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قراءة كتاب The Elm Tree Tales

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‏اللغة: English
The Elm Tree Tales

The Elm Tree Tales

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دار النشر: Project Gutenberg
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me on her account—is it not very late for her to stay away? She is such a timid little thing, and always flies to us before the darkness begins to come! Her's is a cruel age, and a loathsome employment. Would God I had died, Mary, ere it had come to this!"—and the poor man hid his face in the bedclothes, and moaned like a stricken child. The patient wife laid aside her work, and taking the well-worn Bible from its sacred resting-place, read to him the thirty-seventh Psalm—then rising and going to the window, she pressed her ear against the pane, and listened for her Jennie's coming. Hark! a step is on the stairs! The husband and wife both started—it was a heavy, lumbering tread—not the soft foot-falls of their gentle little one, that brought music even to their dismal abode:

"Some one is knocking, Mary," said the husband, and, as he spoke, the door opened, and a man appeared with a note and a basket.

"Is Mrs. Grig here," asked the man.

"That is my name," replied the frightened woman whose maternal heart immediately suggested that something had happened to her child.

"Tell me of my darling. Is she hurt? Is she dead?"—then seizing the note which the servant held out to her she read as follows:

"Mr. and Mrs. Grig must not be alarmed about their little Jennie. She has met with a slight accident; but her life is not endangered, and she is where every attention will be bestowed upon her. If they will spare her to me until she is wholly restored, they will confer the greatest of favors upon their friend,

"Helena Dunmore.

"I send a few delicacies, which I hope her sick father will relish. Jennie wishes to see her mother before she sleeps, will she come to her an hour this evening?"

The servant left the name of the street, and the number of the house where his mistress lived, and departed, with an humble reverence, for there was an innate aristocracy in Mrs. Grig that commanded the respect of all who saw her, even though the vicissitudes of life had robbed her of the external marks of rank and elegance. "God be praised!" said she, as she pressed her lips to the pale brow of her now hopeful husband, "Our house is not left unto us desolate, neither has our Father forsaken us in our time of necessity. Surely He giveth bread to the hungry, and filleth the fainting soul with gladness!" Then spreading the tempting viands before the famished invalid, she smiled with the cheerfulness of her earlier days, as she saw with what relish he ate and drank.

When they had finished their unexpected, but welcome meal, she placed the fragments carefully away, and blowing out the light, which she must save for her midnight toils, she left the house in order to seek her child.


CHAPTER III.

The stars were shining tranquilly, and the moon looked calmly down upon the great and noisy city, imparting their quietness and peace to the heart of the eager mother who threaded her way to her sick child. Long and tedious was the distance, but she felt it not, excepting that she shrunk from the rough contact of brawling and wicked men, who rudely pushed past her, as they hurried on to their nightly debauches.

Oh! how sensitive was she then to the thought of the horrors that ever threaten the innocent and unprotected, if forced by their sad necessity to encounter the vile and polluted!—and how resolutely did she determine thenceforth to shield the child of her love from all such dangers, even though her own life were the forfeit of her care.

She gazed upward into the clear heavens, as if to gather strength for her future trials, and then pressing quickly on, was soon in the presence of Mrs. Dunmore. The transition from her own dreary room to the luxurious and tasteful apartment where she now found herself, was so completely bewildering, that she stood for a moment, as if in a strange and mysterious dream. Every thing that taste could desire, or wealth procure, was lavished upon this sanctum, where Mrs. Dunmore, since her double bereavement, found her chief delight—yet amid all the splendor of the place, were tokens of that presence from which naught can exempt us.

A little portrait draped in black, hung above a crimson couch, whereon lay a child of exquisite beauty. Her tiny form was wrapped in the purest muslin, and a light blue cashmere shawl was thrown negligently over her. One little foot, encased in a delicate slipper, hung over the edge of the couch, and her long dark curls fell about the pillow in the richest profusion.

In one hand she held a pretty vinaigrette, and the other was bound in soft cloths, and slightly confined to her waist by a silken sash. As the door of the room opened, she flung off the shawl that covered her, and tried to rise; but the effort was too much for her exhausted frame, and she fell faintly back, murmuring "Mother, dearest mother!"

In one moment the poor woman was kneeling beside the couch, clasping the sweet child to her bosom, who with her one little arm girdled that sacred neck, and with smiles and kisses awakened her to a perfect consciousness of her safety and of her happy position.

Mrs. Dunmore had all this time been partially concealed by the drapery of the window, but as she moved from the recess Jennie's quick ear caught the sound of her step, and she whispered to her mother, who arose, and with some confusion at the novelty of her situation and the meanness of her attire, advanced to meet the gentle widow, saying, "Jennie tells me you are the kind lady who befriended her in her distress—I have not words to thank you, dear madam, for your pity, and care for my unfortunate child; but if the prayers of an earnest heart will avail before God, the choicest of Heaven's blessings shall be your reward."

"A glance at that portrait," said Mrs. Dunmore, "will betray to you the motive for any unwonted interest in your precious child; but were it simply a humane act, the thought of having performed one's duty is a sufficient recompense—still, I ask another, and that is, that your little one may supply to me the place of my darling 'Bella.' I know," continued she, as she noticed the flush upon the mother's face, and the increased pulsations of her heart, "how great a sacrifice I ask, and I can not press you to give up your own right over the treasure God has bestowed upon you; but I would so far share that blessing with you, as to keep your little Jennie always near me, and to assist you in your care for her comfort and advancement."

Mrs. Grig was struck with the delicacy and refinement of Mrs. Dunmore's manner toward her; instead of bluntly offering to adopt her child, with the evident feeling that it was too good a bargain to require a moment's wavering, she proposed it to her in the light of a favor conferred upon herself, and in which they would both ever have a mutual interest. The poor woman could not see that her own apparent good breeding had—in Mrs. Dunmore's estimation—diminished the distance in their relative positions, so that a free and full sympathy was compatible with her dignity, as well as the dictate of her heart. She looked upon her child as she lay there, in her now adorned loveliness; she gazed about the room so filled with comfort and delight, and as her thoughts wandered from these blessings to her own cheerless home, and to the past few months of destitution; and as visions of weary days of toil, and nights of cold and hunger and wretchedness, and the shadow of that lovely little one returning from her loathsome labors, with muddy garments, and a worn and saddened face, passed before her, she shrunk from the latter alternative, and placing the hand of her child in

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