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UEECHY was reached at night. Fleda had promised
herself to be off almost with the dawn of light the next morning to see aunt Miriam, but a heavy rain kept her fast at home the whole day. It was very well; she was wanted there.
Despite the rain and her disappointment it was impossible for Fleda to lie abed from the time the first grey light began to break in at her windows,--those old windows that had rattled their welcome to her all night. She was up and dressed and had had a long consultation with herself over matters and prospects, before anybody else had thought of leaving the indubitable comfort of a feather bed for the doubtful contingency of happiness that awaited them down stairs. Fleda took in the whole length and breadth of it, half wittingly and half through some finer sense than that of the understanding.
The first view of things could not strike them pleasantly; it was not to be, looked for. The doors did not happen to be painted blue; they were a deep chocolate colour ; doors and wainscot. The fireplaces were not all furnished with cranes, but they were all uncouthly wide and deep. Now body would have thought them so indeed in the winter, when piled up with blazing hickory logs, but in summer they yawned uncomfortably upon the eye. The ceilings were low; the walls rough papered or rougher white, washed; the sashes not hung; the rooms, otherwise well enough proportioned, stuck with little cupboards, in recesses and corners and out of the way places, in a style impertinently suggestive of housekeeping, and fitted to shock any symmetrical set of nerves. The old house had undergone a thorough putting in order, it is true; the chocolate paint was just dry, and the paper hangings freshly put up; and the bulk of the new furniture had been sent on before and unpacked, though not a single article of it was in its right place. The house was clean and tight, that is, as tight as it ever was. But the colour had been unfortunately chosen ---perhaps there was no help for that;--the paper was very coarse and countryfied; the big windows were startling they looked so bare, without any manner of drapery; and the long reaches of wall were unbroken by mirror or pictureframe. And this to eyes trained to eschew ungracefulness and that abhorred a vacuum as much as nature is said to do! Even Fleda felt there was something disagreeable in the change, though it reached her more through the channel of other people's sensitiveness than her own. To her it was the dear old house still, though her eyes had seen better things since they loved it. No corner or recess could have a pleasanter filling, to her fancy, than the old brown cupboard or shelves which had always been there. But what would her uncle say to them! and to that dismal paper ! and what would aunt Lucy think of those rattling windowsashes ! this cool raw day too, for the first !
Think as she might Fleda did not stand still to think. She had gone softly all over the house, taking a strange look at the old places and the images with which memory filled them, thinking of the last time, and many a time before that;--and she had at last come back to the sitting-room, long before anybody else was down stairs; the two tired servants were just rubbing their eyes open in the kitchen and speculating themselves awake. Leaving them, at their peril, to get ready a decent breakfast, (by the way she grudged them the old kitchen) Fleda set about trying what her wand could do towards brightening the face of affairs in the other part of the house. It was quite cold enough for a fire, luckily. She ordered one made, and meanwhile busied herself with the various stray packages and articles of wearing apparel that lay scattered about giving the whole place a look of discomfort. Fleda gathered them up and bestowed them in one or two of the impertinent cupboards, and then undertook the labour of carrying out all the wrong furniture that had got into the breakfast-room and bringing in that which really belonged there from the hall and the parlour beyond; moving like a mouse that she might not disturb the people up stairs. A quarter of an hour was spent in arranging to the best advantage these various pieces of furniture in the room; it was the very same in which Mr. Carleton and Charlton Rossitur had been received the memorable day of the roast pig dinner, but that was not the uppermost association in Fleda’s mind. Satisfied at last that a happier effect could not be produced with the given materials, and well pleased too with her success, Fleda turned to the fire. It was made, but not by any means doing its part to encourage the other portions of the room to look their best. Fleda knew something of wood fires from old times; she laid hold of the tongs, and touched and loosened and coaxed a stick here and there, with a delicate hand, till, seeing the very opening it had wanted,---without which neither fire nor hope can keep its activity,--the blaze sprang up energetically, crackling through all the piled oak and hickory and driving the smoke clean out of sight. Fleda had done her work. It would have been a misanthropical person indeed that could have come into the room then and not felt his face brighten. One other thing remained, -setting the breakfast table; and Fleda would let no hands but hers do it this morning; she was curious about the setting of tables. How she remembered or divined where everything had been stowed; how quietly and efficiently her little fingers unfastened hampers and pried into baskets, without making any noise; till all the breakfast paraphernalia of silver, china, and table-linen was found, gathered from various receptacles, and laid in most exquisite order on the table. State street never saw better. Fleda stood and looked at it then, in immense satisfaction, seeing that her uncle's eye would miss nothing of its accustomed gratification. To her the old room, shining with firelight and new furniture, was perfectly charming. If those great windows were staringly bright, health and cheerfulness seemed to look in at them. And what other images of association, with “nods and becks and wreathed smiles," looked at her out of the curling flames in the old wide fireplace! And one other angel stood there unseen,--the one whose errand it is to see fulfilled the promise, “Give and it shall be given to you; full measure, and pressed down, and heaped up, and running over."
A little while Fleda sat contentedly eying her work; then a new idea struck her and she sprang up. In the next meadow, only one fence between, a little spring of purest water ran through from the woodland; water cresses used to grow there. Uncle Rolf was very fond of them. It was pouring with rain, but no matter. Her heart beating between haste and delight, Fleda slipped her feet into galoches and put an old cloak of Hugh's over her head, and ran out through the kitchen, the old accustomed way. The servants exclaimed and entreated, but Fleda only flashed a bright look at them from under her cloak as she opened the door, and ran off, over the wet grass, under the fence, and over half the meadow, till she came to the stream. She was getting a delicious taste of old times, and though the spring water was very cold and with it and the rain one half of each sleeve was soon thoroughly wetted, she gathered her cresses and scampered back with a pair of eyes and cheeks that might have struck any city belle chill with envy.
“Then but that's a sweet girl!” said Mary the cook to Jane the housemaid.
“A lovely countenance she has," answered Jane, who was refined in her speech.
“Take her away and you've taken the best of the house, I'm a thinking.
“Mrs. Rossitur is a lady,” said Jane in a low voice.
“Ay, and a very proper-behaved one she is, and him the same, that is, for a gentleman I maan; but Jane! I say, I'm thinking he'll have eat too much sour bread lately! I wish I knowed how they'd have their eggs boiled, till I'd have 'em ready."
“Sure it's on the table itself they'll do 'em,” said Jane. “They've an elegant little fixture in there for the purpose.”
66 Is that it ! Nobody found out how busy Fleda's wand had been in the old breakfast room. But she was not disappointed; she had not worked for praise. Her cresses were appreciated; that was enough. She enjoyed her breakfast, the only one of the party that did. Mr. Rossitur looked moody; his wife looked anxious; and Hugh's face was the reflection of theirs. If Fleda’s face reflected anything it was the sunlight of heaven.
6. How sweet the air is after New York !" said she.
They looked at her. There was a fresh sweetness of another kind about that breakfast-table. They all felt it, and breathed more freely. “Delicious cresses !” said Mrs. Rossitur.
Yes, I wonder where they came from,” said her husband. “Who got them ?" “I guess Fleda knows,” said Hugh.
* They grow in a little stream of spring water over here in the meadow," said Fleda demurely.
“Yes, but you don't answer my question,” said her uncle, putting his hand under her chin and smiling at the blushing face he brought round to view ;--- Who got them ?"
“Don't you repeat that experiment, Fleda," said he seriously, but with a look that was a good reward to her nevertheless.
“ It is a raw day!" said Mrs. Rossitur, drawing her shoulders together as an ill-disposed window sash gave one of its admonitory shakes.
“What little panes of glass for such big windows !” said Hugh.
“ But what a pleasant prospect through them,” said Fleda,—“look, Hugh!-worth all the Batteries and Parks in the world."
“ In the world !-in New York you mean," said her uncle. “Not better than the Champs Elysées ?"
“Better to me," said Fleda.