A Daughter of the Rich Part 53

"Remember the first time you sold berries in that rig, Rose-pose?"

The blood surged into Rose's face, and receded, leaving it strangely white. Chi felt his heart contract at the change, but he went on:

"First time Jack ever saw you was in that rig.--You ain't changed so much but he 'd know you again if he saw you in Chiny."

Still there was silence. Chi moistened his lips.

"Can't say as much for him; never saw such a change; he 's all fallen away to nothin' but skin and bones. Doctor Heath told me just before I left--'n' he put me aboard the train--that nothin' could set him up again but this Mountain air, 'n' good food, 'n'--" Chi paused; his mouth was uncomfortably dry. Rose's face was turned from him, but he saw a contraction of her delicate throat, as if a dry sob were suddenly suppressed. Then she spoke in a monotone:

"Why does n't he come, then?"

"_Why!_--" Chi fairly startled himself with his thundering "why," and Rose half started from the ground. The blood leaped to her very temples; seeing which, Chi took heart--"Coz he 's every inch a man, Rose Blossom; 'n' he's got too much grit of the right sort to ask a girl twice, he 's about given his heart's blood for.

"He ain't a-goin' to come crawlin' up here to ask no favors of you after he knows that you _know_--'n' I glory in his s.p.u.n.k. But I can tell you, if you don't look out, you 'll come nearer to bein' a real Molly Stark than you ever thought you could be when you joined the N.B.B.O.O., 'n'

by George Washin'ton! it goes against me to see you breakin' the by-laws you pledged yourself to stand by, every minute of your life that you keep so dumb towards Jack Sherrill;--for you 're provin' yourself a coward in your love, 'n' you 'll have a widowed heart to pay for it mighty soon, if you keep on, that'll be worse than Molly Stark's any day--" A whisper stopped him:

"Chi, Chi, tell him to come--I want him so; oh, Chi!"

Chi's hand was laid on the bowed head with its crown of shining, golden-brown braids: "Rose Blossom, may G.o.d Almighty bless you for proving yourself a true woman, 'n' worthy of the mother that bore you.

I can't say any more."

An hour later March Blossom, with a telegram in his hand, was speeding on Fleet to Barton's River; and two days afterwards Mr. Blossom and Alan Ford in the double wagon, and Chi alone in the buggy, drove down to Barton's to meet the up-train. Mrs. Blossom and Rose stood on the porch straining their eyes in the quickly-falling September twilight to see any movement on the lower road. The children had been sent over to Hunger-ford till after tea, for Jack was not strong enough to bear a too joyful home-coming.

"They 're coming, Rose," said Mrs. Blossom, in a low tone; then she turned abruptly, and went into the house, leaving Rose alone on the step.

"Here we are, safe 'n' sound," said Chi, in an affectedly cheery voice, as he drove out of the woods'-road. "Just wait a minute, Jack, 'n' I 'll give you an arm gettin' out." He laid the reins on the dasher.

Then he a.s.sisted the tall, gaunt figure of the man beside him to alight.

Jack half stumbled, for his eyes were seeking Rose--and Rose?

All her womanhood, all the sacred privileges of wifehood, came to her aid at that moment. She sprang to the carriage, and, with one hand, put Chi aside; with the other, she lifted Jack's half-nerveless arm and laid it over her shoulders; then, encircling him with her own slender one, she said gently, guiding him to the porch step:

"_Lean on me, dearest._"

On the first of November, one of the short-lived Indian Summer days, the farmhouse on Mount Hunger literally blossomed like a rose.

A week beforehand there had been an animated discussion as to what should be the wedding decorations of the "long-room." Hazel, who had been with them a week already, settled it.

"As if there could be any choice!" she exclaimed. "It's been great fun to hear you all suggesting this, that, and the other, from ground hemlock and bitter-sweet, to everlasting! But Jack and I settled it three weeks ago--how could there be anything for Rose, but roses?

Anyway, that's what Jack wrote, and our florist looked fairly dazed when I gave him the order--just bushels of them, Rose-pose, lovely La France ones, like those you threw into the--No, I won't tease you, Cousin mine," she said, with a merry laugh, as Rose looked at her appealingly.

And now, on the wedding morning of the first of November, the great box that Chi had brought up from Barton's the night before was opened, and in Hazel's skilful fingers the exquisite pink blooms lent to the "long-room" a wonderful grace and beauty.

She was flitting about in her pale pink cashmere dress--"Made specially to match the roses," she said to March, as she dropped him a curtsy preparatory to pinning a rose into his b.u.t.tonhole. "We must all wear Rose-pose's badge to-day. Where are you, Budd?"

"Here," said her knight, promptly appearing with Cherry from the pantry, where they had been counting the frosting-roses on the wedding-cake. He looked down at the slender fingers as they pulled the stem of the pink bud through the b.u.t.tonhole of his jacket, and thought--of the ring!

Then he looked up at the tall, beautiful girl bending over him, and, somehow, the day of his proposal seemed very far away in the Past.

Hazel was so grown up!--as tall as Rose. Still, he was n't going to be afraid, if she was grown up. Now was his time;--and "Ethan Allan"

always made the most of his opportunities. Budd was in United States History, this term, and he knew this for a fact.

He drew forth from his breeches' pocket a something that might once have been white, but, at present, looked more like a shoe-rag, it was so dingy and soiled.

"I 've kept it, you see, Hazel," he said, his small mouth puckering, his round, light-blue eyes growing rounder, as he looked up at Hazel, with twelve-year-old earnestness.

"Kept what?" said Hazel, mystified, and holding up the offering gingerly between thumb and forefinger to examine it.

"Why, don't you know?--the glove you gave me when you said you 'd be my Lady-love? don't you remember,--in the barn?" answered Budd, slightly crestfallen.

Hazel laughed merrily. "Oh, you funny boy!" she said, "to keep an old glove of mine for nearly a year and a half! Why, it's nearly black and blue. Have you kept it in your best Sunday-go-to-meeting trousers'

pocket all this time?"

Budd nodded, but soberly. Seeing which, Hazel gave him a pat on the top of his head, and a.s.sured him she would give him one of her cleaned party gloves once a year till he was twenty-one, if only he would promise not to keep it in his pocket with spruce-gum, chalk, chestnuts, lead-pencil sharpenings, top-twine, jack-knives, and ginger cookie crumbs.

"How 'd you know I had all those things in my pocket?" demanded Budd, in his amazement forgetting his sentiment.

"Oh, a little bird told me," replied Hazel. "Run and ask Chi to come in, will you? I have his rose ready for him, and it's most time for them all to come."

It was a quiet wedding. Only those nearest and dearest were about them; Mr. Sherrill, Aunt Carrie and Uncle Jo, Mr. Clyde and Hazel, Doctor and Mrs. Heath, the Blossoms and Chi.

Afterwards all the Lost Nation came in to give their heart-felt blessings and good wishes. They were all there--from Maria-Ann, radiant in the realization of her own romance, to Miss Alton and the Fords, who were to leave on the night train to remain six weeks in New York, and had placed Hunger-ford at the disposal of Rose and Jack during the first weeks of their marriage. They remained but a little while, for the excitement was almost more than Jack was able to bear.

The moon rose between six and seven, largely luminous and slightly reddened through the soft, warm haze of the Indian Summer night. Rose had insisted, that, if the night were mild, Jack should ride over to Hunger-ford at a snail's pace on Little Shaver, and that she should lead him. At first Jack protested, but in the end Rose had her way. Chi, on Fleet, was to ride on a little ahead to be within call, if anything should be needed. "Kind of scoutin' to remind us of Cuby, Jack," he said, laughing, as he helped him into the saddle.

They were all on the porch to see the little cavalcade set forth, the pony whinnying his delight to find his master on his back. Rose took the bridle. Suddenly she dropped it, turned, and came back to the steps where Hazel stood between Mrs. Blossom and March. She put up her arms, and clasping the young girl about the waist, drew her down to kiss her, and whisper:

"Oh, Hazel! What if you had n't come to us!--All this happiness is through you."

And Hazel, but dimly perceiving Rose's meaning, whispered back as she kissed her:

"And if I had n't come, Rose-pose, _I_ should never have been rich as I am now; Chi can't call me 'poor' any longer--for you 're all mine, now that you are Jack's; aren't you?"

March, hearing those whispered words, found his mother's hand, somehow,--and Mrs. Blossom understood.

"Good-night, Martie dear," cried Rose, love and tears and laughter struggling in her voice.

"Good-night, Rose dear."

"Good-night, Rose--Good-night, Jack!" cried the twins.

A white slipper filled with rice flew after Little Shaver, and hit him on the left hock. But he was a well-bred polo pony, and a white satin slipper with a little rice was as nothing to a swift, long-distance polo ball; so he gave no sign.

Chi stopped at the little house "over eastwards." Maria-Ann was on the lookout.

"They 're comin' along just by the turn of the road," he spoke low, "can you see 'em?"

The road lay white in the moonlight. "Yes, yes," cried Maria-Ann excitedly, "Oh, Chi, ain't it beautiful!"

"Sh--sh!" said Chi, "they 'll hear you. Hark! By George Washin'ton!

she 's singin'--Get, Fleet." The horse loped along over the moonlit road, and Maria-Ann went in and shut the door--all but a crack. To that she put her ear, to hear what the clear, sweet voice was singing:

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