By ANNIE S. SWAN.
Author of "Aldersyde," "Carlowrie" "Shadowed" &c. &c.
There is no road, though rough and steep, Without an end at last, And every rock upon the way By patience can be passed.
There are few human hearts too hard For gentleness to win; Somewhere a hidden chink appears Where love may enter in.
I. UNWELCOME NEWS. II. THE PARSONAGE. III. THE ARRIVAL. IV. THE NEW HOME. V. SUNDAY. VI. LOSING HOLD OF THE BRIDLE. VII. THE RED HOUSE. VIII. UP THE PEAK. IX. A DAY TO BE REMEMBERED. X. ON THE LAKE. XI. HOPES FULFILLED. XII. WEARY DAYS. XIII. LUCY FINDS THE KEY. XIV. A GREAT CHANGE. XV. THE WEDDING. XVI. FIVE YEARS AFTER.
It was the prettiest homestead in all the township, everybody said, and it had the prettiest name. It stood a mile or so beyond Pendlepoint on the farther side of the river, from which it was separated by a broad meadow, where in the summer time the sleek kine stood udder-deep in cowslips and clover.
It was a long, low, comfortable-looking house, hidden by lovely creeping plants, and sheltered at the back by the old elm trees in the paddock, and at the front by the apple trees in the orchard. Perhaps it was because it had such a snug, cosy, restful look about it that it had been queerly christened Thankful Rest. The land adjoining the homestead was rich and fertile, and brought in every year a crop worth a goodly competence to its possessors. The family at Thankful Rest consisted of two people—Joshua Strong and his sister Hepzibah. You are to make their acquaintance immediately, but a remark made once by old Reuben Waters, their next neighbour, may perhaps give you an idea of their characters better than any long description of mine:——
"For crankiness and nearness, and unneighbourly sourness, give me Josh Strong and his sister Hepsy. They can't be equalled, I bet, in all Connecticut."
You will be able to judge by-and-by of the correctness of Reuben's estimate. On a lovely August afternoon Miss Hepzibah Strong was ironing in the kitchen at Thankful Rest. I wish you could have seen that kitchen; your eyes would have ached with its painful cleanliness. The stone flags were as cool and clean as water and hands could make them; the stove shone like burnished silver; the dresser and the table, at which Miss Hepzibah was at work, were white as snow; and the array of tins on the wall was perfectly dazzling with brightness. The wide diamond-paned casement stood open to admit what little air happened to be abroad that sultry afternoon. How pleasant it was, to be sure, to look out upon the flower-laden garden; upon the sunny orchard, rich and golden with its precious harvest; upon the silver thread of the river winding through the green meadow beyond; and to see and feel all the loveliness with which God had clothed the world. But Miss Hepzibah had no eyes for any of the beauties I have mentioned; she was intent upon her work, and hung on the clothes-horse piece after piece of stiff, spotless linen, which, as she could boast, could not be equalled in the township. Miss Hepzibah herself was not a pretty picture. She was a woman of thirty-five or thereabouts; with a thin, brown, hard-looking face; sharp, twinkling gray eyes; and a long, grim, resolute mouth. She wore a short skirt of dark material, a lilac calico jacket, and a huge white apron. On ordinary occasions her head was adorned by a cap of fearful workmanship and dimensions, but in the heat of her work she had thrown it off, and her scanty brown hair was fastened tightly back in a cue behind.
Just as the old eight-day clock in the lobby solemnly struck four, there was a loud knock at the back door, and the post-messenger from Pendlepoint strode into the kitchen, holding in his hand a black-edged letter.
"Bad news for ye, Miss Hepsy, I doubt," he said. "It'll be from your sister in Newhaven, I reckon."
Miss Hepzibah took the black-edged letter coolly in her hand, eyed it stolidly for a second, and then laid it on the table. "Sit down a minute, Ebenezer, an' I'll bring ye a glass of cider," she said.
And Ebenezer saw her depart to the larder nothing loath. But if he thought Miss Hepsy meant to open the letter and confide its contents to him he was mistaken, for she pushed it aside and went on with her ironing. So after being briefly rested and refreshed, he went his way, bidding her a surly good-afternoon. Still the letter lay untouched upon the table till the last collar was hung on the horse, the irons set on the flags to cool, and the blanket folded in the dresser. Then Miss Hepsy broke the seal, and read without change of expression what ought to have been a sorrowful intimation to her, the news of the death of her younger and only sister, who had married and been left a widow in Newhaven. But before Miss Hepsy had read to the end, her expression did change, and she exclaimed, "Wal, if this ain't about the humbugginest fix. Hetty's boy and gal got to come here—nowhere else to go. Wonder what Josh'll say?"
Miss Hepsy sat down, and, crossing her long hands on her lap, remained deep in thought till the old clock struck again, five this time. Then she sprang to her feet, whisked the letter into the table drawer, and fetching out baking-board and flour-basin, proceeded to make dough for a supper cake. It was barely ready when her brother came in at six, and he looked slightly surprised to see no signs of the supper on the table.
"I've had a letter from Newhaven, Josh," Miss Hepsy said abruptly. "Hetty's dead; you won't be surprised to hear, I suppose. It's from her minister; and he says you've got to come up right away and see about things, an' fetch back the boy and gal with you. They've got nowhere else to go, he says, an' we're their nearest kinsfolk. I got thinkin' it over, and forgot my work, like a fool."
Joshua Strong's grim face grew grimmer, if possible, as he listened to his sister's words. He reached out his hand for the letter she had taken from the drawer, and slowly spelt it to the end.
"There ain't anything for it but grin and bear it, Hepsy," he said. "Though I don't see what business folks has marryin' an' dyin' an' leavin' their children to poor folks to keep. It'll be a mighty difference to expense havin' other two mouths to feed an' backs to clothe."
"An' what I'm to make of two fine gentry children, as Hetty's are sure to be, round all the time, I don't know," said Miss Hepsy, whisking off a griddle cake with unnecessary vigour. "I declare Hetty might have had more sense than think we could do with 'em. I'm rare upset about it, I can tell ye."
"It doesn't say what she died o'," said Joshua meditatively, twirling the letter in his brown fingers.
"Died o'?" repeated Miss Hepsy tartly. "Why, of pinin' arter that husband o' her'n. What's her fine scholar done for her now, I wonder? Left her a lone widder to die off and leave penniless children to other folks to keep. But I'll warrant they'll work for their meat at Thankful Rest. I'll have no stuck-up idle notions here."
"How am I to get to Newhaven jes' now, I'd like to know," said Joshua, "and all that corn waitin' to be stacked? It's clean beyond me."
Miss Hepsy thought a moment. "I have it. Miss Goldthwaite was here to-day, an' she said the parson was goin' to Newhaven to-morrow to stay a day or two. We'll get him to see to things an' bring the children down. I'll go to Pendlepoint whenever I've got my supper, an' ask him. Here, ask the grace quick an' let's be hurryin'," she said; and before the few mumbled words had fallen from Joshua's lips, Miss Hepsy was well through with her first cup of tea!
At that moment, in a darkened chamber in a quiet city street, two orphan children clung to each other weeping, wondering fearfully to see so white, and cold, and still, the sweet face which had been wont to smile upon them as only a mother can.
They wept, but the days were at hand when they would realize more bitterly than now what they had lost, and how utterly they were left alone.
In the pleasant front parlour of the parsonage at Pendlepoint, the Rev. Frank Goldthwaite and his sister were lingering over their tea-table. He was a young man, tall and broad-shouldered, with an open kindly face, and grave thoughtful eyes, which yet at times could sparkle with merriment as bright as that which so often shone in his sister's blue orbs. A bright, winsome, lovable maiden was Carrie Goldthwaite, the very joy of her brother's heart, and the apple of every eye in the township. The brother and sister were deeply attached to each other, the fact that they were separated from their father's happy home in New York drawing them the more closely together. They had been talking of Mr. Goldthwaite's projected visit on the morrow, and he had at last succeeded in repeating faithfully all the commissions his sister wished him to execute, when the swinging of the garden gate, and a firm tread on the gravel, made Miss Goldthwaite rise and peep behind the curtain.
"It's Miss Hepsy, Frank," she said with a very broad smile; "something very important must it be which brings her here. I don't think she has been to the parsonage since the day we came."
The next moment Miss Goldthwaite's "help" ushered in Miss Hepsy Strong, attired in a shawl of brilliant hues and a marvellous bonnet. She dropped a courtesy to the parson, and sat down on the extreme edge of the chair Miss Goldthwaite offered her, declining, at the same time, her offer of a cup of tea. Evidently, Miss Hepsy was not used to company manners.
"I've made bold to come down to-night, sir," she said, fixing her keen eyes on Mr. Goldthwaite's pleasant face, "knowin' you was goin' to Newhaven to-morrow, to ask if you would do Josh and me a kindness."
"If I can, Miss Strong," returned the minister courteously, "be sure I shall be very glad to do so."
"You've heard tell, I reckon," said Miss Hepsy, "of our sister Hetty as married the schoolmaster in Newhaven?"
Mr. Goldthwaite nodded.
"Well, she's dead," continued Miss Hepsy with a business-like stolidity inexplicable to Carrie Goldthwaite's warm heart, "an' she's left two children, which Josh an' me'll hev to take, I reckon, seein' their parents is both dead now. We'd a letter to-day from the minister there—Mr. Penn he calls hisself, I think."
"Yes, I know him," put in Mr. Goldthwaite.
"He wants Josh to come up right away, which he can't possibly do an' the corn not in the barn yet. A day's worth so many dollars jes' now, an' can't be throwed away. Now, sir, will ye be so kind as to see to things at Hetty's, an' fetch the children with you when ye come back? It'll be a great favour to Josh and me."
The minister concealed what he thought, and answered courteously that he should do his best. Then Miss Hepsy rose and shook out her green skirts.
"The address is Fifteenth Street, sir, an' Hetty's name was Hurst. I reckon ye'll find it easy enough. That's all; I'll be goin' now.—No, thanks, Miss Goldthwaite, I can't sit down; it's 'most milking time, and if Keziah's left to do it herself, there's no saying what might happen.—So, good evenin', and thank ye, sir;" and before the brother and sister recovered from their amazement, Miss Hepsy had whisked out of the room, and the next minute her firm, man-like tread broke upon their ears again. Mr. Goldthwaite looked at his sister with a comical smile, which was answered by a peal of laughter from her sweet lips.
"I can't help it indeed, Frank," she said. "I am so sorry for the poor children, bereft of both parents. Their mother was a refined, gentle creature, too, I have been told; of a different mould from Miss Hepsy. The calmness, though, to ask you to do all this simply because Joshua is too hard to spare a day's labour! Are you doing altogether right, Frank, I wonder, in taking it off his hands?"
"I could not refuse it, Carrie," returned the minister. "Like you, I am sorry for the poor little orphans. Their life will not be all sunshine, I fear, at Thankful Rest."
Miss Goldthwaite sighed, and from the open window watched in silence Miss Hepsy's brilliant figure crossing the river by the bridge a hundred yards beyond the parsonage gate.
"I think, Frank, that among all your parishioners there is not a more unhappy pair than Joshua Strong and his sister. I wish they could be made to see how differently God meant them to spend their lives. It saddens me to see their hardness and sourness."
"Perhaps these little children may do them good, dear," returned the minister gravely. "It would not be the first time God has used the influence of little children to do what no other power on earth could. We will pray it may be so."
"Yes," returned Carrie Goldthwaite; and the shade deepened on her sweet face as she added again, "Poor little things! it will be a sore change from the tender care of a mother. We must do what we can, Frank, to make their home at Thankful Rest as happy as possible. We had such a happy one ourselves, I feel an intense pity for those who have not. There is Judge Keane on horseback at the gate. He wants either you or me to go out and speak with him."
The minister rose, and both stepped out to the veranda, and down the steps to the garden. The judge had alighted, and fastening his bridle to the gate-post, came up the path to meet them. He was an old man, with white hair and beard; but his fine figure was as erect and stately as it had been a quarter of a century before. He shook hands cordially with the minister, touched Carrie Goldthwaite's brow with his lips, and then said, in a brisk, cheerful voice,—
"My wife heard you were going to Newhaven for a couple of days, and sent me down to say she would expect you, miss," (he nodded to Carrie,) "at the Red House to-morrow, to stay till he comes back. I may say yes, I suppose?"
"Yes, and thank you, Judge Keane," said Miss Goldthwaite with a little grateful smile. "Even with Abbie's company, it is very dull when Frank is away. Won't you come in?"
The judge shook his head, and turned to the gate again. "Not to-night, my dear. Good-night, and good-bye, Frank."
"Have you no commissions, judge?" asked the minister. "I shall have plenty of time at my disposal; my own business is very little."
"No, I think not," returned the judge. "But, let me see."
Miss Goldthwaite moved to the gate, and laid her hand caressingly on Beauty's glossy neck.
"I only envy you one thing, Judge Keane," she said; "and this is it. What a beauty she is!"
The judge laughed, and his eyes lingered on the slim, girlish figure in its dainty muslin garb; and on the sweet, unclouded face, which was a true index to the happy heart within.
"Beauty shall be yours by-and-by," he laughed; and a swift wave of colour swept across her face, and she hid it in the animal's glossy mane.—"Safe journey, Frank. Come to the Red House for your sister when you want her.—Steady, Beauty." He sprang to the saddle, and held out his hand to Carrie.
"I'm glad you've said yes, my dear," he whispered, with a mischievous twinkle in his gray eyes, "or a certain young man would have thought nothing of coming to take you by main force. Shall I tell him of that sweet blush? Or—"
But Miss Goldthwaite had fled, and Beauty flew off like an arrow.
On Friday morning, Miss Hepsy received a brief note from Mr. Goldthwaite, stating that he had attended the funeral of Mrs. Hurst, paid the little she had owed in Newhaven, and would be at Pendlepoint by the noon cars that day, when he requested Miss Hepsy to be in waiting at the depot to meet her nephew and niece.
Now, Friday was Miss Hepsy's cleaning day. Although ordinary eyes would have been puzzled to point out what spot in that shining domain required more than the touch of a duster, the house was upturned from ceiling to basement, and received such sweeping and dusting and polishing, such scouring and scrubbing, that it was a marvel Miss Hepsy was not exhausted at the end of it. She had just turned out the parlour chairs into the lobby, and was busy with broom and dust-pan, sweeping up invisible dust, when Ebenezer brought her Mr. Goldthwaite's letter. So much did it upset her, that he had to depart without his glass of cider, for she took no more notice of him than if he had been one of the pillars at the door. It was eleven o'clock almost; it would take her every moment to dress and be at the depot in time; so she had to set the chairs back into the half-swept room, replace her working garb by the green dress and the plaid shawl, take her blue umbrella and trudge off, leaving the management of the dinner to Keziah. Her frame of mind as she did so augured ill for the welcome of her sister's children.
The cars were half an hour late, and Miss Hepsy strode up and down the platform in a ferment of wrath and impatience, thinking of the dinner under awkward Keziah's supervision; of the sweeping and dusting and baking all to be done in the afternoon; of the bother two strange children were sure to be; of a hundred and one things, which brought her temper up to fever heat by the time the train puffed into the depot. From the window of a first-class compartment two faces looked out eagerly, but failed to recognize in Miss Hepsy the sister of the dear dead mother they had so lately lost. Miss Hepsy saw Mr, Goldthwaite step out first, followed by a tall, handsome-looking boy, well dressed and refined-looking, who in his turn assisted with care and tenderness a slight, delicate-looking girl, who bore such a strong resemblance to her dead mother that her aunt had no difficulty in recognizing her. She stamped forward, nodded to Mr. Goldthwaite, and held out a hand in turn to each of the children.
"I'm tired to death waitin' on these pesky cars," she said, addressing herself to Mr. Goldthwaite. "I hope they've behaved themselves, sir, an' not bothered ye.—Bless me, children, don't stare at me so; I'm your Aunt Hepzibah. You look as if you had never seen a woman afore."
"There is a trunk, Miss Hepsy," said Mr. Goldthwaite, unable to help an amused smile playing about his mouth. "You will need to send a cart for it.—They have been very good children indeed, and instead of bothering, have greatly helped to make my journey enjoyable."
"I'm glad to hear it, I'm sure," said Miss Hepsy, looking very much as if she was not glad at all. "Well, I guess we'd better be movin'.—What's your name, boy?" she said, turning to the lad with an abruptness which made him start.
"My name is Tom, aunt," he answered promptly; "this is Lucy." "Miss Hetty might have called one of ye after her own kin.—Well, good-day, Mr. Goldthwaite; I guess Josh'll walk down to the parsonage at night an' pay up.—Come along."
"Good-bye, Tom, good-bye, Lucy, in the meantime," said the minister kindly. "We shall see each other often, I fancy."
"Oh, sir, I hope so," said Lucy, speaking for the first time. "You have been so kind to us when we had nobody else." Her dark eyes suddenly overflowed, and she turned away to follow her aunt, while Tom, whistling to vent some strong feeling, went on in front.
Miss Hepsy walked as if for a wager, and never opened her mouth once, until they stood upon the threshold of Thankful Rest.
"Now, look here; this is yer home," she said; then, fixing grim eyes alternately on their faces, "an' I hope ye'll behave, an' show yer gratitude for it. That's all.—I bet Keziah's burned the soup;" with which words Miss Hepsy burst into the kitchen, ready to extinguish the unfortunate "help" if everything was not up to the mark. The brother and sister lingered a moment on the threshold, feeling new and strange and sad, their welcome had been so disappointing.
"Lucy," said Tom Hurst suddenly, "do you believe that woman's mamma's sister? I don't."
"Of course she is," returned Lucy. "And you must not call her 'that woman,' Tom; she is our aunt, mamma's sister, you know, and we must behave, she says."
Tom made a wry face. "I don't feel like behaving any," he said. "But I say, Lucy, isn't this a prime place?"
Lucy's eyes beamed as they looked round the pretty, peaceful homestead, with its laden orchard, wealth of flowers and glorious summer beauty. But she did not answer.
"We'd better go in, I suppose, though we weren't asked," said Tom. "I wonder if it's near dinner-time; I'm famished."
He pushed open the door, and, followed by Lucy, entered the wide-bricked kitchen. A sudden change had taken place in Aunt Hepsy's appearance. In the twinkling of an eye she had donned her working garb again, and was paring potatoes at the table. Fortunately, the dinner had progressed satisfactorily during her absence.
"Come in and sit down," she said, pointing to the settle at the fire. "Ye'll be hungry, I reckon; but it'll soon be dinner-time. I don't approve of eating 'tween meals.—I guess you never did any of this kind o' work, Lucy?"
"No, Aunt Hepsy," returned Lucy timidly. "I've seen Hannah do it; that was our girl."
"Humph; ye won't be long here before ye can pare potatoes as well as Hannah. You'll be willin' to learn, I hope?"
"I shall do my best, Aunt Hepsy," returned the girl meekly.
"Mamma never pared potatoes, Aunt Hepsy," said Tom boldly.
"No; I know she didn't, boy," said Miss Hepsy severely. "Your mother was as useless as a bit o' Sunday china.—I hope you won't be like her, Lucy."
"I hope she will, Aunt Hepsy," spoke up Tom again. "Mamma was perfectly splendid, everybody said."
"You'd better go outside, boy," said Miss Hepsy wrathfully, "till you learn to speak respectfully to your aunt. I know what your mother was. She was my own sister, I hope."
Tom caught up his cap and fled, nothing loath; his aunt irritated him, and made him forget himself.
"How old are you, child?" said Miss Hepsy, turning to Lucy, after a moment's silence.
"I am fourteen past, Aunt Hepsy; Tom is twelve."
Miss Hepsy dropped her paring-knife and stared.
"Bless me, child, you don't look more'n nine, and that great boy looks years older'n you. What have ye fed on?"
Lucy smiled faintly. "I have not been very strong this summer, Aunt Hepsy; and I was so anxious about mamma being so poorly. I couldn't sleep at nights, nor eat anything hardly. I suppose that's what made me thin." Miss Hepsy sniffed.
"Have any of ye been to school?" was her next question.
"No, Aunt Hepsy. Papa taught us till he died, and then mamma kept up our lessons as well as she could. Tom is a good scholar; and, oh, such a beautiful painter!"
"Painter!" echoed Miss Hepsy. "What, fence rails and gates?"
Lucy looked very much shocked. "Oh no; he draws landscapes and things, and went to the Art School as long as mamma could afford it. Then he practised at home. He means to be a great painter some day, like the ones he read about."
"Humph!" said Miss Hepsy contemptuously. "I guess his uncle'll find him work in painting the farm an' the gates afresh this fall. It'll save a man. Now then, there's them taters on. Come upstairs an' I'll show you your room."
Lucy rose at once, and obediently followed her aunt along the wide flagged passage and up the polished oak steps to a tiny little chamber in the attic fiat. It was poorly furnished, but it was scrupulously clean; and from the window Lucy's delighted eyes caught a glimpse of the broad green meadow, the shining water of the river, and beyond, the houses of the town nestling in the shadow of the giant slopes of Pendle Peak.
"Your brother's room is on t'other side o' the landing," explained Miss Hepsy; "an' I'll 'spect you to keep 'em both as clean's a new pin. I'm mighty partickler, mind, an' can't abide untidiness. An' if yer mother's brought ye up to think yersel' a lady, the sooner ye get rid of that notion the better, 'cos yell have to work here; we don't keep no idle hands. Get off your hat an' cape now, an' come down as fast's ye like, an' help set the table for dinner."
Miss Hepsy then whisked out of the room, and clattered down the stairs in haste.
Lucy moved to the window recess, and stood looking upon the peace and beauty without, until her eyes were brimming with tears. Then she knelt down by the side of the bed, sobbing pitifully, "Mamma, mamma! come back, O dear mamma! we have nobody on earth but you!"
THE NEW HOME.
Meanwhile Tom had gone on an exploring expedition. He investigated every outhouse and shed, frightened the geese and turkeys into fits by rushing through their paddock shouting at the pitch of his voice, caught the superannuated mule by the tail, and made her fly off like a four-year old, made friends with the savage watch-dog on the chain, coaxed the pigeons to fly to him, and finally went off to the fields in search of his uncle. On the road outside the farmyard gate he met a team, driven by a big uncouth-looking man, dressed in coarse trowsers, a red shirt, and a battered straw hat.
"You'll be one of the men, I guess," said Tom, stopping in front of him. "Can you tell me where my Uncle Joshua is?"
The man grinned. "Air you Hetty's boy, youngster?"
"I'm Mrs. Hurst's son," corrected Tom proudly. "Who are you?"
"If I'm not yer Uncle Josh, I reckon he ain't be home terday," returned the man.—"Hi! up, Sally; you and me's not fit company, I guess, for a city gent."
"If you are Uncle Joshua, I beg your pardon I'm sure," said Tom with his usual frankness. "Won't you shake hands, Uncle Joshua?"
Uncle Joshua took the thin, delicate hand in his own brown palm, and looked at it curiously.
"Jes' as Hepsy said—Hetty's boy's more for ornament than use. Well, youngster, now you're here ye'll work for yer bread, I hope. We're poor folks here, an' can't keep idle hands. Ye'll hev to learn to mind a team like this."
"I wouldn't mind if I'd a better horse, Uncle Josh," said Tom, walking alongside of his uncle, and eying the hungry-looking steed critically. "See his ribs. Don't you feed him ever, Uncle Josh?"
The man's face flushed angrily. "Shut up, younker!" he said savagely. "Don't speak about things ye know nothing about."
Tom walked on a minute or two in silence, but in no way disconcerted.
"This is a very nice place, Uncle Josh," he said. "Mamma often told us about it, but it's prettier than I thought it would be."
"The place'll do, I reckon," admitted Uncle Josh. "But farmin' ain't what it was. It's a hard job gettin' meat an' drink out o'd now-a-days."
"Mamma told us you were rich," said Tom in surprise. "But you can't be, because—because—"
"Wal?" said Uncle Josh, with a slow, stupid smile.
"Because your horses are all thin, and you wear these clothes; and Aunt Hepsy doesn't dress like a lady. Rich people don't live so."
"You're a fool, youngster. Just your mother over again. You don't know, I suppose, that to save money folks must live cheap, an' not be all outside show. Ye'll learn better, maybe, afore ye've been long at Thankful Rest,—Hi, Sally! Whoa, lass."
The thin, wretched-looking horse stood still, thankful to be released from the heavy waggon; and Tom watched all his uncle's movements with much interest. He followed him from the yard to the stable, saw him give the five horses a scanty feed of corn and a pail of water.
"We'll go and hev a bite o' dinner now," he said; then, "Your sister'll be indoors, I guess?"
Tom nodded, and the two proceeded to the house. Lucy was downstairs by this time, awkwardly placing knives, forks, and plates on the table, under Miss Hepsy's directions. A glad smile crept to her eyes at sight of Tom; it seemed ages since he had gone out. She looked timidly at her uncle as he shook hands with her, remarking she was a pale-faced thing, and needed work and exercise to make her spry. Then the company sat down, and Tom, if Lucy did not, did ample justice to Miss Hepsy's cookery. It was an unsociable, uncomfortable meal. Aunt and uncle ate, as they did everything else, as if for a wager, and were finished before Lucy had touched her meat and potatoes.
"Look spry, child," said her aunt, beginning to clear away almost immediately. "You'll ha' to learn to eat to some purpose. Time don't last for ever."
Lucy pushed back her unfinished plateful and rose.
"Not dainty enough for ye, is it not?" was the next remark. "Ye'll eat it by-and-by maybe."
"I'm not hungry, Aunt Hepsy," she said with quivering lips; and Tom bit his to keep back angry words surging to them.
"May I go out for a little, Aunt Hepsy?" Lucy asked.
"When you've wiped them dishes you may," replied Aunt Hepsy. "I lost two good hours goin' to that plaguy depot for you, so the least ye can do is to help me through.—Josh, find summat for the boy to do; 'tain't no use hevin' him 'round idle lookin' for mischief."
"Come along to the barn then, What's-yer-name," said Uncle Josh, picking up his hat and sauntering to the door.—"Don't be too hard on that little 'un, Hepsy; she don't look over strong."
"Mind yer own business, will ye, Josh Strong," was Miss Hepsy's smart rejoinder. "I guess I'm able to mind mine."
Under Miss Hepsy's directions, Lucy succeeded in washing up the dishes without disaster, and was then requested to come to the far parlour and receive a lesson in sweeping and dusting. Then baking came on, and with one thing and another Miss Hepsy managed to keep the child within doors and on her feet till past four o'clock. She was fainting with fatigue, but would not complain, and Miss Hepsy was too busy to observe the pallor on her face.
"May I sit down for a minute, please?" she said at last, after bringing a huge can of flour from the larder. "I am afraid I am going to faint, Aunt Hepsy;" and she looked like enough it, as she sank wearily on the settle, and let her white lids droop over her tired eyes.
Miss Hepsy was more than annoyed. "A delicate child above all humbugs," she muttered, as she sprinkled a few drops of spring water on the girl's face, and held her smelling-salts to her nostrils.
"Ye'd better go out an' get a mouthful of fresh air, I suppose," she said ungraciously when Lucy rose at last, with a faint touch of returning colour in her cheeks.
And Lucy gladly went upstairs for her hat, and crept out into the beautiful sunshine. The garden gate was locked, but she managed to turn the key, and went slowly, in a maze of delight, along the trim paths, past beds of roses, hollyhocks, pansies, and sweet-scented gilly-flowers. The orchard beyond looked tempting indeed, where the sunbeams glistened through the bending boughs of apple, plum, and cherry trees, on the soft carpet of grass beneath. She managed to unfasten the gate there too, and choosing a wide-spreading apple-tree, from which she could see the meadow and the river, flung herself on the grass beneath it. There she fell asleep, and Tom found her an hour after. His fine face looked worried and discontented, and he flung himself beside her, saying gloomily,—
"How on earth I am to live here, Lucy Hurst, I don't know."
"What is it, Tom?" inquired she, forgetting her own troubles in sympathy for him.
"Oh, Uncle Josh, that's all. He hasn't any patience with me, and makes me speak up impertinently to him. And the things they say about mamma are perfectly shameful. I won't bear it now, I won't."
His sister's gentle hand touched his lips to stem the passionate words.
"You remember, Tom," she said softly, "what mamma said to us. We were to endure all such little trials, remembering that it is God who sends them. Think how grieved she would be if she could hear us grumbling so soon."
"I don't care; I can't help it," said the boy recklessly. "It isn't anything for you to be good, Lucy; you are just like mamma—a kind of saint, I think. For me it is just a long battle all day. If a fellow conquered in the end, it would not matter; but as it is—O Lucy, Lucy! why did mamma die? It was so easy to be happy and good when we had her to love and help us. I wish I were dead too."
Poor, proud, passionate Tom! His sister could only put her gentle arm about his neck and cry too, her heart so sorely re-echoed the painful longing in his voice.
So the first day at Thankful Rest did not promise very brightly for Tom and Lucy Hurst.
Saturday was the busiest day in the week at Thankful Rest. There was churning to be done, extra cooking for Sunday, mending and darning, and the weekly polishing of every bit of brass, and copper, and tin in the establishment. Lucy rubbed at them till her arms ached, without bringing them to the required height of brightness, and was at last sent off to pick the few remaining gooseberries for a tart. That was a piece of work much more to her liking, and she lingered so long out in the sunshine that Aunt Hepsy came at last, and scolded her long and shrilly; which took all the enjoyment away. Tom received his lessons from Uncle Josh outside; and, judging from his face when he came in at dinner-time, he had not found them particularly agreeable. Tom Hurst was a dainty youth, in fact, and shrank from soiling his fingers with the tasks allotted to him: and seeing that grim Uncle Josh had not spared him, the forenoon had been one long battle; for, try as he might, Tom could not keep a bridle on his tongue.
"I guess I'll hev a pesky deal o' trouble with that young 'un, Hepsy," his uncle said that night when the children had gone to bed. "He doesn't take to farm work; an' he's that peart I durstn't speak to him. Queer thing if we've got to keep the young upstart in idleness."
"Idleness!" quoth Miss Hepsy wrathfully. "I'd take a rope's end to him if he didn't keep a civil tongue in his head. The gal's bad enough; though she never speaks back she looks at me that proud-like wi' them great eyes o' her'n, I feel as if I'd like to shake her. There'll never be a day's peace now they've come."
"Tell ye what, though, Hepsy," said Josh. "I'm gwine to pay off Brahm, an' make Tom do his work. He ain't that much younger, an' he looks strong enough! Couldn't you do without Keziah, and that would square expenses?"
"I'll see how the child turns out in a week or so. She's a pinin' thing—doesn't eat enough to keep a mouse alive."
"It's a thankless thing, any way ye like to take it, Hepsy, hevin' other folks' youngsters round. I don't see why we should be bothered with 'em;" with which remark Josh went to bed.
Lucy awoke next morning, remembering it was Sunday, with a feeling of gladness that they might perhaps chance to see their friend Mr. Goldthwaite at church. The Strongs were regular as clock-work in their half-day attendance at the meeting-house. The morn'ng was devoted to feeding cattle, pigs, and poultry, and tidying up the house; and after dinner the premises were left in charge of Brahm and Keziah, and the master and mistress turned their footsteps towards Pendlepoint. The meeting-house was almost close to the parsonage, and was a pretty, primitive structure, with no attempt at display or decoration, and yet so pleasant and homelike inside that Lucy felt a sense of rest as her eyes wandered round it. Tom nudged her and whispered, "Nice little chapel, Lucy;" at which Miss Hepsy held up a warning finger and shook her head. Tom blushed and laughed, Aunt Hepsy looked so intensely comical. Then she became very red in the face, and opening her hymn-book, kept her eyes on its pages till Mr. Goldthwaite came in. His eyes travelled straight to the Strongs' pew, and Lucy thought she saw a kindly gleam of recognition in his eyes. Carrie was at the harmonium. She, too, looked once or twice in their direction; and both children found her face so sweet and pleasant that they could not lift their eyes off it. The chapel was full, and the singing of the hymn was so hearty and so sweet, that Lucy felt her eyes dim, she could not tell why. But it seemed to remind her of her mother.
Mr. Goldthwaite preached only half an hour; but his sermon was so beautiful and comforting, and so easily understood, that Lucy thought Sunday would recompense her for all the troubles of the week. Tom's eyes never left Mr. Goldthwaite's earnest face, and I believe that the memory of his words remained with the boy for weeks after. He had never heard a sermon in his life he had understood and felt like this one. Uncle Josh snored rather noisily in the corner, and Aunt Hepsy nodded occasionally over her Bible—the minister's message did not even reach their ears.
When the service was over and they reached the church porch, they found Miss Goldthwaite standing there. She had a nod and a smile for every one, but her particular mission was with Tom and Lucy. She shook hands with the uncle and aunt, and then bent her sweet eyes on the children's faces.
"These be Hetty's children, Miss Goldthwaite," said Miss Hepsy. "Lucy and Tom."
"Yes, I know," nodded Miss Goldthwaite. "I came round to see them. I want them to take tea with me to-day, at my brother's special request."
Miss Hepsy did not look at all delighted. "They'll jes' bother ye, Miss Goldthwaite," said she; "an' besides, 'taint no use visitin' on Sundays—I don't like it."
"It's hardly visiting, Miss Hepsy," said the young lady in the same pleasant voice. "And when they are at Pendlepoint you may as well let them. We will bring them safely home. Come now, Miss Hepsy, you know nobody ever refuses me anything."
"Let them bide, Hepsy," said Uncle Josh, remembering what trouble and expense the minister had spared him, and not wishing to appear so unmindful of it. "I guess they won't come to no harm at the parson's."
So Miss Hepsy was forced to grant a reluctant consent, and Miss Carrie bore off the happy children in triumph. At the parsonage gate Mr. Goldthwaite joined them, and gave them both a hearty welcome. Even shy Lucy was at her ease immediately with Miss Carrie; for who could resist that bright, caressing manner, and those beaming, loving eyes? She carried Lucy off to her own pretty room to take off her hat, and kept her there talking and showing her the beautiful view from the window till Mr. Goldthwaite had to call to them to come to tea. What a pleasant meal it was, and how the little company enjoyed themselves. Then, when it was over, Mr. Goldthwaite took Tom to the garden, and drew him on to talk of himself, of his hopes and ambitions, and sympathized so heartily and cheerfully with him that Tom began to think it was worth while coming to Thankful Rest, if for nothing else than this pleasant hour at the parsonage. Meanwhile Carrie had opened the piano, and sang low and softly one or two hymns; and when she looked round, wondering why Lucy had moved from her side, she saw her on the sofa with her face hidden. She rose, and sitting down beside her, put her arm about her, and whispered gently,—
"My poor child, what is it?"
"Mamma, Miss Goldthwaite," sobbed Lucy. "She used always to sing to us on Sunday evenings just so, and it makes me feel dreadful to think she never will any more."
"Yes, Lucy, I understand," said Carrie; and the very sound of her voice soothed the child's troubled heart. "But you know who has promised to comfort the mourning heart if we will but ask Him? Our God is 'the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort.'"
A quick smile broke through Lucy's tears. "If it were not for that, Miss Goldthwaite," she said simply, "I should have died when mamma did."
"And just think, dear," went on the sweet voice, "of the glad time coming when we shall all meet, please God, in a happier world than this. We shall not remember these sad hours then, shall we, Lucy? I know, my dear, how lonely and sad and strange you feel here now; but God can make us happy anywhere."
"Yes, Miss Carrie, I know it," returned the child simply and earnestly; "only I am so troubled sometimes about Tom. Mamma was often troubled about him too. He is so passionate and quick and proud. Oh, I don't know how he is to get on with Uncle Joshua and Aunt Hepsy!"
"We will hope for the best," said Miss Carrie cheerfully; "and by-and-by, perhaps, a way may be opened up for him to get his heart's desire.—Would you like to see my pets, Lucy? I have chickens, and pigeons, and dogs, and kittens, and all sorts of things. Frank says the yard is a menagerie."
"Yes, I would like it very much. There are some pretty chickens and kittens at Aunt Hepsy's, but she won't let me pet them."
In the delight of examining Miss Goldthwaite's menagerie sadder thoughts flew, and the evening sped on golden wings. The time came at last for the two to bid a regretful good-bye to the parsonage and turn their faces homewards. The minister and his sister accompanied them half across the meadow, and bade them good-night, with many promises of future meetings.
Tom and Lucy walked on in silence till they reached the paddock, and then the lad said abruptly, "It will not be so hard to live here, Lucy, if we can see them sometimes. I don't believe there's another minister like Mr. Goldthwaite in the State; nor another minister's sister either."
Lucy smiled, her heart re-echoing her brother's words.
"I have not felt so happy since mamma died," she said softly. "O Tom, is it not true what she used to say—'That God gives us something to be grateful for everywhere'?"
"Yes," said Tom soberly; and the next moment Aunt Hepsy's tall figure appeared at the kitchen door, and her shrill voice broke the pleasant Sabbath calm.
"Here, come in, you two. Air you going to stand there all night? It's 'most nine o'clock—time you were in bed. I guess you won't go visitin' on Sunday any more."
LOSING HOLD OF THE BRIDLE.
It had rained all day, and not all that day only, but the best part of the one before. Not a soft, gentle summer rain, but a fierce, wild storm, which beat the poor flowers to the earth, spoiled the fruit, and overflowed the river till half the meadow lay under water. There was plenty of work in the barn for Uncle Josh and the men, and plenty in the house for Aunt Hepsy and the girls. The scullery was full of wet clothes waiting on a dry day. That of itself, not to speak of the damage to the orchard, was sufficient to make Aunt Hepsy a very disagreeable person to live with while the storm lasted. Her tongue went from early morning till afternoon, scolding alternately at Lucy and Keziah. The latter was a stolid being, on whom her mistress's talking made no impression; but it made Lucy nervous and awkward, and her work was very badly done indeed. At three o'clock Aunt Hepsy sent her to wash her face, and gave her a long side of a sheet to hem. So Lucy was sitting on the settle, with a very grave and sorrowful-looking face, when Tom came in at four. His uncle had no need of him just then, and had sent him to the house to be out of the way. Keziah was feeding the calves, and Aunt Hepsy upstairs dressing, if that word can be appropriately applied to the slight change her toilet underwent in the afternoon. Tom sat down at the table in the window, and leaning his arms upon it, looked out gloomily on the desolate garden, over which the chill, wet mist hung like a pall. Neither spoke for several minutes.
"How do you get on now, Lucy?" asked Tom at length. "How sober you look. Has she been worrying you?"
"I daresay I am very stupid," said Lucy low and quietly; "but when Aunt Hepsy talks so loud I don't know what I am doing."
Miss Hepsy entered at that moment, fortunately without having heard Lucy's patient speech. "Don't lean your wet, dirty arms on the table, boy," said she with a sharp glance at Tom. "If you must be in, sit on your chair like a Christian."
Tom immediately sat up like a poker.
"What's yer uncle doin'?" was her next question.
"He's oiling waggon wheels," answered Tom, "and sent me in."
Miss Hepsy took out a very ugly piece of knitting from the dresser-drawer, and sat down opposite Lucy. "It's a pity boys ain't learned to sew and knit," she said grimly. "It would save a deal of women's time doin' it for 'em. I think I'll teach you, Tom."
"No, thank you, Aunt Hepsy."
"You're much too smart with your tongue, young 'un," said Miss Hepsy severely, and then relapsed into stolid silence. The click of her knitting needles, the ticking of the clock, and the rain beating on the panes, were the only sounds to be heard in the house. Tom drew a half-sheet of paper and a pencil from his pocket, laid it on the table, and kept his attention there for a few minutes. Lucy ventured to cast her eyes in his direction, and he held up the paper to her. A smile ran all over her face and finally ended in a laugh. Aunt Hepsy looked round suspiciously to see Tom stuffing something into his pocket.
"What were you laughing at, Lucy?" Lucy looked distressed and answered nothing.
"What's that you're stuffing into your pocket, Tom?" she said, turning her eagle eyes again on Tom.
"A bit paper, aunt, that's all."
"People don't laugh at common bits o' paper, nor go stuffin' em into pockets like that. Hand it over."
"I'd rather not, Aunt Hepsy," said the boy.
"I rather you would," was her dry retort. "Out with it."
"It's mine, Aunt Hepsy, and you wouldn't care to see it."
"How many more times am I to say out with it?" she said angrily. "I'll let you feel the weight of my hand if you don't look sharp."
"It's mine, Aunt Hepsy. I won't let you see it," he said doggedly.
Miss Hepsy's face grew very red, and she flung her knitting on the rug and strode up to him. "Give me that paper."
"Well, there 'tis; I hope you like it. I wish I'd made it uglier," cried he angrily, and flung the paper on the table.
Aunt Hepsy smoothed it out very deliberately, and held it up to the light. It was a picture of herself, cleverly done, but highly exaggerated, and the word Scold printed beneath it. Slowly the red faded from her face and was replaced by a kind of purple hue. She lifted her hand and brought it with full force on Tom's cheek. He sprang to his feet quivering with rage, and pain, and humiliation. His fierce temper was up, and Lucy trembled for what was to follow. "Next time you make a fool o' me, boy," said Aunt Hepsy with a slow smile, "perhaps ye'll get summat ye'll like even less than that."
Then the boy's anger found vent in words. "If you weren't a woman I'd knock you down. I hate you, and I wish I'd died before I came to this horrid place. It's worse than being a beggar living with such people. You touch me again, and I'll give it you though you are a woman."
Aunt Hepsy took him by the shoulders and pushed him before her out to the yard. "Ye'll be cool, I guess, afore I let ye in again," she said briefly, and then came back to Lucy.
She was weeping with her face hidden and her work lying on the settle beside her.
"Nice brother that of your'n," said Aunt Hepsy. "If he ain't growin' up to be hanged, my name ain't Hepsy Strong. Here, go on with your seam, an' don't be foolin' there."
Lucy silently obeyed, but Aunt Hepsy could not control her thoughts, and they went pitifully out into the rain after Tom. He stood a minute or two in a dazed way, and then hurried from the yard, through the garden and the orchard to the meadow. In one little moment the victory over temper he had won and kept for weeks was gone; and in the shame and sorrow which followed, only one person could help him, and that was Mr. Goldthwaite. There had been many quiet talks with him since the first Sunday evening, and his lessons had sunk deep into the boy's heart, and he had indeed been earnestly trying to make the best of the life and work which had no interest nor sweetness for him. As he sped through the long, wet grass, heedless of the rain pelting on his uncovered head, he felt more wretched than he had ever done in his life before. He had to wade ankle-deep to the bridge, but fortunately did not encounter a living soul all the way to the parsonage. Miss Goldthwaite was sewing in the parlour window, and looked up in amazement to see a drenched, bareheaded boy coming up the garden path.
"Why, Tom, it can't be you, is it?" she exclaimed when she opened the door. "What is it? Nobody ill at Thankful Rest, I hope."
"No," said Tom. "It's only me; I want to see Mr. Goldthwaite."
"He has just gone out, but will not be many minutes," said Miss Goldthwaite, more amazed than ever. "Come in and get dried, and take tea with me; I was just thinking to have it alone."
Looking at Miss Goldthwaite in her dainty gray dress and spotless lace collar and blue ribbons, Tom began to realize that he had done a foolish thing coming to the parsonage to bother her with his soaking garments. He would have run off, but Miss Carrie prevented him by pulling him into the lobby and closing the door. Then she made him come to the kitchen and remove his boots and jacket. "I have not a coat to fit, so you'll need to sit in a shawl," laughed she; and the sound was so infectious that, miserable though he was, Tom laughed too. Miss Carrie knew perfectly there was a reason for his coming, and that it would come out by-and-by without asking. So it did. They had finished tea, and Tom was sitting on a stool at the fire just opposite Miss Goldthwaite. There had been silence for a little while.
"I had a frightful row with Aunt Hepsy this afternoon, Miss Goldthwaite."
"I am very sorry to hear it," answered she very gravely. "What was it about?"
Then the whole story came out; and then Miss Carrie folded up her work, and bent her sweet eyes on the boy's downcast, sorrowful face. "I am not going to lecture you, Tom," she said soberly. "But I am sorry my brave soldier should have been such a coward to-day."
Tom flung up his head a little proudly. "I am not a coward, Miss Goldthwaite."
"Yes, Tom; you remember how Jesus stood all the buffeting and cruelty of his persecutors, when he could so easily have smitten them all to death if he had willed. Compare your petty trials with his, and think how weak you have been."
Tom was silent. "When my temper is up, Miss Goldthwaite," he said at length, "I don't care for anything or anybody, except to get it out somehow. I was keeping so straight, too; I hadn't once answered back to Uncle Josh or Aunt Hepsy for weeks. It's no use trying to be good."
"No use? Why, Tom, if everybody gave up at the first stumble, what would become of the world, do you think? Our life, you know, is nothing but falling and rising again, and will be till we reach the land where all these trials are over. Keep up a brave heart. Begin again, and keep a double watch over self."
"I feel as if it would be easy enough to do it when I'm talking to you or Mr. Goldthwaite, but at home it is different. I shall never be able to get on with them though I live a hundred years. And O Miss Goldthwaite, you don't know how I want to go on drawing and painting. I feel as if I could die sometimes because I can't."
"When the time comes, dear; and it will come sooner, perhaps, than you think," said Miss Carrie hopefully. "You will prize it all the more because of this sharp discipline. Do your duty like a man, and believe me, God will reward you for it one day."
"I will try, Miss Goldthwaite," said Tom with a new great earnestness of face and voice.
"Now," said Miss Carrie then, with a quick, bright smile, "I'm going to send you home. I don't mean to tell my brother anything about your visit. Our talk is to be a secret. He would be so grieved that you have come to grief again through that tongue of yours. And I hope it will be a long time before its master loses hold of the bridle again." She went with him to the kitchen and helped him to dress, and then opened the door for him. "Now, Tom, you are to go home and tell your aunt you are sorry for what happened this afternoon; because you should not have spoken as you did. And remember, Tom, that a soldier's first duty is obedience." And without giving him a chance to demur, she nodded good-bye and ran into the house.
It was raining heavily still, but that Tom did not mind; he was wondering how to frame his apology to his aunt, and how she would receive it.
It was dark when he reached Thankful Rest, and the kitchen door was barred. He knocked twice, and was answered at last by Aunt Hepsy, who looked visibly relieved. Feeling that if he waited till he was in the light his courage would flee, he said hurriedly,—
"I've been to the parsonage, Aunt Hepsy, and I want to tell you I'm sorry I drew the picture and spoke to you as I did. If you'll forgive me this time I won't be so rude again."
Aunt Hepsy looked slightly amazed. "Dear me, boy, I am thankful to see ye home again; ye've gev Lucy a fever almost. See an' don't do it again, that's all." And that was all Tom ever heard about the afternoon's explosion.
THE RED HOUSE.
Judge Keane's place was a mile out of Pendlepoint. It was in the opposite direction from Thankful Rest, and stood within its own extensive grounds, at the base of the Peak. The house was built a little way up the slope, and commanded a magnificent view of the great plain and the river, whose silver thread was visible long after all other objects receded from view. You have made the acquaintance of the judge already; let us accompany Mr. Goldthwaite and his sister to the Red House on a mild October evening, and make friends with the rest of the family. When the minister and his sister were ushered into Mrs. Keane's drawing-room, its only occupants were that lady and her two daughters, Alice and Minnie. The former was a tall, stately young lady, like her father, stiff and reserved to strangers, but much liked by her friends, among whom Carrie Goldthwaite was the chief. Minnie Keane was a bright-eyed, curly-haired maiden of fifteen, wild as an antelope, and as full of fun and frolic as any one of her pet kittens. Their mother was an invalid, seldom able to leave her couch;—not a fretful invalid, you must understand, but a sweet, gentle, unselfish woman, who bore her pain and weakness without a murmur, so that those she loved might be spared pain on her account. Mr. Goldthwaite often said that Mrs. Keane's life was the best sermon he had ever come across; and I think he was right. The brother and sister received a warm welcome. Miss Keane and Carrie withdrew to the wide window for a private chat, while Mr. Goldthwaite remained by Mrs. Keane's sofa. He was an especial favourite of hers. Minnie disappeared, and ere long Judge Keane and his second son, George, appeared in the drawing-room. It is not necessary for me to describe Mr. George Keane, except to say that he was his father's right hand, and the greatest comfort of his mother's life; and that is saying a great deal, isn't it? When he came in Alice found something to do at her mother's couch, and her seat in the window did not long remain unoccupied. There was quite a hum of conversation in the room, and then when candles were brought in, and the curtains drawn, Miss Keane said with a smile,—
"We have not had our pilgrimage up the Peak this fall. If we don't have it soon it will be too late."
"Frank and I were talking of it yesterday," said Carrie Goldthwaite. "The days are so pleasant, why not have it this week or beginning of next?"
"Well," said Judge Keane, "settle the day when you are at it; I was beginning to think our annual excursion was to be forgotten this fall."
"This is Thursday, and to-morrow is my class day at Pendlepoint," said Miss Keane. "Saturday won't suit you, Mr. Goldthwaite?"
"Monday would be better," admitted Frank.
"Then Monday be it," said the judge. "We will start at twelve, and luncheon at the summit at one."
"And, O papa, mayn't the big waggon go?" pleaded Minnie. "I want to take Mopsy and Ted and Silver Tail."
"And all the live stock on the place, little one," laughed her father. "What do you say, Mr. Goldthwaite? Minnie thinks the kittens would enjoy the view immensely."
"The suggestion about the big waggon is opportune," said Mr. George Keane. "Last year some of the ladies would not have objected to a seat in it before we reached the top."
"Some of the gentlemen, too," said Alice Keane with a sly smile. "I propose the big waggon for faint-hearted climbers, and the little one for rugs and provisions."
"I am going to make a petition, Judge Keane," said Carrie Goldthwaite. "I have two little friends who would enjoy the excursion as much as any of us, and they have not much enjoyment in their lives. I mean those orphan children at Thankful Rest. Will you let them come?"
"With all my heart; no need to ask, my dear," said the judge heartily; "and we will do our best to make them enjoy themselves."
"Thank you, Judge Keane," said Carrie, and her face wore the expression the old man liked particularly to see there.
"I see them in church regularly," said Miss Keane. "The girl is a remarkably pretty child. Robert was quite charmed with her face when he was here a fortnight ago. I believe he was thinking what a study she was for a picture instead of listening to you, Mr. Goldthwaite."
"I scarcely think it, Miss Keane," answered Frank smiling. "At least he took me to task severely afterwards about a remark in my sermon which he did not approve."
"Orphans, did you say, Carrie?" asked Mrs. Keane gently. "Was their mother Deacon Strong's youngest daughter Hetty?"
"The same, Mrs. Keane," answered Carrie. "And she must have been very different from her brother and sister, for the children have been evidently trained by a refined and cultured mind. Lucy is a perfect lady, child though she is."
"I feel very much interested," said Mrs. Keane.
"I knew their mother slightly, and liked her much. Could you not bring the children to see me some day?"
"I shall try, Mrs. Keane; but it is not an easy task begging a favour from Miss Hepsy, and she seems determined to keep them at home. I have to take Lucy by main force when I want her at the parsonage."
"I hope they'll come, anyway," put in Minnie, "because I never have anybody to speak to. One grows tired, even of the Peak, when there's nobody but grown-up people to go on to. That's why I want Mopsy and Ted and Silver Tail. It wouldn't be so lonesome. But they can stay at home if Lucy comes."
"Poor Minnie," said her father, laughing with the rest at the child's aggrieved tone. "We must do all we can to persuade them, then, to spare you the necessity of frightening the cats out of their wits."
"I'll go up to Thankful Rest to-morrow and extract permission from Miss Hepsy," said Carrie, "though I am not very hopeful of the result.—Come, Frank, we must be off; it is nearly eight."
"You will let us know on Sunday, then, if they can come," said Miss Keane; and with cordial good-nights the friends parted.
Early next afternoon Miss Goldthwaite walked up to Thankful Rest on her mission to Miss Hepsy. That lady was making preserves, for which Lucy had been kept since early morning paring and coring apples and stoning plums. As Miss Goldthwaite passed the kitchen window, she caught a glimpse of a slight figure almost lost in a huge apron, and a very white, weary-looking face bent over the basket of fruit. Aunt Hepsy was grimly stirring a panful of plums over the stove, and did not look particularly overjoyed to see Miss Goldthwaite; but Lucy did.
"Always busy, Miss Hepsy," said Carrie briskly, not choosing to mind the snappy greeting she received. "I declare I always feel a lazy, good-for-nothing creature when I come to Thankful Rest.—Here, Lucy child, sit down and let me do your work while I am here; you look tired."
The quiet eyes raised themselves in loving gratitude to the sweet face, and she was not slow to avail herself of the chance of a moment's rest. Miss Hepsy sniffed, but made no audible demur.
"What splendid fruit, Miss Hepsy!" said the visitor after a moment's silence; "I have seen none like it in Pendlepoint this fall."
"It's well enough," said Miss Hepsy, a little mollified. "Your folks all well, Miss Goldthwaite?"
"Thank you, yes; and papa and mamma are coming from New York next week, if the weather keeps fine. I can hardly sleep or eat for joy, Miss Hepsy; and Frank is almost as bad."
"You be like children about your father and mother yet," said Miss Hepsy brusquely. "I reckon you'd better not marry in Pendlepoint, or there'll be an end to your goin' home any more."
"I don't see why it should come to an end then, Miss Hepsy," she said. "Even married people get a holiday sometimes."
"I guess they don't see many o' them," replied Miss Hepsy. "I think you're a fool to marry, anyway, Miss Goldthwaite, when the parson thinks such a heap of you."
Carrie laughed again, more amused than ever.
"Talking of holidays, Miss Hepsy," she said, "I want you to give this patient little maiden one, and Tom too."
"Not if I know it," answered Miss Hepsy promptly.
"Oh yes you will," said Miss Goldthwaite serenely. "We are to have a picnic up the Peak on Monday, in Judge Keane's waggon. I've set my heart on Lucy and Tom, and half a day is nothing."
"It makes 'em idle and restless for days, Miss Goldthwaite," said Aunt Hepsy, with grim decision, "an' I ain't a-goin' to have it, so let it a be."
Miss Goldthwaite held her peace a moment, and then went straight up to Aunt Hepsy, and, to Lucy's amazement, laid her two hands on her shoulders and looked into her face with laughing eyes. "Do you know you are the most disagreeable woman in the township, Miss Hepsy, and that there isn't another would be so cross with me as you are? I'll come up and pare apples for two whole days if you'll let me have Lucy and Tom. Look me in the face and refuse me if you dare."
Miss Hepsy actually smiled. "I never saw sech a cretur," she said. "Ye'd move the very Peak wi' them eyes o' your'n. I'm real sorry for Mr. George Keane, anyway. Well, have yer own way, and go off home. You're only hinderin' my work, and I hain't a minute to lose."
"Thank you, Miss Hepsy," said Carrie, with a very eloquent glance of her irresistible eyes.—"Now, Lucy," said she then, turning to the child, "come down to the parsonage on Monday morning at eleven, you and Tom, and we will go up to the Red House together. Good-bye, dear; the fresh air up the Peak will brighten that white face, I hope. Don't forget, now."
"Forget! O Miss Carrie," was all she said, but her eyes were very dim as she returned her kiss. Lucy had been feeling peculiarly sad and down-hearted, and Miss Goldthwaite had come and brought with her the sunshine which seemed to follow her everywhere.
Then Carrie bade Miss Hepsy good-bye, and went away. Looking about her as she went through the garden, she espied Tom painting waggon wheels in the yard. A few steps took her to the boy's side, and he looked up with a glad smile of surprise.
"Busy too, Tom," she said pleasantly. "I don't think this place should be called Thankful Rest. Nobody seems to take a rest here. How do you like this work?"
"Don't ask me, Miss Goldthwaite," said the lad. "You remember you told me to make the best of it; but it isn't easy."
"It will grow easy by-and-by," she said, and laid her hand a moment on his arm, and her beautiful eyes grew grave and earnest. "Does my soldier find his Captain able to help even in dark hours?"
"Yes, Miss Goldthwaite." That was all, but it was said so simply and earnestly that Carrie's heart grew glad.
"We are to have a picnic up the Peak on Monday in Judge Keane's waggon," said she after a moment. "Your aunt has promised to let you and Lucy come. Will you like it?"
"Like it! Up the Peak! O Miss Goldthwaite," said the boy, looking away to the towering hill beyond, "I have wished I could go every day since I came. How good you are to Lucy and me!"
"She will tell you when to be ready. In the meantime I must go," said Miss Goldthwaite with her pleasant smile. "Good-bye, and success to the waggon-painting."
UP THE PEAK.
Tom and Lucy Hurst peered anxiously out of their chamber windows at six o'clock on Monday morning to see a clear, calm, beautiful sky, with a faint roseate flush in the east, where, by-and-by, the sun would come up brilliantly. Aunt Hepsy was as cross as two sticks, and Uncle Josh morose and taciturn; but even these things failed to damp their spirits, and at a quarter to eleven they set off, a very happy pair, across the meadow to the parsonage. Both looked well. Lucy's mourning, though simple and inexpensive, was wonderfully becoming; and some fine delicate lace, which had been her mother's, relieved the sombre black dress nicely. Miss Goldthwaite was very proud of her friends, and told them so when she greeted them. They were just in time, and the four set off, Tom in front with Miss Goldthwaite, and Lucy walking with the minister. She was shy and quiet, but somehow nobody could be long afraid of Mr. Goldthwaite. He possessed his sister's charm of manner, and drew Lucy on to talk in spite of herself. At the Red House there was a great bustle. The big waggon was at the front door, and the little one at the back, into which the cook was stowing all sorts of eatables. Minnie Keane, in a state of great excitement, was flying about with a tiny kitten in each arm, the mother following at her heels mewing piteously for her children to be left in safety. Minnie dropped the kittens when she saw the party from the parsonage coming round the avenue, and ran to meet them. Miss Goldthwaite made the introductions, and then she and Mr. Goldthwaite passed into the house, leaving the children beside the waggon. There was but a moment's shyness, and then the irrepressible Minnie's tongue began to go freely.
"You look nice, Lucy," she said frankly. "I guess we'll have a good time to-day. There always is a good time when papa takes us anywhere."
"This is a nice horse," said Tom, feeling he must say something. "What's his name?"
"Oh, that's Billy. He's very old, and rather cross. You should see papa's Beauty. Come to the stable and I'll show you her."
She drew Lucy's arm within her own and darted off, Tom following. Minnie was quite at home in the stable, and familiar with every animal in it. Beauty pricked up her ears and whinnied at the touch of Minnie's caressing fingers.
"You ask Miss Goldthwaite about Beauty," she said. "She thinks there isn't another horse like her in the world.—Don't you love horses, Lucy?"
"Yes; I love all animals," replied Lucy. "I saw some nice little kittens round there."
"Yes; I've three. We'd better go round now, I think; perhaps they'll want to be going.—I'm glad it's a fine day; aren't you, Tom?"
"I think I am. I looked out at six this morning to see if it was. It'll be glorious up the Peak."
As the three came round to the front door again, Miss Keane appeared on the threshold. She looked very tall and stately and awe-inspiring with her trailing dress and eye-glass. Yet her smile as she shook hands with the children was so pleasant that Lucy forgot to be afraid of her.
"My mother would like to see you, Tom and Lucy," she said. "Will you come upstairs? she is not able to leave the room, you know.—Minnie, I wish you would look round for papa. It is just twelve; we should be going."
Minnie scampered off, and Tom and Lucy followed Miss Keane up the broad staircase into the drawing-room, the beauty of which held them spellbound for a few minutes. On a couch near the fire lay a lady, with gray hair and a pale, thin, worn face, which wore such an expression of peace and happiness that Lucy felt her heart go out to her at once. Mr. and Miss Goldthwaite and George Keane were there also. Mrs. Keane held out both her hands, and the two came shyly forward—Tom blushing a little to be among so many strangers.
"I am glad to see you, my dears," she said very heartily.—"Kiss me, Lucy. I knew your mother, dear. You remind me of her very much."
The ready tears sprang to Lucy's eyes. Kindness always moved her thus, and she took a stool close to the couch, while Tom's eyes wandered round the room, lingering hungrily on the exquisite water-colours on the walls. It was long since he had had such an opportunity. At Thankful Rest the art collection consisted of a few family portraits, ludicrous alike in execution and in colouring. A smile and a glance passed from Mr. Goldthwaite to his sister as they noted how speedily the boy became absorbed.
"These are my brother Robert's drawings," said Miss Keane, touching his arm and beckoning him to come nearer. "You are fond of painting, I think?"
"Yes, ma'am," answered Tom, his face flushing a little. "And these are so beautiful, I could not help looking at them."
"If you will come up to the Red House some other day, I shall show you all my brother's sketch-books and odd drawings," said Miss Keane. "I am very fond of the work myself, and might perhaps be able to help you a little, you know, and I think you would make a clever pupil; what do you say?"
The eyes behind the glasses beamed so kindly at him that Tom forgot that his first impression of her had been unpleasant, and a warm flush of gratitude answered her better than his words. They were few and sad enough.
"There is nothing I should like so much in the world, ma'am, and I thank you very much; but I can't come—my uncle and aunt would not let me."
"I must see about that," said Miss Keane promptly; and at that moment Judge Keane's stately figure appeared in the doorway.
"Are you going to sit there all day, you young folk?" he called out hastily.—"Oh, here you are, little ones;—glad to see you, my lad;" and he gave Tom's hand a warm grasp, and touched Lucy's white face with his forefinger.
"Want some roses there, doesn't she, wife?" he said. "There'll be a glorious air up the Peak to-day, it will bring them there, if anything will."
"I wish you could have come, dear Mrs. Keane," whispered Carrie as she bent a moment over the couch before they passed out; "you used to be the very sunshine of us all."
"I think of you, dear, and am happy in my own way at home," she replied with her sweet smile; "take care of yourself and of this pale little maiden.—Lucy dear, good-bye. Come and see me again."
"Indeed I will, if I can, ma'am," replied Lucy earnestly; and then they all went away. Minnie was already in the big waggon waiting impatiently for the start.
"You will go inside too, little one, I suppose," said the judge to Lucy; and with one swing of his strong arms he placed her beside Minnie. "The rest of us will walk a piece, I fancy. As this is supposed to be a climbing expedition, we must make some show, at least, to begin with."
There was a general laugh, and Tom and Lucy thought there could not be so pleasant an old gentleman as Judge Keane anywhere.
Miss Keane elected Tom for her cavalier, and made him feel very important indeed, by treating him as if he were quite a man; and they got into a very interesting talk about the great painters and their work. She was astonished to find what a thorough knowledge the boy had of the subject, and how well he could talk on what interested him most.
"Robert must see this young artist," was her mental comment. The judge followed behind with Mr. Goldthwaite; while Mr. George Keane and Miss Goldthwaite brought up the rear, walking very slowly, and talking very earnestly. Nobody took any notice of them whatever, evidently being of opinion that they were quite capable of amusing each other. The waggon-path, winding gradually up the mountain side, was rough and stony, and even Billy's cautious feet stumbled sometimes; and the two girls were jolted so that they laughed till they cried.
"I think we'd better get out; don't you, Lucy?" cried Minnie at last, "else there'll be none of us left to see the top of the Peak. I never was so sore in my life. Isn't it fun though?"
"Yes; and the sun is so bright, and everybody so kind, and everything so pleasant, I don't know what to do," said Lucy with softening eyes. Minnie looked at her curiously.
"I say, don't you have any good times at your home, Lucy?" she asked soberly.
"Sometimes—not very often," answered Lucy reluctantly.
"I don't think your aunt is a very nice woman anyway," said Minnie with her usual candour. "She looked at me so one day in church, 'cause I laughed right out at a funny little dog with a stumpy tail running in and right up to Mr. Goldthwaite. Wouldn't you have laughed too?"
"I don't know," said Lucy; "if it was very funny, I daresay I would."
"How pretty you are," said Minnie after a while; "my sister Alice says so—I guess she knows." Lucy blushed, not being accustomed to such plain speaking. "I think Miss Goldthwaite perfectly elegant," went on the young critic. "She is going to marry my brother George, do you know?"
"Is she?" asked Lucy, much interested.
"Yes; and papa and mamma are crazed about her. Everybody is. Isn't she just splendid?"
"There is nobody like her," answered Lucy. Minnie could never know what she had been and was to her.
"Lovers are stupid, don't you think?" asked Minnie again. "They always go away by themselves, and things; you just watch George and Carrie to-day. It is a great trial to me."
"What is?" asked Mr. George Keane, pausing at the side of the waggon. Minnie laughed outright, so did Lucy.
"It's a secret," replied she in a very dignified way.—"O Miss Goldthwaite, are you coming into the waggon?"
"Yes;—will you make room for me, Lucy?"
Lucy moved further up the cushion, and Mr. George Keane assisted Miss Goldthwaite to her place.
"O Carrie, succumbed already!" cried Miss Keane.
"Won't you come in too?" replied Carrie.
"No, thank you; I mean to climb to the top. Somebody must sustain the credit of our sex."
"I know it's safe in your hands, Alice," said Carrie serenely.—"Lucy dear, you look happy. Do you enjoy it?"
The sparkle in Lucy's eyes answered her better than any words.
The road was becoming rougher and steeper, and Billy's progress slower and slower, and the summit of the Peak drawing nearer and nearer. Miss Keane and Tom had got ahead of the waggon, and were the first to reach the top. At last Billy, with a great pull, brought the waggon to the level ground, and then stood still. They all alighted, and, forming a little circle, stood drinking in the beauty of the scene. Wondering how Tom would be affected, Miss Keane turned to speak to him, but he had gone; and looking round, she saw him standing by a huge boulder, but his face was turned away, and understanding why he felt it best to be alone for a few minutes, she did not venture to disturb him. It was a panorama of wonderful beauty. They seemed to stand up among the clouds, the air was so pure and cool and bracing. Far beneath, the houses of the town looked like a tiny ant-nest, enveloped in a filmy haze. The great plain stretched around for miles and miles, dotted here and there by many a pretty homestead, and intersected by the winding river, glinting and glistening in the sun as it hurried on and on to join the far-off sea. Far across the plain the smoke of distant cities obscured the horizon, but none of the noise or bustle was borne on the breeze to this lonely mountain peak. A great silence fell upon the little company, and some bright eyes grew dim as they looked upon the beauty of the world the great Creator had made.
"Just say a few words of prayer, Frank," said the judge at length, in a soft voice; "it will do us all good, I think." Mr. Goldthwaite took off his hat reverently.
"Our Father, we thank thee for this day. We thank thee for sparing us all to come here again; and for the sunshine, and the beauty, and the gladness of the earth. Help us more and more to feel the power and majesty of thy hand, and the great love of thy infinite heart. Be with every one of us to-day, blessing us as only thou canst bless, and help us to live to thy glory; for Jesus' sake. Amen."
"Amen," repeated Judge Keane. "Now we can begin the day with a better heart than ever."
A DAY TO BE REMEMBERED.
It was great fun unpacking the baskets, and Tom made himself very useful to the ladies; so much so, that Miss Goldthwaite felt constrained to whisper one word of praise in his ear, which sent a glow to his heart. Surely never was meal so enjoyed as that lunch on the summit of Pendle Peak; and they lingered so long over it, that Judge Keane passed a great many jokes on the gigantic appetites, and professed great concern about the small quantity of provisions left for tea. When plates and forks and knives were stowed in the waggon again, the party broke up in twos and threes, and went off exploring. Lucy was tired, and said she would remain beside the goods and chattels, whereupon the judge declared he would keep her company. Mr. George and Miss Goldthwaite went off together to search for ferns, they said; while Mr. Goldthwaite, Miss Keane, Minnie, and Tom went to the ravine on the other side of the Peak to find some rare specimens of wild flowers Miss Keane was anxious to secure for her collection. The judge was to whistle at four o'clock, if they had not then returned; and promised to have tea ready, which was considered a great joke. Lucy sat on the smooth green turf, leaning against a boulder, feasting her eyes on the beauty, of which she thought her eyes could never tire. The judge lay on the grass with half-closed eyes, looking at the girl's sweet face, wondering why it looked older and sadder and more womanly than it ought. It was a good while before either spoke.
"Would you mind telling me, Judge Keane, please," said Lucy timidly, "where Newhaven lies from here, and how far it is?"
The judge raised himself on his elbow, put on his gold eye-glass, and looked along the plain. "There, straight as the crow flies, little one," he said, pointing west. "It is about thirty miles in a direct line from where we sit; by rail about fifty, I think."
"It is a long way," she said, and a little sigh followed, as if she wished it nearer.
"You lived in Newhaven, I think, didn't you?" asked the judge.
"Yes, sir, till mamma died. It is not a nice place, but I love it dearly."
Ay, for a quiet grave there held the loved father and mother who had once made for her a happy home.
The judge did not speak, he did not know what to say just then, and Lucy did not seem to expect an answer. He shut his eyes again, and there was a long silence. Thinking he slept, Lucy rose, and, gently laying a rug over him, slipped away. He opened his eyes directly and watched her. She only moved a few yards from him, and knelt down with her face to the west. He heard a few faltering words, followed by a sob—"O dear papa and mamma, I wonder if you can see Tom and me to-day, and know how happy we are. God bless the dear friends who have made us so, for Christ's sake. Amen."
The judge's lips twitched beneath his mustache, and when Lucy rose again, he drew the rug up over his face, not wishing her to see that he had heard that little prayer. But he never forgot it. Two hours did not take long to slip away, and then the judge sat up and looked at Lucy with a comical smile.
"It is ten minutes to four, little one, and there isn't a sign of the wanderers. Suppose you and I make tea: do you think we could manage it between us?"
"Oh yes, sir; I know how to build a fire, and make tea too, and there are sticks in the waggon. May I try?"
"Of course, and I'll help to the best of my limited ability."
Lucy went to the waggon and got out sticks and the kettle, while the judge made an amateur stove between four stones. Lucy then laid the fire, and in a minute there was quite a cheerful little blaze. Water was the next thing, and the judge remembered there used to be a tiny spring a few yards down the slope, which was found without any difficulty; and he brought back the kettle filled, and placed it on the fire. He had so many odd remarks to make about his new occupation, that Lucy was kept laughing pretty nearly all the time. It was getting on for five o'clock before four heads appeared at the edge of the slope. Mr. Goldthwaite, Miss Keane, Minnie, and Tom arrived laden with flowers and ferns, and reported themselves exhausted, and thankful to see that tea was ready. George and Carrie had not been seen since they departed at two o'clock."
"You made tea all by yourself, Lucy," said Miss Keane, laying her kind hand on Lucy's sunny head. "Clever little maiden, how are we to thank you?"
"Judge Keane helped me, Miss Alice," replied Lucy blushing and smiling.
"Helped! I should think I did," said the judge tragically: "she sat on the waggon like a queen, and commanded me like a slave. She looks meek and mild enough, but don't trust her."
"Papa, how much nonsense do you talk in a day?" she said. "I wish the other two would turn up; I'm famished."
"Are we to wait on them, papa?" inquired Minnie piteously. "I guess they don't want any tea: lovers never want anything to eat. Mayn't we have it now?"
"Yes," said Miss Keane.—"Lucy dear, may I trouble you for the teapot.—Papa, hand the sugar, and make yourself useful."
"What a real nice boy your brother Tom is," said Minnie Keane, dropping down by Lucy's side. "We had a splendid time down there, while Alice and Mr. Goldthwaite talked out of books. Aren't you very fond of him?"
"Of Tom? Of course I am," answered Lucy; "you know I have nobody but him, and he has nobody but me."
"Lucy, your tea is delightful," said Mr. Goldthwaite from the other side of the table-cloth. "I don't know when I enjoyed anything so well."
"Hunger is good sauce," said the judge;—"here are the truants." Mr. George Keane and Miss Goldthwaite appeared now, apparently very much astonished to find themselves behind time. The judge made room for Carrie beside himself, and after looking blankly at her for a few minutes, said solemnly, "I thought I heard you say you wanted ferns; but I must have been mistaken, or possibly they haven't come up in the glen this year.—Some tea here, Alice.—Miss Goldthwaite, may I help you to a piece of cake?" The truants joined in the laugh against themselves, and the rest of the meal was passed in a perfect babel of talking.
"What shall we do now, papa?" said Alice when they had finished. "We won't be going home for a little while."
The judge looked at his watch. "Twenty minutes past five: we shall start at six. Well, I propose that each member of the company composes, within the space of ten minutes, four lines of verse descriptive of the scenery. I have brought pencils and paper; and the best writer shall have my gold pencil-case to him or her self."