Six Girls - A Home Story
by Fannie Belle Irving
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"Go away, go away, don't touch me,—oh, how I hate you!" and vanished through the door as if she had been shot.

"God bless my soul!" cried the astonished man, dropping into his chair and apostrophizing the fire with startled energy. "If I ever saw the like,—where's my snuff-box,—I never did to be sure; streak of insanity, must be attended to; fine eyes, but ferocious young woman; hum, ha!—I'll sit here till somebody comes."

A movement of several persons in the room above, would indicate that the family were gathered there; as indeed they were, sitting around mother, feeling nearer and dearer than ever in their mutual loss, each one drying her eyes slowly, as she talked lovingly of the dead, trying to make them feel as did she, that father was not lost, but just gone home a little sooner than they. Into this peaceful, loving group came Olive, with ashy lips, and excited eyes, and a few minutes later, the old gentleman down stairs, arose from his waiting seat, as the door opened, and a lady came towards him. Just while she crossed the little distance lying between them, he scrutinized her, with almost savage intentness, and his survey ended in a slightly astonished, "humph," as she paused before him, and bent her head slightly, but with due respect for his age.

"Mr. Congreve. Will you be seated, sir?"

"Humph! Well, I suppose I will," and down he sat, with more force than was necessary, perhaps, but then he was excited.

"I'm too late for Robert's funeral, I hear," he said, in a moment, as gruff and short as though she were to blame for the fact, and he was come to deliver a verbal chastisement.

"Yes, sir, a few hours."

"Humph! His death was very sudden."

"Very sudden indeed."


Very plainly, Mr. Congreve did not know exactly what to say next. He hadn't expected this kind of a widow; his mind had pictured one in bushels of crape, with a drenched, woe-begone face, who would scream when she saw him, fall on his neck, in lieu of his purse, and gasp out dramatically: "Dear, dear Uncle Ridley, now all my troubles are over," after which, he would have to pet her into quietude, when there was nothing, next to walking out of the window in his sleep, that he dreaded more than a crying woman; then he would have to kiss all the children, and so greatly did he object to such an osculatory performance, that after the act he looked as though he had made way with a quart of alum. Now, there was the pleasing, but slightly astonishing fact, that nobody was going to want to kiss him, and this pale, sweet-faced woman, with her quiet eyes and determined mouth was Robert's widow, that he would have to talk to; and it was very evident, that if he had anything to say, she was waiting quietly to hear it.

"You have quite a large family,—madam," he said, hurriedly rushing in to break a pause.

"Yes, sir, six daughters."

"Six! Bless my soul,—six girls," and Mr. Congreve hastily took some snuff to settle his nerves. "Astonishing, I declare. Pity they're not boys,—great pity."

"I would not have it otherwise than it is, sir."

"Humph! well, they're your burden, not mine," said the old man, testily, and twisting uneasily in his chair.

"A burden I am happy and grateful to bear, if burden it be," answered the widow, calmly. "I am thankful they are all mine, my comforts and helps at all times."

"One of them is lame, is she?" and as he spoke, the old man's voice softened, as it had done when he called to Jean.

"Yes, sir, my little one, lame from babyhood."

Mr. Congreve resorted to his handkerchief again, and waved its scarlet folds back and forth in much agitation for a few seconds, then, as he put it back in its capacious pocket, and sniffed once or twice, as if in defiance to some internal commotion, Mrs. Dering remembered that he had once had a little lame girl, who died before reaching womanhood.

He was regarding her intently, and now as she lifted her eyes, softened with this sudden remembrance, he bounced out of his chair, and set his cane down sharply on the hearth.

"Elizabeth Dering, you're not the woman I thought you were. You're not like your father, and I'm glad of that. I came here to offer you help, because I know for a certainty that Robert was in trouble, and I see that you are no more pleased to see me, than I was at the prospect of seeing you. That I have been angry with my nephew for many years, you know well enough, but there's no use denying that his sudden death has touched me, and I want to do something for his family. To-night you are in no condition to talk, no more am I; so if you will show me my room I will go to it immediately."

Mrs. Dering arose also, with relief plainly visible in her face, and after finding that he had taken an early supper before leaving the city, excused herself to arrange for his comfort during the night.

Several hours later, when the household had forgotten its grief in slumber, and nothing disturbed the stillness of the night, but an occasional frog, and the lonesome sighing of the wind through the bare trees, two persons found it extremely difficult to sleep. In Mrs. Dering's room the fire lay in dying embers on the hearth, and in a low chair before it, sat the pale mother and widow, with no need now to hide her grief, lest other hearts were made sad, for no one was near but Jean, and she slept soundly, with sorrow lost in the oblivion of dreams. So feeling for the first time, the liberty of tears, that poor, aching heart broke its stern control, and burying her face, the sorrowing woman wept, praying, as the tears rolled down her cheeks, that they might not be shed in bitterness or rebellion, and that her heart, through all its pain, might still feel and know, "what is, is best." When the violence of her grief had expended itself, and she could lift her face to view calmly her loss and new responsibilities, the unvoiced prayer of her heart was: "O God, help me; I cannot work alone; let me know what to do; help me to think and act aright, and strengthen my trembling faith, that whatever may come to me, I can say: 'God knows it is for the best.'"

Even as she prayed, help came to her, for Olive could not sleep, and feeling assured that her mother was awake, had come noiselessly in, and now stood by her.

"Mama, I cannot sleep either; let me stay with you."

"Olive, my child, it is past midnight."

"I know, mama," and as Olive spoke, she pushed a stool to her mother's feet, and sat down, for something in the voice assured her that she was welcome.

"Why couldn't you sleep, dear?"

"Thinking," answered Olive, gravely. "And I wanted to talk to you, mama, when we could be quite alone."

"Yes, dear."

"Will you tell me about Mr. Congreve, please?"

No curiosity prompted the question; that her mother knew; so, looking down into the grave, thoughtful face, she lowered her voice, and began:

"Mr. Congreve took papa when he was left an orphan at eight years old, and raised him, expecting to make him his heir, as he is very wealthy. When Mr. Congreve and my father were boys they were great friends; but in early manhood, had a bitter quarrel that has never been forgiven either side, and they have hated each other fiercely ever since. When Mr. Congreve found that his nephew was in love with his enemy's daughter, he was furious with anger, and my father also objected to the match, but not so bitterly and blind to reason, as his enemy. Your father was threatened, plead with, and sworn at; but while he remained firm to his intention of marrying me, he really loved his fiery uncle, and disliked to come out in open rebellion; but a final move of Mr. Congreve's was more than he could bear. He locked him up. Of course no man of age and reason could stand such an indignity as that, so, making his escape at night, he left without a word of any kind, and has never seen his uncle but once since. A little while after we were married, we received a letter from him, very short and bitter, saying that he could tread the path he had chosen unmolested; that we were no more to him than strangers, and that his new will left his property entire, to a cousin's child, Roger Ridley Congreve, his namesake. He says now, that when he saw papa's death in the paper, that he was touched by it, and that he has come to help us, though I don't see how he knows we need it."

"I do, mama."

"You, Olive?"

"Yes, mama." Olive's fingers were interlaced nervously and her eyes were flashing warmly as she lifted them from the low fire to her mother's face. "I know all about it, mama. Do you remember the night I talked with papa in the study about two months ago?"


"Well, he told me a great deal that night about his business, that he never told you, because he said he did not want to worry you with it unless he had to; he had a note of six thousand to meet in sixty days, and he was trying every way to raise it without touching your money in the bank. He said if he could not pay it, the store would go, that the home was ours, and must never go for his debts. Just a few days ago a letter came, and he snatched it so eagerly, that I knew it was very important; it was very short, and when he finished reading it he laid his head down and groaned. He didn't know I was near, and I did not speak then, but that letter has haunted me ever since, and yesterday when you thought I was asleep, I was down at the store, and I found it in his private drawer. O mama, it was from Mr. Congreve, and so short and cruel, oh, so bitterly cruel, and I tore it all to shreds, and burnt it, and never meant to tell you, at least, not for awhile. He refused to loan papa a cent, and said he didn't care if he lost both business and home, and when I read it I believe I could almost have killed him. To-night when he came and gave me his card I threw it in his face, and told him I hated him!"

"Olive! Olive!"

"I did, I did, and I'm glad; I felt as if it would choke me to sleep with him in the house to-night, and I never want to look at him again. I would rather work my fingers off than ever have you take one penny of his money, or let him help us in any way," cried Olive, excitedly, almost forgetting the sleeping household in her energy.

Mrs. Dering put her hand to her head, bewildered with the sudden news, and Olive saw, and comprehended the look of startled trouble that rested on her face.

"We are very poor now, aren't we, mama?"

"Yes, child, yes; indeed I am quite bewildered," exclaimed Mrs. Dering, anxiously. "Did you say sixty days, Olive?"

"Yes, mama, the time is out next Friday."

"Is it possible? What shall we do!"

"Isn't letting it go, the only thing we can do?" asked Olive.

"I suppose so, but really I can hardly think, it all seems so sudden," and truly her sad, troubled face echoed her words.

"I have been thinking about it so long," said Olive, as though relieved to speak her thoughts. "The home is ours, and you have four thousand in the bank. It seems to me a very little for seven people to live on, but we are all strong and well, and can work."

"Yes, all strong and well but Jean," and Mrs. Dering's eyes went wistfully to the little unconscious face resting on the pillow. "She will have to be so neglected in more ways than one, if home is broken up and every one's hands and work belonging to some one else."

"Dear me," cried Olive, reproachfully. "How could I forget her! There's something more to think over, now."

"But you must think no more to-night, dear, nor must I, or we will not be fit for to-morrow's work and thought. Go to bed, and remember, God will not send us more than we can bear; we must only do the best we can and all that is left, He will provide a way for us. Good night, dear."

Next morning after breakfast, Mr. Congreve stood pulling his gloves on and eyeing the six girls from under his fierce, bushy brows, and there was something almost like amusement in the quizzical look as it swept from one face to the other.

Whatever he thought, he put it into no words, but caught up his cane, then stooped down over Jean, lying on the lounge, and whispered something in her ear. It must have been something magical, indeed, for Jean got up, took her shawl and crutch, and walked with him down to the gate, and there the astonished girls, who all rushed to the window, saw them pause, and the old gentleman lifted Jean up on the post, put her shawl up over her head, and then began talking earnestly.

"Did you ever!" cried Kittie, falling back at the amazing sight. "I thought she was afraid of him!"

"She is the only one that he has looked at kindly," said Bea, with some indications of resentment in her voice. "Was he always so fierce and queer, mama?"

"Always," answered Mrs. Dering, who was watching from another window. "He has a kind heart, but a most exceedingly violent temper, which he seems to have under no control.

"If thwarted or vexed, he stops at nothing, but most always repents his rash acts as soon as they are committed, and, sometimes, if the humor so strikes him, there is nothing he will not do as reparation."

Olive, understanding that this little explanation was especially for her, shut her lips tightly, whereupon Kate exclaimed, "You never looked at him when you were introduced, Olive, and if you could have seen the way he frowned and glared at you, you would have shook all over."

"I don't care how he looked, nor how much he frowned. I don't like him, and I wish he was back in Virginia."

"If he isn't stingy as a miser, he'll give us something, and perhaps ask us to visit him," said Ernestine, who looked languid and pale from excessive and violent weeping, and really seemed to be the only one who was not trying to be cheerful for the others' sake.

"I should like to see where papa lived when he was a boy, but I wouldn't care to have Mr. Congreve there," said Bea, who had that morning began being more womanly than usual by relieving mama of coffee-urn duties.

"He's gone!" exclaimed Kittie, from the window. "Now for the secret! What did he say, Jean?"

"I'm not to tell," answered Jean, looking quite excited and rather pale, as she hurried in; then amazed them all again by hiding her face in Mrs. Dering's dress and bursting into tears.

"What ever has he done?" cried Kat, bouncing excitedly out of her chair. "Was he cross?—or perhaps he pinched you or something."

"No, he didn't," said Jean, trembling but smiling through her tears. "He was very good and kind, and didn't look near so cross as he did in here. He said that a great many years ago he had a little girl just like me, and he kissed me, too."

"Did I ever!" cried Kat, quite carried away by curiosity. "And is that all that he said?"

"No, but I can't tell the rest, now, but he's going to bring me some candy and I'll give you all some."

Perhaps it was because Mrs. Dering turned her head away just then, finding control of her face impossible; or because Jean looked so pathetic, as she gave her little promise; at any rate, Ernestine broke into a quick sob, and the next moment they were all crying, while Kittie threw herself on the lounge, and hid her face, as though she never cared to show it again, and Kat followed her example in the rocking-chair.

For several minutes the sound of weeping filled the room, then Mrs. Dering wiped her eyes and tried to steady her voice.

"Children, do you think it would make papa happy to see us all so miserable and wretched?"

Something in the voice hushed the sobs, and caught attention, except from Ernestine, who continued to cry wailingly.

"If papa had gone to Europe, made a great fortune, and built a grand, beautiful home for us all to come to, would we all sit down and cry about it, and say it wasn't right?"

Even Ernestine listened a little at this, and Kittie lifted her drenched face to look in amaze at her mother.

"I don't think we would, but that our happiness would hardly wait for the time 'till we started to join him. Now, instead of going to any country to build us a home, he has gone home himself, to the beautiful glorious home that was waiting for him, and waits for us; and isn't it lovely to think how glad he'll be to see us when we come, and it may not be long, either. I can almost imagine how happy he is to-night, and I should hate to feel that we made him sad by sitting here and crying, as though we regretted his perfect joy. We miss him sadly indeed, but it will make our time of waiting seem shorter, if we busy ourselves in doing what we know he would have approved and enjoyed, had he stayed with us. You, my girls, know how proud and fond he was of you; you know just which of your little faults grieved him, so work to overcome them, and try to become the noble, splendid women he always prayed you might be. As for me, I know how he always trusted me in raising our girls, and now that he has gone home, and left it all to me, don't you suppose it is a duty made doubly precious? None of us can complain of idle hands, and so with busy hearts we can find no time to complain and weep. Now let's go to our morning work, and all be as happy and cheerful as you can; just remember, God loves us so much that He has put some one who is dear to us all in our home above, so that we cannot forget it, even if we are tempted to do so."

There was a general putting away of handkerchiefs, and many resolves written on the girlish faces, that were facing their first grief, and found it hard to do so with a patient faith. As they all left the room for morning duties, Bea lingered behind the others, and throwing her arms about her mother, looked up with full eyes and a loving smile. "Mama, you are such a comfort; you talk about heaven and papa, as if they were just around the corner, and make me feel as if he knew, and was interested in all that we did, just as much as ever. I know what will make him the happiest, and that is for us to be just like you, for he did love and trust you so perfectly."



When Mr. Congreve came back from his walk, which had been a very lengthy one, for he was much unsettled in mind, he came very slowly, and began an uneasy soliloquy as he neared the house.

"How I just hate to go back there, I do; seven women,—God bless my soul! and I'll wager my best hat they're all crying like water-spouts, and haven't made my bed yet. I won't sit down in a room that isn't cleaned up, and bless my soul,—where's my snuff box? I'd sit out doors, sooner than be in the room where they're all sniffling, with the curtains pulled down, as if Robert's going into eternal bliss, was a thing to turn yourself into a wailing dungeon over;" and, ending his mutterings with a revengeful snap of the gate, he stamped fiercely up the walk, scattering the gravel right and left, and scaring a stray cat almost into fits, by the way he swung his cane at her. Something in the looks of the house when he glanced up, brought him to a sudden stand still. The blinds were all open, with the sun shining warmly on the glass, one window was thrown up, and through it came the merry whistle of a bird, giving forth a musical defiance to the coming of winter, and when Mr. Congreve rather slowly opened the front door, there met him a warm, cheery odor, and,—yes, actually; some one laughed upstairs! In the sitting-room a jolly fire leaped and shone in the shining grate, the piano stood open, the room was full of sunshine, and under Mr. Dering's large portrait, was a bracket, and there on it, a graceful little vase filled with pansys and a tea-rose, from Jean's little window garden in the dining-room.

Mr. Congreve gave a surprised and emphatic "humph," and tramped away to his own room, which was in apple-pie order, then tramped back, without having seen any one but Huldah flying around on the back porch.

Presently Jean came through the hall, and seeing him sitting there and frowning at the fire, as though trying to study out some new and astonishing puzzle, she stopped at the stairs to call,—"Mr. Congreve is here, mama."

"Humph! Mr. Congreve, if I ever, if I ever," exclaimed that gentleman, with some energy, and whirling about in his seat.

"Come here, Jeanie; here's your candy."

It really was quite astonishing how his voice could change when he spoke to her, and how his face brightened when she came in without hesitation and received the package with a pleased,—"Thank you, sir."

"Well, I declare,—quite right, to be sure; but don't you know who I am, and what my name is?"

"Yes, sir, you're my papa's uncle, and your name is Mr. Congreve," answered Jean, just a little startled at being lifted on to his knee, and having his arm around her.

"So I am, to be sure; quite true; but if I'm your papa's uncle, I'm your great-uncle, and there isn't such an immense amount of difference; don't you suppose you had better call me Uncle Ridley, as he did?"

"Why, I don't know, perhaps I had. I'll ask mama," answered Jean in earnest simplicity.

"Well, you do that, and tell her if she's not busy, I'd like to talk with her awhile. Do you remember what I said to you this morning?"

"Yes, sir."

"Well, I'm going to talk to her about it now."

Jean slipped down in a hurry, and departed with her big bundle of candy, looking both pleased and frightened.

Mrs. Dering came down in a moment, and not having entirely given up his imaginary widow, Mr. Congreve looked up in some trepidation to see if she was crying. But no; her face, though pale and sad, was perfectly tranquil, and her dress was cozy, comfortable brown.

After a few remarks about his walk, and the attractions of Canfield, conversation sank into an uneasy pause, and for some unknown reason, Mr. Congreve grew as red as a lobster. He had expected when he came that all he would have to do would be to fill out a check for several thousand, assure the demonstrative widow that she should never want, graciously allow the children to call him Uncle Ridley, submit to be kissed at coming and going, then get out of the way, and confine his further acquaintance with them to the medium of occasional checks and a few letters, when,—well, did you ever!—here he sat, blushing like the most bashful lover in Christendom, and couldn't get up his courage to offer the widow help of any kind; had actually requested the youngest child to kiss, and call him Uncle Ridley, and was now entertaining an idea, which, had it been broached to him before leaving home, would have aroused his fiercest ridicule and amaze.

"You know, perhaps," he began, with a preparatory and strengthening sniff of snuff, "that I heard from Robert, some days ago?"

"Yes, sir, but I did not know it until last night."

"Humph!" he remembered his first greeting, and looked at her sharply. "Perhaps you did not know until then, just how his affairs stood?"

"No, sir, I did not. Our daughter Olive was her father's book-keeper and confidante; she knew all; but with his ever thoughtful consideration, he hoped to settle his business difficulty without worrying me, and I did not know until after I left you last night, how deep had been his trouble."

"Olive,—hum, ha!" said Mr. Congreve, nodding decidedly, and really looking pleased. "She's the one that said she hated me last night; good! I'll wager my hat she saw my letter; I like her spunk; she's a thorough Congreve. Your oldest, I suppose?"

"Oh no, she's quite a child in years, not yet sixteen."

"God bless my soul! you don't say so; only fifteen, and a book-keeper, and shares her father's troubles, and flies like a tiger into a man's face who don't do to suit her!—hum!

"I should like to see her again. I should, indeed."

Mrs. Dering could not restrain a smile at the utter amazement depicted in his face. He looked like a man who was undergoing a constant shower-bath, and didn't know what to make of it.

"I am very sorry," she said. "It grieves me that Olive has an exceedingly peculiar and unforgiving disposition. She was devoted to her father, and you are quite correct in your supposition that she saw your letter."

"And consequently don't want to see any more of me," said Mr. Congreve, with a quick nod, and as Mrs. Dering made no denial, he got up, and seizing his cane, began to walk up and down the room, and Mrs. Dering watching his face, saw therein a struggle of some kind. In truth, he was turning over in his mind a confession, which his obstinate pride struggled against, but which a new, strange feeling, that told him he did not want this family's contempt and hatred, claimed and conquered. He stopped in his restless walk, and faced her suddenly.

"I have been angry with my nephew for years, you know that, and you know my nature," he said sharply, all the more so to hide his feelings. "When I wrote that letter I meant every word of it, and as many more of the same kind, but some womanish weakness afterwards possessed me, and on the day that I heard of his death, I had a letter written to him, containing the check for six thousand."

Knowing him, as she did, Mrs. Dering well understood the feelings attendant upon this confession, and her face softened wonderfully as she said:

"I most regret, Mr. Congreve, that Robert did not live to know that you repented the cruel words that so grieved him. You know how proud and sensitive he was, and what a struggle it must have been to ask help of you. Your kindness, though too late, we all appreciate sincerely."

"Too late? The time is not out."

"But I shall let the store go. I have no sons, and I cannot have the care of it on my mind."

"Humph! May I ask what you intend to do?"

"Certainly. I have some money, four thousand in the bank, which will only be taken out in great necessity. As soon as possible, myself and children will begin to work. I am quite sure that I can secure a situation in the seminary three miles out of town, perhaps one also for Beatrice, my oldest daughter, and I hope before long to find something for the others."

Mr. Congreve opened his lips to speak, but was amazed beyond all comprehension, to find that he had no voice, he tried it again, then again, then broke abruptly into a hurried walk up and down the room, and flourished his scarlet handkerchief furiously.

"It was very kind of you to undertake such a long tiresome journey for our sakes, Mr. Congreve," said Mrs. Dering, beginning to feel a strange sympathy for the old gentleman who could not hide how deeply he was moved.

"Not half what I ought to do," sputtered the inconsistent old man. "I always want to help where I see it is so worthy. I am proud indeed, to see,—where's my snuff-box—that Robert's wife and daughters are so worthy of him; I—I—will you allow me to settle four thousand per annum on you and your children?"

"Oh, no; thank you so gratefully; but I could not, so long as we are well; we can work and live quite comfortably, but if I am ever in trouble, if sickness drains our savings low, I will come to you gladly, and Robert will be so pleased."

It was no use to try and hide a sniff, so Mr. Congreve made a savage thrust at his eyes and wiped them both, blew his nose long and earnestly, coughed several times without any apparent necessity, and then subsided into a chair.

"I suppose you are right, Elizabeth Dering, and I like you better for it, though,—God bless my soul!—to think of you and the little girls working for bread and butter, while I count my hundreds of thousands and lay up in ease and laziness. Why, it makes me feel as I never supposed I could feel over any sorrow or privation that might come to Daniel Lathrop's daughter. But you're not like your father, no, you're not, and I'm glad of it, and if I had it to do over again, I would not banish Robert for marrying you."

If Mrs. Dering felt any resentment at the thrust against her father, she gave no evidence of it, but only thought with a quiet joy, mingled with a little longing, "If Robert was only here to hear him say it."

"I want to make another offer to you," said Mr. Congreve, tapping his stick lightly on the floor, and keeping his eyes averted, "and before I make it, I want to ask that you do not decide too quick. Take all the time you want, and whatever your decision will be, it will affect my happiness quite as much as it does yours."

He stopped there, and looked at her closely, as though contemplating a possible refusal; then went on interrogatively:

"You are going to work at something that will take all of your time, and, perhaps, keep you away from home; your daughters are going to work, such of them as are able, but, from my observation, there are three of them who can do nothing in a business line. Two of them, the twins, are strong and healthy and can look after themselves, but the third, Jean, what will you do with her?"

"You have touched the point that constitutes my greatest worry and perplexity," answered Mrs. Dering, quite unconscious of the thoughts in his mind. "Jean is so delicate and frail that she requires constant attention; she is a child, and must be amused, and because of her affliction she can never be unattended. I have always taught her, and being fond of her books, she is much farther advanced than most children of her age, and I regret beyond all expression that she will have to fall behind now, she——"

"No, she won't," cried Mr. Congreve, who had been growing more excited as the speech progressed, and who now jumped out of his chair with every indication of breaking into a jig. "I assure you she won't, only let me have her; she shall have the best governess and attendant that money can bring. Every luxury and comfort that can be thought of, every wish gratified as soon as expressed and I—I—"

He was obliged to stop to get his breath, and grow a little more quiet, for Mrs. Dering was leaning back in her chair, quite white with amaze and contending emotions; so Mr. Congreve settled abruptly into a chair and smoothed his voice and manner down several degrees.

"I didn't mean to startle you," he continued. "I know it is sudden and, indeed, I am quite as astonished as you are; I am, indeed; but the moment I looked at the child last night, there was something in her face and manner, that reminded me so strongly of my own little Mabel, that my heart, old and dried up as it is, went right out to her. You know, Elizabeth Dering, how I loved my child. She would have been a woman now had she lived, but the Lord saw fit to take her, and—and—I—where's my snuff-box?—I suppose, of course, 'twas best; but here's your little one, yours and Robert's, afflicted like my little Mabel, and I am able to do everything by her that the sick and afflicted need. She shall travel, have the best of medical attention, and if the dear good Lord sees fit, perhaps she may be cured."

His fierce gray eyes were completely softened and full of tears, and the way that scarlet handkerchief flew about would have puzzled the closest watcher, but Mrs. Dering saw nothing, heard nothing but his last words:—"perhaps she may be cured." Almost unconsciously she stood up and held out her hands.

"Oh, Mr. Congreve, do you mean it, indeed?"

"God bless my soul! mean it? Yes, I do, indeed. I do, with all my heart. I'll feel like there was something for me to live longer for, and it will put new, strong life into my dried-up old being, to see a child's sunny face around my quiet home and to know that it is for her good that I live. Ha! mean it? Yes, my dear madam; I should rather say I did mean it."

It really seemed as though Mrs. Dering could not speak for the many emotions that oppressed her, but after one or two glances at her face, which caused the old gentleman to scout at the idea of her refusing, he exclaimed with a fatherly benignity which sat oddly on his crusty abruptness:

"There, there, dear child, go right off up stairs and think about it. I'll just take a snooze right here by the fire, and then after awhile we'll talk again. I don't think the little girl will object. I said a few words to her this morning, and the idea pleased her, I am quite sure."

So Mrs. Dering retired after a few inarticulate words of thanks or joy, and after taking a tremendous tiff of snuff with such haste that it nearly strangled him, Mr. Congreve settled into a comfortable, dreamy state, where a face, long since gone from his home, looked out at him from the fire with a smile, and then beside it came another, sweet and patient, with soft eyes, and the two seemed to know each other, and as they smiled, the one that was now an angel faded slowly and left the other there looking at him with beseeching eyes.

There was the greatest commotion up stairs when Mrs. Dering told the assembled girls of Mr. Congreve's proposition. Jean instantly hid her face and began to cry, and influenced by this, the girls instantly pounced upon Mr. Congreve, and declared it should not be.

"Why do you cry, dearie?" asked Mrs. Dering.

"I don't know," answered Jean, somewhat bewildered, as she looked around on the indignant faces. "Because it seems so queer, I guess. I always thought I would be crooked, and have to go on a crutch, and Uncle Ridley,—he asked me to call him that,—says, perhaps, all the doctors can cure me, and—and it seems so good that I don't know how to be glad enough, so I just cry, you see."

Everybody "saw," figuratively speaking, for actual sight was quite impossible with the quick sympathetic tears that sprang to every one's eyes. Opinions flew about like papers in the wind, and Mrs. Dering could not make herself heard in the babel of tongues.

"Wait, girls, listen a moment," she exclaimed at last, and the commotion quieted, somewhat, to hear what she had to say.

"You know," she began, drawing Jean to her side, "I have been telling you this morning how very differently we would have to live, now; it will take all of us, working hard, to keep home comfortable, for the expenses of a family of such size are very heavy. Since realizing this, I have prayed long and earnestly to know what was best to do about Jeanie, for if I can secure the position at the seminary, I can only come home twice a week, and in the meantime, I could not bear the worry of her being here alone with you girls, even though I know you would be faithful and careful of the trust. Now comes Mr. Congreve's offer, with the promise that she shall have every attention, care and luxury, and better than all, that she shall see eminent and skillful physicians, whom we could never afford. I feel as though it was God's answer to my prayer, and that it is wicked to hesitate a moment, however much we all love our little girl, and hate to have her go so far away."

"But, oh, mama," cried Jean, with a sob of ecstatic joy and excitement, "just to think of my being straight and well, like Kittie and the rest! I would feel like I never could thank God and Uncle Ridley enough. Oh, I may go, mayn't I?"

"Yes, darling, you shall go."

So briefly was it settled.

Everybody was in raptures excepting Olive. She frowned severely, and looked bitterly pained, but she said nothing until the rest had left the room, then she came to Mrs. Dering's side. "Oh, mama, are you really going to let her go?"

"Yes, dear."

"How can you? Such a cruel, selfish, unfeeling—"

"Hush, Olive."

Olive did so instantly, and stood with her hands folded and eyes down, the very picture of bitter defiant distrust, and Mrs. Dering saw in an instant that any thing she might say in Mr. Congreve's behalf, would be wasted words, as Olive was fully prepared to misconstrue anything that the old gentleman might say or do. Nevertheless, she laid her hands on those tightly folded ones, and said gently: "Olive dear, we must be charitable and forgiving. Remember, Mr. Congreve is old and very peculiar; he always was, and one's peculiarities increase as they grow older. You heard what I said about him this morning, and you see he must be kind at heart, to have taken such a long journey, just for our sakes."

Olive made no answer, and her mother sighed a little.

"In regard to the estrangement between him and papa, I think he went to extremes, as hot passionate tempered people are apt to do; and yet, he is not wholly at fault, for I grieve very much to say, that in the quarrel between my father and Mr. Congreve, father was much to blame; he did very wrong, and it was quite natural for Mr. Congreve to feel a violent hatred for all his family, and to object to his nephew marrying into it. That Mr. Congreve has many times repented his harsh treatment, I know to a certainty; but he is proud, as well as hasty, and pride in an old man is harder to battle with than in a young one. In speaking of papa a few minutes ago down stairs, he could not restrain the tears. He says he wrote that letter, and meant it, but that on the day he heard of papa's death, he had another letter, and the required check ready to send to him."

"I don't believe it!" interrupted Olive passionately. "If he did, he wrote it after he heard, just so as to tell you so."

"Oh, my child!" exclaimed Mrs. Dering, sadly, "how your hasty, distrustful spirit grieves me. You cannot conceive of the misery it will cause you, when you are brought to face the world, where there is so much to distrust, and so much that must be overlooked and blindly believed in. Can't you allow for others, some of the pride, the wilful temper and bitter hastiness that you know so well what it is to battle against, when I tell you that the greatest point of difference between your own and your great-uncle's disposition, is, that he is as hasty one way as you are the other; can't you be more charitable to him?"

"Oh, mama! I, like him?" cried Olive.

"Yes, dear, except that when you are once angry or hurt, you nurse your pride, and repel every advance towards a reconciliation. Mr. Congreve is more generous; if he really sees he is wrong, he is as impulsive to mend as he was passionate to break. He is bitter and distrustful from a long and often sad and disappointed struggle with the world; you are bitter and distrustful—for what, my dear child, I never could imagine, for we all love you most tenderly, and in this grief and trouble which God has sent for some good reason, you have been an inexpressible comfort to us all."

Olive withdrew her hand from her mother's clasp, and hurried away without a word. Mrs. Dering thought she was hurt, perhaps angry, and sighed deeply; but Olive had gone to hide her tears, and resolve to do differently, but all her resolves were made without asking for higher strength and help.



"My patience alive!" exclaimed Kittie, slamming the stove door open, and poking in among the ashes and cinders with wrathful haste, "if this abominable fire hasn't gone out; I never did in all my life! burnt up a bushel of kindling, too, dear me; water in the tea-kettle stone cold, not a blessed thing cooking; no more stuff in here to start the fire up, and Olive waiting for her breakfast this minute to go to the store, good gracious!" and having freed her mind, Kittie ran to the back stairs, jerked the door open, and shouted with much unseemly energy,—"Kathleen Dering!"

"Just so; don't strain your lungs that much again, I'm coming, clear the track," responded Kat cheerfully, and came clattering down with her shoes unlaced, and her nose as red as a beet.

"Bless the people, but isn't it cold, though. Whew! Jupiter Ammons! What a relief it is to say something when you're most friz. You don't look cheerful, sister mine."

"I don't care; it's your week to build the fire and mine to set the table, and I think you were real mean, to go to sleep again, when you know Olive has to have her breakfast at seven," grumbled Kittie, flying about distractedly, while Kat sat on the floor and whistled "Down in a coal-mine," as she laced her shoes.

"That's the truth, my dear, melancholy like the present days. But you just skip into the dining-room and set your table, and I'll have a few words to say to this stove in private, if I don't freeze stiff beforehand;" and Kat jumped up briskly, having compromised on a lace with one shoe, by tying the strings about her ankle. "No kindling to begin with! Oh, this is bliss! Now for a trot to the woodshed," and away went Kat flying down the yard and back again in a minute with her arms full.

"I'll be late," said Olive, putting her head in the door, just as the fire began to snap with its new supply of kindling.

"Sorry, but doing the best I can," answered Kat, pausing a minute to warm her numb fingers. "Can you get along on bread and coffee for this morning?"

"I suppose I'll have to," answered Olive, none too graciously, and shut the door again with a snap.

"Cross-patch, draw the latch, sit at the fire and spin," sang Kat; then the door opened again, and Ernestine came in.

"Dear me, how cold it is in here, and Bea hasn't got the sitting-room fire built either. I'd just as soon be out doors."

"Go on, and let's see how long you'll stay," said Kat, shaking an egg into her coffee. "If the fires don't get along fast enough to suit you, pitch in and build one of them; there's piles of difference between that and standing around watching some one else."

Ernestine chose to ignore the remark, and stood warming her fingers, while she contemplated the frosty window-pane.

"To-day's lesson-day, so of course I hate it," she said, with an air of settled resignation. "I never thought I'd teach music, that's sure. I never was cut out for it, so neither the children, nor I, get along well. Is there anything I can do to help out here?"

"No, breakfast is ready; just trot the bread in to the table. I'll bring the butter, and the coffee will be done in a few minutes; that's all we've got for breakfast this morning," said Kat, vanishing down the cellar stairs.

"I could eat two hundred and fifty griddle cakes, I know!" exclaimed Kittie, as they collected about the table, and Bea began rattling the cups, and the bread started around.

"Come down a hundred and seventy-five," laughed Ernestine who had taken time, despite all depressing circumstances, to twist a rose-colored ribbon in her sunny hair. "I believe it's going to snow real hard; don't I wish those children wouldn't come to-day. You all can't imagine how horrible it is to teach music."

"Well, you have the easiest time of any of us," said Kittie.

"You ought to cook and wash dishes awhile," cried Kat.

"Or keep the house," added Bea.

"Or have to stay all day long in the dreariest store in town and keep books," echoed Olive.

"I thought you loved to work so?" said Ernestine, in answer to this last comparison. "You're always preaching independence."

"So I do," answered Olive, setting her cup down with crackable force. "I never would be idle, but I could choose more pleasant kind of work than sitting in Mr. Dane's office all day; it's the dreariest place I ever got into."

"Well, anyhow, Christmas is coming," said Bea, nodding cheerfully over the coffee-urn.

"More's the pity," said Kittie disconsolately. "We're not going to get anything; it'll be awful poky."

"But mama'll be home for ten days; oh, bliss!" cried Kat, waving her teaspoon, and every cloudy face brightened. "Can't we give her something, girls?"

"I don't see how," said Ernestine. "It takes every cent we all earn to keep things going. Who ever thought we'd be so poor? Just think of last Christmas, how glorious!"

Everybody remembered, and faces saddened again. How gay the house had been in evergreens! how mysterious the locked parlors, where all knew, a tree stood, branching up to the ceiling; how blissfully happy everybody had been during the two weeks when the world becomes one in spirit and truth, and the god of good-will wields the sceptre and wears the crown! Father had been with them, dear, unselfish, great-hearted papa, whose every exertion had been to make them all happy and whose dearest hope and prayer had been that his girls might be noble, splendid women, with pure, true hearts and the spirit of God therein.

"Olive, will you bring some butter when you come home? This is the last drop," said Kittie, scraping the dish, and collecting the silver, after the meal was finished, as it was very soon, for breakfasts were hurried now-a-days.

"Yes; two pounds? That's the third time this month; our bill will be pretty big. If I'm very busy I will not be home to dinner."

"Sha'n't I fix some lunch for you?"

"I haven't time to wait. Where's my rubbers?"

"I don't know. Kat, did you have Olive's rubbers last night?"

"Yes, and I don't know any more than Adam where I put them. Look in the closet, Olive, and I'll run up stairs and see," answered Kat, departing in haste.

"Well, I wish you would let my things alone," said Olive testily, throwing down her mittens and veil, and diving into the closet; the general closet, as it was called, where everything, from the kitchen stove-hook to the girls best Sunday-go-to-meeting bonnets, were apt to find a lodging at odd times. "I never can be on time," she muttered, slamming things around and comparing various odd rubbers. "This closet looks like a demented bedlam. I'd be ashamed, that's what I would."

"I can't do everything," answered Bea in a hurry, feeling that the thrust was meant for her. "Because I'm housekeeper, it doesn't rest on me to keep everything in perfect order, when you all help to muss up."

"It's like distraction without mama, anyhow," declared Kittie, departing for the kitchen, with her hands full of dishes, and scowling defiantly at the stove, where the fire was sizzling with a lazy sputter, while the dish-water taking advantage of the lull in heat, cooled at leisure.

"Pretty near as bad without Huldah," was Ernestine's comment. "I'm nearly starved for a splendid good meal like we used to have, when we could eat all we wanted, and didn't have to think how much it cost, or worry with cooking it."

"You do less than anybody towards getting it," said Olive, coming flushed and impatient from her vain search. "If Kat doesn't leave my things alone, I'll—"

"Let not your angry passions rise," cried Kat, coming in with a rubber whirling on each hand, and quoting her copy-book with cheerful disregard for any one's anger. "Here's your rubbers, my dear, and I found them right where I put them, on the end of our mantel-piece, where I put them in plain sight so as not to forget to bring them down this morning, as my prophetic soul felt a row in the air if they were not in sight at six and a half, sharp."

"You talk like a lunatic," was Olive's sole response as she drew them on.

"It's my only talent, dear," answered Kat cheerfully, beginning to work on the table, where she made the dishes rattle.

Bea trailed slowly through the room with her broom and dust pan, and a rather discontented face. Olive tied on her veil and hurried away to her daily business; Ernestine went to practice a new piece 'till the first scholar should arrive; and Kittie and Kat were left to the bliss of dish-washing and kitchen work. So began the day.

This was several weeks after events last recorded, and all things in the Dering household had changed much.

Jean had not gone to Virginia at once. Her wardrobe had needed complete repairing, and during the time so occupied, Mr. Congreve spent much of it in the city, sending therefrom various and beautiful things for Jean, and a dress for each of the girls, doing so without permission, knowing, that if asked, it would be refused him.

Kittie and Kat had been withdrawn from school, and studied at home with the older girls. Their part of the work fell in the kitchen. With Mrs. Dering and Huldah for teachers, they had studied the easier branches of cooking, and the crooks and by-ways of that department of general work. They proved apt and merry pupils, and learned their tasks quite readily, so, that while the girls missed the wonderful dishes that Huldah had been able to "knock up," they were daily fed on very palatable food, considering the age and newness of the young cooks.

Bea was chief housekeeper, kept an eye over general affairs, sat at the head of the table, and had commenced doing her hair in a most dignified way; filling with much girlish satisfaction, the position of "Miss Dering," and "lady of the house."

Olive was book-keeper in Mr. Dane's store, and really more head of the family than Bea, as she kept all accounts, settled the bills, and was frequently consulted on some questionable matters, involving the home expenses. To Ernestine fell the easy lot of four pupils in music.

Affording her no opportunities of display, or avenue for compliments or praise, she thought it very hard indeed, and found it bitterly uncongenial, to her ideas of independence, if, indeed, she had ever possessed any really tangible ones. She wanted to help, as a matter of course, especially as all the rest did; but such an ordinary, self-denying way was sadly distasteful to her, and she still had a vague, but pleasing, idea of becoming a great prima-donna and electrifying vast concourses of people, who would praise, admire, and pay her largely. Unfortunately, however, such positions do not lie around in wait, and invite some one to honor them with an acceptance; but, in spite of such a discouraging fact, Ernestine held tenaciously to her pleasing idea, and spent much time in thinking how delightful all things would be, when that time arrived.

Mrs. Dering had secured the desired position in the seminary, three miles out of Canfield, and had a flourishing class in both music and languages. The stage came in twice a week after mail, and at these times the anxious mother made hurried trips home, and these few hours were snatches of greatest joy and comfort to all parties, and especially comforting to the girls, who found the first few weeks of the new life very trying, and oftentimes discouraging.

On the next Tuesday evening, when the stage came in, Mrs. Dering found a thick, tempting letter, with the Staunton post mark, and Jean's prim, childish hand writing. There had come several short letters from the little girl, who said she would wait until she saw everything about her new home before writing a very long letter to describe it; so it was evident now that the long letter had come, and with this extra joy for herself and the girls, Mrs. Dering hurried home, where everything was radiantly bright for her reception, and where the girls looked and felt as though care had rolled from them for the time, or was at least so lightened, that it seemed quite gone.

They did not read the letter until after supper, and on the evenings when mother was with them, this meal was always a long one, for there was so much to talk about, and somehow it seemed so natural and old-time like, to linger about the table, that they invariably did so.

After awhile they went into the sitting-room, leaving the dishes until later, when mama said they would all help; and seating themselves, with many smiles and nods of satisfaction, about the fire, prepared to hear all that Jean had to say about her new home.

Congreve Hall, Staunton, Virginia, November, 29th, 18—.


"I promised to write you a long letter, and tell you all about Congreve Hall, as soon as I had seen everything about it, and felt well enough acquainted to tell it well. It is so beautiful and big that I hardly know how to begin; I do wish the girls could see it, especially Ernestine; she likes splendid, grand things so much.

"We came out of Staunton, which is a lovely city, in a beautiful carriage, which was waiting for us at the train. It was a lovely day, and the sunshine was so warm that Uncle Ridley had the top all put back, so that I could see everything. The road was so wide and very smooth that the carriage just rolled along like we were on a floor, and the horses were such splendid big black ones, with harness all covered with shiny things, and they acted as if they were as proud as could be. The driver was dressed beautifully, nicer than the gentlemen dress at home for every day, and when I got into the carriage he lifted his tall hat, and called me 'Miss Dering.' It sounded so funny I pretty nearly laughed; but Uncle Ridley looked as if it was all right, so I thought perhaps I had better not.

"Pretty soon we began to go up hill, and I thought we must have come very far because the horses went so fast; but we had only come half-way. The leaves had not fallen then, and the mountains reaching up so high, way ahead of us, did look like some beautiful pictures that we used to see when papa took us to the city with him. After awhile we came to a big gate, oh, so tall, and such high posts, with figures on top of them, holding big lamps with ever so many globes, and Uncle Ridley says some night, he will light them, so I can see how bright it makes it all around, and way down the road. We went through, and then the road began to wind around, and it was perfectly lovely; we went up and up, under the grandest trees, and after a little ways, there began to be statuary sitting around under them, and beautiful seats made like the limbs of trees, all twisted together. I saw a flight of stone steps, and they came up the hill from another gate, for people that walk, and they look as white as snow in the green grass. All of a sudden we turned around a big curve, and I just screamed right out; I was so surprised, and Uncle Ridley said that was Congreve Hall. Why, mama, it is big enough to be a hotel in the city, and ever so many people could go in the front door all at once, it is so wide, and such lovely marble steps go up to it. There are two big towers, and two funny little squatty ones, with a big stone railing around the top, and there are porches, terraces Uncle Ridley says they call them, all of stone. They go pretty near around the house, and then end in steps, broad ones, that make a big curve and come down to the ground. I think that's a mighty funny way to build them. The house is such a pretty grey color, and some places there is moss growing all over the sides, and there are ever so many vines too, that Uncle Ridley says would hold me up, they are so old and strong. Inside everything is so big and grand and dark, that I was afraid at first, and never went around anywhere unless uncle went with me; but I'm getting more used to it now, and like to hunt around, in the big rooms, and walk around in the splendid halls. My rooms, I have four you know, are all furnished so sweet in blue and white, with the dearest little easy chairs and sofas, and the cunningest little bed, with an angel on top holding the pretty curtains that come down all around. I just thought at first that I would want to stay in bed all the time. My maid has a little room just off my bath room, and she is such a funny girl. She combs my hair and dresses me, and all that, and talks all the time just like a monkey. Her name is Bettine, and she always calls me Miss Jean. My governess, Miss Serle, is such a dear, kind lady, and I'm going to study awful hard, so as to know lots and make you happy, dear mama, when I come home. Uncle Ridley is just the dearest, nicest, kindest uncle that ever lived, I'm sure. He is so good to me, and I love him like everything. Sometimes he tells me about Mabel, and then he takes out his big red handkerchief and cries; and I'm almost glad I'm lame so I can look like her, and make him happier. Mabel Congreve must have been a very sweet little girl, and very pretty; there are pictures of her all over the house, but the one in the library is the prettiest. She is all dressed in white, with such lovely yellow curls, and sitting in the very little blue velvet chair that I ride around in now. Uncle Ridley always sits in there, and I do believe he talks to her. I have all of her things, except her pony; he died, and mine is a new white one; such a darling, and I go to ride every pleasant day in her little buggy, with beautiful soft cushions and silk curtains. Her chair is on wheels, and I can ride all over the house by myself, or have Bettine draw me, whichever I want. All of her things are just as nice as new, because Uncle Ridley has been so careful of them. Yesterday he brought me her crutch, and said he wanted me to use it. It is such a shiny, beautiful black wood, with a silver rim and pad on the bottom, so it don't make any noise, and a soft top covered with blue velvet.

"I always take my breakfast in my room, because Uncle Ridley does not get up until so late, and it would be very dreary in the big dining-room for me. After breakfast I take a ride either in the house or out, then play awhile, or do as I please until ten; then Miss Serle comes to my room, and my lessons last until twelve. Dinner is gloomy. There is a servant stands behind Uncle Ridley, and he is so tall and solemn looking in his white vest and necktie, that I don't feel comfortable at all. After dinner I play or ride until two o'clock, then I have my lessons and my music 'till four, and after that Miss Serle almost always reads to me awhile. I practice from five o'clock for a half an hour, then play 'till eight o'clock, and that is time for me to go to bed. Some days Uncle Ridley takes me into Staunton with him.

"I believe I have told you everything now that you asked me about, and I've tried hard to write a nice letter, because you were always so particular about it, I've looked in the dictionary for all the words I wasn't sure of, and I hope you will not find many mistakes. Do please, dear mama and girls, write me long, long letters, because I get so lonesome and homesick for you all. Every night when I say my prayers and ask God to take care of you all, I can hardly keep from crying, and sometimes I do, and then Bettine looks so sorry and most like she wanted to cry too.

"The doctor that Uncle Ridley wants to have me see first, is very sick, you know I told you, but he is getting better, and perhaps I will not have to wait so long. Oh, my dear mama, I know you ask God to let me grow straight, but please ask Him a very great many times, so that He will be quite sure to hear. I do.

"I am going into Staunton with Uncle Ridley to put this in the office myself, so you will know it came right from me with a kiss on it.

"Good-bye, my dear, darling mama and sisters, "Your own "JEANIE."



Mr. Dane had closed his office at four o'clock. Nobody cared why he did so, and when he informed his book-keeper that she could go home, she never stopped to wonder why, but wiped her pens, straightened her desk, got into her wrappings and went, with her mind fixed on a certain picture that needed much that these two vacation hours could give.

It was snowing very hard, great blinding flakes that came whirling defiantly into your eyes, nose, and mouth; almost preventing a necessary amount of sight and breath: and they had collected to such depth, that walking was a matter of much labor, and only a few plucky pedestrians were out to enliven the quiet shrouded streets. Olive plunged rapidly along with her head down and seemed more engrossed with her own thoughts, than with any contemplation of the weather, for she whisked the impudent flakes aside and seemed to be looking down at something that was neither of earth, earthy, or of snow, snowy, but quite beyond the realm of either. She was scowling much the same as usual only in something of a puzzled way, that had less of the impatient dissatisfied tinge to it than was customary. In fact she was thinking of that last talk she had had with her mother, before Mr. Congreve went back to Virginia, when she had resolved in a vague hasty way, that she was going to do differently; and really, how little good, or change, had come from the resolution. She didn't think, to begin with, that she was any worse than the rest, or that she needed changing any more, but rather any thing, than be like Mr. Congreve! So she summed up all she knew of him, resolved on what was disagreeable, and began to model herself accordingly. So to begin with she was no longer so hasty or bitter, in speech I mean, for her inner-self was not touched, she only kept it all to herself now, instead of speaking it out as formerly, but if she thought herself changed there, she was the only one deceived, for our inner minds do not always require the aid of language to photograph themselves before the world. Next, instead of staying with the girls out of store hours, and running the risk of losing her temper, she held herself sternly aloof, always in the security of her own room, and at the end of a week was apt to say to herself with some satisfaction:

"There, I surely have done well; haven't been mad with any one this week, which is more than the other girls can say;" and there never came any thought that the sisters were hurt over her manner, for, indeed, she had worked herself up to the bitter belief, that they did not want her, she was so ugly, and so unlike them in all ways.

Now what puzzled her was the girls. Here she had worked (yes, she thought she had worked), she certainly ought to be improved, and yet they seemed to think no more of her than before. Way down in Olive's heart, was a longing,—choked and starved, that was beginning to assert itself. When home held mother and father and everything that could make a girl contented, she had not felt, or rather, listened to it; she compelled herself to be without it; but now, when they were left alone, when their daily life and happiness was so utterly dependent upon each other, she began to realize how she was out of the loving circle that bound her sisters together, and what a gulf of her own make, seemed to lie between them. She stood beside it in frequent contemplation, but never recognized her own handiwork, so she eyed it bitterly, and thought them cruelly unkind.

This was what she was thinking about as she plunged through the storm, looking like an animated snow-figure, so powdered was she; and regarding herself for a moment, Olive went round to the back door, so as to dispose of her ladened garments and brush off her shoes This done, she went into the kitchen, where a warm atmosphere still lingered, and, preferring to be alone, sat down there, with her feet in the oven and her chin in her hands, and once more fell into a brown study. Only a few minutes later, Kittie came into the dining-room for something, and on going back, failed to close the door, so that the murmur of voices came quite distinctly out to the quiet kitchen. A discussion was warmly in progress, and in a minute Olive started out of her reverie at hearing her name spoken.

"What's the use? Olive knows, or ought to know better." It was Ernestine's voice.

"But, mama says," interposed Bea, mildly persuasive, "that we don't try hard enough; we give up too soon."

"Bother," cried Kat, "would she have us always playing the 'gentle sister, meek and mild,' and go whining about Olive as though her company was a great honor. I'm sure we had a season of always begging her to go with us, and didn't she snap us up like a rat-trap?"

"She—well—she's very odd you know," said Bea, wondering if her quiver of defense would outlast the arrows of complaint.

"Yes, odd, as an odd shoe," laughed Kat with a yawn.

"What did mama say to you, Bea?" asked Ernestine.

"She said that Olive's greatest fault was being so nasty and sensitive, and that because she was rather plain and—"

"She isn't," interrupted Kittie, with much energy. "I think she has beautiful eyes, if she just wouldn't scowl so much, and when she laughs her mouth and teeth are just as pretty, only she never laughs more'n once a month, so people don't know it. Not one of us has such lovely thick hair as she has, and if she just would wave or crimp it a little bit in front, I think—well, I think she would be real pretty." And overcome with this valuable earnest defence, Kittie sat down and looked complacent.

"When I see Olive Dering crimping her hair, and laughing instead of scowling, I will look for the end of the world," said Ernestine, with some asperity, as she walked over to the glass and surveyed her own hair, which Kittie had intimated was inferior to Olive's. "She can't do it, she was made to frown and stay by herself and she better do it."

"You don't mean it, Ernestine, you know you don't," said Bea, in a tone of calm conviction, and beginning to feel that the duties of elder sister imposed a warmer defense of this abused one, upon her. "I want to tell you how I feel, though it may be nothing as you all do. I really believe Olive thinks we do not want her, because, for so long time lately, we have just let her alone, and she always goes——"

"None of us ever receive a special invitation to join this circle," interrupted Kat, briskly. "Why should she?"

"I don't know, but she is so strange," answered Bea, rather helplessly, but not giving up. "And because she is so, we have sort a' stayed together and let her alone. When we used to try to get her to go with us, I think she always refused, because she thought she was ugly, and we did not try long enough to overcome this feeling, and now she imagines we don't want her."

"Stuff," persisted Kat, "I wouldn't act that way if I was as ugly as a wilted pumpkin and cross-eyed. What's the use?"

"None," promptly responded Beatrice. "But if you were like her, very likely you'd feel as she does."

"Catch me," laughed Kat, jumping up and making a scornful spin on her heel. "What do you say, Kittie?"

"I had my say a minute ago," answered Kittie, who was evidently thinking out something over the flames.

"I wonder what makes her hate Uncle Ridley so?" was Ernestine's query, as she turned from the glass, having satisfied herself that Kittie was certainly wrong about Olive's hair.

"I never could imagine," answered Bea, with evident curiosity.

"She won't call him, uncle, and the dress he sent her is in mama's room, and Olive says, she'll never wear it."

"May be she would give it me," suggested Kat. "I think hers was prettier than any of the rest."

"Well, I don't," said Ernestine, taking exceptions to this remark also. "Why hers is black?"

"I'm perfectly aware of that, also, that yours is purple, Bea's brown, mine and Kittie's grey; tell me something I don't know," said Kat flippantly. "I wish ours were black, it's so stylish."

That black was more stylish than purple, was an idea quite beneath Ernestine's notice, so she went back to her former query.

"I would like to know, anyhow, what makes Olive dislike him so." For Mrs. Dering had not thought it necessary that the girls should know of their father's final appeal, and Mr. Congreve's reception thereof; so they were all equally curious, and so, nobody being able to give an answer, Kat ventured an assertion.

"She hates him just because it's a part of her religion to hate everybody, and, to go around with her fist doubled up ready to fight. I believe she'd hate us with a little trying."

"Kat," cried Beatrice, with some severity. "You must not speak so, it is wrong, and you don't mean it Why, if any one else was to say such things about Olive, you'd pretty near fight."

"To be sure I would," said Kat with ready inconsistency. "I truly think Olive is a trump, and I'd cheerfully knock anybody down who said she wasn't. I don't know what we would have done without her in the trouble, and I do wish she wasn't so odd, and stayed away from us so."

"She makes me think of a chestnut burr," said Kittie resorting to figurative comparisons. "There's lots of good in her, but she won't let any one get at it. If we try, she shuts up and gets prickly. I never thought much about it, until here lately, and then she was so splendid, and knew how to do everything; and, I begin to think that there is ever so much more to her than we think, even if she is queer, and don't seem to like us much."

"Well, I wouldn't worry so about her," interposed Ernestine, as though the subject wearied her. "She evidently don't like us excessively, or care about being with us, so leave her alone. Bea, come let's try our duet."

Olive had sat perfectly still, and heard all this, quite unconscious that her feet were getting chilly in the cold oven, or that, perhaps, she should have notified them of her presence. She had a vague feeling, as of one trying hard to solve a problem, and pausing suddenly in her vain efforts, to listen to some one solving it for her. But surely they could not be right! Olive left her seat noiselessly, and went up the back stairs to her room. It was bitterly cold there, but she wrapped her shawl about her, and sat down by the window, where the fast falling snow was almost hidden in a heavy wrap of early twilight. Olive did not often pray. To be sure she said her prayers every night, as properly and methodical as clockwork, and was very particular about always kneeling down, as though position could atone for any lacking earnestness; for she was just as apt to be thinking of her account-book, or Mr. Dane's last order, as of anything, in the hurried words that slid over her lips. Yes, she prayed in this way once in every twenty-four hours, but there never came to her any of those sudden, passionate appeals for help or strength, when the whole heart leaps to the lips, or pleads dumbly, in its great need. Notwithstanding all teachings to the point, it never really occurred to her that God had as quick and sympathetic an ear for a little prayer of few words over some trivial worry, given silently in the busy kitchen, or on the crowded street, as He had for those when she knelt down at night, and absently asked for her daily bread, and to forgive as she was forgiven, and then get properly into bed and refrained from speaking again, lest she spoilt the effect. At any rate, the first prayer that had ever sprung to her lips, with the suddenness of utter helplessness, came from them now, as she sat there, trying to think and battle with hasty conclusions that would spring up:

"Oh God, please don't let me try to think it out alone, because I will get it all wrong if I do. If it is my fault, make me feel it and know how to act, and don't let me be so odd, or whatever it is that makes me feel as I do."

With the earnestness of the request, came a quiet feeling that she felt to be her answer, and all the time she sat there, which was until the supper-bell rang, she felt more contented than ever before with her thoughts. Not that God immediately took away her faults, and left her placid and quiet, with nothing to battle against, because He does not do that way; it can never be said to us: "Well done, good and faithful servant," if we've done nothing; and the battling with our faults and worries is just as much our work, as the successful doing of some great deed that may bring both God's pleasure and an earthly halo.

When Mrs. Dering came home on Friday evening, she was quick to note a change of some kind, not but what every one seemed the same at a quick observation, but, there was a something. Now don't think that any thing so unnatural and improbable had happened, as Olive being bereft of all faults, and suddenly clothed in the guise of a household angel, because there hadn't, there never does; but she had thought much, and Olive had a mind capable of more deep reasoning thought than most girls of fifteen; she stopped fighting herself with weapons solely of her own make, but sent many a little wordless prayer for a different feeling, and then she found that it came more easily, and more completely triumphed over its enemy. To-night she had a little ribbon tied in her hair, only a small thing, but something unusual for Olive, and Mrs. Dering noticed that the bow at her throat was just of the same shade, also something unusual. Now over just this little thing, Olive had stood in silence, while two feelings within her held an argument:

"What's the use," said one; "you're as ugly as fate, and the girls will laugh; besides if you go in the sitting-room after supper, they will say you just did it to make them say something."

"No such thing," retorted the other, "You've no right to think such things, when they've given you no reason. Go on right down stairs, you know they want you, they said they did." And so she had gone down immediately,—perhaps she took a little pleasure in defying herself,—and though the girls saw the ribbons the moment she came in, no one said anything, for there came a feeling to each, that she would not want them spoken of.

Mrs. Dering noticed also that when they were gathered in the sitting-room after supper, that instead of sitting off in the far corner of the lounge as usual, she had joined the circle about the table, and was busy on some worsted work.

Ernestine was rocking idly with her pretty feet displayed on the fender, and her prettier hands clasped above her head, in an attitude both graceful and becoming. She was surveying the group about the table, where all hands were busy, and all tongues going merrily, and more than once her eyes went from Olive's ribbon's to Olive's face, so changed under the effect of a smile. They were talking of father now, with their voices lowered a little, and looking up frequently to the large portrait, as if expecting him to answer, and she wondered a little, what could be the matter with Olive, that she talked so much more than usual.

"A penny for your thoughts Ernestine," said Bea, in a pause that came presently.

"I was just thinking how hard it was to be disappointed," answered Ernestine, as pathetically as though the whole world had grieved her in some way.

"What's your disappointment! tell us," cried Kittie with interest; and everybody looked up expectant at the young lady who "had a disappointment."

"Why, I want to study with great masters and be a splendid wonderful singer, with the whole world at my feet, and sending me elegant presents," said Ernestine, who always liked to tell her little grievances or wants, and receive condolence or help.

"What a modest desire," laughed Kat. "Hasn't some one else got a disappointment, because they can't sit on a gold throne and eat sauce made of pearls with a gold spoon?"

"I've got one," said Bea, with her head over her sewing. "I'd like to have mama stay home and be easy, and I'd like to have lots of pretty clothes and some real lace."

"Well, I've got one," announced Kat briskly. "I don't like being poor. I hate pots and kettles worse than mad dogs. I would like a wheel-barrow full of butter-scotch every day and a pair of slippers with blue tops and French heels. I haven't got any talent, so I needn't worry about never being able to bring it out; it would scare me to death if I had one, because talented people are always expected to do something big. That's all, and I don't know really where the disappointment is, but I guess it's the butter-scotch and slippers. What's yours Kittie?"

"I don't know," answered Kittie, with a sigh and a glance at her hands. "I guess mine's having to wash dishes, and not having black eyes, and not being able to travel all over the world."

"Well, I've got one too," said Olive, to every one's intense surprise, as they did not suppose that she was paying any attention to what they were saying, much less to join them. "I'd like to be as beautiful as the loveliest portrait ever seen, and be able to paint the grandest pictures in the world."

Everyone was silent with astonishment. For Olive to express two wishes, and such exaggerated ones, before them all, was something no one could fully appreciate who had not heard her repeatedly ridicule the same when uttered by the others.

Mrs. Dering had been sewing and listening with a smile, but now she glanced up, met Olive's eyes, and the smile brightened warmly, and there was something in it that made Olive's heart feel happy and glad that she had made her little speech, though she had hesitated before doing so.

"I don't suppose anybody cares to hear about my disappointments," said Mrs. Dering, not looking as if she had any.

"Yes, we do; I was just going to ask," exclaimed Kittie, moving closer. "I know you've got heaps, and they're not about clothes and butter-scotch, and eyes, and doing great things either. Now tell us all."

"I don't see why I should have heaps," began Mrs. Dering, with a laugh. "Is it because I am so old, or do I look as though I had been weighted down with them?"

"Why, no indeed; but didn't you ever have any, really?"

"Yes, indeed, my dear girls, many; that at the time, perhaps seemed very hard and bitter; but I came through them, and have seen some happy, happy days where their shadow never fell. I tell you what would be a very bitter disappointment to me now, and that would be to have my girls grow to womanhood, and each be discontented with her lot. I would feel as though all my love and labor had been in vain. It is my constant regret that I cannot give you each a complete and finished education, and supply home with all the comforts we love; but when I look at you now, all working so bravely, and receiving with so little complaint your rigid discipline, it makes me happy indeed, because I see in you, a womanly strength and character, that a life of ease, comfort, and few self-denials, could never have brought out clearly, and I know that God has chosen this way to make our girls the dear noble women we want them. I would that He had seen best to leave father with us, but He did not, so we must just feel that He still loves, and is interested in us, and have just as much thought for His approval as when he was with us. Now, about your disappointments;" and there she paused to glance around, but each young face was warm with interest, so she went on with her cheery smile:

"Here Ernestine, to begin with, wants to conquer the world with song, and receive elegant presents. Dearie, to conquer the world, the great, many-faced world, one's head and heart must be capable and willing to assume any and every guise; to stoop to every form of policy that secures the fickle smile; to bend to all its freaks, until it is subject to yours; and after you had done this, after you had spent your life's sweetest and purest years in studying the art of deceit and triumph, and had brought the beautiful wicked world to your feet, would you be quite happy? Could you ever be again the fresh, untouched, pure hearted creature that you are now? I'm afraid not, dear; and your warmest, greatest longing, would come back to home and girlhood, when you only knew the world's wickedness by hearsay, when you owed it nothing, and never heard its grasping cry for pay for its homage.

"Bea wants pretty clothes, and regrets that mother must work. Quite natural, dear, we all love pretty clothes, and I hope some time we can have all we want, providing it does not become a chief and selfish desire. Mother loves to work for her girls, and only regrets that it must take her from them so much of the time, for the dearest light to a mother's life, the brightest cloud that receives that life's setting sun, is found in the circle of her children's faces. To go back to Bea, she wants some real lace; I hope she may have it some time; it is a beautiful and valuable addition to a lady's wardrobe. But I am quite sure that the face of my Beatrice could never look lovelier over a garb of rarest and most exquisite workmanship than it does to-night, over a pretty linen band, with its womanly thoughtfulness and care."

Bea flushed joyfully, and bent lower over her sewing, while mother went on, with a glance at Kat's expectant face:

"Next comes one of papa's 'boys' with such a hodgepodge of a disappointment, that I can hardly make out which part of it grieves her, or if any does. She don't like pots and kettles, but they often teach us unromantic but necessary lessons that fans and perfumery never could. A wheel-barrow per day of butter-scotch would soon leave her more than she could manage or desire, and slippers with satin tops and high heels, would only prove themselves useless and injurious. She also says she has no talent, but she has a rare and valuable one, that of making the best of all her little trials and grievances, of keeping her daily sunshine free from clouds, and making home happy with her cheerful, happy heart."

Kittie gave her mother's hand a grateful squeeze, for praise given to either of the twins was dear to the other; and Kat sank out of her sight in her chair, quite overcome, and resolved heartily to cultivate her talent to the uttermost.

"Now, our other 'boy,'" continued Mrs. Dering, smiling down into Kittie's upturned face, "wants black eyes, don't like dish-washing, and would like to travel. I wonder if she thinks I would give up these brave, true, trusty blue eyes, for all the black ones in the universe. They show what a warm, faithful heart lies within, a heart that shares its twin's talent for making sunshine out of shadows, and home happy with its laughter. A life without a dish-pan misses a good disciplinarian, and, sometimes, a teacher of patience; it's like pots and kettles—unpleasant but necessary, so the sooner we take hold, when we have it to handle, and the better the grace with which we handle it, just so much have we brought our rebellious likes and dislikes under control, and made the best of our duty. While you are getting ready to travel, dear, read the works of those who have travelled, have your mind fresh and ready to more heartily enjoy what others have seen and made immortal through the power of their pen, and if it is best that that pleasure should be given you, it will come at the right time.

"Our Olive next. I wonder if she thinks that though her face was as exquisitely beautiful as the rarest picture ever painted, that it could be any more precious to our sight, than it is now; or if beauty of the loveliest type would be taken in exchange for the strong, earnest character and brave, true heart that is stamped in it. The most beautiful face may sometimes, by nature's indelible portrayer, reveal itself soulless in heart and mind; and the plainest face possess an irresistible charm, if it is allowed to interpret the emotions of a truly noble heart. I have no ambition that my little girl should paint the grandest pictures in the world, but I hope before long to give her instructions in the art that she loves, and then I want her to use to the uttermost, the beautiful talent God has given her, and though it should fall far short of being the grandest picture, I should be very happy, and quite content."

Mrs. Dering began folding up her sewing as she finished, and the girls did likewise, looking as though they had taken the little talk to heart and were thinking over it. Olive went out for her account-books and her face wore a happier look, than any one could remember seeing there lately. Before they got through examining and comparing accounts, the other girls said good-night and went up stairs, and when the last book was pushed aside, Mrs. Dering put her arm around Olive, who sat on the stool at her feet, and looked down at her with a smile.

"I like this, dear," she said, touching the ribbons. "And you have made me so much happier to-night, by looking more happy, what is it dear?"

"Nothing, mama," answered Olive. "Only I came home early one day, when the girls didn't know it, and I heard them talking about me. They said how queer and odd I was, and how they felt hurt, because I always stayed away from them, and some more things, and mama, I was so amazed. I always thought they didn't want me, and I didn't know which way to believe and I,—I just asked God to help me; and I guess He did. It's terrible hard work, though I've only tried it a few days. I'm so ugly, and I've got such a dreadful temper, and always want to think the wrong way, but I notice that I really have been happier these few days; and mama, to-night, you—" Olive paused and looked up shyly, she did not often say such things and it cost something of a little effort to begin—"you looked so happy and I couldn't help but feel that it was because you were glad, and I really am going to try all the harder now."



When Spring came, spirits and strength began to flag. Everything without was so alluring, that indoors and duties grew dreadfully monotonous and tiresome. Bea found that her sweeping and dusting fell terribly behind, because she spent so much time sitting in the window-sills, and standing in the doors, where the sunshine was so temptingly clear and warm, and from where the yard and trees, so rapidly budding out, could be enjoyed. Olive dreaded her close dark counting-room, but said little about it, in the belief that complaining wouldn't help. Ernestine's four scholars lessened to two, and as the days grew warmer she spent much of the time on the lounge, looking listless, and betraying little interest in anything.

Kittie and Kat, found that snatching moments from work, to take a race down the yard, or gather some particular cluster of fresh young blossoms, gave dish-water a chance to cool; or dust, left ready for taking up, to blow back to all corners of the room. Meals began to fall behind, but everybody was too warm and listless to eat much, or mind the tardiness. In short, everybody had the spring fever, but such ordinary complaint was not noticed, until, as the heat grew more debilitating, Bea said to her mother one evening, as they stood in the door, looking out into the soft still moonlight that lay so purely over the fresh early grass and blossoms:—"Mama, seems to me Ernestine is not well."

Bea could not understand why her mother should start so, at such a slight intimation, or why her face should look so anxious as she turned it.

"Why, dear?"

"She lies down so much; it may be because the weather has turned warm so suddenly, but seems to me, she is so pale and quiet, and it is something so unusual, that I couldn't help but notice it; but then, may be, it's nothing after all."

"Only the weather, I fancy," answered Mrs. Dering; but Bea saw that she looked uneasy, and that all that evening she watched Ernestine, who lay on the lounge, more lively than she had been for several days, with a sparkling light in her eyes, and a rich color in her face, that made her more beautiful than mother or sisters had ever seen her before. Bea watched her mother with some anxiety and no little curiosity. How sad and troubled her eyes looked, as they rested on Ernestine's radiant face, while every now and then a tremble seized her lips, even while she smiled at the continual merry nonsense that seemed to possess the girls that night.

"Ernestine's going to run away," announced Kittie, presently, with some abruptness; but no one but Bea, who was on the alert, saw how her mother started, with a force that ran her needle clear under her thumb nail, or how excessively pale she was as she wiped off the little drops of blood.

"That I am," laughed Ernestine gayly. "Some of these fine mornings I'll be gone, and you'll find a touching little note on my pin-cushion; and after I've earned piles of glory and money, I'll come back in an elegant carriage, and set you all up in luxury."

Everybody laughed, and professed much impatience for the delightful time to arrive; but Mrs. Dering pushed her sewing aside with an impatient hand that trembled, and proposed that Ernestine sing for them, which she immediately did, with a bewildering bird-like witchery, that held them all entranced, and made the girls sigh more than once, that some of the flute-like tones had not been given to them, as their talent.

Mrs. Dering's last look and words, when she left next morning, were for Ernestine, who looked languid and pale in the sunshine, with all her radiant sparkle and color gone, and no sound or look of song about her lips; and after the hack had gone, and the girls returned to the house, Kat said to Kittie, with much resentment in her voice:

"Ernestine always was the petted one in this family. Just see how anxious mama is about her having a little spring fever, and what an easy time she has, anyhow. Only two music scholars! I guess we've got the spring fever just as bad as she has, but we have to work just as hard as ever, and I don't think it is fair."

And Kittie, notwithstanding she had some such thoughts herself, answered promptly:

"Well, I suppose there's a reason of some kind, because you know Kat, mama never would do anything unfair. Perhaps she thinks Ernestine is more delicate than we are."

"Delicate—fiddlesticks! I've three minds to believe it's because she's got such big brown eyes and yellow hair, and is so—well—so—"

"Ain't you ashamed," interrupted Kittie, slamming down her dishes. "To hint at such a thing, Kat Dering!"

The very next evening that brought Mrs. Dering home, brought her with a proposition for Ernestine to go into the country for a week or two, giving her two pupils a vacation for that length of time. Perhaps it occurred to each of the girls that they needed the rest just as much, if not a little more than Ernestine, and perhaps Mrs. Dering detected the look in their faces, for she sighed, and Bea discovered that the same sad look, only deepened and more anxious, lingered in her eyes; and to show her repentance for a moment's complaining thought, she entered heartily into Ernestine's selfish joy.

"Just think how I will ride horseback," cried Ernestine, gayly. "I must fix out a habit some way, mama, and girls, you must let me have all your pretty things, because Mrs. Raymond's girls dress beautifully, and entertain a great deal."

"But my dear," spoke her mother, "I am sending you out there to rest, to enjoy their lovely home, and to grow stronger on country air, not to frolic and waste all your strength."

"Oh, mama, what an idea!" laughed Ernestine. "Why, I'm not sick, I don't need rest, all I want is a little fun and something gay. Look at Bea; she's as pale as a little ghost; you might talk about sending her out to the country to be quiet, and drink milk, but not me. I don't need it." And Ernestine nodded gayly to her own radiant reflection in the glass opposite; then without waiting for any answer, jumped up and waltzed around the room.

"What a blessing it is that Uncle Ridley gave us the dresses. My purple is just as stylish as can be, only I do wish, mama, you'd have let me had a train to it; I'm so tall, and plenty old enough. Bea, will you let me have that pretty gilt butterfly that you fixed for your hair, and your gold cuff pins? I've lost one of mine, and they are always such an addition to one's dress. Olive, you never wore your new black kids much; let me take them, will you? mine look worn, and I do love nice gloves; they always mark a lady. And your new dress. I do need a black one dreadfully, and you say you never will wear yours, so you might just as well give it to me,—loan it, anyhow."

"You may have it, for all I care," answered Olive. "But my gloves are one of the things that I cannot loan."

"Nor the dress," said Mrs. Dering, quickly. "You have quite enough dresses, Ernestine, and besides, Olive's is from her Uncle Ridley, and she cannot give it away."

Ernestine couldn't see any sense of having it lay upstairs in the drawer, though she did not say so; and privately thought that perhaps she could coax her mother around, since Olive was so willing. It proved quite a vain idea, however, though she made it her last request in the morning, before her mother left.

"No, Ernestine, I spoke quite as decidedly the first time you asked me. Be all ready to go by this day week, you have not much sewing to do. Good-bye, once more, my girls; be careful of the lights, take good care of yourselves and do not get sick. Write to Jean to-morrow, a nice long letter and tell her everything. Good-bye."

So she went away again, and nothing discouraged at her inability to secure Olive's dress, Ernestine danced gayly into the house and off to her room, to overlook, for the dozenth time, her little collection of trinkets, and to sing blithely over her dresses; for she did possess the spirit of coming down cheerfully to any thing inevitable excepting work, and then, perhaps, mama would relent at the final moment, when she saw how much a black dress was really needed.

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