MARY J. HOLMES
Author of "Lena Rivers", "Tempest and Sunshine", "Meadow Brook", "The English Orphans", etc., etc.
GROSSET & DUNLAP PUBLISHERS NEW YORK
I. Spring Bank 5
II. What Rover Found 15
III. Hugh's Soliloquy 26
IV. Terrace Hill 29
V. Anna and John 37
VI. Alice Johnson 42
VII. Riverside Cottage 50
VIII. Mr. Liston and the Doctor 57
IX. Matters in Kentucky 60
X. Lina's Purchase and Hugh's 71
XI. Sam and Adah 77
XII. What Followed 81
XIII. How Hugh Paid His Debts 84
XIV. Mrs. Johnson's Letter 88
XV. Saratoga 96
XVI. The Columbian 101
XVII. Hugh 108
XVIII. Meeting of Alice and Hugh 111
XIX. Alice and Muggins 116
XX. Poor Hugh 118
XXI. Alice and Adah 126
XXII. Waking to Consciousness 133
XXIII. Lina's Letter. 138
XXIV. Foreshadowings 145
XXV. Talking with Hugh 149
XXVI. The Day of the Sale 153
XXVII. The Sale 161
XXVIII. The Ride 165
XXIX. Hugh and Alice 169
XXX. Adah's Journey 177
XXXI. The Convict 184
XXXII. Adah at Terrace Hill 189
XXXIII. Anna and Adah 196
XXXIV. Rose Markham 204
XXXV. The Result 212
XXXVI. Excitement 223
XXXVII. Matters at Spring Bank 227
XXXVIII. The Day of the Wedding 232
XXXIX. The Convict's Story 238
XL. Poor 'Lina 248
XLI. Tidings 255
XLII. Irving Stanley 259
XLIII. Letters from Hugh and Irving Stanley 268
XLIV. The Deserter 272
XLV. The Second Battle of Bull Run 286
XLVI. How Sam Came There 291
XLVII. Finding Hugh 300
XLVIII. Going Home 304
XLIX. Conclusion 314
A large, old-fashioned, weird-looking wooden building, with strangely shaped bay windows and stranger gables projecting here and there from the slanting roof, where the green moss clung in patches to the moldy shingles, or formed a groundwork for the nests the swallows built year after year beneath the decaying eaves. Long, winding piazzas, turning sharp, sudden angles, and low, square porches, where the summer sunshine held many a fantastic dance, and where the winter storm piled up its drifts of snow, whistling merrily as it worked, and shaking the loosened casement as it went whirling by. Huge trees of oak and maple, whose topmost limbs had borne and cast the leaf for nearly a century of years, tall evergreens, among whose boughs the autumn wind ploughed mournfully, making sad music for those who cared to listen, and adding to the loneliness which, during many years, had invested the old place. A wide spreading grassy lawn, with the carriage road winding through it, over the running brook, and onward 'neath graceful forest trees, until it reached the main highway, a distance of nearly half a mile. A spacious garden in the rear, with bordered walks and fanciful mounds, with climbing roses and creeping vines showing that somewhere there was a taste, a ruling hand, which, while neglecting the somber building and suffering it to decay, lavished due care upon the grounds, and not on these alone, but also on the well-kept barns, and the whitewashed dwellings in front, where numerous, happy, well-fed negroes lived and lounged, for ours is a Kentucky scene, and Spring Bank a Kentucky home.
As we have described it so it was on a drear December night, when a fearful storm, for that latitude, was raging, and the snow lay heaped against the fences, or sweeping-down from the bending trees, drifted against the doors, and beat against the windows, whence a cheerful light was gleaming, telling of life and possible happiness within. There were no flowing curtains before the windows, no drapery sweeping to the floor, nothing save blinds without and simple shades within, neither of which were doing service now, for the master of the house would have it so in spite of his sister's remonstrances.
Some one might lose their way on that terrible night, he said, and the blaze of the fire on the hearth, which could be seen from afar, would be to them a beacon light to guide them on their way. Nobody would look in upon them, as Adaline, or 'Lina as she chose to be called, and as all did call her except himself, seemed to think there might, and even if they did, why need she care? To be sure she was not quite as fixey as she was on pleasant days when there was a possibility of visitors, and her cheeks were not quite so red, but she was looking well enough, and she'd undone all those little tags or braids which disfigured her so shockingly in the morning, but which, when brushed and carefully arranged, did give her hair that waving appearance she so much desired. As for himself, he never meant to do anything of which he was ashamed, so he did not care how many were watching him through the window, and stamping his heavy boots upon the rug, for he had just come in from the storm Hugh Worthington piled fresh fuel upon the fire, and, shaking back the mass of short brown curls which had fallen upon his forehead, strode across the room and arranged the shades to his own liking, paying no heed when his more fastidious sister, with a frown upon her dark, handsome face, muttered something about the "Stanley taste."
"There, Kelpie, lie there," he continued, returning to the hearth, and, addressing a small, white, shaggy dog, which, with a human look in its round, pink eyes, obeyed the voice it knew and loved, and crouched down in the corner at a safe distance from the young lady, whom it seemed instinctively to know as an enemy.
"Do, pray, Hugh, let the dirty things stay where they are," 'Lina exclaimed, as she saw her brother walk toward the dining-room, and guessed his errand. "Nobody wants a pack of dogs under their feet. I wonder you don't bring in your pet horse, saddle and all."
"I did want to when I heard how piteously he cried after me as I left the stable to-night," said Hugh, at the same time opening a door leading out upon a back piazza, and, uttering a peculiar whistle, which brought around him at once the pack of dogs which so annoyed his sister.
"I'd be a savage altogether if I were you!" was the sister's angry remark, to which Hugh paid no heed.
It was his house, his fire, and if he chose to have his dogs there, he should, for all of Ad, but when the pale, gentle-looking woman, knitting so quietly in her accustomed chair, looked up and said imploringly:
"Please turn them into the kitchen, they'll surely be comfortable there," he yielded at once, for that pale, gentle woman, was his mother, and, to her wishes, Hugh was generally obedient.
The room was cleared of all its canine occupants, save Kelpie, who Hugh insisted should remain, the mother resumed her knitting, and Adaline her book, while Hugh sat down before the blazing fire, and, with his hands crossed above his head, went on into a reverie, the nature of which his mother, who was watching him, could not guess; and when at last she asked of what he was thinking so intently, he made her no reply. He could hardly have told himself, so varied were the thoughts crowding upon his brain that wintry night. Now they were of the eccentric old man, who had been to him a father, and from whom he had received Spring Bank, together with the many peculiar ideas which made him the strange, odd creature he was, a puzzle and a mystery to his own sex, and a kind of terror to the female portion of the neighborhood, who looked upon him as a woman-hater, and avoided or coveted his not altogether disagreeable society, just as their fancy dictated. For years the old man and the boy had lived together alone in that great, lonely house, enjoying vastly the freedom from all restraint, the liberty of turning the parlors into kennels if they chose, and converting the upper rooms into a hay-loft, if they would. No white woman was ever seen upon the premises, unless she came as a beggar, when some new gown, or surplice, or organ, or chandelier, was needed for the pretty little church, lifting its modest spire so unobtrusively among the forest trees, not very far from Spring Bank. John Stanley didn't believe in churches; nor gowns, nor organs, nor women, but he was proverbially liberal, and so the fair ones of Glen's Creek neighborhood ventured into his den, finding it much pleasanter to do so after the handsome, dark-haired boy came to live with him; for about that frank, outspoken boy there was then something very attractive to the little girls, while their mothers pitied him, wondering why he had been permitted to come there, and watching for the change in him, which was sure to ensue.
Not all at once did Hugh conform to the customs of his uncle's household, and at first there often came over him a longing for something different, a yearning for the refinements of his early home among the Northern hills, and a wish to infuse into Chloe, the colored housekeeper, some of his mother's neatness. But a few attempts at reform had taught him how futile was the effort, Aunt Chloe always meeting him with the argument:
"'Taint no use, Mr. Hugh. A nigger's a nigger; and I spec' ef you're to talk to me till you was hoarse 'bout your Yankee ways of scrubbin', and sweepin', and moppin' with a broom, I shouldn't be an atomer white-folksey than I is now. Besides Mas'r John, wouldn't bar no finery; he's only happy when the truck is mighty nigh a foot thick, and his things is lyin' round loose and handy."
To a certain extent this was true, for John Stanley would have felt sadly out of place in any spot where, as Chloe said, "his things were not lying round loose and handy," and as habit is everything, so Hugh soon grew accustomed to his surroundings, and became as careless of his external appearance as his uncle could desire. Only once had there come to him an awakening—a faint conception of the happiness there might arise from constant association with the pure and refined, such as his uncle had labored to make him believe did not exist. He was thinking of that incident now, and as he thought the veins upon his broad, white forehead stood out round and full, while the hands clasped above the head worked nervously together, and it was not strange that he did not heed his mother when she spoke, for Hugh was far away from Spring Bank, and the wild storm beating against its walls was to him like the sound of the waves dashing against the vessel's side, just as they did years ago on that night he remembered so well, shuddering as he heard again the murderous hiss of the devouring flames, covering the fatal boat with one sheet of fire, and driving into the water as a safer friend the shrieking, frightened wretches who but an hour before had been so full of life and hope, dancing gayly above the red-tongued demon stealthily creeping upward from the hold below, where it had taken life. What a fearful scene that was, and the veins grew larger on Hugh's brow while his broad chest heaved with something like a stifled sob as he recalled the little childish form to which he had clung so madly until the cruel timber struck from him all consciousness, and he let that form go down—down 'neath the treacherous waters of Lake Erie never to come up again alive, for so his uncle told when, weeks after the occurrence, he awoke from the delirious fever which ensued and listened to the sickening detail.
"Lost, my boy, lost with many others," was what his uncle had said.
He heard the words as plainly now as when they first were spoken, remembering how his uncle's voice had faltered, and how the thought had flashed upon his mind that John Stanley's heart was not as hard toward womenkind as people had supposed. "Lost"—there was a world of meaning in that word to Hugh more than any one had ever guessed, and, though it was but a child he lost, yet in the quiet night, when all else around Spring Bank was locked in sleep, he often lay thinking of that child and of what he might perhaps have been had she been spared to him. He was thinking of her now, and as he thought visions of a sweet, pale face, shadowed with curls of golden hair, came up before his mind, and he saw again the look of bewildered surprise and pain which shone in the soft, blue eyes and illumined every feature when in an unguarded moment he gave vent to the half infidel principles he had learned from his uncle. Her creed was different from his, and she explained it to him so earnestly, so tearfully, that he had said to her at last he did but jest to hear what she would say, and, though she seemed satisfied, he felt there was a shadow between them—a shadow which was not swept away, even after he promised to read the little Bible she gave him and see for himself whether he or she were right. He had that Bible now hidden away where no curious eye could find it, and carefully folded between its leaves was a curl of golden hair. It was faded now, and its luster was almost gone, but as often as he looked upon it, it brought to mind the bright head it once adorned, and the fearful hour when he became its owner. That tress and the Bible which inclosed it had made Hugh Worthington a better man. He did not often read the Bible, it is true, and his acquaintances were frequently startled with opinions which had so pained the little girl on board the St. Helena, but this was merely on the surface, for far below the rough exterior there was a world of goodness, a mine of gems, kept bright by memories of the angel child which flitted for so brief a span across his pathway and then was lost forever. He had tried so hard to save her—had clasped her so fondly to his bosom when with extended arms she came to him for aid. He could save her, he said—he could swim to the shore with perfect ease and so without a moment's hesitation she had leaped with him into the surging waves, and that was about the last he could remember, save that he clutched frantically at the long, golden hair streaming above the water, retaining in his firm grasp the lock which no one at Spring Bank had ever seen, for this one romance of Hugh's seemingly unromantic life was a secret with himself. No one save his uncle had witnessed his emotions when told that she was dead; no one else had seen his bitter tears or heard the vehement exclamation: "You've tried to teach me there was no hereafter, no heaven for such as she, but I know better now, and I am glad there is, for she is safe forever."
These were not mere idle words, and the belief then expressed became with Hugh Worthington a firm, fixed principle, which his skeptical uncle tried in vain to eradicate. "There was a heaven, and she was there," comprised nearly the whole of Hugh's religious creed, if we except a vague, misty hope, that he, too, would some day find her, how or by what means he never seriously inquired; only this he knew, it would be through her influence, which even now followed him everywhere, producing its good effects. It had checked him many and many a time when his fierce temper was in the ascendant, forcing back the harsh words he would otherwise have spoken, and making him as gentle as a child; and when the temptations to which young men of his age are exposed were spread out alluringly before him, a single thought of her was sufficient to lead him from the forbidden ground.
Only once had he fallen, and that two years before, when, as if some demon had possessed him, he shook off all remembrances of the past, and yielding to the baleful fascinations of one who seemed to sway him at will, plunged into a tide of dissipation, and lent himself at last to an act which had since embittered every waking hour. As if all the events of his life were crowding upon his memory this night, he thought of two years ago, and the scene which transpired in the suburbs of New York, whither immediately after his uncle's death he had gone upon a matter of important business. In the gleaming fire before him there was now another face than hers, an older, a different, though not less beautiful face, and Hugh shuddered as he thought how it must have changed ere this—thought of the anguish which stole into the dark, brown eyes when first the young girl learned how cruelly she had been betrayed. Why hadn't he saved her? What had she done to him that he should treat her so, and where was she now? Possibly she was dead. He almost hoped she was, for if she were, the two were then together, his golden-haired and brown, for thus he designated the two.
Larger and fuller grew the veins upon his forehead, as memory kept thus faithfully at work, and so absorbed was Hugh in his reverie that until twice repeated he did not hear his mother's anxious inquiry:
"What is that noise? It sounds like some one in distress."
Hugh started at last, and, after listening for a moment he, too, caught the sound which had so alarmed his mother, and made 'Lina stop her reading. A moaning cry, as if for help, mingled with an infant's wail, now here, now there it seemed to be, just as the fierce north wind shifted its course and drove first at the uncurtained window of the sitting-room, and then at the ponderous doors of the gloomy hall.
"It is some one in the storm, though I can't imagine why any one should be abroad to-night," Hugh said, going to the window and peering out into the darkness.
"Lyd's child, most likely. Negro young ones are always squalling, and I heard her tell Aunt Chloe at supper time that Tommie had the colic," 'Lina remarked opening again the book she was reading, and with a slight shiver drawing nearer to the fire.
"Where are you going, my son?" asked Mrs. Worthington, as Hugh arose to leave the room.
"Going to Lyd's cabin, for if Tommie is sick enough to make his screams heard above the storm, she may need some help," was Hugh's reply, and a moment after he was ploughing his way through the drifts which lay between the house and the negro quarters.
"How kind and thoughtful he is," the mother said, softly, more to herself than to her daughter, who nevertheless quickly rejoined:
"Yes, kind to niggers, and horses, and dogs, I'll admit, but let me, or any other white woman come before him as an object of pity, and the tables are turned at once. I wonder what does make him hate women so."
"I don't believe he does," Mrs. Worthington replied. "His uncle, you know, was very unfortunate in his marriage, and had a way of judging all our sex by his wife. Living with him as long as Hugh did, it's natural he should imbibe a few of his ideas."
"A few," 'Lina repeated, "better say all, for John Stanley and Hugh Worthington are as near alike as an old and young man well could be. What an old codger he was though, and how like a savage he lived here. I never shall forget how the house looked the day we came, or how satisfied Hugh seemed when he met us at the gate, and said, 'everything was in spendid order,'" and closing her book, the young lady laughed merrily as she recalled the time when she first crossed her brother's threshold, stepping, as she affirmed, over half a dozen dogs, and as many squirming kittens, catching her foot in some fishing tackle, finding tobacco in the china closet, and segars in the knife box, where they had been put to get them out of the way.
"But Hugh really did his best for us," mildly interposed the mother. "Don't you remember what the servants said about his cleaning one floor himself because he knew they were tired!"
"Did it more to save the lazy negroes' steps than from any regard for our comfort," retorted 'Lina. "At all events he's been mighty careful since how he gratified my wishes. Sometimes I believe he perfectly hates me, and wishes I'd never been born," and tears, which arose from anger, rather than any wounded sisterly feeling, glittered in 'Lina's black eyes.
"Hugh does not hate any one," said Mrs. Worthington, "much less his sister, though you must admit that you try him terribly."
"How, I'd like to know?" 'Lina asked, and her mother replied:
"He thinks you proud, and vain, and artificial, and you know he abhors deceit above all else. Why, he'd cut off his right hand sooner than tell a lie."
"Pshaw!" was 'Lina's contemptuous response, then after a moment she continued: "I wonder how we came to be so different. He must be like his father, and I like mine—that is, supposing I know who he is. Wouldn't it be funny if, just to be hateful, he had sent you back the wrong child?"
"What made you think of that?" Mrs. Worthington asked, quickly, and 'Lina replied:
"Oh, nothing, only the last time Hugh had one of his tantrums, and got so outrageously angry at me, because I made Mr. Bostwick think my hair was naturally curly, he said he'd give all he owned if it were so, but I reckon he'll never have his wish. There's too much of old Sam about me to admit of a doubt," and half spitefully, half playfully she touched the spot in the center of her forehead known as her birthmark.
When not excited it could scarcely be discerned at all, but the moment she was aroused, the delicate network of veins stood out round and full, forming what seemed to be a tiny hand without the thumb. It showed a little now in the firelight, and Mrs. Worthington shuddered as she glanced at what brought so vividly before her the remembrance of other and wretched days. Adaline observed the shudder and hastened to change the conversation from herself to Hugh, saying by way of making some amends for her unkind remarks: "It really is kind in him to give me a home when I have no particular claim upon him, and I ought to respect him for that. I am glad, too, that Mr. Stanley made it a condition in his will that if Hugh ever married, he should forfeit the Spring Bank property, as that provides against the possibility of an upstart wife coming here some day and turning us, or at least me, into the street. Say, mother, are you not glad that Hugh can never marry even if he wishes to do so, which is not very probable."
"I am not so sure of that," returned Mrs. Worthington, smoothing, with her small, fat hands the bright worsted cloud she was knitting, a feminine employment for which she had a weakness. "I am not so sure of that. Suppose Hugh should fancy a person whose fortune was much larger than the one left him by Uncle John, do you think he would let it pass just for the sake of holding Spring Bank?"
"Perhaps not," 'Lina replied; "but there's no possible danger of any one's fancying Hugh."
"And why not?" quickly interrupted the mother. "He has the kindest heart in the world, and is certainly fine-looking if he would only dress decently."
"I'm much obliged for your compliment, mother," Hugh said, laughingly, as he stepped suddenly into the room and laid his hand caressingly on his mother's head, thus showing that even he was not insensible to flattery. "Have you heard that sound again?" he continued. "It wasn't Tommie, for I found him asleep, and I've been all around the house, but could discover nothing. The storm is beginning to abate, I think, and the moon is trying to break through the clouds," and, going again to the window, Hugh looked out into the yard, where the shrubbery and trees were just discernible in the grayish light of the December moon. "That's a big drift by the lower gate," he continued; "and queer shaped, too. Come see, mother. Isn't that a shawl, or an apron, or something blowing in the wind?"
Mrs. Worthington arose, and, joining her son, looked in the direction indicated, where a garment of some kind was certainly fluttering in the gale.
"It's something from the wash, I guess," she said. "I thought all the time Hannah had better not hang out the clothes, as some of them were sure to be lost."
This explanation was quite satisfactory to Mrs. Worthington, but that strange drift by the gate troubled Hugh, and the signal above it seemed to him like a signal of distress. Why should the snow drift there more than elsewhere? He never knew it do so before. He had half a mind to turn out the dogs, and see what that would do.
"Rover," he called, suddenly, as he advanced to the rear room, where, among his older pets, was a huge Newfoundland, of great sagacity. "Rover, Rover, I want you."
In an instant the whole pack were upon him, jumping and fawning, and licking the hands which had never dealt them aught save kindness. It was only Rover, however, who was this time wanted, and leading him to the door, Hugh pointed toward the gate, and bade him see what was there. Snuffing slightly at the storm, which was not over yet, Rover started down the walk, while Hugh stood waiting in the door. At first Rover's steps were slow and uncertain, but as he advanced they increased in rapidity, until, with a sudden bound and cry, such as dogs are wont to give when they have caught their destined prey, he sprang upon the mysterious ridge, and commenced digging it down with his paws.
"Easy, Rover—be careful," Hugh called from the door, and instantly the half-savage growl which the wind had brought to his ear was changed into a piteous cry, as if the faithful creature were answering back that other help than his was needed there.
Rover had found something in that pile of snow.
WHAT ROVER FOUND
Unmindful of the sleet beating upon his uncovered head Hugh hastened to the spot, where the noble brute was licking a face, a baby face, which he had ferreted out from beneath the shawl trapped so carefully around it to shield it from the cold, for instead of one there were two in that rift of snow—a mother and her child! That stiffened form lying there so still, hugging that sleeping child so closely to its bosom, was no delusion, and his mother's voice calling to know what he was doing brought Hugh back at Last to a consciousness that he must act, and that immediately.
"Mother," he screamed, "send a servant here, quick! or let Ad come herself. There's a woman dead, I fear. I can carry her, but the child, Ad must come for her."
"The what?" gasped Mrs. Worthington, who, terrified beyond measure at the mention of a-dead woman, was doubly so at hearing of a child. "A child," she repeated, "whose child?"
Hugh, made no reply save an order that the lounge should be brought near the fire and a pillow from his mother's bed. "From mine, then," he added, as he saw the anxious look in his mother's face, and guessed that she shrank from having her own snowy pillow come in contact with the wet, limp figure he was depositing upon the lounge. It was a slight, girlish form, and the long brown hair, loosened from its confinement, fell in rich profusion over the pillow which 'Lina brought half reluctantly, eying askance the insensible object before her, and daintily holding back her dress lest it should come in contact with the child her mother had deposited upon the floor, where it lay crying lustily.
The idea of a strange woman being thrust upon them in this way was highly displeasing to Miss 'Lina, who haughtily drew back from the little one when it stretched its arms out toward her, while its pretty lip quivered and the tears dropped over its rounded cheek.
Meantime Hugh, with all a woman's tenderness, had done for the now reviving stranger what he could, and as his mother began to collect her scattered senses and evince some interest in the matter, he withdrew to call the negroes, judging it prudent to remain away a while, as his presence might be an intrusion. From the first he had felt sure that the individual thrown upon his charity was not a low, vulgar person, as his sister seemed to think. He had not yet seen her face distinctly, for it lay in the shadow, but the long, flowing hair, the delicate hands, the pure white neck, of which he had caught a glimpse as his mother unfastened the stiffened dress, all these had made an impression, and involuntarily repeating to himself, "Poor girl, poor girl," he strode a second time across the drifts which lay in his back yard, and was soon pounding at old Chloe's cabin door, bidding her and Hannah dress at once and come immediately to the house.
An indignant growl at being thus aroused from her first sleep was Chloe's only response, but Hugh knew that his orders were being obeyed.
The change of atmosphere and restoratives applied had done their work, and Mrs. Worthington saw that the long eyelashes began to tremble, while a faint color stole into the hitherto colorless cheeks, and at last the large, brown eyes unclosed and looked into hers with an expression so mournful, so beseeching, that a thrill of yearning tenderness for the desolate young creature shot through her heart, and bending down she said, "Are you better now?"
"Yes, thank you. Where is Willie?" was the low response, the tone thrilling Mrs. Worthington again with emotion.
Even 'Lina started, it was so musical, and coming near she answered: "If it's the baby you mean, he is here, playing with Rover."
There was a look of gratitude in the brown eyes, which closed again wearily. With her eyes thus closed, 'Lina had a fair opportunity to scan the beautiful face, with its delicately-chiseled features, and the wealth of lustrous brown hair, sweeping back from the open forehead, on which there was perceptible a faint line, which 'Lina stooped down to examine.
"Mother, mother," she whispered, drawing back, "look, is not that a mark just like mine?"
Thus appealed to, Mrs. Worthington, too, bent down, but, upon a closer scrutiny, the mark seemed only a small, blue vein.
"She's pretty," she said. "I wonder why I feel so drawn toward her?"
'Lina was about to reply, when again the brown eyes looked up, and the stranger asked hesitatingly:
"Where am I? And is he here! Is this his house?"
"Whose house?" Mrs. Worthington asked.
The girl did not answer at once, and when she did her mind seemed wandering.
"I waited so long," she said, "but he never came again, only the letter which broke my heart. Willie was a baby then, and I almost hated him for a while, but he wasn't to blame. I wasn't to blame. I'm glad God gave me Willie now, even if he did take his father from me."
Mrs. Worthington and her daughter exchanged glances, and the latter abruptly asked:
"Where is Willie's father?"
"I don't know," came in a wailing sob from the depths of the pillow.
"Where did you come from?" was the next question. The young girl looked up in some alarm, and answered meekly:
"From New York. I thought I'd never get here, but everybody was so kind to me and Willie, and the driver said if 'twan't so late, and he so many passengers, he'd drive across the fields. He pointed out the way and I came on alone."
The color had faded from Mrs. Worthington's face, and very timidly she asked again:
"Whom are you looking for? Whom did you hope to find?"
"Mr. Worthington. Does he live here?" was the frank reply; whereupon 'Lina drew herself up haughtily, exclaiming:
"I knew it. I've thought so ever since Hugh came home from New York."
'Lina was about to commence a tirade of abuse, when the mother interposed, and with an air of greater authority than she generally assumed toward her imperious daughter, bade her keep silence while she questioned the stranger, gazing wonderingly from one to the other, as if uncertain what they meant.
Mrs. Worthington had no such feelings for the girl as 'Lina entertained.
"It will be easier to talk with you," she said, leaning forward, "if I know what to call you."
"Adah," was the response, and the brown eyes, swimming with tears, sought the face of the questioner with a wistful eagerness, as if it read there the unmistakable signs of a friend.
"Adah, you say. Well, then, Adah, why have you come to my son on such a night as this, and what is he to you?"
"Are you his mother?" and Adah started up. "I did not know he had one. Oh, I'm so glad. And you'll be kind to me, who never had a mother?"
A person who never had a mother was an anomaly to Mrs. Worthington, whose powers of comprehension were not the clearest imaginable.
"Never had a mother!" she repeated. "How can that be?"
A smile flitted for a moment across Adah's face, and then she answered:
"I never knew a mother's care, I mean."
"But your father? What do you know of him?" said Mrs. Worthington, and instantly a shadow stole into the sweet young face, as Adah replied:
"Only this, I was left at a boarding school."
"And Hugh? Where did you meet him? And what is he to you?"
"The only friend I've got. May I see him, please?"
"First tell what he is to you and to this child," 'Lina rejoined. Adah answered calmly:
"Your brother might not like to be implicated. I must see him first—see him alone."
"One thing more," and 'Lina held back her mother, who was starting in quest of Hugh, "are you a wife?"
"Don't, 'Lina," Mrs. Worthington whispered, as she saw the look of agony pass over Adah's face. "Don't worry her so; deal kindly by the fallen."
"I am not fallen!" came passionately from the quivering lips. "I am as true a woman as either of you—look!" and she pointed to the golden band encircling the third finger.
'Lina was satisfied, and needed no further explanations. To her, it was plain as daylight. In an unguarded moment, Hugh had set his uncle's will at naught, and married some poor girl, whose pretty face had pleased his fancy. How glad 'Lina was to have this hold upon her brother, and how eagerly she went in quest of him, keeping back old Chloe and Hannah until she had witnessed his humiliation.
Somewhat impatient of the long delay, Hugh sat in the dingy kitchen, when 'Lina appeared, and with an air of injured dignity, bade him follow her.
"What's up now that Ad looks so solemn like?" was Hugh's mental comment as he took his way to the room where, in a half-reclining position sat Adah, her large, bright eyes fixed eagerly upon the door through which he entered, and a bright flush upon her cheek called up by the suspicions to which she had been subjected.
Perhaps they might be true. Nobody knew but Hugh, and she waited for him so anxiously, starting when she heard a manly step and knew that he was coming. For an instant she scanned his face curiously to assure herself that it was he, then with an imploring cry as if for him to save her from some dreaded evil, she stretched her little hands toward him and sobbed: "Mr. Worthington, was it true? Was it as his letter said?" and shedding back from her white face the wealth of flowing hair, Adah waited for the answer, which did not come at once. In utter amazement Hugh gazed upon the stranger, and then exclaimed:
"Adah, Adah Hastings, why are you here?"
In the tone of his voice surprise and pity were mingled with disapprobation, the latter of which Adah detected at once, and as if it had crushed out the last lingering hope, she covered her face with her hands and sobbed piteously.
"Don't you turn against me, or I'll surely die, and I've come so far to find you."
By this time Hugh was himself again. His rapid, quick-seeing mind had come to a decision, and turning to his mother and sister, he said:
"Leave us alone for a time."
Rather reluctantly Mrs. Worthington and her daughter left the room. Deliberately turning the key in the lock, Hugh advanced to her side, groaning as his eye fell upon the child, which had fallen asleep again.
"I hoped this might have been spared her," he thought, as, kneeling by the couch, he said, kindly: "Adah, I am more pained to see you here than I can express. Why did you come, and where is—"
The name was lost to 'Lina, and muttering to herself: "It does not sound much like a man and wife," she rather unwillingly quitted her position, and Hugh was really alone with Adah.
Never was Hugh in so awkward a position before, or so uncertain how to act. The sight of that sobbing, trembling wretched creature, whose heart he had helped to crush, had perfectly unmanned him, making him almost as much a woman as herself.
"Oh, what made you? Why didn't you save me?" she said, looking up to him with an expression of reproach.
He had no excuse. He knew how innocent she was, and he held her in his arms as he would once have held the Golden Haired, had she come to him with a tale of woe.
"Let me see that letter again," he said.
She gave it to him; and he read once more the cruel lines, in which there was still much of love for the poor thing, to whom they were addressed.
"You will surely find friends who will care for you, until the time when I may come to really make you mine."
Hugh repeated these words twice, aloud, his heart throbbing with the noble resolve, that the confidence she had placed in him by coming there, should not be abused, for he would be true to the trust, and care for the poor, little, half-crazed Adah, moaning so piteously beside him, and as he read the last line, saying eagerly:
"He speaks of coming back. Do you think he ever will? or could I find him if I should try? I thought of starting once, but it was so far; and there was Willie. Oh, if he could see Willie! Mr. Worthington, do you believe he loves me one bit?"
Hugh said at last, that the letter contained many assurances of affection.
"It seems family pride has something to do with it. I wonder where his people live, or who they are? Did he never tell you?"
"No," and Adah shook her head mournfully.
"Would you go to them?" Hugh asked quickly; and Adah answered:
"Sometimes I've thought I would. I'd brave his proud mother—I'd lay Willie in her lap. I'd tell her whose he was, and then I'd go away and die." Then, after a pause, she continued: "Once, Mr. Worthington, I went down to the river, and said I'd end my wretched life, but God held me back. He cooled my scorching head—He eased the pain, and on the very spot where I meant to jump, I kneeled down and said: 'Our Father.' No other words would come, only these: 'Lead us not into temptation.' Wasn't it kind in God to save me?"
There was a radiant expression in the sweet face as Adah said this, but it quickly passed away and was succeeded by one of deep concern when Hugh abruptly said:
"Do you believe in God?"
"Oh, Mr. Worthington. Don't you? You do, you must, you will," and Adah shrank away from him as from a monster.
The action reminded him of the Golden Haired, when on the deck of the St. Helena he had asked her a similar question, and anxious further to probe the opinion of the girl beside him, he continued:
"If, as you think, there is a God who knew and saw when you were about to drown yourself, why didn't He prevent the cruel wrong to you? Why did He suffer it?"
"What He does we know not now, but we shall know hereafter," Adah said, reverently, adding: "If George had feared God, he would not have left me so; but he didn't, and perhaps he says there is no God—but you don't, Mr. Worthington. Your face don't look like it. Tell me you believe," and in her eagerness Adah grasped his arm beseechingly.
"Yes, Adah, I believe," Hugh answered, half jestingly, "but it's such as you that make me believe, and as persons of your creed think everything is ordered for good, so possibly you were permitted to suffer that you might come here and benefit me. I think I must keep you, Adah, at least, until he is found."
"No, no," and the tears flowed at once, "I cannot be a burden to you. I have no claim."
After a moment she grew calm again, and continued:
"You whispered, you know, that if I was ever in trouble, come to you, and that's why I remembered you so well, maybe. I wrote down your name, and where you lived, though why I did not know, and I forgot where I put it, but as if God really were helping me I found it in my old portfolio, and something bade me come, for you would know if it was true, and your words had a meaning of which I did not dream when I was so happy. George left me money, and sent more, but it's most gone now. I can take care of myself."
"What can you do?" Hugh asked, and Adah replied:
"I don't know, but God will find me something. I never worked much, but I can learn, and I can already sew neatly, too; besides that, a few days before I decided to come here, I advertised in the Herald for some place as governess or ladies' waiting maid. Perhaps I'll hear from that."
"It's hardly possible. Such advertisements are thick as blackberries," Hugh said, and then in a few brief words, he marked out Adah's future course.
George Hastings might or might not return to claim her, and whether he did or didn't, she must live meantime, and where so well as at Spring Bank, or who, next to Mr. Hastings, was more strongly bound to care for her than himself?"
"To be sure, he did not like women much," he said; "their artificial fooleries disgusted him. There wasn't one woman in ten thousand that was what she seemed to be. But even men are not all alike," he continued, with something like a sneer, for when Hugh got upon his favorite hobby, "women and their weaknesses," he generally grew bitter and sarcastic. "Now, there's the one of whom you are continually thinking. I dare say you have contrasted him with me and thought how much more elegant he was in his appearance. Isn't it so?" and Hugh glanced at Adah, who, in a grieved tone, replied:
"No, Mr. Worthington, I have not compared you with him—I have only thought how good you were."
Hugh knew Adah was sincere, and said:
"I told you I did not like women much, and I don't but I'm going to take care of you until that scoundrel turns up; then, if you say so, I'll surrender you to his care, or better yet, I'll shoot him and keep you to myself. Not as a sweetheart, or anything of that kind," he hastened to add, as he saw the flush on Adah's cheek. "Hugh Worthington has nothing to do with that species of the animal kingdom, but as my Sister Adah!" and as Hugh repeated that name, there arose in his great heart an indefinable wish that the gentle girl beside him had been his sister instead of the high-tempered Adaline, who never tried to conciliate or understand him, and whom, try as he might, Hugh could not love as brothers should love sisters.
He knew how impatiently she was waiting now to know the result of that interview, and just how much opposition he should meet when he announced his intention of keeping Adah. Hugh was master of Spring Bank, but though its rightful owner, Hugh was far from being rich, and many were the shifts and self-denials he was obliged to make to meet the increased expense entailed upon him by his mother and sister. John Stanley had been accounted very wealthy, and Hugh, who had often seen him counting out his gold, was not a little surprised when, after his death, no ready money could be found, or any account of the same—nothing but the Spring Bank property, consisting of sundry acres of nearly worn-out land, the old, dilapidated house, and a dozen or more negroes. This to a certain extent was the secret of his patched boots, his threadbare coat and coarse pants, with which 'Lina so often taunted him, saying he wore them just to be stingy and mortify her, she knew he did, when in fact necessity rather than choice was the cause of his shabby appearance. He had never told her so, however, never said that the unfashionable coat so offensive to her fastidious vision was worn that she might be the better clothed and fed. But Hugh was capable of great self-sacrifices. He could manage somehow, and Adah should stay. He would say that she was a friend whom he had known in New York, that her husband had deserted her, and in her distress she had come to him for aid.
All this he explained to Adah, who assented tacitly, thinking within herself that she should not long remain at Spring Bank, a dependent upon one on whom she had no claim. She was too weak now, however, to oppose him, and merely nodding to his suggestions laid her head upon the arm of the lounge with a low cry that she was sick and warm. Stepping to the door Hugh turned the key, and summoning the group waiting anxiously in the adjoining room, bade them come at once, as Mrs. Hastings appeared to be fainting. Great emphasis he laid upon the Mrs. and catching it up at once 'Lina repeated, "Mrs. Hastings! So am I just as much."
"Ad," and the eyes which shone so softly on poor Adah flashed with gleams of fire as Hugh said to his sister, "not another word against that girl if you wish to remain here longer. She has been unfortunate."
"I guessed as much," sneeringly interrupted 'Lina.
"Silence!" and Hugh's foot came down as it sometimes did when chiding a refractory negro. "She is as true, yes, truer, than you. He who should have protected her has basely deserted her. There is a reason which I do not care to explain, why I should care for her and I shall do it. See that a fire is kindled in the west chamber, and go up yourself when it is made and see that all is comfortable. Do you understand?" and he gazed sternly at 'Lina, who was too much astonished to answer, even if she had been so disposed.
Quick as thought, 'Lina darted up a back stairway, and when, half an hour later, Hugh, hearing mysterious sounds above, and suspecting something wrong, went up to reconnoiter, he found Hannah industriously pulling the tacks from the carpet, preparatory to taking it up. In thunder tones, he demanded what she was doing, and with a start, which made her drop tacks, hammer, saucer and all, Hannah replied:
"Lor', Mas'r Hugh, how you skeered me! Miss 'Lina done order me to take up de carpet, 'case it's ole miss's, and she won't have no low-lived truck tramplin' over it. That's what Miss 'Lina say," and Hannah tossed her head quite conceitedly.
"Miss 'Lina be hanged," was Hugh's savage response; "and you, woman, do you hear?—drive those nails back faster than you took them out."
"Yes, mas'r," and Hannah hastened down. Whispering to her mistress, Hannah told what Hugh had said, and instantly there came over Mrs. Worthington's face a look of concern, as if she, too, objected to having the stranger occupy a room wherein an ex-governor had slept, but Hugh's wish was law to her, and she answered that all was ready. A moment after, Hugh appeared, and taking Adah in his arms, carried her to the upper chamber, where the fire was burning brightly, casting cheerful shadows upon the wall, and making Adah smile gratefully, as she looked up in his face, and murmured:
"God bless you, Mr. Worthington! Adah will pray for you to-night, when she is alone. It's all that she can do."
They laid her upon the bed, Hugh himself arranging her pillows, which no one else appeared inclined to touch.
Family opinion was against her, innocent and beautiful as she looked lying there—so helpless, so still, with her long-fringed lashes shading her colorless cheek, and her little hands folded upon her bosom, as if already she were breathing the promised prayer for Hugh. Only in Mrs. Worthington's heart was there a chord of sympathy. She couldn't help feeling for the desolate stranger; and when, at her own request, Hannah placed Willie in her lap, ere laying him by his mother, she gave him an involuntary hug, and touched her lips to his fat, round cheek.
"He looks as you did, Hugh, when you were a baby like him," she said, while Chloe rejoined:
"De very spawn of Mas'r Hugh, now. I 'tected it de fust minit. Can't cheat dis chile," and, with a chuckle, which she meant to be very expressive, the fat old woman waddled from the room.
Hugh and his mother were alone, and turning to her son, Mrs. Worthington said, gently:
"This is sad business, Hugh; worse than you imagine. Do you know how folks will talk?"
"Let them talk," Hugh growled. "It cannot be much worse than it is now. Nobody cares for Hugh Worthington; and why should they, when his own mother and sister are against him, in actions if not in words?—one sighing when his name is mentioned, as if he really were the most provoking son that ever was born, and the other openly berating him as a monster, a clown, a savage, a scarecrow, and all that. I tell you, mother, there is but little to encourage me in the kind of life I'm leading. Neither you nor Ad have tried to make anything of me."
Choking with tears, Mrs. Worthington said:
"You wrong me, Hugh; I do try to make something of you. You are a dear child to me, dearer than the other, but I'm a weak woman, and 'Lina sways me at will."
A kind word unmanned Hugh at once, and kneeling by his mother, he put his arms around her, and asked again her care for Adah.
"Hugh," and Mrs. Worthington looked him steadily in the face, "is Adah your wife, or Willie your child?"
"Great guns, mother!" and Hugh started to his feet as quick as if a bomb had exploded at his side. "No! Are you sorry, mother, to find me better than you imagined it possible for a bad boy like me to be?"
"No, Hugh, not sorry. I was only thinking that I've sometimes fancied that, as a married man, you might be happier, even if you did lose Spring Bank; and when this woman came so strangely, and you seemed so interested, I didn't know, I rather thought—"
"I know," and Hugh interrupted her. "You thought, maybe, I raised Ned when I was in New York; and, as a proof of said resurrection, Mrs. Ned and Ned, Junior, had come with their baggage."
If the hair was golden instead of brown, and the eyes a different shade, he shouldn't "make so tremendous a fuss," he thought; and, with a sigh to the memory of the lost Golden Hair, he turned abruptly to his mother, and as if she had all the while been cognizant of his thoughts, said:
"But that's nothing to do with the case in question. Will you be kind to Adah Hastings, for my sake? And when Ad rides her highest horse, as she is sure to do, will you smooth her down? Tell her Adah has as good a right here as she, if I choose to keep her."
"I never meddle with your affairs," and there was a tone of whining complaint in Mrs. Worthington's voice; "I never pry and you never tell, so I don't know how much you are worth, but I can judge somewhat, and I don't think you are able."
Mrs. Worthington was much more easily won over to Hugh's opinion than 'Lina. They'd be a county talk, she said; nobody would come near them; hadn't Hugh enough on his hands already without taking more?
"If my considerate sister really thinks so, hadn't she better try and help herself a little?" retorted Hugh in a blaze of anger.
'Lina began to cry, and Hugh, repenting of his harsh speech as soon as it was uttered, but far too proud to take it back, strode up and down the room, chafing like a young lion.
"Come children, it's after midnight, let us adjourn until to-morrow," Mrs. Worthington said, by way of ending the painful interview, at the same time handing a candle to Hugh, who took it silently and withdrew, banging the door behind him with a force which made 'Lina start and burst into a fresh flood of tears.
"I'm a brute, a savage, and want to kick myself," was Hugh's not very self-complimentary soliloquy, as he went up the stairs. "What did I want to twit Ad for? Confound my badness!" and having by this time reached his own door, Hugh sat down to think.
"One, two three—yes, as good as four women and a child," he began, "to say nothing of the negroes, and that is not the worst of it; the hardest of all is the having people call me stingy, and the knowing that this opinion of me is encouraged and kept alive by the remarks and insinuations of my own sister," and in the red gleam of the firelight the bearded chin quivered for a moment as Hugh thought how unjust 'Lina was to him, and how hard was the lot imposed upon him.
Then shifting the position of his feet, which had hitherto rested upon the hearth, to a more comfortable and suggestive one upon the mantel, Hugh tried to find a spot in which he could economize.
"I needn't have a fire in my room nights," he said, as a coal fell into the pan and thus reminded him of its existence, "and I won't, either. It's nonsense for a great hot-blooded clown, like me to be babied with a fire. I've no tags to braid, no false switches to comb out and hide, no paint to wash off, only a few buttons to undo, a shake or so, and I'm all right. So there's one thing, the fire—quite an item, too, at the rate coal is selling. Then there's coffee. I can do without that, I suppose, though it will be perfect torment to smell it, and Hannah makes such splendid coffee, too; but will is everything. Fire, coffee—I'm getting on famously. What else?"
"Tobacco," something whispered, but Hugh answered promptly: "No, sir, I shan't! I'll sell my shirts, the new ones Aunt Eunice made, before I'll give up my best friend. It's all the comfort I have when I get a fit of the blues. Oh, you needn't try to come it!" and Hugh shook his head defiantly at his unseen interlocutor, urging that 'twas a filthy practice at best, and productive of no good.
Horses was suggested again. "You have other horses than Bet," and Hugh was conscious of a pang which wrung from him a groan, for his horses were his idols. The best-trained in the country, they occupied a large share of his affections, making up to him for the friendship he rarely sought in others, and parting with them would be like severing a right hand. It was too terrible to think about, and Hugh dismissed it as an alternative which might have to be considered another time. Then hope made her voice heard above the little blue imps tormenting him so sadly.
He should get along somehow. Something would turn up. Ad might marry and go away. What made her so different from his mother? He had loved her, and he thought of her now as she used to look when in her dainty white frocks, with the strings of coral he had bought with nuts picked on the New England hills.
He used to kiss those chubby arms—kiss the rosy cheeks, and the soft brown hair. But that hair had changed sadly since the days when its owner had first lisped his name, and called him "Ugh," for the bands and braids coiled around 'Lina's haughty head were black as midnight. Not less changed than 'Lina's tresses was 'Lina herself, and Hugh, strong man that he was, had often felt like crying for the little baby sister, so lost and dead to him in her young womanhood. What had changed Ad so?
There was many a tender spot in Hugh Worthington's heart, and shadow after shadow flitted across his face as he thought how cheerless was his life, and how little there was in his surroundings to make him happy. There was nothing he would not do for people if approached in the right way, but nobody cared for him, unless it were his mother and Aunt Eunice. They seemed to like him, and he reckoned they did, but for the rest, who was there that ever thought of doing him a kindness? Poor Hugh! It was a dreary picture he drew as he sat alone that night, brooding over his troubles, and listening to the moan of the wintry wind—the only sound he heard, except the rattling of the shutters and the creaking of the timbers, as the old house rocked in the December gale.
Suddenly there crept into his mind Adah's words, "I shall pray for you to-night." He never prayed, and the Bible given by Golden Hair had not been opened this many a day. Since his dark sin toward Adah he had felt unworthy to touch it, but now that he was doing what he could to atone, he surely might look at it, and unlocking the trunk where it was hidden, he took it from its concealment and opened it reverently, half wondering what he should read first, and if it would have any reference to his present position.
"Inasmuch as ye did it to the least of these ye did it unto Me."
That was what Hugh read in the dim twilight, that the passage on which the lock of hair lay, and the Bible dropped from his hands as he whispered:
"Golden Hair, are you here? Did you point that out to me? Does it mean Adah? Is the God you loved on earth pleased that I should care for her?"
To these queries, there came no answer, save the mournful wailing of the night wind roaring down the chimney and past the sleet-covered window, but Hugh was a happier man for reading that, and had there before existed a doubt as to his duty toward Adah, this would have swept it away.
The storm which visited Kentucky so wrathfully, and was far milder among the New England hills, and in the vicinity of Snowdon, whither our story now tends, was scarcely noticed, save as an ordinary winter's storm. As yet it had been comparatively warmer in New England than in Kentucky; and Miss Anna Richards, confirmed invalid though she was, had decided that inasmuch as Terrace Hill mansion now boasted a furnace in the cellar, it would hardly be necessary to take her usual trip to the South, so comfortable was she at home, in her accustomed chair, with her pretty crimson shawl wrapped gracefully around her. Besides that, they were expecting her Brother John from Paris, where he had been for the last eighteen months, pursuing his medical profession, and she must be there to welcome him.
Anna was proud of her young, handsome brother, as were the entire family, for on him and his success in life all their future hopes were pending. Aside from being proud, Anna was also very fond of John, because as all were expected to yield to her wishes, she had never been crossed by him, and because he was nearer to her own age, and had evidently preferred her to either of his more stately sisters, Miss Asenath and Miss Eudora, whose birthdays were very far distant from his.
John had never been very happy at home—never liked Snowdon much, and hence the efforts they were putting forth to make it attractive to him after his long absence. He could not help but like home now, the ladies said to each other, as, a few days before his arrival, they rode from the village, where they had been shopping, up the winding terraced hill, admiring the huge stone building embosomed in evergreens, and standing out so distinctly against the wintry sky. And indeed Terrace Hill mansion was a very handsome place, exciting the envy and admiration of the villagers, who, while commenting upon its beauty and its well-kept grounds, could yet remember a time when it had looked better even than it did now—when the house was oftener full of city company, of sportsmen who came up to hunt, and fish, and drink, as it was sometimes hinted by the servants, of whom there was then a greater number than at present—when high-born ladies rode up and down in carriages, or dashed on horseback through the park and off into the leafy woods—when sounds of festivity were heard in the halls from year's end to year's end, and the lights in the parlors were rarely extinguished, or the fires on the hearth put out. All this was during the lifetime of its former owner. With his death there had come a change to the inhabitants of Terrace Hill. In short it was whispered rather loudly now that the ladies of Terrace Hill were restricted in their means, that it was harder to collect a bill from them than it used to be, that there was less display of dress and style, fewer fires, and lights, and servants, and withdrawal from society, and an apparent desire to be left to themselves.
This was what the village people whispered, and none knew the truth of the whisperings better than the ladies in question. They knew they were growing poorer with each succeeding year, but it was not the less mortifying to be familiarly accosted by Mrs. Deacon Briggs, or invited to a sociable by Mrs. Roe.
How Miss Asenath and Miss Eudora writhed under the infliction, and how hard they tried to appear composed and ladylike just as they would deem it incumbent upon them to appear, had they been on their way to the gallows. How glad, too, they were when their aristocratic doors closed upon the little, talkative Mrs. Roe, and what a good time they had wondering how Mrs. Johnson, who really was as refined and cultivated as themselves, could associate with such folks to the extent she did. She was always present at the Snowdon sewing circles, they heard, and frequently at its tea-drinkings, while never was there a sickbed but she was sure to find it, particularly if the sick one were poor and destitute. This was very commendable and praiseworthy, they admitted, but they did not see how she could endure it. Once Miss Asenath had ventured to ask her, and she had answered that all her best, most useful lessons, were learned in just such places—that she was better for these visits, and found her purest enjoyments in them. To Miss Asenath and Miss Eudora, this was inexplicable, but Anna, disciplined by years of ill health, had a slight perception of higher, purer motives than any which actuated the family at Terrace Hill. On the occasion of little Mrs. Roe's call it was Anna who apologized for her presumption, saying that Mrs. Roe really had the kindest of hearts; besides, it was quite natural for the villagers not to stand quite so much in awe of them now that their fortune was declining, and as they could not make circumstances conform to them, they must conform to circumstances. Neither Asenath nor Eudora, nor the lady mother liked this kind of conformation, but Anna was generally right, and they did not annihilate Mrs. Roe with a contemptuous frown as they had fully intended doing. Mrs. Johnson and her daughter Alice had been present, they heard, the latter actually joining in some of the plays, and the new clergyman, Mr. Howard, had suffered himself to be caught by Miss Alice, who disfigured her luxuriant curls with a bandage, and played at blindman's buff. This proved conclusively to the elder ladies of Terrace Hill that ministers were no better than other people, and they congratulated themselves afresh upon their escape from having one of the brotherhood in thir family.
In this escape Anna was particularly interested, as it had helped to make her the delicate creature she was, for since the morning when she had knelt at her proud father's feet, and begged him to revoke his cruel decision, and say she might be the bride of a poor missionary, Anna had greatly changed, and the father, ere he died, had questioned the propriety of separating the hearts which clung so together. But the young missionary had married another, and neither the parents nor the sisters ever forgot the look of anguish which stole into Anna's face, when she heard the fatal news. She had thought herself prepared, but the news was just as crushing when it came, accompanied, though it was with a few last lines from him. Anna kept this letter yet, wondering if the missionary remembered her yet, and if they would ever meet again. This was the secret of the missionary papers scattered so profusely through the rooms at Terrace Hill. Anna was interested in everything pertaining to the work, though, it must be confessed, that her mind wandered oftenest to the banks of the Bosphorus, the City of Mosques and Minarets, where he was laboring. Neither the mother, nor Asenath, nor Eudora ever spoke to her of him, and so his name was never heard at Terrace Hill, unless John mentioned it, as he sometimes did, drawing comical pictures of what Anna would have been by this time had she married the missionary.
Anna only laughed at her wild brother's comments, telling him once to beware, lest he, too, follow her example, and was guilty of loving some one far beneath him. John Richards had spurned the idea. The wife who bore his name should be every way worthy of a Richards. This was John's theory, nursed and encouraged by mother and sisters, the former charging him to be sure and keep his heart from all save the right one. Had he done so?
A peep at the family as on the day of his expected arrival from Paris they sat waiting for him will enlighten us somewhat. Taken as a whole, it was a very pleasant family group, which sat there waiting for the foreign lion, waiting for the whistle of the engine which was to herald his approach.
"I wonder if he has changed," said the mother, glancing at the opposite mirror and arranging the puffs of glossy false hair which shaded her aristocratic forehead.
"Of course he has changed somewhat," returned Miss Asenath, rubbing together her white, bony hands, on one of which a costly diamond was flashing. "Nearly two years of Paris society must have imparted to him that air distingue so desirable in a young man who has traveled."
"He'll hardly fail of making a good match now," Miss Eudora remarked, caressing the pet spaniel which had climbed into her lap. "I think we must manage to visit Saratoga or some of those places next summer. Mr. Gardner found his wife at Newport, and they say she's worth half a million."
"But horridly ugly," and Anna looked up from the reverie in which she had been indulging. "Lottie says she has tow hair and a face like a fish. John would never be happy with such a wife."
"Possibly you think he had better have married that sewing girl about whom he wrote us just before going to Europe," Miss Eudora said spitefully, pinching the long silken ears of her pet until the animal yelled with pain.
There was a faint sigh from the direction of Anna's chair, and all knew she was thinking of the missionary. The mother continued:
"I trust he is over that fancy, and ready to thank me for the strong letter I wrote him."
"Yes, but the girl," and Anna leaned her white cheek in her whiter hand. "None of us know the harm his leaving her may have done. Don't you remember he wrote how much she loved him—how gentle and confiding her nature was, and how to leave her then might prove her ruin?"
"Our little Anna is growing very eloquent upon the subject of sewing girls," Miss Asenath said, rather scornfully, and Anna rejoined:
"I am not sure she was a sewing girl. He spoke of her as a schoolgirl."
"But it is most likely he did that to mislead us," said the mother. "The only boarding school he knows anything about is the one where Lottie was. If he were not her uncle by marriage I should not object to Lottie as a daughter," was the next remark, whereupon there ensued a conversation touching the merits and demerits of a certain Lottie Gardner, whose father had taken for a second wife Miss Laura Richards.
This Laura had died within a year of her marriage, but Lottie had claimed relationship to the family just the same, grandmaing Mrs. Richards and aunty-ing the sisters. John, however, was never called uncle, except in fun. He was too near her age, the young lady frequently declaring that she had half a mind to throw aside all family ties and lay siege to the handsome young man, who really was very popular with the fair sex. During this discussion of Lottie, Anna had sat listlessly looking up and down the columns of an old Herald, which Dick, Eudora's pet dog, had ferreted out from the table and deposited at her feet. She evidently was not thinking of Lottie, nor yet of the advertisements, until one struck her notice as being very singular. Holding it a little more to the light she said: "Possibly this is the very person I want—only the child might be an objection. Just listen," and Anna read as follows:
"WANTED—By an unfortunate young married woman, with a child a few months old, a situation in a private family either as governess, seamstress, or lady's maid. Country preferred. Address—"
Anna was about to say whom when a violent ringing of the bell announced an arrival, and the next moment a tall young man, exceedingly Frenchified in his appearance, entered the room, and was soon in the arms of his mother.
John, hastening to where Anna sat, wound his arms around her light figure, and kissed her white lips and looked into her face with an expression, which told that, however indifferent he might be to others, he was not so to Anna.
"You have not changed for the worse," he said. "You are scarcely thinner than when I went away."
"And you are vastly improved," was Anna's answer.
His mother continued: "I thought, perhaps, you were offended at my plain letter concerning that girl, and resented it by not coming, but of course you are glad now, and see that mother was right. What could you have done with a wife in Paris?"
"I should not have gone," John answered, moodily, a shadow stealing over his face.
It was not good taste for Mrs. Richards thus early to introduce a topic on which John was really so sore, and for a moment an awkward silence ensued, broken at last by the mother again, who, feeling that all was not right, and anxious to know if there was yet aught to fear from a poor, unknown daughter-in-law, asked, hesitatingly:
"Have you seen her since your return?"
"She's dead," was the laconic reply, and then, as if anxious to change the conversation, the young doctor turned to Anna and said: "Guess who was my fellow traveler from Liverpool?"
Anna never could guess anything, and after a little her brother said:
"The Rev. Charles Millbrook, missionary to Turkey, returning for his health."
For an instant Anna trembled as if she saw opening before her the grave which for fourteen years had held her buried heart. Charlie was breathing again the air of the same hemisphere with herself. She might, perhaps, see him once more, and Hattie, was she with him, or was there another grave made with the Moslem dead by little Anna's aide? She would not ask, for she felt the cold, critical eyes bent upon her from across the hearth, and a few commonplace inquiries was all she ventured upon. Had Mr. Millbrook greatly changed since he went away? Did he look very sick? And how had her brother liked him?
"I scarcely spoke to him," was John's reply. "I confess to a most lamentable ignorance touching the Rev. Mr. Millbrook and his family. He wore crape on his hat, I remember, but there was a lady with him to whom he was quite attentive, and who, I think, was called by his name."
"Tall, with black eyes, like Lottie's?" Anna meekly asked, and John replied: "Something after the Lottie order, though more like yourself."
"It's strange I never saw a notice of his expected return," was Anna's next remark. "Perhaps it was in the last Missionary Herald. You have not found it yet, have you, mother?"
The ringing of the supper bell prevented Mrs. Richards from answering. How gracefully he did the honors, and how proud all were of him, as he repeated little incidents of Parisian life, speaking of the emperor and Eugenie as if they had been everyday sights to him. In figure and form the fair empress reminded him of Anna, he said, except that Anna was the prettier of the two—a compliment which Anna acknowledged with a blush and a trembling of her long eyelashes. It was a very pleasant family reunion, for John did his best to be agreeable.
"Oh, John, please be careful. There's an advertisement I want to save," Anna exclaimed, as she saw her brother tearing a strip from the Herald with which to light his cigar, but as she spoke, the flame curled around the narrow strip, and Dr. Richards had lighted his cigar with the name and address appended to the advertisement which had so interested Anna.
How disturbed she was when she found that nought was left save the simple wants of the young girl.
"Let's see," and taking the mutilated sheet, Dr. Richards read the "Wanted, by a young unfortunate married woman."
"That unfortunate may mean a great deal more than you imagine," he said.
"Yes, but she distinctly says married. Don't you see, and I had really some idea of writing to her."
"I'm sorry I was so careless, but there are a thousand unfortunate women who would gladly be your maid, little sister. I'll send you out a score, if you say so," and John laughed.
"Has anything of importance occurred in this slow old town?" he inquired, after Anna had become reconciled to her loss. "Are the people as odd as usual?"
"Yes, more so," Miss Eudora thought, "and more presuming," whereupon she rehearsed the annoyances to which they had been subjected from their changed circumstances, dwelling at length upon Mrs. Roe's tea drinking, and the insult offered by inviting them, when she knew there would be no one present with whom they associated.
"You forget Mrs. Johnson," interposed Anna. "We would be glad to know her better than we do, she is so refined and cultivated in all her tastes, while Alice is the sweetest girl I ever knew. By the way, brother, they have come here since you left, consequently you have a rare pleasure in store, the forming their acquaintance."
"Whose, the old or the young lady's?" John asked.
"Both," was Anna's reply. "The mother is very youthful in her appearance. Why, she scarcely looks older than I, and I, you know, am thirty-two."
As if fearful lest her own age should come next under consideration, Miss Eudora hastened to say:
"Yes, Mrs. Johnson does look very young, and Alice seems like a child. Such beautiful hair as she has. It used to be a bright yellow, or golden, but now it has a darker, richer shade, while her eyes are the softest, handsomest blue."
Alice Johnson was evidently a favorite, and this stamped her somebody, so John began to ask who the Johnsons were.
Mrs. Richards seemed disposed to answer, which she did as follows:
"Mrs. Johnson used to live in Boston, and her husband was grandson of old Governor Johnson."
"Ah, yes," and John began to laugh. "I see now what gives Miss Alice's hair that peculiar shade, and her eyes that heavenly blue; but go on, mother, and give her figure as soon as may be."
"What do you mean?" asked Anna. "I should suppose you'd care more for her face than her form."
John smiled mischievously, while his mother continued:
"I fancy that Mrs. Johnson's family met with a reverse of fortune before her marriage. I do not see her as often as I would like to, for I am greatly pleased with her, although she has some habits of which I cannot approve. Why, I hear that Alice had a party the other day consisting-wholly of ragged urchins."
"They were her Sabbath school scholars," interposed Anna.
"I vote that Anna goes on with Alice's history. She gives it best," said John, and so Anna continued:
"There is but little more to tell. Mrs. Johnson and her daughter are both nice ladies, and I am sure you will like them—everybody does; and rumor has already given Alice to our young clergyman, Mr. Howard."
"And she is worth fifty thousand dollars, too," rejoined Asenath.
"I have her figure at last," said John, winking slyly at Anna.
And, indeed, the fifty thousand dollars did seem to make an impression on the young man, who grew interested at once, making numerous inquiries, asking where he would be most likely to see her.
"At church," was Anna's reply. "She is always there, and their pew joins ours."
Dr. Richards was exceedingly vain, and his vanity manifested itself from the tie of his neckerchief down to the polish of his boots. Once, had Hugh Worthington known him intimately, he would have admitted that there was at least one man whose toilet occupied quite as much time as Adaline's. In Paris the vain doctor had indulged in the luxury of a valet, carefully keeping it a secret from his mother and sisters, who were often compelled to deny themselves that the money he asked for so often might be forthcoming. But that piece of extravagance was over now; he dared not bring his valet home, though he sadly wished him there as he meditated upon the appearance he would make in church next Sabbath. He was glad there was something new and interesting in Snowdon in the shape of a pretty girl, for he did not care to return at once to New York, where he had intended practicing his profession. There were too many sad memories clustering about that city to make it altogether desirable, but Dr. Richards was not yet a hardened wretch, and thoughts of another than Alice Johnson, with her glorious hair and still more glorious figure, crowded upon his mind as on that first evening of his return, he sat answering questions and asking others of his own.
It was late ere the family group broke up, and the storm, beating so furiously upon Spring Bank, was just making its voice heard around Terrace Hill mansion, when the doctor took the lamp the servant brought, and bidding his mother and sisters good-night, ascended the stairs whither Anna had gone before him. She was not, however, in bed, and called softly to him:
"John, Brother John, come in a moment, please."
ANNA AND JOHN
He found her in a tasteful gown, its heavy tassels almost sweeping the floor, while her long, glossy hair, loosened from its confinement of ribbon and comb, covered her neck and shoulders as she sat before the fire always kindled in her room.
"How picturesque you look," he said, gayly.
"John," and Anna's voice was soft and pleasing, "was Charlie greatly changed? Tell me, please."
"I was so young in the days when he came wooing that I hardly remember how he used to look. I should not have known him, but my impression is that he looks about as well as men of forty usually look."
"Not forty, John, only thirty-eight," Anna interposed.
"Well, thirty-eight, then. You remember his age remarkably well," John said, laughingly, adding: "Did you once love him very much?"
"Yes," and Anna's voice faltered a little.
"Why didn't you marry him, then?"
John spoke excitedly, and the flush deepened on his cheek when Anna answered meekly:
"Why didn't you marry that poor girl?"
"Why didn't I?" and John started to his feet; then he continued: "Anna, I tell you there's a heap of wrong for somebody to answer for, but it is not you, and it is not me—it's—it's mother!" and John whispered the word, as if fearful lest the proud, overbearing woman should hear.
"You are mistaken," Anna replied, "for as far as Charlie was concerned father had more to do with it than mother. I've never seen him since. He did marry another, but I've never quite believed that he forgot me."
Anna was talking now more to herself than to John, and Charlie, could he have seen her, would have said she was not far from the narrow way which leadeth unto life. To John her white face, irradiated with gleams of the soft firelight, was as the face of an angel, and for a time he kept silence before her, then suddenly exclaimed:
"Anna, you are good, and so was she, so good, so pure, so artless, and that made it hard to leave her, to give her up. Anna, do you know what my mother wrote me? Listen, while I tell, then see if she is not to blame. She cruelly reminded me that by my father's will all of us, save you, were wholly dependent upon her, and said the moment I threw myself away upon a low, vulgar, penniless girl, that moment she'd cast me off, and I might earn my bread and hers as best I could. She said, too, my sisters, Anna and all, sanctioned what she wrote, and your opinion had more weight than all the rest."
"Oh, John, mother could not have so misconstrued my words. Surely my note explained—I sent one in mother's letter."
"It never reached me," John said, while Anna sighed at this proof of her mother's treachery.
Always conciliatory, however, she soon remarked:
"You are sole male heir to the Richards name. Mother's heart and pride are bound up in you. A poor, unknown girl would only add to our expenses, and not help you in the least. What was her name? I've never heard."
John hesitated, then answered: "I called her Lily, she was so fair and pure."
Anna was never in the least suspicious, but took all things for granted, so now she thought within herself, "Lilian, most likely." Then she said: "You were not engaged to her, were you?"
John started forward, and gazed into his sister's face with an expression as if he wished she would question him more closely, but Anna never dreamed of a secret, and seeing him hesitate, she said:
"You need not tell me unless you like. I only thought, maybe, you and Lily were not engaged."
"We were. Anna, I'm a wretch—a miserable wretch, and have scarcely known an hour's peace since I left her."
"Was there a scene?" Anna asked; and John replied:
"Worse than that. Worse for her. She did not know I was going till I was gone. I wrote to her from Paris, for I could not meet her face and tell her how mean I was. I've thought of her so much, and when I landed in New York I went at once to find her, or at least to inquire, hoping she'd forgotten me. The beldame who kept the place was not the same with whom I had left Lily, but she know about her, and told me she died with cholera last September. She and—oh, Lily, Lily—" and hiding his face in Anna's lap, John Richards, whom we have only seen as a traveled dandy, sobbed like a little child.
"John," she said at last, when the sobbing had ceased, "You say this Lily was good. Do you mean she was a Christian, like Charlie?"
"Yes, if there ever was one. Why, she used to make a villain like me kneel with her every night, and say the Lord's Prayer."
For an instant, a puzzling thought crossed Anna's brain as to the circumstances which could have brought her brother every night to Lily's side, but it passed away immediately as she rejoined:
"Then she is safe in heaven, and there are no tears there. We'll try to meet her some day. You could not help her dying. She might have died had she been your wife, so I'd try to think it happened for the best, and you'll soon get to believing it did. That's my experience. You are young yet, and life has much in store for you. You'll find some one to fill Lily's place; some one whom we shall all think worthy of you, and we'll be so happy together."
She did not speak of Alice Johnson, but she thought of her. John, too, thought of Alice Johnson, wondering how she would look to him who might have married the daughter of a count. He had not told Anna of this, and he was about preparing to leave her, when, changing the conversation, she said:
"Did we ever write to you—no, we didn't—about that mysterious stranger, that man who stopped for a day or two at the hotel, nearly two years ago, and made so many inquiries about us and our place, pretending he wanted to buy it in exchange for city property, and that some one had told him it was for sale?"
"What man? Who was he?" John asked; and Anna replied:
"He called himself Bronson."
"Describe him," John said, settling back so that his face was partly concealed in the shadow.
"Rather tall, firmly-knit figure, with what I imagine people mean when they say a bullet-head, that is, a round, hard head, with keen gray eyes, sandy mustache, and a scar or something on his right temple. Are you cold?" and she turned quickly to her brother, who had shuddered involuntarily at her description, for well he knew now who that man was.
But why had he come there? This John did not know, and as it was necessary to appear natural, he answered to Anna's inquiry, that he thought he had taken cold, as the cars were badly warmed.
"But, go on; tell me more of this Bronson. He heard our house was for sale. How, pray?"
"From some one in New York; and the landlord suggested it might have been you."
"It's false. I never told him so," and John spoke savagely.
"Then you did know him? What was he? We were half afraid of him, he behaved so strangely," Anna said, looking wonderingly at her brother, whose face alternately flushed and then grew pale.
Simple little Anna, how John blessed her in his heart for possessing so little insight into the genuine springs of his character, for when he answered:
"Of course I don't know him—I mean that I never told any one that Terrace Hill was for sale."
She believed what he said, and very innocently continued:
"Had there been a trifle more of fun in my nature, I should, have teased Eudora, by telling her he came here to see her or Asenath. He was very curious for a sight of all of us."
"Did he come here—into the house?" John asked; and Anna replied:
"Why, yes. He was rather coarse-looking, to be sure, with marks of dissipation, but very gentlemanly and even pleasing in his address."
Anna went on: "He was exceedingly polite—apologized for troubling me, and then stated his business. I told him he must have been misinformed, as we never dreamed of selling. He took his leave, looking back all the way through the park, and evidently examining minutely the house and grounds. Mother was so fidgety after it, declaring him a burglar, and keeping a watch for several nights after his departure."
"Undoubtedly he was," said John. "A burglar, I dare say, and you were fortunate, all of you, in not being stolen from your beds as you lay sleeping."
"Oh, we keep our doors locked," was Anna's demure reply.
"Midnight, as I live!" he exclaimed, and was glad of an excuse for retiring, as he wished now to be alone.
Anna had not asked him half what she had meant to ask concerning Charlie, but she would not keep him longer, and with a kiss upon his handsome brow she sent him away, herself holding the door a little ajar and listening to see what effect the new carpet would have upon him. It did not have any at first, so much was he absorbed in that man with the scar upon his temple. Why had he come there, and why had it not been told him before? His people were so stupid in their letters, never telling what was sure to interest him most. But what good could it have done had he known of the mysterious visit? None whatever—at least nothing particular had resulted from it, he was sure.