Schoolmistress of Waveland,
BY RETTA B. BABCOCK,
AUTHOR OF "GRAHAM LODGE; OR, LAURA CLIFFORD'S LIFE ROMANCE."
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Not many friends my life has made; Few have I loved, and few are they Who in my hand their hearts have laid; And these are women. I am gray, But never have I been betrayed.
J. G. HOLLAND.
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PRINTED BY THE LEADER PRINTING COMPANY, NO. 142 SUPERIOR STREET.
The favor with which a generous public received a former volume of the writer's, induced her, after a lapse of nearly two years, to essay another effort of a similar nature.
In the present work, facts were chosen for a basis, as calculated to interest, where the wildest dream of the novelist would pall upon the satiated mind. It has been remarked, in a homely phrase by another, that "what comes from the heart, reaches the heart," and if the present fruits of long and unremitting mental labor, sustained often amid such trial and discouragements, as seldom fall to the lot of mortal to bear, should find sympathy and appreciation with the mass of readers, the aim of the writer will have been fully accomplished.
SCHOOLMISTRESS OF WAVELAND.
"Dearest mother, do not grieve for me, it breaks my heart."
The sweet, sad voice of the speaker quivered with unshed tears, as she knelt before the grief-bowed figure on the sofa, and took one of the little, shrunken, tear-wet hands in both her own, with the devotion of a lover.
"Have you not often told me of the sin of distrusting the All-wise Being, who has cared for us all our lives thus far? Let us put our trust in Him, and He will 'never leave nor forsake us.' Can you not trust Him, precious mother?"
"My child, I could bear it for myself; but you, my all of earth, my heart's dearest treasure, to be exposed to poverty and toil for your daily bread—who have been so delicately reared that the winds of heaven have not been permitted to blow too roughly upon you! My poor, fatherless darling, how can you bear it?"
"'God is our father.' We are not friendless, nor alone. 'He who tempereth the wind to the shorn lamb,' will guide and guard me. Let us commit ourselves to His care."
She knelt down, and the sunshine, stealing in at the window that May afternoon, circled her young head like a glory. Faint and tremulous rose the sweet voice in prayer, and little widow Graystone's sobs ceased, and a kind of awe stole over her as she listened. And a sweet peace filled her soul, for "angels came and ministered unto her." Up from the mother's heart went a pleading cry. "God keep my darling from harm!" and as she gazed fondly upon the beautiful face before her, with its exalted look of wrapt devotion, a fierce pain struggled at her heart, for she thought of the time in the not distant future, when her only one would be motherless.
One little year ago she had been the imperious woman of fashion, and Clemence had seemed little more than a child, in spite of the seventeen summers that had smiled upon her young head. Indeed, she had often experienced a feeling akin to contempt at the unworldliness of her daughter, and sighed in secret to see Clemence just as agreeable to Carl Alwyn, the poor but talented artist, as she was to young Reginald Germaine, the heir to half a million.
"Just like your father, my dear," she would say, scornfully, "and nobody knows what I have suffered from his low notions. Just to think of his always insisting upon my inviting those frightful Dinsmore's to my exclusive entertainments, because, years before you were born, Mr. Dinsmore's father did him some service. Why can't he pay them for it, and have an end of it? It is perfectly shocking! The idea of bringing me, a Leveridge of Leveridge, into contact with such vulgar people."
"Mamma!" and Clemence's fine eyes glow with generous indignation, "how can you speak thus of one of the noblest traits of my father's character? I love and honor him for it, and I ask God daily to make me worthy to be the child of such a parent."
"Well, my dear," cooly replies mamma, "if it will afford you any satisfaction to hear it, you resemble him in every respect. In fact, I see more plainly every day, there is not a trait of the Leveridge's about you, deeply as I deplore it. I had hoped to have a daughter after my own heart. I sometimes think you do not wish to please me in anything."
"Oh!" cried Clemence, "how greatly you misunderstand me. You do not know how much I love you. I have often wished that we were poor, so I could have you all to myself, to show, by a lifetime of devotion, what is in my heart."
The delicate lady, splendid in misty lace and jewels, gave a little nervous shudder at the bare thought of poverty.
"What strange fancies you have, child, and how little you know of the realities of life." But gazing into the pure face, with a vague dread for that future, and knowing that One alone knew whether it might contain happiness or misery for her darling, she said, with visible emotion, "You are a good girl, Clemence, and whatever may be in the future, remember that I always sought your welfare as the one great object of my existence. Always remember that, Clemence."
"I will, my own dearest mother," the girl answered brokenly; and neither could see the other through a mist of tears.
Was it a presentiment of their coming fate?
Clemence thought often, amid the gloom that followed, that it was; and many times in her dream-haunted slumbers, murmured, "Always remember that, Clemence; always remember that."
If the stylish Mrs. Graystone, who could boast of the most aristocratic descent, and whose haughty family had considered it quite a condescension when she married the self-made merchant—if the little lady had sinned very deeply in wishing to secure for her only child a husband in every way suitable, in her opinion, to a descendant of the Leveridges of Leveridge, she was destined to a full expiation of her wrong, and her towering pride to a fall so great that those who had envied her her life-long prosperity, would say with ill-concealed delight—"served them right! what will become of their lofty ambition and refined sensibilities now, I wonder?"—"I knew it would not last forever."—"It's a long lane that never turns;" with many more remarks to the same effect.
"Between you and me and the four walls of this room," said one Mrs. Crane to her neighbor, "I don't pity them Graystones as much as I should, if they hadn't always carried their heads so high above everybody else, who was just as good as themselves, if they couldn't trace back their descent to the landin' of the Pilgrims."
"This is a free and glorious republic, where every man can follow the bent of his own inclinations, provided he don't intrude upon his neighbor's rights. Who gave their blood and sinew to the putting down of them are southern secessionists that threatened the dissolution of our Union? Who, indeed, but P. Crandall Crane! and I'm proud to say that I'm the wife of that patriotic man. True, he could not go to war himself, on account of me and the children; but, I dare say, if he could have prevailed upon me to give him up to the cause of liberty, he'd have clomb rapidly to the highest pinnacle of earthly glory, and to-day I'd have been Mrs. General Crane, a leader of the brilliant society at Washington, with my name in the papers as 'the wife of our distinguished General Crane,' or the 'stately and dignified lady of the brave General;'" &c., &c.
"But, no, P. Crandall was a husband and father; so when he was drafted, I fell upon his neck and wept. 'How can I give you up?' was all I could utter through my tears. Touched by my grief, my husband refused to be torn from me, and magnanimously renounced all the honors that crowded thick and fast upon his unwilling brow. 'Enough,' he answered, 'Isabella, I will stay by your side. Duty never points two ways, and my duty is to stay with my family. I will give up all for your sake, and though I may never realize the happiness my fond fancy painted; though I may never enter the crowded ball-room, with my proud and happy wife leaning confidingly upon my arm, while a band, concealed amid flowers, plays in a spirited manner, 'See, the conquering hero comes,'—though I see the flattering ovations, the substantial dinners, the moonlight serenades, the waiting crowd shouting my name impatiently: 'Crane! Crane! let us have a speech from the gallant General P. Crandall!'—yes, even though the aristocratic brown-stone mansion, which was to have been a testimonial of esteem from admiring friends; though all these fade before me like the beautiful mirage that proves only an illusion of the senses, yet I am equal to this act of self-denial, and submit to pass my life in obscurity, unknown and unappreciated.'"
* * * * *
"Overcome by such magnanimity, I fainted upon his bosom. After that my dreams were haunted by gory battle-fields, in which P. Crandall figured in every imaginable scene of suffering and danger. My delicate nerves had received a severe shock, and yet I did not mean to be weak, in the hour of trial, for it is the duty of a faithful wife, such as I sought to be, to sustain her partner in the hour of adversity."
* * * * *
"My companion, meanwhile, was not inactive. He sought out the obscure retreat of a distant branch of our family, a poor widow, who lived with her only son, an active and industrious mechanic. He renewed the acquaintance which we had allowed to drop some years before, and set before her in glowing colors the chance that opened for the young man to achieve a high and glorious destiny. Fired with patriotic zeal, he even went so far as to promise to take the support of the mother upon himself, while her son was absent working for the cause of liberty, and making for himself an honorable name, and succeeded so well, that he was thus enabled to send a substitute in his place to represent the family, so to speak. Nor did he stop here. Not contented with these efforts, he set about finding some other way in which he could show his zeal for the cause. At length a bright thought struck him. He became an Army Contractor."
"Of the service he has done the Government from that auspicious moment," concluded the lady, craning her long neck with an air of pardonable pride, and fingering the massive chain that depended from it with a caressing fondness, "I need not speak. Indeed, it speaks for itself. But I may say that the country which he served has not proved ungrateful, but has shown its ability to reward true merit in a substantial manner. I will, however, add that when the intelligence arrived that the man he had sent forth to represent his honor had perished in the first battle, he generously took the surviving relative into his own house, provided her with every comfort, and pays her weekly the sum of one dollar fifty, for what little errands she does for me and the children. What I wished to elucidate," added the speaker, energetically, "is this—that no one can't put me down, knowin' as I do my own rights. In fact, I may say, knowin' that I'm a sharer in the success that P. Crandall has achieved in a modest way, and that I heartily dispise aristocrats, who want to walk over everybody that is what they call self-made, and that make such a fuss about herredittery rights, and all that."
It was a noticeable fact with the lady, that when she got excited, as she was at present, her natural deficiency in grammar and kindred sciences showed more plainly than in her cooler moments. Indeed, more than one censorious person, who no doubt envied their success, attributed this to the innate vulgarity that showed itself when the contractor's lady was off her guard.
"People will talk," you know.
"Them's my sentiments exactly, Mis' Crane," spoke up a little, dark, nervous woman, from the depths of a velvet easy chair, whose stiff brocades and diamonds flashing on nearly every finger of the coarse, rough hands, showed unmistakable signs of a sudden and unexpected promotion from the kitchen to the drawing-room.
"Just my sentiments, exactly," she reiterated, emphatically. "If there were more ladies of your opinion, the reform, that has been so long talked about and desired, would not be so slow in coming. We must revolutionize society as it exists at the present day, before we can expect to exert the due amount of influence that our wealth entitles us to. And I tell you," (and the mean, little sallow face spoke in every lineament of the petty spirit of jealous hate which animated it, and looked out from the small eyes of reddish hazel,) "I tell you," (this lady had a habit of repeating over the same sentences two or three times when greatly wrought upon by her sensibilities,) "money is the lever that moves the world now-a-days. And as long as we have got it, who's a better right to put themselves in the front ranks? If I've got a house in the most aristocratic portion of the city, plenty of well-trained servants, a stylish turnout, costly jewels, laces and brocades, I wonder if I ain't as good as my neighbor, especially if my husband can boast of millions where her's can thousands—dollars where her's can shillins'?"
"Why, Mrs. Brown," drawled a voice which had before been silent, "your husband made his money in a vulgar grocery; your father was a poor man, while your fair neighbor inherited her vast wealth. That splendid mansion was a gift from papa, those well-trained servants have been in the service of her family since my lady was a mere child, and have been accustomed to wait upon and obey the slightest wish of their imperious mistress, until they have grown to regard her as of a higher order of being from themselves—a sort of delicate porcelain, while they are only common crockery for kitchen service. All perfectly proper, you know!"
The last speaker was a languid blonde, with a profusion of airy ringlets fluttering around her thin face, which, judging by appearances, must have been fanned by the zephyrs of innumerable May-days, equally as bright and beautiful as the one that on the present occasion had aroused her to the unwonted exertion of dressing and appearing in the parlor of her dearest friend, to display a new, tasteful spring suit, of a delicate blue, suitable to the complexion of the lady it adorned.
A self-complacent smile curled her thin lips, as she quietly noted the effects of her somewhat lengthy speech. Like all efforts of an unexpected and startling nature it produced a decided sensation. The little lady in brocade and diamonds glared at her like a fury—her stately hostess bridled, tossed her head, and gave one or two short, sharp, hysterical giggles.
"Why, Cynthia," she exclaimed, "you are in charming spirits! Mr. Underwitte must have proposed at last."
Miss Cynthia playfully held up her parasol to conceal her blushes.
"As if I were going to tell if he did! Now, really, Mrs. Brown, what would you say to having me for a neighbor at some not distant day in the place of those insufferable Graystones? Do you think I could do the honors of the mansion gracefully, or should I suffer from the comparison with the fair descendant of the Leveridges? By the way, do you think she will continue to pride herself upon her lofty descent in the future, as she has done in the past? She must have enough of the subject by this time, I think! he! he! he!"
There was a shrill chorus of laughter, which a deep, tragic voice interrupted with the question—
"What are you all so merry about?" and a figure, in bombazine and rusty crape, stood before them, which was hailed successively by three voices, a cracked soprano, Mrs. Crane—a high-keyed treble, Miss Cynthia, and a little gasp or gurgle from Mrs. Brown, the lady in brocade, as, "Mrs. Linden!" "My dear creature!" and "That angel Alicia!" and any amount of kissing and shaking of hands, then a general resuming of seats, and the question again asked, "What were you all so merry about, that you did not hear me ring?"
"One of Cynthia's witty speeches," replied the lady of the house, and after they had had another laugh, and Miss Cynthia had simpered and shook her curls affectedly, the new-comer proceeded to give the latest version of the Graystone's downfall and subsequent misfortunes.
"All gone by the board, a regular crash, and nothing left to tell the tale."
"A clear, out and out failure."
"And all come from signing for that rascally Sanderson."
"I knew he was a slippery rogue."
"Good enough for Graystone."
"Served him right for being such a fool."
These, and similar uncomplimentary epithets, indiscriminately applied by the assembled ladies, proved what a choice morsel this was considered that had so unexpectedly fallen to their share.
"What will become of the family, I wonder?" queried Mrs. Crane. "It was bad enough to lose the money, but now that Graystone's gone, I do not see what them two helpless women are going to do?"
"Live on their connections, most likely," snapped little Mrs. Brown, "of course they won't work."
"No, I do not believe that," was the reply. "They are too independent. At present, I believe, they have taken rooms in an obscure part of the city. I guess they do not know what to do themselves."
"It must have been hard to part with everything that was dear to them by association, for I hear that they gave up everything, even Clemence's piano, to pay debts."
There was a pitying tone in the speaker's voice. Alicia Linden, for all her tragic accents, her deep-set eyes, with their beetling brows, and her generally almost repulsive exterior, had more real heart than any of the women present. Perhaps she remembered that time in the vanished past, when she had stood by the coffin that contained the loved of her youth, he who had made her girlhood one dream of happiness, but over whose calm face the grass had greened and faded for many a weary year; perhaps this remembrance touched a chord of her better nature. Life, with its cares, and sorrows, and disappointments, had hardened her, till she had almost lost faith in humanity. Moreover, she was a woman, homely, and old and common, and with feminine malice and spite she could not readily forgive another of her own sex for being beautiful, refined and attractive. She said emphatically, that "it was well that, in this world, pride could sometimes be humbled;" but for all that, the memory of that day so long ago, passed alone in her desolation and sorrowful widowhood, lent a pitying sadness to her voice that placed her infinitely above these other soulless ones of her sex, with their cold eyes and unsympathetic tones.
Vixenish Mrs. Brown detected the weakness at once, and pounced upon it with avidity. She was blessed with a good memory, and one or two well remembered slights from the unconscious objects of her animadversions, rankled bitterly, and she hungered for revenge. She exulted now without stint, and took no pains to conceal it. The lady had a blooming daughter, Melinda. If the mother's early life had been one of privation and toil, the young lady in question had had, thus far, a totally different experience. Mrs. Brown's educational advantages had been limited to a knowledge of reading, writing and ciphering, with a something of grammar. Miss Brown's childhood had passed under the tutilage of accomplished masters. She could dance, execute a few showy pieces upon the piano without a blunder, utter glibly French and Italian phrases, and had, with the help of her teacher, finished, creditably, a landscape, a gorgeous sunset, of amber and crimson, and purple-tinted clouds, which hung in the most conspicuous position in her mother's drawing-room. Melinda read novels, frequented theatres, and talked slang, like the "girl of the period," and was the idol of her weak mother, whom she ruled like a queen. Unfortunately, "my lady Graystone," as she was called in the clique over which Mrs. Crane presided, had an innate love for the pure and beautiful, and a thorough contempt for vulgarity in every form. The gorgeous Melinda, therefore, was not a person calculated to inspire a lady of her high-toned mind with any deep feeling of regard or esteem. The elder woman, who, from her long probation at service, before she was fortunate enough to secure William Brown, the grocer's apprentice, had caught that cringing obsequiousness that we so often see in those accustomed to serve, and could have borne patiently, any slights or rebuffs that opposed her entrance into the charmed circle which she had determined to invade at all hazards. Meek and fawning, where she desired to gain favor, as she was insolent and overbearing to her inferiors, she was willing to commence at the lowest round of the social ladder, and creep up slowly to a position that suited her ambition, in the same manner in which she had won her way to wealth out of the depth of poverty. But, when the blooming daughter of the retired grocer returned from boarding school, all things were changed. "Melinda was a lady," "entitled to a proud position in society, by virtue of her lady-like acquirements," and she demanded an instant recognition of her claims by said society. The exclusive circle of which the beautiful wife of Grosvenor Graystone had long been an acknowledged leader, politely, but firmly repulsed the overtures of the ladies of the Brown family, in such a way that they were not again repeated, and the result, as we have seen, was their cordial dislike, and even more, a vindictive hatred.
"Hard to part with everything," hissed Mrs. Brown, "and you pity them, I suppose, Alicia! You, who have been snubbed by them so repeatedly, that you have come to expect nothing better at their hands! You, a daughter of the people, so to speak;" (Mrs. Brown, since her signal defeat by the Graystone clique, had been at no little pains to air her democratic principles, much in the way we have seen some of our politicians do in the present day.) However, she was not so good a sensational speaker as Mrs. Crane, and like every one who attempts to imitate anything out of their "line," or perform impossibilities, and probably owing, in part, to her defective education, she became easily confused and bewildered in an argument. She should have known, poor lady, that flights of imagination ought not to be attempted by a practical little body like herself, as the aforementioned retired grocer had more than once informed her during some of their little conjugal scenes in which Mrs. Brown's bony fingers and long nails generally played an active part. But if the lady aimed at dramatic effect, she succeeded only too well, for the little angular form, bristling with indignation, from the depths of the great crimson velvet easy chair, the lurid eyes emitting greenish lights, and the gaunt arm waved in the air, created a momentary diversion. Mrs. Crane compressed her thin lips closely; Miss Cynthia raised a filmy lace handkerchief and coughed slightly, and Alicia Linden burst into a loud, masculine laugh. Mrs. Brown instantly subsided and the conversation was skilfully turned into another channel. The strong-minded widow was the only woman the diminutive lady really feared.
* * * * *
Presently there was a little flutter, a rustling of silken robes, more kissing and hand-shaking, and "good bye, loves," and the little party dispersed.
* * * * *
"Widowed and fatherless; God pity them," came in a low voice from a sad-faced woman, clad in the sable robes of mourning. It was that "distant branch of the family," none other than Mrs. Crane's own widowed sister, for whom the patriotic contractor had so generously provided with a home, and one dollar fifty per week. Tears were falling upon the work before her, but she brushed them away quietly as a shrill voice beside her cried,
"Blubbering again, Jane Phelps, and Lucinda's new pearl-colored silk, that I paid five dollars a yard for, in your lap. You miserable, ill-tempered, sulky thing; if you have soiled it, I'll make you starve it out, and take it out of your wages, beside!"
"You could not make me suffer more, whatever you might do, for I am the most wretched, pitiable creature in existence," sobbed the woman.
"Good enough for you," was the response; "'as you make your bed, so you must lie.' I always knew, for all your pretty, pink and white face, and meek ways, you'd come to grief. You could always fool everybody but me, though mother's pet, must have the best of everything to show off her good looks, and no matter what fell to my share. I was so homely and unattractive it did not make any difference what I wore. But the tables are turned now, eh, Jane! The old folks didn't know, when they thought they'd made you for this world and the next, by putting you ahead of me, and sounding your praises in the ear of that white-faced artist, that he'd die and leave their darling with nothing but a lot of unsalable, miserable pictures and a child to support! They didn't live to see it, to be sure, but I did, and, Jane, (coming closer and lowering her voice to a tone of deep, intense passion,) I glory in my revenge. I'm the rich Mrs. Crane, to-day, and you are old and poor, and faded, and I don't mind telling you, now that this is an hour that I've longed to see. You have always been preferred before me, and as I've had to take up with the refuse, it was no more than natural, I suppose, (with a sneering laugh,) that I should wait, and long, and hunger, for the love that you took only as your right. So I waited, and to-day I triumph in the thought that Deane Phelps' petted wife is a dependent upon my bounty, a menial in the house where I reign supreme, and which knows no law but my will. I have forgotten how to love, but each day (and I have conned the lesson well) I learn better how to hate."
There was a rustling of stiff silk, a door slammed angrily, and the slender figure left alone with her trouble, bowed itself like a reed before the storm, and that wail of heart-broken humanity that has resounded through long ages, and is yet only a faint echo of that night so long ago, rose to the pallid lips, "my punishment is greater than I can bear," nevertheless, "not as I will, but as Thou wilt."
Alicia Linden walked slowly homeward, musing thoughtfully: "This is a strange world," she soliloquized. "Let philosophers air their utopian theories about its containing the elements of universal happiness. I know that human nature, as it is now constituted, is too selfish and mean to arrive at a state of absolute perfection. Truly, 'men are a little breed.' 'But, in the future, when that which is whispered in secret shall be proclaimed upon the housetops,' all our griefs and wrongs shall be recompensed. Oh, weary women, syllabling brokenly His precious promises, patient, untiring watcher, whose tired feet have grown weary of the 'burden and heat of the day,' wait 'God's time!' Listen to the words that have come down through the dim and forgotten centuries—a message of 'peace and glad tidings.' 'In my Father's house there are many mansions. I go to prepare a place for you.' Teach us the lesson of patience, oh Father above! 'Tis a wearisome struggle. This is a sin-fallen world, and want and misery abound upon every hand. Is it true, as another has declared—'Every sin is an edict of Divinity; every pain is a precept of destiny; wisdom is as full in what man calls good and evil, as God is full in infinitude?'"
Well, God sees, and over all is the loving care of "our Father who art in Heaven."
And sometimes, when human sympathy is denied us—when the eyes, that should only beam with pity and affection, turn coldly away, Nature, bountiful mother, stretches out her arms lovingly, and wooes us to her with an irresistible, but nameless charm. She cradles the tired head upon her bosom, presses cool kisses upon weary, drooping eyelids, and broods over the slumberer with loving vigils. Under her tender ministrations our dreams are blessed visions of the "green pastures and the still waters," and the "shining ones" waiting "beyond the river."
The smiling Spring day faded slowly. Evening came on apace. Under the moonlit sky a fair-browed girl kept loving vigil. It was sweet Clemence Graystone. There was a troubled look in the calm eyes. Life's battle had but just began. They were all alone now. Death had entered their little circle and robbed them of their dear one. The loving husband and kind father, who had toiled for them, working day after day, and often far into the night, to surround his cherished darlings with the elegancies to which they had been accustomed, had been suddenly taken away, and "their house was left unto them desolate." They had not even time to mourn, for, after they had buried their dead out of their sight, the man of business came and told them in brief, unsympathetic tones that they must leave the home that had so long sheltered them, for the wealth that had purchased and made it beautiful, was their's no longer. They were penniless. It was a cruel blow. Mrs. Graystone sank helplessly under it, and the delicately reared daughter had all the burden thrown upon her young shoulders. And nobly did she bear it. Clemence Graystone, with her bright, radiant face, had seemed to her fond father like a sunbeam gilding that stately home, and warming into living beauty what else would have been only cold magnificence. To her mother, deprived of every other earthly comfort, she became a ministering angel. She forgot her own trials: she did not mourn that she had lost the privileges of society to which their former wealth entitled them: and her beautiful lips curled in contempt, as one by one, those who had once professed the warmest friendship, passed her with a cool nod or haughty stare. Clemence had learned now how to value these summer friends, who scattered at the first breath of adversity, and she tried bravely to keep back the tears that would come at the sight of her loved home in the possession of strangers. She had something else to do now, must be something else beside a "dreamer of vain dreams," and must work to procure food for them both.
Yes, it had come to that. In America, where fortunes are made or lost in a day, the millionaire may have his wealth suddenly swept from him, and one of humble position as suddenly attain to affluence. An unlooked for turn in the tide of affairs, a seeming caprice of the fickle goddess Fortune, who saw fit to frown where she had always smiled, and Grosvenor Graystone was a ruined man. The shock was too much for him, and he died of grief and despair. It was nothing new, there are hundreds of such cases every day. People commented, some pityingly, and others exultingly, as we have seen. "Poor things!" was echoed dolefully, and then each went his or her way, and the gentle lady and fair-browed girl were left to their fate. It was this—to work if they could get it, if not, beg or starve. Nobody was interested in their fate. Henceforth they must be all in all to each other. Their slender stock of money soon dwindled away. Clemence turned to the one alternative, work. She must get employment, but where, or how? She had no one to turn to for advice. Pride forbade her asking help of those who had known them in the days of their prosperity, and who should have come forward at once with offers of assistance. There was no one in the great, wide city to give her even a word of encouragement. She must rely solely upon her own judgment. What could she do? She might go out as a governess. She ran over in her mind her list of accomplishments. She had a good knowledge of music, could draw and paint creditably, was able to converse fluently in French, Spanish and Italian, besides possessing a thorough English education. The girl thought, naturally enough, for one of her inexperience, that she might earn enough for their support by teaching. At least, she resolved to make the effort, for something must be done immediately. Her beloved mother was in need of comforts that she could not supply from their scanty purse. Clemence could not bear to see her suffer thus, and, after pondering long and deeply upon the subject, she resolved upon, what was for her, a very bold venture.
Dressing herself modestly and tastefully, she started out in the warm sunshine of a bright spring day, with the design of applying for the position of governess at some of the elegant private residences which graced the fine avenues of the great city where so many like herself toiled and suffered. She walked slowly along, with a throbbing heart, and tears that she could not repress filling her eyes; but she remembered her mother waiting at home, and the thought nerved her. Hastily opening the gate nearest at hand, she ran up the steps and rang the bell without giving herself time for thought. A stolid looking servant came to the door, who eyed her suspiciously, and did not seem disposed to admit her. However, on her decided request to see the lady of the house, she was shown a seat in the hall, and left to her reflections. A moment after, there was the rustle of silken robes, the sparkle of brilliant jewels, and a cold voice said ominously—
"You wished to speak with me, I believe."
Clemence modestly stated her errand.
"A governess? No, I do not wish to employ any such person," replied the lady, standing and looking as if no more was to be said; and Clemence could only give a little deprecating bow, and turn away.
She determined, though, not to give up with one effort, for she had expected rebuffs, and mustering her courage for another trial, and hoping better success, she rang at the next bell.
This time she was admitted at once, and announced "a lady to see you, mum," to an elderly lady in black satin and gold spectacles, who was surrounded by several blooming daughters and a young gentleman stretched lazily upon the sofa. Clemence again made known her errand.
"N-no," said the lady, hesitatingly, "I guess we don't want a governess."
"Yes we do, ma, for Julia," spoke up one of the young ladies, "the Burleighs have got one, and I'm bound they shan't go ahead of us. If they can afford one, we can. Besides, it sounds more aristocratic."
"But your father will never allow it," replied mamma, anxiously, "he said only this morning that we must retrench."
"Retrench," responded the amiable daughter, scornfully, "don't preach economy to me. You know you can wheedle him out of anything, if you want to. Its only your stinginess. Besides, I want some assistance in my music. You play, of course?" (turning abruptly to Clemence, who had been an astonished listener to this dialogue,) "will you give me a specimen of your style?"
Clemence obeyed this request that, savored more of a command, at once, and sat down tremblingly to the piano. Music with her was almost a passion. Indeed, in the old happy days, she had been often told that her voice and execution would win her both fame and wealth if she were to make her appearance before the public. But the fond father had said "God forbid! I could not lie quietly in my grave with my little home nestling the property of strangers." Clemence had not touched the keys of a piano since her own, a highly valued gift from the lost one, had been taken from her. She felt nearly overcome by the memories that came crowding upon her, but the cold eyes of strangers were upon her, and pride came to her aid. She began the prelude to a song that required great artistic skill and expression. Her listeners sat in silence, while her very soul floated away on the waves of melody. When she had finished, there was astonishment depicted on every face.
"Good enough for the stage; might make a fortune with that pretty face," came from the sofa where the representative of masculine humanity reclined.
"Harry, my son!" mildly remonstrated the mother.
"Where were you last employed, Miss—what may I call your name?"
Clemence supplied the missing cognomen, and replied truthfully, that this was her first attempt to obtain such a position.
"You have references, of course?"
She looked aghast. Inexperienced Clemence! The thought had not, until this moment, occurred to her. She hesitated. There were many who knew her well as the only daughter of Grosvenor Graystone, who could not remember the widow's daughter. There was no one whom she could think of in her bewilderment to refer to as a friend, none of her former haughty friends who would not think it an unpardonable liberty.
A stranger, with no references. That settled the question at once. The mother of young daughters could not be too careful in regard to the character of the persons she employed around them. A knowledge of their pedigree was an absolute necessity. The idea of an adventuress stealing into the household, and perhaps laying snares to entrap the son and heir, could not be thought of for a moment.
Clemence found herself again upon the side-walk, with cheeks burning with indignation, and eyes that glittered with excitement. She walked on rapidly for the space of one or two blocks, and as her feelings became calmer, resolved to make one final effort. She felt strong in the conscious power of innocence and rectitude, feeling sure that, being in the pathway of duty, she would ultimately succeed.
Acting upon this resolution, she soon found herself seated in an elegantly furnished apartment, where she had been shown by an obsequious waiter. Having some time to wait, she fell into a reverie from which the voice of a gentlemen aroused her by inquiring in a dignified manner in what way he could serve her.
Clemence again went through with her explanations, blushing and stammering awkwardly enough, as the penetrating eyes fastened themselves curiously and inquisitively upon her face.
"Ah!" he speculated, when she had finished, "this is really interesting. It is not often that I am blessed with a fair visitor in my bachelor apartments. I do not need a governess, having, thank heaven, no such useless appendage as a troop of noisy children, but I do stand in need of some beautiful lady, like yourself, for a companion to cheer my loneliness. I can promise you a permanent position, with 'all the comforts of a home,' a salary of your own choosing, and 'no questions asked,' as the newspapers say."
"How dare you, sir?" said Clemence, in lofty scorn, as she moved towards the door, which was opened for her amid profuse apologies, none of which she deigned to notice.
"And this is trying to earn an honest living," murmured the girl, as she found herself for the third time alone upon the pavement. "It sounds very pretty and praiseworthy to read and talk about, but I have learned to-day that it means insult and contempt from the coarse and vulgar, and cold suspicion from those who, from their professions, should stretch out a helping hand in the spirit of Christian love and charity."
Oh! my poor, lost sisters, who have gone before, and whose feet have stumbled and faltered in the thorny way! He who pitied the fallen woman of old, will remember all your prayers and tears and remorseful agony. And in that "last great day," they who have led your inexperienced footsteps into the path that leads to the gulf of vice and misery, will suffer the vengeance of an outraged God.
This life is but a fleeting dream, of happiness to some, misery to others, but there is a home beyond, and for the faithful, a "crown of glory which fadeth not away." For we know that there is an inheritance for those who persevere.
Thoughts like these filled Clemence's mind as she walked towards home disheartened. She had cause for trouble. She knew that their scanty means must soon fail entirely, if employment was not obtained, and this was the result of her first trial. She was tired, too, being unaccustomed to exercise, and her feet ached from contact with the rough pavement. An empty car passed her, but she had given her last cent to a beggar a few hours before. She thought of the hundreds she had lavished without a thought upon the different objects of charity, and sighed at the contrast. Now she must deny herself for the privilege of bestowing the smallest gift. But she remembered too, that story of the widow's mite, which was accounted more than the rich man's profusion. She took comfort in the thought that the same loving care was over her, and whispered softly one of her favorite texts, "I will put my trust in Him, and He will never leave nor forsake me." The pure, sweet face was like that of a glorified saint. An old woman hobbling by, bent and gray with age, crossed herself devoutly, and muttered a blessing on the fair young head; and a man, old and hardened in crime, caught her words, and remembering the love-lit eyes that had bent over him in childhood, breathed out the remorseful prayer, "God pity me, a ruined soul!"
"You are late, darling," said a low voice anxiously, as Clemence ran up to the room in a fourth-rate lodging house, which was now their only home.
"Yes, mamma," said the girl, fondly, assuming a cheerfulness which she did not feel, "the day was such a pleasant one, I walked on farther than I had at first intended. You must try and get strong enough to enjoy this beautiful spring weather with me. But you are tired, and must not be kept longer waiting for tea, and to accomplish that weighty object, we must first consult our good friend Mrs. Mann, her services being absolutely indispensable."
"And here she is for once, when she is wanted," said that good lady in hearty tones. "I am glad you are home again, for your mother was getting anxious about you, and making herself sick with fretting. Dear! dear! Miss Clemence, this is a world of changes! It makes my heart ache to see you now, having to bother your pretty head with ways and means, when you are fit to live like a princess in a fairy tale."
"Well, perhaps I may some day. Who knows, Mrs. Mann, what may happen? The prince that is always appearing to disconsolate damsels, just at the right moment, to rescue them from a cruel fate, may chance along in this direction, and then we will all be happy together. Willie shall have that bran new suit that he has been talking about so long, to wear to Sunday School, and Fanny a wonderful picture book, and the baby lots of goodies, and we will live together, and you shall be housekeeper, and allow no one but yourself to make mamma's tea."
"Hear the dear, generous creature," said Mrs. Mann, standing in breathless admiration. "If she had her way, everybody would be happy as the day is long. That girl has a work to do, Mrs. Graystone, or the Lord would never have implanted such a strong, brave, noble spirit in such a frail, delicate body."
"Oh, Mrs. Mann," said the widow, "what should I do without her? My only one, my brave, beautiful Clemence! She is my all of earth, the one being who makes me cling to life and desire it. God has been good to me in my affliction, and sent me a blessed comforter."
"I never met but one girl who could at all compare with our Clemence," said Mrs. Mann. "I will tell you about her, so that you may see that others, too, have been through the 'deep waters.' Lilias May was a genuine heroine. Her father was a clergyman of limited means, with a large family of children to support. Lilias was the oldest, and had been educated liberally, the more useful branches not being overlooked, while the accomplishments received their due share of attention. She was possessed of rare personal beauty, and was the cherished idol of her parents. When she reached the age of nineteen, her father was suddenly taken away, leaving a helpless family. Overwhelmed by grief and despair, Mrs. May was utterly incapable of exertion. It was then that the noble qualities of Lilias came to be known and appreciated. She took upon herself the management of the entire household, and investigated the affairs of her deceased parent. Finding that there was absolutely nothing left for their maintenance she looked around for some means of obtaining a livelihood. Mr. May had been the only son of a wealthy but irascible old gentleman, who never forgave him for marrying the poor girl whom he loved, in preference to the heiress chosen for him by his family. He took revenge by leaving his immense wealth to his daughter. Leonora May, an imperious beauty, was totally unlike her brother, and inherited the strong will and haughty pride of her father. She could never overlook the fault of her handsome, talented brother, of whom she had been extremely proud, burying himself in a country village. After her own brilliant marriage, all communication ceased between them. Upon his death, however, she came forward with offensive condescension, offering to adopt Lilias into her family, and, as she was childless, make her the heiress of her vast wealth. To many this would have been a temptation too great to be resisted; and, to say the least, it was a pleasant picture which was held up alluringly before the young girl. But she scorned the proposal. She refused to be raised to a position to which those she loved could not attain, for her aunt had expressly stipulated that, having once accepted her protection, her family should be nothing more to her. Having thus declined the tempting offer, Lilias began her search for work, in which she was successful beyond her hopes. A former friend of her father's, wishing a teacher for his daughters, engaged her services at once. He also assisted her brother, a youth of seventeen, to secure a place in the counting-room of a friend; and took another, still younger, into his own office. So that Lilias had the satisfaction of knowing they were all provided for; the church, over which her father had presided, having, meanwhile, presented the widow of their esteemed pastor with the house in which they lived, and a generous sum of money."
"And is that all, Mrs. Mann?" asked Clemence, in disappointed tones, as the good woman paused in her narration; "have you nothing further to tell us about this wonderful Lilias May?"
"Oh," she laughed, patting the girl's cheek caressingly, "I see what you are after, and I will tell you the rest. The best part of the story is yet to come. Lilias May's beauty of person and character made such an impression upon the family who employed her, that they prevailed upon her to remain with them always, for she married the gentleman's oldest son. It seemed too, that her Aunt Leonora only admired her the more for her courageous spirit, and when she died soon after, left Lilias all of her money, to do just as she pleased with."
"But here is the tea steeped until it is nearly spoiled, and I am afraid Mrs. Graystone is tired of waiting," said Mrs. Mann, hurrying out of the room, "on hospitable thought intent."
Soon the little, plain, unpretending room took on that air of home comfort that is seldom seen in statelier dwellings.
After all, happiness is comparative, and the poor man in his cottage, with good health and a clear conscience, has as good a chance for arriving at the goal which restless mortals ever strive to attain, as the rich man who cannot be one moment free from the cares that wealth is always sure to bring with it.
Clemence Graystone's first attempt at obtaining employment had not been sufficiently encouraging to cause her to entertain any very sanguine hopes in regard to a renewal of her exertions. But that stern necessity "which knows no law," compelled her to make another trial after she had somewhat recovered from the effects of her first disappointment.
Clemence had already began to learn some of the bitter lessons of poverty. She no longer viewed life through the rose-colored medium that she had been wont to do in her former, care-free days. There were thought lines gathering on the broad, white brow, and the dark eyes, that had once the joyous look of a happy child, told of one who had already tasted the bitterness of life, from which a favored few in this world only are exempt.
How true it is, as another has written, "none of our lives are dated by years; the wear and tear of heart and brain, to say nothing of the body, constitute age."
Clemence felt as if years instead of months had passed over her head since their bereavement. The blow had fallen unexpectedly, and the result was Clemence was no longer a happy child, but a sorrowing woman. She tried to be patient, for there was another who, like Rachael of old, mourned, and would not be comforted. Clemence felt that her own grief was light compared to the sorrowing one, whose weary feet were even then nearing the end of life's journey, nearing the brink of that river, whose solemn music came to her eager ear like a benediction. The dim eyes had a strained, wistful gaze, as if longing to behold the radiant glories of that "land of pure delight."
The girl felt, sometimes, as she looked at the drooping, attenuated figure, each day growing more ethereal, that her burden was greater than she could bear. An awful fear haunted her, that she would not give a name, and often, when she had thought of the future till she grew sick with fear, she had felt that work would be a positive relief to her troubled mind.
It was during one of these despondent moods, that she determined, in spite of a former resolution to the contrary, to make another effort to obtain employment as governess.
Looking carefully over the column of wants in a daily paper, she found several advertisements, such as she was in search of. She copied the address of each one of them, and this accomplished, took from its receptacle the diploma awarded her at the celebrated Institute from which she had graduated with high honors, and which was sufficient proof of her education and accomplishments. Notwithstanding her previous disappointments, she felt hopeful of success.
The first place on her list took her to a stylish residence on a fashionable avenue. It reminded her of the luxurious home of which she was once the petted darling, and the contrast with her present humble position was humiliating in the extreme. She stood for some moments upon the steps, waiting to gather courage to enter.
It was in a maze of bewilderment that she found herself a few moments after, seated in a splendid drawing-room, awaiting the appearance of the mistress of the mansion.
Presently there was the sound of voices, low and musical, and a lady entered, followed by a gentleman. She was grandly beautiful, and Clemence thought one of the haughtiest women she had ever met. She rose, and introduced herself, stating her errand, as Miss Graystone, the person desiring the position of governess, referring to the advertisement.
The beautiful eyes fastened themselves inquiringly upon her face.
"There had already been a number of applicants, none of whom had given satisfaction."
There was a moment's silence, during which Clemence felt that two pairs of eyes were studying her countenance closely, then a series of questions:
"What were her accomplishments?"
"Where had she received her education?"
Clemence felt like replying that she had received a good many lessons since she had been pronounced finished by Madame Latour—lessons in human nature, that all who have the misfortune to be poor and ambitious, must learn, sooner or later.
"Could she dance, draw, paint, give instruction in vocal and instrumental music?"
To all of these, Clemence replied in the affirmative, and, as before, in obedience to a request in the imperative mode, to favor them with a specimen of her musical ability, went forward and took a seat at the piano.
She could not help looking her surprise, when the gentleman rose politely to turn her music. She had not been accustomed to such little attentions of late, though, in the past, she would have expected them, and treated them as a matter of course. She noticed the gentleman was handsome and distinguished-looking, with kind, grave eyes, and a smile that illumined his intellectual face like a gleam of sunshine. His age might have been thirty, possibly thirty-five.
Clemence's performance seemed to give satisfaction, although she did not play as well as usual. After a few more questions, the lady asked the gentleman if she had not better engage the services of this young person at once.
"By all means," he said with emphasis; "I have no doubt that the young lady will give perfect satisfaction."
Clemence again felt grateful for his kindness. She had learned to appreciate and value a word of sympathy or encouragement. Poor child! she received few enough of them now.
"Very well, you can come to-morrow. The children have been for some time without a teacher, and I wish them to commence upon a course as soon as possible."
Then, after a few remarks, and the mention of a salary, which seemed princely to Clemence, she was shown to the door by a liveried servant, and found herself walking homeward anxious to communicate this joyful intelligence to her mother.
"I declare, it's a burning shame," said the motherly landlady, on being told of her success—"a real lady like you; it's dreadful to think of."
"Why, Mrs. Mann," said Clemence, in dismay, "I thought you would be pleased. Only six hours of work each day, and I can have so much time to spend with mamma. I consider myself a wonderfully fortunate girl. The salary, too, is so liberal, that I can afford now to get the comforts that our dear invalid is pining for."
"Well, I don't want to discourage you, dear," said Mrs. Mann. "You are a good girl, Clemence Graystone. The Lord's on your side, and He'll take care of you, if you trust Him, as He has watched over all the ups and downs of my life, till I'm an old woman. It's the poor, and friendless, and desolate that He pities and loves, and He will protect you, my darling, wherever you may be, if you only trust to His guidance."
"I believe that, Mrs. Mann," said Clemence, "and it's the one thought that keeps me from repining at my hard lot. I believe, too, that 'the Lord helps those who help themselves,' and I don't mean to sit down in idleness."
"Heaven grant you prosperity," said the good woman. "Now go and comfort the mother, for she needs it sadly."
Work proved, as Clemence had anticipated, a real blessing. Some of the happiest hours she had known, since her deep affliction, were passed in the school-room with her young charges. She felt now as if she was of some use in the world, and when, after the lessons were finished, she went home to the fond mother, who awaited her coming, she realized, with thankfulness, that, through her exertions, want had been kept from the door, and the uncomplaining invalid supplied with the comforts, and even luxuries, to which she had been accustomed.
Sometimes a pleasant face looked in upon them, and "Uncle Will" was hailed with delight by Alice and Gracie Vaughn. At first, Clemence was cool and distant, but the cordial kindness of his manner won upon her, and she soon grew to value the friendship thus strangely formed. The kind word and beaming smile were very grateful to the weary girl. Ah, how little do the favored ones of this world know of the influence of one little act of kindness, or one pleasant word, ever so carelessly spoken. Many a poor, weak mortal has been kept from wrong-doing by a word fitly spoken, and others have gone down and been lost forever, from yielding to the thought that none cared for them, either for their weal or woe. There is not a day, nor an hour, but that somewhere throughout the length and breadth of the land, large sums of money are expended for charitable objects, and yet there are those who, for the want of a friendly hand to aid them to follow the right way, have crept away, and rid themselves of a life that had become insupportable. Persons of sensitive feelings, wounded by the indifference of those, who, from their professions, they should, expect only sympathy and forbearance, have suffered and died, and "gave no sign." This is a world of misery, and the few who know nothing of its trials, should thank God that they have been kept from an experimental knowledge of what life really is to thousands of their fellow-creatures, who, like themselves, are accountable beings, and with the same capacity for enjoyment or suffering. Indeed, none of us are always happy. We all have our hours of trial, when even the strongest-hearted will falter, and the dreamless slumber of the grave seem so sweet to our world-weary spirits. When it seems so hard to say, "Thy will be done," perhaps Death enters and robs us of some earthly idol. We see the dear one droop and die. It may be some dear, innocent babe God has transplanted. We watch its tiny life go out; see the sweet mouth quiver with the dying struggle, the strained, eager gaze mutely asking relief that we cannot give. We try to think it is well, but in place of submission, there are rebellious thoughts. Yes, we have all striven and suffered, groping, mayhap, in the darkness of unbelief. God, give us strength to resist and conquer! But,
"Never so closely does pain fold its wings, But the white robe of sympathy's near it, And each tear that the dark hand of misery wrings, Brings the touch of a blessing to cheer it."
"Courage! weary-hearted one;" God knows what is the best for us in this life, and has promised a glorious reward for those who are faithful, in that life which is to come.
Mrs. Vaughn, the lady who had engaged Clemence's services, was a widow in affluent circumstances. She spent but little time with her children, leaving them to the care of the nurse and governess. She rarely entered the school-room, and even when she did honor Clemence with her presence, paused long enough to give her more than a glance of her proud, beautiful face. She expressed supreme satisfaction with Clemence's mode of instruction, and the children worshipped their young teacher.
With all her care and responsibility, had it not been for her anxiety in her mother's behalf, this long, golden summer would have been one long to be remembered for its simple pleasures and calm enjoyments. The days passed quickly.
"Can it be possible," said Clemence to herself one day, as she took her hat and shawl, and put them on absently, "that I have been in Mrs. Vaughn's employment three months?" She looked at the crisp bank notes that lay in her hand, in payment of her first quarter's salary. "I consider myself a young lady of some importance, or, perhaps, I should say 'young woman,' now that I am a working member of society." She laughed aloud at her own thoughts. "Well, I am proud of the privilege," she mused, "and can take pleasure in the thought that I am an 'independent unity,' I never felt so strong-minded in my life."
A tawdry, ill-kempt female figure was shuffling slowly by the stately Vaughn mansion, as Clemence tripped down the steps, and two envious black eyes noted the happy smile upon her face.
"How d'ye do, Miss Graystone," said a harsh voice. "Ain't too big to speak to a body, are you, cause you happen to be among 'ristocrats?"
Clemence turned and immediately recognized Mrs. Bailey, an elderly woman, who lodged beneath the same humble roof to which her own straitened circumstances had consigned her with her parent.
"Good afternoon, Mrs. Bailey," she said politely, "I did not observe you before."
"He! he!" giggled the old lady spitefully, "my eyes are sharp, if I am old. May be, now, if I was a fine gentleman, like the one with yonder lady, I would not be so easily overlooked?"
She stretched out her long arm, and looking in the direction in which she pointed, Clemence beheld, to her horror and dismay, Mrs. Vaughn, and beside her the gentleman who had been so kind to her, and had seemed to take such a friendly interest in her success with her little pupils. They had not yet been observed, and there was still time for the mortified girl to make her escape unseen. The first impulse of her mind was to excuse herself to her eccentric companion, and turn quickly a convenient corner.
"But," she thought, "I should hurt this good woman's feelings, and lose my own self-respect by such a course. Clemence Graystone, what are these people to you, that you should do a cowardly act for fear of them."
She raised her head proudly, and gave, perhaps, a more than usually distant bend of the head to the gentleman's respectful bow. The lady gave her only a stare of astonishment, and they had scarcely passed, when she heard these words distinctly:
"How shocking! Did you see that horrid creature with Miss Graystone? It must be her mother. I declare, if I had have known she had such low relations, I never would have engaged her."
"Gracia, hush! I entreat you, Miss Graystone will overhear you."
If Clemence's face crimsoned at the words, the one beside her became absolutely livid with rage. Mrs. Bailey had once been a beauty, and the black eyes that now glowed with baleful fire, had, in years gone by, glanced languishingly upon scores of admiring swains. But there was now nothing left of fortune, fair looks, or friends, but a bitter memory that rankled in the woman's heart. Realizing that her own youth had flown, she hated all that was young, and lovely, and pure, as a reproach to her mis-spent life. She was a keen observer of people, too, in her strange way, and had read upon the ingenuous face before her, the momentary temptation to shun her unwelcome society.
The delicacy of Clemence's manner, instead of arousing her gratitude, had the effect which it sometimes has upon people who realize their own inferiority, and she resolved to wound her where she guessed a young girl's feelings were peculiarly sensitive.
Ignoring the remarks which she had heard Mrs. Vaughn making upon her own appearance, she turned and gazed over her shoulder, as the pair ascended the steps and entered the door, through which Clemence had but just passed.
"Why, they're goin' into the same house you came out of, Miss Graystone! Who be they, now?"
Clemence informed her that the lady was Mrs. Vaughn, to whose children she gave instruction, and the gentleman was Mr. Wilfred Vaughn, the step-brother of her late husband.
"No, is it?" said Mrs. Bailey; "ain't he a handsome man?" studying the girl's face closely.
Clemence agreed with her in thinking Mr. Vaughn a handsome and distinguished looking gentleman.
"Is he married?" was the next question.
Clemence replied in the negative.
"Be you much acquainted with him?" queried her tormentor.
"But very little," was the laconic reply.
"Well, let me give you a little advice, young lady," said Mrs. Bailey, after a disagreeable silence of some minutes. "I have seen more of the world than you have, and think it is my duty to warn you of your danger. Don't have too much to say to this fine gentleman. Nothing is so becoming to a young woman as modesty." (It was truly wonderful how Mrs. Bailey had come to learn in her old age, that of which she had seemed deplorably ignorant in her youth, and valued modesty the more as she had less occasion to call it into requisition.) "Men of his wealth and social position never want any good of poor girls like you; that is why I wish to warn you, for I think you are a good, deserving sort of a person, that means well, and if you profit by my instructions, you will avoid a lifetime of misery. Don't let any foolish idea of securing a rich husband, enter your head. Submit patiently to the poverty that must always be your portion. Be industrious, sober and discreet, and I dare say, you may find some honest young man, bye-and-bye, who will want such a wife to help him turn an honest penny, and lay up something for a rainy day. Not that I think there is the least danger, unless you are forward enough to put yourself in this gentleman's way, because men think so much of beauty, that plain girls like you are most always apt to be overlooked, but my conscience would reprove me if I did not warn you. Remember my advice! Listen to no flatteries; permit no nonsense to be poured into your ears, and shun, as you would contagion, the deceitful wiles of man."
She waved her hand majestically to Clemence, and disappeared up the dark staircase, for they had, by this time, reached home.
Hardly knowing whether to laugh or cry, the young girl went in search of her mother and kind Mrs. Mann, to confide her troubles, feeling sure of their cordial sympathy.
It is just possible that there was the least perceptible haughtiness in the calm "good morning," with which Clemence next met Mr. Vaughn. In spite of the remembrance of his many cordial kindnesses, the malicious insinuations of Mrs. Bailey had produced an impression on her mind, which she could not disregard.
"It is too true, she thought, bitterly. Alas! for the unprotected and helpless of my sex, men of wealth and position rarely offer an honorable suit to women of a lower standing in society. I will have as little as possible to say to this fine gentleman."
* * * * *
But that was more easily said than done. It seemed almost impossible to avoid him. And it happened on one occasion that the languid lady of the mansion, (who should have been the one most interested in the progress of Clemence's little pupils, but who really seemed, at times, to have even forgotten their existence,) entered the school-room somewhat unexpectedly, and saw what aroused a new train of thought in her mind, and made her resolve quietly to keep a close watch upon Miss Graystone's movements in future, if not dispense with her services altogether. The lessons were ended, the books put away for the day, and the two girls were looking with bright, eager eyes into the kind face of Mr. Wilfred Vaughn, who was relating a marvellous story of such absorbing interest, that the elder of the children, a dark-eyed girl, who inherited somewhat of her mother's beauty and wilfulness, had insisted that her pet teacher should stay and hear. There was a moment of embarrassed silence, as Mrs. Vaughn appeared in the doorway, but the gentleman rose to offer her a chair, without appearing to notice the astonishment depicted in her countenance, or the half repressed sneer in the careless—
* * * * *
"What! you here, Will? Rather a new occupation, is it not? You were not so fond of visiting the school-room when poor Miss Smith was its presiding genius. I am glad to find that Miss Graystone meets with your approval."
"The children certainly are doing well," he responded, "Alice especially; but, I am afraid Miss Graystone is applying herself too closely to the work of improvement. You must see to it, Gracia, for you could illy afford to lose so valuable a prize."
Clemence's face crimsoned at this personality, and an angry gleam shot from his sister-in-law's eyes, that amused the gentleman not a little. He understood her thoroughly, or thought he did, and knew the look boded no good for Clemence. But he was hardly prepared for the shock, when a day or two after, little Alice came to him with her face bathed in tears, and throwing herself into his arms, exclaimed, amid her sobs—
"Oh, uncle, Miss Graystone has gone away, and is not coming back any more, for mamma says so! She called her an artful piece, and said she was trying to captivate you with her pretty face. What is captivate, uncle? Is it anything so very dreadful? I know it ain't to be cross and push me away, as mamma does, for Miss Graystone never did that, but only loved me, and told me nice stories. I don't believe she tries to captivate half so much as mamma does herself."
There were more tears and lamentations, and from amidst the disjointed medley, Wilfred Vaughn learned that a great wrong had been done a beautiful and innocent girl, and he had been the unconscious cause. He sat buried in thought long after the twilight shadows had gathered and deepened around him. The artless questions of Alice had startled him into a knowledge of his own true position, and he knew now that he loved this sweet-faced young girl who was yet almost a stranger to him. He knew but little of her former life or antecedents, yet he would have staked worlds on her truth and honor. He had not before dreamed of the possibility, but now the conviction fastened upon him that this was his fate. He knew in that hour of self-communion that the love of Clemence Graystone was necessary to his happiness, and he made one firm resolve to win her for his own.
"Alice tells me that you have dismissed Miss Graystone?" he said inquiringly to his sister-in-law, a few days after. "I was surprised to hear it. I thought you well pleased with her."
"You will be still more surprised," replied the lady, "when I tell you the cause of her dismissal. I have been imposed upon by the girl too long already, but nobody would have dreamed, from her meek ways, that she was anything but perfection. I did not intend to trouble you with the affair, which is the reason of my not asking your advice before acting so much against my own inclination. I would not have believed anything of Miss Graystone from a third party, for I know she is an orphan and friendless, and I do try and be charitable towards all poor and worthy persons. And then too, Will, you know how I have been bothered about a teacher, and she suited the place so well, I think it was positively ungrateful in her to act as she did."
This last remark was uttered with a pretty affectation of impatience, and a pout of the rich, red lips, and Wilfred Vaughn, listening, forgot for the moment his interest in the young teacher, so lost was he in admiration of the beautiful face before him.
"But, what did you find out?" he said, again returning to the subject.
"Read this, and you will see that she has condemned herself," she answered, handing him a letter, "and thank me for preserving you from the snare that was laid from your unwary footsteps."
It was written in a delicate lady's hand, and ran as follows:
"DEAR KARL:—I have only a moment in which to reply to your letter of the 3d, but will write you more at length at some further date. I am teaching in the family of a wealthy lady, until fate throws something more agreeable in my way. This is all that keeps me from despair.
"My own! what would I not give to see you? Oh, this fearful curse of poverty! I must find some means of escape from my difficulties, or go mad. I cannot live without you. I have planned a thousand impossible schemes, which I have been obliged to abandon as unavailing.
"Meanwhile, I am not idle. There is a rich bachelor, who resides in the house where I am employed. I have made some progress towards an acquaintance, and am beginning to entertain the hope that I have made an impression. Money is all that stands in the way of our happiness. I would dare anything to possess it. If I could once establish a claim to a portion of his vast wealth, do you not see that there are other lands where we might enjoy it together, and our life be one long dream of happiness?
"Write to me, for I am unhappy.
"Your loving CLEMENCE."
"Where did you get this?" he asked, briefly, after having completed its perusal.
"I found it where it had been carelessly dropped on the floor of the school-room," was the response.
"Was she aware of the occasion of her abrupt dismissal?" was the next question.
"No," sighed the lady. "I could not bring myself to hurt her feelings, deeply as I felt I had been wronged, so I left word for her that I intended to make some change in the girls' studies, and thought of placing them under the care of masters. It is extremely fortunate that I discovered her real character in time, is it not, Will?"
"Yes, extremely fortunate," he echoed absently, with a look of pain in his face that did not escape the eager eyes that scanned it searchingly.
"That was a clever little plot of mine," she soliloquized, an hour later. "I did not dream the foolish fellow was so interested. How came I to be so careless? That is the last governess who will ever enter these doors. I will send the children away, for I hate to be bothered with them, and it would be a great relief to have them out of my sight. I will make speedy arrangements to that effect. Of course nothing further will be heard of this girl. Men are proverbially inconstant, and Wilfred will soon forget all about this Miss Graystone. It was but a passing fancy, and I have taken the wisest course to get rid of her. I dare say she will get along well enough, and marry somebody in her own sphere in life. She was pretty and dignified with that reserved manner, and the clear eyes under the broad, full brow. But she had horridly low relations, and as I know, from sad experience, self-preservation is the first instinct of humanity. Gracia Vaughn, you must not forget the old days of poverty, and toil, and vexation over the piano in Madame Fay's back parlor, where you were an under-paid music teacher! Be careful that an unwary step does not precipitate you again into the depths from which Cecil Vaughn rescued you! That would be misery, indeed, after these long years of luxurious idleness. It shall never be."
It was the twilight of a dismal November day. The wind shrieked and moaned drearily, and what had been a cold, penetrating rain, had, as the darkness set in, frozen as it fell, and added to the general cheerlessness. The streets were nearly deserted, and the few pedestrians, whom business compelled to be abroad, hurried on swiftly to their respective places of destination.
At the window of a dingy looking brick building, which bore on its time-worn exterior its true character of that resort for friendless poverty, "a cheap lodging house," sat Clemence Graystone, gazing abstractedly into the gathering gloom of the night. The fair, patient face was clouded with care, and somewhat of the darkness of the world without, seemed to have settled upon her spirits.
"I hear the howl of the wind that brings The long, drear storm on its heavy wings,"
she said, at length, rising and gliding to the side of the couch upon which a slight figure reclined, asked fondly,
"Mamma, what shall I read to you this evening? I feel strangely depressed."
The gentle lady drew the sweet face down to her pillow, and smoothed the bright hair with loving tenderness.
"My precious daughter," she whispered, "I know all the care and anxiety that weighs down your young life. I can read it in your clear, truthful eyes, that never yet showed the shadow of falsehood. God only knows, for there is none other to hear or comfort me, my days and nights of anxious solicitude for your welfare. What will become of you, when I am gone, my darling? 'My soul faints within me.' I am truly 'of little faith.' Read to me, dear, from the book beside me, and it will surely comfort me in my desolation."
It was the sacred volume, that has so often solaced the grief and despair of the weary and heavy-laden, and the tremulous voice repeated the inspired words, with that pathos that can only come from those who have suffered. A heavenly calm settled over the pale face of the invalid.
"My child, be not weary of well-doing," she murmured, softly indeed. "'Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted.' I was thinking, as I lay here alone to-day, beset by doubts and fears, of a passage in Baxter's 'Saints' Everlasting Rest.' The eloquent pastor of Kidderminster, living in the midst of bodily pain and persecution, had the true faith which is hardly attained in the midst of worldly prosperity. It strengthens me to listen to his pious instructions. Can you give me the words, dear?"
Clemence sought the book, and read this passage which her mother had indicated:
"Why dost thou look so sadly on those withered limbs, or on that pining body? Do not so far mistake thyself as to think its joys and thine are all one; or that its prosperity and thine are all one; or that they must needs stand or fall together. When it is rotting and consuming in the grave, then shalt thou be a companion of the perfected spirits of the just; and when those bones are scattered about the churchyard, then shalt thou be praising God in rest. And, in the mean time, hast not thou food of consolation which the flesh knoweth not of, and a joy which this stranger meddleth not with? And do not think that, when thou art turned out of this body, thou shalt have no habitation. Art thou afraid thou shalt wander destitute of a resting place? Is it better resting in flesh than in God? Dost thou think that those souls which are now with Christ, do so much pity their rotten or dusty corpse, or lament that their ancient habitation is ruined, and their once comely bodies turned into earth? Oh, what a thing is strangeness and dis-acquaintance. It maketh us afraid of our dearest friends, and to draw back from the place of our only happiness!"
"Oh, there is comfort in words like that," said the widow, clasping her thin hands. "When I think of the great souls who have lived and suffered, it seems selfish and wicked to murmur at my afflictions. I will try to be patient unto the end. Go to your rest, my love, and may God's holy angels guard your slumbers!"
They were all in all to each other, this gentle invalid and her only child. There is nothing that draws refined natures nearer to each other in this world, than mutual suffering. And day after day the girl struggled on with her burden, while the elder woman could only pray that she might have strength given her from on high. There are other cases like this on earth. The mother and daughter are but the type of a class of earnest-hearted ones of whom few dream the worth. As another has written, "there are many of these virtues in low places; some day they will be on high. This life has a morrow."
* * * * *
There was a long, cold winter approaching. Clemence's mind was occupied with the one question that is the burden of the poor in our cities—"What shall we do in order to live through the inclement season, which is so nearly at hand?" She could get no work of the kind for which she was most fitted. She had in the old days, a feminine love for needlework, and she thought, "Why not turn this to account? I might manage to eke out a subsistence in that way."
* * * * *
She had gained one true friend in her adversity. Alicia Linden had sought her out and managed to befriend her in various ways. She resolved to consult her immediately.
"A good idea," said that energetic lady. "I will try and help you to obtain employment."
This she did, keeping the name of the young girl from the circle of ladies, whose patronage she solicited. It requires influence, even in the humblest calling, to obtain plenty of work at good prices. Clemence did not dream how much she was indebted to the kindness of the masculine widow for the generous sums that came for her finely wrought articles.
"You owe me no thanks, dear," Mrs. Linden would say, and, thinking remorsefully of that little feminine gossip at the Crane mansion, would redouble her efforts in the young girl's behalf. Mrs. Linden had a fear which amounted to presentiment, that the aforementioned clique, of which Mrs. Crane was the acknowledged leader, would learn, by some means, of her new interest in Clemence Graystone. So great was her dread of such a discovery, that she carefully avoided the society of those ladies, and did not once venture into the neighborhood of her friends. How her cherished secret became known to them she never knew, but, that it had become known she soon learned, to her chagrin and utter discomfiture.
Clemence was seated, one clear, cold December day, in their little parlor, busily at work upon a fancy article that one of her customers had ordered for the approaching holiday season. She felt unusually light-hearted. Mrs. Graystone had rallied from her illness sufficiently to walk about the house, and was now visiting Mrs. Mann in her apartments, that worthy lady having beguiled her into an afternoon's visit, to give Clemence a better chance to finish her work.
Suddenly the cheerful little room was invaded by two ladies in sables and velvet—none other than our old friends, Mesdames Brown and Crane.
Clemence recognized them at once. A pink flush settled upon her pale face, but she rose with gentle dignity upon their entrance.
Eager for her triumph, however, Mrs. Crane did not give her time to utter a word. "Well, I have found you at last," she exclaimed, panting and out of breath. "I declare, young woman, if I'd have known what a search I should have, I would not have ventured into this out of the way place. Your's a seamstress, ain't you?"
"I am in the habit of taking in work of this description," said Clemence, holding, for her inspection, the article she had been engaged in completing at the moment she was interrupted.
"Yes, pretty well done. Just look at it closer, Mrs. Brown."
That lady now came forward and examined the work in a would-be critical manner.
"Seems to me the stitches don't look as if they'd hold," she said, ill-naturedly. "I discharged my last seamstress because she did not make her work serviceable. I give good prices; I ain't one of them kind of ladies what wants something for nothing. I never believe in oppressin' the poor. I have plenty of means, (that was true, for the retired grocer was as liberal as a prince.) If a person suits me, and keeps their place, they will have my patronage; if not, I pay them off and show them the door. My Melindy wants a new silk for a Christmas party, and as I am very particularly interested in her doing herself credit on the occasion, I want it made under my own supervision. You see, Mrs. Crane, it is to be a very exclusive affair, for I heard that the Vaughns have accepted invitations, and you know they belong to the very creme de la creme. Wilfred Vaughn is a catch for any young lady. It won't be my fault if Melindy isn't the belle of the evening, for I'm determined that no expense shall be spared."
The lady's dear friend vouchsafed her only a spiteful glance in return for this proof of confidence. She was thinking of her own beauteous Lucinda, and mentally declared that her daughter should outshine Melinda Brown on that momentous occasion, if the worthy contractor had to go into bankruptcy the next day.
"Now Miss," concluded Mrs. Brown, turning again to Clemence, "I want to engage you to come to-morrow morning to work for me, and if you suit, I may keep you for some time longer."
There was a look of quiet amusement upon Clemence's face, as she replied politely:
"I should be happy to serve you, Madam, but my time is engaged until after the holidays, and I never go out on account of an invalid parent, whom I cannot leave."
"Oh!" jerked Mrs. Brown, bridling with offended dignity.
"Well, upon my word!" hissed Mrs. Crane, "such airs!"
"I am very glad, I am sure," pursued the former, "to find you so well employed. You were recommended to me as a very worthy person in destitute circumstances, and I supposed that to one in your lowly position, work would be a charity. Had you possessed sufficient humility, and a proper appreciation of my efforts, I might have taken you under my patronage. No matter what you might have been once, Miss, you are in the depths of poverty now, and it would be a good idea not to be too independent, for you may want a friend. Don't come to me, if you do, for I have done with you. My conscience is clear. This lady will bear witness to my benevolent intentions, and I acquit myself of all blame. I have discharged a disagreeable duty."
"Oh, the base ingratitude of this world!" wailed Mrs. Crane. "My dear friend, is it not shocking?"
"It defies description," she ejaculated. "Let us depart. Good bye, young woman, and remember, 'Pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.'"
"Just one minute too late!" cried Alicia Linden, sinking into a chair; "I saw the precious pair just turn the corner. Don't cry, rosebud. I'll pay them off yet. I can manage Mrs. Brown and the whole Crane clique. They will be sorry for this insult."
"Indeed, I know I am foolish, dear Mrs. Linden," said Clemence, upon whose face smiles struggled with tears like an April day. "If this is poverty, it is at least honest poverty, of which I am not ashamed. I will not allow them to disturb me. But, pray, not a word of this to mamma."
The short winter days passed, and March came with its cold, blustering winds, and severe changes of weather. Mrs. Graystone failed visibly. She could no longer conceal from the fond eyes that watched her, that her days were numbered.
Clemence's time was so completely taken up in nursing the invalid, that she was obliged to abandon all other employment, and her income ceased entirely. She knew not what to do. She was in debt to Mrs. Mann, without the means of payment, and she knew that the kind woman could illy sustain the burden. Mrs. Linden was her only friend, and she was a widow of limited means.
Pondering deeply upon the subject, a thought struck her, which she resolved to act upon immediately. First, having installed Mrs. Mann as nurse in her place, she hastily donned hat and shawl, and hurried out into the street. It was a cold, raw, disagreeable day. Little pools of water, that had formed in the hollows of the sidewalks, were fast freezing into ice, and the keen, cruel wind seemed to penetrate to the very marrow of one's bones.
People, well wrapped in rich furs, strong-minded ladies bent on a mission, portly gentlemen on their way to their counting rooms, and troops of bright-eyed, rosy-cheeked school-girls, passed her on her way. Two little pinched, hollow-eyed children came out of a red brick building, which bore in large letters over the spacious doorway, "The Orphan's Home," and walked beside her. A little eager voice fell on her ear:
"I tell you, Marthy, they don't give you nothin' to eat to the 'Home.' And I'm so hungry! Wouldn't it be nice if we could have all we wanted to eat, just once? I dream every night that mamma comes to me, and kisses and pets me as she used to. Perhaps if we are good and patient, we may go to her some day."