« ZurückWeiter »
prayer, that she might be kept pure from the world's contact. There beside the remains of her last dear earthly friend, as it were before going out of his sight forever, little Fleda knelt down to set the seal of faith and hope to his wishes, and to lay the constraining hand of Memory upon her conscience. It was soon done,—and then there was but one thing more to do. But oh, the tears that fell as she stood there! before she could go on; how the little hands were pressed to the bowed face, as if they would have borne up the load they could not reach; the convulsive struggle, before the last look could be taken, the last good-by said ! But the sobs were forced back, the hands wiped off the tears, the quivering features were bidden into some degree of calmness; and she leaned forward, over the loved face that in death had kept all its wonted look of mildness and placid dignity. It was in vain to try to look through Fleda’s blinded eyes; the hot tears dropped fast, while her trembling lips kissed--and kissed,—those cold and silent that could make no return; and then feeling that it was the last, that the parting was over, she stood again by the side of the bed as she had done a few minutes before, in a convulsion of grief, her face bowed down and her little frame racked with feeling too strong for it; shaken visibly, as if too frail to bear the trial to which it was put.
Mr. Carleton had waited and waited, as he thought long enough, and now at last came in again, guessing how it was with her. He put his arm round the child and gently drew her away, and sitting down took her on his knee; and endeavoured rather with actions than with words to soothe and comfort her; for he did not know what to say. But his gentle delicate way, the soft touch with which he again stroked back her hair or took her hand, speaking kindness and sympathy, the loving pressure of his lips once or twice to her brow, the low tones in which he told her that she was making herself sick,—that she must not do so,—that she must let him take care of her,--were powerful to soothe or quiet a sensitive mind, and Fleda felt them. It was a very difficult task, and if undertaken by any one else would have been more likely to disgust and distress her. But his spirit had taken the measure of hers, and he knew precisely how to temper every word and tone so as just to meet the nice sensibilities of her nature. He had said hardly any thing, but she had understood all he meant to say, and when he told her at last, softly, that it was getting late and she must let him take her away, she made no more difficulty; rose up and let him lead her out of the room without once turning her head to look back.
Mrs. Carleton looked relieved that there was a prospect of getting away, and rose up with a happy adjusting of her shawl round her shoulders. Aunt Miriam came forward to say good-by, but it was very quietly said. Fleda clasped her round the neck convulsively for an instant, kissed her as if a kiss could speak a whole heartful, and then turned submissively to Mr. Carleton and let him lead her to the carriage.
There was no fault to be found with Mrs. Carleton's kindness when they were on the way. She held the forlorn little child tenderly in her arm, and told her how glad she was to have her with them, how glad she should be if she were going to keep her always; but her saying so only made Fleda cry, and she soon thought it best to say nothing. All the rest of the way Fleda was a picture of resignation ; transparently pale, meek and pure, and fragile seemingly, as the delicatest wood-flower that grows. Mr. Carleton looked grieved, and leaning forward he took one of her hands in his own and held it affectionately till they got to the end of their journey. It marked Fleda's feeling towards him that she let it lie there without making a motion to draw it away. She was so still for the last few miles that her friends thought she had fallen asleep; but when the carriage stopped and the light of the lantern was flung in. side, they saw the grave hazel eyes broad open and gazing intently out of the window.
“ You will order tea for us in your dressing-room, mother ?" said Mr. Carleton.
6: Us—who is vs ?”
“ Fleda and me,-unless you will please to make one of the party.”
“Certainly I will, but perhaps Fleda might like it better down stairs. Wouldn't you, dear ?" * If you please, ma'am," said Fleda.
4 Wherever you please.
“But which would you rather, Fleda ?" said Mr. Carleton.
“I would rather have it up-stairs," said Fleda gently, 66 but it's no matter."
“ We will have it up stairs,” said Mrs. Carleton. “We will be a nice little party up there by ourselves. You shall not come down till you like.”
“ You are hardly able to walk up," said Mr. Carleton tenderly.
“ Shall I carry you ?" The tears rushed to Fleda's eyes, but she said no, and managed to mount the stairs, though it was evidently an exertion. Mrs. Carleton's dressing-room, as her son had called it, looked very pleasant when they got there. It was well lighted and warmed and something answering to curtains had been summoned from its obscurity in storeroom or garret and hung up at the windows, 6 them air fussy English folks had made such a pint of it," the landlord said. Truth was, that Mr. Carleton as well as his mother wanted this room as a retreat for the quiet and -privacy which travelling in company as they did they could have nowhere else. Everything the hotel could furnish in the shape of comfort had been drawn together to give this room as little the look of a public house as possible. Easy chairs, as Mrs. Carleton remarked with a disgusted face, one could not expect to find in a country inn; there were instead as many as half a dozen of “those miserable substitutes" as she called rocking-chairs, and sundry fashions of couches and sofas, in various degrees of elegance and convenience. The best of these, a great chintz-covered thing, full of pillows, stood invitingly near the bright fire. There Mr. Carleton placed little Fleda, took off her bonnet and things, and piled the cushions about her just in the way that would make her most easy and comfortable. He said little, and she nothing, but her eyes watered again at the kind tenderness of his manner. And then he left her in peace till the tea came.
The tea was made in that room for those three alone. Fleda knew that Mr. and Mrs. Carleton staid up there only for her sake, and it troubled her, but she could not help it. Neither could she be very sorry so far as one of them was concerned. Mr. Carleton was too good to be wished away. All that evening his care of her never ceased.
which the poor child would hardly have shared but for him, and after tea, when in the absence of bustle she had leisure to feel more fully her strange circumstances and position, he hardly permitted her to feel either, doing everything for her ease and pleasure and quietly managing at the same time to keep back his mother's more forward and less happily adapted tokens of kind feeling. Though she knew he was constantly occupied with her Fleda could not feel oppressed; his kindness was as pervading and as unobtrusive as the summer air itself; she felt as if she was in somebody's hands that knew her wants before she did, and quietly supplied or prevented them, in a way she could not tell how. It was very rarely that she even got a chance to utter the quiet and touching“ thank you,” which invariably answered every token of kindness or thoughtfulness that .permitted an answer. How greatly that harsh and sad day was softened to little Fleda's heart by the good feeling and fine breeding of one person. She thought when she went to bed that night, thought seriously and gratefully, that since she must go over the ocean and take that long journey to her aunt, how glad she was, how thankful she ought to be, that she had so very kind and pleasant people to go with. Kind and pleasant she counted them both; but what more she thought of Mr. Carleton it would be hard to say.
Her admiration of him was very high, appreciating as she did to the full all that charm of manner which she could neither analyze nor describe.
Her last words to him that night, spoken with a most wistful anxious glance into his face, were,
* You will take me back again, Mr. Carleton ?"
“ Whatever Guy promises you may be very sure he will do," said his mother with a smile.
Fleda believed it. But the next morning it was very plain that this promise he would not be called upon to performn; Fleda would not be well enough to go to the funeral. She was able indeed to get up, but she lay all day upon the sofa in the dressing-room." Mr. Carleton had bargained for no company last night; to-day female curiosity could stand it nolonger; and Mrs. Thorn and Mrs. Evelyn came up
to look and gossip openly and to admire and comment privately, when they had a chance, Fleda lay perfectly quiet and still, seeming not much to notice or care for their presence; they thought she was tolerably easy in body and mind, perhaps tired and sleepy, and like to do well enough after a few days. How little they knew!
How little they knew! How little they could imagine the assembly of Thought which was holding in that child's mind; how little they deemed of the deep, sad, serious look into life which that little spirit was taking. How far they were from fancying while they were discussing all manner of trifles before her, sometimes when they thought her sleeping, that in the intervals between sadder and weighter things her nice instincts were taking the gauge of all their characters; unconsciously, but surely ; how they might have been ashamed if they had known that while they were busy with all affairs in the universe but those which most nearly concerned them, the little child at their side whom they had almost forgotten was secretly looking up to her Father in heaven, and asking to be kept pure from the world! “Not unto the wise and prudent; how strange it may seem in one view of the subject-in another, how natural, how beautiful, how reasonable !
Fleda did not ask again to be taken to Queechy. But as the afternoon drew on she turned her face away from the company and shielded it from view among the cushions, and lay in that útterly motionless state of body which betray's a concentrated movement of the spirits in some hidden direction. To her companions it betrayed nothing. They only lowered their tones a little lest they should disturb her.
It had grown dark, and she was sitting up again, leaning against the pillows and in her usual quietude, when Mr. Carleton came in. They had not seen him since before dinner. He came to her side and taking her hand made some gentle inquiry how she was.
“She has had a fine rest,” said Mrs. Evelyn.
" She has been sleeping all the afternoon,” said Mrs. Carleton,--"she lay as quiet as a mouse, without stirring ; ---you were sleeping, weren't you, dear ?"
Fleda's lips hardly formed the word “no," and her features were quivering sadly. Mr. Carleton's were impene. trable.