"What is it?" Alice said, bending over him.
"Are you the Golden Haired?" he asked again, as her curls swept his face.
"Who is Golden Hair?" Alice asked, and instantly the great tears gathered in Hugh's dark eyes as he replied:
"Don't say who is she, but who was she. I've never told a living being before. Golden Hair was a bright angel who crossed my path one day, and then disappeared forever, leaving behind the sweetest memory a mortal man ever possessed. She's dead, Chestnut Locks," and he twined one of Alice's curls around his finger. "It's weak for men to cry, but I have cried many a night for her, when the clouds were crying, too, and I heard against my window the rain which I knew was falling upon her little grave."
He was growing rather excited, and thinking he had talked too much, Alice was trying to quiet him, when the door opened softly and Adah herself came in. Bowing politely to Alice she advanced to Hugh's bedside, and bending over him spoke his name. He knew her, and turning to Alice said: "This is Adah; you will like each other; you are much alike."
For an instant the two young girls gazed at each other as if trying to account for the familiar look each saw in the other's face. Adah was the first to remember, and when at last Hugh was asleep she unclasped from her neck the slender chain she had worn so long, and passing the locket to Alice, asked if she ever saw it before.
"Yes, oh, yes, it's I, it's mine, though not a very natural one. I never knew where I lost it. Where did you find it?" and opening the other side Alice looked to see if the lock of hair was safe.
Adah explained how it came into her possession, asking if Alice remembered the circumstances.
"Yes, and I thought of you so often, never dreaming that we should meet here as we have. You were so sick then, and I pitied you so much. Your husband was gone, you said. Was it long ere he came back?"
"He never came back," and the great brown eyes filled with tears.
"Never came? Do you think him dead?"
"No, no! oh, no! He's—Oh, Miss Johnson, I'll tell you some time. Nobody here knows but Hugh how I was deceived, but I'll tell you. I can trust you," and Adah involuntarily laid her head in Alice's lap, sobbing bitterly.
In the hall without there was a shuffling step which Adah knew was Sam's, and remembering the conversation once held with him concerning that golden locket, whose original Sam was positive he had seen, Alice waited curious for his entrance. With hobbling steps the old man came in, scarcely noticing either of them, so intent was he upon the figure lying so still and helpless before him.
"Massah Hugh, my poor, dear Massah Hugh," he cried, bending over his young master. "I wish 'twas Sam had all de pain an' all de aches you feels. I'd b'ar it willingly, massah, I would. Dear massah, kin you hear Sam talkin' to you?"
Sam had turned away from Hugh, and with his usual politeness was about making his obeisance to Alice, when the words, "Your servant, miss," were changed into a howl of joy, and falling upon his knees, he clutched at Alice's dress, exclaiming:
"Now de Lord be praised, I'se found her again. I'se found Miss Ellis, I has, an' I feels like singin' 'Glory Hallelujah.' Does ye know me, lady? Does you 'member shaky ole darky, way down in Virginny? You teached him de way, an' he's tried to walk dar ever sence. Say, does you know ole Sam?" and the dim eyes looked eagerly into Alice's face.
She did remember him, and for a moment seemed speechless with surprise, then, stooping beside him, she took his shriveled hand and pressed it between her own, asking how he came there, and if Hugh had always been his master.
"You 'splain, Miss Adah. You speaks de dictionary better than Sam," the old man said, and thus appealed to, Adah told what she knew of Sam's coming into Hugh's possession.
"He buy me just for kindness, nothing else, for Sam ain't wo'th a dime, but Massah Hugh so good. I prays for him every night, and I asks God to bring you and him together. Miss Ellis will like Massah Hugh much, so much, and Massah Hugh like Miss Ellis. Oh, I'se happy chile to-night. I prays wid a big heart, 'case I sees Miss Ellis again," and in his great joy Sam kissed the hem of Alice's dress, crouching at her feet and regarding her with a look almost idolatrous.
They watched together that night, attending Hugh so carefully that when the morning broke and the physician came, he pronounced the symptoms so much better that there was much hope, he said, if the faithful nursing were continued.
ALICE AND ADAH
At Alice's request, Adah and Sam stayed altogether at Spring Bank, but Alice was the ruling power—Alice, the one whom Chloe and Claib consulted; one concerning the farm, and the other concerning the kitchen—Alice, to whom Aunt Eunice looked for counsel, and Densie for comfort—Alice, who remembered all the doctor's directions, taking the entire charge of Hugh's medicines herself—and Alice, who wrote to Mrs. Worthington, apprising her of Hugh's serious illness. They hoped he was not dangerous, she said, but he was very sick, and Mrs. Worthington would do well to come at once. She did not mention 'Lina, but the idea never crossed her mind that a sister could stay away from choice when a brother was so ill; and it was with unfeigned surprise that she one morning saw Mrs. Worthington and Lulu alighting at the gate, but no 'Lina with them.
"She was so happy at Saratoga," Mrs. Worthington said, when a little over the first flurry of her arrival. "So happy, too, with Mrs. Richards that she could not tear herself away, unless her mother should find Hugh positively dangerous, in which case she should, of course, come at once."
This was the mother's charitable explanation, made with a bitter sigh as she recalled 'Lina's heartless anger when the letter was received, as if Hugh were to blame, as, indeed, 'Lina seemed to think he was.
Meantime Alice, in her own room, was reading 'Lina's note, containing a most glowing description of the delightful time she was having at Saratoga, and how hard it would be to leave.
"I know dear Hugh is in good hands," she wrote, "and it is so pleasant here that I really do want to stay a little longer. Pray write to me just how Hugh is, and if I must come home. What a delightful lady that Mrs. Richards is—not one bit stiff as I can see. I don't know what people mean to call her proud. She has promised, if mamma will leave me here, to be my chaperon, and it's possible we may visit New York together, so as to be there when the prince arrives. Won't that be grand? She talks so much of you that sometimes I'm really jealous. Perhaps I may go to Terrace Hill before I return, but rather hope not, it makes me fidgety to think of meeting the Misses Richards, though, of course, I know I shall like them, particularly Anna. Oh, I most forgot! Irving is here yet, and has a sister, Mrs. Ellsworth, with him now. She is very elegant, and very much admired. Tell Adah I heard Mrs. Ellsworth say she wished she could find some young person as governess for her little girl, and kind of companion for her. I did not speak of Adah, but I thought of her, knowing she desired some such situation. She might write to Mrs. Ellsworth here, but I'd rather she should not refer to me as having known her. You see Mrs. Ellsworth would directly inquire about her antecedents, and to a stranger it would not sound well that she came to us one stormy night with that child, whose father we know nothing about, and if I told the truth, as I always try to do, I should have to tell this. So it will be better for Adah not to know us, even if she should come to Mrs. Ellsworth. You will understand me, I am sure, and believe that I am actuated by the kindest of motives. She can direct to Mrs. Julia Ellsworth, Union Hall, Saratoga Springs. By the way, tell mother not to forget that dress. She'll know what you mean.
"Mr. Stanley seemed quite blue after you went away. I should not be surprised to hear of his being at Spring Bank some day. Isn't it funny that you had to go right there? Perhaps it's as well for you that Hugh is sick. You will got a better impression. Au revoir."
Not a word was there in this letter of the doctor, but Alice understood it all the same. He was the attraction which kept the selfish girl from her brother's side. "May she be happy with him, if, indeed, he has a right to win her," was Alice's mental comment, shuddering as she recalled the time when she was pleased with the handsome doctor, and silently thanking God, who had saved her from much sorrow. Hearing Mrs. Worthington in the hall, and remembering what 'Lina said concerning the dress, she stepped to the door and delivered the message, wondering that Mrs. Worthington should seem so confounded, and stammer so, as she turned to Adah, just coming up the stairs, and said:
"Have you ever done anything with that old muslin 'Lina gave you?"
"Never till to-day," Adah replied; "when it occurred to me that if this hot weather lasted, I might find it comfortable, provided I could fix it, so I sent Mug for it, and she is ripping the waist."
Mrs. Worthington was not a good dissembler, and her next question was:
"Did you find anything in the pocket?"
"Yes, my letter, written weeks ago. Your daughter must have forgotten it. I intrusted it to her care the day Miss Tiffton called."
Adah was just thinking of speaking freely to Alice Johnson concerning her future course, when Mrs. Worthington met her in the upper hall.
"I'll go to her now," she said, as Mrs. Worthington left her, and knocking timidly at Alice's door, she asked permission to enter.
"Oh, certainly, I have something to tell you," Alice said, motioning her to a chair, and sitting down beside her. "Miss Worthington sent me a note in which she speaks of you."
"Of me?" and Adah colored slightly. "I did not know she ever thought of me. Why did she not come with her mother?"
"She is enjoying herself so much is the reason she gives, though I fancy there is another more powerful one. Perhaps the note will enlighten you," and Alice passed it to Adah, not so much to show her how heartless 'Lina was, as to see if in what she had said of the Richards family there was not something which Adah would recognize.
That look in Willie's face had almost grown to a certainty with Alice, who saw Anna, or Asenath, or Eudora, and sometimes John himself in every move of the little fellow. Silently Adah read the note, her paled cheeks turning scarlet at what 'Lina had said of herself and Mrs. Ellsworth. The Richards family were nothing to her. She only seized upon and treasured up the words "with a child about whose father we know nothing." Slowly the tears gathered in her eyes and finally fell in torrents as Alice asked:
"What made her cry?"
"Oh, Miss Johnson," and Adah hid her face in Alice's lap, "I'm thinking of George—of Willie's father. Will he never come back, or the world know that I thought I was a lawful wife? Yes, and I sometimes believe so now, or I should surely go wild, Miss Johnson," and Adah lifted up her head, disclosing a face which Alice scarcely recognized, for the strange expression there. "Miss Johnson, if I knew that George deliberately planned my ruin under the guise of a mock marriage, and then when it suited him deserted me as a toy of which he was tired, I should hate him!—hate him!"
"I frighten you, Miss Johnson," she said, as she saw how Alice shrank away from the dark eyes in which there was a fierce, resentful gleam, unlike sweet Adah Hastings. "I used to frighten myself when I saw in my eyes the demon which whispered suicide."
"Oh, Adah," said Alice, "you could not have dreamed that!"
"I did," and Adah spoke sadly now. "It was kind in God to save me, and I've tried to love Him better since; but there's something savage in my nature, something I must have inherited from one of my parents, and sometimes my heart, which at first was full of love for George, goes out against him for his base treachery."
"And yet you love him still?" Alice said, as she smoothed the beautiful brown hair.
"I suppose I do. A kind word from him would bring me back, but will it ever be spoken? Shall we ever meet again?"
"Where did he go?" Alice asked.
"He went to Europe, so he said."
There was a voluntary shudder as Alice recalled the time when Dr. Richards came home from Europe, and she had been flattered with his attentions.
"I may be unjust to him," she thought, then to Adah she said: "As you have told me your story in part, will you tell me the whole?"
There was no vindictiveness now in Adah's face, nothing save a calm, gentle expression such as it was used to wear, and the soft brown eyes drooped mournfully beneath the heavy lashes as she told the story of her wrongs.
"And Hugh?" Alice said. "Why did you come to him? Had you known him before?"
"Hugh was the other witness, bribed by my guardian to lend himself a party to the deception! I never saw him till that night; neither, I think, did George. My guardian planned the whole."
"Hugh Worthington is not the man I took him for," and Alice spoke bitterly.
"You mistake him," she cried eagerly. "My guardian, Mr. Monroe, was pleased with the young Kentuckian, and led him easily. He coaxed him to drink a glass of wine, which Hugh says must have been drugged, for it took away his power to act as he would otherwise have done, and when in this condition he consented to whatever Mr. Monroe proposed, keeping silent while the horrid farce went on. But he has repented so bitterly, and been so kind to me and Willie."
"And your guardian," interrupted Alice, "is it not strange that he should have acted so cruel a part?"
"Yes, that's the strangest part of all, and he was so kind to me. I cannot understand it, or where he is, though I've sometimes imagined he must be dead; or in prison," and Adah thought of what Sam had said concerning Sullivan, the negro-stealer.
"What do you mean; why should he be in prison?" Alice asked, and Adah replied by telling her what Sam had said, and the reason she had for thinking Sullivan and her guardian, Monroe, one and the same.
"I too am marked," and with a quick, nervous motion, she touched the spot where the blue lines were faintly visible. "I know not how I came by it, but it annoys me terribly. Mr. Monroe knew how I felt about it, and the day before that marriage he said to me: 'It will disappear with your children. They will not be marked,' and Willie isn't."
Just then Willie's voice was heard in the hall, and Alice admitted him into the room. She kissed his rosy cheek, and said to Adah: "Do you know I think he looks like Hugh."
"Yes," and Adah spoke sadly. "I know he does, and I am sorry for Hugh's sake, as it must annoy him. Neither can I account for it, for I am certainly nothing to Hugh. But there's another look in Willie's face, his father's. Oh, Miss Johnson, George was handsome."
"Can you describe him, or will it be too painful?" Alice asked, and Adah told how George Hastings looked, while Alice's handy worked nervously together, for Adah was describing Dr. Richards.
"And you've never seen him since, nor guessed where his proud mother lived?"
"Never, and when only the wrong is remembered, I think I never care to see or hear from him again. But the noble, self-denying Hugh! I would almost die for him; I ask God every day to bring him some good fortune at last. He will, I know He will, and Hugh shall yet—"
She stopped short, struck with an idea which had never before entered her mind. Hugh and Alice! Oh, if that could be.
"Why do you look at me?" Alice asked, as Adah sat drinking in the dazzling beauty which she wished might one day shine for Hugh.
"I am thinking how beautiful you are, and wondering if you ever loved any one; did you?"
"Not like you," Alice answered frankly. "When a little girl of thirteen I owed my life to a youth with many characteristics like Hugh Worthington. I liked him, and wanted so much to find him, but could not. Then I grew to womanhood, and another crossed my path, well skilled in finding every avenue to a maiden's heart. I did not love him. I am glad that I did not, for he was unworthy of my love; but I fancied him a while, and my heart did ache a little when mother on her deathbed talked to me against him. It was my money he wanted most, and when he thought I had none, he left me, saying as I heard, that I 'was a nice-ish kind of girl, rather good-looking, but too blue for him.'"
"And the other, the boy like Hugh, have you met him again?" Adah asked, feeling a little disappointed, when Alice replied:
"Once, I am very sure."
Alice heard the faint sigh, and hope died out for Hugh. Poor Hugh! Alice was thinking of him, too, and said at last: "Was Rocket sold to Colonel Tiffton for debt?"
"Yes, for 'Lina's debts, contracted at Harney's. I've heard of his boasting that Hugh should yet be compelled to see him galloping down the pike upon his idol."
"He never shall!" and Alice spoke under her breath, asking further questions concerning the sale of Colonel Tiffton's house, and now much Mosside was worth.
Adah did not know. She was only posted with regard to Rocket, who was pawned for five hundred dollars. "Once I insanely hoped that I might help redeem him—that God would find a work for me to do—and my heart was so happy for a moment."
"What did you think of doing?" Alice asked, glancing at the delicate young girl, who looked so unaccustomed to toil of any kind.
"I thought to be a governess or waiting maid," and Adah's lip began to quiver. Then she told how her letter had been carelessly forgotten.
"Do you remember the address?" and Alice waited curiously for the answer.
"Yes, 'A.E.R. Snowdon.' You came from Snowdon Miss Johnson, and I've wanted so much to ask if you knew 'A.E.R.,' but have never dared talk freely with you till to-day."
Alice was confounded. Surely the leadings of Providence were too plainly evident to be unnoticed. There was a reason why Adah Hastings must go to Anna Richards, and Alice hastened to reply: "'A.E.R.' is no less a person than Anna Richards whose mother and brother are now at Saratoga."
"Oh, I can't go there. They are too proud. They would hate me for Willie, and ask me for his father."
Very gently Alice talked to her of Snowdon and Anna Richards, whom Adah was sure to like.
"I'm so glad for your sake that it has come around at last," she said. "Will you write to her to-day, or shall I for you? Perhaps I had better!"
"Oh, no, I would rather go unannounced—rather Miss Anna should like me for my self, if I go," and Adah's voice trembled, for she shrank nervously from the thought of meeting the Richards family.
If 'Lina liked the old lady, she certainly could not, and the very thought of these elder sisters, in all their primness, dismayed and disheartened her.
While this was passing through her mind, she sat twining Willie's silken curls around her finger, and apparently listening to what Alice was now saying of Dr. Richards; but Alice might as well have talked to the winds for any impression she made. Adah was looking far into the future, wondering what it had in store for her, as if in Anna Richards she would indeed find the sympathizing friend which Alice said she would. Gradually, as she thought of Anna, her heart went out strangely toward her.
"I will go to Miss Richards," she said at last; "but I cannot go till Hugh is better, till he knows and approves. I must take his blessing with me. Do you think it will be long before he regains his reason?"
Alice could not tell.
"Do you correspond with Miss Richards?" Adah suddenly asked.
"No. I will send a note of introduction by you, though."
"Please don't," and Adah spoke pleadingly. "I should have to give it if you did, and I'd rather go by myself. I know it would be better to have your influence, but it is a fancy of mine not to say that I ever knew you or any one at Spring Bank."
Now it was settled that Adah should go, she felt a restless, impatient desire to be gone, questioning the doctor closely with regard to Hugh, who, it seemed to her, would never awaken from the state of unconsciousness into which he had fallen, and from which he only rallied for an instant, just long enough to recognize his mother, but never Alice or herself, both of whom watched over him day and night.
WAKING TO CONSCIOUSNESS
The sultry August glided by, and in the warm, still days of late September Hugh awoke from the sleep which had so long hung over him. Raising himself upon his elbow, he glanced around the room. There were the table, the stand, the mirror, the curtains, the vases, and the flowers, but what—did he see aright, or did his eyes deceive him? and the perspiration stood thickly about his mouth, as in the bouquet, that morning arranged, he recognized the gay flowers of autumn, not such as he had gathered for Alice, delicate summer flowers, but rich and gorgeous with a later bloom.
"I must have been sick," he whispered, and pressing his hand to his still throbbing head, he tried to reveal and form into some definite shape the events which had seemed, and which seemed to him still, like so many phantoms of the brain.
Was it a dream—his mother's tears upon his face, his mother's voice calling him her Hughey boy, his mother's sobs beside him? Was it, could it be all a dream that she, the Golden Haired, had been with him constantly? No that was not a dream. She did not hate him, else she had not prayed, and words of thanksgiving were going up to Golden Hair's God, when a footstep in the hall announced the approach of some one. Alice, perhaps, and Hugh lay very still, with half-shut eyes, until Muggins, instead of Alice, appeared.
He was asleep, she said, as, standing on tiptoe, she scanned his face. He was asleep, and in her own dialect Muggins talked to herself about him as he lay there so still.
"Nice Mas'r Hugh—pretty Mas'r Hugh!" and Mug's little black hand was laid caressingly on the face she admired so much. "I mean to ask God about him, just like I see Miss Alice do," she continued, and stealing to the opposite side of the room, Muggins kneeled down, and with her face turned toward Hugh, she said: "If God is hearin' me, will He please do all dat Miss Alice ax him 'bout curin' Mas'r Hugh."
This was too much for Hugh. The sight of that ignorant negro child, kneeling by the window unmanned him entirely, and hiding his head beneath the sheets, he sobbed aloud. With a nervous start, Mug arose from her knees, and stood for an instant gazing in terror at the trembling of the bedclothes.
"I'll bet he's in a fit. I mean to screech for Miss Alice," and Muggins was about darting away, when Hugh's long arm caught and held her fast. "Oh, de gracious, Mas'r Hugh," she cried, "you skeers me so. Does you know me, Mas'r Hugh?" and she took a step toward him.
"Yes, I know you, and I want to talk a little. Where am I, Mug? What room, I mean?"
"Why, Miss Alice's, in course. She 'sisted, and 'sisted, till 'em brung you in here, 'case she say it cool and nice. Oh, Miss Alice so fine."
"In Miss Johnson's room," and Hugh looked perfectly bewildered. In the room he had taken so much pains to have in order; it could not be; and he passed his hand up and down the comfortable mattress, striking it once with his fist, to see if it would sink in, and then, in a perplexed whisper, he asked: "This is her room, you say; but, Mug, where are the two feather beds?"
In a most aggrieved tone, Mug explained how Miss Adah and Aunt Eunice had spoiled their handiwork, but could not talk long of anything without bringing in Miss Alice.
"Where does Miss Alice pray for me?" he asked, and Muggins replied:
"Oh here, when she bese alone, and downstairs, and everywhere. You wants to hear her?"
Yes, Hugh did.
"Mug," he said. "I am going to be crazy as a loon. I have not been rational a bit, and you must not say I have. You must not say anything. Do you understand?"
Mug didn't at first, but after a little it came to her that "Mas'r Hugh was goin' to play 'possum. That Miss Alice and all dem would think him ravin' and only she would know the truth." It would be rare sport for Mug, and after giving her promise, she waited anxiously for some one to come. At last another footstep sounded in the hall.
"That's her'n," Muggins whispered. "Is you crazy, Mas'r Hugh?"
"Hush-sh!" came warningly from Hugh, who, the next moment had turned his head away from the fading light, and with eyes closed, pretended to be asleep.
Softly, on tiptoe as it were, Alice approached the bedside, bending so low to see if he were sleeping that he felt her fragrant breath, and a most delicious thrill ran through his frame, when a little, soft, warm hand was laid upon his brow, where the veins were throbbing wildly—so wildly that the unsuspecting maiden wet the linen napkin used for such a purpose, and bathed the feverish skin, pushing back, with a half-caressing motion, the rings of damp, brown hair, and still the wicked Hugh never moved, nor winked, nor gave the slightest token of the ecstatic bliss he was enjoying.
"What a consummate hypocrite I am, to lie here and let her do what money could not tempt her to do, if she knew that I was conscious, but hanged if I don't like it," was Hugh's mental comment, while Alice's was: "Poor Hugh, the doctor said he would probably be better when he waked from this sleep, better or worse. Oh, what if he should die, and leave no sign of repentance," and by the rustling movement, Hugh knew that Alice Johnson was kneeling at his side, and with his hot hands in hers was praying for him, that he might not die.
"Spare him for his mother, he is her only boy," he heard her say, and on the pillow, where his face was lying, the great tear drops fell, as he thought how unworthy he was that she should pray for him.
He knew the pillow was wet, and shuddered when Alice attempted to fix his head, turning it more to the light. She saw the tear stains, and murmured to herself: "I did not think it was so warm." Then, sitting down beside him, she fanned him gently, occasionally feeling for his pulse to see if it were as rapid as ever. Once, as she touched his wrist, his fingers closed involuntarily around her little hand and held it a prisoner. He could not help it; the temptation was too strong to be resisted, and then he reflected that a crazy man was not responsible for his actions! As rational Hugh, he could never hope to touch that little soft hand trembling in his like a frightened bird, so he would as crazy Hugh improve his opportunity; and he did, holding fast the hand, and when she attempted to draw it away, pressing it tighter and muttering:
"No, no; mother, no."
"He thinks I am you," Alice whispered, as Mrs. Worthington came in, and Hugh's heart gave one great throb of filial love when his mother stooped over him, and 'mid a shower of tears kissed his forehead and lips, murmuring:
"Darling boy, he'll never know how much his poor mother loved him, or how her heart will break with missing him if he dies."
It was with the utmost difficulty that Hugh could restrain himself then, from assuring his mother that the crisis was passed and he was out of danger.
"I've gone too far now, the hypocrite that I am," he thought. "Alice Johnson never would forgive me. I can't retract now, not yet; I'm in a pretty fix."
As the twilight gathered in the room he lay, listening while his mother and Alice talked together, some times of him, sometimes of Colonel Tiffton, whose embarrassments were now generally known, and again of 'Lina, who, he heard, had chosen to remain at Saratoga, where she was enjoying herself so much with dear Mrs. Richards.
It was Alice who sat up that night, and Hugh, as he lay watching her with half-closed eyes, as in her loose plain wrapper, with her luxuriant curls, coiled in a large square knot at the back of her head, she moved noiselessly around the room, felt a pang of remorse at his own duplicity, one moment resolving to give up the part he was playing and bid her leave him alone, and seek the rest she needed. But the temptation to keep her there was strong. He would be very quiet, he said to himself, and he kept his word, remaining so still and apparently sleeping so soundly, that Alice lay down upon the lounge on the opposite side of the room, where she had lain many a night, but never as now, with Hugh's eyes upon her, watching her so eagerly as she fell away to sleep, her soft, regular, childlike breathing awaking a thrill in Hugh's heart, and sending the blood in little, tingling throbs through every vein.
The drops and powders on the table remained undisturbed that night, for the patient was too quiet, and the watcher was so tired, that the latter never woke until the daylight was breaking, and Adah came to relieve her. With a frightened start she arose, astonished to find it was morning.
"I wonder if he had suffered from my neglect?" she said, stealing up to Hugh, who had schooled himself to meet her gaze with wide, open eyes, which certainly had in them no delirium, and which puzzled Alice somewhat, making her blush and turn away.
The old doctor, too, was puzzled, when, later in the morning, he came in, feeling his patient's pulse, examining his tongue, and pronouncing him decidedly out of danger. The fever had left him, he said—the crisis was past—Hugh was a heap better, and for his part he could not understand why the mind should not also come clear, or what it was which made his hitherto talkative subject so silent. He never had such a case—he didn't believe his books had one on record; and the befogged old man hurried home to see if, in all his musty volumes, unopened for many a year, there was a parallel case to Hugh Worthington's.
Wicked Hugh! How he did enjoy it, for days seeing the family come in and out, talking as freely of him as if he were a log of wood, and how perfectly happy he was when, one morning Alice came in and sat by him, placing her tiny gold thimble upon her delicate finger, and bending over her bit of dainty embroidery, humming occasionally a sweet, mournful air, which showed that her thoughts were wandering back to the cottage by the river, where her mother lived and died. While she was sitting there Mrs. Worthington joined her, and a moment after a letter was brought in from 'Lina, containing on the corner, "In haste."
Mrs. Worthington's eyesight had always been poor, and latterly it was greatly impaired, making glasses indispensable. Unfortunately, she had that very morning broken one of the eyes, and consequently could not use them at all.
"What is that?" she asked, pointing out the words, "In haste," to Alice, who explained what it was, while Mrs. Worthington, fearing lest something had befallen her daughter, could scarcely tear open the envelope. Then, when it was open, she could not read it, for 'Lina's writing was never very plain, and passing it to Alice, she said, entreatingly:
"Please read it for me. There is no secret, I presume."
Glancing at Hugh, who had purposely turned his face to the wall, Alice commenced as follows:
"FIFTH AVENUE HOTEL, NEW YORK, OCTOBER, 1860."
"DEAR MOTHER: What a little eternity it is since I heard from you, and how am I to know that you are not all dead and buried. Were it not that no news is good news, I should sometimes fancy that Hugh was worse, and feel terribly for not having gone home when you did.
"Now, then, to business, and firstly, as Parson Brown, of Elm wood, used to say, I want Hugh to send me some money, or all is lost. Tell him he must either beg, borrow, pawn or steal, for the rhino I must have. Let me explain.
"Here I am at Fifth Avenue Hotel, as good as any lady, if my purse is almost empty. Plague on it, why didn't that Mrs. Johnson send me two thousand instead of one? It would not hurt her, and them I should get through nicely."
"Oh, I ought not to read this—I cannot," and Alice threw the letter from her, and hurried from the room.
"The way of the transgressor is hard," groaned Hugh, and the groan caught the ear of his mother.
"What is it, Hugh?" she asked, coming quickly to his side. "Are you worse? Do you want anything?"
"No, I'm better, I reckon—the cobwebs are gone. I am myself again. What have you here?" and Hugh grasped the closely written sheet.
In her delight at having her son restored to his reason so suddenly, so unexpectedly, as the poor, deluded woman believed, Mrs. Worthington forgot for a moment the pain, and clasped her arms about him, sobbing like a child.
"Oh, my boy, I am so glad, so glad!" and her tears dropped fast, as like a weary child, which wanted to be soothed, she laid her head upon his bosom, crying quietly.
And Hugh, stronger now than she, held the poor, tired head there, and kissed the white forehead, where there were more wrinkles now than when he last observed it. His mother was growing old with care rather than with years, and Hugh shuddered, as, for the first time in his life, he thought how dreadful it would be to have no mother. Folding his weak arms about her, mother and son wept together in that moment of perfect understanding and union with each other. Hugh was the first to rally. It seemed so pleasant to lean on him, to know that he cared so much for her, that Mrs. Worthington would gladly have rested on his bosom longer, but Hugh was anxious to know the worst, and brought her back to something of the old, sad life, by asking if the letter were from 'Lina.
"Yes; I can't make it out, for one of my glasses is broken, and you know she writes so blind."
"It never troubles me," and taking the letter from her unresisting hand, Hugh asked that another pillow should be placed beneath his head, while he read it aloud.
"You see that thousand is almost gone, and as board is two and a half dollars per day, I can't stay long and shop in Broadway with old Mrs. Richards, as I am expected to do in my capacity of heiress. I tell you, Spring Bank, Kentucky—crazy old rat trap as it is, has done wonders for me in the way of getting me noticed. If I had any soul, big enough to find with a microscope, I believe I should hate the North for cringing so to anything from Dixie. Let the veriest vagabond in all the South, so ignorant that he can scarcely spell baker correctly, to say nothing of biscuit, let him, I say, come to any one of the New York hotels, and with something of a swell write himself from Charleston, or any other Southern city, and bless me, what deference is paid to my lord!
"You see I am a pure Southern woman here; nobody but Mrs. Richards knows that I was born, mercy knows where. But for you, she never need have known it either, but you must tell that we had not always lived in Kentucky.
"But to do Mrs. Richards justice, she never alludes to my birth. She takes it for granted that I moved, like Douglas, when I was very young, and you ought to hear her introduce me to some of her aristocratic friends. 'Mrs. So and So, Miss Worthington, from Spring Bank, Kentucky,' then in an aside, which I am not supposed to hear, she adds, 'A great heiress, of a very respectable family. You may have heard of them.' Somehow, this always makes me uncomfortable, as it brings up certain cogitations touching that scamp you were silly enough to marry, thereby giving me to the world, which my delectable brother no doubt thinks would have been better off without me. How is Hugh? And how is that Hastings woman? Are you both as much in love with her as ever? Well, so be it. I do not know as she ever harmed me, and she did fit my dresses beautifully. Even Mrs. Richards, who is a judge of such things, says they display so much taste, attributing it, of course, to my own directions. I am so glad now that I forgot to send her letter, as I would not for the world have Adah in the Richards' family. It would ruin my prospects for becoming Mrs. Dr. Richards sure, and allow me to say they are not inconsiderable."
"What does she mean? What letter? Who is Dr. Richards?" Hugh asked, his face a purplish red, and contrasting strikingly with the one of ashen hue still resting on his shoulder.
Mrs. Worthington explained as well as she could, and Hugh went on:
"Old Mrs. Richards would, of course, question Adah, and as Adah has some foolish scruples about the truth, she would be very apt to let the cat out of the bag.
"We left Saratoga a week ago—old lady Richards wanted to go to Terrace Hill a while and show me to Anna, who, it seems, is a kind of family oracle. After counting the little gold eagles in my purse, I said perhaps I'd go for a few days, though I dreaded it terribly, for the doctor had not yet bound himself fast, and I did not know what the result of those three old maid sisters, sitting on me, would be. Old lady was quite happy in prospect of going home, when one day a letter came from Anna. I happened to have a headache, and was lying on madam's bed, when the dinner bell happened to ring. I just peeped into the letter, feeling like stealing sheep, but being amply rewarded by the insight I obtained into the family secrets.
"They are poorer than I supposed, but that does not matter, position is what I want, and that they can give me. Anna, it seems, has an income of her own, and, generous soul that she is, gives it out to her mother. She sent fifty dollars in the letter, and in referring to it, said, 'Much as I might enjoy it, dear mother, I cannot afford to come where you are, I can pay your bills for some time longer, if you really think the water a benefit, but my presence would just double the expense. Then, if brother does marry, I wish to surprise him with a handsome set of pearls for his bride, and I am economizing to do so.'" (Note by 'Lina)—"Isn't she a clever old soul? Don't she deserve a better sister-in-law than I shall make, and won't I find the way to her purse often?"
Hugh groaned aloud, and the letter dropped from his hand.
"Mother," he gasped, "it must not be. 'Lina shall not thrust herself upon them. This Anna shall not be so cruelly deceived. I don't care a picayune for the doctor or the old lady. They are much like 'Lina, I reckon, but this Anna awakens my sympathy. I mean to warn her."
Hugh read on, feeling as if he, too, were guilty, thus to know what sweet Anna Richards had intended only for her mother's eye.
"'From some words you have dropped, I fancy you are not quite satisfied with brother's choice—that Miss Worthington does not suit you in all respects, and you wish me to see her. Dear mother, John marries for himself, not for us. I have got so I can drive myself out in the little pony phaeton which Miss Johnson was so kind as to leave for my benefit. Darling Alice, how much I miss her. She always did me good in more ways than one. She found the germ of faith which I did not know I possessed. She encouraged me to go on. She told me of Him who will not break the bruised reed. She left me, as I trust, a better woman than she found me. Precious Alice! how I loved her. Oh, if she could have fancied John, as at one time I hoped she would.'
(Second note by 'Lina.) "How that made me gnash my teeth, for I had suspected that I was only playing second fiddle for Alice Johnson, 'darling, precious Alice,' as Anna calls her."
"Oh, I am so glad Alice didn't read this letter," Mrs. Worthington cried, while something which sounded much like a bit of an oath dropped from Hugh's white lips, and then he continued:
"'When will you come? Asenath has sent the curtains in the north chamber to the laundress, but will go no farther until we hear for certain that Miss Worthington is to be our guest. Write immediately.
"'Remember me to John and Miss W——.
"'P.S.—I still continue to be annoyed with women answering that advertisement. Sometimes I'm half sorry I put it in the paper, though if the right one ever comes, I shall think there was a Providence in it.'
"Mother, I am resolved now to win Dr. Richards at all hazards. Only let me keep up the appearance of wealth, and the thing is easily accomplished; but I can't go to Terrace Hill yet, cannot meet this Anna, for, kindly as she spoke of me, I dread her decision more than all the rest, inasmuch as I know it would have more weight with the doctor.
"But to come back to the madam, showing her point-lace cap at dinner, and telling Mrs. ex-Governor Somebody how Miss Worthington had a severe headache. I was fast asleep when she returned. Had not read Anna's letter, nor anything! You should have seen her face when I told her I had changed my mind, that I could not go to Terrace Hill, that mamma (that's you!) did not think it would be proper, inasmuch as I had no claim upon them. You see, I made her believe I had written to you on the subject, receiving a reply that you disapproved of my going, and Brother Hugh, too, I quote him a heap, making madam laugh till she cried with repeating his odd speeches, she does so want to see that eccentric Hugh, she says."
Another groan from Mrs. Worthington, another something like an oath from that eccentric Hugh, and he went on:
"I said, brother was afraid it was improper under the circumstances for me to go, afraid lest people should talk; that I preferred going at once to New York. So it was finally decided, to the doctor's relief, I fancied, that we come here, and here we are—hotel just like a beehive, and my room is in the fifth story.
"John had come on the day before to secure rooms, so madam and I were alone, occupying two whole seats, madam and myself on one, madam's feet, two satchels, two silk umbrellas, one fan, one bouquet, and a book in the other. Several tired-looking folks glanced wistfully in that direction, but madam frowned so majestically that they passed on into another car, leaving us to our extra seat. At Rhinebeck, however, she found her match in a very fine-looking man, apparently forty or thereabouts, with a weed on his hat and a certain air, which savored strongly of psalms and hymns and extempore praying. In short, I guessed at once that he was a Presbyterian minister, old school at that. Now, madam, you know, is true blue—apostolically descended, and cannot tolerate anything like a dissenter. But I do not give her credit for having sufficient sagacity to detect the heretic in this handsome, pleasant-faced stranger, who stood looking this way and that for a seat. Madam, I saw, grew very red in the face, and finally threw down her veil, but not till the minister saw it, and half started forward as if about to speak. The movement showed him one extra seat, and very politely he laid his hand upon it, saying:
"'Pardon me, ladies, this, I believe, is unoccupied, and I can find no other.'
"Madam's feet came down with a jerk, ditto madam's portion of the traps, although the stranger insisted that they did not trouble him, while again his mild but expressive eyes scanned the brown veil as if he would know whose face was under it. When we reached New York, he bowed to us again, as if to offer us assistance, but the doctor himself appeared, so that his services were unnecessary.
"'Did you see him?' madam whispered to John, who answered:
"'Millbrook! He sat right there!'
"'What, the parson? Where is he going?'
"'I don't know. I'm so glad Anna was not here.'
"All this was in an aside, but I heard it, and here are the conclusions. Parson Millbrook has been and wants to be again a lover of Anna Richards, but madam has shut up her bowels of compassion against him for some reason to this deponent unknown. Poor Anna, I am sorry for her, and as her sister, may perhaps help her; but shall I ever be her sister? Ay, there's the rub, and now, honor bright, I reach the point at last.
"I am determined to bring the doctor to terms, and so rid you and Hugh of myself. To do this I must at some rate keep up the appearance of wealth. Perhaps Hugh never knew that Nell Tiffton lent me that elegant pearl bracelet, bought by her father at Ball & Black's. Night before last the doctor took me to hear Charlotte Cushman as Meg Merrilies. I wore all the jewelery for which I could find a place, Nell's bracelet with the rest. The doctor and madam have both admired it very much, never dreaming that it was borrowed. In the jam coming out it must have unclasped and dropped off, for it's not to be found high nor low, and you can fancy the muss I am in. Down at Ball & Black's there fortunately is another exactly like Nell's, and this I must buy at any rate. I can perhaps pay my board bills four or five weeks longer, but Hugh must send me fifty dollars with which to replace the bracelet. It must be done.
"Don't for mercy's sake, let Alice Johnson get a sight of this letter. I wonder if Dr. Richards did fancy her. Send the money, send the money.
"P.S.—One day later. Rejoice, oh, rejoice! and give ear. The doctor has actually asked the question, and I blushingly referred him to mamma, but he seemed to think this unnecessary, took alarm at once, and pressed the matter until I said yea. Aren't you glad? But one thing is sure—Hugh must sell a nigger to get me a handsome outfit. There's Mug, always under foot, doing no one any good. She'll bring six hundred any day, she's so bright and healthy. Lulu he must give out and out for a waiting maid. Madam expects it. And now one word more; if Adah Hastings has not got over her idea of going to Terrace Hill, she must get over it. Coax, advise, plead with, threaten, or even throttle her, if necessary—anything to keep her back.
"Yours, in ecstatic distress,
So absorbed were Hugh and his mother in that letter as not to hear the howl of fear echoing through the hall, as Mug fled in terror from the dreaded new owner to whom Master Hugh was to sell her. Neither did they hear the catlike tread with which Lulu glided past the door, taking the same direction Mug had gone, namely, to Alice Johnson's room.
Lulu had been sitting by the open window at the end of the hall, and had heard every word of this letter, while Mug had reached the threshold in time to hear all that was said about selling her. Instinctively both turned for protection to Alice, but Mug was the first to reach her. Throwing herself upon her knees, she sobbed frantically.
"You buys me, Miss Alice. You give Mar's Hugh six hundred dollars for me, so't he can get Miss 'Lina's weddin' finery. I'll be good, I will. I'll learn do Lord's Prar, an' de Possums Creed, ebery word on't; will you, Miss Alice, say?"
Alice tried to wrest her muslin dress from the child's grasp, asking what she meant.
"I know, I'll tell," and Lulu, scarcely less excited, but far more capable of restraining herself, advanced into the room, and ere the bewildered Alice could well understand what it all meant, or make more than a feeble attempt to stop her, she had repeated rapidly the entire contents of 'Lina's letter.
Too much amazed at first to speak, Alice sat motionless, then she said to Lulu.
"I am sorry that you told me this. It was wrong in you to listen, and you must not repeat it to any one else. Will you promise?"
Lulu gave the required promise, then with terror in every lineament of her face she said:
"But, Miss Alice, must I be Miss 'Lina's waiting maid? Will Master Hugh permit it?"
Alice did not know Hugh as well as we do, and in her heart there was a fear lest for the sake of peace he might be overruled, so she replied evasively. It was no easy task to sooth Muggins, and only Alice's direct avowal, that if possible she would herself become her purchaser, checked her cries at all, but the moment this was said her sobbing ceased, and Alice was able to question Lulu as to whether Hugh had read the letter.
"He must be rational," she said, "but it is so sudden," and a painful uneasiness crept over her as she recalled the look which several times had puzzled her so much.
"You can go now," Alice said, sitting down to reflect as to her next best course.
Adah must go to Terrace Hill at once, and Alice's must be the purse which defrayed all the expense of fitting her up. If ever Alice felt thankful to God for having made her rich in this world's goods, it was that morning. Only the previous night she had heard from Colonel Tiffton that the day was fixed for the sale of his house and that Nell had nearly cried herself into a second fever at the thoughts of leaving Mosside. "Then there's Rocket," the colonel had said, "Hugh cannot buy him back, and he's so bound up in him too, poor Hugh, poor all of us," and the colonel had wrung Alice's hand, hurrying off ere she had time to suggest what all along had been in her mind.
"It does not matter," she thought. "A surprise will be quite as pleasant, and then Mr. Liston may object to it as a silly girl's fancy."
This was the previous night, and now this morning another demand had come in the shape of Muggins weeping in her lap, of Lulu begging to be saved from 'Lina Worthington, and from 'Lina herself asking Hugh for the money Alice knew he had not got.
"But I have," she whispered, "and I will send it too."
Just then Adah came up the stairs, and Alice called her in, asking if she still wished to go to Terrace Hill.
"Yes, more than ever," Adah replied. "Hugh is rational, I hear, so I can talk to him about it before long. You must be present, as I'm sure he will oppose it."
Meantime in the sickroom there was an anxious consultation between mother and son touching the fifty dollars which must be raised for Nellie Tiffton's sake.
"Were it not that I feel bound by honor to pay that debt, 'Lina might die before I'd send her a cent," said Hugh, his eyes blazing with anger as he recalled the contents of 'Lina's letter.
But how should they raise the fifty? Alice's bills had been paid regularly thus far, paid so delicately too, so as a matter of right, that Mrs. Worthington, who knew how sadly it was needed in their present distress, had accepted it unhesitatingly, but Hugh's face flushed with a glow of shame when he heard from his mother's lips that Alice was really paying them her board.
"It makes me hate myself," he said, groaning aloud, "that I should suffer a girl like her to pay for the bread she eats. Oh, poverty, poverty! It is a bitter drug to swallow." Then like a brave man who saw the evil and was willing to face it, Hugh came back to the original point, "Where should they get the money?"
"He might borrow it of Alice, as 'Lina suggested," Mrs. Worthington said, timidly, while Hugh almost leaped upon the floor.
"Never, mother, never! Miss Johnson shall not be made to pay our debts. There's Uncle John's gold watch, left as a kind of heirloom, and very dear on that account. I've carried it long, but now it must go. There's a pawnbroker's office opened in Frankfort—take it there this very afternoon, and get for it what you can. I never shall redeem it. There's no hope. It was in my vest pocket when I was taken sick."
"No, Hugh, not that. I know how much you prize it, and it's all the valuable thing you have. I'll take in washing first," Mrs. Worthington said.
But Hugh was in earnest, and his mother brought the watch from the nail over the mantel, where, all through his sickness it had ticked away the weary hours, just as it ticked the night its first owner died, with only Hugh sitting near, and listening as it told the fleeting moments.
"If I could only ask Alice what it was worth," she thought—and why couldn't she? Yes, she would ask Alice, and with the old hope strong at her heart, she went to Alice, whom she found alone.
"Did you wish to tell me anything? Hugh is better, I hear," Alice said, observing Mrs. Worthington's agitation, and then the whole came out.
"'Lina must have fifty dollars. The necessity was imperative, and they had not fifty to send unless Hugh sold his uncle's watch, but she did not know what it was worth—could Alice tell her?"
"Worth more than you will get," Alice said, and then, as delicately as possible she offered the money from her own purse, advancing so many reasons why they should take it, that poor Mrs. Worthington began to feel that in accepting it, she would do Alice a favor.
"She was willing," she stammered, "but there was Hugh—what could they do with him?"
"I'll manage that," Alice said, laughingly. "I'll engage that he eats neither of us up. Suppose you write to 'Lina now, saying that Hugh is better, and inclosing the money. I have some New York money still," and she counted out, not fifty, but seventy-five dollars, thinking within herself, "she may need it more than I do."
Easily swayed, Mrs. Worthington took the pen which Alice offered, but quickly put it from her, saying, with a little rational indignation, as she remembered 'Lina's heartlessness:
"I won't write her a word. She don't deserve it. Inclose the amount, and direct it, please."
Placing the money in an envelope, Alice directed it as she was bidden, without one word of Hugh, and without the slightest congratulation concerning the engagement; nothing but the money, which was to replace Ellen Tiffton's bracelet.
Claib was deputed as messenger to take it to the office, together with a hastily-written note to Mr. Liston, and then Alice sat down to consider the best means of breaking it to Hugh. Would he prove as gentle as when delirium was upon him; or would he be greatly changed? And what would he think of her? Alice would not have confessed it, but this really was the most important query of all.
Alice was not well pleased with her looks that morning. She was too pale, too languid, and the black dress she wore only increased the difficulty by adding to the marble hue of her complexion. Even her hair did not curl as well as usual, though Mug, who had dried her tears and come back to Alice's room, admired her so much, likening her to the apple blossoms which grew in the lower orchard.
"Is you gwine to Mas'r Hugh?" she asked, as Alice passed out into the hall. "I'se jest been dar. He's peart as a new dollar—knows everybody. How long sense, you 'spec'?" and Mug looked very wise, as she thus skirted around what she was forbidden to divulge on pain of Hugh's displeasure.
But Alice had no suspicions, and bidding Mug go down, she entered Hugh's presence with a feeling that it was to all intents and purposes their first meeting with each other.
TALKING WITH HUGH
"This is Miss Johnson," Mrs. Worthington said, as Alice drew near, her pallor giving place to a bright flush.
"I fancy I am to a certain degree indebted to Miss Johnson for my life," Hugh said. "I was not wholly unconscious of your presence," he continued, still holding her hand. "There were moments when I had a vague idea of somebody different from those I have always known bending over me, and I fancied, too, that this somebody was sent to save me from some great evil. I am glad you were here, Miss Johnson; I shall not forget your kindness."
He dropped her hand then, while Alice attempted to stammer out some reply.
"Adah, too, had been kind," she said, "quite as kind as herself."
"Yes, Hugh knew that Adah was a dear, good girl. He was glad they liked each other."
Alice thought of Terrace Hill, but this was hardly the time to worry Hugh with that, so she sat silent a while, until Mrs. Worthington, growing very fidgety and very anxious to have the money matter adjusted, said abruptly:
"You must not be angry, Hugh. I asked Alice what that watch was worth, and somehow the story of the lost bracelet came out, and—and—she—Alice would not let me sell the watch. Don't look so black, Hugh, don't—oh, Miss Johnson, you must pacify him," and in terror poor Mrs. Worthington fled from the room, leaving Alice and Hugh alone.
"My mother told you of our difficulties! Has she no discretion, no sense?" and Hugh's face grew dark with the wrath he dared not manifest with Alice's eyes upon him.
"Mr. Worthington," she said, "you have thanked me for caring for you when you were sick. You have expressed a wish to return in some way what you were pleased to call a kindness. There is a way, a favor you can grant me, a favor we women prize so highly; will you grant it? Will you let me do as I please? that's the favor."
She looked a very queen born to be obeyed as she talked thus to Hugh. She did not make him feel small or mean, only submissive, while her kindness touched a tender chord, which could not vibrate unseen. Hugh was very weak, very nervous, too, and turning his head away so that she could not see his face, he let the hot tears drop upon his pillow; slowly at first they came, but gradually as everything—his embarrassed condition, Rocket's loss, 'Lina's selfishness, and Alice's generosity, came rushing over him—they fell in perfect torrents, and Alice felt a keen pang of pity, as sob after sob smote upon her ear, and she knew the shame it must be to him thus to give away before her.
"I did not mean to distress you so. I am sorry if I have done a wrong," she said to him softly, a sound of tears in her own voice.
He turned his white, suffering face toward her, and answered with quivering lip:
"It is not so much that. It is everything combined. I am weak, I'm sick, I'm discouraged," and Hugh could not restrain the tears. Soon rallying, however, he continued:
"You think me a snivelling coward, no doubt, but believe me, Miss Johnson, it is not my nature thus to give way. Tears and Hugh Worthington are usually strangers to each other. I am a man, and I will prove it to you, when I get well, but now I am not myself, and I grant the favor you ask, simply because I can't help it. You meant it in kindness. I take it as such. I thank you, but it must not be repeated. You have come to be my friend, my sister, you say. God bless you for that. I need a sister's love so much, and Adah has given it to me. You like Adah?" and he fixed his eyes inquiringly on Alice, who answered:
"Yes, very much."
Now that the money matter was settled Hugh did not care to talk longer of that or of himself, and eagerly seized upon Adah as a topic interesting to both, and which would be likely to keep Alice with him for a while at least, so, after a moment's silence, during which Alice was revolving the expediency of leaving him lest he should become too weary, he continued:
"Miss Johnson, you don't know how much I love Adah Hastings; not as men generally love," he hastily added, as he caught an expression of surprise on Alice's face, "not as that villain professed to love her, but, as it seems to me, a brother might love an only sister. I mean no disrespect to 'Lina," and his chin quivered a little, "but I have dreamed of a different, brotherly love from what I feel toward her, and my heart has beaten so fast when I built castles of what might have been had we both been different, I, more forbearing, more even tempered, more like the world in general, and she, more—more"—he knew not what, for he would not speak against her, so he finally added, "had she known, just how to take me—just how to make allowances for my rough, uncouth ways, which, of course, annoy her."
Poor Hugh! he was trying now to smooth over what 'Lina had told Alice of himself—trying to apologize for them both, and he did it so skillfully, that Alice felt an increased respect for the man whose real character she had so misunderstood. She, knew, however, that it could not be pleasant for him to speak of 'Lina, and so she led him back to Adah by saying:
"I had thought to talk with you of a plan which Mrs. Hastings has in view, but think, perhaps, I had better wait till you are stronger."
"I am strong enough now—stronger than you think. Tell me of the plan," and Hugh urged the request until Alice told him of Terrace Hill and Adah's wish to go there.
"I have heard something of this plan before," he said at last. "Ad spoke of it in her letter. Miss Johnson, you know Dr. Richards, I believe. Do you like him? Is he a man to be trusted?"
"Yes, I know Dr. Richards. He is said to be fine looking. I suspect there is a liking between him and your sister. Suppose for your benefit I describe him," and without waiting for permission, Alice portrayed the doctor, feature by feature, watching Hugh narrowly the while, to see if aught she said harmonized with any likeness he might have in his mind.
But Hugh was not thinking of that night which ruined Adah, and Alice's description awakened no suspicion. She saw it did not, and thought once to tell him frankly all she feared, but was deterred from doing so by a feeling that possibly she might be wrong in her conjectures. Adah's presence at Terrace Hill would set that matter right, and she asked if Hugh did not think it best for her to go.
Hugh could only talk in a straightforward manner, and after a moment he answered:
"Yes, best on some accounts. Her going may do good and prevent a wrong. Yes, Adah may go."
He continued: "she surely cannot go alone. Would Sam do? I hear her now. Call her while I talk with her."
Adah came at once, and heard from Hugh that he was willing she should go, provided Spring Bank were still considered her home, the spot to which she could always turn for shelter as to a brother's house.
"You seem so like a sister," he said, smoothing her soft brown hair, "that I shall be sorry to lose you, and shall miss you so much, but Miss Johnson thinks it right for you to go. Will you take Sam as an escort?"
"Oh, no, no; I don't want anybody," Adah cried, "Keep Sam with you, and if in time I should earn enough to buy him, to free him. Oh, will you sell him to me,—not to keep," she added, quickly, as she saw the quizzical expression of Hugh's face,—"not to keep. I would not own a slave—but to free, to tell him he's his own master. Will you, Hugh?"
He answered with a smile:
"I thought once as you do, that I would not own my brother, but we get hardened to these things. I've never sold one yet."
"But you will. You'll sell me Sam," and Adah, in her eagerness, grasped his hand.
"I'll give him to you," Hugh said. "Call him, Miss Johnson."
Alice obeyed, and Sam came hobbling in, listening in amazement to Hugh's question.
"Would you like to be free, my boy?"
There was a sudden flush on the old man's cheek, and then he answered, meekly:
"Thanky', Mas'r Hugh. It comed a'most too late. Years ago, when Sam was young and peart, de berry smell of freedom make de sap bump through de veins like trip-hammer. Den, world all before, now world all behind. Nothing but t'other side of Jordan before. 'Bleeged to you, berry much, but when mas'r bought ole Sam for pity, ole Sam feel in his bones that some time he pay Mas'r Hugh; he don't know how, but it be's comin'. Sam knows it. I'm best off here."
"But suppose I died, when I was so sick, what then?" Hugh asked, and Sam replied:
"I thinks that all over on dem days mas'r so rarin'. I prays many times that God would spar' young mas'r, and He hears ole Sam. He gives us back our mas'r."
There were tears in Hugh's eyes, but he again urged upon him his freedom, offering to give him either to Adah or Alice, just which he preferred.
"I likes 'em both," Sam said, "but I likes Mas'r Hugh de best, 'case, scuse me, mas'r, he ain't in de way, I feared, and Sam hope to help him find it. Sam long's to Mas'r Hugh till dat day comes he sees ahead, when he pays off de debt."
With another blessing on Mas'r Hugh Sam left the room.
"What can he mean about a coming day when he can pay his debt?" Hugh asked, but Alice could not enlighten him.
Adah, however, after hesitating a moment, replied:
"During your illness you have lost the newspaper gossip to the effect that if Lincoln is elected to the presidential chair, civil war is sure to be the result. Now, what Sam means is this, that in case of a rebellion or insurrection, which he fully expects, he will in some way save your life, he don't know how, but he is sure."
To Alice the word rebellion or insurrection had a dreadful sound, and her cheek paled with fear, but the feeling quickly passed away, as, like many other deluded ones she thought how impossible it was that our fair republic should be compelled to lay her dishonored head low in the dust.
It was settled finally that Adah should go as soon as the necessary additions could be made to her own and Willie's wardrobe, and then Alice adroitly led the conversation to Colonel Tiffton and his embarrassments. What did Hugh think Mosside worth, and who would probably be most anxious to secure it? There were livid spots on Hugh's face now, and a strange gleam in his dark eyes as he answered between his teeth, "Harney," groaning aloud as he remembered Rocket, and saw him in fancy the property of his enemy.
THE DAY OF THE SALE
It was strange Hugh did not improve faster, the old doctor thought. There was something weighing on his mind, he said, something which kept him awake, and the kind man set himself to divine the cause. Thinking at last he had done so, he said to him one day, the last before the sale:
"My boy, you don't get on for worrying about something. I don't pretend to second sight, but I b'lieve I've got on the right track. It's my pesky bill. I know it's big, for I've been here every day this going on three months, but I'll cut it down to the last cent, see if I don't; and if it's an object, I'll wait ten years, so chirk up a bit," and wringing his hand, the well-meaning doctor hurried off, leaving Hugh alone with his sad thoughts.
It was not so much the bill which troubled him—it was Rocket, and the feeling sure that he should never own him again. Heretofore there had at intervals been a faint hope in his heart that by some means he might redeem him, but that was over now. The sale of Colonel Tiffton's effects occurred upon the morrow, and money stood waiting for Rocket, while Harney, with a fiendish, revengeful disposition, which was determined to gain its point at last, had been heard to say that "rather than lose the horse or let it pass back to its former owner, he believed he would give a thousand dollars."
That settled it, Hugh had no thousand dollars; he had not even ten, and with a moan of pain, he tried to shut out Rocket from his mind. And this it was which kept him so nervous and restless, dreading yet longing for the eventful day, and feeling glad when at last he could say—
"To-morrow is the sale."
The next morning was cold and chilly, making Hugh shiver as he waited for the footstep which he had learned to know so well. She had not come to see him the previous night, and he waited for her anxiously now, feeling sure that on this day of all others she would stay with him. How, then, was he disappointed when at last she came to him, cloaked and hooded as for a ride.
"Are you going out to-day again?" he asked, his tone that of a pleading child.
"It does not seem right to leave you alone, I know," she said, "but poor Ellen needs me sadly, and I promised to be there."
"At Mosside, with all those rough men, oh, Alice, don't go!" and Hugh grasped the little hand.
"It may appear unladylike, I know, but I think it right to stay by Ellen. By the way," and Alice spoke rapidly now, "the doctor says you'll never get well so long as you keep so closely in the house. You are able to ride, and I promised to coax you out to-morrow, if the day is fine. I shall not take a refusal," she continued, as he shook his head. "I am getting quite vain of my horsemanship. I shall feel quite proud of your escort, even if I have to tease for it; so, remember, you are mine for a part of to-morrow."
She drew her hand from his, and with another of her radiant smiles, swept from the room, leaving him in a maze of blissful bewilderment. Never till this morning had a hope entered Hugh's heart that Alice Johnson might be won. Except her, there was not a girl in all the world who had ever awakened the slightest emotion within his heart, and Alice had seemed so far removed from him that to dream of her was worse than useless. She would never esteem him save as a friend, and until this morning Hugh had fancied he could be satisfied with that, but there was something in the way her little fingers twined themselves around his, something in her manner, which prompted the wild hope that in an unguarded moment she had betrayed herself, had permitted him a glimpse of what was in her mind, only a glimpse, but enough to make the poor deluded man giddy with happiness. She, the Golden Haired, could be won, and should be won.
"My wife, my Alice, my Golden Hair," he kept repeating to himself, until, in his weak state, the perspiration dropped from every pore, and his mother, when she came to him, asked in much alarm what was the matter.
He could not tell her of his newly-born joy, so he answered evasively:
"Rocket is sold to-day. Is not that matter enough?"
"Poor Hugh, I wish so much that I was rich!" the mother sighed, as she wiped the sweat drops from his brow, arranged his pillows more comfortably, and then, sitting down beside him, said, hesitatingly—"I have another letter from 'Lina. Can you hear it now, or will you read it for yourself?"
It was strange how the mention of 'Lina embittered at once Hugh's cup of bliss, making him answer pettishly:
"She has waited long enough, I think. Give it to me, please," and taking the letter that morning received, he read first that 'Lina was much obliged for the seventy-five dollars, and thought they must be growing generous, as she only asked for fifty.
"What seventy-five dollars? What does she mean?" Hugh exclaimed, but his mother could not tell, unless it were that Alice, unknown to them, had sent more than 'Lina asked for.
This seemed probable, and as it was the only solution of the mystery, he accepted it as the real one, and returned to the letter, learning that the bracelet was purchased, that it could not be told from the lost one, that she was sporting it on Broadway every day, that she did not go to the prince's ball just for the doctor's meanness in not procuring a ticket when he had one offered to him for eighty dollars!
* * * * *
"I don't really suppose he could afford it," she wrote, "but it made me mad just the same, and I pouted all day. I saw the ladies, though, after they were dressed, and that did me some good, particularly as the Queen of the South, Madam Le Vert, asked my opinion of her chaste, beautiful toilet, just as if she had faith in my judgment.
"Well, after the fortunate ones were gone, I went to my room to pout, and directly Mother Richards sent Johnny up to coax me, whereupon there ensued a bit of a quarrel, I twitting him about that ambrotype of a young girl, which Nell Tiffton found at the St. Nicholas, and which the doctor claimed, seeming greatly agitated, and saying it was very dear to him, because the original was dead. Well, I told him of it, and said if he loved that girl better than me, he was welcome to have her. 'Lina Worthington had too may eligible offers to play second fiddle to any one.
"''Lina,' he said, 'I will not deceive you, though I meant to do so. I did love another before ever I heard of you, a fair young girl, as pure, as innocent as the angels. She is an angel now, for she is dead. Do not ask further of her. Let it suffice that I loved her, that I lost her. I shall never tell you more of her sad story. Let her never be named to me again. It was long ago. I have met you since, have asked and wish you to be my wife,'—and so we made it up, and I promised not to speak of my rival. Pleasant predicament, I am in, but I'll worm it out of him yet. I'll haunt him with her dead body."
* * * * *
"Oh, mother," and Hugh gasped for breath. "Is Ad—can she be anything to us? Is my blood in her veins?"
"Yes, Hugh, she's your half-sister. Forgive me that I made her so," and the poor mother wept over the heartless girl. "But go on," she whispered. "See where 'Lina is now," and Hugh read on, learning that old Mother Richards had returned home, that Anna had written a sweet, sisterly note, welcoming her as John's bride to their love, that she had answered her in the same gracious strain, heightening the effect by dropping a few drops of water here and there, to answer for tears wrung out by Anna's sympathy, that Mrs. Ellsworth and her brother, Irving Stanley, came to the hotel, that Irving had a ticket to the ball offered him, but declined, just because he did not believe in balls, that having a little 'axe to grind,' she had done her best to cultivate Mrs. Ellsworth, presuming a great deal on their courtship, and making herself so agreeable to her child, a most ugly piece of deformity, that cousin Carrie, who had hired a furnished house for the winter, had invited her to spend the season with her, and she was now snugly ensconced in most delightful quarters on Twenty-second Street, between Fifth and Sixth Avenues.
* * * * *
"Sometimes," she wrote, "I half suspect Mrs. Ellsworth did not think I would jump at her invitation so quick, but I don't care. The doctor, for some reason or other, has deferred our marriage until spring, and dear knows I am not coming back to horrid Spring Bank any sooner than I can help.
"By the way, I'm somewhat haunted with the dread that, after all, Adah may take it into her willful head to go to Terrace Hill, and I would not have her for the world. How does Alice get on with Hugh? I conclude he must be well by this time. Does he wear his pants inside his cowhides yet, or have Alice's blue eyes had a refining effect upon his pantaloons? Tell him not to set his heart upon her, for, to my certain knowledge, Irving Stanley, Esq., has an interest in that quarter, while she is not indifferent.
"He has his young sister Augusta here now. She has come on to do her shopping in New York, and is stopping with Mrs. Ellsworth. A fine little creature, quite stylish, but very puritanical. Through Augusta I have got acquainted with Lottie Gardner, a kind of stepniece to the doctor, and excessively aristocratic. You ought to have seen how coolly her big, proud, black eyes inspected one. I rather like her, though. She and Augusta Stanley were together at Madam ——'s school in the city.
"Didn't Adah say she went there once? Again I charge you, don't let her go to Terrace Hill on any account.
"And one other thing. I shall buy my bridal trousseau under Mrs. Ellsworth's supervision. She has exquisite taste, and Hugh must send the money. As I told him before, he can sell Mug. Harney will buy her. He likes pretty darkies."
* * * * *
"Oh, horror! can Ad be a woman, with womanly feelings?" Hugh exclaimed, feeling as if he hated his sister.
But after a moment he was able to listen while his mother asked if it would not be better to persuade Adah not to go to Terrace Hill.
"It may interfere with 'Lina's plans," she said, "and now it's gone so far, it seems a pity to have it broken up. It's—it's very pleasant with 'Lina gone," and with a choking sob, Mrs. Worthington laid her face upon the pillow, ashamed and sorry that the real sentiments of her heart were thus laid bare.
It was terrible for a mother to feel that her home would be happier for the absence of a child, and that child an only daughter, but she did feel so, and it made her half willing that Dr. Richards should be deceived. But Hugh shrank from the dishonorable proceeding.
Mrs. Worthington always yielded to Hugh, and she did so now, mentally resolving, however, to say a few words to Adah, relative to her not divulging anything which could possibly harm 'Lina, such as telling how poor they were, or anything like that. This done, Mrs. Worthington felt easier, and as Hugh looked tired and worried, she left him for a time, having first called Muggins to gather up the fragments of 'Lina's letter which Hugh had thrown upon the carpet.
"Yes, burn every trace of it," Hugh said, watching the child as she picked up piece by piece, and threw them into the grate.
"I means to save dat ar. I'll play I has a letter for Miss Alice," Mug thought, as she came upon a bit larger than the others, and unwittingly she hid in her bosom that portion of the letter referring to herself and Harney! This done, she too left the room, and Hugh was at last alone.
He had little hope now that he would ever win Alice, so jealously sure was he that Irving was preferred before him, and he whispered sadly to himself:
"I can live on just the same, I suppose. Life will be no more dreary than it was before I knew her. No, nor half so dreary, for 'it is better to have loved and lost than not to have loved at all.' That is what Adah said once when I asked what she would give never to have met that villain."
As it frequently happens that when an individual is talked or thought about, that individual appears, so Adah now came in, asking how Hugh was, and if she should not sit a while with him.
Hugh's face brightened at once, for next to Alice he liked best to have Adah with him. With 'Lina's letter still fresh in his mind it was very natural for him to think of what was said of Augusta Stanley, and after Adah had sat a moment, he asked if she remembered such a person at Madam Dupont's school, or Lottie Gardner either.
"Yes, I remember them both," and Adah looked up quickly. "Lottie was proud and haughty, though quite popular with most of the girls, I believe; but Augusta—oh, I liked her so much. Do you know her?"
"No; but Ad, it seems, has ingratiated herself into the good graces of Mrs. Ellsworth, this Augusta's sister. There's a brother, too'—"
"Yes, I remember. He came one day with Augusta, and all the girls were so delighted. I hardly noticed him myself, for my head was full of George. It was there I met him first, you know."
There was a shadow now on Adah's face, and she sat silent for some time, thinking of the past, while Hugh watched the changes of her beautiful face, wondering what was the mystery which seemed to have shrouded the whole of her young life.
"You have done me a great deal of good," he said; "and sometimes I think it's wrong in me to let you go away, when, if I kept you, you might teach me how to be a good man—a Christian man, I mean."
"Oh, if you only would be one," and the light which shone in Adah's eyes seemed born of Heaven. "I am going, it is true, but there is One who will stay with you—One who loves you so much."
He thought she meant Alice, and he grasped her hand, and exclaimed:
"Loves me, Adah, does she? Say it again! Does Alice Johnson love me, me? Hugh? Did she tell you so? Adah," and Hugh spoke vehemently, "I have admitted to you what an hour ago I fancied nothing could wring from me, but I trust to your discretion not to betray it; certainly not to her, not to Alice, for, of course, there is no hope. You do not think there is? You know her better than I," and he looked wistfully at Adah, who felt constrained to answer:
"There might have been, I'm sure, if she had seen no one else."
"Then she has—she does love another?" and Hugh's face was white as ashes.
"I do not know that she loves him; she did not say so," Adah replied, thinking it better for Hugh that he should know the whole. "There was a boy or youth, who saved her life at the peril of his own, and she remembered him so long, praying for him daily that God would bring him to her again, so she could thank him for his kindness."
Poor Hugh. He saw clearly now how it all was. He had suffered his uncle, who affected a dislike for "Hugh," to call him "Irving." He had also, for no reason at all, suffered Alice to think he was a Stanley, and this was the result.
"I can live on just as I did before," was again the mental cry of his wrung heart.
How changed were all things now, for the certainty that Alice never would be his had cast a pall over everything, and even the autumnal sunshine streaming through the window seemed hateful to him. Involuntarily his mind wandered to the sale and to Rocket, perhaps at that very moment upon the block.
"If I could have kept him, it would have been some consolation," he sighed, just as the sound of hoofs dashing up to the door met his ear.
It was Claib, and just as Hugh was wondering at his headlong haste, he burst into the room, exclaiming:
"Oh, Mas'r Hugh, 'tain't no use now. He'd done sold, Rocket is. I hearn him knocked down, and then I comed to tell you, an' he looked so handsome, too,—caperin' like a kitten. They done made me show him off, for he wouldn't come for nobody else, but the minit he fotched a sight of dis chile, he flung 'em right and left. I fairly cried to see how he went on."
There was no color now in Hugh's face, and his voice trembled as he asked:
"Who bought him?"
"Harney, in course, bought him for five-fifty. I tells you they runs him up, somebody did, and once, when he stood at four hundred and fifty, and I thought the auction was going to say 'Gone,' I bids myself."
"You!" and Hugh stared blankly at him.
"I know it wan't manners, but it came out 'fore I thought, and Harney, he hits me a cuff, and tells me to hush my jaw. He got paid, though, for jes' then a voice I hadn't hearn afore, a wee voice like a girl's, calls out five hundred, and ole Harney turn black as tar. 'Who's that?' he said, pushin' inter the crowd, and like a mad dog yelled out five-fifty, and then he set to cussin' who 'twas biddin' ag'in him. I hearn them 'round me say, 'That fetches it. Rocket's a goner,' when I flung the halter in Harney's ugly face, and came off home to tell you. Poor Mas'r, you is gwine to faint," and the well-meaning, but rather impudent Claib, sprang forward in time to catch and hold his young master, who otherwise might have fallen to the floor.
Hugh had borne much that day. The sudden hope that Alice might be won, followed so soon by the certainty that she could not, had shaken his nerves and tried his strength cruelly, while the story Claib had told unmanned him entirely, and this it was which made him grow so cold and faint, reeling in his chair, and leaning gladly for support against the sturdy Claib, who led him to the bed, and then went in quest of Adah.
There was a crowd of people out that day to attend the sale of Colonel Tiffton's household effects. Even fair ladies, too, came in their carriages, holding high their aristocratic skirts as they threaded their way through the rooms where piles of carpeting and furniture of various kinds lay awaiting the shrill voice and hammer of the auctioneer, a portly little man, who felt more for the family than his appearance would indicate.
There had been a long talk that morning between himself and a young lady, a stranger to him, whose wondrous beauty had thrilled his heart just as it did every heart beating beneath a male's attire. The lady had seemed a little worried, as she talked, casting anxious glances up the Lexington turnpike, and asking several times when the Lexington cars were due.
"It shan't make no difference. I'll take your word," the auctioneer had said in reply to some doubts expressed by her. "I'd trust your face for a million," and with a profound bow by way of emphasizing his compliment, the well-meaning Skinner went out to the group assembled near Rocket while the lady returned to the upper chamber where Mrs. Tiffton and Ellen were assembled.
Once Harney's voice, pitched in its blandest tone, was heard talking to the ladies, and then Ellen stopped her ears, exclaiming passionately:
"I hate that man, I hate him. I almost wish that I could kill him."
"Hush, Ellen; remember! 'Vengeance is mine, I will repay, saith the Lord,'" Alice whispered to the excited girl who answered hastily:
"Don't preach to me now. I'm too wretched. Wait till you lose everything by one man's villainy, then see if you won't curse him."
There was an increased confusion in the yard below, and Alice knew the sale was about to commence. The white-haired colonel kept watch while one after another of his household goods were sold. Inferior articles they were at first, and the crowd were not much disposed to bid, but all were dear to the old man, who groaned each time an article was knocked off, and so passed effectually from his possession.
The crowd grew weary at last—they must have brisker sport than that, if they would keep warm in that chilly November wind, and cries for the "horses" were heard.
"Your crack ones, too. I'm tired of this," growled Harney, and Ellen's riding pony was led out. The colonel saw the playful animal, and tottered to Ellen's chamber, saying:
"They're going to sell Beauty, Nell. Poor Nellie, don't cry," and the old man laid his hand on his weeping daughter's head.
"Colonel Tiffton, this way please," and Alice spoke in a whisper. "I want Beauty. Couldn't you bid for me, bid all you would be willing to give if you were bidding for Ellen?"
The colonel looked at her in a kind of dazed, bewildered way, as if not fully comprehending her, till she repeated her request; then mechanically he went back to his post on the balcony, and just as Harney's last bid was about to receive the final "gone," he raised it twenty dollars, and ere Harney had time to recover his astonishment, Beauty was disposed of, and the colonel's servant Ham led her in triumph back to the stable.