He was thus standing when he felt a hand laid familiarly on his shoulder, and, on turning round, he beheld the gentleman he had left in Mr. Blatchford's office. "Come, my little man," said he, "don't take it so much to heart. Cheer up—you may find some other person willing to employ you. Come, walk on with me—where do you live?" Charlie dried his eyes and gave him his address as they walked on up the street together.
Mr. Burrell talked encouragingly, and quite succeeded in soothing him ere they separated. "I shall keep a look out for you," said he, kindly; "and if I hear of anything likely to suit you, I shall let you know."
Charlie thanked him and sauntered slowly home. When he arrived, and they saw his agitated looks, and his eyes swollen from the effect of recent tears, there was a general inquiry of "What has happened? Why are you home so early; are you sick?"
Charlie hereupon related all that had transpired at the office—his great disappointment and the occasion of it—to the intense indignation and grief of his mother and sisters. "I wish there were no white folks," said Caddy, wrathfully; "they are all, I believe, a complete set of villains and everything else that is bad."
"Don't be so sweeping in your remarks, pray don't, Caddy," interposed Esther; "you have just heard what Charlie said of Mr. Blatchford—his heart is kindly disposed, at any rate; you see he is trammelled by others."
"Oh! well, I don't like any of them—I hate them all!" she continued bitterly, driving her needle at the same time into the cloth she was sewing, as if it was a white person she had in her lap and she was sticking pins in him. "Don't cry, Charlie," she added; "the old white wretches, they shouldn't get a tear out of me for fifty trades!" But Charlie could not be comforted; he buried his head in his mother's lap, and wept over his disappointment until he made himself sick.
That day, after Mr. Burrell had finished his dinner, he remarked to his wife, "I saw something this morning, my dear, that made a deep impression on me. I haven't been able to get it out of my head for any length of time since; it touched me deeply, I assure you."
"Why, what could it have been? Pray tell me what it was."
Thereupon, he gave his wife a graphic account of the events that had transpired at Blatchford's in the morning; and in conclusion, said, "Now, you know, my dear, that no one would call me an Abolitionist; and I suppose I have some little prejudice, as well as others, against coloured people; but I had no idea that sensible men would have carried it to that extent, to set themselves up, as they did, in opposition to a little boy anxious to earn his bread by learning a useful trade."
Mrs. Burrell was a young woman of about twenty-two, with a round good-natured face and plump comfortable-looking figure; she had a heart overflowing with kindness, and was naturally much affected by what he related. "I declare it's perfectly outrageous," exclaimed she, indignantly; "and I wonder at Blatchford for submitting to it. I wouldn't allow myself to be dictated to in that manner—and he such an Abolitionist too! Had I been him, I should have stuck to my principles at any risk. Poor little fellow! I so wonder at Blatchford; I really don't think he has acted manly."
"Not so fast, my little woman, if you please—that is the way with almost all of you, you let your hearts run away with your heads. You are unjust to Blatchford; he could not help himself, he was completely in their power. It is almost impossible at present to procure workmen in our business, and he is under contract to finish a large amount of work within a specified time; and if he should fail to fulfil his agreement it would subject him to immense loss—in fact, it would entirely ruin him. You are aware, my dear, that I am thoroughly acquainted with the state of his affairs; he is greatly in debt from unfortunate speculations, and a false step just now would overset him completely; he could not have done otherwise than he has, and do justice to himself and his family. I felt that he could not; and in fact advised him to act as he did."
"Now, George Burrell, you didn't," said she, reproachfully.
"Yes I did, my dear, because I thought of his family; I really believe though, had I encouraged him, he would have made the sacrifice."
"And what became of the boy?"
"Oh; poor lad, he seemed very much cut down by it—I was quite touched by his grief. When I came out, I found him standing by a shop window crying bitterly. I tried to pacify him, and told him I would endeavour to obtain a situation for him somewhere—and I shall."
"Has he parents?" asked Mrs. Burrell.
"Yes; and, by the way, don't you remember whilst the mob was raging last summer, we read an account of a man running to the roof of a house to escape from the rioters? You remember they chopped his hands off and threw him over?"
"Oh, yes, dear, I recollect; don't—don't mention it," said she, with a shudder of horror. "I remember it perfectly."
"Well, this little fellow is his son," continued Mr. Burrell.
"Indeed! and what has become of his father—did he die?"
"No, he partially recovered, but is helpless, and almost an idiot. I never saw a child, apparently so anxious to get work; he talked more like a man with a family dependent upon him for support, than a youth. I tell you what, I became quite interested in him; he was very communicative, and told me all their circumstances; their house was destroyed by the mob, and they are at present residing with a friend."
Just then the cry of a child was heard in the adjoining room, and Mrs. Burrell rushed precipitately away, and soon returned with a fat, healthy-looking boy in her arms, which, after kissing, she placed in her husband's lap. He was their first-born and only child, and, as a matter of course, a great pet, and regarded by them as a most wonderful boy; in consequence, papa sat quite still, and permitted him to pull the studs out of his shirt, untie his cravat, rumple his hair, and take all those little liberties to which babies are notoriously addicted.
Mrs. Burrell sat down on a stool at her husband's feet, and gazed at him and the child in silence for some time.
"What's the matter, Jane; what has made you so grave?"
"I was trying to imagine, Burrell, how I should feel if you, I, and baby were coloured; I was trying to place myself in such a situation. Now we know that our boy, if he is honest and upright—is blest with great talent or genius—may aspire to any station in society that he wishes to obtain. How different it would be if he were coloured!—there would be nothing bright in the prospective for him. We could hardly promise him a living at any respectable calling. I think, George, we treat coloured people with great injustice, don't you?"
Mr. Burrell hemmed and ha'd at this direct query, and answered, "Well, we don't act exactly right toward them, I must confess."
Mrs. Burrell rose, and took the vacant knee of her husband, and toying with the baby, said, "Now, George Burrell, I want to ask a favour of you. Why can't you take this boy ?" "I take him! why, my dear, I don't want an apprentice."
"Yes, but you must make a want. You said he was a bright boy, and sketched well. Why, I should think that he's just what you ought to have. There is no one at your office that would oppose it. Cummings and Dalton were with your father before you, they would never object to anything reasonable that you proposed. Come, dear! do now make the trial—won't you?"
Mr. Burrell was a tender-hearted, yielding sort of an individual; and what was more, his wife was fully aware of it; and like a young witch as she was, she put on her sweetest looks, and begged so imploringly, that he was almost conquered. But when she took up the baby, and made him put his chubby arms round his father's neck, and say "pese pop-pop," he was completely vanquished, and surrendered at discretion.
"I'll see what can be done," said he, at last.
"And will you do it afterwards?" she asked, archly.
"Yes, I will, dear, I assure you," he rejoined.
"Then I know it will be done," said she, confidently; "and none of us will be the worse off for it, I am sure."
After leaving home, Mr. Burrell went immediately to the office of Mr. Blatchford; and after having procured Charlie's portfolio, he started in the direction of his own establishment. He did not by any means carry on so extensive a business as Mr. Blatchford, and employed only two elderly men as journeymen. After he had sat down to work, one of them remarked, "Tucker has been here, and wants some rough cuts executed for a new book. I told him I did not think you would engage to do them; that you had given up that description of work."
"I think we lose a great deal, Cummings, by being obliged to give up those jobs," rejoined Mr. Burrell.
"Why don't you take an apprentice then," he suggested; "it's just the kind of work for them to learn upon."
"Well I've been thinking of that," replied he, rising and producing the drawings from Charlie's portfolio. "Look here," said he, "what do you think of these as the work of a lad of twelve or fourteen, who has never had more than half a dozen lessons?"
"I should say they were remarkably well done," responded Cummings. "Shouldn't you say so, Dalton?" The party addressed took the sketches, and examined them thoroughly, and gave an approving opinion of their merits.
"Well," said Mr. Burrell, "the boy that executed those is in want of a situation, and I should like to take him; but I thought I would consult you both about it first. I met with him under very singular circumstances, and I'll tell you all about it." And forthwith he repeated to them the occurrences of the morning, dwelling upon the most affecting parts, and concluding by putting the question to them direct, as to whether they had any objections to his taking him.
"Why no, none in the world," readily answered Cummings. "Laws me! colour is nothing after all; and black fingers can handle a graver as well as white ones, I expect."
"I thought it best to ask you, to avoid any after difficulty. You have both been in the establishment so long, that I felt that you ought to be consulted."
"You needn't have taken that trouble," said Dalton. "You might have known that anything done by your father's son, would be satisfactory to us. I never had anything to do with coloured people, and haven't anything against them; and as long as you are contented I am."
"Well, we all have our little prejudices against various things; and as I did not know how you both would feel, I thought I wouldn't take any decided steps without consulting you; but now I shall consider it settled, and will let the lad know that I will take him."
In the evening, he hastened home at an earlier hour than usual, and delighted his wife by saying—"I have succeeded to a charm, my dear—there wasn't the very slightest objection. I'm going to take the boy, if he wishes to come." "Oh, I'm delighted," cried she, clapping her hands. "Cry hurrah for papa!" said she to the baby; "cry hurrah for papa!"
The scion of the house of Burrell gave vent to some scarcely intelligible sounds, that resembled "Hoo-rogler pop-pop!" which his mother averred was astonishingly plain, and deserving of a kiss; and, snatching him up, she gave him two or three hearty ones, and then planted him in his father's lap again."
"My dear," said her husband, "I thought, as you proposed my taking this youth, you might like to have the pleasure of acquainting him with his good fortune. After tea, if you are disposed, we will go down there; the walk will do you good."
"Oh, George Burrell," said she, her face radiant with pleasure, "you are certainly trying to outdo yourself. I have been languishing all day for a walk! What a charming husband you are! I really ought to do something for you. Ah, I know what—I'll indulge you; you may smoke all the way there and back. I'll even go so far as to light the cigars for you myself."
"That is a boon," rejoined her husband with a smile; "really 'virtue rewarded,' I declare."
Tea over, the baby kissed and put to bed, Mrs. Burrell tied on the most bewitching of bonnets, and donning her new fur-trimmed cloak, declared herself ready for the walk; and off they started. Mr. Burrell puffed away luxuriously as they walked along, stopping now and then at her command, to look into such shop-windows as contained articles adapted to the use of infants, from india-rubber rings and ivory rattles, to baby coats and shoes.
At length they arrived at the door of Mr. Walters, and on, looking up at the house, he exclaimed, "This is 257, but it can't be the place; surely coloured people don't live in as fine an establishment as this." Then, running up the steps, he examined the plate upon the door. "The name corresponds with the address given me," said he; "I'll ring. Is there a lad living here by the name of Charles Ellis?" he asked of the servant who opened the door.
"Yes, sir," was the reply. "Will you walk in?"
When they were ushered into the drawing-room, Mr. Burrell said,—"Be kind enough to say that a gentleman wishes to see him."
The girl departed, closing the door behind her, leaving them staring about the room. "How elegantly it is furnished!" said she. "I hadn't an idea that there were any coloured people living in such style."
"Some of them are very rich," remarked her husband.
"But you said this boy was poor."
"So he is. I understand they are staying with the owner of this house."
Whilst they were thus conversing the door opened, and Esther entered. "I am sorry," said she, "that my brother has retired. He has a very severe head-ache, and was unable to remain up longer. His mother is out: I am his sister, and shall be most happy to receive any communication for him."
"I regret to hear of his indisposition," replied Mr. Burrell; "I hope it is not consequent upon his disappointment this morning?"
"I fear it is. Poor fellow! he took it very much to heart. It was a disappointment to us all. We were congratulating ourselves on having secured him an eligible situation."
"I assure you the disappointment is not all on one side; he is a very promising boy, and the loss of his prospective services annoying. Nothing but stern necessity caused the result."
"Oh, we entirely acquit you, Mr. Blatchford, of all blame in the matter. We are confident that what happened was not occasioned by any indisposition on your part to fulfil your agreement."
"My dear," interrupted Mrs. Burrell, "she thinks you are Mr. Blatchford."
"And are you not?" asked Esther, with some surprise.
"Oh, no; I'm an intimate friend of his, and was present this morning when the affair happened." "Oh, indeed," responded Esther.
"Yes; and he came home and related it all to me,—the whole affair," interrupted Mrs. Burrell. "I was dreadfully provoked; I assure you, I sympathized with him very much. I became deeply interested in the whole affair; I was looking at my little boy,—for I have a little boy," said she, with matronly dignity,—"and I thought, suppose it was my little boy being treated so, how should I like it? So bringing the matter home to myself in that way made me feel all the more strongly about it; and I just told George Burrell he must take him, as he is an engraver; and I and the baby gave him no rest until he consented to do so. He will take him on the same terms offered by Mr. Blatchford; and then we came down to tell you; and—and," said she, quite out of breath, "that is all about it."
Esther took the little woman's plump hand in both her own, and, for a moment, seemed incapable of even thanking her. At last she said, in a husky voice, "You can't think what a relief this is to us. My brother has taken his disappointment so much to heart—I can't tell you how much I thank you. God will reward you for your sympathy and kindness. You must excuse me," she continued, as her voice faltered; "we have latterly been so unaccustomed to receive such sympathy and kindness from persons of your complexion, that this has quite overcome me."
"Oh, now, don't! I'm sure it's no more than our duty, and I'm as much pleased as you can possibly be—it has given me heartfelt gratification, I assure you."
Esther repeated her thanks, and followed them to the door, where she shook hands with Mrs. Burrell, who gave her a pressing invitation to come and see her baby.
"How easy it is, George Burrell," said the happy little woman, "to make the hearts of others as light as our own-mine feels like a feather," she added, as she skipped along, clinging to his arm. "What a nice, lady-like girl his sister is—is her brother as handsome as she ?"
"Not quite," he answered; "still, he is very good-looking, I'll bring him home with me to-morrow at dinner, and then you can see him."
Chatting merrily, they soon arrived at home. Mrs. Burrell ran straightway upstairs to look at that "blessed baby;" she found him sleeping soundly, and looking as comfortable and happy as it is possible for a sleeping baby to look—so she bestowed upon him a perfect avalanche of kisses, and retired to her own peaceful pillow.
And now, having thus satisfactorily arranged for our young friend Charlie, we will leave him for a few years engaged in his new pursuits.
Many Years After.
Old Father Time is a stealthy worker. In youth we are scarcely able to appreciate his efforts, and oftentimes think him an exceedingly slow and limping old fellow. When we ripen into maturity, and are fighting our own way through the battle of life, we deem him swift enough of foot, and sometimes rather hurried; but when old age comes on, and death and the grave are foretold by trembling limbs and snowy locks, we wonder that our course has been so swiftly run, and chide old Time for a somewhat hasty and precipitate individual.
The reader must imagine that many years have passed away since the events narrated in the preceding chapters transpired, and permit us to re-introduce the characters formerly presented, without any attempt to describe how that long period has been occupied.
First of all, let us resume our acquaintance with Mr. Stevens. To effect this, we must pay that gentleman a visit at his luxurious mansion in Fifth Avenue, the most fashionable street of New York—the place where the upper ten thousand of that vast, bustling city most do congregate. As he is an old acquaintance (we won't say friend), we will disregard ceremony, and walk boldly into the library where that gentleman is sitting.
He is changed—yes, sadly changed. Time has been hard at work with him, and, dissatisfied with what his unaided agency could produce, has called in conscience to his aid, and their united efforts have left their marks upon him. He looks old—aye, very old. The bald spot on his head has extended its limits until there is only a fringe of thin white hair above the ears. There are deep wrinkles upon his forehead; and the eyes, half obscured by the bushy grey eyebrows, are bloodshot and sunken; the jaws hollow and spectral, and his lower lip drooping and flaccid. He lifts his hand to pour out another glass of liquor from the decanter at his side, when his daughter lays her hand upon it, and looks appealingly in his face.
She has grown to be a tall, elegant woman, slightly thin, and with a careworn and fatigued expression of countenance. There is, however, the same sweetness in her clear blue eyes, and as she moves her head, her fair flaxen curls float about her face as dreamily and deliciously as ever they did of yore. She is still in black, wearing mourning for her mother, who not many months before had been laid in a quiet nook on the estate at Savanah.
"Pray, papa, don't drink any more," said she, persuasively—"it makes you nervous, and will bring on one of those frightful attacks again."
"Let me alone," he remonstrated harshly—"let me alone, and take your hand off the glass; the doctor has forbidden laudanum, so I will have brandy instead—take off your hand and let me drink, I say."
Lizzie still kept her hand upon the decanter, and continued gently: "No, no, dear pa—you promised me you would only drink two glasses, and you have already taken three—it is exceedingly injurious. The doctor insisted upon it that you should decrease the quantity—and you are adding to it instead."
"Devil take the doctor!" exclaimed he roughly, endeavouring to disengage her hold—"give me the liquor, I say."
His daughter did not appear the least alarmed at this violence of manner, nor suffer her grasp upon the neck of the decanter to be relaxed; but all the while spoke soothing words to the angry old man, and endeavoured to persuade him to relinquish his intention of drinking any more.
"You don't respect your old father," he cried, in a whining tone—"you take advantage of my helplessness, all of you—you ill-treat me and deny me the very comforts of life! I'll tell—I'll tell the doctor," he continued, as his voice subsided into an almost inaudible tone, and he sank back into the chair in a state of semi-stupor.
Removing the liquor from his reach, his daughter rang the bell, and then walked towards the door of the room.
"Who procured that liquor for my father?" she asked of the servant who entered.
"I did, miss," answered the man, hesitatingly.
"Let this be the last time you do such a thing," she rejoined, eyeing him sternly, "unless you wish to be discharged. I thought you all fully understood that on no consideration was my father to have liquor, unless by the physician's or my order—it aggravates his disease and neutralizes all the doctor's efforts—and, unless you wish to be immediately discharged, never repeat the same offence. Now, procure some assistance—it is time my father was prepared for bed."
The man bowed and left the apartment; but soon returned, saying there was a person in the hall who had forced his way into the house, and who positively refused to stir until he saw Mr. Stevens.
"He has been here two or three times," added the man, "and he is very rough and impudent."
"This is most singular conduct," exclaimed Miss Stevens. "Did he give his name?"
"Yes, miss; he calls himself McCloskey."
At the utterance of this well-known name, Mr. Stevens raised his head, and stared at the speaker with a look of stupid fright, and inquired, "Who here—what name is that?—speak louder—what name?"
"McCloskey," answered the man, in a louder tone.
"What! he—he!" cried Mr. Stevens, with a terrified look. "Where—where is he?" he continued, endeavouring to rise—"where is he?"
"Stop, pa," interposed his daughter, alarmed at his appearance and manner. "Do stop—let me go," "No—no!" said the old man wildly, seizing her by the dress to detain her—"you must not go—that would never do! He might tell her," he muttered to himself—"No, no—I'll go!"—and thus speaking, he made another ineffectual attempt to reach the door.
"Dear father! do let me go!" she repeated, imploringly. "You are incapable of seeing any one—let me inquire what he wants!" she added, endeavouring to loose his hold upon her dress.
"No—you shall not!" he replied, clutching her dress still tighter, and endeavouring to draw her towards him.
"Oh, father!" she asked distractedly, "what can this mean? Here," said she, addressing the servant, who stood gazing in silent wonder on this singular scene, "help my father into his chair again, and then tell this strange man to wait awhile."
The exhausted man, having been placed in his chair, motioned to his daughter to close the door behind the servant, who had just retired.
"He wants money," said he, in a whisper—"he wants money! He'll make beggars of us all—and yet I'll have to give him some. Quick! give me my cheque-book—let me give him something before he has a chance to talk to any one—quick! quick!"
The distracted girl wrung her hands with grief at what she imagined was a return of her father's malady, and exclaimed, "Oh! if George only would remain at home—it is too much for me to have the care of father whilst he is in such a state." Then pretending to be in search of the cheque-book, she turned over the pamphlets and papers upon his desk, that she might gain time, and think how it was best to proceed.
Whilst she was thus hesitating, the door of the room was suddenly opened, and a shabbily dressed man, bearing a strong odour of rum about him, forced his way into the apartment, saying, "I will see him. D——n it, I don't care haporth how sick he is—let me go, or by the powers I'll murther some of yes." The old man's face was almost blanched with terror when he heard the voice and saw the abrupt entry of the intruder. He sprang from the chair with a great effort, and then, unable to sustain himself, sunk fainting on the floor.
"Oh, you have killed my father—you have killed my father! Who are you, and what do you want, that you dare thrust yourself upon him in this manner?" said she, stooping to assist in raising him; "cannot you see he is entirely unfit for any business?"
Mr. Stevens was replaced in his chair, and water thrown in his face to facilitate his recovery.
Meanwhile, McCloskey had poured himself out a glass of brandy and water, which he stood sipping as coolly as if everything in the apartment was in a state of the most perfect composure. The singular terror of her father, and the boldness and assurance of the intruder, were to Miss Stevens something inexplicable—she stood looking from one to the other, as though seeking an explanation, and on observing symptoms of a return to consciousness on the part of her parent, she turned to McCloskey, and said, appealingly: "You see how your presence has agitated my father. Pray let me conjure you—go. Be your errand what it may, I promise you it shall have the earliest attention. Or," said she, "tell me what it is; perhaps I can see to it—I attend a great deal to father's business. Pray tell me!"
"No, no!" exclaimed the old man, who had caught the last few words of his daughter. "No, no—not a syllable! Here, I'm well—I'm well enough. I'll attend to you. There, there—that will do," he continued, addressing the servant; "leave the room. And you," he added, turning to his daughter, "do you go too. I am much better now, and can talk to him. Go! go!" he cried, impatiently, as he saw evidences of a disposition to linger, on her part; "if I want you I'll ring. Go!—this person won't stay long."
"Not if I get what I came for, miss," said McCloskey, insolently; "otherwise, there is no knowing how long I may stay." With a look of apprehension, Lizzie quitted the room, and the murderer and his accomplice were alone together.
Mr. Stevens reached across the table, drew the liquor towards him, and recklessly pouring out a large quantity, drained the glass to the bottom—this seemed to nerve him up and give him courage, for he turned to McCloskey and said, with a much bolder air than he had yet shown in addressing him, "So, you're back again, villain! are you? I thought and hoped you were dead;" and he leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes as if to shut out some horrid spectre.
"I've been divilish near it, squire, but Providence has preserved me, ye see—jist to be a comfort to ye in yer old age. I've been shipwrecked, blown up in steamboats, and I've had favers and choleray and the divil alone knows what—but I've been marcifully presarved to ye, and hope ye'll see a good dale of me this many years to come."
Mr. Stevens glared at him fiercely for a few seconds, and then rejoined, "You promised me solemnly, five years ago, that you would never trouble me again, and I gave you money enough to have kept you in comfort—ay, luxury—for the remainder of your life. Where is it all now?"
"That's more than I can tell you, squire. I only know how it comes. I don't trouble myself how it goes—that's your look out. If ye are anxious on that score you'd better hire a bookkeeper for me—he shall send yer honour a quarterly account, and then it won't come on ye so sudden when it's all out another time."
"Insolent!" muttered Mr. Stevens.
McCloskey gave Mr. Stevens an impudent look, but beyond that took no farther notice of his remark, but proceeded with the utmost coolness to pour out another glass of brandy—after which he drew his chair closer to the grate, and placed his dirty feet upon the mantelpiece in close proximity to an alabaster clock.
"You make yourself very much at home," said Stevens, indignantly.
"Why shouldn't I?" answered his tormentor, in a tone of the most perfect good humour. "Why shouldn't I—in the house of an ould acquaintance and particular friend—just the place to feel at home, eh, Stevens?" then folding his arms and tilting back his chair, he asked, coolly: "You haven't a cigar, have ye?"
"No," replied Stevens, surlily; "and if I had, you should not have it. Your insolence is unbearable; you appear," continued he, with some show of dignity, "to have forgotten who I am, and who you are."
"Ye're mistaken there, squire. Divil a bit have I. I'm McCloskey, and you are Slippery George—an animal that's known over the 'varsal world as a Philadelphia lawyer—a man that's chated his hundreds, and if he lives long enough, he'll chate as many more, savin' his friend Mr. McCloskey, and him he'll not be afther chating, because he won't be able to get a chance, although he'd like to if he could—divil a doubt of that."
"It's false—I never tried to cheat you," rejoined Stevens, courageously, for the liquor was beginning to have a very inspiriting effect. "It's a lie—I paid you all I agreed upon, and more besides; but you are like a leech—never satisfied. You have had from me altogether nearly twenty thousand dollars, and you'll not get much more—now, mind I tell you."
"The divil I won't," rejoined he, angrily; "that is yet to be seen. How would you like to make yer appearance at court some fine morning, on the charge of murther, eh?" Mr. Stevens gave a perceptible shudder, and looked round, whereupon McCloskey said, with a malevolent grin, "Ye see I don't stick at words, squire; I call things by their names."
"So I perceive," answered Stevens. "You were not so bold once."
"Ha, ha!" laughed McCloskey. "I know that as well as you—then I was under the thumb—that was before we were sailing in the one boat; now ye see, squire, the boot is on the other leg." Mr. Stevens remained quiet for a few moments, whilst his ragged visitor continued to leisurely sip his brandy and contemplate the soles of his boots as they were reflected in the mirror above—they were a sorry pair of boots, and looked as if there would soon be a general outbreak of his toes—so thin and dilapidated did the soles appear.
"Look at thim boots, and me suit ginerally, and see if your conscience won't accuse ye of ingratitude to the man who made yer fortune—or rather lets ye keep it, now ye have it. Isn't it a shame now for me, the best friend you've got in the world, to be tramping the streets widdout a penny in his pocket, and ye livin' in clover, with gold pieces as plenty as blackberries. It don't look right, squire, and mustn't go on any longer."
"What do you want—whatever will satisfy you?" asked Stevens. "If I give you ever so much now, what guarantee have I that you'll not return in a month or so, and want as much more?"
"I'll pledge ye me honour," said McCloskey, grandly.
"Your honour!" rejoined Stevens, "that is no security."
"Security or no security," said McCloskey, impatiently, "you'll have to give me the money—it's not a bit of use now this disputin, bekase ye see I'm bound to have it, and ye are wise enough to know ye'd better give it to me. What if ye have give me thousands upon thousands," continued he, his former good-humoured expression entirely vanishing; "it's nothing more than you ought to do for keeping yer secrets for ye—and as long as ye have money, ye may expect to share it with me: so make me out a good heavy cheque, and say no more about it."
"What do you call a heavy cheque?" asked Stevens, in a despairing tone.
"Five or six thousand," coolly answered his visitor.
"Five or six thousand!" echoed Mr. Stevens, "it is impossible."
"It had better not be," said McCloskey, looking angry; "it had better not be—I'm determined not to be leading a beggar's life, and you to be a rolling in wealth."
"I can't give it, and won't give it—if it must come to that," answered Stevens, desperately. "It is you that have the fortune—I am only your banker at this rate. I can't give it to you—I haven't got that much money."
"You must find it then, and pretty quick at that," said McCloskey. "I'm not to be fooled with—I came here for money, and I must and will have it."
"I am willing to do what is reasonable," rejoined Mr. Stevens, in a more subdued tone. "You talk of thousands as most men do of hundreds. I really haven't got it."
"Oh, bother such stuff as that," interrupted McCloskey, incredulously. "I don't believe a word of it—I've asked them that know, and every one says you've made a mint of money by speculation—that since ye sold out in the South and came here to live, there's no end to the money ye've made; so you see it don't do to be making a poor mouth to me. I've come here for a check for five thousand dollars, and shan't go away without it," concluded he, in a loud and threatening tone.
During this conversation, Lizzie Stevens had been standing at the door, momentarily expecting a recall to the apartment. She heard the low rumble of their voices, but could not distinguish words. At length, hearing McCloskey's raised to a higher key, she could no longer restrain her impatience, and gently opening the door, looked into the room. Both their faces were turned in the opposite direction, so that neither noticed the gentle intrusion of Lizzie, who, fearing to leave her father longer alone, ventured into the apartment.
"You need not stand looking at me in that threatening manner. You may do as you please—go tell what you like; but remember, when I fall, so do you; I have not forgotten that affair in Philadelphia from which I saved you—don't place me in a situation that will compel me to recur to it to your disadvantage." "Ah, don't trouble yerself about that, squire; I don't—that is entirely off my mind; for now Whitticar is dead, where is yer witnesses?"
"Whitticar dead!" repeated Stevens.
"Yes; and what's more, he's buried—so he's safe enough, squire; and I shouldn't be at all surprised if you'd be glad to have me gone too."
"I would to God you had been, before I put myself in your power."
"'Twas your own hastiness. When it came to the pinch, I wasn't equal to the job, so ye couldn't wait for another time, but out with yer pistol, and does it yerself." The wretched man shuddered and covered his face, as McCloskey coolly recounted his murder of Mr. Garie, every word of which was too true to be denied.
"And haven't I suffered," said he, shaking his bald head mournfully; "haven't I suffered—look at my grey hairs and half-palsied frame, decrepit before I'm old—sinking into the tomb with a weight of guilt and sin upon me that will crush me down to the lowest depth of hell. Think you," he continued, "that because I am surrounded with all that money can buy, that I am happy, or ever shall be, with this secret gnawing at my heart; every piece of gold I count out, I see his hands outstretched over it, and hear him whisper 'Mine!' He gives me no peace night or day; he is always by me; I have no rest. And you must come, adding to my torture, and striving to tear from me that for which I bartered conscience, peace, soul, everything that would make life desirable. If there is mercy in you, leave me with what I give you, and come back no more. Life has so little to offer, that rather than bear this continued torment and apprehension I daily suffer, I will cut my throat, and then your game is over."
Lizzie Stevens stood rooted to the spot whilst her father made the confession that was wrung from him by the agony of the moment.
"Well, well!" said McCloskey, somewhat startled and alarmed at Stevens's threat of self-destruction—"well, I'll come down a thousand—make it four."
"That I'll do," answered the old man, tremblingly; and reaching over, he drew towards him the cheque-book. After writing the order for the sum, he was placing it in the hand of McCloskey, when, hearing a faint moan, he looked towards the door, and saw his daughter fall fainting to the ground.
The Thorn rankles.
We left the quiet town of Sudbury snow-clad and sparkling in all the glory of a frosty moonlight night; we now return to it, and discover it decked out in its bravest summer garniture. A short distance above the hill upon which it is built, the water of the river that glides along its base may be seen springing over the low dam that obstructs its passage, sparkling, glistening, dancing in the sunlight, as it falls splashing on the stones below; and then, as though subdued by the fall and crash, it comes murmuring on, stopping now and then to whirl and eddy round some rock or protruding stump, and at last glides gently under the arch of the bridge, seemingly to pause beneath its shadow and ponder upon its recent tumble from the heights above. Seated here and there upon the bridge are groups of boys, rod in hand, endeavouring, with the most delicious-looking and persuasive of baits, to inveigle finny innocents from the cool depths below.
The windows of the mills are all thrown open, and now and then the voices of some operatives, singing at their work, steal forth in company with the whir and hum of the spindles, and mingle with the splash of the waterfall; and the united voices of nature, industry, and man, harmonize their swelling tones, or go floating upward on the soft July air. The houses upon the hill-side seem to be endeavouring to extricate themselves from bowers of full-leafed trees; and with their white fronts, relieved by the light green blinds, look cool and inviting in the distance. High above them all, as though looking down in pride upon the rest, stands the Academy, ennobled in the course of years by the addition of extensive wings and a row of stately pillars. On the whole, the town looked charmingly peaceful and attractive, and appeared just the quiet nook that a weary worker in cities would select as a place of retirement after a busy round of toils or pleasure.
There were little knots of idlers gathered about the railroad station, as there always is in quiet towns—not that they expect any one; but that the arrival and departure of the train is one of the events of the day, and those who have nothing else particular to accomplish feel constrained to be on hand to witness it. Every now and then one of them would look down the line and wonder why the cars were not in sight.
Amongst those seemingly the most impatient was Miss Ada Bell, who looked but little older than when she won the heart of the orphan Clarence, years before, by that kind kiss upon his childish brow. It was hers still—she bound it to her by long years of affectionate care, almost equalling in its sacrificing tenderness that which a mother would have bestowed upon her only child. Clarence, her adopted son, had written to her, that he was wretched, heart-sore, and ill, and longed to come to her, his almost mother, for sympathy, advice, and comfort: so she, with yearning heart, was there to meet him.
At last the faint scream of the steam-whistle was heard, and soon the lumbering locomotive came puffing and snorting on its iron path, dashing on as though it could never stop, and making the surrounding hills echo with the unearthly scream of its startling whistle, and arousing to desperation every dog in the quiet little town. At last it stopped, and stood giving short and impatient snorts and hisses, whilst the passengers were alighting.
Clarence stepped languidly out, and was soon in the embrace of Miss Ada.
"My dear boy, how thin and pale you look!" she exclaimed; "come, get into the carriage; never mind your baggage, George will look after that; your hands are hot—very hot, you must be feverish."
"Yes, Aunt Ada," for so he had insisted on his calling her "I am ill—sick in heart, mind, and everything. Cut up the horses," said he, with slight impatience of manner; "let us get home quickly. When I get in the old parlour, and let you bathe my head as you used to, I am sure I shall feel better. I am almost exhausted from fatigue and heat."
"Very well then, dear, don't talk now," she replied, not in the least noticing his impatience of manner; "when you are rested, and have had your tea, will be time enough."
They were soon in the old house, and Clarence looked round with a smile of pleasure on the room where he had spent so many happy hours. Good Aunt Ada would not let him talk, but compelled him to remain quiet until he had rested himself, and eaten his evening meal.
He had altered considerably in the lapse of years, there was but little left to remind one of the slight, melancholy-looking boy, that once stood a heavy-hearted little stranger in the same room, in days gone by. His face was without a particle of red to relieve its uniform paleness; his eyes, large, dark, and languishing, were half hidden by unusually long lashes; his forehead broad, and surmounted with clustering raven hair; a glossy moustache covered his lip, and softened down its fulness; on the whole, he was strikingly handsome, and none would pass him without a second look.
Tea over, Miss Ada insisted that he should lie down upon the sofa again, whilst she, sat by and bathed his head. "Have you seen your sister lately?" she asked.
"No, Aunt Ada," he answered, hesitatingly, whilst a look of annoyance darkened his face for a moment; "I have not been to visit her since last fall—almost a year."
"Oh! Clarence, how can you remain so long away?" said she, reproachfully.
"Well, I can't go there with any comfort or pleasure," he answered, apologetically; "I can't go there; each year as I visit the place, their ways seem more strange and irksome to me. Whilst enjoying her company, I must of course come in familiar contact with those by whom she is surrounded. Sustaining the position that I do—passing as I am for a white man—I am obliged to be very circumspect, and have often been compelled to give her pain by avoiding many of her dearest friends when I have encountered them in public places, because of their complexion. I feel mean and cowardly whilst I'm doing it; but it is necessary—I can't be white and coloured at the same time; the two don't mingle, and I must consequently be one or the other. My education, habits, and ideas, all unfit me for associating with the latter; and I live in constant dread that something may occur to bring me out with the former. I don't avoid coloured people, because I esteem them my inferiors in refinement, education, or intelligence; but because they are subjected to degradations that I shall be compelled to share by too freely associating with them."
"It is a pity," continued he, with a sigh, "that I was not suffered to grow up with them, then I should have learnt to bear their burthens, and in the course of time might have walked over my path of life, bearing the load almost unconsciously. Now it would crush me, I know. It was a great mistake to place me in my present false position," concluded he, bitterly; "it has cursed me. Only a day ago I had a letter from Em, reproaching me for my coldness; yet, God help me! What am I to do!"
Miss Ada looked at him sorrowfully, and continued smoothing down his hair, and inundating his temples with Cologne; at last she ventured to inquire, "How do matters progress with you and Miss Bates? Clary, you have lost your heart there!"
"Too true," he replied, hurriedly; "and what is more—little Birdie (I call her little Birdie) has lost hers too. Aunt Ada, we are engaged!"
"With her parents' consent?" she asked.
"Yes, with her parents' consent; we are to be married in the coming winter."
"Then they know all, of course—they know you are coloured?" observed she.
"They know all!" cried he, starting up. "Who said they did—who told them?—tell me that, I say! Who has dared to tell them I am a coloured man?"
"Hush, Clarence, hush!" replied she, attempting to soothe him. "I do not know that any one has informed them; I only inferred so from your saying you were engaged. I thought you had informed them yourself. Don't you remember you wrote that you should?—and I took it for granted that you had."
"Oh! yes, yes; so I did! I fully intended to, but found myself too great a coward. I dare not—I cannot risk losing her. I am fearful that if she knew it she would throw me off for ever."
"Perhaps not, Clarence—if she loves you as she should; and even if she did, would it not be better that she should know it now, than have it discovered afterwards, and you both be rendered miserable for life."
"No, no, Aunt Ada—I cannot tell her! It must remain a secret until after our marriage; then, if they find it out, it will be to their interest to smooth the matter over, and keep quiet about it."
"Clary, Clary—that is not honourable!"
"I know it—but how can I help it? Once or twice I thought of telling her, but my heart always failed me at the critical moment. It would kill me to lose her. Oh! I love her, Aunt Ada," said he, passionately—"love her with all the energy and strength of my father's race, and all the doating tenderness of my mother's. I could have told her long ago, before my love had grown to its present towering strength, but craft set a seal upon my lips, and bid me be silent until her heart was fully mine, and then nothing could part us; yet now even, when sure of her affections, the dread that her love would not stand the test, compels me to shrink more than ever from the disclosure."
"But, Clarence, you are not acting generously; I know your conscience does not approve your actions."
"Don't I know that?" he answered, almost fiercely; "yet I dare not tell—I must shut this secret in my bosom, where it gnaws, gnaws, gnaws, until it has almost eaten my heart away. Oh, I've thought of that, time and again; it has kept me awake night after night, it haunts me at all hours; it is breaking down my health and strength—wearing my very life out of me; no escaped galley-slave ever felt more than I do, or lived in more constant fear of detection: and yet I must nourish this tormenting secret, and keep it growing in my breast until it has crowded out every honourable and manly feeling; and then, perhaps, after all my sufferings and sacrifice of candour and truth, out it will come at last, when I least expect or think of it."
Aunt Ada could not help weeping, and exclaimed, commiseratingly, "My poor, poor boy," as he strode up and down the room.
"The whole family, except her, seem to have the deepest contempt for coloured people; they are constantly making them a subject of bitter jests; they appear to have no more feeling or regard for them than if they were brutes—and I," continued he, "I, miserable, contemptible, false-hearted knave, as I am, I—I—yes, I join them in their heartless jests, and wonder all the while my mother does not rise from her grave and curse me as I speak!"
"Oh! Clarence, Clarence, my dear child!" cried the terrified Aunt Ada, "you talk deliriously; you have brooded over this until it has almost made you crazy. Come here—sit down." And seizing him by the arm, she drew him on the sofa beside her, and began to bathe his hot head with the Cologne again.
"Let me walk, Aunt Ada," said he after a few moments,—"let me walk, I feel better whilst I am moving; I can't bear to be quiet." And forthwith he commenced striding up and down the room again with nervous and hurried steps. After a few moments he burst out again——
"It seems as if fresh annoyances and complications beset me every day. Em writes me that she is engaged. I was in hopes, that, after I had married, I could persuade her to come and live with me, and so gradually break off her connection with, coloured people; but that hope is extinguished now: she is engaged to a coloured man."
Aunt Ada could see no remedy for this new difficulty, and could only say, "Indeed!"
"I thought something of the kind would occur when I was last at home, and spoke to her on the subject, but she evaded giving me any definite answer; I think she was afraid to tell me—she has written, asking my consent."
"And will you give it?" asked Aunt Ada.
"It will matter but little if I don't; Em has a will of her own, and I have no means of coercing her; besides, I have no reasonable objection to urge: it would be folly in me to oppose it, simply because he is a coloured man—for, what am I myself? The only difference is, that his identity with coloured people is no secret, and he is not ashamed of it; whilst I conceal my origin, and live in constant dread that some one may find it out." When Clarence had finished, he continued to walk up and down the room, looking very careworn and gloomy.
Miss Bell remained on the sofa, thoughtfully regarding him. At last, she rose up and took his hand in hers, as she used to when he was a boy, and walking beside him, said, "The more I reflect upon it, the more necessary I regard it that you should tell this girl and her parents your real position before you marry her. Throw away concealment, make a clean breast of it! you may not be rejected when they find her heart is so deeply interested. If you marry her with this secret hanging over you, it will embitter your life, make you reserved, suspicious, and consequently ill-tempered, and destroy all your domestic happiness. Let me persuade you, tell them ere it be too late. Suppose it reached them through some other source, what would they then think of you?"
"Who else would tell them? Who else knows it? You, you," said he suspiciously—"you would not betray me! I thought you loved me, Aunt Ada."
"Clarence, my dear boy," she rejoined, apparently hurt by his hasty and accusing tone, "you will mistake me—I have no such intention. If they are never to learn it except through me, your secret is perfectly safe. Yet I must tell you that I feel and think that the true way to promote her happiness and your own, is for you to disclose to them your real position, and throw yourself upon their generosity for the result."
Clarence pondered for a long time over Miss Bell's advice, which she again and again repeated, placing it each time before him in a stronger light, until, at last, she extracted from him a promise that he would do it. "I know you are right, Aunt Ada," said he; "I am convinced of that—it is a question of courage with me. I know it would be more honourable for me to tell her now. I'll try to do it—I will make an effort, and summon up the courage necessary—God be my helper!"
"That's a dear boy!" she exclaimed, kissing him affectionately; "I know you will feel happier when it is all over; and even if she should break her engagement, you will be infinitely better off than if it was fulfilled and your secret subsequently discovered. Come, now," she concluded, "I am going to exert my old authority, and send you to bed; tomorrow, perhaps, you may see this in a more hopeful light."
Two days after this, Clarence was again in New York, amid the heat and dust of that crowded, bustling city. Soon, after his arrival, he dressed himself, and started for the mansion of Mr. Bates, trembling as he went, for the result of the communication he was about to make.
Once on the way he paused, for the thought had occurred to him that he would write to them; then reproaching himself for his weakness and timidity, he started on again with renewed determination.
"I'll see her myself," he soliloquized. "I'll tell little Birdie all, and know my fate from her own lips. If I must give her up, I'll know the worst from her."
When Clarence was admitted, he would not permit himself to be announced, but walked tiptoe upstairs and gently opening the drawing-room door, entered the room. Standing by the piano, turning over the leaves of some music, and merrily humming an air, was a young girl of extremely petite and delicate form. Her complexion was strikingly fair; and the rich curls of dark auburn that fell in clusters on her shoulders, made it still more dazzling by the contrast presented. Her eyes were grey, inclining to black; her features small, and not over-remarkable for their symmetry, yet by no means disproportionate. There was the sweetest of dimples on her small round chin, and her throat white and clear as the finest marble. The expression of her face was extremely childlike; she seemed more like a schoolgirl than a young woman of eighteen on the eve of marriage. There was something deliriously airy and fairylike in her motions, and as she slightly moved her feet in time to the music she was humming, her thin blue dress floated about her, and undulated in harmony with her graceful motions.
After gazing at her for a few moments, Clarence called gently, "Little Birdie." She gave a timid joyous little cry of surprise and pleasure, and fluttered into his arms.
"Oh, Clary, love, how you startled me! I did not dream there was any one in the room. It was so naughty in you," said she, childishly, as he pushed back the curls from her face and kissed her. "When did you arrive?"
"Only an hour ago," he answered.
"And you came here at once? Ah, that was so lover-like and kind," she rejoined, smiling.
"You look like a sylph to-night, Anne," said he, as she danced about him. "Ah," he continued, after regarding her for a few seconds with a look of intense admiration, "you want to rivet my chains the tighter,—you look most bewitching. Why are you so much dressed to-night?—jewels, sash, and satin slippers," he continued; "are you going out?"
"No, Clary," she answered. "I was to have gone to the theatre; but just at the last moment I decided not to. A singular desire to stay at home came over me suddenly. I had an instinctive feeling that I should lose some greater enjoyment if I went; so I remained at home; and here, love, are you. But what is the matter? you look sad and weary."
"I am a little fatigued," said he, seating himself and holding her hand in his: "a little weary; but that will soon wear off; and as for the sadness," concluded he, with a forced smile, "that must depart now that I am with you, Little Birdie."
"I feel relieved that you have returned safe and well," said she, looking up into his face from her seat beside him; "for, Clary, love, I had such a frightful dream, such a singular dream about you. I have endeavoured to shake it out of my foolish little head; but it won't go, Clary,—I can't get rid of it. It occurred after you left us at Saratoga. Oh, it was nothing though," said she, laughing and shaking her curls,—"nothing; and now you are safely returned, I shall not think of it again. Tell me what you have seen since you went away; and how is that dear Aunt Ada of yours you talk so much about?"
"Oh, she is quite well," answered he; "but tell, Anne, tell me about that dream. What was it, Birdie?—come tell me."
"I don't care to," she answered, with a slight shudder,—"I don't want to, love."
"Yes, yes,—do, sweet," importuned he; "I want to hear it."
"Then if I must," said she, "I will. I dreamed that you and I were walking on a road together, and 'twas such a beautiful road, with flowers and fruit, and lovely cottages on either side. I thought you held my hand; I felt it just as plain as I clasp yours now. Presently a rough ugly man overtook us, and bid you let me go; and that you refused, and held me all the tighter. Then he gave you a diabolical look, and touched you on the face, and you broke out in loathsome black spots, and screamed in such agony and frightened me so, that I awoke all in a shiver of terror, and did not get over it all the next day."
Clarence clutched her hand tighter as she finished, so tight indeed, that she gave a little scream of pain and looked frightened at him. "What is the matter?" she inquired; "your hand is like ice, and you are paler than ever. You haven't let that trifling dream affect you so? It is nothing."
"I am superstitious in regard to dreams," said Clarence, wiping the perspiration from his forehead. "Go," he asked, faintly, "play me an air, love,—something quick and lively to dispel this. I wish you had not told me."
"But you begged me to," said she, pouting, as she took her seat at the instrument.
"How ominous," muttered he,—"became covered with black spots; that is a foreshadowing. How can I tell her," he thought. "It seems like wilfully destroying my own happiness." And he sat struggling with himself to obtain the necessary courage to fulfil the purpose of his visit, and became so deeply engrossed with his own reflections as to scarcely even hear the sound of the instrument.
"It is too bad," she cried, as she ceased playing: "here I have performed some of your favourite airs, and that too without eliciting a word of commendation. You are inexpressibly dull to-night; nothing seems to enliven you. What is the matter?"
"Oh," rejoined he, abstractedly, "am I? I was not aware of it."
"Yes, you are," said Little Birdie, pettishly; "nothing seems to engage your attention." And, skipping off to the table, she took up the newspaper, and exclaimed,—"Let me read you something very curious."
"No, no, Anne dear," interrupted he; "sit here by me. I want to say something serious to you—something of moment to us both."
"Then it's something very grave and dull, I know," she remarked; "for that is the way people always begin. Now I don't want to hear anything serious to-night; I want to be merry. You look serious enough; and if you begin to talk seriously you'll be perfectly unbearable. So you must hear what I am going to read to you first." And the little tyrant put her finger on his lip, and looked so bewitching, that he could not refuse her. And the important secret hung on his lips, but was not spoken.
"Listen," said she, spreading out the paper before her and running her tiny finger down the column. "Ah, I have it," she exclaimed at last, and began:—
"'We learn from unimpeachable authority that the Hon. —— ——, who represents a district of our city in the State legislature, was yesterday united to the Quateroon daughter of the late Gustave Almont. She is said to be possessed of a large fortune, inherited from her father; and they purpose going to France to reside,—a sensible determination; as, after such a mesalliance, the honourable gentleman can no longer expect to retain his former social position in our midst.—New Orleans Watchman.'"
"Isn't it singular," she remarked, "that a man in his position should make such a choice?"
"He loved her, no doubt," suggested Clarence; "and she was almost white."
"How could he love her?" asked she, wonderingly. "Love a coloured woman! I cannot conceive it possible," said she, with a look of disgust; "there is something strange and unnatural about it."
"No, no," he rejoined, hurriedly, "it was love, Anne,—pure love; it is not impossible. I—I—" "am coloured," he would have said; but he paused and looked full in her lovely face. He could not tell her,—the words slunk back into his coward heart unspoken.
She stared at him in wonder and perplexity, and exclaimed,—"Dear Clarence, how strangely you act! I am afraid you are not well. Your brow is hot," said she, laying her hand on his forehead; "you have been travelling too much for your strength."
"It is not that," he replied. "I feel a sense of suffocation, as if all the blood was rushing to my throat. Let me get the air." And he rose and walked to the window. Anne hastened and brought him a glass of water, of which he drank a little, and then declared himself better.
After this, he stood for a long time with her clasped in his arms; then giving her one or two passionate kisses, he strained her closer to him and abruptly left the house, leaving Little Birdie startled and alarmed by his strange behaviour.
Dear Old Ess again.
Let us visit once more the room from which Mr. Walters and his friends made so brave a defence. There is but little in its present appearance to remind one of that eventful night,—no reminiscences of that desperate attack, save the bullet-hole in the ceiling, which Mr. Walters declares shall remain unfilled as an evidence of the marked attention he has received at the hands of his fellow-citizens.
There are several noticeable additions to the furniture of the apartment; amongst them an elegantly-carved work-stand, upon which some unfinished articles of children's apparel are lying; a capacious rocking-chair, and grand piano.
Then opposite to the portrait of Toussaint is suspended another picture, which no doubt holds a higher position in the regard of the owner of the mansion than the African warrior aforesaid. It is a likeness of the lady who is sitting at the window,—Mrs. Esther Walters, nee Ellis. The brown baby in the picture is the little girl at her side,—the elder sister of the other brown baby who is doing its best to pull from its mother's lap the doll's dress upon which she is sewing. Yes, that is "dear old Ess," as Charlie calls her yet, though why he will persist in applying the adjective we are at a loss to determine.
Esther looks anything but old—a trifle matronly, we admit—but old we emphatically say she is not; her hair is parted plainly, and the tiniest of all tiny caps sits at the back of her head, looking as if it felt it had no business on such raven black hair, and ought to be ignominiously dragged off without one word of apology. The face and form are much more round and full, and the old placid expression has been undisturbed in the lapse of years.
The complexion of the two children was a sort of compromise between the complexions of their parents—chubby-faced, chestnut-coloured, curly-headed, rollicking little pests, who would never be quiet, and whose little black buttons of eyes were always peering into something, and whose little plugs of fingers would, in spite of every precaution to prevent, be diving into mother's work-box, and various other highly inconvenient and inappropriate places.
"There!" said Esther, putting the last stitch into a doll she had been manufacturing; "now, take sister, and go away and play." But little sister, it appeared, did not wish to be taken, and she made the best of her way off, holding on by the chairs, and tottering over the great gulfs between them, until she succeeded in reaching the music-stand, where she paused for a while before beginning to destroy the music. Just at this critical juncture a young lady entered the room, and held up her hands in horror, and baby hastened off as fast as her toddling limbs could carry her, and buried her face in her mother's lap in great consternation.
Emily Garie made two or three slight feints of an endeavour to catch her, and then sat down by the little one's mother, and gave a deep sigh.
"Have you answered your brother's letter?" asked Esther.
"Yes, I have," she replied; "here it is,"—and she laid the letter in Esther's lap. Baby made a desperate effort to obtain it, but suffered a signal defeat, and her mother opened it, and read—
"DEAR BROTHER,—I read your chilling letter with deep sorrow. I cannot say that it surprised me; it is what I have anticipated during the many months that I have been silent on the subject of my marriage. Yet, when I read it, I could not but feel a pang to which heretofore I have been a stranger. Clarence, you know I love you, and should not make the sacrifice you demand a test of my regard. True, I cannot say (and most heartily I regret it) that there exists between us the same extravagant fondness we cherished as children—but that is no fault of mine. Did you not return to me, each year, colder and colder—more distant and unbrotherly—until you drove back to their source the gushing streams of a sister's love that flowed so strongly towards you? You ask me to resign Charles Ellis and come to you. What can you offer me in exchange for his true, manly affection?—to what purpose drive from my heart a love that has been my only solace, only consolation, for your waning regard! We have grown up together—he has been warm and kind, when you were cold and indifferent—and now that he claims the reward of long years of tender regard, and my own heart is conscious that he deserves it, you would step between us, and forbid me yield the recompense that it will be my pride and delight to bestow. It grieves me to write it; yet I must, Clary—for between brother and sister there is no need of concealments; and particularly at such a time should everything be open, clear, explicit. Do not think I wish to reproach you. What you are, Clarence, your false position and unfortunate education have made you. I write it with pain—your demand seems extremely selfish. I fear it is not of me but of yourself you are thinking, when you ask me to sever, at once and for ever, my connection with a people who, you say, can only degrade me. Yet how much happier am I, sharing their degradation, than you appear to be! Is it regard for me that induces the desire that I should share the life of constant dread that I cannot but feel you endure—or do you fear that my present connections will interfere with your own plans for the future?
"Even did I grant it was my happiness alone you had in view, my objections would be equally strong. I could not forego the claims of early friendship, and estrange myself from those who have endeared themselves to me by long years of care—nor pass coldly and unrecognizingly by playmates and acquaintances, because their complexions were a few shades darker than my own. This I could never do—to me it seems ungrateful: yet I would not reproach you because you can—for the circumstances by which you have been surrounded have conspired to produce that result—and I presume you regard such conduct as necessary to sustain you in your present position. From the tenor of your letter I should judge that you entertained some fear that I might compromise you with your future bride, and intimate that my choice may deprive you of yours. Surely that need not be. She need not even know of my existence. Do not entertain a fear that I, or my future husband, will ever interfere with your happiness by thrusting ourselves upon you, or endanger your social position by proclaiming our relationship. Our paths lie so widely apart that they need never cross. You walk on the side of the oppressor—I, thank God, am with the oppressed.
"I am happy—more happy, I am sure, than you could make me, even by surrounding me with the glittering lights that shine upon your path, and which, alas! may one day go suddenly out, and leave you wearily groping in the darkness. I trust, dear brother, my words may not prove a prophecy; yet, should they be, trust me, Clarence, you may come back again, and a sister's heart will receive you none the less warmly that you selfishly desired her to sacrifice the happiness of a lifetime to you. I shall marry Charles Ellis. I ask you to come and see us united—I shall not reproach you if you do not; yet I shall feel strange without a single relative to kiss or bless me in that most eventful hour of a woman's life. God bless you, Clary! I trust your union may be as happy as I anticipate my own will be—and, if it is not, it will not be because it has lacked the earnest prayers of your neglected but still loving sister."
"Esther, I thought I was too cold in that—tell me, do you think so?"
"No, dear, not at all; I think it a most affectionate reply to a cold, selfish letter."
"Oh, I'm glad to hear you say that. I can trust better to your tenderness of others' feelings than to my own heart. I felt strongly, Esther, and was fearful that it might be too harsh or reproachful. I was anxious lest my feelings should be too strikingly displayed; yet it was better to be explicit—don't you think so?"
"Undoubtedly," answered Esther; and handing back the letter, she took up baby, and seated herself in the rocking-chair.
Now baby had a prejudice against caps, inveterate and unconquerable; and grandmamma, nurse, and Esther were compelled to bear the brunt of her antipathies. We have before said that Esther's cap looked as though it felt itself in an inappropriate position—that it had got on the head of the wrong individual—and baby, no doubt in deference to the cap's feelings, tore it off, and threw it in the half-open piano, from whence it was extricated with great detriment to the delicate lace.
Emily took a seat near the window, and drawing her work-table towards her, raised the lid. This presenting another opening for baby, she slid down from her mother's lap, and hastened towards her. She just arrived in time to see it safely closed, and toddled back to her mother, as happy as if she had succeeded in running riot over its contents, and scattering them all over the floor.
Emily kept looking down the street, as though in anxious expectation of somebody; and whilst she stood there, there was an opportunity of observing how little she had changed in the length of years. She is little Em magnified, with a trifle less of the child in her face. Her hair has a slight kink, is a little more wavy than is customary in persons of entire white blood; but in no other way is her extraction perceptible, only the initiated, searching for evidences of African blood, would at all notice this slight peculiarity.
Her expectation was no doubt about to be gratified, for a smile broke over her face, as she left the window and skipped downstairs; when she re-entered, she was accompanied by her intended husband. There was great commotion amongst the little folk in consequence of this new arrival. Baby kicked, and screamed out "Unker Char," and went almost frantic because her dress became entangled in the buckle of her mamma's belt, and her sister received a kiss before she could be extricated.
Charlie is greatly altered—he is tall, remarkably athletic, with a large, handsomely-shaped head, covered with close-cut, woolly hair; high forehead, heavy eyebrows, large nose, and a mouth of ordinary size, filled with beautifully white teeth, which he displays at almost every word he speaks; chin broad, and the whole expression of his face thoughtful and commanding, yet replete with good humour. No one would call him handsome, yet there was something decidedly attractive in his general appearance. No one would recognize him as the Charlie of old, whose escapades had so destroyed the comfort and harmony of Mrs. Thomas's establishment; and only once, when he held up the baby, and threatened to let her tear the paper ornaments from the chandelier, was there a twinkle of the Charlie of old looking out of his eyes.
"How are mother and father to-day?" asked Esther.
"Oh, both well. I left them only a few minutes ago at the dinner table. I had to hurry off to go to the office."
"So I perceive," observed Esther, archly, "and of course, coming here, which is four squares out of your way, will get you there much sooner."
Emily blushed, and said, smilingly, Esther was "a very impertinent person;" and in this opinion Charlie fully concurred. They then walked to the window, where they stood, saying, no doubt, to each other those little tender things which are so profoundly interesting to lovers, and so exceedingly stupid to every one else. Baby, in high glee, was seated on Charlie's shoulder, where she could clutch both hands in his hair and pull until the tears almost started from his eyes.
"Emily and you have been talking a long while, and I presume you have fully decided on what day you are both to be rescued from your misery, and when I am to have the exquisite satisfaction of having my house completely turned upside down for your mutual benefit," said Esther. "I trust it will be as soon as possible, as we cannot rationally expect that either of you will be bearable until it is all over, and you find yourselves ordinary mortals again. Come now, out with it. When is it to be?"
"I say next week," cried Charlie.
"Next week, indeed," hastily rejoined Emily. "I could not think of such a thing—so abrupt."
"So abrupt," repeated Charlie, with a laugh. "Why, haven't I been courting you ever since I wore roundabouts, and hasn't everybody been expecting us to be married every week within the last two years. Fie, Em, it's anything but abrupt."
Emily blushed still deeper, and looked out of the window, down the street and up the street, but did not find anything in the prospect at either side that at all assisted her to come to a decision, so she only became more confused and stared the harder; at last she ventured to suggest that day two months.
"This day two months—outrageous!" said Charlie. "Come here, dear old Ess, and help me to convince this deluded girl of the preposterous manner in which she is conducting herself."
"I must join her side if you will bring me into the discussion. I think she is right, Charlie—there is so much to be done: the house to procure and furnish, and numberless other things that you hasty and absurd men know nothing about."
By dint of strong persuasion from Charlie, Emily finally consented to abate two weeks of the time, and they decided that a family council should be held that evening at Mrs. Ellis's, when the whole arrangements should be definitely settled.
A note was accordingly despatched by Esther to her mother—that she, accompanied by Emily and the children, would come to them early in the afternoon, and that the gentlemen would join them in the evening at tea-time. Caddy was, of course, completely upset by the intelligence; for, notwithstanding that she and the maid-of-all-work lived in an almost perpetual state of house-cleaning, nothing appeared to her to be in order, and worse than all, there was nothing to eat.
"Nothing to eat!" exclaimed Mrs. Ellis. "Why, my dear child, there are all manner of preserves, plenty of fresh peaches to cut and sugar down, and a large pound-cake in the house, and any quantity of bread can be purchased at the baker's."
"Bread—plain bread!" rejoined Caddy, indignantly, quite astonished at her mother's modest idea of a tea—and a company-tea at that. "Do you think, mother, I'd set Mr. Walters down to plain bread, when we always have hot rolls and short-cake at their house? It is not to be thought of for a moment: they must have some kind of hot cake, be the consequences what they may."
Caddy bustled herself about, and hurried up the maid-of-all-work in an astonishing manner, and before the company arrived had everything prepared, and looked as trim and neat herself as if she had never touched a rolling-pin, and did not know what an oven was used for.
Behold them all assembled. Mrs. Ellis at the head of the table with a grandchild on each side of her, and her cap-strings pinned upon the side next to baby. Esther sits opposite her husband, who is grown a little grey, but otherwise is not in the least altered; next to her is her father, almost buried in a large easy-chair, where he sits shaking his head from time to time, and smiling vacantly at the children; then come Emily and Charlie at the foot, and at his other hand Caddy and Kinch—Kinch the invincible—Kinch the dirty—Kinch the mischievous, now metamorphosed into a full-blown dandy, with faultless linen, elegant vest, and fashionably-cut coat. Oh, Kinch, what a change—from the most shabby and careless of all boys to a consummate exquisite, with heavy gold watch and eye-glass, and who has been known to dress regularly twice a day!
There was a mighty pouring out of tea at Mrs. Ellis's end of the table, and baby of course had to be served first with some milk and bread. Between her and the cat intimate relations seemed to exist, for by their united efforts the first cap was soon disposed of, and baby was clamouring for the second before the elder portions of the family had been once served round with tea.
Charlie and Emily ate little and whispered a great deal; but Kinch, the voracity of whose appetite had not at all diminished in the length of years, makes up for their abstinence by devouring the delicious round short-cakes with astonishing rapidity. He did not pretend to make more than two bites to a cake, and they slipped away down his throat as if it was a railroad tunnel and they were a train of cars behind time.
Caddy felt constrained to get up every few moments to look after something, and to assure herself by personal inspection that the reserved supplies in the kitchen were not likely to be exhausted. Esther occupied herself in attending upon her helpless father, and fed him as tenderly and carefully as if he was one of her babies.
"I left you ladies in council. What was decided?" said Charlie, "don't be at all bashful as regards speaking before Kinch, for he is in the secret and has been these two months. Kinch is to be groomsman, and has had three tailors at work on his suit for a fortnight past. He told me this morning that if you did not hurry matters up, his wedding coat would be a week out of fashion before he should get a chance to wear it."
"How delightful—Kinch to be groomsman," said Esther, "that is very kind in you, Kinch, to assist us to get Charlie off our hands."
"And who is to be bridesmaid?" asked Walters.
"Oh, Caddy of course—I couldn't have any one but Caddy," blushingly answered Emily.
"That is capital," cried Charlie, giving Kinch a facetious poke, "just the thing, isn't it, Kinch—it will get her accustomed to these matters. You remember what you told me this morning, eh, old boy?" he concluded, archly. Kinch tried to blush, but being very dark-complexioned, his efforts in that direction were not at all apparent, so he evidenced his confusion by cramming a whole short-cake into his mouth, and almost caused a stoppage in the tunnel; Caddy became excessively red in the face, and was sure they wanted more cakes.
But Mr. Walters was equally confident they did not, and put his back against the door and stood there, whilst Mrs. Ellis gravely informed them that she soon expected to be her own housekeeper, for that she had detected Caddy and Kinch in a furniture establishment, pricing a chest of drawers and a wash-stand; and that Kinch had unblushingly told her they had for some time been engaged to be married, but somehow or other had forgotten to mention it to her.
This caused a general shout of laughter around the table, in which baby tumultuously joined, and rattled her spoon against the tea-urn until she almost deafened them.
This noise frightened Mr. Ellis, who cried, "There they come! there they come!" and cowered down in his great chair, and looked so exceedingly terrified, that the noise was hushed instantly, and tears sprang into the eyes of dear old Ess, who rose and stood by him, and laid his withered face upon her soft warm bosom, smoothed down the thin grey hair, and held him close to her throbbing tender heart, until the wild light vanished from his bleared and sunken eyes, and the vacant childish smile came back on his thin, wan face again, when she said, "Pray don't laugh so very loud, it alarms father; he is composed now, pray don't startle him so again."
This sobered them down a little, and they quietly recommenced discussing the matrimonial arrangements; but they were all in such capital spirits that an occasional hearty and good-humoured laugh could not be suppressed.
Mr. Walters acted in his usual handsome manner, and facetiously collaring Charlie, took him into a corner and informed him that he had an empty house that be wished him to occupy, and that if he ever whispered the word rent, or offered him any money before he was worth twenty thousand dollars, he should believe that he wanted to pick a quarrel with him, and should refer him to a friend, and then pistols and coffee would be the inevitable result.
Then it came out that Caddy and Kinch had been, courting for some time, if not with Mrs. Ellis's verbal consent, with at least no objection from that good lady; for Master Kinch, besides being an exceedingly good-natured fellow, was very snug in his boots, and had a good many thousand dollars at his disposal, bequeathed him by his father.
The fates had conspired to make that old gentleman rich. He owned a number of lots on the outskirts of the city, on which he had been paying taxes a number of years, and he awoke one fine morning to find them worth a large sum of money. The city council having determined to cut a street just beside them, and the property all around being in the hands of wealthy and fashionable people, his own proved to be exceedingly valuable.
It was a sad day for the old man, as Kinch and his mother insisted that he should give up business, which he did most reluctantly, and Kinch had to be incessantly on the watch thereafter, to prevent him from hiring cellars, and sequestering their old clothes to set up in business again. They were both gone now, and Kinch was his own master, with a well-secured income of a thousand dollars a-year, with a prospect of a large increase.
They talked matters over fully, and settled all their arrangements before the time for parting, and then, finding the baby had scrambled into Mrs. Ellis's lap and gone fast asleep, and that it was long after ten o'clock, each departed, taking their several ways for home.
The Fatal Discovery.
There is great bustle and confusion in the house of Mr. Bates. Mantua-makers and milliners are coming in at unearthly hours, and consultations of deep importance are being duly held with maiden aunts and the young ladies who are to officiate as bridesmaids at the approaching ceremony. There are daily excursions to drapers' establishments, and jewellers, and, in fact, so much to be done and thought of, that little Birdie is in constant confusion, and her dear little curly head is almost turned topsy-turvy. Twenty times in each day is she called upstairs to where the sempstresses are at work, to have something tried on or fitted. Poor little Birdie! she declares she never can stand it: she did not dream that to be married she would have been subjected to such a world of trouble, or she would never have consented,—never!
And then Clarence, too, comes in every morning, and remains half the day, teasing her to play, to talk, or sing. Inconsiderate Clarence! when she has so much on her mind; and when at last he goes, and she begins to felicitate herself that she is rid of him, back he comes again in the evening, and repeats the same annoyance. O, naughty, tiresome, Clarence! how can you plague little Birdie so? Perhaps you think she doesn't dislike it; you may be right, very likely she doesn't.
She sometimes wonders why he grows paler and thinner each day, and his nervous and sometimes distracted manner teases her dreadfully; but she supposes all lovers act thus, and expects they cannot help it—and then little Birdie takes a sly peep in the glass, and does not so much wonder after all.
Yet if she sometimes deems his manner startling and odd, what would she say if she knew that, night after night, when he left her side, he wandered for long hours through the cold and dreary streets, and then went to his hotel, where he paced his room until almost day?
Ah, little Birdie, a smile will visit his pale face when you chirp tenderly to him, and a faint tinge comes upon his cheek when you lay your soft tiny hand upon it; yet all the while there is that desperate secret lying next his heart, and, like a vampire, sucking away, drop by drop, happiness and peace.
Not so with little Birdie; she is happy—oh, so happy: she rises with a song upon her lips, and is chirping in the sunshine she herself creates, the live-long day. Flowers of innocence bloom and flourish in her peaceful lithesome heart. Poor, poor, little Birdie! those flowers are destined to wither soon, and the sunlight fade from thy happy face for ever.
One morning, Clarence, little Birdie, and her intended bridesmaid, Miss Ellstowe, were chatting together, when a card was handed to the latter, who, on looking at it, exclaimed, "Oh, dear me! an old beau of mine; show him up," and scampering off to the mirror, she gave a hasty glance, to see that every curl was in its effective position.