IDLE HOUR STORIES
* * * * *
BY EUGENIA DUNLAP POTTS
Author of "The Song of Lancaster," "A Kentucky Girl in Dixie," "Short Mountain Trail," "Stories for Children," "The Housekeepers' Olio," and "Home Talks."
* * * * *
PUBLISHED BY THE AUTHOR
* * * * *
PRESS OF J.L. RICHARDSON & CO. LEXINGTON, KY. 1909
* * * * *
To the memory of my beloved and only son, George Dunlap Potts, whose young eyes watched with affectionate interest the weaving of these fancies.
* * * * *
TABLE OF CONTENTS.
A THRILLING EXPERIENCE A CLUSTER OF RIPE FRUIT THE GHOST AT CRESTDALE HER CHRISTMAS GIFT IN A PULLMAN CAR IN OLD KENTUCKY HIS GRATITUDE THE SINGER'S CHRISTMAS TURNING THE TABLES HOW SHE HELPED HIM THE IRON BOX THE GIRL FARMERS PROVING A HEART HEZEKIAH'S WOOING A SUMMER DAISY TREESA MY FIRST JURY CASE THREE VISITS IN EASTER DAWN IN THE MAMMOTH CAVE
REVERIE THE MISER AND THE ANGEL REST THE CHANGED CROSS
* * * * *
A Thrilling Experience
MIGHT vs. RIGHT
It is some years since I was station-master, telegraph-operator, baggage-agent and ticket seller at a little village near some valuable oil wells.
The station-house was a little distance from the unpretentious thoroughfare that had grown up in a day, and my duties were so arduous that I had scarcely leisure for a weekly flitting to a certain mansion on the hill where dwelt Ellen Morris, my promised wife. In fact, it was with the hope of lessening the distance between us that I had under taken these quadruple duties.
The day was gloomy, and towards the afternoon ominous rolls of thunder portended a storm.
Colonel Holloway, the well-known treasurer of the oil company, had been in the village several days. About one o'clock he came hurriedly into the office with a package, which he laid upon my desk, saying:
"Take care of that, Bowen, till to-morrow. I am going up the road."
The commission was not an unusual one, and my safe was one of Marvin's best. I counted the money, which footed up into the thousands, placed it in the official envelope, affixed the seals, and deposited it in the safe. As I turned away from the lock, a voice at the door said:
"Say, mister, can you tell me the way to the post office?"
A sort of shock went through me at the unexpected presence that seemed to have dropped down from nowhere, and I replied irritably:
"You could not miss it if you tried. Keep straight ahead."
Soon large drops of rain came down, then faster and more furiously, till the air was one vast sheet of water, and little rivers leaped madly along the gullies and culverts. Forked lightning kept pace with the pealing thunder, and heaven's own artillery seemed let loose.
Anything more dismal or dreary could not well be imagined, and gradually the loneliness grew very oppressive. Every straggler had fled to shelter, and the usual idlers had deserted the platform.
But I resolutely set to work at the dry statistics of the station-books, with an occasional call to the wires, which were ticking like mad, so fierce was the electric current.
It was near five o'clock when a long freight train came lumbering by, switched off a car or two, then dragged its slow length onward. This created a brief diversion, then once more I was deserted.
The next passenger train was not due till ten o'clock. I lit the lamps and resigned myself with questionable patience to the intervening hours. An agreeable interruption came in the form of my supper, which was brought in a water-proof basket by a sort of jack-at-all-trades whom we called Jake. Shaking himself like a great dog, he "lowed there wa'n't much more water up yonder nohow."
"I hope not, indeed," I said, glad of the sound of a human voice. "Jake!" I called, as he left the office, "come back as soon as you can—I may need you."
I had a vague idea of despatching some sort of report to Ellen that I had not been entirely washed away, and obtaining a similar comfort as to her own fate. I little thought how I should need him.
I think I am not by nature more timid than other men, but as the dismal evening closed in I took from my desk two revolvers kept ready for possible emergencies, and laid one upon the desk where I was making freight entries and the other on the table where the electric battery stood. At intervals a fresh package for the night express was brought by some dripping carrier, who deposited it, got his receipt, hung about for a few minutes, then hastened away to more comfortable quarters.
Still the rain poured in torrents. It must have been nearly nine o'clock when a wagon, hurriedly driven, pulled up suddenly at the platform. In a moment the door was flung open, and I saw a small ambulance well known about the village. Two men sprang out, and with the help of the driver and his assistant, proceeded to lift out a box which from its dimensions could contain only one kind of freight, to wit, the remains of a human being.
Carefully placing this box in a remote corner of the room, near other boxes awaiting transportation, the driver and his man returned to their wagon, while the two strangers approached the desk to enter their ghastly freight. They wore slouched hats and were very wet. They produced a death certificate of one John Slate, who had died at a farm house several miles away, of a non-contagious complaint, and was to be shipped to his friends down the road. This was all. There was nothing singular about it, and yet when the door closed upon the strangers and I was again alone, or worse than alone a feeling of awe came over me. Clearly the storm had somewhat unstrung me.
Only one hour till the train was due, after which I could turn in for the night.
A louder peal of thunder shook the house, and fiercer flashed the lightning. Minute after minute went by, and each seemed an age. The roar and din of the elements only deepened the gloom inside, where the uncertain kerosene lamp darkened the shadows.
Suddenly to my overstrained nerves the ceaseless clicking of the instrument seemed to say, "Watch the box—watch the box—watch the box." As a particular strain of melody will at times repeat itself in the mind, and obstinately keep time to every movement, till one is well-nigh distracted, so this refrain began to enchain every sense: "Watch the box—watch the box—watch the box." Till now my depressed spirits were due only to the solitude and the storm. No suspicion of evil or danger had tormented me.
Peering more closely into the dingy corner, I saw only the ordinary pine box, with what seemed to be a square paper, or placard, on the side facing me. Probably the address, bunglingly adjusted on the side instead of the top, or else a stain of mud from the late rough drive. At all events I was not curious enough to approach more nearly the ghostly visitant.
Ten minutes had crept by, when a muffled noise in the dark corner distinctly sounded above the pelting raindrops, while as if to mock at my quickened fears, the wires continued their monotonous warning, "Watch the box—watch the box—watch the box." I did watch the box, and now as if by inspiration I grasped the situation. There was indeed a man in the box, but not a dead one. A living man who had boldly lent himself to a plot to rob or murder me, or perhaps both.
I remembered the straggler who had surprised me while at the safe, several hours before. He had doubtless followed Col. Holloway and witnessed the money transaction. Quick and fast flew my thoughts in the startled endeavor to grasp some plan of action. Single-handed I was no match for any man, having recently recovered from an attack of malarial fever. This one in the box (if indeed there was one) must mean to secure the prize before the train was due, and escape the consequences. He must have accomplices, and these were doubtless on watch, either to give or receive a signal. At least it was not probable that he would undertake the job alone, and the fact that he had confederates had already appeared.
Perhaps the sight of my pistol had delayed the attack. Perhaps some part of their plan had miscarried and caused delay. At all events I must be cool. I fancied I saw his eyes through the dark patch on the box. I was almost sure he was slowly lifting the lid. There was no help near, and much might be done in the time still to elapse before the train was due.
Quietly walking to the battery, I feigned to take a message. In reality I sent one to the conductor of the on-coming express, as the only device whereby I could secure assistance, and this would doubtless come too late. Yet it was all I could do just now.
With every sense on the alert I arose to secrete my key if possible, when the door burst open, and Frank Morris, my future brother-in-law, rushed in, followed by a huge dog that was Ellen's special pet and attendant.
"Confound you!" said Frank, spluttering about and shaking himself as vigorously as the dog. "I'll be blowed if I ever go on such a fool's errand as this."
"Why you are pretty well 'blowed'" I said, with a poor attempt to be funny, but immensely relieved.
"I never was so glad to see anybody in my life!" and I meant it.
"There it is," he said; "make much of it" as he cleverly flipped a little white missive over to me. "Such billing and cooing I never want to see again. Regular spoons, by jove! Can't go to sleep till she knows you have not been melted, or washed away, or something. And Cato must come along to see that her precious brother doesn't get lost. Ugh! Lie down over there, old fellow!" Then to me he said; "Here help me out of this wet thing."
But I was engrossed just then, so ridding him of the offending garment, the broad-shouldered young athlete strode about the room in mock impatience.
"Heavens! what a night!" he exclaimed. "What time does your train pass? Ten? Just three minutes. I guess I'll stay; but we will have that young damsel floating down here if she doesn't hear pretty soon."
"Hello, Cato, what's the matter?" as the dog gave a low growl, "what's that in the corner, Bowen?"
The dog continued to growl and look suspiciously as the young fellow rattled on. "That," I said, "is a dead man."
"Humph!" he laughed. "Jolly good company for such a night. I say, Bowen, you've got a nice toy there," and he took up the pistol that lay on the table. In the meanwhile I had scrawled on piece of paper, which I had quietly placed near the pistol: "The man in the box is a burglar. Be ready for an attack."
"Oh that's the game!" he said aloud, and instantly strode across the room, as Cato sprang up and barked furiously at the box. Simultaneously the top of the box flew up, and uttering a shrill whistle, the man sprang to a sitting posture, while through the wide-flung door the other two ruffians appeared with pistols cocked, At once there began a deadly struggle. The dog had leaped upon the box and knocked the "dead" man's pistol out of his hand, as Frank shouted, "Toho Cato!" unwilling that the dog should tear him to pieces, but wishing to keep him at bay.
"Your keys!" yelled the other men; "or by heavens, you'll drop!"
Instantly closing in, man to man, the fierce struggle went on amid shouts, oaths and pistol shots.
"Call off your cursed dog!" screamed the "dead" man continually.
The encounter, which had occupied scarcely a minute, was at its deadliest, both Frank and I endeavoring to disarm rather than kill, when the whistle of the train sounded, and in another moment the conductor and his men were among us, "Seize that scoundrel!" shouted Frank breathlessly, indicating the man in the box. "Here Cato!" and the obedient animal unwillingly retired, but continued his savage growl.
At this juncture my man fell to the floor, badly wounded in the leg, and uttering groans and imprecations. It was quick work to secure the men, and Jake, who opportunely reappeared, was sent to summon the village police. Some of the passengers, impatient at the delay, had got wind of the adventure, and now crowded into the station in no little excitement. The box was found to have a false side-piece next to the wall, which was easily pushed down by the man inside, for greater comfort in his cramped position; and there were besides a number of air holes. It was the moving of the side-panel that caused the muffled noise I had heard.
I was questioned in all possible ways, and the curiosity of the passengers was fully gratified amid the clamor of the prisoners, who continually swore at each other. "What did you wait so infernal long for?" said one of them, glaring at the "dead" man.
"What was your infernal hurry?" retorted the other, sarcastically.
It was plain from the quarrel that ensued that the sight of my pistols and my evident uneasiness, together with effect of the fearful storm, which confused all signals, had unsettled the fellow's plan, and had robbed him of his presence of mind. While puzzling as to the safest course, the sudden entrance of Frank and the dog had precipitated the catastrophe.
The men were conducted to the County Jail, and I was the hero of the hour, although I could not claim much credit for personal valor in the matter.
Was it Fate or Providence that befriended me? But for my presentiment, or what ever it might be, I should have urged Frank's immediate return to my anxious betrothed. But for her loving anxiety he never would have come down on such a night. But for the dog one of us must have been killed. And first of all, but for the instinctive sense of danger the telegraph wires would never have spoken a warning to my excited fancy; and this manifest feeling of apprehension, though I strove hard to conceal it, held the man in the box at bay.
The practical result of the episode was a more commodious station-house, and more men on duty. My salary was raised; but eventually I gave up the situation because my wife could never feel satisfied to have me perform night work after the fearful experience I have related.
As to Frank, he is not backward with explosive English whenever the subject is mentioned, and no amount of persuasion could ever reconcile Cato to the station-room.
A Cluster of Ripe Fruit
They were five sisters, all unmarried; they lived in the old Dutch town that was made memorable by Barbara Frietchie's exploits. They never hoisted a Union flag, or did any grand thing; but they deserve a place in story just the same. Their name was Peyre, and the young people called them "The Pears", not in derision, for the regard they inspired was little short of veneration. Their ages ranged from sixty-five to eighty years when I first knew them. Unlike the Hannah More quintette, they were not literary. But no hive of busy bees was ever more industrious than they in the line of purely feminine accomplishments.
"The Pears" were not poor, but they were frugal. They owned a comfortable two-story brick house on a quiet street, and let their ground floor to a small tradesman. The way to the sisters led along a smoothly-paved side alley, all fenced in, through a little kitchen with spotless floor and shining tins, up a narrow, crooked, snow-white stairway, and finally through funny little chambers, up two steps, or down three, till the workshop was reached. There they sat, clean and fresh and busy, each in her own nook; and just there they might have been found every day these sixty years.
The workshop had the appearance of tidy fullness. An everlasting quilt was stretched across the end window, and here Miss Becky had laid her chalk-lines and pricked her fingers through several generations. The faithful fingers were brown and crooked, she said, from rheumatism; but how could they be straight when eternally bent over the patchwork? Surely the quilt was not always the same; yet the frames were never empty, and the chair was never vacant.
Miss Polly was housekeeper and cook, with Miss Phoebe to run errands, do the marketing, visit the needy, and supervise generally. Some one must have done the mending and darning and laundry work, but I never saw any of that.
Miss Sophie (the sisters said Suffy) was the knitter and her needles were never still. Always a gray yarn stocking, and never any appearance of the finished pair. Go when you would,—and the dear ladies were not alone many hours,—the knitting was on and going on.
Miss Chrissy was the beauty. Ages ago there had been a tradition of a lover, but nothing came of it. Perhaps they had all five lived out their little romances—who could tell? A certain homage was paid to the beauty. Her once brilliant auburn hair had paled to grayish sandy bands that lay smooth under a cap which was always a little pretentious. Her dark eyes and smiling lips made the soft white old face passing fair. Miss Chrissy was the embroiderer and needle-work artist. Her treasures of scallops and points and eyelets and wheels, all traced in ink upon bits of letter-paper, were kept in a big square yellow box that was bristling and bursting at all points.
This box was marvellous. There could never have been but one other in the world; and that I had seen under my great-grandmother's bed, the bed that had its dainty white frill, and its glazed calico curtains of gay paradise birds. They were all of a piece and not easily forgotten. The box had seen hard service among the "Pears." It was cross-stitched up and down the corner's along the bottom and the top, and all around. It never occurred to them to get a new one. Like their old Bible, its places could be found.
I went, one frosty autumn day, to get a pattern for silk embroidery. Stamping-blocks and tracing-wheels were unknown quantities to Miss Chrissy. Her stumpy little pencil—and that, too, seemed always the same—had to do the transfering. She liked a bit of harmless gossip, dear soul; and the young girls of the town made a point of supplying the lack of a newspaper with their busy tongues. So she knew at once who I was.
"Oh," she said, with her kindly smile, "you are young Mrs. John: I remember when your husband was a babe. I think I can find it;—yes, it is down in this corner,"—rummaging in the yellow box; "here it is—the pattern your aunt,—Mrs. John, selected for your husband's first short dress. All the Hunt family were customers of ours. Mrs. John, she they called Aunt Lou, was a great favorite. She was rich, and had no children. Well, she came one day all in a flurry to get a pattern—a nice wide one she said, for little John's dress. He was the first baby, and they fairly idolized him. This is it. I recollect the wheel and the overcasting. It was—let me see—forty years ago, come this December. Now, this little scallop is as popular as any" and she fished up another, all full of needle-pricks. "Some ladies don't like much embroidery, but they want a little finish. This one trimmed a set of linen for Mrs. Senator Jones. It took me a good while to draw it. She don't like this turn in the corner, so I made up something else. You know I design my own patterns."
Then resisting the temptation to give the history of the rest of her favorites, she put the box aside and turned her attention to the quart bottle in hand, with its strip of muslin stretched tight around it, over a bewildering collection of grapes and leaves. This was her method, and the admiring sisters thought it perfect.
That night I teased John's mother into hunting up the dress, and there was the identical pattern, edging the fine white cambric now yellow with age. She was amused at my report of Miss Chrissy.
In my annual journeyings to the old town I never neglected "The Pears." They always looked as if I had just stepped out for an hour, and come back. The carpet did not wear out; the stove never lacked luster; the tiny window-panes were always just washed, and the diligent fingers went on just the same. They had a quaint way not easy to describe. When one talked all the rest chimed in with little whispering echoes, to support the assertion; and yet they did not seem to interrupt. They were to me living wonders, so perfectly unspotted from the world, so earnest in their pigmy money-making, and so thoroughly united, I felt consumed with curiosity as to their inner life. They must sometimes put by the quilting and the knitting and the patterns.
"How do you interest yourselves evenings, Miss Chrissy?" I asked, half ashamed of the question.
"Oh, we read," she said, smiling her ready smile. "Yes, read," echoed Miss Suffy and the rest. "We read Sunday-School books, and our Bible, of course. Sometimes we don't go to bed till ten o'clock."
"Ten o'clock—o'clock—o'clock," assented the gentle voices. It was not silly; the smiling faces all wore the sweet, simple look of guileless childhood.
Miss Suffy's window overlooked a time honored graveyard, where gray slabs were tottering. Next to her beloved patterns and their varied experiences, Miss Chrissy liked to tell of scenes and memories suggested by these somber reminders.
"It was a very cold day, Mrs. John," (so she always called me), "when they buried your husband's uncle out there. Poor fellow! He was shot at Buena Vista. A cannon-ball took off both his legs, and went right through the horse he rode. He was a gallant officer. They thought at first he would rally. The surgeons did their work quickly, and he suffered little or no pain, but there was no chloroform in that day, and he died from the shock. The snow was deep on the ground, but it was a grand funeral. They've got a fine new cemetery out on the hill, but we never go there. Our dead are all here where we can see their graves."
"Graves," came the echo, they had all along nodded, or murmured, assent.
"One of the saddest funerals we have ever seen." Miss Chrissy went on, "was a double funeral. Two young men, both only sons, were drowned in the river while bathing. Their mothers were widows. It was terrible. Two hearses and two long lines of mourners. There they lie—over there in that enclosure. They were cousins, and were buried side by side."
"The mothers, Chrissy!" mildly prompted the whisper, when the narrator paused.
"Yes, the mothers! one died of a broken heart, and the other lost her mind outright. She is living yet, an old woman, who regularly goes to the front door of the asylum every morning and takes her seat. If it is cold weather, she sits inside. She asks every one who enters if Luther is coming—that was her boy's name."
"Did you know the first Mrs. John Hunt, Miss Chrissy—my husband's grandmother?" I asked, willing to change the gloomy subject.
"Just as well as I know you, Mrs. John. She was a beautiful little woman, I was very young at the time I am thinking of. She sent at night for an embroidered flannel I was doing. It was my first wide pattern, and it went slow. At 10 o'clock it was finished, and my father went with me to take it home. They were all going to Washington to the President's ball—President Monroe, it was—and the trunk was packing. It was to go on the big traveling-coach. When I ran up stairs and knocked,—I had often been there before—she opened the door herself. 'Oh, it's you Chrissy,' she said in her pleasant way; 'come in child; don't you want to see something pretty?' And she showed me two elegant brocaded silk gowns, very narrow and very short-waisted, but stiff enough to stand alone.'
"She praised my work and said I was a good girl. Then she paid me the money and tied a little blue silk handkerchief around my neck for a keepsake. 'There,' she said, in her quick voice, 'you may go.' I did many other patterns for the family, but poor lady! she never saw me again. She had an illness and lost her eyesight. She was stone blind for many years. I have the keepsake yet. It is put away in the hair-trunk."
The sisters were all in full sympathy, as usual. Thus I sat and listened scores of times, making a pretence of wanting a pattern,—anything to get Miss Chrissy story-telling.
In the centennial year I found "The Pears" much shaken from their even tenor. The relic-hunters had penetrated their omnium gatherum and offered fabulous sums for the quaint old bits they found there. One of them declared he must and would have these wonders for the New England Kitchen. But the sisters were outraged. Adroitly I managed to hint a desire to see those treasures inestimable, and then for the first time I moved from my accustomed seat, and they moved from theirs. The magnitude of their wrongs would admit of nothing like routine or monotony. The chairs were pushed back, and I saw five tall, slim figures standing erect, in straight black gowns, white kerchiefs and spotless caps. They were devout Lutherans, and their pew at the Sunday service was never vacant; but I had never seen them outside the workshop.
We filed into the funny little chambers where were the high beds, with their steps to be climbed. What a wilderness of feathers and patchwork! Some of Miss Becky's work was there. The bureaus nearly to ceilings, ornamented with round glass knobs, had their little mirrors perched up above my head. The candle stands, with spindle legs, wore an antediluvian look, and the chairs were just as queer. The more aspiring ones were prim in starched antimaccassars. Even the footstools belonged to a prehistoric age. There was nothing costly or elegant, but so very ancient and even comical, I had never seen anything like it, anywhere. A few oil-paintings, hung in the very border of the huge-figured paper, were small, but evidently fine.
"These things were brought from Alsace," explained Miss Chrissy, as I commented freely. "Elsace is the way to call it—and we can't bear to have strangers meddling with what is sacred to us."
"Sacred to us," came from the procession behind.
At last, pausing before a huge hair trunk, they all gathered nearer, and when the lid was raised, they vied with one another in displaying the contents. It would take a great while to tell all that I saw, or their curious little speeches and words and assents. There were samplers in every style of lettering and color. The inevitable tombstone, with the weeping-willow and mourning female, was among them. Bits of painted velvet, huge reticules, bead purses; gay shawls, and curious lace caps—all showed patient handiwork. Gifts and souvenirs were plentiful, even to the blue silk keepsake of the first Mrs. John. Then came old-fashioned silver spoons and knives and tea-pots, heir-looms, they said, from the old country. A bit of coarse paper bore an order for supplies for soldiers upon the Commissaire at Nice, and was signed with the genuine autograph of the great Napoleon. Every article had its history, and rarely, if ever, was the little work-shop so long neglected as on that occasion. When the procession filed back, I took leave with somewhat the feeling of having been buried in wonderland, and suddenly resurrected.
Perhaps the shock of the dreaded vandalism was too much. Perhaps the excitement of the hair trunk struck too deep. At all events. Miss Becky grew to muttering over her quilt, and making long pauses. One day her needle stuck fast in the patchwork, and her head quietly sank to rest on the rolled frame. When I paid my next visit, they said, "You will find it very odd at The Pears's. Miss Becky is gone."
I did find it odd. The quilt was rolled forever, and the end window was empty. There was only the chair. Still Miss Suffy sat with her stocking, and Miss Chrissy with her patterns, placid and patient,—they were only waiting; yet working as they waited. Miss Polly sighed once in a while over her pans. Miss Phoebe still went to market and distributed small alms to the poor. Ripe in good works and in holy resignation were The Pears.
"Our quilter is gone," said Miss Chrissy. This time there was no whispered echo; only a gentle sighing all around. But some of the scallops in the yellow box were not without fresh adventures; and these I heard.
That winter, Miss Phoebe fell on the slippery little side alley. There were no bones broken, but she, too, sank to rest in the old gray churchyard.
It was three years before I went back. Then they said, "Miss Chrissy is alone." Alone I found her. She was little changed. The brightness had merely gone from her smile. I noticed that her talk was less of her patterns, and more of the gray slabs. She no longer clung to the proud little boast, "I design my own patterns." She was apt to tell what Suffy said, or Polly, or Phoebe, not forgetting Becky, our quilter.
"No," she said, when I asked: "Polly was not sick. She said in the morning, 'Chrissy, do you ever feel strange in your head?' Next morning she did not wake up. Suffy was never as strong as the rest—her back was bad; so when she had a sort of fit one day, it was soon over."
"You don't—you can't—stay here all alone?"
"No, Mrs. John, Henrietta is with me. You know Henrietta? She belongs to the people down stairs. I shan't forget her kindness."
"Are you very lonely, Miss Chrissy?" I asked, choking down the tears.
"No, not lonely. The dear Lord is with me; He will stay to the end. No, Mrs. John, not lonely."
She had always refrained, in diffidence, or humility, from religious talk. I know it was from no lack of deep spiritual conviction. If ever the world contained a purer, sweeter sisterhood, I have not known it. Their work was homely, as their lives were secluded, but no one ever saw them idle or impatient. In one straight and narrow path they walked through earth's temptations to heaven's reward.
One of the last things she said to me was that I should take some of the choicest patterns to my western home, notably "little John's first short dress edge."
"You have been a helper to us in more ways than one. God will bless you, Mrs. John."
"Is there nothing you would have me do now? Dear Miss Chrissy, do not hesitate to speak."
She did hesitate. "I don't think of anything. My papers have long been drawn up. Lawyer Thomas will attend to them. You know our little savings are to go to the Home for Aged Women."
I never saw her again. Sitting one day, placid and patient, she fell asleep over the yellow box; and when they lifted the soft white old face, all was still.
The Ghost at Crestdale
"Here we are, safe and sound," cheerily said the driver of the huge black ambulance, as he pulled up before the piazza of Crestdale, the beautiful villa whose tower had been tantalizing the travelers for several miles.
A party of five descended from the wagon as the wide doors were flung open by the housekeeper, and a kindly welcome greeted them, as well as comfortable fires.
"My! how cold it is," exclaimed a fresh young voice, as the speaker hurried close to the generous heater.
"Be careful, dear, or you will burn your coat," warned an older lady, while a stalwart young fellow tenderly loosed the seal wrap in question.
Placing the fair wearer in a great arm-chair, he said: "There, Mademoiselle Jessie, be a good girl—if you can. Now, sister ours, what can I do for you?" turning gallantly to the other lady.
"Thanks, you foolish boy," was the pleasant rejoinder; "look after those parcels and those live commodities shivering there."
The live commodities were a maltese cat, a canary bird, and two raw recruits from Erin; and the "foolish boy" at once set about assigning places for people and things.
"There's a kitchen somewhere back here; come along, Michael. All right, Katie, follow me, and fetch the menagerie with you."
Duly installing them in their domain, the young man made his way back through the wide, chilly rooms that intervened, and joined the ladies who were fast making themselves at home.
"A trifle bleak this, isn't it?" he said, rubbing his hands before the blazing logs. "But just take note of that fragrant beefsteak. Say, girls, I don't see any table set anywhere;" and he looked ruefully around.
"Give us time, sir," remonstrated the elderly lady. "Here is a move in the right direction already," she added, as the housekeeper entered with the tea tray.
"Mabel, can't we have muffins?" pleaded the young voice.
"Muffins! Not on such short notice; but you may have toast and eggs."
"You'll disenchant me with your enormous appetite," chaffed the young fellow, and got a saucy slap for his pains.
"Riding hours and hours on that horrid train is enough to starve any one," was the ready defense; "you only came from New York. Come on, everybody, while the steak is hot." And they gathered round to do justice to the repast.
Mabel and Jessie Winthrop were orphan sisters, the one fifteen years the elder, and was mother as well as sister to her idolized charge. Her own life romance was a buried chapter, and now she was chiefly concerned for the happiness of the two young persons seated there.
George Randolph was a distant cousin, and was to be married to Jessie Winthrop in two weeks' time. They had come down to make ready the seaside villa, which was their favorite home. It stood upon a winding river close to shore, and commanded a view of the surrounding country for many miles.
It was an immense house, containing some twenty-five rooms, and full of unexpected niches, nooks, and crannies. It was kept furnished throughout, but was locked up in the winter months. An unlooked-for cold wave, speeding from the northwest, had made the coming of the prospective bridal party a somewhat dreary affair.
A few happy touches here and there transformed the gloom into cheer, and it was with renewed animation that they arose from their repast an hour later.
George was to return to the city next day, but would run down frequently before the wedding day. Meanwhile this, their first evening, passed quickly and agreeably for all.
The ensuing week was a busy one. A whole army of sweepers, dusters and renovators were turned loose in and about the villa, and the good work went on with a will.
Michael took charge of a pony phaeton, and the sisters often drove in to the village shops, two miles away, where the nearest railroad station was. It was necessary, however, that Mabel should make a final trip to the city to purchase some articles, and she arranged her time so that George could return with her on the evening train.
"You won't be afraid, darling?" was Mabel's fond question, as she made out her list.
"Afraid?" echoed the other. "Why, no; what is there to be afraid of? It is perfectly safe here."
"Yes, I know; otherwise, I would not leave you even for the day."
"The house is big," said Jessie, "but we have near neighbors. Besides, there's Mike and Katie, and Mrs. Lawrence. Oh, I'm all right, Mabel dear."
"See that the house is securely fastened;" was Mabel's parting injunction as she kissed her sister goodbye. "Look for us at the sound of the whistle to-night."
"Indade, Miss Jessie," said Katie a little later, her face in a pucker, "indade it's not right for the loikes af yees to be here all alone."
"Why, Katie, what's the matter," laughed the girl; "you don't call this being alone, do you?"
"Ah, but haven't yees heard the quare noises in the tower, Miss Jessie? An' shure there's a ghost in this house—Holy Mother defind us!" and Katie piously crossed herself in real terror.
"A ghost, Katie! I'm ashamed of you. It is only the wind. It blows here fearfully. You might turn a regiment loose in the house, and they could scarcely make more noise than these big, rattling windows."
"Arrah, me jewel," protested Katie; "there's a turrible walkin' about in the tower ivery night these two noights. An' didn't yees hear about the awful murther in the town over beyant us an' the murtherer iscapin'? Sich a quare murther, too, with the finger rings all left on, and the money purse in the pocket. Ah, Miss Jessie, a murtherin' ghost won't niver be laid."
"You silly Kate!" said Jessie merrily. "Don't be afraid, I'll take care of the ghosts. We are all right."
After a cup of tea and a bit of toast, Jessie repaired to her chamber on the second floor and picked up some trifle she was embroidering, to beguile the time of waiting. Mabel and George would get in about nine, when they were to relate the day's doings around a good warm supper.
Katie was to follow and sit with her mistress, after she had done some righting up down stairs. Mike was bent upon routing an army of rats in the barn. Mrs. Lawrence had retired to her room with a nervous headache.
The high winds from the sea had lulled, and for once the house was utterly quiet—so quiet that the stillness became oppressive. Meanwhile the young girl sat in her bower of luxury, softly humming a favorite air, and very happy in thoughts of her approaching marriage. While deep in her smiling reverie, a stealthy footstep distinctly sounded outside her door.
Raising her head, she had not time to feel a sensation of real fear, when cautiously her doorknob was turned and a head intruded itself which struck her as dumb as though Medusa had appeared, and drove the life-blood in a frozen current to her head.
The face was ghastly, the hair black and curling upon high, narrow shoulders, the figure slight and spare, and a pair of restless black eyes were glittering swiftly and cunningly around the room.
"Hist!" he said to the horror-stricken girl, softly closing the door and turning the key; and if Jessie had a distinct thought in that awful moment, it was of thankfulness that the winter dampness had so warped the door that the key would not fairly catch in the lock,—a bit of repairing thus far overlooked in the wedding preparations.
"Don't be frightened," he continued, in his sibilant whisper; "you will take care of me, won't you?"
But the girl's eyes only riveted themselves in more hopeless, helpless terror upon the apparition. Every muscle seemed paralyzed.
He drew a chair to the open grate as if the fire were most welcome.
"You see," he said in his quaint, soft voice, "if they track me here they may hang me, and they would be wrong—all wrong. I did not intend to kill her, but she would not hold still."
At this he gave a blood-curdling laugh, and the horrible truth burst upon the listener's dazed senses. She was alone with a maniac. All the stories she had ever read rushed to her memory, and the only clear idea she had was the conviction that she must, if possible, humor his vagaries till help came. She was a petted, spoiled darling, but she had great strength of will, and she now called it into requisition.
She hurriedly glanced at the clock, and calculated how long it would be before the train whistle could signal the coming of her dear ones. Alas! it was just eight. What, oh, what must she do? Of whom did he speak? Kill her? Kill whom? Then the mystery of the murdered girl darted into her mind. Katie had been right then. There was in truth a murdered girl. Was this awful creature her slayer?
Suddenly, with a confidential gesture he bade her sit down with him.
"I'll tell you about it," he said; "if she had only kept still! But she screamed and tried to run away, I can't stand noise!" He clapped his hands over his ears as if to shut out the echo of it. "I must have this blood—this pure, young, life-giving stream. But she would not listen to me. Poor thing! It was too bad, wasn't it? Hey? Speak!" and he grasped her delicate wrist with a grip of steel.
Trembling at the sound of her own voice, the girl commanded herself to say:
"Yes; who was she?"
"I don't know," he replied, seriously. "She was beautiful and fresh; she was almost as fair as you," letting his wild eyes roam over her. "I was getting away from that cursed place. Think of confining a man of my learning in a madhouse! But that was just it. I had mastered the new theory—the transfusion of blood. They wanted to steal my glory, so they locked me in. But I outwitted them; I captured these and ran away."
Laughing wildly but still under his breath, he took from his jacket a black case of bright, new surgical instruments.
"These were what I needed," he continued, with a low chuckle; "I could not attain the goal without these beauties." Caressingly he went over them. "Lancet, probe, trocar, bistoury, tourniquet,"—mentioning the collection, while he passed his fingers affectionately along the small sharp knives.
"For years and years," he went on, "I have studied this theory. The only thing is to find a young, strong, healthy subject; I found her. I was hiding in the bushes; she was on the highway; but she would not listen to me."
"You did not kill her?" the girl forced her dry lips to ask.
"Nay, nay; that is an ugly word. I had to sacrifice her—I did not kill. Then the foolish mob came and I fled hither. But I had a bit of bread and meat; she dropped her basket of lunch. I've been hiding in yonder tower," pointing upward. "I thought I might find what I want; and now, my dear, you will help me, won't you?" This he said coaxingly.
"Help you? What can I do?"
"Such a simple thing. Hold very still while I draw the rich red blood from your pretty white throat."
"You would not spoil my throat?" pleaded Jessie in winning tones, with the courage born of despair; "such a very little throat," clasping her soft fingers about it in unconscious paraphrase of King Hal's hapless queen.
"But where else can I find the glorious stream so rich and red?" he argued, with a perplexed frown. "It must be transfused into my own veins, that I, too, may be young again."
"But not the throat! I could not sing any more then."
"Ah, so—I heard you singing; it was not loud; it pleased me. Yes, 'twould be a pity. Well, I'll tell you what I will do. I'll open a vein in your arm—just here," laying his finger on the round white member. "This will quicken the nervous centers. Then I will cut my own arm and insert your blood at the opening till the two life-currents mingle in one stream."
He paused and reflected a moment. The generous warmth of the fire, together with the terrified girl's enforced quiet manner, were evidently soothing to him.
"Listen now, very closely: Here is my greatest scientific discovery. I do not mean to impart the secret to another. It is the transfusion of brain! Some other man's head got on to my shoulders, and my brain is all wrong. Now with your red blood charged in my veins, and your young active brain absorbed into my own uncertain head, I shall find the elixir of life, and you will not have lived in vain."
Gracious Heaven! Did she hear aright? She had submitted to blood-letting once to gratify an old family physician, who insisted upon the remedy; and she felt almost brave enough to endure the operation again, if it would only kill time and satisfy her tormentor. But to cut into her brain! Merciful God! What should she do? She could not escape, for he watched her with cat-like vigilance. Scream she dare not, for so did the other frightened victim. She must try to gain time.
With a rapt expression he continued: "Since the days of Esculapius there has been no such transcendent theory as this which is to make me famous. All my weary nights of thought and days of study are to be rewarded at last. Come child, are you ready? It will not hurt you. Only a little pin-prick, and no pain. I would not pain you my dear."
What if he should let her bleed to death! Oh sister, oh lover, come, or she would die of horror, if not the knife! And Katie—why didn't she come! At this moment the sound of the train whistle in the distance broke on the stillness of the night. How could she gain ten minutes more? The man had not noticed the sound.
"What do you wish?" she asked sweetly, "What shall I get for you?"
"Only a handkerchief and a basin," he replied coolly, still fingering a sharp lancet. "You are not afraid? Good girl; now for my crowning victory!"
As a sleep-walker she procured the articles and bared her arm. Tenderly he was binding it above the blue veins, when she said in winning tones:
"Let me tell you how I think would be the best way to do this—may I?" and she fixed her large eyes upon him in entreaty. He paused, and she continued:
"Now let me tie your arm in the same way. You open your own vein with the lancet, then open mine, and quickly after mix the two while the blood is warm. Do you see? You can't fail if you do it that way."
He looked at her. She did not flinch.
"Perhaps you are right; very well."
She arose as deliberately as she dared and went to her dresser for another handkerchief. At the moment she opened the linen case her ears, strained to the utmost, caught a murmur from below stairs. Turning quickly to see if the man also had heard, the door was pushed open and Katie's neat cap filled the aperture.
* * * * *
"Get on as fast as you can, driver," said George Randolph, as he and Mabel took seats in the village stage. Then turning to his companion, he said in reassuring tones: "Don't be frightened, dear; she is all right."
"I know it is foolish," said Mabel, half crying; "but those wretched placards made me nervous, and all that talk about escaped murderers and lunatics. I am fairly beside myself; do hurry!"
As the wide portals of Crestdale appeared, Mabel cried, in sudden terror:
"Something is wrong, George; see how dim the lights are! She would never welcome us like this. Don't wait to ring; open the doors!"
As George fitted his key in the lock and swung wide the door, a shrill scream from above made their blood curdle. Shriek upon shriek followed, as Katie came bounding down the stairs, almost knocking backward the two who ran past her to Jessie's room. White and lifeless they found her, prostrate, her arm still bound with the handkerchief. She had risen nobly to the awful emergency, but succumbed when relief came.
In vain Katie continued a shriek that a murtherer was in the room. The anxious watchers bent over their stricken darling, who was now lying on her own bed and beginning to show signs of life.
Before they could ascertain what had happened, for Katie was crazed and incoherent from fright, a furious ringing of the bell sounded long and loud. Michael opened the door to a party of men who were in pursuit of a strange-looking person whose face had been seen at the tower window; whether an escaped lunatic from the state asylum, or an escaped murderer for whom a large reward was offered, remained to be proved.
The search was instituted with George Randolph at the head. The victim was soon unearthed, but in a moment, laughing wildly in the frenzy of madness, he darted out upon the roof and, rather than be captured, dashed himself to the pavement below.
All night they sat beside the brave girl, and bit by bit heard her story. For days she was ill from the shock of her fearful experience. The wedding was very quiet, but George refused to have it deferred.
It was months before the bride could summon courage to live at Crestdale, and she was a much older woman before she could refer with composure to Katie's murtherin' ghost.
Her Christmas Gift
A WHITE RIBBON STORY
She was born on Christmas Day, and so came, with her little white face and solemn eyes, into her pale mother's life. She was worse than fatherless. The beast of a man she might have come to call by that sacred name, would now be beside the snowy cot, weeping in maudlin rejoicing over his new treasure, if the mother had not resolutely put him away some six months before.
The world knew him as Judge Barrett, a man of fine family, superb talents, and a magnetic orator. He might be, perhaps, too convivial on occasions, but was not this a common frailty among Kentucky's great men? The wife knew him as besotted and disgusting. What mattered his learning, his eloquence, his aristocratic blood, or ample income? To her alone he brought his degraded mass of humanity day after day; and though never personally unkind to her, or to the little boy that died, she was enabled by the might of her tearless agony beside that tiny bier, to cut the last tie that bound her to the blear-eyed creature sobbing on the other side. The last tie? Ah, woe was she! The coming time brought into her desolate life the frail link she must now take up; and in the first bitter realization of her wronged womanhood, the mother-love lay dormant.
As the months went by the little Ruth twined herself in every fiber about that lonely mother's heart, till she was loved with a love that was pain. So jealously guarded, too, that never once had the father's eyes fallen upon her, not even by chance. In vain he sent appeals just to look on his little daughter; he would ask no more. He was refused, and the baby's nurse did not dare transgress.
By-and-by Ruth was old enough to understand; and then she wanted to know who her papa was, and why he never came home as Masie Morrow's did. At this her mother would be terrified, and clasping her treasure close, would tell her she must never ask about her papa; he was a dreadful man.
"Like Jack, the Giant-killer, mumzie?"
"Oh, my dearie, he is a great deal worse."
Again Ruth said; "I know, mumzie, my papa is a great black thing like the pictures on the circus papers!"
So it came to pass that Miss Ruth fell to thinking about her father till it got to be a sort of mania with her—wondering and wondering what it all meant. Her life was secluded, but she was fondly attached to her grandparents and to a number of friends who were received at the house, while her mother was most tenderly enshrined in the faithful little heart.
The mother had a comfortable income, and provided her little girl with the best masters. She was a quaint, white-faced, solemn-eyed creature, as she had been from the first. She said "old" things, her black nurse declared, and she knew her little "missy" was under a spell. If so, the spell was tempered by an almost idolatrous love on the mother's part.
When she was getting to be a romping big girl, she had just as queer ways; too old for a child, though the sober, owl-like look began to soften to an earnest expression, which on occasions verged upon a twinkle in the deep blue eyes. Distant friends were now writing letters of inquiry, and her father's relatives persistently urged Mrs. Barrett to send the child to them for a visit. At last she took Ruth and went; she would not trust her out of her sight. She was a pale, pretty, gentle-looking woman, with a will of iron. It was to Judge Barrett's sister, Mrs. Stanton, in a neighboring town, that they came. They were afraid to mention his name, or hint at a possible reconciliation; but they managed to make the young Ruth very much in love with her new aunt, and merry, pretty cousins.
Meanwhile her father had gone from bad to worse, a confirmed drunkard, though rarely too far gone to make an eloquent stump-speech when occasion required. So popular was he that he had the sympathy of the community in his domestic estrangement. Some said his wife was too hard and unforgiving; all agreed that he should have been permitted to see his child.
Ruth was seventeen years old and had long since exerted her filial influence to the extent of going to her aunt, Mrs. Stanton, whenever she wished. She had come to be quite a sensation in her father's native village, his hosts of friends readily tracing a likeness to himself. She was a sweet, rather wilful maiden, not exactly pretty, but very refined and attractive.
Judge Barrett had always found a bed at his sister's, no matter at what hour of day or night he chose to stagger in; but the large family combined efforts to prevent the contretemps of a meeting between him and Ruth. Their promise to her mother was too sacred for trifling, and they loved the girl too well to risk being deprived of her society. Destiny, or chance, was too strong for them. It was on a bright, sunlit day, when Ruth was in an animated discussion with her cousin Roger upon the merits of Vassar College, recently thrown open to young women, which he declared was only a place where they transformed a girl into a boy.
"Never go there, Coz, if you wish to retain an iota of your womanhood."
"Prejudice, prejudice;" she retorted. "I do believe in the higher education of women and I am certainly going to Vassar, if I can persuade my mother to part from me so long."
"Why not take her with you?" Mrs. Stanton was saying, when horror of horrors, there appeared at the side door of the large sitting-room a flushed and tangled-looking creature, tottering and righting up alternately. All eyes were turned upon him, and every voice was dumb. Steadying himself within the door, he slowly surveyed the young faces grouped there, till his bloodshot gaze fell upon Ruth's white, wondering countenance. Perhaps she reminded him of the wife who had repudiated him. Perhaps some dawning instinct was at work. He staggered up to the girl, who never once turned her eyes, and placing a hand upon her head, said in the words of Childe Harold: "Is thy face like thy mother's, my fair child?"
Tears sprang to every eye; but Ruth, first gasping as with a revelation from some long-dormant recess of her brain, arose, and catching his hand as it fell powerless, burst out:
"Who are you? Are you my—father? Oh, tell me!" she appealed to the group about her—"my father?" and stood breathless before him.
The word seemed to sober him with a mighty shock. He sank upon his knees, her hands still clasping his, and burying his hot face in her cool palms, murmured in choking accents:
"Her father—my child—my God, I thank thee!"
But the strain was too much. In a moment more he sank all in a heap upon the floor, limp and lifeless.
Passionately the girl knelt beside him, and looked searchingly into his now colorless face, while the others hastened with restoratives. Nor did she leave him during the days of illness that followed, except when obliged to rest. Little by little they had told her the story.
She only said: "Oh, I never dreamed he was like this. I used to think he must be something inhuman, horrible. Then I found myself staring at every stranger, especially if he was monstrous, or in the least hideous. But I had given up all hope, and was afraid to ask."
"No, my dear child;" soothingly said her aunt, "your father is not horrible, or hideous except that he is the slave of drink. He is not inhuman, but a tender, loving creature. He is a gentleman, cultured and learned. There is nothing fine in the language he cannot repeat, so wonderful is his gift of memory. Oh, my child, can you not—will you not help him? You can win him, I feel sure."
Ruth learned to love her father by reason of his idolatrous devotion to her, as well as the powerful influence of his brilliant talents. In those first days of convalescence he followed her feebly from room to room, drinking in the joy of having her after the privation of years; and one day folding her to his breast said:
"My precious child—my beautiful daughter—hear your father's vow! Come what will, nevermore shall a drop of the accursed fire pass my lips. I will redeem our name—I can and I will."
He kept his word. Ruth went to Vassar. She wrote long, loving letters to her mother and father every week of her school life. Once she said to her mother:
"You know what I wish, my darling mamma. You know that I long to unite my two beloveds; but never shall I ask it. You must follow your own heart. I believe my father will be worthy of us; I shall be guided by you alone."
At first the mother was stricken down by the fierce throes of jealousy and pain that rent her soul; but as time went on and she knew that she was not supplanted, she grew quiescent. But she owned to herself that she never could have sent Ruth away if it had not been to separate her from her father as well.
On every side his praises were sung in her ears. He was rising higher and higher in his profession, and one enormous fee in a contested will case, had suddenly made him rich. Both were getting on toward middle life, and he was slightly gray; but her brown hair lay in the same soft, glossy bands, and her pure white face was placid as of yore.
Four years had passed, and Ruth's birthday was at hand. Her mind had long been made up; and now Christmas light and gladness reigned supreme. It was just at the close of the day when entering the fire-lit room upon the arm of her tall, distinguished-looking father, she threw her arms about her mother and whispered three words,—"For our sake!"
Then kneeling with courtly grace before her, he kissed the fair hand he had won in his youth and in tones whose music had thrilled her girlish heart, he spoke:
"My beloved, will you not trust me again? See—our darling has saved us for each other."
And the last ray of the roseate sun lingered lovingly on the three as the evening sank into blessed night.
In a Pullman Car
A LOVE STORY
It was rather late when Hervey Leslie threw the remains of a cigar from the car window, and staggered through the jumping, jerking Pullman to his berth.
The curtains were all drawn, giving to the car a funereal aspect, and lights were turned down for the night.
Jerk, jerk, jolt and jump went the train around the mountain curves, till the various hats and wraps suspended from the hooks seemed about to tumble together. Suddenly something dropped through the curtains of the upper berth opposite and lodged there. Involuntarily extending his arm to catch it if it fell, our young traveler's eyes were riveted upon an object which he now felt inclined to catch, whether it fell or not. It was a small white shapely hand—a woman's hand; and the midnight tresspasser would have been less than human if he had not risen to a better view. There it was, just peeping between the heavy curtains, white and blue-veined, with tapering fingers and shell-like nails. How he longed to touch it! How tempting the rounded curve of the small wrist.
A prolonged lunge threw him violently forward, when grasping the rod to save himself, his lips went plump against the coveted object. It was only momentary, but it thrilled him as with an electric shock. When he recovered his equilibrium the fair sleeper had withdrawn entirely out of sight, and her involuntary assailant addressed himself to the duty of disrobing. Long he pondered upon the "touch of a vanished hand," and at last fell into uneasy dreams wherein the world had come to an end, and he found himself at the gates of heaven, with five soft white fingers turning the key on the other side.
"Last call for breakfast," shouted the porter next morning, and the confusion of voices mingled with the noisy folding of vacated berths.
Parting his curtains, Hervey Leslie peered out, possibly to catch a morning view of the pretty hand.
"By Jove! better still!" was his smothered comment, as he hastily turned away.
What he had seen was the perfection of a French boot, buttoned high, and protruding modestly below the curtains. Then a soft voice called—"Porter, I should like to get down."
The steps were adjusted, and as she gently fluttered down, the listener thought—
"What a shame I didn't have a chance to exchange berths with her! To think of her being perched up there!"
An hour later Leslie returned from his cigar to find the Pullman in order, and the refreshed occupants enjoying the books and papers scattered about. It was not possible to mistake the owner of the hand and foot, whom a glance revealed in her corner, looking quietly upon the hurrying villages and farms. A coquettish hat rested lightly upon a fluffy mass of golden brown hair, a dainty tailored suit fitted closely the rounded figure, and the face that looked out of the window was sweet and bright even in repose. The coveted hand, in spotless kid, shielded the earnest eyes from the glare of the morning sun, and all in all, the picture was one to tempt any looker-on.
Just as Hervey Leslie was puzzling his brain for a pretext, however flimsy, to introduce himself, a lady came from the dressing-room and sat down beside the beautiful unknown—a lady still young and handsome, and so closely resembling the girl as to leave no doubt that they were mother and daughter.
"What has Charlie done with himself?" was the pleasant question, met with a smile so bewitching that the watcher was hopelessly ensnared.
"So, there's a party of them," he mused. "And who the deuce is Charlie?"
But when that youth appeared he proved to be only a brother, and not a very big brother, at that.
Settling himself back in a corner from whence he could use his eyes and ears as he dared, young Leslie drew forth a letter which he perused with interest; in fact, he already knew it by heart. It ran thus:
"MY DEAR SON,
"Congratulate me. The all-important day is fixed for the 24th inst. Come at once. Mrs. Dana is anxious to cultivate you, and my own impatience is an old story.
"Your affectionate father,
"Confound Mrs, Dana!" was the son's comment, for upon the subject of his father's second marriage he was distinctly undutiful.
For a while he lost himself in pictures of the new home, and mentally resolved to absent himself as much as possible. He knew how his opposition was grieving his father, who thought him most unreasonable: but he persisted in refusing to see the lady until after the ceremony.
Suddenly with a terrific lurch the train was derailed and plunged down an embankment, not steep but rocky. The heavy Pullman toppled over, then planted itself firmly in a bed of fresh earth, and was still. There were wild cries of fear and pain, a loud crashing of glass lamps, and some wrenching of seats. Leslie fell into a pile of great-coats, and flung out his right arm just as the two ladies were dashed against him, and a sudden sharp twinge made him oblivious of everything.
When he recovered consciousness he found himself being pulled out of his corner, and realized by the agony of the motion, that something was broken somewhere. With one mighty protest against such vigorous handling, he relapsed into a dead faint. When he next opened his eyes he was lying between cool sheets in a pleasant room, and bending over him was the elder lady of the Pullman. The first bewildered look was rapidly merged into a frown of pain, as a sense of discomfort made itself felt.
"He is coming round, doctor;" said the lady.
Then to him she said;—"you must be very quiet. Your shoulder has been set. It is all right now. Heaven be praised that we did not kill you as we fell!" she added aside, and her sweet motherly face showed the sympathy he was in need of.
Then a voice at the door said timidly, yet eagerly,—"Mamma, come—Charlie wants you."
The ladies vanished, leaving the doctor in charge.
Hervey soon gathered that they were at a farm-house near Columbus, Ohio; that Charlie had a broken leg, that his mother and sister, along with the others who had escaped injury, were stopping over to render service to the wounded.
"Who are they?" he asked, curiosity getting the better of his pain.
"I think the name is Raynor," said the doctor; "Mrs. Raynor, Miss Eloise, and the youth, whose leg we set this morning. But say, young man, where are your people? Don't you want some telegrams sent? You are not likely to get away from here very soon."
Young Leslie groaned as he gave his father's address at Cincinnati, then exclamed;—"See here, doctor, can't you stop this confounded pain? What the deuce is the matter, anyway? Do get me out of this."
The doctor gave him a soothing potion and bade him be quiet. He promised to send a nurse, then went to look after the more slightly injured patients.
Three weeks later found Hervey Leslie in dressing-gown and slippers, setting beside Miss Eloise Raynor under a large shade tree, the young lady reading aloud from Tennyson's tender rhymes. At an open window in full view lay Charlie, still a prisoner, with his mother in close attendance.
Mr. Leslie had paid several visits, and assured his son that the only way in which he could repay him for postponing the wedding till he should be well enough to witness it, was by becoming reconciled to his new mother. At which the son smiled, for something had of late come over the spirit of his dream that predisposed him singularly in favor of weddings. A sort of low fever hung about him, which made it prudent for him to remain in the country; and he rather fixed the time of his departure when Charlie's leg should justify the whole party's leaving.
The young girl and her mother blamed themselves for his hurt and had paid him every kindly attention. He had gathered the story of the petted daughter, and in his enfeebled state their acquaintance made rapid progress. Even now it required no acute observer to surmise the ravages of the little god. No one interfered, and for once the course of true love seemed to glide smoothly on.
He had confessed his aversion to to the prospective mother, and endeavored to elicit sympathy by picturing to young Eloise what it would be to have another fill her dear father's place. At such times her face was impenetrable, and he intuitively grew to avoid the topic.
Ere Charlie was able to get about, young Leslie had fallen in love with the whole family; and when he had sought and obtained the dimpled hand he had so coveted in the Pullman car, laughingly told the mother he was not so sure but that after all she was the one he loved best. A smile passed over the regular features as she said meaningly:
"Only love me as a son, my boy, and I think we can be happy in each other. But remember, a mother-in-law is a dangerous animal!"
Mr. Leslie was so happy in his son's good fortune,—for so he evidently considered it—that he declared there must be a double wedding.
"You shall have your way," he added, with some pique; "and not see Mrs. Dana till we meet at the church. Afterward, I'll risk the meeting!"
Some two months after the accident the programme was carried out. But the Raynors had remained at the farm-house till the appointed day, the young people growing all the while so distractingly fond of each other, that the really short time seemed to drag with leaden wings.
Quietly one morning, in the presence of intimate friends, and quite in the old-fashioned way, the two pairs of lovers walked up the church aisle to the minister in waiting. The ladies wore rich traveling-suits, and carriages waited to convey the immediate members of the family to the wedding breakfast. The younger bridegroom saw nothing but the sweet face at his side, though he started perceptibly when the service revealed that his father's bride and his own bore the same musical name of Eloise.
When the first carriage closed with a snap, there was a relaxing of ceremony, and an interchange of congratulations, earnest, though somewhat amusing. For when Hervey raised his eyes to the despised mother's face, he saw there the soft features of Mrs. Raynor, while his father smiled in contented expectancy. His own face was a study!
"Raynor?" he stammered. "Why I thought—I understood—"
"You said Raynor," was the teasing reply; "we never did."
"And whom have I married?" was his next question, with a grotesque grimace at the demure young person beside him.
"Eloise Dana, an' it please your lordship. Do you mean to get a divorce?"
"It's all right, my boy;" cheerily said his father, while all three heartily enjoyed the denouement. "It was only a little harmless plot, you know, to bring you to your senses! Besides, you were in too delicate a state of health to bear the truth!" This with decided relish.
"Bring me to my senses!" echoed the other. "You have about run me crazy! Here I've gone and married my wife's brother to his sister, and the fathers and mothers are all fathers-in-law and mothers-in-law. But, my dear mamma," he added, with an 'Et-tu-Brute' look at the amused lady, "I did not think you would play me false!"
"The temptation was too great," she confessed, "after I saw your name on the tell-tale suit case; own the truth now, that as Mrs. Dana, you would never have fallen in love with me!"
"Ah, well," he gave in, "let's kiss and make friends. As for you, young lady," he exclaimed with mock fierceness, "I shall exact the most implicit obedience. I must get even somehow."
"No—no—I did not promise to obey—brides never do nowadays," and the little gloved hand went up to his lips in protest.
Catching it fast, he threatened to proclaim the first time her hand had ever touched his lips, all unconscious though she was, and amid blushes and happiness all around, they arrived at the house, where the whole story had to be rehearsed to delighted friends, beginning with midnight vision in a Pullman car.
In Old Kentucky
A PRIZE STORY
Everybody was at Crab Orchard springs, that favorite resort in the ante-bellum days. What though the main rooms were cramped and stuffy, or that the straggling cottages across the grassy lawn were mere shells. It was a place thoroughly rural, thoroughly enjoyable. Merely to ramble along the winding saw-dust walks to the deep embowered springs, was a sufficient augury of improved health. It was the one daily excitement to crowd up to the long platform and see the stage come in, bringing high and low, the rich and moderate liver. The luggage was light, Saratoga trunks being unknown quantities, and no gowns were brought except those of the crushable kind that did duty at ten-pins, fishing, walking, dancing, and not least, driving, for the gravel turnpikes were fine.
Across the wide street was Bachelors' Row, where were installed hunters and hounds from the Southland, rich cotton and sugar planters, sporting men and their sable attendants. Here the candles burned all night, and there were loud whispers of games in vogue not as innocent as those listed on the tempting advertising circulars of the Springs. This sunny, summer life was of the dolce far niente sort, given up to idle pleasure, and quite out of the way of the tragic happenings of romance. Yet a mystery had managed to creep into this Arcadian realm, a thing not at first tangible, but getting to be an acknowledged first-class secret as the days went by.
Egbert Mason had been nearer the carriage than the rest of the sunset crowd when the stage rolled up, followed by the close, luxurious-looking vehicle so rarely seen in those parts. He declared he caught a glimpse of a being, exquisitely beautiful among the two or three closely wrapped and veiled women who descended from the carriage; and the young men were on the qui vive some hours later to see the new comers enter the ball room. But they did not appear either that night, or any other night. They kept their cottage rooms closely, sitting out only in the rear, and were waited upon by the two black servants they had brought. Various were the conjectures about them, and vague stories soon took shape. The hotel register told only their names: Mrs. Glencarron, Mrs. Hamilton and daughter, from Mississippi. The daughter was an invalid, and this was all that could be drawn from the faithful blacks. The girls pouted, and mamas looked unutterables when their curiosity found no relief; while the men were wisely silent, though equally diligent in fruitless investigation.
It was past midnight, and the lights were out, when the ominous cry of "fire!" sounded through the grounds, striking terror to the visitors thus suddenly startled from their sleep, and emptying the cottages of their half-clad occupants by one accord. A glance at the crackling flames showed that Bachelors' Row was on fire and doomed. Men from the distant village were soon on the spot with buckets, and amid frightened cries, confused questions, and a general hurrying, scurrying of feet, a few had presence of mind to cover the main building with wet blankets, lest the trees now snapping and hissing might drop a blazing brand and the whole place go down.
After the first panic had subsided there was nothing to do but stand and watch the graphic scene; and while thus engaged the attention of some was attracted by a face white and drawn as with pain among the by-standers. It was that of one of the mysterious ladies of the southern cottages. But even as they noted the faded beauty and aristocratic bearing of the stranger she was hurried away by another figure closely wrapped and hooded. Not before she had ejaculated: "Oh, what is it? Is she——?" and there the words were lost.
It was somewhere near the early morning when Egbert Mason who had been foremost in fighting the fire, was aroused by a voice just outside his window, which was left open for the faint breeze of the summer night.
"Come quick iz you kin, young marster, fur de lub o'heb'n."
Between sleeping and waking the young man jumped up and peered out of the window. He could just discern the prim red and yellow turban of the black keeper of the strange ladies.
"Iz you a doctor, Marster? Dey says you iz."
"Yes—a very young one—what is wanted?"
The negress spoke a few very hurried words in a lower tone.
"All right. In one moment—stay—never mind—I have it—I'm coming." And catching up something from the shelf of his closet the young doctor sped away to the mysterious door of the southern guests.
He was met on the threshold by an anxious, grief-stricken face, and the words half sobbed out:
"Was there no one else? None older? You—why, you are a boy."
"True, madam, but I am not without experience. I hope—I think, you may trust me, unless——"
But she drew him hurriedly within the door, and on to an inner chamber, where lay his patient, so guarded that he never once saw her face. Before the earliest risers were called to the long breakfast hall there echoed the cry of a little child in the southern cottages—a girl baby that opened its eyes first in an atmosphere of secrecy and mystery.
* * * * *
Sixteen years had gone by. It was the eighth of January, and the Capitol Hotel at Frankfort was a blaze of military glory. It was the annual commemorative ball, and Strauss' band was pouring forth inspiring strains, as the dancers, in fancy costumes of every age and clime, flitted to and fro. The beauty, wealth and chivalry of Kentucky were there. The stars and stripes were draped about the speaking portraits of dead heroes, and munitions of war glittered on every side.
Among those wearing the neat broadcloth evening dress of the plain American citizen was Dr. Egbert Mason, the famous surgeon, now a distinguished looking man of thirty-five. It was rather late in the evening when he appeared, and he was soon captured by his friend, the Hon. Leslie Walcott, who bore the distinction of being the youngest member of the House, and presented to Miss Eleanor Carleton, the most popular of all the belles and beauties on the floor. Her dress was an exquisite personation of the stars and stripes, from the crown of stars on her golden brown hair, to the gaily ribboned white satin slipper. Her white muslin skirts showed the red stripes at intervals; a soft blue sarcanet sash across her breast was stamped with the outstretched wings of the American eagle, and in every detail this unique costume was alluring to a degree.
Dr. Mason was more than impressed by her extreme youth, in its setting of precocious womanly grace and charm. She was so happy and bright, a sans souci maiden whom he lost no time in winning to his own colors, by the magic of a well-stored mind and an eloquent tongue. A sonsie, sweet-sixteen lassie, not yet out of school, but wonderfully developed, like the southern girls of the period, whose parents were possessed of ample means. He sounded her fresh, rich stores of mind and found she had indeed been carefully taught, wisely trained. Not at once did he learn it all, but soon enough to resolve to win and wear this jewel, if only Providence were kind. Providence? Ah, there swept across his face the shade of one bitter memory—one foul wrong that had darkened his earlier manhood. A woman's fatal wiles, a man's trust betrayed. He forgot that she had vowed vengeance if it took a lifetime. He thrust it all aside, and turned to the purity and innocence of this fair young womanhood, with the infinite longing of a starved nature.
The evening of the ball did not close without another surprise for Egbert Mason. Eleanor Carleton was challenging him in a spirited quotation contest when her mother approached leaning upon the arm of the Governor of the State. She was a handsome, dark-eyed woman, young enough to seem the elder sister of the lovely girl who called her mother.
"Eleanor, my child," she said, barely glancing at her daughter's companion. "I've been looking everywhere for you. Have you been in the draughts of those halls? Supper is ready."
"Oh, I've been in very good hands," was the merry reply, as the girl introduced Dr. Mason, and shook hands with the Governor, who was looking down at her with his kindliest smile.
"Madam," he said gallantly, "I must compliment you upon this exceedingly pretty and patriotic dress. I have been watching it from afar all evening. How could you conceive such a marked hit for the occasion."
"I hope it in order for me to say she never fails," proudly answered Senator Carleton, an imposing looking man, who had come up in time to hear the last remark. "The march is playing for supper—"
"Oh, mother—what is it?" cried the girl, suddenly directing attention to Mrs. Carleton's face, which was colorless, almost ghastly, while her eyes seemed gazing afar off into space.
"Allow me," said Dr. Mason, with concern, advancing quickly, and amid the excited gathering of the little circle about him, he gently bore her to one of the large windows, as the Senator in visible alarm threw up the sash.
"To my room," she murmured, as she revived a little, and thither they conducted her as quietly as possible.
At the door the startled young girl turned and impulsively clasping the doctor's hand, exclaimed:
"Oh, Dr. Mason—what is the matter? I never saw my mother like this—is she going to be ill?"
He tried to reassure her, though the touch of her soft, clinging fingers set his blood dancing like wild fire in his veins.
That night old Ailsie knelt beside her mistress and soothed her with the crooning tones of her childhood days.
"Don't you fret, Missie; he doan know nuffin' 'bout it now. An' if he do he ain' gwine ter tell nobody."
That night, too, Egbert Mason, in dreams climbed a mountain height to reach an eagle's nest. As he grasped the last wavering support a figure glittering with stars dropped from the nest, suspended by a tattered flag. Down, down it fell. Frantically he clutched at the frail colors. They lengthened more, and more, till the starry, shimmering form was swaying above a yawning abyss. Could he save her? Her—his young love with the appealing eyes? With one mighty effort he nerved himself for the desperate descent, when lo! from yon black depth appears the vindictive face of Isabella Drury. Older, careworn, faded—but still Isabella, and wearing the head of a Medusa.
* * * * *
"You shall never marry that girl, Egbert Mason! I have sworn it! If you attempt it I will kill one or both of you!" and the face of the speaker was like a mad woman. "Oh, I know all you would say," she went on, striding about the rooms she had entered by strategy. "But she shall not have you if I can not. Pshaw! What fools men are! Do you know who and what she is? Where is your boasted pride, that shrank from a thing like me! Let me tell you, then, you scornful, high mightiness! Eleanor Carleton is——" and she hissed the hateful word in his ears.
"Woman! You lie!" shouted Egbert Mason, stung to frenzy by her taunts, and sick unto death of her persecution. His was not a quiet nature, and she had touched him in his sorest point. "You lie, and you know it! Out of my sight! Tell all you will. I, too, can threaten. Your vile secret is still safe with me, but I shall find means to be rid of you—Go!"
"Stop!" she commanded, coming nearer and dropping her voice to a sibillant whisper. "Go back seventeen years to a summer night at Crab Orchard Springs! Aha! you start, I see you have not forgotten. Do you recollect the part you played that night? She is that child!" and with a malicious laugh she swiftly passed from the room.
The man sat stunned where she had left him. Could it be true? And what was the mystery of that far-away night of his youth? The more he pondered the more complete grew the chain. Senator Carleton had married a Kentucky girl, it was true; but her youth had been passed on a Mississippi plantation. He had years ago heard more or less idle gossip about the hard, miserly nature of the old planter, Hamilton, and of his bitter opposition to his daughter's match with penniless young Carleton. There had been an elopement, or something. It came back to him like some hideous nightmare. His pure, spotless darling—his promised wife! Could there be sin or shame enveloping such a being? He must know. He wrote to Mrs. Carleton. In earnest words of manly truth and honor he besought her to explain to him the past. Eleanor was visiting a friend in a distant city. No answer came. He went to the house and was denied admittance. He followed Eleanor only to learn that she had been hastily summoned home. That was not the day of rapid transit. He returned at last to find a letter of farewell forever—his beloved had been spirited away to other scenes. Then Egbert Mason left his native land, baffled, broken-hearted, and devoted the next three years to the study of special lines in his profession.
* * * * *
In a stately drawing room of an ideal Kentucky home are Eleanor Carleton and Egbert Mason, once more face to face.
"Oh, my love," he moaned, bending almost reverently before her, "what a mistake, I knew it all when too late. The letters were all found when that unhappy woman was sent to the asylum. Did you think I could change? 'Forget thee dear?'" he quoted unconsciously—he had said the lines so often;
"God knows I would not if I could: For sweeter far has been to me the pain Of love unsatisfied, than all the vain And ill spent years I lived before we met."
Still she stood, gravely looking at him, her maturing beauty made the fairer by the sable gown she wore.
"Forgive me," then she spoke. "I thought you knew. I have been Leslie Walcott's wife these four months."
As he sat beside his solitary hearth there was a fumbling outside the door. He opened to admit old Ailsie, now crippled with rheumatic pains.
"I know'd dat was you. Marse Doctor, 'n I follered yer, I want to tell yer:—Mistress 'splained all 'bout dat 'fore she died. Dey wan't nothin' wrong. Her an' her ma was 'feared to let old Master know she hed run 'way an' married Marse Henry. He said he wan't gwine ter will her nary cent. So mistess and her sister, Miss Ellen, arter while, dey fotch her up to de springs. Den ole master he died sudden like, an' Marse Henry, he had done ben 'way off to New Auleens—never know'd dey had fooled old Master 'bout de chile an' all dat. Po' Mistress! she nebber could tell him no better, and she was always skeerd-like arter she seed you agin. But she sot right down dat day and writ all about it to you an' I goes and gives de letter to dat purty white lady what was sich a good frien', and den she gimme yourn, ain——"
"Yes, yes, Auntie, I know—I have the letters here——at last," he added in low, husky tones.
* * * * *
The Louisville Journal of the next New Year, under date of January 9, contained the following notice, with lengthy editorial comment:
"Died suddenly last night, of heart disease, at the close of the Military Ball, at the Capitol Hotel, Frankfort, the Hon. Leslie Walcott, age thirty-two years."
Did hope stretch out an alluring hand to one lonely reader?
VENGEANCE IS MINE
"But surely you do not realize, Robert Garrett, that when you foreclose this mortgage you leave us virtually penniless;" and the large dark eyes of the suppliant were blinded by an agony of tears.