LEAH MORDECAI. A NOVEL.
BY MRS. BELLE KENDRICK ABBOTT.
TO MY BELOVED UNCLE, THE REV. J. RYLAND KENDRICK, D.D., WHOSE HOSPITABLE HOME I ONCE SPENT MANY HAPPY DAYS—DAYS MADE FOR EVER BRIGHT BY THE LOVE OF HIS GREAT HEART, LOVE THAT FLOWED LIKE A PURE STREAM FROM A CRYSTAL FOUNTAIN, ABOUND AND ABOUT MY YOUNG LIFE— THIS BOOK IS MOST TENDERLY
INSCRIBED BY THE AUTHOR.
ATLANTA, GA, November, 1875.
THE giant clock on the wall in the assembly-room of Madam Truxton's fashionable school had marked the hour for dismission.
Groups of restless, anxious pupils stood about the apartment, or were gathered at the windows, watching the rain that had been falling in copious showers since morning. All were eager to go, yet none dared brave the storm.
Under the stone archway of the entrance to the assembly-hall, a group of four maidens stood chatting, apart from the rest, watching the rain, and impatient for its cessation.
"I know my father will either send my brother, or come for me himself," said Helen Le Grande, "so I need not fear the rain." Then, turning to the soft-eyed Jewess who stood by her side, she added, "When the carriage comes, Leah, you can take a seat with me. I'll see that you are safely deposited at home."
"Thank you, Helen, but it won't hurt me to walk. Nothing hurts me—Leah Mordecai the despised." Then, averting her face, the young girl gazed abstractedly into the street, and began humming in a low tone.
To these words of the young Jewess there was no reply. A certain sort of emphasis in her utterance seemed to forbid any inquiry, and silence any word of censure that might arise to the lips of her companions.
"How mean of me, not to offer a seat in the carriage to Lizzie Heartwell, too," thought Helen after a moment's reflection; "but I dared not, on account of my brother, who has so repeatedly urged me to make equals only of the rich. He little knows how I love Lizzie Heartwell, and whether she be rich or poor I know not, neither do I care."
"I say, girls," at length broke the silence, as the fourth member of the group, Bertha Levy, a Jewess too, spoke out, "think how stupid I am. Mamma has promised me a small tea-party to-morrow night, and this wretched rain had well-nigh caused me to forget it; but, thank fortune, it's giving way a little, and maybe we shall all get home after awhile. I'm desperately hungry! Of course, you will all promise me to come, and I shall expect you." Then, turning to Helen, she said, "Won't you?"
"And you, Leah?"
"I will if I can. I am never sure of my movements, however."
"And you, dear Lizzie?"
"With the permission of my uncle and aunt; at any rate, I thank you for your kindness."
"Well, I shall expect you every one, and—"
"There comes the carriage," shouted Helen, as the liveried coach of the wealthy judge rolled round the corner, and drove up in front of the spacious school-building. "I knew my father would not forget me—yes, there is my brother."
The horses, thoroughly wet, looked dark and sleek as greyhounds, as they stood impatiently stamping the paving-stones, while a visible cloud of vapor rose from each distended nostril.
The coach door opened, and Emile Le Grande, with handsome, manly figure clad in a gray military suit, and equally handsome face, stepped out, and approached the group so impatiently watching the progress of the storm.
"Good morning, Miss Mordecai; I am happy that we meet again," said the gentleman, politely bowing.
"Thank you, sir; but your presence rather surprises us," replied Leah.
"I trust, though, I am not an unwelcome intruder upon this fair group?"
"Allow me to remind you, my brother, that my friends, Miss Heartwell and Miss Levy, are also present," said Helen rather reproachfully.
Emile acknowledged the reproof and the courtesy with an apology and a smile, and then added, "To Miss Mordecai's charms I owe the breach of politeness."
Leah's face flushed crimson, and her eye sparkled more brightly than ever at these flattering words of the young cadet; but she made no reply.
"Come, Helen, let's go," at length said the brother. "The horses are impatient. Csar is wet, and I guess you are tired, too." Then, turning to Leah, he continued, "Miss Mordecai, will you honor us with your company till we reach your father's house, where I pledge myself to deposit you safely?"
"Oh! yes, Leah will go; I have already asked her," said Helen. Then, after a moment's preparation, the two young friends stepped into the carriage.
"Good-by again, girls," said Bertha Levy gayly, as the coach door closed; "riding is rather better than walking, such a day as this. Remember to-morrow night." Then, with a dash, the carriage was out of sight.
"Well, Lizzie," resumed Bertha, smiling significantly, for she could not but observe Helen's manifest preference in offering Leah a seat with her, "we need not stand here any longer. I see that the rain, out of consideration for us, is about to cease, and I don't think any coach is coming for me. Do you expect one?"
To this characteristic remark, Lizzie Heartwell replied smilingly, "I guess, Bertha, with umbrellas, overshoes, and care, we can reach home without serious damage."
"But care is not a coach, you know, my friend, no matter how we turn it," said Bertha laughingly, as she donned the wrapping and overshoes. "I am as hungry as a wolf, and I fear mamma will let that young brother of mine eat all my dinner, if I am too slow in getting there. Boys are perfect cormorants, anyhow. Come, let's go at once."
The two girls stepped out into the slippery street, and turned their faces homeward. "I am glad, Lizzie," continued Bertha, as they turned corner after corner, "that our paths run together so far; having company is so much better than being alone this forlorn afternoon. And remember, I desire to know the answer to my invitation as early as possible. To-morrow is my brother Isaac's confirmation day, and we must all be promptly at the synagogue at nine o'clock."
"You shall know to-night, Bertha, and I will be with you, if possible. But here, before we part, let's stop and buy some bananas of old Maum Cinda. She is always so grateful for a fivepence dropped by a school-girl."
By this time the two girls were standing in front of the well-known fruit-stall of the old blind colored woman known far and near through the Queen City as "Maum Cinda." For years, hers had been the important market for supplying the school-children with luscious fruits, unimpeachable taffy, and ground-pea candy.
"An' bless de Lord, is it Miss Lizzie?" said the good-natured woman, as the sound of Lizzie Heartwell's voice fell upon her ear in the kindly spoken salutation.
"An' w'at will you have to-day, chile?"
"Some bananas, Maum Cinda—two for me, and two for my friend here, Miss Bertha Levy."
"Oh! yes, Miss Bertha," replied the woman, courtesying, "an' maybe I have seen Miss Bertha, but it's the sweet voice of Miss Lizzie that the old blind woman remembers"—handing the bananas across the wide board that protected her tempting wares from public incursions.
"You flatter me, Maum Cinda; but I hope the rainy day has not interfered much with your trade. Here"—and extending her slender white hand, Lizzie dropped the jingling pennies into the aged, wrinkled one that opened to receive them.
"God bless you, chile. You neber forget His poor ones, de blind. God bless you!"
"Good morning, Maum Cinda."
"Good-by, young ladies, good-by." And the last glimpse the two receding friends had of the old woman, she was still profoundly bowing and courtesying in acknowledgment of their remembrance.
Then the friends parted for the day, each one taking the most direct course to her home, and soon both were safely sheltered from the drizzling rain and chilling wind.
TWO pale lilies and two royal roses upon a stem, would scarcely form a more beautiful or striking group than did the four maidens standing together under the stone archway of the school-room, on that gloomy day at Madam Truxton's.
The fair hair and blue eyes of Helen Le Grande and Lizzie Heartwell distinctly contrasted with the jetty locks and eyes of Bertha Levy and Leah Mordecai—the beauty of neither style being in any degree marred by such close contact.
The blonde beauty of the first two maidens bespoke their unmistakable Anglo-Norman blood and Christian descent, while the opposite cast of the others testified to their Jewish origin.
A casual observer even, would have decided that these four maidens were bound together by an unusual bond of friendship—an incongruous friendship it might have seemed, and yet it was not such.
Helen Le Grande, the eldest of the group by a few months, was scarcely eighteen years of age, as bright and gay a maiden as one could find in all the land, and the only daughter of Judge Le Grande, a lawyer of wealth and distinction.
Of immediate French descent, Judge Le Grande possessed in an eminent degree the peculiarities of his gay, volatile ancestry. Proud of his children, and ambitious for their future, in his lavish bounty he withheld nothing he deemed necessary for their advancement in life.
Thus at eighteen, Helen Le Grande looked out upon life's opening sky as thoughtlessly as she would look upon the bright waters of the blue harbor that stretched before her father's mansion, where sky and water blended in a peaceful, azure expanse, little heeding or caring whether storms came, or sunshine rested on the deep. Bertha Levy, the little darked-eyed Jewess who stood by her side under the stone archway, was nothing more or less than a piquant little maiden, just turned seventeen, of amiable disposition and affectionate heart, but by no means partial to study, and always ready to glean surreptitiously from her books, any scraps of the lesson that might be useful, either to herself or her friends, in the ordeal of recitation.
Bertha's mother was a widow, whose circumstances allowed her children all the comforts and even many luxuries of life. She had reared them most rigidly in Hebrew faith. Lizzie Girardeau Heartwell, the next in the fair tableau, was the only member of the group who was not a native of the Queen City. It is no misstatement of fact to say that she was, indeed, the ruling spirit of Madam Truxton's entire school.
Dr. Heartwell, Lizzie's father, had lived in a distant State, and died when she was but a tender child. Her mother, a descendant of the Huguenots, was herself a native of the Queen City. But far away from her native home had Mrs. Heartwell's married life been spent, and Lizzie's young days, too, had passed in their quiet uneventful home at Melrose.
But at the age of fifteen, and three years prior to the opening of this story, under the kindly guardianship of her uncle, Lizzie Heartwell entered the popular finishing school of Madam Truxton.
Possessed of noble, heroic blood, and blessed with love that instilled into her young mind the principles of a brave, devoted ancestry, it was but natural that Lizzie Heartwell should exhibit an unusual development of heart and mind at a very tender age, and give early promise of a braver, nobler womanhood, when Time should set his seal upon her brow.
Reluctantly the heart turns to read the half-written history in the sad face of Leah Mordecai, the fourth maiden standing pictured against the stone under the archway. She was of the unmistakable Jewish type, possessing the contour of face, the lustrous eye, the massive crown of hair, that so often distinguish and beautify the Hebrew maiden, wheresoever the sun may rise and set.
In the sadness that rested upon this young girl's face, one might dimly detect the half-extinguished flame of hope, that usually burns so brilliantly in the hearts of most young girls. But why this sadness no one could tell. Its cause was a mystery even to her friends. Benjamin Mordecai was an opulent banker, who for many years lived in solitary grandeur in his bachelor home. But in the process of time, he wedded the gentle Sarah David, and brought her to share with him his home and fortune.
Love had led to this marriage, and peace and happiness for a time, like sweet angels, seemed to have come to dwell evermore within the home. But time brought changes. After the lapse of a year and a half, the cherished Leah was born, and from that day the mother's health declined steadily for a twelvemonth, and then she was laid in the grave.
As the mother faded, the infant Leah thrived and flourished, filling the father's heart with anxious, tender love.
Among the inmates of the Mordecai home from the time of Mrs. Mordecai's declining health, was a young woman, Rebecca Hartz, who acted as house-keeper and general superintendent of domestic affairs. She had been employed by Mr. Mordecai for this important position, not so much on account of her competency to fill it, as to bestow a charity upon her unfortunate father, who constantly besought employment for his numerous children, among the more favored of his people.
Isaac Hartz was a butcher, whose slender income was readily exhausted by a burdensome family. Rebecca, his daughter, was a good-looking young woman of twenty at the time she entered Mr. Mordecai's family. Although coarse and ill-bred, she was also shrewd and designing, often making pretence of friendship and affection to gain her ends when in reality hatred and animosity were burning in her bosom. Such was Rebecca Hartz. Such the woman to usurp the household government, when the gentle Mrs. Mordecai had passed away.
IN Mrs. Levy's attractive drawing-room, Bertha's guests were assembled for the tea-party.
Lizzie Heartwell, the first to arrive, was ushered into the brightly lighted room, to find Mrs. Levy the only occupant.
"I welcome you gladly, Miss Heartwell," said Mrs. Levy, rising and taking Lizzie by the hand. "I have long desired your acquaintance, knowing my daughter's friendship for you. Pray be seated."
"I thank you, Mrs. Levy," replied Lizzie, "I indeed esteem it an honor to meet the mother of such a friend as Bertha."
"My daughter will be present by and by. I regret that necessity compels her non-appearance as yet. Sit nearer the fire."
Lizzie drew closer to the glowing grate, and they continued a pleasant conversation till Bertha appeared.
"What a handsome woman!" thought Lizzie, as she occasionally surveyed Mrs. Levy from head to foot during the tte—tte.
And she was a handsome womam, dressed quietly but richly in black satin, her head adorned only by the clustering curls she had worn from her girlhood. There was little change even in their arrangement, and only an occasional thread of silver here and there bespoke the touch of time. Her eyes were still beautiful, but their lustre had been dimmed by the tears of her widowhood.
Bertha bore the same cast of beauty that distinguished her mother, yet time's developing, modelling work for her was not yet completed. When the guests were duly assembled, Bertha approached her mother, who was still entertaining Lizzie, appearing quite fascinated with her daughter's friend, and said, "Mother, won't you release your prisoner now? Helen Le Grande wishes her to join the group over there by the window, in a game of euchre."
"Certainly, my dear. I trust Miss Heartwell will pardon me if I have detained her too long."
"Come, Lizzie, come along," said Bertha; and then added, in an undertone, "you know what I promised to show you, Lizzie. Come with me; let them make up the game without you."
"Oh! yes, that album; show it to me," said Lizzie, following Bertha to a well-filled tagre, from which she took a handsomely bound album, saying, "This is from Asher. Isn't it lovely?"
"Indeed it is," replied Lizzie.
"Mamma says I do not know who sent it to me, as there is no name anywhere. She does not wish me to think it's from Asher, but I know it is. It's just like him to do such nice things," and, bending her head closer to Lizzie, Bertha continued, "you see, Lizzie, I am awfully disappointed because mamma would not allow me to invite him here to-night. I am just as vexed as I well can be."
"Won't some of these other gentlemen answer in his stead?" asked Lizzie, smiling.
"Bosh! no; all of these, and forty more, are not equal to Asher Bernhardt, in my estimation. I love Asher, I tell you, and I mean to marry him, one of these days; do you hear me?"
"Marry! how you talk! A girl of your age presuming to say that you will marry such and such a one," said Lizzie, laughing.
"Indeed! I consider myself woman enough to decide whom I like, better than any one else, whether you call that old enough to marry, or not. But let me tell you what mamma said to-day, when she caught me kissing the album. 'Bertha Levy'—and oh! she looked so straight and solemn at me that I almost trembled—'Bertha Levy, are you going to make yourself ridiculous about that strolling player, Asher Bernhardt? Tell me.' 'You know he plays the flute superbly, and that's what I like.' Then I said meekly:
"'I know that he loves me.'
"'You know nothing of that sort, and you are a very silly girl. This is the way you regard my teachings, is it, fancying strolling players at private theatricals? What! could you promise yourself to marry such a man—a man whose chief recomendation is, that he can play the flute?'
"'Happiness,' I whispered.
"'Wretchedness, you mean! Well, I forbid you ever thinking of him again. I shall never, never, consent to such a thing, never while I am your mother. Remember my words now!'
"Oh! Lizzie, wasn't that awful, mamma is so hard on him! I—"
"Bertha, Bertha!" called a voice from the opposite side of the room, which Bertha at once recognized as her mother's and immediately turned toward Mrs. Levy, leaving Lizzie standing alone.
"For shame, my daughter!" said Mrs. Levy, in a low tone to Bertha, "to keep Miss Heartwell standing talking all the evening about your supposed present from Asher Bernhardt! I shall not allow you company again until you improve in politeness, and I will destroy that cherished book. Do you hear me? Go at once and see that Miss Heartwell is seated."
Bertha bowed her head, in token of obedience, and as she turned back to join Lizzie, Leah Mordecai was approaching the piano, accompanied by Emile Le Grande.
Leah Mordecai was a superb singer, yet it was only at the request of friends that her soul flowed forth in song. On this evening her music was delicious, and Emile Le Grande, always fond of the divine art, was bewitched with the beauty of her voice. When her singing ceased, the sadness still rested upon her face, and in Emile's heart there was a new-born sensation—that of pleasure mingled with fear.
The evening hours wore on. The hours that bore away the Jewish Sabbath were rolling in the Christian day of rest, and Lizzie Heartwell, in obedience to her uncle's request not to "tarry at her pleasure too late," was the first to separate from the happy band.
An hour later, as the Citadel clock sounded the hour of midnight, Judge Le Grande's carriage rolled rapidly toward the mansion of Benjamin Mordecai, bearing home his beautiful daughter, escorted by Emile Le Grande.
This night, as Lizzie Heartwell was slowly disrobing for the remaining hours of slumber after her return home, she glanced into the small mirror before her, and thought audibly—"Emile Le Grande seemed quite charmed to-night with Leah; he hung around her like a shadow, and part of the evening he seemed moody and almost miserable. How strange if he should fall in love with her! She's a grand girl. I don't think she could fancy Emile Le Grande. I wonder why Leah called herself 'the despised' yesterday. Well, we shall see."
Mrs. Levy's guests had departed, one by one, till the mother and daughter were left alone in the deserted room.
"Mamma," Bertha said at length, shrugging her dainty figure, and gazing thoughtfully into the fire, "I do believe that Emile Le Grande is in love with Leah Mordecai, and she with him."
"Be ashamed, Bertha, to think of such a thing! I believe you are insane on the subject of love. Have you forgotten that she is a Mordecai."
"Oh! Love's love, mamma, Mordecai or not Mordecai! I think Emile Le Grande a fine fellow."
"Would you be impudent, Bertha?" said her mother, eyeing her sharply.
"Oh! not for the world, mamma. Do forgive me, if you think so, and let us retire, for I have an awful task of study awaiting me to-morrow."
EMILE LE GRANDE'S DIARY.
"SATURDAY night—by Jove! Sunday morning, I suppose I should write it, to be strictly truthful. And I guess that orthodox people would roll their pious eyes, and declare that I had better be in bed at this hour, instead of writing in my journal. But it makes no difference. I do not know whether it's the seventh or the first day that I should observe as a day of rest. One suits me as well as the other. So here goes for my journal.
"November 29, Saturday night. Yes, I'll write Saturday night, for the looks of the thing. Just returned from Bertha Levy's tea-party—went with my sister. Would not have gone but for the hope of meeting Leah Mordecai. In the main, I hate Jews, but I must admit here, Journal, that Mrs. Levy is as elegant a woman as I have ever met; and Bertha, too, is a cunning creature, not beautiful and not my fancy exactly, but withal a taking girl.
"But of all the beautiful women that I have seen in years, Jewish or Christian, there's not one can compare with Leah Mordecai—such hair and such eyes are seldom given to woman. Helen says that her hair measures four feet in length! What a queenly poise to that elegant head!
"But I swear there's a sadness about her face that I do not comprehend. She certainly knows nothing of sorrow. It does not arise from want; for she, of all maidens in this Queen City, is farthest from that. Old Ben Mordecai has untold wealth, and there comes in the 'marrow of the nut.' Of course, he is as stingy as a Jew can be; but not with his daughter. Who has more elegant silks, velvets, and diamonds than she? Rich! rich! Ha! what a glorious thing to be said of one; but aside from old Mordecai's money, Leah is a superb woman; one need never be ashamed of such a wife. I should not be.
"I must set myself to work to ascertain the trouble that must dwell in her heart so constantly to becloud her face. I'll bribe Helen to find out for me. It may be some unfortunate love affair—who knows? I think I would like to put any fellow out of the way that might be seeking her hand. I believe I would kill him, if necessary. Perhaps, dear Journal, I should not have written that terrible monosyllable, but as you tell no tales, I'll let it stand.
"Now, I must to bed, and sleep, if I can—sleep away some of the tedious hours that lie between me and another sight of the fair Leah.
"Already the clock strikes two."
"And Mark was not there to-night, as I had hoped and expected," sighed Leah, as she stood before the elegant dressing-case of her bed-chamber, and laid aside the articles of her toilet, after the revel was done. "Only another disappointment! And yet, I know that Bertha invited him, and lie promised me to attend. I should not have worn these ear-rings and this brooch, which were my mother's, had I known Mark would have been absent. Oh, my angel mother!"
A tear stole slowly down her face, and fell upon the shining pearls that she still clasped between her fingers. "Why did not the grave cover us both? Why was I left alone and so desolate in the world? Can it be that Mark has deceived me—Mark Abrams, the only friend in the world that I implicitly trust? God only knows. I remember now, how he looked at my mother—what mockery to call that woman mother!—when I asked him if he would attend the tea-party. I remember furthermore, that she followed him to the door after he bade us adieu; and what words she may have let slip there, Heaven only knows! I have had a lurking suspicion for some time, that she was planning to win Mark's love from me, and secure it for my sister Sarah. What if she should succeed. Oh! how wretched I should be! It has been a year, nearly, since Mark and I secretly pledged our love, and he promised then that we should be married soon after I finished at Madam Truxton's. How fondly I have looked forward to that coming day! It has been the one single hope of my miserable life; and now that the time draws so near, is it possible that my dream must vanish into nothingness? Must this heart taste the bitterness of deception, among its other sorrows? Miserable girl that I am! Surely some evil star shone over the hour and place of my birth. But I'll hope on for the best, and still continue to look forward to the coming day, when my life shall be separated from the wretched woman who now so darkly overshadows my existence. I'll hope on, even though disappointment come at last." The soliloquy ended, Leah laid away the pearls in the velvet-lined case, and turned to slumber and dreams.
Mark Abrams, the early friend and lover of Leah, was the oldest son of a talented and highly-esteemed rabbi, who presided over the most flourishing and wealthy Jewish congregation in the Queen City; and Mark himself was highly esteemed, as a young man of unimpeachable integrity and unusual brilliancy of intellect.
MONDAY morning came again. The great bell in the cupola of Madam Truxton's seminary had sounded, and all the pupils, large and small, were gathered to join in the opening exercises. First, the bright-eyed little girls, in tidy aprons, with hair smoothed back in modest braids, or safely gathered under the faithful comb; then, the more advanced scholars, each bearing the impress of healthful vigor and hopeful heart; and last, the big girls, or "finishing class," as Madam Truxton significantly styled them—all were assembled once more on this bright Monday morning, to begin the duties of another week, and share again the joys and sorrows of school life. It was a lovely sight, this assembled school; for where is the heart that does not see with unspeakable pleasure the dawning beauty of innocent, careless maidenhood?
"Bertha, do you know the French lesson?" said Lizzie Heartwell, as the class of young ladies was passing from the assembly hall to Madam Cond's room.
"Oh, just well enough, Lizzie, to keep me from a scolding, I guess. Here, won't you please hold the book open at aimer, so I can get that muss a little straight, in case madam calls upon me to conjugate?"
"Oh, pshaw! of course you won't. Lizzie Heartwell, you are too conscientious; but Helen, you will, won't you?"
"Yes, if you will hold it open for me, too. I am not at all prepared in the lesson."
"Here, Leah," continued Bertha, laughing, and winking her roguish eyes at Lizzie, "how much do you know of the verb aimer?"
"More than I wish I did," was the laconic reply of the beautiful Jewess.
"I suppose so, judging from what I saw on last Saturday evening. But here we are at the lion's den, and our levity had better subside."
"Bon jour, madame!"
"Bon jour, mesdemoiselles."
And the door was closed.
At this same hour, in the large, hollow square fronting the Citadel Tower in the upper part of the Queen City, many platoons of young men, dressed in the gray military suits of the cadets, were drilling, drilling, drilling, according to custom, as a part of their daily school routine.
A passer-by would have stopped for a moment, and watched with interest this pleasing spectacle. The varied and intricate evolutions made by these gray-clad figures, as they expanded into broad platoons, and then, as if by magic, fell again into groups of two, four, or six, was, to the unaccustomed beholder, a strange and attractive performance.
The bristling bayonets shining in the bright morning sun, gave evidence of the faithful care with with which their polish was preserved. And these bright polished muskets spoke loudly too, to the reflecting heart, of the wild work they might some day accomplish, when carried into the conflict by these same skilful hands that now so peacefully upheld them—demon-work, that might clothe a land and people in sackcloth and desolation!
The drilling was ended, the last evolution made, the halt commanded, and the order to disband spoken.
Like a fragile piece of potter's work, the magic ranks broke apart, and each gun fell to the ground with a heavy "thud," like an iron weight.
"I say, George, I am deuced tired of this turning and twisting, and I'll be glad when the term ends, and I am set free from this place."
"Well, I can't say that I will, Le Grande," replied George Marshall, as handsome a cadet as wore the uniform, and one highly ambitious for promotion. "I came to this institute, because I was always fascinated by military display, and I intend to make this my lifelong profession."
"Whew! how tired I am! Well, you are welcome to it. As for me, it's the last life I should choose. I like the uniform very well, especially when I go where the girls are—they always give a cadet's suit a second glance—but as for the 'profession of arms,' as you call it, excuse me."
"What! would you like, Le Grande, always to be playing lady's man?"
"Oh! yes; and that reminds me, George, that I have a new lady-love; she is at Madam Truxton's. To-day, at intermission, let's saunter down to the seminary, and catch a glimpse of the girls. Maybe I'll see her."
"I can't; at intermission I must study my Legendre. Look at the clock now; it's late."
"Bother the Legendre! you are the strangest fellow I ever saw—care no more for the girls than a 'cat does for holidays.' Won't you go?"
"Not to-day, Le Grande. I am very busy."
The clock struck nine, and George Marshall, with the other disbanded cadets, hurried to the duties of the day—to the hard task of study that awaited them within the grim walls of the citadel.
For a moment before turning to his books, George Marshall looked out of the window, far away to the blue, misty harbor. There he saw again old Fort Defiance, standing grim, stern, and dark against the morning sky—the only object that marred the brightness of the blue heaven and the blue water, melting together in the distance.
"How beautiful the harbor is to-day! And yet how sullen the fort looks," said the young cadet as he surveyed the scene. "I see the flag of my country floating, and all is peaceful and quiet in the waters. Thank God for such a country! But I must hasten to my duties."
"LEAH, dear, what troubles you this morning? Your melancholy look distresses me. Is it any sorrow that you dare not unfold to your loving
These lines Lizzie Heartwell slipped into the leaves of a book that lay upon Leah's desk, while she was absent at a music recitation.
By and by the bell sounded for the half hour's release from study. Then Leah stepped across the room, and gently taking Lizzie by the arm, said, "Come, let's walk."
Lizzie put her arm around her friend, and the two girls walked out into the court-yard, that formed a play-ground for the younger scholars and a pleasant promenade for the older ones, and then turned aside upon the brick walk that connected the kitchen and servants' hall with the main building.
This brick walk, covered overhead by the piazza floor of the second story of the wing of the building, was securely protected in all kinds of weather. As Leah and Lizzie turned upon this promenade, Bertha Levy came skipping up to them with a merry bound, saying:
"Come girls, let's have a game of graces. Helen is willing. Here she is. What do you say?"
"Excuse me this morning, Bertha," Leah replied. "I do not feel well; my head aches, and perhaps I can walk it away!"
"Oh! yes, certainly; but you are as solemn as an owl, of late, Leah; what is the matter with you? Do you contemplate taking the veil? If so, is it the white or the black veil?"
"Our people never take the veil, Bertha. Do you forget?" replied Leah reproachfully.
"Forgive me, dear, I meant no harm. But I am in a hurry. Dame Truxton will have that old bell sounded directly, and my game of graces not even begun. I wish the old thing was still in its native ore, and not always ready to call us into trouble;" and so saying, Bertha skipped away, calling, "Here, Mag Lawton, Mary Pinckney, come and play graces."
For a moment Lizzie and Leah stood watching the group as it formed, and admiring the graceful movements of the hoops as they flew from the fairylike wands of the girls. "That game is well called," said Lizzie, as Leah caught her arm again and said:
"Come, let's walk on." Then, after a pause, she continued, "I found your note, Lizzie, and I am sorry that I have such a telltale face; but I am unhappy, Lizzie; yes, I am miserable, and I cannot conceal it. I would not obtrude my sorrow upon others, but it is my face and not my tongue that betrays me."
"Do not think, Leah, I beg you, that I would seek to pry into the secret of your heart," responded Lizzie; "but I thought if you were in trouble, maybe I might in some way comfort you."
"I thank you, dear, dear Lizzie, for your sympathy"—and a tear fell from the lustrous lashes of the Jewess; "I thank you again and again," she continued, "but nothing you can do can alleviate my sorrow."
"Well, you can trust me for sympathy and love always, whether that will comfort you or not, Leah; be your trouble what it may."
"Mine is no sudden grief, Lizzie; it is a long, sad story, one that I have never felt at liberty to inflict upon any one's hearing, and yet, I have always found you so tender and so true, that when any additional sorrow comes to me my heart strangely turns to you for sympathy. I know not why. Can you tell me?"
"We always turn to those who love us, I think, in hours of darkness."
"Yes, Lizzie, but there is a peculiar yearning, in my heart for you, at times. I imagine it's akin to the feeling I should have for my mother, were she living. With this feeling at my heart, I long to look upon my mother's miniature which I once had, but which is now in my step-mother's possession, and to gaze upon the face that speaks such love to me, though her voice has so long been silent."
Lizzie, touched at Leah's pathetic words, turned and looked at her friend with a tender glance, and said, "Trust me, Leah, for that sympathy which you from some cause need, and unburden your aching heart to me, if you choose."
"But, there! the bell is ringing and we must go," said Leah abruptly. "Let's meet after school in the upper corridor, that overlooks the sea. I have something further to say to you."
"If you wish, dear Leah; and it's but a short two hours till dismission. Let's go."
Cloaked and hooded, the school-girls were all ready for departure after the three long, welcome strokes of the great clock; when Leah said, "It's growing chilly, Lizzie. Wrap your shawl closely around you, for it's cold out on the corridor. Come, let's go out at the rear door before it is locked."
Ascending a spiral staircase, the two girls reached the upper corridor that ran across the south side of the end wing of the building.
"Suppose Madam Truxton should come upon us, Lizzie, what would she think?" said Leah, as the two girls crouched down closer together at the end of the corridor.
"Nothing wrong, I guess, as we have our books; and perhaps we had better look over our French a minute. What do you say?"
"So we had, as it comes first in the morning," and bending their heads together the girls were silent for a time, pretending to study. At length Lizzie closed the book, and Leah began her story. LEAH'S STORY.
"I shudder, Lizzie, when I think of unfolding the sad story of my life to you; and yet, I am impelled to do so by this hunger for sympathy that is so constantly gnawing at my heart. As I have told you before, my heart strangely turns to you in sorrow. In the three years that I have known you, and we have seen each other daily, I have never known you guilty of a single act or word that was unworthy—"
"Do not interrupt me, Lizzie. You must hear my story now, though it shall be briefly told; and I have one request to make, my dear. It is, that you have charity for my faults, and pity for me in my many temptations." She continued:
"As you have known before, my mother died when I was a very little child, scarcely three years old. I remember her but very indistinctly. The woman who is now my father's wife, was his housekeeper in my mother's life-time. She, of course, came from the common walks of life, her father being a very poor butcher. How she ever became my father's wife, I do not know; but my old nurse used to intimate to me that it was by no honorable means. Be that as it may, he married her when I was four years of age; and from that date my miserable story begins. The first incident of my life after this second marriage which I remember most vividly was this. A year after my father's marriage to Rebecca, business of importance called him to England, and a long-cherished desire to see his aged parents took him to Bohemia, where they lived, after the business in Liverpool was transacted. How I fared while he was gone, I dimly remember; but well enough, I suppose, as I was still partially under the care and control of my faithful nurse, a colored woman of kind and tender heart.
"Poor, dear old woman, she is dead long ago!
"This visit of my father to his parents proved to be the last, as they died a year or two afterward. Among my father's relatives in the old country, was a cousin who lived in wealth and luxury somewhere in Saxony. This cousin had been as a brother to him in his young days, and on my father's return from Bohemia, he passed through Saxony and paid this cousin a visit; He still speaks occasionally of that delightful event. I must not forget to tell you that this cousin was a baron—Baron von Rosenberg. He was not born to the title; it was conferred on him for some heroic act, the circumstance of which I do not now remember, during an insurrection.
"At parting with my father at the close of his visit, the Baron made him many costly gifts; among others, one of an elegant pipe of rare and exquisite workmanship. How distinctly I recall it now! It was in the shape of an elk's head, with spreading, delicately wrought antlers. The eyes were formed of some kind of precious stones, and on the face of the elk were the Baron's initials inlaid in gold.
"The stem, I remember well, was of ebony, richly ornamented with gold. I suppose it was a magnificent thing of its kind, and prized beyond measure by my father. He used it only on rare occasions, and for the gratification of our guests. But at length an event occurred that called forth the treasured pipe from its casket, never to be returned. It was on the occasion of the third anniversary of my father's marriage to Rebecca Hartz—an occasion that richly deserved sackcloth and ashes instead of feasting and merriment. But the day was one of grand demonstration, and many guests and friends were in attendance. All the articles of value and luxury belonging to the family were brought into requisition, and among the number, the treasured but ill-fated pipe. The guests ate, drank, and were merry, I suppose, till all were sated, and at a late and lonely hour they left my father's house deserted, with disorder reigning supreme in every apartment.
"'Forget not my elk's head, Rebecca,' was my father's last admonition, as he retired to his bed-chamber, after the revel was over.
"But Rebecca did not heed his command, and being fatigued herself, hurriedly retired, saying, 'I'll wait till morning.'
"Morning came, and unfortunately for me, I was the first to awaken. Hastily dressing, I thought I would explore the scene of the late festivity; and so I descended the stairs and entered the silent, deserted drawing-room. In a few moments, Rebecca herself entered the drawing-room, but partially dressed and wrapped in a crimson shawl. She had come to remove the pipe.
"'Why are you up so early, Leah?' she said confusedly, seeing that I was also in the room. And then, as she passed hurriedly around the table where the pipe lay, the treacherous fringe of her shawl caught in the delicate antlers of the elk's head and dragged it from its place upon the table. It fell to the floor with a crash, and we both looked down in dismay on the wreck at her feet. A footstep sounded in the hall at that moment, and fearing it was my father, Rebecca said boldly, and with gleaming eye:
"'What did you do that for, you wretched child?'
"'Do what?' I whispered, overawed.
"'Deny it, if you dare, and I'll break every bone in your body, you lynx! What will your father say?' she continued. 'Pick up every piece, and go and show it to him. Say you broke it, and ask his forgiveness! Do you hear me?'
"I hesitated and trembled.
"'Dare you disobey me?' she angrily exclaimed, with menacing gesture.
"'I am afraid of my father,' I whispered again, scarcely knowing whether I really did the mischief or not.
"'And well you may be," she continued fearlessly, seeing that she was gaining the mastery over me; 'but the sooner you seek his forgiveness, the sooner you will obtain it. Go at once, I tell you.'
"Oh! pity me, Lizzie! pity me, for from that fatal moment, I have been the slave, the serf, of a stronger will—a will that has withered and crushed out, by slow degrees, the last trace of moral courage that might have beautified and strengthened my character; crushed it out, and left me a cowardly, miserable, helpless girl! But to return.
"Involuntarily I stooped down, and began to pick up the pieces of the fragile horns, and the eyes of the elk's head, that lay scattered around upon the soft carpet, really wondering if, indeed, I did break it.
"'Now you have gathered up the pieces, go at once to your father; and mind you tell him you broke it. Do you hear me?'
"I glided out of the room, away from the presence of the woman who had so cruelly imposed upon my helplessness. Trembling with fear, and a sense of my supposed guilt, I approached my father, who was by this time comfortably seated in the family sitting-room, reading the morning paper.
"I crept to him and held out the fragments.
"'The d—l to pay! Who broke this?' he almost shouted in anger.
"'I did,' I murmured; and the rest of my story unspoken, my father struck me a blow for the first and last time in his life. It sent me reeling against a table; the sharp corner struck my forehead and cut a terrible gash. Here, I will show it to you. It is plainly visible, and always will be."
Leah lifted the glossy dark hair from her smooth pale forehead, and displayed the long, hard scar, that was so carefully concealed by the ebon folds. "I always wear my hair combed to hide it."
"Oh! Leah, Leah," sighed Lizzie, "how dreadful!"
"At sight of the blood that flowed freely from the wound, my father caught me in his arms, and kissing my blood-stained face, exclaimed again and again:
"'Fool, wretch, devil, that I am! Not for all the world would I have shed a drop of this precious blood. I beg your forgiveness, my darling—a thousand times, my child!' My cries, though suppressed, brought my mother to the room. With a well-assumed air of innocence and tenderness, she sought to wipe away the blood from my face, and bind up the gash upon my forehead. I all the while abstractedly wondering if I really did break the pipe; such was my weakness, such the power that was over and around my young life, and is yet, even to this very hour.
"My father gathered up the scattered fragments of the broken treasure and cast them into the fire; and from that day to this, he has never alluded in any manner to that occurrence. Always kind and tender to me, he seems to be ever endeavoring to atone for some wrong, and his long-continued silence assures me how vividly and regretfully he remembers his violence toward me."
"Shocking!" ejaculated Lizzie with emotion.
"Yes, it is shocking, dear Lizzie; for the horrible truth is ever before me, and this hated scar is the seal of the first lie of my tender young life. I never comb my hair away from my face, so morbidly am I impressed with the fear that those who see it will read the cause of its existence. Oh! Lizzie, that falsehood, and that cruel deception imposed upon a helpless child, were terrible indeed, too terrible to be borne.
"But I must proceed. I have dwelt thus minutely upon this first unhappy incident of my childhood, because it is a sort of guide-post to a long and dreary waste of years. It forms the headstone of my departed freedom, for, as I have said, in that evil moment when I yielded to her wicked, imperious will, I lost all moral power, and to this day, am worse than her vassal. Try as I may, I cannot shake off the habit; it has become second nature, and her influence now is so withering that I dare not make resistance; and yet, I despise myself for my weakness. Pity me, Lizzie, do not blame me! There's a moral want about me somewhere, Heaven knows, that no human agency can supply.
"My mother's assumed fondness for me led my father to believe that she loved me truly, and was tender and kind as she should be. He never dreamed of her deception. And to this day, he knows nothing of it, for I have never told him any of my trials and sorrows, since the day he struck me that undeserved blow. I love my father tenderly, and yet I cannot, dare not, unfold to his blinded vision the facts that have so long been concealed from him. No, Lizzie, I would rather suffer on as I must do, than darken his life by such a discovery.
"Thus you see something of how the years passed on. I, a helpless, ill-used orphan, growing older and and stronger day by day, and yet morally weaker and weaker, with no will or power of resistance, till I wonder sometimes that I am not an imbecile indeed.
"I thank the great God for my school-days. They have been days of pleasure and benefit to me. They have taken me from that home where I withered as the dew withers before the glaring sun, and cast me among pleasant friends, who seem to love me, and at least are true and kind. True and kind! Dear Lizzie, you cannot comprehend the significance of that expression. To my starved, wretched heart, these words are the fulness of all speech. I comprehend their meaning, and regard them as I do the burning stars afar, shining dimly upon a darkened world.
"Yes; again I say, I thank the great God for these school-days, that led me to know you, Lizzie—you, to whom my heart has learned to turn as a wounded, helpless bird would turn to its mother's sheltering wing for safety and protection."
Touched by Leah's story, and her protestations of love, Lizzie bowed her head in her hands, and a few tears fell through the slender fingers. Observing these tears, Leah bent forward and kissed them away, saying, "These are the first tears I ever saw fall for me." Then she continued:
"It is not necessary to dwell on the innumerable instances of cruelty and wrong that have marked my life, from the period just mentioned, on to the present. It is enough to say that many events in my home-life have left their searing impress on my heart and brain; and many, I thank God, have faded from my memory. But when I was fifteen, about the time you and I entered this seminary, an event took place, that has deeply wounded my heart, and will leave it sore forever. It was this:
"Very early on the morning of my fifteenth birthday, my father came to my chamber and congratulated me with many kisses, giving me his blessing. Then he said:
"'My daughter, I have here the miniature of your mother, taken before your birth. I had it set in diamonds then, for you, my child, little dreaming she would so soon be taken from us both. I have kept it securely locked away, waiting till you were old enough properly to appreciate its value. Now to-day, on your fifteenth birth-day, I have called forth the treasure, and give it to you forever. Take it; keep it carefully, my child, for the sake of the living as well as the dead.' My father laid the miniature in my hand, and turned away with ill-disguised emotion. Softly, and with trembling hand, I opened the casket that contained the treasure, and for the first time since her death, my eyes rested upon the dimly remembered features of my angel mother.
"O Lizzie Heartwell! At the first glimpse of that sweet, but half-forgotten face, I fell, like a helpless thing that I was, to the floor, prostrate with emotion. How long I remained thus overcome by sorrow and weeping, I know not. I knew nothing till the old familiar voice, harsh, cold, and cruel, fell upon my ear as the door opened.
"'Leah Mordecai, why are you lying there crying like a booby? What's the matter with you?' said my mother.
"Involuntarily I hushed my sobs, dried my tears, and arose to my feet.
"'What have you there, baby?' she continued.
"Without a word I handed her the casket, and as she regarded the sweet, mild face with cruel scorn, she said:
"'What's this you are blubbering over? Didn't you ever see a painted-faced doll before? Who gave you this?'
"'My father,' I replied fearfully; 'and it's the picture of my mother, my own dear mother that's dead.'
"My reply seemed to enrage her, and she said, 'The diamonds are beautiful, but I can't say as much for the face. I suppose you consider that you have no mother now; from all this whimpering. See here, Leah,' she added as a sudden thought seemed to strike her, 'You are too young to keep such a costly gift as this. I'll take it, and keep it myself till you have sense enough to know what diamonds are.'
"'Give it back to me,' I said excitedly, daring to hold out my trembling hand.
"'Indeed I shall not,' she angrily replied, pushing back the importunate hand.
"'Your father is a fool, to have given a child like you such a valuable thing as this. I'll see if he gives my Sarah this many diamonds when she is but a child of fifteen. And now, mind you, Leah Mordecai,' she continued, with a triumphant smile upon her wicked face, 'if you dare tell your father I took this from you, you'll repent it sorely. Mark my warning; say nothing about it unless asked, and then say you gave it to me for safe keeping.' She dropped the casket into her dress pocket, and swept coldly out of the room.
"The door closed behind her, and I was alone in my misery and my wrath. In my bitterness I cursed the woman who thus dared to crush a helpless little worm beneath her wicked foot, and, falling on my face again, I implored the great God to let me die, to take me to that mother whom I so deeply mourned.
"It's growing chilly out here, Lizzie," continued Leah after a pause; "suppose we leave the corridor, and find shelter in the hall of the wing. We can sit in the great window at the end of the hall, overlooking the sea. There we shall be secure from intrusion."
Lizzie bowed assent, and after the two girls were snugly seated in the great window, Leah continued her story:
"She has kept the miniature to this day, and for three long years, no matter how my eyes have longed for a glimpse of that sweet face, I have never dared to ask for it. Many times she has worn it, in great state, in her treacherous bosom, my father always supposing that I loaned it as a special token of affection,—such, at least, was the story she told him, and I have never dared contradict her." As Leah finished this incident, her dark eye seem to kindle with a new light and a quiver ran through her frame. She added, with strange emphasis:
"One thing I would say, Lizzie, before passing from this subject, and mark my words; my spirit is not so broken nor my sense of justice so blunted but that one day I shall have that miniature again. I have sworn it, and as I live, I'll keep my vow. But I must hasten on; it is already growing late. I come now to the last and sorest trouble of my life.
"For many years I have known Mark Abrams, the son of our rabbi. We have been children and friends together, almost from the time my mother died. He was always so gentle and kind to me in his boyhood, that I often wondered what the world would be without Mark Abrams in it. He was always the object of my childish admiration, and, indeed, the only friend I ever had who dared, or cared to show me any kindness. A year ago now; a little more than a year, he whispered to me a tender tale of love, and my poor heart thrilled with ecstasy at his words. Yes, he asked me to become his wife, when my school days should be ended, and I promised him that I would.
"No one knew at that sweet time, of his love for me. I did not dream of it myself, till he told me—surprised me, with the unexpected revelation. I begged that our happiness be kept a secret until my school days were finished. This was my fatal mistake. You know our people have few secret engagements, and if I had only allowed Mark to speak to my father at first, then all would have been well. But the enemy has at last overtaken me, and I fear I am conquered and ruined forever. For some months I have thought that my step-mother suspected my secret, and have imagined that I could detect her intention to break the attachment if she found her suspicion to be correct. Her every action has betrayed this intention. I have at times vaguely hinted my trials and sorrows to Mark, but of the extent of that woman's evil designing, he has had no conception. I was ashamed to acquaint him fully with her true character. Would that I had, dear Lizzie! would that I had, long ago! My fears that Mark was being led into the subtle web of that evil woman's weaving, and would surely be taken from me, were confirmed by his absence from Bertha Levy's tea-party. He promised me to attend, and my step-mother offered some inducement that kept him away. To resist her will, one must have the strength of a Hercules.
"Lizzie! Lizzie! I cannot tell you more; the sequel of my fears is too dreadful to unfold! Even yet, my poor heart struggles to disbelieve it." Leah dropped her head for a moment, while a sigh escaped her tremulous lips, and was silent.
"Go on, dear Leah. Tell me all," said Lizzie.
And Leah continued. "For a long time I have been perplexed to know where my step-mother kept the key to a small cabinet drawer that I believed contained my long-hidden miniature. By diligent search, I found it the day after Bertha's party, and, feeling unusually unhappy, I determined, if possible, to see my mother's face once more. It was Sunday, and that night we were invited to some private theatricals at Mr. Israel Bachman's, whose daughter had just returned from school. You may remember his house on Vine street. I declined to attend. By remaining at home, I thought I could accomplish my purpose of discovering the hidden treasure.
"The cabinet was placed in the large closet attached to the sitting-room. To explore it, I must conceal myself in the closet. After the family departed, leaving me sole occupant of the house, a friend called. When her visit ended, I was interrupted again by the servant, so that it was late before I could begin my secret work. At last all was quiet, and my explorations began. First one key, and then another, was applied to the lock, but without success. I worked away hopefully, knowing the right one would come in turn if I were not interrupted. Drawer after drawer was opened and when the right keys were at last found, not one yielded up the coveted prize. I trembled with fear of disappointment. Only one remained to be opened; what if that were empty, too? Slowly and with trembling hand I applied the key to this last delicate lock. Just then I heard a sound in the hall, and footsteps approaching. What should I do? Without stopping to reflect, I closed the closet-door. As I did so, the sitting-room door was opened, and my step-mother entered, accompanied by Mark Abrams.
"'Be seated,' my mother said blandly; and in my covert I wondered what could be coming. Mark obeyed, and drawing his chair nearer the fire waited till she had laid aside her wrappings and seated herself in front of him. Then she said:
"'It's too bad, Mark, that your love for Leah is so misplaced; but, as I have told you before as mildly as possible, there are reasons why her father would never consent—reasons that are unalterable. Aside from poor Leah's unfortunate deformity, there—'
"'Deformity!' ejaculated Mark, in utter surprise, 'I would like to know how she is deformed? She, the most perfect model that was ever cast in mortal mould.'
"'Still, my friend, I feel that it is but just and proper that I acquaint you with a painful fact; dear Leah is deformed.'
"'And how?' Mark uttered hoarsely.
"'She suffers from a spinal affection, that will in time render her a hideous deformity, and perhaps a helpless, hopeless invalid.'
"'Merciful Heavens!' uttered Mark, with shocked and incredulous expression, as he sat gazing into the fire. At length he said:
"'God knows how sorry I am to hear that, for I love her, love her fondly!'
"Quickly discerning the effect of her story, my step-mother with well-feigned feeling continued:
"'After Leah's school-term is ended, her father contemplates taking her to Europe for medical advice and skill, and in case of improvement, which is scarcely supposable or to be hoped for, he has long ago promised her hand to the son of a wealthy cousin somewhere in that country—Baron von something—I can't remember hard names.'
"At length Mark looked up again and said:
"'Mrs. Mordecai, do not distress me farther. How can I credit your story? How can I believe that Miss Leah is aught but what she seems—the embodiment of health and beauty? Alas! for my broken, vanished hopes! Alas! for my golden dreams of the future!'
"'Oh! don't take things too much to heart, my boy. Leah does not care for you very much anyway. It will be but a small disappointment to her, if indeed she ever thought seriously of marrying you; and I remember to have heard her say that she never intended to marry— conscious of her affliction, I suppose.'
"Mark winced under these words, and replied, 'She need not have deceived me.'
"'Oh! girls will be girls, you know; and after you get over this trouble, if you still like the name, remember, here is Leah's sister Sarah, as fine a girl as you'll find anywhere, if she is my daughter.'
"'I could love her for her sister's sake, if nothing more,' said Mark with feeling; and then he bowed his head upon the marble mantel and looked steadily into the fire without a word.
"'Then if you desire,' continued my step-mother, with a little assumed hesitation, 'after reflection, you may speak to her father on the subject. Sarah will make a fine wife.'
"Think of me, Lizzie! Think of me, in that miniature dungeon, silently listening to the death sentence of my earthly happiness! Think of my weakness, in mutely listening to the lie that was, perhaps, to wreck my whole life! Think of me, and pity me!" Leah brushed away a tear, the first that had fallen from her stony eyes since the beginning of her story; and then she continued:
"If Mark heeded these last words of my step-mother, he gave no evidence of it, for he continued to stare blindly at the glowing grate, apparently oblivious of every surrounding object. At length he aroused, and said:
"'I must be going. Mrs. Mordecai, I bid you good night.'
"'Stay longer, I pray,' rejoined my step-mother; and he replied:
"'Not to-night; it's late now, and I must be alone. Alone!' he reiterated sorrowfully, and then was gone in a moment. All this time, Lizzie, I had stood shivering in my hiding-place, with my trembling hand almost benumbed by the cold granite knob, by which I held the door. I scarcely dared to breathe, for fear my presence would be revealed. The ordeal was terrible, I assure you! I thanked Heaven when I heard the library door open and close again, this time upon the receding figure of my step-mother, for then I was free again free to breathe, and to move, and to sigh, if I chose, without betraying my hiding-place, or the cause of my concealment. I need not, could not if I chose, tell you of my feelings on that occasion. I remember them but dimly, even now. But this much I do remember, and so it shall be. I resolved that Mark Abrams should be free, rather than be undeceived by any word of mine. My pride, the little that is left in my soul, and my resentment, the shadow of it that yet lingers about me, struggled for a time in a fierce contest, and as usual, I yielded up my rights, and succumbed again to a cruel fate. My heart has given up its treasure, and he will never know aught of the bitter sacrifice. I feel that I am ill-fated and despised, Lizzie; and feeling so, I do not desire to overshadow the life of Mark Abrams. I love him too much, too dearly, ever to becloud his future with my miserable life. I would rather live on and suffer in silence, as I have done for years, unloved and unloving to the end."
Here the beautiful girl ceased her story. Both friends for a time were silent. In Lizzie's soft blue eyes the tears glistened, and she looked with surprise into the cold, hard face of Leah, which had lost its gentle expression, and seemed petrified by this recital of her woes. Then she said:
"Would I could help you, Leah, by sharing your sorrow."
"No mortal being can help me, Lizzie. I am ill-starred and ill-fated, I fear."
Filled with sympathy, and with a heavy heart, Lizzie bent her head, and laid it in Leah's lap; and her silent prayer, though unheard by mortal ear, ascended to the throne of the Eternal Father, and was answered in the far-off future.
"It's late, and we must go," said Leah; "already the street lamps are being lighted, and I shall have to render some good excuse for being out so late."
"So we must; it is growing late," Lizzie replied.
"Remember now, I trust you, Lizzie," said Leah.
"Never fear; I shall never betray your confidence."
Then the two girls left the window, walked hastily through the hall and corridor, down the spiral staircase, out into the street, and turned homeward.
THE two friends walked side by side in silence the distance of a square, and then their paths divided.
As Lizzie Heartwell turned the corner that separated her from her companion, she drew her shawl more closely around her benumbed form and quickened the steps that were hurrying her onward to her uncle's home. Her mind was filled with sad and gloomy thoughts—thoughts of the life and character of her beloved friend. The misty twilight seemed deepened by the tears that bedimmed her vision, as she thought again and again of the life blighted by sorrow, and the character warped by treachery and deceit.
"Alas!" thought she, "had the forming hand of love but moulded that young life, how perfect would have been its symmetry! What a fountain of joy might now be welling in that heart's desert waste, where scarcely a rill of affection is flowing."
Filled with these and like thoughts, Lizzie reached the doorway of her uncle's house, and was soon admitted beneath its hospitable roof.
Leah Mordecai, when separated from Lizzie, plodded straight forward toward her father's elegant home. The street lamps shone brightly, but the departing daylight, that was spreading its gloom over the world, was not half so dark and desolate as her poor heart. Yet Leah seldom wept—her tears did not start, like watchful sentinels, at every approach of pain or joy. Only when the shrivelled fountain of her heart was deeply stirred, did this fair creature weep. Calm, placid, and beautiful in the lamp-light, the features of her young face betrayed no emotion, as she passed one and another, on beyond the din of the garrulous multitude.
At last she stood before her father's gate, and rang the bell.
"Is that you, Miss Leah?" said Mingo the porter, as he opened the door of the lodge.
"Yes, Mingo, I am late this evening. Has my father come home?"
"Has just passed in, miss."
"I am thankful for that," she murmured to herself. "Thank you, Mingo," she added aloud, as the faithful attendant closed the door.
Nervous from excitement and emotion, it was late that same night before Lizzie Heartwell could quiet herself to slumber. Leah's melancholy story still haunted her.
At length she slept and dreamed—slept with the tear-stains on her cheeks, and dreamed a strange, incongruous, haunting dream, reverberating with the deadly war of artillery, and flashing with blazing musketry. The sea, too, the quiet harbor, that she always loved to look upon, was agitated and dark with mad, surging waves.
The gray old fort also stood frowning in the distance, with strange dark smoke issuing from behind its worn battlements. And amid this confusion of dreams and distorted phantasms of the brain, ever and anon appeared the sweet, sad face of Leah Mordecai, looking with imploring gaze into the face of her sleeping friend.
But at length this disturbed and mysterious slumber was ended by the morning sun throwing its beams through the window pane and arousing the sleeper to consciousness. Once awakened, Lizzie sprang from her bed, and involuntarily drew aside the snowy curtain that draped the east window. Then she looked toward the blue sea that surrounded the fort, and exclaimed, "How funny! Defiance is standing grim and dark in its sea-girt place as usual, and all is quiet in the harbor. How funny people have such strange dreams. But I fear the vision of that smoking fortress and that angry harbor will not fade soon from my memory; perhaps I have a taint of superstition in my nature. But I must hasten, or I'll be late for the morning worship. I believe I'll tell my uncle of my dream."
THE month sped on. The end of Madam Truxton's year was rapidly advancing. School-friendships that had grown and matured within the seminary walls, now deepened and intensified as the day for final separation approached. All were studying, with a zeal commendable and necessary, too, for the final ordeal through which Madam Truxton's pupils must necessarily pass.
Since that dark, gloomy day when Leah Mordecai acquainted Lizzie Heartwell with some of the facts of her sad life, not a word further had been spoken on the subject. But they had seemed bound to each other by an indissoluble bond of love. No word harsher than a caress, and no look sterner than a smile, had Lizzie ever cast upon Leah; and as the thirsty, withered flowers drink up the dew of heaven, so this girl of misfortune received that tender, unalloyed love.
The inexorable duties of the school were pressing, forbidding long confidential talks and clandestine interviews. Each and all were impressed with the fact that they were approaching an important, and, to some, a dreaded epoch in their lives.
Leah had long since acquainted Lizzie with the consummation of her fears, informing her of the engagement between Mark Abrams and her sister Sarah. With this information—this avowal of her broken heart and hopes—Leah had enshrouded the subject with silence and laid it away, as we lay our treasures in the tomb. Lizzie, always compassionate and discreet, made no mention of it; and so the silence was unbroken as the days passed on.
In the Citadel Square, far above Madam Truxton's seminary, the drilling, drilling, drilling, was daily going on in these sunny days. Drilling, drilling, drilling—for the coming battle of life, or for the crimson strife of war that might desolate a land. Which was it? Only the veiled years could answer this inquiry. Meanwhile, the drilling still went on.
High hopes filled manly bosoms, and ambitious hearts throbbed wildly, as the approaching end of the military year drew nigh.
Emile Le Grande sat dozing in his private chamber late one evening, at the close of a severe day's duty, seated in a capacious arm-chair, with his head dropped upon his breast. The young man was dozing over the journal that he held in his unconscious grasp. Had one stolen beside him and looked down, he might have read the following entries, beginning many months previous to this evening.
"January.—I have seen the fair Leah but three times since Bertha Levy's tea-party, yet I have passed her house daily for that purpose ever since. Zounds! It's an ill fate, I swear! . . .
"February.—How my heart beat to-day, as I was walking arm-in-arm with George Marshall, and we suddenly confronted the beautiful Jewess as she was turning into Prince street.
"'What a magnificent face, Emile! What Hebrew maiden is that bowing to you?'
"'Miss Mordecai,' I proudly replied, 'the Jewish banker's daughter, of whom you have heard me speak before.'
"'Yes, certainly. Well, she is beautiful. You seem a little bewitched, boy,', he said. And I said—nothing.
"March.—I am more and more perplexed. The Jewess is at the bottom of it all. To-day I hinted to Helen something of my fancy for Leah Mordecai. She only laughed. I was irritated by her ridicule, and I told her I intended to marry Leah if I could. Her silly reply was, 'Well, suppose you can't?' School-girls are intolerably silly, at Helen's age! She thinks now of nothing and nobody but Henry Packard, and he's the stupidest cadet in the institute—everybody knows that. I wish I had a sister that could sympathize with me. Wh-e-e-w! I am altogether out of sorts. Maybe I'll be all right to-morrow.
"April.—Prof. Brown said to-day that I was not studying hard enough, and if I did not spur up I should come out shabbily at the end of the term.
"George Marshall, too, good fellow that he is, says I think too much about the girl. Maybe I do; but I should like him to tell me how a fellow is to help it. That Jewess bewilders me! If old Mordecai was not rich, I should love her for her dreamy eyes. I'll swear, ever since she spoke to me so sweetly a week ago, and gave me a clasp of her white, slender hand, I haven't cared whether I was prompt at parade, studies, or anything else—so I could always be prompt at meeting her. She looks doleful sometimes. She cannot be very happy. I wonder what my mother would think if she could read this journal. But, old book, you never tell any tales, do you?
"May.—The days are growing warmer—beautiful days, too. Everything is in bloom, and the old Queen City looks charming. The girls, too, Madam Truxton's and all others, swarm about the town like bees in a rose-garden. I meet them at every turn.
"My uniform is getting rather shabby; the buttons and lace are quite tarnished. I must have a new suit before long.
"I am a lucky fellow of late—have seen Leah M. many times. She came home with Helen twice, and I have walked with her many times. I have told her that I love her, but she does not seem inclined to trust me. Only to-day I sent her a magnolia leaf, upon which was written, 'Je vous aime, ma belle Juive.' Helen said she smiled as she took it and said, 'Thank him, if you please.' That was favorable, I think. Yes I consider myself a lucky fellow.
"June 1.—I am all out of sorts to-night. Things have not gone smoothly at the Citadel to-day. I was again reprimanded by that old bald-headed Brown. He must forget that I am a man, and not a mere boy. I don't care whether 'I pass,' or not, as the boys say.
"'Deficient in mathematics,' the professor said, gravely; and I suppose I am. I never could endure figures, and yet I must make my living by them.
"French I understand pretty well. I depend upon that to help me through.
"George Marshall will do all he can for me, I know; there's no better cadet in the institute; old Brown says that himself. I find that George was right when he told me long ago that I had too many thoughts in my head about the girls. Deuce take the thoughts! but they are there. My very proper and punctilious mother, too, has been scoring me lately. Somehow she found out my fancy. Whew! how she did scold me! Said she would like to know if I had forgotten the blood that flowed in the Le Grande veins! If I were lost to family pride and honor so far as to mingle my blood with that of the old pawnbroker, Mordecai! How she looked! How she stamped the floor with her dainty foot when I hinted at the fact that my maternal grandfather was neither duke nor lord! How she hushed my 'impertinence,' as she styled it, with such invectives as 'fool, idiot, plebeian'! Heigho! But I felt that it was unmanly in me to provoke mother so, and I begged her pardon.
"I did not promise her, though, to leave off loving Leah Mordecai. I did not tell her, either, that I had asked Leah to be my wife one of these days, when school-days were ended.
"June 5.—The closing exercises of the schools have been hurried up this year, as the weather is exceedingly warm, and the Board of Health fear a return of the terrible scourge, yellow fever, that so devastated this fair city five years ago. Next week, Madam Truxton's seminary closes, and that is one week before the institute does. Invitations to Madam's levee are already out. The graduating class of cadets are invited—lucky fellows!
"Helen seems really sad at the prospect of parting with her school-days and her friends. But then she is eighteen, and that's quite old enough for a girl to come out. She says, too, that of all the girls at school, Lizzie Heartwell will be the most regretted when she leaves the Queen City for her home in a distant State. She is quite a pretty girl, but too religious, I should judge, from what Helen says. Her mother is a widow. I guess they are poor.
"Mother is quite reconciled to me again, and spoke playfully to me last night about marrying Miss Belle Upton, who is to visit Helen next week and attend the closing of Madam Truxton's school. Well, 'we shall see what we shall see,' but I hardly think I will. She can hardly eclipse 'Leah Mordecai the beautiful,'—that's the way I write it now."
THE examination-days at Madam Truxton's were over. The long-dreaded reviews had been passed with credit to both pupils and instructors. The certificates of scholarship, and the "rewards of merit," had been given to the fortunate competitors; the long-coveted diplomas awarded to the expectant "finishing class," and that memorable term of school life was closed forever. The hour for the event had come. The grand old drawing-rooms above the assembly hall in the spacious building were filled to repletion—filled with the patrons and select guests that were honored with the fastidious Madam's courtesy. It was an elegant assembly, one characteristic of the Queen City in her days of unostentatious aristocracy, of gentle-bred men and women.
Conspicuous among the famed guests were the three-score cadets, themselves just ready to emerge from college walls and step forth with triumphant tread upon life's broad opening field.
The "finishing class" numbered more than a score of girls—all young, some gifted, many beautiful—whose homes were scattered far and wide through the country; young girls who, for many months, and even years, had lived and studied and loved together, with all the ardor and strength of youth. Now they were to be sundered; sundered with no prospect of future reunion.
All felt this approaching separation with more or less sorrow, according to their varying natures; and some contemplated it with deep regret.
The greetings, congratulations, and presentations were over, and Madam Truxton, in all her stately elegance, had at last relaxed her rigid vigilance, and the "finishing class" were free—free to wander for the first time, and that first the last too, among the spacious halls and corridors of the old school building, as young ladies. Free to receive the smiles and addresses of the long-forbidden cadets without fear of madam's portentous frown.
At length the sound of music rose upon the air. Knotted groups here and there bespoke the preparation for the dance. Sets were forming in drawing-rooms and halls, and impatient feet were moving to the measure of the prelude.
"Miss Heartwell, may I claim your hand for the quadrille?" said George Marshall, bowing before Lizzie at the presentation of Madam Truxton herself.
"I thank you, I never dance, Mr. Marshall."
"Not dance! How's that?"
"Never learned, sir."
"That's stranger still. I supposed all of madam's young ladies danced."
"In general they do," replied Lizzie, "but from peculiar circumstances I am an exception to the general rule. If you desire a partner in the dance, allow ne to present you to my friend, Bertha Levy. She dances like a fay."
"Not just now, thank you, Miss Heartwell; if it is not impertinent, I would like to know why you do not dance."
"Well, it's a simple story, quickly told; and if you will listen a moment I'll inform you, if you desire."
"With pleasure. Go on."
"Melrose, my native home, in the State of —, is a quiet little town, with little social life and less gayety. My mother, too, is a widow, who has lived in great seclusion ever since my father's death, which occurred when I was a little child. I have been her only companion in all these years of bereavement and sorrow, and it has never been her desire that I should indulge in any of the pleasures and gayeties that young people are fond of. From these causes my life has assumed a sombre tone that may seem, and indeed is, unnatural in the young. Yet, as I have known nothing else all my life, it is no trial for me to forego the pleasures that are so alluring to you, perhaps, Mr. Marshall."
George Marshall made no reply, and for a time seemed absorbed in contemplation. He had listened attentively to this simple, half-told history of her life. And as he marked the gentle expression of her spirituelle face, she became in his eyes a model of beauty. The allusion to the death of her father had recalled to his mind the time and manner of his own father's death—a time when the terrible plague of yellow fever had swept over the Queen City with devastating wing. Observing George Marshall's silent, absorbed manner, Lizzie continued:
"You think me very uninteresting, I dare say. Young ladies who do not dance are generally so considered. Allow me to present you to some of my friends who will—"
"I beg pardon, Miss Heartwell, for my inattention. I was thinking of the past—the past recalled by your own story. Excuse my abstraction, I pray."
"But the young ladies?" said Lizzie.
"I do not care to dance now, if you will allow me the pleasure of a promenade," he replied.
"Certainly I will," replied Lizzie with a graceful bend of the shapely head; and clasping with her timid little hand the strong arm of the manly cadet, she passed with him from the lower drawing-room across the hall to the library.
"There's more room in the corridor than here," said Lizzie; "suppose we go there?"
"First let me ask a question, suggested by the musical instrument I see standing in the library. Do you sing? Do you sing with the harp?"
"Will you not sing for me?"
"I will, with pleasure, if you will make room in the library," she replied with unaffected simplicity. The library was occupied by a number of matronly ladies and elderly gentlemen—all of the guests who were not participating in the dance. Lizzie bowed her head slightly, and passed to the harp, now silent in one corner. Without hesitation she seated herself before it, and the slender fingers grasped the strings of the instrument with a masterly touch, running through a soft, sweet prelude of tender chords. Her voice at last trilled forth in the charming strains of the old Scotch ballad, "Down the burn, Davy, love."
Concluding this old favorite air, she sang again, with sweetness, the witching song, "I know a bank whereon the wild thyme blows."
Then rising from the harp, she said, with sweet accent and sweeter smile, "Now that I have bewitched you with my music, Mr. Marshall, I am ready for the promenade on the corridor."
These words so lightly spoken by the girl, were but the utterance of a truth of which she had no suspicion. George Marshall was indeed bewitched, and bowing a silent assent, he offered his arm to the enchantress, and soon Lizzie found herself among the dancers, who were seeking temporary relaxation from the exercise, scattered in groups here, there, and everywhere about the spacious building.
Out into the long balcony, where the silvery moonlight lay softly as dew upon the flowers, George Marshall led the way, with the young girl clinging timidly to the brave strong arm, that for months had known no tenderer touch than the cold, cruel steel of the musket, the constant companion of the cadet in the military course just closing.
They passed in silence through the corridor, and at last stood at the eastern end that overlooked the sea, stretching her arms around the child of her bosom, the devoted Queen City.
George Marshall, always taciturn, was now painfully silent. His brain, always quick and clear to comprehend a problem in Legendre, now seemed beclouded and sluggish. At length, embarrassed by the oppressive silence, Lizzie endeavored to arouse her companion by remarking,
"Are you fond of the sea, Mr. Marshall?"
Still gazing eastward over the deep, he replied abstractedly:
"Do you mean, am I fond of sea-life? If so, I answer most emphatically, No. There's but one life in this world that attracts me"—and here his manner grew constrained as he continued—"but one, and that's the life of a soldier. I love military life and service, and when my course is finished—which time is near at hand—if I am successful, as I hope to be, I shall offer myself to my country, and await impatiently her refusal or acceptance of my humble services. But I beg your pardon, if my enthusiasm has led me away from your inquiry. I only like to look upon the sea; its grandeur in a storm, and the peaceful repose that follows, excite my admiration, but that's all. It's something too treacherous to love."
"You fear the water, then," asked Lizzie smiling.
"Look to-night, if you please," was the answer, "at the soft silver sheen that covers its beautiful blue bosom, and imagine, if you can, such peaceful water engulfing a hapless bark within its silent depths! Oh no; I only admire the sea as a part of God's wonderful creation. But, Miss Heartwell, there's something just visible in the hazy distance that I do love; it's old Defiance. You see the lights of the old fort twinkling far off on the water? They stir within me the martial spirit, and seem to beckon me on to an unknown, but longed-for destiny. It may be fancy, yet there has been a peculiar feeling toward that old fort ever since I first became a cadet at the Citadel. Why do you frown? Do you object to my enthusiasm?"
"By no means," replied Lizzie quickly; "but, strangely as it seems to fascinate you, it has always repelled, and even terrified me. It's the only object of the beautiful harbor that has ever cast a shadow across the loveliness of the sea. I hate it; and I have often wished the sea would draw it silently into its hungry depths, and leave no trace of it behind."
"Your fancy amuses me," he said. "It would never do to obliterate old Defiance, for then the enemy, should they ever come, would find easy access to the Queen City, and ruin and destruction might follow."
"Well, I guess my wishes will be unavailing in the future, as they have been in the past; and as I leave the Queen City to-morrow, old Defiance will fade from my sight though not from my memory, for a long, long time. So for the present I wish it no ill."
"Indeed," replied George Marshall in surprise, "do you leave the Queen City to-morrow—so soon?"
"Yes, I go by steamer—by the Firefly, that leaves to-morrow for the port of —, in my native State, and from there to Melrose, where I live."
"At what hour does the steamer leave?" inquired the young man thoughtfully.
"At six P.M., uncle tells me."
"And you leave so soon—six P.M. to-morrow?" he asked. "Maybe I am selfish in monopolizing you so long, Miss Heartwell. I have two friends you must know before the evening closes—Edwin Calhoun and Emile Le Grande. Have you met them? The dancing has ceased again, and we'll look them up."
"Before we leave this moonlit spot, however, Miss Heartwell, I beg that you make friends with old Defiance, for my sake, and recall that cruel wish concerning him," he said playfully, and with an arch smile.
Lizzie replied, "For your sake, I will, and for yours only;" and throwing a kiss across the silvery sea, she said, "Take that, old fort, as a peace-offering."
The winds sighed and the sea murmured as they turned to rejoin the revellers, and that sportive kiss was borne away on the wandering breeze.
The revelry must end. Madam's love-bound pupils must be separated. The adieus must be spoken, but there must be no tears; that were a weak and indecorous manifestation of feeling, in madam's estimation. Blandly bowing her stately head, and kindly congratulating each upon having "finished," and finished well, madam gracefully waved them out of her presence, into the future, with a gentle motion of her jewelled hand.
"I shall see you to morrow, Lizzie," whispered Leah Mordecai, as she passed from the seminary escorted by Emile Le Grande.
"Certainly, at any hour, and do not disappoint me. Remember it's the last day."
All were gone. The stars twinkled faintly in the sky. Every light in madam's great house was extinguished, and all sound of that evening's revel hushed forever.
THE morning sun threw its ruddy beams, warm almost to tropical heat, through the half-closed casement of Leah Mordecai's apartment, and the intrusive light opened the dark, dreamy eyes to consciousness. The hour was late. Toil-worn and languid from hard study and the relaxing climate, Leah rested in her bed reluctant to arise.
"It's all over now; school-days are ended, and I am acknowledged a young lady, I suppose," thought Leah half-consciously, as she aroused at length from slumber. Then the thought came that it was the last day of Lizzie Heartwell's sojourn in the Queen City; and Leah sprang from her repose with a new and powerful impulse. "I shall spend these last hours with her," she muttered articulately, as she hastily performed the morning's simple toilet. "Yes, I'll tell her my secret, too, though to no living soul have I breathed it yet," she continued audibly, as she adjusted a pin here and there among the dark braids of her hair. At last, smoothing the jetty bands across the fair, oval forehead, she glanced back again to see that the scar—the hated, dreadful scar—was hidden. Then placing a knot of scarlet ribbon amid the delicate lace-work of her snowy morning dress, she languidly descended the stairs and entered the library, where her father sat awaiting her appearance.
Mr. Mordecai was proud of Leah; proud of her attainments at school, gratified with her grade of deportment, and delighted that she had "finished," and with so much credit. As she entered the library, he arose, and clasping her in his arms, imprinted first a good-morning and then a congratulatory kiss upon her face.
"I am proud of my daughter," he said; "proud that no one at Madam Truxton's excelled my own Leah. I am proud of your example to your sisters, and trust they will strive to emulate it."
"Thank you, father. I hope I shall never cause you shame," she replied with tenderness.
During this brief dialogue, the evil-eyed mother had sat an attentive listener, her jealous nature stirred to its depths. Then she said:
"If you are so proud of Leah now, what will you feel when Sarah is through school?"
"Additional happiness, I trust; and following her sister's example, she cannot disappoint papa," said Mr. Mordecai, stroking Sarah upon the head softly, as he arose and led the way to the breakfast table.
The morning repast was finished with more than becoming haste, for Mr. Mordecai had waited to welcome his daughter, and would consequently be late at his bank.
"It's real late," said Leah, as she followed her father from the house. "I hear the Citadel clock striking ten. I must spend the morning with Lizzie." Then donning the light Leghorn hat that gave her a gypsy-like appearance, she started forth toward Rev. Dr. Heartwell's unpretentious house. As she passed block and square that marked the distance, her heart was heavy and her thoughts were sorrowful. She realized that it was perhaps her final leave—taking of her most cherished friend. Her path led past the walls of the dark, gray citadel, and as she cast a glance up toward its turreted heights, and its prison-like windows, she sighed a deep-drawn, heart-felt sigh. And why?
The gentle sea-breeze had arisen, and though it sported with the helpless ribbon upon her bosom, and kissed again and again the crimson cheeks, it could not cool the fires of anxiety and sorrow that burned within her heart. She felt that she was losing much in losing Lizzie Heartwell. And the fear was not an idle one.
Trembling with fatigue and deep-hidden emotion, Leah at length stood at the door of Dr. Heartwell's house, awaiting the answer of the porter.
The door opened. "M-m-miss L-l-lizzie s-s-says c-c-come right u-up stairs, M-m-iss M-m-ordecai," stuttered out the polished black Hannibal who attended the door, known throughout the large circle of Dr. Heartwell's friends and acquaintances as a most accomplished servant and a most miserable stammerer.
"Very well; please show me the way," replied Leah, repressing a smile.
Up two flights of stairs she followed the dark guide, and when they arrived at Lizzie's room, whose door stood ajar, he said, with a flourish of his right hand; "M-m-iss M-m-mordecai, M-m-iss L-l-lizzie."
"Well, Hannibal, why don't you tell me?" said Lizzie playfully; and Hannibal retreated below stairs, grinning and rubbing his head in confusion. The girls were left alone. Lizzie was busy packing trunks and arranging boxes, while every description of feminine paraphernalia was lying about the room in disorder.
"Now let me help you, dear," said Leah, "and then we can have a long talk."
"Thank you, so we will. I'll first tumble these things into that trunk quick as a flash, for Aunt Rose will not come up to inspect them, I guess; and when I get home my mother will give them a good overhauling. I am tired and worn out from hard study and excitement, and my good mother will excuse my disorder, this time. Cram them in. Here goes the shawl, now comes my dress, the muslin I wore last night. Don't let me crush that. I'll fold it carefully, for the sake of the compliment it secured me last night," said Lizzie, smiling as she turned the snowy garment about, folding it for the trunk.
"What was that?" said Leah.
"George Marshall said I looked like a pearl, my dress was so gauzy. How does that sound to-day? It sounded very well last night. I scarcely made him a reply. I don't know how to reply to such speeches, but I thought if I did look like a pearl in my gauzy robes, it was owing to my mother's good taste and skilful fingers, for no professional modiste touched or contrived my dress."
"It's as handsome as any Madame Aufait turns out, I think," said Leah.
"Not as handsome as yours, Leah; but then my mother has to consider the cost in everything, and you do not."
These words of Lizzie's, this kind and loving allusion to her mother's tenderness and never-wearying care, fell upon the heart of Leah as the cold, cruel steel falls upon the unoffending dove. She looked out of the window and brushed a tear from the fringed eyelids, that Lizzie might not see it.
Lizzie continued, "I must take care of this dress, Leah; I don't know when I shall have a new one again. Maybe, dear, the next time you hear from me, I'll be playing school—ma'am, and such robes will not be often brought into use. How would you like to be my pupil, Leah?" she said, with a forced attempt at pleasantry.
Leah looked seriously at her friend a moment, and said, "You haven't any idea of teaching, really, Lizzie?"
"Yes, dear, I may teach. My mother is a widow, you know, and by no means wealthy. I am the oldest child. She has educated me at great sacrifice, with my dear uncle's assistance, and it would be wrong in me not to show my gratitude by at least endeavoring to maintain myself, if nothing more. Oh yes, love, by and by I shall be an angular school—ma'am, unless"—and she laughed a roguish, merry laugh—"unless I get married."
"Dear me! how the wind blows!" said Leah, as the white muslin curtain flapped backward and forward in the playful breeze, ever and anon covering her beautiful head and face.
"Yes, Leah, this same sweet sea-breeze will soon waft me far from you, when to meet again, God only knows. I am about through this packing now, and we must have our talk—our last, long, confidential chat, for many, many days."—"Maybe years," Leah added sorrowfully.
"Here goes old trunk number one. Books, and everything pertaining to school-days, are tucked away in you;" and she turned the key. "This one, number two, I shall not close till Aunt Rose makes a little deposit in it of something for my mother—so she requested me." Then stooping down, Lizzie drew forth from its hiding-place a carefully wrapped little bundle, and handing it to Leah, said:
"Here, dear, is a scarlet silk scarf, fringed with gold, that I desire to give you as a keepsake. It is something I prize, as it was brought from Greece by an uncle of mine, some years ago. Its colors will contrast beautifully with your sweet face; take it."
"Keep it yourself, Lizzie. I need nothing, I care for nothing, for personal adornment. You tell me I am beautiful, but that does not satisfy the heart that has suffered so from cruel wrong-doing. I care only for that of which I receive so little—human sympathy and love. Take it back."
"No; keep it as a memento of my love, if you never care to wear it," said Lizzie.
Leah laid her arms around Lizzie's neck at these words, and bending her head kissed her again and again.
"Now I am done, let's sit here by the window that looks out toward the sea, and have our chat."
"TO-DAY you leave me, Lizzie," Leah began; "leave poor Leah with no one—" then she stopped.
"Why do you hesitate? Is there something that troubles you?" Lizzie asked, observing Leah's hesitation.
"Yes," Leah said faintly, "there is something that troubles me—something that I fear to tell even you, dear Lizzie."
"Can't you trust me?"
"Not that, Lizzie; but I am ashamed to tell you, and afraid too. But," she continued, "you know what I suffered about Mark Abrams, and how his love was taken from me and secured for another. Well"—she hesitated again. "The secret I am about to disclose now, does not concern Mark Abrams, or any other Hebrew under the sun."
"Is it some love-affair with a Gentile?"
"Yes," whispered Leah, "and it greatly perplexes me. It is something that has been forced upon me, and tremblingly I come to you for advice."
"Whom does it concern?"
"One that tells me he loves me, and swears eternal devotion—one whose name I hardly dare to mention."