Chapter XIII. Rescued and at Home
 

All that the poets from the beginning of time have written about light could not express my joy as I saw that glimmer approaching on the left. Before it appeared I had been awed by the tempest, benumbed with cold, shivering in my wet clothes, and a prey to many terrible fears and surmises; but now I cried, "Cheer up; here comes a light."

Then in my gladness I shouted the greeting that met Mr. Jones everywhere, "How are you, John?"

A great guffaw of laughter mingled with the howl of the storm, and my neighbor's voice followed from the obscurity: "That's famous-- keepin' up your courage like a soldier."

"Oh, I won't brag about keeping up my courage."

"Guess you didn't know what had become of me?"

"You're right and we didn't know what was to become of us. Now aren't we nearly home? For we are all half frozen."

"Just let me spy a bit with the lantern, and I'll soon tell you everything." He bobbed back and forth for a moment or two like a will-o'-the-wisp. "Now turn sharp to the left, and follow the light."

A great hope sprung up in my heart, and I hushed Winnie's and Bobsey's crying by saying, "Listen, and you'll soon hear some good news."

Our wheels crunched through the deep snow for a few moments, and soon I saw a ruddy light shining from the window of a dwelling, and then Mr. Jones shouted, "Whoa! 'Light down, neighbors; you're at your own door."

There was a chorus of delighted cries. Merton half tumbled over me in his eagerness to get down. A door opened, and out poured a cheerful glow. Oh the delicious sense of safety and warmth given by it already!

I seized Mousie, floundered through the snow up to my knees, and placed her in a big rocking-chair. Mr. Jones followed with Winnie, and Merton came in with Bobsey on his back. The little fellow was under such headway in crying that he couldn't stop at once, although his tears were rapidly giving place to laughter. I rushed back and carried in my wife, and then said, in a voice a little unsteady from deep feeling, "Welcome home, one and all."

Never did the word mean more to a half-frozen and badly frightened family. At first safety, warmth, and comfort were the uppermost in our thoughts, but as wraps were taken off, and my wife and children thawed out, eager-eyed curiosity began to make explorations. Taking Mousie on my lap, and chafing her hands, I answered questions and enjoyed to the full the exclamations of pleasure.

Mr. Jones lingered for a few moments, then gave one of his big guffaws by way of preface, and said: "Well, you do look as if you was at home and meant to stay. This 'ere scene kinder makes me homesick; so I'll say good-night, and I'll be over in the mornin'. There's some lunch on the table that my wife fixed up for you. I must go, for I hear John junior hollerin' for me."

His only response to our profuse thanks was another laugh, which the wind swept away.

"Who is John junior?" asked Merton.

"Mr. Jones's son, a boy of about your age. He was here waiting for us, and keeping the fire up. When we arrived he came out and took the horses, and so you didn't see him. He'll make a good playmate for you. To use his father's own words, 'He's a fairish boy as boys go,' and that from John Jones means that he's a good fellow."

Oh, what a happy group we were, as we gathered around the great, open fire, on which I piled more wood!

"Do you wish to go and look around a little?" I asked my wife.

"No," she replied, leaning back in her rocking-chair: "let me take this in first. O Robert, I have such a sense of rest, quiet, comfort, and hominess that I just want to sit still and enjoy it all. The howling of the storm only makes this place seem more like a refuge, and I'd rather hear it than the Daggetts tramping overhead and the Ricketts children crying down-stairs. Oh, isn't it nice to be by ourselves in this quaint old room? Turn the lamp down, Robert, so we can see the firelight flicker over everything. Isn't it splendid?--just like a picture in a book."

"No picture in a book, Winifred--no artist could paint a picture that would have the charm of this one for me," I replied, leaning my elbow on the end of the mantel-piece, and looking fondly down on the little group. My wife's face looked girlish in the ruddy light. Mousie gazed into the fire with unspeakable content, and declared she was "too happy to think of taking cold." Winnie and Bobsey were sitting, Turk-fashion, on the floor, their eyelids drooping. The long cold ride had quenched even their spirit, for after running around for a few moments they began to yield to drowsiness. Merton, with a boy's appetite, was casting wistful glances at the lunch on the table, the chief feature of which was a roast chicken.

There seemed to be no occasion for haste. I wished to let the picture sink deep into my heart. At last my wife sprang up and said:--

"I've been sentimental long enough. You're not of much account in the house, Robert"--with one of her saucy looks--"and I must see to things, or Winnie and Bobsey will be asleep on the floor. I feel as if I could sit here till morning, but I'll come back after the children are in bed. Come, show me my home, or at least enough of it to let me see where we are to sleep."

"We shall have to camp again to-night. Mrs. Jones has made up the one bed left in the house, and you and Mousie shall have that. We'll fix Winnie and Bohsey on the lounge; and, youngsters, you can sleep in your clothes, just as soldiers do on the ground. Merton and I will doze in these chairs before the fire. To-morrow night we can all be very comfortable."

I took the lamp and led the way--my wife, Mousie, and Merton following--first across a little hall, from which one stairway led to the upper chambers and another to the cellar. Opening a door opposite the living-room, I showed Winifred her parlor. Cosey and comfortable it looked, even now, through Mr. and Mrs. Jones's kind offices. A Morning Glory stove gave out abundant warmth and a rich light which blended genially with the red colors of the carpet.

"Oh, how pretty I can make this room look!" exclaimed my wife.

"Of course you can: you've only to enter it."

"You hurt your head when you fell out of the wagon, Robert, and are a little daft. There's no place to sleep here."

"Come to the room over this, warmed by a pipe from this stove."

"Ah, this is capital," she cried, looking around an apartment which Mrs. Jones had made comfortable. "Wasn't I wise when I decided to come home? It's just as warm as toast. Now let the wind blow--Why, I don't hear it any more."

"No, the gale has blown itself out. Finding that we had escaped, it got discouraged and gave up. Connected with this room is another for Mousie and Winnie. By leaving the door open much of the time it will be warm enough for them. So you see this end of the house can be heated with but little trouble and expense. The open fire in the living-room is a luxury that we can afford, since there is plenty of wood on the place. On the other side of the hall there is a room for Merton. Now do me a favor: don't look, or talk, or think, any more to-night. It has been a long, hard day. Indeed"--looking at my watch--"it is already to-morrow morning, and you know how much we shall have to do. Let us go back and get a little supper, and then take all the rest we can."

Winifred yielded, and Bobsey and Winnie waked up for a time at the word "supper." Then we knelt around our hearth, and made it an altar to God, for I wished the children never to forget our need of His fatherly care and help.

"I will now take the children upstairs and put them to bed, and then come back, for I can not leave this wood fire just yet," remarked my wife.

I burst out laughing and said, "You have never been at home until this night, when you are camping in an old house you never saw before, and I can prove it by one question--When have you taken the children upstairs to bed before?"

"Why--why--never."

"Of course you haven't--city flats all your life. But your nature is not perverted. In natural homes for generations mothers have taken their children upstairs to bed, and, forgetting the habit of your life, you speak according to the inherited instinct of the mother- heart."

"O Robert, you have so many fine-spun theories! Yet it is a little queer. It seemed just as natural for me to say upstairs as--"

"As it was for your mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother."

"Very well. We are in such an old house that I suppose I shall begin to look and act like my great-grandmother. But no more theories to- night--nothing but rest and the wood fire."

She soon joined me at the hearth again. Merton meanwhile had stretched himself on the rag-carpet, with his overcoat for a pillow, and was in dreamless sleep. My wife's eyes were full of languor. She did not sit down, but stood beside me for a moment. Then, laying her head on my shoulder, she said, softly, "I haven't brains enough for theories and such things, but I will try to make you all happy here."

"Dear little wife!" I laughed; "when has woman hit upon a higher or better wisdom than that of making all happy in her own home? and you half asleep, too."

"Then I'll bid you good-night at once, before I say something awfully stupid."

Soon the old house was quiet. The wind had utterly ceased. I opened the door a moment, and looked on the white, still world without. The stars glittered frostily through the rifts in the clouds. Schunemunk Mountain was a shadow along the western horizon, and the eastern highlands banked up and blended with the clouds. Nature has its restless moods, its storms and passions, like human life; but there are times of tranquillity and peace, even in March. How different was this scene from the aspect of our city street when I had taken my farewell look at a late hour the previous night! No grand sweeping outlines there, no deep quiet and peace, soothing and at the same time uplifting the mind. Even at midnight there is an uneasy fretting in city life--some one not at rest, and disturbing the repose of others.

I stole silently through the house. Here, too, all seemed in accord with nature. The life of a good old man had quietly ceased in this home; new, hopeful life was beginning. Evil is everywhere in the world, but it seemed to me that we had as safe a nook as could be found.