Two months had gone by,--two months ofsteady, fagging work; of cooking, washing,ironing; of mending and caring forthe three children, although Jenny was fast becominga notable little housewife, quick, ready, andcapable. They were months in which there hadbeen many a weary night of watching by Aurelia'sbedside; of soothing and bandaging and rubbing;of reading and nursing, even of feeding and bathing.
The ceaseless care was growing less now, andthe family breathed more freely, for the mother'ssigh of pain no longer came from the stiflingbedroom, where, during a hot and humid August,Aurelia had lain, suffering with every breath shedrew. There would be no question of walking formany a month to come, but blessings seemed tomultiply when the blinds could be opened and thebed drawn near the window; when mother, withpillows behind her, could at least sit and watch thework going on, could smile at the past agony andforget the weary hours that had led to her presentcomparative ease and comfort.
No girl of seventeen can pass through such anordeal and come out unchanged; no girl of Re-becca's temperament could go through it withoutsome inward repining and rebellion. She was doingtasks in which she could not be fully happy,--heavyand trying tasks, which perhaps she could neverdo with complete success or satisfaction; and likepromise of nectar to thirsty lips was the vision ofjoys she had had to put aside for the performanceof dull daily duty. How brief, how fleeting,had been those splendid visions when the universeseemed open for her young strength to battleand triumph in! How soon they had faded intothe light of common day! At first, sympathy andgrief were so keen she thought of nothing buther mother's pain. No consciousness of self interposedbetween her and her filial service; then, asthe weeks passed, little blighted hopes began to stirand ache in her breast; defeated ambitions raisedtheir heads as if to sting her; unattainable delightsteased her by their very nearness; by the narrowline of separation that lay between her and theirrealization. It is easy, for the moment, to tread thenarrow way, looking neither to the right nor left,upborne by the sense of right doing; but that firstjoy of self-denial, the joy that is like fire in theblood, dies away; the path seems drearier and thefootsteps falter. Such a time came to Rebecca, andher bright spirit flagged when the letter wasreceived saying that her position in Augusta had beenfilled. There was a mutinous leap of the heart then,a beating of wings against the door of the cage, alonging for the freedom of the big world outside.
It was the stirring of the powers within her, thoughshe called it by no such grand name. She felt asif the wind of destiny were blowing her flamehither and thither, burning, consuming her, butkindling nothing. All this meant one stormy nightin her little room at Sunnybrook, but the cloudsblew over, the sun shone again, a rainbow stretchedacross the sky, while "hope clad in April green"smiled into her upturned face and beckoned her on,saying:--"Grow old along with me,The best is yet to be."Threads of joy ran in and out of the gray tangledweb of daily living. There was the attempt at oddmoments to make the bare little house less bare bybringing in out-of-doors, taking a leaf from Nature'sbook and noting how she conceals ugliness wherevershe finds it. Then there was the satisfaction of beingmistress of the poor domain; of planning, governing,deciding; of bringing order out of chaos; ofimplanting gayety in the place of inert resignation tothe inevitable. Another element of comfort was thechildren's love, for they turned to her as flowers tothe sun, drawing confidently on her fund of stories,serene in the conviction that there was no limit toRebecca's power of make-believe. In this, and inyet greater things, little as she realized it, the lawof compensation was working in her behalf, for inthose anxious days mother and daughter found andknew each other as never before. A new sense wasborn in Rebecca as she hung over her mother's bedof pain and unrest,--a sense that comes only ofministering, a sense that grows only when the strongbend toward the weak. As for Aurelia, words couldnever have expressed her dumb happiness when thereal revelation of motherhood was vouchsafed her.