HotFreeBooks.com
Homestead on the Hillside
by Mary Jane Holmes
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

On a fine afternoon an older sister would occasionally wander that way, together with a young M.D., whose principal patient seemed to be at our house, for his little black pony very frequently found shelter in our stable by the side of "old sorrel." From the north garret window I would watch them, wondering how they dared venture so near the old mine, and wishing, mayhap, that the time would come when I, with some daring doctor, would risk everything. The time has come, but alas! instead of being a doctor, he is only a lawyer, who never even saw the old mine in Rice Corner.

Though I never ventured close to the old mine, there was not far from it one pleasant spot where I loved dearly to go. It was on the hillside, where, 'neath the shadow of a gracefully twining grapevine, lay a large, flat rock. Thither would I often repair, and sit for hours, listening to the hum of the running water brook, or the song of the summer birds, who, like me, seemed to love that place. Often would I gaze far off at the distant, misty horizon, wondering if I should ever know what was beyond it. Wild fancies then filled my childish brain. Strange voices whispered to me thoughts and ideas which, if written down and carried out, would, I am sure, have placed my name higher than it was carved on the old chestnut tree.

"But they came and went like shadows, Those blessed dreams of youth,"

I was a strange child, I know. Everybody told me so, and I knew it well enough without being told. The wise old men at Rice Corner, and their still wiser old wives, looked at me askance, as 'neath the thorn-apple tree I built my playhouse and baked my little loaves of mud bread. But when, forgetful of others, I talked aloud to myriads of little folks, unseen 'tis true, but still real to me, they shook their gray heads ominously, and whispering to my mother said, "Mark our words, that girl will one day be crazy. In ten years more she will be an inmate of the madhouse!"

And then I wondered what a madhouse was, and if the people there all acted as our school-teacher did when Bill and the big girl said he was mad! The ten years have passed, and I'm not in a madhouse yet, unless, indeed, it is one of my own getting up!

One thing more about Rice Corner, and then, honor bright, I'll finish the preface and go on with the story. I must tell you about the old schoolhouse, and the road which led to it. This last wound around a long hill, and was skirted on either side with tall trees, flowering dogwood, blackberry bushes, and frost grapevines. Half-way down the hill, and under one of the tallest walnut trees, was a little hollow, where dwelt the goblin with which nurses, housemaids, hired men, and older sisters were wont to frighten refractory children into quietness. It was the grave of an old negro. Alas! that to his last resting-place the curse should follow him! Had it been a white person who rested there, not half so fearful would have been the spot; now, however, it was "the old nigger hole"—a place to run by if by accident you were caught out after dark—a place to be threatened with if you cried in the night and wanted the candle lighted—a landmark where to stop when going part way home with the little girl who had been to visit you, and who, on leaving you, ran no less swiftly than you yourself did, half-fearing that the dusky form in the holly would rise and try his skill at running. Verily, my heart has beat faster at the thoughts of that dead negro than it ever has since at the sight of a hundred live specimens, "'way down south on the old plantation."

The old schoolhouse, too, had its advantages and its disadvantages; of the latter, one was that there, both summer and winter, but more especially during the last-mentioned season, all the rude boys in the place thought they had a perfect right to congregate and annoy the girls in every possible way. But never mind, not a few wry faces we made at them, and not a few "blockheads" we pinned to their backs! Oh! I've had rare times in that old house and have seen rare sights, too, to say nothing of the fights which occasionally occurred. In these last brother Joe generally took the lead of one party, while Jim Brown commanded the other. Dire was the confusion which reigned at such times. Books were hurled from side to side. Then followed in quick succession shovel, tongs, poker, water cup, water pail, water and all; and to cap the climax, Jim Brown once seized the large iron pan, which stood upon the stove, half-filled with hot water, and hurled it in the midst of the enemy. Luckily nobody was killed, and but few wounded.

Years in their rapid flight have rolled away since then, and he, my brother, is sleeping alone on the wild shore of California.

"For scarcely had the sad tones died Which echoed the farewell, When o'er the western prairies There came a funeral knell; It said that he who went from us, While yet upon his brow The dew of youth was glistening, Had passed to heaven now."

James Brown, too, is resting in the churchyard, near his own home, and 'neath his own native sky.



CHAPTER II.

THE BELLE OF RICE CORNER.

Yes, Rice Corner had a belle, but it was not I. Oh, no, nobody ever mistook me for a belle, or much of anything else, in fact; I was simply "Mary Jane," or, if that was not concise enough, "Crazy Jane" set the matter all right. The belle of which I speak was a bona fide one—fine complexion, handsome features, beautiful eyes, curling hair, and all. And yet in her composition there was something wanting, something very essential, too; for she lacked soul, and would at any time have sold her best friend for a flattering compliment.

Still Carrie Howard was generally a favorite. The old people liked her because her sparkling eye and merry laugh brought back to them a gleam of youth; the young people liked her, because to dislike her would seem like envy; and I, who was nothing, liked her because she was pretty, and I greatly admired beauty, though I am not certain that I should not have liked a handsome rosebud quite as well as I did Carrie Howard's beautiful face, for beautiful she was.

Her mother, good, plain Mrs. Howard, was entirely unlike her daughter. She was simply "Mrs. Captain Howard," or, in other words, "Aunt Eunice," whose benevolent smile and kindly beaming eye carried contentment wherever she went. Really, I don't know how Rice Corner could have existed one day without the presence of Aunt Eunice. Was there a cut foot or hand in the neighborhood, hers was the salve which healed it, almost as soon as applied. Was there a pale, fretful baby, Aunt Eunice's large bundle of catnip was sure to soothe it, and did a sick person need watchers, Aunt Eunice was the one who, three nights out of the seven, trod softly and quietly about the sick-room, anticipating each want before you yourself knew what it was, and smoothing your tumbled pillow so gently that you almost felt it a luxury to be sick, for the sake of being nursed by Aunt Eunice. The very dogs and cats winked more composedly when she appeared; and even the chickens learned her voice almost as soon as they did the cluck of their "maternal ancestor."

But we must stop, or we shall make Aunt Eunice out to be the belle, instead of Carrie, who, instead of imitating her mother in her acts of kindness, sat all day in the large old parlor, thumping away on a rickety piano, or trying to transfer to broadcloth a poor little kitty, whose face was sufficiently indicative of surprise at finding its limbs so frightfully distorted.

When Carrie was fifteen years of age her father, concluding that she knew all which could possibly be learned in the little brown house where Joe and Jim once fought so fiercely, sent her for three years to Albany. It was currently reported that the uncle with whom she boarded received his pay in butter, cheese, potatoes, apples, and other commodities, which were the product of Captain Howard's farm. Whether this was true or not I am not prepared to say, but I suppose it was, for it was told by those who had no ostensible business except to attend to other people's affairs, and I am sure they ought to have known all about it, and probably did.

I cannot help thinking that Captain Howard made a mistake in sending Carrie away; for when at the end of three years she had "finished her education," and returned home, she was not half so good a scholar as some of those who had pored patiently over their books in the old brown house. Even I could beat her in spelling, for soon after she came home the boys teased for a spelling school. I rather think they were quite as anxious for a chance to go home with the girls as they were to have their knowledge of Webster tested. Be that as it may, Carrie was there, and was, of course, chosen first; but I, "little crazy Jane," spelled the the whole school down! I thought Carrie was not quite so handsome as she might be, when with an angry frown she dropped into her seat, hissed by a big, cross-eyed, red-haired boy, in the corner, because she happened to spell pumpkin, "p-u-n pun k-i-n kin, punkin." I do not think she ever quite forgave me for the pert, loud way in which I spelled the word correctly, for she never gave any more calicos or silks, and instead of calling me "Mollie," as she had before done, she now addressed me as "Miss Mary."

Carrie possessed one accomplishment which the other girls did not. She could play the piano most skilfully, although as yet she had no instrument. Three weeks, however, after her return a rich man, who lived in the village which was known as "Over the River," failed, and all his furniture was sold at auction. Many were the surmises of my grandmother, on the morning of the sale, as to what "Cap'n Howard could be going to buy at the vandue and put in the big lumber wagon," which he drove past our house.

As the day drew to a close I was posted at the window to telegraph as soon as "Cap'n Howard's" white horses appeared over the hill. They came at last, but the long box in his wagon told no secret. Father, however, explained all, by saying that he had bid off Mr. Talbott's old piano for seventy dollars! Grandma shook her head mournfully at the degeneracy of the age, while sister Anna spoke sneeringly of Mr. Talbott's cracked piano. Next day, arrayed in my Sunday red merino and white apron—a present from some cousin out West—I went to see Carrie; and truly, the music she drew from that old piano charmed me more than the finest performances since have done. Carrie and her piano were now the theme of every tongue, and many wondered how Captain Howard could afford to pay for three years' music lessons; but this was a mystery yet to be solved.



CHAPTER III.

MONSIEUR PENOYER.

When Carrie had been at home about three months all Rice Corner one day flew to the doors and windows to look at a stranger, a gentleman with fierce mustaches, who seemed not at all certain of his latitude, and evidently wanted to know where he was going. At least, if he didn't, they who watched him did.

Grandma, whose longevity had not impaired her guessing faculties, first suggested that "most likely it was Caroline Howard's beau." This was altogether too probable to be doubted, and as grandmother had long contemplated a visit to Aunt Eunice, she now determined to go that very afternoon, as she "could judge for herself what kind of a match Car'line had made." Mother tried to dissuade her from going that day, but the old lady was incorrigible, and directly after dinner, dressed in her bombazine, black silk apron, work bag, knitting and all she departed for Captain Howard's.

They wouldn't confess it, but I knew well enough that Juliet and Anna were impatient for her return, and when the shadows of twilight began to fall I was twice sent into the road to see if she was coming. The last time I was successful, and in a few moments grandmother was among us; but whatever she knew she kept to herself until the lamps were lighted in the sitting-room, and she, in her stuffed rocking-chair, was toeing off the stocking only that morning commenced. Then, at a hint from Anna, she cast toward Lizzie and me a rueful glance, saying: "There are too many pitchers here!" I knew then just as well as I did five minutes after that Lizzie and I must go to bed. There was no help for it, and we complied with a tolerably good grace. Lizzie proposed that we should listen, but somehow I couldn't do that, and up to this time I don't exactly know what grandmother told them.

The next day, however, I heard enough to know that his name was Penoyer; that grandma didn't like him; that he had as much hair on his face as on his head; that Aunt Eunice would oppose the match, and that he would stay over Sunday. With this last I was delighted, for I should see him at church. I saw him before that, however; for it was unaccountable what a fancy Carrie suddenly took for traversing the woods and riding on horseback, for which purpose grandfather's side-saddle (not the one with which Joe saddled his pony!) was borrowed, and then, with her long curls and blue riding-skirt floating in the wind, Carrie galloped over hills and through valleys, accompanied by Penoyer, who was a fierce-looking fellow, with black eyes, black hair, black whiskers, and black face.

I couldn't help fancying that the negro who lay beneath the walnut tree had resembled him, and I cried for fear Carrie might marry so ugly a man, thinking it would not be altogether unlike, "Beauty and the Beast." Sally, our housemaid, said that "most likely he'd prove to be some poor, mean scamp. Anyway, seein' it was plantin' time, he'd better be to hum tendin' to his own business, if he had any."

Sally was a shrewd, sharp-sighted girl, and already had her preference in favor of Michael Welsh, father's hired man. Walking, riding on horseback, and wasting time generally, Sally held in great abhorrence. "All she wished to say to Mike on week days, she could tell him milking time." On Sundays, however, it was different, and regularly each Sunday night found Mike and Sally snugly ensconced in the "great room," while under the windows occasionally might have been seen, three or four curly heads, eager to hear something about which to tease Sally during the week.

But to return to Monsieur Penoyer, as Carrie called him. His stay was prolonged beyond the Sabbath, and on Tuesday I was sent to Captain Howard's on an errand. I found Aunt Eunice in the kitchen, her round, rosy face, always suggestive of seed cake and plum pudding, flushed with exertion, her sleeves tucked up and her arms buried in a large wooden bowl of dough, which she said was going to be made into loaves of 'lection cake, as Carrie was to have a party to-morrow, and I had come just in time to carry invitations to my sisters.

Carrie was in the parlor, and attracted by the sound of music, I drew near the door, when Aunt Eunice kindly bade me enter. I did so, and was presented to Monsieur Penoyer. At first I was shy of him, for I remembered that Sally had said, "he don't know nothin'," and this in my estimation was the worst crime of which he could be guilty. Gradually my timidity gave way, and when, at Carrie's request, he played and sang for me, I was perfectly delighted, although I understood not a word he said.

When he finished Carrie told him I was a little poet, and then repeated some foolish lines I had once written about her eyes. It was a very handsome set of teeth which he showed, as he said, "Magnifique! Tree bien! She be another grand Dr. Wattts!"

I knew not who Dr. Watts was, but on one point my mind was made up—Monsieur Penoyer knew a great deal! Ere I left Carrie commissioned me to invite my sisters to her party on the morrow, and as I was leaving the room Mr. Penoyer said, "Ma chere, Carrie, why vous no invite a petite girl!"

Accordingly I was invited, with no earthly prospect, however, of mother's letting me go. And she didn't either; so next day, after Juliet and Anna were gone, I went out behind the smokehouse and cried until I got sleepy, and a headache too; then, wishing to make mother think I had run away, I crept carefully up-stairs to Bill's room, where I slept until Sally's sharp eyes ferreted me out, saying, "they were all scared to death about me, and had looked for me high and low," up in the garret and down in the well, I supposed. Concluding they were plagued enough, I condescended to go down-stairs, and have my head bathed in camphor and my feet parboiled in hot water; then I went to bed and dreamed of white teeth, curling mustaches and "Parlez vous Francais."

Of what occurred at the party I will tell you as was told to me. All the elite of Rice Corner were there, of course, and as each new arrival entered the parlor, M. Penoyer eyed them coolly through an opera glass. Sister Anna returned his inspection with the worst face she could well make up, for which I half-blamed her and half didn't, as I felt sure I should have done the same under like circumstances.

When all the invited guests had arrived except myself (alas, no one asked why I tarried), there ensued an awkward silence, broken only by the parrot-like chatter of M. Penoyer, who seemed determined to talk nothing but French, although Carrie understood him but little better than did the rest. At last he was posted up to the piano.

"Mon Dieu, it be von horrid tone," said he; then off he dashed into a galloping waltz, keeping time with his head, mouth, and eyes, which threatened to leave their sockets and pounce upon the instrument. Rattlety-bang went the piano—like lightning went monsieur's fingers, first here, then there, right or wrong, hit or miss, and oftener miss than hit—now alighting among the keys promiscuously, then with a tremendous thump making all bound again—and finishing up with a flourish, which snapped two strings and made all the rest groan in sympathy, as did the astonished listeners. For a time all was still, and then a little modest girl, Lily Gordon, her face blushing crimson, said:

"I beg your pardon, monsieur, but haven't you taught music?"

The veins in his forehead swelled, as, darting a wrathful look at poor Lily, he exclaimed, "Le Diabel! vat vous take me for? Von dem musique teacher, eh?"

Poor Lily tried to stammer her apologies, while Carrie sought to soothe the enraged Frenchman by saying, that "Miss Gordon was merely complimenting his skill in music."

At this point the carriage which carried persons to and from the depot drove up, and from it alighted a very small, genteel-looking lady, who rapped at the door and asked, "if Captain Howard lived there."

In a moment Carrie was half-stifling her with kisses, exclaiming, "Dear Agnes, this is a pleasant surprise. I did not expect you so soon."

The lady called Agnes was introduced as Miss Hovey, a schoolmate of Carrie's. She seemed very much disposed to make herself at home, for, throwing her hat in one place and her shawl in another, she seated herself at the piano, hastily running over a few notes; then with a gesture of impatience, she said, "Oh, horrid! a few more such sounds would give me the vapors for a month; why don't you have it tuned?"

Ere Carrie could reply Agnes' eyes lighted upon Penoyer, who, either with or without design, had drawn himself as closely into a corner as he well could. Springing up, she brought her little hands together with energy, exclaiming, "Now, Heaven defend me, what fresh game brought you here?" Then casting on Carrie an angry glance, she said, in a low tone, "What does it mean? Why didn't you tell me?"

Carrie drew nearer, and said coaxingly, "I didn't expect you so soon; but never mind, he leaves to-morrow. For my sake treat him decently."

The pressure which Agnes gave Carrie's hand seemed to say, "For your sake I will, but for no other." Then turning to Penoyer, who had risen to his feet, she said, respectfully, "I hardly expected to meet you here, sir."

Her tone and manner had changed. Penoyer knew it, and with the coolest effrontery imaginable he came forward, bowing and scraping, and saying, "Comment vous portez-vous, mademoiselle. Je suis perfaitement delighted to see you," at the same time offering her his hand.

All saw with what hauteur she declined it, but only one, and that was Anna, heard her as she said, "Keep off, Penoyer; don't make a donkey of yourself." It was strange, Anna said, "how far into his boots Penoyer tried to draw himself," while at each fresh flash of Agnes' keen black eyes, he winced, either from fear or sympathy.

The restraint which had surrounded the little company gave way beneath the lively sallies and sparkling wit of Agnes, who, instead of seeming amazed at the country girls, was apparently as much at ease as though she had been entertaining a drawing-room full of polished city belles. When at last the party broke up, each and every one was in love with the little Albany lady, although all noticed that Carrie seemed troubled, watching Agnes narrowly; and whenever she saw her tete-a-tete with either of her companions she would instantly draw near, and seemed greatly relieved on finding that Penoyer was not the subject of conversation.

"I told you so," was grandmother's reply, when informed of all this. "I told you so. I knew Car'line warn't going to make out no great."

Juliet and Anna thought so too, but this did not prevent them from running to the windows next morning to see Penoyer as he passed on his way to the cars. I, who with Lizzie was tugging away at a big board with which we thought to make a "see-saw," was honored with a graceful wave of monsieur's hands, and the words, "Au revoir, ma chere Marie."

That day Phoebe, Aunt Eunice's hired girl, came to our house. Immediately Juliet and Anna assailed her a multitude of questions. The amount of knowledge obtained was that "Miss Hovey was a lady, and no mistake, for she had sights of silks and jewelry, and she that morning went with Phoebe to see her milk, although she didn't dare venture inside the yard. But," added Phoebe, "for all she was up so early she did not come out to breakfast until that gentleman was gone."

This was fresh proof that Penoyer was not comme il faut, and Anna expressed her determination to find out all about him ere Agnes went home. I remembered "Dr. Watts" and the invitation to the party, and secretly hoped she would find out nothing bad.



CHAPTER IV.

COUSIN EMMA.

Agnes had been in town about two weeks, when my home was one morning thrown into a state of unusual excitement by the arrival of a letter from Boston, containing the intelligence that Cousin Emma Rushton, who had been an invalid for more than a year, was about to try the effect of country life and country air.

This piece of news operated differently upon different members of our family. Juliet exclaimed, "Good, good; Carrie Howard won't hold her head quite so high now, for we shall have a city lady, too." Anna was delighted, because she would thus have an opportunity of acquiring city manners and city fashions. Sally said snappishly, "There's enough to wait on now, without having a stuck-up city flirt, faintin' at the sight of a worm, and screechin' if a fly comes toward her." Mother had some misgivings on the subject. She was perfectly willing Emma should come, but she doubted our ability to entertain her, knowing that the change would be great from a fashionable city home to a country farmhouse. Grandmother, who loved to talk of "my daughter in the city," was pleased, and to console mother, said:

"Never you mind, Fanny, leave her to me; you find victuals and drink, and I'll do the entertaining."

Among so many opinions it was hard for me to arrive at a conclusion. On the whole, however, I was glad, until told that during Cousin Emma's stay our garret gambols must be given up, and that I must not laugh loud, or scarcely speak above a whisper, for she was sick, and it would hurt her head. Then I wished Cousin Emma and Cousin Emma's head would stay where they belonged.

The letter was received on Monday, but Emma would not come until Thursday; so there was ample time for "fixing up." The parlor-chamber was repapered, the carpet taken up and shaken, red and white curtains hung at the windows, a fresh ball of Castile soap bought for the washstand, and on Thursday morning our pretty flower beds were shorn of their finest ornaments with which to make bouquets for the parlor and parlor-chamber. Besides that, Sally had filled the pantry with cakes, pies, gingerbread, and Dutch cheese, to the last of which I fancied Emma's city taste would not take kindly. Then there was in the cellar a barrel of fresh beer; so everything was done which could be expected.

When I went home for my dinner that day I teased hard to be allowed to stay out of school for one afternoon, but mother said "No," although she suffered me to wear my pink gingham, with sundry injunctions "not to burst the hooks and eyes all off before night." This, by the way, was my besetting sin; I never could climb a tree, no matter what the size might be without invariably coming down minus at least six hooks and eyes; but I seriously thought I should get over it when I got older and joined the church.

That afternoon seemed of interminable length, but at last I saw father's carriage coming, and quick as thought I threw my grammar out of the window; after which I demurely asked "to go out and get a book which I had dropped." Permission was granted and I was out just in time to courtesy straight down, as father pointing to me, said: "There, that's our little crazy Mollie," and then I got a glimpse of a remarkably sweet face, which made the tears come in my eyes, it was so pale.

Perhaps I wronged our school-teacher; I think I did, for she has since died; but really I fancied she kept us longer that night on purpose. At least, it was nearly five before we were dismissed. Then, with my bonnet in hand, I ran for home, falling down once and bursting off the lower hook! I entered the house with a bound, but was quieted by grandmother, who said Emma was lying down, and I mustn't disturb her.

After waiting some time for her to make her appearance, I stole softly up the stairs and looked in where she was. She saw me, and instantly rising, said with a smile that went to my heart:

"And this must be Mary, the little crazy girl; come and kiss your Cousin Emma."

Twining my arms around her neck, I think I must have cried, for she repeatedly asked me what was the matter, and as I could think of no better answer, I at last told her "I didn't like to have folks call me crazy. I couldn't help acting like Sal Furbush, the old crazy woman, who threatened to toss us up in the umbrella."

"Forgive me, darling," said Emma coaxingly; "I will not do it again;" then stooping down, she looked intently into my eyes, soliloquizing, "Yes, it is wrong to tell her so."

In a few moments I concluded Emma was the most beautiful creature in the world; I would not even except Carrie Howard. Emma's features were perfectly regular, and her complexion white and pure as alabaster. Her hair, which was a rich auburn, lay around her forehead in thick waves, but her great beauty consisted in her lustrous blue eyes, which were very large and dark. When she was pleased they laughed, and when she was sad they were sad too. Her dress was a white muslin wrapper, confined at the waist by a light blue ribbon, while one of the same hue encircled her neck, and was fastened by a small gold pin, which, with the exception of the costly diamond ring on her finger, was the only ornament she wore.

When supper was ready I proudly led her to the dining-room, casting a look of triumph at Juliet and Anna, and feeling, it may be, a trifle above grandmother, who said, "Don't be troublesome, child."

How grateful I was when Emma answered for me, "She doesn't trouble me in the least; I am very fond of children."

Indeed, she seemed to be very fond of everybody and everything—all except Sally's Dutch cheese, which, as I expected, she hardly relished. In less than three days she was beloved by all the household, Billy whispering to me confidentially that "never before had he seen any one except mother, whom he would like to marry."

Saturday afternoon Carrie and Agnes called on Emma, and as I saw them together I fancied I had never looked on three more charming faces. They appeared mutually pleased with each other, too, although for some reason there seemed to be more affinity between Emma and Agnes. Carrie appeared thoughtful and absent-minded, which made Anna joke her about her "lover, Penoyer." As she was about leaving the room she made no reply, but after she was gone Agnes looked searchingly at Anna and said:

"Is it possible, Miss Anna, that you are so mistaken?"

"How—why?" asked Emma. "Is Penoyer a bad man? What is his occupation?"

"His occupation is well enough," returned Agnes. "I would not think less of him for that, were he right in other respects. However, he was Carrie's and my own music teacher."

"Impossible," said Anna, but at that moment Carrie reentered the room, and, together with Agnes, soon took her leave.

"Penoyer a music teacher, after all his anger at Lily Gordon for suggesting such an idea!" This was now the theme of Juliet and Anna, although they wondered what there was so bad about him—something, evidently, from Agnes' manner, and for many days they puzzled their brains in vain to solve the mystery.



CHAPTER V.

RICHARD EVELYN AND HARLEY ASHMORE.

Emma had not long been with us ere her fame reached the little "village over the river," and drew from thence many calls, both from gentlemen and ladies. Among these was a Mr. Richard Evelyn and his sister, both of whom had the honor of standing on the topmost round of the aristocratic ladder in the village. Mr. Evelyn, who was nearly thirty years of age, was a wealthy lawyer, and what is a little remarkable for that craft (I speak from experience), to an unusual degree of intelligence and polish of manners, he added many social and religious qualities. Many kind hearted mothers, who had on their hands good-for-nothing daughters, wondered how he managed to live without a wife, but he seemed to think it the easiest thing in nature, for, since the death of his parents, his sister Susan had acted in the capacity of his housekeeper.

I have an idea that grandmother, whose disposition was slightly spiced with a love for match-making, bethought herself how admirably Mr. Evelyn and Emma were suited for each other; for after his calls became frequent I heard her many times slyly hint of the possibility of our being able to keep Emma in town always. She probably did not think so; for each time after being teased, she repaired to her room and read for the twentieth time some ominous-looking letters which she had received since being with as.

It was now three weeks since she came, and each day she had gained in health and strength. Twice had she walked to the woods, accompanied by Mr. Evelyn, once to the schoolhouse, while every day she swung under the old maple. About this time Agnes began to think of returning home, so Juliet and Anna determined on a party in honor of her and Emma. It was a bright summer afternoon; and for a wonder I was suffered to remain from school, although I received numerous charges to keep my tongue still, and was again reminded of that excellent old proverb (the composition of some old maid, I know), "Children should be seen and not heard;" so, seated in a corner, my hand pressed closely over my mouth, the better to guard against contingencies, I looked on and thought, with ineffable satisfaction, how much handsomer Cousin Emma was than any one else, although I could not help acknowledging that Carrie never looked more beautiful than she did that afternoon in a neatly-fitting white muslin, with a few rosebuds nestling in her long, glossy curls.

Matters were going on swimmingly, and I had three times ventured a remark, when Anna, who was sitting near the window, exclaimed, "Look here, girls, did you ever see a finer-looking gentleman?" at the same time calling their attention to a stranger in the street. Emma looked, too, and the bright flush which suffused her cheek made me associate the gentleman with the letters she had received, and I was not surprised when he entered our yard and knocked at our door. Juliet arose to answer his summons, but Emma prevented her, saying;

"Suffer me to go, will you?"

She was gone some time, and when she returned was accompanied by the stranger, whom she introduced as Mr. Ashmore. I surveyed him with childish curiosity, and drew two very satisfactory breaths when I saw that he was wholly unlike Monsieur Penoyer. He was a very fine-looking man, but I did not exactly like the expression of his face. It was hardly open enough to suit me, and I noticed that he never looked you directly in the eye. In five minutes I had come to the conclusion that he was not half so good a man as Mr. Evelyn. I was in great danger, however, of changing my mind, when I saw how fondly his dark eye rested on Emma, and how delighted he seemed to be at her improved health; and when he, without any apparent exertion, kept the whole company entertained, I was charmed, and did not blame Emma for liking him. Anna's doctor was nothing to him, and I even fancied that he would dare to go all alone to the old mine!

Suddenly he faced about, and espying me in the corner, he said, "Here is a little lady I've not seen. Will some one introduce me?"

With the utmost gravity Anna said, "It is my sister, little crazy Jane."

I glanced quickly at him to see how he would receive the intelligence, and when, looking inquiringly first at me and then at Emma, he said, "Is it really so? what a pity!" the die was cast—I never liked him again. That night in my little low bed, long after Lizzie was asleep, I wept bitterly, wondering what made Anna so unkind, and why people called me crazy. I knew I looked like other children, and I thought I acted like them, too; unless, indeed, I climbed more trees, tore more dresses, and burst off more hooks.

But to return to the party. After a time I thought that Mr. Ashmore's eyes went over admiringly to Carrie more frequently than was necessary, and for once I regretted that she was so pretty. Ere long, Mr. Ashmore, too, went over, and immediately there ensued between himself and Carrie a lively conversation, in which she adroitly managed to let him know that she had been three years at school in Albany. The next thing that I saw was that he took from her curls a rosebud and appropriated it to his buttonhole. I glanced at Emma to see how she was affected, but her face was perfectly calm, and wore the old sweet smile. When the young ladies were about leaving, I was greatly shocked to see Mr. Ashmore offer to accompany Carrie and Agnes home.

After they were gone grandmother said, "Emma, if I's you, I'd put a stop to that chap's flirtin' so with Car'line Howard."

Emma laughed gaily as she replied, "Oh, grandma, I can trust Harley; I have been sick so long that he has the privilege of walking or riding with anybody he pleases."

Grandmother shook her head, saying, "It wasn't so with her and our poor grandfather;" then I fell into a fit of musing as to whether grandma was ever young, and if she ever fixed her hair before the glass, as Anna did when she expected the doctor! In the midst of my reverie Mr. Ashmore returned, and for the remainder of the evening devoted himself so entirely to Emma that I forgave him for going home with Carrie. Next day, however, he found the walk to Captain Howard's a very convenient one, staying a long time, too. The next day it was the same, and the next, and the next, until I fancied that even Emma began to be anxious.

Grandma was highly indignant, and Sally declared, "that, as true as she lived and breathed, if Mike should serve her so, he'd catch it." About this time Agnes went home. The evening before she left she spent at our house with Emma, of whom she seemed to be very fond. Carrie and Ashmore were, as usual, out riding or walking, and the conversation naturally turned upon them. At last, Anna, whose curiosity was still on the alert to know something of Penoyer, asked Agnes of him. I will repeat, in substance, what Agnes said.

It seems that for many years Penoyer had been a teacher of music in Albany. Agnes was one of his pupils, and while teaching her music he thought proper to fall overwhelmingly in love with her. This for a time she did not notice; but when his attentions became so pointed as to become a subject of remark, she very coolly tried to make him understand his position. He persevered, however, until he became exceedingly impudent and annoying.

About this time there came well-authenticated stories of his being not only a professed gambler, but also very dissipated in his habits. To this last charge Agnes could testify, as his breath had frequently betrayed him. He was accordingly dismissed. Still he perseveringly pursued her, always managing, if possible, to get near her in all public places, and troubling her in various ways.

At last Agnes heard that he was showing among her acquaintances two notes bearing her signature. The contents of these notes he covered with his hand, exposing to view only her name. She had twice written, requesting him to purchase some new piece of music, and it was these messages which he was now showing, insinuating that Agnes thought favorably of him, but was opposed by her father. The consequence of this was, that the next time Agnes' brother met Penoyer in the street, he gave him a sound caning, ordering him, under pain of a worse flogging, never again to mention his sister's name. This he was probably more willing to do, as he had already conceived a great liking for Carrie, who was silly enough to be pleased with and suffer his attentions.

"I wonder, though, that Carrie allowed him to visit her," said Agnes; "but then I believe she is under some obligations to him, and dare not refuse when he asked permission to come."

If Agnes knew what these obligations were she did not tell, and grandmother, who, during the narration had knit with unwonted speed, making her needles rattle again, said, "It's plain to me that Caroline let him come to make folks think she had got a city beau."

"Quite likely," returned Agnes; "Carrie is a sad flirt, but I think, at least, that she should not interfere with other people's rights."

Here my eye followed hers to Emma, who, I thought, was looking a little paler. Just then Carrie and Ashmore came in, and the latter throwing himself upon the sofa by the side of Emma, took her hand caressingly, saying, "How are you to-night, my dear?"

"Quite well," was her quiet reply, and soon after, under pretense of moving from the window, she took a seat across the room. That night Mr. Ashmore accompanied Carrie and Agnes home, and it was at a much later hour than usual that old Rover first growled and then whined as he recognized our visitor.

The next morning Emma was suffering from a severe headache, which prevented her from appearing at breakfast. Mr. Ashmore seemed somewhat disturbed, and made many anxious inquiries about her. At dinner-time she was well enough to come, and the extreme kindness of Mr. Ashmore's manner called a deep glow to her cheek. After dinner, however, he departed for a walk, taking his accustomed road toward Captain Howard's.

When I returned from school he was still absent, and as Emma was quite well, she asked me to accompany her to my favorite resort, the old rock beneath the grapevine. We were soon there, and for a long time we sat watching the shadows as they came and went upon the bright green grass, and listening to the music of the brook, which seemed to me to sing more sadly than it was wont to do.

Suddenly our ears were arrested by the sound of voices, which we knew belonged to Mr. Ashmore and Carrie. They were standing near us, just behind a clump of alders, and Carrie, in reply to something Mr. Ashmore had said, answered, "Oh, you can't be in earnest, for you have only known me ten days, and beside that, what have you done with your pale, sick lady?"

Instantly I started up, clinching my fist in imitation of brother Billy when he was angry, but Cousin Emma's arm was thrown convulsively around me, as drawing me closely to her side she whispered, "Keep quiet."

I did keep quiet, and listened while Mr. Ashmore replied, "I entertain for Miss Rushton the highest esteem, for I know she possesses many excellent qualities. Once I thought I loved her (how tightly Emma held me), but she has been sick a long time, and somehow I cannot marry an invalid. Whether she ever gets well is doubtful, and even if she does, after having seen you, she can be nothing to me. And yet I like her, and when I am alone with her I almost fancy I love her, but one look at your sparkling, healthy face drives her from my mind—"

The rest of what he said I could not hear, neither did I understand Carrie's answer, but his next words were distinct, "My dear Carrie forever."

I know the brook stopped running, or at least I did not hear it. The sun went down; the birds went to rest; Mr. Ashmore and Carrie went home; and still I sat there by the side of Emma, who had lain her head in my lap, and was so still and motionless that the dread fear came over me that she might be dead. I attempted to lift her up, saying, "Cousin Emma, speak to me, won't you?" but she made me no answer, and another ten minutes went by. By this time the stars had come out and were looking quietly down upon us. The waters of the mill-dam chanted mournfully, and in my disordered imagination, fantastic images danced before the entrance of the old mine. Half-crying with fear, I again laid my hand on Emma's head. Her hair was wet with the heavy night dews, and my eyes were wet with something else, as I said, "Oh, Emma, speak to me, for I am afraid and want to go home."

This roused her, and lifting up her head I caught a glimpse of a face of so startling whiteness that, throwing my arms around her neck, I cried, "Oh, Emma, dear Emma, don't look so. I love you a great deal better than I do Carrie Howard, and so I am sure does Mr. Evelyn."

I don't know how I chanced to think of Mr. Evelyn, but he recurred to me naturally enough. All thoughts of him, however, were soon driven from my mind by the sound of Emma's voice as she said, "Mollie, darling, can you keep a secret?"

I didn't think I could, as I never had been intrusted with one, so I advised her to give it to Anna, who was very fond of them. But she said, "I am sure you can do it, Mollie. Promise me that you will not tell them at home what you have seen or heard."

I promised, and then in my joy at owning a secret, I forgot the little figures which waltzed back and forth before the old mine, I forgot the woods through which we passed, nor was the silence broken until we reached the lane. Then I said, "What shall we tell the folks when they ask where we have been?"

"Leave that to me," answered Emma.

As we drew near the house we met grandmother, Juliet, Anna and Sally, all armed and equipped for a general hunt. We were immediately assailed with a score of questions as to what had kept us so long. I looked to Emma for the answer, at the same time keeping my hand tightly over my mouth for fear I should tell.

"We found more things of interest than we expected," said Emma, "consequently tarried longer than we should otherwise have done."

"Why, how hoarse you be," said grandmother, while Sally continued, "Starlight is a mighty queer time to see things in."

"Some things look better by starlight," answered Emma; "but we stayed longer than we ought to, for I have got a severe headache and must go immediately to bed."

"Have some tea first," said grandmother.

"And some strawberries and cream," repeated Sally; but Emma declined both and went at once to her room.

Mr. Ashmore did not come home until late that night, for I was awake and heard him stumbling up-stairs in the dark. I remember, too, of having experienced the very benevolent wish that he would break his neck! As I expected, Emma did not make her appearance at the breakfast table, but about ten she came down to the parlor and asked to see Mr. Ashmore alone. Of what occurred during that interval I never knew, except that at its close cousin looked very white, and Mr. Ashmore very black, notwithstanding which he soon took his accustomed walk to Captain Howard's. He was gone about three hours, and on his return announced his intention of going to Boston in the afternoon train. No one opposed him, for all were glad to have him go.

Just before he left, grandmother, who knew all was not right, said to him: "Young man, I wish you well; but mind what I say, you'll get your pay yet for the capers you've cut here."

"I beg your pardon, madam," he returned, with much more emphasis on madam than was at all necessary, "I beg your pardon, but I think she has cut the capers; at least she dismissed me of her own accord."

I thought of what I had heard, but 'twas a secret, so I kept it safely, although I almost bit my tongue off in my zealous efforts. After Ashmore was gone, Emma, who had taken a violent cold the evening before, took her bed, and was slightly ill for nearly a week. Almost every day Mr. Evelyn called to see how she was, always bringing her a fresh bouquet of flowers. On Thursday, Carrie called, bringing Emma some ice-cream which Aunt Eunice had made. She did not ask to see her, but before she left she asked Anna if she did not wish to buy her old piano.

"What will you do without it?" asked Anna.

"Oh," said Carrie, "I cannot use two. I have got a new one."

The stocking dropped from grandmother's hand as she exclaimed: "What is the world a-comin' to! Got two pianners! Where'd you get 'em?"

"My new one was a present, and came from Boston," answered Carrie, with the utmost sang froid.

"You don't say Ashmore sent it to you! How much did it cost?" asked grandma.

"Mr. Ashmore wrote that it cost three hundred and fifty dollars," was Carrie's reply.

Grandmother was perfectly horror-stricken; but desirous of making Carrie feel as comfortable as possible, she said, "S'posin somebody should tell him about Penoyer?"

For an instant Carrie turned pale, as she said quickly, "What does any one know about him to tell?"

"A great deal—more than you think they do—yes, a great deal," was grandma's answer.

After that Carrie came very frequently to see us, always bringing something nice for Emma or grandma!

Meanwhile Mr. Evelyn's visits continued, and when at last Emma could see him I was sure that she received him more kindly than she ever had before. "That'll go yet," was grandma's prediction. But her scheming was cut short by a letter from Emma's father, requesting her immediate return. Mr. Evelyn, who found he had business which required his presence in Worcester, was to accompany her thus far. It was a sad day when she left us, for she was a universal favorite. Sally cried, I cried, and Bill either cried or made believe, for he very industriously wiped his eyes and nasal organ on his shirt sleeves: besides that, things went on wrong side up generally. Grandma was cross—Sally was cross—and the school-teacher was cross; the bucket fell into the well, and the cows got into the corn. I got called up at school and set with some hateful boys, one of whom amused himself by pricking me with a pin, and when, in self-defense, I gave him a good pinch, he actually yelled out: "She keeps a-pinchin' me!" On the whole, 'twas a dreadful day, and when at night I threw myself exhausted upon my little bed I cried myself to sleep, thinking of Cousin Emma and wishing she would come back.



CHAPTER VI.

MIKE AND SALLY.

I have spoken of Sally, but have said nothing of Mike, whom, of all my father's hired men, I liked the best. He it was who made the best cornstalk fiddles, and whittled out the shrillest whistles with which to drive grandma "ravin' distracted." He, too, it was who, on cold winter mornings, carried Lizzie to school in his arms, making me forget how my fingers ached, by telling some exploit of his schooldays.

I do not wonder that Sally liked him, and I always had an idea how that liking would end, but did not think it would be so soon. Consequently I suspected nothing when Sally's white dress was bleached on the grass in the clothesyard for nearly a week. One day Billy came to me with a face full of wonder, saying he had just overheard Mike tell one of the men that he and Sally were going to be married in a few weeks.

I knew now what all that bleaching was for, and why Sally bought so much cotton lace of pedlers. I was in ecstasies, too, for I had never seen anyone married, but regretted the circumstance, whatever it might have been, which prevented me from being present at mother's marriage. Like many other children I have been deceived into the belief that the marriage ceremony consisted mainly in leaping the broomstick, and by myself I had frequently tried the experiment, delighted to find that I could jump it at almost any distance from the ground; but I had some misgivings as to Sally's ability to clear the stick, for she was rather clumsy; however, I should see the fun, for they were to be married at our house.

A week before the time appointed mother was taken very ill, which made it necessary that the wedding should be postponed, or take place somewhere else. To the first Mike would not hear, and as good old Parson S——, whose sermons were never more than two hours long, came regularly every Sunday night to preach in the schoolhouse, Mike proposed that they be married there. Sally did not like this exactly, but grandmother, who now ruled the household, said it was just the thing, and accordingly it took place there.

The house was filled full, and those who could not obtain seats took their station near the windows. Our party was early, but I was three times compelled to relinquish my seat in favor of more distinguished persons, and I began to think that if any one was obliged to go home for want of room, it would be me; but I resolutely determined not to go. I'd climb the chestnut tree first! At last I was squeezed on a high desk between two old ladies, wearing two old black bonnets, their breath sufficiently tinctured with tobacco smoke to be very disagreeable to me, whose olfactories chanced to be rather aristocratic than otherwise.

To my horror Father S—— concluded to give us the sermon before he did the bride. He was afraid some of his audience would leave. Accordingly there ensued a prayer half an hour long, after which eight verses of a long meter psalm were sung to the tune of Windham. By this time I gave a slight sign to the two old ladies that I would like to move, but they merely shook their two black bonnets at me, telling me, in fierce whispers, that "I mustn't stir in meetin'." Mustn't stir! I wonder how I could stir, squeezed in as I was, unless they chose to let me. So I sat bolt upright, looking straight ahead at a point where the tips of my red shoes were visible, for my feet were sticking straight out.

All at once my attention was drawn to a spider on the wall, who was laying a net for a fly, and in watching his maneuvers I forgot the lapse of time, until Father S—— had passed his sixthly and seventhly, and was driving furiously away at the eighthly. By this time the spider had caught the fly, whose cries sounded to me like the waters of the sawmill; the tips of my red shoes looked like the red berries which grew near the mine; the two old ladies at my side were transformed into two tall black walnut trees, while I seemed to be sliding down-hill.

At this juncture, one of the old ladies moved away from me a foot at least (she could have done so before had she chosen to), and I was precipitated off from the bench, striking my head on the sharp corner of a seat below. It was a dreadful blow which I received, making the blood gush from my nostrils. My loud screams brought matters to a focus, and the sermon to an end. My grandmother and one of the old ladies took me and the water pail outdoors, where I was literally deluged; at the same time they called me "Poor girl! Poor Mollie! Little dear," etc.

But while they were attending to my bumped head Mike and Sally were married, and I didn't see it after all! 'Twas too bad!



CHAPTER VII.

THE BRIDE.

After Sally's marriage there occurred at our house an interval of quiet, enlivened occasionally by letters from Cousin Emma, whose health was not as much improved by her visit to the country as she had at first hoped it would be; consequently she proposed spending the winter south. Meantime, from Boston letters came frequently to Carrie Howard, and as the autumn advanced, things within and about her father's house foretold some unusual event. Two dressmakers were hired from the village, and it was stated, on good authority, that among Carrie's wardrobe was a white satin and an elegantly embroidered merino traveling-dress.

Numerous were the surmises of Juliet and Anna as to who and how many would be invited to the wedding. All misgivings concerning themselves were happily brought to an end a week before the time, for there came to our house handsome cards of invitation for Juliet and Anna, and—I could scarcely believe my eyes—there was one for me too. For this I was indebted to Aunt Eunice, who had heard of and commiserated my misfortunes at Sally's wedding.

I was sorry that my invitation came so soon, for I had but little hope that the time would ever come. It did, however, and so did Mr. Ashmore and Agnes. As soon as dinner was over I commenced my toilet, although the wedding was not to take place until eight that evening; but then I believed, as I do now, in being ready in season. Oh, how slowly the hours passed, and at last in perfect despair I watched my opportunity to set the clock forward when no one saw me. For this purpose I put the footstool in a chair, and mounting, was about to move the long hand, when—

But I always was the most unfortunate of mortals, so it was no wonder that at this point the chair slipped, the stool slipped, and I slipped. I caught at the clock to save myself; consequently both clock and I came to the floor with a terrible crash. My first thought was for the hooks and eyes, which undoubtedly were scattered with the fragments of the clock, but fortunately every hook was in its place, and only one eye was straightened. I draw a veil over the scolding which I got, and the numerous threats that I should stay at home.

As the clock was broken we had no means for judging of the time, and thus we were among the first who arrived at Captain Howard's. This gave Juliet and Anna an opportunity of telling Agnes of my mishap. She laughed heartily, and then immediately changing the subject she inquired after Cousin Emma, and when we had heard from her. After replying to these questions Anna asked Agnes about Penoyer, and when she had seen him.

"Don't mention it," said Agnes, "but I have a suspicion that he stopped yesterday at the depot when I did. I may have been mistaken, for I was looking after my baggage and only caught a glimpse of him. If it were he his presence bodes no good."

"Have you told Carrie?" asked Juliet.

"No, I have not. She seems so nervous whenever he is mentioned," was Agnes' reply.

I thought of the obligations once referred to by Agnes, and felt that I should breathe more freely when Carrie really was married. Other guests now began to arrive, and we who had fixed long enough before the looking-glass repaired to the parlor below. Bill, who saw Sally married, had convinced me that the story of the broomstick was a falsehood, so I was prepared for its absence, but I wondered then, not more than I do now, why grown-up people shouldn't be whipped for telling untruths to children as well as children for telling untruths to grown-up people.

The parlor was now rapidly filling, and I was in great danger of being thrust into the corner, where I could see nothing, when Aunt Eunice very benevolently drew me near her, saying I should see if no one else did. At last Mr. Ashmore and Carrie came. Anna can tell you exactly what she wore, but I cannot. I only know that she looked most beautifully, though I have a vague recollection of fancying that in the making of her dress the sleeves were forgotten entirely, and the neck nearly so.

The marriage ceremony commenced, and I listened breathlessly, but this did not prevent me from hearing some one enter the house by the kitchen door. Aunt Eunice heard it, too, and when the minister began to say something about Mrs. Ashmore she arose and went out. Something had just commenced, I think they called them congratulations, when the crowd around the door began to huddle together in order to make room for some person to enter. I looked up and saw Penoyer, his glittering teeth now partially disclosed, looking a very little fiendish, I thought. Carrie saw him, too, and instantly turned as white as the satin dress she wore, while Agnes, who seemed to have some suspicion of his errand, exclaimed, "Impudent scoundrel!" At the same time advancing forward, she laid her hand upon his arm.

He shook it off lightly, saying, "Pardonnez moi, ma chere; I've no come to trouble you." Then turning to Ashmore he said, pointing to Carrie, "She be your wife, I take it?"

"Yes, sir," replied Ashmore haughtily. "Have you any objections? If so they have come too late."

"Not von, not in the least, no sar," said the Frenchman, bowing nearly to the floor. "It give me one grand plaisir; so now you will please settle von leetle bill I have against her;" at the same time he drew from his pocket a sheet of half-worn paper.

Carrie, who was leaning heavily against Mr. Ashmore instantly sprang forward and endeavored to snatch the paper, saying half-imploringly, "Don't, Penoyer, you know my father will pay it."

But Penoyer passed it to Mr. Ashmore, while Captain Howard, coming forward, said, "Pay what? What is all this about?"

"Only a trifle," said Penoyer; "just a bill for giving your daughter musique lessons three years in Albany."

"You give my daughter music lessons?" demanded Captain Howard.

"Oui, monsieur, I do that same thing," answered Penoyer.

"Oh, Carrie, Carrie," said Captain Howard, in his surprise forgetting the time and place, "why did you tell me that your knowledge of music you acquired yourself, with the assistance of your cousin, and a little help from her music teacher; and why, when this man was here a few months ago, did you not tell me he was your music teacher and had not been paid?"

Bursting into tears Carrie answered, "Forgive me, father, but he said he had no bill against me; he made no charge."

"But she gave me von big, large mitten," said the Frenchman, "when she see this man, who has more l'argent; but no difference, no difference, sar, this gentleman," bowing toward Ashmore, "parfaitement delighted to pay it."

Whether he were delighted or not, he did pay it, for drawing from his pocket his purse, while his large black eyes emitted gleams of fire, he counted out the required amount, one hundred and twenty-five dollars; then confronting Penoyer, he said fiercely, "Give me a receipt for this instantly, after which I will take it upon me to show you the door."

"Certainement, certainement, all I want is my l'argent," said Penoyer.

The money was paid, the receipt given, and then, as Penoyer hesitated a moment, Ashmore said, "Are you waiting to be helped out, sir?"

"No, monsieur, si vous plait, I have tree letters from madam, which will give you one grande satisfaction to read." Then tossing toward Ashmore the letters, with a malicious smile he left the house.

Poor Carrie! When sure that he was gone she fainted away and was carried from the room. At supper, however, she made her appearance, and after that was over the guests, unopposed, left en masse.

What effect Penoyer's disclosures had on Ashmore we never exactly knew, but when, a few days before the young couple left home, they called at our house, we all fancied that Carrie was looking more thoughtful than usual, while a cloud seemed to be resting on Ashmore's brow. The week following their marriage they left for New York, where they were going to reside. During the winter Carrie wrote home frequently, giving accounts of the many gay and fashionable parties which she attended, and once in a letter to Anna she wrote, "The flattering attentions which I receive have more than, once made Ashmore jealous."

Two years from the time they were married Mrs. Ashmore was brought back to her home a pale, faded invalid, worn out by constant dissipation and the care of a sickly baby, so poor and blue that even I couldn't bear to touch it. Three days after their arrival Mr. Evelyn brought to us his bride, Cousin Emma, blooming with health and beauty. I could scarcely believe that the exceedingly beautiful Mrs. Evelyn was the same white-faced girl who, two years before, had sat with me beneath the old grapevine.

The day after she came I went with her to visit Carrie, who, the physicians said, was in a decline. I had not seen her before since her return, and on entering the sick-room, I was as much surprised at her haggard face, sunken eyes, and sallow skin, as was Mr. Ashmore at the appearance of Emma. "Is it possible," said he, coming forward, "is it possible, Emma—Mrs. Evelyn, that you have entirely recovered?"

I remembered what he had once said about "invalid wives," and I feared that the comparison he was evidently making would not be very favorable toward Carrie. We afterward learned, however, that he was the kindest of husbands, frequently walking half the night with his crying baby, and at other times trying to soothe his nervous wife, who was sometimes very irritable.

Before we left Carrie drew Emma closely to her and said, "They tell me I probably shall never get well, and now, while I have time, I wish to ask your forgiveness for the great wrong I once did you."

"How? When?" asked Emma quickly, and Carrie contined:

"When first I saw him who is my husband, I determined to leave no means untried to secure him for myself; I knew you were engaged, but I fancied that your ill-health annoyed him, and played my part well. You know how I succeeded, but I am sure you forgive me, for you love Mr. Evelyn quite as well, perhaps better."

"Yes, far better," was Emma's reply, as she kissed Carrie's wan cheek; then bidding her good-by she promised to call frequently during her stay in town. She kept her word, and was often accompanied by Mr. Evelyn, who strove faithfully and successfully, too, to lead into the path of peace her whose days were well-nigh ended.

'Twas on one of those bright days in the Indian summer time that Carrie at last slept the sleep that knows no awakening. The evening after the burial I went in at Captain Howard's, and all the animosity I had cherished for Mr. Ashmore vanished when I saw the large tear drops as they fell on the face of his motherless babe, whose wailing cries he endeavored in vain to hush. When the first snowflakes came they fell on a little mound, where by the side of her mother Mr. Ashmore had laid his baby, Emma.

Side by side they are sleeping, In the grave's dark, dreamless bed; While the willow boughs seem weeping, As they bend above the dead.

And now, dear reader, after telling you that, yielding to the importunities of Emma's parents, Mr. Evelyn at last moved to the city, where, if I mistake not, he is still living, my story is finished. But do not, I pray you, think that these few pages contain all that I know of the olden time:

Oh no, far down in memory's well Exhaustless stores remain, From which, perchance, some future day I'll weave a tale again.



THE GILBERTS; OR, RICE CORNER NUMBER TWO.



CHAPTER I.

THE GILBERTS.

The spring following Carrie Howard's death Rice Corner was thrown into a commotion by the astounding fact that Captain Howard was going out West, and had sold his farm to a gentleman from the city, whose wife "kept six servants, wore silk all the time, never went inside of the kitchen, never saw a churn, breakfasted at ten, dined at three, and had supper the next day!"

Such was the story which Mercy Jenkins detailed to us early one Monday morning, and then, eager to communicate so desirable a piece of news to others of her acquaintance, she started off, stopping for a moment as she passed the wash-room to see if Sally's clothes "wan't kinder dingy and yaller." As soon as she was gone the astonishment of our household broke forth, grandma wondering why Captain Howard wanted to go to the ends of the earth, as she designated Chicago, their place of destination, and what she should do without Aunt Eunice, who, having been born on grandma's wedding day, was very dear to her, and then her age was so easy to keep. But the best of friends must part, and when at Mrs. Howard's last tea-drinking with us I saw how badly they all felt, and how many tears were shed, I firmly resolved never to like anybody but my own folks, unless, indeed, I made an exception in favor of Tom Jenkins, who so often drew me to school on his sled, and who made such comical-looking jack-o'-lanterns out of the big yellow pumpkins.

In reply to the numerous questions concerning Mr. Gilbert, the purchaser of their farm, Mrs. Howard could only reply that he was very wealthy and had got tired of living in the city; adding, further, that he wore a "monstrous pair of musquitoes," had an evil-looking eye, four children, smoked cigars, and was a lawyer by profession. This last was all grandma wanted to know about him—"that told the whole story," for there never was but one decent lawyer, and that was Mr. Evelyn, Cousin Emma's husband. Dear old lady! when, a few years ago, she heard that I, her favorite grandchild, was to marry one of the craft, she made another exception in his favor, saying that "if he wasn't all straight, Mary would soon make him so!"

Within a short time after Aunt Eunice's visit she left Rice Corner, and on the same day wagon-load after wagon-load of Mr. Gilbert's furniture passed our house, until Sally declared "there was enough to keep a tavern, and she didn't see nothin' where they's goin to put it," at the same time announcing her intention of "running down there after dinner, to see what was going on."

It will be remembered that Sally was now a married woman—"Mrs. Michael Welsh;" consequently, mother, who lived with her instead of her living with mother, did not presume to interfere with her much, though she hinted pretty strongly that she "always liked to see people mind their own affairs." But Sally was incorrigible. The dinner dishes were washed with a whew, I was coaxed into sweeping the back room—which I did, leaving the dirt under the broom behind the door—while Mrs. Welsh, donning a pink calico, blue shawl, and bonnet trimmed with dark green, started off on her prying excursion, stopping by the roadside where Mike was making fence, and keeping him, as grandma said, "full half an hour by the clock from his work."

Not long after Sally's departure a handsome carriage, drawn by two fine bay horses, passed our house; and as the windows were down we could plainly discern a pale, delicate-looking lady, wrapped in shawls, a tall, stylish-looking girl, another one about my own age and two beautiful little boys.

"That's the Gilberts, I know," said Anna. "Oh I'm so glad Sally's gone, for now we shall have the full particulars;" and again we waited as impatiently for Sally's return as we had once done before for grandma.

At last, to our great relief, the green ribbons and blue shawl were descried in the distance, and ere long Sally was with us, ejaculating, "Oh, my—mercy me!" etc., thus giving us an inkling of what was to follow. "Of all the sights that ever I have seen," said she, folding up the blue shawl, and smoothing down the pink calico. "There's carpeting enough to cover every crack and crevice—all pure bristles, too!"

Here I tittered, whereupon Sally angrily retorted, that "she guessed she knew how to talk proper, if she hadn't studied grarmar."

"Never mind," said Anna, "go on; brussels carpeting and what else?"

"Mercy knows what else," answered Sally. "I can't begin to guess the names of half the things. There's mahogany, rosewood, and marble fixin's—and in Miss Gilbert's room there's lace curtains and silk damson ones—"

A look from Anna restrained me this time, and Sally continued.

"Mercy Jenkins is there, helpin', and she says Mr. Gilbert told 'em, his wife never et a piece of salt pork in her life, and knew no more how bread was made than a child two years old."

"What a simple critter she must be," said grandma, while Anna asked if she saw Mrs. Gilbert, and if that tall girl was her daughter.

"Yes, I seen her," answered Sally, "and I guess she's weakly, for the minit she got into the house she lay down on the sofa, which Mr. Gilbert says cost seventy-five dollars. That tall, proud-lookin' thing they call Miss Adaline, but I'll warrant you don't catch me puttin' on the miss. I called her Adaline, and you had orto seen how her big eyes looked at me. Says she, at last, 'Are you one of pa's new servants?"

"'Servants!' says I, 'no indeed; I'm Mrs. Michael Welsh, one of your nighest neighbors.'

"Then I told her that there were two nice girls lived in the house with me, and she'd better get acquainted with 'em right away; and then with the hatefulest of all hateful laughs, she asked if 'they wore glass beads and went barefoot.'"

I fancied that neither Juliet nor Anna were greatly pleased at being introduced by Sally, the housemaid, to the elegant Adaline Gilbert, who had come to the country with anything but a favorable impression of its inhabitants. The second daughter, the one about my own age, Sally said they called Nellie; "and a nice, clever creature she is, too—not a bit stuck up like t'other one. Why, I do believe she'd walked every big beam in the barn before she'd been there half an hour, and the last I saw of her she was coaxing a cow to lie still while she got upon her back!"

How my heart warmed toward the romping Nellie, and how I wondered if after that beam-walking exploit her hooks and eyes were all in their places! The two little boys, Sally said, were twins, Edward and Egbert, or, as they were familiarly called, Bert and Eddie. This was nearly all she had learned, if we except the fact that the family ate with silver forks, and drank wine after dinner. This last, mother pronounced heterodox, while I, who dearly loved the juice of the grape and sometimes left finger marks on the top shelf, whither I had climbed for a sip from grandma's decanter, secretly hoped I should some day dine with Nellie Gilbert, and drink all the wine I wanted, thinking how many times I'd rinse my mouth so mother shouldn't smell my breath!

In the course of a few weeks the affairs of the Gilbert family were pretty generally canvassed in Rice Corner, Mercy Jenkins giving it as her opinion that "Miss Gilbert was much the likeliest of the two, and that Mr. Gilbert was cross, overbearing, and big feeling."



CHAPTER II.

NELLIE.

As yet I had only seen Nellie in the distance, and was about despairing of making her acquaintance when accident threw her in my way. Directly opposite our house, and just across along green meadow, was a piece of woods which belonged to Mr. Gilbert, and there, one afternoon early in May, I saw Nellie. I had seen her there before, but never dared approach her; and now I divided my time between watching her and a dense black cloud which had appeared in the west, and was fast approaching the zenith. I was just thinking how nice it would be if the rain should drive her to our house for shelter, when patter, patter came the large drops in my face; thicker and faster they fell, until it seemed like a perfect deluge; and through the almost blinding sheet of rain I descried Nellie coming toward me at a furious rate. With the agility of a fawn she bounded over the gate, and with the exclamation of, "Ain't I wetter than a drownded rat?" we were perfectly well acquainted.

It took but a short time to divest her of her dripping garments, and array her in some of mine, which Sally said "fitted her to a T," though I fancied she looked sadly out of place in my linen pantalets and long-sleeved dress. She was a great lover of fun and frolic, and in less than half an hour had "ridden to Boston" on Joe's rocking-horse, turned the little wheel faster than even I dared to turn it, tried on grandma's stays, and then, as a crowning feat, tried the rather dangerous experiment of riding down the garret stairs on a board! The clatter brought up grandma, and I felt some doubts about her relishing a kind of play which savored so much of what she called "a racket," but the soft brown eyes which looked at her so pleadingly were too full of love, gentleness, and mischief to be resisted, and permission for "one more ride" was given, "provided she'd promise not to break her neck."

Oh, what fun we had that afternoon! What a big rent she tore in my gingham frock, and what a "dear, delightful old haunted castle of a thing" she pronounced our house to be. Darling, darling Nellie! I shut my eyes and she comes before me again, the same bright beautiful creature she was when I saw her first, as she was when I saw her for the last, last time.

It rained until dark, and Nellie, who confidently expected to stay all night, had whispered to me her intention of "tying our toes together," when there came a tremendous rap upon the door, and without waiting to be bidden in walked Mr. Gilbert, puffing and swelling, and making himself perfectly at home, in a kind of offhand manner, which had in it so much of condescension that I was disgusted, and when sure Nellie would not see me I made at him a wry face, thereby feeling greatly relieved!

After managing to let mother know how expensive his family was, how much he paid yearly for wines and cigars, and how much Adaline's education and piano had cost, he arose to go, saying to his daughter, "Come, puss, take off those—ahem—those habiliments, and let's be off!"

Nellie obeyed, and just before she was ready to start she asked, when I would come and spend the day with her.

I looked at mother, mother looked at Mr. Gilbert, Mr. Gilbert looked at me, and after surveying me from head to foot said, spitting between every other word, "Ye-es ye-es, we've come to live in the country, and I suppose" (here he spit three successive times), "and I suppose we may as well be on friendly terms as any other; so, madam" (turning to mother), "I am willing to have your little daughter visit us ocasionally." Then adding that "he would extend the same invitation to her were it not that his wife was an invalid and saw no company," he departed.

One morning, several days afterward, a servant brought to our house a neat little note from Mrs. Gilbert, asking mother to let me spend the day with Nellie. After some consultation between mother and grandma, it was decided that I might go, and in less than an hour I was dressed and on the road, my hair braided so tightly in my neck that the little red bumps of flesh set up here and there, like currants on a brown earthen platter.

Nellie did not wait to receive me formally, but came running down the road, telling me that Robin had made a swing in the barn, and that we would play there most all day, as her mother was sick, and Adaline, who occupied two-thirds of the house, wouldn't let us come near her. This Adaline was to me a very formidable personage. Hitherto I had only caught glimpses of her, as with long skirts and waving plumes she sometimes dashed past our house on horseback, and it was with great trepidation that I now followed Nellie into the parlor, where she told me her sister was.

"Adaline, this is my little friend," said she; and Adaline replied:

"How do you do, little friend?"

My cheeks tingled, and for the first time raising my eyes I found myself face to face with the haughty belle. She was very tall and queenlike in her figure, and though she could hardly be called handsome, there was about her an air of elegance and refinement which partially compensated for the absence of beauty. That she was proud one could see from the glance of her large black eyes and the curl of her lip. Coolly surveying me for a moment, as she would any other curious specimen, she resumed her book, never speaking to me again, except to ask, when she saw me gazing wonderingly around the splendidly-furnished room, "if I supposed I could remember every article of furniture, and give a faithful report."

I thought I was insulted when she called me "little friend," and now, feeling sure of it, I tartly replied that "if I couldn't she perhaps might lend me paper and pencil, with which to write them down."

"Orginally, truly," said she, again poring over her book.

Nellie, who had left me for a moment, now returned, bidding me come and see her mother, and passing through the long hall, I was soon in Mrs. Gilbert's room, which was as tastefully, though perhaps not quite so richly, furnished as the parlor. Mrs. Gilbert was lying upon a sofa, and the moment I looked upon her the love which I had so freely given the daughter was shared with the mother, in whose pale sweet face, and soft brown eyes, I saw a strong resemblance to Nellie. She was attired in a rose-colored morning-gown, which flowed open in front, disclosing to view a larger quantity of rich French embroidery than I had ever before seen.

Many times during the day, and many times since, have I wondered what made her marry, and if she really loved the bearish-looking man who occasionally stalked into the room, smoking cigars and talking very loudly, when he knew how her head was throbbing with pain.

I had eaten but little breakfast that morning, and verily I thought I should famish before their dinner hour arrived; and when at last it came, and I saw the table glittering with silver, I felt many misgivings as to my ability to acquit myself creditably. But by dint of watching Nellie, doing just what she did, and refusing just what she refused, I managed to get through with it tolerably well. For once, too, in my life I drank all the wine I wanted; the result of which was that long before sunset I went home, crying and vomiting with the sick headache, which Sally said "served me right;" at the same time hinting her belief that I was slightly intoxicated!



CHAPTER III.

THE HAUNTED HOUSE.

Down our long, green lane, and at the further extremity of the narrow footpath which led to the "old mine," was another path or wagon road which wound along among the fern bushes, under the chestnut trees, across the hemlock swamp, and up, to a grassy ridge which overlooked a small pond, said, of course, to have no bottom. Fully crediting this story, and knowing, moreover, that China was opposite to us, I have often taken down my atlas and hunted through that ancient empire, in hopes of finding a corresponding sheet of water. Failing to do so I had made one with my pencil, writing against it, "Cranberry Pond," that being the name of its American brother.

Just above the pond on the grassy ridge stood an old, dilapidated building which had long borne the name of the "haunted house." I never knew whether this title was given it on account of its proximity to the "old mine," or because it stood near the very spot where, years and years ago, the "bloody Indians" pushed those cart-loads of burning hemp against the doors "of the only remaining house in Quaboag"—for which see Goodrich's Child's History, page—, somewhere toward the commencement. I only know that 'twas called the "haunted house," and that for a long time no one would live there, on account of the rapping, dancing, and cutting up generally which was said to prevail, there particularly in the west room, the one overhung with ivy and grapevines.

Three or four years before our story opens a widow lady, Mrs. Hudson, with her only daughter, Mabel, appeared in our neighborhood, hiring the "haunted house," and, in spite of the neighbors' predictions to the contrary, living there quietly and peaceably, unharmed by ghost or goblin. At first Mrs. Hudson was looked upon with distrust, and even a league with a certain old fellow was hinted at; but as she seemed to be well disposed, kind, and affable toward all, this feeling gradually wore away, and now she was universally liked, while Mabel, her daughter, was a general favorite. For two years past, Mabel had worked in the Fiskdale factory a portion of the time, going to school the remainder of the year. She was fitting herself for a teacher, and as the school in our district was small, the trustees had this summer kindly offered it to her. This arrangement delighted me; for, next to Nellie Gilbert, I loved Mabel Hudson best of anybody; and I fancied, too, that they looked alike, but of course it was all fancy.

Mrs. Hudson was a tailoress, and the day following my visit to Mr. Gilbert's I was sent by mother to take her some work. I found her in the little porch, her white cap-border falling over her placid face, and her wide checked apron coming nearly to the bottom of her dress. Mabel was there, too, and as she arose to receive me something about her reminded me of Adaline Gilbert. I could not tell what it was, for Mabel was very beautiful, and beside her Adaline would be plain; still there was a resemblance, either in voice or manner, and this it was, perhaps, which made me so soon mention the Gilberts and my visit to them the day previous.

Instantly Mrs. Hudson and Mabel exchanged glances, and I thought the face of the former grew a shade paler; still I may have been mistaken, for in her usual tone of voice she began to ask me numberless questions concerning the family, which seemed singular, as she was not remarkable for curiosity. But it suited me. I loved to talk then not less than I do now, and in a few minutes I had told all I knew—and more, too, most likely.

At last Mrs. Hudson asked about Mr. Gilbert, and how I liked him.

"Not a bit," said I. "He's the hatefulest, crossest, big-feelingest man I ever saw, and Adaline is just like him!"

Had I been a little older I might, perhaps, have wondered at the crimson flush which my hasty words brought to Mrs. Hudson's cheek, but I did not notice it then, and thinking she was, of course, highly entertained, I continued to talk about Mr. Gilbert and Adaline, in the last of whom Mabel seemed the most interested. Of Nellie I spoke with the utmost affection, and when Mrs. Hudson expressed a wish to see her, I promised, if possible, to bring her there; then as I had already outstayed the time for which permission had been given, I tied on my sunbonnet and started for home, revolving the ways and means by which I should keep my promise.

Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5     Next Part
Home - Random Browse