THE next day, about the middle of the afternoon, a light step crossed th_hed, and the great door opening gently, in walked Miss Alice Humphreys. Th_oom was all "redd up," and Miss Fortune and her mother sat there at work; on_icking over white beans at the table, the other in her usual seat by th_ire, and at her usual employment, which was knitting. Alice came forward, an_sked the old lady how she did.
"Pretty well–Oh!, pretty well!" she answered, with the look of bland good- humour her face almost always wore,–"and glad to see you, dear. Take a chair."
Alice did so, quite aware that the other person in the room was _not_ gla_o see her.
"And how goes the world with you, Miss Fortune?"
"Humph! It's a queer kind of world, I think," answered that lady dryly, sweeping some of the picked beans into her pan;–"I get a'most sick of i_ometimes."
"Why, what's the matter?" said Alice, pleasantly; "may I ask? Has any thin_appened to trouble you?"
"Oh, no!" said the other somewhat impatiently; "nothing that's any matter t_ny one but myself; it's no use speaking about it."
"Ah, Fortune never would take the world easy," said the old woman, shaking he_ead from side to side; "never would;–I never could get her."
"Now do hush, mother, will you!" said the daughter, turning round upon he_ith startling sharpness of look and tone;–" 'take the world easy!' you alway_id. I am glad I ain't like you."
"I don't think it's a bad way after all," said Alice; "what's the use o_aking it hard, Miss Fortune?"
"The way one goes on!" said that lady, picking away at her beans very fast an_ot answering Alice's question,–"I'm tired of it;–toil, toil, and drive, drive,–from morning to night; and what's the end of it all?"
"Not much," said Alice gravely, "if our toiling looks no further than _this_orld. When we go we shall carry nothing away with us. I should think it woul_e very wearisome to toil only for what we cannot keep nor stay long t_njoy."
"It's a pity you warn't a minister, Miss Alice," said Miss Fortune dryly.
"Oh, no, Miss Fortune," said Alice smiling, "the family would be overstocked.
My father is one and my brother will be another; a third would be too much.
You must be so good as to let me preach without taking orders."
"Well, I wish every minister was as good a one as you'd make," said Mis_ortune, her hard face giving way a little;–"at any rate nobody'd mind an_hing you'd say Miss Alice."
"That would be unlucky, in one sense," said Alice; "but I believe I know wha_ou mean. But, Miss Fortune, no one would dream the world went very hard wit_ou. I don't know any body I think lives in more independent comfort an_lenty, and has things more to her mind. I never come to the house that I a_ot struck with the fine look of the farm and all that belongs to it."
"Yes," said the old lady, nodding her head two or three times, "Mr. Van Brun_s a good farmer–very good–there's no doubt about that."
"I wonder what _he'd_ do," said Miss Fortune, quickly and sharply as before,
"if there warn't a head to manage for him!–Oh, the farm's well enough, Mis_lice,–tain't that; every one knows where his own shoe pinches."
"I wish you'd let me into the secret then, Miss Fortune; I'm a cobbler b_rofession."
Miss Fortune's ill humour was giving way, but something disagreeable seeme_gain to cross her mind. Her brow darkened.
"I say it's a poor kind of world and I'm sick of it! One may slave and slav_ne's life out for other people, and what thanks do you get?–I'm sick of it."
"There's a little body up-stairs, or I'm much mistaken, who will give you ver_incere thanks for every kindness shown her."
Miss Fortune tossed her head, and brushing the refuse beans into her lap, sh_ushed back her chair with a jerk to go to the fire with them.
"Much you know about her, Miss Alice! Thanks, indeed! I haven't seen the sig_f such a thing since she's been here, for all I have worked and worked an_ad plague enough with her I am sure. Deliver me from other people's children, say I!"
"After all, Miss Fortune," said Alice soberly, "it is not what we _do_ fo_eople that makes them love us,–or at least every thing depends on the wa_hings are done. A look of love, a word of kindness, goes further towar_inning the heart than years of service or benefactions mountain-high withou_hem."
"Does she say I am unkind to her?" asked Miss Fortune fiercely.
"Pardon me," said Alice, "words on her part are unnecessary; it is easy to se_rom your own that there is no love lost between you, and I am very sorry i_s so."
"Love, indeed!" said Miss Fortune with great indignation; "there never was an_o lose I can assure you. She plagues the very life out of me. Why, she hadn'_een here three days before she went off with that girl Nancy Vawse that I ha_old her never to go near, and was gone all night; that's the time she got i_he brook. And if you'd seen her face when I was scolding her about it!–it wa_ike seven thunder clouds. Much you know about it! I dare say she's very swee_o you; that's the way she is to every body beside me–they all think she's to_ood to live; and it just makes me mad!"
"She told me herself," said Alice, "of her behaving ill another time, abou_er mother's letter."
"Yes–that was another time. I wish you'd seen her!"
"I believe she saw and felt her fault in that case. Didn't she ask you_ardon? she said she would."
"Yes," said Miss Fortune dryly, "after a fashion."
"Has she had her letter yet?"
"How is she to-day?"
"Oh, she's well enough–she's sitting up. You can go up and see her."
"I will directly," said Alice. "But now, Miss Fortune, I am going to ask _avour of you,–will you do me a great pleasure?"
"Certainly, Miss Alice,–if I can?"
"If you think Ellen has been sufficiently punished for her ill behaviour–i_ou do not think it right to withhold her letter still,–will you let me hav_he pleasure of giving it to her? I should take it as a great favour t_yself."
Miss Fortune made no kind of reply to this, but stalked out of the room, an_n a few minutes stalked in again with the letter, which she gave to Alice, only saying shortly, "It came to me in a letter from her father."
"You are willing she should have it?" said Alice.
"Oh, yes!–do what you like with it."
Alice now went softly up stairs. She found Ellen's door a little ajar, an_ooking in could see Ellen seated in a rocking-chair between the door and th_ire, in her double-gown, and with her hymnbook in her hand. It happened tha_llen had spent a good part of that afternoon in crying for her lost letter; and the face that she turned to the door on hearing some slight noise outsid_as very white and thin indeed. And though it was placid too, her eye searche_he crack of the door with a keen wistfulness that went to Alice's heart. Bu_s the door was gently pushed open, and the eye caught the figure that stoo_ehind it, the sudden and entire change of expression took away all her power_f speech. Ellen's face became radiant; she rose from her chair, and as Alic_ame silently in and kneeling down to be near her took her in her arms, Elle_ut both hers round Alice's neck and laid her face there;–one was too happ_nd the other too touched to say a word.
"My poor child!" was Alice's first expression.
"No, I ain't," said Ellen, tightening the squeeze of her arms round Alice'_eck; "I am not poor at all now."
Alice presently rose, sat down in the rocking chair and took Ellen in her lap; and Ellen rested her head on her bosom as she had been wont to do of old time_n her mother's.
"I am too happy," she murmured. But she was weeping, and the current of tear_eemed to gather force as it flowed. What was little Ellen thinking of jus_hen? Oh, those times gone by!–when she had sat just so; her head pillowed o_nother as gentle a breast; kind arms wrapped round her, just as now; the sam_ittle old double-gown; the same weak helpless feeling; the same committin_erself to the strength and care of another;–how much the same, and oh! ho_uch not the same!–and Ellen knew both. Blessing as she did the breast o_hich she leaned and the arms whose pressure she felt, they yet reminded he_adly of those most loved and so very far away; and it was an odd mixture o_elief and regret, joy and sorrow, gratified and ungratified affection, tha_pened the sluices of her eyes. Tears poured.
"What is the matter, my love?" said Alice softly.
"I don't know," whispered Ellen.
"Are you so glad to see me? or so sorry? or what is it?"
"Oh, glad and sorry both, I think," said Ellen with a long breath, and sittin_p.
"Have you wanted me so much, my poor child?"
"I cannot tell you how much," said Ellen, her words cut short.
"And didn't you know that I have been sick too? What did you think had becom_f me? Why, Mrs. Vawse was with me a whole week, and this is the very firs_ay I have been able to go out. It is so fine to-day I was permitted to rid_harp down."
"Was that it?" said Ellen. "I did wonder, Miss Alice, I did wonder very muc_hy you did not come to see me, but I never liked to ask aunt Fortune, because–"
"I don't know as I ought to say what I was going to;–I had a feeling she woul_e glad about what I was sorry about."
"Don't know _that_ you ought to say," said Alice. "Remember, you are t_tudy English with me."
Ellen smiled a glad smile.
"And you have had a weary two weeks of it, haven't you, dear?"
"Oh," said Ellen, with another long-drawn sigh, "how weary! Part of that time, to be sure, I was out of my head; but I have got _so_ tired lying here al_lone; aunt Fortune coming in and out was just as good as nobody."
"Poor child!" said Alice, "you have had a worse time than I."
"I used to lie and watch that crack in the door at the foot of my bed," sai_llen, "and I got so tired of it I hated to see it, but when I opened my eye_ couldn't help looking at it, and watching all the little ins and outs in th_rack till I was as sick of it as could be. And that button too that fasten_he door, and the little round mark the button has made, and thinking how fa_he button went round. And then if I looked toward the windows I would g_ight to counting the panes, first up and down and then across; and I didn'_ant to count them, but I couldn't help it; and watching to see through whic_ane the sky looked brightest. Oh, I got so sick of it all! There was only th_ire that I didn't get tired of looking at; I always liked to lie and look a_hat, except when it hurt my eyes. And oh, how I wanted to see you, Mis_lice! You can't think how sad I felt that you didn't come to see me. _ouldn't think what could be the matter."
"I should have been with you, dear, and not have left you, if I had not bee_ied at home myself."
"So I thought; and that made it seem so very strange. But Oh! don't yo_hink," said Ellen, her face suddenly brightening,–"don't you think Mr. Va_runt came up to see me last night? Wasn't it good of him? He even sat dow_nd read to me; only think of that. And isn't he kind? he asked if I woul_ike a rocking-chair; and of course I said yes, for these other chairs ar_readful, they break my back; and there wasn't such a thing as a rocking-chai_n aunt Fortune's house, she hates 'em, she says; and this morning, the firs_hing I knew, in walked Mr. Van Brunt with this nice rocking-chair. Just ge_p and see how nice it is;–you see the back is cushioned, and the elbows, a_ell as the seat;–it's queer-looking, ain't it? but it's very comfortable.
Wasn't it good of him?"
"It was very kind, I think. But do you know, Ellen, I am going to have _uarrel with you?"
"What about?" said Ellen. "I don't believe it's any thing very bad, for yo_ook pretty good-humoured, considering."
"Nothing _very_ bad," said Alice, "but still enough to quarrel about. Yo_ave twice said ' _ain't_ ' since I have been here."
"Oh," said Ellen, laughing, "is that all?"
"Yes," said Alice, "and my English ears don't like it at all."
"Then they shan't hear it," said Ellen, kissing her. "I don't know what make_e say it; I never used to. But I've got more to tell you; I've had mor_isitors. Who do you think came to see me?–you'd never guess–Nancy Vawse?–Mr.
Van Brunt came in the very nick of time, when I was almost worried to deat_ith her. Only think of _her_ coming up here! unknown to every body. And sh_tayed an age, and how she _did_ go on. She cracked nuts on the hearth;–sh_ot every stitch of my clothes out of my trunk and scattered them over th_loor;–she tried to make me drink gruel till between us we spilled a grea_arcel on the bed; and she had begun to tickle me when Mr. Van Brunt came. Oh, wasn't I glad to see him! And when aunt Fortune came up and saw it all she wa_s angry as she could be; and she scolded and scolded, till at last I told he_t was none of my doing,–I couldn't help it at all,–and she needn't talk so t_e about it; and then she said it was my fault the whole of it! that if _adn't scraped acquaintance with Nancy when she had forbidden me all thi_ould never have happened."
"There is some truth in that, isn't there, Ellen?"
"Perhaps so; but I think it might all have happened whether or no; and at an_ate it is a little hard to talk so to me about it now when it's all over an_an't be helped. Oh, I have been so tired to-day, Miss Alice!–aunt Fortune ha_een in such a bad humour."
"What put her in a bad humour?"
"Why, all this about Nancy in the first place; and then I know she didn't lik_r. Van Brunt's bringing the rocking-chair for me; she couldn't say much, bu_ could see by her face. And then Mrs. Van Brunt's coming–I don't think sh_iked that. Oh, Mrs. Van Brunt came to see me this morning, and brought me _ustard. How many people are kind to me!–everywhere I go."
"I hope, dear Ellen, you don't forget whose kindness sends them all."
"I don't, Miss Alice; I always think of that now; and it seems you can't thin_ow pleasant to me sometimes."
"Then I hope you can bear unkindness from one poor woman,–who after all isn'_s happy as you are,–without feeling any ill-will toward her in return."
"I don't think I feel ill-will toward her," said Ellen; "I always try as har_s I can not to; but I can't _like_ her, Miss Alice; and I do get out o_atience. It's very easy to put me out of patience, I think; it takes almos_othing sometimes."
"But remember, 'charity suffereth long and is kind.' "
"And I try all the while, dear Miss Alice, to keep down my bad feelings," sai_llen, her eyes watering as she spoke; "I try and pray to get rid of them, an_ hope I shall by and by; I believe I am very bad."
Alice drew her closer.
"I have felt very sad part of to-day," said Ellen presently; "aunt Fortune, and my being so lonely, and my poor letter, altogether;–but part of the time _elt a great deal better. I was learning that lovely hymn,–do you know it, Miss Alice?–'Poor, weak, and worthless, though I am?'–"
Alice went on:–
> "I have a rich almighty friend, > Jesus the Saviour is his name, > He freely loves, and without end."
"Oh, dear Ellen, whoever can say that, has no right to be unhappy. No matte_hat happens, we have enough to be glad of."
"And then I was thinking of those words in the Psalms,–'Blessed is th_an'–stop, I'll find it; I don't know exactly how it goes;–'Blessed is h_hose transgression is forgiven; whose sin is covered.'"
"Oh, yes indeed!" said Alice. "It is a shame that any trifles should worr_uch those whose sins are forgiven them and who are the children of the grea_ing. Poor Miss Fortune never knew the sweetness of those words. We ought t_e sorry for her, and pray for her, Ellen; and never, never, even in thought, return evil for evil. It is not like Christ to do so."
"I will not, I will not, if I can help it," said Ellen.
"You can help it; but there is only one way. Now, Ellen dear, I have thre_ieces of news for you that I think you will like. One concerns you, anothe_yself, and the third concerns both you and myself. Which will you hav_irst?"
"Three pieces of good news!" said Ellen with opening eyes;–"I think I'll hav_y part first."
Directing Ellen's eyes to her pocket, Alice slowly made the corner of th_etter show itself. Ellen's colour came and went quick as it was drawn forth; but when it was fairly out and she knew it again, she flung herself upon i_ith a desperate eagerness Alice had not looked for; she was startled at th_alf frantic way in which the child clasped and kissed it, weeping bitterly a_he same time. Her transport was almost hysterical. She had opened the letter, but she was not able to read a word; and quitting Alice's arms she thre_erself upon the bed sobbing in a mixture of joy and sorrow that seemed t_ake away her reason. Alice looked on surprised a moment, but only a moment, and turned away.
When Ellen was able to begin her letter the reading of it served to throw he_ack into fresh fits of tears. Many a word of Mrs. Montgomery's went so to he_ittle daughter's heart that its very inmost cords of love and tenderness wer_rung. It is true the letter was short and very simple; but it came from he_other's heart; it was written by her mother's hand; and the very ol_emembered handwriting had mighty power to move her. She was so wrapped up i_er own feelings that through it all she never noticed that Alice was not nea_er, that Alice did not speak to comfort her. When the letter had been rea_ime after time, and wept over again and again, and Ellen at last was foldin_t up for the present, she bethought herself of her friend and turned to loo_fter her. Alice was sitting by the window, her face hid in her hands, and a_llen drew near she was surprised to see that _her_ tears were flowing an_er breast heaving. Ellen came quite close, and softly laid her hand o_lice's shoulder. But it drew no attention.
"Miss Alice," said Ellen almost fearfully,–" _dear_ Miss Alice,"–and her ow_yes filled fast again, "what is the matter?–won't you tell me?–Oh, don't d_o! please don't!"
"I will not," said Alice lifting her head; "I am sorry I have troubled yo_ear; I am sorry I could not help it."
She kissed Ellen, who stood anxious and sorrowful by her side, and brushe_way her tears. But Ellen saw she had been shedding a great many.
"What is the matter, dear Miss Alice? what has happened to trouble you?–won'_ou tell me?"–Ellen was almost crying herself.
Alice came back to the rocking-chair, and took Ellen in her arms again; bu_he did not answer her. Leaning her face against Ellen's forehead she remaine_ilent. Ellen ventured to ask no more questions; but lifting her hand once o_wice caressingly to Alice's face she was distressed to find her cheek we_till. Alice spoke at last.
"It isn't fair not to tell you what is the matter, dear Ellen, since I hav_et you see me sorrowing. It is nothing new, nor anything I would hav_therwise if I could. It is only that I have had a mother once, and have los_er; and you brought back the old time so strongly that I could not comman_yself."
Ellen felt a hot tear drop upon her forehead, and again ventured to speak fo_ympathy only by silently stroking Alice's cheek.
"It is all past now," said Alice; "it is all well. I would not have her bac_gain. I shall go to her I hope by and by."
"Oh, no! You must stay with me," said Ellen, clasping both arms around her.
There was a long silence, during which they remained locked in each other'_rms.
"Ellen dear," said Alice at length, "we are both motherless for the present a_east,–both of us almost alone; I think God has brought us together to be _omfort to each other. We will be sisters while he permits us to be so. Don'_all me Miss Alice any more. You shall be my little sister and I will be you_lder sister, and my home shall be your home as well."
Ellen's arms were drawn very close round her companion at this, but she sai_othing, and her face was laid in Alice's bosom. There was another very lon_ause. Then Alice spoke in a livelier tone.
"Come, Ellen! look up! you and I have forgotten ourselves; it isn't good fo_ick people to get down in the dumps. Look up and let me see these pal_heeks. Don't you want something to eat?"
"I don't know," said Ellen faintly.
"What would you say to a cup of chicken broth?"
"Oh, I should like it very much!" said Ellen with new energy.
"Margery made me some particularly nice, as she always does; and I took i_nto my head a little might not come amiss to you; so I resolved to stand th_hance of Sharp's jolting it all over me, and I rode down with a little pai_f it on my arm. Let me rake open these coals and you shall have som_irectly."
"And did you come without being spattered?" said Ellen.
"Not a drop. Is this what you use to warm things in? Never mind, it has ha_ruel in it; I'll set the tin pail on the fire, it won't hurt it."
"I am so much obliged to you," said Ellen, "for do you know I have got quit_ired of gruel, and panada I can't bear."
"Then I am very glad I brought it."
While it was warming Alice washed Ellen's gruel cup and spoon; and presentl_he had the satisfaction of seeing Ellen eating the broth with that kee_njoyment none know but those that have been sick and are getting well. Sh_miled to see her gaining strength almost in the very act of swallowing.
"Ellen," said she presently, "I have been considering your dressing-table. I_ooks rather doleful. I'll make you a present of some dimity, and when yo_ome to see me you shall make a cover for it that will reach down to the floo_nd hide those long legs."
"That wouldn't do at all," said Ellen; "aunt Fortune would go off into al_orts of fits."
"Why the washing, Miss Alice–to have such a great thing to wash every now an_hen. You can't think what a fuss she makes if I have more than just so man_hite clothes in the wash every week."
"That's too bad," said Alice. "Suppose you bring it up to me–it wouldn't b_ften–and I'll have it washed for you,–if you care enough about it to take th_rouble."
"Oh, indeed I do!" said Ellen; "I should like it very much, and I'll get Mr.
Van Brunt to–no I can't, aunt Fortune won't let me; I was going to say I woul_et him to saw off the legs and make it lower for me, and then my dressing-bo_ould stand so nicely on the top. Maybe I can yet. Oh, I never showed you m_oxes and things."
Ellen brought them all out and displayed their beauties. In the course o_oing over the writing-desk she came to the secret drawer and a little mone_n it.
"Oh, that puts me in mind!" she said. "Miss Alice, this money is to be spen_or some poor child;–now I've been thinking Nancy has behaved so to me _hould like to give her something to show her that I don't feel unkindly abou_t–what do you think will be a good thing?"
"I don't know, Ellen–I'll take the matter into consideration."
"Do you think a Bible would do?"
"Perhaps that would do as well as any thing;–I'll think about it."
"I should like to do it very much," said Ellen, "for she has vexed m_onderfully."
"Well, Ellen, would you like to hear my other pieces of news? or have you n_uriosity?"
"Oh, yes, indeed," said Ellen, "I had forgotten it entirely; what is it, Mis_lice?"
"You know I told you one concerns only myself, but it is great news to me. _earnt this morning that my brother will come to spend the holidays with me.
It is many months since I have seen him."
"Does he live far away?" said Ellen.
"Yes,–he has gone far away to pursue his studies, and cannot come home often.
The other piece of news is that I intend, if you have no objection, to as_iss Fortune's leave to have you spend the holidays with me too."
"Oh, delightful!" said Ellen, starting up and clapping her hands, and the_hrowing them round her adopted sister's neck;–"dear Alice, how good you are!"
"Then I suppose I may reckon upon your consent," said Alice, "and I'll spea_o Miss Fortune without delay."
"Oh, thank you, dear Miss Alice;–how glad I am! I shall be happy all the tim_rom now till then thinking of it. You aren't going?"
"Ah, don't go yet! Sit down again; you know you're my sister,–don't you wan_o read mamma's letter?"
"If you please, Ellen, I should like it very much."
She sat down, and Ellen gave her the letter, and stood by while she read it, watching her with glistening eyes; and though as she saw Alice's fill her ow_verflowed again, she hung over her still to the last; going over every lin_his time with a new pleasure.
> " _New York, Saturday, Nov._ 22, 18–.
> "MY DEAR ELLEN,
> "I meant to have written to you before, but have been scarcely able to d_o. I did make one or two efforts which came to nothing; I was obliged to giv_t up before finishing any thing that could be called a letter. To-day I fee_uch stronger than I have at any time since your departure.
> "I have missed you, my dear child, very much. There is not an hour in th_ay, nor a half hour, that the want of you does not come home to my heart; an_ think I have missed you in my very dreams. This separation is a very har_hing to bear. But the hand that has arranged it does nothing amiss; we mus_rust Him, my daughter, that all will be well. I feel it _is_ well; thoug_ometimes the thought of your dear little face is almost too much for me. _ill thank God I have had such a blessing so long, and I now commit m_reasure to Him. It is an unspeakable comfort to me to do this, for nothin_ommitted to his care is ever forgotten or neglected. Oh, my daughter, neve_orget to pray; never slight it. It is almost my only refuge, now I have los_ou, and it bears me up. How often–how often,–through years gone by,–whe_eart-sick and faint,–I have fallen on my knees, and presently there have bee_s it were drops of cool water sprinkled upon my spirit's fever. Learn to lov_rayer, dear Ellen, and then you will have a cure for all the sorrows of life.
And keep this letter, that if ever you are like to forget it, your mother'_estimony may come to mind again.
> "My tea, that used to be so pleasant, has become a sad meal to me. I drin_t mechanically and set down my cup, remembering only that the dear littl_and which used to minister to my wants is near me no more. My child–m_hild!–words are poor to express the heart's yearnings,–my spirit is near yo_ll the time.
> "Your old gentleman has paid me several visits. The day after you went cam_ome beautiful pigeons. I sent word back that you were no longer here to enjo_is gifts, and the next day he came to see me. He has shown himself very kind.
And all this, dear Ellen, had for its immediate cause your proper and ladylik_ehaviour in the store. That thought has been sweeter to me than all the ol_entleman's birds and fruit. I am sorry to inform you that though I have see_im so many times I am still perfectly ignorant of his name.
> "We set sail Monday in the England. Your father has secured a nice state- room for me, and I have a store of comforts laid up for the voyage. So nex_eek you may imagine me out on the broad ocean, with nothing but sky an_louds and water to be seen around me; and probably much too sick to look a_hose. Never mind that; the sickness is good for me.
> "I will write you as soon as I can again, and send by the first conveyance.
> "And now my dear baby–my precious child–farewell. May the blessings of Go_e with you!
> "Your affectionate mother, > "E. MONTGOMERY."
"You ought to be a good child, Ellen," said Alice, as she dashed away som_ears. "Thank you for letting me see this; it has been a great pleasure t_e."
"And now, said Ellen, "you feel as if you knew mamma a little."
"Enough to honour and respect her very much. Now good-by, my love; I must b_t home before it is late. I will see you again before Christmas comes."