the past. His affection for Mabel had been slight and variable, but now that she was gone, he missed her. The large easy-chair, with its cushions and pillows, was empty, and as he thought of the pale, dark face and aching head he had so often seen reclining there, and which he would never see again, he groaned in bitterness of spirit, for well he knew that he had helped to break the heart now lying cold and still beneath the coffin-lid. There was no shadow on the wall, for the lamp had gone out with the young life for whom it had been kept burning, but many a shadow lay dark and heavy across his heart.
With the sun-setting a driving rain had come on, and as the November wind went howling past the window, and the large drops beat against the casement, he thought of the lonesome little grave on which that rain was falling; and shuddering, he hid his face in the pillows, asking to be forgiven, for he knew that all too soon that grave was made, and he had helped to make it. At last, long after the clock had told the hour of midnight, he arose, and lighting the lamp which many a weary night had burned for _her_, he placed it where the shadow would fall upon the wall as it had done of old. It was no longer a phantom to annoy him, and soothed by its presence, he fell asleep, dreaming that Mabel had come back to bring him her forgiveness, but when he essayed to touch her, she vanished from his sight, and there was nothing left save that shadow on the wall.
MRS. GRAHAM’S RETURN.
Mr. and Mrs. Graham had returned to Woodlawn, the former remaining but a day and night, and then, without once seeing ‘Lena, departing for Europe, where business, either fancied or real, called him. Often, when lying weary and sick in Havana, had he resolved on revealing to his wife the secret which he felt was wearing his life away, but the cowardice of his nature seemed increased by physical weakness, and from time to time was the disclosure postponed, while the chain of evidence was fearfully lengthening around poor ‘Lena, to whom Mrs. Graham had transferred the entire weight of her displeasure.
Loving her husband as well as such as she could love, she was ever ready to forgive when she saw any indications of reform on his part, and as during all their journey he had never once given her cause for offense, she began to attribute his former delinquencies wholly to ‘Lena; and when he proposed a tour to Europe she readily sanctioned it, hoping that time and absence would remove from his mind all thoughts of the beautiful girl, who she thought was her rival. Still, though she would not confess it, in her heart she did not believe ‘Lena guilty except so far as a desire to attract Mr. Graham’s attention would make her so.
For this belief she had a good and potent reason. The daguerreotype which had caused so much trouble was still in her possession, guarded carefully from her husband, who never suspecting the truth, supposed he had lost it. Frequently had Mrs. Graham examined the picture, each time discovering some point of difference between it and its supposed original. Still she never for a moment doubted that it was ‘Lena, until an event occurred which convinced her of the contrary, leaving her, meantime, more mystified than ever.
On their way home from Havana, Mr. Graham had proposed stopping a day in Cincinnati, taking rooms at the Burnet House, where the first individual whom they saw at the table was our old acquaintance, Joel Slocum. Not finding his business as profitable in Lexington as he could wish, he had recently removed to Cincinnati. Here his aspiring mind had prompted him to board at the Burnet House, until he’d seen the “Ohio elephant,” when he intended retiring to one of the cheaper boarding-houses. The moment he saw Mr. Graham, a grin of recognition became visible on his face, bringing to view a row of very long and very yellow teeth, apparently unacquainted with the use of either water or brush.
“Who is that loafer who seems to know you?” asked Mrs. Graham, directing her husband’s attention toward Joel.
Mr. Graham replied that “he had once seen him in Lexington, and that he took daguerreotypes.”
The moment dinner was over, Joel came forward, going through with one of his wonderful bows, and exclaiming, with his peculiar nasal twang, “Now you don’t say this is you. And this is your old woman, I s’pose. Miss Graham, how-dy-du? Darned if you don’t look like Aunt Nancy, only she’s lean and you are squatty. S’posin’ you give me a call and get your picters taken. I didn’t get an all-killin’ sight of practice in Lexington, for the plaguy greenhorns didn’t know enough to patternize me, and ‘taint a tarnation sight better here; but you,” turning to Mr. Graham, “employed me once, and pretended to be suited.”
Mr. Graham turned scarlet, and saying something in an undertone to Joel, gave his wife his arm, leading her to their room, where he made an excuse for leaving her awhile. Looking from the window a moment after, Mrs. Graham saw him walking down the street in close conversation with Joel, who, by the way of showing his importance, lifted his white beaver to almost every man he met. Instantly her curiosity was roused, and when her husband returned, every motion of his was narrowly watched, the espionage resulting in the conviction that there was something in his possession which he did not wish her to see. Once, when she came unexpectedly upon him, he hastily thrust something into his pocket, appearing so much confused that she resolved to ferret out the secret.
Accordingly, that night, when assured by his heavy breathing that he was asleep, she crept softly from his side, and rummaging his pockets, found a daguerreotype, which by the full moonlight she saw was a _fac-simile_ of the one she had in her possession. The arrangement of the hair–everything–was the same, and utterly confounded, she stood gazing first at one and then at the other, wondering what it meant. Could ‘Lena be in the city? She thought not, and even if she were, the last daguerreotype was not so much like her, she fancied, as the first. At all events, she did not dare secrete it as she had done its companion, and stealthily returning it to its place, she crept back to bed.
The next night they reached Woodlawn, where they learned that Mabel was buried that day. Of course ‘Lena could not have been absent from home. Mrs. Graham felt convinced of that, and gradually the conviction came upon her that another than ‘Lena was the original of the daguerreotypes. And yet she was not generous enough to tell Durward so. She knew he was deceived–she wished him to remain so–and to effect it, she refrained from seeking an explanation from her husband, fearing lest ‘Lena should be proved innocent. Her husband knew there was a misunderstanding between Durward and ‘Lena, and if she were to ask him about the pictures, he would, she thought, at once suspect the cause of that misunderstanding, and as a matter of course, exonerate ‘Lena from all blame. The consequence of this she foresaw, and therefore she resolved upon keeping her own counsel, satisfied if in the end she prevented Durward from making ‘Lena his wife.
To effect this, she endeavored, during the winter, to keep the matter almost constantly before Durward’s mind, frequently referring to ‘Lena’s agitation when she first learned that Mr. Graham had started for Europe. She had called with her son at Maple Grove on the very day of her husband’s departure. ‘Lena had not met the lady before, since that night in Frankfort, and now, with the utmost hauteur, she returned her nod, and then, too proud to leave the room, resumed her seat near the window directly opposite the divan on which Durward was seated with Carrie.
She did not know before of Mrs. Graham’s return, and when her aunt casually asked, “Did your husband come back with you?” she involuntarily held her breath for the answer, which, when it came, sent the blood in torrents to her face and neck, while her eyes sparkled with joy. She should see him–he would explain everything–and she should be guiltless in Durward’s sight. This was the cause of her joy, which was quickly turned into sorrow by Mrs. Graham’s adding,
“But he started this morning for Europe, where he will remain three months, and perhaps longer, just according to his business.”
The bright flush died away, and was succeeded by paleness, which did not escape the observation or either mother or son, the latter of whom had watched her from the first, noting each change, and interpreting it according to his fears.
“‘Lena, ‘Lena, how have I been deceived!” was his mental cry as she precipitately left the room, saying to her aunt, who asked what was the matter, that she was faint and dizzy. Death had been but yesterday within their walls, and as if softened by its presence, Mrs. Livingstone actually spoke kindly of her niece, saying, that “constant watching with poor, dear Mabel had impaired her health.”
“Perhaps there are other causes which may affect her,” returned Mrs. Graham, with a meaning look, which, though lost on Mrs. Livingstone, was noticed by Durward, who soon proposed leaving.
On their way home, his mother asked if he observed ‘Lena when Mr. Graham was mentioned.
Without saying that he did, Durward replied, “I noticed your remark to Mrs. Livingstone, and was sorry for it, for I do not wish you to say a word which will throw the least shade of suspicion upon ‘Lena. Her reputation as yet is good, and you must not be the first to say aught against it.”
“I won’t, I won’t,” answered Mrs. Graham, anxious to conciliate her son, but she found it a harder matter to refrain than she had first supposed.
‘Lena was to her a constant eye-sore, and nothing but the presence of Durward prevented her from occasionally giving vent in public to expressions which would have operated unfavorably against the young girl, and when at last circumstances occurred which gave her, as she thought, liberty to free her mind, she was only too willing to do so. Of those circumstances, in which others besides ‘Lena were concerned, we will speak in another chapter.
ANNA AND CAPTAIN ATHERTON.
Malcolm Everett’s engagement with General Fontaine had expired, and as was his original intention, he started for New York, first seeking an interview with Mr. and Mrs. Livingstone, of whom he asked their daughter Anna in marriage, at the same time announcing the startling fact that they had been engaged for more than a year. “I do not ask you for her now,” said he, “for I am not in a situation to support her as I would wish to, but that time will come ere long, I trust, and I can assure you that her happiness shall be the first object of my life.”
There was no cringing on the part of Malcolm Everett. He was unused to that, and as an equal meets an equal, he met them, made known his request, and then in silence awaited their answer. Had Mrs. Livingstone been less indignant, there would undoubtedly have ensued a clamorous call for hartshorn and vinaigrette, but as it was, she started up, and confronting the young man, she exclaimed, “How dare you ask such a thing? _My_ daughter marry _you_!”
“And why not, madam?” he answered, coolly, while Mrs. Livingstone continued: “_You_, a low-born Yankee, who have been, as it were, an hireling. _You_ presume to ask for _my_ daughter!”
“I do,” he answered calmly, with a quiet smile, ten-fold more tantalizing than harsh words would have been, “I do. Can I have her with your consent?”
“Never, so long as I live. I’d sooner see her dead than wedded to vulgar poverty.”
“That is your answer. Very well,” said Malcolm, bowing stiffly. “And now I will hear yours,” turning to Mr. Livingstone, who replied, that “he would leave the matter entirely with his wife–it was nothing to him–he had nothing personal against Mr. Everett–he rather liked him than otherwise, but he hardly thought Anna suited to him, she had been brought up so differently;” and thus evasively answering, he walked away.
“Cowardly fool!” muttered Mrs. Livingstone, as the door closed upon him. “If I pretended to be a man, I’d be one;” then turning to Malcolm, she said, “Is there anything further you wish to say?”
“Nothing,” he replied. “I have honorably asked you for your daughter. You have refused her, and must abide the consequence.”
“And pray what may that be?” she asked, and he answered: “She will soon be of an age to act for herself, and though I would far rather take her with your consent, I shall not then hesitate to take her without, if you still persist in opposing her.”
“There is the door,” said Mrs. Livingstone rising.
“I see it, madam,” answered Malcolm, without deigning to move.
“Oblige me by passing out,” continued Mrs. Livingstone. “Insolent creature, to stand here threatening to elope with my daughter, who has been destined for another since her infancy.”
“But she shall never become the bride of that old man,” answered Malcolm. “I know your schemes. I’ve seen them all along, and I will frustrate them, too.”
“You cannot,” fiercely answered Mrs. Livingstone. “It shall be ere another year comes round, and when you hear that it is so, know that you hastened it forward;” and the indignant lady, finding that her opponent was not inclined to move, left the room herself, going in quest of Anna, whom she determined to watch for fear of what might happen.
But Anna was nowhere to be found, and in a paroxysm of rage she alarmed the household, instituting a strict search, which resulted in the discovery of Anna beneath the same sycamore where Malcolm had first breathed his vows, and whither she had repaired to await the decision of her parents.
“I expected as much,” said she, when told of the result, “but it matters not. I am yours, and I’ll never marry another.”
The approach of the servants prevented any further conversation, and with a hurried adieu they parted. A few days afterward, as Mrs. Livingstone, sat in her large easy-chair before the glowing grate, Captain Atherton was announced, and shown at once into her room. To do Mrs. Livingstone justice, we must say that she had long debated the propriety of giving Anna, in all the freshness of her girlhood, to a man old as her father, but any hesitancy she had heretofore felt, had now vanished. The crisis had come, and when the captain, as he had two or three times before done, broached the subject, urging her to a decision, she replied that she was willing, provided Anna’s consent could be gained.
“Pho! that’s easy enough,” said the captain, complacently rubbing together his fat hands and smoothing his colored whiskers–“Bring her in here, and I’ll coax her in five minutes.”
Anna was sitting with her grandmother and ‘Lena, when word came that her mother wished to see her, the servant adding, with a titter, that “Mas’r Atherton thar too.”
Instinctively she knew why she was sent for, and turning white as marble, she begged her cousin to go with her. But ‘Lena refused, soothing the agitated girl, and begging her to be calm. “You’ve only to be decided,” said she, “and it will soon be over. Captain Atherton, I am sure, will not insist when he sees how repugnant to your feelings it is.”
But Anna knew her own weakness–she could never say, in her mother’s presence, what she felt–and trembling like an aspen, she descended the stairs, meeting in the lower hall her brother, who asked what was the matter.
“Oh, John, John,” she cried, “Captain Atherton is in there with mother, and they have sent for me. What shall I do?”
“Be a woman,” answered John Jr. “Tell him _no_ in good broad English, and if the old fellow insists, I’ll blow his brains out!”
But the Captain did not insist. He was too cunning for that, and when, with a burst of tears, Anna told him she could not be his wife because she loved another, he said, good-humoredly, “Well, well, never mind spoiling those pretty blue eyes. I’m not such an old savage as you think me. So we’ll compromise the matter this way. If you really love Malcolm, why, marry him, and on your bridal day I’ll make you a present of a nice little place I have in Frankfort; but if, on the other hand, Malcolm proves untrue, you must promise to have me. Come, that’s a fair bargain. What do you say?”
“Malcolm will never prove untrue,” answered Anna.
“Of course not,” returned the captain. “So you are safe in promising.’
“But what good will it do you?” queried Anna.
“No good, in particular,” said the captain. “It’s only a whim of mine, to which I thought you might perhaps agree, in consideration of my offer.”
“I do–I will,” said Anna, thinking the captain not so bad after all.
“There’s mischief somewhere, and I advise you to watch,” said John Jr., when he learned from Anna the result of the interview.
But week after week glided by. Mrs. Livingstone’s persecutions ceased, and she sometimes herself handed to Anna Malcolm’s letters, which came regularly, and when about the first of March Captain Atherton himself went off to Washington, Anna gave her fears to the wind, and all the day long went singing about the house, unmindful of the snare laid for her unsuspecting footsteps. At length Malcolm’s letters suddenly ceased, and though Anna wrote again and again, there came no answer. Old Caesar, who always carried and brought the mail for Maple Grove, was questioned, but he declared he “done got none from Mas’r Everett,” and suspicion in that quarter was lulled. Unfortunately for Anna, both her father and John Jr. were now away, and she had no counselor save ‘Lena, who once, on her own responsibility, wrote to Malcolm, but with a like success, and Anna’s heart grew weary with hope deferred. Smilingly Mrs. Livingstone looked on, one moment laughing at Anna for what she termed love-sickness, and the next advising her to be a woman, and marry Captain Atherton. “He was not very old–only forty-three–and it was better to be an old man’s darling than a young man’s slave!”
Thus the days wore on, until one evening just as the family were sitting down to tea they were surprised by a call from the captain, who had returned that afternoon, and who, with the freedom of an old friend, unceremoniously entered the supper-room, appropriating to himself the extra plate which Mrs. Livingstone always had upon the table. Simultaneously with him came Caesar, who having been to the post-office, had just returned, bringing, besides other things, a paper for Carrie, from her old admirer, Tom Lakin, who lived in Rockford, at which place the paper was printed. Several times had Tom remembered Carrie in this way, and now carelessly glancing at the first page, she threw it upon the floor, whence it was taken by Anna, who examined it more minutely glancing, as a matter of course, to the marriage notices.
Meantime the captain, who was sitting by ‘Lena, casually remarked, “Oh, I forgot to tell you that I saw Mr. Everett in Washington.”
“Mr. Everett–Malcolm Everett?” said ‘Lena, quickly.
“Yes, Malcolm Everett,” answered the captain.
“He is there spending the honeymoon with his bride!”
‘Lena’s exclamation of astonishment was prevented by a shriek from Anna, who had that moment read the announcement of Mr. Everett’s marriage, which was the first in the list. It was Malcolm H. Everett–there could be no mistake–and when ‘Lena reached her cousin’s side, she found that she had fainted. All was now in confusion, in the midst of which the Captain took his leave, having first managed to speak a few words in private with Mrs. Livingstone.
“Fortune favors us,” was her reply, as she went back to her daughter, whose long, death-like swoon almost wrung from her the secret.
But Anna revived, and with the first indication of returning consciousness, the cold, hard woman stifled all her better feelings, and then tried to think she was acting only for the good of her child. For a long time Anna appeared to be in a kind of benumbed torpor, requesting to be left alone, and shuddering if Mr. Everett’s name were mentioned in her presence. It was in vain that ‘Lena strove to comfort her, telling her there might be some mistake. Anna refused to listen, angrily bidding ‘Lena desist, and saying frequently that she cared but little what became of herself now. A species of recklessness seemed to have taken possession of her, and when her mother one day carelessly remarked that possibly Captain Atherton would claim the fulfillment of her promise, she answered, in the cold, indifferent tone which now marked her manner of speaking, “Let him. I am ready and willing for the sacrifice.”
“Are you in earnest?” asked Mrs. Livingstone, eagerly.
“In earnest? Yes–try me and see,” was Anna’s brief answer, which somewhat puzzled her mother, who would in reality have preferred opposition to this unnatural passiveness.
But anything to gain her purpose, she thought, and drawing Anna closely to her side, she very gently and affectionately told her how happy it would make her could she see her the wife of Captain Atherton, who had loved and waited for her so long, and who would leave no wish, however slight, ungratified. And Anna, with no shadow of emotion on her calm, white face, consented to all that her mother asked, and when next the captain came, she laid her feverish hand in his, and with a strange, wild light beaming from her dark blue eyes, promised to share his fortunes as his wife.
“‘Twill be winter and spring,” said she, with a bitter, mocking laugh, “‘Twill be winter and spring, but it matters not.”
Many years before, when a boy of eighteen, Captain Atherton had loved, or fancied he loved, a young girl, whose very name afterward became hateful to him, and now, as he thought of Anna’s affection for Malcolm, he likened it to his own boyish fancy, believing she would soon get over it, and thank him for what he had done.
That night Anna saw the moon and stars go down, bending far out from her window, that the damp air might cool her burning brow, and when the morning sun came up the eastern horizon, its first beams fell on the golden curls which streamed across the window-sill, her only pillow the livelong night. On ‘Lena’s mind a terrible conviction was fastening itself–Anna was crazed. She saw it in the wildness of her eye, in the tones of her voice, and more than all, in the readiness with which she yielded herself to her mother’s schemes, “But it shall not be,” she thought, “I will save her,” and then she knelt before her aunt, imploring her to spare her daughter–not to sacrifice her on the altar of mammon.
But Mrs. Livingstone turned angrily away, telling her to mind her own affairs. Then ‘Lena sought her cousin, and winding her arms around her neck, besought of her to resist–to burst the chain which bound her, and be free. But with a shake other head, Anna bade her go away. “Leave me, ‘Lena Rivers,” she said, “leave me to work out my destiny. It is decreed that I shall be his wife, and I may not struggle against it. Each night I read it in the stars, and the wind, as it sighs through the maple trees, whispers it to my ear.”
“Oh, if my aunt could see her now,” thought ‘Lena but as if her mother’s presence had a paralyzing power, Anna, when with her, was quiet, gentle, and silent, and if Mrs. Livingstone sometimes missed her merry laugh and playful ways, she thought the air of dignity which seemed to have taken their place quite an improvement, and far more in keeping with the bride-elect of Captain Atherton.
About this time Mr. Livingstone returned, appearing greatly surprised at the phase which affairs had assumed in his absence, but when ‘Lena whispered to him her fears, he smilingly answered, “I reckon you’re mistaken. Her mother would have found it out–where is she?”
In her chamber at the old place by the open window they found her, and though she did not as usual spring eagerly forward to meet her father, her greeting was wholly natural; but when Mr. Livingstone, taking her upon his knee, said gently, “They tell me you are to be married soon,” the wildness came back to her eye, and ‘Lena wondered he could not see it. But he did not, and smoothing her disordered tresses, he said, “Tell me, my daughter, does this marriage please you? Do you enter into it willingly?”
For a moment there was a wavering, and ‘Lena held her breath to catch the answer, which came at last, while the eyes shone brighter than ever–“Willing? yes, or I should not do it; no one compels me, else I would resist.”
“Woman’s nature,” said Mr. Livingstone, laughingly, while ‘Lena turned away to hide her tears.
Day after day preparations went on, for Mrs. Livingstone would have the ceremony a grand and imposing one. In the neighborhood, the fast approaching event was discussed, some pronouncing it a most fortunate thing for Anna, who could not, of course, expect to make so eligible a match as her more brilliant sister, while others–the sensible portion–wondered, pitied, and blamed, attributing the whole to the ambitious mother, whose agency in her son’s marriage was now generally known. At Maple Grove closets, chairs, tables, and sofas were loaded down with finery, and like an automaton, Anna stood up while they fitted to her the rich white satin, scarcely whiter than her own face, and Mrs. Livingstone, when she saw her daughter’s indifference, would pinch her bloodless cheeks, wondering how she could care so little for her good fortune.
Unnatural mother!–from the little grave on the sunny slope, now grass-grown and green, came there no warning voice to stay her in her purpose? No; she scarcely thought of Mabel now, and with unflinching determination she kept on her way.
But there was one who, night and day, pondered in her mind the best way of saving Anna from the living death to which she would surely awake, when it was too late. At last she resolved on going herself to Captain Atherton, telling him just how it was, and if there was a spark of generosity in his nature, she thought he would release her cousin. But this plan required much caution, for she would not have her uncle’s family know of it, and if she failed, she preferred that it should be kept a secret from the world. There was then no alternative but to go in the night, and alone. She did not now often sit with the family, and she knew they would not miss her. So, one evening when they were as usual assembled in the parlor, she stole softly from the house, and managing to pass the negro quarters unobserved, she went down to the lower stable, where she saddled the pony she was now accustomed to ride, and leading him by a circuitous path out upon the turnpike, mounted and rode away.
The night was moonless, and the starlight obscured by heavy clouds, but the pale face and golden curls of Anna, for whose sake she was there alone, gleamed on her in the darkness, and ‘Lena was not afraid. Once–twice–she thought she caught the sound of another horse’s hoofs, but when she stopped to listen, all was still, and again she pressed forward, while her pursuer (for ‘Lena was followed) kept at a greater distance. Durward had been to Frankfort, and on his way home had stopped at Maple Grove to deliver a package. Stopping only a moment, he reached the turnpike just after ‘Lena struck into it. Thinking it was a servant, he was about to pass her, when her horse sheered at something on the road-side, and involuntarily she exclaimed, “Courage, Dido, there’s nothing to fear.”
Instantly he recognized her voice, and was about to overtake and speak to her, but thinking that her mission was a secret one, or she would not be there alone, he desisted. Still he could not leave her thus. Her safety might be endangered, and reining in his steed, and accommodating his pace to hers, he followed without her knowledge. On she went until she reached the avenue leading to “Sunnyside,” as Captain Atherton termed his residence, and there she stopped, going on foot to the house, while, hidden by the deep darkness Durward waited and watched.
Half timidly ‘Lena rang the door-bell, dropping her veil over her face that she might not be recognized. “I want to see your master,” she said to the woman who answered her ring, and who in some astonishment replied, “Bless you, miss, Mas’r Atherton done gone to Lexington and won’t be home till to-morry.”
“Gone!” repeated ‘Lena in a disappointed tone. “Oh, I’m so sorry.”
“Is you the new miss what’s comin’ here to live?” asked the negro, who was Captain Atherton’s house keeper.
Instantly the awkwardness of her position flashed upon ‘Lena, but resolving to put a bold face on the matter, she removed her veil, saying, playfully, “You know me now, Aunt Martha.”
“In course I do,” answered the negro, holding up both hands in amazement, “but what sent you here this dark, unairthly night?”
“Business with your master,” and then suddenly remembering that among her own race Aunt Martha was accounted an intolerable gossip, she began to wish she had not come.
But it could not now be helped, and turning away, she walked slowly down the avenue, wondering what the result would be. Again they were in motion, she and Durward, who followed until he saw her safe home, and then, glad that no one had seen her but himself, he retraced his steps, pondering on the mystery which he could not fathom. After ‘Lena left Sunnyside, a misty rain came on, and by the time she reached her home, her long riding-dress was wet and drizzled, the feathers on her cap were drooping, and to crown all, as she was crossing the hall with stealthy step, she came suddenly upon her aunt, who, surprised at her appearance, demanded of her where she had been. But ‘Lena refused to tell, and in quite a passion Mrs. Livingstone laid the case before her husband.
“Lena had been off that dark, rainy night, riding somewhere with somebody, she wouldn’t tell who, but she (Mrs. Livingstone) most knew if was Durward, and something must be done.”
Accordingly, next day; when they chanced to be alone, Mr. Livingstone took the opportunity of questioning ‘Lena, who dared not disobey him, and with many tears she confessed the whole, saying that “if it were wrong she was very sorry.”
“You acted foolishly, to say the least of it,” answered her uncle, adding, dryly, that he thought she troubled herself altogether too much about Anna, who seemed happy and contented.
Still he was ill at ease. ‘Lena’s fears disturbed him, and for many days he watched his daughter narrowly, admitting to himself that there was something strange about her. But possibly all engaged girls acted so; his wife said they did; and hating anything like a scene, he concluded to let matters take their course, half hoping, and half believing, too, that something would occur to prevent the marriage. What it would be, or by what agency it would be brought about, he didn’t know, but he resolved to let ‘Lena alone, and when his wife insisted upon his “lecturing her soundly for meddling,” he refused, venturing even to say, that, “she hadn’t meddled.”
Meantime a new idea had entered ‘Lena’s mind. She would write to Mr. Everett. There might yet be some mistake; she had read of such things in stories, and it could do no harm. Gradually as she wrote, hope grew strong within her, and it became impressed upon her that there had been some deep-laid, fiendish plot. If so, she dared not trust her letter with old Caesar, who might be bribed by his mistress. And how to convey it to the office was now the grand difficulty. As if fortune favored her plan, Durward, that very afternoon, called at Maple Grove, being as he said, on his way to Frankfort.
‘Lena would have died rather than ask a favor of him for herself, but to save Anna she could do almost any thing. Hastily securing the letter, and throwing on her sun-bonnet, she sauntered down the lawn and out upon the turnpike, where by the gate she awaited his coming.
“‘Lena–excuse me–Miss Rivers, is it you?” asked Durward, touching his hat, as in evident confusion she came forward, asking if she could trust him.
“Trust me? Yes, with anything,” answered Durward, quickly dismounting, and forgetting everything save the bright, beautiful face which looked up to him so eagerly.
“Then,” answered ‘Lena, “take this letter and see it deposited safely, will you?”
Glancing at the superscription, Durward felt his face crimson, while he instantly remembered what Mrs. Livingstone had once said concerning ‘Lena’s attachment to Mr. Everett.
“Sometime, perhaps, I will explain,” said ‘Lena, observing the expression of his countenance, and then adding, with some bitterness, “I assure you there is no harm in it.”
“Of course not,” answered Durward, again mounting his horse, and riding away more puzzled than ever, while ‘Lena returned to the house, which everywhere gave tokens of the approaching nuptials.
Already had several costly bridal gifts arrived, and among them was a box from the captain, containing a set of diamonds, which Mrs. Livingstone placed in her daughter’s waving hair, bidding her mark their effect. But not a muscle of Anna’s face changed; nothing moved her; and with the utmost indifference she gazed on the preparations around her. A stranger would have said ‘Lena was the bride, for, with flushed cheeks and nervously anxious manner, she watched each sun as it rose and set, wondering what the result would be. Once, when asked whom she would have for her bridesmaid and groomsman, Anna had answered, “Nellie and John!” but that could not be, for the latter had imposed upon himself the penance of waiting a whole year ere he spoke to Nellie of that which lay nearest his heart, and in order the better to keep his vow, he had gone from home, first winning from her the promise that she would not become engaged until his return. And now, when he learned of his sister’s request, he refused to come, saying, “if she would make such a consummate fool of herself, he did not wish to see her.”
So Carrie and Durward were substituted, and as this arrangement brought the latter occasionally to the house, ‘Lena had opportunities of asking him if there had yet come any answer to her letter; and much oftener than he would otherwise have done, Durward went down to Frankfort, for he felt that it was no unimportant matter which thus deeply interested ‘Lena. At last, the day before the bridal came, Durward had gone to the city, and in a state of great excitement ‘Lena awaited his return, watching with a trembling heart as the sun went down behind the western hills. Slowly the hours dragged on, and many a time she stole out in the deep darkness to listen, but there was nothing to be heard save the distant cry of the night-owl, and she was about retracing her steps for the fifth time, when from behind a clump of rose-bushes started a little dusky form, which whispered softly, “Is you Miss ‘Leny?”
Repressing the scream which came near escaping her lips, ‘Lena answered, “Yes; what do you want?” while at the same moment she recognized a little hunch back belonging to General Fontaine.
“Marster Everett tell me to fotch you this, and wait for the answer,” said the boy, passing her a tiny note.
“Master Everett! Is he here?” she exclaimed, catching the note and re-entering the house, where by the light of the hall lamp she read what he had written.
It was very short, but it told all–how he had written again and again, receiving no answer, and was about coming himself when a severe illness prevented. The marriage, he said, was that of his uncle, for whom he was named, and who had in truth gone on to Washington, the home of his second wife. It closed by asking tier to meet him, with Anna, on one of the arbor bridges at midnight. Hastily tearing a blank leaf from a book which chanced to be lying in the hall, ‘Lena wrote, “We will be there,” and giving it to the negro, bade him hasten back.
There was no longer need to wait for Durward, who, if he got no letter, was not to call, and trembling in every nerve, ‘Lena sought her chamber, there to consider what she was next to do. For some time past Carrie had occupied a separate room from Anna, who, she said disturbed her with her late hours and restless turnings, so ‘Lena’s part seemed comparatively easy. Waiting until the house was still, she entered Anna’s room, finding her, as she had expected, at her old place by the open window, her head resting upon the sill, and when she approached nearer, she saw that she was asleep.
“Let her sleep yet awhile,” said she; “it will do her good.”
In the room adjoining lay the bridal dress, and ‘Lena’s first impulse was to trample it under her feet, but passing it with a shudder, she hastily collected whatever she thought Anna would most need. These she placed in a small-sized trunk, and then knowing it was done, she approached her cousin, who seemed to be dreaming, for she murmured the name of “Malcolm.”
“He is here, love–he has come to save you,” she whispered, while Anna, only partially aroused, gazed at her so vacantly, that ‘Lena’s heart stood still with fear lest the poor girl’s reason were wholly gone. “Anna, Anna,” she said, “awake; Malcolm is here–in the garden, where you must meet him–come.”
“Malcolm is married,” said Anna, in a whisper–married–and my bridal dress is in there, all looped with flowers; would you like to see it?”
“Our Father in heaven help me,” cried ‘Lena, clasping her hands in anguish, while her tears fell like rain on Anna’s upturned face.
This seemed to arouse her, for in a natural tone she asked why ‘Lena wept. Again and again ‘Lena repeated to her that Malcolm had come–that he was not married–that he had come for her; and as Anna listened, the torpor slowly passed away–the wild light in her eyes grew less bright, for it was quenched by the first tears she had shed since the shadow fell upon her; and when ‘Lena produced the note, and she saw it was indeed true, the ice about her heart was melted, and in choking, long-drawn sobs, her pent-up feelings gave way, as she saw the gulf whose verge she had been treading. Crouching at ‘Lena’s feet, she kissed the very hem of her garments, blessing her as her preserver, and praying heaven to bless her, also. It was the work of a few moments to array her in her traveling dress, and then very cautiously ‘Lena led her down the stairs, and out into the open air.
“If I could see father once,” said Anna; but such an act involved too much danger, and with one lingering, tearful look at her old home, she moved away, supported by ‘Lena, who rather dragged than led her over the graveled walk.
As they approached the arbor bridge, they saw the glimmering light of a lantern, for the night was intensely dark, and in a moment Anna was clasped in the arms which henceforth were to shelter her from the storms of life. Helpless as an infant she lay, while ‘Lena, motioning the negro who was in attendance to follow her, returned to the house for the trunk, which was soon safely deposited in the carriage at the gate.
“Words cannot express what I owe you,” said Malcolm, when he gave her his hand at parting, “but of this be assured, so long as I live you have in me a friend and brother.” Turning back for a moment, he added, “This flight is, I know, unnecessary, for I could prevent to-morrow’s expected event in other ways than this, but revenge is sweet, and I trust I am excusable for taking it in my own way.”
Anna could not speak, but the look of deep gratitude which beamed from her eyes was far more eloquent than words. Upon the broad piazza ‘Lena stood until the last faint sound of the carriage wheels died away; then, weary and worn, she sought her room, locking ‘Anna’s door as she passed it, and placing the key in her pocket. Softly she crept to bed by the side of her slumbering grandmother, and with a fervent prayer for the safety of the fugitives, fell asleep.
The loud ringing of the breakfast-bell aroused ‘Lena from her heavy slumber, and with a vague consciousness of what had transpired the night previous, she at first turned wearily upon her pillow, wishing it were not morning; but soon remembering all, she sprang up, and after a hasty toilet, descended to the breakfast-room, where another chair was vacant, another face was missing. Without any suspicion of the truth, Mrs. Livingstone spoke of Anna’s absence, saying she presumed the poor girl was tired and sleepy, and this was admitted as an excuse for her tardiness. But when breakfast was over and she still did not appear, Corinda was sent to call her, returning soon with the information that “she’d knocked and knocked, but Miss Anna would not answer, and when she tried the door she found it locked.”
Involuntarily Mr. Livingstone glanced at ‘Lena; whose face wore a scarlet hue as she hastily quitted the table. With a presentiment of something, he himself started for Anna’s room; followed by his wife and Carrie, while ‘Lena, half-way up the stairs, listened breathlessly for the result. It was useless knocking for admittance, for there was no one within to bid them enter, and with a powerful effort Mr. Livingstone burst the lock. The window was open, the lamp was still burning, emitting a faint, sickly odor; the bed was undisturbed, the room in confusion, and Anna was gone. Mrs. Livingstone’s eye took in all this at a glance, but her husband saw only the latter, and ere he was aware of what he did, a fervent “Thank heaven,” escaped him.
“She’s gone–run away–dead, maybe,” exclaimed Mrs. Livingstone, wringing her hands in unfeigned distress, and instinctively drawing nearer to her husband for comfort.
By this time ‘Lena had ventured into the room, and turning toward her, Mr. Livingstone said, very gently, “‘Lena, where is our child?”
“In Ohio, I dare say, by this time, as she took the night train at Midway for Cincinnati,” said ‘Lena, thinking she might as well tell the whole at once.
“In Ohio!” shrieked Mrs. Livingstone, fiercely grasping ‘Lena’s arm. “What has she gone to Ohio for? Speak, ingrate, for you have done the deed–I am sure of that!”
“It was Mr. Everett’s wish to return home that way I believe,” coolly answered ‘Lena, without quailing in the least from the eyes bent so angrily upon her.
Instantly Mrs. Livingstone’s fingers loosened their grasp, while her face grew livid with mingled passion and fear. Her fraud was discovered–her stratagem had failed–and she was foiled in this, her second darling scheme. But she was yet to learn what agency ‘Lena had in the matter, and this information her husband obtained for her. There was no anger in the tones of his voice when he asked his niece to explain the mystery, else she might not have answered, for ‘Lena could not be driven. Now, however, she felt that he had a right to know, and she told him all she knew; what she had done herself and why she had done it; that General Fontaine, to whom Malcolm had gone in his trouble, had kindly assisted him by lending both servants and carriage; but upon the intercepted letters she could throw no light.
“‘Twas a cursed act, and whoever was guilty of it is unworthy the name of either man or woman,” said Mr. Livingstone, while his eye rested sternly upon his wife.
She knew that he suspected her, but he had no proof, and resolving to make the best of the matter, she, too, united with him in denouncing the deed, wondering who could have done it, and meanly suggesting Maria Fontaine, a pupil of Mr. Everett’s, who had, at one time, felt a slight preference for him. But this did not deceive her husband–neither did it help her at all in the present emergency. The bride was gone, and already she felt the tide of scandal and gossip which she knew would be the theme of the entire neighborhood. Still, if her own shameful act was kept a secret she could bear it, and it must be. No one knew of it except Captain Atherton and Caesar, the former of whom would keep his own counsel, while fear of a passport down the river, the negroes’ dread, would prevent the latter from telling.
Accordingly, her chagrin was concealed, and affecting to treat the whole matter as a capital joke, worthy of being immortalized in romance, she returned to her room, and hastily writing a few lines, rang the bell for Caesar who soon appeared, declaring that “as true as he lived and breathed and drew the breath of life, he’d done gin miss every single letter afore handin’ ’em to anybody else.”
“Shut your mouth and mind you keep it shut, or you’ll find yourself in New Orleans,” was Mrs. Livingstone’s very lady-like response, as she handed him the note, bidding him take it to Captain Atherton.
For some reason or other the captain this morning was exceedingly restless, walking from room to room, watching the clock, then the sun, and finally, in order to pass the time away, trying on his wedding suit, to see how he was going to look! Perfectly satisfied with his appearance, he was in imagination going through the ceremony, and had just inclined his head in token that he would take Anna for his wife, when Mrs. Livingstone’s note was handed him. At first he could hardly believe the evidence of his own eyes.
Anna gone!–run away with Mr. Everett! It could not be, and sinking into a chair, he felt, as he afterwards expressed it, “mighty queer and shaky.”
But Mrs. Livingstone had advised him to put a bold face on it, and this, upon second thought, he determined to do. Hastily changing his dress, now useless, he mounted his steed, and was soon on his way toward Maple Grove, a new idea dawning upon his mind, and ere his arrival, settling itself into a fixed purpose. From Aunt Martha he had heard of ‘Lena’s strange visit, and he now remembered the many times she had tried to withdraw him from Anna, appropriating him to herself for hours. The captain’s vanity was wonderful. Sunnyside needed a mistress–he needed a wife, ‘Lena was poor–perhaps she liked him–and if so there might be a wedding, after all. She was beautiful, and would sustain the honors of his house with a better grace, he verily believed, than Anna! Full of these thoughts, he reached Maple Grove, where he found Durward, to whom Mrs. Livingstone had detailed the whole circumstance, dwelling long upon ‘Lena’s meddling propensities, and charging the whole affair upon her.
“But she knew what she was about–she had an object in view, undoubtedly,” she added, glad of an opportunity to give vent to her feelings against ‘Lena.
“Pray, what was her object?” asked Durward, and Mrs. Livingstone replied, “I told you once that ‘Lena was ambitious, and I have every reason to believe she would willingly marry Captain Atherton, notwithstanding he is so much older.”
She forgot that there was the same disparity between the captain and Anna as between him and ‘Lena, but Durward did not, and with a derisive smile he listened, while she proceeded to give her reasons for thinking that a desire to supplant Anna was the sole object which ‘Lena had in view, for what else could have prompted that midnight ride to Sunnyside. Again Durward smiled, but before he could answer, the bride-groom elect stood before them, looking rather crestfallen, but evidently making a great effort to appear as usual.
“And so the bird has flown?” said he, “Well, it takes a Yankee, after all, to manage a case, but how did he find it out?”
Briefly Mrs. Livingstone explained to him Lena’s agency in the matter, omitting, this time, to impute to her the same motive which she had done when stating the case to Durward.
“So ‘Lena is at the bottom of it?” said he, rubbing his little fat, red hands. “Well, well, where is she? I’d like to see her.”
“Corinda, tell ‘Lena she is wanted in the parlor,” said Mrs. Livingstone, while Durward, not wishing to witness the interview, arose to go, but Mrs. Livingstone urged him so hard to stay, that he at last resumed his seat on the sofa by the side of Carrie.
“Captain Atherton wishes to question you concerning the part you have taken in this elopement,” said Mrs. Livingstone, sternly, as ‘Lena appeared in the doorway.
“No, I don’t,” said the captain, gallantly offering ‘Lena a chair. “My business with Miss Rivers concerns herself.”
“I am here, sir, to answer any proper question,” said ‘Lena, proudly, at the same time declining the proffered seat.
“There’s an air worthy of a queen,” thought the captain, and determining to make his business known at once, he arose, and turning toward Mrs. Livingstone, Durward and Carrie, whom he considered his audience, he commenced: “What I am about to say may seem strange, but the fact is, I want a wife. I’ve lived alone long enough. I waited for Anna eighteen years, and now’s she gone. Everything is in readiness for the bridal; the guests are invited; nothing wanting but the bride. Now if I _could_ find a substitute.”
“Not in me,” muttered Carrie, drawing nearer to Durward, while with a sarcastic leer the captain continued: “Don’t refuse before you are asked, Miss Livingstone. I do not aspire to the honor of your hand, but I do ask Miss Rivers to be my wife–here before you all. She shall live like a princess–she and her grandmother both. Come, what do you say? Many a poor girl would jump at the chance.”
The rich blood which usually dyed ‘Lena’s cheek was gone, and pale as the marble mantel against which she leaned, she answered, proudly, “I would sooner die than link my destiny with one who could so basely deceive my cousin, making her believe it was her betrothed husband whom he saw in Washington instead of his uncle! Marry you? Never, if I beg my bread from door to door!”
“Noble girl!” came involuntarily from the lips of Durward, who had held his breath for her answer, and who now glanced triumphantly at Mrs. Livingstone, whose surmises were thus proved incorrect.
The captain’s self-pride was touched, that a poor, humble girl should refuse him with his half million. A sense of the ridiculous position in which he was placed maddened him, and in a violent rage he replied, “You won’t, hey? What under heavens have you hung around me so for, sticking yourself in between me and Anna when you knew you were not wanted?”
“I did it, sir, at Anna’s request, to relieve her–and for nothing else.”
“And was it at her request that you went alone to Sunnyside on that dark, rainy night?” chimed in Mrs. Livingstone.
“No, madam,” said ‘Lena, turning toward her aunt. “I had in vain implored of you to save her from a marriage every way irksome to her, when in her right mind, but you would not listen, and I resolved to appeal to the captain’s better nature. In this I failed, and then I wrote to Mr. Everett, with the result which you see.”
In her first excitement Mrs. Livingstone had forgotten to ask who was the bearer of ‘Lena’s letter, but remembering it now, she put the question. ‘Lena would not implicate Durward without his permission, but while she hesitated, he answered for her, “_I_ carried that letter, Mrs. Livingstone, though I did not then know its nature. Still if I had, I should have done the same, and the event has proved that I was right in so doing.”
“Ah, indeed!” said the captain growing more and more nettled and disagreeable. “Ah, indeed! Mr. Bellmont leagued with Miss Rivers against me. Perhaps she would not so bluntly refuse an offer coming from you, but I can tell you it won’t sound very well that the Hon. Mrs. Bellmont once rode four miles alone in the night to visit a bachelor. Ha! ha! Miss ‘Lena; better have submitted to my terms at once, for don’t you see I have you in my power?”
“And if you ever use that power to her disadvantage you answer for it to me; do you understand?” exclaimed Durward, starting up and confronting Captain Atherton, who, the veriest coward in the world, shrank from the flashing of Durward’s eye, and meekly answered, “Yes, yes–yes, yes, I won’t, I won’t. I don’t want to fight. I like ‘Lena. I don’t blame Anna for running away if she didn’t want me–but it’s left me in a deuced mean scrape, which I wish you’d help me out of.”
Durward saw that the captain was in earnest, and taking his proffered hand, promised to render him any assistance in his power, and advising him to be present himself in the evening, as the first meeting with his acquaintances would thus be over. Upon reflection, the captain concluded to follow this advice, and when evening arrived and with it those who had not heard the news, he was in attendance, together with Durward, who managed the whole affair so skillfully that the party passed off quite pleasantly, the disappointed guests playfully condoling with the deserted bridegroom, who received their jokes with a good grace, wishing himself, meantime, anywhere but there.
That night, when the company were gone and all around was silent, Mrs. Livingstone watered her pillow with the first tears she had shed for her youngest born, whom she well knew _she_ had driven from home, and when her husband asked what they should do, she answered with a fresh burst of tears, “Send for Anna to come back.”
“And Malcolm, too?” queried Mr. Livingstone, knowing it was useless to send for one without the other.
“Yes, Malcolm too. There’s room for both,” said the weeping mother, feeling how every hour she should miss the little girl, whose presence had in it so much of sunlight and joy.
But Anna would not return. Away to the northward, in a fairy cottage overhung with the wreathing honeysuckle and the twining grape-vine, where the first summer flowers were blooming and the song-birds were caroling all the day long, her home was henceforth to be, and though the letter which contained her answer to her father’s earnest appeal was stained and blotted, it told of perfect happiness with Malcolm, who kissed away her tears as she wrote, “Tell mother I cannot come.”
Since the morning when Durward had so boldly avowed himself ‘Lena’s champion, her health and spirits began to improve. That she was not wholly indifferent to him she had every reason to believe, and notwithstanding the strong barrier between them, hope sometimes whispered to her of a future, when all that was now so dark and mysterious should be made plain. But while she was thus securely dreaming, a cloud, darker and deeper than any which had yet overshadowed her, was gathering around her pathway. Gradually had the story of her ride to Captain Atherton’s gained circulation, magnifying itself as it went, until at last it was currently reported that at several different times had she been seen riding away from Sunnyside at unseasonable hours of the night, the time varying from nine in the evening to three in the morning according to the exaggerating powers of the informer.
But few believed it, and yet such is human nature, that each and every one repeated it to his or her neighbor, until at last it reached Mrs. Graham, who, forgetting the caution of her son, said, with a very wise look, that “she was not at all surprised–she had from the first suspected ‘Lena, and she had the best of reasons for so doing!”
Of course Mrs. Graham’s friend was exceedingly anxious to know what she meant, and by dint of quizzing, questioning and promising never to tell, she at last drew out just enough of the story to know that Mr. Graham had a daguerreotype which looked just like ‘Lena, and that Mrs. Graham had no doubt whatever that she was in the habit of writing to him. This of course was repeated, notwithstanding the promise of secrecy, and many of the neighbors suddenly remembered some little circumstance trivial in itself, but all going to swell the amount of evidence against poor ‘Lena, who, unconscious of the gathering storm, did not for a time observe the sidelong glances cast toward her whenever she appeared in public.
Erelong, however, the cool nods and distant manners of her acquaintances began to attract her attention, causing her to wonder what it all meant. But there was no one of whom she would ask an explanation. John Jr. was gone–Anna was gone–and to crown all, Durward, too, left the neighborhood just as the first breath of scandal was beginning to set the waves of gossip in motion. In his absence, Mrs. Graham felt no restraint, whatever, and all that she knew, together with many things she didn’t know, she told, until it became a matter of serious debate whether ‘Lena ought not to be _cut_ entirely. Mrs. Graham and her clique decided in the affirmative, and when Mrs. Fontaine, who was a weak woman, wholly governed by public opinion, gave a small party for her daughter Maria, ‘Lena was purposely omitted. Hitherto she had been greatly petted and admired by both Maria and her mother, and she felt the slight sensibly, the more so, as Carrie darkly hinted that girls who could not behave themselves must not associate with respectable people. “‘Leny not invited!” said Mrs. Nichols, espousing the cause of her granddaughter. “What’s to pay, I wonder? Miss Fontaine and the gineral, too, allus appeared to think a sight on her.”
“I presume the _general_ does now,” answered Mrs. Livingstone, “but it’s natural that Mrs. Fontaine should feel particular about the reputation of her daughter’s associates.”
“And ain’t ‘Leny’s reputation as good as the best on ’em,” asked Mrs. Nichols, her shriveled cheeks glowing with insulted pride.
“It’s the general opinion that it might be improved,” was Mrs. Livingstone’s haughty answer, as she left her mother-in-law to her own reflections.
“It’ll kill her stone dead,” thought Mrs. Nichols, revolving in her own mind the propriety of telling ‘Lena what her aunt had said. “It’ll kill her stone dead, and I can’t tell her. Mebby it’ll blow over pretty soon.”
That afternoon several ladies, who were in the habit of calling upon ‘Lena, came to Maple Grove, but not one asked for her, and with her eyes and ears now sharpened, she fancied that once, as she was passing the parlor door, she heard her own name coupled with that of Mr. Graham. A startling light burst upon her, and staggering to her room, she threw herself, half fainting, upon the bed, where an hour afterwards she was found by Aunt Milly.
The old negress had also heard the story in its most aggravated form, and readily divining the cause of ‘Lena’s grief, attempted to console her, telling her “not to mind what the good-for-nothin’ critters said; they war only mad ’cause she’s so much handsomer and trimmer built.”
“You know, then,” said ‘Lena, lifting her head from the pillow. “You know what it is; so tell me, for I shall die if I remain longer in suspense.”
“Lor’ bless the child,” exclaimed old Milly, “to think she’s the very last one to know, when it’s been common talk more than a month!”
“What’s been common talk? What is it?” demanded ‘Lena; and old Milly, seating herself upon a trunk, commenced: “Why, honey, hain’t you hearn how you done got Mr. Graham’s pictur and gin him yourn ‘long of one of them curls–how he’s writ and you’ve writ, and how he’s gone off to the eends of the airth to get rid on you–and how you try to cotch young Mas’r Durward, who hate the sight on you–how you waylay him one day, settin’ on a rock out by the big gate–and how you been seen mighty nigh fifty times comin’ home afoot from Captain Atherton’s in the night, rainin’ thunder and lightnin’ hard as it could pour–how after you done got Miss Anna to ‘lope, you ax Captain Atherton to have you, and git mad as fury ’cause he ‘fuses–and how your mother warn’t none too likely, and a heap more that I can’t remember–hain’t you heard of none on’t?”
“None, none,” answered ‘Lena, while Milly continued, “It’s a sin and shame for quality folks that belong to the meetin’ to pitch into a poor ‘fenseless girl and pick her all to pieces. Reckon they done forgot what our Heabenly Marster told ’em when he lived here in old Kentuck, how they must dig the truck out of thar own eyes afore they go to meddlin’ with others; but they never think of him these days, ‘cept Sundays, and then as soon as meetin’ is out they done git together and talk about you and Mas’r Graham orfully. I hearn ’em last Sunday, I and Miss Fontaine’s cook, Cilly, and if they don’t quit it, thar’s a heap on us goin’ to leave the church!”
‘Lena smiled in spite of herself, and when Milly, who arose to leave the room, again told her not to care, as all the blacks were for her, she felt that she was not utterly alone in her wretchedness. Still, the sympathy of the colored people alone could not help her, and dally matters grew worse, until at last even Nellie Douglass’s faith was shaken, and ‘Lena’s heart died within her as she saw in her signs of neglect. Never had Mr. Livingstone exchanged a word with her upon the subject, but the reserve with which he treated her plainly indicated that he, too, was prejudiced, while her aunt and Carrie let no opportunity pass of slighting her, the latter invariably leaving the room if she entered it. On one such occasion, in a state bordering almost on distraction ‘Lena flew back to her own chamber, where to her great surprise, she found her uncle in close conversation with her grandmother, whose face told the pain his words were inflicting. ‘Lena’s first impulse was to fall at his feet and implore his protection, but he prevented her by immediately leaving the room.
“Oh, grandmother, grandmother,” she cried, “help me, or I shall die.”
In her heart Mrs. Nichols believed her guilty, for John had said so–he would not lie; and to ‘Lena’s touching appeal for sympathy, she replied, as she rocked to and fro, “I wish you _had_ died, ‘Leny, years and years ago.”
‘Twas the last drop in the brimming bucket, and with the wailing cry, “God help me now–no one else can,” the heart-broken girl fell fainting to the floor, while in silent agony Mrs. Nichols hung over her, shouting for help.
Both Mrs. Livingstone and Carrie refused to come, but at the first call Aunt Milly hastened to the room. “Poor sheared lamb,” said she, gathering back the thick, clustering curls which shaded ‘Lena’s marble face, “she’s innocent as the new-born baby.”
“Oh, if I could think so,” said grandma; but she could not, and when the soft brown eyes again unclosed, and eagerly sought hers, they read distrust and doubt, and motioning her grandmother away, ‘Lena said she would rather be alone.
Many and bitter were the thoughts which crowded upon her as she lay there watching the daylight fade from the distant hills, and musing of the stern realities around her. Gradually her thoughts assumed a definite purpose; she would go away from a place where she was never wanted, and where she now no longer wished to stay. Mr. Everett had promised to be her friend, and to him she would go. At different intervals her uncle and cousin had given her money to the amount of twenty dollars, which was still in her possession, and which she knew would take her far on her road.
With ‘Lena to resolve was to do, and that night, when sure her grandmother was asleep, she arose and hurriedly made the needful preparations for her flight. Unlike most aged people, Mrs. Nichols slept soundly, and ‘Lena had no fears of waking her. Very stealthily she moved around the room, placing in a satchel, which she could carry upon her arm, the few things she would need. Then, sitting down by the table, she wrote:
“DEAR GRANDMA: When you read this I shall be gone, for I cannot longer stay where all look upon me as a wretched, guilty thing. I am innocent, grandma, as innocent as my angel mother when they dared to slander her, but you do not believe it, and that is the hardest of all. I could have borne the rest, but when you, too, doubted me, it broke my heart, and now I am going away. Nobody will care–nobody will miss me but you.
“And now dear, dear grandma, it costs me more pain to write than it will you to read
“‘LENA’S LAST GOOD-BYE”
All was at length ready, and then bending gently over the wrinkled face so calmly sleeping, ‘Lena gazed through blinding tears upon each lineament, striving to imprint it upon her heart’s memory, and wondering if they would ever meet again. The hand which had so often rested caressingly upon her young head, was lying outside the counterpane, and with one burning kiss upon it she turned away, first placing the lamp by the window, where its light, shining upon her from afar, would be the last thing she could see of the home she was leaving.
The road to Midway, the nearest railway station, was well known to her, and without once pausing, lest her courage should fail her, she pressed forward. The distance which she had to travel was about three and a half miles, and as she did not dare trust herself in the highway, she struck into the fields, looking back as long as the glimmering light from the window could be seen, and then when that home star had disappeared from view, silently imploring aid from Him who alone could help her now. She was in time for the cars, and, though the depot agent looked curiously at her slight, shrinking figure, he asked no questions, and when the train moved rapidly away, ‘Lena looked out upon the dark, still night, and felt that she was a wanderer in the world.
The light of a dark, cloudy morning shone faintly in at the window of Grandma Nichols’s room, and roused her from her slumber. On the pillow beside her rested no youthful head–there was no kind voice bidding her “good-morrow”–no gentle hand ministering to her comfort–for ‘Lena was gone, and on the table lay the note, which at first escaped Mrs. Nichols’s attention. Thinking her granddaughter had arisen early and gone before her, she attempted to make her own toilet, which was nearly completed, when her eye caught the note. It was directed to her, and with a dim foreboding she: took it up, reading that her child was gone–gone from those who should have sustained her in her hour of trial, but who, instead, turned against her, crushing her down, until in a state of desperation she had fled. It was in vain that the breakfast-bell rang out its loud summons. Grandma did not heed it; and when Corinda came up to seek her, she started back in affright at the scene before her. Mrs. Nichols’s cap was not yet on, and her thin gray locks fell around her livid face as she swayed from side to side, moaning at intervals, “God forgive me that I broke her heart.”
The sound of the opening door aroused her, and looking up she said, pointing toward the vacant bed, “‘Leny’s gone; I’ve killed her.”
Corinda waited for no more, but darting through the hall and down the stairs, she rushed into the dining-room, announcing the startling news that “old miss had done murdered Miss ‘Lena, and hid her under the bed!”
“What _will_ come next!” exclaimed Mrs. Livingstone, following her husband to his mother’s room where a moment sufficed to explain the whole.
‘Lena was gone, and the shock had for a time unsettled the poor old lady’s reason. The sight of his mother’s distress aroused all the better nature of Mr. Livingstone, and tenderly soothing her, he told her that ‘Lena should be found–he would go for her himself. Carrie, too, was touched, and with unwonted kindness she gathered up the scattered locks, and tying on the muslin cap, placed her hand for an instant on the wrinkled brow.
“Keep it there; it feels soft, like ‘Leny’s,” said Mrs. Nichols, the tears gushing out at this little act of sympathy.
Meantime, Mr. Livingstone, after a short consultation with his wife, hurried off to the neighbors, none of whom knew aught of the fugitive, and all of whom offered their assistance in searching. Never once did it occur to Mr. Livingstone that she might have taken the cars, for that he knew would need money, and he supposed she had none in her possession. By a strange coincidence, too, the depot agent who sold her the ticket, left the very next morning for Indiana, where he had been intending to go for some time, and where he remained for more than a week, thus preventing the information which he could otherwise have given concerning her flight. Consequently, Mr. Livingstone returned each night, weary and disheartened, to his home, where all the day long his mother moaned and wept, asking for her ‘Lena.
At last, as day after day went by and brought no tidings of the wanderer, she ceased to ask for her, but whenever a stranger came to the house, she would whisper softly to them, “‘Leny’s dead. I killed her; did you know it?” at the same time passing to them the crumpled note, which she ever held in her hand.
‘Lena was a general favorite in the neighborhood which had so recently denounced her, and when it became known that she was gone, there came a reaction, and those who had been the most bitter against her now changed their opinion, wondering how they could ever have thought her guilty. The stories concerning her visits to Captain Atherton’s were traced back to their source, resulting in exonerating her from all blame, while many things, hitherto kept secret, concerning Anna’s engagement, were brought to light, and ‘Lena was universally commended for her efforts to save her cousin from a marriage so wholly unnatural. Severely was the captain censured for the part he had taken in deceiving Anna, a part which he frankly confessed, while he openly espoused the cause of the fugitive.
Mrs. Livingstone, on the contrary, was not generous enough to make a like confession. Public suspicion pointed to her as the interceptor of Anna’s letters, and though she did not deny it, she wondered what that had to do with ‘Lena, at the same time asking “how they expected to clear up the Graham affair.”
This was comparatively easy, for in the present state of feeling the neighborhood were willing to overlook many things which had before seemed dark and mysterious, while Mrs. Graham, for some most unaccountable reason, suddenly retracted almost everything she had said, acknowledging that she was too hasty in her conclusions, and evincing for the missing girl a degree of interest perfectly surprising to Mrs. Livingstone, who looked on in utter astonishment, wondering what the end would be. About this time Durward returned, greatly pained at the existing state of things. In Frankfort, where ‘Lena’s flight was a topic of discussion, he had met with the depot agent, who was on his way home, and who spoke of the young girl whose rather singular manner had attracted his attention. This was undoubtedly ‘Lena, and after a few moments’ conversation with his mother, Durward announced his intention of going after her, at least as far as Rockford, where he fancied she might have gone.
To his surprise his mother made no objection, but her manner seemed so strange that he at last asked what was the matter.
“Nothing–nothing in particular,” said she, “only I’ve been thinking it all over lately, and I’ve come to the conclusion that perhaps ‘Lena is innocent after all.”
Oh, how eagerly Durward caught at her words, interrupting her almost before she had finished speaking, with, “_Do_ you know anything? Have you heard anything?”
She _had_ heard–she _did_ know; but ere she could reply, the violent ringing of the door-bell, and the arrival of visitors, prevented her answer. In a perfect fever of excitement Durward glanced at his watch. If he waited long, he would be too late for the cars, and with a hasty adieu he left the parlor, turning back ere he reached the outer door, and telling his mother he must speak with her alone. If Mrs. Graham had at first intended to divulge what she knew, the impulse was now gone, and to her son’s urgent request that she should disclose what she knew, she replied, “It isn’t much–only your father has another daguerreotype, the counterpart of the first one. He procured it in Cincinnati, and ‘Lena I know was not there.”
“Is that all?” asked Durward, in a disappointed tone.
“Why no, not exactly. I have examined both pictures closely, and I do not think they resemble ‘Lena as much as we at first supposed. Possibly it might have been some one else, her mother, may be,” and Mrs. Graham looked earnestly at her son, who rather impatiently answered, “Her mother died years ago.”
At the same time he walked away, pondering upon what he had heard, and hoping, half believing, that ‘Lena would yet be exonerated from all blame. For a moment Mrs. Graham gazed after him, regretting that she had not told him all, but thinking there was time enough yet, and remembering that her husband had said she might wait until his return, if she chose, she went back to the parlor while Durward kept on his way.
Fiercely the noontide blaze of a scorching July sun was falling upon the huge walls of the “Laurel Hill Sun,” where a group of idlers were lounging on the long, narrow piazza, some niching into still more grotesque carving the rude, unpainted railing, while others, half reclining on one elbow, shaded their eyes with their old slouch hats, as they gazed wistfully toward the long hill, eager to catch the first sight of the daily stage which was momentarily expected.
“Jerry is late, to-day–but it’s so plaguy hot he’s favorin’ his hosses, I guess,” said the rosy-faced landlord, with that peculiar intonation which stamped him at once a genuine Yankee.
“A watched pot never biles,” muttered one of the loungers, who regularly for fifteen years had been at his post, waiting for the stage, which during all that time had brought him neither letter, message, friend, nor foe.
But force of habit is everything, and after the very wise saying recorded above, he resumed his whittling, never again looking up until the loud blast of the driver’s horn was heard on the distant hill-top, where the four weary, jaded horses were now visible. It was the driver’s usual custom to blow his horn from the moment he appeared on the hill, until with a grand flourish he reined his panting steeds before the door of the inn. But this time there was one sharp, shrill sound, and then all was still, the omission eliciting several remarks not very complimentary to the weather, which was probably the cause of “Jerry’s” unwonted silence. Very slowly the vehicle came on, the horses never leaving a walk, and the idler of fifteen years’ standing, who for a time had suspended his whittling, “wondered what was to pay.”
A nearer approach revealed three or four male passengers, all occupied with a young lady, who, on the back seat, was carefully supported by one of her companions.
“A sick gal, I guess. Wonder if the disease is catchin’?” said the whittler, standing back several paces and looking over the heads of the others, who crowded forward as the stage came up. The loud greeting of the noisy group was answered by Jerry with a low “sh–sh,” as he pointed significantly at the slight form which two of the gentlemen were lifting from the coach, asking at the same time if there were a physician near.
“What’s the matter on her? Hain’t got the cholery, has she,” said the landlord, who, having hallooed to his wife to “fetch up her vittles,” now appeared on the piazza ready to welcome his guests.
At the first mention of cholera, the fifteen years’ man vamosed, retreating across the road, and seating himself on the fence under the shadow of the locust trees.
“Who is she, Jerry?” asked the younger of the set, gazing curiously upon the white, beautiful face of the stranger, who had been laid upon the lounge in the common sitting-room.
“Lord only knows,” said Jerry, wiping the heavy drops of sweat from his good-humored face; “I found her at the hotel in Livony. She came there in the cars, and said she wanted to go over to ‘tother railroad. She was so weak that I had to lift her into the stage as I would a baby, and she ain’t much heavier. You orto seen how sweet she smiled when she thanked me, and asked me not to drive very fast, it made her head ache so. Zounds, I wouldn’t of trotted the horses if I’d never got here. Jest after we started she fainted, and she’s been kinder talkin’ strange like ever since. Some of the gentlemen thought I’d better leave her back a piece at Brown’s tavern, but I wanted to fetch her here, where Aunt Betsy could nuss her up, and then I can kinder tend to her myself, you know.”
This last remark called forth no answering joke, for Jerry’s companions all knew his kindly nature, and it was no wonder to them that his sympathies were so strongly enlisted for the fair girl thus thrown upon his protection. It was a big, noble heart over which Jerry Langley buttoned his driver’s coat, and when the physician who had arrived pronounced the lady too ill to proceed any further, he called aside the fidgety landlord, whose peculiarities he well knew, and bade him “not to fret and stew, for if the gal hadn’t money, Jerry Langley was good for a longer time than she would live, poor critter;” and he wiped a tear away, glancing, the while, at the burying-ground which lay just across the garden, and thinking how if she died, her grave should be beneath the wide-spreading oak, where often in the summer nights he sat, counting the head-stones which marked the last resting place of the slumbering host, and wondering if death were, as some had said, a long, eternal sleep.
Aunt Betsey, of whom he had spoken, was the landlady, a little dumpy, pleasant-faced, active woman, equally in her element bending over the steaming gridiron, or smoothing the pillows of the sick-bed, where her powers of nursing had won golden laurels from Others than Jerry Langley. When the news was brought to the kitchen that among the passengers was a sick girl, who was to be left, her first thought, natural to everybody, was, “What shall I do ?” while the second, natural to her, was, “Take care of her, of course.”
Accordingly, when the dinner was upon the table, she laid aside her broad check apron, substituting in its place a half-worn silk, for Jerry had reported the invalid to be “every inch a lady;” then smoothing her soft, silvery hair with her fat, rosy hands, she repaired to the sitting-room, where she found the driver watching his charge, from whom he kept the buzzing flies by means of his bandana, which he waved to and fro with untiring patience.
“Handsome as a London doll,” was her first exclamation, adding, “but I should think she’d be awful hot with them curls, dangling’ in her neck! If she’s goin’ to be sick they’d better be cut off!”
If there was any one thing for which Aunt Betsey Aldergrass possessed a particular passion, it was for _hair-cutting_, she being barber general for Laurel Hill, which numbered about thirty houses, store and church inclusive, and now when she saw the shining tresses which lay in such profusion upon the pillow, her fingers tingled to their very tips, while she involuntarily felt for her scissors! Very reverentially, as if it were almost sacrilege, Jerry’s broad palm was laid protectingly upon the clustering ringlets, while he said, “No, Aunt Betsey, if she dies for’t, you shan’t touch one of them; ‘twould spile her hair, she looks so pretty.”
Slowly the long, fringed lids unclosed, and the brown eyes looked up so gratefully at Jerry, that he beat a precipitate retreat, muttering to himself that “he never could stand the gals, anyway, they made his heart thump so!”
“Am I very sick, and can’t I go on?” asked the young lady, attempting to rise, but sinking back from extreme weakness.
“Considerable sick, I guess,” answered the landlady, taking from a side cupboard an immense decanter of camphor, and passing it toward the stranger. “Considerable sick, and I wouldn’t wonder if you had to lay by a day or so. Will they be consarned about you to home, ’cause if they be, my old man’ll write.”
“I have no home,” was the sad answer, to which Aunt Betsey responded in astonishment, “Hain’t no home! Where does your marm live?”
“Mother is dead,” said the girl, her tears dropping fast upon the pillow.
Instinctively the landlady drew nearer to her, as she asked, “And your pa–where is he?”
“I never saw him,” said the girl, while her interrogator continued: “Never saw your pa, and your marm is dead–poor child, what is your name, and where did you come from?”
For a moment the stranger hesitated, and then thinking it better to tell the truth at once, she replied, “My name is ‘Lena. I lived with my uncle a great many miles from here, but I wasn’t happy. They did not want me there, and I ran away. I am going to my cousin, but I’d rather not tell where, so you will please not ask me.”
There was something in her manner which silenced Aunt Betsey, who, erelong, proposed that she should go upstairs and lie down on a nice little bed, where she would be more quiet. But ‘Lena refused, saying she should feel better soon.
“Mebby, then, you’d eat a mouffle or two. We’ve got some roasted pork, and Hetty’ll warm over the gravy;” but ‘Lena’s stomach rebelled at the very thought, seeing which, the landlady went back to the kitchen, where she soon prepared a bowl of gruel, in spite of the discouraging remarks of her husband, who, being a little after the _Old Hunks_ order, cautioned her “not to fuss too much, as gals that run away warn’t apt to be plagued with money”
Fortunately, Aunt Betsey’s heart covered a broader sphere, and the moment the stage was gone she closed the door to shut out the dust, dropped the green curtains, and drawing from the spare-room a large, stuffed chair, bade ‘Lena “see if she couldn’t set up a minit.” But this was impossible, and all that long, sultry afternoon she lay upon the lounge, holding her aching head, which seemed well-nigh bursting with its weight of pain and thought. “Was it right for her to run away? Ought she not to have stayed and bravely met the worst? Suppose she were to die there alone, among strangers and without money, for her scanty purse was well-nigh drained.” These and similar reflections crowded upon her, until her brain grew wild and dizzy, and when at sunset the physician came again he was surprised to find how much her fever had increased.
“She ought not to lie here,” said he, as he saw how the loud shouts of the school-boys made her shudder. “Isn’t there some place where she can be more quiet?”
At the head of the stairs was a small room, containing a single bed and a window, which last looked out upon the garden and the graveyard beyond. Its furniture was of the plainest kind, it being reserved for more common travelers, and here the landlord said ‘Lena must be taken. His wife would far rather have given her the front chamber, which was large, airy and light, but Uncle Tim Aldergrass said “No,” squealing out through his little peaked nose that “‘twarn’t an atom likely he’d ever more’n half git his pay, anyway, and he warn’t a goin’ to give up the hull house.”
“How much more will it be if she has the best chamber,” asked Jerry, pulling at Uncle Tim’s coattail and leading him aside. “How much will it be, ’cause if ‘taint too much, she shan’t stay in that eight by nine pen.”
“A dollar a week, and cheap at that,” muttered Uncle Tim, while Jerry, going out behind the wood-house, counted over his funds, sighing as he found them quite too small to meet the extra, dollar per week, should she long continue ill.
“If I hadn’t of fooled so much away for tobacker and things, I shouldn’t be so plaguy poor now,” thought he, forgetting the many hearts which his hard-earned gains had made glad, for no one ever appealed in vain for help from Jerry Langley, who represented one class of Yankees, while Timothy Aldergrass represented another.
The next morning just as daylight was beginning to be visible, Jerry knocked softly at Aunt Betsey’s door, telling her that for more than an hour he’d heard the young lady takin’ on, and he guessed she was worse. Hastily throwing on her loose gown Aunt Betsey repaired to ‘Lena’s room, where she found her sitting up in the bed, moaning, talking, and whispering, while the wild expression of her eyes betokened a disordered brain.
“The Lord help us! she’s crazy as a loon. Run for the doctor, quick!” exclaimed Mrs. Aldergrass, and without boot or shoe, Jerry ran off in his stocking-feet, alarming the physician, who immediately hastened to the inn, pronouncing ‘Lena’s disease to be brain fever, as he had at first feared.
Rapidly she grew worse, talking of her home, which was sometimes in Kentucky and sometimes in Massachusetts, where she said they had buried her mother. At other times she would ask Aunt Betsey to send for Durward when she was dead, and tell him how innocent she was.
“Didn’t I tell you there was something wrong?” Uncle Timothy would squeak. “Nobody knows who we are harborin’ nor how much ’twill damage the house.”
But as day after day went by, and ‘Lena’s fever raged more fiercely, even Uncle Tim relented, and when she would beg of them to take her home and bury her by the side of Mabel, where Durward could see her grave, he would sigh, “Poor critter, I wish you was to home,” but whether this wish was prompted by a sincere desire to please ‘Lena, or from a more selfish motive, we are unable to state. One morning, the fifth of ‘Lena’s illness, she seemed much worse, talking incessantly and tossing from side to side, her long hair floating in wild disorder over her pillow, or streaming down her shoulders. Hitherto Aunt Betsey had restrained her _barberic_ desire, each day arranging the heavy locks, and tucking them under the muslin cap, where they refused to stay. Once the doctor himself had suggested the propriety of cutting them away, adding, though, that they would wait awhile, as it was a pity to lose them.
“Better be cut off than yanked off,” said Aunt Betsey, on the morning when ‘Lena in her frenzy would occasionally tear out handfulls of her shining hair and scatter it over the floor.
Satisfied that she was doing right, she carefully approached the bedside, and taking one of the curls in her hand, was about to sever it, when ‘Lena, divining her intentions, sprang up, and gathering up her hair, exclaimed, “No, no, not these; take everything else, but leave me my curls. Durward thought they were beautiful, and I cannot lose them.”
At the side door below, the noonday stage was unloading its passengers, and as the tones of their voices came in at the open window, ‘Lena suddenly grew calmer, and assuming a listening attitude, whispered, “Hark! He’s come. Don’t you hear him?”
But Aunt Betsey heard nothing, except her husband calling her to come down, and leaving ‘Lena, who had almost instantly become quiet, to the care of a neighbor, she started for the kitchen, meeting in the lower hall with Hetty, who was showing one of the passengers to a room where he could wash and refresh himself after his dusty ride. As they passed each other, Hetty asked, “Have you clipped her curls?”
“No,” answered Mrs. Aldergrass, “she wouldn’t let me touch ’em, for she said that Durward, whom she talks so much about, liked ’em, and they mustn’t be cut off.”
Instantly the stranger, whose elegant appearance both Hetty and her mistress had been admiring, stopped, and turning to the latter, said, “Of whom are you speaking?”
“Of a young girl that came in the stage, sick, five or six days ago,” answered Mrs. Aldergrass.
“What is her name, and where does she live?” continued the stranger.
“She calls herself ‘Lena, but the ‘tother name I don’t know, and I guess she lives in Kentucky or Massachusetts.”
The young man waited to hear no more, but mechanically followed Hetty to his room, starting and turning pale as a wild, unnatural laugh fell on his ear.
“It is the young lady, sir,” said Hetty, observing his agitated manner. “She raves most all the time, and the doctor says she’ll die if she don’t stop.”
The gentleman nodded, and the next moment he was as he wished to be, alone. He had found her then–his lost ‘Lena–sick, perhaps dying, and his heart gave one agonized throb as he thought, “What if she should die? Yet why should I wish her to live?” he asked, “when she is as surely lost to me as if she were indeed resting in her grave!”
And still, reason as he would, a something told him that all would yet be well, else, perhaps, he had never followed her. Believing she would stop at Mr. Everett’s, he had come on thus far, finding her where he least expected it, and spite of his fears, there was much of pleasure mingled with his pain as he thought how he would protect and care for her, ministering to her comfort, and softening, as far as possible, the disagreeable things which he saw must necessarily surround her. Money, he knew, would purchase almost everything, and if ever Durward Bellmont felt glad that he was rich, it was when he found ‘Lena Rivers sick and alone at the not very comfortable inn of Laurel Hill.
As he was entering the dining-room, he saw Jerry–whose long, lank figure and original manner had afforded him much amusement during his ride–handing a dozen or more oranges to Mrs. Aldergrass, saying, as he did so, “They are for Miss ‘Lena. I thought mebby they’d taste good, this hot weather, and I ransacked the hull town to find the nicest and best.”
For a moment Durward’s cheek flushed at the idea of Lena’s being cared for by such as Jerry, but the next instant his heart grew warm toward the uncouth driver who, without any possible motive save the promptings of his own kindly nature, had thus thought of the stranger girl. Erelong the stage was announced as ready and waiting, but to the surprise and regret of his fellow-passengers, who had found him a most agreeable traveling companion, Durward said he was not going any further that day.
“A new streak, ain’t it?” asked Jerry, who knew he was booked for the entire route; but the young man made no reply, and the fresh, spirited horses soon bore the lumbering vehicle far out of sight, leaving him to watch the cloud of dust which it carried in its train.
Uncle Timothy was in his element, for it was not often that a guest of Durward’s appearance honored his house with more than a passing call, and with the familiarity so common to a country landlord, he slapped him on the shoulder, telling him “there was the tallest kind of fish in the Honeoye,” whose waters, through the thick foliage of the trees were just discernible, sparkling and gleaming in the bright sunlight.
“I never fish, thank you, sir,” answered Durward, while the good-natured landlord continued: “Now you don’t say it! Hunt, then, mebby?”
“Occasionally,” said Durward, adding, “But my reason for stopping here is of entirely a different nature. I hear there is with you a sick lady. She is a friend of mine, and I am staying to see that she is well attended to.”
“Yes, yes,” said Uncle Timothy, suddenly changing his opinion of ‘Lena, whose want of money had made him sadly suspicious of her. “Yes, yes, a fine gal; fell into good hands, too, for my old woman is the greatest kind of a nuss. Want to see her, don’t you?–the lady I mean.”
“Not just yet; I would like a few moments’ conversation with your wife first,” answered Durward.
Greatly frustrated when she learned that the stylish looking gentleman wished to talk with her, Aunt Betsey rubbed her shining face with flour, and donning another cap, repaired to the sitting-room, where she commenced making excuses about herself, the house, and everything else, saying, “‘twant what he was used to, she knew, but she hoped he’d try to put up with it.”
As soon as he was able to get in a word, Durward proceeded to ask her every particular concerning ‘Lena’s illness, and whether she would probably recognize him should he venture into her presence,
“Bless your dear heart, no. She hain’t known a soul on us these three days. Sometimes she calls me ‘grandmother,’ and says when she’s dead I’ll know she’s innocent. ‘Pears Like somebody has been slanderin’ her, for she begs and pleads with Durward, as she calls him, not to believe it. Ain’t you the one she means?”
Durward nodded, and Mrs. Aldergrass continued:
“I thought so, for when the stage driv up she was standin’ straight in the bed, ravin’ and screechin’, but the minit she heard your voice she dropped down, and has been as quiet ever since. Will you go up now?”
Durward signified his willingness, and following his landlady, he soon stood in the close, pent-up room where, in an uneasy slumber, ‘Lena lay panting for breath, and at intervals faintly moaning in her sleep. She had fearfully changed since last he saw her, and with a groan, he bent over her, murmuring, “My poor ‘Lena,” while he gently laid his cool, moist hand upon her burning brow. As if there were something soothing in its touch, she quickly placed her little hot, parched hand on his, whispering, “Keep it there. It will make me well.”
For a long time he sat by her, bathing her head and carefully removing from her face and neck the thick curls which Mrs. Aldergrass had thought to cut away. At last she awoke, but Durward shrank almost in fear from the wild, bright eyes which gazed so fixedly upon him, for in them was no ray of reason. She called him “John” blessing him for coming, and saying, “Did you tell Durward. Does _he_ know?”
“I am Durward,” said he. “Don’t you recognize me? Look again.”
“No, no,” she answered, with a mocking laugh, which made him shudder, it was so unlike the merry, ringing tones he had once loved to hear. “No, no, you are not Durward. He would not look at me as you do. He thinks me guilty.”
It was in vain Durward strove to convince her of his identity. She would only answer with a laugh, which grated so harshly on his ear that he finally desisted, and suffered her to think he was her cousin. The smallness of her chamber troubled him, and when Mrs. Aldergrass came up he asked if there was no other apartment where ‘Lena would be more comfortable.
“Of course there is,” said Aunt Betsy. “There’s the best chamber I was goin’ to give to you.”
“Never mind me,” said he. “Let her have every comfort the house affords, and you shall be amply paid.”
Uncle Timothy had now no objection to the offer, and the large, airy room with its snowy, draped bed was soon in readiness for the sufferer, who, in one of her wayward moods, absolutely refused to be moved. It was in vain that Aunt Betsey plead, persuaded, and threatened, and at last in despair Durward was called in to try his powers of persuasion.
“That’s something more like it,” said ‘Lena, and when he urged upon her the necessity of her removal, she asked, “Will you go with me?”
“Certainly,” said he.
“And stay with me?”
“Then I’ll go,” she continued, stretching her arms toward him as a child toward its mother.
A moment more and she was reclining on the soft downy pillows, the special pride of Mrs. Aldergrass, who bustled in and out, while her husband, ashamed of his stinginess, said “they should of moved her afore, only ’twas a bad sign.”
During the remainder of the day she seemed more quiet, talking incessantly, it is true, but never raving if Durward were near. If is strange what power he had over her, a word from him sufficing at any time to subdue her when in her most violent fits of frenzy. For two days and nights he watched by her side, never giving himself a moment’s rest, while the neighbors looked on, surmising and commenting as people always will. Every delicacy of the season, however costly, was purchased for her comfort, while each morning the flowers which he knew she loved the best were freshly gathered from the different gardens of Laurel Hill, and in broken pitchers, cracked tumblers, and nicked saucers, adorned the room.
At the close of the third day she fell into a heavy slumber, and Durward, worn out and weary, retired to take the rest he so much needed. For a long time ‘Lena slept, watched by the physician, who, knowing that the crisis had arrived, waited anxiously for her waking, which came at last, bringing with it the light of returning reason. Dreamily she gazed about the room, and in a voice no longer strong with the excitement of delirium, asked, “Where am I, and how came I here?”
In a few words the physician explained all that was necessary for her to know, and then going for Mrs. Aldergrass, told her of the favorable change in his patient, adding that a sudden shock might still prove fatal. “Therefore,” said he, “though I know not in what relation this Mr. Bellmont stands to her, I think it advisable for her to remain awhile in ignorance of his presence. It is of the utmost consequence that she be kept quiet for a few days, at the end of which time she can see him.”
All this Aunt Betsey communicated to Durward, who unwilling to do anything which would endanger ‘Lena’s safety, kept himself aloof, treading softly and speaking low, for as if her hearing were sharpened by disease she more than once, when he was talking in the hall below, started up, listening eagerly; then, as if satisfied that she had been deceived, she would resume her position, while the flush on her cheek deepened as she thought, “Oh, what if it had indeed been he!”
Nearly all the day long he sat just without the door, holding his breath as he caught the faint tones of her voice, and longing for the hour when he could see her, and obtain, if possible, some clue to the mystery attending her and his father. His mother’s words, together with what he had heard ‘Lena say in her ravings, had tended to convince him that _she_, at least, might be innocent, and once assured of this, he felt that he would gladly fold her to his bosom, and cherish her there as the choicest of heaven’s blessings. All this time ‘Lena had no suspicion of his presence, but she wondered at the many luxuries which surrounded her, and once, when Mrs. Aldergrass offered her some choice wine, she asked who it was that supplied her with so many comforts. Aunt Betsey’s, forte did not lay in keeping a secret, and rather evasively she replied, “You mustn’t ask me too many questions just yet!”
‘Lena’s suspicions were at once aroused, and for more than an hour she lay thinking–trying to recall something which seamed to her like a dream. At last calling Aunt Betsey to her, she said, “There was somebody here while I was so sick–somebody besides strangers–somebody that stayed with me all the time–who was it?”
“Nobody, nobody–I mustn’t tell,” said Mrs. Aldergrass, hurriedly, while ‘Lena continued, “Was it Cousin John?”
“No, no; don’t guess any more,” was Mrs. Aldergrass’s reply, and ‘Lena, clasping her hands together, exclaimed, “Oh, could it he be?”
The words reached Durward’s ear, and nothing but a sense of the harm it might do prevented him from going at once to her bedside. That night, at his earnest request, the physician gave him permission to see her in the morning, and Mrs. Aldergrass was commissioned to prepare her for the interview. ‘Lena did not ask who it was; she felt that she knew; and the knowledge that he was there–that he had cared for her–operated upon her like a spell, soothing her into the most refreshing slumber she had experienced for many a weary week. With the sun-rising she was awake, but Mrs. Aldergrass, who came in soon after, told her that the visitor was not to be admitted until about ten, as she would by that time have become more composed, and be the better able to endure the excitement of the interview. A natural delicacy prevented ‘Lena from objecting to the delay, and, as calmly as possible, she watched Mrs. Aldergrass while she put the room to rights, and then patiently submitted to the arranging of her curls, which during her illness had become matted and tangled. Before eight everything was in readiness, and soon after, worn out by her own exertions, ‘Lena again fell asleep.
“How lovely she looks,” thought Mrs. Aldergrass. “He shall just have a peep at her,” and stepping to the door she beckoned Durward to her side.
Never before had ‘Lena, seemed so beautiful to him, and as he looked upon her, he felt his doubts removing, one by one. She was innocent–it could not be otherwise–and very impatiently he awaited the lapse of the two hours which must pass ere he could see her, face to face. At length, as the surest way of killing time, he started out for a walk in a pleasant wood, which skirted the foot of Laurel Hill.
Here for a time we leave him, while in another chapter we speak of an event which, in the natural order of things, should here be narrated.
Two or three days before the morning of which we have spoken, Uncle Timothy, who like many of his profession had been guilty of a slight infringement of the “Maine” liquor law, had been called to answer for the same at the court then in session in the village of Canandaigua, the terminus of the stage route. Altogether too stingy to pay the coach fare, his own horse had carried him out, going for him on the night preceding Durward’s projected meeting with ‘Lena. On the afternoon of that day the cars from New York brought up several passengers, who being bound for Buffalo, were obliged to wait some hours for the arrival of the Albany train.
Among those who stopped at the same house with Uncle Timothy, was our old acquaintance, Mr. Graham, who had returned from Europe, and was now homeward bound, firmly fixed in his intention to do right at last. Many and many a time, during his travels had the image of a pale, sad face arisen before him, accusing him of so long neglecting to own his child, for ‘Lena was his daughter, and she, who in all her bright beauty had years ago gone down to an early grave, was his wife, the wife of his first, and in bitterness of heart he sometimes thought, of his only love. His childhood’s home, which was at the sunny south, was not a happy one, for ere he had learned to lisp his mother’s name, she had died, leaving him to the guardianship of his father, who was cold, exacting, and tyrannical, ruling his son with a rod of iron, and by his stern, unbending manner increasing the natural cowardice of his disposition. From his mother Harry had inherited a generous, impulsive nature, frequently leading him into errors which his father condemned with so much severity that he early learned the art of concealment, as far, at least, as his father was concerned.
At the age of eighteen he left home for Yale, where he spent four happy years, for the restraints of college life, though sometimes irksome, were preferable far to the dull monotony of his southern home; and when at last he was graduated, and there was no longer an excuse for tarrying, he lingered by the way, stopping at the then village of Springfield, where, actuated by some sudden freak, he registered himself as Harry _Rivers_, the latter being his middle name. For doing this he had no particular reason, except that it suited his fancy, and Rivers, he thought, was a better name than Graham. Here he met with Helena Nichols, whose uncommon beauty first attracted his attention, and whose fresh, unstudied manners afterward won his love to such an extent, that in an unguarded moment, and without a thought of the result, he married her, neglecting to tell her his real name before their marriage, because he feared she would cease to respect him if she knew he had deceived her, and then afterward finding it harder than ever to confess his fault.
As time wore on, his father’s letters, commanding him to return, grew more and more peremptory, until at last he wrote, “I am sick–dying–and if you do not come, I’ll cast you off forever.”
Harry knew this was no unmeaning threat, and he now began to reap the fruit of his folly. He could not give up Helena, who daily grew dearer to him, neither could he brave the displeasure of his father by acknowledging his marriage, for disinheritance was sure to follow. In this dilemma he resolved to compromise the matter. He would leave Helena awhile; he would visit his father, and if a favorable opportunity occurred, he would confess all; if not, he would return to his wife and do the best he could. But she must be provided for during his absence, and to effect this, he wrote to his father,