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After Long Years
by [?]

CHAPTER I

THE JOURNEY

The Duchess of Banford and her two children were driving toward their villa, when, owing to the roughness of the road, the front wheel of their coach was suddenly broken. Considerably frightened, mother and children quickly alighted. The approaching darkness, coupled with the loneliness of the place, added to the difficulty; for the prospect of spending the night in the woods was particularly distressing.

Just then a stable-boy chanced along and seeing the predicament, said: “Oh, that wheel can be easily mended. Not far from here there lives a wheelwright, and I am sure he can repair it in a very short time.” The boy then looked about him, and seeing a long pole, said: “We can use this to support the wagon as it drags along. The road is rugged, and it will take us about an hour to get there.”

“Is there no shorter route?” inquired the Duchess.

“This is the only wagon road; but if you wish, I will lead you along a shorter path across the fields which will cut the distance in half.”

The Duchess thanked him, and asked: “Do you think that we may take this pole? It seems to me as though some wood-cutter had left it here to prop a tree.”

“Oh, yes,” he answered, “it belongs to the wheelwright to whom I am taking you. All the wood around here belongs to him, and he will be glad to have this pole so handy.” So saying, he hurried to get the pole and helped the coachman fasten it in place. The horses then drew the carriage slowly over the rocky road, while the coachman walked alongside.

The family, however, followed the footpath, which led between tall elms and blooming shrubbery along the edge of a babbling brook.

The silence was broken now and then by the plaintive song of a nightingale. The Duchess and her two children seated themselves upon the trunk of a fallen tree and listened to the music till it ceased. A gentle wind sighed softly through the leaves of the trees, and merrily flowed the near-by brook. As the nightingale repeated its song, they all listened intently.

When the song was ended, the Duchess said: “I would give twenty pounds if I had such a bird in my garden. I have heard many nightingales sing in the city, but here in the country, in this wooded region and deep stillness, and at this twilight hour, its song seems doubly enchanting. Oh, that I might hear it sing in the little bower near my villa.”

“Hm,” whispered the stable-boy, who stood near her oldest son, Alfred, “those twenty pounds could be easily earned.”

Alfred nodded, and motioned to the boy to be still, for just then the nightingale began to sing. When the song ceased the Duchess arose to continue her way. Alfred, however, lagged behind with the stable-boy, with whom he was soon busily engaged in earnest talk.

“A nightingale in a cage is not what my mother wants; what she wants is a nightingale that is at liberty, to sing and nest and fly as it pleases in our beautiful garden, and to return to us in the spring from its winter home.”

“I understand very well what you mean. I should not want to catch a bird and deliver it into captivity.” After questioning Alfred more closely about the trees near his villa, the boy said: “I feel sure that I can get a nightingale and its nest for you. I know just how to go about it. You will soon hear its song resound from all parts of your garden– possibly not this week, but surely next.”

Alfred stood still for a moment and looked at the boy–clothed in a shabby suit, with his hair protruding from his torn hat. Then he asked, wonderingly, “What would you do with the money?”

“Oh,” said the boy, and the tears stood in his eyes, “twenty pounds would help us out of our troubles. You see, my father is a day-laborer. He is not a very strong man, and I was just on my way to visit him, and do what I could to help him. My foreman has given me a few days’ leave of absence. I don’t earn much, but it helps my father a little. I often feel that it would be a great help to him if I could earn more. I certainly should like nothing better than to be a wheelwright. It must be grand to be able to take the wood that lies here in the forest, and make a beautiful carriage out of it, like the one you own. I have often talked with the wheelwright, but he will not take me as an apprentice until I have a certain amount of money. Besides, I should need money to buy tools. It would cost twenty pounds, and my father and I haven’t as much as that together.