MRS. MARY J. HOLMES
AUTHOR OF "MILDRED; OR, THE CHILD OF ADOPTION," "MISS MC'DONALD," "TEMPEST AND SUNSHINE," "ENGLISH ORPHANS," "EDITH LYLE'S SECRET," "THE LEIGHTON HOMESTEAD," "MILLBANK; OR, ROGER IRVING'S WARD," ETC.
MARY J. HOLMES SERIES
UNIFORM WITH THIS VOLUME By MARY J. HOLMES
Aikenside. Bad Hugh. Cousin Maude. Darkness and Daylight. Dora Deane. Edith Lyle's Secret. English Orphans, The. Ethelyn's Mistake. Family Pride. Homestead on the Hillside, The. Hugh Worthington. Leighton Homestead, The. Lena Rivers. Maggie Miller. Marion Grey. Meadow Brook. Mildred; or, The Child of Adoption. Millbank; or, Roger Irving's Ward. Miss McDonald. Rector of St. Marks, The. Rosamond. Rose Mather. Tempest and Sunshine.
Price, postpaid, 50c. each, or any three books for $1.25
I. ETHELYN. II. THE VAN BUREN SET. III. RICHARD MARKHAM. IV. THE BRIDAL. V. THE HONEYMOON. VI. MRS. MARKHAM'S WAYS. VII. GETTING HOME. VIII. ANDY. IX. DINNER, AND AFTER IT. X. FIRST DAYS IN OLNEY. XI. CALLS AND VISITING. XII. SOCIETY. XIII. GOING TO WASHINGTON. XIV. THE FIRST DAY OF RICHARD'S ABSENCE. XV. ANDY TRIES TO FIND THE ROOT OF THE MATTER. XVI. WASHINGTON. XVII. RICHARD'S HEIR. XVIII. DAYS OF CONVALESCENCE. XIX. COMING TO A CRISIS. XX. THE CRISIS. XXI. THE RESULT. XXII. ETHIE'S LETTERS. XXIII. THE DESERTED HUSBAND. XXIV. THE INVESTIGATION. XXV. IN CHICOPEE. XXVI. WATCHING AND WAITING. XXVII. AFFAIRS AT OLNEY. XXVIII. THE GOVERNOR. XXIX. AFTER YEARS OF WAITING. XXX. ETHIE'S SIC. XXXI. MRS. DR. VAN BUREN. XXXII. CLIFTON. XXXIII. THE OCCUPANT OF NO. 102. XXXIV. IN RICHARD'S ROOM. XXXV. MRS. PETER PRY TAKES A PACK. XXXVI. IN DAVENPORT. XXXVII. AT HOME. XXXVIII. RICHARD AND ETHELYN. XXXIX. RECONCILIATION.
There was a sweet odor of clover blossoms in the early morning air, and the dew stood in great drops upon the summer flowers, and dropped from the foliage of the elm trees which skirted the village common. There was a cloud of mist upon the meadows, and the windings of the river could be distinctly traced by the white fog which curled above it. But the fog and the mists were rolling away as the warm June sun came over the eastern hills, and here and there signs of life were visible in the little New England town of Chicopee, where our story opens. The mechanics who worked in the large shoe-shop halfway down Cottage Row had been up an hour or more, while the hissing of the steam which carried the huge manufactory had been heard since the first robin peeped from its nest in the alders down by the running brook; but higher up, on Bellevue Street, where the old inhabitants lived, everything was quiet, and the loamy road, moist and damp with the dews of the previous night, was as yet unbroken by the foot of man or rut of passing wheel.
The people who lived there, the Mumfords, and the Beechers, and the Grangers, and the Thorns, did not strictly belong to the working class. They held stocks in railroads, and mortgages on farms, and so could afford to sleep after the shrill whistle from the manufactory had wakened the echoes of the distant hills and sounded across the waters of Pordunk Pond. Only one dwelling here showed signs of life, and that the large square building, shaded in front with elms and ornamented at the side with a luxuriant queen of the prairie, whose blossoms were turning their blushing faces to the rising sun. This was the Bigelow house, the joint property of Mrs. Dr. Van Buren, nee Sophia Bigelow, who lived in Boston, and her sister, Miss Barbara Bigelow, the quaintest and kindest-hearted woman who ever bore the sobriquet of an old maid, and was aunt to everybody. She was awake long before the whistle sounded across the river and along the meadow lands, where some of the workmen lived, and just as the robin, whose nest for four summers had been under the eaves where neither boy nor cat could reach it, brought the first worm to its clamorous young, she pushed the fringed curtain from her open window, and with her broad frilled cap still on her head, stood for a moment looking out upon the morning as it crept up the eastern sky. "She will have a nice day for her wedding. May her future life be as fair," Aunt Barbara whispered softly, then kneeling before the window with her head bowed upon the sill, she prayed earnestly for God's blessing on the bridal to take place that night beneath her roof, and upon the young girl who had been both a care and a comfort since the Christmas morning eighteen years before, when her half-sister Julia had come home to die, bringing with her the little Ethelyn, then but two years old.
Aunt Barbara's prayers were always to the point. She said what she had to say in the fewest possible words, wasting no time in repetition, and on this occasion she was briefer than usual, for the good woman had many things upon her mind this morning. First, there was Betty to rouse and get into a state of locomotion, a good half hour's work, as Aunt Barbara knew from a three years' experience. There was the "sponge" put to rise the previous night. She must see if that had risen, and with her own hands mold the snowy breakfast rolls which Ethelyn liked so much. There were the chambers to be inspected a second time, to ascertain if everything was in its place, and dinner to be prepared for the "Van Buren set" expected up from Boston, while last, though far from least, there was Ethelyn herself to waken when the clock should chime the hour of six, and this was a pleasure which good Aunt Barbara would not for the world have foregone. Every morning for the last sixteen years, when Ethelyn was at home, she had gone to the pleasant, airy chamber where her darling slept, and bending over her had kissed her fair, glowing cheek, and so called her back from the dreamless slumber which otherwise might have been prolonged to an indefinite time, for Ethelyn did not believe in the maxim, "Early to bed and early to rise," and always begged for a little more indulgence, even after the brown eyes unclosed and flashed forth a responsive greeting to the motherly face bending above them.
This morning, however, it was not needful that Aunt Barbara should waken her, for long before the robin sang, or the white-fringed curtain had been pushed aside from Aunt Barbara's window, she was awake, and the brown eyes, which had in them a strange expression for a bride's eyes to wear, had scanned the eastern horizon wistfully, aye, drearily it may be, to see if it were morning, and when the clock in the kitchen struck four, the quivering lip had whispered, oh, so sadly, "Sixteen hours more, only sixteen," and with a little shiver the bed-clothes had been drawn more closely around the plump shoulders, and the troubled face had nestled down among the pillows to smother the sigh which never ought to have come from a maiden's lips upon her wedding day. The chamber of the bride-elect was a pleasant one, large and airy and high, with windows looking out upon the Chicopee hills, and from which Ethelyn had many a time watched the fading of the purplish twilight as, girl-like, she speculated upon the future and wondered what it might have in store for her. One leaf of the great book had been turned and lay open to her view, but she shrank away from what was written there, and wished so much that the record were otherwise. Upon the walls of Ethelyn's chamber many pictures were hung, some in water colors, which she had done herself in the happy schooldays which now seemed so far away, and some in oil, mementos also of those days. Pictures, too, there were of people, one of dear Aunt Barbara, whose kindly face was the first to smile on Ethelyn when she woke, and whose patient, watchful eyes seemed to keep guard over her while she slept. Besides Aunt Barbara's picture there was another one, a fair, boyish face, with a look not wholly unlike Ethelyn, herself, save that it lacked the firmness and decision which were so apparent in the proud curve of her lip and the flash of her brown eyes. Fair-haired and blue-eyed, with something feminine in every feature, it seemed preposterous that the original could ever make a young girl's heart ache as Ethelyn Grant's was aching that June morning, when, taking the small oval frame from the wall, she kissed it passionately, and then thrust it away into the bureau drawer, which held other relics than the oval frame. It was, in fact, the grave of Ethelyn's buried hopes—the tomb she had sworn never to unlock again; but now, as her fingers lingered a moment amid the mementos of the years when, in her girlish ignorance, she had been so happy, she felt her resolution giving way, and sitting down upon the floor, with her long hair unfastened and falling loosely about her, she bowed her head over buried treasures, and dropped into their grave the bitterest tears she had ever shed. Then, as there swept over her some better impulse, whispering of the wrong she was doing to her promised husband, she said:
"I will not leave them here to madden me again some other day. I will burn them, every one."
There were matches within her reach, while the little fireplace was not far away, and, sitting just where she was, Ethelyn Grant burned one after another, letters and notes, some directed in schoolboy style, and others showing a manlier hand, as the dates grew more recent and the envelopes bore a more modern and fashionable look. Over one, the freshest and the last, Ethelyn lingered a moment, her eyes growing dark with passion, and her lips twitching nervously as she read:
"Dear Ethie: I reckon mother is right, after all. She generally is, you know, so we may as well be resigned, and believe it wicked for cousins to marry each other. Of course I can never like Nettie as I have liked you, and I feel a twinge every time I remember the dear old times. But what must be must, and there's no use fretting. Do you remember old Colonel Markham's nephew from out West—the one who wore the short pants and the rusty crape on his hat when he visited his uncle, in Chicopee, some years ago? I mean the chap who helped you over the fence the time you stole the colonel's apples. He has become a member of Congress, and quite a big gun for the West, at least, mother thinks. He called on her to-day with a message from Mrs. Woodhull, but I did not see him. He goes up to Chicopee to-morrow, I believe. He is looking for a wife, they say, and mother thinks it would be a good match for you, as you could go to Washington next winter and queen it over them all. But don't, Ethie, don't for thunder's sake! It fairly makes me faint to think of you belonging to another, even though you may never belong to me. Yours always, Frank."
There was a dark, defiant look in Ethelyn's face as she applied the match to this letter, and then watched it blacken and crisp upon the hearth. How well she remembered the day when she received it—the dark, dismal April day, when the rain which dropped so fast from the leaden clouds, seemed weeping for her, who could not weep then, so complete was her humiliation, so utter her desolation. That was not quite three months ago, and so much had happened since then as the result of that M.C.'s visit to Chicopee. He was there again, this morning, an inmate of the great yellow house, with the large, old-fashioned brass knocker, and, by just putting aside her curtain, Ethelyn could see the very window of the chamber where he slept. But Ethelyn had other matters in hand, and if she thought at all of that window whose shutters were rarely opened except when Colonel Markham had, as now, an honored guest, it was with a faint shudder of terror, and she went on destroying mementos which were only a mockery of the past. One little note, the first ever received from Frank, after a, memorable morning in the huckleberry hills, she could not burn. It was only a line, and, if read by a stranger, would convey no particular meaning; so she laid it aside with the lock of light, soft hair, which clung to her fingers with a kind of caressing touch, and brought to her hot eyelids a mist which cooled their feverish heat. And now nothing remained of the treasures but a tiny tortoise-shell box, where, in its bed of pink cotton, lay a little ring, with "Ethie" marked upon it. It was too small for the finger it once encircled, for Ethel was but a child when first she wore it. Her hands were larger; plumper, now, and it would not pass the second joint of her finger, though she exerted all her strength to push it on, taking a kind of savage delight in the pain it caused her, and feeling that she was thus revenging herself on someone, she hardly knew or cared whom. At last, however, with a quick, jerking motion she drew it off, and covering her face with her hands, moaned bitterly:
"It hurts! it hurts! just as the bonds hurt which are closing around my heart. Oh! Frank, Frank, it was cruel to serve me so."
There was a step in the hall below. Aunt Barbara was coming to waken Ethelyn, and, with a spring, the young girl bounded to her feet, swept her hands twice across her face, and, shedding back from her forehead her wealth of bright brown hair, laughingly confronted the good woman, who, in the same breath, expressed her surprise that her niece was once up without being called, and her wonder at the peculiar odor pervading the apartment.
"Smells if all the old newspapers in the barrel up garret had been burnt at once," she said; but the fireplace, which lay in shadow, told no tales, and Aunt Barbara never suspected the pain tugging at the heart of the girl, whose cheeks glowed with an unnatural red as she dashed hot water over neck, and arms, and face, playfully plashing a few large drops upon her aunt's white apron, and asking if there was not an old adage, "Blessed is the bride the sun shines on." "If so, I must be greatly blessed," she said, pushing open the eastern shutter, and letting in a flood of yellow sunlight.
"The day bids fair to be a scorcher. I hope it will grow cool this evening. A crowded party is so terrible when one feels hot and uncomfortable, and the millers and horn-bugs come in so thickly, and I always get so red in the face. Please, auntie, you twist up my hair in a flat knot—no matter how. I don't seem to have any strength in my arms this morning, and my head is all in a whirl. It must be the weather," and, with a long, panting breath, Ethelyn sank, half fainting, into a chair, while her frightened aunt ran for water, and camphor, and cologne, hoping Ethelyn was not coming down with fever, or any other dire complaint, on this her wedding day.
"It is the weather, most likely, and the awful amount of sewing you've done these last few weeks," said Aunt Barbara; and Ethelyn suffered her to think so, though she herself had a far different theory with regard to that almost fainting fit, which served as an excuse for her unusual pallor, for her listless apathy, and her want of appetite, even for the flaky rolls, and the delicious strawberries, and thick, yellow cream which Aunt Barbara put before her.
She was not hungry, she said, as she turned over the berries with her spoon, and pecked at the snowy rolls. By and by she might want something, perhaps, and then Betty would make her a slice of toast to stay her stomach till the late dinner they were to have on Aunt Van Buren's account—that lady always professing to be greatly shocked at the early dinners in Chicopee, and generally managing, during her visits home, to change entirely the ways and customs of Aunt Barbara Bigelow's well-ordered household.
"I wish she was not coming, or anybody else. Getting married is a bore!" Ethelyn exclaimed, while Aunt Barbara looked curiously enough at her, wondering, for the first time, if the girl's heart were really in this marriage, which for weeks had been agitating the feminine portion of Chicopee, and for which so great preparations had been made.
Wholly honest and truthful and sincere herself, Aunt Barbara seldom suspected wrong in others, and so when Ethelyn, one April night, after a drive around the road which encircles Pordunk Pond, came to her and said, "Congratulate me, auntie, I am to be Mrs. Judge Markham," she had believed all was well, and that as sister Sophia Van Buren, of Boston, had so often averred, there was not, nor ever had been, anything serious between dandyish Frank, Mrs. Van Buren's only son, who parted his curly hair in the middle, and the high-spirited, impulsive Ethelyn, whose eyes shone like stars as she told of her engagement, and whose hand was icy cold as she held it up to the lamp-light to show the large diamond which flashed from the fourth finger as proof of what she said. The stone itself was of the first water, but the setting was old, so old that a connoisseur in such matters might wonder why Judge Markham had chosen such a ring as the seal of his betrothal. Ethelyn knew why, and the softest, kindliest feeling she had experienced for her promised husband was awakened when he told her of the fair young sister whose name was Daisy, and who for many years had slept on the Western prairie beneath the blossoms whose name she bore. This young girl, loving God with all her soul, loved too all the beautiful things he had made, and rejoiced in them as so much given her to enjoy. Brought up in the far West, where the tastes of the people were simpler than those of our Eastern neighbors, it was strange, he said, how strong a passion she possessed for gems and precious stones, especially the diamond. To have for her own a ring like one she once saw upon a grand Chicago lady was her great ambition, and knowing this the brother hoarded carefully his own earnings, until enough was saved to buy the coveted ring, which he brought to his young sister on her fourteenth birthday. But death even then had cast its shadow around her, and the slender fingers soon grew too small for the ring, which she nevertheless kept constantly by her, admiring its brilliancy, and flashing it in the sunlight for the sake of the rainbow hues it gave. And when, at last, she lay dying in her brother's arms, with her golden head upon his breast, she had given back the ring, and said, "I am going, Richard, where there are far more beautiful things than this: 'for eye hath not seen, neither hath it entered into the heart of man, the things prepared for those who love Him,' and I do love Him, brother, oh! so much, and feel His arms around me now as sensibly as I feel yours. His will stay after yours are removed, and I am done with earth; but keep the ring, Brother Dick, and when in after years you love some pure young girl as well as you love me, only different—some girl who will prize such things, and is worthy of it—give it to her, and tell her it was Daisy's; tell her for me, and that I bade her love you, as you deserve to be loved."
All this Richard Markham had said to Ethelyn as they stood for a few minutes upon the beach of the pond, with its waters breaking softly upon the sands at their feet, and the young spring moon shining down upon them like Daisy's eyes, as the brother described them when they last looked on him. There was a picture of Daisy in their best room at home, an oil painting made by a traveling artist, Richard said, and some day Ethelyn would see it, for she had promised to be his wife, and the engagement ring—Daisy's ring—was on her finger, sparkling in the moonbeam, just as it used to sparkle when the dead girl held it in the light. It was a superb diamond—even Frank, with all his fastidiousness, would admit that, Ethelyn thought, her mind more, alas! on Frank and his opinion than on what her lover was saying to her, of his believing that she was pure and good as Daisy could have desired, that Daisy would approve his choice, if she only knew, as perhaps she did; he could not help feeling that she was there with them, looking into their hearts—that the silvery light resting so calmly on the silent water was the halo of her invisible presence blessing their betrothal. This was a good deal for Richard Markham to say, for he was not given to poetry, or sentiment, or imagery, but Ethelyn's face and Ethelyn's eyes had played strange antics with the staid, matter-of-fact man of Western Iowa, and stirred his blood as it had never been stirred before. He did fancy his angel-sister was there; but when he said so to Ethelyn she started with a shiver, and asked to be driven home, for she did not care to have even dead eyes looking into her heart, where the fires of passion were surging and swelling, like some hidden volcano, struggling to be free. She knew she was doing wrong—knew she was not the pure maiden whom Daisy would have chosen—was not worthy to be the bride of Daisy's brother; but she must do something or die, and as she did not care to die, she pledged her hand with no heart in it, and hushing the voice of conscience clamoring so loudly against what she was doing, walked back across the yellow sand, beneath the spring moonlight, to where the carriage waited, and, in comparative silence, was driven to Aunt Barbara's gate.
This was the history of the ring, and here, as well as elsewhere, we may tell Ethelyn's history up to the time when, on her bridal day, she sat with Aunt Barbara at the breakfast table, idly playing with her spoon and occasionally sipping the fragrant coffee. The child of Aunt Barbara's half-sister, she inherited none of the so-called Bigelow estate which had come to the two daughters, Aunt Barbara and Aunt Sophia, from their mother's family. But the Bigelow blood of which Aunt Sophy Van Buren was so proud was in her veins, and so to this aunt she was an object of interest, and even value, though not enough so to warrant that lady in taking her for her own when, eighteen years before our story opens, her mother, Mrs. Julia Bigelow Grant, had died. This task devolved on Aunt Barbara, whose great motherly heart opened at once to the little orphan who had never felt a mother's loss, so faithful and true had Aunt Barbara been to her trust. Partly because she did not wish to seem more selfish than her sister, and partly because she really liked the bright, handsome child who made Aunt Barbara's home so cheery, Mrs. Dr. Van Buren of Boston, insisted upon superintending the little Ethelyn's education, and so, when only twelve years of age, Ethelyn was taken from the old brick house under the elms, which Mrs. Dr. Van Buren of Boston despised as the "district school where Tom, Dick, and Harry congregated," and transplanted to the highly select and very expensive school taught by Madame—, in plain sight of Beacon Street and Boston Common. And so, as Ethelyn increased in stature, she grew also in wisdom and knowledge, both of books and manners, and the style of the great world around her. Mrs. Dr. Van Buren's house was the resort both of the fashionable and literary people, with a sprinkling of the religious, for the great lady affected everything which could effect her interest. Naturally generous, her name was conspicuous on all subscription lists and charitable associations, while the lady herself owned a pew in—— Church, where she was a regular attendant, together with her only son, Frank, who was taught to kneel and respond in the right places and bow in the creed, and then, after church, required to give a synopsis of the sermon, by way of proving that his mind had not been running off after the dancing school he attended during the week, under his mother's watchful supervision. Mrs. Van Buren meant to be a model mother, and bring up her boy as a model man, and so she gave him every possible advantage of books and teachers, while far in the future floated the possibility that she might some day reign at the White House, not as the President's wife—this could not be, she knew, for the man who had made her Mrs. Dr. Van Buren of Boston slept in the shadow of a very tall monument out at Mount Auburn, and the turf was growing fresh and green over his head. So if she went to Washington, as she fondly hoped she might, it would be as the President's mother; but when examination after examination found Frank at the foot of his class, and teacher after teacher said he could not learn, she gave up the presidential chair, and contenting herself with a seat in Congress, asked that great pains should be taken to bring out the talent for debate and speech-making which she was sure Frank possessed; but when even this failed, and nineteen times out of twenty Frank could get no farther than "My name is Norval, on the Grampian Hills," she yielded the M.C. too, and set herself to make him a gentleman, polished, refined, and cultivated—one, in short, who was au fait with all that fashionable society required; and here she succeeded better. Frank was perfectly at home on the dancing floor or in the saloons of gaiety, or the establishment of a fashionable tailor, so that when Ethelyn, at twelve, went down to Boston, she found her tall, slender, light-haired cousin of sixteen a perfect dandy, with a capability and a disposition to criticise and laugh at whatever there was of gaucherie in her country manners and country dress. In some things the two were of mutual benefit to each other. Ethelyn, who could conquer any lesson however difficult, helped thick-headed, indolent Frank in his studies, translating his hard passages in Virgil, working out his problems in mathematics, and even writing, or at least revising and correcting, his compositions, while he in return gave her lessons in etiquette as practiced by the Boston girls, teaching her how to polka a waltz gracefully, so he would not be ashamed to introduce her as his cousin, he said, at the children's parties which they attended together. It was not strange that Frank Van Buren should admire a girl as bright and piquant and pretty as his cousin Ethelyn, but it was strange that she should idolize him, bearing patiently with all his criticisms, trying hard to please him, and feeling more than repaid for her exertions by a word of praise or commendation from her exacting teacher, who, viewing her at first as a poor relation, was inclined to be exacting, if not overbearing, in his demands. But as time passed on all this was changed, and the well-developed girl of fifteen, whom so many noticed and admired, would no longer be patronized by the young man Frank, who, finding himself in danger of being snubbed, as he termed Ethelyn's grand way of putting him down, suddenly awoke to the fact that he loved his high-spirited cousin, and he told her so one hazy day, when they were in Chicopee, and had wandered up to a ledge of rocks in the huckleberry hills which overlooked the town.
"They might as well make a sure thing of it," he said, in his off-hand way. "If she liked him and he liked her, they would clinch the bargain at once, even if they were so young." And so, when they went down the hill back to the shadow of the elm trees, where Mrs. Dr. Van Buren sat cooling herself and reading "Vanity Fair," there was a tiny ring on Ethelyn's finger, and she had pledged herself to be Frank's wife some day in the future.
Frank had promised to tell his mother, for Ethelyn would have no concealment; and so, holding up her hand and pointing to the ring, he said, more in jest than earnest:
"Look, mother, Ethie and I are engaged. If you have any objections, state them now, or ever after hold your peace."
He did not think proper to explain either to his mother or Ethie that this was his second serious entanglement, and that the ring had been bought before for a pretty milliner girl, at least six years his senior, whose acquaintance he had made at Nahant the summer previous, and whom he had forgotten when he learned that to her taste his mother was indebted for the stylish bonnet she sported every season. Frank generally had some love affair in hand—it was a part of his nature; and as he was not always careful in his choice, the mother had occasionally felt a twinge of fear lest, after all her care, some terrible mesalliance should be thrust upon her by her susceptible son. So she listened graciously to the news of his betrothal—nay, she was pleased with it, as for the time being it would divert his mind and keep him out of mischief. That he would eventually marry Ethelyn was impossible, for his bride must be rich; but Ethelyn answered the purpose now, and could easily be disposed of when other and better game appeared. So the scheming woman smiled, and said "it was not well for cousins to marry and even if it were, they were both too young to know their minds, and would do well to keep their engagement a secret for a time," and then returned to Becky Sharp, while Frank went to sleep upon the lounge, and Ethelyn stole off upstairs to dream over her happiness, which was as real to her as such a thing could well be to an impulsive, womanly girl of fifteen summers. She, at least, was in earnest, and as time passed on Frank seemed to be in earnest, too, devoting himself wholly to his cousin, whose influence over him was so great that he was fast becoming what Aunt Barbara called a man, while his mother began again to have visions of a seat in Congress, and brilliant speeches, which would find their way to Boston and be read and admired in the circles in which she moved.
And so the days and years wore on until Frank was a man of twenty-four—a third-rate practitioner, too, whose sign, "Frank Van Buren, Attorney-at-law," etc., looked very fresh and respectable in front of the office on Washington Street, and Frank himself began to have thoughts of claiming Ethelyn's promise and having a home of his own. He would not live with his mother, he said; it was more independent to be alone; and then, from some things he had discovered in his bride-elect, he had an uneasy feeling that possibly the brown of Ethelyn's eyes might not wholly harmonize with the gray of his mother's, "for Ethie was spunky as the old Nick," he argued with himself, while "for perversity and self-conceit his mother could not be beaten." It was better they should keep up two households, his mother seeing to both, and if need be, supplying the wants of both. To do Frank justice, he had some very correct notions with regard to domestic happiness, and had he been poor and dependent upon his own exertions he might have been an average husband; at least he would have gotten on well with Ethelyn, whose stronger nature would have upheld his and been like a supporting prop to a feeble timber. As it was, he drew many pleasing pictures of the home which was to be his and Ethie's. Now it was in the city, near to his mother's and Mrs. General Tophevie, his mother's intimate friend, whose house was the open sesame to the creme de la creme of Boston society; but oftener it was a rose-embowered cottage, of easy access to the city, where he could have Ethie all to himself when his day's labor was over, and where the skies would not be brighter than Ethie's eyes as she welcomed him home at night, leaning over the gate in the pale buff muslin he liked so much, with rosebuds in her hair.
He had seen her thus so often in fancy, that the picture had become a reality, and refused to be erased at once from the mental canvas, when, in January, Miss Nettie Hudson, niece to Mrs. General Tophevie, came from Philadelphia, and at once took prestige of everything on the strength of the one hundred thousand dollars of which she was sole heiress. The Hudson blood was a mixture of blacksmith's and shoemaker's, and peddler's too, it was said; but that was far back in the past. The Hudsons of the present day scarcely knew whether peddler were spelled with two d's or one. They bought their shoes at the most fashionable shops, and could, if they chose, have their horses shod with gold, and so the handsome Nettie reigned supreme as belle. The moment Mrs. Dr. Van Buren saw her, she recognized her daughter-in-law, the future Mrs. Frank, and Ethie's fate was sealed. There had been times when Mrs. Dr. Van Buren thought it possible that Ethelyn might, after all, be the most favored of women, the wife of her son. These times were at Saratoga, and Newport, and Nahant, where Ethelyn Grant was more sought after than any young lady there, and where the proud woman herself took pride in talking of "my niece," hinting once, when Ethelyn's star was at its height, of a childish affaire du coeur between the young lady and her son, and insinuating that it might yet amount to something. She changed her mind when Nettie came with her one hundred thousand dollars, and showed a willingness to be admired by Frank. That childish affaire du coeur was a very childish affair, indeed; she never gave it a moment's thought herself—she greatly doubted if Frank had ever been in earnest, and if Ethelyn had led him into an entanglement, she would not, of course, hold him to his promise if he wished to be released. He must have a rich wife to support him in his refined tastes and luxurious habits, for her own fortune was not so great as many supposed. She might need it all herself, as she was far from being old, and then again it was wicked for cousins to marry each other. It did not matter if the mothers were only half-sisters; there was the same blood in the veins of each, and it would not do at all, even if Ethelyn's affections were enlisted, which Mrs. Van Buren greatly doubted.
This was what Mrs. Dr. Van Buren said to Ethelyn, after a stormy interview with Frank, who had at first sworn roundly that he would not give Ethie up, then had thanked his mother not to meddle with his business, then bidden her "go to thunder," and finally, between a cry and a blubber, said he should always like Ethie best if he married a hundred Netties. This was in the morning, and the afternoon train had carried Mrs. Dr. Van Buren to Chicopee, where Ethelyn's glowing face flashed a bright welcome when she came, but was white and pallid as the face of a corpse when the voluminous skirts of Mrs. Van Buren's poplin dress passed through the gate next day and disappeared in the direction of the depot. Aunt Barbara was not at home—she had gone to visit a friend in Albany; and so Ethelyn met and fought with her pain alone, stifling it as best she could, and succeeding so well that Aunt Barbara, on her return, never suspected the fierce storm which Ethelyn had passed through during her absence, or dreamed how anxiously the young girl watched and waited for some word from Frank which should say that he was ready to defy his mother, and abide by his first promise. But no such letter came, and at last, when she could bear the suspense no longer, Ethelyn wrote herself to her recreant lover, asking if it were really so that hereafter their lives lay apart from each other. If such was his wish, she was content, she said, and Frank Van Buren, who could not detect the air of superb scorn which breathed in every line of that letter, felt somehow aggrieved that "Ethie should take it so easy," and relieved too, that with her he should have no trouble, as he had anticipated. He was getting used to Nettie, and getting to like her, too, for her manner toward him was far more agreeable than Ethie's brusque way of manifesting her impatience at his lack of manliness. It was inexplicable how Ethie could care for one so greatly her inferior, both mentally and physically, but it would seem that she loved him all the more for the very weakness which made her nature a necessity of his, and the bitterest pang she had ever felt came with the answer which Frank sent back to her letter, and which the reader has seen.
* * * * *
It was all over now, settled, finished, and two days after she hunted up Aunt Barbara's spectacles for her, and then sat very quiet while the old lady read Aunt Sophia's letter, announcing Frank's engagement with Miss Nettie Hudson, of Philadelphia. Aunt Barbara knew of Ethelyn's engagement with Frank, but like her sister at the time of its occurrence, she had esteemed it mere child's play. Later, however, as she saw how they clung to each other, she had thought it possible that something might come of it, but as Ethelyn was wholly reticent on that subject, it had never been mentioned between them. When, however, the news of Frank's second engagement came, Aunt Barbara looked over her spectacles straight at the girl, who, for any sign she gave, might have been a block of marble, so rigid was every muscle of her face, and even the tone of her voice as she said:
"I am glad Aunt Sophia is suited. Frank will be pleased with anything."
"She does not care for him and I am glad, for he is not half smart enough for her," was Aunt Barbara's mental comment, as she laid the letter by for a second reading, and then told her niece, as the last item of news, that old Captain Markham's nephew had come, and they were making a great ado over him now that he was a member of Congress, and a Judge, too. They had asked the Howells and Grangers and the Carters there to tea for the next day, she said, adding that she and Ethelyn were also invited. "They want to be polite to him," old Mrs. Markham said. Aunt Barbara continued, "but for my part, if I were he, I should not care much for politeness that comes so late. I remember when he was here ten years ago, on such a matter, and they fairly acted as if they were ashamed of him then; but titles make a difference. He's an Honorable now, and the old Captain is mighty proud of him."
What Aunt Barbara had said was strictly true, for there had been a time when proud old Captain Markham ignored his brother's family living on the far prairies of the West; but when the eldest son, Richard, called for him, had become a growing man, as boys out West are apt to do, rising from justice of the peace to a member of the State Legislature, then to a judgeship, and finally to a seat in Congress, and all before he was quite thirty-two, the Captain's tactics changed, and a most cordial letter, addressed to "My dear nephew," and signed "Your affectionate uncle," was sent to Washington, urging a visit from the young man ere he returned to Iowa.
And that was how Richard Markham, M.C., came to be in Chicopee at the precise time when Ethelyn's heart was bleeding at every pore, and ready to seize upon any new excitement which would divert it from its pain. She remembered well the time he had once before visited Chicopee. She was a little girl of ten, fleeing across the meadow-land from a maddened cow, when a tall, athletic young man had come to her rescue, standing between her and danger, helping her over the fence, picking up the apron full of apples which she had been purloining from the Captain's orchard, and even pinning together a huge rent made in her dress by catching it upon a protruding splint as she sprang to the ground. She was too much frightened to know whether he had been wholly graceful in his endeavors to serve her, and too thankful for her escape to think that possibly her torn dress was the result of his rather awkward handling. She remembered only the dark, handsome face which bent so near to hers, the brown, curly head actually bumping against her own, as he stooped to gather the stolen apples. She remembered, too, the kindly voice which asked if "her aunt would scold," while the large, red hands pinned together the unsightly seam, and she liked the Westerner, as the people of Chicopee called the stranger who had recently come among them. Frank was in Chicopee then, fishing on the river, when her mishaps occurred; and once after that, when walking with him, she had met Richard Markham, who bowed modestly and passed on, never taking his hands from his pockets where they were planted so firmly, and never touching his hat as Frank said a gentleman would have done.
"Isn't he handsome?" Ethelyn had asked, and Frank had answered, "Looks well enough, though anybody with half an eye would know he was a codger from the West. His pants are a great deal too short; and look at his coat—at least three years behind the fashion; and such a hat, with that rusty old band of crape around it. Wonder if he is in mourning for his grandmother. Oh, my! we boys would hoot him in Boston. He's what I call a gawky."
That settled it with Ethelyn. If fourteen-year-old Frank Van Buren, whose pants and coats and neckties and hats were always the latest make, said that Richard Markham was a gawky, he was one, and henceforth during his stay in Chicopee, the Western young man was regarded by Ethelyn with a feeling akin to pity for his benighted condition. Aunt Barbara's pew was very near to Captain Markham's, and Richard, who was not much of a churchman, and as often as any way lounged upon the faded damask curtains, instead of standing up, often met Ethelyn's brown eyes fixed curiously upon him, but never dreamed that she regarded him as a species of heathen, whom it would be a pious act to Christianize. Richard rarely thought of himself at all, or if he did, it was with a feeling that he "was well enough "; that if his mother and "the neighbors" were satisfied with him, as he knew they were, he ought to be satisfied with himself. So he had no suspicion of the severe criticism passed upon him by the little girl who read the service so womanly, he thought, eating caraway and lozenges between times, and whose face he carried in memory back to his prairie home, associating her always with the graceful dark-brown heifer bearing so strong a resemblance to the cow which had so frightened Ethelyn on the day of his first introduction to her.
But he forgot her in the excitement which followed, when he began to grow rapidly, as only Western men can grow, and we doubt if she had been in his mind for years until her name was mentioned by Mrs. Dr. Van Buren, who saw in him a most eligible match for her niece. He was well connected—own nephew to Captain Markham, and first cousin to Mrs. Senator Woodhull, of New York, who kept a suite of servants for herself and husband, and had the finest turn-out in the Park. Yes, he would do nicely for Ethelyn and by way of quieting her conscience, which kept whispering that she had not been altogether just to her niece, Mrs. Dr. Van Buren packed her trunk and took the train for Chicopee the very day of Mrs. Captain Markham's tea party.
Ethelyn was going, and she looked very pretty in her dark-green silk, with the bit of soft, rich lace at the throat and the scarlet ribbon in her hair. She was not dressed for effect. She cared very little, in fact, what impression she made upon the Western Judge, though she did wonder if, as a Judge, he was much improved from the raw young man whom Frank had called a "gawky." He was standing with his elbow upon the mantel talking to Susie Granger, when Ethelyn entered Mrs. Markham's parlor; one foot was carelessly crossed over the other, so that only the toe of the boot touched the carpet, while his hand grasped his large handkerchief rather awkwardly. He was not at ease with the ladies; he had never been very much accustomed to their society. He did not know what to say to them, and Susie's saucy black eyes and sprightly manner evidently embarrassed and abashed him. That vocabulary of small talk so prevalent in society, and a limited knowledge of which is rather necessary to one's getting on well with everybody, were unknown to him, and he was casting about for some way to escape from his companion, when Ethelyn was introduced, and his mind went back to the stolen apples and the torn dress which he had pinned together.
Judge Markham was a tall, finely formed man, with deep hazel eyes, which could be very stern or very soft in their expression, just as his mood happened to be. But the chief attraction of his face was his smile, which changed his entire expression, making him very handsome, as Ethelyn thought, when he stood for a moment holding her hand between both his broad palms and chatting familiarly with her as with an old acquaintance. He could talk to her better than to Susie Granger, for Ethie, though neither very deep nor learned, was fond of books and tolerably well versed in the current literature of the day. Besides that, she had a faculty of seeming to know more than she really did and so the impression left upon the Judge's mind, when the little party was over and he had returned from escorting Ethelyn to her door, was that Miss Grant was far superior to any girl he had ever met since Daisy died, and like the Judge in Whittier's "Maud Muller," he whistled snatches of an old love tune he had not whistled in years, as he went slowly back to his uncle's, and thought strange thoughts for him, the grave old bachelor who had said he should never marry. He was not looking for a wife, as rumor intimated, but he dreamed of Ethelyn Grant that night, and called upon her the next day, and the next, until the village began to gossip, and Mrs. Dr. Van Buren was in an ecstasy of delight, talking openly of the delightful time her niece would have in Washington the next winter, and predicting for her a brilliant career as reigning belle, and even hinting the possibility of her taking a house so as to entertain her Boston friends.
And Ethelyn herself had many and varied feelings on the subject, the strangest of which was a perverse desire to let Frank know that she did not care—that her heart was not broken by his desertion, and that there were those who prized her even if he did not. She had criticised Judge Markham very severely. She had weighed him in the balance with Frank, and found him sadly, wanting in all those little points which she considered as marks of culture and good breeding. He was not a ladies' man; he was even worse than that, for he was sometimes positively rude and ungentlemanly, as she thought, when he would open a gate or a door and pass through it first himself instead of holding it deferentially for her, as Frank would have done. He did not know how to swing his cane, or touch his hat, or even bow as Frank Van Buren did; while the cut of his coat, if not six, was at least two years behind the times, and he did not seem to know it either. All these things Ethelyn wrote against him; but the account was more than balanced by the seat in Congress, the anticipated winter in Washington, the great wealth he was said to possess, the high estimation in which she knew he was held, and the keen pang of disappointment from which she was suffering. This last really did the most to turn the scale in Richard's favor, for, like many a poor, deluded girl, she fancied that marrying another was the surest way to forget a past which it was not pleasant to remember. She respected Judge Markham highly, and knew that in everything pertaining to a noble manhood he was worth a dozen Franks, even if he never had been to dancing school, and did not obsequiously pick up the handkerchief which she purposely dropped to see what he would do. And so, when Aunt Sophia had gone back to the city, and Judge Markham was in a few days to return to his Western home, she rode with him around the Pond, and when she came back the dead Daisy's ring was upon her finger and she was a promised wife. A dozen times since then she had been tempted to write to Richard Markham, asking to be released from her engagement; for, bad as she has thus far appeared to the reader, there were many noble traits in her character, and she shrank from wronging the man of whom she knew she was not worthy.
But the deference paid her as Mrs. Judge Markham-elect, the delight of Aunt Sophia, the approbation of Aunt Barbara, the letter of congratulation sent her by Mrs. Senator Woodhull, Richard's cousin, and more than all, Frank's discomfiture, as evinced by the complaining note he sent her, prevailed to keep her to her promise, and the bridegroom, when he came in June to claim her hand, little guessed how heavy was the heart which lay in the bosom of the young girl so passively suffering his caresses, but whose lips never moved in response to the kiss he pressed upon them.
She was very shy, he thought—more so, even, than when he saw her last; but he loved her just as well, and never suspected that, when on the first evening of his arrival he sat with his arm around her, wondering a little what made her so silent, she was burning with mortification because the coat he wore was the very same she had criticised last spring, hoping in her heart of hearts that long before he came to her again it might find its proper place, either in the sewing society or with some Jewish vender of old clothes. Yet here it was again, and her head was resting against it, while her heart beat almost audibly, and her voice was even petulant in its tone as she answered her lover's questions. Ethelyn was making a terrible mistake, and she knew it, hating herself for her duplicity, and vaguely hoping that something would happen to save her from the fate she so much dreaded. But nothing did happen, and it was now too late to retract herself. The bridal trousseau was prepared under Mrs. Van Buren's supervision, the bridal guests were bidden, the bridal tour was planned, the bridegroom had arrived, and she would keep her word if she died in the attempt.
And so we find her on her bridal morning wishing nobody was coming, and denouncing getting married "a bore," while Aunt Barbara looked at her in surprise, wondering if everything were right. In spite of her ill humor, she was very handsome that morning in her white cambric wrapper, with just a little color in her cheeks and her heavy hair pushed back in behind her ears and twisted under the silk net. Ethelyn cared little for her looks—at least not then; by and by she might, when it was time for Mrs. Dr. Van Buren to arrive with Frank and Nettie Hudson, whom she had never seen. She should want to look her very best then, but now it did not matter, even if her bridegroom was distant not an eighth of a mile, and would in all probability be coming in ere long. She wished he would stay away—she would rather not see him till night; and she experienced a feeling of relief when, about nine o'clock, Mrs. Markham's maid brought her a little note which read as follows:
"You must not think it strange if I do not come to you this morning, for I am suffering from one of my blinding headaches, and can scarcely see to write you this. I shall be better by night. Yours lovingly,
Ethelyn was sitting upon the piazza steps, arranging a bouquet, when the note was brought to her; and as it was some trouble to put all the roses from her lap, she sent the girl for a pencil, and on the back of the note wrote hastily:
"It does not matter, as you would only be in the way, and I have something of a headache, too.
"Take this back to Judge Markham," she said to the girl, and then resumed her bouquet-making, wondering if every bride-elect were as wretched as herself, or if to any other maiden of twenty the world had ever looked so desolate and dreary, as it did to her this morning.
THE VAN BUREN SET
Captain Markham's carryall, which Jake, the hired man, had brushed up wonderfully for the occasion, had gone over to West Chicopee after the party from Boston—Mrs. Dr. Van Buren, with Frank, and his betrothed, Miss Nettie Hudson, from Philadelphia. Others had been invited from the city, but one after another their regrets had come to Ethelyn, who would gladly have excused the entire set, Aunt Van Buren, Frank and all, though she confessed to herself a great deal of curiosity with regard to Miss Nettie, whom she had never seen; neither had she met Frank since the dissolution of their engagement, for though she had been in Boston, where most of her dresses were made, Mrs. Dr. Van Buren had wisely arranged that Frank should be absent from home. She was herself not willing to risk a meeting between him and Ethelyn until matters were too well adjusted to admit of a change, for Frank had more than once shown signs of rebellion. He was in a more quiescent state now, having made up his mind that what could not be cured must be endured, and as he had sensibility enough to feel very keenly the awkwardness of meeting Ethelyn under present circumstances, and as Miss Nettie was really very fond of him, and he, after a fashion, was fond of her, he was in the best of spirits when he stepped from the train at West Chicopee and handed his mother and Nettie into the spacious carryall of which he had made fun as a country ark, while they rode slowly toward Aunt Barbara Bigelow's. Everything was in readiness for them. The large north chamber was aired and swept and dusted, and only little bars of light came through the closed shutters, and the room looked very cool and nice, with its fresh muslin curtains looped back with blue, its carpet of the same cool shade, its pretty chestnut furniture, its snowbank of a bed, and the tasteful bouquets which Ethelyn had arranged—Ethelyn, who lingered longer in this room than the other one across the hall, the bridal chamber, where the ribbons which held the curtains were white, and the polished marble of the bureau and washstand, sent a shiver through her veins whenever she looked in there. She was in her own cozy chamber now, and the silken hair, which in the early morning had been twisted under her net, was bound in heavy braids about her head, while a pearl comb held it in its place, and a half-opened rose was fastened just behind her ear. She had hesitated some time in her choice of a dress, vacillating between a pale buff, which Frank had always admired, and a delicate blue muslin, in which Judge Markham had once said she looked so pretty. The blue had won the day, for Ethelyn felt that she owed some concession to the man whose kind note she had treated so cavalierly that morning, and so she wore the blue for him, feeling glad of the faint, sick feeling which kept the blood from rushing too hotly to her face, and made her fairer and paler than her wont. She knew that she was very handsome when her toilet was made, and that was one secret of the assurance with which she went forward to meet Nettie Hudson when at last the carryall stopped before the gate.
Mrs. Dr. Van Buren was tired, and hot, and dusty, and as she was always a little cross when in this condition, she merely kissed Ethelyn once, and shaking hands with Aunt Barbara, went directly to the north chamber, asking that a cup of tea might be made for her dinner instead of the coffee whose fragrant odor met her olfactories as she stepped into the house. First, however, she introduced Nettie, who after glancing at Ethelyn, turned her eyes wonderingly upon Frank, thinking his greeting of his cousin rather more demonstrative than was exactly becoming even if they were cousins, and had been, as Mrs. Dr. Van Buren affirmed, just like brother and sister. That was no reason why Frank should have wound his arm around her waist, and kept it there, while he kissed her twice, and brought such a bright color to her cheeks. Miss Nettie cared just enough for Frank Van Buren to be jealous of him. She wanted all his attentions herself, and so the little blonde was in something of a pet as she followed on into the house, and twisted her hat strings into a hard knot, which Frank had to disentangle for her, just as he had to kiss away the wrinkle which had gathered on her forehead. She was a beautiful little creature, scarcely larger than a child of twelve, with a pleading, helpless look in her large, blue eyes which seemed to be saying: "Look at me; speak to me, won't you?—notice me a little."
She was just the one to be made a tool of; and Ethelyn readily saw that she had been as clay in Mrs. Van Buren's skillful hands.
"Pretty, very pretty, but decidedly a nonentity and a baby," was Ethelyn's mental comment, and she felt something like contempt for Frank, who, after loving and leaning on her, could so easily turn to weak little Nettie Hudson.
At the sight of Frank and the sound of his voice, she had felt all the olden feeling rushing back to her heart; but when, after Nettie had followed Mrs. Van Buren to her chamber, and she stood for a moment alone with him, he felt constrained to say something, and stammered out, "It's deuced mean, Ethie, to serve you so, and mother ought to be indicted. I hope you don't care much," all her pride and womanliness was roused and she answered promptly: "Of course, I don't care; do you think I would wish to marry Judge Markham if I were not all over that childish affair? You have not seen him yet. He is a splendid man."
Ethelyn felt better after paying this tribute to Richard Markham, and she liked him better, too, now that she had spoken for him, but Frank's reply, "Yes, mother told me so, but said there was a good deal of your Westernism about him yet," jarred on her feelings as she plucked the roses growing at the end of the piazza and crushed them, thorns and all, in her hands, feeling the smart less than the dull, heavy throbbing at her heart. Frank did not seem to her just as he used to be; he was the same polished dandy as of old, and just as careful to perform every little act of gallantry, but the something lacking which she had always felt to a certain extent was more perceptible now, and to herself she accused him of having degenerated since he had passed from her influence. She never dreamed of charging it to her interviews with Judge Markham, whose topics of conversation were so widely different from Frank's. She was not generous enough to concede anything in his favor, though she felt glad that Frank was not quite the same he had been—it would make the evening bridal before her easier to bear; and Ethelyn's eyes were brighter and her smiles more frequent as she sat down to dinner and answered Mrs. Van Buren's question: "Where is the Judge that he does not dine with us?"
"Sick, is he?" Mrs. Van Buren said, when told of his headache, while Frank remarked, "Sick of his bargain, maybe," laughing loudly at his own joke, while the others laughed in unison; and so the dinner passed off without that stiffness which Ethelyn had so much dreaded.
After it was over, Mrs. Dr. Van Buren felt better, and began to talk of the "Judge," and to ask if Ethelyn knew whether they would board or keep house in Washington the coming winter. Ethelyn did not know. She had never mentioned Washington to Richard Markham, and he had never guessed how much that prospective season at the capital had to do with her decision. That it would be hers to enjoy she had no shadow of doubt, but as she felt then she did not particularly care to keep up a household for the sake of entertaining her aunt, and possibly Frank and his wife, so she replied that she presumed "they should board, as it would be the short session—if he was re-elected they might consider the house."
"There may be a still higher honor in store for him than a re-election," Mrs. Van Buren said, and then proceeded to speak of a letter which she had received from a lady in Camden, who had once lived in Boston, and who had written congratulating her old friend upon her niece's good fortune. "There was no young man more popular in that section of the country than Judge Markham," she said, "and there had been serious talk of nominating him for governor. Some, however, thought him too young, and so they were waiting for a few years when he would undoubtedly be elected to the highest office in the State."
This piece of intelligence had greatly increased Mrs. Van Buren's respect for the lady-elect of Iowa's future governor, and she gave the item of news with a great deal of satisfaction, but did not tell that her correspondent had added, "It is a pity, though, that he does not know more of the usages of good society. Ethelyn is so refined and sensitive that she will be often shocked, no doubt, with the manners of the husband and his family."
This clause had troubled Mrs. Dr. Van Buren. She really liked Ethelyn, and now that she was out of Frank's way she liked her very much, and would do a good deal to serve her. She did not wish her to be unhappy, as she feared she might be from the sundry rumors which had reached her concerning that home out West, whither she was going. So, when, after dinner, they were alone for a few moments, she endeavored to impress upon her niece the importance of having an establishment of her own as soon as possible.
"It is not well for sons' wives to live with the mother," she said. "She did not mean that Nettie should live with her; and Ethelyn should at once insist upon a separate home; then, if she should see any little thing in her husband's manners which needed correcting, she could do it so much better away from his mother. I do not say that there is anything wrong in his manners," she continued, as she saw how painfully red Ethelyn was getting, "but it is quite natural there should be, living West as he does. You cannot expect prairie people to be as refined as Bostonians are; but you must polish him, dear. You know how; you have had Frank for a model so long; and even if he does not improve, people overlook a great deal in a member of Congress, and will overlook more in a governor, so don't feel badly, darling," and Mrs. Van Buren kissed tenderly the poor girl, before whom all the dreary loneliness of the future had arisen like a mountain, and whose heart even at that late hour would fain have drawn back if possible.
But when, by the way of soothing her, Mrs. Van Buren talked of the winter in Washington, and the honors which would always be accorded to her as the wife of an M.C., and then dwelt upon the possibility of her one day writing herself governor's lady, Ethelyn's girlish ambition was roused, and her vanity flattered, so that the chances were that even Frank would have been put aside for the future greatness, had he been offered to her.
It was five o'clock now, in the afternoon, nearly time for the bridal toilet to commence, and Mrs. Van Buren began to wonder "why the Judge had not appeared." He was better of his headache and up and around, the maid had reported, when at four she brought over the remainder of Mrs. Captain Markham's silver, which had not been sent in the morning, and then went back for extra napkins. There was no need to tell Ethelyn that "he was up and around," for she had known it ever since a certain shutter had been opened, and a man in his shirt-sleeves had appeared before the window and thrown water from the wash bowl upon the lilac bushes below. Ethelyn knew very well that old Mrs. Markham's servants were spoiled, that her domestic arrangements were not of the best kind, and that probably there was no receptacle for the dirty water except the ground; but she did not consider this, or reflect that aside from all other considerations the act was wholly like a man; she only thought it like him, Judge Markham, and feelings of shame and mortification, such as no woman likes to entertain with regard to her husband, began to rise and swell in her heart. In the excitement of her toilet, however, she forgot everything, even the ceremony for which she was dressing, and which came to her with a shiver when a bridesmaid announced that Captain Markham's carriage had just left his yard with a gentleman in it.
Judge Markham was on his way to his bridal.
He preferred to be called Richard by his friends and Mr. Markham by strangers—not that he was insensible to the prestige which the title of Judge or Honorable gave him, but he was a plain, matter-of-fact man, who had not been lifted off his balance, or grown dizzy by the rapidity with which he had risen in public favor. At home he was simply Dick to his three burly brothers, who were at once so proud and fond of him, while his practical, unpretending mother called him Richard, feeling, however, that it was very proper for the neighbors to give him the title of Judge. Of Mrs. Markham we shall have occasion to speak hereafter, so now we will only say that she saw no fault in her gifted son, and she was ready to do battle with anyone who should suggest the existence of a fault. Richard's wishes had never been thwarted, but rather deferred to by the entire family, and, as a natural consequence, he had come to believe that his habits and opinions were as nearly correct as they well could be. He had never mingled much in society—he was not fond of it; and the "quilting bees" and "sugar pulls" and "apple parings" which had prevailed in his neighborhood were not at all to his taste. He greatly preferred his books to the gayest of frolics, and thus he early earned for himself the sobriquet of "the old bachelor who hated girls"; all but Abigail Jones, the shoemaker's daughter, whose black eyes and bright red cheeks had proved too much for the grave, sober Richard. His first act of gallantry was performed for her, and even after he grew to be Judge his former companions never wearied of telling how, on the occasion of his first going home with the fair Abigail Jones from spelling school, he had kept at a respectful distance from her, and when the lights from her father's window became visible he remarked that "he guessed she would not be afraid to go the rest of the way alone," and abruptly bidding her good-night, ran back as fast as he could run. Whether this story were true or not, he was very shy of the girls, though the dark-eyed Abigail exerted over him so strong an influence that, at the early age of twenty he had asked her to be his wife, and she had answered yes, while his mother sanctioned the match, for she had known the Joneses in Vermont, and knew them for honest, thrifty people, whose daughter would make a faithful, economical wife for any man. But death came in to separate the lovers, and Abigail's cheeks grew redder still, and her eyes were strangely bright as the fever burned in her veins, until at last when the Indian-summer sun was shining down upon the prairies, they buried her one day beneath the late summer flowers, and the almost boy-widower wore upon his hat the band of crape which Ethelyn remembered as looking so rusty when, the year following, he came to Chicopee. Richard Markham believed that he had loved Abigail truly when she died, but he knew now that she was not the one he would have chosen in his mature manhood. She was suitable for him, perhaps, as he was when he lost her, but not as he was now, and it was long since he had ceased to visit her grave, or think of her with the feelings of sad regret which used to come over him when, at night, he lay awake listening to the moaning of the wind as it swept over the prairies, or watching the glittering stars, and wondering if she had found a home beyond them with Daisy, his only sister. There was nothing false about Richard Markham, and when he stood with Ethelyn upon the shore of Pordunk Pond, and asked her to be his wife, he told her of Abigail Jones, who had been two years older than himself, and to whom he was once engaged.
"But I did not give her Daisy's ring," he said; and he spoke very reverently as he continued, "Abigail was a good, sensible girl, and even if she hears what I am saying she will pardon me when I tell you that it did not seem to me that diamonds were befitting such as she; Daisy, I am sure, had a different kind of person in view when she made me keep the ring for the maiden who would prize such things, and who was worthy of it. Abigail was worthy, but there was not a fitness in giving it to her, neither would she have prized it; so I kept it in its little box with a curl of Daisy's hair. Had she become my wife, I might eventually have given it to her, but she died, and it was well. She would not have satisfied me now, and I should—"
He was going to add "should not have been what I am," but that would have savored too much of pride, and possibly of disrespect for the dead; so he checked himself, and while his rare, pleasant smile broke all over his beaming face, and his hazel eyes grew soft and tender in their expression, he said: "You, Ethelyn, seem to me the one Daisy would have chosen for a sister. You are quiet, and gentle, and pure like her, and I am so glad of the Providence which led me to Chicopee. They said I was looking for a wife, but I had no such idea. I never thought to marry until I met you that afternoon when you wore the pretty delaine, with the red ribbon in your hair. Do you remember it, Ethelyn?"
Ethelyn did not answer him at once. She was looking far off upon the water, where the moonlight lay sleeping, and revolving in her mind the expediency of being equally truthful with her future husband, and saying to him, "I, too, have loved, and been promised to another." She knew she ought to tell him this and she would, perhaps, have done so, for Ethie meant to be honest, and her heart was touched and softened by Richard's tender love for his sister; but when he was so unfortunate as to call the green silk which Madame—, in Boston, had made, a pretty delaine, and her scarlet velvet band a "red ribbon," her heart hardened, and her secret remained untold, while her proud lip half curled in scorn at the thought of Abigail Jones, who once stood, perhaps, as she was standing, with her hand on Richard Markham's and the kiss of betrothal wet upon her forehead. Ah, Ethie, there was this difference: Abigail had kissed her lover back, and her great black eyes had looked straight into his with an eager, blissful joy, as she promised to be his wife, and when he wound his arm around her, she had leaned up to the bashful youth, encouraging his caresses, while you—gave back no answering caress, and shook lightly off the arm laid across your neck. Possibly Richard thought of the difference, but if he did he imputed Ethelyn's cold impassiveness to her modest, retiring nature, so different from Abigail's. It was hardly fair to compare the two girls, they were so wholly unlike, for Abigail had been a plain, simple-hearted, buxom country girl of the West, whose world was all contained within the limits of the neighborhood where she lived, while Ethie was a high-spirited, petted, impulsive creature, knowing but little of such people as Abigail Jones, and wholly unfitted to cope with any world outside that to which she had been accustomed. But love is blind, and so was Richard; for with his whole heart he did love Ethelyn Grant; and, notwithstanding his habits of thirty years, she could then have molded him to her will, had she tried, by the simple process of love. But, alas! there was no answering throb in her heart when she felt the touch of his hand or his breath upon her cheek. She was only conscious of a desire to avoid his caress, if possible, while, as the days went by, she felt a growing disgust for "Abigail Jones," whose family, she gathered from her lover, lived near to, and were quite familiar with, his mother.
In happy ignorance of her real feelings, so well did she dissemble them, and so proper and ladylike was her deportment, Richard bade her good-by early in May, and went back to his Western home, writing to her often, but not such letters, it must be confessed, as were calculated to win a maiden's heart, or keep it after it was won. If he was awkward at love-making, and only allowed himself to be occasionally surprised into flashes of tenderness, he was still more awkward in letter-writing; and Ethelyn always indulged in a headache, or a fit of blues, after receiving one of his short, practical letters, which gave but little sign of the strong, deep affection he cherished for her. Those were hard days for Ethelyn—the days which intervened between her lover's bidding her adieu and his return to claim her hand—and only her deeply wounded pride, and her great desire for a change of scene and a winter in Washington, kept her from asking a release from the engagement she knew never ought to have been. Aside, however, from all this, there was some gratification in knowing that she was an object of envy to Susie Graham, and Anna Thorn, and Carrie Bell, either of whom would gladly have taken her place as bride-elect of an M.C., while proud old Captain Markham's frequent mention of "my nephew in Congress, ahem!" and Mrs. Dr. Van Buren's constant exultation over the "splendid match," helped to keep up the glamour of excitement, so that her promise had never been revoked, and now he was there to claim it. He had not gone at once to Miss Bigelow's on his arrival in Chicopee, for the day was hot and sultry, and he was very tired with his forty-eight hours' constant travel, and so he had rested a while in his chamber, which looked toward Ethelyn's, and then sat upon the piazza with his uncle till the heat of the day was past, and the round red moon was showing itself above the eastern hills as the sun disappeared in the west. Then, in his new linen coat, cut and made by Mrs. Jones, mother to Abigail, deceased, he had started for the dwelling of his betrothed. Ethelyn had seen him as he came from the depot in Captain Markham's carriage, and her cheek had crimsoned, and then grown pale at sight of the ancient-looking hair trunk swinging behind the carriage, all unconscious of the indignation it was exciting, or of the vast difference between itself and the two huge Saratoga trunks standing in Aunt Barbara Bigelow's upper hall, and looking so clean and nice in their fresh coverings. Poor Ethelyn! That hair trunk, which had done its owner such good service in his journeys to and from Washington, and which the mother had packed with so much care, never dreaming how very, very far it was behind the times, brought the hot blood in torrents to her face, and made the white hands clasp each other spasmodically, as she thought "Had I known of that hair trunk, I would certainly have told him no."
Even Abigail Jones, the shoemaker's daughter, faded into insignificance before this indignity, and it was long before Ethelyn could recover her composure or her pulse resume its regular beat. She was in no haste to see him; but such is the inconsistency of perverse girlhood that, because he delayed his coming, she felt annoyed and piqued, and was half tempted to have a headache and go to bed, and so not see him at all. But he was coming at last, linen coat and all; and Susie Graham, who had stopped for a moment by the gate to speak with Ethelyn, pronounced him "a magnificent-looking fellow," and said to Ethelyn, "I should think you would feel so proud."
Susie did not observe the linen coat, or if she had, she most likely thought it a very sensible arrangement for a day when the thermometer stood no degrees in the shade; but Susie was not Boston finished. She had been educated at Mount Holyoke, which made a difference, Ethelyn thought. Still, Susie's comment did much towards reconciling her to the linen coat; and, as Richard Markham came up the street, she did feel a thrill of pride and even pleasure, for he had a splendid figure and carried himself like a prince, while his fine face beamed all over with that joyous, happy expression which comes only from a kind, true heart, as he drew near the house and his eye caught the flutter of a white robe through the open door. Ethelyn was very pretty in her cool, cambric dress, with a bunch of sweet English violets in her hair; and at sight of her the man usually so grave and quiet, and undemonstrative with those of the opposite sex, felt all his reserve give way, and there was a world of tenderness in his voice and a misty look in his eye, as he bent over her, giving her the second kiss he had ever given to her, and asking, "How is my darling to-night?"
She did not take his arm from her neck this time—he had a right to keep it there—and she suffered the caress, feeling no greater inconvenience than that his big hand was very warm and pressed a little too hard sometimes upon her shoulders. He spoke to her of the errand on which he had come, and the great, warm hand pressed more heavily as he said, "It seems to me all a dream that in a few days you will be my own Ethie, my wife, from whom I need not be parted"; and then he spoke of his mother and his three brothers, James, and John, and Anderson, or Andy, as he was called. Each of these had sent kindly messages to Richard's bride—the mother saying she should be glad to have a daughter in her home, and the three brothers promising to love their new sister so much as to make "old Dick" jealous, if possible.
These messages "old Dick" delivered, but wisely refrained from telling how his mother feared he had not chosen wisely, that a young lady with Boston notions was not the wife to make a Western man very happy. Neither did he tell her of an interview he had with Mrs. Jones, who had always evinced a motherly care over him since her daughter's death, and to whom he had dutifully communicated the news of his intended marriage. It was not what Mrs. Jones had expected. She had watched Richard's upward progress with all the pride of a mother-in-law, lamenting often to Mrs. Markham that poor Abigail could not have lived to share his greatness, and during the term of his judgeship, when he stayed mostly in Camden, the county seat, she had, on the occasion of her going to town with butter and eggs, and chickens, taken a mournful pleasure in perambulating the streets, and selecting the house where Abigail might, perhaps, have resided, and where she could have had her cup of young hyson after the fatigue of the day, instead of eating her dry lunch of cheese and fried cakes in the rather comfortless depot, while waiting for the train. Richard's long-continued bachelorhood had given her peculiar pleasure, inasmuch as it betokened a continual remembrance of her daughter; and as her youngest child, the blooming Melinda, who was as like the departed Abigail as sisters ever are to each other ripened into womanhood, and the grave Richard spoke oftener to her than to the other maidens of the prairie village, she began to speculate upon what might possibly be, and refused the loan of her brass kettle to the neighbor whose husband did not vote for Richard when he ran for member of Congress. Melinda, too, had her little ambitions, her silent hopes and aspirations, and even her vague longings for a winter in Washington, As the Markham house and the Jones house were distant from each other only half a mile, she was a frequent visitor of Richard's mother, always assisting when there was more work than usual on hand and on the occasion of Richard's first going to Washington ironing his shirts and packing them herself in the square hair trunk which had called forth Ethelyn's ire. Though she did not remember much about "Abby," she knew that, had she lived, Richard would have been her brother; and somehow he seemed to her just like one now, she said to Mrs. Markham, as she hemmed his pocket handkerchiefs, working his initials in the corner with pink floss, and upon the last and best, the one which had cost sixty-two and a half cents, venturing to weave her own hair, which was long, and glossy, and black, as Abigail's had been. Several times a week during Richard's absence, she visited Mrs. Markham, inquiring always after "the Judge," and making herself so agreeable and useful, too, in clear-starching and doing up Mrs. Markham's caps, and in giving receipts for sundry new and economical dishes, that the good woman herself frequently doubted if Richard could do better than take the black-eyed Melinda; and when he told her of Ethelyn Grant, she experienced a feeling of disappointment and regret, doubting much if a Boston girl, with Boston notions, would make her as happy as the plainer Melinda, who knew all her ways. Something of this she said to her son, omitting, of course, that part of her thoughts which referred to Melinda. With Mrs. Jones, however, it was different. In her surprise and disappointment she let fall some remarks which opened Richard's eyes a little, and made him look at her half amused and half sorry, as, suspending her employment of paring apples for the dinner pie she put the corner of her apron to her eyes, and "hoped the new bride would not have many airs, and would put up with his mother's ways.
"You," and here the apron and hand with the knife in it came down from her eyes—"you'll excuse me, Richard, for speaking so plain, but you seem like my own boy, and I can't help it. Your mother is the best and cleverest woman in the world, but she has some peculiarities which a Boston girl may not put up with, not being used to them as Melin—I mean, as poor Abigail was."
It was the first time it had ever occurred to Richard that his mother had peculiarities, and even now he did not know what they were. Taking her all in all, she was as nearly perfect, he thought, as a woman well could be, and on his way home from his interview with Mrs. Jones he pondered in his mind what she could mean, and then wondered if for the asking he could have taken Melinda Jones to the fireside where he was going to install Ethelyn Grant. There was a comical smile about his mouth as he thought how little either Melinda or Abigail would suit him now; and then, by way of making amends for what seemed disrespect to the dead, he went round to the sunken grave where Abigail had slept for so many years, and stood again just where he had stood that day when he fancied the light from his heart had gone out forever. But he could not bring back the olden feeling, or wish that Abigail had lived.
"She is happy now—happier than I could have made her. It is better as it is," he said, as he walked away to Daisy's grave, where his tears dropped just as they always did when he stood by the sod which covered the fairest, brightest, purest being he had ever known, except his Ethie.
She was just as pure and gentle and good as blue-eyed Daisy had been, and on the manly face turned so wistfully to the eastward there was a world of love and tenderness for the Ethie who, alas, did not deserve it then, and to whom a few weeks later he gave his mother's kindly message. Then, remembering what Mrs. Jones had said, he felt in duty bound to add:
"Mother has some peculiarities, I believe most old people have; but I trust to your good sense to humor them as much as possible. She has had her own way a long time, and though you will virtually be mistress of the house, inasmuch as it belongs to me, it will be better for mother to take the lead, as heretofore."
There was a curl on Ethelyn's lip as she received her first lesson with regard to her behavior as daughter-in-law; but she made no reply, not even to ask what the peculiarities were which she was to humor. She really did not care what they were, as she fully intended having an establishment of her own in the thriving prairie village, just half a mile from her husband's home. She should probably spend a few weeks with Mrs. Markham, senior, whom she fancied a tall, stately woman, wearing heavy black silk dresses and thread lace caps on great occasions, and having always on hand some fine lamb's-wool knitting work when she sat in the parlor where Daisy's picture hung. Ethelyn could not tell why it was that she always saw Richard's mother thus, unless it were what Mrs. Captain Markham once said with regard to her Western sister-in-law, sending to Boston for a black silk which cost three dollars per yard—a great price for those days—and for two yards of handsome thread lace, which she, the Mrs. Captain, had run all over the city to get, "John's wife was so particular to have it just the pattern and width she described in her letter."
This was Richard's mother as Ethelyn saw her, while the house on the prairie, which she knew had been built within a few years, presented a very respectable appearance to her mind's eye, being large, and fashioned something after the new house across the Common, which had a bay window at the side, and a kind of cupola on the roof. It would be quite possible to spend a few weeks comfortably there, especially as she would have the Washington gayeties in prospect, but in the spring, when, after a winter of dissipation she returned to the prairies, she should go to her own home, either in Olney or Camden; the latter, perhaps, as Richard could as well live there as elsewhere. This was Ethelyn's plan, but she kept it to herself, and changing the conversation from Richard's mother and her peculiarities, she talked instead of the places they were to visit—Quebec and Montreal, the seaside and the mountains, and lastly that great Babel of fashion, Saratoga, for which place several of her dresses had been expressly made.
Ethelyn had planned this trip herself, and Richard, though knowing how awfully he should be bored before the summer was over, had assented to all that she proposed, secretly hoping the while that the last days of August would find him safe at home in Olney among his books, his horses, and his farming pursuits. He was very tired that night, and he did not tarry longer than ten, though a word from Ethelyn would have kept him for hours at her side, so intoxicated was he with her beauty, and so quiet and happy he felt with her; but the word was not spoken, and he left her standing on the piazza, where he could see the gleaming of her white robes when he looked back, as he more than once did ere reaching his uncle's door.
The next three days passed rapidly, bringing at last the eventful one for which all others were made, it seemed to him, as he looked out upon the early, dewy morning, thinking how pleasant it was there in that quiet New England town, and trying to fight back the unwelcome headache which finally drove him back to his bed, from which he wrote the little note to Ethelyn, who might think strange at his non-appearance when he had been accustomed to go to her immediately after breakfast. He never dreamed of the relief it was to her not to have him come, as he lay flushed and heated upon his pillow, the veins upon his forehead swelling with their pressure of hot blood, and his ear strained to catch the first sound of the servant's returning step. Ethelyn would either come herself to see him, or send some cheerful message, he was sure. How, then, was he disappointed to find his own note returned, with the assurance that "it did not matter, as he would only be in the way."
Several times he read it over, trying to extract some comfort from it, and finding it at last in the fact that Ethelyn had a headache, too. This was the reason for her seeming indifference; and in wishing himself able to go to her, Richard forgot in part his own pain, and fell into a quiet sleep, which did him untold good. It was three o'clock when at last he rose, knowing pretty well all that had been doing during the hours of his seclusion in the darkened room. The "Van Buren set" had come, and he overheard Mrs. Markham's Esther saying to Aunt Barbara's Betsy, when she came for the silver cake-basket, that "Mr. Frank seemed in mighty fine spirits, considering all the flirtations he used to have with Miss Ethelyn."
This was the first intimation Richard had received of a flirtation, and even now it did not strike him unpleasantly. They were cousins, he reflected, and as such had undoubtedly been very familiar with each other. It was natural, and nothing for which he need care. He did not care, either, as he deliberately began to make his wedding toilet, thinking himself, when it was completed, that he was looking unusually well in the entire new suit which his cousin, Mrs. Woodhull, had insisted upon his getting in New York, when on his way home in April he had gone that way and told her of his approaching marriage. It was a splendid suit, made after the most approved style, and costing a sum which he had kept secret from his mother, who, nevertheless, guessed somewhere near the truth, and thought the Olney tailor would have suited him quite as well at a quarter the price, or even Mrs. Jones, who, having been a tailoress when a young girl in Vermont, still kept up her profession to a limited extent, retaining her "press-board" and "goose," and the mammoth shears which had cut Richard's linen coat after a Chicago pattern of not the most recent date Richard thought very little about his personal appearance—too little, in fact—but he felt a glow of satisfaction now as he contemplated himself in the glass, feeling only that Ethelyn would be pleased to see him thus.
And Ethelyn was pleased. She had half expected the old coat of she did not know how many years' make, and there was a fierce pang of pain in her heart as she imagined Frank's cool criticisms, and saw, in fancy, the contrast between the two men. So when Judge Markham alighted at the gate, and from her window she took in at a glance his tout ensemble, the revulsion of feeling was so great that the glad tears sprang to her eyes, and a brighter, happier look broke over her face than had been there for many weeks. She was not present when Frank was introduced to him; but when next she met her cousin, he said to her, in his usual off-hand way, "I say, Ethie, he is pretty well got up for a Westerner. But for his eyes and teeth I should never have known him for the chap who wore short pants and stove-pipe hat with the butternut-colored crape. Who was he in mourning for anyway?"
It was too bad to be reminded of Abigail Jones, just as she was beginning to feel more comfortable; but Ethelyn bore it very well, and laughingly answered, "For his sweetheart, I dare say," her cheeks flushing very red as Frank whispered slyly, "You are even, then, on that score."
No man of any delicacy of feeling or true refinement would have made this allusion to the past, with his first love within a few hours of her bridal, and his own betrothed standing near. But Frank had neither delicacy of feeling nor genuine refinement, and he even felt a secret gratification in seeing the blood mount to Ethelyn's cheeks as he thus referred to the past.
There was a great deal of sincere and tender interest in Richard's manner when, in reply to his inquiries for Ethelyn's headache, Aunt Barbara told him of the almost fainting fit in the morning and her belief that Ethelyn was not as strong this summer as she used to be.
"The mountain air will do her good, I trust," casting wistful glances up the stairs and toward the door of the chamber, where girlish voices were heard, Nettie Hudson and Susie Granger chatting gayly and uttering exclamations of delight as they arranged and adjusted Ethelyn's bridal robes.
Once during the period of his judgeship Richard had attended a large and fashionable bridal party, but when, on his return to Olney, Melinda Jones questioned him with regard to the dresses of the bride and the guests, he found himself utterly unable to give either fabric, fashion, or even color, so little attention had he given to the subject. He never noticed such things, he said, but he believed some of the dresses were made of something flimsy, for he could see through them, and he knew they were very long, for he had stepped on some half dozen. And this was all the information the inquisitive Melinda could obtain. Dress was of little consequence, he thought, so it was clean and whole.
This was his theory; but when, as the twilight deepened on the Chicopee hills, and the lamps were lighted in Aunt Barbara's parlors, and old Captain Markham began to wonder "why the plague the folks did not come," as he stalked up and down the piazza in all the pride and pomposity of one who felt himself to all intents and purposes the village aristocrat, and when the mysterious door of Ethie's room, which had been closed so long, was opened, and the bridegroom told that he might go in, he started in surprise at the beautiful tableau presented to his view as he stepped across the threshold. As was natural, he fancied that never before had he seen three young girls so perfectly beautiful as the three before him—Ethie, and Susie, and Nettie.
As a matter of course, he gave the preference to Ethelyn, who was very, very lovely in her bridal robes, with the orange wreath resting like a coronet upon her marble brow. There were pearls upon her fair neck and pearls upon her arms, the gift of Mrs. Dr. Van Buren, who had waited till the very last, hoping the Judge would have forethought enough to buy them himself. But the Judge had not. He knew something of diamonds, for they had been Daisy's favorites; but pearls were novelties to him, and Ethelyn's pale cheeks would have burned crimson had she known that he was thinking "how becoming those white beads were to her."
Poor, ignorant Richard! He will know more by and by of what constitutes a fashionable lady's toilet; but now he is in blissful ignorance of minutiae, and sees only the tout ensemble, which he pronounces perfect. He was half afraid of her, though, she seemed so cold, so passive, so silent, and when in the same breath Susie Granger asks if he ever saw anyone so lovely as Ethelyn and bids him kiss her quick, he starts and hesitates, and finally kisses Susie instead. He might, perhaps, have done the same with Ethelyn if she had not stepped backward to avoid it, her long train sweeping across the hearth where that morning she had knelt in such utter desolation, and where now was lying a bit of blackened paper, which the housemaid's broom had not found when, early in the day, the room was swept and dusted. So Ethelyn's white satin brushed against the gossamer thing, which floated upward for a moment, and then settled back upon the heavy, shining folds. It was Richard who saw it first, and Richard's hand which brushed away the skeleton of Frank's letter from the skirts of his bride, leaving a soiled, yellowish stain, which Susie Granger loudly deplored, while Ethelyn only drew her drapery around her, saying coldly, that "it did not matter in the least. She would as soon have it there as not."
It was meet, she thought, that the purity of her bridal garments should be tarnished; for was not her heart all stained, and black, and crisp with cruel deception? That little incident, however, affected her strangely, bringing back so vividly the scene on the ledge of rocks beneath the New England laurels, where Frank had sat beside her and poured words of boyish passion into her ear. There was for a moment a pitiful look of anguish in her eyes as they went out into the summer night toward the huckleberry hills, where lay that ledge of massy rock, and then come back to the realities about her. Frank saw the look of pain, and it awoke in his own breast an answering throb as he wondered if, after all, Ethie would not have preferred that he were standing by her instead of the grave Judge, fitting on his gloves with an awkwardness which said that such articles were comparative strangers to his large, red hands.