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Thu May 20, 2010 6:37 pm

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PART 2 - HOW IT WAS FOUND


Summer ripened into autumn, and something fairer than

"Sweet-peas and mignonette

In Annie's garden grew."

Her nature was the counterpart of the hill-side
grove, where as a child she had read her fairy
tales, and now as a woman turned the first pages
of a more wondrous legend still. Lifted above
the many-gabled roof, yet not cut off from the
echo of human speech, the little grove seemed a
green sanctuary, fringed about with violets, and
full of summer melody and bloom. Gentle creatures
haunted it, and there was none to make
afraid; wood-pigeons cooed and crickets chirped
their shrill roundelays, anemones and lady-ferns
looked up from the moss that kissed the wanderer's
feet. Warm airs were all afloat, full of vernal
odors for the grateful sense, silvery birches
shimmered like spirits of the wood, larches gave their
green tassels to the wind, and pines made airy
music sweet and solemn, as they stood looking
heavenward through veils of summer sunshine or
shrouds of wintry snow.

Nan never felt alone now in this charmed wood;
for when she came into its precincts, once so full of
solitude, all things seemed to wear one shape,
familiar eyes looked at her from the violets in the
grass, familiar words sounded in the whisper of
the leaves, grew conscious that an unseen
influence filled the air with new delights, and
touched earth and sky with a beauty never seen
before. Slowly these Mayflowers budded in her
maiden heart, rosily they bloomed and silently they
waited till some lover of such lowly herbs should
catch their fresh aroma, should brush away the
fallen leaves, and lift them to the sun.

Though the eldest of the three, she had long
been overtopped by the more aspiring maids. But
though she meekly yielded the reins of government,
whenever they chose to drive, they were soon restored
to her again; for Di fell into literature, and
Laura into love. Thus engrossed, these two forgot
many duties which even bluestockings and inamoratos
are expected to perform, and slowly all the
homely humdrum cares that housewives know
became Nan's daily life, and she accepted it without
a thought of discontent. Noiseless and cheerful
as the sunshine, she went to and fro, doing the
tasks that mothers do, but without a mother's sweet
reward, holding fast the numberless slight threads
that bind a household tenderly together, and
making each day a beautiful success.

Di, being tired of running, riding, climbing, and
boating, decided at last to let her body rest and
put her equally active mind through what classical
collegians term "a course of sprouts." Having
undertaken to read and know everything, she devoted
herself to the task with great energy, going
from Sue to Swedenborg with perfect impartiality,
and having different authors as children have sundry
distempers, being fractious while they lasted,
but all the better for them when once over. Carlyle
appeared like scarlet-fever, and raged violently
for a time; for, being anything but a "passive
bucket," Di became prophetic with Mahomet,
belligerent with Cromwell, and made the French
Revolution a veritable Reign of Terror to her
family. Goethe and Schiller alternated like fever
and ague; Mephistopheles became her hero, Joan
of Arc her model, and she turned her black eyes
red over Egmont and Wallenstein. A mild attack of
Emerson followed, during which she was lost in a
fog, and her sisters rejoiced inwardly when she
emerged informing them that

"The Sphinx was drowsy,

Her wings were furled."

Poor Di was floundering slowly to her proper
place; but she splashed up a good deal of foam by
getting out of her depth, and rather exhausted
herself by trying to drink the ocean dry.

Laura, after the "midsummer night's dream "
that often comes to girls of seventeen, woke up to
find that youth and love were no match for age and
common sense. Philip had been flying about the
world like a thistle-down for five-and-twenty years,
generous-hearted. frank, and kind, but with never
an idea of the serious side of life in his handsome
head. Great, therefore, were the wrath and dismay
of the enamored thistle-down, when the father
of his love mildly objected to seeing her begin the
world in a balloon with a very tender but very
inexperienced aeronaut for a guide.

"Laura is too young to 'play house' yet, and
you are too unstable to assume the part of lord
and master, Philip. Go and prove that you have
prudence, patience, energy, and enterprise, and I
will give you my girl,--but not before. I must
seem cruel, that I may be truly kind; believe this,
and let a little pain lead you to great happiness,
or show you where you would have made a bitter
blunder."

The lovers listened, owned the truth of the old
man's words, bewailed their fate, and yielded,--
Laura for love of her father, Philip for love of her.
He went away to build a firm foundation for his
castle in the air, and Laura retired into an invisible
convent, where she cast off the world, and regarded
her sympathizing sisters throug a grate of superior
knowledge and unsharable grief. Like a devout nun, she
worshipped "St. Philip," and firmly believed in his
miraculous powers. She fancied that her woes set her
apart from common cares, and slowly fell into a dreamy
state, professing no interest in any mundane matter, but
the art that first attacted Philip. Crayons, bread-crusts,
and gray paper became glorified in Laura's eyes; and
her one pleasure was to sit pale and still before
her easel, day after day, filling her portfolios with
the faces he had once admired. Her sisters observed
that every Bacchus, Piping Faun, or Dying
Gladiator bore some likeness to a comely countenance
that heathen god or hero never owned;
and seeing this, they privately rejoiced that she
had found such solace for her grief.

Mrs. Lord's keen eye had read a certain newly
written page in her son's heart,--his first chapter
of that romance, begun in paradise, whose interest
never flags, whose beauty never fades, whose end
can never come till Love lies dead. With
womanly skill she divined the secret, with motherly
discretion she counselled patience, and her son
accepted her advice, feeling that, like many a
healthful herb, its worth lay in its bitterness.

"Love like a man, John, not like a boy, and
learn to know yourself before you take a woman's
happiness into your keeping. You and Nan have
known each other all your lives; yet, till this last
visit, you never thought you loved her more than
any other childish friend. It is too soon to say the
words so often spoken hastily,--so hard to be recalled.
Go back to your work, dear, for another year; think
of Nan in the light of this new hope:
compare her with comelier, gayer girls; and by
absence prove the truth of your belief. Then,
if distance only makes her dearer, if time only
strengthens your affection, and no doubt of your
own worthiness disturbs you, come back and offer
her what any woman should be glad to take,--
my boy's true heart."

John smiled at the motherly pride of her words,
but answered with a wistful look.

"It seems very long to wait, mother. If I could
just ask her for a word of hope, I could be very
patient then."

"Ah, my dear, better bear one year of impatience
now than a lifetime of regret hereafter. Nan
is happy; why disturb her by a word which will
bring the tender cares and troubles that come soon
enough to such conscientious creatures as herself?
If she loves you, time will prove it; therefore, let
the new affection spring and ripen as your early
friendship has done, and it will be all the stronger
for a summer's growth. Philip was rash, and has
to bear his trial now, and Laura shares it with him.
Be more generous, John; make your trial, bear
your doubts alone, and give Nan the happiness
without the pain. Promise me this, dear,--promise
me to hope and wait."

The young man's eye kindled, and in his heart
there rose a better chivalry, a truer valor, than any
Di's knights had ever known.

"I'll try, mother," was all he said; but she was
satisfied, for John seldom tried in vain.

"Oh, girls, how splendid you are! It does
my heart good to see my handsome sisters in their
best array," cried Nan, one mild October night,
as she put the last touches to certain airy raiment
fashioned by her own skilful hands, and then fell
back to survey the grand effect.

"Di and Laura were preparing to assist at an
event of the season," and Nan, with her own
locks fallen on her shoulders, for want of sundry
combs promoted to her sisters' heads and her dress
in unwonted disorder, for lack of the many pins
extracted in exciting crises of the toilet, hovered
like an affectionate bee about two very full-blown
flowers.

"Laura looks like a cool Undine, with the ivy-
wreaths in her shining hair; and Di has illuminated
herself to such an extent with those scarlet leaves.
that I don't know what great creature she resembles
most," said Nan, beaming with sisterly admiration.

"Like Juno, Zenobia, and Cleopatra simmered
into one, with a touch of Xantippe by way of
spice. But, to my eye, the finest woman of the
three is the dishevelled young person embracing
the bed-post: for she stays at home herself, and
gives her time and taste to making homely people
fine,--which is a waste of good material, and an
imposition on the public."

As Di spoke, both the fashion-plates looked
affectionately at the gray-gowned figure; but, being
works of art, they were obliged to nip their feelings
in the bud, and reserve their caresses till they
returned to common life.

"Put on your bonnet, and we'll leave you at
Mrs. Lord's on our way. It will do you good,
Nan; and perhaps there may be news from John,"
added Di, as she bore down upon the door like a
man-of-war under full sail.

"Or from Philip," sighed Laura, with a wistful
look.

Whereupon Nan persuaded herself that her
strong inclination to sit down was owing to want
of exercise, and the heaviness of her eyelids a freak
of imagination; so, speedily smoothing her ruffled
plumage, she ran down to tell her father of the new
arrangement.

"Go, my dear, by alll means. I shall be writing;
and you will be lonely if you stay. But I
must see my girls; for I caught glimpses of certain
surprising phantoms flitting by the door."

Nan led the way, and the two pyramids revolved
before him with the rapidity of lay-figures,
much to the good man's edification: for with his
fatherly pleasure there was mingled much mild
wonderment at the amplitude of array.

"Yes, I see my geese are really swans, though
there is such a cloud between us that I feel a long
way off, and hardly know them. But this little
daughter is always available, always my 'cricket
on the hearth.'

As he spoke, her father drew Nan closer, kissed
her tranquil face, and smiled content.

"Well, if ever I see picters, I see 'em now, and
I declare to goodness it's as interestin' as
playactin', every bit. Miss Di with all them boughs
in her head, looks like the Queen of Sheby, when
she went a-visitin' What's-his-name; and if Miss
Laura ain't as sweet as a lally-barster figger, I
should like to know what is."

In her enthusiasm, Sally gambolled about the
girls, flourishing her milk-pan like a modern
Miriam about to sound her timbrel for excess of
joy.

Laughing merrily, the two Mont Blancs bestowed
themselves in the family ark, Nan hopped
up beside Patrick, and Solon, roused from his
lawful slumbers, morosely trundled them away.
But, looking backward with a last "Good-
night!" Nan saw her father still standing at the
door with smiling countenance, and the moonlight
falling like a benediction on his silver hair.

"Betsey shall go up the hill with you, my dear,
and here's a basket of eggs for your father. Give
him my love, and be sure you let me know the
next time he is poorly," Mrs. Lord said, when her
guest rose to depart, after an hour of pleasant chat.

But Nan never got the gift; for, to her great
dismay, her hostess dropped the basket with a
crash, and flew across the room to meet a tall
shape pausing in the shadow of the door. There
was no need to ask who the new-comer was; for,
even in his mother's arms, John looked over her
shoulder with an eager nod to Nan, who stood
among the ruins with never a sign of weariness in
her face, nor the memory of a care at her heart.--
for they all went out when John came in.

"Now tell us how and why and when you came.
Take off your coat, my dear! And here are the
old slippers. Why didn't you let us know
you were coming so soon? How have you been?
and what makes you so late to-night? Betsey,
you needn't put on your bonnet. And--oh, my
dear boy, have you been to supper yet?

Mrs. Lord was a quiet soul, and her flood of
questions was purred softly in her son's ear; for,
being a woman, she must talk, and, being a mother,
must pet the one delight of her life, and make a
little festival when the lord of the manor came
home. A whole drove of fatted calves were
metaphorically killed, and a banquet appeared
with speed.

John was not one of those romantic heroes who
can go through three volumes of hair-breadth
escapes without the faintest hint of that blessed
institution, dinner; therefore, like "Lady Letherbridge,"
he partook, copiously of everything."
while the two women beamed over each mouthful
with an interest that enhanced its flavor, and urged
upon him cold meat and cheese, pickles and pie, as
if dyspepsia and nightmare were among the lost
arts.

Then he opened his budget of news and fed
them.

"I was coming next month, according to custom;
but Philip fell upon and so tempted me, that
I was driven to sacrifice myself to the cause of
friendship, and up we came to-night. He would
not let me come here till we had seen your father,
Nan; for the poor lad was pining for Laura, and
hoped his good behavior for the past year would
satisfy his judge and secure his recall. We had a
fine talk with your father; and, upon my life, Philip
seemed to have received the gift of tongues, for he
made a most eloquent plea, which I've stored away
for future use, I assure you. The dear old gentleman
was very kind, told Phil he was satisfied with
the success of his probation, that he should see
Laura when he liked, and, if all went well, should
receive his reward in the spring. It must be a
delightful sensation to know you have made a
fellow-creature as happy as those words made Phil
to-night."

John paused, and looked musingly at the matronly
tea-pot, as if he saw a wondrous future in
its shine.

Nan twinkled off the drops that rose at the
thought of Laura's joy, and said, with grateful
warmth,--

"You say nothing of your own share in the
making of that happiness, John; but we know it,
for Philip has told Laura in his letters all that you
have been to him, and I am sure there was other
eloquence beside his own before father granted all
you say he has. Oh, John, I thank you very much
for this!

Mrs. Lord beamed a whole midsummer of delight
upon her son, as she saw the pleasure these
words gave him, though he answered simply,--

"I only tried to be a brother to him, Nan; for
he has been most kind to me. Yes, I said my little
say to-night, and gave my testimony in behalf of
the prisoner at the bar; a most merciful judge
pronounced his sentence, and he rushed straight
to Mrs. Leigh's to tell Laura the blissful news.
Just imagine the scene when he appears, and how
Di will open her wicked eyes and enjoy the spectacle
of the dishevelled lover, the bride-elect's tears,
the stir, and the romance of the thing. She'll
cry over it to-night, and caricature it to-morrow.

And John led the laugh at the picture he had
conjured up, to turn the thoughts of Di's dangerous
sister from himself.

At ten Nan retired into the depths of her old
bonnet with a far different face from the one she
brought out of it, and John, resuming his hat,
mounted guard.

"Don't stay late, remember, John!" And in
Mrs. Lord's voice there was a warning tone that
her son interpreted aright.

"I'll not forget, mother."

And he kept his word; for though Philip's happiness
floated temptingly before him, and the little
figure at his side had never seemed so dear, he
ignored the bland winds, the tender night, and set
a seal upon his lips, thinking manfully within himself.
"I see many signs of promise in her happy
face; but I will wait and hope a little longer for
her sake."

"Where is father, Sally?" asked Nan, as that
functionary appeared, blinking owlishly, but utterly
repudiating the idea of sleep.

"He went down the garding, miss, when the
gentlemen cleared, bein' a little flustered by the
goin's on. Shall I fetch him in?" asked Sally, as
irreverently as if her master were a bag of meal.

"No, we will go ourselves." And slowly the
two paced down the leaf-strewn walk.

Fields of yellow grain were waving on the
hill-side, and sere corn blades rustled in the wind,
from the orchard came the scent of ripening fruit,
and all the garden-plots lay ready to yield up their
humble offerings to their master's hand. But in
the silence of the night a greater Reaper had
passed by, gathering in the harvest of a righteous
life, and leaving only tender memories for the
gleaners who had come so late.

The old man sat in the shadow of the tree his
own hands planted; its fruit boughs shone ruddily,
and its leaves still whispered the low lullaby
that hushed him to his rest.

"How fast he sleeps! Poor father! I should
have come before and made it pleasant for
him."

As she spoke, Nan lifted up the head bent down
upon his breast, and kissed his pallid cheek.

"Oh, John, this is not sleep."

"Yes, dear, the happiest he will ever
know."

For a moment the shadows flickered over three
white faces and the silence deepened solemnly.
Then John reverently bore the pale shape in, and
Nan dropped down beside it, saying, with a rain
of grateful tears,--

"He kissed me when I went, and said a last
good-night!'"

For an hour steps went to and fro about her,
many voices whispered near her, and skilful hands
touched the beloved clay she held so fast; but one
by one the busy feet passed out, one by one the
voices died away, and human skill proved vain.

Then Mrs. Lord drew the orphan to the shelter of
her arms, soothing her with the mute solace of that
motherly embrace.

"Nan, Nan! here's Philip! come and see!"
The happy call re-echoed through the house,
and Nan sprang up as if her time for grief were
past.

"I must tell them. Oh, my poor girls, how
will they bear it?--they have known so little
sorrow!"

But there was no need for her to speak; other
lips had spared her the hard task. For, as she
stirred to meet them, a sharp cry rent the air, steps
rang upon the stairs, and two wild-eyed creatures
came into the hush of that familiar room, for the
first time meeting with no welcome from their
father's voice.

With one impulse, Di and Laura fled to Nan.
and the sisters clung together in a silent embrace,
more eloquent than words. John took his
mother by the hand, and led her from the room,
closing the door upon the sacredness of grief.

"Yes, we are poorer than we thought; but
when everything is settled, we shall get on very
well. We can let a part of this great house, and
live quietly together until spring; then Laura will
be married, and Di can go on their travels with
them, as Philip wishes her to do. We shall be
cared for; so never fear for us, John."

Nan said this, as her friend parted from her a
week later, after the saddest holiday he had ever
known.

"And what becomes of you, Nan?" he asked,
watching the patient eyes that smiled when
others would have wept.

"I shall stay in the dear old house; for no other
place would seem like home to me. I shall find
some little child to love and care for, and be quite
happy till the girls come back and want me."

John nodded wisely, as he listened, and went
away prophesying within himself,--

"She shall find something more than a child to
love; and, God willing, shall be very happy till
the girls come home and--cannot have her."

Nan's plan was carried into effect. Slowly the
divided waters closed again, and the three fell
back into their old life. But the touch of sorrow
drew them closer; and, though invisible, a beloved
presence still moved among them, a familiar voice
still spoke to them in the silence of their softened
hearts. Thus the soil was made ready, and in the
depth of winter the good seed was sown, was
watered with many tears, and soon sprang up
green with a promise of a harvest for their after
years.

Di and Laura consoled themselves with their
favorite employments, unconscious that Nan was
growing paler, thinner, and more silent, as the
weeks went by, till one day she dropped quietly
before them, and it suddenly became manifest that
she was utterly worn out with many cares and the
secret suffering of a tender heart bereft of the
paternal love which had been its strength and stay.

"I'm only tired, dear girls. Don't be troubled!,
for I shall be up to-morrow," she said cheerily, as
she looked into the anxious faces bending over
her.

But the weariness was of many months' growth,
and it was weeks before that "to-morrow " came.

Laura installed herself as nurse, and her devotion
was repaid four-fold; for, sitting at her sister's
bedside, she learned a finer art than that she had
left. Her eye grew clear to see the beauty of a
self-denying life, and in the depths of Nan's meek
nature she found the strong, sweet virtues that
made her what she was.

Then remembering that these womanly attributes were
a bride's best dowry, Laura gave herself to their
attainment, that she might become to another household
the blessing Nan had been to her own; and turning
from the worship of the goddess Beauty, she gave
her hand to that humbler and more human teacher,
Duty,--learning her lessons with a willing heart,
for Philip's sake.

Di corked her inkstand, locked her bookcase,
and went at housework as if it were a five-barred
gate; of course she missed the leap, but scrambled
bravely through, and appeared much sobered by
the exercise. Sally had departed to sit under a
vine and fig-tree of her own, so Di had undisputed
sway; but if dish-pans and dusters had tongues,
direful would have been the history of that crusade
against frost and fire, indolence and inexperience.
But they were dumb, and Di scorned to complain,
though her struggles were pathetic to behold, and
her sisters went through a series of messes equal to
a course of "Prince Benreddin's" peppery tarts.
Reality turned Romance out of doors; for, unlike
her favorite heroines in satin and tears, or helmet
and shield, Di met her fate in a big checked apron
and dust-cap, wonderful to see; yet she wielded
her broom as stoutly as "Moll Pitcher" shouldered
her gun, and marched to her daily martyrdom in the
kitchen with as heroic a heart as the "Maid of Orleans"
took to her stake.

Mind won the victory over matter in the end,
and Di was better all her days for the tribulations
and the triumphs of that time; for she drowned her
idle fancies in her wash-tub, made burnt-offerings
of selfishness and pride, and learned the worth of
self-denial, as she sang with happy voice among
the pots and kettles of her conquered realm.

Nan thought of John, and in the stillness of her
sleepless nights prayed Heaven to keep him safe,
and make her worthy to receive and strong enough
to bear the blessedness or pain of love.

Snow fell without, and keen winds howled
among the leafless elms, but "herbs of grace"
were blooming beautifully in the sunshine of
sincere endeavor, and this dreariest season proved the
most fruitful of the year; for love taught Laura,
labor chastened Di, and patience fitted Nan for the
blessing of her life.

Nature, that stillest, yet most diligent of housewives,
began at last that "spring cleaning" which
she makes so pleasant that none find the heart to
grumble as they do when other matrons set their
premises a-dust. Her hand-maids, wind and rain
and sun, swept, washed, and garnished busily,
green carpets were unrolled, apple-boughs were
hung with draperies of bloom, and dandelions, pet
nurslings of the year, came out to play upon the
sward.

From the South returned that opera troupe
whose manager is never in despair, whose tenor
never sulks, whose prima donna never fails, and
in the orchard bona fide matinees were held, to
which buttercups and clovers crowded in their
prettiest spring hats, and verdant young blades
twinkled their dewy lorgnettes, as they bowed and
made way for the floral belles.

May was bidding June good-morrow, and the
roses were just dreaming that it was almost time to
wake, when John came again into the quiet room
which now seemed the Eden that contained his
Eve. Of course there was a jubilee; but something
seemed to have befallen the whole group, for
never had they appeared in such odd frames of
mind. John was restless, and wore an excited
look, most unlike his usual serenity of aspect.

Nan the cheerful had fallen into a well of
silence and was not to be extracted by any
Hydraulic power, though she smiled like the June sky
over her head. Di's peculiarities were out in full
force, and she looked as if she would go off like a
torpedo at a touch; but through all her moods
there was a half-triumphant, half-remorseful
expression in the glance she fixed on John. And
Laura, once so silent, now sang like a blackbird,
as she flitted to and fro; but her fitful song was
always, "Philip, my king."

John felt that there had come a change upon
the three, and silently divined whose unconscious
influence had wrought the miracle. The embargo
was off his tongue, and he was in a fever to ask
that question which brings a flutter to the stoutest
heart; but though the "man" had come, the
"hour" had not. So, by way of steadying his
nerves, he paced the room, pausing often to take
notes of his companions, and each pause seemed to
increase his wonder and content.

He looked at Nan. She was in her usual place,
the rigid little chair she loved, because it once
was large enough to hold a curly-headed
playmate and herself. The old work-basket was at
her side, and the battered thimble busily at work;
but her lips wore a smile they had never worn be-
fore, the color of the unblown roses touched her
cheek, and her downcast eyes were full of light.

He looked at Di. The inevitable book was on
her knee, but its leaves were uncut; the strong-
minded knob of hair still asserted its supremacy
aloft upon her head, and the triangular jacket still
adorned her shoulders in defiance of all fashions,
past, present, or to come; but the expression of her
brown countenance had grown softer, her tongue
had found a curb, and in her hand lay a card with
"Potts, Kettel & Co." inscribed thereon, which
she regarded with never a scornful word for the
Co."

He looked at Laura. She was before her easel
as of old; but the pale nun had given place to a
blooming girl, who sang at her work, which was
no prim Pallas, but a Clytie turning her human
face to meet the sun.

"John, what are you thinking of?"

He stirred as if Di's voice had disturbed his
fancy at some pleasant pastime, but answered with
his usual sincerity,--

"I was thinking of a certain dear old fairy tale
called 'Cinderella.'"

"Oh!" said Di; and her "Oh" was a most
impressive monosyllable. "I see the meaning of
your smile now; and though the application of the
story is not very complimentary to all parties
concerned, it is very just and very true."

She paused a moment, then went on with softened
voice and earnest mien:--

"You think I am a blind and selfish creature.
So I am, but not so blind and selfish as I have
been; for many tears have cleared my eyes, and
much sincere regret has made me humbler than I
was. I have found a better book than any father's
library can give me, and I have read it with
a love and admiration that grew stronger as I
turned the leaves. Henceforth I take it for my
guide and gospel, and, looking back upon the
selfish and neglectful past, can only say, Heaven
bless your dear heart, Nan!"

Laura echoed Di's last words; for, with eyes
as full of tenderness, she looked down upon the
sister she had lately learned to know, saying,
warmly,--

"Yes, 'Heaven bless your dear heart, Nan!'
I never can forget all you have been to me; and
when I am far away with Philip, there will always
be one countenance more beautiful to me
than any pictured face I may discover, there will
be one place more dear to me than Rome. The
face will be yours, Nan, always so patient, always
so serene; and the dearer place will be this home of
ours, which you have made so pleasant to me all
these years by kindnesses as numberless and
noiseless as the drops of dew."

"Dear girls, what have I ever done, that you
should love me so?" cried Nan, with happy
wonderment, as the tall heads, black and golden,
bent to meet the lowly brown one, and her sisters'
mute lips answered her.

Then Laura looked up, saying, playfully,--

"Here are the good and wicked sisters;-where
shall we find the Prince? "

"There!" cried Di, pointing to John; and
then her secret went off like a rocket; for, with her
old impetuosity, she said,--

"I have found you out, John, and am ashamed
to look you in the face, remembering the past.
Girls, you know when father died, John sent us
money, which he said Mr. Owen had long owed
us and had paid at last? It was a kind lie, John,
and a generous thing to do; for we needed it, but
never would have taken it as a gift. I know you
meant that we should never find this out; but
yesterday I met Mr. Owen returning from the
West, and when I thanked him for a piece of justice
we had not expected of him, he gruffly told me
he had never paid the debt, never meant to pay it,
for it was outlawed, and we could not claim a
farthing. John, I have laughed at you, thought
you stupid, treated you unkindly; but I know you
now, and never shall forget the lesson you have
taught me. I am proud as Lucifer, but I ask you
to forgive me, and I seal my real repentance so--
and so."

With tragic countenance, Di rushed across the
room, threw both arms about the astonished young
man's neck and dropped an energetic kiss upon his
cheek. There was a momentary silence; for Di
finally illustrated her strong-minded theories by
crying like the weakest of her sex. Laura, with "the
ruling passion strong in death," still tried to draw,
but broke her pet crayon, and endowed her Clytie
with a supplementary orb, owing to the dimness of
her own. And Nan sat with drooping eyes, that
shone upon her work, thinking with tender pride,--
They know him now, and love him for his generous heart."

Di spoke first, rallying to her colors, though a
little daunted by her loss of self-control.

"Don't laugh, John,--I couldn't help it; and
don't think I'm not sincere, for I am,--I am; and
I will prove it by growing good enough to be your
friend. That debt must all be paid, and I shall
do it; for I'll turn my books and pen to some
account, and write stories full of clear old souls like
you and Nan; and some one, I know, will like and
buy them, though they are not 'works of Shakespeare.'
I've thought of this before, have felt I
had the power in me; now I have the motive, and
now I'll do it."

If Di had Proposed to translate the Koran, or
build a new Saint Paul's, there would have been
many chances of success; for, once moved, her
will, like a battering-ram, would knock down the
obstacles her wits could not surmount. John
believed in her most heartily, and showed it, as he
answered, looking into her resolute face,--

"I know you will, and yet make us very proud
of our 'Chaos,' Di. Let the money lie, and when
you have a fortune, I'll claim it with enormous
interest; but, believe me, I feel already doubly
repaid by the esteem so generously confessed, so
cordially bestowed, and can only say, as we used
to years ago,--'Now let's forgive and so forget."

But proud Di would not let him add to her obligation,
even by returning her impetuous salute;
she slipped away, and, shaking off the last drops,
answered with a curious mixture of old freedom
and new respect,--

"No more sentiment, please, John. We know
each other now; and when I find a friend, I never
let him go. We have smoked the pipe of peace;
so let us go back to our wigwams and bury the
feud. Where were we when I lost my head? and
what were we talking about?"

"Cinderella and the Prince."

As she spoke, John's eye kindled, and, turning,
he looked down at Nan, who sat diligently ornamenting
with microscopic stitches a great patch
going on, the wrong side out.

"Yes,--so we were; and now taking pussy for
the godmother, the characters of the story are well
personated,--all but the slipper," said Di, laughing,
as she thought of the many times they had
played it together years ago.

A sudden movement stirred John's frame, a
sudden purpose shone in his countenance, and a
sudden change befell his voice, as he said,
producing from some hiding-place a little
wornout shoe,--

"I can supply the slipper;--who will try it
first?"

Di's black eyes opened wide, as they fell on
the familiar object; then her romance-loving nature
saw the whole plot of that drama which needs but
two to act it. A great delight flushed up
into her face, as she promptly took her cue, saying--

" No need for us to try it, Laura; for it wouldn't
fit us, if our feet were as small as Chinese dolls;
our parts are played out; therefore 'Exeunt
wicked sisters to the music of the wedding-bells.'"

And pouncing upon the dismayed artist, she swept
her out and closed the door with a triumphant
bang.

John went to Nan, and, dropping on his knee as
reverently as the herald of the fairy tale, he asked,
still smiling, but with lips grown tremulous,--

"Will Cinderella try the little shoe, and--if
it fits--go with the Prince?"

But Nan only covered up her face, weeping
happy tears, while all the weary work strayed
down upon the floor, as if it knew her holiday had
come.

John drew the hidden face still closer, and while
she listened to his eager words, Nan heard the
beating of the strong man's heart, and knew it
spoke the truth.

"Nan, I promised mother to be silent till I was
sure I loved you wholly,--sure that the knowledge
would give no pain when I should tell it, as I am
trying to tell it now. This little shoe has been mv
comforter through this long year, and I have kept
it as other lovers keep their fairer favors. It has
been a talisman more eloquent to me than flower
or ring; for, when I saw how worn it was, I always
thought of the willing feet that came and went for
others' comfort all day long; when I saw the little
bow you tied, I always thought of the hands so
diligent in serving any one who knew a want or
felt a pain; and when I recalled the gentle creature
who had worn it last, I always saw her patient,
tender, and devout,--and tried to grow more
worthy of her, that I might one day dare to ask
if she would walk beside me all my life and be my
'angel in the house.' Will you, dear? Believe
me, you shall never know a weariness or grief I
have the power to shield you from."

Then Nan, as simple in her love as in her life,
laid her arms about his neck, her happy face against
his own, and answered softly,--

"Oh, John, I never can be sad or tired any
more!"


THE END.

hope you like it. please give us your comments about this story !

_________________
*(`'·.¸(`'·.¸*¤*¸.·'´)¸.·'´)*
«´¨`·.Pooja Merchant·´¨`»
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