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- Sara, a Princess - 20/43 -
The madame, being of Huguenot ancestry, and as sturdy a Protestant as ever lived, could have suffered martyrdom, like her grandfather of blessed memory, for the faith that was in her; but to see her boy suffer perhaps a ruined life because of one mistake in early manhood, terrified her, and she was now often sorry she had let her artistic admiration for that unusually fine head in the cottage doorway lead her to such lengths the summer before.
Sara as a pet and _protegee_ was one thing; Sara as her nephew's wife quite, quite another!
But in her varied life she had learned the two wisest lessons God ever sets his children,--those of waiting and trusting. So, after a half- hour's silent meditation now, she resumed her work with a more cheerful look and manner.
"What is done is done," she said in her own tongue. "The only thing left is to make the best of it;" and when Robert returned, after completing the preparations for his journey, he would never have dreamed that she had a care upon her mind, or the least foreboding in her heart, to see her bright face, and hear her sunny laughter.
As for Sara, the interview with Robert Glendenning roused her to a new interest in her changed life, and to new hopes and plans, which are always delightful to youth; and these kept her from sinking back into that settled sadness which had been almost unnatural in one of her years. First, she wrote the promised letter to Madame Grandet, which was no light task for one so little accustomed to the use of the pen.
It began stiffly enough, but after the first few sentences the interest of her subject so occupied her, that she forgot to choose her words, and, when afterwards she read it over, she felt almost frightened at its ease and abandon.
"I'm afraid she will think it too--too--not respectful enough," she said, eying the closely written sheets dubiously; "but if I write it over I shall have to send Morton to Zeba's for more paper," and, pressed as usual by economy, she let it go without change, thereby greatly astonishing and delighting the madame. "For," thought she, "a girl who can write like that is of no common clay, and is bound to find her level. If it is to be as the wife of my Robare that she reaches it, have I any right to keep her back?"
After Sara had written the letter, her loyal heart reproached her so that she could not rest until she had also invited a talk with Miss Prue; so one fine day when there was just a hint of spring softness in the air, as delicate as the flavor in a perfect dish, she wrapped baby in his cloak, and drew him on Morton's sled to the cosey bay-windowed cottage. Miss Plunkett seemed delighted to see them, so was the parrot, who insisted on so much notice at first, that conversation progressed only by hitches; but, becoming sleepy after a time (for Miss Polly was an ancient maiden, and extremely fond of her "forty winks"), she relapsed into a grunting quiet, and, as baby was also still and happy over some blocks always kept ready for his use, the two soon became deeply engaged.
When, however, Sara had gotten as far as the removal to Boston, the elder woman threw up her hands in dismay.
"Goodness! child, of what are you thinking? Are you left so well off that you can afford even to think of this thing? Why, my dear, even I, with my means, which most Killamet people think large, would feel as if abandoned to the wolves, there! I couldn't begin to live on my income."
Sara's eyes opened wide.
"But, dear Miss Prue, I haven't so much altogether as you have in a year."
"Then, are you crazy, child? You'll feel as if cast on a desert island in that crowd of strangers, with no one to care whether you live or die; and you couldn't live six months on so little."
"But Mr. Glendenning said I could get two or three rooms for somewhere from eighteen to thirty dollars, and I hoped, with the rent of the cottage here"--
"A month, Sara, a month; surely you didn't expect to pay so little for a year!"
"Why, yes, I did; I'm afraid I'm dreadfully ignorant, Miss Prue."
"As bad as a chicken just out of the shell," shaking her head with comical lugubriousness. "Go to Boston, indeed! you'd starve to death on a doorstep, all four of you, I can see you now, laid out like a row of assorted pins, for all the world. Humph! Boston, indeed!" with bridling earnestness. "Besides, what business has that Glendwing, or whatever his high-falutin name may be, to mix himself up with our affairs? I declare, Sara, I've a great mind to move the whole lot of you down here, and take care of you myself. I would, too, if it wasn't for Polly; but she'd quarrel with the children all day long, and make life a burden."
Sara laughed, but looked disappointed too.
"I see it's not to be thought of now, Miss Prue; but I hoped I could work there, and indeed I don't know what there is to do here."
"Well, there's that, of course, and I'll have to own that Cousin Nancy Prime, who lives in Hartford, always says, when I talk so, that there's no place where the poor are so well looked after as in a large city; but it seems to me just like a howling wilderness, and, besides, who wants to be looked after? I don't, nor you either; we want to have our own means, and be independent of charity."
"Yes; but it won't take so very long to finish my little capital, then what will I do if there is no work to be got? and you know there isn't any here."
"Advertise for summer boarders," said Miss Prue brilliantly. "I don't know why people shouldn't come to Killamet, as well as to fifty other places along this coast. It's only because when they get here there's no place to put them in, or, possibly, they haven't discovered our great merits yet. Our beach, and the scenery about it, are finer than those of half the places they throng, and what if they do have to come either by stage or boat the last few miles! It gives all who don't consider time, and are only off for an outing, so much the more variety. If you advertise as I've seen people do before now, you could make it seem a perfect paradise, and not be half so far out of the way, either."
"I never thought of that. _I_ take boarders? How queer!"
"Well, everything's queer, that is about you; my life has been humdrum enough, we all know; but you seem marked out for exceptional fates--and fortunes perhaps."
A funny light glinted in the girl's eyes.
"I'm afraid the summer boarders would think _they_ had been marked out for hard fortune, after eating my meals. What do I know about fancy cooking?"
"Nothing; and you don't want to. Most of them have got their stomachs so upset by their high-spiced Frenchy dishes that they've got to have a change of diet. You can cook fish to perfection, for I've tried you, and make good bread, and you are naturally neat and dainty, which goes for much. Take my cookbook home, and study up a few simple, nice recipes this winter, so's to be ready. Don't try for too much, but do excellently well all you undertake; and try it. You know I'll help you all I can; I believe you'll succeed!"
"But what rooms have I?"
"I knew you'd say that, and I am prepared with an answer. There is, to begin with, the spare room off your living-room."
"Oh, that?" broke in Sara, as if Miss Prue had touched on something sacred.
"Yes, just that: we all have too much veneration for our spare rooms. Now, answer me truly, of what earthly use is it to you?"
"Why, none; but mother's best things"--
"Will lie there, given over to spiders, dampness, and moths, till they fall to pieces. Use them; that's what they were made for, and, so far, they haven't fulfilled their purpose in life much better than some of the rest of us," smiling at her own conceit. "Get them out, air them, and use them; then, if needs be, and you could get boarders enough to warrant it, you could have the roof raised, and make that loft into two nice rooms; but that is far ahead yet. Take two people first, for your spare room, then get Mrs. Updyke and Mrs. Filcher to lodge a few more, and you board them. Isn't that a scheme?" with a triumphant laugh.
"If I can do it; but I'm afraid, almost."
"So am I!" with a funny look. These sudden changes of base were a characteristic of Miss Prue's; perhaps she believed, with Emerson, that "unchanging consistency is the mark of a stagnant soul." "But what else is there for you here, safe at home?"
"Nothing," discouragedly. "If there was only a canning factory, I could work in that."
"Well, there isn't, so there's no use wishing. After all, I believe my plan is practicable. Of course you are young in years, but you've had any amount of experience; then you would only take women and children, and they'd be easy with you." (O confiding Miss Prue!) "I believe I'd try it, really."
If "in a multitude of counsellors there is safety," there is often also confusion, as poor Job had occasion to experience; and Sara felt that the more she talked about her future, the less she knew what disposition to make of it. Finally she abandoned the subject with something like despair, and asked a question in regard to the neighborhood, which made Miss Prue say quickly, "Oh! that reminds me, Sara, I want you to be sure to go to Betty's quilting-bee; you will, won't you?"
"O Miss Prue! must I? You know I never liked those bees, and now"--
"Yes, I understand all that, still I want you to go. I have reasons. You are a King's daughter; make it one of your acts of self-denial."
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