The Orphans of Glen Elder, by Margaret Murray Robertson.
AUNT JANET'S VISIT.
"Up to the fifth landing, and then straight on. You canna miss the door."
For a moment the person thus addressed stood gazing up into the darkness of the narrow staircase, and then turned wearily to the steep ascent. No wonder she was weary; for at the dawn of that long August day, now closing so dimly over the smoky town, her feet had pressed the purple heather on the hills that skirt the little village of Kirklands. A neighbouring farmer had driven her part of the way, but she had walked since then seven-and-twenty miles of the distance that lay between her and her home.
But it was not weariness alone that deepened the shadow on her brow as she passed slowly upwards. Uncertainty with regard to the welfare of dear friends had long been taking the form of anxious fears; and now her fears were rapidly changing into a certainty of evil. Her heart sickened within her as she breathed the hot, stifling air; for she knew that her only brother's orphan children had breathed no other air than that during the long, hot weeks of summer.
At length she reached the door to which she had been directed; and, as she stood for a moment before it, the prayer that had often risen in her heart that day, burst, in strong, brief words, from her lips.
There was no sound in the room, and it was some time before her eyes became accustomed to the dim light around her. Then the glimpse she caught, through the half-open door, of one or two familiar objects,—the desk which had been her father's, and the high-backed chair of carved oak in which her mother used to sit so many, many years ago,—assured her that she had reached her journey's end.
On a low bed, just opposite the door through which she gazed, lay a boy, apparently about ten years of age. His face was pale and thin, and he moved his head uneasily on his pillow, as though very weary or in pain. For a time all sense of fatigue was forgotten by the traveller, so occupied was she in tracing in that fair little face a resemblance to one dearly beloved in former years—her only brother, and the father of the child.
Suddenly he raised himself up; and, leaning his head upon his hand, spoke to some one in another part of the room.
"Oh me! oh me!" he said faintly; "the time seems so long! Surely she must be coming now."
"It's Saturday night, you ken," said a soft voice, in reply. "She can't be home quite so soon to-night. But the shadow of the speir has got round to the yew-tree at the gate, and it won't be long now."
The little head sank back on the pillow again, and there was a pause. "Oh me!" he murmured again, "it seems so long! I wish it was all at an end."
"What do you wish was at an end?" said the same low voice again.
"All these long days and my mother's going out when she's not able to go, and you sewing so busy all the day, and me waiting, waiting, never to be well again. Oh, Lily, I wish I was dead."
There was the sound of a light step on the floor, and a little girl's grave, pale face bent over the boy.
"Whisht, Archie!" said she, gravely, as she smoothed the pillow and placed his restless head in a more easy posture. "Do you not ken it's wrong for you to say the like of that? It's an awful thing to die, Archie."
"Well, if it's wrong to be weary of lying here, I can't help it," said the child; "but it's surely not wrong to wish to die and go to heaven, yon bonny place!"
"But it is wrong not to be willing to live, and suffer too, if it be God's will," said his sister, earnestly. "And what would we do if you were to die, Archie, my mother and me?"
"I am sure you could do far better than you can do now. You wouldn't need to bide here longer. You could go to Glen Elder to Aunt Janet, you and my mother. But I'll never see Glen Elder, nor Aunt Janet, nor anything but these dark walls and yon bit of the kirk-yard."
"Whisht, Archie," said his sister, soothingly. "Aunt Janet has gone from Glen Elder, and she's maybe as ill off as any of us. I doubt none of us will ever go there again. But we won't think of such sad things now. Lie still, and I'll sing to you till my mother comes home."
She drew a low stool to the side of the bed, and, laying her head down on the pillow beside him, she sang, in a voice low and soft but clear as a skylark's, the sweetest of all the sweet Psalmist's holy songs. It must have been a weary day for her too. She got through the first two verses well; but as she began, "Yea, though I walk through death's dark vale," her eyes closed, and her voice died away into a murmur, and then ceased. Her brother lay quite still, too; nor did either of them move when the traveller went forward into the room.
Many sad and some bitter thoughts were in her heart, as she stood gazing upon them in the deepening twilight. She thought of the time when her only brother, many years younger than herself, had been committed to her care by her dying mother. She thought of the love they had borne each other in the years that followed; how the boy had come to her for sympathy in his childish joys and sorrows; how he had sought her counsel, and guided himself by it, in riper years. She recalled with sadness the untoward events which had interfered to separate him from her and from his early home as he advanced to manhood. Things had not gone well with him in the last years of his life, and he sank under a burden of care too heavy to be borne by one of his sensitive nature. Now he was dead, and she grieved to think that she, his sister, in her old age of poverty, could not offer a home to his widow and orphan children.
The youth and middle age of Mrs Blair had been more free from trial than is the common lot; but the last few years had been years of great vicissitude. She was now a widow and childless; for though it might be that her youngest son was still alive, she did not know that he was; and his life had been the cause of more sorrow than the death of all her other children had been.
She had been involved in the pecuniary troubles that had borne so heavily upon her brother, and when old age was drawing near she found herself under the necessity of leaving Glen Elder, the home where her life had been passed, to seek a humbler shelter. Since then she had lived content with humble means, as far as she herself was concerned, but anxious often for the sake of those whom she loved and longed to befriend. She had known they must be poor, but she had not heard of their poverty from themselves. They resided in a remote and thinly peopled district in Scotland, where the means of communication were few and difficult. Nothing but vague reports had reached her. She had hoped against hope till the time came when she could set her fears at rest, or know the worst, by seeing them herself. Now, standing in the bare room, in the midst of many marks of want and sickness, it grieved her bitterly to feel how little she could do to help them.
"God help them!" she said aloud; and her voice awoke the sleeper before her. For an instant the startled girl stood gazing at the stranger; then, advancing timidly, she held out both hands, exclaiming:
"Yes, it is Aunt Janet," said Mrs Blair, clasping her in her arms; "if indeed this can be the little Lily I used to like so well to see at Glen Elder. You are taller than my little lassie was," she added, bending back the fair little face and kissing it fondly. "But this is my wee Lily's face; I should know it anywhere."
"Oh, Aunt Janet," cried the child, bursting into tears; "I am so glad you are come! We have needed you so much!"
Mrs Blair sat down on the bed, still holding the child in her arms. Poor Lilias! Tears must have been long kept back, her aunt thought, for she seemed to have no power to check her sobs, now that they had found way. Half chiding, half soothing her with tender words, she held her firmly till she grew calm again.
In a little while the weary child raised herself up, and said:
"Don't be vexed with me, Aunt Janet. I don't often cry like that; but I am so glad you have come. We have needed you sorely; and I was sure you would come, if you only knew."
Mrs Blair would not grieve her by telling her how little she could do for them now that she had come; but she still held her in her arms, as she bent down to kiss the little lad, who was gazing, half in wonder, half in fear, at the sight of his sister's tears; and as she got a better view of his thin pale face, she resolved that, if it were possible, he at least should be removed from the close, unhealthy atmosphere of his present home.
"You must be weary, aunt," said Lilias, at last, withdrawing herself from her arms, and untying the strings of her bonnet, which had not yet been removed. "Come and rest here in the armchair till mother comes home. Oh, she will be so glad!"
Mrs Blair suffered herself to be led to the chair which had been her mother's; and, as she rested in it, she watched with much interest the movements of the little girl. In a few minutes there was a fire on the hearth, and warm water prepared, and then, kneeling down, she bathed the hands and face and weary feet of her aunt. Mrs Blair felt a strange sweet pleasure in thus being waited on by the child. Many months had passed since she had looked on one united to her by the ties of blood; and now her heart was full as she gazed on the children of her brother. There was something inexpressibly grateful to her in the look of content that was coming into the grave, wistful eyes of the little lad, and in the caressing touch of Lily's hand. In the interest with which she watched the little girl as she went about intent on household cares, she well-nigh forgot her own weariness and her many causes of anxiety. There was something so womanly, yet so childish, in her quiet ways, something so winning in the grave smile that now and then played about her mouth, that her aunt was quite beguiled from her sad thoughts. In a little while Lily went to the door, and listened for her mother's returning footsteps.
"I wonder what can be keeping her so late?" she said, as she returned. "This is not a busy time, and she said that she would be early home. Sometimes she is very late on Saturday night."
Once more she went to the head of the stairs to listen; and then, returning, she sat herself on a stool at her aunt's feet.
"And so you are very glad to see me, Lily?" said Mrs Blair, smiling upon the child's upturned face.
The bright smile with which the girl answered faded quickly as her aunt continued:
"And you are very poor now, are you?"
"Yes, we are poor; and, yet, not so very poor, either. We have had some work to do, my mother and I; and we have never been a whole day without food. If Archie were only well again! That's our worst trouble, now. And mother, too, though she won't own to being ill, often gets very weary. But now that you are come, all will be well again."
"And maybe you'll take us all home to Glen Elder for a wee while, as you used to do," said Archie, speaking for the first time since his aunt's coming.
"Archie so pines for the country," said Lilias; "and we can hardly make ourselves believe that you live anywhere but at Glen Elder."
"My home now is very unlike Glen Elder," said Mrs Blair, sadly. "But there is fresh air there, and there are bonny heather hills; so cheer up, Archie, laddie; it will go hard with me if I canna get you to Kirklands for a while at least, and you'll be strong and well before winter yet."
The boy smiled sadly enough, and the tears started in his eyes; but he did not answer.
"Archie is thinking that, maybe, he'll never be well again," said his sister. "The doctor says he may be a cripple all his life."
This was a new and unexpected sorrow to Mrs Blair; and her countenance expressed the dismay she felt, as she questioned them about it.
"It was the fever. Archie was ill with the fever all the winter; and when the spring came he didn't get strong again, as we had hoped, and the disease settled in his knee. The doctor said if he could have got away into the country he might have grown strong again. And maybe it's not too late yet," added the little girl, eagerly. "I'm sure the very sight of the hills, these bonny summer days, might make one strong and well."
"Well, he'll get a sight of the hills before very long, I trust; and I don't despair of seeing him strong and well yet," said Mrs Blair, hopefully; and the children, reassured by her cheerful words, smiled brightly to each other, as they thought of the happy days in store for them.
Death had visited the homes of both since Mrs Blair and her sister-in-law met last, and to both the meeting was a sad one. Lilias' mother was scarcely more calm than Lilias had been, as she threw herself into the arms of her long-tried friend. Her words of welcome were few; but the earnest tearful gaze that she fixed upon her sister's face told all that her quivering lips refused to utter.
When the first excitement of their meeting was over, Mrs Blair was shocked to observe the change which grief and care had made in her sister's face and form. She looked many years older than when she had last seen her. There was not a trace of colour on her cheek or lip, and her whole appearance indicated extreme weariness and languor. Little was said of the exertions and privations of the last few months; but that these must have been severe and many was to Mrs Blair only too evident. The food placed upon the table was of the simplest and cheapest kind, and of a quality little calculated to tempt the appetite of an invalid; and she noticed with pain that it was scarcely tasted either by the sick boy or his mother.
"You are not well to-night, mother," said Lilias, looking anxiously at her as she put aside the untasted food.
"Yes, dear, I am as well as usual; but I am tired. The night is close and sultry, and the walk has tired me more than usual. I have not hard work now," she added, turning to Mrs Blair. "This is not a busy time, and my employer is very considerate; but her place of business is quite at the other end of the town, and it's not so easy walking two or three miles on the pavements as it used to be among the hills at home."
"I fear you carry a heavier heart than you used to do in those days," said Mrs Blair, sadly. "But are you not trying your strength more than you ought with these long walks?"
Mrs Elder might have replied that she had no choice between these long walks and utter destitution for herself and her children; but she said, cheerfully, that it was only since the weather had become so warm that she had found the walk at all beyond her strength, and the hot weather would soon be over now.
"It's the country air mother wants, as well as me," said Archie; and the gaze which the weary mother turned upon her sister was as full of wistful longing as the little lad's had been. After a little pause, she said:
"Sometimes I think it would be great happiness to get away to some quiet country place, where I might earn enough to support myself and them. The din and dust of this noisy town are almost too much for me, sometimes; and I am not so strong as I once was. I think it would give me new life to breathe the air of the hills again. But if such is not God's will, we must even be content to bide here till the end comes." And she sighed heavily.
"Whisht, Ellen, woman," said her sister; "don't speak in such a hopeless voice as that. Whatever comes, God sends; and what He sends to His own He sends in love, not in anger. He has not left you to doubt that, surely?"
"Oh, no; I am sure of that. I have seen that it has been in love that He has dealt with us hitherto." And in a moment she added, a bright smile lighting up her pale face as she spoke:
"And I think I can count on a place prepared for me at last by my Saviour; but, for my children's sakes, I would like to wait a while. I would like to take them with me when I go."
"It may be that one of them will get there before you," said her sister. "He knows best, and will send what is best for His own."
"Yes, I know it," said Mrs Elder, in a startled voice, as she turned to look at the pale face of her boy, now almost death-like in the quietness of sleep. The silence was long and tearful; and then she added, as if unconscious of the presence of another:
"So that we are all guided safely to His rest at last, it matters little though the way be rough. 'I will trust, and not be afraid.'"
Long after the tired children slept, the sisters sat conversing about many things. Not about the future. Firm as was their trust in God, the future seemed dark indeed, and each shrank from paining the other by speaking her fears aloud. Of her husband Mrs Elder spoke with thankfulness and joy, though with many tears. He had known and loved the Saviour, and had died rejoicing in His salvation. She had prayed that God would give her submission to His will as the end drew near;— and He had given her not only submission, but blessed peace; and no trouble, however heavy, should make her distrust His love again.
Had her husband been cut off in the midst of his days, without warning, she must have believed that it was well with him now. But, in the memory of the time before his death, the blessedness of his present state seemed less a matter of faith than of sure and certain knowledge. There could be no gloom, either in the past or the future, so thick but the light of that blessed assurance might penetrate it. In the darkest hours that had fallen on her since then (and some hours had been dark indeed), it had cheered and comforted her to think of the last months of his life. It was, in truth, the long abiding in the land of Beulah, the valley and the shadow of death long past, and the towers and gates of the celestial city full in sight.
"No; whatever may come upon us now," she added humbly, "nothing can take away the knowledge that it is well with him."
Through the whole of the long history, given with many tears, Mrs Elder never spoke of the poverty that had fallen upon them, or of her own ill-remunerated toil. His last days had been days of comfort, undisturbed by any apprehension with regard to the future of his wife and children; for the stroke which deprived them of the last remnant of their means did not fall till he was at rest.
The candle had long since sunk in the socket, and they were sitting in the darkness, which the moonlight, streaming in through the small attic window, only partially dispelled. Not a sound but the soft breathing of the sleeping children, and the hum of voices from the city below, broke the stillness of the pause which followed. Each was busy with her own thoughts. The prevailing feeling in Mrs Blair's heart was gratitude, both for her dead brother and her living sister's sake. That his last days had been days of such peace and comfort, that his trust in Christ had been so firm, and his hope of happiness so sure, was matter for fervent thanksgiving. Nor were the humble resignation and patient faith of his wife less a cause of rejoicing to her. She felt rebuked for her own fears and faithlessness as the narrative went on, and she thanked God for the love that had been so mercifully mingled in the bitter cup that had been given them to drink.
Long after her sister was sleeping by her side did Mrs Blair lie awake, revolving in her mind some possible plan for finding a home for the widow and her children in the country, for that none of them could long endure such a life as they had lately been living was only too evident.
It seemed to her that she had never felt her poverty till now. Bitterly did she regret her inability to help them. From the abundance that had blessed her youth and middle age a mere pittance had been saved, scarcely enough to maintain herself, and altogether insufficient to enable her to gratify her benevolent feelings by doing for them as she wished. She had removed from her early home to a little hamlet among the hills, and had taken up her abode in a cottage scarcely better than a mountain shieling; and there the last few years had been passed. She had opened a school for the children of the cottagers, happy in being useful in this way to those whom she could now assist in no other.
To this home, poor as it was, she longed to take the widow and children of her brother. Many a plan she considered for eking out her scanty means that she might do so; and the grey dawn was beginning to break before she closed her eyes in sleep. The future was still dark before her. She saw no way to bring about what she so earnestly desired. There was nothing to do but leave it all in the Hand which is strong to help in time of need. And what better could she do than cling to the promise which God has given?
"God of the widow! Father of the fatherless! interpose for them," she prayed. And her prayer was heard and answered.
HOW AUNT JANET'S PRAYER WAS ANSWERED.
Yes: her prayer was heard and answered; but it was in God's way, not in hers. When Mrs Blair woke from her short and unrefreshing slumber, she found that the morning was far advanced. Lilias had been long astir. Breakfast was ready; and the child was now standing beside her mother, assisting her to dress. But the effort to sit up seemed too much for Mrs Elder.
"It's no use trying, Lilias, my dear," she said, at last, laying her aching head back on the pillow again. "I'm either too ill or too weary to rise. Thank God, it is the day of rest. I shall be better to-morrow."
But this was not to be. Through all that long day she lay, tossing in restless wakefulness or moaning in feverish slumber. Mrs Blair, too, worn out by her long journey and her sleepless night, seemed unable to make the slightest exertion. Lilias went from one to the other, ministering to their wants; and her loving voice and gentle touch brought comfort to their hearts, though she could not soothe their bodily pain.
"You are a kind little nurse, Lilias," said her aunt, detaining the hand that had been laid lovingly on her. "I am sure you have the will to help us, if you only had the power."
"Oh, I wish I could do something for you, aunt! I am afraid you are very weary. Maybe if I were to read a little to you, the time wouldn't seem so long," And she laid her hand on her own little Bible as she spoke.
"Yes, love, read: I shall be very glad to listen."
So she read, in her clear, childish voice, psalm after psalm, till her aunt could not but wonder at the skill with which she seemed to choose those most suitable to their circumstances. By-and-by, after a little pause, she said:
"Some way, I like the Psalms, aunt. Do you not like them? They seem to say what we want to say so much better than we can ourselves."
"Yes, my child; that is true. And so you like the Psalms best, do you?" said her aunt.
"Not best,—at least, not always;—only when I am weary or sad. There are some chapters in the New Testament that I like best of all. This is Archie's chapter." And she turned to the fifteenth of Luke. "Archie thinks it is grand, this about the joy among the angels in heaven; and this, too, about the Father's love;" and she read, "'But when the father saw him, he had compassion upon him, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him.'"
"Archie never tires of that," she said, smiling at her brother, who had been sitting with his eyes fixed upon her, listening as she read. "And this is the one I like best, about Mary, and Martha, and Lazarus." And she read the eleventh chapter of John, but paused before she got to the end.
"I never like to read the rest, about their taking counsel to slay Him, so soon after they had seen all this. Sometimes I can hardly make it seem true, it is so sad. But I like the story, oh, so much!" And she read again slowly, "'Now Jesus loved Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus.'" And again, "'Jesus said unto her, I am the Resurrection, and the Life: he that believeth in Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: and he that liveth and believeth in Me shall never die.'"
"Do you like it, aunt?"
"Yes, love; it is a fine chapter."
"It's maybe not better than many and many a one here," said Lilias, slowly turning over the leaves of her Bible; "but I happened on it once when I needed something to help me, and I've liked it ever since."
"And what time was that?" asked her aunt, much interested.
"Oh, it was long ago," answered Lilias, lowering her voice, and looking to see if her mother still slept. "It was just after father died. Mother was ill, and I thought God was sending us too much trouble; and I came upon this chapter, and it did me so much good! Not that I thought Jesus would raise up my father again, but I knew He could do greater things than that if He pleased; and I knew He had not forgotten us in our troubles, more than He had forgotten Mary and Martha, though He stayed still in the same place where He was, two whole days after they had sent for Him because their brother was sick. No trouble has seemed so bad since then; and none ever will again, come what may."
"Come what may!" Little was Lilias thinking of all that might be hidden in those words. She gradually came to know, as that night and the next day and night passed away, and the dawning of the third day found her mother no better, but rather worse. Mrs Blair had concealed her own anxiety, for the children's sake. Believing her sister's illness to be the consequence of over-exertion, she had thought that rest and quiet would be sufficient to restore her; but these three days had made no change for the better, and, fearing the worst, she asked Lilias if she knew any doctor to whom they might apply.
"Yes; there is Dr Gordon, who attended my father and Archie. We have not seen him for a long time, but I think I could find his house." And, with trembling eagerness, she prepared to go out.
It rained violently, but Lilias scarcely knew it, as she ran rather than walked along the street. It was still early, and the doctor had not gone out. When the servant carried in the little girl's message, he repeated the name several times, as if to recall it.
"Mrs Elder!—I had lost sight of her this long time. Yes, certainly I will go. Where does she live now?"
The servant replied that the child who brought the message was waiting to show him the way; and in a few minutes he was ready to go with her. Lilias, who was standing at the door, started homeward as soon as he appeared, and hurried on almost as rapidly as she came, so that the doctor had some difficulty in keeping her in sight.
"Are you sure you are not mistaking the way?" said he, as Lilias waited for him at the corner of the street, or rather the alley that led to the attic; "surely Mrs Elder cannot be living in a place like this?"
Lilias threw back her bonnet, and now, for the first time, looked in the doctor's face. "Yes, sir, we have lived here ever since the time you used to come and see Archie."
"Oh, he! my Lily of the valley, this is you, is it? Well, don't cry," he added; for his kindly voice had brought the tears to the child's eyes. "We shall have your mother quite well in a day or two again, never fear."
But he looked grave indeed as he stood beside her, and took her burning hand in his.
"You don't think my mother will be long ill?" said Lilias, looking up anxiously into his face as he stood beside the bed.
"No, my child; I don't think she will be long ill," said he, gravely.
And Lilias, reassured by his words, and fearing no evil, smiled almost brightly again, as she went quietly about her household work.
"You think her dying, then?" said Mrs Blair, to whom his words conveyed a far different meaning.
"She is not dying yet; but, should her present symptoms continue long, she cannot possibly survive. She must have been exerting herself far beyond her strength or living long without nourishing food, to have become reduced to a state so frightfully low as that in which I find her."
"She has been doing both, I fear," said her sister, sadly. "She has sacrificed herself. And, yet, what could she do? They have had nothing for many months between them and want, but the labour of her hands, and the few pence that poor child could earn. God help them!"
"God help them, indeed!" echoed the doctor earnestly.
He gave her what hope he could. He said it was possible, only just possible, that she might rally. It would depend on the strength of her constitution. Nothing that he could do for her would be left undone.
"In the mean time, we must hope for the best."
But, with so much cause to fear, it was no easy thing to hope; and to Mrs Blair the day was a long and anxious one. Her sister seemed conscious at intervals; but for the greater part of the time she lay quite still, giving no evidence of life, save by her quick and laboured breathing. When Dr Gordon came again at night there was no change for the better; and, though he did not say so, it was evident to Mrs Blair that he anticipated the worst.
"And must she die without recovering consciousness? Can she speak no word to her children before she goes?"
"It is possible she may die without speaking again. But if she revives so much as to speak, it will be very near the end."
Lilias had gone out on an errand, so that she did not see the doctor; and her aunt's heart grew sick at the thought of telling her that her mother must so soon die. Archie evidently had some idea of his mother's state; for, though he did not speak, he gazed anxiously into his aunt's face as she turned away from the bed.
"Poor boy! Poor, helpless child!" she murmured, stooping suddenly over him. Poor boy, indeed! He knew it all now. He asked no questions. He needed to ask none; but he hid his face in the pillow, and sobbed as if his heart would break. At length Lilias' footstep was heard on the stair, and he hushed his sobs to listen. She came up step by step, slowly and wearily; for the watching and anxiety of the last few days and nights were beginning to tell upon her.
"Well, aunt?" she said, laying down the burden she had brought up, and looking hopefully into her aunt's face. Mrs Blair could not speak for a moment; and Lilias, startled by her grave looks, exclaimed:
"Does Dr Gordon think my mother worse?"
"She is not much better, I fear, love," said her aunt, drawing her towards her, and holding her hands firmly in her own. Lilias gave a fearful glance into her face. The truth flashed upon her; but she put it from her in terror.
"We must have patience, aunt. She has had no time to grow better yet."
"Yes, love; we must have patience. Whatever God shall see fit to send on us, we must not distrust Him, Lilias."
"Yes, we must have patience," said the child, scarcely knowing what she said. She went and knelt down beside the bed, and spoke to her mother; but her voice had no power to rouse her from the heavy slumber into which she had fallen. In a little while she rose, and went quietly about arranging the things in the room. Then, with needless care, the supper was placed on the table; for none of them could taste food. Then her brother was prepared for bed; but all the time she spoke no word, and went about like one in a dream.
When she stooped to kiss her brother a good-night, the little boy clasped his arms about her neck, and wept aloud. But she did not weep; she laid her head down on the pillow beside him, gently soothing him with hand and voice; and, when at last he had sobbed himself to sleep, she disengaged his arms from her neck, and, rising, placed herself on a low stool beside her mother's bed.
Mrs Blair thought it better to leave her to herself. Indeed, what could she say to comfort her? And so the child sat a long time gazing into her mother's face, her own giving no sign of the struggle that was going on within. At first the one thought that filled her mind was that it was impossible her mother could be going to die. It seemed too dreadful to be true; and, then, it was so sudden! Her father had been with them for months after they knew that he must die, and her mother had been quite well only three days ago. No; it could not be!
And, yet, such things had been before. She thought of a little girl, rosy and strong, who had sickened and died in three short days; and it might be so with her mother. How should she ever live without her? Oh, if she could only die too, and have done with life and its struggles! Everything was forgotten in the misery of the moment; and with a moan that revealed to her aunt something of what she was suffering, she leaned forward on the bed.
"Lily," said a voice beside her.
Lilias started. It was the first time her mother had spoken during the day, and the child bent eagerly over her and kissed her.
"Lily, love, read to me the twelfth of Hebrews," said her mother, in a low, changed voice.
By a strong effort Lilias quieted herself, and read on till she came to the eleventh verse: "'Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous; but afterwards it yieldeth the peaceable fruits of righteousness to them that are exercised thereby.'"
"You believe that, Lily?" said her mother.
"Yes, mother," said the child, in a trembling voice.
"And you'll mind it by-and-by, darling, and comfort your brother with the words? It won't be for long, Lily. You'll soon be with us there."
"Mother! mother!" gasped the child, losing her self-control, as she threw herself upon the bed and clasped her arms about her mother's neck. For a few minutes her frame shook with her sobs. Fearing the effect of this strong emotion on the mother, Mrs Blair came to the bed; but she did not speak, and by a strong effort she calmed herself again.
"Lily," said her mother, in a moment or two, "I have many things to say to you, and I have not much strength left. You must calm yourself, darling, and listen to me."
"But, mother, you are not much worse to-night, are you?"
"God is very good to us both, my child, in giving me a little strength and a clear mind at the last. What I have to say will comfort you afterwards, Lily. I want to tell my darling what a comfort she has been to me through all my time of trouble. I have thanked God for my precious daughter many a time when I was ready to sink. Archie will never want a mother's care while he has you; and for his sake, love, you must not grieve too much for me. It will only be for a little while; and, then, think how happy we shall be."
There was a pause.
"Will you promise, Lily?"
"Yes, mother; I promise. It will only be for a little while."
"I do not fear to leave my darlings. God will keep them safe till we meet again."
There was a long silence after that; and then she called her sister by name, and Mrs Blair bent over her.
"Kiss me, Janet. God sent you to us now. Comfort—Alex's bairns."
Again there was silence. The mother's hand moved uneasily, as if in search of something. Her sister lifted it, and laid it over her daughter's neck, and then it was at rest. Not a sound broke the stillness of the hour. They thought she slept; and she did sleep; but she never woke again. The early dawn showed the change that had passed over her face, and Lilias knew that she was motherless.
Of how the next days passed, Lilias never had a distinct remembrance. She only knew that when, on the third morning, strangers came to bear her mother away, it seemed a long, long time since she died. It seemed like looking back over years, rather than days, to recall the time when she lay with her arms clasped around her neck, and listened to her dying words.
During this time, Mrs Blair had watched her niece with some anxiety. There was no violent bursts of grief, but there was a look of desolation on her face which it was heartbreaking to see. She was quiet and gentle through all; willing, indeed eager, to render assistance to her aunt when it was required; but as soon as she was free again she returned to the low stool beside the bed on which her mother lay.
The time was passed by Archie in alternate fits of violent weeping and depression almost amounting to stupor. Lilias tried hard to perform the promise made to her dying mother. She put aside her own sorrow to soothe his. She read to him; she sang to him; and when he would listen to neither reading nor singing, she would murmur such words of comfort as her mother had spoken to her; and their burden always was, "They are so happy now. They have found such rest and peace; and it will be but a little while, and then we shall be with them there."
And then, when he grew quiet and listened to her, she would try to meet his wistful looks with a smile; but when he was quiet or asleep, she always returned to the place beside her dead mother.
But they bore her mother away at last; and then for a moment Lilias' strength and courage forsook her. The cry of her desolate heart would no longer be hushed.
"Oh, mother! mother!"
Even the sound of her brother's weeping had not power, for a time, to recall her from the indulgence of her grief.
On the morning of her sister's death, Mrs Blair had written to a friend, asking him to make arrangements for conveying the orphans to her humble home; and they were to leave the town on the day succeeding that of the funeral. Little was left to be done. A few articles of furniture were to be disposed of, a few trifles, heirlooms in the family for several generations, were to be taken with them; and it was with a feeling of relief that Mrs Blair welcomed the honest carrier of Kirklands who was on the morrow to convey them away from the unhealthy town to the free fresh air of their native hills. Only one thing more remained to be done, and the afternoon was nearly over before Mrs Blair found courage to speak of it.
"Lilias, if you are not too weary, I should like you to go out for me to Dr Gordon's, love, if it will not be too much for you."
"I'm not weary, aunt. I'll go, if you wish." But she grew very pale, remembering the last time she had gone there.
"Lilias," said her aunt, drawing her towards her, and kissing her fondly, "you have been my own brave, patient lassie to-day. You have not forgotten your mother's words?"
"Oh, aunt, I wish to be patient, indeed I do. But I fear I am not really patient at heart." And she wept now as though her heart would break.
Her aunt let her weep freely for a few minutes, and then she said:
"It's not wrong for you to weep for your mother, Lilias; you must do that. But you know 'He doth not afflict willingly;' and you can trust His love, though you cannot see why this great sorrow has been sent upon you. You can say, 'Thy will, not mine, be done.'"
"I am trying, Aunt Janet," said Lilias, looking up with a wavering smile on her lips, almost sadder to see than tears, as her aunt could not help thinking. She said no more, but kissed her and let her go.
It was with a grave face and slow step that Lilias took her way to Dr Gordon's house. When she was fairly in the street, a wild desire seized her to go to the place where her father and mother lay, and she took a few rapid steps in that direction. It was not in the narrow kirk-yard seen from their window, but quite away in another part of the town, nearer to the place where they used to live, and Lilias paused before she had gone far, for she doubted if it would be right to venture down at that hour. She stood still a moment.
"I shall not see them. They are not there. I must have patience." And she turned slowly back again.
It was growing dark in the room in which, for a few minutes, she waited for Dr Gordon, and through the half-open door she caught a glimpse of a pleasant parlour, echoing with the music of voices. Happy, cheerful voices they were; but Lilias's heart grew sadder as she listened, and when at last Dr Gordon appeared, it was with difficulty that she could restrain her tears.
Speaking very fast, as if she were afraid that her voice would fail her, she said: "We are going away, sir, to-morrow with my aunt, Mrs Blair, and she sent me with this to you."
The doctor took what the child held towards him, but instantly replaced it in her hands.
"And so that was your aunt I saw the other day?" said he.
"Yes; Aunt Janet Blair, our father's sister. We are going to live with her in the country, and it's far away; and, if you please, sir, would you come and see Archie again? My aunt didn't bid me ask you, but it would be such a comfort if you would." And she looked up beseechingly into his face.
"Yes, surely, with a good will," said Dr Gordon heartily; "and to-night, too, it must be, if you are going to-morrow. No, no, my lassie," he added, as Lilias made another attempt to place the money in his hand. "I have not yet eaten orphans' bread, and I'm not going to begin now."
"But my aunt sent it, sir; and she was not always poor; and I think she would like you to take it."
His only answer was to press her fingers more closely over the little packet of money, as he drew her towards the parlour-door.
"I will go with you by-and-by, but first you must come in and see my boys. Mrs Gordon wants to see you, too," said he.
The room into which they passed was a large and pleasant one, and Lilias never forgot it, nor the kind words which were spoken to her there. The bright yet softened light of a lamp made all parts of it visible. Over the mantelpiece was a large mirror, and there were heavy crimson curtains on the windows, and many pictures on the walls. On a low chair, near the fire, sat a lady with a boy in her arms, and several other children were playing about the room. They became quiet as their father entered, and gazed with some curiosity on the stranger.
"This is my little friend, Lilias Elder," said the doctor. "It is fortunate she came to-night. We might not have found her to-morrow."
Mrs Gordon received Lilias very kindly, speaking to her in a voice so tender, that, in spite of herself, it brought the tears to her eyes. Noticing her emotion, Mrs Gordon did not speak to her again for a moment, and the children gathering round her, she quickly recovered herself in receiving and returning their greetings.
When tea was fairly over, and the boys had gone to bed, a long conversation took place between Lilias and her friends. Dr Gordon was the father of six sons, but he had no daughter, and his heart overflowed with love and pity for the orphan girl. Through all the long illness of her father and brother, she had been an object of interest to the kind physician. Her never-wearying attention to both, and the evident comfort and support she had been to her mother in all her trials, had filled him with admiration and pleasure. For months he had lost sight of the family, and various circumstances had occurred to withdraw his thoughts from the subject; but now that he had found Lilias an orphan and in want, he longed to take her to his heart and home.
"I ought, perhaps, to have spoken first to your aunt, your natural guardian; but I think she will be willing to give you up to us. We will try and make you happy, my child."
Lilias shed many grateful tears as their plans were unfolded to her; but to all their kind words she had but one answer. It could not be. She could never leave Archie. He was ill and lame, and had no one else, and she had promised her mother always to take care of him.
It was in vain that they assured her that his health and comfort should be cared for; that, though for the present they might be separated, he would still be her brother, and that her change of circumstances would be, as beneficial to him as to her in the end. They urged her to consider, and not to decide hastily. They would wait, weeks or months, till her brother was better, so that she could leave him with her aunt.
But no. It could not be. It would seem like forsaking him. She had promised their mother always to take care of him. Nothing could make it right to break that promise.
"Indeed you must not be grieved, or think me ungrateful," she pleaded. "It would not be right. It would break Archie's heart to part from me now."
And so they let her go. Dr Gordon did not speak to her, but he held her hand firmly as they passed down the street. Lilias thought he was angry at her decision; but he was not angry. He was only grieved. When they reached the door, she lingered.
"Indeed, sir, I could not do any other way; and, if you please, don't tell my aunt all you have said to me to-night: she might think I would be sorry afterwards, and I wish you wouldn't tell her."
"Well, child, I will not tell her, since it is your wish. But remember, if any trouble comes upon you, you must write and let me know." And Lilias joyfully assented to the condition.
The doctor's visit comforted them all greatly. Archie's case he thought by no means so hopeless as he had once thought it. True, he might still be lame; but he might be strong and healthy for all that. The fresh air of the hills would, he believed, work wonders for him: so he bade him take heart; and the poor lad's pale face brightened as he said it.
To Mrs Blair he spoke of her brother in terms of respect and affection that won her confidence at once; and when he earnestly entreated her to consider him as a friend to the children, and to apply to him if trouble should overtake them, she promised to do so, without hesitation or reserve.
When he bade "good-bye" to Lilias, he took her face between his hands and kissed her many times on lip and brow, calling her a firm little thing, though she seemed so gentle; and then he prayed, "God bless her," and they were left alone.
THE NEW HOME.
It was not without many tears that the two children bade farewell to the little, dark room that had been their home so long. True, they had suffered much in it. Many long, restless days and painful nights had Archie passed there; but it was associated with the memory of their mother, and it was like a second parting from her to leave it.
The morning was dark and dull. A heavy mist lay on the town, and for the first few miles their journey was silent and sad. But, as the sun rose higher, the clouds parted and the mist rolled away, revealing to the unaccustomed eyes of the children pleasant glimpses of hill and valley.
Their way, after they had fairly left the great city and its suburbs behind them, lay through quiet and unfrequented roads. They crossed a broad moor, and then for a time passed between low hills covered with broom or heather. Afterwards they came upon cultivated land lying around long, low farm-houses. Sometimes these dwellings were close by the road, and then they caught, with delight, glimpses of barn-door fowls and garden-flowers; and sometimes there were children playing on the green slopes around their homes. But oftener the farm-houses were far away on the hill-sides or in the quiet valleys. In some early fields they saw the reapers busy with the harvest; but most of the way was quiet,—even lonely. For miles and miles they saw no living thing save a grey plover whistling over their heads, or now and then a flock of sheep among the hills far away.
Much of the way Mrs Blair walked, and sometimes Lilias walked with her; but she soon became weary. It was a day long to be remembered by the children,—their first day among the hills. After so long in the close streets of the town, it seemed as though they could never get enough of the clear, fresh air and the pleasant country sights and sounds. Everything seemed beautiful to them, moors, and hills, and golden harvest-fields. They did not talk much, only now and then one would point out to the other some new object of interest, a glimpse of blue water caught between the hills, or a lark upspringing from some grassy knoll, singing as it soared.
In the middle of the day they stopped near a little village to rest. The carrier went with his horse to the inn; but they sat down in the shadow of a tree by the wayside, and ate the simple food they had brought with them.
It was sunset before they reached their aunt's home; and a pleasant place it seemed to them, though so poor and small. It stood at a little distance from the village of Kirklands. On one side was a plot of garden-ground, which some former occupant of the cottage had redeemed from the common beyond. It was sheltered on two sides by a hawthorn hedge; and a low, whitewashed paling separated it from the highway. There was little in it, except a few common vegetables, a border of daisies and hearts-ease, and a rose-bush or two; but to Lilias it seemed a charming place; and it was not without reluctance that she obeyed her aunt's summons to come within when the dew began to fall.
It was, indeed, a new life that the brother and sister began at the cottage. During the first few weeks, the greater part of the time, when the days were fine, was passed out-of-doors. At first, Archie could not get beyond the turf seat at the end of the cottage; but Lilias found her way across the wide common and away to the hills and glens beyond. After a time, Archie was able, by the help of his crutches, to go with her; and many a pleasant path and quiet resting-place they found for themselves.
Their favourite resort was at the most distant point to which Archie for a while was able to go. A great grey rock, partly covered with heather and wild creepers, jutted out into the dry bed of a mountain stream. Passing round it, they found a low seat made by an abrupt rent in the rock, over which hung a slender mountain-ash. In the winter, or after heavy rains, this channel was filled with water; but now a tiny rivulet only trickled down the middle of the bed, making a pleasant murmur among the smooth, white pebbles over which it passed. Here the children spent many a happy hour.
Their most common theme of conversation was their father and mother, and the events of the past two years. The memory of the time before that was more like a dream than like the recalling of events that had really taken place. Of their mother they spoke oftenest,—sometimes with tears and regret for their own loss, but sometimes, too, with joy at the thought of her gain, and the blessed rest to which she had attained.
"Do you think she was glad to go?" asked Archie, one day, after they had been talking a long time.
"Yes; I think she was very glad to go; but at first it grieved her sorely to think of leaving us behind. I almost think she would have gone sooner but for that. After Aunt Janet came, it was different. After that she seemed willing to go at any time."
There was a pause, and then Archie said:
"It is a pity that she didn't know, before she went away, how we should come here, and what a bonny place it is. Lily, do you think she sees us now?"
"I don't know. She may. Anyway, after that night she was willing to leave us. Indeed, she told me the night she died that she didn't fear for us."
The remembrance of that night always made Lilias' cheek grow pale; and she did not speak again for some time. At last she said:
"Yes, this is a bonny place, and we have been very happy here; but there is one thing I am grieved for. You know, Archie, Aunt Janet is poor, and I fear in this place I shall not be able to find anything to do to help her. I fear I can't bide here long."
The thought of having to part from his sister had never come into Archie's mind, and he looked at her in astonishment, as he said:
"But where would you go?"
"Oh, I don't know yet. Only I think it's not right to burden Aunt Janet more than can be helped. I heard Mrs Stirling say that Mrs Graham, at the manse, wanted some one to sew and help among the children; and maybe I would do for her."
"Oh, Lily, surely you wouldn't go away. What should I ever do without you?" said Archie, weeping.
"Whisht, Archie," said his sister, soothingly; "do you think I would like to go away from you? But if it is right, we mustn't think whether it is pleasant or not. We won't grieve before the time, however. Maybe I'll never have to go. We'll speak to Aunt Janet."
And so that night, after Archie was asleep, Lilias spoke to her aunt.
"Are you weary of me, Lilias, that you wish to leave me so soon?" asked her aunt, gravely.
"Oh, aunt, you cannot think that. If it were only not wrong for me to bide here always!"
"And why do you not think it right to bide here always?" asked her aunt.
"Because I am young and strong, and I ought to be working for you, rather than that you should be doing so much for me."
"But you have been working for me. You have helped me greatly since you came here."
"Yes, a little, perhaps," said Lilias, thoughtfully. "But that's not what I mean. Are you not very poor now, Aunt Janet?"
"Well, I cannot say that I am very rich," said her aunt, smiling. "But I'm not so poor but that I can shelter my brother's orphan bairns for a while at least." And then she added, gravely, "I have no doubt but you could make yourself very useful, and I dare say Mrs Graham would like to have you there; but there are many reasons why such a thing is not to be thought of."
"Will you tell me some of them, aunt?"
"You have no need to go, my child; and, even if you had, you are not strong enough. You are by no means fit for the work you would have to do there; though you could have no better place than the manse. No, no, my lassie, you must bide here among the hills, and gather health and strength for the struggles that life must bring to you as well as to others. All you could gain would but ill repay you for the loss of health; and you are not very strong, dear."
"But I am stronger than one would think to see me; and I'll be getting stronger, living in a country place. I think I might be strong enough for Mrs Graham."
"But, even if you were strong enough, for all our sakes, it is not to be thought of that you should go now. Archie would pine without you. And unless you are weary of this quiet place, and wish for a change, you must put away all thought of leaving us, for a time at least."
"Weary! Oh, no, aunt. And I know Archie would miss me; but he could spare me; and I could go if it was right. I can do a great many things, and I would try to learn."
"Yes, you can do a great many things; and that is one reason why I can't spare you, Lily. I think I have the best right to my brother's daughter." And she drew the little girl fondly towards her as she spoke.
"Oh, aunt," exclaimed Lilias eagerly, "if I could really help you and be a comfort to you, I would like nothing half so well."
"You can be useful to me. You are a comfort to me. I hardly know how I could part from you now, dear. Our way of living must be very humble; but that will not be so bad as being parted—will it, my Lily? You have learnt to love me a little, my child?"
Lilias answered by putting her arms round her aunt's neck, and kissing her again and again. Then in a low voice she said:
"You mind me of my father."
"And you mind me of the brother I loved and watched over as a child, and honoured as a man. If it is God's will, we will not be parted, my beloved child."
And so it was settled, and Lilias's heart was set at rest about the matter; and in the morning her face told the tidings to Archie before her lips could speak the words.
Mrs Blair's cottage lay at the distance of several miles from the kirk of Dunmoor, which she had all her life attended. It was some time before Archie was able to go so far, and Lilias had stayed at home with him. At length, one fine, clear Sabbath in the end of September, Mrs Blair yielded to their entreaties to be permitted to go with her; and early in the morning they set out. Instead of going by the highway, they took a pleasanter path over the hills, resting often, for Archie's sake, on some grey stone or mossy bank. The length of the way was beguiled by pleasant talk. Mrs Blair told them of the Sabbath journeys to the kirk from Glen Elder when she and her little brother were all in all to each other; and Lilias and Archie could never grow weary of hearing of their father's youthful days. Many in the kirk that day looked with interest on the children of Alexander Elder, as they sat by his sister's side, in the very same seat where he used to sit so many years ago; and many an earnest "God bless them!" went up to the Father of the fatherless in their behalf. Yes, it was the very same seat in which their father used to sit; and Lilias could hardly repress her tears as she saw his initials, with a date many years back, carved in the dark wood before her. The psalm-book, too, which he had used, had never been removed; and his name, in a large schoolboy's hand, was written many times on its blank leaves. Many of the Psalms were marked, too, as having been learnt at such or such a time; and it was long before Lilias could think of anything but the little lad like Archie (only rosy and strong) who had sat there with his sister so many years ago. The voice that spoke from the brown old pulpit was the same to which he had listened; for the aged minister had been her grandfather's friend, and her father had grown up beneath his eye, one of the dearest of a well-beloved flock.
His face and voice were to Lilias like those of a dear, familiar friend; and when he spoke of the things of which she loved to hear, she could no longer restrain her tears: indeed, she never thought of trying.
"For my ways are not as your ways; neither are my thoughts as your thoughts," were the words from which he spoke; and when he told them how it was oftentimes the way of our good Father in heaven to lead His chosen, worn and weary, fainting beneath heavy burdens, over rough places, through darkness and gloom, but all safe home at last, the words went to the child's heart as though they had been spoken to her alone of all who were waiting for a portion there; and her heart made answer, "What does it matter? It is only for a little while, and then all safe home at last. Not one forgotten, not one left out, in that day."
Archie, too, listened intently, but not with tears. There was an earnest look in his eyes, and a grave smile about his mouth, as though he were hearing some glad tidings; and when the minister sat down, he leaned over towards his sister, and whispered softly:
"I like that."
And Lilias smiled in reply.
When the service was over, and Mrs Blair and the children had passed out into the kirk-yard, Mrs Graham, the minister's widowed daughter, came and invited them into the manse till it should be time for the service in the afternoon. Mrs Blair went with her; but Archie was shy, and liked better to stay out in the pleasant kirk-yard; and Lilias stayed with him. The place had a quiet Sabbath look about it, which suited well the feelings of the children; and, as the resting-place of many friends of their father, it was full of interest to them. Many of the people who had come—from a distance stayed also, and seated themselves, in small parties, here and there among the grave-stones; but not a loud or discordant voice arose to break the silence that reigned around.
The kirk itself was a quaint old building, around which many interesting historical associations clustered. The large stones of which it was built were dark with age; and the ivy that grew thickly over the western wall gave it the appearance of an ancient ruin. Dark firs and yew-trees grew around the kirk-yard, and here and there over the grave of a friend the hand of affection had planted a weeping-willow. On a low slab beneath one of these the brother and sister sat for a time in silence, broken at last by Archie.
"Oh, Lily! this is a bonny quiet place. How I wish they were lying here!"
"Yes," said Lilias, softly, "among their friends. But it makes no difference. I never think of them as lying there."
"Oh, no! they are not there. I suppose it is all the same to them. But yet, if I were going to die, I would like better to lie down here in this quiet place than among the many, many graves yonder in the town. Wouldn't you, Lily?"
"Yes; for some things I would. I should like to be where the friends I love could often come. Look yonder how all the people are sitting beside the graves of their own friends. That is Ellen Wilson and her brother beside their father's grave. I read the name on the stone as I came in this morning. And Mrs Stirling's husband and children are buried there in the corner where she is sitting. She told me about them the last time she was in. I think the folk here must mind their friends better than they would if they never saw their graves."
"But we'll never forget our father and mother, though we can't see their graves," said Archie, eagerly; "I do wish they were lying here beside my grandfather and all the rest."
Lilias did not answer, for they were about to be interrupted. Only one of the persons who were approaching them was known to her, and she did not think her a very agreeable acquaintance, and a slight feeling of impatience rose within her as she drew near.
Mrs Stirling was one of those unfortunate persons who constantly move in an atmosphere of gloom. Her face seemed to express a desire to banish all cheerfulness and silence all laughter wherever she came. She had never, even in her best days, been blessed with a heavenly temper, and much care and many sorrows had made it worse. Men had dealt hardly with her, and God, she believed, had done the same. One short month had made her a widow and childless, and then other troubles had followed. From circumstances of comfort she had been reduced, by the carelessness and dishonesty of those whom she had trusted, to a state of comparative poverty. This last trouble had been, in a measure, removed, but the bitterness it had stirred in her heart had never subsided.
If a subject had a dark side, she not only chose to look at it herself, but held it up before the eyes of all concerned. Having once been deceived, she never ceased to suspect, and, which was still worse, she even strove (from the best of motives, as she believed) to excite suspicion and discomfort in the minds of others; and, notwithstanding her well-known character as a prophesier of evil things, she did sometimes succeed in making people unhappy. She was, as the minister said, a pitiable example of the effects of unsanctified affliction, and a warning to all who felt inclined to murmur under the chastening hand of God.
During one or two visits at Mrs Blair's cottage, Mrs Stirling had made Lilias uncomfortable, she scarce knew why; and now, though she did not say so to Archie, she heartily wished she would stay at the other end of the kirk-yard.
"Weel, bairns," she said, as she drew near, "your aunt didna take you with her into the manse. Are you not weary sitting so long on the stones?"
"No," said Lilias. "Archie liked better to bide out here. This is a bonny place."
"Oh, ay, it's a bonny place enow," said Mrs Stirling. Then, turning to Archie, she said, "And so you liked better to bide out here than to go in to your dinner at the manse? Well, it's a good bairn that likes to do what it's bidden. I dare say Mrs Blair would have felt some delicacy in taking you both into the manse parlour; though why she should, is more than the like of me knows."
To this there was no reply to be made; and in a minute, turning again to Lilias, she asked:
"And when are you going to the manse as nurse, my dear?"
Lilias said she was not going at all.
"No! Where then? To Pentlands? I told your aunt that Mrs Jones, the housekeeper, wanted a lassie to help in the kitchen; but it's a place full of temptations for a young thing like you. I wonder at Mrs Blair."
Lilias replied, rather hastily, that she was not going anywhere just now; she was going to bide at home with her aunt.
"Well, well, my dear, you needn't be angry at my asking; though there's little wonder that the daughter of Alexander Elder shouldn't like to have it said that she ought to go and gain her bread as a servant. We can't always part with our pride when we part with our money. Nobody knows that better than I do."
"It's not pride that keeps me at home," said Lilias, in a low voice. "I would go gladly if my aunt thought it needful; but she says it is not."
"Oh, well, my dear, I dare say your aunt knows best. She may have money that I didn't know of. Maybe you wasn't so ill off as is said."
"Whisht! do you not see that you are vexing the bairns? Never mind her, my dear," said the pleasant-looking young woman whom Lilias had called Ellen Wilson, sitting down on the stone beside her. "I think this part of the country seems to agree with you both. Your brother looks much better than he did when he came first."
Lilias smiled gratefully in answer to this, and looked with loving pride at her brother. But Nancy Stirling had not yet said her say.
"Looks better, does he? I wonder how he could have looked before? Such a whitefaced creature I have seldom seen. He reminds me of the laddie that died at Pentlands, of a decline, a month since. I doubt he isn't long for this world."
"Whisht!" again interrupted Ellen, "you don't know what you are saying, I think."
"Archie is much better," said Lilias, eagerly. "He couldn't set his foot to the ground when we first came here; and now he can walk miles."
"Oh, ay; change of air is ay thought good for the like of him. But it's a deceitful complaint. We all ken that your father died of consumption,—and your mother too, it's likely."
"No," said Lilias, in a low voice. "She died of fever."
"Mrs Stirling," exclaimed Ellen Wilson, "I canna but wonder that one that has had the troubles you have had, should have so little consideration for other folks. Do you not see that you are vexing the bairns?"
"Weel, it's not my design nor my desire to vex them,—poor things! It never harmed me to get a friend's sympathy; though it's little ever I got. I'll not trouble them." And she went and seated herself at a little distance from the children.
An old man, with very white hair, but a ruddy and healthy countenance, had been walking up and down the path, his hands clasped behind his back, and his staff beneath his arm. As he passed the place where Mrs Stirling sat, he paused, saying in a cheerful, kindly voice:
"This is a bonny day, Mrs Stirling."
"Oh, ay," replied Nancy, drearily; "it's a bonny day."
"And a fine harvest we are getting," said the old man, again,—"if we were only thankful to God for His undeserved goodness."
"Oh, ay; considering all things, the harvest's not so bad in some places, and in others it's just middling. It's not got in yet. We must wait awhile before we set ourselves up upon it."
"It would ill become us to set ourselves up on that, or any other good gift of the Lord," said the old man, gravely; "but you and I, Nancy, have seen many a different harvest from this in our day. We are ready enough to murmur if the blessing be withheld, and to take it as our right when it is sent. There's many a poor body in the countryside who may thank God for the prospect of an easy winter. He has blessed us in our basket and in our store."
"Oh, well, I dare say I'm as thankful as my neighbours, though I say less about it," said Nancy, tartly. "I dare say there's many a poor body will need all they have, and more, before the winter's over."
"You see you needn't mind what Mrs Stirling says," said Ellen, who with the children had listened to the conversation thus far. "She's always boding ill. It's her nature. She has had many things to make the world look dreary to her,—poor woman! Yonder is James Muir, one of our elders,—a good man, if ever there was one. He knew your father, and your grandfather too."
Yes, he had known their father well; and the next time he turned down the path he stopped to speak to them. Not in many words, but kindly and gravely, as his large, kind heart prompted; and Lilias felt that he was one that might be relied on in time of need.
"There's your aunt again, with Mrs Graham and the manse bairns," said Ellen, as they approached. They rose, and went to meet them at the kirk door; and while their aunt and Mrs Graham waited to speak a few words to James Muir, they exchanged sly glances with the young people designated by Ellen as "the manse bairns."
They were the grandchildren of the aged minister. Their father, his only son,—a minister too,—had, within a year, died in the large town where he had been settled, and his widow had come with her children to the manse, which was now their home.
Too shy to speak to the strangers, they cast many a look of sympathy on the lame boy and his sister who were both fatherless and motherless. By-and-by the little Jessie ventured to put into Archie's hand a bunch of brilliant garden-flowers that she had carried. Archie did not speak; but his smile thanked her, and the flowers bloomed in the cottage-window for many days.
LIFE AT KIRKLANDS.
But all the days in Kirklands were not sunny days. The pleasant harvest time went over, and the days grew short and rainy. Not with the pleasant summer rain, coming in sudden gusts to leave the earth more fresh and beautiful when the sunshine came again, but with a dull, continuous drizzle, dimming the window-panes, and hiding in close, impenetrable mist the outline of the nearest summits. The pleasant rambles among hills and glens, and the pleasanter restings by the burn-side, were all at an end now. The swollen waters of the burn hid the stone seat where the children had loved to sit, and the sere leaves of the rowan-tree lay scattered in the glen. Even when a blink of sunshine came, they could not venture out among the dripping heather, but were fain to content themselves with sitting on the turf seat at the house-end.
For all Aunt Janet's prophecy had not come true, thus far. There were no roses blooming on Archie's cheeks yet; and sometimes, when Lilias watched his pale face, as he sat gazing out into the mist, she was painfully reminded of the time when he used to watch the shadow of the spire coming slowly round to the yew-tree by the kirk-yard gate.
But there were no days now so long and sad as those days had been. The memory of their last great grief was often present with them; but the sense of orphanhood grew less bitter, day by day, as time went on. Archie was not quite strong and well yet, but he was far better than he had been for many a long month; and Lilias' feeling of anxiety on his account began to wear away. Gradually they found for themselves new employments and amusements, and their life fell into a quiet and pleasant routine again.
A new source of interest and enjoyment was opened to them in the return of Mrs Blair's scholars after the harvest-holidays were over. There were between fifteen and twenty girls, and a few boys, whose ages varied from six to twelve or fourteen. They were taught reading, writing, and the catechism; and some of the elder girls were taught to knit and sew.
Archie used sometimes to be weary of the hum of voices and the unvaried routine of the lessons; but Lilias never was. To her it was a constant pleasure to assist her aunt. Indeed, after a time some of the classes were entirely given up to her care. She had never been much with other children, but her gentle tones and quiet womanly ways gave her a control over them; and even the roughest and most unruly of the village children learnt to yield her a ready obedience.
Mrs Blair had striven to do faithfully the work she had undertaken of instructing these ignorant children; but at her age the formation of new habits was by no means easy. The constant attention to trifles which the occupation required was at times inexpressibly irksome to her; and the relief which the assistance of Lilias gave her was proportionally great.
"I'm sure I know not how I ever got on without my lassie," she said, one day, after watching with wonder and delight the patience with which she arranged the little girls' work,—a task for which patience was greatly needed. "I shall grow to be a useless body if I let you do all that is to be done in this way. Are you not weary with your day's work, Lilias, my dear?"
"Weary!" said Lilias, laughing. "I don't need to be weary, for all I have done. It's only play to hear the bairns read and spell. I like it very much."
"But it's not play to take out and put into shape, and to sew as you have been doing for the last hour. I fear I put too much upon you, Lilias."
"Oh, now you are surely laughing at me. I wish I could do ten times as much. Do I really help you, Aunt Janet?"
"Ay, more than you know, my darling. But put by your work for a night, and run down the brae, and freshen the roses that are just beginning to bloom on your cheeks. We mustn't let them grow white again, if we can help it."
But the best time of all was when the children had gone home,—when, with the door close shut against the wintry blast, they sat together around the pleasant firelight, talking, or reading, or musing, as each felt most inclined. From her father's well-chosen library Mrs Blair had preserved a few books, that were books indeed,—books of which every page contained more real material for thought than many a much-praised modern volume. Read by themselves, the quaint diction of some of these old writers must have been unintelligible to the children; but with the grave and simple comments of their aunt to assist their understanding, a new world of thought and feeling was opened to them. Many a grave discussion did they have on subjects whose names would convey no idea to the minds of most children of their age. There was often a mingling of folly and wisdom in their opinions and theories, that amused and surprised their aunt. Archie's lively imagination sometimes ventured on flights from which the grave expostulations of Lilias could not always draw him.
"To the law and to the testimony, Archie, lad," was his aunt's never-failing suggestion; and then his eager, puzzled face would be bent over the Bible, till his wild imaginings vanished of themselves, without waiting to be reasoned away.
But the history of their country was the chief delight of those long winter evenings. One read aloud; but the eyes of both rested on the page with an eagerness that did not pass away after the first perusal. The times and events that most interested them were gone over and over, till they were ready to forget that they of whom they read had long since passed away: Murray and Douglas, John Knox and Rutherford, and Mary, lived and laboured, and sinned and suffered, still in their excited feelings. It is true, their interest and sympathy vacillated between the contending parties. They did not always abide by their principles in the praise or blame awarded. Their feelings were generally on the side of the sufferers, whoever they might be; and if their eyes sparkled with delight at the triumphant energy of Knox, their tears for poor Queen Mary were none the less sincere.
But it was the history of the later times that stirred their hearts to their inmost depths,—the times...
"When in muirland and valley the standard of Zion, All bloody and torn, 'mong the heather was lying."
...When Charles strove to put in shackles the Scottish mind, and quench in the Scottish heart that love for the pure and simple truth for which the best and noblest have died. About these times and these men they were never weary of reading and speaking.
"There will never more be such times in Scotland," said Archie, as Lilias shut the history, and took down the Bible and psalm-books for their evening worship.
"Thank God, no!" said his aunt, hastily; "though one might think, from your face, that it is no matter of thankfulness to you."
"I don't wish those times to come back," said the boy musingly; "but I wish I had lived then. It must have been worth a man's while to live in those days."
"And why is it not as much worth a man's while to live in the days that are to come as in the days that are past?" asked his aunt, with a smile.
Archie looked up quickly.
"I know what you are thinking, aunt:—that a poor cripple lad could have done as little then as he can do now." And Archie sighed.
"No: I was thinking that it needs as much courage and patience, and as much of God's grace, for a poor cripple lad to bear (as He would have him bear) the trouble He sends, as would have stood a man in good stead before the face of Claverhouse himself. The heroes of history are not always the greatest heroes, after all, Archie, my laddie."
"Maybe not, aunt; but, then, it's only a sore leg I have to bear; and who is the better whether I bear it well or ill?"
"Archie, man, you are speaking foolishly," returned, his aunt, gravely. "It matters much to yourself whether you bear your trouble well or ill. It was sent to you for discipline, and that you might be better fitted for the honouring of His name; and He who sent it can make it answer these ends in you as well as though He had cast your lot in those troublous times, and made you a buckler of strength against His foes and the foes of His people."
"But, aunt," said Lilias, "it's surely not wrong to wish to be placed where we can do much for Him? I don't wonder Archie should wish to have lived in those days."
"No, love: such a wish is not wrong, provided it doesn't act as a temptation to neglect present opportunities. We are all by nature self-seekers, and in no small danger of giving ourselves credit for wishing to serve the Lord, when, maybe, He sees it is ourselves we wish to serve. The best evidence we can give that we would honour Him in a larger sphere is, that we strive to honour Him in the sphere in which He has placed us."
"But after all, aunt, it would be grand to be able to do as much for God's cause as some of those men did. I can't think that any one, to say nothing of a poor cripple lad, has an opportunity to do as much now as those men had."
"To do is a great thing in the sight of men. But I am thinking that, in His sight who sees further than men can see, to suffer may be greater than to do. But have patience, Archie, lad. He who has given you to suffer now, may give you to do before you die. You may have to fight the battles of the Lord in high places. Who knows?"
"That would be near as well as to fight with the dragoons: would it not, Archie?" said Lilias, laughing. "I'm sure it would be far easier."
"Maybe not, my lassie," said her aunt, gravely. "There may be battles fierce and sore that are bloodless battles; and Scotland may not be through all her warfare yet. But take the books, bairns, and let us be thankful that, whatever may befall us or our land, we have always the same word to guide us."
There was one drawback to the happiness of the children, this winter; and it was felt for a time to be no slight one. They could not go to the kirk at Dunmoor, their father's kirk. The winter rains had made the way over the hills impassable; and the distance by the high-road was too great for them. They learnt in a little while to love the kindly voice of the minister of Kirklands parish, and they soon got many a kindly greeting from the neighbours at the kirk door. But it was not the same to Lilias as sitting in her father's seat, and listening to the voice of her father's friend; and the getting back to the dear old kirk at Dunmoor was always told over as one of the pleasant things which the spring would bring back again.
At Christmas-time there came a new scholar to the school, and no small stir did her coming make there. For the first nine years of her life, Elsie Ray had been the neglected child of a careless and indolent mother. At her death, Elsie had come to the neighbourhood of Kirklands, to live with her grandfather and her aunt. She thus passed from one extreme of misfortune to the other. From roaming at large in whatever place and in whatever company she chose, she became at once the in-door drudge of her aunt and the out-door drudge of her grandfather. The father and daughter agreed perfectly in one respect. Their ruling passion was the same,—the love of money. It was believed in the neighbourhood that they had laid by a considerable sum; but nothing could be more wretched than their usual mode of life. Their business was the keeping of cows and poultry; and they found an efficient assistant in the strong and energetic Elsie. The life of constant occupation which she was obliged to live with them was less dangerous to an active-minded child than the idle, sauntering existence she had passed with her mother. But it left her no time for improvement; and she seemed likely to grow up in ignorance. The chance visit of an uncle saved her from this sad fate. Her grandfather so far attended to his remonstrances as to send her, during three or four of the least busy months, to Mrs Blair's school.
It would be difficult to imagine a more unpromising pupil than Elsie appeared to be when Lilias first took her in hand; for to Lilias' special care was she committed. Wonder unspeakable to the children in the school was the sight of a girl of Elsie's age who could not say the catechism, which every Scotch child begins to learn almost in infancy. But this was by no means the greatest defect in the education of the new-comer; for it soon appeared that "great A" and "crooked S" were as utter mysteries to her as any sentence in the catechism. And their wonder was by no means silent wonder. More than once during the first week was Elsie's ready hand raised to resent the mockery of her tormentors. It needed constant watchfulness on the part of Lilias to keep the peace; and nothing but her earnest and gentle encouragement would have prevented the girl from giving up, in disgust, the attempt to learn to read.
This was only for a short time, however. Her rapid improvement in reading, as well as sewing, was a constant source of wonder and delight to her young teacher; and soon the mocking of the children was silenced.
Nor was it in these things alone that improvement appeared. Incited partly by the precept and partly by the example of Lilias, a great change soon became visible in her appearance and manners. There was a decided attempt at neatness in her rather shabby garments; and a look from Lilias, or even the remembrance of her, had power to stay the utterance of the rude or angry word ere it passed her lips. Her naturally affectionate disposition had been chilled by the life she had been leading for the last few years, and her heart opened gratefully to the kindness of Lilias. Under her influence, her good qualities were rapidly developed; and she soon became a great favourite with them all.
"It has made a great difference, Elsie's being here," Lilias often said; and when one morning Elsie came with swollen eyes to say that she could come no more, Lilias felt inclined to weep with her. She comforted her, however, telling her she would often come with Archie to see her while she was feeding her cows on the hills, and that when the winter came again her grandfather would let her come back to the school. So Elsie dried her eyes, and promised to let no day pass without trying to read at least one whole chapter in the little Testament that Lilias gave her at parting.
There was no lack of incidents to break the monotony of their life during the winter. Among the most frequent and by no means the least interesting of these were the visits of Mrs Stirling. She never passed to or from Kirklands—where all her little purchases were made—without calling; and a wonderful interest she seemed to take in all that concerned the children, especially Lilias; and she always met with a welcome. Not that her visits were usually very cheerful affairs. The conversation generally turned upon the troubles of life—great and small, and especially her own—those she had experienced and those she dreaded.
Mrs Blair was often greatly amused by the earnest and grave attempts of Lilias to make the world look brighter to poor Nancy. Sometimes these attempts took the form of sympathy, sometimes of expostulation; and more than once there was something like gentle rebuke in the child's words and tones. She could not boast of success, however. If Mrs Stirling could not reply in words, she never failed to enter a protest against the cheerful philosophy of Lilias, by a groan, or a shake of the head, expressive of utter incredulousness. She was never angry, however, as Mrs Blair was sometimes afraid she might be. Indeed, she seemed greatly to enjoy the little girl's conversation; and sometimes her visits were rather unreasonably lengthened. Archie she never addressed but in terms of the deepest commiseration. At every visit she saw, or seemed to see, that he was changing for the worse; and "poor, helpless bairn!" or "poor pining laddie!" were the most cheerful names she gave him. Her melancholy anecdotes of similar cases, and her oft-repeated fears that "he would never see the month of June," vexed and troubled Lilias greatly. At first they troubled Archie too; but he soon came not to heed them; and one day, when she was in a more than usually doleful mood, wondering what Lilias would do without him, and whether it would save his life if his leg were cut off, he quite offended her by laughing in her face.
"To think of me wasting good breath sympathising with you!" she exclaimed. "No, no! You're not so near heaven as I thought you. You're none too good to bide in this world a while yet. To think of the laddie laughing at me!"
SUMMER DAYS AT KIRKLANDS.
And so the winter passed away, and the spring came again,—the sunshine and showers of April, more than renewing the delight of the children's first weeks in Kirklands. They had never been in the country in the early spring before; and even "bonny Glen Elder," in the prime of summer, had no wonders such as revealed themselves day by day to their unaccustomed eyes. The catkins on the willows, the gradual swelling of the hawthorn-buds, the graceful tassels of the silver birch, were to them a beauty and a mystery. The gradual change of brown fields to a living green, as the tender blades of the new-sown grain sprang up, was wondrous too. The tiny mosses on the rocks, the ferns hidden away from other eyes, were searched for and rejoiced over. No wild flower by the wayside, no bird or butterfly, no new development of life in any form, but won from them a joyful greeting.
And so there were again the pleasant wanderings among hills and glens, and the pleasanter restings by the burn-side. But they were not so frequent now, for Lilias' life was a very busy one, and she could not, even if she had wished, have laid aside the duties she had taken upon herself. But her freedom was all the sweeter when her duties were done; and seldom a day passed without an hour or two of bright sunshine and fresh air, and never before had the world seemed half so beautiful.
And Lilias had another source of happiness, better than birds or flowers or sunshine: Archie was growing strong again. Before May was out, his crutches occupied a permanent place behind the cottage-door, and he was away on the hill without them, drinking in life and health with every breath of balmy air. He was no longer the little cripple, painfully following the footsteps of his sister, slackened to suit his lagging pace. Lame he was still, and always might be, and a slender "willow-wand of a laddie," as Mrs Stirling still declared; but there was a tinge of healthy colour on cheek and lip, and instead of the look that reminded Lilias of the shadow creeping round to the gate of the kirk-yard, there came back to his face and blithe look of earlier days. His very voice and smile seemed changed; and his laughter, so seldom heard for many a weary month, was music to his sister's ear.
Her joy in his returning health was altogether unmingled. Sometimes, when weary of the noise and confinement of school, it quite rested and refreshed her to remember that he was out in the air and sunshine. She never murmured that he enjoyed it all without her; and when he came home at night, telling, triumphantly, of the miles and miles he had walked and the new sights he had seen among the hills, her delight was quite as great as his.
At first Archie had no other interest in his wanderings than that which pleasant sights and sounds and a consciousness of returning strength gave him. It was happiness enough to lie down in some quiet valley, with only his beloved book as his companion, or, seated on some hill-side, to gaze on a landscape whose loveliness has been the theme of many a poet's song.
But pleasant sights and sounds, and even his beloved book, did not always suffice him for companionship; and he soon found his way to more than one shieling among the hills; and more than one solitary shepherd soon learnt to look for the coming of the lad, "so old-fashioned, yet so gladsome." Sometimes he read to them from his favourite books; but oftener they talked, and Archie heard many a legend of the countryside from the lips that could tell them best.
His father and grandfather were well remembered by many whom they had befriended in time of need; and the lad listened with delight to their praises, and with equal delight repeated them to his aunt and Lilias when he came home.
But there were other things, which Archie spoke of in whispers to his sister when they were away together among the hills,—mysterious hints of their cousin Hugh Blair, and of his mother's troubles with him before he went away. Not that he had much to tell about him, for there was little said; but that little was enough to excite the curiosity and interest of the children with regard to him; and they were never weary of wondering why he went away, and where he was now, and whether he would ever come home again.
"I wonder whether Aunt Janet thinks much about him? I wonder why she never names him to us?" said Archie, one day, after they had been speaking about him.
Lilias was looking very grave.
"I'm sure she often thinks of him. And I don't wonder that she seldom speaks about him, when she can have little that is good to say."
"Maybe she thinks him dead," said Archie.
"No: I don't think that," said Lilias, sadly. And after a moment she added, "Last night the sound of her voice wakened me. She was praying for him; and it minded me of the 'groanings that cannot be uttered.' I am afraid Aunt Janet has troubles we know nothing about."
Yes, Mrs Blair had troubles which the children did not know of, which they could hardly have comprehended had they known; and, of late, fears for Archie had mingled with them. The remembrance of her utter failure in guiding and governing her own son was ever present with her, filling her with anxiety with regard to Archie's future. She had no fears for Lilias, nor when her brother was a cripple had she fears for him. But now that he was strong and well,—now that he must necessarily be exposed to other influences, some of which could not but be evil, her heart grew sick with a feeling of self-distrust as to her own power to guide him.
It was this which made her listen with something like regret when Archie told of new friends made among the hills. His frank, open nature made him altogether unsuspicious of evil in others; and, knowing him to be easily influenced, she could not but fear that he might be led astray. Night after night, when Archie came home, she listened earnestly to hear the names of those with whom he had met; and, though she never heard anything from the boy's lips or saw anything in his actions to make her fear that he was changing for the worse, she could not feel quite at ease concerning him. For there ever came back to her the thought of her son,—her wandering but still beloved Hugh; and many and earnest were the prayers that ascended both for the guileless child and the erring, sinful man, that through all the snares and temptations of life they might be brought safe home at last.
She could not speak of her fears to Lilias. She could not find it in her heart to lay the burden of this dread upon the child. She was so full of the new happiness of seeing her brother strong and well again, that she could not bear to let the shadow of this cloud fall upon her. It would do no good; and she had really nothing but her fears to tell. So in silence she prayed, night and day, that God would disappoint her fears for Archie, and more than realise his sister's hope for him.
Mrs Stirling's visits to the cottage did not become less frequent as the summer advanced, and her interest in Lilias seemed to increase with every visit. Not that she had ceased to torment the child with her discontented repinings for the past, or her melancholy forebodings for the future. There was always some subject for comment ready; and Nancy never let pass unimproved an opportunity to say something depressing. But Lilias was learning not to mind her; and this was all the easier to do, now that Archie's ill-health could no longer be her theme.
"Oh, ay! he's looking not so ill," said she, one day, while she stood with Lilias at the gate, watching Archie, as he dug in the little garden; "and he's not very lame. If you could only be sure that it wouldn't break out again. Eh me! but he's growing to look awful like his cousin Hugh. It's to be hoped that he won't turn out as he has done."
Lilias gave a startled look towards the house-end, where her aunt was sitting, as she answered, hurriedly:
"Archie's like my father."
"You needna be feared that I'll speak that name loud enough for her to hear," said Nancy, answering Lilias' look rather than her words. "I have more respect for her than that. Poor body! she must carry a sore heart about with her, for all she looks so quiet and contented like."
Lilias sighed. The same thought had come into her own mind many and many a time within the last few months.
"Did my cousin Hugh do anything so very bad?" she asked, looking anxiously into Mrs Stirling's face.
"I dare say the folk that blame him most have done far worse things than anything they can lay to his charge," said Nancy; "but there's little doubt he did what made him fear to look on his mother's face again, or wherefore should he not have come back? His name has never, to my knowledge, passed her lips from that day till this."
"But Donald Ross, up among the hills, told Archie that folk thought he had 'listed for a soldier, and that he couldna come back again."
"Well, maybe not," said Nancy. "Far be it from me to seek to make worse what is bad enough already. It's not unlikely. But, as I was saying, Archie's growing awfu' like him, and it is to be hoped he will not take to ill ways. You should have an eye upon him, Lilias, my woman, that he doesn't take up with folk that 'call evil good, and good evil.' It was that was the ruin of Hugh Blair,—poor laddie!"
"Archie sees no one among the hills that can do him harm," said Lilias, hastily,—"only Donald Ross and the Muirlands shepherds, and now and then a herd-laddie from Alliston. He ay tells us, when he comes home, who he has seen."
"Eh, woman! I didn't mean to anger you," exclaimed Nancy. "I declare, your eyes are glancing like two coals. But, if your aunt is wise, she'll put him to some kind of work before long. Laddies like him must ay be about something; and if they are doing no good it's likely they'll be doing evil. Your aunt should know that well enough, without the like of me to tell her."
"But Archie is such a mere child," remonstrated Lilias, forgetting for the moment that it was Mrs Stirling, the grumbler for the countryside, that was speaking. "What ill can he get among the hills? And, besides, what work could he do? It's health for him to wander about among the hills. It makes him strong."
"You're a child yourself for that matter," said Nancy; "and I'm thinking what with those children's catechism and work, and one thing and another, you do the most part of a woman's work. And what's to hinder your brother more than you? It would keep him out of harm's way."
Lilias suffered this conversation to make her uncomfortable for a few days, and then she wisely put it from her. She would not speak to Archie. She would not even seem to distrust him. And still the boy came and went at his pleasure, enjoying his rambles and his intercourse with his new friends, glad to go forth, and glad to come home again, where the sight of his face always made sunshine for his sister. And Mrs Blair still went about with outward calm, but carrying within her a heavy and anxious heart, as by the sighs and prayers of many a sleepless night, Lilias well knew.