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- The Old Stone House - 2/41 -
slowly advancing towards the house; while Grace, carrying Estella, came up the garden-walk. "Halt!" said Tom, and the three dogs stopped instantly; Turk, not daring to turn his head to see what was the matter, for fear of losing his balance, blinked out of the corner of his eye, as much as to say, "I wouldn't turn round if I could." "Pete Trone," said Tom gravely, "it is evident that this punishment is not severe enough for you; a dog that has time to wag his tail and yawn, cannot be in much anxiety to keep his position on the fence. Pete Trone, Esquire, for the rest of the way you shall wear Grip's cap." So the terrier's black face was encircled with the white frill, and, this accomplished, the march was resumed, and the three dogs disappeared behind the house.
"Aunt Faith," said Grace, as she reached the piazza, "that wicked Tom put Estella Camilla Wales in her wagon, and made Pete draw her all over. It's a wonder her nose wasn't broken and her eyes knocked out. If they had been, that would have been the end of her, like the last ten dolls I have had."
"Not ten, surely, my dear?"
"Yes, Aunt Faith, ten whole dolls! Polly he painted black to make her like the Queen of Sheba; he made Babes in the Woods of Beauty and Jane, and it rained on them all night; Isabella and Arabella I found on the clothes-line all broken to pieces, and he said they were only dancing on a tight rope; he sent Rose and Lily,--the paper-dolls, you know,--up in the air tied to the tail of his kite; the rag-baby he took for a scarecrow over his garden; and surely, Aunt Faith, you have not forgotten how he made Jeff Davis on the apple-tree, out of my dear china Josephine, or how he blew up Julia Rubber with his cannon last Fourth of July, when I lent her to him for the Goddess of Liberty?"
"Well, Gem, I did not realize that you had suffered so much. Take good care of Estella, and perhaps Santa Claus will make up your losses."
Grace, or Gem, as she was called from the three initials of her names, Grace Evans Morris,--G. E. M.,--ran off into the house to look up Estella, leaving Aunt Faith once more alone.
On a rustic seat in the arbor sat Sibyl Warrington reading. Her golden hair was coiled in close braids around her well-shaped head, her firm erect figure was arrayed in a simple dress of silver gray, and everything about her, from the neat little collar to the trim boot, pleased the eye unconsciously without attracting the attention. Sibyl Warrington knew what was becoming to her peculiar style of beauty, and nothing could induce her to depart from her inflexible rules. Fashion might decree a tower of frizzed curls, and Sibyl would calmly watch the elaborate structure raised on the heads of all her friends, but her own locks, in the meanwhile, remained plainly folded back from her white forehead with quaker-like smoothness. Fashion might turn her attention to the back of the head, and forthwith waterfalls and chignons would appear at her behest, but Sibyl, while congratulating her friends upon the wonders they achieved, would still wind her thick golden braids in a classical coil, so that her head in profile brought up to the beholder's mind a vision of an antique statue. Rare was her taste; no clashing colors or absurd puffs and furbelows were ever allowed to disfigure her graceful form, and thus her appearance always charmed the artistic eye, although many of her schoolmates called her "odd" and "quakerish." Sibyl had already obtained her little triumphs. An artist of world-wide fame had asked permission to paint her head in profile, as a study, and whenever she appeared at a party the strangers present were sure to inquire who she was, and follow her movements with admiring glances, although there were many eyes equally bright, and many forms equally graceful in the gay circle of Westerton society. But in spite of her beauty, Sibyl was not a general favorite; she had no intimate friends among her girl companions, and she never tried to draw around her a circle of admirers. She had no ambition to be "popular," as it is called, and she did not accept all the invitations that came to her as most young girls do; for, as she said, "occasionally it is better to be missed." Thus, in a small way, Miss Warrington was something of a diplomatist, and it was evident to Aunt Faith that her niece looked beyond her present sphere, and cherished a hidden ambition to shine in the highest circles of the queen cities of America,--Boston, New York, and Washington. With this inward aim, Sibyl Warrington held herself somewhat aloof from the young gentlemen of Westerton; there were, however, two whom she seemed to favor in her gentle way, and Aunt Faith watched with some anxiety the progress of events. Graham Marr was a young collegian, the only child of a widowed mother who lived in Westerton during the summer months. He had a certain kind of fragile beauty, but his listless manner and drawling voice rendered him disagreeable to Aunt Faith, who preferred manly strength and vivacity even though accompanied by a shade of bluntness. But Sibyl always received Graham Marr with one of her bright smiles, and she would listen to his poetry hour after hour; for Graham wrote verses, and liked nothing better than reclining in an easy chair and reading them aloud.
"What Sibyl can see in Gra-a-m'ma, I cannot imagine," Bessie would sometimes say; "he is a lazy white-headed egotist; a good judge of lace and ribbons, but mortally afraid of a dog, and as to powder, the very sight of a gun makes him faint."
But Aunt Faith had heard of the fortune which would come to Graham Marr at the death of an uncle, and she could not but fear that Sibyl had heard of it also. The grandfather, displeased with his sons, had left a mill tying up his estate for the grandchildren, who were not to receive it until all of the first generation were dead. Only one son now remained, an infirm old man of seventy, and at his death the hoarded treasure would be divided among the heirs, two girls living in North Carolina, and Graham Marr, who was just twenty-one. Sibyl was eighteen, and self-possessed beyond her years; could it be that she really found anything to like in Graham Marr? Aunt Faith could not tell. As she sat on the piazza, looking down into the garden, the gate opened and a young man entered,--the Rev. John Leslie, a clergyman who had recently come to Westerton to take charge of a new church in the suburbs, a struggling little missionary chapel, where it required a large faith to see light ahead in the daily toil and slow results. Mr. Leslie caught the shimmer of Sibyl's gray dress under the arbor, and turning off to the right through a box-bordered path, he made his way to her side and seated himself on the bench. Aunt Faith could not hear their conversation, for the old-fashioned garden was large and wide, but now and then she caught the tones of the young man's earnest voice, although Sibyl's replies were inaudible, for she possessed that excellent thing in woman, a clear, low voice.
John Leslie was poor. He had only his salary, and that was but scanty. Energetic and enthusiastic, he loved his work, and his whole soul was in it. He was no plodding laborer, who had taken the field because it happened to be nearest to him; he was no loiterer, who had entered the field because he thought it would give him a larger chance for idleness than the close-drawn ranks of business life. He had felt the inward call which is given to but few, and he obeyed it instantly. To him the world was literally a harvest field, and he, one of the hard working laborers; he had no worldly ambition; he looked upon life with the eyes or a true Christian; his little chapel was as much to him as a large city church, influential and wealthy, could have been, as he loved his small and somewhat uninteresting congregation with his whole heart. Older men called him an enthusiast. Would that the world held more enthusiasts like him; men who have forsaken all to follow Him, men to whom the whole world and its riches are as nothing compared to the souls waiting to hear the tidings of salvation. For even in Christian America, there are in all our streets souls who have not heard the tidings. It is their own fault, do you say? They can come to our churches at any time. Nay, my friend; we must go out into the highways and hedges and force them to come in with kindly sympathy and brotherly aid.
John Leslie was the other friend whom Sibyl Warrington had selected from the large circle of Westerton society. Did she really like him? Aunt Faith could not decide this either, but she noticed the increasing interest in the young clergyman's manner, as he came and went to and from the old stone house. Free from guile as Nathanael of old, John Leslie felt an increasing attachment to the beautiful Miss Warrington, who came occasionally to his little church, and seemed, whenever he spoke on the subject, so truly interested in the work of his life; he talked with her about his Sunday School, and her suggestions had been of service to him; for Sibyl possessed a talent for organization, and a ready tact quite unusual for one so young. And in this work she was no hypocrite; she enjoyed her conversations with Mr. Leslie, and looked forward to his visits with real pleasure. What wonder that he thought her a true child of God, an earnest Christian, a fellow-laborer in the vineyard? Sometimes, when Aunt Faith was present and heard Mr. Leslie's conversation, her old heart glowed within her breast, and she felt herself carried back to the ancient days when the young converts went about the world with ardent enthusiasm, preaching the new gospel to every creature in spite of perils by land and sea, perils of torture, and perils of death itself. Then she would look at Sibyl. Sometimes the girl's cheek glowed with an answering enthusiasm, and for the time being, Aunt Faith would think that her heart was touched, and her soul uplifted by the earnest love of God which shone out from John Leslie's words. But the next day, perhaps, a letter from her cousin in Washington would come, and Sibyl's face would light up over the descriptions of some great ball, and her thoughts turn towards the approaching winter with double interest.
A mist came with the twilight, and a slight chill in the air soon brought Sibyl to the shelter of the piazza; she never trifled with her health, her good looks were of serious importance to her, and she never hazarded them for the sake of such sentiment as sitting in an arbor when the dew was falling, or loitering in the moonlight when the air was chilly.
"Good-evening, Mrs. Sheldon," said Mr. Leslie as they approached, holding out his hand in cordial greeting; "we have come up to the shelter of your pleasant piazza to finish our conversation in safety."
"I hope there was no danger," replied Aunt Faith with a smile; "a hot argument, for instance."
"Oh, no; on the contrary the danger, if there was any, came from the opposite direction. I was afraid the dew might dampen Miss Warrington's dress."
"And her enthusiasm also," said Aunt Faith, with a shade of merriment in her pleasant voice.
"Certainly not her enthusiasm," replied the young clergyman gravely; "I think it would take more than dew-drops to dampen such enthusiasm as hers." As he spoke, his eyes were turned full towards Sibyl's face, but he met no answering glance; Sibyl was occupied in spreading out the folds of her skirt to counteract any possible injury from the dampness. "He does not doubt her sincerity in the least," thought Aunt Faith; "perhaps, after all, his influence will be strong enough to cure her one fault, the one blemish of her character, the tendency towards worldliness which I have noticed in her since early childhood."
"We were speaking of Margaret Brown, Mrs. Sheldon," said Mr. Leslie when they were all seated on the piazza; "that girl has made a brave
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