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HREE years passed away with their mingled record
of sunshine and of storm. They brought but little outward change to Ethel Lindsay. Sorrow
had touched her lightly as yet, her family circle remained unbroken, and she was still the loved and loving eldest daughter in her home, following much the same pursuits as formerly. But in the meantime her Christian character had not stood still; every day she had drawn fresh strength and grace from the fountain-head, and the result was patent to those around her; for while we see not the growth of a plant within a single night, we may count the added stems and leaves at the end of a few weeks, and Ethel was more than ever a centre of Christian influence among her young friends, all the more powerful because so naturally and so unconsciously exerted.
Often during those three years she had sent her thoughts across the miles of country that lay between them, and wondered how it fared with Mrs. Hamilton. She had no means of knowing; Flossie had stayed a short time in the North, but her aunt had been unable to accompany the child, and Ethel searched her letters in vain for a direct personal allusion. Meanwhile she jealously guarded the confidence so unexpectedly bestowed in that quiet moonlight walk, and Mrs. Hamilton never had reason to regret the sudden impulse on which she had spoken.
Once again it was the early spring-tide of the year, and Ethel left her home to spend some weeks among her London friends. But at the same time Mrs. Hamilton was lying dangerously ill; again and again her life had been despaired of; for days and weeks she had seemed to hover between this world and the next, and none could foretell the issue; any hour might prove the last. Ethel longed to see her, but knew it was useless to make the attempt; the utmost quiet was enjoined, and visitors were rigidly excluded from the sick room.
But one morning, on coming down to breakfast, Ethel received a letter from Mr. Hamilton. She recognised the writing on the envelope, and opened it with a trembling hand; it was several days since she had heard of her aunt's condition. The note itself was brief:
“Dear Ethel," so it ran, “ can you come and spend one or two days with us? It is a sorrowful house to ask you to; your aunt is only just now out of danger, and the utmost care is necessary.
But she has heard that you are staying close at hand, and many times yesterday expressed a wish to see you.
I have little hope you will be able to respond at once, but feel sure you will come as soon as your friends will allow.”
That afternoon found Ethel standing outside her uncle's dwelling. She looked around her at the many tokens of the spring-at the early flowers springing up into life and beauty near her feet, at the light-green foliage of the trees lit up by the rays of the afternoon sun-and they seemed to her anew an emblem of resurrection after death. A few months before and no flowers graced the dark brown earth, the leafless trees stretched out their long, naked branches to the wind, and no butterfly flew by on light, fluttering wings. She took it all in in a glance, then fervently she hoped that the health and the gladness typified by that bright spring afternoon might speedily be restored to the one who had just passed through so many weary weeks of pain. Her wish was to be fulfilled, and in more ways than one.
Flossie was the first to see her on her arrival. She was walking aimlessly through the hall at the time. minute she gazed at her cousin doubtfully, then sprang forwards and threw her arms around her neck.
“There, there, don't choke me," said Ethel cheerily. She could feel the child's tears against her cheek.
“Oh, Cousin Ethel,” exclaimed Flossie, “I am so glad you've come! It is all so strange in the house. Papa sent the little ones away, but I begged to stay behind. I wish I'd gone with them now. Mamma is so very, very ill. They won't let me even see her!"*
Ethel looked at the mournful little figure; there were tokens of neglect about her person, the servants were too busy to attend to Miss Flossie." She drew the child within the nearest room, talking brightly as she went, and soon the troubled little face broke into a happy smile, and she gave Ethel another loving squeeze.
“It is so nice to have some one to speak to,” she said. “Papa scarcely says a word to me, he stays upstairs all the time. You'll let me wait on you, won't you?” and glad to find herself of use, the child helped her cousin to remove her out-door garments.
Soon afterwards Mr. Hamilton entered the room. He said little, but the warm grasp of his hand told his grateful thanks for her speedy arrival. The first few minutes were spent in asking and in answering questions. Mrs. Hamilton, he said, had taken a decided turn for the better; there was every hope now of her ultimate recovery. Ethel felt Flossie's little fingers tighten round her own at the announcement.
Her uncle went on: “Ethel, you will wonder why I wrote so urgently, but the truth is, your aunt seems to be in some kind of mental trouble, and she looks to you to help her out of it. I sincerely trust you may. As you know, I have never troubled much about these things, but the near presence of death makes a man
_” he broke off abruptly, then resumed She is asleep now; I have told the nurse to call you as soon as she awakes, but I shall take the opportunity to run away for a little while. There are some business matters needing my attention in the City, and I can leave your aunt with greater comfort now.”
He went out as he spoke, and Ethel watched him down the garden path. She could see what a change those few anxious weeks had wrought in him; he looked careworn, his shoulders seemed bent, and his step was less firm than usual. Shortly afterwards a 'summons came to the sick
Mayn't I come too?" asked Flossie wistfully ; I will be so good. I won't speak once if you tell me not.”
It was hard to say nay to those pleading eyes, but the child took the refusal quietly. She accompanied Ethel to the door of her mother's room, then sat down on the rug outside ; she felt less lonely there than in the deserted room downstairs.
Ethel entered the darkened chamber and stepped softly up to the curtained bed. She almost drew back as she caught sight of the face on the pillow. The change was startling at first. Mrs. Hamilton had wasted to a mere shadow of her former self; her cheeks were thin and hollow, and her dark eyes appeared unnaturally large. But there was an expectant look on her face, and she stretched out a feeble hand as Ethel advanced.
“ They told me you were here,” she said ; “you are good to come so soon; I shall feel rested now," and she drew her head down beside her on the pillow.
Ethel responded with a few words of sympathy, she scarcely dared to trust her voice. The nurse went up and touched her on the shoulder : “ She must not talk much yet, miss, if you please.”
Mrs. Hamilton smiled. “ It's not talking with you, dear, that is likely to hurt me, but the want of it might. But we shall have plenty of time for nice chats now; you have come to stay, haven't you!
u?" "Just as long as you like to keep me," said Ethel in reply.
“Ah, that's well! I have been very ill, Ethel,” she added, after a minute's pause, "right on the borders of the grave. The doctor gave me up. I heard him say that more than once when they thought me quite unconscious. My poor children! I used to fear they would soon be motherless. Just now I fancied I heard my Flossie's voice. I should so like to see her. Do you know where she is ?”
Ethel told her she was just outside.
“ Then do go and fetch her,” said Mrs. Hamilton. “No, don't ask nurse, I will take the responsibility.”
Ethel went to the door, doubting very much the wisdom of the step she was taking. “Flossie," she whispered,
can you be very quiet? Your mother would like to see you.”
The child sprang up, then restrained her eagerness. With noiseless footsteps she crossed the room and knelt up