"Oh, yes, I'll walk with you; shall we have a hop, skip, or jump?"
"Don't, don't!" said Carrie, holding back; "I can't walk fast, Lenora," and actuated by some sudden impulse of kindness, Lenora conformed her steps to those of the invalid. Twice they walked up and down the piazza, and were about turning for the third time, when Carrie, clasping her hand over her side, exclaimed, "No, no; I can't go again."
Little Willie, who fancied that his sister was being hurt, sprang toward Lenora, saying, "Leno, you mustn't hurt Carrie. Let her go; she's sick."
And now to the scene of action came Dame Hamilton, and seizing her young stepson, she tore him away from Lenora, administering at the same time a bit of a motherly shake. Willie's blood was up, and in return he dealt her a blow, for which she rewarded him by another shake, and by tying him to the table.
That Lenora was not all bad was shown by the unselfish affection she ever manifested for Willie, although her untimely interference between him and her mother oftentimes made matters worse. Thus, on the occasion of which we have been speaking, Mrs. Hamilton had scarcely left the room ere Lenora released Willie from his confinement, thereby giving him the impression that his mother alone was to blame. Fortunately, however, Margaret's judgment was better, and though she felt justly indignant at the cruelty practised upon poor Carrie, she could not uphold Willie in striking his mother. Calling him to her room, she talked to him until he was wholly softened, and offered, of his own accord, to go and say he was sorry, provided Maggie would accompany him as far as the door of the sitting-room, where his mother would probably be found. Accordingly, Mag descended the stairs with him, and meeting Lenora in the hall, said, "Is she in the sitting-room?"
"Is she in the sitting-room?" repeated Lenora; "and pray who may she be?" then quick as thought she added, "Oh, yes, I know. She is in there telling HE!"
Lenora was right in her conjecture, for Mrs. Hamilton, greatly enraged at Willie's presumption in striking her, and still more provoked at him for untying himself, as she supposed he had, was laying before her husband quite an aggravated case of assault and battery.
In the midst of her argument Willie entered the room, with tear-stained eyes, and without noticing the presence of his father, went directly to his mother, and burying his face in her lap, sobbed out, "Willie is sorry he struck you, and will never do so again, if you will forgive him."
In a much gentler tone than she would have assumed had not her husband been present, Mrs. Hamilton replied, "I can forgive you for striking me, Willie, but what have you to say about untying yourself?"
"I didn't do it," said Willie; "Leno did that."
"Be careful what you say," returned Mrs. Hamilton. "I can't believe Lenora would do so."
Ere Willie had time to repeat his assertion Lenora, who all the time had been standing by the door, appeared, saying, "You may believe him, for he has never been whipped to make him lie. I did do it, and I would do it again."
"Lenora," said Mr. Hamilton, rather sternly, "you should not interfere in that manner. You will spoil the child."
It was the first time he had presumed to reprove his stepdaughter, and as there was nothing on earth which Mrs. Hamilton so much feared as Lenora's tongue, she dreaded the disclosures which further remark from her husband might call forth. So, assuming an air of great distress, she said, "Leave her to me, my dear. She is a strange girl, as I always told you, and no one can manage her as well as myself." Then kissing Willie in token of forgiveness, she left the room, drawing Lenora after her and whispering fiercely in her ear, "How can you ever expect to succeed with the son, if you show off this way before the father."
With a mocking laugh Lenora replied, "Pshaw! I gave that up the first time I ever saw him, for of course he thinks me a second edition of Mrs. Carter, minus any improvements. But he's mistaken; I'm not half as bad as I seem. I'm only what you've made me."
Mrs. Hamilton turned away, thinking that if her daughter could so easily give up Walter Hamilton, she would not. She was resolved upon an alliance between him and Lenora. And who ever knew her to fail in what she undertook?
She had wrung from her husband the confession that "he believed there was a sort of childish affection between Walter and Kate Kirby, though 'twas doubtful whether it ever amounted to anything." She had also learned that he was rather averse to the match, and though Lenora had not yet been named as a substitute for Kate, she strove in many ways to impress her husband with a sense of her daughter's superior abilities, at the same time taking pains to mortify Margaret by setting Lenora above her.
For this, however, Margaret cared but little, and it was only when her mother ill-treated Willie, which she frequently did, that her spirit was fully roused.
At Mrs. Hamilton's first marriage she had been presented with a handsome glass pitcher, which she of course greatly prized. One day it stood upon the stand in her room, where Willie was also playing with some spools which Lenora had found and arranged for him. Malta, the pet kitten, was amusing herself by running after the spools, and when at last Willie, becoming tired, laid them on the stand, she sprang toward them, upsetting the pitcher, which was broken in a dozen pieces. On hearing the crash Mrs. Hamilton hastened toward the room, where the sight of her favorite pitcher in fragments greatly enraged her. Thinking, of course, that Willie had done it, she rudely seized him by the arm, administered a cuff or so, and then dragged him toward the china closet.
As soon as Willie could regain his breath he screamed, "Oh ma, don't shut me up; I'll be good; I didn't do it, certain true; kittie knocked it off."
"None of your lies," said Mrs. Hamilton. "It's likely kittie knocked it off!"
Lenora, who had seen the whole, and knew that what Willie said was true, was about coming to the rescue, when looking up, she saw Margaret, with dilated nostrils and eyes flashing fire watching the proceedings of her stepmother.
"He's safe," thought Lenora; "I'll let Mag fire the first gun, and then I'll bring up the rear."
Margaret had never known Willie to tell a lie, and had no reason for thinking he had done so in this instance. Besides, the blows her mother gave him exasperated her, and she stepped forward just as Mrs. Hamilton was about pushing him into the closet. So engrossed was that lady that she heard not Margaret's approach until a firm hand was laid upon her shoulder while Willie was violently wrested from her grasp, and ere she could recover from her astonishment she herself was pushed into the closet, the door of which was closed and locked against her.
"Bravo, Margaret Hamilton," cried Lenora, "I'm with you now, if I never was before. It serves her right, for Willie told the truth. I was sitting by and saw it all. Keep her in there an hour, will you? It will pay her for the many times she has shut me up for nothing."
Mrs. Hamilton stamped and pushed against the door, while Lenora danced and sang at the top of her voice:
"My dear precious mother got wrathy one day And seized little Will by the hair; But when in the closet she'd stow him away, She herself was pushed headlong in there."
At length the bolt, yielding to the continued pressure of Mrs. Hamilton's body, broke, and out came the termagant, foaming with rage. She dared not molest Margaret, of whose physical powers she had just received such mortifying proof, so she aimed a box at the ears of Lenora. But the lithe little thing dodged it, and with one bound cleared the table which sat in the center of the room, landing safely on the other side; and then, shaking her short, black curls at her mother, she said, "You didn't come it, that time, my darling."
Mr. Hamilton, who chanced to be absent for a few days, was, on his return, regaled with an exaggerated account of the proceeding, his wife ending her discourse by saying: "If you don't do something with your upstart daughter I'll leave the house; yes, I will."
Mr. Hamilton was cowardly. He was afraid of his wife, and he was afraid of Mag. So he tried to compromise the matter by promising the one that he surely would see to it, and by asking the other if she were not ashamed. But old Polly didn't let the matter pass so easily. She was greatly shocked at having "such shameful carryin's on in a decent man's house."
"'Clare for't," said she, "I'll give marster a piece of Polly Pepper's mind the fust time I get a lick at him."
In the course of a few days Mr. Hamilton had occasion to go for something into Aunt Polly's dominions. The old lady was ready for him. "Mr. Hampleton," said she, "I've been waitin' to see you this long spell."
"To see me, Polly?" said he; "what do you want?"
"What I wants is this," answered Polly, dropping into a chair. "I want to know what this house is a comin' to, with such bedivilment in it as there's been since madam came here with that little black-headed, ugly-favored, ill-begotten, Satan-possessed, shoulder-unj'inted young one of her'n. It's been nothin' but a rowdadow the whole time, and you hain't grit enough to stop it. Madam boxes Willie, and undertakes to shet him up for a lie he never told; Miss Margaret interferes jest as she or'to, takes Willie away, and shets up madam; while that ill-marnered Lenora jumps and screeches loud enough to wake the dead. Madam busts the door down, and pitches into the varmint, who jumps spang over a four-foot table, which Lord knows I never could have done in my spryest days."
"But how can I help all this?" asked Mr. Hamilton.
"Help it?" returned Polly. "You needn't have got into the fire in the fust place. I hain't lived fifty-odd year for nothin', and though I hain't no larnin', I know too much to heave myself away on the fust nussin' woman that comes along."
"Stop, Polly; you must not speak so of Mrs. Hamilton," said Mr. Hamilton; while Polly continued:
"And I wouldn't nuther, if she could hold a candle to the t'other one; but she can't. You'd no business to marry a second time, even if you didn't marry a nuss; neither has any man who's got grow'd-up gals, and a faithful critter like Polly in the kitchen. Stepmothers don't often do well, particularly them as is sot up by marryin'."
Here Mr. Hamilton, who did not like to hear so much truth, left the kitchen, while Aunt Polly said to herself, "I've gin it to him good, this time."
Lenora, who always happened to be near when she was talked about, had overheard the whole, and repeated it to her mother. Accordingly, that very afternoon word came to the kitchen that Mrs. Hamilton wished to see Polly.
"Reckon she'll find this child ain't afeared on her," said Polly, as she wiped the flour from her face and repaired to Mrs. Hamilton's room.
"Polly," began that lady, with a very grave face, "Lenora tells me that you have been talking very disrespectfully to Mr. Hamilton."
"In the name of the Lord, can't he fight his own battles?" interrupted Polly. "I only tried to show him that he was henpecked—and he is."
"It isn't of him alone I would speak," resumed Mrs. Hamilton, with stately gravity; "you spoke insultingly of me, and as I make it a practise never to keep a servant after they get insolent, I have——"
"For the dear Lord's sake," again interrupted Polly, "I 'spect we's the fust servants you ever had."
"Good!" said a voice from some quarter, and Mrs. Hamilton continued: "I have sent for you to give you twenty-four hours' warning to leave this house."
"I shan't budge an inch until marster says so," said Polly. "Wonder who's the best title deed here? Warn't I here long afore you come a nussin' t'other one?"
And Polly went back to the kitchen, secretly fearing that Mr. Hamilton, who she knew was wholly ruled by his wife, would say that she must go. And he did say so, though much against his will. Lenora ran with the decision, to Aunt Polly, causing her to drop a loaf of new bread. But the old negress chased her from the cellar with the oven broom, and then stealing by a back staircase to Margaret's room, laid the case before her, acknowledging that she was sorry and asking her young mistress to intercede for her. Margaret stepped to the head of the stairs, and calling to her father, requested him to come for a moment to her room. This he was more ready to do, as he had no suspicion why he was sent for, but on seeing old Polly, he half-resolved to turn back. Margaret, however, led him into the room, and then entreated him not to send away one who had served him so long and so faithfully.
Polly, too, joined in with her tears and prayers, saying, "She was an old black fool anyway, and let her tongue get the better on her, though she didn't mean to say more than was true, and reckoned she hadn't."
In his heart Mr. Hamilton wished to revoke what he had said, but dread of the explosive storm which he knew would surely follow made him irresolute, until Carrie said, "Father, the first person of whom I have any definite recollection is Aunt Polly, and I shall be so lonesome if she goes away. For my sake let her stay, at least until I am dead."
This decided the matter. "She shall stay," said Mr. Hamilton, and Aunt Polly, highly elated, returned to the kitchen with the news. Lenora, who seemed to be everywhere at once, overheard it, and, bent on mischief, ran with it to her mother. In the meantime Mr. Hamilton wished, yet dreaded, to go down, and finally, mentally cursing himself for his weakness, asked Margaret to accompany him. She was about to comply with his request, when Mrs. Hamilton came up the stairs, furious at her husband, whom she called "a craven coward, led by the nose by all who chose to lead him." Wishing to shut out her noise, Mag closed and bolted the door, and in the hall the modern Xantippe extended her wrath against her husband and his offspring, while poor Mr. Hamilton laid his face in Carrie's lap and wept. Margaret was trying to devise some means by which to rid herself of her stepmother, when Lenora was heard to exclaim:
"Shall I pitch her over the stairs, Mag? I will if you say so."
Immediately Mrs. Hamilton's anger took another channel, and turning upon her daughter, she said, "What are you here for, you prating parrot? Didn't you tell me what Aunt Polly said, and haven't you acted in the capacity of reporter ever since?"
"To be sure I did," said Lenora, poising herself on one foot, and whirling around in circles; "but if you thought I did it because I blamed Aunt Polly, you are mistaken."
"What did you do it for, then?" said Mrs. Hamilton; and Lenora, giving the finishing touch to her circles by dropping upon the floor, answered, "I like to live in a hurricane—so I told you what I did. Now, if you think it will add at all to the excitement of the present occasion, I'll get an ax for you to split the door down."
"Oh, don't, Lenora," screamed Carrie, from within, to which Lenora responded:
"Poor little simple chick bird, I wouldn't harm a hair of your soft head for anything. But there is a man in there, or one who passes for a man, that I think would look far more respectable if he'd come out and face the tornado. She's easy to manage when you know how. At least Mag and I find her so."
Here Mr. Hamilton ashamed of himself and emboldened, perhaps, by Lenora's words, slipped back the bolt of the door, and walking out, confronted his wife.
"Shall I order pistols and coffee for two?" asked Lenora, swinging herself entirely over the bannister, and dropping like a squirrel on the stair below.
"Is Polly going to stay in this house?" asked Mrs. Hamilton.
"She is," was the reply.
"Then I leave to-night," said Mrs. Hamilton.
"Very well, you can go," returned the husband, growing stronger in himself each moment.
Mrs. Hamilton turned away to her own room, where she remained until supper time, when Lenora asked "If she had got her chest packed, and where they should direct their letters!" Neither Margaret nor her father could refrain from laughter.
Mrs. Hamilton, too, who had no notion of leaving the comfortable Homestead, and who thought this as good a time to veer round as any she would have, also joined in the laugh, saying, "What a child you are, Lenora!"
Gradually the state of affairs at the homestead was noised throughout the village, and numerous were the little tea parties where none dared speak above a whisper to tell what they had heard, and where each and every one were bound to the most profound secrecy, for fear the reports might not be true. At length, however, the story of the china closet got out, causing Sally Martin to spend one whole day in retailing the gossip from door to door. Many, too, suddenly remembered certain suspicious things which they had seen in Mrs. Hamilton, who was unanimously voted to be a bad woman, and who, of course, began to be slighted.
The result of this was to increase the sourness of her disposition; and life at the Homestead would have been one continuous scene of turmoil had not Margaret wisely concluded to treat whatever her stepmother did with silent contempt. Lenora, too, always seemed ready to fill up all vacant niches, until even Mag acknowledged that the mother would be unendurable without the daughter.
LENORA AND CARRIE.
Ever since the day on which Lenora had startled Carrie by informing her of her danger, she had been carefully kept from the room, or allowed only to enter it when Margaret was present. One afternoon, however, early in February, Mag had occasion to go to the village. Lenora, who saw her depart, hastily gathered up her work, and repaired to Carrie's room, saying, as she entered it, "Now, Carrie, we'll have a good time; Mag has gone to see old deaf Peggy, who asks a thousand questions, and will keep her at least two hours, and I am going to entertain you to the best of my ability."
Carrie's cheek flushed, for she felt some misgivings with regard to the nature of Lenora's entertainment; but she knew there was no help for it, so she tried to smile, and said, "I am willing you should stay, Lenora, but you mustn't talk bad things to me, for I can't bear it."
"Bad things!" repeated Lenora; "who ever heard me talk bad things! What do you mean?"
"I mean," said Carrie, "that you must not talk about your mother as you sometimes do. It is wicked."
"Why, you dear little thing," answered Lenora, "don't you know that what would be wicked for you isn't wicked for me?"
"No, I do not know so," answered Carrie; "but I know I wouldn't talk about my mother as you do about yours for anything."
"Bless your heart," said Lenora, "haven't you sense enough to see that there is a great difference between Mrs. Hamilton first, and Mrs. Hamilton second? Now, I'm not naturally bad, and if I had been the daughter of Mrs. Hamilton first instead of Widow Carter's young one, why, I should have been as good as you—no, not as good as you, for you don't know enough to be bad—but as good as Mag, who, in my opinion, has the right kind of goodness, for all I used to hate her so."
"Hate Margaret!" said Carrie, opening her eyes to their utmost extent. "What did you hate Margaret for?"
"Because I didn't know her, I suppose," returned Lenora; "for now I like her well enough—not quite as well as I do you, perhaps; and yet, when I see you bear mother's abuse so meekly, I positively hate you for a minute, and ache to box your ears; but when Mag squares up to her, shuts her in the china closet, and all that, I want to put my arms right round neck."
"Why, don't you like your mother?" asked Carrie, and Lenora replied:
"Of course I do; but I know what she is and I know she isn't what she sometimes seems. Why, she'd be anything to suit the circumstances. She wanted your father, and she assumed the character most likely to secure him; for, between you and me, he isn't very smart."
"What did she marry him for, then?" asked Carrie.
"Marry him! I hope you don't for a moment suppose she married him!"
"Why, Lenora, ain't they married? I thought they were. Oh, dreadful!" and Carrie started to her feet, while the perspiration stood thickly on her forehead.
Lenora screamed with delight, saying, "You certainly have the softest brain I ever saw. Of course the minister went through with the ceremony; but it was not your father that mother wanted; it was his house—his money—his horses—his servants, and his name. Now, maybe in your simplicity you have thought that mother came here out of kindness to the motherless children; but I tell you she would be better satisfied if neither of you had ever been born. I suppose it is wicked in me to say so, but I think she makes me worse than I would otherwise be; for I am not naturally so bad, and I like people much better than I pretend to. Anyway, I like you, and love little Willie, and always have, since the first time I saw him. Your mother lay in her coffin, and Willie stood by her, caressing her cold cheek, and saying, 'Wake up, mamma, it's Willie; don't you know Willie? I took him in my arms, and vowed to love and shield him from the coming evil; for I knew then, as well as I do now, that what has happened would happen. Mag wasn't there; she didn't see me. If she had, she might have liked me better; now she thinks there is no good in me; and if, when you die, I should feel like shedding tears, and perhaps I shall, it would be just like her to wonder 'what business I had to cry—it was none of my funeral!'"
"You do wrong to talk so, Lenora," said Carrie; "but tell me, did you never have any one to love except Willie?"
"Yes," said Lenora; "when I was a child, a little, innocent child, I had a grandmother—my father's mother—who taught me to pray, and told me of God."
"Where is she now?" asked Carrie.
"In heaven," was the answer. "I know she is there, because when she died there was the same look on her face that there was on your mother's—the same that there will be on yours, when you are dead."
"Never mind," gasped Carrie, who did not care to be so frequently reminded of her mortality, while Lenora continued:
"Perhaps you don't know that my father was, as mother says, a bad man; though I always loved him dearly, and cried when he went away. We lived with grandmother, and sometimes now, in my dreams, I am a child again, kneeling by grandma's side, in our dear old eastern home, where the sunshine fell so warmly, where the summer birds sang in the old maple trees, and where the long shadows, which I called spirits, came and went over the bright green meadows. But there was a sadder day; a narrow coffin, a black hearse, and a tolling bell, which always wakes me from my sleep, and I find the dream all gone, and nothing left of the little child but the wicked Lenora Carter."
Here the dark girl buried her face in her hands and wept, while Carrie gently smoothed her tangled curls. After a while, as if ashamed of her emotion, Lenora dried her tears, and Carrie said, "Tell me more of your early life. I like you when you act as you do now."
"There is nothing more to tell but wickedness," answered Lenora. "Grandma died, and I had no one to teach me what was right. About a year after her death mother wanted to get a divorce from father; and one day she told me that a lawyer was coming to inquire about my father's treatment of her. 'Perhaps,' said she, 'he will ask if you ever saw him strike me, and you must say that you have a great many times. 'But never did,' said I; and then she insisted upon my telling that falsehood, and I refused, until she whipped me, and made me promise to say whatever she wished me to. In this way I was trained to be what I am. Nobody loves me; nobody ever can love me; and sometimes when Mag speaks so kindly to you, and looks so affectionately upon you, I think, what would I not give for some one to love me; and then I go away to cry, and wish I had never been born."
Here Mrs. Hamilton called to her daughter, and gathering up her work, Lenora left the room just as Margaret entered it, on her return from the village.
As the spring opened and the days grew warmer Carrie's health seemed much improved; and, though she did not leave her room, she was able to sit up nearly all day, busying herself with some light work. Ever hopeful, Margaret hugged to her bosom the delusion which whispered, "She will not die," while even the physician was deceived, and spoke encouragingly of her recovery.
For several months Margaret had thought of visiting her grandmother, who lived in Albany; and as Mr. Hamilton had occasion to visit that city, Carrie urged her to accompany him saying, she was perfectly able to be left alone, and she wished her sister would go, for the trip would do her good.
For some time past Mrs. Hamilton had seemed exceedingly amiable and affectionate, although her husband appeared greatly depressed, and acted, as Lenora said, "Just as though he had been stealing sheep."
This depression Mag had tried in vain to fathom, and at last, fancying that a change of place and scene might do him good, she consented to accompany him, on condition that Kate Kirby would stay with Carrie. At mention of Kate's name Mr. Hamilton's eyes instantly went over to his wife, whose face wore the same stony expression as she answered, "Yes, Maggie, can come."
Accordingly, on the morning when the travelers would start, Kate came up to the homestead, receiving a thousand and one directions about what to do and when to do it, hearing not more than half the injunctions, and promising to comply with every one. Long before the door the carriage waited, while Margaret, lingering in Carrie's room, kissed again and again her sister's pure brow, and gazed into her deep blue eyes, as if she knew that it was the last time. Even when half way down the stairs she turned back again to say good-by, this time whispering, "I have half a mind not to go, for something tells me I shall never see you again."
"Oh, Mag," said Carrie, "don't be superstitious. I am a great deal better, and when you come home you will find me in the parlor."
In the lower hall Mr. Hamilton caressed his little Willie, who begged that he, too, might go. "Don't leave, me, Maggie, don't," said he, as Mag came up to say good-by.
Long years after the golden curls which Mag pushed back from Willie's forehead were covered by the dark moist earth, did she remember her baby-brother's childish farewell, and oft in bitterness of heart she asked, "Why did I go—why leave my loved ones to die alone?"
Just a week after Mag's departure news was received at the homestead that Walter was coming to Glenwood for a day or two, and on the afternoon of the same day Kate had occasion to go home. As she was leaving the house Mrs. Hamilton detained her, while she said, "Miss Kirby, we are all greatly obliged to you for your kindness in staying with Carrie, although your services really are not needed. I understand how matters stand between you and Walter, and as he is to be here to-morrow; you of course will feel some delicacy about remaining, consequently I release you from all obligations to do so."
Of course there was no demurring to this. Kate's pride was touched; and though Carrie wept, and begged her not to go, she yielded only so far as to stay until the next morning, when, with a promise to call frequently, she left. Lonely and long seemed the hours to poor Carrie; for though Walter came, he stayed but two days, and spent a part of that time at the mill-pond cottage.
The evening after he went away, as Carrie lay, half-dozing, thinking of Mag, and counting the weary days which must pass ere her return, she was startled by the sound of Lenora's voice in the room opposite, the door of which was ajar. Lenora had been absent a few days, and Carrie was about calling to her, when some words spoken by her stepmother arrested her attention, and roused her curiosity. They were, "You think too little of yourself, Lenora. Now, I know there is nothing in the way of your winning Walter, if you choose."
"I should say there was everything in the way," answered Lenora. "In the first place, there is Kate Kirby, and who, after seeing her handsome face, would ever look at such a black, turned-up nose, bristle-headed thing as I am? But I perceive there is some weighty secret on your mind, so what is it? Have Walter and Kate quarreled, or have you told him some falsehood about her?"
"Neither," said Mrs. Hamilton. "What I have to say concerns your father."
"My father!" interrupted Lenora; "my own father! Oh, is he living?"
"No, I hope not," was the answer; "it is Mr. Hamilton whom I mean."
Instantly Lenora's tone changed, and she replied, "If you please you need not call that putty-headed man my father. He acts too much like a whipped spaniel to suit me, and I really think Carrie ought to be respected for knowing what little she does, while I wonder where Walter, Mag, and Willie got their good sense. But what is it? What have you made Mr. Hamilton do?—something ridiculous, of course."
"I've made him make his will," was the answer; while Lenora continued:
"Well, what then? What good will that do me?"
"It may do you a great deal of good," said Mrs. Hamilton; "that is, if Walter likes the homestead as I think he does. But I tell you, it was hard work, and I didn't know, one while, but I should have to give it up. However, I succeeded, and he has willed the homestead to Walter, provided he marries you. If not, Walter has nothing, and the homestead comes to me and my heirs forever!"
"Heartless old fool!" exclaimed Lenora, while Carrie, too, groaned in sympathy. "And do you suppose he intends to let it go so! Of course not; he'll make another when you don't know it"
"I'll watch him too closely for that," said Mrs. Hamilton and after a moment Lenora asked:
"What made you so anxious for a will? Have you received warning of his sudden demise?"
"How foolish!" said Mrs. Hamilton. "Isn't it the easiest thing in the world for me to let Walter know what's in the will, and I fancy that'll bring him to terms, for he likes money, no mistake about that."
"Mr. Hamilton is a bigger fool, and you a worse woman, than I supposed," said Lenora. "Do you think I am mean enough to marry Walter under such circumstances? Indeed, I'm not. But how is Carrie? I must go and see her."
She was about leaving the room, when she turned back, saying in a whisper, "Mother, mother, her door is wide open, as well as this one, and she must have heard every word!"
"Oh, horror!" exclaimed Mrs. Hamilton; "go in and ascertain the fact, if possible."
It took but one glance to convince Lenora that Carrie was in possession of the secret. Her cheeks were flushed, her eyes wet with tears; and when Lenora stooped to kiss her, she said. "I know it all, I heard it all."
"Then I hope you feel better," said Mrs. Hamilton, coming forward. "Listeners never hear any good of themselves."
"Particularly if it's Widow Carter who is listened to," suggested Lenora.
Mrs. Hamilton did not reply to this, but continued speaking to Carrie. "If you have heard anything new you can keep it to yourself. No one has interfered with you, or intends to. Your father has a right to do what he chooses with his own, and I shall see that he exercises that right, too."
So saying she left the room, while Carrie, again bursting into tears, wept until perfectly exhausted. The next morning she was attacked with bleeding at the lungs, which in a short time reduced her so low that the physician spoke doubtfully of her recovery, should the hemorrhage again return. In the course of two or three days she was again attacked; and now, when there was no longer hope of life, her thoughts turned with earnest longings toward her absent father and sister, and once, as the physician was preparing to leave her, she said, "Doctor, tell me truly, can I live twenty-four hours?"
"I think you may," was the answer.
"Then I shall see them, for if you telegraph to-night they can come in the morning train. Go yourself and have it done, will you?"
The physician promised that he would, and then left the room. In the hall he met Mrs. Hamilton, who with the utmost anxiety depicted upon her countenance, said, "Dear Carrie is leaving us, isn't she? I have telegraphed for her father, who will be here in the morning. 'Twas right to do so, was it not?"
"Quite right," answered the physician. "I promised to see to it myself, and was just going to do so."
"Poor child," returned Mrs. Hamilton, "she feels anxious, I suppose. But I have saved you the trouble."
The reader will not, perhaps, be greatly surprised to learn that what Mrs. Hamilton had said was false. She suspected that one reason why Carrie so greatly desired to see her father was to tell him what she had heard, and beg of him to undo what he had done; and as she feared the effect which the sight and words of his dying child might have upon him, she resolved, if possible, to keep him away until Carrie's voice was hushed in death. Overhearing what had been said by the doctor, she resorted to the stratagem of which we have just spoken. The next morning, however, she ordered a telegram to be despatched, knowing full well that her husband could not reach home until the day following.
Meantime, as the hour for the morning train drew near, Carrie, resting upon pillows, and whiter than the linen which covered them, strained her ears to catch the first sound of the locomotive. At last, far off through an opening among the hills, was heard a rumbling noise, which increased each moment in loudness, until the puffing engine shot out into the long, green valley, and then rolled rapidly up to the depot.
Little Willie had seemed unwell for a few days, but since his sister's illness he had stayed by her almost constantly, gazing half-curiously, half-timidly into her face, and asking if she was going to the home where his mamma lived. She had told him that Margaret was coming, and when the shrill whistle of the eastern train sounded through the room he ran to the window, whither Lenora had preceded him, and there together they watched for the coming of the omnibus. A sinister smile curled the lips of Mrs. Hamilton who was present, and who, of course, affected to feel interested.
At last Willie, clapping his hands, exclaimed, "There 'tis! They're coming. That's Maggie's big trunk!" Then, noticing the glow which his announcement called up to Carrie's cheek, he said, "She'll make you well, Carrie, Maggie will. Oh, I'm so glad, and so is Leno."
Nearer and nearer came the omnibus, brighter and deeper grew the flush on Carrie's face, while little Willie danced up and down with joy.
"It isn't coming here," said Mrs. Hamilton; "it has gone by," and Carrie's feverish heat was succeeded by an icy chill.
"Haven't they come, Lenora?" she said.
Lenora shook her head, and Willie, running to his sister, wound his arms around her neck, and for several minutes the two lone, motherless children wept.
"If Maggie knew how my head ached she'd come," said Willie; but Carrie thought not of her aching head, nor of the faintness of death which was fast coming on. One idea alone engrossed her. Her brother—how would he be saved from the threatened evil, and her father's name from dishonor?
At last Mrs. Hamilton left the room, and Carrie, speaking to Lenora and one of the villagers who was present, asked if they, too, would not leave her alone for a time with Willie. They complied with her request, and then asking her brother to bring her pencil and paper, she hurriedly wrote a few lines to her father telling him of what she had heard, and entreating him, for her sake, and the sake of the mother with whom she would be when those words met his eye, not to do Walter so great a wrong. "I shall give this to Willie's care," she wrote, in conclusion, "and he will keep it carefully until you come. And now, I bid you a long farewell, my precious father—my noble Mag—my darling Walter."
The note was finished, and calling Willie to her, she said, "I am going to die. When Maggie returns I shall be dead and still, like our own dear mother."
"Oh, Carrie, Carrie," sobbed the child, "don't leave me till Maggie comes."
There was a footstep on the stairs, and Carrie, without replying to her brother, said quickly, "Take this paper, Willie, and give it to father when he comes; let no one see it—Lenora, mother, nor any one."
Willie promised compliance, and had but just time to conceal the note in his bosom ere Mrs. Hamilton entered the room, accompanied by the physician, to whom she loudly expressed her regrets that her husband had not come, saying that she had that morning telegraphed again, although he could not now reach home until the morrow.
"To-morrow I shall never see," said Carrie, faintly. And she spoke truly, too, for even then death was freezing her life-blood with the touch of his icy hand. To the last she seemed conscious of the tiny arms which so fondly encircled her neck; and when the soul had drifted far out on the dark channel of death the childish words of "Carrie, Carrie, speak once more," roused her, and folding her brother more closely to her bosom, she murmured, "Willie, darling Willie, our mother is waiting for us both."
Mrs. Hamilton, who stood near, now bent down, and laying her hand on the pale, damp brow said gently, "Carrie, dear, have you no word of love for this mother?"
There was a visible shudder, an attempt to speak, a low moan, in which the word "Walter" seemed struggling to be spoken; and then death, as if impatient of delay, bore away the spirit, leaving only the form which in life had been most beautiful. Softly Lenora closed over the blue eyes the long, fringed lids, and pushed back from the forehead the sunny tresses which clustered so thickly around it; then, kissing the white lips and leaving on the face of the dead traces of her tears, she led Willie from the room, soothing him in her arms until he fell asleep.
Elsewhere we have said that for a few days Willie had not seemed well; but so absorbed were all in Carrie's more alarming symptoms that no one had heeded him, although his cheeks were flushed with fever, and his head was throbbing with pain. He was in the habit of sleeping in his parents' room, and that night his loud breathings and uneasy turnings disturbed and annoyed his mother, who at last called out in harsh tones, "Willie, Willie, for mercy's sake stop that horrid noise! I shall never get asleep this way. I know there's no need of breathing like that!"
"It chokes me so," sobbed little Willie, "but I'll try."
Then pressing his hands tightly over his mouth, he tried the experiment of holding his breath as long as possible. Hearing no sound from his mother, he thought her asleep, but not venturing to breathe naturally until assured of the fact, he whispered, "Ma, ma, are you asleep?"
"Asleep! no—and never shall be, as I see. What do you want?"
"Oh, I want to breathe," said Willie.
"Well, breathe then; who hinders you?" was the reply; and ere the offensive sound again greeted her ear, Mrs. Hamilton was too far gone in slumber to be disturbed.
For two hours Willie lay awake, tossing from side to side, scorched with fever and longing for water to quench his burning thirst. By this time Mrs. Hamilton was again awake; but to his earnest entreaties for water—"Just one little drop of water, ma"—she answered:
"William Hamilton, if you don't be still I'll move your crib into the room where Carrie is, and leave you there alone!"
Unlike many children, Willie had no fears of the cold white figure which lay so still and motionless upon the parlor sofa. To him it was Carrie, his sister; and many times that day had he stolen in alone, and laying back the thin muslin which shaded her face, he had looked long upon her—had laid his hand on her icy cheek, wondering if she knew how cold she was, and if the way which she had gone was so long and dark that he could never find it. To him there was naught to fear in that room of death, and to his mother's threat he answered eagerly, "Oh, ma, give me some water, just a little bit of water, and you may carry me in there, I ain't afraid and my breathing won't wake Carrie up;" but before he had finished speaking his mother was again dozing.
"Won't anybody bring me some water—Maggie, Carrie—Leno—nobody?" murmured poor Willie, as he Wet his pillow with tears.
At last he could bear it no longer. He knew where the water-bucket stood, and stepping from his bed, he groped his way down the long stairs to the basement. The spring moon was low in the western horizon, and shining through the curtained window, dimly lighted up the room. The pail was soon reached, and then in his eagerness to drink, he put his lips to the side. Lower, lower, lower it came, until he discovered, alas I that the pail was empty.
"What shall I do? what shall I do?" said he, as he crouched upon the cold hearthstone.
A new idea entered his mind. The well stood near the outer door; and, quickly pushing back the bolt, he went out, all flushed and feverish as he was, into the chill night air. There was ice upon the curbstone, but he did not mind it, although his little toes, as they trod upon it, looked red by the pale moonlight. Quickly a cup of the coveted water was drained; then, with careful forethought, he filled it again, and taking it back to his room, crept shivering to bed. Nature was exhausted, and whether he fainted or fell asleep is not known, for never again to consciousness in this world awoke the little boy.
The morning sunlight came softly in at the window, touching his golden curls with a still more golden hue. Sadly over him Lenora bent, saying, "Willie, Willie, wake up, Willie. Don't you know me?"
Greatly Mrs. Hamilton marveled whence came the cup of water which stood there, as if reproaching her for her cruelty. But the delirious words of the dreamer soon told her all. "Maggie, Maggie," he said, "rub my feet; they feel like Carrie's face. The curbstone was cold, but the water was so good. Give me more, more; mother won't care, for I got it myself, and tried not to breathe, so she could sleep—and Carrie, too, is dead—dead."
Lenora fiercely grasped her mother's arm, and said, "How could you refuse him water, and sleep while he got it himself?"
But Mrs. Hamilton needed not that her daughter should accuse her. Willie had been her favorite, and the tears which she dropped upon his pillow were genuine. The physician who was called pronounced his disease to be scarlet fever, saying that its violence was greatly increased by a severe cold which he had taken.
"You have killed him, mother; you have killed him!" said Lenora.
Twenty-four hours had passed since, with straining ear, Carrie had listened for the morning train, and again down the valley floated the smoke of the engine, and over the blue hills echoed the loud scream of the locomotive; but no sound could awaken the fair young sleeper, though Willie started, and throwing up his hands, one of which, the right one, was firmly clinched, murmured, "Maggie, Maggie."
Ten minutes more and Margaret was there, weeping in agony over the inanimate form of her sister, and almost shrieking as she saw Willie's wild eye, and heard his incoherent words. Terrible to Mr. Hamilton was this coming home. Like one who walks in sleep, he went from room to room, kissing the burning brow of one child, and then, while the hot breath was yet warm upon his lips, pressing them to the cold face of the other.
All day Margaret sat by her dying brother, praying that he might be spared until Walter came. Her prayer was answered; for at nightfall Walter was with them. Half an hour after his return Willie died; but ere his right hand dropped lifeless by his side he held it up to view, saying:
"Father—give it to nobody but father."
After a moment Margaret, taking within hers the fast-stiffening hand, gently unclosed the fingers, and found the crumpled piece of paper on which Carrie had written to her father.
MARGARET AND HER FATHER.
'Twas midnight—midnight after the burial. In the library of the old homestead sat its owner, his arms resting upon the table, and his face reclining upon his arms. Sadly was he reviewing the dreary past, since first among them death had been, bearing away his wife, the wife of his first only love. Now, by her grave there was another, on which the pale moonbeams and the chill night-dews were falling, but they could not disturb the rest of the two who, side by side in the same coffin, lay sleeping, and for whom the father's tears were falling fast, and the father's heart was bleeding.
"Desolate, desolate—all is desolate," said the stricken man. "Would that I, too, were asleep with my lost ones!"
There was a rustling sound near him, a footfall, and an arm was thrown lovingly around his neck. Margaret's tears were on his cheek, and Margaret's voice whispered in his ear, "Dear father, we must love each other better now."
Margaret had not retired, and on passing through the hall, had discovered the light gleaming through the crevice of the library door. Knowing that her father must be there, she had come in to comfort him. Long the father and child wept together, and then Margaret, drying her tears said:
"It is right—all right; mother has two, and you have two, and though the dead will never return to us, we, in God's good time, will return to them."
"Yes, soon, very soon, shall I go," said Mr. Hamilton.
"I am weary, weary, Margaret; my life is one scene of bitterness. Oh, why, why was I left to do it?"
Margaret knew well to what he referred, but she made no answer; and after he had become somewhat composed, thinking this a good opportunity for broaching the subject which had so troubled Carrie's dying moments, she drew from her bosom the soiled piece of paper, and placing it in his hands, watched him while he read. The moan of anguish which came from his lips as he finished made her repent of her act, and, springing to his side, she exclaimed:
"Forgive me, father; I ought not to have done it now. You have enough to bear."
"It is right, my child," said Mr. Hamilton; "for after the wound had slightly healed I might have wavered. Not that I love Walter less; but, fool that I am, I fear her who has made me the cowardly wretch you see!"
"Rouse yourself, then," answered Margaret. "Shake off her chain, and be free."
"I cannot, I cannot," said he. "But this I will do. I will make another will. I always intended to do so, and Walter shall not be wronged." Then rising, he hurriedly paced the room saying, "Walter shall not be wronged, no, no—Walter shall not be wronged."
After a time he resumed his former seat, and taking his daughter's hand in his, he told her of all he had suffered, of the power which his wife held over him, and which he was too weak to shake off. This last he did not say, but Margaret knew it and it prevented her from giving him other consolation than that of assuring him of her own unchanged, undying love.
The morning twilight was streaming through the closed shutters ere the conference ended; and then Mr. Hamilton, kissing his daughter, dismissed her from the room, but as she was leaving him he called her back, saying:
"Don't tell Walter; he would despise me; but he shan't be wronged—no, he shan't be wronged."
Six weeks from that night Margaret stood, with her brother, watching her father as the light from his eyes went out, and the tones of his voice ceased forever. Grief for the loss of his children, and remorse for the blight which he had brought upon his household, had undermined his constitution, never strong; and when a prevailing fever settled upon him it found an easy prey. In ten days' time Margaret and Walter alone were left of the happy band who, two years before, had gathered around the fireside of the old homestead.
Loudly Mrs. Hamilton deplored her loss, shutting herself up in her room, and refusing to see any one, saying that she could not be comforted, and it was of no use trying! Lenora, however, managed to find an opportunity of whispering to her that it would hardly be advisable to commit suicide, since she had got the homestead left, and everything else for which she had married Mr. Hamilton.
"Lenora, how can you thus trifle with my feelings? Don't you see that my trouble is killing me?" said the greatly distressed lady.
"I don't apprehend any such catastrophe as that," answered Lenora. "You found the weeds of Widow Carter easy enough to wear, and those of Widow Hamilton won't hurt you any worse, I imagine."
"Lenora," groaned Mrs. Hamilton, "may you never know what it is to be the unhappy mother of such a child!"
"Amen!" was Lenora's fervent response, as she glided from the room.
For three days the body of Mr. Hamilton lay upon the marble center table in the darkened parlor. Up and down the long staircases, and through the silent rooms, the servants moved noiselessly. Down in the basement Aunt Polly forgot her wonted skill in cooking, and in a broken rocking-chair swayed to and fro, brushing the big tears from her dusky face, and lamenting the loss of one who seemed to her "just like a brother, only a little nigher."
In the chamber above, where six weeks before Carrie had died, sat Margaret—not weeping; she could not do that—her grief was too great, and the fountain of her tears seemed scorched and dried; but, with white, compressed lips, and hands tightly clasped, she thought of the past and of the cheerless future. Occasionally through the doorway there came a small, dark figure; a pair of slender arms were thrown around her neck, and a voice murmured in her ear: "Poor, poor Maggie." The next moment the figure would be gone, and in the hall below Lenora would be heard singing snatches of some song, either to provoke her mother, or to make the astonished servants believe that she was really heartless and hardened.
What Walter suffered could not be expressed. Hour after hour, from the sun's rising till its going down, he sat by his father's coffin, unmindful of the many who came in to look at the dead, and then gazing pitifully upon the face of the living, walked away, whispering mysteriously of insanity. Near him Lenora dared not come, though through the open door she watched him, and oftentimes he met the glance of her wild, black eyes, fixed upon him with a mournful interest; then, as if moved by some spirit of evil, she would turn away, and seeking her mother's room, would mock at that lady's grief, advising her not to make too much of an effort.
At last there came a change. In the yard there was the sound of many feet, and in the house the hum of many voices, all low and subdued. Again in the village of Glenwood was heard the sound of the tolling bell; again through the garden and over the running water brook moved the long procession to the graveyard; and soon Ernest Hamilton lay quietly sleeping by the side of his wife and children.
For some time after the funeral nothing was said concerning the will, and Margaret had almost forgotten the existence of one, when one day as she was passing the library door her mother appeared, and asked her to enter. She did so, and found there her brother, whose face, besides the marks of recent sorrow which it wore, now seemed anxious and expectant.
"Maggie dear," said the oily-tongued woman, "I have sent for you to hear read your beloved father's last will and testament."
A deep flush mounted to Margaret's face, as she repeated somewhat inquiringly, "Father's last will and testament?"
"Yes, dear," answered her mother, "his last will and testament. He made it several weeks ago, even before poor Carrie died; and as Walter is now the eldest and only son, I think it quite proper that he should read it."
So saying, she passed toward Walter a sealed package, which he nervously opened, while Margaret, going to his side, looked over his shoulder, as he read.
It is impossible to describe the look of mingled surprise, anger, and mortification which Mrs. Hamilton's face assumed, as she heard the will which her husband had made four weeks before his death, and in which Walter shared equally with his sister. Her first impulse was to destroy it; and springing forward, she attempted to snatch it from Walter's hand, but was prevented by Margaret, who caught her arm and forcibly held her back.
Angrily confronting her stepdaughter, Mrs. Hamilton demanded, "What does this mean?" to which Mag replied:
"It means, madam, that for once you are foiled. You coaxed my father into making a will, the thought of which ought to make you blush. Carrie overheard you telling Lenora, and when she found that she must die she wrote it on a piece of paper, and consigned it to Willie's care!"
Several times Mrs. Hamilton essayed to speak, but the words died away in her throat, until at last, summoning all her boldness, she said, in a hoarse whisper, "But the homestead is mine—mine forever, and we'll see how delightful I can make your home!"
"I'll save you that trouble, madam," said Walter, rising and advancing toward the door. "Neither my sister nor myself will remain beneath the same roof which shelters you. To-morrow we leave, knowing well that vengeance belongeth to One higher than we."
All the remainder of that day Walter and Margaret spent in devising some plan for the future, deciding at last that Margaret should on the morrow go for a time to Mrs. Kirby's, while Walter returned to the city. The next morning, however, Walter did not appear in the breakfast parlor, and when Margaret, alarmed at his absence, repaired to his room, she found him unable to rise. The fever with which his father had died, and which, was still prevailing in the village, had fastened upon him, and for many days was his life despaired of. The ablest physicians were called, but few of them gave any hope to the pale, weeping sister, who, with untiring love, kept her vigils by her brother's bedside.
When he was first taken ill he had manifested great uneasiness at his stepmother's presence, and when at last he became delirious he no longer concealed his feelings, and if she entered the room he would shriek "Take her away from me! Take her away! Chain her in the cellar—anywhere out of my sight."
Again he would speak of Kate, and entreat that she might come to him. "I have nothing left but her and Margaret," he would say; "and why does she stay away?"
Three different times had Margaret sent to her young friend, urging her to come, and still she tarried, while Margaret marveled greatly at the delay. She did not know that the girl whom she had told to go had received different directions from Mrs. Hamilton, and that each day beneath her mother's roof Kate Kirby wept and prayed that Walter might not die.
One night he seemed to be dying, and gathered in the room were many sympathizing friends and neighbors. Without, 'twas pitchy dark. The rain fell in torrents and the wind, which had increased in violence since the setting of the sun, howled mournfully about the windows, as if waiting to bear the soul company in its upward flight. Many times had Walter attempted to speak. At last he succeeded, and the word which fell from his lips was "Kate!"
Lenora, who had that day accidentally learned of her mother's commands with regard to Miss Kirby, now glided noiselessly from the room, and in a moment was alone in the fearful storm, which she did not heed. Lightly bounding over the swollen brook, she ran on until the mill-pond cottage was reached. It was midnight, and its inmates were asleep, but they awoke at the sound of Lenora's voice.
"Walter is dying," said she to Kate, "and would see you once more. Come quickly."
Hastily dressing herself, Kate went forth with the strange girl, who spoke not a word until Walter's room was reached. Feebly the sick man wound his arms around Kate's neck, exclaiming, "My own, my beautiful Kate, I knew you would come. I am better now—I shall live!" and as if there was indeed something life-giving in her very presence and the sound of her voice, Walter from that hour grew better: and in three weeks' time he, together with Margaret, left his childhood's home, once so dear, but now darkened by the presence of her who watched their departure with joy, exulting in the thought that she was mistress of all she surveyed.
Walter, who was studying law in the city about twenty miles distant, resolved to return thither immediately, and after some consultation with his sister it was determined that both she and Kate should accompany him. Accordingly, a few mornings after they left the homestead, there was a quiet bridal at the mill-pond cottage; after which Walter Hamilton bore away to his city home his sister and his bride, the beautiful Kate.
"CARRYING OUT DEAR MR. HAMILTON'S PLANS."
One morning about ten days after the departure of Walter the good people of Glenwood were greatly surprised at the unusual confusion which seemed to pervade the homestead. The blinds were taken off, windows taken out, carpets taken up, and where so lately physicians, clergymen, and death had officiated, were now seen carpenters, masons, and other workmen. Many were the surmises as to the cause of all this; and one old lady, more curious than the rest, determined upon a friendly call, to ascertain, if possible, what was going on.
She found Mrs. Hamilton with her sleeves rolled up, and her hair tucked under a black cap, consulting with a carpenter about enlarging her bedroom and adding to it a bathing-room. Being received but coldly by the mistress of the house, she descended to the basement, where she was told by Aunt Polly that "the blinds were going to be repainted, an addition built, the house turned wrong-side out, and Cain raised generally."
"It's a burning shame," said Aunt Polly, warmed up by her subject and the hot oven into which she was thrusting loaves of bread and pies. "It's a burning shame—a tearin' down and a goin' on this way, and marster not cold in his grave. Miss Lenora, with all her badness, says it's disgraceful, but he might ha' know'd it. I did. I know'd it the fust time she came here a nussin'. I don't see what got into him to have her. Polly Pepper, without any larnin', never would ha' done such a thing," continued she, as the door closed upon her visitor, who was anxious to carry the gossip back to the village.
It was even as Aunt Polly had said. Mrs. Hamilton, who possessed a strong propensity for pulling down and building up, and who would have made an excellent carpenter, had long had an earnest desire for improving the homestead; and now that there was no one to prevent her, she went to work with a right good will, saying to Lenora, who remonstrated with her upon the impropriety of her conduct, that "she was merely carrying out dear Mr. Hamilton's plans," who had proposed making these changes before his death.
"Dear Mr. Hamilton!" repeated Lenora, "very dear has he become to you, all at once. I think if you had always manifested a little more affection for him and his, they might not have been where they now are."
"Seems to me you take a different text from what you did some months ago," said Mrs. Hamilton; "but perhaps you don't remember the time?"
"I remember it well," answered Lenora, "and quite likely, with your training, I should do the same again. We were poor, and I wished for a more elegant home. I fancied that Margaret Hamilton was proud and had slighted me, and I longed for revenge; but when I knew her I liked her better, and when I saw that she was not to be trampled down by you or me, my hatred of her turned to admiration. The silly man who has paid the penalty of his weakness, I always despised; but when I saw how fast the gray hairs thickened on his head; how careworn and bowed down he grew, I pitied him, for I knew that his heart was breaking. Willie I truly, unselfishly loved; and I am charitable enough to think that even you loved him, but it was through your neglect that he died, and for his death you will answer. Carrie was gentle and trusting, but weak, like her father. I do not think you killed her, for she was dying when we came here, but you put the crowning act of wickedness to your life when you compelled a man, shattered in body and intellect, to write a will which disinherited his only son; but on that point you are baffled. To be sure, you've got the homestead, and for decency's sake I think I'd wait a while longer ere I commenced tearing down and building up."
Lenora's words had no effect whatever upon her mother, who still kept on with her plans, treating with silent contempt the remarks of the neighbors, or wishing, perhaps, that they would attend to their own business, just as she was attending to hers! Day after day the work went on. Scaffoldings were raised—paper and plastering torn off—boards were seasoning in the sun—shingles lying upon the ground—ladders raised against the wall; and all this while the two new graves showed not a blade of grass, and the earth looked black and fresh as it did when first it was placed there.
When at last the blinds were hung, the house cleaned, and the carpets nailed down, Mrs. Hamilton, who had designed it all the time, called together the servants, whom she had disliked on account of their preference for Margaret, and told them to look for new places, as their services were no longer needed there.
"You can make out your bills," said she, at the same time intimating they hadn't one of them more than earned their board, if they had that! Polly Pepper wasn't of material to stand by and hear such language from one whom she considered beneath her.
"Hadn't she as good a right there as anybody? Yes, indeed, she had! Wasn't she there a full thirty year before any of your low-lived trash came round a nussin'?"
"Polly," interposed Mrs. Hamilton, "leave the room instantly, you ungrateful thing!"
"Ungrateful for what?" said Polly. "Haven't I worked and slaved like an old nigger, as I am? and now you call me ungrateful, and say I hain't arnt my bread. I'll sue you for slander;" and the enraged Polly left the room, muttering, "half arnt my board, indeed! I'll bet I've made a hundred thousan' pies, to say nothin' of the puddings, I not arn my board!"
When again safe in what for so many years had been her own peculiar province, she sat down to meditate. "I'd as good go without any fuss," thought she, "but my curse on the madam who sends me away!"
In the midst of her reverie, Lenora entered the kitchen, and to her the old lady detailed her grievances, ending with, "Pears like she don't know nothin' at all about etiquette, nor nothin' else."
"Etiquette!" repeated Lenora. "You are mistaken, Polly; mother would sit on a point of etiquette till she wore the back breadth of her dress out. But it isn't that which she lacks—it's decency. But, Polly," said she, changing the subject, "where do you intend to go and how?"
"To my brother Sam's," said Polly. "He lives three miles in the country, and I've sent Robin to the village for a horse and wagon to carry my things."
Here Mrs. Hamilton entered the kitchen, followed by a strapping Irish girl, nearly six feet in height. Her hair, flaming red, was twisted round a huge back comb; her faded calico dress came far above her ankles; her brawny arms were folded one over the other; and there was in her appearance something altogether disagreeable and defiant. Mrs. Hamilton introduced her as Ruth, her new cook, saying she hoped she would know enough to keep her place better than her predecessor had done.
Aunt Polly surveyed her rival from head to foot, and then glancing aside to Lenora, muttered, "Low-lived, depend on't."
Robin now drove up with the wagon, and Mrs. Hamilton and Lenora left the room, while Polly went to prepare herself for her ride. Her sleeping apartment was in the basement and communicated with the kitchen. This was observed by the new cook, who had a strong dislike of negroes, and who feared that she might be expected to occupy the same bed.
"An' faith," said she, "is it where the like of ya have burrowed that I am to turn in?"
"I don't understand no such low-flung stuff," answered Polly, "but if you mean you are to have this bedroom, I suppose you are."
Here Polly had occasion to go up-stairs for something, and on her return she found that Ruth, during her absence, had set fire to a large linen rag, which she held on a shovel and was carrying about the bedroom, as if to purify it from every atom of negro atmosphere which might remain. Polly was quick-witted, and instantly comprehending the truth, she struck the shovel from the hands of Ruth, exclaiming, "You spalpeen, is it because my skin ain't a dingy yaller and all freckled like yourn? Lord, look at your carrot-topped cocoanut, and then tell me if wool ain't a heap the most genteel."
In a moment a portion of the boasted wool was lying on the floor, or being shaken from the thick, red fingers of the cook, while Irish blood was flowing freely from the nose which Polly, in her vengeful wrath, had wrung. Further hostilities were prevented by Robin, who screamed that he couldn't wait any longer, and shaking her fist fiercely at the red-head, Polly departed.
That day Lucy and Rachel also left, and their places were supplied by two raw hands, one of whom, before the close of the second day, tumbled up-stairs with the large soup tureen, breaking it in fragments and scalding the foot of Mrs. Hamilton, who was in the rear, and who, having waited an hour for dinner, had descended to the kitchen to know why it was not forthcoming, saying that Polly had never been so behind the time.
The other one, on being asked if she understood chamber work, had replied, "Indade, and it's been my business all my life." She was accordingly sent to make the beds and empty the slop. Thinking it an easy way to dispose of the latter, she had thrown it from the window, deluging the head and shoulders of her mistress who was bending down to examine a rose bush which had been recently set out. Lenora was in ecstasies, and when at noon her mother received a sprinkling of red hot soup, she gravely asked her "which she relished most, cold or warm baths!"
Two years have passed away, and again we open the scene at the homestead, which had not proved an altogether pleasant home to Mrs. Hamilton. There was around her everything to make her happy, but she was far from being so. One by one her servants, with whom she was very unpopular, had left her, until there now remained but one. The villagers, too, shunned her, and she was wholly dependent for society upon Lenora, who, as usual, provoked and tormented her.
One day Hester, the servant, came up from the basement, saying there was a poor old man below, who asked for money.
"Send him away; I've nothing for him," said Mrs. Hamilton, whose avaricious hand, larger far than her heart, grasped at and retained everything.
"But, if you please, ma'am, he seems very poor," said Hester.
"Let him go to work, then. 'Twon't hurt him more than 'twill me," was the reply.
Lenora, whose eyes and ears were always open, no sooner heard that there was a beggar in the kitchen than she ran down to see him. He was a miserable-looking object, and still there was something in his appearance which denoted him to be above the common order of beggars. His eyes were large and intensely black, and his hair, short, thick, and curly, reminded Lenora of her own. The moment she appeared a peculiar expression passed for a moment over his face, and he half started up; then resuming his seat he fixed his glittering eyes upon the young lady, and seemed watching her closely.
At last she began questioning him, but his answers were so unsatisfactory that she gave it up, and, thinking it the easiest way to be rid of him, she took from her pocket a shilling and handed it to him, saying, "It's all I can give you, unless it is a dinner. Are you hungry?"
Hester, who had returned to the kitchen, was busy in a distant part of the room, and she did not notice the paleness which overspread Lenora's face at the words which the beggar uttered when, she presented the money to him. She caught, however, the low murmur of their voices, as they spoke together for a moment, and as Lenora accompanied him to the door, she distinctly heard the words, "In the garden."
"And maybe that's some of your kin; you look like him," said she to Lenora, after the stranger was gone.
"That's my business, not yours," answered Lenora, as she left the kitchen and repaired to her mother's room.
"Lenora, what ails you?" said Mrs. Hamilton to her daughter at the tea-table that night, when, after putting salt in one cup of tea, and upsetting a second, she commenced spreading her biscuit with cheese instead of butter. "What ails you? What are you thinking about? You don't seem to know any more what you are doing than the dead."
Lenora made no direct reply to this, but soon after she said, "Mother, how long has father been dead—my own father I mean?"
"Two or three years, I don't exactly know which," returned her mother, and Lenora continued:
"How did he look? I hardly remember him."
"You have asked me that fifty times," answered her mother, "and fifty times I have told you that he looked like you, only worse, if possible."
"Let me see, where did you say he died?" said Lenora.
"In New Orleans, with yellow fever, or black measles, or smallpox, or something," Mrs. Hamilton replied, "but mercy's sake! can't you choose a better subject to talk about? What made you think of him? He's been haunting me all day, and I feel kind of nervous and want to look over my shoulder whenever I am alone."
Lenora made no further remark until after tea, when she announced her intention of going to the village.
"Come back early, for I don't feel like staying alone," said her mother.
The sun had set when Lenora left the village, and by the time she reached home it was wholly dark. As she entered the garden the outline of a figure; sitting on a bench at its further extremity, made her stop for a moment, but thinking to herself, "I expected it, and why should I be afraid?" she walked on fearlessly, until the person, roused by the sound of her footsteps, started up, and turning toward her, said half-aloud:
"Lenora, is it you?"
Quickly she sprang forward, and soon one hand of the beggar was clasped in hers, while the other rested upon her head, as he said, "Lenora, my child, my daughter, you do not hate me?"
"Hate you, father?" she answered, "never, never."
"But," he continued, "has not she—my—no, not my wife—thank Heaven not my wife now—but your mother, has not she taught you to despise and hate me?"
"No," answered Lenora bitterly. "She has taught me enough of evil, but my memories of you were too sweet, too pleasant, for me to despise you, though I do not think you always did right, more than mother."
The stranger groaned, and murmured: "It's true, all true;" while Lenora continued:
"But where have you been all these years, and how came we to hear of your death?"
"I have been in St. Louis most of the time, and the report of my death resulted from the fact that a man bearing my name, and who was also from Connecticut, died of yellow fever in New Orleans about two years and a half ago. A friend of mine, observing a notice of his death, and supposing it to refer to me, forwarded the paper to your mother, who, though then free from me, undoubtedly felt glad, for she never loved me, but married me because she thought I had money."
"But how have you lived?" asked Lenora.
"Lived!" he repeated, "I have not lived. I have merely existed. Gambling and drinking, drinking and gambling, have been the business of my life, and have reduced me to the miserable wretch whom you see."
"Oh, father, father," cried Lenora, "reform. It is not too late, and you can yet be saved. Do it for my sake, for, in spite of all your faults, I love you, and you are my father."
The first words of affection which had greeted his ear for many long years made the wretched man weep, as he answered: "Lenora, I have sworn to reform, and I will keep my vow. During one of my drunken revels, in St. Louis, a dream of home came over me, and when I became sober I started for Connecticut. There I heard where and what your mother was. I had no wish ever to meet her again, for though I greatly erred in my conduct toward her, I think she was always the most to blame. You I remembered with love, and I longed to see you once more, to hear again the word 'father,' and know that I was not forgotten. I came as far as the city, and there fell into temptation. For the last two months I have been there, gambling and drinking, until I lost all, even the clothes which I wore, and was compelled to assume these rags. I am now without home or money, and have no place to lay my head."
"I can give you money," said Lenora. "Meet me here to-morrow night, and you shall have all you want. But what do you purpose doing? Where will you stay?"
"In the village, for the sake of being near you," said he, at the same time bidding his daughter return to the house, as the night air was damp and chilly.
Within a week from that time a middle-aged man, calling himself John Robinson, appeared in the village, hiring himself out as a porter at one of the hotels. There was a very striking resemblance between him and Lenora Carter, which was noticed by the villagers, and mentioned to Mrs. Hamilton, who, however, could never obtain a full view of the stranger's face, for without any apparent design, he always avoided meeting her. He had not been long in town before it was whispered about that between him and Lenora Carter a strange intimacy existed, and rumors soon reached Mrs. Hamilton that her daughter was in the habit of frequently stealing out after sunset, to meet the old porter, and that once, when watched, she had been seen to put her arms around his neck. Highly indignant, Mrs. Hamilton questioned Lenora on the subject, and was astonished beyond measure when she replied:
"It is all true. I have met Mr. Robinson often, and I have put my arms around his neck, and shall probably do it again."
"Oh my child, my child," groaned Mrs. Hamilton, really distressed at her daughter's conduct. "How can you do so? You will bring my gray hairs with sorrow to the grave."
"Not if you pull out as many of them as you now do, and use Twiggs Preparation besides," said Lenora.
Mrs. Hamilton did not answer, but covering her face with her hands wept, really wept, thinking for the first time, perhaps, that as she had sowed so was she reaping. For some time past her health had been failing, and as the summer days grew warmer and more oppressive she felt a degree of lassitude and physical weakness which she had never before experienced; and one day unable longer to sit up, she took her bed, where she lay for many days.
Now that her mother was really sick, Lenora seemed suddenly changed, and with unwearied care watched over her as kindly and faithfully as if no words save those of affection had ever passed between them. Warmer and more sultry grew the days, and more fiercely raged the fever in Mrs. Hamilton's veins, until at last the crisis was reached and passed, and she was in a fair way for recovery, when she was attacked by chills, which again reduced her to a state of helplessness. One day, about this time, a ragged little boy, whose business seemed to be lounging around the hotel, brought to Lenora a soiled and crumpled note, on which was traced with an unsteady hand, "Dear Lenora, I am sick, all alone in the little attic; come to me, quick; come!"
Lenora was in a state of great perplexity. Her mother, when awake, needed all her care; and as she seldom slept during the day there seemed but little chance of getting away. The night before, however, she had been unusually restless and wakeful, and about noon she seemed drowsy, and finally fell into a deep sleep.
"Now is my time," thought Lenora; and calling Hester, she bade her watch by her mother until she returned, saying, "If she wakes tell her I have gone to the village, and will soon be back."
Hester promised compliance, and was for a time faithful to her trust; but suddenly recollecting something which she wished to tell the girl who lived at the next neighbor's she stole away, leaving her mistress alone. For five minutes Mrs. Hamilton slept on, and then with a start awoke from a troubled dream, in which she had seemed dying of thirst, while little Willie, standing by a hogshead of water, refused her a drop. A part of her dream was true, for she was suffering from the most intolerable thirst, and called loudly for Lenora; but Lenora was not there. Hester next was called, but she, too, was gone. Then, seizing the bell which stood upon the table, she rang it with all her force, and still there came no one to her relief.
Again Willie stood by her, offering her a goblet overflowing with water; but when she attempted to take it, Willie changed into Lenora, who laughed mockingly at her distress, telling her there was water in the well and ice on the curbstone. Once more the phantom faded away, and the old porter was there, wading through a limpid stream and offering her to drink a cup of molten lead.
"Merciful Heaven!" shrieked the sick woman, as she writhed from side to side on her bed, which seemed changed to burning coals; "will no one bring me water, water, water!"
An interval of calmness succeeded, during which she revolved in her mind the possibility of going herself to the kitchen, where she knew the water-pail was standing. No sooner had she decided upon this than the room appeared full of little demons, who laughed, and chattered, and shouted in her ears:
"Go—do it! Willie did, when the night was dark and chilly; but now it is warm—nice and warm—try it, do!"
Tremblingly Mrs. Hamilton stepped upon the floor, and finding herself too weak to walk, crouched down, and crept slowly down the stairs to the kitchen door, where she stopped to rest. Across the room by the window stood the pail, and as her eye fell upon it the mirth of the little winged demons appeared in her disordered fancy to increase; and when the spot was reached, the tumbler seized and thrust into the pail, they darted hither and thither, shouting gleefully:
"Lower, lower down; just as Willie did. You'll find it, oh, you'll find it!"
With a bitter cry Mrs. Hamilton dashed the tumbler upon the floor, for the bucket was empty!
"Willie, Willie, you are avenged," she said; but the goblins answered:
"Not yet; no, not yet."
There was no pump in the well, and Mrs. Hamilton knew she had not strength to raise the bucket by means of the windlass. Her exertions had increased her thirst tenfold, and now for one cup of cooling water she would have given all her possessions. Across the yard, at the distance of twenty rods, there was a gushing spring, and thither in her despair she determined to go. Accordingly, she went forth into the fierce noontide blaze, and with almost superhuman efforts crawled to the place. But what! was it a film upon her eyes? Had blindness come upon her, or was the spring really dried up by the fervid summer heat?
"Willie's avenged! Willie's avenged!" yelled the imps as the wretched woman fainted and fell backward upon the bank, where she lay with her white, thin face upturned, and blistering beneath the August sun!
Along the dusty highway came a handsome traveling carriage, in which, besides the driver, were seated two individuals, the one a young and elegantly-dressed lady, and the other a gentleman, who appealed to be on the most intimate terms with his companion; for whenever he would direct her attention to any passing object, he laid his hand on hers, frequently retaining it, and calling her "Maggie."
The carriage was nearly opposite the homestead, when the lady exclaimed, "Oh, Richard, I must stop at my old home once more. Only see how beautiful it is looking!"
In a moment the carriage was standing before the gate, and the gentleman, who was Margaret Hamilton's husband—a Mr. Elwyn, from the city—assisted his young wife to alight, and then followed her to the house. No answer was given to their loud ring, and as the doors and windows were all open, Margaret proposed that they should enter. They did so; and, going first into Mrs. Hamilton's sick-room, the sight of the little table full of vials, and the tumbled, empty bed, excited their wonder and curiosity, and induced them to go on. At last, descending to the kitchen, they saw the fragments of the tumbler lying upon the floor.
"Strange, isn't it?" said Margaret to her husband, who was standing in the outer door, and who had at that moment discovered Mrs. Hamilton lying near the spring.
Instantly they were at her side, and Margaret involuntarily shuddered as she recognized her stepmother, and guessed why she was there. Taking her in his arms, Mr. Elwyn bore her back to the house, and Margaret, filling a pitcher with water, bathed her face, moistened her lips, and applied other restoratives, until she revived enough to say:
"More water, Willie. Give me more water!"
Eagerly she drained the goblet which Margaret held to her lips, and was about drinking the second, when her eyes for the first time sought Margaret's face. With a cry between a groan and a scream she lay back upon her pillows, saying, "Margaret Hamilton, how came you here? What have you to do with me, and why do you give me water? Didn't I refuse it to Willie, when he begged so earnestly for it in the nighttime? But I've been paid—a thousand times paid—left by my own child to die alone!"
Margaret was about asking for Lenora, when the young lady herself appeared. She seemed for a moment greatly surprised at the sight of Margaret, and then bounding to her side, greeted her with much affection; while Mrs. Hamilton jealously looked on, muttering to herself. "Loves everybody better than she does me, her own mother, who has done so much for her."
Lenora made no reply to this, although she manifested much concern when Margaret told her in what state they had found her mother.
"I went for a few moments to visit a sick friend," said she, "but told Hester to stay with mother until I returned; and I wonder much that she should leave her."
"Lenora," said Mrs. Hamilton, "Lenora, was that sick friend the old porter?"
Lenora answered in the affirmative; and then her mother, turning to Margaret, said:
"You don't know what a pest and torment this child has always been to me, and now when I am dying she deserts me for a low-lived fellow, old enough to be her father."
Lenora's eyes flashed scornfully upon her mother, but she made no answer, and as Mr. Elwyn was in haste to proceed on his journey, Margaret arose to go. Lenora urged them to remain longer, but they declined; and as she accompanied them to the door, Margaret said:
"Lenora, if your mother should die, and it would afford you any satisfaction to have me come, I will do so, for I suppose you have no near friends."
Lenora hesitated a moment, and then whispering to Margaret of the relationship existing between herself and the old porter, she said, "He is sick and poor, but he is my own father, and I love him dearly."
The tears came to Margaret's eyes, for she thought of her own father, called home while his brown hair was scarcely touched with the frosts of time. Wistfully Lenora watched the carriage as it disappeared from sight, and then half-reluctantly entered the sick-room, where, for the remainder of the afternoon, she endured her mother's reproaches for having left her alone, and where once, when her patience was wholly exhausted, she said:
"It served you right, for now you know how little Willie felt."
The next day Mrs. Hamilton was much worse, and Lenora, who had watched and who understood her symptoms, felt confident that she would die, and loudly her conscience upbraided her for her undutiful conduct. She longed, too, to tell her that her father was still living, and one evening when for an hour or two her mother seemed better, she arose, and bending over her pillow, said, "Mother, did it ever occur to you that father might not be dead?"
"Not be dead, Lenora! What do you mean?" asked Mrs. Hamilton, starting up from her pillow.
Cautiously then Lenora commenced her story by referring her mother back to the old beggar, who some months before had been in the kitchen. Then she spoke of the old porter, and the resemblance which was said to exist between him and herself; and finally, as she saw her mother could bear it, she told the whole story of her father's life. Slowly the sick woman's eyes closed, and Lenora saw that her eyelids were wet with, tears, but as she made no reply, Lenora ere long whispered, "Would you like to see him, mother?"
"No, no; not now," was the answer.
For a time there was silence, and then Lenora, again speaking, said, "Mother, I have often been very wicked and disrespectful to you, and if you should die, I should feel much happier knowing that you forgave me. Will you do it, mother—say?"
Mrs. Hamilton comprehended only the words, "if you should die," so she said: "Die, die! who says that I must die? I shan't—I can't; for what could I tell her about her children, and how could I live endless ages without water? I tried it once, and I can't do it. No, I can't. I won't!"
In this way she talked all night; and though in the morning she was more rational, she turned away from the clergyman, who at Lenora's request had been sent for, saying:
"It's of no use, no use, I know all you would say, but it's too late, too late!"
Thus she continued for three days, and at the close of the third it became evident to all that she was dying, and Hester was immediately sent to the hotel, with a request that the old porter would come quickly. Half an hour after Lenora bent over her mother's pillow, and whispered in her ear, "Mother, can you hear me?"
A pressure of the hand was the reply, and Lenora continued: "You have not said that you forgave me, and now before you die, will you not tell me so?"
There was another pressure of the hand, and Lenora again spoke: "Mother, would you like to see him—my father? He is in the next room."
This roused the dying woman, and starting up, she exclaimed, "See John Carter! No, child, no! He'd only curse me. Let him wait until I am dead, and then I shall not hear it."
In ten minutes more Lenora was sadly gazing upon the fixed, stony features of the dead. A gray-haired man was at her side, and his lip quivered, as he placed his hand upon the white, wrinkled brow of her who had once been his wife. "She is fearfully changed," were his only words, as he turned away from the bed of death.
True to her promise, Margaret came to attend her stepmother's funeral. Walter accompanied her, and shuddered as he looked on the face of one who had so darkened his home, and embittered his life. Kate was not there, and when, after the burial, Lenora asked Margaret for her, she was told of a little "Carrie Lenora," who with pardonable pride "Walter thought was the only baby of any consequence in the world. Margaret was going on with a glowing description of the babe's many beauties, when she was interrupted by Lenora, who laid her face in her lap and burst into tears.
"Why, Lenora, what is the matter?" asked Margaret.
As soon as Lenora became calm, she answered, "That name, Maggie. You have given my name to Walter Hamilton's child, and if you had hated me you would never have done it."
"Hated you!" repeated Margaret; "we do not hate you; now that we understand you, we like you very much, and one of Kate's last injunctions to Walter was that he should again offer you a home with him."
Once more Lenora was weeping. She had not shed a tear when they carried from sight her mother, but words of kindness touched her heart, and the fountain was opened. At last, drying her eyes, she said, "I prefer to go with father. Walter will, of course, come back to the homestead, while father and I shall return to our old home in Connecticut, where, by being kind to him, I hope to atone, in a measure, for my great unkindness to mother."
Through the open casement of a small, white cottage in the village of P——, the rays of the September moon are stealing, disclosing to view a gray-haired man, whose placid face still shows marks of long years of dissipation. Affectionately he caresses the black, curly head which is resting on his knee, and softly he says, "Lenora, my daughter, there are, I trust, years of happiness in store for us both."
"I hope it may be so," was the answer, "but there is no promise of many days to any save those who honor their father and mother. This last I have never done, though many, many times have I repented of it, and I begin to be assured that we may be happy yet."
* * * * *
Away to the westward, over many miles of woodland, valley, and hill, the same September moon shines upon the white walls of the "homestead," where sits the owner, Walter Hamilton, gazing first upon his wife and then upon the tiny treasure which lies sleeping upon her lap.
"We are very happy, Katy darling," he says, and the affection which looks from her large blue eyes as she lifts them to his face is a sufficient answer. Margaret, too, is there, and though but an hour ago her tears were falling upon the grass-grown graves where slept her father and mother, the gentle Carrie, and golden-haired Willie, they are all gone now, and she responds to her brother's words, "Yes, Walter, we are very happy."
* * * * *
In the basement below the candle is burned to its socket, and as the last ray flickers up, illuminating for a moment the room, and then leaving it in darkness, Aunt Polly Pepper starts from her evening nap, and as if continuing her dream mutters "Yes this is pleasant and something like living."
* * * * *
And so with the moonlight and starlight falling upon the old homestead, and the sunlight of love falling upon the hearts of its inmates, we bid them adieu.
Yes, Rice Corner! Do you think it a queer name? Well, Rice Corner was a queer place, and deserved a queer name. Now whether it is celebrated for anything in particular, I really can't at this moment think, unless, indeed, it is famed for having been my birthplace! Whether this of itself is sufficient to immortalize a place future generations may, perhaps, tell, but I have some misgivings whether the present will. This idea may be the result of my having recently received sundry knocks over the knuckles in the shape of criticisms.
But I know one thing—on the bark of that old chestnut tree which stands near Rice Corner schoolhouse, my name is cut higher than some of my more bulky contemporary quill—or rather steel—pen-wielders ever dared to climb. To be sure, I tore my dress, scratched my face, and committed numerous other little rompish miss-demeanors, which procured for me a motherly scolding. That, however, was of minor consideration when compared with having my name up—in the chestnut tree, at least, if it couldn't be up in the world. But pardon my egotism, and I will proceed with my story about Rice Corner.
Does any one wish to know whereabout on this rolling sphere Rice Corner is situated? I don't believe you can find it on the map, unless your eyes are bluer and bigger than mine, which last they can't very well be. But I can tell you to a dot where Rice Corner should be. Just take your atlas—not the last one published, but Olney's, that's the one I studied—and right in one of those little towns in Worcester County is Rice Corner snugly nestled among the gray rocks and blue hills of New England.
Yes, Rice Corner was a great place, and so you would have thought could you have seen it in all its phases, with its brown, red, green, yellow, and white houses, each of which had the usual quantity of rose-bushes, lilacs, hollyhocks, and sunflowers. You should have seen my home, my New England home, where once, not many years ago, a happy group of children played. Alas! alas! some of those who gave the sunlight to that spot have left us now forever, and on the bright shores of the eternal river they wait and watch our coming. I do not expect a stranger to love our old homestead as I loved it, for in each heart is a fresh, green spot—the memory of its own early home—where the sunshine was brighter, the well waters cooler, and the song-bird's carol sweeter than elsewhere they are found.
I trust I shall be forgiven if in this chapter I pause awhile to speak of my home—aye, and of myself, too, when, a light-hearted child, I bounded through the meadows and orchards which lay around the old brown house on my father's farm. 'Twas a large, square, two-storied building, that old brown farmhouse, containing rooms, cupboards, and closets innumerable, and what was better than all, a large airy garret, where on all rainy days and days when it looked as if it would rain, Bill, Joe, Lizzie, and I assembled to hold our noisy revels. Never, since the days of our great-grandmothers, did little spinning wheel buzz round faster than did the one which, in the darkest corner of that garret, had been safely stowed away, where they guessed "the young ones wouldn't find it."
"Wouldn't find it!" I should like to know what there was in that old garret that we didn't find, and appropriate, too! Even the old oaken chest which contained our grandmother's once fashionable attire was not sacred from the touch of our lawless hands. Into its deep recesses we plunged, and brought out such curiosities—the queerest-looking, high-crowned, broad-frilled caps, narrow-gored skirts, and what was funnier than all, a strange-looking thing which we thought must be a side saddle—anyway, it fitted Joe's rocking horse admirably, although we wondered why so much whalebone was necessary!
One day, in the midst of our gambols, in walked the identical owner of the chest, and seeing the side-saddle, she said somewhat angrily, "Why, children, where upon airth did you find my old stays?" We never wondered again what made grandma's back keep its place so much better than ours, and Bill had serious thoughts of trying the effect of the stays upon himself.
In the rear of our house, and sloping toward the setting sun, was a long, winding lane, leading far down into a widespreading tract of flowery woods, shady hillside, and grassy pasture land, each in their turn highly suggestive of brown nuts, delicious strawberries, and venomous snakes. These last were generally more the creatures of imagination than of reality, for in all my wanderings over those fields, and they were many, I never but once trod upon a green snake, and only once was I chased by a white-ringed blacksnake; so I think I am safe in saying that the snakes were not so numerous as were the nuts and berries, which grew there in great profusion.
A little to the right of the woods, where, in winter, Bill, Joe, Lizzie, and I dragged our sleds and boards for the purpose of riding down-hill, was a merry, frolicking stream of water, over which, in times long gone, a sawmill had been erected; but owing to the inefficiency of its former owner, or something else, the mill had fallen into disuse, and gradually gone to decay. The water of the brook, relieved from the necessity of turning the spluttering wheel, now went gayly dancing down, down, into the depths of the dim old woods, and far away, I never knew exactly where; but having heard rumors of a jumping-off place, I had a vague impression that at that spot the waters of the mill-dam put up!
Near the sawmill, and partially hidden by the scraggy pine trees and thick bushes which drooped over its entrance, was a long, dark passage, leading underground, not so large, probably, as Mammoth Cave, but in my estimation rivaling it in interest. This was an old mine, where, years before, men had dug for gold. Strange stories were told of those who, with blazing torches, and blazing noses, most likely, there toiled for the yellow dust. The "Ancient Henry" himself, it was said, sometimes left his affairs at home, and joined the nightly revels in that mine, where cards and wine played a conspicuous part. Be that as it may, the old mine was surrounded by a halo of fear which we youngsters never cared to penetrate.