When they reached it, all was so very still inside that they hesitated to knock; and while they paused, the woman who had undertaken the office of nurse, and who had seen the sleigh arrive, softly opened the door and admitted them. She pointed to the bed to show them that her patient was asleep; and they sat down to wait for her waking. The house contained but one room, with a small lean-to which served the purpose of a back kitchen, and made it possible for the other apartment to have that look of almost dainty cleanliness and order which the visitors noticed. No attempt had ever been made to hide the logs, of which the walls were built. A line of plaster between each kept out the wind, and gave a curious striped appearance to the inside. The floor was of boards, unplaned, but white as snow, and partly covered by a rag carpet. In the middle of the room stood the stove, and a small table near it. An old-fashioned chest of drawers of polished oak, a dresser of pine wood and some rush-seated chairs had their places against the walls; but in the further corner stood the chief piece of furniture, and the one which drew the attention of the visitors with the most powerful attraction. It was a large clumsy four-post bedstead, hung with blue and white homespun curtains, and covered with a gay patchwork quilt. The curtains on both sides were drawn back, and the face and figure of the sleeper were in full view. She lay as if under the influence of a narcotic, so still that her breathing could scarcely be distinguished. Two or three days of intense suffering had given her the blanched shrunken look which generally comes from long illness; her face, comely and bright in health, was sunk and pallid, with black marks below the closed eyes; one hand stretched over the covers, held all through her sleep that of a little girl, her eldest child, who was half kneeling on a chair, half lying across the bed, with her head resting on the pillow. At the foot of the bed stood a wooden cradle—the covering disarranged and partly fallen on the floor, while the poor little baby, wrapped in an old blanket, lay in the nurse’s arms, and now and then feebly cried, or rather moaned, as if it were almost too weak to make its complaint heard. A boy of about six sat in a low seat silently busy with a knife and a piece of wood; and a younger girl, tired of the sadness and constraint around, had climbed upon a chair, and resting one arm on the dresser, laid her round rosy cheek on it, and fallen asleep.
Mrs. Morton and Lucia were both strangers to the nurse. She merely understood that they had come with some kind intentions towards her charge, and when she had put chairs for them near the stove and seen them sit down to wait, she returned to her occupation of rocking and soothing the poor little mite she held in her arms.