"That is more than I know, but I think somewhere in Europe. The letters are always sent to a lawyer in New York, who directs them to her. I have tried in every way to find out, but they are all too smart for me."
"Why don't you pump the child?"
"Haven't I? And gained about as much as if I had put a handle on the side of a lump of cast iron, and pumped. She is closer than sealing wax, and shrewder than a serpent. If you pumped her till the stars fell, you would not get an air-bubble, She can neither be scared nor coaxed."
"Where is the paper?"
"Safely buried here, among the dead."
"What folly! Don't you know the dampness will destroy it? Pshaw! you have ruined everything."
"See here, Peleg, all the brains of the family did not lodge in your skull; and I guess I was wiser at your age than you will be at mine. The paper was safe and sound when I looked at it a month ago, and it is wrapped up in oil-silk, then in cotton, and kept in a thick tin box."
"When can I see it? Suppose you get it now?"
"In daylight? You may depend on my steering clear of detection, no matter what comes. I would take it up to-night, but there is going to be an awful storm. Do you hear how the thunder keeps bellowing down yonder, under that dark line crossing the south? There will be wild work pretty soon; it has been simmering all day, and when it begins it won't be child's play. Even the marble slabs on the graves are hot, and the ground scorched my feet, as if Satan and his fires had burnt through all but a thin crust. I never was afraid of the devil until my sin brought me close to him. I want to finish this business, and before day to-morrow I will come over here and dig up my box. There will be dim moonlight by three o'clock, and if it should be cloudy, I can shut my eyes and find the place. I tell you, Peleg, I am sick and tired of this dirty work; and sometimes I think I am no better than a hyena prowling among dead men's bones. Come around to the cowshed in the morning, about seven o'clock, when the family will be in the library holding prayers; and when I go to milk, I will bring you the paper. Only to look at, to read over, mind you! It doesn't leave my hands, until the old General's gold jingles in my pocket. Then he is welcome to it, and Minnie may suffer the consequences; and you and I will divide the profits. I want to go away and rest with my sister Penelope the remainder of my life, and though the family here beg me to stay, I have already given notice that I intend to stop work next month."
"Very well, don't fail me; I am as anxious to close up the job as you possibly can be. I should like to see the child, Minnie's child; but I might spoil everything if she looks like her mother. Good-bye till to-morrow."
The two walked away, one passing down the avenue of elms out into the street. The other sauntered in the direction of the parsonage, but ere she reached the small gate, Hannah turned aside to a low iron railing that enclosed two monuments; a marble angel with expanded wings standing above a child's grave, and a broken column wreathed with sculptured ivy, placed on a mound covered with grass. Just behind the former and close to the railing, rose a noble Lombardy poplar that towered even above the elms, and at its base a mass of periwinkle and ground ivy ran hither and thither in luxuriant confusion, clasping a few ambitious tendrils even about the ancient trunk.
Over the railing leaned Hannah, peering down for several moments, at the lush green creepers, then she walked on to the parsonage gate, and disappeared.
Watching her movements, Regina readily surmised that somewhere near that tree the paper was secreted; and she was painfully puzzled to unravel the thread that evidently linked her with the mystery.
"I am the child she spoke of, and she has tried again and again to 'pump' me, as she called it. 'Minnie' must mean my mother; but that is not her name. Odilie Orphia Orme never could be twisted into 'Minnie;' and that coarse, common, low, wicked man never could have dared to love my own dear beautiful proud mother! There must be some dreadful mistake. Somebody is wrong; but not mother,—no, no—never my mother! Once she wrote that she was forced to keep some things secret, because she had bitter enemies; and this man must be one of them, for he said he would hunt her down. But he shall not! Was it Providence that brought them here to talk over their wicked schemes where I could hear them? Oh if I only knew all! Mother—mother! you might trust your child! I can't believe that I am ignorant even of my mother's name. Surely she never was that red-faced man's 'Minnie'!"
Covering her face with her hands, she shuddered at the familiar mention by profane lips of one so hallowed in her estimation, and this vague threatening of danger to her mother sufficed for a time to divert her thoughts from the sorrow that for some days past had engrossed her mind.
Knowing the affection and confidence with which Hannah had always been treated by the members of the family, and the great length of time she had so faithfully served in the parsonage household, Regina was shocked at the discovery of her complicity in a scheme which she admitted had made her dishonest. Only two days before she had heard Mrs. Lindsay lamenting that misfortunes never came single, for as if Douglass's departure were not disaster enough for one year, Hannah must even imagine that she felt symptoms of dropsy and desired to go away somewhere in Iowa or Minnesota, where she could rest, and be nursed by her relatives.
This announcement heightened the gloom that already impended, and various attempts had been made by Mr. Hargrove and his sister to induce Hannah to reconsider her resolution. But she obstinately maintained that she was "a worn-out old horse, who ought to be turned out to pasture in peace the rest of her days;" yet, notwithstanding her persistency, she evinced much distress at her approaching separation from the family, and never alluded to it without a flood of tears.
What would the members of the household think when they discovered how mistaken all had been in her real character? But had she a right to betray Hannah to her employer? Perhaps the paper had no connection with the parsonage, and no matter whom else she might have wronged, Hannah had faithfully served the pastor, and repaid his kindness by devotion to his domestic interests. Regina's nature was generous as well as just, and she felt grateful to Hannah for many small favours bestowed on herself, for a uniform willingness to oblige or assist her, as only servants have it in their power to do.
Sweetening reminiscences of caramels and crullers, of parenthetic patty-pancakes not ordered or expected on the parsonage bill of fare, pleaded pathetically for Hannah, and were ably supported by recollections of torn dresses deftly darned, of unseasonably and unreasonably soiled white aprons, which the same skilful hands had surreptitiously washed and fluted before the regular day for commencing the laundry work, all of which now made clamorous and desperate demands on the girl's gratitude and leniency. So complete had been her trust in Hannah that her reticence concerning her mother sprang solely from Mr. Hargrove's earnest injunction that she would permit no one to question her upon the subject; consequently she had very tenderly intimated to the old woman that she was not at liberty to discuss that matter with any one.
"She is going away very soon, bearing a good character. Would it be right for me to disgrace her in her old age, by telling Mr. Hargrove what I accidentally overheard? If I only knew 'Minnie' meant mother, I could be sure this paper did not refer to Mr. Hargrove, and then I should see my way clearly; for they both said 'old General,' and no one calls Mr. or Dr. Hargrove 'General.' I only want to do what is right."
As she lifted her face from her hands she was surprised at the sudden gloom that since she last looked out had settled like a pall over the sky, darkening the church, rendering even the monuments indistinct.
Hero began to whine and bark, and, starting from her seat, Regina hurried toward the steps leading down from the organ-loft. Ere she reached them a fearful sound like the roaring of a vast flood broke the prophetic silence, then a blinding lurid flash seemed to wrap everything in flame; there was simultaneously an awful detonating crash, as if the pillars of the universe had given way, and the initial note ushered in the thunder-fugue of the tempest, that raged as if the Destroying Angel rode upon its blast.
In the height of its fury it bowed the ancient elms as if they were mere reeds, and shook the stone church to its foundations as a giant shakes a child's toy.
Frightened by the trembling of the building, Regina began to descend the stairs, guided by the incessant flashes of lightning, but when about half-way down a terrific peal of thunder so startled her that she missed a step, grasped at the balustrade but failed to find it, and rolled helplessly to the floor of the vestibule. Stunned and mute with terror, she attempted to rise, but her left foot, crushed under her in the fall, refused to serve her, and with a desperate instinct of faith she crawled through the inside door and down the aisle, seeking refuge at the altar of God. Dragging the useless member, she reached the chancel at last, and as the lightning showed her the railing, she laid herself down, and clasped the mahogany balusters in both hands.
In the ghastly electric light she saw the wild eyes of the lion in the pulpit window glaring at her,—but over all the holy smile of Christ, as, looking down in benediction, He soared away heavenward; and above the howling of the hurricane rose her cry to Him who stilleth tempests, and saith to wind and sea, "Peace, be still!": "O Jesus! save me, that I may see my mother once more!"
She imagined there was a lull, certainly the shrieking of the gale seemed to subside, but only for half a moment, and in the doubly fierce renewal of elemental strife, amid deafening peals if thunder and the unearthly glare that preceded each reverberation, there came other sounds more appalling, and as the church rocked and quivered some portion of the ancient edifice fell, adding its crash to the diapason of the storm.
Believing that the roof was falling upon her, Regina shut her eyes, and in after years she recalled vividly two sensations that seemed her last on earth: one, the warm touch of Hero's tongue on her clenched fingers; the other, a supernatural wail that came down from the gallery, and that even then she knew was born in the organ. Was it the weird fingering of the sacrilegious cyclone that concentrated its rage upon the venerable sanctuary? After a little while the fury of the wind spent itself, but the rain began to fall heavily, and the electricity drama continued with unabated vigour and fierceness.
Although unusually brave for so young a person, Regina had been completely terrified, and she lay dumb and motionless, still clinging to the altar railing. At last, when the wind left the war to the thunder and the rain, Hero, who had been quite until now, began to bark violently, left her side, and ran to and fro, now and then uttering a peculiar sound, which with him always indicated delight. His subtle instinct was stronger than her hope, and as she raised herself into a sitting posture she saw that he had sprung upon the top of one of the side aisle pews, and thence into the window, which had been left open by the sexton. Here he lingered as if irresolute, and in an agony of dread at the thought of being deserted, she cried out:
"Here, Hero! Come back! Hero, don't leave me to die alone."
He whined in answer, and barked furiously as if to reassure her; then the whole church was illumined with a lurid glory that seemed to scorch the eyeballs with its intolerable radiance, and in it she saw the white figure of the dog plunge into the blackness beyond.
She knew the worst was over, unless the lightning killed her, for the wind had ceased, and the walls were still standing; but the atmosphere was thick with dust, and redolent of lime, and she conjectured that the plastering in the gallery had fallen, though the tremendous crash portended something more serious. She tried to stand up by steadying herself against the balustrade, but the foot refused to sustain her weight, and she sank back into her former crouching posture, feeling very desolate, but tearless and quiet as one of the apostolic figures that looked pityingly upon her whenever the lightning smote through them.
She turned her head, so that at every flash she could gaze upon the placid face of the beatified Christ floating above the pulpit; and in the intense intervening darkness tried to possess her soul in patience, thinking of the mercy of God and the love of her mother.
She knew not how long Hero had left her, for pain and terror are not accurate chronometers, but after what appeared a weary season of waiting, she started when his loud bark sounded under the window, through which he had effected his exit. She tried to call him, but her throat was dry and parched, and her foot throbbed and ached so painfully, that she dreaded making any movement. Then a voice always pleasant to her ears, but sweeter now than an archangel's, shouted above the steady roar of the rain:
She rose to her knees, and with a desperate exertion of lungs and throat, answered:
"I am here! Mr. Lindsay, I am here!"
Remembering that words ending in o were more readily distinguished at a distance, she added:
"Hero! Oh, Hero!"
His frantic barking told her that she had been heard, and then through the window came once more the music of the loved voice.
"Be patient. I am coming."
She could not understand why he did not come through the door instead of standing beneath the window, and it seemed stranger still, that after a little while all grew silent again. But her confidence never wavered, and in the darkness she knelt there patiently, knowing that he would not forsake her.
It seemed a very long time before Hero's bark greeted her once more, and, turning toward the window, a lingering zigzag flash of lightning showed her Douglass Lindsay's face, as he climbed in, followed by the dog.
"Regina! where are you?"
"Oh, here I am!"
He stood on one of the seats, swinging a lantern in his hand, and as she spoke he sprang toward her.
Still clutching the altar railing with one hand, she knelt, with her white suffering face upturned piteously to him, and stooping he threw his arms around her and clasped her to his heart.
"My darling, God has been merciful to you and me!"
She stole one arm up about his neck, and clung to him, while for the first time he kissed her cheek and brow.
"Does my darling know what an awful risk she ran? The steeple has fallen, and the whole front of the church is blocked up, a mass of ruins. I could not get in, and feared you were crushed, until I heard Hero bark from the inside and followed the sound, which brought me to the window, whence he jumped out to meet me. At last when you answered my call, I was obliged to go back for a ladder. Here, darling, at God's altar, let us thank Him for your preservation."
He bowed his face upon her head, and she heard the whispered thanksgiving that ascended to the throne of grace, but no words were audible. Rising he attempted to lift her, but she winced and moaned, involuntarily sinking back.
"What is the matter? After all, were you hurt?"
"When I came down from the gallery it turned so dark I was frightened, and I stumbled and fell down the steps. I must have broken something, for when I stand up my ankle gives way, and I can't walk at all."
"Then how did you get here? The steps are at the front of the church."
"I thought the altar was the safest place, and I crawled here on my hands and knees."
He pressed her head against his shoulder, and his deep manly voice trembled.
"Thank God, for the thought. It was your salvation, for the stairs and the spot where you must have fallen are a heap of stone, brick, and mortar. If you had remained there, you would certainly have been killed."
"Yes, it was just after I got here and caught hold of the railing that the crash came. Oh! is it not awful!"
"It was an almost miraculous escape, for which you ought to thank and serve your God all the days of the life He has mercifully spared to you. Stand up a minute, even if it pains you, and let me find out what ails your foot. I know something of surgery, for once it was my intention to study medicine instead of divinity."
He unbuttoned and removed her shoe, and as he firmly pressed the foot and ankle, she flinched and sighed.
"I think there are no bones broken, but probably you have wrenched and sprained the ankle, for it is much swollen already. Now, little girl, I must go back for some assistance. You will have to be taken out through the window, and I am afraid to attempt carrying you down the ladder unaided and in the darkness. I might break your neck, instead of your ankle."
"Oh, please don't leave me here!"
She stretched out her arms pleadingly, and tears sprang to his eyes as he noted the pallor of her beautiful face and the nervous fluttering of her white lips.
"I shall leave Hero and the lantern with you, and you may be sure I shall be gone the shortest possible time. The danger is over now, even the lightning is comparatively distant, and you who have been so brave all the while certainly will not prove a coward at the last moment."
He took her up as easily as if she had been an infant, and laid her tenderly down on one of the pew cushions; then placed the lantern on the pulpit desk, and came back.
"Slip your hand under Hero's collar, to prevent him from following me if he should try to do so, and keep up your courage. Put yourself in God's hands, and wait here patiently for Douglass. Don't you know that I would not leave you here an instant, if it could be avoided? God bless you, my white dove."
He stooped and kissed her forehead, then hurried away, and after a moment Regina knew that she and her dog were once more alone in the ancient church, with none nearer than the dead, who slept so soundly, while the soft summer rain fell ceaselessly above their coffins.
The town clock was striking nine when the renewal of welcome sounds beneath the window announced to Regina that her weary dark vigil was ended. Soon after Mr. Lindsay's departure, the lantern above the altar grew dim, then went out, leaving the church in total darkness, relieved only by an occasional glimmer from the electric batteries that had wheeled far away to the north-east. Erect and alert Hero sat beside his mistress, now and then rubbing his head against her shoulder, or placing his paw on her arm, as if to encourage her by mute assurances of faithful guardianship; and even when the voices outside cheered him into one quick bark of recognition, he made no effort to leave the prostrate form.
"All in the dark? Where is your lantern?" asked Mr. Lindsay, as he climbed through the window.
"It went out very soon after you left. Can you find me? or shall I try to come to you?"
"Keep still, Regina. Come up the ladder, Esau, and hold your torch so that I can see. It is black as Egypt inside."
In a few moments the ruddy glare streamed in, and showed the anxious face of the sexton, and the figure of Mr. Lindsay groping from pew to pew. Before that cheerful red light how swiftly the trooping spectres and grim phantoms that had peopled the gloom fled away for ever! What a blessed, comforting atmosphere of love and protection seemed to encompass her, when, after handing one of the pew cushions to the sexton, Mr. Lindsay came to the spot where she lay.
"How are your wounds?"
"My foot is very stiff and sore, but if you will let me hold your arm, I can hop along."
"Can you, my crippled snow-bird? Suppose I have a different use for my strong arms?"
He lifted her very gently, but apparently without effort, and carried her to the window.
"Go down, Esau, set the torch in the ground, and hold the ladder,—press it hard against the wall. I am coming down backward,—and if I should miss a round, you must be ready to help me. Come, Hero, jump out first and clear the way. Steady now, Esau."
Placing his charge on the broad sill, Mr. Lindsay stepped out, established himself securely on the ladder, and, drawing the girl to the ledge, took her firmly in his arms, balancing himself with some difficulty as he did so.
"Now say your prayers. Clasp your hands tight around my neck, and shut your eyes."
His chin rested upon her forehead, as she clung closely about his neck, and they commenced the perilous descent.
Once he wavered, almost tottered, but recovered himself, and from the fierce beating of his heart and the laboured sound of his deep breathing she knew that it cost him great physical exertion; but at last his close strain relaxed, he reached the ground safely and stood resting a moment, while a sigh of relief escaped him.
"Esau, put the end of the torch sideways in Hero's mouth,—mind, so that it will not burn him; and lay the cushion on the plank. No!—that is wrong. Turn the torch the other way, so that as he walks, the wind will blow the flame in the opposite direction, away from his face. Take it, Hero! That's a noble fellow! Now home, Hero."
When the cushion had been adjusted on the broad plank brought for the purpose, Mr. Lindsay laid Regina upon it, threw a blanket over her, and, bidding the sexton take one end of the plank, he lifted the other, and they began the march.
"Not that way, Hero, although it is the nearest. Truly the 'longest way round is the shortest way' home this time; for we could not twist about among the graves, and must go down the avenue, though it is somewhat obstructed by fallen boughs. Come here, Hero, and walk ahead of us. Now, Regina, you can shut your eyes and imagine you are riding in a palankeen, as the Hindustanee ladies do when they go out for fresh air. The motion is exactly the same, as you will find some day when you come to Rohilcund or Oude, to see Padre Sahib—Lindsay. You shall then have a new dooley all curtained close with rose-coloured silk; but I can't promise that the riding will prove any more easy than this cushioned plank."
What a stab seemed each word, bringing back all the bitter suffering his departure would cause,—the reviving the grief, from which the storm had temporarily diverted her thoughts.
"You are not going to-night? You will not try to start, after this dreadful storm?" she said, in an unsteady voice.
"Yes, I am obliged to go, in order to keep an appointment for to-morrow night in New York; otherwise, I would wait a day to learn the extent of the damage, for I am afraid the hurricane has made sad havoc. Esau tells me the roof and a portion of the market house was carried away, and it was the most violent gale I have ever known."
They had reached the street and were approaching the gate of the parsonage, where Hero turned back, dropped the torch at Mr. Lindsay's feet, and shook his head vigorously, rubbing his nose with his paw.
"Poor fellow! can't you stand it any longer? It must nave scorched him, as it burnt low. Brave fellow!"
"Oh, Douglass! is that you?" cried an eager voice at some distance.
Mrs. Lindsay ran to meet them.
"Did you find her?"
"Yes, I am bringing her home."
"Bringing her—oh, my God! Is she dead?"
"No, she is safe."
"My son, don't try to deceive me. What is the matter? You are carrying something on a litter."
"Why do you not speak, Regina, and assure her of your safety?"
Mrs. Lindsay had groped her way to the side of her son, and put her hand on the figure stretched upon the cushion.
"I only sprained my foot badly, and Mr. Lindsay was so good as to bring me home this way."
"Have they got her?" shouted Hannah, who accompanied by Mr. Hargrove had found it impossible to keep pace with Mrs. Lindsay.
"Oh, it is a corpse you are fetching home!" she added, with a genuine wail, as in the gloom she dimly saw the outline of several persons.
"Nobody is dead, but we need a light. Run back and get a candle."
Thankful that life had been spared, no more questions were asked until they reached the house, and deposited their burden on the lounge in the dining-room.
Then Mr. Lindsay briefly explained what had occurred, and superintended the anointing and binding up of the bruised ankle, now much swollen.
As Hannah knelt, holding the foot in her broad palm, to enable Mrs. Lindsay to wrap it in a linen cloth saturated with arnica, the former bent her grey head and tenderly kissed the wounded member. She had been absent for a few minutes during the recital of the accident, and now asked:
"Where were you, that you could not get home before the storm? Heaven knows that cloud grumbled and gave warning long enough."
"Hannah, she was in the church, and when she tried to get out, it was too late."
"In the church! Why I was in the yard, trying to get a breath of air, not twenty minutes before the cloud rolled up like a mountain of ink, and I saw nobody."
Regina understood her nervous start, and the eager questioning of her eyes.
"I was in the organ gallery, and, falling down the steps, I hurt myself."
"Honey, did you see me?"
Her fingers closed so spasmodically over the girl's foot, that she winced from the pressure.
"I saw you walking about the churchyard, and would have come home with you, if I had thought the storm was so near. Please, Hannah, bring me some cool water."
She pitied the old woman's evident confusion and anxiety, and rejoiced when Mr. Hargrove changed the topic.
"I am very sorry, Douglass, that I cannot accompany you as far as New York. When I promised this afternoon to do so, of course I did not anticipate this storm. There may have been lives lost, as well as steeples blown down, and it is my duty not to leave my people at such a juncture. If it were not for the sailing of the steamer, I would insist on your waiting a day or so, in order that I might go with you and have a personal interview with Dr. Pitcairns. I ought to have thought of and attended to that matter before this."
"Pray do not feel annoyed, uncle; it can be easily arranged by letter. Moreover, as my mother goes with me to Boston, it would not be right to leave Regina here alone in her present helpless condition."
"Do not think of me a moment, Mr. Hargrove. Go with him and stay with him as long as you can; I would if I could. Hannah will take care of me."
"My dear, I think of my duty, and that keeps me at home. Douglass, I will write a short note to Pitcairns, and you must explain matters to him. Elise, it is ten o'clock, and you have not much time."
He went into the library, and Mrs. Lindsay hurried upstairs to put on her bonnet, calling Hannah to follow and receive, some parting injunctions. Kneeling by the lounge, Mr. Lindsay took one of the girl's hands.
"Regina, I desired and intended to have a long talk with you this afternoon, but could not find you; and now I have no time, except to say good-bye. You will never know how hard it is for me to leave my dear little friend; I did not realize it myself until to-night."
"Then why will you go away? Can't you stay, and serve God as well by being a minister in this country? Can't you change your mind?"
She raised herself on her elbow, and tears gushed over her cheeks, as, twining her fingers around his, she looked all the intense loving appeal that words could never have expressed.
Just then his stony Teraph—Duty—smiled very benignantly at the aching heart he laid upon her dreary cold altar.
"Don't tempt me to look back after putting my hand to the plough. I must do my duty, though at bitter cost. Will you promise never to forget your friend Douglass?"
"How could I ever forget you? Oh, if I could only go with you!"
His fine eyes sparkled, and, drawing her hand across his cheek, he said eagerly:
"Do you really wish it? Think of me, write to me, and love me, and some day, if it please God to let me come home, you may have an opportunity of going back with me to my work in India. Would you be willing to leave all, and help me among the heathens?"
"All but mother. You come next to my mother. Oh, it is hard that I must be separated from the two I love best!"
For a moment she sobbed aloud.
"You are only a young girl now, but some day you will be a woman, and I hope and believe a very noble woman. Until then we shall be separated, but when you are grown I shall see you again, if God spares my life. Peculiar and unfortunate circumstances surround you; there are trials ahead of you, my darling, and I wish I could shield you from them, but it seems impossible, and I can only leave you in God's hands praying continually for you. You say you love me nest to your mother. All I ask is, that you will allow no one else, no new friend, to take my place. When I see you again, years hence, I shall hope to hear you repeat those words, 'next to my mother.' Far away in the midst of Hindustan my thoughts and hopes will travel back and centre in my white dove. Oh, child! my heart is bound to you for ever."
He drew her head to his shoulder, and held her close, and as in the church when kneeling before the altar she heard whispers which only God interpreted.
Mrs. Lindsay came back equipped for her journey, and Mr. Hargrove entered at the same moment, but neither spoke. At length, fully aware of their presence, the young missionary raised his head, and, placing his hand under Regina's chin, looked long at the spirituelle beautiful face, as if he wished to photograph every feature on his memory. Without removing his eyes, he said:
"Uncle, take care of her always. She is very dear to me. Keep her just as she is, in soul 'unspotted from the world.'"
Then his lips quivered, and in a tremulous voice he added:
"God bless you, my darling! My pure lovely dove."
He kissed her, rose instantly, and left the room.
Mrs. Lindsay came to the lounge, and while the tears rolled over her cheeks she said tenderly:
"My dear child, it seems unkind to desert you in your crippled condition, but I feel assured Peyton and Hannah will nurse you faithfully; and every moment that I can be with Douglass seems doubly precious now."
"Do you think I would keep you even if I could from him? Oh! don't you wish we were going with him to India?"
"Indeed I do, from the depths of my soul. What shall we do without our Bishop?"
Bending over the girl the mother wept unrestrainedly, but Mr. Hargrove called from the threshold:
As Mrs. Lindsay turned to leave the room, she beckoned to Hannah.
"Carry her upstairs and undress her; and if she suffers much pain, don't fail to send for the doctor."
A white image of hopeless misery, Regina lay listening till the sound of departing steps became inaudible, and when Hannah left the room the girl groaned aloud in the excess of her grief:
"I did not even say good-bye. I did not once thank him for all he did for me in the storm! And now I know, I feel I shall never see him again! Oh, Douglass!"
The glass door leading into the flower-garden stood open, and Mr. Lindsay who had been watching her from the cover of the clustering honeysuckle, stepped back into the room.
With a cry of delight, she held out her arms.
"Dear Mr. Lindsay, I shall thank you, and pray for you, and love you as long as I live!"
He put a small packet in her hand, and whispered:
"Here is something I wish you to keep until you are eighteen. Do not open it before that time, unless I give you permission, or unless you know that I am dead."
He drew her tenderly to his heart, and his lips pressed her cheek. Then he said brokenly:
"O God! be merciful in all things, to my darling!"
A moment after she heard his rapid footsteps on the gravelled walk, followed by the clang of the gate; then a great loneliness as of death fell upon her.
There are indeed sorrows "that bruise the heart like hammers," and age it suddenly, prematurely. In subsequent years Regina looked back to the incidents of this eventful Sabbath, and marked it with a black stone in the calendar of memory as the day on which she "put away childish things," and began to see life and the world through new, strange disenchanting lenses, that dispelled all the gilding glamour of childhood, and unexpectedly let in a grey dull light that chilled and awed her.
With tearless but indescribably mournful eyes, she looked vacantly at the door through which her friend had vanished, as it then seemed, for ever, and, finding that her own remarks were entirely unheard, unheeded, Hannah touched her shoulder.
"Poor thing! Are you ready to let me carry you upstairs?"
"Thank you, but I am not going upstairs to-night. I want to stay here, because I am too heavy to be carried up and down, and I can get about better from here. Bring a pillow and some bedclothes. I can sleep on this lounge."
"I shall be scolded if you don't go to bed."
"Let me alone, Hannah. I intend to stay where I am. Bring the things I need. Nobody shall scold you if you will only do as I ask."
"Then I shall have to make a pallet on the floor, for Miss Elise gave positive orders that I should sleep in your room until she came back. Don't you mean to undress yourself?"
"No. Please unfasten my clothes and then leave them as they are. You must not sleep on the floor. Roll in the hall sofa, and it will make a nice bed."
There was no alternative, and when Mr. Hargrove returned at midnight, he deemed it useless to reprimand or expostulate, as Regina declared herself very comfortable, and pleaded for permission to remain until morning.
Looking very sad and careworn, the pastor stood for some minutes leaning on his gold-headed cane. As he bade her goodnight and turned from the lounge, she put her hand on the cane.
"Please, sir, lend me this until morning. Hannah sleeps soundly, and if I am forced to wake her, I can easily do so by tapping on the floor with your cane."
"Certainly, dear; keep it as long as you choose. But I am afraid none of us will sleep much to-night. It is a heavy trial to give up Douglass. He is my younger, better self."
He walked slowly away, and she thought he looked more aged and infirm than she had ever seen him, his usually erect head drooping, as if bowed by deep sorrow.
For an hour after his departure his footsteps resounded in the room overhead, as he paced to and fro, but when the distant indistinct echo of the town clock told two all grew quiet upstairs.
In the dining-room the shaded lamp burned dimly, and Regina could see the outline of Hannah's form on the sofa, and knew from the continual turning first on one side, then on the other, that the old woman was awake, though no sound escaped her.
Engrossed by a profound yet silent grief that rendered sleep impossible, Regina lay with her hands folded over the small packet, wondering what it contained, regretting that the conditions of the gift prohibited her opening it for so many long years, and striving to divest herself of a haunting foreboding that she had looked for the last time on the bright benignant countenance of the donor, who was indissolubly linked with the happiest memories of her lonely life.
Imagination magnified the perils of the tedious voyage that included two oceans, and as if to intensify and blacken the horrors of the future all the fiendish tragedies of Delhi, Meerut, and Cawnpore were vividly revived among the missionaries to whom Mr. Lindsay was hastening. Deeply interested in the condition of a people whose welfare was so dear to his heart, she had eagerly read all the mission reports, and thus imbibed a keen aversion to the Sepoys, who had become synonymous with treachery and ingenious atrocity.
Is there an inherent affinity between brooding shadows of heart and soul, and that veil of physical darkness that wraps the world during the silent reign of night? Why do sad thoughts like corporeal suffering and disease grow more intense, more tormenting, with the approach of evening's gloom? Who has not realized that trials, sorrows, bereavements which in daylight we partly conquer and put aside, rally and triumph, overwhelming us by the aid of night? Why are the sick always encouraged, and the grief-laden rendered more cheerful by the coming of dawn? Is there some physical or chemical foundation for Figuier's wild dream of reviving sun-worship, by referring all life to the vivifying rays of the King Star? Does the mind emit gloomy sombre thoughts at night, as plants exhale carbonic acid? What subtle connection exists between a cheerful spirit, and the amount of oxygen we inhale in golden daylight? Is hope, radiant warm sunny hope, only one of those "beings woven of air by light," whereof Moleschott wrote?
To Regina the sad vigil seemed interminable, and soon after the clock struck four she hailed with inexpressible delight the peculiarly shrill crowing of her favourite white Leghorn cock, which she knew heralded the advent of day. The China geese responded from their corner of the fowlyard, and amid the reveille of the poultry Hannah rose, crept stealthily to the table and extinguished the lamp. Intently listening to every movement, Regina felt assured she was dressing rapidly, and in a few moments the tremulous motion of the floor, and the carefully guarded sound of the bolt turned slowly, told her that the old woman had started to fulfil her promise.
Having fully determined her own course, the girl lost no time in reflection, but hastily fastening her clothes took her shoes in one hand, the cane in the other, and limping to the glass door softly unlocked it, loosened the outside Venetian blinds, and sat down on the steps leading to the garden. Taking off the bandage, she slipped her shoe on the sprained foot, and wrapping a light white shawl around her, made her way slowly down the walk that wound toward the church.
Unaccustomed to the cane, she used it with great difficulty, and the instant her wounded foot touched the ground, sharp twinges renewed the remonstrance that had been silent until she attempted to walk.
A waning moon hung above the tree tops on the western boundary of the enclosure, and its wan spectral lustre lit up the churchyard, showing Regina the tall form of Hannah, who carried a spade or short shovel on her shoulder, and had just passed through the gate, leaving it open. Following as rapidly as she dared, in the direction of the iron railing, the child was only a few yards in the rear, when the old woman stopped suddenly, then ran forward, and a cry like that of some baffled wild beast broke the crystal calm of the morning air.
"The curse of God is upon it! The poplar is gone!"
Gliding along, Regina reached the outer edge of the railing, and, creeping behind the broken granite shaft which shielded her from observation, she peered cautiously around the corner, and saw that the noble towering tree had been struck by lightning and fired. Whether shivered by electricity, or subsequently blown down by the fury of the gale, none ever knew; but it appeared to have been twisted off about two feet above the ground, and in its fall smote and shattered the marble angel, which a few hours before had hovered with expanded wings over a child's grave. A wreath of blue smoke curled and floated from the heart of the stump, showing that the roots were burning, and the ivy and periwinkle so luxuriant on the previous day were now a mass of ashes and cinders.
On her knees sank Hannah, raking the hot embers into a heap, and at last she bent her grey head almost to the ground. Lifting something on the end of the spade, she uttered a low wail of despair:
"Melted—burnt up! I thought it was tin: it must have been lead! Either the curse of God, or the work of the devil!"
She fell back like one smitten with a stunning blow, and sobs shook her powerful frame.
Very near the ground the tree had contained a hollow, hidden by the rank lush creepers, and in this cavity she had deposited a small can, cylindrical in form, and similar in appearance to those generally used for hermetically sealed mushrooms. Upon it several spadefuls of earth had been thrown, to secure it from detection, should prying eyes discover the existence of the hollow.
All that remained was a shapeless lump of molten metal.
Along the east a broad band of yellow was rapidly mounting into the sky, and in the blended light of moon and day the churchyard presented a melancholy scene of devastation.
The spire and belfry had fallen upon and in front of the church, and the long building stood like a dismasted vessel among the billowy graves, that swelled as a restless sea around its grey weather-beaten sides. Here and there ancient headstones had been blown down on the mounds they guarded; and one venerable willow in the centre of a cluster of graves had been torn from the earth, and its network of roots lifted until they rested against a stone cross.
Awed by the solemn influence of the time and place, and painfully reminded of her own peril on the previous night, Regina stepped down from the base of the monument, and approached the figure crouching over the blasted smoking roots. There was no rustle of grass or leaf as she limped across the dewy turf, but warned by that mysterious magnetic instinct which so often announces some noiseless, invisible human presence, Hannah lifted and turned her head. With a scream of superstitious terror she sprang to her feet.
Very ghostly the girl certainly appeared, in her snowy mull muslin dress and white shawl, as she leaned forward on the cane, and looked steadily at the old woman. Her long black hair, loosened and disordered by tossing about all night, hung over her shoulders and gave a weird, almost supernatural, aspect to the blanched and sorrowful young face, which in that strange chill light seemed wellnigh as rigid and pallid as a corpse.
"God have mercy! Who are you?"
Hannah seized the spade and brandished it, with hands that shook from terror.
"You wicked woman, do you want to kill me? Put down that spade."
Regina advanced, but the old woman retreated, still waving the spade.
"Hannah, are you afraid of me?"
"Good Lord! Is it you, Regina?"
"Your sin makes you a coward. Did you really think me a ghost?"
"It is true, I am afraid of everything now, even of my own shadow, and once I was so brave. But what are you doing here? I thought you were crippled? What are you tracking me for?"
She threw down the spade, ran forward, and seized the girl's shoulder, while a scowl of mingled fear and rage darkened her countenance.
"You are watching, trailing me like a bloodhound! Is it any of your business where I go? Suppose I do choose to come here and say my prayers among the dead, while other folks are sound asleep in their beds, who has the right to hinder me?"
"Don't tell stories, Hannah. If you really said your prayers, you would never have come here to sell your soul to Satan."
Tightening her clutch, the old woman shook her, as if she had been a slender weed, and an ashen hue settled upon her wrinkled features, as she cried in an unnaturally shrill quavering tone:
"Aha! you were eavesdropping yesterday in the church. How I wish to God it had all blown down on you! And you watched me,—you mean to disgrace me,—to ruin me,—to arrest me! You do! But you shall not! I will strangle you first!"
"Take your hands off my shoulders, Hannah. Do you think you can scare me with such wild desperate threats? In the first place, I am not afraid to die, and in the second you know very well you dare not kill me. Let go my shoulder, you hurt me."
Very white but fearless, the young face was lifted to hers, and before those wrathful glittering eyes that flashed like blue steel, Hannah quailed.
"Will you promise not to betray me?"
"I will promise nothing while you threaten me. Sit down, you are shaking all over as if you had an ague. When I came here I had no intention of betraying you; I only wanted to prevent you from committing a sin. Are you going to have a spasm? Do sit down."
Hannah's teeth were chattering violently, and her trembling limbs seemed indeed unable to support her. When she sank down on the stone base of the shaft, Regina stood before her, leaning more heavily upon the cane.
"I heard all that you said yesterday, yet I was not 'eavesdropping.' You came and stood under the window where I sat, and if you had looked up would have seen me. When I learned you were engaged in a wicked plot, I determined to try to stop you before it was too late. I followed you here, hoping that you would give that paper to me, instead of to that bold, bad man; for though you did very wrong, I can't believe that you have a wicked cruel heart."
She paused, but the only response was a deep groan, and; Hannah shrouded her face in her arms.
"Hannah, did my mother ever injure you, ever harm you, in any way?"
"Yes, she caused me to steal, and I shall hate her as long as I live. I was as honest as an angel until she came that freezing night so many years ago, and showed me by her efforts, her anxiety to get the paper, how valuable it was. Beside, it was on her account that my nephew went to destruction; and I was sure all the blame and suspicion would fall on her: it seemed so clear that she stole the paper. I knew Mr. Hargrove gave her a copy of it, and I only wanted to sell the paper itself to the old General in Europe because I was poor, and had not money enough to stop work. I have not had a happy day since; my conscience has tormented me. I have carried a mountain of lead upon my soul, day and night, and at last when Peleg came, and I was about to get my gold, the Lord interfered and took it out of my hands. Oh! it is an awful thing to shut your eyes and stop your ears, and run down a steep place to meet the devil who is waiting at the bottom for you, and to feel yourself suddenly jerked back by something which you know Almighty God has sent to stop you! He sent that lightning to burn up the paper, and I feel that His curse will follow me to my grave."
"Not if you earnestly repent, and pray for His forgiveness." Hannah raised her grey head, and gazed incredulously at the pale delicate face, into the violet eyes that watched her with almost tender compassion.
"Oh, child! when our hands are tied, and we are so helpless we can't do any more mischief, who believes in our repentance?"
"I do, Hannah; and how much more merciful is God?"
"You don't mean that you would ever trust me, ever believe in me again?"
Her hand caught the white muslin dress, and her haggard wrinkled face was full of eager, breathless supplication.
"Yes, Hannah, I would. I do not believe you will ever steal again. Suppose the lightning had struck you as well as the tree where you hid the stolen paper, what do you think would have become of your poor wicked soul? You intended to sell that paper to a person who hates my mother, and who would have used it to injure her; but she is in God's hands, and you ought to be glad that this sin at least was prevented. In a few days you are going away, far out to the west, you say, where we shall probably never see or hear from you again, unless you choose to write us. Until you are gone, I shall keep all this secret. Mrs. Lindsay never shall know anything about it; but if Mr. Hargrove believes my mother took that paper, it is my duty to her to tell him the truth; and this I must do after you leave us. I promise he shall suspect nothing while you remain here. Can you ask me to do more than this for you?"
Hannah was crying passionately, and attempted no answer, save by drawing the girl closer to her, as if she wanted to take the slender figure in her brawny arms.
"I am sorry for you, Hannah; sorry for my dear mother; sorry for myself. The storm came and put an end to all the mischief you meant to do, so let us be thankful. You say my mother has a copy; and it would have injured her, if the original paper had been sold. Then you have harmed only yourself. Don't cry, and don't say anything more. Let it all rest; I shall never speak to you again on the subject. Hannah, will you please help me back to the house? My foot pains me dreadfully, and I begin to feel sick and faint."
In the mellow orange light that had climbed the sky, and was flooding the world with a mild glory, wherein the wan moon waned ghostly, the old woman led the white figure toward the parsonage. When they reached the little gate, Regina grasped the supporting arm, and a deadly pallor overspread her features.
"Where are you, Hannah? I cannot see——"
The blue eyes closed, she tottered, and as Hannah caught and bore her up, a swift heavy step on the gravel caused her to glance over her shoulder.
"What is the matter, Aunt Hannah? You look ill and frightened. Is that Minnie's child?"
"Hush! our game is all up. For God's sake go away until seven o'clock, then I will explain. Don't make a noise, Peleg. I must get her in the house without waking any one. If Mr. Hargrove should see us, we are ruined."
As Hannah strode swiftly toward the glass door, bearing the slight form in her stout arms, the stranger pressed forward, eagerly scrutinizing the girl's face; but at this juncture Hero, barking violently, sprang down the walk, and the intruder hastily retreated to the churchyard, securing the gate after he passed through.
The steamer sailed promptly on the Thursday subsequent to Mrs. Lindsay's departure from the parsonage, but she had been absent ten days, detained by the illness of a friend in Boston.
Impatiently her return was anticipated by every member of the household, and when a telegram announced that she might be expected on the following morning, general rejoicing succeeded the gloom which had hung chill and lowering over the diminished family circle. Under Hannah's faithful, cautious treatment Regina had sufficiently recovered from the effects of the sprain to walk once more without much pain, though she still limped perceptibly; but a nameless, formless foreboding of some impending evil—some baleful influence—some grievous calamity hovering near—rendered her particularly anxious for Mrs. Lindsay's comforting presence.
The condition of the church, which was undergoing a complete renovation, as well as repairing of the steeple, prevented the usual services, and this compulsory rest and leisure seemed singularly opportune for Mr. Hargrove, who had been quite indisposed and feeble for some days. The physician ascribed his condition to the lassitude induced by the excessive heat, and Regina attributed his pale weary aspect and evident prostration to grief for the loss of his nephew and adopted son; but Hannah looked deeper, shook her grizzled head, and "wished Miss Elise would come home."
The pastor's eyes which had long resented the exaggerated taxation imposed upon them by years of study, had recently rebelled outright, and he spoke of the necessity of visiting New York to consult an eminent oculist, who, Mrs. Lindsay wrote, had gone to Canada, but would return in September, when he hoped to examine and undertake the treatment of her brother's eyes.
During Thursday morning the minister lay upon his library sofa, while Regina read aloud for several hours, but in the afternoon, receiving a summons to attend a sick man belonging to his church, he persisted in walking to a distant part of the town, to discharge what he considered a clerical obligation.
In vain Regina protested, assuring him that the heat and fatigue would completely prostrate him. He only smiled, patted her head, and said cheerfully as he put on his hat:
"Is the little girl wiser than her guardian? And has she not yet learned that a pastor's duty knows neither heat nor cold, neither fatigue nor bodily weaknesses?"
"I am so glad Mrs. Lindsay will come to-morrow. She can keep you at home, and make you take care of yourself."
Holding his sleeve, she followed him to the front door, and detained him a moment, to fasten in the button-hole of his coat a tuberose and sprig of heliotrope, his favourite flowers.
"Thank you, my dear. You have learned all of Elise's pretty petting tricks, and some day you will be, I hope, just such a noble, tender-hearted woman. While I am gone, look after the young guineas; I have not seen them since yesterday. I shall not stay very long."
He walked away, and she went out among the various pets in the poultry yard.
It was late in August, but the afternoon was unusually close and warm, and argosies of frail creamy clouds with saffron shadows seemed becalmed in the still upper air, which was of that peculiar blue that betokens turbid ether, and hints at showers.
About sunset Regina rolled the large easy chair out on the verandah at the west of the library, and, placing a table in front of it, busied herself in arranging the pastor's evening meal. It consisted of white home-made lightbread, a pineapple of golden butter, deftly shaped and printed by her own slender hands, a glass bowl filled with honey from the home hives—honey that resembled melted amber in cells of snow, a tiny pyramid of baked apples, and a goblet of iced milk.
Upon a spotless square of damask daintily fringed she placed the supper, and in the centre a crystal vase filled with beautiful Cloth of Gold and Prince Albert roses, among which royal crimson and white carnations held up their stately heads and exhaled marvellous fragrance. Upon the snowy napkin beside the solitary plate, she left a Grand Duke jasmine lying on the heart of a rose-geranium leaf.
"Has he come?" asked Hannah, throwing wide the Venetian blinds.
"Not yet; but he must be here very soon."
"Well, I am going to milk. Dapple has been lowing these ten minutes to let me know I am behind time. I waited to see if a cup of tea would be wanted, but it is getting late. If he should ask for it, the kettle is boiling, and I guess you can make it in a minute. I have lighted the lamp and turned it down low."
She went toward the cattle-shed, swinging her copper milk-pail, which was burnished to a degree of ruddy glory beautiful to contemplate, and which, alas! is rarely seen in this age of new fashions and new-fashioned utensils.
"Come, Hero, let us go and meet the master."
But Regina had not left the verandah before Mr. Hargrove came slowly towards the easy chair, walking wearily, she thought, as if spent with fatigue.
"How tired you are! Give me your hat and cane."
"Yes, dear—very tired. I had something like vertigo, accompanied by severe palpitation as I came home, and was obliged to sit on the roadside till it passed."
"Let me send for Dr. Melville."
"You silly soft-souled young pigeon! These attacks are not dangerous, merely annoying while they last."
"Perhaps a cup of tea will strengthen you?"
"Thank you, dear; but I believe I prefer some cool water."
She brought a tumbler of iced water, and a stool which she placed beneath his feet.
"How delicious! worth all the tea in China; all the wine in Spain."
He handed back the empty glass, and sank down in his comfortable chair.
"How did you find Mr. Needham?"
"Much worse than when I saw him last. He had another hemorrhage to-day, and is evidently sinking. I should not so surprised if I were recalled before to-morrow, for his poor wife is almost frantic and wished me to remain all night; but I knew you were lonely here."
The exertion of speaking wearied him, and he laid his head back, and closed his eyes.
"Won't you eat your supper? It will help you; and your milk is already iced."
"I will try after a while, when I have rested a little. My child, you are very good to anticipate my wants. I noticed all you have done for me, and the flowers are lovely; so deliciously sweet too."
He opened his eyes, took the Grand Duke, smelled it, smiled and stroked her hand which rested on the arm of his chair.
Scarlet plumes and dashes of cirrus cloud that glowed like sacrificial fires upon the altar of the west, paled, flickered, died out in ashen grey; and a moon more gold than silver hung in shimmering splendour among the cloud ships, lending a dazzling fringe to their edges, and making quaint arabesque patterns of gilt embroidery on the verandah floor, where the soft light fell through interlacing vines of woodbine and honeysuckle. With the night came silence, broken only by the subdued plaint of the pigeons in the neighbouring yard, and the cooing or a pair of pet ring-doves that slept in the honeysuckle, and were kept awake by the moonshine which invaded their nest, and tempted them to gossip. After awhile a whipporwill which haunted the churchyard elms drew gradually nearer, finally settling upon a deodar cedar in the flower garden, whence it poured forth its lonely miserere wail.
Mr. Hargrove sat so still, that Regina hoped he had fallen asleep, but very soon he said:
"My dear, you need not fan me."
"I hoped you were sleeping, and that a nap would refresh you."
He took her hand, pressed it gently, and said with the grave tenderness peculiar to him:
"What a thoughtful good little nurse you are! Almost as watchful and patient as Elise. Have you had your supper?"
"All that I want, some bread and milk. Hero and I ate our supper before you came. Shall I bring your slippers?"
"Thank you, I believe not. Before long I will go to sleep. Regina, open the organ, and play something soft and holy, with the Tremulant. Sing me that dear old 'Protect us through the coming eight,' which my Douglass loves so well."
"I wish I could, but you know, sir, it is a quartette; and beside, I should never get through my part: it reminds me so painfully of the last time we all sang it."
"Well then, my little girl, something else. 'Oh that I had wings like a dove!' To-night I am almost like a weary child, and only need a lullaby to hush me to sleep. Go, dear, and sing me to rest."
Reluctantly she obeyed, brightened the library lamp, and sat down before the cabinet organ which had been brought over to the parsonage for safe keeping while the church was being repaired. As she pulled out the stops, Hannah touched her.
"Has he finished his supper? Can I move the dishes and table?"
"Not yet. He is too tired just now to eat."
"Then I will wait here. To tell you the truth, I have a queer feeling that scares me, makes my flesh creep. While I was straining the milk just now, a screech-owl flew on the top of the dairy, and its awful death-warning almost froze the blood in my veins. How I do wish Miss Elise was here! I hope it is not a sign of a railroad accident to her, or that the vessel is lost that carried her boy!"
"Hush, you superstitious old Hannah! I often hear that screech-owl, and it is only hunting for mice. Mrs. Lindsay will come to-morrow."
Her fingers wandered over the keys, and in a sweet, pure, and remarkably clear voice she sang "Oh that I had wings." With great earnestness and pathos she rendered the final "to be at rest," lingering long on the "Amen."
Then she began one of Mozart's symphonies, and from it glided away into favourite selections from Rossini's "Moise."
Once afloat upon the mighty tide of sacred music she drifted on and on, now into a requiem, now a "Gloria," and at last the grand triumphant strains of the pastor's favourite "Jubilate" rolled through the silent house, out upon the calm lustrous summer night.
Of the flight of time she had taken no cognizance, and as she closed the organ and rose she heard the clock striking nine, and saw that Hannah was nodding in a corner of the sofa.
Surprised at the lateness of the hour, she stepped out on the verandah, and approached the arm chair.
The moon had sunk so low that its light had been diminished, but the reflection from the library lamp prevented total darkness. Mr. Hargrove had not moved from the posture in which she left him, and she said very softly:
"Are you asleep?"
He made no answer, and, unwilling to arouse him, she sat down on the step to wait until he finished his nap.
As the moon went down a light breeze sprang from some blue depths of the far west, and began to skim the frail foamy clouds that drifted imperceptibly across the star-lit sky; and to the crystal fingers of the dew the numerous flowers in the garden below yielded a generous tribute of perfume that blended into a wave of varied aromas, and rolled to and fro in the cool night air. Calm, sweet and holy, the night seemed a very benison, dispensing peace.
Watching the white fire of constellations burning in the vault above her, Regina wondered whether it were a fair night far out at sea, if the same glittering stellar clusters swung above the deck of the noble vessel that had been for many days upon the ocean, or if the storm fiend held cyclone carnival upon the distant Atlantic.
Her thoughts wandered toward the future, that terra incognita which Mr. Lindsay's vague words—"There are trials ahead of you"—had peopled with dread yet intangible phantoms, whose spectral shadows solemnly presageful, hovered over even the present. Why was her own history a sealed volume—her father a mystery—her mother a wanderer in foreign lands?
From this most unprofitable train of reflection she was gradually recalled by the restless singular behaviour of her dog. He had been lying near the table, with his head on his paws, but rose, whined, came close to his mistress and caught her sleeve between his teeth—his usual mode of attracting her attention.
"What is it, Hero? Are you hungry?"
He barked, ran to the easy chair, rubbed his nose against the pastor's hand, came back whining to Regina, and finally returning to the chair, sat down, bent his head to the pastor's feet and uttered a prolonged and dismal howl.
An undefinable horror made the girl spring toward the chair.
The sleeper had not moved, and stooping over she put her hand on his forehead. The cold damp touch terrified her, and with a cry of "Hannah! Oh, Hannah!" she darted into the library, and seized the lamp. By its light held close to the quiet figure, she saw that the eyes were closed as in slumber, and the lips half parted, as though in dreaming he had smiled; but the features were rigid, the hands stiff and cold, and she could feel no flutter in the wrists or temples.
"Oh, my God! he is dead!" screamed Hannah, wringing her hands, and uttering a succession of shrieks, while like a statue of despair the girl stood staring almost vacantly at the white placid face of the dead. At last, shuddering from head to foot, she exclaimed:
"Run for Dr. Melville! Run, Hannah! you can go faster now than I could."
"What is the use? He is dead! stone dead!"
"Perhaps not—he may revive. Oh, Hannah! why don't you go?"
"Leave you alone in the house—with a corpse?"
"Run—run! Tell the doctor to hurry. He may do something."
As the old servant disappeared, Regina fell on her knees, and seizing the right hand, carried it to her lips; then began to chafe it violently between her own trembling palms.
"O Lord, spare him a little while! Spare him till his sister comes?"
She rushed into the library, procured some brandy which was kept in the medicine chest, and with the aid of a spoon tried to force some down his throat, but the muscles refused to relax, and, pouring the brandy on her handkerchief, she rubbed his face and the hand she had already chafed. In the left he tightly held the jasmine, as when he spoke to her last, and she shrank from touching those fingers.
Finding no change in the fixed white face she took off his shoes and rubbed his feet with mustard, but no effect encouraged her, and finally she sat, praying silently, holding the feet tenderly against her heart.
How long lasted that lonely vigil with the dead, she never knew. Hope deserted her, and by degrees she realized the awful truth that the arrival of the physician so impatiently expected would bring no succour. How bitterly she upbraided herself for leaving him a moment, even though in obedience to his wishes. Perhaps he had called and the organ had drowned his voice.
Had he died while she sang, and was his spirit already with God when she repeated the words "Far away in the regions of the blest"? When she came on tiptoe, and asked, "Are you asleep?" was he indeed verily "Asleep in Jesus"? While she waited, fearful of disturbing his slumber, was his released and rejoicing soul nearing the pearly battlements of the City of Rest, lead by God's most pitying and tender angel, loving yet silent Death?
When will humanity reject and disown the hideous, ruthless monster its own disordered fancy fashioned, and accept instead the beautiful Oriental Azrael, the most ancient "Help of God," who is sent in infinite mercy to guide the weary soul into the blessed realm of Peace?
"O Land! O Land! For all the broken-hearted, The mildest herald by our fate allotted— Beckons, and with inverted torch doth stand, To lead us with a gentle hand Into the Land of the great departed,— Into the Silent Land."
When the solemn silence that hung like a pall over the parsonage was broken by the hurried tread of many feet and the confused sound of strange voices, Regina seemed to be aroused from some horrible lethargy, and gazed despairingly at the doctor.
"It is too late. You can't do anything for him now," she said, clinging to his feet, as an attempt was made to lift them from her lap.
"He must have been dead several hours," answered Dr. Melville.
"None but God and the angels know when he died. I thought he had gone to sleep; and so indeed he had."
Hannah had spread the alarm, while searching for the doctor, and very soon Mr. Hargrove's personal friends and some of the members of the congregation thronged the library, into which the body of the minister had been removed.
An hour afterward Dr. Melville, having searched for the girl all over the house, found her crouched on the steps leading down to the flower garden. She sat with her arm around Hero's neck, and her head bowed against him. Seating himself beside her, the physician said:
"Poor child, this is an awful ordeal for you, and in Dr. Hargrove's death you have lost a friend whom the whole world cannot replace. He was the noblest man, the purest Christian, I ever knew, and if the church has a hundred pastors in future, none will ever equal him. He married me, he baptized my children, and when I buried my wife, his voice brought me the most comfort, the——"
His tone faltered, and a brief silence ensued.
"Regina, I wish you would tell me as nearly as you can how he seemed to-day, and how it all happened. I could get nothing satisfactory put of old Hannah."
She described the occurrences of the morning, his debility and entire lack of appetite, and the long walk in the afternoon, followed by the attack of vertigo and palpitation, to which he alluded after his return. When she concluded her recital of the last terrible scene in the melancholy drama, Dr. Melville sighed, and said:
"It has ended just as I feared, and predicted. His heart has been affected for some time, and not a month ago I urged him to give up his pulpit work for a while at least, and try rest and change of air. But he answered that he considered his work imperative, and when he died it would be with the harness on. He would not permit me to allude to the subject in the presence of his family, because he told me he did not wish to alarm his sister, who is so devoted to him, or render the parting with his nephew more painful, by adding apprehensions concerning his health. I fear his grief at the loss of Douglass has hastened the end."
"When Mrs. Lindsay comes to-morrow it will kill her," groaned Regina, whose soul seemed to grow sick, as she thought of the devoted fond sister, and the anguish that awaited her already bruised and aching heart.
"No, sorrow does not kill people, else the race would become extinct."
"It has killed Mr. Hargrove."
"Not sorrow, but the disease, which sorrow may have aggravated."
"Mrs. Lindsay would not go to India with her son, because she said she could not leave her brother whose sight was failing, and who needed her most. Now she has lost both. Oh, I wish I could run away to-morrow, somewhere, anywhere, out of sight of her misery!"
"Some one must meet her at the train, and prepare her for the sad news. My dear child, you would be the best person for that melancholy task."
"I? Never! I would cut off my tongue before it should stab her heart with such awful news! Are people ever prepared for trouble like this?"
"Well, somebody must do it; but, like you, I am not brave enough to meet her with the tidings. When it is necessary, I can amputate limbs, and do a great many apparently cruel things, but when it conies to breaking such bad news as this I am a nervous coward. Mr. Campbell is a kind, tenderhearted friend of the family, and I will request him to take a carriage and meet her to-morrow. Poor thing! what a welcome home!"
Soon after he left her she heard the whistle of the night express, which arrived simultaneously with the departure of the outward train bound south, and she knew that it was eleven o'clock.
Hannah was in the kitchen talking with Esau the sexton, and when several gentlemen who offered to remain until morning came out on the verandah, leaving the blinds of the library windows wide open, Regina rose and stole away to escape their observation.
Although walking swiftly she caught sight of the table in the middle of the room and of a mass of white drapery, on which the lamp-light fell with ghostly lustre. Twelve hours before she had sat there, reading to the faithful kind friend whose affectionate gaze rested all the while upon her; now stiff and icy he was sleeping his last sleep in the same spot, and his soul? Safely resting, after the feverish toil and strife of Time, amid the palms of Eternal Peace. Not the peace of Nirwana; neither the absolute absorption of one school of philosophy, nor the total extinction inculcated by a yet grosser system. Not the vague insensate peace of Pantheism, but the spiritual rest of a heaven of reunion and of recognition promised by Jesus Christ our Lord, who, conquering death in that lonely rock-hewn Judaean tomb, won immortal identity for human souls. Not the succession of progressive changes that constitute the hereafter of—
"This age that blots out life with question-marks, This nineteenth century with its knife and glass That make thought physical, and thrust far off The heaven, so neighbourly with man of old, To voids sparse-sown with alienated stars."
Among the multitudinous philosophic, psychologic, biologic systems that have waxed and waned, dazzled and deluded, from the first utterances of Gotama, to the very latest of the advanced Evolutionists, is there any other than the Christian solution of the triple-headed riddle—Whence? Wherefore? Whither?—that will deliver us from the devouring Sphinx Despair, or yield us even shadowy consolation when the pinions of gentle yet inexorable death poise over our household darling, and we stand beside the cold silent clay, which natural affection and life-long companionship render so inexpressibly precious?
When we lower the coffin of our beloved is there soothing comfort in the satisfactory reflection that perhaps at some distant epoch, by the harmonious operation of "Natural Selection" and by virtue of the "Conservation of Force," the "Survival of the fittest" will certainly ensure the "Differentiation" the "Evolution" of our buried treasure into some new, strange, superior type of creature, to us for ever unknown and utterly unrecognizable? Tormented by aspirations which neither time nor space, force nor matter, will realize or satisfy, consumed by spiritual hunger fiercer than Ugolino's, we are invited to seize upon the Barmecide's banquet of "The Law which formulates organic development as a transformation of the homogeneous into the heterogeneous;" and that "this universal transformation is a change from indefinite homogeneity to definite heterogeneity; and that only when the increasing multiformity is joined with increasing definiteness, does it constitute Evolution, as distinguished from other changes that are like it, in respect of increasing heterogeneity."
Does this wise and simple pabulum cure spiritual starvation?
"God said, let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul." Nay—thunders Science—put away such childish superstition, smite such traditionary idols; man was first made after the similitude of a marine ascidian, and once swam as a tadpole in primeval seas.
In all the wide universe of modern speculation there remains no unexplored nook or cranny, where an immortal human soul can find refuge or haven. Having hunted it down, trampled and buried it as one of the little "inspired legendary" foxes that nibble and bruise the promising sprouts of the Science Vineyard, what are we requested to accept in lieu of the doctrine of spiritual immortality? "Natural Evolution."
One who has long been regarded as an esoteric in the Eleusis of Science, and who ranks as a crowned head among its hierophants, frankly tells us: "What are the core and essence of this hypothesis Natural Evolution? Strip it naked, and you stand face to face with the notion that not alone the more ignoble forms of animalcular or animal life, not alone the nobler forma of the horse and lion, not alone the exquisite and wonderful mechanism of the human body, but that the human mind itself—emotion, intellect, will, and all their phenomena—were once latent in a fiery cloud. Many who hold it would probably assent to the position that at the present moment all our philosophy, all our poetry, all our science, all our art—Plato, Shakespeare, Newton, and Raphael—are potential in the fires of the sun."... A different pedigree from that offered us by Moses and the Prophets, Christ and the Apostles; but does it light up the Hereafter?
We are instructed that our instincts and consciousness dwell in the "sensory ganglia," that "an idea is a contradiction, a motion, a configuration of the intermediate organ of sense," that "memory is the organic registration of their effects of impressions," and that the "cerebrum" is the seat of ideas, the home of thought and reason. But when "grey-matter" that composes this thinking mechanism becomes diseased, and the cold touch of death stills the action of fibre and vesicle, what light can our teachers pour upon the future of that coagulated substance where once reigned hope, ambition, love, or hate? Those grey granules that were memory, become oblivion. Certainly physiology has grown to giant stature since the days of St. Paul, but does it bring to weeping mourners any more comfort than the doctrine he taught the Corinthians?
Does the steel Law Mill of Progressive Development grind us either tonic or balm for the fatal hours of sorest human trial? We have learned that "the heart of man is constructed upon the recognized rules of hydraulics, and with its great tubes is furnished with common mechanical contrivances, valves."
But when the valvular action is at rest under the stern finger of death, can all the marvellous appliances of this intensely and wonderfully mechanical age force one ruddy drop through those great tubes, or coax one solitary throb, where God has said "Be still"?
To the stricken mother, bowed over the waxen image of her darling, is there any system, theory, or creed that promises aught of the Great Beyond comparable to the Christian's sublime hope that the pet lamb is safely and tenderly folded by the Shepherd Jesus?
To the aching heart and lonely soul of sorrowing Regina these vexing riddles that sit open-mouthed at our religious and scientific cross-roads, brought no additional gloom; for with the pure holy faith of unquestioning childhood she seemed to see beside the rigid form of her pastor and friend the angel who on sea-girt Patmos bade St. John write, "Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord, from henceforth; yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labours; and their works do follow them."
Anxious to avoid those who sat within keeping sad watch, the unhappy girl went around to the front entrance, and sank down on the lowest step, burying her face in her hands.
The library was merely a continuation of the hall that ran east and west through the centre of the house, and though comparatively remote from the front door was immediately opposite, and from the sight of that room Regina shrank instinctively.
Too much shocked and stunned to weep, she became so absorbed by thoughts of to-morrow's mournful mission, that she failed to notice the roll of wheels along the street, or the quick rattle of the gate-latch. The sound of rapid footsteps and the rustle of drapery on the pebbled walk, finally arrested her attention, and rising she would have moved aside, but a hand seized her arm.
"What is the matter? How is my brother?"
"Oh, Mrs. Lindsay!"
"Something must have happened. I had such a presentiment of trouble at home that I could not wait till to-morrow. I came on the night express. Why is the house all lighted up? Is Peyton ill?"
Trembling from head to foot, she waited an instant, but Regina only crouched and groaned, and Mrs. Lindsay sprang up the steps. As she reached the door, the light in the library revealed the shrouded table,—the rigid figure resting thereon,—and a piercing wail broke the silence of death.
"Merciful God!—not my Peyton?"
Thrusting her fingers into her ears, Regina fled down the walk out of the yard, anywhere to escape the sound and sight of that broken-hearted woman, whose cry was indeed de profundis.
"Console if you will, I can bear it; 'Tis a well-meant alms of breath; But not all the preaching since Adam Has made Death other than Death."
A dreary sunless December day had drawn to a close, prematurely darkened by a slow drizzling rain, that brought the gloom of early night, where sunset splendours should have lingered, and deepened the sombre desolation that mantled the parsonage. In anticipation of the arrival of the new minister, who was expected the ensuing week, the furniture had been removed and sold, the books carefully packed and temporarily stored at the warehouse of a friend, and even the trunks containing the wearing apparel of the occupants had been despatched to the railway depot, and checked for transmission by the night express.
The melancholy preparations for departure were completed, friends had paid their final visits, and only Esau the sexton waited with his lantern, to lock up the deserted house, and take charge of the keys.
The last mournful tribute had been offered at the grave in the churchyard, where the beloved pastor slept serenely; and the cold leaden rain fell upon a mass of beautiful flowers, which quite covered the mound, that marked his dreamless couch.
Since that farewell visit to her brother's tomb, Mrs. Lindsay seemed to have lost her wonted fortitude and composure, and was pacing the empty library, weeping bitterly, giving vent to the long-pent anguish which daily duties and business details had compelled her to restrain.
Impotent to comfort, Regina stood by the mantlepiece, gazing vacantly at the wood fire on the hearth, which supplied only a dim fitful and uncertain light in the bare chill room, once the most cosy and attractive in the whole cheerful house.
How utterly desolate everything appeared now, with only the dreary monotone of the wintry rain on the roof, and the occasional sob that fell from the black-robed figure walking to and fro.
It had been such a happy, peaceful, blessed home, where piety, charity, love, taste, refinement, and education all loaned their charms to the store of witchery, which made it doubly sad to realize that henceforth other feet would tread its floors, other voices echo in its garden and verandahs.
To the girl who had really never known any other home (save the quiet convent courts) this parsonage was the dearest spot she had yet learned to love; and with profound sorrow she now prepared to bid adieu for ever to the haven where her happiest years had passed like a rosy dream.
The dreary deserted aspect of the house recalled to her mind—
"How some they have died, and some they have left me, And some are taken from me; all are departed"—
of Charles Lamb's quaint tender "Old familiar faces," as full of melancholy pathos as human eyes brimming with unshed tears; and from it her thoughts gradually drifted to another poem, which she had first heard from Mr. Lindsay during the week of his departure, and later from the sacred lips that were now placidly smiling beneath the floral cross and crown in the neighbouring churchyard.
To-night the words recurred with the mournful iteration of some dolorous refrain; and yielding to the spell she leaned her forehead against the chimney-piece, and repeated them sadly and slowly:
"'We sat and talked until the night Descending, filled the little room; Our faces faded from the sight— Our voices only broke the gloom. We spake of many a vanished scene, Of what we once had thought and said, Of what had been, and might have been, And who was changed, and who was dead; And all that fills the hearts of friends, When first they feel with secret pain, Their lives thenceforth have separate ends, And never can be one again. The very tones in which we spake Had something strange, I could but mark; The leaves of memory seemed to make A mournful rustling in the dark.'"
Attracted by the rhythm, which softly beat upon the air like some muffled prelude striking only minor chords, Mrs. Lindsay came to the hearth, and with her arm resting on the girl's shoulder, stood listening.
"How dearly my Douglass loved those lines."
"And on the night before he died, Mr. Hargrove repeated them, asking me afterward to select some sweet solemn sacred tune with an organ accompaniment, and sing them for him. But what music is there that would suit a poem, which henceforth will seem as holy as a psalm to me?"
"Perhaps after a while you and I may be able to quiet the pain, and set it to some sweet old chant. Just now our hearts are too sore."
"After a while? What hope has after a while? It cannot bring back the lost; and does memory ever die? After a while has not given me my mother; after a while has not taught me to forget her, or made me more patient in my waiting. After a while I know death will come to us all, and then there will be no more heartache; but I can't see that there is any comfort in after a while, except beyond the grave. Mrs. Lindsay, I do not wish to be wicked or rebellious, but it seems very hard that I must leave this dear quiet home, and be separated from you and Mr. Lindsay whom I dearly love, and go and live in a city, with that cold, hard, harsh, stern man, of whom I am so much afraid. He may mean well, but he has such unkind ways of showing it. You have no idea how dreadful the future looks to me."
She spoke drearily, and in the fitful flashes of the firelight the young face looked unnaturally stern.
"My dear child, you must not despond; at your age one must try to see only the bright side. If I expected to remain in America, I would not give you up without a struggle; would beg your mother's permission to keep you until she claimed you. But I shall only wait to learn that Douglass has arranged for my arrival. As you know, my sister and brother-in-law are in Egypt, and if I were with them in Cairo, I could hear more regularly and frequently from my dear boy. I wish I could keep you, for you have grown deep into my heart, but my own future is too uncertain to allow me to involve any one else in my plans."
"I understand the circumstances, but if mother only knew everything, I believe she would not doom me to the care of that man of stone. Oh, if you could only take me across the ocean, and let me go to Venice to mother."
Mrs. Lindsay tightened her arm around the erect slender figure, and gently stroked back the hair from her temples.
"My dear, you paint your future guardian too grimly. Mr. Palma is very reserved, rather haughty, and probably stern, but notwithstanding has a noble character, I am told, and certainly appears much interested in and kindly disposed toward you. Dear Peyton liked him exceedingly, and his two letters to me were full of generosity and kind sympathy. As I believe I told you, his stepmother resides with him, and her daughter Miss Neville, though a young lady, will be more of a companion for you than the older members of the household. Mr. Palma is one of the most eminent and popular lawyers in New York, is very ambitious, I have heard, and at his house you will meet the best society of that great city; by which I mean the most cultivated, high-toned, and aristocratic people. I am sorry that he has no religious views, habits, or associations, as I inferred from the remarks of the lady whom I met in Boston, and who seemed well acquainted with the Palma household. She told me 'none of that family had any religion, though of course they kept a pew in the fashionable church.' But, my dear little girl, I hope your principles and rules of life are sufficiently established to preserve you from all free-thinking tendencies. Constant attendance at church does not constitute religion, any more than the bona fide pulpit means the spiritual Gospel; but I have noticed that where genuine piety exists, it is generally united with a recognition of church duties and obligations. The case of books I packed and sent with your trunks contains some very admirable though old-fashioned works, written by such women as Hannah More, Mrs. Chapone, Mrs. Opie, and others, to mould the character of girls, and instruct them in all that is requisite to make them noble, refined, intelligent, useful Christian women. Hannah More's 'Lucilla Stanley' is one of the loveliest portraitures of female excellence in the whole domain of literature, and you will find some of the passages marked to arrest your attention. In this age of rapid deviation from the standard rules that governed feminine deportment and education when I was a girl, many of the precepts and admonitions penned by the authors I have mentioned are derided and repudiated as 'puritanical,' 'old-fashioned,' 'strait-laced,' 'stupid and prudish'; but if these indeed be faults, certainly in the light of modern innovations they appear 'to lean to virtue's side.' In fashionable society, such as you are destined to meet at Mr. Palma's, you will find many things that no doubt will impress you as strange, possibly wrong; but in all these matters consult the books I have selected for you, read your Bible, pray regularly, and under all circumstances hold fast to your principles. Question and listen to your conscience, and no matter how keen the ridicule, or severe the condemnation to which your views may subject you, stand firm. Moral cowardice is the inclined plane that leads to the first step in sin. Be sure you are right, and then suffer no persuasion or invective to influence you in questions involving conscientious scruples. You are young and peculiarly isolated, therefore I have given you a letter to my valued old friend Mrs. Mason, who will always advise you judiciously, if you will only consult her. I hope you will devote as much time as possible to music, for to one gifted with your rare talent it will serve as a sieve straining out every ignoble discordant suggestion, and will help to keep your thoughts pure and holy."
"I suppose there are wicked ways and wicked people everywhere, and it is not the fashion or the sinfulness that I am afraid of in New York, but the loneliness I anticipate. I dread being shut up between brick walls: no flowers, no grass, no cows, no birds, no chickens, none of the things I care for most."
"But, my dear child, you forget that you have entered your fifteenth year, and as you grow older you will gradually lose your inordinate fondness for pets. Your childish tastes will change as you approach womanhood."
"I hope not. Why should they? When I am an old woman with white hair, spectacles, wrinkled cheeks, and a ruffled muslin cap like poor Hannah's, I expect to love pigeons and rabbits, and all pretty white things, just as dearly as I do now. Speaking of Hannah, how I shall miss her? Since she went away, I shun the kitchen as much as possible,—everything is so changed, so sad. Oh! the dear, dear old-dead-and-gone-days will never, never come back to me."
For some time neither spoke. Mrs. Lindsay wept, the girl only groaned in spirit; and at length she said suddenly, like one nerved for some painful task:
"When we separate at the depot, you to take one train and I another, we may never meet again in this world, and I must say something to you, which I could mention to no one else. There is a cloud hanging over me. I have always lived in its cold shadow, even here where there is, or was, so much to make me happy, and this mystery renders me unwilling to go into the world of curious, harsh people, who will wonder and question. I know that Orme is not my real name, but am forbidden to ask for information until I am grown. I have full faith in my mother: I must believe that all she has done is right, no matter how strange things seem; but on one point I must be satisfied. Is my mother's name Minnie?"
"I cannot tell you, for it was the only secret dear Peyton ever kept from me. In speaking of her, he always called her Mrs. Orme."
"Do you know anything about the loss of a valuable paper, once in Mr. Hargrove's possession?"
"A great many years ago, before you came to live with us, some one entered this room, opened the secret drawer of Peyton's writing desk, and carried off a tin box containing some important papers."
"And suspicion rested on my mother?"
"My darling girl, who could have been so cruel as to distress you with such matters? No one——"
Regina interrupted her, with an imperative motion of her hand:
"Please answer my question. Truth is better than kindness, is more to me than sympathy. Did not you and Mr. Hargrove believe that mother took—stole that box?"
"Peyton never admitted to me that he suspected her, though some circumstances seemed to connect the disappearance of the papers with her visit here the night they were carried off. He accused no one."
Regina was deeply moved, and her whole face quivered as she answered:
"Oh! how good, how truly charitable he was! I wonder if in all the wide borders of America there are any more like him? If I could only have told him the facts, and satisfied him that my mother was innocent! But I waited until Hannah could get away in peace, and before she was ready to start God called him home. In heaven of course he knows it all now. I promised Hannah to tell no one but him, and to defer the explanation until she was safe, entirely beyond the reach of his displeasure; but since you suspected my mother, it is right that I should justify her in your estimation."
Very succinctly she narrated what had occurred on the evening of the storm, and the incidents of the ensuing morning, when she followed Hannah into the churchyard. As she concluded, an expression of relief and pleasure succeeded that of astonishment which had rested on Mrs. Lindsay's worn and faded face.
"I am heartily glad that at last the truth has been discovered, and that it fully exonerated your mother from all connection with the theft; for I confess the circumstances prejudiced me against her. Let us be encouraged, my dear little girl, to believe that in due time all the other mysteries will be quite as satisfactorily cleared up."
"I can't afford to doubt it; if I did, I should not be able to——"
She paused, while an increasing pallor overspread her features.
"That is right, dear, believe in her. We should drink and live upon faith in our mothers, as we did their milk that nourished us. When children lose faith in their mothers, God pity both! Did you learn from Hannah the character of the paper?"
"How could I question a servant concerning my mother's secrets? I only learned that Mr. Hargrove had given to my mother a copy of that which was burned by the lightning."
"In writing to her, did you mention the facts?"
"I have not as yet. I doubted whether I ought to allude to the subject, lest she should think I was intruding upon her confidence."
"Dismiss that fear, and in your next letter acquaint her fully with all you learned from poor Hannah; it may materially involve her interest or welfare. Now, Regina, I am about to say something which you must not misinterpret, for my purpose is to comfort you, to strengthen your confidence in your mother. I do not know her real name, I never heard your father's mentioned, but this I do know,—dear Peyton told me that in this room he performed the marriage ceremony that made them husband and wife. Why such profound secrecy was necessary your poor mother will some day explain to you. Until then, be patient."
"Thank you, Mrs. Lindsay. It does comfort me to know that Mr. Hargrove was the minister who married them. Of course it is no secret to you that my mother is an actress? I discovered it accidentally, for you know the papers were never left in my way, and in all her letters she alluded to her 'work being successful,' but never mentioned what it was; and I always imagined she was a musician giving concerts. But one day last June, at the Sabbath-school Festival, Mrs. Potter gave me a Boston paper, containing an article marked with ink, which she said she wished me to read, because it would edify a Sunday-school pupil. It was a letter from Italy, describing one of the theatres there, where Madame Odille Orme was playing 'Medea.' I cut out the letter, gave it to Mr. Hargrove, and asked him if it meant my mother. He told me it did, and advised me to enclose it to her when I wrote. But I could not, I burned it. People look down on actresses as if they were wicked or degraded, and for awhile it distressed me very much indeed, but I know there must be good as well as bad people in all professions. Since then I have been more anxious to become a perfect musician, so that before long I can relieve mother from the necessity of working on the stage."
"It was wickedly malicious in Mrs. Prudence to wound you; and we were all so anxious to shield you from every misgiving on your mother's account. Some actresses have brought opprobrium upon the profession, which certainly is rather dangerous, and subjects women to suspicion and detraction; but let me assure you, Regina, that there have been very noble, lovely, good ladies who made their bread exactly as your mother makes hers. There is no more brilliant, enviable, or stainless record among gifted women than that of Mrs. Siddons'; or to come down to the present day, the world honours, respects, and admires none more than Madame Ristori, or Miss Cushman. Personal characteristics must decide a woman's reputation, irrespective of the fact that she lives upon the stage; and it is unjust that the faults of some should reflect discreditably upon all in any profession. Individually I must confess I am opposed to theatres and actresses, for I am the widow of a minister, and have an inherited and a carefully educated prejudice against all such things; but while I acknowledge this fact, I dare not assert that some who pass their lives before the footlights may not be quite as conscientious and upright as I certainly try to be. I should grieve to see you on the stage, yet should circumstances induce you to select it as a profession, in the sight of God who alone can judge human hearts, your and your mother's chances of final acceptance and rest with Christ might be as good, perhaps better, than mine Let us 'judge not, lest we be judged.'"
"The world has not your charity, but let it do its worst. Come what may, my mother is still my own mother, and God will hold the scales and see that justice is done. Perhaps some day we may follow you to India, and spend the remainder of our lives in some cool quiet valley, under the shadow of the rhododendrons on the Himalayan hills. Who knows what the end may be? But no matter how far we wander, or where we rest, we shall never find a home so sweet, so peaceful, so full of holy and happy associations, as this dear parsonage has been to me."