Faith and her Mother, from, "The Gates Ajar."

Aunt Winifred went again to Worcester to-day. She said that she had to buy trimming for Faith's sack.

She went alone, as usual, and Faith and I kept each other company through the afternoon,—she on the floor with her doll, I in the easy-chair with Macaulay. As the light began to fall level on the floor, I threw the book aside,—being at the end of a volume,—and, Mary Ann having exhausted her attractions, I surrendered unconditionally to the little maiden.

She took me up garret, and down cellar, on top of the wood-pile, and into the apple-trees; I fathomed the mysteries of Old Man's Castle and Still Palm; I was her grandmother; I was her baby; I was a rabbit; I was a chestnut horse; I was a watch-dog; I was a mild-tempered giant; I was a bear, "warranted not to eat little girls"; I was a roaring hippopotamus and a canary-bird; I was Jeff Davis, and I was Moses in the bulrushes; and of what I was, the time faileth me to tell.

It comes over me with a curious, mingled sense of the ludicrous and the horrible, that I should have spent the afternoon like a baby and almost as happily, laughing out with the child, past and future forgotten, the tremendous risks of "I spy" absorbing all my present, while what was happening was happening, and what was to come was coming. Not an echo in the air, not a prophecy in the sunshine, not a note of warning in the song of the robins that watched me from the apple-boughs.

As the long, golden afternoon slid away, we came out by the front gate to watch for the child's mother. I was tired, and, lying back on the grass, gave Faith some pink and purple larkspurs, that she might amuse herself in making a chain of them. The picture that she made sitting there on the short dying grass—the light which broke all about her and over her at the first, creeping slowly down and away to the west, her little fingers linking the rich, bright flowers, tube into tube, the dimple on her cheek and the love in her eyes—has photographed itself into my thinking.

How her voice rang out, when the wheels sounded at last, and the carriage, somewhat slowly driven, stopped!

"Mamma, mamma! see what I've got for you, mamma!"

Auntie tried to step from the carriage, and called me: "Mary, can you help me a little? I am—tired."

I went to her, and she leaned heavily on my arm, and we came up the path.

"Such a pretty little chain, all for you, mamma," began Faith, and stopped, struck by her mother's look.

"It has been a long ride, and I am in pain. I believe I will lie right down on the parlor sofa. Mary, would you be kind enough to give Faith her supper and put her to bed?"

Faith's lip grieved.

"Cousin Mary isn't you, mamma. I want to be kissed. You haven't kissed me."

Her mother hesitated for a moment; then kissed her once, twice; put both arms about her neck, and turned her face to the wall without a word.

"Mamma is tired, dear," I said; "come away."

She was lying quite still when I had done what was to be done for the child, and had come back. The room was nearly dark. I sat down on my cricket by her sofa.

"Did you find the sack-trimming?" I ventured, after a pause.

"I believe so,—yes."

She drew a little package from her pocket, held it a moment, then let it roll to the floor forgotten. When I picked it up, the soft, tissue-paper wrapper was wet and hot with tears.

"Mary?"

"Yes."

"I never thought of the little trimming till the last minute. I had another errand."

I waited.

"I thought at first I would not tell you just yet. But I suppose the time has come; it will be no more easy to put it off. I have been to Worcester all these times to see a doctor."

I bent my head in the dark, and listened for the rest.

"He has his reputation; they said he could help me if anybody could. He thought at first he could. But to-day—"

The leaves rustled out of doors. Faith, up stairs, was singing herself to sleep with a droning sound.

"I suppose," she said at length, "I must give up and be sick now; I am feeling the reaction from having kept up so long. He thinks I shall not suffer a very great deal. He thinks he can relieve me, and that it may be soon over."

"There is no chance?"

"No chance."

I took both of her hands, and cried out, "Auntie, Auntie, Auntie!" and tried to think what I was doing, but only cried out the more.

"Why, Mary!" she said; "why, Mary!" and again, as before, she passed her soft hand to and fro across my hair, till by and by I began to think, as I had thought before, that I could bear anything which God, who loved us all,—who surely loved us all,—should send.

So then, after I had grown still, she began to tell me about it in her quiet voice; and the leaves rustled, and Faith had sung herself to sleep, and I listened wondering. For there was no pain in the quiet voice,—no pain, nor tone of fear. Indeed, it seemed to me that I detected, through its subdued sadness, a secret, suppressed buoyancy of satisfaction, with which something struggled.

"And you?" I asked, turning quickly upon her.

"I should thank God with all my heart, Mary, if it were not for Faith and you. But it is for Faith and you. That's all."

When I had locked the front door, and was creeping up here to my room, my foot crushed something, and a faint, wounded perfume came up. It was the little pink and purple chain.