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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.
  • >                            BURNS.
  • 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?"
  • "Oh, very!"
  • "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.
  • Vawse's."
  • 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,
  • "Pussy!–"
  • "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.