At the call, a stout little lady, in a pink-ribboned cap, hurried out of a room at one side of the hall.
"Oh, Benjamin, is it really you? My dear husband. Well, I am glad;" and she gave him such a kiss. Then, turning to Eyebright, she said in the kindest voice,—
"And this is your little girl, is it? Why, Benjamin, she is taller than I am! My dear, I am very glad to see you; very glad, indeed. Father says you are his girl; but you must be mine, too, and learn to love the old lady just as fast as you can."
Was not this a delightful reception for a weary, journey-stained little traveller? Eyebright returned the kiss with one equally warm, and all her fears of Mrs. Joyce fled for ever.
"You shall go right upstairs," said this new friend; "tea will be ready soon, and I know you are longing for some cold water to wash off the dust. It's the most refreshing thing always after a journey."
She led the way, and left Eyebright to herself in a little bedroom. Such a pretty bedroom it was! Eyebright felt sure at once that it had been got ready expressly for herself. It was just such a room as a young girl fancies, with a dainty white bed, white curtains at the window, a white-frilled toilet-table, and on the toilet-table a smart blue pincushion, with "Welcome" stuck upon it in shining pins. Even the books on the table seemed to have been chosen to suit her taste, for there lay "The Dove in the Eagle's Nest;" "The Wide Wide World;" "The Daisy Chain," in two fat blue volumes; and Mrs. Whitney's charming tale of "We Girls." She peeped at one title after another with a little jump of satisfaction. How long, how very long it was since she had had a new story-book to read. A whole feast of enjoyment seemed shut up inside those fascinating covers. But she would not nibble the feast now; and closing "The Daisy Chain," begun to unpack her handbag.
She opened the top bureau-drawer, and said, "Oh!" quite aloud, for there appeared a row of neat little linen collars and cuffs, some pretty black neck-ties, a nube of fleecy white wool, and a couple of cunning paper boxes with the jeweller's mark on their lids. Could they be meant for her? She ventured to peep. One box held a pair of jet sleeve-buttons; the other, a small locket of shining jet, with a ribbon drawn through its ring, all ready for wear. She was still wondering over these discoveries, when a little tap sounded on the door, followed immediately by the appearance of Mrs. Joyce.
"I just came to see if you had all you wanted," she said. "Oh, you have found those little duds. I knew, from what Father wrote, that you couldn't get any thing in the place where you were, so I chose those few little things, and to-morrow we'll see what more you want." Then, cutting short Eyebright's thanks, she opened the closet door and called out: "Let me have your jacket to hang up, my dear. There's some shelves at this end for your hats. And now I'll help you unpack. You'll never begin to feel at home till you're all unpacked and put away. Nobody does."
It was a real satisfaction to Mrs. Joyce to notice how few clothes Eyebright possessed, and how shabby they were. All the time that she folded, and arranged, she was saying to herself, gleefully "She wants this, she needs that: she must have all sorts of things at once. To-morrow I'll buy her a nice Henrietta cloth, and a cashmere for every day, and a pretty wrap of some kind and a hat."
She betrayed the direction of her thoughts by turning suddenly with the question,—
"What sized gloves do you wear, my dear?"
"I don't know," was the reply. "I haven't had any gloves for two years, except a pair of worsted mittens last winter."
"Gracious!" said Mrs. Joyce, but I think she was rather pleased than otherwise. The truth was, all her life long she had been "spoiling" for a daughter to pet and make much of, and now, at last, her chance had come. "Boys are all very well," she told Mr. Joyce that night. "But once they get into roundabouts, there is absolutely nothing more which their mothers can do for them in the way of clothes. Girls are different. I always knew that I should like a girl to look after, and this seems a dear child, Benjamin. I'm sure I shall be fond of her."
The tea-bell rang in the midst of the unpacking; but, as Mrs. Joyce observed, they had the rest of the week before them, and it didn't matter a bit; so she hurried Eyebright downstairs, and into a cheerful dining-room. Cheerfulness seemed the main characteristic of the Joyce establishment. It was not at all an elegant house,—not even, I am sorry to say, a tasteful one. Nothing could possibly be uglier or more common-place than the furniture, the curtains, or the flaps of green reps above the curtains, known to village circles as "lamberkins," and the pride of Mrs. Joyce's heart. The carpets and wall paper had no affinity with each other, and both would have horrified an artist in home decoration. But everywhere, all through the house, were neatness, solid comfort, and that spirit of family affection which makes any house pleasant, no matter how pretty or how ugly it may be; and this atmosphere of loving-kindness was as reviving to Eyebright's drooping spirits as real sunshine is to a real plant, drenched and beaten down by heavy storms. She felt its warmth through and through, and from the first it did her good.
Mr. Joyce had just asked a blessing, and was proceeding to cut the smoking beefsteak before him, when the door opened, and a tall boy, with curly hair and a bright manly face, hurried in.
"Why, father, I didn't know you were here, or I should have been in long ago. How are you, sir?" ending the sentence, to Eyebright's amazement and amusement both, with a hug and a hearty kiss, which his father as heartily returned.
"Yes; I'm at home again, and very glad and thankful to be here," said Mr. Joyce. "Here's the new sister, Charley; you didn't see her, did you? Eyebright, this is my son Charley."
"My son Charley," like most boys of sixteen, was shy with girls whom he was not acquainted with. He shook hands cordially, but he said little; only he watched Eyebright when she was not observing, and his eyes were very friendly. He liked her face, and thought her pretty, which was certainly very good of him, for she was looking her worst—tired and pale, with none of her usual sparkle, and dressed in the water-proof suit which was not at all becoming.
So here, in this secure and kindly haven, I think we may leave our little storm-tossed girl, with the safe assurance that she will be tenderly and wisely cared for. I know that a few among you will want to hear more. No story was ever written so long or so conclusive, that some child-reader did not pop up at the end with, "Oh, but just tell us this one thing." I cannot satisfy such; still, for their benefit, I will just hint at a remark made by Mrs. Joyce some months later. She and Mr. Joyce were sitting on the porch, and Eyebright, who had grown as dear as a daughter to the old lady's heart, was playing croquet with Charley.
"It really does seem the luckiest thing that ever was, your being shipwrecked on that island," she said. "I was almost frightened to death when I heard about it, but if you hadn't we never should have got hold of that child as we did, and what a pity that would be? She certainly is the nicest girl I ever saw—so sweet-tempered and loving and helpful, I don't believe any of us could get along without her now. How fond she and Charley seem of each other! I can't help thinking they'll make a match of it when they grow up. It would be an excellent idea, don't you agree with me, Benjamin? Charley could never find anybody whom he would like better, and then we should keep Eyebright with us always."
Mr. Joyce roared with laughter.
"She's only fifteen and Charley won't be seventeen till next Saturday," he said. "Don't you think you'd better put off your castles in the air till they are both a little older, Mother?"
Such castles are absurd; still it is by no means impossible that this may come to pass, and if it should happen to do so, I fancy Mr. Joyce will be as much pleased as "Mother," every whit.
* * * * *
University Press: John Wilson & Son, Cambridge.
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SUSAN COOLIDGE has always possessed the affection of her young readers, for it seems as if she had the happy instinct of planning stories that each girl would like to act out in reality.—The Critic.
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