It was a bright June day when a carriage might have been seen on the old Greyrock turnpike, traveling slowly; for, propped up with pillows and shawls, was all that was left of Launt Austin. A pitiful smile gathered on his face as we came in sight of the great rock that could be seen for miles away. I sat beside him almost as trembling as himself, for memories came crowding thick and fast.
Dr. Mills had traveled on horseback, and now galloped on ahead to break the tidings to the unconscious family. Launt worked his thin fingers together nervously, and looked wistfully at me as he said, "Do you think they will be glad to see me? I'm 'most afraid—I've made such lots of trouble."
Dr. Mills must have traveled fast, for see, here are troops of villagers, and here are stout farmers with hard hands outstretched, and husky voices that try to say, "How dy'do?" and fail because of the pity that has sent a great lump in their throats which no gulping will remove. And the old flag that has done service for many a Fourth of July is brought from somewhere, and is borne ahead by the constable, who claimed and kept that right. From the cottages women's faces shine pitying and earnest on the pale boy who had come home again. Past the wood and over the bridge, and so around the road, comes the cavalcade. Past the garden and the lilac-bush. The double gate was thrown wide open, and beside it stood the old man, his white head bent down, his lips moving, yet with no sound. Plenty of hands lifted the weak man from his carriage, and he staggered on with help, but stopped one moment by the old man's side, looking wistfully with his hollow eyes.
John Austin lifted his clear eyes to the sky, and his lips were white while his hands lay a moment on the lad's head: "Bless thee, my son. The Lord bless thee and keep thee!" As they neared the house where his mother waited Launt turned about: "Fall back, boys. Nobody but father," and so leaning on the old man's arm, faint and weak enough he yet upheld him on his father's shoulder until within the doorway the lookers-on saw a tall and pallid woman take him to her breast, while one thin hand of the soldier rested on a head of golden brown beside him.
"Three cheers for Launt Austin!" and three times three rung through the air, while Susan swung her turban, shouting "Glory, Hallelujah!" and Jake contributed whoops and yells of different kinds. Then the school-house bell was rung, and Launt, sitting with his mother's hand in his, and those dear eyes of Oolie looking so lovingly on him, stirred a little from his pillows, and with his smile so ghastly still, he said, "I guess the folks are glad to see me. You see, mother, if I live"—and here he held up the transparent hand to the light—"if I live, I mean to be a better son to you and father. I thought about you I tell you, and I thought about meetin', and the Bible, and how Oolie and I used to say our prayers together. Yes, I thought about all these things, but I was so awful hungry most of the time that I couldn't think."
What vow went up from his mother's heart I know not, but I can guess. Whatever it was remained unbroken for the short life left her. Launt rallied a while, but help had come too late, and one October day we laid him in the little church-yard. Before the snow of December fell his mother lay at rest beside him. And then in the glad New-Year I took my little owlet to my heart.
The clouds had passed and left the shining sky. I make my home at Greyrock now; but would you believe that Oolie still denies that she kissed me when I lay helpless? She says she wouldn't take advantage of any one. Dr. Mills is going on his old round of duty, and Arthur Lee is married to his sister Mary. John Austin grows bent and old. Already the snow is on the mountain lighted from beyond, but the peace that passeth understanding abides upon him for evermore.