He showed her the things he had collected by land and sea and together they fitted up the north room. She touched all his possessions with reverent, loving hands, arranging and rearranging, suggesting, talking a little, laughing softly, sometimes pausing, with a little intake of the breath, to look at his broad shoulders or note his sure movements or listen for his “Mother Cornelia!” The joy in the little white house might well have bulged the walls.
“See,” said Ray, standing at the window, “our happiness has spilled over into the rainy day outside and has made the sun shine through the clouds.”
It was there at the window, watching the sunshine glint across the wet leaves, that they spoke of the thing that had lain in the minds of both. It was with a joyous surprise that they discovered that they had both thought of it. The delicate flush rose in Miss Cornelia’s face as she said:
“I was afraid you would think me presumptuous!”
“My Heavens!” exclaimed the boy, “I am the presumptuous one. But I have wanted it all the time--to be legally your son.”
“And you know,” she suggested shyly, “I have some property--”
He turned quickly.
“Mother Cornelia, could you think--?”
“Oh, no, I didn’t, truly, dear, “she protested, taking hold of his coat. “But can’t I be just a little glad that there is something?”
“I have sometimes wished,” he responded “that you were downright poor so I could support you.”
She laughed gaily.
“And I am so blessed thankful that I am not. Your burdens will come soon enough,” she continued soberly. “I want the rest of your years to be as beautiful as life allows.”
When the long evening, with its music and songs and over-sea tales was ended, Ray turned at the foot of the stairs to inquire.
“Will you come and tuck me in, Mother Cornelia?”
She nodded, not daring to speak. When he had gone, a bright tear splashed upon her hand. Her face looked beautiful.
“To think,” she whispered to Mary, “to think he asked for that! Oh, Mary, I wish he were little, little! And my heart is just bursting with joy because he is so big and strong.”
She laughed a bit at herself and folded away her embroidery and went to stand before the fire. The whole room bespoke some new presence. A pair of big gloves lay on top of the piano, the music had been left scattered about, the fire tongs were out of place, the sofa cushions had lost their usual primness, and the whole room bore the air of having been waked up and used.
Miss Cornelia smiled happily at the disorder and stopped halfway up the stairs to say:
“Don’t straighten things up, Mary. I want to see them just that way in the morning. I want to be sure it is all true. And--in the morning--son and I will have a long talk!”
In the long talk that followed, she learned that the boy’s few, simple ideals were deep-rooted, that the thoughts of her son were clean thoughts. He spoke of some problems he had solved and a few conclusions he had reached. She saw that his lonely life had thrown him back upon his native strength, and she rejoiced at the straight-forward naturalness with which he gave her his confidence.
She pondered it all deeply. Is there a Power behind what seems to be just happenings? Was it meant that out of the loneliness of a maiden woman’s heart and an orphan’s heart, this joy should grow?
“It seems,” she said once, wonderingly, “that all this has happened often before, that it is only one of many, many such talks.”
“Doesn’t it?” he responded quickly. “I have just been thinking that. All my best dream has come true.”
He slept at last, with her hand beneath his cheek. When his breathing grew deep and even, she tucked the clothes about him and kissed him softly and stole downstairs to stand again before the fire.
Then quite suddenly she was sobbing in Mary’s arms with no clear reason for doing so, and Mary was rocking her gently with a low, tender crooning.
After a while the tears ceased and she smiled up into the kind blue eyes.
“Do you know what glorious thought came to me just now, Mary?”
Mary shook her head, then said quickly, “Maybe it’s the thing I was thinking--he’ll marry and there will be little feet?--some day--?”
“Yes. And oh, I just feel that I shall live to see it, and know all the joy--” Mary poked the fire meditatively.
“We’ll have to make the spare room into a nursery--”
“Oh, Mary, Mary!”
And Miss Cornelia wiped up the last tear with a laugh, a lovely mother-laugh.