“I don’t see that. If circumstances shut us up to doing certain things, there is no virtue in doing them. There may be a little virtue in not repining at our fate, but not much.”
He did not answer for a minute, but broke the curl of a little snowdrift gently with his stick. Because he did not answer or say good-bye, Sophia tarried for a moment and then looked up at him.
“Miss Rexford,” he replied, “the voice of circumstances says to us just what we interpret it to say. It is in the needs must of a high nature that true nobility lies.”
It is upon the anniversary of feasts that a family, if despondent at all, feels most despondent. So it fell out that at Christmas-time the homesickness which hitherto had found its antidote in novelty and surprise now attacked the Rexford household. The girls wept a good deal. Sophia chid them for it sharply. Captain Rexford carried a solemn face. The little boys were in worse pickles of mischief than was ordinary. Even Mrs. Rexford was caught once or twice, in odd corners, hastily wiping away furtive tears.
This general despondency seemed to reach a climax one afternoon some days before the end of the year. Without, the wind was blowing and snow was descending; inside, the housework dragged monotonously. The only lively people in the house were the little children. They were playing quite riotously in an upper room, under the care of the Canadian girl, Eliza; but their shouts only elicited sighs from Mrs. Rexford’s elder daughters, who were helping her to wash the dinner dishes in the kitchen.
These two elder daughters had, since childhood, always been dressed, so far as convenient, the one in blue, the other in red, and were nicknamed accordingly. Their mother thought it gave them individuality which they otherwise lacked. The red frock and the blue were anything but gay just now, for they were splashed and dusty, and the pretty faces above them showed a decided disposition to pout and frown, even to shed tears.
The kitchen was a long, low room. The unpainted wood of floor, walls, and ceiling was darkened somewhat by time. Two square, four-paned windows were as yet uncurtained, except that Nature, with the kindness of a fairy helper, had supplied the lack of deft fingers and veiled the glass with such devices of the frost as resembled miniature landscapes of distant alp and nearer minaret. The large, square cooking-stove smoked a little. Between the stove and the other door stood the table, which held the dishes at which worked the neat, quick mother and her rather untidy and idle daughters.
“Really, Blue and Red!” The words were jerked out to conceal a sigh which had risen involuntarily. “This is disgraceful.”
Her sharp brown eyes fell on the pile of dishes she had washed, which the two girls, who were both drying them, failed to diminish as fast as she increased it.