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Laura Thurston's Charge by Charles F. Preston (pseudonym of Horatio Alger, Jr.)

Author: Alger, Horatio, 1832-1899.
Title: Laura Thurston's Charge.
In: Frank Leslie's illustrated newspaper. Vol. 19, no. 469 (Sept. 24, 1864)
Published: New York : Frank Leslie, 1864.
Format: p. 5-6 : ill. ; 42 cm.
Other Name: Russell, William D.
Horatio Alger Collection.
Other Title: Frank Leslie's illustrated newspaper.
Location: PS 1029 .A3 L38 1864a (Special Collections)
Optically scanned and encoded by Mark A. Williams
Horatio Alger Digital Serials Project, Northern llinois University Libraries
DeKalb, IL
04-November-1999


"Has the morning paper come, Hannah?" inquired Laura Thurston of the servant, who was removing elegant breakfast service from the table.

"I will see, Miss Laura."

While the servant is absent on her quest we may look around us. The room is furnished with a degree of comfort amounting to luxury. Part the heavy curtains and a broad lawn stretches before you. The grounds front on an avenue lined with majestic elms. We are in one of those suburban villas to be found in such profusion in the neighborhood of our principal cities.

Laura Thurston, to whom the house and grounds belong, is no longer in her first youth, yet few are aware that she has reached her thirtieth year. She has the fair complexion which Time usually treats kindly, and might readily pass for several years younger. But the careful observer will note a thoughtful light in the clear gray eyes which speaks of a wider experience of life.

"Here is the paper, Miss Laura," said Hannah, returning with the article of which she had been in quest.

Laura Thurston opened its ample pages eagerly. "The telegraph had announced on the preceding day a great battle fought on the plains of Pennsylvania. "A great victory" met the reader's gaze in staring capitals. She ran her eye eagerly over the account. On reaching a certain line the paper dropped from her hands and her heart gave a great bound. The line was very brief. It contained these few words:

"Captain Henry Palmer, killed."

"Captain Henry Palmer--Killed." If I could but have seen him once before he died,'' she murmured. "It is ten years to-day since we parted in anger. Had that moment been blotted out how different might have been both our lives!''

She sat for a few minutes in deep thought, and then, as if inspired by a sudden resolution, rang the bell.

"Hannah," she said, quickly, "I am going out of town, and may not return till this evening. It is even possible that I may be absent longer, but I shall endeavor to return to-night."

"Yes, Miss Laura."

"I may bring back some one with me," she continued, with slight hesitation. "You may light a fire this afternoon in the bedroom adjoining mine."

With a little surprise the servant withdrew. Half an hour later Laura left the house, and walking to the depot not far distant, purchased a ticket for Glenville.

Arrived at the depot in Glenville, she inquired of the depot master:

"Can you tell me whether Captain Palmer's children live in this village?"

"Yes, ma'am," was the reply. "They are boarding with Mr. Hiram Norcross, who keeps the store. I expect you have heard of the captain's death?"

Laura inclined her head gravely.

"I am afraid the children will have a hard time of it. They haven't any near relatives, and their father will leave little or nothing. Norcross is rich enough to keep 'em for nothing, but he's too mean to think of doing it."

"Can you direct me to his house?"

"Certainly, ma'am. Do you see that yellow house at the corner?''

"yes."

"Well, you turn there and keep straight ahead till you get to the Baptist church. The store is just opposite. You'll know it by the sign. The family live over the store.''

While Laura is making her way from the station we will introduce the reader into a small sitting-room in the dwelling of Hiram Norcross. The "store-keeper'' himself stands before the fire, his face wearing an expression of perplexity. He is a small man, with yellowish hair, and a large bald spot on the crown of his head. His gray coat bears marks of having been used from a remote period as a penwiper. His eyes are small and ferret-like. His wife sits near him in a wooden rocking chair, mending a refractory stocking. She has a thin face and pinched lips, and her expression is far from agreeable.

"If people expect us to keep the children, let 'em expect," she remarked, in a decided tone. "If their father has been killed and can't pay their board, they must go to the poorhouse. Why didn't he get his life insured?"

"I agree with you entirely, my dear," said Hiram Norcross, who was quite as mean as his wife, but not so indifferent to public opinion: "I don't know but we'd better keep 'em, say a week. If we send them off too soon, people may go to the other store, and that would prove a serious loss."

"There's ten week's board that hasn't been paid for now," said Mrs. Norcross, sharply.

"So, there has," said her husband, uneasily.

"And whether it'll ever be paid, goodness know's."

"No doubt the cap'en has left something. Whatever it is, 'll be sent home, and we have the first claim."

"At any rate I'm not in favor of increasing it. It's best to notify the selec' men to take charge of the children at once: We've done our duty."

"I don't know but you're right, Jane. I guess I'll go over and speak to Squire Houghton. He's the chairman."

At this moment the door-bell rang, and almost immediately, a slatternly girl made her appearance at the door, and said :

"There's a lady in the parlor wants to see you, Miss Jones."

Mrs. Norcross dropped her stocking, and taking off her apron, went down.

"Mrs. Norcross, I believe," said Laura Thurston, rising.

The lady made a stiff inclination.

"I understand that the children of Capt. Palmer are boarding with you.''

"Yes," said Mrs. Norcross, deliberately. "They've been boarding with me, but I don't expect I shall be able to accommodate them any longer,"

"Have they been told of their father's death?"

"Not yet. We've only just heard of it."

"What are their ages?"

"Henry is seven and Laura five."

"Laura!" said the visitor, starting. "I--I thought her name was different."

"No, she hasn't any other."

"I suppose Capt. Palmer did not leave much property:''

"No, I don't expect he left a cent. Ten weeks' board is due for the children, but I s'pose Mr. Norcross will have to lose it. It's hard to slave from morning till night, and then not get anything for it. I expect some of the neighbors will be expecting us to keep 'em for nothing. Folks is just so unreasonable. I'm sure Mr. Norcross and I would soon be in the poorhouse if we flung away our money that way."

An expression of disgust swept over Laura's face.

"What is the amount of the bill?" she asked, coldly.

"We've been asking six dollars a week for the two. Ten weeks will make exactly sixty dollars."

"You need feel under no concern as to the payment of your bill," said Laura, quietly. "You have only to make it out, and I will settle it at once."

"Are you related to the children?" asked Mrs. Norcross, surprise mingling with her gratification.

"I am not," said Laura, "but their father was a friend of mine. Since they appear to be unprovided with a home, I will take charge of them, if there is no objection."

"No objection at all," said Mrs. Norcross, briskly. "I'm glad they're likely to have a home."

"Can you get them ready at once? I should like to them with me to-day."

"They can be ready in an hour. Only some of their clothes are in the wash."

You can send them by express at your convenience."

"Good riddance to them!" thought Mrs. Norcross, as she left the room. "Now people can't find fault with us. The bill's paid too. We're pretty lucky."

When the intelligence was communicated to Hiram Norcross, he rubbed his hands with glee, and lost no time in making out a bill for the children's board.

Henry and Laura were brought into the sitting-room. They seemed instinctively drawn to Laura Thurston, and were soon on as intimate terms as if they had been acquainted for years. Laura, too, found herself attracted by them in a manner which surprised her. In the frank, open brow and clear eyes of the boy she recognised a striking resemblance to the father—a resemblance which excited in her a degree of pleasure not unmingled with pain.

"Will you come again soon?" asked the little girl, climbing into the lap of her namesake.

"No, I think not."

"Oh, I am so sorry," said the child, regretfully.

"And why are you sorry?"

"Because I like you."

"How would you like to come and live with me?"

"And not stay here any longer?" asked the child, eagerly.

"No."

"Would Mrs. Norcross let me? Would papa be willing?"

"Mrs. Norcross has consented," said Laura, evading the last query. "And you, Henry?" she asked, turning to the boy.

"I should like to live with you much better than with Mrs. Norcross," he said, frankly.

"Then," said Laura, "it shall be as you wish. If you will go to Mrs. Norcross she will get you ready, and we will start by the next train."

Hannah's astonishment was extreme when her mistress returned with the children. Laura explained, quietly, that their father was dead, and she was their guardian.

Now commenced a new life for the children. Miss Thurston constituted herself their teacher. It was to her a source of the greatest enjoyment to train these young minds, which she perceived to be full of promise. The days were no longer leaden-footed, but fled apace. A new world of thought and action, a new sphere of duty and responsibility were opened to her. Nor was it little that her affections, which were naturally warm, had found objects on which they might be bestowed. At first, the children were dear to her for their father's sake; Henry, for the clear eyes through which his father seemed looking at her; Laura, because her name continually suggested that father's continued attachment to herself. But the children soon became dear for their own sake. Laura felt she had entered upon a new life. Her wealth enabled her to command all the advantages which were desirable for them. Fortunately she had no near relatives to complain of the manner in which she chose to dispose of her money.

One day Henry was reciting a lesson in geography, and was on the point of giving the boundaries of Africa, when Hannah entered the room with the intelligence that a gentleman was below.

"Do you know who it is?" asked Laura.

"No, Miss Laura."

"Did he give you no card?"

"No. He only said he would like to see you."

"Very well. You may tell him I will be down directly. Henry, we will defer your recitation for a short time. You may look over your spelling now."

Five minutes later Laura descended to the drawing-room. In the obscure light she did not at first distinguish her visitor. He rose and came forward. A man of middle height, with fine features, but pale and thin, evidently the effect of recent sickness.

Laura looked at him inquiringly. Not a suspicion of the truth dawned upon her mind.

"Don't you know me, Laura—Miss Thurston?" he asked in a low voice.

"Captain Palmer'" she exclaimed, with sudden conviction. "I thought——"

"You thought me dead; I was so reported, but it was a mistake. I fell into the hands of the rebels, and they have kept me till this time. As soon as I could I wrote to Mr. Norcross, but he did not see fit to communicate the fact to you; when I called on him yesterday, he acquainted me with your disinterested kindness to my children. How can I ever thank you, Laura?"

He took her hand in a tender, respectful manner.

"Do not speak of it," she said, hurriedly. "I felt that there was some atonement due to you for the past."

"Have you, too, regretted it, Laura?" asked Captain Palmer, with subdued eagerness.

"I have never ceased to do so. But let us not speak of this. The children are upstairs; when they have been properly informed of your return, they will be overjoyed to see you.''

It is needless to relate with what rapture the children greeted their father, whom they supposed to be dead. Laura, from a little distance, watched with happy eyes this meeting, in which she seemed to feel a personal interest.

Captain Palmer obtained a boarding-place near by, but spent a part of every day in the society of Laura and the children. Day by day his step became more firm, his cheek assumed a more healthful color. But at length the furlough given him to recruit his exhausted strength neared a close. One day, sitting in his armchair, with Laura near him, he said suddenly :

"Ought I to burden you with the children while I am again absent?"

"I shall feel that, in so doing, you are giving me the greatest proof of your confidence and esteem."

"You are willing to be troubled with them?"

"Their presence is my greatest enjoyment."

"Would you be willing to take charge of their father, also, Miss Laura?" he asked.

She looked up suddenly, and her lips half parted, but she said nothing.

"My children shall plead my cause. Henry— Laura—I have asked Miss Thurston to become your second mother, help me to persuade her."

 

A mother-in-law wanted

Laura blushed as she met the glad, eager looks of the children, and she silently placed her hand in his.

"Let the dead past bury its dead," he said, in a low voice. "Henceforth we live only in the glad present."

They were quietly married on the day before Captain Palmer's return to service, and now Laura feels that she has a rightful claim to the children, of which she undertook the charge for their father's sake.