Chapter I. The Child.
 

"Well, there!" said Miss Vesta. "The child has a wonderful gift, that is certain. Just listen to her, Rejoice! You never heard our canary sing like that!"

Miss Vesta put back the shutters as she spoke, and let a flood of light into the room where Miss Rejoice lay. The window was open, and Melody's voice came in like a wave of sound, filling the room with sweetness and life and joy.

"It's like the foreign birds they tell about!" said Miss Rejoice, folding her thin hands, and settling herself on the pillow with an air of perfect content,--"nightingales, and skylarks, and all the birds in the poetry-books. What is she doing, Vesta?"

Miss Rejoice could see part of the yard from her bed. She could see the white lilac-bush, now a mass of snowy plumes, waving in the June breeze; she could see the road, and knew when any of the neighbors went to town or to meeting; but the corner from which the wonderful voice came thrilling and soaring was hidden from her.

Miss Vesta peered out between the muslin curtains. "She's sitting on the steps," she said, "feeding the hens. It is wonderful, the way the creatures know her! That old top-knot hen, that never has a good word for anybody, is sitting in her lap almost. She says she understands their talk, and I really believe she does. 'Tis certain none of them cluck, not a sound, while she's singing. 'Tis a manner of marvel, to my mind."

"It is so," assented Miss Rejoice, mildly. "There, sister! you said you had never heard her sing 'Tara's Harp.' Do listen now!"

Both sisters were silent in delight. Miss Vesta stood at the window, leaning against the frame. She was tall, and straight as an arrow, though she was fifty years old. Her snow-white hair was brushed straight up from her broad forehead; her blue eyes were keen and bright as a sword. She wore a black dress and a white apron; her hands showed the marks of years of serving, and of hard work of all kinds. No one would have thought that she and Miss Rejoice were sisters, unless he had surprised one of the loving looks that sometimes passed between them when they were alone together. The face that lay on the pillow was white and withered, like a crumpled white rose. The dark eyes had a pleading, wistful look, and were wonderfully soft withal. Miss Rejoice had white hair too, but it had a warm yellowish tinge, very different from the clear white of Miss Vesta's. It curled, too, in little ringlets round her beautiful old face. In short, Miss Vesta was splendidly handsome, while no one would think of calling Miss Rejoice anything but lovely. The younger sister lay always in bed. It was some thirty years since she met with the accident which changed her from a rosy, laughing girl into a helpless cripple. A party of pleasure,--gay lads and lasses riding together, careless of anything save the delight of the moment; a sudden leap of the horse, frightened at some obstacle; a fall, striking on a sharp stone,--this was Miss Rejoice's little story. People in the village had forgotten that there was any story; even her own contemporaries almost forgot that Rejoice had ever been other than she was now. But Miss Vesta never forgot. She left her position in the neighboring town, broke off her engagement to the man she loved, and came home to her sister; and they had never been separated for a day since. Once, when the bitter pain began to abate, and the sufferer could realize that she was still a living creature and not a condemned spirit, suffering for the sins of some one else (she had thought of all her own, and could not feel that they were bad enough to merit such suffering, if God was the person she supposed),--in those first days Miss Rejoice ventured to question her sister about her engagement. She was afraid--she did hope the breaking of it had nothing to do with her. "It has to do with myself!" said Miss Vesta, briefly, and nothing more was said. The sisters had lived their life together, without a thought save for each other, till Melody came into their world.

But here is Melody at the door; she shall introduce herself. A girl of twelve years old, with a face like a flower. A broad white forehead, with dark hair curling round it in rings and tendrils as delicate as those of a vine; a sweet, steadfast mouth, large blue eyes, clear and calm under the long dark lashes, but with a something in them which makes the stranger turn to look at them again. He may look several times before he discovers the reason of their fixed, unchanging calm. The lovely mouth smiles, the exquisite face lights up with gladness or softens into sympathy or pity; but the blue eyes do not flash or soften, for Melody is blind.

She came into the room, walking lightly, with a firm, assured tread, which gave no hint of hesitation or uncertainty.

"See, Aunt Joy," she said brightly, "here is the first rose. You were saying yesterday that it was time for cinnamon-roses; now here is one for you." She stooped to kiss the sweet white face, and laid the glowing blossom beside it.

"Thank you, dear," said Miss Rejoice; "I might have known you would find the first blossom, wherever it was. Where was this, now? On the old bush behind the barn?"

"Not in our yard at all," replied the child, laughing. "The smell came to me a few minutes ago, and I went hunting for it. It was in Mrs. Penny's yard, right down by the fence, close, so you could hardly see it."

"Well, I never!" exclaimed Miss Vesta. "And she let you have it?"

"Of course," said the child. "I told her it was for Aunt Joy."

"H'm!" said Miss Vesta. "Martha Penny doesn't suffer much from giving, as a rule, to Aunt Joy or anybody else. Did she give it to you at the first asking, hey?"

"Now, Vesta!" remonstrated Miss Rejoice, gently.

"Well, I want to know," persisted the elder sister.

Melody laughed softly. "Not quite the first asking," she said. "She wanted to know if I thought she had no nose of her own. 'I didn't mean that,' said I; 'but I thought perhaps you wouldn't care for it quite as much as Aunt Joy would.' And when she asked why, I said, 'You don't sound as if you would.' Was that rude, Aunt Vesta?"

"Humph!" said Miss Vesta, smiling grimly. "I don't know whether it was exactly polite, but Martha Penny wouldn't know the difference."

The child looked distressed, and so did Miss Rejoice.

"I am sorry," said Melody. "But then Mrs. Penny said something so funny. 'Well, gaffle onto it! I s'pose you're one of them kind as must always have what they want in this world. Gaffle onto your rose, and go 'long! Guess I might be sick enough before anybody 'ud get roses for me!' So I told her I would bring her a whole bunch of our white ones as soon as they were out, and told her how I always tried to get the first cinnamon-rose for Aunt Joy. She said, 'She ain't your aunt, nor mine either.' But she spoke kinder, and didn't seem cross any more; so I took the rose, and here it is."

Miss Vesta was angry. A bright spot burned in her cheeks, and she was about to speak hastily; but Miss Rejoice raised a gentle hand, and motioned her to be silent.

"Martha Penny has a sharp way, Melody," said Miss Rejoice; "but she meant no unkindness, I think. The rose is very sweet," she added; "there are no other roses so sweet, to my mind. And how are the hens this morning, dearie?"

The child clapped her hands, and laughed aloud. "Oh, we have had such fun!" she cried. "Top-knot was very cross at first, and would not let the young speckled hen eat out of the dish with her. So I took one under each arm, and sang and talked to them till they were both in a good humor. That made the Plymouth rooster jealous, and he came and drove them both away, and had to have a petting all by himself. He is such a dear!"

"You do spoil those hens, Melody," said Miss Vesta, with an affectionate grumble. "Do you suppose they'll eat any better for being talked to and sung to as if they were persons?"

"Poor dears!" said the child; "they ought to be happy while they do live, oughtn't they, Auntie? Is it time to make the cake now, Aunt Vesta, or shall I get my knitting, and sing to Auntie Joy a little?"

At that moment a clear whistle was heard outside the house. "The doctor!" cried Melody, her sightless face lighting up with a flash of joy. "I must go," and she ran quickly out to the gate.

"Now he'll carry her off," said Miss Vesta, "and we sha'n't see her again till dinner-time. You'd think she was his child, not ours. But so it is, in this world."

"What has crossed you this morning, Sister?" asked Miss Rejoice, mildly. "You seem put about."

"Oh, the cat got into the tea-kettle." replied the elder sister. "Don't fret your blessed self if I am cross. I can't stand Martha Penny, that's all,--speaking so to that blessed child! I wish I had her here; she'd soon find out whether she had a nose or not. Dear knows it's long enough! It isn't the first time I've had four parts of a mind to pull it for her."

"Why, Vesta Dale, how you do talk!" said Miss Rejoice, and then they both laughed, and Miss Vesta went out to scold the doctor.