"It must have been just after one of his sprees, when he is always more than half befogged," he said to himself. "Possibly he was passing this way and the insane idea seized him to stop and pretend to buy Terrace Hill. The rascal!" and having thus satisfactorily settled it in his mind, the doctor did look at Anna's carpet, admiring its pattern, and having a kind of pleasant consciousness that everything was in keeping, from the handsome drapery which shaded the windows to the marble hearth on which a fire was blazing.
In Adah Hastings' dream that night there were visions of a little room far up in a fourth story, where her fair head was pillowed again upon the manly arm of one who listened while she chided him gently for his long delay, and then told him of their Willie boy so much like him, as the young mother thought.
In Dr. Richards' dreams, when at last he slept, there were visions of a lonely grave in a secluded part of Greenwood, and he heard again the startling words:
"Dead, both she and the child."
He did not know there was a child, and he staggered in his sleep, just as he staggered down the creaking stairs, repeating to himself:
"Lily's child—Lily's child. May Lily's God forgive me."
The Sabbath dawned at last. The doctor had not yet made his appearance in the village, and Saturday had been spent by him in rehearsing to his sisters and the servants the wonderful things he had seen abroad, and in lounging listlessly by a window which overlooked the town, and also commanded a view of the tasteful cottage by the riverside, where they told him Mrs. Johnson lived. One upper window he watched with peculiar interest, from the fact that, early in the day, a head had protruded from it a moment, as if to inhale the wintry air, and then been quickly withdrawn.
"Does Miss Johnson wear curls?" he asked, rather indifferently, with his eye still on the cottage by the river.
"Yes; a great profusion of them," was Mrs. Richards' reply, and then the doctor knew he had caught a glimpse of Alice Johnson, for the head he had seen was covered with curls, he was sure.
But little good did a view at that distance afford him. He must see her nearer ere he decided as to her merits to be a belle. He did not believe her face would at all compare with the one which continually haunted his dreams, and over which the coffin lid was shut weary months ago, but fifty thousand dollars had invested Miss Alice with that peculiar charm which will sometimes make an ugly face beautiful. The doctor was beginning to feel the need of funds, and now that Lily was dead, the thought had more than once crossed his mind that to set himself at once to the task of finding a wealthy wife was a duty he owed himself and his family. Had poor, deserted Lily lived; had he found her in New York, he could not tell what he might have done, for the memory of her sweet, gentle love was the one restraining influence which kept him from much sin. He never could forget her; never love another as he had once loved her, but she was dead, and it was better, so he reasoned, for now was he free to do his mother's will, and take a wife worthy of a Richards.
Anna was not with the party which at the usual hour entered the family carriage with Bibles and prayer books in hand. She seldom went out except on warm, pleasant days; but she stood in the deep bay window watching the carriage as it wound down the hill, thinking first how pleasant and homelike the Sabbath bells must sound to Charlie this day, and secondly, how handsome and stylish her young brother looked with his Parisian cloak and cap, which he wore so gracefully. Others than Anna thought so, too; and at the church door there was quite a little stir, as he gallantly handed out first his mother and then his sisters, and followed them into the church.
Dr. Richards had never enjoyed a reputation for being very devotional, and the interval between his entrance and the commencement of the service was passed by him in a rather scornful survey of the time-worn house. With a sneer in his heart, he mentally compared the old-fashioned pulpit, with its steep flight of steps and faded trimmings, with the lofty cathedral he had been in the habit of attending in Paris, and a feeling of disgust and contempt was creeping over him, when a soft rustling of silk, and a consciousness of a delicate perfume, which he at once recognized as aristocratic, warned him that somebody was coming; somebody entirely different from the score of females who had distributed themselves within range of his vision, their countrified bonnets, as he termed them, trimmed outside and in without the least regard to taste, or combination of color. But the little lady, moving so quietly up the aisle—she was different. She was worthy of respect, and the Paris beau felt an inclination to rise at once and acknowledge her superior presence.
Wholly unconscious of the interest she was exciting, the lady deposited her muff upon the cushions, and then kneeling reverently upon the well-worn stool, covered her face with the hands which had so won the doctor's admiration. What a little creature she was, scarcely larger than a child twelve summers old, and how gloriously beautiful were the curls of indescribable hue, falling in such profusion from beneath the jaunty hat. All this Dr. Richards noted, marveling that she knelt so long, and wondering what she could be saying.
Alice's devotion ended at last, and the view so coveted was obtained; for in adjusting her dress Alice turned toward him, or rather toward his mother, and the doctor drew a sudden breath as he met the brilliant flashing of those laughing sunny blue eyes, and caught the radiant expression of that face, slightly dimpled with a smile. Beautiful, wondrously beautiful was Alice Johnson, and yet the features were not wholly regular, for the piquant nose had a slight turn up, and the forehead was not very high; but for all this, the glossy hair, the dancing blue eyes, the apple-blossom complexion, and the rosebud mouth made ample amends; and Dr. Richards saw no fault in that witching face, flashing its blue eyes for an instant upon him, and then modestly turning to the service just commencing. So absorbed was Dr. Richards as not to notice that the strain of music filling the old church did not come from the screeching melodeon he had so anathematized, but from an organ as mellow and sweet in its tone as any he had heard across the sea. He did not notice anything; and when his sister, surprised at his sitting posture, whispered to him of her surprise, he started quickly, and next time the congregation arose he was the first upon his feet, mingling his voice with that of Alice Johnson and even excelling her in the loudness of his reading!
As if divining his wishes in the matter, his mother turned to the eagerly expectant doctor, whom she introduced as "My son, Dr. Richards."
Alice had heard much of Dr. Richards from the young girls of Snowdon. She had heard his voice in the Psalter, his responses in the Litany, and accepted it as a sign of marked improvement. He could not be as irreverent and thoughtless as he had been represented by those who did not like him; he must have changed during his absence, and she frankly offered him her hand, and with a smile which he felt even to his finder tips, welcomed him home, making some trivial remark touching the contrast between their quiet town and the cities he had left.
"But you will help make it pleasanter for us this winter, I am sure," she continued, and the sweet blue eyes sought his for an answer as to whether he would desert Snowdon immediately.
What a weak, vacillating creature is man before a pretty woman like Alice Johnson. Twenty-four hours ago, and the doctor would have scoffed at the idea that he should tarry longer than a week or two at the farthest in that dull by-place, where the people were only half civilized; but now the tables were turned as by magic. Snowdon was as pretty a rural village as New England could boast, and he meant to enjoy it for a while. It would be a relief after the busy life he had led, and was just the change he needed! So, in answer to Alice's remark, he said he should probably remain at home some time, that he always found it rather pleasant at Snowdon, though as a boy he had, he supposed, often chafed at its dullness; but he saw differently now. Besides, it could not now be dull, with the acquisition it had received since he was there before; and he bowed gracefully toward the young lady, who acknowledged the compliment with a faint blush, and then turned toward the group of "noisy, ill-bred children," as Dr. Richards thought, who came thronging about her.
"My Sabbath school scholars," Alice said, as if in answer to these mental queries, "Ah, here comes my youngest—my pet," and Alice stooped to caress a little rosy-cheeked boy, with bright brown eyes and patches on both coat sleeves.
The doctor saw the patches, but not the handsome face, and with a gesture of impatience, turned to go, just as his ear caught another kiss, and he knew the patched boy received what he would have given much to have.
"Hanged if I don't half wish I was one of those ragged urchins," he said, after handing his mother and sisters to their carriage, and seating himself at their side. "But does not Miss Johnson display strange taste? Surely some other one less refined might be found to look after those brats, if they must be looked after, which I greatly doubt. Better leave them, as you find them; can't elevate them if you try. It's trouble thrown away."
Just before turning from the main road into the park which led to Terrace Hill, they met a stylish little covered sleigh. The colored driver politely touched big hat to the ladies, who leaned out a moment to look after him.
"That's Mrs. Johnson's turnout," said Eudora. "In the winter Martin always takes Alice to church and then returns for her."
"And folks say," interposed Asenath, "that if the walking is bad or the weather cold, both Alice and her mother go two miles out of their way to carry home some old woman or little child, who lives at a distance. I've seen Alice myself with half a dozen or more of these children, and she looked as proud and happy as a queen. Queer taste, isn't it?"
John thought it was, though he himself said: "It is like what Lily would have done, had she possessed the power and means."
"Well, brother, what of Miss Alice? Was she at church?" Anna asked softly. "I need not ask though, for of course she was. I should almost as soon think of hearing that Mr. Howard himself was absent as Alice."
"That reminds me," said John, "of what you said concerning Mr. Howard and Alice. There can't be any truth in it. She surely does not fancy him."
"Not as a lover," Anna replied. "She respects him greatly, however, because he is a clergyman."
"Is she then a very strong church woman?" John asked.
"Yes, but not a bit of a blue," Anna replied. "If all Christians were like Alice, religion would be divested of much of its supposed gloom. She shows it everywhere, and so does not have to wear it on set occasions to prove that she possesses it. How were you pleased with Miss Johnson?"
"How was I pleased with her? I felt like kissing the hem of her blue silk, of course! But I tell you, Anna, those ragged, dirty urchins who came trooping into that damask-cushioned pew, marred the picture terribly. What possible pleasure can she take in teaching them?"
Anna had an idea of the pleasure it might be to feel that one was doing good, but she could not explain lucidly, so she did not attempt it. She only said Miss Alice was very benevolent and received her reward in the love bestowed upon her so freely by those whom she befriended.
"And to win her good graces, must one pretend to be interested in those ragamuffins?" John asked, a little spitefully.
"Why, no, not unless they were. Alice could not wish you to be deceitful," was Anna's reply, after which a long silence ensued, and Anna dropped away to sleep, while her brother sat watching the fire blazing in the grate, and trying to decide as to his future course.
Should he return to New York, accept the offer of an old friend of his father's, an experienced practitioner, and thus earn his own bread honorably; or, should he remain a while at Snowdon and cultivate Alice Johnson? He had never yet failed when he chose to exert himself, and though he might, for a time, be compelled to adopt a different code of morality from that which he at present acknowledged, he would do it for once. He could be interested in those ragged children; he could encourage Sunday schools; he could attend church as regularly as Alice herself; and, better yet, he could doctor the poor for nothing, as that was sure to tell, and he would do it, too, if necessary. This was the finale which he reached at last by a series of arguments pro and con, and when it was reached, he was anxious to commence the task at once. He presumed he could love Alice Johnson; she was so pretty; but even if he didn't, he would only be doing what thousands had done before him. He should be very proud of her, and would certainly try to make her happy. One long, almost sobbing sigh to the memory of poor Lily, who had loved so much and been so cruelly betrayed, one faint struggle with conscience, which said that Alice Johnson was too pure a gem for him to trifle with, and then, the past, with its sad memories, was buried.
"Not going to church twice in one day!" Mrs. Richards exclaimed as the doctor threw aside the book he had been reading, and started for his cloak.
"Why, yes," he answered. "I liked that parson so much better than I expected, that I think I'll go again," and hurrying out, he was soon on his way to St. Paul's.
"Gone on foot, too, when it's so cold!" and the mother, who had risen and stood watching him from the window, spoke anxiously.
The service was commencing, but the doctor was in no hurry to take his seat. He would as soon be seen as not, and, vain fop that he was, he rather enjoyed the stirring of heads he felt would ensue when he moved up the aisle. At last he would wait no longer, and with a most deferential manner, as if asking pardon for disturbing the congregation, he walked to his pew door, and depositing his hat and cloak, sat down just where he meant to sit, next the little figure, at which he did not glance, knowing, of course, that it was Alice.
How then was he astonished and confounded when at the reading of the Psalter, another voice than hers greeted his ear!—a strange, sharp voice, whose tones were not as indicative of refinement as Alice's had been, and whose pronunciation, distinctly heard, savored somewhat of the so-called down East. He looked at her now, moving off a foot or more, and found her a little, odd, old woman, shriveled and withered, with velvet hat, not of the latest style, its well-kept strings of black vastly different from the glossy blue he had so much admired at an earlier period of the day. Was ever man more disappointed? Who was she, the old witch, for so he mentally termed the inoffensive woman devoutly conning her prayer book, unconscious of the wrath her presence was exciting in the bosom of the young man beside her! How he wished he had stayed at home, and were it not that he sat so far distant from the door, he would certainly have left in disgust. What a drawling tone was Mr. Howard's.
Such were the doctor's thoughts. But hark! Whose voice was that? The congregation seemed to hold their breath as the glorious singer warbled forth the bird-like strain, "Thou that takest away the sins of the world." She sang those words as if she felt them every one, and Dr. Richards' heart thrilled with an indefinable emotion us he listened. "Thou that sittest on the right hand of God the Father;" how rich and full her voice as she sang that alone; and when the final Amen was reached, and the grand old chant was ended, Dr. Richards sat like one entranced, straining his ear to catch the last faint echo of the sweetest music he had ever heard.
Could Alice sing like that, and who was this nightingale? How he wished he knew; and when next the people arose, obedient to the organ's call, he was of their number, and turning full about, looked up into the gallery, starting as he looked, and half uttering an exclamation of surprise. There was no mistaking the Russian sable fur, the wide blue ribbons thrown so gracefully back, the wealth of sunny hair, or the lustrous eyes, which swept for an instant over the congregation below, taking in him with the rest, and then were dropped upon the keys, where the snowy, ungloved hands were straying. The organist was Alice Johnson! There were no more regrets now that he had come to church, no more longings to be away, no more maledictions against Mr. Howard's drawling manner, no more invectives against the poor old woman, listening like himself with rapt attention, and wondering if the music of heaven could be sweeter than that her bonny Alice made. The doctor, too, felt better for such music, and he never remembered having been more attentive to a sermon in his life than to the one, which followed the evening service.
When it was ended, and the people dismissed, she came tripping down the stairs, flooding the dingy vestibule with a world of sunshine.
"Here, Aunt Densie, here I am. Martin is waiting for us," the doctor heard her say to the old lady, who was elbowing her way through the crowd, and who at last came to a standstill, apparently looking for something she could not find. "What is it, auntie?" Alice said again. "Lost something, have you? I'll be with you in a minute."
Two hours ago, and Dr. Richards would not have cared if fifty old women had lost their entire wardrobe. As an attache of some kind to Alice Johnson, Densie was an object of importance, and stepping forward, just as Alice had made her way to the distressed old lady's side, he very politely offered to assist in the search.
"Ah, Dr. Richards, thank you," Alice said, as the black kid was found, and passed to its anxious owner.
The doctor never dreamed of an introduction, for his practiced eye saw at once that however Alice might auntie her, the woman was still a servant. How then was he surprised when Alice said:
"Miss Densmore, this is Dr. Richards, from Terrace Hill," adding, in an aside to him: "My old nurse, who took care of both mother and myself when we were children."
They were standing in the door now, and the covered sleigh was drawn up just in front.
"Auntie first," she said, as they reached the carriage steps, and so the doctor was fain to help auntie in, whispering gallantly in an aside:
"Age before beauty always!"
"Thank you," and Alice's ringing laugh cut the winter air as she followed Densie Densmore, the doctor carefully wrapping her cloak about her, and asking if her fur was pulled up sufficiently around her neck.
"It's very cold," he said, glancing up at the glittering stars, scarcely brighter than the blue eyes flashing on him. "At least I found it so on my walk to church," and with a slight shiver the scheming doctor was bowing himself away, when Alice exclaimed:
"Did you walk this wintry night? Pray, gratify me then by accepting a seat in our sleigh. There's plenty of room without crowding auntie."
Happy Dr. Richards! How he exerted himself to be agreeable, talking about the singing, asking if she often honored the people as she had to-night.
"I take Miss Fisher's place when she is absent," Alice replied, whereupon, the doctor said he must have her up at Terrace Hill some day, to try Anna's long-neglected instrument. "It was once a most superb affair, but I believe it is sadly out of tune. Anna is very fond of you, Miss Johnson, and your visits would benefit her greatly. I assure you there's a duty of charity to be discharged at Terrace Hill as well as elsewhere. Anna suffers from too close confinement indoors, but, with a little skill, I think we can manage to get her out once more. Shall we try?"
Selfish Dr. Richards! It was all the same to him whether Anna went out once a day or once a year, but Alice did not suspect him and she answered frankly that she should have visited Terrace Hill more frequently, had she supposed his mothers and sisters cared particularly for society, but she had always fancied they preferred being alone.
Mrs. Johnson did not like Dr. Richards, and yet he became an almost daily visitor at Riverside Cottage, where one face at least grew brighter when he came, and one pair of eyes beamed on him a welcome. His new code of morality worked admirably. Mr. Howard himself was not more regular at church, or Alice more devout, than Dr. Richards. The children, whom he had denominated "ragged brats," were no longer spurned with contempt, but fed with peanuts and molasses candy. He was popular with the children, but the parents, clear-sighted, treated him most shabbily at his back, accusing him of caring only for Miss Alice's good opinion.
This was what the poor said, and what many others thought. Even Anna, who took everything for what it seemed, roused herself and more than once remonstrated with her brother upon the course he was pursuing, if he were not in earnest, as something he once said to her made her half suspect.
She had become very intimate with Alice latterly, and as her health improved with the coming of spring, almost every fine day found her at Riverside Cottage, where once she and Mrs. Johnson stumbled upon a confidential chat, having for its subject John and Alice, Anna said nothing against her brother. She merely spoke of him as kind and affectionate, but the quick-seeing mother detected more than the words implied, and after that the elegant doctor was less welcome to her fireside than, he had been before.
As the winter passed away and spring advanced, he showed no intentions of leaving Snowdon, but on the contrary opened an office in the village, greatly to the surprise of the inhabitants, who remembered his former contempt for any one who could settle down in that dull town, and greatly to the dismay of old Dr. Rogers, who for years had blistered and bled the good people without a fear of rivalry.
"Does Dr. Richards intend locating permanently in Snowdon?" Mrs. Johnson asked of her daughter as they sat alone one pleasant spring evening.
"His sign would indicate as much," was Alice's reply.
"Mother," she said gently, "you look pale and worried. You have looked so for some time past. What is it, mother? Are you very sick, or are you troubled about me?"
"Is there any reason why I should be troubled about my darling?" asked the mother.
Alice never had any secrets from her mother, and she answered frankly: "I don't know, unless—unless—mother, why don't you like Dr. Richards?"
The ice was fairly broken now, and very briefly but candidly Mrs. Johnson told why she did not like him. He was handsome, refined, educated, and agreeable, she admitted, but still there was something lacking. The mask he was wearing had not deceived her, and she would have liked him far better without it. This she said to Alice, adding gently: "He may be all he seems, but I doubt it. I distrust him greatly. I think he fancies you and loves your money."
"Oh, mother," and in Alice's voice there was a sound of tears, "you do him injustice, and he has been so kind to us, while Snowdon is so much pleasanter since he came."
"Are you engaged to him?" was Mrs. Johnson's next question.
"No," and Alice looked up wonderingly. "I do not believe I like him well enough for that."
Alice Johnson was wholly ingenuous and would not for the world have concealed a thing from her mother, and very frankly she continued:
"I like Dr. Richards better than any gentleman I have ever met. I should have told you, mother."
"God bless my darling, and keep her as innocent as now," Mrs. Johnson murmured. "I am glad there is no engagement. Will you promise there shall not be for one year at least?"
"Yes, I will, I do," Alice said at last.
A second "God bless my darling," came from the mother's lips, and drawing her treasure nearer to her, she continued: "You have made me very happy, and by and by you'll be so glad. You may leave me now, for I am tired and sick."
It was long ere Alice forgot the expression of her mother's face or the sound of her voice, so full of love and tenderness, as she bade her good-night on that last evening they ever spent together alone. The indisposition of which Mrs. Johnson had been complaining for several days, proved to be no light matter, and when next morning Dr. Rogers was summoned to her bedside, he decided it to be a fever which was then prevailing to some extent in the neighboring towns.
That afternoon it was told at Terrace Hill that Mrs. Johnson was very sick, and half an hour later the Richards carriage, containing the doctor and his Sister Anna, wound down the hill, and passing through the park, turned in the direction of the cottage, where they found Mrs. Johnson even worse than they had anticipated. The sight of distress aroused Anna at once, and forgetting her own feebleness she kindly offered to stay until night if she could be of any service. Mrs. Johnson was fond of Anna, and she expressed her pleasure so eagerly that Anna decided to remain, and went with Alice to remove her wrappings.
"Oh, I forgot!" she exclaimed, as a sudden thought seemed to strike her. "I don't know as I can stay after all, though I might write it here, I suppose as well as at home; and as John is going to New York to-night he will take it along."
"What is it?" Alice asked; and Anna replied:
"You'll think me very foolish, no doubt, but I want to know if you too think so. I'm so dependent on other's opinions," and, in a low tone, Anna told of the advertisement seen early last winter, how queerly it was expressed, and how careless John had been in tearing off the name and address, with which to light his cigar. "It seems to me," she continued, "that 'unfortunate married woman' is the very one I want."
"Yes; but how will you find her? I understand that the address was burned," Alice rejoined quickly, feeling herself that Anna was hardly sane in her calculations.
"Oh, I've used that in the wording," Anna answered. "I do not know as it will ever reach her, it's been so long, but if it does, she'll be sure to know I mean her, or somebody like her."
"I dislike writing very much," she said, as she saw the array of materials, "and I write so illegibly too. Please do it for me, that's a dear, good girl," and she gave the pen to Alice, who wrote the first word, "Wanted," and then waited for Anna to dictate.
"WANTED—By an invalid lady, whose home is in the country, a young woman, who will be both useful and agreeable, either as a companion or waiting maid. No objection will be raised if the woman is married, and unfortunate, or has a child a few months old. Address,
"A.E.R., Snowdon, Hampden Co., Mass."
Alice thought it the queerest advertisement she had ever seen, but Anna was privileged to do queer things, and folding the paper, she went out into the hall, where the doctor sat waiting for her.
John's mustached lip curled a little scornfully as he read it.
"Why, puss, that girl or woman is in Georgia by this time, and as the result of this, Terrace Hill will be thronged with unfortunate women and children, desiring situations. Better let me burn this, as I did the other, and not be foolish. She will never see it," and John made a gesture as if he would put it in the stove, but Anna caught his hand, saying imploringly: "Please humor me this once. She may see it, and I'm so interested."
Anna was always humored, and the doctor placed in his memorandum book the note, then turning to Alice he addressed her in so low a tone that Anna readily took the hint and left them together. Dr. Richards was not intending to be gone long, he said, though the time would seem a little eternity, so much was his heart now bound up in Snowdon.
Afraid lest he might say something more of the same nature, Alice hastened to ask if he had seen her mother, and what he thought of her.
"I stepped in for a moment while you were in the library," he replied. "She seemed to have a high fever, and I fancied it increased while I stood by her. I am sorry to leave while she is so sick, but remember that if anything happens you will be dearer to me than ever," and the doctor pressed the little hand which he took in his to say good-by, for now he must really go.
As the day and night wore on Mrs. Johnson grew worse so rapidly, that at her request a telegram was forwarded to Mr. Liston, who had charge of her moneyed affairs, and who came at once, for the kind old man was deeply interested in the widow and her lovely daughter. As Mrs. Johnson, could bear it, they talked alone together until he perfectly understood what her wishes were with regard to Alice, and how to deal with Dr. Richards, whom he had not yet seen. Then promising to return again in case the worst should happen, he took his leave, while Mrs. Johnson, now that a weight was lifted from her mind, seemed to rally, and the physician pronounced her better. But with that strange foreknowledge, as it were, which sometimes comes to people whose days are nearly numbered, she felt that she would die, and that in mercy this interval of rest and freedom from pain was granted her, in which she might talk with Alice concerning the arrangements for the future.
"Alice, darling," she said, when they were alone, "come sit by me here on the bed and listen to what I say."
Alice obeyed, and taking her mother's hot hands in hers she waited for what was to come.
"You have learned to trust God in prosperity, and He will be a thousandfold nearer to you in adversity. You'll miss me, I know, and be very lonely without me, but you are young, and life has many charms for you, besides God will never forget or forsake His covenant children."
Gradually as she talked the wild sobbing ceased, and when the white face lifted itself from its hiding place there was a look upon it as if the needed strength had been sought and to some extent imparted.
"My will was made some time ago," Mrs. Johnson continued, "and I need not tell you that with a few exceptions, such as legacies to Densie Densmore, and some charitable institutions, you are my sole heir. Mr. Liston is to be your guardian, and will look after your interests until you are of age, or longer if you choose. You know that as both your father and myself were the only children you have no near relatives on either side—none to whom you can look for protection.
"You will remember having heard me speak occasionally of some friends now living in Kentucky, a Mrs. Worthington, whose husband was a distant relative of ours. Ralph Worthington and your father were schoolboys together, and afterward college companions. Only once did anything come between them, and that was a young girl, a very young girl, whom both desired, and whom only one could have."
Alice was interested now, and forgetting in a measure her grief, she asked quickly: "Did my father love some one else than you?"
"I never knew he did," and a tear rolled down the faded cheek of the sick woman. "Ralph Worthington was true as steel, and when he found another preferred to himself, he generously yielded the contest."
"Oh, I shall like Mr. Worthington," Alice exclaimed, a desire rising in her heart to see the man who had loved and lost her mother.
"He was, at his own request, groomsman at our wedding, and the bridesmaid became his wife in little less than a year."
"Did he love her?" Alice asked, in some astonishment, and her mother replied evasively:
"He was kind and affectionate, while she loved him with all a woman's devotion. I was but sixteen when I became a bride, and several years elapsed ere God blessed me with a child. Your father was consumptive, and the chances were that I should early be left a widow. This it was which led to the agreement made by the two friends that if either died the living one should care for the widow and fatherless. To see the two you would not have guessed that the athletic Ralph would be the first to go, yet so it was. He died ere you were born."
"Then he is dead? Oh, I'm so sorry," Alice exclaimed.
"Yes, he's dead; and, as far as possible, your father fulfilled his promise to the widow and her child—a little boy, five years old, of whom Mrs. Worthington herself was appointed guardian. I never knew what spirit of evil possessed Eliza, but in less than a year after her husband's death, she made a second and most unfortunate marriage. Mr. Murdoch proved a greater scoundrel than we supposed, and when their little girl was nearly two years old, we heard of a divorce. Mr. Johnson's health was failing fast, and we were about to make the tour of Europe. Just before we sailed we visited poor Eliza, whom we found heartbroken, for the brutal wretch had managed to steal her daughter, and carried it no one knew whither. I never shall forgot the distress of the brother. Clasping my dress, he sobbed: 'Oh, lady, please bring back my baby sister, or Hugh will surely die.' I've often thought of him since, and wondered what he had grown to be. We comforted Eliza as best we could, and left money to be used for her in case she needed it. Then we embarked with you and Densie for Europe. You know how long we stayed there, how for a while, your father seemed to regain his strength, how he at last grew worse and hastened home to die. In the sorrow and excitement which followed, it is not strange that Eliza was for a time forgotten, and when I remembered and inquired for her again, I heard that Hugh had been adopted by some relation in Kentucky, that the stolen child had been mysteriously returned, and was living with its mother in Elmwood.
"At first Eliza appeared a little cool, but this soon wore off. She did not talk much of Hugh. Neither did she say much of Adaline, who was then away at school. Still my visit was a sadly satisfactory one, as we recalled old times when we were girls together, weeping over our great loss when our husbands were laid to rest. Then we spoke of their friendship, and lastly of the contract.
"'It sounds preposterous, in me, I know,' Mrs. Worthington said, when we parted, 'you are so rich, and I so poor, but if ever your Alice should want a mother's care, I will gladly give it to her.'
"This was nearly eight years ago. In my anxiety about you, I failed to write her for a long, long time, while she was long in answering, and then the correspondence ceased till just before her removal to Kentucky, when she apprised me of the change. You have now the history of Mrs. Worthington, the only person who comes to mind as one to whose care I can intrust you."
"But, mother, I may not be wanted there," and Alice's lip quivered painfully.
"You will not go empty-handed, nor be a burden to them. They are poor, and money will not come amiss. I said that Mr. Liston would attend to all pecuniary matters, paying your allowance quarterly; and I am sure you will not object when I tell you that I think it right to leave Adaline the sum of one thousand dollars. It will not materially lessen your inheritance, and it will do her a world of good. Mr. Liston will arrange it for you. You will remain here until you hear from Mrs. Worthington, and then abide by her arrangements. Will you go, my daughter—go cheerfully and do as I desire?"
"Yes, mother, I'll go," came gaspingly from Alice's lips. "I'll go; but, mother, oh, mother," and Alice's cry ended as it always did, "you will not, you must not die!"
But neither tears, nor prayers could avail to keep the mother longer. Her work on earth was done, and after this conversation with her daughter, she grew worse so rapidly that hope died out of Alice's heart, and she knew that soon she would be motherless. There were days and nights of pain and delirium in which the sick woman recognized none of those around her save Alice, whom she continually blessed as her darling, praying that God, too, would bless and keep His covenant child. At last there came a change, and one lovely Sabbath morning, ere the bell from St. Paul's tower sent forth its summons to the house of God, there rang from its belfry a solemn toll, and the villagers listening to it, said, as they counted forty-four, that Mrs. Johnson was dead.
MR. LISTON AND THE DOCTOR
Among Snowdon's poor that day, as well as among the wealthier class, there was many an aching heart, and many a prayer was breathed for the stricken Alice, not less beloved than the mother had been. At Terrace Hill mansion too, much sorrow was expressed. On the whole it was very unfortunate that Mrs. Johnson should have died so unexpectedly, and they did wish John was there to comfort the young girl who, they heard, refused to see any one except the clergyman and Mr. Liston.
"Suppose we telegraph for John," Eudora said, and in less than two hours thereafter, Dr. Richards in New York read that Alice was an orphan.
There was a pang as he thought of her distress, a wish that he were with her, and then in his selfish heart the thought arose, "What if she does not prove as wealthy as I have supposed? Will that make any difference?"
"I must do something," he soliloquized, "or how can I ever pay those debts in New York, of which mother knows nothing? I wish that widow—"
He did not finish his wishes, for a turn in the path brought him suddenly face to face with Mr. Liston, whom he had seen at a distance, and whom he recognized at once.
"I'll quiz the old codger," he thought. "He don't, of course, know me, and will never suspect my object."
Mistaken, doctor! The old codger was fully prepared. He did know Dr. Richards by sight, and was rather glad than otherwise when the elegant dandy, taking a seat upon the gnarled roots of the tree under which he was sitting, made some trivial remark about the weather, which was very propitious for the crowd who were sure to attend Mrs. Johnson's funeral.
Yes, Mr. Liston presumed there would be a crowd. It was very natural there should be, particularly as the deceased was greatly beloved and was also reputed wealthy, "It beats all what a difference it makes, even after death, whether one is supposed to be rich or poor," and the codger worked away industriously at the pine stick he was whittling.
"But in this case the supposition of riches must be correct, though I know people are oftener overvalued than otherwise," and with his gold-headed cane the doctor thrust at a dandelion growing near.
"Nothing truer than that," returned the whittler, brushing the litter from his lap. "Now I've no doubt that prig of a doctor, who they say is shining up to Alice, will be disappointed when he finds just how much she's worth. Let me see. What is his name? Lives up there," and with his jackknife Mr. Liston pointed toward Terrace Hill.
"The Richards family live there, sir. You mean their son, I presume."
"Ted, the chap that has traveled and come home so changed. They do say he's actually taken to visiting all the rheumatic old women in town, applying sticking-plasters to their backs and administering squills to their children, all free gratis."
Poor doctor! How he fidgeted, moving so often that his tormentor demurely asked him if he were sitting on a thistle or what!
"Does Miss Johnson remain here?" the doctor asked at last, and Mr. Liston replied by telling what he knew of the arrangements.
At the mention of Worthington the doctor looked up quickly. Whom had he known by that name, or where had he heard it before? "Mrs. Worthington, Mrs. Worthington," he repeated, unpleasant memories of something, he knew not what, rising to his mind. "Is he living in this vicinity?"
"In Elmwood. It's a widow and her daughter," Mr. Liston answered, wisely resolving to say nothing of a young man, lest the doctor should feel anxious.
"A widow and her daughter! I must be mistaken in thinking I ever knew any one by that name, though it seems strangely familiar," said the doctor, and as by this time he had heard all he wished to hear, he arose, and bidding Mr. Liston good-morning walked away in no enviable frame of mind.
Looking at his watch the doctor found that it lacked several hours yet ere the express from Boston was due. But this did not discourage him. He would stay in the fields or anywhere, and turning backward he followed the course of the river winding under the hill until he reached the friendly woods which shielded him from observation. How he hated himself hiding there among the trees, and how he longed for the downward train, which came at last, and when the village bell tolled out its summons to the house of mourning, he sat in a corner of the car returning to New York even faster than he had come.
Gradually the Riverside cottage filled with people assembling to pay the last tribute of respect to the deceased, who during her short stay among them had endeared herself to many hearts.
Slowly, sadly, they bore her to the grave. Reverently they laid her down to rest, and from the carriage window Alice's white face looked wistfully out as "earth to earth, ashes to ashes," broke the solemn stillness. Oh, how she longed to lay there, too, beside her mother! How the sunshine, flecking the bright June grass with gleams of gold, seemed to mock her misery as the gravelly earth rattled heavily down upon the coffin lid, and she knew they were covering up her mother. "If I, too, could die!" she murmured, sinking back in the carriage corner and covering her face with her veil. But not so easily could life be shaken off by her, the young and strong. She must live yet longer. She had a work to do—a work whose import she knew not; and the mother's death, for which she then could see no reason, though she knew well that one existed, was the entrance to that work. She must live and she must listen while Mr. Liston talked to her that night on business, arranging about the letter, which was forwarded immediately to Kentucky, and advising her what to do until an answer was received, when he would come up again and do whatever was necessary.
MATTERS IN KENTUCKY
Backward now with our reader we turn, and take up the broken thread of our story at the point where we left Adah Hastings.
It was a bitter morning in which to face the fierce north wind, and plow one's way to the Derby cornfield, where, in a small, dilapidated building, Aunt Eunice Reynolds, widowed sister of John Stanley, had lived for many years, first as a pensioner upon her brother's bounty, and next as Hugh's incumbent. At the time of her brother's death Aunt Eunice had intended removing to Spring Bank, but when Hugh's mother wrote, asking for a home, she at once abandoned the plan, and for two seasons more lived alone, watching from her lonely door the tasseled corn ripening in the August sun. Of all places in the world Hugh liked the cottage best, particularly in summer. Few would object to it then with its garden of gayly colored flowers, its barricades of tasseled corn and the bubbling music of the brook, gushing from the willow spring a few rods from the door. But in the winter people from the highway, as they caught from across the field the gleam of Aunt Eunice's light, pitied the lonely woman sitting there so solitary beside her wintry fire. But Aunt Eunice asked no pity. If Hugh came once a week to spend the night, and once a day to see her, it was all that she desired, for Hugh was her darling, her idol, the object which kept her old heart warm and young with human love. For him she would endure any want or encounter any difficulty, and so it is not strange that in his dilemma regarding Adah Hastings, he intuitively turned to her, as the one of all others who would lend a helping hand. He had not been to see her in two whole days, and when the gray December morning broke, and he looked out upon the deep, untrodden snow, and then glanced across the fields to where a wreath of smoke, even at that early hour, was rising slowly from her chimney, he frowned impatiently, as he thought how bad the path must be between Spring Bank and the cornfield, whither he intended going, as he would be the first to tell what had occurred. 'Lina's fierce opposition to and his mother's apparent shrinking from Adah had convinced him how hopeless was the idea that she could stay at Spring Bank with any degree of comfort to herself or quiet to him. Aunt Eunice's house was the only refuge for Adah, and there she would be comparatively safe from censorious remarks.
"Inasmuch as ye did it to the least of these ye did it unto Me," kept ringing in Hugh's ears, as he hastily dressed himself, striking his benumbed fingers together, and trying hard to keep his teeth from chattering, for Hugh was beginning his work of economy, and when at daylight Claib came as usual to build his master's fire, he had sent him back, saying he did not need one, and bidding him go, instead, to Mrs. Hastings' chamber.
"Make a hot one there," he said. "Pile the coals on high, so as to heat up quick."
As Hugh passed through the hall on his way downstairs, he could not refrain from pausing a moment at the door of Adah's room. The fire was burning, he knew, for he heard the kindling coals sputtering in the flames, and that was all he heard. He would look in an instant, he said, to see if all were well, and carefully turning the knob he entered the chamber where the desolate Adah lay sleeping, her glossy brown hair falling like a veil about her sweet pale face, on which the tear stains still were visible.
As she lay with the firelight falling full upon her forehead, Hugh, too, caught sight of the mark which had attracted 'Lina's curiosity, and starting forward, bent down for a nearer view.
"Strange that she should have that mark. Oh Heaven!" and Hugh staggered against the bedpost as a sudden thought flashed upon him. "Was that polished villain who had led him into sin anything to Adaline, anything to his mother? Poor girl, I am sorry if you, too, have been contaminated, however slight the contamination may be," he said, softly, glancing again at Adah, about whose lips a faint smile was playing, and who, as he looked, murmured faintly:
"Kiss me, George, just as you used to do."
"Rascally villain!" Hugh muttered, clinching his fist involuntarily. "You don't deserve that such as she should dream of you. I'd kiss her myself if I was used to the business, but I should only make a bungle, as I do with everything, and might kiss you, little shaver," and Hugh bent over Willie.
There was something in Hugh which won his confidence at once, and stretching-out his dimpled arms, he expressed his willingness to be taken up. Hugh could not resist Willie's appeal, and lifting him gently in his arms, he bore him off in triumph, the little fellow patting his cheek, and rubbing his own against it.
"I don't know what I'll do with you, my little man," he said, as he reached the lower hall; then suddenly turning in the direction of his mother's room, he walked deliberately to the bedside, and ere the half-awakened 'Lina was aware of his intention, deposited his burden between her and his mother.
"Here, Ad, here's something that will raise you quicker than yeast," he said, beating a hasty retreat, while the indignant young lady verified his words by leaping half-way across the floor, her angry tones mingling with Willie's crowing laugh, as the child took the whole for fun, meant expressly for his benefit.
Hugh knew that Willie was safe with his mother, and hurried out to the kitchen, where only a few of his negroes were yet stirring.
"Ho, Claib!" he called, "saddle Rocket quick and bring him to the door. I'm going to the cornfield."
"Lor' bless you, mas'r, it's done snow higher than Rocket's head. He never'll stand it nohow."
"Do as I bid you," was Hugh's reply, and indolent Claib went shivering to the stable where Hugh's best horses were kept.
A whinnying sound of welcome greeted him as he entered, but was soon succeeded by a spirited snort as he attempted to lead out a most beautiful dapple gray, Hugh's favorite steed, his pet of pets, and the horse most admired and coveted in all the country.
"None of yer ars," Claib said, coaxingly, as the animal threw up its graceful neck defiantly. "You've got to git along, 'case Mas'r Hugh say so. You knows Mas'r Hugh."
"What is it?" Hugh asked, coming out upon the stoop, and comprehending the trouble at a glance. "Rocket, Rocket," he cried, "easy, my boy," and in an instant Rocket's defiant attitude changed to one of perfect obedience.
"There, my beauty," he said, as the animal continued to prance around him, now snuffing at the snow, which he evidently did not fancy, and then pawing at it with his forefeet. "There, my beauty, you've showed off enough. Come, now, I've work for you to do."
Docile as a lamb when Hugh commanded, he stood quietly while Claib equipped him for his morning's task.
"Tell mother I shan't be back to breakfast," Hugh said, as he sprang into the saddle, and giving loose rein to Rocket went galloping through the snow.
Under ordinary circumstances that early ride would have been vastly exhilarating to Hugh, who enjoyed the bracing air, but there was too much now upon his mind to admit of his enjoying anything. Thoughts of Adah, and the increased expense her presence would necessarily bring, flitted across his mind, while Barney's bill, put over once, and due again ere long, sat like a nightmare on him, for he saw no way in which to meet it. No way save one, and Rocket surely must have felt the throbbing of Hugh's heart as that one way flashed upon him, for he gave a kind of coaxing whine, and dashed on over the billowy drifts faster than before.
"No, Rocket, no," and Hugh patted his glossy neck. He'd never part with Rocket, never. He'd sell Spring Bank first with all its incumbrances.
It was now three days since Hugh had gladdened Aunt Eunice's cottage with the sunshine of his presence, and when she awoke that morning, and saw how high the snow was piled around her door, she said to herself, "The boy'll be here directly to know if I'm alive," and this accounted for the round deal table drawn so cozily before the blazing fire, and looking so inviting with its two plates and cups, one a fancy china affair, sacredly kept for Hugh, whose coffee always tasted better when sipped from its gilded side, the lightest of egg bread was steaming on the hearth, the tenderest of steak was broiling on the griddle, while the odor of the coffee boiling on the coals came tantalizingly to Hugh's olfactories as Aunt Eunice opened the door, saying pleasantly:
"I told 'em so. I felt it in my bones, and the breakfast is all but ready. Put Rocket up directly, and come in to the fire."
Fastening Rocket in his accustomed place in the outer shed, Hugh stamped the snow from his heavy boots, and then went in to Aunt Eunice's cheerful kitchen-parlor, as she called it, where the tempting breakfast stood upon the table.
"No coffee! What new freak is that?" and Aunt Eunice gazed at him in astonishment as he declined the cup she had prepared with so much care, dropping in the whitest lumps of sugar, and stirring in the thickest cream.
It cost Hugh a terrible struggle to refuse that cup of coffee, but if he would retrench, he must begin at once, and determining to meet it unflinchingly he replied that "he had concluded to drink water for a while, and see what that would do; much was said nowadays about coffee being injurious, and he presumed it was."
"There's something on your mind," she said, observing his abstraction. "Have you had another dunning letter, or what?"
Aunt Eunice had made a commencement, and in his usual impulsive way Hugh began by asking if "she ever knew him tell a lie?"
No, Aunt Eunice never did. Nobody ever did, bad as some folks thought him.
"Do they think me very bad?" and Hugh spoke so mournfully that Aunt Eunice tried to apologize.
"She didn't mean anything, only folks sometimes said he was cross and rough, and—and—"
"Stingy," he suggested, supplying the word she hated to say.
Yes, that was what Ellen Tiffton said, because he refused to go to the Ladies' Fair, where he was sure to have his pockets picked. But, law, she wasn't worth minding, if she was Colonel Tiffton's girl, and going to have a big party one week from the next Monday. Had Hugh heard of it?
Hugh believed Ad said something about it yesterday, but he paid no attention, for, of course, he should not go even if he were invited, as he had nothing fit to wear.
"But why did you ask if I ever knew you tell a lie?" Aunt Eunice said, and then in a low tone, as if afraid the walls might hear, Hugh told the whole story of Adah.
"'Twas a mighty mean trick, I know," he said, as he saw Aunt Eunice's look of horror when he confessed the part he had had in wronging the poor girl, "but, Aunt Eunice, that villain coaxed me into drinking wine, which you know I never use, and I think now he must have drugged it, for I remember a strange feeling in my head, a feeling not like drunkenness, for I knew perfectly well what was transpiring around me, and only felt a don't-care-a-tive-ness which kept me silent when I should have spoken. She has come to me at last. She believes God sent her, and if He did He'll help me take care of her. I shall not turn her off."
"But, Hugh," and Aunt Eunice spoke earnestly, "you cannot afford the expense. Think twice before you commit yourself."
"I have thought twice, the last time just as I did the first. Adah shall stay, and I want you to take her. You need some one these winter nights. There's the room you call mine. Give her that. Will you, Aunt Eunice?" and Hugh wound his arm around Aunt Eunice's ample waist, while he pleaded for Adah Hastings.
Aunt Eunice was soon won over, as Hugh knew she would be, and it was settled that she should come that very day, if possible.
"Look, the sky is clearing," and he pointed to the sunshine streaming through the window.
"We'll have her room fixed before I go," and with his own hands Hugh split and prepared the wood which was to kindle Adah's fire, then with Aunt Eunice's help sundry changes were made in the arrangement of the rather meager furniture, which never seemed so meager to Hugh as when he looked at it with Adah's eyes and wondered how she'd like it.
"Oh, I wish I were rich," he sighed mentally, and taking out his well-worn purse he carefully counted its contents.
Aunt Eunice, who had stepped out for a moment, reappeared, bringing a counterpane and towel, one of which was spread upon the bed, while the other covered the old pine stand, marred and stained with ink and tallow, the result of Hugh's own carelessness.
"What a heap of difference that table cloth and pocket handkerchief do make," was Hugh's man-like remark, his face brightening with the improved appearance of things, and his big heart grew warm with the thought that he might keep his twenty-five dollars and Adah be comfortable still.
"Ad may pick Adah's eyes out before I get home," was his laughing remark as he vaulted into his saddle and dashed off across the fields, where, beneath the warm Kentucky sun, the snow was already beginning to soften.
Breakfast had been rather late at Spring Bank that morning, for the strangers had required some care, and Miss 'Lina was sipping her coffee rather ill-naturedly when a note was handed her, and instantly her mood was changed.
"Splendid, mother!" she exclaimed, glancing at the tiny, three-cornered thing; "an invitation to Ellen Tiffton's party. I was half afraid she would leave me out after Hugh's refusal to attend the Ladies' Fair, or buy a ticket for her lottery. It was only ten dollars either, and Mr. Harney spent all of forty, I'm sure, in the course of the evening. I think Harney is splendid."
"Hugh had no ten dollars to spare," Mrs. Worthington said, apologetically, "though, of course, he might have been more civil than to tell Ellen it was a regular swindle, and the getters-up ought to be indicted. I almost wonder at her inviting him, as she said she'd never speak to him again."
"Invited him! Who said she had? It's only one card for me," and with a most satisfied expression 'Lina presented the rote to her mother, whose pale face flushed at the insult thus offered her son—an insult which even 'Lina felt, but would not acknowledge, lest it should interfere with her going.
"You won't go, of course," Mrs. Worthington said, quietly. "You'll resent her slighting Hugh."
"Indeed I shan't," the young lady retorted. "I hardly think it fair in Ellen, but I shall accept, of course, and I must go to town to-day to see about having my pink silk fixed. I think I'll have some black lace festooned around the skirt. How I wish I could have a new one. Do you suppose Hugh has any money?"
"None for new dresses or lace flounces, either," Mrs. Worthington replied, "I fancy he begins to look old and worn with this perpetual call for money from us. We must economize."
"Never mind, when I get Bob Harney I'll pay off old scores," 'Lina said, laughingly, as she arose from the table, and went to look over her wardrobe.
Meanwhile Hugh had returned, meeting in the kitchen with Lulu.
"Well, Lu, what is it? What's happened?" Hugh asked, as he saw she was full of some important matter.
In an instant the impetuous Lulu told him of the party to which he was not invited, together with the reason why, and the word she had sent back.
"I'll give 'em a piece of my mind!" she said, as she saw Hugh change color. "She may have old Harney. His man John told Claib how his a master said he meant to get me and Rocket, too, some day; me for her waiting maid, I reckon. You won't sell me, Master High, will you?" and Lulu's soft black eyes looked pleadingly up to Hugh.
"Never!" and Hugh's riding whip came down upon the table with a force which made Lulu start.
Satisfied that she was safe from Ellen Tiffton's whims, Lulu darted away, singing as she went, while Hugh entered the sitting-room, where 'Lina sat, surrounded by her party finery, and prepared to do the amiable to the utmost.
"That really is a handsome little boy upstairs," she said, as if she supposed it were her mother who came in; then with an affected start she added, "Oh, it's you! I thought 'twas mother. Don't you think, Ellen has not invited you. Mean, isn't it?"
"Ellen can do as she likes," Hugh replied, adding, as he guessed the meaning of all that finery, "you surely are not going?"
"Why not?" and 'Lina's black eyes flashed full upon him.
"I thought perhaps you would decline for my sake," he replied.
An angry retort trembled on 'Lina's lip, but she had an object to attain, so she restrained herself and answered that "she had thought of it, but such a course would do no good, and she wanted to go so much, the Tifftons were so exclusive and aristocratic."
Hugh whistled a little contemptuously, but 'Lina kept her temper, and continued, coaxingly:
"Everybody is to be there, and after what has been said about—about—your being rather—close, you'd like to have your sister look decent, I know; and really, Hugh, I can't unless you give me a little money. Do, Hugh, be good for once."
"Ad, I can't," and Hugh spoke sorrowfully, for a kind word from 'Lina always touched his weaker side. "I would if I could, but honestly I've only twenty-five dollars in the world, and I've thought of a new coat. I don't like to look so shabby. It hurts me worse than it does you," and Hugh's voice trembled as he spoke.
Any but a heart of stone would have yielded at once, but 'Lina was too supremely selfish. Hugh had twenty-five dollars. He might give her half, or even ten. She'd be satisfied with ten. He could soon make that up. The negro hire came due ere long. He must have forgotten that.
No, he had not; but with the negro hire came debts, thoughts of which gave him the old worn look his mother had observed. Only ten dollars! It did seem hard to refuse, and if 'Lina went Hugh wished her to look well, for underneath his apparent harshness lurked a kind of pride in his dark sister, whose beauty was of the bold, dashing style.
"Take them," he said at last, counting out the ten with a half-regretful sigh. "Make them go as far as you can, and, Ad, remember, don't get into debt."
"I won't," and with a civil "Thank you," 'Lina rolled up her bills, while Hugh sought his mother, and sitting down beside her said, abruptly:
"Mother, are you sure that man is dead?—Ad's father I mean?"
There was a nervous start, a sudden paling of Mrs. Worthington's cheek, and then she answered, sadly:
"I suppose so, of course. I received a paper containing a marked announcement of his death, giving accurately his name and age. There could be no mistake. Why do you ask that question?"
"Nothing, only I've been thinking of him this morning. There's a mark on Adah's temple similar to Ad's, only not so plain, and I did not know but she might possibly be related. Have you noticed it?"
"'Lina pointed it out last night, but to me it seemed a spreading vein, nothing more. Hugh!" and Mrs. Worthington grasped his arm with a vehemence unusual to her accustomed quiet manner, "you seem to know Adah's later history. Do you know her earlier? Who is she? Where did she come from?"
"I'm going to her now; will you come, too?" she said, and accordingly both together ascended to the chamber where Adah sat before the fire with Willie on her lap, her glossy hair, which Lulu's skillful fingers had arranged, combed smoothly down upon her forehead, so as to hide the mysterious mark, if mark there were, on that fair skin.
Something in the expression of her face as she turned toward Mrs. Worthington made that lady start, while her heart throbbed with an indefinable emotion. Who was Adah Hastings, and why was she so drawn toward her?
Addressing to her some indifferent remark, she gradually led the conversation backward to the subject of her early home, asking again what she could remember, but Adah was scarcely more satisfactory than on the previous night. Memories she had of a gentle lady, who must have been her mother, of a lad who called her sister, and kissed her sometimes, of a cottage with grass and flowers, and bees buzzing beneath the trees.
"Are you faint?" Hugh asked, quickly, as his mother turned white as ashes, and leaned against the mantel.
She did not seem to hear him, but continued questioning Adah.
"Did you say bees? Were there many?"
"Oh, yes, so many, I remember, because they stung me once," and Adah gazed dreamily into the fire, as if listening again to the musical hum heard in that New England home, wherever it might have been.
"Go on, what more can you recall?" Mrs. Worthington said, and Adah replied:
"Nothing but the waterfall in the river. I remember that near our door."
During this conversation, Hugh had been standing by the table, where lay a few articles which he supposed belonged to Adah. One of these was a small double locket, attached to a slender chain.
"The rascal's, I presume," he said to himself, and taking it in his hand, he touched the spring, starting quickly as the features of a young-girl met his view. How radiantly beautiful the original of that picture must have been, and Hugh gazed long and earnestly upon the sweet young face, and its soft, silken curls, some shading the open brow, and others falling low upon the uncovered neck. Adah, lifting up her head, saw what he was doing, and said:
"Don't you think her beautiful?"
"Who is she?" Hugh asked, coming to her side, and passing her the locket.
"I don't know," Adah replied. "She came to me one day when Willie was only two weeks old and my heart was so heavy with pain. She had heard I did plain sewing and wanted some for herself. She seemed to me like an angel, and I've sometimes thought she was, for she never came again. In stooping over me the chain must have been unclasped. I tried to find her when I got well, but my efforts were all in vain, and so I've kept it ever since. It was not stealing, was it?"
"Of course not," Hugh said, while Adah, opening the other side, showed him a lock of dark brown hair, tied with a tiny ribbon, in which was written, "In memoriam, Aug. 18."
As Hugh read the date his heart gave one great throb, for that was the summer, that the month when he lost the Golden Haired. Something, too, reminded him of the warm moonlight night, when the little snowy fingers, over which the fierce waters were soon to beat, had strayed through his heavy locks, which the girl had said were too long to be becoming, playfully severing them at random, and saying "she means to keep the fleece to fill a cushion with."
"I wonder whose it is?" Adah said; "I've thought it might have been her mother's."
"Her lover's more likely," suggested Hugh, glancing once more at the picture, which certainly had in it a resemblance to the Golden Haired, save that the curls were darker, and the eyes a deeper blue.
"Will mas'r have de carriage? He say something 'bout it," Caesar said, just then thrusting his woolly head in at the door, and thus reminding Hugh that Adah had yet to hear of Aunt Eunice and his plan of taking her thither.
With a burst of tears, Adah listened to him, and then insisted upon going away, as she had done the previous night. She had no claim on him, and she could not be a burden.
"You, madam, think it best, I'm sure," she said, appealing to Mrs. Worthington, whose heart yearned strangely toward the unprotected stranger, and who answered, promptly:
"I do not, I am willing you should remain until your friends are found."
Adah offered no further remonstrance, but turning to Hugh, said, hesitatingly:
"I may hear from my advertisement. Do you take the Herald?"
"Yes, though I can't say I think much of it," Hugh replied, and Adah continued:
"Then if you ever find anything for me, you'll tell me, and I can go away. I said, 'Direct to Adah Hastings.' Somebody will be sure to see it. Maybe George, and then he'll know of Willie," and the white face brightened with eager anticipation as Adah thought of George reading that advertisement, a part of which had lighted Dr. Richards' cigar.
With a muttered invective against the "villain," Hugh left the room to see that the carriage was ready, while his mother, following him into the hall, offered to go herself with Adah if he liked. Glad to be relieved, as he had business that afternoon in Versailles, and was anxious to set off as soon as possible, Hugh accepted at once, and half an hour later, the Spring Bank carriage drove slowly from the door, 'Lina calling after her mother to send Caesar back immediately.
'LINA'S PURCHASE AND HUGH'S
There were piles of handsome dress goods upon the counter at Harney's that afternoon, and Harney was anxious to sell. It was not always that he favored a customer with his own personal services, and 'Lina felt proportionably flattered when he came forward and asked what he could show her. Of course, a dress for the party—he had sold at least a dozen that day, but fortunately he still had the most elegant pattern of all, and he knew it would exactly suit her complexion and style.
Deluded 'Lina! Richard Harney, the wealthy bachelor merchant, did not mean one word he said. He had tried to sell that dress a dozen times, and been as often refused, no one caring just then to pay fifty dollars for a dress which could only be worn on great occasions. But 'Lina was easily flattered, while the silk was beautiful. But ten dollars was all she had, and turning away from the tempting silk she answered faintly, that "it was superb, but she could not afford it, besides, she had not the money to-day."
"Not the slightest consequence," was Harney's quick rejoinder. "Not the slightest consequence. Your brother's credit is good—none better in the country, and I'm sure he'll be proud to see you in it. I should, were I your brother."
'Lina blushed, while the wish to possess the silk grew every moment stronger.
"If it were only fifty dollars, it would not seem so bad," she thought. Hugh could manage it some way, and Mr. Harney was so good natured; he could wait a year, she knew. But the making would cost ten dollars more, for that was the price Miss Allis charged, to say nothing of the trimmings. "No, I can't," she said, quite decidedly, at last, asking for the lace with which she at first intended renovating her old pink silk, "She must see Miss Allis first to know how much she wanted," and promising to return, she tripped over to Frankfort's fashionable dressmaker, whom she found surrounded with dresses for the party.
As some time would elapse ere Miss Allis could attend to her, she went back to Harney's just for one more look at the lovely fabric. It was, if possible, more beautiful than before, and Harney was more polite, while the result of the whole was that, when 'Lina at four o'clock that afternoon entered her carriage to go home, the despised pink silk, still unpaid on Haney's books, was thrown down anywhere, while in her hands she carefully held the bundle Harney brought himself, complimenting her upon the sensation she was sure to create, and inviting her to dance the first set with him. Then with a smiling bow he closed the door upon her, and returning to his books wrote down Hugh Worthington his debtor to fifty dollars more.
"That makes three hundred and fifty," he said to himself. "I know he can't raise that amount of ready money, and as he is too infernal proud to be sued, I'm sure of Rocket or Lulu, it matters but little which," and with a look upon his face which made it positively hideous, the scheming Harney closed his books, and sat down to calculate the best means of managing the rather unmanageable Hugh!
It was dark when 'Lina reached home, but the silk looked well by firelight, better even than in the light of day, and 'Lina would have been quite happy but for her mother's reproaches and an occasional twinge as she wondered what Hugh would say. He had not yet returned, and numerous were Mrs. Worthington's surmises as to what was keeping him so late. A glance backward for an hour or so will let us into the secret.
It was the day when a number of negroes were to be sold in the courthouse. There was no trouble in disposing of them all, save one, a white-haired old man, whom they called Uncle Sam.
With tottering steps the old man took his place, while his dim eyes wandered wistfully over the faces around him congregated, as if seeking for their owner. But none was found who cared for Uncle Sam.
"Won't nobody bid for Sam? I fetched a thousan' dollars onct," and the feeble voice trembled as it asked this question.
"What will become of him if he is not sold?" Hugh asked of a bystander, who replied, "Go back to the old place to be kicked and cuffed by the minions of the new proprietor, Harney. You know Harney, of Frankfort?"
Yes, Hugh did know Harney as one who was constantly adding to his already large possessions houses and lands and negroes without limit, caring little that they came to him laden with the widow's curse and the orphan's tears. This was Harney, and Hugh always felt exasperated whenever he thought of him. Advancing a step or two he came nearer to the negro, who took comfort at once from the expression of his face, and stretching out his shaking hand he said, beseechingly:
"You, mas'r, you buy old Sam, 'case it 'ill be lonesome and cold in de cabin at home when they all is gone. Please, mas'r."
"What can you do?" was Hugh's query, to which the truthful negro answered:
"Nothin' much, 'cept to set in the chimbly corner eatin' corn bread and bacon—or, yes," and an expression of reverence and awe stole over the wrinkled face, as in a low tone he added, "I can pray for young mas'r, and I will, only buy me, please."
Hugh had not much faith in praying negroes, but something in old Sam struck him as sincere. His prayers might do good, and be needed somebody's, sadly. But what should he offer, when fifteen dollars was all he had in the world, and was it his duty to encumber himself with a piece of useless property? Visions of the Golden Haired and Adah both arose up before him. They would say it was right. They would tell him to buy old Sam, and that settled the point with him.
"Five dollars," he called out, and Sam's "God bless you," was sounding in his ears, when a voice from another part of the building doubled the bid, and with a moan Uncle Sam turned imploringly toward Hugh.
"A leetle more, mas'r, an' you fotches 'em; a leetle more," he whispered, coaxingly, and Hugh faltered out "Twelve."
"Thirteen," came again from the corner, and Hugh caught sight of the bidder, a sour-grained fellow, whose wife had ten young children, and so could find use for Sam.
"Thirteen and a half," cried Hugh.
"Fourteen," responded his opponent.
"Leetle more, mas'r, berry leetle," whispered Uncle Sam.
"Fourteen and a quarter," said Hugh, the perspiration starting out about his lips, as he thought how fast his pile was diminishing, and that he could not go beyond it.
"Fourteen and a half," from the corner.
"Leetle more, mas'r," from Uncle Sam.
"Fourteen, seventy-five," from Hugh.
"Fifteen," from the man in the corner, and Hugh groaned aloud.
"That's every dime I've got."
Quick as thought an acquaintance beside him slipped a bill into his hand, whispering as he did so:
"It's a V. I'll double it if necessary. I'm sorry for the darky."
It was very exciting now, each bidder raising a quarter each time, while Sam's "a leetle more, mas'r," and the vociferous cheers of the crowd, whenever Hugh's voice was heard, showed him to be the popular party.
"Nineteen, seventy-five," from the corner, and Hugh felt his courage giving way as he faintly called out:
Only an instant did the auctioneer wait, and then his decision, "Gone!" made Hugh the owner of Uncle Sam, who, crouching down before him, blessed him with tears and prayers.
"I knows you're good," he said; "I knows it by yer face; and mebby, when the rheumatics gits out of my ole legs I kin work for mas'r a heap. Does you live fur from here?"
"Look here, Sam," and Hugh laughed heartily at the negro's forlorn appearance, as, regaining his feet, he assumed a most deprecating attitude, asking pardon for tumbling down, and charging it all to his shaky knees. "Look here, there's no other way, except for you to ride, and me to walk. Rocket won't carry double," and ere Sam could remonstrate, Hugh had dismounted and placed him in the saddle.
Rocket did not fancy the exchange, as was manifest by an indignant snort, and an attempt to shake Sam off, but a word from Hugh quieted him, and the latter offered the reins to Sam, who was never a skillful horseman, and felt a mortal terror of the high-mettled steed beneath him. With a most frightened expression upon his face, he grasped the saddle pommel with both hands, and bending nearly double, gasped out:
"Sam ain't much use't to gemman's horses. Kind of bold me on, mas'r, till I gits de hang of de critter. He hists me around mightily."
So, leading Rocket with one hand, and steadying Sam with the other, Hugh got on but slowly, and 'Lina had looked for him many times ere she spied him from the window as he came up the lawn.
"Who is he, and what did you get him for?" Mrs. Worthington asked, as Hugh led Sam into the dining-room.
Briefly Hugh explained to her why he had bought the negro.
"It was foolish, I suppose, but I'm not sorry yet," he added, glancing toward the corner where the poor old man was sitting, warming his shriveled hands by the cheerful fire, and muttering to himself blessings on "young mas'r."
But for the remembrance of her dress, 'Lina would have stormed, but as it was, she held her peace, and even asked Sam some trivial question concerning his former owners. Supper had been delayed for Hugh, and as he took his seat at the table, he inquired after Adah.
"Pretty well when I left," said his mother, adding that Lulu had been there since, and reported her as looking pale and worn, while Aunt Eunice seemed worried with Willie, who was inclined to be fretful.
"They need some one," Hugh said, refusing the coffee his mother passed him on the plea that he did not feel like drinking it to-night. "They need one of the servants. Can't you spare Lulu?"
Mrs. Worthington did not know, but 'Lina, to whom Lulu was a kind of waiting maid, took the matter up alone, and said:
"Indeed they couldn't. There was no one at Spring Bank more useful, and it was preposterous for Hugh to think of giving their best servant to Adah Hastings. Let her take care of her baby herself. She guessed it wouldn't hurt her. Anyway, they couldn't afford to keep a servant for her."
With a long-drawn sigh, Hugh finished his supper, and was about lighting his cigar when he felt some one touching him, and turning around he saw that Sam had grasped his coat. The negro had heard the conversation, and drawn correct conclusions. His new master was not rich. He could not afford to buy him, and having bought him could not afford to keep him. There was a sigh in the old man's heart, as he thought how useless he was, but when he heard about the baby, his spirits arose at once. In all the world there was nothing so precious to Sam as a child, a little white child, with waxen hands to pat his old black face, and his work was found.
"Mas'r," he whispered, "Sam kin take keer that baby. He knows how, and the little children in Georgy, whar I comed from, used to be mighty fond of Sam. I'll tend to the young lady, too. Is she yourn, mas'r?"
'Lina laughed aloud, while Hugh replied:
"She's mine while I take care of her."
Then, turning to his sister, he asked if she procured what she wanted.
With a threatening frown at Lulu, who had seen and gone into ecstasies over the rose silk, 'Lina answered that she was fortunate enough to get just what she wanted, adding quickly:
"It's to be a much gayer affair than I supposed. They are invited from Louisville, and even from Cincinnati, so Mr. Harney says."
"Harney, did you trade there?" Hugh asked.
"Why, yes. It's the largest and best store in town. Why shouldn't I?" 'Lina replied, while Sam, catching at the name, put in:
"Hartley's the man what foreclosed the mortgage. You orto hear ole mas'r cuss him oncet. Sharp chap, dat Harney; mighty hard on de blacks, folks say," and glad to have escaped from his clutches, Sam turned again to his dozing reverie, which was broken at last by Hugh's calling Claib, and bidding him show Sam where he was to sleep.
How long Hugh did sit up that night, and 'Lina, who wanted so much to see once more just how her rose silk looked by lamplight, thought he never would take her broad hints and leave. He dreaded to go—dreaded to exchange that warm, pleasant room for the cold, cheerless chamber above, where he knew no fire would greet him, for he had told Claib not to make one, and that was why he lingered as long below. But the ordeal must be met, and just as the clock was striking eleven, he bade his mother and sister good-night, whistling as he bounded up the stairs, by way of keeping up his spirits. How dreary and dark it looked in his room, as with a feeling akin to homesickness Hugh set his candle down and glanced at the empty hearth.
"After all, what does it matter?" he said. "I only have to hurry and get in bed the sooner," and tossing one boot here and another there, he was about to finish undressing when suddenly he remembered the little Bible, and the passage read last night. Would there be one for him to-night? He meant to look and see, and all cold and shivery as he was, Hugh lifted the lid of the trunk which held his treasure, and taking it out, opened to the place where the silken curl was lying. There was a great throb at his heart when he saw that the last coil of the tress lay just over the words, "Whosoever shall give to drink unto one of these little ones a cup of cold water in the name of a disciple, verily, I say unto you, he shall in no wise lose his reward."
"It does seem as if this was meant to encourage me," Hugh said, reading the passage twice. "I don't much believe, though, I bought old Sam in the name of a disciple, though I do think his telling me he prayed had a little to do with it. It's rather pleasant to think there's two to pray for me now, Adah and Sam. I wonder if it makes any difference with God that one prayer is white and the other black? Golden Hair said it didn't when we talked about the negroes," and shutting the Bible, Hugh was about to put it up when something whispered of his resolution to commence reading it through.
"It's too confounded cold. I'll freeze to death, I tell you," he said, as if arguing the point with some unseen presence. "Get into bed and read it then, hey? It's growing late and my candle is most burned out. The first chapter of Genesis is short, is it? Won't take one over three minutes? Stick like a chestnut burr, don't you," and as if the matter were decided, Hugh sprang into bed, shivering as if about to take a cold plunge bath. How then was he disappointed to find the sheets as nice and warm as Aunt Chloe's warming pan of red-hot coals could make them.
And so he fell away to sleep, dreaming that Golden Hair had come back, and that he held her in his arms, just as he held the Bible he had unconsciously taken from the pillow beneath his head.
SAM AND ADAH
It was Saturday night again, and Adah, with heavy eyes and throbbing head, sat bending over the dazzling silk, which 'Lina had coaxed her to make.
'Lina could be very gracious when she chose, and as she saw a way by which Adah might be useful to her, she chose to be so now, and treated the unsuspecting girl so kindly, that Adah promised to undertake the task, which proved a harder one than she had anticipated. Anxious to gratify 'Lina, and keep what she was doing a secret from Hugh, who came to the cottage often, she was obliged to work early and late, bending over the dress by the dim candlelight until her head seemed bursting with pain, and rings of fire danced before her eyes. She never would have succeeded but for Uncle Sam, who proved a most efficient member of the household, fitting in every niche and corner, until Aunt Eunice, with all her New England aversion to negroes, wondered how she had ever lived without him. Particularly did he attach himself to Willie, relieving Adah from all care, and thus enabling her to devote every spare moment to the party dress.
"You'se workin' yourself to death," he said to her, as late on Saturday night she sat bending to the tallow candle, her hair brushed back from her forehead and a purplish glow upon her cheek.
"I know I'm working too hard," she said. "I'm very tired, but Monday is the party. Oh, I am so hot and feverish," and, as if even the slender chain of gold about her neck were a burden, she undid the clasp, and laid upon the stand the locket which had so interested Hugh.
Naturally inquisitive Sam took it in his hand, and touching the spring held it to the light, uttering an exclamation of surprise.
"Dat's de bery one, and no mistake," he said, his old withered face lighting up with eager joy.
"Who is she, Sam?" Adah asked, forgetting her work in her new interest.
"Miss Ellis. I done forgot de other name. Ellis they call her way down thar whar Sam was sold, when dat man with the big splot on his forerd like that is on your'n steal me away and sell me in Virginny. Miss, ever hearn tell o' dat? We thinks he's takin' a bee line for Canada, when fust we knows we's in ole Virginny, and de villain not freein' us at all. He sell us. Me he most give away, 'case I was so old, and the mas'r who buy some like Mas'r Hugh, he pity, he sorry for ole shaky nigger. Sam tell him on his knees how he comed from Kaintuck, but Mas'r Sullivan say he bought 'em far, and that the right mas'r sell 'em sneakin' like to save rasin' a furse, and he show a bill of sale. They believe him spite of dis chile, and so Sam 'long to anodder mas'r."
"Yes; but the lady, Miss Ellis. Where did you find her?" Adah asked, and Sam replied:
"I'se comin' to her d'rectly. Mas'r Fitzhugh live on big plantation—big house, too, with plenty company; and one day she comed, with great trunk, a visitin' you know. She'd been to school with Miss Mabel, Mas'r Fitzhugh's daughter."
"Are you sure it's the same?" Adah asked.
"Yes, miss, Sam sure, he 'members them curls—got a heap of 'em; and that neck—oh, wear that neck berry low, so low, so white, it make even ole Sam feel kinder, kinder, yes, Sam feel very much that way."
Adah could not repress a smile, but she was too much interested to interrupt him, and he went on:
"They all think heap of Miss Ellis, and I hear de blacks tellin' how she berry rich, and comed from way off thar wher white niggers live—Masser-something."
"Massachusetts?" suggested Adah.
"Yes; that's the very mas'r, I 'member dat."
"Was Ellis her first or last name?" Adah asked, and Sam replied:
"It was neider, 'twas her Christian name. I'se got mizzable memory, and I disremembers her last name. The folks call her Ellis, and the blacks Miss Ellis."
"A queer name for a first one," Adah thought, while Sam continued:
"She jest like bright angel, in her white gownds and dem long curls, and Sam like her so much. She promise to write to Mas'r Browne and tell him whar I is. I didn't cry loud then—heart too full. I cry whimperin' like, and she cry, too. Then she tell me about God, and Sam listen, oh, listen so much, for that's what he want to hear so long. Miss Nancy, in Kuntuck, be one of them that reads her pra'rs o' Sundays, and ole mas'r one that hollers 'em. Sam liked that way best, seemed like gettin' along and make de Lord hear, but it don't show Sam the way, and when the ministers come in, he listen, but they that reads and them that hollers only talk about High and Low—Jack and the Game, or something, Sam disremembers so bad; got mizzable memory. He only knows he not find the way, 'till Miss Ellis tells him of Jesus, once a man and always God. It's very queer, but Sam believe it, and then she sing, 'Come unto me.' You ever hear it?"
Adah nodded, and Sam went on.
"But you never hear Miss Ellis sing it. Oh, so fine, the very rafters hold their breff, and Sam find the way at last."
"Where is Miss Ellis now?" Adah asked, and Sam replied:
"Gone to Masser—what you say once. She gived me five dollars and then ask what else. I look at her and say, 'Sam wants a spear or two of yer shinin' hair,' and Miss Mabel takes shears and cut a little curl. I'se got 'em now. I never spend the money," and from an old leathern wallet Sam drew a bill and a soft silken curl, which he laid across Adah's hand.
"Yes, that is like her hair," Adah said, gazing fondly upon the tiny lock which was Sam's greatest earthly treasure; then, returning it to him, she asked: "And where is that Sullivan?" a chill creeping over her as she remembered how about four years ago the man she called her guardian was absent for some time, and came back to her with colored hair and whiskers.
"Oh, he gone long before, nobody know whar. Sam b'lieves, though, he hear they tryin' to cotch him, but disremembers, got such mizzable memory."
"You say he had a mark like mine?" Adah continued.
"Yes, berry much, but more so. Show plainer when he cussin' mad, just as yours show more when you tired. Whar you git dat?" and Sam bent down to inspect more closely Adah's birthmark.
"I don't know. I was born with it," and Adah half groaned aloud at the sad memories which Sam's story had awakened within her.
She could scarcely doubt that Sullivan, the negro-stealer, and Monroe, her guardian, were the same, but where was he now, and why had he treated her so treacherously, when he had always seemed so kind?
"Miss Adah prays," the old man answered. "Won't she say 'Our Father' with Sam?"
Surely Hugh's sleep was sweeter that night for the prayer breathed by the lowly negro, and even the wild tumult in Adah's heart was hushed by Sam's simple, childlike faith that God would bring all right at last.
Early on Monday afternoon 'Lina, taking advantage of Hugh's absence, came over for her dress, finding much fault, and requiring some of the work to be done twice ere it suited her. Without a murmur Adah obeyed, but when the last stitch was taken and the party dress was gone, her overtaxed frame gave way, and Sam himself helped her to her bed, where she lay moaning, with the blinding pain in her head, which increased so fast that she scarcely saw the tempting little supper which Aunt Eunice brought, asking her to eat. Of one thing, however, she was conscious, and that of the dark form bending over her pillow and whispering soothingly the passage which had once brought Heaven to him, "Come unto me, come unto me, and I will give you rest."
The night had closed in dark and stormy, and the wintry rain beat fiercely against the windows; but for this Sam did not hesitate a moment when at midnight Aunt Eunice, alarmed at Adah's rapidly increasing fever, asked if he could find his way to Spring Bank.
"In course," he could, and in a few moments the old, shriveled form was out in the darkness, groping its way over fences, and through the pitfalls, stumbling often, and losing his hat past recovery, so that the snowy hair was dripping wet when at last Spring Bank was reached and he stood upon the porch.
In much alarm Hugh dressed himself and hastened to the cottage. But Adah did not know him and only talked of dresses and parties, and George, whom she begged to come back and restore her good name.
There was a bright light in the sitting-room, and through the half-closed shutters Hugh caught glimpses of a blazing fire. 'Lina had evidently come home, and half wishing she had stayed a little longer, Hugh entered the room.
Poor 'Lina! The party had proved a most unsatisfactory affair. She had not made the sensation she expected to make. Harney had scarcely noticed her at all, having neither eyes nor ears for any one save Ellen Tiffton, who surely must have told that Hugh was not invited, for, in no other way could 'Lina account for the remark she overheard touching her want of heart in failing to resent a brother's insult. In the most unenviable of moods, 'Lina left at a comparatively early hour. She bade Caesar drive carefully, as it was very dark, and the rain was almost blinding, so rapidly it fell.
"Ye-es, mis-s, Caes—he—done been to party fore now. Git 'long dar, Sorrel," hiccoughed the negro, who, in Colonel Tiffton's kitchen had indulged rather too freely to insure the safety of his mistress.
Still the horses knew the road, and kept it until they left the main highway and turned into the fields. Even then they would probably have made their way in safety, had not their drunken driver persisted in turning them into a road which led directly through the deepest part of the creek, swollen now by the melted snow and the vast amount of rain which had fallen since the sunsetting. Not knowing they were wrong, 'Lina did not dream of danger until she heard Caesar's cry of "Who'a dar, Sorrel. Git up, Henry. Dat's nothin' but de creek," while a violent lurch of the carriage sent her to the opposite side from where she had been sitting.
A few mad plunges, another wrench, which pitched 'Lina headlong against the window, and the steep, shelving bank was reached, but in endeavoring to climb it the carriage was upset, and 'Lina found herself in pitchy darkness. Perfectly sobered now, Caesar extricated her as soon as possible. The carriage was broken and there was no alternative save for 'Lina to walk the remaining distance home. It was not far, for the scene of the disaster was within sight of Spring Bank, but to 'Lina, bedraggled with mud and wet to the skin, it seemed an interminable distance, and her strength was giving out just as she reached the friendly piazza, and called on her mother for help, sobbing hysterically as she repeated her story, but dwelling most upon her ruined dress.
"What will Hugh say? It was not paid for, either. Oh, dear, oh, dear, I most wish I was dead!" she moaned, as her mother removed one by one the saturated garments.
The sight of Hugh called forth her grief afresh, and forgetful of her dishabille, she staggered toward him, and impulsively winding her arms around his neck, sobbed out:
"Oh, Hugh, Hugh! I've had such a doleful time. I've been in the creek, the carriage is broken, the horses are lamed, Caesar is drunk, and—and—oh, Hugh, I've spoiled my dress!"
Laughing merrily Hugh held her off at a little distance, likening her to a mermaid fresh from the sea, and succeeding at last in quieting her down until she could give a more concise account of the catastrophe.
"Never mind the dress," he said, good-humoredly, as she kept recurring to that. "It isn't as if it were new. An old thing is never so valuable."
Alas, that 'Lina did not then confess the truth. Had she done so he would have forgiven her freely, but she let the golden opportunity pass, and so paved the way for much bitterness of feeling in the future.
During the gloomy weeks which followed, Hugh's heart and hands were full, inclination tempting him to stay by the moaning Adah, who knew the moment he was gone, and stern duty, bidding him keep with delirious 'Lina, who, strange to say, was always more quiet when he was near, taking readily from him the medicine refused when offered by her mother. Day after day, week after week, Hugh watched alternately at the bedsides, and those who came to offer help felt their hearts glow with admiration for the worn, haggard man, whose character they had so mistaken, never dreaming what depths of patient, all-enduring tenderness were hidden beneath his rough exterior. Even Ellen Tiffton was softened, and forgetting the Ladies' Fair, rode daily over to Spring Bank, ostensibly to inquire after 'Lina, but really to speak a kindly word to Hugh, to whom she felt she had done a wrong. How long those fevers ran, and Hugh began to fear that 'Lina's never would abate, sorrowing much for the harsh words which passed between them, wishing they had been unsaid, for he would rather that none but pleasant memories should be left to him of this, his only sister. But 'Lina did not die, and as her disease had from the first assumed a far more violent form than Adah's, so it was the first to yield, and February found her convalescent. With Adah it was different. But there came a change at last, a morning when she awoke from a death-like stupor which had clouded her faculties so long, as the attending physician said to Hugh that his services would be needed but a little longer. Physicians' bills, together with that of Harney's yet unpaid, for Harney, villain though he was, would not present it when Hugh was full of trouble; but the hour was coming when it must be settled, and Hugh at last received a note, couched in courteous terms, but urging immediate payment.