"I gave up that which was life to me for His sake, and thus soon He gives back to me far more," Ida murmured, and she rested her head on Van Berg's shoulder with a look of infinite content. A moment later she added: "Oh, I'm so glad for father's sake."
"Are you not a little glad for your own?"
"Oh, Harold! compare this—God's way out of trouble with the one I chose!"
"The past has gone by forever, Ida, and you have received your woman's soul in the good old-fashioned way. In my heart of hearts I have changed your name from Ida to Ideal."
They had not noticed that Mr. Eltinge had come down the garden walk to summon them to dinner. The old gentleman discovered that there had been a transformation scene in his absence, although he took off his spectacles twice, and wiped them before he seemed fully satisfied of its reality.
"Ahem! I fear our plain dinner will be a very prosaic interruption; but—-" he began.
"Oh, Mr. Eltinge," cried Ida, springing to him, her cheeks putting to shame any flower of his garden, "I owe all this to you!"
"Mr. Van Berg," said Mr. Eltinge, with the stately courtesy of the old school, "with your permission I now shall take full payment," and stooping down he kissed her tenderly, with a fervent "God bless you, my child! God bless you both! I thought it would all end in this way."
It was late in the day when Ida drove up to the steps of the Lake House and assisted Van Berg to alight with a care and solicitude that Stanton, who was grimly watching them, thought a trifle too apparent. She gave a hasty side-glance to her cousin, but would not trust herself to do more in the presence of others.
"Mr. Van Berg, I would like to see you alone a few moments," said Stanton in a low tone.
The artist hobbled cheerfully into one of the small private parlors, and stretched himself out very luxuriously on the sofa, saying as he did so, "Take the rocking-chair, Ik."
"No, sir," said Stanton stiffly. "I shall trespass but a few moments on your time—only long enough to keep a promise and perform a duty. In circumstances that you can scarcely have forgotten, you assured me that I was in honor bound to give my cousin, Miss Mayhew, a brother's care. You asserted very emphatically that with her peculiar temperament she ought to be saved from any serious trouble. What I then promised from a sense of duty I now perform from warm affection. As far as a brother's love and care is concerned, Ida Mayhew is my sister, and as a brother I insist, in view of your relations with Miss Burton, that you do not give to her so much of your society. Not that I mean to insinuate in the faintest possible way, that my cousin entertains for you anything more than an ordinary and friendly regard. It is my intention only to remind you that your course has been a little peculiar of late, to say the least, and that it is often far better to prevent trouble than remedy it."
"The mischief is all done, Ik; you are too late."
"What do you mean, sir?"
"Well, one thing at a time. Miss Burton has refused me absolutely."
"I don't wonder!" said Stanton indignantly.
"Nor I either, Ik. You are a hundredfold more worthy of her than I am or ever was. I once regarded myself as slightly your superior, Isaac, but circumstances have proved that you have enough good metal in you to make a dozen such men as I am."
"I want explanations, not compliments," said Stanton sternly.
"Sit down, and I'll tell you everything. Then you can brain me with one of the crutches, if you wish," and Van Berg related to Stanton substantially all that occurred between himself and Jennie Burton. "She said I could tell you after she was gone, but I think it is best you should know before. She understands and honors you, and you should understand her. Her heart is buried so deep in some unnamed, unmarked grave that it will find, I fear, no resurrection on earth. I told you the first day she came to this house that she had had an experience that separated her from ordinary humanity, and also predicted that she would wake you up and make a man of you. She has made you a prince among men. You are my elder brother, Ik, from this time forth, and I won't put on any more airs with you. As I said, your remarks in regard to your cousin came a little late. You see, my ring is gone, and you know I have often laughingly told you that my mother gave it to me on conditions that made it very safe property. I have parted with it, however, and very honestly too; but you will see it again, soon."
"Van," said Stanton, with a slight quaver in his voice, and a very sickly attempt at his old humor, "I have forfeited my wager that followed your prediction, which I thought so absurd at the time; but I'll forgive you everything, and bestow my blessing on you and Ida, if you will paint me a portrait of Miss Burton."
"The best I can possibly make, Ik, and she shall look as she did when she called you a true, noble-hearted gentleman."
Van Berg now found no difficulty in bringing about a friendship between Ida and Jennie Burton, and the two maidens spent the greater part of Sabbath afternoon together. Ida hid nothing in her full confidence, not even the crime that had been in her thoughts, and which might have destroyed the life that now was growing so rich and beautiful. When her pathetic story was completed, Jennie said:
"Mr. Van Berg has told me some things in your favor that you have omitted. I cannot flatter myself now that my love is stronger than yours, but you are stronger, you are braver. What is the secret of your strength? Your religion seems to do you more good than mine does me."
"Well, Jennie," said Ida musingly, there seems to me this difference. "You have a God, I have a Saviour; you have a faith, I have a tender and helpful Friend. Jesus Christ has said to those who love and trust him: 'Let not your hearts be troubled.' He said these words to men who were to suffer all things, and did so, Mr. Eltinge told me. It's just the same as if he said, You don't know, I do; leave everything to me, and it shall all be for the best in the end. See how all my trouble this summer has just prepared for this happiness, and I believe, Jennie, that your eternity of happiness will be made all the richer for every sad day of your unselfish life. The souls of such men as Harrold Fleetwood are God's richest treasures, and he whose name is Love surely kindled such love as yours and his. The God that the Bible reveals to me will not permit it to be lost," and with Jennie's head on her bosom she sang low and sweetly:
No hope, 'tis said, though buried deep, But angels o'er it vigils keep; No love in sepulchre shall stay, For Christ our Friend has rolled away The heavy stone of death.
"Oh, sing me those words again," sobbed Jennie: "sing them again and again, till they fill my heart with hope."
Ida did so.
"O Ida! God's good angel to me as well as to Harold Van Berg," said Jennie, smiling through her tears. "I bless you for those hopeful words. They will repeat themselves in my heart till all is clear and our souls that God mated are joined again. My Harrold was not one who said 'Lord, Lord' very often, but I know that he tried to 'do the will of his Father which is in heaven.' I am going to your Friend, Ida, for if ever a poor mortal needed more than mortal help and cheer, I do. I shall just give up everything into his hands, and wait patiently."
"The life he will give you again, Jennie, will be infinitely richer than the one you have lost."
Early in the following week Miss Burton returned to her college duties. Before parting she said to Ida: "I do not think I shall ever give way again to my old, bitter, heart-breaking grief."
Almost every one in the house wanted to shake hands with her in farewell. Poor Mr. Burleigh tried to disguise his feelings by putting crepe on his hat and tying black shawl of his wife's around his arm; but he blew his nose so often that he finally said he was "taking cold on the piazza," and so made a hasty retreat.
Ida and Van Berg accompanied Jennie to the depot, but Stanton was not to be found till they reached the station, when he quietly stepped forward and handed Jennie her checks. She was trying to say something that she meant should show her appreciation, when the train thundered up, and he handed her into a palace car, in which she found he had secured her a seat, and before she had time to say a word her tickets were in her hands and he was gone.
When, after several hours' riding, she approached a station at which she must change cars and recheck her trunks, a friendly voice said to her:
"Miss Burton, if you will give me your checks I will attend to this little matter for you."
"Mr. Stanton!" she exclaimed. "What does this mean?"
"It means that since I am on the same train with you, I can do no less than offer so slight a service."
She looked at him very doubtfully, as she said: "I don't know what to think of this journey of yours. Let me now pay you for my ticket."
"Mr. Van Berg handed me the money you gave him for that purpose. It's all right. Your checks please; there is but little time."
His manner was so quiet and assured, that she handed them to him hesitatingly, and a moment later stepped out on the platform.
In a few moments she called: "Oh, Mr. Stanton, you have lost your train."
"Not at all. I am going to Boston. There are your checks once more, and here is your train and seat," he added, as he accompanied her to it. Then he lifted his hat, and was about to depart, when she said: "Since you are on the same train, perhaps you will venture to take this seat near me. I never was curious about a gentleman's business before; but it strikes me as a rather odd coincidence that you are going to Boston to-day."
"A great many people go to Boston," he replied.
"It's for my sake you are taking this long journey, Mr. Stanton," she said, regretfully.
"Yes," he replied, in the same quiet, undemonstrative manner that he had maintained towards her for some weeks past; "this journey is for your sake, and for your sake I shall take a very different journey through life from the one I had marked out for myself. I know your sad story, Miss Burton. I expect nothing from you, I hope for nothing, and I shall never ask anything, except a little confidence on your part, so that I can render you an occasional service. Never for a moment imagine that I am cherishing hopes that I know well you cannot reward."
"Mr. Stanton, this is beyond my comprehension!"
"There seems to me nothing strange or unnatural in it," he said. "You found me a pleasure-loving animal, and through your influence I think I am becoming somewhat different. You have taught me that there is a higher and better world than that of sense. How good a work I can do in life I will let the years prove as they pass. But I do not think my feelings will ever change towards you, save as time deepens and strengthens them. Van thinks all the world of you, as well he may; but his life will be very happy and full of many interest. I shall think of you alone, and the work I do for your sake until I can add another motive. Of course I believe in a heaven—such lives as your make one necessary; and I mean to find a way of getting there. In the meantime, you are my motive; but my regard for you shall be so very unobtrusive that I trust you will not resent it, and the thought of my unseen care and watchfulness may in time come to be a pleasant one."
There was nothing in his tone or manner to indicate that to their fellow-travelers that he was not speaking on the most ordinary topic; and he looked her full in the face with his clear dark eyes, in which she saw only truth and faithfulness.
She was very, very deeply touched, and she could not keep the tears out of her eyes as she leaned towards him and said in tones that no others could hear:
"I am no longer the friendless orphan I was when I came to the Lake House. In Mr. Van Berg I have found a friend whom I can trust; in you, Ik Stanton, a brother that I can love."
If the reader's patience has not failed him up to this long-deferred moment, it shall now be rewarded by a few brief, concluding words.
Mrs. Mayhew felt considerably aggrieved that she had had so little part in Ida's engagement with the wealthy and aristocratic Mr. Van Berg, and in later years she complained that they were very unfashionable, and spent an unreasonable amount of time in looking after all kinds of charitable institutions. Mr. Mayhew drank ever deeper at the full fountain of his child's love, and is serenely passing on to an honorable old age. Mr. Eltinge is now beyond age and weakness, but Ida often murmurs with tears in her eyes as she looks at his portrait, "He is just speaking to me as he did when my heart was breaking." Stanton's city friends say that he has greatly changed and might stand very high as a lawyer and politician if he were not so quixotic and prone to take cases in which there was no money, but he receives letters from New England which seem to compensate him for lack of large fees. Van Berg has not yet regretted that he entrusted "faulty Ida Mayhew" with his happiness, and he is more anxious than ever to lure her to his studio. For a long time he had to take the truth of her faith on trust but at last he stood by her side at God's altar and confessed that Name which has been the lowliest and grandest of earth.
Ida is still very human, but with all her faults, her husband often whispers in her ear: "Not Ida, but Ideal." She is continually giving up her life for Christ's sake, and as often finds it coming back to her in some richer, sweeter form; and by her simple, joyous faith has led many to the Friend she found in the quaint old garden, and who says of all who come, "I will give unto them eternal life."
Jennie Burton is still waiting; but at the end of each day of faithful work she sings the song of hope that Ida taught her:
No hope, 'tis said, though buried deep, But angels o'er it vigils keep; No love in sepulchre shall stay, For Christ MY Friend will roll away The heavy stone of death.