When I reached Kenmure's house, one August evening, it was rather a disappointment to find that he and his charming Laura had absented themselves for twenty-four hours. I had not seen them together since their marriage; my admiration for his varied genius and her unvarying grace was at its height, and I was really annoyed at the delay. My fair cousin, with her usual exact housekeeping, had prepared everything for her guest, and then bequeathed me, as she wrote, to Janet and baby Marian. It was a pleasant arrangement, for between baby Marian and me there existed a species of passion, I might almost say of betrothal, ever since that little three-year-old sunbeam had blessed my mother's house by lingering awhile in it, six months before. Still I went to bed disappointed, though the delightful windows of the chamber looked out upon the glimmering bay, and the swinging lanterns at the yard-arms of the frigates shone like some softer constellation beneath the brilliant sky. The house was so close upon the water that the cool waves seemed to plash deliciously against its very basement; and it was a comfort to think that, if there were no adequate human greetings that night, there would be plenty in the morning, since Marian would inevitably be pulling my eyelids apart before sunrise.
It was scarcely dawn when I was roused by a little arm round my neck, and waked to think I had one of Raphael's cherubs by my side. Fingers of waxen softness were ruthlessly at work upon my eyes, and the little form that met my touch felt lithe and elastic, like a kitten's limbs. There was just light enough to see the child, perched on the edge of the bed, her soft blue dressing-gown trailing over the white night-dress, while her black and long-fringed eyes shone through the dimness of morning. She yielded gladly to my grasp, and I could fondle again the silken hair, the velvety brunette cheek, the plump, childish shoulders. Yet sleep still half held me, and when my cherub appeared to hold it a cherubic practice to begin the day with a demand for lively anecdote, I was fain drowsily to suggest that she might first tell some stories to her doll. With the sunny readiness that was a part of her nature, she straightway turned to that young lady,--plain Susan Halliday, with both cheeks patched, and eyes of different colors,--and soon discoursed both her and me into repose.
When I waked again, it was to find the child conversing with the morning star, which still shone through the window, scarcely so lucent as her eyes, and bidding it go home to its mother, the sun. Another lapse into dreams, and then a more vivid awakening, and she had my ear at last, and won story after story, requiting them with legends of her own youth, "almost a year ago,"--how she was perilously lost, for instance, in the small front yard, with a little playmate, early in the afternoon, and how they came and peeped into the window, and thought all the world had forgotten them. Then the sweet voice, distinct in its articulation as Laura's, went straying off into wilder fancies,--a chaos of autobiography and conjecture, like the letters of a war correspondent. You would have thought her little life had yielded more pangs and fears than might have sufficed for the discovery of the North Pole; but breakfast-time drew near at last, and Janet's honest voice was heard outside the door. I rather envied the good Scotchwoman the pleasant task of polishing the smooth cheeks and combing the dishevelled silk; but when, a little later, the small maiden was riding down stairs in my arms, I envied no one.
At sight of the bread and milk, my cherub was transformed into a hungry human child, chiefly anxious to reach the bottom of her porringer. I was with her a great deal that day. She gave no manner of trouble: it was like having the charge of a floating butterfly, endowed with warm arms to clasp, and a silvery voice to prattle. I sent Janet out to sail, with the other servants, by way of frolic, and Marian's perfect temperament was shown in the way she watched the departing.
"There they go," she said, as she stood and danced at the window. "Now they are out of sight."
"What!" I said, "are you pleased to have your friends go?"
"Yes," she answered; "but I shall be pleased-er to see them come back."
Life to her was no alternation between joy and grief, but only between joy and delight.
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