LITTLE BROTHER

“My father,” said Mrs. Rowantree with her delicate Irish accent, “was a
gentleman—a scholar and a gentleman.” She paused a moment in that little
dramatic way of hers and then went on. “But my mother was a cottager’s
daughter, very sweet and lovely to see, but lacking the fine ways of
himself. He gave up his friends for her sake, and they left the village
where they were known and went to live in Dublin where my father made a
living by writing for the newspapers and reviews. I was born the second
year of their marriage, and seven years later my little brother David
came into the world.” She paused again, but this time because there was
a tightening in her throat which would not let her go on.

“David,” she said, “was the finest baby I ever laid my eyes on, and I’ve
had some fine ones of my own. He was a treasure from the first, but the
older he grew the nicer he became, till, when he was three years of age,
he was the pride of the neighborhood. People stopped my mother on the
street for the privilege of looking at him. He had laughing black eyes
and curly black hair, and the oddest little turns to his baby talk that
ever were heard. Oh, we were so happy with him—so wrapped up in him.
Indeed, you’d have looked well through Dublin before finding a home equal
to our own for contentment. My father was getting some little fame for
his writing, and my mother no longer had to slave for us the way she did
at first.

“Then, just as we were at our happiest, father came home with a chill. I
well remember it. We were watching for him at the window, David and
mother and I, and we had a meat pie because of his liking for it, and we
had taught David to say ‘Four and Twenty Blackbirds.’ Oh, we were
counting on such a happy evening! But when dad came in, he did not speak
to us for the anguish that was on him, and mother got him in his bed, and
he never got out of it again.”

“Oh, me!” said Azalea softly.

A little silence fell in which Mary Cecily Rowantree locked and unlocked
her thin, nervous fingers in a way of her own.

“And after he was gone,” she resumed, “we had nothing. Never had he
earned enough for my mother to put by any savings. So we took to selling
off what was in the house, and she to doing sewing and embroidering, but
in a little while she saw it was no use—there’d be nothing for us but
starvation unless some great piece of fortune befell us. My mother was a
devout woman and she prayed morning and night and often through the day
for help for her children, and her prayers, she thought, were answered
when word came from my father’s brother who was in America, that if she’d
bring the children to him, he’d care for them with his own, and she could
be about some kind of work. In America, he said, there were chances. He
sent us money for the journey, but not very much—all he could afford, of
course. So mother, who was not afraid to do anything for her children’s
sake, took passage with other poor people in the steerage of a great ship
sailing from Queenstown.”

“Poor little dear,” said Azalea.

“Poor little dear!” echoed Mary Cecily. “There were swarms of us on that
boat. We were all huddled and mixed; a torment to each other, with the
number of us. And the sea was very rough. Day after day it stormed, and
my little mother, worn with work and worry, was ill unto death. Others
were ill, but not so cold, so weak, so weary as she. But few could give
her attention. They said: ‘She’ll be well in a while.’ But she woke me
one night and told me she would never be well; that she could feel her
heart giving way. She gave me the address of my uncle, and told me not
to lose it whatever I did, and she had me pin the money that was left, on
my little shirt and told me God would raise up friends for me, who would
give me directions to my uncle’s door, and that once there I was safe. I
listened till she had finished and then I ran for help. At first the
ship’s doctor did not want to come out of his warm berth, but I got on my
knees to him and he came. He thought ’twas only a case of seasickness,
and maybe he was right. But my little lion-hearted one died that night.
So David and I were alone in the world.”

The memory of the old anguish was upon her, and she stared before her at
the great trees of her “estate,” all of her life dropping back to that
bleak hour when she was left an orphan among those many poor in the great
ship’s heart.

“Oh,” cried Azalea, “I hope you won’t think about it, Mrs. Rowantree.
That’s how I manage to get along. I say to myself: ‘My sorrow is sacred.
I will not take it out and look at it often. I will leave it in a holy
place. It will be safe there. I will go my way, doing happy, common
things.’ Can’t you look at your trouble that way, Mrs. Rowantree?”

Mary Cecily turned her misty blue eyes on Azalea.

“My girl,” she said solemnly, “I have not yet told you of my real
trouble.”

Azalea caught her breath.

“Well?” she breathed.

“Well, they dropped my little mother in the sea, a good priest saying the
words of the church over her. Some were kind to us, but after all it was
not many who were knowing us. The wild weather kept up, and hundreds
there were on the ship who did not leave their beds at all. David and I
had no heart for talking, and we kept much to ourselves as we had seen
our mother do. There were rough people all about us, and our ways were
gentle, so oftentimes we did not feel at home with them. I kept up my
heart by thinking of David and what I must do for him; and now that
mother was gone, he clung to me all of the time. He could hardly breathe
without me it seemed, and though I was only ten years old, I had the
mother-feeling in me, and I prized myself for the sake of my little
child.”

“I can understand that,” Azalea murmured from her heart.

“Well, we got to the landing place at last, and I was near suffocated
with the beating of my heart. I was as afraid of the city as if it had
been a dragon. The fear of cities always was in me, but no city—not
Calcutta, not Hong Kong, nor any foreign place—could have seemed more
terrible to me than New York. ‘For David’s sake I must be brave,’ I kept
saying to myself. ‘For David’s sake.’ Well, the first and second-class
passengers were let off, and then came our turn. I never did know how
many hundreds there were of us. We seemed like a city-full in ourselves.
And if you’ll believe me, at the same time, on the other side of the
dock, another great steamer was unloading. So that presently we were all
mixed—all mixed and scattered.”

“Yes,” said Azalea, guessing now what was coming.

“So I lost David,” whispered Mary Cecily; “I lost my little brother. His
hand slipped from mine and I could not find him. I looked for him all
that day; I asked everybody, and no one could tell me anything about him.
At night a policeman took me away and put me in the house of a woman and
told me to sleep and he would look. So I stayed in the house that night,
and the next day I began searching again; and the policeman had others
looking. But we never found him, any of us.”

“You never found him at all?”

“Never at all. My uncle came on, after I had written him, and he
searched. But it was no use. David was never found; and they concluded
at last that he had been pushed from the wharf into the water and
drowned. But I said no. I could hear him calling for me in the night
the way the dead never call. I could feel him somewhere, drawing me,
drawing me, but I could not tell which way to go, or I would have run to
him across the world.”

“Of course you would—of course.” Azalea drew nearer till she could rest
her hand on Mary Cecily’s knee.

“But we never found him,” she repeated. “So after a while we left the
city, my uncle and I, and went to the little farm he had in Maryland. He
was something of a writer too, like my father; and he published a little
weekly paper. So you see it was an interesting home he had brought me
to. His wife was one of those women who are well pleased to have a
motherless child to add to her own. She was kind to me but she didn’t
spoil me because I was bounden to her. She set me my tasks and saw to it
that I did them, and when I was a grown girl and showed a little talent
for writing I was sent to my uncle’s office to help with the making of
his paper and setting of it up. He drilled me in writing and he taught
me type-setting, and I was content there. I never wanted to take up any
life of my own. I wanted to be left to myself to mourn for David—”

“Oh, but there was nothing in that,” broke in Azalea.

“Don’t I know it? But sorrow is like sickness and it can cloud the
spirits as sickness weakens the body. But for being kept so busy by my
wise relatives, I should have lost my mind altogether, I make no doubt.
But they were a large family, and there was teasing and laughing and
tricks going on as well as work, and that was my medicine. But even with
all that, I was forever looking down the road, thinking one of those New
York detectives would be bringing my little brother back to me. Whenever
the letters came I sat frozen with hope that wouldn’t be hope, till they
were given out. I kept thinking that one would be handed to me that
would tell me David was found. But none ever was.”

“But you grew happier after a time,” protested Azalea, who could not long
endure the thought of sorrow. “You must have! See how happy everything
is with you now.”

“Yes,” admitted Mary Cecily, “I did grow happier after a time, though as
I say, I didn’t really want to. But I got to be a young woman, and Bryan
Rowantree came along. He was the younger son of a fine English
family—Irish on his mother’s side, however—and he came over to America to
better himself. He heard of my uncle’s little paper and looked him up,
thinking he might be wanted to lend a hand, but my uncle liked to run
things his own way, quietly and casually, as he used to put it. So he
didn’t take the young man into partnership—but I did.”

She smiled down at Azalea happily, and the girl could see that whatever
others might think, Rowantree’s wife could see nothing but the advantages
of the marriage.

“I say he was young,” she went on. “He was, however, twelve years older
than myself. But I have always been a poor thing and thankful to have
some one to lean on.”

“Mercy me,” thought Azalea, “can it be she thinks she’s leaning on that
man? I thought it was just the other way.” She kept her eyes fixed on
the ground carefully, afraid that if she lifted them her thoughts would
be read in her face.

“We had a sweet little wedding,” said Mary Cecily dreamily, “and then we
came away together. We had no particular place to go to, but Bryan said
he thought he would like to wander for a time. That suited me, too. But
after a little we got tired of that. Besides, we saw that our money
would soon give out. So, when we heard of this woodland up here for sale
for almost nothing, we bought it. The Rowantrees were once great landed
proprietors, but in recent years they had been obliged to live in cities,
and it had not suited them. At least, it did not suit my husband. So
here we are. We lead a very peaceful, retired life. Mr. Rowantree loves
quiet, as he said to you. And I’ve the children if ever I feel the
loneliness stealing on me.”

A call sounded through the woods.

“They think we’re lost,” smiled Mrs. Rowantree. “And we must be getting
back to the house, but before we go I want you to promise me that you
will not speak of my sorrow. It’s a queer way I have with me, not liking
to see sympathy save in the eyes of my own chosen friends. Come now, and
I hope and pray Miss Pace will not accuse me of rudeness!”

“Aunt Zillah? Never!” said Azalea. “It’s a wonderful story you’ve told
me, Mrs. Rowantree—so sad I can hardly believe it—much sadder than mine,
and that is sad enough. Not that I feel sad,” she added hastily. “Since
I became a McBirney I’m a very happy girl.”

“But you’re not really a McBirney, are you? Those good mountain people
haven’t really adopted you?”




“Not by law, ma’am,” smiled Azalea. “But what does that matter if we
love each other?”

“And you have Miss Carin and her parents for your friends. That must be
a great comfort to you.”

“Oh, indeed, they’re like flowers in the garden of the world,” cried
Azalea with one of her pretty extravagant speeches.

“Indeed, I believe it, my dear. Yes, we are coming,” she called. “Did
you think I had locked this dryad up in an oak tree?” she asked
playfully, her arm about Azalea, as they came up to the gallery. Her
husband threw a quick glance at her. He knew how to read the changes on
her emotional face.

“Tut,” he said under his breath to her. “David again! You shouldn’t,
mavourneen.”

“She’s a treasure, Bryan,” his wife whispered, indicating Azalea with a
little nod of the head. “It never could do any harm to ease my heart to
her.”

“Miss Pace thinks they must all be on their way, Mary Cecily,” he said
aloud. “I must have the horses brought ’round.”

“Oh, have a taste of tea before you start,” pleaded Mrs. Rowantree. But
Aunt Zillah as politely declined. So, presently, Zillah Pace and her
three young people rode quietly beneath the lengthening shadows through
the sweet smelling woodland to their home. This time, Aunt Zillah and
Carin rode together, and Azalea’s pony tried in vain to keep pace with
Keefe’s raw-boned horse. Keefe had much to say of the day.

“I was very happy the little time I stayed there at Rowantree Hall,” he
said. “I understood their ways—understood the things they do and the
things they don’t do—and what’s more I perfectly understand why they
don’t do them. Rowantree himself amuses me, yet I’m fond of him. Mrs.
Rowantree—well, she’s a little miracle.”

“Oh, she is,” cried Azalea. “How she works—and doesn’t mind. What ducks
the children are! And how contented they all seem in that solitude!”

“Might be Highland chieftains,” laughed Keefe. “And how do you suppose
they live?”

“I can’t imagine,” Azalea admitted. “Does he farm?”

“A little—a very little. It’s she who thinks out the things that keep
the wolf from the door. To be sure he has a little money coming from
England now and then; but it’s Mrs. Rowantree with her little movable
sawmill, which she pays men to run, who really keeps the flour in the
barrel. Then she raises chickens, has a cow or two, a vegetable patch
and all that. But best of all, she knows how to do without and yet be
happy, and she’s bringing up the children in the same way. You noticed,
they never apologized for a thing.”

“Not a thing! I liked that, Keefe. She knew we wouldn’t care how things
were. All we wanted was themselves.”

“Quite right. All we wanted was themselves.” He sighed sharply. “She
makes one feel at home, doesn’t she, that little Mary Cecily Rowantree?
I’ve been a lonely cub, Miss Azalea—a queer lonely cub—thrown out of the
lair by an accident, and not knowing much about home. But she does
something to me—makes me feel as if I’d got back—”

He hesitated for a long time. At last Azalea prodded him with a “Got
back?”

But he did not answer. They rode on then in the noisy silence of the
woods, rode to the sound of falling water, the call of sleepy birds, the
almost inaudible rustle of the trees and the little sharp cries of
insects. Keefe saw the ladies to their door but he would not come in
with them. He left them, to go to his tent and to boil his own tea in
the little iron kettle, which, swung from his tripod, had served him on
many expeditions. He had placed his tent not far from the rim of a
precipice, though back among trees where it would be protected from
storms. But to-night he abandoned their shelter, and sat quite on the
rim itself, letting the rolling earth fill him with wonder. The stars
swept by, a young sickle moon arose, the world faded from rosy gray to
purple, from purple to the soft starlit gloom of a summer night. And
still he sat there, dreaming, wondering, planning, longing.

Most of all he wondered why it was that there were so few thoughts really
worth thinking which one could put into words.