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Across the Years by Eleanor H. Porter

Part 4 out of 4

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A day later came the retort. Cyrus found it tucked under the shed-
chamber door.

Huldah's note showed her "schooling." It was well written, carefully
spelled, and enclosed in a square white envelope.

Sir [it ran stiffly]: I shall be obliged if you do not chop any
more wood for me. Hereafter I shall use the oil stove. HULDAH PENDLETON
GREGG.

Cyrus choked, and peered at the name with suddenly blurred eyes: the
"Huldah Pendleton" was fiercely black and distinct; the "Gregg" was so
faint it could scarcely be discerned.

"Why, it's 'most like a d'vorce!" he shivered.

If it had not been so pitiful, it would have been ludicrous--what
followed. Day after day, in one corner of the kitchen, an old man boiled
his potatoes and fried his unappetizing eggs over a dusty, unblacked
stove; in the other corner an old woman baked and brewed over a shining
idol of brass and black enamel--and always the baking and brewing
carried to the nostrils of the hungry man across the room the aroma of
some dainty that was a particular favorite of his own.

The man whistled, and the woman hummed--at times; but they did not talk,
except when some neighbor came in; and then they both talked very loud
and very fast--to the neighbor. On this one point were Cyrus Gregg and
his wife Huldah agreed; under no circumstances whatever must any
gossiping outsider know.

One by one the weeks had passed. It was November now, and very cold.
Outdoors a dull gray sky and a dull brown earth combined into a dismal
hopelessness. Indoors the dull monotony of a two-months-old quarrel and
a growing heartache made a combination that carried even less of cheer.

Huldah never hummed now, and Cyrus seldom whistled; yet neither was one
whit nearer speaking. Each saw this, and, curiously enough, was pleased.
In fact, it was just here that, in spite of the heartache, each found an
odd satisfaction.

"By sugar--but she's a spunky one!" Cyrus would chuckle admiringly, as
he discovered some new evidence of his wife's shrewdness in obtaining
what she wanted with yet no spoken word.

"There isn't another man in town who could do it--and stick to it!"
exulted Huldah proudly, her eyes on her husband's form, bent over his
egg-frying at the other side of the room.

Not only the cause of the quarrel, but almost the quarrel itself, had
now long since been forgotten; in fact, to both Cyrus and his wife it
had come to be a sort of game in which each player watched the other's
progress with fully as much interest as he did his own. And yet, with it
all there was the heartache; for the question came to them at times with
sickening force--just when and how could it possibly end?

It was at about this time that each began to worry about the other.
Huldah shuddered at the changeless fried eggs and boiled potatoes; and
Cyrus ordered a heavy storm window for the room where Huldah slept
alone. Huldah slyly left a new apple pie almost under her husband's nose
one day, and Cyrus slipped a five-dollar bill beneath his wife's napkin
ring. When both pie and greenback remained untouched, Huldah cried, and
Cyrus said, "Gosh darn it!" three times in succession behind the woodshed
door.

A week before Thanksgiving a letter came from the married daughter, and
another from the married son. They were good letters, kind and loving;
and each closed with a suggestion that all go home at Thanksgiving for a
family reunion.

Huldah read the letters eagerly, but at their close she frowned and
looked anxious. In a moment she had passed them to Cyrus with a toss of
her head. Five minutes later Cyrus had flung them back with these words
trailing across one of the envelopes:

Write um. Tell um we are sick--dead--gone away--anything! Only
don't let um come. A if we wanted to Thanksgive!

Huldah answered the letters that night. She, too, wrote kindly and
lovingly; but at the end she said that much as she and father would like
to see them, it did not seem wise to undertake to entertain such a
family gathering just now. It would be better to postpone it.

Both Huldah and Cyrus hoped that this would end the subject of
Thanksgiving; but it did not. The very next day Cyrus encountered
neighbor Wiley in the village store. Wiley's round red face shone like
the full moon.

"Well, well, Cy, what ye doin' down your way Thanksgivin'--eh?" he
queried.

Cyrus stiffened; but before he could answer he discovered that Wiley had
asked the question, not for information, but as a mere introduction to a
recital of his own plans.

"We're doin' great things," announced the man. "Sam an' Jennie an' the
hull kit on 'em's comin' home an' bring all the chicks. Tell ye what,
Cy, we be a-Thanksgivin' this year! Ain't nothin' like a good old
fam'ly reunion, when ye come right down to it."

"Yes, I know," said Cyrus gloomily. "But we--we ain't doin' much this
year."

A day later came Huldah's turn. She had taken some calf's-foot jelly to
Mrs. Taylor in the little house at the foot of the hill. The Widow
Taylor was crying.

"You see, it's Thanksgiving!" she sobbed, in answer to Huldah's dismayed
questions.

"Thanksgiving!"

"Yes. And last year I had--him!"

Huldah sighed, and murmured something comforting, appropriate; but
almost at once she stopped, for the woman had turned searching eyes upon
her.

"Huldah Gregg, do you appreciate Cyrus?"

Huldah bridled angrily, but there was no time for a reply, for the woman
answered her own question, and hurried on wildly.

"No. Did I appreciate my husband? No. Does Sally Clark appreciate her
husband? No. And there don't none of us do it till he's gone--gone--
gone!"

As soon as possible Huldah went home. She was not a little disconcerted.
The "gone--gone--gone" rang unpleasantly in her ears, and before her
eyes rose a hateful vision of unappetizing fried eggs and boiled
potatoes. As to her not appreciating Cyrus--that was all nonsense; she
had always appreciated him, and that, too, far beyond his just deserts,
she told herself angrily.

There was no escaping Thanksgiving after that for either Huldah or
Cyrus. It looked from every eager eye, and dropped from every joyous
lip, until, of all the world Huldah and Cyrus came to regard themselves
as the most forlorn, and the most abused.

It was then that to Huldah came her great idea; she would cook for Cyrus
the best Thanksgiving dinner he had ever eaten. Just because he was
obstinate was no reason why he should starve, she told herself; and very
gayly she set about carrying out her plans. First the oil stove, with
the help of a jobman, was removed to the unfinished room over the
kitchen, for the chief charm of the dinner was to be its secret
preparation. Then, with the treasured butter-and-egg money the turkey,
cranberries, nuts, and raisins were bought and smuggled into the house
and upstairs to the chamber of mystery.

Two days before Thanksgiving Cyrus came home to find a silent and almost
empty kitchen. His heart skipped a beat and his jaw fell open in
frightened amazement; then a step on the floor above sent the blood back
to his face and a new bitterness to his heart.

"So I ain't even good enough ter stay with!" he muttered. "Fool!--fool!"
he snarled, glaring at the oblong brown paper in his arms. "As if she'd
care for this--now!" he finished, flinging the parcel into the farthest
corner of the room.

Unhappy Cyrus! To him, also, had come a great idea. Thanksgiving was not
Christmas, to be sure, but if he chose to give presents on that day,
surely it was no one's business but his own, he argued. In the brown
paper parcel at that moment lay the soft, shimmering folds of yards upon
yards of black silk--and Huldah had been longing for a new black silk
gown. Yet it was almost dark when Cyrus stumbled over to the corner,
picked up the parcel, and carried it ruefully away to the shed-chamber.

Thanksgiving dawned clear and unusually warm. The sun shone, and the air
felt like spring. The sparrows twittered in the treetops as if the
branches were green with leaves.

To Cyrus, however, it was a world of gloom. Upstairs Huldah was singing--
singing!--and it was Thanksgiving. He could hear her feet patter,
patter on the floor above, and the sound had a cheery self-reliance that
was maddening. Huldah was happy, evidently--and it was Thanksgiving!
Twice he had walked resolutely to the back stairs with a brown-paper
parcel in his arms; and twice a quavering song of triumph from the room
above had sent him back in defeat. As if she could care for a present of
his!

Suddenly, now, Cyrus sprang forward in his chair, sniffing the air
hungrily. Turkey! Huldah was roasting turkey, while he--

The old man dropped back in his seat and turned his eyes disconsolately
on the ill-kept stove--fried eggs and boiled potatoes are not the most
toothsome prospect for a Thanksgiving dinner, particularly when one has
the smell of a New England housewife's turkey in one's nostrils.

For a time Cyrus sat motionless; then he rose to his feet, shuffled out
of the house, and across the road to the barn.

In the room above the kitchen, at that moment, something happened.
Perhaps the old hands slipped in their eagerness, or perhaps the old
eyes judged a distance wrongly. Whatever it was, there came a puff of
smoke, a sputter, and a flare of light; then red-yellow flames leaped to
the flimsy shade at the window, and swept on to the century-seasoned
timbers above.

With a choking cry, Huldah turned and stumbled across the room to the
stairway. Out at the barn door Cyrus, too, saw the flare of light at the
window, and he, too, turned with a choking cry.

They met at the foot of the stairway.

"Huldah!"

"Cyrus!"

It was as if one voice had spoken, so exactly were the words
simultaneous. Then Cyrus cried:

"You ain't hurt?"

"No, no! Quick--the things--we must get them out!"

Obediently Cyrus turned and began to work; and the first thing that his
arms tenderly bore to safety was an oblong brown-paper parcel.

From all directions then came the neighbors running. The farming
settlement was miles from a town or a fire-engine. The house was small,
and stood quite by itself; and there was little, after all, that could
be done, except to save the household goods and gods. This was soon
accomplished, and there was nothing to do but to watch the old house
burn.

Cyrus and Huldah sat hand in hand on an old stone wall, quite apart from
their sympathetic neighbors, and--talked. And about them was a curious
air of elation, a buoyancy as if long-pent forces had suddenly found a
joyous escape.

"'T ain't as if our things wan't all out," cried Cyrus; his voice was
actually exultant.

"Or as if we hadn't wanted to build a new one for years," chirruped his
wife.

"Now you can have that 'ere closet under the front stairs, Huldah!"

"And you can have the room for your tools where it'll be warm in the
winter!"

"An' there'll be the bow-winder out of the settin' room, Huldah!"

"Yes, and a real bathroom, with water coming right out of the wall, same
as the Wileys have!"

"An' a tub, Huldah--one o' them pretty white chiny ones!"

"Oh, Cyrus, ain't it almost too good to be true!" sighed Huldah: then
her face changed. "Why, Cyrus, it's gone," she cried with sudden
sharpness.

"What's gone?"

"Your dinner--I was cooking such a beautiful turkey and all the fixings
for you."

A dull red came into the man's face.

"For--me?" stammered Cyrus.

"Y-yes," faltered Huldah; then her chin came up defiantly.

The man laughed; and there was a boyish ring to his voice.

"Well, Huldah, I didn't have any turkey, but I did have a tidy little
piece o' black silk for yer gown, an' I saved it, too. Mebbe we could
eat that!--eh?"

It was not until just as they were falling asleep that night in Deacon
Clark's spare bedroom that Mr. and Mrs. Gregg so much as hinted that
there ever had been a quarrel.

Then, under cover of the dark, Cyrus stammered:

"Huldah, did ye sense it? Them 'ere words we said at the foot of the
stairs was spoke--exactly--together!"

"Yes, I know, dear," murmured Huldah, with a little break in her voice.
Then:

"Cyrus, ain't it wonderful--this Thanksgiving, for us?"

Downstairs the Clarks were talking of poor old Mr. and Mrs. Gregg and
their "sad loss;" but the Clarks did not--know.

A New England Idol

The Hapgood twins were born in the great square house that set back from
the road just on the outskirts of Fairtown. Their baby eyes had opened
upon a world of faded portraits and somber haircloth furniture, and
their baby hands had eagerly clutched at crystal pendants on brass
candlesticks gleaming out of the sacred darkness that enveloped the
parlor mantel.

When older grown they had played dolls in the wonderful attic, and made
mud pies in the wilderness of a back yard. The garden had been a
fairyland of delight to their toddling feet, and the apple trees a
fragrant shelter for their first attempts at housekeeping.

From babyhood to girlhood the charm of the old place grew upon them, so
much so that the thought of leaving it for homes of their own became
distasteful to them, and they looked with scant favor upon the
occasional village youths who sauntered up the path presumably on
courtship bent.

The Reverend John Hapgood--a man who ruled himself and all about him
with the iron rod of a rigid old-school orthodoxy--died when the twins
were twenty; and the frail little woman who, as his wife, had for thirty
years lived and moved solely because he expected breath and motion of
her, followed soon in his footsteps. And then the twins were left alone
in the great square house on the hill.

Miss Tabitha and Miss Rachel were not the only children of the family.
There had been a son--the first born, and four years their senior. The
headstrong boy and the iron rule had clashed, and the boy, when sixteen
years old, had fled, leaving no trace behind him.

If the Reverend John Hapgood grieved for his wayward son the members of
his household knew it not, save as they might place their own
constructions on the added sternness to his eyes and the deepening lines
about his mouth. "Paul," when it designated the graceless runaway, was a
forbidden word in the family, and even the Epistles in the sacred Book,
bearing the prohibited name, came to be avoided by the head of the house
in the daily readings. It was still music in the hearts of the women,
however, though it never passed their lips; and when the little mother
lay dying she remembered and spoke of her boy. The habit of years still
fettered her tongue and kept it from uttering the name.

"If--he--comes--you know--if he comes, be kind--be good," she murmured,
her breath short and labored. "Don't--punish," she whispered--he was
yet a lad in her disordered vision. "Don't punish--forgive!"

Years had passed since then--years of peaceful mornings and placid
afternoons, and Paul had never appeared. Each purpling of the lilacs in
the spring and reddening of the apples in the fall took on new shades of
loveliness in the fond eyes of the twins, and every blade of grass and
tiny shrub became sacred to them.

On the 10th of June, their thirty-fifth birthday, the place never had
looked so lovely. A small table laid with spotless linen and gleaming
silver stood beneath the largest apple-tree, a mute witness that the
ladies were about to celebrate their birthday--the 10th of June being
the only day that the solemn dignity of the dining-room was deserted for
the frivolous freedom of the lawn.

Rachel came out of the house and sniffed the air joyfully.

"Delicious!" she murmured. "Somehow, the 10th of June is specially fine
every year."

In careful, uplifted hands she bore a round frosted cake, always the
chief treasure of the birthday feast. The cake was covered with the tiny
colored candies so dear to the heart of a child. Miss Rachel always
bought those candies at the village store, with the apology:--

"I want them for Tabitha's birthday cake, you know. She thinks so much
of pretty things."

Tabitha invariably made the cake and iced it, and as she dropped the
bits of colored sugar into place, she would explain to Huldy, who
occasionally "helped" in the kitchen:--

"I wouldn't miss the candy for the world--my sister thinks so much of
it!"

So each deceived herself with this pleasant bit of fiction, and yet had
what she herself most wanted.

Rachel carefully placed the cake in the center of the table, feasted her
eyes on its toothsome loveliness, then turned and hurried back to the
house. The door had scarcely shut behind her when a small, ragged urchin
darted in at the street gate, snatched the cake, and, at a sudden sound
from the house, dashed out of sight behind a shrub close by.

The sound that had frightened the boy was the tapping of the heels of
Miss Tabitha's shoes along the back porch. The lady descended the steps,
crossed the lawn and placed a saucer of pickles and a plate of dainty
sandwiches on the table.

"Why, I thought Rachel brought the cake," she said aloud. "It must be in
the house; there's other things to get, anyway. I'll go back."

Again the click of the door brought the small boy close to the table.
Filling both hands with sandwiches, he slipped behind the shrub just as
the ladies came out of the house together. Rachel carried a small tray
laden with sauce and tarts; Tabitha, one with water and steaming tea. As
they neared the table each almost dropped her burden.

"Why, where's my cake?"

"And my sandwiches?"

"There's the plate it was on!" Rachel's voice was growing in terror.

"And mine, too!" cried Tabitha, with distended eyes fastened on some
bits of bread and meat--all that the small brown hands had left.

"It's burglars--robbers!" Rachel looked furtively over her shoulder.

"And all your lovely cake!" almost sobbed Tabitha.

"It--it was yours, too," said the other with a catch in her voice. "Oh,
dear! What can have happened to it? I never heard of such a thing--right
in broad daylight!" The sisters had long ago set their trays upon the
ground and were now wringing their hands helplessly. Suddenly a small
figure appeared before them holding out four sadly crushed sandwiches
and half of a crumbling cake.

"I'm sorry--awful sorry! I didn't think--I was so hungry. I'm afraid
there ain't very much left," he added, with rueful eyes on the
sandwiches.

"No, I should say not!" vouchsafed Rachel, her voice firm now that the
size of the "burglar" was declared. Tabitha only gasped.

The small boy placed the food upon the empty plates, and Rachel's lips
twitched as she saw that he clumsily tried to arrange it in an orderly
fashion.

"There, ma'am,--that looks pretty good!" he finally announced with some
pride.

Tabitha made an involuntary gesture of aversion. Rachel laughed
outright; then her face grew suddenly stern.

"Boy, what do you mean by such actions?" she demanded.

His eyes fell, and his cheeks showed red through the tan.

"I was hungry."

"But didn't you know it was stealing?" she asked, her face softening.

"I didn't stop to think--it looked so good I couldn't help takin' it."
He dug his bare toes in the grass for a moment in silence, then he
raised his head with a jerk and stood squarely on both feet. "I hain't
got any money, but I'll work to pay for it--bringin' wood in, or
somethin'."

"The dear child!" murmured two voices softly.

"I've got to find my folks, sometime, but I'll do the work first. Mebbe
an hour'll pay for it--'most!"--He looked hopefully into Miss Rachel's
face.

"Who are your folks?" she asked huskily.

By way of answer he handed out a soiled, crumpled envelope for her
inspection on which was written, "Reverend John Hapgood."

"Why--it's father!"

"What!" exclaimed Tabitha.

Her sister tore the note open with shaking fingers.

"It's from--Paul!" she breathed, hesitating a conscientious moment over
the name. Then she turned her startled eyes on the boy, who was
regarding her with lively interest.

"Do I belong to you?" he asked anxiously.

"I--I don't know. Who are you--what's your name?"

"Ralph Hapgood."

Tabitha had caught up the note and was devouring it with swift-moving
eyes.

"It's Paul's boy, Rachel," she broke in, "only think of it--Paul's boy!"
and she dropped the bit of paper and enveloped the lad in a fond but
tearful embrace.

He squirmed uneasily.

"I'm sorry I eat up my own folks's things. I'll go to work any time,"
he suggested, trying to draw away, and wiping a tear splash from the
back of his hand on his trousers.

But it was long hours before Ralph Hapgood was allowed to "go to work."
Tears, kisses, embraces, questions, a bath, and clean clothes followed
each other in quick succession--the clothes being some of his own
father's boyhood garments.

His story was quickly told. His mother was long since dead, and his
father had written on his dying bed the letter that commended the boy--
so soon to be orphaned--to the pity and care of his grandparents. The
sisters trembled and changed color at the story of the boy's hardships
on the way to Fairtown; and they plied him with questions and sandwiches
in about equal proportions after he told of the frequent dinnerless days
and supperless nights of the journey.

That evening when the boy was safe in bed--clean, full-stomached, and
sleepily content the sisters talked it over. The Reverend John Hapgood,
in his will, had cut off his recreant son with the proverbial shilling,
so, by law, there was little coming to Ralph. This, however, the sisters
overlooked in calm disdain.

"We must keep him, anyhow," said Rachel with decision.

"Yes, indeed,--the dear child!"

"He's twelve, for all he's so small, but he hasn't had much schooling.
We must see to that--we want him well educated," continued Rachel, a
pink spot showing in either cheek.

"Indeed we do--we'll send him to college! I wonder, now, wouldn't he
like to be a doctor?"

"Perhaps," admitted the other cautiously, "or a minister."

"Sure enough--he might like that better; I'm going to ask him!" and she
sprang to her feet and tripped across the room to the parlor-bedroom
door. "Ralph," she called softly, after turning the knob, "are you
asleep?"

"Huh? N-no, ma'am." The voice nearly gave the lie to the words.

"Well, dear, we were wondering--would you rather be a minister or a
doctor?" she asked, much as though she were offering for choice a peach
and a pear.

"A doctor!" came emphatically from out of the dark--there was no sleep
in the voice now. "I've always wanted to be a doctor."

"You shall, oh, you shall!" promised the woman ecstatically, going back
to her sister; and from that time all their lives were ordered with that
one end in view.

The Hapgood twins were far from wealthy. They owned the homestead, but
their income was small, and the added mouth to fill--and that a hungry
one--counted. As the years passed, Huldy came less and less frequently
to help in the kitchen, and the sisters' gowns grew more and more rusty
and darned.

Ralph, boylike, noticed nothing--indeed, half the year he was away at
school; but as the time drew near for the college course and its
attendant expenses, the sisters were sadly troubled.

"We might sell," suggested Tabitha, a little choke in her voice.

Rachel started.

"Why, sister!--sell? Oh, no, we couldn't do that!" she shuddered.

"But what can we do?"

"Do?--why lots of things!" Rachel's lips came together with a snap.
"It's coming berry time, and there's our chickens, and the garden did
beautifully last year. Then there's your lace work and my knitting--
they bring something. Sell? Oh--we couldn't do that!" And she abruptly
left the room and went out into the yard. There she lovingly trained a
wayward vine with new shoots going wrong, and gloated over the
rosebushes heavy with crimson buds.

But as the days and weeks flew by and September drew the nearer,
Rachel's courage failed her. Berries had been scarce, the chickens had
died, the garden had suffered from drought, and but for their lace and
knitting work, their income would have dwindled to a pitiful sum
indeed. Ralph had been gone all summer; he had asked to go camping and
fishing with some of his school friends. He was expected home a week
before the college opened, however.

Tabitha grew more and more restless every day. Finally she spoke.

"Rachel, we'll have to sell--there isn't any other way. It would bring a
lot," she continued hurriedly, before her sister could speak, "and we
could find some pretty rooms somewhere. It wouldn't be so very
dreadful!"

"Don't, Tabitha! Seems as though I couldn't bear even to speak of it.
Sell?--oh, Tabitha!" Then her voice changed from a piteous appeal to one
of forced conviction.

"We couldn't get anywhere near what it's worth, Tabitha, anyway. No one
here wants it or can afford to buy it for what it ought to bring. It is
really absurd to think of it. Of course, if I had an offer--a good big
one--that would be quite another thing; but there's no hope of that."

Rachel's lips said "hope," but her heart said "danger," and the latter
was what she really meant. She did not know that but two hours before, a
stranger had said to a Fairtown lawyer:

"I want a summer home in this locality. You don't happen to know of a
good old treasure of a homestead for sale, do you?"

"I do not," replied the lawyer. "There's a place on the edge of the
village that would be just the ticket, but I don't suppose it could be
bought for love nor money."

"Where is it?" asked the man eagerly. "You never know what money can do--
to say nothing of love--till you try."

The lawyer chuckled softly.

"It's the Hapgood place. I'll drive you over to-morrow. It's owned by
two old maids, and they worship every stick and stone and blade of grass
that belongs to it. However, I happen to know that cash is rather scarce
with them--and there's ample chance for love, if the money fails," he
added, with a twitching of his lips.

When the two men drove into the yard that August morning, the Hapgood
twins were picking nasturtiums, and the flaming yellows and scarlets
lighted up their somber gowns, and made patches of brilliant color
against the gray of the house.

"By Jove, it's a picture!" exclaimed the would-be purchaser.

The lawyer smiled and sprang to the ground. Introductions swiftly
followed, then he cleared his throat in some embarrassment.

"Ahem! I've brought Mr. Hazelton up here, ladies, because he was
interested in your beautiful place."

Miss Rachel smiled--the smile of proud possession; then something within
her seemed to tighten, and she caught her breath sharply.

"It is fine!" murmured Hazelton; "and the view is grand!" he continued,
his eyes on the distant hills. Then he turned abruptly. "Ladies, I
believe in coming straight to the point. I want a summer home, and--I
want this one. Can I tempt you to part with it?"

"Indeed, no!" began Rachel almost fiercely. Then her voice sank to a
whisper; "I--I don't think you could."

"But, sister," interposed Tabitha, her face alight, "you know you said--
that is, there are circumstances--perhaps he would--p-pay enough--" Her
voice stumbled over the hated word, then stopped, while her face burned
scarlet.

"Pay!--no human mortal could pay for this house!" flashed Rachel
indignantly. Then she turned to Hazelton, her slight form drawn to its
greatest height, and her hands crushing the flowers, she held till the
brittle stems snapped, releasing a fluttering shower of scarlet and
gold. "Mr. Hazelton, to carry out certain wishes very near to our
hearts, we need money. We will show you the place, and--and we will
consider your offer," she finished faintly. It was a dreary journey the
sisters took that morning, though the garden never had seemed lovelier,
nor the rooms more sacredly beautiful. In the end, Hazelton's offer was
so fabulously enormous to their unwilling ears that their conscience
forbade them to refuse it.

"I'll have the necessary papers ready to sign in a few days," said the
lawyer as the two gentlemen turned to go. And Hazelton added: "If at any
time before that you change your minds and find you cannot give it up--
just let me know and it will be all right. Just think it over till
then," he said kindly, the dumb woe in their eyes appealing to him as
the loudest lamentations could not have done. "But if you don't mind,
I'd like to have an architect, who is in town just now, come up and look
it over with me," he finished.

"Certainly, sir, certainly," said Rachel, longing for the man to go. But
when he was gone, she wished him back--anything would be better than
this aimless wandering from room to room, and from yard to garden and
back again.

"I suppose he will sit here," murmured Tabitha, dropping wearily
on to the settee under the apple-trees.

"I suppose so," her sister assented. "I wonder if she knows how
to grow roses; they'll certainly die if she doesn't!" And Rachel crushed
a worm under her foot with unnecessary vigor.

"Oh, I hope they'll tend to the vines on the summerhouse, Rachel, and
the pansies--you don't think they'll let them run to seed, do you? Oh,
dear!" And Tabitha sprang nervously to her feet and started backyto the
house.

Mr. Hazelton appeared the next morning with two men--an architect and a
landscape gardener. Rachel was in the summerhouse, and the first she
knew of their presence was the sound of talking outside.

"You'll want to grade it down there," she heard a strange voice say,
"and fill in that little hollow; clear away all those rubbishy posies,
and mass your flowering shrubs in the background. Those roses are no
particular good, I fancy; we'll move such as are worth anything, and
make a rose-bed on the south side--we'll talk over the varieties you
want, later. Of course these apple-trees and those lilacs will be cut
down, and this summerhouse will be out of the way. You'll be surprised--
a few changes will do wonders, and--"

He stopped abruptly. A woman, tall, flushed, and angry-eyed, stood
before him in the path. She opened her lips, but no sound came--Mr.
Hazelton was lifting his hat. The flush faded, and her eyes closed as
though to shut out some painful sight; then she bowed her head with a
proud gesture, and sped along the way to the house.

Once inside, she threw herself, sobbing, upon the bed. Tabitha found her
there an hour later.

"You poor dear--they've gone now," she comforted.

Rachel raised her head.

"They're going to cut down everything--every single thing!" she gasped.

"I know it," choked Tabitha, "and they're going to tear out lots of
doors inside, and build in windows and things. Oh, Rachel,--what shall
we do?"

"I don't know, oh, I don't know!" moaned the woman on the bed, diving
into the pillows and hugging them close to her head.

"We--we might give up selling--he said we could if we wanted to."

"But there's Ralph!"

"I know it. Oh, dear--what can we do?"

Rachel suddenly sat upright.

"Do? Why, we'll stand it, of course. We just mustn't mind if he turns
the house into a hotel and the yard into a--a pasture!" she said
hysterically. "We must just think of Ralph and of his being a doctor.
Come, let's go to the village and see if we can rent that tenement of
old Mrs. Goddard's."

With a long sigh and a smothered sob, Tabitha went to get her hat.

Mrs. Goddard greeted the sisters effusively, and displayed her bits of
rooms and the tiny square of yard with the plainly expressed wish that
the place might be their home.

The twins said little, but their eyes were troubled. They left with the
promise to think it over and let Mrs. Goddard know.

"I didn't suppose rooms could be so little," whispered Tabitha, as they
closed the gate behind them.

"We couldn't grow as much as a sunflower in that yard," faltered Rachel.

"Well, anyhow, we could have some houseplants!"--Tabitha tried to speak
cheerfully.

"Indeed we could!" agreed Rachel, rising promptly to her sister's
height; "and, after all, little rooms are lots cheaper to heat than big
ones." And there the matter ended for the time being.

Mr. Hazelton and the lawyer with the necessary papers appeared a few
days later. As the lawyer took off his hat he handed a letter to Miss
Rachel.

"I stepped into the office and got your mail," he said genially.

"Thank you," replied the lady, trying to smile. "It's from Ralph,"--
handing it over for her sister to read.

Both the ladies were in somber black; a ribbon or a brooch seemed out of
place to them that day. Tabitha broke the seal of the letter, and
retired to the light of the window to read it.

The papers were spread on the table, and the pen was in Rachel's hand
when a scream from Tabitha shattered the oppressive silence of the room.

"Stop--stop--oh, stop!" she cried, rushing to her sister and snatching
the pen from her fingers. "We don't have to--see--read!"--pointing to
the postscript written in a round, boyish hand.

Oh, I say, I've got a surprise for you. You think I've been fishing and
loafing all summer, but I've been working for the hotels here the whole
time. I've got a fine start on my money for college, and I've got a
chance to work for my board all this year by helping Professor Heaton. I
met him here this summer, and he's the right sort--every time. I've
intended all along to help myself a bit when it came to the college
racket, but I didn't mean to tell you until I knew I could do it. But
it's a sure thing now.

Bye-bye; I'll be home next Saturday.

Your aff. nephew,

Ralph.

Rachel had read this aloud, but her voice ended in a sob instead of in
the boy's name. Hazelton brushed the back of his hand across his eyes,
and the lawyer looked intently out the window. For a moment there was a
silence that could be felt, then Hazelton stepped to the table and
fumbled noisily with the papers.

"Ladies, I withdraw my offer," he announced. "I can't afford to buy this
house--I can't possibly afford it--it's too expensive." And without
another word he left the room, motioning the lawyer to follow.

The sisters looked into each other's eyes and drew a long, sobbing
breath.

"Rachel, is it true?"

"Oh, Tabitha! Let's--let's go out under the apple-trees and--just know
that they are there!"

And hand in hand they went.

The End

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