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- Opening a Chestnut Burr - 50/76 -
"That's the way with children," said Annie, with heightened color and a reproachful look at the boy, who in the excitement of the hour was permitted to stay up for an hour or more; "they let everything all out. No, I'm not hurt a bit. You didn't fall very far. I'm so thankful that your strength did not give out till you almost reached the ground. O dear! I shudder to think what might have happened. Do you know that I thought, with a thrill of superstitious dread, of your chestnut-burr omen, when you stained my hand with your blood. If you had fallen--if--" and she put her hand over her eyes to hide the dreadful vision her imagination presented. "If anything had happened," she continued, "my hands would have been stained, in that they had not held you back."
"What a tender, innocent conscience you have!" he replied, looking fondly at her. "I confess I'd rather be here listening to you than somewhere else."
She gave him a troubled, startled look. To her that "somewhere else" had a sad and terrible meaning. She sat near him, and could not help saying in a low, earnest tone, "How could you, how could you take such a risk without--" She did not finish the sentence, which was plain enough in its meaning, however.
On the impulse of the moment, Gregory was about to reply indiscreetly --in a way that would have revealed more of his feelings toward her than he knew would be wise at that time. But just then Hannah came in with the lunch, and the attention of the others, who had been talking eagerly on the other side of the room, was directed toward them. He checked some rash words as they rose to his lips, and Annie, suspecting nothing of the wealth of love that he was already lavishing upon her, rose with alacrity, glad to serve one who had just served her so well. The generous coffee and the dainty lunch, combined with feelings to which he had long been a stranger, revived Gregory greatly, and he sprang up and walked the room, declaring that with the exception of his burned hand, which had been carefully dressed, he felt better than he had for a long time.
"I'm so thankful!" said Annie, with glistening eyes.
"We all have cause for thankfulness," said Mr. Walton, with fervor. "Our kind Father in heaven has dealt with us all in tender mercy. Home, and more precious life, have been spared. Before we again seek a little rest, let us remember all His goodness;" and he led them in a simple, fervent prayer, the effect of which was heightened by Mr. Walton saying, after he rose from his knees, "Annie, we must see that none of our poor neighbors lack for anything, now that their employment has so suddenly been taken away."
That is acceptable devotion to God which leads to practical, active charity toward men, and the most unbelieving are won by such a religion.
Annie noticed with some anxiety that her father's voice was very hoarse, and that he put his hand upon his chest several times, and she expressed the fear that the exposure would greatly add to his cold. He treated the matter lightly, and would do nothing more that evening than take some simple remedies.
When Gregory bade them good-night, Annie followed him to the foot of the stairs, and giving his hand one of her warm grasps, said, "Mr. Gregory, I can't help feeling that your mother knows what you have done to-night."
Tears started to his eyes. He did not trust himself to reply, but, with a strong answering pressure, hastened to his room, happier than he had been in all his past.
It was late the next morning when they assembled at the breakfast- table, and they noted with pain that Mr. Walton did not appear at all well, though he made a great effort to keep up. He was very hoarse, and complained of a tightness in his chest.
"Now, father," said Annie, "you must stay in the house, and let me nurse you."
"I am very willing to submit," he replied, "and hope I shall need no other physician." But he was feverish all day. His indisposition did not yield to ordinary remedies. Still, beyond a little natural solicitude, no anxiety was felt.
Gregory was a different man. Even his sincere human love for so worthy an object had lifted him out of the miserable depths into which he had been sinking. It had filled his heart with pure longings, and made him capable of noble deeds.
As a general thing a woman inspires love in accordance with her own character. Of course we recognize the fact that there are men with natures so coarse that they are little better than animals. These men may have a passing passion for any pretty woman; but the holy word Love should not be used in such connection. But of men--of those possessing true manhood, even in humblest station--the above assertion I think will be found true. The woman who gains the boundless power which the undivided homage of an honest heart confers will develop in it, and quicken into life, traits and feelings corresponding to her own. If the great men of the world have generally had good mothers, so as a parallel fact will it be found that the strong, useful, successful men--men who sustain themselves, and more than fulfil the promise of their youth--have been supplemented and continually inspired to better things by the ennobling companionship of true women.
Good breeding, the ordinary restraints of self-respect, and fear of the world's adverse opinion, greatly reduce the outward diversities of society. Well-bred men and women act and appear very much alike in the public eye. But there is an inner life, a real character, upon which happiness here and heaven hereafter depend, which results largely from that tie and intimacy which is closest of all. A shallow, frivolous girl, having faith in little else than her pretty face and the dressmaker's art, may unfortunately inspire a good, talented man, who imagines her to possess all that the poets have portrayed in woman, with a true and strong affection, but she will disappoint and dwarf him, and be a millstone about his neck. She will cease to be his companion. She may be thankful if, in his heart, he does not learn to despise her, though a man can scarcely do this and be guiltless toward the mother of his children.
What must be the daily influence on a man who sees in his closest friend, to whom he is joined for life, a passion for the public gaze, a boundless faith in eternals, a complete devotion to the artificial enhancing of ordinary and vanishing charms, combined with a contemptuous neglect of the graces of mind and heart? These alone can keep the love which outward appearance in part may have won at first. Mere dress and beauty are very well to skirmish with during the first approaches; but if a woman wishes to hold the conquered province of a man's heart, and receive from it rich revenues of love and honor, she must possess some queenly traits akin to divine royalty, otherwise she only overruns the heart she might have ruled, and leaves it a blighted waste.
As we have seen, Annie's actual character rebuked and humiliated the evil-minded Gregory from the first. He could not rest in her presence. To relieve himself from self-condemnation, he must prove her goodness a sham or an accident--mere chance exemption from temptation. Her safety and happy influence did not depend upon good resolutions, wise policy, and careful instruction, but upon her real possession of a character which had been formed long before, and which met and foiled him at every point. Lacking this, though a well-meaning, good girl in the main, she would have been a plaything in the hands of such a man. Her absolute truth and crystal purity of principle incased her in heaven's armor, and neither he nor any other evil-disposed person could harm her. She would not listen to the first insidious suggestion of the tempter. Thus the man who expected to go away despising now honored, reverenced, loved her, and through her strong but gentle ministry had turned his back on evil, and was struggling to escape its degrading bondage.
Gregory was right in thinking that such a woman as Annie could help him to an extent hard to estimate, but fatally wrong in looking to her alone. The kind Father who regards the well-being of His children for eternity rather than for the moments of time, must effectually cure him of this error.
But those two days were memorable ones to him. The cold and stormy weather shut them all in the house, and that meant to him Annie's society. He was seldom alone with her; he noted with pain that her manner was too frank and kindly, too free from all consciousness, to indicate anything more than the friendship she had promised; but, not knowing how her heart was preoccupied, he hoped that the awakening of deeper feeling was only a question of time. His present peace and rest were so blessed, her presence was so satisfying, and his progress in her favor so apparent as he revealed his better nature, that he was content to call his love friendship until he saw her friendship turning into love.
Had not Annie expected Hunting every day she would have told Gregory all about her relation with him, but now she determined that she would bring them together under the same roof, and not let them separate till she had banished every trace of their difficulty. A partial reconciliation might result in future coolness and estrangement. This she would regard as a misfortune, even if it had no unfavorable influence on Gregory, for he now proved himself the best of company. Indeed, they seemed to have a remarkable gift for entertaining each other.
While Wednesday did not find Mr. Walton seriously ill to all appearance, he was still far from being well. He employed himself with his papers and seemed to enjoy Gregory's conversation greatly.
"He now grows very like his father, and reminds me constantly of him," he said more than once to Annie.
Mr. Walton's indisposition was evidently not trivial. There was a soreness about the lungs that made it painful for him to talk much, and he had a severe, racking cough. They were all solicitude in his behalf. The family physician had been called, and it was hoped that a few days of care would remove this cold.
As he sat in his comfortable arm-chair by the fire he would smilingly say he was having such a good time and so much petting that he did not intend to get well very soon.
Though Gregory's burn was painful, and both hands were bruised and cut from climbing, he did not regret the suffering, since it also secured from Annie some of the attention she would otherwise have given her father.
Wednesday afternoon was pleasant, and Gregory went out for a walk. He did not return till rather late, and, coming down to supper, found by
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