"Surely, no one supposes for an instant that I have any," said Olive, and every one shook their heads in a decided negative, except Mrs. Dering, and she looked across into Olive's eyes with a smile, and Olive, catching the look, dropped them to the fire, and said no more. She had intimated that she had none; but was it so in the depths of her heart? Was she quite content?
"You do to-night, as you did before, and no one asks me for mine," said Mrs. Dering with a smile. "Do you rightly guess that I have none?"
"We hope that you have none, mama," said Bea, lovingly.
"Indeed, I have not, my dear girls; instead, as I sit here to-night with you all around me, I wonder if I am fully grateful for how good God has been to me. I look at you, and I see in my girls just such good, true women as their father would have them, and I am more than content. I would that these three vacant places might be filled to-night, but God knows best, and I feel only love, not regret. No, my dear girls, I have no disappointments to-night, only a heart full of happiness and content."
They were silent after that for a little while, and then Bess dropped to sleep, and Olive crossed to Bea's side, as the gentlemen were heard coming from the library.
"Let me take her up stairs, Bea—you look tired;" and Bea handed the precious charge over, and Olive went slowly up stairs, with her arms tenderly clasped about the little form, her cheeks laid to the soft baby face, and a look in her eyes that mother might have read had she seen it.
The sleepers already there, and sprawled about in characteristic attitudes, was a sight to hold one's gaze.
Philip lay perfectly straight and orderly, with a sober countenance, and both hands crossed on his little stomach; while Tom, the tumbler, had completely reversed himself, and lay with his feet on the pillow, his body in a snarl, and his head just ready to fall off the edge with the next jerk. Louise had dispensed with her pillow, it was on the floor, while she lay in the sweetest possible attitude, with one tiny hand under the dimpled cheek, on which the long, dark lashes rested softly, and one wee snowy little foot peeped out of the clothes. Olive laid the baby in its nest, and covered it warmly, bending many times to kiss the rosy little face; then she righted Tom, restored the pillow, and removed some of Philip's covering, as he seemed to be too warm; and then she stood still looking at them.
Was she perfectly happy, and quite content?
The pale light that fell across her, as she stood there watching the sleepers, with eyes that were traitorously expressive, would have made a very dear picture to one pair of eyes, had they not been too far away to rest on. The grey dress which she wore, fell in colorless draperies, and the soft laces at her throat and wrists, were very becoming to the clear skin. In the rich dark hair, was a white flower, that touched the tip of her ear as with a caress; but greatest of all was the eyes, that were growing dim with tears, as she stood there. The feeling that was in her heart was no new one, but to-night it came differently from what it ever had before. Then it had only been a half defined loneliness that could be quenched with a little effort, and pass without a name; but to-night it came surging up and assumed shape and title before her eyes. She had no claim on these little ones; she would never be able to stand so and watch one of her own in its innocent sleep. Would never feel the tender happiness of knowing that her blood beat in another little heart, that her life had given breath to its laughing lips, and the warm color to the dimpled cheeks. In the room down stairs, each sister had her own; even little Jean would soon be claimed by one to whom she was dearer than all else in the world; and in a few years mother might be gone, and then—success was hers. She had worked and won. Her name was on many lips, and her fame spreading. The goal she had looked forward to for years, with eager heart, was hers at last, and while the anticipation, had in this case, lost nothing through possession; did it wholly satisfy her? Was there no corner, no longing, or want that brushes, oils, and inspiration failed to satisfy? Her eyes grew blind with strange, wistful tears, a queer choking filled her throat, and with a sudden movement she had crossed the room and knelt down by the baby. Had she no disappointment? Would she not have said "come," to some one, still a wanderer beyond the seas, had it been in her power? Or, had he stood before her, with the old, old longing, would she have drawn back and said: "My art is all I want."
Ah, indeed, Uncle Ridley had been right:
"A single flame gives little warmth, and needs a kindred spark."
Art was none the less dear, but the woman's heart had asserted itself, and there was a yearning passionate cry for a love that would answer to that, which had so strangely grown within her heart, and which called for something more than a lifeless irresponsive idol.
Sometimes, even out of books, the right thing happens just at the right moment; then, again, sometimes it does not; but this is what happened just at that moment. Some one had been standing in the shadow outside the door, for several moments and now entered, and crossing the room, stood beside her, kneeling there, and said:
She stood up quickly, and looked at him for a moment, and knew him, in spite of seven years' absence, and the bronze and change wrought by time and constant travel. Yes, she knew him, for the eyes were the same, and wore the look she had seen in them last. It was a true love that had bided its time, and won its reward at last. She did not blush rosy red, as most women would have done, but a speechless joy came slowly into her eyes, where the tears yet lay, and she was quite silent.
"You have no welcome for me?" he asked, holding out his hand. "Have I waited so long, and come in vain, at last, Olive?"
"No," she answered, finding her voice, and it sounded strangely sweet and glad, even to herself, as she drew nearer and laid her hand in his. "I am glad that you came; I—I have wished that you would."
It was not a romantic place at all, with the three little tumbled beds and sleepers; the diminutive stockings, shoes, and slips, scattered about, and Philip unmistakably snoring, as became a worn-out judge. But as he clasped the hand laid in his, and drawing her to him, kissed her gladly, I doubt if the most romantic spot, either side the sea, could have made that meeting sweeter to either of them.
"I was on the porch when you passed through the hall," said Roger, in a moment. "I had been out there some little time watching you through the window, and studying your face, that I have so longed and hungered to see in these years, and I read in it such complete happiness, that my heart failed me. I had waited till you should reach the perfect goal of your ambition, and should know what it was to own fame; and as I looked at you, to-night, I thought it satisfied your heart entirely. So I was tempted to go away without having you send me. When you came into the hall with the baby, I followed you up here—quite against my will. As you stood here a few moments ago, and I saw that sadness creep into your face and eyes, I first thought that, perhaps, I had not come in vain. And have you really wished that I would come, Olive?"
"Yes; neither my work nor my life is perfect without you, Roger, and I think that I have known it for some time, though I never so fully confessed it to myself as to-night. I honestly sent you from me, and I honestly welcome you back. I have nothing more to wish for now."
So together they went down stairs, and the wanderer's welcome far exceeded his strongest hopes. A new ray of light and joy seemed brought into that circle, with this new union of hands, hearts, and happiness; and as Mrs. Dering kissed each of her girls good-night, she said, looking into Olive's eyes, with a loving smile:
"I fully believe, dear, that now you have no disappointment."
Transcriber's Note: The illustration on page 267 with the caption "WHAT IS THE MATTER? WHAT HAS HAPPENED?" was not available for inclusion in this ebook.