Obvious typographical errors have been corrected. A list of changes is found at the end of this text. A small number of words were spelled or hyphenated inconsistently. These inconsistencies have been maintained and a list is found at the end of the text.
HELEN AND ARTHUR;
Miss Thusa's Spinning Wheel.
MRS. CAROLINE LEE HENTZ.
AUTHOR OF "LINDA," "COURTSHIP AND MARRIAGE," "PLANTER'S NORTHERN BRIDE," "LOVE AFTER MARRIAGE," "EOLINE," "RENA," ETC.
Complete in one large volume, bound in cloth, price One Dollar and Twenty-five cents, or in two volumes, paper cover, for One Dollar.
READ WHAT SOME OF THE LEADING EDITORS SAY OF IT:
"This book, by one of the most popular authors in the country, has been issued in the publisher's very best style. There are but few readers of the current literature of the day, who are not acquainted with the name, and the stories of this authoress. Her style is a pleasing one, and her stories usually strongly marked in incident. The volume now published abounds with the most beautiful scenic descriptions, and displays an intimate acquaintance with all phases of human character; all the characters being exceedingly well drawn. The moral is of a most wholesome character, and the plot, incidents, and management, give evidence of great tact, skill and judgment, on the part of the writer. It is a work which the oldest and the youngest may alike read with profit."—Dollar Newspaper.
"It is a tale of Southern life, where Mrs. Hentz is peculiarly at home, and so far as we have had time to examine it, it gives proofs of possessing all the excellencies that have already made her writings so popular throughout the country. The sound, healthy tone of all Mrs. Hentz's tales makes them safe as well as delightful reading, and we can safely and warmly recommend it to all who delight in agreeable fictions. Mr. Peterson has published it in a beautifully printed volume."—Evening Bulletin.
"A story of domestic life, written in Mrs. Hentz's best vein. The details of the plot are skilfully elaborated, and many passages are deeply pathetic."—Commercial Advertiser.
MRS. CAROLINE LEE HENTZ'S OTHER WORKS.
T. B. Peterson having purchased the stereotype plates of all the writings of Mrs. Hentz, he has just published a new, uniform and beautiful edition of all her works, printed on a much finer and better paper, and in far superior and better style to what they have ever before been issued in, (all in uniform style with Helen and Arthur,) copies of any one or all of which will be sent to any place in the United States, free of postage, on receipt of remittances. Each book contains a beautiful illustration of one of the best scenes. The following are the names of these celebrated works:
LINDA. THE YOUNG PILOT OF THE BELLE CREOLE. Complete in two volumes, paper cover, price One Dol., or bound in one volume, cloth gilt, $1.25.
"We hail with pleasure this contribution to the literature of the South. Works containing faithful delineations of Southern life, society, and scenery, whether in the garb of romance or in the soberer attire of simple narrative, cannot fail to have a salutary influence in correcting the false impressions which prevail in regard to our people and institutions; and our thanks are due to Mrs. Hentz for the addition she has made to this department of our native literature. We cannot close without expressing a hope that 'Linda' may be followed by many other works of the same class from the pen of its gifted author."—Southern Literary Gazette.
"Mrs. Hentz has given us here a very delightful romance, illustrative of life in the South-west, on a Mississippi plantation. There is a well-wrought love-plot; the characters are well drawn; the incidents are striking and novel; the denouement happy, and moral excellent. Mrs. Hentz may twine new laurels above her 'Mob Cap.'"—Evening Bulletin.
ROBERT GRAHAM. The Sequel to, and continuation of Linda. Complete in two large volumes, paper cover, price One Dol., or bound in one volume, cloth gilt, $1.25.
"We cannot admire too much, nor thank Mrs. Hentz too sincerely for the high and ennobling morality and Christian grace, which not only pervade her entire writings, but which shine forth with undimmed beauty in the new novel, Robert Graham. It sustains the character which is very difficult to well delineate in a work of fiction—a religious missionary. All who read the work will bear testimony to the entire success of Mrs. Hentz."—Boston Transcript.
"The thousands who read 'Linda, or, the Young Pilot of the Belle Creole,' will make haste to procure a copy of this book, which is a sequel to that history. Like all of this writer's works, it is natural and graphic, and very entertaining."—City Item.
"A charming novel; and in point of plot, style, and all the other characteristics of a readable romance, it will compare favorably with almost any of the many publications of the season."—Literary Gazette.
RENA; or, THE SNOW BIRD. A Tale of Real Life. Complete in two volumes, paper cover, price One Dol., or bound in one volume, cloth gilt, $1.25.
"'Rena; or, the Snow Bird' elicits a thrill of deep and exquisite pleasure, even exceeding that which accompanied 'Linda,' which was generally admitted to be the best story ever written for a newspaper. That was certainly high praise, but 'Rena' takes precedence even of its predecessor, and, in both, Mrs. Lee Hentz has achieved a triumph of no ordinary kind. It is not that old associations bias our judgment, for though from the appearance, years since, of the famous 'Mob Cap' in this paper, we formed an exalted opinion of the womanly and literary excellence of the writer, our feelings have, in the interim, had quite sufficient leisure to cool; yet, after the lapse of years, we have continued to maintain the same literary devotion to this best of our female writers. The two last productions of Mrs. Lee Hentz now fully confirm our previously formed opinion, and we unhesitatingly commend 'Rena,' now published in book form, in beautiful style, by T. B. Peterson, as a story which, in its varied, deep, and thrilling interest, has no superior."—American Courier.
THE PLANTER'S NORTHERN BRIDE. With illustrations. Complete in two large volumes, paper cover, 600 pages, price One Dollar, or bound in one volume, cloth gilt, $1.25.
"We have seldom been more charmed by the perusal of a novel; and we desire to commend it to our readers in the strongest words of praise that our vocabulary affords. The incidents are well varied; the scenes beautifully described; and the interest admirably kept up. But the moral of the book is its highest merit. The 'Planter's Northern Bride' should be as welcome as the dove of peace to every fireside in the Union. It cannot be read without a moistening of the eyes, a softening of the heart, and a mitigation of sectional and most unchristian prejudices."—N. Y. Mirror.
"It is unquestionably the most powerful and important, if not the most charming work that has yet flowed from her elegant pen; and though evidently founded upon the all-absorbing subjects of slavery and abolitionism, the genius and skill of the fair author have developed new views of golden argument, and flung around the whole such a halo of pathos, interest, and beauty, as to render it every way worthy the author of 'Linda,' 'Marcus Warland,' 'Rena,' and the numerous other literary gems from the same author."—American Courier.
COURTSHIP AND MARRIAGE; or, THE JOYS AND SORROWS OF AMERICAN LIFE. With a Portrait of the Author. Complete in two large volumes, paper cover, price One Dollar, or bound in one volume, cloth gilt, $1.25.
"This work will be found, on perusal by all, to be one of the most exciting, interesting, and popular works that has ever emanated from the American Press. It is written in a charming style, and will elicit through all a thrill of deep and exquisite pleasure. It is a work which the oldest and the youngest may alike read with profit. It abounds with the most beautiful scenic descriptions; and displays an intimate acquaintance with all phases of human character; all the characters being exceedingly well drawn. It is a delightful book, full of incidents, oftentimes bold and startling, and describes the warm feelings of the Southerner in glowing colors. Indeed, all Mrs. Hentz's stories aptly describe Southern life, and are highly moral in their application. In this field Mrs. Hentz wields a keen sickle, and harvests a rich and abundant crop. It will be found in plot, incident, and management, to be a superior work. In the whole range of elegant moral fiction, there cannot be found any thing of more inestimable value, or superior to this work, and it is a gem that will well repay a careful perusal. The Publisher feels assured that it will give entire satisfaction to all readers, encourage good taste and good morals, and while away many leisure hours with great pleasure and profit, and be recommended to others by all that peruse it."
MARCUS WARLAND; or, THE LONG MOSS SPRING. A Tale of the South. Complete in two volumes, paper cover, price One Dol., or bound in one volume, cloth gilt, $1.25.
"Every succeeding chapter of this new and beautiful nouvellette of Mrs. Hentz increases in interest and pathos. We defy any one to read aloud the chapters to a listening auditory, without deep emotion, or producing many a pearly tribute to its truthfulness, pathos, and power."—Am. Courier.
"It is pleasant to meet now and then with a tale like this, which seems rather like a narrative of real events than a creature of the imagination."—N. Y. Commercial Advertiser.
AUNT PATTY'S SCRAP BAG, together with large additions to it, written by Mrs. Hentz, prior to her death, and never before published in any former edition of this or any other work. Complete in two volumes, paper cover, price One Dol., or bound in one volume, cloth gilt, $1.25.
"We venture to assert that there is not one reader who has not been made wiser and better by its perusal—who has not been enabled to treasure up golden precepts of morality, virtue, and experience, as guiding principles of their own commerce with the world."—American Courier.
LOVE AFTER MARRIAGE; and other Stories of the Heart. Complete in two volumes, paper cover, price One Dol., or bound in one volume, cloth gilt, $1.25.
"This is a charming and instructive story—one of those beautiful efforts that enchant the mind, refreshing and strengthening it."—City Item.
"The work before us is a charming one."—Boston Evening Journal.
THE BANISHED SON; and other Stories of the Heart. Complete in two volumes, paper cover, price One Dol., or bound in one volume, cloth gilt, $1.25.
"The 'Banished Son' seems to us the chef d'oeuvre of the collection. It appeals to all the nobler sentiments of humanity, is full of action and healthy excitement, and sets forth the best of morals."—Charleston News.
EOLINE; or, MAGNOLIA VALE. Complete in two volumes, paper cover, price One Dol., or bound in one volume, cloth gilt, $1.25.
"We do not think that amongst American authors, there is one more pleasing or more instructive than Mrs. Hentz. This novel is equal to any which she has written."—Cincinnati Gazette.
—> Copies of either edition of any of the foregoing works will be sent to any person, to any part of the United States, free of postage, on their remitting the price of the ones they may wish, to the publisher, in a letter.
Published and for Sale by T. B. PETERSON, No. 102 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia.
HELEN AND ARTHUR;
Miss Thusa's Spinning Wheel.
BY MRS. CAROLINE LEE HENTZ. AUTHOR OF "LINDA," "RENA," "LOVE AFTER MARRIAGE," "ROBERT GRAHAM," "EOLINE," "COURTSHIP AND MARRIAGE," ETC.
"——A countenance in which did meet Sweet records—promises as sweet— A creature not too bright or good For human nature's daily food; For transient sorrows, simple wiles, Praise, blame, love, kisses, tears and smiles."—Wordsworth.
"I know not, I ask not, If guilt's in thy heart— I but know that I love thee, Whatever thou art."—Moore.
Philadelphia: T. B. PETERSON, NO. 102 CHESTNUT STREET.
Entered according to the Act of Congress, in the year 1853, by DEACON & PETERSON, In the Clerk's Office of the District Court of the United States, in and for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.
Printed by T. K & P. G Collins.
MISS THUSA'S SPINNING-WHEEL.
"First Fear his hand its skill to try, Amid the chords bewildered laid— And back recoiled, he knew not why, E'en at the sound himself had made."—Collins.
Little Helen sat in her long flannel night-dress, by the side of Miss Thusa, watching the rapid turning of her wheel, and the formation of the flaxen thread, as it glided out, a more and more attenuated filament, betwixt the dexterous fingers of the spinner.
It was a blustering, windy night, and the window-panes rattled every now and then, as if the glass were about to shiver in twain, while the stars sparkled and winked coldly without, and the fire glowed warmly, and crackled within.
Helen was seated on a low stool, so near the wheel, that several times her short, curly hair mingled with the flax of the distaff, and came within a hair's breadth of being twisted into thread.
"Get a little farther off, child, or I'll spin you into a spider's web, as sure as you're alive," said Miss Thusa, dipping her fingers into the gourd, which hung at the side of the distaff, while at the same time she stooped down and moistened the fibres, by slipping them through her mouth, as it glided over the dwindling flax.
Helen, wrapped in yellow flannel from head to feet, with her little white face peeping above, looked not unlike a pearl in golden setting. A muslin night-cap perched on the top of her head, below which her hair frisked about in defiance of comb or ribbon. The cheek next to the fire was of a burning red, the other perfectly colorless. Her eyes, which always looked larger and darker by night than by day, were fixed on Miss Thusa's face with a mixture of reverence and admiration, which its external lineaments did not seem to justify. The outline of that face was grim, and the hair, profusely sprinkled with the ashes of age, was combed back from the brow, in the fashion of the Shakers, adding much to the rigid expression of the features. A pair of dark-rimmed spectacles bestrided her forehead midway, appearing more for ornament than use. Never did Nature provide a more convenient resting-place for twin-glasses, than the ridge of Miss Thusa's nose, which rose with a sudden, majestic elevation, suggesting the idea of unexpectedness in the mind of the beholder. Every thing was harsh about her face, except the eyes, which had a soft, solemn, misty look, a look of prophecy, mingled with kindness and compassion, as if she pitied the evils her far-reaching vision beheld, but which she had not the power to avert. Those soft, solemn, prophetic eyes had the power of fascination on the imagination of the young Helen, and night after night she would creep to her side, after her mother had prepared her for bed, heard her little Protestant pater noster, and left her, as she supposed, just ready to sink into the deep slumbers of childhood. She did not know the strange influence which was acting so powerfully on the mind of her child, or rather she did not seem to be aware that her child was old enough to receive impressions, deep and lasting as life itself.
Miss Thusa was a relic of antiquity, bequeathed by destiny to the neighborhood in which she dwelt,—a lone woman, without a single known relative or connection. Though the title of Aunt is generally given to single ladies, who have passed the meridian of their days, irrespective of the claims of consanguinity, no one dared to call her Aunt Thusa, so great was her antipathy to the name. She had an equal abhorrence to being addressed as Mrs., an honor frequently bestowed on venerable spinsters. She said it did not belong to her, and she disdained to shine in borrowed colors. So she retained her virgin distinction, which she declared no earthly consideration would induce her to resign.
She had formerly lived with a bachelor brother, a sickly misanthropist, who had long shunned the world, and, as a natural consequence, was neglected by it. But when it was known that the invalid was growing weaker and weaker, and entirely dependent on the cares of his lonely sister, the sympathies of strangers were awakened, and forcing their way into the chamber of the sick man, they administered to his sufferings and wants, till Miss Thusa learned to estimate, at its true value, the kindness she at first repelled. After the death of the brother, the families which composed the neighborhood where they dwelt, feeling compassion for her loneliness and sorrow, invited her to divide her time among them, and make their homes her own. One of her eccentricities (and she had more than one,) was a passion for spinning on a little wheel. Its monotonous hum had long been the music of her lonely life; the distaff, with its swaddling bands of flax, the petted child of her affections, and the thread which she manufactured the means of her daily support. Wherever she went, her wheel preceded her, as an avant courier, after the fashion of the shields of ancient warriors.
"Ah! Miss Thusa's coming—I know it by her wheel!" was the customary exclamation, sometimes uttered in a tone of vexation, but more frequently of satisfaction. She was so original and eccentric, had such an inexhaustible store of ghost stories and fairy tales, sang so many crazy old ballads, that children gathered round her, as a Sibylline oracle, and mothers, who were not troubled with a superfluity of servants, were glad to welcome one to their household who had such a wondrous talent for amusing them, and keeping them still. In spite of all her oddities, she was respected for her industry and simplicity, and a certain quaint, old-fashioned, superstitious piety, that made a streak of light through her character.
Grateful for the kindness and hospitality so liberally extended towards her, she never left a household without a gift of the most beautiful, even, fine, flaxen thread for the family use. Indeed the fame of her spinning spread far and wide, and people from adjoining towns often sent orders for quantities of Miss Thusa's marvelous thread.
She was now the guest of Mrs. Gleason, the mother of Helen, who always appropriated to her use a nice little room in a snug corner of the house, where she could turn her wheel from morning till night, and bend over her beloved distaff. Helen, who was too young to be sent to school by day, or to remain in the family sitting-room at night, as her mother followed the good, healthy rule of early to bed and early to rise, seemed thrown by fate upon Miss Thusa's miraculous resources for entertainment and instruction. Thus her imagination became preternaturally developed, while the germs of reason and judgment lay latent and unquickened.
"Please stop spinning Miss Thusa, and tell me a story," said the child, venturing to put her little foot on the treadle, and giving the crank a sudden jerk.
"Yes! Don't tease—I must smooth the flax on the distaff and wet the thread on the spindle first. There—that will do. Come, yellow bird, jump into my lap, and say what you want me to tell you. Shall it he the gray kitten, with the big bunch of keys on its neck, that turned into a beautiful princess, or the great ogre, who killed all the little children he could find for breakfast and supper?"
"No," replied Helen, shuddering with a strange mixture of horror and delight. "I want to hear something you never told before."
"Well—I will tell you the story of the worm-eaten traveler. It is half singing, half talking, and a powerful story it is. I would act it out, too, if you would sit down in the corner till I've done. Let go of me, if you want to hear it."
"Please Miss Thusa," said the excited child, drawing her stool into the corner, and crouching herself upon it, while Miss Thusa rose up, and putting back her wheel, prepared to commence her heterogeneous performance. She often "acted out" her stories and songs, to the great admiration of children and the amusement of older people, but it was very seldom this favor was granted, without earnest and reiterated entreaties. It was the first time she had ever spontaneously offered to personate the Sibyl, whose oracles she uttered, and it was a proof that an unusual fit of inspiration was upon her.
She was very tall and spare. When in the attitude of spinning, she stooped over her distaff, she lost much of her original height, but the moment she pushed aside her wheel, her figure resumed its naturally erect and commanding position. She usually wore a dress of dark gray stuff, with immense pockets, a black silk neckerchief folded over her shoulders, a white tamboured muslin cap, with a black ribbon passed two or three times round the crown. To preserve the purity of the muslin, and the lustre of the ribbon, she always wore a piece of white paper, folded up between her head and the muslin, making the top of the cap appear much more opaque than the rest.
The worm-eaten traveler! What an appalling, yet fascinating communication! Helen waited in breathless impatience, watching the movements of the Sibyl, with darkened pupils and heaving bosom.
At length when a sudden gust of wind blew a naked bough, with a sound like the rattling of dry bones against the windows, and a falling brand scattered a shower of red sparks over the hearth-stone, Miss Thusa, waving the bony fingers of her right hand, thus began—
"Once there was a woman spinning by the kitchen fire, spinning away for dear life, all living alone, without even a green-eyed cat to keep her from being lonely. The coals were all burnt to cinders, and the shadows were all rolled up in black bundles in the four corners of the room. The woman went on spinning, singing as she spun—
'Oh! if I'd good company—if I'd good company, Oh! how happy should I be!'
There was a rustling noise in the chimney as if a great chimney-swallow was tumbling down, and the woman stooped and looked up into the black flue."
Here Miss Thusa bowed her tall form, and turned her beaked nose up towards the glowing chimney. Helen, palpitating with excitement followed her motions, expecting to see some horrible monster descend all grim with soot.
"Down came a pair of broad, dusty, skeleton feet," continued Miss Thusa, recoiling a few paces from the hearth, and lowering her voice till it sounded husky and unnatural, "right down the chimney, right in front of the woman, who cried out, while she turned her wheel round and round with her bobbin, 'What makes your feet so big, my friend?' 'Traveling long journeys. Traveling long journeys,' replied the skeleton feet, and again the woman sang—
'Oh! if I'd good company—if I'd good company, Oh! how happy should I be!'
Rattle—rattle went something in the chimney, and down came a pair of little mouldering ankles. 'What makes your ankles so small?' asked the woman. 'Worm-eaten, worm-eaten,' answered the mouldering ankles, and the wheel went merrily round."
It is unnecessary to repeat the couplet which Miss Thusa sang between every descending horror, in a voice which sounded as if it came through a fine-toothed comb, in little trembling wires, though it gave indescribable effect to her gloomy tale.
"In a few moments," continued Miss Thusa, "she heard a shoving, pushing sound in the chimney like something groaning and laboring against the sides of the bricks, and presently a great, big, bloated body came down and set itself on legs that were no larger than a pipe stem. Then a little, scraggy neck, and, last of all, a monstrous skeleton head that grinned from ear to ear. 'You want good company, and you shall have it,' said the figure, and its voice did sound awfully—but the woman put up her wheel and asked the grim thing to take a chair and make himself at home.
"'I can't stay to-night,' said he, 'I've got a journey to take by the moonlight. Come along and let us be company for each other. There is a snug little place where we can rest when we're tired.'"
"Oh! Miss Thusa, she didn't go, did she?" interrupted Helen, whose eyes, which had been gradually enlarging, looked like two full midnight moons.
"Hush, child, if you ask another question, I'll stop short. She didn't do anything else but go, and they must have been a pretty sight walking in the moonlight together. The lonely woman and the worm-eaten traveler. On they went through the woods and over the plains, and up hill and down hill, over bridges made of fallen trees, and streams that had no bridges at all; when at last they came to a kind of uneven ground, and as the moon went behind a cloud, they went stumbling along as if treading over hillocks of corn.
"'Here it is,' cried the worm-eaten traveler, stopping on the brink of a deep, open grave. The moon looked forth from behind a cloud, and showed how awful deep it was. She wanted to turn back then, but the skeleton arms of the figure seized hold of her, and down they both went without ladder or rope, and no mortal ever set eyes on them more.
'Oh! if I'd good company—if I'd good company, Oh! how happy should I be!'"
It is impossible to describe the intensity with which Helen listened to this wild, dark legend, crouching closer and closer to the chimney corner, while the chillness of superstitious terror quenched the burning fire-rose on her cheek.
"Was the spinning woman you, Miss Thusa?" whispered she, afraid of the sound of her own voice; "and did you see it with your own eyes?"
"Hush, foolish child!" said Miss Thusa, resuming her natural tone; "ask me no questions, or I'll tell you no tales. 'Tis time for the yellow bird to be in its nest. Hark! I hear your mother calling me, and 'tis long past your bed-time. Come."
And Miss Thusa, sweeping her long right arm around the child, bore her shrinking and resisting towards the nursery room.
"Please, Miss Thusa," she pleaded, "don't leave me alone. Don't leave me in the dark. I'm not one bit sleepy—I never shall go to sleep—I'm afraid of the worm-eaten man."
"I thought the child had more sense," exclaimed the oracle. "I didn't think she was such a little goose as this," continued she, depositing her between the nice warm blankets. "Nobody ever troubles good little girls—the holy angels take care of them. There, good night—shut your eyes and go to sleep."
"Please don't take the light," entreated Helen, "only just leave it till I get to sleep; I'll blow it out as soon as I'm asleep."
"I guess you will," said Miss Thusa, "when you get a chance." Then catching up the lamp, she shot out of the room, repeating to herself, "Poor child! She does hate the dark so! That was a powerful story, to be sure. I shouldn't wonder if she dreamed about it. I never did see a child that listens to anything as she does. It's a pleasure to amuse her. Little monkey! She really acts as if 'twas all true. I know that's my master piece; that is the reason I'm so choice of it. It isn't every one that can tell a story as I can—that's certain. It's my gift—I mustn't be proud of it. God gives some persons one talent, and some another. We must all give an account of them at last. I hope 'twill never be said I've hid mine in a napkin."
Such was the tenor of Miss Thusa's thoughts as she wended her way down stairs. Had she imagined half the misery she was entailing on this singularly susceptible and imaginative child, instead of exulting in her gift, she would have mourned over its influence, in dust and ashes. The fears which Helen expressed, and which she believed would prove as evanescent as they were unreal, were a grateful incense to her genius, which she delighted with unconscious cruelty in awakening. She had an insane passion for relating these dreadful legends, whose indulgence seemed necessary to her existence, and the happiness of the narrator was commensurate with the credulity of the auditor. Without knowing it, she was a vampire, feeding on the life-blood of a young and innocent heart, and drying up the fountain of its joys.
Helen listened till the last sound of Miss Thusa's footsteps died away on the ear, then plunging deeper into the bed, drew the blankets over head and ears, and lay immovable as a snow-drift, with the chill dew of terror oozing from every pore.
"I'm not a good girl," said the child to herself, "and God wont send the angels down to take care of me to-night. I played going to meeting with my dolls last Sunday, and Miss Thusa says that was breaking the commandments. I'll say my prayers over again, and ask God to forgive me."
Little Helen clasped her trembling hands under the bed-cover, and repeated the Lord's Prayer as devoutly and reverentially as mortal lips could utter it, but this act of devotion did not soothe her into slumber, or banish the phantom that flitted round her couch. Finding it impossible to breathe under the bed-cover any longer, and fearing to die of suffocation, she slowly emerged from her burying-clothes till her mouth came in contact with the cool, fresh air. She kept her eyes tightly closed, that she might not see the darkness. She remembered hearing her brother, who prided himself upon being a great mathematician, say that if one counted ten, over and over again, till they were very tired, they would fall asleep without knowing it. She tried this experiment, but her heart kept time with its loud, quick beatings; so loud, so quick, she sometimes mistook them for the skeleton foot-tramps of the traveler. She was sure she heard a rustling in the chimney, a clattering against the walls. She thought she felt a chilly breath sweep over her cheek. At length, unable to endure the awful oppression of her fears, she resolved to make a desperate attempt, and rush down stairs to her mother, telling her she should die if she remained where she was. It was horrible to go down alone in the darkness, it was more horrible to remain in that haunted room. So, gathering up all her courage, she jumped from the bed, and sought the door with her nervous, grasping hands. Her little feet turned to ice, as their naked soles scampered over the bare floor, but she did not mind that; she found the door, opened it, and entered a long, dark passage, leading to the stairway. Then she recollected that on the left of that passage there was a lumber-room, running out slantingly to the eaves of the house, with a low entrance into it, which was left without a door. This lumber-room had long been her especial terror. Whenever she passed it, even in broad daylight, it had a strange, mysterious appearance to her. The twilight shadows always gathered there first and lingered last; she never walked by it—she always ran with all her speed, as if the avenger of blood were behind her. Now she would have flown if she could, but her long night dress impeded her motions, and clung adhesively round her ankles. Once she trod upon it, and thinking some one arrested her, she uttered a loud scream and sprang forward through the door, which chanced to be open. This door was directly at the head of the stairs, and it is not at all surprising that Helen, finding it impossible to recover her equilibrium, should pass over the steps in a quicker manner than she intended, swift as her footsteps were. Down she went, tumbling and bumping, till she came against the lower door with a force that burst it open, and in rolled a yellow flannel ball into the centre of the illuminated apartment.
"My stars!" exclaimed Mrs. Gleason, starting up from the centre table, and dropping a bundle of snowy linen on the floor.
"What in the name of creation is this?" cried Mr. Gleason, throwing down his book, as the yellow ball rolled violently against his legs.
Louis Gleason, a boy of twelve, who was seated with the fingers of his left hand playing hide and seek among his bright elf locks, while his right danced over a slate, making algebra signs with marvelous rapidity, jumped up three feet in the air, letting his slate fall with a tremendous crash, and destroying many a beautiful equation.
Mittie Gleason, a young girl of about nine, who was deep in the abstractions of grammar, and sat with her fore-fingers in her ears, and her head bent down to her book, so that all disturbing sounds might be excluded, threw her chair backward in the fright, and ran head first against Miss Thusa, who was the only one whose self-possession did not seem shocked by the unceremonious entrance of the little visitor.
"It's nobody in the world but little Helen," said she, gathering up the bundle in her arms and carrying it towards the blazing fire. The child, who had been only stunned, not injured by the fall, began to recover the use of its faculties, and opened its large, wild-looking eyes on the family group we have described.
"She has been walking in her sleep, poor little thing," said her mother, pressing her cold hands in both hers.
Helen knew that this was not the case, and she knew too, that it was wrong to sanction by her silence an erroneous impression, but she was afraid of her father's anger if she confessed the truth, afraid that he would send her back to the dark room and lonely trundle-bed. She expected that Miss Thusa would call her a foolish child, and tell her parents all her terrors of the worm-eaten traveler, and she raised her timid eyes to her face, wondering at her silence. There was something in those prophetic orbs, which she could not read. There seemed to be a film over them, baffling her penetration, and she looked down with a long, laboring breath.
Miss Thusa began to feel that her legends might make a deeper impression than she imagined or intended. She experienced an odd mixture of triumph and regret—triumph in her power, and regret for its consequences. She had, too, an instinctive sense that the parents of Helen would be displeased with her, were they aware of the influence she had exerted, and deprive her hereafter of the most admiring auditor that ever hung on her oracular lips. She had meant no harm, but she was really sorry she had told that "powerful story" at such a late hour, and pressed the child closer in her arms with a tenderness deepened by self-reproach.
"I suspect Miss Thusa has been telling her some of her awful ghost stories," said Louis, laughing over the wreck of his slate. "I know what sent the yellow caterpillar crawling down stairs."
"Crawling!" repeated his father, "I think it was leaping, bouncing, more like a catamount than a caterpillar."
"I would be ashamed to be a coward and afraid of ghosts," exclaimed Mittie, with a scornful flash of her bright, black eyes.
"Miss Thusa didn't tell about ghosts," said Helen, bursting into a passion of tears. This was true, in the letter, but not in the spirit—and, young as she was, she knew and felt it, and the wormwood of remorse gave bitterness to her tears. Never had she felt so wretched, so humiliated. She had fallen in her own estimation. Her father, brother and sister had ridiculed her and called her names—a terrible thing for a child. One had called her a caterpillar, another a catamount, and a third a coward. And added to all this was a sudden and unutterable horror of the color of yellow, formerly her favorite hue. She mentally resolved never to wear that horrible yellow night dress, which had drawn upon her so many odious epithets, even though she froze to death without it. She would rather wear her old ones, even if they had ten thousand patches, than that bright, new, golden tinted garment, so late the object of her intense admiration.
"I declare," cried Louis, unconscious of the Spartan resolution his little sister was forming, and good naturedly seeking to turn her tears into smiles, "I do declare, I thought Helen was a pumpkin, bursting into the room with such a noise, wrapped up in this yellow concern. Mother, what in the name of all that's tasteful, makes you clothe her by night in Chinese mourning?"
"It was her own choice," replied Mrs. Gleason, taking the weeping child in her own lap. "She saw a little girl dressed in this style, and thought she would be perfectly happy to be the possessor of such a garment."
"I never will put it on again as long as I live," sobbed Helen. "Every body laughs at it."
"Perhaps somebody else will have a word to say about it," said her mother, in a grave, gentle voice. "When I have taken so much pains to make it, and bind it with soft, bright ribbon, to please my little girl, it seems to me that it is very ungrateful in her to make such a remark as that."
"Oh, mother, don't," was all Helen could utter; and she made as strong a counter resolve that she would wear the most hideous garment, and brave the ridicule of the whole world, rather than expose herself to the displeasure of a mother so kind and so indulgent.
"You had better put her back in bed," said Mr. Gleason; "children acquire such bad habits by indulgence."
Helen trembled and clung close to her mother's bosom.
"I fear she may again rise in her sleep and fall down stairs," said the more anxious mother.
"Turn the key on the outside, till we retire ourselves," observed the father.
To be locked up alone in the darkness! Helen felt as if she had heard her death-warrant, and pale even to blueness, she leaned against her mother, incapable of articulating the prayer that trembled on her ashy lips.
"Give her to me," said Miss Thusa, "I will take her up stairs and stay with her till you come."
"Oh, no, there is no fire in the room, and you will be cold. Mr. Gleason, the child is sick and faint. She has scarcely any pulse—and look, what a blue shade round her mouth. Helen, my darling, do tell me what is the matter with you."
"Her eyes do look very wild," said her father, catching the infection of his wife's fears; "and her temples are hot and throbbing. I hope she is not threatened with an inflammation of the brain."
"Oh! Mr. Gleason, pray don't suggest such a thought; I cannot bear it," cried Mrs. Gleason, with quivering accents. They had lost one lovely child, the very counterpart of Helen, by that fearful disease, and she felt as if the gleaming sword of the destroying angel were again waving over her household.
"You had better send for the doctor," she continued; "just so suddenly was our lost darling attacked."
Mr. Gleason started up and seized his hat, but Louis sprang to the door first.
"Let me go, father—I can run the fastest."
And those who met the excited boy running through the street, supposed it was a life-errand on which he was dispatched.
The doctor came—not the old family physician, whose age and experience entitled him to the most implicit confidence—but a youthful partner, to whom childhood was a mysterious and somewhat unapproachable thing.
Of what fine, almost imperceptible links is the chain of deception formed! Helen had no intention of acting the part of a dissembler when she formed the desperate resolution of leaving her lonely chamber. She expected to meet reproaches, perhaps punishment, but anything was preferable to the horrors of her own imagination. But when she found herself greeted as a sleep-walker, she had not the moral courage to close, by an avowal of the truth, the door of escape a mother's gentle hand had unconsciously opened. She did nut mean to dissemble sickness, but when her mother pleaded sickness as a reason for not sending her back to the lone, dark chamber, she yielded to the plea, and really began to think herself very ill. Her head did throb and ache, and her eyes burned, as if hot sand were sprinkled over the balls. She was not afraid of the doctor's medicine, for the last time he had prescribed for her, he had given her peppermint, dropped on white sugar, which had a very pleasing and palatable taste. She loved the old doctor, with his frosty hair and sunny smile, and lay quietly in her mother's arms, quite resigned to her fate, surprising as it was. But when she beheld a strange and youthful face bending over her, with a pair of penetrating, dark eyes, that looked as if they could read the deepest secrets of the heart, she shrank back in dismay, assured the mystery of her illness would all be revealed. The next glance reassured her. She was sure he would be kind, and not give her anything nauseous or dreadful. She watched his cheek, as he leaned over her, to feel her pulse, wondering what made such a beautiful color steal over it growing brighter and brighter, till it looked as if the fire had been glowing upon it. She did not know how very young he was, and this was the first time he had ever been called to visit a patient alone, and that she, little child as she was, was a very formidable object to him—considered as a being for whose life he might be in a measure responsible.
"I would give her a composing mixture," said he, gently releasing the slender wrist of his patient—"her brain seems greatly excited, but I do not apprehend anything like an inflammation need be dreaded. She is very nervous, and must be kept quiet."
Helen felt such inexpressible relief, that forgetting her character of an invalid, she lifted her head, and gave him such a radiant look of gratitude it quite startled him.
"See!" exclaimed Louis, rubbing his hands, "how bright she looks. The doctor's coming has made her well."
"Don't make such a fuss, brother, I can't study," cried Mittie, tossing her hair impatiently from her brow. "I don't believe she's any more sick than I am, she just does it to be petted."
"Mittie!" said her mother, glancing towards the young doctor.
Mittie, with a sudden motion of the head peculiar to herself, brought the hair again over her face, till it touched the leaves of the book, in whose contents she seemed absorbed; but she peeped at the young doctor through her thick, falling locks, and thought if she were sick, she would much rather send for him than old Doctor Sennar.
The next morning Helen was really ill and feverish. The excitement of the previous evening had caused a tension of the brain, which justified the mother's fears. At night she became delirious, and raved incoherently about the worm-eaten traveler, the spinning-woman, and the grave-house to which they were bound.
Mrs. Gleason sat on one side of her, holding her restless hand in hers, while Miss Thusa applied wet napkins to her burning temples. The mother shuddered as she listened to the child's wild words, and something of the truth flashed upon her mind.
"I fear," said she, raising her eyes, and fixing them mildly but reproachfully on Miss Thusa's face—"you have been exciting my little girl's imagination in a dangerous manner, by relating tales of dreadful import. I know you have done it in kindness," added she, fearful of giving pain, "but Helen is different from other children, and cannot bear the least excitement."
"She's always asking me to tell her stories," answered Miss Thusa, "and I love the dear child too well to deny her. There is something very uncommon about her. I never saw a child that would set and listen to old people as she will. I never did think she would live to grow up; she wasn't well last night, or she wouldn't have been scared; I noticed that one cheek was red as a cherry, and the other as white as snow—a sign the fever was in her blood."
Miss Thusa, like many other metaphysicians, mistook the effect for the cause, and thus stilled, with unconscious sophistry, the upbraidings of her conscience.
Helen here tossed upon her feverish couch, and opening her eyes, looked wildly towards the chimney.
"Hark! Miss Thusa," she exclaimed, "it's coming. Don't you hear it clattering down the chimney? Don't leave me—don't leave me in the dark—I'm afraid—I'm afraid."
It was well for Miss Thusa that Mr. Gleason was not present, to hear the ravings of his child, or his doors would hereafter have been barred against her. Mrs. Gleason, while she mourned over the consequences of her admission, would as soon have cut off her own right hand as she would have spoken harshly or unkindly to the poor, lone woman. She warned her, however, from feeding, in this insane manner, the morbid imagination of her child, and gently forbid her ever repeating that awful story, which had made, apparently, so dark and deep an impression.
"Above all things, my dear Miss Thusa," said she, repressing a little dry, hacking cough, that often interrupted her speech—"never give her any horrible idea of death. I know that such impressions can never be effaced—I know it by my own experience. The grave has ever been to me a gloomy subject of contemplation, though I gaze upon it with the lamp of faith in my hand, and the remembrance that the Son of God made His bed in its darkness, that light might be left there for me and mine."
Miss Thusa looked at Mrs. Gleason as she uttered these sentiments, and the glance of her solemn eye grew earnest as she gazed. Such was the usual quietness and reserve of the speaker, she was not prepared for so much depth of thought and feeling. As she gazed, too, she remarked an appearance of emaciation and suffering about her face, which had hitherto escaped her observation. She recollected her as she first saw her, a beautiful and blooming woman, and now there was bloom without beauty, and brightness without beauty, for the color on the cheek and the gleam of the eye, made one wish for pallor and dimness, as less painful and less prophetic.
"Yes, Miss Thusa," resumed Mrs. Gleason, after a long pause, "if my child lives, I wish her guarded most carefully from all gloomy influences. I know that I must soon leave her, for I have an hereditary malady, whose symptoms have lately been much aggravated. I have long since resigned myself to my doom, knowing that my Heavenly Father knows when it is best to call me home. But I cannot bear that my children should shrink from all I shall leave behind, my memory. Louis is a bold and noble boy. I fear not for him. His reason even now has the strength of manhood. Mittie has very little sensibility or imagination; too little of the first I fear to be very lovable. But perhaps it will be better for her in the end. Helen is all sensibility and imagination. I tremble for her. I am haunted by a strange apprehension that my memory will be a ghost that she will seek to shun. Oh! Miss Thusa, you cannot think how painful this idea is to me. I want her to love me when I am gone, to think of me as a guardian angel watching over and blessing her. I want her to think of me as living in Heaven, not mouldering away in the cold ground. Promise me that you will never more give her any terrible idea associated with death and the grave."
Mrs. Gleason paused, and pressing her handkerchief over her eyes, leaned back in her chair with a deep sigh. Was this the quiet, practical housekeeper, who always went with stilly steps so noiselessly about her daily tasks that no one would think she was doing anything if it were not for the results?
Was she talking of dying, who had never yet omitted one household duty or one neighborly office? Yes! in the stillness of the night, interrupted only by the delirious moanings of the sick child, she laid aside the mantle of reserve that usually enveloped her, and suffered her soul to be visible—for a little while.
"I will try to remember all you've said, and abide by it," said Miss Thusa, who, in her dark gray dress, and black silk handkerchief tied under her chin, looked something like a cowled friar, of "orders gray," "but when one has a gift it's hard to keep it back. I don't always know myself what I'm going to tell, but speak as I'm moved, as the Bible men used to do in old times. Every body has a way and a taste of their own, I know, and some take to one thing, and some to another. Now, I always did take to what some folks thinks dreadful things. Perhaps it's because I've been a lone woman, and led a sort of spiritual life. I never took any pleasure in merry-making and frolicking. I'd rather go to a funeral than a wedding, any day, and I'd rather look at a shrouded corpse, than a bride tricked out in her laces and flowers. I know it's strange, but it's true—and there's no use in going against the natural grain. You can't do it. If I take up a newspaper, I see the deaths and murders before anything else. They stare one right in the face, and I don't see anything else."
"What a very peculiar temperament," said Mrs. Gleason, thoughtfully. "Were you conscious of the same tastes when a child?"
"I can hardly remember being a child. It seems to me I never was one. I always had such old feelings. My father and mother died when I was a baby. There was nobody left but my brother—and—me. He was the strangest being that ever lived. He locked up his heart and kept the key, so nobody could get a peep inside. I had nobody to love, nobody who loved me, so I got to loving my spinning-wheel and my own thoughts. When brother fell sick and grew nervous and peevish, he didn't like the hum of the wheel, and I had to spin at night in the chimney corner, by the flash of the embers, and the company I was to myself the Lord only knows. I'll tell you what, Mrs. Gleason," added she, taking her spectacles from her forehead, wiping them carefully, and then putting them right on the top of her head, "God didn't mean every body to be alike. Some look up and some look down, but if they've got the right spirit, they're all looking after God and truth. If I talk of the grave more than common, it's because I know it's nothing but an underground passage to eternity."
"I thank God for teaching me to look upward at last," cried Mrs. Gleason, and the quick, panting breath of little Helen was heard distinctly in the silence that followed. Her soul reached forward anxiously into futurity. If it were possible to change Miss Thusa's opinions and peculiarities into something after the similitude of her kind! Change Miss Thusa! As soon might you expect to change the gnarled and rooted oak into the flexible and breeze-bowed willow. Her idiosyncrasy had been so nursed and strengthened by the two great influences, time and solitude, it spread like the banyan tree, making a dark pavilion, where legions of weird spirits gathered and revelled.
Miss Thusa is one instance out of many, of a being with strong mind and warm heart, cheated of objects on which to expend the vigor of the one, or the fervor of the other. The energies of her character, finding no legitimate outlet, beat back upon herself, wearing away by continued friction the fine perception of beauty and susceptibility of true enjoyment. The vine that finds no support for its upward growth, grovels on the earth and covers it with rank, unshapely leaves. The mountain stream, turned back from its course, becomes a dark and stagnant pool. Even if the rank and long-neglected vine is made to twine round some sustaining fabric, it carries with it the dampness and the soil of the earth to which it has been clinging. Its tendrils are heavy, and have a downward tendency.
In a few days the fever-tide subsided in the veins of Helen.
"I will not take it," said she, when the young doctor gave her some bitter draught to swallow; "it tastes too bad."
"You will take it," he replied, calmly, holding the glass in his hand, and fixing on her the serene darkness of his eyes. He did not press it to her lips, or use any coercion. He merely looked steadfastly, yet gently into her face, while the deep color she had noticed the first night she saw him came slowly into his cheeks. He did not say "you must," but "you will," and she felt the difference. She felt the singular union of gentleness and power exhibited in his countenance, and was constrained to yield. Without making farther resistance, she put forth her hand, took the glass, and swallowed the potion at one draught.
"It will do you good," said he, with a grave smile, but he did not praise her.
"Why didn't you tell me so before?" she asked.
"You must learn to confide in your friends," he replied, passing his hand gently over the child's wan brow. "You must trust them, without asking them for reasons for what they do."
Helen thought she would try to remember this, and it seemed easy to remember what the young doctor said, for the voice of Arthur Hazleton was very sweet and clear, and seemed to vibrate on the ear like a musical instrument.
——"with burnished neck of verdant gold, erect Amid his circling spires, that on the grass Floated redundant,—she busied heard the sound Of rustling leaves, but minded not, at first."—Milton.
Helen recovered, and the agitation caused by her sickness having subsided, everything went on apparently as it did before. While she was sick, Mrs. Gleason resolved that she would keep her as much as possible from Miss Thusa's influence, and endeavor to counteract it by a closer, more confiding union with herself. But every one knows how quickly the resolutions, formed in the hour of danger, are forgotten in the moment of safety—and how difficult it is to break through daily habits of life. Even when the pulse beats high with health, and the heart glows with conscious energy, it is difficult. How much more so, when the whole head is sick, and the whole spirit is faint—when the lightest duty becomes a burden, and rest, nothing but rest, is the prayer of the weary soul!
The only perceptible change in the family arrangements was, that Miss Thusa carried her wheel at night into the nursery, and installed herself there as the guardian of Helen's slumbers. The little somnambulist, as she was supposed to be, required a watch, and when Miss Thusa offered to sit by the fire-side till the family retired to rest, Mrs. Gleason could not be so ungrateful as to refuse, though she ventured to reiterate the warning, breathed by the feverish couch of her child. This warning Miss Thusa endeavored to bear in mind, and illumined the gloomy grandeur of her legends by some lambent rays of fancy—but they were lightning flashes playing about ruins, suggesting ideas of desolation and decay.
Let it not be supposed that Helen's life was all shadow. Oh, no! In proportion as she shuddered at darkness, and trembled before the spectres her own imagination created, she rejoiced in sunshine, and revelled in the bright glories of creation. She was all darkness or all light. There was no twilight about her. Never had a child a more exquisite perception of the beautiful, and as at night she delineated to herself the most awful and appalling images that imagination can conceive, by day she beheld forms more lovely than ever visited the poet's dream. She could see angels cradled on the glowing bosom of the sunset clouds, angels braiding the rainbow of the sky. Light to her was peopled with angels, as darkness with phantoms. The brilliant-winged butterflies were the angels of the flowers—the gales that fanned her cheeks the invisible angels of the trees. If Helen had lived in a world all of sunshine, she would have been the happiest being in the world. Moonlight, too, she loved—it seemed like a dream of the sun. But it was only in the presence of others she loved it. She feared to be alone in it—it was so still and holy, and then it made such deep shadows where it did not shine! Yes! Helen would have been happy in a world of sunshine—but we are born for the shadow as well as the sunbeam, and they who cannot walk unfearing through the gloom, as well as the brightness, are ill-fitted for the pilgrimage of life.
Childhood is naturally prone to superstition and fear. The intensity of suffering it endures from these sources is beyond description.
We remember, when a child, with what chillness of awe we used to listen to the wind sighing through the long branches of the elm trees, as they trailed against the window panes, for nursery legends had associated the sound with the moaning of ghosts, and the flapping of invisible wings. We remember having strange, indescribable dreams, when the mystery of our young existence seemed to press down upon us with the weight of iron, and fill us with nameless horror. When a something seemed swelling and expanding and rolling in our souls, like an immense, fiery globe within us, and yet we were carried around with it, and we felt it must forever be rolling and enlarging, and we must forever be rolling along with it. We remember having this dream night after night, and when we awakened, the first thought was eternity, and we thought if we went on dreaming, we should find out what eternity meant. We were afraid to tell the dream, from a vague fear that it was wrong, that it might be thought we were trying to pierce into the mystery of God, and it was wicked in a child thus to do.
Helen used to say, whenever she fell asleep in the day-time under a green tree, or on the shady bank of a stream, as she often did, that she had the brightest, most beautiful dreams—and she wished it was the fashion for people to sleep by day instead of night.
Slowly, almost imperceptibly Mrs. Gleason's strength wasted away. She still kept her place at the family board, and continued her labors of love, but the short, dry, hacking cough assumed a more hollow, deeper sound, and every day the red spot on her cheek grew brighter, as the shades of night came on. Mittie heeded not the change in her mother, but the affectionate heart of Louis felt many a sad foreboding, as his subdued steps and hushed laugh plainly told. He was naturally joyous and gay, even to rudeness, always playing some good-natured but teasing prank on his little sister, and making the house ring with his merriment. Now, whenever that hollow cough rung in his ears, he would start as if a knife pierced him, and it would be a long time before his laugh would be heard again. He redoubled his filial attentions, and scarcely ever entered the house without bringing something which he thought would please her taste, or be grateful to her feelings.
"Mother, see what a nice string of fishes. I am sure you will like these."
"Oh! mother, here are the sweetest flowers you ever saw. Do smell of them, they are so reviving."
The tender smile, the fond caress which rewarded these love-offerings were very precious to the warm-hearted boy, though he often ran out of the house to hide the tears they forced into his eyes.
Helen knew that her mother was not well, for she now reclined a great deal on the sofa, and Doctor Sennar came to see her every day, and sometimes the young doctor accompanied him, and when he did, he always took a great deal of notice of her, and said something she could not help remembering. Perhaps it was the peculiar glance of his eye that fixed the impression, as the characters written in indelible ink are pale and illegible till exposed to a slow and gentle fire.
"You ought to do all you can for your mother," said he, while he held her in his lap, and Doctor Sennar counted her mother's pulse by the ticking of his large gold watch.
"I am too little to do any good," answered she, sighing at her own insignificance.
"You can be very still and gentle."
"But that isn't doing anything, is it?"
"When you are older," said the young doctor, "you will find it is harder to keep from doing wrong than to do what is right."
Helen did not understand the full force of what he said, but the saying remained in her memory.
The next day, and the bloom of early summer was on the plains, and its deep, blue glory on the sky, Helen thought again and again what she should do for her mother. At length she remembered that some one had said that the strawberries were ripe, and that her mother had longed exceedingly for a dish of strawberries and cream. This was something that even Louis had not done for her, and her heart throbbed with joy and exultation in anticipation of the offering she could make.
With a bright tin bucket, that shone like burnished silver in the sunbeams, swinging on her arm, she stole out of the back door, and ran down a narrow lane, till she came to an open field, where the young corn was waving its silken tassels, and potato vines frolicking at its feet. The long, shining leaves of the young corn threw off the sunlight like polished steel, and Helen thought she had never seen anything so beautiful in all her life. She stopped and pulled off the soft, tender, green silken tassels, hanging them over her ears, and twisting some in her hair, as if she were a mermaid, her "sea-green ringlets braiding." Then springing from hillock to hillock, she reached the end of the field, and jumped over a fence that skirted a meadow, along which a clear, blue stream glided like an azure serpent in glittering coils, under the shade of innumerable hickory trees. Helen became so enchanted with the beauty of the landscape, that she forgot her mother and the strawberries, forgot there were such things as night and darkness in the universe. Taking off her shoes and tying them to the handle of her bucket, she went down to the edge of the stream, and dipping her feet in the cool water, waded along close to the bank, and the little wavelets curled round her ankles as if they loved to play with anything so smooth and white. Then she saw bright specks of mica shining on the sand, and she sprang out of the water to gather them, wondering if pearls and diamonds ever looked half so beautiful.
"How I wish strawberries grew under water," cried Helen, suddenly recollecting her filial mission. "How I wish they did not grow under the long grass!"
The light faded from her face, and the dimness of fear came over it. She had an unutterable dread of snakes, for they were the heroes of some of Miss Thusa's awful legends, and she knew they lurked in the long grass, and were said to be especially fond of strawberries. Strange, in her eager desire to do something for her mother, she had forgotten the ambushed foe she most dreaded by day—now she wondered she had dared to think of coming.
"I will go back," thought she; "I dare not jump over that fence and wade about in grass as high as my head."
"You must do all you can for your mother," echoed in clear, silver accents in her memory; "Louis will gather them if I do not," continued she, "and she will never know how much I love her. All little children pick strawberries for themselves, and I never heard of one being bitten by a snake. If I pick them for my mother instead of myself, I don't believe God will let them hurt me."
While thus meditating, she had reached the fence, and stepping on the lower rails, she peeped over into the deep, green patch. As the wind waved the grass to and fro, she caught glimpses of the reddening berries, and her cheeks glowed with excitement. They were so thick, and looked so rich and delicious! She would keep very near the fence, and if a snake should crawl near her, she could get upon the topmost rails, and it could not reach her there. One jump, and the struggle was over. She plunged in a sea of verdure, while the strawberries glowed like coral beneath. They hung in large, thick clusters, touching each other, so that it would be an easy thing to fill her bucket before the sun went down. She would not pick the whole clusters, because some were green still, and she had heard her mother say, that it was a waste of God's bounty, and a robbery of those who came afterwards, to pluck and destroy unripe fruit. Several times she started, thinking she heard a rustling in the leaves, but it was only the wind whispering to them as it passed. She stained her cheeks and the palms of her hands with the crimson juice, thinking it would make her mother smile, resolving to look at herself in the water as she returned.
Her bucket, which was standing quietly on the ground, was almost full; she was stooping down, with her sun-bonnet pushed back from her glowing face, to secure the largest and best berries which she had yet seen, when she did hear a rustling in the grass very near, and looking round, there was a large, long snake, winding slowly, carefully towards the bucket, with little gleaming eyes, that looked like burning glass set in emerald. It seemed to glow with all the colors of the rainbow, so radiant it was in yellow, green and gold, striped with the blackest jet. For one moment, Helen stood stupefied with terror, fascinated by the terrible beauty of the object on which she was gazing. Then giving a loud, shrill shriek, she bounded to the fence, climbed over it, and jumped to the ground with a momentum so violent that she fell and rolled several paces on the earth. Something cold twined round her feet and ankles. With a gasp of despair, Helen gave herself up for lost, assured she was in the coils of the snake, and that its venom was penetrating through her whole frame.
"I shall die," thought she, "and mother will never know how I came here alone to gather strawberries, that she might eat and be well."
As she felt no sting, no pain, and the snake lay perfectly still, she ventured to steal a glance at her feet, and saw that it was a piece of a vine that she had caught in her flight, and which her fears had converted into the embrace of an adder. Springing up with the velocity of lightning, she darted along, regardless of the beauty of the stream, in whose limpid waters she had thought to behold her crimson-stained cheeks. She ran on, panting, glowing—the perspiration, hot as drops of molten lead, streaming down her face, looking furtively back, every now and then, to see if that gorgeous creature, with glittering coils and burning eyes were not gliding at her heels. At length, blinded and dizzy from the speed with which she had run, she fell against an opposing body just at the entrance of the lane.
"Why, Helen, what is the matter?" exclaimed a well-known voice, and she knew she was safe. It was the young doctor, who loved to walk on the banks of that beautiful stream, when the shadows of the tall hickories lengthened on the grass.
Helen was too breathless to speak, but he knew, by her clinging hold, that she sought protection from some real or imaginary danger. While he pitied her evident fright, he could not help smiling at her grotesque appearance. The perspiration, dripping from her forehead, had made channels through the crimson dye on her cheeks, and her chin, which had been buried in the ground when she fell, was all covered with mud. Her frock was soiled and torn, her bonnet twisted so that the strings hung dangling over her shoulder. A more forlorn, wild-looking little figure, can scarcely be imagined, and it is not strange that the young doctor found it difficult to suppress a laugh.
"And so you left your strawberries behind," said he, after hearing the history of her fright and flight. "It seems to me I would not have treated the snake so daintily. Suppose we go back and cheat him of his nice supper, after all."
"Oh! no—no—no," exclaimed Helen, emphatically. "I wouldn't go for all the strawberries in the whole world."
"Not when they would do your sick mother good?" said he, gravely.
"But the snake!" cried she, with a shudder.
"It is perfectly harmless. If you took it in your hand and played with it, it would not hurt you. Those beautiful, bright-striped creatures have no venom in them. Come, let us step down to the edge of the stream and wash the stains from your face and hands, and then you shall show me where your strawberries are waiting for us in the long grass."
He took her hand and attempted to draw her along, but she resisted with astonishing strength, planting her back against the railing that divided the lane from the corn-field.
"Helen, you will come with me," said he, in the same tone, and with the same magnetic glance, with which he had once before subdued her. She remained still a few moments, then the rigid muscles began to relax, and hanging down her head, she sobbed aloud.
"You will come," repeated he, leading her gently along towards the bank of the stream, "because you know I would not lead you into danger, and because if you do not try to conquer such fears, they will make you very unhappy through life. Don't you wish to be useful and do good to others, when you grow older?"
"Oh, yes," replied Helen, with animation—"but," added she, despondingly, "I never shall."
"It depends upon yourself," replied her friend; "some of the greatest men that ever lived, were once timid little children. They made themselves great by overcoming their fears, by having a strong will."
They were now close to the water, which, just where they stood, was as still and smooth as glass. Helen saw herself in the clear, blue mirror, and laughed aloud—then she blushed to think how strange and ugly she looked. Eagerly scooping up the water in the hollow of her hand, she bathed her face, and removed the disfiguring stains.
"You have no napkin," said the young doctor, taking a snowy linen handkerchief from his pocket, which emitted a sweet, faint, rose-like perfume. "Will this do?"
He wiped her face, which looked fairer than ever after the ablution, and then first one and then the other of her trembling hands, for they still trembled from nervous agitation.
"How kind, how good he is!" thought Helen, as his hand passed gently over her brow, smoothing back the moist and tangled hair, then glided against her cheek, while he arranged the twisted bonnet and untied the dangling strings, which had tightened into a hard and obstinate knot. "I wonder what makes him so kind and good to me?"
When they came to the fence, surrounding the strawberry-field, Helen's steps involuntarily grew slower, and she hung back heavily on the hand of her companion. Her old fears came rushing over her, drowning her new-born courage.
Arthur laid his hand on the top rail, and vaulted over as lightly as a bird, then held out his arms towards her.
"Climb, and I will catch you," said he, with an encouraging smile. Poor little Helen felt constrained to obey him, though she turned white as snow—and when he took her in his arms, he felt her heart beating and fluttering like the wings of a caged humming-bird.
"Ah, I see the silver bucket," he cried, "all filled with strawberries. The enemy is fled; the coast is clear."
He still held her in his arms, while he stooped and lifted the bucket, then again vaulted over the fence, as if no burden impeded his movements.
"You are safe," said he, "and you can now gladden your mother's heart by this sweet offering. Are you sorry you came?"
"Oh! no," she replied, "I feel happy now." She insisted upon his eating part of the strawberries, but he refused, and as they walked home, he gathered green leaves and flowers, and made a garland round them.
"What makes you so good to me?" she exclaimed, with an irresistible impulse, looking gratefully in his face.
"Because I like you," he replied; "you remind me, too, of a dear little sister of mine, whom I love very tenderly. Poor unfortunate Alice! Your lot is happier than hers."
"What makes me happier?" asked Helen, thinking that one who had so kind a brother ought to be happy.
"She is blind," he replied, "she never saw one ray of light."
"Oh! how dreadful!" cried Helen, "to live all the time in the dark! Oh! I should be afraid to live at all!"
"I said you were happier, Helen; but I recall my words. She is not afraid, though all the time midnight shadows surround her. A sweet smile usually rests upon her face, and her step is light and springy as the grasshopper's leap."
"But it must be so dreadful to be blind!" repeated Helen. "How I do pity her!"
"It is a great misfortune, one of the greatest that can be inflicted upon a human being—but she does not murmur. She confides in the love of those around her, and feels as if their eyes were her own. Were I to ask her to walk over burning coals, she would put her hand in mine, to lead her, so entire is her trust, so undoubting is her faith."
"How I wish I could be like her!" said Helen, in a tone of deep humility.
"You are like her at this moment, for you have gone where you believed great danger was lurking, trusting in my promise of protection and safety,—trusting in me, who am almost a stranger to you."
Helen's heart glowed within her at his approving words, and she rejoiced more than ever that she had obeyed his will. Her sympathies were painfully awakened for the blind child, and she asked him a thousand questions, which he answered with unwearied patience. She repeated over and over again the sweet name of Alice, and wished it were hers, instead of Helen.
At the great double gate, that opened into the wood-yard, Arthur left her, and she hastened on, proud of the victory she had obtained over herself. Mittie was standing in the back door; as Helen came up the steps, she pointed in derision at her soiled and disordered dress.
"I couldn't help it," said Helen, trying to pass her, "I fell down."
"Oh! what nice strawberries!" exclaimed Mittie, "and so many of them. Give me some."
"Don't touch them, Mittie—they are for mother," cried Helen, spreading her hand over the top of the bucket, as Mittie seized the handle and jerked it towards her.
"You little, stingy thing, I will have some," cried Mittie, plunging her hand in the midst of them, while the sweet wild flowers which Arthur's hand had scattered over them, and the shining leaves with which he had bordered them, all fell on the steps. Helen felt as if scalding water were pouring into her veins, and in her passion she lifted her hand to strike her, when a hollow cough, issuing from her mother's room, arrested her. She remembered, too, what the young doctor had said, "that it was harder to keep from doing wrong, than to do what was right."
"If he saw me strike Mittie, he would think it wrong," thought she, "though if he knew how bad she treats me, he'd say 'twas hard to keep from it."
Kneeling on one knee, she picked up the scattered flowers, and on every flower a dew drop fell, and sparkled on its petals.
They had a witness of whom they were not aware. The tall, gray figure of Miss Thusa, appeared in the opposite door, at the moment of Mittie's rude and greedy act. The meekness of Helen exasperated her still more against the offender, and striding across the passage, she seized Mittie by the arm, and swung her completely on one side.
"Let me alone, old Madam Thusa," exclaimed Mittie, "I'm not going to mind you. That I'm not. You always take her part against me. Every body does—that makes me hate her."
"For shame! for shame!" cried the tall monitor, "to talk so of your little sister. You're like the girl in the fairy tale, who was so spiteful that every time she spoke, toads and vipers crawled out of her mouth. Helen, I'll tell you that story to-night, before you go to sleep."
Helen could have told her that she would rather not hear any thing of vipers that night, but she feared Miss Thusa would be displeased and think her ungrateful. Notwithstanding Mittie's unkindness and violence of temper, she did not like to have such dreadful ideas associated with her. When, however, she heard the whole story, at the usual witching hour, she felt the same fascination which had so often enthralled her. As it was summer, the blazing fire no longer illuminated the hearth, but a little lamp, whose rays flickered in the wind that faintly murmured in the chimney. Miss Thusa sat spinning by the open window, in the light of the solemn stars, and as she waxed more and more eloquent, she seemed to derive inspiration from their beams. She could see one twinkling all the time in the little gourd of water, swinging from her distaff, and in spite of her preference for the dark and the dreadful, she could not help stopping her wheel, to admire the trembling beauty of that solitary star.
"Pale as the corse o'er which she leaned, As cold, with stifling breath, Her spirit sunk before the might, The majesty of death."
"A man severe he was, and stern to view, I knew him well, and every truant knew— Yet he was kind, or if severe in aught, The love he bore for learning was in fault."
The darkened room, the stilly tread, the muffled knocker and slowly closing door, announced the presence of that kingly guest, who presides over the empire of terror and the grave. The long-expected hour was arrived, and Mrs. Gleason lay supported by pillows, whose soft down would never more sink under the pressure of her weary head. The wasting fires of consumption had burned and burned, till nothing but the ashes of life were left, save a few smouldering embers, from which flashed occasionally a transient spark. Mr. Gleason sat at the bed's head, with that grave, stern, yet bitter grief on his countenance which bids defiance to tears. She had been a gentle and devoted wife, and her quiet, home-born virtues, not always fully appreciated, rose before his remembrance, like the angels in Jacob's dream, climbing up to Heaven. Louis stood behind him, his head bowed upon his shoulder, sobbing as if his heart would break. Helen was nestled in her father's arms, with the most profound and unutterable expression of grief and awe and dread, on her young face. She was told that her mother was dying, going away from her, never to return, and the anguish this conviction imparted would have found vent in shrieks, had not the awe with which she beheld the cold, gray shadows of death, slowly, solemnly rolling over the face she loved best on earth, the face which had always seemed to her the perfection of mortal beauty, paralyzed her tongue, and frozen the fountain of her tears. Mittie stood at the foot of the bed, looking at her mother through the opening of the curtain, partly veiled by the long, white fringe that hung heavily from the folds, and which the wind blew to and fro, with something like the sweep of the willow. The windows were all open to admit the air to the faintly heaving lungs of the sufferer, and gradually one curtain after another was lifted, as the struggle for breath and air increased, and the light of departing day streamed in on the sunken and altered features it was never more to illuminate. Mittie was awe struck, but she manifested no tenderness or sensibility. It was astonishing how so young a child could see anyone die, and above all a mother—a mother, so kind and affectionate, with so little emotion. She was far more oppressed by the realization of her own mortality, for the first time pressed home upon her, than by her impending bereavement. What were the feelings of that speechless, expiring, but fully conscious mother, as she gazed earnestly, wistfully, thrillingly on the group that surrounded her? There was the husband, whom she had so much loved, he, who often, when weary with business, and perplexed with anxiety, had seemed careless and indifferent, but who, as life waned away, had shown the tenderness of love's early day, and who she knew would mourn her deeply and long. There was her noble, handsome, warm-hearted, high-souled boy—the object of her pride, as well as her affection—he, who had never willfully given her a moment's pain—and though his irrepressive sighs and suffocating sobs she would have hushed, at the expense of all that remained of life to her—there was still a music in them to her dying ear, that told of love that would not forget, that would twine in perennial garlands round her grave. Poor little Helen, as she looked at her pale, agonized face, and saw the terror imprinted there, she remembered what she had once said to Miss Thusa, of being after death an object of terror to her child, and she felt a sting that no language could express. She longed to stretch out her feeble arms, to fold them round this child of her prayers and fears, to carry her with her down the dark valley her feet were treading, to save her from trials a nature like hers was so ill-fitted to sustain. She looked from her to Mittie, the cold, insensible Mittie, whose large, black eyes, serious, but not sad, were riveted upon her through the white fringe of the curtain, and another sting sharper still went through her heart.
"Oh! my child," she would have said, could her thoughts have found utterance, "forget me if you will—mourn not for me, the mother who bore you—but be kind, be loving to your little sister, more young and helpless than yourself. You are strong and fearless—she is a timid, trembling, clinging dove. Oh! be gentle to her, for my sake, gentle as I have ever been to you. And you, too, my child, the time will come when you will feel, when your heart will awake from its sleep—and if you only feel for yourself, you will be wretched."
"Why art thou cast down, oh! my soul? and why art thou disquieted within me?" were the meditations of the dying woman, when turning from earth, she raised her soul on high. "I leave my children in the hands of a heavenly Father, as well as a mighty God—in the care of Him who died that man might live forevermore."
But there was one present at this scene, who seemed a priestess presiding over some mystic rite. It was Miss Thusa. Notwithstanding the real kindness of her heart, she felt a strange and intense delight in witnessing the last struggle between vitality and death, in gazing on the marble, soulless features, from which life had departed, and composing the icy limbs for the garniture of the grave. She would have averted suffering and death, if she could, from all, but since every son and daughter of Adam were doomed to bear them, she wanted the privilege of beholding the conflict, and gazing on the ruins. She would sit up night after night, regardless of fatigue, to watch by the pillow of sickness and pain, and yet she felt an unaccountable sensation of disappointment when her cares were crowned with success, and the hour of danger was over. She would have climbed mountains, if it were required, to carry water to dash on a burning dwelling, yet wished at the same time to see the flames grow redder and broader, and more destructive. She would have liked to live near the smoke and fire of battle, so that she might wander in contemplation among the unburied slain.
The sun went down, but the sun of life still lingered on the verge of the horizon. The dimness of twilight mingled with the shadows of death.
"Take me out," cried Helen, struggling to be released from her father's arms. "Oh! take me from here. It don't seem mother that I see."
"Hush—hush," said Mr. Gleason, sternly, "you disturb her last moments." But Helen, whose feelings were wrought up to a pitch which made stillness impossible, and restraint agonizing, darted from between her father's knees and rushed into the passage. But how dim and lonely it was! How melancholy the cat looked, waiting near the door, with its calm, green eyes turned towards the chamber where its gentle mistress lay! It rubbed its white, silky sides against Helen, purring solemnly and musically, but Helen recollected many a frightful tale of cats, related by Miss Thusa, and recoiled from the contact. She longed to escape from herself, to escape from a world so dark and gloomy. Her mother was going, and why should she stay behind? Going! yet lying so still and almost breathless there! She had been told that the angels came down and carried away the souls of the good, but she looked in vain for the track of their silvery wings. One streak of golden ruddiness severed the gray of twilight, but it resembled more a fiery bar, closing the gates of heaven, than a radiant opening to the spirit-land. While she stood pale and trembling, with her hand on the latch of the door, afraid to stay where she was, afraid to return and confront the mystery of death, the gate opened, and Arthur Hazleton came up the steps. He had been there a short time before, and went away for something which it was thought might possibly administer relief. He held out his hand, and Helen clung to it as if it had the power of salvation. He read what was passing in the mind of the child, and pitied her. He did not try to reason with her at that moment, for he saw it would be in vain, but drawing her kindly towards him, he told her he was sorry for her. His words, like "flaky snow in the day of the sun," melted as they fell and sunk into her heart, and she began to weep. He knew that her mother could not live long, and wishing to withdraw her from a scene which might give a shock from which her nerves would long vibrate, he committed her to the care of a neighbor, who took her to her own home. Mrs. Gleason died at midnight, while Helen lay in a deep sleep, unconscious of the deeper slumbers that wrapped the dead.
And now a terrible trial awaited her. She had never looked on the face of death, and she shrunk from the thought with a dread which no language can express. When her father, sad and silent, with knit brow and quivering lip, led her to the chamber where her mother lay, she resisted his guidance, and declared she would never, never go in there. It would have been well to have yielded to her wild pleadings, her tears and cries. It would have been well to have waited till reason was stronger and more capable of grappling with terror, before forcing her to read the first awful lesson of mortality. But Mr. Gleason thought it his duty to require of her this act of filial reverence, an act he would have deemed it sacrilegious to omit. He was astonished, grieved, angry at her resistance, and in his excitement he used some harsh and bitter words.
Finding persuasions and threats in vain, he summoned Miss Thusa, telling her he gave into her charge an unnatural, rebellious child, with whose strange temper he was then too weak to contend. It was a pity he summoned such an assistant, for Miss Thusa thought it impious as well as unnatural, and she had bound herself too by a sacred promise, that she would not suffer Helen to fear in death the mother whom in life she had so dearly loved. Helen, when she looked into those still, commanding eyes, felt that her doom was sealed, and that she need struggle no more. In despair, rather than submission, she yielded, if it can be called yielding, to suffer herself to be dragged into a room, which she never entered afterwards without dread.
The first glance at the interior of the chamber, struck a chill through her heart. It was so still, so chill, so dim, yet so white. The curtains of white muslin fell in long, slumberous folds down to the floor, their fringes resting lifelessly on the carpet. The tables and chairs were all covered with white linen, and something shrouded in white was stretched out on a table in the centre of the room. The sheet which covered it flapped a moment as the door opened, and then hung motionless. The outline of a human form beneath was visible, and when Miss Thusa lifted her in her arms and carried her to the spot, Helen was conscious of an awful curiosity growing up within her that was stronger than her terrors. Her breath came quick and short, a film came over her eyes, and cold drops of sweat stood upon her forehead, yet she would not now have left the room without penetrating into the mystery of death. Miss Thusa laid her hand upon the sheet and turned it back from the pale and ghastly face, on whose brow the mysterious signet of everlasting rest was set. Still, immovable, solemn, placid—it lay beneath the gaze, with shrouded eye, and cheek like concave marble, and hueless, waxen lips. What depth, what grandeur, what duration in that repose! What inexpressible sadness, yet what sublime tranquillity! Helen held her breath, bending slowly, lower and lower, as if drawn down by a mighty, irresistible power, till her cheek almost touched the clay-cold cheek over which she leaned. Then Miss Thusa folded back the sheet still farther, and exposed the shrouded form, which she had so carefully prepared for its last dread espousals. The fragrance of white roses and geranium leaves profusely scattered over the body, mingled with the cold odor of mortality, and filled the room with a deadly, sickening perfume. White roses were placed in the still, white, emaciated hands, and lay all wilted on the unbreathing bosom.
All at once a revulsion took place in the breast of Helen. It mocked her—that silent, rigid, moveless form. She felt so cold, so deadly cold in its presence, it seemed as if all the warmth of life went out within her. She began to realize the desolation, the loneliness of the future. The cry of orphanage came wailing up from the depths of her heart, and bursting from her lips in a loud piercing shriek, she sprang forward and fell perfectly insensible on the bosom of the dead.
"I wish I had not forced her to go in," exclaimed the father, as he hung with remorseful anguish over the child. "Great Heaven! must I lose all I hold dear at once?"
"No, no," cried Miss Thusa, making use of the most powerful restoratives as she spoke, "it will not hurt her. She is coming to already. It's a lesson she must learn, and the sooner the better. She's got to be hardened—and if we don't begin to do it the Lord Almighty will. I remember the saying of an old lady, and she was a powerful wise woman, that they who refused to look at a corpse, would see their own every night in the glass."
"Repeat not such shocking sayings before the child," cried Mr. Gleason. "I fear she has heard too many already."
Ah, yes! she had heard too many. The warning came too late.
She was restored to animation and—to memory. Her father, now trembling for her health, and feeling his affection and tenderness increase in consequence of a sensibility so remarkable, forbid every one to allude to her mother before her, and kept out of her sight as far as possible the mournful paraphernalia of the grave. But a cold presence haunted her, and long after the mother was laid in the bosom of earth, it would come like a sudden cloud over the sun, chilling the warmth of childhood.
She had never yet been sent to school. Her extreme timidity had induced her mother to teach her at home the rudiments of education. She had thus been a kind of amateur scholar, studying pictures more than any thing else, and never confined to any particular hours or lessons. About six months after her mother's death, her father thought it best she should be placed under regular instruction, and she was sent with Mittie to the village school. If she could only have gone with Louis—Louis, so brave, yet tender, so manly, yet so gentle, how much happier she would have been! But Louis went to the large academy, where he studied Greek and Latin and Conic Sections, &c., where none but boys were admitted. The teacher of the village school was a gentleman who had an equal number of little boys and girls under his charge. In summer the institution was under the jurisdiction of a lady—in autumn and winter the Salic law had full sway, and man reigned supreme on the pedagogical throne. It was in winter that Helen entered what was to her a new world.
The little, delicate, pensive looking child, clad in deep mourning, attracted universal interest. The children gathered round her and examined her as they would a wax doll. There was something about her so different from themselves, so different from every body else they had seen, that they looked upon her as a natural curiosity.
"What big eyes she's got!" cried a little creature, whose eyes were scarcely larger than pin-holes, putting her round, fat face close to Helen's pale one, and peering under her long lashes.
"Hush!" said another, whose nickname was Cherry-cheeks, so bright and ruddy was her bloom. "She's a thousand times prettier than you, you little no eyed thing! But what makes her so pale and thin? I wonder—and what makes her look so scared?"
"It is because her mother is dead," said an orphan child, taking Helen's hand in one of hers, passing the other softly over her smooth hair.
"Mittie has lost her mother too," replied Cherry-cheeks, "and she isn't pale nor thin."
"Mittie don't care," exclaimed several voices at once, "only let her have the head of the class, and she won't mind what becomes of the rest of the world."
A scornful glance over her shoulder was all the notice Mittie deigned to take of this acknowledgment of her eagle ambition. Conscious that she was the favorite of the teacher, she disdained to cultivate the love and good-will of her companions. With a keen, bright intelligence, and remarkable retentiveness of memory, she mastered her studies with surprising quickness, and distanced all her competitors. Had she been amiable, her young classmates would have been proud of the honors she acquired, for it is easy to yield the palm to one always in the ascendant, but she looked down with contempt on those of inferior attainments, and claimed as a right the homage they would have spontaneously offered.
Mr. Hightower, or as he was called Master High-tower, was worthy of his commanding name, for he was at least six feet and three inches in height, and of proportional magnitude. It would have looked more in keeping to see him at the head of an embattled host rather than exercising dominion over the little rudiments of humanity arranged around him. His hair was thick and bushy, and he had a habit of combing it with his fingers very suddenly, and making it stand up like military plumes all over his head. His features, though heavily moulded, had no harsh lines. Their predominant expression was good nature, a kind of elephantine docility, which neutralized the awe inspired by his immense size. On his inauguration morning, when the children beheld him marching slowly through the rows of benches on which they were seated, with a long, black ruler under his arm, and enthrone himself behind a tall, green-covered desk, they crouched together and trembled as the frogs did when King Log plunged in their midst. Though his good-humored countenance dispersed their terror, they found he was far from possessing the inaction of the wooden monarch, and that no one could resist his authority with impunity. He could scold, and then his voice thundered and reverberated in the ears of the pale delinquent in such a storm-peal as was never heard before—and he could chastise the obstinate offender, when reason could not control, most tremendously. That long, black ruler—what a wand it was! Whenever he was about to use it as an instrument of punishment, he had a peculiar way of handling it, which soon taught them to tremble. He would feel the whole length of it very slowly and carefully as if it were the edge of a razor—then raise it parallel with the eyes, and closing one, looked at it steadily with the other. Then lifting it suddenly above his head, he would extend his broad, left palm, and give himself a blow that would make them all start from their seats. Of all crimes or vices, none excited his indignation so much as laziness. It was with him the unpardonable sin. There was toleration, forgiveness for every one but the sluggard. He said Solomon's description of the slothful should be written in letters of gold on the walls of the understanding. He explained it to them as a metaphor, and made them to understand that the field of the sluggard, overgrown with thorns and nettles, was only an image of the neglected and uncultivated mind. He gave them Doctor Watts' versification of it to commit to memory, and repeated it with them in concert. It is not strange that Mittie, who never came to him with a neglected or imperfect lesson, should be a great favorite with him, and that he should make her the star pupil of the school.
Mittie was not afraid of being eclipsed by Helen, in the new sphere on which she had entered. At home the latter was more petted and caressed, the object of deeper tenderness, but there she reigned supreme, and the pet of the household would find herself nothing more than a cipher. She was mistaken. It was impossible to look upon Helen without interest, and Master Hightower seemed especially drawn towards her. He bent down till he overshadowed her with his loftiness, then smiling at the quick withdrawal of her soft, wild, shy glances, he took her up in his lap as if she were a plaything, sent for his amusement.
Mittie was not pleased at this, for though she thought herself entirely too much of a woman to be treated with such endearing familiarity, she could not bear to see such caresses bestowed on another.
"I wonder," she said to herself, with a darkening countenance, "I wonder what any one can see in such a little goose as Helen, to take on about? Little simpleton! she's afraid of her own shadow! Never mind! wait awhile! When he finds out how lazy she is, he'll put her on a lower, harder seat than his lap."
It was true that Helen soon lost cast with the uncompromising enemy of idleness. She had fallen into a habit of reverie, which made it impossible for her to fix her mind on a given lesson. Her imagination had acquired so much more strength than her other faculties, that she could not convert the monarch into the vassal. She would try to memorize the page before her, and resolutely set herself to the task, but the wing of a snow-bird fluttering by the window, or the buzzing of a fly round the warm stove, would distract her attention and call up trains of thought as wild as irrelevant. Sometimes she would bend down her head, and press both hands upon it, to keep it in an obedient position; but all in vain!—her vagrant imagination would wander far away to the confines of the spirit-land.
Master Hightower coaxed, reasoned with her, scolded, threatened, did every thing but punish. He could not have the heart to apply the black ruler to that little delicate hand. He could not give a blow to one who looked up in his face with such soft, deprecating, fearful eyes—but he grew vexed with the child, and feeling of the edge of his ruler half-a-dozen times, declared he did not know what to do with her.
One night Mittie lingered behind the rest, and told him that if he would shut up Helen somewhere alone, in the dark, he would have no more trouble with her; that her father had said that it was the only way to make her study. It was true that Mr. Gleason had remarked, in a jesting way, when told of Helen's neglect of her lessons, that he must get Mr. Hightower to have a dark closet made, and he would have no more trouble; but he never intended such a cruelty to be inflicted on his child. This Mittie well knew, but as she had no sympathy with her sister's fears, she had no compassion for the sufferings they caused. She thought she deserved punishment, and felt a malicious pleasure in anticipating its infliction.