By

Ella Wheeler Wilcox.

PERDITA

By The Author of

Poems of Passion &c.

 

 

 

P E R D I T A.

 

 

    Leaning over the broken stile, just at the edge of the world, a girl stood straining her eyes through the gathering gloom. A step sounded behind her, and she turned suddenly.

    " Oh, it is only you," she said in a disappointed voice, and the light which had leaped into her dark eyes died out again, leaving them sadder than before.

    " It is only I," laughed a young man with pleasant blue eyes and a frank, open face, as he paused a moment beside her. " That was not a very complimentary greeting of yours, Miss Bessie. But will you not take cold out here with those bare arms ? There is a dampness in the air that talks of rain."

    " I never take cold," Bessie answered, with her eyes still on the woodland path that led

4                               PERDITA.                 

 

from the village. " Are you going to the village, Mr. Ryder ?"

    " Yes. Have you any errand for me ?"

    Bessie shook her head. " No. Cyril—Mr. Hall was to attend some errands for me. He went some time ago, and I am waiting for his return now. If you should see him, you may tell him I am waiting."

    A shadow fell over young Ryder’s face, and he took a step nearer the girl, drew in his breath as if to speak, and then strode on without a word through the woodland path.

    " There is no excuse for him," he muttered; " he is acting the part of a scoundrel."    He had gone a quarter of a mile, perhaps,when he came face to face with the object of his uncomplimentary meditations—a handsome man of about thirty, dark, lithe, debonair—fascinating Cyril Hall, who had been the pet of fortune and of women all his life, until he was selfish to the heart’s core. Young Ryder paused.

    " I say, Cyril," he began abruptly, " it is a downright shame the way you are going on

                            PERDITA.                               5

 

with that young girl down at the house. She is waiting for you at the stile, with her heart in her pretty brown eyes, and I had half a notion to tell her the exact situation of affairs ; but I did not,"

    Cyril took the cigar from between his lips, and carefully knocked the ash off. Then he said slowly, and with one of his aggravating smiles :

    " You exhibited commendable good taste, my dear youth, in minding your own business for once in your life. It is the truesecret to success."

    " But, I say," insisted Ryder, his blue eyes blazing now, " it isn’t fair or manly to deceive the girl so. You may blight her whole life."

    " Edward, are you in love with her ?" asked Cyril, laying his hand on his friend’s shoulder and looking up in the face with mock solemnity. " If so, speak at once, or forever afterward hold your peace. I can account for your zeal in no other way."

    Ryder shook the hand off impatiently. " You know better," he said. " But I do

6                               PERDITA.                

 

not like to see as nice a girl as Bessie Sanders deceived and made a fool of, and I do not like to see as fine a man as Cyril Hall forget his principle—that’s all. I am going back to town to-morrow, and you will not be troubled by my interference any longer, however."

    " Going back to town, Edward ? Well, I will accompany you then. I am rather weary of this place myself. So tra-la, dear boy, and when I join you later at the hotel try and be in a better humor."

    Then young Ryder passed on towards the village, and Cyril resumed his cigar and his lazy saunter towards the stile, where the white, handsome face of Bessie Sanders shone like a star through the gloaming.

    He leaned across the stile and slipped his arm about her slender waist, his black eyes smiling dangerously. " Patient little girl," he said, " I thought you would grow tired of waiting, and go off in a pet ere this. But I find you here ready to greet me as of old. And do you know it is for the last time ? I am going away to-morrow."

 

                            PERDITA.                               7

 

    He felt the hand he held tremble and grow cold suddenly.

    " Not to stay," she said, almost in a whisper ; " not for good and all."

    " For good and all," he answered, and began to feel very much like the villain he was,and nervously anxious to end the interview.

    " For good and all, Bessie ; and I came to say good-bye now, as we start early in the morning. Be a good girl, Bessie ; and think of me sometimes."

    He moved as if to go, but she clutched his arm with two firm slim hands.

    " You—you would not leave me like this, Cyril, after all—after all that has passed between us two ? You will come back soon—oh, say that you will come back to me, Cyril, before you go."

    Her voice was almost a wail. Her eyes shone wild through the dusk,

    " Be quiet," he said sternly, " or some one will hear you. I cannot come back to you.You must forget me, Bessie. I had no right to ask you ever to think of me. It is better you should forget me at once."

 

8                               PERDITA.                 

 

    " Why ?" she asked sharply, her face bent forward so that her eyes looked straight in his ; " why ? Is it because some other woman has a better right to you than I have, Cyril ? Did you leave some one behind you who was dearer to you than I am ?"

    Her hands held his arm so closely that she hurt him, but not so keenly as her voice hurt. Oh, what a miserable cowardly wretch he felt himself to be ! He turned his face away.

    " Yes," he said, speaking very quickly and nervously now. " Yes, I left another woman behind me, Bessie ; and that woman was —my wife. I have been married four years, and I have a boy three years old. Now you know, and you must forget me."

    He felt her hold relax upon his arm, and she stood up straight and thin and white in the starlight. She lifted one hand with an intensely dramatic gesture.

    " Go," she said, " and may God’s curse fall on you, and on your boy. As for your wife—I pity her."

    Then she turned and vanished in the darkness.

 

                           PERDITA.                               9

 

    Cyril shrank involuntarily under her men- acing gesture and vindictive curse. Then he slowly pursued his way back towards the village, but it was very late before he joined young Ryder in their rooms, and when he did, Ryder found him irritable and moody.

    " Well, I have been looking over accounts, old fellow," Ryder said, as his friend came in, "and I find it has been a very successful six weeks for me."

    Edward Ryder was a civil engineer and surveyor, and had come out into this region on Government business.

    Cyril threw himself on a couch.

    " And I find it the most unprofitable six weeks of my life," he said. " I wish to heaven I had stayed in the city, or followed my wife and boy to her mountain home. It was a foolish freak of mine, coming out West here with you."

    " Just the different view a man takes who kills time, from one who uses time," Ryder replied. " It is too bad, Cyril, that you have so much money and leisure. You

10                             PERDITA.                   

 

would be a happier man if you had more to do in this life—more to struggle for."

    " Well, let’s be done with preaching and go to sleep," growled Cyril.

    " You’ve done nothing but preach to me all day," and, with this, he turned his back on his friend and began preparations for retiring.

    And afar in the green mountain home of her childhood, where she was making her yearly visit, a fair-haired woman was listening to the prayer of a white-robed child who knelt with clasped hands and lisped :

    " God bless papa Cyril, and make him a good man, and may he never forget mama and baby."

    It was a sentence Helen Hill taught her baby boy to repeat nightly, as soon as he could talk—and the shadow in her eyes, when her handsome, debonair husband was out of her sight, told of the fear that had given rise to the prayer.

    While somewhere at that very moment a girl of seventeen, with passionate, dark eyes, and a mass of disordered, dark hair, lay

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face downward on the green, cold earth, muttering, between her clenched teeth :

    " Curse him, curse him, curse him."

——

    A group of genteel loungers filled a fashionable club-room one afternoon in late January. Their ages ranged from eighteen to twenty-five. Some handsome, some blasé, all were dressed and having the appearance of wealth and culture.

    " Who plays to-night at the —— theatre ?" asked Harold Weston, suddenly. " I have just come to town and have lost all track of the amusements."

    The young man addressed twirling his cane, laughed, and answered, with a mis-chievous glance at the assembled crowd :

    " Ask Claude ; he can tell you."

    At this there was a general laugh, while the young man referred to flushed scarlet and lowered his eyes upon the paper he held in his hand.

    He was a remarkably handsome youth of possibly eighteen. Tall, splendidly proportioned, with large violet-blue eyes and rich

12                             PERDITA.                   

 

chestnut hair, and the features of a Greek statue. A father’s pride, and, until that mother died, a mother’s darling. An only son, of independent wealth, who had enjoyed every advantage of culture and travel, and was now just freed from college, where he had borne of the honors of his class.

    Blasé Harold Weston looked at the youth with amused eyes.

    " What is it, boys ?" he queried. " A case of bad mash—to be intelligent but express-ive. And who is the goddess who has fatally wounded our Apollo ?"

    " It is rather another case of Venus and Adonis," laughed Charlie Foster, " only Adonis is not so shy as of old."

    " But who is she ?" queried Weston. " Why all this mystery ? Come Claude, out with it, old fellow."

    Claude laid down his paper.

    " I believe the question you asked, to begin with, was, Who plays at the —— theatre to-night ? If you appeal to me to answer that question, I will very gladly. It is Perdita, the sensation of the day, and with

                           PERDITA.                             13

 

out doubt the finest actress now before the public."

    The group of young men looked at each other and smiled. Claude’s enthusiasm over Perdita had been the talk of the club for some time.

    " What does she play ?" queried Weston, anxious to know all about the subject under discussion.

    " Society plays altogether, but she is studying some of Shakespeare’s characters, and will no doubt distinguish herself therein," Claude replied.

    " I doubt it," responded Charlie Foster. " I do not think she is great enough for anything of that kind She is doing her best work now—all she is capable of."

    " How old is she ?" continued Weston.

    " About twenty-four or five," Claude answered quickly.

    Foster laughed. " Oh, nonsense !" he eja-culasted. " She is thirty-five if she is a day, Weston. I own she looks as young as twenty-five off the stage, and younger on the boards. But I have seen too many

14                             PERDITA.                          

 

actresses to be deceived. She is certainly in her early thirties."

    " Rather a mature Venus for our Adonis, eh !" teased Weston, and Foster answered :    " Yes; but you know that is usually the form young love takes. My first passion was inspired by a widow, fair, fat and forty, while I was only sixteen."

    Claude rose to his feet, white, angry, his blue eyes blazing.

    " I say, boys, this has gone far enough," he cried. " I don’t mind a little chaffing, but I think you are getting downright insulting. I believe I am entitled to fair treatment in this club, and I leave it to any or all of you to say if I ever used any member as I am being used this afternoon."

    He was hurt as well as angry—they all saw that. And they all loved Claude as a brother. He was the best and kindesthearted youth in the club, and the most generous.

    " I beg your pardon, Claude," foster said, holding out his hand. " We were only in jest, but we carried it to far. Forgive us."

                           PERDITA.                              15

 

    Claude took the proffered hand. " Let it drop," he said. " And now, boys, I invite you all to go en masse with me to the play to-night. It is to be the lady of Lyons—Perdita’s best. Will you go ?"

    " Yes ; and I invite you all to a supper at my chambers after the play," added Weston.

    " Done !" cried a chorus of voices. But Claude hesitated.

    " I am engaged for supper after the play," he said ; " but I thank all the same."

    Nothing more was said, but they all understood what Claude’s engagement meant.

    That night at the supper in Weston’s room it was discussed.

    " Claude went with Pedita, I suppose," Weston said inquiringly.

    " Oh, yes ; he is with her every night after the play, and usually an hour or two every afternoon. It seems too bad. She is evidently a designing woman, and will not be content until she has taken his last dollar."

    " What does his father say ?"

    " He is in total ignorance of the state of

16                             PERDITA.                          

affairs so far, I think. You know Claude has been a model boy—no vices at all, and knows nothing about women, except his mother."

    " Just the sort of youth to be led away by a modern Delilah," Weston responded." Can’t any of you give him a warning ?"

    " No ; he won’t take a word from us. You saw how he flashed this afternoon. If he hears us discussing her too freely, he gets up and walks away. It is a case of complete infatuation, and must wear itself out."

    " There is no infatuation more hopeless, while it lasts, than that of first passionate youth for a mature woman," Foster said. " Perdita knows this no doubt, and makes use of it to help fill her coffers. What wonderful eyes she has. They were like coals of

fire as they fell on Claude. I saw her look straight at him several times."

    " Yes ; she plays at him half her time—we have all seen it."

    " Does anybody know anything about her ? Who is she ? Married or single ?"

    " No," Foster said. " She is a mystery.

                           PERDITA.                            17

 

She came from California well advertised, and her beauty and magnetic power and talents did the rest. She has drawn well here. The men go wild about her, but Claude is the worst hit of all. He believes her a model of virtue and goodness, and all that."

    " Poor fellow ! Ah, well! he must have his day like the rest of us, and be wiser and sadder afterward. but I hope he’ll come out of it all right, for his father’s sake. He pins all his hopes in heaven on that boy."

    " About the only chance he will have, I fancy, for I am told he was a reckless rake in his youth, and never reformed till a little while before his wife died."

    " Then he can’t be hard on Claude if he does squander his fortune on Perdita. He need only recall his own early youth, and remember how successfully he outlived them."

    And while this conversation was going on, the subject of it sat in Perdita’s boudoir enjoying the delights of a tete-a-tete supper with the object of his infatuation. For

18                             PERDITA.                   

 

Claude was as wholly fascinated as his companions believed.

    He only lived in the presence of this siren—away from her the time was only a dreary longing for the hour to come when he could go to her.

    As he gazed now into the rich tropical beauty of her face, his whole soul lay in the azure of his beautiful eyes, like a flower in a brook. He was so guileless, so unsophisticated for a youth reared as he had been.

    " And so you refused the supper with your friends to come to me," Perdita said caressingly, letting her splendid eyes rest upon his face. " That was very kind of you."

    " Kind !" he repeated. " is it kind of disembodied spirits to go into the gate of Paradies when it is left open for them ?"

    " You flatter," she murmured, and she laid one soft hand on his.

    Her touch thrilled through every nerve of his body. His eyes glowed. He leaned forward and his breath fanned her cheek.

 

                           PERDITA.                             19

 

" Do you know," he said, almost in a whisper, " I am like a drunken man in your presence ; I am in a strange sort of delirium ; and when I am away from you I wonder constantly why I it is that you seem to care for me. I cannot understand it."

    " Can you not ? she said, and a curious smile crossed her face—a smile that for a second swept all the beauty out of it, and left it cold and hard and cruel. But it was gone before Claude saw it.

    " Can you not ? Well, some day I will tell you why—but not now."

    " Come and sit on yonder divan with me, and tell me all you have done since I last saw you, and tell me what your friends thought of the play."

——

    " What is this I hear, Claude, of your running after an actress. Is it true ?"

    It was Claude’s father, the spare-faced, austere Wall-street merchant who asked the question.

    The guilty tide that crimsoned Claude’s face made answer before he spoke.

 

20                             PERDITA.                   

 

    " It is true, sir, that i sometimes go to see the actress Perdita," he answered.

    " Sometimes ?" well, how often is that ?"

    " Every day—sometimes oftener."

    Claude could no more have lied than he could have committed a theft. And, beside, his love made him fearless.

    The Wall-street merchant bit his lip to repress an oath.

    " And how much money have you squandered upon her already ?" he asked.

    A hot color swept over Claude’s face.

    " Not one dollar," he said. " Perdita has refused to allow me to bring her even costly bouquets. She is not a mercenary woman."

    This time an amused smile curved the banker’s thin lips.

    " You are a precious young fool, Claude," he said, " to suppose that this woman does not care for money. If she refuses your gifts, it is only to get you more thoroughly in her toils. I wouldn’t wonder if she meant to marry you, and get possession of all you have, and will have. No doubt she is posted regarding your financial prospect, and, despite

                            PERDITA.                             21

 

your youth, realizes that she ca never hope to do as well again. I would advise you to keep out of her way, Claude. I suppose you must have you fancies ; but I don’t like to hear you made a subject of ridicule, as I have heard you to-day. Quit this woman at once, Claude, or you will regret it."

    And the merchant turned on his heel, believing that he had struck a death-bow to Claude’s passion.

    " Once knowing he is ridiculed, he will quit her," he reasoned.

    He did not dream of the tragedy so near at hand—a tragedy that would bleach his hair in a few short days to snowy white, and age him more than years.

    His father’s words had set Claude’s heart to beating wildly. " Marry him ?" Could it be possible that this glorious woman would give herself to him to be his own forever.

    An hour later he was by her side, his eyes aglow, his breath coming quick and hard, his flesh burning—a very picture of splendid youth and passionate love.

    Perdita arrayed in a long, loose robe of

22                             PERDITA.                   

 

clinging white, out of which gleamed her snowy arms, her blond hair negligently arranged her dark eyes languid, gave him cordial greeting.

    She was half reclining on a rich couch, and

she motioned him to take an ottoman at her side.

    " I am very glad to see you," she said, toying with his hair. " I have been thinking of you all day."

    " And I dreamed of you all night," Claude said, as he leaned over her. " Oh, Perdita, my queen, I cannot live without you 1 Will you be my wife ? I have money, position, name, to offer you—do not let a few foolish years stand between us and happiness. Be my wife, Perdita."

    His voice trembled, his eyes glowed, his form shook. Then Perdita rose up, and looked him in the face with mocking eyes. Her cruel laugh struck on his ears like jarring discords.

    " Your wife," she repeated. " Why, Claude, I am already married. I am the wife of my business manager." Her cruel

 

                           PERDITA.                              23

 

eyes saw the color fade from his face, and a deathly pallor succeeded it ; but there was no pity in them.

    " Then for God’s sake," he cried, " what have you been playing with me for—why have you led me on to love you so."

    " I will tell you,: she answered, slowly. " But first let me show you something."

    She slipped her hand into her bosom and drew therefrom a small picture. " Look at it well," she said, " and then listen to my story."

 

    Half an hour later Claude Hill went out upon the street with a look in his eyes that made all who met him start in affright. It was the look of a man who is going mad. That night the city rang with the startling news that young Claude Hill, the Wall Street merchant’s son, had shot himself.

    Perdita lay on a crimson couch in elegant deshabille, when a card was sent up. She took it, read the name thereon, and a curious look crossed her handsome face. A look

24                            PERDITA.                   

that made the beauty vanish, and left it almost repulsive.

    " Admit him," she said to the servant, and again her eyes fell on the card. The name written on it in a bold free hand was Cyril Hill. " At last !" Perdita said, under her breath, and then the door opened, and the Wall Street merchant—or a pale, haggard wreck of him—entered and stood before her. He lifted one corded hand and shaded his eyes, as if he could not bear all at once the sight of the woman he had come to see.

    " Mr. Hill—Cyril Hill, I believe," Perdita said, as she arose ; and at her voice he looked up.

    " Yes," he said; " I am Claude Hill’s father—father of the boy you have killed. O woman! woman! for God’s sake tell me what drove my boy to his doom. Tell me what you did, what you said, in that last fatal interview."

    Perdita’s answer was a strange one.

    " Look at me," she said, " and perhaps you will know."

 

                          PERDITA.                               25

    He looked at the splendid form, the handsome features, the mass of fluffy blond hair, the dark eyes. " Do you know me ?" she asked.

    He shook his head. " I only know you as the murderess of my boy—my only son," he said, and a great sob shook his whole form.

    She smiled. " It is not strange," she said; " and yet I should have known you anywhere, Cyril Hill. Ah! the day has been long, long in coming—but I knew it would come."

    He looked at her wonderingly. " What are you talking of, woman," he cried. " If you have anything to say to me, speak at once. I came to demand speech from you."

    " I have much to say to you," Perdita replied. " But first let me correct an error of yours. You spoke just now of the death of your only son. You mistake—he is living."

    She thrust before his face the picture she had shown to Claude: the picture of a child with large weird eyes, and a face of uncanny

26                            PERDITA.                   

 

beauty. And yet there was no mistaking the resemblance between the picture and the face that gazed upon it.

    Cyril Hill cast a questioning, frightened look at the woman before him. " Good God! who are you," he cried, " and what do you mean ?"

    " I am," she said, smiling her cruel smile again, " I am, to the world, Perdita, the actress; but you have known me under a different name, Cyril Hill ; and our meeting is quite as dramatic as our parting was there by the broken stile on that summer night fifteen years ago. Only now you are the suferer."

    " Bessie!" he cried, in a startled whisper ; " impossible. She had dark hair—and she would be older."

    She laughed. " I bleached my hair for stage purposes," she said, " and I am just thirty-two, Cyril Hill, though I know I do not look it. It is a wonder I do not look twice that—after all I have suffered. Did you never wonder what became of me ?  Did you never think it possible my hour would

                           PERDITA.                              27

 

come ? Oh, God! I was so young, so innocent when you found me—so old, so wicked when you left me there in the night alone with my despair. I do not know how I lived ; but i did live to have my disgrace drive my poor old mother into her grave, and then I fled—fled like a wild hunted thing through many days and nights until I fell by the roadside. When I came to consciousness I was in a city hospital, cared for by kind hands. I remained there until I was well and strong, and then I went out to seek for work. I wandered the streets day after day, and when at last I stood despairing upon the bridge spanning the river that rushed upon its restless way, longing for death, yet fearing to make the final plunge, a man saw me. He was a member of a theatrical troupe then forming in the city. ‘ Come with me,’ he said, ‘ your face and form have a better mission than to lie bloated and discolored at the bottom of yonder rived.’ I went—not knowing, not caring whither. Three years later I began the career which has brought me success, money,

28                             PERDITA.                   

 

power—everything but happiness. How do you like the story, Cyril Hill ?"

    She paused, and he lifted his bowed head —a head grown strangely white during the last twenty-four hours. While she had talked, and while he had listened, wild emotions of pity, remorse, and a possible reparation were in his heart. He touched the picture that she still held.

    " And he—is he living ? I think you said he was ?" he almost whispered, leaning near her with a look of agonized interest in his eyes. After all, he might make some reparation and not be left wholly alone in his old age.

    " He is living," Perdita answered.

    " Where ?"

    " He is insane, and has been from his birth. He is in the asylum at W——," was her answer. " He does not know me from his keeper. You have heard all. Now, go."

    And Cyril Hill went from the presence of the woman he had wronged so long ago, broken, bowed, and desolate. His sin had found him out.

 

 

DAVE’S WIFE.                            29

 
 
 
 

DAVE’S WIFE.

 

    " So Dave has brought his wife home ? "

    Deacon Somers cut a larger chip from the stick he had been whittling down to a very fine point as he answered Deacon Bradlaw's query by the one monosyllable, " Ye-a-s."

    " Got home last night, I hear."

    " Ye-a-s ;" and the stick was coming down to a very fine point-now, so assidu-ously was the deacon devoting all his ener-gies to it.

    Deacon Bradlaw waited a moment, with an expectant air ; then he clasped one knee with both hands, and leaned forward toward his neighbor.

    " Well, what do you think of your boy's choice ?" he asked. " What sort of a woman does she seem to be? Think she'll be a help in the church ?"

    Deacon Somers was silent a moment. Whirling the whittled stick around and

 

30                        DAVE’S WIFE.

 

around, he squinted at it, with one eye closed, to see if it was perfectly symmetrical. (Deacon Somers had a very mathematical eye, and he liked so have everything " plumb," as he expressed it. He had been known to rise from his knees at a neighbor's house in prayer-meeting time and go across the room and straighten a picture which offended his eye by hanging " askew.") Having convinced himself that the stick was round, the deacon tilted back against the side of the country store where he and his companion were sitting, and began picking his teeth with the afore said stick, as he answered Deacon Bradlaw’s question by another, and a seemingly irrelevant one.

    " Do you remember Dave’s hoss trade ?"

    " No," answered the deacon, surprised at this sudden turn in the conversation, " I can't say I do."

    " Wa’al, just after he came home from college, two years ago, he got dreadfully sot against the bay mare I drove. I’d had her for years, and she was a nice steady-going animal. We had a four-year-old colt too,

 

DAVE’S WIFE.                       31

 

that I drove with her. Wa’al, Dave he thought it was a shame and a disgrace to drive such a ill-matched span. The young hoss was right up and off, and the bay mare she lagged behind about half a length. The young hoss was a short stepper, and the bay mare went with a long, easy lope. They wasn't a nice matched span, I do confess.

    " Wa’al, Dave he kept a-talkin’ trade to me till I give in. He said he knew of a mighty nice match for the young hoss, and if I would leave it to him he’d make a good trade. So I left it to him, and one day he come drivin’ home in grand style. The old mare was traded off, and a dappled-gray four-year-old was in her place. A pretty creature to look at, but I knew, the minute I sot eyes onto her, that she'd never pull a plough through the stubble-ground, or haul a reaper up that side-hill o’ mine.

    " ‘ Isn't she a beauty, father ?’ said Dave.

    " ‘ Yes,’ says I;  ‘ but handsome is as handsome does applies to hosses as well as to folks, I reckon. What can this ’ere mare do, Dave !’

 

32                        DAVE’S WIFE.

 

    " Dave's face was all aglow. ‘ Do ?’ says he. ‘ Why, she can trot a mile in two minutes and three-quarters father, and I only give seventy-five dollars to boot, ’twixt her and the old mare.’

    " Wa’al, you see, I was just struck dumb at that there boy’s folly, but I knew ’twa’n’t no use to say a word then. I just waited, and it come out as I expected. The dappled-gray mare took us to church or to town in fine style—passed everything on the road slick as a pin. But she balked on the reaper, and give out entirely on the plough. And I hed to buy another mare for the hoss, and let the dappled mare stand in the stable, except when we put her in the carriage."

    Deacon Somers paused and his glance rested on Deacon Bradlaw's questioning, puzzled face.

    " Well ?" interrogated Deacon Bradlaw.

     " Wa’al," continued Deacon Somers, " Dave’s marriage is off the same piece as his hoss trade. Pretty creature, and can outstrip all the girls round here in playin’ and singin’ and paintin’ and dressin,’ but come to washin’

 

DAVE’S WIFE.                       33

 

and bakin’ and steady work—why, we’ll hev to get somebody else to do that, and let her sit in the parlor. Mother ’n’ I both see that at a glance ;" and the deacon sighed.

    " I see, I see," mused Deacon Bradlaw, sympathetic-ally. " Too bad! too bad! Dave knew her at college, I believe ?"

    " Yes ; they graduated in the same class. She carried off all the honors, and the papers give her a long puff ’bout her ellycution. Dave’s head was completely turned, and he kept runnin’ back and forth to see her, till I thought the best thing for him to do was to marry her and be done with it. But Sarah Jane Graves would have suited mother ’n’ me better. You know Dave and she was pretty thick before he went off to college."

    " She's a powerful homely girl, though," Deacon Bradlaw said ; " and the awkwardest critter I ever see stand in church choir and sing. Seems to be all elbows somehow."

    " Ye-a-s—ye-a-s ; a. good deal like the bay mare Dave was so sot against—awkward, but steady-goin’ and useful—more for use than show. Wa’al, wa’al I must be going

 

34                        DAVE’S WIFE.

 

home ; all the chores to do, and Dave’s billin’ and cooin’. Good afternoon. Come over and see us."

 

    When Dave Somers and his bride walked up the church aisle, the next Sunday morning, over Parson Elliott’s congregation there passed that indefinable flutter which can only be compared to a breeze suddenly stirring the leaves of a poplar grove. Every eye was was turned upon the handsome, strong-limbed young man, and the fair, delicate girl at his side, who bore the curious glances of all these strangers with quiet, well-bred composure.

    After service people lingered in the aisle for an introduction, in the manner of country village churches, where Sunday is the day for quiet sociability and the interchange of civilities. And after the respective friends of the family had scattered to their several homes, Dave's wife was the one universal topic of discussion over the Sunday dinner.

    " A mighty pretty girl,"  " A face like a rose." "Too cute for anything," " Stylish as

 

DAVE’S WIFE.                       35

 

a fashion plate," " A regular little daisy," were a few of the comments passed by the young men of the congregation. To these remarks the ladies supplemented their critical observations after the manner of women : " Her nose isn't pretty ;" " Her mouth is too large ;" " Her face was powdered—I saw it ;" " Her hat was horrid ;" " I don’t like to see so much agony in a small place." But Sarah Jane Graves said : " She is lovely. I would give the world to be as pretty as she is. No wonder Dave loved her." And she choked down a lump in her throat as she said it.

    All the neighboring people called on Dave’s wife during the next month, and, with one or two exceptions, introduced the conversation by the question, " Well, how do you like Somerville ?" To the monotony of this query Dave’s wife varied her replies as much as was possible without contradicting herself.  " I am quite delighted with the fertility of my mind," she laughingly remarked to Dave at the expiration of the first month.  " To at least fifteen people who have asked me that

 

36                        DAVE’S WIFE.

 

one unvaried question I have invented at least ten different phrases in which to express my satisfaction with Somerville.  " I have said :  ‘ Very much, thank you ;’ ‘ Oh, I am highly pleased ; ’  ‘ Far better than I anticipated even ;’  ‘ I find it very pleasant ;’  ‘ It has made a very agreeable impression upon me ;’ and oh, ever so many more changes I have rung on that one idea, Dave !" and the young wife laughed merrily. But under the laugh Dave seemed to hear a minor strain. His face grew grave.

    " I fear I did wrong to bring you here among these people," he said.  " They are so unlike you—so commonplace. I fear you are homesick already, Madge."

    " No, no ; indeed you are wrong, Dave ; indeed I am happy here, and like your friends," Madge protested, with tender earn-estness.

    But as the months went by it was plain to all eyes that Dave’s wife was not happy, that she did not assimilate with her surroundings. She made no intimate friendships ; she sat silent at the sewing society, and would not

DAVE’S WIFE.                       37

 

take an interest in the neighborhood gossip, which formed the main topic of conversation at these meetings. She would not take a class at Sunday-school, claiming that she was not fitted to explain the Gospel to any unfolding, inquiring mind, as she was not at all sure that she understood it herself.

    Dark insinuations were afloat that Dave’s wife was an " unbeliever," or at least a Unitarian, and her fashionable style of dress marked her as " worldly-minded" at all events. Deacon Bradlaw and Deacon Som-ers held many an interview on the shady side of the village store, and " Dave’s wife" always came up for discussion, sooner or later, during those interviews.

    " She’s settin’ a bad example to all of Somerville," Deacon Bradlaw declared. " My gal Arminda’s getting’ just as fussy and proud as a young peacock about her clothes ; nothin’ suits her now unless it looks stylish and cityfied. And I see there’s a deal more extravagance in dress among all the women-folks since Dave’s wife came with her high heels and her bustles and her trimmins.

 

38                        DAVE’S WIFE.

 

You ought to labor with her, Brother Somers."

    Brother Somers sighed. " I do labor with her," he said, " but the poor thing don't know what to do. Her guardian—she was an orphan, you know—give her the little money she had left after her schoolin’, to buy her weddin’ fixin’s. She’d no idee what plain folks she was a comin’ among. So she got her outfit accordin’ to the way she'd been brought up. Lord ! she's got things enough to last her ten years, and all trimmed to kill, and all fittin’ her like a duck’s foot in the mud ; and what can she do but wear ’em. now she’s got ’em, she says ; and I can’t tell her to throw ’em away and buy new. ’Twouldn’t be economy. She’s been with us nigh onto a year now, and she’s never asked Dave for a cent’s worth of any thin."

    " But she’s no worker ; anybody can see that. And you’ve hed to keep a girl half the time since she’s been with you,"  Deacon Bradlaw added, somewhat nettled that his neighbor made any excuses for Dave’s wife, whose fair face and fine clothes and quiet re-

 

DAVE’S WIFE.                       39

 

serve had inspired him with an angry resentment from the first.

    " Ye-a-s, ye-a-s, that's true," Deacon Somers confessed.  " She’s no worker. Lord !  the way she tried to make cheese ; and the cookin’ she did !  Mother hed to throw the cheese curd into the pig’s swill, and the bread and cake she made followed it. More waste from that experiment of hers than we’ve hed in years ; and she was flour from head to foot, and all of a perspiration, and sick in bed from cryin’ over her failures into the bargain. The poor thing did try her very best. But it was like the dappled mare tryin’ to haul the plough—she couldn’t do it, wa’n’t built for it."

    When Deacon Somers reached home his brow was clouded. His good wife saw it, and questioned him as to the cause. He shook his head.

    " I’m troubled about church matters, mother," he said. " The debt fur that new steeple and altar, and all the rest of the expense we’ve been to the last two years, wears on me night an’ day.  And Deacon Brad-

 

40                        DAVE’S WIFE.

 

law he’s gettin’ mad at some of the trustees, and says he’ll never put another dollar into the church till they come forward and head a paper with fifty dollars apiece subscription. I know ’em, all too well to think they’ll ever do that, and Deacon Bradlaw he’s a reg’lar mule. So the first we know our church’ll be in a stew that will send half its members over to the rival church that’s started up at Jonesville, with one o’ them sensation preachers that draws a crowd like a circus," and Deacon Somers sighed.

    " Isn't there something that can be done to raise the money ?" asked Mother Somers, anxiously.   " Can’t we get up entertainments ?"

    " That’s old, and ’taint strawberry sea-son," sighed the deacon. " We couldn't charge more'n fifteen or twenty cents at the door, and that wouldn’t bring in much for one entertainment, and nobody would turn out to a second. There don’t seem to be no ingenuity among the young folks here ’bout getting’ up anything entertainin’. Our strawberry festival was just a dead failure—barely paid expenses."

 

DAVE’S WIFE.                       41

 

    Dave's wife, sitting with her pale face, which had grown very thin and wan of late, bent over a bit of sewing, suddenly looked up. Her listless expression gave place to one of animated interest. " Father Somers," she began, timidly, " do you suppose—do you think—I could get up a reading ?"

    " A what ?" and Deacon Somers turned a surprised and puzzled face upon his daughter-in-law. It was so new for her to betray any interest in anything.

    " A reading. You know I took the prize for elocution when I graduated. I know ever so many things I could recite, and it might draw a crowd just from its being something new. We could charge twenty-five cents ad-mission, and it would give the impression of something good, at least. After they had heard me once they could decide for themselves if I am worth bearing again."

    Deacon Somers looked upon the glowing face and animated mien of Dave’s wife with increasing wonder. Was this the listless girl he had seen a few moments before ?

 

42                        DAVE’S WIFE.

 

    " ’Pon my soul," he ejaculated, " I don't know but it might draw a crowd, just from curiosity. Everybody would go to see Dave’s wife. Not that I hev much of a opinion of readin’s ; never heard any but once, and then I went to sleep. But it might draw, seenin’ it’s you. You can try it if you want to."

    Dave’s wife did try it. It was announced before service Sunday morning that Mrs. David Somers would give a reading in the church edifice on Thursday evening : ad-mission, twenty-five cents. Proceeds to be applied to-ward the church debt.

    Again there was a breezy stir in the congregation, and scores of eyes were turned upon Dave’s wife, who sat in her silent white composure, with her dark eyes lifted to the face of the clergyman.

    But Sarah Jane Graves could not help noticing as she had not before the marked change in the young wife’s face since the day she entered that church a bride.

    " How she is fading ! I wonder if she is unhappy ?" she thought.

 

DAVE’S WIFE.                       43

 

    Thursday night came fair and clear. As Deacon Somers had predicted, the announcement that Dave's wife was to give a reading had drawn a house ; the church was literally packed. Dave’s wife rose before her audience with no words of apology or introduction, and began the recitation of the old, hackneyed, yet ever beautiful

 

" Curfew shall not ring to-night."

 

It was new to most of the audience, and certainly the manner of its delivery was new to them. They forgot themselves, they forgot their surroudings, they forgot that it was Dave’s wife who stood before them. They were alone in the belfry tower clinging with bleeding hands to the brazen tongue of the bell as it swung to and fro above the deaf old janitor’s head. When the recitation was finished two or three of the audience found themselves on their feet. How they came there they never knew, and they sat down with a shamefaced expression.

    Sarah Jane Graves was in tears, and one or two others wiped their eyes furtively, and

44                        DAVE’S WIFE.

 

then the old church walls rang with cheers. So soon as they subsided Dave’s wife arose, and, with a sudden change of expression and voice began to give a recital of " An Evening at the Quarters." It was in negro dialect, and introduced one or two snatches of song and a violin air. To the astonishment of her audience Dave’s wife picked up a violin at the appropriate time, and played the air through in perfect time and tune ; and then the house resounded to another round of cheers, and the entire audience was convulsed with laughter. Everything which followed, grave or gay, pathetic or absurd, was met with nods of approval, or the clapping of hands and the drummin' of feet. Somerville had never known such an entertainment before. The receipts for the evening proved to be over forty dollars.

    During the next three months Dave’s wife gave two more readings, the proceeds of which paid half the church debt, and this so encouraged the members that old grudges and quarrels were forgotten, and Deacon Bradlaw and the elders made up the remain-

DAVE’S WIFE.                       45

 

ing half, and Somerville church was free from debt.

    Yet Deacon Bradlaw was beard to say that while he was glad and grateful for all that Dave’s wife had done, he did not in his heart approve of turning the house of God into a " theatre." " She performed exactly like them women whose pictures are in the store winders in town," he said, " a-makin’ everybody laugh or cry with their monkey-shines. I don't think it a proper way to go on in the house of God. Never would hev given my consent to it ef I’d known what sort of entertainment it was to be."

" Dave’s wife ever been a actress ?" he asked Deacon Somers when they next met.

" Actress ? No. What put that into your head ? answered Deacon Somers, with some spirit.

" Oh, nothin’, nothin’; only her readin’s seemed a powerful sight like a theatre I went to once. Didn’t know she’d been on the stage ; it’s getting’ fashi’nable nowadays. Anyway, she’s missed her callin’.  Wait a

46                        DAVE’S WIFE.

 

minute, neighbor ; don’t hurry off so. I want to talk church matters."

    " Can't," responded Deacon Somers, whipping up his horse. " Dave’s wife is sick in bed, and I came to the store to git a few things for her—bitters, and some nourishin’ things to eat. She’s sort o’ run down with the exertion she made in them readin’s. She used to be just drippin’ with perspiration when she got home."

    Dave’s wife was ailing for months, unable to do more than sit in her room and paint an hour or two each day. The house was filled with her paintings. They ornamented brackets, and stood in corners, and peeped from the folds of fans, and smiled from Dave’s china coffee-cup.

    One day Dave proposed to his wife that she should go to her old home—the home of her guardian—and make a visit.

    " We’ve been married fifteen months now," he said, and you’ve never been away. I think a change will do you good. You seem to be running down every day."

    So she went. After an absence of ten

DAVE’S WIFE.                       47

 

days she wrote to Dave to send her paintings to her by express. She had need of them ; would explain when she returned. Dave packed them carefully, and sent them with a sigh.

    Poor Dave ! He had come to realize that his marriage was a great mistake. To be sure, he loved Madge yet, but the romance of his youthful attachment had all passed away in the dull commonplace routine of his domestic life, where Madge had proved such an inefficient helpmeet.

    He had been blindly in love with his divinity ; elated with the fact that he had won her away from two or three other suitors. Madge was a brilliant scholar and a belle, and with the blind faith of young love, Dave had believed, that she would excel in domestic duties as in intellectual pursuits. Her ignominious failures, her utter uselessness, and his mother’s constant and indisputable references to her inefficiency about the farm-work, had presented her to his eyes in a new light. The brilliant girl who was the pride of the college, and the helpless, thriftless wife whose

 

48                        DAVE’S WIFE.

 

husband was regarded with pity by a sympathetic neighborhood, were two distinct individuals, as were also the young elocutionist carrying off the honors of her class, and the tired, tearful woman weeping over her soggy bread and melted butter.

    The success in her readings had revived his old pride in her for a time. But her consequent illness and listlessness had discouraged him.

    Mrs. Somers saw the express package, and inquired what it was. Dave told her, remarking at the same time that he did not know what she intended to make of them.

    " Maybe she's going to give ’em away to those who will appreciate ’em," suggested his mother. " I am sure we’ve no room for such rubbish. But her time’s no more’n a settin’ hen’s and she might as well spend it in that way as any other. She can't do nothin' that amounts to anything."

    " I think her readings amounted to a good deal," Dave responded, glad that he could once speak authoritatively of his wife’s usefulness.

 

DAVE’S WIFE.                       49

 

    " Oh, yes ; for that emergency. But its steady work that tells. Lor’ pity you and father ef I couldn’t do nothin’ but give readings ! Wonder where your meals would come from. Your marriage and your horse trade were ’bout off one piece, Dave. Your wife’s pretty in the parlor or on the floor readin’, and your mare looks nice and drives nice in the buggy. But they can’t work."

    Dave’s wife came home at the expiration of a month, looking fresher and feeling stronger, she said. And she did not bring her paintings.

    Deacon Somers came into Dave’s room the night after her return, to talk about a certain piece of land that was for sale. It " cornered on " to the deacon’s farm, and a stream of water ran across it.

    " It will be worth a mint of money to me," he said for I can turn that field into a pasture, and all my stock will water itself. But the man who’s sellin’ wants a hundred and fifty dollars down. He’s goin’ West, and must have that amount this week. I don’t see the way clear to pay it, for expen-

 

50                        DAVE’S WIFE.

 

ses have been a good deal of late, takin’ doctors’ bills and hired help and all into consideration, and my ready money has run low.  Do you think of anybody that’ll be likely to lend us that amount for three months, Dave ? "

    But before Dave could reply, Dave’s wife spoke.

    " Father Somers," she said, " I can let you have the money—not as a loan, but as a gift. I have been of so little use to you, and have made you so much expense, I shall be very, very happy if you will let me do this for you." And rising up, she came and laid a little silken purse in Deacon Somers’s hands.

    " But where did you get it, child ?" asked the wondering deacon, looking from the plethoric little purse to her face, which had flushed a rosy red.

    " I sold my paintings," Dave’s wife answered. " A gentleman happened to see a little thing I painted, and he said he knew where I could dispose of any quantity of such work. And, sure enough, I sold every

DAVE’S WIFE.                       51

 

one of those things I painted when I was sick, for good prices. And I decorated some plates for a lady, who paid me well for it. So I have one hundred and seventy-five dollars in that purse, which you are more than welcome to."

    Deacon Somers removed his spectacles and mopped them with his silk handkerchief. " I can't do it, my child," he said ; " it wouldn’t be right. You must keep your own money."

    " But I have no use for it," cried Dave's wife. " I intended to spend it all in Christmas gifts for the family, but this is better. I have everything I need. All I ask or desire is to be of some use—and to have you all love me," she added, softly.

    " A hundred and seventy-five dollars for that trash ! Well, the world is full of fools !" Mrs Somers ejaculated when she was told of what had occurred. But she looked at Dave’s wife with an expression of surprised interest after that, as if it was just dawning upon her that one might be of use in the

 

52                        DAVE’S WIFE.

 

world who could neither cook nor make cheese.

    Deacon Somers's farm boasted a fine stone quarry, and he was very busily at work every spare moment, quarry-ing stone for the foundation of a new barn he was to build. One day Dave drove to town, ten miles distant, with a load of grain for market. It was September, and the market had risen during the last few days. All the neighboring farmers had turned out and hurried their grain away, Deacon Somers remained at home, quarrying stone. Mrs. Somers rang the great bell at noon-time, but he did not come. Then she grew alarmed.

    " Some one must go up to the quarry and see if anything has happened," she said. And Dave’s wife was off like a young deer before the words were out of her mouth.

    It did not seem three minutes before she stood at the door again, with white lips, her dark eyes large with fright.  " Father is wedged in under a great bowlder," she said. " You and the girl must go to him. Take the camphor and ammonia ;  it may sustain

DAVE’S WIFE.                       53

 

his strength until I can bring relief. I am going to ride the dappled mare to the village, and rouse the whole neighborhood."

    " We have no saddle," gasped Mrs. Somers and the mare will break your neck."

    " I can ride anything," Dave’s wife answered as she sped away.  " It was taught me with other useless accomplishments."

    A moment later she shot by the door, and down the street toward the village. She had bridled the mare and buckled on a blanket and surcingle. She sat like a young Indian princess, her face white, her eyes large and dark, looking straight ahead, and urging the mare to her highest speed. Faster, faster she went, until the woods and fields seemed flying pictures shooting through the air. Half-way to the village, which was more than two miles distant, she met Tom Burgus, the blacksmith. She reined up the mare so suddenly she almost sat her down on her haunches.

    " Deacon Somers has fallen under a bowl-der in his quarry," she cried.  " Go to him –quick ! Dave is away." Then she rode on.

 

54                        DAVE’S WIFE.

 

    At the village she roused half a dozen men, and to the strongest and most muscular she said : " Take this mare and put her to her highest speed. Tom Burgus is already there. You two can lift the bowlder, perhaps. I will ride with Dr. Evans."

    The man mounted the mare, and was off like a great bird swooping close to the earth.  He swept away and out of sight.

    When Dr. Evans reined his reeking horse at the quarry, Tom Burgus and Jack Smith, who had ridden the mare from the village, were proppin up the bowlder trying to remove the deacon's inanimate form. The doctor and Dave’s wife sprang to their assistance.  In another moment he was free from his perilous position, and Dr. Evans was applying restoratives.  " He will live," he said ;  " but in five minutes more, if help had not come, he would have been a dead man.  It is very fortunate you had a swift horse in the stable, and a rider who could keep her seat," and he glanced around at Dave’s wife just in time to see her fall in a limp heap.

 

DAVE’S WIFE.                       55

 

    Deacon Somers was quite restored to his usual health the following morning. " Dave’s wife and the dappled mare saved my life," he said to Deacon Bradlaw, who came to call.  " So the boy didn’t make so poor a bargain either time, neighbor, as I once thought."

    The deacon recovered, rapidly, and just as rapidly Dave’s wife lost strength and color.  She faded before their eyes like some frail plant, and at last one day with a tired sigh she drifted out into the Great Unknown ;  and with her went the bud of another life, destined never to blossom on earth.

    After they came home from the churchyard where they had left her to sleep, Dave found the dappled mare cast in her stall ; her halter strap had become a noose about her slender throat.  She was quite dead.

    Over the low mound where " Dave’s wife " sleeps the marble mockery of a tall monument smiles in irony at those who pause to read the flattering inscription, It is so easy to praise the dead !  And the memorial window sacred to her memory in Somerville

 

56                        DAVE’S WIFE.

 

church—a proposition of Deacon Bradlaw’s—flushes in crimson shame while suns rise and set.

    And a sturdy farm-horse pulls the plough through Dave’s stubble field, and Sarah Jane drives the work in his kitchen.

—From Harper’s Bazar, by permission

 
 
 
 

        VIOLET’S EMANCIPATION.                   57

 

 

 

 

 

VIOLET’S EMANCIPATION.

 

    Little Violet Gray, curled up on the lounge in her room, resting after her hard day’s work in the ward schools, heard a knock at her door, and lazily answered, "Come." She fancied it was Jessie, the boarding-mistress’s daughter, whom she often helped with her arithmetic lessons in the evening. Jessie was overworked and hard pressed for time, and it was little chance she had for study. During Miss Gray’s year in the house she had learned more than in all her life before.

    The door opened slowly, but it was not Jessie who entered. It was, instead, a lady of imposing height and appearance. She was elegantly attired, and held herself with an air which seemed to say, "Behold, I come !"

    Violet rose with more haste than dignity from her reclining posture, and with flushed

 

58               VIOLET’S EMANCIPAT10N.

 

cheeks stood before her imposing guest. " Pray, be seated," she said, " and pardon me. I fancied it was a little girl who often comes in my room at this hour."

    The imposing presence slowly seated herself, and settled her elegant draperies gracefully.

     " You will pardon the intrusion of a stranger, I hope," she said in measured accents and with great deliberation, as if she wished her hearer not to lose a syllable of her speech, " and allow me to present my card. It may be that my name is not wholly unfamiliar to you."

    Violet took the handsome card and read thereon in bold, free letters, " Mrs. Odessa Nottingham Smith."  A flush of pleasure rose to her cheeks as she extended her hand. " Do I then find myself honored by a visit from the well-known lecturess ?" she asked.

    Mrs. Odessa Nottingham Smith gave a very limp hand to the extended one, as she replied, " I am no other than the lecturer whose name you seem to be familiar with.

 

        VIOLET’S EMANCIPATION.                   59

 

Pardon me for the correction, but, as you know perhaps by my lectures, I am in favor of equal rights and equal freedom for both sexes.  Therefore I object to the terms doctoress, lecturess, poetess, etc.  Those who adopt a profession are alike doctors and lecturers, irrespective of sex.  Sex has nothing to do with the matter, and should be ignored so far as the profession goes.  Not that I want women to lose their individuality—far from it.  No woman need adopt a masculine attire or a masculine vice, simply because she follows a profession heretofore deemed masculine ; but let her sex speak in her dress, in her voice, in her sweetness and grace of manner, and not in any ‘ ess ’ tacked upon her professional name."

    She paused and looked at Violet.  " I understand you," Violet said, smiling, " and will remember your injunction in the future."

    " And now," proceeded Mrs. Odessa Nottingham Smith, " I must proceed to the object of my visit.  I am in the city for the purpose of forming an association of intellectual women, a sort of interstate conven-

 

60               VIOLET’S EMANCIPATION.

 

tion, for the purpose of broadening woman’s sphere of thought, and widening her range of vision, and enlarging her opportunities of culture."

    " A very excellent undertaking," commented Violet, feeling the need of saying something appreciative.

     " So we think who have undertaken it," replied Mrs. Odessa Nottingham Smith. " Our cities are teeming with girls and women, who, like yourself, are possessed of much crude talent, but have no opportunity to use it, and no real comprehension of their own powers. What we want is to bring them together, and by the contact of mind with mind, and the broader light poured in upon them by minds of higher cultivation, to break down the social barriers that now block their way to fields of greater influence, and means of higher culture. We want you to attend our meetings, and give us your aid."

    " But I can do so little," objected Violet ; " really nothing at all in such a place. I am afraid I must do my little part in this world

 

        VIOLET’S EMANCIPATION.                  61

 

very quietly.  I fear I am not meant to shine in any great assemblage of talent."

     " That is owing to your, cramped mode of thought !" responded Mrs. Odessa N. S., with a superior smile.  " You are used to this narrow, contracted mode of existence and labor, and you shrink from a larger field. You fancy yourself doing your duty when you are simply throwing away your talents."

    Violet flushed and her eyes sparkled. " No," she said, " I am not throwing my life or talents away.  I am using them daily for the benefit of unfolding minds.  There is no higher, no greater calling than that of an instructor of little children. If, to the best of my abilities, and according to my highest impulses, I lead and direct them, I am not throwing my talents away."

    Mrs. O. N. S. smiled again her superior smile.

    " But if your manner of thought is contracted, as it must be with your limited advantages, and your highest impulses those of the ordinary trammeled mind, on which the light of emancipation has not yet shone,

 

62               VIOLET’S EMANCIPATION.

 

then you cannot be doing your whole duty by the children.  Woman’s mind is full of narrow aims and ambitions at the present time ; what we want to do is to get upon the broader platform and reach a higher life.  A few of us have attained it, and we are anxious to bring others up to our heights, to free them from the trammels society and a false education have imposed upon them ; to teach them now to be as free as their fellowmen in their mode of life and their choice of a career."

     " I am already in favor of a woman’s enlarged sphere, and I believe in her right to any profession or trade she may choose," answered Violet quietly.  " But I do not think we are all fitted for public life."

     " We are all fitted for something better than these surroundings of yours," said Mrs. Odessa Nottingham Smith, as she looked about the room with a scarcely concealed shudder.  " Ah, my child, you were named to me as a girl of rare force of character and unusual brain.  But you are all in embryo yet.  Your character is unformed, your tastes

 

        VIOLET’S EMANCIPATION.                  63

 

lack refinement, your mind is uncultivated. The time will come, if you respond to the call I make upon you to come up higher, when you will shiver at the distasteful life and surroundings that you have left behind you, and regret the wasted talents that were thrown away upon unappreciative plebeians. I hope you will take your first step upward by a daily attendance at our meetings. We have arranged the time to accommodate those like yourself engaged in teaching, and our first meeting will be held in Blank’s Hall, the first Monday morning of your vacation, two weeks hence. You will have an opportunity to meet some of the rarest minds in the State, for the most prominent, of the emancipated sisterhood will be represented on this occasion. I shall hope to see you there."

    With a bow and another light hand-clasp, Mrs. Nottingham Smith took her departure.

    Little Violet was strangely absent-minded when Jessie presented herself that evening ; her usual power of concentration, that made

 

64               VI0LET’S EMANCIPATION.

 

her so successful with each moment’s duty heretofore, seemed gone, and she, felt restless and impatient for the child to go. This mood did not pass with a night’s sleep, either. She carried it into her schoolroom the next day, and the next ; and she dwelt upon Mrs. Odessa Nottingham Smith’s words and grew to feel that her life was, indeed, a cramped one, full of petty aims.

   " I am living a dull, narrow, treadmill existence," she said " and that I have been content with it heretofore and thought myself doing my whole duty, only proves how dull my finer feelings and aspirations have become.  I might be filling a higher sphere, doing more good, thinking greater thoughts, and associating with a better class of people if I were only—well—emancipaled.  I shall be glad when vacation comes."

    Vacation came, and with it the Inter-State Association of Emancipated Women. Violet was one of the first to enter Blank’s Hall on Monday morning. It filled rapidly, and such a medley of striking people Violet had never seen gathered together before.

 

        VIOLET’S EMANCIPATION.                   65

 

There were elegant women in long-trained dresses, and women with elaborate coiffures, and women with hair " shingled" and parted on one side. And all seemed full of business, and were gathered in little " cliques," and first and foremost, and everywhere present, was Mrs. Odessa Nottingham Smith. She smiled a welcome to Violet, and introduced her to Miss Jonas Winters, novelist, and the Honorable Mrs. Brown.  Violet felt herself inclined to laugh at the very odd attire of the latter, which was a curious combination of masculinity and femininity ; but her natural refinement, uncultured though it was, according to Mrs. O. N. S., forbade her doing so.  She was somewhat surprised, therefore, to hear Mrs. Odessa Nottingham Smith remark, as the Hon. Mrs. Brown moved away to speak to a new-comer :

    " What is the necessity of any woman’s making such a guy of herself as Mrs. Brown does ?  She is really a ridiculous figure, is she not, in that nondescript suit ?"

    Violet did not answer save to ask the name of the lady who had just entered. She

 

66               VIOLET’S EMANCIPATION.

 

was a very sweet-faced woman, with so kind a smile and so gracious a manner, that Violet felt her heart go out toward her involuntarily. Mrs. Odessa Nottingham Smith and Miss Jonas Winters, novelist, both frowned and drew back with sudden hauteur as their eyes fell on the newcomer.
    " Really," cried Miss Winters, was not aware that she was coming. I wonder who invited her ?"

    " Not I," responded Mrs. Odessa Nottingham Smith.  " I can assure you of that. She probably came uninvited. It is like her boldness."

    " How lovely she is !" cried impolitic Violet; " please tell me who she is."

    Mrs. Odessa Nottingham Smith frowned more forbiddingly than ever as she turned to answer Violet’s query.

    " That," she said with cold irony, " is Mrs. Burton.  It may be you have heard her name in connection with a scandal which was in every one’s mouth a few years ago.  It may be you were too young to have heard it.  I assure you I did not ask her to attend this

 

        VIOLET’S EMANCIPATION.                  67

 

meeting, and I shall treat her in a way that she will not be apt to come again."

    When the meeting was called to order and the preliminaries gone through with, the object of the meeting was discussed, and those who had papers to read were called upon to send in their names and the titles of their papers.

    It so happened that Violet was seated next to Mrs. Burton, and that lady chanced to address her, and they fell into pleasant converse. Violet was charmed with her sweet voice and her gentle manners.

    " I cannot associate her with anything evil," she said mentally, " and I believe she is a good, true woman.  I don’t see why those ladies found it necessary to tell me she had been a subject of scandal.  There are precious few prominent people in the world who have not been more or less scandalized in some way."

    Violet was invited by Miss Jonas Winters, novelist, to dine with her party at the hotel.  Mrs. Odessa Nottingham Smith had gone to the residence of a personal friend 

 

68               VIOLET’S EMANCIPATION.

 

in the city, and was not one of the party ; as a consequence she came under discussion.

    " How like a general she takes the lead," some one present observed.

    " Yes, and who would ever have supposed she would have developed as she has," responded Miss Jonas Winters, novelist. " You know before her marriage she was not considered anybody.  Her people were poor, and I am told quite illiterate.  Her marriage was a fortunate thing for her.  It enabled her to step into a position she could never have attained alone."

    The tone was kind, the words full of approbation of Mrs. Smith’s having made such excellent use of her opportunities.   Yet all the same, Violet knew the motive that prompted the remark was an unworthy one. It was envy of Mrs. Smith’s foremost place in the association, and her power of general-
ship ; and every woman present made a mental note of the fact that Mrs. Odessa Nottingham Smith sprang from very low family.

    The next day Violet chanced to be near

 

        VIOLET’S EMANCIPATION.                  69

 

a knot of ladies who were nearly all strangers to her. They were discussing a paper which was to be read the following morning by Mrs. Gordon, a woman of marked beauty and brilliancy, who had occupied considerable time the previous day, and won much attention from the reporters who had been present by an eloquent and impromptu speech.

    " It seems scarcely desirable that one person should monopolize so much time," remarked a lady in Bloomers near Violet.

    " It is quite probable Mrs. Gordon may not be called upon for her paper," observed Miss Jonas Winters, quietly.  " She has done her share, I think —we must give all a chance. No doubt the paper is excellent, but we can not hear all the good. things at one session."

    " I scarcely see how a woman who devotes so much time to toilettes as does the elegant Mrs. Gordon can do justice to an elaborate paper," observed Madam, Bloomer, with quiet sarcasm.  " If women talk and write on emancipation, I like to see them illustrate it in their lives."

 

70               VIOLET’S EMANCIPATION.

 

    Violet looked for Mrs. Gordon’s paper with considerable interest, but it was " unavoidably crowded out," so the minutes said, though several inferior ones could have been spared, and many aimless discussions might have been omitted with no detriment to the proceedings. But the wire-pullers who had resolved that Mrs. Gordon should not distinguish herself further, succeeded in keeping her paper in the background.

    Mrs. Burton, whose sweet and lovable character seemed to breathe in every word and act, was by the majority of the ladies present treated with cold disdain.  Those who had not heard the old scandal connected with her life, were informed that one existed, and that the originators of this association " regretted the presence of any person of that kind, as they claimed to be a blameless body."

    " But is not the life of this woman beyond reproach now ?" queried one daring dissenter. " Surely, whatever may have been her early errors and follies, she cannot be aught but a noble woman and wear the face she does ;

 

        VIOLET’S EMANCIPATION.                  71

 

besides, I have heard her highly spoken of by her neighbors."

    " Oh, yes ; since that old affair she has been very exemplary in her conduct—quite a model of propriety. But you know we do not care to admit a woman to our midst who has been so scandalized.  We must maintain the reputation of the convention."

    The last meeting of the convention was quite informal. Business being disposed of, and the session at an end, and the next place of meeting fixed upon and the new converts added to their ranks, the ladies made themselves generally agreeable, congratulating each other upon their separate and united successes, and the general uplifting and " cultivating " effect of the session.

    Mrs. Odessa Nottingham Smith sought out Violet Gray.

    " My dear," she said, " I do not see your name among our new members.  I fear we have fixed upon a place of meeting so far distant that you will not feel that you can attend ; but you know we want to give this rare opportunity to all alike, I trust, how-

 

72               VIOLET’S EMANCIPATION.

 

ever, you have derived some benefit this session."

    " I have, in one way," answered Violet, frankly. " I shall more than ever feel content in my own little sphere, and never sigh after a larger field ; for I find as much that is noble in my narrow life, as much. that must be appreciated by the Great Ruler, and less that is unworthy and belittling than I find in the lives of many of these emancipated women."

    " Really !" cried the amazed Odessa ; " really, Miss Gray, I must ask you to explain so strange an assertion.  What have you heard at this session of the finest minds in two States that can be termed ‘ belittling,’ I pray ?"

    " Gossip and malice," responded Violet quietly ; " just what we are apt to hear where any large number of women meet together. I should have been prepared for it at a sewing-circle or a meeting of society women. But I confess I was unprepared to find it in this ‘ emancipated’ congregation of fine minds.  One of the first things to greet my

 

        VIOLET’S EMANCIPATION.                  73

 

ear was an old, dead and cold scandal, concerning the most lovable and womanly member before the association.  Next I heard of the low origin of one of the prominent members.  Then I happened to overhear a few wire-pullers plan to keep a brilliant woman in the background, and they succeeded.  I also heard an elegantly attired woman sneer at the masculine garb of one of her sister associates, and the sister associate in turn condemned the fashionable dress of still another. This is not emancipation from woman’s trammels—this is not reaching the platform men occupy.  Men do not meet at conventions to backbite and criticise, to rake up old scandals.  They meet to exchange views, to combat each other if need be, squarely and fairly, but in good open warfare.  You may succeed in opening the trades and professions to women by your papers and your speeches, but you will never succeed in becoming truly emancipated from the worst hindrance to woman’s true culture and growth, until you rise to the moral height that scorns gossip, and puts all scandal, tale-

 

74               VIOLET’S EMANCIPATION.

 

bearing and personal envy and jealousy down in the dust under your feet, where it belongs.  You will never become broadminded, as you desire to be, until you feel yourself so strong and safe and sure in your own unsullied virtue and moral worth, that you are not afraid to meet and exchange views with one whose past life may have been darkened by a cloud.  I do not say, admit or countenance untrue woman to your midst ; far from it.  But I do say, treat women like Mrs. Burton with all due kindness, and encourage them to live the good life, and think the noble thoughts they are striving to, instead of holding back your garments and retailing to every newcomer some old tale of error.  These are a few of the things that impressed me unfavorably, with your no doubt at the bottom excellent project, Mrs. Smith, and now I shall go back to my little round of duties, praying more fervently than ever to be kept from all envying and striving after vain-glory, and more than ever content and satisfied with the work given me to do."

 

        VIOLET’S EMANCIPATION.                  75.

 

    " A strange, crotchety young person," Mrs. Odessa Nottinghim Smith was heard to call Miss Violet Gray, in speaking of her.  " She seemed to possess latent powers, and an odd command of language, which was quite remarkable in its way. But there was no culture, and really, yes really, her tastes seemed distressingly low. No appreciation of higher things, you know, and curiously content with her common duties. Impossible to emancipate her."

    Poor Violet !

 

76                  A MENTAL CRIME.

 

 

 

 

 

A MENTAL CRIME.

 

 

    Sitting here to-night, the possessor of great wealth, respected and envied by the neighboring people, I am yet more wretched than any convict behind prison bars.

    For I carry in my breast the knowledge of an awful crime.

    I caused the death of three human beings ; yet no one on the face of the earth has ever suspected me as the author of that terrible tragedy.

    Sometimes I think it would relieve the fearful burden on my soul if suspicion did point its finger at me ; and so to-night I have resolved to write out the whole story just as it occurred; to paint myself in all the hideous colors of the murderer that I am.

    After I am dead, let people read the story and bestow upon my memory the scorn it deserves.

    I was but twelve years old, and he was

 

 

A MENTAL CRIME.                    77

 

 

fifteen, when my mother married his father, and I was taken to the Pines—to this very old mansion where I am now sitting—to reside ; his father, my stepfather, Colonel Monroe, had never seen me until I came there to live.

    I had been at boarding school when he met, courted and married my mother. They went upon quite an extensive tour, returning to the Pines in June, and then I was brought home. How well I remember that summer evening ! The grounds were all ablaze with roses as I drove up to the stately old mansion. Colonel Monroe, my mother, and Sinclair Monroe, my stepfather’s son, stood on the veranda to welcome me.

    After greeting my mother, she led me to Colonel Monroe.

    1This is your new papa, dear Agnes," she said, " whom I hope you will love very much ; and this is Sinclair, your new brother."

    Sinclair bowed with a strangely polished air for so young a boy, I thought, and I smiled. I noticed that his face was very handsome and proud, and almost cold, until

 

 

78                     A MENTAL CRIME.

 

 

he smiled. Then it was radiant as the June day itself. Colonel Monroe took my hand and leaned down and scrutinized my face.

    " Bless my stars !" he cried out in a hearty voice, " what a beauty we have here! A perfect gypsy queen ! Come, Sinclair, I should think you would like the chance to kiss such a cheek as that."

    Sinclair blushed slightly, and came forward and shook hands with me then, but he did not kiss me. As we stood there facing each other, Colonel Monroe placed a hand on, either head. " A handsome couple, Sybyl," he said, addressing my mother; "a handsome couple, surely. I think we will have to plan to keep them always with us. I should like to see them man and wife some day."

    " And so, indeed, would I," my mother answered, smiling, " but it is early to think of that, Colonel. Let time do its own work." Then she led me away to my room.

    From that time I began to think of myself as Sinclair Monroe’s wife. We speak idle words in the presence of children,

 

 

A MENTAL CRIME.                    79

 

 

and forget them, but the seed takes root in the young mind and silently grows into a harvest for good or evil.

    I was to remain at the Pines to receive my education from private teachers. Sinclair was only home for his vacation, and in September he returned to college. We were playmates and comrades all through the long, bright summer. We used to ride two little ponies which his father had presented us with soon after my arrival, and one day Sinclair showed me the broad acres of his estate—the one which would be his when he attained his majority. " I shall build a splendid house there," he said, pointing to a noble eminence which overlooked the city, just below us, " a house larger, oh, ten times larger than the Pines, and I shall live there in the summer, and go to the city in the winter. I hate the country in the winter."

    As we rode back I revelled in dreams of the future, when I should reign a queen over that splendid mansion.

    As years passed on the idea strengthened

 

 

80                     A MENTAL CRIME.

 

 

in my mind. Sinclair and I were always to-gether when he was at home. He made me his confidante in all his college escapades, and we corresponded constantly. To be sure, he always addressed me as " Sis," an abbreviation of sister, I suppose ; and he never kissed me in his life, save when he came home or upon his departure. Yet I always thought of him as my future husband, and I planned my life accordingly.

    My mother was a poor widow when Col. Monroe married her. She had barely means enough to eke out our expenses, but she was very handsome and fascinating. She had what people called " a way with men" that was irresistible. She fostered the idea that I was to be Sinclair’s wife. One day she and I were driving together about the estates, and she turned to me and smiled and said :

    " How strange it is, ma petite, that you and I, two penniless creatures that we were a few years ago, will one day possess both these splendid estates for our very own. It is like a fairy story. Ah ! say what they

 

 

A MENTAL CRIME.                    81

 

 

will—the moralists and preachers—a handsome face and a little tact are the most priceless gifts a woman can possess. I am so thankful dear, that you are handsome."

    I was seventeen when she said that, and I went home and looked at myself carefully in the mirror. Yes, I was handsome ; my eyes were large and black, my complexion rich and clear, my features perfectly regular.

    I turned away smiling and satisfied.

    Sinclair came home soon afterward to remain ; at last, he had finished his college. course, graduating with honors.

    He was very handsome, and my heart throbbed with pride and joy as I looked upon him.

    Surely every good gift in life was mine.

    Sinclair remained at home a year. We were of course thrown constantly together, and he was the same frank comrade as of old, yet he spoke no word of love. I grew restive and impatient for matters to be settled. I was at the age when every girl longs for a lover. I wanted to be loved—I wanted to be betrothed. I had thought it all out

 

 

82                     A MENTAL CRIME.

 

 

many times ; how after the betrothal my mother would give a large ball, and how resplendent I would shine in beautiful jewels and rich robes. For always in my thoughts of love worldly considerations were mingled.

    I should never have loved Sinclair Monroe if he had been poor and of low birth. My pride was inborn, and constant cultivation rendered it one of the strongest elements of my nature.

    After a year spent at home, Sinclair went abroad. He went without speaking his love, or asking any promise of me.

    I was bitterly disappointed, and so was my mother.

    But let him sow his wild oats," she said : " he will come home all the more inclined to settle down."

    He was gone two years. During those years I went much into society and became quite a belle, and received one offer of marriage. I declined it proudly. The man was in no way the equal of Sinclair; and besides I felt myself to belong to Sinclair. I as much as intimated this to my suitor, when

 

 

A MENTAL CRIME.                    83

 

 

he would have persisted in his attentions.

    When Sinclair returned he seemed older and more serious in manner, and he went at work at once to lay out the grounds on his estate and beautify them. My heart swelled full of hope.

    Were my early dreams to be realized ?

    Then suddenly my mother died.

    Plunged into deep mourning, I did not think it strange that no words of love should pass his lips during the next half year. At the end of that time he again absented himself for several months.

    When he returned, he called me aside one day, saying he had something to tell me.

    " Perhaps I ought not to say it within a year after your great loss," he began, " and yet I believe what I have to say will result in greater happiness to us all. I have long had it in my mind."

    I felt my heart trembling in my breast like a frightened bird. At last, at last ! Was he about to say the words I had waited so long to hear? Then lie continued : " I

 

 

84                     A MENTAL CRIME.

 

 

am going to be married next month, Agnes. I met my bride while I was traveling abroad. She is an American. She was also traveling with her parents. She is a lovely girl, and she will brighten up the old house for us all. I thought of building before I married, but father wants me to remain here, at least for a year or two. And I would like to have my bride plan her own home when I do build. I hope you will love her, Agnes. I am sure you cannot help it."

    How I ever managed to control my awful, mortification, my surprise and my anger, I do not know. It was all so sudden, so unexpected, like a blow in the dark. I brought all my pride to bear upon my emotions, and I congratulated him with seeming warmth, but I felt as if a new being took possession of my body from that hour. I had always been a selfish girl, inclined to be mercenary and exacting. Now within my breast awoke a demon of jealousy and spite that made my life wretched. It seemed to me that I had opened the door to a flock of evil spirits in my heart when love and hope flew out.

 

 

A MENTAL CRIME.                    85

 

 

    About two months later Sinclair brought home his bride. I felt a malicious gratification as I looked at her and saw that she was not as handsome as I. Yet she was what people generally call " sweet looking," or " lovely," and I have noticed that those women really win more hearts in this world than beauties do.

    She was very affectionate by nature, and cuddled up to me like a winsome child at first ; but I think she felt the hatred in my heart, hard as I tried to mask it, for after a time she ceased to make her affectionate overtures to me, and became more quiet and reserved.

    Colonel Monroe was completely carried away with her sweet, kittenish manners, and I could see every day that she was winding herself more closely about his heart. He praised her constantly when he and I were alone, and I used to sit more and more by myself—it was such torture to hear his praises. As for Sinclair, he idolized her. I had never in my most romantic dreams imagined such a love as he gave to her.

 

 

86                     A MENTAL CRIME.

 

 

Everything she did or said, every garment she wore, was perfect in his eyes ; and he could not refrain from talking of her wonderful virtues to me.

    I had to listen and endure it, although it was slow torture.

    I felt a perfect hell in my breast often as I listened.

    And yet in my own heart I had to confess that Millicent—that was her name—deserved all the praise she received.

    She was constantly thoughtful for every one about her, and seemed to live only to make others happy. I never saw so unselfish a nature as hers. At first she used to make me her confidante, and tell me of her happiness in Sinclair’s love, and dwell upon his virtues and goodness. But after a time she ceased that, too. I think she intuitively felt that I did not enjoy her confidence, and she drew more within herself.

    As for myself, I used to actually hope and pray for some unhappiness to come between their hearts. I believe now that I did admit

 

 

A MENTAL CRIME.                    87

 

 

an evil spirit to my breast, who constantly whispered devilish ideas in my ear.

    Finally Sinclair began to build. Millicent was radiant with delight ; and they were constantly making plans and talking of the new home, and Sinclair would ask me every now and then for a suggestion, but I always had some excuse to take me away.

    It fairly maddened me to see her and hear her planning the house, that ever since my twelfth year I had believed would be my own.

    One day we stood before a tall mirror together—quite by accident. I was struck by the difference in our faces. We were just of an age, but my selfish, mercenary, jealous and envious feelings had marred my face, until I looked almost ten years her senior. Nature had made me much the handsomer of the two, and yet I could see that she possessed tenfold the attractions I did at that time.

    This only increased my hatred, and if I could have marred her features then and there with some terrible scar, I would have done it. Always in presence of Sinclair I

 

 

88                A MENTAL CRIME.

 

 

tried to appear kind and cordial, for I did not want him to read my mortified pride and wounded love, though now my love for him had turned into dislike. Since he belonged to her he was hateful in my sight.

    But when I was alone with her I could not refrain sometimes from disagreeable and cutting speeches, which I knew hurt and wounded her. She was too noble to resent them, or to reply, but she shrank from me more and more. They were little, worthless remarks ; yet a philosopher will feel the prick of a pin or the bite of a mosquito, insignificant as the pin and the insect are. In return she had always some pleasant speech or sweet word of praise to give me. I do not remember that she ever said an unkind word to me. Often I hated and despised myself for my feelings toward her ; yet they had gone down so deep in my soul I could not root them out, and every day more and more I grew to think of her as an interloper—one who had thrust herself into the place which belonged to me. More and more I brooded

 

 

A MENTAL CRIME.                    89

 

 

over the thought. " If she were not here—if only all this were mine !"

    By and by a new cause of misery to me was added. There was to be ere many months passed another tie to bind her to Sinclair and Colonel Monroe.

    When I realized this I felt a maddening fury take possession of me.

    Little by little, unconsciously yet surely by the force of her own worth and her many virtues, she had crowded me out of the place I had grown to think was my own.

    My stepfather worshiped her; Sinclair loved her to idolatry ; and even the servants and the neighboring people could talk of nothing but "sweet Lady Millicent." I was thrust aside, slighted, forgotten. Yet it was my own fault. Nobody can help loving a sweet, smiling, unselfish and amiable person in preference to a black-browed, frowning, cold, selfish being. I had not made myself worthy of love, and I hated her because she had, and now she was to bestow a last priceless blessing upon the race, a blessing which

 

 

90                     A MENTAL CRIME.

 

 

I had been denied the right of bestowing.

    It would be her child, not mine, who bore the family name, who inherited the family estates.

    How often I had in fancy seen my children playing on those noble lawns. Such a terrible rage filled my soul that I was almost like one mad.

    And yet I was not mad. I do not lay any claim to that excuse. It was only the insanity of a jealous brain and a selfish, envious heart.

    One evening, just in the gloaming, I walked down the garden toward a rustic seat near a large rose tree. In order to reach the seat I had to descend several steps. They were flat steps—cut from quarry stone, and brought and laid there. As I placed my foot on the second stair it tottered and tipped under my weight. There had been a severe storm recently, and the earth had washed away, leaving no foundation for the slab to rest upon. I fell as the step gave way be neath me and bruised my knee.

 

 

A MENTAL CRIME.                    91

 

 

    " I must tell John about this to-night," I thought, " and he must attend to it to-morrow. It’s a dangerous place."

    I sat down on the rustic bench. I had scarcely seated myself when I saw Millicent approaching with her basket and scissors; she was coming to gather roses to decorate the house.

    As she neared the steps I was on the point of calling out to her to be careful, when the devil in my heart bade me be silent.

    " Let her look out for herself," he whispered. "It is none of your business. If you had not come down here you would not be responsible for what happened to her, and she cannot expect you to follow her about to guard her from danger."

    While the evil spirit whispered, it all happened.

    She stepped, upon the treacherous stone, it tipped under her weight and precipitated her forward upon her face. I ran to assist her to her feet, now thoroughly frightened and

 

 

92                     A MENTAL CRIME.

 

 

horrified at my own wickedness, but she did not seem badly hurt, only slightly bruised.

    " That is a dangerous place," she said ; "John must attend to it to-morrow."

    Even then at that moment it made me angry to hear her speak in such a tone of command concerning the premises and the servants.

    That night the household was alarmed by the sudden illness of Lady Millicent. At dawn, in spite of the best medical skill, she lay dead, with her tiny dead infant upon her breast.

    I was horrified at the result of my wicked silence. Yet the full punishment came later in the day.

    During the afternoon the sharp report of a pistol sounded through the Pines. It came from the room where Lady Millicent and her babe lay robed for burial. Rushing thither we saw Sinclair, lying over the casket which contained the two silent forms. The pistol which had taken his life was still smoking in his hand.

    Colonel Monroe followed them all to the

 

 

A MENTAL CRIME.                    93

 

 

grave before two years passed. By his will I was lefted heiress of all those fine domains of both estates and of the Pines. My avarice was gratified. There was no other woman left to awaken my jealous feelings, or to mock me with her happiness.

    And yet, I say again, no prison holds so wretched a creature as I am, and ever must be. The burden of my crime grows heavier and heavier as the years go by.

    No living being suspects my guilt; but the dead know it, and often in the night they come close about me, accusing me of my sin.

    I abhor life, yet I dread death, for then I must meet them face to face, with no veil between.

    It would have been a less cruel punishment to have expiated my prime upon the scaffold.

    To receive sympathy when you know you deserve punishment, to be respected when you know you should be abhorred, is the most awful fate that can befall a crime-burdened soul.

 

 
 
 

94                            JOHN SMITH.

 

 

 

JOHN SMITH ;
OR,
TWO THANKSGIVINGS.

    It was the night before Thanksgiving.  Aunt Tabitha sat knitting a blue woollen sock.  Uncle Joel was poring over the column of patent-medicine advertisements, which he found a never-failing source of entertainment and delight.  Janet, their spinster daughter, was washing the supper-dishes, and the rattling of teacups and saucers, spoons and forks mingled with the click of Aunt Tabitha’s needles, and made a sort of domestic melody, which was presently interrupted by a long-drawn sigh and an ejaculation from the lips of Miss Janet of—

    "Oh, yes !"

    Now, as no one had spoken for a full five minutes, such an exclamation seemed some-

 

                       JOHN SMITH.                        95

 

what irrelevant and one necessitating an explanation.  But neither Uncle Joel nor Aunt Tabitha expressed any surprise, or indeed seemed to notice Janet’s ejaculation.  The truth was, this was but one of the many idiosyncrasies of this most peculiar family.     Aunt Tabitha Smith was designed by heaven for the sphere of an old maid.  Her prim ideas of propriety, her severe criticisms, her aggressive cleanliness and order, and her limited idea of human nature and needs, all fitted her for the calling of a spinster of the most approved pattern.

    In some moment of weakness, never accounted for, and through some impulse inexplicable to himself and to all who knew them, Uncle Joel Smith had persuaded her to forsake her predestined vocation and assume the duties of a wife and mother.

    But, as is frequently the case with a career cut short or turned aside from its natural course, or with talents hindered and restrained in one generation, they culminate and flower in the next.

    Aunt Tabitha had not been allowed to

96                         JOHN SMITH.

 

fulfil her destiny ; but her daughter Janet was completing it for her in the most approved manner.  A more perfect specimen of the spinster it would be difficult to conceive.

    To be sure, she was only twenty-five—an age which in these days is considered the very morning of youth; an age far more attractive to the average man of the period than sixteen or eighteen—just as the ripe peach is more appetizing than its fair blossom.

    But Janet had been a spinster at fifteen ; at twenty she was a confirmed old maid.  She cared nothing for the pleasures of youth, preferring her daily routine of home life and her round of domestic duties to any festivity ; and by her primness, her reserve, and her odd little whims, keeping all possible suitors at a safe distance; and when I say safe, I mean it in the full sense of the term.  For it would have been a rash and reckless youth who had ventured into the presence of " Aunt Tabitha," as Mrs. Smith was generally known, to woo her daughter.

                    JOHN SMITH.                          97

 

    Despite the evident fact that she herself had been wooed and won, Aunt Tabitha denounced all lovers as "miserable fools," and she received the reports of neighborhood marriages with the same denunciatory phrases which she bestowed upon other crimes.  For Aunt Tabitha seemed to have little pity in her composition for the world of misdoers.  She was of the severest type of grim old Puritan stock.  She planned and executed her life on the most austere principles, and felt no sympathy for those who deviated in the least from her ideas of propriety.

    Endearing words and caresses between friends or members of a family she considered weak, if not vulgar; and Janet would as soon have thought of striking her mother as kissing her.  Uncle Joel, who had once been a man of warm affections, had learned years ago to repress any impulse of demon stration toward wife or children.

    After a child could walk and talk, Aunt Tabitha considered it too old to kiss or fondle; and rather than listen to her caustic

98                          JOHN SMITH.

 

criticisms and sarcastic rebukes, he concealed his natural feelings of affections, even toward his own children, and turned his thoughts—like many a woman—for lack of something else to occupy his mind, to his physical ailments.

    He was a man of delicate physique, and his aches and pains became his pets, which he could coddle to his heart’s content in spite of Aunt Tabitha.

    Janet, who had cut her life by the pattern of her mother’s ideas, was, according to Aunt Tabitha’s thinking, a model perosnage, sensible, and free from all nonsense.

    If Janet ever had longings or aspirations beyond her narrow and colorless life, no one knew it.

    And her frequent and audible ejaculation of "Oh, yes," seemed an utterance of approval and satisfaction at her own discreet and orderly existence.

    As she wiped the last dish out of scalding water, Uncle Joel read:

    " ‘ Over ten thousand testimonials have been received from sufferers who have been

 

                    JOHN SMITH.                          99

 

cured by the Gallopin’ Pain Pacifier.’  Over ten thousand !  That is a great many people to be cured by one remedy.  There must be something in it if it cures ten thousand suffering people."

    "They ought to be ashamed of themselves," proclaimed Aunt Tabitha, who had no patience with Uncle Joel’s patent-medicine mania.

    There was a quick step on the walk, a mellow whistle in the hallway, and the door burst open as if a strong wind had blown it. A handsome, stalwart young man of twenty, with curling, chestnut hair, and warm, brown eyes, strode across the room, after banging the door behind him, and throwing his cap into the corner, and clasping Janet about the neck, placed a sounding kiss upon either cheek.

    Janet gave a little feminine shriek, and struggled to free herself.

    "For shame, John!" cried Aunt Tabitha, " what coarse manners you have fallen into lately!  You should treat your sister with more respect."

 

100                          JOHN SMITH.

 

    John’s boyish face clouded, and a suspicious mist came into his brown eyes.  He threw himself face downward on a lounge which stood at one end of the room.

    " A nice greeting for a fellow who has been gone two weeks from home," he said." A sweet scolding to give him because he kisses his own sister."

    "You are too old to conduct yourself like children," Aunt Tabitha answered sternly.  " I think kissing and hugging altogether out of place among grown people, and very coarse and underbred.  You could shake hand with Janet, and show your pleasure at seeing her quite as well."

    John lay in a moody silence, his handsome mouth quivering.

    " Who is coming here to-morrow ?" he asked; presently.

    " Oh, Aunt Mary, Uncle John, Cousin Sarah and her children—that’s all, I believe."

    " Why don’t you invite Gerty Denvers?" John ventured, in a low voice.  " She has no home, and no relatives, and it will be a dull day for her."

 

                    JOHN SMITH.                          101

 

    " Well, then it better be," spoke Aunt Tabitha, making a great clatter with her knitting-needles.  " What is she to us, I’d like to know ?  I think you have made the family conspicuous enough by racing around with that dressmaker’s apprentice during the last two months, without our inviting her here to Thanksgiving."

    John rose to a sitting posture, the mist in his eyes dried by their flashing fire.

    " She is a sweet, beautiful girl, and she is a dressmaker’s apprentice," he said, "and I love her with all my heart."

    " ‘ Should try Gallopin’ Pain Pacifier,’ " read Uncle Joel aloud to himself.  He was so accustomed to these tilts and controversies between John and his mother, that he paid little attention to them.

    For John was wholly unlike Janet, and the trial of Tabitha’s life.  He was full of warm, young blood, and craving for affection, demonstrative and irrepressible.  The strict home rules oppressed him and depressed him.  He wanted more sunlight, more mirth, more gayety, and more love in

 

102                          JOHN SMITH.

 

the household.  But his mother rebuked him, and Janet shrieked if he offered her a brotherly caress.  Never since he was four years old, and donned his first pair of trousers, had his mother ever kissed him, voluntarily.

    She cooked, baked, washed, and ironed for him, she took care of his body and his brain, but she let his heart starve within him, and was angry that it cried aloud for food, and because it was not given at home he sought for it abroad.

    At first he fed the fire of his boyish heart with lovers of his own sex.  Tom and Bill and Charley all reigned their season as his dearest friends and comrades, who shared his full heart’s lavish wealth of affection.  Why he should so idealize and idolize these common boys, and seek their society and sing their praises, Aunt Tabitha could not understand.  She did not realize that his heart craved more than was given by that cold, Puritan household, and that he must seek it elsewhere.

    But by and by, when he transferred his

 

                    JOHN SMITH.                          103

 

worship to idols of the opposite sex, and sang their praises, and became their adject slave, Aunt Tabitha’s indignation knew no bounds.

    " That a son of mine should be such a spooney," she would cry.  "Runnin’ after girls at his age, sittin’ with ’em evenin’s when he ought to be abed and asleep—it’s a shame

an’ a disgrace."

    But the more Aunt Tabitha scolded and railed at John and his inamoratas, the less he remained at home.  He worked diligently in the field by day, ate his meals in silence, and was off to the village in the evening.  And all Tabitha’s sarcasms were of no avail.  As for Uncle Joel, his sympathies were with John ; he had once been young himself, and he had been fond of youthful sports, and a great gallant among the girls.  Yet he had too great a fear of Tabitha’s tongue to venture a voice in the matter.  He did not like to take any responsibility upon his shoulders which he could avoid.  And so he kept discreetly silent, and let the war wage as it

 

104                          JOHN SMITH.

 

would, while he found refuge behind the column of newspaper advertisements.

    Aunt Tabitha’s face flushed angrily as John made the bold assertion of his love for Gerty Denvers.

    " You’d better make yourself still more ridiculous," she said, " and announce your passion to the girl.  She may be fool enough to marry you, and then you will reach the end of your folly, and come to your senses, perhaps.  I’m sick of having you running after her."

    " If I got any love at home, may be I would not have to seek abroad for it," John said, as he seized his hat and left the house.

    They did not see him again until the next morning—Thanksgiving morning.  Then he stood before them, tall, handsome, pale, determined.

    " I am going to take your advice, mother," he said, " and marry Gerty Denvers.  The minister is waiting to perform the ceremony now.  She has no home and no friends, and we love each other.  Do you want me to bring my wife home to Thanksgiving dinner? 

 

                    JOHN SMITH.                          105

 

She doesn’t expect to live here ; she is going to stay in the shop and keep at work."

    Aunt Tabitha grew pale with anger.

    " I want you to take your simpleton of a wife and go where I will never see you again," she said.  " If you choose to disgrace us, I don’t want to have the evidence before my eyes daily."

    " Very well, I will go," he said.  He turned and left the house.  Twenty-four hours later he and his young bride had left the place.

    Janet broke into tears when the report was brought to them.

    " John did nothing so very wrong, mother," she sobbed, "that he should have been turned out of doors."

    " Wrong ?" Aunt Tabitha responded sternly.  " He has disgraced himself and us by marrying at his age.  Why could he not behave himself as well as you have done?  Why did he need love that he could not get here, any more than you need it ?  Were you not children of the same parents ?  He was always defying me, always neglecting

 

106                          JOHN SMITH.

 

his home for other people, always going against my rules.  He was never a proper child like you.  Let him make a home for himself, and don’t let me see you shedding tears over him again."

    So Janet said no more about him, only sighed, " Oh, yes," more frequently over her dishes and mending ; for now she knew that, despite her disapproval of his demonstrative manner, John had been necessary to her happiness, and she was lonely without him.

    Uncle Joel grew more and more in the habit of petting his ailments, and talking of his complaints, and studying the advertisements for remedies.  And he aged rapidly after John went away.

    The old farm ran down, and the place grew sadly out of repair.

    Uncle Joel had never been a very energetic man, and he seemed to have lost all ambition when John left him alone.  Aunt Tabitha urged him to repair the fence, and repaint the house, and stay the little leaks which were reducing them from independence to poverty.  But Uncle Joel said, "Wait till

 

                    JOHN SMITH.                     107

 

next year, Tabby."  And to Janet and some of his confidential neighbors he added, " John will be coming home pretty soon, and he’ll fix things up."

    But John did not come.

    So the years went by until nearly fifteen had gone since that Thanksgiving morning so long ago.  And they never heard from John in all those years.

    It was October.  There was a shadow of gloom over the Smith household.  Uncle Joel had become thoroughly shiftless and inefficient, thinking only of his aches and pains.

    Aunt Tabitha’s heretofore vigorous constitution seemed breaking down, and all the work and care of farm and household rested upon Janet’s shoulders.

    She stood washing up the supper dishes again, while her mother lay half asleep in her easy-chair, and Uncle Joel was whispering behind his newspaper.

    Janet had changed the least of the three during this decade and a half of years.  She was the same prim, precise little old maid

 

108                          JOHN SMITH.

 

that she had been during her whole life.  Perhaps there was a line or two more about the mouth and eyes, but never having had any youth or freshness, she had none to lose.

    " We need somebody to husk the corn and dig the potatoes, father," she said presently.  " It is getting late in the year.  I wish we could have help for a few weeks.  I can’t do everything."

    " Tabby, didn’t I hear your complainin’ of feeling a pain in your back and limbs this morning?" asked Uncle Joel from behind his newspaper.

    " Yes.  I don’t understand it," Aunt Tabitha responded from the depths of her great chair.  "I feel so dull and lifeless, too."

    " Well, I’ve just found a new and infallible remedy for those symptoms—‘The Electric Eradicator.  Only one dollar per bottle; for sale by all druggists.’  You might send down and see if Johnson keeps it at the village.  I know he used to keep a supply of the Gallopin’ Pain Pacifier ; but The Electric Eradicator is said to be much better.  It has cured thousands who suffer as you do."

 

                    JOHN SMITH.                          109

 

    " They were great fools to be cured by the stuff," was Aunt Tabitha’s reply.  "All I need is a little mint-tea."

    A timid knock sounded at the door.  Janet wiped her hands on her apron, and opened the door cautiously a little way.

    Janet always responded to a knock, night or day, in this extremely cautious fashion, as if she feared being seized bodily and carried away, after the manner of the Sabine women, by the person without.

    But it was a very small and weary-looking Roman whom she espied through the crack of the door to-night.  A moment’s conversation ensued ; then Janet closed the door and spoke to her mother.

    " A little boy wants lodging and supper," she said.  "He has walked a long distance to-day, and is looking for work."

    " Some young tramp, I suppose, who will murder us all in our beds," responded Aunt Tabitha.  "He ought to be in better business than wandering about the country."

    " He is trying to get into better business," said Janet, whose heart was more easily

 

110                          JOHN SMITH.

 

touched than her mother’s.  "He looks as if he needed rest and food."

    " ‘Can be restored by the Electric Eradicator,’ " continued Uncle Joel, unmindful of the parley at the door, so occupied was he with the testimonials of sufferers.

    "Guess he’d better come in," said Janet; "he may be willing to husk our corn;" and she opened the door just wide enough to admit an undersized boy of twelve or fourteen years, and then quickly closed it lest a regiment of ferocious Romans should follow.

    "Take a chair, little boy, and I will give you a bite of something."

    "There’s the mouldy cheese I said was spoiling to-day--put that on," said Aunt Tabitha, whose economy had grown into parsimony with adversity.  And then, as if ashamed of herself, and moved by some sudden impulse of pity toward the tired stranger, she arose, and with her own hands prepared him a generous repast.

    "What might your name be, and where have you travelled from?" asked Uncle Joel,

 

                    JOHN SMITH.                          111

 

laying aside his interesting testimonials to question the boy.

    " My name’s John Smith, sir, and I came from town this morning."

    " John Smith, hey ?  Well, that’s a good enough name," laughed Uncle Joel.  " Though I should hate to advertise ye, hoping to find ye by that name alone, ef I lost ye.  A good many men hev had that name.  An orphan?"

    " My mother is alive ; she’s sewing in town.  I couldn’t get work there, and mother thought the winter was coming on, and I’d better try and get a place on a farm to work for my board, maybe, till spring.  It’s awful expensive living in town."

    "Father dead, I suppose."

    "We fear so, sir.  It’s nine years since mother saw him.  He went to California to seek his fortune.  He sent mother money, off and on, till two years ago.  Since then she’s never heard from him.  We think he must be dead.  Mother gets along with her sewing, but she is not very well now, and

 

112                          JOHN SMITH.

 

she’s always worryin’ about me.  She’s afraid she’ll die and leave me alone in the city ; so she told me to go out in the country and learn to farm."     " Better keep him to do chores this winter, father," whispered Janet.  " We need help, and we can’t afford to hire."

    " Well, just as you and mother say," responded Uncle Joel, returning to his newspaper, glad to avoid this responsibility, as he had all others possible through life.

    " Poor shiftless creeters ! his parents, not to have anything saved up," muttered Tabitha.  " But you’d better keep him.  He’ll be handy, and it ’ll save paying anything out ; and a growin’ boy ’ll eat ’most anything."

    So John stayed, and wonderfully handy he did prove, outdoor and in, until each of the trio wondered how they had lived without him.

    And John grew fat and rosy in spite of Aunt Tabitha’s economy.

    Janet rejected a sun-browned potato one day which she had taken on her plate.

    "If you can’t eat it, save it for John,"

 

                    JOHN SMITH.                        113

 

said Tabitha.  Yet when John came in, tired and hungry, she again prepared him a generous supper.

    " Somehow, John’s face reminds me of some one," mused Uncle Joel, one evening.  " Doesn’t it you, Tabby ?"

    But Tabitha only answered abruptly:     " Don’t be a fool, Joel !" and knit with more than usual vigor ; while Janet heaved a sigh over her basket of mending, and said:     "Oh, yes !"

    But Tabitha was more than usually kind, almost tender, in her manner to John that night.

    The day before Thanksgiving found Aunt Tabitha in a high fever.  She grew delirious, and wanted John constantly in her sight, and she talked wildly.

    " I am glad you came back," she said, over and over.  It has been a long, long time since you went away, and I have missed you so, all these years.  You must promise me never to go again, John—never !"

    And little John would promise, wondering.

 

114                          JOHN SMITH.

 

    The village physician shook his head and looked puzzled when questioned by Uncle Joel.

    " She seems to be breaking down," he said, " as if under a long mental strain."

    " Nerves, I suppose," Uncle Joel said ; " women are made of nerves.  And this new discovery, this Electric Eradicator, is just the thing for nervous complaints.  Thousands give their testimonials.  But Tabitha is dreadfully sot against patent medicines."

    " She’s sensible there," responded the physician.  " Poisonous drugs kill more people every year than—than—"

    " Than the doctors ?" queried Uncle Joel, with a chuckle.

    " Very good, very good, Uncle Joel," laughed the doctor.  " You are not so slow after all.  But about your good wife, her case puzzles me.  I really am alarmed about her.  Medicine doesn’t seem to reach her disease.  That boy seems to remind her of something or of somebody.  Let him stay by her.  Sometimes the mind is so centred

 

                    JOHN SMITH.                        115

 

upon some object of the affections that nothing else can fill the place—"

    " Oh, yes," sighed Janet, coming up from the cellar with a pan of potatoes, and thinking what a dreary, dreary Thanksgiving day it was to be.

    Somebody rapped.  The doctor, standing near the door, opened it.  A big man rushed in, and clasped Janet in his arms, kissing her most vigorously.

    Janet screamed and struggled feebly.  The thought flashed through her mind that her hour had come.  In allowing the doctor to go to the door caution had been forfeited, and the Sabine maiden, so long protected by Providence and her own prudence, was captured at last.  But she remembered how useless it was to resist, so she only screamed, and after one faint struggle resigned herself to her fate.  All this flashed through Miss Janet’s mind in a second’s time, of course, as dying people recall the events of a lifetime.

    In another second Janet found herself free, and gazing into the face of—John Smith, her brother !

 

116                          JOHN SMITH.

 

    It was not a Roman soldier, after all.

    " Here’s something better than The Electric Eradicator, Tabitha," said Uncle Joel, as he led John to her bedside.

    " There, I never believed father would own anything was better than his last new patent medicine," half sobbed Janet.  "You are wonderfully complimented, John."

    And Aunt Tabitha actually clung about John’s neck and kissed him—an act which caused Uncle Joel to stare in amazement.

    " If you’d only done that years ago he’d never have gone away," he muttered sotto voce as he turned away.  " Affection and kisses are as necessary to some natures—as—as—"

    " As sunlight to plants," suggested the doctor, helping him out with a simile, and looking at Janet.

    " Oh, yes," sighed Janet.

    And just then little John Smith, who had been sent out on an errand, returned, and big John Smith caught him in his arms, crying out, "My boy, my darling boy !"

    And then everybody began to ask questions, and pretty soon they all were made to

 

                    JOHN SMITH.                        117

 

understand that little John Smith was big John Smith’s son ! and that little John Smith had been sent out into the country by his mother, hoping he would find a place in the hearts of his grandparents before she died and left him an orphan ; and that big John Smith had miraculously returned with pockets full of gold after his long exile from his home, to find his wife grieving for him as for one dead, and she had sent him to bring back her boy ; but instead she was brought back to the old homestead ; and such a happy, happy Thanksgiving day as it proved to them all !

    And Aunt Tabitha recovered, and kissed big John and little John every day of her life afterward.  For she and Uncle Joel went to live with them—John and his wife would have it so.

    And Janet ?  Why the good old doctor who was a lonely widower, admiring Janet’s thrift and energy, proposed to her that very Thanksgiving day to come and cheer his declining years ; and Janet, in spite of her hereditary aptitude for the sphere of a spin

 

118                          JOHN SMITH.

 

ster, sighed, " Oh, yes," and the doctor accepted it as an answer to his proposal, whether Janet had meant it so or not.

    When she was married, and about to leave her old home and go with her husband, Uncle Joel took her aside.

    " Here is a bottle of the Electric Eradicator," he said, in a confidential tone.  " Your man, bein’ a doctor, is dreadfully sot againt such things, and likely as not you might be pizened with a lot of his long-named drugs, when a leetle dose of this would be all you needed.  So I thought I’d give you a bottle to keep.  Needn’t say anything to the doctor about it, you know."

 

Courtesy of John M. Freiermuth