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....