Mabel wondered why so small a matter should be a secret, but Mrs. Livingstone had requested her to keep silence and that was a sufficient reason why she should do so. The next step was to win her consent for the ceremony to take place there, and in the course of three weeks, saying that it was her son's wish. But on this point she found more difficulty than she had anticipated, for Mabel shrank from being married at the house of his father.
"It didn't look right," said she, "and she knew Mr. Douglass would not object to having it there."
Mrs. Livingstone knew so, too, but there was too much danger in such an arrangement, and she replied, "Of course not, if you request it, but will it be quite proper for you to ask him to be at all that trouble when Nellie is gone, and there is no one at home to superintend?"
So after a time Mabel was convinced, thinking, though, how differently everything was turning out from what she expected. Three weeks from that night was fixed upon for the bridal, to which but few were to be invited, for Mrs. Livingstone did not wish to call forth remark.
"Everything should be done quietly and in order," she said, "and then, when autumn came, she would give a splendid party in honor of the bride."
Mr. Douglass, when told of the coming event by Mrs. Livingstone, who would trust no one else, expressed much surprise, saying he greatly preferred that the ceremony should take place at his own house.
"Of course," returned the oily-tongued woman, "of course you had, but even a small wedding party is a vast amount of trouble, and in Nellie's absence you would be disturbed. Were she here I would not say a word, but now I insist upon having it my own way, and indeed, I think my claim upon Mabel is the strongest."
Silenced, but not quite convinced, Mr. Douglass said no more, thinking, meanwhile, that if he only could afford it, Mabel should have a wedding worthy of her. But he could not; he was poor, and hence Mrs. Livingstone's arguments prevailed the more easily. Fortunately for her, John Jr. manifested no inclination to go out at all. A kind of torpor seemed to have settled upon him, and day after day he remained at home, sometimes in a deep study in his own room, and sometimes sitting in the parlor, where his very unlover-like deportment frequently brought tears to Mabel's eyes, while Carrie loudly denounced him as the most clownish fellow she ever saw.
"I hope you'll train him, Mabel," said she, "for he needs it. He ought to have had Nellie Douglass. She's a match for him. Why didn't you have her, John?"
With a face dark as night, he angrily requested Carrie "to mind her own business," saying "he was fully competent to take charge of himself, without the interference of either wife or sister."
"Oh, what if he should look and talk so to me!" thought Mabel, shuddering as a dim foreboding of her sad future came over her.
'Lena who understood John Jr. better than any one else, saw that all was not right. She knew how much he had loved Nellie; she believed he loved her still; and why should he marry another? She could not tell, and as he withheld his confidence from her, appearing unusually moody and cross, she dared not approach him. At last, having an idea of what she wanted, and willing to give her a chance, he one day, when they were alone, abruptly asked her what she thought of his choice.
"If you ask me what I think of Mabel," said she, "I answer that I esteem her very highly, and the more I know her the better I love her. Still, I never thought she would be your wife."
"Ah—indeed!—never thought she would, hey?" answered John, beginning to grow crusty, and elevating his feet to the top of the mantel. "You see now what thought did; but what is your objection to her?"
"Nothing, nothing," returned 'Lena. "Mabel is amiable, gentle, and confiding, and will try to be a good wife."
"What the deuce are you grumbling for, then?" interrupted John Jr. "Do you want me yourself? If you do, just say the word, and it shall be done! I'm bound to be married, and I'd sooner have you than anybody else. Come, what do you say?"
'Lena smiled, while she disclaimed any intention toward her cousin, who, resuming the position which in his excitement he had slightly changed, continued: "I have always dealt fairly with you, 'Lena, and now I tell you truly, I have no particular love for Mabel, although I intend making her my wife, and heartily wish she was so now."
'Lena started, and clasping John's arm, exclaimed, "Marry Mabel and not love her! You cannot be in earnest. You will not do her so great a wrong—you shall not."
"I don't know how you'll help it, unless you meddle with what does not concern you," said John. "I am doing her no wrong, I never told her I loved her—never acted as though I did, and if she is content to have me on such terms, it's nobody's business. She loves me half to death, and if the old adage be true that love begets love, I shall learn to love her, and when I do I'll let you know."
So saying, the young man shook down his pants, which had become disarranged, and walked away, leaving 'Lena to wonder what course she had better pursue. Once she resolved on telling Mabel all that had passed between them, but the next moment convinced her that, as he had said, she would be meddling, so she decided to say nothing, silently hoping that affairs would turn out better than she feared.
It was Mabel's wish that 'Lena and Anna should be her bridesmaids, Durward and Malcolm officiating as groomsmen, and as Mr. Bellmont was away, she wrote to him requesting his attendance, but saying she had not yet mentioned the subject to 'Lena. Painful as was the task of being thus associated with 'Lena, Durward felt that to refuse might occasion much remark, so he wrote to Mabel that "he would comply with her request, provided Miss Rivers were willing."
"Of course she's willing," said Mabel to herself, at the same time running with the letter to 'Lena, who, to her utter astonishment, not only refused outright, but also declined giving any particular reason for her doing so. "Carrie will suit him much better than I," said she, but unfortunately, Carrie, who chanced to be present, half hidden in the recess of a window, indignantly declined "going Jack-at-a-pinch" with any one, so Mabel was obliged to content herself with Anna and Mr. Everett.
But here a new difficulty arose, for Mrs. Livingstone declared that the latter should not be invited, and Anna, in a fit of anger, insisted that if he were not good enough to be present, neither was she, and she should accordingly remain in her own room. Poor Mabel burst into tears, and when, a few moments afterward, John Jr. appeared, asking what ailed her, she hid her face in his bosom and sobbed like a child. Then, frightened at her own temerity, for he gave her no answering caress, she lifted up her head, while with a quizzical expression John Jr. said, "So-ho, Meb, seems to me you've taken to crying on my jacket a little in advance. But what's the matter?"
In a few words Mabel told him how everything went wrong, how neither 'Lena, Carrie, nor Anna would be her bridesmaids, and how Anna wouldn't see her married because Malcolm was not invited.
"I can manage that," said John Jr. "Mr. Everett shall be invited, so just shut up crying, for if there's anything I detest, it's a woman's sniveling;" and he walked off thinking he had begun just as he meant to hold out.
'Twas Mabel's wedding night, and in one of the upper rooms of Mr. Livingstone's house she stood awaiting the summons to the parlor. They had arrayed her for the bridal; Mrs. Livingstone, Carrie, 'Lena, Anna, and the seamstress, all had had something to do with her toilet, and now they had left her for a time with him who was so soon to be her husband. She knew—for they had told her—she was looking uncommonly well. Her dress, of pure white satin, was singularly becoming; pearls were interwoven in the heavy braids of her raven hair; the fleecy folds of the rich veil, which fell like a cloud around her, swept the floor. In her eye there was an unusual sparkle and on her cheek an unwonted bloom.
Still Mabel was not happy. There was a heavy pain at her heart—a foreboding of coming evil—and many an anxious glance she cast toward the stern, silent man, who, with careless tread, walked up and down the room, utterly regardless of her presence, and apparently absorbed in bitter reflections. Once only had she ventured to speak, and then, in childlike simplicity, she had asked him "how she looked."
"Well enough," was his answer, as, without raising his eyes, he continued his walk.
The tears gathered in Mabel's eyes—she could not help it; drop after drop they came, falling upon the marble table, until John Jr., who saw more than he pretended, came to her side, asking "why she wept."
Mabel was beginning to be terribly afraid of him, and for a moment she hesitated, but at length, summoning all her courage, she wound her arms about his neck, and in low, earnest tones said, "Tell me truly, do you wish to marry me?"
"And suppose I do not?" he asked, with the same stony composure.
Stepping backward, Mabel stood proudly erect before him, and answered, "Then would I die rather than wed you!"
There was something in her appearance and attitude peculiarly attractive to John Jr. Never in his life had he felt so much interested in her, and drawing her toward him and placing his arm around her, he said, gently, "Be calm, little Meb, you are nervous to-night. Of course I wish you to be my wife, else I had not asked you. Are you satisfied?"
The joyous glance of the dark eyes lifted so confidingly to his, was a sufficient answer, and as if conscious of the injustice he was about to do her, John Jr. bent for an instant over her slight figure, mentally resolving, that so far as in him lay he would be true to his trust. There was a knock at the door, and Mrs. Livingstone herself looked in, pale, anxious, and expectant. Mr. Douglass, who was among the invited guests, had arrived, and must have an interview with John Jr. ere the ceremony. 'Twas in vain she attempted politely to waive his request. He would see him, and distracted with fear, she had at last conducted him into the upper hall, and out upon an open veranda, where in the moonlight he awaited the coming of the bridegroom, who, with some curiosity, approached him, asking what he wanted.
"It may seem strange to you," said Mr. Douglass, "that I insist upon seeing you now, when another time might do as well, but I believe in having a fair understanding all round."
"Meddling old rascal!" exclaimed Mrs. Livingstone, who, of course, was within hearing, bending her ears so as not to lose a word.
But in this she was thwarted, for drawing nearer to John Jr., Mr. Douglass said, so low as to prevent her catching anything further, save the sound of his voice:
"I do not accuse you of being at all mercenary, but such things have been, and there has something come to my knowledge to-day, which I deem it my duty to tell you, so that hereafter you can neither blame me nor Mabel."
"What is it?" asked John Jr., and Mr. Douglass replied, "To be brief, then, Mabel's large fortune is, with the exception of a few thousands, of which I have charge, all swept away by the recent failure of the Planters' Bank, in which it was invested. I heard of it this morning, and determined on telling you, knowing that if you loved her for herself, it would make no difference, while if you loved her for her money, it were far better to stop here."
Nothing could have been further from John's thoughts than a desire for Mabel's wealth, which, precious as it seemed in his mother's eyes, was valueless to him, and after a moment's silence, in which he was thinking what a rich disappointment it would be to his mother, who, he knew, prized Mabel only for her money, he exclaimed, "Good, I'm glad of it. I never sought Mabel's hand for what there was in it, and I'm more ready to marry her now than ever. But," he added, as a sudden impulse of good came over him, "She need not know it; it would trouble her uselessly, and for the present we'll keep it from her."
John Jr. had always been a puzzle to Mr. Douglass, who by turns censured and admired him, but now there was but one feeling in his bosom toward him, and that was one of unbounded respect. With a warm pressure of the hand he turned away, thinking, perchance, of his fair young daughter, who, far away o'er the Atlantic waves, little dreamed of the scene on which that summer moon was shining. As the conference ended; Mrs. Livingstone, who had learned nothing, glided, from her hiding-place, eagerly scanning her son's face to see if there was aught to justify her fears. But there was nothing, and with her heart beating at its accustomed pace, she descended the stairs in time to meet Durward, who, having reached Woodlawn that day, had not heard of 'Lena's decision.
"This way, Marster Bellmont—upstars is the gentleman's room," said the servant in attendance, and ascending the stairs, Durward met with Anna, asking her for her cousin.
"In there—go in," said Anna, pointing to a half-open door, and then hurrying away to meet Malcolm, whose coming she had seen from the window.
Hesitatingly, Durward approached the chamber indicated, and as his knock met with no response, he ventured at last to enter unannounced into the presence of 'Lena, whom he had not met since that well-remembered night. Tastefully attired for the wedding in a simple white muslin, she sat upon a little stool with her face buried in the cushions of the sofa. She had heard his voice in the lower hall, and knowing she must soon meet him, she had for a moment abandoned herself to the tumult of bitter thoughts, which came sweeping over her in that trying hour. She was weeping—he knew that by the trembling of her body—and for an instant everything was forgotten.
Advancing softly toward her, he was about to lay his hand upon those clustering curls which fell unheeded around her, when the thought that from among them had been cut the hated tress which his mother had cast into the flames, arrested his hand, and he was himself again. Forcing down his emotion, he said, calmly, "Miss Rivers," and starting quickly to her feet, 'Lena demanded proudly what he would have, and why he was there.
"Pardon me," said he, as he marked her haughty bearing and glanced at her dress, which was hardly in accordance with that of a bridesmaid; "I supposed I was to be groomsman—am I mistaken?"
"So far as I am concerned you are, sir. I knew nothing of Mabel's writing to you, or I should have prevented it, for after what has occurred, you cannot deem me weak enough to lend myself to such an arrangement."
And 'Lena walked out of the room, while Durward looked after her in amazement, one moment admiring her spirit, and the next blaming Mabel for not informing him how matters stood. "But there's no help for it now," thought he, as he descended the stairs and made his way into the parlor, whither 'Lena had preceded him.
And thus ended an interview of which 'Lena had thought so much, hoping and praying that it might result in a reconciliation. But it was all over now—the breach was wider than ever—with half-benumbed faculties she leaned on the window, unconscious of the earnest desire he felt to approach her, for there was about her a strange fascination which it required all his power to resist.
When at last all was in readiness, a messenger was dispatched to John Jr., who, without a word, offered his arm to Mabel, and descending the broad staircase, they stood within the parlor in the spot which had been assigned them. Once during the ceremony he raised his eyes, encountering those of 'Lena, fixed upon him so reproachfully that with a scowl he turned away. Mechanically he went through with his part of the service, betraying no emotion whatever, until the solemn words which made them one were uttered. Then, when it was over—when he was bound to her forever—he seemed suddenly to awake from his apathy and think of what he had done. Crowding around him, they came with words of congratulation—all but 'Lena, who tarried behind, for she had none to give. Wretched as she was herself, she pitied the frail young bride, whose half-joyous, half-timid glances toward the frigid bridegroom, showed that already was she sipping from the bitter cup whose very dregs she was destined to drain.
In the recess of a window near to John Jr., Mr. Douglass and Durward stood, speaking together of Nellie, and though John shrank from the sound of her name, his hearing faculties seemed unusually sharpened, and he lost not a word of what they were saying.
"So Nellie is coming home in the autumn, I am told," said Durward, "and I am glad of it, for I miss her much. But what is it about Mr. Wilbur's marriage. Wasn't it rather unexpected?"
"No, not very. Nellie knew before she went that he was engaged to Miss Allen, but at his sister's request she kept it still. He found her at a boarding-school in Montreal, several years ago."
"Will they remain in Europe?"
"For a time, at least, until Mary is better—but Nellie comes home with some friends from New Haven, whom she met in Paris;" then in a low tone Mr. Douglass added, "I almost dread the effect of this marriage upon her, for I am positive she liked him better than anyone else."
The little white, blue-veined hand which rested on that of John Jr., was suddenly pressed so spasmodically, that Mabel looked up inquiringly in the face which had no thought for her, for Mr. Douglass's words had fallen upon him like a thunderbolt, crushing him to the earth, and for a moment rendering him powerless. Instantly he comprehended it all. He had deceived himself, and by his impetuous haste lost all that he held most dear on earth. There was a cry of faintness, a grasping at empty space to keep from falling, and then forth into the open air they led the half-fainting man, followed by his frightened bride, who tenderly bathed his damp, cold brow, unmindful how he shrank from her, shuddering as he felt the touch of her soft hand, and motioning her aside when she stooped to part from his forehead the heavy locks of his hair.
That night, the pale starlight of another hemisphere kept watch over a gentle girl, who 'neath the blue skies of sunny France, dreamed of her distant home across the ocean wave; of the gray-haired man, who, with every morning light and evening shade, blessed her as his child; of another, whose image was ever present with her, whom from her childhood she had loved, and whom neither time nor distance could efface from her memory.
Later, and the silvery moon looked mournfully down upon the white, haggard face and heavy bloodshot eye of him who counted each long, dreary hour as it passed by, cursing the fate which had made him what he was, and unjustly hardening his heart against his innocent unsuspecting wife.
For a short time after their marriage, John Jr. treated Mabel with at least a show of attention, but he was not one to act long as he did not feel. Had Nellie been, indeed, the wife of another, he might in time have learned to love Mabel as she deserved, but now her presence only served to remind him of what he had lost, and at last he began to shun her society, never seeming willing to be left with her alone, and either repulsing or treating with indifference the many little acts of kindness which her affectionate nature prompted. To all this Mabel was not blind, and when once she began to suspect her true position, it was easy for her to fancy slights where none were intended.
Thus, ere she had been two months a wife, her life was one of constant unhappiness, and, as a matter of course, her health, which had been much improved, began to fail. Her old racking headaches returned with renewed force, confining her for whole days to her room, where she lay listening in vain for the footsteps which never came, and tended only by 'Lena, who in proportion as the others neglected her, clung to her more and more. The trip to Saratoga was given up, John Jr. in the bitterness of his disappointment bitterly refusing to go, and saying there was nothing sillier than for a newly-married couple to go riding around the country, disgusting sensible people with their fooleries. So with a burst of tears Mabel yielded and her bridal tour extended no further than Frankfort, whither her husband did once accompany her, dining out even then with an old schoolmate whom he chanced to meet, and almost forgetting to call at Mr. Douglass's for Mabel when it was time to return home.
Erelong, too, another source of trouble arose, which shipwrecked entirely the poor bride's happiness. By some means or other it at last came to Mrs. Livingstone's knowledge that Mabel's fortune was not only all gone, but that her son had known it in time to prevent his marrying her. Owing to various losses her own property had for a few years past been gradually diminishing, and when she found that Mabel's fortune, which she leaned upon as an all-powerful prop, was swept away, it was more than she could bear peaceably; and in a fit of disappointed rage she assailed her son, reproaching him with bringing disgrace upon the family by marrying a poor, homely, sickly girl, who would be forever incurring expense without any means of paying it! For once, however, she found her match, for in good round terms John Jr. bade her "go to thunder," his favorite point of destination for his particular friends, at the same time saying, "he didn't care a dime for Mabel's money. It was you," said he, "who kept your eye on that, aiding and abetting the match, and now that you are disappointed, I'm heartily glad of it."
"But who is going to pay for her board," asked Mrs. Livingstone. "You've no means of earning it, and I hope you don't intend to sponge out of me, for I think I've enough paupers on my hands already!"
"Board!" roared John Jr. in a towering passion. "While you thought her rich, you gave no heed to board or anything else; and since she has become poor, I do not think her appetite greatly increased. You taunt me, too, with having no means of earning my own living. Whose fault is it?—tell me that. Haven't you always opposed my having a profession? Didn't you pet and baby 'Johnny' when a boy, keeping him always at your apron strings, and now that he's a man, he's not to be turned adrift. No, madam, I shall stay, and Mabel, too, just as long as I please."
Gaining no satisfaction from him, Mrs. Livingstone turned her battery upon poor Mabel, treating her with shameful neglect, intimating that she was in the way; that the house was full, and that she never supposed John was going to settle down at home for her to support; he was big enough to look after himself, and if he chose to marry a wife who had nothing, why let them go to work, as other folks did.
Mabel listened in perfect amazement, never dreaming what was meant, for John Jr. had carefully kept from her a knowledge of her loss, requesting his mother to do the same in such decided terms, that, hint as strongly as she pleased, she dared not tell the whole, for fear of the storm which was sure to follow. All this was not, of course, calculated to add to Mabel's comfort, and day by day she grew more and more unhappy, generously keeping to herself, however, the treatment which she received from Mrs. Livingstone.
"He will only dislike me the more if I complain to him of his mother," thought she, so the secret was kept, though she could not always repress the tears which would start when she thought how wretched she was.
We believe we have said elsewhere, that if there was anything particularly annoying to John Jr., it was a sick or crying woman, and now, when he so often found Mabel indisposed or weeping, he grew more morose and fault-finding, sometimes wantonly accusing her of trying to provoke him, when, in fact, she had used every means in her power to conciliate him. Again, conscience-smitten, he would lay her aching head upon his bosom, and tenderly bathing her throbbing temples, would soothe her into a quiet sleep, from which she always awoke refreshed, and in her heart forgiving him for all he had made her suffer. At such times, John would resolve never again to treat her unkindly, but alas! his resolutions were too easily broken. Had he married Nellie, a more faithful, affectionate husband there could not have been. But now it was different. A withering blight had fallen upon his earthly prospects, and forgetting that he alone was to blame, he unjustly laid the fault upon his innocent wife, who, as far as she was able, loved him as deeply as Nellie herself could have done.
One morning about the first of September, John Jr. received a note, informing him that several of his young associates were going on a three days' hunting excursion, in which they wished him to join. In the large easy-chair, just before him, sat Mabel, her head supported by pillows and saturated with camphor, while around her eyes were the dark rings which usually accompanied her headaches. Involuntarily John Jr. glanced toward her. Had it been Nellie, all the pleasures of the world could not have induced him to leave her, but Mabel was altogether another person, and more for the sake of seeing what she would say, than from any real intention of going, he read the note aloud; then carelessly throwing it aside, he said, "Ah, yes, I'll go. It'll be rare fun camping out these moonlight nights."
Much as she feared him, Mabel could not bear to have him out of her sight, and now, at the first intimation of his leaving her, her lip began to tremble, while tears filled her eyes and dropped upon her cheeks. This was enough, and mentally styling her "a perfect cry baby," he resolved to go at all hazards.
"I don't think you ought to leave Mabel, she feels so badly," said Anna, who was present.
"I want to know if little Anna's got so she can dictate me, too," answered John, imitating her voice, and adding, that "he reckoned Mabel would get over her bad feelings quite as well without him as with him."
More for the sake of opposition than because she really cared, Carrie, too, chimed in, saying that "he was a pretty specimen of a three months' husband," and asking "how he ever expected to answer for all of Mabel's tears and headaches."
"Hang her tears and headaches," said he, beginning to grow angry. "She can get one up to order any time, and for my part, I am getting heartily tired of the sound of aches and pains."
"Please don't talk so," said Mabel, pressing her hands upon her aching head, while 'Lena sternly exclaimed, "Shame on you, John Livingstone. I am surprised at you, for I did suppose you had some little feeling left."
"Miss Rivers can be very eloquent when she chooses, but I am happy to say it is entirely lost on me," said John, leaving the room and shutting the door with a bang, which made every one of Mabel's nerves quiver anew.
"What a perfect brute," said Carrie, while 'Lena and Anna drew nearer to Mabel, the one telling her "she would not care," and the other silently pressing the little hand which instinctively sought hers, as if sure of finding sympathy.
At this moment Mrs. Livingstone came in, and immediately Carrie gave a detailed account of her brother's conduct, at the same time referring her mother for proof to Mabel's red eyes and swollen face.
"I never interfere between husband and wife," said Mrs. Livingstone coolly, "but as a friend, I will give Mabel a bit of advice. Without being at all personal, I would say that few women have beauty enough to afford to impair it by eternally crying, while fewer men have patience enough to bear with a woman who is forever whining and complaining, first of this and then of that. I don't suppose that John is so much worse than other people, and I think he bears up wonderfully, considering his disappointment."
Here the lady flounced out of the room, leaving the girls to stare at each other in silence, wondering what she meant. Since her marriage, Mabel had occupied the parlor chamber, which connected with a cozy little bedroom and dressing-room adjoining. These had at the time been fitted up and furnished in a style which Mrs. Livingstone thought worthy of Mabel's wealth, but now that she was poor, the case was altered, and she had long contemplated removing her to more inferior quarters. "She wasn't going to give her the very best room in the house. No, indeed, she wasn't—wearing out the carpets, soiling the furniture, and keeping everything topsy-turvy."
She understood John Jr. well enough to know that it would not do to approach him on the subject, so she waited, determining to carry out her plans the very first time he should be absent, thinking when it was once done, he would submit quietly. On hearing that he had gone off on a hunting excursion, she thought, "Now is my time," and summoning to her assistance three or four servants, she removed everything belonging to John Jr. and Mabel, to the small and not remarkably convenient room which the former had occupied previous to his marriage.
"What are you about?" asked Anna, who chanced to pass by and looked in.
"About my business," answered Mrs. Livingstone. I'm not going to have my best things all worn out, and if this was once good enough for John to sleep in, it is now."
"But will Mabel like it?" asked Anna, a little suspicious that her sister-in-law's rights were being infringed.
"Nobody cares whether she is pleased or not," said Mrs. Livingstone. "If she don't like it, all she has to do is to go away."
"Lasted jest about as long as I thought 'twood," said Aunt Milly, when she heard what was going on. "Ile and crab-apple vinegar won't mix, nohow, and if before the year's up old miss don't worry the life out of that poor little sickly critter, that looks now like a picked chicken, my name ain't Milly Livingstone."
The other negroes agreed with her. Constantly associated with the family, they saw things as they were, and while Mrs. Livingstone's conduct was universally condemned, Mabel was a general favorite. After Mrs. Livingstone had left the room, Milly, with one or two others, stole up to reconnoiter.
"Now I 'clar' for't," said Milly, "if here ain't Marster John's bootjack, fish-line, and box of tobacky, right out in far sight, and Miss Mabel comin' in here to sleep. 'Pears like some white folks hain't no idee of what 'longs to good manners. Here, Corind, put the jack in thar, the fish-line thar, the backy thar, and heave that ar other thrash out o'door," pointing to some geological specimens which from time to time John Jr. had gathered, and which his mother had not thought proper to molest.
Corinda obeyed, and then Aunt Milly, who really possessed good taste, began to make some alterations in the arrangement of the furniture, and under her supervision the room began to present a more cheerful and inviting aspect.
"Get out with yer old airthen candlestick," said she, turning up her broad nose at the said article, which stood upon the stand. "What's them tall frosted ones in the parlor chamber for, if 'tain't to use. Go, Corind, and fetch 'em."
But Corinda did not dare, and Aunt Milly went herself, taking the precaution to bring them in the tongs, so that in the denouement she could stoutly deny having even "tached 'em, or even had 'em in her hands!" (So much for a subterfuge, where there is no moral training.)
When Mabel heard of the change, she seemed for a moment stupefied. Had she been consulted, had Mrs. Livingstone frankly stated her reasons for wishing her to take another room, she would have consented willingly, but to be thus summarily removed without a shadow of warning, hardly came up to her ideas of justice. Still, there was no help for it, and that night the bride of three months watered her lone pillow with tears, never once closing her heavy eyelids in sleep until the dim morning light came in through the open window, and the tread of the negroes' feet was heard in the yard below. Then, for many hours, the weary girl slumbered on, unconscious of the ill-natured remarks which her non-appearance was eliciting from Mrs. Livingstone, who said "it was strange what airs some people would put on; perhaps Mistress Mabel fancied her breakfast would be sent to her room, or kept warm for her until such time as she chose to appear, but she'd find herself mistaken, for the servants had enough to do without waiting upon her, and if she couldn't come up to breakfast, why, she must wait until dinner time."
'Lena and Milly, however, thought differently. Softly had the latter stolen up to her cousin's room, gazing pityingly upon the pale, worn face, whose grieved, mournful expression told of sorrow which had come all too soon.
"Let her sleep; it will do her good," said 'Lena, adjusting the bed-clothes, and dropping the curtain so that the sunlight should not disturb her, she left the chamber.
An hour after, on entering the kitchen, she found Aunt Milly preparing a rich cream toast, which, with a cup of fragrant black tea, were to be slyly conveyed to Mabel, who was now awake.
"Reckon thar don't nobody starve as long as this nigger rules the roost," said Milly, wiping one of the silver tea-spoons with a corner of her apron, and then placing it in the cup destined for Mabel, who, not having seen her breakfast prepared, relished it highly, thinking the world was not, after all, so dark and dreary, for there were yet a few left who cared for her.
Her headache of the day before still remained, and 'Lena suggested that she should stay in her room, saying that she would herself see that every necessary attention was paid her. This she could the more readily do, as Mrs. Livingstone had gone to Versailles with her husband. That afternoon, as Mabel lay watching the drifting clouds as they passed and repassed before the window, her ear suddenly caught the sound of horses' feet. Nearer and nearer they came, until with a cry of delight she hid her face in the pillows, weeping for very joy—for John Jr. had come home! She could not be mistaken, and if there was any lingering doubt, it was soon lost in certainty, for she heard his voice in the hall below, his footsteps on the stairs. He was coming, an unusual thing, to see her first.
But how did he know she was there, in his old room? He did not know it; he was only coming to put his rifle in its accustomed place, and on seeing the chamber filled with the various paraphernalia of a woman's toilet, he started, with the exclamation, "What the deuce! I reckon I've got into the wrong pew," and was going away, when Mabel called him back. "Meb, you here?" said he. "You in this little tucked-up hole, that I always thought too small for me and my traps! What does it mean?"
Mabel had carefully studied the tones of her husband's voice, and knowing from the one he now assumed that he was not displeased with her, the sense of injustice done her by his mother burst out, and throwing her arms around his neck, she told him everything connected with her removal, asking what his mother meant by saying, "she should never get anything for their board," and begging him "to take her away where they could live alone and be happy."
Since he had left her, John Jr. had thought a great deal, the result of which was, that he determined on returning home much sooner than he at first intended, promising himself to treat Mabel decently, and if possible win back the respect of 'Lena, which he knew he had lost. To his companions, who urged him to remain, he replied that "he had left his wife sick, and he could not stay longer."
It cost him a great effort to say "my wife," for never before had he so called her, but he felt better the moment he had done so, and bidding his young friends adieu, he started for home with the same impetuous speed which usually characterized his riding. He had fully expected to meet Mabel in the parlor, and was even revolving in his own mind the prospect of kissing her, provided 'Lena were present. "That'll prove to her," thought he, "that I am not the hardened wretch she thinks I am; so I'll do it, if Meb doesn't happen to be all bound up in camphor and aromatic vinegar, which I can't endure, anyway."
Full of this resolution he had hastened home, going first to his old room, where he had come so unexpectedly upon Mabel that for a moment he scarcely knew what to say. By the time, however, that she had finished her story, his mind was pretty well made up.
"And so it's mother's doings, hey?" said he, violently pulling the bell-rope, and then walking up and down the room until Corinda appeared in answer to his summons.
"How many blacks are there in the kitchen?" he asked.
"Six or seven, besides Aunt Polly," answered Corinda.
"Very well. Tell every man of them to come up here, quick."
Full of wonder Corinda departed, carrying the intelligence, and adding that "Marster John looked mighty black in the face", and she reckoned some on 'em would catch it, at the same time, for fear of what might happen, secretly conveying back to the safe the piece of cake which, in her mistress' absence, she had stolen! Aunt Milly's first thought was of the frosted candlesticks, and by way of impressing upon Corinda a sense of what she might expect if in any way she implicated her, she gave her a cuff in advance, bidding her "be keerful how she blabbed", then heading the sable group, she repaired to the chamber, where John Jr. was awaiting them.
Advancing toward them, as they appeared in the doorway, he said, "Take hold here, every one of you, and move these things back where they came from."
"Don't, oh don't," entreated Mabel, but laying his hand over her mouth, John Jr. bade her keep still, at the same time ordering the negroes "to be quick."
At first the younger portion of the blacks stood speechless, but Aunt Milly, comprehending the whole at once, and feeling glad that her mistress had her match in her son, set to work with a right good will, and when about dusk Mrs. Livingstone came home, she was astonished at seeing a light in the parlor chamber, while occasionally she could discern the outline of a form moving before the window. What could it mean? Perhaps they had company, and springing from the carriage she hastened into the house, meeting 'Lena in the hall, and eagerly asking who was in the front chamber.
"I believe," said 'Lena, "that my cousin is not pleased with the change, and has gone back to the front room."
"The impudent thing!" exclaimed Mrs. Livingstone, ignorant of her son's return, and as a matter of course attributing the whole to Mabel.
Darting up the stairs, she advanced toward the chamber and pushing open the door stood face to face with John Jr., who, with hands crammed in his pockets and legs crossed, was leaning against the mantel, waiting and ready for whatever might occur.
"John Livingstone!" she gasped in her surprise.
"That's my name," he returned, quietly enjoying her look of amazement.
"What do you mean?" she continued.
"Mean what I say," was his provoking answer.
"What have you been about?" was her next question, to which he replied, "Your eyesight is not deficient—you can see for yourself."
Gaining no satisfaction from him, Mrs. Livingstone now turned upon Mabel, abusing her until John Jr. sternly commanded her to desist, bidding her "confine her remarks to himself, and let his wife alone, as she was not in the least to blame."
"Your wife!" repeated Mrs. Livingstone—"very affectionate you've grown, all at once. Perhaps you've forgotten that you married her to spite Nellie, who you then believed was the bride of Mr. Wilbur, but you surely remember how you fainted when you accidentally learned your mistake."
A cry from Mabel, who fell back, fainting, among the pillows, prevented Mrs. Livingstone from any further remarks, and satisfied with the result of her visit, she walked away, while John Jr., springing to the bedside, bore his young wife to the open window, hoping the cool night air would revive her. But she lay so pale and motionless in his arms, her head resting so heavily upon his shoulder, that with a terrible foreboding he laid her back upon the bed, and rushing to the door, shouted loudly, "Help—somebody—come quick—Mabel is dead, I know she is."
'Lena heard the cry and hastened to the rescue, starting back when she saw the marble whiteness of Mabel's face.
"I didn't kill her, 'Lena. God knows I didn't. Poor little Meb," said John Jr., quailing beneath 'Lena's rebuking glance, and bending anxiously over the slight form which looked so much like death.
But Mabel was not dead. 'Lena knew it by the faint fluttering of her heart, and an application of the usual remedies sufficed, at last, to restore her to consciousness. With a long-drawn sigh her eyes unclosed, and looking earnestly in 'Lena's face, she said, "Was it a dream, 'Lena? Tell me, was it all a dream?"—then, as she observed her husband, she added, shudderingly, "No, no, not a dream. I remember it all now. And I wish I was dead."
Again 'Lena's rebuking glance went over to John Jr., who, advancing nearer to Mabel, gently laid his hand upon her white brow, saying, softly, "Poor, poor Meb."
There was genuine pity in the tones of his voice, and while the hot tears gushed forth, the sick girl murmured, "Forgive me, John, I couldn't help it. I didn't know it, and now, if you say so, I'll go away, alone—where you'll never see me again."
She comprehended it all. Her mother-in-law had rudely torn away the veil, and she saw why she was there—knew why he had sought her for his wife—understood all his coldness and neglect; but she had no word of reproach for him, her husband, and from the depths of her crushed heart she forgave him, commiserating him as the greater sufferer.
"May be I shall die," she whispered, "and then——"
She did not finish the sentence, neither was it necessary, for John Jr. understood what she meant, and with his conscience smiting him as it did, he felt half inclined to declare, with his usual impulsiveness, that it should never be; but the rash promise was not made, and it was far better that it should not be.
Mabel's nerves had received too great a shock to rally immediately, and as day after day went by, she still kept her room, notwithstanding the very pointed hints of her mother-in-law that "she was making believe for the sake of sympathy." Why didn't she get up and go out doors—anybody would be sick to be flat on their back day in and day out; or did she think she was spiting her by showing what muss she could keep the "best chamber" in if she chose?
This last was undoubtedly the grand secret of Mrs. Livingstone's dissatisfaction. Foiled in her efforts to dislodge them, she would not yield without an attempt at making Mabel, at least, as uncomfortable in mind as possible. Accordingly, almost every day when her son was not present, she conveyed from the room some nice article of furniture, substituting in its place one of inferior quality, which was quite good enough, she thought, for a penniless bride.
"'Pears like ole miss goin' to make a clean finish of her dis time," said Aunt Milly, who watched her mistress' daily depredations. "Ole Sam done got title deed of her, sure enough. Ki! won't she ketch it in t'other world, when he done show her his cloven foot, and won't she holler for old Milly to fotch her a drink of water? not particular then—drink out of the bucket, gourd-shell, or anything; but dis nigger'll 'sign her post in de parlor afore she'll go."
"Why, Milly," said 'Lena, who overheard this colloquy, "don't you know it's wrong to indulge in such wicked thoughts?"
"Bless you, child," returned the old negress, "she 'sarves 'em all for treatin' that poor, dear lamb so. I'd 'nihilate her if I's Miss Mabel."
"No, no, Milly," said Aunt Polly, who was present. "You must heap coals of fire on her head."
"Yes, yes, that's it—she orto have 'em," quickly responded Milly, thinking Polly's method of revenge the very best in the world, provided the coals were "bilin' hot," and with this reflection she started upstairs, with a bowl of nice, warm gruel she had been preparing for the invalid.
Several times each day Grandma Nichols visited Mabel's room, always prescribing some new tea of herbs, whose healing qualities were wonderful, having effected cures in every member of Nancy Scovandyke's family, that lady herself, as a matter of course, being first included. And Aunt Milly, with the faithfulness characteristic of her race, would seek out each new herb, uniting with it her own simple prayer that it might have the desired effect. But all in vain, for every day Mabel became weaker, while her dark eyes grew larger and brighter, anon lighting up with joy as she heard her husband's footsteps in the hall, and again filling with tears as she glanced timidly into his face, and thought of the dread reality.
"Maybe I shall die," was more than once murmured in her sleep, and John Jr., as often as he heard those words, would press her burning hands, and mentally reply, "Poor little Meb."
And all this time no one thought to call a physician, until Mr. Livingstone himself at last suggested it. At first he had felt no interest whatever in his daughter-in-law, but with him force of habit was everything, and when she no longer came among them, he missed her—missed her languid steps upon the stairs and her childish voice in the parlor. At last it one day occurred to him to visit her. She was sleeping when he entered the room, but he could see there had been a fearful change since last he looked upon her, and without a word concerning his intentions, he walked to the kitchen, ordering one of his servants to start forthwith for the physician, whose residence was a few miles distant.
Mrs. Livingstone was in the front parlor when he returned, in company with Doctor Gordon, and immediately her avaricious spirit asked who would pay the bill, and why was he sent for. Mabel did not need him—she was only babyish and spleeny—and so she told the physician, who, however, did not agree with her. He did not say that Mabel would die, but he thought so, for his experienced eye saw in her infallible signs of the disease which had stricken down both her parents, and to which, from her birth, she had been a prey. Mabel guessed as much from his manner, and when again he visited her, she asked him plainly what he thought.
She was young—a bride—surrounded apparently by everything which could make her happy, and the physician hesitated, answering her evasively, until she said, "Do not fear to tell me truly, for I want to die. Oh, I long to die," she continued, passionately clasping her thin white hands together.
"That is an unusual wish in one so young," answered the physician, "but to be plain with you, Mrs. Livingstone, I think consumption too deeply seated to admit of your recovery. You may be better, but never well. Your disease is hereditary, and has been coming on too long."
"It is well," was Mabel's only answer, as she turned wearily upon her side and hid her face in the pillows.
For a long time she lay there, thinking, weeping, and thinking again, of the noisome grave through which she must pass, and from which she instinctively shrank, it was so dark, so cold, and dreary. But Mabel had trusted in One who she knew would go with her down into the lone valley—whose arm she felt would uphold her as she crossed the dark, rolling stream of death; and as if her frail bark were already safely moored upon the shores of the eternal river, she looked back dreamily upon the world she had left, and as she saw what she felt would surely be, she again murmured through her tears, "It is well."
That night, when John Jr. came up to his room, he appeared somewhat moody and cross, barely speaking to Mabel, and then walking up and down the room with the heavy tread which always indicated a storm within. He had that day been to Frankfort, hearing that Nellie was really coming home very soon—very possibly she was now on her way. Of course she would visit Mabel, when she heard she was sick, and of course he must meet her face to face, must stand with her at the bedside of his wife and that wife Mabel. In his heart he did not accuse the latter of feigning her illness, but he wished she would get well faster, so that Nellie need not feel obliged to visit her. She could at least make an effort—a great deal depended upon that—and she had now been confined to her room three or four weeks.
Thus he reflected as he walked, and at last his thoughts formed themselves into words. Stopping short at the foot of the bed, he said abruptly and without looking her in the face, "How do you feel tonight?"
The stifled cough which Mabel tried to suppress because it was offensive to him, brought a scowl to his forehead, and in imagination he anticipated her answer, "I do not think I am any better."
"And I don't believe you try to be," sprang to his lips, but its utterance was prevented by a glance at her face, which by the flickering lamplight looked whiter than ever.
"Nellie is coming home in a few weeks," he said at length, with his usual precipitancy.
'Twas the first time Mabel had heard that name since the night when her mother-in-law had rang it in her ears, and now she started so quickly, that the offending cough could not be forced back, and the coughing fit which followed was so violent that John Jr., as he held the bowl to her quivering lips, saw that what she had raised was streaked with blood. But he was unused to sickness, and he gave it no farther thought, resuming the conversation as soon as she became quiet.
"To be plain, Meb," said he, "I want you to hurry and get well before Nellie comes—for if you are sick she'll feel in duty bound to visit you, and I'd rather face a loaded cannon than her."
Mabel was too much exhausted to answer immediately, and she lay so long with her eyes closed that John Jr., growing impatient, said, "Are you asleep, Meb?"
"No, no," said she, at the same time requesting him to take the vacant chair by her side, as she wished to talk with him.
John Jr. hated to be talked to, particularly by her, for he felt that she had much cause to reproach him; but she did not, and as she proceeded, his heart melted toward her in a manner which he had never thought possible. Very gently she spoke of her approaching end as sure.
"You ask me to make haste and be well," said she, "but it cannot be. I shall never go out into the bright sunshine again, never join you in the parlor below, and before the cold winds of winter are blowing, I shall be dead. I hope I shall live until Nellie comes, for I must see her, I must make it right between her and you. I must tell her to forgive you for marrying me when you loved only her; and she will listen—she won't refuse me, and when I am gone you'll be happy together."
John Jr. did not speak, but the little hand which nervously moved toward him was met more than half-way, and thus strengthened, Mabel continued: "You must sometimes think and speak of Mabel when she is dead. I do not ask you to call me wife. I do not wish it, but you must forget how wretched I have made you, for oh, I did not mean it, and had I sooner known what I do now, I would have died ere I had caused you one pang of sorrow."
Afterward, when it was too late, John Jr. would have given worlds to recall that moment, that he might tell the broken-hearted girl how bitterly he, too, repented of all the wrong he had done her; but he did not say so then—he could only listen, while he mentally resolved that if Mabel were indeed about to die, he would make the remainder of her short life happy, and thus atone, as far as possible, for the past. But alas for John Jr., his resolutions were easily broken, and as days and weeks went by, and there was no perceptible change in her, he grew weary of well-doing, absenting himself whole days from the sick-room, and at night rather unwillingly resuming his post as watcher, for Mabel would have no one else.
Since Mabel's illness he had occupied the little room adjoining hers, and often when in the still night he lay awake, watching the shadow which the lamp cast upon the wall, and thinking of her for whom the light was constantly kept burning, his conscience would smite him terribly, and rising up, he would steal softly to her bedside to see if she were sleeping quietly. But anon he grew weary of this, too; the shadow on the wall troubled him, it kept him awake; it was a continual reproach, and he must be rid of it, somehow. He tried the experiment of closing his door, but Mabel knew the moment he attempted it, and he could not refuse her when she asked him to leave it open.
John Jr. grew restless, fidgety, and nervous. Why need the lamp be kept burning? He could light it when necessary; or why need he sleep there, when some one else would do as well? He thought of 'Lena—she was just the one, and the next day he would speak to her. To his great joy she consented to relieve him awhile, provided Mabel were willing; but she was not, and John Jr. was forced to submit. He was not accustomed to restraint, and every night matters grew worse and worse. The shadow annoyed him exceedingly. If he slept, he dreamed that it kept a glimmering watch over him, and when he awoke, he, in turn, watched over that, until the misty day-light came to dissipate the phantom.
About this time several families from Frankfort started for New Orleans, where they were wont to spend the winter, and irresistibly, John Jr. became possessed of a desire to visit that city, too. Mabel would undoubtedly live until spring, now that the trying part of autumn was past and there could be no harm in his leaving her for awhile, when he so much needed rest. Accordingly, 'Lena was one day surprised by his announcing his intended trip.
"But you cannot be in earnest," she said; "you surely will not leave Mabel now."
"And why not?" he asked. "She doesn't grow any worse, and won't until spring, and this close confinement is absolutely killing me! Why, I've lost six pounds in six months, and you'll see to her, I know you will. You're a good girl, and I like you, if I did get angry with you, weeks ago when I went a hunting."
'Lena knew he ought not to go, and she tried hard to convince him of the fact, telling him how much pleasure she had felt in observing his improved manner toward Mabel, and that he must not spoil it now.
"It's no use talking," said he, "I'm bent on going somewhere. I've tried to be good, I know, but the fact is, I can't stay put. It isn't my nature. I shan't tell Meb till just before I start, for I hate scenes."
"And suppose she dies while you are gone?" asked 'Lena.
John was beginning to grow impatient, for he knew he was wrong, and rather tartly he answered, as he left the room, "Give her a decent burial, and present the bill to mother!"
"The next morning, as 'Lena sat alone with Mabel, John Jr. entered, dressed and ready for his journey. But he found it harder telling his wife than he had anticipated. She looked unusually pale this morning. The sallowness of her complexion was all gone, and on either cheek there burned a round, bright spot. 'Lena had just been arranging her thick, glossy hair, and now, wholly exhausted, she reclined upon her pillows, while her large black eyes, unnaturally bright, sparkled with joy at the sight of her husband. But they quickly filled with tears when told that he was going away, and had come to say good-bye.
"It's only to New Orleans and back," he said, as he saw her changing face. "I shan't be gone long, and 'Lena will take care of you a heap better than I can."
"It isn't that," answered Mabel, wiping her tears away. "Don't go, John. Wait a little while. I'm sure it won't be long."
"You are nervous," said he, playfully lapping her white cheek. "You're not going to die. You'll live to be grandmother yet, who knows? But I must be off or lose the train. Good bye, little Meb," grasping her hand, "Good-bye, 'Lena. I'll bring you both something nice—good-bye."
When she saw that he was going, Mabel asked him to come back to her bedside just for one moment. He could not refuse, and winding her long, emaciated arms around his neck, she whispered, "Kiss me once before you go. I shall never ask it again, and 'twill make me happier when you are gone."
"A dozen times, if you like," said he, giving her the only husband's kiss she had ever received.
For a moment longer she detained him, while she prayed silently for heaven's blessing on his wayward head, and then releasing him, she bade him go. Had he known of all that was to follow, he would not have left her, but he believed as he said, that she would survive the winter, and with one more kiss upon her brow, where the perspiration was standing thickly, he departed. The window of Mabel's room commanded a view of the turnpike, and when the sound of horses' feet was heard on the lawn, she requested 'Lena to lead her to the window, where she stood watching him until a turn in the road hid him from her sight.
"'Tis the last time," said she, "and he will never know how much this parting cost me."
That night, as they were alone in the gathering twilight, Mabel said, "If I die before Nellie comes I want you to tell her how it all happened, and that she must forgive him, for he was not to blame."
"I do not understand you," said 'Lena, and then, in broken sentences, Mabel told what her mother-in-law had said, and how terribly John was deceived. "Of course he couldn't love me after that," said she, "and it's right that I should die. He and Nellie were made for each other, and if the inhabitants of heaven are allowed to watch over those they loved on earth, I will ask to be always near them. You will tell her, won't you?"
'Lena promised, adding that she thought Mabel would see Nellie herself as she was to sail from Liverpool the 20th, and a few days proved her conjecture correct. Entering Mabel's room one morning about a week after John's departure, she brought the glad news that Nellie had returned, and would be with them to-morrow.
The next day Nellie came, but she, too, was changed. The roundness of her form and face was gone; the rose had faded from her cheek, and her footsteps were no longer light and bounding as of old. She knew of John Jr.'s absence or she would not have come, for she could not meet him face to face. She had heard, too, of his treatment of Mabel, and while she felt indignant toward him, she freely forgave his innocent wife, who she felt had been more sinned against than sinning.
With a faint cry Mabel started from her pillow, and burying her face on Nellie's neck, wept like a child. "You do not hate me," she said at last, "or you would not have come so soon."
"Hate you?—no," answered Nellie. "I have no cause for hating you."
"And you will stay with me until I die—until he comes home—and forgive him, too," Mabel continued.
"I can promise the first, but the latter is harder," said Nellie, her cheeks burning with anger as she gazed on the wreck before her.
"But you must, you will," exclaimed Mabel, rapidly telling all she knew; then falling back upon the pillow, she added, "You'll forgive him Nellie?"
As time passed on, Mabel grew weaker and weaker, clinging closer to Nellie as she felt the dark shadow of death creeping gradually over her.
"If he'd only come," she would say, "and I could place your hand in his before I died."
But it was not to be. Day after day John Jr. lingered, dreading to return, for he knew Nellie was there, and he could not meet her, he thought, at the bedside of Mabel. So he tarried until a letter from 'Lena, which said that Mabel would die, decided him, and rather reluctantly he started homeward. Meantime Mabel, who knew nothing of her loss, conceived the generous idea of willing all her possessions to her recreant husband.
"Perhaps he'll think more kindly of me," said she to his father, to whom she first communicated her plan, and Mr. Livingstone felt that he could not undeceive her.
Accordingly, a lawyer was summoned from Frankfort, and the will duly drawn up, signed, sealed, and delivered into the hands of Mr. Livingstone, whose wife, with a mocking laugh, bade him "guard it carefully, it was so valuable."
"It shows her goodness of heart, at least," said he, and possibly Mrs. Livingstone thought so, too, for from that time her manner softened greatly toward her daughter-in-law.
* * * * * *
It was midnight at Maple grove. On the table, in its accustomed place, the lamp was burning dimly, casting the shadow upon the wall, whilst over the whole room a darker shadow was brooding. The window was open, and the cool night air came softly in, lifting the masses of raven hair from off the pale brow of the dying. Tenderly above her Nellie and 'Lena were bending. They had watched by her many a night, and now she asked them not to leave her, not to disturb a single one—she would rather die alone.
The sound of horses' hoofs rang out on the still air, but she did not heed it. Nearer and nearer it came, over the lawn, up the graveled walk, through the yard, and Nellie's face blanched to an unnatural whiteness as she thought who that midnight-rider was. Arrived in Frankfort only an hour before, he had hastened forward, impelled by a something he could not resist. From afar he had caught the glimmering light, and he felt he was not too late. He knew how to enter the house, and on through the wide hall and up the broad staircase he came, until he stood in the chamber, where before him another guest had entered, whose name was Death!
Face to face he stood with Nellie Douglass, and between them lay his wife—her rival—the white hands folded meekly upon her bosom, and the pale lips just as they had breathed a prayer for him.
"Mabel! She is dead!" was all he uttered, and falling upon his knees, he buried his face in the pillow, while half scornfully, half pityingly, Nellie gazed upon him.
There was much of bitterness in her heart toward him, not for the wrong he had done her, but for the sake of the young girl, now passed forever away. 'Lena felt differently. His silent grief conquered all resentment, and going to his side, she told him how peacefully Mabel had died—how to the last she had loved and remembered him, praying that he might be happy when she was gone,
"Poor little Meb, she deserved a better fate," was all he said, as he continued his kneeling posture, until the family and servants, whom Nellie had summoned, came crowding round, the cries of the latter grating on the ear, and seeming sadly out of place for her whose short life had been so dreary, and who had welcomed death as a release from all her pain.
It was Mrs. Livingstone's wish that Mabel should be arrayed in her bridal robes, but with a shudder at the idle mockery, John Jr. answered, "No," and in a plain white muslin, her shining hair arrayed as she was wont to wear it, they placed her in her coffin, and on a sunny slope where the golden sunlight and the pale moonbeams latest fell, and where in spring the bright green grass and the sweet wild flowers are earliest seen, laid her down to steep.
That night, when all around was still, John Jr. lay musing sadly of the past. His affection for Mabel had been slight and variable, but now that she was gone, he missed her. The large easy-chair, with its cushions and pillows, was empty, and as he thought of the pale, dark face and aching head he had so often seen reclining there, and which he would never see again, he groaned in bitterness of spirit, for well he knew that he had helped to break the heart now lying cold and still beneath the coffin-lid. There was no shadow on the wall, for the lamp had gone out with the young life for whom it had been kept burning, but many a shadow lay dark and heavy across his heart.
With the sun-setting a driving rain had come on, and as the November wind went howling past the window, and the large drops beat against the casement, he thought of the lonesome little grave on which that rain was falling; and shuddering, he hid his face in the pillows, asking to be forgiven, for he knew that all too soon that grave was made, and he had helped to make it. At last, long after the clock had told the hour of midnight, he arose, and lighting the lamp which many a weary night had burned for her, he placed it where the shadow would fall upon the wall as it had done of old. It was no longer a phantom to annoy him, and soothed by its presence, he fell asleep, dreaming that Mabel had come back to bring him her forgiveness, but when he essayed to touch her, she vanished from his sight, and there was nothing left save that shadow on the wall.
MRS. GRAHAM'S RETURN.
Mr. and Mrs. Graham had returned to Woodlawn, the former remaining but a day and night, and then, without once seeing 'Lena, departing for Europe, where business, either fancied or real, called him. Often, when lying weary and sick in Havana, had he resolved on revealing to his wife the secret which he felt was wearing his life away, but the cowardice of his nature seemed increased by physical weakness, and from time to time was the disclosure postponed, while the chain of evidence was fearfully lengthening around poor 'Lena, to whom Mrs. Graham had transferred the entire weight of her displeasure.
Loving her husband as well as such as she could love, she was ever ready to forgive when she saw any indications of reform on his part, and as during all their journey he had never once given her cause for offense, she began to attribute his former delinquencies wholly to 'Lena; and when he proposed a tour to Europe she readily sanctioned it, hoping that time and absence would remove from his mind all thoughts of the beautiful girl, who she thought was her rival. Still, though she would not confess it, in her heart she did not believe 'Lena guilty except so far as a desire to attract Mr. Graham's attention would make her so.
For this belief she had a good and potent reason. The daguerreotype which had caused so much trouble was still in her possession, guarded carefully from her husband, who never suspecting the truth, supposed he had lost it. Frequently had Mrs. Graham examined the picture, each time discovering some point of difference between it and its supposed original. Still she never for a moment doubted that it was 'Lena, until an event occurred which convinced her of the contrary, leaving her, meantime, more mystified than ever.
On their way home from Havana, Mr. Graham had proposed stopping a day in Cincinnati, taking rooms at the Burnet House, where the first individual whom they saw at the table was our old acquaintance, Joel Slocum. Not finding his business as profitable in Lexington as he could wish, he had recently removed to Cincinnati. Here his aspiring mind had prompted him to board at the Burnet House, until he'd seen the "Ohio elephant," when he intended retiring to one of the cheaper boarding-houses. The moment he saw Mr. Graham, a grin of recognition became visible on his face, bringing to view a row of very long and very yellow teeth, apparently unacquainted with the use of either water or brush.
"Who is that loafer who seems to know you?" asked Mrs. Graham, directing her husband's attention toward Joel.
Mr. Graham replied that "he had once seen him in Lexington, and that he took daguerreotypes."
The moment dinner was over, Joel came forward, going through with one of his wonderful bows, and exclaiming, with his peculiar nasal twang, "Now you don't say this is you. And this is your old woman, I s'pose. Miss Graham, how-dy-du? Darned if you don't look like Aunt Nancy, only she's lean and you are squatty. S'posin' you give me a call and get your picters taken. I didn't get an all-killin' sight of practice in Lexington, for the plaguy greenhorns didn't know enough to patternize me, and 'taint a tarnation sight better here; but you," turning to Mr. Graham, "employed me once, and pretended to be suited."
Mr. Graham turned scarlet, and saying something in an undertone to Joel, gave his wife his arm, leading her to their room, where he made an excuse for leaving her awhile. Looking from the window a moment after, Mrs. Graham saw him walking down the street in close conversation with Joel, who, by the way of showing his importance, lifted his white beaver to almost every man he met. Instantly her curiosity was roused, and when her husband returned, every motion of his was narrowly watched, the espionage resulting in the conviction that there was something in his possession which he did not wish her to see. Once, when she came unexpectedly upon him, he hastily thrust something into his pocket, appearing so much confused that she resolved to ferret out the secret.
Accordingly, that night, when assured by his heavy breathing that he was asleep, she crept softly from his side, and rummaging his pockets, found a daguerreotype, which by the full moonlight she saw was a fac-simile of the one she had in her possession. The arrangement of the hair—everything—was the same, and utterly confounded, she stood gazing first at one and then at the other, wondering what it meant. Could 'Lena be in the city? She thought not, and even if she were, the last daguerreotype was not so much like her, she fancied, as the first. At all events, she did not dare secrete it as she had done its companion, and stealthily returning it to its place, she crept back to bed.
The next night they reached Woodlawn, where they learned that Mabel was buried that day. Of course 'Lena could not have been absent from home. Mrs. Graham felt convinced of that, and gradually the conviction came upon her that another than 'Lena was the original of the daguerreotypes. And yet she was not generous enough to tell Durward so. She knew he was deceived—she wished him to remain so—and to effect it, she refrained from seeking an explanation from her husband, fearing lest 'Lena should be proved innocent. Her husband knew there was a misunderstanding between Durward and 'Lena, and if she were to ask him about the pictures, he would, she thought, at once suspect the cause of that misunderstanding, and as a matter of course, exonerate 'Lena from all blame. The consequence of this she foresaw, and therefore she resolved upon keeping her own counsel, satisfied if in the end she prevented Durward from making 'Lena his wife.
To effect this, she endeavored, during the winter, to keep the matter almost constantly before Durward's mind, frequently referring to 'Lena's agitation when she first learned that Mr. Graham had started for Europe. She had called with her son at Maple Grove on the very day of her husband's departure. 'Lena had not met the lady before, since that night in Frankfort, and now, with the utmost hauteur, she returned her nod, and then, too proud to leave the room, resumed her seat near the window directly opposite the divan on which Durward was seated with Carrie.
She did not know before of Mrs. Graham's return, and when her aunt casually asked, "Did your husband come back with you?" she involuntarily held her breath for the answer, which, when it came, sent the blood in torrents to her face and neck, while her eyes sparkled with joy. She should see him—he would explain everything—and she should be guiltless in Durward's sight. This was the cause of her joy, which was quickly turned into sorrow by Mrs. Graham's adding,
"But he started this morning for Europe, where he will remain three months, and perhaps longer, just according to his business."
The bright flush died away, and was succeeded by paleness, which did not escape the observation or either mother or son, the latter of whom had watched her from the first, noting each change, and interpreting it according to his fears.
"'Lena, 'Lena, how have I been deceived!" was his mental cry as she precipitately left the room, saying to her aunt, who asked what was the matter, that she was faint and dizzy. Death had been but yesterday within their walls, and as if softened by its presence, Mrs. Livingstone actually spoke kindly of her niece, saying, that "constant watching with poor, dear Mabel had impaired her health."
"Perhaps there are other causes which may affect her," returned Mrs. Graham, with a meaning look, which, though lost on Mrs. Livingstone, was noticed by Durward, who soon proposed leaving.
On their way home, his mother asked if he observed 'Lena when Mr. Graham was mentioned.
Without saying that he did, Durward replied, "I noticed your remark to Mrs. Livingstone, and was sorry for it, for I do not wish you to say a word which will throw the least shade of suspicion upon 'Lena. Her reputation as yet is good, and you must not be the first to say aught against it."
"I won't, I won't," answered Mrs. Graham, anxious to conciliate her son, but she found it a harder matter to refrain than she had first supposed.
'Lena was to her a constant eye-sore, and nothing but the presence of Durward prevented her from occasionally giving vent in public to expressions which would have operated unfavorably against the young girl, and when at last circumstances occurred which gave her, as she thought, liberty to free her mind, she was only too willing to do so. Of those circumstances, in which others besides 'Lena were concerned, we will speak in another chapter.
ANNA AND CAPTAIN ATHERTON.
Malcolm Everett's engagement with General Fontaine had expired, and as was his original intention, he started for New York, first seeking an interview with Mr. and Mrs. Livingstone, of whom he asked their daughter Anna in marriage, at the same time announcing the startling fact that they had been engaged for more than a year. "I do not ask you for her now," said he, "for I am not in a situation to support her as I would wish to, but that time will come ere long, I trust, and I can assure you that her happiness shall be the first object of my life."
There was no cringing on the part of Malcolm Everett. He was unused to that, and as an equal meets an equal, he met them, made known his request, and then in silence awaited their answer. Had Mrs. Livingstone been less indignant, there would undoubtedly have ensued a clamorous call for hartshorn and vinaigrette, but as it was, she started up, and confronting the young man, she exclaimed, "How dare you ask such a thing? My daughter marry you!"
"And why not, madam?" he answered, coolly, while Mrs. Livingstone continued: "You, a low-born Yankee, who have been, as it were, an hireling. You presume to ask for my daughter!"
"I do," he answered calmly, with a quiet smile, ten-fold more tantalizing than harsh words would have been, "I do. Can I have her with your consent?"
"Never, so long as I live. I'd sooner see her dead than wedded to vulgar poverty."
"That is your answer. Very well," said Malcolm, bowing stiffly. "And now I will hear yours," turning to Mr. Livingstone, who replied, that "he would leave the matter entirely with his wife—it was nothing to him—he had nothing personal against Mr. Everett—he rather liked him than otherwise, but he hardly thought Anna suited to him, she had been brought up so differently;" and thus evasively answering, he walked away.
"Cowardly fool!" muttered Mrs. Livingstone, as the door closed upon him. "If I pretended to be a man, I'd be one;" then turning to Malcolm, she said, "Is there anything further you wish to say?"
"Nothing," he replied. "I have honorably asked you for your daughter. You have refused her, and must abide the consequence."
"And pray what may that be?" she asked, and he answered: "She will soon be of an age to act for herself, and though I would far rather take her with your consent, I shall not then hesitate to take her without, if you still persist in opposing her."
"There is the door," said Mrs. Livingstone rising.
"I see it, madam," answered Malcolm, without deigning to move.
"Oblige me by passing out," continued Mrs. Livingstone. "Insolent creature, to stand here threatening to elope with my daughter, who has been destined for another since her infancy."
"But she shall never become the bride of that old man," answered Malcolm. "I know your schemes. I've seen them all along, and I will frustrate them, too."
"You cannot," fiercely answered Mrs. Livingstone. "It shall be ere another year comes round, and when you hear that it is so, know that you hastened it forward;" and the indignant lady, finding that her opponent was not inclined to move, left the room herself, going in quest of Anna, whom she determined to watch for fear of what might happen.
But Anna was nowhere to be found, and in a paroxysm of rage she alarmed the household, instituting a strict search, which resulted in the discovery of Anna beneath the same sycamore where Malcolm had first breathed his vows, and whither she had repaired to await the decision of her parents.
"I expected as much," said she, when told of the result, "but it matters not. I am yours, and I'll never marry another."
The approach of the servants prevented any further conversation, and with a hurried adieu they parted. A few days afterward, as Mrs. Livingstone, sat in her large easy-chair before the glowing grate, Captain Atherton was announced, and shown at once into her room. To do Mrs. Livingstone justice, we must say that she had long debated the propriety of giving Anna, in all the freshness of her girlhood, to a man old as her father, but any hesitancy she had heretofore felt, had now vanished. The crisis had come, and when the captain, as he had two or three times before done, broached the subject, urging her to a decision, she replied that she was willing, provided Anna's consent could be gained.
"Pho! that's easy enough," said the captain, complacently rubbing together his fat hands and smoothing his colored whiskers—"Bring her in here, and I'll coax her in five minutes."
Anna was sitting with her grandmother and 'Lena, when word came that her mother wished to see her, the servant adding, with a titter, that "Mas'r Atherton thar too."
Instinctively she knew why she was sent for, and turning white as marble, she begged her cousin to go with her. But 'Lena refused, soothing the agitated girl, and begging her to be calm. "You've only to be decided," said she, "and it will soon be over. Captain Atherton, I am sure, will not insist when he sees how repugnant to your feelings it is."
But Anna knew her own weakness—she could never say, in her mother's presence, what she felt—and trembling like an aspen, she descended the stairs, meeting in the lower hall her brother, who asked what was the matter.
"Oh, John, John," she cried, "Captain Atherton is in there with mother, and they have sent for me. What shall I do?"
"Be a woman," answered John Jr. "Tell him no in good broad English, and if the old fellow insists, I'll blow his brains out!"
But the Captain did not insist. He was too cunning for that, and when, with a burst of tears, Anna told him she could not be his wife because she loved another, he said, good-humoredly, "Well, well, never mind spoiling those pretty blue eyes. I'm not such an old savage as you think me. So we'll compromise the matter this way. If you really love Malcolm, why, marry him, and on your bridal day I'll make you a present of a nice little place I have in Frankfort; but if, on the other hand, Malcolm proves untrue, you must promise to have me. Come, that's a fair bargain. What do you say?"
"Malcolm will never prove untrue," answered Anna.
"Of course not," returned the captain. "So you are safe in promising.'
"But what good will it do you?" queried Anna.
"No good, in particular," said the captain. "It's only a whim of mine, to which I thought you might perhaps agree, in consideration of my offer."
"I do—I will," said Anna, thinking the captain not so bad after all.
"There's mischief somewhere, and I advise you to watch," said John Jr., when he learned from Anna the result of the interview.
But week after week glided by. Mrs. Livingstone's persecutions ceased, and she sometimes herself handed to Anna Malcolm's letters, which came regularly, and when about the first of March Captain Atherton himself went off to Washington, Anna gave her fears to the wind, and all the day long went singing about the house, unmindful of the snare laid for her unsuspecting footsteps. At length Malcolm's letters suddenly ceased, and though Anna wrote again and again, there came no answer. Old Caesar, who always carried and brought the mail for Maple Grove, was questioned, but he declared he "done got none from Mas'r Everett," and suspicion in that quarter was lulled. Unfortunately for Anna, both her father and John Jr. were now away, and she had no counselor save 'Lena, who once, on her own responsibility, wrote to Malcolm, but with a like success, and Anna's heart grew weary with hope deferred. Smilingly Mrs. Livingstone looked on, one moment laughing at Anna for what she termed love-sickness, and the next advising her to be a woman, and marry Captain Atherton. "He was not very old—only forty-three—and it was better to be an old man's darling than a young man's slave!"
Thus the days wore on, until one evening just as the family were sitting down to tea they were surprised by a call from the captain, who had returned that afternoon, and who, with the freedom of an old friend, unceremoniously entered the supper-room, appropriating to himself the extra plate which Mrs. Livingstone always had upon the table. Simultaneously with him came Caesar, who having been to the post-office, had just returned, bringing, besides other things, a paper for Carrie, from her old admirer, Tom Lakin, who lived in Rockford, at which place the paper was printed. Several times had Tom remembered Carrie in this way, and now carelessly glancing at the first page, she threw it upon the floor, whence it was taken by Anna, who examined it more minutely glancing, as a matter of course, to the marriage notices.
Meantime the captain, who was sitting by 'Lena, casually remarked, "Oh, I forgot to tell you that I saw Mr. Everett in Washington."
"Mr. Everett—Malcolm Everett?" said 'Lena, quickly.
"Yes, Malcolm Everett," answered the captain.
"He is there spending the honeymoon with his bride!"
'Lena's exclamation of astonishment was prevented by a shriek from Anna, who had that moment read the announcement of Mr. Everett's marriage, which was the first in the list. It was Malcolm H. Everett—there could be no mistake—and when 'Lena reached her cousin's side, she found that she had fainted. All was now in confusion, in the midst of which the Captain took his leave, having first managed to speak a few words in private with Mrs. Livingstone.
"Fortune favors us," was her reply, as she went back to her daughter, whose long, death-like swoon almost wrung from her the secret.
But Anna revived, and with the first indication of returning consciousness, the cold, hard woman stifled all her better feelings, and then tried to think she was acting only for the good of her child. For a long time Anna appeared to be in a kind of benumbed torpor, requesting to be left alone, and shuddering if Mr. Everett's name were mentioned in her presence. It was in vain that 'Lena strove to comfort her, telling her there might be some mistake. Anna refused to listen, angrily bidding 'Lena desist, and saying frequently that she cared but little what became of herself now. A species of recklessness seemed to have taken possession of her, and when her mother one day carelessly remarked that possibly Captain Atherton would claim the fulfillment of her promise, she answered, in the cold, indifferent tone which now marked her manner of speaking, "Let him. I am ready and willing for the sacrifice."
"Are you in earnest?" asked Mrs. Livingstone, eagerly.
"In earnest? Yes—try me and see," was Anna's brief answer, which somewhat puzzled her mother, who would in reality have preferred opposition to this unnatural passiveness.
But anything to gain her purpose, she thought, and drawing Anna closely to her side, she very gently and affectionately told her how happy it would make her could she see her the wife of Captain Atherton, who had loved and waited for her so long, and who would leave no wish, however slight, ungratified. And Anna, with no shadow of emotion on her calm, white face, consented to all that her mother asked, and when next the captain came, she laid her feverish hand in his, and with a strange, wild light beaming from her dark blue eyes, promised to share his fortunes as his wife.
"'Twill be winter and spring," said she, with a bitter, mocking laugh, "'Twill be winter and spring, but it matters not."
Many years before, when a boy of eighteen, Captain Atherton had loved, or fancied he loved, a young girl, whose very name afterward became hateful to him, and now, as he thought of Anna's affection for Malcolm, he likened it to his own boyish fancy, believing she would soon get over it, and thank him for what he had done.
That night Anna saw the moon and stars go down, bending far out from her window, that the damp air might cool her burning brow, and when the morning sun came up the eastern horizon, its first beams fell on the golden curls which streamed across the window-sill, her only pillow the livelong night. On 'Lena's mind a terrible conviction was fastening itself—Anna was crazed. She saw it in the wildness of her eye, in the tones of her voice, and more than all, in the readiness with which she yielded herself to her mother's schemes, "But it shall not be," she thought, "I will save her," and then she knelt before her aunt, imploring her to spare her daughter—not to sacrifice her on the altar of mammon.
But Mrs. Livingstone turned angrily away, telling her to mind her own affairs. Then 'Lena sought her cousin, and winding her arms around her neck, besought of her to resist—to burst the chain which bound her, and be free. But with a shake other head, Anna bade her go away. "Leave me, 'Lena Rivers," she said, "leave me to work out my destiny. It is decreed that I shall be his wife, and I may not struggle against it. Each night I read it in the stars, and the wind, as it sighs through the maple trees, whispers it to my ear."
"Oh, if my aunt could see her now," thought 'Lena but as if her mother's presence had a paralyzing power, Anna, when with her, was quiet, gentle, and silent, and if Mrs. Livingstone sometimes missed her merry laugh and playful ways, she thought the air of dignity which seemed to have taken their place quite an improvement, and far more in keeping with the bride-elect of Captain Atherton.
About this time Mr. Livingstone returned, appearing greatly surprised at the phase which affairs had assumed in his absence, but when 'Lena whispered to him her fears, he smilingly answered, "I reckon you're mistaken. Her mother would have found it out—where is she?"
In her chamber at the old place by the open window they found her, and though she did not as usual spring eagerly forward to meet her father, her greeting was wholly natural; but when Mr. Livingstone, taking her upon his knee, said gently, "They tell me you are to be married soon," the wildness came back to her eye, and 'Lena wondered he could not see it. But he did not, and smoothing her disordered tresses, he said, "Tell me, my daughter, does this marriage please you? Do you enter into it willingly?"
For a moment there was a wavering, and 'Lena held her breath to catch the answer, which came at last, while the eyes shone brighter than ever—"Willing? yes, or I should not do it; no one compels me, else I would resist."
"Woman's nature," said Mr. Livingstone, laughingly, while 'Lena turned away to hide her tears.
Day after day preparations went on, for Mrs. Livingstone would have the ceremony a grand and imposing one. In the neighborhood, the fast approaching event was discussed, some pronouncing it a most fortunate thing for Anna, who could not, of course, expect to make so eligible a match as her more brilliant sister, while others—the sensible portion—wondered, pitied, and blamed, attributing the whole to the ambitious mother, whose agency in her son's marriage was now generally known. At Maple Grove closets, chairs, tables, and sofas were loaded down with finery, and like an automaton, Anna stood up while they fitted to her the rich white satin, scarcely whiter than her own face, and Mrs. Livingstone, when she saw her daughter's indifference, would pinch her bloodless cheeks, wondering how she could care so little for her good fortune.
Unnatural mother!—from the little grave on the sunny slope, now grass-grown and green, came there no warning voice to stay her in her purpose? No; she scarcely thought of Mabel now, and with unflinching determination she kept on her way.
But there was one who, night and day, pondered in her mind the best way of saving Anna from the living death to which she would surely awake, when it was too late. At last she resolved on going herself to Captain Atherton, telling him just how it was, and if there was a spark of generosity in his nature, she thought he would release her cousin. But this plan required much caution, for she would not have her uncle's family know of it, and if she failed, she preferred that it should be kept a secret from the world. There was then no alternative but to go in the night, and alone. She did not now often sit with the family, and she knew they would not miss her. So, one evening when they were as usual assembled in the parlor, she stole softly from the house, and managing to pass the negro quarters unobserved, she went down to the lower stable, where she saddled the pony she was now accustomed to ride, and leading him by a circuitous path out upon the turnpike, mounted and rode away.
The night was moonless, and the starlight obscured by heavy clouds, but the pale face and golden curls of Anna, for whose sake she was there alone, gleamed on her in the darkness, and 'Lena was not afraid. Once—twice—she thought she caught the sound of another horse's hoofs, but when she stopped to listen, all was still, and again she pressed forward, while her pursuer (for 'Lena was followed) kept at a greater distance. Durward had been to Frankfort, and on his way home had stopped at Maple Grove to deliver a package. Stopping only a moment, he reached the turnpike just after 'Lena struck into it. Thinking it was a servant, he was about to pass her, when her horse sheered at something on the road-side, and involuntarily she exclaimed, "Courage, Dido, there's nothing to fear."
Instantly he recognized her voice, and was about to overtake and speak to her, but thinking that her mission was a secret one, or she would not be there alone, he desisted. Still he could not leave her thus. Her safety might be endangered, and reining in his steed, and accommodating his pace to hers, he followed without her knowledge. On she went until she reached the avenue leading to "Sunnyside," as Captain Atherton termed his residence, and there she stopped, going on foot to the house, while, hidden by the deep darkness Durward waited and watched.
Half timidly 'Lena rang the door-bell, dropping her veil over her face that she might not be recognized. "I want to see your master," she said to the woman who answered her ring, and who in some astonishment replied, "Bless you, miss, Mas'r Atherton done gone to Lexington and won't be home till to-morry."
"Gone!" repeated 'Lena in a disappointed tone. "Oh, I'm so sorry."
"Is you the new miss what's comin' here to live?" asked the negro, who was Captain Atherton's house keeper.
Instantly the awkwardness of her position flashed upon 'Lena, but resolving to put a bold face on the matter, she removed her veil, saying, playfully, "You know me now, Aunt Martha."
"In course I do," answered the negro, holding up both hands in amazement, "but what sent you here this dark, unairthly night?"
"Business with your master," and then suddenly remembering that among her own race Aunt Martha was accounted an intolerable gossip, she began to wish she had not come.
But it could not now be helped, and turning away, she walked slowly down the avenue, wondering what the result would be. Again they were in motion, she and Durward, who followed until he saw her safe home, and then, glad that no one had seen her but himself, he retraced his steps, pondering on the mystery which he could not fathom. After 'Lena left Sunnyside, a misty rain came on, and by the time she reached her home, her long riding-dress was wet and drizzled, the feathers on her cap were drooping, and to crown all, as she was crossing the hall with stealthy step, she came suddenly upon her aunt, who, surprised at her appearance, demanded of her where she had been. But 'Lena refused to tell, and in quite a passion Mrs. Livingstone laid the case before her husband.
"Lena had been off that dark, rainy night, riding somewhere with somebody, she wouldn't tell who, but she (Mrs. Livingstone) most knew if was Durward, and something must be done."
Accordingly, next day; when they chanced to be alone, Mr. Livingstone took the opportunity of questioning 'Lena, who dared not disobey him, and with many tears she confessed the whole, saying that "if it were wrong she was very sorry."