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'Lizbeth of the Dale
by Marian Keith
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"It's a raw day," she said. "Ah didna like to venture oot, but ah thocht ah'd jist rin ower an' see pair Wully. He's no weel, an' he wearies for me whiles. Ah tauld Jake if he wesna jist himsel, ah'd bide wi him the nicht." She gave a sidelong glance as she said this, half amused, half defiant. But Elizabeth had not been home long enough to understand the full meaning of the words and look. These periodical illnesses to which "pair Wully" was so strangely subject had a peculiar significance in the Martin household. It was reported throughout the neighborhood that when Jake grew obdurate, as he sometimes dared, even yet, his wife, by some process of mental telepathy, became convinced of the notion that pair Wully would be jist wearyin' for her, he wasna' weel onyway, an' micht jist slip awa' afore she saw him; and away the devoted sister would hie, leaving the forsaken husband and his home to whatever ill-luck fate might send. As his house was faultlessly and economically run when its mistress was there, and fell into ruinous neglect in her absence, Jake generally succumbed at an early date. Wully's physical condition having a strange correspondence to Jake's mental state, they always recovered at precisely the same time, and Auntie Jinit returned triumphant. On this present occasion, the proposed papering of the Martin parlor had caused a serious indisposition in the Johnstone home, and Auntie Jinit was on her way gayly thither, prepared to nurse her brother until the paper was ready to be hung. She anticipated a struggle over Eppie, but Auntie Jinit knew her power and was ready for the fray.

She kissed Elizabeth affectionately as she left her at the MacAllister gate, bidding her be cheery, it would all end right, and tripped away down the road to her brother's home. Elizabeth found Mother MacAllister sitting in her accustomed seat by the kitchen window. She had more time to sit there now, for Wully Johnstone's only unmarried daughter had come to be the helper in the MacAllister kitchen when Sarah Emily became the wife of Peter, and declared she couldn't put up with anybody's penoeuvres when she was cooking a dinner.

Mother MacAllister's eyes rested fondly on the girl as she laid off her coat and hat. Lizzie was still to her the little daughter she had lost, and her homecomings brought her joy second only to that of her own son.

"And you'll not be looking yourself, lovey," she said tenderly when Eppie had been inquired for. "Is it a trouble I could be helping?"

Yes, it was just for help she had come, Elizabeth explained, and sitting on her old seat, the milking-stool, at Mother MacAllister's knee, she told her all, how she had left Mrs. Jarvis, and the life of fashion they had lived, because she had been given a glimpse of another life—one employed in the King's service. And she had seen also the life that the unfortunate ones of the earth led, the cruel misery they suffered, and it had all seemed to her the direct result of her own self-indulgence. She had fled from that selfish life, and now her act was likely to bring disaster upon those she loved best, and she was in doubt. Perhaps she had done wrong. Had she? And was it possible a right act could bring such dire results?

And then Mother MacAllister went, as she always did in times of perplexity, to the story of the One Who had suffered all man's infirmities and knew as no other knew how to sympathize with man's troubles. She read of how He turned away from worldly power and triumph and chose a life of poverty, and a death of shame, because He loved, and love gave all. And sitting there, listening, with swelling heart Elizabeth lived again that radiant evening when Mother MacAllister had first shown her a glimpse of what His service meant. And this was a renewed vision, a lifting of the clouds that still obscured the dawn. She went home with a feeling of exaltation in her heart. "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto the least of these, ye have done it unto Me," Mother MacAllister had said in parting. Lizzie had done right and she must leave the consequences with Him. He would see that it came out all right. As she paused to open the sodden gate leading into The Dale lane, she glanced back at the old farm-house against the dark background of pines. Above the long hill the wind had opened a long golden rent in the gray skies. Elizabeth smiled. It was a beautiful omen, and hopeful.

She soon discovered that she needed all the light that her vision of love and duty could shed upon her pathway; for the ensuing days proved dark ones. The possibilities of coming disaster hung over her head, and her aunt's attitude of aggrieved reproachfulness was torture to the girl's loving heart. To add to her suffering, Miss Gordon insisted, martyr-like, in taking charge of Eppie. Elizabeth strove to assist, but she was always doing things wrong, and her aunt sighed and declared she only added to her burdens. Offers of a home for Eppie had come from all sides, but at first Miss Gordon refused each one. For, after all, the lady of The Dale was made of fine material. Never could she be brought to turn an orphan from her door, and her stern sense of duty drove her to nurse the girl with all the care and skill she could command. But hers was a nature that, while it was capable of rising to the height of a difficult task, failed in the greater task of carrying the burden bravely.

So Tom Teeter, the Johnstones, the Cleggs, and the MacAllisters were forced to content themselves with sending gifts of cream and fresh eggs and chicken-soup and currant jelly to the poor little guest at The Dale, until her hosts were embarrassed by their riches. But Auntie Jinit's offer was not to be so put aside. For what was the use of vanquishing a husband if one could not display the evidence of one's triumph? The new gay paper on the parlor wall witnessed to brother Wully's complete recovery from rheumatism, but the crick in his back, brought on by his brother-in-law's stormy refusal to take old Sandy McLachlan's child into his home was long and persistent. It had vanished at last on a certain evening when Jake sheepishly presented himself at the Johnstone home to inquire when his truant wife was coming back. This was always the enemy's sign of capitulation. Auntie Jinit sailed home with flying colors, and the next morning presented herself at The Dale and demanded that Eppie go home with her.

Not even Miss Gordon dared deny her, and so Eppie went to her new home—one where every care a motherly heart could contrive was given her. But Elizabeth's position was no less uncomfortable after Eppie was gone. Her aunt treated her with stately politeness, her manner saying plainly that she was merely waiting for her erring niece to confess herself mistaken, and ready to make amends. But Elizabeth still clung forlornly to her resolution. She gained some comfort from seeing Eppie growing strong and rosy, and much from Mother MacAllister's counsel.

Annie and John Coulson sympathized, too, though even Annie could not quite understand.

Just one event broke the monotony of Elizabeth's days before John's homecoming. This was a visit from Estella and Horace. They drove out one sunny afternoon and remained to tea. Horace wore an apologetic air, as though he felt guilty of having jilted Elizabeth, and Estella's manner was of the same quality, with a dash of triumph. On her way upstairs to remove her wraps, Estella explained in an ecstatic whisper that they were really and truly engaged, and didn't Beth think she had the loveliest diamond ring ever? Horace was such a dear, and the only thing that marred her perfect happiness was—well, of course it was a delicate matter—but neither she nor Horry could ever be quite happy until Beth said she would forgive them.

Too amused to resent the imputation, Elizabeth granted a free and full pardon, and then the true purport of Estella's visit was revealed.

"What on earth has happened between you and Aunt Jarvis?" she asked, sitting down on the edge of the bed and fluffing up her light hair before the mirror. "You see I call her Aunt Jarvis already—I might as well, you know, we'll be married so soon. Whatever has happened, Beth; was the old crank nasty to you?"

"Oh, Stella! No, she was always good and kind, but I—oh, I can't explain, only it was all my fault."

"Well, then, you'd better get to work and make it all right, you silly thing. Madeline's just out of her head with joy about it. She's quite the nastiest thing that ever lived, Beth Gordon, even if she is to be my sister-in-law. Neither she nor old mother Oliver have called on me, or noticed our engagement in any way, and Madeline's getting ready to go to the Old Country with Aunt Jarvis—instead of you, Beth, and if you let her I'll never, never forgive you. We'd just love to take our wedding-trip to the Old Country—I mean to go abroad, nobody in Cheemaun ever says the Old Country now—but we can't. Mr. Oliver's as stingy mean with poor darling Horry as ever he can be. And if Madeline goes I'll—Oh, Beth, whatever did happen to make you act so?"

Elizabeth explained that she could not possibly interfere. She was not to return to Toronto. Mrs. Jarvis probably did not want her any more. Then, to quit the uncomfortable subject, she suggested they go down to her aunt and Horace.

"My, you're so close," grumbled Estella, rising and shaking out her silk skirts. "I came out here on purpose to get it all out of you. But I'll do it anyway—see if I don't."

"Do what?" added Elizabeth, half-alarmed.

Estella laughed gayly. "Never you mind, Betsey dear. I can be as mum as yourself, never fear. It'll be a good turn for you, anyway," and she kissed her old schoolmate with genuine affection.

The subject was not referred to again, as Estella occupied the remainder of her visit talking about her trousseau, and she left without Elizabeth discovering just what she intended to do.

The days passed slowly and painfully, and the next event was John's homecoming. Elizabeth had looked forward to it, with something of the feeling a ship-wrecked mariner experiences when he sees an approaching vessel.

But John's presence did not bring the comfort she had fondly expected. He said not one word of reproach; but his sister could not help seeing he was deeply disappointed over the loss of his position. He had received no further orders from Mr. Huntley regarding his appointment, and had hesitated to approach him. He would send for him, the lawyer had said, when all arrangements were completed, but no summons had come yet, and John was feeling very much depressed indeed.

"Oh, John," groaned Elizabeth, as they wandered in the lane one warm spring evening, "I wish—I can't tell you how I wish I hadn't spoiled this chance of yours. But I can't see how I could have acted otherwise."

"It's all right, Lizzie," he said comfortingly. "Don't you worry. Of course, I can't see just why you went and busted up things in such a wholesale manner. But I know you felt it was the thing to do, and I can go somewhere else. I may get in with Dr. Harper here in Cheemaun."

"I feel I did right," Elizabeth said mournfully, "but it seems to have turned out all wrong. What does Jean say?"

"Jean?" John laughed. "She wasn't saying anything to anybody but old Bags when I came away. Boys, oh! If I didn't forget. She cautioned me to break the news that they were engaged."

"Engaged! Who?"

"Why, Jean and Bagsley."

"Jean and—and what?" screamed Elizabeth. "Not the bone man?"

"Yes, why not? He's all right I tell you, Lizzie. Finest chap in our year. Going to be gold medalist, sure."

"But how on earth?—what in the world?—John Gordon, are you telling me the truth or is it a joke?"

"Both. Mac and I nearly took hysterics the night Bags told us. We never suspected it. He never met a girl on the street without shying, and how he and Jean made it up is a mystery. But it's all right, and Aunt Margaret 'll be tickled to death. Say, you must tell her. Go and do it now like a good kid. I'm going over to have a chat with Tom."

But Elizabeth would not let him go. She had not recovered from the shock. For the first time since her return home she felt her old spirits return. As yet, to Elizabeth, all love-making was something of a joke, and this was undoubtedly the funniest thing that had ever happened in Cupid's line. She deluged John with questions. What had put it into the bone-collector's shaggy head? And having got it there, where did he get the courage to propose? He must have done it by telephone, and long-distance, too. Or did he come stumbling into Jean's study and inquire in awful tones, "Miss Gordon, will you lend me your heart?" and then dash out and fall downstairs? And even if one could imagine his offering himself, how could anyone who knew Jean conjure up a picture of her stopping her mathematics long enough either to accept or reject? What a "come-downer" it would be for Jean to be merely married!

The brother and sister laughed together, in the disrespectful way that younger brothers and sisters have, and Miss Gordon, seated at her sewing by the open parlor window, heard Elizabeth's gay voice with rising resentment. The care-free laughter seemed to her but another indication of the girl's defiant indifference to her wishes.

Elizabeth entered, radiant with her news, but the sight of her aunt's face smote her. Miss Gordon had aged under her disappointment, and looked pale and dispirited.

"Is your head aching, Aunt Margaret?" the girl asked timidly.

"No, I thank you, Elizabeth," was the answer in the tones of stately politeness which Miss Gordon always used towards her wayward niece. "I am merely worried. But I have become accustomed to that lately."

She sighed deeply, and glad of a diverting subject, Elizabeth delivered John's report of Jean. The effect was most gratifying. Her aunt grew immediately alert and full of eager questions. Elizabeth had very little to tell. She wisely kept her own impressions of the young man to herself, but she dwelt upon the glowing report of Dr. Bagsley both John and Charles Stuart had given, not forgetting to add that he had greatly helped the latter in his philanthropic work.

"Jean has really done very well, then," Miss Gordon said, her face suffused with a pleased flush. "I really did not look to her for a good match. But Jean will always be a success, no matter in what sphere she is placed."

Elizabeth was silent. She could not picture Jean as a great success at cooking the bone-man's dinner, though perhaps he never ate anything. Mary was coming up the garden path from the lane, and as she looked at her she wondered why girls always seemed to be trained for some other life than that which fate brought them. She herself should have been a nurse, and so prepared to care for Eppie, and to do that work upon which she had now determined. Mary was perfectly fitted for a home-maker, and the chances of Mary's marrying were very small, and Jean was a mathematical machine and knew no more about housekeeping than Dr. Bagsley himself might be expected to know. It was such a puzzling world—especially for girls.

"Two letters for you, Lizzie," Mary cried. "Jamie's been to the post-office. One's a gentleman's handwriting, I can tell," she added, teasingly, "and the other's from Mrs. Jarvis. I know her writing."

Elizabeth took the letters tremblingly. She recognized Mr. Huntley's hand on the first, and the second was indeed from Mrs. Jarvis. She was painfully conscious that her aunt was watching her keenly as she opened the latter. The contents were even more of a surprise. It began, as Mrs. Jarvis's letters invariably did, with an account of her sufferings. Such prostrating headaches she had endured. Dr. Ralston had declared she was on the verge of a nervous collapse, and must leave the city as soon as she was able to travel. She did not wish to reproach Beth, but there could be no doubt as to the cause. It had been so all her life. Those to whom she had given most, for whom she had made the greatest sacrifices, were always the ones who turned against her. First her husband, then her niece and Madeline, and lastly Both, whom she had believed really loved her. But—and here Elizabeth received her surprise—she was ready to forgive. It was her way—her weakness, indeed, but she always forgave those who used her most cruelly. Yes, she would take Beth back if she would say she was sorry. That she was truly repentant Miss Raymond had assured her. Horace and his pretty fiancee had called to see her when they were in the city the day before, and Mrs. Jarvis had understood from them that Beth loved her in spite of her strange, cruel actions, and was ready to return. The doctor had prescribed a sea voyage, and just as soon as she could get a little strength to do some shopping, she would start for Europe. She was going with a party—Mr. Huntley was to be one of them—and Beth must come too. Yes, she really must. Mrs. Jarvis was ready to forgive and forget. So was Mr. Huntley, she felt sure. Of course, he was grieved and hurt at Beth's conduct. He could not understand why she had gone away without a word of farewell. She herself had smoothed matters over as well as she could, but the worry of it all had got on her nerves. She did not pretend to understand what strange notions Beth had got into her head. As though she and Mr. Huntley and Blanche Kendall were responsible for all the poverty in Toronto. Well, there was no use discussing the matter further—it only made her nerves worse—and Dr. Ralston had said any more worry might prove fatal. But she felt that the sea-voyage would perhaps help her. Beth must write at once and say what she would do, for Madeline would come if Beth forsook her. Madeline had written, indeed, offering her services. There was more about the headaches and nerves, but it ended with words of genuine affection, that brought the tears to Elizabeth's eyes. To fight against love was the hardest task for Elizabeth. Almost everyone she cared for, John, her aunt, Mrs. Jarvis, and Estella, warm-hearted and loyal as she was in spite of many faults, seemed arrayed against her to force her to yield.

The other letter was in Mr. Huntley's best formal and semi-pompous style. He, too, began in a slightly aggrieved tone. He did not know until lately that Miss Gordon was not coming back to Toronto at once. He had fancied that some slight announcement of her departure was due him, but, of course, she knew best. Her brother, too, had gone without acquainting him of the fact. His appointment was still open, and he would be expected to be on duty within a week's time. Of course, Dr. Gordon might not care to accept the position now; Mr. Huntley had gathered from Mrs. Jarvis that somehow Miss Gordon was offended with him. He was not conscious of any offense given, and hoped to hear from her that their relations were as friendly as when she had left the city. In which case he hoped to meet Dr. Gordon at his office not later than Thursday, when the final arrangements for his work would be made.

Elizabeth scarcely noticed the polite closing of the letter. Her heart was beating to suffocation. She was dazzled by the prospect that had suddenly opened before her. To accept meant to gain everything the world could give to make her happy; her home secured, John established in his profession, her aunt content. Then she thought of the sermon in St. Stephen's Church with its call to a higher life, of Mother MacAllister's words concerning One Who had Himself trod a thorny path and Whose true disciple must be content to follow.

She looked up and saw her aunt's eyes fixed upon her in intense eagerness.

"Your letter is from Mrs. Jarvis?" Miss Gordon could not keep the painful anxiety from showing in her face.

"Yes," faltered Elizabeth. She did not offer to show it, as had been her habit in the old days. Miss Gordon turned away with a hurt, grieved air. "Of course," she said coldly, "I must not ask for your confidence, Elizabeth. I find it hard to remember that you do not consult me any more in your affairs."

"Oh, Aunt Margaret!" cried the girl brokenly. It was the cry of a motherless child appealing for its rights to the one who had, in spite of all deficiencies, filled a mother's place in her life. "Here,—read them both. I do want your advice." She shoved both letters into her aunt's hands as she spoke. Then she rose and fled upstairs to her little room. Something told her that in that act she had put away from herself the power to choose; that she had turned her back upon the Vision.



CHAPTER XVIII

DARKNESS

And so, once more Elizabeth failed. This time the world did not recognize the failure as such, and it was regarded by her family, and especially by her aunt, as the highest success. But Elizabeth knew; that wiser inner self, always sternly honest, called her action by its right name. On the very evening she wrote Mrs. Jarvis, promising to return, she felt the full bitterness of failure. For at family worship her father read from the life of that One whom she had, for a brief time, tried to follow. The Man of Nazareth had been showing His disciples how His pathway must lead to the cross, and "from that time many of His disciples went back and walked no more with Him." The sorrowful words kept repeating themselves over and over to Elizabeth after she had gone to bed—"went back and walked no more with Him"; and though she had that day chosen wealth and worldly prosperity, in place of hardship, poverty, and discomfort, she sobbed herself to sleep.

As the days passed and preparations for her departure went forward, she struggled to regain her habitual cheerfulness. John had gone West, full of joyful ambitions, her home and her father's peace were assured, her aunt was once more kind and happy. But Elizabeth could not be content. Too honest to compromise with her conscience, she allowed herself no false hopes in regard to making her life with Mrs. Jarvis a useful one. She could not bear to look into Mother MacAllister's eyes the day she told her of her altered plans. For the joy over Charles Stuart's new life had made those eyes shine with a beautiful new radiance, and the girl was grieved to see it dim. And just what Charles Stuart himself would say when he returned and found her gone, was a speculation that could not but be disturbing.

By working hard, visiting here and there, writing letters, and spending much time with Eppie, she managed to make the few remaining days pass. When left alone she found her only refuge from pangs of regret was in keeping herself extremely busy. For this reason, having the big stone house to herself one morning, she set to work at the housecleaning. Annie and the babies had been with them for a day, and had gone home, taking Mary and Miss Gordon with them for a day's shopping. Elizabeth, whose fickle allegiance was always given to the latest arrived Vision in Annie's family, missed the soft cooing little voice and adorable antics of Baby Betty, to the verge of heartache. She realized that on this quiet day she must do something strenuous.

Her first task was to see her father happily at work in his garden, and her next was to send her little maid to the Martin farm to help Auntie Jinit with her late spring soap-making. Not that Auntie Jinit needed help, but the Gordons strove in every way to show their friendliness towards their kind neighbor. Thus safe from the shocked protestations that were sure to follow upon her engaging in anything useful, Elizabeth set feverishly to work.

She would thoroughly clean the room Eppie had occupied, she resolved. Arraying herself in a dress of Mary's which was much too long, an apron of the little maid's that was much too short, and a huge dust-cap of her aunt's, she set vigorously to work, washing, scrubbing, and cleaning windows. There was some grim satisfaction in the hard physical labor, her last chance, she felt, to do something useful, some satisfaction, too, in wondering what the fastidious Mr. Huntley would say, could he see her.

She had finished the hardest part of her task and was just tacking up with loving hands an old photograph of Annie's first Vision, in a long, white robe, when she heard the front door open suddenly, and knew by the bounding step that Sarah Emily had arrived. Ever since her marriage Mrs. Peter Johnstone regularly visited The Dale, at short intervals, and in spite of many broad hints from her former mistress, she had never yet become sufficiently formal to knock at the door. "Come right up, Sarah Emily," Elizabeth called over the balustrade.

"I knowed you'd be alone, Lizzie," said the visitor, mounting gayly. "I seen the rest o' the folks goin' off in all directions, an' ses I, 'I'll scoot over an' slap up a batch o' biscuits or somethin',' for I knowed you couldn't get any dinner. For the love o' the crows, you ain't housecleanin'!"

"Doesn't this room look as if I were?"

Sarah Emily sniffed the damp clean odor. "Well, I never. If this ain't a come-downer for a lady like you!" She turned and regarded the girl with affectionate reproach. "What d'ye do it for?" she continued, puzzled.

"Because I like it, Sarah Emily. I'd like to go on doing it all my life."

Sarah Emily laughed. Of course this was only Lizzie's nonsense, and she didn't mean a word of it.

"You're a pretty one," she declared, assuming her old air of authority, which came to her easily in the presence of the Gordon children. "Here, if you ain't gone and cleaned up the whole place an' that stove-pipe not moved."

Elizabeth uttered an ejaculation of dismay. "Oh, I forgot. Can't we do it yet?"

"Course we can!" said Sarah Emily cordially. "Come along, I'll show you!"

She flung aside her shawl and soon Elizabeth was in her old subordinate position. Sarah Emily took matters in her own hands. She proceeded to remove the stove from the study below and the pipes from the room above, flying upstairs and downstairs in her old authoritative way, much to Elizabeth's amusement. At her peremptory summons Mr. Gordon came in from his garden to lend a hand, evidently under the impression that Sarah Emily had never left, and was merely attending to her customary duties. There was much running to and fro, and banging of stove-pipes, and a great deal of talk and laughter, for Sarah Emily was always in the gayest spirits if she happened to be at The Dale during the absence of its mistress. Besides, she was a born commander, and shouted orders to her two subordinates with the greatest enjoyment.

All went smoothly and swiftly until the work was almost accomplished, when a delay occurred. Mr. Gordon was downstairs removing the stove-pipes from the study. Above, Sarah Emily, mounted upon a chair, was supporting the long black column that ran into the chimney, while Elizabeth, down on her knees, was preventing another column from descending into the room below.

"Now, you down there!" shouted Sarah Emily, "you carry out them pipes to the barnyard, so's the sut won't fly onto them clothes on the line, an' me an' Lizzie 'll hold these till you get back."

Mr. Gordon, obedient to the voice from above, took the pipes, and his retreating footsteps could be heard along the passage leading to the kitchen. While they waited his return Sarah Emily beguiled the time with a story of how she circumvented that there Pete, who had determined to sell the brindled cow to a butcher in Cheemaun. But she showed him who was boss, so she did. Though married Sarah Emily still kept up her show of cruel indifference, and never lost an opportunity of telling how she trampled upon her husband. The neighbors, however, knew that she waited upon Peter hand and foot, and that he was growing fat and arrogant. So Elizabeth did not know just how much the brindled-cow story was colored by the story-teller's imagination. She responded with a tale of the city, such as Sarah Emily liked, full of finely dressed ladies, and flower-bedecked drawing-rooms. Then Sarah Emily recounted once again her experiences when she worked as maid for Mrs. Oliver and first became acquainted with high life and Mrs. Jarvis. This last circumstance she thankfully declared to be the beginning of Lizzie's good luck.

But in spite of much entertaining talk, it soon began to be borne in upon the minds of the two that both time and the stove-pipes were hanging rather heavily on their hands. Elizabeth shifted her cramped position and wondered what could be keeping father; and Sarah Emily braced herself against the wall and declared some folks were slower than a seven years' famine. It was impossible to leave their places, for the pipes would collapse into the study below, so that there was nothing to do but wait, Casabianca-like. Elizabeth misquoted something about the noble two who held the pipes in the brave days of old. But Sarah Emily did not understand the allusion, and the joke fell very flat. Her arms were cramped too, and her sense of humor was becoming dulled.

They waited and called and waited, until at last Elizabeth became alarmed, fearing something had happened to her father. Still holding her uncomfortable burden, she rose to her feet, whence she could command a view from the windows overlooking the kitchen-garden. One glimpse she caught and uttered a shriek of laughter, which threatened dislodgment of the stove-pipes. For there, far down the garden, near to Tom Teeter's fence, peacefully hoeing in his potato-patch, stood her absent-minded father!

But Sarah Emily did not laugh. Declaring that Lizzie's pa was the most forgettable man that ever pestered the soul out of a body, she managed to place herself so that her strong arms supported both sections of the pipe and dispatched Elizabeth after the truant.

Mr. Gordon flung up his hands in dismay at his daughter's appearance, and fled back to the house full of apologies enough to appease even Sarah Emily, who was by this time both cramped and cross. Elizabeth followed more slowly, filled with laughter. It was impossible to hurry indoors on such a morning. The orchard path was bordered with soft grass, vividly green. The bluebirds hopped and twittered in the branches above, and on every side the undulating fields stretched away, shimmering in the warm sunshine. When Elizabeth looked back in later years at the picture of herself walking gayly down the orchard path on that radiant morning, she wondered how she could have laughed, and how it was possible that not the smallest premonition was given her of the storm of anguish so rapidly approaching.

As she reached the end of the orchard path the rattle of wheels attracted her. She looked up to see John Coulson driving slowly down the lane. She ran through the house and out to the garden gate in glad surprise, full of questions. What had brought him out here at this hour? And why did he come alone? And what did he mean by leaving Baby Bet at home? And what did he do with Mary and Aunt Margaret? And didn't he think she looked fetching in this cap and apron?

And then some subtle change in John Coulson's kindly manner made itself felt. She slipped her hand into his arm as they went up the garden path.

"Is anybody sick, John Coulson? How is baby?"

"She's all right, dear. No, Annie isn't ill, nor anyone—only—I—have something to tell you, Lizzie. Come in, I want to see you alone."

The study stove-pipes were still being removed, and Elizabeth led her brother-in-law into the parlor. Her heart seemed clutched by a cold hand. Something was the matter, or why should John Coulson call her Lizzie, and look at her with such sorrowful eyes.

"John Coulson!" she cried, clutching his arm, "I know something's happened. Oh, is it baby?"

No, it wasn't baby, he answered her again, but he led her to the sofa and sat beside her, holding her hand. And then he told her—Elizabeth never knew just how he broke the news, whether it had been gently or suddenly. She only knew that he had come to tell her that John was dead; that John had been killed by an explosion of dynamite, at the blasting of a tunnel on the British North American Railroad.

She listened quietly to the faltering words, and when they were ended she said nothing. She sat looking at her brother-in-law, her hands hanging inertly, and thought how strange it seemed to see a big, strong man like John Coulson with tears running down his face. It seemed strange, too, that she was not sorry that John had been killed. Often in earlier years she had tormented herself by imagining the death of some member of the family, and her heart had scarcely been able to bear the anguish of such a thought. And now John was dead, and she did not mind. She felt sorry for John Coulson, of course, he seemed so very, very sad. He was looking at her with such anguished eyes, that she patted his arm comfortingly.

"Poor John Coulson," she said. "Why, we won't need to call you John Coulson any more, will we?—only John." Then she arose and called her father and Sarah Emily, so that they might be told, and went quietly upstairs to finish the task she had left.

But she did not go to work. Instead she sat down in the chair upon which Sarah Emily had stood, and tried to reason herself into some feeling of grief. Why, she had not even felt like shedding a tear, and Aunt Margaret would be home soon, and she would think her so cold and cruel. She must really try to cry a little when Aunt Margaret came, even though she didn't feel sorry that John was dead. The stove-pipes had been removed, and she sat by the empty pipe-hole listening idly to the sound from below. She could hear John Coulson's low, deep voice, and Sarah Emily's loud lamentations. She wished she could act like Sarah Emily, it seemed so much more sympathetic. Her mind seemed to have become possessed of a keenness never felt before. She thought out every detail of the changed circumstances John's death must bring, forgetting nothing. It would mean that she could not leave home quite so soon, she reflected, and even wondered how Mrs. Jarvis would feel when she learned that Elizabeth must wear black.

And all the time she was feeling ashamed that she could sit so callously making plans, while even now John's dead body must be on its way home. But then she did not feel sorry. She wondered if there had ever before been anyone bereaved who had been so heartless.

The sound of wheels reached her alert senses, and she arose and went to the window overlooking the lane. She saw a carriage come down with her aunt and Mary in it, and Charles Stuart driving. She did not think it strange that he should be there, but only wondered if he felt sorry about John. Evidently Mary did, for she was sobbing convulsively, and Aunt Margaret walked so slowly that Charles Stuart gave her his arm up the garden path. Elizabeth arose and softly closed the door, lest her aunt come and find her. She was not sorry that John was killed.

She came back to her seat by the pipe-hole and again listened to the sounds of lamentation from below. Then the study door closed and she could hear only the voices of Charles Stuart and John Coulson. She peeped down and saw Charles Stuart's face. He was sitting by her father's desk, and he did not look sorry, only angry. His face was ghastly pale and his eyes burned red as he stretched his clenched fist along the top of the desk. Elizabeth leaned down and deliberately listened in the hope that she might hear some details of the accident, that would make her feel sorry.

"Oh, John Coulson," the low, anguished voice was saying, "it's devilish work this money-making. It's blood money that man Huntley is getting, and he declares he knew nothing about it—and I suppose he doesn't, but he'll take the money, you'll see! And Mrs. Jarvis has shares in it. And—and Lizzie——"

His voice broke. There was a deathly silence.

"This must never reach her ears, Stuart, nor any of them. It would kill Aunt Margaret." That was John Coulson's voice, and Elizabeth held her breath to catch what this was she must not hear. If it were so terrible, surely it would make her feel just a little regretful concerning John.

"No, no," Charles Stuart answered. "They'll never know, and the public will never know. The man who did the dastardly thing will see to that. And his company, headed by Huntley, will shield him."

"Can't they be exposed?" John Coulson's voice was a mere whisper.

"Exposed! Not they. The papers say it was merely an accident, with only one white man killed. That is Huntley's story too, and who cares that a hundred or so Chinamen were blown to pieces? Nobody is going to be so crude as to announce that they were put out of the way when the company was done with them, to save big arrears in wages. And nobody can prove it. They'll make a fuss about John——" The voice broke again. Elizabeth did not wait to hear more. She arose and went quietly down to the study. She opened the door and stood facing the two men. She did not feel one pang of grief as yet, but she wanted to make things plain. She wanted to explain to John Coulson and Charles Stuart that it was not the President of the British North American Railroad that had killed John, but she, his favorite sister; because it was she who in her stepping aside from the path of her plain duty had sent him to his death. This she was determined to tell, but somehow the words seemed so slow in coming. She stretched out her hands in an attempt to explain herself. Then she saw Charles Stuart spring towards her out of a mist, and there fell over her a great darkness.



CHAPTER XIX

SUNRISE

Long before the sun appeared above Arrow Hill Elizabeth was dressed and sitting at her bedroom window watching the lane. For she had promised Auntie Jinit that she would be off to the creek at the earliest hour to gather violets and lady's-slippers and swamp lilies to decorate the tables for the wedding breakfast. Charlie Stuart had promised to call for her at sunrise, but she was too excited to rest.

For this was Eppie's wedding-day. Poor little Eppie had found her home at last—her old home too. Jake Martin, at his wife's instigation, had handed over to his son the little farm that had once belonged to old Sandy and there Charlie and Eppie were to start their new life. And so just as the stars were sinking into the faint blue vault of heaven, and the earth was rising slowly from its shroud of darkness and sleep, Elizabeth had arisen and was now dressed and waiting for Charles Stuart long before he could be expected.

The grand forward march of day had commenced; very slowly and majestically it was approaching, and the waking earth stirred at the sound of its footsteps. From every bush and tree looming up from the grayness, from every field spread out in dark waving folds, and from the black swamp beyond uprose the welcoming chorus. Elizabeth was reminded of that early dawn she had witnessed so long ago when she had sat at this same window watching for Charles Stuart. That was the morning she had seen Annie steal down the orchard path to meet her lover, the morning she had experienced her first hint of that desire, now strong within her, to sing of the glories of earth and sky.

She leaned forward over the window-sill, listening to the great chant earth was raising to heaven. Up behind the black trees of Arrow Hill shone a faint crystal transparency—the airy curtain that yet obscured the wonders of the dawn. A mist gathered in Elizabeth's eyes. Those words that had come to her in that dawn years before returned:—"Who coverest thyself with light as with a garment; who stretchest out the heavens like a curtain." Slowly, imperceptibly, that garment of light was growing brighter, changing to a faint luminous gold as the gray earth changed to a deep blue.

Down the drive lane, near the creek stood the old elm, its topmost branch still towering into the heavens, its lower limbs sweeping the earth. Remembering how it had come to life that other morning, Elizabeth leaned farther out to listen. And as it slowly took form, gathering itself from the blue background, there arose the musical accompaniment to its birth, the loud rapture of a robin's morning hymn.

It paeaned the waking note to the watcher as well. Elizabeth's soul soared up with it in ecstatic worship, voiced in the notes of a new song, that came from her heart as freely as did the robin's. For years her fettered spirit had been struggling to express its music, but the repression of her early life, disobedience to the call to higher and nobler things, and later a crushing sorrow had stifled her voice. But now she was free. She had not been disobedient to the heavenly vision. Her soul had turned at last to meet the dawning need, valiant for doing. It had arisen at last, warm and radiant, and she was permitted to sing its welcoming chorus in notes that were to make her name known throughout the length and breadth of her native land.

The dawn had come to Elizabeth through storm and darkness. She never quite recovered from the blow that had driven her back, wounded and faint, to the path of duty. Never a day passed that she did not miss the dear companionship of John, did not listen half-unconsciously for his footsteps, never a night she did not remember with anguished heart the manner of his death. But a year had passed, helping to heal the wound, and Elizabeth had found happiness in service. One year more and she would be a graduate of a nurses' training school, and a brilliant graduate too, her superior officers predicted. For at last Elizabeth was succeeding. And so her useless days left, she had chosen her life this time without hesitation. Mrs. Jarvis had gone, bidding her an affectionate farewell, and leaving in her hands the title-deeds to The Dale. Her going closed the door of that side of Elizabeth's life. She was to be some use in the world at last. And because she had found a place that satisfied the highest instincts of her nature, the long-stifled song came welling forth.

The faint gold of the east was turning to a soft rose, the blue of the earth was growing brighter. And keeping pace with the growing light, the earth-chorus was swelling into a storm of music. Elizabeth thought of that dawn of her childhood days, and of her struggle to grasp its meaning. Now she knew. Its message came to her in the words of a hymn. They were the words they had sung in Forest Glen Church the day they laid John in the grassy graveyard:

"But lo! there breaks a yet more glorious day, The saints triumphant rise in bright array, The King of Glory passes on His way, Hallelujah!"

The King of Glory had come, and the gates of Elizabeth's soul had lifted up their heads that He might enter.

She slipped noiselessly from the room, taking care to waken no one, and descended to her father's study. There she seated herself at the desk and strove to put upon paper the great hope and longing and happiness that were filling her heart.

Charles Stuart was whistling at the garden gate before she noticed him. She ran down the path to meet him, brushing the dew from the border of mignonette with her light gown.

"What a glorious day Eppie's going to have!" she cried, plucking a rosy sweet-pea that nodded over the gate.

"I wish it was our day," Charles Stuart said enviously. "Two years more to wait, Lizzie."

She smiled up at him hopefully. "But we'll make them beautiful years," she whispered. "See," she held up a sheet of paper. "I've done it again."

He took it, but did not look at it immediately. For Elizabeth was as radiant as the morning, and his eyes could not turn from her so soon. He did not need to be a Pretender any more either, for the love-light in his eyes was answered by her own.

As they walked down the lane with the sunrise gleaming in Elizabeth's uncovered head, he read her verses.

"Has it a soul?" she asked mischievously.

There was a mist in Charles Stuart's deep eyes as he turned towards her.

"Lizzie! It has an immortal soul! It's a musical morning-glory! It has come at last, hasn't it?"

"It was my own fault that it was so long in coming," she said. "But I think it was waiting for you, Stuart."

Charles Stuart's answer was not verbal, but it was more expressive than the most eloquent words.

They plunged gayly down the bank of the creek, hand in hand like two children.

"Oh, oh," cried Elizabeth, "just look at the forget-me-nots! I'm going to make a wreath of them for Eppie's hair."

Far up the creek, a cat-bird, hidden amongst scented basswood blossoms, was singing a gay medley of purest music. On either side the banks were hidden in a luxury of reeds, water-lily leaves, blue forget-me-nots, and gay bobbing lady's-slippers. And between, the winding stream shone pink and gold in the sunrise.

Charles Stuart stood watching his lady as she filled her hands with blossoms.

"You love this place, don't you, 'Lizbeth of The Dale?" he said.

"Love it? There is no spot on earth like it."

"And how can you bear to leave it all to come away with me—and to a foreign land, too?"

She raised her face from her rosy bouquet and looked into his eyes. And Charles Stuart smiled, knowing he had said a very absurd thing indeed.

They sat down under an overhanging willow, and talked of the days that were past, and the yet more interesting days to come.

"I remember I used to discuss the possibility of my being a foreign missionary with Mother MacAllister," Elizabeth said, "in sun-bonnet days. But I did not think the dream would really come true."

"I remember, too, that when your contemplation of unclothed heathen and boa-constrictors was too much for your courage, you used to remark despairingly that you supposed you would just stay at home and marry Charles Stuart."

Elizabeth laughed. Her ideas concerned with marrying Charles Stuart had undergone a radical change in the past year.

From the tower over the Martin woodshed a big bell clanged out a startling interruption. They sprang up, looking at each other guiltily. Auntie Jinit had threatened to so remind them of their duty if they remained too long at the creek. For such a pair for stravagin' over the fields as Lizzie and Charles Stuart, she declared she had never seen, and she was thankful Eppie wasn't given that way.

They scrambled gayly up the bank. "They're ringing the wedding-bells already," cried Elizabeth. "There go Mary and Jean; they promised to set the tables—and brother Bone-Bagsley too—the dear! We must hurry."

Nevertheless they still lingered. When they reached the top of the slope, they stood for a moment in the rosy sunlight and, with a common impulse, looked back.

"It's almost a year ago," whispered Elizabeth.

"Yes, almost a year," answered Charles Stuart.

Down the bank past the mill, and up the opposite shore ran the little stony path they had so often trodden in schooldays. It crossed The Slash, now a trim clover-field, and disappeared into the cool depths of Forest Glen. But they could follow it still in imagination. It passed Eppie's old-new home they knew, went down the lane, skirted the highway, and curved round into the grassy churchyard where John lay.

They turned at last and went up the lane together. There were tears in Elizabeth's eyes, but the words of a song were on her lips:—

"And when the strife is fierce, the warfare long, Steals on the ear the distant triumph song, And hearts are brave again and arias are strong, Hallelujah!"



THE END

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