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Susan Donnelly soon remarked a change, which she could neither clearly define nor explain to herself, both in her husband and in their daughter Sylvia. The former, although in public he preserved the same grave, stately face,--its lines, perhaps, a little more deeply marked,--seemed to be devoured by an internal unrest. His dreams were of the old times: words and names long unused came from his lips as he slept by her side. Although he bore his grief with more strength than she had hoped, he grew nervous and excitable,-- sometimes unreasonably petulant, sometimes gay to a pitch which impressed her with pain. When the spring came around, and the mysterious correspondence again failed, as in the previous year, his uneasiness increased. He took his place on the high seat on First-days, as usual, but spoke no more.
Sylvia, on the other hand, seemed to have wholly lost her proud, impatient character. She went to meeting much more frequently than formerly, busied herself more actively about household matters, and ceased to speak of the uncertain contingency which had been so constantly present in her thoughts. In fact, she and her father had changed places. She was now the one who preached patience, who held before them all the bright side of their lot, who brought Margaret Alison to the house and justified her dead brother's heart to his father's, and who repeated to the latter, in his restless moods, "De Courcy foresaw the truth, and we must all in the end decide as he did."
"Can THEE do it, Sylvia?" her father would ask.
"I believe I have done it already," she said. "If it seems difficult, pray consider how much later I begin my work. I have had all your memories in charge, and now I must not only forget for myself, but for you as well."
Indeed, as the spring and summer months came and went, Sylvia evidently grew stronger in her determination. The fret of her idle force was allayed, and her content increased as she saw and performed the possible duties of her life. Perhaps her father might have caught something of her spirit, but for his anxiety in regard to the suspended correspondence. He wearied himself in guesses, which all ended in the simple fact that, to escape embarrassment, the rent must again be saved from the earnings of the farm.
The harvests that year were bountiful; wheat, barley, and oats stood thick and heavy in the fields. No one showed more careful thrift or more cheerful industry than young Joel Bradbury, and the family felt that much of the fortune of their harvest was owing to him.
On the first day after the crops had been securely housed, all went to meeting, except Sylvia. In the walled graveyard the sod was already green over De Courcy's unmarked mound, but Alice had planted a little rose-tree at the head, and she and her mother always visited the spot before taking their seats on the women's side. The meeting-house was very full that day, as the busy season of the summer was over, and the horses of those who lived at a distance had no longer such need of rest.
It was a sultry forenoon, and the windows and doors of the building were open. The humming of insects was heard in the silence, and broken lights and shadows of the poplar-leaves were sprinkled upon the steps and sills. Outside there were glimpses of quiet groves and orchards, and blue fragments of sky,--no more semblance of life in the external landscape than there was in the silent meeting within. Some quarter of an hour before the shaking of hands took place, the hoofs of a horse were heard in the meeting-house yard-- the noise of a smart trot on the turf, suddenly arrested.
The boys pricked up their ears at this unusual sound, and stole glances at each other when they imagined themselves unseen by the awful faces in the gallery. Presently those nearest the door saw a broader shadow fall over those flickering upon the stone. A red face appeared for a moment, and was then drawn back out of sight. The shadow advanced and receded, in a state of peculiar restlessness. Sometimes the end of a riding-whip was visible, sometimes the corner of a coarse gray coat. The boys who noticed these apparitions were burning with impatience, but they dared not leave their seats until Abraham Bradbury had reached his hand to Henry Donnelly.
Then they rushed out. The mysterious personage was still beside the door, leaning against the wall. He was a short, thick-set man of fifty, with red hair, round gray eyes, a broad pug nose, and projecting mouth. He wore a heavy gray coat, despite the heat, and a waistcoat with many brass buttons; also corduroy breeches and riding boots. When they appeared, he started forward with open mouth and eyes, and stared wildly in their faces. They gathered around the poplar-trunks, and waited with some uneasiness to see what would follow.
Slowly and gravely, with the half-broken ban of silence still hanging over them, the people issued from the house. The strange man stood, leaning forward, and seemed to devour each, in turn, with his eager eyes. After the young men came the fathers of families, and lastly the old men from the gallery seats. Last of these came Henry Donnelly. In the meantime, all had seen and wondered at the waiting figure; its attitude was too intense and self-forgetting to be misinterpreted. The greetings and remarks were suspended until the people had seen for whom the man waited, and why.
Henry Donnelly had no sooner set his foot upon the door-step than, with something between a shout and a howl, the stranger darted forward, seized his hand, and fell upon one knee, crying: "O my lord! my lord! Glory be to God that I've found ye at last!"
If these words burst like a bomb on the ears of the people, what was their consternation when Henry Donnelly exclaimed, "The Divel! Jack O'Neil, can that be you?"
"It's me, meself, my lord! When we heard the letters went wrong last year, I said `I'll trust no such good news to their blasted mail-posts: I'll go meself and carry it to his lordship,--if it is t'other side o' the say. Him and my lady and all the children went, and sure I can go too. And as I was the one that went with you from Dunleigh Castle, I'll go back with you to that same, for it stands awaitin', and blessed be the day that sees you back in your ould place!"
"All clear, Jack? All mine again?"
"You may believe it, my lord! And money in the chest beside. But where's my lady, bless her sweet face! Among yon women, belike, and you'll help me to find her, for it's herself must have the news next, and then the young master--"
With that word Henry Donnelly awoke to a sense of time and place. He found himself within a ring of staring, wondering, scandalized eyes. He met them boldly, with a proud, though rather grim smile, took hold of O'Neil's arm and led him towards the women's end of the house, where the sight of Susan in her scoop bonnet so moved the servant's heart that he melted into tears. Both husband and wife were eager to get home and hear O'Neil's news in private; so they set out at once in their plain carriage, followed by the latter on horseback. As for the Friends, they went home in a state of bewilderment.
Alice Donnelly, with her brother Henry and Joel Bradbury, returned on foot. The two former remembered O'Neil, and, although they had not witnessed his first interview with their father, they knew enough of the family history to surmise his errand. Joel was silent and troubled.
"Alice, I hope it doesn't mean that we are going back, don't you?" said Henry.
"Yes," she answered, and said no more.
They took a foot-path across the fields, and reached the farm-house at the same time with the first party. As they opened the door Sylvia descended the staircase dressed in a rich shimmering brocade, with a necklace of amethysts around her throat. To their eyes, so long accustomed to the absence of positive color, she was completely dazzling. There was a new color on her cheeks, and her eyes seemed larger and brighter. She made a stately courtesy, and held open the parlor door.
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Beauty and the Beast, and Tales From Home -by- Bayard Taylor