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- Nature's Serial Story - 4/78 -
you were a child? I now foresee that we shall be companions, and very companionable, too, I am sure."
There was a world of grateful good-will in the dark hazel eyes which Amy lifted to the motherly face bending over her.
"And now come," pursued Mrs. Leonard; "mother Clifford, the boys, and the children are all eager to see you. You won't find much ice to break, and before the evening is over you will feel that you belong to us and we to you. Don't be afraid."
"I am not afraid any more. I was, though, on my way here. Everything looked so cold and dismal from the car windows, and the gentleman in whose care I was had little to say, though kind and attentive enough. I was left to my own thoughts, and gave way to a foolish depression; but when your husband picked me up in his strong arms, and reassured me as if I were a little girl, my feeling of desolation began to pass away. Your greeting and dear old Mr. Clifford's have banished it altogether. I felt as if my own father were blessing me in the friend who is now my guardian, and of whom I have heard so often; and, after my long winter journey among strangers, you've no idea what a refuge this warm room has already become. Oh, I know I shall be happy. I only wish that dear papa knew how well he has provided for me."
"He knows, my dear. But come, or that incorrigible Burt will be bursting upon us in his impatience, and the little mother must not be kept waiting, either. You will soon learn to love her dearly. Weak and gentle as she is, she rules us all."
"Mother's room" was, in truth, the favorite haunt of the house, and only her need of quiet kept it from being full much of the time. There was nothing bleak or repelling in the age it sheltered, and children and grandchildren gathered about the old people almost as instinctively as around their genial open fire. This momentous Christmas-eve found them all there, a committee of reception awaiting the new inmate of their home. There was an eager desire to know what Amy was like, but it was a curiosity wholly devoid of the spirit of criticism. The circumstances under which the orphan came to them would banish any such tendency in people less kindly than the Cliffords; but their home-life meant so much to them all that they were naturally solicitous concerning one who must, from the intimate relations she would sustain, take from or add much to it. Therefore it was with a flutter of no ordinary expectancy that they waited for her appearance. The only one indifferent was Leonard's youngest boy, who, astride his grandpa's cane, was trotting quietly about, unrestricted in his gambols. Alfred had thawed out since his return from the station, and was eager to take the measure of a possible playmate; but, with the shyness of a boy who is to meet a "strange girl," he sought a partial cover behind his grandfather's chair. Little "Johnnie" was flitting about impatiently, with her least mutilated doll upon her arm; while her uncle Burtis, seated on a low stool by his mother's sofa, pretended to be exceedingly jealous, and was deprecating the fact that he would now be no longer petted as her baby, since the child of her adoption must assuredly take his place. Webb, who, as usual, was somewhat apart from the family group, kept up a poor pretence of reading; and genial Leonard stood with his back to the fire, his hands clasped behind him, beaming upon all, and waiting to shine on the new-comer. Only Mr. Clifford seemed uninfluenced by the warm, bright present. He gazed fixedly into the flickering blaze, and occasionally took off his spectacles to wipe away the moisture that gathered in his eyes. His thoughts, evidently, were busy with years long past, and were following that old, tried friend who had committed to his hands so sacred a trust.
The door opened, and Mrs. Leonard led Amy forward. The latter hesitated a moment, bewildered by the number of eyes turned toward her, and the new relations into which she was entering. She proved that she was not a child by her quick, blushing consciousness of the presence of two young men, who were as yet utter strangers; and they, in turn, involuntarily gave to the lender, brown-haired girl quite a different welcome from the one they had expected to bestow upon a child. Old Mr. Clifford did not permit her embarrassment to last a moment, but, stepping hastily forward, and encircling her with his arm, he led her to his wife, who brought tears into the eyes of the motherless girl by the gentle warmth of her greeting. She monopolized her ward so long that impatient Burtis began to expostulate, and ask when his turn was coming. The young girl turned a shy, blushing face toward him, and her cheeks, mantling under the full rays of the lamp, rendered the exquisite purity of her complexion all the more apparent. He also began to feel that he was flushing absurdly, but he carried it off with his usual audacity.
"I am much embarrassed and perplexed," he said. "I was led to expect a little sister that I could romp with, and pick up and kiss; but here is a young lady that almost paralyzes me with awe."
"I'd like to see you paralyzed from any such cause just once," Leonard remarked, laughingly. "Go kiss your sister, like a little man."
The young fellow seemed to relish the ceremony exceedingly, and responsive mirthfulness gleamed for a moment in Amy's eyes. Then he dragged Webb forward, saying, "Let me introduce to you the grave and learned member of the family, to whom we all speak with bated breath. You must not expect him to get acquainted with you in any ordinary way. He will investigate you, and never rest until he has discovered all the hidden laws of your being. Now, Webb, I will support you while Amy kisses you, and then you may sit down and analyze your sensations, and perhaps cipher out a method by which a kiss can be rendered tenfold more effective."
Unmoved by his brother's raillery, Webb took the young girl's hand, and looked at her so earnestly with his dark, grave eyes, that hers drooped. "Sister Amy," he said, gently, "I was prepared to welcome you on general principles, but I now welcome you for your own sake. Rattle-brain Burt will make a good playmate, but you will come to me when you are in trouble;" and he kissed her brow.
The girl looked up with a swift, grateful glance; it seemed odd to her, even at that moment of strong and confused impressions, and with the salutes of her guardians still warm upon her cheek, that she felt a sense of rest and security never known before. "He will be my brother in very truth," was the interpretation which her heart gave to his quiet words. They all smiled, for the course of the reticent and undemonstrative young man was rather unexpected. Burtis indulged in a ringing laugh, as he said:
"Father, mother, you must both feel wonderfully relieved. Webb is to look after Amy in her hours of woe, which, of course, will be frequent in this vale of tears. He will console you, Amy, by explaining how tears are formed, and how, by a proper regard for the sequence of cause and effect, there might be more or less of them, according to your desire."
"I think I understand Webb," was her smiling answer.
"Don't imagine it. He is a perfect sphinx. Never before has he opened his mouth so widely, and only an occasion like this could have moved him. You must have unconsciously revealed a hidden law, or else he would have been as mum as an oyster."
Leonard, meanwhile, had seated himself, and was holding little Ned on his knee, his arm at the same time encircling shy, sensitive Johnnie, who was fairly trembling with excited expectancy. Ned, with his thumb in his mouth, regarded his new relative in a nonchalant manner; but to the little girl the home-world was _the_ world, and the arrival in its midst of the beautiful lady never seen before was as wonderful as any fairy tale. Indeed, that such a June-like creature should come to them that wintry day--that she had crossed the terrible ocean from a foreign realm far more remote, in the child's consciousness, than fairy-land--seemed quite as strange as if Cinderella had stepped out of the storybook with the avowed purpose of remaining with them until her lost slipper was found. Leonard, big and strong as he was, felt and interpreted the delicate and thrilling organism of his child, and, as Amy turned toward him, he said, with a smile:
"No matter about me. We're old friends; for I've known you ever since you were a little girl at the station. What if you did grow to be a young woman while riding home! Stranger things than that happen every day in storybooks, don't they, Johnnie? Johnnie, you must know, has the advantage of the rest of us. She likes bread-and-butter, and kindred realities of our matter-of-fact sphere, but she also has a world of her own, which is quite as real. I think she is inclined to believe that you are a fairy princess, and that you may have a wand in your pocket by which you can restore to her doll the missing nose and arm."
Amy scarcely needed Leonard's words in order to understand the child, for the period was not remote when, in her own mind, the sharp outlines of fact had shaded off into the manifold mysteries of wonderland. Therefore, with an appreciation and a gentleness which won anew all hearts, she took the little girl on her lap, and said, smilingly:
"I have a wee wand with which, I'm sure, I can do much for you, and perhaps something for dolly. I can't claim to be a fairy princess, but I shall try to be as good to you as if I were one."
Webb, with his book upside down, looked at the young girl in a way which proved that he shared in Johnnie's wonder and vague anticipation. Alfred, behind his grandfather's chair, was the only one who felt aggrieved and disappointed. Thus far he had been overlooked, but he did not much care, for this great girl could be no companion for him. Amy, however, had woman's best grace--tact--and guessed his trouble. "Alf," she said, calling him by his household name, and turning upon him her large hazel eyes, which contained spells as yet unknown even to herself--"Alf, don't be disappointed. You shall find that I am not too big to play with you."
The boy yielded at once to a grace which he would be years in learning to understand, and which yet affected him subtilely, and with something of the same influence that it had upon Webb, who felt that a new element was entering into his life. Mercurial Burtis, however, found nothing peculiar in his own pleasant sensations. He had a score of young lady friends, and was merely delighted to find in Amy a very attractive young woman, instead of a child or a dull, plain-featured girl, toward whom brotherly attentions might often become a bore. He lived intensely in the present hour, and was more than content that his adopted sister was quite to his taste.
"Well, Amy," said Mr. Clifford, benignantly, "you seem to have stepped in among us as if there had always been a niche waiting for you, and I think that, after you have broken bread with us, and have had a quiet sleep under the old roof, you will feel at home. Come, I'm going to take you out to supper to-night, and, Burt, do you be as gallant to your mother."
The young fellow made them all laugh by imitating his father's old-style courtesy; and a happy circle of faces gathered around the board in the cheerful supper-room, to which a profuse decoration of evergreens gave a delightfully aromatic odor. Mr. Clifford's "grace" was not a formal mumble, but a grateful acknowledgment of the source from which, as he truly believed, had flowed all the good that had blessed their life; and then followed the genial, unrestrained table-talk of a household that, as yet, possessed no closeted skeleton. The orphan sat among them, and her mourning weeds spoke of a great and recent sorrow, which might have been desolation, but already her kindling eyes and flushed cheeks proved that this strong, bright current of family life would have the power to carry her forward to a new, spring-like experience. To her foreign-bred eyes there was an abundance of novelty in this American home, but it was like the strangeness of heaven to the poor girl, who for months had been so
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