“Then come where is room for you and a welcome, and do as much more as you please, and can, for yourself, or for anybody else. I won’t give you a cent; you shall have something to do for me, if you choose. I am an old man now, and want help. Perhaps what I want as much as anything is what I’ve been all my life till lately, pretty obstinate in doing without.”
Uncle Oldways spoke short, and drew his breath in and puffed it out between his sentences, in his bluff way; but his eyes were kind, as he sat looking at the young girl over his hat and cane.
She thought of the still, gray parlor; of Rachel Froke and her face of peace; and the Quaker meeting and the crumbs last year; of Uncle Oldways’ study, and his shelves rich with books; of the new understanding that had begun between herself and him, and the faith she had found out, down beneath his hard reserves; of the beautiful neighborhood, Miss Craydocke’s Beehive, Aunt Franks’ cheery home and the ways of it, and Hazel’s runnings in and out. It seemed as if the real things had opened for her, and a place been made among them in which she should have “business to be,” and from which her life might make a new setting forth.
“And mamma knows?” she said, inquiringly, after that long pause.
“Yes. I told you I would talk with her. That is what we came to. It is only for you to say, now.”
“I will come. I shall be glad to come!” And her face was full of light as she looked up and said it.
* * * * *
Desire never thought for a moment of what her mother could not help thinking of; of what Mrs. Megilp thought and said, instantly, when she learned it three weeks later.
It is wonderful how abiding influence is,—even influence to which we are secretly superior,—if ever we have been subjected to, or allowed ourselves to be swayed by it. The veriest tyranny of discipline grows into one’s conscience, until years after, when life has got beyond the tyranny, conscience,—or something superinduced upon it,—keeps up the echo of the old mandates, and one can take no comfort in doing what one knows all the time one has a perfect right, besides sound reason, to do. It was a great while before our grandmothers’ daughters could peaceably stitch and overcast a seam, instead of over-sewing and felling it. I know women who feel to this moment as if to sit down and read a book of a week-day, in the daytime, were playing truant to the needle, though all the sewing-machines on the one hand, and all the demand and supply of mental culture on the other, of this present changed and bettered time, protest together against the absurdity.
Mrs. Ledwith had heard the Megilp precepts and the Megilp forth-putting of things, until involuntarily everything showed itself to her in a Megilp light. The Megilp “sense of duty,” therefore, came up as she unhesitatingly assented to Uncle Oldways’ proposal and request. He wanted Desire; of course she could not say a word; she owed him something, which she was glad she could so make up; and secretly there whispered in her mind the suggestion which Mrs. Megilp, on the other side of the water, spoke right out.