|CHAPTER I. -- THE HAZELEY HOME.|
SIXTEEN-YEAR-OLD Flora Hazeley stood by the table in the dingy little dining room, looking down earnestly and thoughtfully at a shapely, yellow sweet potato.
It was only a potato, but the sight of it brought to its owner, not only a crowd of pleasant memories, but a number of unpleasant anticipations. Hence, the earnest, thoughtful expression on her young face.
Flora was the only daughter. She had two brothers, one older and one younger than herself, Harry and Alec, aged respectively, eighteen and thirteen. The mother was of an easy-going, careless disposition, and seemed indifferent to the management of her household. Especially did she dislike responsibility of any kind. She was well pleased, therefore, to receive one day a letter from
Mrs. Graham was well off. In her case this meant that she lived in a pretty home of her own, with a nice income, not only supporting herself in comfort, but permitting her to provide a home for her elder sister for many years, who had entire charge of the housekeeping. This sister, Mrs. Sarah Martin, was also a widow and childless. The resemblance went no further, for they differed, not only in manner, but opinions, thoughts, and character.
Mrs. Graham, after a great deal of careful thought, had come to the conclusion to adopt her little niece. In fact she had often thought it over ever since the child first began to walk, and call her by name. She was a sensible woman, and it always annoyed her when she would visit her sister to see the careless way in which the children were being trained. Seeing this, she had long wished to take and train Flora according to her own idea of what constituted the education of a girl.
"It will be so much worse for her than for the boys," she had said one day to Mrs. Martin. "I do dislike to
The latter clause was intended to draw indirectly from her sister an opinion of such a proceeding, for Mrs. Martin was by no means partial to children. However, it was received with the indifferent observation:
"Esther never did have any interest in children anyhow. She never had any idea how to take care of herself, much less anybody else," to which was added a remark to the effect that if her sister Bertha chose to burden herself with a troublesome child, she was sure she had nothing to do with the matter, and did not intend to have.
Mrs. Graham was rather surprised to have her suggestion received so coolly. She had expected a great deal of trouble in getting Sarah to consent, even provisionally. She was very glad to meet no more serious opposition, for, although she had fully decided in her own mind regarding the matter, yet her peace-loving nature dreaded unpleasant scenes. She purposely and entirely overlooked the expression of stern determination in the sharp-featured countenance of her sister, and
Thus it was that Flora Hazeley changed homes. She was not legally adopted by her aunt, but was simply taken with the understanding she would be returned to her parents in case Mrs. Graham should in any way change her mind, or weary of her charge. This provision was inserted by Mrs. Martin, who determined, in spite of her seeming indifference, not to be ignored by her sister, upon whose bounty she considered she had a primary claim.
For eleven years Flora lived in the pretty home of her Aunt Bertha. Her time was filled by various occupations, school, caring for the flowers in the garden, and dreaming under the old peach tree, which never bore any peaches, but grew on contentedly in the farthest corner of the yard.
However, these were by no means the only ways in which Flora spent her time, for Mrs. Martin, notwithstanding her stern resolve not to have anything to do with her, had suddenly taken an equally stern determination to do her share toward "bringing sister Esther's child up properly."
This was fortunate for Flora. Aunt Sarah instructed her thoroughly and carefully in the details of housekeeping, cooking, serving, washing, in fact, everything she knew herself. How fortunate it was that she learned how to do these things, Flora realized some time afterward, as Mrs. Martin had intended she should. While she was learning them, Flora's progress was due rather more to the awe she felt of her stern aunt than to the desire to excel.
Mrs. Martin was ever ready to scold and find fault. Mrs. Graham never criticized, but always had a bright smile and something pleasant to say. As a natural consequence, she was dearly loved by her niece.
Mrs. Hazeley, Flora's mother, delighted to be relieved of her troublesome little girl, settled down more contentedly than ever, to enjoy the quiet of her daughter's absence, and became daily more and more indisposed to exert herself in order to make her home attractive.
It was usually pretty quiet now, because neither of the boys stayed in the house a moment longer than necessity demanded. Mr. Hazeley was employed on the railroad, and consequently was away from home a great deal. Mrs. Hazeley did little but turn aimlessly about, making herself
Mr.Hazeley had long ceased to complain of his home and its management, for his words had no further effect than to bring upon himself a storm of tearful scolding, which drove him out of the house to seek more genial quarters. He was by nature a peaceable man, and when he found that neither ease nor peace could be had at home, remained there as little as possible. In fact, as Mrs.Hazeley's sisters had often said, "if the whole family did not go to ruin, it would not be Esther's fault."
Flora's life at her aunt's pleasant home had been a very happy one, and the time passed rapidly away. She was nearly through school, and looked eagerly forward into the future, that to her was so full of brightest hopes. It was her ambition to be of some use in the world. Just what she wanted to do, she did not know--
Aunt Bertha was her confidante for all her plans, or rather, dreams; she could do nothing without Aunt Bertha, for had not she the means? Flora felt sure nothing great could be done without money, that is, nothing she would care to do.
But, alas! Her summer sky, so promising and brilliant with hopes and indefinite plans, was suddenly overcast. Aunt Bertha was taken ill one day; the doctor said it was prostration, and he feared she might not rally. Flora was told. Her Aunt Bertha, whom she loved so dearly, and who loved her so much! Must she die? "I love her far more than my mother," she whispered to herself. This seemed very disloyal in Flora. But in truth, she had little cause to love the mother who had been so eager to relinquish her claim, and who, in all these years, had never expressed a wish to have her daughter at home.
During her sister's illness, Aunt Sarah spent her time in constant attendance upon her. She was cold, stern, and unapproachable as ever, giving the child
One day, just before the spirit passed away, the sick woman called her sister, and said in a weak, trembling voice:
"Sister, I suppose you know I cannot live long, and that my will is made."
Mrs. Martin silently nodded.
"Well," continued Mrs. Graham, "I have left everything to you--I thought it would be best."
Again a silent nod.
"But, Sarah, I want you to promise one thing; that you will see Flora has what she needs to carry out her plans. The dear child has so longed to carry out some of her plans. I want her to have means to make whatever she may decide upon a success. And one more thing," she continued, pausing for breath, and looking pleadingly into the face above her, "I do hope, Sarah, that you will keep Flora here with you. Do not send her back to her home. I have left all I own in your hands, and I trust to you, sister, to do what I wish."
This long expression of her wishes had so taxed the fast-failing strength of the invalid, that she sank back, exhausted. No answer was expected, and Mrs. Martin was silent; and silent too, because she had not the slightest intention of doing as her sister wished. It was truly heartless; but Mrs. Martin was one of those people who do not present the harsh side of their nature in all its intensity until the reins of power are placed in their hands. So long as Mrs. Graham held the purse-strings, she acquiesced with as much grace as possible in her sister's plans. Was not the money Mrs. Graham's to do with as she pleased? It was quite a different thing, however, to feel that now everything would be in her hands to use as she chose. No matter if the donor was still looking into her face, her mind was made up that things should be ordered in the future according to her good pleasure. It was not at all her wish to burden herself with Esther's child, and forthwith she decided that back to her home Flora should go. However, she did not allow these unworthy thoughts to disturb the last moments of her tender hearted sister, by giving expression to them. So good Mrs. Graham passed peacefully away.
Flora was allowed to see her shortly before she died. The kind voice whispered words of comfort, telling her that Aunt Sarah would take care of her. These words fell unnoticed at the time upon the ear of the sobbing girl, who had been so accustomed to have Aunt Bertha think and plan for her.