"And, besides, mamma," said Letty, from the window, "here is Miss Bethia coming up the street. And, mamma, dear, shouldn't you go and lie down now, and I could tell her that you have a headache, and that you ought not to be disturbed?"
But Mrs Inglis could hardly have accomplished that, even if she had tried at once, for almost before Violet had done speaking, Miss Bethia was upon them. Her greetings were brief and abrupt, as usual; and then she said:
"Well! There! I was in hopes to see this place once more before everything was pulled to pieces!" and she surveyed the disordered room with discontented eyes. "Been looking them over to see what you can leave behind or burn up, haven't you? And you can't make up your mind to part with one of them. I know pretty well how that is. The books ain't disturbed yet, thank goodness! Are you going to take Parson Grantly's offer, and let him have some of them?"
Mrs Inglis shook her head.
"Perhaps I ought," said she. "And yet I cannot make up my mind to do it."
"No! of course, not! Not to him, anyhow! Do you suppose he'd ever read them? No! He only wants them to set up on his shelf to look at. If they've got to go, let them go to some one that'll get the good of them, for goodness sake! Well! There! I believe I'm getting profane about it!" said Miss Bethia catching the look of astonishment on David's face. "But what I want to say is, What in all the world should you want to go and break it up for? There ain't many libraries like that in this part of the world."
And, indeed, there was not. The only point at which Mr Inglis had painfully felt his poverty, was his library. He was a lover of books, and had the desire, which is like a fire in the bones of the earnest student, to get possession of the best books of the time as they came from the press. All his economy in other things had reference to this. Any overplus at the year's end, any unexpected addition to their means, sooner or later found its way into the booksellers' hands. But neither overplus nor unexpected addition were of frequent occurrence in the family history of the Inglises; and from among the best of the booksellers' treasures only the very best found their way to the minister's study except as transitory visitors. Still, in the course of years, a good many of these had been gathered, and he had, besides, inherited a valuable library, as far as it went, both in theology and in general literature; and once or twice, in the course of his life, it had been his happy fortune to have to thank some good rich man for a gift of books better than gold. So Miss Bethia was right in saying that there were in the country few libraries like the one on which she stood gazing with regretful admiration.
"I can't make it seem right to do it," continued she gravely. "Just think of the book he thought so much of lying round on common folks' shelves and tables? Why! he used to touch the very outsides of them as if they felt good to his hands."
"I remember. I have seen him," said David.
"And so have I," said Violet.
"If you were going to sell them all together, so as not to break it up, it would be different," said Miss Bethia.
"But I could not do that, even if I wished. Mr Grantly only wants a small number of them, a list of which he left when he was here."
"The best-looking ones on the outside, I suppose. He could tell something about them, it's likely, by looking at the names on the title-page," said Miss Bethia, scornfully.
"But, Miss Bethia, why should you think he would not care for the books for themselves, and read them, too?" asked Violet, smiling. "Mr Grantly is a great scholar, they say."
"Oh, well, child, I dare say! There are books enough. He needn't want your pa's. But, Mrs Inglis," said Miss Bethia, impressively, "I wonder you haven't thought of keeping them for David. It won't be a great while before he'll want just such a library. They won't eat anything."
"It will be a long time, I am afraid," said David's mother. "And I am not sure that it would not be best to dispose of them,—some of them, at least,—for we are very poor, and I scarcely know whether we shall have a place to put them. They may have to be packed up in boxes, and of that I cannot bear to think."
"No. It ain't pleasant," said Miss Bethia, meditatively. "It ain't pleasant to think about." Then rising, she added, speaking rapidly and eagerly, "Sell them to me, Mrs Inglis. I'll take good care of them, and keep them together."
Mrs Inglis looked at her in astonishment. The children laughed, and David said:
"Do you want them to read, Miss Bethia? Or is it only for the outside, or the names on the first page, like Mr Grantly?"
"Never you mind. I want to keep them together; and I expect I shall read some in them. Mrs Inglis, I'll give you five hundred dollars down for that book-case, just as it stands. I know it's worth more than that, a great deal; but the chances are not in favour of your getting more here. Come, what do you say?"
If Miss Bethia had proposed to buy the church, or the grave-yard, or the village common, or all of them together, it would not have surprised her listeners more.
"Miss Bethia," said Mrs Inglis, gently, "I thank you. You are thinking of the good the money would do to my children."
"No, Mrs Inglis, I ain't—not that alone. And that wasn't my first thought either. I want the books for a reason I have."
"But what could you do with them, Miss Bethia?" asked Violet.
"Do with them? I could have the book-case put up in my square room, or I could send them to the new theological school I've heard tell they're starting, if I wanted to. There's a good many things I could do with them, I guess, if it comes to that."
"But, Aunt Bethia, five hundred dollars is a large sum," said David.
"It ain't all they're worth. If your ma thinks so, she can take less," said Miss Bethia, prudently. "O, I've got it—if that's what you mean— and enough more where that came from! Some, at any rate."
David looked at her, smiling and puzzled.
"I've got it—and I want the books," said Miss Bethia. "What do you say, Mrs Inglis?"
"Miss Bethia, I cannot thank you enough for your kind thoughts toward me and my children. But it would not be right to take your money, even if I could bear to part with my husband's books. It would be a gift from you to us."
"No, it wouldn't. It would cost me something to part with my money, I don't deny; but not more—not so much as it would cost you to part with your books. And we would be about even there. And I would take first-rate care of them—and be glad to."
Mrs Inglis sat thinking in silence for a minute or two.
"Miss Bethia, you are very kind. Will you let me leave the books awhile in your care? It is quite possible we may have no place in which to keep them safely. Children, if Miss Bethia is willing, shall we leave papa's precious books a little while with her?"
"I shouldn't feel willing to get the good of your books for nothing."
Mrs Inglis smiled.
"You would take care of them."
Miss Bethia hesitated, meditating deeply.
"There would be a risk. What if my house were to take fire and burn down? What should I have to show for your books, then?"
"But the risk would not be greater with you than with me, nor so great. Still, of course, I would not wish to urge you."
"I should like to have them, first-rate, if I could have them just in the way I want to—risk or no risk."
Violet and David laughed; even Mrs Inglis smiled. That was so exactly what was generally asserted with regard to Miss Bethia. She must have things in just the way she wanted them, or she would not have them at all.
"We could fix it as easy as not, all round, if you would only take my way," said she, with a little vexation.
They all sat thinking in silence for a little.
"See here! I've just thought of a plan," said she, suddenly. "Let me take the books to take care of, and you needn't take the five hundred dollars unless you want to. Let it be in Mr Slight's hands, and while I have the books you will have the interest. I don't suppose you know it, but he had that much of me when he built his new tannery, eight years ago, and he has paid me regular ten per cent, ever since. It looks like usury, don't it? But he says it's worth that to him; and I'm sure, if it is, he's welcome to it. Now, if you'll take that while I have the books, I'll call it even—risk or no risk; and you can give it up and have the books when you want them. I call that fair. Don't you?"
Did ever so extraordinary a proposal come from so unexpected a quarter? The mother and children looked at one another in astonishment.
"Miss Bethia," said Mrs Inglis, gravely, "that is a large sum of money."
"Well—that's according as folks look at it. But don't let us worry any more about it. There is no better way to fix it that I know of than that."
Mrs Inglis did not know how to answer her.
"Mrs Inglis," said Miss Bethia, solemnly, "I never thought you was a difficult woman to get along with before."
"But, Miss Bethia," said Violet, "mamma knows that you wish to do this for our sakes and not at all for your own."
"No she doesn't, neither! And what about it, any way? It's my own, every cent."
"Miss Bethia," said David, "are you very rich?"
Miss Bethia gave a laugh, which sounded like a sob.
"Yes; I'm rich, if it comes to that! I've got more than ever I'll spend, and nobody has got any claim on me—no blood relation except cousin Ira Barnes's folks—and they're all better off than I be, or they think so. Bless you! I can let your ma have it as well as not, even if I wasn't going to have the books, which I am, I hope."
"Miss Bethia, I don't know what to say to you," said Mrs Inglis.
"Well, don't say anything, then. It seems to me you owe it to your husband's memory to keep the books together. For my part, I don't see how you can think of refusing my offer, as you can't take them with you."
"To care for the books—yes—"
"See here, David!" said Miss Bethia, "what do you say about it? You are a boy of sense. Tell your ma there's no good being so contrary—I mean—I don't know what I mean, exactly," added she. "I shall have to think it over a spell."
David turned his eyes toward his mother in wonder—in utter perplexity, but said nothing.
"There! I'll have to tell it after all; and I hope it won't just spoil my pleasure in it; but I shouldn't wonder. The money ain't mine—hasn't been for quite a spell. I set it apart to pay David's expenses at college; so it's his, or yours till he's of age, if you're a mind to claim it. Your husband knew all about it."
"My husband!" repeated Mrs Inglis.
"Yes; and now I shouldn't wonder if I had spoiled it to you, too. I told him I was going to give it for that. As like as not he didn't believe me," said Miss Bethia, with a sob. "I've had my feelings considerably hurt, one way and another, this afternoon. There wouldn't any of you have been so surprised if any one else had wanted to do you a kindness—if you will have that it's a kindness. I know some folks have got to think I'm stingy and mean, because—"
"Aunt Bethia," said David, taking her hand in both his, "that is not what we think here."
"No, indeed! We have never thought that," said Violet, kissing her.
Then David kissed her, too, reddening a little, as boys will who only kiss their mothers when they go to bed, or their very little sisters.
"Miss Bethia," said Mrs Inglis, "my husband always looked upon you as a true friend. I do not doubt but that your kindness in this matter comforted him at the last."
"Well, then, it's settled—no more need be said. If I were to die to-night, it would be found in my will all straight. And you wouldn't refuse to take it if I were dead, would you? Why should you now? unless you grudge me the pleasure of seeing it. Oh! I've got enough more to keep me—if that's what you mean—if I should live for forty years, which ain't likely."
So what could Mrs Inglis do but press her hand, murmuring thanks in the name of her children and her husband.
Miss Bethia's spirits rose.
"And you'll have to be a good boy, David, and adorn the doctrine of your Saviour, so as to fill your father's place."
"Miss Bethia, I can never do that. I am not good at all."
"Well, I don't suppose you are. But grace abounds, and you can have it for the asking."
"But, Miss Bethia, if you mean this because—you expect me to be a minister, like papa, I am not sure, and you may be disappointed—and then—"
"There ain't much one can be sure of in this world," said Miss Bethia, with a sigh. "But I can wait. You are young—there's time enough. If the Lord wants you for His service, He'll have you, and no mistake. There's the money, at any rate. Your mother will want you for the next five years, and you'll see your way clearer by that time, I expect."
"And do you mean that the money is to be mine—for the university— whether I am to be a minister or not? I want to understand, Miss Bethia."
"Well, it was with the view of your being a minister, like your father, that I first thought of it, I don't deny," said Miss Bethia, gravely. "But it's yours any way, as soon as your mother thinks best to let you have it. If the Lord don't want you for his minister, I'm very sure I don't. If He wants you, He'll have you; and that's as good a way to leave it as any."
There was nothing more to be said, and Miss Bethia had her way after all. And a very good way it was.
"And we'll just tell the neighbours that I am to take care of the books till you know where you are to put them—folks take notice of everything so. That'll be enough to say. And, David, you must make out a list of them,—two, indeed,—one to leave with me and one to take, and I'll see to all the rest."
And so it was settled. The book-case and the books were never moved. They stand in the study still, and are likely to do so for a good while to come.
This is as good a place as any to tell of Miss Bethia's good fortune. She was disposed, at first, to think her fortune anything but good; for it took out of her hands the house that had been her home for the last thirty years of her life—where she had watched by the death-bed of father, mother, sister. It destroyed the little twenty-acre farm, which, in old times, she had sowed and planted and reaped with her own hands, bringing to nothing the improvements which had been the chief interest of her life in later years; for, in spite of her determined resistance, the great Railway Company had its way, as great companies usually do, and laid their plans, and carried them out, for making the Gourlay Station there.
So the hills were levelled, and the hollows filled up; the fences and farming implements, and the house itself, carried out of the way, and all the ancient landmarks utterly removed.
"Just as if there wasn't enough waste land in the country, but they must take the home of a solitary old woman to put their depots, and their engines, and their great wood-piles on," said Miss Bethia, making a martyr of herself.
But, of course, she was well paid for it all, and, to her neighbours, was an object of envy rather than of pity; for it could not easily be understood by people generally, how the breaking-up of her house seemed to Miss Bethia like the breaking-up of all things, and that she felt like a person lost, and friendless, and helpless for a little while. But there, was a bright side to the matter, she was, by and by, willing to acknowledge. She knew too well the value of money—had worked too hard for all she had, not to feel some come complacency in the handsome sum lodged in the bank in her name by the obnoxious company.
It is a great thing to have money, most people think, and Miss Bethia might have had a home in any house in Gourlay that summer if she chose. But she knew that would not suit anybody concerned long; so, when it was suggested to her that she should purchase the house which the departure of Mrs Inglis and her children left vacant, she considered the matter first, and then accomplished it. It was too large for her, of course, but she let part of it to Debby Stone, who brought her invalid sister there, and earned the living of both by working as a tailoress. Miss Bethia did something at that, too, and lived as sparingly as she had always done, and showed such shrewdness in investing her money, and such firmness in exacting all that was her due, that some people, who would have liked to have a voice in the management of her affairs, called her hard, and a screw, and wondered that an old woman like her should care so much for what she took so little good of.
But Miss Bethia took a great deal of good out of her money, or out of the use she made of it, and meant to make of it; and a great many people in Gourlay, and out of it, knew that she was neither hard nor a screw.
And the book-case still stood up-stairs, and Miss Bethia took excellent care of the books, keeping the curtains drawn and the room dark, except when she had visitors. Then the light was let in, and she grew eloquent over the books and the minister, and the good he had done her in past days; but no one ever heard from her lips how the books came to be left in her care, or what was to become of them at last.
May has come again, and the Inglises had been living a whole year in Singleton; or, rather, they had been living in a queer little house just out of Singleton. The house itself was well enough, and the place had been a pretty place once; but Miss Bethia's enemies—the great Railway Company—had been at work on it, and about it, and they had changed a pretty field of meadow-land, a garden and an orchard, into a desolate-looking place, indeed. There was no depot or engine-house in the immediate neighbourhood, but the railway itself came so close to it, and rose so high above it, that the engine-driver might almost have looked down the cottage chimney as he passed.
Just beyond the town of Singleton, the highway was crossed by the railway, and, in one of the acute angles which the intersection made, the little house stood. On the side of the house, most distant from the crossing, were two bridges (one on the railway and the other on the high road), both so high and so strong as to seem quite out of place over the tiny stream that, for the greater part of the year, ran beneath them. It was a large stream at some seasons, however, and so was the Single River into which it fell; and the water from the Single sometimes set back under the bridges and over the low land till the house seemed to stand on an island. The Single River could not be seen from the house, although it was so near, because the railway hid it, and all else in that direction, except the summit of a distant mountain, behind which, at midsummer-time, the sun went down. From the other side, the road was seen, and a broken field, over which a new street or two had been laid out, and a few dull-looking houses built; and to the right of these streets lay the town.
It was not a pretty place, but it had its advantages. It was a far better home to which to bring country-bred children than any which could have been found within their means in the town. They could not hesitate between it and the others which they went to see; and, as Mr Oswald had something to do with the Railway Company, into whose hands it had fallen, it was easily secured. There were no neighbours very near, and there was a bit of garden-ground—the three-cornered piece between the house and the crossing, and a strip of grass, and a hedge of willows and alders on the other side, on the edge of the little stream between the two bridges, and there was no comparison between the house and any of the high and narrow brick tenements with doors opening right upon the dusty street.
And so the mother and the children came to make a new home there, and they succeeded. It was a happy home. Not in quite the same way that their home in Gourlay had been happy. No place could ever be quite like that again; but when the first year came to an end, and the mother looked back over all the way by which they had been led, she felt that she had much cause for gratitude and some cause for joy. The children had, in the main, been good and happy; they had had all the necessaries and some of the comforts of life; they had had no severe illness among them, and they had been able to keep out of debt.
To some young people, all this may not seem very much in the way of happiness, but, to Mrs Inglis, it seemed much, and to the children too. Mrs Inglis had not opened a school. The house was too small for that, and it was not situated in a part of the town where there were likely to be many pupils. She had taught three or four little girls along with her own children, but the number had not increased.
During the first six months of their stay in Singleton, Violet had been house-keeper. The change had not been altogether pleasant for her, but she had submitted to it cheerfully, and it had done her good. She had become helpful and womanly in a way that would have delighted old Mrs Kerr's heart to see. To her mother and her brothers she was "one of the children" still, but strangers were beginning to look upon her as a grown-up young lady, a good many years older than David or Jem.
To Jem, for whom his mother had feared most, the change had been altogether advantageous. He had come to Singleton with the avowed intention of going regularly to school, as his mother wished, for six months, and then he was going to seek his fortune. But six months passed, and the year came to an end, and Jem was still a pupil in the school of Mr Anstruther—a man among a thousand, Jem thought. He was a great mathematician, at any rate, and had a kind heart, and took interest and pleasure in the progress of one who, like himself, went to his work with a will, as Jem certainly did in these days.
Jem's wish to please his mother brought him this reward, that he came to take great pleasure in his work, and all the more that he knew he was laying a good foundation for success in the profession which he had chosen, and in which he meant to excel. For Jem was going to be an engineer, and work with his hands and his head too; and though he had no more chances of shoeing horses now, he had, through a friend of his, many a good chance of handling iron, both hot and cold, in the great engine-house at the other side of the town. So Jem had made great advance toward manliness since they had come to Singleton.
Greater than David had made, some of the Gourlay people thought, who saw both the lads about this time. Even his mother thought so for a while. At least she thought that Jem had changed more than Davie, and more for the better. To be sure, there had been more need, for Davie had always been a sensible, well-behaved lad, and even the most charitable and kindly-disposed among the neighbours could not always say that of Jem. Davie was sensible and well-behaved still, but there was none of the children about whom the mother had at first so many anxious thoughts as about David.
To none of them had the father's death changed everything so much as to him. Not that he had loved his father more than the others, but for the last year or two he had been more with him. Both his work and his recreation had been enjoyed with him, and all the good seemed gone from everything to him since his father died. His new work in Singleton was well done, and cheerfully, and the knowledge that he was for the time the chief bread-winner of the family, would have made him do any work cheerfully. But it was not congenial or satisfying work. For a time he had no well defined duty, but did what was to be done at the bidding of any one in the office, and often he was left irritable and exhausted after a day, over which he could look back with no pleasure because of anything that he had accomplished.
He could not fall back for recreation on his books, as his mother suggested. He tried it oftener than she knew, but the very sight of the familiar pages, over which he used to ponder with such interest, brought back the "study," and the old happy days, and his father's face and voice, and made him sick with longing for them all. There was no comfort to be got from his books at this time. Nor from anything else. The interest in which the little ones took in their new home and their new companions, Jem's enthusiasm over his new master and his school work, Violet's triumphs in her little house-keeping successes, filled him with wonder which was not always free from anger and contempt. Even his mother's gentle cheerfulness was all read wrong by Davie. He said to himself that his father had been more to him than to the other children, and that he missed him more than they, but he could not say this of his mother; and daily seeing her patient sweetness, her constant care to turn the bright side of their changed life to her children, it seemed to him almost like indifference—like a willingness to forget. He hated himself for the thought, and shrunk from his mother's eye, lest she should see it and hate him too.
But all this did not last very long. It must have come to an end soon, in one way or other, for youth grows impatient of sorrow, and lays it down at last, and thanks to his mother's watchful care, it ended well for David.
He had no hay-loft to which he could betake himself in these days when he wished to be alone; but when he felt irritable and impatient, and could not help showing it among his brothers and sisters, he used to go out through the strip of grass and the willows into the dry bed of the shrunken stream that flowed beneath the two bridges, and sitting down on the large stones of which the abutment of the railroad bridge was made, have it out with himself by the bank of the river alone. And here his mother found him sitting one night, dull and moody, throwing sticks and stones into the water at his feet. She came upon him before he was aware.
"Mamma! you here? How did you come? On the track?"
"No; I followed you round by the willows and below the bridge. How quiet it is here!"
The high embankment of the railway on one side, and the river on the other, shut in the spot where David sat, and made it solitary enough to suit him in his moodiest moments, and his mother saw that he did not look half glad at her coming. But she took no notice. The great stones that made the edge of the abutment were arranged like steps of stairs, and she sat down a step or two above him.
"Did the sun set clear? Or were there clouds enough about to make a picture to-night?" asked she, after a little.
"Yes, it was clear, I think. At least not very cloudy. I hardly noticed," said Davie, confusedly.
"I wish we could see the sun set from the house."
"Yes, it is very pretty sometimes. When the days were at the longest, the sun set behind the highest part of the mountain just in a line with that tall elm on the other side of the river. It sets far to the left now."
"Yes, the summer is wearing on," said his mother. And so they went on talking of different things for a little while, and then there was silence.
"Mamma," said David, by and by, "are you not afraid of taking cold? It is almost dark."
"No. I have my thick shawl." And moving down a step, she so arranged it that it fell over David too.
"Ah! never mind me. I am not so delicate as all that, mamma," said David, laughing, but he did not throw the shawl off, but rather drew a little nearer, and leaned on her lap.
"See the evening star, mamma. I always think—"
David stopped suddenly.
"Of papa," said his mother, softly.
"Yes, and of the many, many times we have seen it together. We always used to look for it coming home. Sometimes he saw it first, and sometimes I did; and oh! mamma, there don't seem to be any good in anything now," said he, with a breaking voice.
Instead of speaking, his mother passed her hand gently over his hair.
"Will it ever seem the same, mamma?"
"Never the same, Davie! never the same! We shall never see his face, nor hear his voice, nor clasp his hand again. We shall never wait for his coming home in all the years that are before us. It will never, never be the same."
"Mamma! how can you bear it?"
"It was God's will, and it is well with him, and I shall see him again," said his mother, brokenly. But when she spoke in a minute her voice was clear and firm as ever.
"It will never be the same to any of us again. But you are wrong in one thing. All the good has not gone out of life because of our loss."
"It seems so to me, mamma."
"But it is not so. We have our work in the world just as before, and you have your preparation for it."
"But I cannot make myself care for anything as I used to do."
"There must be something wrong then, Davie, my boy."
"Everything is wrong, I think, mamma."
"If one thing is wrong, nothing can be right, David," said his mother, stooping down and kissing him softly. "What did your father wish first for his son?"
"That I should be a good soldier of Jesus Christ. I know that, mamma."
"And you have been forgetting this? That hast not changed, Davie."
"No, mamma—but—I am so good for nothing. You don't know—"
"Yes, I know. But then it is not one's worth that is to be considered, dear. The more worthless and helpless we are, the more we need to be made His who is worthy. And Davie, what do we owe to 'Him who loved us, and gave Himself for us?'"
"Ourselves, mamma, our life, our love—"
"And have you given Him these?"
"I don't know, mamma."
"And are you content not to know?"
"I am not content—but how am I to know, mamma," said David, rising and kneeling down on the broad stone beside her. "May I tell you something? It was that night—at the very last—papa asked me if I was ready to put on the armour he was laying down; and I said yes; and, mamma, I meant it. I wished to do so, oh, so much!—but everything has been so miserable since then—"
"And don't you wish it still, my son?"
"Mamma, I know there is nothing else that, is any good, but I cannot make myself care for it as I did then."
"David," said his mother, "do you love Jesus?"
"Yes, mamma, indeed I love Him. I know Him to be worthy of my love."
"And you desire to be His servant to honour Him, and do His will?"
"Yes, mamma, if I only knew the way."
"David, it was His will that papa should be taken from us; but you are angry at our loss."
"Angry! oh, mamma!"
"You are not submissive under His will. You fail to have confidence in His love, or His wisdom, or in His care for you. You think that in taking him He has made a mistake or been unkind."
"I know I am all wrong, mamma."
"David, my boy, perhaps it is this which is standing between you and a full consecration to His service."
And then she spoke to him of his father, and of his work, and how blessed he had been in it, and of the rest and reward to which he had gone.
"A little sooner than we would have chosen for our own sakes, Davie, but not too soon for him, or for his Master."
A great deal more she said to him of the life that lay before him, and how he might help her and his brothers and sisters. Then she spoke of his work for Christ, and of his preparation for it, and how hopeful— nay, how sure she was, that happy and useful days were before him—all the more happy and useful because of the sorrow he had been passing through. "As one whom his mother comforteth," came into David's mind as he listened.
"And it is I who ought to be comforting you, mamma. I know I am all wrong—" said he, with tears.
"We will comfort one another. And indeed, it is my best comfort to comfort you. And, Davie, my love, we will begin anew."
There was more said after that—of the work that lay ready at his hand, of how he was to take out his books again, lest he should fall back on his studies, and do discredit to his father's teaching, and of how he was to help his brothers and sisters, especially Violet and Jem.
"Only, mamma, I think they have been getting on very well without me all this time," said Davie, ruefully.
"Not so well as they will with you, however," said his mother. "Everything will go better now."
Everything did go better after that with David. His troubles were not over. His books gave him pain rather than pleasure, for a while, and it needed a struggle for him to interest himself in the plans and pursuits of Jem, and even of Violet. But he did not grow moody over his failures, and by and by there came to be some good in life to him again, and his mother's heart was set at rest about him, for she began to hope that it was well with David in the best sense now.
During the first summer they saw very little of the Oswalds. They lived quite at the other end of the town, in a house very different from the "bridge house," as their cottage was called, and for the greater part of the summer, the young people of the family had been away from home. But in the autumn it was so arranged that Violet at least, was to see a great deal of some of them. Mr Oswald had six children, four daughters and two sons. His eldest daughter Ame had been mistress of the house since her return from school, at the time of her mother's death. This had happened several years ago. She was twenty-four years of age, very clever and fond of society. She was engaged to be married, but she did not intend to leave home immediately, from which indeed she could not easily have been spared. They had much company always, and she had a great deal to do in entertaining them, and led a very busy and, as she thought, a very useful life in her father's house.
The next in age was Philip, but he was not at home. He was in his last year at M— University, and was to be home in the Spring. Selina came next. She was one year younger than Violet, and would fain have considered herself a grown-up young lady, and her education finished, if her father and sister had agreed. Then came Frank, who was not very strong, and whose eyes were still weak, and then Charlotte and Sarah, girls of ten and twelve. It was to teach these two that Violet was to go to Mr Oswald's house.
Mrs Inglis felt that the proposal had been made by Mr Oswald quite as much with the thought of helping them as of benefiting his children, who had before this time gone to a day-school in the neighbourhood. But she did not refuse to let Violet go on that account. She believed her to be fitted for the work. She knew her to be gentle and affectionate, yet firm and conscientious, that she would be faithful in the performance of her duties towards the little girls, and that they would be the gainers in the end by the arrangement. And so it proved.
The first intention was that Violet should return home every night, but as the season advanced and the weather broke, the distance was found to be too great, and besides, Violet's slumbering ambition was awakened by the proposal that she should share in the German and French lessons which Selina received from Professor Olendorf, and so she stayed in the house with her pupils, only going home on Friday night to spend the Sunday there.
She had very little share in the gay doings for which Miss Oswald was ambitious that her father's house should be distinguished. For Miss Oswald had strong opinions as to the propriety of young girls like Violet and Selina keeping themselves to their lessons and their practising, and leading a quiet life, and so had her father. Even if he had not, it is likely that Miss Oswald's opinion would have decided the matter. As it was, Selina became content to stay at home in Violet's company when her sister went out, and Violet was more than content. She enjoyed her work both of teaching and learning, and the winter passed happily and profitably away.
Of course she was missed at home, but not painfully so. There were no pupils for her mother to teach in the winter. Ned went to school, and there was only Jessie to teach, and a good many of the lessons she received was in the way of household work, and she soon began to take pride and pleasure in it as Violet had done before.
And so the winter passed quietly and happily to them all. There was need for constant carefulness, for rigid economy even, but want never came near them. How to make the most of their small means, was a subject at this time much in Mrs Inglis's thoughts. How to obtain the necessary amount of the simplest and most wholesome food, at the smallest cost, was a problem solved over and over again, with greater or less satisfaction, according to the circumstances at the moment. There was a certain amount of care and anxiety involved, but there was pleasure too, and all the more that they knew the exact amount of their means, and what they had "to come and go" upon.
They had some pleasant surprises in the shape of kind gifts of remembrance from Gourlay friends, gladly given and gladly received, less because of present necessities than because of old friendship. Want! no, it never came near them—never even threatened to come near them. When the winter was over, they could look back to what Jem called "a tight spot" or two in the matter of boots and firewood, but on nothing very serious after all.
The boots and the firewood were the worst things. No one can tell till she has really tried, how much beyond the natural turn of existence almost any garment may be made to last and wear to preserve an appearance of respectability by a judicious and persevering use of needle and thread. But boots, especially boys' boots, are unmanageable in a woman's hands, and, indeed, in any hands beyond a certain stage of dilapidation; and every one knows, that whatever else may be old, and patched, and shabby, good boots are absolutely indispensable to the keeping up of an appearance of respectability, and, indeed, one may say, with some difference, to the keeping of a lad's self-respect. The boots were matters of serious consideration.
As to the firewood, there is a great difference as to the comfort to be got out of the same quantity of firewood, depending on the manner in which it is used, but even with the utmost care and economy, it will consume away, and in a country where during seven months of the year fires are needed, a great deal must consume away. Even more than the consideration given to the boots, the wood had to be considered, and it was all the more a matter of difficulty, as economy in that direction was a new necessity. Boots had always been a serious matter to the Inglises, but wood had been plentiful at Gourlay. However, there were boots enough, and wood enough, and to spare, and things that were vexing to endure, were only amusing to look back upon, and when Spring came, none of the Inglises looked back on the winter with regret, or forward to the summer with dread, and so their first year in Singleton came happily to an end.
It was Saturday afternoon and a holiday with the schoolboys, of course. It was a holiday to them all, for Mrs Inglis and Violet were out of doors too, sitting on the gallery in the sunshine, and Davie was coming home. He was at the moment crossing the bridge at a great pace, and so eager to be among them, that instead of going soberly round by the gate, as he was accustomed to do, he took Jem's fashion and swung himself first over the side of the bridge, and then over the fence into the garden. They might well look surprised, and all the more so that it was high water, and he had to scramble along the unsteady fence and through the willows before he could get to the grass dry shod.
"Well done, Davie! you are growing young again," said Jem.
David sat down on the steps at his mother's feet laughing and breathless.
"Is it a half holiday?" asked his mother.
"Yes; Frank came to the bank and begged Mr Caldwell to let me go out in the boat with him and his brother this afternoon."
"And he was willing to let you go, I suppose?"
"Yes; he was not quite sure about the boat, and he said I must come first and ask you, mamma."
"A long walk and a short sail. It won't pay, Davie," said Jem. "You would not have cared, would you, mamma?"
"But I must have come at any rate to change my clothes. We shall very likely get wet."
"How very prudent!" said Jem.
"Very proper," said his mother.
"Well, be quick, or you'll keep them waiting. It is well to be you," said Jem. "I wish the high and mighty Phil Oswald would ask me to sail with him."
"Perhaps he may; he is bringing the boat here. Mamma, I have some good news."
The children gathered round to listen.
"That is why you came jumping over the fence, instead of coming round by the gate," said Ned.
"Violet knows it!" said Jessie; "look at her face."
"No, I don't know it. I might, perhaps, guess it."
It was no very wonderful news. Only that Mr Caldwell had reminded David that he had that day been a year in the office, and that next year his salary was to be raised. Not much. It did not seem a great sum even to Ned and Jessie. But it was worth a great deal more than the mere money value, because it implied that David was getting to understand his work, and that his employer knew it, and had confidence in him. The mother said something like this to him and to them all, and she was very much pleased.
"Our Davie will be a rich man some day!" said Jem. "I thought I was to be the rich man of the family, but it don't look like it now."
"It will be a while first," said David.
"You will be a banker," said Ned.
"I am afraid I ought to be gardener this afternoon," said David, looking round on the garden.
"No use. The water is rising. We shall be flooded yet," said Jem.
"There is no time lost yet," said his mother.
"It is better that we should be a little late, than that the water should cover the earth after the seeds are sown."
The broad, shallow channel at the end of the garden was full, and the willows that fringed the bit of green grass were far out into the water. The water almost touched the bridge across the road, and filled the hollow along the embankment.
"And, besides, you are going to sail," said Jem.
"I think it would be quite as pleasant to stay here."
They were all sitting on the little gallery before the house. It must have been a charming place once, when the river could be seen from it, and the pretty view beyond. At present, nothing could be seen on that side but the high embankment, and the few rods of garden-ground. On the other side were the willows, already green and beautiful, and some early-budding shrubs and the grass. Then there was the water, flowing down between the two bridges, and, over all, the blue sky and the sweet spring air. It was a charming place still, or it seemed so to David and them all.
The garden-beds had already been made, and a great many green things were springing here and there, and, on a rugged old apple-tree and on some plum and cherry trees, the buds were beginning to show themselves. The children were eager to be at work, but, for the present, that was not to be thought of. However, there was much to be said about the garden, and about the seeds which were to be sown, and Jessie was eager about a plan for covering the high embankment with squash-vines and scarlet-runners. Fred wanted to keep bees, and ducks if they could have them, but bees certainly; and amid the happy clamour which their voices made there came a shout, and, from under the railway bridge from the river, a boat was seen advancing.
"Here we are at last!" called out Frank Oswald; "and it looks very much as if here we must stay. We cannot get any further, Phil."
The Inglis children were soon as near the boat as the willows and the water would permit. There seemed to be no way of getting the boat to the bank, for the willows were far out into the water, and through them it could not be forced.
"You'll have to land on the other side and go round by the bridge," said Jem.
They were not using oars. That would have been impossible in a channel so narrow. They were pushing the boat through the water by means of a long pole, but it was not very easily managed, because of the shallowness of the water and the bushes that grew on the margin.
"Jem is right; we must go to the other side," said Frank.
"Not I," said his brother, as he planted his pole firmly on the bank, measuring the distance with his eye. Then throwing himself forward with a sudden spring, he was over the willows and over the water beyond, landing safely on the nicely-prepared onion-bed.
"Well done!" cried Jem.
"Not at all well done," said Frank, who had only saved himself from being overturned into the water by grasping a branch near him.
Philip only laughed, as he shook hands with Mrs Inglis and Violet.
"Take my place in the boat and have a row on the river," said he, as he sat down on the steps near them. "I have had enough of it for awhile."
Jem was nothing loth, but he looked at his mother for permission.
"Is it quite safe, do you think?" asked she hesitating.
"Oh! quite safe. Frank understands all about it; and so does Jem, I dare say."
"Mamma!" entreated Ned.
"And mamma!" entreated Jessie.
On the Gourlay river the boys had paddled about at their own pleasure, and their mother was not inclined to be unreasonably anxious about them. She knew it would be a great delight to them all to be permitted to go.
"But there is not room for all; and Mr Oswald will not care to be troubled with so many children."
"Let them go with the boys—there is no danger, and I will wait here," said Philip. "Only you must promise to come back within a reasonable time, Jem."
"All right!" said Jem. "I promise. Come along Violet. There is room for you, and Polly too."
But Mr Philip thought there was not room for all, and Mrs Inglis would not trust little Mary with them, so they went without them.
This was Mr Philip's first visit to the bridge house. Mrs Inglis had seen him at church, and David had seen him a good many times at the bank. He had been at home a week or two, and Violet had, of course, seen him every day. David had acknowledged that he did not like him very much, and Jem called him "a swell," and spoke contemptuously of his fine clothes and fine manners. Violet had taken his part, and said he was just like other people. He was very kind to his little sisters, she said. There had been a good deal said about him in one way or another, and Mrs Inglis regarded him with curiosity and interest. He was a good-looking lad, with a pleasant face and manner. "Just like other people," did not quite do him justice. Mrs Inglis could not help thinking Jem's idea of "a swell" did not suit him certainly. He was not "fine," on the present occasion, either in dress or manners. David had said very little about about him, but he had not approved of him, and, seeing the young man now so frank and friendly, she could not but wonder why.
They did not go into the house, and by and by they all crossed the garden and went up on the railway track to watch the boat; and, being a little behind the others, leading little Mary between them, his mother asked David what was the reason of his dislike.
"Dislike! mamma," said David, in surprise. "I don't dislike him. I don't know him very well. He has had very little to say to me. Why should you think that I dislike him?"
"Perhaps dislike is too strong a word. But I fancied that you did not quite approve of him, David."
"Approve of him! Well—he is not one of us—of our kind of people, I mean. He does not look at things as we do. I don't dislike him, mamma, but I don't care about him."
"Which means he doesn't care about you?" said his mother, smiling.
"He certainly does not. He is much too great a man to have anything to say to me. But I don't think that is the reason that I don't 'approve' of him, as you say. He is not in earnest about anything. He is extravagant—he spends a great deal of money foolishly. But I ought not to speak of that. Mr Caldwell told me, and he seemed quite as well pleased that we should have little to say to one another. He said Frank was the better companion for Jem and me."
"I dare say that is true," said his mother.
But all this did not prevent the young people from having a very pleasant afternoon together. The boat came back after "a reasonable time," and then the others went for a sail, and David acknowledged that Mr Philip was in earnest about his rowing, at any rate, and permitted himself to admire his activity and skill. When the boat was brought in among the willows again, it was almost dark.
"Suppose we leave it here?" said Frank. "It will be quite safe, and we can send for it on Monday."
"It would not be a bad place to leave it here altogether," said his brother.
Jem was delighted with the idea, and said so; but David gave his mother a doubtful look.
"Come in to tea," said she, "and you can decide about it afterwards."
The Oswalds had not dined, but they did not refuse the invitation, as, for a single minute, Violet hoped they might. The simple arrangements of her mother's table were not at all like those which Miss Oswald considered necessary in her father's house, but they were faultless in their way, and Violet was ashamed of her shame almost as soon as she was conscious of it.
"Aunt Mary," said Frank, after they were seated at the table, "won't you ask me to spend the afternoon here to-morrow? I like your Sundays."
Mrs Inglis did not answer for a moment, but Jem answered for her.
"All right, Frank! Come straight from church. Your father will let you, won't he?"
"If Aunt Mary were to ask me, he would. I am not sure, otherwise," said Frank. "What do you say, Aunt Mary?"
Philip looked at him in astonishment.
"Never mind, Phil," said Frank. "Aunt Mary and I understand."
"We are old friends," said Mrs Inglis, smiling.
"I think he is very bold," said his brother. "What if I were to insist on being invited in that persistent way?"
"That would be quite different," said Frank. "You are a stranger. I was often here last winter. I am one of the children when I am here. Aunt Mary does not make a stranger of me."
"But, Frank," said Jessie, "David is away now on Sunday afternoon, and Violet and Jem. And, perhaps, mamma will let us all go, and go herself, if there are any more children."
"Where?" asked Frank.
"At Sunday-school—down on Muddy Lane. Mr Caldwell's Sunday-school."
"Old Caldwell!" said Frank. "That's the way, is it? How do you like it, Davie?"
"Sunday-school is not a new thing to us, you know," said David.
"But it is a new thing for you to be a teacher," said Jem. "Oh! he likes it. Davie's a great man on Sunday, down in Muddy Lane."
"I went once," said Jessie, "and it is very nice. Letty sings, and the children sing too. And one of the girls broke Letty's parasol—" And Mrs Inglis's attention being occupied for the moment, Jessie gave other particulars of the school, quite unmindful of her sister's attempts to stop her.
Ned had something to tell, too, and entered into minute particulars about a wager between two of the boys, as to whether Mr Caldwell wore a wig or not, and the means they took to ascertain the truth about it.
"They must be rather stupid not to know that," said Frank.
"Do you like it?" asked Philip of Violet.
"Yes, indeed! I like it very much. But I don't like Ned's telling tales out of school, nor Jessie, either."
"But mine are not bad tales. I like it too," said Jessie.
"But I should think it would be very unpleasant. And what is the good of it? Muddy Lane of all places!" said Philip, making an astonished face.
"That shows that you don't know Aunt Mary and her children," said Frank, laughing. "You would never ask what is the good, if you did."
"I know, of course, there must be good to the children, but I should think it would be decidedly unpleasant for you. Muddy Lane cannot be a nice place at any time, and now that the warm weather is coming—"
"You don't suppose Violet is one of the people who is afraid of a little dust, or bad odours, and all that, do you?" asked Frank.
"She rather likes it—self-denial and all that," said Jem. "And as for Davie—"
"Nonsense, Jem! Self-denial indeed! There is very little of that," said David. "You know better than that, if Frank does not."
"And old Caldwell, of all people in the world," said Philip, laughing; "I did not suppose he could speak to any one younger than fifty—except Davie. What can he have to say to children, I wonder?"
"Oh, he has enough to say. You ought to hear him," said Jem.
"Thank you. I'll come and hear him—to-morrow, perhaps."
"Mr Caldwell did not like the new hymn-book at first," said Jessie. "But the children like them, and Letty teaches them to sing, and it is very nice. I hope we can go to-morrow."
"I hope so," said Mr Philip.
"But you don't care about such things, do you?" asked Jessie.
"I ought to care, ought I not?"
"Yes; but you ought not just to make believe care."
Mr Philip laughed a little.
"There is no make believe about it. I shall like to go to-morrow very much."
They were all away from the table by this time, and Frank sat down with David on the window seat. He put his arm round his shoulder, boyish fashion, and laid his head down upon it.
"Is it military duty you are doing, Davie, down in Muddy Lane?" said he, softly.
All the talk that had been going on had put David out a good deal, and he did not answer for a minute. It seemed to him that a great deal had been made of a little matter, and he was not well pleased.
"Don't you remember about the 'armour,'" said Frank.
"Don't Frank?" said David. It hurt him to think that Frank should make a jest of that.
"Indeed I am not jesting, Davie. That is one way of fighting the good fight—is it not? And I want to have a good long talk about it again."
"With mamma, you mean."
"Yes, and with you. Don't you remember Hobab and old Tim?"
David did not answer in words, and both the boys sat silent, while the others grew eager in discussing quite other things. It was growing dark, and Philip decided that it would be better to leave the boat and walk home. Then something was said about future sails, and then Philip told them of a friend of his who was going to be one of a party who were to explore the country far west. He was going to try and persuade his father to let him join it. It was an exploring company, but a good many were to join it for the sake of the hunting and fishing, and the adventures that might fall in their way. They were to be away for months, perhaps for the whole summer, and a great deal of enjoyment was anticipated. Jem listened intently.
"That would just suit me, mamma," said he, with a sigh.
"I dare say it would be pleasant for a while," said she, smiling.
"It would hardly suit you to lose a summer out of your life, Jem," said David, sharply.
"You are there! are you, David? No, that wouldn't suit me, exactly."
"Lose a year out of his life! What can you mean?" said Mr Philip, in astonishment.
"What would come out of such a summer, except just the pleasure of it?" said David.
"Well! there would be a great deal of pleasure. What else would you have?"
David made no answer.
"Davie means that there is something besides one's pleasure to be considered in this world," said Frank.
"David means that Jem can find pleasure and profit without going so far for them," said Mrs Inglis.
"David is a young prig," said Mr Philip to himself, and as they were going home he said it to his brother in decided terms.
"That's your idea of it, is it?" said Frank. "You know just about as much of Davie and Aunt Mary, and that sort of people, as I know about the Emperor of China. I know there is such a person, and that is all I do know."
"It is never too late to learn, and if they have no objection, I mean to know them better."
"They are not your kind of people," said Frank, decidedly.
"You mean they are very good and religious and all. I am not a heathen or a Turk, Frank, my boy."
"I could never make you understand the difference," said Frank, gravely.
"Never make you understand!" said Philip, mimicking his voice and manner. "I think I can understand them pretty well without your help. Don't trouble yourself. They are just like other people. It is true that Mrs Inglis looks just as much of a lady in her plain gown and in that shabby room as she could in any of the fine drawing-rooms, and that is more than could be said of some of the ladies I know. She is a good woman, too, I am sure. As for Davie, he is a young prig—though he is good, too, I dare say. Violet is a little modest flower. They are very nice, all of them, but they are not beyond my powers of comprehension, I fancy, Frank, lad."
"All right, if you think so," said Frank.
Philip was amused and a little vexed at his brother's persistency.
"Do you know them, Frank,—'understand' them, as you call it?"
"I know they are very different from us, and from all the people we know most about, and I think I know what makes the difference, though I don't quite understand it. You would know what I mean if you had seen Mr Inglis and knew the kind of life he lived."
"I have seen, and I know what his character was. He was an unworldly sort of man, I believe."
"He did not live for his own pleasure," said Frank, gravely. "He wasn't his own. He lived to serve his Master. I can't tell you. You should speak to Davie or Violet about him, or to Aunt Mary."
"Well, so I will, some day," said Philip.
Frank made no reply.
In the meantime Mr Philip was being just as freely discussed by the young people they had left. Jem was delighted with their new friend. He was a fine fellow, not at all "swell," as he had supposed. Jem grew enthusiastic over his friendliness, his boat, his rowing, and hoped he might come often. So did the little ones.
"David does not like him," said Violet.
"I liked him this afternoon well enough," said David.
"Yes, he was nice this afternoon; but he is not always nice with his sisters. He is good to the little ones," said Violet.
"I dare say his sisters are not very good to him. I can easily believe it," said Jem.
"He is not like the people we have been taught to admire," said David.
"He always thinks of himself first," said Violet. "And he is not really in earnest about anything."
"Mamma, listen to Davie and Letty speaking evil of their neighbours," said Jem.
"Not speaking evil, I hope," said Mrs Inglis, "but still not speaking with charity, I am afraid."
"I was not speaking evil of him, mamma," said Violet. "I only meant that he does not care for anything very much, except to amuse himself. I think he is rather foolish, but I would not speak evil of him."
"See that you don't, then," said Jem.
"He made himself very agreeable this afternoon, that is all we need say," said Mrs Inglis. "We are not likely to see very much of him in future."
Nothing more was said at that time. They saw a good deal of both brothers during the next few weeks. But they saw nothing for a good while that inclined either Violet or Davie to change their opinion of the elder one.
The next day Frank came home with them from church. He was the only one of the family at church that day, for it had rained in the morning, and they were not very regular churchgoers at the best of times.
"Papa said I might go home with you, if Aunt Mary asked me," said Frank, as he joined them at the door.
"Come on, then," said Jem. "Mamma doesn't approve of Sunday visiting, as a general thing, but you are one of ourselves by this time. Mamma, ask Frank to come."
Mrs Inglis smiled.
"Come and read with the children, Frank," said she.
Frank was only too happy to go. He did not go to the Sunday-school with the others, but chose to stay at home with Mrs Inglis and little Mary. But the first person the others saw when they came to Muddy Lane was Mr Philip, waiting for them at the corner, as though it were the most natural and proper thing in the world for him to be there.
"I came to hear what your friend Mr Caldwell has to say to-day, Jem," said he.
"All right!" said Jem. "He will have something appropriate to say about Sabbath-breaking, I dare say."
"I am sure I don't know why," said Philip, laughing.
"He'll tell you why," said Jem.
David did not say it was all right, nor think it. Indeed, it proved to his mind to be all wrong, for Mr Caldwell did not make his appearance at all.
"To think of his failing to-day, of all days," said David.
They waited for him a long time, till the children became restless and impatient.
"We ought to begin, Davie," said Violet.
"Yes. I wouldn't mind if we were by ourselves."
"Why should you mind now? Go ahead, Davie. If he laughs, I'll knock him down," said Jem.
It was very foolish in Violet to laugh, and very wrong, too, she knew; but she could not help it. Jem's idea of the way to keep order was so absurd. David did not laugh. He looked anxious, and at a loss, and a little indignant at his sister's amusement.
"I beg your pardon, Davie. Let us just go on us usual," she entreated. "Why should you mind?"
And so they did go on. They sung a hymn very well; at least, they sung with a great deal of spirit. There were some clear, sweet voices among the children, and they all seemed to enjoy singing so much it could not be otherwise than agreeable to those who were listening, and Violet did her best. Then David, very reverently, but not very firmly, took Mr Caldwell's duty upon himself, and offered a few words of prayer; and then the children repeated together the Lord's Prayer, and after that everything went well enough. David and Violet took their usual places, with their classes round them, and Jem suggested to Mr Philip that he should take Mr Caldwell's rough-looking boys in hand "and give them a talk."
"Hear them repeat their verses, and tell them a story. You can do it as well as Mr C. Shall I tell them that you are the new minister?"
"Thank you. I will introduce myself. I ought to be able to say something to these young rascals. I hope they won't find me out."
He seemed to get on very well. Jem would have liked to get rid of the three little fellows for whom he was responsible, so as to hear what he was saying. The boys liked it, evidently; at least they listened with great interest; and one would have thought that Mr Philip was quite accustomed to the work, he did it so easily. The boys laughed more than once, and grew eager and a little noisy; but their teacher was perfectly grave and proper, and did not give Jem the shadow of an excuse for wishing to "knock him down." He congratulated him when it was all over.
"Yes; I flatter myself it was the right man in the right place this time," said Mr Philip. "You didn't think I could do as well as old Caldwell, did you."
Jem shrugged his shoulders.
"Yes, you could do it, once in a way, after a fashion, at any rate."
But though Jem spoke so coldly to Philip himself, he was enthusiastic in his praises of him when they were giving their mother the history of the afternoon after Frank had gone home.
"He can do anything, I think," said he. "He was not at a loss for a moment. I believe, if he had been put to it, he could have done the whole business as well as Davie did, and he did it very well."
David said nothing, but Violet repeated her opinion as to their new friend's want of earnestness.
"If it had been the most foolish thing in the world, he would have done it just as well, and just as willingly, if he had thought it was expected of him to do it."
"Are you not a little severe on him?" said her mother.
"No, mamma; I don't mean to be severe. He would think it a great compliment paid to him, though you don't think it nice. He does not look seriously at life. He amuses himself with everything. Just compare him with our Davie."
David had gone out before she said this.
"Nonsense! Letty. Our Davie is a boy still, and Mr Philip is a man. He has completed the course at the university, you know quite well."
"Our Davie is far more manly than he, for all that. And so are you, Jem. Davie is worth two of him."
"A great deal more than two of him to us, Letty," said her mother, laughing. "Still, I am inclined to think with Jem, that you are a little hard on him."
"Yes, she does not like him," said Jem. "And it is odd, too, for he likes her, and you, mamma, and all of us."
"Oh! yes; I dare say he does. We amuse him for the moment. I know him better than you do, Jem. I have seen him every day for a fortnight, you know. I like him very well, but I don't think he is reliable. He is not in earnest," repeated Violet, solemnly. "And Sunday-school teaching is not a proper thing to amuse one's self with. It would spoil all the pleasure of it to have him come there always. However, there is no danger. He will find something else to amuse him."
Violet was right, as far as Philip's coming to Muddy Lane was concerned. He did not make his appearance there again for a very long time after that Sunday. But, having nothing better to do, he seemed quite inclined to cultivate the acquaintance of the young Inglises, and came to the bridge house a good deal. Once or twice he brought his little sisters and Violet down in the boat to tea, and several times he came there after having been down the river fishing. Once or twice David, coming home earlier than the others, found him sitting quietly with his mother and little Mary, to all appearance perfectly satisfied with the entertainment he was receiving; and his entertainers seemed satisfied too. David began to consider these frequent visits as an infliction to be borne patiently, and Violet adhered to her first opinion; but, with Jem and the children, he was a great favourite. Even the mother was inclined to make excuses for his faults, and was very kind to him when he came. The mother knew more about him than the rest did, for he told her a great deal about himself and his past life during the quiet afternoons he passed with her and little Mary. And having seen more, and suffered more, she was inclined to have more patience with his weaknesses than they.
It had been understood all along, that, as soon as Philip's course at the university was over, he was to take his place in his father's office, and to give all his time and thoughts to his father's business. He had never been quite pleased with the idea, and had all along hoped that something might happen to render unnecessary a step so distasteful to him. Nothing had happened, and he was inclined to fancy that he was making a sacrifice to his father's business and his father's desire for wealth, and to claim sympathy because of this.
"And would you be a great help to your father?" asked Mrs Inglis, one day, when he had got thus far.
"I don't know. I am sure I don't think so, hating business as I do. But he must think so, or he would not be so bent on my coming to the office and tying myself down. It will come to that, I dare say," said he, with a sigh.
Mrs Inglis smiled.
"Is it not possible that he may wish it for your sake rather than his own? And how do you know that you hate business? You have never given it a fair trial, have you?"
"No, I have not tried it steadily," said he, answering her last question first. "But then one can tell what one does not like without trying it very long. I dare say my father thinks it would be a good thing for me to fix myself at the bank. But a man must judge for himself before he submits to be tied down for life."
"But is it not possible that it is the tying down which is distasteful? And every man must submit to be tied down to something. What would you like to do better."
"Oh! almost anything. I should like the profession of the law better." And then he added, after a little, "I should like it better for one thing. I need not enter an office till the autumn."
"I am afraid it is the tying down that is the trouble, after all," said she.
"No, I assure you—not altogether—though, I acknowledge, it would be a fine thing to let business slide—to have nothing at all to do."
"I do not agree with you. I think it would be the very worst thing that could happen to you to have nothing to do," said Mrs Inglis, gravely.
"To me, especially, do you mean? Well, I don't quite mean that; but I think Mr Caldwell was right when he told my father that, if he had meant me for business, he should have put me to it long ago."
"Do you mean that you regret having been sent to the university?"
"I mean that I should have been fit for my work by this time, and, probably, content with it. A university is not needed there."
"You must not be angry with me if I say you are talking foolishly," said Mrs Inglis, "and, indeed, ungratefully, when you say that. Do you mean that your education will be a disadvantage to you?"
"No; except by making business distasteful to me. I mean, it has given me other interests and other tastes—something beyond the desire to make money."
"Doubtless, that was your father's intention—to make you an intelligent man as well as a banker—not a mere money-maker. And his wish ought to decide you to give the business of his office a fair trial, since you do not seem to have a preference for any other."
"I have a very decided preference for a trip across the country. Don't look grave, Aunt Mary. These are my holidays. By and by will be time to settle down to work."
"I thought you were no longer a schoolboy?"
"No, I am not; but I should like to go—to the Red River, perhaps. It would be a fine trip for Davie in his vacation, too, and its cost would be little—comparatively."
"Davie does not expect a vacation—or only a week or two."
"Davie is quite a steady old gentleman," said Philip.
Mrs Inglis smiled.
"I don't suppose you mean that quite as a compliment to my boy. I am very glad it is true, nevertheless."
"You don't suppose I would venture to say anything not complimentary to your boy to you, do you? Or that I would wish to say it to any one? But he does take life so seriously. He is so dreadfully in earnest. One would think that Davie was years and years older than I am."
"Yes, in some things."
"But, Aunt Mary, such precocious sobriety and wisdom are unnatural and unwholesome. Davie is too wise and grave for his years."
"He is not too wise to do very foolish things sometimes; and he is the merriest among the children at home, though we don't hear his voice quite so often as Jem's. And you must remember that Davie's experience has been very different from yours."
"Yes, Aunt Mary, I know. Frank has told me how happy you all were, and how Davie was always so much with his father. It must have been very terrible for you all."
"And, Philip, Davie has tried to take his father's place among us. Davie is our bread-winner, in a measure. We have had many cares and anxieties together. No wonder that he seems to you to be grave and older than his years."
"Aunt Mary, what an idle, good-for-nothing fellow you must think me," said Philip, putting down little Mary, who had been sitting on his knee, and standing before his aunt.
"Not good-for-nothing, certainly. Perhaps, a little idle and thoughtless. There is time for improvement and—room. Let us hope you will know your own mind soon, which you certainly do not now."
"Let us hope so," said Philip, with a sigh. "Here comes Davie! Now, observe him! He will not look in the least glad to see me."
"Where are all the rest?" said Davie, coming in.
"Davie, do you know, I have been persuading your mother to let you go with me to the Red River," said Philip. "Wouldn't you like it?"
"It is very good of you. Yes, I dare say I would like it. What does mamma say?"
"She thinks you are too useful a man to be spared so long. What would Mr Caldwell do without you?"
"When are you coming to help him?" said David.
"After I come home in the autumn. I cannot bring myself to Davie's standard of steadiness all at once, Aunt Mary. I must have a little time."
"There is none to lose," said Mrs Inglis gravely.
About this time it was announced to the world in general, that Miss Oswald's marriage was to take place immediately. Her friends thought she had been very kind and considerate to stay with her father and her brothers and sisters so long. Miss Oswald was a discreet young lady, and knew how to manage her own affairs to her own satisfaction. Perhaps the knowledge that her own establishment must be in a different style from that of her father's, helped her considerateness a little, and made her more willing to continue at home. However that might be, when her father set before her certain reasons for economy in household matters, for decided retrenchment indeed, she very considerately suggested that her Aunt Livy would be a very suitable person to see her father's wishes in this direction carried out, and advised that she should be sent for, and then she set about her own preparations. With these, of course, no one at the bridge house had anything to do, except Violet. But for the glimpses that she had behind the scenes, she might have been a little dazzled and unsettled by the gaiety and splendour in the midst of which she found herself. For Miss Oswald's arrangements were on the grandest scale. Everything that she considered "proper" on the occasion, she exacted to the uttermost, with no thoughts of necessary economy. There were fine clothes, fine presents, a fine wedding breakfast, and the proper number of fine brides-maids, of whom Violet was one.
Even the wise and sensible Letty was not above a feeling of girlish delight in being prettily dressed and admired as one of the gay company; but the knowledge that she was only chosen at the last minute to supply the place of a young lady whose illness had disarranged Miss Oswald's plans, and a few other drawbacks, kept her from being unduly elated with the honour and pleasure, and she was very glad when it was all over, and so was everybody concerned. So Miss Oswald went away. Mrs Mavor and Miss Livy came to the big house to reign in her stead, and all in it were beginning to settle down to a quiet and happy summer again.
But trouble came first. Scarlet fever had broken out in the neighbourhood of the bridge house, and in other parts of the town, and first little Polly took it, and then Jessie and Ned, and Violet came home to help her mother to nurse them. They were not very ill—that is, the fever did not run very high, and at no time did the doctor suppose them to be in danger, but there was much anxiety and fatigue in taking care of them. The weather was very hot, too, and the bridge house stood too low to catch the infrequent breeze, and though they were soon able to be up and even to be out of doors, the children did not get strong.
In the meantime both Charlotte and Sarah Oswald had taken the disease, and Mr Oswald himself came to the bridge house to entreat that Violet might be permitted to come to them. Their sister Selina had gone away after the wedding to visit in a distant city, and as she had never had the disease, her father did not like to send for her to come home. The children did not take to their aunt. It had been possible to get on when they were very ill, but when they began to be better they were peevish and fretful, and Aunt Livy could not please them, and nothing would do but Violet must come to them again. It did not seem possible that she could leave home, but David was to be spared as much as possible to help with the little ones, and so she went.
But between her anxiety for the children at home, and her weariness with the little Oswalds, she had rather a hard time of it. Frank helped her for a while, but he was not very well, and was threatened with the old trouble in his eyes, so that he was not a very cheerful companion, either for her or the children. Mr Philip had commenced an irregular sort of attendance at the bank, but he had a good deal of time still at his disposal, and kindly bestowed a share of it on his little sisters. "Philip could be very nice when he liked," they agreed, and he very often "liked" about this time.
He went sometimes to the bridge house, too, and was as popular as ever among the little people there. They were not getting well very fast. Charlotte and Sarah were up and out in the garden, and able to amuse themselves with their dolls and their games, when Violet, going home one day, found Jessie and Ned languid and fretful, and poor wee Polly lying limp and white in her cot. Her mother looked worn and anxious, David came home with a headache, and Jem was the only one among them whose health and spirits were in a satisfactory condition.
"I cannot stay to-night, mamma, because they expect me back," said Violet. "But I shall come home to-morrow. They don't need me half as much as you do, and I must come. You are sick yourself, mamma."
"No, I am tired, that is all; and the weather is so warm. Don't come till the children are well. It is your proper place there, and even you cannot help us here while the weather is so warm."
It was very hot and close, and Violet fancied that from the low fields beyond, where there was water still standing, a sickly odour came.
"No wonder they don't get strong," said she.
Mr Oswald had spoken in the morning about sending his little girls to the country, or to the seaside. The doctor had suggested this as the best thing that could be done for them. Violet thought of their large house, with its many rooms, and of the garden in which it stood, and looked at her little sisters and brothers growing so pale and languid in the close air, which there was no hope of changing, with a feeling very like envy or discontent rising in her heart.
"Mamma," said she, "it is a dreadful thing to be poor;" and then she told of the plan for sending the Oswalds away for change of air, and how they were already well and strong in comparison to their own poor darlings, and then she said, again, "It is a dreadful thing to be so poor."
"We are not so poor as we might be?" said her mother, gravely. "Think how it would have been if we had lost one of them, dear. God has been very good to us, and we must not be so ungrateful as to murmur because we have not all that others have, or all that we might wish for."
"I know it, mamma. But look at these pale cheeks. Poor wee Polly! she is only a shadow of our baby. If we could only send her to Gourlay for a little while."
"Do you think her looking so poorly? I think it is the heat that is keeping them all so languid. Don't look so miserable. If it is necessary for them to go to the country, we shall manage to send them in some way. But we are quite in the country here, and when we have had rain the air will be changed, and the heat may be less, and then they will all be better."
"Have you made any plan about going to the country?" asked Violet, eagerly.
"No, my dear. I trust it will not be necessary. It could not be easily managed," said Mrs Inglis, with a sigh.
"If we were only not quite so poor," said Violet.
"I say, Letty, don't you think mamma has trouble enough without your bother?" said Jem, sharply, as his mother went out of the room. Violet looked at him in astonishment.
"If we were only not quite so poor!" repeated Jem, in the doleful tone she had used. "You have said that three times within half an hour. You had better stay up at the big house, if that is all the good you can do by coming home."
"That will do, Jem! Don't spoil your sermon by making it too long," said David, laughing.
"Sermon! No, I leave that to you, Davie. But what is the use of being so dismal? And it isn't a bit like Letty."
"But, Jem, it is true. The children look so ill, and if they could only get a change of air—"
"And don't you suppose mamma knows all that better than you can tell her? What is the good of telling her? She has been looking all day for you to come and cheer us up and brighten us a little, and now that you have come you are as dismal as—I don't know what. You have been having too easy times lately, and can't bear hardness," said Jem, severely.
"Have I?" said Violet, with an uncertain little laugh.
"Softly, Jem, lad!" said his mother, who had come in again. "I think she has been having a rather hard time, only it will not do her much good to tell her so."
"I dare say Jem is right, mamma, and I am cross."
"Not cross, Letty, only dismal, which is a great deal worse, I think," said Jem.
"Well, I won't be dismal any more to-night, if I can help it. Davie, take Polly, and, mamma, lie down on the sofa and rest while I make the tea. Jem, you shall help me by making up the fire. We will all have tea to-night, because I am a visitor."
"All right!" said Jem. "Anything to please all round; and the hot tea will cool us nicely, won't it?"
"It will refresh us at any rate."
And so the little cloud passed away, and Violet's cheerfulness lasted through the rest of the visit, and up to the moment that she bade Jem good-bye at Mr Oswald's gate. It did not last much longer, however. It was nearly dark, and Mr Oswald and his sister and Frank were sitting on the lawn to catch the faint breeze that was stirring among the chestnut trees.
"I thought you were not coming home to-night," said Miss Livy, in an aggrieved tone.
"I was detained," said Violet. "How are the children?"
"They are in bed at last. You should not have told them that you would be home before their bed-time, unless you had intended to come. However, they are in bed now. Pray don't go and disturb them again. Philip had to go to them at last. He is up-stairs now. They are dreadfully spoiled."
Violet dropped down in the nearest chair.
"How are the children at home?" asked Mr Oswald, kindly.
"They are—not better."
"I hope they are not spoiled," said Frank, laughing. "Did they cry when you came away, Violet?"
"They were rather fretful. They are not strong."
"You are not very well yourself, to-night," said Mr Oswald. "The change will do you as much good as any of them."
"I am quite well," said Violet.
"We have been speaking about sending the girls to the country for a change of air," went on Mr Oswald. "Will you go with them? Betsey will go too, of course, but they will scarcely be happy without you, and the change will do you good."
"Thank you. You are very kind. But the children need me at home. I could not think of leaving mamma while they are so poorly to go away for pleasure."
"It would not be quite all pleasure, I fancy," said Mr Philip. "They are asleep at last. It cannot be a very easy thing to keep them amused all day, as they are just now."
"They are quite spoiled," said Aunt Livy.
"Oh! no. Not quite. They are good little things in general, as children go. You can't judge now, aunt," said Philip. "Miss Inglis, are you not a little dismal to-night?"
"So Jem told me. I am tired. I think I shall say good-night and go up-stairs."
"It should be settled at once about the children, where they are to go, and who is to go with them," said Aunt Livy.
"There is no haste," said Mr Oswald. "Perhaps the children at home may be better able to spare you in a day or two, Miss Violet."
"Thank you. It would be very pleasant, but—"
"Why not send all together?" said Philip. "Ned and Jessie and wee Polly, with Charlotte and Sarah? I dare say they would all be better of a change, poor little souls!"
"I dare say they can do without it, thank you," said Violet, stiffly.
"For what? My suggestion? They would like it, I am sure."
"People cannot get all they like in this world."
"Violet," said Frank, solemnly, "I believe you are cross."
"I am almost afraid I am," said Violet, laughing uneasily.
"For the first time in your life. Something dreadful must have happened at the bridge house to-day!"
"No; nothing happened."
"The children are not better, that is what is the matter," said Philip; "though it ought not to make you cross, only sorry. Depend on it, it is change they want," said Philip, with the air of a doctor.
"It is worth thinking about; and it would be very nice if they could all go together, with you to take care of them," said Mr Oswald. "Very nice for our little girls, I mean. Think of it, and speak to your mother."
"Thank you; I will," said Violet.
"Much they know about it," said she to herself, as she went up-stairs in the dark. "An extra orange or a cup of strawberries for the little darlings has to be considered in our house, and they speak of change as coolly as possible. And I didn't know better than to trouble mamma with just such foolish talk. We must try and have mamma and Polly go to Gourlay for a week or two. June not half over, and how shall we ever get through the two not months! Oh, dear! I am so tired!"
Violet was so tired in the morning that she slept late, and a good many things had happened next morning before she came down-stairs. When she opened the dining-room door she thought, for a minute, she must be sleeping still and dreaming; for, instead of the usual decorous breakfast-table, Aunt Livy seemed to be presiding at a large children's party. Everybody laughed at her astonished face, and little Mary held out her arms to be taken.
"My precious wee Polly! Have you got a pair of wings?" said she, clasping and kissing her little sister.
"We are to stay all day, if we are good. You are to tell mamma how we behave," said Jessie. "We came in a carriage, with Mr Philip and Jem."
Violet looked a little anxiously from Aunt Livy to Mr Oswald, and saw nothing to make her doubt the children's welcome. Mr Oswald smiled; Miss Livy nodded.
"They seem very well-behaved children," said she. "Not at all spoiled."
"We haven't been here long," said Jessie, gravely. "But we are going to be good, Letty. We promised mamma."
And they were very good, considering all things. Still, it was a fatiguing day to Violet. She followed them out and she followed them in; and when they grew tired, and their little legs and their tempers failed, she beguiled them into the wide gallery, shaded by vines, and told them stories, and comforted them with toys and picture-books and something nice to eat. It would have been a better day, as far as the visitors were concerned, if there had been less to see and to admire. But the great house and garden were beautiful and wonderful to their unaccustomed eyes, and they had tired themselves so utterly that they grew fretful and out of sorts, and were glad when it came night and time to go home; and so was Violet.
The next day they came they were stronger and better, but they needed constant attention, lest mischief should happen among them; and, on the third morning, Violet was not sorry to hear the rain pattering on the window. Not that she would have minded ten times the trouble for herself, so that the children were the better for it, but it was as well not to try Miss Livy's forbearance too far. Miss Livy had had very little to do with children since she was a child herself, and that little led her decidedly to agree with the generally-received opinion that the children of the present day are not so well brought up as children used to be. This opinion did not make her more patient with them, but rather less so; and so Violet was not sorry for the rain that kept her little sisters at home.
At breakfast, the subject of sending the little girls, Charlotte and Sarah, to the country for awhile was again brought up by their aunt, and, in the afternoon, Violet, at Mr Oswald's request, went home to speak to her mother about it; but she had fully determined beforehand how the matter was to be decided, as far as she was concerned.
However, everything was put out of her mind by the surprise that awaited her; for, at the bridge house, they were entertaining an angel unawares, in the person of Miss Bethia Barnes. And was not Violet glad to see her? So glad that she put her arms round her neck and kissed her, and then laughed and then cried a little, not quite knowing what she did.
"It is good to see you, Aunt Bethia," said she.
"You are the only one of the family who looks better for Singleton," said Miss Bethia, regarding her with pleased wonder.
Miss Bethia had considered Violet a little girl when she left Singleton; but she was a little girl no longer, but a young woman, and a very pretty young woman, too, Miss Bethia acknowledged. If Violet had not been so glad to see her, and shown it so plainly as to disarm her, she must, even at the first moment, have uttered some word of counsel or warning, for to be pretty, and not aware of it, or vain of it, was a state of things that she could not believe in. However, she reserved her advice for a future occasion, and, in the meantime, drew her own conclusions from the brightening of the mother's face at the coming of her eldest daughter, and from the eager way in which little Mary clung to her, and the others claimed her attention.
"You must stay at home to-night, Letty," said Jem.
"May I, mamma? I am to be sent for later; but may I not send a message that Miss Bethia has come, and that you cannot spare me?"
"But I can spare you all the better that Miss Bethia is here," said her mother, smiling.
"Yes, I know mamma; but I want to stay so much."
"You would not think it polite in her to go away to-night? Now, would you? Aunt Bethia," said Jem.
"Politeness ain't the only thing to think of," said Miss Bethia.
"Violet is not quite at our disposal just now," said Mrs Inglis; "and I am afraid you will be missed up there, dear, by the children. They have had the fever, too, poor little things, and their sister is away, and they hardly know this aunt yet, and Violet has charge of them. They are fond of Violet."
"Oh, yes! they are all fond of Violet up there; but so are we," said Jem. "Let her stay, mamma."
"And how do you like earning your living?" asked Miss Bethia.
"Oh, I like it. When did you come, Miss Bethia? You are not looking very well."
"I haven't been well—had a sharp turn of rheumatism. I had some business, and I came yesterday."
"And how are all the Gourlay people? And you live in our house now. How strange it must seem! And what a shame that your old place is spoiled!"
"I thought so at the time, but it might have been worse."
And then Violet had a great many questions to ask, and listened with many exclamations of wonder and pleasure to all that she heard; and Miss Bethia, pleased with the interest she displayed, made no pause till Ned called out that young Mr Oswald was driving Davie over the bridge, and that now Violet would have to go.
"Mamma," said Violet, "I have not told you why I came yet. Mr Oswald sent me, and I cannot tell it all at once. Let me stay till after tea, and Jem can take me home."
"All right," said Jem. "I have no objections, if nobody else has none."
There was a little pleasant confusion after Mr Philip and David came in, two or three speaking at once, and all eager to be heard, and then Mr Philip was introduced to the visitor. There was no mistaking the look she bent upon him. It was searching and critical, admiring, but not altogether approving.
"You have never been out Gourlay way?" said she.
"No, I never have, as yet."
"He did not know what nice people the Gourlay people are, or he would have been," said Jem.
"I expect so," said Miss Bethia. "It ain't too late to go yet."
"Thank you, Miss Barnes. I shall be happy to accept your kind invitation," said Philip.
In the meantime, Violet had been telling her mother of Mr Oswald's proposal. It was a matter of too great importance to be dismissed with a single word of refusal, as Violet would have liked, and time must be taken to consider it.
"Violet is not going with you, Mr Philip," said Jessie. "She is going to stay and take tea with Miss Bethia."
"I am sorry you should have had the trouble of coming round this way for nothing, Mr Philip," said Mrs Inglis. "We want Violet a little while to-night. Miss Barnes does not know how soon she may go, and Violet thinks she can be spared to-night, perhaps."
"Of course, she can be spared. And it was no trouble, but a pleasure, to come round. Shall I come back again?"
"Pray, do not. Jem will go with me. I shall like the walk."
"All right!" said Jem. "I consider myself responsible for her. She will be up there at the proper time."
"All right!" said Philip cheerfully. "Aunt Mary, you might ask me to have tea too."
"You haven't had your dinner yet," said Jessie.
"And you could not keep your horse standing so long," said Ned.
"And, besides, I am not to be invited," said Philip, laughing.
They all watched him and his fine horse as they went over the bridge and along the street. Then Violet said:
"Now, mamma, you are to sit down and I am to get tea. I can do all quite well."
And, so tying on an apron over her dress, she made herself very busy for the next half-hour, passing in and out, pausing to listen or put in her word now and then, sometimes claiming help from Jem or Davie in some household matter to which she put her hand. At last, with an air of pride and pleasure that Miss Bethia thought pretty to see, she called them to tea.
"You have got to be quite a house-keeper," said Miss Bethia, as they sat down to the table.
"Hasn't she?" said Jem and Davie in a breath.
"I mean to be, at any rate," said Violet, nodding and laughing gaily. "I like it a great deal better than teaching children, only, you know, it doesn't pay quite so well."
"I guess it will, in the long run," said Miss Barnes.
"I am going to be house-keeper for the next two months. Sarah and Charlotte are to have no lessons for that time, and Betsey can take care of them in the country quite as well as I—better, indeed. Mamma needs me at home. Don't you think so, Davie? I can find enough to do at home; can't I?"
"But, as you say, it wouldn't pay so well."
"In one way, perhaps, it wouldn't, but in another way it would. But mamma doesn't say anything," added Violet, disconsolately.
"We must sleep upon it, mamma thinks," said Jem.
"We need not be in haste to decide upon it for a day or two," said Mrs Inglis.
"I am afraid we must, mamma. The sooner the better, Mr Oswald says; and that is why I came to-day."
"I wish you would come and keep house for me. I am getting tired of it," said Miss Bethia.
"I should like it well—with mamma and the children."
"Of course, that is understood," said Miss Bethia. "And you could take these others with you, couldn't you? And what their father would pay for them would help your house-keeping."
"Miss Bethia spoke as coolly as if she had been speaking about the stirring up of a Johnny cake," Jem said. Violet looked eagerly from her to her mother. There was a little stir and murmur of excitement went round the table, but all awaited for their mother to speak. But she said nothing, and Miss Bethia went on, not at all as if she were saying anything to surprise anybody, but just as she would have told any piece of news.
"I've thought of it considerable. Serepta Stone has concluded to go away to a water-cure place in the States. If Debby should conclude to go to another place, I shouldn't care about staying in that big house alone. I can let it next fall, I expect. But this summer, Mrs Inglis, if you say so, you can have the house as well as not. It won't cost you a cent, and it won't be a cent's loss to me. And I don't see why that won't suit pretty well all round."
A chorus of "ohs," and "ahs," and "dear mammas," went round the table.
"It wouldn't cost more than living here," said David.
"Not so much," said Miss Bethia.
"And I am sure Mr Oswald would be delighted to have Charlotte and Sarah go, mamma," said Violet.
"He would pay you the same as he'd pay to them at the other place, and he might be sure he would get the worth of his money," said Miss Bethia.
"And I would keep house, and save you the trouble, mamma," said Violet.
"You and Debby Stone," said Miss Bethia, who seemed to consider that it was as much her affair as theirs, and so put in her word between the others.
"Davie, you'll have to lend me your fishing rod, to take to Gourlay with me," said Ned.
"Bless the child! there's fishing rods enough," said Miss Bethia.
"It's mamma's turn to speak now," said Jessie. And "yes, mamma!" and "oh! dear mamma!" were repeated again, eagerly.
There would be no use in telling all that Mrs Inglis said, or all that Miss Bethia and the rest said. It was not quite decided that night that they were to pass a part of the summer in Gourlay, but it looked so much like it that Violet held a little private jubilation with little Polly, as she undressed her for bed, before she went away, promising her, with many kisses and sweet words, that she would be rosy and strong, and as brown as a berry before she should see the bridge house again. Before she was done with it, Jem called out.
"It is time to be going, Letty, if I am to be responsible for you at the big house."
"Perhaps if you wait, Mr Philip will come for you. He said he would," said Jessie.
"And, just at the minute, he meant it, but we won't put him to the trouble, even if he remembers, which is doubtful," said Violet. "Come, Jem, I am ready."
"He seems a pretty likely young man, don't he?—young Mr Oswald, I mean," said Miss Bethia.
The question was not addressed to any one in particular. Jem looked at Letty, and Letty looked at Davie, and they all laughed merrily. "Likely," in Miss Bethia's vocabulary, meant well-intentioned, agreeable, promising, all in a moderate degree, and the description fell so far short of Mr Philip's idea of himself and his merits, and indeed of their idea of him that they could not help it.
"He seems to be a pleasant-spoken youth, and good-natured," said Miss Bethia.
"Oh, yes! he is very good-natured," said Violet.
Everybody had something to say in his praise. The little ones were quite enthusiastic. Jem said he was "smart" as well as good-natured, and David, though he said less, acknowledged that he was very clever, and added Mr Caldwell's opinion, that Mr Philip had all his father's talent for business, and would do well if he were really in earnest about it, and would settle down to it. Several instances of his kindness to the children and to his own little sisters were repeated, and Mrs Inglis spoke warmly in his praise.