Mary J. Holmes
To Morris W. Smith,
of New Orleans,
This story of life among the Northern Hills is respectfully dedicated by his friend The Author
I. DR. KENNEDY II. THE JOURNEY III. THE NEW HOME IV. LITTLE LOUIS V. MRS. JANET BLODGETT VI. THE MOTHER VII. PAST AND PRESENT VIII. JAMES AND J.C. IX. THE MILKMAN'S HEIRESS X. THE ENGAGEMENT, REAL AND PROSPECTIVE XI. MAUD GLENDOWER XII. HOW THE ENGAGEMENTS PROSPERED XIII. HAMPTON XIV. THE DARK HOUR XV. THE NEW MISTRESS AT LAUREL HILL XVI. THE BLIND GIRL XVII. NELLIE'S BRIDAL NIGHT XVIII. COUSIN MAUDE XIX. A SECOND BRIDAL XX. THE SEXTON XXI. HOME AGAIN
"If you please, marm, the man from York State is comin' afoot. Too stingy to ride, I'll warrant," and Janet, the housekeeper, disappeared from the parlor, just as the sound of the gate was heard, and an unusually fine-looking middle-aged man was seen coming up the box-lined walk which led to the cottage door.
The person thus addressed was a lady, whose face, though young and handsome, wore a look which told of early sorrow. Matilda Remington had been a happy, loving wife, but the old churchyard in Vernon contained a grass-grown grave, where rested the noble heart which had won her girlish love. And she was a widow now, a fair-haired, blue-eyed widow, and the stranger who had so excited Janet's wrath by walking from the depot, a distance of three miles, would claim her as his bride ere the morrow's sun was midway in the heavens. How the engagement happened she could not exactly tell, but happened it had, and she was pledged to leave the vine-wreathed cottage which Harry had built for her, and go with one of whom she knew comparatively little.
Six months before our story opens she had spent a few days with him at the house of a mutual friend in an adjoining State, and since that time they had written to each other regularly, the correspondence resulting at last in an engagement, which he had now come to fulfill. He had never visited her before in her own home, consequently she was wholly unacquainted with his disposition or peculiarities. He was intelligent and refined, commanding in appearance, and agreeable in manner whenever he chose to be, and when he wrote to her of his home, which he said would be a second Paradise were she its mistress, when he spoke of the little curly-headed girl who so much needed a mother's care, and when, more than all, he hinted that his was no beggar's fortune, she yielded; for Matilda Remington did not dislike the luxuries which money alone can purchase. Her own fortune was small, and as there was now no hand save her own to provide, she often found it necessary to economize more than she wished to do. But Dr. Kennedy was rich, and if she married him she would escape a multitude of annoyances, so she made herself believe that she loved him; and when she heard, as she more than once did hear, rumors of a sad, white-faced woman to whom the grave was a welcome rest, she said the story was false, and, shaking her pretty head, refused to believe that there was aught in the doctor of evil.
"To be sure, he was not at all like Harry—she could never find one who was—but he was so tall, so dignified, so grand, so particular, that it seemed almost like stooping, for one in his position to think of her, and she liked him all the better for his condescension."
Thus she ever reasoned, and when Janet said that he was coming, and she, too, heard his step upon the piazza, the bright blushes broke over her youthful face, and casting a hurried glance at the mirror, she hastened out to meet him.
"Matty, my dear!" he said, and his thin lips touched her glowing cheek, but in his cold gray eye there shone no love,—no feeling,—no heart.
He was too supremely selfish to esteem another higher than himself, and though it flattered him to know that the young creature was so glad to meet him, it awoke no answering chord, and he merely thought that with her to minister to him he should possibly be happier than he had been with her predecessor.
"You must be very tired," she said, as she led the way into the cozy parlor. Then, seating him in the easy chair near to the open window, she continued: "How warm you are. What made you walk this sultry afternoon?"
"It is a maxim of mine never to ride when I can walk," said he, "for I don't believe in humoring those omnibus drivers by paying their exorbitant prices."
"Two shillings surely is not an exorbitant price," trembled on Mrs. Remington's lips, but she was prevented from saying so by his asking "if everything were in readiness for the morrow."
"Yes, everything," she replied. "The cottage is sold, and—"
"Ah, indeed, sold!" said he, interrupting her. "If I mistake not you told me, when I met you in Rome, that it was left by will to you. May I, as your to-morrow's husband, ask how much you received for it?" And he unbent his dignity so far as to wind his arm around her waist.
But the arm was involuntarily withdrawn when, with her usual frankness, Matty replied; "I received a thousand dollars, but there were debts to be paid, so that I had only five hundred left, and this I made over to my daughter to be used for her education."
Dr. Kennedy did not say that he was disappointed, and as Matty was not much of a physiognomist she did not read it in his face, and she continued: "Janet will remain here a while, to arrange matters, before joining me in my new home. She wished me to leave my little girl to come with her, but I can't do that. I must have my child with me. You've never seen her, have you? I'll call her at once." And stepping to the door she bade Janet bring "Maude" into the parlor.
"Maude!" How Dr. Kennedy started at the mention of a name which drove all thoughts of the five hundred dollars from his mind. There was feeling—passion—everything, now, in his cold gray eye, but quickly recovering his composure, he said calmly: "Maude, Matty—Maude, is that your child's name?"
"Why, yes," she answered laughingly. "Didn't you know it before?"
"How should I," he replied, "when in your letters you have always called her 'daughter'? But has she no other name? She surely was not baptized Maude?"
Ere Mrs. Remington could speak, the sound of little pattering feet was heard in the hall without, and in a moment Maude Remington stood before her stepfather-elect, looking, as that rather fastidious gentleman thought, more like a wild gipsy than the child of a civilized mother. She was a fat, chubby child, not yet five years old; black-eyed, black-haired, black-faced, with short, thick curls, which, damp with perspiration, stood up all over her head, giving her a singular appearance. She had been playing in the brook, her favorite companion, and now, with little spatters of mud ornamenting both face and pantalets, her sun-bonnet hanging down her back, and her hands full of pebble-stones, she stood furtively eyeing the stranger, whose mental exclamation was: "Mercy, what a fright!"
"Maude!" exclaimed the distressed Mrs. Remington, "where have you been? Go at once to Janet, and have your dress changed; then come back to me."
Nothing loath to join Janet, whose company was preferable to that of the stranger, Maude left the room, while Dr. Kennedy, turning to Mrs. Remington, said: "She is not at all like you, my dear."
"No," answered the lady; "she is like her father in everything; the same eyes, the same hair, and—"
She was going on to say more, when the expression of Dr. Kennedy's face stopped her, and she began to wonder if she had displeased him. Dr. Kennedy could talk for hours of "the late Mrs. Kennedy," accompanying his words with long-drawn sighs, and enumerating her many virtues, all of which he expected to be improved upon by her successor; but he could not bear to hear the name of Harry Remington spoken by one who was to be his wife, and he at once changed the subject of Maude's looks to her name, which he learned was really Matilda. She had been called Maude, Matty said, after one who was once a very dear friend both of herself and her husband.
"Then we will call her Matilda," said he, "as it is a maxim of mine never to spoil children by giving them pet names."
"But you call your daughter Nellie," suggested the little widow, and in her soft, blue eye there shone a mischievous twinkle, as if she fancied she had beaten him with his own argument.
But if she thought to convince that most unreasonable man, she was mistaken. What he did was no criterion for others, unless he chose that it should be so, and he answered, "That is sister Kelsey's idea, and as she is very fond of Nellie I do not interfere. But, seriously, Matty, darling,"—and he drew her to his side, with an uncommon show of fondness,—"I cannot call your daughter Maude; I do not like the name, and it is a maxim of mine, that if a person dislikes a name, 'tis an easy matter to dislike the one who bears it."
Had Mrs. Remington cared less for him than she did, she might have wondered how many more disagreeable maxims he had in store. But love is blind, or nearly so; and when, as if to make amends for his remarks, he caressed her with an unusual degree of tenderness, the impulsive woman felt that she would call her daughter anything which suited him. Accordingly, when at last Maude returned to the parlor, with her dress changed, her curls arranged, and her dimpled cheeks shining with the suds in which they had been washed, she was prepared to say Matilda or whatever else pleased his capricious fancy.
"Little girl," he said, extending his hand toward her, "little girl, come here. I wish to talk with you."
But the little girl hung back, and when tier mother insisted upon her going to the gentleman, asking if she did not like him, she answered decidedly, "No, I don't like him, and he shan't be my pa, either!"
"Maude, daughter!" exclaimed Mrs. Remington, while Dr. Kennedy, turning slightly pale, thought "wretch!" but said, "Matilda, come here, won't you?"
"I aint Matilda," she answered. "I won't be Matilda—I'm Maude," and her large black eyes flashed defiantly upon him.
It was in vain that Dr. Kennedy coaxed and Mrs. Remington threatened. Maude had taken a dislike to the stranger, and as he persisted in calling her Matilda, she persisted in refusing to answer, until at last, hearing Janet pass through the hall, she ran out to her, sure of finding comfort and sympathy there.
"I am afraid I have suffered Maude to have her own way too much, and for the future I must be more strict with her," said Mrs. Remington apologetically; while the doctor replied, "I think, myself, a little wholesome discipline would not be amiss. 'Tis a maxim of mine, spare the rod and spoil the child; but, of course, I shall not interfere in the matter."
This last he said because he saw a shadow flit over the fair face of the widow, who, like most indulgent mothers, did not wholly believe in Solomon. The sight of Janet in the hall suggested a fresh subject to the doctor's mind, and, after coughing a little, he said, "Did I understand that your domestic was intending to join you at Laurel Hill?"
"Yes," returned Mrs. Remington, "Janet came to live with my mother when I was a little girl no larger than Maude. Since my marriage she has lived with me, and I would not part with her for anything."
"But do you not think two kinds of servants are apt to make trouble, particularly if one is black and the other white?" and in the speaker's face there was an expression which puzzled Mrs. Remington, who could scarce refrain from crying at the thoughts of parting with Janet, and who began to have a foretaste of the dreary homesickness which was to wear her life away.
"I can't do without Janet," she said; "she knows all my ways, and I trust her with everything."
"The very reason why she should not go," returned the doctor. "She and old Hannah would quarrel at once. You would take sides with Janet, I with Hannah, and that might produce a feeling which ought never to exist between man and wife. No, my dear, listen to me in this matter, and let Janet remain in Vernon. Old Hannah has been in my family a long time. She was formerly a slave, and belonged to my uncle, who lived in Virginia, and who, at his death, gave her to me. Of course I set her free, for I pride myself on being a man of humanity, and since that time she has lived with us, superintending the household entirely since Mrs. Kennedy's death. She is very peculiar, and would never suffer Janet to dictate, as I am sure, from what you say, she would do. So, my dear, try and think all is for the best. You need not tell her she is not to come, for it is a maxim of mine to avoid all unnecessary scenes, and you can easily write it in a letter."
Poor Mrs. Remington! she knew intuitively that the matter was decided, and was she not to be forgiven if at that moment she thought of the grass-grown grave whose occupant had in life been only too happy granting her slightest wish? But Harry was gone, and the man with whom she now had to deal was an exacting, tyrannical master, to whose will her own must ever be subservient. This, however, she did not then understand. She knew he was not at all like Harry, but she fancied that the difference consisted in his being so much older, graver, and wiser than her husband had been, and so with a sigh she yielded the point, thinking that Janet would be the greater sufferer of the two.
That evening several of her acquaintances called to see the bridegroom-elect, whom, in Mrs. Remington's hearing, they pronounced very fine looking and quite agreeable in manner; compliments which tended in a measure to soothe her irritated feelings and quiet the rapid beatings of her heart, which for hours after she retired to rest would occasionally whisper to her that the path she was about to tread was far from being strewn with flowers.
"He loves me, I know," she thought, "though his manner of showing it is so different from Harry; but I shall become accustomed to that after a while, and be very, very happy." And comforted with this assurance she fell asleep, encircling within her arms the little Maude, whose name had awakened bitter memories in the heart of him who in an adjoining chamber battled with thoughts of the dark past, which now on the eve of his second marriage passed in sad review before his mind.
Memories there were of a gentle, pale-faced woman, who, when her blue eyes were dim with coming death, had shudderingly turned away from him, as if his presence brought her more of pain than joy. Memories, too, there were of another—a peerlessly beautiful creature who, ere he had sought the white-faced woman for his wife, had trampled on his affections and spurned as a useless gift his offered love. He hated her now, he thought; and the little black-haired child, sleeping so sweetly in its mother's arms, was hateful in his sight, because it bore that woman's name. One, two, three—sounded the clock, and then he fell asleep, dreaming that underneath the willows which grew in the churchyard, far off on Laurel Hill, there were two graves instead of one; that in the house across the common there was a sound of rioting and mirth, unusual in that silent mansion. For she was there, the woman whom he had so madly loved, and wherever she went crowds gathered about her as in the olden time.
"Maude Glendower, why are you here?" he attempted to say, when a clear, silvery voice aroused him from his sleep, and starting up, he listened half in anger, half in disappointment, to the song which little Maude Remington sang as she sat in the open door awaiting the return of her mother, who had gone for the last time to see the sunshine fall on Harry's grave.
Mrs. Kennedy looked charming in her traveling dress of brown, and the happy husband likened her to a Quakeress, as he kissed her blushing cheek and called her his "little wife." He had passed through the ceremony remarkably well, standing very erect, making the responses very, loud, and squeezing very becomingly the soft white hand on whose third finger he placed the wedding ring—a very small one, by the way. It was over now, and many of the bridal guests were gone; the minister, too, had gone, and jogging leisurely along upon his sorrel horse had ascertained the size of his fee, feeling a little disappointed that it was not larger—five dollars seemed so small, when he fully expected twenty from one of Dr. Kennedy's reputed wealth.
Janet had seen that everything was done for the comfort of the travelers, and then out behind the smokehouse had scolded herself soundly for crying, when she ought to appear brave, and encourage her young mistress. Not the slightest hint had she received that she was not to follow them in a few, weeks, and when at parting little Maude clung to her skirts, beseeching her to go, she comforted the child by telling her what she would bring her in the autumn, when she came. Half a dozen dolls, as many pounds of candy, a dancing jack, and a mewing kitten were promised, and then the faithful creature turned to the weeping bride, who clasped her hard old hand convulsively, for she knew it was a long good-by. Until the carriage disappeared from view did Mrs. Kennedy look back through blinding tears to the spot where Janet stood, wiping her eyes with a corner of her stiffly starched white apron, and holding up one foot to keep her from soiling her clean blue cotton stockings, for, in accordance with a superstition peculiar to her race, she had thrown after the travelers a shoe, by way of insuring them good luck.
For once in his life Dr. Kennedy tried to be very kind and attentive to his bride, who, naturally hopeful and inclined to look upon the brighter side, dried her tears soon after entering the cars, and began to fancy she was very happy in her new position as the wife of Dr. Kennedy. The seat in front of them was turned back and occupied by Maude, who busied herself a while in watching the fence and the trees, which she said were "running so fast toward Janet and home!" Then her dark eyes would scan curiously the faces of Dr. Kennedy and her mother, resting upon the latter with a puzzled expression, as if she could not exactly understand it. The doctor persisted in calling her Matilda, and as she resolutely persisted in refusing to answer to that name, it seemed quite improbable that they would ever talk much together. Occasionally, it is true, he made her some advances, by playfully offering her his hand, but she would not touch it, and after a time, standing upon the seat and turning round, she found more agreeable society in the company of two boys who sat directly behind her.
They were evidently twelve or thirteen years of age, and in personal appearance somewhat alike, save that the face of the brown-haired boy was more open, ingenuous, and pleasing than that of his companion, whose hair and eyes were black as night. A jolt of the cars caused Maude to lay her chubby hand upon the shoulder of the elder boy, who, being very fond of children, caught it within his own, and in this way made her acquaintance. To him she was very communicative, and in a short time he learned that "her name was Maude Remington, that the pretty lady in brown was her mother, and that the naughty man was not her father, and never would be, for Janet said so."
This at once awakened an interest in the boys, and for more than an hour they petted and played with the little girl, who, though very gracious to both, still manifested so much preference for the brown-haired, that the other laughingly asked her which she liked the best.
"I like you and you," was Maude's childlike answer, as she pointed a finger at each.
"But," persisted her questioner, "you like my cousin the best. Will you tell me why?"
Maude hesitated a moment, then laying a hand on either side of the speaker's face, and looking intently into his eyes, she answered, "You don't look as if you meant for certain, and he does!"
Had Maude Remington been twenty instead of five, she could not better have defined the difference between those two young lads, and in after years she had sad cause for remembering words which seemed almost prophetic. At Albany they, parted company, for though the boys lived in Rochester they were to remain in the city through the night, and Dr. Kennedy had decided to go on. By doing so he would reach home near the close of the next day, beside saving a large hotel bill, and this last was with him a very weighty reason. But he did not say so to his wife; neither did he tell her that he had left orders for his carriage to be in Canadaigua on the arrival of the noon train, but he said "he was in haste to show her to his daughter—that 'twas a maxim of his to save as much time as possible, and that unless she were very anxious to sleep, he would rather travel all night." So the poor, weary woman, whose head was aching terribly, smiled faintly upon him as she said, "Go on, of course," and nibbled at the hard seedcakes and harder crackers which he brought her, there not being time for supper in Albany.
It was a long, tedious ride, and though a strong arm was thrown around her, and her head was pillowed upon the bosom of her husband, who really tried to make her as comfortable as possible, Mrs. Kennedy could scarcely refrain from tears as she thought how different was this bridal tour from what she had anticipated. She had fully expected to pass by daylight through the Empire State, and she had thought with how much delight her eye would rest upon the grassy meadows, the fertile plains, the winding Mohawk, the drone-like boats on the canal, the beautiful Cayuga, and the silvery water so famed in song; but, in contrast to all this, she was shut up in a dingy car, whose one dim lamp sent forth a sickly ray and sicklier smell, while without all was gloomy, dark, and drear. No wonder, then, that when toward morning Maude, who missed her soft, nice bed, began to cry for Janet and for home, the mother too burst forth in tears and choking sobs, which could not be controlled.
"Hush, Matty—don't," and the disturbed doctor shook her very gently; "it will soon be daylight, and 'tis a max—" Here he stopped, for he had no maxim suited to that occasion; and, in a most unenviable frame of mind, he frowned at the crying Maude, and tried to soothe his weeping wife, until at last, as the face of the latter was covered, and the former grew more noisy and unmanageable, he administered a fatherly rebuke in the shape of a boxed ear, which had no other effect than the eliciting from the child the outcry, "Let me be, old doctor, you!" if, indeed, we except the long scratch made upon his hand by the little sharp nail of his stepdaughter.
At that moment Matty lifted up her head, but as Maude was no tale-bearer, and the doctor hardly dared to tell her that he had thus early taken upon himself the government of her child, she never knew exactly what it was which made Maude's ear so red or her liege lord's face so dark.
It was nearly noon when they arrived at Canandaigua, where the first object which caught Mrs. Kennedy's eye was an old-fashioned carryall, which her husband honored with the appellation of carriage, said carriage being drawn by two farm-horses, which looked as if oats and corn were to them luxuries unknown.
"I must have a cup of tea," said Mrs. Kennedy, as she saw the black man, John, arranging the baggage upon the rack of the carryall, and heard her husband bid him hurry, as there was no time to lose. "I must have a cup of tea, my head is aching dreadfully," and her white lips quivered, while the tears rolled down her cheeks.
"Certainly, certainly," answered the doctor, who was in unusually good spirits, having just heard from an acquaintance whom he chanced to meet that a lawsuit which had long been pending was decided in his favor, and that the house and lot of a widow would probably come into his possession. "Certainly, two cups if you like; I should have proposed it myself, only I knew old Hannah would have dinner in readiness for us, and 'tis a maxim of mine, that fasting provokes an appetite."
"Hang dis nigger, if he aint a-maxin' her so quick!" muttered the darkey, showing his teeth from ear to ear; and, coaxing Maude away from her mother, he took her to a restaurant, where he literally crammed her with ginger-bread, raisins, and candy, bidding her eat all she wanted at once, for it would be a long time, maybe, ere she'd have another chance!
"If you please, sar," he said, when at last he had returned to his master, "if you please, Miss Nellie say how you must fotch her somethin', and the old woman spec's a present in honor of de 'casion."
Dr. Kennedy thought of the lawsuit, and so far opened both heart and purse as to buy for Nellie a paper of peanuts and for Hannah a ten-cent calico apron, after which he pronounced himself in readiness to go, and in a few moments Mrs. Kennedy was on her way to her new home.
The road led over rocky hills, reminding her so much of Vernon and its surrounding country that a feeling of rest stole over her, and she fell into a quiet sleep, from which she did not awaken until the carriage stopped suddenly and her husband whispered in her ear, "Wake, Matty, wake; we are home at last."
THE NEW HOME.
It was a large, square, wooden building, built in the olden time, with a wide hall in the center, a tiny portico in front, and a long piazza in the rear. In all the town there was not so delightful a location, for it commanded a view of the country for many miles around, while from the chamber windows was plainly discernible the sparkling Honeoye, whose waters slept so calmly 'mid the hills which lay to the southward. On the grassy lawn in front tall forest trees were growing, almost concealing the house from view, while their long branches so met together as to form a beautiful arch over the graveled walk which lead to the front door. It was, indeed, a pleasant spot, and Matty, as she passed through the iron gate, could not account for the feeling of desolation settling down upon her.
"Maybe it's because there are no flowers here—no roses," she thought, as she looked around in vain for her favorites, thinking the while how her first work should be to train a honeysuckle over the door and plant a rose bush underneath the window.
Poor Matty! Dr. Kennedy had no love for flowers, and the only rose bush he ever noticed was the one which John had planted at his mistress' grave, and even this would, perchance, have been unseen, if he had not scratched his hand unmercifully upon it as he one day shook the stone to see if it were firmly placed in the ground ere he paid the man for putting it there! It was a maxim of the doctor's never to have anything not strictly for use, consequently his house, both outside and in, was destitute of every kind of ornament; and the bride, as she followed him through the empty hall into the silent parlor, whose bare walls, faded carpet, and uncurtained windows seemed so uninviting, felt a chill creeping over her spirits, and sinking into the first hard chair she came to, she might, perhaps, have cried had not John, who followed close behind her, satchel on arm, whispered encouragingly in her ear, "Never you mind, missus, your chamber is a heap sight brighter than this, 'case I tended to that myself."
Mrs. Kennedy smiled gratefully upon him, feeling sure that beneath his black exterior there beat a kind and sympathizing heart, and that in him she had an ally and a friend.
"Where is Nellie?" said the doctor. "Call Nellie, John, and tell your mother we are here."
John left the room, and a moment after a little tiny creature came tripping to the door, where she stopped suddenly, and throwing back her curls, gazed curiously first at Mrs. Kennedy and then at Maude, whose large black eyes fastened themselves upon her with a gaze quite as curious and eager as her own. She was more than a year older than Maude, but much smaller in size, and her face seemed to have been fashioned after a beautiful waxen doll, so brilliant was her complexion and so regular her features. She was naturally affectionate and amiable, too, when suffered to have her own way. Neither was she at all inclined to be timid, and when her father, taking her hand in his, bade her speak to her new mother, she went unhesitatingly to the lady, and climbing into her lap, sat there very quietly so long as Mrs. Kennedy permitted her to play with her rings, pull her collar, and take out her side-combs, for she had laid aside her bonnet; but when at last her little sharp eyes ferreted out a watch, which she insisted upon having "all to herself," a liberty which Mrs. Kennedy refused to grant, she began to pout, and, sliding from her new mother's lap, walked up to Maude, whose acquaintance she made by asking if she had a pink silk dress. "No, but I guess Janet will bring me one," answered Maude, whose eyes never for an instant left the face of her stepsister.
She was an enthusiastic admirer of beauty, and Nellie had made an impression upon her at once; so, when the latter said, "What makes you look at me so funny?" she answered, "Because you are so pretty." This made a place for her at once in the heart of the vain little Nellie, who asked her to go upstairs and see the pink silk dress which "Aunt Kelsey had given her."
As they left the room Mrs. Kennedy said to her husband, "Your daughter is very beautiful."
Dr. Kennedy liked to have people say that of his child, for he knew she was much like himself, and he stroked his brown beard complacently, as he replied: "Yes, Nellie is rather pretty, and, considering all things, is as well-behaved a child as one often finds. She seldom gets into a passion or does anything rude," and he glanced at the long scratch upon his hand; but as his wife knew nothing of said scratch, the rebuke was wholly lost, and he continued: "I was anxious that she should be a boy, for it is a maxim of mine that the oldest child in every family ought to be a son, and so I said, repeatedly, to the late Mrs. Kennedy, who, though a most excellent woman in most matters, was in others unaccountably set in her way. I suppose I said some harsh things when I heard it was a daughter, but it can't be helped now," and with a slightly injured air the husband of "the late Mrs. Kennedy" began to pace up and down the room, while the present Mrs. Kennedy puzzled her rather weak brain to know "what in the world he meant."
Meantime between John and his mother there was a hurried conversation, the former inquiring naturally after the looks of her new mistress.
"Pretty as a pink," answered John, "and neat as a fiddle, with the sweetest little baby ways; but I tell you what 'tis," and John's voice fell to a whisper: "he'll maxim her into heaven a heap sight quicker'n he did t'other one; 'case you see she haint so much—what you call him—so much go off to her as Miss Katy had, and she can't bar his grinding ways. They'll scrush her to onct—see if they don't. But I knows one thing, this yer nigger 'tends to do his duty, and hold up them little cheese-curd hands of her'n, jest as some of them Scripter folks held up Moses with the bulrushes."
"And what of the young one?" asked Hannah, who had been quite indignant at the thoughts of another child in the family, "what of the young one?"
"Bright as a dollar!" answered John. "Knows more'n a dozen of Nellie, and well she might, for she aint half as white, and as Master Kennedy says, it's a maxim of mine, the blacker the hide the better the sense!"
By this time Hannah had washed the dough from her hands, and taking the roast chicken from the oven she donned a clean apron and started to see the stranger for herself. Although a tolerably good woman, Hannah's face was not very prepossessing, and Mrs. Kennedy intuitively felt that 'twould be long before her former domestic's place was made good by the indolent African. It is true her obeisance was very low, and her greeting kindly enough, but there was about her an inquisitive, and at the same time, rather patronizing air which Mrs. Kennedy did not like, and she was glad when she at last left the parlor, telling them, as she did so, that "dinner was done ready."
Notwithstanding that the house itself was so large, the dining room was a small, dark, cheerless apartment, and though she was beginning to feel the want of food, Mrs. Kennedy could scarcely force down a mouthful, for the homesick feeling at her heart; a feeling which whispered to her that the home to which she had come was not like that which she had left. Dinner being over, she asked permission to retire to her chamber, saying she needed rest, and should feel better after she had slept. Nellie volunteered to lead the way, and as they left the dining room old Hannah, who was notoriously lazy, muttered aloud: "A puny, sickly thing. Great help she'll be to me; but I shan't stay to wait on more'n forty more."
Dr. Kennedy had his own private reason for wishing to conciliate Hannah. When he set her free he made her believe it was her duty to work for him for nothing, and though she soon learned better, and often threatened to leave, he had always managed to keep her, for, on the whole, she liked her place, and did not care to change it for one where her task would be much harder. But if the new wife proved to be sickly, matters would be different, and so she fretted, as we have seen, while the doctor comforted her with the assurance that Mrs. Kennedy was only tired—that she was naturally well and strong, and would undoubtedly be of great assistance when the novelty of her position had worn away.
While this conversation was taking place Mrs. Kennedy was examining her chamber and thinking many pleasant things of John, whose handiwork was here so plainly visible. All the smaller and more fanciful pieces of furniture which the house afforded had been brought to this room, whose windows looked out upon the lake and the blue hills beyond. A clean white towel concealed the marred condition of the washstand, while the bed, which was made up high and round, especially in the middle, looked very inviting with its snowy spread. A large stuffed rocking chair, more comfortable than handsome, occupied the center of the room, while better far than all, the table, the mantel, and the windows were filled with flowers, which John had begged from the neighboring gardens, and which seemed to smile a welcome upon the weary woman, who, with a cry of delight, bent down and kissed them through her tears.
"Did these come from your garden?" she asked of Nellie, who, child-like, answered, "We haint any flowers. Pa won't let John plant any. He told Aunt Kelsey the land had better be used for potatoes, and Aunt Kelsey said he was too stingy to live."
"Who is Aunt Kelsey?" asked Mrs. Kennedy, a painful suspicion fastening itself upon her that the lady's opinion might be correct.
"She is pa's sister Charlotte," answered Nellie, "and lives in Rochester, in a great big house, with the handsomest things; but she don't come here often, it's so heathenish, she says."
Here spying John, who was going with the oxen to the meadow, she ran away, followed by Maude, between whom and herself there was for the present a most amicable understanding. Thus left alone Mrs. Kennedy had time for thought, which crowded upon her so fast that, at last throwing herself upon the bed, she wept bitterly, half wishing she had never come to Laurel Hill, but was still at home in her own pleasant cottage. Then hope whispered to her of a brighter day, when things would not seem to her as they now did. She would fix up the desolate old house, she thought; the bare windows which now so stared her in the face should be shaded with pretty muslin curtains, and she would loop them back with ribbons. The carpet, too, on the parlor floor should be exchanged for a better one, and when her piano and marble table came, the only articles of furniture she had not sold, it would not seem so cheerless and so cold.
Comforted with these thoughts, she fell asleep, resting quietly until, just as the sun had set and it was growing dark within the room, Maude came rushing in, her dress all wet, her face flushed, and her eyes red with tears. She and Nellie had quarreled—nay, actually fought; Nellie telling Maude she was blacker than a nigger, and pushing her into the brook, while Maude, in return, had pulled out a handful of the young lady's hair, for which her stepfather had shaken her soundly and sent her to her mother, whom she begged "to go home, and not stay in that old house where the folks were ugly and the rooms not a bit pretty."
Mrs. Kennedy's heart was already full, and drawing Maude to her side, the two homesick children mingled their tears together, until a heavy footstep upon the stairs announced the approach of Dr. Kennedy. Not a word did he say of his late adventure with Maude, and his manner was very kind toward his weary wife, who, with his hand upon her aching forehead, and his voice in her ear, telling her how sorry he was that she was sick, forgot that she had been unhappy.
"Whatever else he may do," she thought, "he certainly loves me," and after a fashion he did perhaps love her. She was a pretty little creature, and her playful, coquettish ways had pleased him at first sight. He needed a wife, and when their mutual friend, who knew nothing of him save that he was a man of integrity and wealth, suggested Matty Remington, he too thought favorably of the matter, and yielding to the fascination of her soft blue eyes he had won her for his wife, pitying her, it may be, as he sat by her in the gathering twilight, and half guessed that she was homesick. And when he saw how confidingly she clung to him, he was conscious of a half-formed resolution to be to her what a husband ought to be. But Dr. Kennedy's resolves were like the morning dew, and as the days wore on his peculiarities, one after another, were discovered by his wife, who, womanlike, tried to think that he was right and she was wrong.
In due time most of the villagers called upon her, and though they were both intelligent and refined, she did not feel altogether at ease in their presence, for the fancy she had that they regarded her as one who for some reason was entitled to their pity. And in this she was correct. They did pity her, for they remembered another gentle woman, whose brown hair had turned gray, and whose blue eyes had waxed dim beneath the withering influence of him she called her husband. She was dead, and when they saw the young, light-hearted Matty, they did not understand how she could ever have been induced to take that woman's place and wed a man of thirty-eight, and they blamed her somewhat, until they reflected that she knew nothing of him, and that her fancy was probably captivated by his dignified bearing, his manly figure, and handsome face. But these alone they knew could not make her happy, and ere she had been six weeks a wife they were not surprised that her face began to wear a weary look, as if the burden of life were hard to bear.
As far as she could she beautified the home, purchasing with her own means several little articles which the doctor called useless, though he never failed to appropriate to himself the easy chair which she had bought for the sitting room, and which when she was tired rested her so much. On the subject of curtains he was particularly obstinate. "There were blinds," he said, "and 'twas a maxim of his never to spend his money for anything unnecessary."
Still, when Matty bought them herself for the parlor, when her piano was unboxed and occupied a corner which had long been destitute of furniture, and when her marble table stood between the windows, with a fresh bouquet of flowers which John had brought, he exclaimed involuntarily, "How nice this is!" adding the next moment, lest his wife should be too much pleased, "but vastly foolish!"
In accordance with her husband's suggestion Mrs. Kennedy wrote to Janet, breaking to her as gently as possible the fact that she was not to come, but saying nothing definite concerning her new home or her own happiness as a second wife. Several weeks went by, and then an answer came.
"If you had of wanted me," wrote Janet, "I should of come, but bein' you didn't, I've went to live with Mr. Blodgett, who peddles milk, and raises butter and cheese, and who they say is worth a deal of money, and well he may be, for he's saved this forty years."
Then followed a detailed account of her household matters, occupying in all three pages of foolscap, to which was pinned a bit of paper, containing the following:
"Joel looked over my writing and said I'd left out the very thing I wanted to tell the most. We are married, me and Joel, and I only hope you are as happy with that doctor as I am with my man."
This announcement crushed at once the faint hope which Mrs. Kennedy had secretly entertained, of eventually having Janet to supply the place of Hannah, who was notoriously lazy, and never under any circumstances did anything she possibly could avoid. Dr. Kennedy did not tell his wife that he expected her to make it easy for Hannah, so she would not leave them; but he told her how industrious the late Mrs. Kennedy had been, and hinted that a true woman was not above kitchen work. The consequence of this was that Matty, who really wished to please him, became in time a very drudge, doing things which she once thought she could not do, and then without a murmur ministering to her exacting husband when he came home from visiting a patient, and declared himself "tired to death." Very still he sat while her weary little feet ran for the cool drink—the daily paper—or the morning mail; and very happy he looked when her snowy fingers combed his hair or brushed his threadbare coat; and if, perchance, she sighed amid her labor of love, his ear was deaf, and he did not hear, neither did he see how white and thin she grew as day by day went by.
Her piano was now seldom touched, for the doctor did not care for music; still he was glad that she could play, for "Sister Kelsey," who was to him a kind of terror, would insist that Nellie should take music lessons, and, as his wife was wholly competent to give them, he would be spared a very great expense. "Save, save, save," seemed to be his motto, and when at church the plate was passed to him he gave his dime a loving pinch ere parting company with it; and yet none read the service louder or defended his favorite liturgy more zealously than himself. In some things he was a pattern man, and when once his servant John announced his intention of withdrawing from the Episcopalians and joining himself to the Methodists, who held their meetings in the schoolhouse, he was greatly shocked, and labored long with the degenerate son of Ethiopia, who would render to him no reason for his most unaccountable taste, though he did to Matty, when she questioned him of his choice.
"You see, missus," said he, "I wasn't allus a herrytic, but was as good a 'Piscopal as St. George ever had. That's when I lived in Virginny, and was hired out to Marster Morton, who had a school for boys, and who larnt me how to read a little. After I'd arn't a heap of money for Marster Kennedy he wanted to go to the Legislatur', and as some on 'em wouldn't vote for him while he owned a nigger, he set me free, and sent for me to come home. 'Twas hard partin' wid dem boys and Marster Morton, I tell you, but I kinder wanted to see mother, who had been here a good while, and who, like a fool, was a-workin' an' is a-workin' for nothin'."
"For nothing!" exclaimed Mrs. Kennedy, a suspicion of the reason why Janet was refused crossing her mind.
"Yes, marm, for nothin'," answered John, "but I aint green enough for that, and 'fused outright. Then marster, who got beat 'lection day, threatened to send me back, but I knew he couldn't do it, and so he agreed to pay eight dollars a month. I could get more somewhar else, but I'd rather stay with mother, and so I stayed."
"But that has nothing to do with the church," suggested Mrs. Kennedy, and John replied:
"I'm comin' to the p'int now. I live with Marster Kennedy, and went with him to church, and when I see how he carried on week days, and how peart like he read up Sabba' days, sayin' the Lord's Prar and 'Postle's Creed, I began to think thar's somethin' rotten in Denmark, as the boys use to say in Virginny; so when mother, who allus was a-roarin' Methodis', asked me to go wid her to meetin', I went, and was never so mortified in my life, for arter the elder had 'xorted a spell at the top of his voice, he sot down and said there was room for others. I couldn't see how that was, bein' he took up the whole chair, and while I was wonderin' what he meant, as I'm a livin' nigger, up got marm and spoke a piece right in meetin'! I never was so shamed, and I kep' pullin' at her gownd to make her set down, but the harder I pulled the louder she hollered, till at last she blowed her breath all away, and down she sot."
"And did any of the rest speak pieces?" asked Mrs. Kennedy, convulsed with laughter at John's vivid description.
"Bless your heart," he answered, with a knowing look, "'twarn't a piece she was speaking—she was tellin' her 'sperience; but it sounded so like the boys at school that I was deceived, for I'd never seen such work before. But I've got so I like it now, and I believe thar's more 'sistency down in that schoolhouse than thar is in—I won't say the 'Piscopal church, 'case thar's heaps of shinin' lights thar, but if you won't be mad, I'll say more than thar is in Marster Kennedy, who has hisself to thank for my bein' a Methodis'."
Whatever Mrs. Kennedy might have thought she could not help laughing heartily at John, who was now a decided Methodist, and adorned his profession far more than his selfish, hard-hearted master. His promise of holding up his mistress' hands had been most faithfully kept, and, without any disparagement to Janet, Mrs. Kennedy felt that the loss of her former servant was in a great measure made up to her in the kind negro, who, as the months went by and her face grew thinner each day, purchased with his own money many a little delicacy which he hoped would tempt her capricious appetite. Maude, too, was a favorite with John, both on account of her color, which he greatly admired, and because, poor, ignorant creature though he was, he saw in her the germ of the noble girl who in the coming years was to bear uncomplainingly a burden of care from which the selfish Nellie would unhesitatingly turn away.
Toward Maude the doctor had ever manifested a feeling of aversion, both because of her name and because she had compelled him to yield when his mind was fully made up to do otherwise. She had resolutely refused to be called Matilda, and as it was necessary for him sometimes to address her, he called her first, "You girl," then "Mat," and finally arrived at "Maude," speaking it always spitefully, as if provoked that he had once in his life been conquered. With the management of her he seldom interfered, for that scratch had given him a timely lesson, and as he did not like to be unnecessarily troubled, he left both Maude and Nellie to his wife, who suffered the latter to do nearly as she pleased, and thus escaped many of the annoyances to which stepmothers are usually subject.
Although exceedingly selfish Nellie was affectionate in her disposition, and when Maude did not cross her path the two were on the best of terms. Disturbances there were, however—quarrels and fights, in the latter of which Maude, being the stronger of the two, always came off victor; but these did not last long, and had her husband been to her what he ought Mrs. Kennedy's life would not have been as dreary as it was. He meant well enough, perhaps, but he did not understand a woman, much less know how to treat her, and as the winter months went by Matty's heart would have fainted within her but for a hope which whispered to her, "He will love me better when next summer comes."
It is just one year since the summer morning when Matty Kennedy took upon herself a second time the duties of a wife, and now she lies in a darkened room, her face white as the winter snow, and her breath scarcely perceptible to the touch, as it comes faintly from her parted lips. In dignified silence the doctor sits by, counting her feeble pulse, while an expression of pride and almost perfect happiness breaks over his face as he glances toward the cradle which Hannah has brought from the garret, and where now slept the child born to him that day. His oft-repeated maxim that if the first were not a boy the second ought to be, had prevailed at last, and Dombey had a son. It was a puny thing, but the father said it looked as Nellie did when she first rested there, and Nellie, holding back her breath and pushing aside her curls, bent down to see the red-faced infant.
"I was never as ugly as that, and I don't love him a bit!" she exclaimed, turning away in disgust; while Maude approached on tip-toe, and kneeling by the cradle side kissed the unconscious sleeper, whispering as she did so, "I love you, poor little brother."
Darling Maude—blessed Maude—in all your after life you proved the truth of those low spoken words, "I love you, poor little brother."
For many days did Mrs. Kennedy hover between life and death, never asking for her baby, and seldom noticing her husband, who, while declaring there was no danger, still deemed it necessary, in case anything should happen, to send for his sister, Mrs. Kelsey, who had not visited him since his last marriage. She was a proud, fashionable woman, who saw nothing attractive in the desolate old house, and who had conceived an idea that her brother's second wife was a sort of nobody whom he had picked up among the New England hills. But the news of her illness softened her feelings in a measure, and she started for Laurel Hill, thinking that if Matty died she hoped a certain dashing, brilliant woman, called Maude Glendower, might go there, and govern the tyrannical doctor, even as he had governed others.
It was late in the afternoon when she reached her brother's house, from which Nellie came running out to meet her, accompanied by Maude. From the latter the lady at first turned disdainfully away, but ere long stole another look at the brown-faced girl, about whom there was something very attractive.
"Curtains, as I live!" she exclaimed, as she entered the parlor. "A piano, and marble table, too. Where did these come from?"
"They are ma's, and she's got a baby upstairs," answered Maude, and the lady's hand rested for an instant on the little curly head, for strange as it may seem, she esteemed more highly a woman who owned a piano and handsome table than she did one whose worldly possessions were more limited.
After making some changes in her dress, she went up to the sick-room, and as Matty was asleep, she had ample time to examine her face, and also to inspect the room, which showed in someone a refined and delicate taste.
"She must be more of a lady than I supposed," she thought, and when at last her sister-in-law awoke she greeted her kindly, and during her visit, which lasted nearly two weeks, she exerted herself to be agreeable, succeeding so far that Matty parted from her at last with genuine regret.
"Poor thing—she'll never see another winter," was Mrs. Kelsey's mental comment, as she bade the invalid good-by; but in this she was mistaken, for with the falling of the leaf Matty began to improve, and though she never fully regained her health, she was able again to be about the house, doing far more than she ought to have done, but never uttering a word of complaint, however heavy was the burden imposed upon her.
With Maude and her baby, who bore the name of Louis, she found her greatest comfort. He was a sweet, playful child, and sure never before was father so foolishly proud of his son as was Dr. Kennedy of his. For hours would he sit watching him while he slept, and building castles of the future, when "Louis Kennedy, only son of Dr. Kennedy," should be honored among men. Toward the mother, too, who had borne him such a prodigy he became a little more indulgent, occasionally suffering her wishes to prevail over his maxims, and on three several occasions giving her a dollar to spend as she pleased. Surely such generosity did not deserve so severe a punishment as was in store for the proud father.
Louis had a most beautiful face, and in his soft, brown eyes there was a "look like the angels," as Maude once said to her mother, who seldom spoke of him without a sigh, for on her mind a terrible fear was fastening itself. Although mentally as forward as other children, Louis' body did not keep pace with the growth of his intellect, and when he was two years of age he could not bear his weight upon his feet, but in creeping dragged his limbs slowly, as if in them there was no life—no strength.
"Ma, why don't Louis walk?" asked Maude, one evening when she saw how long it took him to cross the room.
"Loui' tant walk," answered the child, who talked with perfect ease.
The tears came instantly to Mrs. Kennedy's eyes, for, availing herself of her husband's absence, she had that morning consulted another physician, who, after carefully examining Louis' body, had whispered in the poor woman's ear that which made every nerve quiver with pain, while at the same time it made dearer a thousand-fold her baby-boy; for a mother's pity increases a mother's love.
"Say, ma, what is it?" persisted Maude. "Will Louis ever walk?"
"Loui'll never walk," answered the little fellow, shaking his brown curls, and tearing in twain a picture-book which his father had bought him the day before.
"Maude," said Mrs. Kennedy, drawing her daughter to her side, "I must tell somebody or my heart will burst," and laying her head upon the table she wept aloud.
"Don't try, ma, Loui' good," lisped the infant on the floor, while Mrs. Kennedy, drying at last her tears, told to the wondering Maude that Louis was not like other children—that he would probably never have the use of his feet—that a hunch was growing on his back—and he in time would be—she could not say "deformed," and so she said at last—"he'll be forever lame."
Poor little Maude! How all her childish dreams were blasted! She had anticipated so much pleasure in guiding her brother's tottering footsteps, in leading him to school, to church, and everywhere, and she could not have him lame.
"Oh, Louis, Louis!" she cried, winding her arms around his neck, as if she would thus avert the dreaded evil.
Very wonderfully the child looked up into her eyes, and raising his waxen hand he wiped her tears away, saying as he did so, "Loui' love Maude."
With a choking sob Maude kissed her baby brother, then going back to her mother, whose head still lay upon the table, she whispered, "We will love poor Louis all the more, you and I."
Blessed Maude, we say again, for these were no idle words, and the clinging, tender love with which she cherished her unfortunate brother ought to have shamed the heartless man who, when he heard of his affliction, refused to be comforted, and almost cursed the day when his only son was born. He had been absent for a week or more, and with the exception of the time when he first knew he had a son he did not remember of having experienced a moment of greater happiness than that in which he reached his home where dwelt his boy—his pride—his idol. Louis was not in the room, and on the mother's face there was an expression of sadness, which at once awakened the father's fears lest something had befallen his child.
"Where is Louis?" he asked. "Has anything happened to him that you look so pale?"
"Louis is well," answered Matty, and then, unable longer to control her feelings, she burst into tears, while the doctor looked on in amazement, wondering if all women were as nervous and foolish as the two it had been his fortune to marry.
"Oh, husband," she cried, feeling sure of his sympathy, and thinking it better to tell the truth at once; "has it never occurred to you that Louis was not like other children?"
"Of course it has," he answered quickly. "He is a thousand times brighter than any child I have ever known."
"'Tisn't that, 'tisn't that," said Matty. "He'll never walk—he's lame—deformed!"
"What do you mean?" thundered the doctor, reeling for an instant like a drunken man; then, recovering his composure, he listened while Matty told him what she meant.
At that moment Maude drew Louis into the room, and, taking the child in his arms, the doctor examined him for himself, wondering he had never observed before how small and seemingly destitute of life were his lower limbs. The bunch upon the back, though slight as yet, was really there, and Matty, when questioned, said it had been there for weeks, but she did not tell of it, for she hoped it would go away.
"It will stay until his dying day," he muttered, as he ordered Maude to take the child away. "Louis deformed! Louis a cripple! What have I done that I should be thus sorely punished?" he exclaimed, when he was alone with his wife; and then, as he dared not blame the Almighty, he charged it to her, until at last his thoughts took another channel. Maude had dropped him—he knew she had, and Matty was to blame for letting her handle him so much, when she knew 'twas a maxim of his that children should not take care of children.
He had forgotten the time when his worn-out wife had asked him to hire a nurse girl for Louis, and he had answered that "Maude was large enough for that." On some points his memory was treacherous, and for days he continued to repine at his hard fate, wishing once in Matty's presence that Louis had never been born.
"Oh, husband," she cried, "how can you say that! Do you hate our poor boy because he is a cripple?"
"A cripple!" roared the doctor. "Never use that word again in my presence. My son a cripple! I can't have it so! I won't have it so! for 'tis a max—"
Here he stopped, being for a second time in his life at a loss what to say.
"Sarve 'em right, sarve 'em right," muttered John, whose quick eye saw everything. "Ole Sam payin' him off good. He think he'll be in the seventh heaven when he got a boy, and he mighty nigh torment that little gal's life out with his mexens and things; but now he got a boy, he feel a heap like the bad place."
Still much as John rejoiced that his master was so punished, his heart went out in pity toward the helpless child whom he almost worshiped, carrying him often to the fields, where, seeking out the shadiest spot and the softest grass for a throne, he would place the child upon it, and then pay him obeisance by bobbing up and down his wooly head in a manner quite as satisfactory to Louis as if he indeed had been a king and John his loyal subject. Old Hannah, too, was greatly softened, and many a little cake and pie she baked in secret for the child, while even Nellie gave up to him her favorite playthings, and her blue eyes wore a pitying look whenever they rested on the poor unfortunate. All loved him seemingly the more—all, save the cruel father, who, as the months and years rolled on, seemed to acquire a positive dislike to the little boy, seldom noticing him in any way except to frown if he were brought into his sight. And Louis, with the quick instinct of childhood, learned to expect nothing from his father, whose attention he never tried to attract.
As if to make amends for his physical deformity, he possessed an uncommon mind, and when he was nearly six years of age accident revealed to him the reason of his father's continued coldness, and wrung from him the first tears he had ever shed for his misfortune. He heard one day his mother praying that God would soften her husband's heart toward his poor hunchback boy, who was not to blame for his misfortune—and laying his head upon the broad arm of the chair which had been made for him, he wept bitterly, for he knew now why he was not loved. That night, as in his crib he lay, watching the stars which shone upon him through the window, and wondering if in heaven there were hunchback boys like him, he overheard his father talking to his mother, and the words that his father said were never forgotten to his dying day. There were, "Don't ask me to be reconciled to a cripple! What good can he do me? He will never earn his own living, lame as he is, and will only be in the way."
"Oh, father, father," the cripple essayed to say, but he could not speak, so full of pain was his little, bursting heart, and that night he lay awake, praying that he might die and so be out of the way.
The next morning he asked Maude to draw him to the churchyard where "his other mother," as he called her, was buried. Maude complied, and when they were there, placed him at his request upon the ground, where stretching himself out at his full length, he said: "Look, Maude, won't mine be a little grave?" then, ere she could answer the strange question, he continued, "I want to die so bad; and if you leave me lying here in the long grass maybe God's angel will take me up to heaven. Will I be lame, there, think you?"
"Oh, Louis, Louis, what do you mean?" cried Maude, and as well as he could, for the tears he shed, Louis told her what he meant.
"Father don't love me because I'm lame, and he called me a cripple, too. What is a cripple, Maude? Is it anything very bad?" and his beautiful brown eyes turned anxiously toward his sister.
He had never heard that word before, and to him it had a fearful significance, even worse than lameness. In an instant Maude knelt by his side—his head was pillowed on her bosom, and in the silent graveyard, with the quiet dead around them, she spoke blessed words of comfort to her brother, telling him what a cripple was, and that because he bore that name he was dearer far to her.
"Your father will love you, too," she said, "when he learns how good you are. He loves Nellie, and—"
Ere she could say more she was interrupted by Louis, on whose mind another truth had dawned, and who now said, "But he don't love you as he does Nellie. Why not? Are you a cripple, too?"
Folding him still closer in her arms, and kissing his fair, white brow, Maude answered: "Your father, Louis, is not mine—for mine is dead, and his grave is far away. I came here to live when I was a little girl, not quite as old as you, and Nellie is not my sister, though you are my darling brother."
"And do you love father?" asked Louis, his eyes still fixed upon her face as if he would read the truth.
Every feeling of Maude Remington's heart answered, "No," to that question, but she could not say so to the boy, and she replied, "Not as I could love my own father—neither does he love me, for I am not his child."
This explanation was not then wholly clear to Louis, but he understood that there was a barrier between his father and Maude, and this of itself was sufficient to draw him more closely to the latter, who, after that day, cherished him, if possible, more tenderly than she had done before, keeping him out of his father's way, and cushioning his little crutches so they could not be heard, for she rightly guessed that the sound of them was hateful to the harsh man's ears.
Maude was far older than her years, and during the period of time over which we have passed so briefly she had matured both in mind and body, until now at the age of twelve she was a self-reliant little woman on whom her mother wholly depended for comfort and counsel. Very rapidly was Mrs. Kennedy passing from the world, and as she felt the approach of death she leaned more and more upon her daughter, talking to her often of the future and commending Louis to her care, when with her he would be motherless. Maude's position was now a trying one, for, when her mother became too ill to leave her room, and the doctor refused to hire extra help, saying, "two great girls were help enough," it was necessary for her to go into the kitchen, where she vainly tried to conciliate old Hannah, who "wouldn't mind a chit of a girl, and wouldn't fret herself either if things were not half done."
From the first Nellie resolutely refused to work—"it would black her hands," she said, and as her father never remonstrated she spent her time in reading, admiring her pretty face, and drumming upon the piano, which Maude, who was fonder even than Nellie of music, seldom found time to touch. One there was, however, who gave to Maude every possible assistance, and this was John. "Having tried his hand," as he said, "at everything in Marster Norton's school," he proved of invaluable service—sweeping, dusting, washing dishes, cleaning knives, and once ironing Dr. Kennedy's shirts, when old Hannah was in what he called her "tantrums." But alas for John! the entire print of the iron upon the bosom of one, to say nothing of the piles of starch upon another, and more than all, the tremendous scolding which he received from the owner of said shirt, warned him never to turn laundress again, and in disgust he gave up his new vocation, devoting his leisure moments to the cultivation of flowers, which he carried to his mistress, who smiled gratefully upon him, saying they were the sweetest she had ever smelled. And so each morning a fresh bouquet was laid upon her pillow, and as she inhaled their perfume she thought of her New England home, which she would never see again—thought, too, of Janet, whose cheering words and motherly acts would be so grateful to her now when she so much needed care.
"'Tis a long time since I've heard from her," she said one day to Maude. "Suppose you write tomorrow, and tell her I am sick—tell her, too, that the sight of her would almost make me well, and maybe she will come," and on the sick woman's face there was a joyous expression as she thought how pleasant it would be to see once more one who had breathed the air of her native hills—had looked upon her Harry's grave—nay, had known her Harry when in life, and wept over him in death.
Poor, lonesome, homesick woman! Janet shall surely come in answer to your call, and ere you deem it possible her shadow shall fall across your threshold—her step be heard upon the stairs—her hand be clasped in yours!
MRS. JANET BLODGETT.
It was a chilly, rainy afternoon toward the latter part of August. John was gone, the doctor was cross, and Hannah was cross. Nellie, too, was unusually irritable, and venting her spite upon Hannah because there was nothing for dinner fit to eat, and upon Maude because the house was so desolate and dark, she crept away upstairs, and wrapping a shawl round her, sat down to a novel, pausing occasionally to frown at the rain which beat at the windows or the wind as it roared dismally through the trees. While thus employed she heard the sound of wheels, and looking up, saw standing before their gate a muddy wagon, from which a little, dumpy figure in black was alighting, carefully holding up her alpaca dress, and carrying in one hand a small box which seemed to be full of flowers.
"She must have come to stay a long time," thought Nellie, as she saw the piles of baggage which the driver was depositing upon the stoop. "Who can it be?" she continued, as she recalled all her aunts and cousins, and found that none of them answered the description of this woman, who knocked loudly at the door, and then walked in to shelter herself from the storm.
"Forlornity!" Nellie heard her exclaim, as she left the chamber in answer to the summons. "Forlornity! No table, no hat-stand, no nothin', and the dingiest old ile-cloth! What does it mean? Your servant, miss," she added, dropping a courtesy to Nellie, who now stood on the stairs, with her finger between the pages of her book, so as not to lose the place. "I guess I've made a mistake," said the woman; "is this Dr. Canady's?"
"It is," answered Nellie, and the stranger continued, "Dr. Canady who married the widder Remington?"
"The same," returned Nellie, thinking how unmercifully she would tease Maude should this prove to be any of her relations.
"And who be you?" asked the stranger, feeling a little piqued at the coldness of her reception.
"I am Miss Helen—Dr. Kennedy's daughter," answered the young lady, assuming an air of dignity, which was not at all diminished by the very, expressive "Mortal!" which dropped from the woman's lips.
"Can I do anything for you?" asked Nellie, and the stranger answered: "Yes, go and call Maude, but don't tell her who I am."
She forgot that Nellie did not herself know who she was, and sitting down upon her trunk, she waited while Nellie hurried to the kitchen, where, over a smoky fire, Maude was trying in vain to make a bit of nicely browned toast for her mother, who had expressed a wish for something good to eat.
"Here, Maude," called out Nellie, "your grandmother or aunt has come, I guess, and wants to see you in the hall."
"It's Janet—it's Janet, I know!" screamed Maude, and leaving her slice of bread to burn and blacken before the fire, she hurried away, while Nellie, who had heard nothing of the letter sent the week before, wondered much who the "witched old thing with the poking black bonnet could be."
With a cry of delight Maude wound her arms around the neck of her old nurse, whom she knew in a moment, though Janet had more difficulty in recognizing the little girl of other years in the womanly looking maiden before her.
"It beats all how you've changed," she said, "though your eyes and hair are the same," and she passed her hand caressingly over the short glossy curls. Then looking intently in Maude's face she continued. "You've grown handsome, child."
"No, no, not handsome, Janet; Nellie is the beauty of the house," and Maude shook her head mournfully, for on the subject of beauty she was a little sensitive, her sister always pronouncing her "a fright," and manifesting a most unamiable spirit if anyone complimented her in the least.
"What, that yaller-haired, white-face chit who went for you?" rejoined Janet. "No such thing; but tell me now of your marm. How sick is she, and what of the little boy? Is he much deformed?"
"Come in here," said Maude, leading the way into the parlor, and drawing a chair close to Janet, she told all she deemed it necessary to tell.
But the quick-witted Janet knew there was something more, and casting a scornful glance around the room she said: "You are a good girl, Maude; but you can't deceive an old girl like me. I knew by the tremblin' way you writ that somethin' was wrong, and started the first blessed morning after gettin' your letter. I was calculating to come pretty soon, anyway, and had all my arrangements made. So I can stay a good long spell—always, mebby—for I'm a widder now," and she heaved a few sighs to the memory of Mr. Joel Blodgett, who, she said, "had been dead a year," adding, in a whisper, "but there's one consolation—he willed me all his property," and she drew from her belt a huge silver time-piece, which she was in the habit of consulting quite often, by way of showing that "she could carry a watch as well as the next one."
After a little her mind came back from her lamented husband, and she gave Maude a most minute account of her tedious ride in a lumber-wagon from Canandaigua to Laurel Hill, for the stage had left when she reached the depot, and she was in too great a hurry to remain at the hotel until the next morning.
"But what of that doctor—do you like him?" she said at last, and Maude answered: "Never mind him now; let us see mother first, or rather let me see to her dinner," and she arose to leave the room.
"You don't like him," continued Janet, "and I knew you wouldn't; but your poor mother, I pity her. Didn't you say you was gettin' her something to eat? She's had a good time waitin', but I'll make amends by seein' to her dinner myself," and spite of Maude's endeavors to keep her back she followed on into the disorderly kitchen, from which Nellie had disappeared, and where old Hannah sat smoking her pipe as leisurely as if on the table there were not piles of unwashed dishes, to say nothing of the unswept floor and dirty hearth.
"What a hole!" was Janet's involuntary exclamation, to which Hannah responded a most contemptuous "Umph!" and thus was the war-cry raised on either side. "What was you goin' to git for your mother?" asked Janet, without deigning to notice the portly African, who smoked on in dignified silence.
"Toast and tea," answered Maude, and casting a deprecating glance at the fire Janet continued: "You can't make any toast fit for a heathen to eat by that fire. Aint there any dry wood—kindlin' nor nothin'?" and she walked into the woodshed, where, spying a pine board, she seized the ax and was about to commence operations when Hannah called out: "Ole marster 'll be in yer ha'r if you tache that."
"I aint afraid of your old marster," answered Janet, and in a moment the board, which Dr. Kennedy would not suffer John to use because he might want it for something, was crackling on the fire.
The hearth was swept, the tea-kettle hung in the blaze, and then, with a look of perfect delight, Janet sat down to make the toast, fixing it just as she knew Matty liked it best.
"Biled eggs will be good for her digester, and if I only had one dropped in water," she said, and quick as thought Maude brought her one, while Hannah growled again, "Ole marster 'll raise de ruff, case he put 'em away to sell."
"Ole marster be hanged!" muttered Janet, breaking not one, but three, into the water, for her own stomach began to clamor for food.
Everything was ready at last; a clean towel covered the server, the fragrant black tea was made, the boiled egg was laid upon the toast, and then Janet said, "She ought to have a rellish—preserves, jelly, baked apple, or somethin'," and she opened a cupboard door, while Hannah, springing to her feet, exclaimed, "Quit dat; thar aint no sich truck in dis house."
But Janet's sharp eye had discovered behind a pile of papers, rags, and dried herbs a tumbler of currant jelly, which Hannah had secretly made and hidden away for her own private eating. Hannah's first impulse was to snatch the jelly from Janet's hand, but feeling intuitively that in the resolute Scotchwoman she had a mistress, and fearing lest Maude should betray her to the doctor she exclaimed, "If that aint the very stuff Miss Ruggles sent in for Miss Matty! I forgot it till this blessed minit!" and shutting the cupboard door, she stood with her back against it lest Janet should discover sundry other delicacies hidden away for a like purpose.
"Mother has not had a feast like this—and she'll enjoy it so much," said Maude, as she started up the stairs followed by Janet, who, ere they reached the chamber, suddenly stopped, saying, "I tell you what 'tis, if she knows I'm here she won't eat a mou'ful, so you say nothin', and when she's through I'll come."
This seemed reasonable to Maude, who, leaving Janet to look through a crevice in the door, entered alone into her mother's presence. Mrs. Kennedy had waited long for Maude, and at last, weary with listening to the rain, which made her feel so desolate and sad, she fell asleep, as little Louis at her side had done before her; but Maude's cheering voice awoke her.
"Look, mother," she cried, "see the nice dinner!" and her own eyes fairly danced as she placed the tray upon the table before her mother, who, scarcely less pleased, exclaimed, "A boiled egg—and jelly, too!—I've wanted them both so much. How did it happen?"
"Eat first, and then I'll tell you," answered Maude, propping her up with pillows, and setting the server in her lap.
"It tastes like old times—like Janet," said the invalid, and from the room without, where Janet watched, there came a faint, choking sound, which Matty thought was the wind and which Maude knew was Janet.
Through the door she caught sight of her mistress, whose white, wasted face wrung from her that cry. Stuffing her handkerchief into her mouth, she waited until toast, tea, egg, and all had disappeared, then, with the exclamation, "She's et 'em all up slick and clean," she walked into the room.
It would be impossible to describe that meeting, when the poor sick woman bowed her weary head upon the motherly bosom of her faithful domestic, weeping most piteously while Janet folded her lovingly in her arms, saying to her soothingly, "Nay, now, Matty darling—nay, my bonnie bird—take it easy like—take is easy, and you'll feel better."
"You won't leave me, will you?" sobbed Matty, feeling that it would not be hard to die with Janet standing near.
"No, honey, no," answered Janet, "I'll stay till one or t'other of us is carried down the walk and across the common where them gravestones is standin', which I noticed when I drove up."
"It will be me, Janet. It will be me," said Matty. "They will bury me beneath the willows, for the other one is lying there, oh, so peacefully."
Louis was by this time awake, and taking him upon her lap Janet laughed and cried alternately, mentally resolving that so long as she should live, she would befriend the little helpless boy, whose face, she said, "was far winsomer than any she had ever seen."
Then followed many mutual inquiries, during which Matty learned that Janet was a widow, and had really come to stay if necessary.
"I'm able now to live as I please, for I've got property," said Janet, again consulting the silver watch, as she usually did when speaking of her husband's will.
Many questions, too, did Matty ask concerning her former home—her friends—her flowers—and Harry's grave; "was it well kept now, or was it overrun with weeds?"
To this last question Janet did not reply directly, but making some excuse for leaving the room, she soon returned, bearing in one hand a box in which a small rose-bush was growing. In the other hand she held a beautiful bouquet which, having been kept moist, looked almost as fresh as when it was first gathered. This she gave to Matty, saying, "They grew on Harry's grave. I picked 'em myself yesterday morning before I left; and this," pointing to the rose-bush, "is a root I took from there last spring on purpose for you, for I meant to visit you this fall."
Need we say those flowers were dearer to Matty than the wealth of the Indies would have been! They had blossomed on Harry's grave—his dust had added to them life, and as if they were indeed a part of him, she hugged them to her heart—kissing them through her tears and blessing Janet for the priceless gift.
"Don't tell him, though," she whispered, and a deep flush mounted to her cheek as on the stairs she heard a heavy footstep, and knew that Dr. Kennedy was coming!
He had been in the kitchen, demanding of Hannah, "Whose is all that baggage in the hall?" and Hannah, glad of an opportunity to "free her mind," had answered, "Some low-lived truck or other that they called 'Janet,' and a body'd s'pose she owned the house, the way she went on, splittin' up yer board for kindlin', makin' missus' toast swim in butter, and a-bilin' three of them eggs you laid away to sell. If she stays here, this nigger won't—that's my 'pinion," and feeling greatly injured she left the kitchen, while Dr. Kennedy, with a dark, moody look upon his face, started for the sick-room.
He knew very well who his visitor was, and when his wife said, "Husband, this is my faithful Janet, or rather Mrs. Blodgett now. Wasn't it kind in her to come so far to see me?" he merely nodded coolly to Mrs. Blodgett, who nodded as coolly in return; then, turning to his wife, he said, "You seem excited, my dear, and this ought not to be. 'Tis a maxim of mine that company is injurious to sick people. What do you think, Mrs. Blodgett?"
Mrs. Blodgett didn't think anything save that he was a most disagreeable man, and as she could not say this in his presence, she made no particular answer. Glancing toward the empty plate which stood upon the table, he continued, "Hannah tells me, my dear, that you have eaten three boiled eggs. I wonder at your want of discretion, when you know how indigestible they are," and his eye rested reprovingly on Janet, who now found her tongue, and starting up, exclaimed, "One biled egg won't hurt anybody's digester, if it's ever so much out of kilter—but the jade lied. Two of them eggs I cooked for myself, and I'll warrant she's guzzled 'em down before this. Anyway, I'll go and see," and she arose to leave the room.
Just as she reached the door the doctor called after her, saying, "Mrs. Blodgett, I observed a trunk or two in the lower hall, which I presume are yours. Will you have them left there, or shall I bring them up to your chamber? You will stay all night with us, of course!"
For an instant Janet's face was crimson, but forcing down her wrath for Matty's sake, she answered, "I shall probably stay as long as that," and slamming together the door she went downstairs, while Matty said sadly, "Oh, husband, how could you thus insult her when you knew she had come to stay a while at least, and that her presence would do me so much good?"
"How should I know she had come to stay, when I've heard nothing about it," was the doctor's reply; and then in no mild terms he gave his opinion of the lady—said opinion being based on what old Hannah had told him.
There were tears in Matty's eyes, and they dropped from her long eye-lashes as, taking the doctor's hand, she said: "Husband, you know that I'm going to die—that ere the snow is falling you will be a second time alone. And you surely will not refuse me when I ask that Janet shall stay until the last. When I am gone you will, perhaps, be happier in the remembrance that you granted me one request."
There was something in the tone of her voice far more convincing than her words, and when she added, "She does not expect wages, for she has money of her own," Dr. Kennedy yielded the point, prophesying the while that there would be trouble with Hannah.
Meantime Mrs. Blodgett had wended her way to the kitchen, meeting in the way with Nellie, around whose mouth there was a substance greatly resembling the yolk of an egg! Thus prepared for the worst, Janet was not greatly disappointed when she found that her eggs had been disposed of by both the young lady and Hannah, the latter of whom was too busy with her dishes to turn her head or in any way acknowledge the presence of a second person.
"Joel Blodgett's widow ought to be above havin' words with a nigger," was Janet's mental comment as she contented herself with a slice of bread and a cup of tea, which, by this time, was of quite a reddish hue.
Her hunger being satisfied, she began to feel more amiably disposed toward the old negress, whose dishes she offered to wipe. This kindness was duly appreciated by Hannah, and that night, in speaking of Janet to her son, she pronounced her "not quite so onery a white woman as she at first took her to be."
As the days wore on Janet's presence in the family was felt in various ways. To Matty it brought a greater degree of happiness than she had experienced since she left her New England home, while even the doctor acknowledged an increased degree of comfort in his household, though not willing at first to attribute it to its proper source. He did not like Janet; her ideas were too extravagant for him, and on several different occasions he hinted quite strongly that she was not wanted there; but Janet was perfectly invincible to hints, and when at one time he embodied them in language that could not be misunderstood, telling her, "'twas a maxim of his that if a person had a home of their own they had better stay there," she promptly replied that "'twas a maxim of hers to stay where she pleased, particularly as she was a woman of property," and so, as she pleased to stay there, she stayed!
It took but a short time for her to understand the doctor, and to say that she disliked him would but feebly express the feeling of aversion with which she regarded him. Not a word, however, would Matty admit of past or present unkindness—neither was it necessary that she should, for Janet saw it all—saw how "Old Maxim," as she called him, had worried her life away, and while cherishing for him a sentiment of hatred, she strove to comfort her young mistress, who grew weaker and weaker every day, until at last the husband himself, aroused to a sense of her danger, strove by little acts of kindness unusual in him, to make amends for years of wrong. Experience is a thorough teacher, and he shrank from the bitter memories which spring from the grave of a neglected wife, and he would rather that Matty, when she died, should not turn away from him, shuddering at his touch, and asking him to take his hand from off her brow; just as one brown-haired woman had done. This feeling of his was appreciated by Janet, who in proportion as he became tender toward Matty, was respectful to him, until at last there came to be a tolerably good understanding between them, and she was suffered, in most matters, to have her own way.
With John she was a special favorite, and through his instrumentality open hostilities were prevented between herself and his mother, until the latter missed another cup of jelly from its new hiding-place. Then, indeed, the indignant African announced her intention of going at once to "Miss Ruggles'," who had offered her "twelve shillings a week and a heap of leisure."
"Let her go," said John, who knew Mrs. Ruggles to be a fashionable woman, the mother of nine children, whose ages varied from one to fifteen; "let her go—she'll be glad to come back," and the sequel proved he was right, for just as it was beginning to grow light on the second day of her absence, someone rapped at his window, and a half-crying voice whispered, "Let me in, John; I've been out to sarvice enough."
John complied with the request, and when Janet came down to the kitchen, how was she surprised at finding Hannah there, leisurely grinding her coffee, with an innocent look upon her sable face, as if nothing had ever happened. John's raillery, however, loosened her tongue at last, and very minutely she detailed her grievances. "She had done a two weeks' washing, besides all the work, and the whole of them young ones under her feet into the bargain. Then at night, when she hoped for a little rest, Mrs. Ruggles had gone off to a party and stayed till midnight, leaving her with that squallin' brat; but never you mind," said she, "I poured a little paregol down its throat, or my name aint Hannah," and with a sigh of relief at her escape from "Miss Ruggles," she finished her story and resumed her accustomed duties, which for many weeks she faithfully performed, finding but little fault with the frequent suggestions of Mrs. Janet Blodgett, whose rule in the household was for the time being firmly established.
From the tall trees which shade the desolate old house the leaves have fallen one by one, and the November rain makes mournful music as in the stillness of the night it drops upon the withered foliage, softly, slowly, as if weeping for the sorrow which has come upon the household. Matty Kennedy is dead; and in the husband's heart there is a gnawing pain, such as he never felt before; not even when Katy died; for Katy, though pure and good, was not so wholly unselfish as Matty had been, and in thinking of her, he could occasionally recall an impatient word; but from Matty none. Gentle, loving, and beautiful she had been to him in life; and now, beautiful in death, she lay in the silent parlor, on the marble table she had brought from home, while he—oh, who shall tell what thoughts were busy at his heart, as he sat there alone, that dismal, rainy night.
In one respect his wishes had been gratified; Matty had not turned from him in death. She had died within his arms; but so long as the light of reason shone in her blue eyes,—so long had they, rested on the rose-bush within the window,—the rose-bush brought from Harry's grave! Nestled among its leaves was a half-opened bud, and when none could hear, she whispered softly to Janet, "Place it in my bosom just as you placed one years ago, when I was Harry's bride."