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The shades of evening were closing in upon a stormy March day; rain and sleet falling fast while a blustering northeast wind sent them sweeping across the desolate-looking fields and gardens, and over the wet road where a hack was lumbering along, drawn by two weary-looking steeds; its solitary passenger sighing and groaning with impatience over its slow progress and her own fatigue.
"Driver," she called, "are we ever going to arrive at Fairview?"
"One o' these days, I reckon, ma'am," drawled the man in reply. "It's been a dreadful tedious ride for you, but a trifle worse for me, seein' I get a lot more o' the wet out here than you do in thar."
"Yes," she returned in a tone of exasperation, "but I am a weak, ailing woman and you a big, strong man, used to exertion and exposure." The sentence ended in a distressing fit of coughing that seemed to shake her whole frame.
"I'm right sorry fur ye, ma'am," he said, turning a pitying glance upon her, "but just hold on a bit longer and we'll be there. We're e'n a'most in sight o' the place now. Kin o' yourn and expecting ye, I s'pose?"
"It is the home of my daughter--my only child," she returned, bridling, "and it will be strange indeed if she is not glad to see the mother whom she has not seen for years."
"Surely, ma'am; and yonder's the house. We'll be there in five minutes--more or less."
His passenger looked eagerly in the direction indicated.
"A large house, isn't it?" she queried. "One can't see much out of this little pane of glass and through the rain and mist."
"It's a fine place, ma'am, and a good, big house," he returned. "I wouldn't mind ownin' such a place myself. It's grand in the summer time, and not so bad to look at even now through all this storm o' mist, hail, and rain."
"Yes; I dare say," she said, shivering; "and if it was little better than a hovel I'd be glad to reach it and get out of this chilling wind. It penetrates to one's very bones."
She drew her cloak closer about her as she spoke, and as the hack turned in at the avenue gates took up her satchel and umbrella in evident haste to alight.
In the home-like parlour of the mansion they were approaching sat a lovely-looking lady of mature years, a little group of children gathered about her listening intently and with great interest to a story she was telling them, while a sweet-faced young girl, sitting near with a bit of tatting in her hands, seemed an equally interested hearer, ready to join in the outburst of merriment that now and again greeted something in the narrative.
"There is a hack coming up the avenue, Eva. Can we be going to have a visitor this stormy day?" suddenly exclaimed the eldest boy, glancing out of the window near where he stood. "Yes, it has come to a standstill at the foot of the veranda steps, and the driver seems to be getting ready to help someone out."
"A lady! Why, who can she be?" cried Eric, the next in age, as the hack door was thrown open and the driver assisted his passenger to alight, while Evelyn laid down her work and hastened into the hall to greet and welcome the guest, whoever she might be; for the Fairview family, like nearly every other in that region of country, was exceedingly hospitable.
A servant had already opened the outer door and now another stepped forward to take the lady's satchel and umbrella.
"Who can she be?" Evelyn asked herself as she hastily crossed the veranda and held out a welcoming hand with a word or two of pleasant greeting.
"Is it you, Evelyn?" asked the stranger in tones that trembled with emotion. "And do you not know me--your own mother!"
"Mother; oh, mother, can it be you?" cried Evelyn, catching the stranger in her arms and holding her fast with sobs and tears and kisses. "I had not heard from you for so long, and have been feeling as if I should never see you again. And oh, how thin and weak you look! You are sick, mother!" she added in tones of grief and anxiety, as she drew her into the hall, where by this time the rest of the family--Grandma Elsie, and Mr. and Mrs. Leland and their children--were gathered.
"Sister Laura! is it possible! Welcome to Fairview," was Mrs. Leland's greeting, accompanied by a warm embrace.
"Laura! we did not even know you were in America!" Mr. Leland said, grasping her hand in brotherly fashion. "And how weary and ill you are looking! Let me help you off with your bonnet and cloak and to a couch here in the parlour."
"Thank you; yes, I'll be very glad to lie down, for I'm worn out with my journey and this troublesome cough," she said, struggling with a renewed paroxysm and gasping for breath. "But my luggage and----"
"We'll attend to all that," he said, half carrying her to the couch where his wife and her mother were arranging the pillows for her comfort, and laying her gently down upon it.
"Oh, mother; my poor dear mother!" sighed Evelyn, as she leaned over her, smoothing her hair with caressing hand, "it breaks my heart to see you looking so weary and ill. But we will soon nurse you back to health and strength--uncle and aunt and I."
"I hope so, indeed," Mrs. Leland said in her sweet, gentle tones. "You have had most unpleasant weather for your journey, Laura, so that it is not to be wondered at that you are exhausted. You must have some refreshment at once," and with the last word she hastened away in search of it.
"And here is something to relieve that dreadful cough," said Mrs. Travilla, presenting herself with a delicate china cup in her hand.
Evelyn introduced the two ladies, and her mother, being assured that the cup contained nothing unpleasant to the taste, quickly swallowed its contents, then lay back quietly upon her pillows, still keeping fast hold of her daughter's hand, while Grandma Elsie, giving the cup to a servant to carry away, resumed her easy chair on the farther side of the room--near enough to be ready to render assistance should it be needed, yet not so near as to interfere with any private talk between the long separated mother and daughter--and her grandchildren again gathered about her. But they seemed awed into silence by the presence of the stranger invalid, whom they gazed upon with pitying curiosity, while her attention seemed equally occupied with them.
"Your uncle's children?" she asked of Evelyn in a tone scarcely louder than a whisper.
"Yes, mamma. Edward, the eldest, you saw when he was a mere baby boy. Eric, the next, is papa's namesake. The eldest of the little girls--she is in her fifth year--is Elsie Alicia, named for her two grandmothers; we call her Alie. And the youngest--that two-year-old darling--we call Vi. She is named for her aunt, Mrs. Raymond."
"And Mrs. Travilla lives here with her daughter?"
"No; she is paying a visit of a few days, as she often does since her daughter-in-law, Aunt Zoe, has undertaken the most of the housekeeping at Ion."
"She certainly looks very young to be mother and grandmother to so many," sighed the invalid, catching sight of her own sallow, prematurely wrinkled face reflected in a large mirror on the opposite side of the room. "But she has had an easy life, surrounded by kind, affectionate, sympathising friends, while I--miserable woman that I am--have been worried, brow-beaten, robbed, till nothing is left me but ill-health and grinding poverty."
"Mother, mother dear, don't talk so while I am left you and have enough to keep us both, with care and economy," entreated Evelyn in a voice half choked with sobs. "It will be joy to me to share with you and do all I can to make your last days comfortable and happy."
"Then you haven't lost all your love for your mother in our years of separation?"
"No, no indeed!" answered Evelyn earnestly. But there the conversation ended for the time, Mrs. Leland returning with the promised refreshment. It seemed to give some strength to the invalid, and after taking it she was, by her own request, assisted to her room, an apartment opening into that of her daughter, with whose good help she was soon made ready for her bed, the most comfortable she had lain upon for weeks or months, she remarked, as she stretched her tired limbs upon it.
"I am very glad you find it so, mother dear," said Evelyn. "And now, if you like, I will unpack your trunks and arrange their contents in wardrobe, bureau drawers, and closet."
"There is no hurry about that, and isn't that your supper bell I hear?"
"Yes'm, suppah's on de table, an' I's come to set yere and 'tend to you uns while Miss Eva gwine eat wif de res' of de folks," said a neatly dressed, pleasant-faced, elderly coloured woman, who had entered the room just in time to hear the query in regard to the bell. "But, missus, Miss Elsie she tole me for to ax you could you take somethin' mo'?"
"She says Aunt Elsie wants to know could you eat something more, mother dear?" explained Eva, seeing a puzzled look on her mother's face.
"Oh, no! that excellent broth fully satisfied my appetite," replied Laura. "Go and get your supper, Eva, child, but come back when you have finished; for we have been so long separated that now I can hardly bear to have you out of my sight."
"Oh, mother, how sweet to hear you say that!" exclaimed Evelyn, bending down to bestow another ardent caress upon her newly restored parent. "Indeed, I shall not stay away a moment longer than necessary."
The new arrival and her sad condition were the principal topics of conversation at the table.
"I am so glad we have such a good doctor in Cousin Arthur," said Evelyn. "I hope he can cure mamma's cough. I wish the weather was such that we could reasonably ask him to come and see her to-night," she added with a sigh.
"Yes," said her uncle, "but as it is so bad I think we will just give him a full account of her symptoms and ask his advice through the telephone. Then he will tell us what would better be done to-night, and call in to see her to-morrow morning."
The ladies all agreed that that would be the better plan and it was presently carried out. The doctor would have come at once, in spite of the storm, had it seemed necessary, but from the account given he deemed it not so.
"I will come directly after breakfast to-morrow morning," he concluded, after giving his advice in regard to what should be done immediately.
"That is satisfactory; and now I will go at once to mamma and carry out his directions for to-night," said Evelyn.
"Remembering that we are all ready to assist in any and every possible way," added her uncle, smiling kindly upon her.
"Yes, indeed!" said Grandma Elsie; "and you must not hesitate to call upon me if you need help."
"No, no, mother dear. I put my veto upon that!" exclaimed Mrs. Leland. "You are not a really old-looking woman yet, but are not as vigorous as you were some years ago, and I cannot afford to let you run any risk of diminishing your stock of health and strength by loss of sleep or over-exertion. Call upon me, Eva, should you need any assistance."
"Very well, daughter, I shall not insist upon the privilege of losing sleep," returned Grandma Elsie with a smile, "but may perhaps be permitted to make myself slightly useful during the day."
"Yes, slightly, mother dear, and at such time as you would not be otherwise improving by taking needed rest or recreation," Mrs. Leland replied as she hastened away with Eva, with the purpose to make sure that her newly arrived guest lacked for nothing which she could provide.
"At last, Evelyn, child! I suppose you have not been long gone, but it seemed so to my impatience," was Laura's salutation as Eva reentered her room.
"It is sweet to hear you say that, mother dear; sweet to know that you love me so," Evelyn said in moved tones, bending down to press a kiss on the wan cheek, "and I mean to fairly surfeit you with my company in the days and weeks that lie before us."
"And she only waited with the rest of us to consult our good doctor for you, Laura," added Mrs. Leland. "He has prescribed a sleeping potion for to-night, and will call to see you and prescribe further in the morning."
"I think I should have been consulted," returned the invalid in a tone of irritation; "my money is all gone and he may never get his pay."
"Oh, don't trouble about that!" exclaimed Mrs. Leland and Evelyn in a breath, the former adding, "His charges are not heavy and it will be strange indeed if we cannot find a way to meet and defray them."
"Of course we can and will, and you are not to concern yourself any more about it, mamma," added Evelyn in a tone of playful authority. "What would be the use when you have a tolerably rich, grown-up daughter, whose principal business and pleasure it will be to take care of and provide for her long-lost, but now happily recovered mother. And here comes uncle with your sleeping potion," she added, as Mr. Leland at that moment appeared in the doorway, cup in hand.
"Here is something which I hope will quiet your cough, Laura," he said, coming to the bedside. "It is not bad to take, either, and will be likely to secure you a good night's rest."
"I don't know," she returned doubtfully, eyeing the cup with evident disfavour, "I was never good at dosing."
"You prefer lying awake, racked with that distressing cough?"
"No," she sighed, taking the cup from his hand, "even quite a bad dose would be better than that. And it was not so bad after all," she concluded as she returned the cup, after swallowing its contents.
"Glad to hear you say so," he said in reply. "And now take my further advice--lie still and go to sleep, leaving all the talk with Eva till to-morrow. Good-night to you both." And he left the room, followed presently by his wife, who lingered only until she had made sure that all the wants of the invalid were fully supplied.
Laura had already fallen into a sweet sleep, under the soothing influence of the draught, and Eva presently stretched herself beside her, and with a heart filled with contending emotions--love for this her only remaining parent, joy in their reunion, sorrow and care in view of her evident exhaustion and ill-health, and plans for making her remaining days happy--lay awake for a time silently asking for guidance and help from on high, then fell into dreamless, refreshing sleep.
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