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- Across the Years - 30/34 -

"No, madam. I--" began the girl, but she did not finish. The little figure before her drew itself to the full extent of its diminutive height.

"Well, I can," said Madam Wetherby crisply. Then she turned and hurried into the inner room.

The nurse sat mute and motionless until a crooning lullaby and the unmistakable tapping of rockers on a bare floor brought her to her feet in dismay. With an angry frown she strode across the room, but she stopped short at the sight that met her eyes.

In a low chair, her face aglow with the accumulated love of years of baby-brooding, sat the little old lady, one knotted, wrinkled finger tightly elapsed within a dimpled fist. The cries had dropped to sobbing breaths, and the lullaby, feeble and quavering though it was, rose and swelled triumphant. The anger fled from the girl's face, and a queer choking came to her throat so that her words were faint and broken.

"Madam--I beg pardon--I'm sorry, but I must put Master Philip back on his bed."

"But he isn't asleep yet," demurred Madam Wetherby softly, her eyes mutinous.

"But you must--I can't--that is, Master Philip cannot be rocked," faltered the girl.

"Nonsense, my dear!" she said; "babies can always be rocked!" And again the lullaby rose on the air.

"But, madam," persisted the girl--she was almost crying now--"don't you see? I must put Master Philip back. It is Mrs. Wetherby's orders. They-- they don't rock babies so much now."

For an instant fierce rebellion spoke through flashing eyes, stern-set lips, and tightly clutched fingers; then all the light died from the thin old face and the tense muscles relaxed.

"You may put the baby back," said Madam Wetherby tremulously, yet with a sudden dignity that set the maid to curtsying. "I--I should not want to cross my daughter's wishes."

Nancy Wetherby never rocked her grandson again, but for days she haunted the nursery, happy if she could but tie the baby's moccasins or hold his brush or powder-puff; yet a week had scarcely passed when John's wife said to her:

"Mother, dear, I wouldn't tire myself so trotting upstairs each day to the nursery. There isn't a bit of need--Mary and Betty can manage quite well. You fatigue yourself too much!" And to the old lady's denials John's wife returned, with a tinge of sharpness: "But, really, mother, I'd rather you didn't. It frets the nurses and--forgive me-but you know you will forget and talk to him in 'baby-talk'!"

The days came and the days went, and Nancy Wetherby stayed more and more closely to her rooms. She begged one day for the mending-basket, but her daughter-in-law laughed and kissed her.

"Tut, tut, mother, dear!" she remonstrated. "As if I'd have you wearing your eyes and fingers out mending a paltry pair of socks!"

"Then I--I'll knit new ones!" cried the old lady, with sudden inspiration.

"Knit new ones--stockings!" laughed Margaret Wetherby. "Why, dearie, they never in this world would wear them--and if they would, I couldn't let you do it," she added gently, as she noted the swift clouding of the eager face. "Such tiresome work!"

Again the old eyes filled with tears; and yet--John's wife was kind, so very kind!

It was a cheerless, gray December morning that John Wetherby came into his mother's room and found a sob-shaken little figure in the depths of the sumptuous, satin-damask chair. "Mother, mother,--why, mother!" There were amazement and real distress in John Wetherby's voice.

"There, there, John, I--I didn't mean to--truly I didn't!" quavered the little old lady.

John dropped on one knee and caught the fluttering fingers. "Mother, what is it?"

"It--it isn't anything; truly it isn't," urged the tremulous voice.

"Is any one unkind to you?" John's eyes grew stern. "The boys, or-- Margaret?"

The indignant red mounted to the faded cheek. "John! How can you ask? Every one is kind, kind, so very kind to me!"

"Well, then, what is it?"

There was only a sob in reply. "Come, come," he coaxed gently.

For a moment Nancy Wetherby's breath was held suspended, then it came in a burst with a rush of words.

"Oh, John, John, I'm so useless, so useless, so dreadfully useless! Don't you see? Not a thing, not a person needs me. The kitchen has the cook and the maids. The baby has two or three nurses. Not even this room needs me--there's a girl to dust it each day. Once I slipped out of bed and did it first--I did, John; but she came in, and when I told her, she just curtsied and smiled and kept right on, and--she didn't even skip one chair! John, dear John, sometimes it seems as though even my own self doesn't need me. I--I don't even put on my clothes alone; there's always some one to help me!"

"There, there, dear," soothed the man huskily. "I need you, indeed I do, mother." And he pressed his lips to one, then the other, of the wrinkled, soft-skinned hands.

"You don't--you don't!" choked the woman. "There's not one thing I can do for you! Why, John, only think, I sit with idle hands all day, and there was so much once for them to do. There was Eben, and the children, and the house, and the missionary meetings, and--"

On and on went the sweet old voice, but the man scarcely heard. Only one phrase rang over and over in his ears, "There's not one thing I can do for you!" All the interests of now--stocks, bonds, railroads--fell from his mind and left it blank save for the past. He was a boy again at his mother's knee. And what had she done for him then? Surely among all the myriad things there must be one that he might single out and ask her to do for him now! And yet, as he thought, his heart misgave him.

There were pies baked, clothes made, bumped foreheads bathed, lost pencils found; there were--a sudden vision came to him of something warm and red and very soft--something over which his boyish heart had exulted. The next moment his face lighted with joy very like that of the years long ago.

"Mother!" he cried. "I know what you can do for me. I want a pair of wristers--red ones, just like those you used to knit!"

* * * * *

It must have been a month later that John Wetherby, with his two elder sons, turned the first corner that carried him out of sight of his house. Very slowly, and with gentle fingers, he pulled off two bright red wristers. He folded them, patted them, then tucked them away in an inner pocket.

"Bless her dear heart!" he said softly. "You should have seen her eyes shine when I put them on this morning!"

"I can imagine it," said one of his sons in a curiously tender voice. The other one smiled, and said whimsically, "I can hardly wait for mine!" Yet even as he spoke his eyes grew dim with a sudden moisture.

Back at the house John's mother was saying to John's wife: "Did you see them on him, Margaret?--John's wristers? They did look so bright and pretty! And I'm to make more, too; did you know? Frank and Edward want some; John said so. He told them about his, and they wanted some right away. Only think, Margaret," she finished, lifting with both hands the ball of red worsted and pressing it close to her cheek, "I've got two whole pairs to make now!"

The Giving Thanks of Cyrus and Huldah

For two months Cyrus Gregg and his wife Huldah had not spoken to each other, yet all the while they had lived under the same roof, driven to church side by side, and attended various festivities and church prayer- meetings together.

The cause of the quarrel had been an insignificant something that speedily lost itself in the torrent of angry words that burst from the lips of the irate husband and wife, until by night it would have been difficult for either the man or the woman to tell exactly what had been the first point of difference. By that time, however, the quarrel had assumed such proportions that it loomed in their lives larger than anything else; and each had vowed never to speak to the other until that other had made the advance.

On both sides they came of a stubborn race, and from the first it was a battle royally fought. The night of the quarrel Cyrus betook himself in solitary state to the "spare-room" over the parlor. After that he slept on a makeshift bed that he had prepared for himself in the shed-chamber, hitherto sacred to trunks, dried corn, and cobwebs.

For a month the two sat opposite to each other and partook of Huldah's excellent cooking; then one day the woman found at her plate a piece--of brown paper on which had been scrawled:

If I ain't worth speakin' to I ain't worth cookin' for. Hereafter I'll take care of myself.

A day later came the retort. Cyrus found it tucked under the shed- chamber door.

Huldah's note showed her "schooling." It was well written, carefully spelled, and enclosed in a square white envelope.

Sir [it ran stiffly]: I shall be obliged if you do not chop any more wood for me. Hereafter I shall use the oil stove. HULDAH PENDLETON

Across the Years - 30/34

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