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- Nature's Serial Story - 3/78 -
that she had inherited not a little of the "Martha" spirit, and "was careful about many things;" but her slight tendency to worry saved others a world of worriment, for she was the household providence, and her numberless little anxieties led to so much prevention of evil that there was not much left to cure. Such was her untiring attention that her thoughtless, growing children seemed cared for by the silent forces of nature. Their clothes came to them like the leaves on the trees, and her deft fingers added little ornaments that cost the wearers no more thought than did the blossoms of spring to the unconscious plants of the garden. She was as essential to her husband as the oxygen in the air, and he knew it, although demonstrating his knowledge rather quietly, perhaps. But she understood him, and enjoyed a little secret exultation over the strong man's almost ludicrous helplessness and desolation when her occasional absences suspended for a brief time their conjugal partnership. She surrounded the old people with a perpetual Indian-summer haze of kindliness, which banished all hard, bleak outlines from their late autumnal life. In brief, she was what God and nature designed woman to be--the gracious, pervading spirit, that filled the roomy house with comfort and rest. Sitting near were her eldest son and pride, a lad about thirteen years of age, and a girl who, when a baby, had looked so like a boy that her father had called her "Johnnie," a sobriquet which still clung to her. Close to the mother's side was a little embodiment of vitality, mischief, and frolic, in the form of a four-year-old boy, the dear torment of the whole house.
There remain but two others to be mentioned, and the Clifford family will be complete, as constituted at present. The first was the youngest son of the aged man at the head of the table. He had inherited his father's features, but there was a dash of recklessness blended with the manifest frankness of his expression, and in his blue eyes there was little trace of shrewd calculation or forethought. Even during the quiet midday meal they flashed with an irrepressible mirthfulness, and not one at the table escaped his aggressive nonsense. His brother, two or three years his senior, was of a very different type, and seemed somewhat overshadowed by the other's brilliancy. He had his mother's dark eyes, but they were deep and grave, and he appeared reserved and silent, even in the home circle. His bronzed features were almost rugged in their strength, but a heavy mustache gave a touch of something like manly beauty to his rather sombre face. You felt instinctively that he was one who would take life seriously--perhaps a little too seriously--and that, whether it brought him joy or sorrow, he would admit the world but charily to his confidence.
Burtis, the youngest brother, had gone through college after a sort of neck-or-nothing fashion, and had been destined for one of the learned professions; but, while his natural ability had enabled him to run the gantlet of examinations, he had evinced such an unconquerable dislike for restraint and plodding study that he had been welcomed back to the paternal acres, which were broad enough for them all. Mr. Clifford, by various means, had acquired considerable property in his day, and was not at all disappointed that his sons should prefer the primal calling to any other, since it was within his power to establish them well when they were ready for a separate domestic life. It must be admitted, however, that thus far the rural tastes of Burtis were chiefly for free out-of-door life, with its accessories of rod, gun, and horses. But Leonard, the eldest, and Webb, the second in years, were true children of the soil, in the better sense of the term. Their country home had been so replete with interest from earliest memory that they had taken root there like the trees which their father had planted. Leonard was a practical farmer, content, in a measure, to follow the traditions of the elders. Webb, on the other hand, was disposed to look past the outward aspects of Nature to her hidden moods and motives, and to take all possible advantage of his discoveries. The farm was to him a laboratory, and, with something of the spirit of the old alchemists, he read, studied, and brooded over the problem of producing the largest results at the least cost. He was by no means deficient in imagination, or even in appreciation of the beautiful side of nature, when his thoughts were directed to this phase of the outer world; but his imagination had become materialistic, and led only to an eager quest after the obscure laws of cause and effect, which might enable him to accomplish what to his plodding neighbors would seem almost miraculous. He understood that the forces with which he was dealing were wellnigh infinite; and it was his delight to study them, to combine them, and make them his servants. It was his theory that the energy in nature was like a vast motive power, over which man could throw the belt of his skill and knowledge, and so produce results commensurate with the force of which he availed himself. There was, therefore, an unfailing zest in his work, and the majority of his labors had the character of experiments, which, nevertheless, were so guided by experience that they were rarely futile or unremunerative. On themes that accorded with his tastes and pursuits he would often talk earnestly and well, but his silence and preoccupation at other times proved that it is not best to be dominated by one idea, even though it be a large one.
The reader may now consider himself introduced to the household with whom he is invited to sojourn. In time he will grow better acquainted with the different members of the family, as they in their several ways develop their own individuality. A remark from old Mr. Clifford indicates that another guest is expected, who, unlike ourselves, will be present in reality, not fancy, and who is destined to become a permanent inmate of the home.
"This is a bitter day," he said, "for little Amy to come to us; and yet, unless something unforeseen prevents, she will be at the station this evening."
"Don't worry about the child," Burtis responded, promptly; "I'll meet her, and am glad of an excuse to go out this horrid day. I'll wrap her up in furs like an Esquimau."
"Yes, and upset her in the drifts with your reckless driving," said good-natured Leonard. "Thunder is wild enough at any time; but of late, between the cold, high feeding, and idleness, he'll have to be broken over again; lucky if he don't break your neck in the operation. The little girl will feel strange enough, anyway, coming among people that she has never seen, and I don't intend that she shall be frightened out of her wits into the bargain by your harum-scarum ways. You'd give her the impression that we were only half-civilized. So I'll drive over for her in the family sleigh, and take Alf with me. He will be nearer her own age, and help to break the ice. If you want a lark, go out by yourself, and drive where you please, after your own break-neck style."
"Leonard is right," resumed Mr. Clifford, emphatically. "The ward committed to me by my dear old friend should be brought to her home with every mark of respect and affection by the one who has the best right to represent me. I'd go myself, were not the cold so severe; but then Leonard's ways are almost as fatherly as my own; and when his good wife there gets hold of the child she'll soon be fused into the family, in spite of the zero weather. She'll find all the cold without the door."
"I yield," said Burtis, with a careless laugh. "Len shall bring home the little chick, and put her under his wife's wing. I should probably misrepresent the family, and make a bad first impression; and as for Webb, you might as well send the undertaker for her."
"I don't think she will feel strange among us very long," said Leonard's wife. "She shall hang up her stocking to-night, like the other children, and I have some nice little knick-knacks with which to fill it. These, and the gifts which the rest of you have provided, will delight her, as they do all little people, and make her feel at once that she is part of the family."
"Maggie expresses my purpose fully," concluded Mr. Clifford. "As far as it is within our power, we should make her one of the family. In view of my friend's letters, this is the position that I desire her to sustain, and it will be the simplest and most natural relation for us all. Your mother and I will receive her as a daughter, and it is my wish that my sons should treat her as a sister from the first."
Amy Winfield, the subject of the above remarks, was the only daughter of a gentleman who had once been Mr. Clifford's most intimate friend, and also his partner in many business transactions. Mr. Winfield had long resided abroad, and there had lost the wife whom he had married rather late in life. When feeling his own end drawing near, his thoughts turned wistfully to the friend of his early manhood, and, as he recalled Mr. Clifford's rural home, he felt that he could desire no better refuge for his child. He had always written of her as his "little girl," and such she was in his fond eyes, although in fact she had seen eighteen summers. Her slight figure and girlish ways had never dispelled the illusion that she was still a child, and as such he had commended her to his friend, who had responded to the appeal as to a sacred claim, and had already decided to give her a daughter's place in his warm heart. Mr. Winfield could not have chosen a better guardian for the orphan and her property, and a knowledge of this truth had soothed the last hours of the dying man.
It struck Leonard that the muffled figure he picked up at the station and carried through the dusk and snow to the sleigh was rather tall and heavy for the child he was expecting; but he wrapped her warmly, almost beyond the possibility of speaking, or even breathing, and spoke the hearty and encouraging words which are naturally addressed to a little girl. After seeing that her trunks were safely bestowed in a large box-sledge, under the charge of black Abram, one of the farm-hands, he drove rapidly homeward, admonishing Alfred, on the way, "to be sociable." The boy, however, had burrowed so deep under the robes as to be invisible and oblivious. When Leonard was about to lift her out of the sleigh, as he had placed her in it, the young girl protested, and said:
"I fear I shall disappoint you all by being larger and older than you expect."
A moment later he was surprised to find that the "child" was as tall as his wife, who, with abounding motherly kindness, had received the girl into open arms. Scarcely less demonstrative and affectionate was the greeting of old Mr. Clifford, and the orphan felt, almost from the first, that she had found a second father.
"Why, Maggie," whispered Leonard, "the child is as tall as you are!"
"There's only the more to welcome, then," was the genial answer, and, turning to the young girl, she continued, "Come with me, my dear; I'm not going to have you frightened and bewildered with all your new relations before you can take breath. You shall unwrap in your own room, and feel from the start that you have a nook where no one can molest you or make you afraid, to which you can always retreat;" and she led the way to a snug apartment, where an air-tight stove created summer warmth. There was a caressing touch in Mrs. Leonard's assistance which the young girl felt in her very soul, for tears came into her eyes as with a deep sigh of relief she sat down on a low chair.
"I feared I should be a stranger among strangers," she murmured; "but I already feel as if I were at home."
"You are, Amy," was the prompt reply, spoken with that quiet emphasis which banishes all trace of doubt. "You are at home as truly as I am. There is nothing halfway in this house. Do you know we all thought that
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