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The unhappy woman had never contemplated so sudden an end to her long estrangement from Philip; nor had it ever crossed her imagination as a possibility, that he would be the first to die.
She had had visions of her own deathbed and of a pardoning husband leaning over her pillow, and imprinting on her dying brow the dear kiss of reconciled affection. But what was the hopeless reality! He was no longer an inhabitant of this earthly world; they had parted in enmity, never to meet again; and she was wandering alone beneath the rocking branches, with the wild wind wailing above her head: far from home and country, with ruined fortunes and a blighted reputation!
The sisters sat down on a fallen tree, and Alice threw back her veil that the wind might blow over her flushed and tear-stained cheeks. She, too, was altered, but in some respects the change was for the better. The fresh beauty of early womanhood had passed away,
but in its place had come a loveliness that was for all time. Daily and anxious thought for the feeble ones committed to her care had added pallor to her cheek, and filled the violet eyes with such deep feeling, that they seemed even softer than of yore; while, though she rarely laughed, her smile (ere this crushing blow came) was frequent and singularly beautiful.
To little Marie Thornleigh, Alice had ever been dearer than ought else on earth; for from her earliest infancy the child could not remember either the hour or the day when the girl-aunt was not ready to be happy with her, or to sympathize in her sorrows.
The selfishness of children is as much part and parcel of their being as is the instinct of “self-preservation,” which is said by sages to be the first law of nature; and it was the working of that quality in Marie's mental constitution that caused her to shrink, almost with dislike, from the sight of her mother's melancholy face, while she sunned herself in
the light of Alice's smile in her happy home at Thornleigh.
It was, perhaps, well for both the young aunt and her little niece, that they had early been removed from the surroundings of enervating luxuries; and had been cast upon their own mental resources, before habit had unfitted them for the exertion that gives strength.
The regrets of Alice Ellerton were almost exclusively for others, as, after the first chill of disappointment had subsided, she found cause for self-congratulation in her escape from a union with Francis Herbert; but there was something very trying even to a nature so unselfish as hers, in the constant spectacle of Gertrude's depression,-a depression from which she never rallied, and the gloom of which was never enlivened by the most transient ray of brightness.
And in the early days of their sojourn at Kelhouet, even Marie was a disappointment and an occasion of distress; for she was for
ever lamenting over her lost pleasures, grieving over the absence of her living pets, and longing for the championship of her absent brother.
It was then that Alice perceived how much there was for her to do, in disciplining the infant mind, as yet untaught by the lessons of the stern rugged nurse, Adversity; and how sacred was the duty that had devolved upon her of leading her little niece to draw from the well of her own sorrows, sympathy with those of others.
It was a hard task to make the spoilt child of luxury forget herself; but as the mildly yet constantly administered lessons took effect, what hitherto undiscovered sources of enjoyment sprung up in that young heart!
There was not a bud that peeped out from its nest of leaves but Marie watched it anxiously, in the hope that the flower's beauty and fragrance might give pleasure to her suffering mother. And as for sacrifices there were none that she would not gladly have made for those, to whom she knew herself to be so dear. All this improvement, however, in the child's character was not effected in a day, but was the result of a long and sometimes tedious process, the more sure and certain because it was the well-done work of time.
And thus years passed away, and they had grown accustomed to their retirement, and attached to the little château wherein they dwelt. It was a pretty nest, sheltered by huge walnut trees, with a pleasant garden in front, in which bloomed gorgeous flowers. The roof was of slate, and sharply pointed, and from a pigeon-house near, the doves flew and fluttered, cooing softly their never-tired love-notes.
Happy is the child-girl, and happier still the woman, who has passed through her days of danger in the undefiled paradise of flowers ! With no breath but theirs to mingle with ber own, and with no touch less delicate