There are not many Peter Bonds in the world though!
Oh! what a gleesome time Nannie had all the long summer day up so near the blue heavens! There was a rapturous sort of joy in watching the fleecy clouds as they played in the pure ether, and, while baby slept, she would kneel down by the window with her head turned side-way upon her arm, and look into the depths of the sky until she fancied she saw the spirits beyond; and then her little soul would try to dream out the mystery of being and immortality. She didn't think so much of this in the damp dark cellar—every thing there seemed to draw her earthward; but it was exalting, and refining, and purifying, to be up so near the angels, and the change was manifested even in her face, which grew more spiritual, and was really quite winning now.
Her happiness was almost perfect as she contrasted the sad past with the bright present. There was only one thing more to long for, and that was books. She could read very well, but all the literature she possessed was Robinson Crusoe, which one of the ladies at the school had given her, and that she had learned almost by heart, so that she sung page after page to Winnie as she lulled her to sleep, and now she craved something more. She was thinking so earnestly about it that she did not hear Mr. Bond's knock, nor perceive that he had entered the room and seated himself by the other window, until he touched her shoulder with his cane across the table.
"Nannie," said he, as she started and asked his pardon for not noticing him, "I've brought a book to lend you; would you like to read it?"
A book! Who could have told him that of all things in the world that was what she most desired?
"Oh! thank you, sir," said she, as her eyes glistened for joy; "I'm so glad of it, sir!" and she turned the leaves and looked at the illustrations, while he watched her with a deep interest.
"She would know all that she need to know when she had read the Bible and Pilgrim's Progress." So Mr. Bond thought. He had not noticed that there was no Bible there. He forgot that there could be a person in the world destitute of the precious Word of Life, and he would have gone off without finding out Nannie's great need, if she had not reminded him of it as she turned to the explanation of the allegory appended to the work in her hand. "Oh! it tells about Heaven! doesn't it?" said she, looking at her kind friend with a sparkling eye.
"Haven't you a Bible, Nannie?" asked he, seeking vainly for one about the room.
"No, sir," replied the child. "We haven't had one for a long time. Miss Earl gave me one at the school, but my father took it."
Poor soul! no food for thee, while the world is teeming with the blessed Book! Tear off the gilt clasps, and the velvet bindings, and scatter the healing leaves that are hidden within, all about among the people. Let not one hungry one perish for lack of Heaven's bread while there is enough and to spare lying all about useless! "Her father took it!" What for? to learn the way to Paradise? Ah! no—to pawn for the hot liquid that must drown him in perdition. And the dealer in the dreadful traffic took it—dared to snatch from his fellow man the comforting words sent unto him by a loving God, and to substitute instead the poisonous and damning cup! Even Satan himself must loathe him! Mr. Bond sees it all—he knows where the Book has gone. But Nannie shall have another, and she must promise to study it every day.
"I'll send you one, Nannie," said he, "and a little stand to keep it on—d'ye hear?" and the kind man hurried off to get the holy volume. To think that he had not seen to that before! It was a moment of penitence to good Mr. Bond.
It was nice for Winnie to sleep so sweetly! Now Nannie could look over the book. It was far before Robinson Crusoe! She went with Christian every step of his journey, and experienced the same joys, and suffered the same terrors. Oh! it was so good of Mr. Bond to lend her this book! She sat by the cradle with one hand upon it, so that if Winnie stirred she could hush her; and she did not see the long shadows in the room, nor remember that the fire must be made, and the table prepared for tea, and the water brought, before her mother came, until it was too dark to read any longer. Then she started up and got the pail. She was almost afraid to go to the pump, for there were some very rude boys in its vicinity, and she had never ventured out so late before. But she must go; she was very wrong to put it off so, and she ran as quick as she could with a beating and timid heart.
"That's the new gal, as lodges in Mrs. Flin's house where the fat man goes so often," said a rough-looking lad to a ragged and dirty group, that huddled about the walk.
"Let's have at her," returned another, and suiting the action to the word, he flew along the street after the frightened child, with the whole troup following him.
The little thing tried hard to out-run them; but 'twas in vain; they were close upon her, and one had kicked the pail from her hand, while another was about to tear the string from her neat sun-bonnet which he had snatched from her head.
"Be off, or I'll bate the life out of every mother's son of ye, an' my name's Pat Rourke," said a tall Irish boy who came up that moment, laying about him right and left among the little brutes, who scampered in every direction, not without a few wholesome bruises as witnesses to Pat's bravery. "Come on, my little girl," added he, taking Nannie's trembling hand, "I'll get the wather for ye;" and taking up the pail, he filled it, and carried it quite to the child's room. "It's a purty place ye have here," said he, looking from the windows, "and a nice little sister," as Nannie took the waking child from the cradle. "Here let me make the fire for ye," continued he, seeing the awkwardness of working with a baby in her arms, "and don't go to the pump again, Pat Rourke's the boy as'll get the wather, when he comes from the coal-yard o' nights; ye may put the pail down by the door in the enthry, an' its quickly ye'll find it filled;" and the noble-hearted boy stubbed out of the room, with his heavy boots clumping down, down, down.
"Every body's good to me," thought Nannie, the ill usage of the moment before quite forgotten in the joy at finding so kind a champion.
The room looked nice and cheery when Mrs. Bates returned. The new stand was in the corner, with the new Bible upon it, and the table was spread with a frugal, but wholesome meal; and Nannie seemed so bright, and the baby so sprightly and well. Besides she had sold all her wares, at a good profit, so that she was free from care for the time, at least. Nannie had a great deal to tell about Mr. Bond, and the book he had brought her, and of Pat Rourke, her manly protector; and the mother began to think the bright days were dawning upon them indeed! She didn't forget the sorrow that had so lately come to her; but there was a joy in the children that was infectious, and her smiles were more frequent than her tears.
Mrs. Flin seemed to her new lodgers to be a quiet kind of body, keeping her own house without minding much about her neighbors. The truth of it was she held herself a good deal above them, for she was well to do in the world. Besides she visited in the next street at the large white house with green blinds, where they kept a hired girl, and to be sure she didn't care for the people that took one or two rooms of her, and lived in a small way, save for the money they paid her; she was pretty sure to make them all a call once a quarter at least, and woe betide them if the rent-money was not forthcoming! She didn't call herself a hard-hearted woman; but she must look out for her own rights since Mr. Flin was off at sea the greater part of the time, and there was nobody to take the responsibility from her.
One thing troubled her considerably, and that was that such a gentlemanly-looking man as Mr. Bond should lavish all his favors and visits upon her poor lodger's children. She thought he might as well stop sometimes on the first floor and notice her little Sammy; but he never did—although she often met him in the entry, and invited him to walk in and rest before going up the long flights of stairs—but went panting upward with his gold-headed cane in his hand, and the ruffles to his shirt rising and falling at every ascent.
Sammy was a sad little rascal, and would throw apple-skins on the entry floor, and lay round pebbles on the lowest stair, hoping to trip the old man up as he came in or went out, and Mr. Bond caught him at it, so that he was always careful afterward to keep an eye to his feet. But the boy stood in his own light, for there were no favors for him after that. Mr. Bond never patronized wicked children.
His mother would manage to stand in the door, whenever she saw the gentleman coming, with Sammy by her side, and she would ask him if he wasn't fond of children, and tell him what a good boy Sammy was at school, and how well he got on with his lessons; and then Sammy must speak his last piece to Mr. Bond. But it would not do; he stood it all very patiently, and when she had the grace to leave space enough for him to pass her, he would make his bow and walk gravely on, glad to reach the shelter of the pleasant attic. Mrs. Flin laid it up against him, though, and threw out many an innuendo concerning his frequent visits to the poor children, when gossiping with her friend of the white house, and so it reached his landlady, Mrs. Kinalden, who knew Mr. and Mrs. Airly very well.
"A strange how d'ye do it is," said she to Mr. Bond, one evening on his return from Nannie's, "that I must keep my doors open till half past nine o'clock, for you to be out on your untimely visits to a poor widder! It isn't any sich doings Susan Kinalden'll countenance, you'd better believe!"
Mr. Bond did not think her worth one moment's excitability, so he calmly told her she could find another occupant for his room if she was dissatisfied with his conduct, and he would seek a home elsewhere.
It was wonderful how changed she was when he went down to breakfast the next morning. There were hot eggs beside his plate, and a dish of warm toast, and the landlady was full of her compliments. "She didn't see how Mr. Bond managed to look so fresh and young! She was on the sunny side of fifty, and anybody would take him to be her brother!" and when he asked her what time he should remove his furniture, she wondered he had lived so long in the house with her and never yet found out her jesting propensities. She's sure she couldn't desire a nicer or more circumspect boarder than Mr. Bond! And so the matter passed over. She knew her own interest too well to venture on forbidden ground again. And he had got attached to the room, and did not care to leave it. The portrait had occupied that same space for more than ten years, and there was a sacred sort of feeling about the place that he could not find elsewhere. Puss liked her quarters too, and it was not worth while to seek a change so long as she didn't complain. Mr. Bond thought himself very foolish to have proposed such a thing, and he went from his breakfast and settled himself in his chair by his center-table, with a self-gratulation that he hadn't got to move after all. As for Mrs. Kinalden, she could scarcely forgive herself for incurring the risk of losing one of her best and most permanent boarders, and her night had been spent in bitter self-reproaches and regrets. The morning, however, compensated for the night of grief, when she felt that Mr. Bond—good soul!—overlooked it all, and was willing to stay. "It stands you in hand to mind your tongue, though, Susan Kinalden," soliloquized she, as she wiped the last dish and stood it up end-wise in her pantry. "It isn't the first time you've come nigh biting your own head off!"
"Come in, Pat; mother'll be glad to see ye," said Nannie, as he put the pail softly within the door, and was about retreating.
"Faith and that I will," said the woman warmly, opening the door wide, and setting a chair for the boy, who seemed nothing loth to enter.
It was pleasant to find a clean spot to sit down in after his day's labor, and the happy faces in that room had haunted him as a dream, too good to be real, since he had first seen Nannie and Winnie. His home was a disagreeable, shabby place, and his mother did not care to make it otherwise, and Pat felt it a great privilege to go occasionally to see his new friends. "It wasn't for nothing," thought he, "that I did the good deed by the girl; it's many a pleasant hour I've had here since that blessed night!" and he drew his chair up to the table where Nannie had the big Bible open reading aloud to her mother.
"I'll keep right on here where I was reading, Pat," said she, "because it's so beautiful," and she finished the description of the new Jerusalem in the Revelation of St. John.
"That isn't for such as me, Nannie—is it?" asked the poor boy, who had sat with his chin in his hand listening intently while the child was reading.
"Oh! yes," answered Nannie; "you should hear Mr. Bond talk about it, Pat. I couldn't believe that any of us would ever live in such a beautiful place; but he says 'tis just as we have a mind; that if we are good in this world, and do every thing that we know to be right, and try to keep from what we feel is wrong, and love God, we shall go there when we die; and I'm sure it is worth trying for—isn't it, Pat?" and Nannie closed the Book, and placed it reverently upon the stand in the corner.
Her mother had been busy getting the supper, but she heard the words of the blessed volume, and wiped away a tear with the corner of her apron as she thought of him who could have no part in that glorious city. But she mustn't let the children see her weep, so she put away her sorrow, and stirred about, talking cheerfully the while, and Pat felt that there was no place in the world like that neat cosey attic, and that Nannie Bates's lot was one to be envied indeed.
He didn't know how long she had pined in the damp and dreary cellar with nothing bright nor pretty near her, and how bitter all her days had been until just before he had befriended her—after Mr. Bond had provided her new home—for she had never told him any thing of the past. Indeed she scarcely ever dwelt upon it herself, for there was so much gladness for her now that she forgot all about any other time, and so her cheeks grew round and ruddy, and nobody would have thought her the same child that sat upon the steps of the great house in —— street one sunny day, some time before, with a pinched-looking little baby in her arms. Pat thought her the prettiest girl he had ever seen, and she fairly worshiped his great Irish face and the yellow hair that hung straight over his forehead. Winnie, too, would cling to him, and lay her little soft cheek to his red coarse face, and clasp her tiny arms about his neck, and play with the yellow locks as if they were the sunbeams themselves; and then she would jump and crow as he played bo-peep with her, and stretch out her wee hands and cry as he turned away and went tramping down the stairs. Pat knew how to win young hearts—there was always a cake of gingerbread in his pocket, or a stick of candy for Winnie, or a new rattle or something for Nannie, and both learned to watch for his coming with glad emotions.
He brought a rose-bush and a petunia for Nannie, and made a shelf for them by the window, and the beauteous buds came thick and fast, shedding out their fragrance in the sunny room, and making it still more delightful to Nannie. She would sit where the breeze wafted the pleasant odor to her, and, closing her eyes, fancy herself in Paradise, and she would watch the sun that she might catch every one of its warm rays for her plants.
She had never dreamed of getting so high up in the world as to have real flowers blooming in their own room. She thought such things were only for the rich; but she had yet to learn that there are many comforts and blessings that all may freely enjoy if they have only the taste and disposition, and that the poorest habitation may, at least, be made to bring forth the precious blossoms of hope and joy at the will of its inmates.
"Oh! there's the poor girl with the baby, that lives in the cellar, Biddy!" said little May Minturn, a few weeks after she had given her the blanket. "See how fat the baby's grown!" and the child ran after Nannie, who was walking at a quick pace to avoid her, for she would gladly have hidden from her the fate of her gift; but May was not to be shunned, and she pulled at Nannie's shawl as she came up with her, and said, "Don't carry the baby away, I want to see her. Oh! she looks more like my sissy now, for she's got a little pink in her cheeks; but what have you done with the blanket? this isn't half so pretty as the one I gave you," and she looked inquiringly at Nannie, who had seated herself upon some steps to rest, and pulled aside the flannel that enveloped the babe, thus exposing its naked feet.
"Don't be offended, miss, and I'll tell you what became of it," said Nannie; "before Winnie had time to wear it once, some one took it from her and sold it. I sorrowed for it a great deal, but that wouldn't bring it back, and now Winnie must wear this one; 'twill keep her warm, but I know it isn't pretty."
"Are not you afraid in that dark room?" asked May, sitting down on the step beside the girl, and taking hold of the baby's hand.
"Oh! we don't live there now," said Nannie, in a gleeful tone. "We have a beautiful home way up close by heaven!" and she gazed up into the sky and felt how much further off she then was than in her new home.
"May I go there to see you?" said the little girl, "and will you go with me to heaven to see my brother a little while? Mamma says he's there, and I'd like so much to play with him!"
"But we can not go there till we die," replied Nannie. "I look up from my window sometimes until I think I see the angels, and then I almost want to fly right away to them; but Mr. Bond says God will take us when he wants us, and that it is wicked to be impatient."
"Did you see my Georgie up there?" asked May, drawing closer to Nannie, and looking still more earnestly at her. "He had on a white frock, with a satin ribbon around his waist, and he had curls just like mine and sissy's. If you say Georgie, Georgie, perhaps he'll answer you as he used to mamma. Don't you think God will take us pretty soon?" continued she, patting the baby's head, and leaning over to kiss its brow, "I'm all ready to go, and Georgie wants me, too."
"Shure, and the child'll be an angel before long, I'm thinking!" said Biddy, as May arose and took her hand to go home; "the misthress would be greeting sair if she heard all her little prattle."
Nannie gazed after the wee figure as it went up the street beside the nurse, and then she looked at the baby that was nestling its tiny head upon her bosom, and she felt that there was a sort of mysterious link between Winnie and the sweet child whose kiss was fresh upon her forehead. The feeling made her shudder, and she hugged her little sister closer to her breast, as she thought,
"Mayhap both may soon be wanted above!"
Home did not look so bright to her that evening. Something seemed to be threatening evil, and she sat listless and abstracted, when her mother came home, looking from the window. She did not even see her mother, until she put a hand upon each of her shoulders and asked her "if she was napping?"
"Oh! no, mother, I'm not dozing, and I'm not ill; but there's something coming to Winnie, I know there is. It isn't long that she'll brighten the house!" said Nannie, trembling with emotion.
"Don't be foolish, child," said her mother, after she had ascertained that her precious babe was sleeping sweetly in its cradle, "Winnie's growing stout and healthy, and it's thankful we should be, instead of fretting for fear there'll be sorrow to come."
Nannie shook her head mournfully, and took her knitting from the table, but her heart was more busy with its sad reflections than were her fingers with the young babe's sock. She did not even notice Pat much that evening; but merely took the great apple that he handed her with a quiet "thank ye;" and then relapsed into her silent and thoughtful mood.
Pat would not stay to sit down, for Nannie had not seconded her mother's invitation, and the disappointed boy only lingered to take one peep under the curtain of the cradle of Winnie, and then went home to his abode with a downcast mien, and a slow gait.
Mr. Bond had not been to see them for a great while, and the cold weather was coming, and there were hard times in store for them, if they did not manage to get some sewing, or something to do. It was the first of November, and the breeze was no longer soft and bland, as it came from the blue waters upward into the little room, but it was fresh and chilly, and had a mournful tone, and Nannie got cotton and stuffed the windows tight to keep it out. There was but little fuel in the house, and scarcely any money for their next quarter's rent, and Mrs. Flin had been up a day or two before to warn them that they must leave if the funds were not ready by a certain time. Mrs. Bates had fallen down stairs by means of one of Master Sammy's round pebbles, and lamed herself, so that she was no longer able to trudge about with her basket, and where she had applied for sewing, they told her there were more applicants than work, and so she did not know what to do.
"To-morrow's rent-day, Nannie," said she with a sigh, "and I have but a dollar put by toward the twelve. I shall have to send you round to see Mr. Bond, child, and it's me that's ashamed to do that after all he's done for us; but it can't be helped! It's unfortunate we've been the last month, and shure he'll not be blaming the Providence as brought it to us!"
So Nannie put on her old hood and cloak, and went timidly up to Mrs. Kinalden's door. The old lady's aspect was rather forbidding, as she answered the bell, and found only a beggar child had summoned her from her dinner-pot, and she was about to slam the door in her face, when Nannie said,
"It's Mr. Bond I'm wanting to see, ma'am, if you please."
Mrs. Kinalden would have been glad to send the child away; but she remembered the past, and dared not venture; so she told her to be sure and wipe her feet clean, and then she ushered her up stairs to the bachelor's-room. Nannie knocked softly, and as she heard a faint voice say "Come in," she opened the door and entered. One glance revealed it all. Mr. Bond had been sick—very ill—and she had never once been to inquire about him. He sat propped up in his easy-chair, with a flowered dressing-gown about him, and his head against a pillow, and there was a warm fire in the fire-place, and bowls standing about with bread-water, and gruel, and arrow-root in them—and labeled vials were upon the table, so that she felt he had really been in some danger. Besides, his face was thin and pale and wrinkled, and she would scarcely have recognized him as the fat jolly old man who used to have hardly a lap for little Winnie to perch upon.
"Oh! it's you, Nannie, is it?" said he, with the same pleasant tone as of old, and with one of his broad, beaming smiles that played over his hollow cheeks mockingly. "Didn't come to see your old friend all these three weeks, and he too ill to get off from his bed. He wouldn't have served you so, Nannie, that he wouldn't!" and he looked half reproachfully, half jestingly at the serious face of the young girl.
"And we were all the time wondering if ye'd deserted us, sir," said Nannie, as she stood by the table twisting her apron over her finger; "and never a word of your illness did we hear, or the days would not have slipped away and we not have been to ye! Maybe ye were needing somebody to nurse ye, and ye lying alone here with no hand to give the medicines?" and she looked inquiringly at him.
"Mrs. Kinalden has been as attentive as she could be with her cares, Nannie," replied the patient old man; "but the pillows would have lain a little easier if a little girl that I know of had come in sometimes to shake them up for me, and perhaps the bed would have been softer for making over once in a while." How quickly the old hood and cloak went off, and the nimble hands shook and beat the sick man's bed until it was as plump as a partridge—and she put on the clothes so smoothly that there was not a wrinkle in them; then she arranged the glasses and vials nicely upon the table, and washed the spoons, and warmed him some gruel, and she read a psalm to him, and then donned her things again to go; but she hadn't said a word about the need at home, and perhaps she would not have remembered it until she had returned to her mother had not Mr. Bond said, "Nannie, how are you getting along now? Let's see, to-morrow's rent-day, isn't it? and hard times, too. Hand me the wallet out of that desk there, child, I must see you through this cold weather," and he counted out twelve dollars and tied them in a corner of her handkerchief. "So your mother's not able to go out any more," said he, as Nannie told him of the trouble. "Well, we'll see what can be done; you mustn't suffer, d'ye hear? and mind you come every day to make my bed while I'm sick, 'twill save Mrs. Kinalden some work—and I guess 'twill suit me better," added he, as he glanced at the inviting-looking nest that had not before shown its proper proportions since his illness. "Here, take this orange to Winnie," said he, as the child moved toward the door; "I'll be round there in a few days," and he looked brighter than he did a half hour before. "I wonder what there is in a child's presence to make things so sunny," thought Mr. Bond, as the young girl left the room. "Her little hands seem to have glossed over every thing they touched, and the gruel had a relish that that old woman could never give."
It was willing hands that made the difference, good Mr. Bond. A sick bed's a hard place for one who has no kind and voluntary attention. Call in experienced nurses and skillful physicians—pay them more than the half of your substance—send out for all the luxuries a diseased palate may crave—it won't do, Mr. Bond, it won't do; there needs a loving heart to anticipate all your wants, and a tender hand to bathe the fevered brow and smooth the uneasy pillow, and a low sweet voice to whisper soothing words in your ear; then it's a sort of pleasure to lie so languid and careless, and watch the gliding motions of your quiet nurse, and feel that you are getting on so comfortably.
Mr. Bond didn't need to be told all this; he felt it, as day after day, during his convalescence, the little feet came tripping up the stairs, and the child's glad hands ministered unto him; and, after she had made all tidy and had gone out and closed the door softly behind her, he would lie gazing at the youthful features of the bonnie lassie upon the wall, and wonder how many more times he should be so near her, and yet not be permitted to go. "Mustn't be impatient," that's what you told Nannie, isn't it, Mr. Bond? there's a great deal for you to accomplish yet in your master's vineyard before the reward comes; the walls are broken down all about, and there's many a tender vine exposed to the wild boar and the beasts of the field, and it is for you to help repair the breaches before you go hence to rest from your labors.
Pat had not seen his old friends for many days, for Nannie was a good deal out with the basket now her mother was confined to the house, and, somehow, her manner toward him the last time he was there made him feel shy, as if he was not wanted there any more. Still the pail was filled as usual, and stood beside the door, with many a nice and pretty thing for the baby. Mrs. Bates wondered why she never heard him come up the stairs now, and if he had got tired of playing with Winnie, and if his own home had grown more pleasant. She didn't know how often he had put his ear to the key-hole to see if he could hear one of baby's gleesome laughs, or the sound of Nannie's voice reading aloud, or talking to her mother. Nannie caught him this time, though, as she returned from her labors, and the boy's face grew redder still, as if he had been detected in some mean act, but her good-natured smile reassured him, and he found his tongue.
"It's listening for Winnie I am," said he, "and I've not seen her swate face the week."
"But, Pat, why haven't you been here this long time?" asked Nannie, opening the door and leading him in as if he were a child.
Pat felt that she would think him very foolish if he told her the reason of his absence, so he kept silent, but he was happier than he had been for many a day, as he sat in his old seat with Winnie snuggled close to his breast. Winnie reciprocated the delight, but her demonstrations were very violent; she slapped Pat's face with her rosy palms, and pulled his hair, and bit his fingers with her aching teeth, forgetting the while the painful gums that had made her so wearisome all the day.
Nannie was uncommonly cheerful, for all was right now, and Mr. Bond was well enough to visit them on the morrow, and Pat was back again, and they were to remain in the pleasant attic for another quarter at least, and mother had some work that promised a good profit, so there was no pressing want upon them just now. Mr. Bond had sent some shirts to be made against the summer. He did not like the common way of bestowing charity. He always required an equivalent for what he handed out. He would not have Nannie grow up with the feeling that she was a beggar, so he found something to be done, and paid good round prices for the work. Mrs. Bates stitched so busily, thinking he needed the garments all the while. She didn't quite understand Mr. Bond, though! It didn't matter to him if there were piles on piles of pure white linen in his great trunks. What if somebody did get the good of them after his death! he did not care to take his worldly treasure with him, but was quite willing to leave a goodly portion for the benefit of others; besides, many a worthy man owed his prim Sunday suit to those same heaped-up chests, and it would have done you good to see the broad ruffles bedecking the sons of Erin as they escorted their sweethearts to vespers. They would cross themselves, and murmur a prayer for the "masther," heretic though he was, and they knew they would get him out of Purgatory, if masses and penances would avail. As for Nannie and her mother, it was dangerous to say a word against their benefactor in their presence. Nobody had ever dared the thing excepting Mrs. Flin, and she would not encounter such a belaboring of tongues again for all the bachelors in the world. Pat, too, was his most enthusiastic admirer, for he had encouraged his going to spend his evenings in the neat attic rather than crawl to his own miserable abode to be contaminated with the fumes of rum and tobacco, and the scurrilous example of his abandoned parents.
It was a wonder to the good man that there could be a spark of virtue in the boy's character, and that he had been so far preserved from the taint of his vile home as to care for the purity of his gentle neighbor's. He did not remember how beautiful the contrast must be to Pat as he came from his mother's den of infamy, where rags and dirt prevailed, to the neat and cleanly dwelling, and the pure, bright, happy faces of Mrs. Bates and her two children.
It wasn't his fault that the woman who had dared to take upon herself the sacred name of mother, had spurned the terrible responsibility consequent upon that assumption, and cast her children from her bosom out into the wicked world, with never a care, nor a blessing, nor a prayer; it wasn't his fault that his infant soul had been even more pitiably neglected than the uncared-for body; it wasn't his fault that the little hands were taught to fight and steal rather than lift themselves up toward a gracious father to invoke His love and blessing, or that the words of blasphemy were frequent on the lips that were made for prayer and praise. He could think of a time when his childish knees had bent before the good God, of whom a kind friend had told him, and his own mother—who should have been prostrate beside him in penitence for her sins both against him and her Maker—shouted her ribald songs even in his unwilling ears. No wonder Mr. Bond thought it strange that Pat had any yearning left for the good and the exalted. But his heart did heave mightily beneath the mass of corruption that his own parents had heaped above it, and he felt it gradually loosening, so that the Sun of righteousness gleamed upon it, though dimly. It was something to have even that faint light to show him the loathsomeness of his condition, and it helped him wonderfully in his efforts to cast the burden wholly from him. It was no mystery to him that "Christian" felt such a relief when it was quite gone, and that he hastened onward toward the end of his journey with a light and free step. It was not for nothing that the poor boy helped Nannie Bates in the hour of her need, the blessing was coming, life was just beginning for him.
It was a bitter cold day, and the winds whistled through the cordage of the shipping and came moaning up, beating against the corked windows; but it was of no use they could not get in, for Nannie had stuffed the cotton in all the cracks as tight as she could, so that there was not even a crevice left, and they had to go whirling back again to play their old tricks among the rigging of the vessels. Oh! it was so pleasant to watch the dark waves as they tossed and foamed, while the boats bounded buoyantly over them. Nannie did not care for the frost, nor for the fresh chill breeze, for the stove was red with warmth, and she had not to go out that day. Mr. Bond was coming, and she had a holiday. Now and then her face grew a little long as she thought "perhaps it might be too cold for him to venture out;" but it was round and cheery again as the sound of his well-known step was upon the stairs.
"Heigh-ho, here!" said he, as little Winnie crept toward him and clasped her tiny arms around his leg; "hasn't forgotten its old friend, has it?" and he lifted the child up, seating it upon his shoulder as he moved toward a rocking-chair. "Not quite well, yet, ma'am," replied he to Mrs. Bates' inquiry after the state of his health. "This north-wester's rather too strong for me now;" and he panted, and put Winnie down while he took off his mufflers. "Had to wrap up well this cold day, you see, but couldn't disappoint these little folks;" and he patted Winnie's head and re-instated her upon his knee. She did not keep slipping off as she used to do before Mr. Bond's illness, but had a very comfortable seat now, and her hands remembered the full pockets they had so often rifled, and went rummaging about to see if the times were unchanged.
The goodies came tumbling all about the floor, and the old man was as merry as the children who scrambled after the sugar-plums—Winnie cramming her little mouth until they tumbled out again for want of room. "How do the shirts get on, my good woman?" said Mr. Bond, as he watched the needles flying through the snowy cloth.
"I'll have 'em for ye before long, sir," replied Mrs. Bates, hastening her stitches as fast as she could; "I'd spare the time from my sleep rather than ye should be wanting them, sir."
"Oh! never mind, never mind," said the kind man; "I'm not in any great need, only there's plenty more work when that's done. Where's Pat, Nannie?" continued he, addressing the girl who was minding Winnie; "does he come often to see you, and do you read to him, too?"
"He'll be here the day to see ye, sir," answered Nannie, with a joyous expression; "we've got most through the Progress, and we read in the Bible, too, every day, and Pat's as good a boy now as ye'd wish to see."
"He's got a sad home, Nannie," said Mr. Bond, "and his father and mother'll pull him down again if they can, but we must help him to stand upright. I depend upon you, Nannie," and he looked at her as if he thought there was great might in her aid.
"It's little I can do, sir, save the reading," said she, looking slightly grave, as if too much was expected of her.
"But you can keep him from bad associates," replied her benefactor, "and the half is done then. He loves this quiet place, and you can make it pleasant to him here, so that he will see how much happier it is to live peacefully and Christianlike than to be carousing and drinking as they do in his own home. Poor Pat!" continued he, gazing thoughtfully into the fire, "it's been a sad life to him, but the good is to come."
Nannie thought it had been a sad life to them all until Mr. Bond found them out, but she felt that the future would be bright enough if they might see his kind face once in awhile, and she did not trouble herself with the past now, that was all over, and the days were as merry as merry could be. To be sure her basket was heavy, and her feet weary almost every day, but what cared she for that so long as she could come to so glad a home, and have only kind words and loving faces about her. Mr. Bond did not worry much about Pat after he saw his frank face peering in at the door. "Come in, Pat," said he, as the lad shuffled forward to greet him. "I'm glad to see you, my boy!"
"It's much changed ye are with the sickness," said Pat; "but ye're the same in your heart, I'll ever believe."
Pat was greatly changed, too, his friend could plainly see that as he scanned the boy's features. He had grown so manly, and seemed to feel such a self-respect—not a bold, disagreeable assurance, but a sort of rough, unassuming dignity that was both pleasant and becoming. He did not sit down with his hat on, and his chair tilted backward, and chatter and jabber as if he were of quite as much importance as his benefactor, but stood respectfully, with uncovered head, and answered Mr. Bond's questions modestly and politely, and waited to be asked before he made himself at home in the presence of his superior.
A very pleasant time they all had in the nice attic, and they dwelt upon it for many days afterward with a peculiar pleasure. It was not often that Mr. Bond could come to see them now, for he was not as strong as before his illness, and the snow came early to keep him in also, and Nannie consoled herself by enumerating his virtues to Pat, who quite agreed with her that "he was fit to be a saint."
You need not step softly to-night, Pat, though the baby is sleeping. She will not hear your heavy boots, tramp they never so loudly up the stairs. Never mind the doll you have in your hand for her—her eyes will not open to look upon it. Lift the latch quietly, though, for there is grief in the room, and noise comes harshly and gratingly upon a sorrowing ear. Nannie can not look up to greet you, neither can her mother welcome you now, though your silent presence may be grateful to them both. Winnie does not spring up in her cradle, with her merry laugh, and stretch out her little hands toward you. She will not twine her wee fingers in your yellow locks any more, nor try to pick the big moles off your hard hands. She is lying very still upon her soft pillow. Her nicest white dress is smoothed down on her tiny form, and her hair is parted upon a marble brow. There's a little coffin on the table, and you know who is to occupy it; but it is too sudden, too dreadful for you to realize at once! Do not try to take her up, nor warm the cold cheek against your own burning face. The blood is quite chilled in the blue veins, and the limbs fall passively down. There's a bud from Nannie's bush in one hand, but she does not hold it first to your nostrils and then to her own, with her cunning little ways, as she used to do. Do not ask them how it all happened; how can they tell you, and their hearts almost breaking? They did not even hear the angel's wings as he came to bear away the sweet babe. All they knew was, that there was a convulsive movement of the little limbs, and then they were rigid forever.
There's a terrible gloom all about, and it oppresses them with its strange weight; but they hardly know that the baby is gone from them. Is she not there in the cradle, as she is every day at this hour, and are they not all very quiet for fear of disturbing her? Or, are they all dreaming, and is a horrible nightmare upon them, from which they vainly strive to arouse themselves? Pat can not see Nannie so listless, and so white, with the vacant stare, and not speak to her; so he goes round by the side of the cradle where she is, and hands her the doll. "It's for Winnie," said he, and the big drops fell from his full eyes upon her hand. There's great power in sympathy, and Nannie can weep now; so can the mother, and there comes a sort of peace over the group, that was not there before. Nannie gets up and gathers all the little playthings together and puts them away with the doll; but it is too much! it gives the place such a forlorn aspect; and she takes them out again and scatters them, as if it would bring Winnie back, too. The night is very sad, and so is the morrow; and the next day Mr. Bond comes with a minister. Winnie is lifted into the narrow coffin, and a fresh bud graces her breast. Mr. Bond stands a long time gazing upon her white, white brow, and he fancies he sees a hallowed impress there, as of a Divine hand. He can not help his strong emotion. Wasn't Winnie getting deeper and deeper down into his heart every day, and can he see the little head that lay so often upon his bosom, covered with the cold earth! The minister thinks her very lovely, as she lies there so free from spot of sin, and he almost wonders they can weep over her early release from a world of effort, and toil, and care; but he knows what a struggle it is to give up a parent's richest possessions, for there are little ones that used to call him father, now lying beneath the snow, and he weeps with the afflicted, as he reads the burial-service over their darling.
There needs but one carriage for the mother and Nannie, and Mr. Bond, and Pat; and the little coffin is placed on a seat in the middle. They can not leave it until it is hidden from their sight.
"Nannie must go to school," said Mr. Bond to himself the day after the child's burial. "It won't do for her to stay there moping and pining after little Winnie! The baby's gone, and it won't bring her back again."
And so it was settled that she was to begin the next Monday. Mr. Bond thought it better that she should go to the parish school immediately in her vicinity, and connected with the church which he attended—not that he wished to free himself from the slight tax demanded by private teachers, for many a comfortable donation ten times the worth of so small a pittance, found its way into the parish treasury from his liberal purse. Oh! no, that wasn't Mr. Bond's reason. He knew that the child would be under a good and religious influence there, for besides being well taught, she would be daily gathered with the rest of the little lambs into the consecrated chapel, and be made to feel that her moral culture was of still greater importance than the mental. Besides he liked to know that she was under the eye of some good shepherd who would lead her safely on to the great and ever green pasture. It would be so pleasant to him, too, to see the object of his benevolence and care Sunday after Sunday, pattering up the broad aisle to her seat, and joining in the solemn and beautiful worship. He didn't believe she had ever been to church in her life; he ought to have inquired into that before. Poor Mr. Bond! here was another subject for penitence. So much as he thought of such privileges and blessings for himself, too! He was afraid he was not fit for such a responsibility as the one he had assumed! Well, the minister would help him; that was a comforting thought.
Nannie was delighted at the idea of studying. She had a quick and inquisitive mind, and she looked at the little parcel of books that her good friend brought her with a glad eye, and when Monday came she took her satchel, and long before the hour, was on her way to school, with a quick step and a buoyant expression.
There was no task in getting her off to her books, as there is in many a case where advantages come more lavishly. She felt that the blessing was too great to be sufficiently estimated. Her teacher long ago had told her that whatever of knowledge was gained in this world would not be lost, but that if rightly applied, it would make her spirit brighter, and fit it for a continually increasing and glorious expansion in the life to come; and she had wisdom enough to know that every intellectual acquirement was adding to the talent intrusted to her, and thus honoring the gracious Giver. So she determined to strive earnestly to improve her new privileges, and thus repay her benefactor as well as adorn her own mind.
The morning was very beautiful as she tripped along in the pure snow. The flakes had fallen thick and fast the day before, and now lay in feathery heaps all over the trees and fences and trellises, and there was but just a narrow path for her feet to tread upon. Men and boys were all about with their shovels, busily working, and the pure mass was tossed quickly from the walks. Snow-balls were flying at the peoples' heads, and many parties were already moving briskly over the smooth surface, and the bells were jingling gayly, and there was a healthful glow upon every body's face.
Nannie couldn't feel very joyous, for she thought of the little form that lay so still and breathless under the tiny mound; but the scene before her inspired her with cheerfulness, and she trudged on trying to be happy with the rest. She was just before May Minturn's door—she could not forget the house—hadn't she sat on those steps with dear Winnie, and hadn't little May spoken kindly to her, and kissed baby, too? It recalled her sister to her so vividly that the tears would not be stayed, and she let them flow. Just then the door opened, causing her to look up; there was a black crape tied to the bell, with a white ribbon, and she knew that either May, or the little sissy that she used so often to speak of, was dead.
"Is that for May," asked she, as Biddy spoke softly to her from the top step; and she pointed to the funeral emblems that were floating in the wintry breeze. "And may I see her, Biddy?"
"Shure, and that ye may," said Biddy, "and it's Winnie she was calling the day she died, jist before the life left her swate body; and how is the babby?" asked she, as Nannie followed her to the drawing-room.
"She's gone where May is," replied the sister, suppressing her sobs as far as she was able; "I knew they'd be wanted there!" and she stopped for the nurse to admit a little more light into the darkened room.
How beautiful little May was in her quiet repose! She lay upon the sofa with her soft curls falling over the calm forehead, and flowers covered the pillow, and her hands were folded upon her gentle breast as if they had done all their little work on earth.
Mrs. Minturn had seen Nannie enter the room, and she knew her as the child May had so often spoken about, and she went softly in where they were and stood beside the sofa, so pale and calm in her sorrow that Nannie was almost frightened. She noticed Nannie as she kissed the still sleeper, and smoothed down the silken hair lovingly, and she severed one beautiful lock and laid it in the poor girl's hand. Biddy had told her mistress of Winnie, and she had felt that the two children were as sisters in that Spirit land, and so she spared the precious curl. Oh! how Nannie treasured it. It seemed such a sacred thing to her to possess something that the finger of death had hallowed, and when she went home she folded it in a soft paper and put it within the cover of the big Bible, and often she drew it reverently forth, in after years, as she dwelt upon the two seraphs whose forms she could distinguish amid the angel band.
Mrs. Bates sat alone in the quiet room, sewing all the day, while Nannie was at school. It was so very still that it was oppressive to her. Winnie's cradle occupied the same spot as when the babe was in it—she could not put it out of sight; and the little garments hung about the room on the pegs in the corners. The wintry sun came faintly in and shone upon the pillow of the tiny bed, and the mother, ever and anon, cast her tearful glances to the spot that was consecrated by the sweetest of memories. A rag-baby, that had shared Winnie's affections as well as her pillow, still lay within the sheets, as the child's hands had often placed it. The tin cup and spoon were upon the mantle, and the playthings were gathered into an old willow basket, their wonted receptacle when Winnie was there to use them. How often had she pulled them, one by one, from their resting-place, and then restored them with an untiring interest, only needing occasionally an encouraging glance from mother to keep her contented by the hour together! It seemed to Mrs. Bates as if she must still look up from her needle to give the child some frequent sign of her care and love, but as her eye fell upon the vacant space, it was almost too much for the overcharged heart, and it required all her energies to master her grief sufficiently to keep about her accustomed duties.
The poor have little leisure to nurse their sorrows: there was Nannie left to toil for, and it was unfitting her for her necessary labors to give vent to the rising anguish, therefore she choked back the bitter sighs and tears, and plied her needle diligently, trying to think only of the mercies left her. She had still plenty of work. It was wonderful how many friends Mr. Bond had who could supply her with employment. There were little dresses, and pinafores, and numerous other small articles of clothing, always ready for her. She did not know how many a needy household owed its replenishing to this same stock of ready-made clothing which good Mr. Bond kept constantly on hand. He did not wait to see whether such and such a thing would be needed before he had it made, but wherever he found a ragged child he sent a suit from his well-stocked wardrobe, and an abundant blessing flowed back upon him, repaying him an hundredfold for clothing the naked and destitute.
Mrs. Kinalden once in awhile caught sight of the miniature suits through the brown paper envelops that, somehow, got torn on their way to the batchelor's room, and her indignation knew no bounds.
"It's a shame and a disgrace," said she to herself, "that he should tarnish my house with such things, and then have the boldness to look me in the face!" But luckily for her, she only said it to herself, and Mr. Bond, conscious of his own integrity, kept on his even way, scattering blessings wherever he went, and never imagining that his very Christian deeds were the occasion of many an unjust query on the part of his curious and suspicious landlady.
She, poor soul! fumed and fretted inwardly until the gloss and shine were quite gone from her widowed cheeks, leaving them really sallow and wrinkled. There's nothing like a contented, happy disposition, Mrs. Kinalden, to preserve one's youth and beauty. You need not brush up your fading charms before your tell-tale mirror, and try to restore your lost luster by artificial means; it won't effect any thing. The fact is, the trouble is internal. You must cleanse first the inner man of the heart, and you will be surprised at the reflection of your own face then, it will change into such a mysterious winsomeness! Never mind Mr. Bond's actions—they can not lie at your door, but take care that your own are as free from taint as your inexplicable neighbor's. It is not for you to see the hidden motives that govern those about you; the best way for you is to think favorably of every body, and you have no idea how much peace and comfort it will bring to your own soul.
Mrs. Bates had never dreamed of questioning her benefactor's deeds, they showed their uprightness upon the very face of them, and she had no fellowship with her gossiping neighbors, to whose flings she could not always be deaf. Mrs. Flin began to be more social, much to her regret, for she had little sympathy with her loquacious guest. What was it to her if the Airly's did keep a span, and drive out every day? she was willing Mrs. Flin's friends should accumulate riches, and enjoy them, too, if she did live in an humble attic, and stitch from morn till night for her daily bread. What if Mrs. Airly had a new silk, spring and fall, and was getting in with such good society? It did not make her a whit the less thankful for her scanty yet neat wardrobe, nor for the few friends it was her fortune to possess. She didn't mind if Master Sammy was to go to a select school! She had all confidence in Mr. Bond's judgment concerning Nannie, and rejoiced that she could feel so easy as to the child's moral culture. She didn't care for Mrs. Flin's foolish prattle about her great acquaintances, and her own future anticipations of a higher station. It was not half of it that she heard; but if one sly innuendo was sent at the good man to whom she was so much indebted, there was a determined look that cowed the slanderous tongue before it could speak out its full meaning. Oh! what a relief was it to the poor widow to see the last of Mrs. Flin's bombazine gown floating out the door, and to be sure that she was free from a repetition of the annoyance of her company, for the day at least.
The thought of her angel child, and the solitude of her quiet home accorded better with her sad and contemplative mood, than the foolish clatter of her simple neighbor's gossiping member, and right glad was she that her acquaintance extended no further than to her kind benefactor, and to the noble and honest Pat.
"Oh! mother," said Nannie, throwing her hood upon the table and brushing the hair off from her flushed forehead, "school's so nice! Miss Coit's one of the dearest ladies; and she says I'll be one of her best scholars if I keep on as I've begun; and we have such beautiful singing, and Christmas is 'most here, and then we are to have a tree hung all over with presents for the children! Won't it be grand, mother?" and she laid her hand on her mother's arm to force her to stop working and attend to her.
"Yes, yes," said Mrs. Bates, "it's glad I am for ye, Nannie; but what's that in your hand, child?" taking the paper and looking upon the little curl within.
"Oh! mother," replied Nannie in a sad tone, "it's May Minturn's, she that loved our baby, and she's gone where Winnie is; and her mother's such a pale sweet lady! She gave me this, because she said May and Winnie are as sisters up in heaven."
That was such a pleasant thought to Mrs. Bates. She was too sensible a woman to wish to do away with the distinctions which are productive of much good in this life, but it was a happiness to feel that in the other world, the good and pure could all mingle as brethren; that despoiled of the external marks of roughness which make so much difference here, the spirit could appear in its real loveliness so that it would be neither loathsome nor repulsive. She did not expect those who were fitted by the advantages of education and refinement for a high position in life, to stoop to an equality with those whose more humble stations were wisely allotted them. She appreciated their self-denial and kindness in seeking out the lowly ones, and aiding them in their efforts to struggle upward, and no taint of envy or hatred toward those whom God had chosen to place above her in this world, ever found its way to her heart. So with a meek and contented mind she pursued her quiet way, never murmuring because of blessings withheld, but grateful for the unmerited favors so richly heaped upon her. She had a great deal to be thankful for! Nannie was in a good way, and Pat was just like a son to her, doing her errands, and helping her about the wood and water as if she were his own mother. He had come to board with them now, for it had grown so bad in his own home, and he had vainly tried to make it better—so he left them altogether, and Mrs. Bates had a rough couch constructed, and she covered it with neat print; and there in the outer room Pat slept. He was up betimes in the morning, and had the fire made and the kettle on to boil, and then he heard Nannie study, while her mother got the breakfast ready; and by this means he acquired the same knowledge himself, for Pat was ready to learn, if he had been kept down all his life with no culture nor teaching.
His board helped them, and their kindness and affection helped him more than he had ever been aided since his birth, for he came to think he was of some consequence to somebody, and this makes a wondrous difference to a person. It made Pat particular in his manners and neat in his dress, and it brought a peculiar joy to his heart to know that the house was a gainer by his coming to it. Mr. Bond had got him a situation as porter in the establishment of one of his mercantile friends, and his employer thought every thing of the diligent and honest lad, and gave him good wages, so that he had a trifle to lay up, besides providing his board and clothing, and getting an occasional present for Mrs. Bates or Nannie. It was altogether a very thrifty household now, and Mr. Bond felt no uneasiness about going awhile to leave them.
He had had a lingering cough ever since his illness, and the doctor ordered change of air and a warmer climate, and so he must go. It was very hard to leave his snug room, and to turn away from the silent face that was ever looking upon him, and it cost him many a serious pang to give up the care of his favorite puss to the tender mercies of Mrs. Kinalden; but it would be wrong to tamper with his health, and he must crush all regrets and disinclinations, and perhaps he might return sooner than even his physician had hoped. He waited but one moment—after the carriage came to bear him to the boat bound for Cuba—to take his farewell of the objects of his deepest regard, and then went more gravely down stairs than was his wont.
Mrs. Kinalden felt a sort of sorrow as she closed the blinds of his room, making all dark, and then turned the key in the lock, while puss preceded her to her own sitting-room, and she bestowed sundry endearing epithets upon the animal, even patting her back in a friendly sort of way as she stooped to smooth the rug for her to lie upon. It was something to miss the step that for years had been heard in the house, and to see the place that he had so longed filled at table occupied by another.
Mrs. Kinalden had a heart after all, so you would have thought had you seen how often the silk handkerchief was applied to her eyes in the course of that day.
Christmas came and went, and there were merry times in the parish school, and in Nannie's home, too. Her stocking was filled to overflowing by her mother and Pat, and there was a nice present from her kind teacher, too; but they did not have the tree until Epiphany, for that the minister said "was the Gentile Christmas, and he thought the good things and presents upon the tree would help the children to remember the great and glorious gifts that the Saviour's birth and manifestation brought to them all."
The little things could scarcely sit still during service in the church, but kept turning and twisting upon their seats and looking toward the chapel where the tree was. At last the moment came when they were to walk in procession around it, so as to have a good view of its beauty and promise before the articles were distributed.
The minister headed the procession with the parish children, and Nannie felt her importance materially increased as he took her hand and moved down the aisle. She had never seen any thing so pretty as the brilliant scene that had met her gaze when the doors were thrown open, and the illuminated star and bush appeared to her delighted gaze. "Oh!" thought she, "the parish school's the school for me;" and she gave little Sammy Flin, who had come in out of curiosity, an exultant glance as she passed the pew where he was perched up to get sight of what was going on about him. "She didn't believe they had such times any where else, or that the minister led them along before so many people, just as if they were his own children." She could not see how he yearned for them in his heart, feeling a greater anxiety and care for them, than he did for his own offspring that had never been so much exposed to the temptations and snares of the world. All she felt about it was that she was a poor little child, weak and ignorant, and that he was a priest of the great God, and taught the people from the blessed Book, and that it was a great honor for her to stand by his side when so many other children would covet the place. When Nannie Bates' name was called he handed her her presents—a nice pair of warm mittens, and a new hood, and a book, besides a turkey for her mother; and he spoke to her of the little dead Winnie whose body he had committed to the earth, and told her to be gentle and good that she might some time go to her; and Nannie went home happier than ever, and filled up the evening pleasantly with the glowing description of the day's pleasure. Pat sat with his ears distended, and his arms upon the table, leaning over toward her as she talked, and Mrs. Bates almost forgot the light that had so lately been extinguished in her dwelling as the bright face before her shone out in the pleasant room.
It needed only one more interested one to complete the little circle, but he was bounding over the waves, and no desire could recall him until the appointed time. He had now been gone one week, and they could not hope to see him until the opening of the summer, so they contented themselves with the enumeration of his goodness to them all, and with a fervent prayer for his safe return. The moon gleamed upon the bay as Mrs. Bates and Nannie looked from their windows upon the sparkling waves, and they almost fancied they could descry afar off the beaming face of their kind friend; but he lay heart-sick and home-sick in the berth of the tossing ship, thinking of his cosey room, and of the attic where so many pleasant moments had been spent, and wondering if Nannie and Pat would come to no harm while he was away.
The winter was well-nigh gone, and it had brought but little trouble to Mrs. Bates and her small family until now; just as the new quarter commenced she was short of funds. Pat was confined to the house with rheumatism, and his wages had stopped, and of course that stopped the board-money, for what he had saved went for the doctor and the medicines, and so Nannie had to leave school and take to the basket again. It was a pity, for she was making such rapid progress in her studies, and would soon be promoted, but there was no help for it, the pantry was quite empty of stores, and it could not be replenished without means. Mrs. Flin was urgent for the rent, too, and threatened to let the rooms to more prompt tenants. She forgot that she had never been put off before, and that good Mr. Bond would be sure to make up all arrearages on his return from his voyage.
It was not that she needed the money at all, for there was plenty of silver in her coffers, but she loved to look at the shining bits; and it did not matter to her if they did cheat some hungry one out of the necessary morsel. Her ambition was to be equal with the Airlys in point of establishment, therefore she toiled on to lay up the glittering heap, and every little while she sat down by it to build up imaginary fabrics of splendor and show. There was a house to let near her friends, with the same external marks of gentility, and she was negotiating for it, and it was to be furnished as nearly like her neighbor's as possible, and she and Sammy were to emerge from the lowly obscurity that had so long shrouded them, into the magnificence and grandeur of the next street. It was for this important step that Mrs. Bates was to be turned out into the chilly air, with the sick boy and the fatherless girl. The poor woman would not have stooped to entreat for permission to remain one moment were it not for the danger consequent on removing Pat in his present situation; but her pleadings availed nothing with Mrs. Flin any way, and so they went out, with the weak and suffering boy hobbling between them, and had their things put in a basement-room, which they called home again. It was not well for Pat down there in the cold and wet; and they missed the bright sun, and the pure air, and the cheering prospect, and altogether, what with the physical troubles incident to their depression of spirits, and the struggle they had for bread, they were getting on very ill, when a letter reached them from Mr. Bond.
"I'm coming on finely, my child," he said—it was to Nannie—"and look quite like Peter Bond again. The sea-voyage made me hearty, and a good appetite, freely indulged, plumped me up to my usual size, so that you would scarcely believe me the same man who left you two months ago, with the skeleton limbs losing themselves in the folds of my wide garments. Every thing is so new and strange to me, too, that I have plenty of amusement in watching my neighbors; and I often forget that I am as great a lion to them, until I meet their inquisitive gaze.
"I should like for you to be here for a little while to get some of the delicious fruits that are so common and abundant, and to see the negroes working among the sugar-cane and tobacco. I can not tell you all I would like to in a letter, but we shall have very nice times when I get back again, talking about what I have seen and heard. I send you a few leaves of plants which I picked while walking in the garden of the Bishop's palace. They are unlike any you have at home, and I know your fancy for such things. I want very much to hear how you are getting along; if you are as attentive as ever to your lessons and school, and if Pat is doing well in the store, and if the attic looks just as it used to? and Nannie, you must go to Mrs. Kinalden's before you write and see puss for me; and don't suffer for any thing, d'ye hear? I send your mother a little money to help her along while I am away, for fear the work has failed. Shall come in June, if permitted.
The letter brought much joy, as well as the money that could reinstate them in their old quarters again; but the times were still pinching, and poor Nannie almost sunk down in the pitiless streets sometimes from fatigue and exhaustion. She had got very weary one day, and had sold but few of her wares, when she bethought her of May Minturn's mother, and wondered if she would buy something for May's sake; so she sought the house and went timidly in at the basement door. It wasn't Biddy who opened it for her, but a strange girl who told her they didn't want any thing; and she had not the courage to ask for the mistress, so she was turning sadly and despondingly away, when she saw the pale sweet face at the window and the white hand beckoning her to come up the front steps, and a moment after, Mrs. Minturn herself admitted her into the hall.
"I thought you were at school, Nannie," said she, looking over the articles in the basket, and selecting a goodly number, "and that you no longer needed to go out in the cold and tire yourself with this heavy thing," and she tried to lift the basket which her delicate arm could scarcely uphold. "I'm sorry for you," continued she, as Nannie told her of their misfortunes, "but come in here, I have something to propose to you;" and she led the way to the nursery where a lovely little girl of ten months old was amusing herself upon the floor with her playthings. "Would you like to come and live with me, and take care of Dora?" asked she, as Nannie stooped to caress the child, "I need Biddy as seamstress, and you love babies and know how to please them, do you not?"
Nannie looked earnestly at the young child, and as she thought of Winnie, it almost seemed as if she were back again, and she replied with tears in her eyes, "Oh, ma'am, it would be so much better than that!" pointing to the basket, "but perhaps I wouldn't suit you even if mother will let me come!"
"Never mind that, Nannie," said Mrs. Minturn, "you will suit if you try, I am sure; and I will give you more than you could get by trudging day after day with your small wares; so run home and ask your mother, child, and come to me on Monday, if you can."
"I would like it indeed!" thought Nannie, as she went homeward with a light step. "It would be quite like minding dear Winnie!"
They had got nicely settled again in the attic, and Pat lay upon his couch making shadows on the wall with his well arm to amuse himself, for the hours lagged heavily; and he longed to be tugging at the great bales and boxes again. He thought it would do well enough for women to be ill and confined to the house week after week; but he would rather work ever so hard than to be hived up in one particular spot so long, even with the tender nursing and care bestowed upon him. It did not occur to him that he needed occasionally such a convincing remembrance that he was mortal, which he perhaps often forgot in his accustomed health and strength. But he came to think of its object after awhile, and the discipline worked to a charm, making him patient and gentle, and awakening a deeper interest in the home where there is no more sickness, so that when he felt himself growing robust again, he looked back upon the trial with gratitude. It took a great while though to regain what he had lost, and he had to sit for many a day in the easy-chair with his swollen feet upon a pillow, before his limbs would perform their accustomed office. Oh! how glad was he for the power of locomotion, as his halting feet moved even slowly over the floor; and it was like a recreation to him when he could walk down to the corner with the aid of a crutch. But the limbs grew flexible at last, and he went bounding off to his labors, thanking God that He had not made him a cripple. The poor old man who hobbles about Broadway upon one leg, owed many a penny to Pat's rheumatic siege, and Pat acknowledged it to himself as he lifted his free steps and took the way to the store.
Mrs. Bates was very lonely after Nannie went to nurse Dora, but she could not decline so good an offer, and hardly thought of herself as she felt what a nice home it would make for the child. Mrs. Minturn permitted Nannie to go often to see her mother, for she felt a parent's sympathy for the forlorn woman who was bereft of all her children, and she would herself go and sit beside Dora's little crib, when the babe was wakeful, rather than deprive Nannie of her visit to her home. She knew how bitter a thing it was to be separated from the little ones that shed such a halo over the house, and she could easily spare the girl one hour an evening to cheer the lonely and widowed. Dora would object, and cling to the young nurse that she had so soon learned to love; but the clasp would grow weaker and weaker, until the non-resisting form could be placed upon the bed, and Nannie always hastened back before there was any real need. It was a happy hour for her mother and Pat—the one Nannie spent with them. The table was drawn out and the books were upon it, and the low voice read or chatted, and a merry ringing laugh was often heard in the attic—and then Pat would go back with the child to see that she was safe, and woe betide the boy that dared an insulting word or look.
"Wasn't he a brave lad, though?" said Nannie, as she told Biddy about the water, and the beating Pat gave the impudent troop of boys.
Biddy didn't dispute it, but she always went off into some rhapsody about a "bonnie lad she had left in ould Ireland, jist the boy that would be afther breaking the heart of ye, Nannie!"
Nannie had not reached that point yet, though, and was quite as contented watching the sleeping babe, as if there were no such trysting places as sidewalks, and no enamored boys and girls talking over the black railings about an Erin of their own yet to be established in the new country. She knew what it was to love her mother and the dead child, whose memory would never die out of her warm heart, and good Mr. Bond, who had always seemed to her so far above all other mortals—and Pat, too, who was, she thought, the impersonation of all that was beautiful and good; but the "breaking of the heart of ye" was a dead language to her, saving when it referred to some terrible affliction. Don't talk to Nannie about that, yet, Biddy. You're both better off with the kind mistress, and the nice home, and the warmth and comfort all about you, than you would be with a close room and crying children, and a husband who couldn't support you. It isn't the love I'm talking against. Oh! no—thank heaven for that; but wait until you can see the prospect clear for a comfortable living before you enter into a compact that may bring much misery with it, and don't think that to be breaking your hearts after the boys is of more importance than doing your duty in the house of your employers. Nannie is growing to be quite a stout girl, and perhaps Pat has a faint idea that she will make him a good wife one of these days; but she does not dream of it, and only looks upon him as Pat, yet. She never had a brother, so she can not estimate her regard for him as a sister would; indeed she does not care to measure it any way—why should she? the time has not come for this.
Pat looks at her rosy face as she sits across the table reading to them evenings, and he can compare it to nothing excepting the beautiful waxen figure he saw at some museum, a long time ago, and which has haunted him ever since. He paid something for seeing that, but this is a free blessing, which comes to him every evening, and the thoughts of it lightens the toil through the day, and quickens the step homeward. No wonder that he begins to feel that he must some day make sure that it will always be so, and that he studies over it after the light is out and the room is quiet, as he lies musing upon his restless couch. Doesn't he see that she is prettier and prettier every day and doesn't he know that there's many a boy that would be glad to call her "wife;" and isn't he sure there'll be bloody times if any of them attempt to take her from him! And as the sleep gets a faint mastery over him, and he dreams of a tussle with Mike Dugan—all on Nannie's account—the brawny arms strike outward, and the doubled fists come with such force against the innocent plastering, as to bring Mrs. Bates's nightcap to the bedroom door to see if thieves are breaking into the house.
Mrs. Flin has got into her new home, and there is quite a rejoicing among her tenants. There is no fear now from Master Sammy's apple-skins and pebbles, and the landlady's bombazine dress has done sweeping its ample folds across Mrs. Bates' floor. You don't catch Mrs. Flin in that vile street any more! She has an agent now to collect her rents for her, and she does not even recognize Nannie, whom she meets walking with little Dora in her arms. She has as much as she can do to keep an account of the number of calls Mrs. Airly has in the course of a day, and to ascertain what stylish-looking young lady is visiting there, and what mustached gentleman it is who raises his eye-glass so gracefully as the three drive past. Then she must stroll forth every morning at a certain hour, which she has learned is etiquettical, with a card-case in her hand, for that is the way Mrs. Airly—who has not wit enough to keep her own counsel—told her she took to give people an idea that she was greatly sought after. Mrs. Flin's time is wholly occupied. It is not strange that she never has an hour to spare Mrs. Bates now. Sammy does not exactly understand it all, and wonders why she pulls him by the hand as they pass Nannie, whispering him not to stop in the street to talk with that girl, when she used to send him up stairs to play with her, as often as she could get him out of her way, when they lived down there.
Captain Flin has returned from sea, and he scarcely knows his own wife, she has grown so grand. He does not feel at home in the new place; and while she walks out with the card-case, he takes his pipe, and goes down to sit on Jerry Doolan's steps and smoke with him, and he goes into the house (Jerry occupies the rooms vacated by the ambitious Mrs. Flin), and sits before the window, with his boots in the seat of it, wishing it was his home still, and that these women wouldn't get such plaguy notions in their heads!
Fie, fie! Captain Flin, will you let the weaker vessel go ahead of you in ambition and enterprise, and you rest content with such humble attainments! Knock the ashes out of your pipe, man, and go up to your own door as if you had always belonged there. What if you do step on the carpets as if they were eggs, and take up every thing as if it were not made to touch, and run to the door every time you hear the bell, as if it were not the maid's place. What if you do insist upon performing your ablutions at the kitchen sink, and using the same towel with the servants, and help yourself of the edibles 'way across the table, though Sally does her best to get your plate so as to wait upon you? Watch your wife, Jerold Flin. Don't you see how easy this gentility sits upon her; and were you not born and bred in as good a station as she? You scorn it all, do you! Notwithstanding, I'll warrant me you'll not know Jerry Doolan this day twelve months! Mark my words!
Nannie's gone up to Mrs. Kinalden's to get some messages for the letter to Mr. Bond. What has happened to the old lady? She has grown so very gracious, and places a chair for Nannie, and offers her a warm doughnut which she has just fried, and then she sits down with the cat on her lap, while she talks to the girl about the old gentleman. There's a good-natured smile upon her face, and somehow Nannie forgets how old and disagreeable she thought her when she used to come to see the sick man; and puss feels quite at home on the kind lap that no longer gives her a spiteful toss upon the hard floor.
There's something come over Mrs. Kinalden, surely! Perhaps the letters that occasionally reach her from the amiable bachelor have something contagious in them, and may be they awaken in her mind a faint hope that the address, "My dear Mrs. Kinalden," may mean a little more than appears upon the surface. He says "how much he misses the comfort of his home!" too, and "what delight it will give him to be once more settled in his quiet room;" and he tells her to "take good care of puss for his sake;" and isn't that almost equal to a declaration? The old lady often draws a crumpled paper from her pocket, and carefully adjusting her spectacles upon her nose, goes over the manuscript with the forefinger of her right hand, stopping at "For my sake," and pondering the words very seriously. She doesn't know how it would do to change her situation at her time of life, although she does not feel a bit older than when she was married to Mr. Kinalden! She wonders if he, poor dear man! would rise from his grave if she should ever suffer herself to be called Mrs. Bond! He used to say that he should not lie peacefully beneath the sod if she were to drop his name for another. She was always afraid of "sperits," and if he should appear to her! and she crumples the paper up again, and thrusts it hastily into its secret receptacle, and chides herself for forgetting for one moment her buried lord, for the night is coming on, and she is not particularly courageous in the dreamy hours of darkness, and she is not sure but Mr. Kinalden's ghost will punish her for thought as well as deed.
Nannie has gone a long time ago. She only staid a moment to get news for the letter, and the old lady was quite alone when she suffered herself to embrace so important a subject as good Mr. Bond. The boarders drop in one by one and Mrs. Kinalden's thoughts are concentrated in her cups and saucers, and the hot tea that goes steaming round the table, and the query whether "Mr. Viets is the gentleman who takes sugar?" and "if it is Mr. Ballack that doesn't take milk?" and "which of the gentlemen it is that likes both sugar and milk?" and "which that takes neither?" And so all her aspirations after the Cuban bachelor are hushed for the present, amid the sober realities of her responsible station. It is not very remarkable that she sometimes dreams that it would be very agreeable to make a different arrangement! To be sure her boarders are as good as other boarders; but there's this person does not like beefsteak, and is very fond of mutton chops, and that one can not endure mutton chops, but delights in beefsteak; and fresh pork is too gross for such a one's appetite, and veal cutlets are disagreeable to Mr. So and So. Graham bread is the peculiar diet of one, and another never touches any thing but dry toast; and some like pastry, and some puddings; and what with them all and their likes and dislikes, the poor woman is almost distracted with the worriment and care.
No wonder then that she often sighs to be free from such a bondage! Her absent lodger never gave her any trouble; she can see it now that he is away, and she only wishes that his fat merry face would soon show itself again at her table. It would make her quite contented with her station at the big waiter.
It is a pity your mind's on that train, Mrs. Kinalden. Mr. Bond's heart is not made of wax, and is a terribly unimpressible object, so far as the ladies are concerned. There is only one other heart to whose pulsations it has ever responded, and that one has ceased to beat. Yours may throb and throb beneath the waist of your dove-colored merino, but his will never answer it, be sure of that!
Nannie wrote such a long letter to Mr. Bond, in her childish, unformed way. She told him every little thing concerning their own household, and the Flins', and Pat's misfortunes, and their ejectment from, and reinstalment in, their attic home; and she dwelt a great while upon Mrs. Flin's metamorphosis, and upon her own new abode with the Minturns. And the worthy bachelor read it all with as much delight as if it had been his pet-newspaper. Wasn't it just what interested him, and he so far away from the spot where all his joys centered alone, and among a strange people! What if it was a child's composition—wasn't that child Nannie Bates! and hadn't he determined to make something of her in the world! and couldn't he see an uncommon degree of intelligence even in that unfinished epistle!
How he frowned when he learned of Mrs. Flin's cruel treatment toward the sick boy and the straitened family; and how he congratulated himself upon being rid of the woman's importunities in behalf of the precocious Sammy; and how he laughed at the vision of Jerold Flin treading cat-like over the soft carpets, and sending his jets of liquid tobacco all over his ambitious wife's new furniture! Oh! there was fun in that childish letter to merry Mr. Bond.
His landlady was growing amiable! that was the best of all; but he guessed the secret of it, and feared it would not prove lasting. "It wasn't for nothing, Peter Bond," soliloquized he, "that she was so willing to be burdened with the care of thy favorite puss! It wasn't for nothing that so many goodies were stuffed into thy already crowded valise! It wasn't for nothing that her communications have been so frequent, and contained such tender inquiries after thy health, and such pathetic injunctions to be careful of thyself!" You must be a simpleton, man, to imagine that a benevolent disposition prompted so many manifestations all of a sudden, when the past was so different. "But why not?" thought he, as his charitable heart sought for a better motive in the woman than selfishness. "Isn't there such a thing as an immediate turning from the evil to the good? It does not take long to change the current of one's actions, if one is determined and energetic. But we shall see, we shall see;" and the good man leaned back in his chair, with his spectacles between his thumb and forefinger, and suffered himself to be carried away into a brighter past. He was not long in forgetting Mrs. Kinalden, and Mrs. Flin, and even his young protegee, and, looking off upon the surging ocean, he dreamed of a distant land where his spirit loved to linger with the soul that was hidden from other eyes. His reveries were very soothing and pleasant, and the people would wonder, as they passed through the covered gallery where the old man sat musing, what it could be that imparted such a radiance to his ingenuous and winning face. They could not tell how a true affection may hallow the whole of life, investing it with a secret and mysterious charm. They were absorbed in other interests: some had their merchandise out upon the treacherous waters, and their souls were in their ships; and some had their traffic in a foreign land, and their hearts went after it; and some were only pursuing a passing pleasure, with no definite object or plan in existence.
Oh! how much they lost of true good, while the loving spirit, unperturbed by the trifles that so deeply affected them, sought its fellow, and with it held a sweet and refining communion.
It was a great wonderment to Mr. Bond what happiness there could be in crowding together in a saloon, and smoking, and drinking, and card-playing, and low and boisterous conversation. He forgot that it would be quite impossible for some minds to think, and that such need a continual excitement to make the hours endurable.
Tell them to walk down upon the wondrous beach, and interest themselves in the beauties of a sublime nature, or to sit gazing upward with delight at a heavenly creation, or to look within themselves and strive after a higher and more perfect development, and how many would not turn sneeringly away, and empty the brimming glass, or light a fresh cigar, or begin a new game at faro, with the evident feeling that their own ideas of pleasure were far before your unfashionable and strange notions.
What with Nannie's wages, and her own work, and Pat's board, besides an occasional perquisite from their kind friend, Mrs. Bates was quite looking up in the world. She had been able to cover the floor with a nice list carpet, and to add a few comfortable and pretty articles of furniture from time to time, so that the little family began to feel that their humble abode was the most luxurious place they had ever seen. Their hearts were so filled with gratitude for even these homely comforts, that there was no room in them for envious feelings toward those who were possessed of more bounteous gifts. A little stand by the window now held Nannie's plants, that were ever green and flourishing, and there was scarcely a week but some sweet bud peeped out from the fresh leaves of the one, or pure blossom burst forth from the other to greet them. The big Bible occupied its accustomed place in the corner, and a couple of neat shelves, the work of Pat's ingenuity, held the few books and little ornaments that had been accumulating since their good fortune commenced. Winnie's cradle was put away in her mother's bedroom with the rag-baby still lying beneath the small counterpane, and in its place was Pat's couch newly covered with a gay flowered chintz. A bright oil-cloth was nailed beneath the stove, and in the center of the room stood a table, around which was gathered a loving trio every evening when Nannie could be spared from her little charge.
Mrs. Minturn's house, to be sure, was grand and magnificent, and abounded in every thing that was costly and elegant, and yet, to Nannie, the square attic room with its modest apurtenances was far more beautiful and attractive. The eye of a stranger could see only the bare objects that served to fill the vacant nooks; but the heart's strong affections, and the devotion that counts nothing a toil that can bring blessings to another, and the motives of love and purity that dictated this or that offering, were the hidden associations that manifested themselves to Nannie's vision and made their inestimable value, so that could she have chosen between them and the wealth of her employers, she would gladly have taken the simple home.
Wasn't it here that peace had first spread its soft wings to shelter her long-time troubled being! Was it not here that she had learned what it was to be smiled upon and beloved; and was it not hallowed to her by the visits of her kind friend and the noble Pat; and, more than all, was it not consecrated by the footsteps of the death angel that came for dear little Winnie? Oh! there is no space there for a murmuring, grasping spirit, to take the good gifts handed out by a wise and loving father, and to use them with a grateful feeling is all that the righteous poor can wish. Even in their lowliness are they often the objects of envy to the harassed and care-ridden rich, who would willingly forego all their superfluous gains for one hour of contented ease.