|CHAPTER XVIII. -- A CHRISTMAS INVITATION|
YEARS have passed, and long since the grass was green over Mrs. Martin's grave. Side by side she lay with her gentle sister, and over the two graves the graceful branches of the willow drooped, and in summer the sod was starred with daisies.
It was December. The trees were bare of leaves, and the grass was withered. The weather was cold. The folks in Brinton predicted a hard winter. In the costly home where Mrs. Hazeley now presided with a calm demeanor, and Flora flitted about happy and contented, there seemed no need to fear the searching winds of winter. Flora was no longer a girl, but a well-grown young woman--changed, and yet not changed. She had matured with years; but it was easy to discern the same merry, thoughtful Flora of the old days.
Shortly after his conversion, Harry had heard and followed the voice of his Master to "preach the gospel," and now he was the pastor of the church where Aunt
Very proud was Flora of her manly, earnest brother who had won so completely the hearts of the people; and equally proud was Harry of his sister, who was loved and respected by all. They saw but little of Alec, who had never outgrown his love for the country, and who still lived in Brinton. He was industrious and economical, and his friends were sure he would some day be a wealthy man.
It wanted but a few days to Christmas, when, one afternoon, during a few idle moments, Flora stood by the window lightly drumming against the pane, and smiling, as if her thoughts were very pleasant.
She had not been standing there long when the front gate opened, and Harry came toward the house.
Flora hurried to open the floor for him, and pausing to remove his overcoat, he said:
"Here is a letter for you, Flo."
"A letter for me?" she repeated. "I wonder from whom it can be." She returned to the room with the letter in her hand.
"A letter, Flora?" inquired her mother. "Who is writing to you, dear?"
"It is from Alec, mother," was the answer, a moment later.
"What does the dear boy say --anything of importance?" asked Mrs. Hazeley.
"It is a very short letter. Shall I read it?"
"Never mind, Flora; just tell us what he wants."
"It is simply a very short, but very urgent, invitation for us all to spend Christmas with him. You, especially, Harry."
"Me? I wonder why?"
"Shall we go, mother?"
"Of course. I would not disappoint the boy for anything; besides, we have not seen him for so long."
All were satisfied with this arrangement.
Christmas morning dawned bright and clear, but very cold.
Harry held service in the morning in his church, and
"It will not really matter; and we cannot miss seeing our Harry conduct his first Christmas service," said Flora, positively.
The exercises were simple but impressive; the singing sweet and solemn--the sermon earnest and tender. It seemed to Flora as if she were shut in from everything, and that she really moved among the circumstances connected with the Saviour's birth. It seemed to her that she was with the wise men who brought gifts, and came to worship the infant Jesus; and the words of the anthem, "Glory to God in the highest, peace on earth, good will to men," echoed and re-echoed through her whole being."Truly," she thought, "that peace has entered my soul,and how can I have aught but `good will to men '?"
Mrs. Hazeley's feelings found expression by the tears rolling down her cheeks under her veil. Flora saw them, but knew they were for joy.
Never had Harry spoken as he spoke that morning. He scarcely recognized himself in the preacher whose impassioned words were holding spell-bound the people
When the service was at an end, and the usual interchange of Christmas wishes over, the young minister joined his mother and sister, who were waiting for him, and, with one upon each arm, directed his steps to the depot, where they boarded the cars for Alec's home.
Flora felt too peaceful and happy to talk, and, in fact, they were all disinclined for conversation, and so the short journey was made in silence. True to his word, Alec was at the station to welcome them, and delighted that they had all come.
He conducted them to a carriage he had in waiting, and helped them in.
"What do you want to ride to Major Joe's for? "asked Harry. "It is such a short distance."
"Oh, I want you-to ride to-day, so ask no more questions," was the saucy reply.
"Alec has some new project in his head," whispered Flora to her mother, who nodded and smiled, as if anything and everything were in order, so far as she was concerned.
Harry asked no more questions, but was busy looking about him, and trying to decide where they were going;
There was no snow, to cover with its white, glittering blanket, the rough spots, but the brightness of the sun made amends for this lack by gilding the bare places. It was a green Christmas, but there was a lurking promise of snows and storms yet to come, in the brisk, sharp wind, that drove the withered leaves--reminders of the summer's beauty--along, as Flora remarked,"like little, old women dressed in brown, and caught in a wind-storm." Alec noticed, as they drove along, that his brother still glanced about inquiringly, evidently not yet satisfied as to the road to Major Joe's from the station. Alec was amused. It was so long since Harry had been there, he felt sure he could not remember. It was with a view to drawing his attention from this, and thus prevent his asking more questions, that Alec began to talk diligently. He pointed out the different objects of interest along the way, and then would branch off into a series of remarks or conjectures concerning them.
"This now," he said, pointing to a pretty house they were passing, "is Mrs. Brown's new residence. Isn't it
"Why widows especially?"
"Oh, because, you see, all they need is to have just enough to keep them comfortably while they live. They don't care about making improvements, and buying or speculating as a general thing, like --"
"Like what?" asked Harry, drily, as his brother paused.
"Well, like me, for instance," returned Alec.
"So, I suppose you think there is no necessity for you to be benevolent."
"It's not but that I should, so much as I cannot afford to be. You see, I am a young man, and I need to be very prudent about the way I invest what money I have, in order to accumulate a little more."
"Oh, Alec," laughed Flora,"you certainly have accumulated a pretty good stock of self-complacency, and have cultivated a fine opinion of yourself."
"Yes," returned Alec, good-humoredly, touching up
"Bad policy, my boy," interposed Harry, who seemed for the time being, to feel himself a boy again. "Bad policy. It is better not to have a trumpet blown at all, than to do it yourself. True worth will always receive its proper recognition."
"Not always; you are wrong there," said Alec, his eyes twinkling mischievously at the success of his plan for diverting his brother's attention.
"Yes, always," persisted Harry. "Probably not from the direction you desire, or are looking toward; but, if one looks in the right direction, he will find that if he is worthy of esteem, honor, and respect, he will get it from those upon whom his course has made an impression. The trouble is, that people often look too far away. Either they do not think to look among those immediately about them, and among whom they live, or they do not place the proper value upon their opinions and respect."
"Well, well," said Alec, coolly, as he drew up before the gate of a new and very pretty cottage. "I am very much obliged to you for your valuable homily. I hope I shall profit by it. But, my dear brother, `all is well