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At Last by Marion Harland

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AT LAST.

A Novel.

BY

MARION HARLAND,

NEW YORK: 1870

CONTENTS.

CHAPTER I. DEWLESS ROSES

CHAPTER II. AN EXCHANGE OF CONFIDENCES

CHAPTER III. UNWHOLESOME VAPORS

CHAPTER IV. "FOUNDED UPON A ROCK"

CHAPTER V. CLEAN HANDS

CHAPTER VI. CRAFT--OR DIPLOMACY?

CHAPTER VII. WASSIL

CHAPTER VIII. THE FACE AT THE WINDOW

CHAPTER IX. HE DEPARTETH IN DARKNESS

CHAPTER X. ROSA

CHAPTER XI. ON THE REBOUND

CHAPTER XII. AUNT RACHEL WAXES UNCHARITABLE

CHAPTER XIII. JULIUS LENNOX

CHAPTER XIV. "BORN DEAD"

CHAPTER XV. THE GOOD SAMARITAN

CHAPTER XVI. THE HONEST HOUR

CHAPTER XVII. AFTER FIFTEEN YEARS

CHAPTER XVIII. THUNDER IN THE AIR

CHAPTER XIX. NEMESIS

CHAPTER XX. INDIAN SUMMER

AT LAST.

CHAPTER I.

DEWLESS ROSES.

Mrs. Rachel Sutton was a born match maker, and she had cultivated
the gift by diligent practice. As the sight of a tendrilled vine
suggests the need and fitness of a trellis, and a stray glove
invariably brings to mind the thought of its absent fellow, so every
disengaged spinster of marriageable age was an appeal--pathetic and
sure--to the dear woman's helpful sympathy, and her whole soul went
out in compassion over such "nice" and an appropriated bachelors as
crossed her orbit, like blind and dizzy comets.

Her propensity, and her conscientious indulgence of the same, were
proverbial among her acquaintances, but no one--not even prudish and
fearsome maidens of altogether uncertain age, and prudent mammas,
equally alive to expediency and decorum--had ever labelled her
"Dangerous," while with young people she was a universal favorite.
Although, with an eye single to her hobby, she regarded a man as an
uninteresting molecule of animated nature, unless circumstances
warranted her in recognizing in him the possible lover of some
waiting fair one, and it was notorious that she reprobated as worse
than useless--positively demoralizing, in fact--such friendships
between young persons of opposite sexes as held out no earnest of
prospective betrothal, she was confidante-general to half the girls
in the county, and a standing advisory committee of one upon all
points relative to their associations with the beaux of the region.
The latter, on their side, paid their court to the worthy and
influential widow as punctiliously, if not so heartily, as did their
gentle friends. Not that the task was disagreeable. At fifty years
of age, Mrs. Button was plump and comely; her fair curls unfaded,
and still full and glossy; her blue eyes capable of languishing into
moist appreciation of a woful heart-history, or sparkling
rapturously at the news of a triumphant wooing; her little fat hands
were swift and graceful, and her complexion so infantine in its
clear white and pink as to lead many to believe and some--I need
not say of which gender--to practise clandestinely upon the story
that she had bathed her face in warm milk, night and morning, for
forty years. The more sagacious averred, however, that the secret of
her continued youth lay in her kindly, unwithered heart, in her
loving thoughtfulness for others' weal, and her avoidance, upon
philosophical and religions grounds, of whatever approximated the
discontented retrospection winch goes with the multitude by the name
of self-examination.

Our bonnie widow had her foibles and vanities, but the first were
amiable, the latter superficial and harmless, usually rather
pleasant than objectionable. She was very proud, for instance, of
her success in the profession she had taken up, and which she
pursued con amore; very jealous for the reputation for connubial
felicity of those she had aided to couple in the leash matrimonial,
and more uncharitable toward malicious meddlers or thoughtless
triflers with the course of true love; more implacable to
match-breakers than to the most atrocious phases of schism, heresy,
and sedition in church or state, against which she had, from her
childhood, been taught to pray. The remotest allusion to a divorce
case threw her into a cold perspiration, and apologies for such
legal severance of the hallowed bond were commented upon as rank and
noxious blasphemy, to which no Christian or virtuous woman should
lend her ear for an instant. If she had ever entertained "opinions"
hinting at the allegorical nature of the Mosaic account of the Fall,
her theory would unquestionably have been that Satan's insidious
whisper to the First Mother prated of the beauties of feminine
individuality, and enlarged upon the feasibility of an elopement
from Adam and a separate maintenance upon the knowledge-giving,
forbidden fruit. Upon second marriages--supposing the otherwise
indissoluble tie to have been cut by Death--she was a trifle less
severe, but it was generally understood that she had grave doubts as
to their propriety--unless in exceptional cases.

"When there is a family of motherless children, and the father is
himself young, it seems hard to require him to live alone for the
rest of his life," she would allow candidly. "Not that I pretend to
say that a connection formed through prudential motives is a real
marriage in the sight of Heaven. Only that there is no human law
against it. And the odds are as eight to ten that an efficient hired
housekeeper would render his home more comfortable, and his children
happier than would a stepmother. As for a woman marrying twice"--her
gentle tone and eyes growing sternly decisive--"it is difficult for
one to tolerate the idea. That is, if she really loved her first
husband. If not, she may plead this as some excuse for making the
venture--poor thing! But whether, even then, she has the moral
right to lessen some good girl's chances of getting a husband by
taking two for herself, has ever been and must remain a mooted
question in my mind."

Her conduct in this respect was thoroughly consistent with her
avowed principles. She was but thirty when her husdand died, after
living happily with her for ten years. Her only child had preceded
him to the grave four years before, and the attractive relict of
Frederic Sutton, comfortably jointured and without incumbrance of
near relatives, would have become a toast with gay bachelors and
enterprising widowers, but for the quiet propriety of her demeanor,
and the steadiness with which she insisted--for the most part,
tacitly--upon her right to be considered a married woman still.

"Once Frederic's wife--always his!" was the sole burden of her
answer to a proposal of marriage received when she was forty-five,
and the discomfited suitor filed it in his memory alongside of
Caesar's hackneyed war dispatch.

She had laid off crape and bombazine at the close of the first
lustrum of her widowhood as inconvenient and unwholesome wear, but
never assumed colored apparel. On the morning on which our story
opens, she took her seat at the breakfast-table in her nephew's
house--of which she was matron and supervisor-in-chief--clad in a
white cambric wrapper, belted with black; her collar fastened with a
mourning-pin of Frederic's hair, and a lace cap, trimmed with black
ribbon, set above her luxuriant tresses. She looked fresh and bright
as the early September day, with her sunny face and in her
daintily-neat attire, as she arranged cups and saucers for seven
people upon the waiter before her, instructing the butler, at the
same time, to ring the bell again for those she was to serve. She
was very busy and happy at that date. The neighborhood was gay,
after the open-hearted, open-handed style of hospitality that
distinguished the brave old days of Virginia plantation-life. A
merry troup of maidens and cavaliers visited by invitation one
homestead after another, crowding bedrooms beyond the capacity of
any chambers of equal size to be found in the land, excepting in a
country house in the Old Dominion; surrounding bountiful tables with
smiling visages and restless tongues; dancing, walking, driving, and
singing away the long, warm days, that seemed all too short to the
soberest and plainest of the company; which sped by like dream-hours
to most of the number.

Winston Aylett, owner and tenant of the ancient mansion of
Ridgeley--the great house of a neighborhood where small houses and
men of narrow means were infrequent--had gone North about the first
of June, upon a tour of indefinite length, but which was certainly
to include Newport, the lakes, and Niagara, and was still absent.
His aunt, Mrs. Sutton, and his only sister, Mabel, did the honors of
his home in his stead, and, if the truth must be admittbd, more
acceptably to their guests than he had ever succeeded in doing. For
a week past, the house had been tolerably well filled--ditto Mrs.
Sutton's hands; ditto her great, heart. Had she not three love
affairs, in different but encouraging stages of progression, under
her roof and her patronage! And were not all three, to her
apprehension, matches worthy of Heaven's making, and her
co-operation? A devout Episcopalian, she was yet an unquestioning
believer in predestination and "special Providences"--and what but
Providence had brought together the dear creatures now basking in
the benignant beam of her smile, sailing smoothly toward the haven
of Wedlock before the prospering breezes of Circumstance (of her
manufacture)?

While putting sugar and cream into the cups intended for the happy
pairs, she reviewed the situation rapidly in her mind, and sketched
the day's manoeuvres.

First, there was the case of Tom Barksdale and Imogene Tabb--highly
satisfactory and creditable to all the parties concerned in it, but
not romantic. Tom, a sturdy young planter, who had studied law while
at the University, but never practised it, being already provided
for by his opulent father, had visited his relatives, the Tabbs, in
August, and straightway fallen in love with the one single daughter
of his second cousin--a pretty, amiable girl, who would inherit a
neat fortune at her parent's death, and whose pedigree became
identical with that of the Barksdales a couple of generations back,
and was therefore unimpeachable. The friends on both sides were
enchanted; the lovers fully persuaded that they were made for one
another, an opinion cordially endorsed by Mrs. Sutton, and they
could confer with no higher authority.

Next came Alfred Branch and Rosa Tazewell--incipient, but promising
at this juncture, inasmuch as Rosa had lately smiled more
encouragingly upon her timid wooer than she had deigned to do before
they were domesticated at Ridgeley. Mrs. Sutton did not approve of
unmaidenly forwardness. The woman who would unsought be won, would
have fared ill in her esteem. Her lectures upon the beauties and
advantages of a modest, yet alluring reserve, were cut up into
familiar and much-prized quotations among her disciples, and were
acted upon the more willingly for the prestige that surrounded her
exploits as high priestess of Hymen. But Rosa had been too coy to
Alfred's evident devotion--almost repellent at seasons. Had these
rebuffs not alternated with attacks of remorse, during which the
exceeding gentleness of her demeanor gradually pried the crushed
hopes of her adorer out of the slough, and cleansed their drooping
plumes of mud, the courtship would have fallen through, ere Mrs.
Sutton could bring her skill to bear upon it. Guided, and yet
soothed by her velvet rein, Rosa really seemed to become more
steady. She was assuredly more thoughtful, and there was no better
sign of Cupid's advance upon the outworks of a girl's heart than
reverie. If her fits of musing were a shade too pensive, the
experienced eye of the observer descried no cause for discouragement
in this feature. Rosa was a spoiled, wayward child, freakish and
mischievous, to whom liberty was too dear to be resigned without a
sigh. By and by, she would wear her shackles as ornaments, like all
other sensible and loving women.

Thus preaching to Alfred, when he confided to her the fluctuations
of rapture and despair that were his lot in his intercourse with the
sometimes radiant and inviting, sometimes forbidding sprite, whose
wings he would fain bind with his embrace, and thus reassuring
herself, when perplexed by a flash of Rosa's native perverseness,
Mrs. Sutton was sanguine that all would come right in the end. What
was to be would be, and despite the rapids in their wooing, Alfred
would find in Rosa a faithful, affectionate little wife, while she
could never hope to secure a better, more indulgent, and, in most
respects, more eligible, partner than the Ayletts' well-to-do,
well-looking neighbor.

But the couple who occupied the central foreground of our
match-maker's thoughts were her niece, Mabel Aylott, and her own
departed husband's namesake, Frederic Chilton. She dilated to
herself and to Mabel with especial gusto upon the "wonderful
leading," the inward whisper that had prompted her to propose a trip
to the Rockbridge Alum Springs early in July. Neither she nor Mabel
was ailing in the slightest degree, but she imagined they would be
the brighter for a glimpse of the mountains and the livelier scenes
of that pleasant Spa--and whom should they meet there but the son of
"dear Frederic's" old friend, Mr. Chilton, and of course they saw a
great deal of him--and the rest followed as Providence meant it
should.

"The rest" expressed laconically the essence of numberless walks by
moonlight and starlight; innumerable dances in the great ball-room,
and the sweeter, more interesting confabulations that made the young
people better acquainted in four weeks than would six years of
conventional calls and small-talk. They stayed the month out,
although "Aunt Rachel" had, upon their arrival, named a fortnight as
the extreme limit of their sojourn. Frederic Chilton was their
escort to Eastern Virginia, and remained a week at Ridgeley--perhaps
to recover from the fatigue of the journey. So soon as he returned
to Philadelphia, in which place he had lately opened a law-office,
he wrote to Mabel, declaring his affection for her, and suing for
reciprocation. She granted him a gracious reply, and sanctioned by
fond, sympathetic Aunt Rachel, in the absence of Mabel's brother and
guardian, the correspondence was kept up briskly until Frederic's
second visit in September. Ungenerous gossips, envious of her
talents and influence, had occasionally sneered at Mrs. Sutton's
appropriation of the credit of other alliances--but this one was her
handiwork beyond dispute--hers and Providence's. She never forgot
the partnership. She had carried her head more erect, and there was
a brighter sparkle in her blue orbs since the evening Mabel had come
blushingly to her room, Fred's proposal in her hand--to ask counsel
and congratulations. Everybody saw through the discreet veil with
which she flattered herself she concealed her exultation when others
than the affianced twain were by--and while nobody was so unkind as
to expose the thinness of the pretence, she was given to understand
in many and gratifying ways that her masterpiece was considered, in
the Aylett circle, a suitable crown to the achievements that had
preceded it. Mabel was popular and beloved, and her betrothed, in
appearance and manner, in breeding and intelligence, justified Mrs.
Sutton's pride in her niece's choice.

The old lady colored up, with the quick, vivid rose-tint of sudden
and real pleasure that rarely outlives early girlhood, when the
first respondent to the breakfast-bell proved to be her Frederic's
god-son.

"You are always punctual! I wish you would teach the good habit to
some other people," she said, after answering his cordial
"good-morning."

"None of us deserve to be praised on that score, to-day," rejoined
he, looking at his watch. "I did not awake until the dressing-bell
rang. Our riding-party was out late last night. The extreme beauty
of the evening beguiled us into going further than we intended, when
we set out."

"Yes! you young folks are falling into shockingly irregular
habits--take unprecedented liberties with me and with Time!" shaking
her head. "If Winston do not return soon, you will set my mild rule
entirely at defiance."

Chilton laughed--but was serious the next instant.

"I expected confidently to meet him at this visit," he said,
glancing at the door to guard against being overheard. "Should he
not return to-day, ought I not, before leaving this to-morrow, to
write to him, since he is legally his sister's guardian? It is, you
and she tell me, a mere form, but one that should not be dispensed
with any longer."

"That may be so. Winston is rigorous in requiring what is due to his
position--is, in some respects, a fearful formalist. But he will
hardly oppose your wishes and Mabel's. He has her real happiness at
heart, I believe, although he is, at times, an over-strict and
exacting guardian--perhaps to counterbalance my indulgent policy. He
is unlike any other young man I know."

"His sister is very much attached to him."

"She loves him--I was about to say, preposterously. Her implicit
belief in and obedience to him have increased his self-confidence
into a dogmatic assertion of infallibility. But"--fearing she might
create an unfortunate impression upon the listener's mind--"Winston
has grounds for his good opinion of himself. His character is
unblemished--his principles and aims are excellent. Only"--relapsing
hopelessly into the confidential strain in which most of the
conference had been carried--"between ourselves, my dear Frederic, I
am never quite easy with these patterns to the rest of human-kind. I
should even prefer a tiny vein of depravity to such very rectangular
virtue."

"You are seldom ill at ease, if human perfection is all that renders
you uncomfortable," responded Frederic. "There are not many in whose
composition one cannot trace, not a tiny, but a broad vein of Adamic
nature. What a delicious morning!" he added, sauntering to the
window.

"And how sorry I am for those who did not get up in time to enjoy
the freshness of its beauty!" cried a gay voice from the portico,
and Mabel entered by the glass door behind him--her hands loaded
with roses, herself so beaming that her lover refrained with
difficulty from kissing the saucy mouth then and there.

He did take both her hands, under pretext of relieving her of the
flowers, and Aunt Rachel judiciously turned her back upon them, and
began a diligent search in the beaufet for a vase.

"Do you expect us to believe that you have been more industrious
than we? As if we did not know that you bribed the gardener to have
a bouquet cut and laid ready for you at the back-door," Frederic
charged upon the matutinal Flora. "Else, where are other evidences
of your stroll, in dew-sprinkled draperies and wet feet? Confess
that you ran down stairs just two minutes ago! Now that I come to
think of it, I am positive that I heard you, while Mrs. Sutton was
lamenting your drowsy proclivities after sunrise."

"I have been sitting in the summer-house for an hour--reading!"
protested Mabel, wondrously resigned to the detention, after a
single, and not violent attempt at release. "If you had opened your
shutters you must have seen me. But I knew I was secure from
observation on that side of the house, at least until eight o'clock,
about which time the glories of the new day usually penetrate very
tightly-closed lids. As to dew--there isn't a drop upon grass or
blossom. And, by the same token, we shall have a storm within
twenty-four hours."

"Is that true? That is a meteorological presage I never heard of
until now."

"There is a moral in it, which I leave you to study out for
yourself, while I arrange the roses I--and not the
gardener--gathered."

In a whisper, she subjoined--"Let me go! Some one is coming!" and in
a second more was at the sideboard, hurrying the flowers into the
antique china bowl, destined to grace the centre of the breakfast
table.

"Good-morning, Miss Rosa. You are just in season to enjoy the
society of your sister," Frederic said, lightly, pointing to the
billows of mingled white and red, tossing under Mabel's fingers.

The new-comer approached the sideboard, leaned languidly upon her
elbow, and picked up a half-blown bud at random from the pile.

"They are scentless!" she complained.

"Because dewless!" replied Mabel, with profound gravity. "It is the
tearful heart that gives out the sweetest fragrance."

"I have more faith in sunshine," interrupted Rosa, a tinge of
contempt in her smile and accent. "Or--to drop metaphors, at which
I always bungle--it is my belief that it is easy for happy people to
be good. All this talk about the sweetness of crushed blossoms,
throwing their fragrance from the wounded part, and the riven
sandal-tree, and the blessed uses of adversity, is outrageous
balderdash, according to my doctrine. A buried thing is but one
degree better than a dead one. What it is the fashion of poets and
sentimentalists to call perfume, is the odor of incipient decay."

"You are illustrating your position by means of my poor oriental
pearl," remonstrated Mabel, playfully, wresting the hand that was
beating the life and whiteness out of the floweret upon the marble
top of the beaufet. "Take this hardy geant de batailles, instead. My
bouquet must have a cluster of pearls for a heart."

"What a fierce crimson!" Frederic remarked upon the widely-opened
rose Miss Tazewell received in place of the delicate bud. "That must
be the 'hue angry, yet brave,' which, Mr. George Herbert asserts,
'bids the rash gazer wipe his eye.'"

"More poetical nonsense!" said Rosa, deliberately tearing the bold
"geant" to pieces down to the bare stem, "unless he meant to be
comic, and intimate that the gazer was so rash as to come too near
the bush, and ran a thorn into the pupil."

No one answered, except by the indulgent smile that usually greeted
her sallies, howeve? absurd, among those accustomed to the spoiled
child's vagaries.

Mabel was making some leisurely additions to her bouquet in the
shape of ribbon grass and pendent ivy sprays, coaxing these with
persuasive touches to trail over the edge and entwine the pedestal
of the salver on which her bowl was elevated; her head set slightly
on one side, her lips apart in a smile of enjoyment in her work and
in herself. It was a picture the lover studied fondly--one that hung
forever thereafter in his gallery of mental portraits. Beyond a pair
of fine gray eyes, the pliant grace of her figure and the buoyant
carriage of youth, health, and a glad heart, Mabel's pretensions to
beauty were comparatively few, said the world. Frederic Chilton had,
nevertheless, fallen in love with her at sight, and considered her,
now, the handsomest woman of his acquaintance. Her dress was a
simple lawn--a sheer white fabric, with bunches of purple grass
bound up with yellow wheat, scattered over it; her hair was lustrous
and abundant, and her face, besides being happy, was frank and
intelligent, with wonderful mobility of expression. In temperament
and sentiment; in capacity for, and in demonstration of affection,
she suited Frederic to the finest fibre of his mind and heart. He,
for one, did not carp at Aunt Rachel's declaration that they were
intended to spend time and eternity together.

Still, Mabel Aylett was not a belle, and Rosa Tazewell was. Callow
collegians and enterprising young merchants from the city;
sunbrowned owners of spreading acres and hosts of laborers; students
and practitioners of law and medicine, and an occasional theologue,
had broken their hearts for perhaps a month at a time, for love of
her, since she was a school-girl in short dresses. Yet there had
been a date very far back in the acquaintanceship of each of these
with the charmer, when he had marvelled at the infatuation which had
blinded her previous adorers. She was "a neat little thing," with
her round waist, her tiny hands and feet and roguish eye--but there
was nothing else remarkable about her features, and in coloring, the
picture was too dark for his taste. Why, she might be mistaken for a
creole! And each critic held fast to his expressed opinion until the
roguish eyes met his directly and with meaning, and he found himself
diving into the bright, shimmering wells, and drowning--still
ecstatically--before he reached the bottom whence streamed the light
of passionate feeling, striking upward through the surface. What her
glances did not effect was done by her dazzling smile and musical
voice.

As one of her victims swore, "It was a dearer delight to be rejected
by her than to be accepted by a dozen other girls--she did the thing
up so handsomely! And yet, do you know, sir, I could have shot
myself for a barbarous brute when I saw the pitying tears standing
upon her lashes, and heard the tremor in her sweet tones, as she
begged me to forgive her for not loving me!"

Those she had once captivated never quite rid themselves of the
glamour of her arts; remained her trusty squires, ready to serve, or
to defend her always afterward.

Aunt Rachel, intent, during the short pause, upon the movements of
the servant who was setting the smoking breakfast upon the table,
glanced around when all was properly arranged, to summon the two to
their places--but something in Rosa's attitude and countenance held
her momentarily speechless. Mabel still bent over her roses, in
smiling interest, and Frederic Chilton was watching her--but not as
the third person of the group about the beaufet watched them both
between her half-closed lids, her black brows close together, and
the glittering teeth visible under the curling upper lip.

"She looked like a panther lying in wait for her prey!" Mrs. Sutton
said to her niece, many months later, in attempting to describe the
scene. "Or like a bright-eyed snake coiled for a spring. The sight
of her sent shivers all down my spine."

Her interruption of the tableau sounded oddly abrupt to ears used to
her pleasant accents.

"Come, young people! how long are you going to keep me waiting?
Breakfast is cooling fast!"

"I beg your pardon, Auntie! I did not notice that it had been
brought in," apologized Mabel, drawing back, that Frederic might
lift the loaded salver carefully to its place upon the board.

As they were closing about this, they were joined by Messrs.
Barksdale and Branch, Miss Tabb delaying her appearance until the
repast was nearly over, and meeting the raillery of the party upon
her late rising with the sweet, soft smile her cousin-betrothed
admired as the indication of unadulterated amiability. The
breakfast-hour, always pleasant, was to-day particularly merry. Rosa
led off in the laughing debates, the play of repartee, friendly
jest, and anecdote that incited all to mirth and speech and tempted
them to linger around the table long after the business of the meal
wag concluded.

"This is the perfection of country life!" said Frederic Chilton,
when, at last, there was a movement to end the sitting. "But it
spoils one fearfully for the everyday practicalities of the city--a
Northern city, especially."

"Better stay where you are, then, instead of deserting our ranks
to-morrow," suggested Rosa, gliding by his side out upon the long
portico at the end of the house. "What does your nature crave that
Ridgeley cannot supply?"

"Work, and a career!"

"You still feel the need of these?" significantly.

"Otherwise I were no man!"

"You are right!"

Her disdainful eyes wandered to the farther end of the portico,
where Alfred Branch, in his natty suit of white grasscloth, plucked
at his ebon whiskers with untanned fingers, and talked society
nothings with the ever-complaisant Imogene.

"Come what may, you, Mr. Chilton, have occupation for thought and
hands; are not tied down to a detestable routine of vapid pleasures
and common-place people!"

"You are--every independent woman and man--is as free in this
respect as myself, Miss Rosa. None need be a slave to
conventionality unless he choose."

She made a gesture that was like twisting a chain apon her wrist.

"You know you are not sincere in saying that. I wondered, moreover,
when you were railing at the practicalities of city life, if you
were learning, like the rest of the men, to accommodate your talk to
your audience. Where is the use of your trying to disguise the truth
that all women are slaves? I used to envy you when I was in
Philadelphia, last winter, when you pleaded business engagements as
an excuse for declining invitations to dinner-parties and balls.
Now, if a woman defies popular decrees by refusing to exhibit
herself for the popular entertainment, the horrible whisper is
forthwith circulated that she has been 'disappointed,' and is hiding
her green wound in her sewing-room or oratory. 'Disappointed,'
forsooth! That is what they say of every girl who is not married to
somebody by the time she is twenty-five. It matters not whether she
cares for him or not. Having but one object in existence, there can
be but one species of disappointment. Marry she must, or be PITIED!"
with a stinging emphasis on the last word.

Tom Barksdale and Mabel were pacing the portico from end to end,
chatting with the cheerful familiarity of old friends. Catching some
of thin energetic sentence, Mabel looked over her shoulder.

"Who of us is fated to be pitied, did you say, Rosa dear?"

"Never yourself!" was the curt reply. "Rest content with that
assurance."

Her restless fingers began to gather the red leaves that already
variegated the foliage of the creeper shading the porch. Strangely
indisposed to answer her animadversions upon the world's judgment of
her sex, or to acknowledge the implied compliment to his betrothed,
Frederic watched the lithe, dark hands, as they overflowed with the
vermilion trophies of autumn. The September sunshine sifted through
the vines in patches upon the floor; the low laughter and blended
voices of the four talkers; the echo of Tom's manly tread, and
Mabel's lighter footfall, were all jocund music, befitting the
brightness of the day and world. What was the spell by which this
pettish girl who stood by him, her luminous eyes fixed in sardonic
melancholy upon the promenaders, while she rubbed the dying leaves
into atoms between her palms--had stamped scenes and sounds with
immortality, yet thrilled him with the indefinite sense of unreality
and dread one feels in scanning the lineaments of the beloved dead?
Had her nervous folly infected him? What absurd phantasy was hers,
and what his concern in her whims?

A stifled cry from Mabel aroused him to active attention. A
gentlemen had stepped from the house upon the piazza, and after
bending to kiss her, was shaking hands with her companions.

"The Grand Mogul!" muttered Rosa, with a comic grimace, and not
offering to stir in the direction of the stranger.

In another moment Mabel had led him up to her lover, and introduced,
in her pretty, ladylike way, and bravely enough, considering her
blushes, "Mr. Chilton" to "my brother, Mr. Winston Aylett."

CHAPTER II.

AN EXCHANGE OF CONFIDENCES.

"And so you know nothing of this gentleman beyond what he has told
you of his character and antecedents?"

Aunt Rachel had knocked at the door of her nephew's study after
dinner, on the day of his return, and asked for an interview.

"Although I know you must be very busy with your accounts, and so
forth, having been away from the plantation for so long," she said,
deprecatingly, yet accepting the invitation to enter.

Mr. Aylett's eye left hers as he replied that he was quite at
liberty to listen to whatever she had to say, but his manner was
entirely his own--polished and cool.

Family tradition had it that he was naturally a man of strong
passions and violent temper, but since his college days, he had
never, as far as living mortal could testify, lifted the impassive
mask he wore, at the bidding of anger, surprise, or alarm. He ran
all his tilts--and he was not a non-combatant by any means--with
locked visor. In person, he was commanding in stature; his features
were symmetrical; his bearing high-bred. His conversation was
sensible, but never brilliant or animated. In his own household he
was calmly despotic; in his county, respected and unpopular--one of
whom nobody dared speak ill, yet whom nobody had reason to love.
There was a single person who believed herself to be an exception to
this rule. This was his sister Mabel. Some said she worshipped him
in default of any other object upon which she could expend the
wealth of her young, ardent heart; others, that his strong will
enforced her homage. The fact of her devotion was undeniable, and
upon his appreciation of this Aunt Rachel built her expectations of
a favorable hearing when she volunteered to prepare the way for Mr.
Chilton's formal application for the hand of her nephew's ward.
Between herself and Winston there existed little real liking and
less affinity. She was useful to him, and his tolerance of her
society was courteous, but she understood perfectly that he secretly
despised many of her views and actions, as, indeed, he did those of
most women. Her present mission was undertaken for the love she bore
Mabel and her sister. It was not kind to send the girl to tell her
own story. It was neither kind nor fair to subject their guest to
the ordeal of an unheralded disclosure of his sentiments and
aspirations, with the puissant lord of Ridgeley as sole auditor.

"Fred would never get over the first impression of your brother's
chilling reserve," said the self-appointed envoy to Mabel, when she
insisted that her affianced would plead his cause more eloquently
than a third person could. "For, you, must confess, my love, that
Winston, although in most respects a model to other young men, is
unapproachable by strangers."

As she said "your accounts and so forth," she looked at the table
from which Mr. Aylett had arisen to set a chair for her. There was a
pile of account-books at the side against the wall, but they were
shut, and over heaped by pamphlets and newspapers; while before the
owner's seat lay an open portfolio, an unfinished letter within it.
Winston wiped his pen with deliberation, closed the portfolio,
snapped to the spring-top of his inkstand, and finally wheeled his
office chair away from the desk to face his visitor.

"Is it upon business that you wish to speak to me?"

He always disdained circumlocution, prided himself upon the
directness and simplicity of his address. This acted now as a
dissuasive to the sentimental address Mrs. Sutton had meditated as a
means of winning the flinty walls behind which his social affections
and sympathies were supposed to be intrenched. Had her mission been
in behalf of any other cause, she would have drawn off her forces
upon some pretext, and effected an ignominious retreat. Nerved by
the thought of Mabel's bashfulness and solicitude, and Frederic's
strangerhood, she stood to her guns.

Winston heard her story, from the not very coherent preamble, to the
warm and unqualified endorsement of Frederic Chilton's credentials,
and her moved mention of the mutual attachment of the youthful pair,
and never changed his attitude, or manifested any inclination to
stay the narration by question or comment. When she ceased speaking,
his physiognomy denoted no emotion whatever. Yet, Mabel was his
nearest living relative. She had been bequeathed to his care, when
only ten years old, by the will of their dying father, and grown up
under his eye as his child, rather than a sister. And he was
hearing, for the first time, of her desire to quit the home they had
shared together from her birth, for the protection and companionship
of another. Mrs. Sutton thought herself pretty well versed in
"Winston's ways," but she had expected to detect a shade of softness
in the cold, never-bright eyes and anticipated another rejoinder
than the sentence that stands at the head of this chapter.

"And so you know nothing of this gentleman beyond what he has told
you of his character and antecedents?" he said--the slender white
fingers, his aunt fancied, looked cruel even in their idleness,
lightly linked together while his elbows restod upon the arms of his
chair.

"My dear Winston! what a question! Haven't I told you that he is my
husband's namesake and godson! I was at his fathers house a score of
times, at least, in dear Frederic's life-time. It was a charming
place, and I never saw a more lovely family. I recollect this boy
perfectly, as was very natural, seeing that his name was such a
compliment to my husband. He was a fine, manly little fellow, and
the eldest son. The christening-feast was postponed, for some reason
I do not now remember, until he was two years old. It was a very
fine affair. The company was composed of the very elite of that part
of Maryland, and the Bishop himself baptized the two
babies--Frederic, and a younger sister. I know all about him, you
see, instead of nothing!"

"What was the date of this festival?" asked Winston's unwavering
voice.

"Let me see! We had been married seven years that fall. It must have
been in the winter of 18--."

"Twenty-three years ago!" said Winston, yet more quietly.
"Doubtless, your intimacy with this estimable and distinguished
family continued up to the time of your husband's death?"

"It did."

"And afterward?"

Mrs. Button's color waned, And her voice sank, as the inquisition
proceeded. "Dear Frederic's" death was not the subject she would
have chosen of her free will to discuss with this man of steel and
ice.

"I never visited them again. I could not--"

If she hoped to retain a semblance of composure, she must shift her
ground.

"I returned to my father's house, which was, as you know, more
remote from the borders of Maryland--"

"You kept up a correspondence, perhaps?" Winston interposed,
overlooking her agitation as irrelevant to the matter under
investigation.

"No! For many months I wrote no letters at all, and Mr. Chilton was
never a punctual correspondent. The best of friends are apt to be
dilatory in such respects, as they advance in life."

"I gather, then, from what you have ADMITTED"--there was no actual
stress upon the word, but it stood obnoxiously apart from the
remainder of the sentence, to Mrs. Sutton's auriculars--"from what
you have admitted, that for twenty years you have lost sight of this
gentleman and his relatives, and that you might never have
remembered the circumstance of their existence, had he not
introduced himself to you at the Springs this summer."

"You are mistaken, there!" corrected the widow, eagerly. "Rosa
Tazewell introduced him to Mabel at the first 'hop'
she--Mabel--attended there. He is very unassuming. He would never
have forced himself upon my notice. I was struck by his appearance
and resemblance to his father, and inquired of Mabel who he was. The
recognition followed as a matter of course."

"He was an acquaintance of Miss Tazewell--did you say?"

"Yes--she knew him very well when she was visiting in Philadelphia
last winter."

"And proffered the introduction to Mabel?" the faintest imaginable
glimmer of sarcastic amusement in his eyes, but none in his accent.

"He requested it, I believe."

"That is more probable. Excuse my frankness, aunt, when I say that
it would have been more in consonance with the laws controlling the
conduct of really thoroughbred people, had your paragon--I use the
term in no offensive sense--applied to me, instead of to you, for
permission to pay his addresses to my ward. I am willing to ascribe
this blunder, however, to ignorance of the code of polite society,
and not to intentional disrespect, since you represent the gentleman
as amiable and well-meaning. I am, furthermore, willing to examine
his certificates of character and means, with a view to determining
what are his recommendations to my sister's preference, over and
above ball-room graces and the fact that he is Mr. Sutton's
namesake, and whether it will be safe and advisable to grant my
consent to their marriage. Whatever is for Mabel's real welfare
shall be done, while I cannot but wish that her choice had fallen
upon some one nearer home The prosecution of inquiries as to the
reputation of one whose residence is so distant, is a difiicult and
delicate task."

"If you will only talk to him for ten minutes he will remove your
scruples,--satisfy you that all is as it should be," asserted Mrs.
Sutton, more confidently to him than herself.

"I trust it will be as you say--but credulity is not my besetting
sin. I am ready to see the gentleman at any hour you and he may see
fit to appoint."

"I will send MR. CHILTON to you at once, then." Mrs, Sutton
collected the scattering remnants of hope and resolution, that she
might deal a parting shot.

"Winston is an AWFUL trial to my temper, although he never loses his
own," she was wont to soliloquize, in the lack of a confidante to
whom she could expatiate upon his eccentricities and general
untowardness. His marked avoidance of Frederic's name in this
conference savored to her of insulting meaning. She had rather he
had coupled it with opprobious epithets whenever he referred to him,
than spoken of him as "this" or "that gentleman." If he took this
high and chilly tone, with Mabel's wooer, there was no telling what
might be the result of the affair.

"Don't mind him if he is stiff and uncompromising for a while," she
enjoined upon Frederic, in apprising him of the seignior's readiness
to grant him audience, "It is only his way, and he is Mabel's
brother."

"I will bear the latter hint in mind," rejoined the young man, with
the gay, affectionate smile he often bestowed upon her." I don't
believe he can awe me into resignation of my purpose, or provoke me
into dislike of the rest of the family."

Mabel was in her aunt's room, plying her with queries, hard to be
evaded, touching the tenor and consequences of her recent
negotiations, when a servant brought a message from her brother. She
was wanted in the study. The girl turned very white, as she prepared
to obey, without an idea of delay or of refusal.

"O Auntie! what if he should order me to give Frederic up!" she
ejaculated, pausing at the door, in an agony of trepidation. "I
never disobeyed him in my life."

"He will not do that, dear, never fear! He can find no pretext for
such summary proceedings. And should he oppose your wishes, be firm
of purpose, and do not forsake your affianced husband," advised the
old lady, solemnly. "There is a duty which takes precedence, in the
sight of Heaven and man, of that you owe your brother. Remember
this, and take courage."

Mabel's roses returned in profusion, when, upon entering the
arbiter's dread presence, she saw Frederic Chilton, standing on the
opposite side of the table from that at which sat her brother at his
ease, his white fingers still idly interlaced, his pale patrician
face emotionless as that of the bust of Apollo upon the top of the
bookcase behind him. It was Frederic who led her to a chair, when
she stopped, trembling midway in the apartment, and his touch upon
her arm inspirited her to raise her regards to Winston's countenance
at the sound of his voice.

"I have sent for you, Mabel, that I may repeat in you hearing the
reply I have returned to Mr. Chilton's application for my sanction
to your engagement--I should say, perhaps, to your reciprocal
attachment. The betrothal of a minor without the consent, positive
or implied, of her parent or guardian is, as I have just explained
to Mr. Chilton, but an empty name in this State. I have promised,
then, not to oppose your marriage, provided the inquiries I shall
institute concerning Mr. Chilton's previous life, his character, and
his ability to maintain you in comfort, are answered satisfactorily.
He will understand and excuse my pertinacity upon this point when he
reflects upon the value of the stake involved in this transaction."

In all their intercourse, Frederic had no more gracious notice from
Mabel's brother than this semi-apology, delivered with stately
condescension, and a courtly bow in his direction.

It sounded very grand to Mabel, whose fears of opposition or
severity from her Mentor had shaken courage and nerves into pitiable
distress. Frederic could desire nothing more affable than Winston's
smile; no more abundant encouragement than was afforded by his
voluntary pledge. Had not the thought savored of disloyalty to her
lover, she would have confessed herself disappointed that his reply
did not effervesce with gratitude, that his deportment was distant,
his tone constrained.

"I appreciate the last-named consideration, Mr. Aylett, I believe,
thoroughly, as you do. I have already told you that I invite, not
shirk, the investigation you propose. I now repeat my offer of
whatever facility is at my command for carrying this on. No
honorable man could do less. Unless I mistake, you wish now to see
your sister alone."

He bent his head slightly, and without other and especial salutation
to his betrothed, withdrew.

Odd, white dints came and went in Winston's nostrils--the one and
unerring facial sign of displeasure he ever exhibited, if we except
a certain hardening of eye and contour that chiselled his lineaments
into a yet closer resemblance to marble.

"He is very sensitive and proud, I know," faltered Mabel, hastily
marking these, and understanding what they portended.

"You need not like him the less on that account, always provided
that the supports of his pride are legitimate and substantial,"
answered her brother, carelessly transferring to his tablets several
names from a sheet of paper upon the table--the addresses of persons
to whom Frederic had referred him for confirmation of his statements
regarding his social and professional standing.

"I hope, for your sake, Mabel," he pursueds pocketing the memoranda,
"that this affair may be speedily and agreeably adjusted; while I
cannot deny that I deprecate the unseemly haste with which Mrs.
Sutton and her ally have urged it on, in my absence. Had they
intended to court suspicion, they could not have done it more
effectually. You could not have had a more injudicious chaperone to
the Springs."

"Indeed, brother, she was not to blame," began the generous girl,
forgetting her embarrassment in zealous defence of the aunt she
loved. "It was not she who presented me to Mr. Chilton, and she has
never attempted to bias my decision in any manner."

"I have heard the history in detail." Had his breeding been less
fine, he would have yawned in her face. "I know that you are
indebted for Mr. Chilton's acquaintanceship to Miss Tazewell's
generosity. But in strict justice, Mrs. Sutton should be held
responsible for whatever unhappiness may arise from the intimacy.
You were left by myself in her charge."

"I do not believe it will end unhappily," Mabel was moved to reply,
with spirit that became her better than the shyness she had
heretofore displayed, or the submissive demeanor usual with her in
tête-à-têtes with her guardian.

He smiled in calm superiority.

"I have expressed my hope to that effect. Of expectations it will be
time enough to speak when I am better informed upon divers points. I
am not one to take much for granted, am less sanguine than my
romantic aunt, or even than my more practical sister. Assuming,
however, that all is as you would have it, your wish would be, I
suppose, for an early marriage?"

"There has been little said about that," responded Mabel,
reddening--then rallying to add smilingly--"such an arrangement
would have involved the taking for granted a good many things--your
consent among them."

Winston passed over the addenda.

"But that little, especially when uttered by Mr. Chiiton, trenched
upon the inexpediency of long engagements--did it not?"

Mabel was mute, her eyes downcast.

"I agree with him there, at any rate. You are nineteen years of age;
he twenty-five. Your property is unincumbered, and can be
transferred to your keeping at very short notice. Mr. Chiiton
represents that his income from his patrimonial estate, eked out by
professional gains, is sufficient to warrant him in marrying
forthwith. I shall see that no time is lost in making the inquiries
upon which depends the progress of the negotiation. Business calls
me North in a week or ten days. I shall stop a day in Philadelphia,
and settle your affair."

The frightfully business-like manner of disposing of her happiness
appalled the listener into silence. The loss of Frederic; the
destruction of her love-dream; the weary years of lonely
wretchedness that would follow the bereavement, were to him only
unimportant incidentals to her "affair;" weighed in the scale of his
impartial judgment no more than would unconsidered dust. For the
first time in the life to which he had been the guiding-star, she
ventured to wonder if the unswerving rectitude that had elevated him
above the level of other men, in her esteem and affection, were so
glorious a thing after all; if a tempering, not of human frailty,
but of charity for the shortcomings, sympathy for the needs, of
ordinary mortals, would not subdue the effulgence of his talents and
virtues into mild lustre, more tolerable to the optics of fallible
beholders

Unsuspicious, with all his astuteness, of her sacrilegious doubts,
Winston proceeded:

"In the event of your marriage, you would desire, no doubt, that
Mrs. Sutton should take up her abode with you? You would find her
useful in many ways, and she would get on amicably with her
husband's godson."

"I do not think she expects to go with me," answered Mabel,
staggered by his coolly confident air. "I certainly have never
entertained the idea. I imagined that she would remain with you,
while you needed her services."

"That will not be long. I shall be married on the 10th of October."

"Married! brother!" starting up in amazement. "You are not in
earnest!"

"I should not jest upon such a theme," replied Winston, in grave
rebuke. "My plans are definitely laid. It is not my purpose to keep
them secret a day longer. I meant to communicate them to yourself
and Mrs. Sutton this afternoon, but yours claimed precedence."

Mabel sat down again, totally confounded, and struggling hard with
her tears. The thought of her brother's marriage was not in itself
disagreeable. She had often lamented his insensibility to the
attractions of such women as she fancied would add to his happiness,
and grace the high place to which his wife would be exalted. She
never liked to hear him called invulnerable; repelled the hypothesis
of his incurable bachelorhood as derogatory to his heart and head.
This unlooked-for intelligence, had it reached her in a different
way, would have delighted as much as it astonished her. The fear
lest her consent to wed Frederic and leave Ridgeley might be the
occasion of discomfort and sadness to her forsaken brother had
shadowed all her visions of future bliss. She ought to have hailed
with unmixed satisfaction the certainty that he would not miss her
sisterly ministrations, or feel the need of her companionship in
that of one nearer and dearer than was his child-ward. She had
striven not to resent even in her own mind, his cavalier treatment
of her lover; had hearkened respectfully and without demur to his
unsympathizing calculations of what was possible and what feasible
in the project of her union with the man of her choice. For how
could he know anything of the palpitations, the anxieties, the
raptures of love, when he was a stranger to the touch of a kindred
emotion? He meant well; he had her welfare in view; unfortunate as
was his style of discussing the means for insuring this--for he
loved her dearly, dearly!

She must never question this, although he had dealt the comfortable
persuasion a cruel blow; wounded her in a vital part by withholding
from her the circumstance of his attachment and betrothal until the
near approach of the wedding day rendered continued secrecy
inexpedient. No softening memory of his affianced had inclined him
to listen with kindly warmth to her timid avowals, or Frederic's
manly protestations of their mutual attachment. He recognized no
analogy in the two cases; stood aloof from them in the flush of his
successful love, as if he had never known the pregnant meaning of
the word. Smarting under the sense of injury to pride and affection,
her language, when she could trust her voice, was a protest that, in
Winston's judgment, ill beseemed her age and station.

"Why did you not tell me of this earlier, brother? It was unjust and
unkind to keep me in the dark until now."

"You forget yourself, Mabel. I am not under obligation to account to
you for my actions."

He said it composedly, as if stating a truth wholly disconnected
with feeling on his part or on hers.

"I have given you the information to which you refer, in season for
you to make ample preparation for my wife's reception. And, mark me,
she must see no sulkiness, no airs of strangeness or intolerance,
because I have managed a matter that concerns me chiefly, as seemed
to me best. Say the same to Mrs. Sutton, if you please; also that I
will submit to no dictation, and ask no advice."

Mabel's anger seldom outlived its utterance. The hot sparkle in her
eye was quenched by moisture, as she laid her hand caressingly upon
her brother's.

"Winston! you cannot suppose that we could be wanting in cordiality
to any one whom you love, much less to your wife. Let her come when
she may, she will be heartily welcomed by us both. But this has
fallen suddenly upon me, and I am a little out of sorts to-day, I
believe--excited and nervous--and, O, my darling! my oldest and best
of friends! I hope your love will bring to you the happiness you
deserve."

The tears had their course, at last, bathing the hand she bowed to
kiss. The simple ardor of the outbreak would have affected many men
to a show of responsive weakness. Even Winston Aylett's physiognomy
was more human and less statuesque, as he patted her head, and bade
her be composed.

"If you persist in enacting Niobe, I shall believe that you are
chagrined at the prospect of having the sister you have repeatedly
besought me to give you," he said, playfully--for him. "You have not
asked me her name, and where she lives. What has become of your
curiosity? I never knew it to be quiescent before."

"I thought you would tell me whatever it was best for me to know,"
replied Mabel, drying her eyes.

If she had said that she was too well-trained to assail him with
interrogatories he had not invited, it would have been nearer the
mark.

"There is nothing relating to her which I desire to conceal," he
rejoined, with some stiffness, "or she would never have become my
promised wife. She is a Miss Dorrance, the daughter of a widow
residing in the vicinity of Boston, Massachusetts. I met her first
at Trenton Falls, where a happy accident brought me into association
with her party. I travelled with them to the Lakes and among the
White Mountains, and, while in Boston, visited her daily. We were
betrothed a week ago, and having, as I have observed, an aversion to
protracted engagements, I prevailed upon her to appoint the tenth of
next mouth as our marriage day. There you have the story in brief. I
have not Mrs. Sutton's talents as a raconteur, nor her disposition
to turn hearts inside out for the edification of her auditors."

"Does she--Miss Dorrance--look like anybody I know?" asked Mabel,
hesitating to declare herself dissatisfied with the skeleton
love-tale, yet uncertain how to learn more.

"A roundabout way of asking if she is passable in appearance,"
Winston said, with his smile of conscious superiority. "Judge for
yourself!" taking from his pocket a miniature.

"How beautiful! What a very handsome woman?" the sister exclaimed at
sight of the pictured face.

"You are correct. She is, moreover, a thorough lady, and
highly-educated. Ridgeley will have a queenly mistress. The likeness
is considered faithful, but it does not do her justice."

He took it from Mabel, and they scanned it together; she resting
against his shoulder. She felt his chest heave twice; heard him
swallow spasmodically in the suppression of some mighty emotion, and
the palpable effort drew her very near to him. She never doubted
from that moment, what she had more cause in after days to believe,
that he loved the woman he had won with a fervor of passion that
seemed foreign to his temperament as the evidence of it was to his
conduct.

The September sun was near the horizon, and between the bowed
shutters one slender, gilded arrow shot athwart the portrait,
producing a marvellous and sinister change in its expression. The
large, limpid eyes became shallow and cunning; the smile lurking
about the mouth was the more treacherous and deadly for its
sweetness; while the burnished coils of hair brushed away from the
temples had the opaline tints and sinuous roll of a serpent.

Mabel shrank back before the horror of the absurd imagination.

Winston raised the picture to his lips.

"My peerless one!"

CHAPTER III

UNWHOLESOME VAPORS.

"DORRANCE!" repeated Frederic, after his betrothed, when she
rehearsed to him in their moonlight promenade upon the piazza the
leading incidents of her brother's wooing. "She lives near Boston,
you say, and her mother is a widow?"

"Yes. What have you ever heard about her?"

"Nothing whatever. I was startled by the name--but very foolishly!
I once knew a family of Dorrances--New Yorkers--but the father, a
retired naval officer, was alive, and all the daughters were
married. The youngest of them would be, by this time, much older
than you judge the original of the miniature to be."

"She is not more than twenty-two, at the most," Mabel was sure.

Frederic's hurried articulation and abstracted manner excited her
curiosity, and unrestrained by Winston's curb, it was not
"quiescent." The thought was spoken so soon as it was formed.

"There was something unpleasant in your intercourse with them, then?
or something objectionable in the people themselves? Could they have
been relatives of this widow and her daughter? The name is not a
common one to my ears."

"Nor to mine; yet we have no proof to sustain your supposition. I
should be very sorry--"

He stopped.

Mabel studied his perturbed countenance with augmented uneasiness.

"Was not the family respectable?"

"Perfectly, my shrewd little catechist!" seeming to shake off an
uncomfortable incubus, as he laughed down at her serious face. "They
vaunted themselves upon the antiquity of their line, and were more
liberal in allusions to departed grandeur than was quite well-bred.
When I knew them they were not wealthy, or in what they would have
called 'society.' Indeed, the mother kept a private boarding-house
near the law-school I attended. There were several sons--very
decent, enterprising fellows. But one lived at home, and a daughter,
the wife of a lieutenant in the navy, whom I never saw. I boarded
with them for six months, or thereabout."

"You never saw the daughter! How was that?"

"I must have expressed myself awkwardly if I conveyed any such idea.
I did not meet the seafaring husband who was off upon a long cruise.
The wife I met constantly--knew very well. You need not look at me
so intently, love, as if you feared that some dark mystery lurked
behind this matter-of-fact recital. If I do not tell you every event
of my former life, it is not because it was vile. I could not
sustain the light of your innocent eyes if I had ever been guilty of
aught dishonorable or criminal. But even the follies and mistakes of
a young man's early career are not fit themes for your ears. And I
was no wiser, no more wary, than other youths of the same age; was
apt to believe that fair which was only specious, and that I might
play, uninjured, with edged tools. Nor had I seen you then, my
treasure--my snow-drop of purity! Mabel! do you know how solemn a
thing it is to be loved and trusted by a man, as I love and confide
in you? It terrifies me when I think of the absoluteness of my
dependence upon your fidelity--of how rich I am in having you--how
poor, wretched, and miserable I should be without you. I shall not
draw a free breath until you are mine beyond the chance of recall."

"Nobody else wants me!" breathed Mabel in his ear, nestling within
the arm that enfolded and held her tightly in the corner of the
piazza shaded by the creeper. "The danger of losing me is not
imminent to-night, at all events," she resumed, presently, with a
touch of the sportiveness that lent her manner an airy charm in
lighter talk than that which had engrossed her for the past hour.

The evening was warm and still to sultriness, and the moonlight,
filtered into pensive pallor through a low-lying haze, yet sufficed
to show how confidingly Imogene leaned upon her attendant in
sauntering dowa the long main alley of the garden. Rosa was at the
piano in the parlor, singing to the enamored Alfred. Mrs. Sutton had
withdrawn to her own room to ruminate upon the astounding disclosure
of her nephew's engagement, while Winston bent over his study-table
busy with the interrupted letter his aunt had seen in his portfolio.

"There is no one here who has the leisure or the disposition to
contest your rights, you perceive," said Mabel, running through a
laughing summary of their companions' occupations.

"Betrothals are epidemic in this household and neighborhood,"
Winston was writing. "There are no fewer than three pairs of turtles
cooing down stairs as I pen this to you, my bird of paradise. The
case that next to mine--to ours--commands my interest is that of my
sister. I came home to learn that the little Mabel I used to hold on
my knee had entered into an engagement--conditional upon my
sanction--with that traditional tricky personage, a Philadelphia
lawyer--Mr. Frederic Chilton, at the door of whose manifold
perfections, as set forth by my loquacious aunt, you may lay the
blame of this delayed epistle. I know nothing of this aspirant to
the dignity of brotherhood with myself, saving the facts that he is
tolerably good looking, claims to be the scion of an old Maryland
family, and that self-conceit is apparently his predominant
quality."

"What is that?" asked Frederic, halting before the windows, of the
drawing-room, as a wild, sorrowful strain, like the wail of a
breaking heart, arose upon the waveless air.

Rosa was a vocalist of note in her circle, and she had never
rendered anything with more effect than she did the song to which
even the preoccupied strollers among the garden borders stayed their
steps to listen. Through the open casement Mabel and her lover could
see the face of the musician, slightly uplifted toward the
moonlight; her eyes, dark and dreamy, as under the cloud of many
years of weary waiting and final hopelessness. Her articulation was
always pure, but the passionate emphasis of every word constrained
the breathless attention of her audience to the close of the simple
lay:

"Thy name was once the magic spell
By which my thoughts were bound;
And burning dreams of light and love
Were wakened by the sound.
My heart beat quick when stranger-tongues,
With idle praise or blame,
Awoke its deepest thrill of joy
To tremble at thy name.

"Long years, long years have passed away,
And altered is thy brow;
And we who met so fondly once
Must meet as strangers now.
The friends of yore come 'round me still,
But talk no more of thee,
'Twere idle e'en to wish it now,
For what art thou to me?"

"Yet still thy name--thy blessed name!
My lonely bosom fills,
Like an echo that hath lost itself
Among the distant hills,
That still, with melancholy note,
Keeps faintly lingering on,
When the joyous sound that woke it first
Is gone--forever gone!"

"A neat conceit that last verse, and the music is a fair imitation
of a dying bugle-echo!" said Winston Aylett to himself, resuming the
writing he had suspended for a minute. "That girl should take to the
stage. If one did not know better, her eyes and singing together
would delude him into the idea that she had a heart. Honest Alfred
evidently believes that she has, and that the patient labor of love
will win it for himself. Bah!"

Frederic and Mabel retired noiselessly from their post of
observation, as "honest Alfred" made a motion to take in his the
hand lying prone and passive upon the finger-board. They exchanged a
smile, significant and tender, in withdrawing.

"We understand the signs of the times," whispered Frederic, at the
upper turn of their promenade. "Heaven bless all true lovers under
the sun!"

"Don't!" said Rosa, vehemently, snatching away her hand from her
suitor's hold. "Leave me alone! If you touch me again I shall
scream! I think you were made up without nerves, either in the heart
or in the brain--if you have any!"

Before the aghast Alfred rallied from the recoil occasioned by her
gesture and words, her feet were pattering over the oaken hall and
staircase in rapid retreat to her chamber.

"You are really happy, then?" queried Mabel. "Quite content?"

"Did I not tell you awhile ago that I was not satisfied?" returned
Chilton. "Two months since I should, in anticipation of this hour,
have declared that it would be fraught with unalloyed rapture. I was
happier yesterday than I am to-day. It is not merely that we must
part to-morrow, or that your brother's precautionary measures and
disapproval of what has passed between us have acted like a
shower-bath to the fervor of my newly born hopes. I am willing that
my life should be subjected to the utmost rigor of his researches,
and another month, at farthest, will reunite us. Nor do I believe in
presentiments. I am more inclined to attribute the uneasiness that
has hovered over me all the day to physical causes. We will call it
a mild splenetic case, induced by the sultry weather, and the very
slow on coming of the storm presaged by your dewless roses."

He laughed naturally and pleasantly. Having confessed to what he
regarded as a ridiculous succumbing of his buoyant spirit to
atmospheric influences, he shook off the nightmare as if it had
never sat upon him.

Mabel was grave still.

"There is something weirdly oppressive in the night," she said, in a
low, awed tone. "But the burden you describe has weighed me down
since morning. While Rosa was singing, I felt suddenly removed from
you by a horrid gulf. What if all this should be the preparation to
us for some impending danger?"

"Sweet! these are unwholesome vapors of the imagination. Nothing can
be a disaster that leaves us to one another," was the text of
Frederic's fond soothing; and by the time Mrs. Sutton descended from
her chamber of meditation, to remind Imogene that the seeds of ague
and fever lurked in the river-fogs, the couple from the piazza came
into the lighted parlor, all smiles and animation, wondering,
jocosely, what had become of the recent occupants of the apartment.

Neither reappeared until breakfast-time next morning. Rosa was like
freshly-poured champagne, in sweet and sparkle. Alfred, rueful and
limp, as if the dripping clouds that verified Mabel's prediction had
soaked him all night. He was dry and comfortable--to carry out the
figure--within twenty minutes after his beloved fluttered, like a
tame canary, into the chair next his own--in five more, was more
truly her slave, living in, and upon her smiles--adoring her very
caprices as he had never admired another woman's virtues--than he
had been prior to the brief, but tempestuous scene over night. She
was the life of the party assembled in the dining-room. Imogene had
caught cold, walking bareheaded in the evening air, and Tom condoled
with her upon her influenza and sore-throat too sincerely to do
justice to the rest of his friends and his breakfast. Mr. Aylett was
never talkative, and his unvarying, soulless politeness to all
produced the conserving effect upon chill and low spirits that the
atmosphere of a refrigerator does upon whatever is placed within it.
Mrs. Sutton's motherly heart was yearning pityingly over the lovers
who were soon to be sundered, while Mabel's essay at cheerful
equanimity imposed upon nobody's credulity. Frederic comported
himself like a man--the more courageously because the host's cold
eye was upon him, and he surmised that sighs and sentimentality
would meet very scant indulgence in that quarter. Moreover, he was
not so unreasonable as to descry insupportable hardships in this
parting. By agreement with Mr. Aylett and his sister, he was, if all
went prosperously, to revisit Ridgeley at the end of six weeks, when
his design was to entreat his betrothed to name the wedding day. The
prospect might well support him under the present trial. He bore
Rosa's badinage gallantly, tossing back sprightly and telling
rejoinders that called forth the smiling applause of the auditors,
and commanded her respectful recognition of him as a foeman worthy
of her steel.

"Nine o'clock," said Winston, at length, consulting his watch, and
pushing back his chair. "The carriage will be at the door in fifteen
minutes, Mr. Chilton. The road is heavy this morning, and the stage
passes the village at ten."

"I shall be ready," responded Frederic. "I am sorry your carriage
and coachman must be exposed to the rain."

"That is nothing. They are used to it. I never alter my plan of
travel on account of the weather, how ever severe the storm. This
warm rain can hurt nobody."

"It is pouring hard," remarked Mrs. Button, solicitously. "And that
stage is wretchedly uncomfortable in the best weather. I wish you
could be persuaded to stay with us until it clears off, Mr. Chilton,
and"--making a bold push--"I am sure my nephew concurs in my
desire."

"Mr. Chilton should require no verbal assurance of my hospitable
feelings toward him and my other guests," said Mr. Aylett,
frigidly--smooth as ice-cream. "If I forbear to press him to prolong
his stay, it is in reflection of the golden law laid down for the
direction of hosts--'Welcome the coming, speed the parting guest.'"

"You are both very kind, but I must go," Frederic replied, concisely
and civilly, following Mabel into the parlor, whither the other
visitors were fabled to have repaired. As he had guessed, his
betrothed was the only person there; the quartette having dispersed
with kindly tact, for which he gave them due credit.

"Don't think hardly of me, dear," he began, seating himself beside
her on the sofa.

"Allow me to offer you a few of the finest cigars I have enjoyed for
many years," said Mr. Aylett, entering in season to check Frederic's
movement to encircle Mabel's drooping form with his arm. "You smoke,
I believe? You may have an opportunity of indulging in this solace
in an empty stage. At least, there is little probability that you
will be denied the luxury by the presence of lady passengers. I
procured those in Havana, last winter. In case you should like them
well enough to order some for yourself, I will give you the address
of the merchant from whom I purchased them."

He wrote a line upon a card, as he might sign a beggar's
petition--with a supercilious parade of benevolence--and passed it
to the other, who accepted it with a phrase of acknowledgment
neither hearty nor grateful. Then the master of the house paced the
floor with a slow, regular step, his hands behind him; his
countenance placidly ruminative, his thoughts apparently engaged
with anything rather than the pain upon the corner-sofa, whose
leave-taking he had mercilessly marred. Frederic dumb and furious;
Mabel equally dumb and amazed to alarm, knowing as she did that her
brother's actions were never purposeless, sat still, their hands
clasped stealthily amid the folds of Mabel's dress; their eyes
saying the dear and passionate things forbidden to their tongues.
Neither would feign indifference, or attempt a lame dialogue upon
other topics than those that filled their minds. Mr. Aylett was not
one to pay outward heed to hints when he chose to ignore them. He
kept up his walk until the carriage was driven around to the front
door, informed the parting guest that it awaited his commands,
likewise that he would need all the time that remained to him if he
hoped to catch the stage; without leaving the room, called to a
servant to bring down Mr. Chilton's baggage, and did not lose sight
of his sister's lover until the last farewell was said, and Frederic
bestowed inside the vehicle. There was nothing offensively officious
or malicious in all this. Having declared as an incontrovertible
dogma, that a ward could form no engagement without the formal
sanction of her legal guardian, he saw fit to put the seal upon the
decision at this, their adieu, in a manner they were not likely to
forget. An hour's harangue would not have imbued them with the sense
of his authority, his determination to exercise it, and their
impotency to resist it, as did this practical lesson.

Mrs. Sutton could scarcely restrain her tearful remonstrances
against what was, to her perception, an act of arbitrary and wanton
cruelty, and other spectators had their views upon the subject.

"Very inconsiderate in Aylett! I wonder how he would like the same
game to be played upon himself!" commented Alfred, aside, to his
Dulcinea.

Her lip curled in disdainful amusement.

"As if he had ever done an inconsiderate thing since he put off long
clothes! There is method in all this, if we were clever enough to
fathom it."

Within herself, she determined that she would solve the enigma
before she was a week older.

Frederic cast one hasty, eager look at the portico, as the carriage
turned out of the yard. Mabel stood in the foreground, her figure
framed by the climbing roses drooping over the front steps. She was
very pale, and, forgetful for the moment of the observation of the
bystanders, leaned slightly forward, her eyes strained upon the
carriage-window--one hand laid upon her heart, the other resting
against the pillar nearest her, as for support. She waved her
handkerchief, in response to his smile and lifted hat, and
simultaneously with this interchange of adieux her brother took her
by the arm.

"You are getting wet there, Mabel! Come into the house! It is well I
have come back to look after you!"

CHAPTER IV.

"FOUNDED UPON A ROCK."

If Mrs. Sutton had raised horrified eyes and despairing hands upon
learning the date of her nephew's proposed marriage, it was because
she miscalculated his executive abilities, and the energy she had
never until now seen fairly put forth. Within three days after his
return, the homestead was alive with masons, carpenters, painters,
and upholsterers, engaged by the prompt bridegroom on his passage
through Richmond; and so explicit were his orders as to the minutest
detail of the work appointed to each, that he could safely leave the
scene of action at the time appointed for the flying trip northward,
to which he had referred in his dialogue with Mabel on the afternoon
of his arrival.

The party of visitors had emigrated to other regions, a couple of
days after Frederic Chilton's departure, with the exception of Rosa
Tazewell, who accepted Mabel's invitation to prolong her sojourn,
the more willingly since she "flattered herself she could be of use
in the general upheaving of the ancient foundations, and
establishment of the new. If there was one thing she enjoyed above
another, it was a tremendous bustle--a lively revolution."

She made her boast of personal utility good by installing herself
forthwith as Mrs. Sutton's aid-de-camp, and rendering herself so far
indispensable in the work of reconstruction that Mr. Aylett deigned
to ask her not to desert her post in his absence.

"Yours is the genius of renovation, Miss Rosa," the potentate was
pleased to say in his handsomest style. "Do not, I beg of you,
forsake my aunt and sister in their need. Let me feel that I leave
one head as the motive-power of the multitudinous hands."

She agreed, in the same strain, to oblige him--a decision greeted
with satisfaction by the pair in whose behalf he besought her
friendly offices. The versatile invention and deft fingers of the
little brunette were welcome to the heavily-taxed housekeeper, as
were her gay good-humor and words of cheer and affection to the
younger of her companions. The two girls became more confidential in
six days than eighteen years of neigbborly intercourse had sufficed
to make them. Mabel's innate delicacy and excellent common sense
would, in ordinary circumstances, have barred effusiveness upon the
theme nearest her heart, but love at nineteen is rarely discreet,
even when the persuasives to communicativeness are less powerful
than were the sorcery of Rosa's sympathy and the confessions that
paved the way to answering and trustful communicativeness on her
friend's part.

They were having what she called "a good, long, comforting, as well
as comfortable chat" over their sewing in Mabel's chamber on the
afternoon of the eighth day of Winston's absence. The weather was
lovely, with the mellow brightness and balmy airs that make
Virginian autumns a joy and glory until November is half spent, and
the atmosphere held, at sunset, the warmth and much of the radiance
which had set the day--a perfect gem--in the heart of the golden
month. Into the eastern windows gazed the full moon, a crimson globe
upon the hazy horizon, while Venus lay, large and tremulous, among
the dying fires of the west.

"'Lovers love the western star,'" quoted Rosa, merrily, taking
Mabel's work from her and throwing it upon the bed. "Come and enjoy
the holy hour with me."

They leaned together upon the window-sill, their young faces tinted
by the changeful hues of the sky, both thoughtful and mute, until
Rosa broke the silence by a heavy sigh.

"O Mabel, you should be a happy, happy girl; blessed among women.
You can love--freely and joyously--and have pride and faith in the
one beloved."

"As you will some day," rejoined the other, drawing nearer to her,
"when you, in your turn, shall know the unspeakable sweetness of
unquestioning faith--of utter dependence upon him to whom you have
given your heart."

"Utter dependence!" echoed Rosa. "That would mean utter wreck of
heart, hope--everything--should the anchor give way. It is a
hazardous experiment, ma belle!"

The other looked down at her with simple fearlessness.

"'For it was founded upon a rock!'" she repeated softly; yet the
exultant ring of her accent vibrated upon the ear like a joyous
challenge.

Rosa's fretful movement was involuntary.

"Mine would drag in the sand at every turn of the tide, every rise
of the wind, if I were to follow your advice, and say 'yes' to the
pertinacious Alfred," she said reproachfully.

"Don't say advice, dear!" corrected the other. "I only endeavored to
convince you that there must be latent tenderness beneath your
sufferance of Mr. Branch's devotion; that if you really were averse
to the thought of marrying him, you could not take pleasure in his
society or enjoy the marks of his attachment which are apparent to
you and to everybody else."

"Can't you understand," said the beauty, petulantly, "that it is one
thing to flirt with a man in public, and another to cherish his
image in private? There is no better touchstone of affection than
the holiness and calm of an hour like this. If Frederic were with
you, the scene would be the fairer, the season more sacred for its
association with thoughts of him and his love. Whereas, my Alfred's
adoring platitudes would disgust me with the sunset, with the world,
and with myself, for permitting him to haunt my presence and hang
upon my smile--foppish barnacle that he is! If you knew how I
despise myself sometimes!"

"Dear Rosa! I shall never try again to persuade that you care for
him as a woman should for the man GOD intended her to marry. But why
not act worthily of yourself--justly to him, and reject him
decidedly?"

"Because"--her face shrewd and wilful as it had been sorrowful just
now--"I am by no means certain that I can do better than to marry
him. He is rich, good-looking (so people say!), well-born,
gentlemanly, and pleasant of temper. An imposing array of
advantages, you see! I might go further, and fare very much worse.
We shall not expect to pass our days in gazing at sunsets and
walking in the moonlight, you know. It is not every woman who can
marry the man she loves best. While the right to select and to woo
is usurped by the masculine portion of the community, it must,
perforce, be Hobson's choice with an uncountable majority of
feminines. I should not complain. The stall allotted to me by
Hobson--alias Fate--might hold a worse-conditioned animal than my
worshipping swain."

"What a wicked rattle you are!" Mabel said, affecting to box her
ears. "I could not love you if I believed you to be in earnest. As
to your figure of the stabled steed--this disapproving customer has
the consolation that she need not accept him, unless she wishes to
do so. She has the invaluable privilege of saying 'no' as often and
obstinately as she pleases."

"I deny it," said Rosa, perversely. "Parents, in this age, do not
make a custom of locking up refractory daughters in nunneries or
garrets until they consent to wed Baron Buncombe or my Lord Nozoo,
but there are, nevertheless, compulsory marriages in plenty. Society
warns me to make a creditable match, upon penalty, if I decline, of
being pointed out to the succeeding--and a fast-succeeding
generation it is! as a disappointed old maid--passée belle, who
squandered her capital of fascinations, and has become a pauper upon
public toleration, while my mother, sisters, and brothers are
growing impatient at my many and profitless flirtations, and anxious
to see me 'settled.' My mother's pet text, since I was sixteen, has
been her prayerful desire that I, the last of her nestlings, should
make choice of a tenable bough and helpful partner, and set up a
separate establishment before she dies. When that event occurs, I
shall be, in effect, homeless--a boarder around upon my rebukeful
relatives, who 'always thought how my trifling would end,' and who
will be forever scribbling 'vanitas vanitatum,' upon the tombstone
of my departed youth--my day of beaux and offers. You may shake your
head and look heroic with all your might! You are no better off than
I, should your brother see cause to refuse his consent to your
marriage with Mr. Chilton. He could, and probably would, coerce you
into another alliance before you were twenty-one. There are so many
ways of letting the life out of a woman's heart, when it is already
faint from disappointment! The spirit is oftener broken by
unyielding, but not seemingly cruel pressure, than by outrageous
violence. And Winston would show himself an adept in such arts, if
occasion offered."

"Rosa Tazewell! you are speaking of my brother, my friend and
benefactor! one of the best, noblest, most disinterested creatures
Heaven ever made!" cried Mabel, erect and indignant. "You have no
warrant--I shall never give you the right--to asperse him in my
presence. He is incapable of cruelty or unfairness. It is my duty to
obey him, but it is no less a pleasure, for he is a hundred-fold
wiser and better than I am--knows far more truly what is for my real
advantage. As to his conduct in this affair of Frederic and myself,
yon cannot deny that it has been generous and consistent throughout.
He has been cautious--never harsh!"

"So!" said Rosa, scrutinizing the flushed countenance of the other,
her own full of intense meaning, "you HAVE had your misgivings!"

Mabel reddened more warmly.

"Misgivings! What do you mean?"

"That the uncalled-for vehemence of your defence is a proof of
disturbed confidence, of wanting belief in the infallibility of your
semi-deity. The trailing robes of divinity have been blown aside by
a chance breath of suspicion, and you had a glimpse of the clay
feet. I am glad of it. Scepticism is the parent of rebellion, and
the time is coming when fealty to your betrothed may demand
disloyalty to the power that now is."

Mabel's smile was meant to be careless, but it was only uneasy, and
gave the lie direct to her asseveration.

"I have no apprehensions of such a conflict. Winston's word is as
good as another man's oath. It is pledged to my marriage with
Frederic Chilton, in the event of the prosperous issue of his
inquiries into his, Frederic's, character and prospects. That these
will be answered favorably, I have the word of another, who is every
whit as trustworthy. Where is there room for doubt?"

The brunette shook her head--unconvinced.

"Have your own way! I can afford to abide the showing of the logic
of events."

"And I!" retorted Mabel, hastily, turning from her, without
attempting to dissemble her chagrin, to answer a knock at the door.

It was a servant, with two letters. The annoyance passed from her
brow, like the sheerest mist, as she read the superscriptions--one
in her brother's handwriting, the other in Frederic's.

Rosa interfered to prevent the breaking of the seals.

"I am going to leave you to the undisturbed enjoyment of your
feast," she said, in her most winsome manner. "But--won't it taste
the sweeter if your antepast is the delight of forgiveness? Say you
are not angry with me--mia cara!"

"You are a ridiculous child!" Mabel bent to kiss the pleading lips,
then the great, melting eyes. "Who could be out of temper with you
for half a minute at a time? You did try my patience with your
nonsense, but since it WAS nonsense, I have forgotten it all, and
love you none the less for your prankish humor--you gypsy!"

"She calls my prophecies humbug--turns a deaf ear to my warnings!"
cried the incorrigible rattle, clasping her hands above her head and
rolling her eyes tragically. "I have a lively appreciation, at this
instant, of Cassandra's agonies when Troilus named her 'our mad
sister!'--

'Woe! woe! woe!
Let us pay betimes
A moiety of that mass of moans to come!'"

Laughing anew at her frantic rush from the chamber, Mabel sat down
in the broad window-seat to read her love-letter.

Frederic was too manly in feeling and habit of speech to deal in
florid rhapsodies, but each line had its message from his heart to
hers. He loved her purely and in truth, and there was not a sentence
that did not tell her this, by inference, if not directly. He
trusted her--and this, too, he told her, more as a husband might the
wife of years than a lover of her he had won so lately. Their hopes
were the same and their lives, and she dwelt longest upon the
sketched plans for the future of these. It brought him closer to her
than anything else--put her secret and reluctant imaginations of
evil, and Rosa's daring insinuations, out of sight and recollection.
She read slowly, and with frequent pauses, that she might take in
the exquisite flavor of this and that phrase of endearment; set
before herself in beauty and distinctness the scenes he portrayed as
the adornment of the prospect which was theirs.

The second and yet more deliberate perusal over, she folded the
sheet with lingering touches to every corner, thrust it into the
envelope, and drew it forth again to peep once more at the
signature--"Forever and truly, your own Frederic;" pressed it to her
lips, then to her heart, and bestowed it securely in her writing-
desk, before she unclosed her brother's epistle.

With her finger upon the seal--a big drop of red wax, like a
petrified blood-gout, stamped with the Aylett coat-of-arms--she
leaned through the casement to watch for the flutter of Rosa's white
dress among the vari-colored maples shading the lawn--sang a clear,
sweet second to the song that ascended to her eyrie:

"Why weep ye by the tide, ladye?
Why weep ye by the tide?
I'll wed ye to my youngest son,
And ye shall be his bride.
And ye shall be his bride, ladye,
Sae comely to be seen;
But aye she loot the tears down fa'
For lock o' Hazeldean."

"MY DEAR MABEL" [wrote the lord of Ridgeley]--"I wish you, so soon
as yon receive this, to communicate with Jenkyns and Smythe
concerning the new parlor furniture I ordered from them. In talking
it over, Clara and I have decided that it had better be covered with
maroon, instead of green, as you advised. I enclose a sample of
damask which they must match exactly. I would I write direct to
them, but think it likely that Jenkyns, the managing man of the
firm, is in your neighborhood at this time. He told me, when I was
in town, of his intention to visit Mrs. Wilson, his sister, I
believe, who lives on the White Oak road, about three miles from
Ridgeley. Send for him, and put the samples into his hands. If he
cannot get the precise color in Richmond, let him order it from New
York.

"The carpets for the parlor, dining-room, and Clara's chamber I have
bought in Lowell. Clara accompanied me thither, and gave me the
benefit of her taste in the selection. I have resolved, also, to
purchase wallpaper in Boston to match these. Say as much to
Jenkyns. I shall have the boxes directed to his care and instruct
him further respecting making the carpets and hanging the paper when
I return.

"Ask Roberts (the mason) whether it will be practicable to build a
fire-place in the large lower hall. Another chimney would be an
unsightly appendage to the roof, but Clara agrees with me, since
studying the plan of the house I brought on for her inspection, that
a flue could be run through the closet in your room into the rear
one of the west chimneys. She thinks the hall must be freezing cold
in winter, and caught eagerly at my idea that a blazing fire at one
end would lighten the sombre effect of the oaken wainscot and lofty
ceiling. I proposed to tear down the panelling, but she was
horrified at the thought. I could not take more pride and interest
in preserving the antique character of the home of my forefathers
than does she. She will have it that the hall, thus improved, and
hung with a few old pictures, some bits of ancient armor, and
carpeted with maroon and green will be truly baronial. You and she
will agree admirably in your enthusiastic love of the venerable, and
in your aesthetic tastes. I congratulate myself hourly upon my good
fortune in securing such a companion for myself, and such an
instructress for yourself. You cannot fail to derive infinite
benefit from intercourse with her.

"This brings me to another subject to which I desire to call your
immediate attention. I wish her to select a couple of dresses
suitable for your wear on the night of our reception-party, and at
others which will, undoubtedly, be given in our honor. She objects
to doing this unless I obtain from you a written request that she
should thus aid me. She fears you may consider her action 'premature
and officious.' Write to her at once, requesting her to do this
sisterly favor for you, setting forth your distance from the city,
the meagre assortment of the goods to be had in the Richmond stores,
etc., and giving her carte blanche as to cost and style. It will be
an inestimable advantage to your appearance on the occasions named
should she oblige you in this particular. I earnestly desire that
you should look your best at your introduction to her."

"'Maroon and green!' a 'baronial' hall, and new party-dresses for
insignificant me!" Mabel stopped to say aloud in great amusement.
"What would my sage brother have said to such paltry memoranda six
months ago? He is an apt scholar, or he has an able teacher. Ah,
well! love is a marvellous transmogrifier!"

With this apothegm from the storehouse of her lately acquired
wisdom, she passed to the next paragraph.

"Now for another matter about which I meant to write to you
yesterday, but I was prevented by our expedition to Lowell. The
evenings I of course devote to Clara. I have not been so engrossed
by my own very important concerns as to neglect yours. I stopped a
day in Philadelphia, illy as I could afford the time, to make such
investigations as I could, without exciting invidious suspicion,
into the character of the person whom I found domesticated at
Ridgeley on my return from my summer tour. The information I picked
up in that cautious city was so meagre and tantalizing as to provoke
me into the belief that he had selected his references with an eye
to the slenderness of their knowledge of his personal history.
Accident, however, has since placed within my reach a means of
learning all that I wish to know. Without wearying you with
explanations, which, indeed, I have no time to write--being engaged
to drive out with Clara in an hour from this time--I will transcribe
a portion of a letter received by me, two days since, from a
gentleman of unexceptional standing, and upon whose word you may
safely depend.

"He says: 'In reply to your queries as to my acquaintanceship with
one Frederic Chilton, now a practising lawyer in the city of
Philadelphia, I would, if conscience permitted, repay your frankness
by evasion of a disagreeable truth. But in the circumstances which
induced your appeal, I have no option. Hesitation or concealment
would be unkind and dishonorable. I knew the man you speak of
well--I may say intimately, while we were fellow-students in the----
law school, in 18--. He was then--what I have but too much reason
for believing him at this day--a plausible, unprincipled man of
pleasure. Our intercourse, which commenced at the card-table,
terminated with a severe horsewhipping I administered to him in
punishment of an offence offered a married lady--a relative of my
own. Taking advantage of the protracted absence of her husband, who
was a naval officer, he offered her many attentions, received by
herself as tokens of innocent and friendly regard, until he forgot
himself so far as to make her open and insulting proposals, even
urging her to consent to an elopement, and threatening, in the event
of her refusal, to ruin her by infamous calumnies. Her father was
infirm; her husband in a foreign land. His base persecution would
have met with no chastisement, had not I espoused the terrified
woman's cause. These are the bare facts of the case. He merited a
flogging--as you, a chivalric Virginian, will admit. I--a Northern
man, with cooler blood, but I hope, as true a sense of honor and
right as your own--inflicted this, as I am prepared to testify
before any number of witnesses.'"

[Mabel was reading very fast, her eyes hurrying from side to side of
the page, her face blanching, and her hands more numb with every
word.]

"The above is a verbatim copy of that portion of my friend's letter
which pertains to your affair," continued Mr. Aylett. "I shall write
to Mrs. Sutton's protege by the mail that carries this, informing
him of my opportune discovery, through no instrumentality of his
providing, of the poverty of his claims to the title of gentleman,
and the audacity of his pretensions to my sister's hand. Have what
letters, etc., you have received from him ready packed to return to
his address when I come home. My principal regret, in the review of
the unfortunate entanglement, is that he ever visited Ridgeley and
was known in the vicinity as your suitor. You will suffer from this,
in the future, more than you can now suppose. A woman hardly ever
outlives such a stigma.

"You may expect me on Thursday next, the 21st, at which time I hope
to see most of the alterations I have ordered in an encouraging
state of forwardness. Should Jenkyns be in town when you get this,
write out my directions clearly and in full, and send them, with
sample of damask, by mail.

"Your affectionate brother,

"WINSTON AYLETT"

The clammy, nerveless hands dropped--the fatal sheet below
them--into Mabel's lap. She did not cry out or moan. Things stricken
to the heart generally fall dumbly. It was not her cramped position
within the window-seat that paralyzed her limbs, nor the chill of
the twilight that crept through vein and bone. For one sick second
she believed herself to be dying, and would not have stirred a
muscle or spoken a syllable to save the life which had suddenly
grown worthless--worthless, since she was never to see Frederic
again; be no more to him than if she had never laid her head upon
his bosom; never felt his kisses upon lip and forehead; never lived
upon his words of love as rapt mortals, admitted in trances to the
banquet of the gods, eat ambrosia, and drink to divinest ecstacy of
nectar--the elixir of immortal life and joy, sparkling in golden
chalices.

She had had her dream--ravishing and brief--but the awakening was
terrible as the struggle back to life from a swoon or deathful
lethargy. As to thinking, I believe nobody thinks at such seasons.
Nature shrinks in speechless horror at sight of the descending
weight, and when it has fallen, lies motionless, gasping in breath
to enable her to support the intolerable anguish, not speculating
how to avert the next stroke. Frederic and she were parted! Had not
Winston said so! And when was he known to reverse a verdict! She had
nothing to do but sit still and let the waters go over her head.

Rosa was seated upon the upper step of the west porch, her chin
cradled in her hand, her elbow on her knee, gazing on the darkening
sky, and crooning Scotch ballads in a pensive, dreamy way. Mabel,
from her perch, eyed her as if she were a creature belonging to
another world--seen dimly, and comprehended yet more imperfectly.
Yet it could not have been half an hour--thirty fleeting
minutes--since the two had talked as dear friends out of the fulness
of their hearts. Where were the hopes and happy memories that had
made hers then a garden of pleasant things, a fruitful field which
Heaven had blessed? In that little inch of time, the flood had come
and taken them all away.

Would the dry aching in her throat and chest ever be less? Tears had
gushed freely and healthfully after her last leave-taking with
Frederic--the looked farewell, which was all Winston's surveillance
had granted them. She had been wounded then by her brother's
singular want of tact or feeling. She had not the spirit to resent
anything to-night, unless it were that God had made and suffered to
live a being so wretched and useless as herself. She supposed it was
wicked--but she did not care! She ought to be resigned to the
mysterious dispensations of Providence--that was the prescribed
phraseology of pious people. She had heard the cant times without
number. What more would they have than her utter destitution of love
and bliss? Was she not miserable enough to satisfy the sternest

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