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as eat their victuals. The fact is she's done us good, somehow, every day of her life since she come here. There ain't many city folks, I guess, that have made such a record of a summer in the country as the recording angel has written down of hers!"
This long speech did not run its course without interruption. Thrice a shadowy horse, wagon, and driver had come out of the dusk before us, and halted; a voice, nasal perhaps, but certainly kind and interested, had propounded the query, "How is Miss Frost?" Without drawing rein, Mr. Divine had responded, "Sinking fast;" and the vision had disappeared in the gloom behind. My heart ached anew with each repetition of that answer-sank lower as .with a fresh burden of despair.
The road now began to climb. Reaching a level, Mr. Divine announced that we were on "Hope Plain,' " and pointed out the homes of Mrs. Danforth and Essie Volger. Up two or three more hills, and the " Gwynne Place rose duskily into the darkening sky. I shuddered to come thus upon places made so vivid to my imagination through Winnie's graphic picturings; and to find them dim, sombre shapes, wavering of outline and vague of tint, eluding my straining gaze and vanishing into gloom. The world she had evoked seemed fading-dying with her!
More hills to climb; more jolting; a denser shadow of trees! Then a little white church reared itself lonelily upon the sky before us. Now, I knew my ground. Swiftly we turned the corner, gently we trotted up to the gate. The large, sloping-roofed, venerable, kindly homestead of Winnie's story and my dreams rose before me.
A comfortable vision after that long, dark, heavy-hearted ride! Bursting with light, every door and window contributing its cheery quota. Through one wide portal, the ruddy glow and flame of the kitchen fire. Between its gleam and our dusk, a short, brisk figure, with straightdown skirts and flying cap-borders, hurrying out to meet
me. Hearty, homely words of welcome, of sympathy, of an unconquerable springiness of hope, upon its lips.
Can you guess what I did next! Up to this moment I had shed no tear. Now, the kind tone, the motherly man
ner, overcame me. My "windows of heaven" were opened. For one minute there was a swift downpour.
"Come right into the kitchen," said Mrs. Divine, "there's nobody there. The rest of the house is pretty much filled up with people waiting to see how the fever turns with Miss Frost. I told 'em they might go where they liked, if they'd keep out of her room, and leave the kitchen clear for Priscilla and me and the kitchen-work; that needs to go on all the more regularly when there's sickness in the house. And I've got a cup of tea and a bite all ready for you.”
I tried to decline, the refreshment; I desired to go to Winnie at once. But there was no resisting Mrs. Divine's mingled kindness, peremptoriness, and good sense.
"You're not fit to go just yet; and there's no hurry— she won't know you. Take your tea and get up your strength; you want to be able to stay when you do go. We try to keep her room as free from coming and going and confusion, as possible. Aunt Vin says that noise and excitement tells on the nerves of sick people, even when they don't seem to take any notice. And I guess she's right."
The kitchen was exquisite in neatness; redolent of Mrs. Prescott's spirit, tempered by the blither one of her mother. Mrs. Prescott herself took my bonnet and placed my chair. She was quieter, gentler than my expectation; but I remembered that sickness and death had but lately visited the house, and that one-perhaps both! had crossed its threshold again. Wonderful softeners they !
As I sat at table, a slight, graceful, thoughtful-looking girl stole quietly to my side, and kissed me silently, with quivering lips. I needed no telling that I beheld Alice
Prescott. A few moments after, Essie Volger appeared,— a fine, open, intelligent face, a frank, easy, cordial manner, both a little shadowed now by grief and anxiety. With her, came Mr. Taylor to wring my hand and utter a sympathizing, comforting word. All these, I felt, took me directly into their hearts, for Winnie's sake, and made common cause with me. My sorrow was theirs. One prayer was in all our hearts-"Spare her, good Lord!”
Alice led me up stairs. Leo followed us, with grave and dignified aspect.
In the little entry above, on a large chest, in a position to command the interior of the sick-room beyond, a boy sat motionless, sombre, mute, watchful.
"It is Jack Warren," whispered Alice. here."
Stirred to the depths, I passed on.
"He will stay
A large, wainscoted room, with the bed drawn near the middle, for greater convenience and freer air. On one side, a tall, gaunt woman, her finger on the patient's pulse, her head shaking fatefully-Aunt Vin. Flung down at the foot, in an attitude of complete dejection, a girl with au burn hair. On the pillow, a wan, wasted face, veiled with stupor. These things I took in at a glance.
The girl rose, and turned round. No lovelier countenance ever lit the interior regions of a painter's imagination. With a sob, she threw herself into my arms,-sweet, loving, impulsive Ruth Winnot, gifted and stricken by Providence as at one blow.
"We're amasin' glad to see you," said Aunt Vin. "We've been in a state of expectoration all day, and we'd about giv' up."
Alice noiselessly placed me a chair on the farther side of the bed. I sat down and looked at Winnie through my tears. So changed-oh! so changed!
Speak to her," said Aunt Vin, " and see if she reck onizes you."
Once-twice-thrice, I called her name.
Into it I con
densed an agony of supplication and tenderness that should have brought her back from the very portal of the grave, I thought. At the third repetition she half-opened her eyes, murmured something in Italian, of which I caught only the sombre word "notte," and relapsed into coma.
"Oh! this is too much!" I groaned. "Not to know me, not to speak to me, not to hear what I would say to her! I cannot bear it! Oh! will she not wake-will she not understand-just for one moment, before she dies?'
"Couldn't conjuncture," said Aunt Vin, gravely. "The fever'll turn about midnight, I guess. What'll follow, I couldn't intend to say; not if I'd swallowed the pharmacopious and was physician in ordinal to the Queen. We must do our best and wait upon the Lord."
The evening wore slowly on. Intense quiet in the sickroom, broken only by the rattle of spoons and phials, an occasional remark or direction from Aunt Vin, and faint sounds from below indicating the coming and going of anxious and sympathizing friends.
At ten o'clock, Mr. Taylor stole quietly in, knelt by the bed, and said a prayer or two from the order for the Visitation of the Sick, in low, solemn tones that only seemed to add to the chamber's hush. They were followed by an "Amen!" so loud and deep that it startled me. Looking up, I saw a new comer in the entry, by Jack's side. The form was hidden in shadow, but the rough, leonine head, the deepset, glittering eyes, could only belong to Mr. Warren!
Then the sounds from below ceased, the house grew still, the long, fateful night-watch began!
THE CRY IN THE NIGHT.
[Francesca to her Husband.]
HILE I live, that night-watch will live, too, in my memory. I wish I could set it before you, reasonably true of outline and coloring!
The large, low, quaintly-furnished room, dimly lit by the swealing candle. Two open
windows-one merely a square of blackness, dense shadow laid against it, like a thing to be felt; in the other, the dusky foliage of a lilac, here, catching the light from within, there, vanishing into gloom. Without, a dark, clouded sky; an atmosphere still and warm, even to sultriness; the soft murmur of the brook flowing in the meadow.
On the bed, the sufferer's motionless form and pallid face; low moans, as of pain, breaking at intervals from her parched lips. Ruth fanning her, with a tireless, monotonous motion. Alice gliding to and fro, noiseless as a shadow; bringing water from the well, ice from the cellar, broths and decoctions from the kitchen, obedient to a sign or a word from Aunt Vin. The latter personage by the bedside; cool, vigilant, cautious, and prompt, as a sentinel at his post or a general in the field.
In one corner, Leo, observant, alert; with an expression almost human in its anxiety, its mournfulness, and its intelligence, upon his face.