Through the open window came the clear trill of a canary singing blithely in its cage. Within the tidy, homely little room a pale-faced girl and a youth of slender frame listened intently while the bird sang its song. The girl was the first to break the silence.
"Ephraim, my brother!" she said.
"What is it, dear Viola?"
"I wonder does the birdie know that it is the Sabbath to-day?"
"What a child you are!" answered Ephraim.
"Yes, that 's always the way; when you clever men can't explain a thing, you simply dismiss the question by calling it childish," Viola exclaimed, as though quite angry. "And, pray, why should n't the bird know? The whole week it scarcely sang a note: to-day it warbles and warbles so that it makes my head ache. And what's the reason? Every Sabbath it's just the same, I notice it regularly. Shall I tell you what my idea is?
"The whole week long the little bird looks into our room and sees nothing but the humdrum of work-a-day life. To-day it sees the bright rays of the Sabbath lamp and the white Sabbath cloth upon the table. Don't you think I 'm right, Ephraim?"
"Wait, dear Viola," said Ephraim, and he went to the cage.
The bird's song suddenly ceased.
"Now you 've spoilt its Sabbath!" cried the girl, and she was so excited that the book which had been lying upon her lap fell to the ground.
Ephraim turned towards her; he looked at her solemnly, and said quietly:
"Pick up your prayer-book first, and then I 'll answer. A holy book should not be on the ground like that. Had our mother dropped her prayer-book, she would have kissed it.... Kiss it, Viola, my child!"
Viola did so.
"And now I 'll tell you, dear Viola, what I think is the reason why the bird sings so blithely to-day.... Of course, I don't say I 'm right."
Viola's brown eyes were fixed inquiringly upon her brother's face.
"How seriously you talk to-day," she said, making a feeble attempt at a smile. "I was only joking. Must n't I ask if the bird knows anything about the Sabbath?"
"There are subjects it is sinful to joke about, and this may be one of them, Viola."
"You really quite frighten me, Ephraim."
"You little goose, I don't want to frighten you," said Ephraim, while a faint flush suffused his features. "I 'll tell you my opinion about the singing of the bird. I think, dear Viola, that our little canary knows... that before long it will change its quarters."
"You 're surely not going to sell it or give it away?" cried the girl, in great alarm; and springing to her feet, she quickly drew her brother away from the cage.
"No, I 'm not going to sell it nor give it away," said Ephraim, whose quiet bearing contrasted strongly with his sister's excitement "Is it likely that I should do anything that would give you pain? And yet, I have but to say one word... and I 'll wager that you will be the first to open the cage and say to the bird, 'Fly, fly away, birdie, fly away home!'"
"Never, never!" cried the girl.
"Viola," said Ephraim beseechingly, "I have taken a vow. Surely you would not have me break it?"
"A vow?" asked his sister.
"Viola," Ephraim continued, as he bent his head down to the girl's face, "I have vowed to myself that whenever he... our father... should return, I would give our little bird its freedom. It shall be free, free as he will be."
"He is coming—he is already on his way home."
Viola flung her arms round her brother's neck....