The honey-suckle porch was green again, the trees cast bountiful and changing shadows on the grass, the landscape was as tranquil and serene as it had ever been; but where was she!
Not there. Not there. She would have been a stranger sight in her old home now, even than that home had been at first, without her. But, a lady sat in the familiar place, from whose heart she had never passed away; in whose true memory she lived, unchanging, youthful, radiant with all promise and all hope; in whose affection - and it was a mother's now, there was a cherished little daughter playing by her side - she had no rival, no successor; upon whose gentle lips her name was trembling then.
The spirit of the lost girl looked out of those eyes. Those eyes of Grace, her sister, sitting with her husband in the orchard, on their wedding-day, and his and Marion's birth-day.
He had not become a great man; he had not grown rich; he had not forgotten the scenes and friends of his youth; he had not fulfilled any one of the Doctor's old predictions. But, in his useful, patient, unknown visiting of poor men's homes; and in his watching of sick beds; and in his daily knowledge of the gentleness and goodness flowering the by-paths of this world, not to be trodden down beneath the heavy foot of poverty, but springing up, elastic, in its track, and making its way beautiful; he had better learned and proved, in each succeeding year, the truth of his old faith. The manner of his life, though quiet and remote, had shown him how often men still entertained angels, unawares, as in the olden time; and how the most unlikely forms - even some that were mean and ugly to the view, and poorly clad - became irradiated by the couch of sorrow, want, and pain, and changed to ministering spirits with a glory round their heads.
He lived to better purpose on the altered battle-ground, perhaps, than if he had contended restlessly in more ambitious lists; and he was happy with his wife, dear Grace.
And Marion. Had HE forgotten her?
'The time has flown, dear Grace,' he said, 'since then;' they had been talking of that night; 'and yet it seems a long long while ago. We count by changes and events within us. Not by years.'
'Yet we have years to count by, too, since Marion was with us,' returned Grace. 'Six times, dear husband, counting to-night as one, we have sat here on her birth-day, and spoken together of that happy return, so eagerly expected and so long deferred. Ah when will it be! When will it be!'
Her husband attentively observed her, as the tears collected in her eyes; and drawing nearer, said:
'But, Marion told you, in that farewell letter which she left for you upon your table, love, and which you read so often, that years must pass away before it COULD be. Did she not?'
She took a letter from her breast, and kissed it, and said 'Yes.'
'That through these intervening years, however happy she might be, she would look forward to the time when you would meet again, and all would be made clear; and that she prayed you, trustfully and hopefully to do the same. The letter runs so, does it not, my dear?'
'And every other letter she has written since?'
'Except the last - some months ago - in which she spoke of you, and what you then knew, and what I was to learn to-night.'
He looked towards the sun, then fast declining, and said that the appointed time was sunset.
'Alfred!' said Grace, laying her hand upon his shoulder earnestly, 'there is something in this letter - this old letter, which you say I read so often - that I have never told you. But, to-night, dear husband, with that sunset drawing near, and all our life seeming to soften and become hushed with the departing day, I cannot keep it secret.'
'What is it, love?'
'When Marion went away, she wrote me, here, that you had once left her a sacred trust to me, and that now she left you, Alfred, such a trust in my hands: praying and beseeching me, as I loved her, and as I loved you, not to reject the affection she believed (she knew, she said) you would transfer to me when the new wound was healed, but to encourage and return it.'
' - And make me a proud, and happy man again, Grace.