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No, it was not; it was Theresa, for she had lifted her head, and the silken hair was parted upon her brow in the way Theresa always wore it. Forgetting all, even their parents who were seated by the fire at the other end of the room, in the joy of recognizing their dear sister, they flew to her side.
O Theresa, it has been such a long day without you. We are here to fetch you. Come back with us into the forest, and we will carry you through the snow. Oh, don't fear, we are strong enough for anything now we have found you !'
The lord of the Castle opened his large languid eyes, and fixed them upon the strong young sisters and the impetuous brother, who were twining eighteen arms in a passionate clasp about Theresa, and his lips parted in a faint smile, but he never moved, and Theresa drooped her head once more, and twisted the diamonds she wore on her finger, until nothing but their plain gold setting was visible, the part that looked like a wedding ring.
Sister,' pursued the little ones, more eagerly than before, you will come back with us, will you not? Do you know we have prepared a delightful surprise for you? You are not to sleep in the cold attic you chose for yourself any more. You are to have our room, which is so much warmer, and we will take yours. Dear Theresa, listen, there are tapers on the chimney-piece, such as Madam Bertha, they say, has on hers; and Francis promises to go out every day, and gather wood for your fire. Theresa, continued the children, growing more urgent as they perceived no signs of yielding, “if you will but come back with us, we will do all the tasks you set us without'a murmur; we will never be naughty again, for we love you, we love you.'
The sick man gazed from the eager petitioners to Theresa with eyes which seemed to say, “See how she is loved, and what a treasure I have won!' Peace, little Sisters—peace, Brother,' he said faintly; 'would you rob my
wife?' Then Theresa raised her head, and smiled, and opened her arms to them, and they all clung closer, repeating, “You his wife? You the lady of the Castle ? Our Theresa ?'
• Dear children, it is true indeed,' she said gently; "and you must not ask me to weep that I cannot now go home with you; the old home in the forest, I shall always love it dearly, even though I return to it no more.'
“And do not try to make her repent her generous sacrifice,' said the lord of the Castle very earnestly; ‘I had not meant to take her from you so suddenly, knowing well how great a loss she must be to you; but she, for the greater ease and comfort she knew it would be to me, prayed your father to give her to me at once. To this he consented, though reluctantly. May I live to requite her, and to do a kinsman's part by you!'
Then the little ones, assured of the truth, interrupted their sobs to whisper in Theresa's ear stories of all the fine things they had seen, and which, as belonging to the lady of the Castle, they fancied must interest their sister not a little. But Theresa's mind was absorbed by the evident suffering of her husband, and she gave little heed to the eager narrators.
Angela stood apart, moody and sad; her cherished companion had been taken from her, and she was not in charity with Theresa's husband.
'Angela,' he whispered faintly.
The lord of the Castle took Angela's hands, and pressed them to his lips, while he looked on the changing hues of her fair face. Do not grieve, my sister,' he whispered low. 'Believe me, in proportion as I rejoice in my own gain, I sympathize with you in your loss.'
She let a tear fall upon his pillow, then slowly turned away, and gathering her young sisters around her she followed her parents and Francis from the room.
The three little brothers were fast asleep in their beds in the forest, dreaming of Theresa and of her safe return to them. In the morning, there was bitter childish weeping, and a cry for “Theresa, Theresa !' which Angela found it difficult to still, but which little simple-hearted Gertrude, with her stories of the Castle, its pictures and jewels, over which Theresa was now mistress, speedily converted into smiles.
MARY FISHER'S DREAM; OR, COMMONPLACE.
It was Christmas Eve. In a pleasant little room, lit up by a bright fire and a nearly burnt-out candle, sat a slender, pretty, rather delicatelooking girl of seventeen, with a look upon her face · by no means expressive of Christmas cheerfulness, but rather the reverse-whatever that
may be. Perhaps, however—though I cannot say that her life had been saddened, or her youth blighted by any very deep affliction-it may account for her despondency, and rouse the compassion of my readers, if I say that she had been obliged to go to a dull dinner party on Christmas Eve.
Perhaps you exclaim against the tyranny of cruel parents; but this exercise of it had been really inevitable. Mr. Fisher, the Vicar of Allington, had had some unpleasantness with his rich and somewhat unrefined parishioner, Mr. Brown, the rich solicitor; and though he had made many attempts to put an end to the quarrel, he had always been unsuccessful, and he had almost despaired of things ever coming right again. So that when, to his surprise, he received an intimation that Mr. and Mrs. Brown requested the honour of Mr., Mrs., and Miss Fisher's company to dinner on Christmas Eve, he did not feel at liberty to refuse the invitation. So leaving the younger fry–Ben, Tom, Lizzie, Susan, and Jack-to amuse themselves with Christmas games in the deserted school-room, Mary Fisher had unwillingly accompanied her parents to the Browns'. It had been a very dull dinner-party, and she had looked bored all the time. The party had consisted of themselves, two old maiden ladies named Heath-a young doctor and his wife, Mr. and Mrs. Collinson—a worthy old charitable gossip, Miss Maxton—and an articled pupil of Mr. Brown's, Mr. Theodore Jones, who had, to use the Allington expression, 'gone on’ rather more openly than was quite in good taste with Miss Lavinia, otherwise called Lavvy Brown. They had fed on Christmas fare, and talked town gossip; and Mr. Theodore Jones had sung Champagne Charlie,' and Miss Lavvy Brown had capped it with 'I too am seventeen, Mamma!' and Mary Fisher had been so much disgusted, that she would hardly condescend to speak to gentle little Mrs. Collinson, who laughed at the comic songs as if she were amused by them; and though she could sing very prettily, would not deign to open her lips either for song or conversation, thereby annoying her father and mother, and causing many remarks upon that Miss Fisher's airs.'
At last the dinner-party had come to an end, but not so the depression of Mary's spirits. As she sat by the fire with Dickens's Christmas Carol' in her lap, warming her slippered feet, and combing out her long silky brown hair, she was thinking how very commonplace was her life and all about her. For instance, what a horribly plebeian name she had— Fisher;' and how much worse it was rendered by the usual abbreviation of her name-Polly. Mary was not so bad, though she had tried without success to get her family to call her May; but what sweetness or light' could there be in Polly Fisher? Then how little she was appreciated-how unmercifully her brothers and sisters criticized any poetical productions of hers found lying about—how strong and rough Lizzie was, and Susan such a poor little pining thing—and the boys so bothering and teazing. I'm sure no one ever had such a commonplace life as mine,' said she. “One does nothing but commonplace things, and sees none but commonplace people. Really, Ebenezer Scrooge hadn't a stupider life than I have!'
With such thoughts in her mind (hardly Christmas ones) she fell asleep. The Christmas waits came round, and sang ‘Here is Joy for every age,' and 'While shepherds watched,' but Mary was asleep, and did not hear them. However, in the course of the night a very curious thing happened. Of course she knew (being well up in her Dickens) that Christmas dreams are very different from other dreams, but she never thought of having one herself. She did, though.
In her dream she was again sitting by her fire, busy with her aspirations, as she called them—discontent,' some ill-natured people might have said—when all at once she saw by her side a white veiled figure, tall and beautiful. She did not think it at all strange, but knew at once that the figure was the Spirit of Christmas. Perhaps the volume she had been studying over-night might explain her familiarity with such beings. She was not frightened, for though she was a little silly and discontented, she was a good girl in the main; so she began to speak to the Spirit. She thought his face must be very beautiful if she could only see it.
'Please, Spirit,' she said, 'may I see your face?',
“No, Mary,' he said, "you are not fit. You would be blinded if I took off the veil. Some people might stand it, but not you.'
Why not I ?' said Mary, rather disappointed. 'Because your eyes are not strong enough. You can see nothing that is not commonplace around you.
• But everything is commonplace,' said Mary. "To you,' said the Spirit of Christmas. Mary was shut up. She really did not know what to say next. This was just the state the Spirit wanted to bring her to; because, of course, as long as she had an answer ready for everything he could do her no good.
"Of course, you know,' said the Spirit, that anyone who sees the Spirit of Christmas may ask for a gift from him, and will get it, whether for weal or woe.' He spoke very gravely, and Mary thought for a little while.
“May I have my eyes opened so as to see what is not commonplace ?' she said humbly, looking up at the Spirit. Though the veil was still over his face, she was sure that he smiled. Without any answer, he took her by the hand; and then-whether they got out at door or window Mary could not tell, or through the wall itself—she was swiftly passing through the moonlit air, still clinging to the Spirit's hand. Here a remarkable thing happened. The Spirit stopped by the leafless trunk of a great tree, and said, “You would not say there was much life stirring there, perhaps, Mary?'
"No, not till the spring comes,' said Mary.
The Spirit touched her ears, and bade her listen; and she heard the hundred voices of the sap, as it ran up and down the veins of the tree, waiting till the cold should be gone, and the leaf-cases split, and the life of the tree burst into tender green leaves, and flowers, and seed.
“The tree looks commonplace now,' said the Spirit. “But it was not commonplace last summer, when it shaded the playing children with its glory of leaves; neither will it be next summer, please God. Human souls have memories of the past, and capabilities for the future, Mary; they are not worse off than the tree.'
So saying, the Spirit brought Mary into a comfortable bed-room, where a bright fire was burning, on either side of which sat Mr. and Mrs. Brown, arrayed in dressing-gown and slippers. Now they were a commonplace looking pair enough-she with her scanty grey hair twisted up à la Chinoise, and he with a red nose.
'I'm glad we had the Fishers to-night,' said Mrs. Brown.
'Ay, so am I,' said her husband. “I like to clear off old scores before Christmas. I think of our Billy, and how he' There came a sort of choking in the man's voice. Billy was their only boy, who had died ten years before.
Christmas don't seem the same since then,' said Mrs. Brown, steadfastly looking at the fire-her voice a little faltering now.
No-but nearer than if I'd gone on with the quarrel. And when I was talking to Fisher to-night, I don't believe he meant anything by what he said about me. We were both a little hasty, perhaps—but now we've made it up, and I can kneel down at church without feeling I'm not in charity with all men—which is why you've had to go alone so often on Communion Sundays of late, Sarah. But it was the thought of, Billy did it.'
Then his wife went up to him, and kissed him, and cried; and Mary found herself crying a little too. She did not think them so commonplace now, in spite of the scanty grey hair and red nose.
The Spirit took her hand again, and led her into another room-a much smaller and poorer one, where the two old maiden sisters, Miss Heath and Miss Hannah Heath, were lying in bed talking together. They could not afford a fire in their bed-room, poor things!
Christmas ain't what it used to be,' said Miss Heath, with a little sniff. “Think of all the laughing we used to have—and the three wishes before we stirred the Christmas plum-pudding-and poor Johnny Dale, that went to sea and never came back again-how we used to laugh at you and him, Sister! Ah, if the good old times would only come back again just for once!
"There won't be so many more Christmases for you and me before we join them,' said Miss Hannah, in a half-choked voice. Perhaps it's all for the best after all, Sister. If I'd been Johnny Dale's wise, with my health and my fretful temper, I might have tried him, and made both our lives unhappy. Now the time is coming near, and though he's been in Heaven so long, I doubt he hasn't forgotten me. I shall find him ready when I get there. Ah, what a beautiful blue coat with brass buttons he did wear, and how well he did look in it, didn't he, Sister? Somehow, I always think of him in Heaven wearing that same blue coat and brass buttons.'
‘Angels don't wear blue coats and brass buttons,' said Miss Heath, a little shortly.
No; of course they have white clothes and wings,' said Miss Hannah. ‘But I'm afraid I shouldn't know Johnny again in white clothes and wings—I can't fancy him so, anyhow. So perhaps they'll let him wear his blue coat, for it's so long ago I can't remember his face exactly. Oh