|CHAPTER VII. -- A VISIT TO MAJOR JOE.|
QUITE an effort was necessary in order to arrange the board for an extra seat for Flora and Alec. At length it was made ready, and Flora was helped in, and Alec followed, while Harry took his place beside the major, who commented as follows:
"So this is your sister, Harry? Well, well, she's a sister to be proud of; and I haven't a doubt but you are proud of her. Here, you Jacob, git up, will you?" and he shook the reins vigorously over his horse's back. "You never do come to a standstill but what you think it's meant for you to go to sleep."
Jacob, roused from his intended doze, lazily shook his fat sides, and slowly moved along. It was a lovely June day, and the little party had a very pleasant ride of about an hour and a half, Jacob not being inclined to hurry.
Major Joe was conversationally inclined, and nothing pleased him more than to hear the sound of his own voice. He chatted continually: now about the orchards they
The ride seemed quite a short one to Flora, who had enjoyed it thoroughly.
Mrs. Benson stood at the gate, watching for them; and in her white kerchief and neat cap, looked good-natured and comfortable. A saucy little spaniel sat in the middle of the road, watching too; and he was the first to catch sight of the wagon. He gave notice of the same by a sharp bark, and springing to his feet, doubled himself together, and bounded away, raising a cloud of dust in his haste to reach and greet his master. How happy he was when he reached the carriage! He sprang up at old Jacob, who paid no attention to such a small animal, but merely turned away his head with an air of supreme indifference.
"Jump, Dolby, jump!" said Major Joe. After several ineffectual trials, and two or three hard falls into the dusty road, Dolby landed beside his owner, who had made room for him, and gave himself a vigorous shake, which sent the dust he had gathered in his long hair, over
The garden and nursery belonging to Major Joe were not large, but they were very fruitful, enabling him to realize considerable from the sale of his flowers and vegetables. He did not carry on his trade in a scientific manner, but merely for his love of the beautiful and useful things of the vegetable kingdom, and because to be inactive was for him to be unhappy. His receipts from the sale of the products of his land, together with his pension, enabled himself and Mrs. Benson to live very comfortably in their own snug little cottage, and, in addition, to lay aside something for a rainy day.
"Well, mother, here we are," said Major Joe, throwing the reins over Jacob's back.
"So I see," answered Mrs. Benson, nodding smilingly to the entire party. "Just come right in," she added, as Alec sprang out on one side of the wagon, and Harry helped Flora from the other.
The young people followed their hostess through the gate, and up the box-bordered walk into the cosy little
There Harry and Alec left her in good Mrs. Benson's care, while they went for a walk over the place.
Flora soon discovered that her hostess was as sociable as the major, and but a short time passed before they were chatting like old friends.
By-and-by, Alec thrust his merry face in at the door, and said:
"Come out here, Flora; the major wants you to see his garden."
"Yes, dear, go, if you are perfectly rested," said Mrs. Benson. "I will stay here, and see about preparing our early tea."
Flora joined her brother out of doors, and found Major Joe and Harry waiting,
"Come and see my little green-house," said the old man, waving his hand, and looking at them from over his spectacles with an important air. Flora complied quite willingly, for she was very fond of flowers, and immediately won the major's good opinion with her enthusiasm over his pet plants, and the interest with which she
The major himself was in his glory, for he had some one to whom he could talk. Talking was an occupation of which he never wearied, and now he chatted about the various departments of his labors, and how pleasant it was to watch the growth and development of the plants.
His tongue was still going very fast, when Mrs. Benson appeared in the doorway, and called to them that tea was ready. Reluctantly the old gardener relinquished his young listeners, who were, however, quite willing to vary the program, for they were hungry. The sight of the pleasant room, neat tea-table, and their genial, motherly hostess, was a very inviting one. In a lull of the conversation, during the progress of the meal, Mrs. Benson remarked, with a sad little smile, that Flora reminded her of her Ruth.
"So she does," exclaimed her husband. "I knew she made me think of somebody, but couldn't make it clear who it was."
"Is Ruth your daughter?" asked Flora.
"She is, or leastways she was," said Mrs. Benson, heaving a sigh, and adding, in a low voice, "She's dead now."
"I am very sorry," said Flora, with ready sympathy.
"Yes, our Ruth was a fine girl, but a little headstrong. We did all we could to make her happy and contented at home, but it seemed as if we did not succeed, and so, one day she ran off to marry a man me couldn't care for, because we were sure he wouldn't treat our girl kind--not that there was anything against him, but he was so cold and unfeeling. But she wouldn't listen to us, and went off, and we never saw her again."
"How sad!" said Flora; "but couldn't you go to see her?"
Mrs. Benson shook her head. "No; he said we were not to have anything to do with Ruthie, after he married her, and they moved away somewhere, we never knew where, until we heard in a round about way that she was dead." Here Mrs. Benson paused to wipe away a tear. "I had hoped she would at least have stayed near home,
Flora, however, could not send from her thoughts this sad story. When the pleasant visit was drawing to an end, and they all were bidding Mrs. Benson good-bye, promising to come again, it still lingered with her. As old Jacob was soberly and deliberately trotting homeward, she revolved it over and over in her mind. Somehow it fastened itself upon her in a way she did not understand, and not until she was home, and had retired to her room for the night, did she arrive at even a partial solution of the perplexing problem. Then it dawned upon her with surprising clearness, that it certainly was because of the similarity of names in Mrs. Benson's daughter and her friend and adviser, Ruth Rudd.
This was very slight ground on which even to build an air-castle, but Flora did not stop to consider that, but in the midst of her dreaming resolved to go the next day, and rehearse to Ruth the story she had heard from Mrs. Benson.
Accordingly, next morning, after the work was done, and her mother was seated with her sewing, Flora donned her hat, and went to see her friend, expecting to find her busy as usual. She was, therefore, very much surprised to be met at the door, even before she had knocked, by Ruth herself, whose gentle face wore a troubled, anxious look, and she spoke in a low tone, as she responded to Flora's query:
"What is it, Ruthie?"
"Father is very sick."
"Oh, I am so sorry! I What is the matter? When was he taken ill? Was it suddenly?"
"Yes and no," said Ruth, answering simply the last question put by Flora. "He was compelled to stop work yesterday, and come home. He has been in poor health for a long time. I have been afraid, for quite a while, that he would break down."
"The doctor does not think he will die, does he?" whispered Flora, in an awed tone.
"Yes, he does," said Ruth, as she wiped her eyes with the corner of her apron.
The two girls, with their arms entwined, and a deep tenderness in their voices, then went into the little
"Yes, the doctor says that he cannot last long. But what bothers me is, there seems to be something on his mind, and I can see he is worried."
"What about? Do you know?" asked Flora, sympathizingly.
"Well, I can guess," Ruth answered, taking from a work-basket a stocking of Jem's, and beginning to darn it in an abstracted, mechanical way.
"You see," she continued, "father married my mother--my own mother, I mean--against her parents' wishes--she was young--and he never would be reconciled to them, because they had objected to him. Neither would he allow them to have anything to do with each other afterward. He was very stern, and it all made mother so unhappy it just broke her heart, I am sure. She died when I was very small. He has told me, since Jem's mamma died, he wished he had tried to pacify my grand-parents. But he had moved far away from them, and now, if he should die, he has nobody with whom to leave Jem and me. But he was always so proud; and now we shall be all alone," and she gave a sorrowful little sigh.
"See here, Ruth," exclaimed Flora, a sudden thought flashing across her mind. "What was your mother's name?"
"Ruth, it was the same as mine," was the reply.
"Yes, but what was her last name?"
"Benson, I think."
"Well, then, I think I know your grandparents," cried Flora.
"You do? How? Where?" returned Ruth, in a puzzled, disjointed way.
"Wasn't, or isn't, your grandfather named Joseph Benson?" asked Flora.
"Yes, Joseph Major Benson; but how did you know?"
"Oh, I found out," was the answer. "And they live just a little way out in the country."
But, how do you know all that?" persisted Ruth, incredulously.
"Because I was there yesterday."
"Oh, Flora, are you sure? Don't raise my hopes and then disappoint me."
"My dear, you will not be disappointed; I should not like to do that," said Flora, gravely; "but let me tell you, and you can see for yourself." And then she told the story
Ruth was delighted, and thanked her friend again and again.
"Just see how God works," she said. "Who can tell what he will bring about. How glad I am! I must not tell father anything about it just yet. We must manage to send world to grandfather, and have him here before we tell. It would not do to excite father unnecessarily; he is so very weak."
"That is so, Ruthie," said Flora; "you are wise, as usual, in thinking of that. I should have done quite differently. I should have rushed right in at once and told him."
"Not if you had been in my place," was the gentle answer. "You see, I have been accustomed to think about such things ever since Jem's mother died, as father never took much interest in the management of our household affairs."
After some more talk, it was arranged that Flora should go and bring Major Joe to see his son-in-law in the morning, and then the friends parted, Flora to hurry home and enlist her brothers' aid in her new project;