CHAPTER I SOWING SEEDS IN DANNY
In her comfortable sitting room Mrs. J. Burton Francis sat, at peace with herself and all mankind. The glory of the short winter afternoon streamed into the room and touched with new warmth and tenderness the face of a Madonna on the wall.
The whole room suggested peace. The quiet elegance of its furnishings, the soft leather-bound books on the table, the dreamy face of the occupant, who sat with folded hands looking out of the window, were all in strange contrast to the dreariness of the scene below, where the one long street of the little Manitoba town, piled high with snow, stretched away into the level, white, never-ending prairie. A farmer tried to force his tired horses through the drifts; a little boy with a milk-pail plodded bravely from door to door, sometimes laying down his burden to blow his breath on his stinging fingers.
The only sound that disturbed the quiet of the afternoon in Mrs. Francis's sitting room was the regular rub-rub of the wash-board in the kitchen below.
"Mrs. Watson is slow with the washing to-day," Mrs. Francis murmured with a look of concern on her usually placid face. "Possibly she is not well. I will call her and see."
"Mrs. Watson, will you come upstairs, please?" she called from the stairway.
Mrs. Watson, slow and shambling, came up the stairs, and stood in the doorway wiping her face on her apron.
"Is it me ye want ma'am?" she asked when she had recovered her breath.
"Yes, Mrs. Watson," Mrs. Francis said sweetly. "I thought perhaps you were not feeling well to-day. I have not heard you singing at your work, and the washing seems to have gone slowly. You must be very careful of your health, and not overdo your strength."
While she was speaking, Mrs. Watson's eyes were busy with the room, the pictures on the wall, the cosey window-seat with its numerous cushions; the warmth and brightness of it all brought a glow to her tired face.
"Yes, ma'am," she said, "thank ye kindly, ma'am. It is very kind of ye to be thinkin' o' the likes of me."
"Oh, we should always think of others, you know," Mrs. Francis replied quickly with her most winning smile, as she seated herself in a rocking-chair. "Are the children all well? Dear little Danny, how is he?"
"Indade, ma'am, that same Danny is the upsettinest one of the nine, and him only four come March. It was only this morn's mornin' that he sez to me, sez he, as I was comin' away, 'Ma, d'ye think she'll give ye pie for your dinner? Thry and remimber the taste of it, won't ye ma, and tell us when ye come home,' sez he."
"Oh, the sweet prattle of childhood," said Mrs. Francis, clasping her shapely white hands. "How very interesting it must be to watch their young minds unfolding as the flower! Is it nine little ones you have, Mrs. Watson?"
"Yes, nine it is, ma'am. God save us. Teddy will be fourteen on St. Patrick's Day, and all the rest are younger."
"It is a great responsibility to be a mother, and yet how few there be that think of it," added Mrs. Francis, dreamily....