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- The Old Stone House - 1/41 -




"He that goeth on his way weeping, and beareth forth good seed, shall doubtless come again with joy and bring his sheaves with him." --_Psalms cxxvi_.





Aunt Faith sat alone on the piazza, and sad thoughts crowded into her heart. It was her birthday,--the first day of June,--and she could look back over more than half a century, with that mournful retrospect which birthdays are apt to bring. Aunt Faith had seen trouble, and had met affliction face to face. When she was still a bride, her husband died suddenly and left her lonely forever; then, one by one, her brothers and sisters had been taken, and she was made sole guardian of their orphan children,--a flock of tender little lambs,--to be nourished and protected from the cold and the rain, the snare and the pitfalls, the tempter and the ravening wolf ever prowling around the fold. Hugh and Sibyl, Tom and Grace, and, last of all, wild little Bessie from the southern hill-country,--this was her charge. Hugh and Sibyl Warrington were the children of an elder brother; Tom and Grace Morris the children of a sister, and Bessie Darrell the only child of Aunt Faith's youngest sister, who had been the pet of all her family. For ten long years Aunt Faith had watched over this little band of orphans, and her heart and hands had been full of care. Children will be children, and the best mother has her hours of trouble over her wayward darlings; how much more an aunt, who, without the delicate maternal instinct as a guide, feels the responsibility to be doubly heavy!

And now, after years of schooling and training, Aunt Faith and her children were all together at home in the old stone house by the lake-shore, to spend a summer of freedom away from books and rules. Hugh was to leave her in the autumn to enter upon business life with a cousin in New York city, and Sibyl had been invited to spend the winter in Washington with a distant relative; Grace was to enter boarding-school in December, and Tom,--well, no one knew exactly what was to be done with Tom, but that something must be done, and that speedily, every one was persuaded. There remained only Bessie, "and she is more wilful than all the rest," thought Aunt Faith; "she seems to be without a guiding principle; she is like a mariner at sea without a compass, sailing wherever the wind carries her. She is good-hearted and unselfish; but when I have said that I have said all. Careless and almost reckless, gay and almost wild, thoughtless and almost frivolous, she seems to grow out of my control day by day and hour by hour. I have tried hard to influence her. I believe she loves me; but there must be something wrong in my system, for now, at the end of ten years, I begin to fear that she is no better, if indeed, she is as good as she was when she first came to me, a child of six years. I must be greatly to blame; I must have erred in my duty. And yet, I have labored so earnestly!" Another tear stole down Aunt Faith's cheek as she thought of the heavy responsibility resting upon her life. "Shall I be able to answer to my brothers and sisters for all these little souls?" she mused. "There is Hugh also. Can I dare to think he is a true Christian? He is not an acknowledged soldier of the Cross; and, in spite of all the care and instruction that have been lavished upon him, what more can I truthfully say than that he is generous and brave? Can I disguise from myself his faults, his tendencies towards free-thinking, his gay idea of life,--ideas, which, in a great city, will surely lead him astray? No; I cannot! And yet he is the child of many prayers. How well I remember his mother! how earnestly she prayed for the little boy! Have I faithfully filled her place? If she had lived, would not her son have grown into a better man, a better Christian?" Here Aunt Faith again broke down, and buried her face in her hands. Hugh was her darling; and, although he was now twenty years of age, and so tall and strong that he could easily carry his aunt in his arms, to her he was still the curly-haired boy, Fitzhugh Warrington, whom the dying mother gave to Aunt Faith for her own. "There is Sibyl, also," she thought, as she glanced towards the garden, where her niece sat reading under the arbor; "she is at the other extreme, as unlike her brother as snow is unlike fire. Sibyl never does wrong. I believe I have never had cause to punish her, even in childhood. But she is so cold, so impassive; I can never get down as far as her heart; I am never sure that she loves me." Aunt Faith sighed heavily. Sibyl's coldness was harder for her to bear than Hugh's waywardness.

Then her thoughts turned towards the younger children. "Grace is too young to cause me much anxiety; but still I seem to have made no more impression upon her religious nature than I could have done upon a running brook; and as for Tom,--" Here Aunt Faith's musings were rudely interrupted by a shout and a howl. Through the hall behind her came a galloping procession. First, "Turk," the great Newfoundland dog, harnessed to a rattling wagon, in which sat "Grip," the mongrel, muffled in a shawl, his melancholy countenance encircled with a white ruffled cap; then came Tom, as driver, and behind him "Pete" the terrier, fastened by a long string, and dragging Miss Estella Camilla Wales, in her little go-cart, very much against his will. "Miss Estella Camilla Wales" was Grace's favorite doll, and no sooner did she behold the danger of her pet, than she sprang from the sitting-room sofa and gave chase. But Tom flourished his whip, old Turk galloped down the garden-walk with the whole train at his heels, and Miss Wales was whirled across the street before Grace could reach the gate.

"Tom, Tom Morris! stop this minute, you wicked boy! You'll break Estella's nose!" she cried, as they pursued the cavalcade toward the grove opposite the house. Here Pete, excited by the uproar, began barking furiously, and running around in a circle with a speed which soon brought Estella to the ground, besides tying up Tom's legs in a complicated manner with the cord which served as a connecting link between the team in front and the team behind. Old Turk, after taking a survey of the scene, gently laid himself down, harness and all, and wagged his ponderous tail; while poor Grip, in his efforts to free himself from the shawl, managed to pull his cap over his eyes, and howled in blind dismay. In the midst of the confusion, Grace rescued Miss Wales from her perilous position, and, finding her classic nose still unbroken, laid her carefully in the crotch of a tree, and prepared for revenge. In his desire to secure the obedience of his dog-team, Tom had fastened them securely, by long cords, to his belt; Pete had already managed to wind his tether tightly around Tom's legs, and Grace incited Turk to rebellion, so that he, too, began to gambol about in his elephantine way, and Tom was soon tangled in another net. "I say, Grace, let the dogs alone, will you!" he said angrily, as he vainly tried to disentangle himself. "Here, Turk! lie down sir! Where in the world is my knife? Pete Trone, you are in for a switching, young man, as soon as these cords are cut!" During this time Grip had been pulling at his night-cap with all the strength of his paws; but as he only succeeded in drawing it farther over his nose, he finally gave up in despair, and, hearing Grace's voice, patiently sat up on his hind legs, with fore-paws in the air, begging to be released. He looked so ridiculous that both Tom and his sister burst into a fit of laughter. Good humor was restored, the tangles cut, and the procession returned homeward, Grip released from his cap, but still wearing his trailing shawl.

When they reached the gate Tom stopped, and calling the dogs in a line, he began an address: "Turk, Grip, and Pete Trone, Esquires, you have all behaved very badly, and deserve condign punishment!" At these words, uttered in a harsh voice, Pete Trone gave a short bark, and Grip instantly sat up on his hind legs, as if to beg for mercy. "None of that, gentlemen, if you please!" continued Tom; "special pleading is not allowed before this jury. Turk, Grip, and Pete Trone, Esquires, you are hereby sentenced to walk around the--garden on the top of the fence. Up, all of you! jump!" said Tom, picking up a switch. Now, indeed, all the culprits knew what was before them. That fence was a well-known penance,--for when they did anything wrong this was their punishment. Old Turk felt the touch of the switch first, and mounted heavily to his perch, his great legs curved inward to keep a footing on the narrow top; then came Pete, and, last of all, Grip, who, being a heavy-bodied cur, crouched himself down as low as he could, and crawled along with extreme caution. The fence was high, with a flat, horizontal top about four inches wide. It ran around three sides of the garden, and often, as Aunt Faith sat at her work in the sitting-room, the melancholy procession of dogs passed the window on this fence-top, followed by Tom with his switch. But Aunt Faith never interfered. She knew that Tom was a kind master, who never ill-treated or tormented any creature. Tom was a large-hearted boy, and, although full of mischief, was never cruel or heartless; he found no pleasure in ill-treating a dog or a cat, nor would he suffer other boys to do so in his presence. Many a battle had he fought with boys of mean and cruel natures, to rescue a bird, or some other helpless creature. "It is only cowards," he would say, "who like to torment birds, cats, and dogs. They know the poor things can't fight them back again."

Old Turk,--a giant in size among dogs,--had been in the family for many years; Grip was rescued from the canal, where some cruel boys had thrown him, by Tom himself; and Pete Trone, Esquire, was bought with Tom's first five-dollar bill, and soon proved himself a terrier of manifold accomplishments,--the brightest and most mischievous member of the trio. All the dogs had been carefully trained by Tom. They could fetch and carry, lie down when they were bid, sit up on their hind legs, and do many other tricks. Aunt Faith used to say, that if Tom would only learn his lessons half as well as he made his dogs learn theirs, there would be no more imperfect marks in his weekly reports.

In the meantime, the dogs had turned the corner of the fence, and were

The Old Stone House - 1/41

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