It would not do to enter into all the particulars of Philip's first business venture. It is enough to say, he was successful in circumstances where failure would not have been surprising; and the very first time he saw his father after he was a little better, he had the satisfaction of hearing Mr Caldwell telling him of the successful termination of the sale of the timber. He had the greater satisfaction of prompting that slow-spoken gentleman where his memory or his information failed, and of giving all details to his father, who was both relieved and pleased with the turn this affair had taken.
But success in this his first independent attempt at doing business could not avert the troubles that had been long hanging over his father. If Mr Oswald had been in perfect health, it might have been different. With time granted to continue his business relations, or even to settle up his own affairs, he might have been able to give every man his own. But his health came very slowly back, and affairs in the meantime wrought to a crisis. Philip strove hard to obtain time, and pledged himself to the full payment of all his father's liabilities within a limited period. Even Mr Caldwell was influenced by his earnestness and hopefulness, and by the good sense and business ability manifested by him in several transactions with which he had had to do, and joined with him in representing Mr Oswald's affairs to be in such a condition that care and time, and close attention alone were needed to set them right, and to satisfy all just claims at last. But Philip was young and inexperienced, and those of his father's creditors who knew him best, knew nothing in his past life to give them confidence either in his principles or his judgment, and they could not be induced to yield to him in this matter.
So it only remained for Mr Oswald to give up all that he possessed, to satisfy as far as possible all just demands. It was a very bitter experience for him to pass through, but he was in a state of health too weak and broken fully to realise all that it involved. For the time it was worse for his sons than for him. Frank devoted himself all the more earnestly to his father's care and comfort, and his doing so made this time of trouble more endurable for both. Philip saw little of his father. His place was to act for him wherever he could do so, so as to spare him as much as possible the details of the painful business.
It was a very miserable time to him. He made up his mind to get away as soon as possible to California or British Columbia, or anywhere else, so that it was far enough away. But he did not go. He did far better than that would have been. He staid at home, not very willingly, still he staid, and tried to do his duty as he had never tried before, and there were times when it was not easy to do.
Mr Caldwell, as one in whom the creditors had perfect confidence, both as to his conscientiousness and his knowledge of affairs, was appointed by them to settle up Mr Oswald's business, and with their permission Philip Oswald was requested to act as his assistant for the time. It was not the thing he would have chosen for himself, but if he had gone away now, it must have been without his father's consent, and if he staid at home it was absolutely necessary that he should earn money for the payment of his own debts. There was nothing better offered for his acceptance, and Mr Caldwell's terms were such as even Philip considered liberal.
"Though I know quite well he would much rather have had Davie Inglis," said he to Frank, when it was quite settled that he was to stay. "I don't believe he thinks I shall be much good. However, I must take it and make the best of it."
"You are quite wrong. Davie wouldn't suit him half so well as you in this business, though of course he has perfect confidence in Davie, and you have to be tried yet. But he knows you will make it a point of honour to do your best in the circumstances."
"If these people in M— had not been such fools as to force matters on, there might have been some inducement to do one's best in straightening out things. And it would have been better for them and for us too. I wish I were a thousand miles away from it all."
"No, you don't, unless you could take the rest, of us out of it too. For my part, I think you have a grand opportunity to exercise courage and patience, and to win honour and glory as a true hero. Just you go down and speak to Aunt Mary and Violet about it."
"I think I see myself doing it!" said Philip, as though it were a thing utterly impossible and not to be considered for a moment.
However, before many days were over, he found himself at the bridge house, enjoying Mrs Inglis's kindly sympathy, and the delighted welcome of the children, more than he would have imagined possible. He had seen very little of any of them for a long time, and was ashamed of his defection, conscious as he was of the cause. It was not comfortable for him to talk with Mrs Inglis, or to share in the pursuits and amusements of her young people, with the consciousness of wrong-doing upon him. Wrong-doing according to their standard of right and wrong, he meant, of course. According to his standard, there were many things he could do, and many things he could leave undone, quite innocently, of which they would not approve. Several of such questionable incidents had occurred in his manner of life about the time of their return from Gourlay last year, and he had kept away from them. He had been too busy since his coming back from M— to see much of any of his friends, and this was his first visit to the bridge house for a long time.
"Why did you not come before?" said little Mary.
"I have been very busy. Are you glad to see me now?"
"Yes, very glad, and so is mamma and all of us. I want to show you something." And the child went on to make confidences about her own personal affairs, into which Mr Philip entered with sufficient interest, as his manner was. He had only time for a word or two with the mother before Jem and David came in.
"Your father is really improving, I am glad to hear," said Mrs Inglis when the children left them.
Philip's face clouded.
"Is he better? It hardly seems to me that he gains at all. He is very much discouraged about himself."
"Frank thinks him better. It is a great relief to him, he says, that you are here."
"I ought never to have gone away," said Philip, sighing.
"But your father wished it, did he not? Perhaps it would have been better had you been here. However, you are here now. Frank says he begun to improve the very day you consented to assist Mr Caldwell in the settlement of his affairs."
Philip hung his head.
"Don't be hard on me, Aunt Mary."
"Am I hard on you? I am sure I don't know how. That is Frank's idea of the matter."
"Aunt Mary! if you only knew what a good-for-nothing fellow I have been! I am sure I cannot see why my father should have confidence in me."
"In whom should he have confidence, if not in you?" said Mrs Inglis, smiling.
Philip had nothing to answer. A feeling of shame, painful but wholesome, kept him silent. Even according to his own idea of right, he had been undutiful in his conduct to his father. He had accepted all from him, he had exacted much, and he had given little in return, except the careless respect to his wishes in little things, which he could not have refused to any one in whose house he was a guest. They had been on friendly terms enough, as a general thing, but there had been some passages between them which he did not like to remember. That his father should have had any satisfaction in him or his doings, except indeed in the case of the transaction of the timber at Q—, was not a very likely thing. The very supposition went deeper than any reproaches could have gone and filled him with pain and regret.
"Frank is a good fellow, but he does not know everything," said he, dolefully.
"I think he must know about your father, however, he is with him so constantly, and he says he is better. It will be some time before he is able for business again, I am afraid. In the meantime he has perfect confidence in Mr Caldwell and in you, which must be a comfort to him."
Philip shook his head.
"Aunt Mary, the business is no longer his, and what we are doing is for the benefit of others. He has lost everything."
"He has not lost everything, I think," said Mrs Inglis, smiling, "while he has you and Frank and your sisters. He would not say so."
Philip rose and came and stood before her.
"Mrs Inglis, I cannot bear that you should think of me as you do. It makes me feel like a deceiver. I have not been a good son to my father. I am not like your Davie."
Mrs Inglis smiled as though she would have said, "There are not many like my Davie." But she looked grave in a minute and said—
"There is one thing in which you differ. Davie is an avowed servant of the Lord Jesus Christ. He professes to desire to live no longer to himself, but to Him."
"And you think that is everything, Aunt Mary?"
"I think it is the chief thing."
"Well, I am not like that. I am very far from that."
"But this ought to be the chief thing for you as well as for David, ought it not?"
"I have not thought about it, Aunt Mary."
"You have not taken time. You have fallen on easy days hitherto. It would have been difficult to convince you that, to be a servant of God, a follower of the Lord Jesus is the chief thing—the only thing, while each day brought with it enough to satisfy you. This trouble, which has come upon you all, may have been needed—to make you think about it."
Philip answered nothing, but sat gazing at the clouds, or at the leaves which rustled at the window, with his cheek upon his hand. There is a time to keep silence and a time to speak, and Mrs Inglis could not be sure on which of these she had fallen. She longed to say just the right word to him, but hitherto her words had fallen like water on the rock, which, in the first gleam of sunshine, disappears. He always listened, grave or smiling, as the occasion seemed to demand. He listened with eagerness, pleased at her interest in him, pleased to be treated like one of the children, to be praised or chidden, and, for all that she could see, as well pleased with the one as with the other. As she sat watching him in silence, Mrs Inglis thought of Violet's complaint against him. "He is not in earnest. He cares only for his own pleasure."
"Ah! well! The Master knows how to deal with him, though I do not," she said to herself. Aloud, she said, "You must not suppose that I mean that religion is for a time of trouble, more than for a time of prosperity. It is the chief thing always—the only thing. But, in a time of trouble, our need of something beyond what is in ourselves, or in the world, is brought home to us. Philip, dear lad, it is a wonderful thing to be a soldier and servant of the Lord Jesus. It is a service which satisfies—which ennobles. All else may fail us, or fetter us, or lead us astray. But, belonging to Christ—being one with Him—nothing can harm us truly. Are you to lose all this, Philip? Letting it pass by you—not thinking about it?"
She had no time to add more, nor had he time to answer her, even if he could have found the words. For first David came in, and then Jem, all black and dirty from the forge, and, proud of it, evidently. His greeting was rather noisy, after the free-and-easy manner which Jem affected about this time. David's greeting was quiet enough, but a great deal more frank and friendly, than his greetings of Philip had usually been, his mother was pleased to see. Jem made a pretence of astonishment at the sight of him, meaning that he might very well have come to see his mother sooner; but David fell into eager discussion of some matter interesting to both, and then Jem went away to beautify himself, as he called the washing off the marks of his day's work. When tea-time came, Philip hesitated about accepting Mrs Inglis's invitation to remain.
"You may as well," said Ned; "for I saw Violet up-town and I told her you were here, so they will be sure not to wait."
So he staid, and made good his place among them after his long absence.
Something had been said in the early spring about Mrs Inglis and the children going to spend the summer in Gourlay again. But there was not the same necessity for a change that there had been last year, and the matter was not at once decided. While Mrs Inglis hesitated, there came tidings that decided it for her. There came, from Miss Bethia, a letter, written evidently with labour and difficulty. She had been poorly, "off and on by spells," she said, all winter; and now, what she had long feared, had become evident to all her friends. A terrible and painful disease had fastened upon her, which must sooner or later prove fatal. "Later," she feared it might be; for, through long months, which grew into years before they were over, she had nursed her mother in the same disease, praying daily that the end might come.
"I am not afraid of the end," she wrote; "but remembering my poor mother's sufferings, I am afraid of what must come before the end. It would help pass the time to have you and the children here this summer; but it might not be the best thing for them or you, and you must judge. I should like to see David, but there will be time enough, for I am afraid the end is a long way off. I am a poor creetur not to feel that the Lord knows best what I can bear. It don't seem as though I could suffer much more than I used to, seeing my mother's suffering. And I know the Lord is kind and pitiful, though I sometimes forget."
Mrs Inglis's answer to this letter was to go to Gourlay without loss of time. At the first sight of Miss Bethia, she did not think her so very ill. She thought her fears had magnified her danger to herself. But she changed her opinion when she had been there a day or two. The Angel of Death was drawing near, and all that made his coming terrible was that he came so slowly. At times she suffered terribly, and her sufferings must increase before the end.
The coming of the children was not to be thought of, Mrs Inglis could see. She would fain have staid to nurse her, but this could not be while they needed her at home. She promised to return if she were needed, and begged to be sent for if she could be a comfort to her. All that care and good nursing could do to alleviate her suffering, Miss Bethia had. Debby Stone was still with her, and Debby's sister Serepta, whose health had much improved during the year. The neighbours were very kind and considerate, and Mrs Inglis felt that all that could be done for her would be done cheerfully and well.
So she went home; but through the summer they heard often how it was with their old friend. But first one thing and then another hindered Mrs Inglis from going to see her till September had well begun. Then there came a hasty summons for David and his mother, for there were signs and tokens that the coming of the King's messenger was to be "sooner," and not "later," as she had feared. So Violet came home because they could not tell how long the mother might have to stay, and their departure was hastened.
But the King's messenger had come before them. They saw his presence in the changed face of their friend. They did not need her whispered assurance, that she need not have been afraid—that it was well with her, and the end was come.
"David," she said, brokenly, as her slow, sobbing breath came and went, "you'll care for your mother always, I know; and you must follow the Lord, and keep your armour bright."
She fell into a troubled sleep, and waking, said the same words over again, only with more difficult utterance. She spoke to his mother now and then in her painful whisper, sending messages to Violet and Jem and all the rest; and once she asked her if she had a message for the minister, whom she was sure so soon to see. But the only words that David heard her speak were these, and he answered:
"I will try, Aunt Bethia;" but he had not voice for more.
It was like a dream to him to be there in the very room where he had watched that last night with his father. It seemed to be that night again, so vividly did it all come back.
"Mamma," he whispered, "can you bear it?"
By and by they went up-stairs, and into the study, which was still kept as they had left it two years ago.
"Mamma," said David, again, "it is like a dream. Nothing in the whole world seems worth a thought—standing where we stood just now."
"Except to keep one's armour bright, my David," said his mother. "Happy Miss Bethia! She will soon be done with all her trouble now."
They watched that night and the next day, scarcely knowing whether she recognised them, or whether she were conscious of what seemed terrible suffering to those who were looking on; and then the end came.
It was all like a dream to David, the coming and going of the neighbours, the hush and pause that came at last, the whispered arrangements, the moving to and fro, and then the silence in the house. He seemed to be living over the last days of his father's life, so well remembered—living them over for his mother, too, with the same sick feeling that he could not help or comfort her, or bear her trouble for her, or lighten it. And yet, seeing her there so calm and peaceful in every word and deed; so gentle, and helpful, and cheerful, he knew that she was helped and comforted, and that it was not all sorrow that the memory of the other death-bed stirred.
When he went out into the air again, he came to himself, and the dazed, dreamy feeling went away. It was their good and kind old friend who had gone to her rest, and it would be wrong to regret her. There were many who would remember her with respect and gratitude, and none more than he and his mother and the children at home. But her death would leave no great gap, that could never be filled as his father's had done. She had been very kind to them of late years, and they would miss her; and then—it suddenly came into David's mind about his father's books, and about the sum that had three times been paid to his mother since they had been in Miss Bethia's care. He was ashamed because of it; but he could not help wondering whether it would be paid still, or whether they would take the books away or leave them where they were. He did not like to speak to his mother. It seemed selfish and ungrateful to think about it even; but he could not keep it out of his mind.
There was another day of waiting, and then the dead was carried away to her long home.
There were none of her blood to follow her thither. The place of mourners was given to Mrs Inglis and David, and then followed Debby and her sister. A great many people followed them; all the towns-folk joined in doing honour to Miss Bethia's memory, and a few old friends dropped over her a tear of affection and regret. But there was no bitter weeping—no painful sense of loss in any heart because she had gone.
David sat in the church, and walked to the grave, and came back again to the empty house, with the same strange, bewildered sense upon him of having been through it all before. It clung to him still, as one after another of the neighbours came dropping in. He sat among them, and heard their eager whispers, and saw their curious and expectant looks, and vaguely wondered what else was going to happen that they were waiting to see.
Debby and her sister were in the other room, seemingly making preparations for tea; and once Debby came and looked in at the door, with a motion as if she were counting to see how many places might be needed, and by and by Serepta came and looked, too, and David got very tired of it all. His mother had gone up-stairs when she first came in, and he went in search of her.
"Mamma, I wish we could have gone home to-night," said he, when, in answer to his knock, she had opened the door.
"It was late, dear, and Mr Bethune said he would like to see me before we went away."
"About the books, mamma? I wish I knew about them."
"You will know soon. I have no doubt they will be yours, as Miss Bethia intimated before we left them here. There may be some condition."
"I wonder what all the people are waiting for? Are you not very tired, mamma? Debby is getting tea ready."
Debby came in at the moment to make the same announcement.
"Tea is ready now," said she. "I'd as lief get tea for the whole town once in a while as not. But it ain't this tea they're waiting for, and if I was them I'd go."
"What are they waiting for?" asked David.
"Don't you know? Oh, I suppose it's to show good-will. Folks generally do at such times. But I'll ring the tea-bell, and that'll scare some of them home may be. Some of them'll have to wait till the second table, if they all stay, that's one thing. And I hope they'll think they've heard enough to pay them before they go."
They did not hear very much, certainly. Mr Bethune from Singleton was there, but the interest of the occasion was not in his hands. Deacon Spry had it all his own way, and opened and read with great deliberation a paper which had been committed to him. It was not Miss Bethia's will, as every one hoped it might be, but it was a paper written by her hand, signifying that her will, which was in Mr Bethune's keeping, was to be opened just a year from the day of her death. In the meantime Deborah Stone was to live in her house and take care of it and what property there was about it. Her clothes and bedding were in part for Debby, and the rest to be divided among certain persons named. Mrs Inglis was requested to leave her late husband's library where it was for one year, unless she should see some good reason for taking it away. And that was all.
Everybody looked surprised, except Debby, who had known the contents of the paper from Miss Bethia.
"I suppose it'll be Mr Bethune's business to look up Bethia's relations within the year. Folks generally do leave their property to their relations, even if they don't know much about them. But I rather expected she'd do something for the cause among us," said Deacon Spry, in a slightly aggrieved tone.
"I thought she'd at least new paint the meeting house," said Sam Jones.
"Or put a new fence round the grave-yard."
"Well! may be she has! We'll see when the year's out."
"No, folks most always leave their property to their own relations. They seem nearest, come toward the end."
"I don't suppose she's left a great deal besides the house, anyway. I wonder just how much Debby Stone knows?"
It was not pleasant to listen to all this. Debby had nothing to tell, not knowing anything; nor Mr Bethune, though he doubtless knew all. So there was nothing better to do than just wait till the right time came.
"I suppose we may count upon the books, mamma, or she would not have asked you to leave them here?" said David.
"Yes, I think so. She never called them hers, you know. She will have explained it to Mr Bethune, I suppose. I think you may count on the books."
Another year passed quietly over the Inglis household. Jem and David both did good service, each in his special calling, and made some progress in other things besides. David kept the plan of his life steadily before him, but this year did not, to all appearance, bring its fulfillment any nearer. It did not seem impossible to him that their life should go on in the same quiet routine, without break or change, for a long time, nor did this seem impossible to his mother.
There was this difference in their thoughts, however. While Davie, with the impatience of youth, grew anxious now and then, as though the sowing time were passing with no seed being put in, his mother knew that there was nothing lost to his future work as yet, that the discipline of early care and self-denial, the constant and willing giving of himself to work, which in itself was not congenial, was a better preparation than he knew. She felt that if the Master had a special work for him to do, He would provide a way for special preparation, and that His time was best. David knew this too, and was on the whole content to look forward a good way yet, for the change that must come, when his wish with regard to this one thing should be granted. He was more than content. Life went very quietly and happily with them this year, and it was a profitable time in many ways.
Jem's work agreed with him, it seemed, for he was growing tall and strong. His gay and careless temper brought him into some difficulties this year, and being at that age when a young lad making his own way is apt to become tenacious about little things which concern his dignity, and impatient of the open exercise of restraint acknowledged to be lawful and right, he needed to be gently and carefully managed. But happily this uncomfortable period did not last long with Jem. He grew manly in character as well as in appearance, and grew more, rather than less, open to home influence as he grew older.
David's fair face and quiet manner gave Jem an appearance of advantage over him as far as manliness was concerned, and strangers often took Jem to be the eldest of the brothers. Jem himself, in a laughing way, claimed to be beyond him in a knowledge of the world—on its hard side— and made merry pretence and promise of advising and protecting him in certain supposed circumstances of difficulty or danger. But in his heart he deferred to his brother, as in all things far wiser and better than he.
As to David's plans and their carrying out, Jem saw neither doubt nor difficulty. In a few years—not very distinctly specified—Jem was to become the head and bread-winner of the house, and David was to go his own way to honour and usefulness. Jem was still to be the rich man of the family, though the time and manner of winning his wealth he could not make very clear; and David laughed and accepted his freedom from care and his brother's gifts very gratefully, and professed to have no scruples as to his future claims upon him.
When Mr Oswald's household was broken up, Violet returned home. But happily an opportunity occurred for her to obtain what she had long secretly coveted, a chance to improve herself, in some branches of study, under better masters than Singleton could afford. She passed the greater part of the year as pupil-teacher in a superior school in M—, and returned home in the end of June. The year was of great advantage to her in many ways, though the children at home could not see it. She "was just the same as ever," they said, which was a high compliment, though not intended as such.
She had not changed, but she had made advances in several directions her mother was pleased to discover. Her return was a great pleasure to her brothers, but Jem was critical now and then, and spoke of "airs and graces," and "fine manners," as though she were not quite innocent of those on occasion. David was indignant, but Violet laughed at them both, and proved that whatever change had come to her manners, none had come to her temper, "which was a blessing," Jem acknowledged.
Mr Oswald's household was broken up about the time of Miss Bethia's death. Selina remained with her sister, and the little girls went with their aunt to her former home. Mr Oswald had been induced to take the sea voyage, and the entire rest from business, which his physicians declared absolutely necessary to his entire restoration to health. Frank accompanied him to England, where they both remained during the year. His health had improved, and there was some expectation that they would return at the close of the summer.
His house had been sold, and was now used as a hospital for the poor and sick of the town. The extensive grounds around it had been cut up by the opening of several new streets in that direction, and one could scarcely have recognised the place that used to be so beautiful in the eyes of the Inglis children. However, the only Oswald left in Singleton took the sale of the house, in which he had been born and brought up, very philosophically. The opening of the new streets had increased the value of the land immensely, and under the careful hands of Mr Caldwell, that and all other property belonging to Mr Oswald was being so disposed of that his creditors had a good prospect of losing nothing by him.
Philip Oswald still asserted, that but for the faint-heartedness which illness had brought upon his father, and the untimely pressure of the creditors because of it, there needed have been no failure. He asserted it indignantly enough some-times, but he did not regret the disposal of the house or the spoiling of the beautiful grounds as he might have been supposed to do.
The sudden change in the circumstances of the family had not hurt Philip. The year's discipline of constant employment, and limited expenditure, had done him good, and, as he himself declared to Jem and David, not before it was time. The boyish follies which had clung to him as a young man, because of the easy times on which he had fallen, must have grown into something worse than folly before long, and but for the chance of wholesome hard work which had been provided for him, and his earnest desire to work out the best possible result for his father's good name, he might have gone to ruin in one way or other. But these things, with the help of other influences, had kept him from evil, and encouraged him to good, and there were high hopes for Philip still.
He had not been in Singleton all the year, but here and there and everywhere, at the bidding of the cautious, but laborious and judicious, Caldwell, who had daily increasing confidence in his business capacity, and did not hesitate to make the utmost use of his youthful strength. When he was in Singleton, his home was in Mr Caldwell's house. He had gone there for a day or two, till other arrangements could be made. But no other arrangements were needed. He stayed there more contentedly than he could at the beginning of the year have supposed possible, and it grew less a matter of self-denial to Mr and Mrs Caldwell to have him there as time went on. He had a second home in the house of Mrs Inglis; and this other good had come to him out of his father's troubles, and the way he had taken to help them, that he made a friend of David Inglis. He had supposed himself friendly enough with him before, but he knew nothing about him. That is to say, he knew nothing about that which made David so different from himself, so different from most of the young men with whom he had had to do.
"In one thing he is different," Mrs Inglis had said, "He is a servant of God. He professes to wish to live no longer to himself." With this in his thought, he watched David at home and abroad, at first only curiously, but afterwards with other feelings. David was shy of him for a time, and kept the position of "mere lad," which Philip had at first given him, long after his friendship was sought on other terms. But they learned to know each other in a little, and they did each other good. Mrs Inglis saw clearly how well it was for David to have some one more ready and better fitted to share his pleasures and interests than Jem, because of his different tastes and pursuits, could possibly do. And she saw also that David's influence could not fail to have a salutary effect on his friend, and she encouraged their intercourse, and did all in her power to make it profitable to them both. Violet and the children spent a month in Gourlay; but Mrs Inglis, not liking to leave David and Jem alone, only went for a day or two. They returned early in August. Mr Oswald and Frank were expected soon. Mr Philip's spirits did not rise as the time of their coming drew near. He dreaded for his father the coming back to find no home awaiting him. He consulted with Mrs Inglis as to the preparations he should make for him; but, when it was talked over among them, it was found that he did not know enough about his father's future plans to make it possible for him to make arrangements for more than a day or two. He did not even know whether he was to remain in Singleton. He did not even know whether he should remain in Singleton himself. He could decide nothing till they came. He was altogether too anxious and troubled, Mrs Inglis told him; he had not been like himself for some time.
"Well, it ought to be all the more agreeable to the rest because of that," said he, laughing.
"It has not been. And you must let me say that I think you are troubling yourself more than enough with regard to the coming of your father."
"But it is about myself, partly, you know."
"Well, I think the trouble is uncalled for in either case. It will not be so bad for your father as you fear."
"Do you know what is the news in town to-day, Philip?" asked Jem. "That you and old Caldwell are going into the produce business together. A queer team you would make!"
"We have drawn very well together for the last year," said Philip.
Jem shrugged his shoulders, and made a grimace.
"Singleton might suit Mr Caldwell to do business in, but I wouldn't fix myself in Singleton if I were you."
"Nonsense, Jem," said David. "There is no better place than Singleton for that business, everybody knows."
"And, besides, Philip is well-known here," said Mrs Inglis.
"I am not sure that it is a better place for me because of that, Aunt Mary; but it is as good a place as any, I suppose, in which to begin with a small capital."
"Pooh! about capital! The only men in the country worth their salt began life without a dollar. Which of us has capital? And we are all bound to be rich men before we die," said Jem.
"Yes, I dare say. If I were a boy of fifteen, I might say the same," said Philip, with a sigh.
"Hear him! You would think him fifty, at least. And if you mean me," said Jem loftily, "I am nearly seventeen. I only wish I were twenty-three, with the world before me."
They all laughed at his energy.
"There is no hurry, Jem. You will need all the years that are before you. Violet, put away your work, and play, and the children will sing."
Violet rose and opened the piano, and there was no more said at that time. While the children were singing, David went out, and, in a little, called Philip from the window. Philip rose and went out also, and they passed down the garden together. By and by they had enough of music, and Violet shut the piano, and sat down beside the window with her work again. Jem had the grace to wait till the children went out, and then he said:
"Mamma, you said I was to tell you the next time, and here it is. You must have noticed yourself—Violet's manner, I mean. Philip noticed it, I could see. She was as stiff and dignified as Mrs Mavor herself. I wouldn't put on airs with Phil, when he is down as he is to-night, if I were you."
Violet looked from him to her mother in astonishment.
"Do you know what he means, mamma?"
"You don't need mamma to tell you."
"Tell me, then, Jem. What did I say or do?"
"You didn't say or do anything. You were stiff and stupid. Mamma must have seen it."
"No, Jem, I did not. If you mean that Violet's manner to Mr Philip is not the same as to you and Davie—why, you know, it can't quite be that."
"No, because Violet made up her mind long ago that Philip Oswald was a foolish young man—'not in earnest,' as she used to say. Letty can't bear people that are not quite perfect," said Jem.
Letty laughed, and so did her mother.
"Thank you, Jem. That is as much as saying that I consider myself quite perfect."
"Oh! you may laugh," said Jem, loftily; "but if Phil, hasn't proved himself steady enough by this time, I don't know what you would have! There are not many would have staid it out, under old Caldwell, and have done as he has done. To say nothing about the business not being a very pleasant one."
"He has improved very much," said Mrs Inglis.
"And, now, when he and Davie are such friends," went on Jem, who did not know when he had said enough. "I think if Davie approves of him, that ought to be enough for Violet."
"Quite enough, I acknowledge, Jem," said Violet. "I wonder where Davie has gone;" and she rose and went to the door as if to see.
She did not find him, if she looked for him, for David and Philip, after walking up and down the railway track for some time, went down to David's favourite seat on the stones of the abutment of the bridge close by the water. They were silent for some time after they went there. David sat gazing at the bright clouds that lingered after the sunset, while his friend moved up and down and flung stones into the water. By and by he sat down by David's side, saying—
"And so I am all at sea again."
"I don't see why you should be 'at sea again,' as you call it," said David. "Mr Caldwell's offer was made without any reference to me, and my refusal can make no real difference."
"It will make all the difference in the world to me."
"Philip, promise me one thing. Don't decide till your father comes and Frank. I don't know when I was so glad. See how pleased your father will be."
"Nonsense, Davie! It is no such great thing as all that—a partnership with old Caldwell."
"Hear what your father will say. I can't say how fine a thing it will be to be his partner, but your father will think it a high compliment that he should have wished it. It will be good for you—and for him too. I don't know which I congratulate most."
David was growing enthusiastic.
"It would do, I think, if you were coming with us. A clerkship now, and a partnership afterwards. There is no hope of making you change your mind, Davie?"
"Would you wish me to change my mind, Philip?" said David laying his arm over his friend's shoulder, in a way that would have satisfied Violet of his interest and affection.
"I don't know. I am not sure. I don't understand it."
"Yes, you do, Philip—or you will sometime. I mean, you will understand why this should be the best thing for me to do. You cannot quite understand all I feel about it, because you never knew my father."
"Tell me about him," said Philip.
"It is not what I could tell you that would make you understand. But— we speak about aspirations and ambitions, Philip; but if I had my choice what I should do, or what I should be, I should choose the life, and work, and character of my father."
David's voice faltered.
"Since when has that been your choice?" asked Philip.
"Always! I mean, always since he died. And, before that, he was my ideal of wisdom and goodness, though I did not particularly wish or try to be like him then?"
"And it was his wish that you should choose his profession, and live his life, and do his work?"
"He wished it,—yes. And now I wish it, not merely because of his wish, but because—I love my Lord and Master, and because I wish to honour Him as His soldier and servant—"
David did not find it easy to say all this to Philip, and there was silence for a minute or two.
"But haven't you been losing time?" said Philip.
"No. Mamma does not think so. Time should try a decision so important, she thinks. I am young yet, and I have been keeping up my reading pretty well. And, besides, she thinks the care, and the steady work, and our life altogether,—having to manage with just enough, you know,— has been good discipline for me, and a sort of preparation."
"I see! And when is the other sort of preparation to begin?"
"I don't know. The way will open, mamma always says. When we came here first, mamma and Violet meant to keep a school; but, after Violet went to teach your sisters, we could get on without it, and it was so much better for us to have mamma all to ourselves. She may think of it again, and Violet is better able to help her now."
"It is a slave's life."
"No; I don't think mamma objects to it on that ground. But there is no haste about it. I always remember what mamma said to me once—'If your master has a special work for you to do, He will provide the means for special preparation.'"
"What a wonderful woman your mother is!" said Philip.
David laughed, such a happy laugh.
"Is she? She does not think so."
"I wonder if she would be on my side if I were to tell her all about old Caldwell's plans, and how much good you could do with us—and a future partnership, and all that. Why, Davie, you might, when you are a rich man, educate any number of ministers. Wouldn't that do as well as to be one yourself?"
"That will be something for you to do. No; I don't think mamma would be on your side."
"But you are her bread-winner, as I have heard her say. How can she spare you?"
"And I shall always be so while she needs me. I can wait a long time patiently, I think. But I cannot give it up now. It would be 'looking back,' after putting my hand to the plough."
They were silent for a good while, and then Philip said:
"Tell me about your father."
David doubted whether he had anything new to tell, for, as they had come to care more for each other's company, he had often spoken to Philip of his father. But if he had nothing new to tell, he told it all over in a new way—a way that made Philip wonder. He told him all that I have told you, and more,—of his father's life and work—how wise and strong he was—how loving and beloved. He told him of his love for his Master, of his zeal for His service. He told him of his own lessons with him, of how he used to go with him to the North Gore and other places, and of what he used to say, and how happy the days used to be. He told him of his last days, and how, when it came to the end, he was so joyful for himself and so little afraid for them, though he was going to leave them alone and poor—how sure he was that God would care for them and keep them safe until they all should meet again. Sometimes he spoke with breaking voice, and sometimes, though it had grown dark by this time, Philip could see that his cheeks flushed and his eyes shone as he went on, till he came to the very last, and then he said:
"He told me then, at the very last—even after he had spoken about mamma, that I was to take up the armour that he was laying down. And, God helping me, so I will," said David, with a sob, laying down his face, to hide his tears, on the shoulder of his friend. But, in a little, he raised it again, and said, quietly:
"I couldn't go back after that, Philip."
"No," said Philip; and he said nothing more for a long time, nor did David. Philip spoke first:
"And so it must be 'Good-bye,' Davie?"
"Good-bye?" repeated David. "I don't understand?"
"You are to take one way and I another; so we part company."
David was silent from astonishment.
"As our fathers did," said Philip. "They were friends once, as we are, Davie, but their paths divided, as ours must, I fear."
"It need not be so."
"It is curious to think of it," went on Philip. "If my father were to die to-night, he would leave his children as poor as your father left his when he died. Not that it would matter; but then my father has lost his whole life, too. No, Davie, I fear the end will be that we must go different ways."
"Dear Philip," said David, standing before him, and speaking with much earnestness, "there is only one thing that can separate us—your serving one master and I another; and that need not be. Your work may be as much for Him as mine. Philip, dear friend—is He your Lord and Master, as He is mine?"
Philip shook his head.
"I do not know. I fear not, Davie. What am I saying? I know He is not. I have never done a stroke of work for Him, or for any one at His bidding, or for His sake, and that is the whole truth, Davie."
"But that is not to be the end! His soldier and servant! There is nothing in all the world to be compared with that! Have you offered yourself to Him? Will you not offer yourself to Him? Oh, Philip! there is nothing else."
"Davie," said Philip, hoarsely, "you don't begin to know what a bad fellow I have been."
"No; nor do you. But He knows, and the worse you are the more you need to come to Him. Have you never asked Him to forgive you and take you for His own? It is for Him to do it. Ask Him now!"
David threw his arms round the neck of his friend. It was a sudden act, boyish and impulsive—not at all like David. Philip was much moved.
"Ask Him, Davie," said he, huskily.
Kneeling beside him on the stone, David did ask Him, using simple words and few—such words as Philip never forgot—words that he uttered in his own heart many a time afterwards, and not in vain.
They lingered a good while, but there was not much said between them after that, and when David went into the house, where his mother and Violet were waiting for him, he told them that Philip had gone home. By and by he said:
"The story Jem heard was true, mamma. Mr Caldwell wants Philip to become his partner in a new business. It seems he has saved something, and he is willing to put his capital against Philip's youth and energy and business talents. It will be very good for Philip and for Mr Caldwell too."
"It shows great confidence on Mr Caldwell's part," said Mrs Inglis.
"Yes; but, mamma, you said it as if you were surprised, as if his confidence might be misplaced."
"I am surprised, dear, but the other idea I did not mean to convey. My surprise was because of Mr Caldwell's well-known deliberation and caution."
"Yes; the offer, even if it go no further, is a feather in Phil's cap," said Jem. "But Mr Caldwell is a shrewd old gentleman, though he be a little slow. He knows what he is about."
"You look as though you expected to be contradicted, Jem," said Violet, laughing.
"Is Philip pleased with the prospect? Will the thing go on?" asked Mrs Inglis.
"I think so. I hope so. It will be decided when Mr Oswald returns. Philip would have liked me to go with them—into their service, I mean, with the prospect of something better by and by."
"And what did you say to him?" asked his mother.
"Of course you refused?" said Violet.
"I don't know about that," said Jem. "Davie had better think twice before he refuses such an offer. But Davie never did appreciate Philip."
David laughed at Jem, and answered his mother.
"I told him all about it, mamma. He was disappointed, but he understood, I think."
There was no more said that night. Jem would gladly have entered into a discussion of the subject, but David did not stay to listen, and Violet would not respond, and what he had to say would not have been the best thing to say to his mother, so he kept his opinion for the hearing of Philip against the time he should see him again.
When Philip came, which was not for a day or two, the first words he said to Mrs Inglis were—
"I think you ought to be a very happy woman, Aunt Mary."
"I think so too. But what has given you new light on the subject?" asked Mrs Inglis, smiling.
"And you ought all to be very happy children," said Philip, lifting little Mary, who was not so very little now, to his knee.
"And so we are," said Violet.
"And you ought to be very good, too."
"And so we are," said Jem.
"Well, then, no more need be said on the subject at present, except that I wish that I were one of you."
"Tell us about the new partnership," said Jem.
"It is not to be spoken of yet. It is a secret."
"Davie told us," said Violet.
"Oh, I don't mean it is to be a secret here! But it is not to be decided till my father comes home. Though I suppose he will let me do as I like."
"If you are quite sure that you know what you would like."
"I am quite sure I know what I would like, but I am not to have that, it seems."
"Is it Davie?" said Violet. "But you don't mean that you would like him to change his mind and his plans, I hope?"
"It would be selfish, wouldn't it, and wrong? No, upon the whole I wouldn't like Davie to be different, or to do differently. But I should like to be more like him."
"But you are pretty good now, aren't you," said Mary. "Davie is very fond of you and mamma and all of us. I suppose you are not quite so good as our Davie."
They all laughed.
"I will try to be good, indeed I will, Polly," said Philip.
"Well that is right," said Mary. "You should speak to mamma. She would help you."
"Yes, I think she would. I mean to speak to her."
And so they chatted on till David came in. Philip had made good a place among them. It was quite clear that they all liked him, as little Polly had said. They had always liked him from the very first, but he was more worthy of their liking now.
Mr Oswald and Frank came home in due time. There was nothing in Mr Oswald's plans for his son to prevent the carrying out of the plan for the new partnership, as proposed by Mr Caldwell. He was greatly pleased with the compliment to his son, which Mr Caldwell's proposal implied, and entered into the discussion of preliminaries with great, interest. As for himself he had returned home with no design of engaging immediately in business, except the business of an Insurance Company of which he had been made the agent. He was to wait for a year or two at least.
Frank, whose health and eyesight were quite restored, was offered the place in the new business, which Philip would so gladly have given to David. Of course he was as yet not so well qualified to perform the duties of the position as David would have been, but he possessed some qualities likely to insure success that David did not have, and he had that which was the source and secret of David's goodness, so firmly believed in by little Mary and them all. He was learning to live, not to himself, but to his Master—to do His will and make known His name, and in all things to honour Him in the eyes of the world, and so he had also David's secret of peace. But for a time he had little to do, as the new firm was not publicly announced till later in the year, and in the meantime he accepted Mrs Inglis's invitation, and made himself one of the children of the bridge house, to his great pleasure and theirs.
One morning as Mr Philip sat at breakfast reading the paper, as was his custom, he heard Mr Caldwell say—
"This is the twenty-second of September."
"The days and nights are of equal length," said Mrs Caldwell. "Dear! dear! how soon the days will be drawing in!"
"This day last year Miss Bethia Barnes died."
"Well, she was a good body. I trust she went to a better place."
"And to-day her will is to be read," went on Mr Caldwell.
"Is it indeed? Had she much property? She was a decent saving body. And who is to get it? Not that you can know, however, till the will is opened."
"I know, having been consulted about the making of it; but that is neither here nor there at the present moment. What I mean to say is this: Being one of the executors of that will, I shall have to be in Mr Bethune's office this morning, and so, Mr Philip, you will need to attend to the business we were speaking of last night yourself, in case I should be detained beyond my time."
"All right!" said Philip, looking up from his paper.
"And you were consulted about the making of the poor body's will, were you?" said Mrs Caldwell, who was by no means so silent a member of the family as her husband. "And you were made executor, and all—and you never mentioned it. Not that that is a matter for surprise, however," added she, reconsidering the subject. "I dare say he will be ready to tell us all about it by dinner time, though no mortal power could make him open his lips this morning. Well, I hope whoever gets the money will get the good of it, though why they should have been kept out of it a whole year, I cannot see. I hope that was not by your advice. But dear! dear! money often does more harm than good, for all so hard as we strive for it."
"It will do good this time—there is no fear," said Mr Caldwell, rising. "It has not been striven for, nor expected, and there is not too much of it just for comfort, and—it will open the way."
The last words struck Philip as familiar, and looking up he caught the eye of Mr Caldwell, who nodded and smiled, as though he ought to understand the whole matter by this time.
"There need be no more waiting now," said he, but whether he meant for himself or for Mr Philip, or for some one else, he did not say.
"All right!" said Philip, at a venture; and though he heard no more of the matter, and was too busy all day to give it a thought, he was not surprised, when he went, at night, to the bridge house, to hear that there was news awaiting him; but he was a little surprised at the nature of the news. It was Violet who told him. The children were gone out, and David was, for the moment, in his mother's room, and only Frank was with Violet when Philip came in. For this time she was quite free from the "proper" and "dignified" air of which Jem used to accuse her where Philip was concerned. She was smiling and eager when, prompted by Frank, she told him there was something he would like to hear.
"It is about Davie, isn't it?" said Philip. "Davie is Miss Bethia's heir?"
But it was not Davie. Davie had his father's library and the five hundred dollars which Miss Bethia had offered for it as well, to do what he liked with; there were some legacies to relatives, "to remember her by," Miss Bethia had written, and there was something to Debby Stone. But the house and garden in Gourlay, and all else that had been Miss Bethia's, she had bequeathed unconditionally to Mrs Inglis. It was not a large property, but it was a good deal more than Miss Bethia could have been supposed to possess, considering her way of life. It was not quite independence to Mrs Inglis and her children, but it would be a great help toward it.
"And," said Violet, with a smile and a sigh, "it opens the way to Davie."
"Yes; that is what Mr Caldwell said this morning. But you don't seem so delighted as he was at the thought."
"I am very glad for Davie. But it will be a sad breaking-up for the rest of us to have him go away. And it will be at once, I suppose, if, at this late day, arrangements can be made for his going this year to the university."
"But the sooner the better, I should think, Violet," said Frank, cheerfully.
"Yes—the sooner the better for him; but think of mamma and the rest of us. However, I know it is very foolish to look at that side of the matter, and, indeed, I am very glad."
"And, besides, if you go to M— you will see him often," said Frank. "We shall be rather dismal without you both, I am afraid."
"Dismal enough!" echoed Mr Philip.
"And if you all go to Gourlay to live, as Miss Bethia seemed to think you would, what will become of us?"
"What, indeed!" said Philip. "That is the plan, is it? It is cruel of Aunt Mary, and I shall tell her so."
"We have made no plans as yet. I hope it will be all for the best. We have been very happy here. It could not have lasted much longer for Davie. He is very glad, and so is mamma; and, I suppose, we shall all be glad, when we have time to think about it."
Philip was not so sure of that, nor Frank either, as far as their going away to Gourlay was concerned. But mamma was glad and Davie. There was no doubt of that, Philip saw, as soon as they appeared. They were rather silent for a time, and Philip saw, what he had never seen before in all his intercourse with her, the traces of tears on Mrs Inglis's face. He was not sure that there was not the shine of tears in David's eyes too. His congratulations were given very quietly, and as quietly received.
"But I am afraid it is the beginning of bad days to us, Aunt Mary, if we have to say good-bye to you all."
"It would be bad days for us, too, if that were to happen; but I hope nothing so sad as that is to follow our good fortune."
"Good-bye!" exclaimed Frank. "That is the last thing we shall think of, Aunt Mary. But, I suppose, we shall lose Davie for awhile. Eh, Davie?"
"I shall be away for awhile, if you call that losing me; but I shall be home soon, and often."
"It happened just at the right time, didn't it?" said Ned. "Just as Davie is ready to go to college."
"Davie has been ready for that any time these three years; and what I wonder is, that mamma did not hear of this at once," said Jem.
"This is the right time, I think," said Mrs Inglis.
"I am very glad it did not happen this time last year," said Philip.
"Why?" said Violet.
"I will tell you another time," said Philip.
"After all, mamma, money is a very good thing to have," said Ned, after there had been more discussion of Miss Bethia's will, and all that was to be done in consequence of it.
"A very good thing, in certain circumstances."
"But, mamma, you have always spoken as if it did not matter whether we had money or not—much money, I mean. And now see how pleased everybody is because Miss Bethia gave her's to you. I don't think anything ever happened before that pleased every one of us so well."
"I cannot say that for myself," said his mother.
"And there is not much money of it," said Frank.
"And everybody is glad because of Davie," said Jessie. "I think Miss Bethia meant it for Davie to go to college and be a minister like papa, and that is why mamma is so glad, and all of us."
"Nonsense! Miss Bethia meant it for mamma and all of us. She would have said it was for Davie, if she had meant it for him. Do you think Miss Bethia meant it for you, Davie? Do you, mamma?" said Ned, as he saw a smile exchanged between them.
"She meant it for mamma, of course," said David.
"Davie," said his mother, "read Miss Bethia's letter to Philip and the children."
David looked at his mother, and round on the rest, then back again to his mother, a little surprise and hesitation showing in his face.
"Do you think so, mamma?" said he, colouring.
"They will like to hear it, and I shall like them to hear it. Shall I read it for you?" said his mother, smiling.
David rose and went into his mother's room, and came back with the letter in his hand. Giving it to her without a word, he sat down in a corner where the light could not fall on his face. Mrs Inglis opened the letter and read:
"Dear David Inglis,—It is a solemn thing to sit down and write a letter which is not to be opened till the hand that holds the pen is cold in death; and so I feel at this time. But I want you to know all about it, and I must put it in as few words as possible. I will begin at the beginning.
"I never had much hope of your father after that first hard cold he took about the time that Timothy Bent died. I worried about him all winter, for I couldn't make it seem right that his life and usefulness should be broken off short, just when it seemed he had got ready to do the most good. I would have put it right, in my way, if I could have done it. But it was not the Lord's way, and I had to give it up. It never was easy for me to give up my own way, even to the Lord. But He is long-suffering and slow to anger; and by and by He showed me how I might help make up your father's loss to the church and the world.
"But I wasn't in any hurry about it, because I didn't know just how it would be with you, and whether you would keep your armour bright, and stand in the day of trial. So I waited, and went to Singleton, and talked with Mr Caldwell, and came home feeling pretty well; and all the more when I heard from your mother how she and you felt about your taking up your father's work. Still I was not in any hurry, for I thought you were not losing your time. You seemed to be learning, what many a minister gets into trouble for not knowing, how business is done, and how far a little money may be made to go. And I thought, if it were just a notion of yours to be a minister, because you had thought so much of your father, and to please your mother, you would find it out pretty soon, and get into other business. But I knew, if the Lord had called you to the work, you wouldn't be tired waiting, and you weren't losing time.
"Well, I have thought of it, and planned for it considerable, one way and another; and, lately, I have begun to think that I shall not have much more time for planning or doing either. This summer, I have seemed to see my way clear. There are not many women in the world like your mother, I can tell you, David; and she will know how to go to work better than I can tell her. So I have made up my mind to leave what I have got to her. The time you have been working to keep the family together has not been lost, so far. But, when your mother don't need you, you will be free to help yourself. I thought first I would leave you money enough to take you through college, and all that; but, as far as I have had a chance to judge, those who have had to work hard to get an education, have come out best in the end. Your mother will know what to do, as one thing follows another in your life, better than I could put it down on paper. She'll help you all you need, I am not afraid; and if the Lord shouldn't have called you to His work after all, I would rather your mother had the property I have worked for than that you should have it to put into other business. I hope it will come all round right in the end.
"There is a good deal more I wanted to say to you, but I don't seem to know just how to put it down on paper as I want to, so I shall not try. When you read this, I shall be where your father is; and I pray the Lord to lead you in the way you should go, and make you a faithful minister of His word, as he was. Amen."
There was nothing said for several minutes, after she had ceased reading; then she only said:
"And so, now, children, you see what it was that our old friend wished."
"Mr Caldwell must have known it all along," said Philip. "Well, he told me there was not much chance of Davie's accepting my offer. I should think not!"
"Are you sorry?" asked Violet.
"I am not sure. I must think about it."
"I sha'n't seem to care so much about being a rich man now," said Jem, "since Davie is provided for."
"There are plenty more of us, Jem," said Ned.
"And mamma, too," went on Jem dolefully. "If Miss Bethia had given it all to Davie, I might have done for mamma."
They all laughed at Jem's trouble, and they grew eager and a little noisy and foolish after that, laughing and making impossible plans, as though Miss Bethia's money had been countless. David said nothing, and Mrs Inglis said little, and the confusion did not last long, for, beneath all their lightness, there was among the children a deeper and graver feeling than they wished to show, and they grew quiet in a little while.
There were no plans made that night, however; but, by degrees, it was made plain to Mrs Inglis what it was best for them to do. David went almost immediately to M—, and was admitted into the university, passing the examinations for the second year; and Violet went back to her place in Mrs Lancaster's school. Mrs Inglis decided to remain in Singleton for the winter, partly for Jem's sake, and partly that Ned might still have the benefit of school. Frank was also to be with them. Mr Oswald was not to be in Singleton constantly, and Miss Oswald was to remain at her own home all winter, and the little girls were to remain with her.
So Frank took David's place, though he did not quite fill it, and Mr Philip came and went almost as often as when the others were at home. His visits were for the pleasure of all, and for his own profit; and when the time came that they were to say "good-bye" for a little while, it was spoken by Mrs Inglis with feelings far different from those she would have had a year ago; for she knew that the discipline of changed circumstances, of care, and of hard work that had fallen upon him, had strengthened him in many ways; and, better still, she could not but hope that the influence and teaching to which he had so willingly submitted during the last year and more, had wrought in him for good, and that now he was being taught by Him who teacheth to profit, and guided by Him in the right way.
Jem had an opportunity to play at being "head of the house" for once; and it was, by no means, all play, for the care and responsibility of acting for his mother in all that pertained to making necessary arrangements, to the disposal of such things as they did not care to take with them, and to the removal of such things as they wished to keep, fell on him. He did his work well and cheerfully, though with a little unnecessary energy, and he would gladly have staid to settle them all in Gourlay. But he was needed for his legitimate work; and amid much cause for gratitude, Mrs Inglis had this cause for anxiety, that Jem must henceforth be removed from the constant happy influence of home life, and left to prove the strength and worth of his principles among strangers. If he had been more afraid for himself, it is likely his mother would have been less afraid for him. But there was no help for it. It is the mother's "common lot."
"The young birds cannot always stay in the parent nest, mother, dear," said Jem; "and I must go as the rest do. But I shall come home for a week in the summer, if it be a possible thing; and, in the meantime, I am not going to forget my mother, I hope."
"Nor your mother's God, I trust, dear Jem," said Mrs Inglis, as she let him go.
Who could tell all the labour and pains bestowed on the arrangement and adornment of the house they had never ceased to love? David came home early in May, and did his part. Ten times a day Jessie wished for Violet to help with her willing and skillful hands. They had Debby for all that required strength. She had fallen very easily into her old place, and was to stay in it, everybody hoped.
Sarah and Charlotte Oswald were to form part of their family for the next year, and Violet's work was to be to teach them and her sisters, and two little orphan girls who had been committed by their guardian to Mrs Inglis's care. But Violet's work was not to be begun till September, and after the house was in perfect order, ready to receive expected visitors, there were two months for happy leisure before that time came.
Violet and Jem were coming home together, and Sarah and Charlotte were expected at the same time. Jem was to stay for ten days only. By dint of some planning on their part, and much kindness on the part of Mr Caldwell, Philip and Frank were to have their holiday together, and they were to accompany the rest to Gourlay. At first it was intended to make their coming a surprise, but mindful of certain possible contingencies in Debby's department, Violet overruled this, and the people at home were permitted to have the pleasure of expecting and preparing for them, as well as the pleasure of receiving them, and wonderful things were accomplished to that end.
The last night had come. The children had gone away to the woods to get some sprigs from a beautiful vine, without which Jessie did not consider her floral decorations perfect, and Mrs Inglis and David were awaiting them alone. They were in the garden, which was a very pretty place, and never prettier than on that evening, David thought. Ned's gardening was a great improvement on his of the old days, he willingly acknowledged. Indeed, since their coming back to Gourlay, Ned had given himself to the arranging and keeping of the garden, in a way that proved the possession of true artistic taste, and also of that which is as rare, and as necessary to success in gardening and in other things—great perseverance. His success was wonderful, and all the more so that for the last few years the flower-garden, at least, had been allowed to take its own way as to growing and blossoming, and bade fair when they came to be a thicket of balsam, peonies, hollyhocks, and other hardy village favourites. But Ned saw great possibilities of beauty in it, compared with the three-cornered morsel that had been the source of so much enjoyment in Singleton, and having taken Philip into his confidence, there came from time to time seeds, roots, plants and cuttings to his heart's content.
He had determined to have the whole in perfect order by the time of the coming of Violet and the rest, and by dint of constant labour on his part, and the little help he got from David or any one else who could be coaxed into his service for the time, he had succeeded wonderfully, considering all things. It was perfect in neatness, and it was rich in flowers that had never opened under a Gourlay sun till now. It was to be a surprise to Violet and Jem, and looking at it with their eyes, David exclaimed again and again in admiration of its order and beauty.
"But they won't see it to-night, unless they come soon," said he. "However, it will look all the better with the morning sun upon it. Does it seem like home to you, mamma?—the old home?"
"Yes—with a difference," said his mother.
"Ah, yes! But you are glad to be here, mamma? You would rather have your home in Gourlay than anywhere else?"
"Yes, I am glad our home is here. God has been very good to us, Davie."
"Mamma, it is wonderful! If our choice had been given us, we could not have desired anything different."
His mother smiled.
"God's way is best, and this will seem more like home than any other place could seem to those who must go away. I cannot expect to keep my children always."
"Any place would be home to us where you were, mamma. But I am glad you are here—and you don't grudge us to our work in the world?"
"No, truly. That would be worse than ungrateful. May God give you all His work to do, and a will and strength to do it!"
"And you will have the children a long time yet; and Violet—" David hesitated and looked at his mother with momentary embarrassment. "Only mamma," added he, "I am afraid Philip wants Violet."
Mrs Inglis started.
"Has he told you so, Davie?" said she, anxiously.
"No—not quite—not exactly. But I think—I know you wouldn't be grieved, mamma? Philip is just what you would like him to be now. Philip is a true Christian gentleman. I expect great things from Philip. And mamma, you can never surely mean that you are surprised."
"Not altogether surprised, perhaps. But—we will not speak of it, Davie, until—"
"Until Philip does. Well, I don't think that will be very long. But, mamma, I cannot bear that you should be unhappy because of this."
"Unhappy? No, not unhappy! But—I could never make you understand. We will not speak about it."
They went on in silence along the walk till they came to the garden gate, and there they lingered for a while.
"Mamma," said David, "do you remember one night, a very stormy night, when you and I watched for papa's coming home? I don't know why I should always think of that night more than of many others, unless it was almost the last time he ventured forth to meet the storm. I think you were afraid even then, mamma?"
"I remember. Yes, I was afraid." David stood silent beside her. The voices of the children on their homeward way came through the stillness. In a minute they could see them, moving in and out among the long shadows, which the last gleam of sunshine made, their hands and laps filled with flowers and trailing green—a very pretty picture. The mother stood watching them in silence till they drew near. Then the face she turned to David was bright with both smiles and tears.
"David," she said, "when I remember your father's life and death, and how gently we have been dealt with since then, how wisely guided, how strongly guarded, and how the way has opened before us, my heart fills full and my lips would fain sing praises. I do not think there can come into my life anything to make me afraid any more."
David's answer was in words not his own: "Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on Thee, because he trusteth in Thee."