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that she met the mother of Edith, a widow like herself, but, unlike her, poor, starving indeed. With a promise that she would never reclaim the little one, the mother gave it up to be the adopted child of her benefactress, who settled upon the true mother a large sum of money, and, taking her treasure with her, moved to another city, that none might ever whisper to the babe the story of her parentage. She had watched herself over every line of the child's education, made her the companion of every hour, and so showered the wealth of her heart's love upon her that she forgot that she was not actually the parent which Edith believed her to be.
This love-tale troubled her, for her pride scorned to conceal from the young lover the true story of Edith's birth; and she well knew ihat his father would never consent to his son's marriage with the daughter of a porter and a seamstress, however richly dowered she might be. She thought of the low room, the coarse, uneducated woman, the narrow streets, from which she had taken her darling, and she resolved that never should she learn the secret of her birth, yet never be thrust unknown into another's keeping.
The interview with Horace Arnold was short and decisive. She positively refused, without giving any reason, to consent to Edith's engagetnent. A letter written by the young girl only confirmed Airs. Lawrence's decree, and in the first excitement of his disappointment the young man left home for a European trip, railing at woman's inconstancy. With wealth, talent, a good reputation, and an honest manly love to offer, ho could see no reason for his rejection, save in the idea that Miss Lawrence was an arrant flirt, and had allowed his attentions from a mere wish to add one more to her conquests. Poor Edith! the knowledge of this opinion was spared her, for his farewell letter was only a frank manly regret for his error in supposing his love returned, a prayer for her Welfare, and a dignified apology for having mistaken her feelings. And Edith folded it and put it away, with a weary sigh over her lost dream of love.
She was a gentle, winning girl, this heroine of mine, of that pliable, clinging nature that makes the object of its love an idol, and none suspected the depth of character shielded and covered by the timid, quiet manner. Her various masters had spoken highly of the intellectual powers of their docile pupil, and Mrs. Lawrence herself keenly appreciated the powerful grasp her mind could take of any given
study; yet even she, with all her tender love, looked upon the fair girl as the creature of her will, and the total submission which followed her demand upon the young girl's love, strengthened her in this belief, while it added to her affection. Hers was an imperious nature; and the entire freedom of her actions since her husband's death had fostered her love of rule into the strongest passion of her life. Woe betide the luckless one who crossed her will, for she never yielded, and only by entire submission to her control could her goodwill be gained.
It was only a few weeks after Horace Arnold's dismissal, when one forenoon Mrs. Lawrence and Edith were seated in the parlor, chatting over the dresses of some visitors who had just left them. The younger lady was a shade paler, and there was a sadness in her large eyes, yet such was Mrs. Lawrence's control over her that no other outward indication was given of her sorrow. Such added tenderness from her mother, such a loving watchfulness for her comfort had rewarded her for her sacrifice, that she would have felt it a base ingratitude to show by any outward token the depth of pain the separation from her lover gave her. So, hiding her sore heart under a cheerful face, she fell iuto the trifling talk which her mother led. They were interrupted by the servant, who came in followed by a woman neatly but plainly dressed, whose coarse red hands and sunburnt face gave evidence of a life of toil.
"The woman insisted upon coming up," said the servant, in answer to her mistress's look of inquiry.
"I want to see yourself, ma'am," said the woman, respectfully. "I come from Mrs, Campbell."
Had a thunderbolt broken at Mrs. Lawrence's feet, she could not have turned more ghastly white, or shrunk more from the contact than she did from this woman.
"Go up stairs I Leave us alone," she said, hoarsely, to Edith.
The young girl obeyed wonderingly, and went to her own room. An hour passed before her mother joined her. Mrs. Lawrence bore upon her pale face marks of the deepest agitation. Her hair was pushed back from her face, and in the rigid features, the deathlike whiteness, and the fixed look of her large e.ves might be read a stern determination, which was evidently the result of a terrible struggle.
"Only for a little while," she muttered, as she crossed the entry. "If I am resolute now, there will be no more danger from tlial source."
It was in vain that she strove to hide from Edith that she suffered; hut such was her power over the child that one word of command to leave her unquestioned was sufficient, and Edith wondered in silence. She was not to wonder long.
The next day, late in the afternoon, she was lying in her own room, half sleeping, half waking, when the door opened, and the same woman whom she had left with Mrs. Lawrence the day hefore came in.
"You are hard to see, lady," she said, bluntly, closing the door behind her.
"You have only to inquire for me at the door," said Edith; "I am not accustomed to receive any visitor in my bedroom."
"I have been here six times since yesterday to see yon, and have been turned from the door each time. To-day I came in through the kitchen, and I have found you. Only from your own lips will I take a message to your dying mother."
"My mother!" cried Edith, springing to her feet.
"Stay! I am not talking, child, about the fine lady you call mother. I have come to-day from your own mother, who has travelled hundreds of miles to see her daughter before she dies."
"You are crazy!" cried Edith, with white lips. "I have no mother." Then there flashed over her memory the half finished sentence which her mother—her supposed mother—had spoken when she told her of Horace Arnold's love. With a pale cheek, but a clear, steady tone, she said: "Who is this mother, of whom I never heard hefore?"
"It's your own natural mother, as true as I am here. She was a poor, weakly body, when she took in sewing, before she married, and her husband was the porter in Mr. Lawrence's store. He died, poor man, of heart disease, before you were born, and your mother was in bitter want. Mrs. Lawrence took you, a wee baby, and I '11 not deny she left your mother very comfortable; but sickness and shiftlessness wore through the money, and now she's fir gone in consumption. She won't live long, and you can come back to your fine home, but she wants to see her child before she dies."
At this moment Mrs. Lawrence came hurriedly into the room, having just heard of Edith's visitor. One glance told herthatsho was toolate.
"Mother;" said Edith, coming to her side— "more than mother, if this woman's tale be true—you will come with me to see my own mother before she dies." Vol. Lxiv.—21
"Nonsense! she will not die. This is the third time the same tale has been brought to me, though she never dared hefore to come here."
"I tell you she is dying," said the woman.
"I must go," said Edith. "You will not deny me this, mother."
"Edith," said Mrs. Lawrence, in a firm yet tender voice, "from your earliest childhood I have been to you, in all things, a mother. You have known no other; I have given you a parent's care, and you have been to me an obedient, good child. Never, with my consent, should you have known of any other mother. You have never seen this woman; she has not a shadow of claim upon your love since she gave you up—"
"She was starving, and could not see her baby starve, too; so she gave it up for bread, for its own bread as well as hers," said the woman, in a hard, cold voice.
"She is dying, and calls me; I must go," said Edith.
"You shall not go," said Mrs. Lawrence. "It is a pitiful tale trumped up to excite your sympathies. What is her claim compared to mine?"
"But you will come, too."
"Never! I will have no other love to draw your heart from me; you must choose between us."
"No, no! You cannot, you will not task me so far. I have given you my obedience for eighteen years; do not demand this of me." The tears rolled down Edith's face as she poured out her passionate appeal.
Mrs. Lawrence saw in her agony the hopo to break this new tie forever. One moment's wavering now, she thought, would lose her child; resolute now, the chain of obedience' was riveted forever.
"You are free to go," she said, coldly, yet gently, "but you must make your choice. I will have no second place as mother. If you go now, you can never return."
The struggle in Edith's mind was terrible— to leave forever this home, where every tie of her life was bound, the mother whom she had idolized for a woman whom she had never seen.
"Do you hesitate? Ungrateful girl, is this my reward for the years of love I have lavished upon you?"
"Not ungrateful! Heaven knows I am not that. It is by your love I jndge of hers. If you called me, could I hesitate? She is my mother; she is dying; I am her child; give
me God-speed on my errand. Let me remain with her till she dies, and then, if you cannot take me home when the world knows me as the porter's child, at least give me your love still."
"If we part now, it is forever."
Tears, entreaties, prayers were all vain to move the proud woman from her resolve. The gentle, timid girl, whose whole soul seemed bowed to the will now opposed to hers, became in the cause where right was on her side fearless and resolute. A dying mother, called the child who had—unconsciously, it is true—made her life solitary and sad, and she dared brave all to follow what she felt was the call of duty. Pale, trembling, almost fainting, she made her decision; and, refusing even her parting caress, Mrs. Lawrence left her.
It needed all the firmness of Edith's nature to act upon her resolve. A message sent to her room from Mrs. Lawrence to take away her clothes, all that could remind her adopted mother of her ungrateful child, made the poor child's soul sick. She chose only the plainest of her ample wardrobe, packed a small trunk, and, sending the servant for two carriage, her last act of authority in her old home, left the house with her mother's messenger.
It was almost dark when, after a long drive, they reached the entrance to a narrow court, where the hot summer air was laden with the close, foul smell of decaying vegetables and crowded dwellings. A shilling induced a man lounging near the entrance to shoulder the trunk, and the trio entered the court. Faint with conflicting emotions, stunned with the terrible contrast to her whole life she now saw was before her, Edith followed her conductress mechanically. They entered one of the houses, mounted two flights of dark, narrow stairs, and then turned into a small room. Motioning to the man to put the trunk down, the woman paid him, and, drawing Edith from the doorway, waved him out and closed the door.
"Wait here," she said, softly; "I will tell her you have come."
The dim light still served to show the door leading to an inner room, through the chinks of which the light of a candle gleamed. When this was opened, Edith could see the whole of the small apartment. It contained a bed, a small chest, washstand, and one chair.
"Has she come? Ellen, is my girl here?" And the occupant of the bed tried to sit up as she asked the question.
"Lie down, Mary," said Ellen; "she will come presently."
A violent fit of coughing followed the mother's question.
Edith threw aside her bonnet and mantle, and went to the bedside. A pale, thin woman, prematurely aged by want and sorrow, lay on the narrow bed. Her gray hair was lying loosely round a haggard face, where sickness had obliterated every trace of beauty, and suffering stamped it with deep wrinkles. The air was close, and the room hot almost to suffocation. Edith bent over the bed, and raised the sick woman in her arms. The change of position eased the cough, but she lay panting and exhausted against the bosom of her child.
"Do not try to speak, mother," said Edith, in a low, sweet voice. "I am here to nuise. you and care for you. I shall not leave you again." A weary sigh followed the words, for excitement and sorrow were telling heavily on the potted child of luxury.
"You are a good child, honey," said the woman called Ellen. "I 'm your aunt, your father's sister, and I moved here soon after Mrs. Lawrence took you. It's little I'd have ever troubled you, if your mother hadn't come here to me, wearying to see you; but now you are here, you sha'n't want one woman's love to comfort you. I've no book learning, but I can earn my bread; and since I 've lost my good man and all my babies, I've laid by a wee sum that 'll do for a while. Don't cry, honey," for Edith's tears were coursing fast down her cheeks.
"Mary, dear," said the sick woman, faintly.
"It's you, honey, she means," said Ellen. "Your own name was Mary, though your new mother changed it."
"It is better so," said Edith, forcing herself to speak cheerfully. "Edith Lawrence ceases to exist to-night; but to-morrow, aunt, Mary Campbell will learn of you how to earn her own bread, and not bring you two new mouths to feed."
An hour passed in such talk, and then Ellen gently insisted upon her niece's lying down upon a sofa in the outer room, while she took the care of the invalid for the night. Worn out with the afternoon's excitement, Edith sank to sleep on the rude bed her aunt prepared for her.
I should weary my readers to tell them in detail of the trials of my heroine's new life. Her mother, although far beyond any hope of recovery, lingered on week after week, suffering intensely at times from oppression and a racking cough, at other times snnk in stupor. Aunt Ellen's funds were taxed for the
medicines the doctor ordered, more to alleviate pain than from any hope of permanent relief.
Beyond her own conscience Edith had but little comfort in her new home. Her mother could speak but little, only showing her love by the anxiety with which she watched the young girl's slightest motion, and the desire to have her ever near her. Night watching and the close rooms soon struck the rose from Edith's cheek, the light from her eyes, the spring from her step; yet her voice was always gentle, her smile ready, and her caress tender for her mother.
Finding that she was resolved not to be dependent upon her, her aunt allowed her to do the sewing by which she lived, while she herself took the house-cares, or rather room-cares, and the heavy work of washing, ironing, and cleaning. Nimble fingers and the willing heart soon penetrated the mysteries of the needlework by which Ellen Campbell lived, and she often declared that Molly, as she called Edith, did more work in one hour than she could accomplish in three. After a few weeks, she applied for finer sewing, with, of course, higher wages, and, obtaining this, many little comforts were added to the invalid's store. It was two strange scene; the small rooms, with three small cot-beds neatly made, their poor furniture, the suffering woman propped up by pillows, the rough but kind-hearted hostess in her coarse dress, working at the washtub, the cooking, or cleaning, and in contrast to all this the bread-winner at her work. The fair, delicate girl, in her pretty morning wrappers, with her golden curls and lovely face, sitting-hour after hour at her sewing, was in this new home, as she had been in her old one, the centre of love, the idol of both relatives. Ellen would often take the tiny white hand of her niece in her own coarse red one, saying—
"No wonder they work fast; they are fairy fingers. Stiff, hard, clumsy ones, like mine, are for scrubbing and sweeping; but such tiny things as needles are for baby hands like yours, Molly."
Three weeks passed, and then Mrs. Lawrence made one more effort to regain her child. Confident that the coarse fare, hard work, and uncongenial companionship must have disgusted Edith, she wrote to her. It was an eloquent letter, painting the desolate home, the longing love, the ready forgiveness awaiting the wayward child; threatening the entire alienation a refusal to return now must cost; appealing to the young girl's gratitude, reminding her of kindnesses which were only too indelibly
impressed upon her memory. Bitter tears she shed over it, and with an aching heart she put it away.
"If you will not return now, leaving forever this woman who deserted you in infancy," the letter said, "do not write. Your answer must be to come to me, or to remain with her. No appeal will make any alternative beyond this. Come now, or we are separated forever."
And Edith looked into her mother's loving eyes, kissed her wasted cheek, and vowed to be faithful to her until death should part them. She knew, too, that without her work it would be difficult for her aunt to earn enough for herself and the invalid, for the added cares of sickness occupied every hour now, and she could not think it right to desert them.
Winter was coming on, and still Mrs. Campbell lived. Her daughter, in spite of the daily walk which Aunt Ellen made her take, was becoming weak and pale with the steady, unaccustomed work, and every cold day made her tremble at the prospect of the coming months. Steady sewing had only sufficed to keep the two comfortable through the summer, and when full, extra light, warmer clothing, and the other expenses of winter were added, Edith knew that her present earnings would not be sufficient. Her mother, too, coughed more, suffered more as the air grew chill in the mornings and evenings, and the work had to be thrown aside, sometimes for hours together, while Edith raised her mother up, and by every expedient a loving heart could suggest tried to ease the struggling breathing or sharp pain. Over-work, anxiety, and the sorrow of separation from her old friends were all acting upon the delicate frame of the poor child; shrinking from notice, dreading to meet her former acquaintances, she had taken her daily walks at a very early hour iu the morning; but now, after nights of painful watching, she felt unfit for the exertion, and gradually the habit of walking was given up; the fair skin became sallow, the round arms very, very thin, the bright eyes sunken, and the step languid and feeble. In the more dangerous sickness of Mrs. Campbell, Edith's weakness was overlooked, even by her aunt, and while the two elder women deeply felt the influence of her pure Christian heart, her loving devotion, and uncomplaining patience, they did not realize how she was sinking under her unaccustomed burdens.
The first snow fell early in November; and on the day when the city was shrouded in its winter's mantle, Mary Campbell died. She closed her eyes on this world, lying in her
child's arms, her last words a prayer for the gentle nurse who had sacrificed so much to come to her death-bed. It was sudden at the last, this parting of the soul from the frail body; for the invalid had rallied for a few days previous, and Edith, who loved her mother with that pure affection which the generous give to those for whom they sacrifice much, felt the blow keenly.
Although she tried, for her aunt's sake, to still bear up bravely, the physical strain had been too great, and she became very ill. Want now stared them grimly in the face. The doctor's bill and funeral expenses were a heavy drain on Ellen Campbell's savings; and now, deprived of Edith's work, with the prospect of a long illness, she became very anxious.
She was standing over the ironing-table one morning, dampening the clothes, rather freely it must be confessed, for heavy tears fell on her work, when some one knocked. It was the doctor's hour; so she merely said, "Come in."
"Good-morning," said a strange voice; and she turned to face an old gentleman, with a pleasant, cheerful face.
"Good-morning, sir!" she said, courtesying.
"Dr. Hall is out of town to-day, so I called to see your daughter."
"My niece, sir."
"Ah, yes. How is she f No worse, I hope," and he looked kindly at the red eyes.
"Indeed, sir, I hardly know. She's been in a stupor like all night, and when she took the drops a while back, she never roused, only moaned a little when I tried to wake her."
"Her eyes only half shut themselves, sir; we've killed her, that's it!" And the hot tears fell again.
"How long has she been sick?"
"Only in bed a week, sir; but I'm mistrusting she's been sick a long while, though she never said so. It's an angel she's been to her sick mother for six months, sewing all day and scarce sleeping all night, working and sorrowing, and never a word of complaint, she that's been brought up like a princess. Always with a comforting word of the Good God for sorrow, yet never a bit like teaching or preaching, only like as if her heart held it for two time of trouble."
The doctor had listened kindly, for he saw how it eased the woman to talk, but now he said:
"Can I go in V
"Yes, sir: this way," and she opened the door of the inner room.
"Edith Lawrence!" cried the doctor, going quickly to the bedside.
The old name fell pleasantly on the sick girl's ear, for she smiled, though without opening her eyes.
"How did she come here? They said she went with her mother to Paris."
Ellen was only too ready to tell of her niece's sacrifice, and the doctor was an attentive listener. Mrs. Lawrence's family physician, and fully acquainted with Edith's delicate health and luxurious life, he was at no loss to account for the illness he was now called upon to tend. The hot, close room, the rough fare, and the constant interruptions which Ellen was obliged to endure in her nursing duties, all told their own story. The hot hand, quick pulse, flushed cheek, and heavy stupor all urged him to instant decision. Promising to return in an hour, he left directions for the interval and went hastily away.
Everybody called Dr. Grey eccentric, everybody loved and respected him, and everybody was ready to oblige him; yet the good folks did open their eyes when they heard that the doctor had opened a room long closed because his wife had lived in it until her death, and that he had taken into his house a young lady, very sick, and an elderly woman, who was installed as nurse forthwith.
The housekeeper pshawed, blessed her heart , goodness-gracioused, threatened to leave, and finally turned her wrath into kindness, and nursed the patient as devotedly as her own aunt. It was a stubborn case, but the doctor was resolute, the nurses prayerful, the invalid tractable and patient, and Edith began to get better.
"So, then," said the doctor as he sat beside her arm-chair one morning, "not content with the experience you have had already, you want to steer into the world in quest of new adventures."
"I only want to tax your kindness still further by begging you to get me some scholars among your friends, and finding me a quiet boarding-place."
"Ain't it quiet enough here?"
"But I cannot remain here dependent upon you."
"Bless my heart, what an obstinate woman you are, I suppose, then, by way of compromise, you pay your board here; not in money, you know, but in singing forme, playing backgammon for me, and—well, we can make up the difference in kisses. I'm old enough for your grandfather, and Mrs. Goodwin dis play