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"The child took the wonderful coin to her mother. I think she was very much excited, for she wept and sobbed over the lucky talisman that was to bring fortune for them all. And I know that her mother, pale, and in want, and ill, kissed her and smiled, and said that now the good days must surely come.
"They did not come that winter--a wild winter of fierce cold and terrible storms. When it was over and the hills were green with summer, the tired mother went to sleep one day, and so found her good fortune in peace and rest.
"But for the little girl there came a fortune not unlike her dreams.
That year a rich man and woman had built a camp in the hills. There was no Lodge, then; everything was wild, and supplies hard to get. The child's brother sold vegetables to the camp, sometimes letting his little sister go with him. And because she was of the same age as a little girl of the wealthy people, now and then they asked her to spend the day, playing, and her brother used to come all the way for her again at night. There was one spot on the hillside where they used to play--an open, sunny place that they loved best of all--and this they named their Garden of Delight; and it was truly that to the little girl of the hills who had never had such companionship before.
"But then came a day when a black shadow lay on the Garden of Delight, for the little city child suddenly fell ill and died. Oh, that was a terrible time. Her mother nearly lost her mind, and was never quite the same again. She would not confess that her child was dead, and she was too ill to be taken home to the city, so a little grave was made on the hillside where the children had played together, and by and by the feeble woman crept there to sit in the sun, and had the other little girl brought there to play, as if both were still living. It was just then that the mother of Robin and his little sister died, and the city woman, when she heard of it, said to the little girl: 'You have no mother and I have no little girl. I will be your mother and you shall be my little girl. You shall have all the dresses and toys; even the name--I will give you that.' She would have helped the boy, too, but he was independent, even then, and would accept nothing. Then she made them both promise that neither would ever say to any one that the little girl was not really hers, and she made the little girl promise that she would not speak of it, even to her, for she wanted to make every one, even herself, believe that the child was really hers. She thought in time it might take the cloud from her mind, and I believe it did, but it was years before she could even mention the little dead girl again. And the boy and his sister kept their promise faithfully, though this was not hard to do, for the rich parents took the little girl away. They sailed across the ocean, just as she had expected to do some day, and she had beautiful toys and dresses and books, just as had always happened in the fairy tales.
"They did not come back from across the ocean. The child's foster father had interests there and could remain abroad for most of the year, and the mother cared nothing for America any more. So the little girl grew up in another land, and did not see her brother again, and n.o.body knew that she was not really the child of the rich people, or, if any did know, they forgot.
"But the child remembered. She remembered the mountains and the storms, and the little house at the top of the hill, and her mother, and the brother who had stayed among the hills, and who wrote now and then to tell them he was making his way. But more than all she remembered the prince--her knight she called him as she grew older--because it seemed to her that he had been so n.o.ble and brave to come back up the hill and give her his lucky piece that had brought her all the fortune. Always she kept the coin for him, ready when he should call for it, and when she read how Elaine had embroidered a silken covering for the shield of Launcelot, she also embroidered a little silken casing for the coin and wore it on her neck, and never a day or night did she let it go away from her. Some day she would meet him again, and then she must have it ready, and being a romantic schoolgirl, she wondered sometimes what she might dare to claim for it in return. For he would be a true, brave knight, one of high purpose and n.o.ble deeds; and by day the memory of the handsome boy flitted across her books, and by night she dreamed of him as he would some day come to her, all shining with glory and high resolve."
Again she paused, this time as if waiting for him to speak. But now he only stared at the bushes in front of him, and she thought he had grown a little pale. She stepped across the wall into the road.
"Come," she said; "I will tell you the rest as we walk along."
He followed her over the wall. They were at the foot of a hill, at the top of which there was a weather-beaten little ruin, once a home. He recognized the spot instantly, though the hill seemed shorter to him, and less steep. He turned and looked at her.
"My memory has all come back," he said; "I know all the rest of the story."
"But I must tell it to you. I must finish what I have begun. The girl kept the talisman all the years, as I have said, often taking it out of the embroidered case to study its markings, which she learned to understand. And she never lost faith in it, and she never failed to believe that one day the knight with the brave, true heart would come to claim it and to fulfill his bond.
"And by and by her school-days were ended, and then her parents decided to return to their native land. The years had tempered the mother's sorrow, and brought back a measure of health. So they came back to America, and for the girl's sake mingled with gay people, and by and by, one day--it was at a fine place and there were many fine folk there--she saw him. She saw the boy who had been her fairy prince--who had become her knight--who had been her dream all through the years.
"She knew him instantly, for he looked just as she had known he would look. He had not changed, only to grow taller, more manly and more gentle--just as she had known he would grow with the years. She thought he would come to her--that like every fairy prince, he must know--but when at last he stood before her, and she was trembling so that she could hardly stand, he bowed and spoke only as a stranger might. He had forgotten--his memory was so poor.
"Yet something must have drawn him to her. For he came often to where she was, and by and by they rode and drove and golfed together over the hills, during days that were few but golden, for the child had found once more her prince of the magic coin--the knight who did not remember, yet who would one day win his coin--and again she dreamed, this time of an uplifting, n.o.ble life, and of splendid ambitions realized together.
"But, then, little by little, she became aware that he was not truly a knight of deeds--that he was only a prince of pleasure, poor of ambition and uncertain of purpose--that he cared for little beyond ease and pastime, and that perhaps his love-making was only a part of it all.
This was a rude awakening for the girl. It made her unhappy, and it made her act strangely. She tried to rouse him, to stimulate him to do and to be many things. But she was foolish and ignorant and made absurd mistakes, and he only laughed at her. She knew that he was strong and capable and could be anything he chose, if he only would. But she could not choose for him, and he seemed willing to drift and would not choose for himself.
"Then, by and by, she returned to her beloved mountains. She found the little cottage at the hill-top a deserted ruin, the Garden of Delight with its little grave was overgrown. There was one recompense. The brother she had not seen since her childhood had become a n.o.ble, handsome man, of whom she could well be proud. No one knew that he was her brother, and she could not tell them, though perhaps she could not avoid showing her affection and her pride in him, and these things were misunderstood and caused suspicion and heartache and bitterness.
"Yet the results were not all evil, for out of it there came a moment when she saw, almost as a new being, him who had been so much a part of her life so long."
They were nearly at the top of the hill now. But a little more and they would reach the spot where ten years before the child with the saucer of berries had waited for the pa.s.sing stage.
"He had awakened at last," she went on, "but the girl did not know it.
She did not realize that he had renewed old hopes and ambitions; that some feeling in his heart for her had stirred old purposes into new resolves. He did not tell her, though unconsciously she may have known, for after a day of adventure together on the hills something of the old romance returned, and her old ideal of knighthood little by little seemed about to be restored. And then, all at once, it came--the hour of real trial, with a test of which she could not even have dreamed--and he stood before her, glorified."
They were at the hill-top. The flat stone in front of the tumbled house still remained. As they reached it she stopped, and turning suddenly stretched out her hand to him, slowly opening it to disclose a little silken case. Her eyes were wet with tears.
"Oh, my dear!" she said. "Here, where you gave me the talisman, I return it. I have kept it for you all the years. It brought me whatever the world had to give--friends, fortune, health. You did not claim it, dear; but it is yours, and in return, oh, my fairy prince--my true knight--I claim the world's best treasure--a brave man's faithful love!"
It is a lonely thoroughfare, that North Elba road. Not many teams pa.s.s to and fro, and the clattering stage was still a mile away. The eternal peaks alone looked down upon these two, for it is not likely that even the leveled gla.s.s of any hermit of the mountain-tops saw what pa.s.sed between them.
Only, from Algonquin and Tahawus there came a gay little wind--the first brisk puff of autumn--and frolicking through a yellow tree in the forsaken door-yard it sent fluttering about them a shower of drifting gold.