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*I do hear," said Peter Adair, slowly, emphasizing his remarks by a few slow and stately puffs from his pipe, "that she be wonderful clever, and knows reading and writing and grammar a’most as well as parson himself.”
"Readin' and writin' and grammarin'!” said Dobbs, contemptuously; "why I have heard as 'ow she do talk the lingovay Fransay!”
“Wheu is she coming ?” asked Pills.
“The parson he be a-goin'to send the carriage over to the railway station, I do hear, to-morrow, and long afore this time to-morrow she'll be here surelie. Maybe we shall see'un go by.”
Sure enough the next evening the vicar's carriage drove through the village, conveying Miss Mabel Brown, the new schoolmistress. Not a sour-visaged elderly woman, as some had fancied her; not a stern, hard-featured "blue-stocking” was Mabel Brown, but a fair girl of barely twenty, with smiling lips and blue eyes and golden lair. From the porch of the “Oak Apple,” all our friends of the previous evening saw her, and that night nothing was spoken of but the new schoolmistress, whose appe?rance had so much surprised them. But it was noticed afterwards that Peter said little, and left early. Before "turning in," as he expressed it, Peter sat thoughtfully in the arbor in his garden for a long time: and that night he dreamt of a woman with smiling lips and blue eyes and golden hair.
Miss Brown settled at once to her new duties, and under her care the village children looked like turning out regular “prodigals,” as the villagers put it. The youngest hope of the Dobbs family, an urchin of five, made such rapid progress with the alphabet that before many days he could repeat it backwards, -an accomplishment which he injudiciously displayed before the shopboy, upon which the latter had a fit with great promptitude. Firkins' children, Pills' children, and in fact nearly all the youngsters in the place got on wonderfully, and Miss Brown stood high in everybody's favor. Her praises were frequently sounded in the select circle of the "Oak Apple," but Peter Adair, on such occasions, seemed uneasy, and was silent. Peter used to meet the children oftener than ever now as they came out of school, and soon it became quite a practice for him to step inside the school room if he happened to be too early, and there to wait till the signal was given for breaking up. One day he appeared with an immense bouquet of flowers, just about sufficient to adorn a Cathedral on a festival, and with his honest face intensely rel, looking also intensely uneasy. As soon as the children dispersed, he approached the teacher, and presented her with the bouquet; and as her little hands touched his there came into Peter's great face a look at which some would have laughed and others wept for very pity.
It is very easy to laugh at an old man's love for a girl, and we are all apt, I fear me, to regard such love as a legitimate butt for our derision and sarcasm; but has it ever struck you that there is sometimes something very touching in such a love as Peter Adair, the man of fifty, had conceived for this woman of scarcely more than twenty? Do you not know that sometimes a heart such as Peter's, beating in a bosom older than his, can bestow a love which passes most understandings to comprehend, a love that is fervent and lasting and pure,—do you not know that sometimes, after the meridian of life has long been passed, a passionate desire enters the heart for an object to love and cherish through life's declining years ? God knows how true, aye, and even unselfish, thy love, poor honest Peter, for this woman with the smiling lips and blue eyes and golden hair!
After a time, Peter was sometimes missing of an evening from the worthy coterie at the village inn, and at first his friends could not make out where he got to, or understand his uneasiness on being questioned; but one night Stodge (who was much pitied from the fact that he was dreadfully henpecked and stood in mortal dread of Mrs. Stodge ) burst in upon them with pallid face, and
stammered: God help poor owd Peter! God save him! He's a-courtin' schoolmistress; he's a-courtin' schoolmistress I tell 'ee; oh, Lord!” In his acute sympathy with his friend, Stodge urgently pressed that the vicar should be entreated to offer on the following Sunday a special prayer for one in deadly peril; but in this he was overruled. The fact was, Stodge had seen Peter that evening enter, in full uniform, the little cottage where Miss Brown lived, near the vicarage, and had seen at once that the old sailor was driving fast on to the rock of matrimony.
There was to be a tea and entertainment one night in the schoolroom (these entertainments being an innovation introduced by Miss Brown), and the children were dismissed early that the room might be prepared : and Peter went to help Miss Brown. They were imprudently left alone together, and suddenly, without a moment's warning, Peter fell on his knees at Mabel's feet, his buttons flying off in all directions, owing to the suddenness of the flop he made. Taking hold very tightly, but very tremblingly, of Mabel's hand, he told her-in very simple and manly words, when his agitation had somewhat subsided—that he loved her very dearly and very truly, and asked her if she would come to him, and make him a prouder and a happier and a better man than he had ever been before. Mabel looked thoughtfully away. It was weary work teaching these children day after day, week after week, month after month with the knowledge that it would in all probability be year after year: and this man at her feet, waiting so eagerly, with the tears in his eyes, for her answer, offered her what she had never had before, a comfortable home of her own where she might be forever free from the anxieties of daily toil. She hesitated awhile, and then she said something which filled Peter's heart with joy, and he sprang to his feet, heedless of another shower of falling buttors, and folded her tenderly in his great strong arms. Mabel was present at the tea and entertainment, but too busy to speak to him. But Peter was superlatively happy,—so happy that he had to go out several times, lest people should wonder what on earth he was smiling at.
Stodge went out into the passage on one of these occasions to look after him, and found him sitting placidly in a large plate of bread and butter, which had been unfortunately placed on a chair near the door, and chuckling audibly. To Stodge, Peter imparted the great secret. The butcher and greengrocer listened with gloomy features to all Peter said : and then he grasped his friend's hand and said fervently: “God help you!”
The night before the wedding-day, Peter was surprised by a cautious tap at the door. Opening it, he was confronted by neighbor Stodge, who hoarsely muttered: “ Peter, there is one more chance! Say the word and I'll have my mare harnessed in no time, and get you thirty miles off before break o' day." Peter's threatening gesture at the conclusion of this remarkabie offer so alarmed Stodge, however, that he walked quietly, though sorrowfully, away
You ought to have seen the wedding, for I doubt if you will ever have the chance of witnessing such another. Everybody was there, and as the happy couple left the church, men, women and children rent the air with their shouts. I can't describe how the bride looked, because only a woman c'ın describe another woman properly on these occasions, but they cailed her a "perfec' pictur': and poor old Peter looked as proud as though he had just been made a Lord High Admiral. Dobbs's boy had more fits that day than he had ever been known to have before. They-Mr. and Mrs. Adair-went away for a week or two and then came home and "settled down."
Well, things went on much as usual at Slushington-in. the-Mud for a year or two; and then one night a rumor that went round the village roused all the inhabitants to a state of tremendous excitement. A great event had happened at Peter Adair's. At last, the curiosity of Peter's friends could bear the suspense no longer. They
gathered cautiously under his window, and managed to attract his attention.
Peter threw open the window. "Peter, what is it?"
“It's twins,” roared Peter, "that's what it is !” and shut the window hastily.
The twins lived and thrived, and Peter loved them with so quiet and holy a love that I would not, if I could, write jocularly of his affection for these helpless children; of how he watched them and taught them, and of how happy he was when their little lips could lisp his name. Peter was happier now than ever; but alas! for the great shadow that was to come upon his life; alas ! for the bitter trouble coming which should darken his life till that darkened life should close; which should bow his honest head in shame, and break his great, brave heart. Few be the words in which I tell of this sore trouble. The woman he loved so fondly, for whom he would have given his life so freely, the mother of his children, left him.
As the days passed on, Peter's head grew whiter and whiter, and all the light died from his face.
The women would raise their aprons to their eyes as he passed their doors, no longer with the old gay step, but slowly, with stooping gait; and the men would grasp his hand in silence and walk on. Even the village children knew that some great affliction had come upon him, and would gaze at him shyly and wonderingly.
By-and-by, news reached the village that Mabel had died and was buried in a strange land. Peter never joined his old companions of an evening, but used to sit at home by the fireside or in the garden, with his little children playing near him. He used to sit watching these little girls of his,his eyes never away from them,-watching them with sad, pitiful, wistful eyes, the tears rolling down his face. But when they climbed upon his knee, and twined their little fingers round his neck, or pressed their rosy faces against his cheek, wondering why “papa” was weeping 80; when their little hands stroked the