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- Sara, a Princess - 28/43 -
ailing. Each morning it became harder to leave that supplicating little face, and she would turn back to reiterate cautions to Molly, who, being out of school now, saved the extra expense of the little nurse-girl. Even after she had actually torn herself away from the fretful baby voice begging pitifully,--
"No go, Wawa; 'tay baby!" she would stop below at Mrs. Hoffstott's door to beg, almost with tears, that she would look after things a little, and not let flighty Molly neglect the child; which the good woman was always ready to do. Those were anxious days, which even the madame's and Mrs. Macon's kindness could not wholly relieve.
And they were very kind. The latter often took the two children to drive, while the former brought baby dainties and toys to brighten his languid eyes.
A doctor was finally called, who said his ill feelings were entirely owing to his teeth, and left some mild powders for him to take. But there came a night when he was so feverish and flighty that Sara dared not leave him in the morning, so sent a note by Morton to the professor, stating the reason for her absence. The latter read it carefully, said a sympathizing word or two to the boy, who plainly showed his concern, then added kindly,--
"Tell her not to worry at all about the work till the little one is quite well enough to be left; there is nothing pressing just now; and supposing you stop at the house as you go by, and let Mrs. Macon read this note. She is fond of the child."
"Yes, sir," said Morton, and was about to start on his return, when the gentleman arrested him.
"Stay," he said, "what are you doing since school closed? Are you working at anything?"
"Not much, sir; I'm helping Mr. Hoffstott in the bakery, carrying home orders on his busy days: it doesn't take all my time though."
"I suppose you are used to the management of boats; you can row or sail one?"
"Oh, yes, sir!" his eyes lighting.
"Very well, I may have a proposition to make you soon, that's all. Be sure and stop at Mrs. Macon's."
Morton obeyed, but only to find her gone into the neighboring city on a shopping excursion, so hurried on to deliver his kindly message from the professor, wondering all the way what that wise gentleman could have meant by his remark about the boat.
But when he reached home all these thoughts fled; for he found Molly just descending the stairs, crying bitterly; and when he asked what was the matter she only gave her hands a desperate wring and sobbed,--
"Oh, the baby! the baby! Where does that doctor live, anyhow?"
Hurrying in he found Sara, her eyes wild with trouble, and Mrs. Hoffstott, fairly purple with consternation, both trying frantically to bring the child out of a spasm.
"Oh, run, run for the doctor, Morton!" cried his sister. "Baby's getting worse, I'm sure; and Molly doesn't know the way."
Morton did run, but alas! it was of no avail. The poor little fellow had one moment of consciousness, in which he feebly tried to pat Sara's colorless cheek and murmur, "Wawa deah!" then the beautiful eyes rolled back, set and glassy, the limp, dimpled hand dropped on his breast, and the sweet baby life was over.
Sara gave a heart-rending cry, which reached Morton and the doctor, now hurrying up the stairs; and when they entered she was calling piteously upon the little one with every loving term her tongue was used to.
The doctor drew her gently away.
"He is gone," he said with solemn emphasis; "his sufferings are over! Madam," to Mrs. Hoffstott, "pray take her away for a time; her nerves are all unstrung."
That good woman led the half-fainting girl below, and at once despatched Grisel for Madame Grandet and the minister of the church the Olmsteads attended, who were shortly there, doing their best for the grief- stricken little household; while in the evening both Professor and Mrs. Macon came, the latter much grieved that she had been away when Morton called.
All was done that could be done; and Sara, even in her grief, which was for the time almost overwhelming, so deeply had this one of her cares and responsibilities taken a hold upon her nature, was surprised at the number of friends who seemed to have sprung up around them. She did not know that the story of her love and her struggles had passed from mouth to mouth, and that for the moment she was a heroine in their estimation. Nor did she know, till days later, that the lovely little blanket of white roses which wrapped the tiny white casket in its soft fragrance, was the gift of some of those very students who had brought the blushes to her cheek by their too pronounced admiration.
It softened her grief to find so much genuine friendliness and good-will in the hearts of even the strangers about her; and when she wailed for baby through the lonely nights, so sadly missing the clasp of his warm, soft arms about her neck, there was no bitterness mingled with her sorrow.
"He has gone to his mother," she wrote Miss Prue. "I sometimes think she must have longed for him even in heaven; and I hope she knows that, if I ever neglected him, it was only because I felt compelled."
To which the good spinster answered,--"You have never neglected him, Sara; to that I am ready to bear witness. If God has seemed to bereave you, it is because he sees it is best; meanwhile, take comfort in this: you have been tenderer than many mothers, and more patient than many sisters, to this dear little brother who loved you so well, so do not let self-reproach add to your sorrow."
The words were a comfort, as they were meant to be; for, with the girl's supreme conscientiousness, she had been torturing herself for fear she had not done all that was possible for her dear one; and, as Miss Prue's word had always been law with her, so now she let it heal this unnecessary smart.
MORTON HAS A PICNIC.
The professor was almost fatherly kind to her when she took her place again at the familiar desk; and, seeing how fragile and weary she looked, gave her but short, light tasks through those long, hot summer days.
Nothing was said about renewing the so soon interrupted lessons for several days, then Sara herself remarked half timidly,--
"I have begun my studies again, sir, it is so lonely, and there is so little to do at home," her voice faltering.
He gave her a pleased look.
"That is right; the best thing for you! Work, my child, is not a curse, but a blessing to sorrowful man. Study,--write too. I happen to know they are ready to accept another article from you in _Science Made Popular;_ I am acquainted with its editor. Why don't you give him some more of your rambles?"
Her sad eyes brightened. After all, there was something within her which no grief, no bereavement, could entirely affect. "I will," she said; "I will pick myself up and begin over again."
"That's right. And try some walks here, Miss Olmstead; you'll find much of interest out on the old road leading west, for instance. You need more fresh air and exercise, I'm thinking."
Sara took his advice, with much benefit to her health, as well as gain to her information and purse; for she found that "knowledge is wealth" in more ways than one.
Morton had been such a good, helpful boy ever since their arrival in Dartmoor, that Sara was almost as glad as he when the professor's thought about the boat was finally unfolded, and proved to be a proposition that the lad should accompany him on a geological expedition down a certain river not far away.
He wanted Morton to help in managing the boat, as well as in foraging for extra game and provisions along the route, and watching the stores, while he studied, sought, and speculated over his stony treasures; for all of which the boy should receive a certain consideration in money, not to mention the fun.
"Just think, Sara, to be paid, actually _paid_, for having the biggest kind of a picnic," he cried rapturously. "Now, who cares for the Mary Jane?"
For the next two days all was hurry and confusion, as he and Molly ran errands, packed and planned, with Sara to advise and help; and the third saw the grand start.
As the river was at some distance, the first stage of the journey must be made by land (a great drawback in Morton's opinion, but still to be borne with patience because of what was to follow), so the boat was mounted on a cart, and packed full of the camping apparatus, amid which the professor and the boy sat in state, while a grinning Hibernian drove the mild animal in front.
The professor, with his glasses, his white helmet and tennis-shirt, and a butterfly-net hung over his shoulder, was quite Oriental and picturesque; while Morton, with a broad straw hat on his cleanly shaven head, and a blue blouse belted with leather, enjoyed the thought that he looked like a cowboy, and perhaps he did: I've seen cowboys who did not look half so well.
At any rate, he felt as free and joyous as one, and rode away with a ringing cheer, echoed shrilly by Molly, who was wild to go herself, and could only be appeased by the promise of a real picnic with the Hoffstotts in the near future.
"Oh, dear!" she said, on the verge of tears, as the long boat-cart swung
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