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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Children's Pilgrimage - Part 3. The Great Journey - Chapter 20. Four O'clock In The Morning
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The Children's Pilgrimage - Part 3. The Great Journey - Chapter 20. Four O'clock In The Morning Post by :mrehfeld Category :Long Stories Author :L. T. Meade Date :May 2012 Read :3123

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The Children's Pilgrimage - Part 3. The Great Journey - Chapter 20. Four O'clock In The Morning

THIRD PART. THE GREAT JOURNEY
CHAPTER XX. FOUR O'CLOCK IN THE MORNING


It was night again, almost a summer's night, so still, so warm and balmy, and in the little hut in the forest of the Landes two children sat very close together; Cecile had bought a candle that day in the village, and this candle, now well sheltered from any possible breeze, was placed, lighted, in the broken-down door of the little hut. It was Cecile's own idea, for she said to Joe that Maurice might come back in the cool night-time, and this light would be sure to guide him. Joe had lit the candle for the little girl, and secured it against any possible overthrow. But as she did so he shook his head sorrowfully.

Seeing this Cecile reproved him.

"I know Maurice so well," explained the little sister. "He will sleep for hours and hours, and then he will wake and gather flowers and think himself quite close to us all the time. He will never know how time passes, and then the night will come and he will be frightened and want to come back to me and Toby; and when he is frightened this light will guide him."

Joe knowing the truth and seeing how impossible it would be for Maurice to return in the manner Cecile thought, could only groan under his breath, for he dared not tell the truth to Cecile; and this was one of the hardest parts of his present great trouble.

"Missie Cecile," he said, when he had lit the candle and seen that it burned safely; "Missie, yer jest dead beat, you has never sat down, looking fur the little chap the whole, whole day. I'm a great strong fellow, I ain't tired a bit; but ef Missie 'ud lie down, maybe she'd sleep, and I'll stay outside and watch fur little Maurice and take care of the candle."

"But I'd rather watch, too, outside with you, Joe. I'm trying hard, hard not to be anxious. But perhaps if I lie down the werry anxious feel may come. Just let me sit by you, and put my head on your shoulder; perhaps I shall rest so."

"Werry well, Missie," said Joe.

He seemed incapable of enforcing any arguments that night, and in a moment or two the children, with faithful Toby at their feet, were sitting just outside the hut, but where the light of the solitary candle could fall on them. Cecile's head was on Joe's breast, and Joe's strong arm encircled her.

After a long pause, he said in a husky voice:

"I'd like to hear that verse as Missie read to poor Joe last night. I'd like to hear it once again."

"The last verse, Joe?" answered Cecile. "I think I know the last verse by heart. It is this: 'He that loveth father or mother more than Me, is not worthy of Me'"

"My poor old mother," said Joe suddenly. "My poor, poor old mother." Here he covered his face with his hands, and burst into tears.

"But, Joe," said little Cecile in a voice of surprise, "you will soon see your mother now--very soon, I think and hope. As soon as we find Maurice we will go to the Pyrenees, and there we shall see Lovedy and your mother and your good brother Jean. Our little Maurice cannot stay much longer away, and then we will start at once for the Pyrenees."

To this Joe made no answer, and Cecile, who had intended to remain awake all night, in a few moments was asleep, tired out, with her head now resting on Joe's knees.

He covered the pretty head tenderly with his great brown palm, and his black eyes were full of the tenderest love and sorrow as they looked at the little white face.

How could he protect the heart of the child he loved from a sorrow that must break it? Only by sacrificing himself; by sacrificing himself absolutely. Was he prepared to do this?

As he thought and Cecile slept, a great clock from the not far distant village struck twelve. Twelve o'clock! In four hours now Anton would return for his answer--what should it be?

To sacrifice Maurice--that would be impossible. Even for one instant to contemplate sending little baby, spoiled Maurice to endure the life he had led, to bear the blows, the cruel words, the starvations, the bad company that he had endured would be utterly impossible. No; he could not do that. He had long ago made up his mind that Maurice was to come back.

The question now lay between the Russia-leather purse and himself.

Should he give everything up--his mother, his brother, the happy, happy life that seemed so near--and go back to the old and dreadful fate? Should he show in this way that he loved Christ more than his mother? Was this the kind of sacrifice that Christ demanded at his hands? And oh! how Joe did love his mother! All the cruel, hard, weary of his captivity, his mother had lived green and fresh in his heart. Many and many a night had he wet his wretched pillow with the thought of how once he had lain in that mother's arms, and she had petted him and showered love upon him. The memory of her face, of her love, of her devotion, had kept him from doing the wrong things which the other boys in the company had done; and now, when he might so soon see her, must he give her up? He knew that if he once got back to his old master he would take good care to keep him from running away again; if he put himself at four o'clock in the morning into Anton's hands, _it would be for life_. He might, when he was quite old and broken down by misery and hardship, return to France; but what use would it be to him then, when he had only his mother's grave to visit? He could escape all that; he could go back to the Pyrenees; he could see his mother's face once more. How? Simply by taking from Cecile a little piece of paper; by taking it from her frock as she slept. And, after all, was this paper a matter of life and death? Was it worth destroying the entire happiness of a life? for Cecile might never find Lovedy. It was only a dream of the little girl's, that Lovedy waited for her in the Pyrenees; there might be no English girl hiding there! and even if there was, did she want that forty pounds so badly? Must he sacrifice his whole life for the sake of that forty pounds? Was it not a sacrifice too hard to expect of any boy? True, he had given his word! he had told Cecile that he would rather be cut in little bits than touch her purse of gold. Yes, yes; but this lifelong suffering was worse than being cut in pieces. "He that loveth father or mother more than Me, is not worthy of Me." How could he love this unknown Christ better than the mother from whom he had been parted for seven long years?

After a time, worn out with his emotion, he dropped asleep. He had thought to stay awake all night; but before the village clock had again struck one, his head was dropped on his hands and he was sound asleep.

In his broken sleep he had one of those dreams which he dreaded. He saw his mother ill and calling for him, weeping for him. A voice, he did not know from where it sounded, kept repeating in his ear that his mother was dying of a broken heart because of him; because she so mourned the loss of her merry boy, she was passing into the silent grave. The voice told him to make haste and go to his mother, not to lose an instant away from her side. He awoke bathed in perspiration to hear the village clock strike four. The hour, the hour of his fate had come. Even now Anton waited for him. He had no time to lose, his dream had decided him. He would go back at any cost to his mother. Softly he put down his hand and removed the precious little bit of paper from the bosom of Cecile's frock, then, lifting her head tenderly from his knees, he carried her, still sleeping, into the hut, bade Toby watch by her, and flung himself into the silent gloom of the forest.

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