He found Mrs. Barclay seated in a very thoughtful attitude before her fire, when he came down again; but just then the door of the other room was opened, and they were called in to tea.
The family were in rather gala trim. Lois, as I said, wore indeed only a dark print dress, with her white fichu over it; but Charity had put on her best silk, and Madge had stuck two golden chrysanthemums in her dark hair (with excellent effect), and Mrs. Armadale was stately in her best cap. Alas! Philip Dillwyn did not know what any of them had on. He was placed next to Mrs. Armadale, and all supper time his special attention, so far as appeared, was given to the old lady. He talked to her, and he served her, with an easy, pleasant grace, and without at all putting himself forward or taking the part of the distinguished stranger. It was simply good will and good breeding; however, it produced a great effect.
"The air up here is delicious!" he remarked, after he had attended to all the old lady's immediate wants, and applied himself to his own supper. "It gives one a tremendous appetite."
"I allays like to see folks eat," said Mrs. Armadale. "After one's done the gettin' things ready, I hate to have it all for nothin'."
"It shall not be for nothing this time, as far as I am concerned."
"Ain't the air good in New York?" Mrs. Armadale next asked.
"I do not think it ever was so sweet as this. But when you crowd a million or so of people into room that is only enough for a thousand, you can guess what the consequences must be."
"What do they crowd up so for, then?"
"It must be the case in a great city."
"I don't see the sense o' that," said Mrs. Armadale. "Ain't the world big enough?"
"Far too big," said Mr. Dillwyn. "You see, when people's time is very valuable, they cannot afford to spend too much of it in running about after each other."
"What makes their time worth any more'n our'n?"
"They are making money so fast with it."
"And is that what makes folks' time valeyable?"
"In their opinion, madam."
"I never could see no use in havin' much money," said the old lady.
"But there comes a question," said Dillwyn. "What is 'much'?"
"More'n enough, I should say."
"Enough for what? That also must be settled."
"I'm an old-fashioned woman," said the old lady, "and I go by the old-fashionedst book in the world. That says, 'we brought nothing into this world, and we can carry nothing out; therefore, having food and raiment, let us be therewith content.'"
"But, again, what sort of food, and what sort of raiment?" urged the gentleman pleasantly. "For instance; would you be content to exchange this delicious manufacture,—which seems to me rather like ambrosia than common food,—for some of the black bread of Norway? with no qualification of golden butter? or for Scotch oatmeal bannocks? or for sour corn cake?"
"I would be quite content, if it was the Lord's will," said the old lady. "There's no obligation upon anybody to have it sour."
Mr. Dillwyn laughed gently. "I can fancy," he said, "that you never would allow such a dereliction in duty. But, beside having the bread sweet, is it not allowed us to have the best we can get?"
"The best we can make," answered Mrs. Armadale; "I believe in everybody doin' the best he kin with what he has got to work with; but food ain't worth so much that we should pay a large price for it."
The gentleman's eye glanced with a scarcely perceptible movement over the table at which he was sitting. Bread, indeed, in piles of white flakiness; and butter; but besides, there was the cold ham in delicate slices, and excellent-looking cheese, and apples in a sort of beautiful golden confection, and cake of superb colour and texture; a pitcher of milk that was rosy sweet, and coffee rich with cream. The glance that took all this in was slight and swift, and yet the old lady was quick enough to see and understand it.
"Yes," she said, "it's all our'n, all there is on the table. Our cow eats our own grass, and Madge, my daughter, makes the butter and the cheese. We've raised and cured our own pork; and the wheat that makes the bread is grown on our ground too; we farm it out on shares; and it is ground at a mill about four miles off. Our hens lay our eggs; it's all from home."
"But suppose the case of people who have no ground, nor hens, nor pork, nor cow? they must buy."
"Of course," said the old lady; "everybody ain't farmers."
"I am ready to wish I was one," said Dillwyn. "But even then, I confess, I should want coffee and tea and sugar—as I see you. do."
"Well, those things don't grow in America," said Mrs. Armadale.
"And spice don't, neither, mother," observed Charity.
"So it appears that even you send abroad for luxuries," Mr. Dillwyn went on. "And why not? And the question is, where shall we stop? If I want coffee, I must have money to buy it, and the better the coffee the more money; and the same with tea. In cities we must buy all we use or consume, unless one is a butcher or a baker. May I not try to get more money, in order that I may have better things? We have got round to our starting-point."
"'They that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare,'" Mrs. Armadale said quietly.
"Then where is the line?—Miss Lois, you are smiling. Is it at my stupidity?"
"No," said Lois. "I was thinking of a lunch—such as I have seen it—in one of the great New York hotels."
"Well?" said he, without betraying on his own part any recollection; "how does that come in? By way of illustrating Mrs. Armadale, or me?"
"I seem to remember a number of things that illustrate both," said Lois; "but as I profited by them at the time, it would be ungrateful in me to instance them now."
"You profited by them with pleasure, or otherwise?"
"Not otherwise. I was very hungry."
"You evade my question, however."
"I will not. I profited by them with much pleasure."
"Then you are on my side, as far as I can be said to have a side?"
"I think not. The pleasure is undoubted; but I do not know that that touches the question of expediency."
"I think it does. I think it settles the question. Mrs. Armadale, your granddaughter confesses the pleasure; and what else do we live for, but to get the most good out of life?"
"What pleasure does she confess?" asked the old lady, with more eagerness than her words hitherto had manifested.
"Pleasure in nice things, grandmother; in particularly nice things; that had cost a great deal to fetch them from nobody knows where; and pleasure in pretty things too. That hotel seemed almost like the halls of Aladdin to my inexperienced eyes. There is certainly pleasure in a wonderfully dainty meal, served in wonderful vessels of glass and china and silver, and marble and gold and flowers to help the effect. I could have dreamed myself into a fairy tale, often, if it had not been for the people."
"Life is not a fairy tale," said Mrs. Armadale somewhat severely.
"No, grandmother; and so the humanity present generally reminded me. But the illusion for a minute was delightful."
"Is there any harm in making it as much like a fairy tale as we can?"
Some of the little courtesies and hospitalities of the table came in here, and Mr. Dillwyn's question received no answer. His eye went round the table. No, clearly these people did not live in fairyland, and as little in the search after it. Good, strong, sensible, practical faces; women that evidently had their work to do, and did it; habitual energy and purpose spoke in every one of them, and purpose attained. Here was no aimless dreaming or fruitless wishing. The old lady's face was sorely weather-beaten, but calm as a ship in harbour. Charity was homely, but comfortable. Madge and Lois were blooming in strength and activity, and as innocent apparently of any vague, unfulfilled longings as a new-blown rose. Only when Mr. Dillwyn's eye met Mrs. Barclay's he was sensible of a different record. He half sighed. The calm and the rest were not there.
The talk rambled on. Mr. Dillwyn made him self exceedingly pleasant; told of things he had seen in his travels, things and people, and ways of life; interesting even Mrs. Armadale with a sort of fascinated interest, and gaining, he knew, no little share of her good-will. So, just as the meal was ending, he ventured to bring forward the old subject again.
"You will pardon me, Mrs. Armadale," he began,—"but you are the first person I ever met who did not value money."
"Perhaps I am the first person you ever met who had something better."
"You mean—?" said Philip, with a look of inquiry. "I do not understand."
"I have treasure in heaven."
"But the coin of that realm is not current here?—and we are here."
"That coin makes me rich now; and I take it with me when I go," said the old lady, as she rose from the table.
UNDER AN UMBRELLA.
Mrs. Barclay returned to her own room, and Mr. Dillwyn was forced to follow her. The door was shut between them and the rest of the household. Mrs. Barclay trimmed her fire, and her guest looked on absently. Then they sat down on opposite sides of the fireplace; Mrs. Barclay smiling inwardly, for she knew that Philip was impatient; however, nothing could be more sedate to all appearance than she was.
"Do you hear how the wind moans in the chimney?" she said. "That means rain."
"Rather dismal, isn't it?"
"No. In this house nothing is dismal. There is a wholesome way of looking at everything."
"Not at money?"
"It is no use, Philip, to talk to people about what they cannot understand."
"I thought understanding on that point was universal."
"They have another standard in this family for weighing things, from that which you and I have been accustomed to go by."
"What is it?"
"I can hardly tell you, in a word. I am not sure that I can tell you at all. Ask Lois."
"When can I ask her? Do you spend your evenings alone?"
"By no means! Sometimes I go out and read 'Rob Roy' to them. Sometimes the girls come to me for some deeper reading, or lessons."
"Will they come to-night?"
"Of course not! They would not interfere with your enjoyment of my society."
"Cannot you ask Lois in, on some pretext?"
"Not without her sister. It is hard on you, Philip! I will do the best for you I can; but you must watch your opportunity."
Mr. Dillwyn gave it up with a good grace, and devoted himself to Mrs. Barclay for the rest of the evening. On the other side of the wall separating the two rooms, meanwhile a different colloquy had taken place.
"So that is one of your fine people?" said Miss Charity. "Well, I don't think much of him."
"I have no doubt he would return the compliment," said Madge.
"No," said Lois; "I think he is too polite."
"He was polite to grandmother," returned Charity. "Not to anybody else, that I saw. But, girls, didn't he like the bread!"
"I thought he liked everything pretty well," said Madge.
"When's he goin'?" Mrs. Armadale asked suddenly.
"Monday, some time," Madge answered. "Mrs. Barclay said 'until Monday.' What time Monday I don't know."
"Well, we've got things enough to hold out till then," said Charity, gathering up her dishes. "It's fun, too; I like to set a nice table."
"Why, grandmother?" said Lois. "Don't you like Mrs. Barclay's friend?"
"Well enough, child. I don't want him for none of our'n."
"Why, grandmother?" said Madge.
"His world ain't our world, children, and his hopes ain't our hopes—if the poor soul has any. 'Seems to me he's all in the dark."
"That's only on one subject," said Lois. "About everything else he knows a great deal; and he has seen everything."
"Yes," said Mrs. Armadale; "very like he has; and he likes to talk about it; and he has a pleasant tongue; and he is a civil man. But there's one thing he hain't seen, and that is the light; and one thing he don't know, and that is happiness. And he may have plenty of money—I dare say he has; but he's what I call a poor man. I don't want you to have no such friends."
"But grandmother, you do not dislike to have him in the house these two days, do you?"
"It can't be helped, my dear, and we'll do the best for him we can. But I don't want you to have no such friends."
"I believe we should go out of the world to suit grandmother," remarked Charity. "She won't think us safe as long as we're in it."
The whole family went to church the next morning. Mr. Dillwyn's particular object, however, was not much furthered. He saw Lois, indeed, at the breakfast table; and the sight was everything his fancy had painted it. He thought of Milton's
"Pensive nun, devout and pure, Sober, stedfast, and demure"—
only the description did not quite fit; for there was a healthy, sweet freshness about Lois which gave the idea of more life and activity, mental and bodily, than could consort with a pensive character. The rest fitted pretty well; and the lines ran again and again through Mr. Dillwyn's head. Lois was gone to church long before the rest of the family set out; and in church she did not sit with the others; and she did not come home with them. However, she was at dinner. But immediately after dinner Mrs. Barclay with drew again into her own room, and Mr. Dillwyn had no choice but to accompany her.
"What now?" he asked. "What do you do the rest of the day?"
"I stay at home and read. Lois goes to Sunday school."
Mr. Dillwyn looked to the windows. The rain Mrs. Barclay threatened had come; and had already begun in a sort of fury, in company with a wind, which drove it and beat it, as it seemed, from all points of the compass at once. The lines of rain-drops went slantwise past the windows, and then beat violently upon them; the ground was wet in a few minutes; the sky was dark with its thick watery veils. Wind and rain were holding revelry.
"She will not go out in this weather," said the gentleman, with conviction which seemed to be agreeable.
"The weather will not hinder her," returned Mrs. Barclay.
"No. Lois does not mind weather. I have learned to know her by this time. Where she thinks she ought to go, or what she thinks she ought to do, there no hindrance will stop her. It is good you should learn to know her too, Philip."
"Pray tell me,—is the question of 'ought' never affected by what should be legitimate hindrances?"
"They are never credited with being legitimate," Mrs. Barclay said, with a slight laugh. "The principle is the same as that old soldier's who said, you know, when ordered upon some difficult duty, 'Sir, if it is possible, it shall be done; and if it is impossible, it must be done!'"
"That will do for a soldier,", said Dillwyn. "At what o'clock does she go?"
"In about a quarter of an hour I shall expect to hear her feet pattering softly through the hall, and then the door will open and shut without noise, and a dark figure will shoot past the windows."
Mr. Dillwyn left the room, and probably made some preparations; for when, a few minutes later, a figure all wrapped up in a waterproof cloak did pass softly through the hall, he came out of Mrs. Barclay's room and confronted it; and I think his overcoat was on.
"Miss Lois! you cannot be going out in this storm?"
"O yes. The storm is nothing—only something to fight against."
"But it blows quite furiously."
"I don't dislike a wind," said Lois, laying her hand on the lock of the door.
"You have no umbrella?"
"Don't need it. I am all protected, don't you see? Mr. Dillwyn, you are not going out?"
"But you have nothing to call you out?"
"I beg your pardon. The same thing, I venture to presume, that calls you out,—duty. Only in my case the duty is pleasure."
"You are not going to take care of me?"
"But there's no need. Not the least in the world."
"From your point of view."
He was so alertly ready, had the door open and his umbrella spread, and stood outside waiting for her, Lois did not know how to get rid of him. She would surely have done it if she could. So she found herself going up the street with him by her side, and the umbrella warding off the wind and rain from her face. It was vexatious and amusing. From her face! who had faced Sharnpuashuh storms ever since she could remember. It is very odd to be taken care of on a sudden, when you are accustomed, and perfectly able, to take care of your self. It is also agreeable.
"You had better take my arm, Miss Lois," said her companion. "I could shield you better."
"Well," said Lois, half laughing, "since you are here, I may as well take the good of it."
And then Mr. Dillwyn had got things as he wanted them.
"I ventured to assume, a little while ago, Miss Lois, that duty was taking you out into this storm; but I confess my curiosity to know what duty could have the right to do it. If my curiosity is indiscreet, you can rebuke it."
"It is not indiscreet," said Lois. "I have a sort of a Bible class, in the upper part of the village, a quarter of a mile beyond the church."
"I understood it was something of that kind, or I should not have asked. But in such weather as this, surely they would not expect you?"
"Yes, they would. At any rate, I am bound to show that I expect them."
"Do you expect them, to come out to-day?"
"Not all of them," Lois allowed. "But if there would not be one, still I must be there."
"Why?—if you will pardon me for asking."
"It is good they should know that I am regular and to be depended on. And, besides, they will be sure to measure the depth of my interest in the work by my desire to do it. And one can do so little in this world at one's best, that one is bound to do all one can."
"All one can," Mr. Dillwyn repeated.
"You cannot put it at a lower figure. I was struck with a word in one of Mrs. Barclay's books—'the Life and Correspondence of John Foster,'—'Power, to its very last particle, is duty.'"
"But that would be to make life a terrible responsibility."
"Say noble—not terrible!" said Lois.
"I confess it seems to me terrible also. I do not see how you can get rid of the element of terribleness."
"Yes,—if duty is neglected. Not if duty is done."
"Who does his duty, at that rate?"
"Some people try," said Lois.
"And that trying must make life a servitude."
"Service—not servitude!" exclaimed Lois again, with the same wholesome, hearty ring in her voice that her companion had noticed before.
"How do you draw the line between them?" he asked, with an inward smile; and yet Mr. Dillwyn was earnest enough too.
"There is more than a line between them," said Lois. "There is all the distance between freedom and slavery." And the words recurred to her, "I will walk at liberty, for I seek thy precepts;" but she judged they would not be familiar to her companion nor meet appreciation from him, so she did not speak them. "Service," she went on, "I think is one of the noblest words in the world; but it cannot be rendered servilely. It must be free, from the heart."
"You make nice distinctions. Service, I suppose you mean, of one's fellow creatures?"
"No," said Lois, "I do not mean that. Service must be given to God. It will work out upon one's fellow-creatures, of course."
"Nice distinctions again," said Mr. Dillwyn.
"But very real! And very essential."
"Is there not service—true service—that is given wholly to one's needy fellows of humanity? It seems to me I have heard of such."
"There is a good deal of such service," said Lois, "but it is not the true. It is partial, and arbitrary; it ebbs and flows, and chooses; and is found consorting with what is not service, but the contrary. True service, given to God, and rising from the love of him, goes where it is sent and does what it is bidden, and has too high a spring ever to fail. Real service gives all, and is ready for everything."
"How much do you mean, I wonder, by 'giving all'? Do you use the words soberly?"
"Quite soberly," said Lois, laughing.
"Giving all what?"
"All one's power,—according to Foster's judgment of it."
"Do you know what that would end in?"
"I think I do. How do you mean?"
"Do you know how much a man or a woman would give who gave all he had?"
"Yes, of course I do."
"What would be left for himself?"
Lois did not answer at once; but then she stopped short in her walk and stood still, in the midst of rain and wind, confronting her companion. And her words were with an energy that she did not at all mean to give them.
"There would be left for him—all that the riches and love of God could do for his child."
Mr. Dillwyn gazed into the face that was turned towards him, flushed, fired, earnest, full of a grand consciousness, as of a most simple unconsciousness,—and for the moment did not think of replying. Then Lois recollected herself, smiled at herself, and went on.
"I am very foolish to talk so much," she said. "I do not know why I do. Somehow I think it is your fault, Mr. Dillwyn. I am not in the habit, I think, of holding forth so to people who ought to know better than myself."
"I am sure you are aware that I was speaking honestly, and that I do not know better?" he said.
"I suppose I thought so," Lois answered. "But that does not quite excuse me. Only—I was sorry for you, Mr. Dillwyn."
"Thank you. Now, may I go on? The conversation can hardly be so interesting to you as it is to me."
"I think I have said enough," said Lois, a little shyly.
"No, not enough, for I want to know more. The sentence you quoted from Foster, if it is true, is overwhelming. If it is true, it leaves all the world with terrible arrears of obligation."
"Yes," Lois answered half reluctantly,—"duty unfulfilled is terrible. But, not 'all the world,' Mr. Dillwyn."
"You are an exception."
"I did not mean myself. I do not suppose I do all I ought to do. I do try to do all I know. But there are a great many beside me, who do better."
"You agree then, that one is not bound by duties unknown?"
Lois hesitated. "You are making me talk again, as if I were wise," she said. "What should hinder any one from knowing his duty, Mr. Dillwyn."
"Suppose a case of pure ignorance."
"Then let ignorance study."
"Mr. Dillwyn, you ought to ask somebody who can answer you better."
"I do not know any such somebody."
"Haven't you a Christian among all your friends?"
"I have not a friend in the world, of whom I could ask such a question with the least hope of having it answered."
"Where is your minister?"
"My minister? Clergyman, you mean? Miss Lois, I have been a wanderer over the earth for years. I have not any 'minister.'"
Lois was silent again. They had been walking fast, as well as talking fast, spite of wind and rain; the church was left behind some time ago, and the more comely and elegant part of the village settlement.
"We shall have to stop talking now," Lois said, "for we are near my place."
"Which is your place?"
"Do you see that old schoolhouse, a little further on? We have that for our meetings. Some of the boys put it in order and make the fire for me."
"You will let me come in?"
"You?" said Lois. "O no! Nobody is there but my class."
"You will let me be one of them to-day? Seriously,—I am going to wait to see you home; you will not let me wait in the rain?"
"I shall bid you go home," said Lois, laughing.
"I am not going to do that."
"Seriously, Mr. Dillwyn, I do not need the least care."
"Perhaps. But I must look at the matter from my point of view."
What a troublesome man! thought Lois; but then they were at the schoolhouse door, the wind and rain came with such a wild burst, that it seemed the one thing to do to get under shelter; and so Mr. Dillwyn went in with her, and how to turn him out Lois did not know.
It was a bare little place. The sanded floor gave little help or seeming of comfort; the wooden chairs and benches were old and hard; however, the small stove did give out warmth enough to make the place habitable, even to its furthest corners. Six people were already there. Lois gave a rapid glance at the situation. There was no time, and it was no company for a prolonged battle with the intruder.
"Mr. Dillwyn," she said softly, "will you take a seat by the stove, as far from us as you can; and make believe you have neither eyes nor ears? You must not be seen to have either—by any use you make of them. If you keep quite still, maybe they will forget you are here. You can keep up the fire for us."
She turned from him to greet her young friends, and Mr. Dillwyn obeyed orders. He hung up his wet hat and coat and sat down in the furthest corner; placing himself so, however, that neither eyes nor ears should be hindered in the exercise of their vocation, while his attitude might have suggested a fit of sleepiness, or a most indifferent meditation on things far distant, or possibly rest after severe exertion. Lois and her six scholars took their places at the other end of the room, which was too small to prevent every word they spoke from being distinctly heard by the one idle spectator. A spectator in truth Mr. Dillwyn desired to be, not merely an auditor; so, as he had been warned he must not be seen to look, he arranged himself in a manner to serve both purposes, of seeing and not seeing.
The hour was not long to this one spectator, although it extended itself to full an hour and a half. He gave as close attention as ever when a student in college he had given to lecture or lesson. And yet, though he did this, Mr. Dillwyn was not, at least not at the time, thinking much of the matter of the lesson. He was studying the lecturer. And the study grew intense. It was not flattering to perceive, as he soon did, that Lois had entirely forgotten his presence. He saw it by the free unconcern with which she did her work, as well as in the absorbed interest she gave to it. Not flattering, and it cast a little shadow upon him, but it was convenient for his present purpose of observation. So he watched,—and listened. He heard the sweet utterance and clear enunciation, first of all; he heard them, it is true, whenever she spoke; but now the utterance sounded sweeter than usual, as if there were a vibration from some fuller than usual mental harmony, and the voice was of a silvery melody. It contrasted with the other voices, which were more or less rough or grating or nasal, too high pitched or low, and rough-cadenced, as uncultured voices are apt to be. From the voices, Mr. Dillwyn's attention was drawn to what the voices said. And here he found, most unexpectedly, a great deal to interest him. Those rough voices spoke words of genuine intelligence; they expressed earnest interest; and they showed the speakers to be acute, thoughtful, not uninformed, quick to catch what was presented to them, often cunning to deal with it. Mr. Dillwyn was in danger of smiling, more than once. And Lois met them, if not with the skill of a practised logician, with the quick wit of a woman's intuition and a woman's loving sympathy, armed with knowledge, and penetration, and tact, and gentleness, and wisdom. It was something delightful to hear her soft accents answer them, with such hidden strength under their softness; it was charming to see her gentleness and patience, and eagerness too; for Lois was talking with all her heart. Mr. Dillwyn lost his wonder that her class came out in the rain; he only wished he could be one of them, and have the privilege too!
It was impossible but that with all this mental observation Mr. Dillwyn's eyes should also take notice of the fair exterior before them. They would not have been worthy to see it else. Lois had laid off her bonnet in the hot little room; it had left her hair a little loosened and disordered; yet not with what deserved to be called disorder; it was merely a softening and lifting of the rich, full masses, adding to the grace of the contour, not taking from it. Nothing could be plainer than the girl's dress; all the more the observer's eye noted the excellent lines of the figure and the natural charm of every movement and attitude. The charm that comes, and always must come, from inward refinement and delicacy, when combined with absence of consciousness; and which can only be helped, not produced, by any perfection of the physical structure. Then the tints of absolute health, and those low, musical, sensitive tones, flowing on in such sweet modulations—
What a woman was this! Mr. Dillwyn could see, too, the effect of Mrs. Barclay's work. He was sure he could. The whole giving of that Bible lesson betrayed the refinement of mental training and culture; even the management of the voice told of it. Here was not a fine machine, sound and good, yet in need of regulating, and working, and lubricating to get it in order; all that had been done, and the smooth running told how well. By degrees Mr. Dillwyn forgot the lesson, and the class, and the schoolhouse, and remembered but one thing any more; and that was Lois. His head and heart grew full of her. He had been in the grasp of a strong fancy before; a fancy strong enough to make him spend money, and spend time, for the possible attainment of its object; now it was fancy no longer. He had made up his mind, as a man makes it up once for all; not to try to win Lois, but to have her. She, he saw, was as yet ungrazed by any corresponding feeling towards him. That made no difference. Philip Dillwyn had one object in life from this time. He hardly saw or heard Lois's leave-takings with her class, but as she came up to him he rose.
"I have kept you too long, Mr. Dillwyn; but I could not help it; and really, you know, it was your own fault."
"Not a minute too long," he assured her; and he put on her cloak and handed her her bonnet with grave courtesy, and a manner which Lois would have said was absorbed, but for a certain element in it which even then struck her. They set out upon their homeward way, but the walk home was not as the walk out had been. The rain and the wind were unchanged; the wind, indeed, had an added touch of waywardness as they more nearly faced it, going this way; and the rain was driven against them with greater fury. Lois was fain to cling to her companion's arm, and the umbrella had to be handled with discretion. But the storm had been violent enough before, and it was no feature of that which made the difference. Neither was it the fact that both parties were now almost silent, whereas on the way out they had talked incessantly; though it was a fact. Perhaps Lois was tired with talking, seeing she had been doing nothing else for two hours, but what ailed Philip? And what gave the walk its new character? Lois did not know, though she felt it in every fibre of her being. And Mr. Dillwyn did not know, though the cause lay in him. He was taking care of Lois; he had been taking care of her before; but now, unconsciously, he was doing it as a man only does it for one woman in the world. Hardly more careful of her, yet with that indefinable something in the manner of it, which Lois felt even in the putting on of her cloak in the schoolhouse. It was something she had never touched before in her life, and did not now know what it meant; at least I should say her reason did not know; yet nature answered to nature infallibly, and by some hidden intuition of recognition the girl was subdued and dumb. This was nothing like Tom Caruthers, and anything she had received from him. Tom had been flattering, demonstrative, obsequious; there was no flattery here, and no demonstration, and nothing could be farther from obsequiousness. It was the delicate reverence which a man gives to only one woman of all the world; something that must be felt and cannot be feigned; the most subtle incense of worship one human spirit can render to another; which the one renders and the other receives, without either being able to tell how it is done. The more is the incense sweet, penetrating, powerful. Lois went home silently, through the rain and wind, and did not know why a certain mist of happiness seemed to encompass her. She was ignorant why the storm was so very beneficent in its action; did not know why the wind was so musical and the rain so refreshing; could not guess why she was sorry to get home. Yet the fact was before her as she stepped in.
"It has done you no harm!" said Mr. Dillwyn, smiling, as he met Lois's eyes, and saw her fresh, flushed cheeks. "Are you wet?"
"I think not at all."
"This must come off, however," he went on, proceeding to unfasten her cloak; "it has caught more rain-drops than you know." And Lois submitted, and meekly stood still and allowed the cloak, very wet on one side, to be taken off her.
"Where is this to go? there seems to be no place to hang it here."
"O, I will hang it up to dry in the kitchen, thank you," said Lois, offering to take it.
"I will hang it up to dry in the kitchen,—if you will show me the way. You cannot handle it."
Lois could have laughed, for did she not handle everything? and did wet or dry make any difference to her? However, she did not on this occasion feel like contesting the matter; but with unwonted docility preceded Mr. Dillwyn through the sitting-room, where were Mrs. Armadale and Madge, to the kitchen beyond, where Charity was just putting on the tea-kettle.
Mr. Dillwyn rejoined Mrs. Barclay in her parlour, but he was a less entertaining man this evening than he had been during the former part of his visit. Mrs. Barclay saw it, and smiled, and sighed. Even at the tea-table things were not like last evening. Philip entered into no discussions, made no special attempts to amuse anybody, attended to his duties in the unconscious way of one with whom they have become second nature, and talked only so much as politeness required. Mrs. Barclay looked at Lois, but could tell nothing from the grave face there. Always on Sunday evenings it had a very fair, sweet gravity.
The rest of the time, after tea, was spent in making music. It had become a usual Sunday evening entertainment. Mrs. Barclay played, and she and the two girls sang. It was all sacred music, of course, varied exceedingly, however, by the various tastes of the family. Old hymn and psaulm tunes were what Mrs. Armadale liked; and those generally came first; then the girls had more modern pieces, and with those Mrs. Barclay interwove an anthem or a chant now and then. Madge and Lois both had good voices and good natural taste and feeling; and Mrs. Barclay's instructions had been eagerly received. This evening Philip joined the choir; and Charity declared it was "better'n they could do in the Episcopal church."
"Do they have the best singing in the Episcopal church?" asked Philip absently.
"Well, they set up to; and you see they give more time to it. Our folks won't practise."
"I don't care how folk's voices sound, if their hearts are in it," said Mrs. Armadale.
"But you may notice, voices sound better if hearts are in it," said Dillwyn. "That made a large part of the beauty of our concert this evening."
"Was your'n in it?" asked Mrs. Armadale abruptly.
"My heart? In the words? I am afraid I must own it was not, in the way you mean, madam. If I must answer truth."
"Don't you always speak truth?"
"I believe I may say, that is my habit," Philip answered, smiling.
"Then, do you think you ought to sing sech words, if you don't mean 'em?"
The question looks abrupt, on paper. It did not sound equally so. Something of earnest wistfulness there was in the old lady's look and manner, a touch of solemnity in her voice, which made the gentleman forgive her on the spot. He sat down beside her.
"Would you bid me not join in singing such words, then?"
"It's not my place to bid or forbid. But you can judge for yourself. Do you set much valley on professions that mean nothing?"
"I made no professions."
"Ain't it professin', when you say what the hymns say?"
"If you will forgive me—I did not say it," responded Philip.
"Ain't singin' sayin'?"
"They are generally looked upon as essentially different. People are never held responsible for the things they sing,—out of church," added Philip, smiling. "Is it otherwise with church singing?"
"What's church singin' good for, then?"
"I thought it was to put the minds of the worshippers in a right state;—to sober and harmonize them."
"I thought it was to tell the Lord how we felt," said the old lady.
"That is a new view of it, certainly."
"I thought the words was to tell one how we had ought to feel!" said Charity. "There wouldn't more'n one in a dozen sing, mother, if you had your way; and then we should have nice music!"
"I think it would be nice music," said the old lady, with a kind of sober tremble in her voice, which somehow touched Philip. The ring of truth was there, at any rate.
"Could the world be managed," he said, with very gentle deference; "could the world be managed on such principles of truth and purity? Must we not take people as we find them?"
"Those are the Lord's principles," said Mrs. Armadale.
"Yes, but you know how the world is. Must we not, a little, as I said, take people as we find them?"
"The Lord won't do that," said the old lady. "He will either make them better, or he will cast them away."
"But we? We must deal with things as they are."
"How are you goin' to deal with 'em?"
"In charity and kindness; having patience with what is wrong, and believing that the good God will have more patience yet."
"You had better believe what he tells you," the old lady answered, somewhat sternly.
"But grandmother," Lois put in here, "he does have patience."
"With whom, child?"
Lois did not answer; she only quoted softly the words—
"'Plenteous in mercy, long-suffering, abundant in goodness and truth.'"
"Ay, child; but you know what happens to the houses built on the sand."
The party broke up here, Mrs. Barclay bidding good-night and leaving the dining-room, whither they had all gone to eat apples. As Philip parted from Lois he remarked,—
"I did not understand the allusion in Mrs. Armadale's last words."
Lois's look fascinated him. It was just a moment's look, pausing before turning away; swift with eagerness and intent with some hidden feeling which he hardly comprehended. She only said,—
"Look in the end of the seventh chapter of Matthew."
"Well," said Mrs. Barclay, when the door was closed, "what do you think of our progress?"
"Progress?" repeated Philip vacantly. "I beg your pardon!"—
"In music, man!" said Mrs. Barclay, laughing.
"O!—Admirable. Have you a Bible here?"
"A Bible?" Mrs. Barclay echoed. "Yes—there is a Bible in every room, I believe. Yonder, on that table. Why? what do you want of one now?"
"I have had a sermon preached to me, and I want to find the text."
Mrs. Barclay asked no further, but she watched him, as with the book in his hand he sat down before the fire and studied the open page. Studied with grave thoughtfulness, drawing his brows a little, and pondering with eyes fixed on the words for some length of time. Then he bade her good-night with a smile, and went away.
He went away in good earnest next day; but as a subject of conversation in the village his visit lasted a good while. That same evening Mrs. Marx came to make a call, just before supper.
"How much pork are you goin' to want this year, mother?" she began, with the business of one who had been stirring her energies with a walk in a cool wind.
"I suppose, about as usual," said Mrs. Armadale.
"I forget how much that is; I can't keep it in my head from one year to another. Besides, I didn't know but you'd want an extra quantity, if your family was goin' to be larger."
"It is not going to be larger, as I know."
"If my pork ain't, I shall come short home. It beats me! I've fed 'em just the same as usual,—and the corn's every bit as good as usual, never better; good big fat yellow ears, that had ought to make a porker's heart dance for joy; and I should think they were sufferin' from continual lowness o' spirits, to judge by the way they don't get fat. They're growing real long-legged and slab-sided—just the way I hate to see pigs look. I don' know what's the matter with 'em."
"Where do you keep 'em?"
"Under the barn—just where they always be. Well, you've had a visitor?"
"Mrs. Barclay has."
"I understood 'twas her company; but you saw him?"
"We saw him as much as she did," put in Charity.
"What's he like?"
"Is he one of your high-flyers?"
"I don't know what you call high-flyers, aunt Anne," said Madge. "He was a gentleman."
"What do you mean by that? I saw some 'gentlemen' last summer at Appledore—and I don't want to see no more. Was he that kind?"
"I wasn't there," said Madge, "and can't tell. I should have no objection to see a good many of them, if he is."
"I heard he went to Sunday School with Lois, through the rain."
"How did you know?" said Lois.
"Why shouldn't I know?"
"I thought nobody was out but me."
"Do you think folks will see an umbrella walkin' up street in the rain, and not look to see if there's somebody under it?"
"I shouldn't," said Lois. "When should an umbrella be out walking, but in the rain?"
"Well, go along. What sort of a man is he? and what brings him to Shampuashuh?"
"He came to see Mrs. Barclay," said Madge.
"He's a sort of man you are willin' to take trouble for," said Charity. "Real nice, and considerate; and to hear him talk, it is as good as a book; and he's awfully polite. You should have seen him marching in here with Lois's wet cloak, out to the kitchen with it, and hangin' it up. So to pay, I turned round and hung up his'n. One good turn deserves another, I told him. But at first, I declare, I thought I couldn't keep from laughin'."
Mrs. Marx laughed a little here. "I know the sort," she said. "Wears kid gloves always and a little line of hair over his upper lip, and is lazy like. I would lose all my patience to have one o' them round for long, smokin' a cigar every other thing, and poisonin' all the air for half a mile."
"I think he is sort o' lazy," said Charity.
"He don't smoke," said Lois.
"Yes he does," said Madge. "I found an end of cigar just down by the front steps, when I was sweeping."
"I don't think he's a lazy man, either," said Lois. "That slow, easy way does not mean laziness."
"What does it mean?" inquired Mrs. Marx sharply.
"It is nothing to us what it means," said Mrs. Armadale, speaking for the first time. "We have no concern with this man. He came to see Mrs. Barclay, his friend, and I suppose he'll never come again."
"Why shouldn't he come again, mother?" said Charity. "If she's his friend, he might want to see her more than once, seems to me. And what's more, he is coming again. I heard him askin' her if he might; and then Mrs. Barclay asked me if it would be convenient, and I said it would, of course. He said he would be comin' back from Boston in a few weeks, and he would like to stop again as he went by. And do you know I think she coloured. It was only a little, but she ain't a woman to blush much; and I believe she knows why he wants to come, as well as he does."
"Nonsense, Charity!" said Madge incredulously.
"Then half the world are busy with nonsense, that's all I have to say; and I'm glad for my part I've somethin' better to do."
"Do you say he's comin' again?" inquired Mrs. Armadale.
"He says so, mother."
"Why, to visit his friend Mrs. Barclay, of course."
"She is our friend," said the old lady; "and her friends must be entertained; but he is not our friend, children. We ain't of his kind, and he ain't of our'n."
"What's the matter? Ain't he good?" asked Mrs. Marx.
"He's very good!" said Madge.
"Not in grandmother's way," said Lois softly.
"Mother," said Mrs. Marx, "you can't have everybody cut out on your pattern."
Mrs. Armadale made no answer.
"And there ain't enough o' your pattern to keep one from bein' lonesome, if we're to have nothin' to do with the rest."
"Better so," said the old lady. "I don't want no company for my chil'en that won't help 'em on the road to heaven. They'll have company enough when they get there."
"And how are you goin' to be the salt o' the earth, then, if you won't touch nothin'?"
"How, if the salt loses its saltness, daughter?"
"Well, mother, it always puzzles me, that there's so much to be said on both sides of things! I'll go home and think about it. Then he ain't one o' your Appledore friends, Lois?"
"Not one of my friends at all, aunt Anne."
So the talk ended. There was a little private extension of it that evening, when Lois and Madge went up to bed.
"It's a pity grandma is so sharp about things," the latter remarked to her sister.
"Things?" said Lois. "What things?"
"Well—people. Don't you like that Mr. Dillwyn?"
"So do I. And she don't want us to have anything to do with him."
"But she is right," said Lois. "He is not a Christian."
"But one can't live only with Christians in this world. And, Lois, I'll tell you what I think; he is a great deal pleasanter than a good many Christians I know."
"He is good company," said Lois. "He has seen a great deal and read a great deal, and he knows how to talk. That makes him pleasant."
"Well, he's a great deal more improving to be with than anybody I know in Shampuashuh."
"In one way."
"Why shouldn't one have the pleasure, then, and the good, if he isn't a Christian?"
"The pleasanter he is, I suppose the more danger, grandmother would think."
"Danger of what?"
"You know, Madge, it is not my say-so, nor even grandmother's. You know, Christians are not of the world."
"But they must see the world."
"If we were to see much of that sort of person, we might get to wishing to see them always."
"By 'that sort of person' I suppose you mean Mr. Dillwyn? Well, I have got so far as that already. I wish I could see such people always."
"I am sorry."
"Why? You ought to be glad at my good taste."
"I am sorry, because you are wishing for what you cannot have."
"How do you know that? You cannot tell what may happen."
"Madge, a man like Mr. Dillwyn would never think of a girl like you or me."
"I am not wanting him to think of me," said Madge rather hotly. "But, Lois, if you come to that, I think I—and you—are fit for anybody."
"Yes," said Lois quietly. "I think so too. But they do not take the same view. And if they did, Madge, we could not think of them."
"Why not?—if they did. I do not hold quite such extreme rules as you and grandmother do."
"And the Bible."—
"Other people do not think the Bible is so strict."
"You know what the words are, Madge."
"I don't know what the words mean."
Lois was brushing out the thick masses of her beautiful hair, which floated about over her in waves of golden brown; and Madge had been thinking, privately, that if anybody could have just that view of Lois, his scruples—if he had any—would certainly give way. Now, at her sister's last words, however, Lois laid down her brush, and, coming up, laid hold of Madge by the shoulders and gave her a gentle shaking. It ended in something of a romp, but Lois declared Madge should never say such a thing again.
TWO SUNDAY SCHOOLS.
Lois was inclined now to think it might be quite as well if something hindered Mr. Dillwyn's second visit. She did not wonder at Madge's evident fascination; she had felt the same herself long ago, and in connection with other people; the charm of good breeding and gracious manners, and the habit of the world, even apart from knowledge and cultivation and the art of conversation. Yes, Mr. Dillwyn was a good specimen of this sort of attraction; and for a moment Lois's imagination recalled that day's two walks in the rain; then she shook off the impression. Two poor Shampuashuh girls were not likely to have much to do with that sort of society, and—it was best they should not. It would be just as well if Mr. Dillwyn was hindered from coming again.
But he came. A month had passed; it was the beginning of December when he knocked next at the door, and cold and grey and cloudy and windy as it is December's character in certain moods to be. The reception he got was hearty in proportion; fires were larger, the table even more hospitably spread; Mrs. Barclay even more cordial, and the family atmosphere not less genial. Nevertheless the visit, for Mr. Dillwyn's special ends, was hardly satisfactory. He could get no private speech with Lois. She was always "busy;" and at meal-times it was obviously impossible, and would have been impolitic, to pay any particular attention to her. Philip did not attempt it. He talked rather to every one else; made himself delightful company; but groaned in secret.
"Cannot you make some excuse for getting her in here?" he asked Mrs. Barclay at evening.
"Not without her sister."
"With her sister, then."
"They are very busy just now preparing some thing they call 'apple butter.' It's unlucky, Philip. I am very sorry. I always told you your way looked to me intricate."
Fortune favoured him, however, in an unexpected way. After a day passed in much inward impatience, for he had not got a word with Lois, and he had no excuse for prolonging his stay beyond the next day, as they sat at supper, the door opened, and in came two ladies. Mr. Dillwyn was formally presented to one of them as to "my aunt, Mrs. Marx;" the other was named as "Mrs. Seelye." The latter was a neat, brisk little body, with a capable air and a mien of business; all whose words came out as if they had been nicely picked and squared, and sorted and packed, and served in order.
"Sorry to interrupt, Mrs. Armadale" she began, in a chirruping little voice. Indeed, her whole air was that of a notable little hen looking after her chickens. Charity assured her it was no interruption.
"Mrs. Seelye and I had our tea hours ago," said Mrs. Marx. "I had muffins for her, and we ate all we could then. We don't want no more now. We're on business."
"Yes," said Mrs. Seelye. "Mrs. Marx and I, we've got to see everybody, pretty much; and there ain't much time to do it in; so you see we can't choose, and we just come here to see what you'll do for us."
"What do you want us to do for you, Mrs. Seelye?" Lois asked.
"Well, I don't know; only all you can. We want your counsel, and then your help. Mr. Seelye he said, Go to the Lothrop girls first. I didn't come first, 'cause there was somebody else on my way here; but this is our fourth call, ain't it, Mrs. Marx?"
"I thought I'd never get you away from No. 3," was the answer.
"They were very much interested,—and I wanted to make them all understand—it was important that they should all understand—"
"And there are different ways of understanin'," added Mrs. Marx; "and there are a good many of 'em—the Hicks's, I mean; and so, when we thought we'd got it all right with one, we found somebody else was in a fog; and then he had to be fetched out."
"But we are all in a fog," said Madge, laughing. "What are you coming to? and what are we to understand?"
"We have a little plan," said Mrs. Seelye.
"It'll be a big one, before we get through with it," added her coadjutor. "Nobody'll be frightened here if you call it a big one to start with, Mrs. Seelye. I like to look things in the face."
"So do we," said Mrs. Armadale, with a kind of grim humour,—"if you will give us a chance."
"Well, it's about the children," said Mrs. Seelye.
"Christmas—" added Mrs. Marx.
"Be quiet, Anne," said her mother. "Go on, Mrs. Seelye. Whose children?"
"I might say, they are all Mr. Seelye's children," said the little lady, laughing; "and so they are in a way, as they are all belonging to his church. He feels he is responsible for the care of 'em, and he don't want to lose 'em. And that's what it's all about, and how the plan came up."
"How's he goin' to lose 'em?" Mrs. Armadale asked, beginning now to knit again.
"Well, you see the other church is makin' great efforts; and they're goin' to have a tree."
"What sort of a tree? and what do they want a tree for?"
"Why, a fir tree!"—and, "Why, a Christmas tree!" cried the two ladies who advocated the "plan," both in a breath.
"Mother don't know about that," Mrs. Marx went on. "It's a new fashion, mother,—come up since your day. They have a green tree, planted in a tub, and hung with all sorts of things to make it look pretty; little candles especially; and at night they light it up; and the children are tickled to death with it."
"Why, of course in-doors. Couldn't be out-of-doors, in the snow."
"I didn't know," said the old lady; "I don't understand the new fashions. I should think they would burn up the house, if it's in-doors."
"O no, no danger," explained Mrs. Seelye. "They make them wonderfully pretty, with the branches all hung full with glass balls, and candles, and ribbands, and gilt toys, and papers of sugar plums—cornucopia, you know; and dolls, and tops, and jacks, and trumpets, and whips, and everything you can think of,—till it is as full as it can be, and the branches hang down with the weight; and it looks like a fairy tree; and then the heavy presents lie at the foot round about and cover the tub."
"I should think the children would be delighted," said Madge.
"I don't believe it's as much fun as Santa Claus and the stocking," said Lois.
"No, nor I," said Mrs. Barclay.
"But we have nothing to do with the children's stockings," said Mrs. Seelye. "They may hang up as many as they like. That's at home. This is in the church."
"O, in the church! I thought you said it was in the house—in people's houses," said Charity.
"So it is; but this tree is to be in the church."
"La! how stupid you are, Charity," exclaimed her aunt. "Didn't Mrs. Seelye tell you?—the tree the other church are gettin' up."
"Oh—" said Charity. "Well, you can't hinder 'em, as I see."
"Don't want to hinder 'em! What should we hinder 'em for? But we don't want 'em to get all our chil'en away; that's what we're lookin' at."
"Do you think they'd go?"
"Mr. Seelye's afraid it'll thin off the school dreadful," said Mr. Seelye's helpmate.
"They're safe to go," added Mrs. Marx. "Ask children to step in and see fairyland, and why shouldn't they go? I'd go if I was they. All the rest of the year it ain't fairyland in Shampuashuh. I'd go fast enough."
"Then I don't see what you are goin' to do about it," said Charity, "but to sit down and count your chickens that are left."
"That's what we came to tell you," said the minister's wife.
"Well, tell," said Charity. "You haven't told yet, only what the other church is going to do."
"Well, we thought the only way was for us to do somethin' too."
"Only not another tree," said Lois. "Not that, for pity's sake."
"Why not?" asked the little minister's wife, with an air of being somewhat taken aback. "Why haven't we as good a right to have a tree as they have?"
"Right, if you like," said Lois; "but right isn't all."
"Go on, and let's hear your wisdom, Lois," said her aunt. "I s'pose you'll say first, we can't do it."
"We can do it, perhaps," said Lois; "but, aunt Anne, it would make bad feeling."
"That's not our look-out," rejoined Mrs. Marx. "We haven't any bad feeling."
"No, not in the least," added Mrs. Seelye. "We only want to give our children as good a time as the others have. That's right."
"'Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory,'" Mrs. Armadale's voice was here heard to say.
"Yes, I know, mother, you have old-fashioned ideas," said Mrs. Marx; "but the world ain't as it used to be when you was a girl. Now everybody's puttin' steam on; and churches and Sunday schools as well as all the rest. We have organs, and choirs, and concerts, and celebrations, and fairs, and festivals; and if we don't go with the crowd, they'll leave us behind, you see."
"I don't believe in it all!" said Mrs. Armadale.
"Well, mother, we've got to take the world as we find it. Now the children all through the village are all agog with the story of what the yellow church is goin' to do; and if the white church don't do somethin', they'll all run t'other way—that you may depend on. Children are children."
"I sometimes think the grown folks are children," said the old lady.
"Well, we ought to be children," said Mrs. Seelye; "I am sure we all know that. But Mr. Seelye thought this was the only thing we could do."
"There comes in the second difficulty, Mrs. Seelye," said Lois. "We cannot do it."
"I don't see why we cannot. We've as good a place for it, quite."
"I mean, we cannot do it satisfactorily. It will not be the same thing. We cannot raise the money. Don't it take a good deal?"
"Well, it takes considerable. But I think, if we all try, we can scare it up somehow."
Lois shook her head. "The other church is richer than we are," she said.
"That's a fact," said Charity.
Mrs. Seelye hesitated. "I don't know," she said,—"they have one or two rich men. Mr. Georges—"
"O, and Mr. Flare," cried Madge, "and Buck, and Setterdown; and the Ropers and the Magnuses."
"Yes," said Mrs. Seelye; "but we have more people, and there's none of 'em to call poor. If we get 'em interested—and those we have spoken to are very much taken with the plan—very much; I think it would be a great disappointment now if we were to stop; and the children have got talking about it. I think we can do it; and it would be a very good thing for the whole church, to get 'em interested."
"You can always get people interested in play," said Mrs. Armadale. "What you want, is to get 'em interested in work."
"There'll be a good deal of work about this, before it's over," said Mrs. Seelye, with a pleased chuckle. "And I think, when they get their pride up, the money will be coming."
Mrs. Marx made a grimace, but said nothing.
"'When pride cometh, than cometh shame,'" said Mrs. Armadale quietly.
"O yes, some sorts of pride," said the little minister's wife briskly; "but I mean a proper sort. We don't want to let our church go down, and we don't want to have our Sunday school thinned out; and I can tell you, where the children go, there the fathers and mothers will be going, next thing."
"What do you propose to do?" said Lois. "We have not fairly heard yet."
"Well, we thought we'd have some sort of celebration, and give the school a jolly time somehow. We'd dress up the church handsomely with evergreens; and have it well lighted; and then, we would have a Christmas tree if we could. Or, if we couldn't, then we'd have a real good hot supper, and give the children presents. But I'm afraid, if we don't have a tree, they'll all run off to the other church; and I think they're going already, so as to get asked. Mr. Seelye said the attendance was real thin last Sabbath."
There followed an animated discussion of the whole subject, with every point brought up again, and again and again. The talkers were, for the most part, Charity and Madge, with the two ladies who had come in; Mrs. Armadale rarely throwing in a word, which always seemed to have a disturbing power; and things were taken up and gone over anew to get rid of the disturbance. Lois sat silent and played with her spoon. Mrs. Barclay and Philip listened with grave amusement.
"Well, I can't sit here all night," said Charity at last, rising from behind her tea-board. "Madge and Lois,—just jump up and put away the things, won't you; and hand me up the knives and plates. Don't trouble yourself, Mrs. Barclay. If other folks in the village are as busy as I am, you'll come short home for your Christmas work, Mrs. Seelye."
"It's the busy people always that help," said the little lady propitiatingly.
"That's a fact; but I don't see no end o' this to take hold of. You hain't got the money; and if you had it, you don't know what you want; and if you did know, it ain't in Shampuashuh; and I don't see who is to go to New York or New Haven, shopping for you. And if you had it, who knows how to fix a Christmas tree? Not a soul in our church."
Mrs. Barclay and her guest withdrew at this point of the discussion. But later, when the visitors were gone, she opened the door of her room, and said,
"Madge and Lois, can you come in here for a few minutes? It is business."
The two girls came in, Madge a little eagerly; Lois, Mrs. Barclay fancied, with a manner of some reserve.
"Mr. Dillwyn has something to suggest," she began, "about this plan we have heard talked over; that is, if you care about it's being carried into execution."
"I care, of course," said Madge. "If it is to be done, I think it will be great fun."
"If it is to be done," Lois repeated. "Grandmother does not approve of it; and I always think, what she does not like, I must not like."
"Always?" asked Mr. Dillwyn.
"I try to have it always. Grandmother thinks that the way—the best way—to keep a Sunday school together, is to make the lessons interesting."
"I am sure she is right!" said Mr. Dillwyn.
"But to the point," said Mrs. Barclay. "Lois, they will do this thing, I can see. The question now is, do you care whether it is done ill or well?"
"Certainly! If it is done, I should wish it to be as well done as possible. Failure is more than failure."
"How about ways and means?"
"Money? O, if the people all set their hearts on it, they could do it well enough. But they are slow to take hold of anything out of the common run they are accustomed to. The wheels go in ruts at Shampuashuh."
"Shampuashuh is not the only place," said Philip. "Then will you let an outsider help?"
"Help? We would be very glad of help," said Madge; but Lois remarked, "I think the church ought to do it themselves, if they want to do it."
"Well, hear my plan," said Mr. Dillwyn. "I think you objected to two rival trees?"
"I object to rival anythings," said Lois; "in church matters especially."
"Then I propose that no tree be set up, but instead, that you let Santa Claus come in with his sledge."
"Santa Claus!" cried Lois. "Who would be Santa Claus?"
"An old man in a white mantle, his head and beard covered with snow and fringed with icicles; his dress of fur; his sledge a large one, and well heaped up with things to delight the children. What do you think?"
Madge's colour rose, and Lois's eye took a sparkle; both were silent. Then Madge spoke.
"I don't see how that plan could be carried out, any more than the other. It is a great deal better, it is magnificent; but it is a great deal too magnificent for Shampuashuh."
"Nobody here knows how to do it."
"I know how."
"You! O but,—that would be too much—"
"All you have to do is to get the other things ready, and let it be known that at the proper time Santa Claus will appear, with a well-furnished sled. Sharp on time."
"Well-furnished!—but there again—I don't believe we can raise money enough for that."
"How much money?" asked Dillwyn, with an amused smile.
"O, I can't tell—I suppose a hundred dollars at least."
"I have as much as that lying useless—it may just as well do some good. It never was heard that anybody but Santa Claus furnished his own sled. If you will allow me, I will take care of that."
"How splendid!" cried Madge. "But it is too much; it wouldn't be right for us to let you do all that for a church that is nothing to you."
"On the contrary, you ought to encourage me in my first endeavours to make myself of some use in the world. Miss Madge, I have never, so far, done a bit of good in my life."
"O, Mr. Dillwyn! I cannot believe that. People do not grow useful so all of a sudden, without practice," said Madge, hitting a great general truth.
"It is a fact, however," said he, half lightly, and yet evidently meaning what he said. "I have lived thirty-two years in the world—nearly thirty-three—without making my life of the least use to anybody so far as I know. Do you wonder that I seize a chance?"
Lois's eyes were suddenly lifted, and then as suddenly lowered; she did not speak.
"I can read that," he said laughingly, for his eyes had caught the glance. "You mean, if I am so eager for chances, I might make them! Miss Lois, I do not know how."
"Come, Philip," said Mrs. Barclay, "you are making your character unnecessarily bad. I know you better than that. Think what you have done for me."
"I beg your pardon," said he. "Think what you have done for me. That score cannot be reckoned to my favour. Have no scruples, Miss Madge, about employing me. Though I believe Miss Lois thinks the good of this undertaking a doubtful one. How many children does your school number?"
"All together,—and they would be sure for once to be all together!—there are a hundred and fifty."
"Have you the names?"
"Yes, that too."
"And you know something, I suppose, about many of them; something about their families and conditions?"
"About all of them?" said Madge. "Yes, indeed we do."
"Till Mrs. Barclay came, you must understand," put in Lois here, "we had nothing, or not much, to study besides Shampuashuh; so we studied that."
"And since Mrs. Barclay came?—" asked Philip.
"O, Mrs. Barclay has been opening one door after another of knowledge, and we have been peeping in."
"And what special door offers most attraction to your view, of them all?"
"I don't know. I think, perhaps, for me, geology and mineralogy; but almost every one helps in the study of the Bible."
"O, do they!" said Dillwyn somewhat dryly.
"I like music best," said Madge.
"But that is not a door into knowledge," objected Lois.
"I meant, of all the doors Mrs. Barclay has opened to us."
"Mrs. Barclay is a favoured person."
"It is we that are favoured," said Madge. "Our life is a different thing since she came. We hope she will never go away." Then Madge coloured, with some sudden thought, and she went back to the former subject. "Why do you ask about the children's ages and all that, Mr. Dillwyn?"
"I was thinking— When a thing is to be done, I like to do it well. It occurred to me, that as Santa Claus must have something on his sledge for each one, it might be good, if possible, to secure some adaptation or fitness in the gift. Those who would like books should have books, and the right books; and playthings had better not go astray, if we can help it; and perhaps the poorer children would be better for articles of clothing.—I am only throwing out hints."
"Capital hints!" said Lois. "You mean, if we can tell what would be good for each one—I think we can, pretty nearly. But there are few poor people in Shampuashuh, Mr. Dillwyn."
"Shampuashuh is a happy place."
"This plan will give you an immensity of work, Mr. Dillwyn."
"I have scruples. It is not fair to let you do it. What is Shampuashuh to you?"
"It might be difficult to make that computation," said Mr. Dillwyn dryly. "Have no scruples, Miss Lois. As I told you, I have nothing better to do with myself. If you can make me useful, it will be a rare chance."
"But there are plenty of other things to do, Mr. Dillwyn," said Lois.
He gave her only a glance and smile by way of answer, and plunged immediately into the business question with Madge. Lois sat by, silent and wondering, till all was settled that could be settled that evening, and she and Madge went back to the other room.
AN OYSTER SUPPER.
"Hurrah!" cried Madge, but softly—"Now it will go! Mother! what do you think? Guess, Charity! Mr. Dillwyn is going to take our Sunday school celebration on himself; he's going to do it; and we're to have, not a stupid Christmas tree, but Santa Claus and his sled; and he'll be Santa Claus! Won't it be fun?"
"Who'll be Santa Claus?" said Charity, looking stupefied.
"Mr. Dillwyn. In fact, he'll be Santa Claus and his sled too; he'll do the whole thing. All we have got to do is to dress the children and ourselves, and light up the church."
"Will the committees like that?"
"Like it? Of course they will! Like it, indeed! Don't you see it will save them all expense? They'll have nothing to do but dress up and light up."
"And warm up too, I hope. What makes Mr. Dillwyn do all that? I don't just make out."
"I'll tell you," said Madge, shaking her finger at the others impressively. "He's after Mrs. Barclay. So this gives him a chance to come here again, don't you see?"
"After Mrs. Barclay?" repeated Charity. "I want to know!"
"I don't believe it," said Lois. "She is too old for him."
"She's not old," said Madge. "And he is no chicken, my dear. You'll see. It's she he's after. He's coming next time as Santa Claus, that's all. And we have got to make out a list of things—things for presents,—for every individual girl and boy in the Sunday school; there's a job for you. Santa Claus will want a big sled."
"Who is going to do what?" inquired Mrs. Armadale here. "I don't understand, you speak so fast, children."
"Mother, instead of a Christmas tree, we are going to have Santa Claus and his sled; and the sled is to be heaped full of presents for all the children; and Mr. Dillwyn is going to do it, and get the presents, and be Santa Claus himself."
"How, be Santa Claus?"
"Why, he will dress up like Santa Claus, and come in with his sled."
"In the church, grandmother; there is no other place. The other church have their Sunday-school room you know; but we have none."
"They are going to have their tree in the church, though," said Charity; "they reckon the Sunday-school room won't be big enough to hold all the folks."
"Are they going to turn the church into a playhouse?" Mrs. Armadale asked.
"It's for the sake of the church and the school, you know, mother. Santa Claus will come in with his sled and give his presents,—that is all. At least, that is all the play there will be."
"What else will there be?"
"O, there'll be singing, grandma," said Madge; "hymns and carols and such things, that the children will sing; and speeches and prayers, I suppose."
"The church used to be God's house, in my day," said the old lady, with a concerned face, looking up from her knitting, while her fingers went on with their work as busily as ever.
"They don't mean it for anything else, grandmother," said Madge. "It's all for the sake of the school."
"Maybe they think so," the old lady answered.
"What else, mother? what else should it be?"
But this she did not answer.
"What's Mr. Dillwyn got to do with it?" she asked presently.
"He's going to help," said Madge. "It's nothing but kindness. He supposes it is something good to do, and he says he'd like to be useful."
"He hain't no idea how," said Mrs. Armadale, "Poor creatur'! You can tell him, it ain't the Lord's work he's doin'."
"But we cannot tell him that, mother," said Lois.
"If the people want to have this celebration,—and they will,—hadn't we better make it a good one? Is it really a bad thing?"
"The devil's ways never help no one to heaven, child, not if they go singin' hymns all the way."
"But, mother!" cried Madge. "Mr. Dillwyn ain't a Christian, maybe, but he ain't as bad as that."
"I didn't mean Mr. Dillwyn, dear, nor no one else. I meant theatre work."
"Santa Claus, mother?"
"It's actin', ain't it?"
The girls looked at each other.
"There's very little of anything like acting about it," Lois said.
"'Make straight paths for your feet'!" said Mrs. Armadale, rising to go to bed. "'Make straight paths for your feet,' children. Straight ways is the shortest too. If the chil'en that don't love their teachers wants to go to the yellow church, let 'em go. I'd rather have the Lord in a little school, than Santa Claus in a big one."
She was leaving the room, but the girls stayed her and begged to know what they should do in the matter of the lists they were engaged to prepare for Mr. Dillwyn.
"You must do what you think best," she said. "Only don't be mixed up with it all any more than you can help, Lois."
Why did the name of one child come to her lips and not the other? Did the old lady's affection, or natural acuteness, discern that Mr. Dillwyn was not drawn to Shampuashuh by any particular admiration of his friend Mrs. Barclay? Had she some of that preternatural intuition, plain old country woman though she was, which makes a woman see the invisible and hear the inaudible? which serves as one of the natural means of defence granted to the weaker creatures. I do not know; I do not think she knew; however, the warning was given, and not on that occasion alone. And as Lois heeded all her grandmother's admonitions, although in this case without the most remote perception of this possible ground to them, it followed that Mr. Dillwyn gained less by his motion than he had hoped and anticipated.
The scheme went forward, hailed by the whole community belonging to the white church, with the single exception of Mrs. Armadale. It went forward and was brought to a successful termination. I might say, a triumphant termination; only the triumph was not for Mr. Dillwyn, or not in the line where he wanted it. He did his part admirably. A better Santa Claus was never seen, nor a better filled sled. And genial pleasantness, and wise management, and cool generalship, and fun and kindness, were never better represented. So it was all through the consultations and arrangements that preceded the festival, as well as on the grand occasion itself; and Shampuashuh will long remember the time with wonder and exultation; but it was Madge who was Mr. Dillwyn's coadjutor and fellow-counsellor. It was Madge and Mrs. Barclay who helped him in all the work of preparing and ticketing the parcels for the sled; as well as in the prior deliberations as to what the parcels should be. Madge seemed to be the one at hand always to answer a question. Madge went with him to the church; and in general, Lois, though sympathizing and curious, and interested and amused, was very much out of the play. Not so entirely as to make the fact striking; only enough to leave Mr. Dillwyn disappointed and tantalized.
I am not going into a description of the festival and the show. The children sang; the minister made a speech to them, not ten consecutive words of which were listened to by three-quarters of the people. The church was filled with men, women, and children; the walls were hung with festoons and wreaths, and emblazoned with mottoes; the anthems and carols followed each other till the last thread of patience in the waiting crowd gave way. And at last came what they were waiting for—Santa Claus, all fur robes and snow and icicles, dragging after him a sledge that looked like a small mountain with the heap of articles piled and packed upon it. And then followed a very busy and delightful hour and a half, during which the business was—the distribution of pleasure. It was such warm work for Santa Claus, that at the time he had no leisure for thinking. Naturally, the thinking came afterwards.
He and Mrs. Barclay sat by her fire, resting, after coming home from the church. Dillwyn was very silent and meditative.
"You must be glad it is done, Philip," said his friend, watching him, and wishing to get at his thoughts.
"I have no particular reason to be glad."
"You have done a good thing."
"I am not sure if it is a good thing. Mrs. Armadale does not think so."
"Mrs. Armadale has rather narrow notions."
"I don't know. I should be glad to be sure she is not right. It's discouraging," he added, with half a smile;—"for the first time in my life I set myself to work; and now am not at all certain that I might not just as well have been idle."
"Work is a good thing in itself," said Mrs. Barclay, smiling.
"Pardon me!—work for an end. Work without an end—or with the end not attained—it is no better than a squirrel in a wheel."
"You have given a great deal of pleasure."
"To the children! For ought I know, they might have been just as well without it. There will be a reaction to-morrow, very likely; and then they will wish they had gone to see the Christmas tree at the other church."
"But they were kept at their own church."
"How do I know that is any good? Perhaps the teaching at the other school is the best."
"You are tired," said Mrs. Barclay sympathizingly.
"Not that. I have done nothing to tire me; but it strikes me it is very difficult to see one's ends in doing good; much more difficult than to see the way to the ends."
"You have partly missed your end, haven't you?" said Mrs. Barclay softly.
He moved a little restlessly in his chair; then got up and began to walk about the room; then came and sat down again.
"What are you going to do next?" she asked in the same way.
"Suppose you invite them—the two girls—or her alone—to make you a visit in New York?"
"At any hotel you prefer; say, the Windsor."
"O Philip, Philip!"—
"What?—You could have pleasant rooms, and be quite private and comfortable; as much as if you were in your own house."
"And what should we cost you?"
"You are not thinking of that?" said he. "I will get you a house, if you like it better; but then you would have the trouble of a staff of servants. I think the Windsor would be much the easiest plan."
"You are in earnest!"
"In earnest!" he repeated in surprise. "Have you ever questioned it? You judge because you never saw me in earnest in anything before in my life."
"No, indeed," said Mrs. Barclay. "I always knew it was in you. What you wanted was only an object."
"What do you say to my plan?"
"I am afraid they would not come. There is the care of the old grandmother; they would not leave everything to their sister alone."
"Tempt them with pictures and music, and the opera."
"The opera! Philip, she would not go to a theatre, or anything theatrical, for any consideration. They are very strict on that point, and Sunday-keeping, and dancing. Do not speak to her of the opera."
"They are not so far wrong. I never saw a decent opera yet in my life."
"Philip!" exclaimed Mrs. Barclay in the greatest surprise. "I never heard you say anything like that before."
"I suppose it makes a difference," he said thoughtfully, "with what eyes a man looks at a thing. And dancing—I don't think I care to see her dance."
"Philip! You are extravagant."
"I believe I should be fit to commit murder if I saw her waltzing with anybody."
"Jealous already?" said Mrs. Barclay slyly.
"If you like.—Do you see her as I see her?" he asked abruptly.
There was a tone in the last words which gave Mrs. Barclay's heart a kind of constriction. She answered with gentle sympathy, "I think I do."
"I have seen handsomer women," he went on;—"Madge is handsomer, in a way; you may see many women more beautiful, according to the rules; but I never saw any one so lovely!"
"I quite agree with you," said Mrs. Barclay.
"I never saw anything so lovely!" he repeated. "She is most like—"
"A white lily," said Mrs. Barclay.
"No, that is not her type. No. As long as the world stands, a rose just open will remain the fairest similitude for a perfect woman. It's commonness cannot hinder that. She is not an unearthly Dendrobium, she is an earthly rose—
'Not too good For human nature's daily food,'
—if one could find the right sort of human nature! Just so fresh, unconscious, and fair; with just such a dignity of purity about her. I cannot fancy her at the opera, or dancing."
"A sort of unapproachable tea-rose?" said Mrs. Barclay, smiling at him, though her eyes were wistful.
"No," said he, "a tea-rose is too fragile. There is nothing of that about her, thank heaven!"
"No," said Mrs. Barclay, "there is nothing but sound healthy life about her; mental and bodily; and I agree with you, sweet as ever a human life can be. In the garden or at her books,—hark! that is for supper."
For here there came a slight tap on the door.
"Supper!" cried Philip.
"Yes; it is rather late, and the girls promised me a cup of coffee, after your exertions! But I dare say everybody wants some refreshment by this time. Come!"
There was a cheery supper table spread in the dining-room; coffee, indeed, and Stoney Creek oysters, and excellently cooked. Only Charity and Madge were there; Mrs. Armadale had gone to bed, and Lois was attending upon her. Mr. DilIwyn, however, was served assiduously.
"I hope you're hungry! You've done a load of good this evening, Mr. Dillwyn," said Charity, as she gave him his coffee.
"Thank you. I don't see the connection," said Philip, with an air as different as possible from that he had worn in talking to Mrs. Barclay in the next room.
"People ought to be hungry when they have done a great deal of work," Madge explained, as she gave him a plate of oysters.
"I do not feel that I have done any work."
"O, well! I suppose it was play to you," said Charity, "but that don't make any difference. You've done a load of good. Why, the children will never be able to forget it, nor the grown folks either, as far as that goes; they'll talk of it, and of you, for two years, and more."
"I am doubtful about the real worth of fame, Miss Charity, even when it lasts two years."
"O, but you've done so much good!" said the lady. "Everybody sees now that the white church can hold her own. Nobody'll think of making disagreeable comparisons, if they have fifty Christmas trees."
"Suppose I had helped the yellow church?"
Charity looked as if she did not know what he would be at. Just then in came Lois and took her place at the table; and Mr. Dillwyn forgot all about rival churches.
"Here's Mr. Dillwyn don't think he's done any good, Lois!" cried her elder sister. "Do cheer him up a little. I think it's a shame to talk so. Why, we've done all we wanted to, and more. There won't a soul go away from our church or school after this, now they see what we can do; and I shouldn't wonder if we got some accessions from the other instead. And here's Mr. Dillwyn says he don't know as he's done any good!"
Lois lifted her eyes and met his, and they both smiled.
"Miss Lois sees the matter as I do," he said. "These are capital oysters. Where do they come from?"
"But, Philip," said Mrs. Barclay, "you have given a great deal of pleasure. Isn't that good?"
"Depends—" said he. "Probably it will be followed by a reaction."
"And you have kept the church together," added Charity, who was zealous.
"By a rope of sand, then, Miss Charity."
"At any rate, Mr. Dillwyn, you meant to do good," Lois put in here.
"I do not know, Miss Lois. I am afraid I was thinking more of pleasure, myself; and shall experience myself the reaction I spoke of. I think I feel the shadow of it already, as a coming event."
"But if we aren't to have any pleasure, because afterwards we feel a little flat,—and of course we do," said Charity; "everybody knows that. But, for instance, if we're not to have green peas in summer, because we can't have 'em any way but dry in winter,—things would be very queer! Queerer than they are; and they're queer enough already."
This speech called forth some merriment.
"You think even the dry remains of pleasure are better than nothing!" said Philip. "Perhaps you are right."
"And to have those, we must have had the green reality," said Lois merrily.
"I wonder if there is any way of keeping pleasure green," said Dillwyn.
"Vain, vain, Mr. Dillwyn!" said Mrs. Barclay. "Tout lasse, tout casse, tout passe! don't you know? Solomon said, I believe, that all was vanity. And he ought to know."
"But he didn't know," said Lois quickly.
"Lois!" said Charity—"it's in the Bible."
"I know it is in the Bible that he said so," Lois rejoined merrily.
"Was he not right, then?" Mr. Dillwyn asked.
"Perhaps," Lois answered, now gravely, "if you take simply his view."
"What was his view? Won't you explain?"
"I suppose you ain't going to set up to be wiser than Solomon, at this time of day," said Charity severely. But that stirred Lois's merriment again.
"Explain, Miss Lois!" said Dillwyn.
"I am not Solomon, that I should preach," she said.
"You just said you knew better than he," said Charity. "How you should know better than the Bible, I don't see. It's news."
"Why, Charity, Solomon was not a good man."
"How came he to write proverbs, then?"
"At least he was not always a good man."
"That don't hinder his knowing what was vanity, does it?"
"But, Lois!" said Mrs. Barclay. "Go back, and tell us your secret, if you have one. How was Solomon's view mistaken? or what is yours?"
"These things were all given for our pleasure, Mrs. Barclay."
"But they die—and they go—and they fade," said Mrs. Barclay.
"You will not understand me," said Lois; "and yet it is true. If you are Christ's—then, 'all things are yours;... the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come: all are yours.' There is no loss, but there comes more gain."
"I wish you'd let Mr. Dillwyn have some more oysters," said Charity; "and, Madge, do hand along Mrs. Barclay's cup. You mustn't talk, if you can't eat at the same time. Lois ain't Solomon yet, if she does preach. You shut up, Lois, and mind your supper. My rule is, to enjoy things as I go along; and just now, it's oysters."
"I will say for Lois," here put in Mrs. Barclay, "that she does exemplify her own principles. I never knew anybody with such a spring of perpetual enjoyment."
"She ain't happier than the rest of us," said the elder sister.
"Not so happy as grandmother," added Madge. "At least, grandmother would say so. I don't know."
Mr. Dillwyn went away. Things returned to their normal condition at Shampuashuh, saving that for a while there was a great deal of talk about the Santa Clans doings and the principal actor in them, and no end of speculations as to his inducements and purposes to be served in taking so much trouble. For Shampuashuh people were shrewd, and did not believe, any more than King Lear, that anything could come of nothing. That he was not moved by general benevolence, poured out upon the school of the white church, was generally agreed. "What's we to him?" asked pertinently one of the old ladies; and vain efforts were made to ascertain Mr. Dillwyn's denomination. "For all I kin make out, he hain't got none," was the declaration of another matron. "I don't b'lieve he's no better than he should be." Which was ungrateful, and hardly justified Miss Charity's prognostications of enduring fame; by which, of course, she meant good fame. Few had seen Mr. Dillwyn undisguised, so that they could give a report of him; but Mrs. Marx assured them he was "a real personable man; nice and plain, and takin' no airs. She liked him first-rate."
"Who's he after? Not one o' your gals?"
"Mercy, no! He, indeed! He's one of the high-flyers; he won't come to Shampuashuh to look for a wife. 'Seems to me he's made o' money; and he's been everywhere; he's fished for crocodiles in the Nile, and eaten his luncheon at the top of the Pyramids of Egypt, and sailed to the North Pole to be sure of cool lemonade in summer. He won't marry in Shampuashuh."
"What brings him here, then?"
"The spirit of restlessness, I should say. Those people that have been everywhere, you may notice, can't stay nowhere. I always knew there was fools in the world, but I didn't know there was so many of 'em as there be. He ain't no fool neither, some ways; and that makes him a bigger fool in the end; only I don't know why the fools should have all the money."
And so, after a little, the talk about this theme died out, and things settled down, not without some of the reaction Mr. Dillwyn had predicted; but they settled down, and all was as before in Shampuashuh. Mr. Dillwyn did not come again to make a visit, or Mrs. Marx's aroused vigilance would have found some ground for suspicion. There did come numerous presents of game and fruit from him, but they were sent to Mrs. Barclay, and could not be objected against, although they came in such quantities that the whole household had to combine to dispose of them. What would Philip do next?—Mrs. Barclay queried. As he had said, he could not go on with repeated visits to the house. Madge and Lois would not hear of being tempted to New York, paint the picture as bright as she would. Things were not ripe for any decided step on Mr. Dillwyn's part, and how should they become so? Mrs. Barclay could not see the way. She did for Philip what she could by writing to him, whether for his good or his harm she could not decide. She feared the latter. She told him, however, of the sweet, quiet life she was leading; of the reading she was doing with the two girls, and the whole family; of the progress Lois and Madge were making in singing and drawing and in various branches of study; of the walks in the fresh sea-breezes, and the cosy evenings with wood fires and the lamp; and she told him how they enjoyed his game, and what a comfort the oranges were to Mrs. Armadale.
This lasted through January, and then there came a change. Mrs. Armadale was ill. There was no more question of visits, or of studies; and all sorts of enjoyments and occupations gave place to the one absorbing interest of watching and waiting upon the sick one. And then, that ceased too. Mrs. Armadale had caught cold, she had not strength to throw off disease; it took violent form, and in a few days ran its course. Very suddenly the little family found itself without its head.
There was nothing to grieve for, but their own loss. The long, weary earth-journey was done, and the traveller had taken up her abode where there is
"The rest begun, That Christ hath for his people won."
She had gone triumphantly. "Through God we shall do valiantly"—being her last—uttered words. Her children took them as a legacy, and felt rich. But they looked at her empty chair, and counted themselves poorer than ever before. Mrs. Barclay saw that the mourning was deep. Yet, with the reserved strength of New England natures, it made no noise, and scarce any show.
Mrs. Barclay lived much alone those first days. She would gladly have talked to somebody; she wanted to know about the affairs of the little family, but saw no one to talk to. Until, two or three days after the funeral, coming home one afternoon from a walk in the cold, she found her fire had died out; and she went into the next room to warm herself. There she saw none of the usual inmates. Mrs. Armadale's chair stood on one side the fire, unoccupied, and on the other side stood uncle Tim Hotchkiss.
"How do you do, Mr. Hotchkiss? May I come and warm myself? I have been out, and I am half-frozen."
"I guess you're welcome to most anything in this house, ma'am,—and fire we wouldn't grudge to anybody. Sit down, ma'am;" and he set a chair for her. "It's pretty tight weather."
"We had nothing like this last winter," said Mrs. Barclay, shivering.
"We expect to hev one or two snaps in the course of the winter," said Mr. Hotchkiss. "Shampuashuh ain't what you call a cold place; but we expect to see them two snaps. It comes seasonable this time. I'd rayther hev it now than in March. My sister—that's gone,—she could always tell you how the weather was goin' to be. I've never seen no one like her for that."
"Nor for some other things," said Mrs. Barclay. "It is a sad change to feel her place empty."
"Ay," said uncle Tim, with a glance at the unused chair,—"it's the difference between full and empty. 'I went out full, and the Lord has brought me back empty', Ruth's mother-in-law said."
"Who is Ruth?" Mrs. Barclay asked, a little bewildered, and willing to change the subject; for she noticed a suppressed quiver in the hard features. "Do I know her?"
"I mean Ruth the Moabitess. Of course you know her. She was a poor heathen thing, but she got all right at last. It was her mother-in-law that was bitter. Well—troubles hadn't ought to make us bitter. I guess there's allays somethin' wrong when they do."
"Hard to help it, sometimes," said Mrs. Barclay.
"She wouldn't ha' let you say that," said the old man, indicating sufficiently by his accent of whom he was speaking. "There warn't no bitterness in her; and she had seen trouble enough! She's out o' it now."
"What will the girls do? Stay on and keep the house here just as they have done?"
"Well, I don' know," said Mr. Hotchkiss, evidently glad to welcome a business question, and now taking a chair himself. "Mrs. Marx and me, we've ben arguin' that question out, and it ain't decided. There's one big house here, and there's another where Mrs. Marx lives; and there's one little family, and here's another little family. It's expensive to scatter over so much ground. They had ought to come to Mrs. Marx, or she had ought to move in here, and then the other house could be rented. That's how the thing looks to me. It's expensive for five people to take two big houses to live in. I know, the girls have got you now; but they might not keep you allays; and we must look at things as they be."
"I must leave them in the spring," said Mrs. Barclay hastily.
"In the spring, must ye!"
"Must," she repeated. "I would like to stay here the rest of my life; but circumstances are imperative. I must go in the spring."
"Then I think that settles it," said Mr. Hotchkiss. "I'm glad to know it. That is! of course I'm sorry ye're goin'; the girls be very fond of you."
"And I of them," said Mrs. Barclay; "but I must go."
After that, she waited for the chance of a talk with Lois. She waited not long. The household had hardly settled down into regular ways again after the disturbance of sickness and death, when Lois came one evening at twilight into Mrs. Barclay's room. She sat down, at first was silent, and then burst into tears. Mrs. Barclay let her alone, knowing that for her just now the tears were good. And the woman who had seen so much heavier life-storms, looked on almost with a feeling of envy at the weeping which gave so simple and frank expression to grief. Until this feeling was overcome by another, and she begged Lois to weep no more.