With thoughts of Alice came memories of Spring Bank, and the wish that they knew all this. How thankful they would be, and how thankful she was for this resting place in the protection of sweet Anna Richards. It was better than she had even dared to hope for, and sinking down by the snowy-covered bed, she murmured inaudibly the prayer of thanksgiving she felt compelled to make to Him who had led her to Terrace Hill. It was thus that Pamelia found her when she came up again, and it did much to establish the profound respect she ever manifested toward the new waiting maid, Rose Markham.
"Your lunch will be here directly," she said to Adah, who little dreamed of the parley which had taken place between Asenath and Dixson, the cook, concerning this same lunch.
Asenath was too proud to discuss the matter with a servant, but when she saw the slices of cold chicken which Dixson was deliberately cutting up, and the little pot of jelly which Pamelia placed upon the salver, she forgot her dignity, and angrily demanded what they were doing.
"Miss Anna ordered lunch, and I'm a-gettin' it," was Dixson's reply.
"Yes, but such a lunch for a waiting woman; and going to send it up. I'd like to know if she's too big a lady to come into the kitchen," and Asenath's sharp shoulders jerked savagely.
"I must say, I think you very foolish indeed, to take a person about whom you know nothing," she said to Anna, as soon as she saw her, but stopped short as Willie ran out from the adjoining room and stood looking at her.
As well as she was capable of doing, Asenath had loved her brother John when a baby; and when he became a prattling active child, like the one standing before her, she had almost worshiped him, thinking there was never a face so pretty or manner so engaging as his. There had come no baby after him, and she remembered him so well, starting now with surprise as she saw reflected in Willie's face the look she never had forgotten.
"Who is he, Anna? Not her child, the waiting woman's, surely."
"Hush—sh," came warningly from Anna, as she glanced toward the open door, and that brought Asenath back from her dream of the past.
It was the waiting woman's child. There was no look like John now. She had been mistaken, and rather rudely pushing him away, she said: "I think you might have consulted us, at least. What are we to do with a child in this house? Here, here, young man," and Asenath started forward just in time to frighten Willie and make him drop and break the goblet he was trying to reach from the stand, "to dink," as he said.
Asenath's purple silk was deluged with the water, and her temper was considerably ruffled as she exclaimed: "You see the mischief he has done, and it was cut glass, too. I hope you'll deduct it from her wages!"
"Asenath," and Anna's voice betrayed her astonishment that her sister should speak so in Adah's presence.
She had hurried out at Asenath's alarm, but the latter did not at first observe her, and when she did, she was actually startled into an apology for her speech.
"I'm sorry Willie was so careless. I'll pay for the goblet cheerfully," Adah said, not to Asenath, but to Anna, who answered kindly: "No matter; it was already cracked across the bottom—don't mind."
But Adah did mind; and once alone in her room, her tears fell in torrents. She had heard the whole about Willie's mischief, heard of the buds torn to pieces, and of the hole kicked in the carpet. She would like to see that hole, and after Willie was asleep, she stole down to the reception-room to see the damage for herself. She found the hole, or what was intended for it, smiling as she examined the few loose threads; and then she hunted for the stool, finding it under the curtain where Eudora had placed it, and finding, too, that letter dropped by Jim. The others were gone, appropriated by Mrs. Richards, who always watched for the western mail and looked it over herself.
MISS ANNIE RICHARDS, SNOWDOWN, MASS.
That was the direction, and the envelope was faced with black. Adah noticed this, together with the heavy seal of wax stamped with an initial; and she was taking the lost epistle to its rightful owner when Mrs. Richards met her, asking what she had.
"I found this beneath the curtain," Adah replied. "It's for Miss Anna; I'll take it to her, shall I?"
"Yes, yes—yes, yes; for Anna," and madam snatched eagerly at that letter from Charlie Millbrook.
Soon recovering herself, she said naturally: "I'll take it myself. Say, girl, what is your name, now that you are to work here? You won't mind righting up the parlors, I presume—sweeping and dusting them, before you go upstairs again?"
It was new business for Adah, sweeping parlors as a servant, but she did it without a murmur; and then, when her task was completed, stopped for a moment by a window, and looked out upon the town, wondering where Alice Johnson's home had been. The house where she once lived would seem like an old friend, she thought, just as Pamelia came in and joined her. At the same moment Adah's eye caught the cottage by the river, and her heart beat rapidly, for that seemed to answer Alice's description of her Snowdon home.
"Whose pretty place is that?" she asked, pointing it out to Pamelia, who replied:
"It was a Mrs. Johnson's, but she's dead, and Miss Alice has gone a long ways off. I wish you could see Miss Alice, the most beautiful and the best lady in the world. She and Miss Anna were great friends. She used to be up here every day, and the village folks talked some that she came to see the doctor. But my," and Pamelia's face was very expressive of contempt, "she wouldn't have him, by a great sight. He's going to be married, though, to a Kentucky belle, with a hundred or more negroes, they say, and mighty big feelin'. But she needn't bring none of her a'rs nor her darkies here!"
"When does she come?" Adah asked, and Pamelia answered:
"In the spring; so you needn't begin to dread her. Why, your face is white as paper," and rather familiarly Pamelia pinched Adah's marble cheek.
Adah did not mean to be proud, but still she could not help shrinking from the familiarity, drawing back so quickly that Pamelia saw the implied rebuke. She did not ask pardon, but she became at once more respectful.
A moment after Anna's bell was heard, but Adah paid no heed, till Pamelia said:
"That was Miss Anna's bell, and it means for you to come."
Adah colored, and hastily left the room, while Pamelia muttered to herself:
"Ain't no more a maid than Miss Anna herself. But why has she come here? That's the mystery. She's been unfortunate."
This was the solution in Pamelia's mind; but the thought went no further than to her better half.
Adah's feelings at being called just as Lulu and Muggins were at home, had been in a measure shared by Anna, who hesitated several minutes ere touching the bell.
"If she is to be my maid, it will be better for us both not to act under restraint," she thought, and so rang out the summons which brought Adah to her room.
It was an awkward business, requiring a menial's service of that ladylike creature, and Anna would have been exceedingly perplexed had not Adah's good sense come to the rescue, prompting her to do things unasked in such a way that Anna was at once relieved from embarrassment, and felt that in Rose Markham she had found a treasure. She did not join the family in the evening, but kept her room instead, talking with Adah and caressing and playing with little Willie, who persisted in calling her "Arntee," in spite of all Adah could say.
"Never mind," Anna answered, laughingly; "I rather like to hear him. No one has ever called me by that name, and maybe never will, though my brother is engaged to be married in the spring. I have a picture of his betrothed there on my bureau. Would you like to see it?"
Adah nodded, and was soon gazing on the dark, haughty face she knew so well, and which, even from the casing, seemed to smile disdainfully upon, her, just as the original had often done.
"What do you think of her?" Anna asked.
Adah must say something, and she replied:
"I dare say people think her pretty."
"Yes; but what do you think? I asked your opinion," persisted Anna; and thus beset Adah replied at last:
"I think her too showily dressed for a picture. She displays too much jewelry."
Anna began to defend her future sister.
"There's rather too much of ornament, I'll admit, but she's a great beauty, and attracts much attention. Why, one of her pictures hangs in Brady's Gallery."
"At Brady's!" and Adah spoke quickly. "I should not suppose your brother would like to have it there where so many can look at it."
Anna tried to shield the heartless 'Lina, never dreaming how much more than herself Adah knew of 'Lina Worthington.
It seemed to Adah like a miserable deceit, sitting there and listening while Anna talked of 'Lina, and she was glad when at last she showed signs of weariness, and expressed a desire to retire for the night.
"Would you mind reading to me from the Bible?" Anna asked.
"Oh, no, I'd like it so much," and Adah read her favorite chapter.
And Anna listening to the sweet, silvery tones reading: "Let not your heart be troubled," felt her own sorrow grow less.
"If you please," Adah said timidly, bending over the sweet face resting on the pillow, "if you please, may I say the 'Lord's Prayer' here with you?"
Anna answered by grasping Adah's hand, and whispering to her:
"Yes, say it, do."
Then Adah knelt beside her, and Anna's fair hand rested as if in blessing on her head as they said together, "Our Father."
Adah's sleep was sweet that night in her little room at Terrace Hill—sweet, not because she knew whose home it was, nor yet because only the previous night he had tossed wearily upon the self-same pillow where she was resting so quietly, but because of a heart at peace with God, a feeling that she had at last found a haven of shelter for herself and her child, a home with Anna Richards, whose low breathings could be distinctly heard, and who once as the night wore on moaned so loudly in her sleep that it awakened Adah, and brought her to the bedside. But Anna was only dreaming and Adah heard her murmur the name of Charlie.
"I will not awaken her," she said, and gliding back to her own room, she wondered who was Anna's Charlie, associating him somehow with the letter she had given, into the care of Mrs. Richards.
To Mrs. Richards and her elder daughters Rose Markham was an object of suspicious curiosity, while the villagers merely thought of Rose Markham as one far above her position, saying not very complimentary things of madam and her older daughters when it was known that Rose had been banished from the family pew to the side seat near the door, where honest Jim said his prayers, with Pamelia at his side.
For only one Sabbath had Adah graced the Richards' pew, and then it was all Jim's work. He had driven his wife and Adah first to church, as the day was stormy, and ere returning for the ladies, had escorted Adah up the aisle and turned her into the family pew, where she sat unconscious of the admiring looks cast upon her by those already assembled, or of the indignant astonishment of Miss Asenath and Eudora when they found that for one half day at least they must he disgraced by sitting with their servant. Very haughtily the scandalized ladies swept up the aisle, stopping suddenly at the pew door as if waiting for Adah to leave; but she only drew back further into the corner, while Willie held up to Asenath the picture he had found in her velvet-bound prayer book.
Alas! for the quiet hour Adah had hoped to spend, hallowed by thoughts that the dear ones at Spring Bank were mingling in the same service. She could not even join in the responses at first for the bitterness at her heart, the knowing how much she was despised by the proud ladies beside her.
Very close she kept Willie at her side, allowing him occasionally as he grew tired to stand upon the cushion, a proceeding highly offensive to the Misses Richards and highly gratifying to the row of tittering schoolgirls in the seat behind him. Willie always attracted attention, and numerous were the compliments paid to his infantile beauty by the younger portion of the congregation, while the older ones, they who remembered the doctor when a boy, declared that Willie Markham was exactly like him, when standing in the seat he kept the children in continual excitement by his restless movements and pretty baby ways.
The fire burned brightly in Anna's room when Adah returned from church, and Anna herself was waiting for her, welcoming her back with a smile which went far toward removing the pain still heavy at her heart. Anna saw something was the matter, but it was her sisters who enlightened her as together they ate their Sunday dinner in the little breakfast room where Anna joined them.
"Such impudence," Eudora said. "She had not heard one word of Mr. Howard's sermon, for keeping her book and dress and fur away from that little torment."
Then followed the story in detail, how "Markham had sat in their seat, parading herself up there just for show, while Willie had kissed the picture of little Samuel in Asenath'a book and left thereon the print of his lips. If Anna would have a maid, they did wish she would get one not quite so affected as Markham, one who did not try to attract attention by assuming the airs of a lady," and with this the secret was out.
Adah was too pretty, too stylish, to suit the prim Eudora, who felt keenly how she must suffer by comparison with her sister's waiting maid. Even unsuspicious Anna saw the point, and smiling archly asked "what she could do to make Rose less attractive."
In some things Anna could not have her way, and when her mother and sisters insisted that they would not keep a separate table for Markham, as they called Adah, she yielded, secretly bidding Pamelia see that everything was comfortable and nice for Mrs. Markham and her little boy. There was hardly need for this injunction, for in the kitchen Adah was regarded as far superior to those who would have trampled her down, and her presence among the servants was not without its influence, softening Jim's rough, loud ways, and making both Dixson and Pamelia more careful of their words and manners when she was with them. Much, too, they grew to love and pet the little Willie, who, accustomed to the free range of Spring Bank, asserted the same right at Terrace Hill, going where he pleased, putting himself so often in Mrs. Richards' way, that she began at last to notice him, and if no one was near, to caress the handsome boy. Asenath and Eudora held out longer, but even they were not proof against Willie's winning ways.
It was many weeks ere Adah wrote to Alice Johnson, and when at last she did, she said of Terrace Hill:
"I am happier here than I at first supposed it possible. The older ladies were so proud, so cold, so domineering, that it made me very wretched, in spite of sweet Anna's kindness. But there has come a perceptible change, and they now treat me civilly, if nothing more, while I do believe they are fond of Willie, and would miss him if he were gone."
Adah was right in this conjecture; for had it now been optional with the Misses Richards whether Willie should go or stay, they would have kept him there from choice, so cheery and pleasant he made the house. Adah was still too pretty, too stylish, to suit their ideas of a servant; but when, as time passed on, they found she did not presume at all on her good looks, but meekly kept her place as Anna's maid or companion, they dropped the haughty manner they had at first assumed, and treated her with civility, if not with kindness.
With Anna it was different. Won by Adah's gentleness and purity, she came at last to love her almost as much as if she had been a younger sister. Adah was not a servant to her, but a companion, a friend, with whom she daily held familiar converse, learning from her much that was good, and prizing her more and more as the winter weeks went swiftly by.
Since the morning when Adah confided to her a part of her history, she had never alluded to it or intimated a desire to hear more; but she thought much about it, revolving in her mind various expedients for finding and bringing back to his allegiance the recreant lover.
"If I were not bound to secrecy," she thought one day, as she sat waiting for Adah's return from the post office, "if I were not bound to secrecy, I would tell Brother John, and perhaps he might think of something. Men's wits are sometimes better than women's. When she comes back from the office I mean to see what she'll say."
Adah did not join Anna at once, but went instead to her own room, where she could read and cry alone over the nice long letter from Alice Johnson, telling how much they missed her, how old Sam pined for Willie, how Mrs. Worthington and Hugh mourned for Adah, and how she, Alice, prayed for the dear friend, never so dear as now that she was gone. Many and minute were Alice's inquiries as to whether Adah had yet seen Dr. Richards, when was he expected home, and so forth.
Adah placed her letter in her pocket, and then went to sit with Anna, whose face lighted up at once, for Adah's society was like sunshine to her monotonous life.
"Rose," she said, after an interval of silence had elapsed, "I have been thinking about you all day, and wishing I might do you good. You have never told me the city where you met Willie's father, and I fancied it might be Boston, until I remembered that your advertisement was in the Herald. Was it Boston?"
It was a direct question, and Adah answered frankly.
"It was in New York," while Anna quickly rejoined.
"Oh, I'm so glad! for now you'll let me tell Brother John. He has lived there so much he must know everybody, or at all events he may find that man and bring him back. You will have to give his name, of course."
Adah's face was white as ashes, as she replied:
"No, no—oh, no. He could not find him. Nobody can but God. I am willing to wait His time. Don't tell your brother, Miss Anna—don't."
She spoke so earnestly, and seemed so distressed, that Anna answered at once:
"I will not without your permission, though I'd like to so much. He is coming home by-and-by. His wedding day is fixed for April ——, and he will visit us before that time, to see about our preparations for receiving 'Lina. We somehow expected a letter to-day. Did you get one?"
"Yes, one for your mother—from the doctor, I think," Adah replied, without telling how faint the sight of the handwriting had made her, it was so like George's—not exactly like his, either, but enough so to make her heart beat painfully as she recalled the only letter she ever received from him, the fatal note which broke her heart.
"It is so very long since I had a letter all to myself, that I wonder how it would seem," Anna rejoined. "I have not had one since—since—"
"The day I came there was one for you," said Adah, while Anna looked wonderingly at her, saying, "You are mistaken, I'm sure. I've no remembrance of it. A letter from whom?"
Adah did not know from whom or where. She only knew there was one, and by way of refreshing Anna's memory, she said:
"Jim put it with the others on the table, and it fell behind the curtain, where I found it in the afternoon. I was bringing it to you myself, but your mother took it from me and said she would carry it up while I swept the parlor. Surely you remember now."
No, Anna did not, and she looked so puzzled that Adah, anxious to set the matter right, continued:
"I remember it particularly, because it was spelled A-n-n-i-e instead of Anna."
Adah was not prepared for the sudden start, the look almost of terror in Anna's eyes, or for the color which stained the usually colorless face. In all the world there was but one person who ever called her Annie, or wrote it so, and that person was Charlie. Had he written at last, and if so, why had she never known it? Could it be her proud mother had withheld what would have been life to her slowly dying daughter? It was terrible to suspect such a thing, and Anna struggled to cast the thought aside, saying to Adah. "Was there anything else peculiar about it?"
"Nothing, except that 'twas inclosed in a mourning envelope, sealed with wax, and the letter on the seal was—was—"
"Oh, pray think quick. You have not forgotten. You must not forget," and Anna's soft blue eyes grew dark with intense excitement as Adah tried to recall the initial on that seal.
"She had not noticed particularly, she did not suppose it was important. She was not certain, but she believed—yes, she was nearly sure—the letter was 'M.'"
"Oh, you do not know how much good you have done me," Anna cried, and laying her throbbing head on Adah's neck, she wept a torrent of tears, wrung out by the knowing that Charlie had not forgotten her quite. He had written, and that of itself was joy, even though he loved another.
"The initial was 'M.'—you are sure, you are sure," she kept whispering, while Adah soothed the poor head, wondering at Anna's agitation, and in a measure guessing the truth, the old story, love, whose course had not run smoothly.
"And mother took it," Anna said at last, growing more composed.
"Yes, she said she would bring it to you," was Adah's reply.
For several minutes Anna sat looking out upon the snowy landscape, her usually smooth brow wrinkled with thought, and her eyes gleaming with a strange, new light. There was a shadow on her fair face, a grieved, injured expression, as if her mother's treachery had hurt her cruelly. She knew the letter was withheld, and her first impulse was to demand it at once. But Anna dreaded a scene, and dreaded her mother, too, and after a moment's reflection that her Charlie would write again, and Adah, who now went regularly to the office, would get it and bring it to her, she said:
"Does mother always look over the letters?"
"Not at first," was Adah's reply, "but now she meets me at the door, and takes them from my hand."
Anna was puzzled. Turning again to Adah, she said:
"I wish you to go always to the office, and if there comes another letter for me, bring it up at once. It's mine."
Anna had no desire now to talk with Adah of the recreant lover, or ask that John should hear the story. Her mind was too much disturbed, and for more than half an hour she sat, looking intently into the fire, seeing there visions of what might be in case Charlie loved her still, and wished her to be his wife. The mere knowing that he had written made her so happy that she could not even be angry with her mother, though a shadow flitted over her face, when her reverie was broken by the entrance of Madam Richards, who had come to see what she thought of fitting up the west chambers for John's wife, instead of the north ones.
"I have a letter from him," she said. "They are to be married the —— day of April, which leaves us only five weeks more, as they will start at once for Terrace Hill. Do, Anna, look interested," she continued, rather pettishly, as Anna did not seem very attentive. "I am so bothered. I want to see you alone," and she cast a furtive glance at Adah, who left the room, while madam plunged at once into the matter agitating her so much.
She had fully intended going to Kentucky with her son, but 'Lina had objected, and the doctor had written, saying she must not go.
"I have not the money myself," he wrote, "and I'll have to get trusted for my wedding suit, so you must appeal to Anna's good nature for the wherewithal with which to fix the rooms. She may stay with you longer than you anticipate. It is too expensive living here, as she would expect to live. Nothing but Fifth Avenue Hotel would suit her, and I cannot ask her for funds at once. I'd rather come to it gradually."
And this it was which so disturbed Mrs. Richards' peace of mind. She could not go to Kentucky, and she might as well have saved the money she had expended in getting her black silk velvet dress fixed for the occasion, while, worst of all, she must have John's wife there for months, perhaps, whether she liked it or not, and she must also fit up the rooms with paper and paint and carpets, notwithstanding that she'd nothing to do it with, unless Anna generously gave the necessary sum from her own yearly income. Anna assented to that, and said she would try to spare the money. Rose could make the carpets, and that would save a little.
"I wish, too, mother," she added, "that you would let her arrange the rooms altogether. She has exquisite taste, besides the faculty of making the most of things. Our house never looked so well as it has since she came. Somehow Eudora and Asenath have such a stiff set way of putting the furniture."
So it was Anna who selected the tasteful carpet for 'Lina's boudoir, and the bedchamber beyond it, but it was Adah who made it, Adah who, with Willie playing on the floor, bent so patiently over the heavy fabric, sometimes wiping away the bitter tears as she thought of the days preceding her own bridal, and of her happiness, even though no fingers were busy for her in the home where they were too proud to receive her. Where was that home? Was it North or South, East or West, and what was it like? She had no idea, though, sometimes fancy had whispered that it might have been like Terrace Hill, that George's haughty mother, who had threatened to turn her from the door, was a second Mrs. Richards, and then an involuntary prayer of thanksgiving escaped her lips for the trial she had escaped.
Frequently doubts crossed her mind as to the future, when it might be known that she came from Spring Bank, and knew the expected bride. Would she not be blamed as a party in the deception? Ought she not to tell Anna frankly that she knew her brother's betrothed? She did not know, and the harassing anxiety wore upon her faster than all the work she had to do.
Anna seemed very happy. Excitement was what she needed, and never since her girlish days had she been so bright and active as she was now, assisting Adah in her labors, and watching the progress of affairs. The new carpets looked beautiful when upon the floor, and gave to the rooms a new and cozy aspect. The muslin curtains, done up by the laundress so carefully, lest they should drop to pieces, looked almost as good as new, and no one would have suspected that the pretty cornice had been made from odds and ends found by Adah in an ancient box up in the lumber-room. The white satin bows which looped the curtains back, were tied by Adah's hands.
And during all this while came there to Adah's heart no suspicion for whom and whose she was thus laboring? No strange interest in the bridegroom, the handsome doctor, so doted upon by mother and sisters? None whatever. She scarcely remembered him, or if she did, it was as one toward whom she was utterly indifferent. He would not notice her. He might not notice Willie, though yes, she rather thought he would like her boy; everybody did, and the young mother bent down to kiss her child, and so hide the blush called up by a remembrance of Irving Stanley's kindness on that sad journey to Terrace Hill.
Rapidly the few days went by, bringing at last the very morning when he was expected. Brightly, warmly the April sun looked in upon Adah, wondering at the load upon her spirits. She did not associate it with the doctor, nor with anything in particular. She did not know for certain that she should even see him. She might and she might not, but if she did perchance stumble upon him, she would a little rather he should see that she was not like ordinary waiting-maids. She would make a good impression!
And so she wore the pretty dark French calico which Anna had given to her, fastened the neat linen collar with a chaste little pin, buttoned her snow-white cuffs, thrust a clean handkerchief into the dainty pocket on the outside of her skirt, and then descended to the drawing-room to see that the fires were burning briskly, for spite of the cheerful sunshine pouring in, the morning was cold and frosty. They had delayed their breakfast until the doctor should come, and in the dining-room the table was laid with unusual care. Everything was in its place, and still Adah fluttered around it like a restless bird, lingering by what she knew was the doctor's chair, taking up his knife, examining his napkin ring, and wondering what he would think of the cheap bone rings used at Spring Bank.
In the midst of her cogitations, the door bell rang, and she heard the tramp of horses' feet as Jim drove around to the stable. The doctor had come and she must go, but where was Willie?
"Willie, Willie," she called, but Willie paid no heed, and as Eudora had said, was directly under foot when she unlocked the door, his the first form distinctly seen, his the first face which met the doctor's view, and his fearless baby laugh the first sound, which welcomed the doctor home!
It was not a disagreeable picture—that chubby, rose-cheeked little boy. Willie had run to the door because he heard the bell. He had not expected to see a stranger, and at sight of the tall figure he drew back timidly and half hid himself behind Mrs. Richards, whom he knew to be the warmest ally he had in the hall.
As the doctor had said to Irving Stanley, he disliked children, but he could not help noticing Willie, and after the first greetings were over he asked, "Who have we here? Whose child is this?"
Eudora and Asenath tried to frown, but the expression of their faces softened perceptibly as they glanced at Willie, who had followed them into the parlor, and who, with one little foot thrown forward, and his fat hands pressed together, stood upon the hearth rug, gazing at the doctor with that strange look which had so often puzzled, bewildered and fascinated the entire Richards' family.
"Anna wrote you that the maid she so much wanted had come to her at last—a very ladylike person, who has evidently seen better days, and this is her child, Willie Markham. He is such a queer little fellow that we allow him more liberties than we ought."
It was Mrs. Richards who volunteered this explanation, while her son stood looking down at Willie, wondering what it was about the child which seemed familiar. Anna had casually mentioned Rose Markham in her letter, had said how much she liked her, and had spoken of her boy, but the doctor was too much absorbed in his own affairs to care for Rose Markham; so he had not thought of her since, notwithstanding that 'Lina had tried many times to make him speak of Anna's maid, so as to calculate her own safety. The sight of Willie, however, set the doctor to thinking, and finally carried him back to the crowded car, the shrieking child, and the young woman to whom Irving Stanley had been so kind.
"I hope I shall not be obliged to see her," he thought, and then he answered his mother's speech concerning Willie. "So you've taken to petting a servant's child, for want of something better. Just wait until my boy comes here."
Eudora tried to blush, Asenath looked unconscious, while Mrs. Richards replied: "If I ever have a grandson one half as pretty or as bright as Willie, I shall be satisfied."
The doctor did not know how rapidly a lively, affectionate child will win one's love, and he thought his proud mother grown almost demented; but still, in spite of himself, he more than once raised his hand to lay it on Willie's head, pausing occasionally in his conversation to watch the gambols of the playful child sporting on the carpet.
"Willie, Willie," called Adah from a distant room, where she was looking for him. "Willie, Willie," and as the silvery tone fell on the doctor's ears he started suddenly.
"Who is that?" he asked, his heart throbs growing fainter as his mother replied: "That is Mrs. Markham. Singularly sweet voice for a person in humble life, don't you think so?"
The doctor's reply was cut short by the entrance of Anna, and in his joy at meeting his favorite sister and the excitement at the breakfast which followed immediately, the doctor forgot Rose Markham, who had succeeded in capturing Willie and borne him to her own room. After breakfast was over he went with Anna to inspect the rooms which Adah had fitted for his bride. They were very pleasant, and fastidious as he was he could find fault with nothing. The carpet, the curtains, the new light furniture, the armchair by the window where 'Lina was expected to sit, the fanciful workbasket standing near, and his chair not far away, all were in perfect taste, and passing his arm caressingly about Anna's waist he said: "It's very nice, and I thank my little sister so much; of course, I am wholly indebted to you."
"Not of course. I furnished means, it is true, but another than myself planned and executed the effect," and sitting down in 'Lina's chair, Anna told her brother of Rose Markham, so beautiful, so refined, and so perfectly ladylike. "You must see her, and judge for yourself. Can't I think of some excuse for sending for her?" she said.
It was some evil genius truly which prompted the doctor's reply.
"Never mind. I'm not partial to smart waiting maids. I'd rather talk with you."
And so the golden moment was lost, and Adah was not sent for, while in his bridal rooms the doctor sat, trying to be interested in all that Anna was saying, trying to believe he should be happy when 'Lina was his wife, and trying, oh, so hard, to shut out the vision of another, who should have been there in his own home, instead of lying in some lonesome grave, as he believed she was, with her baby on her bosom. Poor Lily!
It was a great mistake he made when he cast Lily off, but it could not now be helped. No tears, no regrets, could bring back the dear little form laid away beneath the grassy sod, and so he would not waste his time in idle mourning. He would do the best he could with 'Lina. He did believe she loved him. He was almost sure of it, and as a means of redressing Lily's wrongs he would be kind to her.
And where all this while was Adah? Had she no curiosity, no desire to see the man about whom she had heard so much? Doubtless she had, and would have sought an occasion for gratifying it, had not the rather too talkative Pamelia accidentally overheard the doctor's remark concerning "smart waiting maids," and repeated it to her, with sundry little embellishments in tone and manner. Piqued more than she cared to acknowledge, Adah decided not to trouble him if she could help it, and so kept out of his way, by staying mostly in her own room, where she was busy with sewing for Anna.
Once, as the afternoon was drawing to a close, she felt the hot blood stain her face and prickle the very roots of her hair, as a step, heavier than a woman's, came along the soft, carpeted hall, and seemed to pause opposite her door, which stood partially ajar. She was sitting with her back that way, and so the doctor only saw the outline of her graceful form bending over her work, confessing to himself how graceful, how pliant, how girlish it was. He noted, too, the braids of silken hair drooping behind the well-shaped ears, just as Lily used to wear hers. Dear Lily! Her hair was much like Rose Markham's, not quite so dark, perhaps, or so luxuriant, for seldom had he seen locks so abundant and glossy as those adorning Rose Markham's head.
Slowly the twilight shadows were creeping over Terrace Hill and into the little room, where, with doors securely shut, Adah was preparing for her accustomed walk to the office. But what was it which fell like a thunderbolt on her ear, riveting her to the spot, where she stood, rigid and immovable as a block of granite cut from the solid rock? Between the closet and Anna's room there was only a thin partition, and when the door was open every sound was distinctly heard. The doctor had just come in, and it was his voice, heard for the first time, which sent the blood throbbing so madly through Adah's veins and made the sparks of fire dance before her eyes. She was not deceived—the tones were too distinct, too full, too well remembered to be mistaken, and stretching out her hands in the dim darkness, she moaned faintly: "George! 'tis George!" and she sank upon the floor. She could hear him now saying to Anna, as her moan fell on his ear, "What was that Anna? Are we not alone? I wish to speak my farewell words in private."
"Yes, all alone," Anna replied, "unless—" and stepping to Adah's door she called twice for Rose Markham.
But Adah, though she tried to do so, could neither move nor speak, and Anna failed to see the figure crouching in the darkness, poor, crushed, wretched Adah, who could not dispute her when returning to her brother she said, "There is no one there; Rose has gone to the post office. I heard her as she went out. We are all alone. Was it anything particular you wished to tell me?"
Again the familiar tones thrilled on Adah's ears as Dr. Richards replied: "Nothing very particular. I only wished to say a few words, 'Lina. I want you to like her, to make up, if possible, for the love I ought to give her."
"Ought to give her! Oh, brother, are you taking 'Lina without love? Better never make the vow than break it after it is made."
Anna spoke earnestly, and the doctor, who always tried to retain her good opinion, replied evasively: "I suppose I do love her as well as half the world love their wives before marriage, but she is different from any ladies I have known; so different from what poor Lily was. Anna, let me talk with you again of Lily. I never told you all—but what is that?" he continued, as he indistinctly heard the choking, gasping, stifled sob which Adah gave at the sound of the dear pet name. Anna answered: "It's only the rising wind. It sounds so always when it's in the east. We surely are alone. What of Lily? Do you wish you were going after her instead of 'Lina?"
Oh, why did the doctor hesitate a moment? Why did he suffer his dread of losing Anna's respect to triumph over every other feeling? He had meant to tell her all, how he did love the gentle girl, the little more than child, who confided herself to him—how he loved even her memory now far more than he loved 'Lina, but something kept the full confession back, and he answered:
"I don't know. We must have money, and 'Lina is rich, while Lily was very poor, and the only friend or relation she knew was one with whom I would not dare have you come in contact, so wicked and reckless he was."
This was what the doctor said, and into the brown eyes, now bloodshot and dim with anguish, there came the hard, fierce look, before which Alice Johnson once had shuddered, when Adah Hastings said:
"I should hate him! Yes, I should hate him!"
And in that dark hour of agony Adah felt that she did hate him. She knew now that what she before would not believe was true. He had not made her a lawful wife, else he had never dared to take another.
She did not hear him now, for with that prayer, all consciousness forsook her, and she lay on her face insensible, while at the very last he did confess to Anna that Lily was his wife. He did not say unlawfully so. He could not tell her that. He said:
"I married her privately. I would bring her back if I could, but I cannot, and I shall marry 'Lina."
"But," and Anna grasped his hand nervously. "I thought you told me once, that you won her love, and then, when mother's harsh letters came, left her without a word. Was that story false?"
The doctor was wading out in deep water, and in desperation he added lie to lie, saying:
"Yes, that was false. I tell you I married her, and she died. Was I to blame for that?"
"No, no. I'd far rather it were so. I respect you more than if you had left her. I am glad, not that she died, but that you are not so bad as I feared. Sweet Lily," and Anna's tears flowed fast.
There was a knock at the door, and Jim appeared, inquiring if the doctor would have the carriage brought around. It was nearly time to go, and with the whispered words to Anna, "I have told you what no one else must ever know," the doctor descended with his sister to the parlor, where his mother was waiting for him. The opening and shutting of the door caused a draught of air, which, falling on the fainting Adah, restored her to consciousness, and struggling to her feet, she tried to think what it was that had happened.
"Oh, George! George!" she gasped. "You are worse than I believed. You have made me an outcast, and Willie—"
George was a greater villain than she had imagined a man could be, and again her white lips essayed to curse him, but the rash act was stayed by the low words whispered in her ear, "Forgive as we would be forgiven."
"If it were not for Willie, I might, but, oh! my boy, my boy disgraced," was the rebellious spirit's answer, when again the voice whispered, "And who art thou to contend against thy God? Know you not that I am the Father of the fatherless?"
There were tears now in Adah's eyes, the first which she had shed.
"I'll try," she murmured, "try to forgive the wrong, but the strength must all be Thine," and then, though there came no sound or motion, her heart went out in agonizing prayer, that she might forgive even as she hoped to be forgiven.
"God tell me what to do with Willie?" she sobbed, starting suddenly as the answer to her prayer seemed to come at once. "Oh, can I do that?" she moaned; "can I leave him here?"
At first her whole soul recoiled from it, but when she remembered Anna, and how much she loved the child, her feelings began to change. Anna would love him more when she knew he was poor Lily's and her own brother's. She would be kind to him for his father's sake, and for the sake of the girl she had professed to like. Mrs. Richards, too, would not cast him off. She thought too much of the Richards' blood, and there was surely enough in Willie's veins to wipe out all taint of hers. Willie should be bequeathed to Anna. It would break her heart to leave him, were it not already broken, but it was better so. It would be better in the end. He would forget her in time, forget the girlish woman he had called mamma, unless sweet Anna told him of her, as perhaps she might. Dear Anna, how Adah longed to fold her arms about her once and call her sister, but she must not. It might not be well received, for Anna had some pride, as her waiting maid had learned.
"A waiting maid!" Adah repeated the name, smiling bitterly as she thought. "A waiting maid in his own home! Who would have dreamed that I should ever come to this, when he painted the future so grandly?"
Then there came over her the wild, yearning desire to see his face once more, to know if he had changed, and why couldn't she? They supposed her gone to the office, and she would go there now, taking the depot on the way.
* * * * *
Apart in the ladies' room at Snowdon depot, a veiled figure sat—Dr. Richards' deserted wife—waiting for him, waiting to look on his face once more ere she fled she knew not whither. He came at last, Jim's voice speaking to his horses heralding his approach.
The group of rough-looking men gathered about the office did not suit his mood, and so he came on to the ladies' apartment, just as Adah knew he would. Pausing for a moment on the threshold, he looked hastily in, his glance falling upon the veiled figure sitting there so lonely and motionless. She did not care for him, she would not object to his presence, so he came nearer to the stove, poising his patent leathers upon the hearth, thrusting both hands into his pockets, and even humming to himself snatches of a song, which Lily used to sing up the three flights of stairs in that New York boarding house.
Poor Adah! How white and cold she grew, listening to that air, and gazing upon the face she had loved so well. It was changed since the night when with his kiss warm on her lips he left her forever, changed, and for the worse. There was a harder, a more reckless, determined expression there, a look which better than words could have done, told that self alone was the god he worshiped.
Once, as he walked up and down the room, passing so near to her that she might have touched him with her hand, she felt an almost irresistible desire to thrust her thick brown veil aside, and confronting him to his face, claim from him what she had a right to claim, his name and a position as his wife—only for Willie's sake, however; for herself she did not wish it.
It was a relief when at last the roll of the cars was heard, and buttoning his coat still closer around him, he turned toward the door, half looking back to see if the veiled figure too had risen. It had, and was standing close beside him, its outside garments sweeping his as the crowd increased, pressing her nearer to him, but Adah passed back into the ladies' room, and opening the rear door was out in the street again almost before the train had left the station. George was gone—lost to her forever! and with a piteous moan for her ruined life, Adah kept on her way till the post office was reached.
There were four letters in the box—one for Mrs. Richards, from an absent brother; one for Eudora, from Lottie Gardner; one for Asenath, from an old friend, and at the bottom, last of all, one for Annie Richards, faced with black, and bearing the initial "M." upon the seal of wax.
Adah saw all this, but it conveyed no meaning to her mind except a vague remembrance that at some time or other, very, very long years it seemed, Anna had bidden her keep from her mother any letter directed to herself in a mourning envelope. Adah retained just sense enough to do this, and separating the letter from the others, thrust it into her pocket, and then took her way back to Terrace Hill.
Willie was asleep; and as Pamelia, who brought him up, had thoughtfully undressed and placed him in bed, there was nothing for Adah to do but think. She should go away, of course; she could not stay there longer; but how should she tell them why she went, and who would be her medium for communication?
"Anna, of course," she whispered; and lighting her little lamp, she sat down to write the letter which would tell Anna Richards who was the waiting maid to whom she had been so kind.
"Dear Anna," she wrote. "Forgive me for calling you so this once, for indeed I cannot help it. You have been so kind to me that if my heart could ache, it would ache terribly at leaving you and knowing it was forever. I am going away from you, Anna; and when, in the morning, you wait for me to come as usual, I shall not be here, I could not stay and meet your brother when he returns. Oh, Anna, Anna, how shall I begin to tell you what I know will grieve and shock your pure nature so dreadfully?
"Anna!—I love to call you Anna now, for you seem, near to me; and believe me, while I write this to you, I am conscious of no feeling of inferiority to any one bearing your proud name. I am, or should have been, your equal, your sister; and Willie!—oh, my boy, when I think of him, the feeling comes and I almost seem to be going mad!
"Cannot you guess?—don't you know now who I am? God forgive your brother, as I asked him to do, kneeling there by the very chair where he sat an hour since, talking to you of Lily. I heard him, and the sound of his voice took power and strength away. I could not move to let you know I was there, for I was, and I lay upon the floor till consciousness forsook me; and then, when I awoke again, you both were gone.
"I went to the depot, I saw him in his face to make assurance sure, and Anna, I—oh, I don't know what I am. The world would not call me a wife, though I believed I was; but they cannot deal thus cruelly by Willie, or wash from his veins his father's blood, for I—I, who write this, I who have been a servant in the house where I should have been the mistress, am Lily—wronged, deserted Lily—and Willie is your brother's child! His father's look is in his face. I see it there so plainly now, and know why that boy portrait of your brother has puzzled me so much. But when I came here I had no suspicion, for he won me, not as a Richards—George Hastings, that was the name by which I knew him, and I was Adah Gordon. If you do not believe me, ask him when he comes back if ever in his wanderings he met with Adah Gordon, or her guardian, Mr. Monroe. Ask if he was ever present at a marriage where this same Adah gave her heart to one for whom she would then have lost her life, erring in that she loved the gift more than the giver; but God punished idolatry, and He has punished me, so sorely, oh so sorely; that sometimes my fainting soul cries out, ''Tis more than I can bear,'"
Then followed more particulars so that there should be no doubt, and then the half-crazed Adah took up the theme nearest to her heart, her boy, her beautiful Willie. She could not take him with her. She knew not where she was going, and Willie must not suffer. Would Anna take the child?
"I do not ask that the new bride should ever call him hers," she wrote; "I'd rather she would not. I ask that you should give him a mother's care, and if his father will sometimes speak kindly to him for the sake of the older time when he did love the mother, tell him—Willie's father, I mean—tell him, oh I know not what to bid you tell him, except that I forgive him, though at first it was so hard, and the words refused to come; I trusted him so much, loved him so much, and until I had it from his own lips, believed I was his wife. But that cured me; that killed the love, if any still existed, and now, if I could, I would not be his, unless it were for Willie's sake.
"And now farewell. God deal with you, dear Anna, as you deal with my boy."
Calmly, steadily, Adah folded up the missive, and laying it with the mourning envelope, busied herself next in making the necessary preparations for her flight. Anna had been liberal with her in point of wages, paying her every week, and paying more than at first agreed upon; and as she had scarcely spent a penny during her three months' sojourn at Terrace Hill, she had, including what Alice had given to her, nearly forty dollars. She was trying so hard to make it a hundred, and so send it to Hugh some day; but she needed it most herself, and she placed it carefully in her little purse, sighing over the golden coin which Anna had paid her last, little dreaming for what purpose it would be used. She would not change her dress until Anna had retired, as that might excite suspicion; so with the same rigid apathy of manner she sat down by Willie's side and waited till Anna was heard moving in her room. The lamp was burning dimly on the bureau, and so Anna failed to see the frightful expression of Adah's face, as she performed her accustomed duties, brushing Anna's hair, and letting her hands linger caressingly amid the locks she might never touch again.
It did strike Anna that something was the matter; for when Adah spoke to her, the voice was husky and unnatural. Still, she paid no attention until the chapter was read as usual and "Our Father" said; then, as Adah lingered a moment, still kneeling by the bed, she laid her soft hand on the young head, and asked, kindly, "if it ached."
"No, not my head, not my head," and Adah continued impetuously; "Anna, tell me, have I pleased you?—do you like me? would you, could you love me if I were your equal—love me as I do you?"
Anna noticed that the "Miss" was dropped from her name, that her maid was treating her more familiarly than she had ever done before; and for an instant a flush showed on her cheek, for pride was Anna's besetting sin, the one from which she daily prayed to be delivered. There was an inward struggle, a momentary conflict, such as every Christian warrior has felt at times, and then the flush was gone from the white cheek, and her hand still lay on Adah's head, as she replied: "I do not understand why you question me thus, but I will answer just the same. I do like you very much, and you have always seemed to me much like an equal. I could hardly do without you now."
"And Willie? If I should die, or anything happen to me, would you care for Willie?"
There was something very earnest in Adah's tone as she pleaded for her boy, and had Anna been at all suspicious, she must have guessed there was something wrong. As it was, she merely thought Adah tired and nervous. She had been thinking, perhaps, of the deserted, and she smoothed her hair pityingly as she replied: "Of course I'd care for Willie. He has won a large place in my heart."
"Bless you for that. It has made me very happy," Adah whispered, arising to her feet and adding: "You may think me bold, but I must kiss you once—only once—for it will be pleasant to remember that I kissed Anna Richards."
There was nothing cringing or even pleading in the tone. Adah seemed to ask it as her right, and ere Anna could answer she had pressed one burning kiss upon the smooth, white forehead which a menial's lips had never touched before, and was gone from the room.
"Was she crazy, or what was it that ailed her?" Anna asked herself, wondering more and more, the more she thought of the strange conduct, and lying awake long after the usual hour for sleep.
But wakeful as she was, there was one who kept the vigils with her, knowing exactly when she fell away at last into a slumber all the deeper for the restlessness which had preceded it. Anna slept very soundly as Adah knew she would, and when toward morning a light footstep glided across her threshold she did not hear it. The bolt was drawn, the key was turned, and just as the clock struck three, Adah stood outside the yard, leaning on the gate and gazing back at the huge building looming up so dark and grand beneath the starry sky. One more prayer for Willie and the mother-auntie to whose care she had left him, one more straining glance at the window of the little room where he lay sleeping, and she resolutely turned away, nor stopped again until the Danville depot was reached the station where in less than five minutes after her arrival the night express stood for an instant, and then went thundering on, bearing with it another passenger, bound for—she knew not, cared not whither.
They were not early risers at Terrace Hill, and the morning following Adah's flight Anna slept later than usual; nor was it until Willie's baby cry, calling for mamma, was heard, that she awoke, and thinking Adah had gone down for something, she bade Willie come to her. Putting out her arms she lifted him carefully into her own bed, and in doing so brushed from her pillow the letters left for her. But it did not matter then, and for a full half hour she lay waiting for Adah's return. Growing impatient at last, she stepped upon the floor, her bare feet touching something cold, something which made her look down and find that she was stepping on a letter—not one, but two—and in wondering surprise she turned them to the light, half fainting with excitement, when on the back of the first one examined she saw the old familiar handwriting, and knew that Charlie had written again!
Anna had hardly been human had she waited an instant ere she tore open the envelope and learned how many times and with how little success Charlie Millbrook had written to her since his return from India. He had not forgotten her. The love of his early manhood had increased with his maturer years, and he could not be satisfied until he heard from her that he was remembered and still beloved.
This was Charlie's letter, this what Anna read, feeling far too happy to be angry at her mother, and delicious tears of joy flowed over her beautiful face, as, pressing the paper to her lips, she murmured:
"Dear Charlie! darling Charlie! I knew he was not false, and I thank the kind Father for bringing him at last to me."
Hiding it in her bosom, Anna took the other letter then, and throwing her shawl around her, for she was beginning to shiver with cold, sat down by the window and read it through—read it once, read it twice, read it thrice, and then—sure never were the inmates of Terrace Hill thrown into so much astonishment and alarm as they were that April morning, when, in her cambric night robe, her long hair falling unbound about her shoulders, and her bare feet, gleaming white and cold upon the floor, Miss Anna went screaming from room to room, and asking her wonder-stricken mother and sisters if they had any idea who it was that had been an inmate of their house for so many weeks.
"Come with me, then," she almost screamed, and dragging her mother to her room, where Willie sat up in bed, looking curiously about him and uncertain whether to cry or to laugh, she exclaimed, "Look at him, mother, and you, too, Asenath and Eudora!" turning to her sisters, who had followed. "Tell me who is he like? He is John's child. And Rose was Lily, the young girl whom you forbade him to marry! Listen, mother, you shall listen to what your pride has done!" and grasping the bewildered Mrs. Richards by the arm, Anna held her fast while she read aloud the letter left by Adah.
Mrs. Richards fainted. She soon recovered, however, and listened eagerly while Anna repeated all her brother had ever told her of Lily.
Poor Willie! He was there in the bed, looking curiously at the four women, none of whom seemed quite willing to own him save Anna. Her heart took him in at once. He had been given to her. She would be faithful to the trust, and folding him in her arms, she cried softly over him, kissing his little face and calling him her darling.
"Anna, how can you fondle such as he?" Eudora asked, rather sharply.
"He is our brother's child. Mother, you will not turn from your grandson," and Anna held the boy toward her mother, who did not refuse to take him.
Asenath always went with her mother, and at once showed signs of relenting by laying her hand on Willie's head and calling him "poor boy." Eudora held out longer, but Anna knew she would yield in time, and satisfied with Willie's reception so far, went on to speak of Adah. Where was she, did they suppose, and what were the best means of finding her.
At this Mrs. Richards demurred, as did Asenath with her.
"Adah was gone, and they had better let her go quietly. She was nothing to them, nothing whatever, and if they took Willie in, doing their best with him as one of the Richards' line, it was all that could be required of them. Had Adah been John's wife, it would of course be different, but she was not, and his marriage with 'Lina must not now be prevented."
This was Mrs. Richards' reasoning, but Anna's was different.
"John had distinctly said, 'I married Lily and she died.' Adah was mistaken about the marriage being unlawful. It was a falsehood he told her. She was his wife, and he must not be permitted to commit bigamy. She would tell John in private. They need not try to dissuade her, for she should go."
This was what Anna said, and all in vain were her mother's entreaties to let matters take their course. Anna only replied by going deliberately on with the preparations for her sudden journey. She was going to find Rose, and blessing her for this kindness to one whom they had liked so much, Dixson and Pamelia helped to get her ready, both promising the best care to Willie in her absence, both asking where she was going first and both receiving the same answer, "To Albany."
Mrs. Richards was too much stunned clearly to comprehend what had happened or what would be the result; and in a kind of apathetic maze she bade Anna good-by, and then went back to where Willie sat upon the sofa, examining and occasionally tearing the costly book of foreign prints which had been given him to keep him still and make him cease his piteous wail for "mamma." It seemed like a dream to the three ladies sitting at home that night and talking about Anna, wondering that a person of her weak nerves and feeble health should suddenly become so active, so energetic, so decided, and of her own accord start off on a long journey alone and unprotected.
And Anna wondered at herself when the excitement of leaving was past and the train was bearing her swiftly along on her mission of duty. She had written a few lines to Charlie Millbrook, telling him of her unaltered love and bidding him come to her in three weeks' time, when she would be ready to see him.
It was very dark and rainy, and the passengers jostled each other rudely as they passed from the cars in Albany and hurried to the boat. It was new business to Anna, traveling alone and in the night, and a feeling akin to fear was creeping over her as she wondered where she should find the eastern train.
"Follow the crowd," seemed yelled out for her benefit, though it was really intended for a timid, deaf old lady, who had anxiously asked what to do of one whose laconic reply was: "Follow the crowd." And Anna did follow the crowd which led her safely to the waiting cars. Snugly ensconced in a seat all to herself, she vainly imagined there was no more trouble until Cleveland or Buffalo at least was reached. How, then, was she disappointed when, alighting for a moment at Rochester, she found herself in a worse babel, if possible, than had existed at Albany. Where were all these folks going, and which was the train? "I ought not to have alighted at all," she thought; "I might have known I never could find my way back." Never, sure, was poor, little woman so confused and bewildered as Anna, and it is not strange that she stood directly upon the track, unmindful of the increasing din and roar as the train from Niagara Falls came thundering into the depot. It was in vain that the cabman nearest to her helloed to warn her of the impending danger. She never dreamed that they meant her, or suspected her great peril, until from out of the group waiting to take that very train, a tall figure sprang, and grasping her light form around the waist, bore her to a place of safety—not because he guessed that it was Annie, but because it was a human being whom he would save from a fearful death.
"Excuse me, madam," he began, but whatever she might have said was lost in the low, thrilling scream of joy with which Anna recognized him.
"Charlie, Charlie! oh, Charlie!" she cried, burying her face in his bosom and sobbing like a child.
There was no time to waste in explanations; scarcely time, indeed, for Charlie to ask where she was going, and if the necessity to go on were imperative.
"You won't leave me," Anna whispered.
"Leave you, darling? No," and pressing the little fingers twining so lovingly about his own, Charlie replied: "Whither thou goest I will go. I shall not leave you again."
He needed no words to tell him of the letters never received; he knew the truth, and satisfied to have her at last he drew her closely to him, and laying her tired head upon his bosom, gazed fondly at the face he had not seen in many, many years. Curious, tittering maidens, of whom there are usually one or two in every car, looked at that couple near the door and whispered to their companions:
"Bride and groom. Just see how he hugs her. Some widower, I know, married to a young wife."
But neither Charlie nor Anna cared for the speculations to which they were giving rise. They had found each other, and the happiness enjoyed during the two hours which elapsed ere Buffalo was reached more than made amends for all the lonely years of wretchedness they had spent apart from each other. Charlie had told Anna briefly of his life in India—had spoken feelingly, affectionately of his gentle Hattie, who had died, blessing him with her last breath for the kindness he had ever shown to her; of baby Annie's grave, by the side of which he buried the young mother; of his loneliness after that, his failing health, his yearning for a sight of home, his embarkation for America, his hope through all that she might still be won; his letters and her mother's reply, which awakened his suspicions, and his last letter which she received.
Sweetly she chided him, amid her tears, for not coming to her at once, telling how she had waited and watched with an anxious heart, ever since she heard of his return; and then she told him next where she was going, and why, sparing her brother as much as possible, and dwelling long upon poor Lily's gentleness and beauty.
So it was settled that Charlie should go with her, and his presence made her far less impatient than she would otherwise have been, when, owing to some accident, they were delayed so long that the Cleveland train was gone, and there was no alternative but to wait in Buffalo. At Cincinnati there was another detention, and it was not until the very day appointed for the wedding that, with Charlie still beside her, Anna entered the carriage hired at Lexington, and started for Spring Bank, whither for a little we will precede her, taking up the narrative prior to this day, and about the time when 'Lina first returned from New York, laden with arrogance and airs.
MATTERS AT SPRING BANK
It had been a bright, pleasant day in March, when 'Lina was expected home, and in honor of her arrival the house at Spring Bank wore its most cheery aspect; not that any one was particularly pleased because she was coming, unless it were the mother; but it was still an event of some importance, and so the negroes cleaned and scrubbed and scoured, wondering if "Miss 'Lina done fotch 'em anything," while Alice arranged and re-arranged the plainly-furnished rooms, feeling beforehand how the contrast between them and the elegancies to which 'Lina had recently been accustomed would affect her.
Hugh had thought of the same thing, and much as it hurt him to do it, he sold one of his pet colts, and giving the proceeds to Alice, bade her use it as she saw fit.
Spring Bank had never looked one-half so well before, and the negroes were positive there was nowhere to be found so handsome a room as the large airy parlor, with its new Brussels carpet and curtains of worsted brocatelle.
Even Hugh was somewhat of the same opinion, but then he only looked at the room with Alice standing in its center, or stooping in some corner to drive again a refractory nail, so it is not strange that he should judge it favorably. Ad would be pleased, he knew, and he gave orders that the carriage and harness should be thoroughly cleaned, and the horses well groomed, for he would make a good impression upon his sister.
Alas, she was not worth the trouble, the proud, selfish creature, who, all the way from Lexington to the Big Spring station had been hoping Hugh would not take it into his head to meet her, or if he did, that he would not have on his homespun suit of gray, with his pants tucked in his boots, and so disgrace her in the eyes of Mr. and Mrs. Ford, her traveling companions, who would see him from the window. Yes, there he was, standing expectantly upon the platform, and she turned her head the other way pretending not to see him until the train moved on and Hugh compelled her notice by grasping her hand and calling her "Sister 'Lina."
She had acquired a certain city air by her sojourn in New York, and in her fashionably made traveling dress and hat was far more stylish looking than when Hugh last parted from her. But nothing abashed he held her hand a moment while he inquired about her journey, and then playfully added:
"Upon my word, Ad, you have improved a heap, in looks I mean. Of course I don't know about the temper. Spunky as ever, eh?" and he tried to pinch her glowing cheek.
"Pray don't be foolish," was 'Lina's impatient reply, as she drew away from him, and turned, with her blandest smile, to a sprig of a lawyer from Frankfort, who chanced to be there too.
Chilled by her manner, Hugh ordered the carriage, and told her they were ready. Once inside the carriage, and alone with him, 'Lina's tongue was loosened, and she poured out numberless questions, the first of which was, what they heard from Adah, and if it were true, as her mother had written, that she was at Terrace Hill as Rose Markham, and that no one there knew of her acquaintance with Spring Bank?
Yes, he supposed it was, and he did not like it either. "Ad," and he turned his honest face full toward her, "does that doctor still believe you rich?"
"How do I know?" 'Lina replied, frowning gloomily. "I'm not to blame if he does. I never told him I was."
"But your actions implied as much, which amounts to the same thing. It's all wrong, Ad, all wrong. Even if he loves you, and it is to be hoped he does, he will respect you less when he knows how you deceived him."
"Hadn't you better interfere and set the matter right?" asked 'Lina, now really aroused.
"I did think of doing so once," Hugh rejoined, but ere he could say more, 'Lina grasped his arm fiercely, her face dark with passion as she exclaimed:
"Hugh, if you meddle, you'll rue the day. It's my own affair, and I know what I'm doing."
"I do not intend to meddle, though I encouraged Adah in her wild plan of going to Terrace Hill, because I thought they would learn from her just how rich we are. But Adah has foolishly taken another name, and says nothing of Spring Bank. I don't like it, neither does Miss Johnson. Indeed, I sometimes think she is more anxious than I am."
"Miss Johnson," and 'Lina spoke disdainfully, "I'd thank her to mind her own business. Hugh, you are getting a ministerial kind of look, and you have not sworn at me once since we met. I guess Alice has converted you. Well, I only hope you'll not backslide."
'Lina laughed hatefully, and evidently expected an outburst of passion, but though Hugh turned very white, he made her no reply, and they proceeded on in silence, until they came in sight of Spring Bank, when 'Lina broke out afresh.
Such a tumble-down shanty as that. It was not fit for decent people to live in, and mercy knew she was glad her sojourn there was to be short.
"You are not alone in that feeling," came dryly from Hugh.
'Lina said he was a very affectionate brother; that she was glad there were those who appreciated her, even if he did not, and then the carriage stopped at Spring Bank. Mrs. Worthington was hearty in her welcome, for her mother heart went out warmly toward her daughter. Oh, what airs 'Lina did put on, offering the tips of her fingers to good Aunt Eunice, trying to patronize Alice herself, and only noticing Densie Densmore with a haughty stare.
Old Densie had for the last few days been much in 'Lina's mind. She had disliked her at Saratoga, and somehow it made her feel uncomfortable every time she thought of finding her at Spring Bank. Densie had never forgotten 'Lina, and many a time had she recalled the peculiar expression of her black eyes, shuddering as she remembered how much they were like another pair of eyes whose gleams of passion had once thrilled her with terror.
"Upon my word," 'Lina began, as she entered the pleasant parlor, "this is better than I expected. Somebody has been very kind for my sake. Miss Johnson, I'm sure it's you I have to thank," and with a little flash of gratitude she turned to Alice, who replied in a low tone:
"Thank your brother. He made a sacrifice for the sake of surprising you."
Whether it was with a desire to appear amiable in Alice's eyes, or because she really was touched with Hugh's generosity, 'Lina involuntarily threw her arm around his neck, and gave to him a kiss which he remembered for many, many years. At the nicely prepared dinner served soon after her arrival, a cloud lowered on 'Lina's brow, induced by the fact that Densie Densmore was permitted a seat at the table, a proceeding sadly at variance with 'Lina's lately acquired ideas of aristocracy.
Accordingly that very day she sought an opportunity to speak with her mother when she knew that Densie was in an adjoining room.
"Mother," she began, "why do you suffer that woman to come to the table? Is it a whim of Alice's, or what?"
"Oh, you allude to Mrs. Densmore. I couldn't at first imagine whom you meant," Mrs. Worthington replied, going on to say how foolish it was for 'Lina to assume such airs, that Densie was as good as anybody, or at all events was a quiet, well-behaved woman, worthy of respect, and that Hugh would as soon stay away himself as banish her from the table because she had once been a servant.
"Yes, but consider Dr. Richards when he comes. What must he think of us? At the North they recognize white niggers as well as black. I tell you I won't have it, and unless you speak to her, I shall."
'Lina ate her supper exultingly, free from Densie's presence, caring little for the lonely old woman whose lip quivered and whose tears started every time that she remembered the slighting words accidentally overheard.
Swiftly the days went by, bringing callers to see 'Lina; Ellen Tiffton, who received back her jewelry, never guessing that the bracelet she clasped upon her arm was not the same lent so many months ago. Ellen was to be bridesmaid, inasmuch as Alice preferred to be more at liberty, and see that matters went on properly. This brought Ellen often to Spring Bank, and as 'Lina was much with her, Alice was left more time to think. Adah's continued silence with regard to Dr. Richards had troubled her at first, but now she felt relieved. 'Lina had stated distinctly that ere coming to Kentucky, he was going to Terrace Hill, and Adah's last letter had said the same. She would see him then, and if—if he were George—alas! for the unsuspecting girl who fluttered gayly in the midst of her bridal finery, and wished the time would come when she could "escape from that hole, and go back to dear, delightful Fifth Avenue Hotel."
The time which hung so heavily upon her hands was flying rapidly, and at last only one week intervened ere the eventful day. Hugh had gone down to Frankfort on some errand for 'Lina, and as he passed the penitentiary, he thought, as he always did now, of the convict Sullivan. Was he there still, and if so, why could he not see him face to face, and question him of the past?
Three hours later and Hugh Worthington was confronting the famous negro stealer, who gave him back glance for glance, and stood as unflinchingly before him as if there were upon his conscience no Adah Hastings, who, by his connivance, had been so terribly wronged. At the mention of her name, however, his bold assurance left him. There was a quivering of the muscles about his mouth, and his whole manner was indicative of strong emotion as he asked if Hugh knew aught of her since that fatal night, and then listened while Hugh told what he knew and where she had gone.
"To Terrace Hill—into the Richards family; this was no chance arrangement?" and the convict spoke huskily, asking next for the doctor; and still Hugh did not suspect the magnitude of the plot, and answered by telling how Dr. Richards was coming soon to make 'Lina his wife.
Hugh was not looking at his companion then, or he would have been appalled by the livid, fearful expression which for an instant flashed on his face. Accustomed to conceal his feelings, the convict did so now; and asked calmly when the wedding would take place. Hugh named the day and hour, and then asked if Sullivan knew aught of Adah's husband.
"Yes, everything," and the convict said vehemently, "Young man, I cannot tell you now—there is not time, but wait a little and you shall know the whole. You are interested in Adah. The wedding, you say, is Thursday night. My time expires on Tuesday. Don't think me impudent if I ask a list of the invited guests. Will you give it to me?"
Surely there was some deep mystery here, and he made no reply till Sullivan again asked for the list. The original paper on which Hugh had first written the few names of those to be invited chanced to be in his vest pocket, and mechanically taking it out he passed it to the convict, who expressed his thanks, and added: "Don't say that you have seen me, or that I shall be present at that wedding. I shall only come for good, but I shall surely be there."
THE DAY OF THE WEDDING
Dr. Richards had arrived at Spring Bank. Hugh was the first to meet him. For a moment he scrutinized the stranger's face earnestly, and then asked if they had never met before.
"Not to my knowledge," the doctor replied in perfect good faith, for he had no suspicion that the man eying him so closely was the one witness of his marriage with Adah, the stranger whom he scarcely noticed, and whose name he had forgotten.
Once fully in the light, where Hugh could discern the features plainer, he began to be less sure of having met his guest before, for that immense mustache and those well-trimmed whiskers had changed the doctor's physiognomy materially.
'Lina was glad to see the doctor. She had even cried at his delay, and though no one knew it, had sat up nearly the whole preceding night, waiting and listening by her open window for any sound to herald his approach.
As the result of this long vigil, her head ached dreadfully the next day, and even the doctor noticed her burning cheeks and watery eyes, and feeling her rapid pulse asked if she were ill.
She was not, she said; she had only been troubled because he did not come, and then for once in her life she did a womanly act. She laid her head in the doctor's lap and cried, just as she had done the previous night. He understood the cause of her tears at last, and touched with a greater degree of tenderness for her than he had ever before experienced, he smoothed her glossy black hair, and asked:
"Would you be very sorry to lose me?"
Selfish and hard as she was, 'Lina loved the doctor, and with a shudder as she thought of the deception imposed on him, and a half regret that she had so deceived him, she replied:
"I am not worthy of you. I do love you very much, and it would kill me to lose you now. Promise that when you find, as you will, how bad I am, you will not hate me!"
It was an attempt at confession, but the doctor did not so construe it. Poor 'Lina. It is not often we have seen her thus—gentle, softened, womanly; so we will make the most of it, and remember it in the future.
The bright sunlight of the next morning was very exhilarating, and though the doctor, who had risen early, was disappointed in Spring Bank, he was not at all suspicious, and greeted his bride-elect kindly, noticing, while he did so, how her cheeks alternately paled, and then grew red, while she seemed to be chilly and cold. 'Lina had passed a wretched night, tossing from side to side, bathing her throbbing head and rubbing her aching limbs. The severe cold taken in the wet yard was making itself visible, and she came to the breakfast table jaded, wretched and sick, a striking contrast to Alice Johnson, who seemed to the doctor more beautiful than ever. She was unusually gay this morning, for while talking to Dr. Richards, whom she had met in the parlor, she had, among other things concerning Snowdon, said to him, casually, as it seemed:
"Anna has a waiting maid at last. You saw her, of course?"
Somehow the doctor fancied Alice wished him to say yes, and as he had seen Adah's back, he replied at once:
"Oh, yes, I saw her. Fine looking for a servant. Her little boy is splendid."
Alice was satisfied. The shadow lifted from her spirits. Dr. Richards was not George Hastings. He was not the villain she had feared, and 'Lina might have him now. Poor 'Lina. Alice felt almost as if she had done her a wrong by suspecting the doctor, and was very kind to her that day. Poor 'Lina, we say it again, for hard, and wicked, and treacherous, and unfilial, as she had ever been, she had need for pity on this her wedding day. Retribution, terrible and crushing, was at hand, hurrying on in the carriage bringing Anna Richards to Spring Bank, and on the fleet-footed steed bearing the convict swiftly up the Frankfort pike.
'Lina could not tell what ailed her. Her hauteur of manner was all gone, and Mug, who had come into the room to see "the finery," was not chidden or told to let them alone, while Densie, who, at Alice's suggestion, brought her a glass of wine, was kindly thanked, and even asked to stay if she liked while the dressing went on. But Densie did not care to, and she left the room just as the mud-bespattered vehicle containing Anna Richards drove up, Mr. Millbrook having purposely stopped in Versailles, thinking it better that Anna should go on alone.
It was Ellen of course, 'Lina said, and so the dressing continued, and she was all unsuspicious of the scene enacting below, in the room where Anna met her brother alone. She had not given Hugh her name. She simply asked for Dr. Richards, and conducting her into the parlor, hung with bridal decorations, Hugh went for the doctor, amusing himself on the back piazza with the sprightly Mug, who when asked if she were not sorry Miss 'Lina was going off, had naively answered:
"No-o—sir, 'case she done jaw so much, and pull my har. I tell you, she's a peeler. Is you glad she's gwine?"
The doctor was not quite certain, but answered: "Yes, very glad," just as Hugh announced "a lady who wished to see him."
Mechanically the doctor took his way to the parlor, while Hugh resumed his seat by the window, where for the last hour he had watched for the coming of one who had said, "I will be there."
Half an hour later, had he looked into the parlor, he would have seen a frightened, white-faced man crouching at Anna Richards' side and whispering to her as if all life, all strength, all power to act for himself were gone:
"What must I do? Tell me what to do."
This was a puzzle to Anna, and she replied by asking him another question. "Do you love 'Lina Worthington?"
"I—I—no, I guess I don't; but she's rich, and—"
With a motion of disgust Anna cut him short, saying: "Don't make me despise you more than I do. Until your lips confessed it, I had faith that Lily was mistaken, that your marriage was honorable, at least, even if you tired of it afterward. You are worse than I suppose and now you speak of money. What shall you do? Get up and not sit whining at my feet like a puppy. Find Lily, of course, and if she will stoop to listen a second time to your suit, make her your wife, working to support her until your hands are blistered, if need be."