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- Esther - 40/43 -
fortune; it is only I who know you, my dear, that can understand how that is."
Did she understand? Did I really understand myself? Anyhow, I felt horribly abashed while she was speaking. I felt I had been conducting myself in an unfledged girlish fashion, and that Ruth, with her staid common sense, was reproving me.
I determined then and there that no more foolish expression of regret should cross my lips; that I would keep all such nonsense to myself; so when Flurry ran in very tearful and desponding, I took Ruth's cue, and talked to her as cheerfully as possible, giving her such vivid descriptions of the cottage and the garden, and the dear little honeysuckle arbor where Dot and she could have tea, that she speedily forgot all her regrets in delicious anticipations.
"Yes, indeed," observed Ruth, as she benevolently contemplated us, "I expect Flurry and I will be such constant visitors that your mother will complain that there is no end of those tiresome Lucases. Run along, Flurry, and see if your father means to come in and have some tea. Tell him Esther is here."
Flurry was a long time gone, and then she brought back a message that her father was too busy, and she might bring him a cup there, and that she was to give his kind regards to Miss Cameron, and that was all.
I went home shortly after that, and found mother and Carrie deep in discussion about carpets and curtains. They both said I looked tired and cold, and that Ruth had kept me too long.
"I think I am getting jealous of Ruth," Carrie said, with a gentle smile.
And somehow the remark did not please me; not that Carrie really meant it, though; but it did strike me sometimes that both mother and she thought that Ruth rather monopolized me.
My visits to the Cedars became very rare after this, for we were soon engrossed with the bustle of moving. For more than six weeks I trudged about daily between our house and Eltham Cottage. There were carpets to be fitted, and the furniture to be adapted to each room, and when that was done, Allan and I worked hard in the conservatory; and here Ruth often joined us, bringing with her a rare fern or plant from the well-stocked greenhouses at the Cedars. She used to sit and watch us at our labors, and say sometimes how much she wished she could help us, and sometimes she spent an hour or two with Carrie to make up for my absence.
I rather reveled in my hard work, and grew happier every day, and the cottage did look so pretty when we had finished.
Ruth was with me all the last afternoon. We lighted fires in all the rooms, and they looked so cozy. The table in the dining-room was spread with Aunt Podgill's best damask linen and her massive old-fashioned silver; and Deborah was actually baking her famous griddle cakes, to the admiration of our new help, Dorcas, before the first fly, with mother and Carrie and Dot, drove up to the door. I shall never forget mother's pleased look as she stood in the little hall, and Carrie's warm kiss as I welcomed them.
"How beautiful it all looks!" she exclaimed; "how home-like and bright and cozy; you have managed so well, Esther!"
"Esther always manages well," observed dear mother, proudly. The extent to which she believed in me and my resources was astonishing. She followed me all over the house, praising everything. I was glad Ruth heard her, and knew that I had done my best for them all. Allan accompanied the others, and we had quite a merry evening.
Ruth stayed to tea. "She was really becoming one of us!" as mother observed; and Allan took her home. We all crowded into the porch to see them off; even Carrie, who was getting quite nimble on her crutches. It was a warm April night; the little common was flooded with moonlight; the spring flowers were sleeping in the white rays, and the limes glistened like silver. Uncle Geoffrey and I walked with them to the gate, while Ruth got into her pony carriage.
I did not like saying good-night to Allan; it seemed so strange for him to be going back to the old house alone; but he burst into one of his ringing laughs when I told him so.
"Why, I like it," he said, cheerily; "it is good fun being monarch of all I survey. Didn't I tell you I was cut out for an old bachelor? You must come and make tea for me sometimes, when I can't get out here." And then, in a more serious voice, he added, "It does put one into such good spirits to see mother and you girls safe in this pretty nest."
I had never been idle; but now the day never seemed long enough for my numerous occupations, and yet they were summer days, too.
The early rising was now an enjoyment to me. I used to work in the garden or conservatory before breakfast, and how delicious those hours were when the birds and I had it all to ourselves; and I hardly know which sang the loudest, for I was very happy, very happy indeed, without knowing why. I think this unreasoning and unreasonable happiness is an attribute of youth.
I had got over my foolish disappointment about the Cedars. Ruth kept her word nobly, and she and Flurry came perpetually to the cottage. Sometimes I spent an afternoon or evening at the Cedars, and then I always saw Mr. Lucas, and he was most friendly and pleasant. He used to talk of coming down one afternoon to see how I was getting on with my fernery, but it was a long time before he kept his promise.
The brief cloud, or whatever it was, had vanished and he was his own genial self. Flurry had not another governess, but Ruth gave her lessons sometimes, and on her bad days her father heard them. It was rather desultory teaching, and I used to shake my head rather solemnly when I heard of it; but Ruth always said that Giles wished it to be so for the present. The child was not strong, and was growing fast, and it would not hurt her to run wild a little.
When breakfast was over, Dot and I worked hard; and in the afternoon I generally read to Carrie; she was far less of an invalid now, and used to busy herself with work for the poor while she lay on her couch and listened. She used to get mother to help her sometimes, and then Carrie would look so happy as she planned how this garment was to be for old Nanny Stables, and the next for her little grandson Jemmy. With returning strength came the old, unselfish desire to benefit others. It put her quite into spirits one day when Mrs. Smedley asked her to cover some books for the Sunday school.
"How good of her to think of it; it is just work that I can do!" she said, gratefully; and for the rest of the day she looked like the old Carrie again.
Allan came to see us nearly every evening. Oh, those delicious summer evenings! how vividly even now they seem to rise before me, though many, many happy years lie between me and them.
Somehow it had grown a sort of habit with us to spend them on the common. Mother loved the sweet fresh air, and would sit for hours among the furze bushes and gorse, knitting placidly, and watching the children at their play, or the cottagers at work in their gardens; and Uncle Geoffrey, in his old felt hat, would sit beside her, reading the papers.
Allan used to tempt Carrie for a stroll over the common; and when she was tired he and Jack and I would saunter down some of the long country lanes, sometimes hunting for glow-worms in the hedges, sometimes extending our walk until the moon shone over the silent fields, and the night became sweet and dewy, and the hedgerows glimmered strangely in the uncertain light.
How cozy our little drawing-room always looked on our return! The lamp would be lighted on the round table, and the warm perfume of flowers seemed to steep the air with fragrance; sometimes the glass door would lie open, and gray moths come circling round the light, and outside lay the lawn, silvered with moonlight. Allan used to leave us regretfully to go back to the old house at Milnthorpe; he said we were such a snug party.
When Carrie began to visit the cottages and to gather the children round her couch on Sunday afternoons, I knew she was her old self again. Day by day her sweet face grew calmer and happier; her eyes lost their sad wistful expression, and a little color touched her wan cheeks.
Truly she often suffered much, and her lameness was a sad hindrance in the way of her usefulness; but her hands were always busy, and on her well days she spent hours in the cottages reading to two or three old people, or instructing the younger ones.
It was touching to see her so thankful for the fragments of work that still fell to her share, content to take the humblest task, if she only might give but "a cup of cold water to one of these little ones;" and sometimes I thought how dearly the Good Shepherd must love the gentle creature who was treading her painful life-path so lovingly and patiently.
I often wondered why Mr. Lucas never kept his promise of coming to see us; but one evening when Jack and Allan and I returned from our stroll we found him sitting talking to mother and Uncle Geoffrey.
I was so surprised at his sudden appearance that I dropped some of the flowers I held in my hand, and he laughed as he helped me to pick them up.
"I hope I haven't startled you," he said, as we shook hands.
"No--that is--I never expected to see you here this evening," I returned, rather awkwardly.
"Take off your hat, Esther," said mother, in an odd tone; and I thought she looked flushed and nervous, just as she does when she wants to cry. "Mr. Lucas has promised to have supper with us, and, my dear, he wants you to show him the conservatory and the fernery."
It was still daylight, though the sun was setting fast; we had returned earlier than usual, for Allan had to go back to Milnthorpe, and he bade us goodnight hastily as I prepared to obey mother.
Jack followed us, but mother called her back, and asked her to go to one of the cottages and fetch Carrie home. Such a glorious sunset met our eyes as we stepped out on the lawn; the clouds were a marvel of rose and violet and golden splendor; the windows of the cottage were glittering with the reflected beams, and a delicious scent of lilies was in the air.
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