AUGUSTA J. EVANS
Author of "Inez," "St. Elmo," "Infelice," "At the Mercy of Tiberius," "Vashti," etc.
"With that gloriole Of ebon hair, on calmed brows."
TO MY AUNT MRS. SEABORN JONES OF GEORGIA I DEDICATE THIS BOOK AS A FEEBLE TRIBUTE OF AFFECTION AND GRATITUDE
A January sun had passed the zenith, and the slanting rays flamed over the window panes of a large brick building, bearing on its front in golden letters the inscription "Orphan Asylum." The structure was commodious, and surrounded by wide galleries, while the situation offered a silent tribute to the discretion and good sense of the board of managers who selected the suburbs instead of the more densely populated portion of the city. The whitewashed palings inclosed, as a front yard or lawn, rather more than an acre of ground, sown in grass and studded with trees, among which the shelled walks meandered gracefully. A long avenue of elms and poplars extended from the gate to the principal entrance, and imparted to the Asylum an imposing and venerable aspect. There was very little shrubbery, but here and there orange boughs bent beneath their load of golden fruitage, while the glossy foliage, stirred by the wind, trembled and glistened in the sunshine. Beyond the inclosure stretched the common, dotted with occasional clumps of pine and leafless oaks, through which glimpses of the city might be had. Building and grounds wore a quiet, peaceful, inviting look, singularly appropriate for the purpose designated by the inscription "Orphan Asylum," a haven for the desolate and miserable. The front door was closed, but upon the broad granite steps, where the sunlight lay warm and tempting, sat a trio of the inmates. In the foreground was a slight fairy form, "a wee winsome thing," with coral lips, and large, soft blue eyes, set in a frame of short, clustering golden curls. She looked about six years old, and was clad, like her companions, in canary-colored flannel dress and blue- check apron. Lillian was the pet of the asylum, and now her rosy cheek rested upon her tiny white palm, as though she wearied of the picture-book which lay at her feet. The figure beside her was one whose marvelous beauty riveted the gaze of all who chanced to see her. The child could have been but a few months older than Lillian, yet the brilliant black eyes, the peculiar curve of the dimpled mouth, and long, dark ringlets, gave to the oval face a maturer and more piquant loveliness. The cast of Claudia's countenance bespoke her foreign parentage, and told of the warm, fierce Italian blood that glowed in her cheeks. There was fascinating grace in every movement, even in the easy indolence of her position, as she bent on one knee to curl Lillian's locks over her finger. On the upper step, in the rear of these two, sat a girl whose age could not have been very accurately guessed from her countenance, and whose features contrasted strangely with those of her companions. At a first casual glance, one thought her rather homely, nay, decidedly ugly; yet, to the curious physiognomist, this face presented greater attractions than either of the others. Reader, I here paint you the portrait of that quiet little figure whose history is contained in the following pages. A pair of large gray eyes set beneath an overhanging forehead, a boldly projecting forehead, broad and smooth; a rather large but finely cut mouth, an irreproachable nose, of the order furthest removed from aquiline, and heavy black eyebrows, which, instead of arching, stretched straight across and nearly met. There was not a vestige of color in her cheeks; face, neck, and hands wore a sickly pallor, and a mass of rippling, jetty hair, drawn smoothly over the temples, rendered this marble-like whiteness more apparent. Unlike the younger children, Beulah was busily sewing upon what seemed the counterpart of their aprons; and the sad expression of the countenance, the lips firmly compressed, as if to prevent the utterance of complaint, showed that she had become acquainted with cares and sorrows, of which they were yet happily ignorant. Her eyes were bent down on her work, and the long, black lashes nearly touched her cold cheeks.
"Sister Beulah, ought Claudy to say that?" cried Lillian, turning round and laying her hand upon the piece of sewing.
"Say what, Lilly? I was not listening to you."
"She said she hoped that largest robin redbreast would get drunk and tumble down. He would be sure to bump some of his pretty bright feathers out, if he rolled over the shells two or three times," answered Lilly, pointing to a China tree near, where a flock of robins were eagerly chirping over the feast of berries.
"Why, Claudy! how can you wish the poor little fellow such bad luck?" The dark, thoughtful eyes, full of deep meaning, rested on Claudia's radiant face.
"Oh! you need not think I am a bear, or a hawk, ready to swallow the darling little beauty alive! I would not have him lose a feather for the world; but I should like the fun of seeing him stagger and wheel over and over, and tumble off the limb, so that I might run and catch him in my apron. Do you think I would give him to our matron to make a pie? No, you might take off my fingers first!" And the little elf snapped them emphatically in Beulah's face.
"Make a pie of robies, indeed! I would starve before I would eat a piece of it," chimed in Lilly, with childish horror at the thought.
Claudia laughed with mingled mischief and chagrin. "You say you would not eat a bit of roby-pie to save your life? Well, you did it last week, anyhow."
"Oh, Claudy, I didn't!"
"Oh, but you did! Don't you remember Susan picked up a bird last week that fell out of this very tree, and gave it to our matron? Well, didn't we have bird-pie for dinner?"
"Yes, but one poor little fellow would not make a pie."
"They had some birds already that came from the market, and I heard Mrs. Williams tell Susan to put it in with the others. So, you see, you did eat roby-pie, and I didn't, for I knew what was in it. I saw its head wrung off!"
"Well, I hope I did not get any of roby. I won't eat any more pie till they have all gone," was Lilly's consolatory reflection. Chancing to glance toward the gate, she exclaimed:
"There is a carriage."
"What is to-day? Let me see—Wednesday. Yes, this is the evening for the ladies to meet here. Lil, is my face right clean? because that red-headed Miss Dorothy always takes particular pains to look at it. She rubbed her pocket-handkerchief over it the other day. I do hate her, don't you?" cried Claudia, springing up and buttoning the band of her apron sleeve, which had become unfastened.
"Why, Claudy, I am astonished to hear you talk so. Miss Dorothy helps to buy food and clothes for us, and you ought to be ashamed to speak of her as you do." As she delivered this reprimand Beulah snatched up a small volume and hid it in her work-basket.
"I don't believe she gives us much. I do hate her, and I can't help it; she is so ugly, and cross, and vinegar-faced. I should not like her to look at my mug of milk. You don't love her either, any more than I do, only you won't say anything about her. But kiss me, and I promise I will be good, and not make faces at her in my apron." Beulah stooped down and warmly kissed the suppliant, then took her little sister's hand and led her into the house, just as the carriage reached the door. The children presented a pleasant spectacle as they entered the long dining room, and ranged themselves for inspection. Twenty-eight heirs of orphanage, varying in years, from one crawling infant to well-nigh grown girls, all neatly clad, and with smiling, contented faces, if we except one grave countenance, which might have been remarked by the close observer.
The weekly visiting committee consisted of four of the lady managers, but to-day the number was swelled to six. A glance at the inspectors sufficed to inform Beulah that something of more than ordinary interest had convened them on the present occasion, and she was passing on to her accustomed place when her eyes fell upon a familiar face, partially concealed by a straw bonnet. It was her Sabbath-school teacher. A sudden, glad light flashed over the girl's countenance, and the pale lips disclosed a set of faultlessly beautiful teeth, as she smiled and hastened to her friend.
"How do you do, Mrs. Mason? I am so glad to see you!"
"Thank you, Beulah; I have been promising myself this pleasure a great while. I saw Eugene this morning, and told him I was coming out. He sent you a book and a message. Here is the book. You are to mark the passages you like particularly, and study them well until he comes. When did you see him last?"
Mrs. Mason put the volume in her hand as she spoke.
"It has been more than a week since he was here, and I was afraid he was sick. He is very kind and good to remember the book he promised me, and I thank you very much, Mrs. Mason, for bringing it." The face was radiant with newborn joy, but it all died out when Miss Dorothea White (little Claudia's particular aversion) fixed her pale blue eyes upon her, and asked, in a sharp, discontented tone:
"What ails that girl, Mrs. Williams? She does not work enough or she would have some blood in her cheeks. Has she been sick?"
"No, madam, she has not been sick exactly; but somehow she never looks strong and hearty like the others. She works well enough. There is not a better or more industrious girl in the asylum; but I rather think she studies too much. She will sit up and read of nights, when the others are all sound asleep; and very often, when Kate and I put out the hall lamp, we find her with her book alone in the cold. I can't get my consent to forbid her reading, especially as it never interferes with her regular work, and she is so fond of it." As the kind-hearted matron uttered these words she glanced at the child and sighed involuntarily. "You are too indulgent, Mrs. Williams; we cannot afford to feed and clothe girls of her age, to wear themselves out reading trash all night. We are very much in arrears at best, and I think some plan should be adopted to make these large girls, who have been on hand so long, more useful. What do you say, ladies?" Miss Dorothea looked around for some encouragement and support in her move.
"Well, for my part, Miss White, I think that child is not strong enough to do much hard work; she always has looked delicate and pale," said Mrs. Taylor, an amiable-looking woman, who had taken one of the youngest orphans on her knee.
"My dear friend, that is the very reason. She does not exercise sufficiently to make her robust. Just look at her face and hands, as bloodless as a turnip."
"Beulah, do ask her to give you some of her beautiful color; she looks exactly like a cake of tallow, with two glass beads in the middle—"
"Hush!" and Beulah's hand was pressed firmly over Claudia's crimson lips, lest the whisper of the indignant little brunette should reach ears for which it was not intended.
As no one essayed to answer Miss White, the matron ventured to suggest a darling scheme of her own.
"I have always hoped the managers would conclude to educate her for a teacher. She is so studious, I know she would learn very rapidly."
"My dear madam, you do not in the least understand what you are talking about. It would require at least five years' careful training to fit her to teach, and our finances do not admit of any such expenditure. As the best thing for her, I should move to bind her out to a mantua-maker or milliner, but she could not stand the confinement. She would go off with consumption in less than a year. There is the trouble with these delicate children."
"How is the babe that was brought here last week?" asked Mrs. Taylor.
"Oh, he is doing beautifully. Bring him round the table, Susan," and the rosy, smiling infant was handed about for closer inspection. A few general inquiries followed, and then Beulah was not surprised to hear the order given for the children to retire, as the managers had some especial business with their matron. The orphan band defiled into the hall, and dispersed to their various occupations, but Beulah approached the matron, and whispered something, to which the reply was:
"No; if you have finished that other apron, you shall sew no more to-day. You can pump a fresh bucket of water, and then run out into the yard for some air."
She performed the duty assigned to her, and then hastened to the dormitory, whither Lillian and Claudia had preceded her. The latter was standing on a chair, mimicking Miss Dorothea, and haranguing her sole auditor, in a nasal twang, which she contrived to force from her beautiful, curling lips. At sight of Beulah she sprang toward her, exclaiming:
"You shall be a teacher if you want to, shan't you, Beulah?"
"I am afraid not, Claudy. But don't say any more about her; she is not as kind as our dear matron, or some of the managers, but she thinks she is right. Remember, she made these pretty blue curtains round your and Lilly's bed."
"I don't care if she did. All the ladies were making them, and she did no more than the rest. Never mind; I shall be a young lady some of these days,—our matron says I will be beautiful enough to marry the President,—and then I will see whether Miss Dorothy Red-head comes meddling and bothering you any more." The brilliant eyes dilated with pleasure at the thought of the protection which the future lady-President would afford her protegee.
Beulah smiled, and asked almost gayly:
"Claudy, how much will you pay me a month, to dress you and keep your hair in order, when you get into the White House at Washington?"
"Oh, you dear darling! you shall have everything you want, and do nothing but read." The impulsive child threw her arms around Beulah's neck, and kissed her repeatedly, while the latter bent down over her basket.
"Lilly, here are some chinquapins for you and Olaudy. I am going out into the yard, and you may both go and play hull-gull."
In the debating room of the visiting committee Miss White again had the floor. She was no less important a personage than vice president of the board of managers, and felt authorized to investigate closely and redress all grievances.
"Who did you say sent that book here, Mrs. Mason?"
"Eugene Rutland, who was once a member of Mrs. Williams' orphan charge in this asylum. Mr. Graham adopted him, and he is now known as Eugene Graham. He is very much attached to Beulah, though I believe they are not at all related."
"He left the asylum before I entered the board. What sort of boy is he? I have seen him several times, and do not particularly fancy him."
"Oh, madam, he is a noble boy! It was a great trial to me to part with him three years ago. He is much older than Beulah, and loves her as well as if she were his sister," said the matron, more hastily than was her custom, when answering any of the managers.
"I suppose he has put this notion of being a teacher into her head. Well, she must get it out, that is all. I know of an excellent situation, where a lady is willing to pay six dollars a month for a girl of her age to attend to an infant, and I think we must secure it for her."
"Oh, Miss White! she is not able to carry a heavy child always in her arms," expostulated Mrs. Williams.
"Yes, she is. I will venture to say she looks all the better for it at the month's end." The last sentence, fraught with interest to herself, fell upon Beulah's ear, as she passed through the hall, and an unerring intuition told her "You are the one." She put her hands over her ears to shut out Miss Dorothea's sharp tones, and hurried away, with a dim foreboding of coming evil, which pressed heavily upon her young heart.
The following day, in obedience to the proclamation of the mayor of the city, was celebrated as a season of special thanksgiving, and the inmates of the asylum were taken to church to morning service. After an early dinner, the matron gave them permission to amuse themselves the remainder of the day as their various inclinations prompted. There was an immediate dispersion of the assemblage, and only Beulah lingered beside the matron's chair.
"Mrs. Williams, may I take Lilly with me, and go out into the woods at the back of the asylum?"
"I want you at home this evening; but I dislike very much to refuse you."
"Oh, never mind! if you wish me to do anything," answered the girl cheerfully.
Tears rolled over the matron's face, and, hastily averting her head, she wiped them away with the corner of her apron.
"Can I do anything to help you? What is the matter?"
"Never mind, Beulah; do you get your bonnet and go to the edge of the woods—not too far, remember; and if I must have you, why I will send for you."
"I would rather not go if it will be any trouble."
"No, dear; it's no trouble; I want you to go," answered the matron, turning hastily away. Beulah felt very strongly inclined to follow, and inquire what was in store for her; but the weight on her heart pressed more heavily, and, murmuring to herself, "It will come time enough, time enough," she passed on.
"May I come with you and Lilly?" entreated little Claudia, running down the walk at full speed, and putting her curly head through the palings to make the request.
"Yes, come on. You and Lily can pick up some nice smooth burrs to make baskets of. But where is your bonnet?" "I forgot it." She ran up, almost out of breath, and seized Beulah's hand.
"You forgot it, indeed! You little witch, you will burn as black as a gypsy!"
"I don't care if I do. I hate bonnets."
"Take care, Claudy; the President won't have you all freckled and tanned."
"Won't he?" queried the child, with a saucy sparkle in her black eyes.
"That he won't. Here, tie on my hood, and the next time you come running after me bareheaded, I will make you go back; do you hear?"
"Yes, I hear. I wonder why Miss Dorothy don't bleach off her freckles; she looks like a—"
"Hush about her, and run on ahead."
"Do, pray, let me get my breath first. Which way are we going?"
"To the piney woods yonder," cried Lilly, clapping her hands in childish glee; "won't we have fun, rolling and sliding on the straw?" The two little ones walked on in advance.
The path along which their feet pattered so carelessly led to a hollow or ravine, and the ground on the opposite side rose into small hillocks, thickly wooded with pines. Beulah sat down upon a mound of moss and leaves; while Claudia and Lillian, throwing off their hoods, commenced the glorious game of sliding. The pine straw presented an almost glassy surface, and, starting from the top of a hillock, they slid down, often stumbling and rolling together to the bottom. Many a peal of laughter rang out, and echoed far back in the forest, and two blackbirds could not have kept up a more continuous chatter. Apart from all this sat Beulah; she had remembered the matron's words, and stopped just at the verge of the woods, whence she could see the white palings of the asylum. Above her the winter breeze moaned and roared in the pine tops; it was the sad but dearly loved forest music that she so often stole out to listen to. Every breath which sighed through the emerald boughs seemed to sweep a sympathetic chord in her soul, and she raised her arms toward the trees as though she longed to clasp the mighty musical box of nature to her heart. The far-off blue of a cloudless sky looked in upon her, like a watchful guardian; the sunlight fell slantingly, now mellowing the brown leaves and knotted trunks, and now seeming to shun the darker spots and recesses where shadows lurked. For a time the girl forgot all but the quiet and majestic beauty of the scene. She loved nature as only those can whose sources of pleasure have been sadly curtailed, and her heart went out, so to speak, after birds, and trees, and flowers, sunshine and stars, and the voices of sweeping winds. An open volume lay on her lap; it was Longfellow's Poems, the book Eugene had sent her, and leaves were turned down at "Excelsior" and the "Psalm of Life." The changing countenance indexed very accurately the emotions which were excited by this communion with Nature. There was an uplifted look, a brave, glad, hopeful light in the gray eyes, generally so troubled in their expression. A sacred song rose on the evening air, a solemn but beautiful hymn. She sang the words of the great strength-giving poet, the "Psalm of Life":
"Tell me not in mournful numbers, Life is but an empty dream; For the soul is dead that slumbers, And things are not what they seem."
It was wonderful what power and sweetness there was in her voice; burst after burst of rich melody fell from her trembling lips. Her soul echoed the sentiments of the immortal bard, and she repeated again and again the fifth verse:
"In the world's broad field of battle, In the bivouac of life; Be not like dumb, driven cattle, Be a hero in the strife."
Intuitively she seemed to feel that an hour of great trial was at hand, and this was a girding for the combat. With the shield of a warm, hopeful heart, and the sword of a strong, unfaltering will, she awaited the shock; but as she concluded her song the head bowed itself upon her arms, the shadow of the unknown, lowering future had fallen upon her face, and only the Great Shepherd knew what passed the pale lips of the young orphan. She was startled by the sharp bark of a dog, and, looking up, saw a gentleman leaning against a neighboring tree, and regarding her very earnestly. He came forward as she perceived him, and said with a pleasant smile:
"You need not be afraid of my dog. Like his master, he would not disturb you till you finished your song. Down, Carlo; be quiet, sir. My little friend, tell me who taught you to sing."
She had hastily risen, and a slight glow tinged her cheek at his question. Though naturally reserved and timid, there was a self- possession about her unusual in children of her age, and she answered in a low voice, "I have never had a teacher, sir; but I listen to the choir on Sabbath, and sing our Sunday-school hymns at church."
"Do you know who wrote those words you sang just now? I was not aware they had been set to music."
"I found them in this book yesterday, and liked them so much that I tried to sing them by one of our hymn tunes." She held up the volume as she spoke.
He glanced at the title, and then looked curiously at her. Beulah chanced just then to turn toward the asylum, and saw one of the oldest girls running across the common. The shadow on her face deepened, and she looked around for Claudia and Lillian. They had tired of sliding, and were busily engaged picking up pine burrs at some little distance in the rear.
"Come, Claudy—Lilly—our matron has sent for us; come, make haste."
"Do you belong to the asylum?" asked the gentleman, shaking the ashes from his cigar.
"Yes, sir," answered she, and, as the children came up, she bowed and turned homeward.
"Wait a moment. Those are not your sisters, certainly?" His eyes rested with unfeigned admiration on their beautiful faces.
"This one is, sir; that is not." As she spoke she laid her hand on Lillian's head. Claudia looked shyly at the stranger, and then, seizing Beulah's dress, exclaimed:
"Oh, Beulah, don't let us go just yet! I left such a nice, splendid pile of burrs!"
"Yes, we must go; yonder comes Katy for us. Good-evening, sir."
"Good-evening, my little friend. Some of these days I shall come to the asylum to see you all, and have you sing that song again."
She made no reply, but, catching her sister's hand, walked rapidly homeward. Katy delivered Mrs. Williams' message, and assured Beulah she must make haste, for Miss Dorothy was displeased that the children were absent.
"What! is she there again, the hateful—"
Beulah's hand was over Claudia's mouth, and prevented the remainder of the sentence. That short walk was painful, and conflicting hopes and fears chased each other in the sister's heart, as she tightened her hold on Lilly's hand.
"Oh, what a beautiful carriage!" cried Claudia, as they approached the door, and descried an elegant carriage, glittering with silver mountings, and drawn by a pair of spirited black horses.
"Yes, that it is, and there is a lady and gentleman here who must be very rich, judging from their looks. They brought Miss White."
"What do they want, Katy?" asked Claudia.
"I don't know for certain, though I have my own thoughts," answered the girl, with a knowing laugh that grated on Beulah's ears.
"Here, Beulah, bring them to the dormitory," said Mrs. Williams, meeting them at the door and hurrying them upstairs. She hastily washed Claudia's face and recurled her hair, while the same offices were performed for Lillian by her sister.
"Don't rub my hand so hard; you hurt," cried out Claudia sharply, as in perfect silence, and with an anxious countenance, the kind matron dressed her.
"I only want to get it white and clean, beauty," was the conciliatory reply.
"Well, I tell you that won't come off, because it's turpentine," retorted the self-willed little elf.
"Come, Beulah; bring Lilly along. Miss White is out of patience."
"What does all this mean?" said Beulah, taking her sister's hand.
"Don't ask me, poor child." As she spoke the good woman ushered the trio into the reception room. None of the other children were present. Beulah noted this circumstance, and, drawing a long breath, looked around.
Miss White was eagerly talking to a richly dressed and very pretty woman, while a gentleman stood beside them, impatiently twirling his seal and watch-key.
All looked up, and Miss White exclaimed:
"Here they are! Now my dear Mrs. Grayson, I rather think you can be suited. Come here, little ones." She drew Claudia to her side, while Lilly clung closer to her sister.
"Oh, what beauties! Only look at them, Alfred!" Mrs. Grayson glanced eagerly from one to the other.
"Very pretty children, indeed, my dear. Extremely pretty; particularly the black-eyed one," answered her husband, with far less ecstasy.
"I don't know; I believe I admire the golden-haired one most. She is a perfect fairy. Come here, my love, and let me talk to you," continued she, addressing Lilly. The child clasped her sister's fingers more firmly, and did not advance an inch.
"Do not hold her, Beulah. Come to the lady, Lillian," said Miss White. As Beulah gently disengaged her hand, she felt as if the anchor of hope had been torn from her hold; but, stooping down, she whispered:
"Go to the lady, Lilly darling; I will not leave you."
Thus encouraged, the little figure moved slowly forward, and paused in front of the stranger. Mrs. Grayson took her small, white hands tenderly, and, pressing a warm kiss on her lips, said in a kind, winning tone:
"What is your name, my dear?"
"Lillian, ma'am; but sister calls me Lilly."
"Who is 'sister'—little Claudia here?"
"Oh, no; sister Beulah." And the soft blue eyes turned lovingly toward that gentle sister.
"Good Heavens, Alfred; how totally unlike! This is one of the most beautiful children I have ever seen, and that girl yonder is ugly," said the lady, in an undertone to her husband, who was talking to Claudia. It was said in a low voice, but Beulah heard every syllable, and a glow of shame for an instant bathed her brow. Claudia heard it too, and, springing from Mr. Grayson's knee, she exclaimed angrily:
"She isn't ugly, any such thing; she is the smartest girl in the asylum, and I love her better than anybody in the world."
"No, Beulah is not pretty, but she is good, and that is far better," said the matron, laying her trembling hand on Beulah's shoulder. A bitter smile curled the girl's lips, but she did not move her eyes from Lillian's face.
"Fanny, if you select that plain-spoken little one you will have some temper to curb," suggested Mr. Grayson, somewhat amused by Claudia's burst of indignation.
"Oh, my dear husband, I must have them both. Only fancy how lovely they will be, dressed exactly alike. My little Lilly, and you Claudia, will you come and be my daughters? I shall love you very much, and that gentleman will be your papa. He is very kind. You shall have big wax dolls, as high as your heads, and doll-houses, and tea-sets, and beautiful blue and pink silk dresses, and every evening I shall take you out to ride in my carriage. Each of you shall have a white hat, with long, curling feathers. Will you come and live with me, and let me be your mamma?"
Beulah's face assumed an ashen hue, as she listened to these coaxing words. She had not thought of separation; the evil had never presented itself in this form, and, staggering forward, she clutched the matron's dress, saying hoarsely:
"Oh, don't separate us! Don't let them take Lilly from me! I will do anything on earth, I will work my hands off. Oh, do anything, but please, oh, please, don't give Lilly up. My own darling Lilly."
Claudia here interrupted: "I should like to go well enough, if you will take Beulah too. Lil, are you going?"
"No, no." Lillian broke away from the stranger's clasping arm and rushed toward her sister; but Miss White sat between them, and, catching the child, she firmly, though very gently, held her back. Lilly was very much afraid of her, and, bursting into tears, she cried imploringly:
"Oh, sister! take me, take me!"
Beulah sprang to her side, and said, almost fiercely: "Give her to me; she is mine, and you have no right to part us." She extended her arms toward the little form struggling to reach her.
"The managers have decided that it is for the child's good that Mrs. Grayson should adopt her. We dislike very much to separate sisters, but it cannot be avoided; whole families can't be adopted by one person, and you must not interfere. She will soon be perfectly satisfied away from you, and instead of encouraging her to be rebellious, you ought to coax her to behave and go peaceably," replied Miss White, still keeping Beulah at arm's length.
"You let go Lilly, you hateful, ugly, old thing you! She shan't go if she don't want to? She does belong to Beulah," cried Claudia, striding up and laying her hand on Lilly's arm.
"You spoiled, insolent little wretch!" muttered Miss White, crimsoning to the roots of her fiery hair.
"I am afraid they will not consent to go. Fanny, suppose you take Claudia; the other seems too reluctant," said Mr. Grayson, looking at his watch.
"But I do so want that little blue-eyed angel. Cannot the matron influence her?" She turned to her as she spoke. Thus appealed to, Mrs. Williams took the child in her arms, and caressed her tenderly.
"My dear little Lilly, you must not cry and struggle so. Why will you not go with this kind lady? She will love you very much."
"Oh, I don't want to!" sobbed she, pressing her wet cheeks against the matron's shoulder.
"But, Lilly love, you shall have everything you want. Kiss me, like a sweet girl, and say you will go to my beautiful home. I will give you a cage full of the prettiest canary birds you ever looked at. Don't you love to ride? My carriage is waiting at the door. You and Claudia will have such a nice time." Mrs. Grayson knelt beside her, and kissed her tenderly; still she clung closer to the matron.
Beulah had covered her face with her hands, and stood trembling like a weed bowed before the rushing gale. She knew that neither expostulation nor entreaty would avail now, and she resolved to bear with fortitude what she could not avert. Lifting her head, she said slowly:
"If I must give up my sister, let me do so as quietly as possible. Give her to me; then perhaps she will go more willingly. Do not force her away! Oh, do not force her!"
As she uttered these words her lips were white and cold, and the agonized expression of her face made Mrs. Grayson shiver.
"Lilly, my darling! My own precious darling!" She bent over her sister, and the little arms clasped her neck tightly, as she lifted and bore her back to the dormitory.
"You may get their clothes ready, Mrs. Williams. Rest assured, my dear Mrs. Grayson, they will go now without any further difficulty. Of course we dislike to separate sisters, but it can't be helped sometimes. If you like, I will show you over the asylum while the children are prepared." Miss White led the way to the schoolroom.
"I am very dubious about that little one. Fanny, how will you ever manage two such dispositions, one all tears and the other all fire and tow?" said Mr. Grayson.
"A truce to your fears, Alfred. We shall get on charmingly after the first few days. How proud I shall be with such jewels!" Beulah sat down on the edge of the blue-curtained bed, and drew her idol close to her heart. She kissed the beautiful face, and smoothed the golden curls she had so long and so lovingly arranged, and, as the child returned her kisses, she felt as if rude hands were tearing her heart-strings loose. But she knew she must give her up. There was no effort within her power which could avail to keep her treasure, and that brave spirit nerved itself. Not a tear dimmed her eye, not a sob broke from her colorless lips.
"Lilly, my own little sister, you must not cry any more. Let me wash your face; you will make your head ache if you cry so."
"Oh, Beulah! I don't want to go away from you."
"My darling, I know you don't; but you will have a great many things to make you happy, and I shall come to see you as often as I can. I can't bear to have you go, either; but I cannot help it, and I want you to go quietly, and be so good that the lady will love you."
"But to-night, when I go to bed, you will not be there to hear me say my prayers. Oh, sister! why can't you go?"
"They do not want me, my dear Lilly; but you can kneel down and say your prayers, and God will hear you just as well as if you were here with me, and I will ask Him to love you all the more, and take care of you—"
Here a little arm stole round poor Beulah's neck, and Claudia whispered with a sob:
"Will you ask Him to love me too?"
"Yes, Claudy; I will."
"We will try to be good. Oh, Beulah—I love you so much, so very much!" The affectionate child pressed her lips repeatedly to Beulah's bloodless cheek.
"Claudy, if you love me, you must be kind to my little Lilly. When you see that she is sad, and crying for me, you must coax her to be as contented as possible, and always speak gently to her. Will you do this for Beulah?"
"Yes, that I will! I promise you I will, and, what is more, I will fight for her! I boxed that spiteful Charley's ears the other day for vexing her, and I will scratch anybody's eyes out that dares to scold her. This very morning I pinched Maggie black and blue for bothering her, and I tell you I shall not let anybody impose on her." The tears dried in her brilliant eyes, and she clinched her little fist with an exalted opinion of her protective powers.
"Claudy, I do not ask you to fight for her; I want you to love her. Oh, love her! always be kind to her," murmured Beulah.
"I do love her better than anything in the world, don't I, Lilly dear!" She softly kissed one of the child's hands.
At this moment the matron entered, with a large bundle neatly wrapped. Her eyes were red, and there were traces of tears on her cheek. Looking tenderly down upon the trio, she said very gently:
"Come, my pets; they will not wait any longer for you. I hope you will try to be good, and love each other, and Beulah shall come to see you." She took Claudia's hand and led her down the steps. Beulah lifted her sister, and carried her in her arms, as she had done from her birth, and at every step kissed her lips and brow.
Mr. and Mrs. Grayson were standing at the front door; they both looked pleased, as Lilly had ceased crying, and the carriage door was opened to admit them.
"Ah, my dears, now for a nice ride; Claudia, jump in," said Mr. Grayson, extending his hand to assist her. She paused, kissed her kind matron, and then approached Beulah. She could not bear to leave her, and, as she threw her arms around her, sobbed out:
"Good-by, dear, good Beulah. I will take care of Lilly. Please love me, and ask God for me too." She was lifted into the carriage with tears streaming over her face.
Beulah drew near to Mrs. Grayson, and said in a low but imploring tone:
"Oh, madam, love my sister, and always speak affectionately to her, then she will be good and obedient. I may come to see her often, may I not?"
"Certainly," replied the lady, in a tone which chilled poor Beulah's heart. She swallowed a groan of agony, and, straining the loved one to her bosom, pressed her lips to Lilly's.
"God bless my little sister, my darling, my all!" She put the child in Mr. Grayson's extended arms, and only saw that her sister looked back appealingly to her. Miss White came up and said something which she did not hear, and, turning hastily away, she went up to the dormitory, and seated herself on Lilly's vacant bed. The child knew not how the hours passed; she sat with her face buried in her hands, until the light of a candle flashed into the darkened chamber, and the kind voice of the matron fell on her ear.
"Beulah, will you try to eat some supper? Do, dear."
"No, thank you, I don't want anything."
"Poor child, I would have saved you all this had it been in my power; but, when once decided by the managers, you know I could not interfere. They disliked to separate you and Lily, but thought that, under the circumstances, it was the best arrangement they could make. Beulah, I want to tell you something, if you will listen to me." She seated herself on the edge of the bed, and took one of the girl's hands between both hers.
"The managers think it is best that you should go out and take a situation. I am sorry I am forced to give you up, very sorry, for you have always been a good girl, and I love you dearly; but these things cannot be avoided, and I hope all will turn out for the best. There is a place engaged for you, and Miss White wishes you to go to-morrow. I trust you will not have a hard time. You are to take care of an infant, and they will give you six dollars a month besides your board and clothes. Try to do your duty, child, and perhaps something may happen which will enable you to turn teacher."
"Well, I will do the best I can. I do not mind work, but then Lilly- -" Her head went down on her arms once more.
"Yes, dear, I know it is very hard for you to part with her; but remember, it is for her good. Mr. Grayson is very wealthy, and of course Lilly and Claudy will have—"
"And what is money to my—" Again she paused abruptly.
"Ah, child, you do not begin to know! Money is everything in this world to some people, and more than the next to other poor souls. Well, well, I hope it will prove for the best as far as you are concerned. It is early yet, but maybe you had better go to bed, as you are obliged to leave in the morning."
"I could not sleep."
"God will help you, dear child, if you try to do your duty. All of us have sorrows, and if yours have begun early, they may not last long. Poor little thing, I shall always remember you in my prayers." She kissed her gently, and left her, hoping that solitude would soothe her spirits. Miss White's words rang in the girl's ears like a knell. "She will soon be perfectly satisfied away from you."
Would she? Could that idolized sister learn to do without her, and love her new friends as fondly as the untiring one who had cradled her in her arms for six long years? A foreboding dread hissed continually, "Do you suppose the wealthy and fashionable Mrs. Grayson, who lives in that elegant house on —— street, will suffer her adopted daughter to associate intimately with a hired nurse?"
Again the light streamed into the room. She buried her face deeper in her apron.
"Beulah," said a troubled, anxious voice.
"Oh, Eugene!" She sprang up with a dry sob, and threw herself into his arms.
"I know it all, dear Beulah; but come down to Mrs. Williams' room; there is a bright fire there, and your hands are as cold as ice. You will make yourself sick sitting here without even a shawl around you." He led her downstairs to the room occupied by the matron, who kindly took her work to the dining room, and left them to talk unrestrainedly.
"Sit down in this rocking-chair and warm your hands."
He seated himself near her, and as the firelight glowed on the faces of both, they contrasted strangely. One was classical and full of youthful beauty, the other wan, haggard, and sorrow-stained. He looked about sixteen, and promised to become a strikingly handsome man, while the proportions of his polished brow indicated more than ordinary intellectual endowments. He watched his companion earnestly, sadly, and, leaning forward, took one of her hands.
"Beulah, I see from your face that you have not shed a single tear. I wish you would not keep your sorrow so pent up in your heart. It grieves me to see you look as you do now."
"Oh, I can't help it! If it were not for you I believe I should die, I am so very miserable. Eugene, if you could have seen our Lilly cling to me, even to the last moment. It seems to me my heart will break." She sank her weary head on his shoulder.
"Yes, darling, I know you are suffering very much; but remember that 'all things work together for good to them that love God.' Perhaps he sees it is best that you should give her up for a while, and if so, will you not try to bear it cheerfully, instead of making yourself sick with useless grief?" He gently smoothed the hair from her brow as he spoke. She did not reply. He did not expect that she would, and continued in the same kind tone:
"I am much more troubled about your taking this situation. If I had known it earlier I would have endeavored to prevent it; but I suppose it cannot be helped now, for a while at least."
"As soon as possible I am determined you shall go to school; and remember, dear Beulah, I am just as much grieved at your sorrows as you are. In a few years I shall have a home of my own, and you shall be the first to come to it. Never mind these dark, stormy days. Do you remember what our minister said in his sermon last Sunday? 'The darkest hour is just before daybreak.' Already I begin to see the 'silver lining' of clouds that a few years, or even months ago, seemed heavy and cheerless. I have heard a great deal about the ills and trials of this world, but I think a brave, hopeful spirit will do much toward remedying the evil. For my part, I look forward to the time when you and I shall have a home of our own, and then Lilly and Claudy can be with us. I was talking to Mrs. Mason about it yesterday; she loves you very much. I dare say all will be right; so cheer up, Beulah, and do look on the bright side."
"Eugene, you are the only bright side I have to look on. Sometimes I think you will get tired of me, and if you ever do I shall want to die. Oh, how could I bear to know you did not love me!" She raised her head and looked earnestly at his noble face.
Eugene laughingly repeated her words.
"Get tired of you, indeed—not I, little sister."
"Oh, I forgot to thank you for your book. I like it better than anything I ever read. Some parts are so beautiful—so very grand. I keep it in my basket, and read every moment I can spare."
"I knew you would like it, particularly 'Excelsior.' Beulah, I have written 'excelsior' on my banner, and I intend, like that noble youth, to press forward over every obstacle, mounting at every step, until I, too, stand on the highest pinnacle, and plant my banner where its glorious motto shall float over the world. That poem stirs my very soul like martial music, and I feel as if I should like to see Mr. Longfellow, to tell him how I thank him for having written it. I want you to mark the passages you like best; and, now I think of it, here is a pencil I cut for you to-day."
He drew it from his pocket and put it into her hand, while his face glowed with enthusiasm.
"Thank you, thank you." Grateful tears sprang to her eyes; tears which acute suffering could not wring from her. He saw the gathering drops, and said gayly:
"If that is the way you intend to thank me I shall bring you no more pencils. But you look very pale, and ought to be asleep, for I have no doubt to-morrow will be a trying day for you. Do exert yourself to be brave, and bear it all for a little while; I know it will not be very long, and I shall come and see you just as often as possible."
He rose as he spoke.
"Are you obliged to go so soon? Can't you stay with me a little longer?" pleaded Beulah.
The boy's eyes filled as he looked at the beseeching, haggard face, and he answered hastily:
"Not to-night, Beulah; you must go to sleep—you need it sadly."
"You will be cold walking home. Let me get you a shawl."
"No, I left my overcoat in the hall—here it is."
She followed him out to the door, as he drew it on and put on his cap. The moonlight shone over the threshold, and he thought she looked ghostly as it fell upon her face. He took her hand, pressed it gently, and said:
"Good-night, dear Beulah."
"Good-by, Eugene. Do come and see me again, soon."
"Yes, I will. Don't get low-spirited as soon as I am out of sight, do you hear?"
"Yes, I hear; I will try not to complain. Walk fast and keep warm."
She pressed his hand affectionately, watched his receding form as long as she could trace its outline, and then went slowly back to the dormitory. Falling on her knees by the side of Lilly's empty couch, she besought God, in trembling accents, to bless her "darling little sister and Claudy," and to give her strength to perform all her duties contentedly and cheerfully.
Beulah stood waiting on the steps of the large mansion to which she had been directed by Miss Dorothea White. Her heart throbbed painfully, and her hand trembled as she rang the bell. The door was opened by a negro waiter, who merely glanced at her, and asked carelessly:
"Well, little miss, what do you want?"
"Is Mrs. Martin at home?"
"Yes, miss; come, walk in. There is but a poor fire in the front parlor—suppose you sit down in the back room. Mrs. Martin will be down in a minute."
The first object which arrested Beulah's attention was a center table covered with books. "Perhaps," thought she, "they will permit me to read some of them." While she sat looking over the titles the rustle of silk caused her to glance around, and she saw Mrs. Martin quite near her.
"Good-morning," said the lady, with a searching look, which made the little figure tremble.
"You are the girl Miss White promised to send from the asylum, are you not?"
"Do you think you can take good care of my baby?"
"Oh, I will try."
"You don't look strong and healthy—have you been sick?"
"No; I am very well, thank you."
"I may want you to sew some, occasionally, when the baby is asleep. Can you hem and stitch neatly?"
"I believe I sew very well, madam—our matron says so."
"What is your name? Miss White told me, but I have forgotten it."
"Well, Beulah, I think you will suit me very well, if you are only careful and attend to my directions. I am just going out shopping, but you can come upstairs and take charge of Johnny. Where are your clothes?"
"Our matron will send them to-day."
Beulah followed Mrs. Martin up the steps, somewhat reassured by her kind reception. The room was in utter confusion, the toilet-table covered with powder, hairpins, bows of different colored ribbon, and various bits of jewelry; the hearth unswept, the workstand groaning beneath the superincumbent mass of sewing, finished and unfinished garments, working materials, and, to crown the whole, the lady's winter hat. A girl, apparently about thirteen years of age, was seated by the fire, busily embroidering a lamp-mat; another, some six years younger, was dressing a doll; while an infant, five or six months old, crawled about the carpet, eagerly picking up pins, needles, and every other objectionable article his little purple fingers could grasp.
"Take him, Beulah," said the mother.
She stooped to comply, and was surprised that the little fellow testified no fear of her. She raised him in her arms, and kissed his rosy cheeks, as he looked wonderingly at her.
"Ma, is that Johnny's new nurse? What is her name?" said the youngest girl, laying down her doll and carefully surveying the stranger.
"Yes, Annie; and her name is Beulah," replied the mother, adjusting her bonnet.
"Beulah—it's about as pretty as her face. Yes, just about," continued Annie, in an audible whisper to her sister. The latter gave Beulah a condescending stare, curled her lips disdainfully, and, with a polite "Mind your own business, Annie," returned to her embroidery.
"Keep the baby by the fire; and if he frets you must feed him. Laura, show her where to find his cup of arrowroot, and you and Annie stay here till I come home."
"No, indeed, ma, I can't; for I must go down and practice my music lesson," answered the eldest daughter decisively.
"Well, then, Annie, stay in my room."
"I am going to make some sugar-candy, ma. She"—pointing to Beulah— "can take care of Johnny. I thought that was what you hired her for."
"You will make no sugar-candy till I come home, Miss Annie; do you hear that? Now, mind what I said to you."
Mrs. Martin rustled out of the room, leaving Annie to scowl ominously at the new nurse, and vent her spleen by boxing her doll, because the inanimate little lady would not keep her blue-bead eyes open. Beulah loved children, and Johnny forcibly reminded her of earlier days, when she had carried Lilly about in her arms. For some time after the departure of Mrs. Martin and Laura, the little fellow seemed perfectly satisfied, but finally grew fretful, and Beulah surmised he might be hungry.
"Will you please give me the baby's arrowroot?"
"I don't know anything about it; ask Harrison."
"Who is Harrison?"
"Why, the cook."
Glancing around the room, she found the arrowroot; the boy was fed, and soon fell asleep. Beulah sat in a low rocking-chair, by the hearth, holding the infant, and watching the little figure opposite. Annie was trying to fit a new silk waist to her doll, but it was too broad one way and too narrow another. She twisted and jerked it divers ways, but all in vain; and at last, disgusted by the experiment, she tore it off and aimed it at the fire, with an impatient cry.
"The plagued, bothering, ugly thing! My Lucia never shall wear such a fit."
Beulah caught the discarded waist, and said quietly:
"You can very easily make it fit, by taking up this seam and cutting it out in the neck."
"I don't believe it."
"Then, hand me the doll and the scissors, and I will show you."
"Her name is Miss Lucia-di-Lammermoor. Mr. Green named her. Don't say 'doll'; call her by her proper name," answered the spoiled child, handing over the unfortunate waxen representative of a not less unfortunate heroine.
"Well, then, Miss Lucia-di-Lammermoor," said Beulah, smiling. A few alterations reduced the dress to proper dimensions, and Annie arrayed her favorite in it, with no slight degree of satisfaction. The obliging manner of the new nurse won her heart, and she began to chat pleasantly enough. About two o'clock Mrs. Martin returned, inquired after Johnny, and again absented herself to "see about dinner." Beulah was very weary of the close, disordered room, and as the babe amused himself with his ivory rattle, she swept the floor, dusted the furniture, and arranged the chairs. The loud ringing of a bell startled her, and she conjectured dinner was ready. Some time elapsed before any of the family returned, and then Laura entered, looking very sullen. She took charge of the babe, and rather ungraciously desired the nurse to get her dinner.
"I do not wish any," answered Beulah.
At this stage of the conversation the door opened, and a boy, seemingly about Eugene's age, entered the room. He looked curiously at Beulah, inclined his head slightly, and joined his sister at the fire.
"How do you like her, Laura?" he asked, in a distinct undertone.
"Oh, I suppose she will do well enough! but she is horribly ugly," replied Laura, in a similar key.
"I don't know, sis. It is what Dr. Patton, the lecturer on physiognomy, would call a 'striking' face."
"Yes, strikingly ugly, Dick. Her forehead juts over, like the eaves of the kitchen, and her eyebrows—"
"Hush! she will hear you. Come down and play that new waltz for me, like a good sister." The two left the room. Beulah had heard every word; she could not avoid it, and as she recalled Mrs. Grayson's remark concerning her appearance on the previous day, her countenance reflected her intense mortification. She pressed her face against the window-pane and stared vacantly out. The elevated position commanded a fine view of the town, and on the eastern horizon the blue waters of the harbor glittered with "silvery sheen." At any other time, and with different emotions, Beulah's love of the beautiful would have been particularly gratified by this extended prospect; but now the whole possessed no charms for her darkened spirit. For the moment, earth was black-hued to her gaze; she only saw "horribly ugly" inscribed on sky and water. Her soul seemed to leap forward and view nearer the myriad motes that floated in the haze of the future. She leaned over the vast whirring lottery wheel of life, and saw a blank come up, with her name stamped upon it. But the grim smile faded from her lips, and brave endurance looked out from the large, sad eyes, as she murmured,
"Be not like dumb, driven cattle, Be a hero in the strife."
"If I am ugly, God made me so, and I know 'He doeth all things well.' I will not let it bother me; I will try not to think of it. But, oh! I am so glad, I thank God that he made my Lilly beautiful. She will never have to suffer as I do now. My own darling Lilly!" Large drops glistened in her eyes; she rarely wept; but though the tears did not fall, they gathered often in the gray depths. The evening passed very quietly; Mr. Martin was absent in a distant State, whither, as traveling agent for a mercantile house, he was often called. After tea, when little Johnny had been put to sleep in his crib, Mrs. Martin directed Annie to show the nurse her own room. Taking a candle, the child complied, and her mother ordered one of the servants to carry up the trunk containing Beulah's clothes. Up, up two weary, winding flights of steps, the little Annie toiled, and, pausing at the landing of the second, pointed to a low attic chamber, lighted by dormer windows on the east and west. The floor was uncovered; the furniture consisted of a narrow trundle-bed, a washstand, a cracked looking-glass suspended from a nail, a small deal table, and a couple of chairs. There were, also, some hooks driven into the wall, to hang clothes upon.
"You need not be afraid to sleep here, because the boarders occupy the rooms on the floor below this; and besides, you know robbers never get up to the garret," said Annie, glancing around the apartment, and shivering with an undefined dread, rather than with cold, though her nose and fingers were purple, and this garret chamber possessed neither stove nor chimney.
"I am not afraid; but this is only one garret room. Are the others occupied?"
"Yes—by carpets in summer and rats in winter," laughed Annie.
"I suppose I may have a candle?" said Beulah, as the porter deposited her trunk and withdrew.
"Yes, this one is for you. Ma is always uneasy about fire, so don't set anything in a blaze to keep yourself warm. Here, hold the light at the top of the steps till I get down to the next floor, then there is a hall-lamp. Good-night."
"Good-night." Beulah bolted the door, and surveyed her new apartment. Certainly it was sufficiently cheerless, but its isolated position presented to her a redeeming feature. Thought she, "I can sit up here, and read just as late as I please. Oh! I shall have so much time to myself these long, long nights." Unpacking her trunk, she hung her dresses on the hooks, placed the books Mrs. Mason and Eugene had given her on the table, and, setting the candle beside them, smiled in anticipation of the many treats in store for her. She read several chapters in her Bible, and then, as her head ached and her eyes grew heavy, she sank upon her knees. Ah! what an earnest, touching petition ascended to the throne of the Father; prayers, first for Lilly and Claudia, and lastly for herself.
"Help me, O Lord! not to be troubled and angry when I hear that I am so ugly; and make me remember that I am your child." Such was her final request, and she soon slept soundly, regardless of the fact that she was now thrown upon the wide, though not altogether cold or unloving, world.
Day after day passed monotonously, and, except a visit from Eugene, there was no link added to the chain which bound Beulah to the past. That brief visit encouraged and cheered the lonely heart, yearning for affectionate sympathy, yet striving to hush the hungry cry and grow contented with its lot. During the second week of her stay little Johnny was taken sick, and he had become so fond of his new attendant that no one else was permitted to hold him. Often she paced the chamber floor for hours, lulling the fretful babe with softly sung tunes of other days, and the close observer, who could have peered at such times into the downcast eyes, might have easily traced in the misty depths memories that nestled in her heart's sanctuary. The infant soon recovered, and one warm, sunny afternoon, when Mrs. Martin directed Beulah to draw him in his wicker carriage up and down the pavement before the door, she could no longer repress the request which had trembled on her lips more than once, and asked permission to take her little charge to Mrs. Grayson's. A rather reluctant assent was given, and soon the carriage was drawn in the direction of Mr. Grayson's elegant city residence. A marvelous change came over the wan face of the nurse as she paused at the marble steps, guarded on either side by sculptured lions. "To see Lilly." The blood sprang to her cheeks, and an eager look of delight crept into the eyes. The door was partially opened by an insolent-looking footman, whose hasty glance led him to suppose her one of the numerous supplicants for charity, who generally left that princely mansion as empty-handed as they came. He was about to close the door; but, undaunted by this reception, she hastily asked to see Mrs. Grayson and Lillian Benton.
"Mrs. Grayson is engaged, and there is no such person here as Lillian Benton. Miss Lilly Grayson is my young mistress' name; but I can tell you, her mamma don't suffer her to see the like of you; so be off."
"Lilly is my sister, and I must see her. Tell Mrs. Grayson Beulah Benton wishes to see her sister; and ask her also if Claudia may not see me."
She dropped the tongue of the carriage, and the thin hands clutched each other in an agony of dread, lest her petition should be refused. The succeeding five minutes seemed an eternity to her, and, as the door opened again, she leaned forward and held her breath, like one whose fate was in the balance. Costly silk and dazzling diamonds met her gaze. The settled lines of Mrs. Grayson's pretty mouth indicated that she had a disagreeable duty to perform, yet had resolved to do it at once, and set the matter forever at rest.
"You are Mrs. Martin's nurse, I believe, and the girl I saw at the asylum?" said she frigidly.
"Yes, madam; I am Lilly's sister; you said I might come and see her. Oh, if you only knew how miserable I have been since we were parted, you would not look so coldly at me! Do, please, let me see her. Oh, don't deny me!"
These words were uttered in a tone of imploring agony.
"I am very sorry you happen to be her sister, and I assure you, child, it pains me to refuse you; but, when you remember the circumstances, you ought not to expect to associate with her as you used to do. She will be educated to move in a circle very far above you; and you ought to be more than willing to give her up, when you know how lucky she has been in securing a home of wealth. Besides, she is getting over the separation very nicely indeed, and if she were to see you even once it would make matters almost as bad as ever. I dare say you are a good girl, and will not trouble me any further. My husband and I are unwilling that you should see Lilly again; and though I am very sorry I am forced to disappoint you, I feel that I am doing right."
The petitioner fell on her knees, and, extending her arms, said huskily:
"Oh, madam! are we to be parted forever? I pray you, in the name of God, let me see her! let me see her!"
Mrs. Grayson was not a cruel woman, far from it, but she was strangely weak and worldly. The idea of a hired nurse associating familiarly with her adopted daughter was repulsive to her aristocratic pride, and therefore she hushed the tones of true womanly sympathy, and answered resolutely:
"It pains me to refuse you; but I have given good reasons, and cannot think of changing my determination. I hope you will not annoy me by any future efforts to enter my house. There is a present for you. Good-evening."
She tossed a five-dollar gold piece toward the kneeling figure, and, closing the door, locked it on the inside. The money rolled ringingly down the steps, and the grating sound of the key, as it was hurriedly turned, seemed typical of the unyielding lock which now forever barred the child's hopes. The look of utter despair gave place to an expression of indescribable bitterness. Springing from her suppliant posture, she muttered with terrible emphasis:
"A curse on that woman and her husband! May God answer their prayers as she has answered mine!"
Picking up the coin which lay glittering on the sidewalk, she threw it forcibly against the door, and, as it rebounded into the street, took the carriage tongue, and slowly retraced her steps. It was not surprising that passers-by gazed curiously at the stony face, with its large eyes, brimful of burning hate, as the injured orphan walked mechanically on, unconscious that her lips were crushed till purple drops oozed over them. The setting sun flashed his ruddy beams caressingly over her brow, and whispering winds lifted tenderly the clustering folds of jetty hair; but nature's pure- hearted darling had stood over the noxious tarn, whence the poisonous breath of a corrupt humanity rolled upward, and the once sinless child inhaled the vapor until her soul was a great boiling Marah. Ah, truly
"There are swift hours in life—strong, rushing hours—That do the work of tempests in their might!"
Peaceful valleys, green and flowery, sleeping in loveliness, have been unheaved, and piled in somber, jagged masses, against the sky, by the fingering of an earthquake; and gentle, loving, trusting hearts, over whose altars brooded the white-winged messengers of God's peace, have been as suddenly transformed by a manifestation of selfishness and injustice, into gloomy haunts of misanthropy. Had Mrs. Grayson been arraigned for cruelty, or hard-heartedness, before a tribunal of her equals (i. e., fashionable friends), the charge would have been scornfully repelled, and unanimous would have been her acquittal. "Hard-hearted! oh, no! she was only prudent and wise." Who could expect her to suffer her pampered, inert darling to meet and acknowledge as an equal the far less daintily fed and elegantly clad sister, whom God called to labor for her frugal meals? Ah, this fine-ladyism, this ignoring of labor, to which, in accordance with the divine decree, all should be subjected: this false-effeminacy, and miserable affectation of refinement, which characterizes the age, is the unyielding lock on the wheels of social reform and advancement.
Beulah took her charge home, and when dusk came on rocked him to sleep, and snugly folded the covering of his crib over the little throbbing heart, whose hours of trial were yet veiled by the impenetrable curtain of futurity. Mrs. Martin and her elder children had gone to a concert, and, of course, the nurse was to remain with Johnny until his mother's return. Standing beside the crib, and gazing down at the rosy cheeks and curling locks, nestled against the pillow, Beulah's thoughts winged along the tear-stained past, to the hour when Lilly had been placed in her arms, by emaciated hands stiffening in death. For six years she had held, and hushed, and caressed her dying father's last charge, and now strange, ruthless fingers had torn the clinging heart-strings from the idol. There were no sobs, nor groans, to voice the anguish of the desolate orphan. The glittering eyes were tearless, but the brow was darkly furrowed, the ashy lips writhed, and the folded hands were purple from compression. Turning from the crib, she threw up the sash, and seated herself on the window-sill. Below lay the city, with its countless lamps gleaming in every direction, and stretching away on the principal streets, like long processions; in the distance the dark waters of the river, over which steamboat lights flashed now and then like ignesfatui; and above her arched the dome of sky, with its fiery fretwork. Never before had she looked up at the starry groups without an emotion of exulting joy, of awful adoration. To her worshiping gaze they had seemed glimpses of the spirit's home; nay, loving eyes shining down upon her thorny pathway. But now, the twinkling rays fell unheeded, impotent to pierce the sable clouds of grief. She sat looking out into the night, with strained eyes that seemed fastened upon a corpse. An hour passed thus, and, as the clang of the town clock died away the shrill voice of the watchman rang through the air:
"Nine o'clock; and all's well!"
Beulah lifted her head, and listened. "All's well!" The mockery maddened her, and she muttered audibly:
"That is the sort of sympathy I shall have through life. I am to hear that 'all is well' when my heart is dying, nay, dead within me! Oh, if I could only die! What a calm, calm time I should have in my coffin! Nobody to taunt me with my poverty and ugliness! Oh, what did God make me for? The few years of my life have been full of misery; I cannot remember one single day of pure happiness, for there was always something to spoil what little joy I ever knew. When I was born, why did not I die at once? And why did not God take me instead of my dear, dear father? He should have been left with Lilly, for people love the beautiful, but nobody will ever care for me. I am of no use to anything, and so ugly that I hate myself. O Lord, I don't want to live another day! I am sick of my life—take me, take me!" But a feeble ray of comfort stole into her shivering heart, as she bowed her head upon her hands; Eugene Graham loved her; and the bleeding tendrils of affection henceforth clasped him as their only support. She was aroused from her painful reverie by a movement in the crib, and, hastening to her charge, was startled by the appearance of the babe. The soft blue eyes were rolled up and set, the face of a purplish hue, and the delicate limbs convulsed. During her residence at the asylum she had more than once assisted the matron in nursing children similarly affected; and now, calling instantly for a tub of water, she soon immersed the rigid limbs in a warm bath, while one of the waiters was dispatched for the family physician. When Dr. Hartwell entered he found her standing with the infant clasped in her arms, and, as his eyes rested curiously upon her face, she forgot that he was a stranger, and, springing to meet him, exclaimed:
"Oh, sir; will he die?"
With his fingers on the bounding pulse, he answered:
"He is very ill. Where is his mother? Who are you?"
"His mother is at a concert, and I am his nurse."
The spasms had ceased, but the twitching limbs told that they might return any moment, and the physician immediately administered a potion.
"How long will Mrs. Martin be absent?"
"It is uncertain. When shall I give the medicine again?"
"I shall remain until she comes home."
Beulah was pacing up and down the floor, with Johnny in her arms; Dr. Hartwell stood on the hearth, leaning his elbow on the mantelpiece, and watching the slight form as it stole softly to and fro. Gradually the child became quiet, but his nurse kept up her walk. Dr. Hartwell said abruptly:
"Sit down, girl! you will walk yourself into a shadow."
She lifted her head, shook it in reply, and resumed her measured tread.
"What is your name?"
"Beulah!" repeated the doctor, while a smile flitted over his mustached lip. She observed it, and exclaimed, with bitter emphasis:
"You need not tell me it is unsuitable; I know it; I feel it. Beulah! Beulah! Oh, my father! I have neither sunshine nor flowers, nor hear the singing of birds, nor the voice of the turtle. You ought to have called me Marah."
"You have read the 'Pilgrim's Progress' then?" said he, with a searching glance.
Either she did not hear him, or was too entirely engrossed by painful reflection to frame an answer. The despairing expression settled upon her face, and the broken threads of memory wove on again.
"Beulah, how came you here in the capacity of nurse?"
"I was driven here by necessity."
"Where are your parents and friends?"
"I have none. I am alone in the world."
"How long have you been so dependent?"
She raised her hand deprecatingly, nay commandingly, as though she had said:
"No more. You have not the right to question, nor I the will to answer."
He marked the look of unconquerable grief, and, understanding her gesture, made no more inquiries.
Soon after, Mrs. Martin returned, and, having briefly stated what had occurred, and given directions for the child's treatment, he withdrew. His low "good-night," gently spoken to the nurse, was only acknowledged by a slight inclination of the head as he passed her. Little Johnny was restless, and constantly threatened with a return of the convulsions. His mother held him on her knee, and telling Beulah she "had been a good, sensible girl to bathe him so promptly," gave her permission to retire.
"I am not at all sleepy, and would rather stay here and nurse him. He does not moan so much when I walk with him. Give him back to me."
"But you will be tired out."
"I shall not mind it." Stooping down, she lifted the restless boy, and, wrapping his cloak about him, commenced the same noiseless tread. Thus the night waned; occasionally Mrs. Martin rose and felt her babe's pulse, and assisted in giving the hourly potions, then reseated herself, and allowed the hireling to walk on. Once she offered to relieve her, but the arms refused to yield their burden. A little after four the mother slept soundly in her chair. Gradually the stars grew dim, and the long, undulating chain of clouds that girded the eastern horizon kindled into a pale orange that transformed them into mountains of topaz. Pausing by the window, and gazing vacantly out, Beulah's eyes were suddenly riveted on the gorgeous pageant, which untiring nature daily renews, and she stood watching the masses of vapor painted by coming sunlight, and floating slowly before the wind, until the "King of Day" flashed up and dazzled her. Mrs. Martin was awakened by the entrance of a servant, and starting up, exclaimed:
"Bless me! I have been asleep. Beulah, how is Johnny? You must be tired to death."
"He is sleeping now very quietly; I think he is better; his fever is not so high. I will take care of him, and you had better take another nap before breakfast."
Mrs. Martin obeyed the nurse's injunction, and it was two hours later when she took her child and directed Beulah to get her breakfast. But the weary girl felt no desire for the meal, and, retiring to her attic room, bathed her eyes and replaited her hair. Kneeling beside her bed, she tried to pray, but the words died on her lips; and, too miserable to frame a petition, she returned to the chamber where, in sad vigils, she had spent the night. Dr. Hartwell bowed as she entered, but the head was bent down, and, without glancing at him, she took the fretful, suffering child and walked to the window. While she stood there her eyes fell upon the loved face of her best friend. Eugene Graham was crossing the street. For an instant the burning blood surged over her wan, sickly cheeks, and the pale lips parted in a smile of delight, as she leaned forward to see whether he was coming in. The door bell rang, and she sprang from the window, unconscious of the piercing eyes fastened upon her. Hastily laying little Johnny on his mother's lap, she merely said, "I will be back soon," and, darting down the steps, met Eugene at the entrance, throwing her arms around his neck and hiding her face on his shoulder.
"What is the matter, Beulah? Do tell me," said he anxiously.
Briefly she related her fruitless attempt to see Lilly, and pointed out the nature of the barrier which must forever separate them. Eugene listened with flashing eyes, and several times the word "brutal" escaped his lips. He endeavored to comfort her by holding out hopes of brighter days, but her eyes were fixed on shadows, and his cheering words failed to call up a smile. They stood in the hall near the front door, and here Dr. Hartwell found them when he left the sickroom. Eugene looked up as he approached them, and stepped forward with a smile of recognition to shake the extended hand. Beulah's countenance became instantly repellent, and she was turning away when the doctor addressed her:
"You must feel very much fatigued from being up all night. I know from your looks that you did not close your eyes."
"I am no worse looking than usual, thank you," she replied icily, drawing back as she spoke, behind Eugene. The doctor left them, and, as his buggy rolled from the door, Beulah seemed to breathe freely again. Poor child; her sensitive nature had so often been deeply wounded by the thoughtless remarks of strangers, that she began to shrink from all observation, as the surest mode of escaping pain. Eugene noticed her manner, and, biting his lips with vexation, said reprovingly:
"Beulah, you were very rude to Dr. Hartwell. Politeness costs nothing, and you might at least have answered his question with ordinary civility."
Her eyelids drooped, and a tremor passed over her mouth, as she answered meekly:
"I did not intend to be rude; but I dread to have people look at or speak to me."
"Because I am so ugly, and they are sure to show me that they see it."
He drew his arm protectingly around her, and said gently: "Poor child; it is cruel to make you suffer so. But rest assured Dr. Hartwell will never wound your feelings. I have heard that he was a very stern and eccentric man, though a remarkably learned one, yet I confess there is something in his manner which fascinates me, and if you will only be like yourself he will always speak kindly to you. But I am staying too long. Don't look so forlorn and ghostly. Positively I hate to come to see you, for somehow your wretched face haunts me. Here is a book I have just finished; perhaps it will serve to divert your mind." He put a copy of Irving's "Sketch Book" in her hand, and drew on his gloves.
"Oh, Eugene, can't you stay a little longer—just a little longer? It seems such a great while since you were here." She looked up wistfully into the handsome, boyish face.
Drawing out an elegant new watch, he held it before her eyes, and answered hurriedly:
"See there; it is ten o'clock, and I am behind my appointment at the lecture room. Good-by; try to be cheerful. 'What can't be cured must be endured,' you know, so do not despond, dear Beulah." Shaking her hand cordially, he ran down the steps. The orphan pressed her hands tightly over her brow, as if to stay some sudden, painful thought, and slowly remounted the stairs.
Little Johnny's illness proved long and serious, and for many days and nights he seemed on the verge of the tomb. His wailings were never hushed except in Beulah's arms, and, as might be supposed, constant watching soon converted her into a mere shadow of her former self. Dr. Hartwell often advised rest and fresh air for her, but the silent shake of her head proved how reckless she was of her own welfare. Thus several weeks elapsed, and gradually the sick child grew stronger. One afternoon Beulah sat holding him on her knee: he had fallen asleep, with one tiny hand clasping hers, and while he slept she read. Absorbed in the volume Eugene had given her, her thoughts wandered on with the author, amid the moldering monuments of Westminster Abbey, and finally the sketch was concluded by that solemn paragraph: "Thus man passes away; his name perishes from record and recollection; his history is as a tale that is told, and his very monument becomes a ruin." Again she read this sad comment on the vanity of earth and its ephemeral hosts, and her mind was filled with weird images, that looked out from her earnest eyes. Dr. Hartwell entered unperceived, and stood for some moments at the back of her chair, glancing over her shoulder at the last page. At length she closed the book, and, passing her hand wearily over her eyes, said audibly:
"Ah! if we could only have sat down together in that gloomy garret, and had a long talk! It would have helped us both. Poor Chatterton! I know just how you felt, when you locked your door and lay down on your truckle-bed, and swallowed your last draught!"
"There is not a word about Chatterton in that sketch," said the doctor.
She started, looked up, and answered slowly:
"No, not a word, not a word. He was buried among paupers, you know."
"What made you think of him?"
"I thought that instead of resting in the Abbey, under sculptured marble, his bones were scattered, nobody knows where. I often think of him."
"Because he was so miserable and uncared-for; because sometimes I feel exactly as he did." As she uttered these words she compressed her lips in a manner which plainly said, "There, I have no more to say, so do not question me."
He had learned to read her countenance, and as he felt the infant's pulse, pointed to the crib, saying:
"You must lay him down now; he seems fast asleep."
"No, I may as well hold him."
"Girl, will you follow my directions?" said he sharply.
Beulah looked up at him for a moment, then rose and placed the boy in his crib, while a sort of grim smile distorted her features. The doctor mixed some medicine, and, setting the glass on the table, put both hands in his pockets and walked up to the nurse. Her head was averted.
"Beulah, will you be good enough to look at me?" She fixed her eyes proudly on his, and her beautiful teeth gleamed through the parted lips.
"Do you know that Eugene is going away very soon, to be absent at least five years?"
An incredulous smile flitted over her face, but the ashen hue of death settled there.
"I am in earnest. He leaves for Europe next week, to be gone a long time."
She extended her hands pleadingly, and said in a hoarse whisper:
"Are you sure?"
"Quite sure; his passage is already engaged in a packet that will sail early next week. What will become of you in his absence?"
The strained eyes met his, vacantly; the icy hands dropped, and she fell forward against him.
Guy Hartwell placed the slight, attenuated form on the sofa, and stood with folded arms looking down at the colorless face. His high white brow clouded, and a fierce light kindled in his piercing dark eyes, as through closed teeth came the rather indistinct words:
"It is madness to indulge the thought; I was a fool to dream of it. She would prove heartless, like all of her sex, and repay me with black ingratitude. Let her fight the battle of life unaided."
He sprinkled a handful of water on the upturned face, and in a few minutes saw the eyelids tremble, and knew from the look of suffering that with returning consciousness came the keen pangs of grief. She covered her face with her hands, and, after a little while, asked:
"Shall I ever see him again?"
"He will come here to-night to tell you about his trip. But what will become of you in his absence?—answer me that!"
"God only knows!"
Dr. Hartwell wrote the directions for Johnny's medicine, and, placing the slip of paper on the glass, took his hat and left the room. Beulah sat with her head pressed against the foot of the crib- -stunned, taking no note of the lapse of time.
"Twilight gray Had in her sober livery all things clad."
The room had grown dark, save where a mellow ray stole through the western window. Beulah rose mechanically, lighted the lamp, and shaded it so as to shield the eyes of the sleeping boy. The door was open, and, glancing up, she saw Eugene on the threshold. Her arms were thrown around him, with a low cry of mingled joy and grief.
"Oh, Eugene! please don't leave me! Whom have I in the world but you?"
"Beulah, dear, I must go. Only think of the privilege of being at a German university! I never dreamed of such a piece of good luck. Don't cry so; I shall come back some of these days, such an erudite, such an elegant young man, you will hardly know me. Only five years. I am almost seventeen now; time passes very quickly, and you will scarcely miss me before I shall be at home again."
He lifted up her face, and laughed gayly as he spoke.
"When are you to go?"
"The vessel sails Wednesday—three days from now. I shall be very busy until then. Beulah, what glorious letters I shall write you from the Old World! I am to see all Europe before I return; that is, my father says I shall. He is coming on, in two or three years, with Cornelia, and we are all to travel together. Won't it be glorious?"
"Yes, for you. But, Eugene, my heart seems to die when I think of those coming five years. How shall I live without you? Oh, what shall I do?"
"There, Beulah! do not look so wretched. You will have a thousand things to divert your mind. My father says he will see that you are sent to the public school. You know the tuition is free, and he thinks he can find some good, kind family, where you will be taken care of till your education is finished. Your studies will occupy you closely, and you will have quite enough to think of, without troubling yourself about my absence. Of course you will write to me constantly, and each letter will be like having a nice, quiet chat together. Oh. dear! can't you get up a smile, and look less forlorn? You never would look on the bright side."
"Because I never had any to look on, except you and Lilly; and when you are gone, everything will be dark—dark!" she groaned, and covered her face with her hands.
"Not unless you determine to make it so. If I did not know that my father would attend to your education, I should not be so delighted to go. Certainly, Beulah, in improving yourself, you will have very little leisure to sit down and repine that your lot is not among the brightest. Do try to hope that things may change for the better. If they do not, why, I shall not spend eternity in Europe; and when I come home, of course I shall take care of you myself." She stood with one hand resting on his arm, and while he talked on, carelessly, of her future, she fixed her eyes on his countenance, thinking of the desolate hours in store for her, when the mighty Atlantic billows surged between her and the noble, classic face she loved so devotedly. A shadowy panorama of coming years glided before her, and trailing clouds seemed gathered about the path her little feet must tread. A vague foreboding discovered to her the cheerlessness, and she shivered in anticipating the dreariness that awaited her. But there was time enough for the raging of the storm; why rush so eagerly to meet it? She closed her eyes to shut out the grim vision, and listened resolutely to the plans suggested for her approval. When Eugene rose to say "good-night," it was touching to note the efforts she made to appear hopeful; the sob swallowed, lest it should displease him; the trembling lips forced into a smile, and the heavy eyelids lifted bravely to meet his glance. When the door closed after his retreating form, the hands were clasped convulsively, and the white, tearless face, mutely revealed the desolation which that loving heart locked in its darkened chambers.
Several tedious weeks had rolled away since Eugene Graham left his sunny Southern home to seek learning in the venerable universities of the Old World. Blue-eyed May, the carnival month of the year, had clothed the earth with verdure, and enameled it with flowers of every hue, scattering her treasures before the rushing car of summer. During the winter scarlet fever had hovered threateningly over the city, but, as the spring advanced, hopes were entertained that all danger had passed. Consequently, when it was announced that the disease had made its appearance in a very malignant form, in the house adjoining Mrs. Martin's, she determined to send her children immediately out of town. A relative living at some distance up the river happened to be visiting her at the time, and, as she intended returning home the following day, kindly offered to take charge of the children until all traces of the disease had vanished. To this plan Beulah made no resistance, though the memory of her little sister haunted her hourly. What could she do? Make one last attempt to see her, and if again refused then it mattered not whither she went. When the preparations for their journey had been completed, and Johnny slept soundly in his crib, Beulah put on her old straw bonnet, and set out for Mr. Grayson's residence. The sun was low in the sky, and the evening breeze, rippling the waters of the bay, stirred the luxuriant foliage of the ancient China trees that bordered the pavements. The orphan's heart was heavy with undefined dread; such a dread as had oppressed her the day of her separation from her sister.
"Coming events cast their shadows before,"
and she was conscious that the sunset glow could not dispel the spectral gloom which enveloped her. She walked on, with her head bowed, like one stooping from an impending blow, and when at last the crouching lions confronted her she felt as if her heart had suddenly frozen. There stood the doctor's buggy. She sprang up the steps, and stretched out her hand for the bolt of the door. Long streamers of crape floated through her fingers. She stood still a moment, then threw open the door and rushed in. The hall floor was covered to muffle the tread; not a sound reached her save the stirring of the China trees outside. Her hand was on the balustrade to ascend the steps, but her eyes fell upon a piece of crape fastened to the parlor door, and, pushing it ajar, she looked in. The furniture was draped; even the mirrors and pictures; and on a small oblong table in the center of the room lay a shrouded form. An over-powering perfume of crushed flowers filled the air, and Beulah stood on the threshold, with her hands extended, and her eyes fixed upon the table. There were two children; Lilly might yet live, and an unvoiced prayer went up to God that the dead might be Claudia. Then like scathing lightning came the recollection of her curse: "May God answer their prayers as they answered mine." With rigid limbs she tottered to the table, and laid her hand on the velvet pall; with closed eyes she drew it down, then held her breath and looked. There lay her idol, in the marble arms of death. Ah! how matchlessly beautiful, wrapped in her last sleep! The bright golden curls glittered around the snowy brow, and floated like wandering sunlight over the arms and shoulders. The tiny waxen fingers clasped each other as in life, and the delicately chiseled lips were just parted, as though the sleeper whispered. Beulah's gaze dwelt upon this mocking loveliness, then the arms were thrown wildly up, and, with a long, wailing cry, her head sank heavily on the velvet cushion, beside the cold face of her dead darling. How long it rested there she never knew. Earth seemed to pass away; darkness closed over her, and for a time she had no pain, no sorrow; she and Lilly were together. All was black, and she had no feeling. Then she was lifted, and the motion aroused her torpid faculties; she moaned and opened her eyes. Dr. Hartwell was placing her on a sofa, and Mrs. Grayson stood by the table with a handkerchief over her eyes. With returning consciousness came a raving despair; Beulah sprang from the strong arm that strove to detain her, and, laying one clinched hand on the folded fingers of the dead, raised the other fiercely toward Mrs. Grayson, and exclaimed almost frantically: