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- Sara, a Princess - 4/43 -
"Then you have so much the more in store for you; for I'm sure you will see one some day, if it is only the Delectable Mountains above. Meanwhile, climb on, and keep looking up."
"I'll try," said Sara humbly, and took her departure, comforted and inspired, as always, by this cheery old maid, whose lover had lain over twenty years beneath the waves, never forgotten, never replaced, in the strong, true heart of his unmarried widow.
When Sara reached home she found need for her patience at once, for the baby was crying, and her mother looked cross and fretful.
"Wall," she said in her shrillest tone, as the door closed behind the girl, "you've come at last, hev you? An' another book, I'll be bound! Pity you couldn't turn into one, yourself; you'd be about as much use as now, I guess!"
"Then we'd both be 'bound,' mother, wouldn't we?" trying to speak lightly. "Give baby to me, won't you, you're tired."
She held out her arms to the screaming child, who went to her at once, growing more quiet the moment he felt her tender clasp.
"There! Now I hope I kin git a minute to myself. Where you been, anyhow, Sairay?"
"At Miss Prue's--she called me in. Mother, there's been a pin pricking him! See here, poor little fellow!" and Sara held up the bent bit of torture, then threw it into the fire, while the relieved baby smiled up at her through his tears and cooed lovingly.
"It beats all how he likes you, Sairay!" said the mother in an apologetic tone. "I never thought of a pin, an' it allus makes me ready to fly when he yells so. What did Miss Prue hev to say?" "Oh, not much; her parrot kept interrupting," laughing a little. "I always talk with her about her books or curiosities, nearly; how pretty it is there!"
"Miss Plunkett comes o' good stock. Her folks hev been sea-captings ever sence they was pirates, I guess. And she's rich too; she must hev as much as two thousand in the savings bank down to Norcross, 'sides her nice home."
"She's good!" said Sara with emphasis, as if nothing else counted for much.
"Wall, nobody's goin' to say she ain't in Killamet, Sairay, leastways, not many. In course she's ruther top-headed an' lofty, but it's in the blood. Ole Cap'n Plunkett was the same, and my! his wife,--Mis' Pettibone thet was,--she was thet high an' mighty ye couldn't come anigh her with a ten-foot pole! So it's nateral fur Miss Prue. Now, Sairay, I'm goin' over to my cousin Lizy's a while, an' if baby--why, he's gone to sleep, ain't he?"
Sara nodded smilingly, and her mollified mother said, more gently,--
"Wall, my dear, lay him in the cradle, an' then you kin hev a good time a-readin' while I'm gone. I s'pose you kain't help takin' to books arter all, seein' as your ma was a school-ma'am."
"Thank you," said Sara, more for the kindness of the tone than the words, and the little domestic squall that time passed over quite harmlessly.
But these were of daily, almost hourly occurrence. Sara's larger, broader nature tried to ignore the petty pin-pricks of her stepmother's narrower, more fretful one; but at times her whole soul rose up in rebellion, and she flashed out some fiercely sarcastic or denunciatory answer that reduced the latter to tears and moans, which in time forced from the girl concessions and apologies.
To do the little woman justice, she was often sorely tried by Sara's grand, self-contained airs,--unconscious as they were,--and by her obliviousness to many of the trivialities and practicalities of life. Mrs. Olmstead loved gossip, and Sara loathed it. The woman delighted in going to tea-drinkings, and afterward relating in detail every dish served (with its recipe), and every dress worn upon the momentous occasion; the girl could not remember a thing she had eaten an hour later, nor a single detail of any costume.
"But, Sairay," her mother would urge, after the former's visits to Miss Prue or Mrs. Norris, places to which she was seldom asked herself, except with great formality once a year perhaps; for the early and life- long friendship these families had extended to Sara's own mother was not so freely bestowed upon her successor. "But, Sairay, think! You say Mis' Jedge Peters from Weskisset was there; _kain't_ you tell what she wore? Was it black silk, or green cashmere? and was the sleeves coat, or mutton-leg? and do think if she had on a cap, kain't you?"
"I know she looked very nice," Sara would reply helplessly; "but, really, I can't think, mother. You see, she was telling about the work in the hospitals,--the Flower Mission, they call it,--and I was so interested I couldn't take my eyes off her face."
"Wall, then, the supper, Sairay. You must know what you was eatin', child! Did Mis' Norris use her rale chany that the cap'n brung over, or only the gold-banded? And did she hev on them queer furrin' presarves, with ginger an' spices in 'em, or only home-made?"
"Well, let me see. I think they had spices, that is, I'm not quite sure, for Captain Klister was there, and he got to 'reeling off a yarn,' as he said, about the mutiny at Benares in '57, when he was buying silks and shawls there, and I didn't notice just what was served, I was listening so intently."
At which the poor woman, greedy for news, would flare up and abuse her stepdaughter roundly, bringing up, each time, every former delinquency, till Sara either turned under the weight of them and felled her with a sarcasm, or, more wisely, fled to her attic and her books for solace.
Thus some weeks slipped by, bringing milder and more settled weather; but, as if winter and spring had roused all their forces to repulse the irresistible oncoming of the summer, along towards the beginning of May there was a cold storm of wind and sleet, lasting three days, which blasted the too confiding and premature fruit-buds, and ruthlessly cut off the heads of all the peeping, early wild-flowers.
Sara, surrounded by the children, stood looking from the window one afternoon, soon after this storm broke.
"How glad I am she didn't take baby!" she said, pressing the little fellow's cheek against her own. "I felt those last two sultry days were weather-breeders. Do you remember whether she took her heavy shawl, Molly?"
"No, I don't b'lieve she did; wait, I'll see."
The little girl, always alert as a bird, ran and peeped into the wardrobe, then called out,--
"No, here it is! I thought she didn't have it. She took her other, 'cause it's newer. She'll be awful cold to pay for it, won't she, Sara?"
"I'm afraid she'll take cold," said the older girl, with a worried look. "Put another stick on the fire, Morton, and shut the shed door tight when you come through. How the wind does blow!"
Mrs. Olmstead had gone early that afternoon, with a neighbor, to attend the funeral of a friend in the next village, and must return through this storm in an open wagon, very insufficiently clad.
It was dark before the party arrived; and as she came in shaking her wet clothes, and trying to make light of her shiverings, Sara looked at her in alarm.
"You've taken cold, mother," she said, handing the eager, crowing baby to Morton, and hurrying to divest the little woman of her wet wrappings.
"No, I guess not," she answered hoarsely, her teeth chattering so that she could scarcely speak; "but I'm ch--chilly now."
She huddled over the fire, while Sara and Molly brought warm, dry clothing, and chafed her bloodless hands. Their solicitude touched her.
"You was allus good to me, girls!" she said gratefully. "I feel lots better now. This fire's rale comfortin'!" bending almost into it in her desire for warmth.
But the vociferous baby would no longer be silenced; and she took him from Morton's arms to her own, hugging him close, and growing warmer at once from the contact of his dear little body.
"It's good to be home agin," she murmured sleepily. "I hope your pa's safe at anchor to-night: it's terrible bad weather, Sairay."
"Where did the rain overtake you, mother?" asked the latter, as she hurried about preparing a cup of hot tea and a plateful of food.
"Jest this side the cross-roads; and, my! how it did drive! We got it e'enamost in our full faces, an' it cut like a knife; but 'twas jest as fur back as 'twas forwards, an' Mis' Ruttger was as anxious to git home to her young uns as I was. Yah-h! but I'm sleepy!" with a long yawn.
"You'd better get right to bed, mother, as soon as you've eaten this; and I'll undress baby and bring him to you. You're warmer now?"
"Rale comf'able, thank ye. I do hope they ain't got any such wind out to the Banks! You ain't asked me about the funeral, Sairay."
"I was so busy, mother; were there many there?"
"E'enamost a hundred, I should think; they come from as far away as Norcross an' Weskisset. P'fessor Page of the seminary was there, an' he asked after you; he said you was a fine scholard. Then there was the Pettibones, an' the Hornblowers, an' the Scrantouns. Oh, 'twas a grand buryin'!"
"Did they all wear crape tied round their arms? and how many white horses did you see?" broke in Molly. "If you saw seven in a row, it means you'll die 'fore the year's up. I never saw but five."
"Hush, Molly! Don't talk such foolishness! Come, mother, your voice sounds very hoarse and tired. Hadn't you better get right to bed?"
"Wall, I guess so; but don't hurry me so, Sairay! I kain't a-bear to be hurried! An' I'm tryin' to think how many horses I did see, but--I've-- forgotten."
Another long yawn, while her head drooped wearily; and Sara, alarmed at her white face and the purple rings about her eyes, hurried her away
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