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From pride often, and sometimes from indolence, I am afraid I had broken that rule; but Fanny, I rather think, never had; and now I would try to help her to keep it.
My mother's paint-box was on a shelf in our closet, with three sheets of her drawing-paper still in it. Painting flowers was one of her chief opiates to lull the cares of her careful life. I think a person can scarcely have too many such, provided they are kept in their proper place. I have often seen her, when sadly tired or tried, sit down, with a moisture that was more like rain than dew in her eyes, and paint it all away, till she seemed to be looking sunshine over her lifelike blossoms. Then she would pin them up against the wall, for a week or two, for us to enjoy them with her; and, afterwards, she would give them away to any one who had done her any favor. Her spirit was in that like Fanny's, — she shrank so painfully from the weight of any obligation! She wished to teach me to paint, when I was a child. I wished to learn; and many of her directions were still fresh in my memory.
But the inexperienced eye and uncertain hand of thirteen disheartened me. I thought I had no talent. My mother was not accustomed to force any task upon me in my play-hours. The undertaking was given up.
But I suppose many persons, like me not precocious in the nursery or the school-room, but naturally fond, as I was passionately, of beautiful forms and colors, would be surprised, if they would try their baffled skill again in aftertimes, to find how much the years had been unwittingly preparing for them, in the way of facility and accuracy of outline and tint, while they supposed themselves to be exclusively occupied with other matters. What the physiologists call "unconscious cerebration" has been at work. Scatter the seeds of any accomplishment in the mind of a little man or woman, and, even if you leave them quite untended, you may in some after summer or autumn find the fruit growing wild.
Accordingly, when, within the last twelvemonth, I had been called upon to teach the elements of drawing in my school, it astonished me to discover the ease with which I could either sketch or copy. And now it occurred to me that perhaps, if I would take enough time and pains, I could paint something worthy of a place on Miss Mehitable's table.
Fanny's gladness at the plan, and interest in watching the work, in her own enforced inaction, were at once reward and stimulus. I succeeded, better than we either of us expected, in copying the frontispiece of a “picturebook," as Dr. Physick called it, which he had brought up from his office to amuse her. It was a scientific volume, sent him by the author, an old fellowstudent, from the other side of the world. Lovely ferns, flowers, shells, birds, butterflies, and insects, that surrounded him there, were treated further on separately, in rigid sequence; but as if to make himself amends by a little play for so much work, he had not been able to resist the temptation of grouping them all together on one glowing and fascinating page. I framed my copy as tastefully as I could, in a simple but harmonious passe-partout, and sent it to Miss Mehitable, with Fanny's love. Fanny's gratitude was touching; and as for me, I felt quite as if I had found a free ticket to an indefinitely long private picture-gallery.
Fanny's satisfaction was still more complete after the fair, when Miss Mehitable reported that the painting had brought in what we both thought quite a handsome sum. "It was a dreadful shame," she added, "you had n't sent two of 'em; for at noon, while I was home, jest takin' a bite, my niece, Letishy, from Noo York, had another grand nibble for that one after 't was purchased. Letishy said a kind o' poor, pale-lookin', queer-lookin' lady, who she never saw before, in an elegint camel's-hair,”—("Poor-lookin', in a camel's-hair shawl!" was my inward ejaculation; "don't I wish, ma'am, I could catch you and 'Letishy' in my
composition class, once!"). "she come up to the table an' saw that, an' seemed to feel quite taken aback to find she'd lost her chance at it. Letishy showed her some elegint shell-vases with artificial roses; but that would n't do. I told Letishy," continued Miss Mehitable, "that she'd ought to ha' been smart an' taken down the lady's name; an' then I could ha' got Kathryne to paint her another. But you mu't do it now, Kathryne, an' put it up in the bookseller's winder; an' then, if she's anybody that belongs hereabouts, she 'l! be likely to snap at it, an' the money can go right into the orphans' fund all the same."
"Much obliged," thought I, "for the hint as to the bookseller's shop-window; but I rather think that, if the money comes, the orphan's fund that it ought to 'go right into' this time is Fanny's."
For my orphan's fund from my months of school-keeping, not ample when I first came back, was smaller now. Fanny's illness was necessarily, in some respects, an expensive one. I believed, indeed, and do believe, that it was a gratification to Dr. Physick to lavish upon her, to the utmost of his ability, everything that could do her good, as freely as if she had been his own child or sister. But it could not be agreeable to her, while we had a brother, to be a burden to a man un connected with us by blood, young in his profession, though rising, and still probably earning not very much more than his wife's and his own daily bread from day to day, and owing us nothing but a debt of gratitude for another's kindnesses, which another man in his place would probably have said that "he paid as he went."
In plain English, the tie between us arose simply from the fact that he boarded with my mother, when he was a poor and unformed medical student. He always said that she was the best friend he had in his solitary youth, and that no one could tell how different all his after-life might have been but for her. She was naturally generous; yet
she was a just woman; and I know that, while we were unprovided for, she could not have given, as the world appraises giving, much to him. Still "she did what she could." He paid her his board; but she gave him a home. After she found that his lodgings were unwarmed, she invited him to share her fireside of a winter evening; and, though she would not deprive us of our chat with one another and with her, she taught us to speak in low tones, and never to him, when we saw him at his studies. When they were over, and he was tired and in want of some amusement, she afforded him one at once cheap, innocent, and inexhaustible, and sang to him as she still toiled on at her unresting needle, night after night, ballad after ballad, in her wild, sweet, rich voice. He was very fond of music, though, as he said, he "could only whistle for it." It was the custom then among our neighbors to keep Saturday evening strictly as a part of "the Sabbath." It was her half-holiday, however, for works of charity and mercy; and she would often bid him bring her any failing articles of his scanty wardrobe then, and say that she would mend them for him if he would read to her. Her taste was naturally fine, and trained by regular and wellchosen Sunday reading; and she had the tact to select for these occasions books that won the mind of the intellectual though uncultivated youth by their eloquence, until they won his heart by their holiness. Moreover, she had been gently bred, and could give good advice, in manners as well as morals, when it was asked for, and withhold it when it was not.
The upshot of it all was, that he loved her like a mother; and now the sentiment was deepened by a shade of filial remorse, which I could never quite dispel, though, as often as he gave me any chance, I tried. The last year of my mother's life was the first of his married life. His father-in-law hired, at the end of the town opposite to ours, a furnished house for him and his wife. My mother called upon
her by the Doctor's particular invitation. The visit was sweetly received, and promptly returned by the bride; but she was pretty and popular, and had many other visits to pay, especially when she could catch her husband at leisure to help her. He was seldom at leisure at all, but, as he self-reproachfully said, "too busy to think except of his patients and his wife"; and poor mamma, with all her real dignity, had caught something of the shy, retiring ways of a reduced gentlewoman, and was, besides, too literally straining every nerve to pay off the mortgage on her half-earned house, so that, if anything happened, she might "not leave her girls without a home." Therefore he saw her seldom.
After he heard she was ill, he was with her daily, and often three or four times a day; and his wife came too, and made the nicest broths and gruels with her own hands, and begged Fanny not to cry, and cried herself. He promised my mother that we should never want, if he could help it, and that he would be a brother to us both, and my guardian. She told him that, if she died, this promise would be the greatest earthly comfort to her in her death; and he answered, "So it will to me!"
Then after she was gone, when the lease of his house was up, as no other tenant offered for ours, he hired it, furniture and all, and offered Fanny and me both a home in it for an indefinite time; but our affairs were all unsettled. We knew the rent, as rents were then, would not pay our expenses and leave us anything to put by for the future, which my mother had taught us always to think of. Therefore I thought I had better take care of myself, as I was much the strongest, and perfectly able to do so. "And a very pretty business you made of it didn't you, miss?" reflected and queried I, parenthetically, as I afterwards reviewed these circumstances in my own mind.
The best we had to hope from my older and our only brother George was,
that he should join us in paying the interest on the mortgage till real estate should rise, as everybody said it soon must, - and then the rise in rents should enable us to let the house on better terms, and thus, by degrees, clear it of all encumbrances, and have it quite for our own, to let, sell, or live in. The worst we had to fear was, that he would insist on forcing it at once into the market, at what would be a great loss to us, and leave us almost destitute. He was going to be married, and getting into business, and wanted beyond anything else a little ready money.
He scarcely knew us even by sight. He had been a sprightly, pretty boy; and my mother's aunt's husband, having no children of his own, offered to adopt him. Poor mamma's heart was almost broken; but I suppose George's noise must have been very trying to my father's nerves; and then he had no way to provide for him. After she objected, I have always understood that my father appeared to take a morbid aversion to the child, and could scarcely bear him in his sight. So George seemed likely to be still more unhappy, and ruined beside, if she kept him at home. He was a little fellow then, not more than five years old; but he cried for her so long that my great-uncle-inlaw was very careful how he let him have anything to do with her again, till he had forgotten her; and little things taken so early must be expected to fall, sooner or later, more or less under the influence of those who have them in charge.
Poor mamma died without making a regular will. It was not the custom at that time for women to be taught so much about business even as they are now. She thought, if she did make a will before she could pay off the debt on the house, she should have to make another afterwards, and that then there would be double lawyers' fees to deduct from the little she would have to leave After she found out that she was dangerously sick, she was very anxious to make her will, whenever she was in
her right mind; but that went and came so, that the Doctor, and a lawyer whom he brought to see her, said that no disposition she might make could stand in court, if any effort were made to break it. All that could be done was to take down, as she was able to dictate it, an affectionate and touching letter to George.
In this she begged him to remember how much greater his advantages, and his opportunities of making a living, were than ours, and besought him to do his best to keep and increase for us the pittance she had toiled so hard to earn, and to take nothing from it unless a time should come when he was as helpless as we.
Two copies of this letter were made, signed, sealed, and witnessed. One I sent to George, enclosed with an earnest entreaty from Fanny and myself, that he would come and let mamma see him once again, before she died, if, as we feared, she must die. We had asked him to come before. He answered our letter - not our mother's — rather kindly, but very vaguely, putting off his visit, and saying, that he could not for a moment suffer himself to believe that she would not do perfectly well, if we did not alarm her about herself, nor worry her with business when she was not in a state for it. His reply was handed me before her, unluckily. She wished to hear it read, and seemed to lose heart and grow worse from that time.
Thus then matters stood with us that July. The sale of our house was pending over our kind host's head too! It was plain to me that George would not, and that Dr. Physick should not, bear the charge of Fanny's maintenance. So far and so long as I could, I would.
In the mean time, no further examination was made of her lungs. The Doctor's report was often “Remarkably comfortable," and never anything worse than, "Well, on the whole, taking one time with another, I don't see but she's about as comfortable as she has been." I was, of course, inexperienced. I was
afraid that, if she improved no faster, I should be obliged to leave her, when I went away to work for her again at the end of the summer vacation, still very feeble, a care to others, and pining for my care. That was my nearest and clearest fear.
But what did Fanny think? I hope, the truth; and on one incident, in chief, I ground my hope. One beautiful day the last one in July - she asked me if I should be willing to draw her to our mother's grave. There could be but one answer; though I had not seen the spot since the funeral. Fanny looked at it with more than calmness, with the solemn irradiation of countenance which had during her illness become her most characteristic expression. She desired me to help her from her chair. She lay at her length upon the turf, still and observant, as if calculating. Then she spoke.
"Katy, dear," said she, very tenderly and softly, as if she feared to give me pain," I have been thinking sometimes lately, that, if anything should ever happen to either of us, the other might be glad to know what would be exactly the wishes of the one that was gone about our graves. Suppose we choose them now, while we are here together. Here, by mamma, is where I should like to lie. See, I will lay two red clovers for the head, and a white one for the foot. And there, on her other side, is just such a place for you. Should you like it?-and-shall you remember?”
I found voice to say "Yes," and said it firmly.
"And then," added she, after a short, deliberating pause, during which she, with my assistance, raised herself to sit on the side of the chair with her feet still resting on the turf, "while we are upon the subject, — one thing more. If I should be the first to go,- nobody knows whose turn may come the first,
then I should like to have you do — just what would make you happiest; but I don't like mourning. I should n't wish to have it worn for me. My feelings about it have all changed since
we made it for mamma. It seemed as if we were only working at a great black wall, for our minds to have to break through, every time they yearned to go back into the past and sit with her. It was as if the things she chose for us, and loved to see us in, were part of her and of her life with us, as if she would be able still to think of us in them, and know just how we looked. And it seemed so strange and unsympathizing in us, that, when we loved her so, we should go about all muffled up in darkness, because our God was clothing her in light!"
I answered, rather slowly and tremulously this time, I fear, — that I had felt so too.
"Then, Katy," resumed she, pleadingly, as she leaned back in her usual attitude in the chair, and made a sign that I might draw her home, "we will not either of us wear it for the other,without nor within either, will we?any more than we can help. Don't you remember what dear mamma said once, when you had made two mistakes in your lessons at school, and lost a prize, and took it hard, and somebody was teasing you, with making very light of it, and telling you to think no more about it? You were very sorry and a little offended, and said, you always chose not to be hoodwinked, but to look at things on all sides and in the face. Mamma smiled, and said, 'It is good and brave to look all trials in the face; but among the sides, never forget the bright side, little Katy.' If I had my life to live over again, I would try to mind her more in that. She always said, there lay my greatest fault. I hope and think God has forgiven me, because he makes it so easy for me to be cheerful now."
other, the said somebody else is sinning away merrily, somewhere among the antipodes or nearer, without so much as a single twinge."
Smiling, she shook her head at me; and that was all that passed. She was as cheerful as I tried to be. With regard to the other world, she seemed to have attained unto the perfect love that casteth out fear; and I believe her only regret in leaving this lower one for it was that she could not take me with her. In fact, throughout her illness, her freedom from anxiety about its symptoms - not absolute, but still in strong contrast with her previous tendencies appeared to her physician, as he acknowledged to me afterwards, even when he considered the frequent flattering illusions of the disease, a most discouraging indication as to the case. But to her it was an infinite mercy; and to me, to have such glimpses to remember of her already in possession of so much of that peace which remaineth unto the people of God.
As the dog-days drew on, a change came, though at first a very gentle one to her, if not to me. She slept more, ate less, grew so thin that she could no more bear the motion of her little wagon, and begged that it might be returned, because it tired her so to think of it.
Then word came that our house was advertised to be sold, unconditionally, at an early day. To move her in that state, how dreadful it would be! I did not mean to let her know anything about it until I must; but Miss Mehitable, always less remarkable for tact than for good-will, blurted it out before her.
Her brows contracted with a moment's look of pain. "O Katy," she whispered, "I am sorry! That must make you very anxious";-and then she went to sleep.
'Fanny,” said I, as we drew near the house, things in this world are strangely jumbled. Here are you, with your character, to wit, that of a little saint, if you will have the goodness to overlook my saying so, and somebody else's conscience. I have no doubt that, while you are reproaching yourself first for this, then for that and the dy? Approaching death. Well, death
Evidently it did not make her very anxious, as I knew that it would have done as lately even as two or three months before. What was the reme