UTC
The Wide, Wide World
Susan Warner
Philadelphia: 1850

CHAPTER XV.

[MOTHER EARTH RATHER THAN AUNT FORTUNE]

An ant dropped into the water; a wood-pigeon took pity of her and threw her a little bough.—L' ESTRANGE.

  THE afternoon was already half spent when Mr. Van Brunt's ox-cart was seen returning. Ellen was standing by the little gate that opened on the chip-yard; and with her heart beating anxiously she watched the slow-coming oxen;—how slowly they came! At last they turned out of the lane and drew the cart up the ascent; and stopping beneath the apple tree Mr. Van Brunt leisurely got down, and flinging back his whip came to the gate. But the little face that met him there, quivering with hope and fear, made his own quite sober. "I'm really very sorry, Miss Ellen,—" he began.

  That was enough. Ellen waited to hear no more, but turned away, the cold chill of disappointment coming over her heart. She had borne the former delays pretty well, but this was one too many, and she felt sick. She went round to the front stoop, where scarcely ever any body came, and sitting down on the steps wept sadly and despairingly.

  It might have been half an hour or more after, that the kitchen door slowly opened and Ellen came in. Wishing her aunt should not see her swollen eyes, she was going quietly through to her own room when Miss Fortune called her. Ellen stopped. Miss Fortune was sitting before the fire with an open letter lying in her lap and another in her hand. The latter she held out to Ellen, saying "Here, child, come and take this."

  "What is it?" said Ellen, slowly coming toward her.

  "Don't you see what it is?" said Miss Fortune, still holding it out.


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  "But who is it from?" said Ellen.

  "Your mother."

  "A letter from mamma, and not to me!" said Ellen with changing colour. She took it quick from her aunt's hand. But her colour changed more as her eye fell upon the first words, "My dear Ellen," and turning the paper she saw upon the back, "Miss Ellen Montgomery." Her next look was to her aunt's face, with her eye fired and her cheek paled with anger, and when she spoke her voice was not the same.

  "This is my letter," she said trembling;—"who opened it?"

  Miss Fortune's conscience must have troubled her a little, for her eye wavered uneasily. Only for a second though.

  "Who opened it?" she answered; "I opened it. I should like to know who has a better right. And I shall open every one that comes to serve you for looking so;—that you may depend upon."

  The look and the words and the injury together, fairly put Ellen beside herself. She dashed the letter to the ground, and livid and trembling with various feelings—rage was not the only one,—she ran from her aunt's presence. She did not shed any tears now; she could not; they were absolutely burnt up by passion. She walked her room with trembling steps, clasping and wringing her hands now and then, wildly thinking what could she do to get out of this dreadful state of things, and unable to see any thing but misery before her. She walked, for she could not sit down; but presently she felt that she could not breathe the air of the house; and taking her bonnet she went down, passed through the kitchen and went out. Miss Fortune asked where she was going, and bade her stay within doors, but Ellen paid no attention to her.

  She stood still a moment outside the little gate. She might have stood long to look. The mellow light of an Indian-summer afternoon lay upon the meadow and the old barn and chip-yard; there was beauty in them all under its smile. Not a breath was stirring. The rays of the sun struggled through the blue haze, which hung upon the hills and softened every distant object; and the silence of nature all around was absolute, made more noticeable by the far-off


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voice of somebody, it might be Mr. Van Brunt, calling to his oxen, very far off and not to be seen; the sound came softly to her ear through the stillness. "Peace," was the whisper of nature to her troubled child; but Ellen's heart was in a whirl; she could not hear the whisper. It was a relief however to be out of the house and in the sweet open air. Ellen breathed more freely, and pausing a moment there, and clasping her hands together once more in sorrow, she went down the road and out at the gate, and exchanging her quick broken step for a slow measured one, she took the way toward Thirlwall. Little regarding the loveliness which that day was upon every slope and roadside, Ellen presently quitted the Thirlwall road and half unconsciously turned into a path on the left which she had never taken before,—perhaps for that reason. It was not much travelled evidently; the grass grew green on both sides and even in the middle of the way, though here and there the track of wheels could be seen. Ellen did not care about where she was going she only found it pleasant to walk on and get further from home. The road or lane led toward a mountain somewhat to the northwest of Miss Fortune's; the same which Mr. Van Brunt had once named to Ellen as "the Nose." After three quarters of an hour the road began gently to ascend the mountain, rising toward the north. About one-third of the way from the bottom Ellen came to a little foot-path on the left which allured her by its promise of prettiness, and she forsook the lane for it. The promise was abundantly fulfilled; it was a most lovely wild woodway path; but withal not a little steep and rocky. Ellen began to grow weary. The lane went on toward the north; the path rather led off toward the southern edge of the mountain, rising all the while; but before she reached that Ellen came to what she thought a good resting-place, where the path opened upon a small level platform or ledge of the hill. The mountain rose steep behind her, and sank very steep immediately before her, leaving a very superb view of the open country from the northeast to the southeast. Carpeted with moss, and furnished with fallen stones and pieces of rock, this was a fine resting-place for the wayfarer, or loitering place for the lover of nature. Ellen seated herself on one of the stones, and looked sadly and wearily


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toward the east, at first very careless of the exceeding beauty of what she beheld there.

  For miles and miles, on every side but the west, lay stretched before her a beautifully broken country. The November haze hung over it now like a thin veil, giving great sweetness and softness to the scene. Far in the distance a range of low hills showed like a misty cloud; near by, at the mountain's foot, the fields and farm-houses and roads lay a pictured map. About a mile and a half to the south rose the mountain where Nancy Vawse lived, craggy and bare; but the leafless trees and stern jagged rooks were wrapped in the haze; and through this the sun, now near the setting, threw his mellowing rays, touching every slope and ridge with a rich warm glow.

  Poor Ellen did not heed the picturesque effect of all this, yet the sweet influences of nature reached her, and softened while they increased her sorrow. She felt her own heart sadly out of tune with the peace and loveliness of all she saw. Her eye sought those distant hills,—how very far off they were! and yet all that wide tract of country was but a little piece of what lay between her and her mother. Her eye sought those hills,—but her mind overpassed them and went far beyond, over many such a tract, till it reached the loved one at last. But oh! how much between! "I cannot reach her!—she cannot reach me!" thought poor Ellen. Her eyes had been filling and dropping tears for some time, but now came the rush of the pent-up storm, and the floods of grief were kept back no longer.

  When once fairly excited, Ellen's passions were always extreme. During the former peaceful and happy part of her life the occasions of such excitement had been very rare. Of late unhappily they had occurred much oftener. Many were the bitter fits of tears she had known within a few weeks. But now it seemed as if all the scattered causes of sorrow that had wrought those tears were gathered together and pressing upon her at once; and that the burden would crush her to the earth. To the earth it brought her literally. She slid from her seat at first, and embracing the stone on which she had sat, she leaned her head there; but presently in her agony quitting her hold of that, she cast herself down upon the moss, lying at full length upon the cold ground,


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which seemed to her childish fancy the best friend she had left. But Ellen was wrought up to the last pitch of grief and passion. Tears brought no relief. Convulsive weeping only exhausted her. In the extremity of her distress and despair, and in that lonely place, out of hearing of every one, she sobbed aloud, and even screamed, for almost the first time in her life; and these fits of violence were succeeded by exhaustion, during which she ceased to shed tears and lay quite still, drawing only long sobbing sighs now and then.

  How long Ellen had lain there, or how long this would have gone on before her strength had been quite worn out, no one can tell. In one of these fits of forced quiet, when she lay as still as the rocks around her, she heard a voice close by say, "What is the matter, my child?"

  The silver sweetness of the tone came singularly upon the tempest in Ellen's mind. She got up hastily, and brushing away the tears from her dimmed eyes, she saw a young lady standing there, and a face whose sweetness well matched the voice looking upon her with grave concern. She stood motionless and silent.

  "What is the matter, my dear?"

  The tone found Ellen's heart and brought the water to her eyes again, though with a difference. She covered her face with her hands. But gentle hands were placed upon hers and drew them away; and the lady sitting down on Ellen's stone, took her in her arms; and Ellen hid her face in the bosom of a better friend than the cold earth had been like to prove her. But the change overcame her; and the soft whisper, "Don't cry any more," made it impossible to stop crying. Nothing further was said for some time; the lady waited till Ellen grew calmer. When she saw her able to answer, she said gently,


  "What does all this mean, my child? What troubles you? Tell me, and I think we can find a way to mend matters."

  Ellen answered the tone of voice with a faint smile, but the words with another gush of tears.

  "You are Ellen Montgomery, aren't you?"

  "Yes, ma'am "

  "I thought so. This isn't the first time I have seen you; I have seen you once before."


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  Ellen looked up surprised.

  "Have you, ma'am?—I am sure I have never seen you."

  "No, I know that. I saw you when you didn't see me. Where do you think?"

  "I can't tell, I am sure," said Ellen,—"I can't guess; I haven't seen you at aunt Fortune's, and I haven't been anywhere else."

  "You have forgotten," said the lady. "Did you never hear of a little girl who went to take a walk once upon a time, and had an unlucky fall into a brook?—and then went to a kind old lady's house where she was dried and put to bed and went to sleep."

  "Oh, yes," said Ellen. "Did you see me there, ma'am, and when I was asleep?"

  "I saw you there when you were asleep; and Mrs. Van Brunt told me who you were and where you lived; and when I came here a little while ago. I knew you again very soon. And I knew what the matter was too, pretty well; but nevertheless tell me all about it, Ellen; perhaps I can help you."

  Ellen shook her head dejectedly. "Nobody in this world can help me," she said.

  "Then there's one in heaven that can," said the lady steadily. "Nothing is too bad for him to mend. Have you asked his help, Ellen?"

  Ellen began to weep again. "Oh, if I could I would tell you all about it, ma'am," she said; "but there are so many things, I don't know where to begin, I don't know when I should ever get through."

  "So many things that trouble you, Ellen?"

  "Yes, ma'am."

  "I am sorry for that indeed. But never mind, dear, tell me what they are. Begin with the worst, and if I haven't time to hear them all now I'll find time another day. Begin with the worst."

   But she waited in vain for an answer, and became distressed herself at Ellen's distress, which was extreme.

  "Don't cry so, my child,—don't cry so," she said, pressing her in her arms. "What is the matter? hardly any thing in this world is so bad it can't be mended. I


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think I know what troubles you so—it is that your dear mother is away from you, isn't it?"

  "Oh, no, ma'am!"—Ellen could scarcely articulate. But struggling with herself for a minute or two, she then spoke again and more clearly.

  "The worst is,—oh the worst is—that I meant—I meant—to be a good child, and I have been worse than ever I was in my life before." Her tears gushed forth.

  "But how, Ellen?" said her surprised friend after a pause. "I don't quite understand you. When did you 'mean to be a good child?' Didn't you always mean so? and what have you been doing?"

  Ellen made a great effort and ceased crying; straightened herself; dashed away her tears as if determined to shed no more; and presently spoke calmly, though a choking sob every now and then threatened to interrupt her.

  "I will tell you, ma'am. That first day I left mamma—when I was on board the steamboat and feeling as badly as I could feel, a kind, kind gentleman, I don't know who he was, came to me and spoke to me, and took care of me the whole day. Oh, if I could see him again! He talked to me a great deal; he wanted me to be a Christian; he wanted me to make up my mind to begin that day to be one; and ma'am, I did. I did resolve with my whole heart, and I thought I should be different from that time from what I had ever been before. But I think I have never been so bad in my life as I have been since then. Instead of feeling right I have felt wrong all the time, almost,—and I can't help it. I have been passionate and cross, and bad feelings keep coming, and I know it's wrong, and it makes me miserable. And yet, oh! ma'am, I haven't changed my mind a bit,—I think just the same as I did that day; I want to be a Christian more than any thing else in the world, but I am not,—and what shall I do!"

  Her face sank in her hands again.

  "And this is your great trouble?" said her friend.

  "Yes."

  "Do you remember who said, 'Come unto me all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest'?"

  Ellen looked up inquiringly.


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  "You are grieved to find yourself so unlike what you would be. You wish to be a child of the dear Saviour and to have your heart filled with his love, and to do what will please him. Do you?—Have you gone to him day by day, and night by night, and told him so?—have you begged him to give you strength to get the better of your wrong feelings, and asked him to change you and make you his child?"

  "At first I did, ma'am,"—said Ellen in a low voice.

  "Not lately?"

  "No ma'am"; in a low tone still and looking down.

  "Then you have neglected your Bible and prayer for some time past?"

  Ellen hardly uttered, "Yes."

  "Why, my child?"

  "I don't know, ma'am," said Ellen weeping,—"that is one of the things that made me think myself so very wicked. I couldn't like to read my Bible or pray either, though I always used to before. My Bible lay down quite at the bottom of my trunk, and I even didn't like to raise my things enough to see the cover of it. I was so full of bad feelings I didn't feel fit to pray or read either."

  "Ah! that is the way with the wisest of us," said her companion; "how apt we are to shrink most from our Physician just when we are in most need of him. But Ellen, dear, that isn't right. No hand but his can touch that sickness you are complaining of. Seek it, love, seek it. He will hear and help you, no doubt of it, in every trouble you carry simply and humbly to his feet;—he has promised, you know."

  Ellen was weeping very much, but less bitterly than before; the clouds were breaking and light beginning to shine through.

  "Shall we pray together now?" said her companion after a few minutes' pause.

  "Oh, if you please, ma'am, do!" Ellen answered through her tears.

  And they knelt together there on the moss beside the stone, where Ellen's head rested and her friend's folded hands were laid. It might have been two children speaking to their father, for the simplicity of that prayer; difference of age seemed to be forgotten, and what suited one suited the other.


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It was not without difficulty that the speaker carried it calmly through, for Ellen's sobs went nigh to check her more than once. When they rose Ellen silently sought her friend's arms again, and laying her face on her shoulder and putting both arms round her neck, she wept still,—but what different tears! It was like the gentle rain falling through sunshine, after the dark cloud and the thunder and the hurricane have passed by. And they kissed each other before either of them spoke.

  "You will not forget your Bible and prayer again, Ellen?"

  "Oh, no, ma'am."

  "Then I am sure you will find your causes of trouble grow less. I will not hear the rest of them now. In a day or two I hope you will be able to give me a very different account from what you would have done an hour ago; but besides that it is getting late, and it will not do for us to stay too long up here; you have a good way to go to reach home. Will you come and see me to-morrow afternoon?"

  "Oh, yes, ma'am, indeed I will!—if I can;—and if you will tell me where."

  "Instead of turning up this little rocky path you must keep straight on in the road,—that's all; and it's the first house you come to. It isn't very far from here. Where were you going on the mountain?"

  "Nowhere, ma'am."

  "Have you been any higher up than this?"

  "No, ma'am."

  "Then before we go away I want to show you something. I'll take you over the Bridge of the Nose; it isn't but a step or two more; a little rough to be sure, but you mustn't mind that."

  "What is the 'Bridge of the Nose,' ma'am?" said Ellen, as they left her resting-place, and began to toil up the path which grew more steep and rocky than ever.

  "You know this mountain is called the Nose. Just here it runs out to a very thin sharp edge. We shall come to a place presently where you turn a very sharp corner to get from one side of the hill to the other; and my brother named it jokingly the Bridge of the Nose."


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  "Why do they give the mountain such a queer name?" said Ellen.

  "I don't know I'm sure. The people say that from one point of view this side of it looks very like a man's nose; but I never could find it out, and have some doubt about the fact. But now here we are! Just come round this great rock,—mind how you step, Ellen,—now look there!"

  The rock they had just turned was at their backs, and they looked toward the west. Both exclaimed at the beauty before them. The view was not so extended as the one they had left. On the north and south the broken wavy outline of mountains closed in the horizon; but far to the west stretched an opening between the hills through which the setting sun sent his long beams, even to their feet. In the distance all was a golden haze; nearer, on the right and left the hills were lit up singularly, and there was a most beautiful mingling of deep hazy shadow and bright glowing mountain sides and ridges. A glory was upon the valley. Far down below at their feet lay a large lake gleaming in the sunlight; and at the upper end of it a village of some size showed like a cluster of white dots.

  "How beautiful!" said the lady again. "Ellen, dear,—he whose hand raised up those mountains and has painted them so gloriously is the very same One who has said, to you and to me, 'Ask and it shall be given you."'

  Ellen looked up; their eyes met; her answer was in that grateful glance

  The lady sat down and drew Ellen close to her. "Do you see that little white village yonder, down at the far end of the lake? that is the village of Carra-carra; and that is Carra-carra lake; that is where I go to church; you cannot see the little church from here. My father preaches there every Sunday morning."

  "You must have a long way to go," said Ellen.

  "Yes—a pretty long way, but it's very pleasant though. I mount my little grey pony, and he carries me there in quick time, when I will let him. I never wish the way shorter. I go in all sorts of weathers too, Ellen; Sharp and I don't mind frost and snow."

  "Who is Sharp?" said Ellen.

  "My pony. An odd name, isn't it. It wasn't of my


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choosing, Ellen, but he deserves it if ever pony did. He's a very cunning little fellow. Where do you go, Ellen? to Thirlwall?"

  "To church, ma'am?—I don't go anywhere."

  "Doesn't your aunt go to church?"

  "She hasn't since I have been here."

  "What do you do with yourself on Sunday?"

  "Nothing, ma'am; I don't know what to do with myself all the day long. I get tired of being in the house, and I go out of doors, and then I get tired of being out of doors and come in again. I wanted a kitten dreadfully, but Mr. Van Brunt said aunt Fortune would not let me keep one."

  "Did you want a kitten to help you keep Sunday, Ellen?" said her friend smiling.

  "Yes I did, ma'am," said Ellen, smiling again;—"I thought it would be a great deal of company for me. I got very tired of reading all day long, and I had nothing to read but the Bible; and you know, ma'am, I told you I have been all wrong ever since I came here, and I didn't like to read that much."

  "My poor child!" said the lady,—"you have been hardly bested I think. What if you were to come and spend next Sunday with me? Don't you think I should do instead of a kitten?"

  "Oh, yes, ma'am, I am sure of it," said Ellen clinging to her. "Oh, I'll come gladly if you will let me,—and if aunt Fortune will let me; and I hope she will, for she said last Sunday I was the plague of her life."

  "What did you do to make her say so?" said her friend gravely.

  "Only asked her for some books, ma'am."

  "Well, my dear, I see I am getting upon another of your troubles, and we haven't time for that now. By your own account you have been much in fault yourself; and I trust you will find all things mend with your own mending. But now there goes the sun!—and you and I must follow his example."

  The lake ceased to gleam, and the houses of the village were less plainly to be seen; still the mountain heads were as bright as ever. Gradually the shadows crept up their


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sides while the grey of evening settled deeper and deeper upon the valley.

  "There," said Ellen,—"that's just what I was wondering at the other morning; only then the light shone upon the top of the mountains first and walked down, and now it leaves the bottom first and walks up. I asked Mr. Van Brunt about it and he could not tell me. That's another of my troubles,—there's nobody that can tell me any thing."

  "Put me in mind of it to-morrow, and I'll try to make you understand it," said the lady, "but we must not tarry now. I see you are likely to find me work enough, Ellen."

  "I'll not ask you a question, ma'am, if you don't like it," said Ellen earnestly.

  "I do like, I do like," said the other. "I spoke laughingly, for I see you will be apt to ask me a good many. As many as you please, my dear."

  "Thank you, ma'am," said Ellen, as they ran down the hill; "they keep coming into my head all the while."

  It was easier going down than coming up. They soon arrived at the place where Ellen had left the road to take the wood-path.

  "Here we part," said the lady. "Good-night!"

  "Good-night, ma'am."

  There was a kiss and a squeeze of the hand, but when Ellen would have turned away the lady still held her fast.

  "You are an odd little girl," said she. "I gave you liberty to ask me questions."

   "Yes, ma'am," said Ellen, doubtfully.

  "There is a question you have not asked me that I have been expecting. Do you know who I am?"

  "No, ma'am."

  "Don't you want to know?"

  "Yes, ma'am, very much," said Ellen, laughing at her friend's look, "but mamma told me never to try to find out any thing about other people that they didn't wish me to know, or that wasn't my business."

  "Well, I think this is your business decidedly. Who are you going to ask for when you come to see me to-morrow? Will you ask for 'the young lady that lives in this house?' or will you give a description of my nose and eyes and inches?"


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  Ellen laughed.

  "My dear Ellen," said the lady, changing her tone, "do you know you please me very much? For one person that shows herself well-bred in this matter there are a thousand I think that ask impertinent questions. I am very glad you are an exception to the common rule. But, dear Ellen, I am quite willing you should know my name—it is Alice Humphreys. Now kiss me again and run home; it is quite, quite time; I have kept you too late. Good-night, my dear! Tell your aunt I beg she will allow you to take tea with me to-morrow."

  They parted; and Ellen hastened homewards, urged by the rapidly growing dusk of the evening. She trod the green turf with a step lighter and quicker than it had been a few hours before, and she regained her home in much less time than it had taken her to come from thence to the mountain. Lights were in the kitchen, and the table set; but though weary and faint she was willing to forego her supper rather than meet her aunt just then; so she stole quietly up to her room. She did not forget her friend's advice. She had no light; she could not read; but Ellen did pray. She did carry all her heart-sickness, her wants, and her woes, to that Friend whose ear is always open to hear the cry of those who call upon him in truth; and then, relieved, refreshed, almost healed, she went to bed and slept sweetly.