Just then a knock at the door announced a visitor. The door was opened, and George stepped into their midst. Everyone was dumbfounded. The old Mr. Richmond ran forward and pressed him to his breast. Lucy and her brothers kissed his hands and wet them with their tears. "Oh, that your father were with us," was all Mr. Richmond could say.
George then seated himself and learned the history of his father's last days. Mr. Richmond told everything as he remembered, and every eye was moist. He told, too, how rough, mean and cruel the heirs had been, particularly Mr. Bond.
Hours passed like seconds to George, who listened breathlessly. He assured them of his good will and promised them soon to return and better their condition. He then left to make a few visits and to attend to some important business.
In the meantime, the affairs in Mr. Bond's household were not very agreeable. Following the unfortunate feast and revelry, Mr. Bond and his wife and daughter had passed the remainder of the night planning what they would do next.
"Nothing worse could have befallen me," said Mr. Bond, "than the return of this boy. I would rather that this house had tumbled in on us, and killed us all as we stood there. When I return my inheritance to George Acton, I become a beggar. What we have wasted, is twice as much as we ever had, and nothing will be left for us."
"Oh," said his wife, "then we must sell our jewels and our carriages, and I must again walk to the theatres, like other ordinary people. I shall never survive it!"
"You will, most likely, never get to a place of amusement," said Mr. Bond. "What we have spent in one night for pleasure alone, will have to support us for almost a year."
His daughter, who had been admiring her diamonds, then said: "Must I return my diamonds, too?"
"Yes," said her father, "jewels, gold, silver, house, garden, money must be returned and all luxury is at an end."
Suddenly the Bonds resolved upon a plan to flatter George Acton, beg his pardon for their seeming disrespect, and invite him to a celebration in honor of his return. As they were still devising how best to carry out the plot, George Acton entered. They jumped to their feet, hastened to greet him and assure him that his return gave them the greatest joy and happiness, and informed him of the feast with which they proposed to honor him.
George hesitated a moment. Then, as if it had suggested some new idea to him, he agreed, with the understanding that he would be the host on that occasion, and that he would reserve the rights to invite a few of his old friends. He also requested that the feast be postponed for two weeks, as he wished to pass that time quietly, out of respect to his father.
The day that was to be crowned by a night of joy at last arrived. Late that afternoon, George Acton called upon his friends, the Richmonds and invited them for a walk. Lucy begged for a few moments in which to change her dress, but George dissuaded her, saying that her simple frock of beautiful white linen could not be improved upon.
After strolling leisurely for some time, they came to the cemetery. "Let us go in," said George, "and visit my father's grave."
Lucy felt awkward, for she feared that he would consider the planting of the bush as audacious on her part, but she said nothing. He stepped toward the grave and held his hat in his hand. All were silent. Only the breeze sighed through the trees, and scattered here and there a leaf or flower upon the grave. Every eye was wet with tears.
"Lucy," said George, turning toward her, "the first bit of comfort that came to my heart after I learned of my father's death, was the sight of this bush, planted here by your hands. I always respected your high and worthy thoughts and I have learned now to respect them even more. Were my dear father living, I would lead you to him, and say that next to him I cared most for you, and ask him to give us his benediction. But, now I lead you to his grave, which to you as well as to me, is holy ground, and here I ask you to give me your hand, that I may care for you and protect you while I live; and I will ask your parents for their blessing."
Mr. Richmond, quickly recovering himself from his surprise, said: "My boy, remember that you have millions and that my daughter is penniless."
"Your daughter's kind heart is worth more than millions." He then broke a flower, and placing it in Lucy's hair, said: "This flower with which Lucy decorated my father's grave, represents her dower. My dear Mr. Richmond, add your blessings."
Recognizing George's earnestness, then Mr. Richmond said: "God bless you, my children, and may He keep you as happy, as He has made us all this day."
Silent and engrossed in deep thought, they approached George Acton's house. "Here," said he, "I am expected. It grieves me that I must spend this night in the company of relatives who have dealt so cruelly with you, my good people, whom I love so dearly. But I must remain, for I have given my word; and you must all accompany me."
With Lucy at his side, followed by the Richmond family, George Acton stepped into the brilliantly illuminated room, which was gorgeously decked with flowers. They were greeted by soft strains of sweet music. The Bonds were all prepared with flattering speeches, but the sight of the Richmond family surprised them as greatly as George Acton's return had done, and words failed them.
"They have complained to him," whispered Mr. Bond, "and so he has dragged them here in their shabby clothes. Such impertinence on their part."
George stepped forward into the ball-room and beckoned to the musicians to stop. The guests had risen by this time, and stood about him in a circle.
Mr. Bond then addressed George saying: "I know why you come with these good people. Probably, it is on account of the law-suit which I have brought. It gives me great pain to think that any difference or ill-feeling exists between Mr. Richmond and myself, but I shall certainly call off the law-suit and I will pay him the money which belongs to him, this very night." Turning to his servant, he said: "Summon my book-keeper, at once."
"Don't bother any further about it," said George, "for it is no longer a matter which concerns you, but me. I will see to it that Mr. Richmond's rights are restored to him. It was not for that purpose that I brought him here. I have an entirely different object in view. Where do you think we have been? We come, just as we are, from the grave of my beloved father."
Mr. Bond felt embarrassed and said: "Oh, I feel very much disturbed that the idea of giving your father a tomb-stone has never been carried out, but the stone-cutter disappointed me so often."
Then his daughter took up the thread of the conversation and said: "Yes, we regret so much that this delay has arisen, for only two days ago I visited your father's grave, and thought how beautiful a monument would look there, if it were chiseled from Carrara marble."
"If you were there but two days ago," said George, "then you must have noticed that it has a tombstone, though not of marble. How did it please you?"
She paled and began to stammer: "I was—I don't know—it must have—"
Then followed a painful silence which was broken by George saying: "It is evident that you never visited the grave. However, that monument has stood there several months.
"It pains me deeply, Mr. Bond, that you did not consider my father, who so generously enriched you, worthy of a slight token of your thanks. Let me tell you that this night my relationship to you changes."
Turning to the other members of the party, George said: "I notice in this gathering many true friends of my father who loved me and esteemed me as a boy. I feel gratified that you have come to celebrate my return. But I must tell you that this celebration has a double purpose; for this is the night on which I present to you my future wife—Lucy Richmond. She it was who planted the flowering bush on the grave of my father, never dreaming that it would be recognized by any one. But I think more of that flower, than of all the riches of the world."
His friends came forward and with hearty cheers cried: "Long live George Acton and his bride."
"Now," said he, "as this house and all the fortune of which Mr. Bond still holds the greatest share, falls again to me, I take upon myself the rights of host, and heartily invite all those who are my friends, to spend the rest of the night in celebration of this threefold event: My return, the restoration of my fortune and Lucy to share it."
One by one, the Bond family quietly slipped out of the room.
Later in the evening, during the feast, Mr. Richmond offered a toast to the health and happiness of George and his daughter, and ended by saying: "Noble purposes and noble thoughts are the only foundation for happiness; and yield at all times buds and blossoms unnumbered."
HOW IT HAPPENED
I. THE WOODED ISLAND
II. FAR FROM HOME.
III. THE SMOKE.
HOW IT HAPPENED
THE WOODED ISLAND
In a quaint little cottage not far from the sea-coast, David Duval first saw the light of day. His father, a very industrious man, supported his family by making willow baskets, and his children, as they grew able, helped him considerably. David, the oldest child, was the father's favorite, for he showed great skill in his work, was quick and obliging and rendered his father considerable assistance. Although David gave promise of being a great man some day, yet he had a very grave fault, and this was his headstrong will. He always wanted to have his own way in everything, would never yield to another's rights, and his parents found great difficulty in teaching him to obey orders. His sisters, too, suffered much from his bad temper and from his overbearing manner.
His rich uncle, Philip, gave him many invitations to dine with him. David enjoyed nothing better than to have the feasts which his uncle provided, but they made him dissatisfied with the simple fare of his own modest little home. He grumbled all the while he was eating in his own house, and did not think it worth while to thank God or his parents for his food.
When he was reminded of his faults, he would promise to do better, but in a little while he would fall back to his old ways. This saddened his parents and they thought that the fond hopes which they held for his future would all be blasted.
His uncle would often say to him: "David, David, take care! God will yet send you to a special school, the 'School of Experience,' where He will discipline you, in order to make something good of you."
From the hill upon which David's house stood, one could see a vast expanse of water. A little island which lay not far from the coast lent beauty to the scene by its wealth of verdure. No one lived upon it and David's father visited it, from time to time, in order to gather willow branches for his basket weaving.
David, who was now strong enough to help his father row and also to cut down the branches, often accompanied him. One night his father said to him: "If the sky and the sea stay propitious, we will both row over to the island in the morning." David leaped for joy, and the prospect of the trip would hardly let him sleep.
At dawn on the following day, as the sky began to glow and the morning star grew paler and paler, David stood ready. He helped his mother carry food and wraps into the little boat. It had once happened that the weather had suddenly changed, and David and his father had been obliged to remain on the island for three days, suffering much for the want of food and covering; therefore, mother took the precaution to give them a pot, a pan and some matches, so that they could start a fire and cook something, if necessary.
As everything was now in readiness for the trip, David took his straw hat, while his sister playfully pinned a feather in the ribbon.
"Oh," said his father; "get a couple of baskets, David; we'll need them."
"What for?" asked David.
"You'll find that out soon enough," said his father, laughingly. "Don't you trust that I well know to what use I will put them? You do the same to me, as many people do to their Father in heaven. They always want to know why this or that was ordered. Do what I tell you, and in the end it will come out all right." David then hurried and brought back the baskets.
They both seated themselves in the boat, and pushed from the shore. Mother and daughter called after them: "A pleasant trip and a happy return." David vied with his father in rowing, and it made him so warm that he took off his coat.
Soon they reached the island and made a landing, while David tied the boat to a tree stump. They hurried toward the willow trees, cut the branches, tied them together in bundles and carried them to the little boat. The father was delighted with David's helpfulness, and said: "That is right; children should help their parents as much as their strength will permit."
When they had gathered as many branches as were needed, the father said: "Now, let us rest a while and eat some lunch. After labor, rest is sweet, and one's food tastes so much better." When the meal was ended, the father said: "Now I want to give you another pleasure. Get the baskets and follow me." Soon they came to a beautiful walnut tree, whose branches, spreading far out on all sides, were laden with nuts. David was overjoyed at this sight, as he had never seen the tree before. He at once filled his pockets with nuts and tried to crack one with his teeth and get at the kernel. "Father," said he, "why did God put the sweet nut between two shells, a bitter and a hard one?"
"My dear boy," said his father, "God had the wisest purpose for doing this. He wanted to protect the sweet kernel, out of which such a beautiful tree could grow and save it from the gnawing animals. This teaches us how to take the bitter and hard trials of this life. As we do not despise or throw away this sweet nut, because it has a bitter and a hard shell, so we must not resent the sorrows and disagreeable situations that come to us. The first experience we feel is that sorrows are bitter and hard, but we must trust that the good and sweet kernel which they have hidden within them will come to light at last, and will be not only of use, but also a blessing to us."
The father then climbed the tree and began to shake it. David gathered the nuts which rained down and put them into the baskets, which he carried to the boat, where he emptied them, returning many times for more.
"How your mother will rejoice when she sees these nuts," said the father, "and what shouts of joy we'll hear from your sisters when I divide them. The thought of it pleases me now, for certainly there is no joy greater than that of giving pleasure to others."
While David and his father were busy with their work, there crept over the heavens heavy black clouds. Then there arose a dreadful wind storm, just as David stood in the boat emptying his last basket of nuts. The wind bent the trees and raised the waters into high waves. All at once, a blast came, tore the boat from its moorings and took it far out to sea.
David cried loudly, in horror. His frightened father hurried to the shore and saw the boy in the boat, in the far distance. The waves increased in size and soon the little boat could be seen, first on the crest and then hidden in the trough. It was carried rapidly along.
The father saw his boy wringing his hands, but of his cries he could hear nothing, for the sound of the roaring waters and rushing wind drowned them.
The entire sky was now enveloped in black clouds and dark night hovered over the sea. Flashes of lightning illuminated the heavens and dreadful crashes of thunder filled the air. Seeing no more of his son or of the boat, the father sank disheartened under the willow tree and spent the night alone with his grief.
Meanwhile, his wife and other children were distracted with fear. As the lightning broke forth, followed by thunderous crashes, and the island was shrouded in rain, they prayed for the absent ones. When the storm abated, they gazed long and patiently, in the hopes of getting a signal of the returning boat. They saw and heard nothing. The mother spent the night in sleepless anxiety.
As the morning broke forth in beautiful sunshine, and still no sign of the little boat could be seen, the mother's fears grew greater and greater. She ran crying to Philip, and told him her troubles. He knit his brow and shook his head. "It is strange that they have not come back yet. I'll just row over and see what has happened to them." He stepped into his boat lying close at anchor, and, with his assistant, rowed over to the little island. Mother and children stood watching them in anxiety and dread.
At last, they saw the little boat, in the distance, returning with its load. "Oh thanks," cried the mother. "Philip has other passengers in the boat, besides his assistant. Now, it is all right." She hurried down to the shore, but as the boat neared them she cried in fright: "Where is my David?" The father, deathly pale, looked at her in silence. His deep grief had made him dumb. Uncle Philip then spoke to her: "May God comfort you, for our David has been drowned in the sea. Poor David had his faults, but he was a good-hearted boy."
The mother could find no comfort and the children cried.
FAR FROM HOME
While David was being wept over as dead, he still lived. He had had a dreadful shock, riding on the tumultuous waves, far, far out to sea. His boat, over which the waves had dashed in fury, threatened each moment to sink. At last, after hours and hours of torture, the wind drove his boat upon the coast of a rocky island.
As soon as David was sure that the boat was firm on the rocks, he hurried out, waded through the foaming, shallow water to the land and climbed up the rocks, while his clothes dripped with rain and sea water.
After he had recovered a little from his shock and fear, he gazed out at his little boat and wondered how it had been so well guided into the clefts of the rocks. A good sailor could have made no better landing. "Who steered this rudderless boat so safely into this haven? God's great goodness and mercy has certainly led me to this safety, and all my life I shall be grateful."
The storm had now been broken and the rain ceased. David thought he could see the green island, with its trees but it seemed no bigger than a bush, that he could easily have covered with his straw hat. The land, still farther away, seemed to touch the horizon, and it looked like a little cloud.
"Oh," cried David, "how dreadfully far I am from human help. This island, on which I have been cast, cannot be seen by my people; I never saw it when I looked out to sea. They will never think that I am here and they will mourn me as dead. The men will go and get my father, but no one will come for me. I have often heard them say, 'for fifty miles out, there is no sign of land.'"
The waters, little by little, grew calmer, so David hurried down to his boat; but, as he was about to step into it, he noticed that it had sprung a leak. "Oh," cried he, "my little boat is useless now, and I am a prisoner on this rocky island. I must stay here till I die and never again shall I see my people." His face grew white with fear and the tears rolled down his cheeks.
As David saw starvation staring him in the face, he collected the nuts that were in the boat, put them into the baskets and carried them to safety, where he also placed the few utensils that had not been washed overboard. Then he pulled his little boat as far up on the rocks as he could get it.
The fear through which he had passed had now exhausted him. He felt almost afraid to sleep, out in the open, all alone, but he prayed his evening prayer as he had been accustomed to, lay down beside his nuts and his few kitchen utensils, and soon was fast asleep. After a restless night, filled with many strange dreams of home, he was awakened by the noise of sea birds, fluttering overhead. As he gazed before him and saw nothing but the boundless sea, he uttered a loud cry.
A bevy of birds flew toward the land. "Oh, dear birds, I wish you could carry a message to my people and tell them that I am here. My good father and uncle would risk their lives to get me."
After he had breakfasted on a few nuts and a little piece of bread, he decided to examine the island. "Perhaps I shall find some fruit trees that will afford me nourishment till God delivers me from this captivity; and maybe I shall find some people living here who will take me to my home."
He wrapped a few pieces of bread and nuts in his handkerchief, tied the bundle to the end of a stick, slung it over his shoulder and started forth. It was a dangerous, weary journey that gave no signs of human life. Nor did he see any of the narrow paths usually made by animals. Numberless trees were there, but none that bore fruit.
"If I have to stay long on this island, I'll die of starvation," said he, as the perspiration rolled down his cheeks. "But before hunger kills me, I know I'll die from thirst." As he continued his way, he heard a murmuring sound, like that of water. He hurried in the direction of the sound, and found a little spring, cold and clear as crystal. He seated himself beside it to cool off, and then drank to his heart's content. He had never before noticed what a blessing from God water really is; but now he appreciated the drink and offered his thanks for it.
He proceeded on his way, and at last reached the highest point of the island. It filled him with dread, as he saw the entire island covered with trees, and lying there, at his very feet and on every side—the immeasureable sea. Now he realized that he was all alone and far from help. "I will come to this point every day and watch. Perhaps a passing steamer will pick me up and take me home."
The sun began to sink and colored the heavens with gold-rimmed rays of purple and red. As David stood gazing at the beauties of the sky which he had never before noticed, he prayed to the Creator to send him help and guide some ship to this lonely island. Then he descended the rocks and retraced his steps. Soon he lay down under a clump of trees and fell fast asleep. When he awoke, he ate a few nuts and some bread.
Each day he wandered to the rocky summit and watched for a ship. But all in vain, for on the great, wide sea no ship was to be seen. He saw the necessity of eating sparingly, or his food would not last; so he took his little knife and made cuts across his bread, showing how much he could eat daily, and only when he was very hungry. The little piece of bread had become very hard and he had to soften it in the water from the spring.
"Oh," cried he, "how many good things I had at my father's table, that I grumbled about and for which I never thanked God." As he sat thinking about himself and all his ingratitude, he saw the fishes swimming in the water. "I'd catch some fish," said David, "if I only had a line." Picking up his straw hat, he ripped out the thread, and taking the pin with which his sister had fastened the feather, he made a hook out of it and tied the thread to it. He searched for some worms, and soon, he began to angle. He tried again and again, but not a nibble could he get. At last luck favored him, and soon he had three fishes. Remembering the matches which his mother had put into the tin-covered pail, he decided to start a fire and cook his fish, adding a little salty water for seasoning. He relished this little repast more than the finest feast served at his rich uncle's house.
One morning, as he again ascended the rocky summit, he saw a large ship that seemed no more than a mile away. Its sails were all unfurled and gilded with the rays of the bright sun. Hope filled his breast and he trembled with fear. He watched it, as it came nearer and nearer. Suddenly, he seized a stick, and tying his red handkerchief to it, moved it to and fro like a signal of danger and distress. But before the ship had come close enough to see the sign, it changed its direction and sailed away into the far distance. David followed its course, till it was lost to view, and then he sank upon the ground disheartened and cried bitterly.
The hours of the day that were not used in fishing, cooking, or chopping, he spent gathering shells, in which he often found pearls. As no person had ever been there to gather them, he found them in quantities. Then, too, he found many beautiful corals in the moss-covered rocks. "If God permits me to return to my people," said he, "I will bring them these pearls and corals, as presents."
He spent his time as best he could and often sighed for companionship. For hours he would gaze at the friendly moon, at which he had never before gazed more than a second. And the twinkling stars, too, seemed to have a new meaning for him. "The heavens truly show God's wonderful work," said David. Even the delicate green moss that he had never deigned to notice now had its value, since it afforded him a soft bed. "I see God's finger in everything about me," said he. "How well everything has been ordered." Good thoughts were now awaking in his mind and they were, like wings, carrying his heart to heaven.
"Loneliness must be sent for a good reason," thought he. "Perhaps God sent me to this dreary, lonely place to make me see and feel what I never understood before." David realized now that he had never been grateful to his parents for their care. Nor as obedient to their wishes as he should have been.
"Oh, if I ever get back to my home, I will be grateful and obedient to my parents." He remembered, too, how disagreeable he had often been to his sisters, and said: "Oh, how sorry I am. If God lets me return I will ask their forgiveness and be a good brother to them. I never appreciated my home, my parents, nor my sisters. God forgive me and let me return, and I will try to repay them in kindness and love for all my negligence."
An intense longing for his people filled David's heart; and it grew stronger every minute. Each day he watched for ships and often sighted one, but they never neared the island. At last he came to the conclusion that the coast was rocky and dangerous, and so no ship would ever come near it.
With this sad thought, he was retracing his steps one day, carrying some wood to his little retreat. But what a terror seized him. He saw in the direction of his little retreat thick, black, clouds of smoke ascending to the heavens, and two red flaming brands of fire, like two church spires. David had often heard of islands that were volcanic and sent forth fire, and now he thought that this was one. He threw his wood to the ground and with palpitating heart drew closer and closer: but all he could see was smoke and flames. The crackling of the fire filled him with more fear. At last he saw that it was not from the earth that the fire issued. He realized that the wind had blown the flames of his little fire, which he always kept lighted, against some bushes and had set them on fire. Almost everything he owned was being destroyed and two immense trees were being consumed.
When he considered, above all, the loss of his little fishing line that meant so much to him, he cried aloud: "Oh, what a misfortune this is! Now, I'll die of hunger. I often heard my father say that from misfortune, fortune sometimes grows, but, when I look at this damage, it doesn't seem possible that any luck could come from it.
"Oh, how good it is to live with people. How easily one can help the injury to another. Oh, if ever I have the luck to get back to my family, how willingly will I help them in times of need. But who will help me, a poor, lost boy, on this lonely island? I am like a poor bird driven from her nest." A mighty painful longing for his father's house again seized him. "If only a ship would come and take me back," he said.
His people too, were mourning through these weary, weary weeks. One day the father said to the mother: "I need some willow branches and although it is very painful for me to go to that island, still, there is no other place where I can get them."
"Then you must not go alone," said the mother. "Take the children with you. They will be a help and a comfort to you." Soon they were all ready and rowed over to the island. After landing, they sat under a tree for a while.
"This poplar tree," said the father, "is the very one under which David and I sat the last day we were here. And over in that direction," pointing toward the island, "he was carried in his little boat." Tears stood in the father's eyes; the boy, Andreas, turned his head to wipe a tear; while the girls cried.
"Let us go now and gather nuts," said the father, to cheer them again. They soon filled their baskets and were about to return to the boat, when the boy said: "Dear father, let us go to the top of the hill and get a view. I've never been up there." "Oh, yes," begged the girls, "do let us go."
The father consented and they all mounted the hill. It was a beautiful day. The sky was cloudless and the air was so clear and dry, that one could see distinctly far out into the distance. Suddenly Andreas shouted: "Father, what is that I see? Isn't smoke coming up out of the water?" The father looked in the direction pointed, and seeing smoke, said: "I don't know what it is. I fear it is a steamer on fire. It seems," continued he, shading his eyes, "that I see a dark spot, out of which the smoke is ascending. Don't you see it?"
"Oh, yes," cried the girls, "and it has two sharp points at the top."
"I see it, too," cried Andreas. "One point is higher than the other."'
"That is no ship," said the father, "for a ship would have a different shape, and wouldn't look so big from such a great distance. It must be an island, but I am sure I never heard of it. People must live there, or how could smoke arise from it."
"Oh, my," cried one of the girls, "wouldn't it be wonderful if our dear David lived there."
"Maybe so," cried Andreas.
"Nothing is impossible with God," said the father. "We must leave nothing undone in our search for him. We will ask Uncle Philip's advice and get him to help us. Let us retrace our steps, now, for it is time for us to return."
Little did they know how truly they had prophesied, for the smoke which they saw was ascending from the fire on the rocky island—the same that had cost David many tears of anguish and fear.
When they reached home, they told the mother their happy conjecture at once, and a faint ray of hope filled her heart.
The neighbors were now called together, but their ideas on the subject were varied.
"Nonsense," cried one. "How did that island get there. I never heard about it in my life. It must be a burning ship."
"No," cried another, who always thought he knew better than anybody else, "that's no ship, but a volcano sending out its fire. I have often heard that such islands appear over night. We would come to a nice place, if we should sail near such a fire-brand."
"It's either a ship or a volcano," said a third; "but for a hundred dollars I wouldn't go over there in such little boats as we have."
"If you'll pay me," said a fourth, "I will go, but not otherwise."
The old, honest Uncle Philip raised his quiet voice, and said: "Brother, I will go with you. Here is my hand on it. David was my beloved nephew. It may not be certain that he lives, hardly probable, but still possible. Therefore it is worth the trouble of undertaking the dangerous trip; and God, who gives us courage to go ahead, will also see us through."
Peter, a young, strong lad, shouted: "I will go too. I have often risked my life for a fish, so I'll risk it now to save a human life, if I can. I want no money, for as long as I live I would be happy in the thought that I had helped to save David, and this thought would be a sufficient reward."
"God give us all this joy," said Uncle Philip. "If wind and weather continue favorable, we will set sail at daybreak." The other men departed, shaking their heads and predicting misfortune.
Peter and Uncle Philip remained and discussed the matter a little further. "I will take my sail boat and furnish the food," said Philip.
The following morning proved perfect and a light wind was blowing. Mother and daughter accompanied the men to the boat landing, and said: "God grant that you may return safely, bringing our David with you."
The men unfurled the sails and pushed off from the land, passing the green island and going in the direction of the smoke. Nearer and nearer, did they come, and at last Peter cried: "It is really an island. Let us help with the oars." Suddenly Uncle Philip shouted: "Stop, and furl the sails. There are many dangerous rocks in the sea. We must be very careful or we will founder."
By means of the rudder and much care and pains, they at last made a landing. Peter was the first to leap on shore, and cried: "Now we have reached the island and perhaps we shall find David. Whatever is begun in God's name and out of love to humanity, will succeed."
The other two men now stepped out and fastened the boat securely. Uncle Philip looked at the rocks, shook his head and said: "This isn't a nice place to live."
They began to search the island and climbed over the rocks and deep clefts. At last they reached a little trodden path which led them to David's retreat. Peter hurried ahead.
David had passed a sleepless night in fear and sadness. As the morning sun shone over all, a little lightness had crept into his heart, and he sank upon his knees and prayed.
As David was kneeling, the three men came behind him. But he was so absorbed that he heard no steps.
Peter saw him first, and said to the others: "See, there is a hermit, maybe he can direct us. Brother, can you tell us?"—he had no time to finish his question, for David had risen to his feet. He recognized his father, and cried: "Oh, my father! my father!" Then a silence broke over them, for neither had the power to speak.
At last they controlled their emotion and thanked God in one voice, for bringing them together. David then greeted his uncle and Peter and gathering up his belongings, hastened with them to the boat.
On the homeward trip, David related all his adventures, and shed tears of joy. Even his father had to dry his eyes several times. "You were very wise, and helped yourself wonderfully. Necessity awakened your understanding," said Peter.
"Don't you remember?" said his uncle, "what I once said to you that God would send you to a special school? That's where you've been. In the school of Experience. In this school you learned to know God, to pray to Him, to love Him, and to thank Him for his blessings. What I find most wonderful of all in your story is about the smoke which arose from your island. What is more trivial than smoke, yet the smoke was like a sign from heaven, that this was an island upon which some one lived. That was God's finger." All silently gave thanks for the sign.
"I thought," said David, "that the fire was the worst thing that could have happened to me, but now I see it was my greatest fortune."
Then Uncle Philip said: "Our beloved ones at home are watching and waiting for our return." So, Peter quickly busied himself with a stick upon which he fastened some ribbons.
"What are you going to do with that?" asked David.
"I promised your sisters if we succeeded in finding you, to raise this banner. How they will rejoice when they see it." Then and there he fastened it to the prow of the ship.
Each moment brought them nearer home and David's heart beat high with hope, for on the shore his mother and sisters and all the villagers, big and little, were gathered. As David stepped on land, a cry of joy arose from the people; but the mother's joy at seeing her David was so intense that she wept.
Men and women, boys and girls, shook his hand and wished him a thousand times welcome. David's mother wanted to hear his story and was about to drag him home but the people wouldn't let her. "We want to hear it too," and they led him to a big linden tree and bade him step upon the seat and tell his story. All pressed around him. All eyes were on him. When it was still, David began. He told them of his dangers, trials and suffering, and said, in the end, that these had taught him the things which he had never learned before. "I am grateful to God for my deliverance and for the joy of being with you all again."
Thanking them for their interest in him and bidding them good-bye for the present, he entered his father's house, where a hearty meal was spread before him.
When the meal was over, David opened his little bundle and displayed his pearls and corals and said: "I have brought you all a present from my island." All stood in astonishment and admired them.
"My, my," cried Uncle Philip, examining them closely, "you have brought some valuable things. These pearls and corals will yield much money, for some of them are very large. Now you have helped your father out of all his debts and trouble."
"No, no," said his father, "we will share them with Peter and yourself. You shared the dangers of this trip with me, and you shall also share the treasures. Philip, you take first choice, and then Peter next."
Two of the men who had offered to go on the trip for money, now entered the room and wished they had gone for nothing. "For such a reward as that," they said, "it would have been worth while."
"Go, go, you poor, miserable wretches," cried Philip, "you wouldn't move a hand or foot to help a fellow man in trouble without being paid for it. It serves you right that you get nothing,"
"I wish none of this money," continued Philip, "I have enough and ask no more. But Peter must take his share, for the spirit which he showed gave all of us courage, and he must be rewarded. Besides, he needs it."
Deeply touched, Peter took the reward with thanks.
Then the grateful parents again urged Philip to take the pearls, but he replied: "Let it be, as I said before. The pearls and corals are the least that David brought back with him; for he has gathered unto himself costlier treasures: 'Love for God and to humanity.' These are priceless pearls."
Turning to David, he said: "Not only have you found these treasures for us, but you have brought good fortune to our little community. For pearls and corals can now be gathered by the men of this village, and offered for sale. This will furnish a comfortable living for many of them. So, you have become a public benefactor."
The little household soon resumed its usual routine and David entered into the life and spirit of his home. He became a model of virtue for the village youths, and the joy, staff and crown of his parent's life. He grew to be a noble, pious man, full of love and helpfulness to his fellow men; and his memory remains blessed.
FROM ROYAL PALACE TO LOWLY HUT
I. The Suburbs
II. The Retreat
III. The Prison
IV. The Purchase
FROM ROYAL PALACE TO LOWLY HUT
During those unhappy times when the Empire of France was overthrown and a number of the richest people were plunged into the deepest misery, a very wealthy family, named Berlow, lived in a palace in Paris.
Count Berlow was a high-minded, honorable man, and his wife was good and charitable. Their two children, Albert and Marguerite, were the exact counterpart of their parents.
Just as those revolutionary times broke forth, Count Berlow, with his family, moved from Paris to his mansion in the suburbs. Here he lived quietly, surrounded by orchards of fruitful trees, free from the turmoil of the noisy city. His family rejoiced at having him constantly in their midst and he was glad at the opportunity of being the instructor of his children, particularly in music.
One gloomy winter evening, the family was gathered in the brilliantly lighted music room. Count Berlow had composed a pretty little poem, and had fitted it to music. Albert had with difficulty mastered the playing of it, but Marguerite could sing the song remarkably well. The children had practised this piece faithfully and diligently and purposed to surprise their mother by singing and playing it that very evening. After the Count and Countess had sung several operatic selections, the father turned to his children, saying: "Let us hear what you can do." Albert seated himself at the piano and played, while Marguerite modestly sang in a sweet tone.
The Countess was delighted over this, their first song. She embraced both the children affectionately, and praised them for their efforts and the pleasure which they had afforded her.
Suddenly, the door was thrust open, and armed soldiers crowded into the room. The leader presented an order in which the Count was declared a friend of the King and an enemy of freedom and equality, and in consequence he was to be conducted to prison. Although the Countess, weeping and lamenting, threw her arms about her husband's neck to hold and guard him, and his children clung to his knees, the soldiers rudely tore him from their embrace. The cries of the mother and children were heart-rending.
The unhappy wife did everything in her power to save her dear husband. She hastened to the city and appeared before the magistrate, to prove the Count's innocence. She called upon all her neighbors to bear testimony to her husband's quiet, retiring life, and to the fact that he had taken no share in the affairs of his country, and had talked with no one concerning them. But everything was in vain, and she was informed that in a few days her husband would be sentenced to death.
After an absence of several days, the Countess returned to her country seat and found her home occupied by soldiers, who had ransacked it and reduced it to a common tavern to which admittance was denied her. Her two children were nowhere to be found, and all her servants had been driven away. It was late at night, and she knew not what to do next.
As she turned, she met Richard, her old, true and faithful servant, who said to her: "My dear, good Countess Berlow, you, too, stand in danger of suspicion this very minute, for you have been heard to speak of the injustice and cruelty of the government. There is no escape for you, except by secret flight. You cannot save your husband, and your presence here will only bring trouble upon your own head. Your children are both in one of the out-houses with my wife. Follow me there. My brother, John, the old fisherman, has been notified, and I will take you to him to-night. He will conduct you and your children across the river to safety. In this way you will at least save your lives."
She entered Richard's house, but there a new trouble awaited her, for Marguerite had become suddenly ill from the fright and the shock, and lay unconscious, sick with a high fever. The Countess wished to nurse her child back to health, but the doctor would not hear of it, and advised her immediate flight. Richard and his good wife promised to care for the sick child, as if it were their own.
Countess Berlow knelt beside the bedside of her beloved daughter, and said: "If I must bow to this decree, I leave her in your care, my good people, and ask God in His mercy to watch over her and restore her to me in His good time." She paused for a moment, then rose quickly from her knees, kissed her unconscious child, took her son by the hand, and trembling and swaying, hastened out of the house, without one backward look.
Richard now conducted the Countess and her son to John, the fisherman, who quickly rowed them over the river to safety. As there was no time to rest, with the help of a guide, the fisherman's friend, she hastened on with her son to find the hut which Richard had suggested.
After days and weeks of journeying hither and thither, over hills and through valleys, they found that their strength was almost exhausted. At last they came to a little low hut in a thickly wooded country. The guide pointed to it with his staff, saying: "That is the hut; there live the old shepherd and his wife who will harbor you."
Countess Berlow sighed, and followed the narrow path to the hut.
The old shepherd, who had been expecting her, came forward with a pleasant smile and welcoming, outstretched hands. To show his great respect for her, he had dressed himself in a gray suit. Around his neck he had tied a red handkerchief, and he wore a nice, green hat with a little bent feather at its side.
"Greetings to you, noble lady," said he. "I consider it a great honor to protect you and your son. This is my wife, and between us we will do all in our power to make you feel contented."
So saying, he turned to his wife, who repeated his greetings, and invited all to partake of her simple meal, which consisted of bread and milk and a few apples.
The good shepherdess then conducted the Countess to a room which opened on an adjoining room. These two rooms were to serve as bedrooms. The larger one was meagerly furnished, and its only window looked out upon the forest and two high mountain tops.
Countess Berlow was thankful for having been guided to this humble retreat. She cared for her own rooms daily and spent the remaining time in knitting, sewing or reading. But her greatest anxiety was to find amusement for her son, Albert. She undertook to continue his instruction, but she was at a loss for books.
One morning, as she sat musing over her wants, she was aroused from her reverie by the ringing of the near-by church bell. The good, old shepherdess came running into the room saying that the clergyman from over the hill would hold services in the chapel that day. Countess Berlow, with her son, hastened at once to attend.
The clergyman delivered a short sermon, every word of which touched the hearts of his earnest listeners. After the services, the Countess sought the clergyman and engaged him in conversation. She found him to be a thoughtful, devout, kind-hearted old man. He showed great interest in Albert. He promised to supply the much needed books for his use, and offered to give the boy two hours' instruction each day, provided Albert would take the trouble to journey over the hills to his house.
Albert promised to come, overjoyed at the prospect of continuing his studies under such an able teacher. He could scarcely wait each day for the hour when, with his books under his arm, he would set out over the hills, whistling lively tunes and keeping step to his music.
On rainy days, when the roads were heavy and ofttimes dangerous, he was obliged to forego his visits. His mother would then suggest some recreation for him, for she well knew that all work and no play would tend to make him dull.
In this locality, large numbers of canary birds were raised and sold and sent far and wide to other countries. Even the old shepherd had many of these birds. Albert begged his mother to purchase one of them for him. "Marguerite always had one," said he, "and I would dearly love to own one, too. It would remind us of her and our own dear home."
His mother agreed, and Albert chose a bird that closely resembled the one belonging to his sister. The bird with its beautiful yellow plumage, its clear, brilliant, coal-black eyes, afforded Albert much pleasure. Soon the bird became tame, flew upon Albert's outstretched finger and ate seeds from his lips.
Whenever Albert wrote, the bird would alight on his penholder and peck his fingers. Though he enjoyed the bird's presence and tricks, yet he was obliged at times to cage him, in order to carry on his work undisturbed. Later, when the bird began to sing, Albert could not praise it enough.
"You must teach it to whistle nice songs," said the old shepherd one day.
Albert thought the old man was joking. He did not yet know that one can teach a bird to imitate. The old man then brought out a flute and presented it to him.
"Oh, what a fine flute! How glad I am to own one," said Albert.
The old shepherd took the flute, played a waltz upon it, and showed Albert how to use the stops, Albert was pleased with the light, clear tones of the flute, and as he had talent for music and had a good ear, he soon mastered the difficulties of the instrument.
Often he played tirelessly for the bird and always a song which his father had taught him. After striving for hours and days and weeks to teach the bird, lo! his wonderful patience was rewarded. The bird began to sing the song, and sang it through without a mistake.
Albert leaped with joy and thanks. He praised the bird, over and over again, and rewarded it with lettuce, apple and hemp seed. The little flute and the little bird helped Albert and his mother to while away many an hour.
As the months rolled along, the sorrows of the Countess still lay heavily on her heart. Many a night she spent in tears and sleeplessness, and many a day was sad and dreary. She tried very hard to cloak her woe, and hide it from her son. In her unselfishness, she choked back her tears and grief, filled each day with work, and gave strict attention to her son's comfort, instruction and diversions. She always had a pleasant word and smile for the old shepherd and his wife, whose life, though lonely, was spent in the satisfaction of right living and lending a helping hand. The joy that comes from doing one's best is the only lasting joy, for every other pleasure fades and passes away.
Countess Berlow tried in every way to get news of the Count, but she had not been very successful, although some news was printed in the daily papers. The thoughtful old clergyman sent her a copy of the news, once each week, as he did not receive it any oftener.
One night Albert returned carrying the paper, and said: "The good clergyman did not have time to read it through, but he noticed from the head lines, that the paper contains much good news."
The Countess took it and read anxiously. Finding the news somewhat encouraging, she built hopes that soon she might return to her much loved home; but, alas, in the very last column of the paper, she read that many noblemen were to be sentenced to death for their loyalty to the king. In the list, she found the name of her worthy husband, Count Berlow. She reeled as if struck by a thunder-bolt, the paper fell from her hands and she sank in a swoon.
A few minutes passed before the good shepherdess came in response to Albert's cry, and brought the Countess back to consciousness. She had to be carried to her bed, and it seemed as if she would never recover. Poor Albert, who rarely left her bedside for a moment, began to fail and fade day by day.
The old shepherd often said, shaking his head at the same time: "The coming fall will surely scatter its leaves upon the grave of the Countess, and her poor son will doubtless never see the spring."
The faithful old Richard had waited on that memorable day of the flight for the return of his brother John, the fisherman. He was elated when he heard of the safety of the Countess. Richard's greatest trouble now was how to save his master, the good Count Berlow. He considered it very unjust and cruel that an honest and right-living citizen should be sentenced to death for loyalty to his king.
On the following morning, Richard hurried to the city where his son, Robert, served in the National Guard. With help he hoped to gain a meeting with this good-natured, intelligent boy, who from time to time acted as sentinel before the prison. He would try to secure his son's aid in releasing the Count, so unjustly imprisoned. At last the opportunity presented itself, and father and son had a hasty talk over the situation. Robert found no chance, however, and gave up hope of saving the Count.
At last the day arrived when the Count's sentence was to be carried out. Sleepless and sad, with his head resting on his hands, the Count sat in his lonely cell. The warden had not considered it worth while to bring him a light, and heavy darkness enveloped him. He thought of his wife and his children. Not for himself did he suffer so much, but for those who were so dear to him. He knew not where they were, and he was greatly troubled about their condition.
While the noble Count sat lost in these thoughts, a loud shouting arose in the corridors. Soldiers ran here and there, crying: "Save yourselves, if you can. Fire! Fire!" This reached the Count's ears. All at once the door of his cell was thrown wide open. Thick volumes of smoke and dust poured in and dreadful flashes of light illumined his dark cell. A young soldier stood before him, and cried: "Save yourself!"
Through the carelessness of a drunken servant, a fire had started in the building. The soldiers had torn off their coats and weapons and had hurried to put it out. Robert had seized the first opportunity that afforded itself, had taken the clothing and weapons of a soldier, and had hastened to the Count with them, saying to himself: "The only chance to save him is to dress him as a soldier."
"Hurry, put on these clothes," said Robert. He helped the Count pull on the coat, placed the hat on his head, buckled on his knapsack, and gave him a musket. The Count's face had not been shaved during his imprisonment, so that this gave him the wild appearance which all soldiers had at that time.
"Now," said Robert, "hasten down the steps and out of the front door. With this outfit, I trust you will easily get through the crowd unnoticed. Then go directly to John, the fisherman, and there you will meet my father."
Count Berlow knew exactly how to act his part. Earnestly, as if he had some urgent business to transact, he hurried down the steps and shouted in haughty tones to the men who were carrying buckets, "Aside, aside!" At last he reached the street without being detected. With quick strides and fast-beating heart, he made his way to the city gate and continued on, as Robert had taken care to give him the pass-word.
At midnight, he reached the fisherman's hut. He knocked at the window. The fisherman came to the door, but stepped back frightened at seeing a soldier who might wish to arrest him or his brother. He based his fears on the fact that they had both made many enemies on account of their fidelity to the Berlow family. When John recognized the Count, he raised his hands and exclaimed, "Oh, it's you, Count Berlow; how happy I am to be able to help you!" Richard, who had waited and watched there for the last ten nights, rushed into the room and shouted: "Oh, my master!" and both embraced and wept.
The first question which the Count asked was for his wife and children. Richard quickly related the details of their flight and the illness of Marguerite, who had now recovered and was sleeping in the adjoining room. The noise, however, had awakened her, and recognizing her father's voice, she rushed into the room. With great joy she hurried into his outstretched arms. He kissed her rosy cheeks and looked at her long and tenderly.
The Count decided to continue his flight that very night from the land which once had been to him a paradise but was now only a murderers' den. On the same boat that had safely carried his wife and son, he now took passage. The old fisherman led the way and Richard followed last. The night was clear and the heavens bright with stars. Suddenly they heard sounds of shooting, and voices shouting: "Halt! Halt!—Halt, halt!—You are deserters!"
It so happened that when the fire in the prison had been extinguished, the soldiers had carefully searched each cell, to find if anyone had escaped. To their great astonishment, they found the cell of Count Berlow empty. The soldier who had lost his uniform cried loudly with rage: "He has flown with my clothing and my weapons. Up and follow him!" The pursuers soon found a clue to the Count's route.
The poor Count and Richard were almost stupefied when they heard the distant shouting, but they seized the oars all the more firmly and rowed with every muscle strained to the utmost. Soon the soldiers reached the shore and began to fire upon the occupants of the boat. Marguerite crept under the seat, while the men tried to dodge the bullets. One bullet pierced the Count's hat, two pierced Richard's oar. The little boat, which was scarcely an inch above the water, rocked and rolled and almost capsized, but the occupants escaped without injury and finally reached the opposite shore in safety.
Count Berlow was thankful for his escape, and so were Richard and Marguerite. They seated themselves on an overturned tree trunk, to recover a little strength. When they had rested a little, the Count quickly threw off his uniform and donned some old clothes belonging to Richard. With a staff in his hand and a bundle on his back, Richard now led the way, while the Count and Marguerite followed. In order to allay all suspicion, Richard took a roundabout course through the thickly-wooded country.
Count Barlow's greatest desire was to see his wife and son. "I shall not have a restful moment," said he to Richard, "until I shall have found them. You tell me they are safe in a shepherd's lowly hut, but how shall we reach them? My daughter cannot go on foot, and I have not the means to ride there."
Then Richard drew out of his bundle a bag of gold. "You are not as poor as you think, my noble master," said he. "This money is all yours." Count Berlow stared first at the gold and then at his faithful servant.
"You see," said Richard, "while you were rich, you paid me well and presented me with large gifts of money. Many people, too, were generously aided by you. During the time you were imprisoned, I set out to gather in as much money from these people as I could possibly move them to give you. 'Tis true we often find people who never feel grateful for any good they receive, but I must confess that these grateful souls not only returned all you ever gave them, but out of love and deep thankfulness added much more thereto."
Count Berlow counted the money. "It is a very, very large amount," said he, and raised his eyes in thanks to heaven. "But how long can even this last us?"
"We will economize," said Richard, "in every possible way, but let me first of all purchase a horse and wagon," This was soon accomplished. The wagon was provided with a canvas covering, which served to shield the occupants from view, and also to protect them from the sun and rain.
They rode for days and days, and the way was long and dreary. Owing to the rough handling which the Count had received in the prison, the terror which his death sentence had caused him, the sorrow and fear of his flight, and the weariness of the journey, he soon became very much weakened and was forced to stop at a little village and rest for a while.
Richard hired a few rooms and bought the food. As he was well trained in all household duties, he took upon himself the care of their temporary home. Marguerite helped, as best she could, and from morning till night performed each task willingly, always wearing a sunny smile.
Count Berlow was confined to his bed for many weeks, and it was a long time before he could sit up, even for a little while. Marguerite cared for her father, read to him, cheered him, and thus made the time pass pleasantly. Her father returned his thanks with every evidence of love and contentment.
Marguerite's birthday was now at hand. When she awoke one morning, she found the window-sills filled with potted geraniums, her favorite flowers, and a beautiful canary bird hanging above them in a pretty golden cage. The bird exactly resembled the one which she had had at home. She thanked her father in the tenderest tones for his selection.
"Take these simple gifts, my child, for at present I can give you no more."
Richard now served dinner and all seemed once more to be bright and happy. When the meal was ended, the Count drank to the health of his daughter and his absent wife and son. "I wonder, my child," said he to Marguerite, "where your mother and brother are this day, and how they are celebrating your birthday? What has befallen them? I always had a happy heart; but now I often have many troubled hours. I fear—I fear."
Marguerite threw her arms about her father's neck and tried to reassure him. "Be comforted, dear father," said she. "We shall be brought together again, for surely God cares for us."
"Yes, that is true," he said, and dried his eyes.
All was silent. It was a deep, solemn, soul-stirring moment.
All at once the canary bird began to sing a song—the song which father and daughter recognized at once as the one which the Count had composed and taught his children. No one else had ever heard it or played it.
Marguerite clapped her hands and shouted: "What can this mean! That is the first piece that you taught us, dear father." All gazed at the bird in astonishment. The bird repeated the song, twice, thrice. "It is our song. No note is missing."
"This is truly wonderful," said the Count. "Certainly no one could have taught that song to the bird but my boy Albert; but how? I do not know. Now, Richard, where did you get this bird?"
Richard then related how he had purchased the canary on the preceding night from a bird fancier in the village.
"Hasten to the village and possibly he may be able to tell you more about the bird."
Richard ran to the village, and was gone what seemed an interminable time. At last he returned with the information that the fancier had bought the bird from a little boy who lived with his mother, many miles beyond, and who had trained this little bird to sing and whistle. The fancier described the boy and mother so well that all were unanimous in their decision that this was the boy and mother for whom they were seeking.
Preparations were now made for a hasty departure, for the Count seemed suddenly stronger. Richard packed their belongings and placed them in the wagon. The bird was hung from a hook fastened in the top of the vehicle. Everything was soon in readiness.
On the following morning they started off. The Count and Marguerite were regaled on the journey by the sweet song of the canary. It cheered them and seemed to make the time pass all the more quickly. After a journey of twenty miles, they reached the village, at sunset.
They repaired at once to the clergyman's house, where they learned that the Countess and Albert Berlow lived in the shepherd's lowly hut, some miles distant. "The Countess holds her husband as dead," said the clergyman, "and no joy can now penetrate her heart. Her health has failed and it seems as if she would not last very long."
Count Berlow asked how she could have received such incorrect news. The clergyman then brought out a package of newspapers, searched for one sheet, and laid it before the Count. He read that, on such a day, and at such an hour, Count Berlow, with twenty others, had been hung. "Strange it is," said the Count, "either they forgot to cross my name from the list, or else they did not wish to, in the hope that in that way they would not be answerable for my escape."
It pained the Count sorely that this false news had brought much suffering to the Countess, for death seemed almost to have enrolled her, too. The clergyman advised them to proceed slowly and cautiously, lest the joyful news of the Count's return should be too great a shock to her.
Intending to follow the good clergyman's advice, they continued their journey. Soon they reached the summit of a wooded hill, and from the distance they discerned the low hut with its flat, thatch-covered roof and smoking chimney. Richard then went hurriedly ahead.
Countess Berlow, dressed in black, sat knitting at the fireside, the light of which illuminated the room, which had been slowly filling with the shadows of the approaching twilight. Albert sat at her side, reading from her favorite volume. As she saw her faithful servant enter, she uttered a loud cry and her work fell from her hands. She hastened toward him, and with a thousand exclamations of joy and pain, she greeted him heartily, as if he were her dear father. Albert, too, was deeply affected.
Countess Berlow then pointed to a chair which Albert had drawn close to the fire, and said: "My good, true friend, be seated. So we see each, other again. Over the death of my dear husband let us draw a veil. The memory of it is too painful for me. But tell me, how is my daughter! Did she die, as the doctor said she might?"
Richard then explained that the doctor had diagnosed the case as more serious than it really was, in order at that time to hurry the mother's flight; and that Marguerite had very shortly after recovered and had remained well ever since. The Countess was greatly pleased with this report, and her eyes gleamed with joy.
"But," said she earnestly, and with a clouded brow, "why did you not bring her with you? Why did you not tear her from the unhappy fatherland where no hour of her life could be safe? How could you leave without her—you hard, cruel man? Why did you not—" she could say no more, for the door opened, and Marguerite rushed to her mother and embraced and kissed her as if nothing could ever again tear them asunder. Albert joined them and gladder tears were never shed than those which the Countess wept in her exceeding happiness.
Alas, the joy soon melted into yearning. "Oh, that my dear, true husband still lived," said the Countess, as she looked to heaven, "for then my measure of joy would be full. Now, my dear children, you are poor and fatherless. The sight of you fills the heart of your oppressed mother with pain. For what can I, a poor, lonely widow, do for you?"
Then Richard interrupted the conversation with the glad news of the Count's rescue. The Countess proved herself more self-controlled than Richard had anticipated, for the great joy of having seen her true servant, the greater joy of again clasping her daughter in her arms was for this woman the preparation for the greatest of joys—the joy of again seeing the husband whom she had mourned as dead.
The Count had long stood, with palpitating heart, waiting before the door of the hut, where each word had fallen distinctly on his ear.
Richard's last words had scarcely been uttered when the Countess cried: "He lives; he has been saved from the hands of his oppressors." The Count then opened the door, and overcome with emotion, fell at the feet of the Countess.
Timid and fearful, as if she half doubted that he really lived, she gazed at him long and steadily as the light of the fire irradiated his face. She could scarcely express her rapture. Then after a long pause she said: "Oh, the joy of again seeing my loved ones for whom I have wept so long!"
Father and mother, son and daughter, and faithful servant spent a peaceful, joyous evening in the little, lowly hut. The old shepherd and his good wife shared in the contentment which filled their little home to overflowing.
On the following morning, there was brought into this lowly hut another guest who had rendered such helpful service in the speedy reuniting of the separated family—the little canary bird.
Albert was delighted to see his bird again, for during his mother's illness he had found it impossible to care properly for it, and had reluctantly disposed of it at the fancier's in a distant village.
Count Berlow then related at length the circumstances which had brought the bird into his possession and how it had helped to give him the needed hope and strength to continue the journey which had ended so successfully in their reunion.
Albert joined in the conversation, and said, "Wasn't it a happy thought to teach the bird that particular song, when I knew so many songs? But then, you see, it was the song nearest and dearest to my heart. It was my father's song. Little did I think, when I had to part with my pet, that it would be taken from me only to restore my father and sister to me."
"So we see," said the Count, "how through a little trial we may find a great joy. I trust that through our losses we all have gained in humility and sympathy, which have a lasting worth; and perhaps God will return to us our past fortune, just as he has returned your canary to you."
Count Berlow was obliged to spend the winter under the roof of this lowly hut, and Richard was housed in a neighboring one.
The canary bird was hung in the same place it had graced before it was sold to the fancier. Marguerite cared for it daily and never neglected to give it proper food and water.
Often, when the family was gathered together around the friendly fireside, on a cold winter's evening, the bird would begin to sing the song so acceptable to them. The children and the parents would join in the chorus, and they found therein comfort and hope.
The noble family was forced to live for some time in these same narrow quarters; but at last they were permitted to return to their fatherland, where they again came into possession of their property. The Count and Countess rejoiced in being wealthy once more, for now they could return in measure full and overflowing, the goodness and kindness of the friends who had proven themselves in the hour of need.
The good, faithful Richard, with his kind wife and their clever, honest son; John, the brave old fisherman; and the helpful shepherd and shepherdess, together with the devout clergyman, were among the first to receive this reward—the expression of gratitude and love from a family of loyal members.
THE UGLY TRINKET
I. THE OPEN DOOR.
II. THE TEST.
THE UGLY TRINKET
THE OPEN DOOR
Respected and beloved by all her neighbors, Mrs. Linden, a rich widow, lived a solitary life in her grand, old castle.
One day some urgent business called her to the city of Antwerp. Here she was detained longer than she had expected, and during her stay she visited the principal points of interest, among them an old cathedral, famed far and wide for its beauty.
With deep reverence, she entered this time-honored house of worship. Its high, vaulted roof, its long rows of stately columns, its beautifully painted windows, the altar in the distance, and the twilight and the stillness of the holy place filled her with admiration and awe. In her heart arose a feeling of the nearness of God, and she knelt and prayed.
Then she passed slowly on, stopping often to study the wonderful paintings by the old masters, and the inscriptions upon tablets placed on the walls in memory of notable men and women long since passed away.
Suddenly she stopped and read a tablet. It had been placed there in honor of a pious woman who had suffered much in her life, but had always striven to do good; and these words were written there: "She rests from her cares, and her good deeds live after her."
Mrs. Linden then and there resolved that as long as she lived she would bear all her troubles and trials patiently, and do good to all, so far as lay within her power.
As she neared the altar of this grand cathedral, she noticed a little girl eight years of age, clad in black, who was kneeling there and praying fervently. Her eyes were riveted on her hands, tightly clasped before her, so she noticed nothing of Mrs. Linden's presence. Tears were rolling down her cheeks and her face had a look of sorrow and reverence.
Mrs. Linden was at once moved to pity. She did not wish to disturb her, but as the child arose, she said softly: "You seem sad, my little one! Why do you cry?"
"I lost my father a year ago, and a few days ago they buried my mother," said the child, as the tears rolled the faster.
"And for what did you pray so earnestly?" asked Mrs. Linden.
"I asked for help. 'Tis true I have some relatives in the city, and I would like one of them to take me. The clergyman says that it is their duty, but they do not want the trouble. I can't blame them, for they have children enough of their own."
"Poor child," said Mrs. Linden, "no wonder you feel sad."
"Truly, I was much sadder when I entered this cathedral," said the girl, "but all at once I feel much better."
These words pressed on Mrs. Linden's heart and she said, in a motherly way, "I think that God has answered your prayer. Come with me."
"But where? For I must return to my house."
"Let us go to the clergyman. I know him well, and I will ask his advice," continued Mrs. Linden. Then she offered her hand to the child, and led the way.
The aged clergyman arose with astonishment from his chair, as he saw the woman enter with this child.
Mrs. Linden explained to him how and where she had met the little one, at the same time asking the girl to step aside while she engaged the old man in quiet conversation.
"I have decided to adopt this little girl and be a mother to her. My own dear children died when they were infants and my heart tells me that I could give the love that I had for my own to this little orphan; but I would like you to advise me further. Do you think that my care would be given in vain?"
"No," said the clergyman, "a greater deed of charity you could not do; nor could you easily find such a good, well-mannered child. Her parents were right-living people, and they gave this, their only daughter, a good training. Never will I forget her mother's last words: 'Father, I know that Thou wilt care for my little one, and send her another mother.' Her words are now being fulfilled. You have been sent to do this."
The old clergyman then called the little girl into the room, and said: "Amy, this good, kind woman wishes to be your mother. Do you want to go with her and be a good daughter to her!"
"Yes, yes," said Amy, and cried for joy.
"That is right," said the clergyman. "Be to this gracious woman, the new mother whom God has sent to you, as good and obedient a child as you were to your own mother. Remember that trouble and sorrow may come into your life, as they must come into every life; but if you pray with the same trust in God as you prayed to-day, help will surely be sent in the same way."
Her relatives were then summoned and acquainted with the fact, and not one of them objected; instead, they were very much pleased.
When Mrs. Linden said that she would take the child just as she stood there, and that they could have all of her clothing for their own children, they were more than delighted.
But Amy begged to keep just a few books which her mother had given her, and which she cherished; and this wish was granted.
On the next morning, Mrs. Linden and Amy started for the castle home. The servant, who had expected them, had everything in readiness. After the evening meal had been served, Mrs. Linden showed Amy to her room.
Amy was charmed with her home and her new mother. With tears of thanks she prayed, and soon was fast asleep. When she awoke, she found the sun streaming into the room. She walked to the window and gazed out into the lovely, sunny grounds and wooded walks surrounding the castle. In the distance, she could see the spire of the grand cathedral.
After a few days, Mrs. Linden sent Amy to school. When she returned each afternoon, she helped in the garden and in the kitchen as much as her years would permit; for Mrs. Linden wished to train her to a useful, industrious life. Often, when the opportunity offered, she taught her to sew and knit and care for the house, something she thought that every girl should learn. Under the guidance of such a kind, loving woman, Amy grew to girlhood, simple and modest.
Ten years passed by, filled with joy and happiness. Then suddenly Mrs. Linden became dangerously ill.
Amy nursed her foster-mother with the tenderest care and bestowed as much love upon her as if she were her own mother. She entered the sick room noiselessly; spoke in soft, gentle tones; opened and closed the doors without the least sound, so that Mrs. Linden preferred to have Amy rather than a nurse.
Often Amy would sit in the darkened room and watch over her charge during the long, weary hours of the night. Days and weeks passed, and the invalid grew no better; still Amy nursed her with the same untiring patience and care.
Mrs. Linden was very thankful that she had taken Amy into her home and heart, and realized it more and more each day, and said: "My dear Amy, you do so much for me. A daughter could do no more. God will reward you. I, too, will not forget you; and you shall see that I am not ungrateful."
Amy bade her speak no more about it.
Mrs. Linden said no more on the subject. After a lingering illness, she became very weak, and at last passed away.
Amy cried as bitterly at this loss as she had done at the loss of her own mother.
In the course of the week, many of Mrs. Linden's rich relatives were summoned to the house, where her will was to be read. The lawyer unfolded the document, and Amy was greatly surprised to learn that her foster-mother had bequeathed to her five thousand dollars, with the instructions to choose from her treasures the costliest, as a remembrance.
The rich relatives were not pleased with this bequest, nor did they wish Amy to take any of the rings, pearls or jewels. Amy had never been covetous; and when she was told to select, she said: "It is not at all necessary for me to have a valuable remembrance. The smallest piece will suffice. Knowing that it comes from such a good woman, it will have great value in my eyes. It is more than enough that she has bequeathed to me such a large sum of money which I have not earned. Therefore, I choose the old, tarnished, clumsy locket which she held in her hand and wet with her tears as she bade me good-bye. This will be the most precious treasure for me, and I know her blessing will go with it."
One of the onlookers laughed and said to Amy: "What a silly girl. Why didn't you take the diamond ring? That ugly old locket, what good is that! How ridiculous for you to choose such a worthless thing!"
But Amy was more than satisfied and perfectly contented; while the rich relatives quarreled over the distribution of the other trinkets and had more disappointment out of it than pleasure.
The relative to whom the castle had been bequeathed gave orders to Amy to find a new home. This she had in a measure expected, of course, but she did not know just where to go. At last the old gardener and his good, kind wife offered to share their home with her. She thanked them heartily and gladly accepted.
Amy now invested her money in a business house in the city, and although her income was not large, still she had enough for her simple wants.
One year went by in quietude and peace, in the simple surroundings of the old gardener's home. But as the new occupants of the castle no longer wished the services of a man as old as he was, he received orders to leave. This meant to give up his life-long work and the home which had become so dear to him.
"Be comforted," said Amy, "for I will collect my money and buy a little house near the city. Then I will take in some sewing, and we can all three still live together contentedly." They soon found a house which suited them exactly.
As Amy had not been able to get her money from the merchant, they were obliged, for the time being, to borrow it from another man, to whom she promised payment when her money fell due.
The house was bought and renovated to suit them. It was small and simple, but ample for their wants. Amy kept the home bright and comfortable; flowers graced the windows, and the old people basked in the sunshine of her smiles and helpfulness.
Although they could see the castle in the distance, where they had spent so many years of their lives, and from which they had all three been so rudely cast, they never longed to return; for their little home was filled with happiness and contentment. As joy and sorrow, however, must change places with each other now and then here upon earth, so this little household was called upon to meet an unwelcome friend, "Trouble."
One morning, after almost a year's sojourn in the little home, the news was brought that the large business house in the city where Amy had invested her money had failed, and that the whole amount was lost to her. The time was almost due to pay the debt on the house. Where would the money come from, now that they could no longer give security?
Sad, troubled days had dawned for them.
On the eve of the day when the payment on the house was due, Amy went up to the attic, where she could be alone and cry out her grief, and pray.
In her anxiety and nervousness, she clutched the old, ugly locket that hung from a chain—the little reminder of the time of her joys, her sorrows, her patience, her trust and her gratitude, while she lived with her good foster-mother.
In one moment of intense feeling, she pressed the locket tightly in an agony of grief. Lo! as she unfolded her hand in utter helplessness, the locket fell apart. Into her lap rolled one little stone after another. When she took them up to look at them, she discovered that each stone was a diamond, seemingly of great worth.
She raised her thankful eyes to heaven and poured out her grateful heart. She paused, then gathering her treasure in her hands, she hastened with joyous steps to acquaint her two companions of her wonderful discovery.
The good, old people were overcome with joy, and thanked God, again and again. Then the old man said: "With the money that these jewels will bring you, you can pay for the house and still have enough left to keep you comfortably."
Early the next morning, Amy hurried to the clergyman, her very best friend, to show him the jewels and tell him how accidentally she had found them.
"May I," said she, "keep these costly jewels or must I return them to Mrs. Linden's heirs? I think they are the most valuable of all the trinkets that she left."
"No," said he, "the jewels belong to you. Mrs. Linden intended them for you, I am sure, when she gave you the right to choose first, and take the best. When you selected the least attractive trinket, you unknowingly chose a treasure which to you was only valuable because worn by the one whom you hold dearest. God sent you this secret treasure; and it is worth many thousand dollars, at least. Take it, sell it, and enjoy the benefits which you derive therefrom. But always keep the locket, as a memento of Mrs. Linden and her great benevolence."