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- Across the Years - 20/34 -
stared fixedly at an old print on the wall opposite. The hotel--though strictly modern in cuisine and management--was an old one, and prided itself on the quaintness of its old-time furnishings. Just what the print represented Mrs. John could not have told, though her eyes did not swerve from its face for five long minutes. What she did see was a silent, dismantled farmhouse, and a little old man and a little old woman with drawn faces and dumb lips.
Was it possible? Had she, indeed, been so blind?
Mrs. John rose to her feet, bathed her eyes, straightened her neck-bow, and crossed the hall to Grandma Burton's room.
"Well, mother, and how are you getting along?" she asked cheerily.
"Jest as nice as can be, daughter,--and ain't this room pretty?" returned the little old woman eagerly. "Do you know, it seems kind of natural like; mebbe it's because of that chair there. Seth says it's almost like his at home."
It was a good beginning, and Mrs. John made the most of it. Under her skillful guidance Grandma Burton, in less than five minutes, had gone from the chair to the old clock which her father used to wind, and from the clock to the bureau where she kept the dead twins' little white shoes and bonnets. She told, too, of the cherished parlor chairs and marble-topped table, and of how she and father had saved and saved for years to buy them; and even now, as she talked, her voice rang with pride of possession--though only for a moment; it shook then with the remembrance of loss.
There was no complaint, it is true, no audible longing for lost treasures. There was only the unwonted joy of pouring into sympathetic ears the story of things loved and lost--things the very mention of which brought sweet faint echoes of voices long since silent.
"There, there," broke off the little old woman at last, "how I am runnin' on! But, somehow, somethin' set me to talkin' ter-day. Mebbe't was that chair that's like yer father's," she hazarded.
"Maybe it was," agreed Mrs. John quietly, as she rose to her feet.
The new house came on apace. In a wonderfully short time John Burton began to urge his wife to see about rugs and hangings. It was then that Mrs. John called him to one side and said a few hurried but very earnest words--words that made the Honorable John open wide his eyes.
"But, Edith," he remonstrated, "are you crazy? It simply couldn't be done! The things are scattered over half a dozen townships; besides, I haven't the least idea where the auctioneer's list is--if I saved it at all."
"Never mind, dear; I may try, surely," begged Mrs. John. And her husband laughed and reached for his check-book.
"Try? Of course you may try! And here's this by way of wishing you good luck," he finished, as he handed her an oblong bit of paper that would go far toward smoothing the most difficult of ways.
"You dear!" cried Mrs. John. "And now I'm going to work."
It was at about this time that Mrs. John went away. The children were at college and boarding-school; John was absorbed in business and house- building, and Grandpa and Grandma Burton were contented and well cared for. There really seemed to be no reason why Mrs. John should not go away, if she wished--and she apparently did wish. It was at about this time, too, that certain Vermont villages--one of which was the Honorable John Burton's birthplace--were stirred to sudden interest and action. A persistent, smiling-faced woman had dropped into their midst--a woman who drove from house to house, and who, in every case, left behind her a sworn ally and friend, pledged to serve her cause.
Little by little, in an unused room in the village hotel there began to accumulate a motley collection--a clock, a marble-topped table, a cradle, a patchwork quilt, a bureau, a hair wreath, a chair worn with age and use. And as this collection grew in size and fame, only that family which could not add to it counted itself abused and unfortunate, so great was the spell that the persistent, smiling-faced woman had cast about her.
Just before the Burton house was finished Mrs. John came back to town. She had to hurry a little about the last of the decorations and furnishings to make up for lost time; but there came a day when the place was pronounced ready for occupancy.
It was then that Mrs. John hurried into Grandpa and Grandma Burton's rooms at the hotel.
"Come, dears," she said gayly. "The house is all ready, and we're going home."
"Done? So soon?" faltered Grandma Burton, who had not been told very much concerning the new home's progress. "Why, how quick they have built it!"
There was a note of regret in the tremulous old voice, but Mrs. John did not seem to notice. The old man, too, rose from his chair with a long sigh--and again Mrs. John did not seem to notice.
* * * * *
"Yes, dearie, yes, it's all very nice and fine," said Grandma Burton wearily, half an hour later as she trudged through the sumptuous parlors and halls of the new house; "but, if you don't mind, I guess I'll go to my room, daughter. I'm tired--turrible tired."
Up the stairs and along the hall trailed the little procession--Mrs. John, John, the bent old man, and the little old woman. At the end of the hall Mrs. John paused a moment, then flung the door wide open.
There was a gasp and a quick step forward; then came the sudden illumination of two wrinkled old faces.
"John! Edith!"--it was a cry of mingled joy and wonder.
There was no reply. Mrs. John had closed the door and left them there with their treasures.
Uncle Zeke's pipe had gone out--sure sign that Uncle Zeke's mind was not at rest. For five minutes the old man had occupied in frowning silence the other of my veranda rocking-chairs. As I expected, however, I had not long to wait.
"I met old Sam Hadley an' his wife in the cemetery just now," he observed.
"Yes?" I was careful to express just enough, and not too much, interest: one had to be circumspect with Uncle Zeke.
"Hm-m; I was thinkin'--" Uncle Zeke paused, shifted his position, and began again. This time I had the whole story.
"I was thinkin'--I don't say that Jimmy did right, an' I don't say that Jimmy did wrong. Maybe you can tell. 'Twas like this:
"In a way we all claimed Jimmy Hadley. As a little fellow, he was one of them big-eyed, curly-haired chaps that gets inside your heart no matter how tough't is. An' we was really fond of him, too,--so fond of him that we didn't do nothin' but jine in when his pa an' ma talked as if he was the only boy that ever was born, or ever would be--an' you know we must have been purty daft ter stood that, us bein' fathers ourselves!
"Well, as was natural, perhaps, the Hadleys jest lived fer Jimmy. They'd lost three, an' he was all there was left. They wasn't very well-to-do, but nothin' was too grand fer Jimmy, and when the boy begun ter draw them little pictures of his all over the shed an' the barn door, they was plumb crazy. There wan't no doubt of it--Jimmy was goin' ter be famous, they said. He was goin' ter be one o' them painter fellows, an' make big money.
"An' Jimmy did work, even then. He stood well in his studies, an' worked outside, earnin' money so's he could take drawin' lessons when he got bigger. An' by and by he did get bigger, an' he did take lessons down ter the Junction twice a week.
"There wan't no livin' with Mis' Hadley then, she was that proud; an' when he brought home his first picture, they say she never went ter bed at all that night, but jest set gloatin' over it till the sun came in an' made her kerosene lamp look as silly as she did when she saw 'twas mornin'. There was one thing that plagued her, though: 'twan't painted-- that picture. Jimmy called it a 'black an' white,' an' said 'twan't paintin' that he wanted ter do, but 'lustratin'--fer books and magazines, you know. She felt hurt, an' all put out at first: but Jimmy told her 'twas all right, an' that there was big money in it; so she got 'round contented again. She couldn't help it, anyhow, with Jimmy, he was that lovin' an' nice with her. He was the kind that's always bringin' footstools and shawls, an' makin' folks comfortable. Everybody loved Jimmy. Even the cats an' dogs rubbed up against him an' wagged their tails at sight of him, an' the kids--goodness, Jimmy couldn't cross the street without a dozen kids makin' a grand rush fer him.
"Well, time went on, an' Jimmy grew tall an' good lookin'. Then came the girl--an' she was a girl, too. 'Course, Jimmy, bein' as how he'd had all the frostin' there was goin' on everythin' so fur, carried out the same idea in girls, an' picked out the purtiest one he could find-- rich old Townsend's daughter, Bessie.
"To the Hadleys this seemed all right--Jimmy was merely gettin' the best, as usual; but the rest of us, includin' old man Townsend, begun ter sit up an' take notice. The old man was mad clean through. He had other plans fer Bessie, an' he said so purty plain."
"But it seems there didn't any of us--only Jimmy, maybe--take the girl herself into consideration. For a time she was a little skittish, an' led Jimmy a purty chase with her dancin' nearer an' nearer, an' then flyin' off out of reach. But at last she came out fair an' square fur Jimmy, an' they was as lively a pair of lovers as ye'd wish ter see. It looked, too, as if she'd even wheedle the old man 'round ter her side of thinkin'."
"The next thing we knew Jimmy had gone ter New York. He was ter study, an' at the same time pick up what work he could, ter turn an honest penny, the Hadleys said. We liked that in him. He was goin' ter make somethin' of himself, so's he'd be worthy of Bessie Townsend or any
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