|CHAPTER XVI. -- LOTTIE'S TRIALS.|
She had not seen Flora since that first day when they had met accidentally, and she had almost forgotten the way she had come, for she had been in such a hurry she gave little heed to anything. She would go as best she could remember. It seemed to her that she was walking a great distance, and when at length she came to a small public square, she sat down upon one of the cold, damp seats, almost discouraged, and utterly unhappy. No mother, no home--nothing but misery. The tears were very near the surface, when she heard her name called at no great distance.
That was strange, though the voice sounded familiar. Stranger still, however, was the sight of a young man making his way rapidly toward her with a shuffling gait, and leaning upon two canes. Although the face seemed
"Why, Lottie, girl, don't you know your brother Joel?"
"What? Not my brother Joel?" exclaimed Lottie, joyously, yet distrustfully.
"The very same, and yet not the same," replied Joel, sadly, as he remembered how great was the physical change in him, and which was so apparent.
"I was straight and strong when you last saw me, Lottie," he said, looking down at his twisted limbs. "I was straight and strong when I left the old home, and now you see what I am." And he seated himself beside Lottie, who had remained on the bench.
"Oh, Joel, what made you so?" she cried, in a distressed voice.
"Never mind about that now, little sister. I will tell you all about it some time. But mother--
"Didn't you know? She is dead." And Lottie burst into tears, while the half-repressed jobs of the utterly miserable girl, shook her slender frame.
"Yes, I know," answered her brother, softly.
"How did you know?" asked Lottie, as she raised her
"Never mind that, either," returned Joel; "but tell me everything."
Lottie told about the death of their mother, then added:
"Oh, Joel, she so wanted to see you before she died, and now it's too late."
"Yes, too late." The words found an echo in the young man's own breast. He had put it off too long, this homecoming. Hoping and wanting to come back to his home and parents, well able to take care of himself and to help them too, he had waited, and worked, and saved, and now she for whom he so longed was not here to bid him welcome. The thought also came to him that it was well this "too late" came only in the disappointment of earthly hopes. Suppose it meant the loss of his soul as well? Then another thought came, this time full of comfort and peace:
"She will know I am changed, and I shall meet her in heaven."
Then he turned to his sister, feeling that here was a work for him--a legacy left him by his mother.
"Where is father, Lottie?" he asked a moment later, inwardly wondering at her presence here.
"Father? Oh, after mother's death he couldn't stay there any more, he said, and so he went away to work. Out west, I believe," she added, rather glad than otherwise to break the silence that, had followed her last words. "I haven't seen him since he brought me to live here."
"Live here? With whom?" inquired her brother.
"With Aunt Emmeline." And then she poured forth into sympathetic ears recital of her woes, inflicted largely by her aunt.
"What are you going to do?" asked Joel, when she finished. "Are you going back?"
"No, I am not. That settles it!".
Joel was amused. He well knew that the angry girl would be obliged, sooner or later, to modify her emphatic and hasty assertions. However, he thought it best to make no criticism, at least until she should see her folly and mistake herself; so he only said:
"Well, I guess you had better come with me just now. Both of us will catch cold if we stay here much longer."
Unquestioningly, Lottie arose. She did not care where she went, so long as she was with Joel, who now was all she had to cling to.
The sight of poor, deformed Joel, hobbling painfully along, touched Lottie's heart as nothing else could have done, as she contrasted his shrunken body with her own strong, robust self. She felt almost glad her mother could not see him now--she had been so proud of Joel's strength.
At length they halted before a small house that appeared strangely familiar to Lottie, and Joel rapped on the door. What was her surprise and delight to see the door opened by Flora Hazeley.
"Lottie!" the latter exclaimed."
Joel stood by, smilingly, while Lottie was introduced to the rest of the family.
"It seems so strange that both your brother and mine should be returned runaways, doesn't it, Flora?" remarked Lottie, when all were seated.
"How about Lottie?" slyly whispered Joel, as he sat by her side.
Lottie deigned no reply, but tossed her head willfully.
It was a very pleasant little home party that sat and chatted in the old dining room that evening, but it was not until Lottie and Flora were alone in the room which they were to share for the night, that Lottie opened her heart, and poured out her woes into Flora's sympathetic ear.
"Oh, Lottie, how could you?" asked Flora, when the recital was over.
"Oh, Flora, of course I could do it, and so would you have done, in my place," returned Lottie, in an injured tone.
"Is it possible that you have left your poor, sick aunt all alone?"
"She isn't very sick; she only thinks she is", said Lottie, sulkily. "She can get about her room well enough. It won't hurt her to go a bit farther, and go downstairs." Flora, after a few more ineffectual words, saw Lottie was feeling too bitter and hurt to be ashamed of her desertion of her poor,sick aunt, and, with her customary tact, dropped the subject entirely. For a few moments there was silence, each busy with her own thoughts.
As Flora was brushing her hair, of which she was justly proud, she said:
"Lottie, let us sit here in front of the fire. I often do, and watch the sparks as they flit here and there. I feel like talking to-night. I have listened to your story. Now, you come here with me; I want to tell you mine."
Nothing loth, Lottie seated herself, and listened attentively while her friend told of her own life, with all of its disappointments, hardships, and trials.
"What has all this to do with me?" asked Lottie, suspiciously, for she had a vague idea that Flora had an object in view.
"It has this to do with you, Lottie dear," answered Flora, as she put her own shapely hand, gently but firmly, over the rebellious one in Lottie's lap. "It will show you that none of us can have things exactly as we want them, and we are cowards if we run away from our duties. Had I been left to choose what I wished, I should not have chosen a single thing that came to me, and yet I am sure everything turned out for the very best. In the first place, Aunt Sarah's sending me home made me think and act for myself and others, and in doing so I became far stronger than I would have been had I stayed with,
"But nobody ever struck you, Flora. That is different," said Lottie, looking less stubborn.
"No," replied Flora; "that is very true, dear; nobody ever struck me. but I have had other things quite as hard. Indeed, things that I thought I could not possibly endure. But, you know who helped me bear them, don't you, Lottie dear?"
"Yes," was the subdued reply. "You mean God helped you."
"Yes, and he will help you too, Lottie, if you will let him. But you must take up your duties again, you know."
"What? go back to Aunt Emmeline?"
"Yes, I mean just that. I am sure she did not intend to treat you badly. She will tell you so, I have no doubt, some day."
"I don't know about that," said Lottie; "but, I guess
"Oh, don't borrow trouble. It will be time enough to think about that when it happens," replied Flora. "But come, it's time we were asleep."
Sleep, however, did not come to Lottie as soon as it did to her friend. Her mind was too busy, turning over the events of the day, and anticipating the possible ones of the morrow. Nevertheless, Lottie was not really a coward, and when she had decided on a certain course, she kept to it, as we have already seen.