A NOBLE WOMAN.
BY MRS. ANN S. STEPHENS.
AUTHOR OF "PALACES AND PRISONS," "FASHION AND FAMINE," "MARRIED IN HASTE," "MABEL'S MISTAKE," "DOUBLY FALSE," "WIVES AND WIDOWS," "MARY DERWENT," "THE HEIRESS," "THE REJECTED WIFE," "THE SOLDIER'S ORPHANS," "THE OLD HOMESTEAD," "RUBY GRAY'S STRATEGY," "THE CURSE OF GOLD," "THE WIFE'S SECRET," "THE GOLD BRICK," "SILENT STRUGGLES," ETC.
Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1871, by T. B. PETERSON & BROTHERS, In the Office of the Librarian of Congress, at Washington, D. C.
"A Noble Woman," is the name of the new novel written by Mrs. Ann S. Stephens. Its pages are replete with incidents of absorbing interest, and her admirers will read it with avidity, and with a zest which would indicate that the freshness and interest of each of her new novels are still as potent as were her earliest productions. The leading characters are carried through a series of exciting adventures, all of which are narrated and drawn out with such ingenuity that the reader's attention is kept on a tension of interest from the opening page to the close of the volume. This is the great secret of Mrs. Stephens' success—her readers cannot get out of her influence. She does not fatigue them with the subtleties of metaphysics or philosophy. She gives you a thrilling story, pure and simple, sensational if you please, and she leaves the whole affair in the hands of her readers, feeling quite secure of a favorable verdict on every new emanation from her pen. "A Noble Woman" will prove to be the most popular novel that she has ever written.
PHILADELPHIA: T. B. PETERSON & BROTHERS; 306 CHESTNUT STREET.
II.—TOM THE GROOMSMAN
III.—A FRIGHT AND A RESCUE
IV.—HIGH FESTIVAL AT PINEY COVE
V.—A BALL IN THE BASEMENT
VII.—THE FIRST CLOUD
VIII.—THE BRIDE'S WELCOME HOME
IX.—COUSIN TOM VISITS PINEY COVE
X.—SHADOWS OF A SEPARATION
XII.—TOM MAKES A DECLARATION
XIII.—WHO COULD IT HAVE BEEN?
XIV.—THE HUSBAND'S LAST CHARGE
XV.—MRS. HARRINGTON'S FRIENDS
XVI.—THE WIDOW'S FLIRTATION
XVII.—STARTING FOR THE PIC-NIC
XVIII.—FACE TO FACE
XX.—AN INTERVIEW IN THE WOODS
XXI.—FIRE AND WATER
XXII.—AMONG THE BREAKERS
XXIII.—DEAD AND GONE
XXIV.—HOME IN A STORM
XXV.—THE SUNSHINE OF THE HOUSE
XXVI.—SUNSHINE AND STORMS
XXVII.—COURTSHIP IN THE KITCHEN
XXVIII.—THE DEAD SECRET
XXIX.—TOM FULLER'S LETTER
XXX.—THE WIDOW'S FASCINATIONS
XXXI.—THE HEIR COMES HOME
XXXII.—THE GAUNTLET BRACELETS
XXXIII.—SEARCHING FOR THE BRACELET
XXXV.—MRS. MELLEN AND HER COUSIN
XXXVI.—LURED INTO DANGER
XXXVII.—THE AFTER STRUGGLE
XXXVIII.—A HALF UNDERSTANDING
XXXIX.—TRIFLES LIGHT AS AIR
XL.—TWO FACES IN THE GLASS
XLI.—SECRECY IMPOSED ON TOM FULLER
XLII.—THE RIDE AND ITS CONSEQUENCES
XLV.—THE TIGER IN HIS DEN
XLVI.—THE PAWNBROKER'S SHOP
XLVIII.—THE PET MESSENGER
XLIX.—ELSIE FINDS THE BRACELET
L.—IN THE TEMPEST
LI.—THE OLD CEDAR TREE
LII.—WOODMAN, SPARE THAT TREE
LIII.—CLORINDA'S GHOST STORY
LIV.—THE SABLE FORTUNE HUNTER
LV.—IN THE NET
LVI.—THE SECRET TELEGRAM
LVIII.—THE INTERCEPTED TELEGRAM
LX.—WAITING FOR THE HOUR
LXI.—THE MIDNIGHT SEARCH
LXII.—UNDER THE CEDAR
LXIII.—FACE TO FACE
LXIV.—BURIED OUT OF SIGHT
LXV.—THE HUSBAND RELENTS
LXVIII.—PLANS AND LETTERS
LXIX.—ELSIE PROMISES TO BE FAITHLESS
LXX.—ALMOST A PROPOSAL
LXXII.—TOM FULLER RETURNS
LXXIII.—A FEAST AND A LOVE FEAST
LXXIV.—THAT MONEY IN THE BANK
LXXVIII.—IN BENSON'S TAVERN
LXXX.—TOM ACCEPTS THE SITUATION
A NOBLE WOMAN.
She was eighteen years old and would graduate in a few weeks, yet Elsie looked like a child, lying there in that little white bed, with her golden curls scattered on the pillow and the soft whiteness of her neck and hands shaded by the delicate Valenciennes with which her night robe was profusely decorated. A quantity of hot house flowers lay scattered on the counterpane, where the girl had flung them, one by one, from a bouquet she was still tearing to pieces. A frown was on her pretty forehead, and her large violet eyes shone feverishly. It was seldom anything half so lovely appeared in the confined sleeping rooms of that highly fashionable boarding school. Indeed, since its foundation it is doubtful if a creature half so beautiful as Elsie Mellen had ever slept within its walls.
Just as the girl had littered the whole bed with flowers, which she broke and crushed as a child breaks the toys he is weary of, the door of the room opened, and a young lady entered, with a plate of hot-house grapes in her hand. She was older than the sick girl by two or three years, and in all respects a grave and most womanly contrast. Calm, gracious and dignified, she came forward with an air of protection and sat down by the bed, holding out her grapes.
"See what your brother has sent you."
The girl started up and flung back the hair from her face.
"From Piney Bend," she exclaimed, lifting one of the purple clusters in her hand, and crowding two or three of the grapes into her mouth at once, with the delicious greed of a naughty child. "Oh, how cool and nice. Dear old Grant, I wonder when he is coming."
"Sometime to-day, the messenger said," answered the young lady, and a soft peach-like bloom swept over her face as she spoke.
Elsie was looking at her friend; and a quick, mischievous light came into her own face.
"Bessie," she murmured, in a voice mellowed and muffled by the grapes in her mouth. "Don't tell me anything—only I think—I think—oh! wouldn't it be fun?—there, there, how you are blushing."
"Blushing, how foolish! But I am glad to see you well enough even to talk nonsense."
"Nonsense! look here, Miss Prim: if you're not in love with my brother Grantley Mellen, I never was in love with anybody in my life."
"There, there! I shan't believe a word you say—more than that, I believe he's in love with you."
No blushes burned that noble face now, for it grew white with a great surprise, and for a moment Elizabeth Fuller's heart ceased to beat.
Could this be true! These light, careless words from a young girl seemed to shake the foundation of her life. Did she love the man, who for three weeks had been a daily visitor in that sick room, whose voice had been music to her, whose eyes had been so often lifted to hers in tender gratitude. Could her heart have proved so cruelly rebellious? Then the other impossible things the girl had hinted at. Elsie had not meant it for cruelty, but still it was very cruel, to startle her with glimpses of a heaven she never must enter. What was she but a poor orphan girl, teaching in that school in order to pay for the tuition which had refined and educated her into the noble woman she unconsciously was. Of course Mr. Mellen was grateful for the care she had taken of his beautiful sister, and that was all. Elsie was almost well now, and would leave the school that term. After that there was little chance that she would ever see Grantley Mellen again.
"What on earth are you thinking about?" questioned Elsie, still busy with her grapes. "Just tell me if we are to be sisters,—and I'm set on it—you shall know all my secrets; it'll be so nice to have some one that won't tell,—and I'll know yours. To begin, dear old Bessie: somebody sent me these flowers, and I hate 'em. It's my way. So many at once, it stifles me. I wish he could see 'em now; wouldn't he just long to box my ears—there, that's my first secret."
"But who is the man, Elsie?" enquired Miss Fuller, really disturbed by this first confidence; for the girl was her room-mate, and had been placed particularly under her care.
"Oh, that's my second secret—I'll tell you that when you're Grant's wife. You haven't told me about your own adorer yet."
"How could I? One does not talk of lovers till they come."
"Oh Bessie Fuller; what a fraud you are! Just as if he hadn't been under this very window again and again: just as if the flowers that get into our room, no one can guess how, did not come from him. Why, half the girls in school have seen him prowling round here like a great, handsome, splendid tiger!"
"What are you talking of, Elsie?"
"No matter; I shan't tell Grant, he must think himself first and foremost—what a lovely sister-in-law you will make."
"Elsie, my dear girl——"
"Don't interrupt me—don't say you wouldn't have him: that you like the other fellow better, and all that. I tell you Grant is a prince, and you shall be his princess. He's awful rich, too; our horrid old uncle left him everything. I haven't got the value of a hair bracelet all my own—that's another secret. The girls all think we share and share alike, and I want them to keep up the idea; but you are different. Don't you see it would be horrid hard for me if my brother should marry some close, stingy thing, that might even grudge me a home at Piney Bend; but with you—oh Bessie! Promise me that you will marry him."
Here Elsie flung down the stem of her grapes, and reaching out her arms, threw them lovingly around Elizabeth's neck.
"Promise me, promise me!"
"You foolish darling! Lie down and be quiet, or I shall think you light-headed again."
"But you shall, I declare you shall!—Hush! there is some one at the door. Come in!"
A servant opened the door and informed the young ladies that Mr. Mellen was in the parlor.
"Tell him to come up," said Elsie.
The servant went out, and Elsie sat up among her pillows, twisting that splendid mass of hair around her head. As she stooped forward, her eyes fell on the litter of broken flowers, and she called out eagerly,
"Oh Bessie, do sweep them up; throw them out of the window, under the bed, anywhere, so that he does not know about them. There would be no end to his questions, if he saw so much as a broken rose bud."
Elizabeth swept up the scattered flowers with her hands and cast them through the open window, scarcely heeding what the girl said about them, in the agitation of the moment. As she turned from the open sash, Grantley Mellen came into the room. He was indeed a grand and noble looking man, with dignity in his manner, and character in his face; evidently possessed of strong but subdued passions, and a power of concentration that might engender prejudices difficult to overcome. That he was upright and honorable, you saw at a glance. When he sat down by that fair young creature, and took her hand in his, the tenderness in his voice and eyes thrilled Elizabeth to the heart. Elsie it simply gratified.
"Why Bessie," she said, with threatening mischief in her eyes, "you haven't spoken to Grant yet."
"Because he was occupied with you," answered Elizabeth with grave dignity, that kept down the rebellious spirit in Elsie's eyes. "Now I will shake hands with Mr. Mellen and go down to my class."
With a gentle, but not altogether unembarrassed greeting, the young lady went out of the room, leaving the brother and sister together.
Two days after this scene in Elsie's chamber, Elizabeth Fuller stood in one of the parlors of the establishment with her hand locked in that of Grantley Mellen; startled, trembling, almost terrified by the great happiness that had fallen upon her. He had asked her tenderly, earnestly, and with a thrill of passion in his voice, to become his wife.
The girl had not answered him: she literally could not speak; her large gray eyes were lifted to his, wild with astonishment one moment, soft with exquisite love light the next.
"Will you not speak to me?"
She attempted to answer him, but smiles rather than words parted her lips; and tears, soft as dew, flooded the joy in her eyes. What did the man want of words after that?
They sat down together on the nearest couch, and scarcely knowing how, she found her heart so close to his, that the two seemed beating together in a wild, sweet tumult. The glow of his first kiss was on her lips; he was telling her in earnest, broken words, how fondly, how dearly he loved her. Nobly would she feel herself mated when she became the mistress of his home.
There was something besides smiles on those beautiful lips now. The heart has its own language, and in that she had answered him.
"Do I love you?" she said; "who could help it? Is there a woman on earth who could refuse such happiness? I forget myself, forget everything, even the poor pride that might have struggled a little against the disparity between us which seems lost to me now. I did not think it would be so sweet to accept everything and give nothing."
"You certainly love me and no other living man!" he said in answer to her sweet trustfulness. "Tell me that in words! tell me in looks! Make me sure of it."
"Love you! Indeed, indeed I do. Never in my life have I given a thought of such feelings to any man. If you can find happiness in owning every pulse of a human soul, it is yours."
"I believe it and accept the happiness; now my wife—for in a few weeks you must be that—let us go up to Elsie. She must be made happy also, for the dear child loves you scarcely less than I do."
A thought of something like shame shot through the joy of the moment, with Elizabeth. Had Elsie suggested this?
"Will she be pleased? Will she be surprised?"
"I hope so, I think so!" was Mellen's frank answer; "for hereafter, my sweet wife must be a guardian angel to the dear child, for she has been, till now, the dearest creature to me on earth."
"I, too, have loved her better than anything," said Elizabeth.
"Have I not seen that? Yes, I am sure we shall make Elsie perfectly happy. She has dreaded the loneliness of my home. Now it will be bright as heaven for her and for me."
TOM THE GROOMSMAN.
Music in the Central Park! Such music as made the flowering thicket, covered with late May blossoms, thrill in the soft air and glow out more richly from the sweet disturbance. It was a glorious afternoon, the lawns were as green as an English meadow, and my observation of beautiful things has no higher comparison. All the irregular hills, ravines, and rocky projections were so broken up with trailing vines and sweet masses of spring-flowers, that every corner and nook your eye turned upon, was like a glimpse of paradise.
This was the still life of the scene, but above and beyond was congregrated that active, cheerful bustle which springs out of a great multitude bent on enjoyment—cheerful, luxurious, refined, or otherwise, as humanity is always found. Carriages dashed in and out of the crowd, the inmates listening to the music or chatting together in subdued voices: groups of smiling pedestrians wandered through the labyrinths of blooming thickets, or sat tranquilly on rustic seats sheltered by such forest trees as art had spared to nature. The whole scene was one of brilliant confusion; but out of the constantly shifting groups, forms so lovely that you longed to gaze on them forever, were now and then given to the beholder; and equipages vied with each other that might have graced the royal parks of London or Paris without fear of criticism.
Just as the sun began to turn its silver gleams into gold, the music ceased with a grand crash. The final melody was over, and the swarm of carriages broke up, whirled off in different directions, and began to course about the ring again, or drive through the various outlets towards Harlem, Bloomingdale, or the city, which lay in the soft gathering haze of the distance.
Among the stylish equipages that disentangled themselves from the crowd was a light barouche, cushioned with a rich shade of drab which had a pink flush running through it, and drawn by a pair of jet-black horses. The carriage was so perfect in its proportions and so exquisitely neat in its appointments, that it would have been an object of general admiration during the whole concert, had not its inmates carried off public attention before it had time to settle on the vehicle.
The eldest, a woman of thirty-two or three, elegantly dressed and generally recognized, seemed to be the mistress, for it was her gloved hand which gave the signal for moving, and the coachman always looked to her for directions.
A slight gesture indicated home, the moment she saw her equipage free from the crowd, but the lovely young creature on the front seat uttered a merry protest and gave a laughing counter-order, threatening the elder lady with her half-closed parasol, till the point lace which covered it fluttered like the fringed leaves of a great white-hearted poppy.
"Only a short drive," she said; "you can't want to go into the house, dear Mrs. Harrington, such a heavenly day as this."
"But, my love, I have forty things to do!"
"All the more reason why you should neglect every one of them, since it is not possible for you to do them all," replied the young girl, with a laugh and a pretty wilful air that few people could have resisted. "Elizabeth, are you tired?"
The young lady whom she addressed had been leaning back in her seat by Mrs. Harrington, quite regardless of this laughing contention, looking straight before her in a smiling, dreamy way, which proved that the brightness of the scene and the spell of the music had wiled her into some deep and pleasant train of thought.
Her friend spoke twice before she heard, laughing gayly at her abstraction, and Mrs. Harrington added—
"Do come out of dreamland, dear Miss Fuller; I am sure I cannot manage this wilful little thing without your help."
The young girl shook her parasol again in a pretty, threatening way as she said—
"You are not tired, Elizabeth?"
"Tired! Oh no; it is very pleasant," she replied, in a voice that was low and musical with the sweetness of her broken reverie.
"See, you are in the minority, Mrs. Harrington," cried Elsie Mellen. "You had better submit with a good grace."
"Oh, I knew Elizabeth dared not side against you; she spoils you worse than anybody, even your brother."
"But it's so nice to be spoiled," said Elsie, gayly; "and you must help in it, or I shall do something dreadful to you just here before everybody's eyes."
She clenched her hand playfully, as if to carry her threat into instant execution, and Mrs. Harrington cried out—
"I promise! I promise! James, take another turn."
The man turned his horses with a broad sweep, taking the road around the largest lake. Here the spoiled beauty ordered him to stop. She wanted to look at the swans, "such great, white, lovely drifting snowballs as they were." Mrs. Harrington made no objection, but leaned back with a resigned smile on her lips.
A person possessed of far more imagination than Elsie Mellen ever dreamed of, might have stopped on the very road to paradise to gaze on that pretty, Arcadian scene.
The lake was one glow of silver, broken up in long, glittering swaths by troops of swans that sailed over it with leisurely gracefulness, now pausing to crop the short grass from the sloping banks, or ruffling their short white plumage, and stretching their arched necks for payments of fruit whenever they came near a group of children, or saw a rustic from the country, who was sure to delight in seeing the birds feed.
The sunshine came slanting in from the west, cooling half the park with shadows, and lighting the rest with gleams of purplish gold. The paths around the margin of the lake, and all the sloping banks were alive with gayly dressed people, and a single boat, over which a flock of gay parasols hovered like tropical birds, mirrored itself in the water.
"Now see what you have gained by obeying my orders," exclaimed Elsie, casting her merry eyes over the scene. "I declare the swans look like a fleet of fairy boats. How I would like to sail about on one! There, that will do James, drive on."
"Home?" inquired the man.
Before his mistress could answer, Elsie broke in—"Yes, Mrs. Harrington, since you are properly submissive, we will go home, if you wish."
"Oh, I only proposed it because we have so much to do. I should enjoy a longer drive. Indeed, now that you have suggested it, we will take at least one turn."
"That's a darling," cried Elsie; and, without further ceremony, she ordered the coachman to take the Bloomingdale road, laughing out something about dying for old sheep instead of lambs. "But I want to stop at Maillard's," protested Mrs. Harrington, "and I then must see about—"
"Oh, never mind, we shall have time enough," exclaimed Elsie. "Drive like the wind, James, the moment you get beyond these horrid policemen. I wouldn't have anybody pass us for the world."
The coachman obeyed, and directly those two black horses were dashing along the road in splendid style, leaving care and prudence far behind them.
Elsie was in her element, wild as a bird and gay as the sunset. She talked and laughed incessantly, saying all sorts of merry things in a childish fashion, that kept Mrs. Harrington in explosions of laughter, more natural than she often indulged in, while Elizabeth Fuller leaned back in her seat, listening, absently sometimes, to their graceful banter, glancing at the young girl with affectionate admiration of her youthful loveliness, but oftener losing herself in the pleasant train of thought which had absorbed her all the afternoon.
Three persons more unlike in appearance than these ladies, it would have been difficult to find; but a casual observer would probably have been most attracted by the buoyant loveliness of Elsie Mellen.
She was eighteen,—but seemed younger with her fair curls, her brilliant bloom, and the childish rapidity with which smiles chased each other across her face. She looked the very personification of happiness, with a bewitching naivete in every word or movement, that made her very childishness more captivating than the wisdom of older and more sensible women.
Mrs. Harrington was a stylish, dashing widow, with a suspicion of rouge on her somewhat faded cheeks, and an affectation of fashionable listlessness which a look of real amiability somewhat belied. She was one of those frivolous, good-natured women, who go through life without ever being moved by an actual pleasure or pain, so engrossed by their petty round of amusement, that if they originally possessed faculties capable of development into something better, no warning of it ever touches their souls.
Really the most noble and imposing person present was Miss Fuller. The contrast between her grave, sweet beauty and the frivolous loveliness of the other two, was striking indeed. Sometimes her large gray eyes seemed dull and cold under their long black lashes, and the dark hair was banded smoothly away from a forehead that betokened intellectual strength; the mouth was a little compressed, giving token of the reticence and self-repose of her nature, and a classical correctness of profile added to the quiet gravity of her countenance.
But it was quite another face when deep feeling kindled the gray eyes into sudden splendor, or some merry thought softened the mouth into a smile—then she looked almost as girlish as Elsie herself.
But grave or smiling, it was not a face easy to read, nor was her character more facile of comprehension, even to those who knew her best and loved her most.
She looked very stately and queen-like, wrapped in her ample shawl and leaning back in her seat with a quiet grace which Mrs. Harrington attempted in vain to imitate. Indeed, the effort only made the ambitious little woman appear more fussy and affected than ever.
"Here comes Tom Fuller," cried Elsie, suddenly. "Was there ever such an ungraceful rider! Just look at him, Bessie, and laugh, if he is your cousin. I insist upon it!"
"Oh, I think he's such a love!" cried Mrs. Harrington. "Deliciously odd."
"I'll tell him you said that," cried Elsie; "just to see him blush."
"Oh, don't!" exclaimed the widow, clasping her hands as if she thought Elsie was about to stop the carriage and inform him then and there. "What would he think?"
The young man at whom Elsie was laughing quite unrestrainedly, rode rapidly towards them, and when he saw Elsie, his face glowed with a mingled expression of pleasure and embarrassment that made her laugh more recklessly than ever.
He made a bow almost to the saddle, nearly lost his hat, and did not recover his presence of mind until the carriage had dashed on, and he was left far behind to grumble at his own stupidity.
"It is too bad of you to laugh at him," said Elizabeth Fuller, a little reproachfully.
"Why, darling, he likes it," cried Elsie, "and it does him good."
"I am sure his devotion to you is plain enough," said Mrs. Harrington, with a sentimental shake of the head. "Hearts are too rare in this world to be treated so carelessly."
"Oh, don't!" exclaimed Elsie. "You'll be repeating poetry next! Tom is a nice man, just a great awkward lump of goodness; but I must laugh at him. Dear me, what a groomsman he will make! Bessie, I know he will step on my dress."
"I hope so," Elizabeth replied, good naturedly; "I shall consider you served right."
"Oh," cried Mrs. Harrington, roused by a fear she was fully capable of appreciating, "it would be such a pity to have all that beautiful Brussels point torn—do caution him, my dear."
"No," said Elsie, with mock resignation, "Bessie insists upon having him for groomsman, and I shall let him put his foot through my flounces with perfect equanimity, by way of showing my affection for her. Talk of giving your life for your friends, what is that in comparison to seeing your flounces torn!"
Her companions both laughed, but Elizabeth said seriously, "When you know Tom better, you cannot help respecting him; he is my one relative, and I love him dearly."
"Of course," said Elsie, "and I mean to be his cousin, too; but it is my cousinly privilege to laugh at him."
"Perhaps he will not be content with a cousinly regard," said Mrs. Harrington, mysteriously.
Elizabeth glanced quickly at Elsie, with a little trouble in her face, but the girl laughed, and replied—
"Oh yes, he will; Bessie is his ideal—he will never think of poor little me."
"Family affection is so sweet!" added Mrs. Harrington. Elsie made a grimace, and hastened to change the conversation, for there was nothing she dreaded so much as the widow's attempt at romance and sentiment.
A FRIGHT AND A RESCUE.
For some time the ladies rode on in silence. Then Elsie broke into a fit of ecstasy over the horses.
"They are so perfectly matched," she said. "Brother Grant needn't have been doubtful about them; he sha'n't persuade you to change them, shall he?"
"They are beautiful creatures," Bessie observed, absently.
"Naturally, Mr. Mellen was anxious that they should be entirely safe," said Mrs. Harrington, theatrically, "for he has trusted his dearest treasures—his sister and his betrothed wife—to me; and if there is danger, it is for them as well as me."
"What a pretty speech!" said Elsie. "I know you got it out of a novel!"
Elsie had a gay scarf wound about her neck, and began complaining of the warmth.
"I would not take it off," Mrs. Harrington urged, "you will be certain to get cold."
"There is no danger," replied Elsie; "I shall smother, wrapped up in this way."
"But you must keep it on!"
"Indeed, I won't; there!"
They had a playful contention for an instant, then Elsie snatched the scarf from her neck with a triumphant laugh, and held it up beyond Mrs. Harrington's reach.
A sudden rush of wind carried the light fabric out of her hand, and it sailed away like a gorgeous streamer. Elsie gave a little cry, but it was frozen on her lips. One of the horses had been restive from the first. The scarf floated over his head, curved downward, and one end got entangled with his bridle. The shy, spirited creature gave a wild bound, communicated like terror to his companion, and away the frenzied pair dashed, taking the coachman so completely by surprise, that he was helpless as a child. It was one of those brief occurrences which pass like lightning to lookers-on, but seem an eternity to the persons in danger. Mrs. Harrington's shrieks rang out sharp and shrill; Elsie gave one shuddering moan, and crouched down in the bottom of the carriage, hiding her face in Elizabeth's dress.
Elizabeth Fuller was deathly pale. She realized the full terror of their situation. She uttered no shriek, but clasped her arms around Elsie, and strove to speak a few reassuring words to Mrs. Harrington, which were drowned by the woman's terrified shrieks.
Elizabeth looked desperately down the road over which the horses were rushing like wild desert steeds. The carriages in sight were turned quickly on one side, and their inmates seemed uncertain how to assist them. Any attempt to stop the frightened and infuriated animals threatened certain death.
Elizabeth saw this, and her heart died within her. They were now at the top of a long hill, keeping the road, but hurled onward like lightning. At the foot of the hill was a loaded cart, its driver vainly striving to whip his team out of the way. The brave girl saw this new danger, and fell back with a groan. She knew that the carriage would be whirled against that ponderous load, and dashed to atoms. Effort was hopeless, she could only stretch forth her arms, draw Elsie close, close to her cold heart, and pray dumbly that she might in mercy be permitted to die for his sister.
Still, in her anguish and terror, she looked out beyond the leaping horses, as they thundered down the hill. The man had sprung from his cart, and, with his whip in both hands, was lashing his overtasked beasts in frantic terror. Beyond him came a person on horseback, riding furiously. But they were close to the cart now. It was still more than half across the road. Sick with dread, she closed her eyes, holding Elsie close, and turning, as it were, to stone, with the shrieking young coward in her arms.
In another instant there was a shock which threw them all off their seats; and when Elizabeth could realize anything, or recover from the deafening effect of Mrs. Harrington's cries, she knew that the horses had been stopped—the peril was over.
The gentleman she had discovered through blinding clouds of dust, riding swiftly towards the hill, had seen their danger, dismounted, and with ready presence of mind, prepared to seize the horses the instant the carriage struck against the cart.
One wheel was forced partially off, but there was no other harm done. Elsie and Mrs. Harrington had both flung themselves on Elizabeth, so that she could neither see nor hear; but the widow discovering that she was still alive, made a little moan, and began to shake out her flounces when she saw the gentleman who had rescued them standing by the side of the carriage.
"You are safe, ladies," he said, opening the door; "you had better get out and walk on to the hotel—it is only a few steps."
"How can we ever thank you!" sobbed Mrs. Harrington. "You are our preserver—we owe you our lives!"
He smiled a little at her exaggerated manner, which would break out in spite of her real terror, and helped her to alight from the carriage.
"We are saved," moaned Elsie, lifting herself from Elizabeth's bosom. "I'm not hurt—I'm not hurt!"
She was lifted out of the carriage, and stood trembling by Mrs. Harrington. For the first time, relieved of their weight, Elizabeth was able to move and look up.
The stranger was standing by the carriage with his arm extended to assist her. She partially rose—then, and without the slightest warning, beyond a deep, shuddering breath, sank back insensible.
Elsie and Mrs. Harrington gave a simultaneous cry, but there was no opportunity for the widow to go into hysterics, as she had intended, since the stranger and the footman were fully occupied in lifting Elizabeth from the broken carriage. Elsie was crying wildly, "Bessie! Bessie!" and wringing her hands in real affright.
"She has only fainted," said the stranger hurriedly; "we will carry her on to the hotel."
He raised the insensible girl in his arms, and carried her down towards the inn, as if she had been a child; while her companions followed, sobbing off their terror as they went.
Once in the house, and the stranger out of the way, Mrs. Harrington recovered her wits sufficiently to give Elizabeth assistance, and restore her to consciousness.
Elizabeth opened her eyes, gave one glance around, and closed them again.
"Are you hurt?" cried Elsie.
She shook her head.
"What made you faint so suddenly?" demanded Mrs. Harrington. "The danger was over."
Elizabeth made a strong effort at self-control, sat upright, and tried to answer.
"I can't tell—I—"
"Do you know that gentleman?" asked Mrs. Harrington.
"Why, how can she?" said Elsie.
"Well, she fainted just as she looked at him."
Elizabeth controlled herself, found strength to rise, saying in reply to Mrs. Harrington's repeated inquiries—
"How should I know him?—what folly!"
But she was trembling so violently, that they forced her to lie down again.
"Stay with her, Elsie," said the widow, "I will go and see how we are to get home."
She went out of the room, and in the hall encountered the gentleman just as she had expected.
She overwhelmed him with protestations of gratitude, to which he listened with no great appearance of interest, though Mrs. Harrington was too completely dazzled by his brilliant appearance and manner to perceive the absent, preoccupied way in which he received her.
"I don't know how we are to get home," she said.
"Your coachman has engaged a carriage from the hotel-keeper," he replied; "it will be ready in a few moments. Your own horses are not hurt, luckily."
"I don't know what Mr. Mellen will say!" she exclaimed. "He warned me not to keep the horses."
The stranger turned quickly toward her, with a sudden flush on his face.
"May I know whom I have had the pleasure of assisting?" he asked.
"I am Mrs. Harrington," she replied, "of —— street. I am so—"
"And your friends?"
"Miss Mellen, the sister of Grantley Mellen; and the other lady is his betrothed wife."
"Yes, yes! Dear me, if any accident had occurred, how terrible it would have been! They are to be married next week," continued the widow, hurriedly. "Mr. Mellen is out of town, and will not be back till just before his wedding. Oh, I shudder to think! Dear, dear sir, how can I thank you!"
The servant came up that moment to say that a carriage was ready to take the ladies back to the city, and the gentleman escaped from her flood of meaningless gratitude.
Mrs. Harrington ran back to call her friends, and found Elizabeth quite composed and strong again.
"He's the most magnificent creature!" exclaimed the widow. "And you don't know him, Elizabeth?"
"Have I not said so? Come, Elsie."
As she passed into the hall, Elizabeth hurried on, leaving Mrs. Harrington to repeat her thanks, and Elsie to utter a few low, and apparently thankful words, to which he listened with more interest than he had done to all the widow's raptures.
They were in the carriage: the door closed; the stranger gave his parting bow, Elizabeth leaned further back in her seat, and they drove on, leaving him standing in the road.
"His name is North," said Mrs. Harrington. "Such an adventure! What will Mr. Mellen say?"
"We won't tell him yet," Elsie replied; "it would only frighten him. Be sure and not mention it, dear Mrs. Harrington."
"Oh, of course not,—just as you like. But what a handsome man that was! North—North? Who can he be? I have never met him!"
"Whoever he is, he has saved our lives," said Elsie.
"Yes, yes! But, dear Miss Fuller, how oddly you acted!"
"Do put up your veil, Bessie," added Elsie.
Elizabeth obeyed, showing her face, pale and tremulous still.
"I was very much frightened," she said; "I think my side was hurt a little—that was why I fainted."
She made no other answer to their wondering questions, and they drove rapidly back to Mrs. Harrington's house.
The stranger stood upon the porch of the hotel, looking after the carriage so long as it was in sight, with a strange, inexplicable expression upon his handsome face.
After a time, he roused himself, mounted his horse, and rode slowly back to the city.
HIGH FESTIVAL AT PINEY COVE.
On the shores of Long Island, where the ocean heaves in its wildest and most crystalline surf, a small cove had broken itself into the slopes of an irregular hill, after generations of beating storms and crumbling earth, taking a crescent shape, and forming one of the most picturesque bits of landscape to be found along the coast. The two points or promontories that stretched their green arms to the ocean, were clothed with thickly growing white pines, scattered with chestnuts, and a few grand old oaks. The country sloped beautifully down to this bright sheet of water, and swept around it in rocky points and broken groves, giving glimpses of rich grass-land, more luxuriantly cultivated than is usual to that portion of the island. As you looked on the scene from the water, a house was visible on the hillside, and came in full view as the shore was approached. It was a noble stone mansion, old as the hills, people were used to say, and solid as their foundations. The house had been a stately residence before the Revolution, and, without an earthquake or a ton of powder, would remain such for a century to come.
Whatever the body of the house had been in the good old times, when ornament was little thought of, it was now rendered picturesque by lofty towers, and additional wings with oriel windows and carved balconies in one direction; while the other wing clasped in a conservatory, of which nothing could be seen from the distance but wave upon wave of rolling crystal emerald, tinted like the ocean by the wealth of green plants they covered.
This was the residence Grantley Mellen had inherited from a maternal uncle just after his first struggle in life commenced. It was backed by many a fruitful field and broad stretch of timber-land, which altogether went under the title of Piney Cove.
Grantley Mellen, since he became possessed of the estate, had completed the work his uncle commenced when he built the two grand towers, and a more picturesque building could not well be imagined, with its broad lawn, its clumps of forest trees, and that magnificent ocean view, which was broken only by the pine groves on the two points.
This was by no means the only house visible from the cove. As you turned the southern point, a village was seen down the coast; and about half way between that and the pines was a wooden house, brown and weather-beaten, standing unsheltered on the bleak shore. Back of this house, shutting out all prospect but that of the ocean, was a tall cliff, covered with ragged yellow pines and stunted cedars, from which on stormy nights many a quivering flame had shot upward, luring ships to their ruin. Still, with this grim protest against the name looming behind it, the lonely old house was called "The Sailor's Safe Anchor," and was known all along the coast as a fishing-lodge and small tavern.
But once within the cove, you saw no sign of habitation save the mansion house and its appurtenances.
Grantley Mellen had been some weeks at the cove, renovating and preparing the house for the reception of his bride; for it was understood that he intended henceforth to make it his permanent residence. But the wedding-day was near, and he had gone up to the city, leaving the last preparations to the care of a singular class of household servants, one of his uncle's philanthropic importations from the South, where he had owned a plantation, and emancipated all its slaves except a half dozen, that would only accept liberty on condition that they might follow the old man to his northern home.
Grantley had accepted this sable household with the general inheritance; for, spoiled and pampered as family negroes are apt to be, they had proved generally faithful and obedient.
Though a very reverential and submissive person when her master was present, Clorinda, who had appointed herself housekeeper of the establishment, was apt to get on to a very high horse indeed when there was no superior authority to hold her in check; and, on this particular occasion, she was absolutely what she declared herself—"chief cook and bottle-washer."
This sable functionary was very busy two or three mornings before the time set for her master's wedding, not only in the general preparations for that event, but with a grand idea of her own, which she was earnestly carrying into effect. If the house was going into the hands of a new mistress, the colored persons of the establishment had resolved to commemorate the event in advance with a grand entertainment.
To this end, Clorinda, who appointed herself lady patroness in general, had betaken herself to Mr. Mellen's library with Caleb Benson, the high-shouldered, bald-headed occupant of "The Sailor's Safe Anchor," and the person whose prerogative it had been to supply fresh fish to the family at Piney Cove. Besides this, he performed a good deal of work in the grounds, and made himself generally useful.
This morning Benson had come up to the house at Miss Clorinda's special request, in order to assist in the literary department of the coming entertainment. Neither Clorinda nor any of her dark compeers could read or write, but invitations must be sent out after the most approved fashion; and Clorinda had a fancy that the neighborhood of so many books would be a great help, so she led Caleb with august ceremony into the spacious library, and laid a quantity of pink note-paper and yellow envelopes, all covered and embossed with silver, on the table before him.
"Jes set down, Mr. Caleb, and write dem tings out special," she said, rolling up a great leathern chair, and patting its glossy green cushions enticingly. "Set down, Caleb, an' write, for I know yer kin."
Caleb laid his cap on one chair, and his stout walking-stick across another. Then he rubbed the hard palms of his hands fiercely together, and sat down on the edge of Mr. Mellen's chair, that threatened to roll from under him each moment.
"Now, Miss Clo, what is it you want of me? I'm on hand for a'most anything."
"I knows you is, and ales wuz, Caleb; that's why I trusted yer wid de delicatest part ob dis entertainment. 'Member its premptory to de weddin'."
"Preparatory, isn't that the correct word, Miss Clo?"
"Well, take yer chice, if you ain't suited, Caleb Benson."
"Wal, wal; don't git out to sea afore the tide's up, old woman."
"Ole woman! Ole woman yerself, Caleb Benson!" retorted Clorinda.
"Jes so!" answered the fisherman, seizing upon the largest steel pen to be found, and grinding it on the bottom of a bronze inkstand. Clorinda put both hands to her mouth, and would have cried out; but, remembering how few teeth she had to be set on edge, thought better of it, and stood in glum silence while Caleb made his preparations.
That remarkable functionary had a piece of business before him which threatened to task the resources of his genius to their full extent, but he was not the man to shrink from the responsibility which his desire to retain a high place in the powerful Clorinda's good-will had induced him to accept.
"Now, then," said Caleb, giving his chair another hitch, dipping his pen afresh into the inkstand, and holding it suspended over the paper, with a threatening drop slowly collecting on the nib. "Now we'll get under weigh just as soon as you give the signal."
"Tak car ob de ink!" shrieked Clorinda, pulling the paper from under his hand in time to preserve it from the great blot of ink that descended on the table-cover instead. "Dat's a purty splotch, now, ain't it; yer a nice hand, Caleb Benson!"
"Taint much, nobody'll ever notice it," said Caleb, wiping it off with his coat-sleeve. "Don't raise a breeze about nothin', Clorindy."
"Don't talk to me 'bout breezes," she retorted, in an irritated tone, for Clorinda, I am sorry to say, had not even a fair portion of the small stock of patience which usually falls to our sex. "I 'clar to goodness dere ain't nothin' so stupid as a man. I jis hate de hull sect like pison, I duz."
"Oh, no you don't, Clorindy," he replied, "you hain't got so old yet but what you can hold your own with the youngest of 'em when there's a fancy mulatter chap round."
"What doz yer mean by ole!" cried Clorinda. "I tells you what, Caleb Benson, ef yer only undertuk this job to be a aggrawatin' and insultin' me, you and I's done! I ain't gwine to stand sich trash, now I tells yer! Is dis yer thanks fur all I'se done? Who got ye de run ob de house, I'd like to know; who sot ye up for selling better fish than anybody in de neighborhood; who nebber said nothin' when de soap-fat all disappeared, and you said it had melted in de sun; who fixed up mince-pies fur you; who—"
There is no telling to what extent Clorinda might have carried her revelations, but the old man interrupted her with all the excuses he could think of at so short notice.
"I was just funning, Clorindy; don't go off the handle. In course I want to obleege you. Thar, thar! Now what do you want to have wrote? We ain't going to quarrel—old friends like us."
"Ain't we!" cried Clorinda, folding her arms. "Then jis you keep a civil tongue, dat's all. Times is changed, and der's a new misses a comin'; but you may all onderstand dat I rules de kitchen yet, and I'se gwine to."
"Sartin, sartin! Wal now, about these here billet ducks," said Caleb, cunningly; "I must hurry up, you see, or I shan't get round afore night."
Clorinda forgot her injured feelings in excitement about the party, and ordered him to commence work without farther delay.
"Wal," said Caleb, spreading out the paper again, "I'll leave a blank for the names, that'll save trouble. I reckon you want somethin' like this—'Miss Clorindy and Miss Victory's compliments—'"
"What's Vic got to do wid it, I'd like to know?" Clo burst in; "it's my party, just 'member dat. It's enough to hev her company, widout her settin' up for a hostage."
"Any thing to suit," said Caleb, patiently. "Wal, then I'll say that Miss Clorindy hopes to have the pleasure of Mr. so and so's company, and wants to see you to a little tea drinkin' this evening."
"Lord!" cried Clo. "If ye hain't got no more larnin' dan dat, I'd better find somebody else! Do yer tink I got pink paper and silver-sprigged 'welopers to write sich trash on? Tea drinkin' indeed! Why dis here's to be a rigler scrumptious, fash'nable 'tainment! I want yer to say, 'Miss Clorindy consents her most excruciating compliments, and begs to state that, owing to de 'picious ewent ob de master's weddin', she takes dis opportunity to 'quest de 'stinguished company ob Mr. Otheller Jones for dis evenin', to a reparatory 'tainment; and she would furder mention dat dare will be plenty ob weddin'-cake, wid a ring in it, ice cream in pinnacles, red and white, and a dance in de laundry to fiddles.' Dar, dat's somethin' like."
"Yes," said Caleb, quite breathless; "now tell it to me as I get ahead, 'cause it's a mighty long rigmarole."
"Oh," added Clorinda, "den at the bottom you must put—' P. S.—Yaller gloves and 'rocur pumps, if convenient.'"
That last touch of elegance quite upset Caleb, and he began to think that if Clorinda was black, and couldn't write her name, she really was a wonderful woman. Clo was so softened by his applause that they got on very harmoniously, and the invitations were written out in Clorinda's peculiar phraseology and in Caleb's largest hand. As it was an affair of importance, he put capitals at the beginning of nearly every word, sometimes in the middle and altogether the writing made such a show, that Clorinda was delighted.
"Don't forget de P. S.," said she.
"Yes," said Caleb, making a tremendous flourish. "P. S.—Yaller gloves and 'rocur pumps, if convenient."
Clo inspected the first note as carefully as if she could read, expressed her approbation, and urged him on, till, with much labor, Caleb completed the requisite number, put them safely in their gorgeous envelopes, and directed them to the persons Clorinda mentioned.
"Now, jis be as quick as you kin," she said; "I'se got to go back to see to tings—can't trust dat Vic, no how! Wal, I guess Mr. Dolf'll see de difference 'tween folks and folks."
Benson knew that Dolf, Mr. Mellen's own man, was a special weakness of Clorinda's, though it was only her reputation for accumulated wages which induced that dashing yellow individual to treat her with any attention.
Caleb received his last instructions, and started on his mission, which was successfully fulfilled. Then he took his way homeward after going back to the house to acquaint Clorinda with the result, which was equal to her expectations, and that was saying a great deal.
As he approached the little tavern, he saw a gentleman standing on the steps, with a colored servant guarding a pile of guns, fishing-rods, and other tackle, with which idle men frequently came down from the city to endure Caleb's humble fare for a while, and gratify their masculine propensity for destruction.
But this gentleman was a stranger to Caleb, and he looked at him enviously, though with the approbation which his appearance would have elicited from more refined judges.
"I suppose you are Caleb Benson," the gentleman said, throwing away the end of a cigar, as the old man mounted the steps.
"Wal, they call me so, sometimes," replied Caleb; for the instincts of his New England birthplace had not deserted him, and he never answered a question in a straightforward manner, if he could help it.
"Some friends of mine told me I could find very comfortable quarters with you," pursued the stranger. "I have run down to see the place, and take a day's duck shooting. I want to engage rooms, and leave my traps here, so that I can come over whenever I feel like it."
"I want to know,—mean to have a good long shute do you!" said Caleb. "Wal, I guess I could fix you up, if you ain't too particular."
"I am not at all particular what I pay," replied the gentleman; "I suppose that is satisfactory."
"I ain't going to say 'tain't," returned Caleb, his eyes beginning to twinkle at the prospect of a liberal guest, who meant to come frequently.
"I reckon you'd like to see what I can do in the way of rooms, Mr., Mr.——Wal, I don't think I quite ketched your name."
"Mr. North," said the stranger, smiling at the man's shrewdness.
He stood for a few moments talking with Caleb, and though the old fellow was not easily pleased, he was quite fascinated by the stranger's manner; and, having a very vague idea of princes, was almost inclined to think that this splendid-looking creature might be one who had strayed over from his native kingdom on a fishing excursion.
"Now let me see the rooms," said Mr. North. "I suppose my man may as well carry the traps up stairs now—the place is certain to suit me."
Caleb looked at the stylish colored individual who was leaning, in a graceful attitude, over the luggage, and a brilliant idea struck him.
"I say you," he called, "I've got a ticket that'll just suit you, Mr.——What's your name?"
"If you are redressing me," replied the sable gentleman, majestically, "my name is Mr. Julius Hannibal."
"Want to know!" said Caleb. "Wal, here's an invite that was just meant for a fine-looking chap like you."
Caleb drew one of the notes from his pocket, and held it out. Hannibal took it with considerable dignity, doubtful how to receive such unceremonious compliments.
"You are in luck, Ju," said his master. "What's it all about, Mr. Benson?"
"Why, Mr. Mellen—he's one of our rich men down here—is going to be married this week, so his servants thought they'd have a blow-out to-night, for fear they wouldn't get the chance after the new mistress comes."
"Go, by all means," said North, almost eagerly. "Make all the friends you can, Ju, for we shall be here a good deal—go, certainly."
Hannibal drew himself up, bowed to his master, and said to Caleb in a stately way——
"I shall be most happy to mixture in the festive throng, but would most 'spectfully state to Miss Clorindy that morocur pumps is banished from polite society, and only patting leathers is worn—but these is trifles."
North took the note from his servant's hand, and could not repress his merriment as he read it; but Caleb received that as a compliment, and looked so conscious, that it was easy to discover what share he had taken in the matter.
"Pinnacles of ice cream, and a dance in the landing," read Mr. North. "Why choose the landing, Mr. Benson?"
"Laundry, laundry! I guess it's blotted a leetle."
"Oh yes—I see! Upon my word, quite magnificent! So Mr.—Mellen, did you call him?—is to be married this week. Well, well, that fate overtakes most of us, sooner or later. We will go up stairs now, if you please, Mr. Benson."
The old man led the way up to the room, which was kept in readiness for visitors of importance, and which had been made quite comfortable by the various articles of furniture that the different occupants had presented to Caleb, on leaving his house.
The bargain was not a difficult one, as Mr. North appeared quite willing to pay Benson his own price, and the old fellow was only in doubt as to the extent to which he might safely carry his extortion.
When they went down stairs again, the steamboat had just come in to the landing, and Dolf, Mr. Mellen's man, was making his way to the tavern, having come to the island to see that the house was in readiness, and dazzle the eyes of the females by the wonderful new clothes which had fallen to his share of the wedding perquisites.
"That's just the ticket," said Caleb; "Mellen's man'll take you over to the place, Mr. Julius, and set you a goin'. I'm going there myself now, but you'll have to fix your master up first, so you can come with Dolf."
While Julius was going through the ceremonies of an introduction, Mr. North called him away, and seemed to be giving him some very particular directions. When he came back, Dolf, who was greatly rejoiced at this acquisition, said, anxiously,
"Won't he let you go?"
"Of course," answered Hannibal, but a little uneasily. "It was only about a fishing-rod I left behind."
A BALL IN THE BASEMENT.
The day wore on. Everything was in a state of preparation in the old mansion-house. The last ovenful of cake had been placed by an open window in the pantry, that its frosted surface might harden into beauty. The ice-cream freezers, ready to yield up their precious contents, were set away in a cool place, and Victoria, a pretty mulatto girl who had come to the house an orphan child, was busy carving red and white roses out of a little pile of turnips and delicately shaped blood-beets, intended to ornament divers plates of cold turkey and chicken salad. This pretty fancy work was carried on in the front basement or housekeeper's room, while a bustle of preparation gave promise of great things from the kitchen. Clorinda, the moving spirit of all this commotion, rushed from basement to kitchen, and then to pantry and store-room, in a state of exhilaration that set fresh currents of air in circulation wherever she went. This was the great day of the faithful servant's life, and she felt its importance in every cord of her heart.
"Now," she called out, addressing Victoria with a pompous lift of the head, "yer can come up stairs and help about thar. Them roseys ain't so bad but that I've seen wuss; but there's 'nuff of 'em, so cum 'long o' me, and shut up de draw'n'-room winder-blinds."
Victoria ran up stairs, two steps at a leap, and, in a breath, was shutting out the beautiful sunset, and quenching a thousand flashes of arrowy rays that scattered gold over the plate-glass.
"Now," said Clorinda, as the last shutter was closed, "yer can take the spy-glass and see if any pusson is comin' up from the pint."
Victoria was only too glad. She sprang across the tessellated pavement of the hall, and seizing the glass, swept the shore with a slow movement of her slender person from right to left.
"Nary a pusson coming," she said, laying down the glass, with a disappointed air.
"Don't talk," snapped Clorinda, snatching up the glass and levelling it fiercely at the ocean. "Jes like yer, now—can't see yer hand afore yer face. There's a boat put inter the cove whilst yer was looken, and here am Caleb Benson."
"So thar am," cried Victoria, snatching the glass, "acomin' full split across the medder. Now for it!"
The lithe limbed mulatto gave a hop on to the portico, and another bound to the soft grass of the lawn, whence she ran, like a deer, to meet our sea-loving friend, with the high shoulders, who was crossing towards the house at a far brisker pace than was usual to him.
"Hav yer give the instergations?" cried Victoria, out of breath with swift running. "Am the folks a coming to our party?"
Caleb looked wonderfully grave, and attempted to shake his head; but Vic saw, by the gleam in his eyes, that it was all pretence, and clapping her hands like a little gypsy as she was, dashed into a break-down on the grass, calling out, "Hi, dic-a-dory, I told yer so—I told yer so!"
"Well, what am all dis muss 'bout?" exclaimed Clorinda, sailing out to the lawn with a broad straw flat overshadowing her like an umbrella. "Well, Caleb, I 'low ebbery ting am pernicious 'bout de party."
Caleb, who was ah old fisherman, reared at Cape Cod, and not to be put out of his way easily, occupied plenty of time before he answered. The afternoon was warm, so he took the oil-cloth cap from his head, and wiped its baldness vigorously with an old silk handkerchief. Then he deposited the handkerchief in the crown of his cap, and settled himself into his garments with a shake, sailor fashion.
Clorinda's broad flat vibrated with its wearer's impatience, and Victoria was stamping down the grass, and menacing the old man with her fist during the whole of his slow performance.
"Now," she said, "now."
"Wal, the long and the short of it is, they're all a coming, especially from Squir Rhodes. Miss Jemima wasn't willing at first, but the Squir sot in and said his colored people hadn't much chance for fun anyhow, and shouldn't be kept back from what come along in a nat'ral way."
"Squir Rhodes was ales a pusson as I s'pected," said Clorinda. "Let's see how many of 'em will count up."
She made rather bungling work in counting her fingers, going over them three or four times, and getting terribly puzzled in the end.
In the midst of her confusion, Victoria gave a little cry of dismay, and made a rush for the house, where she frantically tore off her apron and tucked it under one of the hall mats.
Clorinda, filled with indignation by this strange proceeding, turned in search of the cause, and lo! there was Dolf, Mr. Mellen's own man, crossing the lawn, with two other gentlemen of color, evidently from the city.
Clorinda snatched the broad straw flat from her head, and began to arrange her Madras turban with both hands, thus unhappily exposing some tufts of frosty gray that had managed to creep, year after year, into her wool. After this rather abrupt toilet, she drew herself up with a grand air, and marched forward to receive the strangers in a glorious state of self-complacency.
"Mr. Dolf, yer welcome as hot-house peaches—and these gemmen, may I 'quest an interdiction?"
Dolf had just been informing his companions that the lady approaching them was not to be sneezed at in any particular whatever, as she ruled the roost of Piney Cove, and had, everybody said, laid up lots of rocks; besides, as for cooking—well, he said nothing, it was not necessary; they would see what Clorinda was in that line when the supper came on. She had learned down South where people knew how to live.
This speech prepared the strangers to receive their sable hostess with great distinction, and when she launched a stupendous courtesy at them in acknowledgment of their elaborate bows, the mutual admiration that sprang up among the whole group then and there, was an oasis in the desert of human nature.
"Miss Clorinda—Mr. Sparks, of the Metropolitan Hotel; Mr. Hannibal, private attendant of an upper-crust gentleman, who is going to stop at the Sailor's Safe Anchor, fishing and shooting."
Clorinda had just recovered herself from one courtesy, but she took the wind in her garments and fluttered off into a couple more without loss of time.
"I 'low de neighborhood am obligated to any gemmen as brings sich pussons inter de serciety ob Piney Cove. If yer hasn't had deceived an invite from Mr. Benson, dat white pusson yer sees up yunder, remit me de ferlicity."
Clorinda took two buff envelopes from her bosom as she spoke, and gave them to Mr. Sparks, of the Metropolitan, and Mr. Julius Hannibal, private, with a smile that flitted across her face like smoke from a furnace.
"It speaks ob pumps and yeller gloves as bein' indispenserable, but dem as comes promiscus as yer friends dus, Dolphus, can't be spected ter imply."
The gentlemen smiled in bland thankfulness, exhibiting a superb display of ivory and second-hand white kids in the operation.
"You didn't expect me," whispered Dolf, joining Clorinda when she turned to conduct the party to the house, "but the hart will pant after clear water. I couldn't stand it three days longer; so when the master told me to come over and see that every thing was ready, I jumped at it. Hope you're not offended at my bringing these fellows?"
"'Fended!" exclaimed Clorinda, stepping upon the grass as if it had been egg-shells, that she had resolved not to crush. "When was yer Clo ebber fended wid yer, Dolphus?"
"Poor fellows," said Dolf, looking back at his friends, "They see my ferlicity and are ready to burst with envy."
"Am dey?" exclaimed Clorinda, bridling—"poor souls; but no pusson can be spected to cut up inter half a dozen, so dey am bound ter suffer."
The whole group had reached the front portico by this time. Vic, who had stolen behind the hall-door and stood watching their approach through the crevice, came forth now, blushing till the golden bronze on her cheeks burned red. Clorinda flamed up at the sight.
"What hab yer done wid yer apron, chile? jes march right 'bout an' get it ter once. Who ebber hearn bout a chile ob yer age widout apron?"
Victoria's black eyes flashed like diamonds; she drew aside, leaning against the wall, with the grace of a bronze-figure, half-frightened out of her wits, but defiant still. What right had Clorinda to tell about her apron, or drive her down stairs? She cast an imploring glance at Dolf, but he looked resolutely away.
"Come in, gemmen, out ob sight ob dis obstinit chile," cried Clorinda, almost sweeping poor little Vic down with a flourish of her skirts.
"No," interposed gentlemanly Dolf, who had a genius for keeping out of storms. "The gentlemen were just saying, as we came up, how much they would like a walk towards the woods. So with your permission, Miss Clorinda, we will leave you to the feminine duties of the toilet; though beauty when unadorned is most adorned."
"'Cept when de gray hairs will peek out. Hi! hi! look dar!"
These audacious words were uttered by Victoria, whose pouting wrath could no longer be restrained.
The two city gentlemen fell to examining their gloves with great earnestness. Dolf made a hasty retreat through the door, calling on them to follow him, and Clorinda left five handsomely defined finger-marks on Victoria's hot cheek before she darted off to a looking-glass, and fell into a great burst of tears over the state of her treacherous turban.
"Now," said Vic, gathering herself up from the wall, and rubbing her cheek, down which great hot tears were leaping with passionate violence—"Now I'se gone and done it, sure; she won't let me—"
It was the treacherous voice of Dolf, who came stealing in from the portico.
"Vic, don't be so audacious, you lovely spitfire; go this minute and make up with her, or we've lost all chance of that new cotillion I was learning you."
"I can't! I won't!" burst forth the pretty, bronze fury, stamping down the mat and her apron under it. "She's a—a—she's fat cattle, thar!"
Dolf snatched the little sprite from the rug, and stopped her mouth with—no, it wasn't with his hand. And I'd rather say no more about it.
Five minutes after, Victoria went demurely in search of Clorinda, found her sitting before the glass in utter humiliation, and protested that the whole thing was nonsense. That she hadn't seen a gray hair, and if the turban was awry, it must have happened when Clorinda ran up stairs in such hot haste. Victoria was sorry: oh, very, very sorry. Would Miss Clo only overlook it this once, and begin to dress for the ball?
Clorinda's heart swelled like a rising tide under Vic's hypocritical condolence, but she could not be quite convinced about the turban; she was a woman of resources, however, and felt that the evil was not without its remedy. So she kindled an immense quantity of wax-lights, crowded them before her looking-glass, and at once commenced the mysteries of a full toilet. The result was so satisfactory when she took a survey of her pink barege dress, covered with innumerable small flounces, and the gorgeous white gauze scarf, glittering with silver, which formed a turban, with long sweeping ends falling to the left shoulder—that she melted at once towards the girl who had helped to make her so resplendent.
"Jes see what splendiferous idees that chile Miss Elsie hab, Vic," she cried, shaking the flounces into place over her enormous crinoline. "Now 'serve she never wore dis sumptious dress more en once, but sent it down here good as new; 'sides de turban, jes see it shine. Yes, Vic, I forgives yer, so don't rub dem knuckles in yer eyes no more."
Vic darted away, and in a marvellously short time came back glorious, her hair braided in with scarlet ribbons, and a dress of several gorgeous colors fluttering with every joyous movement of her slender person. She was pluming herself before the glass when Clorinda started up.
"What am dat?"
"Dat? why it am a carriage. Oh, golly, golly, they'm coming," cried Vic, wild with delight; and away the two darkies went down the great staircase and into the hall, where the honors of the house were extended with astonishing elegance.
Two or three wagons sat down their sable loads, and directly the sounds of a brace of fiddles rang though the basement story, and the laundry floor vibrated to the elastic tread of dancers, whose natural love of music gave grace and spirit to every movement. The two fiddles poured out triumphant strains of music, and in every particular Clorinda's ball was a success.
At last Clorinda disappeared from the laundry, and Dolf followed her into the supper-room, where he fell into raptures over the gorgeousness of the table.
"Yes," said the housekeeper, modestly, "but how am we to get 'long without wine; Marse Mellen carried off de keys, and without dat—"
"Jes look here!" cried Dolf, holding up a key which had been resting in his pocket; "catch me unprepared; I thought about the wine."
Clorinda almost embraced Dolf in her delight, but in his haste to reach the wine-cellar, he did not seem to observe the demonstration.
When her lover came back with his arms full of long-necked bottles, Clorinda's happiness was supreme, and directly after there was a rush of feet and abrupt silence with the two fiddlers. The company had gone in to supper.
After the rush and bustle had subsided a little, Dolf placed himself at the head of the table, with a corkscrew in one hand and a bottle in the other.
"Oh, my!" whispered Virginia, "I hope dar's lots of pop in it."
A rushing explosion, and the rich gurgle of amber wine into the crowding goblets satisfied her completely.
Dolf lifted his glass and prepared himself for a speech.
"Ladies of the fair sect and gentlemen—"
That moment Mr. Julius Hannibal, who had allowed himself to be crowded towards the door, stole out and went softly up stairs. With the stealthy motion of a cat, he crept along the hall and opened the front door.
A man came out from the shadows of the portico, and glided into the hall. It was Mr. North, Hannibal's master.
A crowd of carriages stood in front of the church—a throng of richly-dressed persons filled it, with such life and bustle as sacred walls never witness, save on the occasion of a grand wedding. Mrs. Harrington had done her pleasant work famously. Not a fashionable person among her own friends, or a distinguished one known to bridegroom or bride, had been omitted. Thus the stately church was crowded. Snowy feathers waved over gossamer bonnets; lace, glittering silks, and a flash of jewels were seen on every hand, fluttering in the dim religious light around smiling faces and gracefully bending figures.
A buzz of whispered conversations rose from nave to gallery; for a large portion of that brilliant throng had never seen the bride, and curiosity was on the qui vive regarding a person so utterly unknown to society, who had carried off the greatest match of the season.
In one of the front pews a friend of Mrs. Harrington was sitting with a group of her own confidential acquaintances. Of course she knew all about it, and could tell them why Mr. Mellen had chosen a wife so utterly unknown to their set.
Certainly Mrs. C. knew all about it—had the particulars from her sweet friend, Mrs. Harrington, who was, they all knew, a sort of lady patroness to the affair. Would she tell? Of course—why not? There was no secret about it now, and it might be ten minutes before the bridal party came in.
"Well, this was it. Mr. Mellen was—"
Oh they all knew about Mr. Mellen; he had been in business down town before that worthy old gentleman his uncle died, and left him so enormously rich that there was no guessing how many millions he was worth. Did they know his sister? Of course: what a sweet pretty creature she was! Strange that the old uncle forgot to make her an heiress,—cut off a relative whom he had almost adopted, and left everything to Mellen, who did not expect it. Sweet Elsie was quite overlooked, and had nothing on earth but her beauty. But the bride, the bride, what about her?
"Well," said Mrs. C——, coming out of this storm of whispers smiling and flushed, "there is no great mystery in the bride. Indeed, so far as she was concerned, everything was rather common-place—such people had been done up so often in romances that it was tiresome."
"You don't mean to say that she was that eternal governess who is continually travelling through magazines and marrying the rich young gentleman of the house?" cried a voice, almost out loud.
"No, no, nothing quite so bad as that," answered Mrs. C——, with a low soothing "hush," and shaking her head till all the pink roses on her bonnet fluttered again. "She came from somewhere in New England. The father was thought to be a rich man. At any rate he gave her a splendid education, and travelled with her in Europe nearly two years, when she was quite a missish girl. He also educated her cousin, the young man who is to be groomsman, and gave him a handsome setting out in life; but when the father died there was nothing left—all his property mortgaged or something—at any rate Elizabeth never got a cent, and her cousin would have been poor as a church-mouse but for the money which had set him up in a splendid business. He wanted to make that over to her at once."
"You may well say that," continued Mrs. C——, hushing down the enthusiasm of her friends with a wave of her whitely gloved hand. "She would not take a cent of his money, but came here to the very school where she had been educated, and hired out as a teacher; it is said—but I do not vouch for it—that her bills at the school were left unpaid, and she worked the debt out."
"Is it possible!"
"Dear me, how noble!"
"But how did she get acquainted with Mr. Mellen?" cried a third voice; "make haste, or they will be upon us before we know a word about it."
"His sister, Miss Elsie Mellen, was a pupil in the school. Her love for Miss Fuller was perfect infatuation. The brother worshiped her—sweet creature, who could help it?—and so the acquaintance began in the parlor of a boarding school, and ends—Hush, hush!"
There was a slight commotion at the door, followed by the soft rustling of silks and turning of heads. Then a gentleman of noble presence, calm and self-possessed, as if he were quite unconscious of all the eyes bent upon him, came slowly up the broad aisle with the object of all this conversation leaning on his arm.
Certainly the bride gave no evidence of her low estate in that rustling white silk, which shone like crusted snow through a sheen of tulle; or in the veil of Brussels lace that fell around her like a fabric of cobwebs overrun with frostwork. You could detect intense emotion from the shiver of the clematis spray, mingled with snowy roses, in her black hair; but otherwise she seemed quiet and remarkably self-sustained.
Following close upon this noble pair, came a tall, loose-jointed young man, glowing with pride of the lovely creature on his arm; and, really, any thing more beautiful, in a material sense, could not well be imagined than that youthful bridesmaid. Like the stately girl who had passed before her, she moved in a cloud of shimmering white, with just enough of blue in the golden hair and on the bosom to match the violet of her eyes.
Once or twice Tom Fuller missed step as they were going up the aisle, when Elsie would make a pause, look ruefully at her gossamer skirts, and only seem relieved when her partner stumbled into place again. Then she followed the bride, her cheeks one glow of roses and smiles dimpling her fresh, young mouth, as if she were the Queen of May approaching her throne.
The bridal-pair knelt at the altar, and a solemn stillness fell upon that brilliant multitude as the vows which were to unite that man and woman for all time were uttered. Even Elsie looked on with shadowy sadness in her eyes; as for Tom—the noble-hearted fellow made a fool of himself of course, and was compelled to shake the tears surreptitiously from his eyes, before he dared to look up from the long survey he had been taking of his patent-leather boots.
It is almost frightful to remember how few moments it takes to bind immortal souls together in a union which may be for happiness, and, alas, may be for such misery as eternal bondage alone can give.
The feeling of awe befitting that sacred place had scarcely settled on the gay assembly, when the altar was deserted, and Grantley Mellen led his wife out of the church. Agitation had brought a faint glow of color to her cheek, softened the mouth into its sweetest smile, and whenever the clear gray eyes were lifted, one could see the timid, shrinking happiness, which made their depths so misty and dark.
Grantley Mellen was a proud, somewhat stern man, and at the church-door he betrayed, in spite of himself, some annoyance at the eclat which Mrs. Harrington had given to the affair, in spite of his express wishes. But whenever he looked at the lovely girl at his side, or felt the clinging touch of her hand upon his arm, his face cleared and softened into an expression of such tenderness as changed its entire character.
Elsie followed close, dexterously keeping her dress from under Tom's feet; indeed, she looked so lovely and fairy-like, that it made the awkwardness and embarrassment of her great, honest-hearted companion more apparent.
Tom Fuller knew that he appeared dreadfully out of place playing a part at this imposing ceremony, but he had never in all his life refused a request that Elizabeth made, and during the last three months, the mischievous sprite by his side had kept his blundering head in a state of such constant bewilderment, and so stirred every chord in his great, manly heart, that he would not have minded in the least stumbling over red hot ploughshares for the pleasure of walking with her even the length of a church aisle.
The group had reached the porch and lingered there a moment, waiting for the carriages to draw up. The shadows were all gone from Grantley Mellen's face now; he bent his head and whispered a few words, that made Elizabeth's cheek glow into new beauty. Suddenly her glance wandered towards the crowd on her left—a sudden pallor swept the roses from her cheek—her hand closed convulsively on Mellen's arm; but in an instant, before even he had noticed her agitation, it had passed—she walked on to the carriage graceful and queen-like as ever.
Standing among the throng at which she had cast that one glance, stood the man who had rescued her from danger only a few days before. He was gazing eagerly into the faces of the newly made husband and wife, with an expression upon his features which it was not easy to understand. But after that quick look, Elizabeth never again turned her head, and the stranger shrank back among the crowd and disappeared.
The guests were gathered about the sumptuous table which Mrs. Harrington had prepared, and the fair widow herself, in a dress which would have been youthful even for Elsie, was in a state of flutter and excitement which baffles description.
She was gay and coquettish as a girl of sixteen; but there was enough of real kindliness in her character to make those who knew her forgive these girlish affectations and the little delusion under which she labored—that certain specially-favored people, like herself, never did get beyond eighteen, being so sensitive and fresh of soul, that age never reached them.
I doubt if there ever was a wedding reception that did not prove a somewhat dull affair, and though this was as nearly an exception as possible, Mellen seized the first opportunity to whisper Elizabeth that it was time to prepare for their departure.
"And so I shan't see you for a whole week," said Tom Fuller, ruefully, as he accompanied Elsie out of the room, when she followed Elizabeth up stairs to change her dress. "What shall I do with myself all that time?"
"A whole week!" repeated she, laughing merrily; "it's quite dreadful to contemplate—I only hope you won't die, and put poor Bessie into mourning before the honeymoon is over."
"Oh, you are laughing at me," said Tom, heaving a sigh that was a perfect blast of grief.
"How can you fancy that?" cried Elsie; "I thought I was showing great sympathy."
"You always do laugh at me," urged Tom, "and it's downright cruel! I know I am awkward, and always do the wrong thing at the wrong moment, but you needn't be so hard on a fellow."
"There, there!" said Elsie, patting his arm as she might have smoothed a great Newfoundland dog; "don't quarrel with me now! Next week you are coming down to Piney Cove, and you shall see how nicely I will entertain you."
"Shall you be glad to see me—really glad?" pleaded Tom, red to the very temples.
"Oh, of course," cried Elsie, laughing; "you are a sort of cousin now—it will be my duty, you know."
Elsie danced away, leaving him to pull his white glove in a perplexed sort of way, by no means certain that he was satisfied with being considered a relation, and treated in this cavalier manner.
THE FIRST CLOUD.
Mrs. Harrington had run up stairs for an instant, and stopped Mellen and his bride on the landing for a few last words.
"I hope you are satisfied, Grantley," she said; "I have done my best; I do hope you are pleased."
"My dear friend, everything has been perfect," he answered.
"I can't thank you for all your kindness to me," Elizabeth said, holding out her hand; "but believe me, I feel it deeply."
"My dear, don't speak of it! Grantley and Elsie are like relatives to me," cried Mrs. Harrington, "and I love you so much already! You looked lovely—what a mercy we came off so well from our fright—"
"There is no time for pretty speeches," broke in Elsie, giving her a warning glance, and pulling Elizabeth towards their dressing-room; "go back to your guests, Mary Harrington; what will they do without you. Besides, you must cover our retreat. We don't want to be stared at when we go out."
But Mellen stood still after they had entered the chamber, and detained Mrs. Harrington.
"What fright?" he demanded; "what did you mean?"
She was too thoroughly confused to remember her promise.
"Oh, nothing, nothing!" she said; "I have sold the horses, so it doesn't make any difference."
"What do you mean?" he asked. "Have you had an accident?"
"No, no; the gentleman saved us—such a splendid creature! But it was so odd. The moment Elizabeth looked in his face she fainted dead away—courageous as a lion till then—just like a novel, you know. But she said she never saw him before; it was really quite interesting."
Grantley Mellen turned suddenly pale; doubt and suspicion had been his familiar demons for years, and it never required more than a word or look to call them up.
He controlled himself sufficiently to speak with calmness, and Mrs. Harrington was not observant; but he did not permit her to return to her guests until he had heard the whole story.
"Don't mention it," she entreated; "I promised Elizabeth not to tell; she thought you would be frightened, and perhaps displeased."
Mrs. Harrington hurried down stairs, and Mellen passed on to the chamber which had been appropriated for his use. But his face had not recovered its serenity, and Master Dolf, who presided over his toilet, did not at all approve of such gravity on a man's wedding-day—having drank quite champagne enough in the kitchen to feel in as exuberant spirits as was desirable, himself.
The leave-takings were over; Tom Fuller had given his last tempestuous sigh as Mellen drove off with his sister and his bride towards the home where they were to begin their new life.
The journey was not a tedious one; the swift train bore them for a couple of hours along one of the Long Island railroads, to a way station, where a carriage waited to carry them to the quiet old house in which they were to spend the honeymoon.
There was to be no journey, both Mellen and Elizabeth wished to go quietly to the beautiful spot which was to be their future home, and spend the first weeks of their happiness in complete seclusion.
The drive was a charming one, and the brightness of the Spring day would have chased even a deeper gloom from Mellen's mind than the shadow which Mrs. Harrington's careless words had brought over it.
From the eminence along which the road wound, they caught occasional glimpses of the silvery beach and the long sparkling line of ocean beyond; then a sudden descent would shut them out, and they drove through beautiful groves with pleasant homesteads peeping through the trees, and distant villages nestled like flocks of birds in the golden distance.
The apple-trees were in blossom, and the breeze was laden with their delicious fragrance; the grass in the pastures wore its freshest green, the young grain was sprouting in the fields, troops of robins and thrushes darted about, filling the air with melody, and over all the blue sky looked down, flecked with its white, fleecy clouds. The sunlight played warm and beautiful over this lovely scene, and through the early loveliness of the season, the married pair drove on towards their new life.
At a sudden curve in the road, they came out full upon the ocean, and Elizabeth, unacquainted with the scene, uttered an exclamation of wonder at its dazzling loveliness.
Below them stretched a crescent-shaped bay, with a line of woodland running far out into the sea; away to the right, at the extremity of the bay, a little village peeped out; its picturesque dwellings were dotted here and there, giving a home look to the whole scene. At the end of the shady avenue into which they had turned, the tall roofs and stately towers of the Piney Cove mansion were visible through the trees.
"The dear old house!" cried Elsie, clapping her hands. "The dear old house!"
Grantley Mellen was watching his wife, and a pleased smile lighted his face when he saw how thoroughly she appreciated the beauty of the place. He did not speak, but clasped her hand gently in his, and held it, while Elsie uttered her wild exclamations of delight. They drove up to the entrance of the house.
"Welcome home!" exclaimed Mellen, and his face glowed with tenderness as he lifted his wife from the carriage and conducted her up the steps, Elsie following, and the servants pressing forward with their congratulations, headed by Clorinda: and for the first few moments, Elizabeth was conscious of nothing but a pleasant confusion.
From the hall where they stood, she could look out upon the ocean which rolled and sparkled under the sunshine. She could even hear the waves lapsing up to the grounds which sloped down to the water's edge in a closely shaven lawn, broken by stately old trees and blossoming flower-beds. The view so charmed her with its loveliness, that at first she hardly heeded the magnificence of the different apartments through which they led her.