|CHAPTER XI. -- CHANGES.|
TIME passed on, and with it as usual came changes the summer was gone and it was November, and the weather was cold and dreary.
Lottie's life was much the same from day to day; there was little variety to make the life of the young girl pleasant. True, she did not have a hard time, nor was she overworked, nor did she ever go hungry; but the atmosphere of the house was always chill and drear, and Mrs. Durand was as unsociable and unsympathetic as ever.
It was perhaps true, that Lottie was somewhat prone to slightly exaggerate her unhappiness, and to dwell upon it until it seemed almost unendurable.
One morning, as she was dressing, she heard her aunt call, and upon going to her room, discovered that she was suffering from an attack of acute rheumatism.
Then, indeed, Lottie was sure her misery was at such a height, that it could go no further.
As may be supposed, the sharp pain she endured did not render Mrs. Durand a more pleasant companion, and Lottie found that while it had been difficult to please her before it seemed utterly impossible to do so now.
Lottie did not best, with a determination pleasant to witness, and with the knowledge that it was her duty to care for her aunt under such painful conditions.
Lottie was lonely; she seemed to be entirely cut off from everybody she knew and cared for. She seldom heard from her father, and never from her brother, who had left his home when she was quite a little girl. She sometimes wondered if he was dead. She was industrious, and soon learned to keep house for her aunt very acceptably. If her aunt had only made an effort to be agreeable and interested in her, Lottie would have been perfectly content.
If the months had brought but little change to Lottie, they had wrought a number of very important ones in the life of our friend Flora.
First, the news had reached them one day that the husband and father was killed in a railroad accident.
This was indeed a great blow, for Harry was, in a large measure, their main dependence. He was now about twenty years old and had been steadily at work for some time, and seemed on a good road to a successful business career. At first, he gave his earnings to his mother, only reserving enough to clothe himself neatly and comfortably, for he felt anxious to supply, as far as he could, her loss in the death of his father. This money, added to what Mrs. Hazeley and Flora made by doing plain sewing, and what Alec could earn out of school hours by keeping his eyes open, and his willingness to be of assistance to any one, was a great help toward keeping things going. For, although the little home was their own, of course there were the extra incidental expenses.
Mrs. Hazeley and Flora soon grew to depend on Harry, for more than they realized, until taught by his increasing fondness for remaining from home in the evening, and not unfrequently, all night. Great, indeed,
Flora spoke earnestly and lovingly to her brother several times about the way he was conducting himself, but, as we have seen, he was not one to take this kindly, and knowing this, Flora felt she could do nothing but pray for her erring brother, who was so young, and yet so willful.
She never lost hope, nor did her firm belief that his better, nobler nature would prevail, weaken through those long, dark, hard days.
Mrs. Hazeley and Flora were compelled to devote all their attention to their work, as Harry could no longer be trusted to aid them financially; and, despite their brave, uncomplaining efforts, it was offtimes difficult to make both ends meet.
Aunt Sarah had not visited them for sometime, in fact, not since Flora came home, nor did they hear from her; and though knowing she might help them in their
At length, one night they watched and waited for Harry to come home.
He did not come that night, nor the next, nor the one following; nor could they hear anything of him, except that he had not been around for days.
Where had he gone and what would he do? These were question that Flora asked herself with a sick heart.
Mrs. Hazelay, with her naturally weak disposition, would have given way to despair under this new trouble and drifted back into the some condition in which we first found her, had it not been for her newly found trust and hope in her Heavenly Father, and the inspiring example of her courageous, self-reliant daughter. Flora seemed to grow stronger and more dignified under the added trials, and her mother, now a true Christian, was to her a great help and comfort; in fact, the two were all in all to each other, and the home that had at one time appeared to Flora most miserable, was now a haven of rest; and the mother from whom she had once turned away coldly, was now warmly loved
Major Joe Benson, who had kept up his acquaintance with this young friends whom we greatly admired, and who by this time was considered quite a friend of the family, offered to take Alec to live with him. There was a very good school, he said, at no great distance from his home, and he would be glad to have the boy's help on his little place, especially now that Zeke was getting on his years, and had gotten above doing the many odd jobs he had performed when a boy, which state, while it was not many years performed when a distant, sufficed to make Zeke act, as Major Joe said, "very mannish."
No sooner was the proposition mentioned in Alec's hearing, than he was all enthusiasm, for nothing did he desire more than to live in the country. His mind was fully made up to become a farmer, and no recital of the hardships connected therewith, could divest such a life of its charms for him.
So it was settled, and it was really a great comfort to have at least one of the family well provided for, with the prospects of seeing him an upright and industrious man.
Now that provision was thus made for Alec, and he was but little expenses to them, Flora and Mrs. Hazeley could manage very well by practising strict economy.
Life progressed very evenly and uneventfully, we might almost add happily, except for the sorrow caused by their ignorance of Harry's whereabouts.
One day, into their quiet and peaceful lives, very unexpectedly came Mrs. Sarah Martin, who was surprised at their comfortable surroundings.
She was greeted pleasantly by Flora and Mrs. Hazeley, who were determined to forgive and forget her treatment of them, but the warmth, which affection gives, was lacking. This did not fail to make itself manifest to Mrs. Martin, and, strange to say, instead of displeasing her, it seemed to have quite a softening effect upon her callous heart. The memory of this visit, and the picture of her niece's heroic efforts to keep her mother and herself from want, proved a veritable ever-present and sharp thorn in the side.
"Here I am, alone in the world, with plenty to supply all my wishes and some to spare," she thought one evening. We must do her justice; she was not miserly, but
Having commenced to reproach herself she did not hesitate, for at every step seeing herself as others saw her, she discovered more cause to regret her attitude toward her sister.
"Have I been false to my trust?" she soliloquized, questioningly. "No--not exactly--because I gave no promise. And yet--Bertha supposed I would follow her request. However, I am not bound to do as she wished.
"Bertha would not have left me in charge had she supposed I would not carry out her wishes," she continued. "Probably she would not have given her property to Esther. She is so careless and extravagant that such a course would have been equal to her throwing the money away. Suppose the money had been left in trust to Flora? Would Esther have done more than I have done? No, she would have wasted it. What is the difference? Nothing; I am doing as Esther would have
Another thing Mrs. Martin tried to argue in support of the idea that she had done all for the best, was that Flora had developed such astonishing qualities of self-government and ability. "She has almost made another woman of that mother of hers," she said to herself. "One can easily see that the material for a real, sound, sensible, practical woman is not in Esther, and if Flora were not there with her she would be the same as before, only worse."
There was a good deal of truth in what Mrs. Martin said. Some people cannot do or be anything without a definite motive, or an active example. But what did all this arguing amount to? Nothing at all, save to keep her mind in a constant state of turmoil, by her efforts to ease her conscience.
Atlast, with the constant strain she became mentally exhausted, and in spite of her efforts to the contrary for a long time lay upon the bed, a sufferer from nervous prostration. Her brain was unnaturally active, and she gained but little benefit from her enforced quiet. A neighboring physician was called, but found it impossible
First, she proceeded to pay her physician and to inform him that she had no further need of his serviced, much to that gentleman's disgust, who left muttering that it was queer that the patient should be the one to decide whether or not the doctor had been of service to her.
Next, she wrote in a feeble, trembling, and unintelligible way, the following short, blunt note:
"Niece Flora :--I am sick. I want to see you.
Flora and her mother were sitting sewing very busily that afternoon when the postman rapped on the door.
The sun was streaming in at the window, no longer adorned by the sweet potato, which was long since dead, but touching brightly the green leaves and scarlet blossom
"From Aunt Sarah, mother," said Flora, carelessly, handing it to Mrs. Hazeley, who in turn read the short note.
"Well, Flora dear; what will you do about it?" She questioned, resuming her work.
"Oh, I guess I had better go and see her; hadn't I?" asked Flora, as she cut her thread.
"You may do as you please about the matter," returned Mrs. Hazeley, and there the matter dropped.
They continued their work in silence, their thoughts as busy as their fingers.