Chapter 19 Showing that in some circumstances white is black
> November chill blaws loud wi' angry sough; > The shortening winter day is near a close.
THE clouds hung thick and low; the wind was less than it had been. They too_he path Mrs. Vawse had spoken of; it was broader and easier than the other, winding more gently down the mountain; it was sometimes, indeed, travelled b_orses, though far too steep for any kind of carriage. Alice and Ellen ra_long without giving much heed to any thing but their footing,–down, down,–running and bounding, hand in hand, till want of breath obliged them t_lacken their pace.
"Do you think it will snow?–soon?" asked Ellen.
"I think it will snow,–how soon I cannot tell. Have you had a pleasan_fternoon?"
"I always have when I go there. Now, Ellen, there is an example of contentmen_or you. If ever a woman loved husband and children and friends Mrs. Vaws_oved hers; I know this from those who knew her long ago; and now look at her.
Of them all she has none left but the orphan daughter of her youngest son, an_ou know a little what sort of a child that is."
"She must be a very bad girl," said Ellen; "you can't think what stories sh_old me about her grandmother."
"Poor Nancy!" said Alice. "Mrs. Vawse has no money nor property of any kind, except what is in her house; but there is not a more independent woma_reathing. She does all sorts of things to support herself. Now, for instance, Ellen, if any body is sick within ten miles round, the family are too happy t_et Mrs. Vawse for a nurse. She is an admirable one. Then she goes ou_ailoring at the farmers' houses; she brings home wool and returns it spu_nto yarn; she brings home yarn and knits it up into stockings and socks; al_orts of odd jobs. I have seen her picking hops; she isn't above doing an_hing, and yet she never forgets her own dignity. I think wherever she goe_nd whatever she is about, she is at all times one of the most truly lady-lik_ersons I have ever seen. And every body respects her; every body likes t_ain her good-will; she is known all over the country; and all the country ar_er friends."
"They pay her for doing these things, don't they?"
"Certainly; not often in money; more commonly in various kinds of matters tha_he wants,–flour, and sugar, and Indian meal, and pork, and ham, an_egetables, and wool,–any thing; it is but a little of each that she wants.
She has friends that would not permit her to earn another sixpence if the_ould help it, but she likes better to live as she does. And she is always a_ou saw her to-day–cheerful and happy, as a little girl."
Ellen was turning over Alice's last words and thinking that little girls wer_ot _always_ the cheerfullest and happiest creatures in the world, whe_lice suddenly exclaimed, "It is snowing! Come, Ellen, we must make hast_ow!"–and set off at a quickened pace. Quick as they might, they had gone no_ hundred yards when the whole air was filled with the falling flakes, and th_ind which had lulled for a little now rose with greater violence and swep_ound the mountain furiously. The storm had come in good earnest and promise_o be no trifling one. Alice and Ellen ran on, holding each other's hands an_trengthening themselves against the blast, but their journey became ever_oment more difficult. The air was dark with the thick-falling snow; the win_eemed to blow in every direction by turns, but chiefly against them, blindin_heir eyes with the snow and making it necessary to use no small effort t_eep on their way. Ellen hardly knew where she went, but allowed herself to b_ulled along by Alice, or as well pulled _her_ along; it was hard to sa_hich hurried most. In the midst of this dashing on down the hill Alice all a_nce came to a sudden stop.
"Where's the Captain?" said she.
"I don't know," said Ellen,–"I haven't thought of him since we left Mrs.
Alice turned her back to the wind and looked up the road they had come,–ther_as nothing but wind and snow there; how furiously it blew! Alice called,
"Shall we walk up the road a little way, or shall we stand and wait for hi_ere?" said Ellen, trembling half from exertion and half from a vague fear o_he knew not what.
Alice called again,–no answer, but a wild gust of wind and snow that drov_ast.
"I can't go on and leave him," said Alice; "he might perish in the storm." An_he began to walk slowly back, calling at intervals,
"Pussy!–kitty!–pussy!"–and listening for an answer that came not. Ellen wa_ery unwilling to tarry, and nowise inclined to prolong their journey by goin_ackwards! She thought the storm grew darker and wilder every moment.
"Perhaps Captain staid up at Mrs. Vawse's," she said, "and didn't follow u_own."
"No," said Alice,–"I am sure he did. Hark!–wasn't that he?"
"I don't hear any thing," said Ellen, after a pause of anxious listening.
Alice went a few steps further.
"I hear him!" she said;–"I hear him! poor kitty!"–and she set off at a quic_ace up the hill. Ellen followed, but presently a burst of wind and sno_rought them both to a stand. Alice faltered a little at this, in doub_hether to go up or down. But then to their great joy Captain's far-off cr_as heard, and both Alice and Ellen strained their voices to cheer and direc_im. In a few minutes he came in sight, trotting hurriedly along through th_now, and on reaching his mistress he sat down immediately on the groun_ithout offering any caress; a sure sign that he was tired. Alice stooped dow_nd took him up in her arms.
"Poor kitty!" she said, "you've done your part for to-day, I think; I'll d_he rest. Ellen, dear, it's of no use to tire ourselves out at once; we wil_o moderately. Keep hold of my cloak, my child; it takes both of my arms t_old this big cat. Now, never mind the snow; we can bear being blown about _ittle; are you very tired?"
"No," said Ellen,–"not very;–I am a little tired; but I don't care for that i_e can only get home safe."
"There's no difficulty about that I hope. Nay, there may be some _difficulty_ , but we shall get there I think in good safety after a while. I wish we wer_here now, for your sake, my child."
"Oh, never mind me," said Ellen gratefully; "I am sorry for _you_ , Mis_lice; you have the hardest time of it with that heavy load to carry; I wish _ould help you."
"Thank you, my dear, but nobody could do that; I doubt if Captain would lie i_ny arms but mine."
"Let me carry the basket then," said Ellen,–"do, Miss Alice."
"No, my dear, it hangs very well on my arm. Take it gently; Mrs. Van Brunt'_sn't very far off; we shall feel the wind less when we turn."
But the road seemed long. The storm did not increase in violence, truly ther_as no need of that, but the looked-for turning was not soon found, and th_athering darkness warned them day was drawing toward a close. As they neare_he bottom of the hill Alice made a pause.
"There's a path that turns off from this and makes a shorter cut to Mrs. Va_runt's, but it must be above here; I must have missed it, though I have bee_n the watch constantly."
She looked up and down. It would have been a sharp eye indeed that ha_etected any slight opening in the woods on either side of the path, which th_riving snow-storm blended into one continuous wall of trees. They could b_een stretching darkly before and behind them; but more than that,–where the_tood near together and where scattered apart,–was all confusion, through th_ast-falling shower of flakes.
"Shall we go back and look for the path?" said Ellen.
"I am afraid we shouldn't find it if we did," said Alice; "we should only los_ur time, and we have none to lose. I think we had better go straigh_orward."
"Is it much further this way than the other path we have missed?"
"A good deal–all of half-a-mile. I am sorry; but courage, my child! we shal_now better than to go out in snowy weather next time,–on long expeditions a_east."
They had to shout to make each other hear, so drove the snow and wind throug_he trees and into their very faces and ears. They plodded on. It wa_lodding; the snow lay thick enough now to make their footing uneasy, and gre_eeper every moment; their shoes were full; their feet and ankles were wet; and their steps began to drag heavily over the ground. Ellen clung as close t_lice's cloak as their hurried travelling would permit; sometimes one o_lice's hands was loosened for a moment to be passed round Ellen's shoulders, and a word of courage or comfort in the clear calm tone cheered her to renewe_xertion. The night fell fast; it was very darkling by the time they reache_he bottom of the hill, and the road did not yet allow them to turn thei_aces toward Mrs. Van Brunt's. A wearisome piece of the way this was, leadin_hem _from_ the place they wished to reach. They could not go fast either; they were too weary and the walking too heavy. Captain had the best of it; snug and quiet he lay wrapped in Alice's cloak and fast asleep, little wottin_ow tired his mistress's arms were.
The path at length brought them to the long-desired turning; but it was b_his time so dark that the fences on each side of the road showed but dimly.
They had not spoken for a while; as they turned the corner a sigh of mingle_eariness and satisfaction escaped from Ellen's lips. It reached Alice's ear.
"What's the matter, love?" said the sweet voice. No trace of weariness wa_llowed to come into it.
"I am so glad we have got here at last," said Ellen, looking up with anothe_igh, and removing her hand for an instant from its grasp on the cloak t_lice's arm.
"My poor child! I wish I could carry you too. Can you hold a little longer?"
"Oh, yes, dear Miss Alice; I can hold on."
But Ellen's voice was not so well guarded. It was like her steps, a littl_nsteady. She presently spoke again.
"Miss Alice–are you afraid?"
"I am afraid of your getting sick, my child, and a little afraid of it fo_yself;–of nothing else. What is there to be afraid of?"
"It is very dark," said Ellen; "and the storm is so thick,–do you think yo_an find the way?"
"I know it perfectly; it is nothing but to keep straight on; and the fence_ould prevent us from getting out of the road. It is hard walking I know bu_e shall get there by and by; bear up as well as you can, dear. I am sorry _an give you no help but words. Don't you think a nice bright fire will loo_omfortable after all this?"
"Oh, dear, yes!" answered Ellen, rather sadly.
"Are _you_ afraid, Ellen?"
"No, Miss Alice–not much–I don't like its being so dark, I can't see where _m going."
"The darkness makes our way longer and more tedious; it will do us no othe_arm, love. I wish I had a hand to give you, but this great cat must have bot_f mine. The darkness and the light are both alike to our Father; we are i_is hands; we are safe enough, dear Ellen."
Ellen's hand left the cloak again for an instant to press Alice's arm i_nswer; her voice failed at the minute. Then clinging anew as close to he_ide as she could get, they toiled patiently on. The wind had somewha_essened of its violence, and besides it blew not now in their faces, bu_gainst their backs, helping them on. Still the snow continued to fall ver_ast, and already lay thick upon the ground; every half hour increased th_eaviness and painfulness of their march; and darkness gathered till the ver_ences could no longer be seen. It was pitch dark; to hold the middle of th_oad was impossible; their only way was to keep along by one of the fences; and for fear of hurting themselves against some outstanding post or stone i_as necessary to travel quite gently. They were indeed in no condition t_ravel otherwise if light had not been wanting. Slowly and patiently, wit_ainful care groping their way, they pushed on through the snow and the thic_ight. Alice could _feel_ the earnestness of Ellen's grasp upon her clothes; and her close pressing up to her made their progress still slower and mor_ifficult than it would otherwise have been.
"Miss Alice,"–said Ellen.
"What, my child?"
"I wish you would speak to me once in a while."
Alice freed one of her hands and took hold of Ellen's.
"I have been so busy picking my way along, I have neglected you, haven't I?"
"Oh, no, ma'am. But I like to hear the sound of your voice sometimes, it make_e feel better."
"This is an odd kind of travelling, isn't it?" said Alice cheerfully;–"in th_ark, and feeling our way along? This will be quite an adventure to tal_bout, won't it?"
"Quite," said Ellen.
"It is easier going this way, don't you find it so? The wind helps u_orward."
"It helps me too much," said Ellen; "I wish it wouldn't be quite so very kind.
Why, Miss Alice, I have enough to do to hold myself together sometimes. I_lmost makes me run, though I am so very tired."
"Well, it is better than having it in our faces at any rate. Tired you are, _now, and must be. We shall want to rest all day tomorrow, shan't we?"
"Oh, I don't know!" said Ellen sighing; "I shall be glad when we begin. Ho_ong do you think it will be, Miss Alice, before we get to Mrs. Van Brunt's?"
"My dear child I cannot tell you. I have not the least notion whereabouts w_re. I can see no waymarks, and I cannot judge at all of the rate at which w_ave come."
"But what if we should have passed it in this darkness?" said Ellen.
"No, I don't think that," said Alice, though a cold doubt struck her mind a_llen's words;–"I think we shall see the glimmer of Mrs. Van Brunt's friendl_andle by and by."
But more uneasily and more keenly now she stove to see that glimmer throug_he darkness; strove till the darkness seemed to press painfully upon he_yeballs, and she almost doubted her being able to see any light if ligh_here were; it was all blank thick darkness still. She began to questio_nxiously with herself which side of the house was Mrs. Van Brunt's ordinar_itting-room;–whether she should see the light from it before or after passin_he house; and now her glance was directed often behind her, that they migh_e sure in any case of not missing their desired haven. In vain she looke_orward or back; it was all one; no cheering glimmer of lamp or candle greete_er straining eyes. Hurriedly now from time to time the comforting words wer_poken to Ellen, for to pursue the long stretch of way that led onward fro_r. Van Brunt's to Miss Fortune's would be a very serious matter; Alice wante_omfort herself.
"Shall we get there soon, do you think, Miss Alice?" said poor Ellen, whos_earied feet carried her painfully over the deepening snow. The tone of voic_ent to Alice's heart.
"I don't know, my darling,–I hope so" she answered, but it was spoken rathe_atiently than cheerfully. "Fear nothing, dear Ellen; remember who has th_are of us; darkness and light are both alike to him; nothing will do us an_eal harm."
"How tired you must be, dear Miss Alice, carrying pussy!" Ellen said with _igh.
For the first time Alice echoed the sigh; but almost immediately Elle_xclaimed in a totally different tone, "There's a light!–but it isn't _andle–it is moving about;–what is it? what is it, Miss Alice?"
They stopped and looked. A light there certainly was, dimly seen, moving a_ome little distance from the fence on the opposite side of the road. All of _udden it disappeared.
"What is it?" whispered Ellen fearfully.
"I don't know, my love, yet; wait–"
They waited several minutes.
"What could it be?" said Ellen. "It was certainly a light,–I saw it as plainl_s ever I saw any thing;–what can it have done with itself–there it i_gain!–going the other way!"
Alice waited no longer, but screamed out, "Who's there?"
But the light paid no attention to her cry; it travelled on.
"Halloo!" called Alice again as loud as she could.
"Halloo!" answered a rough deep voice. The light suddenly stopped.
"That's he! that's he!" exclaimed Ellen in an ecstasy and almost dancing.–"_now it,–it's Mr. Van Brunt! it's Mr. Van Brunt!–oh, Miss Alice!–"
Struggling between crying and laughing Ellen could not stand it, but gave wa_o a good fit of crying. Alice felt the infection, but controlled herself, though her eyes watered as her heart sent up its grateful tribute; as well a_he could she answered the halloo.
The light was seen advancing toward them. Presently it glimmered faintl_ehind the fence, showing a bit of the dark rails covered with snow, and the_ould dimly see the figure of a man getting over them. He crossed the road t_here they stood. It was Mr. Van Brunt.
"I am very glad to see you, Mr. Van Brunt." said Alice's sweet voice; but i_rembled a little.
That gentleman, at first dumb with astonishment, lifted his lantern to surve_hem, and assure his eyes that his ears had not been mistaken.
"Miss Alice!–My goodness alive!–How in the name of wonder!–And my poor littl_amb!–But what on 'arth, ma'am! you must be half dead. Come this way,–jus_ome back a little bit,–why, where were you going, ma'am?"
"To your house, Mr. Van Brunt; I have been looking for it with no littl_nxiety, I assure you."
"Looking for it! Why how on 'arth! you wouldn't see the biggest house ever wa_uilt half a yard off such a plaguy night as this."
"I thought I should see the light from the windows, Mr. Van Brunt."
"The light from the windows! Bless my soul! the storm rattled so again' th_indows that mother made me pull the great shutters to. I won't have 'em shu_gain of a stormy night, that's a fact; you'd ha' gone far enough afore you'_a' seen the light through them shutters."
"Then we had passed the house already, hadn't we?"
"Indeed had you, ma'am. I guess you say my light, ha'n't you?"
"Yes, and glad enough we were to see it, too."
"I suppose so. It happened so to-night–now that is a queer thing–I minded tha_ hadn't untied my horse; he's a trick of being untied at night, and won'_leep well if he ain't; and mother wanted me to let him alone 'cause of th_wful storm, but I couldn't go to my bed in peace till I had seen him t_is'n. So that's how my lantern came to be going to the barn in such a_wk'ard night as this."
They had reached the little gate, and Mr. Van Brunt with some difficult_ulled it open. The snow lay thick upon the neat brick walk which Ellen ha_rod the first time with wet feet and dripping garments. A few steps further, and they came to the same door that had opened then so hospitably to receiv_er. As the faint light of the lantern was thrown upon the old latch and door- posts, Ellen felt at home, and a sense of comfort sank down into her hear_hich she had not known for some time.