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   Chapter 12 HAPPY HOURS.

Dick and Brownie By Mabel Quiller-Couch Characters: 11043

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04

The bed was wheeled up to the fireplace, the tea table and two chairs were grouped about the hearth, and there they had their last meal together in happy peacefulness.

A sense of quiet rested on them all, a shade of awe, of feelings so deep that ordinary chatter would have seemed out of place. Emma Smith's thoughts were still lingering about that figure standing outside the door, "Knocking, knocking." She must have seen a picture once of that figure with the patient, tender eyes, knocking at a fast-closed door, but she had never troubled to ask who it was. Now it all seemed close, He was so real. It was ordinary, everyday life that seemed unreal now, that began to seem to her so far away.

Huldah was drawing bright pictures in her mind of days when the spring would come, and Aunt Emma would be stronger and able to walk about; they would be able to go and see Aunt Martha sometimes. Her thoughts dwelt lovingly on Aunt Martha and Dick. She saw them seldom now, the storms and the rough roads kept Aunt Martha at home, and Huldah could not leave her Aunt Emma.

So busy was she with her thoughts that she forgot all about Miss

Rose's promised piece of news, until, when the tea was over, Miss

Rose spoke of it again.

"You must light the lamp now, brownie. I want to talk to your aunt.

There is someone wanting to see her,-someone that she wants to see,

I think."

Emma Smith turned quickly, an eager light flashing over her face.

"Is it-Tom?" she asked, excitedly.

"Yes-your husband. He has behaved so well he got his discharge as soon as it was possible, and he has come in search of you."

Suddenly the light and eagerness died out of her face. "Charlie-and the van!" she cried, growing white to the lips. "I've got to tell him,-he'll never forgive me." Her lips quivered piteously.

"He knows," said Miss Rose, soothingly. "I told him. I thought it better to explain quickly what had happened, and not let him be expecting to find them too."

She did not tell of the scene there had been when first he had heard of the loss, nor the difficulty they had had in persuading him to see his wife, and be kind to her. "I don't want her; 'twas the horse and van I wanted," he said, cruelly.

He was not really as cruel, though, as he appeared. He seemed quite touched when he heard of his wife's starving state when she came in search of Huldah, and of her condition now, and expressed a desire to see her. "I won't say nothing to upset her," he promised, when they seemed to hesitate.

Huldah's face had turned even whiter than Emma's, when she heard who was near, and what he wanted, her fear of him had been so increased since he carried her away by force that night. But when she saw how eager her aunt was to see him, she did try to overcome her fears.

Within a few moments of Miss Rose's telling of her "news," he was there, in their midst. To pale, trembling Huldah, whose every nerve had been set quivering by the mere sound of his step on the stair, he threw only a cool nod, as, awkwardly enough, he made his way to his wife's bedside, and sat down beside her.

"I hear you'm bad," he said, coolly, but it was plain that her altered appearance shocked him. Every now and again, when she was not looking, he gave long wondering glances at her, and his eyes were almost troubled. "So I hear you and the kid have been living together again."

"Huldah? Oh, Tom, she's been such a comfort to me-"

"That's all right. I s'pose she isn't such a bad kid, on the whole."

"She's more'n good to me." Then quickly, feverishly she began to pour out the story of her life since he "was took away." She told him of Charlie and the van, and how she was tricked. Of her coming to Huldah, and their home together, and her own illness, until gradually her voice grew weary and fainter and fainter. The flush died out of her cheeks, the light out of her eyes. She was exhausted, but after she could not even whisper, a smile still hovered about her lips, and her hand held that of her husband. He sat on, apparently content to do so. When her voice ceased, he did not seem to notice. He appeared to be lost in thought to which no one had the clue.

Huldah sat as still as a mouse, never speaking, and hoping to escape being spoken to. Occasionally she placed a piece of coal or wood on the fire, but that was all. She could not see her aunt's face, but she thought at last she must be asleep, she was so still and quiet.

The silence, broken as it was only by the crackle of the fire, had begun to grow oppressive, when suddenly it was broken by a sound of singing, low, quivering, almost indistinct:-

"For the end-of my-journey-I see-

Many dear to my heart-over there

Are watching-and waiting for me.

Over-there, over-there-

I'll soon be-at-home-"

Tom Smith tried to draw away his hand, but his wife's hand clung to it, her voice died away. "Kiss me-Tom, won't you?" she gasped.

He stooped and kissed her. She lifted her hand to touch his cheek, but it fell back helpless. "Hark," she gasped-"the knocking! I-am coming-" then with one long deep sigh, her voice was still for ever.

A few moments later, Tom Smith stumbled down the stairs, and out into the darkness and away, never to be seen by Huldah again. She knew and realised nothing then, but that her Aunt Emma was dead, that all her dreams had ended, all her plans for the future were fruitless, that their living together was ended, her home broken up once more.

"She's had such a har

d life!" she sobbed. "And I thought I was going to make her so happy when she got about a bit again."

"But she never would have got about again, dear. She could never have got beyond these rooms, and I feel sure she would always have worried about her husband. She could never have gone about with him again, and she would have fretted at being left behind. She is happy now, brownie, and out of pain. No one who really loved her could wish her back again. Don't grieve so, Huldah dear. You made the last months of her life happier than any she had known."

"But I ran away and left her, and he beat her and Charlie for it, and-and-"

"Brownie, dear, if you want to do what would have pleased your aunt, you will forget all that. She loved him and forgave him everything, and she longed for others too to forget that he was ever anything but a kind husband."

Huldah was silent. She understood the feeling. It was what she wanted everyone to feel with regard to Aunt Emma,-to remember only what was good of her.

And she had her wish. The little group gathered in the churchyard a few days later remembered only her suffering and her sorrows, and the love which had lived through all, and many a pretty bunch of winter flowers and leaves and berries were laid on her grave by kindly, pitying hands. In the furthest corner of the little churchyard they laid her, in a corner where the sun rested, and where a hawthorn grew, in which a robin sang hopefully while they laid her to rest.

Huldah, standing by the grave-side while the beautiful words of the Burial Service were being read, thought of those other partings, so sad, so cruel,-oh, this was better than those, and not so complete. She could still feel that Aunt Emma was near her, and safe, and in the best of all keeping, at peace for ever and ever.

They thought it best that Huldah should not go back to the empty rooms again, and she was glad; so after the service was over she walked back to her old home once again, as though she had never left it, and the last few months had been but a dream. And it was all so like a dream that at the top of the lane she paused and looked about her, half bewildered. Could she be, she asked herself, the same Huldah who not so many months before had stood there a cowed, frightened, hunted thing, starving, exhausted, but minding nothing as long as-as what?

As long as she escaped from the two she had so lately parted with, with such an aching heart. She looked down over her black frock. She felt the sadness in her heart, the sense of loss. Could such changes really have come about, that now she was full of grief that she could never again see or hear the aunt she had so feared?

"Come home, dear; come home. I want you too, oh so badly!"

Aunt Martha's voice broke in on her thoughts, and brought her quickly back to the present. Aunt Martha's face was white and tired with cold and weariness. Huldah was filled with repentance.

"Oh, you're tired," she cried, remorsefully, "and chilled, and I'm keeping you standing here. Oh, Aunt Martha, I hope you haven't taken cold. We'll hurry now, and I'll make you a good fire, and some tea, and-and I am going to take care of you now, auntie, all the rest of my days, till I'm an old, old woman, and I'll never go and leave you any more, for it's plain to see, looking up at her half mischievously, you can't take care of yourself without me."

So, for the third time Huldah came back to Woodend Lane, and to Dick, who went nearly crazy with joy, and to the chickens, and garden and her basket-making; and this time she stayed, if not till she was an old woman, at any rate until someone big and strong and very fond of her, came and built a new cottage, to join Mrs. Perry's old one, and a new fowl's house on to the old one which Dick had guarded so well, that he earned for his little mistress and himself a home and friends for ever. And even then one could scarcely call it "leaving," for presently the wall which divided them was knocked down, and the two cottages were made one.

Huldah's basket-making business increased and increased, until at last she had to teach another little girl, that she might come and help her, and then another and another; and perhaps the proudest moment of her life was when she was able to buy the cottage she loved so much, and present it to her dearly-loved 'Aunt Martha' as a Christmas gift.

By that time Huldah, the little waif, who had earned for herself the name of "the Brownie," had made for herself so many friends, that when her wedding took place, so many wished to attend it, they had to borrow the field opposite for the wedding-feast. And where she had once sat and worked and dreamed of the future, there she sat now flushed, smiling and happy, cutting the wedding cake which old Dinah, with great pride, had made in the vicarage kitchen.

There she sat, with Dick close beside her, his old heart somewhat sad with fear of another parting, Aunt Martha opposite, divided between smiles and tears, and beside her her husband, who was not going to divide them, but bind them more securely together; and last, but not least, on Huldah's other hand sat Miss Rose,-no longer "Miss," but always "Miss Rose" to everyone in Woodend,-who, if Huldah had been the "brownie," had proved herself the fairy godmother, the best of guides and friends to those two who had strayed into her life that hot summer's morning years ago-those two poor loving, hungry, friendless waifs,-Dick and the Brownie.

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