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It was a very happy Christmas Day for Joan, though she never left her little bedroom. Her delight was in watching the wonderful Christmas child all day, and in helping to nurse him. Never had she seen anything so perfectly lovely as his tiny hands and feet, and the little head that nestled down so peacefully on her arm. A good part of the day she was left alone with the baby, for Nurse Williams was busy about the house, where there was a good deal of stir and excitement. The neighbours were coming in to inquire about the rumours that had reached them, and Nathan was away, and Miss Priscilla had shut herself up in her room, taking no notice whatever of any appeals to her to open the door or to speak.

Happy as it was to Joan, to old Nathan it was the saddest Christmas Day of his life. He was seeking some trace or tidings of the baby's mother; and his weary feet, made heavy by his heavy heart, trod many a mile that short wintry day in quest of her. It could be no one else but Rhoda who had laid the child in the manger. She had never been heard of since Aunt Priscilla had answered her first and only letter, asking forgiveness, by a bitter, stern, and terrible command that she must never show her face again at home, or dare to ask for any help, whatever misery befell her.

But Nathan's search was all in vain. No one had seen her down in the village, or in the scattered dwellings far and wide upon the mountains. But more than one had hinted to him that there were places, not far away, where the cliffs overhung the sea; and as he returned sorrowfully homewards he could hear the sad moaning and sobbing of the sea following him through the stillness of the night air.

But sad as the day was to Nathan, it was most miserable of all for Aunt Priscilla. She had shut out the grey light of the wintry sky from her room, and sat in gloom and cold, doing nothing. But she could not shut out her thoughts and memories; she could not make her heart be still. When she heard through the thin walls the faint little cry of the baby, she fancied it was Rhoda's cry when she lay a helpless little creature on her lap. Again and again Joan's young voice reached her ears, lulling the baby to sleep with the old, familiar words of the Christmas Hymn—

Peace on earth and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled.

But there was no peace for her. She paced restlessly up and down her darkened room, repeating to herself hundreds of times, "God and sinners reconciled!"

But she could never be reconciled to God, for she had vowed never to be reconciled to Rhoda, who had sinned against her. She had sworn that Rhoda should never enter her doors or see her face again. Would God let her enter into His house, or behold His face? A silent, secret voice kept whispering in her heart, "So likewise shall My Heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your heart forgive not every one his brother their trespasses."

Late at night Nathan knocked at her door; but she neither spoke nor opened it.

"Miss Priscilla," he said, "I can find no sign of her anywhere. She's gone, poor creature! There's some as fancy she's cast herself away into the sea; and maybe that's true. It's borne in on my heart as that's true; but God knows!"

Aunt Priscilla shuddered. She seemed to see in the darkness a slender, girlish figure standing on the edge of one of the cliffs, and casting herself down into the restless tide below. But she did not answer old Nathan, and he went away with a very troubled heart.

But in a few days a rumour ran all through the country-side that Miss Priscilla Parry's farmstead was haunted. And what spirit could haunt it except Rhoda's? The washerwoman, coming to wash at three o'clock in the morning, had seen a dim shape moving slowly in the black shadow of the wall, made visible by a faint light from the setting moon. The ploughboy and Nathan, going out early to work, had heard low, rustling footsteps in the cow-shed as they opened the door.

Nurse Williams, who came every night to sleep with the baby, fancied she was awakened by tappings on the lattice panes of the casement. Even little Joan could hear Rhoda's sobs and moans, as she lay awake shivering and trembling in bed, with her arm stretched across the baby to save it from all harm. Everybody was certain now that Rhoda had thrown herself from the cliffs into the sea; and though her body had been drifted away by the currents, her ghost had come back to haunt the place where she had once been so happy, and where her little baby was living.