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"Let the matter alone," was her final advice, leave Mrs. Thorne to be notified of Pearl's claim, in due time, by Pearl's lawyer."
But Bona would not permit me to act upon it. She averred that the blow would fall somewhat less crushingly upon Mrs. Thorne, if dealt before she had time to settle herself firmly into the belief that Rick's claim was beyond all question. She reminded me that my antipathy to her, and my tendency toward uncharitable judgment, in her regard, should make me only the more solicitous to fail her in no ordinary kindness;-in short, she made her quiet voice so persistently heard through Mala's murmurs and sarcasms, that I was forced to sit down to Mrs. Danforth's desk, and scribble a hurried note to Mrs. Thorne, through the house of "Venner & Co.,"-for I knew no other way of reaching her. And I left it at the post-office on my way to the station.
I arrived at the latter spot just as the up-train was leaving. The little bustle occasioned by its departure was all over when I came out of the express office, and most of the arrivals had been borne off by the various vehicles in waiting. A single figure was pacing impatiently up and down the platform. As it turned round, I found myself face to face with Rick Thorne.
Our greeting was cordial and unembarrassed. In that first moment, I think neither of us remembered precisely how we had parted.
"I thought it most likely that you had gone to New Orleans with your mother," said I,
"To New Orleans!" he repeated in surprise. “Is mother gone to New Orleans? What on earth has taken her there?"
"Then you did not see her before she went! I exclaimed, amazed that Mrs. Thorne should have taken the matter so completely into her own hands, as she appeared to have done.
"No. She came to Haventon, it is true, a day or two ago; and I understand she made a regular fuss because I was not there, and they couldn't tell her where I had gone. I-I-"
Here his self-possession quite forsook him, and a flush rose to his brow. It was only for a moment.
"What is the use of mincing matters?" he went on, with a quick return of his old, easy, engaging frankness ; "I am married, Miss Frost."
No doubt I opened wide eyes of wonder at him. The scene in "The Bower" came back upon me, now, vividly. I was provoked at myself that it caused a momentary pang. I had no mind to furnish a confirmation, in my own person, of the sneering assertion that no woman likes to see a man's affections transferred from herself to another, even though they may have given her pain rather than pleasure; -yet from whence came that swift throe, if not from wounded vanity? Or, was its deeper root in the sudden, flitting vision of my own lonely future which rose before me, as he spoke? Yet what right have I to assume that it will be lonely? God's spirit, working in and through my prayerful efforts, is able to crowd it with peace, joy, usefulness, blessedness.
"Allow me to be the first of your Shiloh friends to congratulate you," said I to Rick, quickly recovering myself. “Is your aunt expecting you?”
"No, I believe not. The truth is, my wedding was a very sudden affair; the fruit of a hasty impulse, but a good one, I hope. I met her—that is to say, my wifeonly a month ago, when I was in a wretched, despondent, gloomy state (I need not tell you the reason why), and she contrived to diffuse some sunshine through it, in such a miraculous way, that I was grateful, of course; and grati tude turns easily to love, you know. Then she was in uncomfortable leading-strings, subject to the control of certain people who were not at all in sympathy with her, and
who were continually checking her bright, beautiful impulses, and clipping the wings of her fancy; and I saw her so unhappy under it all, that I could not help marrying her, just to set her free. I supposed mother would be rather angry at first, but I knew I could coax her out of it. And there was not time to write and consult her about it."The frank, easy, kind-hearted, inconsiderate, infatuated fellow! I hoped his wife had brought somewhat more of that uncommon commodity known as common sense into the sudden partnership than he had done.
"And now," he concluded, "let me take you in and introduce you to her."
I ceased to marvel at Rick's infatuation when a dainty little creature, half-asleep in the dingy waiting-room, lifted her picture-like head, with its great mass of golden curls and its innocent, wondering blue eyes, and smiled up into his face. But what a child! What a pair of children! What would become of them! Had Providence graciously gifted them with some sparrow-like instinct, by the help of which to seek their food and build their nest, as an offset to their scanty stock of human reason! And what sort of mercy might this soft dove expect at the angry talons of Mrs. Thorne! Poor, bitter, disappointed, Mrs. Thorne!
Mrs. Rick received me with the air of a childish princess, quiet, grave, slightly tinged with shyness, yet without awkwardness or confusion. She replied to my congratu latory remarks appropriately enough, answered the questions I addressed to her, and left the rest of the conversation to Rick and myself.
A small boy, a rickety wagon, and a horse capable of serving every purpose of a skeleton without taking the trouble of dying, shortly appeared at the door, and termi nated the interview. With a laugh at the style of his equipage,―the only one he had been able to procure,—and a seriously expressed fear that the horse would be "off his
legs "before they could reach Bryer Farm, Rick tossed in his trunk, handed in his bride, took his small driver on his knees, and set forth through the sunshine toward Shiloh.
An hour afterward, having finished my shopping and turned my face homeward, I came upon them midway between Clay Corner and Hope Plain, where the loneliness of the road is not tempered, for more than a mile, by any dwelling. The horse had been loosened from the wagon, and was panting under a tree by the wayside; Rick stood looking at him with a serious face; his wife sat in the wagon, unruffled and observant; and the small boy was making much ado of crying, with his dirty fists in his eyes. "What is the matter?" I asked, drawing up beside the party.
"The matter is that this miserable beast is completely knocked up with old age, or starvation, or hard work, or a mixture of the three; it would be a kindness to knock him in the head and put him out of his misery. I've a great mind to do it. Be off, you young rascal, and tell his master to come and look after him, if he's got a master. It's a question whether he'll have a horse when he gets here, and may he never have another!"
There was a short consultation. It ended in Rick's placing his bride in the empty seat of my buggy, to be conveyed to Bryer Farm; while he turned back on foot in search of a team to bring on his trunk and himself.
My passenger sat silent, stealing occasional glances at me from under her long eyelashes; doubtless, she was embarrassed by the novelty of her position. To set her at ease, by diverting her thoughts into a familiar channel, I inquired what place she had been accustomed to call home?
"Ah? I have many acquaintances there. Do you know the Maxwells or the Lightfoots?"
"No. I know the Heavyheads very well."