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Queechy by Susan Warner

Part 13 out of 18

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burst into bitter weeping.

"Nobody to talk to but me?" said Mrs. Plumfield after again soothing her
for some time,--"what do you mean, dear?"

"O--I can't say anything to them at home," said Fleda with a forced
effort after voice;--"and you are the only one I can look to for
help--Hugh never says anything--almost never--anything of that kind;--he
would rather others should counsel him--"

"There is one friend to whom you may always tell everything, with no fear
of wearying him,--of whom you may at all times ask counsel without any
danger of being denied,--more dear, more precious, more rejoiced in, the
more he is sought unto. Thou mayest lose friend after friend, and gain
more than thou losest,--in that one."

"I know it," said Fleda;--"but dear aunt Miriam, don't you think human
nature longs for some human sympathy and help too?"

"My sweet blossom!--yes--" said Mrs. Plumfield caressingly stroking her
bowed head,--"but let him do what he will;--he hath said, 'I will never
leave thee nor forsake thee.'"

"I know that too," said Fleda weeping. "How do people bear life that do
not know it!"

"Or that cannot take the comfort of it. Thou art not poor nor alone while
thou hast him to go to, little Fleda.--And you are not losing me yet, my
child; you will have time, I think, to grow as well satisfied as I with
the prospect."

"Is that possible,--for _others_?" said Fleda.

The mother sighed, as her son entered the room.

He looked uncommonly grave, Fleda thought. That did not surprise her, but
it seemed that it did his mother, for she asked an explanation. Which
however he did not give.

"So you've got back from New York," said he.

"Just got back, yesterday," said Fleda.

"Why didn't you stay longer?"

"I thought my friends at home would be glad to see me," said Fleda. "Was I

He made no answer for a minute, and then said,

"Is your uncle at home?"

"No," said Fleda, "he went away this morning on business, and we do not
expect him home before night-fall. Do you want to see him?"

"No," said Seth very decidedly. "I wish he had staid in Michigan, or gone
further west,--anywhere that Queechy'd never have heard of him."

"Why what has he done?" said Fleda, looking up half laughing and half
amazed at her cousin. But his face was disagreeably dark, though she could
not make out that the expression was one of displeasure. It did not
encourage her to talk.

"Do you know a man in New York of the name of Thorn?" he said after
standing still a minute or two.

"I know two men of that name," said Fleda, colouring and wondering.

"Is either on 'em a friend of your'n?"


"He ain't?" said Mr. Plumfield, giving the forestick on the fire an
energetic kick which Fleda could not help thinking was mentally aimed at
the said New Yorker.

"No certainly. What makes you ask?"

"O," said Seth dryly, "folks' tongues will find work to do;--I heerd say
something like that--I thought you must take to him more than I do."

"Why what do you know of him?"

"He's been here a spell lately," said Seth,--"poking round; more for ill
than for good, I reckon."

He turned and quitted the room abruptly; and Fleda bethought her that she
must go home while she had light enough.

Chapter XXXIX.

Nothing could be more obliging and respectful than the lion's letter was,
in appearance; but there was death in the true intent.--L'Estrange.

The landscape had grown more dark since Fleda came up the hill,--or else
the eyes that looked at it. Both probably. It was just after sundown, and
that is a very sober time of day in winter, especially in some states of
the weather. The sun had left no largesses behind him; the scenery was
deserted to all the coming poverty of night and looked grim and threadbare
already. Not one of the colours of prosperity left. The land was in
mourning dress; all the ground and even the ice on the little mill-ponds a
uniform spread of white, while the hills were draperied with black stems,
here just veiling the snow, and there on a side view making a thick fold
of black. Every little unpainted workshop or mill shewed uncompromisingly
all its forbidding sharpness of angle and outline darkening against the
twilight. In better days perhaps some friendly tree had hung over it,
shielding part of its faults and redeeming the rest. Now nothing but the
gaunt skeleton of a friend stood there,--doubtless to bud forth again as
fairly as ever should the season smile. Still and quiet all was, as
Fleda's spirit, and in too good harmony with it; she resolved to choose
the morning to go out in future. There was as little of the light of
spring or summer in her own mind as on the hills, and it was desirable to
catch at least a cheering reflection. She could rouse herself to no bright
thoughts, try as she would; the happy voices of nature that used to speak
to her were all hushed,--or her ear was deaf; and her eye met nothing that
did not immediately fall in with the train of sad images that were passing
through her mind and swell the procession. She was fain to fall back and
stay herself upon these words, the only stand-by she could lay hold of;--

"To them who by patient continuance in well-doing seek for glory, and
honour, and immortality, eternal life!"--

They toned with the scene and with her spirit exactly; they suited the
darkening sky and the coming night; for "glory, honour, and immortality"
are not now. They filled Fleda's mind, after they had once entered, and
then nature's sympathy was again as readily given; each barren
stern-looking hill in its guise of present desolation and calm expectancy
seemed to echo softly, "patient continuance in well-doing." And the tears
trembled then in Fleda's eyes; she had set her face, as the old Scotchman
says, "in the right airth. [Footnote: quarter, direction]" "How sweet is
the wind that bloweth out of the airth where Christ is!"

"Well," said Hugh, who entered the kitchen with her, "you have been late
enough. Did you have a pleasant walk? You are pale, Fleda!"

"Yes, it was pleasant," said Fleda with one of her winning smiles,--"a
kind of pleasant. But have you looked at the hills? They are exactly as if
they had put on mourning--nothing but white and black--a crape-like
dressing of black tree-stems upon the snowy face of the ground, and on
every slope and edge of the hills the crape lies in folds. Do look at it
when you go out! It has a most curious effect."

"Not pleasant, I should think," said Hugh.

"You'll see it is just as I have described it. No--not pleasant
exactly--the landscape wants the sun to light it up just now--it is cold
and wilderness looking. I think I'll take the morning in future. Whither
are you bound?"

"I must go over to Queechy Run for a minute, on business--I'll be home
before supper--I should have been back by this time but Philetus has gone
to bed with a headache and I had to take care of the cows."

"Three times and out," said Barby. "I won't try again. I didn't know as
anything would be too powerful for his head; but I find as sure as he has
apple dumplin' for dinner he goes to bed for his supper and leaves the
cows without none. And then Hugh has to take it. It has saved so many
Elephants--that's one thing."

Hugh went out by one door and Fleda by another entered the breakfast-room;
the one generally used in winter for all purposes. Mrs. Rossitur sat there
alone in an easy-chair; and Fleda no sooner caught the outline of her
figure than her heart sank at once to an unknown depth,--unknown before
and unfathomable now. She was _cowering_ over the fire,--her head sunk in
her hands, so crouching, that the line of neck and shoulders instantly
conveyed to Fleda the idea of fancied or felt degradation--there was no
escaping it--how, whence, what, was all wild confusion. But the language
of mere attitude was so unmistakable,--the expression of crushing pain was
so strong, that after Fleda had fearfully made her way up beside her she
could do no more. She stood there tongue-tied, spell-bound, present to
nothing but a nameless chill of fear and heart-sinking. She was afraid to
speak--afraid to touch her aunt, and abode motionless in the grasp of that
dread for minutes. But Mrs. Rossitur did not stir a hair, and the terror
of that stillness grew to be less endurable than any other.

[Illustration: Mrs. Rossitur sat there alone.]

Fleda spoke to her,--it did not win the shadow of a reply,--again and
again. She laid her hand then upon Mrs. Rossitur's shoulder, but the very
significant answer to that was a shrinking gesture of the shoulder and
neck, away from the hand. Fleda growing desperate then implored an answer
in words--prayed for an explanation--with an intensity of distress in
voice and manner, that no one whose ears were not stopped with a stronger
feeling could have been deaf to; but Mrs. Rossitur would not raise her
head, nor slacken in the least the clasp of the fingers that supported it,
that of themselves in their relentless tension spoke what no words could.
Fleda's trembling prayers were in vain, in vain. Poor nature at last
sought a woman's relief in tears--but they were heart-breaking, not
heart-relieving tears--racking both mind and body more than they ought to
bear, but bringing no cure. Mrs. Rossitur seemed as unconscious of her
niece's mute agony as she had been of her agony of words; and it was from
Fleda's own self-recollection alone that she fought off pain and roused
herself above weakness to do what the time called for.

"Aunt Lucy," she said laying her hand upon her shoulder, and this time the
voice was steady and the hand would not be shaken off,--"Aunt Lucy,--Hugh
will be in presently--hadn't you better rouse yourself and go up
stairs--for awhile?--till you are better?--and not let him see you so?--"

How the voice was broken and quivering before it got through!

The answer this time was a low long-drawn moan, so exceeding plaintive and
full of pain that it made Fleda shake like an aspen. But after a moment
she spoke again, bearing more heavily with her hand to mark her words.

"I am afraid he will be in presently--he ought not to see you now--Aunt
Lucy, I am afraid it might do him an injury he might not get over--"

She spoke with the strength of desperation; her nerves were unstrung by
fear, and every joint weakened so that she could hardly support herself.
She had not however spoken in vain; one or two convulsive shudders passed
over her aunt, and then Mrs. Rossitur suddenly rose turning her face from
Fleda; neither would she permit her to follow her. But Fleda thought she
had seen that one or two unfolded letters or papers of some kind, they
looked like letters, were in her lap when she raised her head.

Left alone, Fleda sat down on the floor by the easy-chair and rested her
head there; waiting,--she could do nothing else,--till her extreme
excitement of body and mind should have quieted itself. She had a kind of
vague hope that time would do something for her before Hugh came in.
Perhaps it did; for though she lay in a kind of stupor, and was conscious
of no change whatever, she was able when she heard him coming to get up
and sit in the chair in an ordinary attitude. But she looked like the
wraith of herself an hour ago.

"Fleda!" Hugh exclaimed as soon as he looked from the fire to her
face,--"what is the matter?--what is the matter with you?"

"I am not very well--I don't feel very well," said Fleda speaking almost
mechanically,--"I shall have a headache to-morrow--"

"Headache! But you look shockingly! what has happened to you? what is the
matter, Fleda?"

"I am not ill--I shall be better by and by. There is nothing the matter
with me that need trouble you, dear Hugh."

"Nothing the matter with you!" said he,--and Fleda might see how she
looked in the reflection of his face,--"where's mother?"

"She is up-stairs--you mustn't go to her, Hugh!" said Fleda laying a
detaining hand upon him with more strength than she thought she had,--"I
don't want anything."

"Why mustn't I go to her?"

"I don't think she wants to be disturbed--"

"I must disturb her--"

"You musn't!--I know she don't--she isn't well--something has happened to
trouble her--"


"I don't know."

"And is that what has troubled you too?" said Hugh, his countenance
changing as he gained more light on the subject;--"what is it, dear

"I don't know," repeated Fleda, bursting into tears. Hugh was quiet enough
now, and sat down beside her, subdued and still, without even desiring to
ask a question. Fleda's tears flowed violently, for a minute,--then she
checked them, for his sake; and they sat motionless, without speaking to
one another, looking into the fire and letting it die out before them into
embers and ashes, neither stirring to put a hand to it. As the fire died
the moonlight streamed in,--how very dismal the room looked!

"What do you think about having tea?" said Barby opening the door of
the kitchen.

Neither felt it possible to answer her.

"Mr. Rossitur ain't come home, is he?"

"No," said Fleda shuddering.

"So I thought, and so I told Seth Plumfield just now--he was asking for
him--My stars! ha'n't you no fire here? what did you let it go out for?"

Barby came in and began to build it up.

"It's growing cold I can tell you, so you may as well have something in
the chimney to look at. You'll want it shortly if you don't now."

"Was Mr. Plumfield here, did you say, Barby?"


"Why didn't he come in?"

"I s'pose he hadn't a mind to," said Barby. "Twa'n't for want of being
asked. I did the civil thing by him if he didn't by me;--but he said he
didn't want to see anybody but Mr. Rossitur."

Did not wank to see anybody but Mr. Rossitur, when he had distinctly said
he did not wish to see him? Fleda felt sick, merely from the mysterious
dread which could fasten upon nothing and therefore took in everything.

"Well what about tea?" concluded Barby, when the fire was going according
to her wishes. "Will you have it, or will you wait longer?"

"No--we won't wait--we will have it now, Barby," said Fleda, forcing
herself to make the exertion; and she went to the window to put down
the hangings.

The moonlight was very bright, and Fleda's eye was caught in the very act
of letting down the curtain, by a figure in the road slowly passing before
the courtyard fence. It paused a moment by the horse-gate, and turning
paced slowly back till it was hid behind the rose acacias. There was a
clump of shrubbery in that corner thick enough even in winter to serve for
a screen. Fleda stood with the curtain in her hand, half let down, unable
to move, and feeling almost as if the very currents of life within her
were standing still too. She thought, she was almost sure, she knew the
figure; it was on her tongue to ask Hugh to come and look, but she checked
that. The form appeared again from behind the acacias, moving with the
same leisurely pace the other way towards the horse-gate. Fleda let down
the curtain, then the other two quietly, and then left the room and stole
noiselessly out at the front door, leaving it open that the sound of it
might not warn Hugh what she was about, and stepping like a cat down the
steps ran breathlessly over the snow to the courtyard gate. There waited,
shivering in the cold but not feeling it for the cold within,--while the
person she was watching stood still a lew moments by the horse-gate and
came again with leisurely steps towards her.

"Seth Plumfield!"--said Fleda, almost as much frightened at the sound of
her own voice as he was. He stopped immediately, with a start, and came up
to the little gate behind which she was standing. But said nothing.

"What are you doing here?"

"You oughtn't to be out without anything on," said he,--"you're fixing to
take your death."

He had good reason to say so. But she gave him no more heed than the wind.

"What are you waiting here for? What do you want?"

"I have nothing better to do with my time," said he;--"I thought I'd walk
up and down here a little. You go in!"

"Are you waiting to see uncle Rolf?" she said, with teeth chattering.

"You mustn't stay out here," said he earnestly--"you're like nothing
but a spook this minute--I'd rather see one, or a hull army of 'em. Go
in, go in!"

"Tell me if you want to see him, Seth."

"No I don't--I told you I didn't."

"Then why are you waiting for him?"

"I thought I'd see if he was coming home to-night--I had a word to say if
I could catch him before he got into the house."

"_Is_ he coming home to-night?" said Fleda.

"I don't know!" said he looking at her. "Do you?"

Fleda burst open the gate between them and putting her hands on his
implored him to tell her what was the matter. He looked singularly
disturbed; his fine eye twinkled with compassion; but his face, never a
weak one, shewed no signs of yielding now.

"The matter is," said he pressing hard both her hands, "that you are
fixing to be down sick in your bed by to-morrow. You mustn't stay
another second."

"Come in then."

"No--not to-night."

"You won't tell me!--"

"There is nothing I can tell you--Maybe there'll be nothing to tell--Run
in, run in, and keep quiet."

Fleda hurried back to the house, feeling that she had gone to the limit of
risk already. Not daring to show herself to Hugh in her chilled state of
body and mind she went into the kitchen.

"Why what on earth's come over you?" was Barby's terrified ejaculation
when she saw her.

"I have been out and got myself cold--"

"Cold!" said Barby,--"you're looking dreadful! What on earth ails
you, Fleda?"

"Don't ask me, Barby," said Fleda hiding her face in her hands and
shivering,--"I made myself very cold just now--Aunt Lucy doesn't feel very
well and I got frightened," she added presently.

"What's the matter with her?"

"I don't know--if you'll make me a cup of tea I'll take it up to
her, Barby."

"You put yourself down there," said Barby placing her with gentle force in
a chair,--"you'll do no such a thing till I see you look as if there was
some blood in you. I'll take it up myself."

But Fleda held her, though with a hand much too feeble indeed for any but
moral suasion. It was enough. Barby stood silently and very anxiously
watching her, till the fire had removed the outward chill at least. But
even that took long to do, and before it was well done Fleda again asked
for the cup of tea. Barby made it without a word, and Fleda went to her
aunt with it, taking her strength from the sheer emergency. Her knees
trembled under her as she mounted the stairs, and once a glimpse of those
words flitted across her mind,--"patient continuance in well-doing." It
was like a lightning flash in a dark night shewing the way one must go.
She could lay hold of no other stay. Her mind was full of one intense
purpose--to end the suspense.

She gently tried the door of her aunt's room; it was unfastened, and she
went in. Mrs. Rossitur was lying on the bed; but her first mood had
changed, for at Fleda's soft word and touch she half rose up and putting
both arms round her waist laid her face against her. There were no tears
still, only a succession of low moans, so inexpressibly weak and plaintive
that Fleda's nature could hardly bear them without giving way. A more
fragile support was never clung to. Yet her trembling fingers, in their
agony moved caressingly among her aunt's hair and over her brow as she
begged her--when she could, she was not able at first--to let her know the
cause that was grieving her. The straightened clasp of Mrs. Rossitur's
arms and her increased moaning gave only an answer of pain. But Fleda
repeated the question. Mrs. Rossitur still neglecting it, then made her
sit down upon the bed, so that she could lay her head higher, on Fleda's
bosom; where she hid it, with a mingling of fondness given and asked, a
poor seeking for comfort and rest, that wrung her niece's heart.

They sat so for a little time; Fleda hoping that her aunt would by degrees
come to the point herself. The tea stood cooling on the table, not even
offered; not wanted there.

"Wouldn't you feel better if you told me, dear aunt Lucy?" said Fleda,
when they had been for a little while perfectly still. Even the moaning
had ceased.

"Is your uncle come home?" whispered Mrs. Rossitur, but so low that Fleda
could but half catch the words.

"Not yet."

"What o'clock is it?"

"I don't know--not early--it must be near eight.--Why?"

"You have not heard anything of him?"


There was silence again for a little, and then Mrs. Rossitur said in a low
fearful whisper,

"Have you seen anybody round the house?"

Fleda's thoughts flew to Seth, with that nameless fear to which she
could give neither shape nor direction, and after a moment's
hesitation she said,

"What do you mean?"

"Have you?" said Mrs. Rossitur with more energy.

"Seth Plumfield was here a little while ago."

Her aunt had the clew that she had not, for with a half scream, half
exclamation, she quitted Fleda's arms and fell back upon the pillows,
turning from her and hiding her face there. Fleda prayed again for her
confidence, as well as the weakness and the strength of fear could do;
and Mrs. Rossitur presently grasping a paper that lay on the bed held
it out to her, saying only as Fleda was about quitting the room, "Bring
me a light."

Fleda left the letter there and went down to fetch one. She commanded
herself under the excitement and necessity of the moment,--all but her
face; that terrified Barby exceedingly. But she spoke with a strange
degree of calmness; told her Mrs. Rossitur was not alarmingly ill; that
she did not need Barby's services and wished to see nobody but herself
and didn't want a fire. As she was passing through the hall again Hugh
came out of the sitting-room to ask after his mother. Fleda kept the
light from her face.

"She does not want to be disturbed--I hope she will be better to-morrow."

"What is the matter, Fleda?"

"I don't know yet."

"And you are ill yourself, Fleda!--you are ill!--"

"No--I shall do very well--never mind me. Hugh, take some tea--I will be
down by and by."

He went back, and Fieda went up stairs. Mrs. Rossitur had not moved. Fleda
set down the light and herself beside it, with the paper her aunt had
given her. It was a letter.

"Queechy, _Thursday_--

"It gives me great concern, my dear madam, to be the means of bringing to
you a piece of painful information--but it cannot be long kept from your
knowledge and you may perhaps learn it better from me than by any other
channel. May I entreat you not to be too much alarmed, since I am
confident the cause will be of short duration.

"Pardon me for what I am about to say.

"There are proceedings entered into against Mr. Rossitur--there are writs
out against him--on the charge of having, some years ago, endorsed my
father's name upon a note of his own giving.--Why it has lain so long I
cannot explain. There is unhappily no doubt of the fact.

"I was in Queechy some days ago, on business of my own, when I became
aware that this was going on--my father had made no mention of it to me. I
immediately took strict measures--I am happy to say I believe with
complete success,--to have the matter kept a profound secret. I then made
my way as fast as possible to New York to confer on the subject with the
original mover of it--unfortunately I was disappointed. My father had left
for a neighbouring city, to be absent several days. Finding myself too
late to prevent, as I had hoped to do, any open steps from being taken at
Queechy, I returned hither immediately to enforce secrecy of proceedings
and to assure you, madam, that my utmost exertions shall not be wanting
to bring the whole matter to a speedy and satisfactory termination. I
entertain no doubt of being able to succeed entirely--even to the point of
having the whole transaction remain unknown and unsuspected by the world.
It is so entirely as yet, with the exception of one or two law-officers
whose silence I have means of procuring.

"May I confess that I am not entirely disinterested? May the selfishness
of human nature ask its reward, and own its moving spring? May I own that
my zeal in this cause is quickened by the unspeakable excellencies of Mr.
Rossitur's lovely niece--which I have learned to appreciate with my whole
_heart_--and be forgiven?--And may I hope for the kind offices and
intercession of the lady I have the honour of addressing, with her niece
Miss Ringgan, that my reward,--the single word of encouragement I ask
for,--may be given me?--Having that, I will promise anything--I will
guaranty the success of any enterprise, however difficult, to which she
may impel me,--and I will undertake that the matter which furnishes the
painful theme of this letter shall never more be spoken or thought of, by
the world, or my father, or by Mrs. Rossitur's

obliged, grateful, and
faithful servant,
Lewis Thorn."

Fleda felt as she read as if icicles were gathering about her heart. The
whirlwind of fear and distress of a little while ago which could take no
definite direction, seemed to have died away and given place to a dead
frost--the steady bearing down of disgrace and misery, inevitable,
unmitigable, unchangeable; no lessening, no softening of that blasting
power, no, nor ever any rising up from under it; the landscape could never
be made to smile again. It was the fall of a bright star from their home
constellation; but alas! the star was fallen long ago, and the failure of
light which they had deplored was all too easily accounted for; yet now
they knew that no restoration was to be hoped. And the mother and
son--what would become of them? And the father--what would become of him?
what further distress was in store?--_Public_ disgrace?--and Fleda bowed
her head forward on her clasped hands with the mechanical, vain endeavour
to seek rest or shelter from thought. She made nothing of Mr. Thorn's
professions; she took only the facts of his letter; the rest her eye had
glanced over as if she had no concern with it, and it hardly occurred to
her that she had any. But the sense of his words she had taken in, and
knew, better perhaps than her aunt, that there was nothing to look for
from his kind offices. The weight on her heart was too great just then for
her to suspect as she did afterwards that he was the sole mover of the
whole affair.

As the first confusion of thought cleared away, two images of distress
loomed up and filled the view,--her aunt, broken under the news, and Hugh
still unknowing to them; her own separate existence Fleda was hardly
conscious of. Hugh especially,--how was he to be told, and how could he
bear to hear? with his most sensitive conformation of both physical and
moral nature. And if an arrest should take place there that night!--Fleda
shuddered, and unable to go on thinking rose up and went to her aunt's
bedside. It had not entered her mind till the moment she read Mr. Thorn's
letter that Seth Plumfield was sheriff for the county. She was shaking
again from head to foot with fear. She could not say anything--the touch
of her lips to the throbbing temples, soft and tender as sympathy itself,
was all she ventured.

"Have you heard anything of him?" Mrs. Rossitur whispered.

"No--I doubt if we do at all to-night."

There was a half breathed "Oh!--" of indescribable pain and longing; and
with a restless change of position Mrs. Rossitur gathered herself up on
the bed and sat with her head leaning on her knees. Fleda brought a large
cloak and put it round her.

"I am in no danger," she said,--"I wish I were!"

Again Fleda's lips softly, tremblingly, touched her cheek.

Mrs. Rossitur put her arm round her and drew her down to her side, upon
the bed; and wrapped half of the big cloak about her; and they sat there
still in each other's arms, without speaking or weeping, while quarter
after quarter of an hour passed away,--nobody knew how many. And the cold
bright moonlight streamed in on the floor, mocking them.

"Go!" whispered Mrs. Rossitur at last,--"go down stairs and take care of
yourself--and Hugh."

"Won't you come?"

Mrs. Rossitur shook her head.

"Mayn't I bring you something?--do let me!"

But Mrs. Rossitur's shake of the head was decisive. Fleda crawled off the
bed, feeling as if a month's illness had been making its ravages upon her
frame and strength. She stood a moment to collect her thoughts; but alas,
thinking was impossible; there was a palsy upon her mind. She went into
her own room and for a minute kneeled down,--not to form a petition in
words, she was as much beyond that; it was only the mute attitude of
appeal, the pitiful outward token of the mind's bearing, that could not be
forborne, a silent uttering of the plea she had made her own in happy
days. There was something of comfort in the mere feeling of doing it; and
there was more in one or two words that even in that blank came to her
mind;--"_Like as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them
that fear him_;" and she again recollected that "Providence runneth not
upon broken wheels." Nothing could be darker than the prospect before her,
and these things did not bring light; but they gave her a sure stay to
hold on by and keep her feet; a bit of strength to preserve from utterly
fainting. Ah! the storehouse must be filled and the mind well familiarized
with what is stored in it while yet the days are bright, or it will never
be able to find what it wants in the dark.

Fleda first went into the kitchen to tell Barby to fasten the doors and
not sit up.

"I don't believe uncle Rolf will be home to-night; but if he comes I will
let him in."

Barby looked at her with absolutely a face of distress; but not daring to
ask and not knowing how to propose anything, she looked in silence.

"It must be nine o'clock now," Fleda went on.

"And how long be you going to sit up?" said Barby.

"I don't know--a while yet."

"You look proper for it!" said Barby half sorrowfully and half
indignantly;--"you look as if a straw would knock you down this minute.
There's sense into everything. You catch me a going to bed and leaving you
up! It won't do me no hurt to sit here the hull night; and I'm the only
one in the house that's fit for it, with the exception of Philetus, and
the little wit he has by day seems to forsake him at night. All the light
that ever gets into his head, _I_ believe, comes from the outside; as soon
as ever that's gone he shuts up his shutters. He's been snoozing a'ready
now this hour and a half. Go yourself off to bed, Fleda," she added with a
mixture of reproach and kindness, "and leave me alone to take care of
myself and the house too."

Fleda did not remonstrate, for Barby was as determined in her way as it
was possible for anything to be. She went into the other room without a
particle of notion what she should say or do.

Hugh was walking up and down the floor--a most unusual sign of
perturbation with him. He met and stopped her as she came in.

"Fleda, I cannot bear it. What is the matter?--Do you know?'" he said as
her eyes fell.


"What is it?"

She was silent and tried to pass on to the fire. But he stayed her.

"What is it?" he repeated.

"Oh I wish I could keep it from you!" said Fleda bursting into tears.

He was still a moment, and then bringing her to the arm-chair made her sit
down, and stood himself before her, silently waiting, perhaps because he
could not speak, perhaps from the accustomed gentle endurance of his
nature. But Fleda was speechless too.

"You are keeping me in distress," he said at length.

"I cannot end the distress, dear Hugh," said Fleda.

She saw him change colour and he stood motionless still.

"Do you remember," said Fleda, trembling even to her voice,--"what
Rutherford says about Providence 'not running on broken wheels'?"

He gave her no answer but the intent look of expectation. Its intentness
paralyzed Fleda. She did not know how to go on. She rose from her chair
and hung upon his shoulder.

"Believe it now, if you can--for oh, dear Hugh!--we have something
to try it."

"It is strange my father don't come home," said he, supporting her with
tenderness which had very little strength to help it,--"we want him
very much."

Whether or not any unacknowledged feeling prompted this remark, some
slight involuntary movement of Fleda's made him ask suddenly,

"Is it about him?"

He had grown deadly pale and Fleda answered eagerly,

"Nothing that has happened to-day--it is not anything that has happened
to-day--he is perfectly well, I trust and believe."

"But it is about him?"

Fleda's head sank, and she burst into such an agony of tears that Hugh's
distress was for a time divided.

"When did it happen, Fleda?"

"Years ago."

"And what?"

Fleda hesitated still, and then said,

"It was something he did, Hugh."


"He put another person's name on the back of a note he gave."

She did not look up, and Hugh was silent for a moment.

"How do you know?"

"Mr. Thorn wrote it to aunt Lucy--it was Mr. Thorn's father."

Hugh sat down and leaned his head on the table. A long, long, time
passed,--unmeasured by the wild coursing of thought to and fro. Then
Fleda came and knelt down at the table beside him, and put her arm
round his neck.

"Dear Hugh," she said--and if ever love and tenderness and sympathy could
be distilled in tones, such drops were those that fell upon the mind's
ear,--"can't you look up at me?"

He did then, but he did not give her a chance to look at him. He locked
his arms about her, bringing her close to his breast; and for a few
minutes, in utter silence, they knew what strange sweetness pure affection
can mingle even in the communion of sorrow. There were tears shed in those
minutes that, bitter as they seemed at the time, Memory knew had been
largely qualified with another admixture.

"Dear Hugh," said Fleda,--"let us keep what we can--won't you go to bed
and rest?"

He looked dreadfully as if he needed it. But the usual calmness and
sweetness of his face was not altered;--it was only deepened to very great
sadness. Mentally, Fleda thought, he had borne the shock better than his
mother; for the bodily frame she trembled. He had not answered and she
spoke again.

"You need it worse than I, poor Fleda"

"I will go too presently--I do not think anybody will be here tonight."

"Is--Are there--Is this what has taken him away?" said Hugh.

Her silence and her look told him, and then laying her cheek again
alongside of his she whispered, how unsteadily, "We have only one help,
dear Hugh."

They were still and quiet again for minutes, counting the pulses of pain;
till Fleda came back to her poor wish "to keep what they could." She mixed
a restorative of wine and water, which however little desired, she felt
was necessary for both of them, and Hugh went up stairs. She staid a few
minutes to prepare another glass with particular care for her aunt. It was
just finished, and taking her candle she had bid Barby good-night, when
there came a loud rap at the front door. Fleda set down candle and glass,
from the quick inability to hold them as well as for other reasons; and
she and Barby stood and looked at each other, in such a confusion of doubt
and dread that some little time had passed before either stirred even her
eyes. Barby then threw down the tongs with which she had begun to make
preparations for covering up the fire and set off to the front.

"You mustn't open the door, Barby," cried Fleda, following her. "Come in
here and let us look out of one of the windows."

Before this could be reached however, there was another prolonged
repetition of the first thundering burst. It went through Fleda's heart,
because of the two up stairs who must hear it.

Barby threw up the sash.

"Who's there?"

"Is this Mr. Rossitur's place?" enquired a gruff voice.

"Yes, it is."

"Well will you come round and open the door?"

"Who wants it open?"

"A lady wants it open?"

"A lady!--what lady?"

"Down yonder in the carriage."

"What lady? who is she?"

"I don't know who she is--she wanted to come to Mr. Rossitur's place--will
you open the door for her?"

Barby and Fleda both now saw a carriage standing in the road.

"We must see who it is first," whispered Fleda.

"When the lady comes I'll open the door," was Barby's ultimatum.

The man withdrew to the carriage; and after a few moments of intense
watching Fleda and Barby certainly saw something in female apparel enter
the little gate of the court-yard and come up over the bright moonlit snow
towards the house, accompanied by a child; while the man with whom they
had had the interview came behind transformed into an unmistakeable

Chapter XL.

Zeal was the spring whence flowed her hardiment.


Barby undid bolt and lock and Fleda met the traveller in the hall. She was
a lady; her air and dress shewed that, though the latter was very plain.

"Does Mr. Rossitur live here?" was her first word.

Fleda answered it, and brought her visitor into the sitting room. But the
light falling upon a form and face that had seen more wear and tear than
time, gave her no clue as to the who or what of the person before her. The
stranger's hurried look round the room seemed to expect something.

"Are they all gone to bed?"

"All but me," said Fleda.

"We have been delayed--we took a wrong road--we've been riding for hours
to find the place--hadn't the right direction."--Then looking keenly at
Fleda, from whose vision an electric spark of intelligence had scattered
the clouds, she said;

"I am Marion Rossitur."

"I knew it!" said Fleda, with lips and eyes that gave her already a
sister's welcome; and they were folded in each other's arms almost as
tenderly and affectionately, on the part of one at least, as if there had
really been the relationship between them. But more than surprise and
affection struck Fleda's heart.

"And where are they all, Fleda? Can't I see them?"

"You must wait till I have prepared them--Hugh and aunt Lucy are not
very well. I don't know that it will do for you to see them at all
to-night, Marion."

"Not to-night! They are not ill?"

"No--only enough to be taken care of--not ill. But it would be
better to wait"

"And my father?"

"He is not at home."

Marion exclaimed in sorrow, and Fleda to hide the look that she felt was
on her face stooped down to kiss the child. He was a remarkably
fine-looking manly boy.

"That is your cousin Fleda," said his mother.

"No--_aunt_ Fleda," said the person thus introduced--"don't put me off
into cousindom, Marion. I am uncle Hugh's sister--and so I am your aunt
Fleda. Who are you?"

"Rolf Rossitur Schwiden."

Alas how wide are the ramifications of evil! How was what might have been
very pure pleasure utterly poisoned and turned into bitterness. It went
through Fleda's heart with a keen pang when she heard that name and looked
on the very fair brow that owned it, and thought of the ineffaceable stain
that had come upon both. She dared look at nobody but the child. He
already understood the melting eyes that were making acquaintance with
his, and half felt the pain that gave so much tenderness to her kiss, and
looked at her with a grave face of awakening wonder and sympathy. Fleda
was glad to have business to call her into the kitchen.

"Who is it?" was Barby's immediate question.

"Aunt Lucy's daughter."

"She don't look much like her!" said Barby intelligently.

"They will want something to eat, Barby."

"I'll put the kettle on. It'll boil directly. I'll go in there and fix up
the fire."

A word or two more, and then Fleda ran up to speak to her aunt and Hugh.

Her aunt she found in a state of agitation that was frightful. Even
Fleda's assurances, with all the soothing arts she could bring to bear
were some minutes before they could in any measure tranquillize her.
Fleda's own nerves were in no condition to stand another shock when she
left her and went to Hugh's door. But she could get no answer from him
though she spoke repeatedly.

She did not return to her aunt's room. She went down stairs and brought up
Barby and a light from thence.

Hugh was lying senseless and white; not whiter than his adopted sister as
she stood by his side. Her eye went to her companion.

"Not a bit of it!" said Barby--"he's in nothing but a faint--just run down
stairs and get the vinegar bottle, Fleda--the pepper vinegar.--Is there
any water here?--"

Fleda obeyed; and watched, she could do little more, the efforts of Barby,
who indeed needed no help, with the cold water, the vinegar, and rubbing
of the limbs. They were for sometime unsuccessful; the fit was a severe
one; and Fleda was exceedingly terrified before any signs of returning
life came to reassure her.

"Now you go down stairs and keep quiet!" said Barby, when Hugh was fairly
restored and had smiled a faint answer to Fleda's kiss and
explanations,--"Go, Fleda! you ain't fit to stand. Go and sit down some
place, and I'll be along directly and see how the fire burns. Don't you
s'pose Mis' Rossitur could come in and sit in this easy-chair a spell
without hurting herself?"

It occurred to Fleda immediately that it might do more good than harm to
her aunt if her attention were diverted even by another cause of anxiety.
She gently summoned her, telling her no more than was necessary to fit her
for being Hugh's nurse; and in a very few minutes she and Barby were at
liberty to attend to other claims upon them. But it sank into her heart,
"Hugh will not get over this!"--and when she entered the sitting-room,
what Mr. Carleton years before had said of the wood-flower was come true
in its fullest extent--"a storm-wind had beaten it to the ground."

She was able literally to do no more than Barby had said, sit down and
keep herself quiet. Miss Elster was in her briskest mood; flew in and out;
made up the fire in the sitting-room and put on the kettle in the kitchen,
which she had been just about doing when called to see Hugh. The
much-needed supper of the travellers must be still waited for; but the
fire was burning now, the room was cosily warm and bright, and Marion drew
up her chair with a look of thoughtful contentment. Fleda felt as if some
conjuror had been at work here for the last few hours--the room looked so
like and felt so unlike itself.

"Are you going to be ill too, Fleda?" said Marion suddenly. "You are
looking--very far from well!"

"I shall have a headache to-morrow," said Fleda quietly. "I generally know
the day beforehand."

"Does it always make you look so?"

"Not always--I am somewhat tired."

"Where is my father gone?"

"I don't know.--Rolf, dear," said Fleda bending forward to the little
fellow who was giving expression to some very fidgety impatience,--"what
is the matter? what do you want?"

The child's voice fell a little from its querulousness towards the sweet
key in which the questions had been put, but he gave utterance to a very
decided wish for "bread and butter."

"Come here," said Fleda, reaching out a hand and drawing him, certainly
with no force but that of attraction, towards her easy-chair,--"come here
and rest yourself in this nice place by me--see, there is plenty of room
for you;--and you shall have bread and butter and tea, and something else
too, I guess, just as soon as Barby can get it ready."

"Who is Barby?" was the next question, in a most uncompromising
tone of voice.

"You saw the woman that came in to put wood on the fire--that was
Barby--she is very good and kind and will do anything for you if you
behave yourself."

The child muttered, but so low as to shew some unwillingness that his
words should reach the ears that were nearest him, that "he wasn't going
to behave himself."

Fleda did not choose to hear; and went on with composing observations till
the fair little face she had drawn to her side was as bright as the sun
and returned her smile with interest.

"You have an admirable talent at moral suasion, Fleda," said the mother
half smiling;--"I wish I had it."

"You don't need it so much here."

"Why not?"

"It may do very well for me, but I think not so well for you."

"Why?--what do you mean? I think it is the only way in the world to bring
up children--the only way fit for rational beings to be guided."

Fleda smiled, though the faintest indication that lips could give, and
shook her head,--ever so little.

"Why do you do that?--tell me."

"Because in my limited experience," said Fleda as she passed her fingers
through the boy's dark locks of hair,--"in every household where 'moral
suasion' has been the law, the children have been the administrators of
it. Where is your husband?"

"I have lost him--years ago--" said Marion with a quick expressive glance
towards the child. "I never lost what I at first thought I had, for I
never had it. Do you understand?"

Fleda's eyes gave a sufficient answer.

"I am a widow--these five years--in all but what the law would require,"
Marion went on. "I have been alone since then--except my child. He was two
years old then; and since then I have lived such a life, Fleda!--"

"Why didn't you come home?"

"Couldn't--the most absolute reason in the world. Think of it!--Come home!
It was as much as I could do to stay there!"

Those sympathizing eyes were enough to make her go on.

"I have wanted everything--except trouble. I have done everything--except
ask alms. I have learned, Fleda, that death is not the worst form in which
distress can come."

Fleda felt stung, and bent down her head to touch her lips to the brow of
little Rolf.

"Death would have been a trifle!" said Marion. "I mean,--not that _I_
should have wished to leave Rolf alone in the world; but if I had been
left--I mean I would rather wear outside than inside mourning."

Fleda looked up again, and at her.

"O I was so mistaken, Fleda!" she said clasping her hands,--"so
mistaken!--in everything;--so disappointed,--in all my hopes. And the loss
of my fortune was the cause of it all."

Nay verily! thought Fleda; but she said nothing; she hung her head again;
and Marion after a pause went on to question her about an endless string
of matters concerning themselves and other people, past doings and present
prospects, till little Rolf soothed by the uninteresting soft murmur of
voices fairly forgot bread and butter and himself in a sound sleep, his
head resting upon Fleda.

"Here is one comfort for you, Marion," she said looking down at the dark
eyelashes which lay on a cheek rosy and healthy as ever seven years old
knew;--"he is a beautiful child, and I am sure, a fine one."

"It is thanks to his beauty that I have ever seen home again," said
his mother.

Fleda had no heart this evening to speak words that were not necessary;
her eyes asked Marion to explain herself.

"He was in Hyde Park one day--I had a miserable lodging not far from it,
and I used to let him go in there, because he must go somewhere, you
know,--I couldn't go with him--"

"Why not?"

"Couldn't!--Oh Fleda!--I have seen changes!--He was there one afternoon,
alone, and had got into difficulty with some bigger boys--a little fellow,
you know,--he stood his ground man-fully, but his strength wasn't equal to
his spirit, and they were tyrannizing over him after the fashion of boys,
who are I do think the ugliest creatures in creation!" said Mme. Schwiden,
not apparently reckoning her own to be of the same gender,--"and a
gentleman who was riding by stopped and interfered and took him out of
their hands, and then asked him his name,--struck I suppose with his
appearance. Very kind, wasn't it? men so seldom bother themselves about
what becomes of children, I suppose there were thousands of others riding
by at the same time."

"Very kind," Fleda said.

"When he heard what his name was he gave his horse to his servant and
walked home with Rolf; and the next day he sent me a note, speaking of
having known my father and mother and asking permission to call upon
me.--I never was so mortified, I think, in my life," said Marion after a
moment's hesitation.

"Why?" said Fleda, not a little at a loss to follow out the chain of her
cousin's reasoning.

"Why I was in such a sort of a place--you don't know, Fleda; I was working
then for a fancy store-keeper, to support myself--living in a miserable
little two rooms.--If it had been a stranger I wouldn't have cared so
much, but somebody that had known us in different times--I hadn't a thing
in the world to answer the note upon but a half sheet of letter paper."

Fleda's lips sought Rolf's forehead again, with a curious rush of tears
and smiles at once. Perhaps Marion had caught the expression of her
countenance, for she added with a little energy,

"It is nothing to be surprised at--you would have felt just the same;
for I knew by his note, the whole style of it, what sort of a person
it must be."

"My pride has been a good deal chastened," Fleda said gently.

"I never want _mine_ to be, beyond minding everything," said Marion; "and
I don't believe yours is. I don't know why in the world I did not refuse
to see him--I had fifty minds to--but he had won Rolf's heart, and I was a
little curious, and it was something strange to see the face of a friend,
any better one than my old landlady, so I let him come."

"Was _she_ a friend?" said Fleda.

"If she hadn't been I should not have lived to be here--the best soul that
ever was; but still, you know, she could do nothing for me but be as kind
as she could live;--this was something different. So I let him come, and
he came the next day."

Fleda was silent, a little wondering that Marion should be so frank with
her, beyond what she had ever been in former years; but as she guessed,
Mme. Schwiden's heart was a little opened by the joy of finding herself at
home and the absolute necessity of talking to somebody; and there was a
further reason which Fleda could not judge of, in her own face and manner.
Marion needed no questions and went on again after stopping a moment.

"I was so glad in five minutes,--I can't tell you, Fleda,--that I had let
him come. I forget entirely about how I looked and the wretched place I
was in. He was all that I had supposed, and a great deal more, but somehow
he hadn't been in the room three minutes before I didn't care at all for
all the things I had thought would trouble me. Isn't it strange what a
witchery some people have to make you forget everything but themselves!"

"The reason is, I think, because that is the only thing they forget,"
said Fleda, whose imagination however was entirely busy with the
_singular_ number.

"I shall never forget him," said Marion. "He was very kind to me--I cannot
tell how kind--though I never realized it till afterwards; at the time it
always seemed only a sort of elegant politeness which he could not help. I
never saw so elegant a person. He came two or three times to see me and he
took Rolf out with him I don't know how often, to drive; and he sent me
fruit--such fruit!--and game, and flowers; and I had not had anything of
the kind, not even seen it, for so long--I can't tell you what it was to
me. He said he had known my father and mother well when they were abroad."

"What, was his name?" said Fleda quickly.

"I don't know--he never told me--and I never could ask him. Don't you know
there are some people you can't do anything with but just what they
please? There wasn't the least thing like stiffness--you never saw anybody
less stiff,--but I never dreamed of asking him questions except when he
was out of sight. Why, do you know him?" she said suddenly.

"When you tell me who he was I'll tell you," said Fleda smiling.

"Have you ever heard this story before?"

"Certainly not!"

"He is somebody that knows us very well," said Marion, "for he asked after
every one of the family in particular."

"But what had all this to do with your getting home?"

"I don't wonder you ask. The day after his last visit came a note saying
that he owed a debt in my family which it had never been in his power to
repay; that he could not give the enclosure to my father, who would not
recognize the obligation; and that if I would permit him to place it in my
hands I should confer a singular favour upon him."

"And what was the enclosure?"

"Five hundred pounds."

Fleda's head went down again and tears dropped fast upon little
Rolf's shoulder.

"I suppose my pride has been a little broken too," Marion went on, "or I
shouldn't have kept it. But then if you saw the person, and the whole
manner of it--I don't know how I could ever have sent it back. Literally I
couldn't, though, for I hadn't the least clue. I never saw or heard from
him afterwards."

"When was this, Marion?"

"Last spring."

"Last spring!--then what kept you so long?"

"Because of the arrival of eyes that I was afraid of. I dared not make the
least move that would show I could move. I came off the very first packet
after I was free."

"How glad you must be!" said Fleda.


"Glad of what, mamma?" said Rolf, whose dreams the entrance of Barby had
probably disturbed.

"Glad of bread and butter," said his mother; "wake up--here it is."

The young gentleman declared, rubbing his eyes, that he did not want it
now; but however Fleda contrived to dispel that illusion, and bread and
butter was found to have the same dulcifying properties at Queechy that it
owns in all the rest of the world. Little Rolf was completely mollified
after a hearty meal and was put with his mother to enjoy most unbroken
slumbers in Fleda's room. Fleda herself, after a look at Hugh, crept to
her aunt's bed; whither Barby very soon despatched Mrs. Rossitur, taking
in her place the arm-chair and the watch with most invincible good-will
and determination; and sleep at last took the joys and sorrows of that
disturbed household into its kind custody.

Fleda was the first one awake, and was thinking how she should break the
last news to her aunt, when Mrs. Rossitur put her arms round her and after
a most affectionate look and kiss, spoke to what she supposed had been her
niece's purpose.

"You want taking care of more than I do, poor Fleda!"

"It was not for that I came," said Fleda;--"I had to give up my room to
the travellers."


A very few words more brought out the whole, and Mrs. Rossitur sprang out
of bed and rushed to her daughter's room.

Fleda hid her face in the bed to cry--for a moment's passionate indulgence
in weeping while no one could see. But a moment was all. There was work to
do and she must not disable herself. She slowly got up, feeling thankful
that her headache did not announce itself with the dawn, and that she
would be able to attend to the morning affairs and the breakfast, which
was something more of a circumstance now with the new additions to the
family. More than that she knew from sure signs she would not be able to

It was all done and done well, though with what secret flagging of mind
and body nobody knew or suspected. The business of the day was arranged,
Barby's course made clear, Hugh visited and smiled upon; and then Fleda
set herself down in the breakfast-room to wear out the rest of the day in
patient suffering. Her little spaniel, who seemed to understand her
languid step and faint tones and know what was coming, crept into her lap
and looked up at her with a face of equal truth and affection; and after a
few gentle acknowledging touches from the loved hand, laid his head on her
knees, and silently avowed his determination of abiding her fortunes for
the remainder of the day.

They had been there for some hours. Mrs. Rossitur and her daughter were
gathered in Hugh's room; whither Rolf also after sundry expressions of
sympathy for Fleda's headache, finding it a dull companion, had departed.
Pain of body rising above pain of mind had obliged as far as possible
even thought to be still; when a loud rap at the front door brought the
blood in a sudden flush of pain to Fleda's face. She knew instinctively
what it meant.

She heard Barby's distinct accents saying that somebody was "not well."
The other voice was more smothered. But in a moment the door of the
breakfast-room opened and Mr. Thorn walked in.

The intensity of the pain she was suffering effectually precluded Fleda
from discovering emotion of any kind. She could not move. Only King
lifted up his head and looked at the intruder, who seemed shocked, and
well he might. Fleda was in her old headache position; bolt upright on the
sofa, her feet on the rung of a chair while her hands supported her by
their grasp upon the back of it. The flush had passed away leaving the
deadly paleness of pain, which the dark rings under her eyes shewed to be
well seated.

"Miss Ringgan!" said the gentleman, coming up softly as to something that
frightened him,--"my dear Miss Fleda!--I am distressed!--You are very
ill--can nothing be done to relieve you?"

Fleda's lips rather than her voice said, "Nothing."

"I would not have come in on any account to disturb you if I had known--I
did not understand you were more than a trifle ill--"

Fleda wished he would mend his mistake, as his understanding certainly by
this time was mended. But that did not seem to be his conclusion of the
best thing to do.

"Since I am here,--can you bear to hear me say three words? without too
much pain?--I do not ask you to speak"--

A faint whispered "yes" gave him leave to go on. She had never looked at
him. She sat like a statue; to answer by a motion of her head was more
than could be risked.

He drew up a chair and sat down, while King looked at him with eyes of
suspicious indignation.

"I am not surprised," he said gently, "to find you suffering. I knew how
your sensibilities must feel the shock of yesterday--I would fain have
spared it you--I will spare you all further pain on the same score if
possible--Dear Miss Ringgan, since I am here and time is precious may I
say one word before I cease troubling you--take it for granted that you
were made acquainted with the contents of my letter to Mrs.
Rossitur?--with _all_ the contents?--were you?"

Again Fleda's lips almost voicelessly gave the answer.

"Will you give me what I ventured to ask for?" said he gently,--"the
permission to work _for you?_ Do not trouble those precious lips to
speak--the answer of these fingers will be as sure a warrant to me as all
words that could be spoken that you do not deny my request."

He had taken one of her hands in his own. But the fingers lay with
unanswering coldness and lifelessness for a second in his clasp and then
were drawn away and took determinate hold of the chair-back. Again the
flush came to Fleda's cheeks, brought by a sharp pain,--oh, bodily and
mental too!--and after a moment's pause, with a distinctness of utterance
that let him know every word, she said,

"A generous man would not ask it, sir."

Thorn sprang up, and several times paced the length of the room, up and
down, before he said anything more. He looked at Fleda, but the flush was
gone again, and nothing could seem less conscious of his presence. Pain
and patience were in every line of her face, but he could read nothing
more, except a calmness as unmistakably written. Thorn gave that face
repeated glances as he walked, then stood still and read it at leisure.
Then he came to her side again and spoke in a different voice.

"You are so unlike anybody else," he said, "that you shall make me unlike
myself. I will do freely what I hoped to do with the light of your smile
before me. You shall hear no more of this affair, neither you nor the
world--I have the matter perfectly in my own hands--it shall never raise a
whisper again. I will move heaven and earth rather than fail--but there is
no danger of my failing. I will try to prove myself worthy of your esteem
even where a man is most excusable for being selfish."

[Illustration: Barby's energies and fainting remedies were again put
in use.]

He took one of her cold hands again,--Fleda could not help it without more
force than she cared to use, and indeed pain would by this time almost
have swallowed up other sensation if every word and touch had not sent it
in a stronger throb to her very finger ends. Thorn bent his lips to her
hand, twice kissed it fervently, and then left her; much to King's
satisfaction, who thereupon resigned himself to quiet slumbers.

His mistress knew no such relief. Excitement had dreadfully aggravated her
disorder, at a time when it was needful to banish even thought as far as
possible. Pain effectually banished it now, and Barby coming in a little
after Mr. Thorn had gone found her quite unable to speak and scarce able
to breathe, from agony. Barby's energies and fainting remedies were again
put in use; but pain reigned triumphant for hours, and when its hard rule
was at last abated Fleda was able to do nothing but sleep like a child for
hours more.

Towards a late tea-time she was at last awake, and carrying on a very
one-sided conversation with Rolf, her own lips being called upon for
little more than a smile now and then. King, not able to be in her lap,
had curled himself up upon a piece of his mistress's dress and as close
within the circle of her arms as possible, where Fleda's hand and his head
were on terms of mutual satisfaction.

"I thought you wouldn't permit a dog to lie in your lap," said Marion.

"Do you remember that?" said Fleda with a smile. "Ah I have grown
tender-hearted, Marion, since I have known what it was to want comfort
myself. I have come to the conclusion that it is best to let everything
have all the enjoyment it can in the circumstances. King crawled into my
lap one day when I had not spirits enough to turn him out, and he has kept
the place ever since.--Little King!"--In answer to which word of
intelligence King looked in her face and wagged his tail, and then
earnestly endeavoured to lick all her fingers. Which however was a piece
of comfort she would not give him.

"Fleda," said Barby putting her head in, "I wish you'd just step out here
and tell me which cheese you'd like to have cut."

"What a fool!" said Marion. "Let her cut them all if she likes."

"She is no fool," said Fleda. She thought Barby's punctiliousness however
a little ill-timed, as she rose from her sofa and went into the kitchen.

"Well you _do_ look as if you wa'n't good for nothing but to be taken care
of!" said Barby. "I wouldn't have riz you up if it hadn't been just
tea-time, and I knowed you couldn't stay quiet much longer;"--and with a
look which explained her tactics she put into Fleda's hand a letter
directed to her aunt.

"Philetus gave it to me," she said, without a glance at Fleda's face,--"he
said it was give to him by a spry little shaver who wa'n't a mind to tell
nothin' about himself."

"Thank you, Barby!" was Fleda's most grateful return; and summoning her
aunt up-stairs she took her into her own room and locked the door before
she gave her the letter which Barby's shrewdness and delicacy had taken
such care should not reach its owner in a wrong way. Fleda watched her as
her eye ran over the paper and caught it as it fell from her fingers.

"My Dear Wife,

"That villain Thorn has got a handle of me which he will not fail to
use--you know it all I suppose, by this time--It is true that in an evil
hour, long ago, when greatly pressed, I did what I thought I should surely
undo in a few days--The time never came--I don't know why he has let it
lie so long, but he has taken it up now, and he will push it to the
extreme--There is but one thing left for me--I shall not see you again.
The rascal would never let me rest, I know, in any spot that calls itself
American ground.

"You will do better without me than with me.

"R. R."

Fleda mused over the letter for several minutes, and then touched her aunt
who had fallen on a chair with her head sunk in her hands.

"What does he mean?" said Mrs. Rossitur, looking up with a perfectly
colourless face.

"To leave the country."

"Are you sure? is that it?" said Mrs. Rossitur, rising and looking over
the words again;--"He would do anything, Fleda--"

"That is what he means, aunt Lucy;--don't you see he says he could not be
safe anywhere in America?"

Mrs. Rossitur stood eying with intense eagerness for a minute or two the
note in her niece's hand.

"Then he is gone! now that it is all settled!--And we don't know
where--and we can't get word to him--"

Her cheek which had a little brightened became perfectly white again.

"He isn't gone yet--he can't be--he cannot have left Queechy till
to-day--he will be in New York for several days yet probably."

"New York!--it may be Boston?"

"No, he would be more likely to go to New York--I am sure he would--he is
accustomed to it."

"We might write to both places," said poor Mrs. Rossitur. "I will do it
and send them off at once."

"But he might not get the letters," said Fleda thoughtfully,--"he might not
dare to ask at the post-office."

His wife looked at that possibility, and then wrung her hands.

"Oh why didn't he give us a clew!"

Fleda put an arm round her affectionately and stood thinking; stood
trembling might as well be said, for she was too weak to be
standing at all.

"What can we do, dear Fleda?" said Mrs. Rossitur in great distress. "Once
out of New York and we can get nothing to him! If he only knew that there
is no need, and that it is all over!--"

"We must do everything, aunt Lucy," said Fleda thoughtfully, "and I hope
we shall succeed yet. We will write, but I think the most hopeful other
thing we could do would be to put advertisements in the newspapers--he
would be very likely to see them."

"Advertisements!--But you couldn't--what would you put in?"

"Something that would catch his eye and nobody's else--_that_ is easy,
aunt Lucy."

"But there is nobody to put them in, Fleda,--you said uncle Orrin was
going to Boston--"

"He wasn't going there till next week, but he was to be in Philadelphia a
few days before that--the letter might miss him."

"Mr. Plumfield!--Couldn't he?"

But Fleda shook her head.

"Wouldn't do, aunt Lucy--he would do all he could, but he don't know New
York nor the papers--he wouldn't know how to manage it--he don't know
uncle Rolf--shouldn't like to trust it to him."

"Who then?--there isn't a creature we could ask--"

Fleda laid her cheek to her poor aunt's and said,

"I'll do it."

"But you must be in New York to do it, dear Fleda,--you can't do it here."

"I will go to New York."


"To-morrow morning."

"But dear Fleda, you can't go alone! I can't let you, and you're not fit
to go at all, my poor child!--" and between conflicting feelings Mrs.
Rossitur sat down and wept without measure.

"Listen, aunt Lucy," said Fleda, pressing a hand on her
shoulder,--"listen, and don't cry so!--I'll go and make all right, if
efforts can do it. I am not going alone--I'll get Seth to go with me; and
I can sleep in the cars and rest nicely in the steamboat--I shall feel
happy and well when I know that I am leaving you easier and doing all that
can be done to bring uncle Rolf home. Leave me to manage, and don't say
anything to Marion,--it is one blessed thing that she need not know
anything about all this. I shall feel better than if I were at home and
had trusted this business to any other hands."

"_You_ are the blessing of my life," said Mrs. Rossitur.

"Cheer up, and come down and let us have some tea," said Fleda, kissing
her; "I feel as if that would make me up a little; and then I'll write
the letters. I sha'n't want but very little baggage; there'll be nothing
to pack up."

Philetus was sent up the hill with a note to Seth Plumfield, and brought
home a favorable answer. Fleda thought as she went to rest that it was
well the mind's strength could sometimes act independently of its servant
the body, hers felt so very shattered and unsubstantial.

Chapter XLI.

I thank you for your company; but good faith, I had as lief have been
myself alone.--As You Like It.

The first thing next morning Seth Plumfield came down to say that he had
seen Dr. Quackenboss the night before and had chanced to find out that he
was going to New York too, this very day; and knowing that the doctor
would be just as safe an escort as himself, Seth had made over the charge
of his cousin to him; "calculating," he said, "that it would make no
difference to Fleda and that he had better stay at home with his mother."

Fleda said nothing and looked as little as possible of her disappointment,
and her cousin went away wholly unsuspecting of it.

"Seth Plumfield ha'n't done a smarter thing than that in a good
while," Barby remarked satirically as he was shutting the door. "I should
think he'd ha' hurt himself."

"I dare say the doctor will take good care of me," said Fleda;--"as good
as he knows how."

"Men beat all!" said Barby impatiently.--"The little sense there is
into them!--"

Fleda's sinking heart was almost ready to echo the sentiment; but
nobody knew it.

Coffee was swallowed, her little travelling bag and bonnet on the sofa;
all ready. Then came the doctor.

"My dear Miss Ringgan!--I am most happy of this delightful
opportunity--I had supposed you were located at home for the winter.
This is a sudden start."

"Is it sudden to you, Dr. Quackenboss?" said Fleda.

"Why--a--not disagreeably so," said the doctor smiling;--"nothing could be
that in the present circumstances,--but I--a--I hadn't calculated upon it
for much of a spell beforehand."

Fleda was vexed, and looked,--only unconversable.

"I suppose," said the doctor after a pause,--"that we have not much time
to waste--a--in idle moments. Which route do you intend to travel?"

"I was thinking to go by the North River, sir."

"But the ice has collected,--I am afraid,--"

"At Albany, I know; but when I came up there was a boat every other day,
and we could get there in time by the stage--this is her day."

"But we have had some pretty tight weather since, if you remember," said
the doctor; "and the boats have ceased to connect with the stage. We shall
have to go to Greenfield to take the Housatonic which will land us at
Bridgeport on the Sound"

"Have we time to reach Greenfield this morning?"

"Oceans of time?" said the doctor delightedly; "I've got my team here and
they're jumping out of their skins with having nothing to do and the
weather--they'll carry us there as spry as grasshoppers--now, if you're
ready, my dear Miss Ringgan!"

There was nothing more but to give and receive those speechless
lip-messages that are out of the reach of words, and Mrs. Rossitur's
half-spoken last charge, to take care of _herself_; and with these seals
upon her mission Fleda set forth and joined the doctor; thankful for one
foil to curiosity in the shape of a veil and only wishing that there were
any invented screen that she could place between her and hearing.

"I hope your attire is of a very warm description," said the doctor as he
helped her into the wagon;--"it friz pretty hard last night and I don't
think it has got out of the notion yet. If I had been consulted in any
other--a--form, than that of a friend, I should have disapprobated, if
you'll excuse me, Miss Ringgan's travelling again before her 'Rose of
Cassius' there was in blow. I hope you have heard no evil tidings?
Dr.--a--Gregory, I hope, is not taken ill?"

"I hope not, sir," said Fleda.

"He didn't look like it. A very hearty old gentleman. Not very old either,
I should judge. Was he the brother of your mother or your father?"

"Neither, sir."

"Ah!--I misunderstood--I thought, but of course I was mistaken,--I thought
I heard you speak to him under the title of uncle. But that is a title we
sometimes give to elderly people as a term of familiarity--there is an old
fellow that works for me,--he has been a long time in our family, and we
always call him 'uncle Jenk.'"

Fleda was ready to laugh, cry, and be angry, in a breath. She looked
straight before her and was mum.

"That 'Rose of Cassius' is a most exquisite thing!" said the doctor,
recurring to the cluster of bare bushy stems in the corner of the garden.
"Did Mr. Rossitur bring it with him when he came to his present

"Yes sir."

"Where is Mr. Rossitur now?"

Fleda replied, with a jump of her heart, that business affairs had obliged
him to be away for a few days.

"And when does he expect to return?" said the doctor.

"I hope he will be home as soon as I am," said Fleda.

"Then you do not expect to remain long in the city this time?"

"I shall not have much of a winter at home if I do," said Fleda. "We are
almost at January."

"Because," said the doctor, "in that case I should have no higher
gratification than in attending upon your motions. I--a--beg you to
believe, my dear Miss Ringgan, that it would afford me the--a--most
particular--it would be most particularly grateful to me to wait upon you
to--a--the confines of the world."

Fleda hastened to assure her officious friend that the time of her return
was altogether uncertain; resolving rather to abide a guest with Mrs.
Pritchard than to have Dr. Quackenboss hanging upon her motions every day
of her being there. But in the mean time the doctor got upon Capt.
Rossitur's subject; then came to Mr. Thorn; and then wanted to know the
exact nature of Mr. Rossitur's business affairs in Michigan; through all
which matters poor Fleda had to run the gauntlet of questions,
interspersed with gracious speeches which she could bear even less well.
She was extremely glad to reach the cars and take refuge in seeming sleep
from the mongrel attentions, which if for the most part prompted by
admiration owned so large a share of curiosity. Her weary head and heart
would fain have courted the reality of sleep, as a refuge from more
painful thoughts and a feeling of exhaustion that could scarcely support
itself; but the restless roar and jumble of the rail-cars put it beyond
her power. How long the hours were--how hard to wear out, with no
possibility of a change of position that would give rest; Fleda would not
even raise her head when they stopped, for fear of being talked to; how
trying that endless noise to her racked nerves. It came to an end at
last, though Fleda would not move for fear they might be only taking in
wood and water.

"Miss Ringgan!" said the doctor in her ear,--"my dear Miss Ringgan!--we
are here!--"

"Are we?" said Fleda, looking up;--"what other name has the place,

"Why Bridgeport," said the doctor,--"we're at Bridgeport--now we have
leave to exchange conveyances. A man feels constrained after a prolonged
length of time in a place. How have you enjoyed the ride?"

"Not very well--it has seemed long. I am glad we are at the end of it!"

But as she rose and threw back her veil the doctor looked startled.

"My dear Miss Ringgan!--are you faint?"

"No sir."

"You are not well, indeed!--I am very sorry--the ride has been--Take my
arm!--Ma'am," said the doctor touching a black satin cloak which filled
the passage-way,--"will you have the goodness to give this lady a

But the black satin cloak preferred a straightforward manner of doing
this, so their egress was somewhat delayed. Happily faintness was not
the matter.

"My dear Miss Ringgan!" said the doctor as they reached the ground and the
outer air,--"what was it?--the stove too powerful? You are looking--you
are of a dreadfully delicate appearance!"

"I had a headache yesterday," said Fleda; "it always leaves me with a
disagreeable reminder the next day. I am not ill."

But he looked frightened, and hurried her, as fast as he dared, to the
steamboat; and there proposed half a dozen restoratives; the simplest of
which Fleda took, and then sought delicious rest from him and from herself
on the cushions of a settee. Delicious!--though she was alone, in the
cabin of a steamboat, with strange forms and noisy tongues around her, the
closed eyelids shut it out all; and she had time but for one resting
thought of "patient continuance in well-doing," and one happy heart-look
up to him who has said that he cares for his children, a look that laid
her anxieties down there,--when past misery and future difficulty faded
away before a sleep that lasted till the vessel reached her moorings and
was made fast.

She was too weary and faint even to think during the long drive up to
Bleecker-st. She was fain to let it all go--the work she had to do and the
way she must set about it, and rest in the assurance that nothing could be
done that night. She did not so much as hear Dr. Quackenboss's
observations, though she answered a few of them, till, at the door, she
was conscious of his promising to see her to-morrow and of her instant
conclusion to take measures to see nobody.

How strange everything seemed. She walked through the familiar hall,
feeling as if her acquaintance with every old thing was broken. There was
no light in the back parlour, but a comfortable fire.

"Is my--is Dr. Gregory at home?" she asked of the girl who had let her in.

"No ma'am; he hasn't got back from Philadelphia."

"Tell Mrs. Pritchard a lady wants to see her."

Good Mrs. Pritchard was much more frightened than Dr. Quackenboss had been
when she came into the back parlour to see "a lady" and found Fleda in the
great arm-chair taking off her things. She poured out questions,
wonderings and lamentings, not "in a breath" but in a great many; quite
forgot to be glad to see her, she looked so dreadfully; and "what _had_
been the matter?" Fleda answered her,--told of yesterday's illness and
to-day's journey; and met all her shocked enquiries with so composed a
face and such a calm smile and bearing, that Mrs. Pritchard was almost
persuaded not to believe her eyes.

"My uncle is not at home?"

"O no, Miss Fleda! I suppose he's in Philadelphy--but his motions is so
little to be depended on that I never know when I have him; maybe he'll
stop going through to Boston, and maybe no, and I don't know when; so
anyhow I had to have a fire made and this room all ready; and ain't it
lucky it was ready for you to-night!--and now he ain't here you can have
the great chair all to yourself and make yourself comfortable--we can keep
warmer here, I guess, than you can in the country," said the good
housekeeper, giving some skilful admonishing touches to the fire;--"and
you must just sit there and read and rest, and see if you can't get back
your old looks again. If I thought it was _that_ you came for I'd be
happy. I never _did_ see such a change in any one in five days!--"

She stood looking down at her guest with a face of very serious concern,
evidently thinking much more than she chose to give utterance to.

"I am tired, Mrs. Pritchard," said Fleda, smiling up at her.

"I wish you had somebody to take care of you, Miss Fleda, that wouldn't
let you tire yourself. It's a sin to throw your strength away so--and you
don't care for looks nor nothing else when it's for other people. You're
looking just as handsome, too, for all," she said, her mouth giving way a
little, as she stooped down to take off Fleda's overshoes, "but that's
only because you can't help it. Now what is there you'd like to have for
supper!--just say and you shall have it--whatever would seem best--because
I mightn't hit the right thing?"

Fleda declared her indifference to everything but a cup of tea, and her
hostess bustled away to get that and tax her own ingenuity and kindness
for the rest. And leaning her weary head back in the lounge Fleda tried to
think,--but it was not time yet; she could only feel; feel what a sad
change had come over her since she had sat there last; shut her eyes and
wish she could sleep again.

But Mrs. Pritchard's hospitality must be gone through with first.

The nicest of suppers was served in the bright little parlour and her
hostess was a compound of care and good will; nothing was wanting to the
feast but a merry heart. Fleda could not bring that, so her performance
was unsatisfactory and Mrs. Pritchard was distressed. Fleda went to her
own room promising better doings to-morrow.

She awoke in the morning to the full burden of care and sorrow which
sheer weakness and weariness the day before had in part laid down; to a
quicker sense of the state of things than she had had yet. The blasting
evil that had fallen upon them,--Fleda writhed on her bed when she
thought of it. The sternest, cruellest, most inflexible, grasp of
distress. Poverty may be borne, death may be sweetened, even to the
survivors; but _disgrace_--Fleda hid her head, as if she would shut the
idea out with the light. And the ruin it had wrought. Affection killed at
the root,--her aunt's happiness withered, for this world,--Hugh's life
threatened,--the fair name of his family gone,--the wear and weariness of
her own spirit,--but that had hardly a thought. Himself?--oh no one could
tell what a possible wreck, now that self-respect and the esteem of
others, those two safe-guards of character, were lost to him. "So much
security has any woman in a man without religion;" she remembered those
words of her aunt Miriam now; and she thought if Mr. Thorn had sought an
ill wind to blow upon his pretensions he could not have pitched them
better. What fairer promise, without religion, could be than her uncle
had given? Reproach had never breathed against his name, and no one less
than those who knew him best could fancy that he had ever given it
occasion. And who could have more at stake?--and the stake was lost--that
was the summing up thought.

No, it was not,--for Fleda's mind presently sprang beyond,--to the remedy;
and after a little swift and earnest flitting about of thought over
feasibilities and contingencies, she jumped up and dressed herself with a
prompt energy which shewed a mind made up to its course. And yet when she
came down to the parlour, though bending herself with nervous intentness
to the work she had to do, her fingers and her heart were only stayed in
their trembling by some of the happy assurances she had been fleeing to;--

"Commit thy works unto the Lord, and all thy thoughts shall be

"In all thy ways acknowledge Him: He shall direct they paths."--

--Assurances, not indeed that her plans should meet with success, but that
they should have the issue best for them.

She was early, but the room was warm and in order and the servant had left
it. Fleda sought out paper and pencil and sat down to fashion the form of
an advertisement,--the first thing to be done. She had no notion how
difficult a thing till she came to do it.

"_R. R. is entreated to communicate with his niece at the old place in
Bleecker-street, on business of the greatest importance_."

"It will not do," said Fleda to herself as she sat and looked at
it,--"there is not enough to catch his eye; and there is _too much_ if it
caught anybody else's eye;--'R. R.', and 'his niece,' and
'Bleecker-street,'--that would tell plain enough."

"_Dear uncle, F. has followed you here on business of the greatest
importance. Pray let her see you--she is at the old place_."

"It will not do," thought Fleda again,--"there is still less to catch his
eye--I cannot trust it. And if I were to put 'Queechy' over it, that
would give the clue to the Evelyns and everybody. But I had better risk
anything rather than his seeing it--"

The miserable needlessness of the whole thing, the pitiful weighing of
sorrow against sorrow, and shame against shame overcame her for a little;
and then dashing away the tears she had no time for and locking up the
strong box of her heart, she took her pencil again.


"_Let me see you at the old place. I have come here on urgent business_
for you. _Do not deny me, for H---'s sake_!"

With a trifle of alteration she thought this would do; and went on to make
a number of fair copies of it for so many papers, This was done and all
traces of it out of the way before Mrs. Pritchard came in and the
breakfast; and after bracing herself with coffee, though the good
housekeeper was still sadly dissatisfied with her indifference to some
more substantial brace in the shape of chickens and ham, Fleda prepared
herself inwardly and outwardly to brave the wind and the newspaper
offices, and set forth. It was a bright keen day; she was sorry; she would
it had been cloudy. It seemed as if she could not hope to escape some eyes
in such an atmosphere.

She went to the library first, and there requested the librarian, whom she
knew, to bring her from the reading-room the files of morning and evening
papers. They were many more than she had supposed; she had not near
advertisements enough. Paper and ink were at hand however, and making
carefully her list of the various offices, morning and evening separate,
she wrote out a copy of the notice for each of them.

The morning was well on by the time she could leave the library. It was
yet far from the fashionable hour, however, and sedulously shunning the
recognition of anybody, in hopes that it would be one step towards her
escaping theirs, she made her way down the bright thoroughfare as far as
the City Hall, and then crossed over the Park and plunged into a region
where it was very little likely she would see a face that she knew. She
saw nothing else either that she knew; in spite of having studied the map
of the city in the library she was forced several times to ask her way, as
she visited office after office, of the evening papers first, till she had
placed her notice with each one of them. Her courage almost failed her,
her heart did quite, after two or three. It was a trial from which her
whole nature shrank, to go among the people, to face the eyes, to exchange
talk with the lips, that were at home in those purlieus; look at them she
did not. Making her slow way through the choked narrow streets, where the
mere confusion of business was bewildering,--very, to any one come from
Queechy; among crowds, of what mixed and doubtful character, hurrying
along and brushing with little ceremony past her; edging by loitering
groups that filled the whole sidewalk, or perhaps edging through them,
groups whose general type of character was sufficiently plain and unmixed;
entering into parley with clerk after clerk who looked at such a visiter
as an anomaly,--poor Fleda almost thought so too, and shrank within
herself; venturing hardly her eyes beyond her thick veil, and shutting her
ears resolutely as far as possible to all the dissonant rough voices that
helped to assure her she was where she ought not to be. Sometimes she felt
that it was _impossible_ to go on and finish her task; but a thought or
two nerved her again to plunge into another untried quarter or make good
her entrance to some new office through a host of loungers and waiting
news-boys collected round the door. Sometimes in utter discouragement she
went on and walked to a distance and came back, in the hope of a better
opportunity. It was a long business; and she often had to wait. The end of
her list was reached at last, and the paper was thrown away; but she did
not draw free breath till she had got to the west side of Broadway again,
and turned her back upon them all.

It was late then, and the street was thinned of a part of its gay throng.
Completely worn, in body as well as mind, with slow faltering steps, Fleda
moved on among those still left; looking upon them with a curious eye as
if they and she belonged to different classes of beings; so very far her
sobered and saddened spirit seemed to herself from their stir of business
and gayety; if they had been a train of lady-flies or black ants Fleda
would hardly have felt that she had less in common with them. It was a
weary long way up to Bleecker-street, as she was forced to travel it.

The relief was unspeakable to find herself within her uncle's door with
the sense that her dreaded duty was done, and well and thoroughly. Now her
part was to be still and wait. But with the relief came also a reaction
from the strain of the morning. Before her weary feet had well mounted the
stairs her heart gave up its control; and she locked herself in her room
to yield to a helpless outpouring of tears which she was utterly unable to
restrain, though conscious that long time could not pass before she would
be called to dinner. Dinner had to wait.

"Miss Fleda," said the housekeeper in a vexed tone when the meal was half
over,--"I didn't know you ever did any thing wrong."

"You are sadly mistaken, Mrs. Pritchard," said Fleda half lightly,
half sadly.

"You're looking not a bit better than last night, and if anything rather
worse," Mrs. Pritchard went on. "It isn't right, Miss Fleda. You oughtn't
to ha' set the first step out of doors, I know you oughtn't, this blessed
day; and you've been on your feet these seven hours,--and you shew it!
You're just ready to drop."

"I will rest to-morrow," said Fleda,--"or try to."

"You are fit for nothing but bed," said the housekeeper,--"and you've
been using yourself, Miss Fleda, as if you had the strength of an
elephant. Now do you think you've been doing right?"

Fleda would have made some cheerful answer, but she was not equal to it;
she had lost all command of herself, and she dropped knife and fork to
burst into a flood of exceeding tears. Mrs. Pritchard equally astonished
and mystified, hurried questions, apologies, and consolations, one upon
another; and made up her mind that there was something mysterious on foot
about which she had better ask no questions. Neither did she, from that
time. She sealed up her mouth, and contented herself with taking the best
care of her guest that she possibly could. Needed enough, but all of
little avail.

The reaction did not cease with that day. The next, Sunday, was spent on
the sofa, in a state of utter prostration. With the necessity for exertion
the power had died. Fleda could only lie upon the cushions, and sleep
helplessly, while Mrs. Pritchard sat by, anxiously watching her; curiosity
really swallowed up in kind feeling. Monday was little better, but towards
the after part of the day the stimulant of anxiety began to work again,
and Fleda sat up to watch for a word from her uncle, But none came, and
Tuesday morning distressed Mrs. Pritchard with its want of amendment. It
was not to be hoped for, Fleda knew, while this fearful watching lasted.
Her uncle might not have seen the advertisement--he might not have got her
letter--he might be even then setting sail to quit home forever. And she
could do nothing but wait. Her nerves were alive to every stir; every
touch of the bell made her tremble; it was impossible to read, to lie
down, to be quiet or still anywhere. She had set the glass of expectancy
for one thing in the distance; and all things else were a blur or a blank.

They had sat down to dinner that Tuesday, when a ring at the door which
had made her heart jump was followed--yes, it was,--by the entrance of the
maid-servant holding a folded bit of paper in her hand. Fleda did not wait
to ask whose it was; she seized it and saw; and sprang away up stairs. It

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