"I'll see him to-day. I'll know the worst at once," he said, and mounting Rocket, who never looked more beautiful than he did that afternoon, he dashed down the Frankfort turnpike, and was soon closeted with Harney.
HOW HUGH PAID HIS DEBTS
The perspiration was standing in great drops about Hugh's quivering lips, and his face was white as ashes, as, near the close of that interview, he hoarsely asked:
"Do I understand you, sir, that Rocket will cancel this debt and leave you my debtor for one hundred dollars?"
"Yes, that was my offer, and a most generous one, too, considering how little horses are bringing," and Harney smiled villainously as he thought within himself: "Easier to manage than I supposed. I believe my soul I offered too much. I should have made it an even thing."
Hugh knew how long this plan had been premeditated, and his blood boiled madly when he heard it suggested, as if that moment had given it birth. Still he restrained himself, and asked the question we have recorded, adding, after Harney's reply:
"And suppose I do not care to part with Rocket?"
Harney winced a little, but answered carelessly:
"Money, of course, is just as good. You know how long I've waited. Few would have done as well."
Yes, Hugh knew that, but Rocket was as dear to him as his right eye, and he would almost as soon have plucked out the one as sold the other.
"I have not the money," he said, frankly, "and I cannot part with Rocket. Is there nothing else? I'll give a mortgage on Spring Bank."
Harney did not care for a mortgage, but there was something else, and the rascally face brightened, as, stepping back, while he made the proposition, he faintly suggested "Lulu." He would give a thousand dollars for her, and Hugh could keep his horse. For a moment the two young men regarded each other intently, Hugh's eyes flashing gleams of fire, and his whole face expressive of the contempt he felt for the wretch who cowed at last beneath the look, and turned away muttering that "he saw nothing so very heinous in wishing to purchase a nigger wench."
Then, changing his tone to one of defiance, he added:
"Since you are not inclined to part with either of your pets, you'll oblige me with the money, and before to-morrow night. You understand me, I presume?"
"I do," and bowing haughtily, Hugh passed through the open door.
In a kind of desperation he mounted Rocket, and dashed out of town at a speed which made more than one look after him, wondering what cause there was for his headlong haste. A few miles from the city he slacked his speed, and dismounting by a running brook, sat down to think. The price offered for Lulu would set him free from every pressing debt, and leave a large surplus, but not for a moment did he hesitate.
"I'd lead her out and shoot her through the heart, before I'd do that thing," he said.
Then turning to the noble animal cropping the grass beside him, he wound his arms around his neck, and tried to imagine how it would seem to know the stall at home was empty, and his beautiful Rocket gone.
"If I could pawn him," he thought, just as the sound of wheels was heard, and he saw old Colonel Tiffton driving down the turnpike.
Between the colonel and his daughter Ellen there had been a conversation that very day touching the young man Hugh, in whom Ellen now felt a growing interest. Seated in their handsome parlor, with her little hands folded listlessly one above the other, Ellen was listening, while her father told her mother.
"He didn't see how that chap was ever to pay his debts. One doctor twice a day for three months was enough to ruin anybody, let alone having two," and the sometimes far-seeing old colonel shook his head doubtfully.
"Father," and Ellen stole softly to his side, "if Mr. Worthington wants money so badly, you'll lend it to him, won't you?"
Again a doubtful shake as the prudent colonel replied: "And lose every red I lend, hey? That's the way a woman would do, I s'pose, but I am too old for that. Now, if he could give good security, I wouldn't mind, but what's he got, pray, that we want?"
Ellen's gray eyes scanned his face curiously a moment, and then Ellen's rather pretty lips whispered in his ear: "He's got Rocket, pa."
"Yes, yes, so he has; but no power on earth could make him part with that nag. I've always liked that boy, always liked old John, but the plague knows what he did with his money."
"You'll help Hugh?" and Ellen returned to the attack.
"Well," said the old man, "we'll see about this Hugh matter," and the colonel left the house, and entered the buggy which had been waiting to take him to Frankfort.
"That's funny that I should run a-foul of him," he thought, stopping suddenly as he caught sight of Hugh, and calling out cheerily: "How d'ye, young man? That's a fine nag of yours. My Nell is nigh about crazy for me to buy him. What'll you take?"
"What'll you give?" was Hugh's Yankee-like response, while the colonel, struck by Hugh's peculiar manner, settled himself back in his buggy and announced himself ready to trade.
Hugh knew he could trust the colonel, and after a moment's hesitation told of his embarrassments, and asked the loan of five hundred dollars, offering Rocket as security, with the privilege of redeeming him in a year.
"You ask a steep sum," he said, "but I take it you are in a tight spot and don't know what else to do. That girl in the snow bank—I'll be hanged if that was ever made quite clear to me."
"It is to me, and that is sufficient," Hugh answered, while the old colonel replied:
"Good grit, Hugh. I like you for that. In short, I like you for everything, and that's why I was sorry about that New York lady. You see, it may stand in the way of your getting a wife by and by, that's all."
"I shall never marry," Hugh answered, thinking of the Golden Haired.
"No?" the colonel replied. "Well, there ain't many good enough for you, that's a fact, and so I tell 'em when they get to—get to—"
Hugh looked up inquiringly, his face flashing as he guessed at what they got.
"Bless me, there's ain't many girls good for anybody. I never saw but one, except my Nell, that was worth a picayune, and that was Alice Johnson."
"Who? Who did you say?" And Hugh grew white as marble.
The colonel replied: "I said Alice Johnson, twentieth cousin of mine—blast that fly!—lives in Massachusetts; splendid girl—hang it all can't I hit him?—there, I've killed him." And the colonel put up his whip, never dreaming of the effect that name had produced on Hugh, whose heart gave one great throb of hope, and then grew heavy and sad as he thought how impossible it was that the Alice Johnson the colonel knew could be the Golden Haired.
"There are fifty by that name, no doubt," he said, "and if there were not, she is dead."
Hugh dared not question the colonel further, and was only too glad when the latter said: "If I understand you, I can have Rocket for five hundred dollars, provided I let you redeem him within a year. Now that's equivalent to my lending you five hundred dollars out and out. I see, but seeing it's you, I reckon I'll have to do it. As luck will have it, I was going down to Frankfort this very day to put some money in the bank, and if you say so, we'll clinch the bargain at once," and the colonel began to count the amount.
Alice Johnson was forgotten in that moment when Hugh felt as if his very life was dying out. Then chiding himself as weak, he lifted up his head and said: "Rocket is yours."
The words were like a sob; and the generous old man hesitated. But Hugh was in earnest. His debts must be paid, and that five hundred dollars would do it.
"I'll bring him around to-morrow. Will that be time enough?" he asked, as he rolled up the bills.
"Yes, oh, yes," the colonel replied, while Hugh continued: "And, colonel, you'll—you'll be kind to Rocket. He's never been struck a blow since he was broken to the saddle. He wouldn't know what it meant."
"Oh, yes, I see—Rarey's method. Now I never could make that work. Have to lick 'em sometimes, but I'll remember Rocket. Good-day," and gathering up his reins Colonel Tiffton rode slowly away.
Hugh rode back to Frankfort and dismounted at Harney's door.
In silence Harney received the money, gave his receipt, and then watched Hugh as he rode again from town, muttering: "I shall remember that he knocked me down, and some time I'll repay it."
It was dark when Hugh reached home, his flashing eyes indicating the storm which burst forth the moment he entered the room where 'Lina was sitting. In tones which made even her tremble he accused her of her treachery, pouring forth such a torrent of wrath that his mother urged him to stop, for her sake if no other. She could always quiet Hugh, and he calmed down at once, hurling but one more missile at his sister, and that in the shape of Rocket, who, he said, was sold for her extravagance.
'Lina was proud of Rocket, and the knowledge that he was sold touched her far more than all Hugh's angry words. But her tear a were of no avail; the deed was done, and on the morrow Hugh, with an unflinching hand, led his idol from the stable and rode rapidly across the fields, leading another horse which was to bring him home.
The next morning Lulu came running up the stairs, exclaiming:
"He's done come home, Rocket has. He's at the kitchen door."
It was even as Lulu, said, for the homesick brute, suspecting something wrong, had broken from his fastenings, and bursting the stable door had come back to Spring Bank, his halter dangling about his neck, and himself looking very defiant, as if he were not again to be coaxed away. At sight of Hugh he uttered a sound of joy, and bounding forward planted both feet within the door ere Hugh had time to reach it.
"Thar's the old colonel now," whispered Claib, just as the colonel himself appeared to claim his runaway.
"I'll take him home myself," he said to the old colonel, emerging from his hiding place behind the leach, and bidding Claib follow with another horse Hugh went a second time to Colonel Tiffton's farm.
MRS. JOHNSON'S LETTER
The spring had passed away, and the warm June sun was shining over Spring Bank, whose mistress and servants were very lonely now, for Hugh was absent, and with him the light of the house had departed. Business of his late uncle's had taken him to New Orleans, where he might possibly remain all the summer. 'Lina was glad, for since the fatal dress affair there had been but little harmony between herself and her brother. The tenderness awakened by her long illness seemed to have been forgotten, and Hugh's manner toward her was cold and irritating to the last degree, so that the young lady rejoiced to be freed from his presence.
"I do hope he'll stay all summer," she said one morning, when speaking of him to her mother. "I think it's a heap nicer without him, though dull enough at the best. I wish we could go somewhere, some watering place I mean. There's the Tifftons, just returned from New York, and I don't much believe they can afford it more than we, for I heard their place was mortgaged, or something. Oh, bother, to be so poor," and the young lady gave a little angry jerk at the tags she was unbraiding.
"Whar's ole miss's?" asked Claib, who had just returned from Versailles. "Thar's a letter for you," and depositing it upon the bureau, he left the room.
"Whose writing is that?" 'Lina said, catching it up and examining the postmark. "Shall I open it?" she called, and ere her mother could reply, she had broken the seal, and held in her hand the draft which made her the heiress of one thousand dollars.
Had the fabled godmother of Cinderella appeared to her suddenly, she would scarcely have been more bewildered.
"Mother," she screamed again, reading aloud the "'Pay to the order of Adaline Worthington,' etc. Who is Alice Johnson? What does she say? 'My dear Eliza, feeling that I have not long to live—' What—dead, hey? Well, I'm sorry for that, but, I must say, she did a very sensible thing at the last, sending me a thousand dollars. We'll go somewhere now, won't we?" and clutching fast the draft, the heartless girl yielded the letter to her mother, who, burying her face in her hands, sobbed bitterly as the past came back to her, when the Alice, now at rest and herself were girls together.
'Lina took up the letter her mother had dropped and read it through. "Wants you to take her daughter, Alice. Is the woman crazy? And her nurse, Densie, Densie Densmore. Where have I heard that name before? Say, mother, let's talk the matter over. Shall you let Alice come? Ten dollars a week, they'll pay. Let me see. Five hundred and twenty dollars a year. Whew! We are rich as Jews. Our ship is really coming in," and 'Lina rang the bell and ordered Lulu to bring "a lemonade with ice cut fine and a heap of sugar in it."
By this time Mrs. Worthington was able to talk of a matter which had apparently so delighted 'Lina. Her first remark, however, was not very pleasant to the young lady:
"I would willingly give Alice a home, but it's not for me to say. Hugh alone can decide it."
"You know he'll refuse," was 'Lina'a angry reply. "He hates young ladies. So you may as well save your postage to New Orleans, and write at once to Miss Johnson that she cannot come on account of a boorish clown."
"'Lina," feebly interposed Mrs. Worthington, "'Lina, we must write to Hugh."
"Mother, you shall not," and 'Lina spoke determinedly. "I'll send an answer to this letter myself, this very day. I will not suffer the chance to be thrown away. Hugh may swear a little at first, but he'll get over it."
"Hugh never swears," and Mrs. Worthington spoke up at once.
"He don't hey? Maybe you've forgotten when he came home from Frankfort, that time he heard about my dress!"
"I know he swore then; but he never has since, I'm sure, and I think he is better, gentler, more refined than he used to be, since—since—Adah came."
A contemptuous "Pshaw!" came from 'Lina's lips. "Say," she continued, "wouldn't you rather Adah were your child than me? Then you'd be granny, you know." And a laugh came from 'Lina's lips.
Mrs. Worthington did not reply; and 'Lina proceeded to speak of Alice Johnson, asking for her family. Were they aristocratic? Were they the F.F.V.'s of Boston? and so forth.
"Now let us talk a little about the thousand dollars. What shall I do with it?" 'Lina said, for already the money was beginning to burn in her hands.
"Redeem Rocket with half of it," Mrs. Worthington said, "and that will reconcile Hugh to Alice Johnson."
"Do you think I've taken leave of my senses?" 'Lina asked, with unaffected surprise. "Buy Rocket for five hundred dollars! Indeed, I shall do no such thing. If Hugh had not sworn so awfully, I might; but I remember what he said too well to part with half of my inheritance for him. I'm going to Saratoga, and you are going, too. We'll have heaps of dresses, and—oh, mother, won't it be grand! We'll take Lu for a waiting maid. That will be sure to make a sensation at the North. I can imagine just how old Deacon Tripp of Elwood, would open his eyes when he heard 'Mrs. Square Worthington and darter' had come back with a 'nigger.' It would furnish him with material for half a dozen monthly concerts, and I'm not sure but he'd try to run her off, if he had a chance. But Lu likes Hugh too well ever to be coaxed away; so we're safe on that score. 'Mrs. Worthington, daughter, and colored servant, Spring Bank, Kentucky.' I can almost see that on the clerk's books at the United States. Then I can manage to let it be known that I'm an heiress, as I am. We needn't tell that it's only a thousand dollars, most of which I have on my back, and maybe I'll come home Adaline somebody else. There are always splendid matches at Saratoga. We'll go North the middle of July, just three weeks from now."
'Lina had talked so fast that Mrs. Worthington had been unable to put in a word; but it did not matter. 'Lina was invulnerable to all she could say, and it was in vain that she pleaded for Rocket, or reminded the ungrateful girl of the many long, weary nights, when Hugh had sat by her bedside, holding her feverish hands and bathing her aching head. This was very kind and brotherly, 'Lina admitted; but she steeled her heart against the still, small voice, which whispered to her: "Redeem Rocket, and let Hugh find him here when he gets home."
'Lina wrote to Alice Johnson herself that morning, went to Frankfort that afternoon, to Versailles and Lexington the next day, and on the morning of the third day after the receipt of Mrs. Johnson's letter, Spring Bank presented the appearance of one vast show-room, so full it was of silks and muslins and tissues and flowers and ribbons and laces, while amid it all, in a maze of perplexity as to what was required of her, or where first to commence, Adah Hastings sat, a flush on her fair cheeks, and a tear half dimming the luster of her eyes as thoughts of Willie crying for mamma at home, and refusing to be comforted even by old Sam came to her.
When 'Lina first made known her request to Adah, to act as her dressmaker, Aunt Eunice had objected, on the ground of Adah's illness having been induced by overwork, but 'Lina insisted so strenuously, promising not to task her too much, and offering with an air of extreme generosity to pay three shillings a day, that Adah had consented, for pretty baby Willie wanted many little things which Hugh would never dream of, and for which she could not ask him. Three shillings a day for twelve days or more seemed like a fortune to Adah, and so she tore herself away from Willie's clinging arms and went willingly to labor for the capricious 'Lina, ten times more impatient and capricious since she "had come into possession of property."
Womanlike, the sight of 'Lina's dresses awoke in Adah a thrill of delight, and she entered heartily into the matter without a single feeling of envy.
"I's goin', too. Did you know that?" Lulu said to her as she sat bending over a cloud of lace and soft blue silk.
"Do you want to go?" Adah asked, and Lulu replied:
"Not much. Miss 'Lina will be so lofty. Jes' you listen and hear her call me oncet. 'Ho Loo-loo, come quick,' jes' as if she done nothin' all her life but order a nigger 'round. I knows better. I knows how she done made her own bed, combed her own ha'r, and like enough washed her own rags afore she comed here. Yes, 'Loo-loo is coming,'" and the saucy wench darted off to 'Lina screaming loudly for her.
"Miss Worthington," Adah said, timidly, as 'Lina came near, "Lulu tells me she is going North with you. Why not take me instead of her?"
"You!" and 'Lina's black eyes flashed scornfully. "What in the world could I do with you and that child, and what would people think? Why, I'd rather have Lulu forty times. A negro gives an eclat to one's position which a white servant cannot. By the way, here is Miss Tiffton's square-necked bertha. She's just got home from New York, and says they are all the fashion. You are to cut me a pattern. There's a paper, the Louisville Journal, I guess, but nobody reads it, now Hugh is gone," and with a few more general directions, 'Lina hurried away leaving Adah so hot, so disappointed, that the hot tears fell upon the paper she took in her hand, the paper containing Anna Richards' advertisement, intended solely for the poor girl sitting so lonely and sad at Spring Bank that summer morning.
In spite of the doctor's predictions and consignment of that girl to Georgia, or some warmer place, it had reached her at last. She did not see it at first, so fast her tears fell, but just as her scissors were raised to cut the pattern her eyes fell on the spot headed, "A Curious Advertisement," and suspending her operations for a moment, she read it through, a feeling rising in her heart that it was surely an answer to her own advertisement, sent forth months ago, with tearful prayers that it might be successful.
At the table she heard 'Lina say that Claib was going to town that afternoon, and thinking within herself. "If a letter were only ready, he could take it with him," she asked permission to write a few lines. It would not take her long, she said, and she could work the later to make it up.
'Lina did not refuse, and in a few moments Adah penned a note to A.E.R.
"It's an answer to an advertisement for a governess or waiting maid," she said, as 'Lina glanced carelessly at the superscription.
"It will do no harm, or good either, I imagine," was 'Lina'a reply, and placing the letter in her pocket, she was about returning to her mother, when she spied Ellen Tiffton dismounting at the gate.
Ellen was delighted to see 'Lina, and 'Lina was delighted to see Ellen, leading her at once into the work-room, where Adah sat by the window, busy on the bertha, and looking up quietly when Ellen entered, as if half expecting an introduction. But 'Lina did not deign to notice her, save in an aside to Ellen, to whom she whispered softly:
"That girl, Adah, you know."
Reared in a country where the menials all were black, Ellen knew no such marked distinction among the whites, and walked directly up to Adah, whose face seemed to puzzle her. It was the first time they had met, and Adah turned crimson beneath the close scrutiny to which she was subjected. Noticing her embarrassment, and wishing to relieve it, Ellen addressed to her some trivial remark concerning her work, complimenting her skill, asking some questions about Willie, whom she had seen, and then leaving her for a girlish conversation with 'Lina, to whom she related many particulars of her visit to New York. Particularly was she pleased with a certain Dr. Richards, who was described as the most elegant young man at the hotel.
"There was something queer about him too," she said, in a lower tone, and drawing nearer to 'Lina. "He seemed so absent-like, as if there were something on his mind—some heart trouble, you know; but that only made him more interesting; and such an adventure as I had, too. Send her out of the room, please," and nodding toward Adah, Ellen spoke beneath her breath.
'Lina comprehended her meaning, and turning to Adah said rather haughtily:
"It's cool on the west end of the piazza. You may go and sit there a while."
With a heightened color at being thus addressed before a stranger, Adah withdrew, and Ellen continued:
"It's so strange. I found in the hall, near my door, a tiny ambrotype of a young girl, who must have been very beautiful—such splendid hair, soft brown eyes, and cheeks like carnation pinks. I wondered much whose it was, for I knew the owner must be sorry to lose it. Father suggested that we put a written notice in the business office, and that very afternoon Dr. Richards knocked at our door, saying the ambrotype was his. 'I would not lose it for the world,' he said, 'as the original is dead,' and he looked so sad that I pitied him so much; but I have the strangest part yet to tell. You are sure she cannot hear?" and walking to the open window, Ellen glanced down the long piazza to where Adah's dress was visible.
"I looked at the face so much that I never can forget it, particularly the way the hair was worn, combed almost as low upon the forehead as you wears yours, and just as that Mrs. Hastings wears hers. I noticed it the moment I came in; and, 'Lina, Mrs. Hastings is the original of that ambrotype, I'm sure, only the picture was younger, fresher-looking, than she. But they are the same, I'm positive, and that's why I started so when I first saw this Adah. Funny, isn't it?"
'Lina knew just how positive Ellen was with regard to any opinion she espoused, and presumed in her own mind that in this point, as in many others, she was mistaken. Still she answered that it was queer, though she could not understand what Adah could possibly be to Dr. Richards.
"Call her in for something and I'll manage to question her. I'm so curious and so sure," Ellen said, while 'Lina called: "Adah, Miss Tiffton wishes to see how my new blue muslin fits. Come help me try it on."
Obedient to the call Adah came, and was growing very red in the face with trying to hook 'Lina's dress, when Ellen casually remarked:
"You lived in New York, I think?"
"Yes, ma'am," was the reply, and Ellen continued:
"Maybe I saw some of your acquaintances. I was there a long time."
Oh, how eagerly Adah turned toward her now, the glad thought flashing upon her that possibly she meant George. Maybe he'd come home.
"Whom did you see?" she asked, her eyes fixed wistfully on Ellen, who replied:
"Oh, a great many. There was Mr. Reed, and Mr. Benedict, and Mr. Ward, and—well, I saw the most of Dr. Richards, perhaps. Do you know either of them?"
"No, I never heard of them before," was the reply, so frankly spoken that Ellen was confounded, for she felt sure that Dr. Richards was a name entirely new to Adah.
"I thought you were mistaken," 'Lina said, when the dress was taken off and Adah gone. "A man such as you describe the doctor would not care for a poor girl like Adah. Is his home at New York, and are you sure he'll be at Saratoga?"
"He said so; and I think he told me his mother and sisters were in some such place as Snow-down, or Snow-something."
"Snowdon," suggested 'Lina. "That's where Alice Johnson lives. I must tell you of her."
"Alice Johnson," Ellen repeated; "why, that's the girl father says so much about. Of course I fell in the scale, for there was nothing like Alice, Alice—so beautiful, so religious."
"Religious!" and 'Lina laughed scornfully. "Adah pretends to be religious, too, and so does Sam, while Alice will make three. Pleasant prospects ahead. I wonder if she's the blue kind—thinks dancing wicked, and all that."
Ellen could not tell. She thought it queer that Mrs. Johnson should send her to a stranger, as it were, when they would have been so glad to receive her. "Pa won't like it a bit, and she'd be so much more comfortable with us," and Ellen glanced contemptuously around at the neat but plainly-furnished room.
It was not the first time Ellen had offended by a similar remark, and 'Lina flared up at once. Mrs. Johnson knew her mother well, and knew to whom she was committing her daughter.
"Did she know Hugh, too?" hot-tempered Ellen asked, sneeringly, whereupon there ensued a contest of words touching Hugh, in which Rocket, the Ladies' Fair, and divers other matters figured conspicuously, and when, ten minutes later, Ellen left the house, she carried with her the square-necked bertha, together with sundry other little articles of dress, which she had lent for patterns, and the two were, on the whole, as angry as a sandy-haired and black-eyed girl could be.
"What a stupid I was to say such hateful things of Hugh, when I really do like him," was Ellen's comment as she galloped away, while 'Lina muttered: "I stood up for Hugh once, anyhow. To think of her twitting me about our house, when everybody says the colonel is likely to fail any day," and 'Lina ran off upstairs to indulge in a fit of crying over what she called Nell Tiffton's meanness.
One week later and there came a letter from Alice herself, saying that at present she was stopping in Boston with her guardian, Mr. Liston, who had rented the cottage in Snowdon, but that she would meet Mrs. Worthington and daughter at Saratoga. Of course she did not now feel like mingling in gay society and should consequently go to the Columbian, where she could be comparatively quiet; but this need not in the least interfere with their arrangements, as the United States was very near, and they could see each other often.
The same day also brought a letter from Hugh, making many kind inquiries after them all, saying his business was turning out better than he expected, and inclosing forty dollars, fifteen of which, he said, was for Adah, and the rest for Ad, as a peace offering for the harsh things he had said to her. Forty dollars was just the price of a superb pearl bracelet in Lexington, and if Hugh had only sent it all to her instead of a part to Adah! The letter was torn in shreds, and 'Lina went to Lexington next day in quest of the bracelet, which was pronounced beautiful by the unsuspecting Adah, who never dreamed that her money had helped to pay for it. Truly 'Lina was heaping up against herself a dark catalogue of sin to be avenged some day, but the time was not yet.
Thus far everything went swimmingly. The dresses fitted admirably, and nothing could exceed the care with which they had been packed. Her mother no longer bothered her about Hugh. Lulu was quite well posted with regard to her duty.
Thus it was in the best of humors, that 'Lina tripped from Spring Bank door one pleasant July morning, and was driven with her mother and Lulu to Lexington, where they intended taking the evening train for Cincinnati.
"Mrs. Worthington, daughter, and colored servant, Spring Bank, Kentucky."
"Dr. John Richards and mother, New York City."
"Irving Stanley, Esq., Baltimore."
These were the last entries the flaxen-haired clerk at Union Hall had made, feeling sure, as he made them, that each one had been first to the United States, and failing to find accommodations there, had come down to Union Hall.
The Union was so crowded that for the newcomers no rooms were found except the small, uncomfortable ones far up in the fourth story of the Ainsworth block, and thither, in not the most amiable mood, 'Lina followed her trunks, and was followed in turn by her mother and Lulu, the crowd whom they passed deciphering the name upon the trunks and whispering to each other: "From Spring Bank, Kentucky. Haughty-looking girl, wasn't she?"
From his little twelve by ten apartment, where the summer sun was pouring in a perfect blaze of heat, Dr. Richards saw them pass, and after wondering who they were, and hoping they would be comfortable in their pen, gave them no further thought, but sat jamming his penknife into the old worm-eaten table, and thinking savage thoughts against that capricious lady, Fortune, who had compelled him to come to Saratoga, where rich wives were supposed to be had for the asking. In Dr. Richard's vest pocket there lay at this very moment a delicate little note, the meaning of which was that Alice Johnson declined the honor of becoming his wife. Now he was ready for the first chance that offered, provided that chance possessed a certain style, and was tolerably good-looking.
This, then, was Dr. Richards' errand to Saratoga, and one cause of his disgust at being banished from the United States, where heiresses were usually to be found in such abundance.
From his pleasanter, airier apartment, on the other side of the narrow hall, Irving Stanley looked out through his golden glasses, pitying the poor ladies condemned to that slow roast.
How hot, and dusty, and cross 'Lina was, and what a look of dismay she cast around the room, with its two bedsteads, its bureau, its table, its washstand, and its dozen pegs for her two dozen dresses, to say nothing of her mother's.
How tired and faint poor Mrs. Worthington was, sinking down upon the high-post bed! How she wished she had stayed at home, like a sensible woman, instead of coming here to be made so uncomfortable in this hot room. But it could not now be helped, 'Lina said; they must do the best they could; and with a forlorn glance at the luxuriant patch of weeds, the most prominent view from the window, 'Lina opened one of her trunks, and spreading a part of its contents upon the bed, began to dress for dinner. The dinner bell had long since ceased ringing, and the tread of feet ceased in the halls below ere she descended to the deserted parlor, followed by her mother, nervous and frightened at the prospect of this, her first appearance at Saratoga.
"Pray, rouse yourself," 'Lina whispered, "and not let them guess you were never at a watering place before," and 'Lina thoughtfully smoothed her mother's cap by way of reassuring her.
But even 'Lina herself quailed when she reached the door and caught a glimpse of the busy life within, the terrible ordeal she must pass.
"Oh, for a pair of pantaloons to walk beside one, even if Hugh were in them," she thought, as her own and her mother's lonely condition arose before her.
"Courage, mother," she whispered again, and then advanced into the room, growing bolder at every step, for with one rapid glance she had swept the hall, and felt that amid that bevy of beauty and fashion there were few more showy than 'Lina Worthington in her rustling dress of green, with Ellen Tiffton's bracelet on one arm and the one bought with Adah's money on the other.
Not having been an heiress long enough to know just what was expected of her, and fancying it quite in character to domineer over every colored person just as she did over Lulu, 'Lina issued her commands with a dignity worthy of the firm of Mrs. Worthington & Daughter. Bowing deferentially, the polite attendant quickly drew back her chair, while she spread out her flowing skirts to an extent which threatened to envelop her mother, sinking meekly into her seat, not confused and flurried. But alas for 'Lina. The servant did not calculate the distance aright, and my lady, who had meant to do the thing so gracefully, who had intended showing the people that she had been to Saratoga before, suddenly found herself prostrate upon the floor, the chair some way behind her, and the plate, which, in her descent, she had grasped unconsciously, flying off diagonally past her mother's head, and fortunately past the head of her mother's left-hand neighbor.
Poor 'Lina! How she wished she might never get up again.
At first, 'Lina thought nothing could keep her tears back, they gathered so fast in her eyes, and her voice trembled so that she could not answer the servant's question:
"Soup, madam, soup?"
But he of the white hand did it for her.
"Of course she'll take soup," then in an aside, he said to her gently: "Never mind, you are not the first lady who has been served in that way. It's quite a common occurrence."
There was something reassuring in his voice, and turning toward him for the first time, 'Lina caught the gleam of the golden glasses, and knew that her vis-a-vis upstairs was also her right-hand neighbor. Who was he, and whom did he so strikingly resemble? Suddenly it came to her. Saving the glasses, he was very much like Hugh. No handsomer, not a whit, but more accustomed to society, easier in his manners and more gallant to ladies. Could it be Irving Stanley? she asked herself, remembering now to have heard that he did resemble Hugh, and also that he wore glasses. Yes, she was sure, and the red which the doctor had pronounced "well put on," deepened on her cheeks, until her whole face was crimson with mortification, that such should have been her first introduction to the aristocratic Irving.
Kind and gentle as a woman, Irving Stanley was sometimes laughed at by his own sex, as too gentle, too feminine in disposition; but those who knew him best loved him most, and loved him, too, just because he was not so stern, so harsh, so overbearing as lords of creation are wont to be.
Such was Irving Stanley, and 'Lina might well be thankful that her lot was cast so near him. He did not talk to her at the table further than a few commonplace remarks, but when, after dinner was over, and his Havana smoked, he found her sitting with her mother out in the grove, apart from everybody, and knew instantly that they were there alone, he went to them at once, and ere many minutes had elapsed discovered to his surprise that they were his so-called cousins from Kentucky. Nothing could exceed 'Lina's delight. He was there unfettered by mother or sister or sweetheart, and of course would attach himself exclusively to her. 'Lina was very happy, and more than once her loud laugh rang out so loud that Irving, with all his charity, had a faint suspicion that around his Kentucky cousin, brilliant though she was, there might linger a species of coarseness, not altogether agreeable to one of his refinement. Still he sat chatting with her until the knowing dowagers, who year after year watch such things at Saratoga, whispered behind their fans of a flirtation between the elegant Mr. Stanley and that dark, haughty-looking girl from Kentucky.
"I never saw him so familiar with a stranger upon so short an acquaintance," said fat Mrs. Buford.
"Is that Irving Stanley, whom Lottie Gardner talks so much about?" And Mrs. Richards leveled her glass again, for Irving Stanley was not unknown to her by reputation. "She must be somebody, John, or he would not notice her," and she spoke in an aside, adding in a louder tone: "I wonder who she is? There's their servant. I mean to question her," and as Lulu came near, she said: "Girl, who do you belong to?"
"'Longs to them," answered Lulu, jerking her head toward 'Lina and Mrs. Worthington.
"Where do you live?" was the next query, and Lulu replied:
"Spring Bank, Kentucky. Missus live in big house, 'most as big as this;" then anxious to have the ordeal passed, and fearful that she might not acquit herself satisfactorily to 'Lina, who, without seeming to notice her, had drawn near enough to hear, she added: "Miss 'Lina is an airey, a very large airey, and has a heap of—of—" Lulu hardly knew what, but finally in desperation added: "a heap of a'rs," and then fled away ere another question could be asked her.
"What did she say she was?" Mrs. Richards asked, and the doctor replied:
"She said an airey. She meant an heiress."
Money, or the reputation of possessing money, is an all-powerful charm, and in few places does it show its power more plainly than at Saratoga, where it was soon known that the lady from Spring Bank, with pearls in her hair, and pearl bracelets on her arms, was heiress to immense wealth in Kentucky, how immense nobody knew, and various were the estimates put upon it. Among Mrs. Bufort's clique it was twenty thousand, farther away in another hall it was fifty, while Mrs. Richards, ere the supper hour arrived, had heard that it was at least a hundred thousand dollars. How or where she heard it she hardly knew, but she indorsed the statement as current, and at the tea table that night was exceedingly gracious to 'Lina and her mother, offering to divide a little private dish which she had ordered for herself, and into which poor Mrs. Worthington inadvertently dipped, never dreaming that it was not common property.
"It was not of the slightest consequence, Mrs. Richards was delighted to share it with her," and that was the way the conversation commenced.
'Lina knew now that the proud man whose lip had curled so scornfully at dinner was Ellen's Dr. Richards, and Dr. Richards knew that the girl who sat on the floor was 'Lina Worthington, from Spring Bank, where Alice Johnson was going.
It was very quiet at the Columbian, and the few gentlemen seated upon the piazza seemed to be of a different stamp from those at the more fashionable houses, as there were none of them smoking, nor did they stare impertinently at the gayly-dressed lady coming-up the steps, and inquiring of the clerk if Miss Alice Johnson were there.
Yes, she was, and her room was No. ——. Should he send the lady's card? Miss Johnson had mostly kept her room.
'Lina had brought no card, but she gave her name, and passed on into the parlor, which afforded a striking contrast to the beehive downtown. In a corner two or three were sitting; another group occupied a window; while at the piano were two more, an old and a young lady; the latter of whom was seated upon the stool, and with her foot upon the soft pedal, was alternately striking a few sweet, musical chords, and talking to her companion, who seemed to be a little deaf.
"This is Miss Johnson," and the waiter bowed toward the musician, who, quick as thought, seized upon the truth, and springing to Mrs. Worthington's side, exclaimed:
"It's Mrs. Worthington, I know, my mother's early friend. Why did you sit here so long without speaking to me? I am Alice Johnson," and overcome with the emotions awakened by the sight of her mother's early friend, Alice hid her face with childlike confidence in Mrs. Worthington's bosom, and sobbed for a moment bitterly.
Then growing calm, she lifted up her head and smiling through her tears said:
"Forgive me for this introduction. It is not often I give way, for I know and am sure it was best and right that mother should die. I am not rebellious now, but the sight of you brought it back so vividly. You'll be my mother, won't you?" and kissing the fat white hands involuntarily smoothing her bright hair, the impulsive girl nestled closer to Mrs. Worthington, looking up into her face with a confiding affection which won a place for her at once in Mrs. Worthington's heart.
"My darling," she said, winding her arm around her waist, "as far as I can I will be to you a mother, and 'Lina shall be your sister. This is 'Lina, dear," and she turned to 'Lina, who, piqued at having been so long unnoticed, was frowning gloomily.
But 'Lina never met a glance purer or more free from guile than that which Alice gave her, and it disarmed her at once of all jealousy, making her return the orphan's kisses with as much apparent cordiality as they had been given. During this scene the woman of the snowy hair and jet black eyes had stood silently by, regarding 'Lina with that same curious expression which had so annoyed the young lady, and from which she now intuitively shrank.
"My nurse, Densie Densmore," Alice said at last, adding in an aside: "She is somewhat deaf and may not hear distinctly, unless you speak quite loud. Poor old Densie," she continued, as the latter bowed to her new acquaintances, and then seated herself at a respectful distance. "She has been in our family for a long time." Then changing the conversation, Alice made many inquiries concerning Kentucky, startling them with the announcement that she had that day received a letter from Colonel Tiffton, who she believed was a friend of theirs, urging her to spend a few weeks with him. "They heard from you what were mother's plans for my future, and also that I was to meet you here. They must be very thoughtful people, for they seem to know that I cannot be very happy here."
For a moment 'Lina and her mother looked aghast, and neither knew what to say. 'Lina, as usual, was the first to rally and calculate results.
They were very intimate at Colonel Tiffton's. She and Ellen were fast friends. It was very pleasant there, more so than at Spring Bank; and all the objection she could see to Alice's going was the fear lest she should become so much attached to Mosside, the colonel's residence, as to be homesick at Spring Bank.
"If she's going, I hope she'll go before Dr. Richards sees her, though perhaps he knows her already—his mother lives in Snowdon," 'Lina thought, and rather abruptly she asked if Alice knew Dr. Richards, who was staying at the Union.
Alice blushed crimson as she replied:
"Yes, I know him very well and his family, too. Are either of his sisters with him?"
"His mother is here," 'Lina replied, "and I like her so much. She is very familiar and friendly; don't you think so?"
Alice would not tell a lie, and she answered frankly:
"She does not bear that name in Snowdon. They consider her very haughty there. I think you must be a favorite."
"Are they very aristocratic and wealthy?" 'Lina asked, and Alice answered:
"Aristocratic, not wealthy. They were very kind to me, and the doctor's sister, Anna, is one of the sweetest ladies I ever knew. She may possibly be here during the summer. She is an invalid, and has been for years."
Suddenly Ellen Tiffton's story of the ambrotype flashed into 'Lina's mind. Alice might know something of it, and after a little she asked if the doctor had not at one time been engaged.
Alice did not know. It was very possible. Why did Miss Worthington ask the question?
'Lina did not stop to consider the propriety or impropriety of making so free with a stranger, and unhesitatingly repeated what Ellen Tiffton had told her of the ambrotype. This, of course, compelled her to speak of Adah, who, she said, came to them under very suspicious circumstances, and was cared for by her eccentric brother, Hugh.
In spite of the look of entreaty visible on Mrs. Worthington's face, 'Lina said:
"To be candid with you, Miss Johnson, I'm afraid you won't like Hugh. He has many good traits, but I am sorry to say we have never succeeded in cultivating him one particle, so that he is very rough and boorish in his manner, and will undoubtedly strike you unfavorably. I may as well tell you this, as you will probably hear it from Ellen Tiffton, and must know it when you see him. He is not popular with the ladies; he hates them all, he says. Mother, Loo-loo, come," and breaking off from her very sisterly remarks concerning Hugh, 'Lina sprang up in terror as a large beetle, attracted by the light, fastened itself upon her hair.
Mrs. Worthington was the first to the rescue, while Lulu, who had listened with flashing eye when Hugh was the subject of remark, came laggardly, whispering slyly to Alice:
"That's a lie she done tell you about Mas'r Hugh. He ain't rough, nor bad, and we blacks would die for him any day."
Alice was confounded at this flat contradiction between mistress and servant, while a faint glimmer of the truth began to dawn upon her. The "horn-bug" being disposed of, 'Lina became quiet, and might, perhaps, have taken up Hugh again, but for a timely interruption in the shape of Irving Stanley, who had walked up to the Columbian, and seeing 'Lina and her mother through the window, sauntered leisurely into the parlor.
"Ah, Mr. Stanley," and 'Lina half arose from her chair, thus intimating that he was to join them. "Miss Johnson, Mr. Stanley," and 'Lina watched them closely.
"You have positively been smitten by Miss Johnson's pretty face," said 'Lina, laughing a little spitefully, as they parted at the piazza, Irving to go after his accustomed glasses of water, and 'Lina to seek out Dr. Richards in the parlor. "Yes, I know you are smitten, and inasmuch as we are cousins, I shall expect to see you at Spring Bank some day not far in the future."
"It is quite probable you will," was Irving's reply, as he walked away, his head and heart full of Alice Johnson.
Meantime "Mrs. Worthington, daughter and servant," had entered the still crowded parlors, where Mrs. Richards sat fanning herself industriously, and watching her John with motherly interest as he sauntered from one group of ladies to another, wondering what made Saratoga so dull, and where Miss Worthington had gone. It is not to be supposed that Dr. Richards cared a fig for Miss Worthington as Miss Worthington. It was simply her immense figure he admired, and as, during the evening he had heard on good authority that said figure was made up mostly of cotton growing on some Southern field, the exact locality of which his informant did not know, he had decided that, of course, Miss 'Lina's fortune was over-estimated. Such things always were, but still she must be wealthy. He had no doubt of that, and he might as well devote himself to her as to wait for some one else. Accordingly the moment he spied her in the crowd he joined her, asking if they should not take a little turn up and down the piazza."
"Wait till I ask mamma's permission to stay up a little longer. She always insists upon my keeping such early hours," was 'Lina's very filial and childlike reply, as she walked up to mamma, not to ask permission, but to whisper rather peremptorily, "Dr. Richards wishes me to walk with him, and as you are tired, you may as well go to bed!"
Meantime the doctor and 'Lina were walking up and down the long piazza, chatting gayly, and attracting much attention from 'Lina's loud manner of talking and laughing.
"By the way, I've called on Miss Johnson, at the Columbian," she said. "Beautiful, isn't she?"
"Ra-ather pretty, some would think," and the doctor had an uncomfortable consciousness of the refusal in his vest pocket.
If Alice had told. But no, he knew her better than that. He could trust her on that score, and so the dastardly coward affected to sneer at what he called her primness, charging 'Lina to be careful what she did, if she did not want a lecture, and asking if there were any ragged children in Kentucky, as she would not be happy unless she was running a Sunday school!
"She can teach the negroes! Capital!" and 'Lina laughed so loudly that Mrs. Richards joined them, laughing, too, at what she did not know, only—Miss Worthington had such spirits; it did one good; and she wished Anna was there to be enlivened.
"Write to her, John, won't you?"
John mentally thought it doubtful. Anna and 'Lina would never assimilate, and he would rather not have his pet sister's opinion to combat until his own was fully made up.
"Anna—oh, yes!" 'Lina exclaimed. "Miss Johnson spoke of her as the sweetest lady she ever saw. I wish she would come. I'm so anxious to see her. An invalid, I believe?"
Yes, dear Anna was a sad invalid, and cared but little to go from home, though if she could find a waiting maid, such as she had been in quest of for the last six months she might perhaps be persuaded.
"A waiting maid," 'Lina repeated to herself, remembering the forgotten letter in her dress pocket, wondering if it could be Anna Richards, whose advertisement Adah had answered, and if it were, congratulating herself upon her thoughtlessness in forgetting it, as she would not for the world have Adah Hastings, with her exact knowledge of Spring Bank, in Mrs. Richards' family. It passed her mind that the very dress had been given to Adah, who might find the letter yet. She only reflected that the letter never was sent, and felt glad accordingly. Very adroitly she set herself at work to ascertain if Anna Richards and "A.E.R." were one and the same individual.
If Anna wished for a waiting maid, she could certainly find one, she should suppose. She might advertise.
"She has," and the doctor began to laugh. "The most ridiculous thing. I hardly remember the wording, but it has been copied and recopied, for its wording, annoying Anna greatly, and bringing to our doors so many unfortunate women in search of places, that my poor little sister trembles now every time the bell rings, thinking it some fresh answer to her advertisement."
"I've seen it," and 'Lina very unconsciously laid her hand on his arm. "It was copied and commented upon by Prentice, and my sewing woman actually thought of answering it, thinking the place would suit her. I told her it was preposterous that 'A.E.R.' should want her with a child."
"The very one to suit Anna," and the doctor laughed again. "That was one of the requirements, or something. How was it, mother? I think we must manage to get your sewing woman. What is her name?"
'Lina had trodden nearer dangerous ground than she meant to do, and she veered off at once, replying to the doctor:
"Oh, she would not suit at all. She's too—I hardly know what, unless I say, lifeless, or insipid. And then, I could not spare my seamstress. She cuts nearly all my dresses."
"She must be a treasure. I have noticed how admirably they fitted," and old Mrs. Richards glanced again at the blue silk, half wishing that Anna had just such a waiting maid, they could all find her so useful. "If John succeeds, maybe Miss Worthington will bring her North," was her mental conclusion, and then, as it was growing rather late, she very thoughtfully excused herself, saying, "It was time old people retired; young ones, of course, could act at their own discretion. She would not hurry them," and hoping to see more of Miss Worthington to-morrow, she bowed good-night, and left the doctor alone with 'Lina.
"In the name of the people, what are you sitting up for?" was 'Lina's first remark when she went upstairs, followed by a glowing account of what Dr. Richards had said, and the delightful time she'd had. "Only play our cards well, and I'm sure to go home the doctor's fiancee. Won't Ellen Tiffton stare when I tell her, mother?" and 'Lina spoke in a low tone. "The doctor thinks I'm very rich. So do all the people here. Lulu has told that I'm an heiress; now don't you upset it all with your squeamishness about the truth. Nobody will ask you how much I'm worth, so you won't be compelled to a lie direct. Just keep your tongue between your teeth, and leave the rest to me. Will you?"
There was, as usual, a feeble remonstrance, and then the weak woman yielded so far as promising to keep silent was concerned.
Meantime the doctor sat in his own room nearby, thinking of 'Lina Worthington, and wishing she were a little more refined.
"Where does she get that coarseness?" he thought. "Not from her mother, certainly. She seems very gentle and ladylike. It must be from the Worthingtons," and the doctor wondered where he had heard that name before, and why it affected him rather unpleasantly, bringing with it memories of Lily. "Poor Lily," he sighed mentally. "Your love would have made me a better man if I had not cast it from me. Dear Lily, the mother of my child," and a tear half trembled in his eyelashes, as he tried to fancy that child; tried to hear the patter of the little feet running to welcome him home, as they might have done had he been true to Lily; tried to hear the baby voice calling him "papa;" to feel the baby hands upon his face—his bearded face where the great tears were standing now. "I did love Lily," he murmured; "and had I known of the child I never could have left her. Oh, Lily, my lost Lily, come back to me, come!" and his arms were stretched out into empty space, as if he fain would encircle again the girlish form he had so often held in his embrace.
It was very late ere Dr. Richards slept that night, and the morning found him pale, haggard and nearly desperate. Thoughts of Lily were gone, and in their place was a fixed determination to follow on in the course he had marked out, to find him a rich wife, to cast remorse to the winds, and be as happy as he could.
How anxious the doctor was to have Alice go; how fearful lest she should not; and how relieved when asked by 'Lina one night to go with her the next morning and see Miss Johnson off. There were Mrs. Worthington and 'Lina, Dr. Richards and Irving Stanley, and a dozen more admirers, who, dazzled with Alice's beauty, were dancing attendance upon her to the latest moment, but none looked so sorry as Irving Stanley, or said good-by so unwillingly, and 'Lina, as she saw the wistful gaze he sent after the receding train, playfully asked him if he did not feel some like the half of a pair of scissors.
The remark jarred painfully on Irving's finer feelings, while the doctor, affecting to laugh and ejaculate "pretty good," wished so much that his black-eyed lady were different in some things.
An unexpected turn in Hugh's affairs made it no longer necessary for him to remain in the sultry climate of New Orleans, and just one week from his mother's departure from Spring Bank he reached it, expressing unbounded surprise when he heard from Aunt Eunice where his mother had gone, and how she had gone.
"Fool and his money soon parted," Hugh said. "I can fancy just the dash Ad is making. But who sent the money?"
"A Mrs. Johnson, an old friend of your mother's," Aunt Eunice replied, while Hugh looked up quickly, wondering why the Johnsons should be so continually thrust upon him, when the only Johnson for whom he cared was dead years ago.
"And the young lady—what about her?" he asked, while Aunt Eunice told him the little she knew, which was that Mrs. Johnson wished her daughter to come to Spring Bank, but she did not know what they had concluded upon.
"That she should not come, of course," Hugh said. "They had no right to give her a home without my consent, and I've plenty of young ladies at Spring Bank now. Oh, it was such a relief when I was gone to know that in all New Orleans there was not a single hoop annoyed on my account. I had a glorious time doing as I pleased."
"And yet you've improved, seems to me," Aunt Eunice said.
"Oh, I'll turn out a polished dandy by and by, who knows?" Hugh answered, laughingly; then helping his aunt to mount the horse which had brought her to Spring Bank, he returned to the house, which seemed rather lonely, notwithstanding that he had so often wished he could once more be alone, just as he was before his mother came.
On the whole, however, he enjoyed his freedom from restraint, and very rapidly fell back into his old loose way of living, bringing his dogs even into the parlor, and making it a repository for both his hunting and fishing apparatus.
"It's splendid to do as I'm mind to," he said, one hot August morning, nearly three weeks after his mother's departure.
"Hello, Mug, what do you want?" he asked, as a very bright-looking little mulatto girl appeared in the door.
"Claib done buyed you this yer," and the child handed him the letter from his mother.
The first of it was full of affection for her boy, and Hugh felt his heart growing very tender as he read, but when he reached the point where poor, timid Mrs. Worthington tried to explain about Alice, making a wretched bungle, and showing plainly how much she was swayed by 'Lina, it began to harden at once.
"What the plague!" he exclaimed as he read on. "Suppose I remember having heard her speak of her old school friend, Alice Morton? I don't remember any such thing. Her daughter's name's Alice—Alice Johnson," and Hugh for an instant turned white, so powerfully that name always affected him.
"She is going to Colonel Tiffton's first, though they've all got the typhoid fever, I hear, and that's no place for her. That fever is terrible on Northerners—terrible on anybody. I'm afraid of it myself, and I wish this horrid throbbing I've felt for a few days would leave my head. It has a fever feel that I don't like," and the young man pressed his hand against his temples, trying to beat back the pain which so much annoyed him.
Just then Collonel Tiffton was announced, his face wearing an anxious look, and his voice trembling as he told how sick his Nell was, how sick they all were, and then spoke of Alice Johnson.
"She's the same girl I told you about the day I bought Rocket; some little kin to me, and that makes it queer why her mother should leave her to you. I knew she would not be happy at Saratoga, and so we wrote for her to visit us. She is on the road now, will be here day after to-morrow, and something must be done. She can't come to us without great inconvenience to ourselves and serious danger to her. Hugh, my boy, there's no other way—she must come to Spring Bank," and the old colonel laid his hand on that of Hugh, who looked at him aghast, but made no immediate reply.
"A pretty state of things, and a pretty place to bring a lady," he muttered, glancing ruefully around the room and enumerating the different articles he knew were out of place. "Fish worms, fishhooks, fishlines, bootjack, boot-blacking, and rifle, to say nothing of the dogs—and me!"
The last was said in a tone as if the "me" were the most objectionable part of the whole, as, indeed, Hugh thought it was.
"I wonder how I do look to persons wholly unprejudiced!" Hugh said, and turning to Muggins he asked what she thought of him.
"I thinks you berry nice. I likes you berry much," the child replied, and Hugh continued:
"Yes; but how do I look, I mean? What do I look like, a dandy or a scarecrow?"
Muggins regarded him for a moment curiously, and then replied:
"I'se dunno what kind of thing that dandy is, but I 'members dat yer scarecrow what Claib make out of mas'r's trouse's and coat, an' put up in de cherry tree. I thinks da look like Mas'r Hugh—yes, very much like!"
Hugh laughed long and loud, pinching Mug's dusky cheek, and bidding her run away.
"Pretty good," he exclaimed, when he was left alone, "That's Mug's opinion. Look like a scarecrow. I mean to see for myself," and going into the sitting-room, where the largest mirror was hung, he scanned curiously the figure which met his view, even taking a smaller glass, and holding it so as to get a sight of his back. "Tall, broad-shouldered, straight, well-built. My form is well enough," he said. "It's the clothes that bother. I mean to get some new ones. Then, as to my face," and Hugh turned himself around, "I never thought of it before; but my features are certainly regular, teeth can't be beaten, good brown skin, such as a man should have, eyes to match, and a heap of curly hair. I'll be hanged if I don't think I'm rather good-looking!" and with his spirits proportionately raised, Hugh whistled merrily as he went in quest of Aunt Chloe, to whom he imparted the startling information that on the next day but one, a young lady was coming to Spring Bank, and that, in the meantime, the house must be cleaned from garret to cellar, and everything put in order for the expected guest.
With growing years, Aunt Chloe had become rather cross and less inclined to work than formerly, frequently sighing for the days when "Mas'r John didn't want no clarin' up, but kep' things lyin' handy." With her hands on her fat hips she stood, coolly regarding Hugh, who was evidently too much in earnest to be opposed. Alice was coming, and the house must be put in order.
The cleaning and arranging was finished at last, and everything within the house was as neat and orderly as Aunt Eunice and Adah could make it, even Aunt Chloe acknowledging that "things was tiptop," but said, "it was no use settin' 'em to rights when Mas'r Hugh done onsot 'em so quick;" but Hugh promised to do better. He would turn over a new leaf, so by way of commencement, on the morning of Alice's expected arrival he deliberately rolled up his towel and placed it under his pillow instead of his nightshirt, which he hung conspicuously over the washstand. His boots were put behind the fire-board, his every day hat jammed into the bandbox where 'Lina kept her winter bonnet, and then, satisfied that so far as his room was concerned, everything was in order, he descended the stairs and went into the garden to gather fresh flowers with which still further to adorn Alice's room. Hugh was fond of flowers, and two most beautiful bouquets were soon arranged and placed in the vases brought from the parlor mantel, while Muggins, who trotted beside him, watching his movements and sometimes making suggestions, was told to see that they were freshly watered, and not allowed to stand where the sun could shine on them, as they might fade before Miss Johnson came.
During the excitement of preparing for Alice, the pain in his head had in a measure been forgotten, but it had come back this morning with redoubled force, and the veins upon his forehead looked almost like bursting with their pressure of feverish blood. Hugh had never been sick in his life, and he did not think it possible for him to be so now, so he tried hard to forget the giddy, half blinding pain warning him of danger, and after forcing himself to sip a little coffee in which he would indulge this morning, he ordered Claib to bring out the covered buggy, as he was going up to Lexington.
MEETING OF ALICE AND HUGH
Could 'Lina have seen Hugh that morning as he emerged from a fashionable tailor's shop, she would scarcely have recognized him. The hour passed rapidly away, and its close found Hugh waiting at the terminus of the Lexington and Cincinnati Railroad. He did not have to wait there long ere a wreath of smoke in the distance heralded the approach of the train, and in a moment the broad platform was swarming with passengers, conspicuous among whom were an old lady and a young, both entire strangers, as was evinced by their anxiety to know where to go.
"There are ours," the young lady said, pointing to a huge pile of trunks, distinctly marked "A.J.," as she held out her checks in her ungloved hand.
Hugh noticed the hand, saw that it was very small and white and fat, but the face he could not see, and he looked in vain for the magnificent hair about which even his mother had waxed eloquent, and which was now put plainly back, so that not a vestige of it was visible. Still Hugh felt sure that this was Alice Johnson, so sure that when he had ascertained the hotel where she would wait for the Frankfort train, he followed on, and entering the back parlor, the door of which was partly closed, sat down as if he, too, were a traveler, waiting for the train.
Meantime, in the room adjoining, Alice, for it was she, divested herself of her dusty wrappings, and taking out her combs and brushes, began to arrange her hair, talking the while to Densie, reclining on the sofa.
It would seem that Alice's own luxuriant tresses suggested her first remark, for she said to Densie: "That Miss Worthington has beautiful hair, so black, so glossy, and so wavy, too. I wonder she never curls it. It looks as if she might."
Densie did not know. It had struck her as singular taste, unless it were done to conceal a scar, or something of that kind.
"I did not like that girl," she said, "and still she interested me more than any person I ever met. I never went near her without experiencing a strange sensation, neither could I keep from watching her continually, although I knew as well as you that it annoyed her, Alice," and Densie lowered her voice almost to a whisper, "I cannot account for it, but I had queer fancies about that girl. Try now and bring her distinctly to your mind. Did you ever see any one whom she resembled; any other eyes like hers?" and Densie's own fierce, wild orbs flashed inquiringly upon Alice, who could not remember a face like 'Lina Worthington's.
"I did not like her eyes much," she said; "they were too intensely black, too much like coals of fire, when they flashed angrily on that poor Lulu, who evidently was not well posted in the duties of a waiting maid, auntie," and Alice's voice was lowered, too. "If mother had not so decided, I should shrink from being an inmate of Mrs. Washington's family. I like her very much, but 'Lina—I am afraid I shall not get on with her:"
"I know you won't. I honor your judgment," was Hugh's mental comment, while Alice went on:
"And what she told me of her brother was not calculated to impress me favorably."
Nervously Hugh's hands grasped each other, and he could distinctly hear the beating of his heart as he leaned forward so as not to lose a single word.
"She seemed trying to prepare me for him by telling how rough he was; how little he cared for etiquette; and how constantly he mortified her with his uncouth manners."
Alice did not hear the sigh of pain or see the mournful look which stole over Hugh's face. She did not even suspect his presence, and she went on to speak of Spring Bank, wondering if Hugh would be there before his mother returned, half hoping he would not, as she rather dreaded meeting him, although she meant to like him if she could.
Alice's long, bright hair, was arranged at last, and the soft curls fell about her face, giving to it the same look it had worn in childhood—the look which was graven on Hugh's heart, as with a pencil of fire; the look he never had forgotten through all the years which had come and gone since first it shone on him; the look he had never hoped to see again, so sure was he that it had long been quenched by the waters of Lake Erie. Alice's face was turned fully toward him. Through the open window at her back the August sunlight streamed, falling on her chestnut hair, and tinging it with the yellow gleam which Hugh remembered so well. For an instant the long lashes shaded the fair round cheek, and then were uplifted, disclosing the eyes of lustrous blue, which, seen but once, could never be mistaken, and Hugh was not mistaken. One look of piercing scrutiny at the face unconsciously confronting him, one mighty throb, which seemed to bear away his very life, one rapid passage of his hand before his eyes to sweep away the mist, if mist there were, and then Hugh knew the grave had given up its dead, mourned for so long as only he could mourn. She was not lost. Some friendly hand had saved her; some arm had borne her to the shore.
Golden Hair had come back to him, but, alas, prejudiced against him. She hoped he might be gone. She would be happier if he never crossed her path. "And I never, never will," Hugh thought, as with one farewell glance at her dazzling beauty, he staggered noiselessly from the room, and sought a small outer court, whose locality he knew, and where he could be alone to think.
"Oh, Adaline," he murmured, "what made you so cruel to me? I would not have served you so."
There was a roll of wheels before the door, and Hugh knew by the sound that it was the carriage for the cars. She was going. They would never meet again, Hugh said, and she would never know that the youth who saved her life was the same for whose coming they would wait and watch in vain at Spring Bank—the Hugh for whom his mother would weep a while; and for whose dark fate even Ad might feel a little sorry. She was not wholly depraved—she had some sisterly feeling, and his loss would waken it to life. They would appreciate him after he was gone, and the poor heart which had known so little love throbbed joyfully, as Hugh thought of being loved at last even by the selfish 'Lina.
Meantime Alice and Densie proceeded on their way to the Big Spring station, where Colonel Tiffton was waiting for them, according to his promise. There was a shadow in the colonel's good-humored face, and a shadow in his heart. His idol, Nellie, was very, very sick, while added to this was the terrible certainty that he and he alone must pay that $10,000 note on which he had foolishly put his name, because Harney had preferred it. He was talking with Harney when the cars came up, and the villain, while expressing regret that the colonel should be compelled to pay so much for what he never received, had said, with a relentless smile: "But it's not my fault, you know. I can't afford to lose it."
From that moment the colonel felt he was a ruined man, but he would not allow himself to appear at all discomposed.
"Wait a while," he said; "do nothing till my Nell lives or dies," and with a sigh as he thought how much dearer to him was his youngest daughter than all the farms in Woodford, he went forward to meet Alice, just appearing upon the platform.
The colonel explained to Alice why she must go to Spring Bank, adding, by way of consolation, that she would not be quite as lonely now Hugh was at home.
"Hugh at home!" and Alice shrank back in dismay, feeling for a moment that she could not go there.
But there was no alternative, and after a few tears, which, she could not repress, she said, timidly:
"What is this Hugh? What kind of a man, I mean?"
She could not expect the colonel to say anything bad of him, but she was not prepared for his frank response.
"The likeliest chap in Kentucky. Nothing dandified about him, to be sure. Wears his trouser legs in his boots as often as any way, and don't stand about the very latest cut of his coat, but he's got a heart bigger than an ox—yes, big as ten oxen! I'd trust him with my life, and know it was just as safe as his own. You'll like Hugh—Nell does."
The colonel never dreamed of the comfort his words gave Alice, or how they changed her feelings with regard to one whom she had so dreaded to meet.
"There 'tis; we're almost there," the colonel said at last, as they turned off from the highway, and leaning forward Alice caught sight of the roofs and dilapidated chimneys of Spring Bank. "'Taint quite as fixey as Yankee houses, that's a fact, but we that own niggers never do have things so smarted up," the colonel said, guessing how the contrast must affect Alice, who felt so desolate and homesick as she drew up in front of what, for a time at least, was to be her home.
"Where is Hugh?" Alice asked.
Aunt Eunice would not say he had gone to Lexington for the sake, perhaps, of seeing her, so she replied:
"He went to town this morning, but he'll be back pretty soon. He has done his best to make it pleasant for you, and I do believe he doted on your coming after he got a little used to thinking about it. You'll like Hugh when you get accustomed to him. There, try to go to sleep," and kind Aunt Eunice bustled from the room just as poor Densie, who had been entirely overlooked, entered it, together with Aunt Chloe. The old negress was evidently playing the hostess to Densie, for she was talking quite loud, and all about "Mas'r Hugh." "Pity he wasn't thar, 'twould seem so different; 'tain't de same house without him. You'll like Mas'r Hugh," and she, too, glided from the room.
Was this the password at Spring Bank, "You'll like Mas'r Hugh?" It would seem so, for when at last Hannah brought up the waffles and tea, which Aunt Eunice had prepared, she set down her tray, and after a few inquiries concerning Alice's head, which was now aching sadly, she, too, launched forth into a panegyric on Mas'r Hugh, ending, as the rest had done, "You'll like Mas'r Hugh."
ALICE AND MUGGINS
Had an angel appeared suddenly to the blacks at Spring Bank they would not have been more surprised or delighted than they were with Alice when she came down to breakfast, looking so beautiful in her muslin wrapper, with a simple white blossom and geranium leaf twined among her flowing curls, and an expression of content upon her childish face, which said that she had resolved to make the best of the place to which Providence had so clearly led her for some wise purpose of his own. She had arisen early and explored the premises in quest of the spots of sunshine which she knew were there as well as elsewhere, and she had found them, too, in the grand old elms and maples which shaded the wooden building, in the clean, grassy lawn and the running brook, in the well-kept garden of flowers, and in the few choice volumes arranged in the old bookcase at one end of the hall. Who reads those books, her favorites, every one of them? Not 'Lina, most assuredly, for Alice's reminiscences of her were not of the literary kind; nor yet Mrs. Worthington, kind, gentle creature as she seemed to be. Who then but Hugh could have pored over those pages? And Alice felt a thrill of joy as she felt there was at least one bond of sympathy between them. There was no Bible upon the shelves, no religious book of any kind, if we except a work of infidel Tom Paine, at sight of which Alice recoiled as from a viper. Could Hugh believe in Tom Paine? She hoped not, and with a sigh she was turning from the corner, when the patter of little naked feet was heard upon the stairs, and a bright mulatto child, apparently seven or eight years old, appeared, her face expressive of the admiration with which she regarded Alice, who asked her name.
Curtseying very low, the child replied:
"I dunno, missus; I 'spec's I done lost 'em, 'case heap of a while ago, 'fore you're born, I reckon, they call me Leshie, but Mas'r Hugh done nickname me Muggins, and every folks do that now. You know Mas'r Hugh? He done rared when he read you's comin'; do this way with his boot, 'By George, Ad will sell the old hut yet without 'sultin' me,'" and the little darky's fist came down upon the window sill in apt imitation of her master.
A crimson flush overspread Alice's face as she wondered if it were possible that the arrangements concerning her coming there had been made without reference to Hugh's wishes.
"It may be, he was away," she sighed; then feeling an intense desire to know more, and being only a woman and mortal, she said to Muggins walking around her in circles, with her fat arms folded upon her bosom. "Your master did not know I was coming till he returned from New Orleans and found his mother's letter?"
"Who tole you dat ar?" and Muggins' face was perfectly comical in its bewilderment at what she deemed Alice's foreknowledge. "But dat's so, dat is. I hear Aunt Chloe say so, and how't was right mean in Miss 'Lina. I hate Miss 'Lina! Phew-ew!" and Muggins' face screwed itself into a look of such perfect disgust that Alice could not forbear laughing outright.
"You should not hate any one, my child," she said, while Muggins rejoined:
"I can't help it—none of us can; she's so—mean—and so—so—you mustn't never tell, 'case Aunt Chloe get my rags if you do—but she's so low-flung, Claib say. She hain't any bizzens orderin' us around nuther, and I will hate her!"
"But, Muggins, the Bible teaches us to love those who treat us badly, who are mean, as you say."
"Who's he?" and Muggins looked up quickly. "I never hearn tell of him afore, or, yes I has. Thar's an old wared-out book in Mas'r Hugh's chest, what he reads in every night, and oncet when I axes him what was it, he say, 'It's a Bible, Mug.' Dat's what he calls me for short; Mug!"
"Well," Alice said, "be a good girl, Muggins. God will love you if you do. Do you ever pray?"
"More times I do, and more times when I'se sleepy I don't," was Muggins' reply.
Here was a spot where Alice might do good; this half-heathen, but sprightly, African child needed her, and she began already to get an inkling of her mission to Kentucky. She was pleased with Muggins, and suffered the little dusky hands to caress her curls as long as they pleased, while she questioned her of the bookcase and its contents, whose was it, 'Lina's or Hugh's?
"Mas'r Hugh's, in course. Miss 'Lina can't read!" was Muggins' reply, which Alice fully understood.
'Lina was no reader, while Hugh was, it might be, and she continued to speak of him. Did he read much, ever evenings to his mother, or did 'Lina play often to them?"
"More'n we wants, a heap!" and Muggins spoke scornfully. "We can't bar them rang-tang-em-er-digs she thumps out. Now, we likes Mas'r Hugh's the best—got good voice, sing Dixie, oh, splendid! Mas'r Hugh loves flowers, too. Tend all them in the garden."
"Did he?" and Alice spoke with great animation, for she had supposed that 'Lina's, or at least Mrs. Worthington's hands had been there.
But it was Hugh, all Hugh, and in spite of what Muggins had said concerning his aversion to her coming there, she felt a great desire to see him. She could understand in part why he should be angry at not having been consulted, but he was over that, she was sure from what Aunt Eunice said, and if he were not, it behooved her to try her best to remove any wrong impression he might have formed of her. "He shall like me," she thought; "not as he must like that golden-haired maiden whose existence this sprite of a negro has discovered, but as a friend, or sister," and a softer light shone in Alice's blue eyes, as she foresaw in fancy Hugh gradually coming to like her, to be glad that she was there, and to miss her when she was gone.
Could Hugh have known the feelings with which Alice Johnson already regarded him, and the opinion she had expressed to Muggins, it would perhaps have stilled the fierce throbbings of his heart, which sent the hot blood so swiftly through his veins, and made him from the first delirious. They had found him in the quiet court, just after the sunsetting, and his uncovered head was already wet with the falling dew, and with the profuse perspiration induced by his long, heavy sleep. They could not arouse him to a distinct consciousness as to where he was or what had happened. He only talked of Ad and the Golden Haired, asking that they would take him anywhere, where neither could ever see him again. He was well known at the hotel, and measures were immediately taken for apprising his family of the sudden illness, and for removing him to Spring Bank as soon as possible.
Breakfast was not yet over at Spring Bank, and Aunt Eunice was just wondering what could have become of Hugh, when from her position near the window she discovered a horseman riding across the lawn at a rate which betokened some important errand. Alice spied him, too, and the same thought flashed over both herself and Aunt Eunice. "Something had befallen Hugh."
Alice was the first upon the piazza, where she stood waiting till the rider came up, his horse covered with foam, and himself flurried and excited.
"Are you Miss Worthington?" he asked, doffing his soft hat, and feeling a thrill of wonder at sight of her marvelous beauty.
"Miss Worthington is not at home," she said, going down the steps and advancing closer to him, "but I can take your message. Is anything the matter with Mr. Worthington?"
Aunt Eunice had now joined her, and listened breathlessly while the young man told of Hugh's illness, which threatened to be the prevailing fever.
"They were bringing him home," he said—"were now on the way, and he had ridden in advance to prepare them for his coming."
Aunt Eunice seemed literally stunned and wholly incapable of action, while the negroes howled dismally for Mas'r Hugh, who, Chloe said, was sure to die.
"She'd felt it all along. She knew dem dogs hadn't howled for nothing, nor them deathwatches ticked in the wall. Mas'r Hugh was gwine to die, and all the blacks would be sold—down the river, most likely, if Harney didn't get 'em," and crouching by the kitchen fire old Chloe bewailed the calamity she knew was about to befall them.
Alice alone was calm and capable of action. A room must be prepared, and somebody must direct, but to find the somebody was a most difficult matter. Chloe couldn't, Hannah couldn't, Aunt Eunice couldn't, and consequently it all devolved upon herself.
They carried Hugh to the room designated by Densie, and into which he went very unwillingly.
It was not his den, he said, drawing back with a bewildered look; his was hot, and close, and dingy, while this was nice and cool—a room such as women had—there must be a mistake, and he begged of them to take him away.
"No, no, my poor boy. This is right; Miss Johnson said you must come here just because it is cool and nice. You'll get well so much faster," and Aunt Eunice's tears dropped on Hugh's flushed face.
"Miss Johnson!" and the wild eyes looked up eagerly at her. "Who is she? Oh, yes, I know, I know," and a moan came from his lips as he whispered: "Does she know I've come? Does it make her hate me worse to see me in such a plight? Ho, Aunt Eunice, put your ear down close while I tell you something. Ad said—you know Ad—she said I was—I was—I can't tell you what she said for this buzzing in my head. Am I very sick, Aunt Eunice?" and about the chin there was a quivering motion, which betokened a ray of consciousness, as the brown eyes scanned the kind, motherly face bending over him.
"Yes, Hugh, you are very sick," and Aunt Eunice's tears dropped upon the face of her boy, so fearfully changed since yesterday.
He wiped them away himself, and looked inquiringly at her.
"Am I so sick that it makes you cry? Is it the fever I've got?"
"Yes, Hugh, the fever," and Aunt Eunice bowed her face upon his burning hands.
For a moment he lay unconscious, then raising himself up, he fixed his eyes piercingly upon her, and whispered, hoarsely:
"Aunt Eunice, I shall die! I have never been sick in my life; and the fever goes hard with such. I shall surely die. It's been days in coming on, and I thought to fight it off; I don't want to die. I'm not prepared."
He was growing terribly excited now, and Aunt Eunice hailed the coming of the doctor with delight. Hugh knew him, offering his pulse and putting out his tongue of his own accord. The doctor counted the rapid pulse, numbering even then 130 per minute, noted the rolling eyeballs and the dilation of the pupils, felt the fierce throbbing of the swollen veins upon the temple, and then gravely shook his head. Half conscious, half delirious, Hugh watched him nervously, until the great fear at his heart found utterance in words.
"Must I die?"
"We hope not. We'll do what we can to save you. Don't think of dying, my boy," was the physician's reply, as he turned to Aunt Eunice, and gave out the medicine, which must be most carefully administered.
Too much agitated to know just what he said, Aunt Eunice listened, as one who heard not, noticing which, the doctor said:
"You are not the right one to take these directions. Is there nobody here less nervous than yourself? Who was that young lady standing by the door when I came in? The one in white, I mean, with such a quantity of curls?"
"Miss Johnson—our visitor. She can't do anything," Aunt Eunice replied, trying to compose herself enough to know what she was doing.
But the doctor thought differently. Something of a physiognomist, he had been struck with the expression of Alice's face, and felt sure that she would be more efficient aid than Aunt Eunice herself. "I'll speak to her," he said, stepping to the hall. But Alice was gone. She had stood by the sickroom door long enough to hear Hugh's impassioned words concerning his probable death—long enough to hear him ask that she might pray for him; and then she stole away to where no ear, save that of God, could hear the earnest prayer that Hugh Worthington might live—or that dying, there might be given him a space in which to grasp the faith, without which the grave is dark indeed.
Meantime, the Hugh for whom the prayer was made had fallen into a heavy sleep, and Aunt Eunice noiselessly left the room, meeting in the hall with Alice, who asked permission to go in and sit by him at least until he awoke. Aunt Eunice consented, and with noiseless footsteps Alice advanced into the darkened room, and after standing still for a moment to assure herself that Hugh was really sleeping, stole softly to his bedside and bent down to look at him, starting quickly at the strong resemblance to somebody seen before. Who was it? Where was it? she asked herself, her brain a labyrinth of bewilderment as she tried in vain to recall the time or place where a face like this reposing upon the pillow before her had met her view. Suddenly she remembered Irving Stanley, and that between him and Hugh there was a relationship, and then she knew it was the likeness to Irving Stanley, which she so plainly traced. Alice hardly cared to acknowledge it, but as she looked at Hugh she felt that his was really the handsomer, the more attractive face of the two. It certainly was, as he lay there asleep, his long eyelashes resting upon his flushed cheek, his dark hair curling in soft rings about his high, white brow, his rich, brown beard glistening with perspiration, and his lips slightly apart, showing a row of even teeth.
There were others than Alice praying for Hugh that summer afternoon, for Muggins had gone from the brook to the cornfield, startling Adah with the story of Hugh's sickness, and then launching out into a glowing description of the new miss, "with her white gown and curls as long as Rocket's tail."
"She talked with God, too," she said, "like what you does, Miss Adah. She axes Him to make Mas'r Hugh well, and He will, won't He?"
"I trust so," Adah answered, her own heart going silently up to the Giver of life and health, asking, if it were possible, that her noble friend might be spared.
Old Sam, too, with streaming eyes, stole out to his bethel by the spring, and prayed for the dear "Massah Hugh" lying so still at Spring Bank, and insensible to all the prayers going up in his behalf.
How terrible that deathlike stupor was, and the physician, when later in the afternoon he came again, shook his head sadly.
"I'd rather see him rave till it took ten men to hold him," he said, feeling the wiry pulse, which was now beyond his count.
"Is there nothing that will arouse him?" Alice asked, "no name of one he loves more than another?"
The doctor answered "no; love for womankind, save as he feels it for his mother or his sister, is unknown to Hugh Worthington."
Alice said softly, lest she should be heard:
"Hugh, shall I call Golden Haired?"
"Yes, yes, oh, yes," and the heavy lids unclosed at once, while the eyes, in which there was no ray of consciousness, looked wistfully into the lustrous blue orbs above him.
"Are you the Golden Haired?" and he laid his hand caressingly over the shining tresses just within his reach.
Alice was about to reply, when an exclamation from those near the window, and the heavy tramp of horse's feet, arrested her attention, and drew her also to the window, just as a most beautiful gray, saddled but riderless, came dashing over the gate, and tearing across the yard, until he stood panting at the door. Rocket had come home for the first time since his master had led him away!
Hearing of Hugh's illness, the old colonel had ridden over to inquire how he was, and fearing lest it might be difficult to get Rocket away if once he stood in the familiar yard, he had dismounted in the woods, and fastening him to a tree, walked the remaining distance. But Rocket was not thus to be cheated. Ever since turning into the well-remembered lane he had seemed like a new creature, pricking up his ears, and, dancing and curvetting daintily along, as he had been wont to do on public occasions when Hugh was his rider instead of the fat colonel. In this state of feeling it was quite natural that he should resent being tied to a tree, and as if divining why it was done, he broke his halter the moment the colonel was out of sight, and went galloping through the woods like lightning, never for an instant slackening his speed until he stood at Spring Bank door, calling, as well as he could call, for Hugh, who heard and recognized that call.
Throwing his arms wildly over his head, he raised himself in bed, and exclaimed joyfully:
"That's he! that's Rocket! I knew he'd come. I've only been waiting for him to start on that long journey. Ho! Aunt Eunice! Pack my clothes. I'm going away, where I shan't mortify Ad any more. Hurry up. Rocket is growing impatient. Don't you hear him pawing the turf? I'm coming, my boy, I'm coming!" and he attempted to leap upon the floor, but the doctor's strong arm held him down, while Alice, whose voice alone he heeded, strove to quiet him.
"I wouldn't go away to-day," she said soothingly. "Some other time will do as well, and Rocket can wait."
"Will you stay with me?" Hugh asked.
"Yes, I'll stay," was Alice's reply.
"I'm glad he's roused up," the doctor said, "though I don't like the way his fever increases," and Alice knew by the expression of his face that there was but little hope, determining not to leave him during the night.
Densie or Aunt Eunice might sleep on the lounge, she said, but the care, the responsibility shall be hers. To this the doctor willingly acceded, thinking that Hugh was safer with her than any one else. Exchanging the white wrapper she had worn through the day for one more suitable, Alice, after an hour's rest in her own room, returned to Hugh, who had missed her sadly, and who knew the moment she came back to him, even though his eyes were closed, and he seemed to be half asleep.
"Mas'r Hugh won't die," and Muuggins' faith came to the rescue, throwing a ray of hope into the darkness. "Miss Alice axed God to spar' him, and so did I; now He will, won't He, miss?" and she turned to Adah, who, with Sam, had just come up to Spring Bank, and hearing voices in the kitchen had entered there first. "Say, Miss Adah, won't God cure Mas'r Hugh—'ca'se I axed Him oncet?"
"You must pray more than once, child; pray many, many times," was Adah's reply; whereupon Mug looked aghast, for the idea of praying a second time had never entered her brain.
Still, if she must, why, she must, and she stole quietly from the kitchen. But it was now too dark to go down in the woods by the running brook, and remembering Alice had said that God was everywhere, she first cast around her a timid glance, as if fearful she should see Him, and then kneeling in the grass, wet with the heavy night dew, the little negro girl prayed again for Master Hugh, starting as she prayed at the sound which met her ear, and which came from the spot where Rocket still was standing by the block, waiting for his master.
Claib had offered him food and offered him drink, but both had been refused, and opening the stable door so that he could go in whenever he chose, Claib had left him there alone, solitary watcher of the night, waiting for poor Hugh.
Returning to the house, Mug stole upstairs to the door of the sickroom, where Alice was now alone with Hugh.
He was awake, and for an instant seemed to know her, for he attempted to speak, but the rational words died on his lips, and he only moaned, as if in distress.