go." Hal was brave, but I knew he felt what I said, for his looks spoke volumes as he said,
"Shall you miss me so much?"
"Oh! Hal," I cried, "we love you, mother and I, I never knew how much till now." His head dropped a moment, and then he suddenly said,
"You are the best sister a fellow ever had," and swallowing something that rose in his throat, marched off through the fields directly away from the house. I gathered up my work and scrap book, went in and prepared the supper, showing outwardly no emotion, but with my heart throbbing as if it would tell the secret on which I pondered, while I wondered how I should tell my mother.
Hal came in late to supper. I rushed from the table when I heard his footsteps, and sought my room until I heard him coming up to his room, when I went down stairs and busied myself with my work as usual.
I washed the milk pans three or four times over that night, and was about carrying them into the "best room," when mother said,
"Why, Emily, we keep our milk pans in the buttery."
"Oh!" I said, turning suddenly and letting my pans fall and scatter. And when I picked them up and collected my senses, I thought, "I cannot tell mother to-night after all, Hal will stay with us." When things were at last in their places, I sauntered out through the lane in the beautiful moonlight, and coming back met Hal who took my hand in his and whispered,
"Tell mother to-morrow, please, I want to go away next month and some things are necessary to be done."
"Have you told father yet?"
"No, but he will not care."
"Father will care," I replied, "but you know since his misfortune, and his conclusion that he cannot do anything but carry on the farm, he seems to have lost his sprightly step and his cheery ways of old."
"Well, Emily," said Hal, "I am no help to him on the farm, and could not be if I tried, and the work I am doing now is anything but satisfying to me."
Then the thought occurred to me, I had no idea of what the boy desired to accomplish, and the question what would you do Hal? was answered in this wise—
"Wait till I've been away six months."
"To build mud houses and fill them with mud people, was your favorite amusement when you were a boy, I remember," I said, and he gave me such a queer look that I started with the impression that came with it, but said no more, and we walked along and went into the house together.
The next day after dinner, when we were cleared up and alone in quiet, I told mother. She was of course covered with surprise, but her words came in wisdom and she said:
"I can imagine what Halbert desires to do, and although the way looks anything but clear, still I know I can trust him anywhere. He is a blessed son and brother, Emily, and I doubt not I am selfish to feel saddened by the thought of his leaving home (and a tear drop fell as she spoke). I only fear he may be sick. His lungs are not very strong."
"What will father say?" I asked.
"Father's heart will miss him but he will not seek to stay an endeavor of his earnest, ambitious boy."
So my trial was not so hard as I had expected, and father was just as wise as mother, and I alone rebellious concerning his departure. I cried night and day whenever I could get a moment to cry in, and I could not help it. How perverse I felt, although doing all I could to forward his departure, which was daily coming nearer, and when the 4th of July came and with it the gala day which the entire country about us enjoyed, I could not and did not go to the pic-nic, or the speech ground, and I succeeded in making all at home nearly as unhappy as myself.
Some people believe in predestination (or "fore-ordering," as Aunt Ruth used to call it), and some do not. I never knew what I believed about events and their happening, but it was certainly true I learned to know that my efforts to hurry or retard anything were in one sense entirely futile—that is, when I did not work in unison with my surroundings, and made haste only when impelled. If I could have felt thus concerning Hal's departure, I should have been of more service to him, and saved myself from hearing "Oh, Emily, don't," falling as an entreaty from his lips, at sight of my swelled eyes and woeful countenance. I think he was heartily glad of the innovation made in our family circle, which, of itself, was as wonderful to me as the story of Aladdin's Lamp to the mind of a child. It happened so strangely too. Before I tell you of this event I must explain that our family circle consisted of father, mother, Halbert, Ben and myself. It was half past six in the evening of July 8, 18—, and we had just finished supper, when a loud knock was heard at the back door, and opening it we received a letter from the hands of a neighbor, who came over from the post-office and kindly brought our mail with him. We received a good many letters for farming people, and I had kept up a perfect fire of correspondence with Mary Snow ever since she went to the home of her uncle, who lived some twenty miles distant, but this appeared to be a double letter, and mother broke the seal, while we all listened to her as she read it. It is not necessary to quote the whole of it, but the gist of the matter was this: A distant cousin of father's who had never seen any of us, nor any member of the family to which her mother and my father belonged, had settled in the city of ——, about thirty miles from our little village. Her husband dying shortly afterward, she was left a widow with one child, a son. In some unaccountable way she had heard of father, and she now wrote telling us that she proposed to come to see us the very next day, only two days before Hal was to leave us. She went on to say that she hoped her visit would not be an intrusion, but she wanted to see us, and if we could only accommodate her during the summer she would be so glad to stay, and would be willing to remunerate us doubly. Mother said simply, "Well, she must come." Father looked at her and said nothing, while I flew at the supper dishes attacking them so ferociously that I should have broken them all, I guess, had not mother said gently,
"Let me wash them, Emily, your hands tremble so." Then I tried to exorcise the demon within, and I said:
"How can we have a stranger here, putting on airs, and Hal going away, and our home probably too homely for her. I know she never washed her hands in a blue wash-bowl in the world, much less in a pewter basin such as we use. She'll want everything we haven't got, and I shall tip everything over, and be as awkward as—oh, dear! Mother, how I do wish I could be ground over and put in good shape before to-morrow night." I never saw my mother laugh so heartily in my life; she laughed till I was fairly frightened and thought she had a hysteric fit, and when she could speak, said:
"Emily, don't borrow trouble, it may make Hal's departure easier for us. It must be right for her to come, else it would not have happened. You are growing so like a careful woman, I doubt not you will be the very one to please her."
Those words were a sort of strengthening cordial, and before I went to sleep I had firmly determined to receive my cousin as I would one of my neighbors, and not allow my spirit to chafe itself against the wall of conditions, whatever they might be.
So when the stage came over the hill, and round the turn in the road leading to our house, I stood quietly with mother in the doorway waiting to give the strange guest welcome in our midst. I was the first to take her hand, for the blundering stage-driver nearly let her fall to the ground, her foot missing the step as she clambered over the side of the old stage. She gave me such a warm smile of recognition, and a moment after turned to us all and said, "My name is Clara Estelle Desmonde, call me Clara,"—and with hearty hand-shaking passed into the house as one of us. Her hat and traveling mantle laid aside, she was soon seated at the table with us, and chatting merrily, praising every dish before her, and since her appetite did justice to her words, we did not feel her praise as flattery. I had made some of my snow cake, and it was the best, I think, I ever made. Mother had cream biscuit, blackberry jelly, some cold fowl, and, to tempt the appetite of our city visitor, a few of the old speckled hen's finest and freshest eggs, dropped on toast. She did not slight any of our cooking, and my cake was particularly praised. When mother told her I made it, the little lady looked at me so brightly as she said, "You must keep plenty of it on hand as long as I stay, I am especially fond of cake and pie," and although I well knew her dainty fingers had never been immersed in pie-crust, still she had made herself acquainted with the modus operandi of various culinary productions and talked as easily with us about them as if she were a real cook. She seemed from the first to take a great liking to Hal, and, seated in our family circle, this first night of our acquaintance, expressed great regret at his early departure, and remarked several times during the evening, that it would have been so nice if Halbert and her son Louis Robert could have been companions here in "Cosy Nook," as she called our house. It seemed anything but a nook to me, situated as it was on high ground, while about us on either side, lay the seventy-five acres which was my father's inheritance, when he attained his majority; but, to her, this living aside from the dusty streets and exciting novelties of the city, was, I suppose, like being deposited in a little quiet nook. When we said "good night," all of us were of one mind regarding our new-found friend. I was perfectly at ease that first evening, and felt no inclination to make an unlucky speech until the next day, which was Sunday, came, and with it the question, "Are you going to church?" It was always our custom to go to the village church each Sabbath, and I enjoyed the sermons of Mr. Davis, then our minister, very much. He was a man of broad soul and genial spirit, and very generally liked. His sermons were never a re-hash but were quickened and brightened by new ideas originally expressed. Now, however, when this little lady asked, "Are you going to church?" I did not think at all of a good sermon, but of the shabbiness of my best bonnet, and I bit my tongue to check the speech which rose to my lips—"We generally go, but I'd rather not go with you"—while mother answered,
"Yes, Mrs. Desmonde" ("Clara, if you please," the lady interposed), "we always go; would you like to go with us?"
"Oh, yes, thank you, it is a delightful day."
I kept thinking about those shabby ribbons and wondering if I could not cover them up with my brown veil, and after breakfast was over, I actually did re-make an old lemon-colored bow to adorn myself with. I felt shabby enough, however, when we were all ready to start and my poor cotton gloves came in contact with the delicate kids of our guest, when she grasped my hand to say, "You cannot know, Emily dear, how happy I am."
Somehow she made me forget all about how I looked, but the sermon that day was all lost. My eyes divided their light between herself and Halbert, and my heart kept thumping heavily, "Hal goes away to-morrow." I think Hal knew my thoughts, for he sat next to me in our pew, and once when tears were in my eyes, tears which came with thoughts of his departure, he took my hand in his and held it firmly, as if to say, "I shall come back, Emily, don't feel badly." I looked him the grateful recognition my heart felt, and I crowded back the tears that were ready to fall, and when we drove home, our little lady chatting all the way, I was happier than before I went.
Monday morning came and with it Hal's departure. We were up betimes. I think Hal slept little, and I heard the old clock strike nearly every hour, and was down stairs before either mother or father were up. He was to take the stage at half-past eight, and ride to the nearest station, and our breakfast was ready at half-past six. It was a sad breakfast, and though mother tried hard to keep up a conversation on different topics, it was useless. Tears would fill our eyes, and brother Ben, though at that time only about thirteen, was forced to leave his breakfast untasted, and, rising hastily, to take himself out of Hal's sight; but the stage came rumbling down the road, and almost ere we knew it, our good-byes were said, and Hal was waving his handkerchief from his high seat beside the driver, from whence he could see the old home for a long distance.
Everything, so far as his plans were concerned, worked favorably, and a chance inquiry, resulted in a good offer as book-keeping clerk in a wholesale warehouse in Chicago. Chicago was in her youth then. Many changes have passed over the city of the West since those days, but her mercantile houses were never in a more flourishing condition than during Hal's stay there. Father had informed himself regarding the man with whom he was to be connected, and was well satisfied of his integrity, ability, etc.
When Hal was fairly gone I went to my room and cried disconsolately, and groaned aloud, and did everything but faint, and I might have accomplished that feat if Clara (for she insisted on that appellation) had not come in upon me, resolved to bring about different conditions. She succeeded at last, and the afternoon found us quietly sitting together in our middle room apparently enjoying ourselves, though I did not forget Hal was gone, and a cloud of woe overspread my mental horizon.
OUR NEW FRIEND.
We could not object to the stay of our cousin, and she planned to remain indefinitely. I always smiled at the relationship, and I don't know exactly how near it was, but this I believe was it—father's mother and Mrs. Desmonde's grandmother were cousins; that brought me, you see, into very near kinship. She laughed at it herself, but, nevertheless, I was "her dear cousin Emily" always. "Little Lady" was my name for her, but she forced me call her "Clara." Her mother, it seemed, had married a gentleman of rank and fortune of French descent, and although she told me she was the picture of her mother, the graceful ways of which she was possessed, her natural urbanity and politeness, together with her fascinating word-emphasis accompanied with so many gestures, were all decidedly French, "Little lady" just expressed it. She was, when she came to our home, only thirty-seven years of age, and looked not more than twenty. Her complexion was that of a perfect blonde; her hair was light and wavy, clear to the parting; she had a luxuriant mass of it, and coiled it about her shapely head, fastening it with a beautifully carved shell comb. Her eyes were very dark for blue, large and expressive; she had teeth like pearls, and a mouth, whose tender outlines were a study for a painter. She seemed to me a living, breathing picture, and I almost coveted the grace which was so natural to her, and hated the contrast presented by our two faces. She called my complexion pure olive, and toyed with "my night-black hair" (her own expression), sometimes winding it about her fingers as if to coax it to curl, and then again braiding it wide with many strands, and doing it up in a fashion unusual with me. She was a little below the medium size, I, a little above, and though only turned nineteen, I know I looked much older than she. We were fast friends, and I could do her bidding ever and always, for her word was a friendly law, and I am sure no family ever had so charming a boarder. She bought gingham, and made dresses exactly alike for herself and me, made some long house-aprons, as she called them, and would never consent to sit down by herself but helped about the house daily until all the work was done, then changed her dress when I changed mine, and kept herself close, to us, body and soul—for she seemed in one sense our ward, in another our help, making her doubly dear, and I many times blessed the providence that brought her to us just as we were losing Hal. She was sensitive, but never morbidly so, apparently anxious to have every one about her happy, and I never saw the airs that I expected her to assume, for she was ever smiling and happy in her manner.
As the days passed over us, we took long walks in the woods together, and she unfolded to me leaf by leaf of her life history.
The deep love she had borne her husband remained unchanged—and nightly, with perfect devotion, she looked upon and pressed to her lips his miniature, which was fastened to a massive chain hanging on her neck; never in sight, but hidden from other eyes, as if too sacred for their gaze. Her husband was of French parentage, but had, when at the early age of sixteen she married him, been alone in this country. He was twenty years older than herself, and her parents passing away soon after her marriage, he had been husband, mother and father. Her son, Louis Robert, eighteen years of age, was named for him, and both she and her son had fortunes in their own right. It seemed that Mr. Desmonde had an illness lasting for months, and knowing it must prove fatal, had arranged every thing perfectly for his departure. It was his wish that Louis Robert should, if agreeable to his mind, pursue a course of study, to prepare him for professional work of some kind.
In a letter written on his death-bed he impressed upon his son the necessity of dealing honestly with his fellow-men, and exhorted him to endeavor to be always ready, as opportunities presented themselves for small charities and kindnesses; these, as his father thought, are often more praiseworthy than donations to public objects, and the giving of alms to be seen of men, as many wealthy people do.
In accordance with these last wishes, Louis was placed under the care of a worthy man, who was principal of a seminary a little distance from the city where their home was. Clara desired him to come to us about the twentieth of August and stay two weeks, and also urged me to go to her home with her and meet him, then returning together.
I hardly wanted to do so, but her sweet urgency persuaded me, and I consented, reflecting mournfully over those shabby ribbons and that lemon-colored bow. If there is anything like help in the world that I receive most gratefully, it is the prompt recognition of a need, and unobtrusive aid for it. A short time before the day appointed for us to go to the city, our Clara came down stairs dressed in a beautiful dark shade of blue Foulard silk, with a lace ruff about her throat, fastened with a lemon-colored bow.
The blood rushed with a full tide to my face when my eyes fell upon her as she entered. Simple, I presume, to those accustomed to elegant costume would her attire have seemed, but to me, as yet uninitiated in the mysteries of society, dress, etc., she was the perfection of loveliness, and the impression made upon me was an indelible one; I never saw anything half so lovely and perfect as she at that moment appeared to me.
It was an unusual thing too for her to be dressed so nicely for an afternoon at home. She had, I knew, many beautiful dresses, and had told me sometimes of the elaborate toilets of the city, but had heretofore donned as an afternoon dress the gray mohair she wore when she came, and a light blue scarf over her shoulders was the only color she wore about her. The weather was warm but the heat was never oppressive to her—her blood, she said, had never felt as it were really warm since the night her husband died. On this particular afternoon, we were talking principally of Hal, and my eyes unconsciously riveted their gaze on the folds of her dress hanging so gracefully about her, and trailing softly on the carpet if moved.
I wondered too a little at it, for I noticed it to be quite long in front as well as behind. The afternoon was far spent, and it was nearly time for Ben and father to come in to supper. Before she made any allusion to her extra toilette, extra for our little home, and nodding at me as I raised my eyes from the soft blue folds to meet the light of the blue eyes above them, she said:
"How does my dress please Mademoiselle Emily?"
"Oh!" I replied, "I never saw so beautiful a dress." She smiled one of her bright quick smiles as if some fancy struck her, and said, laying her hand over the bow at her heart,
"And this too?"
"Both are beautiful in my eyes," I said, "and so suited to you Clara."
After supper we were going to take a walk, and Clara went to her room, doffed the blue Foulard and came down in the grey mohair. We had a beautiful walk out from under the shade of the o'erarching chestnut trees before our door, along the grassy highway leading to the upper meadow, over the smooth newly-cut field on to the edge of the birch woods beyond. There we rested quiet, coming back when the moon rose over the hills and the stars hung out like lanterns on our track.
We talked. Clara had her seasons of soul-talk as she called it, and that night she read me a full page of her inner self the purport of which I shall never forget. The more she revealed to me of herself the more I loved her, and her words suggested thoughts that filled my soul—thoughts which, in depths within myself I had never dreamed of, found and swept a string that ere long broke its sweet harmonies on my spirit. I seemed, all at once, to develop in spiritual stature and to have become complex to myself.
When we said "good night" to the folks below and went up stairs together, Clara caught my hand and said,
"Come, mademoiselle, come to my room, please," and of course I went, making a mock courtesy as if I were a queen, and she my maid. She unpinned my linen collar and unhooked my dress, while I sat wonder struck, saying nothing until I felt the fleecy blue silk being thrown over my shoulders, when I essayed to articulate something. But when my head emerged from the dress, she playfully covered my mouth with her hand, and proceeded to fasten the dress which seemed just to fit; then came the delicate lace and the lemon bow. Taking my hand she led me to the glass, surveyed me from head to foot, clapped her hands like a glad child, and cried,
"A perfect fit, but I was afraid."
"Why, Clara," I said, "how, what?"
"Never, never mind, you like it, I did it myself, and I wore it first only to see how it struck you. 'Tis yours, my dear, go and put it away."
I did not say thank you even, for she would not let me. I just kissed her and went to my room, to my little room with its high-post bedstead, three wooden chairs and shabby hair-cloth trunk, and dressed in that beautiful blue dress with that new silk bow. I could not help taking the old one out of the drawer to contrast it with the new, and although it did look soiled and shabby, I thought I was almost wicked to have felt so troubled at my little adornments, and then resolved to keep that little old faded lemon ribbon as long as I should live, and I have it now.
Carefully I unpinned that new bow, laying it, with the first real lace collars I had ever owned, in a mahogany box, as tenderly as though they were pearls, and hung the blue Foulard in my closet between my best much-worn alpaca and my afternoon gingham.
That night I dreamed that when father went to feed the chickens in the barn yard, a beautiful bird with silky wings of blue fluttered down among them to be fed. How impressible my artless brain! As great an event was this to me, as the inauguration of our highest potentate to the people.
Next morning I opened the closet door before dressing, and looked at the new dress. The more I thought about it the more I wondered when or where I should ever wear it, and not until a traveling suit, the fac-simile of Clara's, was dropped upon me did I realize how the blue Foulard was fitted to my shoulders. In her own sweet way she told me, that though we were to remain only a few days at her home in the city, yet her friends would surely call, and I must take the Foulard to wear in the afternoons. Dear little soul, how tender she was of everybody's feelings, and with what true womanly tact she turned, as far as possible, every one into a pleasant path! Quick to notice needs, she always applied her gifts with the greatest grace and tact, and without making any one feel under obligation to her.
The morning of August thirteenth dawned upon us not altogether smiling, since the sky looked as if inclined to weep. We started, however, on our intended journey, and more than once the old stage-driver looked around to catch a glimpse of my darling friend, who was quite a wonderment to the country folk. Inaccurate rumors of Clara and her fortune had been talked about among them—yet none knew just how it all was, except our family, and we would betray no secrets that she wished kept. I hardly recognized myself when at last we arrived at our journey's end, and I was in Clara's home. Never before had I seen myself reflected in a long pier-glass, and never on earth did I seem so homely; my hands were too large and awkward, and I sat so uncomfortably on the luxurious chairs.
Clara noticed my discomfort and kept me changing from one position to another, until I was so vexed with myself I insisted on sitting in a corner and persuaded Clara that my head ached. The compassionate soul believed it and was bathing my temples, when a light step aroused us both, and a moment later she was in the arms of her beloved son, whom she proudly introduced to me.
I was surprised at his appearance—I thought him a boy, and so he was in years, but if Clara had not told me his age, I should have guessed him to be twenty-five. He had large dark eyes, a glorious head, perfect in its shape, an intellectual forehead, and the most finely chiselled mouth, most expressive of all his feelings; his lips parted in such loving admiration of his mother and closed so lovingly upon her own. After a profound bow to myself and a hearty grasp of the hand, he drew her to the crimson cushions of a tete-a-tete standing near, and passing his arm around her held her closely to him, as if afraid he would lose her. I envied her, and any heart might well envy the passionate devotion of a son like Louis Robert Desmonde.
I wanted to leave them to themselves, but as I could not do this, I covered my head, which really ached now, with my hands, and tried hard not to listen to their audible conversation, but from that time I appreciated what was meant by the manly love of this son, differing so widely from anything I had ever before known. Like his mother, he had great tact, and suited himself exactly to conditions and persons.
I moved as in a dream. Everything that wealth could lavish on a home was here. I occupied Clara's own room with her, and it seemed at night as if I lay in a fairy chamber; there were silken draperies of delicate blue, a soft velvety carpet whose ground was the same beautiful blue, covered with vines like veins traced through it, and massive furniture with antique carving, and everything in such exquisite taste, even to the decorated toilette set on the bureau. Everything I thought was in perfect correspondence except the face on my lace-fringed pillow. I seemed so sadly out of place. I wondered if Clara was really contented with her humbly-furnished room at our house. Callers came as she had predicted, and it was all in vain my trying to keep out of the sight of those "city people." Insisting on my presence, and knowing well I should escape to our room if left by myself, Louis was authorized to guard me, and I had no chance of escape; I felt myself an intruder upon his time, every moment until during the last evenings of my stay, when in the lighted parlors quite a happy company gathered. I then had an opportunity of seeing a little of his thought, running as an undercurrent to his nature. Clara had been singing with such sweetness of expression and pathetic emphasis, that my eyes were filled with tears of emotion. Miss Lear, a young lady friend, followed her, and sang with such a shrill voice, such unprecedented flying about among the octaves, that it shocked me through every nerve, and I trembled visibly and uttered an involuntary exclamation of impatience. Louis caught my hand, and the moment she ended, whispered:
"Are you frightened?"
"Oh!" I said, "she is your guest, but where is her soul?"
"In heaven awaiting her, I suspect," he replied, "but, Miss Emily, she is a fair type of a society woman. I have just been thinking that to-morrow at sunset I hope to be among the birds and beneath the sky of your native town; one can breathe there; I am glad to go."
"I don't want you to go," I said, impetuously (poor Emily did it).
He turned his full dark eyes upon me, and I felt the tide that flooded cheek and brow with crimson.
"Explain to me, Miss Emily," he said, "you love to keep my mother there."
"I did not mean to say it, Louis, but it is true."
"I am so sorry—"
My dilemma was a queer one; I had to explain, and the tears that gathered when his mother sang, came back as I described our plain home.
"I love my home, it is good enough for me, I could not exchange it even with you, but you will think us rude, uncultivated people, I fear; you will find no attraction there; everything is as homely there as I am myself!"
And I never can forget how his bright, dark eyes grew humid with sympathy, to be covered with the sunlight of his smile at the earnest honesty of my remarks, especially the last one.
"Ah! Miss Emily, you know not your friend; I am more anxious than ever to go, and care not if you are sorry."
"I am glad now of my unexpected speech," I replied, "and feel as if I had really been to the confessional; your mother is so sensitive, I could not tell her, and I have kept this thought constantly before me, 'He will not stay if he goes, and I am sure he cannot eat rye bread and butter.'"
"You will see, Miss Emily, how I shall eat it, but we are to be interrupted; here comes the soulless girl that shocked you so; mother is with her; excuse me for a moment," and he made his way to a corner of the parlors, seating himself alone as if in reverie.
"Mademoiselle Emily, my friend, Miss Lear, desires an introduction to you; be seated, Miss Lear," and Clara took the chair on the other side; the disappointment of Miss Lear, in not finding Louis, was visible, even to my unpractised eye, and her tender enquiries of his mother regarding his health etc., were amusing.
I saw her furtive glances at my plain toilette, and knew she thought me a lowly wild flower on life's great meadow, a dandelion, unnecessary to be included in a fashionable nosegay, and while these thoughts were passing through my mind, Clara left us to ourselves, and, feeling in duty bound to say something to me, she began:
"Mrs. Desmonde tells me your house is in the country; how sublime the country is! You see sunrises and sunsets, do you not?"
"I hope I do," I replied. "There is great pleasure in watching nature."
"Oh! the country is so sublime, don't you think so?"
"Well that depends on your ideas of the sublime; I do not imagine milking cows and butter-making would correspond with the general ideas of sublimity."
"Oh!" and she tossed her befrizzled head in lofty disdain, "that is perfectly horrid, I cannot see how human beings endure such things; oh! dear, what a poor hand I should be at living under such circumstances."
"You would perhaps enjoy the general housework more, leaving the problem of the dairy to another."
"Housework?—I—ah! I see you are unlearned—beg your pardon—in society ways. Do my hands betray symptoms of housework?" and she laughed ironically.
At this moment Louis came to take the seat his mother had left, and heard of course my reply to Miss Lear's last remark.
"Yes, I know I am verdant in the extreme, and must plead guilty also to the charge of milking, churning and housework; I take, however, some pride in trying to do all these things well, and I believe the most fastidious can partake of the creamy butter rolls, we make at home."
"Bravo," exclaimed Louis, "pray tell me what elicited Miss Emily's speech?"
"We were talking of the country," I replied, growing bold; "Miss Lear thinks the country is sublime, but the butter-making, etc., horrid."
"Well," said Miss Lear, "it may be my ideas are rather crude, but really I cannot imagine I could ever make butter! Do you think I could, Mr. Desmonde?" leaning forward to catch Louis' eye, and plying her flashy fan with renewed energy and great care to show the ring of emeralds and diamonds that glistened on her right fore-finger.
"I cannot say, Miss Lear, I am going up to find out the ways and expect to be Miss Emily's assistant. I imagine it takes brain to do farm work."
Miss Lear waited to rally a little and said only, "Complimentary in the extreme! Pray tell me the hour, I think my carriage must be here;" then the fashion-plate shook hands with us both and departed.
I felt almost ashamed, and repeated verbatim to Louis our conversation; he laughed, and, patting my shoulder, said:
"You spoke quite rightly, she was impertinent, pardon her ignorant vanity."
Then I stood with Louis and Clara in the centre of the parlors and received the adieux of their friends. Louis carried his mother in his arms up stairs and soon dreams carried me home to green fields and butter-making.
Gloriously beautiful was the morning of August twenty-first. We were up early, for the old stage would not wait for us, and we had much to do just at the last moment. I say we, for I tried to do all that was possible to assist Clara in packing the two large trunks we were to take. One thing puzzled me. I had heard Clara say so many times to Louis, who went over the house with her during the early part of each day, "Now leave everything in shape to be taken at any moment." And this last morning all the chairs were covered, and Louis worked with old Jim, time-honored help, to accomplish it all. I had a secret fear that they were planning to go away to seek another home somewhere, and it troubled me. I wondered the more because Clara said nothing to me, and she was naturally so ingenuous and apt to tell me her little plans freely. It seemed to take less time than it takes to write it ere we were landed at the door of my home, and found father and mother waiting to welcome us. There was a look of surprise on the faces of my parents as Louis descended from the stage and turned so gallantly to his little mother, as he often called her. He was not the boy they expected to see, but a man to all appearance, tall and handsome, and the embodiment of a politeness which is founded, as I believe, on a true respect for the opinions and conditions of others. I felt gladly proud of our supper table that night, and I knew Louis looked in vain for rye bread. He did ample justice to our creamy butter, however, and after supper remarked to me that Miss Lear might like a few pounds of such.
Days passed happily along, and the two weeks allotted for Louis' stay came nearly to a close. I dreaded to have the last day appear. Like his mother, he had dropped into his own appropriate niche, and came into our family only as another ray of the sunshine that brightened our home. I had Halbert in my mind much of the time, and talked of him to Louis until he said he felt well acquainted with him, and looked forward to meeting him as one looks to some happiness in store.
Louis was original in his expressions and different from all others of his age. One evening when we were talking of Hal, as we sat on the old doorstone in the moonlight, he said:
"I have something to do for your brother, Miss Emily, I cannot tell you how, but we shall see, we shall never lose sight of each other, we are always to be friends, Miss Emily."
And the light of his dark eyes grew deep and it seemed as if I looked into fathomless depths as he turned them full upon me for a moment.
"Only a few hours between this long breath I am taking and the school to which I go (mother has written the professor, asking if I can stay longer—we shall have an answer to-morrow). It is doing me good, my mind goes over the country round us here, and I am gathering long breaths that give my mind and body strength. Ah! Miss Emily," he said, as he rose and walked to and fro, "I shall sometime breathe and act as I want to. I pray every day that my little mother may live to see me doing what I desire to do, and, also, for strength. I need great strength, Miss Emily. You will help to keep little mother alive, I know you will."
And he came back, took both my hands in his own; I felt almost afraid—I cannot tell you how powerfully expressive his look, voice and gestures were, and he continued:
"I like you—like you more than you know; you are true, you can be depended on; you call my little mother your fairy cousin, and I call you her royal friend. Do me a favor," he continued, "unbind your massive hair and let it trail over your shoulders." And before I realised it my hair swept the doorstone where I sat. "There," as he brushed it back from my face, "look up and you are a picture; wear your long hair floating—why not?"
"Oh, Louis," I said, "how could I ever work with such a heavy mass about me. If, as you say, I look like a picture, I certainly ought not to, for I am only a country dandelion even as a picture," and I laughed. He looked at me almost fiercely, as he said:
"Miss Emily, never say it again; you are full of poetry; you have glorious thoughts; you dream while at work; some day you will know yourself;" and then there came the far-away look in his eyes. Clara came to sit with us, and the evening wore itself into night's deep shading, and the early hour for rest came to us all. The professor was amiable and willing to accord two weeks more of freedom to Louis, who seemed to enjoy more every day; and when he entered upon his fourth week, said:
"He wished that week might hold a hundred days."
It seemed to me that since Clara came to us she had been the constant cause of surprise either in one way or another. In herself, as an individual, she was to me a problem of no little consequence and not easily solved, and she was continually bringing forth something unexpected.
The last of the third week of Louis' stay was made memorable by one of her demonstrations. It was Wednesday evening, the last of our ironing was finished, and mother and I were folding the clothes as we took them down from the old-fashioned horse, when we heard her sweet voice claiming us for special consultation.
"Mrs. Minot," she called, and we left our clothes and went into the square room, as we called it. Father and Louis were there, and when we were seated she began:
"Now, my dear friends, I propose to ask a favor of you. I love you three people, and you have made me so happy here I do desire to call this spot home for always. It seems to me I cannot feel so happy in another place, and now you know I have many belongings in my old home in the city. I know a lady who has met with misfortune, an old friend of my husband's family, who is worthy, and forced at present by circumstances to earn her living. Now may I ask you, my dear friends, to let me bring my furniture here. Will you give me more room, that I may establish myself just quite enough to make it pleasant, and then I can let my friend have my house (upon condition of her retaining my old help, which I shall not permit to be a trouble to her financially), and through your favor I may help another. I should have asked it long ago, but I waited for my boy to come and taste the air of your home here, and since he loves you as well as I do, may we stay?"
And she held her little white hands toward us, and opened her blue eyes wide.
Of course we all gladly consented.
Then she clapped her hands, and turning to Louis, said:
"Louis Robert, thank them."
And he bowed and said in his own expressive way:
"We will try to appreciate your kindness."
I knew then what the covered chairs meant, but I secretly wondered "How on airth," as Aunt Hildy used to say, all those moveables were to be got into our house. This thought was running through my head when Clara spoke, crossing the room as she did so, and taking my father's hand—and he was such a reserved man that no one else would ever have dreamed of doing so.
"Mr. Minot, I have not finished yet. Would you grant me one thing more? May I have a little bit of your ground on the west side of your house, say a piece not more than eighteen by twenty-five feet, with which to do just as I please?"
Father looked thunderstruck, as he answered:
"What can you do with it, Clara?"
"Oh, never mind; may I?"
"Yes, yes," he said in a dreamy way.
And mother looked up, to be met by the eyes which sought her own, while the sweet lips queried:
"Will you say so too if you like my plans?"
"I'll try to do what is best for us all"—and that meant volumes, for my mother was thoroughly good, and as strong in what she deemed to be right as mortal could be, and she never wavered a moment, where right was considered. Unfaltering and true, her word was a law, and Clara at her quiet answer felt the victory won. Now for the sequel, thought I, and then Louis asked me to take a stroll in the moonlight, and although a little curious at the revelation awaiting us, I could not deny him and went for my hat and shawl. What a lovely night it was, and how the stars stealing one by one into the sky seemed like breathing entities looking down upon us. It seemed that night as if they heard what Louis said, and you would not wonder had you seen the youthful fervor of this dark-eyed youth; this strange combination of man and boy. When with him I felt awed into silence, and though his thoughts always brought response from my soul, yet did I hesitate for expression, language failing me utterly. How many beautiful thoughts he uttered this night, and how strangely I answered him! He was young and had not learned the lesson of waiting, if effort of his own could hasten the development of any loved scheme. I cannot, will not try to tell you all that he said, but he spoke so positively, and commanded as it were an answer from my very soul. He told me of his love for painting, of his great desire to do something worthy of the best, as he expressed it.
"And my first picture is to be yourself," he said; "you shall speak on canvas. You think yourself so plain; oh! you are not plain, Miss Emily; I love you, and you are my wild flower, are you not? Speak to me, call me your Louis! Love me, as I do you. Ah! if you did not love me I could not stay here till to-morrow—you think me young and presumptuous—you say I do not know myself and I will change—I will not change—I am not young—I want great love, such as comes to me through your eyes, to help me—and you love me—you are my precious wild flower—I shall live for you and my little mother."
No word had escaped my lips, and now he paused, and looking at me, said:
"Tell me if you do not love me!—tell me, Emily."
Why did I—how could I answer him as I did—so cold; my voice fell upon my own ear as I said slowly:
"I don't know, Louis—you are so strange."
What an answer! He quivered and the tears came to his eyes; he dashed them aside and said:
"How long shall I wait for you? say it now and help me; your spirit loves me; I can hear it speak to me."
I thought for the moment he was crazed. He divined my thought and said:
"No, not crazy, but I want your help."
"Oh, Louis!" I cried, "I don't know, I am so ignorant—why was I born so? don't treat me unkindly, you are dear to me, dear, but I can't talk."
"Never, never say so again."
He seemed taller as he paused in his walk, and released the firm hold he had kept of my arm, said slowly:
"God waits for man, and angels wait, and I will wait, and you will tell me sometime—say no word to my little mother"—and he kissed my forehead, a tear-drop falling on me from his eyes, and we walked silently and slowly home.
I sought my room, and crying bitterly, said to myself, "Emily Minot must you always do the very thing you desire not to do?"
When my eye met Louis' at the table next morning, I felt as if I had committed an unpardonable sin. My whole being had trembled with the deep respect and admiration I had felt for him since the moment we met, and I certainly had given him cause to understand me to be incapable of responding to his innermost thought. I felt he would treat me differently, but a second look convinced me that such was not the fact. His noble nature could not illtreat any one, and I only saw a look of positive endurance, "I am waiting," photographed on his features, and made manifest in all his manner toward me, and a determined effort to put me at ease resulted at last in forcing me to appear as before, while all the time a sharp pain gnawed at my heart, and, unlike most girls, I was not easy until I told my mother of it all.
She stroked my dark hair and said:
"You and he have only seen nineteen short years. Wisdom is the ripened fruit of years; you cannot judge of your future from to-day."
That comforted me, and I felt better in my mind. I planned something to say to Louis, but every opportunity was lost, and the last week of his stay had already begun. The plans of his little mother had been confided to me, and work had commenced.
There was to be an addition of four large rooms on the west side of our house, and they were planned in accordance with Clara's ideas. She did not call them her's, and started with the understanding that the improvements were just a little present for her dear cousins. Best of all, we were to have a bow window in one of the rooms, and this was something so new, so different, it seemed a greater thing to me than the architecture of the ancient cathedrals. A bow window, and the panes of glass double, yes, treble the size of the old ones!
I heard father say to mother that this new part would make the old one look very shabby; but Louis had told me his mother intended to do all father would allow her to, and encourage him a little, etc. And we were to have a new fence. You cannot imagine how fairy-like this all seemed to me, and I could hardly believe what I saw. It seemed as if we were in a wonderland country, and I had moved as in a dream up to the last hour of my walk with Louis. Then I seemed to awake, as if shaken by a rough hand, and since then I had been striving to appear what I was not, all the time thinking that Louis misunderstood me, and here we were in the last week of his stay and no word as yet in explanation. I had thought it over until it became a truth to me that after all he had not meant that he loved me other than as a sister, and it also seemed to me that was just what I needed. What remained was to have it settled between us, and to do that I must clothe my thoughts with words, else how could he know how I felt. It seemed, too, that it was sheer boldness on my part to dream for a moment that Louis spoke of life's crowning love. He meant to be as a brother to me, and again I sighed, as I stood at the ironing table, "Ah, Emily Minot, you are a born mistake, that's just what you are!" and as I sighed I spoke these words, and, turning, found myself face to face with Louis, who had just come from the village. He never could wait for the stage to come, and had been over as usual for letters.
"The only mistake is that you don't know yourself," he said.
And the tears that had welled up to my eyes fell so fast, and I was so choked, that I turned from work, thinking to escape into mother's bedroom and hide myself; but my eye caught sight of a letter in his hand unopened, and love for Hal rose above all my foolish tears, and so I stood quietly waiting the denouement.
"Come into the other room with me, Emily; I have something to tell you."
He sat down on the little chintz-covered lounge, and I beside him.
"Emily, you are a strong woman, your heart will beat fast, but you will neither scream nor faint when I tell you; your brother is ill. There was a letter in the office and also a telegram at the depot. What will be done, who can go to him?"
I did not scream or faint as he had said, but I clasped my hands tightly and shut my eyes as if some terrible sight was before me, while my poor heart grieved and brain reeled, as I thought, "Oh! he will die, poor Hal! alone among strangers, and how would our patient mother bear it, and what should we do!"
My face was white, I know, for grief always blanched my face and brought those terribly silent tears, that fall like solemn rain drops—each a tongue. You must remember that I was a smothered fire in those days.
Louis put his strong arm around me, and stroked my forehead as if I were a child and he my mother.
"He will not die, little flower, thy brother will live; you must go to him, and I will go with you. You must not go alone to a great city."
"Oh Louis!" I said, "he had only just begun to love me when he went away, and now if he dies, what shall I do without him? Prayers have but little weight, they ought to have saved him, I have prayed so long, so hard, Louis, for his safety. But I must tell mother." And when she heard me, and I said I must go to him, she sat down as if in despair; but a moment after looked almost cheerful as she said:
"You must start to-night, my dear, and I must get all the little medicines I can think of ready for you to take, and as soon as he is able he must come home. If it is a fever, I fear for his lungs."
Clara waited until our talk was over, and then came and said Louis must go with me; put into my hands a well filled purse, and said:
"Bring the brother back, dear cousin; don't wait for him to get well; bring him back on a bed if necessary; he will never get well among strangers."
When father came he was pained beyond expression, and his first thought was for means to do all that must be done.
"Clara has provided that, father," and he was too thankful to reply.
Everything was ready; Louis and I said "good-bye" to all, and drove rapidly away, for in order to reach the station below ours, where we could take a night train West, we must ride thirty miles. The train was due at eight-forty-five, and it was four o'clock when we started; a neighboring farmer (Mr. Graves), who had a span of fleet horses took us, and we dashed over the ground rapidly, having full five minutes to breathe in at the depot ere we took the train. No luxurious palace cars in those days, you know, just the cushioned seats, but that was enough for me; I thought I could have sat on a hard wooden seat, or on anything if I only could reach that suffering boy. Louis tried to arrange our baggage so that I could sleep.
"Sleep will not come to my eyelids to-night, Louis, I shall not sleep until I see Halbert, and know how he is and is to be."
"Now, Miss Emily," he said as he took my hand in his, "I say you must sleep. Watching will do him no good until we get there, and more than this, it may do him much harm, for if you get so tired, you will be ill yourself when you arrive and then he will have no sister. For Hal's sake, Miss Emily, you shall go to sleep; lean on my shoulder, and I believe I can help your nerves to become quiet."
I knew he was right, and yielded myself to the strong control he possessed over me, and I slept I know not how long. When I awoke Louis said we were getting along at good speed.
"Day will break soon, and then comes a change of cars, and in a little while we shall see the great city."
I was for a few moments at a loss to realize everything; when I did I said:
"Selfish girl to sleep so long, and you have sat here watching me, and now you are so tired."
"Not so tired,—so glad for your rest—I can sleep to-morrow, and when we get to Chicago you shall watch him days and I will watch nights; we shall go to him armed with strength, which is more than medicine; I told you long ago I had something to do for Hal, you see it is coming."
The whole journey was pleasant, and sometimes it seemed wicked when Hal was so sick for me to feel so rested and peaceful, but here I was controlled, and it was blessed to be. I might never have come back to my mother had it not been for the power of Louis' strong thought and will.
The journey accomplished, it was not long ere we saw the dear face of my blessed brother. I will not detail all the small horrors that met me in the house where we found him. It might have seemed worse to me than it really was, but oh! how I needed all the peace that had settled upon me, to take in the surroundings of that fourth story room. Soul and sense revolted at the sickening odors of the little pen, where, on a wretched cot, my brother lay. I thought of our home, and drew rapid contrasts between our comfortable beds, and the straw pallet before me; our white clean floors, home-made rugs, and,—but never mind. Then I said in my heart, "God help me to be more thankful," and with brimming eyes I caught both Hal's hands in my own, and looked in his flushed face, trying vainly to catch a look of recognition. He did not know me. Louis had kindly stepped aside to give me all the room, but he watched me closely, and caught me as I staggered backward feeling all the strength go suddenly from my limbs, while from my lips came the words which burned into my soul, "He will die." I had never in my life fainted, and did not now. Louis drew a little flask of brandy from his pocket and forced a few drops into my mouth. My will came back to me, and in a few moments I could think a little. "A doctor, Louis, oh! where is there one—what shall we do?" Even as I spoke, Hal's employer entered and with him Dr. Selden. The merchant did not come as near to me as did the old doctor with his good-natured, genial face, and quiet but elastic step. I forgot everything but the sufferer, and turned to him with upraised hands and streaming eyes, saying:
"Oh! tell me quickly what to do, don't let him die, he has a good home and friends, we love him dearly, help me to get him there," adding, in answer to his look of inquiry, "I am his sister, and this gentleman," turning to Louis, "is our friend Mr. Desmonde."
The doctor laid his hand on my head and said:
"I have not seen the patient before; an examination will doubtless help me to answer your question, and to give you the help you ask. Rest yourself, Miss, you will soon need a physician's aid yourself," and he drew a chair close to the foot of the bed for me. Then he felt Hal's pulse, stroked his head a little, and sat quietly down at the foot of the bed just opposite me, and laid one hand over Hal's heart, leaning forward a little, and looking as if half mystified. The few minutes we sat there seemed to me an hour, waiting, as it seemed, for decision between life and death. Suddenly Halbert sprang up and shouted:
"Here! here! this way, almost finished—hold my heart—hold it still; I'll make Emily's eyes snap when I get home, ha, ha!" and then a sort of gurgling sound filled his throat, and he placed both hands over his chest, and sank back, while for an instant all the blood left his face. I put my hand into Louis', and groaned, trying hard to control myself, for I knew we were close to the shadows, and perhaps, "Oh, yes," I comfortingly thought, "perhaps we need not pass through them all."
Doctor Selden moved to the head of his bed, and held both hands on Hal's temples; for a few moments it seemed as if no one breathed, then Hal drew a long breath as if he were inhaling something, and whispered:
"That feels good; my head is tired, tired, tired."
This gave me courage. It seemed then as if he were feeling the power of an uplifting hand, and soon—
"Emily, Emily!" passed his lips. "Tell her to come to me, she will help me, tell her to come." Then for a few moments all was still, and he slept. Dr. Selden looked at me with hope in his eyes, and tears of gratitude gathered to run like a river of rain drops over my cheeks. He slept twenty minutes, and as he stirred the doctor motioned me to come where he could see me. His eyes opened and met mine.
"Emily!" he said, and putting both arms around my neck, drew my head down to his pillow, and whispered:
"Don't cry—I'll go home with you—all right, the end will be all right." Fearing for his strength, I said softly:
"Don't talk, you're too weak, Hal; lie still for a little while and shut your eyes." I raised my head and put my hand on his forehead, and soon he was asleep. Then in a low, kind tone the doctor told us the crisis was past, and now we must wait for the changes, which were one by one to fall on him. Hal's employer urged me to go to his house, and let Louis remain with Halbert, and at last it was arranged that at night I should sleep there, and Louis stay with Hal. Several hours would elapse, however, before night, and during this time Dr. Selden, Louis and I would stay with Hal.
I had time during his long sleep to think of something to be done for him, and realized, as I recovered from the first shock his situation gave to my nerves, the importance of a different room, better ventilation, etc., and when Dr. Selden motioned to Louis to take his seat near Hal's head, where he could lay his hand upon him when he woke, I whispered to him my thoughts. His answer, though somewhat comforting, bade me wait until he could decide what was best. He took my hand in his and called me "little girl,"—just think of it, I was five feet six inches high, my face looked every day of forty that minute,—told me I was too tired to plan, and he would attend to it all, adding, at the close of his dear good talk:
"His artist soul has nearly used up his physical strength. I feel there has been great pressure on the nerves. If so there must be, according to the course of nature, rapid changes up to a certain point, and then there will be a thorough change slowly wrought out. Do not doubt my skill, 'little girl,' he will come out all right; you and I have a sure hold on his heart-strings."
I could hardly wait to ask the question, "What do you mean by his artist soul? what is he doing? and the doctor's eyes were looking in wonder at me, and his lips parting with a word, when Hal's voice startled us with:
"Emily, who is this?" and we turned to see him looking at Louis, whose hand was on his head.
I answered, "The dear friend Hal who brought me here."
"What a beautiful hand he has. Oh! how it rests my tired, tired brain," he said. "Water, Emily, sister, a little water."
Dr. Selden gave him a glass, saying, "Drink all you like."
"I am faint," said Hal.
"Take this, my good fellow," and the doctor held a glass of cordial to his lips.
He was perfectly lucid now, and his voice natural. Dr. Selden, anticipating questions from him, answered them all; told him I had come to stay until he could go back to the old home with me, and of Mr. Hanson's kind tender of hospitality to both Louis and myself, and settled every vexing question for the patient, who looked a world of thanks, and with "God be praised" on his lips passed again into unconsciousness, with Louis' hand still passing over his head. I thought then if Louis should ask me to jump into the crater of Vesuvius for him I could do it out of sheer thankfulness; and I marvelled at him, the child of wealth and ease, only a boy in years, here in this miserable room a strong comforting man, seeming as perfectly at home as if always here. Then the thought of the artist came back to me and I leaned forward to ask Dr. Selden what it all meant.
"Why, little girl, your brother is a sculptor born. He has sat up nights working hard to accomplish his work, and has succeeded too well in his art, for unconsciously he has worn his nervous power threadbare. You will see one of his little pieces in Mr. Hanson's library when you go down there. He has a friend here who—Ah!" said the doctor, turning at that very moment toward the slowly-opening door and grasping the hand of a tall stately man with dreamy eyes, who seemed to be looking the question, "May I come in."
"Yes, yes; come in, professor," whispered the doctor, and he introduced me to Hal's teacher and friend, Wilmur Benton. Then offered him the only remaining chair.
The professor seated himself quietly, and raising his dreamy brown eyes said, "Will he live?"
The doctor smiled and bowed a positive "yes" as he said:
"The crisis is past, care and patience now."
At this moment Hal awoke, and this time more naturally than before. He was quiet, looked upon us all with the clear light of reason in his eyes, and would have talked if it had been allowed. He wanted us all close to him, and smiled as he held tightly Louis' hand in one of his, and with the other grasped that of Professor Benton, to lay both together in a silent introduction. I think Hal felt that Louis had saved his life, and he clung to his hand as a drowning man would to a life preserver. One sweet full hour passed over us, and the doctor made preparation to leave him, whispering to me:
"The young man you brought to your brother is giving him wonderful strength, and he must leave him only long enough to rest a little. The crisis is past and the victory won."
And here began and ended a wonderful lesson in life.
A QUESTION AND A PROBLEM.
The details of our stay in Chicago as a whole would be uninteresting, and I would not weary the reader with them. Hal improved so rapidly that on the fourth day after our arrival, he was carried in comparative comfort to Mr. Hanson's residence, and placed for a few days in a pleasant chamber to gather strength for our journey home. One little incident I must tell you, connected with my introduction to Mr. Hanson's family. We were seated at the supper table, talking of Hal, his sickness and the cause of it, when Daisy, a five-year-old daughter, spoke quickly, "Mamma, mamma, she looks just like the 'tree lady,' only she don't have her sewing."
I did not realize it as the child spoke, but when Mrs. Hanson chided the little one, saying, "Daisy must learn not to tell all her little thoughts," it all came so clearly, and I trembled visibly; yes, I guess it was rather more than visible, since an unfortunate tilt in my chair, an involuntary effort of trying to poise brain and body at once, upset cup and saucer and plate, and before I knew it Mrs. Hanson had deluged me with bay rum. They said I nearly fainted, but I realized nothing save the ludicrous figure I presented, and I thought desparingly "Emily did it." After supper I went to the library, and there it was—this piece of work which Hal had done, representing me sitting under that old apple tree, hemming and thinking. It was so perfectly done, even to the plain ring on my middle finger, a wide old-fashioned ring which had been my grandmother Minot's, and bore the initials "E.M." I could not speak when I saw it, and if I could I should not have dared to for fear of some unfortunate expression. I wished in my heart it had been any one else but me.
"If my face had been like Hal's," I thought, and I stood as one covered with a mantle and bound by its heavy folds, until the gentle voice of Mrs. Hanson roused me, saying:
"Take a seat, Miss Minot, you are very tired." Yes, I was tired, though I did not know it, and taking the chair she proffered, I covered my face with both my hands and drew long breaths, as if to deliver myself from the thoughts which overwhelmed me. Mrs. Hanson's womanly nature divined my feelings, and she left me to myself, but after a while Daisy drew an Ottoman near, and seating herself on it put her little hands in mine and whispered:
"I think you're awful pretty. Don't you?"
I drew her into my lap and kissed her, and my dreams that night were hope and peace. Louis was with me there, and although constantly attentive to Hal, he gave no signs of weariness, and Hal would look into his eyes, as he sat beside him, with a look of perfect devotion. I thought so many times, as he lay back among his pillows looking at Louis, he was mentally casting his features, and how nice it would be when his deft hands moulded the clay with face and form like that of our beautiful Louis Desmonde. What a joy to Clara's heart, and my own would beat like a bird in its cage, thrilled with rapture at the prospect of deliverance! Had he not saved the life of my darling brother, and in my heart down deep, so deep I could bring no light of words upon the thought, I felt that I loved them both. The tenth day (since our removal to Mr. Hanson's) arrived, and then came our departure. I cried every minute, and only because I was glad. Mr. and Mrs. Hanson and Louis thought it due to over-exertion, and when I tried to explain I made an unintelligible murmur, and only succeeded in bringing out one thought—my gratitude to them and the hope that I might one day repay it. Oh, how kind they were! Everything to make the transit easy for Hal was cared for, even to the beautiful blanket Mrs. Hanson gave him, which was doubly precious since her grandmother span the wool and colored and wove it with her own hands. It was a happy party which left Chicago on that memorable morning, and our journey was delightful. Father was waiting for us at the old home station, and instead of the old stage we rode home in an easy carry-all behind our own horses. Mother and Clara met us with outstretched hands, and the latter, as she stood in the doorway, looked a perfect picture.
Hal was very tired, and for days after our return was threatened with a relapse, which was averted only by the unvarying care and strength of Louis. When this risk was over and he was fairly started on the road of recovery, came the departure of our friend and his return to his studies. Oh, how we dreaded it! Hal said afterward the thought of his going sent a chill to his head. The evening before his departure we walked over the hill through the pleasant path his mother and myself always chose when we walked and talked together. I said:
"Go with us, Clara," as we sauntered along the yard path toward the gate, but Louis looked at her and she turned gaily from us with the words:
"I will look after the invalid."
It seemed to me I was made of stone that evening, and we walked long before the silence was broken. At last Louis stopped, and taking both my hands looked into my heart (it seemed so to me) and said:
"I leave to-morrow."
My eyes grew moist, but only a sigh escaped my lips. I did not even say I was sorry.
Then we sat down on the mossy trunk of our favorite tree, and he said:
"Are you sorry, Emily? Will you miss me, and will you write to me, and will your dark eyes read the words I send to you?"
Dumb, more dumb than before, I sighed and bowed my head, and again he spoke, this time with that strange, terribly earnest look in his eyes I had seen before.
"Oh, Emily! my dear Emily! I am only a boy in years, but I love you with the strength of a man. I have saved the life of your brother because I loved his sister; and," he added in a low tone, "I love him too, but not as I do the dark eyes of his sister. Oh! Emily, do you love me? Can you and will you love me, and me only?"
And he drew me to him almost fiercely, while I quivered in every nerve, and answered:
"Louis, do you know me well? Can you not understand my heart? How can I help loving you?"
He loosened his grasp about me, and as his arm fell from my waist, tears fell at his feet. Oh, what a nature was his! Then turning again to me—"Will you wear this?" and a ring of turquoise and pearls was slipped on my finger, while in his hand he held a richly-carved shell comb.
"This is for your midnight hair Emily, wear it always," and he placed it among the coils of my hair.
Silence followed for a little time, and then Louis with his soulful eyes fixed on something afar off, spoke with great fervor of the life he longed for.
"Emily, you do not know me yet," he said.
"I know you better than you know yourself, but I am to you a puzzle, and oh, if I could skip the years that lie between to-day and the day when you and I shall really understand each other! Perfect in peace that day I know will come, but there are clouds between. My father willed that I should have this education I am getting. I need it, I suppose, but I have greater needs, and cannot tell you about them till I am free."
"Two years—twenty-four months;" and his eyes fell, as he added despairingly, "What a long time to wait." Then turning to me, "But you will love me, you have said so?"
I looked my thoughts, and he answered them.
"Do not ever think so of me, I am only too sane, I have found my life before the time."
"Oh! Louis," I cried, and then he answered with the words,
"My little mother knows it—she knows I love you. She knows my inmost soul, and answers me with her pure eyes. But ah! her eyes have not the light of yours; I want you to myself, to help me, and I will love you all my life."
I was amazed, and wondered why it was—this strange boy had been much in society, and why should I, an unsophisticated, homely girl, bring such a shower of feeling on myself.
"Could it be real and would it last?"
He comprehended my thought again and replied:
"You are not homely; I see your soul in your eyes; you are younger than I am; I have never seen your equal, and I know years will tell you I am only true to my heart, and we will work together—ah! we will work for something good, we will not be all for ourselves, ma belle," and on my forehead he left a kiss that burned with the great thoughts of his heart.
I could only feel that I was in the presence of a wonderful power, and at that moment he seemed a divinity. The moon came over the hill, and with his arm in mine we turned our steps homeward, and Clara met us half-way, and putting her hand fondly in Louis' said:
"My boy is out under the moon. I feared he was lost."
"My little mother!" and he gathered her under his wing, as it seemed, and we were soon at the gate of home. Louis and his mother passed in at the side door. As they did so, I fell back a step or two, turned my steps toward the old apple tree, and there, sitting against its old trunk, I talked aloud and cried and said:
"Have I done wrong, or is it right?"
Oh! what strange thoughts came over me as I sat growing more and more convinced that Louis' talk to me was a boyish rhapsody, and yet I knew then, as I had before known, that my own heart was touched by his presence. If he had been older, I should have felt that heaven had opened; as it was, I longed to be full of hope and to dream of days to be, and still I feared and I said aloud, "I am afraid, oh, I am afraid!" and at that moment Louis stood before me, and in quiet tones spoke as one having authority:
"Emily, you will get cold, you should not sit here."
And as I rose the moonbeams fell on my tear-stained face, and he said as if I were the merest child:
"Why do you fear I shall ever be different toward you; but you need not feel bound even though you have said you will love me."
"Louis," I cried, "you are cruel; you trouble me; I can't tell how I feel at all," and then realizing his last sentence I took off the ring, but ere I could speak he put it back, saying:
"No, no, Emily. I will wait one year, and then if you are afraid I will go away; but keep the ring, for that is yours, and yours alone."
I went up to my little room without bidding any one "good-night," and thought those old three words right over, "Emily did it." I had covered myself up because I dared not be known, and if, after all, it was right, how good it would be to be loved by one capable of such wondrous love as he possessed.
I dreamed all night that I was alone and ill, and in the morning I dreaded to meet Louis, but he gave no sign of any troubled thought, and when the stage came was ready with his bright "good-bye." He folded his little mother to his heart and held her there for a few seconds. When he came to me his hand's grasp was firm and strong. His kiss and whisper came together, "I will write." A moment later and he had gone. Clara went to her own room, to cry a little softly as she afterward said, and so the time wore on till the evening found us again all around the table, and old grey Timothy, our cat, had the boldness to sit in Louis' chair, which made Clara laugh through her tears. Joy and sorrow go hand in hand, and while we felt his loss so keenly, his letters were a great pleasure.
Hal had his share as well as Clara and I, and mother used to read every one of Hal's. It seemed strange to me to have anything to keep from mother, and had she opened the door I would have told her all, but she never asked me about Louis' letters, and until I overheard a conversation between my father and her I was held in silence; then the ice was broken, for father said:
"I do not know what to do. It is possible that this bright young fellow will play the part that so many do, and our innocent Emily be made the sufferer. When he comes again we will try and manage to have her away. She is a good girl and capable beside. Her life must not be blighted, but we must also be careful not to hurt Clara's feelings. Clara is a good little woman, and how we should miss her if she left us!"
"Well," said my mother, "I do not feel alarmed about our Emily, but, of course, it is better to take too much precaution than not enough," and their conversation ended.
When an opportunity presented I talked with mother, told her what I had heard, and all that Louis had said to me, almost word for word, and the result was her confidence. When our talk closed, she said in her own impressive way:
"I will trust you, my daughter, and only one thing more I have to say: Let me urge upon you the importance of testing your own deepest, best feelings in regard to this and every other important step—yes, and unimportant ones as well. There is a monitor within that will prove an unerring guide to us at all times. If we do not permit ourselves to be hurried and driven into other than our own life channels we shall gather from the current an impetus, which comes from the full tide of our innate thought. Such thought develops an inner sense of truth and fitness, which is a shield ever covering us, under any and all circumstances. It holds us firmly poised, no matter which way the wind may be, or from what quarter it strikes us."
This thought I could not then appreciate fully, but I did what I could toward it, and it was, in after years, even then, an anchor. My mother's eyes were beautiful; they looked like wells, and when thoughts like these rose to mingle with their light, they seemed twice as large and full and deep as on ordinary occasions. I never wanted to disobey her, and in those days we read through together the chapters in life's book that opened every sunrise with something new. Our souls were blent as one in a delightful unity, that savored more of Paradise than earth, and now with Hal's returning strength, there was a triple pulsation of mingled thought. Oh, Halbert, my blessed brother, no wonder my eyes are brimming with tears of love at these dear recollections! Louis had sent him a large box of material for doing his work, and Clara had insisted on his having one of her new rooms for a studio, and everything was as perfect as tasteful appointments could make it, even to the dressing-gown she had made for him.
She made this last with her own hands, of dark blue cashmere, corded with a thread of gold. He had to wear it, too, for she said nothing could be too nice to use.
"Why, my dear Halbert," she added, "the grass is much nicer and you walk on that."
The rich rosy flush came slowly enough into his pale cheeks, but it found them at last, and I do believe when we saw the work grow so fast under his hands, we were insane with joy. To think our farmer boy who followed the cows so meekly every night had grown to be a man and a sculptor, throwing such soul into his work as to model almost breathing figures! His first work was a duplicate of the piece at Mr. Hanson's, and was made at Louis' especial request. His next work was a study in itself. It was an original subject worthy of Hal's greatest efforts, a representation of our good old friend Hildah Patten, known to all our village as "Aunt Hildy." We called her our dependence, for she was an ever-present help in time of need; handy at everything and wasteful of nothing. Her old green camlet cloak (which was cut from her grandfather's, I guess) with the ample hood that covered her face and shoulders, was a welcome sight to me, whenever at our call for aid she came across lots. She lived alone and in her secluded woodland home led a quiet and happy life; she was never idle, but always doing for others. Few really understood her, but she was not only a marvel of truth but possessed original thought, in days when so little time was given in our country to anything save the struggle for a living. It is only a few years since Aunt Hildy was laid away from our sight. I often think of her now, and I have in my possession the statuette Hal made, which shows camlet cloak, herb-bags and all. I desire you to know her somewhat, since her visits were frequent and our plans were all known to her.
The fall is a busy time in a farmer's household—with the gathering of grain, clearing up of fields, and making all due preparations for the coming winter; and it is beautiful also. This year, however, the many colored leaves had sought the ground unnoticed by me; for my days had been absorbed in thought and, instead of looking at things about me, if I had a spare moment I wandered in the realms of feeling.
November had come to us with Louis' departure, and the weeks between his coming and going seemed, as I looked back, like a few hours only, crowded together as a day before me with the strange events, and stranger thoughts, whose existence from that time onward has forced me to own their supremacy and power. Hal's artist friend, Professor Benton, was coming to see him—and I wished it were May instead of November, for it seemed to me the outer attractions of our country home were much greater than the inner, and I could not see how he was to be entertained. Clara's side (as we called the four rooms she had added) would be the only attraction, and since Hal was domiciled there, that would be the right place. Many paintings adorned the walls, and to me there was such a contrast between our middle room and its belongings, and the sunny chamber occupied by Hal, that whenever I looked on the massively-framed pictures there, they seemed out of place. Clara was fond of having them in sight, and labored hard to have her loves ours. Every other evening we were forced to occupy that side of the house and I wonder, as I look back, that my father could have been so obedient to her wishes. She would sit on an ottoman between him and my mother and often with her head resting against the arm of his chair, talking with us of our farm, the plans for winter, and the fences to be built with the coming spring; and she was never satisfied unless allowed to be really one of us. The building she had done was accredited to my father, for she would not have it otherwise, and when his spirit of independence prompted him to refuse her board-money afterward, she looked at him with tears in her eyes and said:
"Why must I be repelled, Mr. Minot? Please let me stay here always. I have no comfort if I have no one to be happy with, and you must take this from me."
She was no trouble, and such a small eater that she must have paid us four times over for all she had. Father thought at first her impulsive gifts would be of short duration, but months had revealed her to us, and we realized that she was a marvel of goodness. Not only interesting herself in us but in others. Weekly visits were made by her to the poor in our parish, and blessings fell on her head in prayers rising from the lips of her grateful friends. The semi-monthly sewing circle she caused to be appointed at our house (her side), and with her own hands made all the edibles necessary on every occasion. She shrank from making calls upon those who were not in need of her services, and never went willingly to any public gathering. I never knew why, but she was morbidly sensitive on this point. Once she was over-persuaded, and went to an old-fashioned quilting party with mother, and she came home in a fainting condition, and we worked over her until after midnight.