ON the fourth of September, Christie woke up, saying to herself: "It
is my birthday, but no one knows it, so I shall get no presents. Ah,
well, I’m too old for that now, I suppose;" but she sighed as she
said it, for well she knew one never is too old to be remembered and
Just then the door opened, and Mrs. Sterling entered, carrying what
looked very like a pile of snow-flakes in her arms. Laying this upon
the bed, she kissed Christie, saying with a tone and gesture that
made the words a benediction:
"A happy birthday, and God bless thee, my daughter!"
Before Christie could do more than hug both gift and giver, a great
bouquet came flying in at the open window, aimed with such skill
that it fell upon the bed, while David’s voice called out from
below: "A happy birthday, Christie, and many of them!"
"How sweet, how kind of you, this is! I didn’t dream you knew about
to-day, and never thought of such a beautiful surprise," cried
Christie, touched and charmed by this unexpected celebration.
"Thee mentioned it once long ago, and we remembered. They are very
humble gifts, my dear; but we could not let the day pass without
some token of the thanks we owe thee for these months of faithful
service and affectionate companionship."
Christie had no answer to this little address, and was about to cry
as the only adequate expression of her feelings, when a hearty
"Hear! Hear!" from below made her laugh, and call out:
"You conspirators! how dare you lay plots, and then exult over me
when I can’t find words to thank you? I always did think you were a
set of angels, and now I’m quite sure of it."
"Thee may be right about Davy, but I am only a prudent old woman,
and have taken much pleasure in privately knitting this light wrap
to wear when thee sits in the porch, for the evenings will soon grow
chilly. My son did not know what to get, and finally decided that
flowers would suit thee best; so he made a bunch of those thee
loves, and would toss it in as if he was a boy."
"I like that way, and both my presents suit me exactly," said
Christie, wrapping the fleecy shawl about her, and admiring the
nosegay in which her quick eye saw all her favorites, even to a
plumy spray of the little wild asters which she loved so much.
"Now, child, I will step down, and see about breakfast. Take thy
time; for this is to be a holiday, and we mean to make it a happy
one if we can."
With that the old lady went away, and Christie soon followed,
looking very fresh and blithe as she ran down smiling behind her
great bouquet. David was in the porch, training up the
morning-glories that bloomed late and lovely in that sheltered spot.
He turned as she approached, held out his hand, and bent a little as
if he was moved to add a tenderer greeting. But he did not, only
held the hand she gave him for a moment, as he said with the
paternal expression unusually visible:
"I wished you many happy birthdays; and, if you go on getting
younger every year like this, you will surely have them."
It was the first compliment he had ever paid her, and she liked it,
though she shook her head as if disclaiming it, and answered
"I used to think many years would be burdensome, and just before I
came here I felt as if I could not bear another one. But now I like
to live, and hope I shall a long, long time."
"I’m glad of that; and how do you mean to spend these long years of
yours?" asked David, brushing back the lock of hair that was always
falling into his eyes, as if he wanted to see more clearly the
hopeful face before him.
"In doing what your morning-glories do, – climb up as far and as fast
as I can before the frost comes," answered Christie, looking at the
pretty symbols she had chosen.
"You have got on a good way already then," began David, smiling at
"Oh no, I haven’t!" she said quickly. "I’m only about half way up.
See here: I’ll tell how it is;" and, pointing to the different parts
of the flowery wall, she added in her earnest way: "I’ve watched
these grow, and had many thoughts about them, as I sit sewing in the
porch. These variegated ones down low are my childish fancies; most
of them gone to seed you see. These lovely blue ones of all shades
are my girlish dreams and hopes and plans. Poor things! some are
dead, some torn by the wind, and only a few pale ones left quite
perfect. Here you observe they grow sombre with a tinge of purple;
that means pain and gloom, and there is where I was when I came
here. Now they turn from those sad colors to crimson, rose, and soft
pink. That’s the happiness and health I found here. You and your
dear mother planted them, and you see how strong and bright they
She lifted up her hand, and gathering one of the great rosy cups
offered it to him, as if it were brimful of the thanks she could not
utter. He comprehended, took it with a quiet "Thank you," and stood
looking at it for a moment, as if her little compliment pleased him
"And these?" he said presently, pointing to the delicate violet
bells that grew next the crimson ones.
The color deepened a shade in Christie’s cheek, but she went on with
no other sign of shyness; for with David she always spoke out
frankly, because she could not help it.
"Those mean love to me, not passion: the deep red ones half hidden
under the leaves mean that. My violet flowers are the best and
purest love we can know: the sort that makes life beautiful and
lasts for ever. The white ones that come next are tinged with that
soft color here and there, and they mean holiness. I know there will
be love in heaven; so, whether I ever find it here or not, I am sure
I shall not miss it wholly."
Then, as if glad to leave the theme that never can be touched
without reverent emotion by a true woman, she added, looking up to
where a few spotless blossoms shone like silver in the light:
"Far away there in the sunshine are my highest aspirations. I cannot
reach them: but I can look up, and see their beauty; believe in
them, and try to follow where they lead; remember that frost comes
latest to those that bloom the highest; and keep my beautiful white
flowers as long as I can."
"The mush is ready; come to breakfast, children," called Mrs.
Sterling, as she crossed the hall with a teapot in her hand.
Christie’s face fell, then she exclaimed laughing: "That’s always
the way; I never take a poetic flight but in comes the mush, and
spoils it all."
"Not a bit; and that’s where women are mistaken. Souls and bodies
should go on together; and you will find that a hearty breakfast
won’t spoil the little hymn the morning-glories sung;" and David set
her a good example by eating two bowls of hasty-pudding and milk,
with the lovely flower in his button-hole.
"Now, what are we to do next?" asked Christie, when the usual
morning work was finished.
"In about ten minutes thee will see, I think," answered Mrs.
Sterling, glancing at the clock, and smiling at the bright expectant
look in the younger woman’s eyes.
She did see; for in less than ten minutes the rumble of an omnibus
was heard, a sound of many voices, and then the whole Wilkins brood
came whooping down the lane. It was good to see Ma Wilkins jog
ponderously after in full state and festival array; her bonnet
trembling with bows, red roses all over her gown, and a parasol of
uncommon brilliancy brandished joyfully in her hand. It was better
still to see her hug Christie, when the latter emerged, flushed and
breathless, from the chaos of arms, legs, and chubby faces in which
she was lost for several tumultuous moments; and it was best of all
to see the good woman place her cherished "bunnit" in the middle of
the parlor table as a choice and lovely ornament, administer the
family pocket-handkerchief all round, and then settle down with a
"Wal, now, Mis Sterlin’, you’ve no idee how tickled we all was when
Mr. David came, and told us you was goin’ to have a galy here
to-day. It was so kind of providential, for ‘Lisha was invited out
to a day’s pleasuring so I could leave jest as wal as not. The
childern’s ben hankerin’ to come the wust kind, and go plummin’ as
they did last month, though I told ’em berries was gone weeks ago. I
reelly thought I’d never get ’em here whole, they trained so in that
bus. Wash would go on the step, and kep fallin’ off; Gusty’s hat
blew out a winder; them two bad boys tumbled round loose; and dear
little Victory set like a lady, only I found she’d got both feet in
the basket right atop of the birthday cake, I made a puppose for
"It hasn’t hurt it a bit; there was a cloth over it, and I like it
all the better for the marks of Totty’s little feet, bless ’em!" and
Christie cuddled the culprit with one hand while she revealed the
damaged delicacy with the other, wondering inwardly what evil star
was always in the ascendant when Mrs. Wilkins made cake.
"Now, my dear, you jest go and have a good frolic with them
childern, I’m a goin’ to git dinner, and you a goin’ to play; so we
don’t want to see no more of you till the bell rings," said Mrs.
Wilkins pinning up her gown, and "shooing" her brood out of the
room, which they entirely filled.
Catching up her hat Christie obeyed, feeling as much like a child as
any of the excited six. The revels that followed no pen can justly
record, for Goths and Vandals on the rampage but feebly describes
the youthf ul Wilkinses when their spirits effervesced after a
month’s bottling up in close home quarters.
David locked the greenhouse door the instant he saw them; and
pervaded the premises generally like a most affable but very
watchful policeman, for the ravages those innocents committed much
afflicted him. Yet he never had the heart to say a word of reproof,
when he saw their raptures over dandelions, the relish with which
they devoured fruit, and the good it did the little souls and bodies
to enjoy unlimited liberty, green grass, and country air, even for a
Christie usually got them into the big meadow as soon as possible,
and there let them gambol at will; while she sat on the broken bough
of an apple-tree, and watched her flock like an old-fashioned
shepherdess. To-day she did so; and when the children were happily
sailing boats, tearing to and fro like wild colts, or discovering
the rustic treasures Nurse Nature lays ready to gladden little
hearts and hands, Christie sat idly making a garland of green
brakes, and ruddy sumach leaves ripened before the early frosts had
A FRIENDLY CHAT.
David saw her there, and, feeling that he might come off guard for a
time, went strolling down to lean upon the wall, and chat in the
friendly fashion that had naturally grown up between these
fellow-workers. She was waiting for the new supply of ferns little
Adelaide was getting for her by the wall; and while she waited she
sat resting her cheek upon her hand, and smiling to herself, as if
she saw some pleasant picture in the green grass at her feet.
"Now I wonder what she’s thinking about," said David’s voice close
by, and Christie straightway answered:
"And who is he?" asked David, settling his elbow in a comfortable
niche between the mossy stones, so that he could "lean and loaf" at
"The brother of the lady whose children I took care of;" and
Christie wished she had thought before she answered that first
question, for in telling her adventures at diiferent times she had
omitted all mention of this gentleman.
"Tell about him, as the children say: your experiences are always
interesting, and you look as if this man was uncommonly entertaining
in some way," said David, indolently inclined to be amused.
"Oh, dear no, not at all entertaining! invalids seldom are, and he
was sick and lazy, conceited and very cross sometimes." Christie’s
heart rather smote her as she said this, remembering the last look
poor Fletcher gave her.
"A nice man to be sure; but I don’t see any thing to smile about,"
persisted David, who liked reasons for things; a masculine trait
often very trying to feminine minds.
"I was thinking of a little quarrel we once had. He found out that I
had been an actress; for I basely did not mention that fact when I
took the place, and so got properly punished for my deceit. I
thought he’d tell his sister of course, so I did it myself, and
retired from the situation as much disgusted with Christie Devon as
"Perhaps I ought to be, but I don’t find that I am. Do you know I
think that old Fletcher was a sneak?" and David looked as if he
would rather like to mention his opinion to that gentleman.
"He probably thought he was doing his duty to the children: few
people would approve of an actress for a teacher you know. He had
seen me play, and remembered it all of a sudden, and told me of it:
that was the way it came about," said Christie hastily, feeling that
she must get out of the scrape as soon as possible, or she would be
driven to tell every thing in justice to Mr. Fletcher.
"I should like to see you act."
"You a Quaker, and express such a worldly and dreadful wish?" cried
Christie, much amused, and very grateful that his thoughts had taken
a new direction.
"I’m not, and never have been. Mother married out of the sect, and,
though she keeps many of her old ways, always left me free to
believe what I chose. I wear drab because I like it, and say ‘thee’
to her because she likes it, and it is pleasant to have a little
word all our own. I’ve been to theatres, but I don’t care much for
them. Perhaps I should if I’d had Fletcher’s luck in seeing you
"You didn’t lose much: I was not a good actress; though now and then
when I liked my part I did pretty well they said," answered
"Why didn’t you go back after the accident?" asked David, who had
heard that part of the story.
"I felt that it was bad for me, and so retired to private life."
"Do you ever regret it?"
"Sometimes when the restless fit is on me: but not so often now as I
used to do; for on the whole I’d rather be a woman than act a
"Good!" said David, and then added persuasively: "But you will play
for me some time: won’t you? I’ve a curious desire to see you do
"Perhaps I’ll try," replied Christie, flattered by his interest, and
not unwilling to display her little talent.
"Who are you making that for? it’s very pretty," asked David, who
seemed to be in an inquiring frame of mind that day.
"Any one who wants it. I only do it for the pleasure: I always liked
pretty things; but, since I have lived among flowers and natural
people, I seem to care more than ever for beauty of all kinds, and
love to make it if I can without stopping for any reason but the
"’Tell them, dear, that if eyes were made for seeing, "’Then beauty
is its own excuse for being,’" observed David, who had a weakness
for poetry, and, finding she liked his sort, quoted to Christie
almost as freely as to himself.
"Exactly, so look at that and enjoy it," and she pointed to the
child standing knee-deep in graceful ferns, looking as if she grew
there, a living buttercup, with her buff frock off at one plump
shoulder and her bright hair shining in the sun.
Before David could express his admiration, the little picture was
spoilt; for Christie called out, "Come, Vic, bring me some more
pretties!" startling baby so that she lost her balance, and
disappeared with a muffled cry, leaving nothing to be seen but a
pair of small convulsive shoes, soles uppermost, among the brakes.
David took a leap, reversed Vic, and then let her compose her little
feelings by sticking bits of green in all the button-holes of his
coat, as he sat on the wall while she stood beside him in the safe
shelter of his arm.
"You are very like an Englishman," said Christie, after watching the
pair for a few minutes.
"How do you know?" asked David, looking surprised.
"There were several in our company, and I found them very much
alike. Blunt and honest, domestic and kind; hard to get at, but true
as steel when once won; not so brilliant and original as Americans,
perhaps, but more solid and steadfast. On the whole, I think them
the manliest men in the world," answered Christie, in the decided
way young people have of expressing their opinions.
"You speak as if you had known and studied a great variety of men,"
said David, feeling that he need not resent the comparison she had
"I have, and it has done me good. Women who stand alone in the
world, and have their own way to make, have a better chance to know
men truly than those who sit safe at home and only see one side of
mankind. We lose something; but I think we gain a great deal that is
more valuable than admiration, flattery, and the superficial service
most men give to our sex. Some one says, ‘Companionship teaches men
and women to know, judge, and treat one another justly.’ I believe
it; for we who are compelled to be fellow workers with men
understand and value them more truly than many a belle who has a
dozen lovers sighing at her feet. I see their faults and follies;
but I also see so much to honor, love, and trust, that I feel as if
the world was full of brothers. Yes, as a general rule, men have
been kinder to me than women; and if I wanted a staunch friend I’d
choose a man, for they wear better than women, who ask too much, and
cannot see that friendship lasts longer if a little respect and
reserve go with the love and confidence."
Christie had spoken soberly, with no thought of flattery or effect;
for the memory of many kindnesses bestowed on her by many men, from
rough Joe Butterfield to Mr. Power, gave warmth and emphasis to her
The man sitting on the wall appreciated the compliment to his sex,
and proved that he deserved his share of it by taking it exactly as
she meant it, and saying heartily:
"I like that, Christie, and wish more women thought and spoke as you
"If they had had my experience they would, and not be ashamed of it.
I am so old now I can say these things and not be misjudged; for
even some sensible people think this honest sort of fellowship
impossible if not improper. I don’t, and I never shall, so if I can
ever do any thing for you, David, forget that I am a woman and tell
me as freely as if I was a younger brother."
"I wish you were!"
"So do I; you’d make a splendid elder brother."
"No, a very bad one."
There was a sudden sharpness in David’s voice that jarred on
Christie’s ear and made her look up quickly. She only caught a
glimpse of his face, and saw that it was strangely troubled, as he
swung himself over the wall with little Vic on his arm and went
toward the house, saying abruptly:
"Baby ‘s sleepy: she must go in."
Christie sat some time longer, wondering what she had said to
disturb him, and when the bell rang went in still perplexed. But
David looked as usual, and the only trace of disquiet was an
occasional hasty shaking back of the troublesome lock, and a slight
knitting of the brows; two tokens, as she had learned to know, of
impatience or pain.
She was soon so absorbed in feeding the children, hungry and
clamorous as young birds for their food, that she forgot every thing
else. When dinner was done and cleared away, she devoted herself to
Mrs. Wilkins for an hour or two, while Mrs. Sterling took her nap,
the infants played riotously in the lane, and David was busy with
The arrival of Mr. Power drew every one to the porch to welcome him.
As he handed Christie a book, he asked with a significant smile:
"Have you found him yet?"
She glanced at the title of the new gift, read "Heroes and
Hero-worship," and answered merrily: "No, sir, but I’m looking
hard." "Success to your search," and Mr. Power turned to greet
David, who approached.
"Now, what shall we play?" asked Christie, as the children gathered
about her demanding to be amused.
George Washington suggested leap-frog, and the others added equally
impracticable requests; but Mrs. Wilkins settled the matter by
"Let’s have some play-actin’, Christie. That used to tickle the
children amazin’ly, and I was never tired of hearin’ them pieces,
specially the solemn ones."
"Yes, yes! do the funny girl with the baby, and the old woman, and
the lady that took pison and had fits!" shouted the children,
charmed with the idea.
Christie felt ready for any thing just then, and gave them Tilly
Slowboy, Miss Miggs, and Mrs. Gummage, in her best style, while the
young folks rolled on the grass in ecstasies, and Mrs. Wilkins
laughed till she cried.
"Now a touch of tragedy!" said Mr. Power, who sat under the elm,
with David leaning on the back of his chair, both applauding
"You insatiable people! do you expect me to give you low comedy and
heavy tragedy all alone? I’m equal to melodrama I think, and I’ll
give you Miss St. Clair as Juliet, if you wait a moment."
Christie stepped into the house, and soon reappeared with a white
table-cloth draped about her, two dishevelled locks of hair on her
shoulders, and the vinegar cruet in her hand, that being the first
bottle she could find. She meant to burlesque the poison scene, and
began in the usual ranting way; but she soon forgot St. Clair in
poor Juliet, and did it as she had often longed to do it, with all
the power and passion she possessed. Very faulty was her rendering,
but the earnestness she put into it made it most effective to her
uncritical audience, who "brought down the house," when she fell
upon the grass with her best stage drop, and lay there getting her
breath after the mouthful of vinegar she had taken in the excitement
of the moment.
She was up again directly, and, inspired by this superb success, ran
in and presently reappeared as Lady Macbeth with Mrs. Wilkins’s
scarlet shawl for royal robes, and the leafy chaplet of the morning
for a crown. She took the stage with some difficulty, for the
unevenness of the turf impaired the majesty of her tragic stride,
and fixing her eyes on an invisible Thane (who cut his part
shamefully, and spoke in the gruffest of gruff voices) she gave them
the dagger scene.
David as the orchestra, had been performing a drum solo on the back
of a chair with two of the corn-cobs Victoria had been building
houses with; but, when Lady Macbeth said, "Give me the daggers,"
Christie plucked the cobs suddenly from his hands, looking so
fiercely scornful, and lowering upon him so wrathfully with her
corked brows that he ejaculated an involuntary, "Bless me!" as he
stepped back quite daunted.
Being in the spirit of her part, Christie closed with the
sleep-walking scene, using the table-cloth again, while a towel
composed the tragic nightcap of her ladyship. This was an imitation,
and having a fine model and being a good mimic, she did well; for
the children sat staring with round eyes, the gentlemen watched the
woful face and gestures intently, and Mrs. Wilkins took a long
breath at the end, exclaiming: "I never did see the beat of that for
gastliness! My sister Clarissy used to walk in her sleep, but she
warn’t half so kind of dreadful."
"If she had had the murder of a few friends on her conscience, I
dare say she would have been," said Christie, going in to make
"Well, how do you like her as an actress?" asked Mr. Power of David,
who stood looking, as if he still saw and heard the haunted lady.
"Very much; but better as a woman. I’d no idea she had it in her,"
answered David, in a wonder-stricken tone.
"Plenty of tragedy and comedy in all of us," began Mr. Power; but
David said hastily:
"Yes, but few of us have passion and imagination enough to act
Shakspeare in that way."
"Very true: Christie herself could not give a whole character in
that style, and would not think of trying."
"I think she could; and I’d like to see her try it," said David,
much impressed by the dramatic ability which Christie’s usual
quietude had most effectually hidden.
He was still thinking about it, when she came out again. Mr. Power
beckoned to her; saying, as she came and stood before him, flushed
and kindled with her efforts:
"Now, you must give me a bit from the ‘Merchant of Venice.’ Portia
is a favorite character of mine, and I want to see if you can do any
thing with it."
"No, sir, I cannot. I used to study it, but it was too sober to suit
me. I am not a judicial woman, so I gave it up," answered Christie,
much flattered by his request, and amused at the respectful way in
which David looked at her. Then, as if it just occurred to her, she
added, "I remember one little speech that I can say to you, sir,
with great truth, and I will, since you like that play."
Still standing before him, she bent her head a little, and with a
graceful gesture of the hands, as if offering something, she
delivered with heartfelt emphasis the first part of Portia’s pretty
speech to her fortunate suitor:
"You see me, Lord Bassanio, where I stand,
Such as I am: though, for myself alone,
I would not be ambitious in my wish,
To wish myself much better; yet for you,
I would be trebled twenty times myself;
A thousand times more fair, ten thousand times more rich;
That, only to stand high in your account,
I might in virtues, beauties, livings, friends,
Exceed account: but the full sum of me
Is sum of something; which, to term in gross,
Is an unlesson’d girl, unschool’d, unpractis’d: –
Happy in this, she is not yet so old
But she may learn; happier than this,
She is not bred so dull but she can learn;
Happiest of all, is that her willing spirit
Commits itself to yours to be directed,
As from her lord, her governor, her king."
David applauded vigorously; but Mr. Power rose silently, looking
both touched and surprised; and, drawing Christie’s hand through his
arm, led her away into the garden for one of the quiet talks that
were so much to her.
When they returned, the Wilkinses were preparing to depart; and,
after repeated leave-takings, finally got under way, were packed
into the omnibus, and rumbled off with hats, hands, and
handkerchiefs waving from every window. Mr. Power soon followed, and
peace returned to the little house in the lane.
Later in the evening, when Mrs. Sterling was engaged with a
neighbor, who had come to confide some affliction to the good lady,
Christie went into the porch, and found David sitting on the step,
enjoying the mellow moonlight and the balmy air. As he did not
speak, she sat down silently, folded her hands in her lap, and began
to enjoy the beauty of the night in her own way. Presently she
became conscious that David’s eyes had turned from the moon to her
own face. He sat in the shade, she in the light, and he was looking
at her with the new expression which amused her.
"Well, what is it? You look as if you never saw me before," she
"I feel as if I never had," he answered, still regarding her as if
she had been a picture.
"What do I look like?"
"A peaceful, pious nun, just now."
"Oh! that is owing to my pretty shawl. I put it on in honor of the
day, though it is a trifle warm, I confess." And Christie stroked
the soft folds about her shoulders, and settled the corner that lay
lightly on her hair. "I do feel peaceful to-night, but not pious. I
am afraid I never shall do that," she added soberly.
"Well, it does not seem to be my nature, and I don’t know how to
change it. I want something to keep me steady, but I can’t find it.
So I whiffle about this way and that, and sometimes think I am a
most degenerate creature."
"That is only human nature, so don’t be troubled. We are all
compasses pointing due north. We get shaken often, and the needle
varies in spite of us; but the minute we are quiet, it points right,
and we have only to follow it."
"The keeping quiet is just what I cannot do. Tour mother shows me
how lovely it is, and I try to imitate it; but this restless soul of
mine will ask questions and doubt and fear, and worry me in many
ways. What shall I do to keep it still?" asked Christie, smiling,
"Let it alone: you cannot force these things, and the best way is to
wait till the attraction is strong enough to keep the needle steady.
Some people get their ballast slowly, some don’t need much, and some
have to work hard for theirs."
"Did you?" asked Christie; for David’s voice fell a little, as he
uttered the last words.
"I have not got much yet."
"I think you have. Why, David, you are always cheerful and
contented, good and generous. If that is not true piety, what is?"
"You are very much deceived, and I am sorry for it," said David,
with the impatient gesture of the head, and a troubled look.
"Prove it!" And Christie looked at him with such sincere respect and
regard, that his honest nature would not let him accept it, though
it gratified him much.
He made no answer for a minute. Then he said slowly, as if feeling a
modest man’s hesitation to speak of himself, yet urged to it by some
"I will prove it if you won’t mind the unavoidable egotism; for I
cannot let you think me so much better than I am. Outwardly I seem
to you ‘cheerful, contented, generous, and good.’ In reality I am
sad, dissatisfied, bad, and selfish: see if I’m not. I often tire of
this quiet life, hate my work, and long to break away, and follow my
own wild and wilful impulses, no matter where they lead. Nothing
keeps me at such times but my mother and God’s patience."
David began quietly; but the latter part of this confession was made
with a sudden impetuosity that startled Christie, so utterly unlike
his usual self-control was it. She could only look at him with the
surprise she felt. His face was in the shadow; but she saw that it
was flushed, his eyes excited, and in his voice she heard an
undertone that made it sternly self-accusing.
"I am not a hypocrite," he went on rapidly, as if driven to speak in
spite of himself. "I try to be what I seem, but it is too hard
sometimes and I despair. Especially hard is it to feel that I have
learned to feign happiness so well that others are entirely
deceived. Mr. Power and mother know me as I am: other friends I have
not, unless you will let me call you one. Whether you do or not
after this, I respect you too much to let you delude yourself about
my virtues, so I tell you the truth and abide the consequences."
He looked up at her as he paused, with a curious mixture of pride
and humility in his face, and squared his broad shoulders as if he
had thrown off a burden that had much oppressed him.
Christie offered him her hand, saying in a tone that did his heart
good: "The consequences are that I respect, admire, and trust you
more than ever, and feel proud to be your friend."
David gave the hand a strong and grateful pressure, said, "Thank
you," in a moved tone, and then leaned back into the shadow, as if
trying to recover from this unusual burst of confidence, won from
him by the soft magic of time, place, and companionship.
Fearing he would regret the glimpse he had given her, and anxious to
show how much she liked it, Christie talked on to give him time to
"I always thought in reading the lives of saints or good men of any
time, that their struggles were the most interesting and helpful
things recorded. Human imperfection only seems to make real piety
more possible, and to me more beautiful; for where others have
conquered I can conquer, having suffered as they suffer, and seen
their hard-won success. That is the sort of religion I want;
something to hold by, live in, and enjoy, if I can only get it."
"I know you will." He said it heartily, and seemed quite calm again;
so Christie obeyed the instinct which told her that questions would
be good for David, and that he was in the mood for answering them.
"May I ask you something," she began a little timidly. "Any thing,
Christie," he answered instantly. "That is a rash promise: I am a
woman, and therefore curious; what shall you do if I take advantage
of the privilege?" "Try and see."
"I will be discreet, and only ask one thing," she replied, charmed
with her success. "You said just now that you had learned to feign
happiness. I wish you would tell me how you do it, for it is such an
excellent imitation I shall be quite content with it till I can
learn the genuine thing."
David fingered the troublesome forelock thoughtfully for a moment,
then said, with something of the former impetuosity coming back into
his voice and manner:
"I will tell you all about it; that’s the best way: I know I shall
some day because I can’t help it; so I may as well have done with it
now, since I have begun. It is not interesting, mind you, – only a
grim little history of one man’s fight with the world, the flesh,
and the devil: will you have it?"
"Oh, yes!" answered Christie, so eagerly that David laughed, in
spite of the bitter memories stirring at his heart.
"So like a woman, always ready to hear and forgive sinners," he
said, then took a long breath, and added rapidly:
"I’ll put it in as few words as possible and much good may it do
you. Some years ago I was desperately miserable; never mind why: I
dare say I shall tell you all about it some day if I go on at this
rate. Well, being miserable, as I say, every thing looked black and
bad to me: I hated all men, distrusted all women, doubted the
existence of God, and was a forlorn wretch generally. Why I did not
go to the devil I can’t say: I did start once or twice; but the
thought of that dear old woman in there sitting all alone and
waiting for me dragged me back, and kept me here till the first
recklessness was over. People talk about duty being sweet; I have
not found it so, but there it was: I should have been a brute to
shirk it; so I took it up, and held on desperately till it grew
"It has grovn sweet now, David, I am sure," said Christie, very low.
"No, not yet," he answered with the stern honesty that would not let
him deceive himself or others, cost what it might to be true. "There
is a certain solid satisfaction in it that I did not use to find. It
is not a mere dogged persistence now, as it once was, and that is a
step towards loving it perhaps."
He spoke half to himself, and sat leaning his head on both hands
propped on his knees, looking down as if the weight of the old
trouble bent his shoulders again.
"What more, David?" said Christie.
"Only this. When I found I had got to live, and live manfully, I
said to myself, ‘I must have help or I cannot do it.’ To no living
soul could I tell my grief, not even to my mother, for she had her
own to bear: no human being could help me, yet I must have help or
give up shamefully. Then I did what others do when all else fails to
sustain them; I turned to God: not humbly, not devoutly or
trustfully, but doubtfully, bitterly, and rebelliously; for I said
in my despairing heart, ‘If there is a God, let Him help me, and I
will believe.’ He did help me, and I kept my word."
"Oh, David, how?" whispered Christie after a moment’s silence, for
the last words were solemn in their earnestness.
"The help did not come at once. No miracle answered me, and I
thought my cry had not been heard. But it had, and slowly something
like submission came to me. It was not cheerful nor pious: it was
only a dumb, sad sort of patience without hope or faith. It was
better than desperation; so I accepted it, and bore the inevitable
as well as I could. Presently, courage seemed to spring up again: I
was ashamed to be beaten in the first battle, and some sort of blind
instinct made me long to break away from the past and begin again.
My father was dead; mother left all to me, and followed where I led.
I sold the old place, bought this, and, shutting out the world as
much as I could, I fell to work as if my life depended on it. That
was five or six years ago: and for a long time I delved away without
interest or pleasure, merely as a safety-valve for my energies, and
a means of living; for I gave up all my earlier hopes and plans when
the trouble came.
"I did not love my work; but it was good for me, and helped cure my
sick soul. I never guessed why I felt better, but dug on with
indifference first, then felt pride in my garden, then interest in
the plants I tended, and by and by I saw what they had done for me,
and loved them like true friends."
A broad woodbine leaf had been fluttering against David’s head, as
he leaned on the slender pillar of the porch where it grew. Now, as
if involuntarily, he laid his cheek against it with a caressing
gesture, and sat looking over the garden lying dewy and still in the
moonlight, with the grateful look of a man who has learned the
healing miracles of Nature and how near she is to God.
"Mr. Power helped you: didn’t he?" said Christie, longing to hear
"So much! I never can tell you what he was to me, nor how I thank
him. To him, and to my work I owe the little I have won in the way
of strength and comfort after years of effort. I see now the
compensation that comes out of trouble, the lovely possibilities
that exist for all of us, and the infinite patience of God, which is
to me one of the greatest of His divine attributes. I have only got
so far, but things grow easier as one goes on; and if I keep tugging
I may yet be the cheerful, contented man I seem. That is all,
Christie, and a longer story than I meant to tell."
"Not long enough: some time you will tell me more perhaps, since you
have once begun. It seems quite natural now, and I am so pleased and
honored by your confidence. But I cannot help wondering what made
you do it all at once," said Christie presently, after they had
listened to a whippoorwill, and watched the flight of a downy owl.
"I do not think I quite know myself, unless it was because I have
been on my good behavior since you came, and, being a humbug, as I
tell you, was forced to unmask in spite of myself. There are limits
to human endurance, and the proudest man longs to unpack his woes
before a sympathizing friend now and then. I have been longing to do
this for some time; but I never like to disturb mother’s peace, or
take Mr. Power from those who need him more. So to-day, when you so
sweetly offered to help me if you could, it quite went to my heart,
and seemed so friendly and comfortable, I could not resist trying it
tonight, when you began about my imaginary virtues. That is the
truth, I believe: now, what shall we do about it?"
"Just go on, and do it again whenever you feel like it. I know what
loneliness is, and how telling worries often cures them. I meant
every word I said this morning, and will prove it by doing any thing
in the world I can for you. Believe this, and let me be your
They had risen, as a stir within told them the guest was going; and
as Christie spoke she was looking up with the moonlight full upon
If there had been any hidden purpose in her mind, any false
sentiment, or trace of coquetry in her manner, it would have spoiled
that hearty little speech of hers.
But in her heart was nothing but a sincere desire to prove gratitude
and offer sympathy; in her manner the gentle frankness of a woman
speaking to a brother; and in her face the earnestness of one who
felt the value of friendship, and did not ask or give it lightly.
"I will," was David’s emphatic answer, and then, as if to seal the
bargain, he stooped down, and gravely kissed her on the forehead.
Christie was a little startled, but neither offended nor confused;
for there was no love in that quiet kiss, – only respect, affection,
and much gratitude; an involuntary demonstration from the lonely man
to the true-hearted woman who had dared to come and comfort him.
Out trotted neighbor Miller, and that was the end of confidences in
the porch; but David played melodiously on his flute that night, and
Christie fell asleep saying happily to herself:
"Now we are all right, friends for ever, and every thing will go