Laura Elizabeth Howe Richards.

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By the Author of




I he Jstory of & C/hild




3 3333 09269 3627








Copyright, 1S93,

All rights reserved.





ilttg Sister,



I. THE CHILD , . . , 1











"Minded of nought but peace, and of a child.'"





"T'XT'ELL, there!" said Miss Vesta. "The child has a

* * wonderful gift, that is certain. Just listen to her,
Rejoice ! You never heard our canary sing like that!' :

Miss Vesta put back the shutters as she spoke, and let a
flood of light into the room where Miss Rejoice lay. The
window was open, and Melody's voice came in like a wave
of sound, filling the room with sweetness and life and joy.

" It ? s like the foreign birds they tell about ! " said Miss
Rejoice, folding her thin hands, and settling herself on the
pillow with an air of perfect content, " nightingales, and
skylarks, and all the birds in the poetry-books. What is
she doing, Vesta ? '

Miss Rejoice could see part of the yard from her bed.
She could see the white lilac-bush, now a mass of snowy
plumes, waving in the June breeze ; she could see the road,
and knew when any of the neighbors went to town or to
meeting ; but the corner from which the wonderful voice
came thrilling and soaring was hidden from her.

Miss Vesta peered out between the muslin curtains.
" She 's sitting on the steps," she said, " feeding the hens. It
is wonderful, the way the creatures know her ! That old



top-knot hen, that never has a good word for anybody, is
sitting in her lap almost. She says she understands their
talk, and I really believe she does. 'Tis certain none of
them cluck, not a sound, while she's singing. J T is a
manner of marvel, to my mind."

"It is so," assented Miss Eejoice, mildly. "There,
sister ! you said you had never heard her sing ' Tara's Harp.'
Do listen now ! '

Both sisters were silent in delight. Miss Vesta stood at
the window, leaning against the frame. She was tall, and
straight as an arrow, though she was fifty years old. Her
snow-white hair was brushed straight up from her broad
forehead ; her blue eyes were keen and bright as a sword.
She wore a black dress and a white apron ; her hands
showed the marks of years of serving, and of hard work of
all kinds. No one would have thought that she and Miss
Eejoice were sisters, unless he had surprised one of the
loving looks that sometimes passed between them when
they were alone together. The face that lay on the pillow
was white and withered, like a crumpled white rose. The
dark eyes had a pleading, wistful look, and were wonder-
fully soft withal. Miss Eejoice had white hair too, but
it had a warm yellowish tinge, very different from the clear
white of Miss Vesta's. It curled, too, in little ringlets round
her beautiful old face. In short, Miss Vesta was splendidly
handsome, while no one would think of calling Miss Ee-
joice anything but lovely. The younger sister lay always
in bed. It was some thirty years since she met with the
accident which changed her from a rosy, laughing girl into
a helpless cripple. A party of pleasure, gay lads and
lasses riding together, careless of anything save the delight
of the moment ; a sudden leap of the horse, frightened at


some obstacle ; a fall, striking on a sharp stone, this was-
Miss Rejoice's little story. People in the village had for-
gotten that there was am btory ; even her own contempo-
raries almost forgot that, Rejoice had ever been other than
she was now. But Miss Vesta never forgot. She left her
position in the neighboring town, broke off her engagement
to the man sh :^ loved, and came home to her sister ; and
they had ne*' 3r been separated for a day since. Once, when
the bitter pain began to abate, and the sufferer could realize
that s 1 -^ was still a living creature and not a condemned
spi v '..c, suffering for the sins of some one else (she had
Bought of all her own, and could not feel that they were
bad enough to merit such suffering, if God was the person
she supposed), in those first days Miss Rejoice ventured
to question her sister about her engagement. She was
afraid she did hope the breaking of it had nothing to
do with her. " Tt has to do with myself ! ' said Miss
Vesta, briefly, and nothing more was said. The sisters
had lived their life together, without a thought save for
each other, till Melody came into their world.

But here is Melod}' at the door 5 she shall introduce her-
self. A girl of twelve years old, with a face like a flower.
A broad white forehead, with dark hair curling round it in
rings and tendrils as delicate as those of a vine ; a sweet,
steadfast mouth, large blue eyes, clear and calm under the
long dark lashes, but with a something in them which
makes the stranger turn to look at them again. He may
look several times before he discovers the reason of their
fixed, unchanging calm. The lovely mouth smiles, the
exquisite face lights up with gladness or softens into sym-
pathy or pity ; but the blue eyes do not flash or soften, for
Melody is blind.


She canie into the room, walking lightly, with a firm, as-
,-sured tread, which gave no hint of hesitation or uiicer-

" See, Aunt Joy," she said brightly, " here is the first
rose. You were saying yesterday that it was time for cin-
namon-roses ; now here is one for you.'' She stooped to
kiss the sweet white face, and laid the glowing blossom
beside it.

"Thank you, dear," said Miss Eejoice ; "I might have
known you would find the first blossom, wherever it was.
Where was this, now ? On the old bush behind the
barn ? "

" Xot in our yard at all," replied the child, laughing.
" The smell came to me a few minutes ago, and I went
hunting for it. It was in Mrs. Penny's yard, right down
by the fence, close, so you could hardly see it."

" Well, I never ! " exclaimed Miss Vesta. " And she let
you have it ? '

"Of course," said the child. " I told her it was for Aunt

" IT m ! ' said Miss Yesta. " Martha Penny does n't
suffer much from giving, as a rule, to Aunt Joy or anybody
else. Did she give it to you at the first asking, hey ? '

"Now, Yesta!" remonstrated Miss Kejoice, gently.

" Well, I want to know," persisted the elder sister.

Melody laughed softly. " Xot quite the first asking,"
she said. "She wanted to know if I thought she had no
nose of her own. 1 1 did n't mean that,' said I ; ' but I
thought perhaps you would n't care for it quite as much as
Aunt Joy would.' And when she asked why, I said, ' You
don't sound as if you would/ Was that rude, Aunt
Yesta ? "


" Humph ! " said Miss Vesta, smiling grimly. " I don't
know whether it was exactly polite, but Martha Penny
would n't know the difference."

The child looked distressed, and so did Miss Bejoice.

" I am sorry," said Melody. " But then Mrs. Penny
said something so funny. ' Well, gaffle onto it ! I s'pose
you ? re one of them kind as must always have what they
want in this world. Gaffle onto }*our rose, and go 'long !
Guess I might be sick enough before anybody 7 ud get roses
for me ! ' So I told her I would bring her a whole bunch of
our white ones as soon as they were out, and told her how I
always tried to get the first cinnamon-rose for Aunt Joy.
She said, ' She ain't your aunt, nor mine either.' But she
spoke kinder, and did n't seem cross any more ; so I took
the rose, and here it is."

Miss Vesta was angiy. A bright spot burned in her
cheeks, and she was about to speak hastily ; but Miss
Bejoice raised a gentle hand, and motioned her to be

Martha Penny has a sharp way, Melody," said Miss
Bejoice; "but she meant no unkindness, I think. The
rose is very sweet," she added ; " there are no other roses so
sweet, to my mind. And how are the hens this morning,
dearie ? '

The child clapped her hands, and laughed aloud. " Oh,
we have had such fun ! ' she cried. ' Top-knot was very
cross at first, and would not let the young speckled hen eat
out of the dish with her. So I took one under each arm,
and sang and talked to them till they were both in a good
humor. That made the Plymouth rooster jealous, and he
came and drove them both away, and had to have a petting
all by himself. He is such a dear ! '


" You do spoil those liens, Melody," said Miss Vesta,
with an affectionate grumble. " Do you suppose they '11
eat any better for being talked to and sung to as if they
were persons ? :

" Poor dears ! " said the child ; "they ought to be happy
while they do live, ought n't they, Auntie ? Is it time to
make the cake now, Aunt Vesta, or shall I get my knitting,
and sing to Auntie Joy a little ? '

At that moment a clear whistle was heard outside the
house. " The doctor ! ' cried Melody, her sightless face
lighting up with a flash of joy. " I must go," and she ran
quickly out to the gate.

" Now he '11 carry her off," said Miss Vesta, " and we
sha'ii't see her again till dinner-time. You 'd think she
was his child, not ours. But so it is, in this world."

"What has crossed you this morning, Sister?" asked
Miss Kejoice, mildly. " You seem put about."

" Oh, the cat got into the tea-kettle," replied the elder
sister. "Don't fret your blessed self if I am cross. I can't
stand Martha Penny, that 's all, - - speaking so to that
blessed child ! I wish I had her here ; she 'd soon find out
whether she had a nose or not. Dear knows it's long
enough ! It is n't the first time I ? ve had four parts of a
mind to pull it for her."

"Why, Vesta Dale, how you do talk!" said Miss
Kejoice ; and then they both laughed, and Miss Vesta went
out to scold the doctor.



'"PHE doctor sat in his buggy, leaning forward, and talk
ing to the child. A florid, jovial-looking man, bright-
eyed and deep-chested, with a voice like a trumpet, and a
general air of being the West Wind in person. He was not
alone this time : another doctor sat beside him ; and Miss
Yesta smoothed her ruffled front at sight of the stranger,

" Good-morning, Vesta," shouted the doctor, cheerily,
" You came out to shoot me, because you thought I was
coming to carry off Melody, eh ? You need n't say no, for
I know your musket-shot expression. Dr. Anthony, let me
present you to Miss Yesta Dale, - -a woman who has never
had the grace to have a day's sickness since I have known
her, and that 's forty years at least."

" Miss Dale is a fortunate woman," said Dr. Anthony,
smiling. " Have you many such constitutions in your
practice, Brown ? '

" I am fool enough to wish I had," growled Dr Brown.
" That woman, sir, is enough to ruin any practice, with her
pernicious example of disgusting health. How is Kejoice
this morning, Yesta ? Does she want to see me ? :

Miss Yesta thought not, to-day ; then followed questions
and answers, searching on one side, careful and exact on the
other ; and then


" I should like it if yon could spare Melody for half an
hour this morning," said the doctor. " I want her to go
down to Phoebe Jackson's to see little Xed."

()li. what is the matter with Xed ?" cried Melody, with
a quick look of alarm.

" Tomfoolery is the principal matter with him, my dear,"
said Dr. Brown, grimly. "His eyes have been troubling
him, YOU know, ever since he had the measles in the


winter. I've kept one eye on the child, knowing that his
mother was a perfect idiot, or rather an imperfect one,
which is worse. Yesterday she sent for me in hot haste :
Xed was going blind, and would I please come that minute,
and save the precious child, and oh, dear me, what should
she do, and all the rest of it. I went down mad enough,
I can tell you ; found the child's eyes looking like a
ploughed field. ' What have you been doing to this child,
Phcebe ? ' ' We-ell, Doctor, his eyes has been kind o' bad
along back, the last week. I did cal'late to send for you
before ; but one o' the neighbors was in, and she said to
put molasses and tobacco-juice in them.' ' Thunder and
turf ! ' says I. ' What sa-ay ? ' says Phcebe. ' 'X' then old
Mis' Barker come in last night. You know she 7 s had con-
sid'able experi'nce with eyes, her own having been weakly,
and all her children's after her. And she said to try
vitriol ; but I kind o' thought I J d ask you first, Doctor, so I
waited till morning. And now his eyes look terrible, and
he seems dretful 'pindlin' ; oh, dear me, what shall I do if
my poor little Xeddy goes blind ? ' ' Do, Madam ? ' I said.
1 You will have the satisfaction of knowing that you and
your tobacco-juice and molasses have made him blind.
That's what you will do, and much good may it do
you.' :


" Oh, Doctor," cried Melody, shrinking as if the words
had been addressed to her, " how could you say that ?
But you don't think you don't think Ned will really be
blind ? " The child had grown very pale, and she leaned
over the gate with clasped hands, in painful suspense.

"No, I don't," replied the doctor. "I think he will
come out all right ; no thanks to his mother if he does.
But it was necessary to frighten the woman, Melody, for
fright is the only thing that makes an impression on a fool.
Now, I want you to run down there, like a good child ; that
is, if }^our aunts can spare you. Run down and comfort
the little fellow, who has been badly scared by the clack
of tongues and the smarting of the tobacco-juice. Im-
beciles ! cods' heads ! scooped-out pumpkins ! !: exclaimed
the doctor, in a sudden frenzy. "A I don't mean that.
Comfort him up, child, and sing to him and tell him about
Jack-and-the-Beanstalk. You '11 soon bring him round, I '11
warrant. But stop," he added, as the child, after touching
Miss Vesta's hand lightly, and making and receiving I know
not what silent communication, turned toward the house,
' stop a moment, Melody. My friend Dr. Anthony here is
very fond of music, and he would like to hear you sing just
one song. Are you in singing trim this morning ? ;

The child laughed. " I can always sing, of course," she
said simply. " What song would you like. Doctor ? '

" Oh, the best," said Dr. Brown. " Give us ' Annie
Laurie.' :

The child sat down on a great stone that stood beside the
gate. It was just under the white lilac-bush, and the
white clusters bent lovingly down over her, and seemed to
murmur with pleasure as the wind swept them lightly to
and fro. Miss Vesta said something about her bread, and


ve an uneasy glance toward the house, but she did not go
in ; the window was open, and Rejoice could hear : and after
all. bread was not worth so much as " Annie Laurie."
Melody folded her hands lightly on her lap. and sang.

Dr. Brown thought Annie Laurie ;: the most beautiful
song in the world : certainly it is one of the best beloved.

^J J *s

Ever since it was first written and sung (who knows just
when that was ? " Anonvmous " is the legend that stands


in the song-books beside this familiar title. We do not
know the man's name, cannot visit the place where he
wrote and sang, and made music for all corning generations
of English-speaking people ; can only think of him as a
kind friend, a man of heart and genius as surely as if his
name stood at the head of unnumbered symphonies and
fugues'). ever since it was first sung, I say, men and
women and children have loved this song. We hear of its
being sung by camp-fires, on ships at sea. at gay parties of
pleasure. Was it not at the siege of Lucknow that it
floated like a breath from home through the city hell-beset,
and brought cheer and hope and comfort to all who heard
it ? The cotter's wife croons it over her sleeping baby ;
the lover sings it to his sweetheart : the child runs, carolling
it. through the summer fields ; finally, some world-honored
prima-donna. some Patti or Xilsson. sings it as the final
touch of perfection to a great feast of music, and hearts
swell and eyes overflow to find that the nursery song of our
childhood is a world-song, immortal in freshness and
beauty. But I am apt to think that no lover, no tender
mother, no splendid Italian or noble Swede, could sing
Annie Laurie ' as Melody sang it. Sitting there in her
simple cotton dress, her head thrown slightly back, her
hands folded, her eyes fixed in their unchanging calm, she


made a picture that the stranger never forgot. He started
as the first notes of her voice stole forth, and hung
quivering on the air.

" Maxwellton braes are bonnie,
Where earlv fa's the dew."


What wonder was this ? Dr. Anthony had come prepared
to hear, he quite knew what, a child's voice, pretty, per-
haps, thin and reedy, nasal, of course. His good friend
Brown was an excellent physician, but with no knowledge
of music ; how should he have any, living buried in the
country, twenty miles from a railway, forty miles from a
concert ? Brown had said so much about the blind child
that it would have been discourteous for him, Dr. Anthony,
to refuse to see and hear her when he came to pass a night
with his old college chum ; but his assent had been rather
wearily given : Dr. Anthony detested juvenile prodigies. But
what was this ? A voice full and round as the voices of
Italy ; clear as a bird's ; swelling ever richer, fuller, rising
in tones so pure, so noble, that the heart of the listener
ached, as the poet's heart at hearing the nightingale, with
almost painful pleasure. Amazement and delight made
Dr. Anthony's face a study, which his friend perused with
keen enjoyment. He knew, good Dr. Brown, that he him-
self was a musical nobody ; he knew pretty well (what does
a doctor not know ?) what Anthony was thinking as they
drove along. But he knew Melody too ; and he rubbed his
hands, and chuckled inwardly at the discomfiture of his
knowing friend.

The song died away ; and the last notes were like those
of the skylark when she sinks into her nest at sunset.
The listeners drew breath, and looked at each other.


There was a brief silence, and then, " Thank you,
Melody," said Dr. Brown. " That 's the finest song in the
world, I don't care what the next is. Xow run along, like
my good maid, and sing it to Xeddy Jackson, and he will
forget all about his eyes, and turn into a great pair of ears."

The child laughed. "Neddy will want 'The British
Grenadier,' ' she said. " That is his greatest song." She
ran into the house to kiss Miss Rejoice, came out with her
sun-bonnet tied under her chin, and lifted her face to kiss
Miss Vesta. "I sha'n't be gone long, Auntie," she said
brightly. " There '11 be plenty of time to make the cake
after dinner."

Miss Vesta smoothed the dark hair with a motherly
touch. " Doctor does n't care anything about our cake,"
she said; "he isn't coming to tea to-night. I suppose
you 'd better stay as long as you 're needed. I should not
want the child to fret."

"Good-by, Doctor," cried the child, joyously, turning her
bright face toward the buggy. " Good-by, sir," making a
little courtesy to Dr. Anthony, who gravely took off his hat
and bowed as if to a duchess. " Good-by again, dear
auntie ; " and singing softly to herself, she walked quickly

Dr. Anthony looked after her, silent for a while. " Blind
from birth ? ' he asked presently.

" From birth," replied Dr. Brown. "Xo hope ; I 've had
Strong down to see her. But she 's the happiest creature
in the world, I do believe. How does she sing ? " he asked
with ill-concealed triumph. " Pretty well for a country
child, eh ? "

" She sings like an angel," said Dr. Anthony, " like an
angel from heaven."


" She has a right to, sir," said Miss Vesta, gravely. " She
is a child of God, who has never forgotten her Father.''

Dr. Anthony turned toward the speaker, whom he had
almost forgotten in his intense interest in the child.
" This lovely child is your own niece, Madam ? ' he
inquired. " She must be unspeakably dear to you."

Miss Vesta flushed. She did not often speak as she
had just done, being a Xew England woman : but "Annie
Laurie ' always carried her out of herself, she declared.
The answer to the gentleman's question was one she never
liked to make. " She is not my niece in blood," she said
slowly. " We are single women, my sister and I ; but she
is like our own daughter to us."

"Twelve years this very month, Vesta, isn't it," said
Dr. Brown, kindly, " since the little one came to you ? Do
you remember what a wild night it was ? '

Miss Vesta nodded. " I hear the wind now when I think
of it," she said.

t( The child is an orphan," the doctor continued, turning
to his friend. "Her mother was a young Irish woman,
who came here looking for work. She was poor, her
husband dead, consumption on her, and so on, and so on.
She died at the poorhouse, and left this blind baby. Tell
Dr. Anthony how it happened, Vesta."

Miss Vesta frowned and blushed. She wished Doctor
would remember that his friend was a stranger to her. But
in a moment she raised her head. " There 's nothing to be
ashamed of, after all," she said, a little proudly. " I don't
know why I should not tell you, sir. I went up to the
poor-farm one evening, to carry a basket of strawberries.
We had a great quantity, and I thought some of the people
up there might like them, for they had few luxuries, though


I don't believe they ever went hungry. And when I came
there, Mrs. Green, who kept the farm then, came out
looking all in a maze. 'Did you ever hear of such a thing
in your life ? ' she cried out, the minute she set eyes on
me. ' I don't know, 1 'm sure,' said I. f Perhaps I did, and
perhaps I did n't. How 's the baby that poor soul left ? ' I
said. It was two weeks since the mother died ; and to tell
the truth, I went up about as much to see how the child
was getting on as to take the strawberries, though I don't
know that I realized it till this very minute." She smiled
grimly, and went on. " ' That 's just it,' Mrs. Green screams
out. right in my face. ' Dr. Brown has just been here, and
he says the child is blind, and will be blind all her days,
and we've got to bring her up; and I'd like to know if I
have n't got enough to do without feedin' blind children ? '
I just looked at her. ' I don't know that a deaf woman
would be much better than a blind child, 7 said I ; ' so I '11
thank you to speak like a human being, Liza Green, and
not scream at me. Are n't you ashamed ? ' I said. ' The
child can't help being blind, I suppose. Poor little lamb !
as if it hadn't enough, with no father nor mother in
the world.' ' I don't care, ' says Liza, crazy as ever ; ' I
can't stand it. I 've got all 1 can stand now, with a feeble-
minded boy and two so old they can't feed themselves.
That Polly is as crazy as a loon, and the rest is so shif'less
it loosens all my j'ints to look at 'em. I won't stand no
more, for Dr. Brown nor anybody else.' And she set her
hands on her hips and stared at me as if she 'd like to eat
me, sun-bonnet and all. ' Let me see the child,' I said.
I went in, and there it lay,- -the prettiest creature you ever
saw in your life, with its eyes wide open, just as they are
now, and the sweetest look on its little face. Well, there,


you'd know it came straight from heaven, if you saw
it in Well, I don't know exactly what I 'm saying.
You must excuse me, sir ! " and Miss Vesta paused in some
confusion. " ' Somebody ought to adopt it/ said I. ' It 's
a beautiful child ; any one might be proud of it when it
grew up.' ' I guess when you find anybod}" that would
adopt a blind child, }"ou '11 find the cat settin' on hen's
eggs,' said Liza Green. 1 sat and held the child a little
while, trying to think of some one who would lie likely
to take care of it ; but I could irt think of any one, for
as she said, so it was. By and by I kissed the poor little
pretty thing, and laid it back in its cradle, and tucked it
up well, though it was a warm night. ' You '11 take care
of that child, Liza.' I said, ' as long as it stays with you,
or I'll know the reason why. There are plenty of people
who would like the work here, if you 're tired of it,' I said.

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