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- The Old Stone House - 3/41 -
battle with fate, and I have been trying to help her. Miss Warrington has also been much interested in her; no doubt she has told you Margaret's history?"
"No," replied Aunt Faith, "I have heard nothing of her." Sibyl colored, and Mr. Leslie looked surprised; a slight shade rested on his frank face a moment, but soon vanished in the interest of the story. "Margaret Brown is a poor working girl about twenty years of age, Mrs. Sheldon; an orphan with a younger sister and two younger brothers to support, and nothing but her two busy hands to depend upon. She is a sewing-girl and a skilful workwoman, so that by incessant labor over her machine, day after day, she is able to keep her little family together, and, more than all, to send them to school. She realizes the disadvantages of her own ignorance, and she feels a noble ambition to educate those orphan children. Her faith is great; it is like the faith of the primitive Christians who lived so near the times of the Lord Jesus, that, in their prayers, they asked for what they needed with childish confidence. It was her great faith which first drew me towards her; she was a regular attendant at the chapel service, and in the course of my visits, I went to see her in the little home she has made in the third story of a lodging house at South End. It was Saturday, and I saw the three children, already showing evidences of improved education in their words and looks, while, busily sewing on her machine, sat the sister-mother, pale and careworn, but happy in the success of her plan. It seemed to me a great load for one pair of shoulders, and I said so. The children had gone into another room, and as I spoke, rashly perhaps, the overworked girl burst into tears. 'Oh, sir,' she said, 'it is the wish of my life to give them a good schooling, and I don't mind the work. But sometimes it is _so_ hard! If it was not for the prayers, I could not get through another day.'
"'Your prayers are a comfort to you,' I asked.
"'They are more than that, sir,' she replied earnestly; 'they are life itself. Every morning I kneel down and just put the whole day into the Lord's hands, asking Him to give us bread, and help us all,--me in my work and the children in their lessons. And while I'm asking, some way a kind of peace comes over me, and although I may know there is not a crumb in the closet, or a cent in my purse, I always get up with a light heart. The Bible is true, indeed, sir; I can't read it myself, but my little sister, she reads to me evenings. It says, 'the Lord will provide.' He does; He has. So far, me and mine have not suffered, although I can never see my way a week ahead.'"
"Mr. Leslie," said Aunt Faith, "I must try and help Margaret; please give me her address."
"Miss Warrington has it; I think she has already been there," replied Mr. Leslie. At this moment a form approached the house through the dusk of evening, a step sounded up the walk, and Graham Marr appeared. "Ah, good evening, ladies!" he said, in his languid voice. "Mr. Leslie, I believe! Your servant, sir. Miss Warrington, I have brought that new poem from the French; I am sure you will like it."
"Thank you," said Sibyl, smiling. "Pray be seated, Mr. Marr."
But the enthusiasm died away, the conversation languished, and Mr. Leslie soon rose to take leave. Then Sibyl stepped forward, and accompanied him part way down the garden-walk, pausing for a few moments earnest conversation before he said "good night."
"Now what made her do that?" thought Aunt Faith, as she tried to keep up a conversation with the languid Mr. Marr; "does she like Mr. Leslie better than she is willing to acknowledge?"
But Sibyl returned to her place on the piazza, and soon entered into an animated discussion of the last volume of poems, in which Aunt Faith's old-fashioned ideas found little to interest them.
"Well, young people," she said pleasantly, after half an hour of patient listening, "I _am_ afraid I do not appreciate modern poetry. I am behind the times, I suppose; but I really like to understand what a poet means, and, now-a-days, that is almost impossible."
"The mystery of poetry is its highest charm," said Graham Marr; "true poetry is always unintelligible."
"Then I fear I am not poetical, Mr. Marr. But I am, as you see, frank enough to acknowledge my deficiencies, and, if you will excuse me, I will go into the sitting-room and finish some work that lies in my basket."
Want of courtesy was not one of Graham's faults; indeed, he prided himself upon his polished manners; so he accompanied Aunt Faith within doors, placed an arm-chair by the table, drew up a footstool for her comfort, and even lingered a moment to admire the shaded worsteds in her basket, before he returned to the piazza and Sibyl. Once back in the moonlight, however, the poetical conversation soon began again, and the murmur of the two voices came faintly to Aunt Faith's ear as she sat by the table, while the light breeze brought up from the garden the fragrance of the flowers, always strongest after nightfall.
Back of the old stone house on the north side, the ground sloped down towards the lake; first grassy terrace and bank, then a large vegetable and fruit garden, terminating in a pasture and grove. The stable and carriage-house stood off to the left, and the place was somewhat carelessly kept, more like a farm than a residence; but an air of cosy comfort pervaded the whole, and the grounds seemed to be as full of chickens and ducks, cats and dogs, doves and sparrows, horses and cows, as the house was full of canary and mocking-birds, gold-fish, kittens, and plants, besides a large aquarium. Up from the back pasture, at this moment, two shadowy forms were stealing. As they drew nearer, sharp eyes might have discovered that they were two persons on horseback coming up from the road which ran east and west across the foot of the pasture. At the garden-fence they stopped, the gentleman dismounted and lifted the lady to the ground. It was Bessie Darrell and her cousin Hugh Warrington.
"Hush, Hugh; don't make me laugh so! we shall be discovered," she said, as she gathered up her long skirt.
"But it is such a good joke!" said Hugh, mounting his horse again. "Think of the fun we've had! And you ride like a little witch."
"We can go again to-morrow night, can't we, Hugh?"
"I suppose so; if you can get away unobserved."
"Of course I can. Oh, it is such fun! I like it better than anything I ever did, Hugh; and you are a dear good fellow to teach me."
"Teach you!" exclaimed Hugh, with a laugh; "that's good! Why, you took to it as a duck takes to water. What a glorious gallop we have had! By the way, Bessie, Gideon Fish would look well on horseback!"
"Or Graham Marr," said Bessie laughing. "I do believe he is on the piazza with Sibyl this very moment."
"If he is, I propose we extinguish him. Out, little candle," said Hugh, striking a dramatic attitude.
"You won't be gone long, Hugh?"
"No; the man will be waiting at the road."
"Then I will run upstairs, lock up my riding skirt, and come down and wait for you."
Bessie went through the garden and up to her room, while Hugh, riding one horse and leading the other, crossed the pasture and the grove, and gave them to a man who was waiting near the fence: he led them down the narrow road towards the west, for the old stone house was in the east suburb of Westerton, more than two miles from the business portion of the town.
Bessie Darrell was sixteen,--a tall, slender maiden, with irregular features, brown complexion, dark eyes, and a quantity of dark, curling hair which defied all restraint, whether of comb, net, or ribbon. Her eyes were bright and her expression merry, but beyond this there was little beauty in her face. A quick student, Bessie always stood at the head of her classes for scholarship, and at the foot as regards demeanor. Twice had she been expelled for daring escapades in defiance of rule, and Aunt Faith's heart had ached with anxiety, when the truant returned home in disgrace. But her merry vivacity had made home so pleasant, that the seasons of penance were, as Tom said, "the jolliest of the year," and Gem openly hoped that Bessie would soon be expelled again. Poor Aunt Faith sometimes thought there must be a tinge of gypsy blood in Bessie's ancestors on the Darrell side of the house, for in no other way could she account for her niece's taste for wild rambles and adventure. "Bessie, my child," she said one evening during the previous year, when she had happened to discover her wayward niece returning from a solitary drive with Sultan, one of the carriage horses, in Hugh's high buggy, "if you are fond of driving, you shall go when you please. I will hire a low basket phaeton for your especial use, and I shall be glad to go with you when you wish."
"Oh, Auntie! if I can go when I please, there is no fun in it," said Bessie, laughing.
"Then I am to conclude, my dear, that the fun, as you call it, consists in deceiving me," said Aunt Faith, gravely.
"Oh no, Auntie; not you especially, but all the world, you know. 'It's against the rule!' That sentence has always been my greatest temptation. I do so long to try all those forbidden things; if I had been Eve, and if the forbidden fruit had been a delicious peach instead of a commonplace apple, I should certainly have taken it. Now there was Miss Sykes at Corry Institute; she was always saying, 'Young ladies, it is against the rule to go into the garret. Three bad marks to any one who even opens the door.' That was enough for me; I slipped off my shoes and climbed up the stairs, while a crowd of girls stood in the hall to see what happened. I opened the door and went in, and after a moment I stepped right through the lath and plastering and hurt myself severely. Of course I got the bad marks, and a big bill for lath and plastering in addition to my lame leg, and the whole thing was Miss Sykes' fault."
"You deliberately disobeyed her rule, Bessie."
"Why have such a goose of a rule, then? Why didn't she say right out that we must not go into the garret because there was no flooring there? Then we would have understood the whole thing. For my part, I don't believe in piling temptation in people's way like that."
"My dear child, we cannot always know. We must all sometimes be content to give up our wills to the guidance of a Wiser Hand,--be content simply to _trust_."
"I don't think that time will ever come to me, Aunt Faith; Hugh says the human mind is sufficient for itself."
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