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CHAPTER XXVII THE OLD ORDER CHANGETH
"I am going away with father when he goes. He is going to spend the winter in Paris, and I am to go to school there."
The Story Girl told us this one day in the orchard. There was a little elation in her tone, but more regret. The news was not a great surprise to us. We had felt it in the air ever since Uncle Blair's arrival. Aunt Janet had been very unwilling to let the Story Girl go. But Uncle Blair was inexorable. It was time, he said, that she should go to a better school than the little country one in Carlisle; and besides, he did not want her to grow into womanhood a stranger to him. So it was finally decided that she was to go.
"Just think, you are going to Europe," said Sara Ray in an awestruck tone. "Won't that be splendid!"
"I suppose I'll like it after a while," said the Story Girl slowly, "but I know I'll be dreadfully homesick at first. Of course, it will be lovely to be with father, but oh, I'll miss the rest of you so much!"
"Just think how WE'LL miss YOU," sighed Cecily. "It will be so lonesome here this winter, with you and Peter both gone. Oh, dear, I do wish things didn't have to change."
Felicity said nothing. She kept looking down at the grass on which she sat, absently pulling at the slender blades. Presently we saw two big tears roll down over her cheeks. The Story Girl looked surprised.
"Are you crying because I'm going away, Felicity?" she asked.
"Of course I am," answered Felicity, with a big sob. "Do you think I've no f-f-eeling?"
"I didn't think you'd care much," said the Story Girl frankly. "You've never seemed to like me very much."
"I d-don't wear my h-heart on my sleeve," said poor Felicity, with an attempt at dignity. "I think you m-might stay. Your father would let you s-stay if you c-coaxed him."
"Well, you see I'd have to go some time," sighed the Story Girl, "and the longer it was put off the harder it would be. But I do feel dreadfully about it. I can't even take poor Paddy. I'll have to leave him behind, and oh, I want you all to promise to be kind to him for my sake."
We all solemnly assured her that we would.
"I'll g-give him cream every m-morning and n-night," sobbed Felicity, "but I'll never be able to look at him without crying. He'll make me think of you."
"Well, I'm not going right away," said the Story Girl, more cheerfully. "Not till the last of October. So we have over a month yet to have a good time in. Let's all just determine to make it a splendid month for the last. We won't think about my going at all till we have to, and we won't have any quarrels among us, and we'll just enjoy ourselves all we possibly can. So don't cry any more, Felicity. I'm awfully glad you do like me and am sorry I'm going away, but let's all forget it for a month."
Felicity sighed, and tucked away her damp handkerchief.
"It isn't so easy for me to forget things, but I'll try," she said disconsolately, "and if you want any more cooking lessons before you go I'll be real glad to teach you anything I know."
This was a high plane of self-sacrifice for Felicity to attain. But the Story Girl shook her head.
"No, I'm not going to bother my head about cooking lessons this last month. It's too vexing."
"Do you remember the time you made the pudding - " began Peter, and suddenly stopped.
"Out of sawdust?" finished the Story Girl cheerfully. "You needn't be afraid to mention it to me after this. I don't mind any more. I begin to see the fun of it now. I should think I do remember it - and the time I baked the bread before it was raised enough."
"People have made worse mistakes than that," said Felicity kindly.
"Such as using tooth-powd - " but here Dan stopped abruptly, remembering the Story Girl's plea for a beautiful month. Felicity coloured, but said nothing - did not even LOOK anything.
"We HAVE had lots of fun together one way or another," said Cecily, retrospectively.
"Just think how much we've laughed this last year or so," said the Story Girl. "We've had good times together; but I think we'll have lots more splendid years ahead."
"Eden is always behind us - Paradise always before," said Uncle Blair, coming up in time to hear her. He said it with a sigh that was immediately lost in one of his delightful smiles.
"I like Uncle Blair so much better than I expected to," Felicity confided to me. "Mother says he's a rolling stone, but there really is something very nice about him, although he says a great many things I don't understand. I suppose the Story Girl will have a very gay time in Paris."
"She's going to school and she'll have to study hard," I said.
"She says she's going to study for the stage," said Felicity. "Uncle Roger thinks it is all right, and says she'll be very famous some day. But mother thinks it's dreadful, and so do I."
"Aunt Julia is a concert singer," I said.
"Oh, that's very different. But I hope poor Sara will get on all right," sighed Felicity. "You never know what may happen to a person in those foreign countries. And everybody says Paris is such a wicked place. But we must hope for the best," she concluded in a resigned tone.
That evening the Story Girl and I drove the cows to pasture after milking, and when we came home we sought out Uncle Blair in the orchard. He was sauntering up and down Uncle Stephen's Walk, his hands clasped behind him and his beautiful, youthful face uplifted to the western sky where waves of night were breaking on a dim primrose shore of sunset.
"See that star over there in the south-west?" he said, as we joined him. "The one just above that pine? An evening star shining over a dark pine tree is the whitest thing in the universe - because it is LIVING whiteness - whiteness possessing a soul. How full this old orchard is of twilight! Do you know, I have been trysting here with ghosts."
"The Family Ghost?" I asked, very stupidly.
"No, not the Family Ghost. I never saw beautiful, broken-hearted Emily yet. Your mother saw her once, Sara - that was a strange thing," he added absently, as if to himself.
"Did mother really see her?" whispered the Story Girl.
"Well, she always believed she did. Who knows?"
"Do you think there are such things as ghosts, Uncle Blair?" I asked curiously.
"I never saw any, Beverley."
"But you said you were trysting with ghosts here this evening," said the Story Girl.
"Oh, yes - the ghosts of the old years. I love this orchard because of its many ghosts. We are good comrades, those ghosts and I; we walk and talk - we even laugh together - sorrowful laughter that has sorrow's own sweetness. And always there comes to me one dear phantom and wanders hand in hand with me - a lost lady of the old years."
"My mother?" said the Story Girl very softly.
"Yes, your mother. Here, in her old haunts, it is impossible for me to believe that she can be dead - that her LAUGHTER can be dead. She was the gayest, sweetest thing - and so young - only three years older than you, Sara. Yonder old house had been glad because of her for eighteen years when I met her first."
"I wish I could remember her," said the Story Girl, with a little sigh. "I haven't even a picture of her. Why didn't you paint one, father?"
"She would never let me. She had some queer, funny, half-playful, half-earnest superstition about it. But I always meant to when she would become willing to let me. And then - she died. Her twin brother Felix died the same day. There was something strange about that, too. I was holding her in my arms and she was looking up at me; suddenly she looked past me and gave a little start. 'Felix!' she said. For a moment she trembled and then she smiled and looked up at me again a little beseechingly. 'Felix has come for me, dear,' she said. 'We were always together before you came - you must not mind - you must be glad I do not have to go alone.' Well, who knows? But she left me, Sara - she left me."
There was that in Uncle Blair's voice that kept us silent for a time. Then the Story Girl said, still very softly:
"What did mother look like, father? I don't look the least little bit like her, do I?"
"No, I wish you did, you brown thing. Your mother's face was as white as a wood-lily, with only a faint dream of rose in her cheeks. She had the eyes of one who always had a song in her heart - blue as a mist, those eyes were. She had dark lashes, and a little red mouth that quivered when she was very sad or very happy like a crimson rose too rudely shaken by the wind. She was as slim and lithe as a young, white-stemmed birch tree. How I loved her! How happy we were! But he who accepts human love must bind it to his soul with pain, and she is not lost to me. Nothing is ever really lost to us as long as we remember it."
Uncle Blair looked up at the evening star. We saw that he had forgotten us, and we slipped away, hand in hand, leaving him alone in the memory-haunted shadows of the old orchard.
Turn to the next chapter: CHAPTER XXVIII THE PATH TO ARCADY