By Alice B. Haven, published in Godey’s Lady’s Magazine; February 1859.
The farm-house at Highwood was a pleasant picture to any one who could appreciate rural quiet and picturesque shading of sky and foliage, with the neutral tints of the low building itself, and the great moss-covered rocks, to the right, that excited the wonder of all who saw them for the first time. Mrs. James, the farmer’s wife, could not understand the raptures of the town ladies and gentlemen, who had been out the last season to look at the place. Highwood was for sale; and when the visitors had been over the house, Mrs. James naturally asked them in, as she came back with the keys, and gave them the best the cottage afforded; so that she had many a compliment for her butter and bread, as well as the brown house, which she thought extremely plain and old-fashioned. That was its peculiar charm. The low, sloping roof, now shaded by a huge apple-tree, one mass of snowy blossoms – the Virginia creeper and straggling May rose, that were nailed against the dark wood-work of the porch – the tidy door-yard, with its clumps of snowball, and lilac, and sweet syringa, all of the taller than Mrs. James – and then the bald, gray rocks, huge boulders of granite, riven and rugged in their old age, though draped, in summer, by clinging blackberry-vines – made the little work like a vingette of Birket Foster’s, especially this warm spring day, the first in which Mrs. James had ventured to bring her sewing and sit in the open door, to watch her two boys – twins they were – scrambling over the rocks, while she, with her willow basted of mending, served as a nursery gateway for the eighteen-months baby, playing with empty spools, in the little square landing at the foot of the stairs – three boys, four boys in all, for the oldest had followed his father out to the field, on some household errand. The neighbors all pitied Mrs. James when the twins came; she “seemed to have her hands full,” with her husband, and boarding one of the men, and three little children underfoot. She was poorly all the spring after their birth, and had some very miserable thought herself, before the nurse left her; but her children were all healthy, and every one admired the new-comers so much, for people came from far and near to see them, that by the time they were out of arms a little, Mrs. James began to be very proud, and pity people who did not have twins! She had the kindest husband in the world, too – industrious, frugal, though always willing to spend for the comfort of the house and his family; never out of temper, that is to say, with ordinary provocations, and as fond and proud of this wife as in the days of their courtship.
Ordinary observers might have considered the little woman’s lot a very happy one; but she had her own troubles, as she used frequently to say, “No one could judge for another,” and Mrs. James inclined to be “low-spirited.” There was the house people admired so much; she only wished they were obliged to live in it. The kitchen was the coldest place, in winter! and the roof leaked, do all that her husband would to discover and repair the mischief. The village carpenter said “it was no use patching such an old shell – the whole thing ought to come off;” but the place was in the hands of trustees, and Farmer James could not afford to undertake so formidable an expense, on his own account. The down-stairs bedroom was so small – that was another thing. When the trundle-bed was out, there was scarcely room to turn around, and “dear knows what I am to do!” And here Mrs. James sighed and shook her head, glancing into a very probable future.
There were trowsers, and aprons, and stockings to be mended, in that basket, before she could touch her spring sewing, and her husband’s Sunday shirts, she had noticed, when putting away the clothes, were “beginning to break.” Plenty of work, for one pair of hands, you will allow, considering that she set every stitch herself, besides doing the most of the housework. Mr. James was very reasonable – all men are not – about extra help. The woman who came every week to wash was frequently called in for Saturday’s cleaning, and always helped in the fall, when there were hams, and sausage-meat, and lard to be attended to; in fact, Mrs. James always felt at liberty to call on her, knowing that she was in no danger of cross words and black looks when she asked for “Betsey’s money.” Her husband knew very well what an industrious, tidy little woman she was, and that she never wasted a penny on her own clothes or the children’s.
“If there wasn’t so many of them, and boys, too,” thought Mrs. James, presently, as she adjusted a patch on the little gray trowsers of one of the twins. “It’s very hard that I should have so many children; there will be five under seven years old! only think of it! I don’t think there is another person in the world that is to be so much pitied.”
Mrs. James was suffering from a very severe attack of her besetting malady, “low spirits.” They had become more frequent of late, though she had always been a little inclined that way; so frequent and so long-continued that her husband began to get very uncomfortable about her, and came home tired, at night, from the heavy spring work, dreading to enter the house, lest he should be met by sighs and forebodings, with a covert personal thrust now and then, which disturbed him more than his wife ever dreamed of. In fact, she had no idea how this infirmity of temper had increased upon her, or she would have been shocked. How often she had heard her husband say, in the bright days of their early married life, that “he hated a fretful woman as he did a wet spell of weather in haying time.”
Highwood had been sold at last. Mrs. James took down the great bunch of keys, for the five-and-fortieth time, one raw March morning, and put a thick shawl about her, to accompany some visitors over the house. A tall, handsome gentleman sat on the lower step of the piazza, when she came up the sweep, and a little lady not much taller than herself, but so light and graceful that she seemed to float through the dusky hall like a sunbeam, when the door was open, sat above him, while he warmed her frozen little feet in a travelling-shawl.
“A very imprudent creature for a married woman,” Mrs. James remarked to her husband, when describing the pair, “for she had on thin-soled gaiters, and the frost not fairly out of the ground, though to be sure they rode from the depot. But everyone knows what a house that has been shut up for three years is, though I have done my best to keep it aired. A little thin velvet mantle, too; she was glad enough to get that shawl around her before she got out of the house. I don’t believe he’s so very fond of her, either, for all he had her feet wrapped up in his lap; for she seemed to hesitate so, when she began to say what she would like to have done, and had to give up to him in every thing. He’s selfish, you may depend.”
“You women jump at things so,” said the farmer, nursing little Joe, the baby, on his knee, while his wife was busy about supper. “I guess you’ll have a chance to find out, though, for he seemed to have pretty much made up his mind to take the place. He talked as if he had plenty of money, too: and that’s comfortable; the old place needs a fortune put upon it.”
And plenty had been spent, judging from the extent of the repairs and the beauty of the decorations that went on from the moment Highwood passed into Mr. Livingston’s hands. Everything was guided by the most finished taste. Out of doors, the lawn, the shrubbery, and the garden began to brighten, a green-house and grapery glistened in the sun, a monster stable, with all manner of odd little turrets and weathercocks, was built: while all over the farm, barns, and fences, and walls were placed in the most thorough condition, to the delight of the farmer’s heart. But the change in the old house was the most magical of all. Bay windows and casements lighted up the interior, the drawing-room glowed with frescoed panels and gilded mirrors let into the wall; a conservatory, and even an aviary were added to the dining-room; delicately tinted French paper replaced the green stains of the chambers. Curtains, and carpets, and pictures, and elegant suites of carved furniture did the rest.
Mrs. James watched all the proceedings, from day to day, with the most vivid and womanly interest. Once or twice Mrs. Livingston had been up to give some orders to the upholsterers, and had asked her to see that they were executed; so she was not intruding when she went from room to room, and from floor to floor, wondering, admiring, and – we grieve to write it – at last, envying the mistress of all this elegance. The family were to take possession soon. Mrs. James had been over the house for the last time, that morning, and delivered up the keys to the housekeeper, who drove up from the city in the beautiful carriage she had just seen aired and brushed in front of the stables. The housekeeper seemed inclined to be very friendly and communicative. There were to e six of them, in all, she said, besides the coachman and gardeners, a French cook and waiter, both men, a laundress, and seamstress, and chambermaid; five in the kitchen, for of course so fine a person and Mrs. Root did not class herself with the rest of the household.
“And how many in the family?” Mrs. James had ventured to ask.
“La! as to that, we never can tell from one day to another, my dear,” returned Mrs. Root, patronizingly. “Sometimes only them two, sometimes nobody but her, and then again a house full for weeks together, that keeps us all flying, with no end of dinner company when we are in town.”
“No children, then?”
“No, indeed, which is a great comfort; for, between you and me, nurses have been the very bane of my life; they get spoiled so; the mothers think they could not live without that particular individual, because, not knowing anything themselves about children, they believe all that’s told ’em; and they indulge the youngsters so, that, the minute I complain of any of their topping ways, and they are going to be sent off, all of ’em set to, and cry, and scream and stamp, and say that their dear Margaret or Ann sha’n’t go; and the mother gives in for peace’s sake. I’ve seen enough of it; and one of Mrs. Livingston’s recommends, when she came to engage me, was that there wasn’t any children.”
“Not a care in the world,” thought Mrs. James, recalling this conversation, as she held up the next article in her basket to search for thin places – “not so much as a baby to look after – all that heart can ask. Look at that house! the very cook’s room with a carpet, better than my only one down on that front room these eight years! all those books, and pictures, and flowers, and birds to amuse herself with – plenty of company, if she gets tired of being alone – that elegant carriage, and a horse for a side-saddle besides, and not a hand’s turn to do about the house. It doesn’t look to me fair that I should be slaving so from morning till night. It’s nothing but work! work! work! from the minute I’m out of bed, till I get in again.”
The time had been when Mrs. James, so far from grieving over the necessity for her industry, was very proud of it. When her husband came from the store Saturday nights, as he did sometimes, and repeated the compliments he had received, as well as the liberal payment for her butter and eggs which she could always have for herself and the children – how proud and happy it had made her! When the minister’s wife said, “I declare, Mrs. James, you are the smartest little woman I ever knew, to keep such a neat house and nice-looking children – Mrs. Phelps and I always speak of it when we come here” – she was so elated that she carried her head half an inch higher the next Sunday morning, walking into her pew with Peter and the twins, as neat as hands could make them, and reflecting on the baby and the roast beef left at home in charge of the hired man. She used to say, in those days, “what if she did work hard, she was well paid for it, dear knows! and somehow sewing rested her from housework; and there was the man to help her churn; and Peter, little Peter’s father, wasn’t like some men, but took as much care of the children when he was in the house as she did.”
Mrs. James did not have a very happy summer. The work dragged, somehow; she never suspected how much willing hands do to make it go lightly; the mending-basket never was emptied from week to week; the children’s dress and her own was growing more careless; and, worst of all, her husband often came home, not cross- that was not his way – but moody, and gloomy, and silent, instead of whistling and singing about the house, as he always used to do. If he would have answered back, when she poured out her complainings, it would have been a relief – but he only got up, and put down his newspaper with a slow sort of sigh, and walked out of the house – especially when she began to worry about not getting ahead any, and so many mouths to feed, and so many children always under foot. That was the burden of her lamentation, commence where she would.
It did not help the matter any to spend so much time in watching the doings at Highwood, and listening to the gossip of Mrs. Root and the head gardener, who came in quite neighborly. She could see the house very distinctly from the side windows, and even distinguish the light figure of Mrs. Livingston from the guests, as they walked the piazza in the cool shade of the morning, or strolled down to the greenhouse, and came back loaded with spoils. Later in the day, the open landau, or the low coupée, sometimes both of them, would be driven with a dash and glitter up to the entrance; and the ladies, in the lightest of lace mantles, and flouting flounces, and gay little French bonnets, were driven off, leaning back with that listless, careless manner, as if it were and every-day matter – as, of course, it was – their hands crossed before them in pretty helplessness, laughing and chatting among themselves, and unconscious of the existence of any other human being out of “their set.” Sometimes Mrs. Livingston cantered past on her saddle-horse, looking very lovely in her round hat, and plume, and full-green riding-habit.
Mrs. James admired and envied her most on these occasions. How many “changes of raiment” she must have! snow-white peignoirs in the morning, with fluttering ribbons and elegant embroidered petticoats, a different dress for driving out, and still another for the evening; so with all her guests. There were no young people in the family who lived at Highwood when she came there; only an infirm couple, very advanced in life, who went out but little, and saw no company. This was the first time Mrs. James had ever come in contact with merely fashionable people, who lived apparently for the enjoyment of the hour. Now and then, she would have a nearer view. For novelty’s sake, Mrs. Livingston would walk over with her visitors to see the pretty little nook in which the farm-house was nestled. Words seemed to be insufficient for the praises they rang upon it, and its mistress, and the sturdy little ones tumbling about on the grass and rocks, and looking all the more picturesque for their torn straw hats and check aprons. Little Joe especially became the favorite with these grand people for his bright eyes, and red cheeks, and tangled curls; and oftentimes, when Mrs. Livingston chanced to be alone – for it was noticeable that her husband seldom remained at Highwood when there was no company – she would send for the child to pass the morning with her, so that he lost all shyness, and was ever ready to go to the “pretty yady,” as he called her. Mrs. James heard, from these birds of passage, that she was to be envied her snug little house and beautiful children; but it did not convince her in the least.
Mrs. Livingston walked over, one afternoon, and sat down, in her quiet, familiar way, on the porch, where the sewing-basket was regularly placed. The summer was almost gone; indeed, September had come in, but with a moist, oppressive heat, that seemed more like August. Dinner was cleared away from Mrs. Jame’s tidy kitchen, the table set back against the wall, the yellow-painted floor swept free of dust or crumbs, the dishes all in their places on the dresser. There were white half curtains at the windows, just moved by a most welcome breeze that was springing up; and Joe’s per kitten slept in the sunshine by the outer sill. Mrs. Livingston could see into the room from her seat on the porch; and its orderly quiet rested her, for she had left a house full of people at Highwood, who had done nothing all day but lounge about and complain of the heat; and she had yet to go back and dress for a long fatiguing dinner; and in the evening there would be the sharp click of the billiard balls, the jar of dancers, or the monotony of the card-table, whether she felt like exerting herself or not. She was in her morning-dress still – an India muslin robe, trimmed with lace, and lined with violet silk. Bows of violet ribbon fastened it at the throat and waist, and looped up the flowing sleeves. What round white arms! how soft and slender the hands shining with rings – diamonds, and a single emerald even more costly – clasped idly about her knee! Yet the face had a worn, listless look, except when it brightened at the voices of the children. Mrs. James stitched away in silence. Mrs. Livingston always said: “Now, don’t let me disturb you; I shall not come again if you do.” And, whether by design or not, she never did intrude on washing or baking-days, or before the house was settled down, and the afternoon’s clean apron and collar could be put on.
The first time she came, the mistress of Highwood had been shown into the little, stiff best room, where the chairs stood at precise right angles with each other, and no article of furniture seemed capable of changing its situation any more than if screwed to its place. Mrs. James was in a a flutter, too, and excused herself to put on a barège dress and worked collar, in which she looked as little at ease as her best room. But Mrs. Livingston asked to be shown the house, and admired the kitchen, and sympathized with the leaky roof, and promised it should be attended to, and suggested a way of enlarging the bedroom, by taking in a deep pantry, or store-room, and adding an outer kitchen for the heavy work, with the milk-room at one end. Finally, she established herself in the doorway, just where she was sitting now, and when she came alone, after that, refused to be entertained anywhere else. By degrees, the stiffness and flutter of these visits wore off, and Mrs. James sewed and talked, and insensible fell into enumerating the hardships of her lot, which always seemed aggravated by the sight of Mr.s Livingston’s dainty toilet and abundant leisure.
“Come here, little Joe,” the visitor said, holding out her hand to the flushed, half-pouting child, who had rolled out of an afternoon nap and the low trundle-bed, and stood, barefoot, on the floor, eyeing her through his curls.
The sulking little face visibly brightened at the sound of her voice, and the assurance that his mother’s visitor was no other than the pretty lady he loved next to her; and, edging shyly along, he was soon seated in her lap, and playing with the bright rings that were an endless wonder and amusement.
“That’s just the way it goes, Mrs. Livingston,” signed Mrs. James, preparing to get up and bring the child’s shoes and stockings; “it’s nothing but waiting on one or the other all the time. Here I’d just got Peter off to school- he’s begun to go this quarter – and washed Johnny and Tommy, and put on their clean aprons, and just as I get about ten stitches done, up wakes Joe, and all to go over again; and by that, their father sends for me to hunt up something out of his tool-room, and then it’s time to put on the teakettle; and so it is.”
“They keep you pretty busy, I’m sure,” said Mrs. Livingston, cheerfully, “but you wouldn’t part with one of them, for all.”
She said this a little nervously, and watched for the answer.
“I don’t know about that; wait til you come to have four all of a size.”
“I wish I had six, for that matter, rather than none; I shall never have any children.”
“You’re young yet; you can’t tell.” And Mrs. James thought “people never do know when they are well off.”
“I am older than you, and have been married quite as long, Mrs. James.” It seemed scarcely possible, so matronly was the one, so slight and girlish the figure of the other still. “Oh you don’t know, you can’t tell how I envy you! I never come here without it,” said Mrs. Livingston, a moment after. “There can be no more love, no happiness like it. Childless! you don’t know what a terrible word that is. I could bear all the rest,” she was going to add, “and perhaps it would not be so if he was a father;” but her chief bitterness was unspoken, only her face wore a convulsed, miserable look, that Mrs. James marvelled at, but could not understand. “I don’t read my Bible very often – not as much as I should, I know – but when I do, it always opens of itself to the story of Hannah, or Rachel. Perhaps you wonder at them as you do at me. I have prayed, but God has forgotten me!” And she hid her face in the child’s fair hair, as she bent down over him, and strained him closely to her.
Mrs. James did wonder. Could it be possible that children were really a blessing, and not a trial, after all?
But Mrs. Livingston was not unpractised in quick self-control. Her daily life had taught her that, perhaps, of all the people she called friends, who had eaten at her table, and slept under her roof, that summer, no one had ever seen so far into her heart. When she lifted her head, a moment after, there was only the winning, coaxing smile of one who comes to ask a favor and is seldom refused. How much anxiety it masked no one could tell. “Well then, since children are only a trouble, so much the better for me,” she said, lightly, “so much the more hope that I shall get what I have set my heart on, and Mr. Livingston consents to. We want to rid you of part of your burden, and carry off little Joe. Say ‘Please,’ pretty, my boy, and come and have me for your mamma, and a little pony with a long tail, and a hat and feather like mine. Oh what fine times we shall have!”
It was said gayly enough, and the child clapped his hands at the prospect of the pony and the plume. A quick pang of jealous fear shot through his mother’s heart, and she put out her hands involuntarily to take him away.
“I am quite in earnest,” said Mrs. Livingston, more quietly, still retaining the child. “I have always had a fancy for him, and when I saw Mr. Livingston’s notice was attracted, the plan flashed into my mind, though I never should have thought of it, if you had not told me so often what care and trouble you have with so many. We do not wish to rob you, either. Mr. Livingston tells me to offer you five hundred or a thousand dollars; and if that is not enough, to give the rest a start in the world; and poor little Joe will not be missed among so many. Tell her to say I may have you, my boy; she does not care half and much for you as I do.”
But the face into which she looked for consent was only blank with wonder and dismay. Part with little Joe! Give up all right and title to the baby who had never slept from her arm since the day he was born? Let him be called by another name, and taught to forget that she had borne him? Was Mrs. Livingston trying her? Perhaps she was only jesting, after all.
“I do not think it would answer,” said the petitioner, taking hope from the silence, “if we were to continue to live here; but perhaps you know that Mr. Livingston has decided to go abroad – to go to Europe – in November, and, as we may stay some years, to sell the place. It is his way” – for Mrs. James forgot the boy, for a moment, in wonder at this unlooked-for intelligence. “He is never contented long in any place. I never allow myself to get attached to anything, only this child; I could not help that; I tried to, but you do not know the craving for innocent baby kisses, and fond words, and the patter of little feet about a great, lonely house. If he were to grow up here, it might make you and him unhappy when he came to understand it; but as we are going away, and he will have our name, he will never know anything of it, and I am quite sure you will trust me to take care of him, and educate and be proud of him!” Mrs. Livingston spoke fast and eagerly, not exactly understanding the manner of Mrs. James, who only rose and called the child into the house to be dressed, in a harsh, husky voice. grasping his arm so tightly that he screamed and struggled to get back to his friend; but she was going. “I will not take any answer to-day,” she said. “Talk it over with your husband. Mr. Livingston says he is a man of so much good sense and judgement; he will not fail to see how much better it will be for the child, and how it will relieve you, especially when there is another to look after. My boy will be crowded out, any way. He loves you and his children so much that I know he would not let his own feelings stand in the way.”
How much he loved his children, no one but their mother knew; how strictly he corrected their faults, and upheld her weaker rule over them; how patiently he waited on them in their babyhood; and how thoughtfully self-denying he was, to provide for their future, and the education to which he had always aspired. Mr. James would never listen to it – that was one thing; and, assured of this, his wife began her wonderful story, when he came in at night, by this time allowing herself to dwell, with not a little pride, on the destiny that was offered to this child, glorying harmlessly, as she supposed, in the position and heirship that were laid tribute at his feet, only to be rejected.
“He’s going to sell Highwood, and go abroad. Yes; he told me so this morning. I always thought he was a restless disposition, though a more liberal man I never knew; he sows money wherever he goes. Well, it may be the best we could do.” And the farmer folded his arms, moodily.
Mrs. James could not believe that she understood him. “About Joe, not the farm, I mean,” she said.
“Ay, for the little man and ourselves, too. A thousand dollars isn’t to be found lying at the door every day, and there’s one chance in ten, that the next landlord may take a fancy to keep us here. ‘Twon’t be to easy to be set adrift in the world, and there’d be one less mouth to feed.”
Mrs. James felt her heart swell with an anger and resentment that, for the moment, was almost madness – a wile terror, too, for she knew her husband’s firmness of purpose too well to think of opposing her will to his. But she would in this case. No man would rob her of her child. What was a father? What claim had he on the life she had won and nourished through weariness, and fear, and suffering? She would brave him to his face if he dared to think of it. She would leave him, and follow her child to the ends of the earth. “One mouth less to feed!” Heartless, selfish calculation! She would work her fingers to the bone before that should part them.
Great drops of perspiration stood on her forehead, as she tried to keep an outward self-control, and heard, for the first time in all her life, taunting words, only her own fretful repining, cast back at her from one who had heretofore borne with her infirmity so patiently. Even after her husband was asleep – for the first time in all their lives without any good-night kiss, for she was too angry and miserable to claim it, and he too sullen to offer the token of affectionate good-will – she lay awake and wretched, clasping her child as closely as if some great peril threatened him, and wetting his hair and soft baby face with her salt tears. All the blessings of her life seemed to stand before her upbraidingly; and she felt as if they were vanishing from her sight.
Leave Highwood! the quiet home that had seemed as much theirs as if they owned every foot of the soil – the vines and wild-flowers she had planted and trained! the shadow of the trees! even the daily sight of those great granite rocks that she could fancy in the moonlight, rising in their sharp but familiar outlines! her home where all her children had been born! Though what was that to the threatened loss of he husband’s love and the child, if a separation worse that death was to come between them? She pictured it to herself. If he died now in his babyhood, her eyes would have the last look of love, the waxen fingers clasp her own before they were reached out to the shadowy messenger. Her hands would robe him for the grave, and lay him in his little coffin; but to live, and never see him, never know of his welfare! or, if they met, to be looked upon with the cold indifference of one who sees a stranger, and perhaps with contempt for her humble lot in life! So she tortured herself, until the moon went down, and left only a hopeless darkness to her straining eyes.
It was very hard to rouse from the unrefreshing sleep that came at length, and go about her morning duties with that weary heartache and no word of comfort from the lips that had never denied it to her before; but her husband kept the same gloomy silence, only saying, when he went out; “Send for me when she comes again.”
Mrs. James had heard of people who prayed, as for life, in great extremities; and she tried to pray now; as she went about her work, never losing sight of her child, and now and then leaving all to take him in her arms, and make him repeat again and again the promise that she put into words for him, that he would never leave her, words that had no meaning to him, but comforted her, nevertheless.
Oh, how slowly the morning wore on! She began looking across the lawn long before the dressing-bell for breakfast sounded at Highwood, and trembled with every step, while Mrs. Livingston still slept under her fluted muslin canopy. She too had, “prevented the night-watches,” but with an older and heavier grief than her neighbor had ever dreamed of – a new revelation of her husband’s selfish heartlessness, from which the child she coveted promised her relief. It was wonderful that he had allowed her in it; but, like the outward devotion which he paid her at times, it was a fancy of his exacting, capricious nature.
Not that Mrs. James intended to send for her husband as he had desired her to do; far from it! Mrs. Livingston should at least hear a mother’s denial of any temptation of wealth or position could offer; and, though she prepared his mid-day meal with the exactness and punctuality of habit, she would not sit down before it, and dissemble the pain and sorrow he had caused her, but, taking the child, went into her room, shut the door, and lay down upon the bed, burying her face in the pillow in dreary wretchedness. She did not hear the door open softly, or the the loving, pitiful expression of the eyes that filled with tears – they had known but few in a long lifetime – at seeing her lying prone and exhausted with the conflict she had passed through – passed through, for she no longer felt anger or resentment, or opposed her will to “the giver of life and death,” who had appointed her lot; so that, when she became aware that her husband was kneeling beside her, she did not resist the arms that drew her closely to a great, manly heart, but lay there, sobbing heavily; while the disordered hair that fell around her face was pushed back, and smoothed by hard but kindly hands.
“And so you thought I would take him away from you, that bribes or want could make me part with one of them! It was a hard lesson, Mary; and perhaps I was too cruel; but I only meant right; I wanted you to see that it was easier to say than to do, to spare any of them. Here’s last night’s kiss, and here’s to-day’s, and there’s one to ease you up a little. Don’t take on so now! don’t! don’t, when you see I did not mean to say yes, any more than you did!” And so Mrs. James came slowly to understand how her husband’s firmness and sense had taken advantage of the offer to teach herself knowledge, and bring back, if possible, some of the old cheerfulness that had once made his home so happy.
When the apple-blossoms whitened the dooryard next spring-tide, Mrs. James sat under the shade, and sang at her work as in years before. It was harder still that when Mrs. Livingston first came and sat there beside her, bringing, unwittingly, envy and discontent to lodge under the sloping roof. There was “another to do for,” a baby girl, whose cradle was brought to the door-step that she might be under her mother’s watchful, loving eyes. Little Joe scrambled over the rocks with the twins now; and many a sad rent was the consequence; but his mother repaired them willingly, with pitying thoughts of the poor lady who had seemed so cruelly disappointed when his father refused to let him go, remaining proof against tears and entreaties when the bribes had failed.
Mrs. Livingston was an exile in a land whose beauty could but bring partial forgetfulness of her lonely lot, the slave of another’s capricious will. Mrs. James dwelt securely in the house she had learned to prize through fear of loss, upheld in the fretting, multiplied by the cares of life by an affection she never doubted, and fully repaid for them all by the clinging caresses of her little ones, and the bright day-dreams of their future that came and went in the floating shadows around her.