Had Durward understood Mrs. Livingstone a little better, he might have believed him; but now it was but natural for him to suppose that Nero had accidentally dropped it. So he wrote another, taking it himself, and asking for "Miss Rivers." Carrie, who was in the parlor and saw him coming up to the house, instantly flew to the glass, smoothing her collar, puffing out her hair a little more, pinching her cheek, which was not quite so red as usual, and wishing that she was alone. But unfortunately, both Anna and 'Lena were present, and as there was no means of being rid of them, she retained her seat at the piano, carelessly turning over the leaves of her music book, when the door opened and Corinda, not Durward, appeared.
"If you please, Miss 'Lena," said the girl, "Marster Bellmont want to speak with you in the hall."
"With 'Lena! How funny!" exclaimed Carrie. "Are you sure it was 'Lena?"
"Yes, sure—he done ask for Miss Rivers."
"Ask him in, why don't you?" said Carrie, suspecting his errand, and thinking to keep herself from all suspicion by appearing "wonderfully pleased" that 'Lena was not intentionally neglected. Before Corinda could reply, 'Lena had stepped into the hall, and was standing face to face with Durward, who retained her hand, while he asked if "she really believed they, intended to slight her," at the same time explaining how it came to his knowledge, and saying "he hoped she would not fail to attend."
'Lena hesitated, but he pressed her so hard, saying he should surely think she distrusted them if she refused, that she finally consented, and he took his leave, playfully threatening to come for her himself if she were not there with the rest.
"You feel better, now, don't you ?" said Carrie with a sneer, as 'Lena re-entered the parlor.
"Yes, a great deal," was 'Lena's truthful answer.
"Oh, I'm real glad!" exclaimed Anna. "I most knew 'twas a mistake all the time, and I did so want you to go. What will you wear? Let me see. Why, you haven't got anything suitable, have you?"
This was true, for 'Lena had nothing fit for the occasion, and she was beginning to wish she had not been invited, when her uncle came in, and to him Anna forthwith stated the case, saying 'Lena must have a new dress, and suggesting embroidered muslin.
"How ridiculous!" muttered Carrie, thrumming away at the piano. "There's no time to make dresses now. They should have invited her earlier."
"Isn't Miss Simpson still here?" asked her father.
Anna replied that she was, and then turning to 'Lena, Mr. Livingstone asked if "she wanted to go very much."
The tears which shone in her eyes were a sufficient answer, and when at supper that night, inquiry was made for Mr. Livingstone, it was said that he had gone to Frankfort.
"To Frankfort!" repeated his wife. "What has he gone there for?"
No one knew until late in the evening, when he returned home, bringing with him 'Lena's dress, which Anna pronounced "the sweetest thing she ever saw," at the same time running with it to her cousin. There was company in the parlor, which for a time kept down the gathering storm in Mrs. Livingstone's face, but the moment they were gone, and she was alone with her husband in their room, it burst forth, and in angry tones she demanded "what he meant by spending her money in that way, and without her consent?"
Before making any reply, Mr. Livingstone stepped to her work-box, and opening the little drawer, held to view the missing note. Then turning to his wife, whose face was very pale, he said, "This morning I made a discovery which exonerates Nero from all blame. I understand it fully, and while I knew you were capable of almost anything, I must say I did not think you would be guilty of quite so mean an act. Stay," he continued, as he saw her about to speak, "you are my wife, and as 'Lena is at last invited, your secret is safe, but remember, it must not be repeated. You understand me, do you?"
Mrs. Livingstone was struck dumb with mortification and astonishment—the first, that she was detected, and the last, that her husband dare assume such language toward her. But he had her in his power—she knew that—and for a time it rendered her very docile, causing her to consult with Miss Simpson concerning the fitting of 'Lena's dress, herself standing by when it was done, and suggesting one or two improvements, until 'Lena, perfectly bewildered, wondered what had come over her aunt, that she should be so unusually kind. Carrie, too, learning from her mother how matters stood, thought proper to change her manner, and while in her heart she hoped something would occur to keep 'Lena at home, she loudly expressed her pleasure that she was going, offering to lend her several little ornaments, and doing many things which puzzled 'Lena, who readily saw that she was feigning what she did not feel.
Meanwhile, grandma, learning that 'Lena was invited, declared her intention of going. "I shouldn't of gin up in the first on't," said she, "only I wanted to show 'em proper resentment; but now it's different, and I'll go, anyway—'Tilda may say what she's a mind to."
It was in vain that 'Lena reasoned the case. Grandma was decided, and it was not until both her son and daughter interfered, the one advising and the other commanding her to stay at home, that she yielded with a burst of tears, for grandma was now in her second childhood, and easily moved. It was terrible to 'Lena to see her grandmother weep, and twining her arms around her neck, she tried to soothe her, saying, "she would willingly stay at home with her if she wished it."
Mrs. Nichols was not selfish enough to suffer this. "No, 'Leny," said she, "I want you to go and enjoy yourself while you are young, for you'll sometime be old and in the way;" and the old creature covered her face with her shriveled hands and wept.
But she was of too cheerful a nature long to remember grief, and drying her tears, she soon forgot her trouble in the pride and satisfaction which she felt when she saw how well the white muslin became 'Lena, who, John Jr., said, never looked so beautifully as she did when arrayed for the party. Mr. Livingstone had not been sparing of his money when he purchased the party dress, which was a richly embroidered muslin, and fell in soft folds around 'Lena's graceful figure. Her long flowing curls were intertwined with a few natural flowers, her only attempt at ornament of any kind, and, indeed, ornaments would have been sadly out of place on 'Lena'.
It was between nine and ten when the party from Maple Grove reached Woodlawn, where they found a large company assembled, some in the drawing-rooms below, and others still lingering at the toilet in the dressing chamber. Among these last were Nellie Douglass and Mabel Ross, the latter of whom Mrs. Livingstone was perfectly delighted to see, overwhelming her with caresses, and urging her to stop for awhile at Maple Grove.
"I shall be so glad to have you with us, and the country air will do you so much good, that you must not refuse," said she, pinching Mabel's sallow cheek, and stroking her straight, glossy hair, which, in contrast with the bandeau of pearls that she wore, looked dark as midnight.
Spite of her wealth, Mabel had long been accustomed to neglect, and there was something so kind in Mrs. Livingstone's motherly demeanor, that the heart of the young orphan warmed toward her, and tears glittered in her large, mournful eyes, the only beauty, save her hair, of which she could boast. Very few had ever cared for poor Mabel, who, though warm-hearted and affectionate, required to be known in order to be appreciated, and as she was naturally shy and retiring, there were not many who felt at all acquainted with her. Left alone in the world at a very early age, she had never known what it was to possess a real, disinterested friend, unless we except Nellie Douglass, who, while there was nothing congenial between them, had always tried to treat Mabel as she herself would wish to be treated, were she in like circumstances.
Many had professed friendship for the sake of the gain which they knew would accrue, for she was generous to a fault, bestowing with a lavish hand upon those whom she loved, and who had too often proved false, denouncing her as utterly spiritless and insipid. So often had she been deceived, that now, at the age of eighteen, she had learned to distrust her fellow creatures, and oftentimes in secret would she weep bitterly over her lonely condition, lamenting the plain face and unattractive manners, which she fancied rendered her an object of dislike. Still there was about her a depth of feeling of which none had ever dreamed, and it only required a skillful hand to mold her into an altogether different being. She was, perhaps, too easily influenced, for in spite of her distrust, a pleasant word or kind look would win her to almost anything.
Of this weakness Mrs. Livingstone seemed well aware, and for the better accomplishment of her plan, she deemed it necessary that Mabel should believe her to be the best friend she had in the world. Accordingly, she now flattered and petted her, calling her "darling," and "dearest," and urging her to stop at Maple Grove, until she consented, "provided Nellie Douglas were willing."
"Oh, I don't care," answered Nellie, whose gay, dashing disposition poorly accorded with the listless, sickly Mabel, and who felt it rather a relief than otherwise to be rid of her.
So it was decided that she should stay at Maple Grove, and then Mrs. Livingstone, passing her arm around her waist, whispered, "Go down with me," at the same time starting for the parlor, followed by her daughters, Nellie, and 'Lena. In the hall they met with John Jr. He had heard Nellie's voice, and stationing himself at the head of the stairs, was waiting her appearance.
"Miss Ross," said Mrs. Livingstone to her son, at the same time indicating her willingness to give her into his care.
But John Jr. would not take the hint. Bowing stiffly to Mabel, he passed on toward Nellie, in his eagerness stepping on Carrie's train and drawing from her an exclamation of anger at his awkwardness. Mrs. Livingstone glanced backward just in time to see the look of affection with which her son regarded Nellie, as she placed her soft hand confidingly upon his arm, and gazed upward smilingly into his face. She dared not slight Miss Douglass in public, but with a mental invective against her, she drew Mabel closer to her side, and smoothing down the heavy folds of her moire antique, entered the drawing-room, which was brilliantly lighted, and filled with the beauty and fashion of Lexington, Frankfort, and Versailles.
At the door they met Durward, who, as he took 'Lena's hand, said, "It is well you remembered your promise, for I was about starting after you." This observation did not escape Mrs. Livingstone, who, besides having her son and Nellie under her special cognizance, had also an eye upon her niece and Anna. Her espionage of the latter, however, was not needed immediately, owing to her being straightway appropriated by Captain Atherton, who, in dainty white kids, and vest to match (the color not the material), strutted back and forth with Anna tucked under his arm, until the poor girl was ready to cry with vexation.
When the guests had nearly all arrived, both Mr. Graham and Durward started for 'Lena, the latter reaching her first, and paying her so many little attentions, that the curiosity of others was aroused, and frequently was the question asked, "Who is she, the beautiful young lady in white muslin and curls?"
Nothing of all this escaped Mrs. Livingstone, and once, in passing near her niece, she managed to whisper, "For heaven's sake don't show your ignorance of etiquette by taxing Mr. Bellmont's good nature any longer. It's very improper to claim any one's attention so long, and you are calling forth remarks."
Then quickly changing the whisper into her softest tones, she said to Durward, "How can you resist such beseeching glances as those ladies send toward you?" nodding to a group of girls of which Carrie was one.
'Lena colored scarlet, and gazed wistfully around the room in quest of some other shelter when Durward should relinquish her, as she felt he would surely do, but none presented itself. Her uncle was playing the agreeable to Miss Atherton, Mr. Graham to some other lady, while John Jr. kept closely at Nellie's side, forgetful of all else.
"What shall I do?" said 'Lena, unconsciously and half aloud.
"Stay with me," answered Durward, drawing her hand further within his arm, and bending upon her a look of admiration which she could not mistake.
Several times they passed and repassed Mrs. Graham, who was highly incensed at her son's proceedings, and at last actually asked him "if he did not intend noticing anyone except Miss Rivers," adding, as an apology for her rudeness (for Mrs. Graham prided herself upon being very polite in her own house), "she has charms enough to win a dozen gallants, but there are others here who need attention from you. There's Miss Livingstone, you've hardly spoken with her to-night."
Thus importuned, Durward released 'Lena and walked away, attaching himself to Carrie, who clung to him closer, if possible, than did the old captain to Anna. About this time Mr. Everett came. He had been necessarily detained, and now, after paying his respects to the host and hostess, he started in quest of Anna, who was still held "in durance vile" by the captain. But the moment she saw Malcolm, she uttered a low exclamation of joy, and without a single apology, broke abruptly away from her ancient cavalier, whose little watery eyes looked daggers after her for an instant; then consoling himself with the reflection that he was tolerably sure of her, do what she would, he walked up to her mother, kindly relieving her for a time of her charge, who was becoming rather tiresome. Frequently, by nods, winks, and frowns, had Mrs. Livingstone tried to bring her son to a sense of his improper conduct in devoting himself exclusively to one individual, and neglecting all others.
But her efforts were all in vain. John Jr. was incorrigible, slyly whispering to Nellie, that "he had no idea of beauing a medicine chest." This he said, referring to Mabel's ill health, for among his other oddities, John Jr. had a particular aversion to sickly ladies. Of course Nellie reproved him for his unkind remarks, at the same time warmly defending Mabel, "who," she said, "had been delicate from infancy, and suffered far more than was generally suspected."
"Let her stay at home, then," was John Jr.'s answer, as he led Nellie toward the supper-room, which the company were just then entering.
About an hour after supper the guests began to leave, Mrs. Livingstone being the first to propose going. As she was ascending the stairs, John Jr. observed that Mabel was with her, and turning to 'Lena, who now leaned on his arm, he said, "There goes the future Mrs. John Jr.—so mother thinks!"
"Where?" asked 'Lena, looking around.
"Why, there," continued John, pointing toward Mabel. "Haven't you noticed with what parental solicitude mother watches over her?"
"I saw them together," answered 'Lena, "and I thought it very kind in my aunt, for no one else seemed to notice her, and I felt sorry for her. She is going home with us, I believe.",
"Going home with us!" repeated John Jr. "In the name of the people, what is she going home with us for?"
"Why," returned 'Lena, "your mother thinks the country air will do her good."
"Un-doubtedly," said John, with a sneer. "Mother's motives are usually very disinterested. I wonder she don't propose to the old captain to take up his quarters with us, so she can nurse him!"
With this state of feeling, it was hardly natural that John Jr. should be very polite toward Mabel, and when his mother asked him to help her into the carriage, he complied so ungraciously, that Mabel observed it, and looked wonderingly at her patroness for an explanation.
"Only one of his freaks, love—he'll get over it," said Mrs. Livingstone, while poor Mabel, sinking back amoung the cushions, wept silently, thinking that everybody hated her.
When 'Lena came down to bid her host and hostess good-night, the former retained her hand, while he expressed his sorrow at her leaving so soon. "I meant to have seen more of you," said he, "but you must visit us often—will you not?"
Neither the action nor the words escaped Mrs. Graham's observation, and the lecture which she that night read her offending spouse, had the effect to keep him awake until the morning was growing gray in the east. Then, when he was asleep, he so far forgot himself and the wide-open ears beside him as actually to breathe the name of 'Lena in his dreams!
Mrs. Graham needed no farther confirmation of her suspicions, and at the breakfast-table next morning, she gave her son a lengthened account of her husband's great sin in dreaming of a young girl, and that girl 'Lena Rivers. Durward laughed heartily and then, either to tease his mother, or to make his father's guilt less heinous in her eyes, he replied, "It is a little singular that our minds should run in the same channel, for, I, too, dreamed of 'Lena Rivers!"
Poor Mrs. Graham. A double task was now imposed upon her—that of watching both husband and son; but she was accustomed to it, for her life, since her second marriage, had been one continued series of watching for evil where there was none. And now, with a growing hatred toward 'Lena, she determined to increase her vigilance, feeling sure she should discover something if she only continued faithful to the end.
The morning following the party, Mr. Livingstone's family were assembled in the parlor, discussing the various events of the previous night. John Jr., 'Lena, and Anna declared themselves to have been highly pleased with everything, while Carrie in the worst of humors, pronounced it "a perfect bore," saying she never had so disagreeable a time in all her life, and ending her ill-natured remarks by a malicious thrust at 'Lena, for having so long kept Mr. Bellmont at her side.
"I suppose you fancy he would have looked better with you, but I think he showed his good taste by preferring 'Lena," said John Jr.; then turning toward the large easy-chair, where Mabel sat, pale, weary, and spiritless, he asked "how she had enjoyed herself."
With the exception of his accustomed "good-morning," this was the first time he had that day addressed her, and it was so unexpected, that it brought a bright glow to her cheek, making John Jr. think she was "not so horribly ugly after all."
But she was very unfortunate in her answer, which was, "that on account of her ill health, she seldom enjoyed anything of the kind." Then pressing her hand upon her forehead, she continued, "My head is aching dreadfully, as a punishment for last night's dissipation."
Three times before, he had heard her speak of her aching head, and now, with an impatient gesture, he was turning away, when his mother said, "Poor girl, she really looks miserable. I think a ride would do her good. Suppose you take her with you—I heard you say you were going to Versailles."
If there was anything in which Mabel excelled, it was horsemanship, she being a better rider, if possible; than 'Lena, and now, at Mrs. Livingstone's proposition, she looked up eagerly at John Jr., who replied,
"Oh, hang it all! mother, I can't always be bothered with a girl;" then as he saw how Mabel's countenance fell, he continued, "Let 'Lena ride with her—she wants to, I know."
"Certainly," said 'Lena, whose heart warmed toward the orphan girl, partly because she was an orphan, and partly because she saw that she was neglected and unloved.
As yet Mabel cared nothing for John Jr., nor even suspected his mother's object in detaining her as a guest. So when 'Lena was proposed as a substitute she seemed equally well pleased, and the young man, as he walked off to order the ponies, mentally termed himself a bear for his rudeness; "for after all," thought he, "it's mother who has designs upon me, not Mabel. She isn't to blame."
This opinion once satisfactorily settled, it was strange how soon John Jr. began to be sociable with Mabel, finding her much more agreeable than he had at first supposed, and even acknowledging to 'Lena that "she was a good deal of a girl, after all, were it not for her everlasting headaches and the smell of medicine," which he declared she always carried about with her.
"Hush-sh," said 'Lena—"you shan't talk so, for she is sick a great deal, and she does not feign it, either."
"Perhaps not," returned John Jr., "but she can at least keep her miserable feelings to herself. Nobody wants to know how many times she's been blistered and bled!"
Still John Jr. acknowledged that there were somethings in Mabel which he liked, for no one could live long with her and not admire her gentleness and uncommon sweetness of disposition, which manifested itself in numerous little acts of kindness to those around her. Never before in her life had she been so constantly associated with a young gentleman, and as she was quite susceptible, it is hardly more than natural that erelong thoughts of John Jr. mingled in both her sleeping and waking dreams. She could not understand him, but the more his changeful moods puzzled her, the more she felt interested in him, and her eyes would alternately sparkle at a kind word from him, or fill with tears at the abruptness of his speeches; while he seemed to take special delight in seeing how easily he could move her from one extreme to the other.
Silently Mrs. Livingstone looked on, carefully noting each change, and warily calculating its result. Not once since Mabel became an inmate of her family had she mentioned her to her son, for she deemed it best to wait, and let matters take their course. But at last, anxious to know his real opinion, she determined to sound him. Accordingly, one day when they were alone, she spoke of Mabel, asking him if he did not think she improved upon acquaintance, at the same time enumerating her many excellent qualities, and saying that whoever married her would get a prize, to say nothing of a fortune.
Quickly comprehending the drift of her remarks, John Jr. replied, "I dare say, and whoever wishes for both prize and fortune, is welcome to them for all me."
"I thought you liked Mabel," said his mother; and John answered, "So I do like her, but for pity's sake, is a man obliged to marry every girl he likes? Mabel does very well to tease and amuse one, but when you come to the marrying part, why, that's another thing."
"And what objection have you to her," continued his mother, growing very fidgety and red.
"Several," returned John, "She has altogether too many aches and pains to suit me; then she has no spirit whatever; and last, but not least, I like somebody else. So, mother mine, you may as well give up all hopes of that hundred thousand down in Alabama, for I shall never marry Mabel Ross, never."
Mrs. Livingstone was now not only red and fidgety but very angry, and, in an elevated tone of voice, she said, "I s'pose it's Nellie Douglass you mean, but if you knew all of her that I do, I reckon——"
Here she paused, insinuating that she could tell something dreadful, if she would! But John Jr. took no notice of her hints, and when he got a chance, he replied, "You are quite a Yankee at guessing, for if Nellie will have me, I surely will have her."
"Marry her, then," retorted his mother—"marry her with all her poverty, but for heaven's sake, don't give so much encouragement to a poor defenseless girl."
Wishing Mabel in Guinea, and declaring he'd neither speak to nor look at her again, if common civilities were construed into encouragement, John Jr. strode out of the room, determining, as the surest method of ending the trouble, to go forthwith to Nellie, and in a plain, straight-forward way make her an offer of himself. With him, to will was to do, and in about an hour he was descending the long hill which leads into Frankfort. Unfortunately, Nellie had gone for a few weeks to Madison, and again mounting Firelock, the young man galloped back, reaching home just as the family were sitting down to supper. Not feeling hungry, and wishing to avoid, as long as possible, the sight of his mother and Mabel, whom he believed were leagued against him, he repaired to the parlor, whistling loudly, and making much more noise than was at all necessary.
"If you please, Mr. Livingstone, won't you be a little more quiet, for my head aches so hard to-night," said a languid voice, from the depths of the huge easy-chair which stood before the glowing grate.
Glancing toward what he had at first supposed to be a bundle of shawls, John Jr. saw Mabel Ross, her forehead bandaged up and her lips white as ashes, while the purple rings about her heavy eyes, told of the pain she was enduring.
"Thunder!" was John's exclamation, as he strode from the room, slamming together the door with unusual force.
When Mrs. Livingstone came in from supper, with a cup of hot tea and a slice of toast for Mabel, she was surprised to find her sobbing like a child. It did not take long for her to learn the cause, and then, as well as she could, she soothed her, telling her not to mind John's freaks—it was his way, and he always had a particular aversion to sick people, never liking to hear them talk of their ailments. This hint was sufficient for Mabel, who ever after strove hard to appear well and cheerful in his presence. But in no way, if he could help it, would he notice her.
Next to Mrs. Livingstone, 'Lena was Mabel's best friend, and when she saw how much her cousin's rudeness and indifference pained her, she determined to talk with him about it, So the first time they were alone, she broached the subject, speaking very kindly of Mabel, and asking if he had any well-grounded reason for his uncivil treatment of her. There was no person in the world who possessed so much influence over John Jr. as did 'Lena, and now, hearing her patiently through, he replied, "I know I'm impolite to Mabel, but hang me if I can help it. She is so flat and silly, and takes every little attention from me as a declaration of love. Still, I don't blame her as much as I do mother, who is putting her up to it, and if she'd only go home and mind her own business, I should like her well enough."
"I don't understand you," said 'Lena, and her cousin continued; "Why, when Mabel first came here, I do not think she knew what mother was fishing for, so she was not so much at fault, but she does now——"
"Are you sure?" interrupted 'Lena, and John Jr. replied, "She's a confounded fool if she don't. And what provokes me, is to think she'll still keep staying here, when modesty, if nothing else, should prompt her to leave. You wouldn't catch Nellie doing so. Why, she'll hardly come her at all, for fear folks will say she comes to see me, and that's why I like her so well."
"I think you are mistaken with regard to Mabel," said Lena, "for I've no idea she's in love with you a bit more than I am. I dare say she likes you well enough, for there's nothing in you to dislike."
"Thank you," interrupted John Jr., returning the compliment with a kiss, a liberty he often took with her.
"Behave, can't you?" said 'Lena, at the same time continuing—"No, I don't suppose Mabel is dying for you at all. All of us girls like to receive attention from you gentlemen, and she's not an exception. Besides that, you ought to be polite to her, because she's your mother's guest, if for nothing else. I don't ask you to love her," said she, "but I do ask you to treat her well. Kind words cost nothing, and they go far toward making others happy."
"So they do," answered John, upon whom 'Lena's words were having a good effect. "I've nothing under heaven against Mabel Ross, except that mother wants me to marry her; but if you'll warrant me that the young lady herself has no such intentions, why, I'll do my very best."
"I'll warrant you," returned 'Lena, who really had no idea that Mabel cared aught in particular for her cousin, and satisfied with the result of her interview she started to leave the room.
As she reached the door, John Jr. stopped her, saying, "You are sure she don't care for me?"
"Perfectly sure," was 'Lena's answer.
"The plague, she don't," thought John, as the door closed upon 'Lena; and such is human nature, that the young man began to think that if Mabel didn't care for him, he'd see if he couldn't make her, for after all, there was something pleasant in being liked, even by Mabel!
The next day, as the young ladies were sitting together in the parlor, John Jr. joined them, and after wringing Carrie's nose, pulling 'Lena's and Anna's curls, he suddenly upset Mabel's work-box, at the same time slyly whispering to his cousin, "Ain't I coming round?"
Abrupt as this proceeding, was, it pleased Mabel, who with the utmost good humor, commenced picking up her things, John Jr. assisting her, and managing once to bump his head against hers! After this, affairs at Maple Grove glided on as smoothly as even Mrs. Livingstone could wish. John and Mabel were apparently on the most amicable terms, he deeming 'Lena's approbation a sufficient reward for the many little attentions which he paid to Mabel, and she, knowing nothing of all that had passed, drinking in his every word and look, learning to live upon his smile, and conforming herself, as far as possible, to what she thought would best please him.
Gradually, as she thought it would do, Mrs. Livingstone unfolded to Mabel her own wishes, saying she should be perfectly happy could she only call her "daughter," and hinting that such a thing "by wise management could easily be brought about." With a gush of tears the orphan girl laid her head in Mrs. Livingstone's lap, mentally blessing her as her benefactress, and thanking the Giver of all good for the light and happiness which she saw dawning upon her pathway.
"John is peculiar," said Mrs. Livingstone, "and if he fancied you liked him very much, it might not please him as well as indifference on your part."
So, with this lesson, Mabel, for the first time in her life attempted to act as she did not feel, feigning carelessness or indifference when every pulse of her heart was throbbing with joy at some little attention paid her by John Jr., who could be very agreeable when he chose, and who, observing her apparent indifference, began to think that what 'Lena had said was true, and that Mabel really cared nothing for him. With this impression he exerted himself to be agreeable, wondering how her many good qualities had so long escaped his observation.
"There is more to her than I supposed," said he one day to 'Lena, who was commending him for his improved manner. "Yes, a heap more than I supposed. Why, I really like her!"
And he told the truth, for with his prejudice laid aside, he, as is often the case, began to find virtues in her the existence of which he had never suspected. Frequently, now, he talked, laughed, and rode with her, praising her horsemanship, pointing out some points wherein it might be improved, and never dreaming the while of the deep affection his conduct had awakened in the susceptible girl.
"Oh, I am so happy," said she one day to 'Lena, who was speaking of her improved health. "I never thought it possible for me to be so happy. I dreaded to come here at first, but now I shall never regret it, never."
She was standing before the long mirror in the parlor, adjusting the feathers to her tasteful velvet cap, which, with her neatly fitting riding-dress, became her better than anything else. The excitement of her words sent a deep glow to her cheek, while her large black eyes sparkled with unusual brilliancy. She was going out with John Jr., who, just as she finished speaking, appeared in the doorway, and catching a glimpse of her face, exclaimed in his blunt, jocose way, "Upon my word, Meb, if you keep on, you'll get to be quite decent looking in time."
'Twas the first compliment of the kind he had ever paid her, and questionable as it was, it tended to strengthen her fast forming belief that her affection for him was returned.
"I can't expect him to do anything like other people, he's so odd," thought she, and yet it was this very oddness which charmed her.
At length Nellie, who had returned from Madison, and felt rather lonely, wrote to Mabel, asking her to come home. This plan Mrs. Livingstone opposed, but Mabel was decided, and the week before Christmas was fixed upon for her departure. John Jr., anxious to see Nellie, proposed accompanying her, but when the day came he was suffering from a severe cold, which rendered his stay in the house absolutely necessary. So his mother, who had reasons of her own for doing so, went in his stead. Carrie, who never had any fancy for Mabel, and only endured her because she was rich, was coolly polite, merely offering her hand, and then resumed the novel she was reading, even before Mabel had left. Anna and 'Lena bade her a more affectionate adieu, and then advancing toward John Jr., who, in his dressing-gown and slippers, reclined upon the sofa, she offered him her hand.
As if to atone for his former acts of rudeness, the young man accompanied her to the door, playfully claiming the privilege of taking leave just as his sister and cousin had done.
"It's only me, you know," said he, imprinting upon her forehead a kiss which sent the rich blood to her neck and face.
John Jr. would not have dared to take that liberty with Nellie, while Mabel, simple-hearted, and wholly unused to the world, saw in it a world of meaning, and for a long time after the carriage roiled away from Maple Grove the bright glow on her cheek told of happy thoughts within.
"Did my son say anything definite to you before you left?" asked Mrs. Livingstone, as they came within sight of the city.
"No, madam," answered Mabel, and Mrs. Livingstone continued, "That's strange. He confessed to me that he—ah—he—loved you, and I supposed he intended telling you so; but bashfulness prevented, I dare say!"
Accustomed as she was to equivocation, this down-right falsehood cost Mrs. Livingstone quite an effort, but she fancied the case required it, and after a few twinges, her conscience felt easy, particularly when she saw how much satisfaction her words gave to her companion, to whom the improbability of the affair never occurred. Could she have known how lightly John Jr. treated the matter, laughingly describing his leave-taking to his sisters and 'Lena, and saying, "Meb wasn't the worst girl in the world, after all," she might not have been so easily duped.
But she did not know all this, and thus was the delusion perfect.
NELLIE AND MABEL.
Nellie Douglass sat alone in her chamber, which was filled with articles of elegance and luxury, for her father, though far from being wealthy, still loved to surround his only daughter with everything which could increase her comfort. So the best, the fairest, and the most Costly was always for her, his "darling Nellie," as he called her, when with bounding footsteps she flew to greet him on his return at night, ministering to his wants in a thousand ways, and shedding over his home such a halo of sunshine that ofttimes he forgot that he was a lonely widower, while in the features of his precious child he saw again the wife of his bosom, who years before had passed from his side forever.
But not on him were Nellie's thoughts resting, as she sat there alone that afternoon. She was thinking of the past—of John Livingstone, and the many marked attentions, which needed not the expression of words to tell her she was beloved. And freely did her heart respond. That John Jr. was not perfect, she knew, but he was noble and generous, and so easily influenced by those he loved, that she knew it would be an easy task to soften down some of the rougher shades of his character. Three times during her absence had he called, expressing so much disappointment, that with woman's ready instinct she more than half divined his intentions, and regretted that she was gone. But Mabel was coming to-day, and he was to accompany her, for so had 'Lena written, and Nellie's cheeks glowed and her heart beat high, as she thought of what might occur. She knew well that in point of wealth she was not his equal, for though mingling with the first in the city, her father was poor—but one of John Jr.'s nature would never take that into consideration. They had known each other from childhood, and he had always evinced for her the same preference which he now manifested. Several weeks had elapsed since she had seen him, and now, rather impatiently, she awaited his arrival,
"If you please, ma'am, Mrs. Livingstone and Miss Mabel are in the parlor," said a servant, suddenly appearing and interrupting her reverie.
"Mrs. Livingstone!" she repeated, as she glanced at herself in a mirror, and rearranged one side of her shining hair, "Mrs. Livingstone!—and so he has not come. I wonder what's the matter!" and with a less joyous face she descended to the back parlor, where, with rich furs wrapped closely about her, as if half frozen, sat Mrs. Livingstone, her quick eye taking an inventory of every article of furniture, and her proud spirit whispering to herself, "Poverty, poverty."
With a cry of joy, Mabel flew to meet Nellie, who, while welcoming her back, congratulated her upon her improved health and looks, saying, "the air of Maple Grove must have agreed with her;" then turning toward Mrs. Livingstone, who saw in her remark other meaning than the one she intended, she asked her to remove her wrappings, apologizing at the same time for the fire being so low.
"Father is absent most of the day," said she; "and as I am much in my chamber, we seldom keep a fire in the front parlor."
"Just as well," answered Mrs. Livingstone, removing her heavy furs. "One fire is cheaper than two, and in these times I suppose it is necessary for some people to economize."
Nellie colored, not so much at the words as at the manner of her visitor. After a moment, Mrs. Livingstone again spoke, looking straight in Nellie's face.
"My son was very anxious to ride over with Mabel, but a bad cold prevented him, so she rather unwillingly took me as a substitute."
Here not only Nellie, but Mabel, also colored, and the latter left the room. When she was gone, Nellie remarked upon the visible improvement in her health.
"Yes," said Mrs. Livingstone, settling herself a little more easily in her chair, "Yes, Mabel isn't the same creature she was when she came to us, but then it's no wonder, for love, you know, will work miracles."
No answer from Nellie, who almost instinctively felt what was coming next.
"Upon my word, Miss Douglass, you've no curiosity whatever. Why don't you ask with whom Mabel is in love?"
"Who is it?" laughingly asked Nellie, nervously playing with the tassel of her blue silk apron.
After a moment, Mrs. Livingstone replied, "It may seem out of place for me to speak of it, but I know you, Miss Douglass, for a girl of excellent sense, and feel sure you will not betray me to either party."
"Certainly not," answered Nellie, rather haughtily, while her tormentor continued: "Well, then, it is my son, and I assure you, both myself and husband are well pleased that it should be so. From the moment I first saw Mabel, I felt for her a motherly affection for which I could not account, and if I were now to select my future daughter-in-law, I should prefer her to all others."
Here ensued a pause which Nellie felt no inclination to break, and again Mrs. Livingstone spoke: "It may be a weakness, but I have always felt anxious that John should make a match every way worthy of him, both as to wealth and station. Indeed, I would hardly be willing for him to marry one whose fortune is less than Mabel's. But I need have no fears, for John has his own views on that subject, and though he may sometimes be attentive to girls far beneath him, he is pretty sure in the end to do as I think best!"
Poor Nellie! How every word sank into her soul, torturing her almost to madness. She did not stop to consider the improbability of what she heard. Naturally impulsive and excitable, she believed it all, for if John Jr. really loved her, as once she had fondly believed, had there not been a thousand opportunities for him to tell her so? At this moment Mabel reentered the parlor, and Nellie, on the plea of seeing to the dinner, left the room, going she scarce knew whither, until she found herself in a little arbor at the foot of the garden, where many and many a time John Jr. had sat with her, and where he would never sit again—so she thought, so she believed—and throwing herself upon one of the seats, she struggled hard to school herself to meet the worst—to conquer the bitter resentment which she felt rising within her toward Mabel, who had supplanted her in the affections of the only one she had ever loved.
Nellie had a noble, generous nature, and after a few moments of calmer reflection, she rose up, strengthened in her purpose of never suffering Mabel to know how deeply she had wronged her. "She is an orphan—a lonely orphan," thought she, "and God forbid that through me one drop of bitterness should mingle in her cup of joy."
With a firm step she walked to the kitchen, gave some additional orders concerning the dinner, and then returned to the parlor, half shuddering when Mabel came near her, and then with a strong effort pressing the little blue-veined hand laid so confidingly upon her own. Dinner being over, Mrs. Livingstone, who had some other calls to make, took her leave, bidding a most affectionate adieu to Mabel, who clung to her as if she had indeed been her mother.
"Good-bye, darling Meb," said she. "I shall come for you to visit us erelong." Turning to Nellie, she said, "Do take care of her health, which you know is now precious to more than one;" then in a whisper she added, "Remember that what I have told you is sacred."
The next moment she was gone, and mechanically, Nellie returned to the parlor, together with Mabel, whose unusual buoyancy of spirits contrasted painfully with the silence and sadness which lay around her heart. That night, Mr. Douglass had some business in the city, and the two girls were left alone. The lamps were unlighted, for the full golden moonlight, which streamed through the window-panes, suited better the mood of Nellie, who leaning upon the arm of the sofa, looked listlessly out upon the deep beauty of the night. Upon a little stool at her feet sat Mabel, her head resting on Nellie's lap, and her hand searching in vain for another, which involuntarily moved farther and farther away, as hers advanced.
At length she spoke: "Nellie, dear Nellie—there is something I want so much to tell you—if you will hear it, and not think me foolish."
With a strong effort, the hand which had crept away under the sofa-cushion, came back from its hiding-place, and rested upon Mabel's brow, while Nellie's voice answered, softly and slow, "What is it, Mabel? I will hear you."
Briefly, then, Mabel told the story of her short life, beginning at the time when a frowning nurse tore her away from her dead mother, chiding her for her tears, and threatening her with punishment if she did not desist. "Since then," said she, "I have been so lonely—how lonely, none but a friendless orphan can know. No one has ever loved me, or if for a time they seemed to, they soon grew weary of me, and left me ten times more wretched than before. I never once dreamed that—that Mr. Livingstone could care aught for one so ugly as I know I am. I thought him better suited for you, Nellie. (How cold your hand is, but don't take it away, for it cools my forehead.")
The icy hand was not withdrawn, and Mabel continued: "Yes, I think him better suited to you, and when his mother told me that he loved me, and that he would, undoubtedly, one day make me his wife, it was almost too much for me to believe, but it makes me so happy—oh, so happy."
"And he—he, too, told you that he loved you?" said Nellie, very low, holding her breath for the answer.
"Oh, no—he never told me in words. 'Twas his mother that told me—he only acted!"
"And what did he do?" asked Nellie, smiling in spite of herself, at the simplicity of Mabel, who, without any intention of exaggerating, proceeded to tell what John Jr. had said and done, magnifying every attention, until Nellie, blinded as she was by what his mother had said, was convinced that, at all events, he was not true to herself. To be sure, he had never told her he loved her in words; but in actions he had said it many a time, and if he could do the same with Mabel, he must be false either to one or the other. Always frank and open-hearted herself, Nellie despised anything like deception in others, and the high opinion she had once entertained for John Jr., was now greatly changed.
Still, reason as she would, Nellie could not forget so easily, and the hour of midnight found her restless and wakeful. At length, rising up and leaning upon her elbow, she looked down upon the face of Mabel, who lay sleeping sweetly at her side. Many and bitter were her thoughts, and as she looked upon her rival, marking her plain features and sallow skin, an expression of scorn flitted for an instant across her face.
"And she is preferred to me!" said she. "Well, let it be so, and God grant I may not hate her."
Erelong, better feelings came to her aid, and with her arms wound round Mabel's neck, as if to ask forgiveness for her unkind thoughts, she fell asleep.
MRS. LIVINGSTONE'S CALLS AND THEIR RESULT.
After leaving Mr. Douglass's, Mrs. Livingstone ordered her coachman to drive her around to the house of Mrs. Atkins, where she was frequently in the habit of stopping, partly as a matter of convenience when visiting in town, and partly to learn the latest news of the day, for Mrs. Atkins was an intolerable gossip. Without belonging exactly to the higher circles, she still managed to keep up a show of intimacy with them, possessing herself with their secrets, and kindly intrusting them to the keeping of this and that "dear friend."
From her, had Mrs. Livingstone learned to a dime the amount of Mr. Douglass' property, and how he was obliged to economize in various ways, in order to keep up the appearance of style. From her, too, had she learned how often her son was in the habit of calling there, and what rumor said concerning those calls, while Mrs. Atkins had learned, in return, that the ambitious lady had other views for John, and that anything which she, Mrs. Atkins, could do to further the plans of her friend, would be gratefully received. On this occasion she was at home, and of course delighted to meet Mrs. Livingstone.
"It is such an age since I've seen you, that I began to fear you were offended at something," said she, as she led the way into a cozy little sitting-room, where a cheerful wood fire was blazing on the nicely painted hearth. "Do sit down and make yourself as comfortable as you can, on such poor accommodations. I have just finished dinner but will order some for you."
"No, no," exclaimed Mrs. Livingstone, "I dined at Mr. Douglass's—thank you."
"Ah, indeed," returned Mrs. Atkins, feeling a good deal relieved, for to tell the truth, her larder, as was often the case, was rather empty. "Dined at Mr. Douglass's! Of course, then, nothing which I could offer you could be acceptable, after one of his sumptuous meals. I suppose Nellie brought out all her mother's old silver, and made quite a display. It's a wonder to me how they hold their heads so high, and folks notice them as they do, for between you and me, I shouldn't be surprised to hear of his failing any minute."
"Is it possible?" said Mrs. Livingstone.
"Why, yes," returned Mrs. Atkins. "There's nothing to prevent it, they say, except a moneyed marriage on the part of Nellie, who seems to be doing her best."
"Has she any particular one in view?" asked Mrs. Livingstone, and Mrs. Atkins, aware of Mrs. Livingstone's aversion to the match, replied, "Why, you know she tried to get your son——"
"But didn't succeed," interrupted Mrs. Livingstone.
"No, didn't succeed. You are right. Well, now it seems she's spreading sail for a Mr. Wilbur, of Madison——"
Mrs. Livingstone's eyes sparkled eagerly, and, not to lose one word, she drew her chair nearer to her friend, who proceeded; "He's a rich bachelor—brother to Mary Wilbur, Nellie's most intimate friend. You've heard of her?"
"Yes, yes," returned Mrs. Livingstone. "Hasn't Nellie been visiting her?"
"Her or her brother," answered Mrs. Atkins. "Mary's health is poor, and you know it's mighty convenient for Nellie to go there, under pretense of staying with her,"
"Exactly," answered Mrs. Livingstone, with a satisfied smile, and another hitch of her chair toward Mrs. Atkins, who, after a moment, continued: "The brother came home with Nellie, stayed over Sunday, rode out with her Monday, indorsed ever so many notes for her father, so I reckon, and then went home. If that don't mean something, then I'm mistaken"—and Mrs. Atkins rang for a glass of wine and a slice of cake.
After an hour's confidential talk, in which Mrs. Livingstone told of Mabel's prospects, and Mrs. Atkins told how folks who were at Mr. Graham's party praised 'Lena Rivers' beauty, and predicted a match between her and Mr. Bellmont, the former rose to go; and calling upon one or two others, and by dint of quizzing and hinting, getting them to say "they shouldn't be surprised if Mr. Wilbur did like Nellie Douglas," she started for home, exulting to think how everything seemed working together for her good, and how, in the denouement, nothing particular could be laid to her charge.
"I told Nellie no falsehood," thought she. "I did not say John loved Mabel; I only said she loved him, leaving all else for her to infer. And it has commenced operating, too. I could see it in the spots on her face and neck, when I was talking. Nellie's a fine girl, though, but too poor for the Livingstones;" and with this conclusion, she told the coachman to drive faster, as she was in a hurry to reach home.
Arrived at Maple Grove, she found the whole family, grandma and all, assembled in the parlor, and with them Durward Bellmont. His arm was thrown carelessly across the back of 'Lena's chair, while he occasionally bent forward to look at a book of prints which she was examining. The sight of him determined her to wait a little ere she retailed her precious bit of gossip to her son. He was Nellie's cousin, and as such, would in all probability repeat to her what he heard. However communicative John Jr. might be in other respects, she knew he would never discuss his heart-troubles with any one, so, upon second thought, she deemed it wiser to wait until they were alone.
Durward and 'Lena, however, needed watching, and by a little maneuvering, she managed to separate them, greatly to the satisfaction of Carrie, who sat upon the sofa, one foot bent under her, and the other impatiently tapping the carpet. From the moment Durward took his seat by her cousin, she had appeared ill at ease, and as he began to understand her better, he readily guessed that her silent mood was owing chiefly to the attentions he paid to 'Lena, and not to a nervous headache, as she said, when her grandmother, inquiring the cause of her silence, remarked, that "she'd been chipper enough until Mr. Bellmont came in."
But he did not care. He admired 'Lena, and John Jr. like, it made but little difference with him who knew it. Carrie's freaks, which he plainly saw, rather amused him than otherwise, but of Mrs. Livingstone he had no suspicion whatever. Consequently, when she sent 'Lena from the room on some trifling errand, herself appropriating the vacated seat, he saw in it no particular design, but in his usual pleasant way commenced talking with Carrie, who brightened up so much that grandma asked "if her headache wasn't e'en-a'most well!"
When 'Lena returned to the parlor, Durward was proposing a surprise visit to Nellie Douglass some time during the holidays. "We'll invite Mr. Everett, and all go down. What do you say, girls?" said he, turning toward Carrie and Anna, but meaning 'Lena quite as much as either of them.
"Capital,' answered Anna, visions of a long ride with Malcolm instantly passing before her mind.
"I should like it very much," said Carrie, visions of a ride with Durward crossing her mind.
"And I too," said 'Lena, laying her hand on John Jr.'s shoulder, as if he would of course be her escort.
Carrie's ill-nature had not all vanished, and now, in a slightly insolent tone, she said, "How do you know you are included?"
'Lena was about to reply, when Durward, a little provoked at Carrie's manner, prevented her by saying "Of course I meant Miss Rivers, and I will now do myself the honor of asking her to ride with me, either on horseback or in a carriage, just as she prefers."
In a very graceful manner 'Lena accepted the invitation saying that "she always preferred riding on horse back, but as the pony which she usually rode had recently been sold, she would be content to go in any other way."
"Fleetfoot sold! what's that for?" asked Anna; and her mother replied, "We've about forty horses on our hands now, and as Fleetfoot was seldom used by any one except 'Lena, your father thought we couldn't afford to keep him."
She did not dare tell the truth of the matter, and say that ever since the morning when 'Lena rode to Woodlawn with Durward, Fleetfoot's fate had been decreed. Repeatedly had she urged the sale upon her husband, who, wearied with her importunity, at last consented, selling him to a neighboring planter, who had taken him away that very day.
"That's smart," said John Jr. looking at his father, who had not spoken. "What is 'Lena going to ride, I should like to know."
'Lena pressed his arm to keep him still, but he would not heed her. "Isn't there plenty of feed for Fleetfoot?"
"Certainly," answered his father, compelled now to speak; "plenty of feed, but Fleetfoot was getting old and sometimes stumbled. Perhaps we'll get 'Lena a better and younger horse."
This was said in a half timid way, which brought the tears to 'Lena's eyes, for at the bottom of it all she saw her aunt, who sat looking into the glowing grate, apparently oblivious to all that was passing around her.
"That reminds me of Christmas gifts," said Durward, anxious to change the conversation. "I wonder how many of us will get one?"
Ere there was any chance for an answer a servant appeared at the door, asking Mrs. Livingstone for some medicine for old Aunt Polly, the superannuated negress, who will be remembered as having nursed Mrs. Nichols during her attack of rheumatism, and for whom grandma had conceived a strong affection. For many days she had been very ill, causing Mrs. Livingstone to wonder "what old niggers wanted to live for, bothering everybody to death."
The large stock of abolitionism which Mrs. Nichols had brought with her from Massachusetts was a little diminished by force of habit, but the root was there still, in all its vigor, and since Aunt Polly's illness she had been revolving in her mind the momentous question, whether she would not be most guilty if Polly were suffered to die in bondage.
"I promised Nancy Scovandyke," said she, "that I'd have some on 'em set free, but I'll be bound if 'taint harder work than I s'posed 'twould be."
Still Aunt Polly's freedom lay warm at grandma's heart and now when she was mentioned together with "Christmas gifts," a bright idea entered her mind,
"John," said she to her son, when Corinda had gone with the medicine, "John, have you ever made me a Christmas present since I've been here?"
"I believe not," was his answer.
"Wall," continued grandma, "bein's the fashion, I want you to give me somethin' this Christmas, will you?"
"Certainly," said he, "what is it?"
Grandma replied that she would rather not tell him then—she would wait until Christmas morning, which came the next Tuesday, and here the conversation ended. Soon after, Durward took his leave, telling 'Lena he should call for her on Thursday.
"That's a plaguy smart feller," said grandma, as the door closed upon him; "and I kinder think he's got a notion after 'Leny."
"Ridiculous!" muttered Mrs. Livingstone, while Carrie added, "Just reverse it, and say she has a notion after him!"
"Shut up your head," growled John Jr. "You are only angry because he asked her to accompany him, instead of yourself. I reckon he knows what he's about."
"I reckon he does, too!" said Mrs. Livingstone, with a peculiar smile, which nettled 'Lena more than any open attack would have done.
With the exception of his mother, John Jr. was the last to leave the parlor, and when all the rest were gone, Mrs. Livingstone seized her opportunity for telling him what she had heard. Taking a light from the table, he was about retiring, when she said, "I learned some news to-day which a little surprised me."
"Got it from Mother Atkins, I suppose," answered John, still advancing toward the door.
"Partly from her, and partly from others," said his mother, adding, as she saw him touch the door-knob, "It's about Nellie Douglass."
This was sufficient to arrest his attention, and turning about, he asked, "What of her?"
"Why, nothing of any great consequence, as I know of," said Mrs. Livingstone, "only people in Frankfort think she's going to be married."
"I think so, too," was John's mental reply, while his verbal one was, "Married! To whom?"
"Did you ever hear her speak of Mary Wilbur?"
"Yes, she's been staying with her ever since Mrs. Graham's party."
"Well, Mary it seems has a brother, a rich old bachelor, who they say is very attentive to Nellie. He came home with her from Madison, staying at her father's the rest of the week, and paying her numberless attentions, which——"
"I don't believe it," interrupted John Jr., striking his fist upon the table, to which he had returned.
"Neither did I, at first," said his mother, "but I heard it in so many places that there must be something in it. And I'm sure it's a good match. He is rich, and willing, they say, to help her father, who is in danger of failing any moment."
Without knowing it, John Jr. was a little inclined to be jealous, particularly of those whom he loved very much, and now suddenly remembering to have heard Nellie speak in high terms of Robert Wilbur, he began to feel uneasy, lest what his mother had said were true. She saw her advantage, and followed it up until, in a fit of anger, he rushed from the room and repaired to his own apartment, where for a time he walked backward and forward, chafing like a caged lion, and wishing all manner of evil upon Nellie, if she were indeed false to him.
He was very excitable, and at last worked himself up to such a pitch, that he determined upon starting at once for Frankfort, to demand of Nellie if what he had heard were true! Upon cooler reflection, however, he concluded not to make a "perfect fool of himself," and plunging into bed, he fell asleep, as what man will not be his trouble what it may.
The sunlight of a bright Christmas morning had hardly dawned upon the earth, when from many a planter's home in the sunny south was heard the joyful cry of "Christmas Gift," "Christmas Gift," as the negroes ran over and against each other, hiding ofttimes, until some one came within hailing distance, when their loud "Christmas Gift" would make all echo again. On this occasion, every servant at Maple Grove was remembered, for Anna and 'Lena had worked both early and late in preparing some little present, and feeling amply compensated for their trouble, when they saw how much happiness it gave. Mabel, too, while she stayed, had lent a helping hand, and many a blessing was that morning invoked upon her head from the hearts made glad by her generous gifts. Carrie, when asked to join them, had turned scornfully away, saying "she'd plenty to do, without working for niggers; who could not appreciate it."
So all her leisure hours were spent in embroidering a fine cambric handkerchief, intended as a present for Mrs. Graham, and which with a delicate note was, the evening previous, sent to Woodlawn, with instructions to have it placed next morning on Mrs. Graham's table. Of course Mrs. Graham felt in duty bound to return the compliment, and looking over her old jewelry, she selected a diamond ring which she had formerly worn, but which was now too small for her fat chubby fingers. This was immediately forwarded to Maple Grove, reaching there just as the family were rising from the breakfast-table.
"Oh, isn't it beautiful—splendid—magnificent!" were Carrie's exclamations, while she praised Mrs. Graham's generosity, secretly wondering if "Durward did not have something to do with it."
On this point she was soon set right, for the young man himself erelong appeared, and after bidding them all a "Merry Christmas," presented Anna with a package which, on being opened, proved to be a large and complete copy of Shakspeare, elegantly bound, and bearing upon its heavy golden clasp the words "Anna Livingstone, from Durward,"
"This you will please accept from me," said he. "Mother, I believe, has sent Carrie something, and if 'Lena will step to the door, she will see her gift from father, who hopes it will give her as much pleasure to accept it, as it does him to present it."
"What can it be?" thought Carrie, rising languidly from the sofa, and following 'Lena and her sister to the side door, where stood one of Mr. Graham's servants, holding a beautiful gray pony, all nicely equipped for riding.
Never dreaming that this was intended for 'Lena, Carrie looked vacantly around, saying, "Why, where is it? I don't see anything."
"Here," said Durward, taking the bridle from the negro's hand, and playfully throwing it across 'Lena's neck, "Here it is—this pony, which we call Vesta. Vesta, allow me to introduce you and your new mistress, Miss 'Lena, to each other," and catching her up, as if she had been a feather, he placed her in the saddle. Then, at a peculiar whistle, the well-trained animal started off upon an easy gallop, bearing its burden lightly around the yard, and back again to the piazza.
"Do you like her ?" he asked of 'Lena, extending his arms to lift her down.
For a moment 'Lena could not speak, her heart was so full. But at last, forcing down her emotion, she replied, "Oh, very, very much; but it isn't for me, I know—there must be some mistake. Mr. Graham never intended it for me."
"Yes, he did," answered Durward. "He has intended it ever since the morning when you and I rode to Woodlawn. A remark which your cousin John made at the table, determined him upon him buying and training a pony for you. So here it is, and as I have done my share toward teaching her, you must grant me the favor of riding her to Frankfort day after to-morrow."
"Thank you, thank you—you and Mr. Graham too—a thousand times," said 'Lena, winding her arms around the neck of the docile animal, who did her best to return the caress, rubbing her face against 'Lena, and evincing her gentleness in various ways.
By this time Mr. Livingstone had joined them, and while he was admiring the pony, Durward said to him, "I am commissioned by my father to tell you that he will defray all the expense of keeping Vesta."
"Don't mention such a thing again," hastily interposed Mr. Livingstone. "I can keep fifty horses, if I choose, and nothing will give me more pleasure than to take care of this one for 'Lena, who deserves it if any one does."
"That's my Christmas gift from you, uncle, isn't it?" asked 'Lena, the tears gushing from her shining, brown eyes. "And now please may I return it?"
"Certainly," said he, and with a nimble spring she caught him around the neck, imprinting upon his lips the first and only kiss she had ever given him; then, amid blushes and tears, which came from a heart full of happiness, she ran away upstairs followed by the envious eyes of Carrie, who repaired to her mother's room, where she stated all that had transpired—"How Mr. Graham had sent 'Lena a gray pony—how she had presumed to accept it—and how, just to show off before Mr. Bellmont, she had wound her arms around its neck, and then actually kissed pa!"
Mrs. Livingstone was equally indignant with her daughter, wondering if Mr. Graham had lost his reason, and reckoning his wife knew nothing about Vesta! But fret as she would, there was no help for it. Vesta belonged to 'Lena—Mr. Livingstone had given orders to have it well-cared for—and worse than all the rest, 'Lena was to accompany Durward to Frankfort. Something must be done to meet the emergency, but what, Mrs. Livingstone didn't exactly know, and finally concluded to wait until she saw Mrs. Graham.
Meantime grandma had claimed from her son her promised Christmas gift, which was nothing less than "the freedom of old Aunt Polly."
"You won't refuse me, John, I know you won't," said she, laying her bony hand on his. "Polly's arnt her freedom forty times over, even s'posin' you'd a right to her in the fust place which I and Nancy Scovandyke both doubt; so now set down like a man, make out her free papers, and let me carry 'em to her right away."
Without a word Mr. Livingstone complied with his mother's request, saying, as he handed her the paper, "It's not so much the fault of the south as of the north that every black under heaven is not free."
Grandma looked aghast. Her son, born, brought up, and baptized in a purely orthodox atmosphere, to hold such treasonable opinions in opposition to everything he'd ever been taught in good old Massachusetts! She was greatly shocked, but thinking she could not do the subject justice, she said, "Wall, wall, it's of no use for you and I to arger the pint, for I don't know nothin' what I want to say, but if Nancy Scovandyke was here, she'd convince you quick, for she's good larnin' as any of the gals nowadays."
So saying, she walked away to Polly's cabin. The old negress was better to-day, and attired in the warm double-gown which Mabel had purchased and 'Lena had made, she sat up in a large, comfortable rocking-chair which John Jr. had given her at the commencement of her illness, saying it was "his Christmas gift in advance." Going straight up to her, grandma laid the paper in her lap, bidding her "read it and thank the Lord."
"Bless missus' dear old heart," said Aunt Polly, "I can't read a word."
"Sure enough," answered Mrs. Nichols, and taking up the paper she read it through, managing to make the old creature comprehend its meaning.
"Praise the Lord! praise Master John, and all the other apostles!" exclaimed Aunt Polly, clasping together her black, wrinkled hands, while tears of joy coursed their way down her cheeks. "The breath of liberty is sweet—sweet as sugar," she continued, drawing long inspirations as if to make up for lost time.
Mrs. Nichols looked on, silently thanking God for having made her an humble instrument in contributing so much to another's happiness.
"Set down," said Aunt Polly, motioning toward a wooden bottomed chair; "set down, and let's us talk over this great meracle, which I've prayed and rastled for mighty nigh a hundred times, without havin' an atom of faith that 'twould ever be."
So Mrs. Nichols sat down, and for nearly an hour the old ladies talked, the one of her newly-found freedom, and the other of her happiness in knowing that "'twasn't for nothin' she was turned out of her old home and brought away over land and sea to Kentucky."
Thursday morning came, bright, sunshiny and beautiful, and at about ten o'clock 'Lena, dressed and ready for her ride, came down to the parlor, where she found John Jr. listlessly leaning upon the table with his elbows, and drumming with his fingers.
"Come, cousin," said she, "why are you not ready?"
"Ready for what?" he answered, without raising his head.
"Why, ready for our visit," replied Lena, at the same time advancing nearer, to see what ailed him.
"All the visit I make to-day won't hurt me, I reckon," said he; pushing his hat a little more to one side and looking up at 'Lena, who, in some surprise, asked what he meant.
"I mean what I say," was his ungracious answer; "I've no intention whatever of going to Frankfort."
"Not going?" repeated 'Lena. "Why not? What will Carrie do?"
"Stick herself in with you and Durward, I suppose," said John Jr., just as Carrie entered the room, together with Mr. Bellmont, Malcolm, and Anna.
"Not going?—of course then I must stay at home, too," said Carrie, secretly pleased at her brother's decision.
"Why of course?" asked Durward, who, in the emergency, felt constrained to offer his services to Carrie though he would greatly have preferred 'Lena's company alone. "The road is wide enough for three, and I am fully competent to take charge of two ladies. But why don't you go?" turning to John Jr.
"Because I don't wish to. If it was anywhere in creation but there, I'd go," answered the young man; hastily leaving the room to avoid all further argument.
"He does it just to be hateful and annoy me," said Carrie, trying to pout, but making a failure, for she had in reality much rather go under Durward's escort than her brother's.
The horses were now announced as ready, and in a few moments the little party were on their way, Carrie affecting so much fear of her pony that Durward at last politely offered to lead him a while. This would of course bring him close to her side, and after a little well-feigned hesitation, she replied, "I am sorry to trouble you, but if you would be so kind——"
'Lena saw through the ruse, and patting Vesta gently, rode on in advance, greatly to the satisfaction of Carrie, and greatly to the chagrin of Durward, who replied to his loquacious companion only in monosyllables. Once, indeed, when she said something concerning 'Lena's evident desire to show off her horsemanship, he answered rather coolly, that "he'd yet to discover in Miss Rivers the least propensity for display of any kind."
"You've never lived with her," returned Carrie, and here the conversation concerning 'Lena ceased.
Meantime, Nellie Douglass was engaged in answering a letter that morning received from Mary Wilbur. A few years before, Mary had spent some months in Mr. Douglass's family, conceiving a strong affection for Nellie, whom she always called her sister, and with whom she kept up a regular correspondence. Mary was an orphan, living with her only brother Robert, who was a bachelor of thirty or thirty-five. Once she had ventured to hope that Nellie would indeed be to her a sister, but fate had decreed it otherwise, and her brother was engaged to a lady whom he found a school-girl in Montreal, and who was now at her own home in England. This was well-known to Nellie, but she did not deem it a matter of sufficient importance to discuss, so it was a secret in Frankfort, where Mr. Wilbur's polite attentions to herself was a subject of considerable remark. For a long time Mary had been out of health, and the family physician at last said that nothing could save her except a sea voyage, and as her brother was about going to Europe to consummate his marriage, it was decided that she should accompany him. This she was willing to do, provided Nellie Douglass would go too.
"It would be much pleasanter," she said, "having some female companion besides her attendant, and then, too, Nellie had relatives in England;" so she urged her to accompany them, offering to defray all expenses for the pleasure of her society.
Since Nellie's earliest recollection, her fondest dreams had been of England, her mother's birthplace; and now when so favorable an opportunity for visiting it was presented, she felt strongly tempted to say "Yes." Still, she would give Mary no encouragement until she had seen her father and John Jr., the latter of whom would influence her decision quite as much as the former. But John Jr. no longer loved her—she was sure of that—and with her father's consent she had half determined to go. Still she was undecided, until a letter came from Mary, urging her to make up her mind without delay, as they were to sail the 15th of January.
"Brother is so sensitive concerning his love affairs," wrote Mary, "that whether you conclude to join us or not, you will please say nothing about his intended marriage."
Nellie had seated herself to answer this letter, when a servant came up, saying that "Marster Bellmont, all the Livingstones, and a heap more were downstars, and had sent for her."
She was just writing, "I will go," when this announcement came, and quickly suspending her pen, she thought, "He's come, at last. It may all be a mistake. I'll wait." With a beating heart she descended to the parlor, where she politely greeted Mr. Everett and Durward, and then anxiously glanced around for the missing one. Mabel, who felt a similar disappointment, ventured to inquire for him, in a low tone, whereupon Carrie replied, loudly enough for Nellie to hear, "Oh, pray don't speak of that bear. Why, you don't know how cross he's been ever since—let me see—ever since you came away. He doesn't say a civil word to anybody, and I really wish you'd come back before he kills us all.'
"Did you invite him to come ?" said Nellie.
"To be sure we did," answered Carrie, "and he said, 'anywhere in creation but there.'"
Nellie needed no further confirmation, and after conversing awhile with her guests, she begged leave to be excused for a few moments, while she finished a letter of importance, which must go out in the next mail. Alone in her room, she wavered, but the remembrance of the words, "anywhere in creation but there," decided her, and with a firm hand she wrote to Mary that she would go. When the letter was finished and sent to the office, Nellie returned to her visitors, who began to rally her concerning the important letter which must be answered.
"Now, coz," said Durward, pulling her down upon the sofa by his side, "now, coz, I claim a right to know something about this letter. Was it one of acceptance or rejection?"
"Acceptance, of course," answered Nellie, who, knowing no good reason why her intended tour should be kept a secret, proceeded to speak of it, telling how they were to visit Scotland, France, Switzerland, and Italy, and almost forgetting, in her enthusiasm, how wretched the thought of the journey made her.
"And Miss Wilbur's brother is to be your escort—he is unmarried, I believe?" said Durward, looking steadily upon the carpet.
In a moment Nellie would have told of his engagement, and the object of his going, but she remembered Mary's request in time, and the blush which the almost committed mistake called to her cheek, was construed by all into a confession that there was something between her and Mr. Wilbur.
"That accounts for John's sudden churlishness," thought 'Lena, wondering how Nellie could have deceived him so.
"Oh, I see it all," exclaimed Mabel. "I understand now what has made Nellie so absent-minded and restless these many days. She was making up her mind to become Mrs. Wilbur, while I fancied she was offended with me."
"I don't know what you mean," answered Nellie, without smiling in the least. "Mary Wilbur wishes me to accompany her to Europe, and I intend doing so. Her brother is nothing to me, nor ever will be."
"Quite a probable story," thought Mr. Everett, without forming his reflections into words.
Toward the middle of the afternoon, a violent ringing of the door-bell, and a heavy tramp in the hall, announced some new arrival, and Nellie was about opening the parlor door, when who should appear but John Jr.! From his room he had watched the departure of the party, one moment wishing he was with them, and the next declaring he'd never go to Frankfort again so long as he lived! At length inclination getting the ascendency of his reason, he mounted Firelock, and rushing furiously down the 'pike, never once slackened his speed until the city was in sight.
"I dare say she'll think me a fool," thought he, "tagging her round, but she needn't worry. I only want to show her how little her pranks affect me."
With these thoughts he could not fail to meet Nellie otherwise than coldly, while she received him with equal indifference, calling him Mr. Livingstone, and asking if he were cold, with other questions, such as any polite hostess would ask of her guest. But her accustomed smile and usual frankness of manner were gone, and while John Jr. felt it keenly, he strove under a mask of indifference, to conceal his chagrin. Mabel seemed delighted to see him, and for want of something better to do, he devoted himself to her, calling her Meb, and teasing her about her "Indian locks," as he called her straight, black hair. Could he have seen the bitter tears which Nellie constantly forced back, as she moved carelessly among her guests, far different would have been his conduct. But he only felt that she had been untrue to him, and in his anger he was hardly conscious of what he was doing.
So when Mabel said to him, "Nellie is going to Europe with Mr. Wilbur and Mary," he replied, "Glad of it—hope she'll"—be drowned, he thought—"have a good time," he said—and Nellie, who heard all, never guessed how heavily the blow had fallen, or that the hand so suddenly placed against his heart, was laid there to still the wild throbbing which he feared she might hear.
When next he spoke, his voice was very calm, as he asked when she was going, and how long she intended to be gone. "What! so soon?" said he, when told that she sailed the 15th of January, and other than that, not a word did he say to Nellie concerning her intended visit, until just before they left for home. Then for a moment he stood alone with her in the recess of a window. There was a film upon his eyes as he looked upon her, and thought it might be for the last time. There was anguish, too, in his heart, but it did not mingle in the tones of his voice, which was natural, and, perhaps, indifferent, as he said, "Why do you go to Europe, Nellie?"
Quickly, and with something of her olden look, she glanced up into his face, but his eyes, which would not meet hers, lest they should betray themselves, were resting upon Mabel, who, on a stool across the room, was petting and caressing a kitten. 'Twas enough, and carelessly Nellie answered, "Because I want to; what do you suppose?"
Without seeming to hear her answer, the young man walked away to where Mabel sat, and commenced teasing her and her kitten, while Nellie, maddened with herself, with him, with everybody, precipitately left the room, and going to her chamber hastily, and without a thought as to what she was doing, gathered together every little token which John Jr. had given her, together with his notes and letters, written in his own peculiar and scarcely legible hand. Tying them in a bundle, she wrote with unflinching nerve, "Do thou likewise," and then descending to the hall, laid it upon the hat-stand, managing, as he was leaving, to place it unobserved in his hand. Instinctively he knew what it was, glanced at the three words written thereon, and in a cold, sneering voice, replied, "I will, with pleasure." And thus they parted.
thought as to what she was doing, gathered together every little token which John Jr. had given her, together with his notes and letters, written in his own peculiar and scarcely legible hand. Tying them in a bundle, she wrote with unflinching nerve, "Do thou likewise," and then descending to the hall, laid it upon the hat-stand, managing, as he was leaving, to place it unobserved in his hand. Instinctively he knew what it was, glanced at the three words written thereon, and in a cold, sneering voice, replied, "I will, with pleasure." And thus they parted.
"John, how would you like to take a trip to New York—the city, I mean?" said Mr. Livingstone, to his son, one morning about two weeks following the events narrated in the last chapter.
"Well enough—why do you ask?" answered John.
"Because," said his father, "I have to-day received a letter which makes it necessary for one of us to be there the 15th, and as you are fond of traveling, I had rather you would go. You had better start immediately—say to-morrow."
John Jr. started from his chair. To-morrow she left her home—the 15th she sailed. He might see her again, though at a distance, for she should never know he followed her! Since that night in Frankfort he had not looked upon her face, but he had kept his promise, returning to her everything—everything except a withered rose-bud, which years before, when but a boy, he had twined among the heavy braids of her hair, and which she had given back to him, playfully fastening it in the button-hole of his roundabout! How well he remembered that day. She was a little romping girl, teasing him unmercifully about his flat feet and big hands, chiding him for his negro slang, as she termed his favorite expressions, and with whatever else she did, weaving her image into his heart's best and noblest affections, until he seemed to live only for her, But now 'twas changed—terribly changed. She was no longer "his Nellie," the Nellie of his boyhood's love; and with a muttered curse and a tear, large, round, and hot, such as only John Jr. could shed, he sent her back every memento of the past, all save that rose-bud, with which he could not part, it seemed so like his early hopes—withered and dead.
Nellie was alone, preparing for her journey, when the box containing the treasures was handed her. Again and again she examined to see if there were not one farewell word, but there was nothing save, "Here endeth the first lesson!" followed by two exclamation points, which John Jr. had dashed off at random. Every article seemed familiar to her as she looked them over, and everything was there but one—she missed the rose-bud—and she wondered at the omission for she knew he had it in his possession. He had told her so not three months before. Why, then, did he not return it? Was it a lingering affection for her which prompted the detention? Perhaps so, and down in Nellie's heart was one warm, bright spot, the memory of that bud, which grew green and fresh again, as on the day when first it was torn from its parent stem.
When it was first known at Maple Grove, that Nellie was going to Europe, Mrs. Livingstone, who saw in the future the full consummation of her plans, proposed that Mabel should spend the period of Nellie's absence with her. But to this Mr. Douglass would not consent.
"He could not part with both his daughters," he said, and Mabel decided to remain, stipulating that 'Lena, of whom she was very fond, should pass a portion of the time with her.
"All the time, if she chooses," said Mr. Douglass, who also liked 'Lena, while Nellie, who was present, immediately proposed that she should take music lessons of Monsieur Du Pont, who had recently come to the city, and who was said to be a superior teacher. "She is fond of music," said she, "and has always wanted to learn, but that aunt of hers never seemed willing; and this will be a good opportunity, for she can use my piano all the time if she chooses."
"Capital!" exclaimed Mabel, generously thinking how she would pay the bills, and how much she would assist 'Lena, for Mabel was an excellent musician, singing and playing admirably.
When this plan was proposed to 'Lena, she objected, for two reasons. The first, that she could not leave her grandmother, and second, that much as she desired the lessons, she would not suffer Mabel to pay for them, and she had no means of her own. On the first point she began to waver, when Mrs. Nichols, who was in unusually good health, insisted upon her going.
"It will do you a sight of good," said she, "and there's no kind of use why you should stay hived up with me. I'd as lief be left alone as not, and I shall take comfort thinkin' you're larnin' to play the pianner, for I've allus wondered 'Tildy didn't set you at Car'line's. So, go," the old lady continued, whispering in 'Lena's ear, "Go, and mebby some day you'll be a music teacher, and take care of us both."
Still, 'Lena hesitated at receiving so much from Mabel, who, after a moment's thought, exclaimed, "Why, I can teach you myself! I should love to dearly. It will be something to occupy my mind; and my instructors have frequently said that I was capable of teaching advanced pupils, if I chose. You'll go now, I know"—and Mabel plead her cause so well, that 'Lena finally consented, saying she should come home once a week to see her grandmother.
"A grand arrangement, I must confess," said Carrie, when she heard of it. "I should think she sponged enough from her connections, without living on other folks, and poor ones, too, like Mr. Douglass."
"How ridiculous you talk," said John Jr., who was present. "You'd be perfectly willing to spend a year at Mr. Graham's, or Mr. Douglass's either, if he had a son whom you considered an eligible match. Then as to his being so poor, that's one of Mother Atkins' yarns, and she knows everybody's history, from Noah down to the present day. For 'Lena's sake I am glad to have her go, though heaven knows what I shall do without her."
Mrs. Livingstone, too, was secretly pleased, for she would thus be more out of Durward's way, and the good lady was again becoming somewhat suspicious. So when her husband objected, saying 'Lena could take lessons at home if she liked, she quietly overruled him, giving many good reasons why 'Lena should go, and finally saying that if Mrs. Nichols was very lonely without her, she might spend her evenings in the parlor when there was no company present! So it was decided that 'Lena should go, and highly pleased with the result of their call, Mr. Douglass and Mabel returned to Frankfort.
At length the morning came when Nellie was to start on her journey. Mr. Wilbur had arrived the night before, together with his sister, whose marble cheek and lusterless eye even then foretold the lonely grave which awaited her far away 'neath a foreign sky. Durward and Mr. Douglass accompanied them as far as Cincinnati, where they took the cars for Buffalo. Just before it rolled from the depot, a young man closely muffled, who had been watching our party, sprang into a car just in the rear of the one they had chosen, and taking the first vacant seat, abandoned himself to his own thoughts, which must have been very absorbing, as a violent shake was necessary, ere he heeded the call of "Your ticket, sir."
Onward, onward flew the train, while faster and faster Nellie's tears were dropping. They had gushed forth when she saw the quivering chin and trembling lips of her gray-haired father, as he bade his only child good-bye, and now that he was gone, she wept on, never heeding her young friend, who strove in vain to call her attention to the fast receding hills of Kentucky, which she—Mary—was leaving forever. Other thoughts than those of her father mingled with Nellie's tears, for she could not forget John Jr., nor the hope cherished to the last that he would come to say farewell. But he did not. They had parted in coldness, if not in anger, and she might never see him again.