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   Chapter 2 SORTES.

Faith Gartney's Girlhood By A. D. T. Whitney Characters: 6803

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


"How shall I know if I do choose the right?"

"Since this fortune falls to you,

Be content, and seek no new."

Merchant of Venice.

"Now, Mahala Harris," said Faith, as she glanced in at the nursery door, which opened from her room, "don't let Hendie get up a French Revolution here while I'm gone to dinner."

"Land sakes! Miss Faith! I don't know what you mean, nor whether I can help it. I dare say he'd get up a Revolution of '76, over again, if he once set out. He does train like 'lection, fact, sometimes."

"Well, don't let him build barricades with all the chairs, so that I shall have to demolish my way back again. I'm going to lay out my dress for to-night."

And very little dinner could her young appetite manage on this last day of the year. All her vital energy was busy in her anticipative brain, and glancing thence in sparkles from her eyes, and quivering down in swift currents to her restless little feet. It mattered little that there was delicious roast beef smoking on the table, and Christmas pies arrayed upon the sideboard, while upstairs the bright ribbon and tiny, shining, old-fashioned buckles were waiting to be shaped into rosettes for the new slippers, and the lace hung, half basted, from the neck of the simple but delicate silk dress, and those lovely greenhouse flowers stood in a glass dish on her dressing table, to be sorted for her hair, and into a graceful breast knot. No-dinner was a very secondary and contemptible affair, compared with these.

There were few forms or faces, truly, that were pleasanter to look upon in the group that stood, disrobed of their careful outer wrappings, in Mrs. Rushleigh's dressing room; their hurried chat and gladsome greetings distracted with the drawing on of gloves and the last adjustment of shining locks, while the bewildering music was floating up from below, mingled with the hum of voices from the rooms where, as children say, "the party had begun" already.

And Mrs. Rushleigh, when Faith paid her timid respects in the drawing-room at last, made her welcome with a peculiar grace and empressement that had their own flattering weight and charm; for the lady was a sort of St. Peter of fashion, holding its mystic keys, and admitting or rejecting whom she would; and culled, with marvelous tact and taste, the flower of the up-growing world of Mishaumok to adorn "her set."

After which, Faith, claimed at once by an eager aspirant, and beset with many a following introduction and petition, was drawn to and kept in the joyous whirlpool of the dance, till she had breathed in enough of delight and excitement to carry her quite beyond the thought even of ices and oysters and jellies and fruits, and the score of unnamable luxuries whereto the young revelers were duly summoned at half past ten o'clock.

Four days' anticipation-four hours' realization-culminated in the glorious after-supper midnight dance, when, marshaled hither and thither by the ingenious orders of the band, the jubilant company found itself, just on the impending stroke of twelve, drawn out around the room in one great circle; and suddenly a hush of the music, at the very poising instant of time, left them motionless for a moment to burst out again in the age-honored and heartwarming strains of "Auld Lang Syne." Hand joining hand they sang its chorus, and when the last note had lingeringly died away, one a

fter another gently broke from their places, and the momentary figure melted out with the dying of the Year, never again to be just so combined. It was gone, as vanishes also every other phase and grouping in the kaleidoscope of Time.

"Now is the very 'witching hour' to try the Sortes!"

Margaret Rushleigh said this, standing on the threshold of a little inner apartment that opened from the long drawing-room, at one end.

She held in her hand a large and beautiful volume-a gift of Christmas Day.

"Here are Fates for everybody who cares to find them out!"

The book was a collection of poetical quotations, arranged by numbers, and to be chosen thereby, and the chance application taken as an oracle.

Everything like fortune telling, or a possible peering into the things of coming time, has such a charm! Especially with them to whom the past is but a prelude and beginning, and for whom the great, voluminous Future holds enwrapped the whole mystic Story of Life!

"No, no, this won't do!" cried the young lady, as circle behind circle closed and crowded eagerly about her. "Fate doesn't give out her revelations in such wholesale fashion. You must come up with proper reverence, one by one."

As she spoke, she withdrew a little within the curtained archway, and, placing the crimson-covered book of destiny upon an inlaid table, brought forward a piano stool, and seated herself thereon, as a priestess upon a tripod.

A little shyly, one after another, gaining knowledge of what was going on, the company strayed in from without, and, each in turn hazarding a number, received in answer the rhyme or stanza indicated; and who shall say how long those chance-directed words, chosen for the most part with the elastic ambiguity of all oracles of any established authority, lingered echoing in the heads and hearts of them to whom they were given-shaping and confirming, or darkening with their denial many an after hope and fear?

Faith Gartney came up among the very last.

"How many numbers are there to choose from?" she asked.

"Three hundred and sixty-five. The number of days in the year."

"Well, then, I'll take the number of the day; the last-no, I forgot-the first of all."

Nobody before had chosen this, and Margaret read, in a clear, gentle voice, not untouched with the grave beauty of its own words, and the sweet, earnest, listening look of the young face that bent toward her to take them in:

"Rouse to some high and holy work of love,

And thou an angel's happiness shalt know;

Shalt bless the earth while in the world above;

The good begun by thee while here below

Shall like a river run, and broader flow."

Ten minutes later, and all else were absorbed in other things again-leave-takings, parting chat, and a few waltzing a last measure to a specially accorded grace of music. Faith stood, thoughtfully, by the table where the book was closed and left. She quietly reopened it at that first page. Unconscious of a step behind her, her eyes ran over the lines again, to make their beautiful words her own.

"And that was your oracle, then?" asked a kindly voice.

Glancing quickly up, while the timid color flushed her cheek, she met a look as of a wise and watchful angel, though it came through the eye and smile of a gray-haired man, who laid his hand upon the page as he said:

"Remember-it is conditional."

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