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A Flower In The Wilderness

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Do yon ever judge, reader, of the character of the inmatfcs from the physiognomy of their houses ? I do. And when the stages swept round the corner I looked out eagerly, for as the driver had told me, about ten rods up the road stood the house of Philander White. His wife was my mother's own cousin, and I was just thirteen years old when I went there to make my first visit. There had been some quarrel between the two families two or three-score years anterior to my visit; and though my mother and Mrs. White never participated in thi's, the feud of their ancestors had doubtless involved some coldness between them. But to cut a long story short - for the pen and paper gossip may be more dignifled but not a vhit better than tea table scandal - I had been an invalid all the previous winter. When soft April days (to whieh my mother looked f orward so eagerly) came, they brought no bloom to my cheek, no vigor to my step. My constitution seemed to have lost all its recuperativo power; and the doctor said : " Send her into the country, Miss May. If that don't help her she is lost to you." Just before this Mrs. White had learned through a mutual friend of my ülness, and the very day of the blunt physician's ultimatum brought a letter to my mother. " For the sake of my old love," it read, "let all that may have come between you and me be lost in tho pleasure of better memories. The hills of Meado w Brook are clothed again with greenness, and now in this late May is the time for Jennie to poine to us. There íb a - '- IM' prophecy of health for her in the soft wind that lifts the edge of my paper as I write. We know she is your all, and we will be very tender of your darling. Will you not trust her for a single summer?" And before another week was passed my trunk was packed and niarked, "Philander White, Meado w Brook." I looked out, as I have eaid, and there sat the picasant white house, with its green window blinds, the shrubbery in front, and the cheïry trees beliind. My heart went out to it, and at once; and it did a moment later to the gentle-voiced woman and the fair, dark-haired girl who rushed out on the front steps and kisaed my cheek, said, "Oousin Jennie, you are very welcome." Butifr-is not all to teil you of that summer, though I look across the gray year to its picture in the Maryland of my memory that I have taken up my pen this morning. Sufflceit that the mountain breezes of Meadow Brook did their work well; and when in early autumn my mother came for her child, she could hardly identify the rosycheeked girl who rushed in with her curls dangling abouf her face" and held up her rosy lips for a kiss. I think it nrnst have been nearly two months after my domestication at Aunt Mary's- for so I cali my mother's cousin -when Únele Charlea Brace, her husband's brother, visited her. Ho was a minister, and Cora and I had anticipated the gentleman 's advent with anything but pleasant emotions. Our preconïeived notions of the clergyman's 3longated visage and solemn, puritanical nanner, which we reearded as necesaarv i concomitants of the profession, soon vanished bef ore the beautiful kindling of his smile and the winning gentleness of his manner. He was Uncle Phil's youngest brother and not more than twenty-eight at that time; and his religión had deepened and harmonized his fine poetic temperament without checking the outflow of tbat under-current of humor which sparkled through his character. Uncle Charles was soon our companion in our rides and rambles, and our confidant in our girlish Tplans. "Tou don't really mean so, TJncle Charlie," and Cora's bright face was lifted from the roses and geraniums we were weaving into the bouquet for the mantel. " You don't really, think what you just said, that in every heart there is a f ountain ; some blossom in the human wilderness of every soul." He put down his paper and came toward us. "Ihave not a doubt of it, my little girl. The story I was just reading of the hardened old man who cried because a child gave him a bunch of marigolds, corroborates my remark. The light that is in ns cannot quite become darkness ; the hearts that might bring forth a hundred-fold for harvests of heaven, will never becoine such deserls but some good seed will take root therein." "I don't believe it would, though, in Farmer Keep. Yoix don't know him as well as I do, Uncle Charlie. He's one of the richest men in all Meadow Brook ; ïe's worth thousands and thousands. ae great red house on mia iim i Woodbury, you remember. Well, he never goes to church ; he never loved % human being in his life. Now don't think Farmer Keep - why, Grandma Deane, how do you do?" The lady whose entrance put this sudden period to my cousin's peroration, came slowly toward the rocking chair. Cora drew it out for her. She was the oldest lady in the village. The hair under her 'cap, white as hillside snow, had imprisoned the sunshine of f ourscore and ten summers ; but she still retained much of the physical stamina which, with her active sentiment, had made her so vigorous a woman for many years. "What's tDaf you're saying, child, aboat Farmer Keep ?" said the old lady vvith a pleasant smile, as she pinned her knitting sheath to her waist. 'Why, I was telling Uncle Charlie what a cold, hard man he is. You've always known him, Grandma Deane, and now did he ever do a good thing or ever love anybody ia his life ?" " Yes, he loved a girl once, I think 1 remember." "Farmer Keep loved a girl once?" repeated Cora, with a half contemptous and wholly skeptical curl of her red lips. "She's forgotten," she added in an undertone to Uncle Charlie and me, for Grandma Deane was slightly deaf. " No, I haven't forgotten, neither," she said, placing her hand on Cora's hair; " I have held Lucy Eeid on my lap too often and rocked her eradle - poor, little motherless thing ! - too many times to have forgotten. Cora's look of incredulity was giving way to one of curiosity. "Grandma Deane, won't you teil ns all about it ? Jennie and I will sit down on the stool, and I know by that look in Uncle Charlie's eye, he wants to hear it, too. Come, let the flowers go, Jennie ;" and my vivacious cousin established herself at" the old lady's f eet. Grandma Deane elipped the yarn around her little finger and commeneed : "Letmesee. It cannot be more than forty-two or three years this summer sinee Justin Keep came up to Farmer Reid's to let himself out for the harvest boy, through harvesting. The Reid house stood a little this side of Stony Creeji. There is nothing left of it now except the chimney, and it looks out gray and cold from the grass all about it ; but forty years ago it was a fine old place, with 'lilaos, and the hop vines running all around the back. Lucy was hardly three weeks old when sho lost her mother. Her father never married again and the cbild grew up there in the old home as fair and sweet as the flowers about her. She was tumitig into fif teen when Justin came that summer. He was a shy, stronge sort of a lad, and the neigiibors said Farmer Beid would never get the salt for his porridgo out of him. He'd been bound out until he was eighteen to some man down in Maine, and he hadn't a relation in the world he knew of, nor a decent suit of clothes, when he came to Farmer Reid's house. But for all that, Justin proved a smart, likely boy ; and the farmer, who somehow was never very beforehanded - I always thought his wife's sudden doath hurt him- -found that Justin was a real prize. - T"C"7" T""T" " At first he waa gloomy and filent, doing his work and taking little notice of anybody. But he couldn't stand it long 'before Lucy. I wouldn't like to have the heart tbat that girl's smile wouldn't have thawed out. She was just like a bird around the old place, singing from morn till night, and her blue eyes, , that wero like her mother's, seemed to be sending out one laugh and lier lips another. ï never wondered her fathor doted on her as he did, and, of course, Justin wasn't long in the house before she tried to make friends with him. i " Poor feliow ! it must bave seemed very strango to liim at first, for I don't believe auybody had given him a kinc word until he carne to Meadow Brook But he made ladders for her flowering vines to run on, and got shells for the borders, and propped up tho dahlias, and did a thousand other things which took them out into the garden after supper, and made them the best of friends. "Lucy had a playful childish way about her that made her seem mueh yonnger than she was ; then she was small of her age, so that at ñfteen she did not seem a bit older than you are, Cora. " Wel!, she rode on top of Justin's hay cart and helped him husk corn in the barn, and pretty soon the farmer noticed a change in Justin. He got him a new suit of elothes, and his face lost its down look, and after harvesting Farmer Keid made him an offer to tarry all winter. So Justin stayed, taking Luey's advice, and went to the district school and, though he had no education before, he went ahead of many an older scholar that winter. Justin stayed with the farmer fonr years ; then he had a good offer somewhere in New York State, and concluded to stop for the winter only. "Lucy Keid had grown into a young woman by this time ; and a handsomer one, children, these dim eyes never looked upon. I don't know how it happened, for Lucy might have had her piek among the boys for miles around, but somehow she took to Justin, and when he left, they were engaged to be married one year f rom that time." "Why, Grandma Deane ! you ain't ?oing to stop now?" cried Cora in alarm, for the old lady had laid down her knitDing. " No, my child," sho said, movingher spectacles and wiping liereyes; "bul the rest is a sad story, and I must hurry over it. I don't exactly know how it happened, but that winter Lucy's father got into a terrible lawsuit with Squire Wheeler. There was some flaw in the title, and the people said it was plain the old man should let the homestead go. They said, too, he'll never survive it; and better perhaps, he never had, than kept it as he did ; but one day Squire Wheeler, to all the neighborhood's astonishment, rode over to the farm. " What he did there was never exactly known ; but in a little while it was rumored that the suit was withdrawn, and next spring Lucy Eeid was to be married to his son, Stillman Wheeler. And so it was. One bright March day she went to the old ohurch yonder and gave herself to him. He was a goodlooking man, but never over-smart, the neighbors whispered; and I always thought that it was his father's rnoney, more than anything else, that kept him up." "But Justin, Grandma Deane - what became of him?" "There is a dark look about the whole matter. Lucy was made the victim of some terrible ïalsehood. I never blamed her father, for the losing of the homestead seemed completely to shatter him. Ionlyknow that Squire Wheeler and tiis son were at the bottom of it, and n,t„T,iinv RM -woiit f,r thfi altar, be"Dear me, howdreadful! Did he ever come back %" "Yes, the next May. Lucy had been a wife two months. Justin had not heard of her marriage. She was at home visiting her father. When she flrst saw him she feil down like one stricken with a fit. But he carried her into the house and there learned all. Both had been deceived." "It was a terrible scène the old front room witnessed. Jubtin swore vengeance, and it was not till, with clasped hands and streaming eyes the young wife knelt to the only man she ever loved and pleaded for the lif e of her husband, that he promised for her sake to spare his life. But from the day of Justin's visit Lucy was a changed woruan. All the light and gladness of her being seemed dead in her. She moved about her house pale and quiet, with a look of patiënt suffering in her once sunny eyes that madt) my heart ache to behoïd." "And her husband - did she ever teil him what she had learned ?" " I thiak not. His father and Lucy's had died in less than two years after the marriage. The Squire was much less wealthy than was supposed. The next spring Lucy and her husband moved West, and somehow people lost sight of them. " "And Justin?" "You know the rest, my child. He became a moody, unhappy man, asking no sympathy and giving none. But he was always smart at a bargain and in a few years he laid up enough money to buy Deacon Platt's farm when his son went South. Ever since, he has added acres to bis lands and hundreds to the banks ; but for all that, he is a man soured toward all his race - a man who was never known to give a little child a smile or a beggar a crust of bread. I have sometimes thought his heart was like a desert, without a tree to shade or a stream to gladden it. And yet it bore a bright blossom once ; and believe me, children, for it is the word of an old woman who has seen and known much of the ways of man, it is always so. The heart may be a great wüderness, but in some of its by-ways there has grown a flower." Cora and I looked at each other and at Uncle Charlie. Just then Aunt Mary came in. She had been out and had not heard of Gradma Deane's visit. But Cora stole up to her uncle, and, winding her arms about his neck, whispered: "I shall believe it always, Unole Charlie, now I have heard the story of Parmer Keep, that there is a blossom in the wüderness of every heart." It was a sultry August day in the summer I passed at Meadow Brook. The wind, low and slumberous as the hush of a mother's voice at nightfall, crept up among the corn and down amongthe rye and wheatfields, that lay like broad green folds about the dwelliñg of Farmer Keep. There was no poem of flowers about the front yard ; no graceful, harmonizing touches of creeping vine or waving curtains about the old red homestead ; and yet it had a quiet, substantial, matter-of-fact physiognomy, that somehow made a home feeling about your heart. I think it must have been this unconscious feeling which decided the course of the girl who stood at the point where the roads diverge, and gazed wistfully about her that afternoon. She seemed very tired, and her coarse straw bonnet and calicó dress were covered with dust. If you had looked in her faco you would not have forgotten it. It could not have been more than fif teen summers. It was very pale, and its sweet, sad beauty made you think of nothingbut summer flowers drenched with miinmer rains. Her eyes were of that deep, moist blue that rolls out from uaUer tne edge of April clouds, and hei lips, ripe and full, had that touch of sorrowfulnessabout them, whioh tells you always the heart beneath is ful] of teara. The girl's hand clasped tightly the iittle boy 's by her side. The resemblanee between them would have told you at once they were brother and sister, but liis lifo could not have covered more than a third of hers. The little fellow's eyes were full of tears, and the bright curls that crept out froni his hat were damp with meinture. A few minutes later she opened the broad back gate, and went to the kitchen door. Farmer Keep 's housekeeper - an old woman with yellow nightcap, and check apron tied over her linsey wool skirt - answered her knock. "Do you want any help, or do you know of any round here that does?" timidly asked the girl. The old lady peered at her with dim eyes. "No," said she. "There ain't but four on us - Farmer Keep and the two hired men, and me. It's harvest timejust now, though, and I reckon you'd find a place in the village." "Thank you. Bennie, here, my little brother, is tired, for we walked from the depot. Can you let us come in and rest awhile?" "Sartin you can." The sight of the child touched the ïeart of the woman, and they went into .he large kitchen, and sat down in the lag-bottomed chairs, while, with a glowïng cheek, the girl cast about in her mind for the best manner in whicn to present her petition for food. Befoie she had decided the master of the house suddenly entered the kitehen, for it was nearly dinner time. He was a large, muscular, chested, sun-burned man, with a hard, gloomy expression on his face, where fifty years were now beginning to write th'eir history. He s;ood stillwith surprise, gazing on the new occnpants of the kitchen ; and the boy drew close to his sister, and the girl threw up a timid, frightened glance into the gloomy face. "You don't know of anybody here that wants a little help, do ye,' farmer ?" asked the woman. "Here's a little girl that wants a place, and as she's walked from the depot, I told her she might come in and rest a bit before she went up into the village to try her luck !" "No," shortly answered the farmer - "Dinner ready?" And the rich man turned away -without one gentle or küid look for two homeless children whom God had brought to his door. "Lucy, Lucy, don't stay here. I'm afraid." And the little boy's lip curled and quivered as he turned his face from the farmer's. "Lucy, Lucy," how those little, trembling tones went down, down, down, into the m an's hard heart ! How the dead ! days of his youth burst out of their graves, ind rushed through his memory at that low, broken, " Lucy, Lucy !" He turnsd and looked at the girl ; not sourly, as before, but with a kind and eager questiouing interest. " What's your name ?" "Lucy Wheeler, sir." He staggered back and caught hold of ;he nearest chair. " And what was your ;o get work ; she tola me kt Deiurc nao died." At that moment the angels looked down and saw the seed that had lain for two-score years in the heart of Justin Keep, spring up, and the fiower blossom in the wilderness. He strode across the I kitchen to the bewildered girl. He brushed back her bonnet and turned her face to the light. He coiild not be mistaken. It was the one framed and hung in the darkened room of his soul. The blue eyes of Lucy looked again in his own. At that moment the little boy pushed ifl between them, and gazed wistfully in the man's face. Farmer Keep sat down and took the child in his arms. He tried to speak, but, instead, great sobs carne and heaved his strong chest. The trio in the kitchen gazed at them in mute astonishment. "Lucy 's children, Lucy 's children !" he murmured at last, in a voice whose tenderness was like that of a mother. " God has sentyou to me. For her sake tilia shall be your home. For her sake I will be a father to you." Five years af ter, Cora wrote to me : " We are having une times now_. dear Cousin Jennie, and ma a ma wants to know if you do not need to renew your cheeks among the dews of Meadow Brook. Uncle Oharlie is with us, and if you were also, our happiness would be complete. " Lucy Wheeler - you remember hef - has the place in my heart next to yours. Her disposition is as lovely as her face, and that is saying a great deal, for its sweet beauty does one good to behold it. Farmer Keep seems to idolize her and Bennie. He is a charming man now. He goes to church regularly every Sftbbath. He spares no pains or expense in Lucy's education, and she will be an accomplished woman. She is here very of ten, and I have suspicions that Uncle Oharlie - but no matter, I will not trust this to you and paper. " But now, Jennie, what a lesson has all this taught me. How has it deepenedmy faith in God and humanity. Now when my heart yearns over the wretched, sinning outcast, I remember always that there is a flowor in the wilderness.


Old News
Michigan Argus