There was a general exclamation, and each one declared it impossible to perform such a feat.
"Try," said the judge briefly; and he passed round the pencils and the sheets of paper. Then he laid his watch on the cloth, and gave the signal. You would have laughed at the utter stillness then, and at the perplexity on each face. Slowly the hands moved round, till the ten minutes were up, and the judge cried halt.
"You read then, judge," said Mr. Goldthwaite; "begin with your own."
"Well, here I am," said the judge with a very comical smile, and he read slowly and distinctly:—
"It seems to me that if you go Enjoyment for to seek, You'll find out all you want and more Up here on Pendle Peak."
A shout of laughter greeted this effusion, and the judge pretended to be highly offended.
"I object to the 'for' in the second line," said Mr. Goldthwaite.
"Do you think I don't know it has no business there?" said the judge. "But I couldn't get it to rhyme, so I was obliged to put in something. It is not bad for an old fellow who never made two lines rhyme before in his life. Come then, Frank, pass up yours."
"To read a page from Nature's book, In this deep solitude, Uplifts the heart in purer aims, And leads us nearer God."
"True, Frank," said the judge solemnly. "You have beaten me hollow anyway.—Now, Carrie."
"Mine is very poor indeed, Judge Keane," said Carrie, as she passed up her slip. "Like yours it is my first attempt."
"The beauty of the hills, So calm, so free, so bright, Can dim my eyes with tears, And fill me with delight."
"Very good" was the verdict; and then Miss Keane reluctantly gave up her paper.
"How still it is! No rude discord Falls on the ear; We feel all earthly thoughts and aims Must vanish here."
That also was pronounced "very good," and Judge Keane feared he should have some difficulty in adjudicating the prize. Mr. George Keane's was the next.
"I never wrote a poem, but since You will not be refused, I do declare I don't know how, And beg to be excused."
"You have no chance anyway, George," said his father, laughing with the rest. "It has not the remotest reference to the subject in hand.—Well, Lucy."
"Mine last, please," pleaded Lucy.
So the judge took the paper from Minnie's hand and read,—
"Papa, you know I can't make verse, And it was very bad Of you to make us play at this,— I tell you I'm real mad."
There was another shout at Minnie's performance, and then Lucy timidly slipped her paper into the judge's hand, and drew back behind Minnie. The judge read very slowly this time, and every beautiful word was distinctly heard.
"The calm, still brightness on the hills, The beauty on the plain, Fill all my heart with strange sweet joy, That is akin to pain.
"We stand upon a stepping-stone Up to the Better Land; I seem to see the glory there, And feel my Father's hand.
"And hovering near me seem to be The loved ones gone before; One day we'll mount God's stepping-stones, And weep earth's tears no more."
There was a moment's surprised silence. All eyes were turned to Lucy, who shrank further back with a very distressed face.
"The prize is yours, Lucy," said Judge Keane at length.—"Who would have thought this shy little maiden was the poet of the company?"
There were many other remarks made, which seemed to distress Lucy so much that they held their peace at length, and the judge remembered Tom's contribution had not been called for.
"You thought you were to escape, young man," said he, as he received the paper from Tom's reluctant hand. "Perhaps the last may be best yet, who knows? Well, I never—ha! ha!"
He held up the paper, and lo, a sketch of the circle of anxious faces, with paper and pencil before them, and every expression true to the life. It was wonderfully well done, and created much amusement as it was handed round the company.
"The pencil-case is Lucy's," said the judge. "But I think you deserve a special prize, my lad. Will you let me keep this? Robert must see it."
"Yes, sir, of course," answered Tom. "When I felt a pencil in my hand I had to draw. I always feel so."
"True artist; eh, Carrie?" whispered the judge, and she nodded assent. She had not yet recovered from the surprise Lucy had given her.
"The sun is thinking of setting," said the judge then. "We must be preparing to depart."
There was a general move, and Miss Keane and Miss Goldthwaite proceeded to clear the table.
"Let us sit here and see the sun set, and have a talk, Lucy," said Minnie, drawing Lucy a little apart. "What a perfectly elegant poem that was you wrote. It's 'most as good as Whittier's George reads to mamma sometimes. I guess you'll grow up to be a Mrs. Whittier."
"Oh no," said Lucy, laughing a little; "Miss Keane's was just as good, I think, only I wrote more. How funny yours was."
"I should think so. Mopsy, or Ted, or Silver Tail could do just as well, I believe.—Tom, won't you draw me a picture of my very own to keep? I wish you'd come up and do the kittens; won't you? I ask Robert every time he comes, but he just teases me."
"I'll draw a kitten for you if you like," answered Tom readily, "but I can't promise to come up and do it."
Before very long Billy was harnessed again, and after bidding a reluctant good-bye to the Peak for another year, the descent was begun. Lucy walked part of the way with Mr. George Keane's arm to help her along, and Miss Goldthwaite beckoned Tom to her side.
"I haven't seen much of you to-day, Tom," she said pleasantly. "Have you had a nice day?"
"I shall never forget it, Miss Goldthwaite," answered Tom very gravely.
And though after years brought many happy excursions up the Peak, never was one so exquisitely enjoyed as this had been. The sun had dropped behind the hill when the tired party reached the Red House, and a big moon was coming up serenely in the opal sky. Mr. and Miss Goldthwaite paused at the avenue gate, saying they would not come any further; so the good-nights were said there and the company separated.
"Good-night, my little poetess," whispered the judge as he lifted Lucy from the waggon. "Go on writing, my dear; we will hear of you yet." And he kissed her as he set her to the ground, and added softly, "You have done an old man good to-day though you did not know it."
It was a very quiet walk home by the river-side to the parsonage, but the thoughts were all pleasant ones. Mr. Goldthwaite had not spoken much to Lucy all day, but he had watched her, how closely she did not know. He held her hand at parting, and looked straight into her beautiful eyes, his own very grave and earnest.
"God bless you, Lucy; good-night." She wondered a little at the oddness of his manner. "My soldier has shown to advantage to-day," said Miss Carrie, smiling as she shook hands with Tom. "I have been very proud of him."
"Lucy," said Tom, as they turned into the paddock at Thankful Rest, "do you know what I'm going to do when I'm a man?"
"Be a great painter," answered Lucy promptly. "What else?"
"Anything else?" inquired she in much surprise.
"I'm going to marry Miss Goldthwaite!"
Lucy laughed outright.
"You can't, Tom; she's going to marry Mr. George Keane, Minnie told me."
"Is she? Well, Mr. George Keane is a very good fellow," said Tom in a tone which would have infinitely amused that gentleman had he heard it; "but he isn't half good enough for her.—O Lucy, hasn't this been a day?"
"Yes," answered Lucy, and she turned full eyes up to the quiet sky. "I think papa and mamma must see us, and be glad we have been happy."
"I feel so too," answered Tom with the sudden beautiful earnestness which had often come to him of late.—"Kiss me, Lucy; there are only you and I."
She put her arm about his neck, and kissed him as he wished; then the two went very soberly into the house.
ON THE LAKE.
On the first morning of November the summit of the Peak was draped in white, and a slight sprinkling of snow sparkled on the plain. Frost was hard enough to freeze the duck-pond and the horse-trough. Winter had begun. It was very cold; Lucy shivered over her dressing every morning in her little attic chamber, and had just to work to get warm, as Aunt Hepsy permitted no sitting over the stove. Tom had to turn out of doors at six every morning, and feed a score of cattle before breakfast, and woe betide him if the work was not done up to Uncle Josh's mark. Uncle Josh had a vocabulary of his own, from which he selected many an epithet to bestow on Tom! Sometimes yet the quick temper would fly up, and there would be a war of words; but the lad's strong striving was beginning to bear its fruit, and he found it daily easier to keep hold of the bridle, as Miss Goldthwaite termed it. Keziah had been dismissed also, and Lucy's burden was sometimes more than she could bear. Miss Hepsy refused to see what others saw—that the girl was overwrought; and her feelings had been blunted so long, that only a very sharp shock would bring them into use again. And the time had not come yet. For more highly favoured young folks than Tom and Lucy Hurst, these frosty days brought innumerable enjoyments in their train—skating and sleighing by daylight and moonlight, evening parties, and all sorts of frolics. There were gay times at the Red House, especially when in Christmas week Mr. Robert Keane came home, bringing with him two school-boy cousins from Philadelphia. Miss Alice Keane called at Thankful Rest on her pony, one morning, to ask Tom and Lucy to a Christmas-eve gathering. The invitation was curtly declined by Miss Hepsy, and she was dismissed with such scant courtesy that she departed very indignant indeed.
"What a woman that is at Thankful Rest," she said to Miss Goldthwaite when she called at the parsonage. "I almost forgot myself, Carrie, and nearly gave her a few rude words. I am truly sorry for those poor children."
"Well you may be," answered Carrie with a sigh, knowing better than Alice what their life was.
Only one half-holiday was vouchsafed to them at Miss Goldthwaite's earnest entreaty, and they took tea at the parsonage, after which the party went up to the Red House pond to see the skating there. They were very warmly welcomed—Minnie, especially, being quite overjoyed to see Lucy again.
"Do you skate, Tom?" asked Miss Keane, coming up breathless after a long run down the lake.
"Yes, Miss Keane. But I have no skates; they were left at home—in Newhaven, I mean."
"Here, Minnie, my pet, run to the house and bring out a couple of pairs. You will find them in George's room, I think; and tell Robert I want him on the lake."
Minnie ran off obediently. Pretty soon Mr. George Keane and the two cousins appeared round the bend, and Miss Keane introduced the latter to Tom. They did not take long to become acquainted, and were soon talking quite familiarly. They stood waiting till Minnie returned, her brother with her, carrying the skates. He was a tall, slight young man, rather like Miss Keane; and his face looked a trifle stern at first, as hers did, but that wore off when you got to know him.
"This is Tom Hurst I told you of, Robert," said Miss Keane; and Tom shook hands with him reverentially, remembering he was the great painter all America was talking of.
"I'm glad to see you," said Mr. Robert Keane frankly. "Let us get on our skates, and you and I shall take a run together. I haven't been on the ice this season."
Tom sat down and quickly put on his skates, and the pair set off, keeping close together. Miss Keane turned to Mr. Goldthwaite with a smile. "Robert is interested already. I want him to do something for Tom, and I think he will."
"He will not regret it," answered Mr. Goldthwaite. "They are all off now but we two, Miss Keane; come, we must not be behind."
"My sister tells me you would like to be a painter, Tom," said Mr. Robert Keane, when they had gone a hundred yards in silence.
"Yes, sir," answered Tom, wishing to say a great deal more, but unable to utter more than two words.
"What would you say to go back to Philadelphia, and let me look after your training?"
"O Mr. Keane!" Tom stood still on the ice and lifted incredulous eyes to his companion's face. There was a smile there, but the eyes were sincere enough.
"I see you would like it. Don't stand; we can talk while we go. Well, my boy, there is a great deal of hard work, patient plodding, uninteresting study to be gone through, and as many failures and tumbles as days in the year, before you reach even the first step of the ladder. Do you think you could go through it?"
"I would go through anything, Mr. Keane, and toil for twenty years, if need be, only to be allowed to work at it. Do you know, it is life to me even to think of it."
Robert Keane glanced curiously at the lad. His face was kindling with emotion, and his eyes shone like stars.
"All right, my boy; you're the right stuff, I see. Leave it with me; I'll fix it right enough. And you'll go to Philadelphia as sure as my name's Keane. No need to thank me. Let your future success be my reward, if I need any. Let us try a race back; you're a splendid skater."
They turned, and sped along the ice at lightning speed, and Tom came in a dozen yards in front at the farther side.
"Ahead of me," laughed Mr. Keane. "Is that an omen of the future, Tom?"
Miss Goldthwaite noted the boy's flushed, happy face and bright eyes, and concluded Mr. Robert Keane must have wrought the change. She turned to remark upon it to Alice, when a hand touched her arm, and Tom's voice said eagerly, "Will you skate with me, Miss Goldthwaite? I want to speak to you." She nodded smilingly and gave him her hand.
"O Miss Goldthwaite," said Tom in a great burst of happiness, "Mr. Robert Keane says he will take me to Philadelphia with him, and help me to be a painter."
"I guessed he would," said Carrie. "I am very glad of it, Tom. Do you remember what I said about this joy coming in God's good time?"
"I have not forgotten, Miss Goldthwaite."
She stopped on the ice, and laid her slim hand a moment on his shoulder. "My soldier will remember his Captain still, I hope, in those happier days, and work for Him with double energy because they are happier."
The moonlight showed trembling drops in the boy's earnest eyes as he answered reverently—"I will never forget how good He has been to me, Miss Goldthwaite, when I so little deserved it."
"That is right, my boy; I am not afraid of you," she said heartily. "Here we are round the bend. How lovely that moonlight shines through these gloomy pines. Let us go right to the end before we turn."
They set off again along the smooth sheet of ice, and as they neared the farther end of the lake Miss Goldthwaite turned aside to explore an opening between the trees. A moment more and Tom heard a crash, followed by a faint scream. He looked round, to see the edge of Miss Goldthwaite's fur cloak disappearing through a huge fissure in the ice! He had presence of mind to utter one wild, despairing cry, which re-echoed far off in the lonely pine wood, and then he plunged after her and caught her dress. Superhuman strength seemed to come to him in that moment of desperate peril, and he managed to keep, hold of her with one hand, and with the other cling to the broken edge of ice. It seemed hours before the ring of skates and the sound of voices announced help at hand, and his numbed fingers relaxed their hold of the ice just as Robert Keane and his brother's strong arms bent down to rescue them. He still had hold of Miss Goldthwaite, and two minutes sufficed to extricate them both. They were unconscious, and Carrie's sweet face was so deathly white that a mighty fear took hold of all present. Alice Keane knelt down and laid her hand to her heart. "Thank God," she uttered tremulously, and it was fervently re-echoed by every lip. They were borne to the Red House with great speed, and restoratives being applied, both rallied in a very short time. Miss Goldthwaite's first question was for Tom, as his had been for her; and she whispered to them faintly that he had saved her life at the risk of his own. When Tom looked round, after a while, it was to find the judge and Mr. George Keane standing by his bed.
"God bless you, my lad," said the old man huskily. "You have saved our pretty flower. All Pendlepoint will thank you for this."
And Mr. George bent over him, his honest gray eyes dim with tears. "I owe my wife's life to you, Tom, my boy. As long as I live I shall never forget this."
A message was despatched to Thankful Rest reporting the accident, and saying the children would remain till next day, at least, at the Red House. Mr. Goldthwaite also remained. His words of thanks to Tom were few: he was too deeply moved to speak, but Tom was quick to understand. Next morning Miss Goldthwaite was able to appear at the breakfast table, looking a little paler than usual, but apparently not much the worse of her ducking. Dr. Gair forbade Tom to get up till noon, so Carrie herself took up his breakfast-tray. He looked surprised and greatly relieved to see her, and tried to make light of what he had done.
"It is nothing," he said. "I would gladly do fifty times more for you."
"We are bound more closely together now," she said. "I owe my life to you." And bending over him she kissed him, and slipped away, leaving him very happy indeed.
In the evening he came down to the drawing-room, where he was treated as a hero. Everybody made so much of him that he began to feel uncomfortable, and took refuge at last with Mr. Robert Keane, who good-naturedly showed him the sketch-book he had filled in Europe, and explained everything to him, as if he found pleasure in it. And he did find pleasure, for Tom was an enthusiastic listener.
No inquiry had come from Thankful Rest, which had astonished Mrs. Keane very much. She thought they would be sure to feel anxious about Tom's recovery. She did not know Joshua Strong and his sister. The following morning Dr. Gair said Tom might go home as soon as he liked; so Miss Alice drove him and Lucy to Thankful Rest in the course of the forenoon. Miss Hepsy was plucking chickens for the market, and tossed up her head when her nephew and niece appeared before her.
"I wonder you'd come back at all after livin' so long among gentle folk. It'll be a long time, I reckon, afore ye get the chance to jump through the ice after Miss Goldthwaite or any other miss.—Here, Lucy, get off yer hat, and lend a hand wi' them chickens.—You'll find plenty wood in the shed, boy, waitin' to be chopped, if yer uncle hain't anything else for ye to do. Off ye go."
The contrast between the happy circle they had left and their own home was so painful that Lucy's tears fell fast as she went to do her aunt's bidding. And Tom departed to the wood-shed with a very downcast and rebellious heart.
On the afternoon of the following day Mr. Goldthwaite came to Thankful Rest, accompanied by Mr. Robert Keane. Lucy opened the door to them; and seeing a stranger with the parson, her aunt shouted to her to show them into the sitting-room. It was a chill and gloomy place, though painfully clean and tidy—utterly destitute of comfort. Lucy shut the door upon them, and went back to tell her aunt that the stranger was Mr. Robert Keane.
"What's their business here, I'd like to know?" she said as she whisked off her white apron and smoothed her hair beneath her cap.
Lucy knew, but discreetly held her peace. Miss Hepsy stalked across the passage and into the sitting-room, her looks asking as plainly as any words what they wanted.
"This is Mr. Robert Keane, Miss Strong," said the minister. "He wants to see you and your brother, I think, on a little business."
Miss Hepsy elevated her eyebrows, and shook hands with Mr. Keane in silence.
"Josh is in the barn. I s'pose I'd better send for him," she said.
And Mr. Keane answered courteously—"If you please."
She opened the door and called to Lucy to run to the barn for her uncle.
"Yes, Aunt Hepsy," answered Lucy, her sweet, clear tones contrasting strongly with her aunt's unpleasant voice.
"Miss Goldthwaite's all right again, eh?" she asked, sitting down near the door.
"I am thankful to say my sister is none the worse of her adventure," answered Mr. Goldthwaite. "But for Tom's bravery the consequences might have been more serious."
"H'm, I told him it would be a precious long time afore he got on the ice again to be laid up, botherin' strange folks, an' I guess I'll keep my word."
"You must not be so hard on him, Miss Strong," said the minister. "He is a very fine lad, and tries very hard to please you, I know."
Aunt Hepsy remained silent.
"What a pretty place you have, Miss Strong," said Mr. Keane's pleasant, well-modulated voice. "The Peak shows splendidly from this window."
"The place aren't no great thing, sir," said Miss Hepsy.—"Here's Josh." She opened the door, and Uncle Josh appeared on the threshold in his working garb, grimy and dust-stained, as he had come from repairing the mill. He pulled his hair to the minister, and bowed awkwardly to Mr. Keane.
"Sit down, Josh," said Miss Hepsy, but Josh preferred to stand. There was just a moment's constrained silence.
"I have called to see you, Mr. Strong," said Robert Keane, plunging into the subject without further delay, "about your nephew Tom. He is very anxious to become a painter, I find. Would you have any objections to me putting him in the way of life to which his desire and talent point him?"
"Has the ungrateful little brat been carrying his grumbling among you folks?" said Miss Hepsy wrathfully.
"Be quiet, Hepsy," said Joshua Strong very imperatively.
"I don't quite understand you, sir," he said to Mr. Keane. "I can't afford to send the boy anywhere to learn anything, if ye mean that. He'll never do no good on a farm, for sartin; but he kin work for his livin' here, an' that's all I kin do for 'im."
"I am a painter myself," said Mr. Keane, guessing they were unaware of the fact, and now wishing to state his intentions as briefly and plainly as possible; "and from what I have seen of your nephew I believe his talent for art to be very great indeed. What I mean is this: give him up to me; I will take him back to Philadelphia, and take entire care of his training. It will not cost you a farthing, Mr. Strong. Do you understand?"
"We're poor folks, but we don't take charity even for Hetty's children," said Miss Hepsy pointedly. "We've never been offered it afore."
Mr. Keane might have waxed angry at the impertinent remark. He was only inwardly amused. "It is not charity, Miss Strong," he said good-humouredly. "I expect Tom will be able to repay anything he may cost me. I hope you will not stand in the lad's way. He is a born artist, and will never do good in any other sphere.—Come, Mr. Strong, say yes, and let us shake hands over the bargain."
It was proof of the rare delicacy of Robert Keane's nature that he put the matter in the light of a favour to himself. Mr. Goldthwaite admired and honoured his friend at that moment more than he had ever done before.
Aunt Hepsy preserved a rigid and unbending silence.
Uncle Josh stood twirling his thumbs reflectively. It was to cost him nothing, not a farthing; and he would be rid of the bother the hot-headed youngster was to him. But for his sister he would have granted a ready assent.
"Wal, Hepsy?" he said in an inquiring tone.
"You're the master, Josh, I reckon. Do as ye please. It's all one to me;" and to their amazement she flounced out of the room and banged the door behind her.
"I'm much obleeged to you, Mr. Keane," said Josh, finding his tongue in a marvellously short time. "I've no objections. As I said afore, he's an idle, peart young 'un; no good at farm work. I hope yell be able to make a better job o' him than I've done."
"I am not afraid," said Mr. Robert Keane. "And I am obliged to you for granting my request. Can I see Tom?"
"I reckon you may," said Uncle Josh slowly. "Wal, I'll be off to that plaguy mill. Good-day to you.—My respects to Miss Goldthwaite, parson." Once more Uncle Josh pulled his forelock, and shambled out of the room.
"It doesn't cause them much concern anyway," said Mr. Keane when the door closed. "They are a bright pair; I should be afraid of that woman myself. How that mite of a girl stands it I don't know."
Before Mr. Goldthwaite had time to answer, the door opened, and a very eager, excited-looking boy appeared on the threshold.
"Well, Tom, my boy," said Mr. Keane, holding out his hand, "the bargain's sealed. You belong to me now."
"Has Uncle Josh—has Aunt Hepsy said I might?" he said breathlessly. "Oh, it is too good to be true!"
"True enough," said Mr. Keane, laughing at the lad's manner.—"Please assure him of it, Mr. Goldthwaite."
Mr. Goldthwaite laid his hand on the lad's shoulder, and bent his grave eyes on his beaming face. "I congratulate you," he said heartily. "And I hope that by-and-by all Pendlepoint will be proud of the name of Tom Hurst."
Tom drew his hand across his eyes. "I can't help it, sir," he said apologetically. "But if you knew how much I've wished for this and dreamed of it.—Oh, I feel I can never be grateful enough to you, Mr. Keane!"
"Nonsense," said Mr. Keane. "Well, we must be going. Show us the way out, will you, Tom? Your aunt has deserted us. I don't leave for a fortnight yet. I shall see you again in a day or two."
Aunt Hepsy, however, had not altogether forgotten the duties of hospitality, and now reappeared and asked them to stay to tea. Her face had cleared a little, and she seemed to regret her previous rudeness. Her invitation, however, was courteously declined.
"You're here, I see, Tom," she said severely. "Well, I hope you're properly grateful to Mr. Keane for doing so much for you. An' I hope ye'll mend yer ways, an' be a better boy than ye've been."
"I am very grateful, Aunt Hepsy," said Tom very quietly. "And I will try to be what you say."
Something in his face and eyes touched even Aunt Hepsy, and it came upon her very suddenly to wonder if she had not treated him a little unjustly. "He's a biddable cretur, too," she said to Mr. Keane. "An' p'raps he'll take more kindly to your kind o' life than ours. I don't think much o' them useless ways o' livin' myself, but there's differences."
"Some day perhaps, Miss Strong, when Tom comes back a great man," laughed Mr. Keane, as he shook hands with her and Tom, "you'll admit you've changed your mind. If you do I'll come along and have a good laugh at you."
A smile actually appeared on Miss Hepsy's face. "He's a real pleasant-spoken gentleman, Mr. Robert Keane," said Aunt Hepsy, as she shut the door.—"Well, Tom, I hope ye'll get yer fill o' paintin' now."
Tom's eyes beamed, but he made no verbal reply. Lucy followed him to the door as he passed out to the barn again.
"O Tom, I am so glad," she whispered joyfully; and Tom answered by tossing his cap in the air and trying to bound up after it.
"Glad? I don't know whether I'm on my head or my heels, Lucy," he said. "It's the happiest day of my life."
Lucy kept the smile upon her face, not wishing to damp his joy, but her heart was very sore. For what did Tom's departure mean for her? It meant parting from all she had on earth; it meant a life of utter loneliness and lovelessness, save for the dear outside friends she could see so seldom. It was Lucy's nature ever to unselfishly bury her own troubles and try to join in the happiness of others.
"A fortnight only," she said to herself as she went back to her work. "What will become of me?"
The days sped fleetly for her, but slowly for Tom, who was eager to be gone. Mr. Robert Keane paid frequent visits to Thankful Rest, and all arrangements were satisfactorily made. Lucy went about, saying little, and preserving her sweet serenity to the last. She busied herself with Tom's small wardrobe, adding a touch here and there to make it complete; and wept bitter tears over her work, as many another sister has done before and since. It was not till the last night that a thought of her came to cloud Tom's sky. They were sitting together at the stove in the fading twilight, Lucy's face very grave and sad.
"I say Lucy, though," Tom said, "how awfully lonely it will be for you when I'm gone. Why, whatever will you do?"
"Think of you, and look for your letters," she said, her lips quivering. "You will not forget me altogether, Tom?"
A pang of remorse shot through Tom's heart. He came to her side and threw one arm round her, remembering how his mother's last charge had been to take care of Lucy, and how poorly he had done it after all. Lucy had taken care of him instead.
"Lucy, I'm a perfectly horrid boy," he said in a queer, quick way. "Don't you hate me?"
"Hate you? O Tom, I've nobody but you."
Her sunny head drooped a moment against his arm, and her tears fell without restraint. "I didn't mean to, Tom," she said at last, looking up with a faint smile, "but I couldn't help it. I feel dreadful to think of you going away."
"When I'm a man, Lucy," he said manfully, "what a perfectly stunning little home you and I shall have together. It won't be so long—why, I'm thirteen."
"Only about ten or twelve years," said Lucy, able to laugh now. "I shall be gray-haired long before that time."
"You! why, you'll be the same as you are at fifty. You are like mamma; she never grew any older-looking. You must write often, mind, Lucy, and tell me all about everything and everybody."
Lucy promised, and, feeling very sad again, rose to light the lamp in case she should break down. Aunt Hepsy was wonderfully kind that night—she could be kind sometimes if she liked—and, altogether, the evening passed pleasantly. Tom went to bed early, as they were to start by the morning train. Lucy followed almost immediately. About half-an-hour afterwards Aunt Hepsy went upstairs to put a forgotten article into Tom's trunk, and was arrested by sounds in Lucy's room. The door was a little ajar, and Aunt Hepsy peered in. Lucy was undressed and sitting at the window, her arms on the dressing-table, and her whole frame shaking with sobs. Once or twice Aunt Hepsy heard the word "Mamma." The passion of grief and longing in the girl's voice made something come into Aunt Hepsy's throat, and she slipped noiselessly downstairs.
"I don't feel easy in my mind, Josh," she said when she re-entered the kitchen. "I'm feared we've been rayther hard on Hetty's children. She never did us any harm."
"Did I say she did, Hepsy?" asked Uncle Josh, serenely puffing away at his pipe. "You was allus the worst at her and at the children. Ye put upon that Lucy in a perfectly awful way."
"Shut up," said Miss Hepsy in a tone which admitted of no further remark, and the subject dropped.
There was a great bustle in the morning, and before Lucy had time to think about anything Tom had kissed her for the last time, and the waggon drove away. He waved his handkerchief to her till they were out of sight; and then she went back to the house sad and pale and cheerless.
"I guess you needn't fly round much to-day, Lucy," said Aunt Hepsy with unusual thoughtfulness. "Ye don't look very spry, and feel down a bit. Never mind, he ain't away for ever."
"Thank you, Aunt Hepsy," said Lucy gently. "I'd rather work, if you please. It takes up my mind better. Let me wash these dishes."
Aunt Hepsy surmised the tears were kept for the loneliness of her own chamber. She was right. Only to her mother's God did Lucy Hurst pour out all her grief, and from Him sought the help and comfort none can give so well as He.
The unusual softening of heart and manner visible in Aunt Hepsy at the time of Tom's departure disappeared before the lapse of many days. You see, she had gone on in the old, sour, cross-grained way so long, she felt most at home in it. She did not feel unkindly towards gentle, patient Lucy; but her manner was so ungracious, and her words so sharp, you will not wonder that Lucy could not read beneath the surface. She was very quiet, very sober, and very listless; striving, too, to do her duties as well as aforetime, but lacking physical strength. Tom's letters, frequent and full of hope and happiness, were the chief solace of the girl's lonely life. Mr. and Miss Goldthwaite came sometimes yet to Thankful Rest; but these were family visits, and Lucy had few opportunities of quiet talk with her friends. Many invitations had come from the Red House, but to each and all Aunt Hepsy returned a peremptory refusal.
"I'm not going to have her learn to fly round for ever at folks' houses. She has plenty to do at home, and she'll do it, you take my word for it. Tell Judge Keane's folks I'm mighty obliged to them, but Lucy can't come. Let that be an end of it." So she said to Miss Goldthwaite one day; and she carried the message, slightly modified, to Mrs. Keane. So the days and weeks slipped away, till Winter had to hide his diminished head before the harbingers of Spring. In the closing days of March the ice broke up on the river, and all nature seemed to spring to life again. Green blades and tiny blossoms began to peep above ground, and the birds sang their songs of gladness on the budding boughs. It was a busy time at Thankful Rest, both indoors and out. In the first week of April began that awful revolution, Miss Hepsy Strong's spring-cleaning. It was her boast that she could accomplish in one week what other housewives could accomplish only in three. For every half-idle hour Lucy had enjoyed during the winter she had to atone now; for Aunt Hepsy kept her sweeping, and scouring, and dusting, and trotting upstairs and down, till the girl's strength almost failed her. She did not complain, however, and Aunt Hepsy was too much absorbed to see that her powers were overtaxed. The cleaning was triumphantly concluded on Saturday night, and Lucy crept away early to bed, but was unable to sleep from fatigue. She came downstairs next morning so wan and white that Aunt Hepsy feared she was going to turn sick on her hands. But Lucy said she was well enough, and would go to church as usual. Thinking she looked really ill, Miss Goldthwaite came round to the porch after the service.
"Lucy, what is it, child? your face is quite white. Do you feel well enough?"
Lucy smiled a little, and slipping her hand through Miss Goldthwaite's arm, walked with her down the path.
"This has been cleaning week," she said in explanation, "and I have had more to do than usual. I daresay I'll be all right now."
But Miss Goldthwaite did not feel satisfied, and said so to her brother at the tea-table that night.
"I'm going up to Thankful Rest, Frank, to tell Miss Hepsy to be careful of Lucy. It is time somebody told her; she grows so thin, and, I notice, eats nothing."
Mr. Goldthwaite's anxiety exceeded his sister's, if that were possible, but he said very little. Accordingly, next afternoon Miss Goldthwaite betook herself to Thankful Rest. Finding the garden gate locked, she went round by the back, and in the yard encountered Lucy bending under the weight of two pails of water. She set them down on beholding Miss Goldthwaite; and Carrie noticed that her hand was pressed to her side, and that her breath came very fast.
"You are not fit to carry these, Lucy," said she very gravely. "Is there nobody but you?"
"I have been washing some curtains and things to-day, Miss Goldthwaite, and Aunt Hepsy thinks the water from the spring in the low meadow better for rinsing them in."
"Does she?" said Miss Goldthwaite, and her sweet lips closed together more sternly than Lucy had ever seen them do before.
Lucy passed into the wash-house with her pails, and Miss Goldthwaite went into the house without knocking. Miss Hepsy was making buckwheats, and greeted her visitor pleasantly enough. She sat down in the window, turned her eyes on Miss Hepsy's face, and said bluntly,—
"I'm going to say something which will likely vex you, Miss Hepsy, but I can't help it. I've been wanting to say it this long time."
Miss Hepsy did not look surprised, or even curious, she only said calmly,—
"It wouldn't be the first time you've vexed me, Miss Goldthwaite, by a long chalk."
"It's about Lucy, Miss Hepsy," continued Miss Goldthwaite. "Can't you see she's hardly fit to do a hand's turn at work? I met her out there carrying a load she was no more fit to carry than that kitten."
"Ain't she?" inquired Miss Hepsy quite unmoved. "What else?"
"There she is; I see her through the door. Look at her, and see if she is well. If she doesn't get rest and that speedily, she'll go into a decline, as sure as I sit here. I had a sister," said Carrie with a half sob, "who died of decline, and she looked exactly as Lucy does."
Miss Hepsy walked from the dresser to the stove and back again before she spoke. "When did you find out, Miss Goldthwaite, that Hepsy Strong could not mind her own affairs and her own folks?"
It was said in Miss Hepsy's most disagreeable manner, which was very disagreeable indeed; but Miss Goldthwaite did not intend to be disconcerted so soon.
"You have a kind heart, I know, Miss Hepsy, though you show it so seldom. You must know Lucy's value by this time, and if you haven't learned to love her, I don't know what you are made of. Be gentle with her, Miss Hepsy; she is very young—and she has no mother."
Miss Hepsy's temper was up, and she heard the gentle pleading unmoved.
"Ye've meddled a good deal wi' me, Miss Goldthwaite," she said slowly, "and I've never told ye to mind yer own business before, but I tell ye now. An' though ye are the parson's sister, ye say things I can't stand. Ye'd better be goin'; an' ye needn't come to Thankful Rest again till ye can let me an' my concerns alone."
Miss Goldthwaite rose at once, not angry, only grieved and disappointed.
"Good-bye, then, Miss Hepsy. It was only my love for Lucy made me speak. I'm sorry I've offended you. She is a dear, good girl. Some day, perhaps, you will be sorry you did not listen to my words," she said, and went away.
Not many words, good or bad, did Aunt Hepsy speak in the house that night. Lucy, busy with her mending, wondered what had passed that afternoon that Miss Goldthwaite's stay had been so brief. Aunt Hepsy's eyes rested keenly on Lucy's pale, sweet face more than once, and she was forced to admit that it was paler and thinner and more worn-looking than it need be. But she hardened her heart, and refused to obey its more kindly promptings. A few more days went by. Lucy grew weaker, and flagged in her work; and Aunt Hepsy watched her, and would not be the first to take needful steps. On Sunday morning Lucy did not come downstairs at the usual time, and even the clattering of breakfast dishes failed to bring her. At length Aunt Hepsy went upstairs. Lucy was still in bed.
"Are you sick, child?" said Aunt Hepsy in a strange quick voice.
Lucy answered very feebly,—"I'm afraid I'm goin' to be, Aunt Hepsy. I tried to get up, but I couldn't; and I haven't slept any all night."
"Where do you feel ill?"
"All over," said the girl wearily. "I've felt so for a long time, but I tried to go about. Are you angry because I'm going to be sick, Aunt Hepsy? It'll be a bother to you; but perhaps I'm going to mamma."
"Do you want to kill me outright, Lucy?" said her aunt; and even in her weakness Lucy opened her eyes wide in surprise. "If you speak about goin' to yer ma again," she said, "ye will kill me. Ye've got to lie there an' get better as fast as you like. I'll send for Dr. Gair, an' nurse ye night and day."
Aunt Hepsy could have said a great deal more, but a something in her throat prevented her. She went downstairs immediately, and despatched the boy for Dr. Gair. During his absence, she endeavoured to induce Lucy to take some breakfast, but in vain.
"I'm real sick, Aunt Hepsy," she said. "Just let me lie still. I don't want anything but just to be quiet."
Within the hour Dr. Gair came to Thankful Rest, for Miss Hepsy's message had been urgent. He was an old man, blunt-mannered, but truly tenderhearted, and a great favourite in the township. He had not been once at Thankful Rest since Deacon Strong's death, for neither the brother nor sister had ever had a day's illness in their lives. He made his examination of Lucy in a few minutes, and Miss Hepsy watched with a sinking heart how very grave his face was when he turned to her. He had few questions to ask, and these Lucy answered as simply as she could.
"Am I going to be very sick, Dr. Gair?" said Lucy.
"Yes, my dear; but please God, we may pull you through," said the old man softly. "In the meantime I can't do much; I'll look in again in the afternoon."
Miss Hepsy followed him in silence down the stairs, and he drew on his gloves in the lobby without speaking.
"This is a case of gross neglect, Miss Strong," he said at length. "The girl's delicate frame is thoroughly exhausted by over-fatigue and want of attention."
"Tell me something I don't know, Dr. Gair," said she sharply.
"And if she recovers, of which I am more than doubtful," he continued sternly, "it is to be hoped you will turn over a new leaf in your treatment of her. I am a plain man, Miss Strong, not given to gilding a bitter pill. If your niece dies, you may take home the blame to yourself. Good morning."
"I know all that, my good man, better than you can tell me," said Aunt Hepsy grimly. "You do your best to bring her round, an' I won't forget it. I've been a wicked woman, Dr. Gair, an' I s'pose the Lord's goin' to punish me now; an' he couldn't have chosen a surer way than by sending sickness to Lucy. Good morning."
Aunt Hepsy shut the door, and went into the kitchen. There Joshua sat anxiously awaiting the doctor's verdict.
"There ain't much hope, Josh," she said briefly.
"Ain't there, Hepsy? It's a bad job for the little 'un."
"An' for more than her, I reckon," returned his sister shortly. "I've lived one and forty years at Thankful Rest, Josh, an' I never felt as I do this day. I'd a mighty deal rather be sick myself than see the child's white face. If she gets round, I'll be a better woman, with the Lord's help. How He's borne with me so long's a marvel I can't comprehend. One and forty years, Josh Strong, and Lucy jes' fifteen. She's done a deal more good in one day o' her life than you or me ever did in all ours. The Lord forgive us, Josh, an' help us to make a better use o' what's left. Jes' step down to Pendlepoint, will ye, an' ask the parson an' his sister up. I guess Lucy'd be pleased to see 'em. One an' forty years, dear, dear; an' Lucy jes' fifteen."
Aunt Hepsy went out wiping her eyes, and stole upstairs again to Lucy.
LUCY FINDS THE KEY.
For several days a great shadow lay on Thankful Rest while Lucy hovered between life and death. Everything human care and skill could suggest was done, and the issue was in God's hands. Miss Goldthwaite had come up to Thankful Rest on Sunday, and had stayed, because Lucy seemed to be happier when she was by. Callers were innumerable, and a messenger came from the Red House every morning asking a bulletin. What Aunt Hepsy suffered during those days I do not suppose anybody ever guessed. It was her way to hide her feelings always, but she would sit or stand looking at the sick girl with eyes which ought to have brought her back to health. Uncle Josh was in and out fifty times a day, and things outside were allowed to manage themselves; all interest centred in the little attic chamber and its suffering occupant. She lay in a kind of stupor most part of the day, only moaning at times with the pain Dr. Gair was powerless to relieve. She grew perceptibly weaker, and they feared to leave her a moment, lest she should slip away while they were gone. So the days went by till Sunday came round again. Dr. Gair came early that morning, and looked, if possible, graver than usual.
"If she lives till evening," he said to the anxious watchers, "she will recover, but I cannot give you much hope. Administer this medicine every two hours; it is all I can do. I will be back before night."
In after years Aunt Hepsy was wont to say that Sunday was the longest day she had ever spent in her life. I think others felt so too. Slowly the hours went round. Even into the darkened room the spring sunshine would peep, and the twittering of the birds in the orchard broke the oppressive stillness. At four o'clock the doctor came again. Save for the almost imperceptible breathing, Lucy lay so pale and still that they almost thought her dead. At sunset she moved uneasily, and with a great sigh lifted her heavy lids and looked round the room. A sob burst from Aunt Hepsy's lips, and Carrie Goldthwaite's tears fell fast, for Dr. Gair's face said she was saved. Her lips moved, and he bent down to catch the faintly murmured words,—
"Have I been sick a long time? I am going to get well now."
The doctor nodded and smiled. "God has been very good to you—to us all—my child," he said. "He has heard the prayers of those who love you."
Carrie came to the bedside then, and bending over her, kissed her once with streaming eyes. Aunt Hepsy moved to the window and drew up the blind, and the red glow of the setting sun crept into the room, and lay bright and beautiful on Lucy's face.
"I am glad to see the sun again," said Lucy wearily. "I seem to have been sick so long. May I go to sleep now, Dr. Gair?"
"Yes; and sleep a week if you like," he said cheerily.—"Rest and care now, Miss Strong, is all she needs to bring her round."
Aunt Hepsy made no reply whatever. She stood still in the window, her face softened into a strange, thankful tenderness, and her heart lifting itself up in gratitude to God, and in many an earnest resolution for the future. She followed Dr. Gair downstairs, as she had done that day a week before, and as he passed out caught his hand in a grip of iron. "I'm a woman of few words, Dr. Gair," she said abruptly, "but I won't forget what you've done for me an' mine."
"God first, Miss Strong," said the doctor gravely; and then he added with an odd little smile, "Lucy's lines will be in pleasant places now, I fancy?"
"If they ain't, I'll know the reason why," said she grimly. "Good evening."
Lucy's sleep that night was calm and refreshing, and when Dr. Gair came again in the morning he expressed himself pleased with her condition. Miss Goldthwaite brought up a breakfast tray with a cup of weak tea and a piece of toast, of which Lucy was able to eat a little bit. She had fifty questions to ask; but remembering Dr. Gair's peremptory orders, Carrie placed a finger on her lips and shook her head. There would be plenty of time to talk by-and-by, for convalescence would be a tedious business; in the meantime there was absolute need of perfect rest. Miss Goldthwaite brought her sewing, and sat down in the window seat, humming a scrap of song, the outcome of the gladness of her heart. Lucy lay still in a state of dreamy happiness, listening to the twittering of the birds mingling with Carrie's song, and watching the gay April sunbeams dancing among her golden curls. By-and-by Aunt Hepsy came up, and Lucy looked at her curiously. She seemed to dimly remember that during the days of the past week a face like Aunt Hepsy's had bent over her in love and tenderness, and a voice like hers, only infinitely softer and gentler, had spoken broken words of grief and prayer at her bedside. Aunt Hepsy, just yet, did not meet Lucy's wondering eyes, nor speak any words to her at all. She moved softly about the room, putting things to rights deftly and silently; but Lucy was sure there was something different about her.
Immediately after the early dinner, seeing Lucy so much better, Miss Goldthwaite bethought herself of her neglected household at Pendlepoint, and said she would go home, promising to come again to-morrow. Her eyes were full of tears as she bent over to bid Lucy good-bye, and she whispered tenderly,—
"My darling, what a load I shall lift from anxious hearts at Pendlepoint to-night. You don't know how dear you are to us all."
Lucy smiled a little in a happy way; to her heart evidences of love were very precious. She was left alone for nearly a couple of hours, while Aunt Hepsy washed up dishes and set things right downstairs she fell into a light doze, and when she awoke, it was to find Aunt Hepsy sitting by her side with her knitting.
"Have I been sleeping, Aunt Hepsy?" she said. "You don't know how well I feel. I could almost get up, I think."
Aunt Hepsy laughed a little tremulous laugh.
"In about a month or so, I guess, you'll begin to think about getting up," she said; and again something in Aunt Hepsy's face set Lucy wondering what was different about her. There was a short silence, then Aunt Hepsy laid down her knitting, and took both Lucy's thin hands in her firm clasp. "Lucy, do you think ye can ever forgive yer old aunt?" she said suddenly and quickly. "I've been a cross, hardhearted old fool, an' the Lord's been better to me than I dared to hope for. He's heard my prayers, Lucy, an' he knows how hard I mean to try and make up for the past. If ye'll say ye forgive me, and try to care a little for me, ye'll maybe find Thankful Rest a pleasanter place than ye think it now."
"O Aunt Hepsy, don't say any more," pleaded Lucy, her eyes growing dim. "I'm so glad I've been sick, because you've learned to love me a little."
So the barrier was broken down, and in the ensuing days these two became very dear to each other; and Lucy grew to understand Aunt Hepsy, and to see how much good there lay beneath her grim exterior. The door of Aunt Hepsy's heart had long been locked, and like other unused things, had grown rusty on its hinges. But Lucy had found the key, and entered triumphantly at last.
A GREAT CHANGE.
You will be wondering what Tom had been about during his sister's illness; but he was still in ignorance of it, his friends thinking it best to wait till the crisis was past. It fell to Aunt Hepsy's lot to send the news, and her letter was such a curiosity in its way that I cannot do better than set it down just as it was.
"THANKFUL REST, April 18th, 18—.
"MY DEAR NEPHEW,—I daresay you'll wonder to hear from me, an' will maybe feel skeered; so, to relieve you, I may as well say at once that Lucy's been sick, very sick, but she's getting round nicely now, thank the Lord. She is in bed yet, and I'm writing this beside her. She sends her love, and says she'll write to-morrow. I guess I'll let her do it in about a month. I want to ask you to forgive me for being so hard on you when you lived here. I hope you don't bear your old aunt any grudge. Lucy, God bless her, won't hear me abuse myself, so it's a relief to do it to you, though you are a boy. I keep that picter you drew of me that I slapped you for, an' I'll look at it when I feel my pesky temper gettin' up. I suppose ye'll be so took up with your paintin' ye couldn't never think of coming back to Thankful Rest. It wouldn't be good for you, if you're getting on any way with Mr. Robert Keane. But you'll come right away in summer, an' see what a different place Lucy has made of Thankful Rest, an' how precious she is to your uncle an' me. I guess she's one of the Lord's messengers, sent to do what all the preachin' in the world couldn't. I reckon I'll finish up. It has took me an hour to write this, I'm so slow with the pen. Give my respects to Mr. Robert Keane; and when he comes to Thankful Rest in summer, maybe he'll get a better welcome than he got before. So no more at present. From your affectionate aunt,
That letter reached Boston Avenue in the evening, when Tom was poring over a book of instructions for young artists. He was in his own sanctum, which Mr. Keane had given him when he came—a tiny apartment next the artist's studio, and commanding from its window the finest view in Philadelphia. Tom seized the letter from the servant's hand. He had written twice to Lucy, and was anxiously wondering at her delay in answering, for Lucy had always been a faithful and punctual correspondent.
You would have laughed had you seen the varying expressions on Tom's face as he read Aunt Hepsy's epistle;—concern at first to hear Lucy was ill; relief to find her recovering; and, last of all, mute, dumfoundered amazement at Aunt Hepsy.
Mr. Keane opened his studio by-and-by and looked out.
"Well, Tom, news from Lucy at last, my boy?" he asked.
"No, sir," said Tom soberly, yet with an odd twinkle in his eye; and then he held out the open letter, saying simply, "Read that, Mr. Keane."
Mr. Keane smiled too as he read. "Lucy has conquered, as I thought she would," he said. "See, Tom, what an influence a meek, gentle, loving spirit like Lucy's has in the world. You and I with our fiery tempers sink into nothingness beside her."
"You, Mr. Keane!" echoed Tom in amazement. "I don't think you have a temper at all."
"Haven't I?" The artist's smile grew sad. "There was a boy once who was expelled from three schools for impertinence and insubordination, and put his parents to the expense of keeping a tutor for him at home. That tutor, Tom, was a man of splendid talents, which his delicate health forbade him to exercise as he desired. His pupil killed him, Tom; the worry and anxiety lest he should not come up to the parents' expectation, combined with what he had to bear from the boy himself, broke his health down, and he died. That boy was me."
Tom sat wondering, while Mr. Keane, walking to and fro, continued slowly—"I went to see him when he was dying, in his poor lodging: he was very poor, you must understand, but nobody durst offer him anything, lest he should feel hurt or insulted. As long as I live, Tom, I shall never forget that night. I saw then clearly how wicked I had been, and how what I thought manly independence befitting my station was only the cowardice of a spirit as far beneath his as earth is beneath heaven. That was a lesson I never forgot; and since that night I have tried, with God's help, to use the legacy he left me."
"What was it?" asked Tom breathlessly.
Mr. Keane lifted Lucy's Bible from the side-table, and turning over the pages held it out to Tom, his finger pointing to the place.
"Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth."
"Tom," said Mr. Keane one morning a few days later, "I believe you are going to Pendlepoint tomorrow?"
"What?" Tom nearly bounded off his chair. The longing to go home to Lucy for a day or two had well-nigh overcome him since Aunt Hepsy's letter came; but he had tried to stifle it, and had applied himself with double energy to his studies.
"If you don't wish to go, of course I have no more to say," began Mr. Keane; but Tom interrupted him—
"O sir, you don't mean me to go home for good and all, I hope; have I disappointed you? I have tried so hard, sir."
"Stop, stop!" cried Mr. Keane. "Wait till I hint at such a thing. You have surpassed my expectations, my boy. I thought you would like to see your sister, but if I am mistaken—"
"I do want to go, sir; I would give the world almost to see her—but—"
"The expense, sir," Tom ventured to say, encouraged by his kind friend's manner. "It is a long journey, and I have cost you so much already."
"Nonsense; I am a rich man, Tom. But for all that I expect you to pay me back some day. You and I will have a great reckoning by-and-by."
There was a moment's silence.
"How did you know I wanted to go home, Mr. Keane?" said Tom by-and-by.
"I have eyes, my boy," was all Mr. Keane answered, saying nothing of a note he had received from his sister, which ran thus:—
"RED HOUSE, April 27th.
"DEAR ROBERT,—Send Tom to Thankful Rest for a few days. Lucy will get well twice as fast after she sees him.—Your affectionate sister,
Next morning saw a very happy boy take his place in the train, which would land him at Pendlepoint in the evening. It was a long, tiresome journey, especially to an impatient being like Tom. But it came to an end, as all things pleasant or unpleasant must, and he found himself at the little old-fashioned depot towards seven o'clock at night. There was no one to meet him, of course, because no one, not even Miss Keane, expected him so soon. He ran all the way to the parsonage, and knocked at the door, only to find Abbie in sole possession.
"The parson he be down town, Master Tom," she said, "and Miss Carrie she be at Thankful Rest. I guess she's there most days till night."
Tom thanked her and ran off again across the bridge and through the meadow, not even pausing to look at the cattle, nor to see that Sally was enjoying an unwonted holiday, and a dainty bite at the tender young grass, which the mild weather had brought forward very fast. He paused just a moment outside the orchard fence, and looked at the house, not a little surprised to feel how glad he was to see it again, and how dear it was to him after all. Then he pushed open the gate, went up the path and over the garden fence, and saw Uncle Josh digging the potato patch.
"Halloo, Uncle Josh!" he shouted, feeling quite jovial and free towards him; and Uncle Josh started up and let his spade fall from his hands.
"Marcy, younker, whar did ye come from?" was all he could utter. But, no longer the surly man that he had been, he held out his hand to him, and looked more than pleased to see him.
"I came from Philadelphia to see Lucy," answered Tom soberly. "How is she?"
"Oh, gettin' along fast; she's in the far parlour these two days, able to sit up till 'most night. I guess she won't be sot up to see ye—oh no, not at all."
There was a twinkle in Uncle Josh's eye, a thing Tom had never seen before. Surely there was a change at Thankful Rest.
"I'll go in now," said Tom; and he went away round to the back door. Keziah was making something at the stove, and nearly upset the saucepan in her amazement. Tom nodded to her, and went off to the far parlour. The door was ajar and he peeped in. Was that the far parlour? No, it could not be. There were white curtains at the window, flowers everywhere. A sparkling fire in the high brass grate; a low, restful rocking-chair at the hearth; and a couch he did not remember to have seen before, but it looked as if it had been made for ease and comfort. And on the couch lay Lucy, the fire-light dancing on her face: it was pale and thin, but happy-looking, he could see.
She heard a noise at the door, and said, without looking round, "Are you dressed already, Miss Carrie? How fast you have been!"
There was no answer; then Lucy looked round and gave a great cry. And Tom ran in and knelt down beside her, and gathered her shawl and all in his arms, and they held each other very close; and for a long time there was nothing said.
"How did you come?" asked Lucy at last, her face radiant with joy.
"By train. Mr. Keane sent me. Are you glad, Lucy?"
"Glad?" Lucy had no words wherewith to express her gladness, but it was evident enough.
Just then footsteps sounded on the stair, and Miss Hepsy came into the room followed by Miss Goldthwaite.
She looked scared a moment, but when Tom rose and came to her saying—"I came to see Lucy, Aunt Hepsy, and to thank you for being so good to her,"—she just sat down in the rocking-chair and sobbed like a child. Here was a state of matters! and Tom did not know just then whether to laugh or to cry. But Miss Carrie diverted him by asking questions about his journey, and by-and-by Miss Hepsy rose and said she'd get supper.
"An' ye'll jist bide, Miss Goldthwaite, an' we'll all have it here with Lucy.—Dear, dear, this is a great night. Who'd 'a thought to see you, Tom, all the way from Philadelphia?"
"You look pretty comfortable, Lucy," said Tom jokingly. "I wouldn't mind being sick myself, to be codled up like this."
Lucy smiled, but her eyes grew dim.
"I can't speak about it, Tom," she said. "Aunt Hepsy is too good to me; she reminds me of mamma sometimes.—Isn't she kind, Miss Carrie?"
Miss Carrie nodded, her sweet face full of satisfaction. Evidently the new state of affairs was after her own heart.
By-and-by the table was set, and they all gathered round it, and Tom had a real Thankful Rest supper.
There was not much said; but Tom saw how Aunt Hepsy watched and tended Lucy; and how Uncle Josh, too, had grown gentle even in his roughness; and, above all, he saw how beautiful was Lucy's face in its perfect happiness and content.
"You don't eat, Lucy, my pet," said Aunt Hepsy anxiously.
"I can't, auntie; I am so happy, it's no use;" and Lucy covered her face with her hands and fairly sobbed.
Then Tom rose to his feet, and gave vent to a cheer which would have done honour to an Englishman.
"Bless me, boy, ye'll bring the house down," said Aunt Hepsy, but not looking at all displeased.
"Can't help it, Aunt Hepsy; it's surplus steam; must let it off, or I can't answer for the consequences." And he cheered again and again, till Keziah ran to see what was the matter. She went back to the kitchen saying to herself, "When I see an' hear that here, I feel like believin', Deacon Frost, that the world's comin' to an end."
Not the world exactly, Keziah, only the old, hard, miserable days have come to an end for ever, and a new era has begun at Thankful Rest.
Tom stayed a week at home—home it truly was to both Lucy and him now, and he left it with regret. But the work he loved and had chosen called him away, and knowing Lucy would be tenderly cared for, he went back to Philadelphia, carrying a much lighter heart than when he first entered it three months before. The summer would be a busy one for him; and as the months sped he proved the truth of Mr. Keane's words, that it was only through much hard, plodding, uninteresting work, that he could ever hope to place his foot on the first step of the ladder. But he had a kind hand and an encouraging word always ready to help him on, and was happy in his apprenticeship.
Thanks to Aunt Hepsy's careful nursing, midsummer saw Lucy fully restored to health again. She had an easy and happy time of it now. There was no more trotting up and down, no more bending under heavy loads—it was only very light work her hands were permitted to do; and she would laugh and tell Aunt Hepsy she was making a fine lady of her altogether.
"You do what you're bid, an' say nothin', my dear," was always Aunt Hepsy's answer, with oh, what a difference in look and tone.
There was no restriction to her visiting now. She would spend days at the Red House, in company with her friend Minnie; who, in her turn, would come to Thankful Rest, and keep the house alive with her gay nonsense.
So the summer sped, harvest was ingathered again, and one sunny evening in September, Miss Goldthwaite came up to Thankful Rest on special business. Rumours were afloat that the parsonage was soon to lose Miss Carrie, but they had not yet been confirmed.
Miss Hepsy was in the garden, and gave the parson's sister a warm greeting.
"Is Lucy indoors?" Carrie asked, after they had chatted a moment.
"Yes; I heard her singing a minute ago," answered Aunt Hepsy. "Jes' go in and look for her, Miss Goldthwaite; I'll be in by-and-by."
"Perhaps I had better talk to you first, Miss Hepsy, as you have the power to grant or refuse what I want."
"I don't often say no to ye, Miss Carrie," said Aunt Hepsy with a dry smile.
"I know it; but this is a very serious request—in fact, I am afraid to make it."
"Out with it. I can but say no any way."
Miss Goldthwaite leaned on her parasol, and looked at Aunt Hepsy, smiling, and blushing slightly too.
"Perhaps you know I'm going to be married soon, Miss Hepsy?"
"I hear the folks sayin' so; but I paid no heed, guessin' ye'd come an' tell us afore it took place. Is't to be immediately?"
"At Christmas. But I'm going home to New York in three weeks."
"To get ready," nodded Miss Hepsy. "Well?"
"Can't you guess what I want, Miss Hepsy?"
Miss Hepsy stood a moment in wondering silence, and then said very slowly, "I guess it'll be Lucy ye want."
"Yes; I want her to go home with me, and remain till after my marriage. Frank will bring her back when he comes. Now it's out. Order me off the premises now, Miss Hepsy; I know you feel like it."
"This is September," said Aunt Hepsy very slowly; "October, November, December, January—perhaps nigh half a year. Well, Miss Goldthwaite, excuse me sayin' it, but the Lord'll need to help your husband; he'll not be able to help hisself, that's certain. Ye'd move the Peak, as I've said afore."
"Am I to take that as your permission, Miss Hepsy?"
"Hev ye spoke to Lucy?"
"Not yet; you had to be asked first. If you had said no, I should not have thought of mentioning it to Lucy at all."
"If Lucy wants to go, I'm willin'; but it'll be a queer house without her."
"Thank you, Miss Hepsy," said Carrie, and bent forward and kissed her. "I think you will not regret it. It will soon pass, and will do Lucy a world of good. She is growing up, you know, and wants to see something."
"P'raps you're right," said Aunt Hepsy. "Yes, go in now, Miss Goldthwaite; I want to think a bit."
Carrie went in, and kneeling down on the hearth beside Lucy, said abruptly, "I am going to be married at Christmas, Lucy, and want you for my bridesmaid. I am going home to New York in three weeks, and your aunt says I may take you with me. Will you come?"
Lucy's face flushed with pleasure, but she said quickly,—
"You are very kind, Carrie. I should like it dearly. But would it be right to leave my uncle and aunt?"
"If they say you may, Lucy. I have thought it well over before I mentioned it at all; and I'm sure you would enjoy yourself."
"I know that. May I have a day or two to think of it, Carrie?"
"As many as you like, so that you only come, dear. Now, I'm going off; I haven't a minute to spare.—By-the-by, Alice and Minnie will likely be at papa's, too, all December, so that is another inducement. Goodbye." She stooped and kissed Lucy, and ran out of the house.
Pretty soon Aunt Hepsy came in, looking very grave and sad. She took up her knitting, and for a bit neither spoke.
"Three months is a long time, Aunt Hepsy," said Lucy at last.
Aunt Hepsy never spoke.
Then Lucy rose and came to her, and laid her arm about her neck. "You don't want me to go, auntie, I know you don't."
"Go away; I didn't say I didn't," said Aunt Hepsy in her gruffest tones.
"Auntie, if you will only tell me you would rather I stayed, I won't go."
"Don't ask questions, child. I guess I'd never live through them three months. As well go away for ever almost."
"Then I won't go," said Lucy stoutly. "I'd dearly like to be at Carrie's wedding; but I can't leave you, auntie, for so long." And from that decision no persuasion could induce Lucy to depart—she was firm as a rock; but Aunt Hepsy made a little private arrangement of her own, which was to be kept a profound secret from the bride-elect.
Judge Keane travelled to New York the day before Christmas with a young lady under his care; and when the pair were ushered into Dr. Goldthwaite's drawing-room, the bride-elect saw, peeping out from among the rich furs which Aunt Hepsy had provided for her darling, a face she loved very dearly, and which could belong to nobody in the world but Lucy Hurst.
They were all together in the long drawing-room, waiting only the coming of the bride, ere the solemn ceremony could be performed. There was a large company, for the Goldthwaites had a wide circle of acquaintance. Conspicuous among them were the friends we know best—all the Keanes (save the invalid mother, who thought and prayed for them at home), and Tom and Lucy Hurst. It had been a surprise to Lucy to find him at New York. She had not expected to see him again till the summer-time. She looked very fair and sweet in her delicate white dress, but was utterly unconscious of the admiration she was creating; and of the close observation of a pair of dark earnest eyes, which had been the first gleam of comfort to her when her mother died.
By-and-by, old white-haired Dr. Goldthwaite came in with Carrie on his arm, and they took their places silently; and in a very few minutes Frank had uttered the irrevocable words, and the wedding was over. Then Mr. and Mrs. George Keane received abundant congratulations, and they adjourned to partake of breakfast. In the hall stood a quantity of baggage labelled "Mrs. Keane," which seemed very formidable, but was not much after all, considering the travellers were going to Europe. Yes; the young pair were to have a six months' tour before settling down at Pendlepoint, and some felt as if Carrie were going away for ever. She looked very grave and sad; and when she came down ready to go, broke down utterly bidding her mother good-bye.
"Now then, this will never do," said Judge Keane, with that comical smile of his. "George, get your wife into the carriage, or we shall have her rueing she ever promised to follow you."
Carrie smiled through her tears, and shook her finger at the judge. Then, as she turned to go, a light touch fell upon her arm, and a low voice whispered tremulously,—
"May God bless you all your life, Mrs. Keane."
It was Lucy, her great eyes shining with unspeakable love and tenderness.
"Never Mrs. Keane to you, Lucy, my pet," she whispered back. "Carrie always, and always. Write to me."
Then she was hurried out to the carriage, forgetting in the excitement of the moment that she possessed no address to give. The door closed upon them, the coachman sprang to the box, and the next moment they were gone. They had embarked together on the sea of life, and the voyage bade fair to be a happy and prosperous one.
"I don't like weddings," said Judge Keane discontentedly. "They are miserable, heart-breaking things at the best."
"Time was when you did not think so, judge," said the doctor, with a twinkle in his eye.—"Eh, little one?"
It was Lucy whom the doctor addressed, and she answered timidly, "It is very sad to give away those we love, as you have done to-day, sir."
"Wait till somebody wants to take you away, my lady," laughed the judge. "There'll be an earthquake at Thankful Rest."
"I never heard any one speak as you do, Judge Keane," said Lucy, with a dignity which dumfoundered Tom; and she moved away and sat down by Mrs. Goldthwaite, and began to talk to her about Carrie.
"What makes you look so sober, Tom Hurst?" queried Minnie Keane's voice at his elbow a few minutes later.
"Shall I tell you, Minnie?"
"You must," was the calm reply.
"It seems to me, then," he said very slowly, "that Lucy is growing up, and I don't like it. Do you?"
"I don't mind. Everybody grows up and marries, and goes to Europe, and dies after a bit; that's about what life amounts to—not much, is it?"
Tom laughed, he couldn't help it; but after a bit he answered gravely, "I am afraid to grow up myself, Minnie."
"Because a man has so much responsibility, so much to do for God: I don't think it will be very easy."
"Oh, I do!" answered Minnie. "Just do all you can, with all your might; that's what mamma says, and it's the easiest way."
"So it is," said Tom. "I shan't forget that, Minnie."
And neither he did.
FIVE YEARS AFTER.
Again it was sweet spring-time at Thankful Rest. The garden was gay with tender leaves and blossoms, and the orchard white with bloom. There the birds made sweet melody as of yore; and, as of yore, the sunny river brawled and whispered and played as it hurried through the meadow to the sea.
At five o'clock in the afternoon Aunt Hepsy was in the kitchen, busy as usual; her hands knew no idleness. Two teacups and a plate of cake stood on the table, the remnants of the early tea she and Lucy had taken a little while before. Presently a light step sounded in the lobby, and Lucy came in dressed for walking. Five years make a great change; for she had grown from a slight, diminutive girl, to a tall, lithe, graceful young lady, just on the verge of womanhood.
"Ye look like a picter, by all the world," said Aunt Hepsy, pausing to admire her; and Lucy's answer was a silvery laugh, so full of perfect happiness and content, that a silent bird on the window ledge caught the infection and burst into song.
"I'm going to the post-office to see if there's a letter from Tom, Aunt Hepsy," she said; "and then to Dovecot, to see Mrs. George Keane. I'll be back sure before dark."
"Ye'd better," said Aunt Hepsy, with something of her ancient grimness. "The house ain't worth livin' in when ye're out."
Lucy came close to Aunt Hepsy, and laying her gloved hands on her shoulders, bent tender, beaming eyes on her face. "It makes me so thankful, auntie, to think you miss me, and are glad when I come back. I don't suppose there's a happier girl anywhere than I am."
"Nor a happier pair than ye make yer uncle an' me," said Aunt Hepsy softly. "Off ye go, ye waste my time like anything; time was when I'd make ye fly round considerable if ye'd ventured."
Lucy laughed, and went her way, turning aside as she went through the paddock for a pleasant word with Uncle Josh ploughing in the low meadow. He stopped his team to watch the pretty girlish figure out of sight. Crossing the bridge she met Ebenezer going with a letter to Thankful Rest. It was for her, and in Tom's handwriting. There was no need for her to go down to the town, and she turned in the direction of the Dovecot, which was the name of the pretty home occupied by George Keane and his wife. It was midway between the Red House and the parsonage, and fifteen minutes' leisurely walking brought her to it. Miss Goldthwaite had been married four years past, and had one little son, the joy and torment of her life. He was in bed, however, when Lucy called, so there was a chance of a moment's quiet talk.
"I have had a letter from Tom to-night, Carrie," she said when the first greetings were over. "His picture has sold for five hundred dollars."
"O Lucy, I am so glad. Such a success for a young artist! How proud Robert will be of his pupil."
Lucy's eyes beamed her pride, though she said very little.
"Frank is here," said Mrs. Keane after a moment. "He is out somewhere with George; let us find them, and communicate the good news. What will Aunt Hepsy say?"
They rose and went out into the sweet spring twilight and found Mr. Goldthwaite and Mr. George Keane in the garden at the back. There were warm congratulations from both, and an hour slipped away in discussing the artist, his work and prospects, till Lucy remembered her promise to Aunt Hepsy, and said that she must be going. Mr. Goldthwaite would return too, he said, as it was growing late. His sister fancied Lucy's company was an inducement to him to leave so early, but she discreetly held her peace.
It was almost dark, though the lamp was not lit at Thankful Rest, when Lucy reached home.
"You've kept your time," said Aunt Hepsy well pleased. "Did ye come home alone?"
"No, Aunt Hepsy," answered Lucy very low, and the semi-darkness hid her face. "Mr. Goldthwaite was at Dovecot, and walked home with me."
"Mrs. Keane's folks all well?" asked Aunt Hepsy, suspecting nothing.
"Yes; and O Aunt Hepsy, I have a letter from Tom: his picture in the exhibition has sold for five hundred dollars."
Aunt Hepsy uplifted her hands in mute amazement.
"Marcy on us," she exclaimed at last. "What a power o' money for a picter! Is't true, Lucy?"
"Yes, quite true; and he has got such praise for it," said Lucy joyfully. "Aren't you proud of him, Aunt Hepsy?"
"I guess I am," said Aunt Hepsy. "Five hundred dollars! Dear, dear! What will Josh say to this? Does he say anything about coming home soon?"
"I'll read you the letter when the lamp's lighted, auntie," said Lucy.
"Well, light it, there's a good child; it's 'most time anyway. I've been idle a good half-hour."
But Lucy did not seem in any hurry. She hovered about in an odd, restless kind of way, and finally came behind Aunt Hepsy's chair, and folded her hands on her shoulder.
"What is it, child?" said Aunt Hepsy wonderingly. "Summat you have to tell me, I reckon. Anything in Tom's letter ye haven't told me?"
"No, Aunt Hepsy," and Lucy's voice fell very low now. "I want to tell you—I have promised to be Mr. Goldthwaite's wife."
"Bless me, Lucy, 'tain't true?" cried Aunt Hepsy, starting up; and seeing in Lucy's downcast face confirmation of her words, she sank back to her chair, and for the first and only time in her life Aunt Hepsy went off into hysterics.
In the tender gloaming of an August evening Tom and Lucy Hurst stood together within the porch at Thankful Rest. They had been at Pendlepoint visiting old friends, and, after walking slowly home, lingered here talking of old times, and loath to leave the soft beauty of the summer night. A tall, broad-shouldered, handsome fellow was Tom Hurst now, towering a head above his sister, who stood very close to him, her head leaning against his shoulder.
"Do you remember what a pair of miserable little creatures stood just here five years ago, Lucy?" he said half laughingly, half earnestly.
"Yes," said Lucy softly. "What a difference between then and now."
There was a moment's silence. Tom's eyes watched the stars peeping out one by one in the opal sky, his heart full of the happiness of the present and all the hope and promise of the future.
Presently Aunt Hepsy, ever watchful for Lucy now, called to them to come in, for the dews were falling.
"Tom, has not God cast our lines in pleasant places, and given us a goodly heritage?" said Lucy softly as they turned to obey the summons.
"Ay," answered Tom, his voice softening also. "May He help us to be truly grateful for His goodness all our lives, Lucy."