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After The Fire

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Tlie fire, from which we dflto ta tiie 'amüy, it beiog the. preft 'evbnt therein or years, seemed t the time it occmred ;he climax of a series of misfortunes that ad been falling for flve years upon our evoted heads. First, we lost a dear fatlier, who left he family already mentkmed, üaöiely, namma, Meta, FrethÜO and myseif. Meta was but 14 when fatlier died, 1 12, nd Freddie but 3 years of age. There waa no money for us after the business was closed, and mamma tkankfully aoepted an offer of her Uncle Gordon's to )e his housekeeper; and so secure a home or all of us. Such a home ! Uncle Gordoü Crofts was a man nearly 70, strong and Vigorus, with a most nngoVernable temper, miserly and suspiöious, who had üved lone for aböut forty years. What suden spasm of generoRity made him open je doors of his wretched, tumble-down ld house to us, we Bever knew; but certainly he repented the arrangement as oon as his proposal was accepted. Not one meal passed our líps thát we were not reminded of its oost; not an artiole of our poor olothing was renewed without deep groans over our extravaance, and we were put out at once - íleta and myseif - to learn trades, I béng apprenticed to a inüliner. Meta ío a ookbinder. I know now that scant as our wages were they really oovered the expense of ur poor food and worse lodging ; but n those days we were too young and nexperienced to venture to dispute our nole's oft-repeated assertion that we were "eating him out of house and ïome. " As for poor mamma, with all ie housework, sewing, washing and ooking upon her hands, surely she arned the little slie spent. But in spite of our poverty and hard work, Meta blossomed from a thin, awky girl into a maiden beautiful, modest and tender, a sweet flower amidst ur thorns. I was never even pretty, nd I fairly worshiped Meta's golden urls, soft, brown eyes, and clear eom)lexion. She was slender, not very tal], jut graceful in every gentle movement. When Brent Ellin discovered Meta's ttraotions she was 18, and still working t her trade in the bindery, which Jrent's father owned. Another trouble ollowed quickly upon this little romance, for old John iillis, after storinng and raging like a maniac at the preumption of one of the "hands" in aring to be eufficiently attractivo to wia the love of the son and heir of his lagnificence, dismissed Meta at an lour's notice. As he owned the only book-bindery stabïishment in the town, and Meta mew no other trade, affairs looked black nough for us. Brent himself was as true as steel, and wanted Meta to marry him at once, omising every devotion of whioh true ove is capable. But, in spite of her ;entleness, Meta had some pride, and with quiet dignity refused to enter any amily where she was unwelcome. lother, too, at this crisis, informed 5rent that his visits had better cease, nd Meta did not speak one word of issent. I stormed, of course. I always do torm when I am angry, but nobody ver carne round to my opinión, no mater how I raved, and John Ellis certainly id cot. To be sure, he did not hear me, or that might have made some diference. Midwinter found us in this strait. Heta out of employment, holping mother about the house, and patiently earing Uncle Gordon's sneers at her dleness and ñne-lady airs; I trimming ïats and meekly handing over my wages o our uncle; Freddie still at the townchool, but with an apprenticeship ooming ia the spring. In January Uncle Gordon was taken U, the first serious sickness of his life. Ie roidd have no doctor till absolutely orced to cali one in, by increasing pain and weakness, and, when the long-deayed examination was over, it proved to have been made too late. In just oue month a'ter his flrst pain our uncle died, leaviug a brief will conferring all his property, the house included, upon our mother, his "wellovod niece, Sarah Morton." But where -was the property ? Not a dollar was deposited in the bank, not an inch of real estáte was held in hia name, save the miserable lot of land npon which the houso stood, and which barely yielded vegetables for the table. We turned the house upside down and inside out, but not one dollar rewarded our search. Finally we sadly concluded that the stinginess we had seen, the lamentations wt had heard, were the result of real, downright poverty, and not tho affectations of a miser reluctant to open his purse. And wo struggled along somehow, mother sowing a liftlo, Mota doing house-work, aad I stül at the milliner's. We cid o!; 8twvo, That is the record of tho next four months- a struggle for mere bread, and the saving of actual existence, nothing more And, to cap the climax, eanie the fire. It was a night in June - a olear, starlight night - when heaven seemed to smilo upon earth, and I, though weary enoughï was sleepless. Meta lay by my side, wakoful as myself, and told me, in soft whispers, that she had met her lover that day, when. on some household errand, and he had urged her sorely to consent to marry him, though his fatlier had not relented. "Idon't know but I would," 1 Baid. "Af ter all, ha is á man, and must be able to caro for you somehow. This life is killing you." And as I spoko Meta cried : "I smell smokel" " Smell it !" I criod, starting up. " I see it !" There it was, coming in at the cracks of the worn-out door, little threads at first, bu fillirig tb e room rapidly. We caught up some clothing and rushed to the door. As we opened it the flames burst out on the landing and staircase, forcing us to retreat. Mother and Freddie elept in rooïns boyond ours on the other side, and we rushed across to them. It took but a moment to rouse them, and we all four scrambled, half-dressed, f rom Freddie's window to a shed and so to the yard. By thia time the neighbors were wakened, the flre-bell was ringing, and the whole blook about us was glowing in the flames shooting up f rom our oid house to the sky. Fancy, if you can, the group we formed, as we stood huddled together in the yard, and wutohed evetything we owned upon earth beiag licked up by greedy tongues of flame, swallowed in clouds of smoke. Meto, and I oould see our bedroom closet and the scanty stock of clothing there, and count tho dearlypurchased articles as they were cousumed, _, "My pooi: b]a#k alfaÏÏa,1' Meta said, watcbin th'ó lurid trimming creeping up the skirt. " Wu might have enatched tbat. It hangs on the door." "See my bandbox toppling over," I said. "The bonnet will have flamecolored feathers ín twO minVtteB. " Motheï was fcoó müeh örflshed ïo aliare in our grim jeáting, ahd Freddie was tremblihg with excitement and terror. The firemen did their duty bravely, but were too late to save anything, and dawn found us homeless, with nothing left of our house but blackened walls and a tall chinineys clearly definöd against the ïösy sky oï á Jüne súnrise; Then- Í shall loVe him all my liïe for that - as ty stoód uttèrly desolate and destitute, ÏJrent Ellis, who had worked like a giant at the fire-engines, came, all blackened and streaming with sweat, and said : " Marry me, Meta, now, this liour, so that I may have a right to shelter all of you. Come, lovo, come. I have a little fortune of my own my father cannot touch, and it will keep us frOia want, if no more." But Meta only thanked him gently, and clung closer to our mother. We began to realize our scant raiment in the daylight, and were glad to accept the offer of a neighbor for temporary shelter. Others oame forward, and we had soon an incongruous assortment of cast-ofl clothes at our disposal, and arrayed ourselves as we best could, presenting a ludicrous appearance enough, if any of us could have raised spirits enough to laugh. But we were not exactly hilarious ! Utter and entire destitution seemed to have fallen upon us, at last, after our long fight with that traditional wolf who had prowled so near our doors for the last five years. We salted our cups of charity-offered eofiee with our tears, and were blind to the charms of griddlecakes hospitably pressed upon us. Neighbors flockod in to offer advice and consolation, and we were touched by most generous offers of home and food f rom several, uu til we could " look around." Where? What could we look for? Our only home lay in ashes, our sole possessions were entirely consumed ! Tor three days we were numbed by despairing sorrow. "We" means the three women, for Freddie seemed to look upon the whole business as a pleasurable change in the monotony of his existence. He had not been so well fed - indeed, I may say well stuffed - in five years ; for all the neighbors callod him in, whenever he passed, to offer titbite. He had an entire suit of clothos that were out-grown by one of the richar boys, and, fitting Freddie, clothed him better than he had been clothed sinee his father died ; and, best of all, he took holiday, nobody having sufficiently recovered tneir wits to send him to school. As soon as the ruins of our home were cold ensugk to admit of visiting, parties of boys began to dig in the ashea for halfburned property, and Freddie harrowed onr sensitive feelings fifty times a day by rushing in with buttons, scraps of metal, and ruined treasures of every descriptiorj. Meta and I summoned up suffleient energy on the third day to visit my employer, who agreed to tako my sister for a short time as saleswoman. We camo back to our temporary home, somewhat encouraged, to find Brent had been there, and fully enlisted mamma on his side. While she was repeating his arguments, and Meta listened with a smile of quiet happiness at her lover's constancy, Freddie burst in. "Come quick ! quick ! " he cried. " We've foun'l a big iron box under the chimney-placo ; I oan't lift it, it is so heavy. Oh, come ! " He was fairly dragging mamma from her seat, and, hastily throwing a shawl around her, she followed bim, Meta and myself bringing up the rear. Truly enongb, there was a large box under the chimney-place, in a hollow, bricked all around, whtch had evidently had an opening we had never seen. ït was large and heavy, requiring the united forcos of the family to pull it from its place, and carry it to the barn, whore we put it down upon the floor. There was no key, but a strong lock, and after long deliberation we sent for a hatchet, and by dint of much persoverance and strength burst it open. Within - as by that timo we half expectod - we found Uncle Gordon's hoarded treasures. Bon ds to the atnount of fifty thousand dollars, with tho coupons untonched for six years ; sonio six hundred dollars in gold ; a case of uncut gema, not very valuable ; a package of private letters ; an oid-fashioned watch aud chain ; and a miniature portrait of a lady, opening out a field for our speculationa as to somo romance of the past we had never suspected in our uncle's life. There was no one to dispute our mother's claim to the property, al! üftfely depositad iu ban; before Bunsei and our troubles seenied, at last, to be over. John Ellis, whom I hato most cordially, and shall while I live, called upon mamma in a few days, and most gracicusly withdraw his opposition to his son's marriage. We took his condepcension for exïctly what it was worth, but were more than happy at the thought of rewarding Breïit's faithfiü love. Our new house, built upon the site of the old one, is but a roomy, two-story cottage, but homelike and cosy, and our warming was the wedding of Brent and Meta, wkere Freddie and I officiated as groomsman and bridesmaid, and dear mamma seemed to throw off twentyyears of her age when she put on her lavender silk dress and wound her heavy bair in a coronet upon her head, in honor of the bridal. Brent would have none of mamma's money settled upon his wife, but was a loving adviser as to its investmf nt for our support, and we make occasions for prf sent-giving toward the housekoeping treasüres of the young couple, to keep tip something of a fair dmsion of the income. Freddie plumes himself greatly upon the fact that his bright eyes discovered the hoard that so improved our fortunes ; and it has become a habit with us to date all events in our f amily history as baving occurred " before the fire," or, "af ter the fire."


Old News
Michigan Argus