« AnteriorContinua »
that sometimes she was called Polly. She did not know whether she had any other name, but she knew that she was Long John's little child, for all the folk knew that.
“Where is your mother ?” asked Ralph. His brother had not been married when they had parted twenty years back.
“Mother is with father,” said Mary.
“ And is that their home?” inquired Ralph, as he approached a pretty farm-house which stood a little way back from the road.
“Oh no!” cried Mary, in surprise at the question; “not a big home like that.”
Ralph's face became graver and sadder, for the farm-house was not so large as the dwelling in which he had last seen his brother. It was clear that Long John could nat have prospered in life, and this made Ralph more deeply regret having so long harboured anger against him.
“Why had I the folly—the worse than folly—to keep up a quarrel with my own brother!” thought he. “Poor John has gone down in the world—I shall find him, perhaps, in distress. He has needed the help of a brother, and knew not where a letter would find me.—Has your father to work very hard ?” he inquired.
“Oh no,” replied the child again, with a look of surprise.
The mind of Ralph was relieved. “Then he is never very hungry?” said he.
“Never hungry," answered Mary gravely.
“ It is a comfort that John has not known actual want,” thought Ralph ; “if I find him—as I expect—a poor man, I, with plenty of money in my pocket, shall be able to start him again in business.”
Ralph walked for some time in silence by his little companion, for his thoughts were full of the days of old. He remembered how he had romped and played with his brother when they had been children together; and he remembered, alas ! how often their sports had ended in quarrelling and fighting. Both were proud, passionate boys; neither liked to give in; neither could bear to ask pardon of the brother whom he had wronged. The last sad quarrel between Ralph and his brother had followed on a thousand lesser ones, which had imbittered the lives of both.
“Ah, how often our poor mother urged us to love each other!” thought Ralph, now a worn elderly man, as he recalled the days of his youth. How she spoke to us of the meekness and gentleness which should be shown by every Christian, and taught us that he that is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he that ruleth his spirit than he that taketh a city! What grief it would have given to our mother could she have known that, after her death, her sons would be more than twenty years without seeing or hearing tidings of each other! But now I will make amends for the past. Poor John shall find that for him and his family I have an open purse and an open heart. I hope that the quarrel which has kept us so long asunder may be the last which shall ever arise between me and my only brother."
Ralph was so much engaged with thoughts such as these, that he scarcely noticed that his little guide was now taking him through the village church-yard, until she suddenly stopped quite still, which made her companion stop also. Mary pointed to a mound of turf, over which the long grass was growing. There was a low head-stone by the mound, with a short inscription upon it. Ralph started and trembled when his glance fell on that stone. It bore two names: the first that of MARY DAINES, who had died, aged twenty; the next that of her husband, John Daines, who (as the date showed) had died not a year before his brother's return. Little Mary was too young to spell out the words on the stone ; but she had been taught to look on that grassy mound as the home of her father and mother.
Great was the surprise of the child to see the burst of grief to which her quiet, grave companion gave way. The little one knew not how great had been her own loss; her childish tears for her father had long since been dried; to her there was no deep sadness in the peaceful church-yard, or the grassy mound on which daisies grew. Mary wondered why the tall stranger should fall on his knees by the mound, and bury his face in his hands, and sob as if he were a child. Mary knew not what a bitter thing it is to repent too late of unkindness shown to a brother; to wish—but to wish in vain—to recall words which should never have been spoken, deeds which should never have been done. Ralph would at that moment have given all that he possessed upon earth to be able to say to himself, “There was never anything but kindness and love between me and him whom I shall see no more upon earth!”
At length Ralph arose from the grave, with a heavy heart, and eyes swollen with weeping. He took Mary up in his arms, pressed her close to his heart, then covered her face with kisses. He was thankful that there was yet one way left by which he could show affection to his lost brother,—he would act the part of a father to John's little orphan girl. Ralph promised by his brother's tomb that he would watch over Mary, and care for her and love her, as if she were his own child. And well did Ralph keep that promise, well did he supply a parent's place to