Read CHAPTER IV - THE ORPHAN ARRIVES of Treasure Valley , free online book, by Marian Keith, on ReadCentral.com.

  O little wild feet, too softly white
  To roam the world’s tempestuous night,
  The years like sleet on my windows beat,
  Come in and be cherished, O little wild feet. 
  My heart is a house deep-walled and warm,
  To cover you from the night and storm. 
          -C.  G. D. Roberts.

Miss Arabella Winter and her parrot lived alone in a tiny house, next door to her brother’s home, and were “managed,” in company with the rest of the village, by her smart sister-in-law.  In all Susan Winters’ realm there was no more obedient subject than the meek little lilac lady.

She had been very pretty in her youth, and much of her girlhood’s beauty lingered yet in the faint pink of her cheeks and the droop of her long lashes.  Her golden-brown hair was still abundant and wavy, though in accordance with her sister-in-law’s instructions she pulled it back so tightly that its undulations were quite smoothed out.  And just so Miss Arabella tied down and smoothed out all the beauty curves of her life to suit the rigid lines of Susan’s methods.  That she ever longed for more breadth and freedom could never have entered the head of any one in the village.  But then the village did not know the real Miss Arabella.

She was hurrying through her morning’s work, for a column of smoke curling up from the other side of her next neighbor’s orchard told that the Sawyers had returned; and if Susan did not mind, she hoped she might run over and see what kind of baby Jake and Hannah had brought home.

She shook the breakfast tablecloth out at the back door, and the hens came running to pick up the crumbs.  Like all houses in Elmbrook, Miss Arabella’s front door looked out upon the narrow confines of the village street, with its double row of elms and maples; but her back door commanded a view of a whole world of sky and field and wood.  High up in an apple-tree of the Sawyers’ orchard a bluebird was caroling joyously.  Miss Arabella had never heard of the man who said that the bluebird carried the sky on his back, but she involuntarily glanced from the brilliant azure dot in the tree-top to the vivid blue of the heavens.  “They’re awful alike,” she whispered, with a smile; then she glanced inside, “and it’s the same color, too!  I’ve a good mind”-she paused guiltily and glanced toward her brother’s house.  “I’ll just take one glimpse,” she added hurriedly.  She put the tablecloth away in its drawer and ran into the little sitting-room.  The old floor, under its gay covering of rag-carpet and home-made rugs, sank and creaked with even her light weight.  At the sound a querulous voice from the veranda called “Arabella, Arabella!”

Miss Arabella looked severe.  “Polly!” she cried, appearing at the door.  “Now, Polly, be good.  You were jist awful yesterday, when the doctor was passing.  You’ll try not to say that awful thing, won’t you, Polly?”

“Oh, Annie Laurie, Annie Laurie, Annie Laurie!” gabbled Polly, walking along her perch head downward.  “I’ll be good, I’ll be good.”

Thus assured, Miss Arabella slipped into her spare bedroom.  It was a tiny room, with a close, hushed air.  Most of the space was taken up by a huge feather-bed, whose white surface bulged up like a monstrous baking of bread.  Against the crinkly spars of the low headboard two stiff pillow-shams stood erect, like signboards, each bearing the legend, worked in red, “Sweet Dreams.”  The floor was covered with a home-made rug, displaying a branch of yellow roses, upon which stood a mathematically straight line of purple-breasted robins.  The one window was draped in stiff, white lace curtains that fell from the ceiling in a billowing cascade and flowed out into the middle of the room.  Here the flood was dammed, very appropriately, by two large, pink-tinted seashells.  In one corner stood a high, old-fashioned chest of drawers, covered with a white cloth worked in red to match the “Sweet Dreams” on the pillows.  It held a small looking-glass flanked by a couple of china figures; a gay Red Riding-Hood, with a pink wolf, set primly opposite a striped Bo-peep and a sky-blue lamb.  There were pebbles and shells and pieces of coral, and baskets of beadwork, and many other ornaments dear to Miss Arabella’s heart.  She closed the old, creaking door, placed the one chair against it, and trembling as though she were about to commit a burglary, she stealthily opened the lowest drawer of the dresser and took from it a large parcel.  She sat down on the low rocker and carefully untied the string.  Her breath was coming fast, her eyes were shining.  The stiff paper opened, and revealed a roll of bright blue silk, just the tint of the May skies.  Miss Arabella touched it lovingly.

“You’re the very color,” she whispered; “you’ve never faded a bit, and it’s been such a long time-oh, an awful long time!” She sighed deeply; her little face looked wan and old.

“But you haven’t started to ravel yet.”  Her fingers had been running carefully up and down the silk, and she stopped with a start of dismay.  She hurried to the low window.  Yes, there along several of the folds, the blue fabric was showing signs of wear!  Miss Arabella sank back into her chair and sat motionless, gazing at the bright heap in her lap.  Slowly two big tears gathered, and slipped down her cheeks.  She hastily covered the precious silk from possible damage, wiped her eyes with her apron, and replaced the bundle in the drawer.

“It must be a sign,” she whispered tremulously.  “It ’ud never ‘a’ begun to wear if it was goin’ to be any use to me.  It’s a sign!” She locked the drawer, and went out slowly.  Her little figure had a more pronounced droop, her eyes were very piteous.

She went back to her tasks in the tiny kitchen with a dull, hopeless air.  She had just set a pail of soapy water on the back doorstep, preparatory to scrubbing the porch floor, for Susan insisted that this must be done once a week, no matter how clean it might be, when Polly’s voice reached her.  It was raised in uttering that shocking phrase which her mistress had forbidden, and which Polly refused to unlearn.  Miss Arabella hurried out to the front veranda, fearful lest the minister or the new doctor might be within earshot.

“Good-morning, Arabella!” called a sweet voice from the other side of the cedar hedge.

Miss Arabella ran joyfully to the gate.  “Oh, Elsie, is it you?  Come away in and sit a minute; do, now.”

“No, thank you, Arabella; not this morning.  Mother sent me up to see what sort of baby Jake and Hannah have adopted.  Come with me.”

“I’d like to.”  Miss Arabella glanced wistfully across the orchard, but the vision of her sister-in-law hoeing in the garden quenched the light of hope in her eyes.  “I can’t go for a little bit,” she added.  “I haven’t done the back stoop yet.”

The girl stood looking down at her, a splendid contrast, in her strong, erect beauty, to the little, drooping figure.  Miss Arabella looked up at her with adoring eyes.  There was a strange comradeship between these two.

“Oh, Arabella, dear,” cried the girl, half pityingly, half laughingly, “why don’t you run away?”

Miss Arabella looked up with a sudden fire in her eyes and a flush on her cheek.  “Oh, Elsie!  You don’t mean it-really?”

“Of course I don’t really mean it, Arabella,” she answered, half alarmed at the unexpected effect of her words.  “Where would you run?  Only I do wish you didn’t have so much managing.”

Miss Arabella’s head drooped.  She seemed ashamed of her sudden outburst.  “Oh, I’m all right,” she said, in some confusion, and then, to hide it, added:  “It seems awful nice to have you back, Elsie.  I missed you dreadful.”

The girl patted her hand affectionately.  “Well, you’re not likely to miss me any more for a long time,” she said, with rather a forced smile.

“I s’pose you’ve learned near everything there is to know about singing now, anyway, haven’t you?” asked Miss Arabella comfortably.

Elsie Cameron laughed.  “I feel as if I’d just begun to get the faintest notion of it.”

“Well, well, well!  Music must be awful slow work.  Is that why you got tired of it?”

“Tired of it?”

“Yes; your ma was saying you didn’t want to go back, though they’d all coaxed you.”

The girl looked down the long, elm-bordered street; her golden-brown eyes had a hurt look, but her mouth was firm.  She turned again to Miss Arabella with a faint smile.  Her answer was apparently irrelevant.

“Don’t you remember how Uncle Hughie used to be always telling us never to ‘rastle’ against the place we’re put in?”

Miss Arabella looked at her, uncomprehending.  In contrast to her narrow experience, Elsie Cameron seemed to possess all that heart could desire.

“Your Uncle Hughie’s a wonderful wise man, Elsie,” she said vaguely; then, with a deep sigh, “I suppose it’s wicked to be always wantin’ to do things you ain’t doin’; but-I-it ain’t very bad to pretend you’re doin’ them, so long as you do the real things, is it?” Her color was rising, and the girl looked at her with a kind curiosity.  Even she knew little more of the real Arabella than the rest of the village did.

“Do you know, Arabella,” she cried merrily, “I’ve long suspected you of leading a double life.  And why shouldn’t you?  Why, Uncle Hughie says it’s one of his greatest blessings.  When he gets tired or racked with pain, he just pretends he’s a chieftain of the Clan Cameron, living on his estates, and he says he’s far happier than if he really were.”

Miss Arabella smiled almost tearfully.  It was the first time in her life she had heard her romantic day-dreaming condoned.

“Now I must run, Arabella.  Good-by, Polly.  Are you good to-day?”

“Oh, Annie Laurie, Annie Laurie,” cried Polly, “I’ll be good, I’ll be good!”

Miss Arabella stood gazing after the trim figure.  She sighed enviously.  “She’s the lucky girl,” she whispered, “but it’s awful queer she don’t want to go on with her singin’.”

A smart vehicle turned out of a gate farther up the street and came whizzing past.  The young man driving raised his hat with an air of deference as he passed the girl by the roadside.  Miss Arabella leaned farther over the gate.

“He looked at her awful pleased like,” she said; and then her face grew pale with a sudden thought.  “I’ll give it to her,” she whispered, choking down a rising sob.  “He’ll marry her, I’m sure he will, and if he does I’ll give it to her, and I won’t be foolish any more, so I won’t.”  The prospect of speedy wisdom seemed a very doleful one, and Miss Arabella’s figure drooped and shrank as she moved indoors.

“Arabella!” called a sharp voice over the fence, “have you got your place all red up yet?”

“Not quite, Susan,” was the apologetic answer.  “I’ve jist to do the back stoop.”

“Well, don’t be so long, for pity’s sakes.  I’m goin’ up to see what sort of a baby Jake and Hannah’s got, and you can come along jist as soon as you’re done.”

“All right, Susan.”  The little woman returned to her task meekly.  Her small, slim hands and her frail body did not look at all suited to heavy toil, yet no one in the village worked harder than the little lilac lady.  For when her own house was set in order, and brushed and swept and scrubbed, exactly as Susan demanded, Miss Arabella crossed the orchard and washed and baked, and sewed for her brother’s children.

She had just finished the lowest step of the porch when she was startled by a tremendous uproar in the Sawyer orchard, and the next moment something came hurtling over the fence and landed with a splash in the pail at her feet.  It was a round object, brightly colored and shining.

“Oh, Lordy, ain’t we havin’ a slow time!” screamed Polly, most inappropriately.

“Save us!” ejaculated Miss Arabella.

The Sawyer orchard was separated from Miss Arabella’s garden by a high board fence, further fortified by Miss Arabella’s long, neat woodpile.  Hitherto, the place had been used exclusively as a parade-ground for Isaac and Rebekah, and the Sawyers’ hens; but now it seemed to have been suddenly populated by all the children in the village, shrieking, scolding and laughing.  Could the orphan be big enough to run at large?  And had the McQuarry and the Cross and the Williams children all met to celebrate its arrival?

“Save us!” ejaculated Miss Arabella again, “they must ‘a’ got a noisy one!”

There was a scrambling, tearing noise on the other side of the fence, and a head arose above it, followed by the figure of a boy.  It was a queer, wasted, tiny figure, with one shoulder higher than the other.  The face was pinched and weird-looking, with that strange mixture of childishness and age that is seen in the countenances of the unfortunate little ones who are called out too early into the battle of life.  A long, claw-like arm reached out, and a finger pointed at the object in Miss Arabella’s pail.

“That there’s our ball!” said the elf sharply.  “Give us a throw!”

Miss Arabella stared, motionless.

“Are-are you Jake Sawyer’s orphant?” she asked incredulously.

The boy grinned, a queer contortion of his wizened little face with more mischief in it than mirth.

“Naw, I’m just the tail of it,” he answered enigmatically.  “Say, when did the folks in that there house adopt you?”

Miss Arabella was too much astonished and abashed to reply; and just at that moment a second object appeared on the woodpile.  It arose from the Sawyer orchard like the first, swinging itself up feet foremost in some miraculous fashion.  This time it was a girl, larger and more robust than the boy, but plainly younger.  Her eyes were wild, her face was bold, and she had a mad mop of bushy black hair.  She perched herself astride the top board of the fence and gave back Miss Arabella’s stare with interest.

“Where on earth did you come from?” cried Miss Arabella.

“None o’ your business!” was the prompt retort.  “Hand over that there ball!”

Miss Arabella had no time to obey, for a third apparition arose out of the Sawyer orchard, feet first, and perching itself astride the fence, commanded, “Histe over that there ball!” It was another girl, exactly like the first, except that her mad mop of hair was yellow instead of black.  Miss Arabella rubbed her eyes, and wondered, in dismay, if she had been gifted with a new kind of double vision.

“Oh, my land alive!” she whispered.  “Has Jake Sawyer been and gone and brought home all the orphant asylum?  Mercy me!  Is the yard full o’ ye?” For still another head was struggling to make its appearance above the fence-top.  It was a fiery red head this time, covered with crisp little curls.  It belonged to a very small boy, the youngest of the quartette.  His round, impish face was full of delighted grins.  His dancing eyes radiated laughter and good-nature.

The four surveyed Miss Arabella’s evident consternation with great enjoyment, while that startled lady stood and stared at the array with something of the feelings that Cadmus must have experienced when he beheld the fierce warriors rise from the planting of the dragon’s teeth.

“We’re the Sawyer orphant,” said the eldest imp, with apparent relish.  “An’ if you don’t hand over that there ball mighty quick we’ll all come after it.”

Galvanized into action by this threat, Miss Arabella flung the toy far among the orchard trees, and with shrieks the four small figures disappeared.  Miss Arabella darted around to the front porch in a panic, and carried her parrot into the comparative safety of the house.  Fortunately the noise had scared the bird into silence.  But if those four wild things should once get into her garden, she reflected, what ever would become of Polly?

She ran out again, but there was no sign of the newcomers, and the noise was retreating in the direction of Jake’s stable.  She flung off her apron, and running to an opening in the woodpile, proceeded to climb the fence.  She must go over to Hannah’s immediately; yes, even if Susan objected, and see what was the meaning of this sudden inundation of orphans.

She was balanced on the top of the fence when the doctor’s landlady appeared, walking leisurely up the street to buy a pound of butter at Long’s store for the doctor’s dinner.

Any other woman in the township would have expressed surprise at Miss Arabella’s remarkable position, and evident perturbation, but the silent Mrs. Munn looked at her unconcernedly.

“Somethin’ awful’s happened, Harriet!” cried Miss Arabella.  “Hannah’s got her orphant, an’ what d’ye s’pose it’s like?”

“It’s got red hair,” ventured Mrs. Munn, undisturbed.

“Red hair!  It’s got red hair, an’ three other kinds.  An’ it’s got four heads!”

“What!” shrieked Mrs. Munn, shaken out of her accustomed indifference.  “Arabella!  You don’t mean -”

But here Miss Arabella’s hold on the fence relaxed, and she disappeared into the orchard.  Mrs. Munn turned her back on Long’s store and hurried up the street in the same direction.  New doctor or no new doctor, this crisis must be met at once.  The innocent and facile character of the Sawyers had long been a problem in Elmbrook, but who could have dreamed that, even in their weakest moment, Jake and Hannah could have been decoyed into adopting a four-headed monster!

Mrs. Munn’s heart was heavy with dread as she hurried up the lane.  Miss Arabella had already arrived, and nearly all the other women of the village were there.  As she reached the door a chorus of shouts and screams broke from the enclosed yard at the back of the house.  Mrs. Munn shivered.  They had evidently tied up the fierce creature in the stable, where it was exercising its four pairs of lungs all at once!

But the next Instant the stable door flew open, and four figures, two mop-headed little girls in abbreviated skirts, a small, red-headed toddler, and a queer, limping boy, the fleetest of all, were precipitated into the yard.  They flung themselves over the fence and went, shrieking, away across the field.  Mrs. Munn drew a great breath; there was relief in it, and yet terror.  It was not quite so bad, but bad enough.  What was to become of Elmbrook if the Sawyers had adopted four orphans?

Mrs. Sawyer was sitting in the middle of a wildly disordered kitchen, surrounded by her neighbors.  She had the air of a child who has done wrong, and knows it, but hopes for mercy.  Evidently the orphans had refused to be displayed to the visitors, for their foster-mother was apologizing for their non-appearance.  “They’re kind o’ wild yet,” she explained meekly, “not ever bein’ out of a big city in their lives.  But Jake says jist to let them loose, an’ they’ll kind o’ tame down all the sooner.  There ain’t no use callin’ after them,” she added resignedly, as Mrs. Winters made a threatening movement toward the door.  “It jist makes them run all the harder, an’ mebby they’ll get as far as the pond.  We’d better jist let them be.”

“Well, go on wi’ your story, Hannah,” said old Miss McQuarry.  “What possessed ye to take all the bairns, wumman?”

Mrs. Sawyer folded her hands in her lap and continued: 

“It kind o’ came on us gradual like.  Jake an’ me jist couldn’t help it.  Ye see, his idea was always for a little boy with red hair, like our Joey would ‘a’ been, an’ I was always wantin’ a little girl with yellow curls.  Well, Jake, he knowed what I wanted, and he said if we seen a nice little girl with curly hair we’d take her; but I knowed his heart was set on a red-headed boy all the same, an’ I stuck out for a boy.  We talked about it so hard all the way there that we near forgot to get off when we got to the station, an’ only that Minnie Morrison’s aunt was there, we’d ‘a’ never moved.  As it was, we forgot the basket with the pound cake and the cookies and the home-made cheese-and-and the crock o’ butter,” she faltered, with a contrite glance toward Harriet Munn.

“Oh, my, what a pity!” groaned Miss Arabella, remembering all she had suffered in toiling down the lane with the basket.

“It don’t matter much, though,” continued the narrator placidly.  “Jake said somebody’d get them that likely needed them worse than Minnie Morrison.  Well, in the afternoon, after we’d visited a while, Jake hired a livery rig an’ we drove out to the orphant home.  We talked quite a while to the lady that’s head over all-the matron they call her; an’ then she took us into a room near as big as our mill, an’ there was about two dozen or more children playin’ ’round.  And the very minit we got inside that door Jake he hollers out, ’Oh, geewhittaker!’ An’ I seen his eyes were shinin’ like a cat’s in the dark.  An’ there he was, starin’ as if he’d found a gold mine, at the wee, red-headed fellow we’ve got.  An’ no wonder, either; for he’s as like our Joey would ‘a’ been as two peas.  The matron she saw Jake was took with the wee fellow, an’ she calls him over, an’ Jake says, ‘What’s your name?’ An’ he says, as cute as cute, ‘It’s Joey.’  An’ with that, Jake grabs him up, an’ the little fellow climbed up to his shoulder an’ crowed like a little rooster, an’ Jake looked near ready to cry, he was that pleased.  ‘Well,’ I says, ’I guess we’ve got our orphant all right,’ an’ Jake says, ‘Oh, Hannah, but your girl!’ ’Never mind the girl,’ says I, ‘this one was made for us, an’ his name, too.’  Well, we jist turned ’round to tell the matron, when I sees a wee girl, with curly hair, standin’ straight in front o’ Jake an’ starin’ at him, with her lip quiverin’.  That’s the fair one o’ the twins.  An’ she says in a wee, wee voice, as if she was tryin’ fearful hard not to cry, ‘Are ye goin’ to take our Joey away?’ she says.  ‘Is he your brother?’ says I. She jist nods her head.  An’ she says again, in a whisper, ‘Are you goin’ to take him away?’ Well, Jake he looked at me, an’ I looked at him, an’ we could both see we were thinkin’ the same thing.  ‘She’s the kind of a girl you want,’ says Jake, ‘an’ mebby she’d help take care o’ the wee chap.’  ‘D’ye think we can afford it?’ says I; an’ then she kind o’ sidles up to me, an’ says she, ’Aw, you won’t take Joey away, will you?’ An’ then the matron says, ’She’s a good little girl, Mrs. Sawyer; you won’t ever regret it if you take her.’  An’ I thought how lovely I’d make her hair curl, an’ tie it up with a pink ribbon, an’ jist then she ups an’ puts her two little arms around my neck, an’ she whispers, ‘We couldn’t get along without our Joey,’ jist awful pitiful like.  An’ I looks at Jake, an’ Jake looks at me, an’ he nods, an’ I says, ‘All right.’  It was the only thing to do, now, wasn’t it?”

Hannah paused, and gazed around appealingly.

“She got me ‘round the neck, an’ I couldn’t no more make her let go than I could fly,” she added, as an unanswerable argument.

“Well, we jist got up to go, when there was the most awful racket started up you ever heard tell of, and that other girl, the one with the black head, comes runnin’ up an’ starts to dance ‘round an’ yell an’ scream.  An’ at that, my girl she ups an’ hollers, too, an’ I never heard such a bedlam, each one screamin’ they didn’t want to leave the other.  Jake he shouted out to a big girl standin’ there to know what was the matter, an’ she yells that they was twins an’ hadn’t never been apart.  An’ then I seen that they were jist as alike as two peas, except for the hair.  Well, the black-headed one was makin’ such a fearful holler that the matron she says to the big girl, quite sharp like, ‘Take her up to the ward,’ whatever place that may be.  An’ the big girl she grabs the poor child by the arm an’ begins to haul her to the door, an’ the tears streamin’ down her little face.

“Well, with that, Jake he puts the red-headed one down with a bang, an’ he makes one leap for that big girl.  I never seen Jake look like that before, only once, and that was when Joel McMurtry kicked his dog an’ broke its leg, thirteen years ago next twenty-fourth.  It was an awful look.  An’ he jist grabs that child away from her, an’ he says-he says-oh, I’d be ashamed to tell you the dreadful bad word he said!  I wouldn’t have the minister hear about it for all the earth, for Jake’s been a member of the church ever since before we were married, an’ never used a bit o’ bad language in his life, to my knowledge.  An’ then he says, in a ter’ble voice, ’You leave that child alone, she’s goin’ with me,’ he says.  An’ with that she puts her arms ’round his neck an’ hangs on, an’ calls him all the sweet names you ever heard.

“Well, that was bad’ enough, but it seems we weren’t done yet.  We were jist beginnin’ to get collected to start again, when one o’ the twins commenced to yell again.  It was the black-headed one, but I ain’t sure o’ their names.  One’s Lorena, an’ the other’s Lenora-ain’t they awful pretty names?  But I think they must change them ’round, ’cause I can never remember which is which, nor Jake, neither.  Well, anyhow, the black one starts to holler louder’n ever, an’ she kept screamin’ in between hollers, ’I don’t want to leave Timmy!  I don’t want to leave Timmy!’ An’ with that, the other girl starts up the same, an’ the wee red-head he gets at it harder’n the rest, an’ there was the three o’ them cryin’ an’ takin’ on, ’Oh, let Timmy come, too!  Let Timmy come, too!’ ‘Who’s Timmy?’ says Jake to the matron.  ‘Is he their dog?’ says he.  ‘No,’ says she, ‘he’s their brother,’ says she.  ’Lord ‘a’ mercy!’ says I, ‘don’t tell me there’s another one!’ ‘Yes, there he is,’ says she, an’ she points to him.  He was settin’ on the edge of a long seat, all humped up, an’ queer, watchin’ everything, without sayin’ a word, but if I live to be a hundred I’ll never get the look o’ that child’s face out o’ my mind.  It was so kind o’ awful lonesome an’ forsaken an’ hungry-lookin’, an’ so fearful old, an’ him not quite ten.”

Hannah paused to wipe her eyes.

“I knew, the minit I seen him, we’d jist got to adopt him, or I’d wake up nights seein’ his poor little face lookin’ at me with them terrible eyes.  But he never asked to be took.  He jist looks at the others, an’ he says, kind o’ gruff like, ‘Go on, yous; don’t you mind me.’

“Well, it was my turn this time, an’ I jist bust out louder’n the twins.  An’ I says, ‘Oh, Jake,’ I says, ’he’ll die if we don’t adopt him, too, an’ so’ll I!’ I says.  An’ Jake, he jist snaps his fingers at the little fellow, an’ he says, ’Come along, then, little shaver, we’ll take you, too.’  An’ he gives one spring off the bench an’ catches Jake around the legs like a big spider, an’ mind you, all the three others was hangin’ on to him already like leeches, an’ Jake, he looks ’round kind o’ helpless like, an’ he says to the matron, ’There ain’t any more belongin’ to this family, is there?’ says he.  ’Cause you might as well trot ’em out.’  But the matron she laughs, an’ says that was all, and were we sure we could adopt so many.  Jake says, ‘I dunno, I’m sure,’ says he, ’but it seems as if they’d adopted us, and we can’t help ourselves.’  That set everybody laughin’, ‘stead o’ cryin’, an’ we picked up them four orphants an’ brought them home last night, an’ here we are.”

She stopped, and looked around anxiously at the circle of neighbors.  “I know it was awful of us to do it.  But I hope you won’t mind, will you?  We jist couldn’t help it.”

“Well, yen’s true, Hannah,” exclaimed old Miss McQuarry emphatically.  “It was jist the Lord’s wull, wumman.”

Every one looked at Mrs. Winters for her verdict.

“It’s a pity to part flesh and blood, that’s a fact,” she admitted reluctantly.  “But how you an’ Jake is ever goin’ to tame down them four wild things is more’n I can tell.”

“You send them to school,” said the Duke of Wellington, as she arose to start for that institution herself, “and I’ll answer for them the biggest part of the day.”

Mrs. Sawyer’s face lightened.  “Indeed we will, jist as soon as we can get them to settle down a bit.  An’ Jake says the boys’ll help him in the mill, an’ the girls’ll help me in the house, an’ we’ll get along somehow.”

“Well,” said Mrs. Munn, rising, and forestalling any further discussion, “there’s no use talkin’ about things, anyhow; that does more harm than good.”

The company arose and drifted toward the door.

“D’ye think they’ll be awful hard to bring up, Harriet?” whispered Mrs. Sawyer tremulously, detaining the doctor’s landlady for a moment behind the others.

Mrs. Munn looked steadily into Hannah Sawyer’s kindly eyes.  These two had been stanch friends since the days when they had sat together in school and shared dinner-pails.  Only to this old comrade did Harriet Munn’s reticent tongue speak out the deep thoughts of her heart.  She laid her hand on Mrs. Sawyer’s shoulder.

“It’s jist the Lord’s hand that’s led you, Hannah,” she said quietly, “that’s what it is, and you don’t need to be afraid o’ nothin’.”

Hannah Sawyer’s homely face grew radiant.  “That’s jist what the minister said last night!” she exclaimed.  “We’ll jist do our best, an’ I’m sure, with Jake an’ the Lord to look after us, we ain’t likely to come to want.”