At that moment supper was announced, and after it was over St. Leon departed, notwithstanding Lucy's urgent request that he would remain longer. As the street door closed after him she felt that she would gladly have seen every other guest depart also. A moody fit came on, and the party would have been voted a failure had it not been for the timely interference of Dr. Benton and Berintha. Together they sought out any who seemed neglected, entertaining them to the best of their ability, and leaving with every one the impression that they were the best-natured couple in the world. At eleven o'clock, Lizzie, wearied out, repaired to her chamber. Her departure was the signal for others, and before one o'clock the last good night was said, the doors locked, the silver gathered up, the tired servants dismissed, and Lucy, in her sister's room, was giving vent to her wrath against Berintha, the party, St. Leon, and all.
Scolding, however, could do her no good, and ere long, throwing herself undressed upon a lounge she fell asleep, and dreamed that grandma was married to the doctor, that Berintha had become her stepmother, and, worse than all, that Ada Harcourt was Mrs. St. Leon.
A WEDDING AT ST. LUKE'S.
The day but one following the party, as Lucy was doing some shopping down street she stepped for a moment into her dressmaker's, Miss Carson's, where she found three or four of her companions, all eagerly discussing what seemed to be quite an interesting topic. As Lucy entered, one of them turning toward her said; "Oh, isn't it strange? Or haven't you heard?"
"Heard what?" asked Lucy; and her companion replied:
"Why, Ada Harcourt is going to be married. Miss Carson is making her the most beautiful traveling dress, with silk hat to match—"
"Besides three or four elegant silk dresses," chimed in another.
"And the most charming morning-gown you ever saw—apple green, and dark green, striped—and lined with pink silk," rejoined a third.
By this time Lucy had sunk into the nearest chair. The truth had flashed upon her, as it probably has upon you; but as she did not wish to betray her real emotions she forced a little bitter laugh, and said, "St. Leon, I suppose, is the bridegroom."
"Yes; who told you?" asked her companion.
"Oh, I've seen it all along," answered Lucy carelessly. "He called with her once at our house!"
"But you didn't invite her to your party," said mischievous Bessie Lee, who loved dearly to tease Lucy Dayton. "You didn't invite her to your party, and so he left early, and I dare say went straight to Mrs. Harcourt's and proposed, if he hadn't done so before. Now, don't you wish you'd been more polite to Ada? They say he's got a cousin South, as rich and handsome as he is, and if you'd only behaved as you should, who knows what might have happened!"
Lucy deigned Bessie no reply, and turning to another young lady, asked, "When is the wedding to be?"
"Next Thursday morning, in the church," was the answer; and Bessie Lee again interposed, saying, "Come, Lucy, I don't believe you have ever returned Ada's call, and as I am going to see her, and inquire all about that Cousin Frank, suppose you accompany me, and learn the particulars of the wedding."
"Thank you," said Lucy; "I don't care enough about it to take that trouble;" and soon rising she left the shop.
If Lucy manifested so much indifference, we wot of some bright eyes and eager ears which are willing to know the particulars, so we will give them as follows: When St. Leon left Mr. Dayton's it was ten o'clock, but notwithstanding the lateness of the hour he started for the small brown house on "Dirt Alley," where dwelt the sewing woman and her daughter, who were both busy on some work which they wished to finish that night. Ada had stopped for a moment to replenish the fire when a knock at the door startled her. Opening it she saw St. Leon, and in much surprise said, "Why, I supposed you were at the party."
"So I have been," said he; "but I grew weary, and left for a more congenial atmosphere;" then advancing toward Mrs. Harcourt, he took her hand, saying, "Mrs. Linwood, allow me to address you by your right name this evening."
We draw a veil over the explanation which followed—over the fifty-nine questions asked by Ada concerning Jenny—and over the one question asked by St. Leon, the answer to which resulted in the purchase of all those dresses at Miss Carson's and the well-founded rumor that on Thursday morning a wedding would take place at St. Luke's church.
Poor Lucy! how disconsolate she felt! St. Leon was passing from her grasp, and there was no help. On her way home she three times heard of the wedding, and of Ada's real name and former position in life, and each time her wrath waxed warmer and warmer. Fortunate was it for Berintha and grandma that neither made her appearance until tea-time, for Lucy was in just the state when an explosive storm would surely have followed any remark addressed to her!
The next day was the Sabbath, and as Lucy entered the church, the first object which met her eye was St. Leon, seated in the sewing woman's pew, and Ada tolerably though not very near him! "How disgusting!" she hissed between her teeth, as she entered her own richly-cushioned seat, and opened her velvet-bound prayer book. Precious little of the sermon heard she that day, for, turn which way she would, she still saw in fancy the sweet young face of her rival; and it took but a slight stretch of imagination to bring to view a costly house in the far-off "Sunny South," a troop of servants, a handsome, noble husband, and the hated Ada the happy mistress of them all! Before church was out Lucy was really sick, and when at home in her room she did not refuse the bowl of herb tea which Berintha kindly brought her, saying "it had cured her when she felt just so."
The morning of the wedding came, and though Lucy had determined not to be present, yet as the hour approached she felt how utterly impossible it would be for her to stay away; and when at half-past eight the doors were opened she was among the first who entered the church, which in a short time was filled. Nine rang from the old clock in the belfry, and then up the broad aisle came the bridal party, consisting of Mr. and Mrs. Graham, Charlie and Anna, Mrs. Harcourt, or Mrs. Linwood as we must now call her, St. Leon and Ada.
"Was there ever a more beautiful bride?" whispered Bessie Lee; but Lucy made no answer, and as soon as the ceremony was concluded she hurried home, feeling almost in need of some more catnip tea!
In the eleven o'clock train St. Leon with his bride and her mother started for New Haven, where they spent a delightful week, and then returned to S——. A few days were passed at the house of Mr. Graham, and then they departed for their southern home. As we shall not again have occasion to speak of them in this story we will here say that the following summer they came North, together with Jenny and Cousin Frank, the latter of whom was so much pleased with the rosy cheeks, laughing eyes, and playful manners of Bessie Lee that when he returned home he coaxed her to accompany him; and again was there a wedding in St. Luke's, and again did Miss Carson make the bridal outfit, wishing that all New Orleans gentlemen would come to S—— for their wives.
"Reuben," said Grandma Dayton to her son one evening after she had listened to the reading of a political article for which she did not care one fig, "Reuben, does thee suppose Dr. Benton makes a charge every time he calls?"
"I don't know," said Mr. Dayton; "what made you ask that question?"
"Because," answered grandma—and her knitting needles rattled loud enough to be heard in the next room—"because, I think he calls mighty often, considering that Lizzie neither gets better nor worse; and I think, too, that he and Berintha have a good many private talks!"
The paper dropped from Mr. Dayton's hand, and "What can you mean?" dropped from his lips.
"Why," resumed grandma, "every time he comes he manages to see Berintha alone; and hain't thee noticed that she has colored her hair lately, and left off caps?"
"Yes; and she looks fifteen years younger for it; but what of that?"
Grandma, whose remarks had all been preparatory to the mighty secret she was about to divulge, coughed, and then informed her son that Berintha was going to be married, and wished to have the wedding there.
"Berintha and the doctor! Good!" exclaimed Mr. Dayton. "To be sure, I'll give her a wedding, and a wedding dress, too."
Here grandma left the room, and after reporting her success to Berintha, she sought her granddaughters, and communicated to them the expected event. When Lucy learned of her cousin's intended marriage she was nearly as much surprised and provoked as she had been when first she heard of Ada's.
Turning to Lizzie she said, "It's too bad! for of course we shall have to give up all hopes of the doctor's money."
"And perhaps thee'll be the only old maid in the family, after all," suggested grandma, who knew Lucy's weak point, and sometimes loved to touch it.
"And if I am," retorted Lucy angrily, "I hope I shall have sense enough to mind my own business, and not interfere with that of my grandchildren!"
Grandma made no answer, but secretly she felt some conscientious scruples with regard to Lucy's grandchildren! As for Berintha she seemed entirely changed, and flitted about the house in a manner which caused Lucy to call her "an old fool, trying to ape sixteen." With a change of feelings her personal appearance also changed, and when she one day returned from the dentist's with an entire set of new teeth, and came down to tea in a dark, fashionably-made merino, the metamorphose was complete, and grandma declared that she looked better than she ever had before in her life. The doctor, too, was improved, and though he did not color his hair, he ordered six new shirts, a new coat, a new horse and a pair of gold spectacles!
After a due lapse of time the appointed day came, and with it, at an early hour, came Cousin John and Elizabeth Betsey, bringing with them the few herbs which Berintha, at the time of her removal, had overlooked. These Bridget demurely proposed should be given to Miss Lucy, "who of late was much given to drinking catnip." Perfectly indignant, Lucy threw the herbs, bag and all, into the fire, thereby filling the house with an odor which made the asthmatic old doctor wheeze and blow wonderfully during the evening.
A few of the villagers were invited, and when all was ready Mr. Dayton brought down in his arms his white-faced Lizzie, who imperceptibly had grown paler and weaker every day, while those who looked at her as she reclined upon the sofa, sighed, and thought of a different occasion when they probably would assemble there. For once Lucy was very amiable, and with the utmost politeness and good nature waited upon the guests. There was a softened light in her eye, and a heightened bloom on her cheek, occasioned by a story which Berintha, two hours before, had told her, of a heart all crushed in its youth, and aching on through long years of loneliness, but which was about to be made happy by a union with the only object it had ever loved! Do you start and wonder? Have you not guessed that Dr. Benton, who that night for the second time breathed the marriage vow, was the same who, years before, won the girlish love of Berintha Dayton, and then turned from her to the more beautiful Amy Holbrook, finding, too late, that all is not gold that glitters? It is even so, and could you have seen how tightly he clasped the hand of his new wife, and how fondly his eye rested upon her, you would have said that, however long his affections might have wandered, they had at last returned to her, his first, best love.
Gathered 'round a narrow coffin, Stand a mourning, funeral train, While for her, redeemed thus early, Tears are falling now like rain.
Hopes are crushed and hearts are bleeding; Drear the fireside now, and alone; She, the best loved and the dearest, Far away to heaven hath flown.
Long, long, will they miss thee, Lizzie, Long, long days for thee they'll weep; And through many nights of sorrow Memory will her vigils keep.
In the chapter just finished we casually mentioned that Lizzie, instead of growing stronger, had drooped day by day, until to all save the fond hearts which watched her, she seemed surely passing away. But they to whom her presence was as sunlight to the flowers, shut their eyes to the dreadful truth, refusing to believe that she was leaving them. Oftentimes during the long winter nights would Mr. Dayton steal softly to her chamber, and kneeling by her bedside gaze in mute anguish upon the wasted face of his darling. And when from her transparent brow and marble cheek he wiped the deadly night sweats, a chill, colder far than the chill of death, crept over his heart, and burying his face in his hands he would cry, "Oh, Father, let this cup pass from me!"
As spring approached she seemed better, and the father's heart grew stronger, and Lucy's step was lighter, and grandma's words more cheerful, as hope whispered, "she will live." But when the snow was melted from off the hillside, and over the earth the warm spring sun was shining, when the buds began to swell and the trees to put forth their young leaves, there came over her a change so fearful that with one bitter cry of sorrow hope fled forever; and again, in the lonely night season, the weeping father knelt and asked for strength to bear it when his best-loved child was gone.
"Poor Harry!" said Lizzie one day to Anna, who was sitting by her, "Poor Harry, if I could see him again; but I never shall."
"Perhaps you will," answered Anna. "I wrote, to him three weeks ago, telling him to come quickly."
"Then he will," said Lizzie, "but if I should be dead when he comes, tell him how I loved him to the last, and that the thought of leaving him was the sharpest pang I suffered."
There were tears in Anna's eyes as she kissed the cheek of the sick girl, and promised to do her bidding. After a moment's pause Lizzie added, "I am afraid Harry is not a Christian, and you must promise not to leave him until he has a well-founded hope that again in heaven I shall see him."
Anna promised all, and then as Lizzie seemed exhausted she left her and returned home. One week from that day she stood once more in Lizzie's sick-room, listening for the last time to the tones of the dying girl as she bade her friends adieu. Convulsed with grief Lucy knelt by the bedside, pressing to her lips one little clammy hand, and accusing herself of destroying her sister's life. In the furthest corner of the room sat Mr. Dayton. He could not stand by and see stealing over his daughter's face the dark shadow which falls but once on all. He could not look upon her when over her soft brown eyes the white lids closed forever. Like a naked branch in the autumn wind his whole frame shook with agony, and though each fiber of grandma's heart was throbbing with anguish, yet for the sake of her son she strove to be calm, and soothed him as she would a little child. Berintha, too, was there, and while her tears were dropping fast, she supported Lizzie in her arms, pushing back from her pale brow the soft curls which, damp with the moisture of death, lay in thick rings upon her forehead.
"Has Harry come?" said Lizzie.
The answer was in the negative, and a moan of disappointment came from her lips.
Again she spoke: "Give him my Bible—and my curls—when I am dead let Lucy arrange them—she knows how; then cut them off, and the best, the longest, the brightest is for Harry; the others for you all. And tell—tell—tell him to meet—me in heaven—where I'm—going—going."
A stifled shriek from Lucy, as she fell back fainting, told that with the last word, "going," Lizzie had gone to heaven!
An hour after the tolling bell arrested the attention of many, and of the few who asked for whom it tolled nearly all involuntarily sighed and said, "Poor Harry! Died before he came home!"
* * * * *
It was the night before the burial, and in the back parlor stood a narrow coffin containing all that was mortal of Lizzie Dayton. In the front parlor Bridget and another domestic kept watch over the body of their young mistress. Twelve o'clock rang from the belfry of St. Luke's church, and then the midnight silence was broken by the shrill scream of the locomotive as the eastern train thundered into the depot. But the senses of the Irish girls were too profoundly locked in sleep to heed that common sound; neither did they hear the outer door, which by accident had been left unlocked, swing softly open, nor saw they the tall figure which passed by them into the next room—the room where stood the coffin.
Suddenly through the house there echoed a cry, so long, so loud, so despairing, that every sleeper started from their rest, and hurried with nervous haste to the parlor, where they saw Harry Graham, bending in wild agony over the body of his darling Lizzie, who never before had turned a deaf ear to his impassioned words of endearment. He had received his sister's letter, and started immediately for home, but owing to some delay did not reach there in time to see her alive. Anxious to know the worst, he had not stopped at his father's house, but seeing a light in Mr. Dayton's parlors, hastened thither. Finding the door unlocked, he entered, and on seeing the two servant girls asleep, his heart beat quickly with apprehension. Still he was unprepared for the shock which awaited him, when on the coffin and her who slept within it his eye first rested. He did not faint, nor even weep, but when his friends came about him with words of sympathy he only answered, "Lizzie, Lizzie, she is dead!"
During the remainder of that sad night he sat by the coffin pressing his hand upon the icy forehead until its coldness seemed to benumb his faculties, for when in the morning his parents and sister came he scarcely noticed them; and still the world, misjudging ever, looked upon his calm face and tearless eye, and said that all too lightly had he loved the gentle girl whose last thoughts and words had been of him. Ah, they knew not the utter wreck the death of that young girl had made, of the bitter grief, deeper and more painful because no tear-drop fell to moisten its feverish agony. They buried her, and then back from the grave came the two heart-broken men, the father and Harry Graham, each going to his own desolate home, the one to commune with the God who had given and taken away, and the other to question the dealings of that Providence which had taken from him his all.
Days passed, and nothing proved of any avail to win Harry from the deep despair which seemed to have settled upon him. At length Anna bethought her of the soft, silken curl which had been reserved for him. Quickly she found it, and taking with her the Bible repaired to her brother's room. Twining her arms around his neck she told him of the death-scene, of which he before had refused to hear. She finished her story by suddenly holding to view the long, bright ringlet which once adorned the fair head now resting in the grave. Her plan was successful, for bursting into tears Harry wept nearly two hours. From that time he seemed better, and was frequently found bathed in tears, and bending over Lizzie's Bible, which now was his daily companion.
Lucy, too, seemed greatly changed. She had loved her sister as devotedly as one of her nature could love, and for her death she mourned sincerely. Lizzie's words of love and gentle persuasion had not been without their effect, and when Mr. Dayton saw how kind, how affectionate and considerate of other people's feelings his daughter had become, he felt that Lizzie had not died in vain.
Seven times have the spring violets blossomed, seven times the flowers of summer bloomed, seven times have the autumnal stores been gathered in, and seven times have the winds of winter sighed over the New England hills since Lizzie was laid to rest. In her home there have been few changes. Mr. Dayton's hair is whiter than it was of old, and the furrows on his brow deeper and more marked. Grandma, quiet and gentle as ever, knits on day after day, ever and anon speaking of "our dear little Lizzie, who died years ago."
Lucy is still unmarried, and satisfied, too, that it should be so. A patient, self-sacrificing Christian, she strives to make up to her father for the loss of one over whose memory she daily weeps, and to whose death she accuses herself of being accessory. Dr. Benton and his rather fashionable wife live in their great house, ride in their handsome carriage, give large dinner parties, play chess after supper, and then the old doctor nods over his evening paper, while Berintha nods over a piece of embroidery, intended to represent a little dog chasing a butterfly and which would as readily be taken for that as for anything else, and for anything else as that.
Two years ago a pale young missionary departed to carry the news of salvation to the heathen land. Some one suggested that he should take with him a wife, but he shook his head mournfully, saying, "I have one wife in heaven." The night before he left home, he might have been seen, long after midnight, seated upon a grassy grave, where the flowers of summer were growing. Around the stone which marks the spot rose bushes have clustered so thickly as to hide from view the words there written, but push them aside and you will read, "Our darling Lizzie."