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TURNS OF FORTUNE:
BY MRS. S.C. HALL.
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TURNS OF FORTUNE;
AND OTHER TALES.
BY MRS. S.C. HALL.
NEW-YORK. C.S. FRANCIS & CO., 252 BROADWAY.
BOSTON: J.H. FRANCIS, 128 WASHINGTON-STREET.
TURNS OF FORTUNE 9
"ALL IS NOT GOLD THAT GLITTERS" 63
"THERE IS NO HURRY" 143
TURNS OF FORTUNE
"Hush, Sarah!" exclaimed old Jacob Bond, as he sat up in his bed, while the wind clattered and whistled through the shivering window frames. "Hush! Is that Brindle's bark?"
"No, father; it is one of the farm dogs near the village. Lie down, dearest father; it is a cold night, and you are trembling."
"I don't know why I should feel cold, Sarah," he replied, pointing his shadowy fingers towards the grate, where an abundant fire blazed; "I am sure you have put down as much wood as would roast an ox."
"It is so very cold, father."
"Still, we must not be wasteful, Sarah," he answered; "wilful waste makes woful want." Sarah Bond covered the old man carefully over, while he laid himself stiffly down upon his pallet, re-muttering his favourite proverb over and over again.
She then drew the curtains more closely, and seated herself in an old-fashioned chair beside a little table in front of the fire.
The room had been the drawing-room of the old house in which Mr. Bond and his daughter resided, but for the sake of saving both labour and expense, he had had his bed removed into it; and though anything but comfortable, a solitary, impoverished, and yet gorgeous appearance pervaded the whole, such as those who delineate interiors, loving small lights and deep shadows, would covet to convey to their canvass. The bed upon which the old man lay was canopied, and of heavy crimson damask. In the dim light of that spacious room, it looked to the worn-out eyes of Sarah Bond more like a hearse than a bed. Near it was an old spinnet, upon which stood a labelled vial, a tea-cup, and a spoon. When Sarah seated herself at the table, she placed her elbows upon it, and pressed her folded hands across her eyes; no sigh or moan escaped her, but her chest heaved convulsively; and when she removed her hands, she drew a Bible toward her, trimmed the lamp, and began to read.
The voice of an old French clock echoed painfully through the chamber. Sarah longed to stop it, and yet it was a companion in her watchings. Once, a shy, suspicious, bright-eyed mouse rattled among the cinders, and ran into the wainscot, and then came out again, and stared at Sarah Bond, who, accustomed to such visits, did not raise her eyes to inquire into the cause of the rustling which in a few more moments took place upon a tray containing the remnants of some bread and cheese, her frugal supper.
"Sarah," croaked Mr. Bond; "what noise is that?"
"Only the mice, father, as usual; do, father, try to sleep. I watch carefully; there is nothing to fear."
"Ay, ay, men and mice all the same; nothing but waste. When I am gone, Sarah, keep what you will have; it won't be much, Sarah, my poor girl, it won't be much; just enough to need care; but KEEP IT; don't lend it, or give it, or spend it; you are fond of spending, my poor girl; see that huge fire, enough for three nights; early bad habits. When we lived in a small house and were poor, it was then you learned to be extravagant; I had no money then, so did not know its value."
"But we were happier then, father," said Sarah Bond; "we were so cheerful and happy then, and so many poor people blessed my dear mother, and Mary"—
"Hiss—ss," uttered the dying miser; "don't dare mention your sister, who disgraced me by marrying a pauper; a pauper who threatened my life, because I would not give him my money to save him from starving; but he did not get the old father-in-law's gold; no; he starved, and"—
The words thus uttered by her father, who she knew had not many hours to live—uttered, too, with such demoniac bitterness—forced the gentle, patient woman to start from her seal, and pass rapidly across the room to the side of his bed, where she sank upon her knees, and seized his shrunken hands in hers. "Father!" she exclaimed, "I have been your child for forty years, and you have said, that during that period, by no act of my own, have I ever angered you. Is it not so?" The old man withdrew one hand gently, turned himself round, and looked in her face: "Forty years! Is it forty years?" he repeated; "but it must be; the fair brow is wrinkled, and the abundant hair grown thin and gray. You were a pretty baby, Sarah, and a merry child; a cheerful girl, too, until that foolish fancy. Well, dear, I'll say no more about it; good, dutiful girl. You gave it up to please your father full twenty years ago, and when he dies, you shall have all his gold—there's a good father! You must keep it, Sarah, and not give it, nor lend it. I know you won't marry, as he is dead; nor see your sister—mind that; if you see her, or serve her, the bitterest curse that ever rose from a father's grave will compass you in on every side."
"My father!" she said, "oh! in mercy to yourself, revoke these words. She knew nothing of her husband's conduct; he used her even worse than he used you. Oh! for my sake say you will forgive Mary. It is all I ask. Do what you please with your wealth, but forgive my sister."
"You were always a fool, Sarah," he replied faintly and peevishly. "If I could do as I please, I would take my property with me, for you will surely spend it. But there is another condition, another promise you must give me. Now, don't interrupt me again. We will talk of her by-and-bye, perhaps. As long as you live, Sarah, as you value my blessing, you must not part with anything in this room. You will live on in the old house, or perhaps sell it, and have a smaller; yet don't spend money in new furnishing—don't; but never part with anything in this room; never so much as a stick."
This promise was willingly given; for, independently of her love for her father, Sarah Bond had become attached to the inanimate objects which had so long been before her. Again she endeavoured to lead her father away from that avarice which had corrupted his soul, and driven happiness and peace from their dwelling. She urged the duty of forgiveness, and pleaded hard for her sister; but, though the hours wore away, she made no impression upon him. Utterly unmindful of her words, he did not either interrupt her or fall into his former violence. On the contrary, he seemed involved in some intricate calculation—counting on his fingers, or casting up lines of imaginary figures upon the coverlit.
Sarah, heart-broken, and silently weeping, retreated to the table, and again, after turning the fire, betook her to her solace—the precious volume that never fails to afford consolation to the afflicted. She read a few passages, and then, though she looked upon the book, her mind wandered. She recalled the happy days of her childhood, before her father, by the extraordinary and most unexpected bequest of a distant relative, became possessed of property to what extent she could form no idea. She knew that this relative had quarrelled with the heir-at-law, and left all to one he had never seen. This bequest had closed up her father's heart; instead of being a blessing, so perfectly avaricious had he grown, that it was a curse. Previously, he had been an industrious farmer; and though a thrifty one, had evinced none of the bitterness of avarice, none of its hardness or tyranny. He could then sleep at nights, permit his wife and children to share their frugal stores with those who needed, troll "Ere around the huge oak," while his wife accompanied him on the spinnet, and encourage his daughters to wed men in what was their then sphere of life, rather than those who might not consider the gentle blood they inherited, and their superior education, a sufficient set-off to their limited means and humble station. Suddenly, riches poured in upon him: his eldest daughter, true to the faith she plighted, would marry her humble lover, and her father's subsequent harshness to her favourite child broke the mother's heart. Sarah not only had less firmness of character than her sister, but loved her father more devotedly, and gave up the affection of her young heart to please him. His narrow nature could not understand the sacrifice: and when her cheek faded, and her really beautiful face contracted into the painful expression of that pining melancholy which has neither words nor tears—to lull his sympathy, he muttered to himself, "good girl, she shall have all I have."
No human passion grows with so steady, so imperceptible, yet so rampant a growth as avarice. It takes as many shapes as Proteus, and may be called, above all others, the vice of middle life, that soddens into the gangrene of old age; gaining strength by vanquishing all virtues and generous emotions, it is a creeping, sly, keen, persevering, insidious sin, assuming various forms, to cheat even itself; for it shames to name itself unto itself; a cowardly, darkness-loving sin, never daring to look human nature in the face; full of lean excuses for self-imposed starvation, only revelling in the impurity and duskiness of its own shut-up heart. At last the joy-bells ring its knell, while it crawls into eternity like a vile reptile, leaving a slimy track upon the world.
The inmates of the mansion enclosed in its old court-yard had long ceased to attract the observation of their neighbours. Sometimes Sarah called at the butcher's, but she exchanged smiles or greetings with few; and the baker rang the rusty bell twice a-week, which was answered by their only servant. When Mr. Bond first took possession of the manor-house, he hired five domestics, and everybody said they could not do with so few; and there were two men to look after the gardens; but after his daughter's elopement and his wife's death, three were discharged, and he let the lands and gardens; and then another went, and Sarah felt the loneliness so great, that she made the remaining one sleep in her own room. The house had been frequently attacked; once, in a fit of despair, her brother-in-law had forced his way in the night to the old man's side, and but for her prompt interference, murder would have been done. No wonder, then, that her shattered nerves trembled as she watched the shortening candle, and heard the raving of the wind, saw the spectral shadows the broken plumes that ornamented the canopy of the bed cast upon the fantastic walls, felt that his hour was at hand, and feared that "he would die and make no sign;" still, while those waving fantasies passing to and fro through her active but weakened mind, made her tremble in every limb, and ooze at every pore; and though unable to read on steadily, her eyes continued fixed upon the book which her hand grasped, with the same feeling that made those of old cling to the altar of their God for sanctuary. Suddenly her father called—and she started as from a dream—"Sarah!"
She hastened to his side; "Dear father, what do you want?"
"Child, the room is dark; and you had so much light just now. All is dark. Where are you? But it was better, after all, to put out the light; wilful waste makes"—
Before the miser had concluded his proverb, the light of his existence was extinguished for ever!
Several weeks elapsed before Sarah Bond recovered sufficiently from the shock, ay, and genuine grief, occasioned by her father's death, so as to investigate her affairs; the hardness and the tyranny she had borne for so many years had become habitual, and her own will was absolutely paralysed by inaction. Jacob Bond had always treated his daughter as if she were a baby, and it was some time before she could collect herself sufficiently to calculate upon her future plans. She had no friends; and the sister to whom, despite her father's cruel words, her heart clung so fondly, was far from her, she knew not where. The mourning for herself and her servant was ordered from a neighbouring shop, with a carelessness as to expense which made people say that Sarah was of habits different from her father.
The rector and curate of the parish both called, but she shrunk from strangers. The very first act, however, of her liberty, was to take a pew at church, a whole pew, to herself, which she ordered to be curtained all round. Some said this indicated pride, some said ostentation; but it was simply shyness. And soon after she placed in the aisle a white marble tablet, "To the memory of Jacob Bond, who died in the seventy-eighth year of his age, deeply lamented by his sorrowing daughter."
Some ladies connected with a society for clothing the poor, called upon and explained to her their object; she poked five old guineas into the hands of the spokeswoman, but forbade the insertion of her donation in the visitor's book. During the following week she had numerous applications from various charitable bodies, to whom she gave generously, they said, while she reproached herself with narrowness; to all, however, she positively refused to become a yearly subscriber; and when closely urged by the rector to be one of the patrons of his school, she answered, "Sir, my father received his property suddenly, and I may be as suddenly deprived of it. I will give, but I will not promise." Her impulse was to give, her habit to withhold.
She added one more servant to her establishment; and as she did not send out cards returning thanks for the 'inquiries,' which increased daily, Sarah Bond was a very lonely woman; for though some, from curiosity, others from want of occupation, others, again, from the unfortunately universal desire to form acquaintance with the rich, would have been glad, now the solitary old miser was gone, to make fellowship with his gentle-looking and wealthy daughter, yet her reserve and quietness prevented the fulfilment of their wishes. Weeks and months rolled on; the old house had been repaired and beautified. Mr. Cramp, Sarah's law agent and 'man of business,' advised her to let the house, of which she occupied about as much as a wren could fill of the nest of an eagle; and, strangely enough, finding that the house of her childhood was to let, she took it, removing thither all the furniture which her father made her promise never to part with. The ceiling of the best bed-room was obliged to be raised to admit the lofty bed with its plumes, and the spinnet was assigned a very comfortable corner in a parlour, where the faded stately chairs and gorgeous furniture formed a curious contrast to the bright neatly-papered walls and drugget-covered floor; for in all matters connected with her own personal expenses, Sarah Bond was exceedingly frugal.
After her removal, though shy and strange as ever, still she looked kind things to her rich, and did kind things to her poor neighbours, only in a strange, unusual way; and her charity was given by fits mid starts—not continuously. She moved silently about her garden, and evinced much care for her plants and flowers. Closely economical from long habit, rather than inclination, her domestic arrangements were strangely at variance with what could not be called public gifts, because she used every effort in her power to conceal her munificence. She did not, it is true, think and calculate, how the greatest good could be accomplished. She knew but one path to charity, and that was paved with gold. She did not know how to offer sympathy, or to enhance a gift by the manner of giving. Her father had sacrificed everything to multiply and keep his wealth; all earthly happiness had been given up for it; and unsatisfying as it had been to her own heart, it had satisfied his. Inclination prompted to give, habit to withhold; and certainly Sarah Bond felt far more enjoyment in obeying inclination than in following habit; though sometimes what she believed a duty triumphed over inclination.
If Sarah Bond ministered to her sister's necessities, she did so secretly, hardly venturing to confess she did so, but shielding herself from her father's curse, by sending to her sister's child, and not her sister. Receiving few letters, the village postman grumbled far more at having to walk out to Greenfield, than if he was accustomed to do so every day; and one morning in particular; when he was obliged to do so while the rain poured, he exhibited a letter, sealed with a large black seal, to the parish-clerk, saying he wished with all his heart Miss Bond had remained at the old manor-house up street, instead of changing; and where was the good of taking her a mourning letter such a gloomy day? it would be very unkind, and he would keep it "till the rain stopped;" and so he did, until the next morning; then taking back word to the village postmaster that Miss Bond wanted a post-chaise and four horses instantly, which intelligence set not only the inn, but the whole village in commotion. She, who had never wanted a post-chaise before, to want four horses to it now, was really wonderful.
"Which road shall I take, Miss?" inquired the post-boy, turning round in his saddle, and touching his cap.
"On straight," was the answer. Such a thrill of disappointment as ran through the little crowd, who stood at the door to witness her departure. "On straight!" Why, they must wait the post-boy's return before they could possibly know which way she went. Such provoking suspense was enough to drive the entire village demented.
Miss Bond remained away a month, and then returned, bringing with her her niece, a girl of about eight years old—her deceased sister's only child, Mabel Graham.
The following Sunday Sarah Bond went to church, leading her young companion by the hand; both were in deep mourning, and yet the very least observant of the congregation remarked, that they had never seen Miss Bond look so happy as when, coming out after service, and finding that the wind had changed to the north-east, she took off her scarf in the church porch, and put it round the neck of the lovely girl, who strongly remonstrated against the act. It was evident that Mabel had been accustomed to have her own way; for when she found her aunt was resolved her throat should be protected, she turned round, and in a moment tore the silk into halves. "Now, dear aunt, neither of our throats will suffer," she exclaimed; while Sarah Bond did not know whether she ought to combat her wilfulness or applaud the tender care of herself. It was soon talked of throughout the village, how wonderfully Sarah Bond was changed; how cheerful and even gay she had become. Instead of avoiding society, how willingly, yet how awkwardly, she entered into it; how eagerly she sought to learn and to make herself acquainted with every source and system of education. No traveller in the parchy desert ever thirsted more for water than she did for knowledge, and her desire seemed to increase with what it fed upon. The more she had the more she required; and all this was for the sake of imparting all she learned to Mabel. She fancied that teachers might not be kind to this new-found idol; that she could transfer information more gently and continuously; that the relative was the best instructress; in short, the pent-up tenderness of her nature, the restrained torrent of affections that had so long lain dormant, were poured forth upon the little heiress, as she was already called; and captious and determined she was, as ever heiress could be; but withal of so loving a nature, and so guileless a heart, so confiding, so generous, and so playful, and overflowing with mirth and mischief, that it would have been impossible to fancy any living creature who had felt the sunshine of fourteen summers more charming or tormenting.
"I wish, dear aunt," exclaimed Mabel, one morning, as she sat at her embroidery, the sun shining through the open window upon the abundant glories of her hair, while her aunt sat, as she always did, opposite to her, that she might, when she raised her eyes from off the Italian lesson she was conning for her especial edification, have the happiness of seeing her without an effort; "I wish, dear aunt, you would send that old spinnet out of the room; it looks so odd by the side of my beautiful piano."
"My dear Mabel," replied her aunt, "I have put as much new furniture as you wished into this room, but I cannot part with the old"—
"Rubbish!" added Mabel, snapping her worsted with the impatience of the movement.
"It may be rubbish in your eyes, Mabel, but I have told you before that my dear father desired I should never part with the furniture of the room he died in."
Mabel looked the truth—"that she was not more inclined toward the old furniture on that account;" but she did not say so. "Have you got the key of the old spinnet, aunt? I should like to hear its tone."
"I have never found the key, my dear, though I have often looked for it; I suppose my father lost it. I have danced to its music before now to my mother's playing; but I am sure it has not a tone left."
"I wish you would dance now, dear aunt," exclaimed Mabel, jumping up at the idea; "you never told me you could dance; I never, somehow, fancied you could dance, and I have been obliged to practise my quadrilles with two high-backed chairs and my embroidery frame. Do, dear aunt; put by that book, and dance." It would be impossible to fancy a greater contrast than aunt and niece. Sarah Bond's erect and perfectly flat figure was surmounted by a long head and face, round which an abundance of gray hair was folded; for by no other term can I describe its peculiar dress; her cap plain, but white as snow; and a black silk gown, that had seen its best days, was pinned and primmed on, so as to sit as close as possible to a figure which would have been greatly improved by heavy and abundant drapery. Mabel, lithe and restless, buoyant and energetic, unable even to wish for more luxury or more happiness than she possessed, so that her active mind was forced to employ its longings on trifles, as it really had nothing else to desire; her face was round as those faces are which become oval in time; and her bright laughing eyes sparkled like sunbeams at the bare notion of making "aunt Sarah" take either the place of a high-backed chair, or the embroidery frame in a quadrille. "Do dance," she repeated.
"My dear child, I know as little of your quadrilles as you do of my country dances and reels. No, Mabel; I can neither open the spinnet nor dance quadrilles; so you have been twice refused this morning; a novelty, is it not, my dearest Mabel?"
"But why do you not break open the spinnet? Do break it open, aunt; I want to see the inside of it so much."
"No, Mabel; the lock is a peculiar one, and could not be broken without defacing the marquetre on the cover, which I should not like to do. My poor mother was so proud of that cover, and used to dust and polish it with her own hands."
"What! herself?" exclaimed the pretty Mabel; "why did not her servants do it?"
"Because, my dear, she had but one."
"But one! I remember when my poor mamma had none," sighed Mabel, "and we were so miserable."
"But not from lack of attendants, I think," answered Sarah Bond. "If they are comforts, they are careful ones, and sadly wasteful. We were never so happy as we were then. Your mother and I used to set the milk, and mind the poultry, and make the butter, and cultivate the flower-garden, and help to do the house work; and then in the evening we would run in the meadows, come home laden with wild flowers, and tired as we were by alternate work and play, my dear mother would play on that old instrument, and my poor father sing, and we sisters wound up the evening by a merry dance, your mother and myself trying hard which could keep up the dance longest."
Mabel resumed her embroidery without once speaking. Sarah Bond laid down the book she had been reading, and moved restlessly about; her manner, when either thoughtful or excited, prevented her features from being disturbed; so her feelings were soothed by wandering from place to place, or table to table; but after a considerable pause, she said—"I wish you were a little older, Mabel; I wish you to be older, that I might convince you, dear, that it is in vain to expect happiness from the possession of wealth, unless we circulate it, share it with others, and yet do so prudently and watchingly. Yet, my poor dear father would be very angry if he heard me say that, Mabel."
"Yes, I know," interrupted the thoughtless girl, "for he was a miser."
"Hush, Mabel!" exclaimed her aunt; "how can you say anything so harsh of him from whom we inherit all we have. He was careful, peculiar, very peculiar; but he saved all for me; and may God judge mercifully between him and me if I cannot in all things do as he would have had me," and then she paused, as if reasoning and arguing with herself; apologising for the human throes in her own bosom that led her to act so frequently in direct opposition to her father's desires; so that to those who could not understand her motives and feelings, she appeared every day more inconsistent. "It is difficult to judge of motives in any case. I am sure, if he had only gone abroad into the world, and seen distress as I have seen it, he could not have shut his heart against his fellow-creatures: but his feelings were hardened against some, whom he considered types of all, and he shut himself up; and seeing no misery, at last believed, as many do, whom the world never dreams of calling as you called him, Mabel—seeing no misery, believed that it only existed in the popular whine. I am sure, if he had seen, he would have relieved it. I always think that when I am giving; it is a great blessing to be able to give; and I would give more, were I not fearful that it might injure you."
"Injure me, dear aunt, how?"
"Why, Mabel, my heart is greatly fixed upon seeing you a rich heiress, and, in time, suitably established."
"You have just been saying how much happier you were when you were all poor together, and yet you want to make me rich."
"People may be very happy in poverty before they have known riches; but having once been rich, it would, I think, be absurd to suppose we could ever be happy again in poverty."
"I saw," replied the girl, "two children pass the gate this morning while I was gathering flowers—bunches of the simple white jessamine you love so much, dear aunt—and they asked so hard for bread, that I sent them a shilling."
"Too much," interrupted Sarah Bond, habitually rather than from feeling; "too much, dear Mabel, to give to common beggars."
"There were two, you know, and they looked wan and hungry. About three hours after, I was cantering my pony down Swanbrook Lane—the grass there is so soft and green, that you cannot hear his feet, while I can hear every grasshopper that chirps—suddenly, I heard a child's voice singing a tune full of mirth, and I went softly, softly on; and there, under a tree, sat one of my morning acquaintances, making believe to sing through a stick, while the other danced with bare feet, and her very rags fluttered in time to the tune. They looked pale and hungry, though a thick crust of bread upon the grass proved that they were not the latter; but I never saw more joy in well-fed, well-clothed children, for they paused and laughed, and then began again. Poverty was no pain to them, at all events."
"My dear," said Sarah Bond, "you forget the crust of bread was their riches, for it was a superfluity."
"And is it not very shocking that in England a crust of bread should be a superfluity," inquired Mabel.
"Very, dear; but a shilling was a great deal to give at the gate," observed her aunt, adding, after a pause, "and yet it shows how little will make the poor happy. I am sure, if my father had looked abroad, instead of staying at home to watch his—his—money, he would have thought it right to share what he had. It is an unnatural thing to shut one's self up from the duties of life; one gets no interest for any other outlay to do the heart service; but though those poor children danced their rags in the sunshine, and felt not the stones they danced on, yet my dear Mabel could not dance with poverty as her companion—my blessed, blessed child!"
"I'd rather dance a jig with mirth than a minuet with melancholy," laughed the girl; "and yet it would take a great deal to make me miserable if I were with you, and you loved me, my dear aunt. Still, I own I like to be rich, so as to have everything I want, and give everybody what they want; and, aunt Sarah, you know very well I cannot finish this rose without the pale floss silk, and my maid forgot both that and to order the seed pearl."
Mabel's complaint was interrupted by the entrance of the servant, who told Miss Bond that Mr. Cramp, her attorney, wished to see her.
"Show him in," said Miss Bond.
"He wishes to see you alone, ma'am."
"His wife is going to die, and he will want you to marry him!" exclaimed Mabel, heedless of the servant's presence. "Do, dear aunt, and let me be bride's-maid."
Sarah Bond changed colour; and then, while stooping to kiss her wayward niece, she called her "a foolish child."
Mr. Cramp, whom we introduced at the conclusion of the last chapter, as Miss Bond's man of business, was a plain little man, skilled in the turnings and windings of the law, beside which he could not be said to know distinctly any other code of morals.
On this particular morning, after a few common-place observations, Mr. Cramp made a somewhat strange inquiry. "Had Miss Bond heard that Mr. Alfred Bond had come over to England?" No; she had not heard it. It was, Mr. Cramp insinuated (for he never said anything directly)—it was rather an awkward circumstance Mr. Alfred Bond's coming to England. He thought—he believed—he hoped it would make no difference to Miss Bond.
Miss Bond opened her wide eyes still more widely. She knew that Mr. Alfred Bond was the heir-at-law to the property bequeathed her father; but what of that? he had never, that she heard of, dreamed of disputing the will; and she had never felt one pang of insecurity as to the possessions which had of late grown so deeply into her heart. At this unexpected intimation she felt the blood rush through her veins in a wild untameable manner. In all her trials—and they had been many—in all her illnesses—not a few—she had never fainted, never fallen into that symptom of weak-mindedness, a fit of hysterics; but now she sat without power of speech, looking at Mr. Cramp's round face.
"My dear Miss Bond, you are not ill, I hope?" exclaimed Mr. Cramp. "I pray you to bear up; what has been said is doubtless wrong—must be wrong; a threat of the opposite party—an undefined threat, which we must prepare ourselves to meet in a lawyer-like way. Hope for the best, and prepare"—
"For what, sir?" inquired Miss Bond, gaspingly.
"For any—anything—that is my plan. Unfortunately, the only way to deal with the world, so as to meet it on equal terms, is to think every man a rogue. It is a deeply painful view to take of human nature, and it agonizes me to do so. Let me, however, entreat you to bear up"—
"Against what, sir?" said Sarah Bond abruptly, and almost fiercely, for now Mr. Cramp's face was reduced to its original size, and she had collected her ideas. "There are few things I could not bear up against, but I must know what I have to sustain."
"Your father's will, my dear lady, is safe; the document, leaving everything to you, that is safe, and all other documents are safe enough except Cornelius Bond Hobart's will—a will bequeathing the property to your uncle. Where is that will to be found? for if Alfred Bond proceeds, the veritable document must be produced."
"Why, so it can be, I suppose," said Sarah Bond, relapsing in some degree into agitation; "it was produced when my father inherited the property, as you know."
"I beg your pardon, Miss Bond," he answered; "certainly not as I know, for I had not the honour of being your father's legal adviser at that time. It was my master and subsequent partner. I had not the privilege of your father's confidence until after my colleague's death."
"No one," said Miss Bond, "ever had my father's confidence, properly so called; he was very close in all money transactions. The will, however, must be, I think, in Doctors' Commons! Go there immediately, Mr. Cramp; and—stay—I will go with you; there it is, and there are the names of the witnesses."
"My dear lady!" expostulated the attorney, in the softest tones of his soft voice, "I have been there already. I wished to spare a lady of your sensibility as much pain as possible; and so I went there myself, with Mr. Alfred Bond's man of business, whom I happened to know; and I was grieved—cut up, I may say, to the very heart's core, to hear what he said; and he examined the document very closely too—very closely; and, I assure you, spoke in the handsomest, I may say, the very handsomest manner of you, of your character, and usefulness, and generosity, and Christian qualities; he did indeed; but we have all our duties to perform in this world; paramount things are duties, Miss Bond, and his is a very painful one."
"What need of all these words to state a simple matter. Have you seen the will?" said Sarah Bond.
"Well, and what more is there to see, unless Mr. Alfred Bond denies his relative's power to make a will?"
"Which, I believe he does not do. He says he never made a will; that is all."
"But there is the will," maintained Sarah Bond.
"I am very sorry to wound you; but cannot you understand?"
"Speak plainly if you can, sir," said Sarah Bond sternly; "speak plainly if you can; I listen."
"He maintains, on the part of his client, that the will is a forgery."
"He maintains a falsehood, then," exclaimed Miss Bond, with a firm determination and dignity of manner that astonished Mr. Cramp. "If the will be forged, who is the forger? Certainly not my father; for he inherited the property from his elder brother, who died insane. The will is in his favour, and not in my father's. Besides, neither of them held any correspondence with the testator for twenty years; he died abroad, and the will was sent to England after his death. Would any one there do a gratuitous service to persons they had never seen? Where could be the reason—the motive? How is it, that, till now, Alfred Bond urged no claim. There are reasons," she continued, "reasons to give the world. But I have within me, what passes all reason—a feeling, a conviction, a true positive knowledge, that my father was incapable of being a party to such a crime. He was a stern man, loving money—I grant that—but honest in heart and soul. The only creature he ever wronged was himself. He did that, I know. He despoiled himself of peace and comfort, of rest and repose. In that he sinned against God's dispensation, who gives that we may give, not merely to others, but lawfully to ourselves. After all, it would have been but a small thing for him to have been without this property, for it gave him no one additional luxury. I wonder, Mr. Cramp, that you, as a man, have courage to stand before me, a poor unprotected woman, and dare to say, that will is forged."
While she spoke, Sarah Bond stood forth a new creature in the astonished eyes of the sleek attorney. He absolutely quailed before the vehemence and fervour of the usually mild woman. He assured her she was mistaken; that he had not yielded to the point that the will was a forgery; that he never would confess that such was the case; that it should be his business to disprove the charge; that he hoped she did not suppose he yielded to the plaintiff, who was resolved to bring the matter into a court of justice. He would only ask her one little question; had she ever seen her father counterfeit different hands? Yes, she said, she had; he could counterfeit, copy, any hand he ever saw, so that the real writer could not tell the counterfeit from the original. Mr. Cramp made no direct observation on this, except to beg that she would not mention that "melancholy circumstance" to any one else.
Sarah Bond told him she should not feel bound to make this talent of her father's a crime, by twisting into a secret what he used to do as an amusement. Mr. Cramp urged mildly the folly of this, when she had a defence to make; but she stood all the more firmly upon what she fearlessly considered the dignity of right and truth; at the same time assuring him, she would to the last contest that right, not so much for her own sake, or the sake of one who was dear to her beyond all power of expression, but for the sake of him in whose place she stood, and whose honour she would preserve with her life. Mr. Cramp was a good, shrewd man of business. He considered all Miss Bond's energy, on the subject of her father's honour, as romance, though he could not help believing she was in earnest about it. He thought it was perfectly in accordance with the old miser's character, that he should procure or make such a document; though he considered it very extraordinary, for many reasons, that it should have imposed upon men more penetrating and learned than himself.
Sarah Bond, after his departure, endeavoured to conceal her anxiety from her niece; but in vain. Mabel was too clear-sighted; and it was a relief, as much as an astonishment to her aunt, to see how bravely she bore up against the evil news. Miss Bond did not remember that the knowledge of the power of wealth does not belong to sixteen summers. Mabel knew and thought so little of its artificial influence, that she believed her happiness sprang from birds and flowers, from music, and dancing, and books—those silent but immortal tongues that live through centuries, for our advantage; besides, her young heart welled forth so much hope, that she really did not understand, even if they lost their fortune, their "troublesome fortune," as she called it, that it would seriously affect their happiness. There was no philosophy, no heroism in this; it was simply the impulse of a bright, sunny, beautiful young mind.
The course of events promised soon to strip Mabel of all except her own bright conceptions. Mr. Alfred Bond urged on his plea with all the energy and bitterness of one who had been for many years despoiled of his right. His solicitor, soon after his claim was first declared, made an offer to Sarah Bond to settle an annuity on her and her niece during the term of their natural lives; but this was indignantly spurned by Sarah; from him she would accept no favour; she either had or had not a right to the whole of the property originally left to her uncle. Various circumstances, too tedious to enumerate, combined to prove that the will deposited in Doctors Commons was not a true document; the signature of Cornelius Bond Hobart was disproved by many; but second only to one incident in strangeness was the fact, that though sought in every direction, and widely advertised for in the newspapers of the day, the witnesses to the disputed document could not be found—they had vanished.
The incident, so strange as to make more than one lawyer believe for a time that really such a quality as honesty was to be found in the world, was as follows:—Sarah Bond, be it remembered, had never seen the disputed will; she was very anxious to do so; and yet, afterwards, she did not like to visit Doctors Commons with any one. She feared, she knew not what; and yet, above all things, did she desire to see this will with her own eyes.
Mr. Cramp was sitting in his office when a woman, muffled in a cloak, and veiled, entered and seated herself without speaking. After a moment she unclasped her cloak, loosened the wrapping from her throat, threw back her veil, and asked for a glass of water.
"Bless me, Miss Bond, is it you? I am sure I am much honoured—very much!"
"No honour, sir," she replied, "but necessity. I have been to Doctors Commons; have seen the will—it is my father's writing!"
"You confess this to me?" said Mr. Cramp, drawing back on his chair, and almost gasping for breath.
"I do," she answered; "I proclaim it; it is my father's copy of the original will. But how the copy could have been substituted for the real will, I can only conjecture."
"Surmise is something," replied the lawyer, a little relieved; "conjecture sometimes leads to proof."
"My father and uncle lived together when the will came into their possession. They were in partnership as farmers. My father's habits were precise: he always copied every writing, and endorsed his copies with a large C; the very C is marked upon the will I have just seen at Doctors Commons."
"That is singular," remarked Cramp; "but it does not show us the way out of the difficulty; on the contrary, that increases. Somebody—I don't for an instant suppose Mr. Jacob Bond—in proving the will must have sworn that, to the best of their knowledge and belief, those were the real, which are only copies of the signatures."
"True—and such a mistake was extremely characteristic of my uncle, who performed many strange acts before he was known to be insane. This was doubtless one of them."
"But where is the original?" inquired the man of business.
"Heaven knows! I cannot find it; but I am not the less assured of its existence."
"Then we must persist in our plea of the truth of the document in Doctors Commons."
"Certainly not," said Sarah; "you must not persist in a falsehood in my name. If you do, I shall rise up in court, and contradict you! I feel it my duty, having seen the will, to state my firm belief that it is a copy of the original will, and nothing more."
Poor Mr. Cramp was dreadfully annoyed. He could, he thought, manage all sorts of clients. He reasoned, he proved, he entreated, he got her counsel to call upon her, but all was in vain. She would go into court, she said, herself, if her counsel deserted her. She would not give up the cause; she would plead for the sake of her father's honour. She was well assured that the real will was still in existence, and would be discovered—found—sooner or later—though not, perhaps, till she was in her grave.
The senior counsel was so provoked at what he called his client's obstinacy, that he threw up his brief, and the junior took advantage of the circumstance to make a most eloquent speech, enlarging upon the singularity of no appeal having been previously made by the plaintiff—of the extraordinary disappearance of the witnesses—of the straight-forward, simple, and beautiful truthfulness of the defendant; in short, he moved the court to tears, and laid the foundation of his future fortune. But after that day, Sarah Bond and her niece, Mabel, were homeless and houseless. Yet I should not say that; for the gates of a jail gaped widely for the "miser's daughter," but only for a few days; after which society rang with praises, loud and repeated, of Mr. Alfred Bond's liberality, who had discharged the defendant's costs as well as his own. In truth, people talked so much and so loudly about this, that they altogether forgot to inquire what had become of Sarah and Mabel.
The clergyman of the parish was their first visiter. He assisted them to look into the future. It was, he who conveyed to Sarah Bond Alfred's determination that she should be held scatheless. The good man delivered this information with the manner of a person who feels he comes with good news, and expects it will be so received; but Sarah Bond could only regard Alfred as the calumniator of her father's memory, the despoiler of her rights. The wild expression of joy in Mabel's face, as she threw herself on her aunt's bosom, gave her to understand that she ought to be thankful for what saved her from a prison.
Words struggled for utterance. She who had borne so much and so bravely, was overcome. Again and again she tried to speak, but for some hours she fell from one fainting fit into another. She had borne up against all disasters, until the power of endurance was overwhelmed; and now, she was attacked by an illness so violent, that it threatened dissolution. At this very time, when she needed so much sympathy, a stern and severe man, in whom there was no pity, a man who had received large sums of money from Miss Bond as a tradesman, and whose account had stood over from a particular request of his own, believing that all was gone, and that he should lose, took advantage of her illness to levy an execution upon the goods, and to demand a sale.
At this time her reason had quite deserted her, and poor Mabel was incapable of thought beyond her duty to her aunt, which made her remove her to a cottage-lodging from the turmoil of the town. No one distinctly knew, except Mabel, why Sarah Bond was so attached to the old furniture, and few cared. And yet more than one kind heart remembered how she had liked the "rubbishing things," and bought in several, resolved that, if she recovered, and ever had "a place of her own again," they would offer them for her acceptance. Her illness was so tedious, that except the humble curate and the good rector, her inquirers had fallen off—for long sickness wears out friends. Some would pause as they passed the cottage window, where the closely-pinned down curtain told of the caution and quiet of sickness; and then they would wonder how poor Miss Bond was; and if they entered the little passage to inquire, they could scarcely recognise in the plainly-dressed, jaded, bent girl, whose eyes knew no change but from weeping to watching, and watching to weeping, the buoyant and beautiful heiress whose words were law, and who once revelled in luxury. The produce of the sale—though everything, of course, went below its value—left a small surplus, after all debts and expenses were paid; which the clergyman husbanded judiciously, and gave in small portions to Mabel. Alfred Bond himself called to offer any assistance that might be required, which Mabel declined, coldly and at once.
Patiently and devotedly did she watch beside the couch of her poor aunt; one day suffering the most acute anxiety if the symptoms became worse than usual; the next full of hope as they abated. Did I say that one day after another this was the case? I should have written it, one hour after another; for truly, at times she fluctuated so considerably, that no one less hopeful than Mabel could have continued faithful to hope. As Sarah Bond gained strength, she began to question her as to the past. Mabel spoke cautiously; but, unused to any species of dissimulation, could not conceal the fact, that the old furniture, so valued by her uncle, and bequeathed with a conditional blessing, was gone—sold! This had a most unhappy effect on the mind of Sarah Bond. She felt as if her father's curse was upon her. She dared not trust herself to speak upon the subject. When the good rector (Mr. Goulding) alluded to the sale, and attempted to enter into particulars, or give an account of the affairs he had so kindly and so ably managed, she adjured him in so solemn a manner never to speak of the past, if he wished her to retain her reason, that he, unconscious of the motive, and believing it arose entirely from regret at her changed fortunes, avoided it as much as she could desire; and thus she had no opportunity of knowing how much had been saved by the benevolence of a few kind persons. Sarah Bond fell into the very common error of imagining that persons ought to know her thoughts and feelings, without her explaining them. But her mind and judgment had been so enfeebled by illness and mental suffering, that, even while she opposed her opinions, she absolutely leaned on Mabel—as if the oak called to the woodbine to support its branches. What gave Mabel the most uneasiness, was the determination she had formed to leave the cottage as soon as she was able to be removed; and she was seriously displeased because Mabel mentioned this intention to Mr. Goulding. Despite all poor Mabel could urge to the contrary, they quitted the neighbourhood—the sphere of Sarah Bond's sudden elevation, and as sudden depression—alone, at night, and on foot. It was a clear, moonlight evening, in midsummer, when the twilight can hardly be said to give place to darkness; and when the moon shines out so very brightly, that the stars are reduced to pale lone sparks of white rather than light, in the blue sky. It was a lovely evening; the widow with whom they had lodged was not aware of their intention until about an hour before their departure. She was very poor and ignorant, but her nature was kind; and when Sarah Bond pressed upon her, out of her own scanty store, a little present of money beyond her stipulated rent, she would not take it, but accompanied them to the little gate with many tears, receiving charge of a farewell letter to the rector. "And haven't you one to leave me for the curate?" she inquired. "Deary me! but I'm sure for every once the old gentleman came when Miss Bond was so bad, the curate came three times; and no letter for him! deary, oh, deary me!"
"Why did you not put me in mind to write to Mr. Lycight, Mabel?" inquired her aunt, after the gate, upon which the poor woman leaned, had closed.
Mabel made no reply; but Sarah felt the hand she held tightly within hers tremble and throb. How did she then remember the days of her own youth, as she thought, "Oh! in mercy she might have escaped from what only so causes the pulses to beat or the hand to tremble!" Neither spoke; but Sarah had turned over the great page of Mabel's heart, while Mabel did not confess, even to herself, that Mr. Lycight's words, however slight, were more deeply cherished than Mr. Goulding's precepts. They had a long walk to take that night, and both wept at first; but however sad and oppressed the mind and spirits maybe, there is a soothing and balmy influence in nature that lulls, if it does not dispel, sorrow; every breeze was perfumed. As they passed the hedges, there was a rustling and murmuring of birds amongst the leaves; and Mabel could not forbear an exclamation of delight when she saw a narrow river, now half-shadowed, then bright in the moonbeams, bounding in one place like a thing of life, then brawling around sundry large stones that impeded its progress, again subsiding into silence, and flowing onward to where a little foot-bridge, over which they had to pass, arched its course; beyond this was the church, and there Mabel knew they were to await the coach which was to convey them to a village many miles from their old homes, and where Sarah Bond had accidentally heard there was a chance of establishing a little school. Mabel paused for a moment to look at the venerable church standing by the highway, the clergyman's house crouching in the grove behind. The hooting and wheeling of the old owls in the ivied tower was a link of life. Sarah Bond passed the turn-stile that led into the church-yard, followed by Mabel, who shuddered when she found herself surrounded by damp grass-green graves, and beneath the shadows of old yew-trees.
She knew not where her aunt was going, but followed her silently. Sarah Bond led the way to a lowly grave, marked by a simple head-stone. She knelt down by its side, and while her bosom throbbed, she prayed earnestly, deeply, within her very soul—she prayed, now a faded, aged woman—she prayed above the ashes, the crumbling bones of him she had loved with a love that never changes—that is green when the head is gray—that Mabel might never suffer as she had suffered. Relieved by these devotional exercises, Sarah rose, and the humble and stricken pair bade adieu to the melancholy scene, and betook themselves to their toilsome journey. Fortunately the stage soon overtook them, and having, with some difficulty, obtained seats, they were in due time deposited in a village, where Sarah felt there would be no eyes prying into their poverty, no ears to hear of it, no tongue to tell thereof, and point them out "as the poor ladies that once were rich." This was a great relief, though it came of pride, and she knew it; and she said within herself, When health strengthens my body, I will wrestle with this feeling, for it is unchristian. She never even to Mabel alluded to what was heaviest on her mind—the loss of the old furniture; though she cheered her niece by the assurance that, after a few months, if the Almighty blessed the exertions they must make for their own support, she would write to their friend Mr. Goulding, and say where they were; by "that time," she said, she hoped to be humble, as a Christian should be. After this assurance was given, it was astonishing to see how Mabel revived. Her steps recovered their elasticity, her eyes their brightness. Sarah Bond had always great superiority in needlework, and this procured her employment; while Mabel obtained at once, by her grace and correct speaking, two or three day pupils. Her wild and wayward temper had been subdued by change of circumstances; but if she had not found occupation it would have become morose Here was not only occupation, but success; success achieved by the most legitimate means—the exertion of her own faculties; there were occasionally bitter tears and many disappointments; and the young soft fingers, so slender and beautiful, were obliged to work in earnest; and she was forced by necessity to rise early and watch late; and then she had to think, not how pounds could be spent, but pennies could be earned. We need not, however, particularize their labours in this scene of tranquil usefulness. It is sufficient to say that Mabel's little school increased; and both she and her aunt came at length to feel and speak thankfully of the uses of adversity, and bless God for taking as well as for giving.
Though Sarah Bond had used every means within her power to conceal her place of retreat, yet she often felt bitterly pained that no one had sought her out. She said she wished to be forgotten, unless she had the power to clear away the imputation on her father's name. And yet, unknown to herself, she cherished the hope, that some one would have traced them, though only to say one cheering word of approbation regarding their attempt at self-dependence. Sarah thanked the Almighty greatly for one thing, that Mabel's cheerfulness was continued and unfluctuating, and that her mind seemed to have gathered strength by wholesome exercise. She believed her affections, if not free, were not entangled, and that her pride had risen against her imagination; and it was beautiful to see how, watching to avoid giving each other pain, striving continually to show the bright side of every question, the one to the other, and extract sweets instead of bitters from every little incident, led to their actually enjoying even the privations which exercised their tenderness towards each other.
Time wore away many of their sorrows, which old father Time always does; a kindness we forget to acknowledge, though we often arraign him for spoiling our pleasures. Sarah and Mabel had been taking an evening walk, wondering how little they existed upon, and feeling that it was a wide step towards independence to have few wants.
"I can see good working in all things," said Mabel; "for if I had obtained the companionship of books, which I so eagerly desired at first, I should not have had the same inducement to pursue my active duties, to read my own heart, and the great book of nature, which is opened alike to peer and peasant; I have found so much to learn, so much to think of by studying objects and persons—reading persons instead of books."
"Yes," added Sarah Bond; "and seeing how much there is to admire in every development of nature, and how much of God there is in every human being."
As they passed along the village street, Mabel observed that the cottagers looked after them, and several of her little pupils darted their heads in and out of their homes, and laughed; she thought that some village fun was afloat, that some rural present of flowers, or butter, or eggs, had been sent—a little mysterious offering for her to guess at; and when she turned to fasten the wicket gate, there were several of the peasants knotted together talking. A sudden exclamation from her aunt, who had entered the cottage, confirmed her suspicion; but it was soon dissipated. In their absence, their old friends Mr. Goulding and the curate had arrived by the coach, and entered their humble dwelling. From a wagon at the same time were lifted several articles of old furniture, which were taken into the cottage, and properly arranged. There were two old chairs, an embroidered stool, a china vase, a cabinet, a table, and the spinnet. Strangely the furniture looked on the sanded floor, but never was the spiciest present from India more grateful to its receiver than these were to the eyes of Sarah Bond. She felt as if a ban was removed from her when she looked upon the old things so valued by her father. Absorbed in the feelings of the moment, she did not even turn to inquire how they had so unexpectedly come there. Nor did she note the cold and constrained greeting which Mabel gave to Mr. Lycight. She herself, after the first self-engrossed thoughts were past, turned to give both gentlemen the cordial reception which their many former kindnesses, not to speak of their apparent connexion with the present gratifying occurrence, deserved. From Mr. Goulding she learnt that the furniture had been bought up by a few old friends, and committed to him to be sent to her as a mark of their goodwill; he had only delayed bringing it to her, till she should have proved, as he knew she would, superior to her misfortunes, by entering upon some industrious career.
As the evening closed in, and the astonishment and feelings of their first meeting subsided, Sarah Bond and Mr. Goulding conversed apart, and then, indeed, she listened with a brimming heart and brimming eyes. He told of his young friend's deep attachment to Mabel; how he had prevailed upon him to pause before he declared it; to observe how she endured her changed fortune; and to avoid engaging her affections until he had a prospect of placing her beyond the reach of the most harrowing of all poverties, that which keeps up an appearance above its means. "Her cheerfulness, her industry, her goodness, have all been noted," he continued. "She has proved herself capable of accommodating herself to her circumstances; the most difficult of all things to a young girl enervated by luxury and indulgence. And if my friend can establish an interest in her affections, he has no higher views of earthly happiness, and I think he ought to have no other. You will, I am sure, forgive me for having counselled the trial. If deep adversity had followed your exertions—if you had failed instead of succeeded—I should have been at hand to succour and to aid."
Sarah Bond had never forgotten the emotion of Mabel, caused by the mention of the curate's name when they quitted their old neighbourhood, and the very reserve Mabel showed proved to Sarah's searching and clear judgment, that the feeling was unchanged. Truly in that hour was her chastened heart joyful and grateful. "Mabel must wait," she said, "until the prospect of advancement became a reality; for it would be an ill return of disinterested love for a penniless orphan to become a burden instead of a blessing. Mabel would grow more worthy every day; they were doing well; ay, he might look round the white-washed walls and smile, but they were prosperous, healthful, happy, and respected; and if she could only live to see the odium cast upon her father's memory removed, she would not exchange her present poverty for her past pride." She frequently afterwards thought of the clergyman's rejoinder—"That riches, like mercy, were as blessed to the giver as to the receiver, and that they only created evil when hoarded, or bestowed by a heedless hand."
They certainly were a happy group in that lowly cottage room that evening. Mabel's proud bearing had given place, as if by magic, to a blushing shyness; which she tried to shield from observation by every possible attempt at ease. She talked to Mr. Goulding, and found a thousand uses for the old furniture she had once so heartily despised. "She would sit in the great high chair at the end of that table, with her feet on the stool, and the china vase in the midst, filled with humble cottage flowers—meadow-sweet and wild roses, and sweet-williams, sea-pinks, woodbine, and wild convolvulus! Did Mr. Goulding like cottage flowers best?" No; the clergyman said he did not, but he thought Mr. Lycight did, and the young man assured her that it was so; and then gazed on the only love his heart, his deep, unworn, earnest heart, had throbbed to, with an admiration which is always accompanied by fear, lest something should prevent the realization of the one great earthly hope. And Mabel was more fitful than her aunt had ever seen her. Fearful lest her secret, as she thought it, should be discovered, she made as many turns and windings as a hare; and yet, unskilled in disguising her feelings, after spending many words in arranging and re-arranging, she suddenly wished that the spinnet could be opened, "If," she exclaimed, "that could be opened, I should be able to teach Mary Godwin music; and her mother seemed to wish it so much: surely we can open the instrument?"
"It has not been opened for years," replied Miss Bond; "and I remember, once before, Mabel wished it opened, and I refused, lest forcing the lock might harm the marquetre, of which my poor mother was so fond. It has never been opened since her death." But Mabel's desire was of too much consequence, in her lover's eyes, to be passed over, although all seemed agreed that if it were opened it could not be played upon; so in a few minutes he procured a smith, who said he would remove the hinges, and then unscrew the lock from the inside, which would not injure the cover. This was done; but greatly to poor Mabel's dismay, the cavity, where strings once had been, was filled with old papers.
"Now, is not this provoking?" said Mabel, flinging out first one and then another bundle of letters. "Is not this provoking?"
"No, no," exclaimed Sarah Bond, grasping a lean, long, parchment, round which an abundance of tape was wound. "No. Who knows what may be found here?" At once the idea was caught, Mabel thought no more of the strings. "I cannot," said Sarah Bond to Mr. Goulding, "untie this; can you?" Her fingers trembled, and she sank on her knees by the clergyman's side. The eyes of the little group were fixed upon him; not a word was spoken; every breath was hushed; slowly he unfastened knot after knot; at last the parchment was unfolded; still, neither Sarah Bond nor Mabel spoke; the latter gasped for breath—her lips apart, her cheeks flushed; while Sarah's hands were clasped together, locked upon her bosom, and every vestige of colour had deserted her face.
"Be calm, my dear friend," he said, after glancing his eyes over the parchment; "be calm. You have experienced enough of the changes and chances of this world not to build too quickly upon any foundation but the one—the goodness of God; I do believe this is an especial proof of His Providence, for I do think this is Cornelius Bond Hobart's original will in your uncle's favour."
It would be useless to attempt a description of the scene that followed; but the joy at the reality of the discovery was a heartful temperate joy—the joy of chastened hearts. Sarah Bond, blessing God, above all things, that, go the law as it would, her father's memory would now be held as the memory of an honest man; that he had, as she had said, copied, not forged the will. Mr. Goulding declared he should find it difficult to forgive himself for having so long prevented the old furniture from being sent, assuring her, the dread that Mabel was unfit to contend with the privations to which the lives of humble men are doomed, made him tremble for the happiness of the young friend who had been consigned to his care by a dying mother; he feared to renew the intercourse, until her character was developed; while poor Mabel had little thought how closely she was watched along the humble and thorny paths she had to traverse.
Sarah Bond's spirit was so chastened, that she regretted nothing save the shadow cast upon her father's grave; and now that was removed, she was indeed happy. She assured the rector how useful adversity had been to them—how healthful it had rendered Mabel's mind—and how much better, if they recovered what had been lost, they should know how to employ their means of usefulness. Mr. Lycight's congratulations were not so hearty as Mr. Goulding's; he felt that now he was the curate and Mabel the heiress; and he heard the kind good night which Mabel spoke with a tingling ear. He, was proud in his own way; and pride, as well as his affection, had been gratified by the idea of elevating her he loved. Mabel saw this, and she wept during the sleepless night, that he should believe her so unworthy and so ungrateful.
There was much to think of and to do; the witnesses were to be found, and lawyers consulted, and proceedings taken, and much of the turmoil and bitterness of the law to be endured, which it pains every honest heart to think upon; and Mr. Cramp was seized with a sudden fit of virtuous indignation against Mr. Alfred Bond, after Sarah Bond's new "man of business" had succeeded in producing the only one of the witnesses in existence, who, he also discovered, had been purposely kept out of the way, on a former occasion, by some one or other. The delays were vexatious, and the quirks and turns, and foldings, and doubles innumerable; but they came to an end at last, and Mr. Alfred Bond was obliged in his turn to vacate the old mansion, in which he had revelled—a miser in selfish pleasures.
I have dwelt longer than was perhaps necessary on the minutiae of this relation, the principal events of which are so strongly impressed upon my memory. But the more I have thought over the story, the more I have been struck with the phases and impulses of Sarah Bond's unobtrusive, but deep feeling mind; her self-sacrificing spirit, her devotion to her father's will, her dread, when first in possession of the property, that any one act of liberality on her part might be considered a reproach to his memory; her habits struggling with her feelings, leading me to the conclusion that she would never have become, even with the expanding love of her niece to enlarge her views, thoroughly unmanacled from the parsimonious habits of her father, but for her lesson in adversity, which, instead of teaching as it does a worldly mind, the value of money, taught her higher nature its proper uses.
It was beautiful to see how Mabel grew into her aunt's virtues; and even Mr. Goulding was startled by the energy and thoughtfulness of her character. She soon convinced Mr. Lycight that her prospects grew brighter in his love; and for a time he was romantic enough to wish she had continued, penniless, and he had been born a peer, to prove his disinterested affection. This, however, wore away, as man's romance always does, and he absolutely became reconciled to his bride's riches. Sarah Bond was living a very few years ago, beloved and honoured, the fountain of prosperity and blessing to all who needed. There was no useless expenditure, no show, no extravagance in "the establishment" at the old manor house; but it was pleasant to perceive the prosperity of the poor in the immediate neighbourhood; there was evidence of good heads and kind hearts, superintending all moral and intellectual improvements; there were flourishing schools, and benevolent societies, and the constant exercise of individual charities; and many said that Sarah Bond, and niece, and nephew, did more good with hundreds than others did with thousands. From having had practical experience of poverty, they understood how to remedy its wants, and minister to its sorrows. And to the last hour of her prolonged life, Sarah Bond remembered
THE USES OF ADVERSITY.
* * * * *
ALL IS NOT GOLD THAT GLITTERS.
"There they go!" exclaimed old Mrs. Myles, looking after two exceedingly beautiful children, as they passed hand in hand down the street of the small town of Abbeyweld, to the only school, that had "Seminary for Young Ladies," written in large hand, on a proportionably large card, and placed against the bow window of an ivied cottage. "There they go!" she repeated; "and though I'm their grandmother, I may say a sweeter pair of children than Helen Marsh and Rose Dillon never trod the main street of Abbeyweld—God bless them!" She added earnestly, "God Almighty bless them!"
"Amen!" responded a kind voice; and turning round, Mrs. Myles saw the curate of the parish, the Reverend Mr. Stokes, standing just at the entry of her own house. To curtsey with the respect which in the "good old times" was customary towards those who "meekly taught, and led the way," and invite the minister in, was the work of a moment; the next beheld Mrs. Myles and her visiter tete-a-tete in the widow's small parlour. It was a cheerful, pleasant room, such as is often met with in the clean villages of England. There were two or three pieces of embroidery, in frames of faded gilding; an old-fashioned semicircular card-table stood opposite the window, and upon it rested a filagree tea-caddy, based by a mark-a-tree work-box, flanked on one side by the Bible, on the other by a prayer-book; while on the space in front was placed "The Whole Art of Cookery," by Mrs. Glasse. High-backed chairs of black mahogany were ranged along the white-washed walls; a corner cupboard displayed upon its door the magnificence of King Solomon, and the liberality of the Queen of Sheba, while within glittered engraved glasses, and fairy-like cups and saucers, that would delight the hearts of the fashionables of the present day. Indeed, Mrs. Myles knew their value, and prided herself thereon, for whenever the squire or any great lady paid her a visit, she was sure, before they entered, to throw the cupboard door slyly open, so as to display its treasures; and then a little bit of family pride would creep out—"Yes, every one said they were pretty—and so she supposed they were—but they were nothing to her grandmother's, where she remembered the servants eating off real India chaney." The room also contained a high-backed sofa, covered with chintz; very stately, hard, and uncomfortable it was to sit upon; indeed, no one except visiters ever did sit upon it, save on Sundays, when Helen and Rose were permitted so to do, "if they kept quiet," which in truth they seldom did for more than five minutes together. "Moonlight"—Mrs. Myles's large cat—Moonlight would take a nap there sometimes; but as Mrs. Myles, while she hushed him off, declared he was a "clean creature," it may be said that Moonlight was the only thing privileged to enjoy the sofa to his heart's content. Why he liked it, I could not understand. Now she invited Mr. Stokes to sit upon it; but he knew better, and took the window seat in preference.
"They are fine children—are they not, sir?" inquired the good old lady, reverting in the pride of her heart to her young charges. "Rose, poor thing, will be obliged to shift for herself, for her father and mother left her almost without provision: but when Helen's father returns, I do hope he will be able to introduce her in the way she seems born for. She has the heart of a princess—bless her!" added Mrs. Myles, triumphantly.
"I hope, my good friend, she will have a Christian's heart," said Mr. Stokes.
"Oh, certainly, sir, certainly, we all have that, I hope."
"I hope so too; but I think you will act wisely in directing the proud spirit of Helen into an humbler channel, while you rouse and strengthen the modest and retiring one of Rose."
"They are very, very different, sir," said the old lady, looking particularly sagacious; "I don't mean as to talent, for they are both very clever, nor as to goodness, for, thank God, they are both good; but Helen has such a noble spirit—such an uplooking way with her."
"We should all look up to God." said the minister.
"Oh, of course we all do." Mrs. Myles paused. "She has such a lady-like, independent way with her, I'm sure she'll turn out something great, sir. Well, there's no harm in a little ambition now and then; we all, you know" want to be a little bit better off than we are."
"We are too apt to indulge in a desire for what is beyond our reach," said the minister, gravely; "if every one was to reside on the hills, who would cultivate the valleys? We should not forget that godliness, with contentment, is great gain. It would be far better, Mrs. Myles, if, instead of struggling to get out of our sphere, we laboured to do the best we could in it."
"Ah, sir, and that's true," replied Mrs. Myles; "just what I say to Mrs. Jones, who will give bad sherry at her little tea-parties; good gooseberry, I say, is better than bad sherry. Will you taste mine, sir?"
"No, thank you," said the good man, who at the very moment was pondering over the art of self-deception, as practised by ourselves upon ourselves. "No, thank you; but do, my dear madam, imbue those children with a contented spirit; there is nothing that keeps us so truly at peace with the world as contentment—or with ourselves, for it teaches peace—or with a Higher Power, for it is insulting to His wisdom and love to go on repining through this beautiful world, instead of enjoying what as Christians we can enjoy, and regarding without envy that which we have not."
"Exactly so, good sir. 'Be content,' I said to Helen only this very morning—'be content, my dear, with your pink gingham; who knows but by and by you may have a silk dress for Sundays?'"
"Ah, my dear Mrs. Myles, you are sowing bad seed," said the clergyman.
"What, sir, when I told her to be content with the little pink gingham?"
"No; but when you told her she might have a silk one hereafter. Don't you see, instead of uprooting you were fostering pride?—instead of directing her ambition to a noble object, and thereby elevating her mind, you were lowering it by drawing it down to an inferior one?"
"I did not see it," observed Mrs. Myles, simply; "but you know, sir, there's no more harm in a silk than a cotton."
"I must go now, my good lady," said the minister; "only observing that there is no more harm in one than in the other, except when the desire to possess anything beyond our means leads to discontent, if not to more actively dangerous faults. I must come and lecture the little maids myself."
"And welcome, sir, and thank you kindly besides; poor little dears, they have no one to look after them but me. I daresay I am wrong sometimes, but I do my best—I do my best."
The curate thought she did according to her knowledge, but he lamented that two such exquisitely beautiful children, possessed of such natural gifts, should be left to the management of a vain old woman—most vain—though kindly and good-hearted—giving kindness with pleasure, and receiving it with gratitude—yet totally unfit to bring up a pair of beauties, who, of all the female sex, require the most discretion in the management.
"I wonder," thought the Reverend Mr. Stokes—"I wonder when our legislature will contrive to establish a school for mothers. If girls are sent to school, the chances are that the contamination over which the teacher can have no control—the contamination of evil girls—renders them vicious; if, on the contrary, they are kept at home, the folly of their mothers makes them fools—a pretty choice!" Mr. Stokes turned down a lane that ran parallel with the garden where the children went to school; and hearing Helen's voice in loud dispute, he paused for a moment to ascertain the cause.
"I tell you," said the little maid, "Rose may be what she likes, but I'll be queen."
"How unfit," quoth the curate to himself—"how utterly unfit is Mrs. Myles to manage Helen!" The good man paused again; and to the no small confusion of the little group, who had been making holiday under the shadow of a spreading apple-tree, suddenly entered amongst them, and read her a lecture, gently, kindly, and judicious. Having thus performed what he conceived his duty, he walked on; but his progress was arrested by a little hand being thrust into his; and when he looked down, the beaming, innocent face of Rose Dillon was up-turned towards him.
"Do please, sir," she said, "let Helen Marsh be queen of the game; if she is not, she won't play with a bit of heart—she won't, indeed, sir. She will play to be sure, but not with any heart."
"I cannot unsay what I have said, little Rose," he answered; "I cannot; it is better for her to play without heart, as you call it, than to have that heart too highly uplifted by play."
Happy would it have been for Helen Marsh if she had always had a judicious friend to correct her dangerous ambition. The good curate admonished the one, and brought forward the other, of the cousins; but what availed his occasional admonishing when counteracted by the weak flattery of Mrs. Myles?
Years passed; the lovely children, who tripped hand in hand down the street of Abbeyweld, grew into ripe girlhood, and walked arm in arm—the pride and admiration of every villager. The curate became at last rector, and Mrs. Myles's absurdities increased with her years. The perfect beauty of the cousins, both of face and form, rendered them celebrated far and near. Each had a separate character as from the first; and yet—but that Rose Dillon was a little shorter than her cousin Helen Marsh, and that the expression of her eyes was so different that it was almost impossible to believe they were the same shape and colour, the cousins might have been mistaken for each other—I say might, because it is rather remarkable that they never were. Helen's fine dark eyes had a lofty and forbidding aspect, while Rose had not the power, if indeed she ever entertained the will, of looking either the one or the other. I thought Rose the most graceful of the two in her carriage, but there could be no doubt as to Helen's being the most dignified; both girls were almost rustic in their manners, but rusticity and vulgarity are very distinct in their feelings and attributes. They could not do or say aught that was vulgar or at variance with the kindnesses of life—those tender nothings which make up so large a something in the account of every day's existence. Similar, withal, as the cousins were in appearance, they grew up as dissimilar in feelings and opinions as it is possible to conceive, and yet loving each other dearly. Still Helen never for a moment fancied that any one in the village of Abbeyweld could compete with her in any way. She had never questioned herself as to this being the case, but the idea had been nourished since her earliest infancy—had never been disputed, except perhaps when latterly a town belle, or even a more conceited specimen, a country belle, visited in the neighbourhood; but popular voice (and there is a popular voice, be it loud or gentle, everywhere) soon discovered that blonde, and feathers, and flowers, had a good deal to do with this disturbing of popular opinion; and after a few days, the good people invariably returned to their allegiance. "Ah! ah!" old Mrs. Myles would observe on these occasions—Ah! ah!"—I told you they'd soon find the fair lady was shaded by her fine laces. I daresay now she's on the look-out for a good match, poor thing! Not that Helen is handsome—don't look in the glass, Helen, child! My grandmother always said that Old Nick stood behind every young lady's shoulder when she looked in the glass, with a rouge-pot all ready to make her look handsomer in her own eyes than she really was; which shows how wicked it is to look much in a glass. Only a little sometimes, Nell, darling—we'll forgive her for looking a little; but certainly when I looked at the new beauty in church the other day, and then looked, I know where, I thought—but no matter, Helen, no matter—I don't want to make either of my girls vain."
Why Mrs. Myles so decidedly preferred Helen to Rose, appeared a mystery to all who did not know the secret sympathy, the silent unsatisfied ambition, that lurked in the bosoms of both the old and the young. Mrs. Myles had lived for a long time upon the reputation of her own beauty; and whenever she needed sympathy (a food which the weak-minded devour rapidly,) she lamented to one or two intimates, while indulging in the luxury of tea, that she was an ill-used person, simply because she had not been a baronet's lady at the very least. Helen's ambition echoed that of her grandmother; it was not the longing of a village lass for a new bonnet or a brilliant dress—it was an ambition of sufficient strength to have sprung up in a castle. She resolved to be something beyond what she was; and there are very few who have strength to give birth to, and cherish up a resolve, who will not achieve a purpose, be it for good or bad, for weal or for wo. Rose was altogether and perfectly simple and single-hearted: conscious that she was an orphan, dependent upon her grandmother's slender annuity for support, and that Helen's father could not provide both for his daughter and his niece, her life was one of patient industry and unregretted privation. Before she was fifteen, she had persuaded her grandmother to part with her serving maiden, and with very little assistance from Helen, she performed the labours of their cottage, aided twice a-week by an elderly woman, who often declared that such another girl as Rose Dillon was not to be found in the country. Both were now verging on seventeen, and Helen received the addresses of a young farmer in the neighbourhood—a youth of excellent yeoman family, and of superior education and manners.
The cousins walked out one evening together, and Rose turned into the lane where they used frequently to meet Edward Lynne.
"No, Rose," said Helen, "not there; I am not in a humour to meet Edward to-night."
"But you said you would," said Rose.
"Well, do not look so solemn about it. I daresay I did—but lover's promises—if indeed we are lovers. Do you know, Rose, I should be very much obliged to you to take Edward off my hands—he is just the husband for you, so rustic and quiet."
"Edward to be taken off your hands, Helen!—Edward Lynne!—the protector of our childhood—the pride of the village—the very companion of Mr. Stokes—why, he dined with him last Sunday! Edward Lynne! You jest, cousin! and"— Rose Dillon paused suddenly, for she was going to add, "You ought not to jest with me." She checked herself in time; stooped down to gather some flowers to hide her agitation; felt her cheeks flush, her heart beat, her head swim, and then a chill creep through her frame. Helen had unconsciously awoke the hope which Rose had never dared to confess unto herself. The waking was ecstatic; but she knew the depth of Edward's love for Helen. She had been his confidant—she believed it was a jest—how could her cousin do otherwise than love Edward Lynne? And with this belief, she recovered the self-possession which the necessity for subduing her feelings had taught her even at that early age.
"And Rose," said Helen, in a quiet voice, "did you really think I ever intended to marry Edward Lynne?"
"Certainly, cousin. Why, you love him, do you not! Besides, he is rich—very rich in comparison to you—very, very rich. And if he were not—oh, Helen!—is he not in himself—but I need not reason—you are in your usual high spirits, and say what you do not mean."
"I do not, Rose, now, at all events. Last evening, Edward was so earnest, so affectionate, so very earnest, it is pleasant to have a true and faithful lover; but I should not quite like to break his heart—it would not be friendly, knowing him so long; for indeed," she added, gaily, "though I don't like Edward Lynne well enough to marry him, I like him too well to break his heart in downright earnest."
There are women cold and coquettish by nature. The disposition flourishes best in courtly scenes, but it will grow anywhere, ay, and flourish anywhere. It unfortunately requires but little culture; still Helen was in her novitiate. If she had not been so, she would not have cared whether Edward broke his heart or not.
"But Helen," stammered Rose, "surely—you—you have been very wrong."
"I know it—I know—there, don't you hear me say I know it, and yet your lecturing face is as long as ever. Surely," she continued pettishly, "I confess my crime; and even Mr. Stokes says, when confessed it is amended."
"Helen!" exclaimed Rose suddenly; "Helen!—if what you have now said is really true, you have only told me half the truth. Helen Marsh, you have seen some one you like better than Edward Lynne."
"No!" was Helen's prompt reply, for she would not condescend to a falsehood—her own pride was a sufficient barrier against that. "No, Rose, I have not seen any one I like better than Edward. But, Rose"—She buried her face in her hands, and as suddenly withdrew them, and shaking back her luxuriant ringlets, while a bright triumphant colour mounted to her cheeks, added—"There is no reason why I should be ashamed. I saw, last week, at Mrs. Howard's, one whom I would rather marry."
"I always thought," murmured Rose, weeping in the fulness of her generous nature, as the idea of Edward's future misery came upon her—"I always thought no good would come of your visiting a lady so much above us." It would be impossible to describe the contemptuous expression of Helen's finely moulded features, while she repeated, as if to herself, "Above us!—above me!" And then she added aloud, and with what seemed to Rose a forced expression of joy, "But good will come of it, Rose—good will surely come of it; never fear but it will—it must. And when I am a great lady, Rosey, who but you, sweet cousin, will be next my heart?"
"I am satisfied to be near, even without being next it, Helen," she replied mournfully; "but why have you kept this matter concealed from me so long? Why have you"—