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- Bricks Without Straw - 40/87 -
each saw in the other's glance.
"Well," said Mollie, as she sank smilingly on her pillow, "I see I must submit. You will have your own way."
She raised her arm above' her head and toyed with a leaf of the ivy which hung in graceful festoons about the head-board. As she did so the loose-sleeved wrapper which had been flung about her when her own drenched clothing was removed, fell down almost to her shoulder and revealed to the beauty-worshipping watcher by the bedside an arm of faultless outline, slender, pink-tinged, plump and soft. When she had toyed lazily for a moment with the ivy, she dropped her arm listlessly down upon the bed. It fell upon one of the dresses which lay beside her.
"Ah, thank you!" exclaimed Mrs. Le Moyne.
"You have relieved me greatly. I was trying to decide which one I wanted you to wear, when your arm dropped across that pale, straw-colored silk, with the vine border around the corsage and the clambering roses running down the front. That is the one you must wear. I never wore it but once, and the occasion is one I shall always like to recall."
There was a gleeful time in the invalid's room while the fair girl was being habited in the garments of a by-gone generation, and when Hesden Le Moyne and his boy Hildreth were admitted to the hearty evening meal, two women who seemed like counterparts sat opposite each other at the sparkling board--the one habited in black silk with short waist, a low, square bodice with a mass of tender lawn showing about the fair slender neck, puffed at the shoulders with straight, close sleeves reaching to the wrists, around which peeped some rows of soft white lace; the white hair combed in puffs beside the brow, clustering above its pinky softness and falling in a silvery cataract upon the neck. The style of the other's dress was the same, save that the shoulders were uncovered, and except for the narrow puff which seemed but a continuation on either side, of the daintily-edged bodice, the arm hung pink and fair over the amber satin, uncovered and unadorned save at the wrist, where a narrow circlet of gold clung light and close about it. Her hair was dressed in the same manner as the elder lady's, and differed only in its golden sheen. The customary lamp had been banished, and colored wax-candles, brought from some forgotten receptacle, burned in the quaint old candelabra with which the mantels of the house had long been decorated.
The one-armed veteran of thirty gazed in wonder at this unaccustomed brightness. If he needed to gaze long and earnestly at the fair creature who sat over against his mother, to determine the resemblances which had been noted between the permanent and the temporary invalid, who shall blame him for so doing?
Little Hildreth in his six-year-old wonderment was less judicial, or at least required less time and inquiry to decide, for he cried out even before an introduction could be given,
"Oh, papa, see, I've got a new, young grandma."
It was a gay party at that country supper-table, and four happier people could hardly have gone afterward into the parlor where the invalid allowed herself to be wheeled by her son in special honor of their unintended guest.
Miss Ainslie was soon seated at the piano which Hesden had kept in tune more for the pleasure of occasional guests than his own. It was three years since she had touched one, but the little organ, which some Northern benefactor had given to the church and school at Red Wing, had served to prevent her fingers from losing all their skill, and in a few minutes their wonted cunning returned. She had been carefully trained and had by nature rare musical gifts. The circumstances of the day had given a wonderful exhilaration to her mind and thought. She seemed to have taken a leaf out of Paradise and bound it among the dingy pages of her dull and monotonous life. Every thing about her was so quaint and rare, the clothes she wore so rich and fantastic, that she could not control her fancy. Every musical fantasy that had ever crept into her brain seemed to be trooping along its galleries in a mad gallop as her fair fingers flew over the time-stained keys. The little boy stood clinging to her skirt in silent wonder, his fair, sensitive face working, and his eyes distended, with delighted amazement.
The evening came to an end at last, and when the servant went with her in her quaint attire, lighting her up the winding stairway from the broad hall to the great airy room above, with its yawning fireplace cheery with the dying embers of a fire built hours ago to drive out the dampness, and its two high-posted beds standing there in lofty dignity, the little Yankee school marm could hardly realize what madcap freaks she had perpetrated since she bounded over the gate at the foot of the lane leading from the highway down to Mulberry Hill, the ancestral home of the Richards family.
As she sat smiling and blushing over the memory of what she had done and said in those delicious hours, a servant tapped at the door and announced that Master Hildreth, whom she bore in her arms and whose chubby fists were stuck into his eyes, was crying most disconsolately lest he should lose his "new grandma" while he slept. She had brought him, therefore, to inquire whether he might occupy one of the beds in the young lady's room. Mollie had not seen for so many years a child that she could fondle and caress, that it was with unbounded delight that she took the little fellow from his nurse's arms, laid him on the bed and coaxed his eyes to slumber.
AN UNBIDDEN GUEST.
When the morning dawned the boy awoke with hot cheeks and bloodshot eyes, moaning and restless, and would only be quiet when pillowed in the arms of his new-found friend. A physician who was called pronounced his ailment to be scarlet-fever. He soon became delirious, and his fretful moans for his "new grandma" were so piteous that Miss Ainslie could not make up her mind to leave him. She stayed by his bed-side all day, saying nothing of returning to Red Wing, until late in the afternoon a messenger came from there to inquire after her, having traced her by inquiry among several who had seen her during the storm, as well as by the report that had gone out from the servants of her presence at Mulberry Hill.
When Hesden Le Moyne came to inform her of the messenger's arrival, he found her sitting by his son's bedside, fanning his fevered brow, as she had done the entire day. He gazed at them both in silence a moment before making known his errand. Then he took the fan from her hand and informed her of the messenger's arrival. His voice sounded strangely, and as she looked up at him she saw his face working with emotion. She cast down her eyes quickly. She could not tell why. All at once she felt that this quiet, maimed veteran of a lost cause was not to her as other men. Perhaps her heart was made soft by the strange occurrences of the few hours she had passed beneath his mother's roof. However that may be, she was suddenly conscious of a feeling she had never known before. Her cheeks burned as she listened to his low, quiet tones. The tears seemed determined to force themselves beneath her downcast lids, but her heart bounded with a strange undefined joy.
She rose to go and see the messenger. The sick boy moaned and murmured her name. She stole a glance at the father, and saw his eyes filled with a look of mingled tenderness and pain. She walked to the door. As she opened it the restless sufferer called for her again. She went out and closed it quickly after her. At the head of the stairs she paused, and pressed her hand to her heart while she breathed quick and her face burned. She raised her other hand and pushed back a stray lock or two as if to cool her forehead. She stood a moment irresolute; glanced back at the door of the room she had left, with a half frightened look; placed a foot on the first stair, and paused again. Then she turned suddenly back with a scared resolute look in her gray eyes, opened the door and glided swiftly to the bedside. Hesden Le Moyne's face was buried in the pillow. She stood over him a moment, her bosom heaving with short, quick sighs. She reached out her hand as if she would touch him, but drew it quickly back. Then she spoke, quietly but with great effort, looking only at the little sufferer.
"Mr. Le Moyne?" He raised his head quickly and a flush of joy swept over his face. She did not see it, at least she was not looking at him, but she knew it. "Would you like me to--to stay--until--until this is over?"
He started, and the look of joy deepened in his face. He raised his hand but let it fall again upon the pillow, as he answered humbly and tenderly,
"If you please, Miss Ainslie." She put her hand upon the bed, in order to seem more at ease, as she replied, with a face which she knew was all aflame,
"Very well. I will remain for--the present."
He bent his head and kissed her hand. She drew it quickly away and added in a tone of explanation:
"It would hardly be right to go back among so many children after such exposure." So quick is love to find excuse. She called it duty, nor ever thought of giving it a tenderer name.
He made no answer. So easy is it for the fond heart to be jealous of a new-found treasure.
She waited a moment, and then went out and wrote a note to Eliab Hill. Then she went into the room of the invalid mother. How sweet she looked, reclining on the bed in the pretty alcove, doing penance for her unwonted pleasure of the night before! The excited girl longed to throw her arms about her neck and weep. It seemed to her that she had never seen any one so lovely and loveable. She went to the bedside and took the slender hand extended toward her,
"So," said Mrs. Le Moyne, "I hear they have sent for you to go back to Red Wing. I am sorry, for you have given us great pleasure; but I am afraid you will have only sad memories of Mulberry Hill. It is too bad! Poor Hildreth had taken such a liking to you, too. I am sure I don't blame him, for I am as much in love with you as an invalid can be with any one but herself. Hesden will have a hard time alone in this great house with two sick people on his hands."
"I shall not go back to Red Wing to-day."
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