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The Prodigal Brother
by [?]

Miss Hannah was cutting asters in her garden. It was a very small garden, for nothing would grow beyond the shelter of the little, grey, low-eaved house which alone kept the northeast winds from blighting everything with salt spray; but small as it was, it was a miracle of blossoms and a marvel of neatness. The trim brown paths were swept clean of every leaf or fallen petal, each of the little square beds had its border of big white quahog clamshells, and not even a sweet-pea vine would have dared to straggle from its appointed course under Miss Hannah’s eye.

Miss Hannah had always lived in the little grey house down by the shore, so far away from all the other houses in Prospect and so shut away from them by a circle of hills that it had a seeming isolation. Not another house could Miss Hannah see from her own doorstone; she often declared she could not have borne it if it had not been for the lighthouse beacon at night flaming over the northwest hill behind the house like a great unwinking, friendly star that never failed even on the darkest night. Behind the house a little tongue of the St. Lawrence gulf ran up between the headlands until the wavelets of its tip almost lapped against Miss Hannah’s kitchen doorstep. Beyond, to the north, was the great crescent of the gulf, whose murmur had been Miss Hannah’s lullaby all her life. When people wondered to her how she could endure living in such a lonely place, she retorted that the loneliness was what she loved it for, and that the lighthouse star and the far-away call of the gulf had always been company enough for her and always would be … until Ralph came back. When Ralph came home, of course, he might like a livelier place and they might move to town or up-country as he wished.

“Of course,” said Miss Hannah with a proud smile, “a rich man mightn’t fancy living away down here in a little grey house by the shore. He’ll be for building me a mansion, I expect, and I’d like it fine. But until he comes I must be contented with things as they are.”

People always smiled to each other when Miss Hannah talked like this. But they took care not to let her see the smile.

Miss Hannah snipped her white and purple asters off ungrudgingly and sang, as she snipped, an old-fashioned song she had learned long ago in her youth. The day was one of October’s rarest, and Miss Hannah loved fine days. The air was clear as golden-hued crystal, and all the slopes around her were mellow and hazy in the autumn sunshine. She knew that beyond those sunny slopes were woods glorying in crimson and gold, and she would have the delight of a walk through them later on when she went to carry the asters to sick Millie Starr at the Bridge. Flowers were all Miss Hannah had to give, for she was very poor, but she gave them with a great wealth of friendliness and goodwill.

Presently a wagon drove down her lane and pulled up outside of her white garden paling. Jacob Delancey was in it, with a pretty young niece of his who was a visitor from the city, and Miss Hannah, her sheaf of asters in her arms, went over to the paling with a sparkle of interest in her faded blue eyes. She had heard a great deal of the beauty of this strange girl. Prospect people had been talking of nothing else for a week, and Miss Hannah was filled with a harmless curiosity concerning her. She always liked to look at pretty people, she said; they did her as much good as her flowers.

“Good afternoon, Miss Hannah,” said Jacob Delancey. “Busy with your flowers, as usual, I see.”