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   Chapter 11 CONCLUSION.

The Old Stone House By Constance Fenimore Woolson Characters: 14621

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:03


A year had passed, and the colored leaves were dropping for the second time upon Hugh's grave. Aunt Faith and Bessie were in the sitting-room of the old stone house, and the voices of Tom and Gem sounded through the open hall-door from the back garden, where they were sitting under the oak-tree. Hugh's portrait stood upon an easel, with living ivy growing around it from the little bracket which he had made that last day of summer. The afternoon sun struck the picture, and gave it a vivid realistic expression; Bessie saw it, and laying down her work, looked lovingly into the bright face. "It is very like Hugh, is it not, Aunt Faith?" she said at last.

Aunt Faith put on her glasses, and drew nearer the easel. "It is indeed a wonderful likeness, especially the eyes," she replied. "How came you to succeed so well?"

"I had been working at it all summer, aunt, but the eyes I could not copy to my satisfaction, they varied so constantly. It was Hugh's last day at home; don't you remember how I begged for the morning? He was sitting in the old arm-chair by the window, looking out towards the lake, talking about the future; he was so full of life and hope that morning,-so sure of success,-so happy in the thought of the good he could accomplish, that his eyes fairly shone. Something came over me; I took the brush, and, by a sudden inspiration, I succeeded in copying the expression exactly."

"It is a comfort to have the picture," said Aunt Faith, "and a blessed thought that we shall see that dear face again, and know it when we see it."

"You believe so, aunt? So do I. I believe that we shall love each other there as here, only far, far better. To be with those we love, away from affliction, care, and temptation,-that is heaven."

"I often think of the meetings there, Bessie. Hugh found his father and his mother there. While we were mourning here, they were rejoicing there."

"I no longer mourn, Aunt Faith; I have found comfort."

"I know that, my dear, and am thankful for it; but you are sad at times."

"I feel sad over myself, aunt, over my loneliness, and my faults. I feel sorry for myself as one feels sorry for a child; I sympathize with myself as though I was another person. Sometimes it seems as if my soul sat apart peaceful and quiet, while all the rest of me gave way to deep despondency. But all the while I know that Hugh is safe; that I shall go to him, and that through the mercy of our Saviour we shall find eternal joy. And I always try to remember that Hugh disliked morbid grief; that he used to say the world was a beautiful place; that we had no right to despise it; that as long as we were in it, it was our duty to make others happy and be happy ourselves. Therefore I try to be cheerful, and when I think of Hugh, I am cheerful. It is only when I think of myself that despondency comes back to me."

"You have done well, dear," said Aunt Faith; "I have seen your struggles, and rejoiced over your victories. I have confidence in you, Bessie, and if I am called away, I can leave the children in your charge with an easy heart."

"They are no longer children, Aunt Faith."

"True! Gem is thirteen, but she will need watchful care for many years yet. And Tom, although tall and strong, is still a thorough boy at heart, and the next five or six years are full of danger for him."

"Tom is a fine fellow," said Bessie warmly; "he is full of generosity and courage."

"Yes, but there are corresponding dangers for his sanguine temperament. However, although still young, he has an earnest faith; Hugh's death was a lesson which he will never forget, and all though he may often go astray, I feel sure he will come back again at the last. Gem, too, is one of the lambs of the flock; she has improved greatly the past year. I have had deep cause to be thankful, and I am thankful," said Aunt Faith, folding her hands reverently. "The children Thou gavest to me are all Thine; Thou hast cared for them and brought them to a knowledge of Thy goodness. One hast Thou taken, the dearest of all; taken him away from trouble to come. Lord, I thank Thee, for all Thy goodness." As Aunt Faith murmured these words, she leaned back in her chair and closed her own heart in silence.

After a few moments, Bessie went out on the piazza to welcome Mr.

Leslie and Sibyl as they came up the walk.

"Aunt Faith is resting in her chair," she said, smiling; "we will sit out here, if you please. How well you look, Sibyl!"

Mrs. Leslie threw off her bonnet, and the light shone in her golden hair. She looked well, better than she had ever looked as Sibyl Warrington; for, although her skin had lost something of its extreme delicacy, her face had gained in animation, and her manners in cordiality, so that people who could not love her before, loved her now with sincere affection. Her beautiful hair was coiled gracefully around her head, and she was dressed with as much care as ever, for Sibyl was Sibyl still, and could no more change her love for harmony and taste than the leopard could change his spots. But everything was simple, inexpensive, and fashioned by her own fingers, so that although all admired, not even the most censorious could find fault with the appearance of the pastor's wife.

Mr. Leslie, too, was somewhat altered; he looked well and vigorous, but his manner was more gentle. The poor said he was more compassionate, the sick said he was more gentle, his congregation said he was more eloquent; Hugh's death and Sibyl's sorrow had not been without their lessons for him, also.

The little chapel was still poor and struggling, but husband and wife worked together with heart and strength. Sibyl was invaluable; she threw her system, her energy, and her tact into the week-day work, and her husband found his Sunday labors doubly successful, because they were followed up and carried out during the six working days as well as on the day of rest.

"I have had a letter from Mrs. Stanly, to-day, Bessie," said Mr. Leslie; "she says little Hugh is beginning to talk, and already can say 'Aunt Bessie.' He associates you with the Noah's Ark you sent him. Here is his picture, enclosed in the letter." The photograph represented a chubby boy with large, wondering eyes and curly hair.

"Brave little man!" said Sibyl, looking over Bessie's shoulder. "What a wonder he lived through that night!"

"Oh, Hugh held him up out of the water most of the time," said Bessie quickly; "the mother told me that his little knitted shirt was scarcely wet at all. I must certainly go East to see the child next spring, now that his father is dead, I feel more at liberty to assist Mrs. Stanly, and, between us, we are going to give little Hugh the best education the country will allow."

"Is that you, Sibyl?" said Aunt Faith's voice within.

"Yes, aunt. Shall we come in?" said Mrs. Leslie, rising.

"No, dear, I will come out;" and Aunt Faith joined the group on the piazza, taking her seat in an arm-chair.

"What a beautiful afternoon!" she said, "and how brilliant those maple-leaves are! Have you seen the monument, John?"

"No," answered Mr. Leslie; "is it in place?"

"Yes, the work was all finished this morning, and Bessie and I went over to look at it. Why not walk over now? We can all go, and these

lovely days cannot last long."

"I should like to go, John, if you have the time," said Sibyl.

"Yes; I can postpone the visit I intended to make. As Aunt Faith says, these warm, still days cannot last long."

The cemetery was about half a mile distant, a forest glade sloping to the lake, with a brook in a little ravine running through the centre. But few graves were there, for the land was but newly consecrated to its use, but the great forest-trees were old, and in the spring, wild flowers grew everywhere, and wild birds sang in the foliage. Now, the trees were dyed in scarlet and gold, and the colored leaves dropped slowly down upon the ground, for the air was still and hazy with the purple mists of Indian summer. Hugh's monument stood on a little eminence overlooking the lake. It was of marble, a slender shaft broken at the top, with a profusion of roses growing over the broken place, carved in the marble with life-like fidelity, so that the stone itself seemed to have blossomed. Below, on one side of the base was Hugh's name and age, and on the opposite face was the sentence, "I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me."

"I like it;" said Mr. Leslie, standing with uncovered head beside the grassy mound; "it expresses the idea of the broken young life, and the roses of hope, faith, and even joy which have grown up to cover the place."

"It is appropriate that it stands here overlooking the lake," said Sibyl. "Hugh was so fond of the water, and, on this very lake he lost his life,-gave it up for the sake of others."

"And I like the monument on account of the sentence," said Bessie, who sat by the side of the grave arranging a bunch of autumn leaves.

"The monument is only raised to Hugh's earthly memory," said Aunt Faith. "Hugh is not here; I never feel that I am nearer to him here than at home. But I like to honor the place where his mortal body lies, and I like to think when I die, those who love me will likewise honor my grave."

Bessie completed her wreath and laid it on the mound, and then they all went back to the old stone house, quiet and thoughtful, but not sad; the faith within their hearts was too earnest, and the hope too bright for sadness.

After tea they sat together on the piazza; the night was warm, and the full-moon shone through the haze, giving the landscape a magical softness and beauty. Tom and Gem were there also, and at, Tom's feet were the three dogs, Turk, somewhat sobered, Grip, less hilarious than formerly, but Pete Trone, Esquire, as vivacious as ever, investigating every corner of the garden as though he never saw it before, and coming back after each foray with increased importance, the air of a philosopher who had discovered all the secrets of the moonlight. Friends came in and joined the family circle. Rose Saxon, Edith Chase, who had become one of Bessie's firm friends, and Walter Hart. An hour or two of pleasant conversation ensued, and Tom delivered some bright sayings, retiring within the shadow, overcome with boyish embarrassment when the company applauded him. Finally, when the visitors had all gone, Aunt Faith rose; "I hope you will stay to prayers, John," she said; "it is late, but the bright moonlight seems to postpone the hour of sleeping."

"Yes, Aunt Faith," replied Mr. Leslie; "we will stay, and Sibyl can play the hymn."

He read a chapter from the Bible, then they all sang a hymn and knelt a few moments in prayer. With affectionate farewells, they parted for the night, Sibyl and her husband going home through the moonlight, and the others separating to their respective rooms.

As Bessie stood before her dressing-table, brushing out her thick curls, she noticed the lines about her mouth, and the hollows in her temples. "I am growing old," she thought, with a half-smile, "and yet, I am only seventeen. How long this year has been; it is like a lifetime. But yet, it has been a precious year; it has taught me hope and peace, I shudder when I think how I felt a year ago."

Going across the room, she lifted a little curtain which hung before a picture; the frame contained only a fragment of paper, and through the glass the faint pencilled words of Hugh's last message could be seen. "Bessie, try to be good, dear. I love you." Bessie read the words over several times, and then, dropping the little curtain, she fell on her knees by the bedside, and prayed Hugh's prayer. "Lord I believe; help Thou mine unbelief. Lord, be merciful to me a sinner."

Seasons of despondency came to Bessie Darrell; often her pillow was wet with tears; often she was obliged to mourn over her shortcomings, often she prayed in deep contrition for forgiveness of sins,-sins belonging to her quick impulsive nature, besetting sins with which she must struggle to the last. But she never lost her faith, she never ceased to look forward to the other country. Through trouble, through care, through sickness, through affliction, through life, and through death she held fast to the hope that abideth forever. Busy and active, she gave her time first to her Aunt Faith, then to Tom and Gem, and afterwards to the poor and afflicted. She worked hard, and in the very labor she found peace at the last; she tried to make others happy, and, in the end, she found happiness for herself.

Aunt Faith sat by her table, thinking. She was thinking of her loved ones, her father and mother, her brothers and sisters, her husband, and last of all, of Hugh. "For the past month my strength has seemed to fail; it may be that I am nearer home than I know," she thought.

"But all my times are in Thy hand, dear Lord, and whether I go soon, or whether I must tarry many years longer, Thou knowest. Only grant me Thy constant aid, for without Thee I can do nothing." She knelt in prayer, prayed for her children as well as herself. Many tears had she shed over them, many times of trial and apparent failure had darkened her way since the five orphans were given into her charge. But the promise was sure, and although this life may not be long enough for the harvest, although the laborer may see only the bud here on earth, that bud will surely blossom and ripen into fruit in heaven.

"He that goeth on his way weeping, and beareth forth good seed, shall doubtless come again with joy, and bring his sheaves with him." Psalm CXXVI.

The faithful laborer toils on

In spite of present sorrow,-

He heeds not toil, he heeds not storm,

But labors for the morrow;

To him the harvest comes in overflowing measure,

To him the fields pour out their overflowing treasure.

He that goeth on his way

Bearing seed, though weeping,-

Shall doubtless come again with joy

Loaded from the reaping,

Loaded with the precious sheaves of faith, and hope,

and love,

Bearing them, rejoicing, to his Father's house above.

There is quiet now in the old stone house. One of its inmates has gone from earth; one has gone to another home, and those who are left under the roof are all sleeping. The soft moonlight shines on the gray walls, caressing them as though it loved them. Dear old house! thy rooms are haunted with memories of happiness, and hallowed with memories of sorrow. We leave thee regretfully, and turn back again and again as we go, for a last

FAREWELL!

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