“No jesting or compliments this morning, please; I’m too heavy-hearted for them now.”
“You ought to be serene and happy after so kind and good a deed.”
“No,” she said, decisively; “that sympathy must be superficial which can pass almost immediately into self-complacency. Oh, Graydon, it is all so sad, yet not sad; so passing strange, yet as natural and true as life and death! I did sit for hours just as you imagined, looking out on the great, still mountains. Never did they seem so vast and stable, and our life so vapor-like, as when I heard that poor fluttering breath come and go at my side. There was a time when this truth grew oppressive; but later on that feeble life, which seemed but a breath, came to mean something greater and more real than the mountains themselves. But I am anticipating. As soon as Mary departed I became as imperious as I dared to be. I saw that the poor mother had reached about the limit of her endurance, and I arranged the lounge in the sitting-room, so that she could lie down at once, saying: ’I am a stranger, and young, and it’s not natural that you should be willing to give up to me too much, nor do I wish you to be far away; yet I can see just how sorely in need of rest you are. You must finish your supper, give me your directions, and then lie down and get every bit of rest you can. I can easily keep awake, and promise to call you whenever you are needed.’
“‘Nancy,’ her husband added, ’Miss Alden is right. I see by the way she takes hold that she’ll do everything, and you’re jest beat out.’ So between us we had our way.
“‘Bless you, miss,’ said the man, trying to smile in a way that almost made me cry, ’I’m as handy as a woman ‘bout a kitchen;’ and he soon proved that he was handier than I could have been, for in a few minutes he pulled up from the well a pail, took out a dressed chicken, and broiled it to perfection. I made his wife eat some of it, and saved a little of the breast for poor Tilly, as they call her.”
“Did you take any yourself?” interrupted Graydon.
“Oh, yes, indeed! I’m one of those prosaic creatures whose appetite never fails. If the world were coming to an end to-day I should insist on having my breakfast.”
“Madge,” said Graydon, ruefully, “I might as well tell you, for I’m sure to be found out: I once called you ‘lackadaisical.’”
“Oh, I knew that over two years ago! What’s more, you were right.”
“No; I was not right,” he answered, positively. “I should have recognized the possibilities of your nature then. I did in regard to your beauty, but not those higher qualities which bid fair to make you my patron saint.”
“Oh, hush, Graydon. Such words only pain me. I don’t want your compliments, and if any man made a patron saint of me I should be so exasperated that I should probably box his ears. Let us stick to what is simple, natural, and true, in all our talk.”