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- A Knight Of The Nineteenth Century - 79/79 -
at some quaint fancy of the author, who had gained his attention for a moment.
"Heigh ho!" he said at last," this stealing diversion from a book unbought is scarcely honest, so I will--"
The book dropped from his hands, and he passed his hands across his eyes as if to brush away a film. Then his face lighted up with all the noble and sympathetic feeling that Laura had ever wished or hoped to see, and he sprang impetuously toward her.
"Miss Romeyn," he exclaimed. "Oh, this is better than I hoped."
"Did you hope to find me earning my bread in this humble way?" she faltered, deliciously conscious that he was almost crushing her hand in a grasp that was all too friendly.
"I was hoping to find _you_--and Mrs. Arnot," he added with a sudden deepening of color. "I thought a long day must elapse before I could learn of your residence."
"Do you know all?" she asked, very gravely.
"Yes, Miss Romeyn," he replied with moistening eyes, "I know all. Perhaps my past experience enables me to sympathize with you more than others can. But be that as it may, I do give you the whole sympathy of my heart; and for this brave effort to win your own bread I respect and honor you more, if possible, than I did when you were in your beautiful home at Hillaton."
Laura's tears were now falling fast, but she was smiling nevertheless, and she said, hesitatingly:
"I do not consider myself such a deplorable object of sympathy; I have good health, a kind employer, enough to live upon, and a tolerably clear conscience. Of course I do feel deeply for auntie and uncle, and yet I think auntie is happier than she has been for many years. If all had remained as it was at Hillaton, the ice around uncle's heart would have grown harder and thicker to the end; now it is melting away, and auntie's thoughts reach so far beyond time and earth, that she is forgetting the painful present in thoughts of the future."
"I have often asked myself," exclaimed Haldane, "could God have made a nobler woman? Ah! Miss Laura, you do not know how much I owe to her."
"You have taught us that God can make noble men also."
"I have merely done my duty," he said, with a careless gesture. "When can I see Mrs. Arnot?"
"I can't go home till noon, but I think I can direct you to the house."
"Can I not stay and help you sell books? Then I can go home with you."
"A major-general behind the counter selling books would make a sensation in town, truly."
"If the people were of my way of thinking, Miss Laura Romeyn selling books would make a far greater sensation."
"Very few are of your way of thinking, Mr. Haldane."
"I am heartily glad of it," he ejaculated.
"Pardon me, Miss Romeyn" he said with a deep flush, "you do not understand what I mean." Then he burst out impetuously, "Miss Laura, I cannot school myself into patience. I have been in despair so many years that since I now dare to imagine that there is a bare chance for me, I cannot wait decorously for some fitting occasion. But if you can give me even the faintest hope I will be patience and devotion itself."
"Hope of what?" said Laura faintly, turning away her face.
"Oh, Miss Laura, I ask too much," he answered sadly.
"You have not asked anything very definitely, Mr. Haldane," she faltered.
"I ask for the privilege of trying to win you as my wife."
"Ah, Egbert," she cried, joyously, "you have stood the test; for if you had shrunk, even in your thoughts, from poor, penniless Laura Romeyn, with her uncle in yonder prison, you might have tried in vain to win me."
"God knows I did not shrink," he said eagerly, and reaching out his hand across the counter.
"I know it too," she said shyly.
"Laura, all that I am, or ever can be, goes with that hand."
She put her hand in his, and looking into his face with an expression which he had never seen before, she said:
"Egbert, I have loved you ever since you went, as a true knight, to the aid of cousin Amy."
And thus they plighted their faith to each other across the counter, and then he came around on her side.
We shall not attempt to portray the meeting between Mrs. Arnot and one whom she had learned to look upon as a son, and who loved her with an affection that had its basis in the deepest gratitude.
Our story is substantially ended. It only remains to be said that Haldane, by every means in his power, showed gentle and forbearing consideration for his mother's feelings, and thus she was eventually led to be reconciled to his choice, if not to approve of it.
"After all, it is just like Egbert," she said to her daughters, "and we will have to make the best of it."
Haldane's leave of absence passed all too quickly, and in parting he said to Laura:
"You think I have faced some rather difficult duties before, but there was never one that could compare with leaving you for the uncertainties of a soldier's life."
But he went nevertheless, and remained till the end of the war.
Not long after going to the front he was taken prisoner in a disastrous battle, but he found means of informing his old friend Dr. Orton of the fact. Although the doctor was a rebel to the backbone, he swore he would "break up the Confederacy" if Haldane was not released, and through his influence the young man was soon brought to his friend's hospitable home, where he found Amy installed as housekeeper. She was now Mrs. Orton, for her lover returned as soon as it was safe for him to do so after the end of the epidemic. He was now away in the army, and thus Haldane did not meet him at that time; but later in the conflict Colonel Orton in turn became a prisoner of war, and Haldane was able to return the kindness which he received on this occasion. Mrs. Poland resided with Amy, and they both were most happy to learn that they would eventually have a relative as well as friend in their captive, for never was a prisoner of war made more of than Haldane up to the time of his exchange.
Years have passed. The agony of the war has long been over. Not only peace but prosperity is once more prevailing throughout the land.
Mr. and Mrs. Arnot reside in their old home, but Mrs. Egbert Haldane is its mistress. Much effort was made to induce Mr. Growther to take up his abode there also, but he would not leave the quaint old kitchen, where he said "the little peaked-faced chap was sittin' beside him all the time."
At last he failed and was about to die. Looking up into Mrs. Arnot's face, he said:
"I don't think a bit better of myself. I'm twisted all out o' shape. But the little chap has taught me how the Good Father will receive me."
The wealthiest people of Hillaton are glad to obtain the services of Dr. Haldane, and to pay for them; they are glad to welcome him to their homes when his busy life permits him to come; but the proudest citizen must wait when Christ, in the person of the poorest and lowliest, sends word to this knightly man, "I am sick or in prison"; "I am naked or hungry."
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