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   Chapter 22 — FINALE.

Aikenside By Mary Jane Holmes Characters: 6136

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:04

The close of a calm September afternoon, and the autumnal sunlight falls softly upon Aikenside, where a gay party is now assembled. For four years Maddy Clyde has been mistress there, and in looking back upon them she wonders how so much happiness as she has known could be experienced in so short a time. Never but once has the slightest ripple of sorrow shadowed her heart, and that was when her noble husband, Guy, said to her, in a voice she knew was earnest and determined that he could no longer remain deaf to his country's call-that where the battle storm was raging he was needed, and like a second Sardanapalus he must not stay at home. Then for a brief season her bright face was overcast, and her brown eyes dim with weeping. Giving him to the war seemed like giving him up to death. But women can be as true heroes as men. Indeed, it oftentimes costs more courage for a weak, confiding woman to bid her loved ones leave her for the field of carnage than it costs them to face the cannon's mouth. Maddy found it so, but Christian patriotism triumphed over all, and stifling her own grief, she sent him away with smiles, and prayers, and cheering words of encouragement, turning herself for consolation to the source from which she never sued for peace in vain. Save that she missed her husband terribly, she was not lonely, for her beautiful dark-eyed boy, whom they called Guy, Jr., kept her busy, while not very many weeks afterward, Guy, Sr., sitting in his tent, read with moistened eyes of a little golden-haired daughter, whom Maddy named Lucy Atherstone, and gazed upon a curl of hair she inclosed to the soldier father, asking if it were not like some other hair now moldering back to dust within an English churchyard. "Maggie" said it was, Aunt Maggie, as Guy, Jr., called the wife of Dr. Holbrook, who had come to Aikenside to stay, while her husband did his duty as surgeon in the army. That little daughter is a year-old baby now, and in her short white dress and coral bracelets she sits neglected on the nursery floor, while mother and Jessie, Maggie and everybody hasten out into the yard to welcome the returning soldier, Major Guy, whose arm is in a sling, and whose face is very pale from the effects of wounds received at Gettysburg, where his daring courage had well-nigh won for Maddy a widow's heritage. For the present the arm is disabled, and so he has been discharged, and comes back to the home where warm words of welcome greet him, from the lowest servant up to his darling wife, who can only look her joy as he folds her in his well arm, and kisses her beautiful face. Only Margaret Holbrook seems a little sad, she had so wanted her husband to come with Guy, but his humanity would not permit him to leave the suffering beings who needed his care. Loving messages he sent to her, and her tears were dried when she heard from Guy how greatly he was beloved by the pale occupants of the beds of pain, and how much he was doing to relieve their anguish.

Jessie, grown to be a most beautiful girl of nearly sixteen, is still a

child in actions, and wild with delight at seeing her brother again, throws her arms around his neck, telling, in almost the same breath, how proud she is of him, how much she wished to go to him when she heard he was wounded, how she wishes she was a boy, so she could enlist, how nicely Flora is married and settled down at the cottage in Honedale, and then asks if he knows aught of the rebel colonel to whom just before the war broke out her mother was married, and whose home was in Richmond.

Guy knows nothing of him, except that he is still doing what he deems his duty in fighting for the Confederacy, but from exchanged prisoners, who had come up from Richmond, he has heard of a beautiful lady, an officer's wife, and as rumor said, a Northern woman, who visited them in prison, speaking kind words of sympathy, and once binding up a drummer boy's aching head with a handkerchief, which he still retained, and on whose corner could be faintly traced the name of "Agnes Remington."

Jessie's eyes are full of tears as she says:

"Poor mamma, how glad I am I did not go to Virginia with her. It's months since I heard from her direct. Of course it was she who was so good to the drummer boy. She cannot be much of a rebel," and Jessie glances triumphantly at Mrs. Noah, who, never having quite overcome her dislike of Agnes, had sorely tried Jessie by declaring that her mother "had found her level at last, and was just where she wanted to be."

Good Mrs. Noah, the ancient man whose name she bore would as soon have thought of leaving the Ark as she of turning a traitor to her country, and when she heard of the riotous mob raised against the draft, she talked seriously of going in person to New York "to give 'em a piece of her mind," and for one whole day refused to speak to Flora's husband, because he was a "dum dimocrat," and she presumed was opposed to Lincoln. With the exception of Maddy, no one was more please to see Guy than herself. He was her boy, the one she brought up, and with all a mother's fervor she kissed his bronzed cheek, and told him how glad she was to have him back.

With his boy on his sound arm, Guy disengaged himself from the noisy group and went with Maddy to where the little lady, the child he had never seen, was just beginning to show signs of resentment at being left so long alone.

"Lulu, sissy, papa's come; this is papa," the little boy cried, assuming the honor of the introduction.

Lulu, as they called her, was not afraid of the tall soldier, and stretching out her fat, white hands, went to him readily. Blue-eyed and golden haired, she bore but little resemblance to either father or mother, but there was a sweet, beautiful face, of which Maddy had often dreamed, but never seen, and whether it were in the infantile features of his little girl. Parting lovingly her yellow curls and kissing her fair cheek, he said to Maddy, softly, just as he always spoke of that dead one:

"Maddy, darling, Margaret Holbrook is right-our baby daughter is very much like our dear lost Lucy Atherstone."

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