Mr. and Mrs. Raeburn with difficulty recognized their daughter in her ragged disguise. They were shocked by her appearance, fearing she might be made ill by the exposure. They were pained and indignant at hearing all she had suffered, but they both said it would prove a good experience, if it should teach her to be less rash, venturesome, and self-assured. They hoped, they said, it would cure her of forming secret schemes, even of benevolence, and of an unchildlike ambition to act in matters of importance independent of the aid and advice of her parents. It did all this, I believe; and if you care to hear, I will tell you, by and by, what other good thing came out of that Christmas adventure.
That night, Bessie Raeburn added to her usual prayer these words: "O Father in Heaven, I thank thee more than ever for my warm bed, and everything so comfortable. Forgive me for running off, and giving dear papa and mamma so much trouble. Make those wicked people sorry for what they have done, and then forgive them. And please put it into Mrs. Magee's heart to send home my muff, if she keeps all the other things. And bless my good policeman, and pity and help poor Molly Magee. Amen."
Little Bessie Raeburn never got back her darling muff, nor any other article of her stolen wardrobe. Her friend the good policeman, and other officers, searched diligently for the dismal den of thieves to which she had been led; but either they failed to find the exact spot, or the wretched family had removed. When all search was abandoned, Bessie was sadly disappointed, not because they had failed to recover her pretty street dress, as her loss had been at once made up to her by her kind parents, but that they had failed to find Molly Magee. For ever since her adventure, Bessie had cherished a humane and romantic desire to save and befriend that poor little mendicant, whose pity for her, and vain intercession in her behalf, had touched her heart.
"She is so different from the others, mamma," she would say, "I do believe she was changed in her cradle by some wicked nurse, if there are not any such things as malignant fairies. O, I 'm so sorry I can't believe in fairies any more, they were so convenient; we could account for so many things that way; but it is n't sensible and religious to believe in them, so I won't. But, mamma, what was I saying? O, I do believe that some wicked nurse changed her in her cradle,—took her from some beautiful mamma and a great fine house to Mrs. Magee's dreadful homo, and took back a little Magee and put in her place. And may be her name is n't Molly Magee after all, but Lilly Livingston, or Isabella Van Rensselaer, or Gertrude Stuyvesant, and—"
"Stop, stop, my child! You are going on in your old romantic way. You must not let your imagination gallop off with you in that manner. Take care lest it carry you into the basement of a tenement-house again," Mrs. Raeburn would say. Then Bessie would blush and be silent; but she could not help thinking of poor little Molly Magee; and she so constantly looked for her on the street that it was hardly a pleasure to her papa and mamma to walk or drive with her. But the winter went by without her catching sight of the beggar-girl who had obtained so strong a hold on her sympathies.
But one sunny day in the early spring her generous, faithful desire was granted. She had been driving with her papa in the Park, and for a little change and exercise they had left the carriage and were walking beside one of the ponds, watching the swans, when all at once Bessie exclaimed, "O papa, there's Molly Magee!" And surely, right before them stood the beggar-girl! her face paler, thinner, and sadder than before, while she wore a still more wretched garb than the one Bessie had been compelled to take from her. Her head was covered, but scarcely protected, by a large, dilapidated straw bonnet, through the rents of which peeped rebellious curls of her soft brown hair. A faded band of ribbon, half detached from the crown, fluttered like a tattered pennon in the April wind.
On hearing Bessie's exclamation, the child stood as motionless as though turned to stone. The next moment Mr. Raeburn's hand rested firmly on her shoulder. She looked up in mute terror, then turned a pleading glance on Bessie, who answered it by saying kindly, "Don't be afraid; he is my papa, and he won't hurt you. We have been looking for you ever so long. We want to do something for you, don't we, papa?"
"Yes, Molly," said Mr. Raeburn, gently, "we want to help you, if we can. My little girl says you were better than the rest of your family. Do your father and mother still get their living by robbing little girls?"
"O, sir, she is dead!" sobbed out Molly. "They sold all thim things, and bought whiskey with the money, and drank and drank, and one morning I myself found mother dead and cold. Father behaved a little better for a while, but he is as bad as ever now, and keeps me and the boys begging, and when we have bad luck, beats us till we are like to die."
"Poor, poor child!" said Mr. Raeburn, "you must come home with us, and we will see what we can do for you."
Molly looked surprised, but passively allowed herself to be led to the carriage and lifted on to the front seat, to the immense astonishment, not to say horror, of the coachman, a very grand personage, with four capes to his coat.
When they reached home, Mr. Raeburn took Molly at once to his wife's room, and those two good people had a long talk with her. They questioned her kindly but closely about her life, and her story was such a sad one that tears soon fell from Mrs. Raeburn's eyes, while her husband turned to the window to hide his.
A little later Molly found herself again stripped of her rags, and clad (after a warm bath) in some of Bessie's clothes. Molly looked intensely grateful, but was evidently too thoroughly bewildered to say much. When she was taken to Mrs. Raeburn's parlor, she gazed about her curiously,—not in admiration, but with a strange, perplexed look, which struck Mrs. Raeburn. "What are you thinking of, my child?"
"Why, ma'am, it seems to me I remember all these grand things,—carpets and curtains and pictures,—or things just like them."
"Perhaps your mother has taken you to such houses, or you went by yourself, sometime?"
"No, lady, she never took me with her; and the servants of grand houses never let the likes of me come farther than the alley gate or the kitchen door. No, it must be I dreamed it all. Many is the lovely things I see in my dreams, ma'am. I see blue water, with vessels sailing softly by, like the great white swans in the Park, and mountains and trees, and flowers that smell like fine ladies' handkerchiefs on Broadway; and many's the time, when I am tired and footsore, I seem to sleep, as I tramp, and dream of a good, kind gentleman, who takes me up in his arms and carries me. And sometimes at night, when I am cold and hungry, I dream of a sweet lady, who parts my hair, and pats me, and kisses me, and hugs me up warm. I call those my dream father and mother."
As Mrs. Raeburn sat reflecting on the words of the child, Bessie brought a story-book to her young friend. Molly turned over its leaves sadly, saying, "I don't know how to read, miss."
"Nor write?" asked Bessie.
"Nor cipher, nor find places on the map?"
"Dear me! Do you know any hymns?"
"No, miss. What are they, thin?"
"Hymns? Why hymns are a sort of singing prayers."
"O, thin, miss, I do know one. I say it every night; and when I 've had to tell a great many lies I say it over and over hard:—
'Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep; If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.'"
"Who taught you that?" asked Mrs. Raeburn.
"I don't know, ma'am. It seems to me my dream-mother taught it to me."
Bessie soon grew very fond of her protegee (a French word, meaning one whom you protect); and her romantic mind rushed at once to the conclusion that she was to have an adopted sister. But her parents had other plans for Molly. They felt that it would be much better for the child, if she could be wholly removed from the city, in which she had lived so unhappy and discreditable a life, and where it was to be feared she would always be subject to the degrading influence or annoying interference of her father.
Following Molly's directions, Mr. Raeburn, accompanied by Mr. Blair, the good policeman, sought out Patrick Magee, and by sternly threatening him with arrest and a long term in prison, for his share in the robbery of little Bessie, made him sign away all claim to the persons or services of his children. For when Mr. Raeburn came to see the three little boys, he was so touched by their worse than heathenish condition that he resolved to try to do something towards saving them, as well as their more interesting sister.
Then he called at the office of the noble Children's Aid Society, and placed the poor little street waifs under the protection of its excellent officers, pledging himself for their clothing, instruction, and support, till proper homes should be found for them.
I am glad to say, that, under kind Christian care, the poor little lads improved rapidly, grew healthy and happy, and showed quite an eager desire to learn. Before a year had passed, comfortable homes were found for them in the West, where I believe they still are.
To return to Molly. The account of her dream-home and parents so impressed Mr. and Mrs. Raeburn, that they put an advertisement in the daily papers, stating that they had taken in a little street wanderer, who had evidently been born in a happier and higher condition, and begging any parents who may have had a little girl stolen from them, eight or nine years before, to call, with the hope of identifying her. But weeks, months went by, and no answer came, and Molly was not claimed, except by a hideous old German organ-grinder, who could n't prove property, so could n't take her away,—but took herself off, scolding in very low Dutch.
That advertisement met many thousands of careless eyes, but not the sad, yearning eyes to which it would have come like the message of angels,—"Glad tidings of great joy." Those eyes were then gazing on strange tropical scenes, on orange-groves and jessamine bowers, and on the purple sea that washes the lovely shores of Florida.
All hope of finding Molly's dream-home being abandoned, her good friends set about finding a real home for her. At last, through the Reverend C—— B——, the Chief Shepherd of the Lord's lost lambs in the great wicked city, they succeeded. A farmer and his wife, good, kindly, intelligent people, living pleasantly and comfortably near a village among the hills of Berkshire, Massachusetts, offered to take her to their home and hearts,—to adopt her as their own, for they were childless.
Bessie was grieved at the prospect of being parted from her friend, whom she really loved, but was comforted by the promise of an annual visit to her, in Berkshire.
Poor little Molly wept much when she left her good friends. They had not only taught her what human kindness and affection were, but had taught her much about her Heavenly Father,—had led her straight to the arms of His infinite love. So her tears were not all of sadness, but of tenderest gratitude, as she went from their door with kindly Farmer Morton.
Our little friend Molly spent five peaceful, happy years in her home among the grand old hills of Berkshire, with Farmer Morton and his kind, good wife. She was treated in every respect as a daughter, well instructed in religious duties and moral obligations, and in all useful housewifely arts. Nor was school education withheld. As soon as she had acquired the first rudiments of knowledge, she was sent to the excellent village academy, where she proved an apt and diligent scholar. In return for all this generous, fostering care, Molly (or Mary Morton as she was usually called) gave to the kind pair who had so generously adopted her, all the affection, respect, and obedience due to parents; added to a gratitude inexpressibly deep and tender. Her life as a beggar-girl, half fed, half clad, and always abused, had been so terribly sad that she could never forget it; and her present life seemed one of heavenly serenity and security in contrast.
She did not see her "dream-father and mother" as often as formerly. She did not need them. But when they did come to her in her slumbers, they looked happy, and smiled over her.
Molly was now in her fifteenth summer,—a tall, graceful girl, with a sweet, delicate face. She was still pale and slender, for she had not quite outgrown the effects of the old sorrow, starvation, and exposure. Her face often wore an expression of pensive sadness, unsuited to her years,—a faint shadow of her unhappy childhood still lingering about her,—but it was always ready to brighten into cheerful smiles at a kind word or look.
Molly had made more than one visit to her friends in New York, and now the Raeburns were spending some weeks in the pretty village which was scarcely a mile from the farm-house of Mr. Morton. They were as kind as ever to Molly, and quite proud of her. They took her with them on all their drives among the hills, or rows upon the lakes. Bessie always spoke of her friend as "My Molly," seeming to think she had in her "certain inalienable rights," chief of which was the right of discovery. Molly never thought of disputing those rights. She looked up to pretty, wayward, impulsive Bessie Raeburn as to a superior being,—an angelic deliverer. In her half-adoring gratitude and love, she could have "kissed the hem of her garment," or the lower flounce of her pretty organdie dress. She would often say, "O, where would I have been now, if it had not been for you, dear Bessie? In a pauper's grave,—or worse, in prison,—or worse still, on the streets, a wicked, lost girl, loving nobody, and only knowing of God and Jesus by hearing their names in dreadful oaths."
"But, Molly dear," replied Bessie,—"I must always call you Molly,—I have done so little, after all. In thanking me, don't forget papa and your father Morton."
"I don't forget them, nor my Father in heaven either; but you, Bessie, were the first to pity me and try to help me, though I had done you wrong."
"Well, as for that, Molly," said Bessie, seriously, "perhaps God had more to do with that wild Christmas expedition of mine than anybody thought at the time. It seemed so rash and foolish. I have always thought that good policeman an angel, an Irish angel, in the rough, though he did not know it. I don't believe that angels and saints ever have a very high opinion of themselves, do you?"
This was the happiest summer of Molly's life,—it was also to prove the most memorable.
One afternoon, as she was returning from the village, down a quiet, shady lane, which led through her father's farm, she was suddenly confronted by the tyrant of her unhappy childhood, Patrick Magee. He was even a more wretched looking creature than of old,—shabbier, dirtier, with every mark of the most degrading vice. As he stepped from behind a hazel-bush, where he had been skulking, into her path, Molly gave an involuntary shriek, and shrank back from him in fear and aversion.
"Whist, darling!" he exclaimed in a wheedling tone. "Be aisy, just; it's not meself that will harm a hair of yer head. And sure this is not the way you should meet yer poor ould unfortunate father. Is this the kind of filial piety you 've larned from your grand friends?"
"I do not believe you are my father," replied Molly, looking directly into his bleared eyes, that quailed under her gaze.
"Now, now, whoever heard the likes o' that?" began Patrick, with a shocked expression. "Denies her own father, that tiled and spint for her! Why, Molly dear, you are the image of me, barring the color of the hair, mine being a trifle foxy, while yourn is a darkish brown; and barring the lines of care and trouble on my brow,—the hard lines I 've had no child's hand to smooth away, the saints pity me!"
Hero Molly's soft heart was touched, and she asked, gently, "Where do you come from now? and what do you want of me?"
"Well, I came last from New York, when, after a power of trouble, I found out your whereabouts. My heart so cried out for my daughter and my darling boys. You see, for the five years past I 've been, so to speak, in retirement on the Hudson."
"Where?" asked Molly, bewildered.
"Why, in a quiet town called Sing Sing; but; faith! it's little singing I did there."
"Do you mean that you have been in the penitentiary?" said Molly, startled.
"Well, not to put too fine a point on it, yes. But you see it's a hard word to pronounce, that same. I got into what gintlemen call 'difficulties,' pretty soon after my Biddy died, and my poor children was torn from my arms. Somehow, I had no heart to keep up a good character. I was what they call desperate; so I went into a gintleman's house one avening, without ringing the bell and sending up my card, as in my better days I should have done, you know. I went in head foremost, through a back window, and when I was coming out with a trifle of silver, the police nabbed me, and it was all up for a while with poor Pat Magee. Now what do I want with you? I want to know about my darling boys, of course. Are they living and respectable?"
"Yes," replied Molly; "they are well and doing well. I hear from them twice a year, and write to them oftener."
"Doing well, are they! but doing nothing for their poor ould father. Ah, this is a hard world."
Molly could not refrain from saying, "They used to think it so, but they don't now. They have good friends, comfortable homes, and are happy and industrious."
"Industrious! and isn't it myself that taught them to be that same? Niver did I spare the rod when they came home empty-handed from a day on the streets."
Molly made no reply, but tried to pass on. Again Patrick stopped her, and said, with a strange, cunning smile, "And so, miss, you don't believe I 'm your rale father."
"No," answered Molly, firmly. "I have always had indistinct recollections of a very different home from that wretched cellar in the Five Points, and of other parents than you and Mrs. Magee. I believe you stole me when I was very young."
"No, indade. I had nothing to do with it," replied Patrick, hastily.
"Then your wife did it?"
"Well, yes. You see, my dear, when I 'm fairly cornered, I scorns to lie. That same was one of the little thaving operations of the late Mrs. Magee, Heaven rest her sowl!" said Patrick, rolling his eyes.
"O, then, for mercy's sake, tell me who and where are my parents!" cried Molly, clasping her hands in an agony of entreaty.
"Softly, softly; bide a bit, my darling. Nothing is sold for nothing. I can niver consint to blacken the memory of my poor departed Biddy without a consideration."
"What do you mean?"
"Pay me fifty dollars, and I 'll make a clane breast of it, and tell you all you want to know."
"But, Mr. Magee," cried Molly, in distress, "I have not so much money. I have only a very few dollars of my own in the world; but I will promise to give it to you, and more too, as soon as I can earn it. Only tell me."
"No, miss, I must be paid down. 'A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.' If you have n't the money, belike your new governor, Mr. Morton, would pay a trifle like that for the sake of getting rid of you."
"He might advance it for me; though he is not rich, he is so good," rejoined Molly. "I would ask you to come up to the house and see, only he is away from home, and is not expected back till late in the evening. Please, please tell me now, and trust me for your reward. Indeed, indeed, I will pay you some time, and be your friend always."
"Your servant, miss," replied Patrick, with a mocking bow, "but I 'd rather not trust a fine lady as has just scorned an ould friend in reduced circumstances, who, if he is n't her father, sure it's no fault of his. Tell your Mr. Morton that I 'll call to-morrow morning, ready to arrange matters in a business-like, gintlemanly way. But mind, no money, no sacret. I 'll not have my family affairs paraded in the newspapers for nothing, and all Mrs. Magee's little wakenesses exposed, after she's left this wicked world, and the crowner has set on her, and she's been dacently buried at the city's expinse, hard on to six years."
Molly reached home in a state of intense excitement, but, on relating her strange story, was soothed and cheered by Mrs. Morton's tender, motherly sympathy. Mr. Morton came home earlier than he was looked for, and was at once informed of the important revelation which Mr. Magee proposed to make for a "consideration." Doubtful what course to pursue, he hurried into the village to consult with Molly's first friends, the Raeburns. The consequence of this consultation was, that the next morning, when Patrick Magee appeared at the farm-house, he was confronted, not alone by Mr. Morton, but by Mr. Raeburn and the sheriff of the county. Taking these as mere witnesses, however, he was not abashed, but greeted all with a jaunty air, and the old Irish expression, "The top of the morning to ye, gintlemen."
On Mr. Morton referring to the secret he had to reveal, he said, with the utmost assurance, "Well, Mr. Morton, I 've slept on that same matter, and I 've concluded that I can't in conscience consint to blacken the memory of the late Mrs. Magee for less nor a hundred dollars. And sure, your honors, a rale live father and mother, rich and respectable, are chape at that, to say nothing of the reputation of a poor, hard-working woman, that's dead and gone, and can't defind herself."
"These, Mr. Magee, are the best terms you offer, then?" asked the farmer.
"Yes; but if you don't close the bargain immadiately, I may rise a trifle. I 've been too aisy, on account of poor Molly. My feelings are too much for me."
"Then, Mr. Sheriff," said Mr. Morton, "you must do your duty."
So Patrick Magee found himself again in the stern grasp of the law. He was taken to a magistrate's office for examination, but there he obstinately refused to reveal a word of the important secret, saying he would die first. So he was committed to the county jail, there to await his trial on a charge of kidnapping.
For more than a week the prisoner remained sullenly silent, while poor Molly suffered agonies of suspense, and her friends were fearful that for lack of sufficient evidence the villain might yet escape justice, carrying his secret with him.
But at last he yielded,—subdued, not by hard fare, hard words, or solitude, but by the mad thirst of the inebriate. Since leaving the penitentiary he had been drinking very hard, and now, being suddenly deprived of all stimulants, his spirits sunk, his strength and appetite failed, and he was threatened with the terrible disease of the intemperate,—delirium tremens.
Being told by the doctor that he thought Magee must have some brandy, Mr. Raeburn paid a visit to the jail. He found the prisoner sitting on his narrow bed, looking haggard and ill, but as sullen as ever.
"Well, Magee," said Mr. Raeburn, pleasantly, "have you made up your mind to tell all you know of the parentage of that stolen child? You have confessed that you connived at, if you did not assist in the crime, and it may go hard with you at the trial."
Patrick replied, with a furious oath, "Niver a word more will I spake about the matter, if they hang me."
"If I will endeavor to get you discharged; if I will promise to give you some decent clothes, and to furnish you with easy and constant employment, will you tell?"
"If I will give you a glass of good brandy, will you tell?"
Patrick started, and his dull eyes flashed, but with his old cunning he replied, "Show me first the brandy."
Mr. Raeburn took a flask from his pocket and poured out a glass nearly full. With a trembling, outstretched hand, the poor sot cried, "Yes, yes, yer honor, give it to me, and on my word, on my sowl, I'll tell."
The glass was given him, and he drained it with a sort of frantic relish; then almost immediately, and very hurriedly, began his story.
"Molly's father is Squire Phillips, a mighty clever lawyer and a rich man. He lives at Newburgh, on the Hudson, forninst Fishkill; you mind the town?"
"Yes, and I have heard of Mr. Phillips; go on."
"I should have said he has an office in Newburgh, but he lives on a fine place up the river, out of town, a couple of miles or so. You see, when ill-luck sent me over from Ireland, where I lived in ease and plenty, never taking up a spade but for devarsion, after a hard day following the hounds or riding steeple-chases, I lived with Mr. Phillips as gardener. But he and I niver could agree, and so parted; and soon after my Biddy, who was the cook, was discharged for taking a drop too much just. You see she fell down stairs with the tea-tray. So she had a spite against the master on my account, and against the mistress on her own account, and vowed by all the saints she 'd be aven with them. After we settled in New York, many's the trip she took up the river to prowl about the place (women is quare cratures, yer honor) for a chance to balance accounts. But she never got a shy at them till one afternoon, just before dark, she found little Miss Mary, Mistress Phillips's one child, playing alone on the river-bank, out of sight of the house; it's likely she 'd run away from a lazy nurse. My Biddy wasn't one of the kind that dilly-dallies or shilly-shallies: she pounces on the child like a hawk on a chicken, stops its mouth so it could n't as much as peep, and carries it into a wood near by and hides till dark. Then she takes it over to Fishkill, where she has friends, who lend her proper clothes for the child, and give it a drink that hushes its crying like magic just. Then she takes the night-boat for New York, and in the big, crowded city the child was as completely lost as the small chicken I likened her to would be if the hawk should drop it in a wide sea-marsh. There was a great hue and cry about 'the mysterious disappearance of the only child of John Phillips, Esq.,' (just as if no poor, hard-working man ever lost an only child!) but most of the newspapers drowned her, I believe. Biddy kept her mighty close for a time, and sheared off her curls, but niver a hound of a detective smelt at our door.
"I always told Biddy that trouble would come of this same matter sooner or later, and sure had n't we a power of trouble with Molly herself,—what with her pining and crying, (though Biddy soon learned her to cry silent,) and her sickly turn, and her ungrateful disposition? And didn't she forsake us at last,—me a lone widower, and the poor motherless boys?"
"Ah, Magee, what an awful hypocrite you are!" exclaimed Mr. Raeburn; "but go on."
"What more do you want to know, thin?"
"How old was the child when your wife stole it?"
"I should say that the child was a trifle over three years old when Mrs. Magee adopted her," replied Patrick, with imposing dignity.
"Are Mr. and Mrs. Phillips both living?"
"It 's not ten days since I was towld they were, yer honor."
"I start for Newburgh to-morrow morning, with Molly—Miss Phillips," resumed Mr. Raeburn; "but you must remain where you are, in close confinement, at least until we have ascertained if your statement be true. If it be found so, I will do my best to effect your release. Meanwhile, I hope you will improve the time in repenting of your past life, and resolving to begin a better, for you are a great sinner, Patrick."
"Arrah, yer honor, don't be too hard on a poor man! And sure you won't lave me without an' other comforting drop of brandy?"
"You can have more if the doctor prescribes it again. He will know what is best for you. But I hope you will think on what I have said. If you wish to be a better man, you shall not want for help."
"Thank you kindly, Mr. Raeburn, but I doubt it's too late. 'It's mighty hard to tache ould dogs new tricks,' but if you 'll spake a good word for me to the doctor about the brandy, I'll try."
At bedtime Molly kissed her father and mother Morton good night with tender and tearful emotion, but without a word,—her heart was too full. On reaching her pleasant chamber, where her trunk stood ready packed for the journey, she sank on her knees beside her dear little bed, and prayed for the parents she was about to leave, and for those she was about to seek; for her generous friends, the Raeburns, and for poor, sinful Patrick Magee, who needed somebody's prayers so much. When she laid her head on her pillow, she could not sleep, but lay in a tremulous, excited state, half joy, half sorrow. Then Mrs. Morton came in to kiss her once more, and to tuck her in, as she used to do when Molly first came to her a sad and feeble child. As she bent to kiss her she fell on her neck and wept, saying, "My child, my child, how can I give you up?"
"O mother, dear!" replied Molly, embracing her, "you must never give me up. I must still be your child as well as hers."
"Do you want very much to go to her, darling?"
"Yes, though you have been so good, so good, and I love you very dearly, I have always had a sort of blind yearning in my heart for her. It seems to me that the cry of my infancy, 'Mamma!' 'Papa!' which the cruel blows of Mrs. Magee hushed, has always been whispering in my soul, and must be answered. But if I love them, and they love me ever so much, I shall love you and dear father Morton all my life and into God's forever."
"It is well, dear child, and the Lord's will be done. Good night!"
Molly was wakened early in the morning by the carol of an oriole, but she could make nothing of his song but "Good by, good by, good by!" and the clambering roses by her window seemed sending in sweet farewell sighs. Soon after breakfast, Mr. Raeburn drove up in his carriage, and so Molly set out to seek her fortune and her parents.
It was the afternoon of a cool, showery summer day, when Mr. Raeburn and Mary drove through a handsome stone gateway, and up an avenue of maples, to the fine old-fashioned mansion of Mr. Phillips. As they stood on the steps, Mr. Raeburn noticed that Mary had been much agitated by recognizing scenes once familiar to her baby eyes, and he begged her to try to be calm. "Remember," he said, "we have no positive, reliable evidence that you are the lost child of Mr. and Mrs. Phillips. You must not suddenly proclaim yourself. They have probably despaired so long that they will be unable to credit your story, if too abruptly told, and any repulse would be very painful to you. Leave it to me to let the joyful light gradually in upon their minds, and second me when I refer to you."
"I will do so; trust me," replied Mary, in a low voice.
When the servant came to the door, Mr. Raeburn inquired for Mr. Phillips only, thinking it best that the first communication should be made to him alone. They were shown into a pleasant library, opening on to a piazza by French windows, looking towards the river. Mary seated herself on a sofa, in the most shadowed part of the room, and kept her face hidden by a thick veil. She sat in silence, except that to her ear the beatings of her loving, impatient heart were audible. It seemed to her a long hour that they were kept waiting, though it was probably not more than fifteen minutes. Then the door gently opened, and Mr. Phillips entered. Mary half rose, then sank back, faint with happiness, for she had recognized his face,—it was that of her dream-father!
Mr. Phillips was of middle age; the dark-brown curls of his hair were slightly tinged with silver. His face was very thoughtful, if not sad in expression. His form was stately, and his manner courteous and refined,—a gentleman, every inch of him.
He pleasantly greeted by name Mr. Raeburn, who then introduced his companion as "Miss Morton." Mary rose, courtesied, and again sank into her seat. The galloping heart was getting almost too much for her,—she was gasping under her veil.
Mr. Phillips apologized for keeping his visitor so long waiting, and added, "When word was brought me of your arrival, I was assisting in carrying Mrs. Phillips from her sitting-room to her bedchamber. She is ill."
Mary started, and a new terror seized her.
"Not seriously ill, I hope?" said Mr. Raeburn.
"No, we trust not, now; but she has been very ill from a fever, and is still extremely delicate. She has been a good deal of an invalid for the past fifteen years," said Mr. Phillips with a sigh.
After a plan formed that morning, Mr. Raeburn then requested the opinion of Mr. Phillips, as a lawyer, on an important land claim in which he was interested.
As they talked on and on, Mary still sat silent and motionless. She was hardly impatient any longer, for had she not her father's face to watch, and his voice to listen to?
At length there was a pause; then the two gentlemen began to talk about the lovely scenery around them, the river, the estate, the Phillips mansion and family, and finally Mr. Raeburn said, "I think I have heard, Mr. Phillips, a sad story of your having once lost a little child in some mysterious way. Perhaps at this remote day you will not be unwilling to give me the facts of this loss."
"Certainly not, my dear sir," replied Mr. Phillips, "if you care to hear so melancholy a tale. All I myself know can be soon told. Our first child was a daughter,—a lovely, engaging little creature, the very light of our eyes. She was rather delicate, and most carefully tended and watched till she was past three years of age. Then, one summer day, I invited my wife to accompany me to New York, where I had business, and she had—as what woman has not?—shopping to attend to. She hesitated, as little Mary's nurse was young and rather thoughtless, but I over-persuaded her and she went, giving at the last moment many charges to the young girl concerning the child.
"I remember how lovingly little Mary kissed us good by that morning, and how, still unsatisfied, she ran after the carriage, commanding the coachman, in a pretty, imperious way she had, to stop till she could get another kiss. I was a little vexed, fearing we should miss the train, yet she was obeyed, lifted up, kissed, and put down into her nurse's arms, and that was the last we ever saw of her. How thankful I have always been that we stopped for her good-by kiss. Many a time since, in my sleep, I have felt that last kiss on my lips.
"We had intended to stay till the afternoon of the next day, in New York, but at evening Mrs. Phillips grew so strangely anxious about her baby girl, whom she had never before left for a night, that we took a late train for home. Just as we reached our station, I noticed a New York boat put off from the landing. I have since thought it was possible our child was on that boat."
Here Mary could scarcely restrain herself from crying out, "She was! she was!" but she shut her lips and clasped her hands tight, and was still.
"When we reached home," continued Mr. Phillips, "we found all in confusion and consternation, Our darling little one was missing! She had not been seen since five o'clock, at which time she had been left by her nurse fast asleep, and to all human apprehension in perfect safety. On that day she had been allowed to have the range of the house, and taking a freak to have her belated afternoon nap on the drawing-room sofa, was there put to sleep.
"The nurse took the opportunity to have a little gossip with the cook and coachman, in the kitchen, and it was a good deal more than an hour, I believe, though she declared it was not half that time, before she went to look after her charge. The room was empty; the low window was open, and our bird had flown forever!
"It was some time before the servants were really alarmed, as it was thought she was somewhere in the house or garden, hiding, after her roguish way. I think it was actually dark before they made any serious and thorough effort to find her. Indeed, I set on foot the first systematic search. I roused all our neighbors, and employed the police of our town, and afterwards of New York and other cities; but all was in vain, utterly in vain! No real trace of her could be found. We could not even hear of any child answering to her description, as having been taken from the town on that day, in any direction,—except one, who was seen on the New York boat I have mentioned, and who must, I think, have been younger than ours, or it was ill or stupid, as it was said the woman who had charge of it carried it constantly in her arms, where it lay quite still. Even this child we could only trace as far as New York. It seemed to disappear in the great city as a snowflake melts in the sea.
"Our friends all believed that our little Mary had fallen from the river-bank and had been drowned, and the body carried away by the swift current. Some lads, who were out on the water that day in a sail-boat, said that they saw a child on the bank a little below our house, running about quite alone, apparently chasing butterflies. But it was several months before we relaxed our efforts to find her. So many lost children were brought to us in answer to our advertisements,—so many poor little homeless ones, whom nobody owned,—that it looked as though we were about to set up an orphan asylum. In truth, we sometimes felt like it, for dear little Mary's sake. We could not give her up, for we could not believe her dead. Our sorrow was such a live anguish—without comfort, without rest—that we felt that the dear object must be living and suffering. The tender ties that had bound our hearts to her quivered with pain, but we felt that, though sorely wounded, they were not quite severed.
"Then we had strangely vivid dreams of her. Very sad dreams they were; she always appeared to us pale, and sorrowful, and thin, as though pinched with want. Of late years we have dreamed of her more seldom; and, singularly enough, when we have dreamed, she has worn to both of us a changed and happier look. So we feel at last that somewhere, in this or a better world, 'it is well with the child.'
"The health of Mrs. Phillips received a great shock in this loss; in fact, she has never been quite well since. She has been threatened with consumption, and has been obliged to spend most of her winters in the South. I think she still mourns for her first-born; no other child has yet been able to fill her place."
"You have then other children?" said Mr. Raeburn.
"Yes, three; two boys, of eleven and nine, and a little girl, now nearly five years old."
Here Mary felt a happy glow overspread her veiled face, and her heart palpitated with a new joy.
"Believe me, my dear sir," said Mr. Raeburn, after a pause, "I have not drawn from you this painful story from mere curiosity. My friend now present, Miss Morton, is acquainted with a young girl who believes herself to have been stolen in her early childhood, from a happy home and kind parents, by a vulgar and cruel woman, who hid her for years in a wretched den in the worst part of New York. But, my dear Miss Morton, you can tell the story better than I; will you not do so?"
Mary began in a voice low and tremulous, but of penetrating sweetness, thus: "That poor young girl was, while yet a child, not wholly lost and wicked, rescued from a life of sin and beggary by some good kind friends, whom God will bless for ever and ever! When they took pity on her, she had forgotten her true last name; it had been frightened out of her memory, or driven out by blows; but she knew that her first name was Mary, though she was only called Molly, and she had not forgotten her true parents, though she called them her dream father and mother, because they came to her in her sleep, to kiss her and comfort her. She was surrounded by squalor and wretchedness; but she never quite forgot her old beautiful home, for her dim sweet memories of it were all she knew of heaven."
Here Mary rose and threw back her veil, as she continued, "And she hopes, she believes that this is her old home, for she recognizes everything around her. O yes, I know that carved mantel, that ebony writing-case, that screen, that bust, and that picture over the cabinet. It is mamma's portrait!"
Mr. Phillips uttered an exclamation of joyful surprise and started forward, but immediately fearful of some mistake, calmed himself, and merely said, "Will you let me see you without your bonnet?"
Mary hastily uncovered her beautiful head, and stood before him, a soft, timid smile playing about her lips, and a tremulous light of love and joy in her eyes. Mr. Phillips looked from that yearning young face to the one on the canvas,—so wonderfully like they were! "It is enough!" he exclaimed; "I know you for our daughter, our long-lost lamb! O Father in heaven, I thank Thee!"
And the next moment Mary was clasped in her father's arms, her head on his breast, her arms about his neck, laughing and weeping in her passionate emotion, so long restrained.
Mr. Raeburn rose and softly loft the room, passing out on to the piazza, where he stood for many minutes, apparently admiring the fine scenery, though in fact he could see but little for the tears of tender sympathy that would spring to his kindly eyes. Whichever way he looked there was a water-view.
He returned just in time to see the two boys, George and Herbert, introduced to their sister. They received the good news at first in a bewildered, boyish, awkward way. They blushed and stammered, stepped forward and back, then stood stock still, and looked at Mary in silent, wide-eyed wonder and admiration.
"Ah, boys," she said, "I suppose I seem to you like one come back from the dead, or like another Undine, risen from the water; but won't you take my hand? see, it isn't cold!" Then she shook hands with them and kissed them, and they rapturously returned her caress, and all was right.
"Now, my dear boys," said Mr. Phillips, "you have a task of self-restraint before you. It is necessary that this great joy of ours should be kept awhile from your mother. She is not strong enough to bear it. But she must see Mary and get accustomed to her as soon as possible. I have a plan. A new nurse is needed for Lilly; will you accept the position for a few days, my darling?"
"Most joyfully, papa."
"I give you warning, sister, that it will not be a very jolly life for you," put in Master George. "Lilly is awfully spoiled, and will order you about, and put on all the airs of old Queen Bess."
"That will do, George," said his father, with a wave of his hand. "You, Mary, I am sure, will soon win Lilly's heart, though she is quite too young to be intrusted with our secret. Having charge of her, you can have frequent access to your mother, and perhaps gradually reveal yourself to her. We must contrive to have you get your first glimpse of her unseen, otherwise you might betray yourself by your emotion.
"And now, my daughter, if you are sufficiently calm, you will give me a brief account of your life since we were so sadly parted, more than twelve long years ago."
Mary told her piteous story very simply, passing as lightly as possible over her early sorrows and hardships, but again and again bringing tears to the eyes of her father and brothers.
When Mr. Phillips heard the name of Patrick Magee, he exclaimed, "Why, I had that villain under pay for months for pretending to search for you in New York, and all along he had you hid in his vile den! He must be made to suffer for it."
"He will suffer, he does suffer, father. Poor, lost creature! I am willing to leave him to God," said Mary, gently.
Mr. Raeburn returned to his hotel in the town that evening, but called at the Phillips mansion in the morning, to say good by to Mary and her father.
Mary came to him, all radiant with her new happiness. "I have seen my mother twice!" she said. "The first time she was asleep. I stole up softly to her bedside, and held my breath as I bent over her. Her face is no longer rosy and dimpled, like the pictured face, yet far lovelier. In repose it seemed worn and sorrowful, but O, so gentle and sweet! I stood by her a long time, and looked and looked, trying to make up a little for what I had lost. Her dear hand lay on the counterpane. I longed to kiss it, but I dared not. I did kiss a braid of her hair that fell over the pillow, and such a thrill went through me! Her hair is as beautiful and dark as ever, and so are her eyes. I looked straight into them, once this morning. Papa presented me to her, as Lilly's new nurse. She looked so kind and gracious, I thought I should have sunk at her feet, to beg her to bless her child. I could not speak, and papa apologized for me by saying that I was very diffident, but that Lilly seemed to take to me, and he hoped I would do well; and then she smiled on me, and I took that for the blessing.
"I slept in the nursery with Lilly last night, in the very bed, I believe, I used to sleep in; and when I knelt beside it, I could think of no words to say but those of my little childish prayer, 'Now I lay me down to sleep.' Was n't it strange?"
At this moment Lilly came dancing into the parlor, to claim her new friend. The child was a dainty little thing, as restless and radiant as a butterfly,—evidently a little spoiled, yet very charming.
The tears sprang to Mary's eyes, as her good friend rose to take leave. She weighed down his memory with messages for the dear ones to whom he was going; and, as he gave her his hand in parting, she lifted up her sweet, ingenuous face, with a timid, grateful smile, and kissed him, for the first time. She had never before felt that she had a social position equal to his and dear Bessie's.
Mr. Phillips accompanied Mr. Raeburn to the station, and parted from him with much regret and many heartfelt thanks and blessings.
A few days later there came to Mary letters from all her friends in Berkshire,—letters of loving congratulation, most grateful to her heart. One from Mr. Raeburn contained the intelligence that Patrick Magee had been released from prison in a very solemn way. After a terrible attack of delirium, he had fallen into a stupor, and died. So that sinful and blinded soul had gone stumbling down the dark valley, and forth into the unknown world, where neither human pity nor judgment could reach him.
"O, I hope God forgave him at the last, as I forgive him," said Mary, weeping.
"Why, sister Mary," said George Phillips, "you are n't crying for that old reprobate, are you?"
"No, Georgie; only crying because nobody can cry for him. You see, Georgie dear, I have been wicked myself, and know how to pity the erring."
"You wicked, Mary! I suppose you have in your mind the few little lies you told when you were the bound slave of that old Irish ogre and his ogress. It's my opinion the angel that writes down things don't make much account of such sins."
Day by day, Mary won her way to the inmost hearts of all the household. Mrs. Phillips was especially interested in the young stranger, who seemed so superior to her station,—who moved about so softly, and was so careful and watchful. She loved to have her in her apartments, and often sat and gazed at her, so mournfully, so searchingly, that Mary longed inexpressibly to kneel by her side and tell her all.
At last the time came. It was Sunday, and little Lilly's birthday. Mrs. Phillips was so much better that she was brought down stairs, for the first time for many weeks, and seated on the vine-shaded piazza, overlooking the river. She looked very happy, and there was a delicate rose-tint on her cheek. All the family were gathered around her; it was a jubilee of love. Her husband sat at her side; the boys stood near, leaning over the railing, watching the graceful sloops sailing by. Mary sat on a low stool before her, showing some Bible pictures to Lilly, who wore a birthday wreath of blue violets and white rosebuds. Suddenly the child was heard to say, "This is my birthday, you know, Mary, and that's why it's so pleasant. When is your birthday?"
"O, never mind," said Mary, blushing, "look at this picture."
"No, no, not till you tell me when your birthday comes."
"I cannot tell you, dear."
"Why, don't you know? I 'm only five years old, and I know mine."
"Why, how is this, Mary?" asked Mrs. Phillips; "don't you really know your birthday?"
Mary hesitated a moment, then replied, "There were some sad circumstances in my childhood that prevented me from knowing much even about myself. I do not know exactly how old I am, but I think about fifteen."
"About fifteen!" repeated Mrs. Phillips, in a dreamy way, "and your name Mary. John, our Mary would have been just about her age, could we have kept her; and do you know I fancy she would have looked very much like this young girl. I suppose this coincidence of age and name has given me a peculiar interest in her. I felt strangely drawn towards her at first sight. I have an odd idea that she looks like our family, somewhat as I used to look; and, stranger still, like you, John."
At this, all instinctively drew near to the mother. Mr. Phillips took her hand, and said calmly, "My dear Caroline, nobody on earth has a better right to look like our Mary, like you and like me, than this dear young girl."
"O John, John, tell me! Can she he! O blessed God!—"
She could not utter a word more, but she stretched out her trembling arms, and Mary crept into them and lay on her mother's breast, the long hunger of her heart satisfied at last!
"Yes, dear, this is our lost child, given back to us by a gracious God," said Mr. Phillips. But there was no need to tell her that; she knew all now. Kissing her darling, patting her head, and murmuring over her sweet pet names, as though Mary were still the baby girl she had lost, she sat for a few bewildered, rapturous moments, then sank back in a swoon. She lay with such a smile on her lips that those about her were little alarmed. She had only fainted under her burden of happiness. She afterwards said that this swoon was like a trance of heavenly joy. She revived with a sigh, thinking it all a dream,—but we know it was n't.
I don't know that I have anything more to tell you, except that Mrs. Phillips got well very rapidly, and did n't have to go South with the birds that year. Joy and Love are very good physicians, though they practice without a diploma, in defiance of medical professors and all the college of surgeons.
Yes, one other thing. There was a great Christmas gathering at the Phillips mansion that year. The Raeburns and Mortons were there, with a host of Mary's uncles, aunts, and cousins, and actually two pairs of grandparents. Only think how rich she was!
On Christmas-eve there was dancing and charade-acting, there were games and tableaux in the great hall; and last and best of all, there was story-telling around the fragrant wood-fire in the library.
Of all the stories told that night, there was none to compare, everybody said, with the one related by pretty Bessie Raeburn, of a certain Christmas adventure of hers, and of what came of it.
I love my first on a summer eve, Or a breezy autumn morning; My soul bounds with it, and my heart Laughs out, all trouble scorning.
I love it by the wild sea-beach, When fades the sunset splendor, And the new moon, like a fairy boat, Sails through the sky-deeps tender.
My second brings up visions sad Of life's most fearful duty,— Of green mounds hiding from our sight Dear forms of youth and beauty.
My third, if speaking slowly, clouds The brightest day with sadness; If quickly, thrills the air, and wakes The gloomiest morn to gladness.
It calls, and through the churchyard gate A funeral is creeping; It calls, and down the old church aisle A bridal train is sweeping!
My whole grew in a garden old, Round which my heart still lingers; Its azure petals formed a cup Fit for a fairy's fingers.