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Ada with us," said Horace, suddenly rousing himself from his reverie, and leaving the shadow in which he had been standing.
"Yes," said Margaret, in a low voice, and with the start of one awakened out of a sleep in which she had been dreaming pleasantly. "Ada will enjoy that!"
She turned her face to the window where Ada sat, poring over a book of pictures by the lamplight, her little head hidden under its weight of ringlets, like an apple-blossom spray bent down with flowers.
"Child, will you come to Lily Island with Horace and me? " she said, caressingly. "Your vase is empty, and the old enchanters used to say that flowers should be gathered when the moonlight is upon them, if they were to have any spell. And you know you said you wished to enchant Horace. Will you come?"
She smiled and held out her hand caressingly.
The girl flung her book on the floor with a little cry of pleasure. "Oh, that will be delightful!" she exclaimed, clapping her hands. "It was so stupid, Margaret, in here all alone, with nothing but those wearisome old pictures that I have seen hundreds of times before. I was wondering when you and Horace would be tired of talking philosophy together, for you are always wandering away among minds and stars—far out of my depth." Which, perhaps, would not have been difficult to any one who could wade deeper than the hornbook.
All the time Ada was chattering thus, she was gathering up from the sofa her gloves, shawl, and bonnet; losing vast quantities of time in searching behind the pillars for her shawl pin, which she did not find after all. For the sofa was Ada's toilet-table and unfathomable well generally, serving various kinds of duties. "Wo will go, Margaret," she continued, running through the room on to the balcony, her shawl thrown on to her shoulders awry, and holding her straw bonnet by its long blue strings. "Remember, I am to crown you like a naiad, and Horace is to be your triton. Are those words pronounced properly, Horry V And she put her arms round the artist as a child might have done, and looked into his face prettily.
"You are to do just as you like, fairy Ada," said Horace, fondly, patting her round cheek. "You are too childish to contradict, and not wise enough to convince; so you must even be indulged for weakness' sake if not for love." This was to correct his flattery.
But it was not flattery after all; for she was like a fairy, hanging round him and caressing him so childishly; her little feet falling without echo as they glanced restlessly from beneath her wide flounces, and her yellow hair hanging down like golden strands. She was like one of those flowers in fairy books from whose heart flows out an elfin queen; like a poet's vision of a laughing nymph; a wandering peri masked for a while in human features; like a dewdrop sparkling in the sun; a being made up of light, and love, and laughter; so beautiful and innocent that the cold
est cynic must have praised, the sternest stoic must have loved.
"What a child! What a lovely child!" said Horace, half to himself, turning from her and yet still holding her hand against his shoulder. "You are repaid now, Margaret," he added, tenderly, "for your long years of thought and care. Your life is blessed indeed; far more so than many which have more the appearance of fulfillment."
"Yes," said Margaret," raising her dark eyes full into his. "My life is very, very happy now, Horace. Nothing is wanting to it, nothing. A home, a child, a friend; what could I ask of fate that I have not got?"
He looked at her affectionately. "Good, unselfish Margaret!" he said. Boon and blessing to your whole world! Without you, at least two liveswould be incomplete—your sister's and mine. We should be desolate wayfarers, without a guide and without a light, if you were not here. I can not say that you are needful to us, Margaret: you are much more than needful."
A smile of infinite happiness wandered over Margaret's face as she repeated softly, "Am I then needful to you, Horace V and her eyes lighted up with such love and fervor, that for a moment she was as absolute in youth and beauty as little Ada herself. Even Horace looked at her again, as at a face he did not know; but the smile and the glance faded away as they had come, and the gloom of physical unloveliness clouded over her face thick and dark as ever.
"Margaret is very good; she is true and noble; but she is fearfully plain!" Horace thought to himself. "My father, who was so ford of beauty, would have said she was sinfully ugly. What a pity, with such a fine nature!" And he looked from her to Ada.
Ada was all impatience to set off; and Margaret must go in for her shawl and bonnet without a moment's delay. Smiling at her little sister's impetuous sovereignty, Margaret went into the house, like a patient mother with a favorite child; shaking her head, though, as she passed the little one, standing there in her woman's beauty and her child's artlessness; and saying, "You are spoilt, my darling," conveyed by look and accent, " I love you better than my own life," instead.
"Come to me, Ada," said Horace, as Margaret went into the house. "Your hair is all in disorder. Careless child! at seventeen you ought still to have a nurse."
"Now leave me alone, Horace, and never mind my hair," said Ada, escaping from him to the other end of the balcony. "You never see me without finding fault with my hair; and I am sure it is not so bad. What is the matter with it!" She shook it all over her face, and took up the ringlets one by one, to examine them; pouting a little, but very lovely still.
Horace was not to be coaxed nor frightened. He caught her in her retreat, and drew her to him, giving her a lecture on neatness that was rather against his instincts. But no matter; it served its purpose. Part of those yellow ringlets had been caught among the blue cornflowers under the bonnet she had perched on the top of her head, and part had been folded in with her awkward shawl. They were all in a terrible condition of ruffle; and Horace made her stand there before him like a child, while he smoothed them back deftly enough, scolding her all the time, but very tenderly. Then, impelled by a sudden impulse, that seemed to overmaster him, he bent down close to her, and whispered something in her ear, so low that the very swallows sleeping under the eaves could not have dreamed they heard its echo; and when he ended he said, " Do you, Ada?" as if his very soul and all his hopes had been centered in her answer.
"Yes—no—ask Margaret," cried Ada, struggling herself free; and then she added with a ringing laugh, " Oh, it is only a jest. You are not serious, Horace?" rushing almost into Margaret's arms as she stepped through the open window.
"What is it all about?" asked Margaret, looking from Ada with her burning cheeks, to Horace, pale and agitated. "Have you been quarreling ever since I left you?"
Neither spoke for a moment; and at last, Horace said with a visible effort: "I will speak to you alone of this, Margaret. You alone can decide it;" grasping her hand warmly.
They went down the baleony steps, through the garden, and then through the shrubbery of rhododendrons and azalias, and then through the little wicket gate that opened upon the shingly bay, where the May Fly lay moored in Ada's harbor—just under the shadow of the purple beech. Ada sprang into the little skiff first, as usual, insisting on steering; an art about which she knew as much and attended to as carefully as if a problem of Euclid had been before her. But she was generally allowed to have her own way; and they pushed out of the harbor, Ada at the helm, murmuring a love-song about a Highland Jeanie tried and true—"chanting to the nixies," Horace said—as she bent over the gunwale and looked into the water. Margaret's face was turned upward, and Horace—his fine head almost idealized in this gentle light—sat gazing at the two sisters, while the tender moon flowed over all; flooding Ada's golden curls with a light as gay as laughter, and losing itself in the thick braids of Margaret's hair, like life absorbed in death.
"Ada means to shipwreck us," cried Horace suddenly, avoiding Dead Man's Rock only by a skillful turning of the oar, as the Venetian boatmen had taught him.
Margaret caught the tiller-string and drew it home, and the little boat glanced off, just grazing her keel as she scudded over the furthest point of the sunken rock.
"Ada, child, are your thoughts so far from earth that you can not see Death when he stands in the way? What were you thinking of, love, when you nearly gave a plural to Dead Man's Rock?"
"Oh, nothing—nothing. But do you take the helm, Mar," Ada exclaimed, half in tears.. "I
am not steady enough to guide myself; still less, others!" And she almost cried, which was a common manifestation of feeling with her, and looked so distressed that Margaret took her face between her hands and kissed her forehead for comfort.
"Don't be downcast, my child," she said gently; "we all make mistakes sometimes, and seldom any so venial as all-but running the May Fly on the rocks. Go and comfort Horace, and ask him if he sprained his wrist in that strange Venetian manoeuvre of his. I am sure you have been quarreling on the baleony, Ada—you look so shy of him!" And she laughed pleasantly.
"Oh, no—no!" cried Ada, trying to look indifferent, but unsuccessfully. Then, with a sud| den shake of her head, as if shaking it clear of fancies, she ran over the thwarts and sat down by Horace frankly; but terribly in his way for the sweep of an oar. She leaned on his shoulder and played with his hair, in her old familiar manner; asking him "if he were cross yet ?—what made him so grave?"
"Not cross at any time with you," he said, bending his head to her hands. "Sometimes thoughtful—and about you."
His grave voice made Ada pause. "Are you unhappy!" she said; and her hand stole gently to his forehead.
"No. I am very happy at this moment," he said. "At the worst of times only in doubt." He looked at Margaret as he spoke wistfully.
"In doubt of what, Horace?" she asked.
"Whether sisterly affection might ever take a dearer name; or whether a niche might be reserved for me in the temple of a beloved life."
The boat was floating through the water-lilies as he spoke. They touched the shore of the island.
"Now sermonize together!" cried Ada, springing on shore and rushing away into (he wood. She was going to look for mosses, she said, and ferns for the rockwork in her garden; for Horace and Margaret were best alone.
A rustic bench or chair had been placed in the green knoll just above the landing-place, and there Horace and Margaret seated themselves; watching the stars in the lake, and waiting until their darling should return to them again.
"Your life has been an anxious one for many years, Margaret," said Horace, after another of their long intervals of silence had fallen like a dark cloud over them. He was agitated; for his voice trembled, though his face was hidden by his slouched hat, and Margaret could not see it.
"Yes," she answered quietly; "since my dear father's death, when Ada was left to my care—I so young and she a mere infant—I have had many hours of care and anxious thought. But I have come out into tho calm and sunshine now. My darling has grown up all that the tenderest mother could demand for her child ; and I am more than repaid by the beauty of the nature which perhaps I helped to form, by the power of my own love and tho sacrifice of my whole life."
"Ah, Margaret!" cried Horace, warmly— "queen in soul as well ns in name; queen of all womanly virtues and of ail heroic powers, my heart swells with gratitude and love when I think of all that you have been to Ada; of how you have fed her life with your own, and emptied your cup of happiness into her's. Dear Margaret!— friend more than sister—what do we not owe you of boundless love, of infmite return!"
Margaret did not speak. Her heart was beating loud and fast, and her eyes, heavy with joy, were bent on the ground. Dut the lashes and the black brows were portals which suffered no meaning to pass beyond them; and Horace did not read the revelation written in those eyes, which else might have arrested, if it had not changed, the future.
"And now, Margaret," continued Horace, "you know how dear you arc to me. You know that your happiness will be my chief care, and to honor and cherish you my joy as well as my duty." Margaret's thin hands closed convulsively on each other; she bent nearer to him unconsciously—her head almost on his shoulder. "You know how much I have loved you and our fairy child there, and how this love has gradually closed round the very roots of my heart, till now I can scarcely distinguish it from my life, and would not esteem my life without it. Tell me, Margaret, you consent to my prayer. That you consent to deliver up to my keeping your very heart and soul, the treasure of your love and the passion of your life. Will you make me so blessed, Margaret—dearest Margaret!"
She turned her eyes upon him, dark with love, and moist and glad. Her arms opened to receive him and to press him close upon her heart; and her lips' trembled as she breathed softly, "Yes, Horace, yes, I will give you all."
"Dearest!—best! he cried. "Friend, sister, beloved Margaret! how can I thank you for your trust in me—how reward your gift? Ada!—my Ada!" and his voice rang through the island, the little one coming at its call. "Here, to me, child adored!" he continued, snatching her to him; "here to your home; to your husband's heart, first thanking your more than mother there for the future, which, my love, infinite as Heaven, shall make one long day of joy and happiness to yon. Thank her, Ada—thank her! for she has given me more than her own life."
"Horace!" groaned Margaret, covering her face with her hands. "This is a pain too great; a sacrifice too hard. My heart will break. God, do Thou aid me!"
The passionate agony of that voice checked even Horace in bis joy. It was too grieving, too despairing, to be heard unmoved. The man's eyes filled up with tears, and his lip quivered. "Poor Margaret!" he said to himself, '' how she loves her sister. I have asked too much of her. Yet she shall not lose her."
"No, Margaret," whispered Ada, crying bitterly, one hand on her lover's shoulder and the other round her sister's waist, "it shall be no pain, no sacrifice. Will you not still love me,
and shall I not always love you and be near you I Horace will not separate us."
A shudder ran through Margaret. This blindness and unconscious egotism shocked and chilled her. A moment more, and the pain was pressed back with a strong hand: the sacrifice was accepted with a firm heart. She raised her head and looked up, saying, "God be with you, dear ones, now and everI" as she joined their hands, tears slowly filling her dark eyes, and falling hot and heavy over her face.
Nothing could be done without Margaret. Every inch of the way, to the steps of the altar, she must walk hand in hand with Ada, the little one never dreaming of the fiery ordeal her love and childish weakness caused that suffering spirit to endure. And even when she had descended the altar-steps by the side now of another guide, Margaret was still her support, and her counsel the favorite rule of her conduct. The loving gentle child !—frightened somewhat at the new duties she had undertaken, and feeling that she could not fulfill them without Margaret's help: believing that she could not even please Horace unless Margaret taught her how. When her sister remonstrated with her, and endeavored to give her confidence in herself, and told her that she must act more independently now, and not look for advice in every small affair, but study to win her husband's respect as well as to preserve his love, Ada's only answer was a weary sigh, or a flood of tears, and a sobbing complaint that "Margaret no longer loved her. and if she had known it would have changed her so she would never have married—never!"
What could the sister do? What only great hearts can do—pity; be patient, and learn from sorrow the nobleness not always taught by happiness. Ada was too young for her duties; and Margaret knew this, and had said so; daring to be so brave to her own heart, and to rely so wholly on her truth and singleness of purpose, as to urge on Horace her doubts respecting this marriage, telling him she feared that its weight would crush rather than ennoble the tender child, and advising him to wait, and try to strengthen, before he tried, her. Advice not much regarded, how much soever it might be repented of hereafter that it had not been more respected, but falling, as all such counsels generally do fall, on ears too fast closed by love to receive it. All that Margaret could do was to remain near them, and help her sister to support the burden of her existence; drinking daily draughts of agony no one dreamed of, yet never once rejecting the cup as too bitter or too full. She acted out her life's tragedy bravely to the last, and was more heroic in that small domestic circle than many a martyr dying publicly before men, rewarded by the knowledge that his death helped forward Truth. With Margaret there was no excitement, no rewanl, save what suffering gives in nobleness and worth.
Horace fell in with this kind of life naturally enough. It was so pleasant to have Margaret always with them—to appeal to her strong sense and ready wit when he was in any doubt himself, and to trust Ada to her care—that he now asked whether it were not rather a divided life he was leading, and whether, between his wife and sister, it was not the last who held the highest place? This is scarcely what one looks for in a perfect marriage. It was Margaret who was his companion, his intellectual comrade; while Ada played with the baby or botched kettleholders and urnstands; and they were Margaret's thoughts which he sketched on the canvas, Ada standing model for the heads and hands.
It was Margaret too who taught the children when they were old enough to learn, and who calmed down their little storms, and nursed them when they were ill. Ada only romped with them, laughed with them, let down her hair for their baby hands to ruffle into a mesh of tiny ringlets, kissed them as they rushed past, or stood terrified and weeping by the cot where they lay sick and sad in illness. But the real discipline and the real work of life she never helped on. When the eldest child died it was Margaret who watched by his pillow the whole of that fearful illness: it was Margaret who bathed his fevered temples, placed the leeches on his side, and dressed that red and angry sore: it was Margaret who raised his dying head, and laid him quietly to rest in the narrow coffin forever: it was Margaret, worn and weak with watching as she was, who consoled Horace and soothed Ada's tears to a sobbing sleep; who ordered the details of the funeral, and saw that they were properly performed. All steadily and strongly done, although that pretty boy had been her godson and her favorite, had slept in her arms from the first hour of his birth, and had learnt every childish lesson from her lips. And it was only at night, when the day's work was done and all others had been comforted, that Margaret suffered herself to sit down with her grief, and give vent to the sorrows she had to strengthen in action.
And when that debt, for which Horace had been bound, became due; the friend to whom he had lent his name failing him, and the lawyers sent bailiffs into the house, it was Margaret who calmed the frightened servants; who restored Ada, fainting with terror, and who arranged the means of escape from this embarrassment, by giving up her own property; every farthing she possessed barely covering the claim. A sacrifice Horace was forced at last to accept, after much delay and much anguish of mind, not seeing his way clearer out of the strait, and unwilling, for Ada's sake, delicate as she was just now, to brave the horrors of an arrest. So Margaret, who had always been the giver and the patroness, had her world reduced to dependence; of itself a sore trial to a strong will.
In every circumstance of life it was the same. She was the good angel of the household, without whom all would have been loose and disjointed; to whom love gave the power of consolation, and suffering the might of strengthening. Yet Horace and Ada lived on sightless and unperceiving; satisfied to taste life—enjoying that
gentle epicurean thankfulness which accepts all blessings lovingly but without question, and never traces the stream which waters its garden to its source near the heavens.
Ada's summons had sounded; her innocent and loving life was sentenced to its end. Useless on earth, but asked for in heaven, she must die, that she may be at peace. And it was in mercy that she was taken away; for age and care were not made for her. They would have made life more tiresome than she could support. But this last little blossom, although it looked so fragile, broke down the slight twig on which it flowered, and the young mother and her baby passed to heaven together. The light had faded away and the shadow fell softly in its place.
What had passed from Horace? A child; a sunny landscape; a merry laugh; a tamed woodbird; something very lovely but not necessary; something loved more than himself, and yet not his true self. With Ada, all the beauty and the joy of his life had gone; but the spirit remained. Not a thought hung tangled in his brain for want of a clearer mind to unravel it: not a noble impulse fell dead for want of a strong hand to help it forward. What he was with Ada he was without her; in all save pleasure. She had been the delight of his life, not its inspiration. It was beauty, not nobleness, that she had taken with her: love, not strength. It made even him— unreflecting artist, man of impulse as be was, stand by that grave-side wondering. He knew how much he loved her. He knew his whole heart and soul had been centred on her and her alone; but he almost shuddered to find that one part of his being had been uninfluenced by her, and that his mind was not wrecked in the ruin of his heart.
Ada's death made Margaret's path yet more difficult. Of course she was to remain with Horace. He could not understand existence without her; and the world would not be ill-natured to a wife's sister; so unlovely and so ancient in her spinsterhood. Not even the most suspicious prudery could imagine a love that had been given to the fairy Ada, that darling child of Nature, transferred to the tall thin figure clothed in the scant black dress, with even the once magnificent tresses turning sadly from their purer beauty, and silvered now with white hairs. No, she might remain there safe enough, the poor Margaret! Who cared to know that she had loved with that one deep powerful love of a neglected heart; that she had bound herself to a daily cross when she accepted agonies without name and without term, that she suffered and was still? Who cared to praise her strength or to honor her heroism? Not even they for whom she had suffered. The sacrifice had been accepted; but not even a garland had been prepared for the victim. Without pity and without praise for her own deed, she must be contented without reward.
Time went on; and, excepting that Horace was graver and more watchful of his sister-in-law, with a certain indefinable tenderness at times, and then a rigid coldness that was almost like displeasure at others, there was no change in him since his wife's death; neither in their position with each other, nor in Margaret's place in the household. For strong souls the ordeal of life never ends, and Margaret must pass through hers to the end.
On a certain soft, still summer's night, Horace and Margaret, for the first time for many months, went on the lake together, the little Ada, the eldest now of that (airy world, with them. They rowed about for some time in silence, the child saying to itself pretty hymns or nursery rhymes, muttering in a sweet low voice, like a small bell tinkling in the distance. They landed on the island where, years ago, they had landed with another Ada. The moonlight now, as then, filled the wide sky and rested over the whole valley; and, again, of all the things that stood in its light, Margaret was the only unlovely thing. But Horace had changed since then.
They sat down on the rustic bench, the child playing at their feet.
"Years ago we sat together, Margaret, on this same bench," said Horace, suddenly, "when I asked my destiny at your hands. I have often thought, of late, that I asked it amiss." He spoke rapidly, as if there was something he wished to say, and a weight he wished to thrust off his heart.
"Amiss, Horace? Was any life happier than yours? Tlic sorrow that has darkened it was not a part of the destiny you asked from me."
"But now, now, Margaret," he cried impatiently.
"And now, Horace, you have a life of duty."
"Margaret, Margaret, give me your strength! This gray life of mine terrifies me. It is death I live in, not life."
"Learn strength, then, by your sorrow," she whispered. "Be content to suffer in the present for the gain and good of the future. Leam that life is striving, not happiness; that love means nobleness, not pleasure. When you have learnt this well enough to act it, you have extracted the elixir from the poison."
As she spoke, a heavy cloud wandering up from the east, passed over the moon, and threw them all into the shadow.
Margaret turned to Horace. "To-morrow, my dear brother," she said, smiling, "the shadow of the moonlight will havo passed away, and we shall be in the full light of heaven. The present, Horace, with its darkness and its silence will lead us into a blessed future if we have but faith and hope in ourselves, and in each other. Let us go; I have long learnt to suffer; you arc only beginning. Lean on me, then, and I will help you; for the task of self-denial and self-suppression is hard when leamt alone and in silence."
She held out her hand, clasped his, and carried it to her lips, affectionately and reverently, adding gently—'' A sister's arm is a safe guide, Horace. Lean on it never so hardly; it will bear your weight, and will neither fail nor misdirect you."
"Sister," sobbed the artist, "blessed though that name may be, one must walk over the graves
of hope and love to reach it; my feet refuse, Margaret—I can not!"
"We will walk together, Horace, and I will show you the graves which I have strewn before me. Come!"
THE KIND OF PREACHING THAT DOES GOOD TO THE POOR.
JAMES FIELDING was the son of a potter, and bred up to his father's trade. He married young—long before he could keep a wife— and with both his parents' consent, or rather with their forgiveness, as they could not help themselves. For, as they said, it war very nat'ral, an' he might ha' done worse: 'twar, to be sure, the first time, an' belike he wouldn't do it agen. And so they cordially shook hands with him, and pledged the pretty bride in a flagon of old Burton, and were both present at the first child's christening. But the cholera came soon afterward, and took off the old man and his wife. This was the opening-scene of James Fielding's sufferings—want—pestilence—and death. His wife and himself were soon afterward both seized with the disorder, and, though they recovered slowly, it was only to find their father and mother, and first-born child, removed from their once comfortable home to the churchyard, and they themselves with feeble bodies and accumulated debts, which had run on wildly during sickness. First, James was put into jail for the doctor's bill, and then the landlord distrained for rent, and turned them on the world; and so they were ruined.
To be in prison, never serves a man; he gets a habit of shifting and shuffling, and leaning, and talking, and idling; he has the short hand-intbe-pocket walk, and the hang-down look of a jail companion; he is never a man again. James Fielding came out of Stafford jail a changed character: more clever and less capable of work —daintier, but not so refined—prouder, but not more honorable; the edge was taken from the mind and given to the appetites; nevertheless, he was a fond father, for he shortly became one again, and a loving husband to a wife who doated on him. But a thoroughly fallen man seldom rights himself, and bankruptcy is a break-up for life in the constitution of successful industry. Jaines Fielding labored, but his toil was thriftless; he found friends, but, one way or other, he let in every body who had any thing to do with him. By degrees, he got, as was natural, a very bad character, and, as is generally the case under such circumstances, without altogether j,deserving it. He was an unfortunate, but not an evil man; and we all know how falling bodies quicken in their descent.
Still, he was a man born to suffer, and to earn his bread by the sweat of his brow. Men of all countries, stations, and fortunes, labor—from the serf to the lord—and Fielding's destiny was only that of bis sex. But the gentle, pretty girl, whom he had taken from her father's home to comfort and cherish, to keep his fireside clean, and to nurse his little ones around him—her lot