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- Across the Years - 34/34 -
lighted up their somber gowns, and made patches of brilliant color against the gray of the house.
"By Jove, it's a picture!" exclaimed the would-be purchaser.
The lawyer smiled and sprang to the ground. Introductions swiftly followed, then he cleared his throat in some embarrassment.
"Ahem! I've brought Mr. Hazelton up here, ladies, because he was interested in your beautiful place."
Miss Rachel smiled--the smile of proud possession; then something within her seemed to tighten, and she caught her breath sharply.
"It is fine!" murmured Hazelton; "and the view is grand!" he continued, his eyes on the distant hills. Then he turned abruptly. "Ladies, I believe in coming straight to the point. I want a summer home, and--I want this one. Can I tempt you to part with it?"
"Indeed, no!" began Rachel almost fiercely. Then her voice sank to a whisper; "I--I don't think you could."
"But, sister," interposed Tabitha, her face alight, "you know you said-- that is, there are circumstances--perhaps he would--p-pay enough--" Her voice stumbled over the hated word, then stopped, while her face burned scarlet.
"Pay!--no human mortal could pay for this house!" flashed Rachel indignantly. Then she turned to Hazelton, her slight form drawn to its greatest height, and her hands crushing the flowers, she held till the brittle stems snapped, releasing a fluttering shower of scarlet and gold. "Mr. Hazelton, to carry out certain wishes very near to our hearts, we need money. We will show you the place, and--and we will consider your offer," she finished faintly. It was a dreary journey the sisters took that morning, though the garden never had seemed lovelier, nor the rooms more sacredly beautiful. In the end, Hazelton's offer was so fabulously enormous to their unwilling ears that their conscience forbade them to refuse it.
"I'll have the necessary papers ready to sign in a few days," said the lawyer as the two gentlemen turned to go. And Hazelton added: "If at any time before that you change your minds and find you cannot give it up-- just let me know and it will be all right. Just think it over till then," he said kindly, the dumb woe in their eyes appealing to him as the loudest lamentations could not have done. "But if you don't mind, I'd like to have an architect, who is in town just now, come up and look it over with me," he finished.
"Certainly, sir, certainly," said Rachel, longing for the man to go. But when he was gone, she wished him back--anything would be better than this aimless wandering from room to room, and from yard to garden and back again.
"I suppose he will sit here," murmured Tabitha, dropping wearily on to the settee under the apple-trees.
"I suppose so," her sister assented. "I wonder if she knows how to grow roses; they'll certainly die if she doesn't!" And Rachel crushed a worm under her foot with unnecessary vigor.
"Oh, I hope they'll tend to the vines on the summerhouse, Rachel, and the pansies--you don't think they'll let them run to seed, do you? Oh, dear!" And Tabitha sprang nervously to her feet and started backyto the house.
Mr. Hazelton appeared the next morning with two men--an architect and a landscape gardener. Rachel was in the summerhouse, and the first she knew of their presence was the sound of talking outside.
"You'll want to grade it down there," she heard a strange voice say, "and fill in that little hollow; clear away all those rubbishy posies, and mass your flowering shrubs in the background. Those roses are no particular good, I fancy; we'll move such as are worth anything, and make a rose-bed on the south side--we'll talk over the varieties you want, later. Of course these apple-trees and those lilacs will be cut down, and this summerhouse will be out of the way. You'll be surprised-- a few changes will do wonders, and--"
He stopped abruptly. A woman, tall, flushed, and angry-eyed, stood before him in the path. She opened her lips, but no sound came--Mr. Hazelton was lifting his hat. The flush faded, and her eyes closed as though to shut out some painful sight; then she bowed her head with a proud gesture, and sped along the way to the house.
Once inside, she threw herself, sobbing, upon the bed. Tabitha found her there an hour later.
"You poor dear--they've gone now," she comforted.
Rachel raised her head.
"They're going to cut down everything--every single thing!" she gasped.
"I know it," choked Tabitha, "and they're going to tear out lots of doors inside, and build in windows and things. Oh, Rachel,--what shall we do?"
"I don't know, oh, I don't know!" moaned the woman on the bed, diving into the pillows and hugging them close to her head.
"We--we might give up selling--he said we could if we wanted to."
"But there's Ralph!"
"I know it. Oh, dear--what can we do?"
Rachel suddenly sat upright.
"Do? Why, we'll stand it, of course. We just mustn't mind if he turns the house into a hotel and the yard into a--a pasture!" she said hysterically. "We must just think of Ralph and of his being a doctor. Come, let's go to the village and see if we can rent that tenement of old Mrs. Goddard's."
With a long sigh and a smothered sob, Tabitha went to get her hat.
Mrs. Goddard greeted the sisters effusively, and displayed her bits of rooms and the tiny square of yard with the plainly expressed wish that the place might be their home.
The twins said little, but their eyes were troubled. They left with the promise to think it over and let Mrs. Goddard know.
"I didn't suppose rooms could be so little," whispered Tabitha, as they closed the gate behind them.
"We couldn't grow as much as a sunflower in that yard," faltered Rachel.
"Well, anyhow, we could have some houseplants!"--Tabitha tried to speak cheerfully.
"Indeed we could!" agreed Rachel, rising promptly to her sister's height; "and, after all, little rooms are lots cheaper to heat than big ones." And there the matter ended for the time being.
Mr. Hazelton and the lawyer with the necessary papers appeared a few days later. As the lawyer took off his hat he handed a letter to Miss Rachel.
"I stepped into the office and got your mail," he said genially.
"Thank you," replied the lady, trying to smile. "It's from Ralph,"-- handing it over for her sister to read.
Both the ladies were in somber black; a ribbon or a brooch seemed out of place to them that day. Tabitha broke the seal of the letter, and retired to the light of the window to read it.
The papers were spread on the table, and the pen was in Rachel's hand when a scream from Tabitha shattered the oppressive silence of the room.
"Stop--stop--oh, stop!" she cried, rushing to her sister and snatching the pen from her fingers. "We don't have to--see--read!"--pointing to the postscript written in a round, boyish hand.
Oh, I say, I've got a surprise for you. You think I've been fishing and loafing all summer, but I've been working for the hotels here the whole time. I've got a fine start on my money for college, and I've got a chance to work for my board all this year by helping Professor Heaton. I met him here this summer, and he's the right sort--every time. I've intended all along to help myself a bit when it came to the college racket, but I didn't mean to tell you until I knew I could do it. But it's a sure thing now.
Bye-bye; I'll be home next Saturday.
Your aff. nephew,
Rachel had read this aloud, but her voice ended in a sob instead of in the boy's name. Hazelton brushed the back of his hand across his eyes, and the lawyer looked intently out the window. For a moment there was a silence that could be felt, then Hazelton stepped to the table and fumbled noisily with the papers.
"Ladies, I withdraw my offer," he announced. "I can't afford to buy this house--I can't possibly afford it--it's too expensive." And without another word he left the room, motioning the lawyer to follow.
The sisters looked into each other's eyes and drew a long, sobbing breath.
"Rachel, is it true?"
"Oh, Tabitha! Let's--let's go out under the apple-trees and--just know that they are there!"
And hand in hand they went.
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