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TRANSCRIBER'S NOTE: Every effort has been made to replicate this text as faithfully as possible; please see detailed list of printing issues at the end of the text.
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A BEAUTIFUL FIEND
BY MRS. E. D. E. N. SOUTHWORTH
AUTHOR OF "TRIED FOR HER LIFE," "THE LOST HEIRESS," "ALLWORTH ABBEY," ETC., ETC.
NEW YORK HURST & COMPANY PUBLISHERS
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MRS. SOUTHWORTH SERIES
UNIFORM WITH THIS VOLUME
By MRS. E. D. E. N. SOUTHWORTH
Beautiful Fiend, A.
Bride's Fate, The.
Capitola, the Madcap.
Cruel as the Grave.
Curse of Clifton, The.
Ishmael; or, In the Depths.
Lost Heiress, The.
Miriam, the Avenger.
Missing Bride, The.
Mystery of a Dark Hollow.
Self-Raised; or, From the Depths.
Three Beauties, The.
Tried for Her Life.
Price, postpaid, 50c. each, or any three books for $1.25
HURST & COMPANY PUBLISHERS, NEW YORK
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SAMSON AND DELILAH.
Thus he grew Tolerant of what he half disdained. And she, Perceiving that she was but half disdained, Began to break her arts with graver fits— Turn red or pale, and often, when they met, Sigh deeply, or, all-silent, gaze upon him With such a fixed devotion, that the old man, Though doubtful, felt the flattery, and at times Would flatter his own wish, in age, for love, And half believe her true. —TENNYSON.
As soon as the subtle siren was left alone in the drawing-room with the aged clergyman she began weaving her spells around him as successfully as did the beautiful enchantress Vivien around the sage Merlin.
Throwing her bewildering dark eyes up to his face she murmured in hurried tones:
"You will not betray me to this family? Oh, consider! I am so young and so helpless!"
"And so beautiful," added the old man under his breath, as he gazed with involuntary admiration upon her fair, false face. Then, aloud, he said: "I have already told you, wretched child, that I would forbear to expose you so long as you should conduct yourself with strict propriety here; but no longer."
"You do not trust me. Ah, you do not see that one false step with its terrible consequences has been such an awful and enduring lesson to me that I could not make another! I am safer now from the possibility of error than is the most innocent and carefully guarded child. Oh, can you not understand this?" she asked, pathetically.
And her argument was a very specious and plausible one, and it made an impression.
"I can well believe that the fearful retribution that followed so fast upon your 'false step,' as you choose to call it, has been and will be an awful warning to you. But some warnings come too late. What can be your long future life?" he sadly inquired.
"Alas, what?" she echoed, with a profound sigh. "Even under the most propitious circumstances—what? If I am permitted to stay here I shall be buried alive in this country house, without hope of resurrection. Perhaps fifty years I may have to live here. The old lady will die. Emma will marry. Her children will grow up and marry. And in all the changes of future years I shall vegetate here without change, and without hope except in the better world. And yet, dreary as the prospect is, it is the best that I can expect, the best that I can even desire, and much better than I deserve," she added, with a humility that touched the old man's heart.
"I feel sorry for you, child; very, very sorry for your blighted young life. Poor child, you can never be happy again; but listen—you can be good!" he said, very gently.
And then he suddenly remembered what her bewildering charms had made him for a moment forget—that was, that this unworthy girl had been actually on the point of marriage with an honorable man when Death stepped in and put an end to a foolish engagement.
So, after a painful pause, he said, slowly:
"My child, I have heard that you were about to be married to Charles Cavendish, when his sudden death arrested the nuptials. Is that true?"
"It is true," she answered, in a tone of humility and sorrow.
"But how could you venture to dream of marrying him?"
"Ah, me; I knew I was unworthy of him! But he fell in love with me. I could not help that. Now, could I? Now, could I?" she repeated, earnestly and pathetically, looking at him.
"N-n-no. Perhaps you could not," he admitted.
"And oh, he courted me so hard!—so hard! And I could not prevent him!"
"Could you not have avoided him? Could you not have left the house?"
"Ah, no; I had no place to go to! I had lost my situation in the school."
"Still you should never have engaged yourself to marry Charles Cavendish, for you must have been aware that if he had known your true story he would never have thought of taking you as his wife."
"Oh, I know it! And I knew it then. And I was unhappy enough about it. But oh, what could I do? I could not prevent his loving me, do what I would. I could not go away from the house, because I had no place on earth to go to. And least of all would I go to him and tell him the terrible story of my life. I would rather have died than have told that! I should have died of humiliation in the telling—I couldn't tell him! Now could I? Could I?"
"I suppose you had not the courage to do so."
"No, indeed I had not! Yet very often I told him, in a general way, that I was most unworthy of him. But he never would believe that."
"No; I suppose he believed you to be everything that is pure, good and heavenly. What a terrible reproach his exalted opinion of you must have been!"
"Oh, it was—it was!" she answered, hypocritically. "It was such a severe reproach that, having in a moment of weakness yielded to his earnest prayer and consented to become his wife, I soon cast about for some excuse for breaking the engagement; for I felt if it were a great wrong to make such an engagement it would be a still greater wrong to keep it. Don't you agree with me?"
"Yes, most certainly."
"Well, while I was seeking some excuse to break off the marriage Death stepped in and put an end to it. Perhaps then I ought to have left the house, but—I had no money to go with and, as I said before, no place to go to. And besides Emma Cavendish was overwhelmed with grief and could not bear to be left alone; and she begged me to come down here with her. So, driven by my own necessities and drawn by hers, I came down. Do you blame me? Do you blame me?" she coaxed, pathetically.
"No, I do not blame you for that. But," said the old man, gravely and sadly, shaking his head, "why, when you got here, did you turn eavesdropper and spy?"
"Oh, me!—oh, dear me!" sobbed the siren. "It was the sin of helplessness and cowardice. I dreaded discovery so much! Every circumstance alarmed me. Your arrival and your long mysterious conversation with madam alarmed me. I thought exposure imminent. I feared to lose this home, which, lonely, dreary, hopeless as it is to me, is yet the only refuge I have left on earth. I am penniless and helpless; and but for this kind family I should be homeless and friendless. Think if I had been cast out upon the world what must have been my fate!"
"What, indeed!" echoed the old man.
"Therefore, I dreaded to be cast out. I dreaded discovery. Your visit filled me with uneasiness, that, as the day wore away, reached intense anxiety, and finally arose to insupportable anguish and suspense. Then I went to listen at the door, only to hear whether your conversation concerned me—whether I was still to be left in peace or to be cast out upon the bitter cold world. Ah, do not blame me too much! Just think how I suffered!" she said, pathetically, clasping her hands.
"'Oh, what a tangled web we weave When first we practice to deceive!'"
murmured the old man to himself. Then, aloud, he said:
"Poor girl, you were snared in the web of your own contriving! Yet still, when I caught you in that net, why did you deny your identity and try to make me believe that you were somebody else?"
"Oh, the same sin of helplessness and cowardice; the same fear of discovery and exposure; the same horror of being cast forth from this pure, safe, peaceful home into the bitter, cold, foul, perilous world outside! I feared, if you found out who I was, you would expose me, and I should be cast adrift. And then it all came so suddenly I had no time for reflection. The instinct of self-preservation made me deny my identity before I considered what a falsehood I uttered. Ah, have you no pity for me, in considering the straits to which I was reduced?" she pleaded, clasping her hands before him and raising her eyes to his face.
"'The way of the transgressor is hard,'" murmured the minister to himself. Then he answered her:
"Yes, I do pity you very much. I pity you for your sins and sufferings. But more than all I pity you for the moral and spiritual blindness of which you do not even seem to be suspicious, far less conscious."
"I do not understand you," murmured Mary Grey, in a low, frightened tone.
"No, you do not understand me. Well, I will try to explain. You have pleaded your youth as an excuse for your first 'false step,' as you call it. But I tell you that a girl who is old enough to sin is old enough to know better than to sin. And if you were not morally and spiritually blind you would see this. Secondly, you have pleaded your necessities—that is, your interests—as a just cause and excuse for your matrimonial engagement with Governor Cavendish, and for your eavesdropping in this house, and also for your false statements to me. But I tell you if you had been as truly penitent as you professed to be you would have felt no necessity so pressing as the necessity for true repentance, forgiveness and amendment. And if you had not been morally and spiritually blind you would have seen this also. I sometimes think that it may be my duty to discover you to this family. Yet I will be candid with you. I fear that if you should be turned adrift here you might, and probably would, fall into deeper sin. Therefore I will not expose you—for the present, and upon conditions. You are safe from me so long as you remain true, honest and faithful to this household. But upon the slightest indication of any sort of duplicity or double dealing I shall unmask you to Madam Cavendish. And now you had better retire. Good-night."
And with these words the old man walked to a side-table, took a bed-room candle in his hand and gave it to the widow.
Mary Grey snatched and kissed his hand, courtesied and withdrew.
When she got to her own room she threw herself into a chair and laughed softly, murmuring:
"The old Pharisee! He is more than half in love with me now. I know it, and I feel it. Yet, to save his own credit with himself, he pretends to lecture me and tries to persuade himself that he means it. But he is half in love with me. Before I have done with him he shall be wholly in love with me. And won't it be fun to have his gray head at my feet, proposing marriage to me! And that is what I mean to bring him to before a month is over his venerable skeleton!"
And, with this characteristic resolution, Mary Grey went to bed.
LAURA LYTTON'S MYSTERIOUS BENEFACTOR.
There never was a closer friendship between two girls than that which bound Laura Lytton and Emma Cavendish together.
On the night of Laura's arrival, after they had retired from the drawing-room, and Electra had gone to bed and gone to sleep, Laura and Emma sat up together in Emma's room and talked until nearly daylight—talked of everything in the heavens above, the earth below, and the waters under the earth. And then, when at length they parted, Laura asked:
"May I come in here with you to dress to-morrow? And then we can finish our talk."
"Surely, love! Use my room just like your own," answered Emma, with a kiss.
And they separated for a few hours.
But early in the morning, as soon as Emma was out of bed, she heard a tap at her chamber door, and she opened it to see Laura standing there in her white merino dressing-gown, with her dark hair hanging down and a pile of clothing over her arms.
"Come in, dear," said Emma, greeting her with a kiss.
And Laura entered and laid her pile of clothing on a chair, discovering in her hand a rich casket, which she set upon the dressing-table, saying:
"Here, Emma, dear, I have something very curious to show you. You have heard me speak of some unknown friend who is paying the cost of my brother's and my own education?"
"Yes. Haven't you found out yet who he is?" inquired Miss Cavendish.
"No; and I do not even know whether our benefactor is a he or a she. But anyhow he has sent me this," said Laura, unlocking the casket and lifting the lid.
"A set of diamonds and opals fit for a princess!" exclaimed Emma, in admiration, as she gazed upon the deep blue satin tray, on which was arranged a brooch, a pair of ear-rings, a bracelet and a necklace of the most beautiful opals set in diamonds.
"Yes, they are lovely! They must have come from Paris. They are highly artistic," answered Laura. "But look at these others, will you? These are barbaric," she added, lifting the upper tray from the casket and taking from the recess beneath the heaviest cable gold chain, a heavier finger ring, and a pair of bracelets. "Just take these in your double hands and 'heft' them, as the children say," she concluded, as she put the weight of gold in Emma's open palms, which sank at first under the burden.
"There; what do you think of that?" inquired Laura.
"I think they are barbaric, as you said. Well intended, no doubt, but utterly barbaric. Why, this gold chain might fasten up the strongest bull-dog and these bracelets serve as fetters for the most desperate felon! Where on earth were they manufactured?" inquired Miss Cavendish.
"In some rude country where there was more gold than good taste, evidently. However, Emma, dear, there is something very touching, very pathetic, to my mind, in these anonymous offerings. Of course they are almost useless to me. I could never wear the chain or the bracelets. They are far too clumsy for any one but an Indian chief; and I can never wear those lovely opals unless by some miracle I grow rich enough to have everything in harmony with them. And yet, Emma, the kindness and—what shall I say?—the humility of this anonymous giver so deeply touches my heart that I would not part with even a link of this useless chain to buy myself bread if I were starving," murmured Laura, with the tears filling her eyes, as she replaced the jewels in their casket.
"And you have no suspicion who the donor is?"
"None whatever. These came to me through Mr. Lyle, the agent who receives and pays the money for our education."
"What does your brother say to all this?"
"Oh, it makes him very uneasy at times. He shrinks from receiving this anonymous assistance. It is all Mr. Lyle can do now, by assuring him that in the end he will find it all right, to induce him to continue to receive it. And, at all events, he declares that after he graduates he will not take another dollar of this anonymous fund—conscience money or not—but that he will begin to pay back in bank, with interest and compound interest, the debt that he is now incurring."
"I think that resolution is highly to his honor," said Emma Cavendish.
"And he will keep it. I know Alden," answered Laura.
And then the two girls hastened to dress themselves for breakfast. And very well they both looked as they left their room.
Laura wore her crimson merino morning-dress, with white linen cuffs and collar, a costume that well became her olive complexion and dark hair and eyes.
Emma wore a black cashmere trimmed with lusterless black silk, and folded book-muslin cuffs and collar. And in this dark dress her radiant blonde beauty shone like a fair star.
They rapped at Electra's door to bring her out.
She made her appearance looking quite dazzling. Electra had a gay taste in dress. She loved bright colors and many of them. She wore a purple dressing-gown with a brilliant shawl border—a dress for a portly old lady rather than for a slim young girl.
They went down together to the breakfast-room, where they found the languishing widow and the old clergyman tete-a-tete.
Mrs. Grey greeted them with a sweet smile and honeyed words, and Dr. Jones with a kindly good-morning and handshake.
And they sat down to breakfast.
This Easter Sunday had dawned clearly and beautifully. The family of Blue Cliffs were all going to attend divine service at Wendover.
So, as soon as breakfast was over, the carriage was ordered, and the young ladies went upstairs to dress for church.
At nine o'clock the whole party set out. Emma Cavendish, Laura Lytton and Electra Coroni went in the old family coach, carefully driven by Jerome. Mrs. Grey went in a buggy driven by the Rev. Dr. Jones.
Who arranged this last drive, this tete-a-tete, no one knew except the artful coquette and her venerable victim.
They all reached the church in good time.
The rector, the Rev. Dr. Goodwin, read the morning service, and the Rev. Dr. Jones preached the sermon.
At the conclusion of the services, when the congregation were leaving, Mr. Craven Kyte came up to pay his respects to the ladies from Blue Cliffs.
Miss Cavendish introduced him to Dr. Jones, explaining that he had been a ward of her father, and was once an inmate of Blue Cliff Hall.
Dr. Jones received the young man with courtesy, and in his turn introduced him to Miss Coroni.
Then Emma Cavendish invited him to go home with them to dinner, kindly reminding him of the old custom of spending his holidays in his guardian's house.
With a smile and a bow, and with a warm expression of thanks, the young man accepted the offered hospitality.
And when the party entered their carriages to return to Blue Cliffs, Craven Kyte, mounted on a fine horse, attended them.
But, mind, he did not ride beside the carriage that contained the three young ladies, but beside the gig occupied by Mary Grey and Dr. Jones.
And the very first inquiry he made of Emma, on reaching the house, was:
"Is the Reverend Doctor Jones a married man?"
"Why, what a question!" exclaimed Emma, laughing. "No, he is not a married man; he is a widower. Why do you ask?"
"I don't know. But I thought he was a widower. He seems very much taken with Mrs. Grey," sighed the young man.
"Oh, is that it?" laughed Emma, as she ran away to take off her bonnet and mantle.
And that Easter Sunday Mary Grey found herself again in a dilemma between her two proposed victims—the gray-haired clergyman and the raven-locked youth.
But she managed them both with so much adroitness that at the close of the day, when Craven Kyte was riding slowly back to Wendover, he was saying to himself:
"She is fond of me, after all; the beauty, the darling, the angel! Oh, that such a perfect creature should be fond of me! I am at this moment the very happiest man on earth!"
And later the same night, when the Rev. Dr. Jones laid his woolen night-capped head upon his pillow, instead of going to sleep as the old gentleman should have done, he lay awake and communed with himself as follows:
"Poor child—poor child! A mere baby. And she is penitent; sincerely penitent. Oh, I can see that! And to think that she is not nearly so much in fault as we believed her to be! She tells me that she really was married to that man—married when she was a child only fourteen years of age. So her gravest error was in running away to be married! And that was the fault of the man who stole her, rather than of herself. And she is as repentant for that fault as if it were some great crime. And oh, how she has suffered! What she has gone through for one so young! And she has such a tender, affectionate, clinging nature! Ah, what will become of her, poor child—poor child! She ought to have some one to take care of her. She ought indeed to be married, for no one but a tender husband could take care of such a pretty, delicate, helpless creature. She ought to marry some one much older than herself. Not a green, beardless boy like that young puppy—Heaven forgive me!—I mean that young man Kyte. He couldn't appreciate her, couldn't be a guide or a guard to her. And she really needs guiding and guarding too. For see how easily she falls into error. She ought to marry some good, wise, elderly man, who could be her guide, philosopher and friend as well as husband."
And so murmuring to himself he fell asleep to dream that he himself was the model guide, philosopher and friend required by the young widow.
A GROWL FROM UNCLE JACKY.
The next day, Easter Monday, brought a messenger from Lytton Lodge; a messenger who was no other than Mithridates, commonly called "Taters," once a servant of Frederick Fanning, the landlord of White Perch Point, but now a hired hand of John Lytton's.
Mithridates, or Taters, rode an infirm-looking old draft horse, with a dilapidated saddle and bridle, and wore a hat and coat exceedingly shabby for a gentleman's servant.
He also led a second horse, furnished with a side-saddle.
He dismounted at the carriage-steps, tied the horses to a tree, and boldly went to the front door and knocked.
Jerome opened it, and administered a sharp rebuke to the messenger for presuming to knock at the visitors' door instead of at the servants'.
"If I'd a come to the servants' I'd rapped at the servants' door; but as I have comed to the white folks' I rap at dere door. Here; I've fotch a letter from Marse Jacky Lytton to his niece, Miss Lorrer," said Taters, pompously.
"Give it to me then, and I'll take it in to her," said Jerome.
"Set you up with it! I must 'liver of this here letter with my own hands inter her own hands," said Taters, stoutly.
"Well, come along, for a fool! You're a purty looking objick to denounce into the parlor, a'n't you now?" said Jerome, leading the way.
At that moment, unseen by Jerome, but distinctly seen by Taters, a face appeared at the head of the stairs for an instant, but meeting the eye of Taters turned white as death and vanished.
Taters uttered a terrible cry and sank, ashen pale and quaking with horror, at the foot of the steps.
"Why, what in the name of the old boy is the matter with you, man? Have you trod on a nail or piece of glass, or anything that has gone through your foot, or what is it?" demanded Jerome, in astonishment.
"Oh, no, no, no! it's worse'n that—it's worse'n that! It's no end worse'n that! Oh, Lor'! oh, Lor'! oh, Lor'!" cried Taters, holding his knees and sawing backward and forward in an agony of horror.
"Ef you don't stop that howlin' and tell me what's the matter of you I'm blessed ef I don't get a bucket of ice water and heave it all over you to fetch you to your senses!" exclaimed the exasperated Jerome.
"Oh, Lor', don't! Oh, please don't! I shill die quick enough now without that!" cried Taters, writhing horribly.
"What's the matter, you born iddiwut?" roared Jerome, in a fury.
"Oh, I've seen a sperrit—I've seen a sperrit! I've seen the sperrit of my young mistress! And it's a token of my death!" wailed the negro boy in agony.
"What's that you say—a sperrit? A sperrit in this yer 'spectable, 'sponsible house? Lookee here, nigger: mind what you say now, or it'll be the wus for you! A sperrit in this yer ginteel family as never had a crime or a ghost inter it! The Cavendishers nebber 'mits no crimes when der living, nor likewise don't walk about ondecent after der dead. And der a'n't no sperrits here," said Jerome, with ire.
"Oh, I wish it wasn't—I wish it wasn't! But it was a sperrit! And it's a token of my death—it's a token of my death!" howled Taters.
And now at last the noise brought the three young ladies out of the drawing-room.
"What is the matter here, Jerome?" inquired Mrs. Cavendish. "Has any one got hurt? Who is that man?"
"Ef you please, Miss Emma, no one a'n't got hurt, though you might a thought, from the squalling, that there was a dozen pigs a killin'. And that man, miss, is a born iddiwut, so he is—begging your pardon, miss!—and says he's seed a sperrit in this yer harristocraterick house, where there never was a sperrit yet," explained Jerome, with a grieved and indignant look.
"But who is the man? What is he doing here? And what does he want?" inquired the young lady.
"The man is a born iddiwut, Miss Emma, as I telled you before; that's who the man he is! And he's a making of a 'fernal fool of hisself; that's what he's doing here! And he deserves a good hiding; and that's what he wants!" said Jerome, irately.
Miss Cavendish passed by the privileged old family servant, and went up to the man himself and inquired:
"Who are you, boy? What brings you here? And what ails you?"
"Oh, miss! I'm Taters, I am. And I come to fetch a letter from Marse Jacky Lytton to Miss Lorrer. And I seen a sperrit at the top o'them stair steps. And that's what's the matter of me," cried the boy.
"A spirit! Jerome, do you think he's been drinking?" inquired the young lady in a low, frightened voice.
For an answer Jerome, without the least hesitation, seized Taters by the head, pulled open his jaws, and stuck his own nose into the cavity and took an audible snuff. Then, releasing the head, he answered:
"No, miss, he a'n't been drinking nuffin. His breff's as sweet as a milch cow's. I reckon he must be subjick to epperliptic fits, miss, by the way he fell down here all of a suddint, crying out as he'd seen a sperrit."
"You said you had a letter, boy. Where is it?" inquired Emma.
"Here, miss! Here it is! I'll give it to you, though I wouldn't give it to him there!" answered Taters, with a contemptuous glance toward Jerome.
Emma took the letter, which was inclosed in a wonderfully dingy yellow envelope, and she read the superscription, and then called to Laura, saying:
"Come here, my dear. Here is a letter from Lytton Lodge for you."
Laura Lytton, who, with Electra, had been standing just within the drawing-room door, near enough to observe the group, but not to hear the whole of their conversation, now came when she was called and received her letter.
"It is from dear Uncle Jacky," she said, with an affectionate smile, as she recognized the handwriting.
And then she asked the messenger a multitude of questions, which he was too much agitated to answer coherently, until at length Miss Cavendish said:
"Jerome, take the poor fellow into the kitchen and give him something to eat and drink. There is nothing like beef and beer to exorcise evil spirits. And when he is rested and refreshed we will see him again."
And Jerome took Taters rather roughly by the shoulder and pulled him upon his feet and carried him along the hall through the back door toward the kitchen.
"Will you excuse me now, dear Emma, while I read my uncle's letter?" inquired Laura, as she retreated to the drawing-room.
"Certainly," smiled Miss Cavendish, following her guests.
Laura went into the recess of a bay-window and opened the dingy yellow envelope and read as follows:
"LYTTON LODGE, April —, 18—.
"MY DEAR NIECE:—I think my nephew, Alden, has a more correcter ideer of what is jue to kin and kith than what you have shown.
"Alden is spending his Easter holidays along of me and his relations.
"But you haven't been nigh the house since you left it to go to school. You do seem to be so wrapped up in the Cavendishers as not to think anything of your own folks.
"Now I can tell you what it is. The Lyttonses are a great deal older and better family than all the Cavendishers that ever lived. I don't care if they was governors of the state.
"I have heard my grandfather, who was a scholar, say that the Lyttonses was landed gentry in the old country long before the Cavendishers followed of their lord and marster William the Conkerer across the channil. And so I don't approve of your sliting of the Lyttonses for them there Cavendishers. Spesherly as you're a Lytton yourself. And if we don't respect ourselves and each other no one a'n't a going to respect us.
"And talking of that, what do you think Hezekiah Greenfield, the landlord of the Reindeer, went and done to me last week?
"Why, he came over and asked me could I supply his tavern with fruits and vegetables during the summer season at the market price, saying—quite as if he was a making of me a kind proposal instead of offering of me a black insult—that he'd rather deal with me, and I should have his money, than any one else, if so be I was willing to do business.
"Now what do you think I answered him?
"Why, I set the bull-dog on him! I did that! And it was good for him as he scrambled up on his horse and made off double-quick, or he'd been torn to pieces before you could say Jack Robinson.
"That'll learn the tavern-keeper to insult a gentleman next time by offering to buy his garden stuff!
"But what I'm writing to you for, my dear, now, is this. I think you ought to come to see us, anyhow. You must come, if it's only for two or three days, to see your old grandmother, and all your relations, and to meet Alden, who is here, as I said. I have sent Taters on horseback with a led horse and a side-saddle for you. Come back along of him to-morrow morning. And give my honorable compliments to the old madam and Miss Cavendish. Because, mind you, I'm not a saying as the Cavendishers a'n't a good, respectabil family; only I do say as they are not so good as the Lyttonses, and they never was and never will be; and they know it themselves, too. Well, your dear grandma, and your dear aunties and cousins, all sends their love to you, with many good wishes. So no more at present from your affeckshunit uncle,
THE GHOST SEEN BY "TATERS."
He shuddered, as no doubt the bravest cowers, When he can't tell what 'tis that doth appall. How odd a single hobgoblin's nonentity Should cause more fear than a whole host's identity. —BYRON.
"Emma, dear, I have a letter from Uncle John Lytton," said Laura, gravely, going to the side of her friend.
"I hope they are all well at Lytton Lodge," responded Emma.
"Oh, yes, thank you, they are all quite well; but," added Laura, with a sigh, "Uncle John has written to me to come at once and pay them a visit. And to leave me no excuse, he has sent his servant Mithridates on horseback, with another led horse and side-saddle, to take me to Lytton Lodge."
"Oh, dear! But you need not go, I hope?" said Emma, looking up, with a sigh.
"I must go," answered Laura, with another sigh. "And really I ought to be glad to go to see such kind friends as all my relatives there have been to me. But, you see, Emma, I don't like to leave you for a single day even before I have to return to school."
"Then why do you go at all? Why can you not send an excuse?"
"Dear Emma, would you refuse to go if you were in my place?" inquired Laura.
Emma Cavendish could not reply.
"No, you would not," added Laura, "because it would not be right to refuse."
"But, my dear, to perform so long a journey on horseback! It must be over twenty miles. Let me see—it is about nine miles from here to Wendover, and it must be ten or eleven from Wendover to Lytton Lodge," said Emma.
"No; only about eight or nine. The whole distance is not more than seventeen or eighteen miles by the roundabout route. And if I could go as the crow flies it is not more than six miles. Why, you know the eastern extremity of your land touches the western extremity of uncle's."
"So it does. And if, as you say, you could go as the crow flies—that is, straight over mountains and rivers—you could get there in two hours. As it is, it will take you five or six hours, and that is too long for a girl to be in the saddle, especially a city-bred girl, unaccustomed to such exercise."
"I think I can stand it," smiled Laura.
"But you shall not try. If you will go you must take the little carriage. When do you propose to start?"
"Well, we will send the redoubtable Mithridates back with his steeds, and send you on your journey in the little carriage, under the guardianship of old Jerome, with orders to remain with you during your visit; but to bring you back again, at farthest, on the third day," said Emma, peremptorily.
Laura thanked her friend, but protested against any trouble being taken on her account.
But Miss Cavendish was firm, and the arrangement was made according to her plan.
In the meantime Mithridates, eating beef and bread and drinking home-made sweet cider in the kitchen, recovered some of his composure; though still, with his mouth full of meat and his eyes starting from his head, he persisted that he had seen the spirit of his young mistress. And it was a token of his death.
"G'long way from her', boy! Ef I didn't know as you wasn't I should think as you was intoxified! There never was no sperrit never seen into this house," said Aunt Molly, indignantly.
"I don't care! I did see her sperrit! So there now," persisted Taters, bolting a chunk of bread and choking with it for a moment. "And—and it's a token of my death."
"Is that the reason you're a trying to kill yourself now, you iddiwut?"
"No; but I seen her sperrit!"
"I don't believe one word of it. You're a making of it all up out'n your own stoopid head! There, now, ef you're done eatin' you'd better go 'long and put up your hosses," said Aunt Moll, seeing her guest pause in his gastronomic efforts.
But Taters hadn't done eating, and did't get done until all the dishes on the kitchen table were cleared and the jug of cider emptied.
Then, indeed, he gave over and went to look after his "beasts."
At the same hour Mary Grey, locked fast in her room, suffered agonies of terror and anxiety. She, too, had seen a "ghost"—a ghost of her past life—a ghost that might have come to summon her from her present luxurious home!
On her way down-stairs to the drawing-room she had been arrested on the head of the middle landing by the sight of a once familiar face and form.
She met the distended eyes of this apparition, and saw at once that he had recognized her as surely as she had recognized him.
And in an instant she vanished.
She darted into her own room and locked the door and sank breathless into the nearest chair.
And there she sat now, with beating heart and burning head, waiting for what should come next.
A rap at the door was the next thing that came.
It frightened her, of course—everything frightened her now.
"Who is that?" she nervously inquired.
"Only me, ma'am. The ladies are waiting luncheon for you. Miss Emma sends her compliments and says will you come down?" spoke the voice of Sarah, the lady's maid.
"Love to Miss Cavendish, and ask her to excuse me. I do not want any luncheon," answered Mary Grey, without opening the door.
Then she sank back in her chair with throbbing pulses, waiting for the issue of this crisis. She was really ill with intense anxiety and dread. She grew so weak at last that she lay down upon her sofa.
Then came another rap at the door.
"Who is that?" she asked again, faintly.
"It is I, dear," answered the voice of Emma Cavendish.
Mrs. Grey arose trembling and opened the door.
"I was afraid that you were not well. I came up to see," said Emma, kindly, as she entered the room.
"I—no, I am not quite well," faltered Mary Grey, as she retreated to the sofa and sat down, with her back purposely to the light and her face in the shadow.
"You really look pale and ill. What is the matter, dear?"
"I—think I have taken cold. But by keeping to my room for a few days I hope to be better. A cold always affects the action of my heart and makes me very nervous," said Mary Grey, in explanation of the tremors for which she could not otherwise account.
Then Emma expressed sympathy and sorrow, and begged the pretended invalid to have some tea and cream-toast, or some wine-whey or chicken-broth.
But Mary Grey declined all these offers, declaring that a cold always took her appetite away.
And again Emma expressed regret.
And, as Miss Cavendish talked, Mary Grey grew more composed.
It was evident, she thought, that Emma as yet knew nothing of that strange rencounter on the stairs.
Presently, Miss Cavendish said:
"I am sorry to tell you that we shall lose Laura Lytton for a few days. Her uncle, Mr. Lytton of Lytton Lodge, has sent a messenger for her. She goes to visit her relations there to-morrow morning."
"Indeed—a messenger?" exclaimed Mary Grey, pricking up her ears.
"Yes; a queer genius, who signalized his entrance into the house by a scene," added Emma, smiling.
"Oh, yes! Why, you might have heard the commotion in the front hall! Did you hear nothing of it?"
"No, dear; I have remained shut up in my room ever since breakfast—have not stirred from it," answered Mary Grey, lying without the least hesitation.
"That accounts for your knowing nothing about it. But the absurd fellow raised quite a confusion by suddenly falling down in the front hall in a spasm of terror, declaring that he had seen the spirit of his young mistress on the middle landing of the front stairs."
"An optical illusion," answered Mary Grey, in a low, tremulous tone and with her face carefully kept in the shadow.
"Of course! And it appears that he was once a servant of that reckless and unlucky Frederick Fanning of White Perch Point, who married my mother's sister. And consequently his young mistress must have been that unfortunate cousin of mine," said Emma, with a sigh.
"Does any one know what ever became of that wretched girl?" inquired Mrs. Grey, in a very low tone.
"No; but I gather from the wild talk of the boy that she is supposed to be dead. It was her spirit that he thinks he saw."
"Whatever became of her father and mother?" questioned Mary Grey in the same low tone and still keeping her face in the deep shadow.
"I do not know. I heard that they went to California. I have not heard anything of them since. But, my dear, you are talking beyond your strength. Your voice is quite faint—scarcely audible indeed. Now I advise you to lie down and be quiet," said Miss Cavendish, with some solicitude.
And then she kissed Mary Grey, begged her to ring for anything she might require, and then she left the room.
And Mary Grey heard no more of the ghost. That cloud passed harmlessly over her head.
A VISIT TO LYTTON LODGE.
Early the next morning Miss Cavendish's snug little pony-carriage, with a pretty pair of grays, stood before the front door waiting for Laura Lytton.
Old Jerome sat on the front seat to drive.
Taters, with his own horse and the now useless led horse, was in attendance.
Laura Lytton, dressed for her journey and with traveling-bag in hand, stood with Emma Cavendish in the hall waiting for Mrs. Grey, to whom they had sent a message inviting her to come down and see the traveler off.
But presently the messenger returned with Miss Grey's love and good wishes, and requested that they would excuse her from coming down, as her cold was so severe that she did not dare to leave her room.
"I must go up and bid her good-bye then," said Laura, as she dropped her traveling-bag and ran upstairs.
She found Mary Grey in a fine white merino dressing-gown playing the interesting invalid.
She hastily kissed her, expressed a hope that she might find her better on returning to Blue Cliffs, and then ran out of the room and down-stairs as fast as she could go.
She had already taken leave of every member of the family except Emma Cavendish, who went out with her to the carriage, saw her comfortably seated in it, and kissed her good-bye.
The little cavalcade then set forward.
It was a lovely spring morning. The woods and fields were clothed with the freshest green; the mountain tops beamed in the most beautiful opal tints, and the blue sky was without a cloud.
Laura enjoyed her drive very much.
At Wendover they stopped to rest and water the horses, and then they resumed their journey and went on to Lytton Lodge, where they arrived just about noon.
John Lytton was evidently on the lookout for his niece, for as the pony-carriage drove up, amid the barking of all the dogs and the shouting of all the little negroes, he rushed out of the house, throwing up his arms; and he caught Laura and lifted her bodily from her seat, roaring his welcome.
And Laura, as she returned his honest, hearty greeting, felt a twinge of self-reproach in remembering with what reluctance she had come.
Uncle John took her into the house and set her down in the hall in the midst of all her relations, who had crowded there to welcome here.
"Lor-lor-lor', John! How dare you ma-ma-make so free as that with Laura, and she a young 'oman?" exclaimed old Mrs. Lytton, as, in her well-known faded calico gown and long-eared muslin cap, she came up and kissed her granddaughter.
"Why, because she is a young 'oman, of course, and not an old man!" said John, saucily.
"Why, how much you have improved, child!" said Miss Molly Moss, smiling blandly.
"Oh, a'n't she though, neither?" exclaimed Octy and Ulky in a breath, as they seized her hands, the one clinging to her right and the other to her left.
"Come, now, I think you had better let Laura go upstairs and take off her bonnet and things. Dinner's all ready to go on the table. And I reckon her appetite is ready also. And, Jacky, you had better go out and tell John Brooks to put up and feed them horses," said practical Aunt Kitty, as she took and faced Laura about toward the spare bed-room that was on the first floor.
"Uncle wrote me that my brother was here. But I don't see him," said Laura as she laid off her bonnet.
"No; he and Charley went to Perch Point fishing yesterday, intending to stay all night and come back this morning. I reckon they'll soon be here," said Aunt Kitty.
Laura washed her face and hands and brushed her hair, put on clean collar and cuffs, and declared herself ready to join the family.
Even as she spoke there was the hilarious bustle of an arrival in the hall outside.
And as Laura emerged from the room she was caught in the arms of her brother Alden.
"My darling sister, I am so delighted to see you!" said the young man, kissing her joyously.
"So am I to see you, Alden, dear. But why didn't you accept Mrs. Cavendish's invitation to come and join our Easter party at Blue Cliffs?" inquired Laura.
"My dear, because I thought my duty called me here," gravely replied Alden.
"But for a day or two you might have joined us," persisted Laura.
"No," said Alden. Then turning toward his red-headed fishing comrade he said: "Here's Cousin Charley waiting to welcome you, Laura."
And Charley Lytton, blushing and stammering, held out his hand and said:
"How do you do? I am very glad to see you."
"And now come to dinner," said Aunt Kitty, opening the dining-room door.
They all went in and sat down to as fine a dinner as was ever served in Blue Cliff Hall, or even at the Government House, although this was laid on a rough pine table, covered with a coarse, though clean linen table-cloth, and in a room where the walls were whitewashed and the floors were bare.
"And now," said Uncle Jacky, as soon as he had served the turtle soup around to everybody, "I want you to tell me why you couldn't ride the gray mare, and why you came in a pony-carriage with a slap-up pair of bloods?"
"Why, you know, I am a good-for-nothing city-bred girl, Uncle John, and Miss Cavendish knew it and doubted my ability to ride eighteen or twenty miles on horseback, and so insisted on my having the pony-carriage," explained Laura, soothingly.
"Well, I'm glad it was no worse. I was thinking may be as you despised the old family mare," said John, somewhat mollified.
"Oh, no, uncle! Quite the contrary. I did not feel equal to her," laughed Laura.
"Well, when must we send that fine equipage back—to-night or tomorrow?"
"Neither, Uncle John. It is not wanted at Blue Cliffs just at present. They have the barouche, the brougham and the gig. They can easily spare the pony-chaise. And Emma insisted on my keeping it here until I should be ready to return. And I promised her that I would do it."
"Now I don't like that. That is a patternizing of us a great deal too much. We've got a carriage of our own, I reckon," said John, sitting back in his chair and lifting his red head pompously.
"Now-now-now, John Lytton, don't you be a foo-foo-fool! Carriage! Why, our carriage is all to pieces! A'n't been fit to use for this six months! And sin-sin-since the Caverndishers have been so obleeging as to lend the loan of the pony-shay to Laura, I say let her keep it till she goes back. And while it's a staying here idle I can use it to go and see some of my neighbors," said old Mrs. Lytton, in that peremptory way of hers that did not brook contradiction from any one—even from the master of the house.
A FLIGHT FROM BLUE CLIFFS.
Laura Lytton staid two days with her relatives at Lytton Lodge, and was just turning over in her mind the difficult subject of breaking the news of her immediate departure to Uncle Jacky, whom she felt sure would bitterly oppose it, when, on the evening of the second day, she received a surprise in the form of a call from Craven Kyte.
The visitor was shown into the big parlor, where all the family, except Alden and Charley, were assembled, and engaged in cheerful conversation around the evening lamp.
He came in bowing, shook hands with everybody, and then took the seat that was offered him and drew a letter from his pocket, saying, humorously:
"In these latter days, when every one has a mission, it seems to me that my mission is to fetch and carry letters. I happened to call at Blue Cliffs this morning and to mention while there that I was going to White Perch Point and should take Lytton Lodge in my way, and would carry any message that was desired to Miss Laura Lytton, who I understood was on a visit there. And then Miss Cavendish requested me to take a letter to you, which she sat down and wrote right off at once. And here it is, miss," he concluded, placing the letter in Laura's hands.
Laura asked leave of her company, and then opened the envelope and read as follows:
"BLUE CLIFFS, Thursday afternoon.
"MY DEAREST LAURA:—The opportune arrival of Mr. Craven Kyte, on his way to White Perch Point and Lytton Lodge, furnishes me with the means of communicating with you sooner than I could manage to do by mail.
"You will be very much surprised at what I am about to tell you.
"Mary Grey has left Blue Cliffs.
"She left so suddenly that I scarcely yet can realize that she has gone.
"My grandmother and myself opposed her departure most earnestly. We used every means in the world but absolute force to keep her here.
"But she would go. She said her health and spirits required the change. You know she was ailing when you left here.
"Well, she has gone to Charlottesville, where she says she has some lady friend who keeps a boarding-house for the students of the University. So if your brother returns to the University he may have an opportunity of renewing his very pleasant acquaintance with her. I do not know when, if ever, she will return.
"Of course this is her home whenever she pleases to come back. But I strongly suspect the pretty little widow has grown tired of our country house.
"You know she has really no resources within herself for enjoyment. She cares nothing for the beautiful scenery surrounding our home, nor for gardening, nor reading, nor visiting and instructing the poor negroes; nor, in short, for anything that makes a remote country place enjoyable. And so she has left us—'It may be for years, and it may be for ever,' as the song says.
"But, my darling, don't you desert me just at this time. Come back, according to your promise. I am wearying for you. Tell that excessively affectionate and hospitable Uncle John that I need you so much more than he does. Or show him this letter. All the Lyttons are gallant and chivalrous gentlemen. He is no exception, and he will not oppose my wish, I feel sure. I shall expect you at Blue Cliffs to-morrow evening.
"My grandmother has just directed me to repeat her invitation to Mr. Alden Lytton, and to ask him to accompany you back to Blue Cliffs and make us a visit. I hope he will do so. Mind, I shall expect you both to-morrow evening. Pray present my respects to Mr. and Mrs. Lytton and all their kind family. And believe me, dearest Laura,
"Ever your own "EMMA.
"Postscript.—I have some strange news to tell you which I can not trust upon paper. I also expect a new inmate in the family. I will explain when you come. E."
Laura folded her letter and put it into her pocket for the present.
"They want you to come back, I suppose," said Uncle John, testily.
"I will show you the letter presently, uncle, so you can read and judge for yourself," said Laura, with a smile.
"Well, all I say is this: if they want you to come back want will be their master. For they can't have you; so there now! I don't mean to let you leave us until you are obliged to go back to school. I don't that!" said John, nodding his big red head.
"Did you know Mrs. Grey had left Blue Cliffs?" sorrowfully inquired Mr. Kyte.
"Yes. Emma has written to me about her departure. When did she go?"
"Early this morning. When I got to the house I was very much disappointed at not seeing her, and beyond measure astonished to hear that she had started that very morning to Wendover, to catch the first train to the city, en route for Charlottesville. She will be a great loss to the domestic circle at Blue Cliffs, I think."
"And who the mischief is Mrs. Grey?" inquired the sorely puzzled Uncle John.
"She was one of the assistant teachers—the drawing-mistress, in fact—at Mount Ascension. But she lost her situation there. And she became the guest of Emma Cavendish. Afterward she was engaged to Mr. Cavendish. But his death prevented the marriage," Laura explained.
And at this point of the conversation "Mandy" made her appearance at the door and said that supper was on the table.
And old Mrs. Lytton arose and invited the company to follow her to the dining-room.
After supper, as it was a clear, mild, star-lit evening, Mr. Craven Kyte remounted his horse and resumed his journey to White Perch Point.
After his departure, when the family were once more assembled in the big parlor, Laura took her letter out and put it in the hands of John Lytton.
Uncle Jacky read it through, and then quoted a part of it to the family circle.
"'Tell that affectionate and hospitable Uncle John that I need you so much more than he does. Or show him this letter. All the Lyttons are gallant and chivalrous gentlemen.' That's so!" put in Uncle Jacky, nodding his red head. "'He is no exception. And he will not oppose my wish, I feel sure.' Now that is what I call taking a fellow at a disadvantage!" growled John, holding the letter before his eyes and staring at it. "Well, I suppose I must let you go, Laura, seeing she makes such a point of it. But they want Alden, too. And Alden they can't have! Where is the fellow, anyhow? And why wasn't he at supper?"
"He and Charley are down at Uncle Bob's house, getting bait for another fishing match to-morrow. I told Mandy to keep the supper hot for them," answered Aunt Kitty.
And soon after this the little family, who kept very early hours, separated to go to rest.
Laura and her two cousins were the first to leave the room.
Aunt Kitty and Miss Molly followed.
When they were gone old Mrs. Lytton turned upon her son and said:
"Jacky, I ho-ho-hope you a'n't a goin' to be sich a contrairy fool as to stand into the light of your own flesh and blood?"
"Why, what the mischief do you mean, mother? I a'n't a standing into nobody's light, much less my own flesh and blood's!" exclaimed John, raising his red head.
"Yes-yes-yes, you are too! You're a standing into your own dear nephew's, Alden Lytton's, light, in opposing of his going to Blue Cliffs along of his sister to-morrow," complained the old lady.
"Riddle-me-riddle-me-ree! I know no more of what you're talking than the fish of Zuyder Zee!"
"Why-why-why then this is what I'm a talking about. Can-can-can't you see that Emma Cavendish is perfectly wrapped up in Laura Lytton? She's as fon-fon-fond of her as ever she can be. And Emma Cavendish is the most beau-beau-beautiful girl and the richest heiress in the whole state. And Alden Lytton is one of the han-han-handsomest young men I ever saw. And if he goes with his sister to Blue Cliffs—don't you see?"
"No, I don't," said honest, obtuse John.
"Well, then, the gal that is so fond of the sis-sis-sister might grow to be equally fond of the handsome bro-bro-brother. Now do you see?"
"Oh, I see!" exclaimed John, with a look of profound enlightenment.
"And I hope you won't go and stand into the light of your own dear nephew by raising up of any objections to his going along of his sister to Blue Cliffs," added the old lady.
"I stand in the light of my own poor, dear, dead brother's son! 'Tain't likely!" exclaimed Uncle Jacky, with an injured air.
"No, John, I don't think it is. And so, I hope, instead of oppo-po-po-opposing on him, you'll encourage him to go along of his sister to Blue Cliffs to-morrow," said the old lady.
"Mother, I shall do what is right," answered John.
"And lookee here, Jacky! Don't you let on to Alden that any on us have such a thought as him going there to court the heiress, for ef you do, he's so high and mighty he'd see us all furder fust before he'd budge a step to go to Blue Cliffs, sister or no sister. So mind what I tell you, John."
"Mother, I will do all that is right," repeated John, with pompous dignity.
"I only hope as you will. And so good-night, my son," said the old woman, as she lighted her bed-room taper and left the room.
Laura came down-stairs early the next morning, and found her brother alone in the big parlor.
And then she showed him Emma Cavendish's letter.
And when he had read it through, she said, quite piteously:
"Alden, I do want to go back and spend the rest of the Easter holidays at Blue Cliffs, for I love Emma Cavendish better than anybody else in the whole world except yourself. And I hate to disappoint her. But I equally hate to leave you, Alden. So I do wish you would make up your mind to accept Mrs. Cavendish's invitation and accompany me to Blue Cliffs."
"Why-why-why of course he will go, Laura! Do you 'spect your own dear brother is a going to let you go off alone, by your own self, of a journey, when he's invi-vi-vited to go along of you?" exclaimed old Mrs. Lytton, who entered at that moment, and spoke up before Alden Lytton could either accept or refuse.
"Certainly he will. Why, nephew's a gentleman, I reckon, and he wouldn't refuse to escort his own dear sister, when he is requested to do so," added Uncle John, as he strode into the room.
Alden Lytton smiled and bowed.
In truth, now that the secret obstacle to his visit to Blue Cliffs was removed by the departure of Mrs. Grey for an indefinitely long absence, he felt no objection at all to accompanying his sister thither. So, still smiling, he answered:
"Why, you all seem to think that I shall make some difficulty about complying with my sister's wishes. But I shall do nothing of the sort. On the contrary, I shall attend my sister with great pleasure."
"That's you!" exclaimed old Mrs. Lytton.
"Bully boy!" heartily cried Uncle Jacky.
"I thank you, Alden," said Laura, quietly, giving him her hand.
"Yes, that's all very well; but—" began Charley, who had joined the circle.
"But what? What's the matter with you?" demanded his father.
Charley, seeing all eyes turned upon him, and most especially Laura's, blushed crimson and remained silent.
"I had arranged to go with Charley this morning to fish for trout in the Mad River," laughingly explained Alden.
"Oh, well, it can't be helped! You feel disappointed, of course, my boy; but everything must give way to the will of the ladies, Charley. 'All the Lyttons are gallant and chivalrous gentlemen,'" said Uncle Jacky, proudly, quoting the words of Emma's letter. "And we are no exception to the rule. Miss Cavendish is anxious for the society of Laura. Laura wishes the escort of her brother, who has also been invited to Blue Cliffs. We must not oppose the will of the ladies," concluded John, bowing to his niece with pompous deference.
Poor Charley blushed purpler than ever, and holding down his red head—like his father's—he mumbled something about "not wishing to oppose no ladies whatsoever."
"Now, then, what time are you expected at Blue Cliffs?" inquired Uncle Jacky, turning to Laura.
"This evening, uncle. Don't you remember? You read the letter."
"Oh, yes! Well, then, you needn't leave till after dinner, Kitty," he called to his wife, "order dinner for twelve o'clock noon, sharp! I want Alden and Laura, if they must leave, to go with full stomachs: do you hear?"
"Why of course, Jacky! Don't we always have dinner at twelve o'clock?" laughingly inquired Aunt Kitty.
"Well, then, mind that to-day a'n't an exception to the rule. Now where's that boy Taters?"
"Here I am, Marse John," said Mithridates, making his appearance with an armful of wood, which he threw upon the fire; for the April morning was chilly.
"Taters," said Uncle John, "you see to having the pony-chaise at the door at half-past twelve precisely to take Mr. Alden and Miss Laura to Blue Cliffs."
"Yes, Marse John."
"And, Taters, you saddle Brown Bill to ride and wait on them. You hear?"
Taters turned dark-gray and staggered to a chair and sat down.
"Why, what's the matter with the fool now?" demanded Uncle John.
"Oh, Marse John, don't send me to Blue Cliffs no more, sir—please don't!"
"Why—why shouldn't I send you there, you idiot?"
"Oh, Marse John, I done see the sperrit of my young mist'ess there; and if I see it ag'in I shall die—'deed I shall, sir!" exclaimed the shuddering boy.
"What the mischief does he mean, Laura? You look as if you understood him," inquired John Lytton.
Laura laughingly told the story of the supposed spirit, adding that it must have been a pure hallucination on the part of the boy.
"Well, anyhow, I'll not send him with you if he's takin' to makin' a fool of himself. It wouldn't do, you know," said John.
"And really, uncle, we need no one at all as an outrider," said Laura.
After an early and substantial dinner, Alden and Laura took leave of their kind relatives and entered the pony-carriage, whose dashing little grays, driven by old Jerome, were to take them to Blue Cliffs.
But we must precede them thither, to find out what it was that had driven Mary Grey from the house in such very great haste.
A STARTLING EVENT.
What see you in these papers, that you lose So much of your complexion? Look you how you change! Your cheeks are paper!—why, what hear you there That hath so cowarded and chased your blood Out of appearance? —SHAKESPEARE.
It was on the evening of the very same day that saw the departure of Laura Lytton for Lytton Lodge that Peter, the post-office messenger of Blue Cliffs, returned from Wendover, bringing with him a well-filled mail-bag.
He took it into the drawing-room, where Miss Cavendish and her guests, the Rev. Dr. Jones, Miss Electra, and Mrs. Grey, were gathered around the center-table, under the light of the chandelier.
Emma Cavendish unlocked the mail-bag and turned its contents out upon the table.
"Newspapers and magazines only, I believe. No letters. Help yourselves, friends. There are paper-knives on the pen-tray. And in the absence of letters, there is a real pleasure in unfolding a fresh newspaper and cutting the leaves of a new magazine," said the young lady, as she returned the empty bag to the messenger.
But her companions tumbled over the mail still in the vain hope of finding letters.
"None for me; yet I did hope to get one from my new manager at Beresford Manors," muttered Dr. Jones, in a tone of disappointment.
"And none for me either, though I do think the girls at Mount Ascension might write to me," pouted Electra.
"And of course there are none for me! There never are! No one ever writes to me. The poor have no correspondents. I did not expect a letter, and I am not disappointed," murmured Mary Grey, with that charming expression, between a smile and a sigh, that she had always found so effective.
"Well, there is no letter for any one, it seems, so none of us have cause to feel slighted by fortune more than others," added Emma Cavendish, cheerfully.
But Peter, the post-office boy, looked from one to the other, with his black eyes growing bigger and bigger, as he felt with his hand in the empty mail-bag and exclaimed:
"I'clar's to de law der was a letter for some uns. Miss Emmer, 'cause I see de pos'marser put it in de bag wid his own hands, which it were a letter wid a black edge all 'round de outside of it, and a dob o' black tar, or somethink, onto the middle o' the back of it."
As the boy spoke, the Rev. Dr. Jones began again to turn over the magazines and newspapers until he found the letter, which had slipped between the covers of the Edinboro' Review.
"It is for you, my dear," he said, as he passed the missive across the table to Miss Cavendish.
"I wonder from whom it comes? The handwriting is quite unfamiliar to me. And the postmark is New York, where I have no correspondents whatever," said Emma, in surprise, as she broke the black seal.
"Oh, maybe it's a circular from some merchant who has heard of the great Alleghany heiress," suggested Electra.
"You will permit me?" said Emma, glancing at her companions as she unfolded her letter.
And then, as one and another nodded and smiled and returned to their magazines and papers. Emma Cavendish glanced at the signature of her strange letter, started with surprise, gazed at it a second time more attentively, and then turned hurriedly and began to read it.
And as she read her face paled and flushed, and she glanced from time to time at the faces of her companions; but they were all engaged with pamphlets and papers, except Mrs. Grey, whom Emma perceived to be furtively watching her.
The strange letter was written in rather a wild and rambling style of composition, as if the writer were a little brain sick. It ran as follows:
"BLANK HOTEL, New York City, April 27th, 18—.
"MY DEAR MISS CAVENDISH:—Our near blood relationship might warrant me in addressing you as my dear Emma. But I refrain, because you would not understand the familiarity any more than you recognize this handwriting, which must seem as strange to you as my face would seem if I were to present myself bodily before you; for you have never set eyes upon me, and perhaps have never even heard my name mentioned or my existence alluded to.
"And yet I am one of your family, near of kindred to yourself; in fact, your own dear mother's only sister.
"'We were two daughter's of one race, She was the fairer in the face.'
Yes, she was literally so. Your mother was a beautiful blonde, as I have been told that you, her only child, also are. I am—or, rather, I was before my hair turned white with sorrow—a very dark brunette.
"If you have ever heard of me at all, which I doubt—for I know that at home my once loved and cherished name
"'Was banished from each lip and ear, Like words of wickedness or fear'—
but if you ever heard of me at all you must have heard of that willful love marriage which separated me from all my family.
"Since that ill-omened marriage an unbroken succession of misfortunes have attended my husband and myself until they culminated in the most crushing calamity of our lives—the loss of our dear and only daughter in a manner worse than death.
"Soon after that awful bereavement our creditors foreclosed the mortgage on our estate at White Perch Point, and sold the place over our heads.
"And my poor husband and myself went out to California, childless and almost penniless, to begin life anew.
"We began in a very humble way indeed. As he was familiar with hotel business he got a place as bar-tender in a San Francisco hotel; and soon afterward I got a place in the same house, to look after and keep in repair the bed and table linen. And we lodged in the hotel, in a small attic chamber, and took our meals in the pantry.
"But we were both utterly broken down in mind and body, as well as in estate.
"He soon sank into a consumption and had to give up his place. I hired a room in a small house and took him to it. I still retained my place at the hotel, because my salary there was the only support we had. But I lived there no longer. I used to go in the morning, make the daily inspection of the linen, and bring home what needed mending; and working all the afternoon and half the night at my husband's bedside.
"But rent and food and fuel, physic and physicians' fees were very costly in San Francisco. And with all my work I fell deeper and deeper into debt.
"At length my poor husband died. And it took the proceeds of the sale of all our little personal effects to pay for the humblest sort of funeral.
"And I was left entirely destitute. Then my courage gave way. I wept myself so blind that I could no longer mend the linen at the hotel, or even see whether it wanted mending. Then I fell sick with sorrow and had to be taken to the hospital.
"At the end of three months I was dismissed. But where could I go? What could I do, broken in health and nearly blind as I was?
"I must have perished then and there but for the timely assistance of a young gold-digger who happened to hear about me when he came up to the city from his distant mining-camp.
"He was a very queer young man, whom his few friends called crazy on account of his lonely and ascetic manner of life, and his lavish liberality.
"He sought me out to relieve my wants. And upon my telling him that all I wanted was to go home to die, he bought me a whole state-room to myself in the first cabin of the 'Golden City,' bound from San Francisco to New York. And then he bought me an outfit in clothing, good enough for a duke's widow. And he gave me a sum of money besides, and started me fairly and comfortably on my voyage.
"I reached New York three days ago. But my strength continues to fail and my funds to waste. I have no power to work, even if I could procure anything to do. And I have not money enough to support me a month longer.
"I do not like to go into an alms-house. Yet what am I to do?
"But why do I write to you? you may naturally inquire.
"Why? Because, although a perfect stranger, you are, after all, my niece, my only sister's only child, my own only blood relation. And 'blood is thicker than water.'
"'I can not work; to beg I am ashamed.'
"I do not, therefore, beg, even of you. I do not so much as make any suggestion to you. I tell you the facts of the case, and I leave you to act upon them, or to ignore them entirely, at your pleasure.
"I do not even know whether I may venture to sign myself your aunt, KATHERINE FANNING."
Emma Cavendish read this letter through to the end; then she glanced at her companions, who were still all absorbed in the perusal of their journals.
Even Mrs. Grey was now lost in a magazine; but it was Les Modes de Paris, and contained plates and descriptions of all the new spring fashions.
So Miss Cavendish, seeing her friends all agreeably occupied and amused, returned to her singular letter and recommenced and read it carefully through to the end once more.
At the conclusion of the second reading she looked up and spoke to the Rev. Dr. Jones, saying:
"Are you reading anything very interesting in that Quarterly Review, my dear uncle?"
"Well, yes, my child—an article entitled 'Have Animals Reason?'"
"Reason for what?" naively inquired Mary Grey, looking up from her magazine of fashion.
Every one smiled except Dr. Jones, who condescended to explain that the subject under discussion was whether animals were gifted with reasoning faculties.
"Oh!" said Mrs. Grey, and returned to her Modes.
"You needn't read any more on that subject, grandpa; I can answer that question for you, or any other inquirer. All intelligent animals, whether they go upon two feet or four, or upon wings or fins, have reason just in proportion to their intelligence. And all idiotic animals, whether they go upon two feet or four, or wings or fins, lack reason just in proportion to their idiocy. Lor'! why I have seen human creatures at the Idiot Asylum with less intellect than cats. And I have seen some horses with more intelligence than some legislators. You can't generalize on these subjects, grandpa," said Miss Electra, with an air of conviction.
The Rev. Dr. Jones stared, much as a hen might stare to see her own ducklings take to the water. And then he turned to Emma Cavendish and said:
"Whether animals have reason or not, my dear, you had some reason for interrupting me. Now what was it?"
"To ask you to read this, sir," said Miss Cavendish, putting her letter in the hands of her uncle.
He took it and read it slowly through, muttering from time to time:
"Dear, dear, how distressing! Bless my soul alive! Well, well, well!"
And he glanced uneasily at Mary Grey, who fidgeted and flushed under his observation.
At length he finished and folded the letter and returned it to Miss Cavendish, with the inquiry:
"Well, my dear, what are you going to do in the premises?"
"I shall write immediately and ask my aunt to come here and make this her home," answered Emma, promptly.
At these words Mary Grey started, caught her breath with a gasp, and quickly whirled her chair around so as to bring her back to the light and throw her face in deep shadow.
"What's the matter with you?" inquired Electra.
"The light makes my eyes ache; that is all. You know I have not quite got rid of my cold yet," answered the widow in a low, faltering tone that might have attracted the attention of Miss Cavendish had not that young lady's thoughts been engaged with the subject of her letter.
"You will consult your grandmother before making this important addition to the household, I presume?" inquired the old gentleman.
"Yes, of course; but I am certain beforehand of my dear grandma's consent and co-operation in such an evident Christian duty," answered Miss Cavendish.
And then she turned to her young friends, to whom she thought some explanation was due, and she added:
"I have news in this letter that has much surprised and pained me. It is from my aunt, Mrs. Fanning. She has lost her husband, and has suffered very severe reverses of fortune. She is at this time alone in New York City, and in failing health. I shall write for her to come and live with us. And not to leave her a day in suspense, I shall telegraph from Wendover to-morrow morning."
"I'm glad she's coming. The more the merrier," said Electra, gayly.
Mrs. Grey said nothing. She arose as if to leave the room, tottered forward and fell to the floor in a dead swoon.
THE SIREN AND THE SAGE.
All started to their feet and rushed to the prostrate woman's assistance.
She was but a slight creature, and Dr. Jones lifted her easily and laid her on one of the sofas.
Electra flew upstairs to bring down a bottle of Florida water.
Emma patted and rubbed her hands.
Dr. Jones bathed her brow with cold water, sighing and muttering to himself:
"Poor girl! Poor unfortunate girl!"
"I take blame to myself," said Emma. "She is evidently much iller than I thought. I ought not to have persuaded her to leave her room so soon after her cold. It is my fault."
At that instant Electra ran in with the Florida water and dashed a liberal portion of it over the head and face of the fainting woman.
The shock and the penetrating odor combined to rouse her from insensibility; and with a few gasps she recovered her consciousness; though her face, after one sudden flush, settled into a deadly paleness.
"My poor dear, how are you?" inquired Emma Cavendish, kindly.
"Dying, I think; dying, I hope! Let some one help me to my room," she murmured.
Dr. Jones at once lifted her in his arms and bore her upstairs, preceded by Electra, who flew on before to show the way to Mary Grey's room, and followed by Emma Cavendish, who still blamed herself for the invalid's supposed relapse.
Dr. Jones laid her on her bed, and was about to leave her to the care of Emma and Electra, when she seized his hand and drew him down to her face and said:
"I wish to speak to you for a moment now. Send Miss Cavendish and Miss Coroni out of the room for a little while."
"My dear children, go away for a moment. Mrs. Grey wishes to speak to me alone," said Dr. Jones.
And Emma and Electra softly retired, with the belief that Mary Grey only wished to consult the minister on religious subjects.
As soon as the door was closed behind them Mary Grey seized the old man's hand and, fixing her great black eyes fiercely upon him, demanded:
"Do they suspect?"
"No; certainly not."
"Did you drop no word during my swoon that might have led them to suspect?"
"Not one syllable."
"I thank you then!" she exclaimed, with a long sigh of relief.
"But, my child, was that all you wished to talk to me about?"
"That was all, except this: to beg you still to be silent as the grave in regard to my identity."
"My child, your words disappoint and grieve me. I did hope that you asked this private interview with the design to consult me about the propriety of making yourself known."
"Making myself known!" she exclaimed, with a half-suppressed shriek, as she started up upon her elbow and stared at the speaker. "Making myself known!"
"The opportunity, my dear child, is such an excellent one. And, of course, you know that if Mrs. Fanning comes here—as she must; for there is no other refuge open to her—if she comes and finds you here, discovery is inevitable."
"But she will not find me here! She shall not! I could not look her in the face. Sooner than do that, I will hurl myself from the turnpike bridge into the Mad River!" she fiercely exclaimed.
"My child, do not talk so wickedly. It is frightful to hear such things!" cried the old man, shuddering.
"You will see such things, if you do not mind. I am quite capable of doing what I said, for I am tired and sick of this life of constant dependence, mortification and terror—an insupportable life!" she wildly exclaimed.
"Because, my poor girl, it is a life of concealment, in constant dread of discovery and the humiliation attending discovery. Change all that and your life will be happier. Trust in those who are nearest to you, and make yourself, your name, your errors, and your sufferings and repentance fully known. Emma Cavendish is the ruling power in this house, and she is a pure, noble, magnanimous spirit. She would protect you," pleaded the old man, taking her hand.
"Oh, yes, she is all that! Do you think that makes it any easier for me to shock her with the story of my own folly, weakness and cowardice? Oh, no, no! I could not bear the look of her clear, truthful blue eyes! And I would not! There; it is useless to talk to me, Doctor Jones! There are some things that I can not do. I can not stay here!"
"My poor, poor child, whither will you go? Stay! Now I think of it, I can send you to my house at Beresford Manors. That shall be your home, if you will accept it. But what excuse can you make for leaving this place so abruptly?"
"You are very kind, Doctor Jones. You are very kind. But a moment's reflection will teach you that I could not accept your hospitality. You have no lady, I believe, at Beresford Manors? No one there except the colored servants? Therefore, you see, it would not be proper for me to go there," said Mary Grey, affecting a prudery that she did not feel, and objecting to the place only because she did not choose to bury herself in a house more lonely, dreary and deserted, if possible, than Blue Cliff Hall itself.
"Then where can you go, my poor girl?" compassionately questioned the old minister.
"I have thought of that. Sudden as this emergency is, I am not quite unprepared for it. This crisis that I feared might come has come, that is all. Only it has come in a far different manner from what I feared. But the result must be the same. I must leave the house immediately. And you must help to smooth my way toward leaving it."
"But whither will you go, poor shorn lamb?"
"I have planned out all that, in view of this very contingency. I will go to Charlottesville, where I have a lady friend who keeps a boarding-house for the University students. I can stay with her, and make myself useful in return for board and lodging, until I get something to do for a living. That is all settled. I asked you for this interview only to satisfy myself that no hint of my identity had been dropped, and no suspicion of it excited, during my swoon; and, further, to beg you to keep my miserable secret hereafter, as you have hitherto."
"I have satisfied you, I hope, upon all those subjects."
"Yes; and I thank you."
"But still I can not abandon the hope that you will yet heed good counsel and make yourself known to your best friends," pleaded the old man.
But Mary Grey shook her head.
Dr. Jones coaxed, argued, lectured, all in vain.
At length, worn out by his importunities, Mary Grey, to gain her own ends, artfully replied:
"Well, dear, good, wise friend, if ever I do gain courage to make myself known to my family, I must do it from some little distance, and by letter, so as to give them time to get over the shock of the revelation, before I could dare to face them. Think of it yourself. How could we bear to look each other in the eyes while telling and hearing such a story?"
"I believe you are right so far. Yes, in that view of the case it is, perhaps, better that you should go away and then write," admitted Dr. Jones.
"And you will aid me in my efforts to get away at once and without opposition? Tell them that it is better for my health and spirits that I should go away for a while, and go immediately—as it really is, you know. Will you do this?"
"Yes, I will do it, in the hope that your nervous system may be strengthened, and you may find courage to do the duty that lies before you," said the doctor, as he pressed her hand and left the room.
Dr. Jones went down-stairs to the drawing-room, where the young ladies waited in anxious suspense.
Emma Cavendish arose and looked at him in silent questioning.
"There is no cause for alarm, my dear Emma. Your friend will do very well. No, you need not go up to her room. She requires absolutely nothing but to be left to repose. You can look in on her, if you like, just before you go to bed. That will be time enough," explained Dr. Jones, as he took his seat at the table and took up his Review again as if nothing had happened to interrupt his reading.
Emma Cavendish breathed a sigh of relief and resumed her seat. She and Electra read or conversed in a low voice over their magazines until the hour of retiring.
Electra was the first to close her pamphlet, as with an undisguised yawn, for which her school-mistress would have rebuked her, she declared that she could not keep her eyes open a minute longer, much less read a line, and that she was going to bed.
Dr. Jones, with as much courtesy as if he had not been her grandfather, arose and lighted her bedroom candle and put it in her hand.
And she kissed him a drowsy good-night and went upstairs.
Emma was about to follow, when the doctor motioned her to resume her seat.
She did so, and waited.
"I want a word with you about Mrs. Grey, my dear Emma. She is very much out of health."
"I feared so," replied Emma Cavendish.
"Or, to speak with more literal truth, I should say that her nervous system is very much disordered."
"She is full of sick fancies. She wishes to go away for a while to get a change of scene."
"I will go with her to any watering-place she desires to visit, in the season," said Emma Cavendish, readily.
"Yes; but, my dear, she must have this change now, immediately."
"I would go with her now if I could leave my guests. You know I have Electra here, and Laura will return in two days perhaps, with her brother also."
"My good child, she does not ask or need any attendance. She wants to go away by herself for a while. She wants to go to an old lady friend in Charlottesville."
"I have heard her lately speak of such a friend, and of her intention, some day, to visit her."
"Well, she wishes to go now, immediately, but is afraid to mention her desire lest it should meet with opposition, which she has no nerve to contest."
"Dear uncle, how strange that she should feel this way! Why, she is not a prisoner here! And if she wishes to leave us for a short or a long time she can do so."
"Of coarse she can, my dear; but she is full of sick fancies. And my advice to you is that you let her go at once. To-morrow morning, if she wishes."
"Why certainly, Uncle Beresford! I have neither the power nor the will to prevent her."
"So let it be then, my dear. And now good-night," said the doctor, taking his candle to leave the room.
Thus the matter was settled.
But the next day old Mrs. Cavendish, Electra, and, in fact, the whole house, were thrown into a state of consternation at the announcement of Mrs. Grey's immediate departure.
When or how she had managed to get her personal effects together, whether she had kept them packed up for the emergency, or whether she had sat up all night to pack them, I do not know; but it is certain that by seven o'clock that morning she had three enormous Saratoga trunks packed, strapped and locked ready for the wagon that she asked for to take them to the railway station.
It was not until her luggage was in the wagon, and the carriage was waiting for her at the door, and she herself in her traveling-suit and hat, that she went to bid the old lady good-bye.
Mrs. Cavendish had been informed by Emma of the intended abrupt departure of Mary Grey, and she had begun to oppose it with all her might.
But Emma endeavored to convince her that the change was vitally necessary to Mary Grey's health and strength.
So now when the traveler entered the old lady's room the latter feebly arose to her feet, holding on to the arm of her chair, while she faltered:
"Mary—Mary, this is so sudden, so shocking, so sorrowful, that I almost think it will make me ill! Why must you go, my dear?"
"Sweet mother—may I call you so?—sweet mother, I will tell you what I did not like to tell dear Emma, for fear it might distress her; she is so sensitive, you know!" murmured the siren, sitting down and tenderly caressing the old lady.
"Tell me then, my love, tell me anything you like," said Mrs. Cavendish, weeping.
"Well, you know that dear old lady friend in Charlottesville, of whom I spoke to you a week or so ago?"
"Ah, yes! The bishop's widow, who is reduced to keeping a student's boarding-house to help support her fifteen children," sighed the ancient dame.
"Yes, and my dear dead mother's dearest friend. Well, I have heard that she is in a dying condition and desires above all things to see me before she departs. That's what shocked me so severely as to make me quite ill. But I never should forgive myself if by any delay of mine she really should depart without having her last wish gratified. Do you blame me for hurrying away?"
"No, no, no, my child—my own lovely child! I do not wonder my poor Charley worshiped you, you are so very good! Go, Mary, my darling! But hurry back as soon as possible."
"Yes, sweet mother, I will. And now, not a word to Emma, or to any one else who might tell her of these distressing circumstances."
"No, no; certainly not! How thoughtful you are, for one so young, my good child! Bend down and take my blessing."
Mary Grey bowed her head.
The venerable lady placed her withered hands upon the bent head, raised her eyes to heaven, and solemnly invoked a blessing on the traitress.
And then Mary Grey arose, kissed her in silence, and left the room.
And thus they parted.
In the hall below she had to part with Emma and Electra.
"We hope you will return to us very soon, dear Mrs. Grey," said Emma Cavendish, as she kissed her good-bye.
"I hope so too, my dear," answered the widow.
"But you will scarcely get back before I return to school, so ours must be a very long good-bye," said Electra, as she also kissed the "parting guest."
"'Tis true, 'tis pity," said Mrs. Grey, between a smile and a sigh.
Dr. Jones then handed her into the carriage, and followed and took a seat by her side, for he was to attend her to the station and see her off on her journey.
When Emma Cavendish turned back into the house she went up into the old lady's room with the intention of breaking to her the news of Katherine Fanning's widowhood and destitution, and of her own desire to invite her to come and live at Blue Cliffs.
She found Mrs. Cavendish just finishing her nice breakfast with Aunt Moll in attendance upon her.
"Here, take away the service now," said the old lady, putting down her empty coffee-cup. "And now, Emma, I am very glad you have come. I feel quite low about parting with Mary. What an angel she is!"