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   Chapter 1 UNWELCOME NEWS.

Thankful Rest By Annie S. Swan Characters: 7382

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


It was the prettiest homestead in all the township, everybody said, and it had the prettiest name. It stood a mile or so beyond Pendlepoint on the farther side of the river, from which it was separated by a broad meadow, where in the summer time the sleek kine stood udder-deep in cowslips and clover.

It was a long, low, comfortable-looking house, hidden by lovely creeping plants, and sheltered at the back by the old elm trees in the paddock, and at the front by the apple trees in the orchard. Perhaps it was because it had such a snug, cosy, restful look about it that it had been queerly christened Thankful Rest. The land adjoining the homestead was rich and fertile, and brought in every year a crop worth a goodly competence to its possessors. The family at Thankful Rest consisted of two people-Joshua Strong and his sister Hepzibah. You are to make their acquaintance immediately, but a remark made once by old Reuben Waters, their next neighbour, may perhaps give you an idea of their characters better than any long description of mine:-

"For crankiness and nearness, and unneighbourly sourness, give me Josh Strong and his sister Hepsy. They can't be equalled, I bet, in all Connecticut."

You will be able to judge by-and-by of the correctness of Reuben's estimate. On a lovely August afternoon Miss Hepzibah Strong was ironing in the kitchen at Thankful Rest. I wish you could have seen that kitchen; your eyes would have ached with its painful cleanliness. The stone flags were as cool and clean as water and hands could make them; the stove shone like burnished silver; the dresser and the table, at which Miss Hepzibah was at work, were white as snow; and the array of tins on the wall was perfectly dazzling with brightness. The wide diamond-paned casement stood open to admit what little air happened to be abroad that sultry afternoon. How pleasant it was, to be sure, to look out upon the flower-laden garden; upon the sunny orchard, rich and golden with its precious harvest; upon the silver thread of the river winding through the green meadow beyond; and to see and feel all the loveliness with which God had clothed the world. But Miss Hepzibah had no eyes for any of the beauties I have mentioned; she was intent upon her work, and hung on the clothes-horse piece after piece of stiff, spotless linen, which, as she could boast, could not be equalled in the township. Miss Hepzibah herself was not a pretty picture. She was a woman of thirty-five or thereabouts; with a thin, brown, hard-looking face; sharp, twinkling gray eyes; and a long, grim, resolute mouth. She wore a short skirt of dark material, a lilac calico jacket, and a huge white apron. On ordinary occasions her head was adorned by a cap of fearful workmanship and dimensions, but in the heat of her work she had thrown it off, and her scanty brown hair was fastened tightly back in a cue behind.

Just as the old eight-day clock in the lobby solemnly struck four, there was a loud knock at the back door, and the post-messenger from Pendlepoint strode into the kitchen, holding in his hand a black-edged letter.

"Bad news for ye, Miss Hepsy, I doubt," he said. "It'll be from your sister in Newhaven, I reckon."

Miss Hepzibah took the black-edged letter coolly in her hand, eyed it stolidly for a second, and then laid it on the table. "Sit down a minute, Ebenezer, an' I'll bring ye a glass of cider," she said.

And Ebenezer saw her depart to the larder nothing loath. But if he thought Miss Hepsy meant to open the letter and confide its contents to him he was mistaken, for she pushed it aside and went on with her ironing. So after being briefly rested and refreshed, he we

nt his way, bidding her a surly good-afternoon. Still the letter lay untouched upon the table till the last collar was hung on the horse, the irons set on the flags to cool, and the blanket folded in the dresser. Then Miss Hepsy broke the seal, and read without change of expression what ought to have been a sorrowful intimation to her, the news of the death of her younger and only sister, who had married and been left a widow in Newhaven. But before Miss Hepsy had read to the end, her expression did change, and she exclaimed, "Wal, if this ain't about the humbugginest fix. Hetty's boy and gal got to come here-nowhere else to go. Wonder what Josh'll say?"

Miss Hepsy sat down, and, crossing her long hands on her lap, remained deep in thought till the old clock struck again, five this time. Then she sprang to her feet, whisked the letter into the table drawer, and fetching out baking-board and flour-basin, proceeded to make dough for a supper cake. It was barely ready when her brother came in at six, and he looked slightly surprised to see no signs of the supper on the table.

"I've had a letter from Newhaven, Josh," Miss Hepsy said abruptly. "Hetty's dead; you won't be surprised to hear, I suppose. It's from her minister; and he says you've got to come up right away and see about things, an' fetch back the boy and gal with you. They've got nowhere else to go, he says, an' we're their nearest kinsfolk. I got thinkin' it over, and forgot my work, like a fool."

Joshua Strong's grim face grew grimmer, if possible, as he listened to his sister's words. He reached out his hand for the letter she had taken from the drawer, and slowly spelt it to the end.

"There ain't anything for it but grin and bear it, Hepsy," he said. "Though I don't see what business folks has marryin' an' dyin' an' leavin' their children to poor folks to keep. It'll be a mighty difference to expense havin' other two mouths to feed an' backs to clothe."

"An' what I'm to make of two fine gentry children, as Hetty's are sure to be, round all the time, I don't know," said Miss Hepsy, whisking off a griddle cake with unnecessary vigour. "I declare Hetty might have had more sense than think we could do with 'em. I'm rare upset about it, I can tell ye."

"It doesn't say what she died o'," said Joshua meditatively, twirling the letter in his brown fingers.

"Died o'?" repeated Miss Hepsy tartly. "Why, of pinin' arter that husband o' her'n. What's her fine scholar done for her now, I wonder? Left her a lone widder to die off and leave penniless children to other folks to keep. But I'll warrant they'll work for their meat at Thankful Rest. I'll have no stuck-up idle notions here."

"How am I to get to Newhaven jes' now, I'd like to know," said Joshua, "and all that corn waitin' to be stacked? It's clean beyond me."

Miss Hepsy thought a moment. "I have it. Miss Goldthwaite was here to-day, an' she said the parson was goin' to Newhaven to-morrow to stay a day or two. We'll get him to see to things an' bring the children down. I'll go to Pendlepoint whenever I've got my supper, an' ask him. Here, ask the grace quick an' let's be hurryin'," she said; and before the few mumbled words had fallen from Joshua's lips, Miss Hepsy was well through with her first cup of tea!

At that moment, in a darkened chamber in a quiet city street, two orphan children clung to each other weeping, wondering fearfully to see so white, and cold, and still, the sweet face which had been wont to smile upon them as only a mother can.

They wept, but the days were at hand when they would realize more bitterly than now what they had lost, and how utterly they were left alone.

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