Mr. Axtell: Part Ii

KATIE (the doctor’s name for her) said consolingly, as we went up-stairs,—

“ I am going to sleep in Miss Lettie’s little dressing-room ; the door is close beside her bed. If you want me, you can speak, — I shall be sure to hear ”; and she lighted my footsteps to the door.

I went in hastily, for Katie was gone. The statuesque lady became informed with life ; she started violently, and said,—

“ Who is it ? ”

“I beg pardon for the noise,” I said; “ how are you ? ”

“Thank you, a pain up here, Kate”; and she put her hand, so long giving support to her chin, upon the top of her head.

“ It is n’t Kate ”; and I came into full view.

She looked up at me.

“ “Why, you are — yes, I know—Miss Percival,” she said.

“ I am.”

“ Have you been here long ? ”

“ Only since yesterday.”

Why did she seem relieved at my reply ?

“ Do they think me ill enough to have a stranger come to me ? ”

“ Almost as polite as the gram brother,” I thought; but I said, “ You must n’t let me be a stranger to you. I came, — I was n’t sent for.”

She made an effort to rise from her seat, but, unable, turned her eyes toward the windows.

“ What is it ? ” I asked.

“ I thought I’d like to know what the weather looks like.”

“ Then let me lift the curtains ”; and I drew aside the folds, but there was nothing to be seen. The moon was not yet up; and even had it been, there was slight chance for seeing it, as the sun had stayed behind clouds all the day.

“ Put them down, please ; there ’s no light out there.”

“ The doctor left some medicine for you ; will you take it ? ’’

“ No, I thank you. I hate medicines.”

“ So do I.”

“ Then pray tell me what you wish me to take it for.”

“ You mistake; it was the doctor’s order, not mine.”

“ The very idea of asking that image of calm decision there to do anything ! — but then I must, I am nurse ”; so I ventured, “ Had you not better go to bed ? ”

“ After a little. Would you bathe my head ? this pain distresses me, and I don’t want to dream, I’d rather stay awake.”

As I stood beside her, gently applying the cooling remedy, trying to stroke away the pain, she asked,—

“ Did they tell you that my mother is dead ? ”

“ Yes.”

“ She was my mother. Oh, why did n’t I tell her ? Why ? why ? ” and great spasms of torturesome pain drew her beautiful face. I did n’t tell you how beautiful she is. Well, it does n’t matter; you could n't understand, if I should try.

She turned suddenly, caught my dress in her hands, and asked, —

“ Have you a mother, Miss Pereival ?” and before I could answer my sad “ No,” she said, “ Forgive me. I forgot for one moment.”

My mother had been twenty years dead. What did she know about it ? I, three years old when she died, but just remembered her.

Katie came in, bringing “thoughts of me” condensed into aromatic draughts of coffee, which she put upon the hearth, “ to keep warm,” she said.

I asked her to bring some “ sweet ” to mix the powder in.

“ I hate disguises,” said Miss Axtell;

“ I 'd rather have true bitters than cover them just a little with sugars. Give it me, if I must take it.”

“ But you can’t, — not this powder.”

“ A glass of water, Kate, please ” ; and she actually took the bitter dose of Dover in all its undisguised severity.

“ There ! is n’t that a thousand times better than covering it all up in a sweetness that one knows is n’t true ? ”

She looked a little as if expecting an answer. I would have preferred not saying my thought, and was waiting, when she asked, —

“ Don’t you think on the subject?”

“ Yes ; I think that I like the bitter better when it is concealed.”

“ You would n’t, if you knew, if you had tried it, child.”

“ Oh, I have taken a Dover’s-powder often, and I always bury it in sirup.”

She looked a little startled, odd look at me.

“ Do you think I’m talking about that simple powder that I’ve been taking ? ”

“ Were n’t you ? ”

“ Come here, innocent little thing!” she said, and motioned me to a footstool at her feet.

Her adjectives were both very unsuitable, when applied to me ; but I was nurse, and must yield to the whim of my patient.

“ Kate, look after Mr. Axtell.”

Poor Kate went out, more from the habit of obedience than apparently to obey any such behest; but she went, nevertheless.

“I know who you are; I knew your mother,” she said. “ Never attempt to cover up bitterness; it has its use in the world.”

“ Will you go to bed now ? It’s very late,” I ventured.

She went on as though I had not spoken at all, —

“ There’s somebody dead down-stairs, there, — now, — this minute; — but dead, — dead, — gone beyond my reach. — Child ! child ! do you know, do you feel what I mean ? ”

“ How can I ? I have n’t seen her; I never saw her.”

“She ’s dead, — she ’s dead, — and I meant to — oh ! I meant to do it before she died. Why did n’t something tell me ? Things do come and speak to me sometimes,—why not last night ? ”

I got anxious. Was this what the doctor meant by incoherent talking ? Away up the village-street I heard the bell striking for midnight.

“ It is time you were asleep; please try and sleep.”

My words did not stay her; she went on,—

“ If it only had, — then, — at the last,— she might have forgiven; — yes, — think, it might have been,— and it is not, — no, it is not!— and she lies dead, down-stairs, in the very room ! — But are you sure ? Perhaps she is n’t dead. Such things have been.”

Oh ! what should I do ? I thought of Katie. “ The next door,” she said; there were but two in the room ; it must be this one, then. I opened it. “No, this is a closet, — dresses are hanging there,” I thought; “ but there is a door leading out from it.” I looked back to the chair, where Miss Axtell still sat; she was talking to herself, as if I had not left the room. I could not venture to open this unknown door without a light to flow into its darkness. I went back into the room and took up a lamp.

“ What are you doing ? ” Miss Axtell stopped to ask ; then, forgetting me, she resumed her self-questioning.

I lighted the lamp and went into the closet. I said that there were dresses hanging there. Among them my eyes singled out one ; it was not bright,—no, it was a grave, brown, plaid dress. I tried to call Kate. My voice would not obey me. My tongue was still. I grasped the knob and turned it; the door opened. Poor Katie ! she was asleep. She started up, bringing the larger half of a dream with her, i’m sure. “ It’s not so dreadful. You have me left, father,” she said, with her young face rosy, and very sleepy. I went close to her, put my hand upon the cover, and said, —

“ You must call Mr. Axtell, Katie.”

“ For what ? Is Miss Axtell worse ? ”

“ I think so ; she will not lie down,”

“ Do you think I might try to coax her?”—and Katie rubbed her heavy eyelids, open too soon.

“ If you think you can.”

Miss Axtell had ceased to talk ; she had fallen back into the old absorbed state. Katie kneeled down beside her chair, and spoke.

“ Miss Lettie ! ” she said.

Miss Lettie did not answer. Katie put out one finger only. I saw it shake a bit, as she laid it upon Miss Lettie’s hand. As when the doctor touched her forehead, she came back to her proper self, and said, —

“ What is it, Kate ? Is n’t it time you were asleep ? ”

“ Don’t you know that my mother is dead ?” said poor motherless Katie.

“ And so is mine,” said Miss Axtell.

“ And mine,” added I.

“ And is it for that that you don’t sleep, Kate ? ”

“ No, Ma’am; but it is because you won’t try to sleep ; and you told us all, when my mother died, that”------and Katie stopped there.

“ Why don’t you go on ? ” I asked, in a low voice.

“ I can’t,—I don’t remember the words ; but you said, Miss Lettie, that too much sorrow was wicked.”

“ And so it is : and mine is, if it keeps you awake. I will lie down.”

The little maid so kindly, gently arranged the pillows, and made the lady comfortable, that there was little left for me to do.

When she went back to bury the dream that I so suddenly drew out of the balmy land, I had only to shade the light, stir the fire a little, and then wait. From afar up the street came the stroke of one. Miss Axtell’s face was turned away from me. I could only fancy that her eyes were closed. Once she put an arm over the pillow. I touched it. It burned with fever-heat. Then all was still. I sat upon a lounge, comfort-giving, related to the chair in style of covering. I fancied, after a long quiet, that my patient was asleep. I kept myself awake by examining this room that I was in. It was, like most of the other rooms, a hexagon, with two windows looking eastward. An air of homeness was over, and in, its every appointment. It seemed a room to sing in; were songs ever heard there ? I laid my head upon my hand, and listened to one that Fancy tried to sing, —I, who never sing, in whose soul music rolls and swells in great ocean-waves, that never in this world will break against the shore of sound ; and so I builded one, very wild and porous and wavering, a style of iceberg shore, far out in the limitless waters, and listened to the echoes that came, — and, listening, must have fallen into sleep.

I awoke with a chill feeling, as if the fire had gone down. A draught seemed blowing upon me. I got up with a full sense of my position as keeper of that fire, and went to it. The door into the hall was open. I glanced at the bed ; Miss Axtell was not there. The hall was dark. I caught up the lamp and hurried out. I leaned over the balustrade and looked down the stairway. Slowly going down I saw Miss Axtell. Was she a somnambulist ? Perhaps so. I must be cautious. I hastened after her, moving as noiselessly as she. I took the precaution to leave the lamp in the upper hall. She was leaning against the wallside of the staircase. Just as she reached the lower step, I put my arm around her. There was no need ; she was fully awake.

“Will you go back to sleep?” she asked of me, before I could find time to make the same request of her.

“ No, — I came here for you. Where are you going ? ”

“ In there ”; and she pointed to the room where I had seen the doctor and Katie go, — where she who was dead lay.

“ Oh, come back ! please do ! that is no place for you ” ; and I endeavored to turn her steps.

“ It is well that you say it. She’s in there; perhaps she is n’t dead. Such things have been. It was sudden, yon know. Let me go.”

I held her with all the strength I had.

“ Leave me to myself. I’m going to tell her, — to tell her now. She ’ll hear me better than to-morrow ; they ’ll have a fathom of earth over her heart then: that will be deeper than all that love of Abraham which covered up her heart from me.”

What could I do ? Despite my holding arms, she was gaining toward that fatal door, and the light was very dim. I called Katie three times, Miss Axtell still getting near to that I dreaded.

I heard a door open. I looked back, and saw Mr. Axtell coming from the library. He came quickly along the hall, arrested his sister’s progress, and said gently, as twice he had spoken before, —

“ Lettie, where are you going ? ”

“ In there, Abraham,”

“No, Lettie, you are sick; you must go back up-stairs.”

“ I will, when I have told her what I wish.”

“ Whom ? ”

“ Mother.”

What could Mr. Axtell have meant ? He asked me to bring down the lamp ; he took it in his own hand, and, supporting his sister, moved on. Was he going to take her in there. He did. I fled back to the library; trembling in affright, I sank into the first chair, and, covering my face with my hands, thought, —

“ What terrible people these are ! Why did I come here, where I was not wanted ? ”

“ Poor child ! ”

I started up at the words, Mr. Axtell left the door open.

“ You think it strange that I let my sister follow out such a sick fancy, I suppose.”

“ I think it is dreadful, — terrible.”

“ Oh, no, it is not. Why do you think so ?”

“ Talking to dead people ! ”

“ Well ? ”

“ They don’t hear you.”

“ Perhaps not.”

“ You know they can’t.”

“ No, I do not.”

“ Then go and learn it. Will you go and listen in there ? ”

“ I will not.”

“ Why ? ”

“ Lettie wished to be alone.”

“ You ’re very strange people.”

“ We are.”

He got up quickly, confusedly, crossed the room, and turned a picture that was upon the sofa. I had not noticed it before. I glanced up at the wall. The face was gone. The picture that he turned must have been that. He came back and stood before me.

“ Were you frightened when Lettie came down ? ” he asked.

“ Yes ; how could I help it ? ”

“ Why did n’t you turn the lock ? ”

“ I was asleep when she went out.”

“ What awakened you ? ”

“ The cold air from the hall.”

“ A careful nurse, you are ! ”

“ I am not careful.”

“ No ? ”

He teased me, this man. I hate to be teased. And all this time, whilst lie stood questioning me, Miss Axtell was in that lone, silent room, confessing to the dead. It was worse than the tower-confessional; and besides, what had she done that was so bad ? Nothing, I felt convinced. Why would she do such a thing ?

I think I must have spoken the last thought; for Mr. Axtell answered it in his next words.

“ Lettie is only working out a necessity of her own spirit. She is not harming any living soul. I cannot see why you should look so white and terrified about it. Have you tasted the coffee ? ”

I had not thought of it : I told him so.

“ Did you give my sister what the doctor left for her ? ”

Honestly, I had forgotten that the powders were to be given every half-hour, and I had offered only one.

“ I don’t think you have chosen your vocation wisely,” he said, when I had told him of my forgetfulness.

“ It seems not.”

He went out. Very gently he entered the place of the soulless one. I heard a low, murmurous sound, with a deal of contentment in it. After a few moments they came out. He asked me again to carry the lamp. I went up before them. I could n’t go after; I was afraid of words, or I knew not what, coming from that room.

Mr. Axtell gave the second powder, evidently afraid to trust me. Miss Lettie seemed quite tranquil, — a change had come over her. Her brother poured a cup of coffee and told me to drink it. What right had he to tell me to do anything ? What right had I to notice it amid the scenes of this night ? but I did, and the coffee remained untasted.

“ I cannot trust you alone,” be said; and leaving me sitting there in Miss Lettie’s chair before the fire, he lay down upon the lounge and went to sleep.

The hall-hour went by ; this time I would remember my duty. Miss Axtell was awake still, but very quiet. Her face was scorched with fever, when I gave her the third powder. I began to feel excessively sleepy ; but to fail the second time, — it would never answer. The coffee was the alternative ; I drank of it.

Again Miss Axtell asked that I would bathe her head. That, with the half-hour powders, which quite forgot their sleep-bestowing characteristic, was the only change until the day began to dawn.

Katie crept in with it, all in the little shivers March mornings bring.

She did n’t see Mr. Axtell. She asked, —

“ How has Miss Lettie been ?”

“ I have n’t been asleep, I believe,” answered Miss Axtell.

She called Katie to her, and gave some house-orders, in which I thought I heard an allusion to breakfast, in connection with my name. I knew nothing about the arrangements of this house, but ventured to follow Katie out, and ask if there was any one to take my place, should I go home. Finding that my longer stay was unneedful, I went. How lovely the earth seemed on that morning, not long ago, and yet so long! Why could not people live with quiet thoughts, and peaceful quietness of life, in this little country-village, where there seemed nothing to wake up torrents ?

Sophie stood beside me, with a tempting little cup in her hand; upon the table lay a breakfast, — for somebody destined, I was sure.

“ I thought I ’d waken you, so that you might not lose your night’s sleep,” she said.

“ Thank you. What time is it ? ”

“ Look at what the sun says.”

She put up the shade, and the sun came in from the west.

“ So long ? Have I slept ? ”

“ So long, my dear ” ; and Sophie gave me a kiss.

Sophie was not demonstrative. I answered it with —

“ What queer people you sent me to stay with ! ”

“ You make a mistake, Anna ; think a moment ; you ’re dreaming; I did not send you there at all.”

“ Well, what queer people I went to stay with ! ”

“ How was Miss Axtell, when you came away ? ”

“ Really, I don't know ; better, I should think. But, Sophie, pray tell me how it is that I should never have heard of them before.”

“ Partly because they have been away during the three years that you have been in the habit of visiting us, — and partly because Mr. Axtell, and his sister, too, I think, have a very decided way of avoiding us. What induces Mr. Axtell to perform the office of sexton is more than any one in the congregation can divine.”

“ I intend to find out, Sophie.”

“ How ? ”

“ In some way, — how, I cannot tell.”

“ In the interim, take some breakfast, or you ’ll lose your curiosity in hunger.”

Aaron sent for Sophie just here, and, as usual, I was deserted for him.

I began to scheme a little. “If Miss Axtell had only been the sexton, I could have found a thread; there must be one. Where shall I look for it ? ”

“ How did you manage with our surly Abraham last night ? would he let you stay ?” asked Aaron, when I joined the family of two.

“ He was not very surly ; I managed him considerably better than I did his beautiful sister,” I said.

He proceeded to question me of the night-events. I told only of the visit to the dead, leaving out the conversations preceding the event.

“ An unwarrantable proceeding of Abraham’s,” said Aaron.

“ And that room, so cold, as they always keep such rooms. I expect to hear that Miss Axtell is much worse to-day,” was Sophie’s comment, when I had told all that I thought it right to tell.

Aaron went away early in the afternoon, to visit some parishioners who lived among the highlands, where the snows of winter had made it difficult to go.

Sophie said she would read to me. My piece of “ knitting-work ” was still unfinished, and I, sitting near' a window looking churchward, knitted, whilst Sophie pushed back from her low, cool brow those bands of softly purplish hair, and read to me something that strangely soothed my militant spirit, lifted me out of my present self, carried me whither breezes of charity stirred the foliage of the world, and opened sweet flower-blooms on dark, unpromising trees. I had been wafted up to a height where I thought I should forever keep in memory the view I saw, and feel charity toward all erring mortals as long as life endured, when a noise came to my ears. I knew it instantly, before I could catch my dropping stitch and look out. It was the first stroke on hard Mother Earth, the first knocking sound, that said, “We ’ve come to ask one more grave of you.”

Sophie did not seem tc have heard : she went on with her reading. I looked out. Two men were in the church-yard : one held a measuring-line in his hand, the other a spade. The one with the spade went on to mark the hard winter-beaten turf, — the knotted grass he cut through. I saw him describe the outline of a grave, — the other standing there, silently looking on. When the grave was marked, the one wielding the spade looked up at the silent looker-on, who bowed his head, as if to say, “ It is right.” Then he began to strike deeper, to hit the stones under the sod.

“ What is it ? ” asked Sophie, looking up, for now she heard.

“ I think it ’s Mrs. Axtell’s grave that is to be made,” I said.

Sophie came to the window.

“ It’s a wonder he don’t make it himself.”

“ Who make it ? ”

“ Why, Abraham Axtell. Look now,— see him look at it. It would be very like him. He ’s fond of such doleful things. He has a way of haunting the churchyard. Aaron sees him there sometimes on moonlight nights.”

Even while she spoke, Mr. Axtell did take the spade from the man ; and striking down deeper, stronger than he, he rolled out stones, and the yellow, hard earth, crusty with the frost not yet out of it.

“ There ! I thought he would. Just watch now, and see of how much use that man is; he might as well be away,” exclaimed Sophie.

We two watched the other two in yonder church-yard, until the pile of earth grew so high that it half-concealed them. Two or three times the man seemed to Offer to take the spade from Mr. Axtell, but he kept it and worked away. At last the excavation grew so deep that one must needs go down into it to make it deeper. Would Mr. Axtell go ? We watched to see. Sophie said “ Yes ” to the question ; I thought “ No.” There grew a pause. Mr. Axtell stopped in his work, looked at the man, and must have spoken ; for he picked up his coat and walked away.

“ I wonder what is coming now,” said Sophie.

“ Nothing,” answered I; “for Mr. Axtell evidently is going.”

“ Time enough to finish to-morrow,” she said. — “ Where are you going, Anna ? ”

“ To ask after his sister,” I answered, and hastened out, for I had seen Mr. Axtell pick up the spade as if to go.

But he did not go; he stood leaning upon the spade, looking into the open grave, forgetful of everything above the earth. I thought to approach him unheard and unseen; but it was willed otherwise, for I stepped upon some of the crispy earth thrown out, and set the stones to rattling in a very rude sort of way. He turned quickly upon me.

“ You have chosen a very sad place to meditate over,” I said.

“ Does it trouble you, if I have ? ” he asked, not changing his position.

“ No, not in the least, Sir. I came to ask after Miss Axtell.”

“ Lettie is much worse, very ill indeed, to-day.”

“ I am very sorry to hear it. I ought not to have thought myself wise enough to take care of her last night.”

“ Yes, you ought; you pleased her; she has asked for you several times to-day,— only she calls you another name. I wish you would n’t mind it, or seem to notice it either.”

“ What is the name ? ”

“ Never mind it now; perhaps you will not see her until she is sane, and then she will give you only your own.”

“ I wish you would tell me.”

The spade upon which Mr. Axtell leaned seemed suddenly to have failed to do its duty, for it slid along the distance to the very edge of the grave. Mr. Axtell regained his position and his strength, that had failed only for the moment.

“ No, you do not wish it,” he said.

What had become of all my sweet charity-blossoms, that unfolded such a little time ago, when Sophie was reading to me ? Surely the time of withering had not come so soon ? An untimely frost must have withered them all, for I answered, —

“ You are dogmatical.”

“ No, I am not. I only sec farther on than you.”

“ A pleasant way to say, 'You ’re blind.’ ”

“ And if it is true ? ”

“ To say it to one’s self, I suppose, is the better way; for others certainly will of you.”

“ A sensible conclusion. Who taught you it ? ”

“ You, perhaps.”

“ Did I? Then my life has been of some little use.”

“ I saw you very usefully employed not long ago.”

“ Doing that ? ” and he pointed to the open place.

“ Yes, the strangest occupation I ever saw a man engaged in.”

“ The man did it awkwardly.”

“ And you ? ”

“ Better, as you can see.”

“ I’m no judge.”

“ Yes, you are.”

I saw Aaron coming, driving slowly on. I knew that I must go in.

“ Shall I come and stay with Miss Axtell to-night ? ” I asked.

“ You do not look able.”

“ I am. I’ve not been long awake. I am quite restored.”

He looked up at me. It was the very first time that I had seen him do so.

“ Do you wish to come ? ” he asked. What a question ! I could n’t answer. I thought of my tower-secret, which I felt convinced was wrapped up in that large, sombre mansion, where his dead mother (whom I had never seen) lay, and his beautiful sister was. I had not answered him. He spoke again,—

“ As if it could please you to come where death and suffering are ! I will find some one ; if not, I can stay up.”

“ I will come, if you can trust me, after last night’s errors.”

“ You look like one to be trusted.”

“ I am glad you think so. Are my services accepted ? ”

“ Gratefully, if you ’ll promise one thing.”

“ Ask it.”

“ Sleep until I send for you.”

“ I can’t promise.”

“ You ’ll try ? ”

“Perhaps”; and I went back to the parsonage.

Sophie had deserted the reading and the window to do something that she imagined would please Aaron when he came home. It was nearly evening. The sun was gone. I resumed my seat and work.

“ You look gloomy, Anna,—what is it? ” asked Aaron’s evergreen voice, as Aaron’s self came into the room, somewhat the worse for mud and mountain wear. “ Was last night’s watching too much for you ? ”

“ Oh, no; I’m going again to-night.”

“ Going where ? ” Sophie was the questioner.

“ To stay with Miss Axtell.”

“ I would n’t, Anna; one night has made you pale,” she said.

“ You ’re a frightened little thing,” I said. “ You’ve Aaron’s headachy eyes of yesterday.”

“ Have you promised to go ? ” Aaron asked.

“ I have. Mr. Axtell is to send for me in time.”

No more was said on the subject. Aaron had learned many things in his visit to the people’s homes. I fancy that he gathered much material for Sunday-sermons that afternoon. I could not help wishing that he knew all of last night’s teaching to me. An idle wish; how could he ? What is knowledge to one is but dry dust to another soul. The soils of the human heart are as various as those of our planet, and therein as many and as strange plants are grown. Why had I always thought mine to be adapted to the aloe?

The evening was dull. I asked Aaron to lend me a sermon. He inquired, —

“ What for ? ”

“ To go to sleep over,” I said.

And are they so soporific ?” lie laughingly asked.

“It s a great while since I ’ve read one. What have you been doing lately in your profession? anything remarkable ? ”

He brought me one. It aroused me. The evening passed on. I finished the sermon. Bedtime came in the parsonage, and no messenger from Mr. Axtell for me.

Aaron offered to go. I said, “ No, they were such strange people, I would rather not.” Chloe came in from the kitchen to say that “ Kate, Miss Axtell’s girl, had come, and said, 'Miss Lettie was too ill for Miss Pereival to take care of her. Mr. Abraham could n’t leave her.’”

The funeral was to be on the morrow.

The morrow came. Early after breakfast I went to the house whereto I had gone with the neighbor’s boy two nights before. I met Mr. Axtell just leaving. I inquired after his sister.

“ A bad night,” he said ; “ the doctor is here; are you come to stay ? ”

“ If I can be of use.”

He walked back with me, went to the sick-room, and left me there with the doctor and Miss Axtell.

She did n’t refuse medicines, it seemed; for Doctor Eaton was administering something when I went in.

The same eager look flashed out of his eyes when she spoke to me. She did not remember me, — she called me Mary. Common name it is, but the change seemed to please this quaint M. D.

“ Have you found out about the face ? ” he asked, when he had answered my inquiries after his patient.

“ I have not.”

“It is n’t there any longer. Somebody ’s taken it away,”

“Ah ! ”

“ Don’t you care to know about it ?”

“ Yes, it was a pleasant face, — a prettiness of youth about it.”

“ Ask him,—do you hear, young lady? — ask him”; and giving me directions for the morning, he left.

Curious old doctor,— what care should he have concerning it ?

The opiate, if opiate it was, that Doctor Eaton pave Miss Axtell, quickly worked its spell; for after he had gone, she scarcely noticed me ; she only moaned a little, and turned her head upon the pillow, as if to ease the pain that made her face so flushed. The room was darkened ; the fire upon the hearth was almost out. It did n’t seem the same room as that in which I had heard my song so recently. I had nothing to do but to sit and watch, — a sad, nerve-aching womanwork, at the best. In my pocket I had put the bit of woman’s wear that I had taken from the iron bar in my tower. I longed to open the closet-door, and compare it with the dress that I had seen hanging there. No opportunity came. Miss Axtell was very drowsy, if not asleep. For full three hours not a varying occurred. Where had every one gone ? Was I forgotten, buried in with this sick lady out of the world ? Not quite ; for I heard the vitalizing charm of a footstep, followed by the gentlest of knocks, which I rejoicingly answered. It was the brother, come to look at his sister. He walked quietly in, stood several moments looking at her face, as she lay with half the repose of sleep over it, then came to me and said, —

“ She looks better.”

“I am glad you think so,” I replied; “ she seems very ill to me. She called me Mary, when I first came in ; since then she has n’t noticed me.”

“ She called you Mary ? ” he said. “ Are you Mary ? ”

“ My name is Anna,” I answered.

“ Then you are not Mary ? ”

“ Of course not; I am not two.”

After a little while of silence, he said,—

“ My mother’s funeral will be this afternoon.”

“ Is there anything that I can do for you before the time ? ”

“ Yes, if you will.”

“ I am ready.”

“ Wait here a little,” he said, and went down.

Katie came up, her young rosy face delightful to behold in the half-way gloom that filled the place.

“ Mr. Abraham is waiting to see you in the library,” she said. “ I ’ll stay till you come up.”

In my short journey down, I marvelled much concerning what he might want. As I entered the room, I saw no visible thing for hands to do. Now, if it were but a hat to fold the winding badge of sorrow about, or a pair of gloves to mend ; but no, — he, this strange man, a sort of barbaric gentleman, looked down at me as I went in. “ The doctor was right; somebody has taken the face down,” I. thought, as my glance went up the wall.

“ What is there for me to do?” I asked ; for Mr. Axtell seemed to have forgotten that he had intimated the possibility of such an event.

“ Simply to look upon the face of my mother ere it goes forever away.”

“ Do you wish it ? ”

“ Very much.”

“ I would rather not.”

“ As you will ” ; and he turned away proudly, with that high style of curling pride that has a touch of soul in it.

“ No, Mr. Axtell, it is not as I will; it is very much as I will not. I can go in there, and look at the face you wish ; but it will unfit me for the duties of life for days to come. The face that I see there will tenant this house forever, and not this only,—it will be seen wherever I go.”

“ Can you not overcome it ? ”

“ Oh, yes.”

“ Why not, then ? ”

“ It takes such sweet revenge that my overcoming is the sorriest kind of victory.”

“ It is strange,” he said.

“ What, Sir ? ”

“ I beg your pardon ; I was thinking in words,” he replied.

“ I am sorry that I cannot do as you wish,” I said, and resumed my profession in the room above.

The day went on, never pausing one moment for the sorrow and the suffering that another day had brought to this house in Redleaf.

Just before the funeral-bell began to toll, Mr. Axtell came again to the sickroom door. There was no change, I told him so. Why did the man look as if he had been crying ? Was it because he had, I wonder ?

He did not come in. Poor man ! He was the only relative, the only one to stand at the last beside the grave he opened yesterday. I could not help it, I held out my hand to him as he stood there in the hall. I had no words wherewith to convey sympathy. He looked at it very much as he might have done at one of the waxen hands that belong to waxen figures in a shop-window, without one ray of the meaning it was intended to convey entering into his mind. I felt confused, uncomfortable. It seemed to me, then, irreverent to his sorrow, that I, a stranger, should have attempted the proffer of sympathy; but I must make him comprehend me.

“ I wanted to say that I am sorry with you,” I said.

“ Will you say it the same way again ? ”

“ How ? ” for this time it was I who did not comprehend.

He held out his hand. I fulfilled my original intention.

“ I thank you,” he said, and went down alone to his mother’s funeral.

How do people ever live through funerals ? The solemn tolling of the bell went on. The village-people came, one by one. Aaron’s voice it was that was heard in the burial-service that came sounding in to me, sitting close beside the bed whereon the sick one lay. There seemed a comfort in getting near to her. At last — what a cycle of thought! time it was at last—I heard the moving sound of many feet, and then I knew that they were carrying her out, out of the house where she had lived, out of the house wherein she had died, carrying her forth for burial, — forth to the grave her only son had made for her; and I, little, shivering, cowardly soul, hid my face in my hands, and let my tears fall,— not because I knew this proud lady dead, — not because a fibre from my warm heart was being drawn out to be knitted into that fathom-deep grave, for it never would be one of my graves, — but because this death and sorrow were in the world, and I must live my life out in a world with them. The funeral-bell stirred me. I looked out from the window, and saw the long procession moving slowly on.

Katie startled me, coming in.

“ The minister’s wife is down-stairs; she wants to know if she may come up,” she said.

“ She is my sister, Katie ; yes, I think she may come.”

I was so relieved to see Sophie; it was getting back to self again, out of which I had gone in this house. I could not help expressing my relief.

“ There’s no one down there to close the house and put away the sad reminders,” Sophie said, after asking about my patient. “ Some one ought to make it more cheerful down there before Mr. Axtell comes.”

“ Won’t you, Sophie, since there’s no one else ? ”

I could not yet go into the one room. Death had been too recently there.

“ I cannot put away the feeling that I am not wanted ; but it has no place here, now at least, and I wall go,” she said.

So, with Katie to help, she went to throw an air of light into the rooms below, to waft away the sombre shadows that clouded them, to let in a little of the coming life that must still be lived. And I waited on, up-stairs, and listened, counting each long, low peal of the bell, as it shook out its solemn meaning into the March air, and lost itself in quivering distances. They, the kindly hearts, who had come to perform the last rite, must have moved very slowly on ; for I counted out the years that the one gone had lived, ere the bell stopped.

Then was silence. In that stillness they were gently lifting down the once more little one,— for are not our dead all little ones, to be watchfully thought of, to be tenderly cared for? — yes, lifting her gently down into the cradle that God hath prepared, and set the sun to rock, until His smile shall awaken, and His arms lift us out of it.

The opiate’s power was past. iVIiss Axtell turned upon the pillow, and asked Kate for a glass of water.

I carried it to her, lifted her head, and she drank of it without opening her eyes. She asked for Abraham.

“ He will be here soon,” I replied.

“ I thought it was Kate,” she said, calling me my own name. “ Have you been here long ? ”

“ Since morning.”

“ Is it afternoon ? ”

“ Yes, three o’clock.”

“ Why does n’t Abraham come ? ”

“ He was here not very long ago,” I said, and asked her to take some food, not wishing her to question me.

“ Food ! ” she said, “ what an odd word ! Yes, so that you give it to me in pleasant guise.”

“ What is pleasant to you to-day ? ”

“ Something soft and cool.”

What could I give her ? It was very convenient having Sophie so near. This must be Miss Axtell’s self who had spoken. Delighted with the change, I ran quickly down to beg of sister Sophie a little skill in preparing some dish suitable to the illness up-stairs.

“ I ’ll go and make something,” she said.

And straightway taking off her hat and cloak, and tossing them just where mine had gone two nights before, she followed willing Katie to regions where I had not been, and I went back to find my patient perfectly herself, — only oblivious of time. She asked me if the various preludes to the sad event had been properly done. I answered that it was over.

“ And I was not to know it ? ”

I had heard that tone of voice, surely, somewhere else in life. Where could it have been ? I thought of my tower, and of that dress in there. Was never to come chance of seeing it? It seemed quite probable, for the lady asked to have the doors opened through.

“ Through where ? ” I asked.

“ All of them,” she said.

I opened the two into the dressingroom ; there was still another out of that.

Uncertain if she might mean it as well, I went back to ask.

“ Yes,” she said; and I opened it.

The first object that met my sight was the painting— the young girl’s face — that had been in the library. The hair was covered, as if one had been trying effects of light and shade. I saw this instantly, and turned away.

“ I would like you to raise the shades in there,” Miss Axtell said. “ I like the light that comes in through the distance, the afternoon light; how much it sees upon the earth ! ”

Going in again, I drew up one, put the drapery of the curtains back, and laid my hand upon the second, when the door from the hall opened, admitting the owner of the place.

Mr. Axtell did not look window-ward. He did not see me. A stillness of thought and being crept over me. I stood, with fingers clasped about the curtain-cord, enduring conscious paralysis. And he? He laid his overcoat across one chair; next to it was the one on which the portrait of the young girl had been placed. In front of it Mr. Axtell kneeled down, buried his face in his hands, and remained motionless. A second tower I was imprisoned in, higher up than the first, — a well, deep with veins of liquid soul, such as man nor patriarch hath ever builded, and I, a bit of rock-moss, unable to reach out to the light. I heard bliss Axtell’s voice, and yet I could not move. She called, “ bliss Pereival! ”—Mr. Axtell did not lift his head; she called, “ Abraham ! "—then I moved. With a slow swiftness of silence I passed by the kneeling figure, and should have gained the door, had not Mr. Axtell risen up. His eyes were, for the second time, upon me. A dark, thunderous look of anger clouded his face. I stood still and looked at him. If he had evinced emotion at my presence in any other mode, I could not have met his look.

“ Your sister wished me to raise tlie shades in here,” I said; “ she likes western light.”

“Why not do it, then?”—the anger rolling sombrous as at the first, — he asked.

I looked back. Noticing that only one of the shades was lifted,—

“ I will leave it for you to do,” I said ; and with one involuntary glance at the young, life-young face, painted there, I went.

“I thought I heard Abraham’s footsteps in the hall,” said Miss Axtell, when I entered the room.

“ You did,” I replied. “ He is come in.” The second time the sister called, “Abraham ! ”

“ Yes, Lettie,” he answered; but he did not come.

“ What is the matter, Abraham ? ” she asked. “ 'Why do you not come ? ”

“ I’m coming, Lettie.”

I thought of the “something soft and cool ” that Sophie was making for the invalid ; and the thought took me up and carried me away before be came in.

It was not destined that I should be long gone; for I met Katie bringing up something, whose odor was not even a temperate one.

“ How is this ? ” I asked of her ; “ did Mrs. Wilton send it?”

“ Yes, Miss Pereival.”

“ Where is she, Katie ? ”

“ Gone home, she told me to tell you.” Why must Sophie run away ? She fancies Aaron might not see the stars come out, if she were not near to point their coming. I would not be so simple, I think ; but, whatever I thought, I took from rosy-faced Katie the bowl of warm and fragrant gruel, and carried it in to Miss Axtell.

She took it, looked up smilingly at me, and said, “ Something soft and cool.”

Mr. Axtell held it for her, whilst slowly she took the gruel.

Doctor Eaton came in.

“How is this?” he asked; “we shall take great skill and credit to our individual self for this recovery. Now tell me, Miss Lettie, am I not the very best physician in all Red leaf ? ”

“There being none other in the village, I 'll permit you to quaff the vain draught, so that you will season it with a little of my gruel; I cannot fancy, even, where it came from,” she said, playfully extending to the doctor her spoon, half filled.

Doctor Eaton bent forward, and put his lips to the spoon she had not meant him to touch.

Miss Axtell seemed surprised.

“ Why did you do it ? ” she asked, with a little bit of childish petulance.

“ Because I think that you have taken all of it that is good for you at present. I made use of the speediest remedy ; vital cases demand sure means, you know, Aliss Lettie.”

Mr. Axtell held the bowl of gruel no longer. Doctor Eaton turned to me.

“Have you been here all day?” he asked.

“ I have.”

“ Will you put your hat on and walk in the air? There’s just time enough for you to walk to the parsonage and come back, before dark.”

Did Doctor Eaton know how to prescribe for cases which were not vital ? It so seemed; for he had given me my need this once. I put my hat on, as he had recommended, and went out. The day was saying its soft, genial farewells, that mingle so charmfully with the promise to come again, that is repeated throughout the great city of Nature. Doctor Eaton evidently intended to watch the effect of his dictation, for he joined me, giving me voice-intimation of his presence.

“ Have you asked him yet?” he said, coming to my side, and speaking in his peculiar way, very much as if I were a little child, and he its father.

“ Please tell me what I am expected to do,” I replied.

“ To ask Abraham Axtell about that picture, Miss Percival. It will do him good.”

“ I am afraid your prescriptions are not always the most agreeable,” I said.

“ Maybe not; it seems quite possible ; but bitters are good, — try them,”

“ I would rather not, Doctor Eaton.”

“ No ? Then offer them to others. Abraham Axtell is one needind them.”

“ You are his physician.”

“ You think so ? ”

“ No, I take the seeming.”

“ Unsafe road, young lady! don’t take it,—take mine. Just ask Abraham whose face that is, then come and tell me what he tells you.”

“ Breach of confidence, Doctor Eaton.

I could n’t do it possibly.”

“ You ’ll tell me, though, depend upon it,” he said, and was carried off in great haste to repair a broken bone, and I saw him no more, until-----when ?

I found the reason why Sophie must go home without oue word for me. Aaron had said that he would like some peculiar admixture of flour, etc.; and she had feared that he might meet disappointment, unless she prevented it by hurrying home and adding the ingredient of her hands for his delectable comfort, which bit of spieery he undoubtedly appreciated to the complete value of the sacrifice. Sophie is wise in her day and generation. I look with affectionate, reverent admiration upon her life. It seems that she is in just the position that Creating Wisdom fitted her for. I saw Aaron looking at her across the table. She was preparing for him his cup of tea; and of course he had nought to do save to wait, and in waiting he watched her. What was it that I saw ? I cannot tell. Why, how is this ? the world has two sides, two phases ; how many more I cannot know. That which I saw in Aaron’s face was a something transitory, a nebulous luminousness of an existence that I had not known, had not imagined, having never before received intimation of it. Why will light evanish so soon ?—the fragment that shone in on this Terra Incognita went out, was submerged in the cup of Thea Sinensis that Aaron received from Sophie’s hand. I cannot divine why all this new world of being should fancy to unroll itself, an endless panorama of pansophieal mysteries, before my eyes. I do not appreciate it in the least. Philip Bailey’s “ Mystic” is more comprehensible to me. This is a practical, matter-of-fact world; I know it is. Sophie Percival, my sister, is the wife of Aaron Wilton, country-clergyman in Redleaf,—nothing more; and I thought of my untasted cup of tea, in which lay condensed all the fragrance of Wooeshan hill-sides.

“ Why not take your tea, Anna ? ” Sophie asked, just as I had decided not to think of the things that misted around me.

My answer was a taste of it. I really thought I was doing my duty, when Sophie’s words came upon me, a little distractingly, —

“ Will you have more sugar in your tea, Anna ? ”

“ No, I thank you.”

Aaron said,—

“ The house of Axtell seems to have stolen away your proper self, Anna. I've been watching you, and I don’t really think you’ve any idea of what you are subsisting on. Tell me now, what is upon the table ? ” and Aaron held a newspaper, lying conveniently near, before my eyes.

“Confession and absolution are synonymous with you, are n’t they, Aaron ? ” I asked. “ Please give me some bread”; and I put the disagreeable paper away.

There was no bread upon the table.

“ My wisdom is confirmed,” said Aaron; and he gave me the delectable substitute, Sophie’s handiwork.