Mary Erskine was entirely overwhelmed with grief, when she found that all was over. In a few hours, however, she became comparatively calm, and the next day she began to help Mrs. Bell in making preparations for the funeral. She sent for Bella to come home immediately. Mrs. Bell urged her very earnestly to take both the children, and go with her to her house, after the funeral, and stay there for a few days at least, till she could determine what to do.
“No,” said Mary Erskine. “It will be better for me to come back here.”
“What do you think you shall do?” said Mrs. Bell.
“I don’t know,” said Mary Erskine. “I can’t even begin to think now. I am going to wait a week before I try to think about it at all.”
“And in the mean time you are going to stay in this house.”
“Yes,” said Mary Erskine, “I think that is best.”
“But you must not stay here alone,” said Mrs. Bell. “I will come back with you and stay with you, at least one night.”
“No,” said Mary Erskine. “I have got to learn to be alone now, and I may as well begin at once. I am very much obliged to you for all your—”
Here Mary Erskine’s voice faltered, and she suddenly stopped. Mrs. Bell pitied her with all her heart, but she said no more. She remained at the house while the funeral procession was gone to the grave; and some friends came back with Mary Erskine, after the funeral. They all, however, went away about sunset, leaving Mary Erskine alone with her children.
As soon as her friends had gone, Mary Erskine took the children and sat down in a rocking-chair, before the fire, holding them both in her lap, the baby upon one side and Bella upon the other, and began to rock back and forth with great rapidity. She kissed the children again and again, with many tears, and sometimes she groaned aloud, in the excess of her anguish. She remained sitting thus for half an hour. The twilight gradually faded away. The flickering flame, which rose from the fire in the fire-place, seemed to grow brighter as the daylight disappeared, and to illuminate the whole interior of the room, so as to give it a genial and cheerful expression. Mary Erskine gradually became calm. The children, first the baby, and then Bella, fell asleep. Finally Mary Erskine herself, who was by this time entirely exhausted with watching, care, and sorrow, fell asleep too. Mary Erskine slept sweetly for two full hours, and then was awaked by the nestling of the baby.
[Illustration: THE WIDOW AND THE FATHERLESS.]
When Mary Erskine awoke she was astonished to find her mind perfectly calm, tranquil, and happy. She looked down upon her children—Bella asleep and the baby just awaking—with a heart full of maternal joy and pleasure. Her room, it seemed to her, never appeared so bright and cheerful and happy as then. She carried Bella to the bed and laid her gently down in Albert’s