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- From Jest to Earnest - 60/79 -
unhappy if you send me away without letting me help you."
"You would think me a fool if I told you," she faltered.
"No one will ever charge you with being that."
She gave him another of her quick, strange looks, like the one she fixed upon him when he first moved her to tears by weaving about her the 'spell of truth.' It was a look akin to that of a child who learns by an intuitive glance whom it may trust. After a moment, she said: "If you were less kind, less simple and sincere, I would indeed send you away, and not very amiably either, I fear. And yet I should like a few crumbs of comfort. I scarcely understand myself. Monday and yesterday I was so strangely happy that I seemed to have entered on a new life, and to-day I am as wicked and miserable a little sinner as ever breathed. The idea of my being a Christian!--never was farther from it. I've had nothing but mean and hateful thoughts since I awoke."
"And is this not a 'trouble worth naming'? In my judgment it is a most serious one."
"Do you think so?" she said gratefully. "But then I'm provoked that I can be so changeable. Dan just said, 'I wish you could be the same two days together,' and so do I."
"Let us look into this matter," he said, sympathetically, sitting down in a companionable way on the fallen tree beside her. "Let us try to disentangle this web of complex and changing feeling. As the physician treats the disordered body, you know it is my cherished calling to minister to the disquieted mind. The first step is to discover the cause of trouble, if possible, and remove that. Can you not think of some cause of your present feelings?"
Lottie averted her face in dismay, and thought, "What shall I do? I can't tell him the cause."
"Because you see," continued Hemstead, in the most philosophical spirit, "when anything unpleasant and depressing occurs, one of your temperament is apt to take a gloomy, morbid view of everything for a time."
"I think you are right," she said faintly.
"Now, I see no proof," he continued, with reassuring heartiness, "that you are not a Christian because you are unhappy, or even because you have had 'hateful thoughts,' as you call them. You evidently do not welcome these 'hateful thoughts.' The question as to whether you are a Christian is to be settled on entirely different grounds. Have you thrown off allegiance to that most merciful and sympathetic of friends that you led me to see last Sunday as vividly as I now see you?"
Lottie shook her head, but said remorsefully, "But I have scarcely thought of Him to-day."
"Rest assured He has thought of you. I now understand how He has sympathy for the least grief of the least of His children."
"If I am one, I am the very least one of all," she said humbly.
"I like that," he replied with a smile. "Paul said he was the 'chief of sinners,' and he meant it too. That was an excellent symptom."
A glimmer of a smile dawned on Lottie's face.
"And now," he continued hesitatingly, as if approaching a delicate subject, "I think I know the cause of your trouble and depression. Will you permit me to speak of it?"
Again she averted her face in confusion, but said faintly: "As my spiritual physician I suppose you must."
"I think you naturally felt greatly disappointed that Mr. De Forrest acted the part he did last evening."
This speech put Lottie at ease at once, and she turned to him in apparent frankness, but with something of her old insincerity, and said, "I confess that I was."
"You could not be otherwise," he said, in a low tone.
"What would you advise me to do?" she asked demurely.
It was now his turn to be embarrassed, and he found that he had got himself into a dilemma. The color deepened in his face as he hesitated how to answer. She watched him furtively but searchingly. At last he said, with sudden impetuosity, as if he could not restrain himself: "I would either make a man of him or break with him forever. It's horrible that a girl like you should be irrevocably bound to such--pardon me."
Again Lottie averted her face, while a dozen rainbows danced in her moist eyes.
But she managed to say, "Which do you think I had better do?"
He tried to catch her eye, but she would not permit him. After a moment he sprang up and said, with something of her own brusqueness, "You had better follow your own heart."
"That is what Mrs. Dlimm said," she exclaimed, struck by the coincidence. "You and Mrs. Dlimm are alike in many respects, but I fear the world would not regard either of you as the best of counsellors."
"Whenever I have taken counsel of the world, I have got into trouble, Miss Marsden."
"There, that is just what she said again. Are you two in collusion."
"Only as all truth agrees with itself," he answered, laughing.
"Well, perhaps it would be best to follow the advice of two such sincere counsellors, who are richly gifted with the wisdom of the other world, if not of this. Your talk has done me more good than I could have believed. How is it that it always turns out so? I'm inclined to think that your pastoral visits will do more good than your sermons."
"Now have pity on me, in regard to that wretched sermon. But I know of something that will do you more good than either, in your present depression. Will you wait for me ten minutes?"
"Yes; longer than that," she said, with an emphatic little nod.
He at once started for the house with great strides.
"My 'depression' is not very great at the present moment," she chirped, and giving a spring she alighted on the fallen tree with the ease of a bird. "I had 'better follow my own heart,' had I? Was there ever more delightful doctrine than that? But, bless me, whither is it leading? I dare not think, and I won't think."
And so, to keep herself warm while waiting, she balanced up and down on the fallen tree, trilling snatches of song as a robin might twitter on its spray.
Soon she saw her ghostly adviser speeding towards her in another guise. A stout rocking-chair was on his shoulder, and skates were dangling from his hand, and she ran to meet him with anticipating delight. A little later, Dan, who had been oblivious of proceedings thus far, was startled by seeing Lottie rush by him, comfortably ensconced in a rocking-chair and propelled by Hemstead's powerful strokes. This was a great change for the better, in his estimation, and he hailed it vociferously. Hemstead good-naturedly put the boy in his sister's lap, and then sent them whirling about the pond with a rapidity that almost took away their breaths. But he carefully shielded them from accidents.
"It's strange how you can be so strong, and yet so gentle," said Lottie, gratefully looking up at him over her shoulder.
"I haven't the faintest wish to harm you," he replied, smiling.
"That I should ever have wished to harm him!" she thought, with a twinge of remorse.
After a half-hour of grand sport, the setting sun reminded them that it was time to return.
"How do you feel now?" he asked.
"My face must be your answer," she said, turning to him features glowing with exercise and happiness.
"A beautiful answer," he said impulsively. "In color and brightness it is the reflection of the sunset there."
"I admit," she answered shyly, "that its brightness has a western cause. But speaking of color reminds me of something;" and her eyes twinkled most mirthfully as she caught a glimpse of something around his neck. "What have you done with my 'colors,' that I gave you last night? I know you wore them figuratively in your face this morning, when Miss Martell so enchanted you; but where are they, literally? Now a knight is supposed to be very careful of a lady's colors if he accepts them."
"I have been; and Miss Martell has never seen your colors."
"O, those so manifest this morning were hers. I understand now. But where are mine?"
"I cannot tell you. But they are safe."
"You threw them away."
"Why, then, can't you tell me where they are?"
"Because--because--Well--I can't; so you need not ask me."
"If you don't tell me, I'll find out for myself."
"You cannot," he said confidently.
"Mr. Hemstead, what is that queer crimson fringe rising above your collar?"
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