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At Last by Marion Harland

Part 3 out of 5

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the ceiled apartment. The miserable coat was buttoned up to his
chin, and the shreds of a coarse woollen comforter, torn from his
throat at his capture, still hung about his shoulders. His clothes
were sodden with wet, as Harrison had said, and the solitary
pretence at rendering him comfortable for the night, had been the
act of a negro, who contemptuously flung an old blanket across his
nether limbs before leaving him to his lethargic slumbers. He had
not moved since they tossed him, like a worthless sack, upon this
sorry resting-place, but lay an unsightly huddle of arms, legs, and
head, such as was never achieved, much less continued, by any one
save a drunken man or a corpse. Mabel ended the awed silence.

"This is torpor--not sleep, nor yet death," she said, without
recoiling from the pitiful wreck.

Indeed, as she spoke, she bent to feel his pulse; held the emaciated
wrist in her warm fingers until she could determine whether the
feeble stroke were a reality, or a trick of the imagination.

"Dr. Ritchie should see him immediately. He is in the smoking-room.
If you call him out, it will excite less remark than if I were to do
it. Don't let Winston guess why you want him," were her directions
to her aunt, uttered quickly, but distinctly.

"Yon will not stay here! At least, go into the hall! What will the
doctor think?"

"I shall remain where I am. The poor creature is too far gone to
presume upon my condescension," with a faint sarcastic emphasis.

At Mrs. Sutton's return with the physician, she perceived that her
niece had not awaited her coming in sentimental idleness. A thick
woollen coverlet was wrapped about the prostrate figure, and Mabel,
upon her knees on the dusty hearth, was applying the candle to a
heap of waste paper and bits of board she had ferreted out in
closets and cuddy-holes. It caught and blazed up hurriedly in season
to facilitate the doctor's examination of the patient, thrown so
oddly upon his care. Mrs. Sutton had not neglected, in her haste, to
procure a warm shawl from her room, and she folded it about the
girl's shoulders, whispering an entreaty that she would go to bed,
and leave the man to her management and Dr. Ritchie.

Mabel waved her off impatiently.

"Presently! when I hear how he is!" moving toward the comfortless
couch.

The physician looked around at the rustle of her dress, his pleasant
face perturbed, and perhaps remorseful.

"This is a bad business! I wish I had examined him when he was
brought in. There would have been more hope of doing something for
him then. But, to tell the truth, I was one of the five or six
prudent fellows who stayed upon the piazza, and witnessed the
capture from a distance. I had no idea of the man's real situation.
Mrs. Sutton! can I have brandy, hot water, and mustard at once! Miss
Mabel! may I trouble you to call your brother? He ought to be
advised of this unforeseen turn of affairs."

His emissaries were prompt. In less than ten minutes, all the
appliances the household could furnish for the restoration of the
failing life were at his command. An immense fire roared in the
long-disused chimney; warm blankets, bottles of hot water and
mustard-poultices were prepared by a corps of officious servants;
the master of the mansion, with three or four friends at his heels,
and a half-smoked cigar in his hand, had looked in for a moment, to
hope that Dr. Ritchie would not hesitate to order whatever was
needed, and to predict a favorable result as the meed of his skill.

Half an hour after her brother's visit, Mabel tapped at the door to
inquire how the patient was, and whether she could be of use in any
way. She still wore her evening dress, and the fire of excitement
had not gone out in her eyes and complexion.

"Don't sit up longer," said the doctor, with the authority of an old
friend. "It will not benefit your protege for you to have a
headache, pale cheeks, and heavy eyes to-morrow, while it will
render others, whose claims upon you are stronger, very miserable."

She thanked him laconically for his thoughtfulness, and bade him
"good-night," without a responsive gleam of playfulness. Her heart
was weighed down with sick horror. The almost certainty of which he
spoke with professional coolness, was to her, who had never within
her recollection stood beside a death-bed, a thing too frightful to
be anticipated without dread, however its terrors might be
alleviated by affection and wealth. As the finale of their Christmas
frolic--perhaps the consequence of wilful neglect in those who
should have known better than to abandon the wanderer to the ravages
of hunger, cold, and intoxication--the idea was ghastly beyond
description.

She was about to diverge from the main hall on the second floor into
the lateral passage leading to Mrs. Sutton's room in the wing, when
her name was called in a gentle, guarded key by her sister-in-law.

CHAPTER IX.

HE DEPARTETH IN DARKNESS.

"COME in! I want to talk to you!" said Mrs. Aylett, beckoning Mabel
into her chamber, from the door of which she had hailed her. "Sit
down, my poor girl! You are white as a sheet with fatigue. I cannot
see why you should have been suffered to know anything about this
very disagreeable occurrence. And Emmeline has been telling me that
Mrs. Sutton actually let you go up into that Arctic room."

"It was my choice. Aunt Rachel went along to carry the light and to
keep me company. She would have dissuaded me from the enterprise if
she could," responded Mabel, sinking into the low, cushioned chair
before the fire, which the mistress of the luxurious apartment had
just wheeled forward for her, and confessing to herself, for the
first time, that she was chilly and very tired.

"But where were the servants, my dear? Surely you are not required,
in your brother's house, to perform such menial services as taking
food and medicine to a sick vagrant."

"Winston had forbidden them to go near the room. I wish I had gone
up earlier. I might have been the means of saving a life which,
however worthless it may seem to us, must be of value to some one."

"Is he so far gone?"

The inquiry was hoarsely whispered, and the speaker leaned back in
her fauteuil, a spark of fierce eagerness in her dilated eyes,
Mabel, in her own anxiety, did not consider overstrained solicitude
in behalf of a disreputable stranger. She had more sympathy with it
than with the relapse into apparent nonchalance that succeeded her
repetition of the doctor's report.

"He does not think the unfortunate wretch will revive, even
temporarily, then?" commented the lady, conventionally
compassionate, playing with her ringed fingers, turning her diamond
solitaire in various directions to catch the firelight. "How unlucky
he should have strayed upon our grounds! Was he on his way to the
village?"

"Who can say? Not he, assuredly. He has not spoken a coherent word.
Dr. Ritchie thinks he will never be conscious again."

"I am afraid the event will mar our holiday gayeties to some extent,
stranger though he is!" deplored the hostess. "Some people are
superstitious about such things. His must have been the spectral
visage I saw at the window. I was sure it was that of a white man
although Winston tried, to persuade me to the contrary."

"It is dreadful!" ejaculated Mabel energetically. "He, poor homeless
wayfarer, perishing with cold and want in the very light of our
summer-like rooms; getting his only glimpse of the fires that would
have brought back vitality to his freezing body through closed
windows! Then to be hunted down by dogs, and locked up by more
unfeeling men, as if he were a ravenous beast, instead of a
suffering fellow-mortal! I shall always feel as if I were, in some
measure, chargeable with his death--should he die. Heaven forgive us
our selfish thoughtlessness, our criminal disregard of our brother's
life!"

"I understood you to say there was no hope!" interrupted Mrs.
Aylett.

"So Dr. Ritchie declares. But I cannot bear to believe it!"

She pressed her fingers upon her eyeballs as if she would exclude
some horrid vision.

"My dear sister! your nerves have been cruelly tried. To-morrow, you
will see this matter--and everything else--through a different
medium. As for the object of your amiable pity, he is, without
doubt, some low, dissipated creature, of whom the world will be well
rid."

"I am not certain of that. There are traces of something like
refinement and gentle breeding about him in all his squalor and
unconsciousness. I noticed his hands particularly. They are slender
and long, and his features in youth and health must have been
handsome. Dr. Ritchie thought the same. Who can tell that his wife
is not mourning his absence to-night, as the fondest woman under
this roof would regret her husband's disappearance? And she may
never learn when and how he died--never visit his grave!"

"I have lived in this wicked world longer than you have, my sweet
Mabel; so you must not quarrel with me if these fancy pictures do
not move me as they do your guileless heart," said Mrs. Aylett, the
sinister shadow of a mocking smile playing about her mouth. "Nor
must you be offended with me for suggesting as a pendant to your
crayon sketch of widowhood and desolation the probability that the
decease of a drunken thief or beggar cannot be a serious
bereavement, even to his nearest of kin. Women who are beaten and
trampled under foot by those who should be their comfort and
protection are generally relieved when they take to vagrancy as a
profession. It may be that this man's wife, if she were cognizant of
his condition, would not lift a finger, or take a step to prolong
his life for one hour. Such things have been."

"More shame to human nature that they have!" was the impetuous
rejoinder. "In every true woman's heart there must be tender
memories of buried loves, let their death have been natural or
violent."

"So says your gentler nature. There are women--and I believe they
are in the majority in this crooked lower sphere--in whose hearts
the monument to departed affection--when love is indeed no more--is
a hatred that can never die. But we have wandered an immense
distance from the unlucky chicken-thief or burglar overhead. Dr.
Ritchie's sudden and ostentatious attack of philanthropy will hardly
beguile him into watching over his charge--a guardian angel in
dress-coat and white silk neck-tie--until morning?"

"Mammy is to relieve him so soon as he is convinced that human skill
can do nothing for his relief," said Mabel very gravely.

Her sister-in-law's high spirits and jocular tone jarred upon her
most disagreeably, but she tried to bear in mind in what dissimilar
circumstances they had passed the last hour. If Clara appeared
unfeeling, and her remarks were distinguished by less taste than was
customary in one so thoroughly bred, it was because the exhilaration
of the evening was yet upon her, and she had not seen the
death's-head prone upon the pillows in the cheerless attic. Thoughts
of poverty and dying beds were unseemly in this apartment when the
very warmth and fragrance of the air told of fostering and
sheltering love. The heavy curtains did not sway in the blast that
hurled its whole fury against the windows; the furniture was
handsome, and in perfect harmony with the dark, yet glowing hues of
the carpet, and with the tinted walls. A tall dressing mirror let
into a recess reflected the picture, brilliant with firelight that
colored the shadows themselves; lengthened into a deep perspective
the apparent extent of the chamber and showed, like a fine old
painting, the central figure in the vista.

Mrs. Aylett had exchanged her evening dress for a cashmere wrapper,
the dark-blue ground of which was enlivened by a Grecian pattern of
gold and scarlet; her unbound hair draped her shoulders, and framed
her arch face, as she threaded the bronze ripples with her fingers.
She looked contented, restful, complacent in herself and her
belongings--one whom Time had touched lovingly as he swept by, and
whom sorrow had forgotten.

"Not asleep yet!" was her husband's exclamation, entering before
anything further passed between the two women; and when his sister
started up, with an apology for being found there at so late an
hour, he added, more reproachfully than he ever spoke to his wife,
"You should not have kept her up, Mabel! Her strength has been too
much taxed already to-night. I hoped and believed that she had been
in bed and asleep for an hour."

"Don't blame her!" said Mrs. Aylett, hastily. "I called her in as
she was proceeding to bed in the most decorous manner possible. I
may as well own the truth of my weakness. I was nervously
wakeful--the effect, in part, of the ultra-strong coffee Dr. Ritchie
advised me to drink at supper-tine--in part, of the silly sensation
I got up to terrify my friends. So I maneuvered to secure a fireside
companion until you should have dispatched your cigar. Gossip is as
pleasant a sedative to ladies as is a prime Havana to their lords."

"And what is the latest morceau?" inquired Mr Aylett, indulgently,
when Mabel had gone.

He was standing by his wife's chair, and she leaned her head against
him, her bright eyes uplifted to his, her hair falling in a long,
burnished fringe over his arm--a fond, sparkling siren, whom no man,
with living blood in his veins, could help stooping to kiss before
her lips had shaped a reply.

"You wouldn't think it an appetizing morsel! But I listened with
interest to our unsophisticated Mabel's account of her Quixotic
expedition to what will, I foresee, be the haunted chamber of
Ridgeley in the next generation. Her penchant for adventure has, I
suspect, embellished her portrait of the hapless house-breaker."

"A common-looking tramp!" returned Winston, disdainfully. "As
villanous a dog in physiognomy and dress as I ever saw! Such an one
as generally draws his last breath where he drew the first--in a
ditch or jail; and too seldom, for the peace and safety of society,
finds his noblest earthly elevation upon a gallows. It is a
nuisance, though, having him pay this trifling debt of
Nature--nobody but Nature would trust him--in my house. There must
be an inquest and a commotion. The whole thing is an insufferable
bore. Ritchie has given him up, and gone to bed, leaving old Phillis
on the watch, with unlimited rations of whiskey, and a pile of
fire-wood higher than herself. But I did not mean that you should
hear anything about this dirty business. It is not fit for my
darling's ears. Mabel showed even less than her usual discretion in
detailing the incidents of her adventure to you."

Flattery of his sister had never been a failing with him, but, since
his marriage, the occasions were manifold in which her inferiority
to his wife was so glaring as to elicit a verbal expression of
disapproval. It was remarkable that Clara's advocacy of Mabel's
cause, at these times, so frequently failed to alter his purpose of
censure or to mitigate it, since, in all other respects, her
influence over him was more firmly established each day and hour.

Old Phillis, Mabel's nurse and the doctress of the
plantation--albeit a less zealous devotee than her master had
intimated of the potent beverages left within her reach, ostensibly
for the use of her patient should he revive sufficiently to swallow
a few drops--was yet too drowsy from the fatigues of the day,
sundry cups of Christmas egg-nogg, and the obesity of age, to
maintain alert vigil over one she, in common with her
fellow-servitors, scorned as an aggravated specimen of the always
and ever-to-be despicable genus, "poor white folks." There was next
to nothing for her to do when the fire had been replenished, the
bottles of hot water renewed at the feet and heart, and fresh
mustard draughts wound about the almost pulseless limbs of the dying
stranger. She did contrive to keep Somnus at arm's length for a
while longer, by a minute examination of his upper clothing, which,
by Dr. Ritchie's directions, had been removed, that the remedies
might be more conveniently applied, and the heated blankets the
sooner infuse a vital glow through the storm-beaten frame. The
ancient crone took them up with the tips of her fingers--ragged
coat, vest, and pantaloons--rummaged in the same contemptuous
fashion every pocket, and kicked over the worn, soaked boots with
the toe of her leather brogan, sniffing her disappointment at the
worthlessness of the habiliments and the result of her search.

"Fit fur nothin' but to bury his poor carcuss in!" she grunted, and
had recourse to her own plethoric pocket for a clay pipe and a bag
of tobacco.

This lighted by a coal from the hearth, she tied a second
handkerchief over that she wore, turban-wise, on her head, mumbling
something about "cold ears" and "rheumatiz;" settled herself in a
rush-bottomed chair, put her feet upon the rounds of another, and
was regularly on duty, prepared for any emergency, and to be alarmed
at nothing that might occur.

So strict was the discipline she established over herself in fifteen
minutes, that she did not stir at the creaking of the bolt, or the
shriller warning of the unoiled hinges, as the door moved cautiously
back, and a cloaked form became dimly visible in the opening. A
survey of the inside of the chamber, the unmoving nurse and her
senseless charge, with the fumes of brandy and tobacco, reassured
the visitant. Her stockingless feet were thrust into wadded
slippers; over her white night-dress was a dark-blue wrapper, and,
in addition to this protection against the cold, she was enveloped
in a great shawl, disposed like a cowl about her head. Without
rustle or incautious mis-step she gained the side of the improvised
bed, and leaned over it. The face of the occupant was turned
slightly toward the left shoulder, and away from the light. The
apparition raised herself, with a gesture of impatience, caught the
candle from the rickety table at the head of the mattress, snuffed
it hurriedly, and again stooped toward the recumbent figure, with it
in her hand.

It was then that the vigilant watcher unclosed her flabby lids,
slowly, and without start or exclamation, much as a dozing cat
blinks when a redder sparkle from the fire dazzles her out of
dreams. One hard wink, one bewildered stare, and Pbillis was awake
and wary. Her chin sank yet lower upon her chest, but the black eyes
were rolled upward until they bore directly upon the strange
tableau. The shawl had dropped from the lady's head, and the candle
shone broadly upon her features, as upon the sick man's profile.
Apparently dissatisfied with this view, she slipped her disengaged
hand under the cheek which was downward, and drew his face around
into full sight.

"And bless your soul, honey!" Aunt Phillis told her young mistress,
long afterward, "you never see sech a look as was on hern--while her
eyes was thar bright and big, they was jist like live coals sot in a
lump of dough--she growed so white!"

Nevertheless the spy could return the candle to its place upon the
table without perceptible tremor of lip or limb, and after bestowing
one scrutinizing glance upon the nurse, who was fast asleep beneath
it, she went to the heap of damp clothing. These she lifted--one by
one--less gingerly than Phillis had done, and ransacked every likely
hiding-place of papers or valuables, going through the operation
with a rapid dexterity that astounded the old woman's weak mind, and
made her ashamed of her own clumsiness. Anticipating the final
stealthy look in her direction, the heavy lids fell once again, and
were not raised until the rusty bolt passed gratingly into the
socket, and she felt that the place was deserted by all save herself
and the dying stroller.

She was in no danger of dozing upon her post after this visitation.
For the few hours of darkness that yet remained, she sat in her
chair, her elbows upon her knees, smoking, and pondering upon what
she had witnessed, varying her occupations by feeding the fire and
such care of the patient as she considered advisable; likening, in
her rude, yet excitable imagination, the rumbling of the gale in the
chimney and across the roof-tree, to the roll of the chariot-wheels
which were to carry away the parting soul; the tap and rattle of
sleet and wind at the windows to the summons of demons, impatient at
Death's delay.

"The Lord send him an easy death, and let him go up, instead of
down!" she groaned aloud, once.

But the dubious shake of the head accompanying the benevolent
petition betokened her disbelief in the possibility of a favorable
reply. In her articles of faith it was only by a miracle that a
"no-account white man," picked up out of the highway, and whose
pockets were barren as were those she had examined, could get an
impetus in that direction.

The stormy dawn was revealing, with dreary distinctness, the shabby
disorder of the lumber-room, when Dr. Ritchie appeared in his
dressing-gown, rubbing his eyes, and yawning audibly.

"Gone--hey?" was his comment upon the negress' movements.

She had bound a strip of linen about the lank jaws; combed back the
grizzled hair from the forehead into sleek respectability; crossed
the hands at the wrists, as only dead hands are ever laid;
straightened the limbs, and was in the act of spreading a clean
sheet over her finished work.

"Nigh upon an hour since, sir," she responded, respectfully.

"He did not revive at all after I left him?"

"Not a breath or a motion, sir. He went off at the last jist as easy
as a lamb. Never tried to say nothin', nor opened his eyes after you
went down. 'Twould a' been a pity ef you had a' lost more sleep
a-settin' up with him. Ah, well, poor soul! 'taint for us to say
whar he is now. I would hope he is in glory, ef I could. I 'spose
the Almighty knows, and that's enough."

The doctor arrested her hand when she would have covered the face.

"He must have been a fine-looking fellow in his day!" he said, more
to himself than to her. "But he has lived fast, burned himself up
alive with liquor."

"I didn't call nobody, sir, to help me, 'cause nobody couldn't do no
good, and I was afeared of wakin' the gentlemen and ladies, a
trottin' up and downstairs," continued Phillis, bent upon
exculpating herself from all blame in the affair, and mistaking his
momentary pensiveness for displeasure.

"You were quite right, old lady! All the doctors and medicines in
the world could not have pulled him through after the drink and the
snow had had their way with him for so many hours--poor devil! Well!
I'll go back to bed now, and finish my morning nap."

He was at the threshold when he bethought himself of a final
injunction.

"You had better keep an eye upon these things, Aunty!" pointing to
the coat and other garments she had ranged upon chairs to dry in
front of the fire. "There will be a coroner's inquest, I suppose,
and there may be papers in his pockets which will tell who he was
and where he belonged. When you are through in here, lock the door
and take out the key--and if you can help it, don't let a whisper of
this get abroad before breakfast. It will spoil the ladies'
appetites. If anybody asks how he is, say 'a little better.' He
can't be worse off than he was in life, let him be where he may."

"Yes, sir," answered Phillis, in meek obedience. "But I don't think
he was the kind his folks would care to keep track on, nor the sort
that carries valeyble papers 'round with 'em."

"I reckon you are not far out of the way there!" laughed the doctor,
subduedly, lest the echo in the empty hall might reach the sleepers
on the second floor, and he ran lightly down the garret steps.

The inquest sat that afternoon. It was a leisure season with
planters, and a jury was easily collected by special
messengers--twelve jolly neighbors, who were not averse to the
prospect of a glass of Mrs. Sutton's famous egg-nogg, and a social
smoke around the fire in the great dining-room, even though these
were prefaced by ten minutes' solemn discussion over the remains of
the nameless wayfarer.

His shirt was marked with some illegible characters, done in faded
ink, which four of the jury spelled out as "James Knowlton," three
others made up into "Jonas Lamson," and the remaining five declined
deciphering at all. Upon one sock were the letters "R. M." upon the
fellow, "G. B." With these unavailable exceptions, there was
literally no clue to his name, profession, or residence, to be
gathered from his person or apparel. The intelligent jury brought in
a unanimous verdict--"Name unknown. Died from the effects of drink
and exposure;" the foreman pulled the sheet again over the blank,
chalky face, and the shivering dozen wound their way to the warmer
regions, where the expected confection awaited them.

Their decorous carousal was at its height, and the ladies, one and
all, had sought their respective rooms to recuperate their wearied
energies by a loll, if not a siesta, that they might be in trim for
the evening's enjoyment (Christmas lasted a whole week at Ridgeley)
when four strapping field hands, barefooted, that their tramp might
not break the epicurean slumbers, brought down from the desolate
upper chamber a rough pine coffin, manufactured and screwed tight by
the plantation carpenter, and after halting a minute in the back
porch to pull on their boots, took their way across the lawn and
fields to the servants' burial-place. This was in a pine grove, two
furlongs or more from the garden fence, forming the lower enclosure
of the mansion grounds. The intervening dell was knee-deep in
drifted snow, the hillside bare in spots, and ridged high in others,
where the wind-currents had swirled from base to summit. The passage
was a toilsome one, and the stalwart bearers halted several times to
shift their light burden before they laid it down upon the mound of
mixed snow and red clay at the mouth of the grave. Half-a-dozen
others were waiting there to assist in the interment, and at the
head of the pit stood a white-headed negro, shaking with palsy and
cold--the colored chaplain of the region, who, more out of custom
and superstition than a sense of religious responsibility--least of
all motives, through respect for the dead--had braved the inclement
weather to say a prayer over the wanderer's last home.

The storm had abated at noon, and the snow no longer fell, but there
had been no sunshine through all the gloomy day, and the clouds were
now mustering thickly again to battle, while the rising gale in the
pine-tops was hoarse and wrathful. Far as the eye could reach were
untrodden fields of snow; gently-rolling hills, studded with shrubs
and tinged in patches by russet bristles of broom-straw; the river
swollen into blackness between the white banks, and the dark horizon
of forest seeming to uphold the gray firmament. To the right of the
spectator, who stood on the eminence occupied by the cemetery, lay
Ridgeley, with its environing outhouses, crowning the most ambitious
height of the chain, the smoke from its chimneys and those of the
village of cabins beating laboriously upward, to be borne down at
last by the lowering mass of chilled vapor.

The coffin was deposited in its place with scant show of reverence,
and without removing their hats, the bystanders leaned on their
spades, and looked to the preacher for the ceremony that was to
authorize them to hurry through with their distasteful task. That
the gloom of the hour and scene, and the utter forlornness of all
the accompaniments of what was meant for Christian burial, had
stamped themselves upon the mind and heart of the unlettered slave,
was evident from the brief sentences he quavered out--joining his
withered hands and raising his bleared eyes toward the threatening
heavens:

"Lord! what is man, that thou art mindful of him! For that which
befalleth man befalleth beasts--even one thing befalleth them. All
go unto one place; all are of the dust, and all turn to dust again.
Who knoweth the spirit of man that goeth upward, and the spirit of
the beast that goeth downward to the earth? Man cometh in with
vanity and departeth in darkness, and his name shall be covered with
darkness. The dead know not anything, for the memory of them is
forgotten. Also their love, and their hatred, and their envy is now
perished, neither have they a portion for ever in anything that is
done under the sun.

"Lord! teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts
unto wisdom. Oh, spare ME, that I may recover strength, ere I go
hence and be no more!

"In the name of the FATHER, SON, and HOLY GHOST--dust to dust, and
ashes to ashes! Amen!"

"By the way, Mr. Aylett, the poor wretch up-stairs should be buried
at the expense of the county," remarked the coroner, before taking
leave of Ridgeley and the egg-nogg bowl. "I will take the poor-house
on my way home, and tell the overseer to send a coffin and a cart
over in the morning. You don't care to have the corpse in the house
longer than necessary, I take it? The sooner he is in the Potter's
Field, the more agreeable for you and everybody else."

Mr. Aylett pointed through the back window at the winding path
across the fields.

A short line of black dots was seen coming along it, in the
direction of the house. As they neared it they were discovered to be
men, each with a hoe or shovel upon his shoulder.

"The deed is done!" said the master, smiling. "My good fellows there
have spared the county the expense, and the overseer the trouble of
this little matter. As for the Potter's Field, a place in my
servants' burying-ground is quite as respectable, and more
convenient in this weather."

The jurors were grouped about the fire in the baronial hall,
buttoning up overcoats and splatterdashes, and drawing on their
riding-gloves, all having come on horseback. In the midst of the
general bepraisement of their host's gentlemanly and liberal
conduct, Mrs. Aylett swam down the staircase, resplendent in silver-
gray satin, pearl necklace and bracelets, orange flowers and
camelias in her hair--semi-bridal attire, that became her as nothing
else ever had done.

"My dear madam," said the foreman of the inquest--a courtly
disciple of the old school of manner, and phraseology--as the august
body of freeholders parted to either side to leave her a passage-way
to the fireplace--"your husband is a happy man, and his wife should
be a happy woman in having won the affection of such a model of
chivalry"--stating succinctly the late proof the "model" had offered
to an admiring world of his chivalric principles.

The delicate hand stole to its resting-place upon her lord's arm, as
the lady answered, her ingenuous eyes suffused with the emotion that
gave but the more sweetness to her smile.

"I AM a happy woman, Mr. Nelson! I think there is not a prouder or
more blessed wife in all the land than I am this evening."

Laugh, jest, and dance ruled the fleeting hours in the halls of the
old country-house that night, and the presiding genius of the revel
was still the beautiful hostess--never more beautiful, never so
winning before. No one noticed that, by her orders, or her
husband's, the window through which she had beheld the goblin visage
was closely curtained. Or, this may have been an accidental
disposition of the drapery, since no trace of her momentary alarm
remained in her countenance or demeanor.

In the kitchen a double allowance of toddy was served out, by their
master's orders, to the men who had taken part in the interment on
the hill-top. And, in their noisy talk over their potations the
vagrant was scarcely mentioned.

Only the pines, hoarser in their sough, by reason of the falling
snow that clogged their boughs, chanted a requiem above the rough
hillock at their feet.

"Man cometh in with vanity, and departeth in darkness, and his name
is covered with darkness!"

CHAPTER X.

ROSA.

"THAT is a new appearance."

"Who can she be?"

"Unique--is she not?" were queries bandied from one to another of
the various parties of guests scattered through the extensive
parlors of the most fashionable of Washington hotels, at the
entrance of a company of five or six late arrivals. All the persons
composing it were well dressed, and had the carriage of people of
means and breeding. Beyond this there was nothing noteworthy about
any of them, excepting the youngest of the three ladies of what
seemed to be a family group. When they stopped for consultation upon
their plans for this, their first evening in the capital, directly
beneath the central chandelier of the largest drawing-room, she
stood, unintentionally, perhaps, upon the outside of the little
circle, and not exerting herself to feign interest in the parley,
sought amusement in a keen, but polite survey of the assembly,
apparently in no wise disconcerted at the volley of glances she
encountered in return.

If she were always in the same looks she wore just now, she must
have been pretty well inured to batteries of admiration by this date
in her sunny life. She was below the medium of woman's stature,
round and pliant in form and limbs; in complexion dark as a gypsy
but with a clear skin that let the rise and fall of the blood
beneath be marked as distinctly as in that of the fairest blonde.
Her eyes were brown or black, it was hard to say which, so changeful
were their lights and shades; and her other features, however
unclassic in mould, if criticised separately, taken as a whole,
formed a picture of surpassing fascination. If her eyes and cleft
chin meant mischief, her mouth engaged to make amends by smiles and
seductive words, more sweet than honey, because their flavor would
never clog upon him who tasted thereof. Her attire was striking--it
would have been bizarre upon any other lady in the room, but it
enhanced the small stranger's beauty. A black robe--India silk or
silk grenadine, or some other light and lustrous material--was
bespangled with butterflies, gilded, green, and crimson, the many
folds of the skirt flowing to the carpet in a train designed to add
to apparent height, and, in front, allowing an enchanting glimpse of
a tiny slipper, high in the instep, and tapering prettily toward the
toe. In her hair were glints of a curiously-wrought chain, wound
under and among the bandeaux; on her wrists, plump and dimpled as a
baby's, more chain-work of the like precious metal, ending in
tinkling fringe that swung, glittering, to and fro, with the
restless motion of the elfin hands, she never ceased to clasp and
chafe and fret one with the other, while she thus stood and awaited
the decision of her companions. But instead of detracting from the
charm of her appearance, the seemingly unconscious gesture only
heightened it. It was the overflow of the exuberant vitality that
throbbed redly in her cheeks, flashed in her eye, and made buoyant
her step.

"What an artless sprite it is!" said one old gentleman, who had
stared at her from the instant of her entrance, in mute enjoyment,
to the great amusement of his more knowing nephews.

"All but the artless!" rejoined one of the sophisticated youngsters.
"She is gotten up too well for that. Ten to one she is an
experienced stager, who calculates to a nicety the capabilities of
every twist of her silky hair and twinkle of an eyelash. Hallo! that
IS gushing--nicely done, if it isn't almost equal to the genuine
thing, in fact."

The ambiguous compliment was provoked by a change of scene and a new
actor, that opened other optics than his lazy ones to their
extremest extent. A gentleman had come in alone and quietly--a tall,
manly personage, whose serious countenance had just time to soften
into a smile of recognition before the black-robed fairy flew up to
him--both hands extended--her face one glad sunbeam of surprise and
welcome.

"YOU here!" she exclaimed, in a low, thrilling tone, shedding into
his the unclouded rays of her glorious eyes, while one of her hands
lingered in his friendly hold. "This is almost too good to be true!
When did you come? How long are you going to stay? and what did you
come for? Yours is the only familiar physiognomy I have beheld since
our arrival, and my eyes were becoming ravenous for a sight of
remembered things. Which reminds me"--coloring bewitchingly, with an
odd mixture of mirth and chagrin in smile and voice--"that I have
been getting up quite a little show on my own account, forgetful of
les regles, and I suppose the horrified lookers-on think of les
moeurs. May I atone for my inadvertence by presenting you, in good
and regular form, to my somewhat shocked, but very respectable,
relatives? Did you know that I was in Congress this year--that is,
Mr. Mason, my aunt's husband, is an Honorable, and I am here with
them?"

The gentleman gave her his arm, and they strolled leisurely in the
direction of the party she had deserted so unceremoniously.

"I did not know it, bat I am glad to learn that you are to make a
long visit to the city. I have business that may detain me here for
a week--perhaps a fort-night," was his answer to the first question
she suffered him thus to honor.

Then the introduction to Mr. and Mrs. Mason, their married daughter,
Mrs. Cunningham, and her husband, was performed. The Member's wife
was a portly, good-natured Virginia matron, whose ruling desire to
make all about her comfortable as herself, sometimes led to
contretemps that were trying to the subjects of her kindness, and
would have been distressing to her, had she ever, by any chance,
guessed what she had done.

She opened the social game now, by saying, agreeably: "Your name is
not a strange one to us, Mr. Chilton. We have often heard you spoken
of in the most affectionate terms by our friends, but not near
neighbors, the Ayletts, of Ridgeley,----county. Is it long since you
met or heard from them?"

"Some months, madam. I hope they were in their usual health when you
last saw them?"

Receiving her affirmative reply with a courteous bow, and the
assurance that he was "happy to hear it," Mr. Chilton turned to
Rosa, and engaged her in conversation upon divers popular topics of
the day, all of which she was careful should conduct them in the
opposite direction from Ridgeley, and his affectionate intimates,
the Ayletts. He appreciated and was grateful for her tact and
delicacy. Her unaffected pleasure at meeting him had been as
pleasant as it was unlooked-for, aware as he was, from Mabel's
letter immediately preceding the rapture of their engagement, that
Rosa must have been staying with her when it occurred. The slander
that had blackened him in the esteem of his betrothed had, he
naturally supposed, injured his reputation beyond hope of retrieval
with her acquaintances. Rosa, her bosom companion, could not but
have heard the whole history, yet met him with undiminished
cordiality, as a valued friend. Either the Ayletts had been
unnaturally discreet, or the faith of the interesting girl in his
integrity was firmer and better worth preserving than he had
imagined in the past. Perhaps, too, since he was but mortal man,
although one whose heritage in the school of experience had been of
the sternest, he was not entirely insensible to the privilege of
promenading the long suite of apartments with the prettiest girl of
the season hanging upon his arm, and granting her undivided
attention to all that he said, indifferent to, or unmindful of, the
flattering notice she attracted.

Over and above all these recommendations to his peculiar regard was
her association with the happy days of his early love. Not an
intonation, not a look of hers, but reminded him of Ridgeley and of
Mabel. It was a perilous indulgence--this recurrence to a dream he
had vowed to forget, but the temptation had befallen him suddenly,
and he surrendered himself to the intoxication.

Yes! she was going to the President's levee that evening, Rosa said.
A sort of raree-show--was it not? with the Chief Magistrate for head
mountebank. He was worse off in one respect than the poorest
cottager in the nation he was commonly reported to govern, inasmuch
as he had not the right to invite whom he pleased to his house, and
when the mob overran his premises he must treat all with equal
affability. She pitied his wife! She would rather, if the choice
were offered her, be one of the revolving wax dummies used in
shop-windows for showing the latest style of evening costume and
hair-dressing--for the dolls had no wits of their own to begin with,
and were not expected to say clever things, as the President's
consort was, after she had lost hers in the crush of the aforesaid
mob, who eyed her freely as an appendage to their chattel, the man
they had bought by their votes, and put in the highest seat in the
Republic. No! she was not provided with an escort to the White
House. She did not know three people in Washington beside her
relatives, and, looking forward to creeping into the palatial East
Room at her uncle's back, or in the shadow of her cousin's husband,
the vision of enjoyment had not been exactly enrapturing--BUT, her
companion's proposal to join their party and help elbow the crowd
away from her, lent a different coloring to the horizon.

BUT--again--flushing prettily--was he certain that the expedition
would not bore him? Doubtless he had had some other engagement in
prospect for the evening, before he stumbled over her. He ought to
know her well enough not to disguise his real wishes by gallant
phrases.

"I have never been otherwise than sincere with you," Frederic said,
honestly; "I had thought of going to the levee alone, as a possible
method of whiling away an idle evening. If you will allow me to
accompany you thither, I shall be gratified--shall derive actual
pleasure from the motley scene. It will not be the only time you and
I have studied varieties of physiognomy and character in a mixed
assembly. Do you recollect the hops at the Rockbridge Alum Springs?"

"I do," replied Rosa, laconically and very soberly.

He thought she suppressed a sigh in saying it. She was a
warm-hearted little creature with all her vagaries, and he was less
inclined to reject her unobtrusive sympathy than if a more sedate or
prudent person had proffered it.

It was certain he could not have selected a more entertaining
associate for that evening. She amused him in spite of the painful
recollections revived by their intercourse. She did not pass
unobserved in the dense crowd that packed the lower floor of the
White House. Her face, all glee and sparkle, the varied music of her
soft Southern tongue, her becoming attire--were, in turn, the
subject of eulogistic comment among the most distinguished
connoisseurs present. It was not probable that these should all be
unheard by her cavalier, or that he should listen to them with
profound indifference.

He was astonished, therefore, when she protested that she had had
"enough of it," and proposed that they should extricate themselves
from the press and go home. It was contrary to the commonly received
tenets of his sex respecting the insatiable nature of feminine
vanity, that she should weary so soon of adulation which would have
rendered a light head dizzy. Mrs. Mason was not ready to leave the
halls of mirth. She had met scores of old friends, and was having a
"nice, sociable time" in a corner, while Mrs. Cunningham had "not
begun to enjoy herself, looking at the queer people and the superb
dresses."

Of course, they had no objection to their wilful relative doing as
she liked, but did not conceal their amazement at her bad taste.

"Take the carriage, dear! You'll find it around out there
somewhere," drawled the easy-tempered aunt. "And let Thomas come
back for us. He will be in time an hour from this."

"Would it be an unpardonable infraction of etiquette if we were to
walk home?" questioned Rosa of Mr. Chilton, when they were out of
Mr. Mason's hearing. "The night is very mild."

"But your feet. Are they not too lightly shod for the pavement?"

"I left a pair of thick gaiters in the dressing-room, which I wore
in the carriage."

"Then I will be answerable for the breach of etiquette, should it
ever be found out," was the reply, and Rosa disappeared into the
tiring-roem to equip herself for the walk.

It was a lovely night for December--moonlighted and bland as
October, and neither manifested a disposition to accelerate the
saunter into which they had fallen at their first step beyond the
portico. Rosa dropped her rattling tone, and began to talk seriously
and sensibly of the scene they had left, the flatness of fashionable
society after the freshness of novelty had passed from it, and her
preference for home life and tried friends.

"Yet I always rate these the more truly after a peep at a different
sphere," she said. "Our Old Virginia country-house is never so dear
and fair at any other time as when I return to it after playing at
fine lady abroad for a month or six weeks. I used to fret at the
monotony of my daily existence; think my simple plsasures tame. I am
thankful that I go back to them, as I grow older, as one does to
pure, cold water, after drinking strong wine."

"You are blessed in having this fountain to which you may resort in
your heart-drought," answered Frederic, sadly. "The gods do not
often deny the gift of home and domestic affections to woman. It is
an exception to a universal rule when a man who has reached thirty
without building a nest for himself, has a pleasant shelter spared,
or offered to him elsewhere."

"Yet you would weary, in a week, of the indolent, aimless life led
by most of our youthful heirs expectant and apparent," returned
Rosa. "I remember once telling you how I envied you for having work
and a career. I was youthful then myself--and foolish as immature."

"I recollect!" and there was no more talk for several squares.

Rosa was getting alarmed at the thought of her temerity in reverting
to this incident in their former intercourse, and meditating the
expediency of entering upon an apology, which might, after all,
augment, rather than correct the mischief she had done, when
Frederic accosted her as if there had been no hiatus in the
dialogue.

"I recollect!" he repeated, just as before. "It was upon the back
piazza at Ridgeley, after breakfast on that warm September morning,
when the air was a silvery haze, and there was no dew upon the
roses. I, too, have grown older--I trust, wiser and stronger since I
talked so largely of my career--what I hoped to be and to do. When
did you see her--Miss Aylett," abruptly, and with a total change of
manner.

"The Rubicon is forded," thought Rosa, complacently, the while her
compassion for him was sincere and strong. "He can never shut his
heart inexorably against me after this."

Aloud, she replied after an instant's hesitation designed to prepare
him for what was to follow--"I was with Mabel for several days last
May. We have not met since."

"She is alive--and well?" he asked, anxiously.

An inexplicable something in her manner warned him that all was not
right.

"She is--or was, when I last heard news of her; we do not
correspond. She does not live at Ridgeley now."

There she stopped, before adding the apex to the nicely graduated
climax.

"Not live with her brother! I do not understand."

"Have you not heard of her marriage?"

"No!"

He did not reel or tremble, but she felt that the bolt had pierced a
vital part, and wisely forbore to offer consolation he could not
hear.

But when he would have parted with her at the door of her uncle's
parlor, she saw how deadly pale he was, and put her hands into his,
beseechingly.

"Come in! I cannot let you go until you have said that you forgive
me!"

There were tears in her eyes, and in her coaxing accents, and he
yielded to the gentle face that sought to lead him into the room. It
was fearful agony that contracted his forehead and lips when he
would have spoken reassuringly, and they were drops of genuine
commiseration that drenched the girl's cheeks while she listened.

"I have nothing to forgive you! You have been all kindness and
consideration--I ought not to have asked questions, but I believed
myself when I boasted of my strength. I thought the bitterness of
the heart's death had passed. Now, I know I never despaired before!
Great Heavens! how I loved that woman! and this is the end!"

He walked to the other side of the room.

Rosa durst not follow him even with her eyes. She sat, her face
concealed by her handkerchief, weeping many tears for him--more for
herself, until she heard his step close beside her, and he seated
himself upon her sofa.

"Rosa! dear friend! my sympathizing little sister! I shall not
readily gain my own pardon for having distressed you so sorely. When
you can do it with comparative ease to yourself, I want you to tell
me one or two things more, and then we will never allude to
irreparable bygones again."

"I am ready!" removing her soaked cambric, and forcing a fluttering
smile that might show how composed she was; "don't think of me! I
was only grieved for your sake, and sorry because I had unwittingly
hurt you. I was in hopes--I imagined--"

"That I had ontlived my disappointment? You said, that same
September day, that women hid their green wounds in sewing rooms and
oratories. Mine should have been cauterized long ago, by other and
harsher means, you think. It seldom bleeds--but tonight, I had not
time to ward off the point of the knife and it touched a raw spot.
Don't let me frighten you! now that the worst is upon me, I must be
calmer presently. You were at Ridgeley, in September, a year since,
when she who was then Miss Aylett"--compelling himself to the
articulation of the sentence that signified the later
change--"received her brother's command to reject me?"

"I was."

"He would never tell me upon what evil report his prohibition was
based. He was more communicative with his sister, I suppose?"

And Rosa, following the example of other women--and men--who vaunt
their principles more highly than she did hers, made a frank
disclosure of part of the truth and held her tongue as to the rest.

"I couldn't help seeing that something was wrong, for Mabel, who, up
to the receipt of her brother's letter and one from you that came by
the same mail, had been very cheerful and talkative, suddenly grew
more serious and reserved than was her habit at any time; but she
told me nothing whatever, never mentioned your name again in my
hearing. Mrs. Sutton did hint to me her fear that Mr. Aylett had
heard something prejudicial to your character, which had greatly
displeased him and shocked Mabel, but even she was unaccountably
reticent. Intense as was my anxiety to learn the particulars of the
story, and upon what evidence they were induced to believe it, I
dared not press my inquiry into what it was plain they intended to
guard as a family secret."

His reply was just what she had foreseen and guarded against.

"It would have been a kind and worthy deed, had you written to warn
me of my danger, and advised me to make my defence in person. As it
was, I was thrown off roughly and pitilessly--my demand upon the
brother for the particulars of the accusation against me--my appeal
to the sister--loving and earnest as words could make it--for
permission to visit her and learn from her own lips that she trusted
or disowned me, were alike disregarded. Mr. Aylett's response was a
second letter, more coldly insulting than the first--hers, the
return of my last, after she had opened and read it, then the
surrender of my gifts, letters, notes, everything that could remind
her that we had ever met and loved. Mrs. Sutton, too, my father's
old and firm friend, deserted me in my extremity. And she must have
been acquainted with the character and extent of the charges
preferred against me. I had hoped better things from her, if only
because I bear her dead husband's name. Did she never speak in your
hearing of writing to me?"

"She did--but said, in the next breath, that it would be useless,
since the minds of the others were fully made up. I knew she thought
Winston arbitrary, and Mabel credulous; but she was afraid to
interfere. As for myself, what could I have told you that you had
not already heard? I could only hope that the cloud was not heavy,
and would soon blow over. From the hour in which it cast the first
shadow upon her, Mabel was estranged from me--the decline of our
intimacy commenced. The Ayletts take pride in keeping their own
counsel. Winston, who never liked me, and whom I detested, was as
confidential with me in this affair as my old playfellow and school-
mate. Believe me when I declare that if my intercession could have
availed aught with her, I would have run the risk of her displeasure
and Winston's anathemas by offering it."

"I do believe you! Nor need you expatiate to me upon the obduracy of
the Aylett pride. Surely, no one living has more reason than I to
comprehend how unreasoning and implacable I find it is. I looked for
injustice at Winston Aylett's hands. I read him truly in our only
private interview. Insolent, vain, despotic--wedded to his dogmas,
and intolerant of others' opinion, he disliked me because I refused
to play the obedient vassal to his will and requirements; stood
upright as one man should in the presence of a brother-mortal,
instead of cringing at his lordship's footstool. But he was
powerless to do more than annoy me without his sister's
co-operation."

"She stood in great, almost slavish, awe of him," urged Rosa, in
extenuation of Mabel's infidelity.

"Aye!" savagely. "And love was not strong enough to cast out fear!
She was justifiable if she hesitated to entrust herself and her
happiness to the keeping of one she had known but two months. It was
prudent--not false--in her to weigh, to the finest grain, the
evidence furnished by her brother to prove my unfitness to be her
husband. But having done all this, she should have remembered that I
had rights also. It was infamous, cowardly, cruel beyond degree, to
cast her vote against me without giving me a chance of
self-exculpation. Her hand--not his--struck the dagger into my
back!"

Again Rosa's fingers involuntarily (?) stole into his, to recall him
to a knowledge of where he was, and there were fresh tears, ready to
fall from her gazelle eyes, when his agitation began to subside.

"My poor child!" he said, penitently. "I am behaving like a madman,
you like a pitying angel! We will have no more scenes, and you must
oblige me by forgetting this one, as fast as may be. From to-night
Mabel Aylett is to me as if she had never been. To nobody except
yourself have I betrayed the secret of my hurt. After this, when yon
think of it, believe that it is a hurt no longer."

Rosa "had out" her fit of crying when he went away, betaking herself
to her chamber and locking the door that her aunt might not surprise
her while the traces of tears disfigured her cheeks. But she was
anything but broken-hearted, and only slightly sore in spirit in the
retrospect of what had ensued upon her communication to the
discarded lover. He had, indeed, given more evidence of his
unconquered passion for Mabel than she had expected. His undisguised
pleasure in renewed companionship with herself; his excellent
spirits during the greater part of the evening; his unembarrassed
reply to her aunt's malapropos observation, and fluent chat upon
other themes, had misled her into the hope that the ungenerous and
uncivil conduct of the Ayletts had disgusted and alienated him from
sister, no less than from brother. It was a disappointment to
discover that it cost him a terrible effort to pronounce Mabel's
name, while the abrupt intelligence of her marriage had distracted
him to incoherent ravings, which had nearly amounted to curses upon
the authors of his pain.

"And all for a woman who could bring herself, after being engaged to
Frederic Chilton, to marry that dolt of a Dorrance!" she said,
indignantly. "I wonder if he would have been consoled or chagrined
had I painted the portrait of the man who had superseded him. It is
as well that I did not make the experiment. He would be magnanimous
enough when he cooled down--which he will do by to-morrow
morning--to pity her, and that is next to the last thing I want him
to do. Thank goodness! the denouement is over, and the topic an
interdicted one from this time forth. Now for the verification or
refutation of the saying that a heart is most easily caught in the
rebound. There was some jargon we learned at school about the angle
of incidence being equal to that of reflection. You see, my dearly
beloved self," nodding with returning sauciness at her image in the
mirror before which she was combing her hair, "I undertake this
business in the spirit of philosophical investigation."

She needed to keep her courage up by these and the like whimsical
conceits, when the forenoon of the next day passed away without a
glimpse of Mr. Chilton. He had not yet left his card for the Masons,
nor called to inquire after her health, when the summons sounded to
the five o'clock dinner. A horrible apprehension seized and devoured
her heart by the time the dessert was brought on, and there were no
signs of his appearance. He had, ashamed to meet her after last
night's exposure of his weakness, or dreading the power of the
reminiscences the sight of her would awaken, left the city without
coming to say "Farewell." That is, she had driven him from her
forever!

The room went around with her in a dizzy waltz, as the notion
crossed her brain.

"The sight and smell of all these sweets make me sick, Aunt Mary,"
she said, rising from the table. "My head aches awfully! May I go to
my room and lie down?"

"Try some of this nice lemon-ice, my love!" prescribed the plump
matron. "The acid will set you all straight. No? You don't think you
are going to have a chill, do you? Father!" nudging her husband who
was burying his spoon in a Charlotte Russe, "this dear child doesn't
want any dessert. Won't you pilot her through the crowd?"

"Only to the door, uncle! Then come back to your dinner!" Rosa made
answer to his disconcerted stare. "I can find my way to my chamber
without help."

She could have done it, had she been in possession of her accustomed
faculties. But between the harrowing suspicion that engrossed her
mind and the nervous moisture that gathered in her eyes with each
step, she mounted a story too high, and did not perceive her blunder
until, happening to think that her apartment must lie somewhere in
the region she had gained, she consulted the numbers upon the
adjacent doors, and saw that she had wandered a hundred rooms out of
her way, She stopped short to consider which of the corridors,
stretching in gas-lit vistas on either hand, would conduct her
soonest to the desired haven, when a gentleman emerging from a
chamber close by stepped directly upon her train.

CHAPTER XI.

IN THE REBOUND.

"I beg your pardon!" said a deep, familiar voice. Then the formality
vanished from face and address. "Is this YOU?" holding out his hand
in hearty friendliness that instantly dispelled Rosa's forebodings."
What or whom are you seeking in these wilds?"

The crystal beads glistened upon her lashes in the fulness and joy
of her deliverance from doubt and fear, and before she could twinkle
them back, broke into smaller brilliants upon her cheeks and the
bosom of her dress. It was very babyish and foolish, but it is to be
questioned whether she could have contrived a more telling situation
had she studied it for a month.

"What is it!" inquired Frederic, kindly, not releasing the fingers
that twitched, more than struggled, in his. "Have you been
frightened?"

"Yes," with grieved, but fearless simplicity, "I was frightened
because I thought I had offended you--perhaps driven you away--and
that I should never be able to ask your forgiveness for my cruel
abruptness last night! In thinking about and worrying over this, I
somehow lost my way, and was just trying to remember by what route I
reached this strange neighborhood, when your appearance startled
me."

"You did not know, then, that this is Bachelor's Hall--the haunt of
unmated Benedicts, wifeless visitors to the city, and celibate M.
C.'s?" he rejoined, pleasantly. "Let me be your guide to more
desirable as well as more accessible quarters!"

On the stairs he bent to scan her blushing countenance.

"How am I to punish you for your naughty distrust of my friendship
and common sense? I have been too busy all day to spare a minute for
social pleasure. I dined at two o'clock, having an appointment at
three, returned at half-past five, and was just coming down to your
parlor to look you up. Another bit of unimportant news, with which I
should not have annoyed you if you had not merited a little vexation
by your preposterous fancies, is, that, instead of taking an early
train to Philadelphia, I have to-day entered into engagements that
will oblige me to prolong my stay in this place until the first of
February."

He looked bright and cheerful, ready for sport or badinage. Rosa
caught herself wondering many times during that evening, and the
succeeding days of the three weeks they passed under the same roof,
if she had dreamed of--not beheld with her bodily optics--that one
stormy burst of passion which had been his farewell to the hope of a
final reconciliation with Mabel Aylett.

He never spoke of her again, or referred, in the most distant
manner, to his visit at Ridgeley. The omission was an agreeable one
to Rosa for several reasons. Silence, she believed, was to oblivion
as a means to an end. Judging from herself, she adopted the theory
that people were apt to forget what they never talked of themselves,
nor heard mentioned by others. Furthermore, she was relieved from
the necessity of concocting diplomatic evasions, dexterously
skirting the truth, to say nothing of plump falsehoods. These last
cost her conscience some unpleasant twinges. To avoid narrating in
full what had happened was a work of art. A downright lie was a
stroke of heavy business, unsuited to her airy genius--and when the
Aylett-Chilton complication was upon the tapis, it was difficult to
avoid undertaking such.

For three weeks, then, Mr. Frederic Chilton and the Virginian belle
visited concert, theatre, and assembly-room in company, sat side by
side in the spectators' gallery of House and Senate chamber, walked
in daylight along the broad avenues from one magnificent distance to
another, and on home-evenings--which were not many--chatted together
familiarly, the well-pleased Masons thought confidentially, by the
fireside in the family parlor. It must not be inferred from their
constant intercourse that he had the field entirely to himself.
Gallants of divers pretensions--first-class, mediocre, and
contemptible--considered with a practical eye to "settlement,"
hovered about the fascinating witch as moths about a gas-burner, and
had no citable cause of complaint of non-appreciation, inasmuch as
she shed equal light upon all, save one. "My very old friend, Mr.
Chilton," she was wont to denominate him in conversation with those
who inwardly called themselves fools for their jealousy of a man of
whom she spoke thus frankly, with never a stammer or blush; yet they
acknowledged to themselves all the while that they were both
suspicious and envious of his superior advantages. However backward
Frederic may have been in the beginning to monopolize the notice and
time of his "sisterly friend," he was not an insensate block, who
could not perceive and value the compliment paid him by her
partiality--ever apparent, but never unmaidenly. Impute it to
whatever motive he might, the distinction titillated his vanity,
touched, at least, the outermost covering of his heart. It might be
pity, it might be pleasant, mournful memories of other days--it was
most likely of all a sincere platonic affection, for one with tastes
and feelings akin to hers that gave lustre to her eyes, and gentle
meaning to her smile when he drew near. At any rate, it would be
churlish not to accept the preference these conveyed, and to like
her and his position as her chosen knight better every day; it was
inevitable that he should marvel--not without melancholy-at the
flight of time that brought so soon the day of parting.

The Masons, with himself, were engaged to attend a large party on
the last evening of January. Without analyzing the impulse that
constrained him to do so, he had refrained from reminding Rosa that
his stay in Washington was so nearly over, and, with masculine
consistency, he was half disposed to be affronted that she had
forgotten what he had said to her of its extent. He had never seen
her more lively--in more radiant spirits and looks--than she was
upon the night of the 30th. He had dropped into her aunt's parlor
about ten o'clock, and detected Rosa in the act of dragging her new
ball-dress from the box in which the mantua maker had sent it home.

"Conceive, if you can--but you can't, being a man--what I have
undergone for an hour and more!" she cried, at seeing him. "My
treasure--the darlingest love of a dress I have ever ordered--was
brought in exactly two seconds before a brace of honorables--
lumbering machines that they are! knocked at the door. So, lest they
should brand me as a frivolous doll (as if anybody with a soul, and
an infinitesimal degree of love for the beautiful, COULD help
admiring the divine thing!), I pushed the poor box under the sofa,
and there it has lain in ignominious neglect, like a pearl of purest
ray serene smothered in an oyster, all the time they were here. I
was purposely cross and stupid, too, in the hope of getting rid of
them the sooner. If you despise what most of your undiscriminating
sex call fancy articles, consider a woman's fondness for a ravishing
robe despicable and irrational, Mr. Chilton, you need not look this
way. You could hardly have a severer--certainly not a more
appropriate--punishment."

"You depreciate my aesthetic proclivities," he rejoined, catching
her tone. "You would not trust my bungling fingers to help excavate
the gem, I know; but I may surely use my eyes--admire, as we bid
children do--with my hands behind my back."

Notwithstanding his boast of knowingness in the mysteries of
feminine apparel, he could not have told of what material the divine
robe was made--except that it was some shiny white stuff, with wide
embroidery upon the flounces. But Rosa, her aunt, and cousin had
gone into ecstacies over it, and instigated by kind-hearted Mrs.
Mason, the enraptured owner had rushed off to Mrs. Mason's chamber
to try it on, returning presently in full array, elate at the
"perfect fit," and insisting upon a unanimous declaration that she
"had never before worn anything one-thousandth part as becoming."

"It is a winsome, fantastic, enchanting little being!" remarked Mr.
Chilton, in soliloquy at his dressing-table, the next evening. "I
hope she will enjoy the gathering to-night, as she hopes to do. Will
she miss me at the next she attends?"

Then--laughing at the sentimental visage portrayed upon the
mirror--"It would be the acme of ludicrous folly for me to disturb
myself on that score. We have had a pleasant time together--she and
I--and tomorrow it will be over. There is the whole story--except
that, in a month I shall cease to think of her, unless her name is
accidentally uttered in my hearing--I wish I could forget some
other things as easily!--and she will probably be the affianced
darling of one of the lumbering Honorables--the elder and homelier
of the brace, I fancy, since he is the wealthier, and the
humming-bird should have a fitting cage."

Expressing in his composed lineaments and firm stride nothing like
disconsolateness at the programme, he flung his cloak over his arm,
took his white gloves in his hand, cast a passing glance at the
glass to see that his whiskers and hair were in order, and ran down
the two flights of stairs lying between Bachelor's Hall and the
Masons' private parlor.

"Come in!" said a plaintive voice, in answer to his knock.

Rosa was alone in the cosy apartment. She was curled up in a great
padded chair, set upon the hearth-rug. Her dress was a plain black
silk; she wore a scarlet shawl, and her head-gear was some odd, but
distractingly pretty construction of white lace, a square folded in
two unequal triangles, and knotted loosely, handkerchief-wise, the
points in front, under her chin.

"Not ready!" exclaimed Frederic, in merry reproach. "You, the model
of punctual women!"

"I am not going!" sighed the humming-bird, dolorously. "I have had a
horrid sore throat all day--and--a--headache--and Aunt Mary got
frightened, and forbade me to put my head out of doors."

"That is a heart-rending affliction! And could you not send the
incomparable dress as your representative?"

"Don't laugh!" she said, jerking away her head. "I cannot bear it
to-night--not that I care the millionth part of a fig for all the
parties in christendom; and as for the dress, you think that I
haven't a soul above such frippery and gewgaws: but I wish I had
never seen it. I shall never wear it as long as I live!"

And out came the laced cambric to absorb the gathering dew.

"There is something in this I do not understand," said Frederic,
setting a chair for himself close to hers. "Are you really
suffering? I imagined that yours was a case of simple cold, and that
Mrs. Mason advised you to remain indoors chiefly on account of the
weather. It is raining hard!"

"I am glad it is!" she replied, with the manner of one bereft of
human sympathy, and extracting gloomy delight from the unison of
nature with her morbid broodings. "And my throat isn't nearly so
painful as I made Aunt Mary believe. I did not want to go out.
Parties are an awful bore when one is sad-hearted."

"You really must forgive me!" said Frederic, as she twitched her
face away again at the laugh he could not suppress. "But sadness and
you should not be thought of in the same week. Honestly, now! is not
the inimitable fabric you sported for five minutes last night, at
the bottom of what appears to you a fathomless abyss of woe? Have
you tried the efficacy of rational consolation in the thought of how
many more parties there will be this winter to which you can wear
it? The Secretary of State is to give one in ten days, which is to
be the sensation of the season. That of to-night is, in comparison,
as a caucus to a general convention."

"I shall never put on the hateful thing again. If Julia Cunningham
chooses to bedizen herself in it, she is welcome to it--flounces and
all. Yet I did like it! I had hoped--but no matter what! You had
better be going, Mr. Chilton. Aunt and the rest of them wenl
three-quarters of an hour ago."

"Does a dress go out of fashion in so short a time?" persisted
innocent Frederic, bent upon mitigating her sorrow. "If my memory
serves me aright, I have seen ladies wear the same ball-dress
several times in the same winter."

"You will never see this on me," snapped Rosa, her eyes ominously
fiery again. "Did you hear me advise you of the lateness of the
hour?"

"Suppose I decline appearing at all in the festal scene?" said the
gentleman. "I shall not be missed. I will just run down and dismiss
the carriage--then, with your permission, will return and spend the
evening here."

Her cheeks looked as if they had been touched with wet vermilion,
when he resumed his place near her, and the folds of the
handkerchief in her hand hung more limply.

"I ought not to allow this sacrifice!" she faltered gratefully.
"Because I have the vapors, I have no right to keep you within reach
of the infection. It is shamefully, wickedly selfish!"

"It is no such thing!" he contradicted. "If you would know the
truth, I was, myself, averse to attending this 'crush.' But for your
indisposition, I should hail with unmixed pleasure the chance that
releases me from the obligation to form a part of the throng. It is
far more in consonance with my feelings to pass this, our last
evening together, as we have spent so many others, in quiet talk at
this fireside. I had not supposed it possible that I could ever feel
so much at home in a hotel--a Washington caravansary especially--as
I have within the last three weeks. Do you know, or have you not
burdened your memory with such unimportant memoranda as the fact,
that I must set my face Philadelphia-ward to-morrow?"

"I had not dreamed that the time was so near at hand--it seemed such
a little while since the evening of our arrival--until I happened,
last night, after you left us, to take up Mrs. Rogers'
invitation-card for this evening. THEN, I recollected!"

Her listless resignation had in it something piteous, and the lever
of compassion impelled him to further efforts of cheer.

"I have to thank you for all the enjoyment of my visit to this,
heretofore to me, dismal city. If you should ever visit
Philadelphia--as I earnestly hope you will--you must acquaint me
with your whereabouts immediately upon your arrival. I should be
sorry to think that our friendship is to end here and now."

"As well here and now, as anywhere and at any time!" returned Rosa,
yet more resignedly. "And the end must come, sooner or later. This
was what I was saying over to myself when you came in. I am a
fool--a baby--to mind it!" angrily dashing away the obtrusive brine
from her mournful eyelids. "I WISH you would leave me alone for a
few minutes, Mr. Chilton, until I can behave myself!"

For a second it seemed that her companion would take her at her
word, so puzzled and troubled was his countenance, and he moved
slightly, as about to obey the petulant behest; then sat still.

"I have found no fault in your behavior!" he said, too coolly to
please Rosa's notion.

"I know you despise me!" she burst forth, chokingly. "I believe I am
hysterical, and the more I rail at my stupidity and folly, the more
unmanageable my nerves--if it is my nerves that are out of order--
become. But I have been so happy, so content and grateful, lately!
And everything will be so different after--after TO-MORROW!"

Her voice had failed to a sobbing whisper, and the diaphanous
cambric veiled her bowed face.

Frederic Chilton did not stir a finger or attempt to speak for a
full minute, but in that minute he thought a volume, felt acutely.

This, then, was what he had been doing in his hours of relaxation
from the business which had occupied his mind to the banishment of
nearly every other consideration; that had driven into comparative
obscurity the old gnawing grief which had incorporated itself with
his being! The intimacy with a beautiful, sprightly girl had been a
holiday diversion to him after arduous brain-labor, recreation
sought conscientiously and systematically, that his mental powers
might be clearer and fresher for the next day's toil in court and
among perplexing records; in hunting up titles and disputed
property, and proving their validity. He had gained the cause that
had brought him to the capital, and cost him so much fatigue and
anxiety, and was proud of his success. But what of this other piece
of work? Would not the most cold-blooded flirt, who ever prated of
fidelity, when he meant betrayal and desertion, blush to father this
business? And she, poor, guileless lamb, must bear the pain, the
mortification, perhaps the contumely, which ought to be his in
seven-fold measure!

"Stay, Rosa!" he said, huskily, when she attempted to rise. "Do not
leave me yet. I may not be altogether so unworthy, so basely callous
as I have given you reason to suppose. Can it be that I have
misconstrued what you have said, or do you really care that our
separation is so near? I had not thought of this."

"I understand." She lowered her flag of distress and confronted him
sorrowfully, not in resentment. "You believed me incapable of deep
and lasting feeling; saw in me no more than the world does, a giddy
coquette, feather-haired and shallow-hearted. Be it so. Perhaps it
is best that you should not be undeceived. Such injustice and
prejudice are the penalties a woman must suffer who wears a tinsel
cloak over her finer affections--admits but few, sometimes but one,
to her sanctum sanctorum. The gushing, loving, extensively-loving
class fare better. You have been very kind and attentive to me in my
strangerhood here, Mr. Chilton. I must always revert to your conduct
with gratitude. By the way"--a hysterical laugh breaking into her
dignified acknowledgment of benefits received--"that is the same,
in substance, that you said to me a while ago, isn't it? So we are
even--owe each other nothing."

"Except to love one another." The solemn accents hushed her reckless
prattle. "Rosa, can you learn this lesson?"

She had shrunk down--sunk is not the word to convey an idea of the
prostration of strength, the collapse of resolution, expressed by
the figure cowering in the deep chair, its face upborne and hidden
by the shaking hands. They were cold as ice, Frederic felt, when he
would have drawn them aside.

"We will have no foolish reserves, my child. Much, if not all, the
happiness of our future lives may depend upon our perfect sincerity
now. You do not require to be told how poor is the offering of my
heart. You are the only person who has ever entered into the secret
of its emptiness and desolation; seen blight, where there should be
bloom; ashes, where flame should glow. But such as it is, it is
yours, if you will have it. If you are willing to trust yourself
with me, I will cherish as I now honor you, truly and forever; leave
no means untried that can add to your happiness. Dare you make the
venture?"

Her unstudied caress was beautiful and pathetic in its lowliness of
humility and earnest affection--too earnest for the commonplace
outlet of words. It was to slip to her knees at his feet, and kiss
his hand, then lay her cheek upon it, as some dumb, devoted thing
might do.

Then she was lifted into his arms, and kissed with a fervor she
mistook for awakening passion, and her heart bounded more madly in
the belief that her victory was complete, that he would henceforward
be hers in feeling as in name.

Yet the words breathed into her ear as her head rested upon his
bosom might have taught her the fallacy of her conviction and her
hopes.

"My noble, faithful girl! What have I to offer you in payment for
all this?"

"I ask nothing, except the right to be with, and to serve you!"
responded Rosa.

And she thought she spoke the whole truth for once.

CHAPTER XII.

AUNT RACHEL WAXES UNCHARITABLE.

"A SLY, artful, treacherous jade?" articulated Mrs. Sutton,
energetically. "I have no patience with her. And they say she is so
overjoyed at her conquest that she trumpets the engagement
everywhere. Such shameless carrying on I never heard of. If she ever
crosses my path I shall treat her to some wholesome truths."

"What good would that do, aunt?" asked Mabel Dorrance, without
raising her head from her sewing. "And what has she done that should
incense you or any one else against her? She was free to choose a
husband, and we have no right to cavil at her choice. I hope she
will be very happy. I used to love her--we loved each other very
fondly once. There are some excellent traits in Rosa's character,
and when she is once married she will be less volatile."

"Don't you believe it. Her flightiness and insincerity are ingrain!
I believed in her once myself--she had such beguiling ways, it was
hard to disapprove of anything she said or did. But I was secretly
aware, all the time, that there was a radical defect in her
composition. A woman who has been engaged, or as good as engaged, to
six or eight different men, cannot retain much purity of mind or
strength of affection. I heard you tell her yourself once that such
unscrupulous flirtation and bandying of hearts were profane touches
that rubbed the down from the peach."

"That was the extravagant talk of a silly, romantic girl," replied
Mabel, with a smile that changed to a sigh before the sentence was
finished. "I was somewhat given to lecturing other people, in those
days, upon subjects of which I knew little or nothing. Nine men out
of ten care little how roughly the peach has been rubbed, provided
the flavor is not injured to their taste. It is only once in a great
while that you meet with one whose palate is so nice that he can
detect the difference between fruit that has been hawked through the
market and that just picked from the tree. First love is a myth at
which rational people laugh."

"Perhaps so," said Mrs. Sutton dubiously.

In view of the circumstances of Mabel's marriage, she felt that it
behooved her to be circumspect in condemnation of transferred
affections.

"But that does not alter the fact of Rosa Tazewell's infamous
behavior to Alfred Branch and others of her beaux. Isn't the poor
fellow drinking himself into his grave, all through his
disappointment? And here she is going to be as honored a wife as if
she had never perjured herself, or ruined an honest, loving man's
prospects for life!"

Mabel went on with her work, and did not reply.

"I have had uncomfortable suspicions about certain passages in her
intercourse with us, since I heard this news," continued Mrs.
Sutton, edging her chair toward her niece, and dropping her voice.
"I am afraid I can date the beginning of her cruelty to Alfred back
to that September she spent here--to the latter part of it, I mean.
Little scenes come to my memory that caused me trifling uneasiness
then. I shall never forget, for instance, how she eyed you, the
morning Winston came home so unexpectedly."

And she described the incident recorded in the latter part of our
opening chapter.

"Can it be," she pursued, "that she had even then designs upon the
man she is about to marry? She knew all the circumstances of the
trouble that ensued, and if disposed to be meddlesome, she had the
means at her command."

"I told her nothing," said Mabel briefly.

"But she pumped me pretty effectually," confessed the aunt
shamefacedly. "I thought there could be no harm in giving her a
synopsis of the case--she being your intimate friend."

Another gleam of pensive amusement crossed Mabel's face. She knew
too well the nature of her aunt's "synopsis" to doubt that Rosa was
conversant with every phase of the affair, concerning which her own
lips had been so sternly sealed.

"You have nothing with which to reproach yourself," she said,
tranquilly. "She marries with her eyes open."

"You don't imagine for one instant that she would be annoyed by any
such scruples as beset you!" cried Mrs. Sutton scoffingly. "Why, the
woman would sooner go to the altar with a handsome, dashing
libertine, who had broken hearts by the dozen, than marry a quiet,
honest Christian, who had never breathed of love to any ears except
hers. The aim of her life is to create or experience a sensation. I
don't quite see how she could have made trouble in that sad affair,
but I should like to be positive that she did not."

"You may safely acquit her of that sin," rejoined Mabel. "There was
neither need nor room for her interference. Whatever may have been
her inclination, she was shrewd enough to perceive that the natural
course of events was bringing about the desired end--if it were a
desirable one to her--without her help or hindrance. But, aunt!
doesn't it strike you that this is a very profitless talk, and very
uncharitable? It is a sorry task, this volunteering our assistance
to the dead past to bury its dead. And I, for one, have too much
bound up in the future to offer my service in the painful work.
Look! is not this pretty?"

She was embroidering a white merino cloak for an infant, in a
pattern so rich and elaborate, that Mrs. Sutton groaned in
commingled admiration and sympathy as she inspected it.

"You are throwing time and strength away upon this work!" she
expostulated. "I don't know another lady in your circumstances who
would not take her friends' advice, and put out all the sewing you
need to have done. But your eyes and fingers have labored
incessantly for six months upon the finest work you could devise,
and you begin to look like a shadow. I don't wonder Mr. Dorrance
seems uneasy sometimes. He complained this morning that you did not
take enough exercise in the open air."

"He is not anxious, nor should he be. I am well, and stronger than
you will believe. As to the work, it has been one great delight of
my existence during the period you speak of. I could not endure that
anybody but myself should assist in fashioning the dainty, tiny
garments that make my hope an almost present reality. Every stitch
seems to bring nearer the fulfilment of the dear promise. I only
regret that this is the last of the set. I shall be at a loss for
occupation for the next two months. And I fear from something
Herbert said to-day, that he does not intend for me to return to
Albany until the spring fairly opens. Dr. Williams has been talking
to him about my cough."

"Dr. Williams is a fussy old woman, and Mr. Dorrance"--began Mrs.
Sutton.

Mabel quietly took up the word.

"Mr. Dorrance is ignorant of diseases and medicines, as men usually
are who have not studied these with a view to practise upon
themselves or others. I have said that he is not really uneasy; but
he says, and with truth, that the Northern March and April are raw
and cold, and will try my strength severely. Winston and Clara share
in his fears. It is very kind in them to tender me the hospitalities
of their house for so long a time, but I should feel more at home in
my own, during my illness and convalescence."

"Why not tell your husband this plainly?"

"Because it might bias his judgment and embarrass his action. I am
willing to do as he thinks best."

There were not many subjects upon which Mrs. Sutton was irascible,
but she patted the floor with her foot now as if this was one of
them--her discontent finding vent at length in what she regarded as
a perfectly safe query.

"Will he remain with you?"

"He cannot. His business is large and increasing. He can afford but
this one fortnight vacation."

"How do you expect to get along without him?"

"I expect my dear old aunt to come often and see me," said Mabel
affectionately, parrying the catechism "Clara suggested, of her own
accord, when the extension of my visit was discussed, that you
should be invited to be with me late in April--and I don't want you
to refuse. Do you understand, and mean to be complaisant? You are
all the mother I have ever known, auntie."

"My lamb! you need not fear lest I shall not improve every
opportunity of seeing and comforting you. I shall return a civil and
grateful reply to Mrs. Aylett's invitation, for your sake! and for
the same reason try and remember, while I remain her guest, that her
right to be and to reign at Ridgeley is superior to yours or mine."

The good lady was not to be harshly censured if she now and then, in
private confabulation with her favorite, let fall a remark which was
the reverse of complimentary to her niece-in-law. Mabel's marriage
was the signal for a radical reorganization of the Ridgeley domestic
establishment, by which Mrs. Sutton was reduced from the busy,
responsible situation of housekeeper to the unenviable one of
unnoticed and unconsulted supernumerary.

"Not that I wish you to desert your old quarters, still less to feel
like a stranger with us," said Mrs. Aylett graciously, while she
affixed shining brass labels to the keys of closets, sideboards, and
store-rooms--the keys Aunt Rachel could distinguish from one
another, and all others in the world, in the darkest night, without
any labels whatever; which had grown smooth and bright by many
years' friction of her nimble fingers. "But Mr. Aylett wishes me to
assume the real, as well as nominal, government of the
establishment"--Mrs. Aylett was fond of the polysyllable as
conveying better than any other term she could employ the grandeur
of her position as Baroness of Ridgeley. "He insists that the
servants are growing worthless and refractory under the rule of so
many. Hereafter--this is his law, not mine--hereafter, those
attached to the house department are to come to me about their
orders, and the plantation workmen to him. I shall undoubtedly have
much trouble in curing the satellites appointed to me of their
irregular habits, and reducing them to something resembling system;
but Winston's extreme dissatisfaction with the anarchy that
prevailed under the ancien regime moves me to the undertaking."

"They have always--for generations back, I may say--been called
excellent servants; faithful in the discharge of their duties, and
attached to their owners," returned Mrs. Sutton tremulously. "And
since I have been in charge--ever since my dear sister's death, I
have done my best with them, as with everything else committed by my
nephew to my care. But of course I have nothing to urge against your
plan. If I can help you in any way"---

"Thank you! You are extremely kind, my dear madam," honeyedly. "But
I should be ashamed and sorry to be compelled to call upon you for
assistance in performing what you have done so easily and
successfully for fifteen years. I must learn confidence in my own
powers, if I would be respected by underlings. They would be quick
to detect the power behind the throne; let me hold counsel with you
ever so secretly, and my authority would be weakened by the
discovery. I have not the vanity to believe that my maiden attempt
at housewifery will be attended by the distinction that has crowned
yours, but practice will perfect in this, as in other labors. And my
dear Mrs. Sutton, Mr. Aylett bids me say, in his name, as it gives
me pleasure to do in my own, that although your occupation is gone,
you are ever welcome to a home at Ridgeley, free of all expense. It
is our hope that you may still content yourself here, even if Mabel
has gone from the nest. I suppose, however, nothing will satisfy
her, when she goes to housekeeping, but having you with her as a
permanent institution. My brother intimated as much to me before his
marriage."

Declining with mild hauteur, that gave great, but secret amusement
to her would-be benefactress, the handsome offer of a free asylum,
Mrs. Sutton went to live with a cousin of her late husband's, whose
snug plantation was situated about twelve miles from the Aylett
place, and in the neighborhood of the Tazewells. It was a pleasant,
but not a permanent arrangement, she gave out to her numerous
friends, any of whom would have accounted themselves favored by an
acceptance of a home for life in their families.

"Ridgeley was changed and lonely since Mabel's departure, and her
own habits were too active to be conformed to those of so small a
household. Indeed, there was nothing for her to do there any longer,
so she was glad to avail herself of Mrs. William Sutton's invitation
to stay a while with her. The children made the house so lively. In
the fall, the house Mr. Dorrance was having built for his Southern
bride would be ready for them, and Mabel's claim upon her aunt's
society and services must take precedence of all others."

The fall came, and Mabel wrote detailed descriptions of the
beautiful home Herbert had prepared for her; wrote, moreover, with
more feeling and animation, of the new and precious hopes of
happiness held out to her loving heart in the prospect of what the
spring would give into her arms, but said nothing of her aunt's
coming to her for the winter, or for an indefinite period, the
bounds of which were to be set only by her beloved relative's
wishes. The omission was trying enough to the foster-mother's heart
and patience, even while she believed the knowledge of it to be
confined to herself. She could still hold up her head bravely among
her kindred and acquaintances, and talk of the "dear child's" good
fortune and contentment with it; how popular and beloved she was
among them, and what an elegant house her generous husband had
bestowed upon her; could still hint at the instability of her own
plans, and the possibility that she might, at any day or hour,
determine to leave her native State and follow her "daughter" into
what the latter represented was not an unpleasant exile.

An end was put to this innocent deception--for, if any deception can
be termed innocent, it is surely that by which he who practises it
is himself beguiled--the blameless guile was then arrested by a
story repeated to her by her indignant hosts, as having emanated
directly from Mrs. Aylett. She had given expression, publicly, at a
large dinner-party, to her amazement and pity at the self-delusion
under which "poor, dear Mrs. Sutton" labored, in expecting to take
up her residence with Mr. and Mrs. Dorrance.

"My brother laments her hallucination as much, if not more than his
wife does," she said, in her best modulations of creamy compassion.
"But, indeed, my dear Mrs. Branch, they are not accountable for it.
Not a syllable has ever escaped either of them which a reasonable
person could construe into a request that she should become an
inmate of their household. So careful have they been to avoid
exciting her expectations in this regard, that they have refrained
from extending to her an invitation for even a month. Those who are
most familiar with the poor lady's peculiarities do not require to
be told how ill-advised would be the arrangement she desires. Mabel
is a thoroughly sensible woman, and too devoted a wife to advocate
anything so injudicious, while her husband is naturally jealous for
her dignity and the inviolability of her authority in her own house.
Mrs. Sutton left Ridgeley in opposition to our earnest entreaties
that she would spend the evening of her days with us. I was assured
then, as I am now, that she would receive the same love and respect
nowhere else. But she could not brook the semblance of interference
with her rule where she had reigned so long and irresponsibly. And
while we may deplore, we can hardly find fault with this weakness.
It must have been a trial--and not an ordinary one--to be obliged,
at her age, to resign the sceptre she had swayed for upward of
fifteen years."

"'Their words are smoother than oil, but in their mouths is a drawn
sword,'" quoted Mrs. Sutton, in meek protest against the sugared
malice of this slander when it was told to her. "This is none of
Mabel's doings. She loves me dearly as ever, but one might as well
hope to move the Blue Ridge as to teach that pragmatical husband of
hers to consult her wishes and her good, before he does his own. His
head is hard as a flint, and his heart--never mind! Heaven forgive
me if I am unjust to him! I should be thankful that he does not
really mean to misuse my darling. Now, my dears, you see how
undesirable an inmate of any house I am rated to be. If you wish to
retract your offer of a hiding-place for my old head, I shall not
take it amiss. Thanks to Providence and my dear Frederic I have
enough, to maintain me decently anywhere in this country. I shall
never be chargeable to anybody for my food, victuals, and lodgings.
If you are willing to let me board here and do odd stitches for the
children when they tear their aprons and rub out the knees of their
trowsers--just to keep me out of mischief, you understand!--I
promise to be as little officious in housewifely concerns as it is
in my nature to be."

William Sutton and his wife--a woman who was both sagacious and
amiable--reiterated their assurances that she could not confer a
greater boon upon them than by remaining where she was, and with
them she had stayed until Mr. Aylett sent over the Ridgeley
carriage, one day in the third week in February, with a note from
Mabel, begging her aunt to present herself, without needless delay,
at the homestead, since she was not reckoned sufficiently strong to
attempt the uneven and muddy roads that still separated them. Mrs.
Aylett also dispatched a billet by the coachman, the graceful burden
of which was the same as that of Mabel's petition, and the two
long-sundered friends were speedily together; fellow-partakers of a
bountiful and painstaking hospitality, which kept them continually
in mind that they were guests, and not at home.

The dialogue relative to Rosa Tazewell's matrimonial project took
place on the third day of Mrs. Sutton's visit, in Mabel's chamber,
and when the former, having talked off the topmost bubbles of her
righteous wrath, recollected several very important
letters--business and friendly--she ought to have written a week
ago, and trotted off to her room where she could perform the
neglected duty without visible and outward temptation to that she
was more fond of doing--to wit, talking--the young wife continued
to work steadily, and with apparent composure. It was not a bright
face on which the light from the western windows fell, yet it was
not unhappy. She had never pretended to herself that her marriage
was a step toward happiness, but she had believed that it would
secure to her a larger share of peace, immunity from disturbance,
and independence of thought and action, than fell to her lot in her
brother's house, and for these negative benefits she longed wearily.

Mr. Aylett was not wantonly or openly unkind to his ward, and
ungenerous persecution was utterly incompatible with the temper and
habits of his lady wife, but between them they had contrived to make
the girl's life very miserable. It was Winston's cue--adopted, let
us hope, from the strict sense of duty he avowed had ever actuated
him in his treatment of the charge bequeathed him by his father--to
deport himself with calm, seldom-relaxed severity to one who had
showed herself to be entirely unworthy of confidence; to exercise
unremitting surveillance upon her personal association with young
people out of the family and her correspondence, and to curb by look
and oral reproof the most distant approach to what he condemned as
indiscreet levity. In a thousand ways--many of them ingenious, and
all severe, she was made to feel the curtailment of her liberty, and
given to understand that it was the just retribution of her unlucky
love-affair with an unprincipled adventurer. Mrs. Aylett professed
to discountenance this policy--to be Mabel's secret friend and ally,
while she deemed it unwise to combat her husband's will by overt
measures for his sister's protection.

Thus, for a year, the object of his real displeasure and her
affected commiseration lived under a cloud, too proud to complain of
her thraldom, but feeling it every second; mourning, in the
seclusion of the trebly barred chambers of her heart, over her
shattered idol and squandered affections, and fancying, in the
morbid distrust engendered by the discovery of her lover's baseness,
and the weight of her brother's unsparing reprobation of her insane
imprudence, that she descried in every face, save Aunt Rachel's,
contempt or rebuke for the faux pas that had so nearly cast a stigma
upon her name and lineage.

In Herbert Dorrance's honest admiration and assiduous courtship the
most suspicious scrutiny could detect no tincture of either of these
feelings, and it was not long before she took refuge in his society
from the risk of being wounded and angered by the supposed
exhibition of them in others. Here was one man who could not but
know of her folly, in all its length, breadth, and depth, who was a
witness of her daily chastisement for it at her guardian's hands,
yet who esteemed her unsullied by the unworthy attachment,
undegraded by punishment. Gratitude had a powerful auxiliary in her
feverish longing to escape from scenes that kept alive to the quick,
memories she would have annihilated, had her ability been
commensurate with her will. All other associations with the house in
which she, and her father before her, had been born, and in which
she had passed her childhood and girlish days, were overrun by the
thickly thronging and pertinacious recollections of the two short
weeks Frederic Chilton had spent there with her. He haunted her
walks and drives; trod, by her side, the resounding floor of the
vine-covered portico, sat with her in parlor and halls; sang to her
accompaniment when she would have exorcised the phantom by
music--was always, whenever and wherever he appeared--the tender,
ingenuous, manly youth she had loved and reverenced as the
impersonation of her ideal lord; the demi-god whom she had
worshipped, heart and soul--set, in her exulting imagination no
lower than the angels, and beheld in the end,--with besmirched brow
and debased mien, a disgraced sensualist, not merely a deceiver of
another woman's innocent confidence, and her tempter to dishonor and
wretchedness, but a poltroon--a whipped coward who had not dared to
lift voice or pen in denial or extenuation of his crime.

The law of reaction is of more nearly universal application in moral
and in physical science than men are willing to believe. We have
seen how cunningly Rosa calculated upon it, and wiser people than
she, every day, attribute the most momentous actions of their lives
to its influence.

"My advice to every woman is to marry for GOODNESS--simple
integrity of word and deed!" said a lady, once in my hearing.

She was an excellent scholar, attractive in person and in manner,
gifted in conversation and opulent in purse. Her hand had been
sought in marriage by more than one, and in early womanhood she had
made choice among her suitors of a man whose plausible exterior was
the screen of a black heart and infamous life. Convinced of her
mistake barely in time to escape copartnership in his stained name
and ruined fortunes, she set up the history of her deadly peril as a
beacon to others as ardent and unwary as her old-time self. Either
to put a double point upon the moral, or to insure herself against
similar mishap in the future, she wedded an amiable and correct
fool, a mere incidental in the work of human creation, who was as
incapable of making his mark upon the age that produced him as an
angle-worm is of lettering solid granite.

Mabel's husband was not a simpleton, or characterless; but if he had
been, his prospetts of success would not have been materially
damaged by her knowledge of his deficiencies. A union with him was a
safe investment, and must be several degrees more supportable than
was her position at Ridgeley, banned by its owner and patronized by
his wife. I neither excuse nor blame her for thus deciding and
transacting. Should I censure, a majority of my readers--nearly all
of the masculine portion--would pick holes in my unpractical
philosophy, scout my reasoning as illogical, brand my conclusions as
pernicious--winding up their protest with the sigh of the mazed
disciples, when stunned by the great Teacher's deliverance upon the
subject of divorce, "If the case of the man be so with his wife, it
is not good to marry!"

Which dogma I likewise decline to dispute--falling back thankfully
upon the blessed stronghold of unambitious story-tellers--namely,
that my vocation is to describe what IS--not make fancy-sketches of
millennial days, when rectitude shall be the best, because most
remunerative policy; when sincerity shall be wisdom--proven and
indisputable, and consistency the rule of human faith and practice
the world over, instead of being, as it now is, one of the lost (or
never invented) fine arts.

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