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eyes, and would have talked if it had been allowed. He wanted us all
close to him, and smiled as he held tightly Louis' hand in one of his,
and with the other grasped that of Professor Benton, to lay both
together in a silent introduction. I think Hal felt that Louis had saved
his life, and he clung to his hand as a drowning man would to a life
preserver. One sweet full hour passed over us, and the doctor made
preparation to leave him, whispering to me:

"The young man you brought to your brother is giving him wonderful
strength, and he must leave him only long enough to rest a little. The
crisis is past and the victory won."

And here began and ended a wonderful lesson in life.




CHAPTER VI.

A QUESTION AND A PROBLEM.


The details of our stay in Chicago as a whole would be uninteresting,
and I would not weary the reader with them. Hal improved so rapidly that
on the fourth day after our arrival, he was carried in comparative
comfort to Mr. Hanson's residence, and placed for a few days in a
pleasant chamber to gather strength for our journey home. One little
incident I must tell you, connected with my introduction to Mr. Hanson's
family. We were seated at the supper table, talking of Hal, his sickness
and the cause of it, when Daisy, a five-year-old daughter, spoke
quickly, "Mamma, mamma, she looks just like the 'tree lady,' only she
don't have her sewing."

I did not realize it as the child spoke, but when Mrs. Hanson chided the
little one, saying, "Daisy must learn not to tell all her little
thoughts," it all came so clearly, and I trembled visibly; yes, I guess
it was rather more than visible, since an unfortunate tilt in my chair,
an involuntary effort of trying to poise brain and body at once, upset
cup and saucer and plate, and before I knew it Mrs. Hanson had deluged
me with bay rum. They said I nearly fainted, but I realized nothing save
the ludicrous figure I presented, and I thought desparingly "Emily did
it." After supper I went to the library, and there it was - this piece of
work which Hal had done, representing me sitting under that old apple
tree, hemming and thinking. It was so perfectly done, even to the plain
ring on my middle finger, a wide old-fashioned ring which had been my
grandmother Minot's, and bore the initials "E.M." I could not speak when
I saw it, and if I could I should not have dared to for fear of some
unfortunate expression. I wished in my heart it had been any one else
but me.

"If my face had been like Hal's," I thought, and I stood as one covered
with a mantle and bound by its heavy folds, until the gentle voice of
Mrs. Hanson roused me, saying:

"Take a seat, Miss Minot, you are very tired." Yes, I was tired, though
I did not know it, and taking the chair she proffered, I covered my face
with both my hands and drew long breaths, as if to deliver myself from
the thoughts which overwhelmed me. Mrs. Hanson's womanly nature divined
my feelings, and she left me to myself, but after a while Daisy drew an
Ottoman near, and seating herself on it put her little hands in mine and
whispered:

"I think you're awful pretty. Don't you?"

I drew her into my lap and kissed her, and my dreams that night were
hope and peace. Louis was with me there, and although constantly
attentive to Hal, he gave no signs of weariness, and Hal would look into
his eyes, as he sat beside him, with a look of perfect devotion. I
thought so many times, as he lay back among his pillows looking at
Louis, he was mentally casting his features, and how nice it would be
when his deft hands moulded the clay with face and form like that of our
beautiful Louis Desmonde. What a joy to Clara's heart, and my own would
beat like a bird in its cage, thrilled with rapture at the prospect of
deliverance! Had he not saved the life of my darling brother, and in my
heart down deep, so deep I could bring no light of words upon the
thought, I felt that I loved them both. The tenth day (since our removal
to Mr. Hanson's) arrived, and then came our departure. I cried every
minute, and only because I was glad. Mr. and Mrs. Hanson and Louis
thought it due to over-exertion, and when I tried to explain I made an
unintelligible murmur, and only succeeded in bringing out one
thought - my gratitude to them and the hope that I might one day repay
it. Oh, how kind they were! Everything to make the transit easy for Hal
was cared for, even to the beautiful blanket Mrs. Hanson gave him, which
was doubly precious since her grandmother span the wool and colored and
wove it with her own hands. It was a happy party which left Chicago on
that memorable morning, and our journey was delightful. Father was
waiting for us at the old home station, and instead of the old stage we
rode home in an easy carry-all behind our own horses. Mother and Clara
met us with outstretched hands, and the latter, as she stood in the
doorway, looked a perfect picture.

Hal was very tired, and for days after our return was threatened with a
relapse, which was averted only by the unvarying care and strength of
Louis. When this risk was over and he was fairly started on the road of
recovery, came the departure of our friend and his return to his
studies. Oh, how we dreaded it! Hal said afterward the thought of his
going sent a chill to his head. The evening before his departure we
walked over the hill through the pleasant path his mother and myself
always chose when we walked and talked together. I said:

"Go with us, Clara," as we sauntered along the yard path toward the
gate, but Louis looked at her and she turned gaily from us with the
words:

"I will look after the invalid."

It seemed to me I was made of stone that evening, and we walked long
before the silence was broken. At last Louis stopped, and taking both my
hands looked into my heart (it seemed so to me) and said:

"I leave to-morrow."

My eyes grew moist, but only a sigh escaped my lips. I did not even say
I was sorry.

Then we sat down on the mossy trunk of our favorite tree, and he said:

"Are you sorry, Emily? Will you miss me, and will you write to me, and
will your dark eyes read the words I send to you?"

Dumb, more dumb than before, I sighed and bowed my head, and again he
spoke, this time with that strange, terribly earnest look in his eyes I
had seen before.

"Oh, Emily! my dear Emily! I am only a boy in years, but I love you with
the strength of a man. I have saved the life of your brother because I
loved his sister; and," he added in a low tone, "I love him too, but not
as I do the dark eyes of his sister. Oh! Emily, do you love me? Can you
and will you love me, and me only?"

And he drew me to him almost fiercely, while I quivered in every nerve,
and answered:

"Louis, do you know me well? Can you not understand my heart? How can I
help loving you?"

He loosened his grasp about me, and as his arm fell from my waist, tears
fell at his feet. Oh, what a nature was his! Then turning again to
me - "Will you wear this?" and a ring of turquoise and pearls was slipped
on my finger, while in his hand he held a richly-carved shell comb.

"This is for your midnight hair Emily, wear it always," and he placed it
among the coils of my hair.

Silence followed for a little time, and then Louis with his soulful eyes
fixed on something afar off, spoke with great fervor of the life he
longed for.

"Emily, you do not know me yet," he said.

"I know you better than you know yourself, but I am to you a puzzle, and
oh, if I could skip the years that lie between to-day and the day when
you and I shall really understand each other! Perfect in peace that day
I know will come, but there are clouds between. My father willed that I
should have this education I am getting. I need it, I suppose, but I
have greater needs, and cannot tell you about them till I am free."

"Two years - twenty-four months;" and his eyes fell, as he added
despairingly, "What a long time to wait." Then turning to me, "But you
will love me, you have said so?"

I looked my thoughts, and he answered them.

"Do not ever think so of me, I am only too sane, I have found my life
before the time."

"Oh! Louis," I cried, and then he answered with the words,

"My little mother knows it - she knows I love you. She knows my inmost
soul, and answers me with her pure eyes. But ah! her eyes have not the
light of yours; I want you to myself, to help me, and I will love you
all my life."

I was amazed, and wondered why it was - this strange boy had been much in
society, and why should I, an unsophisticated, homely girl, bring such a
shower of feeling on myself.

"Could it be real and would it last?"

He comprehended my thought again and replied:

"You are not homely; I see your soul in your eyes; you are younger than
I am; I have never seen your equal, and I know years will tell you I am
only true to my heart, and we will work together - ah! we will work for
something good, we will not be all for ourselves, _ma belle_," and on my
forehead he left a kiss that burned with the great thoughts of his
heart.

I could only feel that I was in the presence of a wonderful power, and
at that moment he seemed a divinity. The moon came over the hill, and
with his arm in mine we turned our steps homeward, and Clara met us
half-way, and putting her hand fondly in Louis' said:

"My boy is out under the moon. I feared he was lost."

"My little mother!" and he gathered her under his wing, as it seemed,
and we were soon at the gate of home. Louis and his mother passed in at
the side door. As they did so, I fell back a step or two, turned my
steps toward the old apple tree, and there, sitting against its old
trunk, I talked aloud and cried and said:

"Have I done wrong, or is it right?"

Oh! what strange thoughts came over me as I sat growing more and more
convinced that Louis' talk to me was a boyish rhapsody, and yet I knew
then, as I had before known, that my own heart was touched by his
presence. If he had been older, I should have felt that heaven had
opened; as it was, I longed to be full of hope and to dream of days to
be, and still I feared and I said aloud, "I am afraid, oh, I am afraid!"
and at that moment Louis stood before me, and in quiet tones spoke as
one having authority:

"Emily, you will get cold, you should not sit here."

And as I rose the moonbeams fell on my tear-stained face, and he said as
if I were the merest child:

"Why do you fear I shall ever be different toward you; but you need not
feel bound even though you have said you will love me."

"Louis," I cried, "you are cruel; you trouble me; I can't tell how I
feel at all," and then realizing his last sentence I took off the ring,
but ere I could speak he put it back, saying:

"No, no, Emily. I will wait one year, and then if you are afraid I will
go away; but keep the ring, for that is yours, and yours alone."

I went up to my little room without bidding any one "good-night," and
thought those old three words right over, "Emily did it." I had covered
myself up because I dared not be known, and if, after all, it was right,
how good it would be to be loved by one capable of such wondrous love as
he possessed.

I dreamed all night that I was alone and ill, and in the morning I
dreaded to meet Louis, but he gave no sign of any troubled thought, and
when the stage came was ready with his bright "good-bye." He folded his
little mother to his heart and held her there for a few seconds. When he
came to me his hand's grasp was firm and strong. His kiss and whisper
came together, "I will write." A moment later and he had gone. Clara
went to her own room, to cry a little softly as she afterward said, and
so the time wore on till the evening found us again all around the
table, and old grey Timothy, our cat, had the boldness to sit in Louis'
chair, which made Clara laugh through her tears. Joy and sorrow go hand
in hand, and while we felt his loss so keenly, his letters were a great
pleasure.

Hal had his share as well as Clara and I, and mother used to read every
one of Hal's. It seemed strange to me to have anything to keep from
mother, and had she opened the door I would have told her all, but she
never asked me about Louis' letters, and until I overheard a
conversation between my father and her I was held in silence; then the
ice was broken, for father said:

"I do not know what to do. It is possible that this bright young fellow
will play the part that so many do, and our innocent Emily be made the
sufferer. When he comes again we will try and manage to have her away.
She is a good girl and capable beside. Her life must not be blighted,
but we must also be careful not to hurt Clara's feelings. Clara is a
good little woman, and how we should miss her if she left us!"

"Well," said my mother, "I do not feel alarmed about our Emily, but, of
course, it is better to take too much precaution than not enough," and
their conversation ended.

When an opportunity presented I talked with mother, told her what I had
heard, and all that Louis had said to me, almost word for word, and the
result was her confidence. When our talk closed, she said in her own
impressive way:

"I will trust you, my daughter, and only one thing more I have to say:
Let me urge upon you the importance of testing your own deepest, best
feelings in regard to this and every other important step - yes, and
unimportant ones as well. There is a monitor within that will prove an
unerring guide to us at all times. If we do not permit ourselves to be
hurried and driven into other than our own life channels we shall gather
from the current an impetus, which comes from the full tide of our
innate thought. Such thought develops an inner sense of truth and
fitness, which is a shield ever covering us, under any and all
circumstances. It holds us firmly poised, no matter which way the wind
may be, or from what quarter it strikes us."

This thought I could not then appreciate fully, but I did what I could
toward it, and it was, in after years, even then, an anchor. My mother's
eyes were beautiful; they looked like wells, and when thoughts like
these rose to mingle with their light, they seemed twice as large and
full and deep as on ordinary occasions. I never wanted to disobey her,
and in those days we read through together the chapters in life's book
that opened every sunrise with something new. Our souls were blent as
one in a delightful unity, that savored more of Paradise than earth, and
now with Hal's returning strength, there was a triple pulsation of
mingled thought. Oh, Halbert, my blessed brother, no wonder my eyes are
brimming with tears of love at these dear recollections! Louis had sent
him a large box of material for doing his work, and Clara had insisted
on his having one of her new rooms for a studio, and everything was as
perfect as tasteful appointments could make it, even to the
dressing-gown she had made for him.

She made this last with her own hands, of dark blue cashmere, corded
with a thread of gold. He had to wear it, too, for she said nothing
could be too nice to use.

"Why, my dear Halbert," she added, "the grass is much nicer and you walk
on that."

The rich rosy flush came slowly enough into his pale cheeks, but it
found them at last, and I do believe when we saw the work grow so fast
under his hands, we were insane with joy. To think our farmer boy who
followed the cows so meekly every night had grown to be a man and a
sculptor, throwing such soul into his work as to model almost breathing
figures! His first work was a duplicate of the piece at Mr. Hanson's,
and was made at Louis' especial request. His next work was a study in
itself. It was an original subject worthy of Hal's greatest efforts, a
representation of our good old friend Hildah Patten, known to all our
village as "Aunt Hildy." We called her our dependence, for she was an
ever-present help in time of need; handy at everything and wasteful of
nothing. Her old green camlet cloak (which was cut from her
grandfather's, I guess) with the ample hood that covered her face and
shoulders, was a welcome sight to me, whenever at our call for aid she
came across lots. She lived alone and in her secluded woodland home led
a quiet and happy life; she was never idle, but always doing for others.
Few really understood her, but she was not only a marvel of truth but
possessed original thought, in days when so little time was given in our
country to anything save the struggle for a living. It is only a few
years since Aunt Hildy was laid away from our sight. I often think of
her now, and I have in my possession the statuette Hal made, which shows
camlet cloak, herb-bags and all. I desire you to know her somewhat,
since her visits were frequent and our plans were all known to her.




CHAPTER VII.

WILMUR BENTON.


The fall is a busy time in a farmer's household - with the gathering of
grain, clearing up of fields, and making all due preparations for the
coming winter; and it is beautiful also. This year, however, the many
colored leaves had sought the ground unnoticed by me; for my days had
been absorbed in thought and, instead of looking at things about me, if
I had a spare moment I wandered in the realms of feeling.

November had come to us with Louis' departure, and the weeks between his
coming and going seemed, as I looked back, like a few hours only,
crowded together as a day before me with the strange events, and
stranger thoughts, whose existence from that time onward has forced me
to own their supremacy and power. Hal's artist friend, Professor Benton,
was coming to see him - and I wished it were May instead of November, for
it seemed to me the outer attractions of our country home were much
greater than the inner, and I could not see how he was to be
entertained. Clara's side (as we called the four rooms she had added)
would be the only attraction, and since Hal was domiciled there, that
would be the right place. Many paintings adorned the walls, and to me
there was such a contrast between our middle room and its belongings,
and the sunny chamber occupied by Hal, that whenever I looked on the
massively-framed pictures there, they seemed out of place. Clara was
fond of having them in sight, and labored hard to have her loves ours.
Every other evening we were forced to occupy that side of the house and
I wonder, as I look back, that my father could have been so obedient to
her wishes. She would sit on an ottoman between him and my mother and
often with her head resting against the arm of his chair, talking with
us of our farm, the plans for winter, and the fences to be built with
the coming spring; and she was never satisfied unless allowed to be
really one of us. The building she had done was accredited to my father,
for she would not have it otherwise, and when his spirit of independence
prompted him to refuse her board-money afterward, she looked at him with
tears in her eyes and said:

"Why must I be repelled, Mr. Minot? Please let me stay here always. I
have no comfort if I have no one to be happy with, and you must take
this from me."

She was no trouble, and such a small eater that she must have paid us
four times over for all she had. Father thought at first her impulsive
gifts would be of short duration, but months had revealed her to us, and
we realized that she was a marvel of goodness. Not only interesting
herself in us but in others. Weekly visits were made by her to the poor
in our parish, and blessings fell on her head in prayers rising from the
lips of her grateful friends. The semi-monthly sewing circle she caused
to be appointed at our house (her side), and with her own hands made
all the edibles necessary on every occasion. She shrank from making
calls upon those who were not in need of her services, and never went
willingly to any public gathering. I never knew why, but she was
morbidly sensitive on this point. Once she was over-persuaded, and went
to an old-fashioned quilting party with mother, and she came home in a
fainting condition, and we worked over her until after midnight.

"I am so cold here," she said, placing her hand on her heart - "I will
not go out any more, Mrs. Minot; it hurts me."

We never afterward urged her, nor explained her suffering to the friends
who inquired. She exacted a promise to that effect.

What a strange being our lovely Clara was! She grew to our hearts as ivy
to the oak, and the tendrils of her nature entwined us, creeping a
little nearer daily, until the doors of our hearts were covered with
their growing beauty. I should be writing all about her, and not bring
myself into my story at all, but the promise I made you must be
fulfilled. At some other time I may write out for you the life and work
of this beautiful friend. My own experience seems to me only a
background against which her picture ought to rest. I have been
rambling, for you remember I began to tell you about the coming of Hal's
artist friend from Chicago. I believe it was the fifteenth of November
when he came, and his presence was not a burden as I feared, for he
found and filled a place held in reserve for him, and all united with me
in saying: "What a splendid man he is!"

Brother Ben, who was now at an interesting age, called him "a man to
study," and he seemed to be fascinated by him. His eyes followed every
motion, and his ear was keenly alive to every expression of thought. I
sometimes thought Hal wished Ben did not like him as well, for he was
constantly availing himself of his society. Some work fortunately had to
be done, else Hal would have been very much troubled to gain an
audience. Clara did not like the artist quite as well as I did, though
she said with the rest, "What a splendid man!" and betrayed by no word
or act any disregard for his feelings, still I intuitively felt a
something she did not say; and when I told her he had made an
arrangement to stay all winter, she clasped her white hands together
tightly, and between two breaths a sigh came fluttering from her lips,
while tears gathered in the blue of her eyes, as the white lids fell to
cover what she would not have me notice. Although a pain and wonder
filled my heart for a moment, I knew if Clara wished me to divine her
feelings she would explain herself, and her silence left me to my own
conjectures. I said to myself "Some thought of the past has come over
her," for I could not see how the stay of Wilmur Benton could affect her
happiness. He treated her with great deference and seemed to realize
with us that she had a rare organization. His stay was a matter of great
interest with Hal, as Hal was to gain from him the instruction he
needed, and they expected to get much enjoyment from working together.
Louis would be with us through the holidays, and Mr. Benton would, I
knew, enjoy that, for he insisted that it was the magic of his hand that
had saved Hal's life, and he looked on him as a real blessing. The two
artist souls blended as one, and drank daily deep draughts from the
fountain of an inspiring genius, and as I watched the work grow under
their hands, and the plastic and senseless clay become a fair statue,
lacking nothing save breath and motion to reveal an entity, I questioned
if the power was really theirs, or if their hands had touched a secret
spring and were guided outside of themselves. It really never seemed
like exertion, and to sense this wondrous art was to me the asking of
questions deeper than any among us could answer.

Hal's statue of dear Aunt Hildy was copied, and improved also by Mr.
Benton, who considered it a masterpiece, and the respect we bore our
friend was not lessened, even though there were those among us who might
speculate as to the motive that prompted it.

We never called her funny, but original, and good as gold. Our family
numbered now seven people, and with the farm work in addition to the
daily preparation of meals, the clearing up and upsetting again of
things, there were many steps to take, and Aunt Hildy was installed as
our help in need.

These were the days of help - not servants - when honest toil was well
appreciated by sensible people, and no hurried or half-done work fell
from their hands, but the steady doing resulted in answering the daily
demands.

"It's a bunch of work to do; it is, indeed, Mrs. Minot," said Aunt
Hildy.

"But we'll master it."

"I ain't never going to be driven by work, nor aristocracy neither. It's
a creepin' in on us, though, like the snake in the garden, just to make
folks think they can get more comfort out of fixin's than they can out
of the good old truths. I can't be fed on chaff; no, I can't."


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