MRS. MARY J. HOLMES,
TEMPEST AND SUNSHINE.—DARKNESS AND DAYLIGHT.—MILBANK.—ENGLISH ORPHANS.—LENA RIVERS.—ETHELYN'S MISTAKE.—HUGH WORTHINGTON.—MADELINE.—WEST LAWN.—MARIAN GREY—EDNA BROWNING, ETC.
NEW YORK: G.W. Dillingham, Publisher, SUCCESSOR TO G.W. CARLETON & CO. LONDON: S. LOW, SON & CO. MDCCCLXXXVIII.
TO MY NEPHEW,
WALTER H. TWICHELL
(OF WORCESTER. MASS.)
I DEDICATE THIS STORY OF BESSIE,
WHICH WILL REMIND HIM OF A HAPPY YEAR IN EUROPE.
I. The Jerrolds of Boston II. Grey Jerrold III. Lucy IV. Thanksgiving Day at Grey's Park V. The Old Man and the Boy VI. Miss Betsey McPherson VII. The Dinner at Which Bessie is Introduced VIII. After The Dinner IX. The Horror at the Farm-House X. The Interview XI. At the Old Man's Bedside XII. The Story XIII. Facing it XIV. The Effect of the Story XV. Grey and the Secret XVI. Expecting Bessie
I. Stoneleigh II. The McPhersons III. At Monte Carlo IV. Little Bessie V. At Penrhyn Park VI. Seven Years Later VII. Neil's Discomforture VIII. Jack and Bessie IX. Christmas at Stoneleigh X. Grey XI. Christmas Day XII. The Contract XIII. The New Grey XIV. Miss McPherson and the Letter XV. From January to March XVI. From March to June XVII. Mrs. Rossiter-Browne XVIII. The Birds which sang, and the shadows which Fell XIX. What Grey and Jack Did XX. What The McPhersons Did XXI. What Daisy Did
I. In Rome II. Farewell III. Dead IV. Poor Daisy V. Bessie's Decision VI. In Liverpool VII. On the Ship VIII. Grey and his Aunt IX. Bessie is Promoted X. Bessie meets her Aunt XI. Miss McPherson's Housemaid XII. Bessie's Successor XIII. Bessie goes to Grey's Park XIV. Telling Bessie XV. Wedding Bells XVI. Bessie's Fortune XVII. Old Friends XVIII. Home again XIX. Joel Rogers' Monument XX. After Five Years
THE JERROLDS OF BOSTON.
Mrs. Geraldine Jerrold, of Boston, had in her girlhood been Miss Geraldine Grey, of Allington, one of those quiet, pretty little towns which so thickly dot the hills and valleys Of New England. Her father, who died before her marriage, had been a sea-captain, and a man of great wealth, and was looked upon as a kind of autocrat, whose opinion was a law and whose friendship was an honor. When a young lady, Miss Geraldine had chafed at the stupid town and the stupider people, as she designated the citizens of Allington, and had only been happy when the house at Grey's Park was full of guests after the manner of English houses, where hospitality is dispensed on a larger scale than is common in America. She had been abroad, and had spent some weeks in Derbyshire at the Peacock Inn, close to the park of Chatsworth, which she admired so much that on her return to Allington she never rested until the five acres of land, in the midst of which her father's house stood, were improved and fitted up as nearly as possible like the beautiful grounds across the sea. With good taste and plenty of money, she succeeded beyond her most sanguine hopes, and Grey's Park was the pride of the town, and the wonder of the entire county. A kind of show place it became, and Miss Geraldine was never happier or prouder than when strangers were going over the grounds or through the house, which was filled with rare pictures and choice statuary gathered from all parts of the world, for Captain Grey had brought something curious and costly from every port at which his vessel touched, so that the house was like a museum, or, as Miss Geraldine fancied, like the palaces and castles in Europe, which are shown to strangers in the absence of the family.
At the age of twenty-two, Miss Geraldine had married Burton Jerrold, a young man from one of the leading banks in Boston, and whose father, Peter Jerrold, had, for years, lived on a small farm a mile or more from the town of Allington. So far as Geraldine knew, the Jerrold blood was as good as the Grey's, even if old Peter did live a hermit life and wear a drab overcoat which must have dated back more years than she could remember. No one had ever breathed a word of censure against the peculiar man, who was never known to smile, and who seldom spoke except he was spoken to, and who, with his long white hair falling around his thin face, looked like some old picture of a saint, when on Sunday he sat in his accustomed pew by the door, and like the publican, seemed almost to smite upon his breast as he confessed himself to be a miserable sinner.
Had Burton Jerrold remained at home and been content to till the barren soil of his father's rocky farm, not his handsome face, or polished manners, or adoration of herself as the queen of queens, could have won a second thought from Geraldine, for she hated farmers, who smelled of the barn and wore cowhide boots, and would sooner have died than been a farmer's wife. But Burton had never tilled the soil, nor worn cowhide boots nor smelled of the barn, for when he was a mere boy, his mother died, and an old aunt, who lived in Boston, took him for her own, and gave him all the advantages of a city education until he was old enough to enter one of the principal banks as a clerk; then she died and left him all her fortune, except a thousand dollars which she gave to his sister Hannah, who still lived at home upon the farm, and was almost as silent and peculiar as the father himself.
"Marry one of the Grey girls if you can," the aunt had said to her nephew upon her death bed. "It is a good family, and blood is worth more than money; it goes further toward securing you a good position in Boston society. The Jerrold blood is good, for aught I know, though not equal to that of the Greys. Your father is greatly respected in Allington, where he is known, but he is a codger of the strictest type, and clings to everything old-fashioned and outre. He has resisted all my efforts to have him change the house into something more modern, even when, for the sake of your mother, I offered to do it at my own expense. Especially was I anxious to tear down that projection which he calls a lean-to, but when I suggested it to him, and said I would bring a carpenter at once, he flew into such a passion as fairly frightened me. 'The lean-to should not be touched for a million of dollars; he preferred it as it was,' he said; so I let him alone. He is a strange man, and—and—Burton, I may be mistaken, but I have thought there was something he was hiding. Else, why does he never smile, or talk, or look you straight in the face? And why is he always brooding, with his head bent down and his hands clenched together? Yes, there is something hidden, and Hannah knows it, and this it is which turned her hair grey so early, and has made her as queer and reticent as your father. There is a secret between them, but do not try to discover it. There may be disgrace of some kind which would affect your whole life, so let it alone. Make good use of what I leave you, and marry one of the Greys. Lucy is the sweeter and the more amiable, but Geraldine is more ambitious and will help you to reach the top."
This was the last conversation Mrs. Wetherby ever held with her nephew, for in two days more she was dead, and Burton buried her in Mt. Auburn, and went back to the house which was now his, conscious of three distinct ideas which even during the funeral had recurred to him constantly. First, that he was the owner of a large house and twenty thousand dollars; second, that he must marry one of the Greys, if possible; and third, that there was some secret between his father and his sister Hannah; something which had made them what they were; something which had given his father the name of the half-crazy hermit, and to his sister that of the recluse; something which he must never try to unearth, lest it bring disquiet and disgrace.
That last word had an ugly sound to Burton Jerrold, who was more ambitious even than his aunt, more anxious that people in high positions should think well of him, and he shivered as he repeated it to himself, while all sorts of fancies flitted though his brain.
"Nonsense!" he exclaimed at last, as he arose, and, walking to the window, looked out upon the common, where groups of children were playing. "There is nothing hidden. Why should there be? My father has never stolen, or forged, or embezzled, or set any one's house on fire. They esteem him a saint in Allington, and I know he reads his Bible all the time when he is not praying, and once he was on his knees in his bedroom a whole hour, for I timed him, and thought he must be crazy. Of course so good a man can have nothing concealed, and yet—"
Here Burton shivered again, and continued: "And yet, I always seem to be in a nightmare when I am at the old hut, and once I told Hannah I believed the house was haunted, for I heard strange sounds at night, soft footsteps, and moans, and whisperings, and the old dog Rover howled so dismally, that he kept me awake, and made me nervous and wretched, I don't remember what Hannah said, except that she made light of my fears, and told me that she would keep Rover in her room at night on the floor by her bed, which she did ever after when I was at home. No, there is nothing, but I may as well sound Hannah a little, and will go to her at once."
When Mrs. Wetherby died, her nephew sent a message to his father and sister, announcing her death, and the time of the funeral. He felt it his duty to do so much, but he did not say to them, "Come, I expect you." In fact, away down in his heart, there was a hope that they would not come. His father was well enough in Allington, where he was known; but, what a figure he would cut in Boston, in his old drab surtout and white hat, which he had worn since Burton could remember. Hannah was different, and must have been pretty in her early girlhood. Indeed, she was pretty now, and no one could look into her pale, sad face, and soft dark eyes, or listen to her low, sweet voice, without being attracted to her and knowing instinctively that, in spite of her plain Quakerish dress, she was a lady in the true sense of the word. So, when she came alone to pay the last token of respect to the aunt who had never been very gracious to her, Burton felt relieved, though he wished that her bonnet was a little more fashionable, and suggested her buying a new one, which he would pay for. But Hannah said "no," very quietly and firmly, and that was the end of it. The old style bonnet was worn as well as the old style cloak, and Burton felt keenly the difference between her personal appearance and his own. He, the Boston dandy, with every article of dress as faultless as the best tailor could make it, and she, the plain countrywoman, with no attempt at style or fashion, with nothing but her own sterling worth to commend her, and this was far more priceless than all the wealth of the Indies. Hannah Jerrold had been tried in the fire, and had come out purified and almost Christlike in her sweet gentleness and purity of soul. She knew her brother was ashamed of her—whether designedly or not, he always made her feel it—but she had felt it her duty to attend her aunt's funeral, even though it stirred anew all the bitterness of her joyless life.
And now the funeral was over, and she was going home that very afternoon—to the gloomy house among the rocks, where she had grown old, and her hair gray long before her time—going back to the burden which pressed so heavily upon her, and from which she shrank as she had never done before. Not that she wished to stay in that grand house, where she was so sadly out of place, but she wanted to go somewhere, anywhere, so that she escaped from the one spot so horrible to her. She was thinking of all this and standing with her face to the window, when her brother entered the room and began, abruptly:
"I say, Hannah, I want to ask you something. Just before Aunt Wetherby died, she had a long talk with me on various matters, and among other things she said she believed there was something troubling you and father, some secret you were hiding from me and the world. Is it so? Do you know anything which I do not?"
"Yes, many things."
The voice which gave this reply was not like Hannah's voice, but was hard and sharp, and sounded as if a great ways off, and Burton could see how violently his sister was agitated, even though she stood with her back to him. Suddenly he remembered that his aunt had also said: "If there is a secret, never seek to discover it, lest it should bring disgrace." And here he was, trying to find it out almost before she was cold. A great fear took possession of Burton then, for he was the veriest moral coward in the world, and before Hannah could say another word, he continued:
"Yes, Aunt Wetherby was right. There is something; there has always been something; but don't tell me, please, I'd rather not know."
He spoke very gently for him, for somehow, there had been awakened within him a great pity for his sister, and by some sudden intuition he seemed to understand all her loneliness and pain. If there had been a wrongdoing it was not her fault; and as she still stood with her back to him, and did not speak, he went up to her, and laying his hand upon her shoulder, said to her:
"I regret that I asked a question which has so agitated you, and, believe me, I am sorry for you, for whatever it is, you are innocent."
Then she turned toward him with a face as white as ashes and a look of terror in her large black eyes, before which he quailed. Never in his life, since he was a little child, had he seen her cry, but now, after regarding him fixedly a moment, she broke into such a wild fit of sobbing that he became alarmed, and passing his arm around her, lead her to a seat and made her lean her head upon him, while he smoothed her heavy hair, which was more than half gray, and she was only three years his senior.
At last she grew calm, and rising up, said to him:
"Excuse me, I am not often so upset—I have not cried in years—not since Rover died," here her voice trembled again, but she went on quite steadily. "He was all the companion I had, you know, and he was so faithful, so true. Oh, it almost broke my heart when he died and left me there alone!"
There was a world of pathos in her voice, as she uttered the last two words, "There alone," and it flashed upon Burton that there was more meaning in them than was at first indicated; that to live there alone was something from which his sister recoiled. Standing before her, with his hand still upon her head, he remembered, that she had not always been as she was now, so quiet and impassive, with no smile upon her face, no joy in her dark eyes. As a young girl, in the days when he, too, lived at home, and slept under the rafters in the low-roofed house, she had been full of life and frolic, and played with him all day long. She was very pretty then, and her checks, now so colorless, were red as the damask roses which grew by the kitchen door, while her wavy hair was brown, like the chestnuts they used to gather from the trees, in the rocky pasture land. It was wavy still, and soft and luxurient, but it was iron grey, and she wore it plain, in a knot at the back of her head, and only a few short hairs, which would curl about her forehead in spite of her, softened the severity of her face. Just when the change began in his sister. Burton could not remember, for, on the rare occasions when he visited his home he had not been a close observer, and had only been conscious of a desire to shorten his stay as much as possible, and return to his aunt's house, which was much more to his taste. He should die if he had to live in that lonely spot, he thought, and in his newly awakened pity for his sister, he said to her, impulsively:
"Don't go back there to stay. Live with me. I am all alone, and must have some one to keep my house. Von and I can get on nicely together."
He made no mention of his father, and he did not half mean what he said to his sister, and had she accepted his offer he would have regretted that it had ever been made. But she did not accept it, and she answered him at once:
"No, Burton, so long as father lives I must stay with him, and you will be happier without than with me. We are not at all alike. But I thank you for asking me all the same, and now it is time for me to go, if I take the four o'clock train. Father will be expecting me."
Burton went with her to the train, and saw her into the car, and bought her Harper's Monthly, and bade her good-by, and then, in passing out, met and lifted his hat to the Misses Grey, Lucy and Geraldine, who had been visiting in Boston, and were returning to Allington.
This encounter drove his sister from his mind, and made him think of his aunt's injunction to marry one of the Greys. Lacy was the prettier and gentler of the two, the one whom everybody loved, and who would make him the better wife. Probably, too, she would be more easily won than the haughty Geraldine, who had not many friends. And so, before he reached his house on Beacon street, he had planned a matrimonial campaign and carried it to a successful issue, and made sweet Lucy Grey the mistress of his home.
It is not our purpose to enter into the details of Burton's wooing. Suffice it to say, that it was unsuccessful, for Lucy said "No," very promptly, and then he tried the proud Geraldine, who listened to his suit, and, after a little, accepted him, quite as much to his surprise as to that of her acquaintances, who knew her ambitious nature.
"Anything to get away from stupid Allington," she said to her sister Lucy, who she never suspected had been Burton's first choice. "I hate the country, and I like Boston, and like Mr. Jerrold well enough. He is good-looking, and well-mannered, and has a house and twenty thousand dollars, a good position in the bank, and no bad habits. Of course, I would rather that his father and sister were not such oddities: but I am not marrying them, and shall take good care to keep them in their places, which places are not in Boston."
And so the two were married, Burton Jerrold and Geraldine Grey, and there was a grand wedding, at Grey's Park, and the supper was served on the lawn, where there was a dance, and music, and fireworks in the evening; and Sam Lawton, a half-witted fellow, went up in a balloon, and came down on a pile of rocks on the Jerrold farm, and broke his leg; and people were there from Boston, and Worcester, and Springfield, and New York, but very few from Allington, for the reason that very few were bidden. Could Lucy have had her way, the whole town would have been invited; but Geraldine overruled her, and made herself life-long enemies of the people who had known her from childhood. Peter Jerrold staid at home, just as Burton hoped he would, but Hannah was present, in a new gray silk, with some old lace, and a bit of scarlet ribbon at her throat, and her hair arranged somewhat after the fashion of the times. This was the suggestion of Lucy Grey, who had more influence over Hannah Jerrold than any one else in the world, and when she advised the new silk, and the old lace, and the scarlet ribbon, Hannah assented readily, and looked so youthful and pretty, in spite of her thirty years, that the Rev. Mr. Sanford, who was a bachelor, and had preached in Allington for several years, paid her marked attention, helping her to ices, and walking with her for half an hour on the long terrace in a corner of the park.
There was a trip to Saratoga, and Newport, and the Catskills, and then, early in September, Burton brought his bride to the house on Beacon street, which Geraldine at once remodeled and fitted up in a style worthy of her means, and of the position she meant her husband to occupy. He was a growing man, and from being clerk in a bank, soon came to be cashier, and then president, and money and friends poured in upon him, and Geraldine's drawing-rooms were filled with the elite of the city. The fashionables, the scholars, the artists, and musicians, and whoever was in any degree famous, met with favor from Mrs. Geraldine, who liked nothing better than to fill her house with such people, and fancy herself a second Madame De Stael, in her character as hostess. All this was very pleasing to Burton, who, having recovered from any sentimental feeling he might have entertained for Lucy, blessed the good fortune which gave him Geraldine instead. He never asked himself if he loved her; he only knew that he admired, and revered, and worshiped her as a woman of genius and tact; that what she thought, he thought; what she wished, he wished; and what she did he was bound to say was right, and make others think so too. There had been a condescension on her part when she married him, and she never let him forget it; while he, too, mentally acknowledged it, and felt that, for it, he owed her perfect allegiance, from which he never swerved.
Just a year after the grand wedding at Grey's Park, there was born to Burton and Geraldine a little boy, so small and frail and puny, that much solicitude would have been felt for him had there not been a greater anxiety for the young mother, who went so far down toward the river of death that every other thought was lost in the great fear for her. Then the two sisters, Hannah and Lucy, came, the latter giving all her time to Geraldine, and the former devoting herself to the feeble little child, whose constant wail so disturbed the mother that she begged them to take it away where she could not hear it cry, it made her so nervous.
Geraldine did not like children, and she seemed to care so little for her baby that Hannah, who had loved it with her whole soul the moment she took it in her arms and felt its soft cheek against her own, said to her brother one day:
"I must go home to-morrow, but let me take baby with me. His crying disturbs your wife, who hears him however far he may be from her room. He is a weak little thing, but I will take the best of care of him, and bring him back a healthy boy."
Burton saw no objection to the plan, and readily gave his consent, provided his wife was willing.
Although out of danger, Geraldine was still too sick to care for her baby, and so it went with Hannah to the old home among the rocks, where it grew round and plump, and pretty, and filled the house with the music of its cooing and its laughter, and learned to stretch its fat hands toward the old grandfather, who never took it in his arms, or laid his hands upon it. But Hannah once saw him kneeling by the cradle where the child was sleeping, and heard him whisper through his tears:
"God bless you, my darling boy, and may you never know what it is to sin as I have sinned, until I am not worthy to touch you with my finger. Oh, God forgive and make me clean as this little child."
Then Hannah knew why her father kept aloof from his grandson, and pitied him more than she had done before.
It was the first of October before Geraldine came up to Allington to claim her boy, of whom she really knew nothing.
Only once since her marriage had she been to the farm-house, and then she had driven to the door in her handsome carriage with the high-stepping bays, and had held up her rich silk dress as she passed through the kitchen into the "best room," around which she glanced a little contemptuously.
"Not as well furnished as my cook's room," she thought, but she tried to be gracious, and said how clean every thing was, and asked Hannah if she did not get very tired doing her own work, and praised the dahlias growing by the south door, and ate a few plums, and drank some water, which she said was so cold that it made her think of the famous well at Carisbrooke Castle on the Isle of Wight.
"Your well must be very deep. Where is it?" she asked, not because she cared, but because she must say something.
On being told it was in the woodshed she started for it, and mistaking the door, was walking into a bedroom, when she was seized roughly by her father-in-law, whose face was white as ashes, and whose voice shook, as he said:
"Not in there; this is the way."
For an instant Geraldine looked at him in surprise he seemed so agitated; then, thinking to herself that probably his room was in disorder, and the bed unmade, she dismissed it from her mind, and went to investigate the well, whose water tasted like that at Carisbrooke Castle.
Half an hour in all she remained at the farm-house, and that was the only time she had honored it with her presence until the day when she came to take her boy away.
Not yet fully recovered from her dangerous illness, she assumed all the airs of an invalid, and kept her wraps around her, and shrank a little when her husband put her boy in her lap, and asked her if he was not a beauty, and did not do justice to Hannah's care, and the brindle cow whose milk he had fed upon. And in truth he was a healthy, beautiful child, with eyes as blue as the skies of June, and light chestnut hair, which lay in thick curls upon his head. But he was strange to Geraldine, and she was strange to him, and after regarding her a moment with his great blue eyes, he turned toward Hannah, and with a quivering lip began to cry for her. And Hannah took him in her arms and hugging him to her bosom, felt that her heart was breaking. She loved him so much, he had been so much company for her, and had helped to drive away in part, the horror with which her life was invested, and now he was going from her; all she had to love in the wide world, and so far as she knew, the only living being that loved her with a pure, unselfish love.
"Oh, brother! oh, sister!" she cried, as she covered the baby's dimpled hands with kisses, "don't take him from me; let me have him; let him stay awhile longer. I shall die here alone with baby gone."
But Mrs. Geraldine said "No," very decidedly, for though as yet she cared but little for her child, she cared a great deal for the proprieties, and her friends were beginning to wonder at the protracted absence of the boy; so she must take him from poor Hannah, who tied on his scarlet cloak and cap of costly lace, and carried him to the carriage and put him into the arms of the red-haired German woman who was hereafter to be his nurse and win his love from her.
Then the carriage drove off, but, as long as it was in sight, Hannah stood just where it had left her, watching it with a feeling of such utter desolation as she had never felt before.
"Oh, baby, baby! come back to me!" she moaned piteously. "What shall I do without you?"
"God will comfort you, my daughter. He can be more to you than baby was," the old father said to her, and she replied:
"I know that. Yes, but just now I cannot pray, and I am so desolate."
The burden was pressing more heavily than ever, and Hannah's face grew whiter, and her eyes larger, and sadder, and brighter as the days went by, and there was nothing left of baby but a rattle-box with which he had played, and the cradle in which he had slept. This last she carried to her room up stairs and made it the shrine over which her prayers were said, not twice or thrice, but many times a day, for Hannah had early learned to take every care, great and small, to God, knowing that peace would come at last, though it might tarry long.
Geraldine sent her a black silk dress, and a white Paisley shawl in token of her gratitude for all she had done for the baby. She also wrote her a letter telling of the grand christening they had had, and of the handsome robe from Paris which baby had worn at the ceremony.
"We have called him Grey," Geraldine wrote, "and perhaps, he will visit you again next summer," but it was not until Grey was two years old, that he went once more to the farm-house and staid for several months, while his parents were in Europe.
What a summer that was for Hannah, and how swiftly the days went by, while the burden pressed so lightly that sometimes she forgot it for hours at a time, and only remembered it when she saw how persistently her father shrank from the advances of the little boy, who, utterly ignoring his apparent indifference, pursued him constantly, plying him with questions, and sometimes regarding him curiously, as if wondering at his silence.
One day, when the old man was sitting in his arm-chair under the apple trees in the yard, Grey came up to him, with his straw hat hanging down his back, his blue eyes shining like stars, and all over his face that sweet smile which made him so beautiful. Folding his little white hands together upon his grandfather's knee, he stood a moment gazing fixedly into the sad face, which never relaxed a muscle, though every nerve of the wretched man was strung to its utmost tension and quivering with pain. The searching blue eyes of the boy troubled him, for it seemed as if they pierced to the depths of his soul and saw what was there.
"Da-da," Grey said at last. "Take me, peese; I'se tired."
Oh, how the old man longed to snatch the child to his bosom and cover his face with the kisses he had so hungered to give him, but in his morbid state of mind he dared not, lest he should contaminate him, so he restrained himself with a mighty effort, and replied:
"No, Grey, no; I cannot take you. I am tired, too."
"Is you sick?" was Grey's next question, to which his grandfather replied:
"No, I am not sick," while he clasped both his hands tightly over his head out of reach of the baby fingers, which sometimes tried to touch them.
"Is you sorry, then?" Grey continued, and the grandfather replied:
"Yes, child, very, very sorry."
There was the sound of a sob in the old man's voice, and Grey's blue eyes opened wider as they looked wistfully at the lips trembling with emotion.
"Has you been a naughty boy?" he said; and, with a sound like a moan, Grandpa Jerrold replied:
"Yes, yes, very, very naughty. God grant you may never know how naughty."
"Then why don't Auntie Hannah sut oo up in 'e bed'oom?" Grey asked, with the utmost gravity, for, in his mind, naughtiness and being shut up in his aunt's bedroom, the only punishment ever inflicted upon him, were closely connected with each other.
Almost any one would have smiled at this remark, but Grandpa Jerrold did not. On the contrary there came into his eyes a look of horror as he exclaimed:
"Shut me in the bedroom! That would be dreadful indeed."
Then, springing up, he hurried away into the field and disappeared behind a ledge of rocks, where, unseen by any eye save that of God, he wept more bitterly than he had ever done before.
"Why, oh, why," he cried, "must this innocent baby's questions torture me so? and why can I never take him in my arms or lay my hands upon him lest they should leave a stain?"
Then holding up before him his hard, toil-worn hands, he tried to recall what it was he had heard or read of another than himself who tried to rid his hands of the foul spot and could not.
"Only the blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth from all sin," he whispered to himself, while his lips moved spasmodically with the prayer habitual to them; four words only, "Forgive me, Lord, forgive."
It had always been a strong desire with Grey to be led around the premises by his grandfather, who had steadily resisted all advances of that kind, until with a child's quick intuition, Grey seemed to understand that his grandfather's hands were something he must not touch.
That afternoon, however, as Mr. Jerrold was walking on the green sward by the kitchen door, with his head bent down and his hands clasped behind him, Grey stole noiselessly up to him, and grasping the right hand in both his own, held it fast, while he jumped up and down as he called out to Hannah, who was standing near:
"I'se dot it, I'se dot it—dada's han', an' I sal keep it, too, and tiss it hard, like dat," and the baby's lips were pressed upon the rough hand, which lay helpless and subdued in the two small palms holding it so tight.
It was like the casting out of an evil spirit, and Granpa Jerrold felt half his burden rolling away beneath that caress. There was a healing power in the touch of Grey's lips, and the stain, if stain there were upon the wrinkled hand, was kissed away, and the pain and remorse were not so great after that.
Grey had conquered and was free to do what he pleased with the old man, who became his very slave, going wherever Grey liked, whether up the steep hill-side in the rear of the house or down upon the pond near by, where the white lilies grew and where there was a little boat in which the old man and the child spent hours together, during the long summer afternoons.
In the large woodshed opposite the well, and very near the window of Granpa Jerrold's bedroom, a rude bench had been placed for the use of pails and washbasins, but Grey had early appropriated this to himself and persisted in keeping his playthings there, in spite of all his grandfather's remonstrances to the contrary. If his toys were removed twenty times a day to some other locality, twenty times a day he brought them back, and arranging them upon the bench sat down by them defiantly, kicking vigorously against the side of the house in token of his victory, and wholly unconscious that every thud of his little heels sent a stab to his grandfather's heart.
What if he should kick through the clapboards? What if the floor should cave in? Such were the questions which tortured the half crazed man, as he wiped the perspiration from his face and wondered at the perversity of the boy in selecting that spot of all others, where he must play and sit and kick as only a healthy, active child can do.
But after the day when Grey succeeded in capturing his hands, Granpa Jerrold ceased to interfere with the play-house, and the boy was left in peace upon the bench, though his grandfather often sat near and watched him anxiously, and always seemed relieved when the child tired of that particular spot and wandered elsewhere in quest of amusement.
There was, however, one place in the house which Grey never sought to penetrate, and that was his grandfather's bedroom. It is true he had never been allowed to enter it, for one of Hannah's first lessons was that her father did not like children in his room. Ordinarily this would have made no difference with Grey, who had a way of going where he pleased; but the gloomy appearance of the room where the curtains were always down did not attract him, and he would only go as far as the door and look in, saying to his aunt:
"Bears in there! Grey not go."
And Hannah let him believe in the bears, and breathed more freely when he came away from the door, though she frequently whispered to herself.
"Some time Grey will know, for I must tell him, and he will help me."
This fancy that Grey was to lift the cloud which overshadowed her, was a consolation to Hannah, and helped to make life endurable, when at last his parents returned from Europe, and he went to his home in Boston. After that Grey spent some portion of every summer at the farm-house growing more and more fond of his Aunt Hannah, notwithstanding her quiet manner and the severe plainness of her personal appearance so different from his mother and his Aunt Lucy Grey. His Aunt Hannah always wore a calico dress, or something equally as plain and inexpensive, and her hands were rough and hard with toil, for she never had any one to help her. She could not afford it, she said, and that was always her excuse for the self-denials she practiced. And still Grey knew that she sometimes had money, for he had seen his father give her gold in exchange for bills, and he once asked her why she did not use it for her comfort. There was a look of deep pain in her eyes, and her voice was sadder than its wont, as she replied:
"I cannot touch that money. It is not mine; it would be stealing, to take a penny of it."
Grey saw the question troubled his Aunt Hannah, and so he said no more on the subject, but thought that when he was a man, and had means of his own, he would improve and beautify the old farm-house, which, though scrupulously neat and clean, was in its furnishing plain in the extreme. Not a superfluous article, except what had been sent from Boston, had been bought since he could remember, and the carpet, and chairs, and curtains in the best room had been there ever since his father was a boy. And still Grey loved the place better than Grey's Park, where he was always a welcome guest, and where his Aunt Lucy petted him, if possible, more than did his Aunt Hannah.
And sweet Lucy Grey, in her trailing dress of rich, black silk, with ruffles of soft lace at her throat and wrists, and costly diamonds on her white fingers, made a picture perfectly harmonious with Grey's natural taste and ideas of a lady. She was lovely as are the pictures of Murillo's Madonnas, and Grey, who knew her story, reverenced her as something saintly and pure above any woman he had ever known. And here, perhaps, as well as elsewhere, we may very briefly tell her story, in order that the reader may better understand her character.
She was five years older than her sister Geraldine, and between the two there had been a brother—Robert, or Robin, as he was familiarly called—a little blue-eyed, golden-haired boy, with a face always wreathed in smiles, and a mouth which seemed made to kiss and be kissed in return. He was three years younger than Lucy, who, having been petted so long as the only child, looked somewhat askance at the brother who had come to interfere with her, and as he grew older, and developed that wonderful beauty and winning sweetness for which he was so remarkable, the demon of jealousy took possession of the little girl, who felt at times as if she hated him for the beauty she envied so much.
"Oh, I wish he was blind!" she once said, in anger, when his soft blue eyes had been extolled in her hearing and compared with her own, which were black as midnight and bright as the wintry stars.
And, as if in answer to her wish, an accident occurred not long after, which darkened forever the eyes which had caused her so much annoyance. Just how it happened no one knew. The two children had been playing in the dining-room, when a great crash was heard, and a wild cry, and Robin was found upon the floor screaming with agony, while near him lay a broken cup, which had contained a quantity of red pepper, which the housemaid had left upon the sideboard until ready to replenish the caster. Lucy was crying, too, with pain, for the fiery powder was in her eyes, also. But she had not received as much as Robin, who from that hour, never again saw the light of day.
There were weeks of fearful suffering when the little hands were tied to keep them from the eyes which the poor baby, who was only two years and a half old, said, "Bite Robin so bad," and which, when at last the pain had ceased, and the inflammation subsided, were found to be hopelessly blind.
"Blind! blind! Oh, Robin, I wish I was dead!" Lucy had exclaimed, when they told her the sad news, and with a bitter cry she threw herself beside her brother on his little bed and sobbed piteously. "Oh, Robbie, Robbie, you must not be blind! Can't you see me just a little? Try, Robbie. You must see me; you must."
Slowly the lids unclosed, and the sightless eyes turned upward toward the white face above them, and then Lucy saw there was no hope; the beautiful blue she had so envied in her wicked moods, was burned out, leaving only a blood-shot, whitish mass which would never again in this world see her or any other object.
"No, shister," the little boy said, "I tan't see 'oo now. It 'marts some yet, but bime by I see 'oo. Don't ty;" and the little hand was raised and groped to find the bowed head of the girl weeping in such agony beside him.
"What for 'oo ty so? I see 'oo bime by," he persisted, as Lucy made no reply, but wept on until her strength was exhausted and she was taken from the room in a state of unconsciousness, which resulted in a low nervous fever, from which she did not recover until Robbie was as well as he ever would be, and his voice was heard again through the house in baby laughter, for he had not yet learned what it was to be blind and helpless.
Lucy had said, when questioned with regard to the accident, that she had climbed up in a chair to get some sugar for herself and Robin from the bowl on the shelf of the sideboard, that she saw the cup of pepper and took it up to see what it was, and let it drop from her hand, directly into the face of Robin, who was looking up at her. Thus she was answerable for his blindness, and she grew suddenly old beyond her years, and devoted herself to her brother, with a solicitude and care marvelous in one so young, for she was not yet six years old.
"I must be his eyes always as long as I live," she said, and she seldom left his side or allowed another to care for him in the least.
He slept in a little cot near hers. She undressed him at night, and dressed him in the morning and gave him his breakfast, always selecting the daintiest bits for him and giving him the larger share of everything. Together they wandered in the park, she leading him by the hand and telling him where they were, or carrying him in her arms, when the way was rough, and then, when she put him down, always kissing him tenderly, while on her face there was a look of sadness pitiful to see in one so young.
When she was seven years old, and Robin four, her mother, who had been an invalid, ever since the birth of Geraldine, died, and that made Lucy's burden still heavier to bear. They told her, her mother would not live till night, and with a look on her face, such as a martyr might wear when going to the stake, Lucy put Robin from her, and going to her mother's room, asked to be left alone with her.
"There is something I must tell her. I cannot let her die until I do," she said, and so the watchers went out and left the mother and child together.
What Lucy had to tell, no one knew; but when at the going down of the sun, the mother was dying, Lucy's head was upon her neck, and so long as life remained, the pale hand smoothed the dark tresses of the sobbing girl, and the white lips whispered, softly:
"God bless my little Lucy, He knows it all. He can forgive all. Try to be happy, and never forsake poor Robbie."
"Never, mother, never," was Lucy's reply, and she kept the vow to the letter, becoming mother, sister, nurse, and teacher all in one, to the little blind Robin, who loved her in return with all the intensity of his nature.
It was the wish of Mr. Grey, that Lucy should be sent to school with the children of her age, but she objected strongly, as it would take her so much from Robin; so, a governess was employed in the house and whatever Lucy learned, she repeated to her brother, who drank in her lessons so eagerly, that he soon became her equal in everything except the power to read and write. Particularly was he interested in the countries of Europe, which he hoped to visit some day, in company with his sister.
"Not that I can ever see them," he said, "but I shall know just how they look, because you will describe them so vividly, and I can hear the dash of the sea at Naples, and feel the old pavements in Pompeii, and the hot lava of Vesuvius. And, oh, perhaps we will go to the Holy Land, and stand just where Christ once stood, and you will see the hills He looked upon, and the spot on which He suffered. And I shall be so glad and somehow feel nearer to Him. And, oh, if He could be there as He was once—a man, you know—I'd cry to Him louder than ever old Bartimeus did, and tell Him I was a little blind boy from America, but that I loved Him, and wanted Him to make me see. And He would, I know."
Such were the dreams of the enthusiastic boy, but they were never to be realized. Always delicate as a child, he grew more and more so as he became older, so that at last all mental labor was put aside, and when he was sixteen, and Lucy nineteen, they took him to St. Augustine, where he could hear the moan of the sea and fancy it was the Mediterranean in far-off Italy. Lucy was of course with him, and made him see everything with her eyes, and took him to the old fort and led him upon the sea wall and through the narrow streets and out beneath the orange trees, where he liked best to sit and feel the soft, warm air upon his face and inhale the sweet perfume of the southern flowers.
But all this did not give him strength. On the contrary, the hectic flush on his cheek deepened daily, his hands grew thinner and paler, and the eyelids seemed to droop more heavily over the sightless eyes. Robin was going to die, and he knew it, and talked of it freely with his sister, and of Heaven, where Christ would make him whole.
"It will be such joy to see," he said to her one night when they sat together by the window of his room, with the silvery moonlight falling on his beautiful face and making it like the face of an angel. "Such joy to see again, and the very first one I shall look at after Christ and mother, will be old blind Bartimeus, who sat by the roadside and begged. I have not had to do that, and my life has been very, very happy, for you have been my eyes, and made me see everything. You know I have a faint recollection of the grass, and the flowers, and the trees in the park, and that has helped me so much; and I have you in my mind, too, and you are so lovely I know, for I have heard people talk of your sweet face and beautiful eyes; starry eyes I have heard them called."
"Oh, Robbie, Robbie, don't!" came like cry of pain from Lucy's quivering lips. But Robin did not heed her, and went on:
"Starry eyes—that's just what they are, I think; and I can imagine how lovingly they look at me, and how pityingly, too. There is always something so sad in your voice when you speak to me, and I say to myself, 'That's how Lucy's eyes look at me, just as her voice sounds when it says brother Robbie.' I shall know you in heaven, the moment you come, and I shall be waiting for you, and when I see your eyes I shall say, 'That is sister Lucy, come at last!' Oh, it will be such joy!—no night, no blindness, no pain, and you with me again as you have been here, only there, I shall be the guide, and lead you through the green pastures beside the still waters, where never-fading flowers are blooming sweeter than the orange blossoms near our window."
Lucy was sobbing hysterically, with her head in his lap, while he smoothed the dark braids of her hair, and tried to comfort her by asking if she ought not to be glad that he was going where there was no more night for him, and where she, too, would join him in a little while.
"It is not that!" Lucy cried, "though it breaks my heart to think of you gone forever. How can I live without you? What shall I do when my expiatory work is finished?"
"Expiatory work?" Robin repeated, questioningly. "What do you mean? What have you to expiate?—you, the noblest, most unselfish sister in the world!"
"Much, much. Oh, Robbie, I cannot let you die with this upon my mind, even if the confession turn your love for me into hate—and you do love me, I have made your life a little less sad than it might have been but for me."
"Yes, sister, you have made my life so full of happiness that, darkened as it is, I would like to cling to it longer, though I know heaven is so much better."
"Thank you, Robbie—thank you for that" Lucy said; then, lifting up her head, and looking straight into her brother's face, she continued: "You say you have a faint recollection of the grass, and the flowers, and the trees in the park. Have you also any remembrance, however slight, how I looked when we were little children playing together at home?"
"I don't know for sure," Robin replied, while for an instant a deep flush stained his pale cheeks: "I don't know for sure. Sometimes out of those dim shadows of the past which I have struggled so hard to retain, there comes a vision of a little girl—or, rather, there is a picture which comes before my mind more distinct than the grass, and the trees, and the flowers, though I always try to put it away; but it repeats itself over and over again, and I see it in my dreams so vividly, and especially of late, when life is slipping from me."
"What is the picture?" Lucy said, and her face was whiter than the one above her.
"It is this," Robin replied. "I seem to see myself looking up, with outstretched arms, toward a little girl who is standing above me, looking down at me with a face which cannot—cannot be the one I shall welcome to heaven and know as my sister's; for this in the picture has a cruel expression on it, and there is hatred in the eyes, which are so large and black, and stare so fixedly at me. Then there is a crash, and darkness, and a horrible pain, and loud cries, and the eyes fade away in the blackness, and I know no more till you are sobbing over me and begging me to say that I can see you. I remember that, I am sure, or else it has been told me so often that it seems as if I did; but the other, the face above me, is all a fancy and a delusion of the brain. You never looked at me that way—never could."
Here he paused, and the girl beside him withdrew herself from him, and clasping her hands tightly together, knelt abjectly at his feet as she said:
"Oh, Robbie, Robbie! my darling, if you could know with what shame, and anguish, and remorse I am kneeling before you, you would pity and perhaps forgive me when I have told you what I must tell you now. But don't touch me—don't put your hands upon me, for that would quite unnerve me," she continued, as she saw the thin hands groping to find her. "Sit quite still and listen, and then, if you do not loathe me with a loathing unutterable, call me sister once more, and that will be enough."
The old cathedral clock was striking twelve when that interview ended, and when it struck the hour of midnight again Robin Grey lay dead in the room which looked toward the sea, and the soft south wind, sweet with the perfume of roses and orange blossoms, kissed his white face and stirred the thick curls of golden hair clustering about his brow. As is often the case with consumptives, his death had been sudden at the last, so sudden that Lucy scarcely realized that he was dying, until she held him dead upon her bosom. But so long as life lasted he kept repeating her name in accents of unutterable tenderness and love.
"Lucy, Lucy, my precious sister, God bless you for all you have been to me, and comfort you when I am gone, darling, darling Lucy, I love you so much; Lucy, Lucy, Lucy where are you? You must not leave me. Give me your hand till I reach the river-bank where the angels are waiting for me, I can see them and the beautiful city over the dark river, though I can't see you; but I shall in heaven, and I am almost there. Good-by, good-by, Lucy."
It almost seemed as if, he were calling to her from the other world, for death came and froze her name upon his lips which never moved again, and Lucy's work was done. Other hands than hers cared for the dead body, which was embalmed, and then sent to its northern home.
There were crowds of people at the church where the funeral was held and where Robin had been baptized. The son of Captain Grey was worthy of respect, and the citizens turned out en masse, so that there was scarcely standing room in the aisles for all who came to see the last of Robin. Very touchingly the rector spoke of the deceased, whose short life had been so pure and holy, and then he eulogized the sister who had devoted herself so unselfishly to the helpless brother, and who, he said, could have nothing to regret, nothing to wish undone, so absolute and entire had been her sacrifice. Hitherto Lucy had sat as rigid as a stone, but as she listened to her own praises she moved uneasily in her seat, and once put up her hand deprecatingly as if imploring him to stop. When at last the services were over, and the curious ones had taken their last look at the dead, and the undertaker came forward to close the coffin-lid, her mind, which had been strained to its utmost, gave way, and not realizing what she did or meant to do, she arose suddenly, and gliding swiftly past her father, stepped to the side of the coffin, and throwing back her heavy crape vail; stooped and kissed the eyelids of her brother, saying as she did so:
"Dear Robbie, can you see me now, and do you know what I am going to do?"
There was a glitter in her eyes which told that she was half-crazed, and her father arose to lead her to her seat beside him; but she waved him back authoritatively, and in a clear, distinct voice, which rang like a bell through the church, said to the astonished people:
"Wait a little. There is something I must tell you. I have tried to put it away, but I cannot. My brain is on fire, and will never be cool again until I confess by Robbie's coffin; then you may judge me as you please. It will make no difference, for I shall have done my duty and ceased to live a lie, for my life has been one long series of hypocrisies and deceit. Our clergyman has described me as a saint, worthy of a martyr's crown, and some of you believe him, and look upon the care I gave to Robbie as something unheard-of and wonderful. And I have let you think so, and felt myself the veriest hypocrite that ever breathed. Don't you know that what I did was done in expiation of a crime, a horrid, cruel deed, for I put out Robbie's eyes. I made him blind.
"I knew you would shudder and turn from me in loathing," she continued, in a louder, clearer tone, as she felt the thrill of surprise which ran through the assembly, and grew more and more excited, "But it is the truth, I tell you. I put out those beautiful eyes of which I was so envious because the people praised them so much. I could not bear it, and the demon of jealousy had full possession of me, young as I was, and sometimes, when I saw him preferred to me, I wished him dead, dead, just as he is now. Oh, Robbie, my heart is breaking with agony and shame, but I must go on. I must tell how I hated you and the pretty baby ways which made you so attractive, and when I climbed up in the chair after the lumps of sugar and saw the cup of Cayenne pepper, and you standing below me with wide-open eyes and outstretched hands, asking me to give, the devil look possession of me and whispered that now was my chance to ruin those eyes looking up so eagerly at me. I had heard that red pepper would make one blind, and—and—oh, horror, how can I tell the rest?"
Lucy's voice was like a wailing cry of agony, as, covering her white face with her hands, she went on:
"I held the cup toward Robbie, and said: 'Is it this you want?' and when in his ignorance he answered: 'Yes, div me some,' I dropped it into his hands, saying to myself, 'it is not my fault if he gets it in his eyes.'
"You know the rest, how from that moment he never looked on me or any one again; but you do not, cannot know the anguish and remorse which filled my soul, when I realized what I had done. From that day to the hour of Robbie's death there has never been a moment when I would not have given my sight—yes, my life for his. And that is why I have been the devoted sister, as you have called me. I was trying to atone, and I did a little. Robbie told me so, for I confessed it all to him before he died; I told him just how vile I was, and he forgave me, and loved me just the same and went to sleep with my name on his lips. I can see it there now, the formation of the word Lucy, and it will be the first he utters when he welcomes me to heaven, if I am permitted to enter there.
"I have made this confession because I thought I ought, that you might not think me better than I am, I know you will despise me, but it does not matter; Robbie forgave and loved me to the last, and that alone will keep me from going mad."
She ceased speaking, and with a low, gasping sob fell forward into the arms of her father, who had stepped to her side in time to receive her.
It was a blustering March day when they buried Robert Grey in the cemetery at Allington, while his sister, who had been taken directly from the church to her home, lay unconscious in her room, only moaning occasionally, and whispering of Robbie, whose eyes she had put out.
"People will hate me always," she said, when after weeks of brain fever she was herself again. But in this she was mistaken, for the people who knew her best loved her most, and as the years went on, and all felt the influence of her pure, stainless, unselfish life, they came to esteem her as almost a saint, and no house was complete which had not in it some likeness of the sad, but inexpressibly sweet face which had a smile for every one, and which was oftenest seen in the cheerless houses where hunger and sickness were. There Lucy Grey was a ministering angel, and the good she did could never be told in words, but was known and felt by those who never breathed a prayer which did not have in it a thought of her and a wish for her happiness.
When Grey was first laid in her arms, and she saw in his great blue eyes a look like those other eyes hidden beneath the coffin-lid, she felt as if Robbie had come back to her, and there awoke within her a love for the child greater even than his own mother felt for him. And yet, so wholly unselfish was her nature that she never mourned or uttered a word of protest when, as the boy grew older, he evinced a preference for the farm-house in the pasture, rather than for the grand old place at Grey's Park, where, since her sister's marriage and her father's death, she had lived alone.
"Hannah needs him more than I do," she would say to herself, but her sweet face was always brighter, and in her great black eyes there was a softer light when she knew he was coming to break the monotony of her lonely life.
After her marriage, Geraldine did not often honor Allington with her presence. It was far too quiet there to suit her, and Lucy lived too much the life of a recluse. No little breakfasts, no lunches, no evening parties at which she could display her elegant Paris costumes; nothing except now and then a stupid dinner party, to which the rector and his wife were invited, and that detestable Miss McPherson, who said such rude things, and told her her complexion was not what it used to be, and that she looked older than her sister Lucy. Miss McPherson was an abomination, and going to the country was a bore, but still Geraldine felt obliged to visit Allington occasionally, and especially on Thanksgiving day, when it is expected that the sons and daughters of New England will return to the old home, and grow young again under the roof which sheltered their childhood.
And so, on the morning when our story properly opens, Mr. and Mrs. Burton Jerrold and their son Grey, a well grown lad of fourteen, left their home on Beacon street, and with crowds of other city people took the train for the country, to keep the festal day.
THANKSGIVING DAY AT GREY'S PARK.
The season had been unusually warm and pleasant for New England, and until the morning of Thanksgiving Day the grass upon the lawn at Grey's Park had been almost as fresh and green as in the May days of spring, for only the autumnal rains had fallen upon it, and the November wind had blown as softly as if it had just kissed the wave of some southern sea, where it is summer always. But with the dawning of Thanksgiving Day, there was a change, and the carriage which was sent from Grey's Park to the station to meet the guests from Boston was covered with snow, and Mrs. Geraldine shivered, and drew her fur-lined cloak more closely around her as she stepped from the train, and looking ruefully down at her little French boots, said petulantly:
"Why do they never clear the snow from the platform, I wonder, and how am I to walk to the carriage? It is positively ankle deep, and I with silk stockings on!"
Mrs. Geraldine was not in an enviable frame of mind. She had declined an invitation to a grand dinner party, for the sake of going to Allington, where it was always snowing or raining or doing something disagreeable, and her face was anything but pleasant as she stood there in the snow.
A very slave to her opinions and wishes, her husband always thought as she thought, and fondly agreed with her that going to Allington was a bore, and that he did not know how she was to wade through all that snow in thin boots and silk stockings, and not endanger her life by the exposure.
Only Grey was happy; Grey, grown from the blue-eyed baby boy, who used to dig his little heels so vigorously into the rotten base-board under the bench in the wood-shed of the farm house, into the tall, blue-eyed, open-faced lad of fourteen, of whom it could be truly said that never had his parents been called upon to blush for a mean or vicious act committed by him. Faulty he was, of course, with a hot temper when roused, and a strong, indomitable will, which, however, was seldom exercised on the wrong side. Honorable, generous, affectionate, and pure in all his thoughts as a young girl, he was the idol of his aunts and the pride of his father and mother, the latter of whom he treated with a teasing playfulness such as he would have shown to a sister, if he had one.
Mrs. Jerrold was very proud of her bright, handsome boy, and had a brilliant career marked out for him; Andover first, then Harvard, and two years or more at Oxford, and then some high-born English wife, for Mrs. Jerrold was thoroughly European in her tastes, and toadied to the English in a most disgusting manner.
During her many trips across the water, she had been presented to the queen, had attended, by invitation, a garden party, and a ball at which the Prince and Princess of Wales were present, and had spent several weeks in the country houses of some of the wealthy English. Consequently, she considered herself quite au fait with their style and customs, which she never failed to descant upon, greatly to the amusement of her listeners, and the mortification of Grey, who was now old enough to see how ridiculous it made his mother appear.
Grey was delighted to go to Allington, and the grandest dinner party in the world, with all the peers of England as guests, would have been a small compensation for the good cheer he expected both at Grey's Park, and at the farm-house. He was glad, too, for the snow and as the express train sped swiftly on, and he watched it from the window, falling in blinding sheets and covering all the hill-tops, he thought what fun it would be on the morrow to drive his Aunt Lucy's bays over to the farm-house after his Aunt Hannah, whom he would take for a long drive across the country, and frighten with the rapidity with which the bays would skim along.
"Hurrah! There's Allington, and there's Tom," he cried, springing up as the train shot under the bridge near the station. "Come on, mother, I have your traps, great box, little box, soap-stone, and bag. Here we are! And, my eyes what a blizzard! It's storming great guns, but here goes," and the eager boy jumped from the car into the snow, and shook hands with Tom, his Aunt Lucy's coachman, and the baggage-master, and the boy from the market where his aunt bought her meat, and Saul Sullivan, the fiddler, the most shiftless, easy-going fellow in Allington, who wore one of Grey's discarded hats given to him the previous year.
"Holloa! holloa! how are you?" he kept repeating, as one after another pressed up to him, all glad to welcome the city boy who was so popular among them. Hearing his mother's lamentations over the snow, he said to the coachman: "Here, Tom, take these traps, while I carry mother to the carriage." Then, turning to her, he continued; "Now, little mother, it will never do for those silk stockings to be spoiled, when there is a great strapping fellow like me to whom you are only a feather's weight," and lifting the lady in his arms as if she had really been a child, he carried her to the carriage, and put her in, tucking the blankets around her, and carefully brushing the snow from her bonnet. "Now, father, jump in, and let me shut the door. I'm going on the box with Tom. I like the snow, and it is not cold. I am going to drive myself." And in spite of his mother's protestations, Grey mounted to the box, and taking the reins, started the willing horses at a rapid rate toward Grey's Park, where Miss Lucy waited for them.
Bounding up the steps, Grey dashed into the hall, and shaking the snow from his coat and cap, seized his aunt around the waist, and after two or three hearty kisses, commenced waltzing around the parlor with her, talking incessantly, and telling her how delighted he was to be at Grey's Park again.
"Only think, I have not seen you for more than a year, and I've been to Europe since, and am a traveled young man. Don't you see marks of foreign culture in me?" and he laughed mischievously, for he knew his aunt would comprehend his meaning. "Then, too," he continued, "I'm an Andover chap now, but find it awful poky. I almost wish I had gone to Easthampton. Such fun as the boys have there! Sent a whole car-load of gates down to Springfield one night! I'd like to have seen the Easthamptonites when they found their gates gone, and the Springfielders when they opened that car. Holloa, mother! Isn't it jolly here? And don't you smell the mince pies? I am going to eat two pieces!" And the wild boy waltzed into the library in time to see his mother drop languidly into an arm-chair, with the air of one who had endured all it was possible to endure, and who considered herself a martyr.
"Pray be quiet, and come and unfasten my cloak. You forget that your Aunt Lucy is no longer young, to be whirled round like a top."
"Young or not, she is as pretty as a girl, any day," Grey replied, releasing his aunt and hastening to his mother.
Knowing her sister's dislike to the country, Miss Grey had spared no pains to make the house as attractive as possible. There was no furnace, but there were fires in every grate, and in the wide fire-place in the large dining-room, where the bay-window looked out upon the hills and the pretty little pond. Lucy's greenhouse had been stripped of its flowers, which, in bouquets, and baskets, and bowls, were seen everywhere, while pots of azaleas, and camellias, and rare lilies stood in every nook and corner, filling the rooms with a perfume like early June, when the air is full of sweetness.
But Mrs. Geraldine found the atmosphere stifling, and asked that a window might be opened, and that Grey would find her smelling-salts directly, as her head was beginning to ache.
Grey knew it always ached when she was in a crank, as he called her moods, and he brought her salts, and undid her cloak and bonnet, and kissed her once or twice, while his father, who was hot because she was hot, said it was like an August day all over the house, and opened a window, but shut it almost immediately, for a cloud of snow came drifting in, and Mrs. Geraldine knew she should get neuralgia in such a frightful draught.
"Come to your room and lie down. You will feel better when you are rested," Lucy said, with a troubled look on her sweet face, as she led the way to the large, cheerful chamber which her sister always occupied when at Grey's Park.
"What time do you dine?" Geraldine asked, as she caught the savory smell of something cooking in the kitchen.
"I have fixed the dinner hour at half-past two," Lucy replied, and Geraldine rejoined:
"Half-past two! What a heathenish hour! and I do so detest early dinners."
"Yes, I know," Lucy answered, in an apologetic tone, "but Hannah cannot stay late, on account of her father" then, turning to her brother-in-law, who had just come in, she added: "You know, I suppose, that your father has not been as well as usual for several weeks. Hannah thinks he is failing very fast."
"Yes, she wrote me to that effect," Burton replied, "but she is easily alarmed, and so I did not attach much importance to it. Do you think him seriously ill?"
"I don't know except from Hannah herself, as he sees no one. I was there yesterday, but he would not allow me to enter his room. I am told that he has taken a fancy that no one shall go into his bedroom but Hannah and the doctor. That looks as if his mind might be a little unsettled."
Instantly there came back to Burton's mind what his aunt had said to him on her dying-bed: "There is a secret between them, but never try to discover it, lest it should affect you, too. There may be disgrace in it." Years had passed since Burton heard these words, and much good fortune had come to him. He had married Geraldine Grey, and had become president of a bank; he had increased in wealth and distinction, until no one stood higher on the social platform of Boston than he did. He had been to the Legislature twice and to Congress once, and was the Hon. Burton Jerrold, respected by every one, and, what to his narrow mind was better still, he was looked upon as an aristocrat of the bluest type. None of his friends had ever seen the queer old hermit at the farm-house, or Hannah either for that matter, for she had seldom been in Boston since Grey was a baby, and on the rare occasions when she did go she only passed the day, and had her lunch in the privacy of Mrs. Geraldine's room. Once or twice a year, as was convenient, Burton had been to the farm-house to see his father, whom he always found the same silent, brooding man, with hair as white as snow, and shoulders so bent that it was difficult to believe he had ever been upright. And so, gradually, Burton had ceased to wonder at his father's peculiarities and had forgotten his suspicions; but now they returned to him again, and he shivered as there swept suddenly over him one of those undefinable presentiments which sometimes come to us, and for which we cannot account.
"What time is Hannah coming?" he asked.
"I hardly know," Lucy replied; "the boy who stays here to do the outdoor work is to bring her as soon as she can leave her father, who will have no one with him in his room during her absence. He is very anxious to see Grey, but I doubt if he will even let him into the bedroom."
During this conversation Grey had listened intently, and now he exclaimed;
"I have it. My dinner will taste better if I see grandpa first, and show him my Alpenstock, with all those names burned on it. I mean to drive over after Aunt Hannah myself. It will be such fun to surprise them both."
"Grey, are you crazy to think of going out in this storm?" Mrs. Jerrold exclaimed.
But Grey persisted, and, pointing to the window, said:
"It is not snowing half as fast as it did; and look, there's a bit of blue sky. I can go, can't I, Aunt Lucy?"
"Ye-es, if Tom is willing," Lucy said, a little doubtfully; for she stood somewhat in awe of Tom, who did not like to harness oftener than was necessary.
"Pho! I'll risk Tom," Grey said. "Tom knows me;" and in less than ten minutes one of the bays was harnessed to the cutter, and Grey was driving along in the direction of the farm-house, which, for the first time in his life, struck him as something weird-like and dreary, standing there alone among the rocks, with the snow piled upon the roof and clinging in masses to the small window-panes. "I don't wonder mother thinks it seems like some old haunted house we read about. It is just the spot for a lively ghost. I wish I could see one," he thought, as he drove into the side-yard, and, giving his horse to the care of the chore-boy, Sam, who was in the barn, he went stamping into the kitchen.
THE OLD MAN AND THE BOY.
Old Mr. Jerrold had failed rapidly within a few weeks, but as long as possible he dressed himself every day and sat in his arm-chair in the kitchen, for the front room was rarely used in winter. At one time, when Hannah saw how weak her father was growing, and knew that he must soon take to his bed, she suggested that he should occupy the south room, it was so much more sunny and cheerful than his sleeping apartment, which was always dark, and gloomy, and cheerless. But her father said no very decidedly.
"It has been a part of my punishment to keep watch in that room all these dreadful years, and I shall stay there till I die. And, Hannah, when I cannot get up any more, but must lie there all day and all night long, don't let any one in, not even Miss Grey, for it seems to me there are mirrors everywhere, and that the walls and floor have tongues, and I am getting such a coward, Hannah—such a coward, I am too old to confess it now. God has forgiven me; I am sure of that, and the world need not know what we have kept so long, you and I. How long is it, Hannah? My memory fails me, and sometimes it seems a thousand years, I have suffered so much, and then again it is but yesterday—last night. How long did you say, Hannah!
"Thirty-one years next Thanksgiving, was Hannah's reply, spoken, oh, so mournfully low.
"Thirty-one years, and you were a girl of fifteen, and your hair was so brown and glossy, just like your mother's Hannah—just like hers, and now it is so grey Poor child! I am so sorry for you, but God knows all you have borne for me, and some day you will shine as a star in His crown, while I, if I am permitted to enter the gates, must have the lowest seat."
It was the last of October when this conversation took place, and the next day but one the old man did not get up as usual, but staid in bed all that day, and the next, and the next, until it came to be understood between himself and Hannah that he would never get up again.
"Shall I send for Burton?" Hannah asked, and he replied:
"No, he does not care to come, and why trouble him sooner than necessary? He is not like you. He is grand and high, and ashamed of his old father, but he is my son, and I must see him once more. He will be up on Thanksgiving Day, and I shall live till then. Don't send for him. I cannot have him in this room—can't have anybody—don't let them in! Can no one see under the bed?"
"No, father, no one can see: no one shall come in," Hannah answered.
Then for weeks she kept her lonely watch over the half-crazed old man, who started at every sound and whispered piteously:
"Don't let them come here, Hannah. I am too old; and there is Grey—the boy—for his sake, Hannah, we will not let them come for me now!"
"No, father, they shall not come. Grey need not know," Hannah always replied, though she had secretly cherished a hope that some time in the future, when the poor old father was dead, she would tell Grey and ask his help to do what she fully meant to do when her hands, bound for thirty years, should be loosened from the chain.
She could trust Grey, could tell him everything, and feel sure that his earnest, truthful blue eyes would took just as lovingly at her as ever, and that he would comfort and help her as no one else could do.
Such was the state of affairs at the farm-house on the morning of Thanksgiving Day, when Hannah was making her preparations to go to Grey's Park for two hours or more, just to sit through the dinner and see Grey, whom she had not seen since his return from Europe.
Her father was not as well that morning. Thanksgiving was always a terrible anniversary for him, for as on that day the several members of a family meet again around the old hearth-stone, so the ghosts of the past all came back to torture him and fill him with remorse.
"How it blows," he said, as the wind shook the windows of his room, and went screaming around the corner of the house. "How it blows, and I seem to hear voices in the storm—your voice, Hannah, as it sounded thirty years ago, when you cried out so loudly, and I struck you for it, and beat old Rover, too. Do you remember it?"
"Yes, yes, father, but don't talk of it to-day; try to forget; try to think only that Grey is here, and that you will see him to-morrow."
"Grey, the boy with the big blue eyes which look so straight at you that I used sometimes to wonder if he did not see into my heart and know what I was hiding?" the old man replied. "Grey, the little boy who would sit on that bench in the woodshed, and kick the floor until I sweat at every pore with fear, and whom I would not touch till he captured my hands, and held them in his soft, warm ones, and kissed them, too, my wicked old hands, kissed by Grey's baby lips. Would he touch them now if he knew? I used to think if I lived till he was a man I would tell him; and maybe you will do it after I am dead. He is coming here to-morrow, you say, and Burton; but Burton isn't like Grey. He is proud and worldly, and a little hard, I am afraid; but the boy, tell him how I love him; try to make him understand, and when he comes to-morrow maybe he will kiss me again. It will be for the last time. I shall never see him more. But hark, what's that? Don't you hear bells? And there is the stamping of feet at the door. Go, child, quickly, and not let them in here."
Hannah, too, heard the sound and the opening of the kitchen door, and hurrying from her father's bedside, she called out, sharply:
"Who is it? Who's there?"
"My name is Norval, on the Grampian hills," was replied, in the well-remembered voice of Grey, who continued, merrily, as he approached her: "And you, dear Aunt Hannah, you are the dame with the wonderful name which forward and backward still reads the same."
He did not attempt to waltz with her, as he had done with Lucy; he had tried it once, but she went the wrong way, and he told her there was no more dance in her than in the kitchen tongs. So now he only wound his arms around her and kissed her many times, and when she sat down in a chair, he stood over her and smoothed her hair and thought how gray it had grown within the year. He had no suspicion that there was any secret sorrow weighing upon her, but he knew that her life was a hard one, owing to the peculiarities of his grandfather, and now as he looked at her, he felt a great pity for her, and there was a lump in his throat, as he stooped to kiss her again and said:
"Poor auntie, you look so tired and pale. Is grandpa so very sick, and more troublesome than usual?"
Hannah had not cried in years. Indeed it was the effort of her life to keep her tears back, but now, at the sound of Grey's sympathetic voice and the touch of his fresh, warm lips upon her own, she broke down entirely, and for a few moments sobbed as if her heart would break, while Grey in great concern, knelt down before her, and tried to comfort her.
"What is it, auntie?" he said. "Is it because you are so lonely, and are afraid grandpa will die? I'll take care of you then, and we will go to Europe together, and you shall ride on a mule and cross the Mer-de-Glace. I used to think when I was over there how we would some day go together, and I would show you everything."
At the mention of Europe, Hannah's tears ceased, and commanding her voice, she said, abruptly:
"Did you go to Wales?"
"Yes, we went there first. Don't you remember?"
Without answering that question, Hannah continued:
"Did you go to Carnarvon?"
"Carnarvon! I guess we did. We spent a whole day at the old castle, and went all over it, and into the room where the first Prince of Wales was born. It isn't much bigger than our bath-room. But I tell you those old ruins are grand;" and with all a boy's enthusiasm over his first trip to Europe, Grey launched out into a graphic description of what, he had seen and done, repeating everything ridiculous in order to make his Aunt Hannah laugh.
"You ought to have heard father try to talk French," he said. "It was enough to kill one with laughing. He bought a little book and would study some phrase, and then fire it off at the waiters, screaming at the top of his voice, as if that would make them understand better; and once it was too funny. We were in a shop in Lucerne, and father wanted to know the price of something, so he held it up before a little dapper man with blue eyes and yellow hair, and said, 'Com-bi-on'—that's the way he pronounced it—'com-bi-on;' but the man didn't com-bi-on worth a cent, and only stared at him as if he thought him a lunatic. Then father tried again, and yelled as loud as he could, 'Pree—pree! how much-ee, much-ee?' Then there was a glimmer of a smile on the man's face, and when father, wholly out of patience, roared out, 'Damnation, are you a fool?' he replied, 'No, but I'm a Yankee like yourself, and the price of the carving is twenty-five francs;' and, sure enough, he was a chap from Maine. After that father always asked them first if they parlez-vous-ed English. Mother got on better, because she knew more of the language, and always gave a twist to the words which made them sound Frenchy; but she was afraid to talk much, for fear she'd make a mistake and Miss Grundy would laugh at her. She is awfully afraid of Miss Grundy, especially if the genus homo happens to be English. But I did not care. I wanted to learn, and I studied in the railway car, and at the table, and in bed, and had a teacher when we staid long enough in a place, and then I plunged in, mistake or no mistake, and talked to everybody. I used to sit on the box with the driver when we drove, so as to talk to him, and you have no idea what a lot you pick up that way, or how glad they are to help you; and now, though I do not suppose I always use good grammar or get the right accent, I can parlez with the best of them, and can speak German, too, a little. I think I have improved some; don't you, auntie."
Of course she did, and she told him so, and smiled fondly upon the bright, handsome boy, knowing that in what he said of himself there was neither conceit nor vanity, but a frankness and openness which she liked to see in him.
"And now for grandpa," he suddenly exclaimed, "he will think I am never coming."
And before she could stop him he had entered the low, dark room, where, on the bed, pushed close to the side-wall near the woodshed, and just where it had stood for thirty years, the old man lay, or rather sat, for he was bolstered upright, with chair and pillows behind him, his long white hair parted in the middle and combed behind his ears, and his arms folded across his bosom.
At Grey's abrupt entrance he started, and his face flushed for a moment, but when he saw who it was, the look of fear gave way to one of joy, and his pale face lighted up with gladness as he welcomed the eager boy, who told him first how sorry he was to find him so sick, and then what a grand time he had in Europe.
"I have been to the top of Rigi, and old Pilatus and Vesuvius, and Flegere, and crossed the Mer-de-Glace and Tete Noir, and the Simplon, and they are all here on my Alpenstock; look, see! but no, you cannot, it is so dark! I'll raise the curtain."
And Grey hastened to the window, while his grandfather cried out in alarm:
"Stop, Grey, stop. I'll call your Aunt Hannah! Hannah, come here!"
She was at his side in an instant, bending over him while he whispered:
"Is it safe? Can he see nothing, sure?"
"Nothing, father, nothing," was the reply, and thus reassured the old man took the Alpenstock, which had done such good service, and looked at the queer names burned upon it, lingering longest upon the first one,
"Grey Jerrold, Boston, Mass., 18—."
Very rapidly Grey talked of his travels, and the wonders beyond the sea.
"But, after all, America is best," he said, "and I am glad I am an American. Boston is the place to be born in. Don't you think so, grandpa?"
"Yes, yes. Did you go to Wales? To Carnarvon?" the old man said, so abruptly that Grey stopped short and stared at him blankly.
His Aunt Hannah had asked the same question. Could it be they were more interested in Carnarvon than in Mont Blanc and Vesuvius? If so, he would confine himself to Carnarvon, and he began again to describe the old castle, and the birth-room of the first Prince of Wales. Then his grandfather interrupted him by asking:
"Did you hear of any family there by the name of Rogers?"
"Rogers? No. Why? Did you ever know any one by that name who lived in Carnarvon?" Grey asked, and his grandfather replied:
"Yes, a great many years ago, longer than you can remember. Joel Rogers, that was the name, and he had a sister, Elizabeth. You did not hear of her?"
"Father, father; you are talking too much; you are getting excited and tired," Hannah interposed in some alarm, but her father replied:
"No. I'm not afraid of Grey, now that I see his face again; it's a face to be trusted. Grey would not harm his old grandfather. Would you, boy?" and the childish old man began to cry piteously, while Grey looked inquiringly at his aunt, and touched his forehead meaningly, as much as to say:
"I know, I understand; a little out of his head."
She let him think so, and laying his hand on his grandfather's hair, Grey said:
"Don't cry; of course I would not harm you, the best grandpa in all the world."
"No, no, Grey; the worst, the worst; and yet it does me good to know you love and respect me, and you always will when I am dead and gone, won't you, even if you should ever know how bad I was, and you may sometime, for it is impressed on me this morning that in some way you will help Hannah out of it. You two, and no more. Poor Hannah. She has suffered so much for my sake. Be good to her, Grey, when I am gone; be good to Hannah. Poor Hannah."
"Yes, grandpa, I will," Grey said, in a tearful voice, as he involuntarily wound his arms around the woman he was to be good to. "I will always care for Aunt Hannah, and love her above all women. Don't you worry about that. She shall live with me when I am a man, and we will go to Europe together."
"Yes, to Carnarvon, perhaps," Mr. Jerrold interposed, and then said, suddenly: "Do you remember the day you caught and kissed my old hands, and did me so much good? Would you mind kissing them again?—this one; it burns so and aches!" and he raised his thin, right hand, winch Grey took in his own, and kissed reverently and lovingly, saying as he did so:
"Poor, tired hand, which has done so much hard work, but never a bad act."
"Oh, oh! My boy, my boy, you hurt me!" grandpa cried, as he snatched his hand from Grey, who looked at him wonderingly and said:
"I am sorry. I did not mean to hurt you. Is your hand sore?"
"Sore? Yes, sorer than you know or guess; so sore that it aches down to my very heart."
"Come, Grey, I think it is time we were off. Father is getting tired and excited. You will see him again to-morrow," Hannah said, and her father rejoined:
"To-morrow! Who knows? To-day is all we can call our own, and I will bless my boy to-day. Kneel down, Grey, and let me put both hands on your head."
With a feeling of awe Grey knelt beside the bed, while his grandfather laid his hands on his head and said:
"May God bless my boy Grey, and make him a good man—not like me, the chief of sinners, but Christlike and pure, so that he may one day reach the eternal home where I hope to meet him, through the merits of the blood of Jesus, which cleanseth from all sin—all sin, even mine. God bless my boy!"
It seemed like a funeral, and Grey's eyes were full of tears as he rose from his knees and said:
"Good-by, grandpa. We must go now, but I will come again to-morrow, and stay all day and all the next, for I do not go back to Andover till Monday, and next summer I will spend all my vacation with you. Good-by;" and stooping, he kissed the white forehead and quivering lips, around which a smile of peace was setting.
Then, he left the room, never dreaming that it was good-by forever.
Once in the open air, with his Aunt Hannah by his side, the cloud which in the sick-room had settled upon him lifted, and he talked and laughed merrily as they drove swiftly toward Grey's Park where dinner was waiting for them.
MISS BETSEY McPHERSON
The table was laid in the large dining-room, which faced the south, and whose long French windows looked into the terraced flower-garden and upon the evergreens fashioned after those in the park at Versailles. When alone, Lucy took all her meals in the pleasant little breakfast room, where only two pictures hung upon the wall, and both of Robin—one taken in all his infantile beauty, when he was two years old, and the other at the age of fourteen, after the lovely blue eyes which smiled so brightly upon you from the first canvas were darkened forever, and the eyelids were closed over them. This was Lucy's favorite room, for there Robin seemed nearer to her. But Geraldine did not like it. It was like attending a funeral all the time, she said; and so, though it was quite large enough to accommodate her Thanksgiving guests, Lucy had ordered the dinner to be served in the larger room, which looked very warm and cheerful with the crimson hangings at the windows and the bright fire on the hearth.
After having regaled herself with a glass of sherry, a biscuit, a piece of sponge cake, and some fruit, Mrs. Geraldine had descended to the dining-room to see a new rug, of which Lucy told her. Glancing at the table, which was glittering with china, and glass, and silver, she began counting:
"One, two, three, four, five, six places. You surely did not expect Burton's father?"
Lucy flushed a little, as she replied:
"Oh, no; the sixth place is for Miss McPherson."
"Miss McPherson! What possessed you to invite her? I detest her, with her sharp tongue and prying ways. Why, she is positively rude at times, and exasperates me so," Geraldine said, angrily; and her sister rejoined:
"I know she is peculiar and outspoken, but at heart she is true as steel, and I thought she would be very lonely taking her Thanksgiving dinner alone. And then she will be glad to see you and inquire after her brother's family, whom she knows you met abroad."
"Yes, we spent a week with her brother, the Hon. John McPherson, and his wife Lady Jane, at the house of Captain Smithers in Middlesex. Miss McPherson is, at least, well connected," Geraldine said, mollified at once as she recalled her intimacy with Lady Jane McPherson.
To be acquainted with a titled lady was, in her opinion, something to be proud of, and since her return from Europe she had wearied and disgusted her friends with her frequent allusions to Lady Jane and her visit to Penrhyn Park where she had met her. And Miss McPherson was her sister-in-law, and on that account she must be tolerated and treated, at least, with a show of friendship. So when she heard that she had arrived she went to meet her with a good deal of gush and demonstration, which, however, did not in the least mislead the lady with regard to her real sentiments, for she and Geraldine had always been at odds, and from the very nature of things there could be no real sympathy between the fashionable lady of society, whose life was all a deception, and the blunt, outspoken woman, who called a spade a spade, and whose rule of action was, as she expressed it, the naked truth and nothing but the naked truth. Had she worn false teeth and supposed any one thought them natural, she would at once have taken them out to show that they were not; and as to false hair, and frizzes, and powder, and all the many devices used, as she said, "to build a woman," she abominated them, and preferred to be just what the Lord had made her, without any attempt to improve upon his work. Once Lucy Grey had asked her why she did not call herself Elizabeth, or Lizzie, instead of Betsey, which was so old-fashioned, and she had retorted, sharply, that though of all names upon earth she thought Betsey the worst, it was given to her by her sponsors in baptism, and Betsey she would remain to the day of her death.
She was tall and angular, with large features, sharp nose, and little bright, black, bead-like eyes, which seemed to look you through, and read your most secret thoughts. As her name indicated, she was of Scotch descent; indeed, her grandfather was Scotch by birth, but he had moved into England, where her father and mother, and herself were born, so that she called herself English, though she gloried in her Scotch blood and her Scotch face, which was unmistakable.
After her birth, her father had bought a place in Bangor, Wales, which he called Stoneleigh, and there her two brothers, Hugh and John, were born, and her parents had died.
She had come alone to Allington, when comparatively young, and, settling down quietly, had for a time watched closely the habits of the people around her, and posted herself thoroughly with regard to the workings and institutions of a Republic, and then she adopted them heartily, and became an out-and-out American, and only lamented that she could not vote and take part in the politics of the country. Of her past life she never spoke, and of her family seldom. Her father and mother were dead; she had two brothers, both well enough in their way, but wholly unlike each other, she had once told Lucy Grey, whom she had always liked, and with whom she was more intimate than with any one else in Allington, unless it were Hannah Jerrold. Although very proud of her family name and family blood, she was no boaster, and no one in Allington would ever have known that one of her brothers had been in Parliament, and that his wife was a Lady Jane Trevellian, if chance had not thrown them in the way of Mrs. Geraldine.
Once, and once only, had she returned to her native land, and that two or three years before our story opens. Then she had been absent three or four months, and when she returned to Allington, she seemed grimmer and sterner than ever, and more intolerant of everything which did not savor of the "naked truth." And yet, as Lucy Grey had said of her to her sister, she was true as steel to her friends, and at heart was one of the kindest and best of women, and, with the exception of Miss Lucy Grey, no one in Allington was found so often in the houses of the poor as she, and though she rebuked sharply when it was necessary, and told them they were dirty and shiftless when they were, she made her kindness felt in so many ways that she was, if possible, more popular than Lucy herself, for, while Lucy only gave them money and sympathy, she helped them with her hands, and, if necessary, swept their floors, and washed their faces, and made their beds, and sometimes took their children home and kept them with her for days.
Such was Miss Betsey McPherson, who, as she is to figure conspicuously in this story, merits this introduction to the reader, and who, in her black silk of a dozen years old, with a long, heavy gold chain around her neck and a cap fashioned after the English style upon her head, stood up very tall and stiff to receive Mrs. Geraldine, but did not bend her head when she saw it was that lady's intention to kiss her.
"I know she would as soon kiss a piece of sole-leather as me, and I would rather kiss a flour-barrel than that powdered face," was her thought; and so she only gave her hand to Mrs. Jerrold, who told her how glad she was to see her and how much she was pleased with her brother, the Hon. John McPherson, and his charming wife, the Lady Jane.
"Why have you never spoken of them to us? I should be proud of such relatives," she said; and Miss McPherson replied:
"Umph! What's the use? I'm no better, no worse for them."
Just then the sound of bells was heard, and Hannah and Grey came in, and were received most cordially by Miss McPherson, who unbent to them as she had not done to the Boston lady. Indeed, there was something even tender in her voice as she spoke to Hannah and inquired after her father. Then, turning to Grey, she laid one hand on his head, and taking his chin in the other, looked searchingly in his face as she said:
"I wonder if you are the same boy I used to like so much, or has a trip to Europe spoiled you, as it does so many Americans?"
"Not a bit of it," Grey answered, merrily. "Europe is grand; Europe is beautiful; but she is very old, and I like young America better, with her freedom and her go-ahead, even if she is not as intensely respectable, and dignified, as her mother across the water."
The dinner-bell here put an end to the conversation, and Lucy preceded her guests to the dining-room, followed by her brother, who had been more than usually affectionate in his greeting to his sister, whom he took in to dinner, while Grey escorted his mother and Miss McPherson.
THE DINNER, AT WHICH BESSIE IS INTRODUCED.
The soup and fish had been served, and during the interval while Mr. Jerrold carved the big turkey which Hannah had contributed, and which she had fattened all the summer in anticipation of Grey's return and this very dinner, Mrs. Geraldine took occasion to introduce her favorite subject of conversation, Europe, and its customs, which she thought so infinitely superior to those this side the water.