This proved to be a very easy matter; for within a few days Nellie came to return my visit, and as mother had other company she the more readily gave us permission to go where we pleased. Nellie had a perfect passion for ghost and witch stories, saying though that "she never liked to have them explained—she'd rather they'd be left in solemn mystery;" so when I told her of the "old mine" and the "haunted house" she immediately expressed a desire to see them. Hiding our bonnets under our aprons the better to conceal our intentions from sister Lizzie, who, we fancied, had serious thoughts of tagging, we sent her up-stairs in quest of something which we knew was not there, and then away we scampered down the green lane and across the pasture, dropping once into some alders as Lizzie's yellow hair became visible on the fence at the foot of the lane. Our consciences smote us a little, but we kept still until she returned to the house; then, continuing our way, we soon came in sight of the mine, which Nellie determined to explore.
It was in vain that I tried to dissuade her from the attempt. She was resolved, and stationing myself at a safe distance I waited while she scrambled over stones, sticks, logs, and bushes, until she finally disappeared in the cave. Ere long, however, she returned with soiled pantalets, torn apron, and scratched face, saying that "the mine was nothing in the world but a hole in the ground, and a mighty little one at that." After this I didn't know but I would sometime venture in, but for fear of what might happen I concluded to choose a time when I hadn't run away from Liz!
When I presented Nellie to Mrs. Hudson she took both her hands in hers, and, greatly to my surprise, kissed her on both cheeks. Then she walked hastily into the next room, but not until I saw something fall from her eyes, which I am sure were tears.
"Funny, isn't it?" said Nellie, looking wonderingly at me. "I don't know whether to laugh or what."
Mabel now came in, and though she manifested no particular emotion, she was exceedingly kind to Nellie, asking her many questions, and sometimes smoothing her brown curls. When Mrs. Hudson again appeared she was very calm, but I noticed that her eyes constantly rested upon Nellie, who, with Mabel's gray kitten in her lap, was seated upon the doorstep, the very image of childish innocence and beauty. Mrs. Hudson urged us to stay to tea but I declined, knowing that there was company at home, with three kinds of cake, besides cookies, for supper. So bidding her good-by, and promising to come again, we started homeward, where we found the ladies discussing their green tea and making large inroads upon the three kinds of cake.
One of them, a Mrs. Thompson, was gifted with the art of fortune-telling, by means of tea-grounds, and when Nellie and I took our seats at the table she kindly offered to see what was in store for us. She had frequently told my fortune, each time managing to fish up a freckle-faced boy so nearly resembling her grandson, my particular aversion, that I didn't care to hear it again. But with Nellie 'twas all new, and after a great whirling of tea-grounds and staining of mother's best table-cloth, she passed her cup to Mrs. Thompson, confidently whispering to me that she guessed she'd tell her something about Willie Raymond, who lived in the city, and who gave her the little cornelian ring which she wore. With the utmost gravity Mrs. Thompson read off the past and present, and then peering far into the future she suddenly exclaimed, "Oh, my! there's a gulf, or something, before you, and you are going to tumble into it headlong; don't ask me anything more."
I never did and never shall believe in fortune-telling, much less in Granny Thompson's "turned-up cups," but years after I thought of her prediction with regard to Nellie. Poor, poor Nellie!
On the first Monday in June our school commenced, and long before breakfast Lizzie and I were dressed and had turned inside out the little cupboard over the fireplace where our books were kept during vacation. Breakfast being over we deposited in our dinner-basket the whole of a custard pie, and were about starting off when mother said "we shouldn't go a step until half-past eight," adding further, that "we must put that pie back, for 'twas one she'd saved for their own dinner."
Lizzie pouted, while I cried, and taking my bonnet I repaired to the "great rock," where the sassafras, blackberries, and blacksnakes grew. Here I sat for a long time, thinking if I ever did grow up and get married (I was sure of the latter), I'd have all the custard pie I could eat for once! In the midst of my reverie a footstep sounded near, and looking up I saw before me Nellie Gilbert, with her satchel of books on her arm, and her sunbonnet hanging down her back, after the fashion in which I usually wore mine. In reply to my look of inquiry she said her father had concluded to let her go to the district school, though he didn't expect her to learn anything but "slang terms and ill manners."
By this time it was half-past eight, and together with Lizzie we repaired to the schoolhouse, where we found assembled a dozen girls and as many boys, among whom was Tom Jenkins. Tom was a great admirer of beauty, and hence I could never account for the preference he had hitherto shown for me, who my brothers called "bung-eyed" and Sally "raw-boned." He, however, didn't think so. My eyes, he said, were none too large, and many a night had he carried home my books for me, and many a morning had he brought me nuts and raisins, to say nothing of the time when I found in my desk a little note, which said—But everybody who's been to school, knows what it said!
Taking it all round we were as good as engaged; so you can judge what my feelings were when, before the night of Nellie's first day at school, I saw Tom Jenkins giving her an orange which I had every reason to think was originally intended for me! I knew very well that Nellie's brown curls and eyes had done the mischief; and though I did not love her the less, I blamed him the more for his fickleness, for only a week before he had praised my eyes, calling them a "beautiful indigo blue," and all that. I was highly incensed, and when on our way from school he tried to speak good-humoredly, I said, "I'd thank you to let me alone! I don't like you, and never did!"
He looked sorry for a minute, but soon forgot it all in talking to Nellie, who after he had left us said "he was a cleverish kind of boy, though he couldn't begin with William Raymond." After that I was very cool toward Tom, who attached himself more and more to Nellie, saying "she had the handsomest eyes he ever saw;" and, indeed, I think it chiefly owing to those soft, brown, dreamy eyes that I am not now "Mrs. Tom Jenkins of Jenkinsville," a place way out West, whither Tom and his mother have migrated.
One day Nellie was later at school than usual, giving as a reason that their folks had company—a Mr. Sherwood and his mother, from Hartford; and adding that if I'd never tell anybody as long as I lived and breathed she'd tell me something.
Of course I promised, and Nellie told me how she guessed that Mr. Sherwood, who was rich and handsome, liked Adaline. "Anyway, Adaline likes him," said she, "and oh, she's so nice and good when he's around. I ain't 'Nell, you hateful thing' then, but I'm 'Sister Nellie.' They are going to ride this morning, and perhaps they'll go by here. There they are, now!" and looking toward the road I saw Mr. Sherwood and Adaline Gilbert on horseback, riding leisurely past the schoolhouse. She was nodding to Nellie, but he was looking intently at Mabel, who was sitting near the window. I know he asked Adaline something about her, for I distinctly heard a part of her reply—"a poor factory girl," and Adaline's head tossed scornfully, as if that were a sufficient reason why Mabel should be despised.
Mr. Sherwood evidently did not think so, for the next day he walked by alone—and the next day he did the same, this time bringing with him a book, and seating himself in the shadow of a chestnut tree not far from the schoolhouse. The moment school was out, he arose and came forward, inquiring for Nellie, who, of course, introduced him to Mabel. The three then walked on together, while Tom Jenkins stayed in the rear with me, wondering what I wanted to act so for; "couldn't a feller like more than one girl if he wanted to?"
"Yes, I s'posed a feller could, though I didn't know, nor care!"
Tom made no reply, but whittled away upon a bit of shingle, which finally assumed the shape of a heart, and which I afterward found in his desk with the letter "N" written upon it, and then scratched out. When at last we reached our house Mr. Sherwood asked Nellie "where that old mine and sawmill were, of which she had told him so much."
"Right on Miss Hudson's way home," said Nellie. "Let's walk along with her;" and the next moment Mr. Sherwood, Mabel, and Nellie were in the long, green lane which led down to the sawmill.
Oh, how Adaline stormed when she heard of it, and how sneeringly she spoke to Mr. Sherwood of the "factory girl," insinuating that the bloom on her cheek was paint, and the lily on her brow powder! But he probably did not believe it, for almost every day he passed the schoolhouse, generally managing to speak with Mabel; and once he went all the way home with her, staying ever so long, too, for I watched until 'twas pitch dark, and he hadn't got back yet!
In a day or two he went home, and I thought no more about him, until Tom, who had been to the post-office, brought Mabel a letter, which made her turn red and white alternately, until at last she cried. She was very absent-minded the remainder of that day, letting us do as we pleased, and never in my life did I have a better time "carrying on" than I did that afternoon when Mabel received her first letter from Mr. Sherwood.
About six weeks after the close of Mabel's school we were one day startled with the intelligence that she was going to be married, and to Mr. Sherwood, too. He had become tired of the fashionable ladies of his acquaintance, and when he saw how pure and artless Mabel was, he immediately became interested in her; and at last, overcoming all feelings of pride, he had offered her his hand, and had been accepted. At first we could hardly credit the story; but when Mrs. Hudson herself confirmed it we gave it up, and again I wondered if I should be invited. All the nicest and best chestnuts which I could find, to say nothing of the apples and butternuts, I carried to her, not without my reward either, for when invitations came to us I was included with the rest. Our family were the only invited guests, and I felt no fears this time of being hidden by the crowd.
Just before the ceremony commenced there was the sound of a heavy footstep upon the outer porch, a loud knock at the door, and then into the room came Mr. Gilbert! He seemed slightly agitated, but not one-half so much as Mrs. Hudson, who exclaimed, "William, my son, why are you here?"
"I came to witness my sister's bridal," was the answer; and turning toward the clergyman, he said, somewhat authoritatively, "Do not delay for me, sir. Go on."
There was a movement in the next room, and then the bridal party entered, both starting with surprise as they saw Mr. Gilbert. Very beautiful did Mabel look as she stood up to take upon herself the marriage vow, not a syllable of which did one of us hear. We were thinking of Mr. Gilbert, and the strange words, "my son" and "my sister."
When it was over, and Mabel was Mrs. Sherwood, Mr. Gilbert approached Mrs. Hudson, saying, "Come, mother, let me lead you to the bride."
With an impatient gesture she waved him off, and going alone to her daughter, threw her arms around her neck, sobbing convulsively. There was an awkward silence, and then Mr. Gilbert, thinking he was called upon for an explanation, arose, and addressing himself mostly to Mr. Sherwood, said, "I suppose what has transpired here to-night seems rather strange, and will undoubtedly furnish the neighborhood with gossip for more than a week, but they are welcome to canvass, whatever I do. I can't help it if I was born with an unusual degree of pride, neither can I help feeling mortified, as I many times did, at my family, particularly after she," glancing at his mother, "married the man whose name she bears."
Here Mrs. Hudson lifted up her head, and coming to Mr. Gilbert's side, stood proudly erect, while he continued: "She would tell you he was a good man, but I hated him, and swore never to enter the house while he lived. I went away, took care of myself, grew rich, married into one of the first families in Hartford, and—and—"
Here he paused, and his mother, continuing the sentence, added, "and grew ashamed of your own mother, who many a time went without the comforts of life that you might be educated. You were always a proud, wayward boy, William, but never did I think you would do as you have done. You have treated me with utter neglect, never allowing your wife to see me, and when I once proposed visiting you in Hartford you asked your brother, now dead, to dissuade me from it, if possible, for you could not introduce me to your acquaintances as your mother. Never do you speak of me to your children, who, if they know they have a grandmother, little dream that she lives within a mile of their father's dwelling. One of them I have seen, and my heart yearned toward her as it did toward you when first I took you in my arms, my first-born baby; and yet, William, I thank Heaven there is in her sweet face no trace of her father's features. This may sound harsh, unmotherly, but greatly have I been sinned against, and now, just as a brighter day is dawning upon me, why have you come here? Say, William, why?"
By the time Mrs. Hudson had finished, nearly all in the room were weeping. Mr. Gilbert, however, seemed perfectly indifferent, and with the most provoking coolness replied, "I came to see my fair sister married—to congratulate her upon an alliance which will bring us upon a more equal footing."
"You greatly mistake me, sir," said Mr. Sherwood, turning haughtily toward Mr. Gilbert, at the same time drawing Mabel nearer to him; "you greatly mistake me, if, after what I have heard, you think I would wish for your acquaintance. If my wife, when poor and obscure, was not worthy of your attention, you certainly are not now worthy of hers, and it is my request that our intercourse should end here."
Mr. Gilbert muttered something about "extenuating circumstances," and "the whole not being told," but no one paid him any attention; and at last, snatching up his hat, he precipitately left the house, I sending after him a hearty good riddance, and mentally hoping he would measure his length in the ditch which he must pass on his way across Hemlock Swamp.
The next morning Mr. and Mrs. Sherwood departed on their bridal tour, intending on their return to take their mother with them to the city. Several times during their absence I saw Mr. Gilbert, either going to or returning from the "haunted house," and I readily guessed he was trying to talk his mother over, for nothing could be more mortifying than to be cut by the Sherwoods, who were among the first in Hartford.
Afterward, greatly to my satisfaction, I heard that though, motherlike, Mrs. Hudson had forgiven her son, Mr. Sherwood ever treated him with a cool haughtiness, which effectually kept him at a distance.
Once, indeed, at Mabel's earnest request, Mrs. Gilbert and Nellie were invited to visit her, and as the former was too feeble to accomplish the journey, Nellie went alone, staying a long time, and torturing her sister on her return with a glowing account of the elegantly-furnished house, of which Adaline had once hoped to be the proud mistress.
For several years after Mabel's departure from Rice Corner nothing especial occurred in the Gilbert family, except the marriage of Adaline with a rich bachelor, who must have been many years older than her father, for he colored his whiskers, wore false teeth and a wig, besides having, as Nellie declared, a wooden leg! For the truth of this last I will not vouch, as Nellie's assertion was only founded upon the fact of her having once looked through the keyhole of his door, and espied standing by his bed something which looked like a cork leg, but which might have been a boot! What Adaline saw in him to like I could never guess. I suppose, however, that she only looked at his rich gilding, which covered a multitude of defects.
Immediately after the wedding the happy pair started for a two-years' tour in Europe, where the youthful bride so enraged her bald-headed lord by flirting with a mustached Frenchman that in a fit of anger the old man picked up his goods, chattels, and wife, and returned to New York within three months of his leaving it!
POOR, POOR NELLIE.
And now, in the closing chapter of this brief sketch of the Gilberts, I come to the saddest part—the fate of poor Nellie, the dearest playmate my childhood ever knew, she whom the lapse of years ripened into a graceful, beautiful girl, loved by everybody, even by Tom Jenkins, whose boyish affection had grown with his growth and strengthened with his strength.
And now Nellie was the affianced bride of William Raymond, who had replaced the little cornelian with the engagement ring. At last the rumor reached Tom Jenkins, awaking him from the sweetest dream he had ever known. He could not ask Nellie if it were true, so he came to me; and when I saw how he grew pale and trembled, I felt that Nellie was not altogether blameless. But he breathed no word of censure against her; and when, a year or two afterward, I saw her given to William Raymond, I knew that the love of two hearts was hers; the one to cherish and watch over her, the other to love and worship, silently, secretly, as a miser worships his hidden treasure.
* * * * *
The bridal was over. The farewells were over, and Nellie had gone—gone from the home whose sunlight she had made, and which she had left forever. Sadly the pale, sick mother wept, and mourned her absence, listening in vain for the light footfall and soft, ringing voice she would never hear again.
Three weeks had passed away, and then, far and near the papers teemed with accounts of the horrible Norwalk catastrophe, which desolated many a home, and wrung from many a heart its choicest treasure. Side by side they found them—Nellie and her husband—the light of her brown eyes quenched forever, and the pulses of his heart still in death!
I was present when they told the poor invalid of her loss, and even now I seem to hear the bitter, wailing cry which broke from her white lips, as she begged them to unsay what they had said, and tell her Nellie was not dead—that she would come back again.
It could not be. Nellie would never return; and in six weeks' time the broken-hearted mother was at rest with her child.
THE THANKSGIVING PARTY AND ITS CONSEQUENCES.
NIGHT BEFORE THANKSGIVING.
"Oh, I do hope it will be pleasant to-morrow," said Lizzie Dayton, as on the night before Thanksgiving she stood at the parlor window, watching a dense mass of clouds, behind which the sun had lately gone to his nightly rest.
"I hope so, too," said Lucy, coming forward and joining her sister; "but then it isn't likely it will be. There has been a big circle around the moon these three nights, and besides that, I never knew it fail to storm when I was particularly anxious that it should be pleasant;" and the indignant beauty pouted very becomingly at the insult so frequently offered by that most capricious of all things, the weather.
"Thee shouldn't talk so, Lucy," said Grandma Dayton, who was of Quaker descent, at the same time holding up between herself and the window the long stocking which she was knitting. "Doesn't thee know that when thee is finding fault with the weather thee finds fault with Him who made the weather?"
"I do wish, grandma," answered Lucy, "that I could ever say anything which did not furnish you with a text from which to preach me a sermon."
Grandma did not reply directly to this rather uncivil speech, but, she continued: "I don't see how the weather will hurt thee, if it's the party thee is thinking of, for Mr. Graham's is only ten rods or so from here.
"I'm not afraid I can't go," answered Lucy; "but you know as well as I that if the wind blows enough to put out a candle, father is so old-maidish as to think Lizzie and I must wear thick stockings and dresses, and I shouldn't wonder if he insisted on flannel wrappers!"
"Well," answered grandma, "I think myself it will be very imprudent for Lizzie, in her present state of health, to expose her neck and arms. Thy poor marm died with consumption when she wasn't much older than thee is. Let me see—she was twenty-three the day she died, and thee was twenty-two in Sep—"
"For heaven's sake, grandmother," interrupted Lucy, "don't continually remind me of my age, and tell me how much younger mother was when she was married. I can't help it if I'm twenty-two, and not married or engaged either. But I will be both before I am a year older."
So saying, she quitted the apartment, and repaired to her own room.
Ere we follow her thither we will introduce both her and her sister to our readers. Lucy and Lizzie were the only children of Mr. Dayton, a wealthy, intelligent, and naturally social man, the early death of whose idolized, beautiful wife had thrown a deep gloom over his spirits, which time could never entirely dispel. It was now seventeen years since, a lonely, desolate widower, at the dusky twilight hour he had drawn closely to his bosom his motherless children, and thought that but for them he would gladly have lain down by her whose home was now in heaven. His acquaintances spoke lightly of his grief, saying he would soon get over it and marry again. They were mistaken, for he remained single, his widowed mother supplying to his daughters the place of their lost parent.
In one thing was Mr. Dayton rather peculiar. Owing to the death of his wife, he had always been in the habit of dictating to his daughters in various small matters, such as dress, and so forth, about which fathers seldom trouble themselves. And even now he seemed to forget that they were children no longer, and often interfered in their plans in a way exceedingly annoying to Lucy, the eldest of the girls, who was now twenty-two and was as proud, selfish, and self-willed as she was handsome and accomplished. Old maids she held in great abhorrence, and her great object in life was to secure a wealthy and distinguished husband. Hitherto she had been unsuccessful, for the right one had not yet appeared. Now, however, a new star was dawning on her horizon, in the person of Hugh St. Leon, of New Orleans. His fame had preceded him, and half the village of S—— were ready to do homage to the proud millionaire, who would make his first appearance at the Thanksgiving party. This, then, was the reason why Lucy felt so anxious to be becomingly dressed, for she had resolved upon a conquest, and she felt sure of success. She knew she was beautiful. Her companions told her so, her mirror told her so, and her sweet sister Lizzie told her so more then twenty times a day.
Lizzie was four years younger than her sister, and wholly unlike her, both in personal appearance and disposition. She had from childhood evinced a predisposition to the disease which had consigned her mother to an early grave. On her fair, soft cheek the rose of health had never bloomed, and in the light which shone from her clear hazel eye, her fond father read but too clearly "passing away—passing away."
If there was in Lucy Dayton's selfish nature any redeeming quality, it was that she possessed for her frail young sister a love amounting almost to adoration. Years before, she had trembled as she thought how soon the time might come when for her sister's merry voice she would listen in vain; but as month after month and year after year went by, and still among them Lizzie stayed, Lucy forgot her fears, and dreamed not that ere long one chair would be vacant—that Lizzie would be gone.
Although so much younger than her sister, Lizzie, for more than a year, had been betrothed to Harry Graham, whom she had known from childhood. Now, between herself and him the broad Atlantic rolled, nor would he return until the coming autumn, when, with her father's consent, Lizzie would be all his own.
Alas! alas! ere autumn came How many hearts were weeping For her who 'neath the willow's shade Lay sweetly, calmly sleeping.
Slowly the feeble light of a stormy morning broke over the village of S——. Lucy's fears had been verified, for Thanksgiving's dawn was ushered in by a fierce, driving storm. Thickly from the blackened clouds the feathery flakes had fallen until the earth far and near was covered by a mass of white, untrodden snow.
Lucy had been awake for a long time, listening to the sad song of the wind, which swept howling by the casement. At length, with an impatient frown at the snow which covered the window pane, she turned on her pillow, and tried again to sleep. Her slumbers, however, were soon disturbed by her sister, who arose, and putting aside the curtain, looked out upon the storm, saying half-aloud, "Oh, I am sorry, for Lucy will be disappointed."
"I disappointed!" repeated Lucy; "now, Lizzie, why not own it, and say you are as much provoked at the weather as I am, and wish this horrid storm had stayed in the icy caves of Greenland?"
"Because," answered Lizzie, "I really care but little about the party. You know Harry will not be there, and besides that, the old, ugly pain has come back to my side this morning;" and even as she spoke a low, hacking cough fell on Lucy's ear like the echo of a distant knell.
Lucy raised herself up, and leaning on her elbow looked earnestly at her sister, and fancied ('twas not all fancy), that her cheeks had grown thinner and her brow whiter within a few weeks. Lizzie proceeded with her toilet, although she was twice obliged to stop on account of "the ugly pain," as she called it.
"Hurry, sister," said Lucy, "and you will feel better when you get to the warm parlor."
Lizzie thought so, too, and she accelerated her movements as much as possible. Just as she was leaving the room Lucy detained her a moment by passing her arm caressingly around her. Lizzie well knew that some favor was wanted, and she said, "Well, what is it, Lucy? What do you wish me to give you?"
"Nothing, nothing," answered Lucy; "but do not say anything to father about the pain in your side, for fear he will keep you at home, and, worse than all, make me stay, too."
Lizzie gave the required promise, and then descended to the breakfast parlor, where she found her grandmother, and was soon joined by her sister and father. After the usual salutation of the morning the latter said "There is every prospect of our being alone to-day, for the snow is at least a foot and a half deep, and is drifting every moment."
"But, father," said Lucy, "that will not prevent Lizzie and me from going to the party to-night."
"You mean, if I choose to let you go, of course," answered Mr. Dayton.
"Why," quickly returned Lucy, "you cannot think of keeping us at home. It is only distant a few rods, and we will wrap up well."
"I have no objections to your going," replied Mr. Dayton, "provided you dress suitably for such a night."
"Oh, father," said Lucy, "you cannot be capricious enough to wish us to be bundled up in bags."
"I care but little what dress you wear," answered Mr. Dayton, "if it has what I consider necessary appendages, viz., sleeves and waist."
The tears glittered in Lucy's bright eyes as she said, "Our party dresses are at Miss Carson's, and she is to send them home this morning."
"Wear them, then," answered Mr. Dayton, "provided they possess the qualities I spoke of, for without those you cannot go out on such a night as this will be."
Lucy knew that her dress was minus the sleeves, and that her father would consider the waist a mere apology for one, so she burst into tears and said, rather angrily, "I had rather stay at home than go rigged out as you would like to have me."
"Very well; you can stay at home," was Mr. Dayton's quiet reply.
In a few moments he left the room, and then Lucy's wrath burst forth unrestrainedly. She called her father all sorts of names, such as "an old granny—an old fidget," and finished up her list with what she thought the most odious appellation of all, "an old maid."
In the midst of her tirade the door bell rang. It was the boy from Miss Carson's, and he brought the party dresses. Lucy's thoughts now took another channel, and while admiring her beautiful embroidered muslin and rich white satin skirt, she forgot that she could not wear it. Grandma was certainly unfortunate in her choice of words, this morning, for when Lucy for the twentieth time asked if her dress were not a perfect beauty, the old Quakeress answered:
"Why, it looks very decent, but it can do thee no good, for thy pa has said thee cannot wear it; besides, the holy writ reads, 'Let your adorning—'"
Here Lucy stopped her ears, exclaiming, "I do believe, grandma, you were manufactured from a chapter in the Bible, for you throw your holy writ into my face on all occasions."
The good lady adjusted her spectacles, and replied, "How thee talks! I never thought of throwing my Bible at thee, Lucy!"
Grandma had understood her literally.
Nothing more was said of the party until dinner time, although there was a determined look in Lucy's flashing eye, which puzzled Lizzie not a little. Owing to the storm, Mr. Dayton's country cousins did not, as was their usual custom, come into town to dine with him, and for this Lucy was thankful, for she thought nothing could be more disagreeable than to be compelled to sit all day and ask Cousin Peter how much his fatting hogs weighed; or his wife, Elizabeth Betsey, how many teeth the baby had got; or, worse than all the rest, if the old maid, Cousin Berintha, were present, to be obliged to be asked at least three times, whether it's twenty-four or twenty-five she'd be next September, and on saying it was only twenty-three, have her word disputed and the family Bible brought in question. Even then Miss Berintha would demur, until she had taken the Bible to the window, and squinted to see if the year had not been scratched out and rewritten! Then closing the book with a profound sigh she would say, "I never, now! it beats all how much older you look!"
All these annoyances Lucy was spared on this day, for neither Cousin Peter, Elizabeth Betsey, or Miss Berintha made their appearance. At the dinner table Mr. Dayton remarked quietly to his daughters, "I believe you have given up attending the party!"
"Oh, no, father," said Lucy, "we are going, Lizzie and I."
"And what about your dress?" asked Mr. Dayton.
Lucy bit her lip as she replied, "Why, of course, we must dress to suit you, or stay at home."
Lizzie looked quickly at her sister, as if asking how long since she had come to this conclusion; but Lucy's face was calm and unruffled, betraying no secrets, although her tongue did when, after dinner, she found herself alone with Lizzie in their dressing-room. A long conversation followed, in which Lucy seemed trying to persuade Lizzie to do something wrong. Possessed of the stronger mind, Lucy's influence over her sister was great, and sometimes a bad one, but never before had she proposed an open act of disobedience toward their father, and Lizzie constantly replied, "No, no, Lucy, I can't do it; besides, I really think I ought not to go, for that pain in my side is no better."
"Nonsense, Lizzie," said Lucy. "If you are going to be as whimsical as Miss Berintha you had better begin at once to dose yourself with burdock or catnip tea." Then, again recurring to the dress, she continued, "Father did not say we must not wear them after we got there. I shall take mine, anyway, and I wish you would do the same; and then, if he ever knows it, he will not be as much displeased when he finds that you, too, are guilty."
After a time, Lizzie was persuaded, but her happiness for that day was destroyed, and when at tea-time her father asked if she felt quite well, she could scarcely keep from bursting into tears. Lucy, however, came to her relief, and said she was feeling blue because Harry would not be present! Just before the hour for the party Lucy descended to the parlor, where her father was reading, in order, as she said, to let him see whether her dress were fussy enough to suit him. He approved her taste, and after asking if Lizzie, too, were dressed in the same manner, resumed his paper. Ere long the covered sleigh stood at the door, and in a few moments Lucy and Lizzie were in Anna Graham's dressing-room, undergoing the process of a second toilet.
Nothing could be more beautiful than was Lucy Dayton, after party dress, bracelets, curls, and flowers had all been adjusted. She probably thought so, too, for a smile of satisfaction curled her lip as she saw the radiant vision reflected by the mirror. Her bright eye flashed, and her heart swelled with pride as she thought, "Yes, there's no help for it, I shall win him sure;" then turning to Anna Graham, she asked, "Is that Mr. St. Leon to be here to-night?"
"Yes, you know he is," answered Anna, "and I pity him, for I see you are all equipped for an attack; but," continued she, glancing at Lizzie, "were not little Lizzie's heart so hedged up by brother Hal, I should say your chance was small."
Lucy looked at her sister, and a chill struck her heart as she observed a spasm of pain which for an instant contracted Lizzie's fair, sweet face. Anna noticed it, too, and springing toward her, said, "What is it, Lizzie? are you ill?"
"No," answered Lizzie, laying her hand on her side; "nothing but a sharp pain. It will soon be better;" but while she spoke her teeth almost chattered with the cold.
Oh, Lizzie, Lizzie!
For a short time, now, we will leave the young ladies in Miss Graham's dressing-room, and transport our readers to another part of the village.
In a small and neat, but scantily furnished chamber, a poor widow was preparing her only child, Ada, for the party. The plain, white muslin dress of two years old had been washed and ironed so carefully that Ada said it looked just as well as new; but then everything looked well on Ada Harcourt, who was highly gifted, both with intellect and beauty. After her dress was arranged she went to the table for her old white gloves, the cleaning of which had cost her much trouble, for her mother did not seem to be at all interested in them, so Ada did as well as she could. As she was about to put them on her mother returned from a drawer, into the recesses of which she had been diving, and from which she brought a paper carefully folded.
"Here, Ada," said she, "you need not wear those gloves; see here"—and she held up a pair of handsome mitts, a fine linen handkerchief, and a neat little gold pin.
"Oh, mother, mother!" said Ada joyfully, "where did you get them?"
"I know," answered Mrs. Harcourt, "and that is enough."
After a moment's thought Ada knew, too. The little hoard of money her mother had laid by for a warm winter shawl had been spent for her. From Ada's lustrous blue eyes the tears were dropping as, twining her arm around her mother's neck, she said, "Naughty, naughty mother!" but there was a knock at the door. The sleigh which Anna Graham had promised to send for Ada had come; so dashing away her tears, and adjusting her new mitts and pin, she was soon warmly wrapped up, and on her way to Mr. Graham's.
"In the name of the people, who is that?" said Lucy Dayton, as Anna Graham entered the dressing-room, accompanied by a bundle of something securely shielded from the cold.
The removal of the hood soon showed Lucy who it was, and with an exclamation of surprise she turned inquiringly to a young lady who was standing near. To her look the young lady replied, "A freak of Anna's, I suppose. She thinks a great deal of those Harcourts."
An impatient "pshaw!" burst from Lucy's lips, accompanied with the words, "I wonder who she thinks wants to associate with that plebeian!"
The words, the look, and the tone caught Ada's eye and ear, and instantly blighted her happiness. In the joy and surprise of receiving an invitation to the party it had never occurred to her that she might be slighted there, and she was not prepared for Lucy's unkind remark. For an instant the tears moistened her long silken eyelashes, and a deeper glow mantled her usually bright cheek; but this only increased her beauty, which tended to increase Lucy's vexation. Lucy knew that in her own circle there was none to dispute her claim; but she knew, too, that in a low-roofed house, in the outskirts of the town, there dwelt a poor sewing woman, whose only daughter was famed for her wondrous beauty. Lucy had frequently seen Ada in the streets, but never before had she met her, and she now determined to treat her with the utmost disdain.
Not so was Lizzie affected by the presence of "the plebeian." Mrs. Harcourt had done plain sewing for her father, and Lizzie had frequently called there for the work. In this way an acquaintance had been commenced between herself and Ada which had ripened into friendship. Lizzie, too, had heard the remark of her sister, and, anxious to atone as far as possible for the unkindness, she went up to Ada, expressed her pleasure at seeing her there, and then, as the young ladies were about descending to the parlors, she offered her arm, saying, "I will accompany you down, but, I have no doubt scores of beaus will quickly take you off my hands."
The parlors were nearly filled when our party reached them, and Ada half-tremblingly clung to Lizzie's arm, while, with queen-like grace and dignity, Lucy Dayton moved through the crowded drawing-room. Her quick eye had scanned each gentleman, but her search was fruitless. He was not there, and during the next half-hour she listened rather impatiently to the tide of flattery poured into her ear by some one of her admirers. Suddenly there was a stir at the door, and Mr. St. Leon was announced. He was a tall, fine-looking man, probably about twenty-five years of age. The expression of his face was remarkably pleasing, and such as would lead an entire stranger to trust him, sure that his confidence would not be misplaced. His manners were highly polished, and in his dignified, self-possessed bearing, there was something which some called pride, but in all the wide world there was not a more generous heart than that of Hugh St. Leon.
Lucy for a moment watched him narrowly, and then her feelings became perfectly calm, for she felt sure that now, for the first time, she looked upon her future husband! Ere long Anna Graham approached, accompanied by the gentleman, whom she introduced, and then turning, left them alone. Lucy would have given almost anything to have known whether St. Leon had requested an introduction, but no means of information were at hand, so she bent all her energies to be as agreeable as possible to the handsome stranger at her side, who each moment seemed more and more pleased with her.
Meantime, in another part of the room Lizzie and Ada were the center of attraction. The same kindness which prompted Anna Graham to invite Ada was careful to see that she did not feel neglected. For this purpose Anna's brother, Charlie, a youth of sixteen, had been instructed to pay her particular attention. This he was not unwilling to do, for he knew no reason why she should not be treated politely, even if she were a sewing woman's daughter. Others of the company, observing how attentive Charlie and Lizzie were to the beautiful girl, felt disposed to treat her graciously, so that to her the evening was passing very happily.
When St. Leon entered the room the hum of voices prevented Ada from hearing his name; neither was she aware of his presence until he had been full fifteen minutes conversing with Lucy. Then her attention was directed toward him by Lizzie. For a moment Ada gazed as if spellbound; then a dizziness crept over her, and she nervously grasped the little plain gold ring which encircled the third finger of her left hand!
Turning to Lizzie, who, fortunately, had not noticed her agitation, she said, "What did you say his name was?"
"St. Leon, from New Orleans," replied Lizzie.
"Then I'm not mistaken," Ada said inaudibly.
At that moment Anna Graham approached, and whispered something to Ada, who gave a startled look, saying, "Oh, no, Miss Anna; you would not have me make myself ridiculous."
"Certainly not," answered Anna; "neither will you do so, for some of your songs you sing most beautifully. Do come; I wish to surprise my friends."
Ada consented rather unwillingly, and Anna led her toward the music-room, followed by a dozen or more, all of whom wondered what a sewing woman's daughter knew about music. On their way to the piano they passed near St. Leon and Lucy, the former of whom started as his eye fell upon Ada.
"I did not think there was another such face in the world," said he, apparently to himself; then turning to Lucy, he asked who that beautiful girl was.
"Which one?" asked Lucy; "there are many beauties here to-night."
"I mean the one with the white muslin, and dark auburn curls," said St. Leon.
Lucy's brow darkened but she answered, "That? oh, that is Ada Harcourt. Her mother is a poor sewing woman. I never met Ada before, and cannot conceive how she came to be here; but then the Grahams are peculiar in their notions, and I suppose it was a whim of Anna's."
Without knowing it, St. Leon had advanced some steps toward the door through which Ada had disappeared. Lucy followed him, vexed beyond measure that the despised Ada Harcourt should even have attracted his attention.
"Is she as accomplished as handsome?" asked he.
"Why, of course not," answered Lucy, with a forced laugh. "Poverty, ignorance, and vulgarity go together, usually, I believe."
St. Leon gave her a rapid, searching glance, in which disappointment was mingled, but before he could reply there was the sound of music. It was a sweet, bird-like voice which floated through the rooms, and the song it sang was a favorite one of St. Leon's, who was passionately fond of music.
"Let us go nearer," said he to Lucy, who, nothing loath, accompanied him, for she, too, was anxious to know who it was that thus chained each listener into silence.
St. Leon at length got a sight of the singer, and said with evident pleasure, "Why, it's Miss Harcourt!"
"Miss Harcourt! Ada Harcourt!" exclaimed Lucy. "Impossible! Why, her mother daily toils for the bread they eat!"
But if St. Leon heard her, he answered not. His senses were locked in those strains of music which recalled memories of something, he scarcely knew what, and Lucy found herself standing alone, her heart swelling with anger toward Ada, who from that time was her hated rival. The music ceased, but scores of voices were loud in their call for another song; and again Ada sang, but this time there was in the tones of her voice a thrilling power, for which those who listened could not account. To Ada the atmosphere about her seemed charmed, for though she never for a moment raised her eyes, she well knew who it was that leaned upon the piano and looked intently upon her. Again the song was finished, and then at St. Leon's request he was introduced to the singer, who returned his salutation with perfect self-possession, although her heart beat quickly, as she hoped, yet half-feared, that that he would recognize her. But he did not, and as they passed together into the next room he wondered much why the hand which lay upon his arm trembled so violently, while Ada said to herself, "'Tis not strange he doesn't know me by this name." Whether St. Leon knew her or not, there seemed about her some strong attraction, which kept him at her side the remainder of the evening, greatly to Lucy Dayton's mortification and displeasure.
"I'll be revenged on her yet," she muttered. "The upstart! I wonder where she learned to play."
This last sentence was said aloud; and Lizzie, who was standing near, replied, "Her father was once wealthy and Ada had the best of teachers. Since she has lived in S—— she has occasionally practised on Anna's piano."
"I think I'd keep a piano for paupers to play on," was Lucy's contemptuous reply, uttered with no small degree of bitterness, for at that moment St. Leon approached her with the object of her dislike leaning upon his arm.
Ada introduced Lizzie to St. Leon, who offered her his other arm, and the three kept together until Lizzie, uttering a low, sharp cry of pain leaned heavily as if for support against St. Leon. In an instant Lucy was at her side; but to all her anxious inquiries Lizzie could only reply, as she clasped her thin, white hand over her side, "The pain—the pain—take me home."
"Our sleigh has not yet come," said Lucy. "Oh, what shall we do?"
"Mine is here, and at your command, Miss Dayton," said St. Leon.
Lucy thanked him, and then proceeded to prepare Lizzie, who, chilled through and through by the exposure of her chest and arms, had borne the racking pain in her side as long as possible, and now lay upon the sofa as helpless as an infant. When all was ready St. Leon lifted her in his arms, and bearing her to the sleigh, stepped lightly in with her, and took his seat.
"It is hardly necessary for you to accompany us home," said Lucy, overjoyed beyond measure, though, to find that he was going.
"Allow me to be the judge," answered St. Leon, and other than that, not a word was spoken until they reached Mr. Dayton's door. Then, carefully carrying Lizzie into the house, he was about to leave, when Lucy detained him to thank him for his kindness, adding that she hoped to see him again.
"Certainly, I shall call to-morrow," was his reply, as he sprang down the steps, and entering his sleigh, was driven back to Mr. Graham's.
He found the company about dispersing, and meeting Ada in the hall, asked to accompany her home. Ada's pride for a moment hesitated, and then she answered in the affirmative. When St. Leon had seated her in his sleigh he turned back, on pretext of looking for something, but in reality to ask Anna Graham where Ada lived, as he did not wish to question her on the subject.
When they were nearly home St. Leon said, "Miss Harcourt, have you always lived in S——?"
"We have lived here but two years," answered Ada; and St. Leon continued:
"I cannot rid myself of the impression that somewhere I have met you before."
"Indeed," said Ada, "when and where?"
But his reply was prevented by the sleigh's stopping at Mrs. Harcourt's door. As St. Leon bade Ada good night he whispered, "I shall see you again."
Ada made no answer, but going into the house where her mother was waiting for her, she exclaimed, "Oh, mother, mother, I've seen him!—he was there!—he brought me home!"
"Seen whom?" asked Mrs. Harcourt, alarmed at her daughter's agitation.
"Why, Hugh St. Leon!" replied Ada.
"St. Leon in town!" repeated Mrs. Harcourt, her eye lighting up with joy.
'Twas only for a moment, however, for the remembrance of what she was when she knew St. Leon, and what she now was, recurred to her, and she said calmly, "I thought you had forgotten that childish fancy."
"Forgotten!" said Ada bitterly; and then as she recalled the unkind remark of Lucy Dayton she burst into a passionate fit of weeping.
After a time Mrs. Harcourt succeeded in soothing her, and then drew from her all the particulars of the party, St Leon and all. When Ada had finished her mother kissed her fair cheek, saying, "I fancy St. Leon thinks as much of little Ada now as he did six years ago;" but Ada could not think so, though that night, in dreams, she was again happy in her old home in the distant city, while at her side was St. Leon, who even then was dreaming of a childish face which had haunted him six long years.
We left Lizzie lying upon the sofa, where St. Leon had laid her. After he was gone Lucy proposed calling their father and sending for a physician, but Lizzie objected, saying she should be better when she got warm. During the remainder of that night Lucy sat by her sister's bedside, while each cry of pain which came from Lizzie's lips fell heavily upon her heart, for conscience accused her of being the cause of all this suffering. At length the weary night watches were finished, but the morning light showed more distinctly Lizzie's white brow and burning cheeks. She had taken a severe cold, which had settled upon her lungs, and now she was paying the penalty of her first act of disobedience.
Mr. Dayton had sent for the old family physician, who understood Lizzie's constitution perfectly. He shook his head as he said, "How came she by such a cold? Did she go to the party?"
"Yes, sir," replied Mr. Dayton.
"And not half-dressed, I'll warrant," said the gruff old doctor.
Lucy turned pale as her father answered, quickly and truthfully as he thought, "No, sir, she was properly dressed."
Lizzie heard it, and though speaking was painful, she said, "Forgive me, father, forgive me; I disobeyed you. I wore the dress you said I must not wear!"
An exclamation of surprise escaped Mr. Dayton, who, glancing at Lucy, read in her guilty face what Lizzie generously would not betray.
"Oh, Lucy, Lucy," said he, "how could you do so?"
Lucy could only reply through her tears. She was sincerely sorry that by her means Lizzie had been brought into danger; but when the doctor said that by careful management she might soon be better, all feelings of regret vanished, and she again began to think of St. Leon and his promise to call. A look at herself in the mirror showed her that she was looking pale and jaded, and she half-hoped he would not come. However, as the day wore on she grew nervous as she thought he possibly might be spending his time with the hated Ada. But he was not, and at about four o'clock there was a ring at the door. From an upper window Lucy saw St. Leon, and when Bridget came up for her, she asked if the parlor was well darkened.
"An' sure it's darker nor a pocket," said Bridget, "an' he couldn't see a haporth was ye twice as sorry lookin'."
So bathing her face in cologne, in order to force a glow, Lucy descended to the parlor, which she found to be as dark as Bridget had said it was. St. Leon received her very kindly, for the devotion she had the night before shown for her sister had partially counterbalanced the spitefulness he had observed in her manner when speaking of Ada at the party. Notwithstanding Bridget's precautions, he saw, too, that she was pale and spiritless, but he attributed it to her anxiety for her sister, and this raised her in his estimation. Lucy divined his thoughts, and in her efforts to appear amiable and agreeable, a half-hour passed quickly away. At the end of that time she unfortunately asked, in a very sneering tone, "how long since he had seen the sewing girl?"
"If you mean Miss Harcourt," said St. Leon coolly, "I've not seen her since I left her last night at her mother's door."
"You must have been in danger of upsetting if you attempted to turn round in Mrs. Harcourt's spacious yard," was Lucy's next remark.
"I did not attempt it," said St. Leon. "I carried Miss Ada in my arms from the street to the door."
The tone and manner were changed. Lucy knew it, and it exasperated her to say something more, but she was prevented by St. Leon's rising to go. As Lucy accompanied him to the door she asked how long he intended to remain in S——.
"I leave this evening, in the cars for New Haven," said he.
"This evening?" repeated Lucy in a disappointed tone, "and will you not return?"
"Yes, if the business on which I go is successful," answered St. Leon.
"A lady in question, perchance," remarked Lucy playfully.
"You interpret the truth accurately," said St. Leon, and with a cold, polite bow he was gone.
"Why was he going to New Haven?" This was the thought which now tortured Lucy. He had confessed that a lady was concerned in his going, but who was she, and what was she to him? Anyway, there was a comfort in knowing that Ada Harcourt had nothing to do with it!
Mistaken Lucy! Ada Harcourt had everything to do with it!
The lamps were lighted in the cars, and on through the valley of the Connecticut the New Haven train was speeding its way. In one corner of the car sat St. Leon, closely wrapped in cloak and thoughts, the latter of which occasionally suggested to him the possibility that his was a "Tomfool's" errand; "but then," thought he, "no one will know it if I fail, and if I do not, it is worth the trouble."
When the train reached Hartford a number of passengers entered, all bound for New Haven. Among them was a comical-looking, middle-aged man, whom St. Leon instantly recognized as a person whom he had known when in college in New Haven, and whom the students familiarly called "Uncle Israel." The recognition was mutual, for Uncle Israel prided himself on never forgetting a person he had once seen. In a few moments St. Leon was overwhelming him with scores of questions, but Uncle Israel was a genuine Yankee, and never felt happier than when engaged in giving or guessing information.
At length St. Leon asked, "Does Ada Linwood fulfil the promise of beauty which she gave as a child?"
"Ada who?" said Uncle Israel.
"Linwood," repeated St. Leon, arguing from the jog in Uncle Israel's memory that all was not right.
"Do you mean the daughter of Harcourt Linwood, he that was said to be so rich?"
"The same," returned St. Leon. "Where are they?"
Uncle Israel settled himself with the air of a man who has a long story on hand, and intends to tell it at his leisure. Filling his mouth with an enormous quid of tobacco, he commenced: "Better than four years ago Linwood smashed up, smack and clean; lost everything he had, and the rest had to be sold at vandue. But what was worse than all, seein' he was a fine feller in the main, and I guess didn't mean to fail, he took sick, and in about a month died."
"And what became of his widow and orphan?" asked St. Leon eagerly.
"Why, it wasn't nateral," said Uncle Israel, "that they should keep the same company they did before, and they's too plaguy stuck up to keep any other; so they moved out of town and supported themselves by takin' in sewin' or ironin', I forgot which."
"But where are they now?" asked St. Leon.
Uncle Israel looked at him for a moment, and then replied, "The Lord knows, I suppose, but Israel don't."
"Did they suffer at all?" asked St. Leon.
"Not as long as I stuck to them, but they sarved me real mean," answered Uncle Israel.
"In what way?"
"Why, you see," said Uncle Israel, "I don't know why, but somehow I never thought of matrimony till I got a glimpse of Ada at her father's vandue. To be sure, I'd seen her before, but then she was mighty big feelin', and I couldn't ha' touched her with a hoe-handle, but now 'twas different. I bought their house. I was rich and they was poor."
Involuntarily St. Leon clinched his fist, as Uncle Israel continued: "I seen to getting them a place in the country and then tended to 'em generally for more than six months, when I one day hinted to Mrs. Linwood that I would like to be her son-in-law. Christopher! how quick her back was up, and she gave me to understand that I was lookin' too high! 'Twas no go with Ada, and after awhile I proposed to the mother. Then you ought to seen her! She didn't exactly turn me out o' door but she coolly told me I wasn't wanted there. But I stuck to her and kept kind o' offerin' myself, till at last they cut stick and cleared out, and I couldn't find them, high nor low. I bunted for more than a year, and at last found them in Hartford. Thinkin' maybe they had come to I proposed again, and kept hangin' on till they gave me the slip again; and now I don't know where they be, but I guess they've changed their name."
At this point the cars stopped until the upward train should pass them, and St. Leon, rising, bade his companion good evening, saying, "he had changed his mind and should return to Hartford on the other train."
Six years prior to the commencement of our story New Haven boasted not a better or wealthier citizen than Harcourt Linwood, of whose subsequent failure and death we have heard from Uncle Israel. The great beauty of his only child, Ada, then a girl of nearly thirteen, was the subject of frequent comment among the circle in which he moved. No pains were spared with her education, and many were the conjectures as to what she would be when time had matured her mind and beauty.
Hugh St. Leon, of New Orleans, then nineteen years of age, and a student at Yale, had frequently met Ada at the house of his sister, Mrs. Durant, whose eldest daughter, Jenny, was about her own age. The uncommon beauty of the child greatly interested the young Southerner and once, in speaking of his future prospects to his sister, he playfully remarked, "Suppose I wait for Ada Linwood."
"You cannot do better," was the reply, and the conversation terminated.
The next evening there was to be a child's party at the house of Mrs. Durant, and as Hugh was leaving the house Jenny bounded after him, saying, "Oh, Uncle Hugh, you'll come to-morrow night, won't you? No matter if you are a grown-up man, in the junior class, trying to raise some whiskers! You will be a sort of restraint, and keep us from getting too rude. Besides, we are going to have tableaux, and I want you to act the part of bridegroom in one of the scenes."
"Who is to be the bride?" asked Hugh.
"Ada Linwood. Now I know you'll come, won't you?"
"I'll see," was Hugh's answer, as he walked away.
Jenny well knew that "I'll see" meant "yes," and tying on her bonnet, she hastened off to tell Ada that Uncle Hugh would be present, and would act the part of bridegroom in the scene where she was to be bride.
"What! that big man?" said Ada. "How funny!"
Before seven the next evening Mrs. Durant's parlors were filled, for the guests were not old enough or fashionable enough to delay making their appearance until morning. Hugh was the last to arrive, for which Jenny scolded him soundly, saying they were all ready for tableaus. "But come, now," said she, "and let me introduce you to the bride."
In ten minutes more the curtain rose, and Hugh St. Leon appeared with Ada on his arm, standing before a gentleman in clerical robes, who seemed performing the marriage ceremony. Placing a ring on Ada's third finger, St. Leon, when the whole was finished, took advantage of his new relationship, and kissed the lips of the bride. Amid a storm of applause the curtain dropped, and as he led the blushing Ada away he bent down, and pointing to the ring, whispered, "Wear it until some future day, when, by replacing it, I shall make you really my little wife."
The words were few and lightly spoken, but they touched the heart of the young Ada, awakening within her thoughts and feelings of which she never before had dreamed. Frequently, after that, she met St. Leon, who sometimes teased her about being his wife; but when he saw how painfully embarrassed she seemed on such occasions, he desisted.
The next year he was graduated, and the same day on which he received the highest honors of his class was long remembered with heartfelt sorrow, for ere the city clocks tolled the hour of midnight he stood with his orphaned niece, Jenny, weeping over the inanimate form of his sister, Mrs. Durant, who had died suddenly in a fit of apoplexy. Mr. Durant had been dead some years, and as Jenny had now no relatives in New Haven, she accompanied her uncle to his Southern home. Long and passionately she wept on Ada's bosom as she bade her farewell, promising never to forget her, but to write her three pages of foolscap every week. To do Jenny justice, we must say that this promise was faithfully kept for a whole month, and then, with thousands of its sisterhood, it disappeared into the vale of broken promises and resolutions.
She still wrote occasionally, and at the end of each epistle there was always a long postscript from Hugh, which Ada prized almost as much as she did Jenny's whole letter; and when at last matters changed, the letter becoming Hugh's and the postscript Jenny's, she made no objection, even if she felt any. At the time of her father's failure and death, a long unanswered letter was lying in her portfolio, which was entirely forgotten until weeks after, when, in the home which Uncle Israel so disinterestedly helped them to procure, she and her mother were sewing for the food which they ate. Then a dozen times was an answer commenced, blotted with tears, and finally destroyed, until Ada, burying her face in her mother's lap, sobbed out, "Oh, mother, I cannot do it. I cannot write to tell them how poor we are, for I remember that Jenny was proud, and laughed at the schoolgirls whose fathers were not rich."
So the letter was never answered, and as St. Leon about that time started on a tour through Europe, he knew nothing of their change of circumstances. On his way home he had in Paris met with Harry Graham, who had been his classmate, and who now won from him a promise that on his return to America he would visit his parents, in S——. He did so, and there, as we have seen, met with Ada Harcourt, whose face, voice, and manner reminded him so strangely of the Ada he had known years before, and whom he had never forgotten.
As the reader will have supposed, the sewing-woman whose daughter Lucy Dayton so heartily despised was none other than Mrs. Linwood, of New Haven, who had taken her husband's first name in order to avoid the persecutions of Uncle Israel. The day following the party St. Leon spent in making inquiries concerning Mrs. Harcourt, and the information thus obtained determined him to start at once for New Haven, in order to ascertain if his suspicions are correct.
The result of his journey we already know. Still he resolved not to make himself known immediately, but to wait until he satisfied himself that Ada was as good as beautiful. And then?
A few more chapters will tell us what then.
The gray twilight of a cold December afternoon was creeping over the village of S——, when Ada Harcourt left her seat by the window, where, the livelong day, she had sat stitching till her heart was sick and her eyes were dim. On the faded calico lounge near the fire lay Mrs. Harcourt, who for several days had been unable to work on account of a severe cold which seemed to have settled in her face and eyes.
"There," said Ada, as she brushed from her gingham apron the bits of thread and shreds of cotton, "there, it is done at last, and now before it is quite dark I will take it home."
"No, not to-night," said Mrs. Harcourt; "to-morrow will do just as well."
"But, mother," answered Ada, "you know Mrs. Dayton always pays as soon as the work is delivered, and what I have finished will come to two dollars and a half, which will last a long time, and we shall not be obliged to take any from the sum laid by to pay our rent; besides, you have had nothing nourishing for a long time; so let me go, and on my way home I will buy you something nice for supper."
Mrs. Harcourt said no more, but the tears fell from her aching eyes as she thought how hard her daughter was obliged to labor, now that she was unable to assist her. In a moment Ada was in the street. The little alley in which she lived was soon traversed, and she about turning into Main Street, when rapid footsteps approached her, and St. Leon appeared at her side, saying, "Good evening, Miss Harcourt; allow me to relieve you of that bundle."
And before she could prevent it he took from her hands the package, while he continued, "May I ask how far you are walking to-night?"
Ada hesitated a moment, but quickly forcing down her pride, she answered, "Only as far as Mr. Dayton's. I am carrying home some work."
"Indeed!" said he, "then I can have your company all the way, for I am going to inquire after Lizzie."
They soon reached their destination, and their ring at the door was not, as usual, answered by Bridget but by Lucy herself, whose sweet smile, as she greeted St. Leon, changed into an angry scowl when she recognized his companion.
"Ada Harcourt!" said she, and Ada, blushing scarlet, began: "I have brought—" but she was interrupted by St. Leon, who handed Lucy the bundle, saying:
"Here is your work, Miss Dayton, and I hope it will suit you, for we took a great deal of pains with it."
Lucy tried to smile as she took the work, and then opening the parlor door she with one hand motioned St. Leon to enter, while with the other she held the hall door ajar, as if for Ada to depart. A tear trembled on Ada's long eyelashes, as she timidly asked;
"Can I see your grandmother?"
"Mrs. Dayton, I presume you mean," said Lucy haughtily.
Ada bowed and Lucy continued: "She is not at home just at present."
"Perhaps, then, you can pay me for the work," said Ada.
The scowl on Lucy's face grew darker as she replied, "I have nothing to do with grandma's hired help. Come to-morrow and she will be here. How horridly cold this open door makes the hall!"
Ada thought of the empty cupboard at home, and of her pale, sick mother. Love for her conquered all other feeling, and in a choking voice she said, "Oh, Miss Dayton, if you will pay it you will confer a great favor on me, for mother is sick, and we need it so much!"
There was a movement in the parlor. St. Leon was approaching, and with an impatient gesture Lucy opened the opposite door, saying to Ada, "Come in here."
The tone was so angry that, under any other circumstances, Ada would have gone away. Now, however, she entered, and Lucy, taking out her purse, said, "How much is the sum about which you make so much fuss?"
"Two dollars and a half," answered Ada.
"Two dollars and a half," repeated Lucy, and then, as a tear fell from Ada's eye, she added contemptuously, "It is a small amount to cry about."
Ada made no reply, and was about leaving the room when Lucy detained her, by saying, "Pray, did you ask Mr. St. Leon to accompany you here and bring your bundle?"
"Miss Dayton, you know better—you know I did not," answered Ada, as the fire of insulted pride flashed from her dark blue eyes, which became almost black, while her cheek grew pale as marble.
Instantly Lucy's manner changed, and in a softened tone she said, "I am glad to know that you did not; and now, as a friend, I warn you against receiving any marks of favor from St. Leon."
"What do you mean?" asked Ada, and Lucy continued:
"You have sense enough to know that when a man of St. Leon's standing shows any preference for a girl in your circumstances it can be from no good design."
"You judge him wrongfully—you do not know him," said Ada; and Lucy answered:
"Pray, where did you learn so much about him?"
Ada only answered by rising to go.
"Here, this way," said Lucy, and leading her through an enter passage to the back door, she added, "I do it to save your good name. St. Leon is undoubtedly waiting for you, and I would not trust my own sister with him, were she a poor sewing girl!"
The door was shut in Ada's face, and Lucy returned to the parlor, where she found her father entertaining her visitor. Seating herself on a crimson ottoman, she prepared to do the agreeable, when St. Leon, rising, said, "Excuse my short call, for I must be going. Where have you left Miss Harcourt?"
"I left her at the door," answered Lucy, "and she is probably halfway to 'Dirt Alley' by this time, so do not be in haste."
But he was in haste, for when he looked on the fast-gathering darkness without, and thought of the by streets and lonely alleys through which Ada must pass on her way home, he felt uneasy, and biding Miss Dayton good night, he hurried away.
Meantime, Ada had procured the articles she wished for, and proceeded home, with a heart which would have been light as a bird had not the remembrance of Lucy's insulting language rung in her ears. Mrs. Harcourt saw that all was not right, but she forbore making any inquiries until supper was over. Then Ada, bringing a stool to her mother's side, and laying her head on her lap, told everything which had transpired between herself, St. Leon, and Lucy.
Scarcely was her story finished when there was a rap at the door, and St. Leon himself entered the room. He had failed in overtaking Ada, and anxious to know of her safe return, had determined to call. The recognition between himself and Mrs. Harcourt was mutual, but for reasons of their own, neither chose to make it apparent, and Ada introduced him to her mother as she would have done any stranger. St. Leon possessed in an unusual degree the art of making himself agreeable, and in the animated conversation which ensued Mrs. Harcourt forgot that she was poor—forgot her aching eyes; while Ada forgot everything save that St, Leon was present, and that she was again listening to his voice, which charmed her now even more than in the olden time.
During the evening St. Leon managed in various ways to draw Ada out on all the prominent topics of the day, and he felt pleased to find that amid all her poverty she did not neglect the cultivation of her mind. A part of each day was devoted to study, which Mrs. Harcourt, who was a fine scholar, superintended.
It was fast merging toward the hour when phantoms walk abroad ere St. Leon remembered that he must go. As he was leaving he said to Ada, "I have a niece, Jenny, about your age, whom I think you would like very much."
Oh, how Ada longed to ask for her old playmate, but a look from her mother kept her silent, and in a moment St. Leon was gone.
COUSIN BERINTHA AND LUCY'S PARTY.
Cousin Berintha, whom Lucy Dayton so much disliked and dreaded, was a cousin of Mr. Dayton, and was a prim, matter-of-fact maiden of fifty, or thereabout. That she was still in a state of single blessedness was partially her own fault, for at twenty she was engaged to the son of a wealthy farmer who lived near her father. But, alas! ere the wedding day arrived, there came to the neighborhood a young lady from Boston, in whose presence the beauty of the country girl grew dim, as do the stars in the rays of the morning sun.
Berintha had a plain face, but a strong heart, and when she saw that Amy Holbrook was preferred, with steady hand and unflinching nerve, she wrote to her recreant lover that he was free. And now Amy, to whom the false knight turned, took it into her capricious head that she would not marry a farmer—she had always fancied a physician; and if young B—— would win her, he must first secure the title of M.D. He complied with her request, and one week from the day on which he received his diploma Berintha read, with a slightly blanched cheek, the notice of his marriage with the Boston beauty. Three years from that day she read the announcement of Amy's death, and in two years more she refused the doctor's offer to give her a home by his lonely fireside, and a place in his widowed heart. All this had the effect of making Berintha rather cross, but she seldom manifested her spite toward any one except Lucy, whom she seemed to take peculiar delight in teasing, and whose treatment of herself was not such as would warrant much kindness in return.
Lizzie she had always loved, and when Harry Graham went away it was on Berintha's lap that the young girl sobbed out her grief, wondering, when with her tears Berintha's were mingled, how one apparently so cold and passionless could sympathize with her. To no one had Berintha ever confided the story of her early love. Mr. Dayton was a schoolboy then, and as but little was said of it at the time, it faded entirely from memory; and when Lucy called her a "crabbed old maid," she knew not of the disappointment which had clouded every joy and imbittered a whole lifetime.
At the first intelligence of Lizzie's illness Berintha came, and though her prescriptions of every kind of herb tea in the known world were rather numerous, and her doses of the same were rather large, and though her stiff cap, sharp nose, and curious little eyes, which saw everything, were exceedingly annoying to Lucy, she proved herself an invaluable nurse, warming up old Dr. Benton's heart into a glow of admiration of her wonderful skill! Hour after hour she sat by Lizzie, bathing her burning brow, or smoothing her tumbled pillow. Night after night she kept her tireless watch, treading softly around the sick-room, and lowering her loud, harsh voice to a whisper, lest she should disturb the uneasy slumbers of the sick girl, who, under her skilful nursing, gradually grew better.
"Was there ever such a dear, good cousin," said Lizzie, one day, when a nervous headache had been coaxed away by what Berintha called her "mesmeric passes;" and "Was there ever such a horrid bore," said Lucy, on the same day, when Cousin Berintha "thought she saw a white hair in Lucy's raven curls!" adding, by way of consolation, "It wouldn't be anything strange, for I began to grow gray before I was as old as you."
"And that accounts tor your head being just the color of wool," angrily retorted Lucy, little dreaming of the bitter tears and sleepless nights which had early blanched her cousin's hair to its present whiteness.
For several winters Lucy had been in the habit of giving a large party, and as she had heard that St. Leon was soon going South, she felt anxious to have it take place ere he left town. But what should she do with Berintha, who showed no indications of leaving, though Lizzie was much better?
"I declare," said she to herself, "that woman is enough to worry the life out of me. I'll speak to Liz about it this very day."
Accordingly, that afternoon, when alone with her sister, she said, "Lizzie, is it absolutely necessary that Berintha should stay here any longer, to tuck you up, and feed you sage tea through a straw?"
Lizzie looked inquiringly at her sister, who continued: "To tell you the truth, I'm tired of having her around, and must manage some way to get rid of her before next week, for I mean to have a party Thursday night."
Lizzie's eyes now opened in astonishment, as she exclaimed, "A party! oh, Lucy, wait until I get well."
"You'll be able by that time to come down-stairs in your crimson morning-gown, which becomes you so well," answered Lucy.
"But father's away," rejoined Lizzie; to which Lucy replied:
"So much the better, for now I shan't be obliged to ask any old things. I told him I meant to have it while he was gone, for you know he hates parties. But what shall I do with Berintha?"
"Why, what possible harm can she do?" asked Lizzie. "She would enjoy it very much, I know; for in spite of her oddities, she likes society."
"Well, suppose she does; nobody wants her round, prating about white hairs and mercy knows what. Come, you tell her you don't need her services any longer—that's a good girl."
There was a look of mischief in Lizzie's eye, and a merry smile on her lip, as she said, "Why, don't you know that father has invited her to spend the winter, and she has accepted the invitation?"
"Invited her to spend the winter!" repeated Lucy, while the tears glittered in her bright eyes. "What does he mean?"
"Why," answered Lizzie, "it is very lonely at Cousin John's, and his wife makes more of a servant of Berintha than she does a companion, so father, out of pity, asked her to stay with us, and she showed her good taste by accepting."
"I'll hang myself in the woodshed before spring—see if I don't!" and burying her face in her hands, Lucy wept aloud, while Lizzie, lying back upon her pillow, laughed immoderately at her sister's distress.
"There's a good deal to laugh at, I think," said Lucy, more angrily than she usually addressed her sister. "If you have any pity, do devise some means of getting rid of her, for a time, at least."
"Well, then," answered Lizzie, "she wants to go home for a few days, in order to make some necessary preparations for staying with us, and perhaps you can coax her to go now, though I for one would like to have her stay. Everybody knows she is your cousin, and no one will think less of you for having her here."
"But I won't do it," said Lucy, "and that settles it. Your plan is a good one, and I'll get her off—see if I don't!"
The next day, which was Saturday, Lucy was unusually kind to her cousin, giving her a collar, offering to fix her cap, and doing numerous other little things, which greatly astonished Berintha. At last, when dinner was over, she said, "Come, cousin, what do you say to a sleigh ride this afternoon? I haven't been down to Elizabeth Betsey's in a good while, so suppose we go to-day."
Berintha was taken by surprise, but after a moment she said just what Lucy hoped she would say, viz., that she was wanting to go home for a few days, and if Lizzie were only well enough, she would go now.
"Oh, she is a great deal better," said Lucy, "and you can leave her as well as not. Dr. Benton says I am almost as good a nurse as you and I will take good care of her—besides, I really think you need rest; so go, if you wish to, and next Saturday I will come round after you."
Accordingly, Berintha, who suspected nothing, was coaxed into going home, and when at three o'clock the sleigh was said to be ready, she kissed Lizzie good-by, and taking her seat by the side of Lucy, was driven rapidly toward her brother's house.
* * * * *
"There! haven't I managed it capitally!" exclaimed Lucy, as she reentered her sister's room after her ride; "but the bother of it is, I've promised to go round next Saturday, and bring not only Berintha, but Elizabeth Betsey, and her twins! Won't it be horrible! However, the party'll be over, so I don't care."
Cousin Berintha being gone, there was no longer any reason why the party should be kept a secret, and before nightfall every servant in the house was discussing it, Bridget saying: "Faith, an' I thought it was mighty good she was gettin' with that woman."
Mrs. Dayton was highly indignant at the trick which she plainly saw had been put upon Berintha, but Lucy only replied, "that she wished it were as easy a matter to get rid of grandma!"
On Monday cards of invitation to the number of one hundred and fifty were issued, and when Lizzie, in looking them over, asked why Ada Harcourt was left out, Lucy replied, that "she guessed she wasn't going to insult her guests by inviting a sewing girl with them. Anna Graham could do so, but nobody was going to imitate her."
"Invite her, then, for my sake, and in my name," pleaded Lizzie, but Lucy only replied:
"I shall do no such thing;" and thus the matter was settled.
Amid the hurry and preparation for the party, days glided rapidly away, and Thursday morning came, bright, beautiful, and balmy, almost, as an autumnal day.
"Isn't this delightful!" said Lucy, as she stepped out upon the piazza, and felt the warm southern breeze upon her cheek. "It's a wonder, though," she continued, "that Madam Nature didn't conjure up an awful storm for my benefit, as she usually does!"
Before night she had occasion to change her mind concerning the day.
Dinner was over, and she in Lizzie's room was combing out her long curls, and trying the effect of wearing them entirely behind her ears. Suddenly there was the sound of sleigh bells, which came nearer, until they stopped before the door. Lucy flew to the window, and in tones of intense anger and surprise, exclaimed, "Now, heaven defend us! here is Cousin John's old lumber sleigh and rackabone horse, with Berintha and a hair trunk, a red trunk, two bandboxes, a carpet-bag, a box full of herbs, and a pillowcase full of stockings. What does it all mean?"
She soon found out what it all meant, for Berintha entered the room in high spirits. Kissing Lizzie, she next advanced toward Lucy, saying, "You didn't expect me, I know; but this morning was so warm and thawing that John said he knew the sleighing would all be gone by Saturday, so I concluded to come to-day."
Lucy was too angry to reply, and rushing from the room, she closed the door after her, with a force which fairly made the windows rattle. Berintha looked inquiringly at Lizzie, who felt inadequate to an explanation; so Berintha knew nothing of the matter until she descended to the kitchen, and there learned the whole. Now, if Lucy had treated her cousin politely and good-naturedly, she would have saved herself much annoyance, but on the contrary, she told her that she was neither expected nor wanted there; that parties were never intended for "such old things;" and that now she was there, she hoped she would stay in her own room, unless she should happen to be wanted to wait on the table!
This speech, of course, exasperated Berintha, but she made no reply, although there was on her face a look of quiet determination, which Lucy mistook for tacit acquiescence in her proposal.
Five—six—seven—eight—struck the little brass clock, and no one had come except old Dr. Benton, who, being a widower and an intimate friend of the family, was invited, as Lucy said, for the purpose of beauing grandma! Lizzie, in crimson double-gown, and soft, warm shawl, was reclining on the sofa in the parlor, the old doctor muttering about carelessness, heated rooms, late hours, etc. Grandma, in rich black silk and plain Quaker cap, was hovering near her favorite child, asking continually if she were too hot, or too cold or too tired, while Lucy, in white muslin dress and flowing curls, flitted hither and thither, fretting at the servants, or ordering grandma, and occasionally tapping her sister's pale cheek, to see if she could not coax some color into it.
"You'll live to see it whiter still," said the doctor, who was indignant at finding his patient down-stairs.
And where all this time was Berintha? The doctor asked this question, and Lucy asked this question, while Lizzie replied, that "she was in her room."
"And I hope to goodness she'll stay there," said Lucy.
Dr. Benton's gray eyes fastened upon the amiable young lady, who, by way of explanation, proceeded to relate her maneuvers for keeping "the old maid" from the party.
We believe we have omitted to say that Lucy had some well-founded hopes of being one day, together with her sister, heiress of Dr. Benton's property, which was considerable. He was a widower, and had no relatives. He was also very intimate with Mr. Dayton's family, always evincing a great partiality for Lucy and Lizzie, and had more than once hinted at the probable disposal of his wealth. Of course Lucy, in his presence, was all amiability, and though he was usually very far-sighted, he but partially understood her real character. Something, however, in her remarks concerning Berintha displeased him. Lucy saw it, but before she had time for any thought on the subject the door-bell rang, and a dozen or more of guests entered.
The parlors now began to fill rapidly. Ere long St. Leon came, and after paying his compliments to Lucy, he took his station between her and the sofa, on which Lizzie sat. So delighted was Lucy to have him thus near that she forgot Berintha, until that lady herself appeared in the room, bowing to those she knew, and seating herself on the sofa, very near St. Leon. The angry blood rushed in torrents to Lucy's face, and St. Leon, who saw something was wrong, endeavored to divert her mind by asking her various questions.
At last he said, "I do not see Miss Harcourt. Where is she?"
"She is not expected," answered Lucy carelessly.
"Ah!" said St. Leon; and Berintha, touching his arm, rejoined:
"Of course you could not think Ada Harcourt would be invited here!"
"Indeed! Why not?" asked St. Leon, and Berintha continued:
"To be sure, Ada is handsome, and Ada is accomplished, but then Ada is poor, and consequently can't come!"
"But I see no reason why poverty should debar her from good society," said St. Leon; and Berintha, with an exultant glance at Lucy, who, if possible, would have paralyzed her tongue, replied:
"Why, if Ada were present, she might rival somebody in somebody's good opinion. Wasn't that what you said, Cousin Lucy? Please correct me, if I get wrong."
Lucy frowned angrily, but made no reply, for Berintha had quoted her very words. After a moment's pause she proceeded: "Yes, Ada is poor; so though she can come to the front door with a gentleman, she cannot go out that way, but must be led to a side door or back door; which was it, Cousin Lucy?"
"I don't know what you are talking about," answered Lucy; and Berintha, in evident surprise, exclaimed:
"Why, don't you remember when Ada came here with a gentleman—let me see, who was it?—well, no matter who 'twas—she came with a gentleman—he was ushered into the parlor, while you took her into a side room, then into a side passage, and out at the side door, kindly telling her to beware of the gentleman in the parlor, who could want nothing good of sewing girls!"
"You are very entertaining to-night," said Lucy; to which Berintha replied:
"You did not think I could be so agreeable, did you, when you asked me to keep out of sight this evening, and said that such old fudges as grandma and I would appear much better in our rooms, taking snuff, and nodding at each other over our knitting work?"
Lucy looked so distressed that Lizzie pitied her, and touching Berintha she said, "Please don't talk any more."