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- Opening a Chestnut Burr - 76/76 -


has not deceived you for a moment. Won't you please put your dainty fingers down into the burr and join the two together?"

She lifted her drooping eyes a moment to the more eloquent pleading of his face, but they fell as speedily.

In a low, thrilling tone she said, "No, Walter, but you may."

He dropped the burr and sealed the unspoken covenant upon her lips.

After a few moments he said, very gently and gravely, "Annie, do you remember when my arm last encircled you?"

The crimson face turned pale as she recalled that awful midnight when he rescued her from death.

Both breathed fervently, "How good God has been to us!"

In their joy, as in fear and sorrow, they remembered Him.

"O, see!" cried Annie, "your hands are bleeding where the burr pricked them, and you have stained my hands again. Your blood is on them," she added, almost in fear.

"Yes, and the best blood of my heart ever will be. Is not the 'blood upon us' the deepest and most sacred hope of our hearts? Is it not the proof of the strongest love the world has known? Let mine there be the pledge that my life is as nothing when it can shield and shelter you."

And so he changed the meaning of the omen.

The hours passed unheeded. At last they went across the orchard as before, and stopped and looked at the place where the ladder fell, and then at each other.

"Walter," said Annie, shyly, "I gave you my first kiss here."

"I am repaid then."

Before going to the house, they called on Daddy Tuggar. He was so amazed that he could only ejaculate, "Evenin'."

"Mr. Tuggar, I have acted on your suggestion," said Gregory. "I thought Miss Walton would be good company forever, and I have the promise of it."

"To think that I should have cussed you!" said the old man, in an awed tone.

"But you will give us your blessing, now?" said Annie, smiling.

"My blessin' ain't worth nothin'; but I know the good Lord will bless you both, even if Miss Annie never was an awful sinner."

"Mr. Tuggar," said Gregory, "I own that place over there. Will you take me for a neighbor till you are ready to be Mr. Walton's?"

"O, Walter!" said Annie, with a glad cry, "is that really true?"

"Yes, it became mine yesterday; or, rather, it remained yours."

"Mr. Gregory," said Daddy Tuggar, his quaint face twitching strangely, "if anybody steals your apples, I'm afraid I'll swear at 'em, even yet."

"No, you won't, Daddy," said he. "But I'm going to bring you over to spend an evening with us soon. Good-by!"

They found Miss Eulie in the parlor, pensively packing up some dear little relics of a home she supposed lost. Gregory put his arm around her and said, "Aunty, I'm going to claim relationship right away; put those things back where you found them, and sit down here in the cosiest corner of the hearth, your place from this time forth."

"How is this?" she exclaimed, in breathless astonishment.

"Well, Annie owns me, and therefore this place."

Johnny came bounding in, and Gregory caught him, and said, "Here is the prophet of my fate. How did you tell me your Aunt Annie managed people, the morning after my first arrival here?"

"I said she kinder made people love her, and then they wanted to do as she said," replied the boy, timidly.

"Let me tell you a secret," and he drew the boy and whispered in his ear, "she is going to manage me on just those terms."

Then little Susie came sidling in, and Gregory took her in his arms, saying, "So dimpled, yet so false, you renounced me for a chipmonk; and now I am going to be Aunt Annie's beau till I'm gray."

Jeff next appeared with a basket of wood. Gregory gave his black hand an honest shake, and said, "Why, Jeff, old fellow, what is the matter with you to-night? The last time I saw you you looked as if you were driving me to the cemetery."

"Well, Misser Gregory," said Jeff, ducking and shuffling. "Ise did come mighty neah takin' de turnin' to de cem'try dat day. I tho't you looked as if you wanted to go dar."

As they sat down to tea, Zibbie put her head in at the door, and said, "The gude God bless ye, for ye ha' kept the auld 'ooman fra the cauld wourld yet."

Delighted Hannah could not pass a biscuit without a courtesy.

That evening the hickory fire glowed and turned to bright and fragrant coals as in the days past, but Annie looked wistfully toward her father's vacant chair, and sighed, "If father were only here!"

"Don't grieve, darling," said Gregory, tenderly. "He is at home, as we are."

A few evenings later Gregory brought up from the city a large, square bundle.

"What have you there?" said Annie, greeting him as the reader can imagine.

"Your epitaph."

"O, Walter! so soon?"

His answer was a smile, and quickly opening the pack age, he showed a rich, quaint frame containing some lines in illuminated text. Placing it where the light fell clearly, he drew her to him and said, "Read that."

"God sent His messenger of faith, And whispered in the maiden's heart, 'Rise up and look from where thou art, And scatter with unselfish hands Thy freshness on the barren sands And solitudes of death.'"

"O beauty of holiness, Of self-forgetfulness!"

With a caress of unspeakable tenderness he said, "You are the maiden, and God sent you to me."

THE END


Opening a Chestnut Burr - 76/76

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