MRS. MARY J. HOLMES.
"TEMPEST AND SUNSHINE," "ENGLISH ORPHANS," "DARKNESS AND DAYLIGHT," "MARIAN GRAY," "ETHELYN'S MISTAKE," "CAMERON PRIDE," "EDNA BROWNING," "WEST LAWN," "EDITH LYLE," ETC., ETC.
If it be true, as some have said, that a secret is safer in a preface than elsewhere, it would be worse than folly for me to waste the "midnight oil," in the manufacture of an article which no one would read, and which would serve no purpose, save the adding of a page or so to a volume perhaps already too large. But I do not think so. I wot of a few who, with a horror of anything savoring of humbug, wade industriously through a preface, be it never so lengthy, hoping therein to find the moral, without which the story would, of course, be valueless. To such I would say, seek no further, for though I claim for "'Lena Rivers," a moral—yes, half a dozen morals, if you please—I shall not put them in the preface, as I prefer having them sought after, for what I have written I wish to have read.
Reared among the rugged hills of the Bay State, and for a time constantly associated with a class of people known the wide world over as Yankees, it is no more than natural that I should often write of the places and scenes with which I have been the most familiar. In my delineations of New England character I have aimed to copy from memory, and in no one instance, I believe, have I overdrawn the pictures; for among the New England mountains there lives many a "Grandma Nichols," a "Joel Slocum," or a "Nancy Scovandyke," while the wide world holds more than one 'Lena, with her high temper, extreme beauty, and rare combination of those qualities which make the female character so lovely.
Nearly the same remarks will also apply to my portraitures of Kentucky life and character, for it has been my good fortune to spend a year and a half in that state, and in my descriptions of country lanes and country life, I have with a few exceptions copied from what I saw. Mrs. Livingstone and Mrs. Graham are characters found everywhere, while the impulsive John Jr., and the generous-hearted Durward, represent a class of individuals who belong more exclusively to the "sunny south."
I have endeavored to make this book both a good and an interesting one, and if I have failed in my attempt, it is too late to remedy it now; and, such as it is, I give it to the world, trusting that the same favor and forbearance which have been awarded to my other works, will also be extended to this.
M. J. H.
BROCKPORT, N. Y., October, 1856.
For many days the storm continued. Highways were blocked up, while roads less frequented were rendered wholly impassable. The oldest inhabitants of Oakland had "never seen the like before," and they shook their gray heads ominously as over and adown the New England mountains the howling wind swept furiously, now shrieking exultingly as one by one the huge forest trees bent before its power, and again dying away in a low, sad wail, as it shook the casement of some low-roofed cottage, where the blazing fire, "high piled upon the hearth," danced merrily to the sound of the storm-wind, and then, whirling in fantastic circles, disappeared up the broad-mouthed chimney.
For nearly a week there was scarcely a sign of life in the streets of Oakland, but at the end of that time the storm abated, and the December sun, emerging from its dark hiding-place, once more looked smilingly down upon the white, untrodden snow, which covered the earth for miles and miles around. Rapidly the roads were broken; paths were made on the narrow sidewalk, and then the villagers bethought themselves of their mountain neighbors, who might perchance have suffered from the severity of the storm. Far up the mountain side in an old yellow farmhouse, which had withstood the blasts of many a winter, lived Grandfather and Grandmother Nichols, as they were familiarly called, and ere the sun-setting, arrangements were made for paying them a visit.
Oakland was a small rural village, nestled among rocky hills, where the word fashion was seldom heard, and where many of the primitive customs of our forefathers still prevailed. Consequently, neither the buxom maidens, nor the hale old matrons, felt in the least disgraced as they piled promiscuously upon the four-ox sled, which erelong was moving slowly through the mammoth drifts which lay upon the mountain road. As they drew near the farmhouse, they noticed that the blue paper curtains which shaded the windows of Grandma Nichols' "spare room," were rolled up, while the faint glimmer of a tallow candle within, indicated that the room possessed an occupant. Who could it be? Possibly it was John, the proud man, who lived in Kentucky, and who, to please his wealthy bride exchanged the plebeian name of Nichols, for that of Livingstone, which his high-born lady fancied was more aristocratic in its sounding!
"And if it be John," said the passengers of the ox sled, with whom that gentleman was no great favorite, "if it be John, we'll take ourselves home as fast as ever we can."
Satisfied with this resolution, they kept on their way until they reached the wide gateway, where they were met by Mr. Nichols, whose greeting they fancied was less cordial than usual. With a simple "how d'ye do," he led the way into the spacious kitchen, which answered the treble purpose of dining-room, sitting-room, and cook-room. Grandma Nichols, too, appeared somewhat disturbed, but she met her visitors with an air which seemed to say, she was determined to make the best of her trouble, whatever it might be.
The door of the "spare room" was slightly ajar, and while the visitors were disrobing, one young girl, more curious than the rest, peered cautiously in, exclaiming as she did so, "Mother! mother! Helena is in there on the bed, pale as a ghost."
"Yes, Heleny is in there," interrupted Grandma Nichols, who overheard the girl's remark. "She got hum the fust night of the storm, and what's queerer than all, she's been married better than a year."
"Married! Married! Helena married! Who to? Where's her husband?" asked a dozen voices in the same breath.
Grandfather Nichols groaned as if in pain, and his wife, glancing anxiously toward the door of her daughter's room, said in reply to the last question, "That's the worst on't. He was some grand rascal, who lived at the suthard, and come up here to see what he could do. He thought Heleny was handsome, I s'pose, and married her, making her keep it still because his folks in Car'lina wouldn't like it. Of course he got sick of her, and jest afore the baby was born he gin her five hundred dollars and left her."
A murmur of surprise ran round the room, accompanied with a look of incredulity, which Grandma Nichols quickly divined, and while her withered cheek crimsoned at the implied disgrace, she added in an elevated tone of voice, "It's true as the Bible. Old Father Blanchard's son, that used to preach here, married them, and Heleny brought us a letter from him, saying it was true. Here 'tis,—read it yourselves, if you don't b'lieve me;" and she drew from a side drawer a letter, on the back of which, the villagers recognized the well remembered handwriting of their former pastor.
This proof of Helena's innocence was hardly relished by the clever gossips of Oakland, for the young girl, though kind-hearted and gentle, was far too beautiful to be a general favorite. Mothers saw in her a rival for their daughters, while the daughters looked enviously upon her clear white brow, and shining chestnut hair; which fell in wavy curls about her neck and shoulders. Two years before our story opens, she had left her mountain home to try the mysteries of millinery in the city, where a distant relative of her mother was living. Here her uncommon beauty attracted much attention, drawing erelong to her side a wealthy young southerner, who, just freed from the restraints of college life, found it vastly agreeable making love to the fair Helena. Simple-minded, and wholly unused to the ways of the world, she believed each word he said, and when at last he proposed marriage, she not only consented, but also promised to keep it a secret for a time, until he could in a measure reconcile his father, who he feared might disinherit him for wedding a penniless bride.
"Wait, darling, until he knows you," said he, "and then he will gladly welcome you as his daughter."
Accordingly, one dark, wintry night, when neither moon nor stars were visible, Helena stole softly from her quiet room at Mrs. Warren's, and in less than an hour was the lawful bride of Harry Rivers, the wife of the clergyman alone witnessing the ceremony.
"I wish I could take you home at once," said young Rivers, who was less a rascal than a coward; "I wish I could take you home at once, but it cannot be. We must wait awhile."
So Helena went back to Mrs. Warren's, where for a few weeks she stayed, and then saying she was going home, she left and became the mistress of a neat little cottage which stood a mile or two from the city. Here for several months young Rivers devoted himself entirely to her happiness, seeming to forget that there was aught else in the world save his "beautiful 'Lena," as he was wont to call her. But at last there came a change. Harry seemed sad, and absent-minded, though ever kind to Helena, who strove in vain to learn the cause of his uneasiness.
One morning when, later than usual, she awoke, she missed him from her side; and on the table near her lay a letter containing the following:—
"Forgive me, darling, that I leave you so abruptly. Circumstances render it neccessary, but be assured, I shall come back again. In the mean time, you had better return to your parents, where I will seek you. Enclosed are five hundred dollars, enough for your present need. Farewell.
There was one bitter cry of hopeless anguish, and when Helena Rivers again awoke to perfect consciousness, she lay in a darkened room, soft footsteps passed in and out, kind faces, in which were mingled pity and reproach, bent anxiously over her, while at her side lay a little tender thing, her infant daughter, three weeks old. And now there arose within her a strong desire to see once more her childhood's home, to lay her aching head upon her mother's lap, and pour out the tale of grief which was crushing the life from out her young heart.
As soon, therefore, as her health would permit, she started for Oakland, taking the precaution to procure from the clergyman, who had married her, a letter confirming the fact. Wretched and weary she reached her home at the dusk of evening, and with a bitter cry fell fainting in the arms of her mother, who having heard regularly from her, never dreamed that she was elsewhere than in the employ of Mrs. Warren. With streaming eyes and trembling hands the old man and his wife made ready the spare room for the wanderer more than once blessing the fearful storm which for a time, at least, would keep away the prying eyes of those who, they feared, would hardly credit their daughter's story.
And their fears were right, for many of those who visited them on the night of which we have spoken, disbelieved the tale, mentally pronouncing the clergyman's letter a forgery, got up by Helena to deceive her parents. Consequently, of the few who from time to time came to the old farmhouse, nearly all were actuated by motives of curiosity, rather than by feelings of pity for the young girl-mother, who, though feeling their neglect, scarcely heeded it. Strong in the knowledge of her own innocence, she lay day after day, watching and waiting for one who never came. But at last, as days glided into weeks, and weeks into months, hope died away, and turning wearily upon her pillow, she prayed that she might die; and when the days grew bright and gladsome in the warm spring sun, when the snow was melted from off the mountain tops, and the first robin's note was heard by the farmhouse door, Helena laid her baby on her mother's bosom, and without a murmur glided down the dark, broad river, whose deep waters move onward and onward, but never return.
When it was known in Oakland that Helena was dead, there came a reaction, and those who had been loudest in their condemnation, were now the first to hasten forward with offers of kindness and words of sympathy. But neither tears nor regrets could recall to life the fair young girl, who, wondrously beautiful even in death, slept calmly in her narrow coffin, a smile of sadness wreathing her lips, as if her last prayer had been for one who had robbed her thus early of happiness and life. In the bright green valley at the foot of the mountain, they buried her, and the old father, as he saw the damp earth fall upon her grave, asked that he too might die. But his wife, younger by several years, prayed to live—live that she might protect and care for the little orphan, who first by its young mother's tears, and again by the waters of the baptismal fountain, was christened HELENA RIVERS;—the 'Lena of our story.
Ten years of sunlight and shadow have passed away, and the little grave at the foot of the mountain is now grass-grown and sunken. Ten times have the snows of winter fallen upon the hoary head of Grandfather Nichols, bleaching his thin locks to their own whiteness and bending his sturdy frame, until now, the old man lay dying—dying in the same blue-curtained room, where years agone his only daughter was born, and where ten years before she had died. Carefully did Mrs. Nichols nurse him, watching, weeping, and praying that he might live, while little 'Lena gladly shared her grandmother's vigils, hovering ever by the bedside of her grandfather, who seemed more quiet when her soft hand smoothed his tangled hair or wiped the cold moisture from his brow. The villagers, too, remembering their neglect, when once before death had brooded over the mountain farmhouse, now daily came with offers of assistance.
But one thing still was wanting. John, their only remaining child, was absent, and the sick man's heart grew sad and his eyes dim with tears, as day by day went by, and still he did not come. Several times had 'Lena written to her uncle, apprising him of his father's danger, and once only had he answered. It was a brief, formal letter, written, evidently, under some constraint, but it said that he was coming, and with childish joy the old man had placed it beneath his pillow, withdrawing it occasionally for 'Lena to read again, particularly the passage, "Dear father, I am sorry you are sick."
"Heaven bless him! I know he's sorry," Mr. Nichols would say. "He was always a good boy—is a good boy now. Ain't he, Martha?"
And mother-like, Mrs. Nichols would answer, "Yes," forcing back the while the tears which would start when she thought how long the "good boy" had neglected them, eighteen years having elapsed since he had crossed the threshold of his home.
With his hand plighted to one of the village maidens, he had left Oakland to seek his fortune, going first to New York, then to Ohio, and finally wending his way southward, to Kentucky. Here he remained, readily falling into the luxurious habits of those around him, and gradually forgetting the low-roofed farmhouse far away to the northward, where dwelt a gray-haired pair and a beautiful young girl, his parents and his sister. She to whom his vows were plighted was neither graceful nor cultivated, and when, occasionally, her tall, spare figure and uncouth manners arose before him, in contrast with the fair forms around him, he smiled derisively at the thoughts of making her his wife.
About this time there came from New Orleans a wealthy invalid, with his only daughter Matilda. She was a proud haughty girl, whose disposition, naturally unamiable, was rendered still worse by a disappointment from which she was suffering. Accidentally Mr. Richards, her father, made the acquaintance of John Nichols, conceiving for him a violent fancy, and finally securing him as a constant companion. For several weeks John appeared utterly oblivious to the presence of Matilda who, accustomed to adulation, began at last to feel piqued at his neglect, and to strive in many ways to attract his attention.
John, who was ambitious, met her advances more than half way, and finally, encouraged by her father, offered her his heart and hand. Under other circumstances, Matilda would undoubtedly have spurned him with contempt; but having heard that her recreant lover was about taking to himself a bride, she felt a desire, as she expressed it, "to let him know she could marry too." Accordingly, John was accepted, on condition that he changed the name of Nichols, which Miss Richards particularly disliked, to that of Livingstone. This was easily done, and the next letter which went to Oakland carried the news of John's marriage with the proud Matilda.
A few months later and Mr. Richards died, leaving his entire property to his daughter and her husband. John was now richer far than even in his wildest dreams he had ever hoped to be, and yet like many others, he found that riches alone could not insure happiness. And, indeed, to be happy with Matilda Richards, seemed impossible. Proud, avaricious, and overbearing, she continually taunted her husband with his entire dependence upon her, carefully watching him, lest any of her hoarded wealth should find its way to the scanty purse of his parents, of whom she always spoke with contempt.
Never but once had they asked for aid, and that to help them rear the little 'Lena. Influenced by his wife, John replied sneeringly, scouting the idea of Helena's marriage, denouncing her as his sister, and saying of her child, that the poor-house stood ready for such as she! This letter 'Lena had accidentally found among her grandfather's papers, and though its contents gave her no definite impression concerning her mother, it inspired her with a dislike for her uncle, whose coming she greatly dreaded, for it was confidently expected that she, together with her grandmother, would return with him to Kentucky.
"You'll be better off there than here," said her grandfather one day, when speaking of the subject. "Your Uncle John is rich, and you'll grow up a fine lady."
"I don't want to be a lady—I won't be a lady," said 'Lena passionately. "I don't like Uncle John. He called my mother a bad woman and me a little brat! I hate him!" and the beautiful brown eyes glittering with tears flashed forth their anger quite as eloquently as language could express it.
The next moment 'Lena was bending over her grandfather, asking to be forgiven for the hasty words which she knew had caused him pain. "I'll try to like him," said she, as the palsied hand stroked her disordered curls in token of forgiveness, "I'll try to like him," adding mentally, "but I do hope he won't come."
It would seem that 'Lena's wish was to be granted, for weeks glided by and there came no tidings of the absent one. Daily Mr. Nichols grew weaker, and when there was no longer hope of life, his heart yearned more and more to once more behold his son; to hear again, ere he died, the blessed name of father.
"'Lena," said Mrs. Nichols one afternoon when her husband seemed worse, "'Lena, it's time for the stage, and do you run down to the 'turn' and see if your uncle's come; something tells me he'll be here to-night."
'Lena obeyed, and throwing on her faded calico sunbonnet, she was soon at the "turn," a point in the road from which the village hotel was plainly discernible. The stage had just arrived, and 'Lena saw that one of the passengers evidently intended stopping, for he seemed to be giving directions concerning his baggage.
"That's Uncle John, I most know," thought she, and seating herself on a rock beneath some white birches, so common in New England, she awaited his approach. She was right in her conjecture, for the stranger was John Livingstone, returned after many years, but so changed that the jolly landlord, who had known him when a boy, and with whom he had cracked many a joke, now hardly dared to address him, he seemed so cold and haughty.
"I will leave my trunk here for a few days," said John, "and perhaps I shall wish for a room. Got any decent accommodations?"
"Wonder if he don't calculate to sleep to hum," thought the landlord, replying at the same instant, "Yes, sir, tip-top accommodations. Hain't more'n tew beds in any room, and nowadays we allers has a wash-bowl and pitcher; don't go to the sink as we used to when you lived round here."
With a gesture of impatience Mr. Livingstone left the house and started up the mountain road, where 'Lena still kept her watch. Oh, how that walk recalled to him the memories of other days, which came thronging about him as one by one familiar way-marks appeared, reminding him of his childhood, when he roamed over that mountain-side with those who were now scattered far and wide, some on the deep, blue sea, some at the distant west, and others far away across the dark river of death. He had mingled much with the world since last he had traversed that road, and his heart had grown callous and indifferent, but he was not entirely hardened, and when at the "turn" in the road, he came suddenly upon the tall walnut tree, on whose shaggy bark his name was carved, together with that of another—a maiden—he started as if smitten with a heavy blow, and dashing a tear from his eye he exclaimed "Oh that I were a boy again!"
From her seat on the mossy rock 'Lena had been watching him. She was very ardent and impulsive, strong in her likes and dislikes, but quite ready to change the latter if she saw any indications of improvement in the person disliked. For her uncle she had conceived a great aversion, and when she saw him approaching, thrusting aside the thistles and dandelions with his gold-headed cane, she mimicked his motions, wondering "if he didn't feel big because he wore a large gold chain dangling from his jacket pocket."
But when she saw his emotions beneath the walnut tree, her opinion suddenly changed. "A very bad man wouldn't cry," she thought, and springing to his side, she grasped his hand, exclaiming, "I know you are my Uncle John, and I'm real glad you've come. Granny thought you never would, and grandpa asks for you all the time."
Had his buried sister arisen before him, Mr. Livingstone would hardly have been more startled, for in form and feature 'Lena was exactly what her mother had been at her age. The same clear complexion, large brown eyes, and wavy hair; and the tones of her voice, too, how they thrilled the heart of the strong man, making him a boy again, guiding the steps of his baby sister, or bearing her gently in his arms when the path was steep and stony. It was but a moment, however, and then the vision faded. His sister was dead, and the little girl before him was her child—the child of shame he believed, or rather, his wife had said it so often that he began to believe it. Glancing at the old-womanish garb in which Mrs. Nichols always arrayed her, a smile of mingled scorn and pity curled his lips, as he thought of presenting her to his fastidious wife and elegant daughters; then withdrawing the hand which she had taken, he said, "And you are 'Lena—'Lena Nichols they call you, I suppose."
'Lena's old dislike began to return, and placing both hands upon her hips in imitation of her grandmother she replied, "No 'tain't 'Lena Nichols, neither. It's 'Lena Rivers. Granny says so, and the town clark has got it so on his book. How are my cousins? Are they pretty well? And how is Ant?"
Mr. Livingstone winced, at the same time feeling amused at this little specimen of Yankeeism, in which he saw so much of his mother. Poor little 'Lena! how should she know any better, living as she always had with two old people, whose language savored so much of the days before the flood! Some such thought passed through Mr. Livingstone's mind, and very civilly he answered her concerning the health of her cousins and aunt; proceeding next to question her of his father, who, she said, "had never seen a well day since her mother died."
"Is there any one with him except your grandmother?" asked Mr. Livingstone; and Lena replied, "Aunt Nancy Scovandyke has been with us a few days, and is there now."
At the sound of that name John started, coloring so deeply that 'Lena observed it, and asked "if he knew Miss Scovandyke?"
"I used to," said he, while 'Lena continued: "She's a nice woman, and though she ain't any connection, I call her aunt. Granny thinks a sight of her."
Miss Scovandyke was evidently an unpleasant topic for Mr. Livingstone, and changing the subject, he said, "What makes you say Granny, child?"
'Lena blushed painfully. 'Twas the first word she had ever uttered, her grandmother having taught it to her, and encouraged her in its use. Besides that, 'Lena had a great horror of anything which she fancied was at all "stuck up," and thinking an entire change from Granny to Grandmother would be altogether too much, she still persisted in occasionally using her favorite word, in spite of the ridicule it frequently called forth from her school companions. Thinking to herself that it was none of her uncle's business what she called her grandmother, she made no reply, and in a few moments they came in sight of the yellow farmhouse, which looked to Mr. Livingstone just as it did when he left it, eighteen years before. There was the tall poplar, with its green leaves rustling in the breeze, just as they had done years ago, when from a distant hill-top he looked back to catch the last glimpse of his home. The well in the rear was the same—the lilac bushes in front—the tansy patch on the right and the gable-roofed barn on the left; all were there; nothing was changed but himself.
Mechanically he followed 'Lena into the yard, half expecting to see bleaching upon the grass the same web of home-made cloth, which he remembered had lain there when he went away. One thing alone seemed strange. The blue paper curtains were rolled away from the "spare room" windows, which were open as if to admit as much air as possible.
"I shouldn't wonder if grandpa was worse," said 'Lena, hurrying him along and ushering him at once into the sick-room.
At first Mrs. Nichols did not observe him, for she was bending tenderly over the white, wrinkled face, which lay upon the small, scanty pillow. John thought "how small and scanty they were," while he almost shuddered at the sound of his footsteps upon the uncarpeted floor. Everything was dreary and comfortless, and his conscience reproached him that his old father should die so poor, when he counted his money by thousands.
As he passed the window his tall figure obscured the fading daylight, causing his mother to raise her head, and in a moment her long, bony arms were twined around his neck. The cruel letter, his long neglect, were all forgotten in the joy of once more beholding her "darling boy," whose bearded cheek she kissed again and again. John was unused to such demonstrations of affection, except, indeed, from his little golden-haired Anna, who was refined and polished, and all that, which made a vast difference, as he thought. Still, he returned his mother's greeting with a tolerably good grace, managing, however, to tear himself from her as soon as possible.
"How is my father?" he asked; and his mother replied, "He grew worse right away after 'Leny went out, and he seemed so put to't for breath, that Nancy went for the doctor——"
Here a movement from the invalid arrested her attention and going to the bedside she saw that he was awake. Bending over him she whispered softly, "John has come. Would you like to see him?"
Quickly the feeble arms were outstretched, as if to feel what could not be seen, for the old man's eyesight was dim with the shadows of death.
Taking both his father's hands in his, John said, "Here I am, father; can't you see me?"
"No, John, no; I can't see you." And the poor man wept like a little child. Soon growing more calm, he continued: "Your voice is the same that it was years ago, when you lived with us at home. That hasn't changed, though they say your name has. Oh, John, my boy, how could you do so? 'Twas a good name—my name—and you the only one left to bear it. What made you do so, oh John, John?"
Mr. Livingstone did not reply, and after a moment his father again spoke; "John, lay your hand on my forehead. It's cold as ice. I am dying, and your mother will be left alone. We are poor, my son; poorer than you think. The homestead is mortgaged for all it's worth and there are only a few dollars in the purse. Oh, I worked so hard to earn them for her and the girl—Helena's child. Now, John, promise me that when I am gone they shall go with you to your home in the west. Promise, and I shall die happy."
This was a new idea to John, and for a time he hesitated. He glanced at his mother; she was ignorant and peculiar, but she was his mother still. He looked at 'Lena, she was beautiful—he knew that, but she was odd and old-fashioned. He thought of his haughty wife, his headstrong son and his imperious daughter. What would they say if he made that promise, for if he made it he would keep it.
A long time his father awaited his answer, and then he spoke again: "Won't you give your old mother a home?"
The voice was weaker than when it spoke before, and John knew that life was fast ebbing away, for the brow on which his hand was resting was cold and damp with the moisture of death. He could no longer refuse, and the promise was given.
The next morning, the deep-toned bell of Oakland told that another soul was gone, and the villagers as they counted the three score strokes and ten knew that Grandfather Nichols was numbered with the dead.
The funeral was over, and in the quiet valley by the side of his only daughter, Grandfather Nichols was laid to rest. As far as possible his father's business was settled, and then John began to speak of his returning. More than once had he repented of the promise made to his father, and as the time passed on he shrank more and more from introducing his "plebeian" mother to his "lady" wife, who, he knew, was meditating an open rebellion.
Immediately after his father's death he had written to his wife, telling her all, and trying as far as he was able to smooth matters over, so that his mother might at least have a decent reception. In a violent passion, his wife had answered, that "she never would submit to it—never. When I married you," said she, "I didn't suppose I was marrying the 'old woman,' young one, and all; and as for my having them to maintain, I will not, so Mr. John Nichols, you understand it."
When Mrs. Livingstone was particularly angry, she called her husband Mr. John Nichols, and when Mr. John Nichols was particularly angry, he did as he pleased, so in this case he replied that "he should bring home as many 'old women' and 'young ones' as he liked, and she might help herself if she could!"
This state of things was hardly favorable to the future happiness of Grandma Nichols, who, wholly unsuspecting and deeming herself as good as anybody, never dreamed that her presence would be unwelcome to her daughter-in-law, whom she thought to assist in various ways, "taking perhaps the whole heft of the housework upon herself—though," she added, "I mean to begin just as I can hold out. I've hearn of such things as son's wives shirkin' the whole on to their old mothers, and the minit 'Tilda shows any signs of that, I shall back out, I tell you."
John, who overheard this remark, bit his lip with vexation, and then burst into a laugh as he fancied the elegant Mrs. Livingstone's dismay at hearing herself called 'Tilda. Had John chosen, he could have given his mother a few useful hints with regard to her treatment of his wife, but such an idea never entered his brain. He was a man of few words, and generally allowed himself to be controlled by circumstances, thinking that the easiest way of getting through the world. He was very proud, and keenly felt how mortifying it would be to present his mother to his fashionable acquaintances; but that was in the future—many miles away—he wouldn't trouble himself about it now; so he passed his time mostly in rambling through the woods and over the hills, while his mother, good soul, busied herself with the preparations for her journey, inviting each and every one of her neighbors to "be sure and visit her if they ever came that way," and urging some of them to come on purpose and "spend the winter."
Among those who promised compliance with this last request, was Miss Nancy Scovandyke, whom we have once before mentioned, and who, as the reader will have inferred, was the first love of John Livingstone. On the night of his arrival, she had been sent in quest of the physician, and when on her return she learned from 'Lena that he had come, she kept out of sight, thinking she would wait awhile before she met him. "Not that she cared the snap of her finger for him," the said, "only it was natural that she should hate to see him."
But when the time did come, she met it bravely, shaking his hand and speaking to him as if nothing had ever happened, and while he was wondering how he ever could have fancied her, she, too, was mentally styling herself "a fool," for having liked "such a pussy, overgrown thing!" Dearly did Miss Nancy love excitement, and during the days that Mrs. Nichols was packing up, she was busy helping her to stow away the "crockery," which the old lady declared should go, particularly the "blue set, which she'd had ever since the day but one before John was born, and which she intended as a part of 'Leny's settin' out. Then, too, John's wife could use 'em when she had a good deal of company; 'twould save buyin' new, and every little helped!"
"I wonder, now, if 'Tilda takes snuff," said Mrs. Nichols, one day, seating herself upon an empty drygoods box which stood in the middle of the floor, and helping herself to an enormous pinch of her favorite Maccaboy; "I wonder if she takes snuff, 'cause if she does, we shall take a sight of comfort together."
"I don't much b'lieve she does," answered Miss Nancy, whose face was very red with trying to cram a pair of cracked bellows into the already crowded top of John's leathern trunk, "I don't b'lieve she does, for somehow it seems to me she's a mighty nipped-up thing, not an atom like you nor me."
"Like enough," returned Mrs. Nichols, finishing her snuff, and wiping her fingers upon the corner of her checked apron; "but, Nancy, can you tell me how in the world I'm ever going to carry this mop? It's bran new, never been used above a dozen times, and I can't afford to give it away."
At this point, John, who was sitting in the adjoining room, came forward. Hitherto he had not interfered in the least in his mother's arrangements, but had looked silently on while she packed away article after article which she would never need, and which undoubtedly would be consigned to the flames the moment her back was turned. The mop business, however, was too much for him, and before Miss Nancy had time to reply, he said, "For heaven's sake, mother, how many traps do you propose taking, and what do you imagine we can do with a mop? Why, I dare say not one of my servants would know how to use it, and it's a wonder if some of the little chaps didn't take it for a horse before night."
"A nigger ride my mop! my new mop!" exclaimed Mrs. Nichols, rolling up her eyes in astonishment, while Miss Nancy, turning to John, said, "In the name of the people, how do you live without mops? I should s'pose you'd rot alive!"
"I am not much versed in the mysteries of housekeeping," returned John, with a smile; "but it's my impression that what little cleaning our floors get is done with a cloth."
"Wall, if I won't give it up now," said Miss Nancy. "As good an abolutionist as you used to be, make the poor colored folks wash the floor with a rag, on their hands and knees! It can't be that you indulge a hope, if you'll do such things!"
John made Miss Nancy no answer, but turning to his mother, he said, "I'm in earnest, mother, about your carrying so many useless things. We don't want them. Our house is full now, and besides that, Mrs. Livingstone is very particular about the style of her furniture, and I am afraid yours would hardly come up to her ideas of elegance."
"That chist of drawers," said Mrs. Nichols, pointing to an old-fashioned, high-topped bureau, "cost an ocean of money when 'twas new, and if the brasses on it was rubbed up, 'Tilda couldn't tell 'em from gold, unless she's seen more on't than I have, which ain't much likely, bein' I'm double her age."
"The chest does very well for you, I admit," said John; "but we have neither use nor room for it, so if you can't sell it, why, give it away, or burn it, one or the other."
Mrs. Nichols saw he was decided, and forthwith 'Lena was dispatched to Widow Fisher's, to see if she would take it at half price. The widow had no fancy for second-hand articles, consequently Miss Nancy was told "to keep it, and maybe she'd sometime have a chance to send it to Kentucky. It won't come amiss, I know, s'posin' they be well on't. I b'lieve in lookin' out for a rainy day. I can teach 'Tilda economy yet," whispered Mrs. Nichols, glancing toward the room where John sat, whistling, whittling, and pondering in his own mind the best way if reconciling his wife to what could not well be helped.
'Lena, who was naturally quick-sighted, had partially divined the cause of her uncle's moodiness. The more she saw of him the better she liked him, and she began to think that she would willingly try to cure herself of the peculiarities which evidently annoyed him, if he would only notice her a little, which he was not likely to do. He seldom noticed any child, much less little 'Lena, who he fancied was ignorant as well as awkward; but he did not know her.
One day when, as usual, he sat whittling and thinking, 'Lena approached him softly, and laying her hand upon his knee, said rather timidly, "Uncle, I wish you'd tell me something about my cousins."
"What about them," he asked, somewhat gruffly, for it grated upon his feelings to hear his daughters called cousin by her.
"I want to know how they look, and which one I shall like the best," continued 'Lena.
"You'll like Anna the best," said her uncle, and 'Lena asked, "Why! What sort of a girl is she? Does she love to go to school and study?"
"None too well, I reckon," returned her uncle, adding that "there were not many little girls who did."
"Why I do," said 'Lena, and her uncle, stopping for a moment his whittling, replied rather scornfully, "You! I should like to know what you ever studied besides the spelling-book!"
'Lena reddened, for she knew that, whether deservedly or not, she bore the reputation of being an excellent scholar, for one of her age, and now she rather tartly answered, "I study geography, arithmetic, grammar, and——" history, she was going to add, but her uncle stopped her, saying, "That'll do, that'll do. You study all these? Now I don't suppose you know what one of 'em is."
"Yes, I do," said 'Lena, with a good deal of spirit. "Olney's geography is a description of the earth; Colburn's arithmetic is the science of numbers: Smith's grammar teaches us how to speak correctly."
"Why don't you do it then," asked her uncle.
"Do what?" said 'Lena, and her uncle continued, "Why don't you make some use of your boasted knowledge of grammar? Why, my Anna has never seen the inside of a grammar, as I know of, but she don't talk like you do."
"Don't what, sir?" said 'Lena,
"Don't talk like you do," repeated her uncle, while 'Lena's eyes fairly danced with mischief as she asked, "if that were good grammar."
Mr. Livingstone colored, thinking it just possible that he himself might sometimes be guilty of the same things for which he had so harshly chided 'Lena, of whom from this time he began to think more favorably. It could hardly be said that he treated her with any more attention, and still there was a difference which she felt, and which made her very happy.
ON THE ROAD.
At last the packing-up process came to an end, everything too poor to sell, and too good to give away, had found a place—some here, some there, and some in John's trunk, among his ruffled bosoms, collars, dickeys, and so forth. Miss Nancy, who stood by until the last, was made the receiver of sundry cracked teacups, noseless pitchers, and iron spoons, which could not be disposed of elsewhere.
And now every box and trunk was ready. Farmer Truesdale's red wagon stood at the door, waiting to convey them to the depot, and nothing remained for Grandma Nichols, but to bid adieu to the old spot, endeared to her by so many associations. Again and again she went from room to room, weeping always, and lingering longest in the one where her children were born, and where her husband and daughter had died. In the corner stood the old low-post bedstead, the first she had ever owned, and now how vividly she recalled the time long years before, when she, a happy maiden, ordered that bedstead, blushing deeply at the sly allusion which the cabinet maker made to her approaching marriage. He, too, was with her, strong and healthy. Now, he was gone from her side forever. His couch was a narrow coffin, and the old bedstead stood there, naked—empty. Seating herself upon it, the poor old lady rocked to and fro, moaning in her grief, and wishing that she were not going to Kentucky, or that it were possible now to remain at her mountain home. Summoning all her courage, she gave one glance at the familiar objects around her, at the flowers she had planted, and then taking 'Lena's hand, went down to the gate, where her son waited.
He saw she had been weeping, and though he could not appreciate the cause of her tears, in his heart he pitied her, and his voice and manner were unusually kind as he helped her to the best seat in the wagon, and asked if she were comfortable. Then his eye fell upon her dress, and his pity changed to anger as he wondered if she was wholly devoid of taste. At the time of his father's death, he purchased decent mourning for both his mother and 'Lena; but these Mrs. Nichols pronounced "altogether too good for the nasty cars; nobody'd think any better of them for being rigged out in their best meetin' gowns."
So the bombazine was packed away, and in its place she wore a dark blue and white spotted calico, which John could have sworn she had twenty years before, and which was not unlikely, as she never wore out a garment. She was an enemy to long skirts, hence hers came just to her ankles, and as her black stockings had been footed with white, there was visible a dark rim. Altogether she presented a rather grotesque appearance, with her oblong work-bag, in which were her snuff-box, brass spectacles and half a dozen "nutcakes," which would "save John's buying dinner."
Unlike her grandmother's, 'Lena's dress was a great deal too long, and as she never wore pantalets, she had the look of a premature old woman, instead of a child ten summers old, as she was. Still the uncommon beauty of her face, and the natural gracefulness of her form, atoned in a measure for the singularity of her appearance.
In the doorway stood Miss Nancy, and by her side her nephew, Joel Slocum, a freckle-faced boy, who had frequently shown a preference for 'Lena, by going with her for her grandmother's cow, bringing her harvest apples, and letting her ride on his sled oftener than the other girls at school. Strange to say, his affection was not returned, and now, notwithstanding he several times wiped both eyes and nose, on the end of which there was an enormous freck, 'Lena did not relent at all, but with a simple "Good-bye, Jo," she sprang into the wagon, which moved rapidly away.
It was about five miles from the farmhouse to the depot, and when half that distance had been gone over, Mrs. Nichols suddenly seized the reins, ordering the driver to stop, and saying, "she must go straight back, for on the shelf of the north room cupboard she had left a whole paper of tea, which she couldn't afford to lose!"
"Drive on," said Johny rather angrily, at the same time telling his mother that he could buy her a ton of tea if she wanted it.
"But that was already bought, and 'twould have saved so much," said she, softly wiping away a tear, which was occasioned partly by her son's manner, and partly by the great loss she felt she sustained in leaving behind her favorite "old hyson."
This saving was a matter of which Grandma Nichols said so much, that John, who was himself slightly avaricious, began to regret that he ever knew the definition of the word save. Lest our readers get a wrong impression of Mrs. Nichols, we must say that she possessed very many sterling qualities, and her habits of extreme economy resulted more from the manner in which she had been compelled to live, than from natural stinginess. For this John hardly made allowance enough, and his mother's remarks, instead of restraining him, only made him more lavish of his money than he would otherwise have been.
When Mrs. Nichols and 'Lena entered the cars, they of course attracted universal attention, which annoyed John excessively. In Oakland, where his mother was known and appreciated, he could bear it, but among strangers, and with those of his own caste, it was different, so motioning them into the first unoccupied seat, he sauntered on with an air which seemed to say, "they were nothing to him," and finding a vacant seat at the other end of the car, he took possession of it. Scarcely, however, had he entered into conversation with a gentleman near him, when some one grasped his arm, and looking up, he saw his mother, her box in one hand; and an enormous pinch of snuff in the other.
"John," said she, elevating her voice so as to drown the noise of the cars, "I never thought on't till this minit, but I'd just as lief ride in the second-class cars as not, and it only costs half as much!"
Mr. Livingstone colored crimson, and bade her go back, saying that if he paid the fare she needn't feel troubled about the cost. Just as she was turning to leave, the loud ring and whistle, as the train neared a crossing, startled her, and in great alarm she asked if "somethin' hadn't bust!"
John made no answer, but the gentleman near him very politely explained to her the cause of the disturbance, after which, she returned to her seat. When the conductor appeared, he fortunately came in at the door nearest John, who pointed out the two, for whom he had tickets, and then turned again to converse with the gentleman, who, though a stranger, was from Louisville, Kentucky, and whose acquaintance was easily made. The sight of the conductor awoke in Mrs. Nichols's brain a new idea, and after peering out upon the platform, she went rushing up to her son, telling him that: "the trunks, box, feather bed, and all, were every one on 'em left!"
"No, they are not," said John; "I saw them aboard myself."
"Wall, then, they're lost off, for as sure as you're born, there ain't one on 'em in here; and there's as much as twenty weight of new feathers, besides all the crockery! Holler to 'em to stop quick!"
The stranger, pitying Mr. Livingstone's chagrin, kindly explained to her that there was a baggage car on purpose for trunks and the like, and that her feather bed was undoubtedly safe. This quieted her, and mentally styling him "a proper nice man," she again returned to her seat.
"A rare specimen of the raw Yankee," said the stranger to John, never dreaming in what relation she stood to him.
"Yes," answered John, not thinking it at all necessary to make any further explanations.
By this time Mrs. Nichols had attracted the attention of all the passengers, who watched her movements with great interest. Among these was a fine-looking youth, fifteen or sixteen years of age, who sat directly in front of 'Lena. He had a remarkably open, pleasing countenance, while there was that in his eyes which showed him to be a lover of fun. Thinking he had now found it in a rich form, he turned partly round, and would undoubtedly have quizzed Mrs. Nichols unmercifully, had not something in the appearance of 'Lena prevented him. This was also her first ride in the cars, but she possessed a tact of concealing the fact, and if she sometimes felt frightened, she looked in the faces of those around her, gathering from them that there was no danger. She knew that her grandmother was making herself ridiculous, and her eyes filled with tears as she whispered, "Do sit still, granny; everybody is looking at you."
The young lad noticed this, and while it quelled in him the spirit of ridicule, it awoke a strange interest in 'Lena, who he saw was beautiful, spite of her unseemly guise. She was a dear lover of nature, and as the cars sped on through the wild mountain scenery, between Pittsfield and Albany, she stood at the open window, her hands closely locked together, her lips slightly parted, and her eyes wide with wonder at the country through which they were passing. At her grandmother's suggestion she had removed her bonnet, and the brown curls which clustered around her white forehead and neck were moved up and down by the fresh breeze which was blowing. The youth was a passionate admirer of beauty, come in what garb it might, and now as he watched, he felt a strong desire to touch one of the glossy ringlets which floated within his reach. There would be no harm in it, he thought—"she was only a little girl, and he was almost a man—had tried to shave, and was going to enter college in the fall." Still he felt some doubts as to the propriety of the act, and was about making up his mind that he had better not, when the train shot into the "tunnel," and for an instant they were in total darkness. Quick as thought his hand sought the brown curls, but they were gone, and when the cars again emerged into daylight, 'Lena's arms were around her grandmother's neck, trying to hold her down, for the old lady, sure of a smash-up this time, had attempted to rise, screaming loudly for "John!"
The boy laughed aloud—he could not help it; but when 'Lena's eyes turned reprovingly upon him, he felt sorry; and anxious to make amends, addressed himself very politely to Mrs. Nichols, explaining to her that it was a "tunnel" through which they had passed, and assuring her there was no danger whatever. Then turning to 'Lena, he said, "I reckon your grandmother is not much accustomed to traveling."
"No, sir," answered 'Lena, the rich blood dyeing her cheek at being addressed by a stranger.
It was the first time any one had ever said "sir" to the boy, and now feeling quite like patronizing the little girl, he continued: "I believe old people generally are timid when they enter the cars for the first time."
Nothing from 'Lena except a slight straightening up of her body, and a smoothing down of her dress, but the ice was broken, and erelong she and her companion were conversing as familiarly as if they had known each other for years. Still the boy was not inquisitive—he did not ask her name, or where she was going, though he told her that his home was in Louisville, and that at Albany he was to take the boat for New York, where his mother was stopping with some friends. He also told her that the gentleman near the door, with dark eyes and whiskers, was his father.
Glancing toward the person indicated, 'Lena saw that it was the same gentleman who, all the afternoon, had been talking with her uncle. He was noble looking, and she felt glad that he was the father of the boy—he was just such a man, she fancied, as ought to be his father—just such a man as she could wish her father to be—and then 'Lena felt glad that the youth had asked her nothing concerning her parentage, for, though her grandmother had seldom mentioned her father in her presence, there were others ready and willing to inform her that he was a villain, who broke her mother's heart.
When they reached Albany, the boy rose, and offering his hand to 'Lena, said "I suppose I must bid you good-bye, but I'd like right well to go farther with you."
At this moment the stranger gentleman came up, and on seeing how his son was occupied, said smilingly, "So-ho! Durward, you always manage to make some lady acquaintance."
"Yes, father," returned the boy called Durward, "but not always one like this. Isn't she pretty," he added in a whisper.
The stranger's eyes fell upon 'Lena's face, and for a moment, as if by some strange fascination, seemed riveted there; but the crowd pressed him forward, and 'Lena only heard him reply to his son, "Yes, Durward, very pretty; but hurry, or we shall lose the boat."
The next moment they were gone. Leaning from the window, 'Lena tried to catch another glimpse of him, but in vain. He was gone—she would never see him again, she thought; and then she fell into a reverie concerning his home, his mother, his sisters, if he had any, and finally ended by wishing that she were his sister, and the daughter of his father. While she was thus pondering, her grandmother, also, was busy, and when 'Lena looked round for her she was gone. Stepping from the car, 'Lena espied her in the distance, standing by her uncle and anxiously watching for the appearance of her "great trunk, little trunk, band-box, and bag." Each of these articles was forthcoming, and in a few moments they were on the ferry-boat crossing the blue waters of the Hudson, Mrs. Nichols declaring that "if she'd known it wasn't a bridge she was steppin' onto, she'd be bound they wouldn't have got her on in one while."
"Do sit down," said 'Lena; "the other people don't seem to be afraid, and I'm sure we needn't."
This Mrs. Nichols was more willing to do, as directly at her side was another old lady, traveling for the first time, frightened and anxious. To her Mrs. Nichols addressed herself, announcing her firm belief that "she should be blew sky high before she reached Kentucky, where she was going to live with her son John, who she supposed was well off, worth twenty negroes or more; but," she added, lowering her voice, "I don't b'lieve in no such, and I mean he shall set 'em free—poor critters, duddin' from mornin' till night without a cent of pay. He says they call him 'master,' but I'll warrant he'll never catch me a'callin' him so to one on 'em. I promised Nancy Scovandyke that I wouldn't, and I won't!"
Here a little popcorn boy came 'round, which reminded Mrs. Nichols of her money, and that she hadn't once looked after it since she started. Thinking this as favorable a time as she would have, she drew from her capacious pocket an old knit purse, and commenced counting out its contents, piece by piece.
"Beware of pickpockets!" said some one in her ear, and with the exclamation of "Oh the Lord!" the purse disappeared in her pocket, on which she kept her hand until the boat touched the opposite shore. Then in the confusion and excitement it was withdrawn, the purse was forgotten, and when on board the night express for Buffalo it was again looked for, it was gone!
With a wild outcry the horror-stricken matron sprang up, calling for John, who in some alarm came to her side, asking what she wanted.
"I've lost my purse. Somebody's stole it. Lock the door quick, and search every man, woman, and child in the car!"
The conductor, who chanced to be present, now came up, demanding an explanation, and trying to convince Mrs. Nichols how improbable it was that any one present had her money.
"Stop the train then, and let me get off."
"Had you a large amount?" asked the conductor.
"Every cent I had in the world. Ain't you going to let me get off?" was the answer.
The conductor looked inquiringly at John, who shook his head, at the same time whispering to his mother not to feel so badly, as he would give her all the money she wanted. Then placing a ten dollar bill in her hand, he took a seat behind her. We doubt whether this would have quieted the old lady, had not a happy idea that moment entered her mind, causing her to exclaim loudly, "There, now, I've just this minute thought. I hadn't but five dollars in my purse; t'other fifty I sewed up in an old night-gown sleeve, and tucked it away in that satchel up there," pointing to 'Lena's traveling bag, which hung over her head. She would undoubtedly have designated the very corner of said satchel in which her money could be found, had not her son touched her shoulder, bidding her be silent and not tell everybody where her money was, if she didn't want it stolen.
Mrs. Nichols made no reply, but when she thought she was not observed, she arose, and slyly taking down the satchel, placed it under her. Then seating herself upon it, she gave a sigh of relief as she thought, "they'd have to work hard to get it now, without her knowing it!" Dear old soul, when arrived at her journey's end, how much comfort she took in recounting over and over again the incidents of the robbery, wondering if it was, as John said, the very man who had so kindly cautioned her to beware of pickpockets, and who thus ascertained where she kept her purse. Nancy Scovandyke, too, was duly informed of her loss, and charged when she came to Kentucky, "to look out on the ferry-boat for a youngish, good-looking man, with brown frock coat, blue cravat, and mouth full of white teeth."
At Buffalo Mr. Livingstone had hard work to coax his mother on board the steamboat, but he finally succeeded, and as the weather chanced to be fine, she declared that ride on the lake to be the pleasantest part of her journey. At Cleveland they took the cars for Cincinnati, going thence to Lexington by stage. On ordinary occasions Mr. Livingstone would have preferred the river, but knowing that in all probability he should meet with some of his friends upon the boat, he chose the route via Lexington, where he stopped at the Phoenix, as was his usual custom.
After seeing his mother and niece into the public parlor he left them for a time, saying he had some business to transact in the city. Scarcely was he gone when the sound of shuffling footsteps in the hall announced an arrival, and a moment after, a boy, apparently fifteen years of age, appeared in the door. He was richly though carelessly dressed, and notwithstanding the good-humored expression of his rather handsome face, there was in his whole appearance an indescribable something which at once pronounced him to be a "fast" boy. A rowdy hat was set on one side of his head, after the most approved fashion, while in his hand he held a lighted cigar, which he applied to his mouth when he saw the parlor was unoccupied, save by an "old woman" and a "little girl."
Instinctively 'Lena shrank from him, and withdrawing herself as far as possible within the recess of the window, pretended to be busily watching the passers-by. But she did not escape his notice, and after coolly surveying her for a moment, he walked up to her, saying, "How d'ye, polywog? I'll be hanged if I know to what gender you belong—woman or gal—which is it, hey?"
"None of your business," was 'Lena's ready answer.
"Spunky, ain't you," said he, unceremoniously pulling one of the brown curls which Durward had so longed to touch. "Seems to me your hair don't match the rest of you; wonder if 'tisn't somebody else's head set on your shoulders."
"No, it ain't. It's my own head, and you just let it alone," returned 'Lena, growing more and more indignant, and wondering if this were a specimen of Kentucky boys.
"Don't be saucy," continued her tormentor; "I only want to see what sort of stuff you are made of."
"Made of dirt" muttered 'Lena.
"I reckon you are," returned the boy; "but say, where did you come from and who do you live with?"
"I came from Massachusetts, and I live with granny," said 'Lena, thinking that if she answered him civilly, he would perhaps let her alone. But she was mistaken.
Glancing at "granny," he burst into a loud laugh, and then placing his hat a little more on one side, and assuming a nasal twang, he said, "Neow dew tell, if you're from Massachusetts. How dew you dew, little Yankee, and how are all the folks to hum?"
Feeling sure that not only herself but all her relations were included in this insult, 'Lena darted forward hitting him a blow in the face, which he returned by puffing smoke into hers, whereupon she snatched the cigar from his mouth and hurled it into the street, bidding him "touch her again if he dared." All this transpired so rapidly that Mrs. Nichols had hardly time to understand its meaning, but fully comprehending it now, she was about coming to the rescue, when her son reappeared, exclaiming, "John, John Livingstone, Jr., how came you here?"
Had a cannon exploded at the feet of John Jr., as he was called, he could not have been more startled. He was not expecting his father for two or three days, and was making the most of his absence by having what he called a regular "spree." Taking him altogether, he was, without being naturally bad, a spoiled child, whom no one could manage except his father, and as his father seldom tried, he was of course seldom managed. Never yet had he remained at any school more than two quarters, for if he were not sent away, he generally ran away, sure of finding a champion in his mother, who had always petted him, calling him, "Johnny darling," until he one day very coolly informed her that she was "a silly old fool," and that "he'd thank her not to 'Johnny darling' him any longer."
It would be difficult to describe the amazement of John Jr. when 'Lena was presented to him as his cousin, and Mrs. Nichols as his grandmother. Something which sounded very much like an oath escaped his lips, as turning to his father he muttered, "Won't mother go into fits?" Then, as he began to realize the ludicrousness of the whole affair, he exclaimed, "Rich, good, by gracious!" and laughing loudly, he walked away to regale himself with another cigar.
Lena began to tremble for her future happiness, if this boy was to live in the same house with her. She did not know that she had already more than half won his good opinion, for he was far better pleased with her antagonistical demonstrations, than he would have been had she cried or ran from him, as his sister Anna generally did when he teased her. After a few moments here turned to the parlor, and walking up to Mrs. Nichols, commenced talking very sociably with her, calling her "Granny," and winking slyly at 'Lena as he did so. Mr. Livingstone had too much good sense to sit quietly by and hear his mother ridiculed by his son, and in a loud, stern voice he bade the young gentleman "behave himself."
"Law, now," said Mrs. Nichols, "let him talk if he wants to. I like to hear him. He's the only grandson I've got."
This speech had the effect of silencing John Jr. quite as much as his father's command. If he could tease his grandmother by talking to her, he would take delight in doing so, but if she wanted him to talk—that was quite another thing. So moving away from her, he took a seat near 'Lena, telling her her dress was "a heap too short," and occasionally pinching her, just to vary the sport! This last, however, 'Lena returned with so much force that he grew weary of the fun, and informing her that he was going to a circus which was in town that evening, he arose to leave the room.
Mr. Livingstone, who partially overheard what he had said, stopped him and asked "where he was going?"
Feigning a yawn and rubbing his eyes, John Jr. replied that "he was confounded sleepy and was going to bed."
"'Lena, where did he say he was going?" asked her uncle.
'Lena trembled, for John Jr. had clinched his fist, and was shaking it threateningly at her.
"Where did he say he was going?" repeated her uncle.
Poor 'Lena had never told a lie in her life, and now braving her cousin's anger, she said, "To the circus, sir. Oh, I wish you had not asked me."
"You'll get your pay for that," muttered John Jr. sullenly reseating himself by his father, who kept an eye on him until he saw him safely in his room.
Much as John Jr. frightened 'Lena with his threats, in his heart he respected her for telling the truth, and if the next morning on their way home in the stage, in which his father compelled him to take a seat, he frequently found it convenient to step on her feet, it was more from a natural propensity to torment than from any lurking feeling of revenge. 'Lena was nowise backward in returning his cousinly attentions, and so between an interchange of kicks, wry faces, and so forth, they proceeded toward "Maple Grove," a description of which will be given in another chapter.
The residence of Mr. Livingstone, or rather of Mr. Livingstone's wife, was a large, handsome building, such as one often finds in Kentucky, particularly in the country. Like most planters' houses, it stood at some little distance from the street, from which its massive walls, wreathed with evergreen, were just discernible. The carriage road which led to it passed first through a heavy iron gate guarded by huge bronze lions, so natural and life-like, that Mrs. Nichols, when first she saw them, uttered a cry of fear. Next came a beautiful maple grove, followed by a long, green lawn, dotted here and there with forest trees and having on its right a deep running brook, whose waters, farther on at the rear of the garden, were formed into a miniature fish-pond.
The house itself was of brick—two storied, and surrounded on three sides with a double piazza, whose pillars were entwined with climbing roses, honey-suckle, and running vines, so closely interwoven as to give it the appearance of an immense summer-house. In the spacious yard in front, tall shade trees and bright green grass were growing, while in the well-kept garden at the left, bloomed an endless variety of roses and flowering shrubs, which in their season filled the air with perfume, and made the spot brilliant with beauty. Directly through the center of this garden ran the stream of which we have spoken, and as its mossy banks were never disturbed, they presented the appearance of a soft, velvety ridge, where each spring the starry dandelion and the blue-eyed violet grew.
Across the brook two small foot-bridges had been built, both of which were latticed and overgrown by luxuriant grape-vines, whose dark, green foliage was now intermingled with clusters of the rich purple fruit. At the right, and somewhat in the rear of the building, was a group of linden trees, overshadowing the whitewashed houses of the negroes, who, imitating as far as possible the taste of their master, beautified their dwellings with hop-vines, creepers, hollyhocks and the like. Altogether, it was as 'Lena said, "just the kind of place which one reads of in stories," and which is often found at the "sunny south." The interior of the building corresponded with the exterior, for with one exception, the residence of a wealthy Englishman, Mrs. Livingstone prided herself upon having the best furnished house in the county; consequently neither pains nor money had been spared in the selection of the furniture, which was of the most costly kind.
Carrie, the eldest of the daughters, was now about thirteen years of age. Proud, imperious, deceitful, and self-willed, she was hated by the servants, and disliked by her equals. Some thought her pretty. She felt sure of it, and many an hour she spent before the mirror, admiring herself and anticipating the time when she would be a grown-up lady, and as a matter of course, a belle. Her mother unfortunately belonged to that class who seem to think that the chief aim in life is to secure a "brilliant match," and thinking she could not commence too soon, she had early instilled into her favorite daughter's mind the necessity of appearing to the best possible advantage, when in the presence of wealth and distinction, pointing out her own marriage as a proof of the unhappiness resulting from unequal matches. In this way Carrie had early learned that her father owed his present position to her mother's condescension in marrying him—that he was once a poor boy living among the northern hills—that his parents were poor, ignorant and vulgar—and that there was with them a little girl, their daughter's child, who never had a father, and whom she must never on any occasion call her cousin.
All this had likewise been told to Anna, the youngest daughter, who was about 'Lena's age, but upon her it made no impression. If her father was once poor, he was in her opinion none the worse for that—and if he liked his parents, that was a sufficient reason why she should like them too, and if little 'Lena was an orphan, she pitied her, and hoped she might sometime see her and tell her so! Thus Anna reasoned, while her mother, terribly shocked at her low-bred taste, strove to instill into her mind some of her own more aristocratic notions. But all in vain, for Anna was purely democratic, loving everybody and beloved by everybody in return. It is true she had no particular liking for books or study of any kind, but she was gentle and affectionate in her manner, and kindly considerate of other people's feelings. With her father she was a favorite, and to her he always looked for sympathy, which she seldom failed to give—not in words, it is true, but whenever he seemed to be in trouble, she would climb into his lap, wind her arms around his neck, and laying her golden head upon his shoulder, would sit thus until his brow and heart grew lighter as he felt there was yet something in the wide world which loved and cared for him.
For Carrie Mrs. Livingstone had great expectations, but Anna she feared would never make a "brilliant match." For a long time Anna meditated upon this, wondering what a "brilliant match" could mean, and at last she determined to seek an explanation from Captain Atherton, a bachelor and a millionaire, who was in the habit of visiting them, and who always noticed and petted her more than he did Carrie. Accordingly, the next time he came, and they were alone in the parlor, she broached the subject, asking him what it meant.
Laughing loudly, the Captain drew her toward him, saying, "Why, marrying rich, you little novice. For instance, if one of these days you should be my little wife, I dare say your mother would think you had made a brilliant match!" and the well-preserved gentleman of forty glanced complacently at himself in the mirror thinking how probable it was that his youthfulness would be unimpaired for at least ten years to come!
Anna laughed, for to her his words then conveyed no serious meaning, but with more than her usual quickness she replied, that "she would as soon marry her grandfather."
With Mrs. Livingstone the reader is partially acquainted. In her youth she had been pretty, and now at thirty-eight she was not without pretensions to beauty, notwithstanding her sallow complexion and sunken eyes, Her hair, which was very abundant, was bright and glossy, and her mouth, in which the dentist had done his best, would have been handsome, had it not been for a certain draw at the corners, which gave it a scornful and rather disagreeable expression. In her disposition she was overbearing and tyrannical, fond of ruling, and deeming her husband a monster of ingratitude if ever in any way he manifested a spirit of rebellion. Didn't she marry him? and now they were married, didn't her money support him? And wasn't it exceedingly amiable in her always to speak of their children as ours! But as for the rest, 'twas my house, my servants, my carriage, and my horses. All mine—"Mrs. John Livingstone's—Miss Matilda Richards that was!"
Occasionally, however, her husband's spirit was roused, and then, after a series of tears, sick-headaches, and then spasms, "Miss Matilda Richards that Was" was compelled to yield her face for many days wearing the look of a much-injured, heart-broken woman. Still her influence over him was great, else she had never so effectually weakened every tie which bound him to his native home, making him ashamed of his parents and of everything pertaining to them. When her husband first wrote, to her that his father was dead and that he had promised to take charge of his mother and 'Lena, she new into a violent rage, which was increased ten-fold when she received his second letter, wherein he announced his intention of bringing them home in spite of her. Bursting into tears she declared "she'd leave the house before she'd have it filled up with a lot of paupers. Who did John Nichols think he was, and who did he think she was! Besides that, where was he going to put them? for there wasn't a place for them that she knew of!"
"Why, mother," said Anna who was pleased with the prospect of a new grandmother and cousin, "Why, mother, what a story. There's the two big chambers and bedrooms, besides the one next to Carrie's and mine. Oh, do put them in there. It'll be so nice to have grandma and cousin 'Lena so near me."
"Anna Livingstone!" returned the indignant lady, "Never let me hear you say grandma and cousin again."
"But they be grandma and cousin," persisted Anna, while her mother commenced lamenting the circumstance which had made them so, wishing, as she had often done before, that she had never married John Nichols.
"I reckon you are not the only one that wishes so," slyly whispered John Jr., who was a witness to her emotion.
Anna was naturally of an inquiring mind, and her mother's last remark awoke within her a new and strange train of thought, causing her to wonder whose little girl she would have been, her father's or mother's, in case they had each married some one else! As there was no one whose opinion Anna dared to ask, the question is undoubtedly to this day, with her, unsolved.
The next morning when Mrs. Livingstone arose, her anger of the day before was somewhat abated, and knowing from past experience that it was useless to resist her husband when once he was determined, she wisely concluded that as they were now probably on the road, it was best to try to endure, for a time, at least, what could not well be helped. And now arose the perplexing question, "What should she do with them? where should she put them that they would be the most out of the way? for she could never suffer them to be round when she had company." The chamber of which Anna had spoken was out of the question, for it was too nice, and besides that, it was reserved for the children of her New Orleans friends, who nearly every summer came up to visit her.
At the rear of the building was a long, low room, containing a fireplace and two windows, which looked out upon the negro quarters and the hemp fields beyond. This room, which in the summer was used for storing feather-beds, blankets, and so forth, was plastered, but minus either paper or paint. Still it was quite comfortable, "better than they were accustomed to at home," Mrs. Livingstone said, and this she decided to give them. Accordingly the negroes were set at work scrubbing the floor, washing the windows, and scouring the sills, until the room at least possessed the virtue of being clean. A faded carpet, discarded as good for nothing, and over which the rats had long held their nightly revels, was brought to light, shaken, mended, and nailed down—then came a bedstead, which Mrs. Livingstone had designed as a Christmas gift to one of the negroes, but which of course would do well enough for her mother-in-law. Next followed an old wooden rocking-chair, whose ancestry Anna had tried in vain to trace, and which Carrie had often proposed burning. This, with two or three more chairs of a later date, a small wardrobe, and a square table, completed the furniture of the room, if we except the plain muslin curtains which shaded the windows, destitute of blinds. Taking it by itself, the room looked tolerably well, but when compared with the richly furnished apartments around it, it seemed meager and poor indeed; "but if they wanted anything better, they could get it themselves. They were welcome to make any alterations they chose."
This mode of reasoning hardly satisfied Anna, and unknown to her mother she took from her own chamber a handsome hearth-rug, and carrying it to her grandmother's room, laid it before the fireplace. Coming accidentally upon a roll of green paper, she, with the help of Corinda, a black girl, made some shades for the windows, which faced the west, rendering the room intolerably hot during the summer season. Then, at the suggestion of Corinda, she looped back the muslin curtains with some green ribbons, which she had intended using for her "dolly's dress." The bare appearance of the table troubled her, but by rummaging, she brought to light a cast-off spread, which, though soiled and worn, was on one side quite handsome.
"Now, if we only had something for the mantel," said she; "it seems so empty."
Corinda thought a moment, then rolling up the whites of her eyes, replied, "Don't you mind them little pitchers" (meaning vases) "which Master Atherton done gin you? They'd look mighty fine up thar, full of sprigs and posies."
Without hesitating a moment Anna brought the vases, and as she did not know the exact time when her grandmother would arrive, she determined to fill them with fresh flowers every morning.
"There, it looks a heap better, don't it, Carrie?" said she to her sister, who chanced to be passing the door and looked in.
"You must be smart," answered Carrie, "taking so much pains just for them; and as I live, if you haven't got those elegant vases that Captain Atherton gave you for a birthday present! I know mother won't like it. I mean to tell her;" and away she ran with the important news.
"There, I told you so," said she, quickly returning. "She says you carry them straight back and let the room alone."
Anna began to cry, saying "the vases were hers, and she should think she might do what she pleased with them."
"What did you go and blab for, you great for shame, you?" exclaimed John Jr., suddenly appearing in the doorway, at the same time giving Carrie a push, which set her to crying, and brought Mrs. Livingstone to the scene of action,
"Can't my vases stay in here? Nobody'll hurt 'em, and they'll look so pretty," said Anna.
"Can't that hateful John behave, and let me alone?" said Carrie.
"And can't Carrie quit sticking her nose in other folks' business?" chimed in John Jr.
"Oh Lordy, what a fuss," said Corinda, while poor Mrs. Livingstone, half distracted, took refuge under one of her dreadful headaches, and telling her children "to fight their own battles and let her alone," returned to her room.
"A body'd s'pose marster's kin warn't of no kind of count," said Aunt Milly, the head cook, to a group of sables, who, in the kitchen, were discussing the furniture of the "trump'ry room," as they were in the habit of calling the chamber set apart for Mrs. Nichols. "Yes, they would s'pose they warn't of no kind o' count, the way miss goes on, ravin' and tarin' and puttin' 'em off with low-lived truck that we black folks wouldn't begin to tache with the tongs. Massy knows ef my ole mother warn't dead and gone to kingdom come, I should never think o' sarvin' her so, and I don't set myself up to be nothin' but an old nigger, and a black one at that. But Lor' that's the way with more'n half the white folks. They jine the church, and then they think they done got a title deed to one of them houses up in heaven (that nobody ever built) sure enough. Goin' straight thar, as fast as a span of race-horses can carry 'em. Ki! Won't they be disappointed, some on 'em, and Miss Matilda 'long the rest, when she drives up, hosses all a reekin' sweat, and spects to walk straight into the best room, but is told to go to the kitchen and turn hoe-cakes for us niggers, who are eatin' at the fust table, with silver forks and napkins——?"
Here old Milly stopped to breathe, and her daughter Vine, who had listened breathlessly to her mother's description of the "good time coming," asked "when these things come to pass, if Miss Carrie wouldn't have to swing the feathers over the table to keep off the flies, instead of herself?"
"Yes, that she will, child," returned her mother; "Things is all gwine to be changed in the wink of your eye. Miss Anna read that very tex' to me last Sunday and I knew in a minit what it meant. Now thar's Miss Anna, blessed lamb. She's one of 'em that'll wear her white gowns and stay in t'other room, with her face shinin' like an ile lamp!"
While this interesting conversation was going on in the kitchen, John Jr., in the parlor was teasing his mother for money, with which to go up to Lexington the next day. "You may just as well give it to me without any fuss," said he, "for if you don't, I'll get my bills at the Phoenix charged. The old man is good, and they'll trust. But then a feller feels more independent when he can pay down, and treat a friend, if he likes; so hand over four or five Vs."
At first Mrs. Livingstone refused, but her head ached so hard and her "nerves trembled so," that she did not feel equal to the task of contending with John Jr., who was always sure in the end to have his own way. Yielding at last to his importunities, she gave him fifteen dollars, charging him to "keep out of bad company and be a good boy."
"Trust me for that," said he, and pulling the tail of Anna's pet kitten, upsetting Carrie's work-box, poking a black baby's ribs with his walking cane, and knocking down a cob-house, which "Thomas Jefferson" had been all day building, he mounted his favorite "Firelock," and together with a young negro, rode off.
"The Lord send us a little peace now," said Aunt Milly, tossing her squalling baby up in the air, and telling Thomas Jefferson not to cry, "for his young master was done gone off."
"And I hope to goodness he'll stay off a spell," she added, "for thar's ole Sam to pay the whole time he's at home, and if ever thar was a tickled critter in this world it's me, when he clar's out."
"I'm glad, too," said Anna, who had been sent to the kitchen to stop the screaming, "and I wish he'd stay ever so long, for I don't take a bit of comfort when he's at home."
"Great hateful! I wish he didn't live here," said Carrie, gathering up her spools, thimble and scissors, while Mrs. Livingstone, feeling that his absence had taken a load from her shoulders, settled herself upon her silken lounge and tried to sleep.
Amid all this rejoicing at his departure, John Jr. put spurs to the fleet Firelock, who soon carried him to Lexington, where, as we have seen, he came unexpectedly upon his father, who, not daring to trust him on horseback, lest he should play the truant, took him into the stage with himself, leaving Firelock to the care of the negro.
"Oh, mother, get up quick—the stage has driven up at the gate, and I reckon pa has come," said Anna, bursting into the room where her mother, who was suffering from a headache, was still in bed.
Raising herself upon her elbow, and pushing aside the rich, heavy curtains, Mrs. Livingstone looked out upon the mud-bespattered vehicle, from which a leg, encased in a black and white stocking, was just making its egress. "Oh, heavens!" said she, burying her face again in the downy pillows. Woman's curiosity, however, soon prevailed over all other feelings, and again looking out she obtained a full view of her mother-in-law, who, having emerged from the coach, was picking out her boxes, trunks, and so forth. When they were all found, Mr. Livingstone ordered two negroes to carry them to the side piazza, where they were soon mounted by three or four little darkies, Thomas Jefferson among the rest.