THE EAST INDIA UNCLE
MRS. MARY J. HOLMES
Author of "Tempest and Sunshine," "Meadow Brook," "Homestead on the Hillside," "The English Orphans," "Maggie Miller," etc.
THE EAST INDIA UNCLE
DORA AND HER MOTHER.
Poor little Dora Deane! How utterly wretched and desolate she was, as she crouched before the scanty fire, and tried to warm the little bit of worn-out flannel, with which to wrap her mother's feet; and how hard she tried to force back the tears which would burst forth afresh whenever she looked upon that pale, sick mother, and thought how soon she would be gone!
It was a small, low, scantily furnished room, high up in the third story of a crazy old building, which Dora called her home, and its one small window looked out on naught save the roofs and spires of the great city whose dull, monotonous roar was almost the only sound to which she had ever listened. Of the country, with its bright green grass, its sweet wild flowers, its running brooks, and its shady trees, she knew but little, for only once had she looked on all these things, and then her heart was very sad, for the bright green grass was broken, and the sweet wild flowers were trampled down, that a grave might be made in the dark, moist earth for her father, who had died in early manhood, leaving his wife and only child to battle with the selfish world as best they could. Since that time, life had been long and dreary to the poor widow, whose hours were well-nigh ended, for ere to-morrow's sun was risen, she would have a better home than that dreary, cheerless room, while Dora, at the early age of twelve, would be an orphan.
It was a cold December night, the last one of the year, and the wintry wind, which swept howling past the curtainless window, seemed to take a sadder tone, as if in pity for the little girl who knelt upon the hearthstone, and with the dim firelight flickering over her tear-stained face, prayed that she, too, might die, and not be left alone.
"It will be so lonely—so cold without my mother!" she murmured. "Oh, let me go with her; I cannot live alone."
"Dora, my darling," came faintly from the rude couch, and in an instant the child was at her mother's side.
Winding her arms fondly about the neck of her daughter, and pushing the soft auburn hair from off her fair, open brow, Mrs. Deane gazed long and earnestly upon her face.
"Yes, you are like me," she said at last, "and I am glad that it is so, for it may be Sarah will love you better when she sees in you a look like one who once called her sister. And should he ever return——"
She paused, while her mind went back to the years long ago—to the old yellow farmhouse among the New England hills—to the gray- haired man, who had adopted her as his own when she was written fatherless—to the dark-eyed girl, sometimes kind, and sometimes overbearing, whom she had called her sister, though there was no tie of blood between them. Then she thought of the red house just across the way, and of the three brothers, Nathaniel, Richard, and John. Very softly she repeated the name of the latter, seeming to see him again as he was on the day when, with the wreath of white apple blossoms upon her brow, she sat on the mossy bank and listened to his low spoken words of love. Again she was out in the pale starlight, and heard the autumn wind go moaning through the locust trees as Nathaniel, the strange, eccentric, woman-hating Nathaniel, but just returned from the seas, told her how madly he had loved her, and how the knowledge that she belonged to another would drive him from his fatherland forever—that in the burning clime of India he would make gold his idol, forgetting, if it were possible, the mother who had borne him! Then she recalled the angry scorn with which her adopted sister had received the news of her engagement with John, and how the conviction was at last forced upon her that Sarah herself had loved him in secret, and that in a fit of desperation she had given her hand to the rather inefficient Richard, ever after treating her rival with a cool reserve, which now came back to her with painful distinctness.
"But she will love my little Dora for John's sake, if not for mine," she thought, at last; and then, as if she had all the time been speaking to her daughter, she continued," And you must be very dutiful to your aunt, and kind to your cousins, fulfilling their slightest wishes."
Looking up quickly, Dora asked, "Have you written to Aunt Sarah? Does she say I can come?"
"The letter is written, and Mrs. Gannis will send it as soon as I am dead," answered Mrs. Deane. "I am sure she will give you a home. I told her there was no alternative but the almshouse;" then, after a pause, she added: "I wrote to your uncle Nathaniel some months ago, when I knew that I must die. It is time for his reply, but I bade him direct to Sarah, as I did not then think to see the winter snow."
"Did you tell him of me?" eagerly asked Dora, on whom the name of Uncle Nathaniel, or "Uncle Nat," as he was more familiarly called, produced a more pleasant impression than did that of her aunt Sarah.
"Yes", answered the mother, "it was of you that I wrote, commending you to his care, should he return to America. And if you ever meet him, Dora, tell him that on my dying bed I thought of him with affection—that my mind wandered back to the years of long ago, when I was young, and ask him, for the sake of one he called his brother, and for her who grieves that ever she caused him a moment's pain, to care for you, their orphan child."
Then followed many words of love, which were very precious to Dora in the weary years which followed that sad night; and then, for a time, there was silence in that little room, broken only by the sound of the wailing tempest. The old year was going out on the wings of a fearful storm, and as the driving sleet beat against the casement, while the drifting snow found entrance through more than one wide crevice and fell upon her pillow, the dying woman murmured, "Lie up closer to me, Dora, I am growing very cold."
Alas! 'twas the chill of death; but Dora did not know it, and again on the hearthstone before the fast dying coals she knelt, trying to warm the bit of flannel, on which her burning tears fell like rain, when through the empty wood-box she sought in vain for chip or bark with which to increase the scanty fire.
"But I will not tell her," she softly whispered, when satisfied that her search was vain, and wrapping the flannel around the icy feet, she untied the long-sleeved apron which covered her own naked arms, and laying it over her mother's shoulders, tucked in the thin bedclothes; and then, herself all shivering and benumbed, she sat down to wait and watch, singing softly a familiar hymn, which had sometimes lulled her mother into a quiet sleep.
At last, as her little round white arms grew purple with the cold, she moved nearer to the bedside, and winding them lovingly around her mother's neck, laid her head upon the pillow and fell asleep. And to the angels, who were hovering near, waiting to bear their sister spirit home, there was given charge concerning the little girl, so that she did not freeze, though she sat there the livelong night, calmly sleeping the sweet sleep of childhood, while the mother at her side slept the long, eternal sleep of death!
* * * * *
THE FIRST AND LAST NEW YEAR'S CALL.
It was New Year's morning, and over the great city lay the deep, untrodden snow, so soon to be trampled down by thousands of busy feet. Cheerful fires were kindled in many a luxurious home of the rich, and "Happy New Year" was echoed from lip to lip, as if on that day there were no aching hearts—no garrets where the biting cold looked in. on pinching poverty and suffering old age—no low, dark room where Dora and her pale, dead mother lay, while over them the angels kept their tireless watch until human aid should come. But one there was who did not forget—one about whose house was gathered every elegance which fashion could dictate or money procure; and now, as she sat at her bountifully-furnished breakfast table sipping her fragrant chocolate, she thought of the poor widow, Dora's mother, for whom her charity had been solicited the day before, by a woman who lived in the same block of buildings with Mrs. Deane.
"Brother," she said, glancing towards a young man who, before the glowing grate, was reading the morning paper, "suppose you make your first call with me?"
"Certainly," he answered; "and it will probably be in some dreary attic or dark, damp basement; but it is well, I suppose, to begin the New Year by remembering the poor."
Half an hour later, and the crazy stairs which led to the chamber of death were creaking to the tread of the lady and her brother, the latter of whom knocked loudly for admission. Receiving no answer from within, they at last raised the latch and entered. The fire had long since gone out, and the night wind, as it poured down the chimney, had scattered the cold ashes over the hearth and out upon the floor. Piles of snow lay on the window sill, and a tumbler in which some water had been left standing, was broken in pieces. All this the young man saw at a glance, but when his eye fell upon the bed, he started back, for there was no mistaking the rigid, stony expression of the upturned face, which lay there so white and motionless.
"But the child—the child," he exclaimed, advancing forward—"can she, too, be dead!" and he laid his warm hand gently on Dora's brow.
The touch aroused her, and starting up, she looked around for a moment bewildered; but when at last she turned towards her mother, the dread reality was forced upon her, and in bitter tones she cried, "Mother's dead, mother's dead, and I am all alone! Oh! mother, mother, come back again to me!"
The young man's heart was touched, and taking the child's little red hands in his, he rubbed them gently, trying to soothe her grief; while his sister, summoning the inmates from the adjoining room, gave orders that the body should receive the necessary attention; then, learning as much as was possible of Dora's history, and assuring her that she should be provided for until her aunt came, she went away, promising to return next morning and be present at the humble funeral.
That evening, as Dora sat weeping by the coffin in which her mother lay, a beautiful young girl, with eyes of deepest blue, and locks of golden hair, smiled a joyous welcome to him whose first New Year's call had been in the chamber of death, and whose last was to her, the petted child of fashion.
"I had almost given you up, and was just going to cry," she said, laying her little snowflake of a hand upon the one which that morning had chafed the small, stiff fingers of Dora Deane, and which now tenderly pressed those of Ella Grey as the young man answered, "I have not felt like going out today, for my first call saddened me;" and then, with his arm around the fairy form of Ella, his affianced bride, he told her of the cold, dreary room, of the mother colder still, and of the noble little girl, who had divested herself of her own clothing, that her mother might be warm.
Ella Grey had heard of such scenes before—had cried over them in books; but the idea that she could do anything to relieve the poor, had never entered her mind. It is true, she had once given a party dress to a starving woman, and a pound of candy to a ragged boy who had asked for aid, but here her charity ended; so, though she seemed to listen with interest to the sad story, her mind was wandering elsewhere, and when her companion ceased, she merely said, "Romantic, wasn't it."
There was a look of disappointment on the young man's face, which was quickly observed by Ella, who attributed it to its right source, and hastened to ask numberless questions about Dora—"How old was she? Did he think her pretty, and hadn't she better go to the funeral the next day and bring her home for a waiting-maid?— she wanted one sadly, and from the description, the orphan girl would just suit."
"No, Ella," answered her lover; "the child is going to live in the country with some relatives, and will be much better off there."
"The country," repeated Ella. "I would rather freeze in New York than to live in the dismal country."
Again the shadow came over the gentleman's brow, as he said, "Do you indeed object so much to a home in the country?"
Ella knew just what he wanted her to say; so she answered, "Oh, no, I can be happy anywhere with you, but do please let me spend just one winter in the city after—-"
Here she paused, while the bright blushes broke over her childish face. She could not say, even to him, "after we are married," so he said it for her, drawing her closer to his side, and forgetting Dora Deane, as he painted the joyous future when Ella would be all his own. Eleven o'clock sounded from more than one high tower, and at each stroke poor Dora Deane moaned in anguish, thinking to herself, "Last night at this time she was here." Eleven o'clock, said Ella Grey's diamond set watch, and pushing back her wavy hair, the young man kissed her rosy cheek, and bade her a fond good-night. As he reached the door, she called him back, while she asked him the name of the little girl who had so excited his sympathy.
"I do not know," he answered. "Strange that I forgot to inquire. But no matter. We shall never meet again;" and feeling sure that what he said was true he walked away.
* * * * *
There hundred miles to the westward, and the storm, which, on New Year's eve, swept so furiously over all parts of the State, was perceptible only in the dull, gray clouds which obscured the wintry sky, shutting out the glimmering starlight, and apparently making still brighter the many cheerful lights which shone forth from the handsome dwellings in the village of Dunwood. Still the night was intensely cold, and, as Mrs. Sarah Deane, in accordance with her daughter Eugenia's request, added a fresh bit of coal to the already well-filled stove, she sighed involuntarily, wishing the weather would abate, for the winter's store of fuel was already half gone, and the contents of her purse were far too scanty to meet the necessity of her household, and at the same time minister to the wants of her extravagant daughters.
"But I can economize in one way," she said, half aloud, and crossing the room she turned down the astral lamp which was burning brightly upon the table.
"Don't, pray mother, make it darker than a dungeon!" petulantly exclaimed Eugenia, herself turning back the lamp. "I do like to have rooms light enough to see one's self;" and glancing complacently at the reflection of her handsome face, in the mirror opposite, she resumed her former lounging attitude upon the sofa.
Mrs. Deane sighed again, but she had long since ceased to oppose the imperious Eugenia, who was to all intents and purposes the mistress of the house, and who oftentimes led her mother and weaker-minded sister into the commission of acts from which they would otherwise have shrunk. Possessed of a large share of romance, Eugenia had given to their place the name of "Locust Grove;" and as Mrs. Deane managed to keep up a kind of outside show by practising the most pinching economy in everything pertaining to the actual comfort of her family, they were looked upon as being quite wealthy and aristocratic by those who saw nothing of their inner life—who knew nothing of the many shifts and turns in the kitchen to save money for the decoration of the parlors, or of the frequent meager meals eaten from the pantry shelf, in order to make amends for the numerous dinner and evening parties which Eugenia and Alice insisted upon giving, and which their frequent visits to their friends rendered necessary. Extensive servant-hire was of course too expensive, and, as both Eugenia and Alice affected the utmost contempt for anything like work, their mother toiled in the kitchen from morning until night, assisted only by a young girl, whose mother constantly threatened to take her away, unless her wages were increased, a thing which seemed impossible.
It was just after this woman's weekly visit, and in the midst of preparations for a large dinner party, that Mrs. Deane received her sister's letter, to which there was added a postscript, in a strange handwriting, saying she was dead. There was a moisture in Mrs. Deane's eyes as she read the touching lines; and leaning her heated forehead against the cool window pane, she, too, thought of the years gone by—of the gentle girl, the companion of her childhood, who had never given her an unkind word—of him— the only man she had ever loved—and Dora was their child—Fanny's child and John's.
"Yes," she said, half aloud, "I will give her a home," but anon there came stealing over her the old bitterness of feeling, which she had cherished since she knew that Fanny was preferred to herself, and then the evil of her nature whispered, "No, I will not receive their child. We can hardly manage to live now, and it is not my duty to incur an additional expense. Dora must stay where she is, and if I do not answer the letter, she will naturally suppose I never received it."
Thus deciding the matter, she crushed the letter into her pocket and went back to her work; but there was an added weight upon her spirits, while continually ringing in her ears were the words, "Care for John's child and mine." "If I could only make her of any use to me," she said at last, and then as her eye fell upon Bridget, whose stay with her was so uncertain, the dark thought entered her mind, "Why could not Dora fill her place? It would be a great saving, and of course the child must expect to work."
Still, reason as she would, Mrs. Deane could not at once bring herself to the point of making a menial of one who was every way her equal; neither could she decide to pass the letter by unnoticed; so for the present she strove to dismiss the subject, which was not broached to her daughters until the evening on which we first introduced them to our readers. Then taking her seat by the brightly burning lamp, she drew the letter from her pocket and read it aloud, while Alice drummed an occasional note upon the piano and Eugenia beat a tattoo upon the carpet with her delicate French slipper.
"Of course she won't come," said Alice, as her mother finished reading. "It was preposterous in Aunt Fanny to propose such a thing!" and she glanced towards Eugenia for approbation of what she had said.
Eugenia's quick, active mind had already looked at the subject in all its bearings, and in like manner with her mother she saw how Dora's presence there would be a benefit; so to Alice's remark she replied: "It will sound well for us to have a cousin in the poorhouse, won't it? For my part, I propose that she comes, and then be made to earn her own living. We can dismiss Bridget, who is only two years older than Dora, and we shall thus avoid quarreling regularly with her vixenish mother, besides saving a dollar every week—"
"So make a drudge of Dora," interrupted Alice. "Better leave her in the poorhouse at once."
"Nobody intends to make a drudge of her," retorted Eugenia. "Mother works in the kitchen, and I wonder if it will hurt Dora to help her. Every girl ought to learn to work!"
"Except Eugenia Deane," suggested Alice, laughing, to think how little her sister's practise accorded with her theory.
At this point in the conversation, Bridget entered, bringing a letter which bore the India post-mark, together with the unmistakable handwriting of Nathaniel Deane!
"A letter from Uncle Nat, as I live!" exclaimed Eugenia. "What is going to happen? He hasn't written before in years. I do wish I knew when he expected to quit this mundane sphere, and how much of his money he intends leaving me!"
By this time Mrs. Deane had broken the seal, uttering an exclamation of surprise as a check for $500 fell into her lap.
"Five hundred dollars!" screamed Eugenia, catching up the check and examining it closely, to see that there was no mistake. "The old miser has really opened his heart. Now, we'll have some genuine silver forks for our best company, so we shan't be in constant terror lest some one should discover that they are only plated. I'll buy that set of pearls at Mercer's, too, and, Alice, you and I will nave some new furs. I'd go to Rochester to-morrow, if it were not Sunday. What shall we get for you, mother? A web of cloth, or an ounce of sewing silk?" and the heartless girl turned towards her mother, whose face was white as ashes, as she said faintly: "The money is not ours. It is Dora's— to be used for her benefit."
"Not ours! What do you mean! It can't be true!" cried Eugenia, snatching the letter, and reading therein a confirmation of her mother's words.
After a slight apology for his long silence, Undo Nat had spoken of Fanny's letter, saying he supposed she must be dead ere this, and that Dora was probably living with her aunt, as it was quite natural she should do. Then he expressed his willingness to defray all the expense which she might be, adding that though he should never see her, as he was resolved to spend his days in India, he still wished to think of her as an educated and accomplished woman.
"Accompanying this letter," he wrote, "is a check for $500, to be used for Dora's benefit. Next year I will make another remittance, increasing the allowance as she grows older. I have more money than I need, and I know of no one on whom I would sooner expend it than the child of Fanny Moore."
"Spiteful old fool!" muttered Eugenia, "I could relieve him of any superfluous dimes he may possess."
But even Eugenia, heartless as she was, felt humbled and subdued for a moment, as she read the latter part of her uncle's letter, from which we give the following extract:
"I am thinking, to-day, of the past, Sarah, and I grow a very child again as I recall the dreary years which have gone over my head, since last I trod the shores of my fatherland. You, Sarah, know much of my history. You know that I was awkward, eccentric, uncouth, and many years older than my handsomer, more highly gifted brother; and yet with all this fearful odds against me, you know that I ventured to love the gentle, fair-haired Fanny, your adopted sister. You know this, I say, but you do not know how madly, how passionately such as I can love—did love; nor how the memory of Fanny's ringing laugh, and the thought of the sunny smile, with which I knew she would welcome me home again, cheered me on my homeward voyage, when in the long night-watches I paced the vessel's deck, while the stars looked coldly down upon me, and there was no sound to break the deep stillness, save the heavy swell of the sea. At the village inn where I stopped for a moment ere going to my father's house, I first heard that her hand was plighted to another, and in my wild frenzy, I swore that my rival, whoever it might be, should die!
"It was my youngest brother—he, who, on the sad night when our mother died, had laid his baby head upon my bosom, and wept himself to sleep—he whose infant steps I had guided, bearing him often in my arms, lest he should 'dash his foot against a stone.' And his life I had sworn to take, for had he not come between me and the only object I had ever loved? There was no one stirring about the house, for it was night, and the family had retired. But the door was unfastened, and I knew the way upstairs. I found him, as I had expected, in our old room, and all alone; for Richard was away. Had he been there, it should make no difference, I said, but he was absent, and John was calmly sleeping with his face upturned to the soft moonlight which came in through the open window. I had not seen him for two long years, and now there was about him a look so much like that of my dead mother when she lay in her coffin bed, that the demon in my heart was softened, and I seemed to hear her dying words again, 'I can trust you, Nathaniel; and to your protection, as to a second mother, I commit my little boy.'
"The little boy, whose curls were golden then, was now a brown- haired man—my brother—the son of my angel mother, whose spirit, in that dark hour of my temptation, glided into the silent room, and stood between me and her youngest born, so that he was not harmed, and I was saved from the curse of a brother's blood.
"'Lead us not into temptation,' came back to me, just as I had said it kneeling at my mother's side; and covering my face with my hands, I thanked God, who had kept me from so great a sin. Bending low, I whispered in his ear his name, and in a moment his arms were around my neck, while he welcomed me back to the home, which, he said, was not home without me. And then, when the moon had gone down, and the stars shone too faintly to reveal his blushes, he told me the story of his happiness, to which I listened, while the great drops of sweat rolled down my face and moistened the pillow on which my head was resting.
"But why linger over those days of anguish, which made me an old man before my time? I knew I could not stand by and see her wedded to another—neither could I look upon her after she was another's wife; so, one night, when the autumn days were come, I asked her to go with me out beneath the locust trees, which skirted my father's yard. It was there I had seen her for the first time, and it was there I would take my final leave. Of the particulars of that interview I remember but little, for I was terribly excited. We never met again, for ere the morrow's daylight dawned, I had left my home forever—"
Then followed a few more words concerning Dora, with a request that she should write to him, as he would thus be able to judge something of her character; and there the letter ended.
For a time there was silence, which was broken at last by Eugenia, whose active mind had already come to a decision. Dora would live with them, of course—it was best that she should, and there was no longer need for dismissing Bridget. The five hundred dollars obviated that necessity, and it was theirs, too—theirs by the way of remuneration for giving Dora a home—theirs to spend as they pleased. And she still intended to have the furs, the pearls, and the silver forks, just the same as though the money had been a special gift to her!
"Suppose Uncle Nat should happen to come home, and Dora should tell him?" suggested Alice, who did not so readily fall in with her sister's views.
"He'll never do that in the world," returned Eugenia. "And even if he should, Dora will have nothing to tell, for she is not supposed to know of the money. If we feed, clothe, and educate her, it is all we are required to do."
"But would that be exactly just?" faintly interposed Mrs. Deane, whose perceptions of right and wrong were not quite so blunted as those of her daughter, who, in answer to her question, proceeded to advance many good reasons why Dora, for a time at least, should be kept in ignorance of the fact that her uncle supported her, and not her aunt.
"We can manage her better if she thinks she is dependent upon us. And then, as she grows older, she will not be continually asking what has become of the money, which, as I understand the matter, is really ours, and not hers."
Still, Mrs. Deane was not quite convinced, but she knew how useless it would be to argue the point; so she said nothing, except to ask how Dora was to get there, as she could not come alone.
"I have it," answered Eugenia. "I have long wished to spend a few days in New York, but that bane of my life, poverty, has always prevented. Now, however, as old Uncle Nat has kindly furnished us with the means, I propose that Alice and I start day after to- morrow, and return on Saturday. That will give us ample time to see the lions and get the city fashions."
"It will cost a great deal for yon both to stay at those large hotels," said Mrs. Deane; and Eugenia replied—
"One hundred dollars will cover all the expense, and pay Dora's fare besides. What is the use of money, if we can't use it? I shall get my furs, and jewelry, and forks while I'm there, so I'd better take along three hundred and fifty dollars, for fear of any accident. We are not obliged to spend it all, of course;" she added, as she saw the look of dismay on her mother's face. "And we can bring back whatever there is left."
For nineteen years Eugenia Deane had been suffered to have her way, and her mother did not like to thwart her now, for her temper was violent, and she dreaded an outbreak; so she merely sighed in reply, and when, on Monday morning, Eugenia started for New York, her purse contained the desired three hundred and fifty dollars, which, after her arrival in the city, was spent as freely as if it really belonged to her, and not to the orphan Dora, who was now staying with Mrs. Grannis, a kind-hearted woman in the same block where her mother had died. The furs were bought, the pearls examined, the forks priced, and then Alice ventured to ask when they were going to find Dora.
"I shall leave that for the last thing," answered Eugenia. "She can't run away, and nobody wants to be bothered with a child to look after."
So for three more days little Dora looked out of the dingy window upon the dirty court below, wishing her aunt would come, and wondering if she should like her. At last, towards the close of Friday afternoon, there was a knock at the door and a haughty- looking, elegantly dressed young lady inquired if a little orphan girl lived there.
"That's her—Aunt Sarah," exclaimed Dora, springing joyfully forward; but she paused and started back, as she met the cold, scrutinizing glance of Eugenia's large black eyes.
"Are you the child I am looking for?" asked Eugenia, without deigning to notice Mrs. Grannis's request that she would walk in.
"I am Dora Deane," was the simple answer; and then, as briefly as possible, Eugenia explained that she had been sent for her, and that early the next morning she would call to take her to the depot.
"Did you know mother? Are you any relation?" asked Dora, trembling with eager expectation; and Alice, who, without her sister's influence, would have been a comparatively kind-hearted girl, answered softly, "We are your cousins."
There was much native politeness and natural refinement of manner about Dora, and instinctively her little chubby hand was extended towards her newly found relative, who pressed it gently, glancing the while at her sister, who, without one word of sympathy for the orphan girl, walked away through the winding passage, and down the narrow stairs, out into the sunlight, where, breathing more freely, she exclaimed, "What a horrid place! I hope I haven't caught anything. Didn't Dora look like a Dutch doll in that long dress and high-neck apron?"
"Her face is pretty, though," returned Alice, "and her eyes are beautiful—neither blue nor black, but a mixture of both. How I pitied her as they filled with tears when you were talking! Why didn't you speak to her?"
"Because I'd nothing to say," answered Eugenia, stepping into the carriage which had brought them there, and ordering the driver to go next to Stuart's, where she wished to look again at a velvet cloak.
"It is so cheap, and so becoming, too, that I am half tempted to get it," she exclaimed.
"Mother won't like it, I know," said Alice, who herself began to have some fears for the three hundred and fifty dollars.
"Fudge!" returned Eugenia, adding the next moment, "I wonder if she'll have to buy clothes for Dora the first thing. I hope not," and she drew around her the costly fur, for which she had paid fifty dollars.
Of course the cloak was bought, together with several other articles equally cheap and becoming, and by the time the hotel bills were paid, there were found in the purse just twenty- five dollars, with which to pay their expenses back to Dunwood.
There were bitter tears shed at the parting next morning in Mrs. Grannis's humble room, for Dora felt that the friends to whom she was going were not like those she left behind; and very lovingly her arms wound themselves around the poor widow's neck as she wept her last adieu, begging Mrs. Grannis not to forget her, but to write sometimes, and tell her of the lady who had so kindly befriended her.
"We can't wait any longer," cried Eugenia, and with one more farewell kiss, Dora went out of the house where she had experienced much of happiness, and where had come to her her deepest grief.
"Forlorn. What is that old thing going for! Leave it," said Eugenia, touching with her foot a square, green trunk or chest, which stood by the side of the long, sack-like carpet-bag containing Dora's wardrobe.
"It was father's—and mother's clothes are in it," answered Dora, with quivering lips.
There was something in the words and manner of the little girl, as she laid her hand reverently on the offending trunk, that touched even Eugenia; and she said no more. An hour later, and the attention of more than one passenger in the Hudson River cars was attracted towards the two stylish-looking ladies who came in, laden with bundles, and followed by a little girl in black, for whom no seat was found save the one by the door where the wind crept in, and the unmelted frost still covered the window pane.
"Won't you be cold here?" asked Alice, stopping a moment, ere passing on to her own warm seat near the stove.
"No matter; I am used to it," was Dora's meek reply; and wrapping her thin, half-worn shawl closer about her, and drawing her feet up beneath her, she soon fell asleep, dreaming sweet dreams of the home to which she was going, and of the Aunt Sarah who would be to her a second mother!
God help thee, Dora Deane!
DORA'S NEW HOME.
One year has passed away since the night when, cold, weary and forlorn, Dora followed her cousins up the graveled walk which led to her new home. One whole year, and in that time she has somewhat changed. The merry-hearted girl, who, until a few weeks before her mother's death, was happier far than many a favored child of wealth, has become a sober, quiet, self-reliant child, performing without a, word of complaint the many duties which have gradually been imposed upon her.
From her aunt she had received a comparatively welcome greeting, and when Eugenia displayed her purchases, which had swallowed up the entire three hundred and fifty dollars, Mrs. Deane had laid her hand on the little girl's soft, auburn hair, as if to ask forgiveness for the injustice done her by the selfish Eugenia, whose only excuse for her extravagance was, that "no one in her right mind need to think of bringing back any money from New York." And Dora, from her seat on a little stool behind the stove, understood nothing, thought of nothing, except that Eugenia looked beautifully in her velvet cloak and furs, and that her aunt must be very rich, to afford so many handsome articles of furniture as the parlor contained.
"And I am glad that she is," she thought," for she will not be so likely to think me in the way."
As time passed on, however, Dora, who was a close observer, began to see things in their true light, and her life was far from being happy. By her cousin Alice she was treated with a tolerable degree of kindness, while Eugenia, without any really evil intention, perhaps, seemed to take delight in annoying her sensitive cousin, constantly taunting her with her dependence upon them, and asking her sometimes how she expected to repay the debt of gratitude she owed them. Many and many a night had the orphan wept herself to sleep, in the low, scantily furnished chamber which had been assigned her; and she was glad when at last an opportunity was presented for her to be in a measure out of Eugenia's way, and at the same time feel that she doing something towards earning her living.
The oft-repeated threat of Bridget's mother that her daughter should be removed, unless her wages were increased, was finally carried into effect; and one Saturday night, Mrs. Deane was startled by the announcement that Bridget was going to leave. In a moment, Dora's resolution was taken, and coming to her aunt's side, she said:
"Don't hire another girl, Aunt Sarah. Let me help you. I can do almost as much as Bridget, and you won't have to pay me either. I shall only be paying you."
Unclasping the handsome bracelet which had been purchased with a portion of the remaining one hundred and fifty dollars, Eugenia, ere her mother had time to reply, exclaimed:
"That is a capital idea! I wonder how you happened to be so thoughtful."
And so it was decided that Dora should take Bridget's place, she thinking how much she would do, and how hard she would try to please her aunt, who quieted her own conscience by saying "it was only a temporary arrangement until she could find another servant."
But as the days went by, the temporary arrangement bid fair to become permanent, for Mrs. Deane could not be insensible to the vast difference which Bridget's absence made in her weekly expenses. Then, too, Dora was so willing to work, and so uncomplaining, never seeking a word of commendation, except once, indeed, when she timidly ventured to ask Eugenia if "what she did was enough to pay for her board?"
"Just about," was Eugenia's answer, which, indifferent as it was, cheered the heart of Dora, as, day after day, she toiled on in the comfortless kitchen, until her hands, which, when she came to Locust Grove, were soft and white as those of an infant, became rough and brown, and her face gradually assumed the same dark hue, for she could not always stop to tie on her sunbonnet, when sent for wood or water.
With the coming of summer, arrangements had been made for sending her to school, though Mrs. Deane felt at first as if she could not be deprived of her services. Still for appearance' sake, if for nothing more, she must go; and with the earliest dawn the busy creature was up, working like a bee, that her aunt and cousins might not have so much to do in her absence. At first she went regularly, but after a time it became very convenient to detain her at home, for at least two days in every week, and this wrung from her almost the only tears she had shed since the morning, when, of her own accord, she had gone into the kitchen to perform a servant's duties.
Possessing naturally a fondness for books, and feeling ambitious to keep up with her class, she at last conceived the idea of studying at home; and many a night, long after her aunt and cousins were asleep, she sat up alone, poring over her books, sometimes by the dim light of a lamp, and again by the light of the full moon, whose rays seemed to fall around her more brightly than elsewhere. It was on one of these occasions, when tracing upon her map the boundary lines of India, that her thoughts reverted to her uncle Nathaniel, whose name she seldom heard, and of whom she had never but once spoken. Then in the presence of her aunt and cousins she had wondered why he did not answer her mother's letter.
"Because he has nothing to write, I presume," said Eugenia, who would not trust her mother to reply.
And Dora, wholly unsuspecting, never dreamed of the five hundred dollars sent over for her benefit, and which was spent long ago— though not for her—never dreamed of the letter which Eugenia had written in reply, thanking her uncle again and again for his generous gift, which she said "was very acceptable, for ma was rather poor, and it would aid her materially in providing for the wants of Dora," who was represented as being "a queer, old- fashioned child, possessing but little affection for any one and who never spoke of her uncle Nathaniel, or manifested the least gratitude for what he was doing!"
In short, the impression left upon the mind of Uncle Nat was that Dora, aside from being cold-hearted, was uncommonly dull, and would never make much of a woman, do what they might for her! With a sigh, and a feeling of keen disappointment, he read the letter, saying to himself, as he laid it away, "Can this be true of Fanny's child?"
But this, we say, Fanny's child did not know; and as her eyes wandered over the painted map of India, she resolved to write and to tell him of her mother's dying words—tell him how much she loved him, because he was her father's brother, and how she wished he would come home, that she might know him better.
"If I only had some keepsake to send him—something he would prize," she thought, when her letter was finished. And then, as she enumerated her small store of treasures, she remembered her mother's beautiful hair, which had been cut from her head, as she lay in her coffin, and which now held a place in the large square trunk. "I will send him a lock of that," she said; and kneeling reverently by the old green trunk, the shrine where she nightly said her prayers, she separated from the mass of rich, brown hair, one long, shining tress, which she inclosed within her letter, adding, in a postscript, "It is mother's hair, and Dora's tears have often fallen upon it. 'Tis all I have to give."
Poor little Dora! Nathaniel Deane would have prized that simple gift far more than all the wealth which he called his, but it was destined never to reach him. The wily Eugenia, to whom Dora applied for an envelope, unhesitatingly showing what she had written, knew better than to send that note across the sea, and feigning the utmost astonishment, she said: "I am surprised, Dora, that after your mother's ill-success, you should think of writing to Uncle Nat. He is a suspicious, miserly old fellow, and will undoubtedly think you are after his money!"
"I wouldn't send it for the world, if I supposed he'd fancy such a thing as that," answered Dora, her eyes filling with tears.
"Of course you wouldn't," continued Eugenia, perceiving her advantage and following it up. "You can do as you like, but my advice is that you do not send it; let him write to you first if he wishes to open a correspondence!"
This decided the matter, and turning sadly away, Dora went back to her chamber, hiding the letter and the lock of hair in the old green trunk.
"How can you be so utterly void of principle?" asked Alice, as Dora quitted the room; and Eugenia replied: "It isn't a lack of principle, it's only my good management. I have my plans, and I do not intend they shall be frustrated by that foolish letter, which would, of course, be followed by others of the same kind. Now I am perfectly willing that Uncle Nat should divide his fortune between us and Dora, but unfortunately he is a one idea man, and should he conceive a fancy for our cousin, our hopes are blasted forever; so I don't propose letting him do any such thing. Mother has given up the correspondence to me, and I intend making the old gentleman think I am a most perfect specimen of what a young lady should be, saying, of course, an occasional good word for you! I believe I understand him tolerably well, and if in the end I win, I pledge you my word that Dora shall not be forgotten. Are you satisfied?"
Alice could not say yes, but she knew it was useless to reason with her sister, so she remained silent; while a curious train of thoughts passed through her mind, resulting at last in an increased kindness of manner on her part towards her young cousin, who was frequently relieved of duties which would otherwise have detained her from school. And Dora's step grew lighter, and her heart happier, as she thought that Alice at least cared for her welfare.
On New Year's Day there came a letter from Uncle Nat, containing the promised check, which Eugenia held up to view, while she read the following brief lines:
"Many thanks to Eugenia for her kind and welcome letter, which I may answer at some future time, when I have anything interesting to say."
"Have you written to Uncle Nat, and did you tell him of me, or of mother's letter?" exclaimed Dora, Who had been sitting unobserved behind the stove, and who now sprang eagerly forward, while her cheeks glowed with excitement.
Soon recovering her composure, Eugenia answered, "Yes, I wrote to him, and of course, mentioned you with the rest of us. His answer you have heard."
"But the other paper," persisted Dora. "Doesn't that say anything?"
For a moment Eugenia hesitated, and then, deciding that no harm could come of Dora's knowing of the money, provided she was kept in ignorance of the object for which it was sent, she replied, carelessly, "Oh that's nothing but a check. The old gentleman was generous enough to send us a little money, which we need badly enough."
There was not one particle of selfishness in Dora's disposition, and without a thought or wish that any of the money should be expended for herself, she replied, "Oh, I am so glad, for now Aunt Sarah can have that shawl she has wanted so long, and Alice the new merino."
Dear little Dora! she did not know why Eugenia's eyes so quickly sought the floor, nor understand why her aunt's hand was laid upon her head so caressingly. Neither did she know that Alice's sudden movement towards the window was to hide the expression of her face; but when, a few days afterwards, she was herself presented with a handsome merino, which both Eugenia and Alice volunteered to make, she thought there was not in Dunwood a happier child than herself. In the little orphan's pathway there were a few sunny spots, and that night when, by the old green trunk, she knelt her down to pray, she asked of God that he would reward her aunts and cousins according to their kindnesses done to her!
Need we say that childish prayer was answered to the letter!
A little way out of the village of Dunwood, and situated upon a slight eminence, was a large, handsome building, which had formerly been owned by a Frenchman, who, from the great profusion of roses growing upon his grounds, had given to the place the name of "Rose Hill." Two years before our story opens, the Frenchman died, and since that time Rose Hill had been unoccupied, but now it had another proprietor, and early in the summer Mr. Howard Hastings and lady would take possession of their new home.
Of Mr. Hastings nothing definite was known, except that he was a man of unbounded wealth and influence—"and a little peculiar withal," so said Mrs. Leah, the matron, who had come up from New York to superintend the arrangement of the house, which was fitted up in a style of elegance far surpassing what most of Dunwood's inhabitants had seen before, and was for two or three weeks thrown open to the public. Mrs. Leah, who was a servant in Mr. Hastings's family and had known her young mistress's husband from childhood, was inclined to be rather communicative, and when asked to explain what she meant by Mr. Hastings's peculiarities, replied "Oh, he's queer every way—and no wonder, with his kind of a mother. Why she is rich as a Jew, and for all that, she made her only daughter learn how to do all kinds of work. It would make her a better wife, she said, and so, because Ella had rather lie on the sofa and read a nice novel than to be pokin' round in the kitchen and tending to things, as he calls it, Mr. Hastings looks blue and talks about woman's duties, and all that nonsense. Recently he has taken it into his head that late hours are killing her— that it isn't healthy for her to go every night to parties, concerts, operas, and the like o' that, so he's going to bury her in the stupid country, where she'll be moped to death, for of course there's nobody here that she'll associate with."
"The wretch!" exclaimed Eugenia, who formed one of the group of listeners to this precious bit of gossip; but whether she intended this cognomen for the cruel husband, or Mrs. Leah, we do not know, as she continued to question the old lady of Mrs. Hastings herself, asking if her health were delicate and if she were pretty.
"Delicate! I guess she is," returned Mrs. Leah. "If she hasn't got the consumption now, she will have it. Why, her face is as white as some of them lilies that used to grow on the ponds in old Connecticut; and then to think her husband won't let her take all the comfort she can, the little time she has to live! It's too bad," and the corner of Dame Leah's silk apron went up to her eyes, as she thought how her lady was aggrieved. Soon recovering her composure, she reverted to Eugenia's last question, and hastened to reply, "pretty, don't begin to express it. Just imagine the least little bit of a thing, with the whitest face, the bluest eyes and the yellowest curls, dressed in a light blue silk wrapper, all lined with white satin, and tied with a tassel as big as my fist; wouldn't such a creature look well in the kitchen, telling Hannah it was time to get dinner, and seeing if Tom was cleaning the vegetables!"
And Mrs. Leah's nose went up at the very idea of a blue silk wrapper being found outside of the parlor, even if the husband of said wrapper did have to wait daily at least two hours for his badly cooked dinner!
"Oh, but you ought to see her dressed for a party," continued Mrs. Leah, "she looks like a queen, all sparkling with diamonds and pearls; but she'll never go to many more, poor critter!"
And as the good lady's services were just then needed in another part of the building, she bade good morning to her audience, who commented upon what they had heard, each according to their own ideas—some warmly commending Mr. Hastings for removing his delicate young wife from the unwholesome atmosphere of the city, while others, and among them Eugenia, thought he ought to let her remain in New York, if she chose. Still, while commiserating Mrs. Hastings for being obliged to live in "that stupid village," Eugenia expressed her pleasure that she was coming, and on her way home imparted to Alice her intention of being quite intimate with the New York lady, notwithstanding what "the spiteful old Mrs. Leah" had said about there being no one in Dunwood fit for her to associate with. In almost perfect ecstacy Dora listened to her cousin's animated description of Rose Hill, its handsome rooms and elegant furniture, and while her cheeks glowed with excitement, she exclaimed, "Oh, how I wish I could really live in such a house!"
"And I shouldn't wonder if you did. Your present prospects look very much like it," was Eugenia's scornful reply, which Dora scarcely heard, for her thoughts were busy elsewhere.
She had an eye for the beautiful, and, strange to say, would at any time have preferred remaining in her aunt's pleasant parlor, to washing dishes from off the long kitchen table; but as this last seemed to be her destiny, she submitted without a murmur, contenting herself the while by building castles, just as many a child has done before her and will do again. Some how, too, Dora's castles, particularly the one of which she was mistress, were always large and beautiful, just like Eugenia's description of Rose Hill, to which she had listened with wonder, it seemed so natural, so familiar, so like the realization of what she had many a time dreamed, while her hands were busy with the dish towel or the broom.
Dora was a strange child—so her mother and her aunt Sarah both had told her—so her teachers thought, and so her companions said, when she stole away by herself to think, preferring her own thoughts to the pastime of her schoolmates. This thinking was almost the only recreation which Dora had, and as it seldom interfered with the practical duties of her life, no one was harmed if she did sometimes imagine the most improbable things; and if for a few days succeeding her cousin's visit to Rose Hill, she did seem a little inattentive, and somewhat abstracted, it was merely because she had for a time changed places with the fashionable Mrs. Hastings, whose blue silk morning-gown, while discussed in the parlor, was worn in fancy in the kitchen.
Dream on Dora Deane, dream on—but guard this, your last imagining, most carefully from the proud Eugenia, who would scarce deem you worthy to take upon your lips the name of Mrs. Hastings, much less to be even in fancy the mistress of Rose Hill.
MR. AND MRS. HASTINGS.
In blissful ignorance of the gossip which his movements were exciting in Dunwood, Mr. Hastings in the city went quietly on with the preparations for his removal, purchasing and storing away in divers baskets, boxes and bags, many luxuries which he knew he could not readily procure in the country, and which would be sadly missed by his young girl-wife, who sat all day in her mother's parlor, bemoaning her fate in being thus doomed to a life in the "horribly vulgar country." She had forgotten that "she could live anywhere with him," for the Ella Hastings of to-day is the Ella Gray of little more than a year ago, the same who had listened to the sad story of Dora Deane, without ever thinking that some day in the future she should meet the little girl who made such an impression upon her husband.
Howard Hastings was not the only man who, with a grand theory as to what a wife ought to be, had married from pure fancy; finding too late that she whom he took for a companion was a mere plaything—a doll to be dressed up and sent out into the fashionable world, where alone her happiness could be found. Still the disappointment to such is not the less bitter, because others, too, are suffering from the effect of a like hallucination, and Howard Hastings felt it most keenly. He loved, or fancied he loved, Ella Grey devotedly, and when in her soft flowing robes of richly embroidered lace, with the orange blossoms resting upon her golden curls, and her long eyelashes veiling her eyes of blue, she had stood at the altar as his bride there was not in all New York a prouder or a happier man. Alas, that in the intimate relations of married life, there should never be brought to light faults whose existence was never suspected! Yet so it is, and the honeymoon had scarcely waned ere Mr. Hastings began to feel a very little disappointed, as, one after another, the peculiarities of his wife were unfolded to his view.
In all his pictures of domestic bliss, there had ever been a home of his own, a cheerful fireside, to which he could repair, when the day's toil was done, but Ella would not hear of housekeeping. To be sure, it would be very pleasant to keep up a grand establishment and give splendid dinner-parties, but she knew that Howard, with his peculiar notions, would expect her to do just as his "dear, fussy old mother did," and that, she wouldn't for a moment think of, for she really "did not know the names of one-half the queer-looking things in the kitchen."
"She will improve as she grows older—she is very young yet, but little more than eighteen," thought Mr. Hastings; and his heart softened towards her, as he remembered the kind of training she had received from her mother, who was a pure slave of fashion, and would have deemed her daughters degraded had they possessed any knowledge of work.
And still, when the aristocratic Howard Hastings had sued for Ella's hand, she felt honored, notwithstanding that both his mother and sister were known to be well skilled in everything pertaining to what she called "drudgery." To remove his wife from her mother's influence, and at the same time prolong her life, for she was really very delicate, was Mr. Hasting's aim; and as he had always fancied a home in the country, he at last purchased Rose Hill farm in spite of Ella's tears, and the frowns of her mother, who declared it impossible for her daughter to live without society, and pronounced all country people "rough, ignorant and vulgar."
All this Ella believed, and though she was far too amiable and sweet-tempered to be really angry, she came very near sulking all the way from New York to Dunwood. But when at the depot, she met the new carriage and horses which had been purchased expressly for herself, she was somewhat mollified and telling her husband "he was the best man in the world," she took the reins in her own little soft, white hands, and laughed aloud as she saw how the spirited creatures obeyed her slightest wish. From the parlor windows of Locust Grove, Eugenia and her sister looked out upon the strangers, pronouncing Mr. Hastings the most elegant-looking man they had ever seen, while his wife, the girlish Ella, was thought far too pale to be very beautiful.
Near the gate at the entrance to Rose Hill, was a clear limpid stream, where the school-children often played, and where they were now assembled. A little apart from the rest, seated upon a mossy bank, with her bare feet in the running water, and her rich auburn hair shading her brown cheeks, was Dora Deane, not dreaming this time, but watching so intently a race between two of her companions, that she did not see the carriage until it was directly opposite. Then, guessing who its occupants were she started up, coloring crimson as she saw the lady's eyes fixed upon her, and felt sure she was the subject of remark. "Look, Howard," said Ella. "I suppose that is what you call a rural sight—a barefoot girl, with a burnt face and huge sunbonnet?"
Ere Mr. Hastings could reply, Dora, wishing to redeem her character, which she was sure she had lost by having been caught with her feet in the brook, darted forward and opening the gate, held it for them to pass.
"Shall I give her some money?" softly whispered Ella, feeling for her purse.
"Hush-sh!" answered Mr. Hastings, for he knew that money would be an insult to Dora, who felt more than repaid by the pleasant smile he gave her as he said, "Thank you, miss."
"I have seen a face like his before," thought Dora, as she walked slowly down the road, while the carriage kept on its way, and soon carried Ella to her new home.
Not to be pleased with Rose Hill was impossible, and as the young wife's eye fell upon the handsome building, with its cool, vine- wreathed piazza—upon the shaded walks, the sparkling fountains and the thousands of roses which were now in full bloom, she almost cried with delight, even forgetting, for a time, that she was in the "horrid country." But she was ere long reminded of the fact by Mrs. Leah, who told of the "crowds of gaping people," who had been up to see the house. With a deprecating glance at the village where the "gaping people" were supposed to live, Ella drew nearer to her husband, expressing a wish that the good folks of Dunwood would confine their calls to the house and grounds, and not be troubling her. But in this she was destined to be disappointed, for the inhabitants of Dunwood were friendly, social people, who knew no good reason why they should not be on terms of equality with the little lady of Rose Hill; and one afternoon, about a week after her arrival at Dunwood, she was told that some ladies were waiting for her in the parlor.
"Dear me! Sophy," said she, while a frown for an instant clouded her pretty face, "tell them I'm not at home."
"But I just told them you were," answered Sophy, adding that "the ladies were well-dressed and fine-looking," and suggesting that her young mistress should wear down something more appropriate than the soiled white muslin wrapper in which she had lounged all day, because "it was not worth her while to dress, when there was no one but her husband to see her."
This, however, Ella refused to do. "It was good enough for country folks," she said, as she rather reluctantly descended to the parlor, where her first glance at her visitors made her half regret that she had not followed Sophy's advice. Mrs. Judge Howell and her daughter-in-law were refined, cultivated women, and ere Ella had conversed with them five minutes, she felt that if there was between them any point of inferiority, it rested with herself, and not with them. They had traveled much, both in the Old and New World; and though their home was in Boston, they spent almost every summer in Dunwood, which Mrs. Howell pronounced a most delightful village, assuring Ella that she could not well avoid being happy and contented. Very wonderingly the large childish blue eyes went up to the face of Mrs. Howell, who, interpreting aright their expression, casually remarked that when she was young, she fell into the foolish error of thinking there could be nobody outside the walls of a city. "But the experience of sixty years has changed my mind materially," said she, "for I have met quite as many refined and cultivated people in the country as in the city."
This was a new idea to Ella, and the next visitors, who came in just after Mrs. Howell left, were obliged to wait while she made quite an elaborate toilet.
"Oh, Ella, how much better you are looking than you were an hour or two since," exclaimed Mr. Hastings, who entered the chamber just as his wife was leaving it.
"There's company in the parlor," answered Ella, tripping lightly away, while her husband walked on into the dressing-room, where he stepped first over a pair of slippers, then over a muslin wrapper, and next over a towel, which Ella in her haste had left upon the floor, her usual place for everything.
This time the visitors proved to be Eugenia and Alice, with the first of whom the impulsive Ella was perfectly delighted, she was so refined, so genteel, so richly dressed, and assumed withal such a patronizing air, that the shortsighted Ella felt rather overawed, particularly when she spoke of her "uncle in India," with whom she was "such a favorite." During their stay, servants were introduced as a topic of conversation, and on that subject Eugenia was quite as much at home as Mrs. Hastings, descanting at large upon the many annoyances one was compelled to endure, both from the "ignorance and impertinence of hired help." Once or twice, too, the words "my waiting-maid" escaped her lips, and when at last she took her leave, she had the satisfaction of knowing that Mrs. Hastings was duly impressed with a sense of her importance.
"Such charming people I never expected to find in the country, and so elegantly dressed too," thought Ella, as from her window she watched them walking slowly down the long avenue. "That silk of Miss Eugenia's could not have cost less than two dollars a yard, and her hands, too, were as soft and white as mine. They must be wealthy—those Deanes: I wonder if they ever give any parties."
And then, as she remembered sundry gossamer fabrics which were dignified by the title of party dresses, and which, with many tears, she had folded away as something she should never need in the country, she exclaimed aloud, "Why, can't I have a party here as well as at home? The house is a great deal larger than the long narrow thing on which mama prides herself so much. And then it will be such fun to show off before the country people, who, of course, are not all as refined as the Deanes. I'll speak to Howard about it immediately."
"Speak to me about what?" asked Mr. Hastings, who had entered the parlor in time to hear the last words of his wife.
Very briefly Ella stated to him her plan of giving a large party as soon as a sufficient number of the village people had called.
"You know you wish me to be sociable with them," she continued, as she saw the slightly comical expression of her husband's face; "and how can I do it better than by inviting them to my house?"
"I am perfectly willing for the party," answered Mr. Hastings, "but I do rather wonder what has so soon changed your mind."
"Oh, nothing much," returned Ella, "only the people don't seem half as vulgar as mama said they would. I wish you could see Eugenia Deane. She's perfectly magnificent—wears a diamond ring, Valenciennes lace, and all that. Her mother is very wealthy, isn't she?"
"I have never supposed so—if you mean the widow Deane, who lives at the place called 'Locust Grove,' answered Mr. Hastings; and Ella continued, "Yes, she is, I am sure, from the way Eugenia talked. They keep servants, I know, for she spoke of a waiting- maid. Then, too, they have an old bachelor uncle in India, with a million or more, and these two young ladies will undoubtedly inherit it all at his death."
"Miss Deane must have been very communicative," said Mr. Hastings, who understood the world much better than his wife, and who readily guessed that Miss Eugenia had passed herself off for quite as much as she was.
"It was perfectly natural for her to tell me what she did," answered Ella, "and I like her so much! I mean to drive over there soon, and take her out riding."
Here the conversation was interrupted by the ringing of the door- bell, and it was not again resumed until the Monday morning following, when, at the breakfast-table, Ella asked for the carriage to be sent round, as "she was going to call at Mrs. Deane's, and take the young ladies to ride."
"But it is washing-day," suggested Mr. Hastings, wishing to tease his wife. "And nothing, I am told, mortifies a woman more than to be caught with her hair in papers, and her arms in the suds. So, if you value your friend Eugenia's feelings, you had better wait until to-morrow."
"Suds, Howard! What do you mean?" asked the indignant Ella. "Eugenia Deane's hands never saw a wash-tub! Why, they are almost as white as mine." And the little lady glanced rather admiringly at the small snowy fingers, which handled so gracefully the heavy knife and fork of silver.
"You have my permission to go," said Mr. Hastings, "but I am inclined to think you'll have to wait a long time for your friends to make their appearance."
Mentally resolving not to tell him if she did, Ella ran up to her room, where, leaving her morning dress in the middle of the floor, and donning a handsome plaid silk, she descended again to the parlor, and suggested to her husband the propriety of bringing the young ladies home with her to dinner, alleging, as one reason, that "there was no use of having a silver dining set and nice things, unless there was somebody to see them."
"And am not I somebody?" asked Mr. Hastings, playfully winding his arm around the little creature, who answered, "Why, yes—but mama never thought it worth her while always to have the best things and fix up when there was no one to dinner but us and father; and I don't think I need to be so particular as when I was Ella Grey and you were Mr. Hastings, for now I am your wife, and you are—-"
Here she paused, while she stooped down to caress a huge Newfoundland dog, which came bounding in. Then, remembering she had not finished her sentence, she added after a moment, "And you are only Howard!"
Silenced, if not convinced, Mr. Hastings walked away, wondering if every husband, at the expiration of fifteen months, reached the enviable position of being "only Howard!" Half an hour later, and Ella Hastings, having left orders with Mrs. Leah for a "company dinner," was riding down the shaded avenue into the highway, where she bade the coachman drive in the direction of Locust Grove.
The plain though comfortable breakfast of dry toast, baked potatoes and black tea was over. This morning it had been eaten from the kitchen table; for, as Mr. Hastings had surmised, it was washing day, and on such occasions, wishing to save work, Mrs. Deane would not suffer the dining-room to be occupied. To this arrangement the proud Eugenia submitted the more readily, as she knew that at this hour they were not liable to calls; so she who had talked of her waiting-maid and wealthy uncle to Mrs. Hastings, sat down to breakfast with her waiting-maid eating her potatoes with a knife and cooling her tea in her saucer; two points which in the parlor she loudly denounced as positive marks of ill breeding, but which in the kitchen, where there was no one to see her, she found vastly convenient! Piles of soiled clothes were scattered over the floor, and from a tub standing near, a volume of steam was rising, almost hiding from view the form of Dora Deane, whose round red arms were diving into the suds, while she to herself was softly repeating the lesson in History, that day to be recited by her class, and which she had learned the Saturday night previous, well knowing that Monday's duties would keep her from school the entire day.
In the chamber above—her long, straight hair plaited up in braids, so as to give it the wavy appearance she had so much admired in Mrs. Hastings—her head enveloped in a black silk apron and her hands incased in buckskin gloves, was Eugenia, setting her room to rights, and complaining with every breath of her hard lot, in being thus obliged to exert herself on hot summer mornings.
"Don't you wish yon were rich as Mrs. Hastings?" asked Alice, who chanced to come in.
"That I do," returned Eugenia. "I have been uncomfortable and discontented ever since I called upon her, for I can't see why there should be such a difference. She has all the money, servants and dresses which she wants, besides the handsomest and most elegant man for a husband; while I, Eugenia Deane, who am ten times smarter than she, and could appreciate these things so much better, am obliged to make all sorts of shifts, just to keep up appearances. But didn't I impress her with a sense of my greatness!" she added, after a pause, and Alice rejoined, "Particularly when you talked of your waiting-maid! I don't see, Eugenia, how you dare do such things, for of course Mrs. Hastings will eventually know that you mean Dora."
"I'm not so sure of that," returned Eugenia; "and even if she does, I fancy I have tact enough to smooth it over with her, for she is not very deep."
For a moment Alice regarded her sister intently, and then said, I wonder from whom you take your character for deception."
"I've dwelt upon that subject many a time myself," answered Eugenia, and I have at last come to the conclusion that as father was not famous for sense of any kind, I must be a second and revised edition of mother—but hark, don't you hear the roll of wheels?" And springing up, she reached the window just as Mrs. Hastings alighted from her carriage which stood before the gate.
"Great goodness!" she exclaimed, "there's Mrs. Hastings coming here to call—and I in this predicament. What shall I do?"
"Let her wait, of course, until we change our dresses," answered Alice, and rushing down the Stairs, Eugenia bade Dora "show the lady into the parlor," adding, "and if she asks for me, say I am suffering from a severe headache, but you presume I will see her."
Perfectly delighted at the idea of standing face to face with a person of whom she had heard so much, Dora removed her high-necked apron, and throwing it across the tub so that the sleeves trailed upon the floor, was hurrying away, when her foot becoming accidentally entangled in the apron, she fell headlong to the floor, bringing with her tub, suds, clothes and all! To present herself in this drenched condition was impossible, and in a perfect tremor lest Mrs. Hastings should go away, Eugenia vibrated, brush in hand, between her own chamber and the head of the kitchen stairs, scolding Dora unmercifully in the one place, and pulling at the long braids of her hair in the other.
At last, just as Mrs. Hastings was about despairing of being heard, and was beginning to think that possibly her husband might be right and Eugenia in the suds after all, a chubby, brown-faced girl appeared, and after giving her a searching, curious glance, shewed her into the parlor.
"Are the young ladies at home?" asked Mrs. Hastings; and Dora, who had never told a falsehood in her life, and had no intention of doing so now, replied that they were and would soon be down; after which, with a low courtesy she went back to the scene of her late disaster, while Mrs. Hastings busied herself awhile by looking around the room which, though small, was very handsomely furnished.
At last, beginning to grow sleepy, she took up a book and succeeded in interesting herself so far as to nod quite approvingly, when the rustle of female garments aroused her, and in a moment Eugenia and Alice swept into the room. Both were tastefully dressed, while about Eugenia there was an air of languor befitting the severe headache, of which Mrs. Hastings was surprised to hear.
"Then that girl didn't tell you as I bade her to do," said Eugenia; adding, that "Mrs. Hastings must have thought her very rude to keep her so long waiting."
But Mrs. Hastings was too good-natured to think anything, and, after a few commonplace remarks, she told the object of her call, saying, that "the fresh air would, undoubtedly, do Eugenia good." In this opinion the young lady fully concurred, and, half an hour later, she was slowly riding through the principal streets of Dunwood, wondering if her acquaintances did not envy her for being on such terms of intimacy with the fashionable Mrs. Hastings. Very politely were the young ladies received by Mr. Hastings, on their arrival at Rose Hill, and throughout the entire day their admiration, both for the place and its owner, increased, though Eugenia could not conceal from herself the fact, that she stood very much in fear of the latter, whose keen black eyes seemed to read her very thoughts. How such a man came to marry Ella Grey, was to her a puzzle; and if occasionally she harbored the thought that Eugenia Deane was far better suited to be the mistress of Howard Hastings's home than the childish creature he had chosen, she was only guilty of what had, in a similar manner, been done by more than one New York belle. Dinner being over, Ella led the way to an upper balcony, which opened from her chamber, and which was a cool, shaded spot. Scarcely were they seated, when remembering something she had left in the parlor, she went back for it, and, in returning, she ran up the stairs so swiftly that a sudden dizziness came over her, and with a low cry she fell half fainting into the arms of her husband, who bent tenderly over her, while Eugenia made many anxious inquiries as to what was the matter, and if she were often thus affected.
"Yes, often," answered Ella, who began to revive; then, as the perspiration gathered thickly about the white lips, she pressed her blue-veined hand upon her side, and cried, "The pain—the pain! It has come again. Country air won't do me any good. I shall die of consumption, just as mother said." And as if she saw indeed the little grave, on which the next summer's sun would shine, she hid her face in her husband's bosom, and sobbed aloud. Instantly a dark thought flashed upon Eugenia—a thought which even she would not harbor, and casting it aside, she drew nearer to the weeping Ella, striving by an increased tenderness of manner to atone for having dared to think of a time when the little willow chair on the balcony would be empty, and Howard Hastings free. Soon rallying, Ella feigned to smile at her discomposure, saying that "consumption had been preached to her so much that she always felt frightened at the slightest pain in her side," thoughtlessly adding, as she glanced at her husband, "I wonder if Howard would miss me any, were I really to die."
A dark shadow settled upon Mr. Hastings's face, but he made no reply; and Eugenia, who was watching him, fancied she could read his thoughts; but when they at last started for home, and she saw how tenderly he wrapped a warm shawl around his delicate young wife, who insisted upon going with them, she felt that however frivolous and uncompanionable Ella might be, she was Howard Hastings's wife, and, as such, he would love and cherish her to the last.
By her window in the attic sat Dora Deane, poring over to-morrow's lessons; but as the silvery voice of Ella fell upon her ear, she arose, and going to her cousin's chamber, looked out upon the party as they drew near the gate.
"How beautiful she is!" she whispered to herself, as, dropping her shawl, and flinging back her golden curls, Ella sprang up to reach a branch of locust blossoms, which grew above her head.
Then, as she saw how carefully Mr. Hastings replaced the shawl, drawing his wife's arm within his own, she stole back to her room, and, resuming her seat by the window, dreamed, as maidens of thirteen will, of a time away in the future, when she, too, might perhaps be loved even as was the gentle Ella Hastings.
* * * * *
One pleasant July morning, the people of Dunwood were electrified by the news that on Thursday evening, Mrs. Howard Hastings would be at home to between one and two hundred of her friends. Among the first invited was Eugenia, who had been Mrs. Hastings's chief adviser, kindly enlightening her as to the somebodies and nobodies of the town, and rendering herself so generally useful, that, in a fit of gratitude, Mrs. Hastings had promised her her brother Stephen, a fast young man, who was expected to be present at the party. To appear well in his eyes was, therefore, Eugenia's ambition; and the time which was not spent in giving directions at Rose Hill, was occupied at home in scolding, because her mother would not devise a way by which she could obtain a new pink satin dress, with lace overskirt, and flowers to match.
It was in vain that Mrs. Deane sought to convince her daughter how impossible it was to raise the necessary funds. Eugenia was determined; and at last, by dint of secretly selling a half-worn dress to one Irish girl, a last year's bonnet to another, and a broche shawl to another, she succeeded in obtaining enough for the desired purchase, lacking five dollars, and this last it seemed impossible to procure. But Eugenia never despaired; and a paragraph read one evening in a city paper, suggested to her a plan which she resolved to execute immediately.
It was nearly dark: her mother and sisters were in the village; Dora was gone on an errand, and she was alone. Half reluctantly, she opened the stair door which led to Dora's room, the low room in the attic. Up the steep staircase, and through the narrow hall she went, treading softly, and holding her breath, as if she feared lest the dead, from her far-off grave in the great city, should hear her noiseless footfall, and come forth to prevent the wrong she meditated. But no, Fanny Deane slept calmly in her coffin, and Eugenia kept on her way unmolested, until the chamber was reached. Then, indeed, she hesitated, for there was, to her, something terrifying in the darkness which had gathered in the corners of the room, and settled like a pall upon the old green trunk. To reach that and secure the treasure it contained, would have been the work of a moment; but, wholly powerless to advance, Eugenia stood still, while the cold perspiration started from every pore.
"I can do anything but that," she said, at last, and, as if the words had given her strength to move, she turned back, gliding again through the narrow hall, and down the steep stairway, out into the open air; and when, that night, as she often did, Dora looked for her mother's beautiful hair, it lay in its accustomed place, unruffled and unharmed; and the orphan child, as she pressed it to her lips, dreamed not of the danger which had threatened it, or of the snare about to be laid for herself by Eugenia, who could not yet give up the coveted dress.
Next morning, as Dora stood before the mirror, arranging her long, luxuriant hair, which she usually wore in braids, hanging down her back, Eugenia came up, and with an unusual degree of kindness in her manner, offered to fix it for her, commenting the while on the exceeding beauty of the rich auburn tresses, and saying, that if she were in Dora's place she would have it cut off, as by this means she would, when grown up, have much handsomer hair than if it were suffered to remain long. Dora remembered having heard her mother say the same; but she had a pride in her hair, which was longer and thicker than any of her companions'; so she said nothing until Eugenia, who, to serve her own purpose, would not hesitate to tell a falsehood, and who knew how much Dora admired Mrs. Hastings, spoke of that lady's beautiful curls, saying they were all the result of her having worn her hair quite short until she was sixteen years of age. Then, indeed, Dora wavered. She had recently suffered much from the headache, too, and it might relieve that; so that when Eugenia offered her a coral bracelet in exchange for her hair, she consented, and Alice entered the room just as the last shining braid dropped upon the floor.
"What upon earth!" she exclaimed, stopping short, and then bursting into a loud laugh at the comical appearance which Dora presented; for Eugenia had cut close to the head, leaving the hair so uneven that shingling seemed the only alternative, and to this poor Dora finally submitted. When at last the performance was ended, and she glanced at herself in the mirror, she burst into a paroxysm of tears, while Alice tried to soothe her by saying that it really would eventually benefit her hair, and that she would not always look so strangely.
But Dora, who began to suspect that it was pure selfishness on Eugenia's part which had prompted the act, felt keenly the injustice done her, and refused to be comforted, keeping her room the entire day, and weeping until her eyelids were nearly blistered. Meantime, Eugenia had hurried off to the city with her ill-gotten treasure, on which the miserly old Jew, to whom it was offered, looked with eager longing eyes, taking care, however, to depreciate its value, lest his customer should expect too much. But Eugenia was fully his equal in management, and when at night she returned home, she was in possession of the satin, the lace and the flowers, together with several other articles of finery.
The next day was the party, and as Dora, besides being exceedingly tasteful, was also neat, and handy with her needle, she was kept from school, stitching the livelong day upon the dainty fabric, a portion of which had been purchased with her hair! Occasionally, as Eugenia glanced at the swollen eyelids and shorn head, bending so uncomplainingly over the cloud of lace, her conscience smote her for what she had done; but one thought of Stephen Grey and the impression she should make on him, dissipated all such regrets; and when at length the hour for making her toilet arrived, her jaded cousin was literally made to perform all the offices of a waiting-maid. Three times was the tired little girl sent down to the village in quest of something which the capricious Eugenia must have, and which, when brought, was not "the thing at all," and must be exchanged. Up the stairs and down the stairs she went, bringing pins to Alice and powder to Eugenia, enacting, in short, the part of a second Cinderella, except that in her case no kind old godmother with her potent wand appeared to her relief!
They were dressed at last, and very beautifully Eugenia looked in the pink satin and flowing lace, which harmonized so well with her complexion, and which had been bought with the united proceeds of a velvet bonnet, a delaine dress, a broche shawl, and Dora's hair!
"Why don't you compliment me?" she said to the weary child, who, sick with yesterday's weeping, and the close confinement of to- day, had laid her aching head upon the arm of the lounge.
Slowly unclosing her eyes, and fixing them upon her cousin, Dora answered—
"You do look beautifully. No one will excel you, I am sure, unless it be Mrs. Hastings. I wish I could see how she will dress."
"You might go up and look in at the window; or, if I'd thought of it, I could have secured you the office of door-waiter," said the thoughtless Eugenia, adding, as she held out her shawl for Dora to throw around her, "Don't you wish you could attend a party at Rose Hill?"
There was a sneer accompanying this question, which Dora felt keenly. Her little swelling heart was already full, and, with quivering lips and gushing tears, she answered, somewhat bitterly—
"I never expect to be anybody, or go any where;" then, as her services were no longer needed, she ran away to her humble room, where from her window she watched the many brilliant lights which shone from Rose Hill, and caught occasional glimpses of the airy forms which flitted before the open doors and windows. Once she was sure she saw Eugenia upon the balcony, and then, as a sense of the difference between herself and her cousins came over her, she laid her down upon the old green trunk, and covering her face with her hands, cried out, "Nobody cares for me, or loves me either. I wish I had died that winter night. Oh, mother! come to me, I am so lonely and so sad."
Softly, as if it were indeed the rustle of an angel's wings, came the evening air, through the open casement, cooling the feverish brow and drying the tears of the orphan girl, who grew strangely calm; and when at last the moon looked in upon her, she was sleeping quietly, with a placid smile upon her lips. Years after, and Dora Deane remembered that summer night, when, on the hard green trunk, she slept so soundly as not to hear the angry voice of Eugenia, who came home sadly out of humor with herself and the world at large.
At breakfast, next morning, she was hardly on speaking terms with her sister, while Stephen Grey was pronounced "a perfect bore-a baboon, with more hair than brains."
"And to that I should not suppose you would object" said Alice, mischievously." You might find it useful in case of an emergency."
To this there was no reply, save an angry flash of the black eyes, which, it seems, had failed to interest Stephen Grey, who was far better pleased with the unassuming Alice, and who had paid the haughty Eugenia no attention whatever, except, indeed, to plant his patent leather boot upon one of her lace flounces, tearing it half off, and leaving a sad rent, which could not well be mended. This, then, was the cause of her wrath, which continued for some time; when really wishing to talk over the events. of the evening, she became a little more gracious, and asked Alice how she liked Mrs. Elliott, who had unexpectedly arrived from New York.
"I was delighted with her," returned Alice; "she was such a perfect lady. And hadn't she magnificent hair! Just the color of Dora's" she added, glancing at the little cropped head, which had been so suddenly divested of its beauty.
"It wasn't all hers, though," answered Eugenia, who invariably saw and spoke of every defect. "I heard her telling Ella that she bought a braid in Rochester as she came up. But what ails you?" she continued, speaking now to Dora, whose eyes sparkled with some unusual excitement and who replied—
"You said Mrs. Elliott, from New York. And that was the name of the lady who was so kind to me. Oh, if I only thought it were she, I'd——"
"Make yourself ridiculous, I dare say," interrupted Eugenia, adding, that "there was more than one Mrs. Elliott in the world, and she'd no idea that so elegant a lady as Mr. Hastings's sister ever troubled herself to look after folks in such a miserable old hovel as the one where Dora had lived."