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- Opening a Chestnut Burr - 6/76 -

kindly, "You have a large family to look after, Zibbie, but I'm afraid we'll lessen it every day now."

"Indeed, an' ye will, and it goes agin the grain to wring the necks of them that I've nursed from the shell," said the old woman, rather sharply.

"It must be a great trial to your feelings," said Miss Walton, laughing; "but what would you have us do with them, Zibbie? You don't need them all for pets."

Before Zibbie could answer, an old gentleman in a low buggy drove into the large door-yard, and the children bounded toward him, screaming, "Grandpa."

A colored man took the horse, and Mr. Walton, with a briskness that one would not expect at his advanced age, came toward them.

He was a noble-looking old man, with hair and beard as white as snow, and with the stately manners of the old school. When he learned who Gregory was he greeted him with a cordiality that was so genuine as to compel the cynical man of the world to feel its truth.

Mr. Walton's eyes were turned so often and wistfully on his face that Gregory was embarrassed.

"I was looking for my friend," said the old gentleman, in a husky voice, turning hastily away to hide his feeling. "You strongly remind me of him; and yet--" But he never finished the sentence.

Gregory well understood the "and yet," and in bitterness of soul remembered that his father had been a good man, but that the impress of goodness could not rest on his face.

He had now grown very weary, and gave evidence of it.

"Mr. Gregory, you look ill," said Miss Walton, hastily.

"I am not well," he said, "and have not been for a long time. Perhaps I am going beyond my strength to-day."

In a moment they were all solicitude. The driver, who then appeared according to his instructions, was posted back to the hotel for Mr. Gregory's luggage, Mr. Walton saying, with hearty emphasis that removed every scruple, "This must be your home, sir, as long as you can remain with us, as truly as ever it was."

A little later he found himself in the "spare room," on whose state he had rarely intruded when a boy. Jeff, the colored man, had kindled a cheery wood fire on the ample hearth, and, too exhausted even to think, Gregory sank back in a great easy-chair with the blessed sense of the storm-tossed on reaching a quiet haven.



To the millions who are suffering in mind or body there certainly come in this world moments of repose, when pain ceases; and the respite seems so delicious in contrast that it may well suggest the "rest that remaineth." Thinking of neither the past nor the future, Gregory for a little time gave himself up to the sense of present and luxurious comfort. With closed eyes and mind almost as quiet as his motionless body, he let the moments pass, feeling dimly that he would ask no better heaven than the eternal continuance of this painless, half- dreaming lethargy.

He was soon aroused, however, by a knocking at the door, and a middle- aged servant placed before him a tempting plate of Albert biscuit and a glass of home-made currant wine of indefinite age. The quaint and dainty little lunch caught his appetite as exactly as if manna had fallen adapted to his need; but it soon stimulated him out of his condition of partial non-existence. With returning consciousness of the necessity of living and acting came the strong desire to spend as much of his vacation as possible in his old home, and he determined to avail himself of Mr. Walton's invitation to the utmost limit that etiquette would permit.

His awakened mind gave but little thought to his entertainers, and he did not anticipate much pleasure from their society. He was satisfied that they were refined, cultivated people, with whom he could be as much at ease as would be possible in any companionship, but he hoped and proposed to spend the most of his time alone in wandering amid old scenes and brooding over the past. The morbid mind is ever full of unnatural contradictions, and he found a melancholy pleasure in shutting his eyes to the future and recalling the time when he had been happy and hopeful. In his egotism he found more that interested him in his past and vanished self than in the surrounding world. Evil and ill-health had so enfeebled his body, narrowed his mind, and blurred the future, that his best solace seemed a vain and sentimental recalling of the crude yet comparatively happy period of childhood.

This is sorry progress. A man must indeed have lived radically wrong when he looks backward for the best of his life. Gray-haired Mr. Walton was looking forward. Gregory's habit of self-pleasing--of acting according to his mood--was too deeply seated to permit even the thought of returning the hospitality he hoped to enjoy by a cordial effort on his part to prove himself an agreeable guest. Polite he ever would be, for he had the instincts and training of a gentleman, in society's interpretation of the word, but he had lost the power to feel a generous solicitude for the feelings and happiness of others. Indeed, he rather took a cynical pleasure in discovering defects in the character of those around him, and in learning that their seeming enjoyment of life was but hollow and partial. Conscious of being evil himself, he liked to think others were not much better, or would not be if tempted. Therefore, with a gloomy scepticism, he questioned all the seeming happiness and goodness he saw. "It is either unreal or untried," he was wont to say bitterly.

About seven o'clock, Hannah, the waitress, again appeared, saying: "Supper is ready, but the ladies beg you will not come down unless you feel able. I can bring up your tea if you wish."

Thinking first and only of self, he at once decided not to go down. He felt sufficiently rested and revived, but was in no mood for commonplace talk to comparative strangers. His cosey chair, glowing fire, and listless ease were much better than noisy children, inquisitive ladies, and the unconscious reproach of Mr. Walton's face, as he would look in vain for the lineaments of his lost friend. Therefore he said, suavely: "Please say to the ladies that I am so wearied that I should make but a dull companion, and so for their sakes, as well as my own, had better not leave my room this evening."

It is the perfection of art in selfishness to make it appear as if you were thinking only of others. This was the design of Walter's polite message. Soon a bit of tender steak, a roast potato, tea, and toast were smoking appetizingly beside him, and he congratulated himself that he had escaped the bore of company for one evening.

Notwithstanding his misanthropy and cherished desolation the supper was so inviting that he was tempted to partake of it heartily. Then incasing himself in his ample dressing-gown he placed his slippered feet on the fender before a cheery fire, lighted a choice Havana, and proceeded to be miserable after the fashion that indulged misery often affects.

Hannah quietly removed the tea-tray, and Mr. Walton came up and courteously inquired if there was anything that would add to his guest's comfort.

"After a few hours of rest and quiet I hope I shall be able to make a better return for your hospitality," Gregory rejoined, with equal politeness.

"Oh, do not feel under any obligation to exert yourself," said kind Mr. Walton. "In order to derive full benefit from your vacation, you must simply rest and follow your moods."

This view of the case suited Gregory exactly, and the prospect of a visit at his old home grew still more inviting. When he was left alone, he gave himself up wholly to the memories of the past.

At first it was with a pleasurable pain that he recalled his former life. With an imagination naturally strong he lived it all over again, from the date of his first recollections. In the curling flames and glowing coals on the hearth a panorama passed before him. He saw a joyous child, a light-hearted boy, and a sanguine youth, with the shifting and familiar scenery of well-remembered experience. Time softened the pictures, and the harsh, rough outlines which exist in every truthful portraiture of life were lost in the haze of distance. The gentle but steady light of mother love, and through her a pale, half-recognized reflection of the love of God, illumined all those years; and his father's strong, quiet affection made a background anything but dark. He had been naturally what is termed a very good boy, full of generous impulses. There had been no lack of ordinary waywardness or of the faults of youth, but they showed a tendency to yield readily to the correcting influence of love. Good impulses, however, are not principles, and may give way to stronger impulses of evil. If the influences of his early home had alone followed him, he would not now be moodily recalling the past as the exiled convict might watch the shores of his native land recede.

And then, as in his prolonged revery the fire burned low, and the ruddy coals turned to ashes, the past faded into distance, and his present life, dull and leaden, rose before him, and from regretful memories that were not wholly painful he passed to that bitterness of feeling which ever comes when hope is giving place to despair.

The fire flickered out and died, his head drooped lower and lower, while the brooding frown upon his brow darkened almost into a scowl. Outwardly he made a sad picture for a young man in the prime of life, but to Him who looks at the attitude of the soul, what but unutterable love kept him from appearing absolutely revolting?

Suddenly, like light breaking into a vault a few notes of prelude were struck upon the piano in the parlor below, and a sweet voice, softened by distance sung:

"Rock of ages, cleft for me, let me hide myself in thee,"

How often he had heard the familiar words and music in that same home! They seemed to crown and complete all the memories of the place, but they reminded him more clearly than ever before that its most inseparable associations were holy, hopeful, and suggestive of a faith

Opening a Chestnut Burr - 6/76

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