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my eyes from the light by which my mother sewed, with serious countenance, at the little round table, exclaiming every now and then her sorrow at losing Mr. Abbot, who had gone down to his office to busy himself in packing up his papers. Willie, even, received a short answer to some trifling request about liis skates he was preparing in two months' anticipation of hard ice, and muttered: "How cross it makes you, Nell, to go to a wedding I Frank Holman ate so much wedding-cake he's sick enough to-night; but seems to me you needn't have gone there, and got a real cross old headache."
Mistaken Willie, to credit to the stomach what proceeded from the heart I But you were not the first in error on that point, for even mother attributed the headache to the long walk, and your sister, in her blindness, was not much wiser.
Three years went by like a dream in quiet Ashbrook. During this period scarcely any ohange had come to me in my little cottage home, save that my school-days were ended, and the last year I had taught the village scholars in the old red school-house on the hill. As I braided up my brown hair before the mirror in my little chamber, its reflection told me that my thin cheeks were rounding out, and my slight form growing into the stronger mould of healthy womanhood. Save these, no other changes had come to me. Brother Willie was now entered a student in the Ashbrook Academy, a smart, quick scholar, who took to his Latin grammar as eagerly as he had hitherto to birdsnesting, nutting, or skating; and I was proud that my earnings as teacher could help eke out our scanty income, and clothe Willie in as nice jackets and trousers as were worn by any boys of his class. For I was determined that our brave, handsome Willie should have every advantage of education, and listened with secret pleasure to his avowed intention to become " as smart a lawyer as Esquire Abbot" when he attained the estate of manhood. My "godfather" had not forgotten us; once or twice yearly he called on us in our cottage home, but the business claims of a rapidly increasing profession kept him close in Boston; yet letters came regularly to my mother, proving that, amid his cares, we were yet in his thoughts.
During the first few months of her married life, my friend, Laura Dashington, had kept her promise of a correspondence, and her letters Were replete with accounts of fashionable par
ties, theatres, operas, and similar features of gay city life; then gradually followed a wider interregnum between her epistles, till the return of summer brought her to her Ashbrook home on a visit ere she was whirled away to a crowded seaside hotel, bringing with her, also, such visions of city fashions as astonished the sober dwellers of our quiet country town.
At first, Laura seemed scarcely changed; there were little trips to and fro between her father's great house and our little cottage, but after the early greetings were over, there was hardly an hour when I saw her but she was busy over the style of some new mantilla or dress, and Fashion seemed pre-eminent in her mind. And when Mr. Dashington came down to hurry Laura away to the beach, where a gay party of their city friends were to meet them, our goodbyes were cut in twain by the arrival of a box of stylish wrappers she had ordered from Madame Deinorest's, and over which Laurawent into such ecstasies that, I doubt not, I had nearly reached home before she missed me.
When Laura came for her second summer visit, her husband's two sisters accompanied her for "a month in the country"—Eloise merged into the wealthy "Mrs. Robert Rogers," a fact which she made apparent by a great display of Honiton, grenadine and silk, and costly jewelry; and Miss Grace Dashington, a showy belle of haughty, supercilious manner, who quite repelled all who came within her sphere of contact. And Laura had so imbibed the infection of worldliness from her sisters-in-law that I was not the only one of her old schoolmates who grew tenacious of their own dignity, and hesitated to frequent Jonas Holman's house as m former days; hence it was not surprising that when Laura left Ashbrook we had not met beyond one or two stereotyped calls on lier part, in which the display of an elegant toilet contributed its full share, and the same number, in an humbler wardrobe, on mine.
Laura did not visit her girlhood home at all during the third summer; but from her mother, who was never weary of the recital of "Laura's dresses" and "Laura's jewelry," Ashbrook people learned that she was visiting Saratoga with a large party of her city friends and relatives, including her husband's sisters, and that Grace Dashington was a reigning belle, and attracted half the gentlemen there to her feet. And yet, strange to say, notwithstanding all the stories of Grace Dashington'a admirers, we did not hear of her engagement, nor the prospect of " a great match" for tlie showy, stylish brunette. 1 was not quite so cognizant of the fact then as now that a woman may be a belle and a beauty, and have plenty of admirers but never a husband at her disposal. Admiration is one thing, but honest, manly love quite another.
And yet, notwithstanding I had begun to make the discovery that Laura Dashington possessed one of those shallow natures that would never advance in mental stature; that her whole conversation was about the latest cut of a dress or mantilla, or an evening at the opera; in short, that she had settled into a mere worldly woman, above whose level she would never rise; and, notwithstanding I could not help knowing that there were heights in my own nature to which she could never ascend, I judged her charitably as possible, cherished the old spirit of kindness toward her, and made excuse for all in her manner that wounded or pained my sensitive heart, "It is her gay city life that influences her; were she here again in her old home, the friend of her girlhood would be dear to her as ever; nay, I will believe she loves me yet," I said, mentally, in my most forgiving moods. I had yet to learn that the rich wine of friendship may be sometimes wasted on barren soil, or that, if the cup id returned us, it is but a base adulteration we put to our thirsty lips.
During these first three years of her married life, Laura had occupied the elegant suite of rooms her husband had taken in a first-class boarding-house; but when the third anniversary came round, Mrs. Holman made a series of calls upon half Ashbrook, expressly to inform them that Mr. Dashington had purchased a house in the new fashionable South End of the city, and Laura was now at housekeeping in an establishment unsurpassed in its style of furnishing. What envious desires burned in the hearts of many oX our Ashbrookers, consequent upon Mrs. Herman's wonderful stories I What pretty three-ply carpets grew cheap beside Laura Dashington's velvets aud Brussels! What neat stone china tea-sets grew paltry beside her silver table-services I What dainty muslin and bright moreen curtains grew coarse beside her lace and brocatelle, and what cheerful solar and kerosene lamps grew dimmer than tallow candles in contrast with her splendid gas burners, flooding her gorgeous drawingrooms with dazzling radiance!
It was in October when Laura went to housekeeping; her mother made her a long visit at Christmas and New Year's, and when she returned, early in February, she brought glowing accounts of the parties Laura had given and atVol. Lxiv.—4
tended; and, during my long February vacation, when the snow-drifts lay deep and white over Ashbrook, the naked trees stood like gaunt sentinels keeping ward on the distant hilltops, the sidewalks were bordered with a thick, high wall of solid snow, and we found our comfort in-doors, beside the ruddy fire on our little parlor hearth, with the tales of Laura's gas-lit, furnace-heated mansion in my ears, I could not help occasionally wondering if its mistress remembered her old and oft-extended invitation for the visit from her "most intimate friend, Nelly," when she should keep house. But I never framed my thought into words, for I had long ceased to expect any reminder of the visit or my promise to make it; Laura Washington's letters had died out long ago, and no token from my hand or pen ever found its way to her now, for I had grown as proud—ay, prouder than she, though in a different way.
All this time, what of Esquire Abbot?
Nothing, beyond his semi-yearly, short visits, when, as he informed us, "business brought him into the neighborhood of Ashbrook; some old lawsuit revived ;" and the letters he wrote my mother at stated intervals: for he had constituted himself a sort of legal adviser to her, and guardian for her children—though Heaven knows we had little to "guard," in the way of property, in those days 1 I should add that, occasionally, a note was inclosed in mother's letters for myself—something about my studies—or I received a new book or roll of music; and now and then came a Christmas gift, for each of us, or a Latin book or lexicon for Willie, after he entered the academy. His notes to me were kind, almost fatherly, and evincing the deepest interest in my pursuits; and certainly I did not realize that I thought of Esquire Abbot beyond a kind friend and Mentor in those days; and yet I can see clearly now that, had any one come to me then, and asked me to define my feelings, I should have been puzzled to put them into any given form of expression.
Laura Dashington wrote her mother that she met Esquire Abbot often in society latterly, and that he was growing rich and famous in his profession; and I had a sort of intuition that there were scale3 of social life far above the circles wherein the merchant's fashionable wife moved, where my friend and "godfather" was eagerly welcomed as the peer of great, and talented, and cultivated men. And, secretly, I was not a little proud that he still held us, at the humble Ashbrook Cottage, his cherished friends.
One cold evening, in the middle of February, the expressman brought a package. I knew it was from Esquire Abbot; and Willie produced his penknife with eagerness, and cut the strings that fastened the wrappings. It contained a nice, warm shawl for mamma, a copy of Horace for Willie, and, in a neat box, a beautiful hot-bouse bouquet for me. "The Professor's Story" was there, also, with my name—"Ellen Brewster"—on the fly-leaf, and several of the monthly magazines. These were like the delicate gifts he always sent me. If he had ever offered me jewelry, or a single article of finery to wear, I should have indignantly scorned them and the giver; but books, and flowers, and music were gladly received, and won my warmest thanks in return.
"It's real nice, this Horace; just the book I shall want next term I" said Willie, eagerly running over its pages. "Mr. Abbot is the best sort of an old fellow to send it, and I 'll write him a big letter of thanks, as soon as I finish construing this sentence. Hallo, Nelly ! what's your book? Oh, English.'" and, with an air of wonderful erudition, the young student went off to his Latin.
"It is very, very kind in Mr. Abbot!" said mamma, folding the soft shawl over her shoulders. "Just what we would have got—only, perhaps, not so nice a one—but for Willie's winter coat. He is so thoughtful—like a son— or a brother," she added, with a little start, and to look at me, as though a thought had struck her for the first time. "But here, Ellen, herd is a note for you!" handing me a letter which had fallen from the folds of the shawl to the carpet.
I opened it, and it ran thus :—
Dear Little Goddaughter: Will you beg your good mother to accept the shawl, and wear it amid your cold Ashbrook snowdrifts? and Master Willie, the Horace, whose classic odes have outlived old Rome itself, and are turned to English on every modern student's tongue ?—may their present pupil never mar their beauty by a careless translation! For yourself, let the Professor's Story, and the pleasant other stories, while away these winter evening hours; and let the flowers bring you a foretasting dream of summer 'mid present ice, and frosts, and snows. But I have a little plan to broach to you, Miss Ellen. Your school is ended; Ashbrook must be dull, socially; and youth needs a change. Now that your old and intimate school friend, Laura Washington, is in her own house, why not drop her a note that you will pass a few weeks with her in our
pleasant city 1 She will, of course, be delighted to receive you, and enjoy your society; and, for want of a younger cavalier, your old godfather is at your disposal, to escort you to whatever places of interest our town may contain—to the Boston, the Athenaeum, Music Hall, and parties ad infinitum. So what says Miss Ellen into coaxing her mother to spare her awhile from the quiet cottage home, and sending her straightway to her friends here f Very truly, your godfather, Edward Abbot.
It was such B golden suggestion that my heart caught it up at the first; then came the thought of how long a period had elapsed since anything like a letter had passed between Laura and myself. But mamma said, after a little pause, "Why not go, my dear, Of course Mr. Abbot has spoken about you to Laura; he meets her very often, you know, and it has been Bettled between them. And, as he says, she will be very glad and delighted to have you make her a little visit. We can afford the money for travelling expenses by a little management and economy; there is your nice winter bonnet, very becoming; and your dark thibet will do for the journey, and a street dress; your blue silk is handsome enough to wear anywhere; and we can turn my black one, and have Miss Price, make it over for you; how fortunate you are no taller! the skirt will be long enough over your new floating bell. Yes, Ellen, you ought to have some advantages such as a visit to Boston would give you; and Mr. Abbot will be just like an elder brother, or a father, to you. You had better write this evening to Laura."
"The Athenaeum, the Boston Theatre, and Music Hall!" Paintings, sculptures, the drama, and those eloquent lecturers whom I had so longed to see and hear. And Church's " Heart of the Andes" was on exhibition, and Edwin Booth was at the Boston—for I read the notices of art and the drama, in the daily papers, with as keen a relish as though I were a constant visitor to their temples. Every longing of my aesthetic nature pleaded forthe indulgence, and I decided. Drawing my little writing-desk toward me, I penned the letter to Laura Dashington.
"Now, Willie, won't you take this over to the post-office, that it may go in the morning's mail? It is Tuesday night; I shall get an answer by Friday, at farthest, and I will go by the middle of next week."
"Yes, Ellen; Miss Price can do the dress right away. She has got through her busy
season," said my mother, folding her shawl, while Willie put on his cap and overcoat to post the letter.
As anticipated, Friday's evening mail brought me an answer, and I broke the seal with eagerness.
"Read it aloud, Ellen," said my mother; and I complied.
BosTOn, Feb. —, 1860.
Dear Eixet: I received your letter last eve. I was pleased to hear from you, but, as you say, was quite surprised.
With regard to your visiting me, I should be gratified to see you here but for some circumstances I will name, which, for the present, will not make it quite so convenient as I could wish. I am entertaining considerable company, and every room in my house seems occupied. My husband's sister Grace, and two cousins from New York are here; consequently, my time is much taken up with them and the cares of my large house and numerous servants. So I should get but little leisure to devote to you, and you, being a stranger, of course would need some one to show you the lions of our big city. My husband gets home quite late from his business, so that our evenings are quite interrupted when I am not at some opera or party—though I go a great deal, for one must who is at all fashionable.
However, should you conclude to come to Boston, and if you have any friend where you might stop for a week or two, at the end of that time I will try and be with you as much as I can. My husband's cousins will return to New York in March. They are splendid girls, and dress in a style that quite astonishes our circle, and they and Grace are invited everywhere. You may not have heard that Madame Rumor proclaims Esquire Abbot, whom you once knew at Ashbrook^ the especial admirer of •Jrace. She is a great belle, and he is considered very wealthy, and a good match; so I should not wonder if we were soon busy with the wedding outfit. Of course they would be married in church, and she would have at least six bridesmaids. When Eloise was married, she had eight, and they all dressed in pink silk, with real Mechlin lace overskirts.
Please excuse haste, as I am going down to Hovey's this morning to shop. Very truly, Ladba Dashington.
P. S. Should you come, you will write, I suppose. L. D.
I laid down the letter with hot tears of mortification in my eyes.
"The hateful simpleton! When I am a man, and have a house, and horse and carriage of my own, I 'll pay her for insulting my sister so!" exclaimed Willie, with flashing eyes. "I 'll pitch into Frank Holman to-morrow, and wash his face in a snowdrift, for having such a contemptible relation—see if I don't 1 And as , for Mr. Abbot, he's a mean villain, Nell, to' ask you to visit Boston to see him court another girl. There goes his old Horaoe !" and, suiting the action to the word, he hurled his new Latin book straight into the fire on the hearth. "Nobody here wants any of his charity; and I'd saw wood before I'd study law in his office when I graduate!"
"William! my son!"
My mother's voice was stern in its reproving tones than I had ever heard before, and Willie shrank away somewhat abashed, though he muttered, as he slunk from the room, "I don't care—it's true I"
"Ellen, don't cry I Laura Dashington is unworthy of a tear. We have been mistaken in her; but it is well we have learned her true character; she is not capable of a lasting friendship. As for Mr. Abbot"—and here her voice trembled a little—" I can't believe but there is some mistake in this story."
"I don't believe there is any mistake at all," I said, striving to steady my voice and crush back the burning tears, "and I hope it is so! Of course it's true! It's the way with everybody; let people be rich and fashionable, and they 'll have everybody at their feet. I only wish I was an heiress, and I'd show them!" And I felt wicked thoughts rising in my heart.
"What would you do if you were rich, Ellen?" asked my mother, gently.
"I'd show folks how I could hate them! I'd learn Laura Dashington to write cool, insulting letters! I'd learn Mr. Abbot"—but here I broke down.
"I shall be sorry to learn that he is married to a vain, artificial girl like Grace Dashington," said my mother.
"And I shall be glad of it! She's good enough for him 1 He can marry whom he pleases!" I answered, proudly, shutting my lips together with a sudden spasm of pain which convinced me that it was not Laura Dashington's coldness that had wounded me most cruelly.
"Of course he can, Ellen; but he had always seemed so near to us, and I thought—" She did not finish the sentence, but took up her sewing again with a sigh.
Just then, the door leading into the diningroom opened, and Willie came back, with a red spot on his cheek yet, but a little subdued in manner.
"I forgot, Nell, to give you this other letter; I was so eager about that mean old one from Boston." And he tossed one into my lap.
The postmark I could not quite make out, but the handwriting was familiar, and I was half tempted to crush it, uuread. But I forced myself to open it, and read:—
Concord, N. H., Wed. morning. Deak Miss Ellkn: I am up here in your Granite State on business; and as I suppose you hare before now decided upon the visit to Boston, I have thought best to return by way of Ashbrook, and become your compagnon du voyage; so I just drop a line to tell you that I shall probably be at your house by the last train Thursday eve, perhaps as soon as my letter. In haste, Abbot.
I dashed the letter down upon the table indignantly.
"We must always treat him politely, Ellen; and remember that he has been our best friend for six years," said my mother, decidedly, looking up, with a clear, serious light in her eyes.
"He '11 never catch much politeness from me, I guess! Maybe there'1l be some inquiry about that Horace!" muttered Willie, still defiantly, taking down his books and settling to his evening lesson.
"And I shall have the pleasure of showing Esquire Abbot Mrs. Laura Dashington's cordial letter," I said, sarcastically, after full three minutes' silence.
"Let me see it now, Miss Ellen." The voice came from the door opening into the front hall, and the speaker was he of whom we had been talking. How be had crossed the outer threshold without our hearing him I could not divine; yet thero he stood, in the parlor door, in his heavy overcoat and his rich fur collar, and smiling upon us. "It is well you live in an honest neighborhood, Mrs. Brewster, where no man covets the contents of your hall, for it would hardly answer in the goodly old Puritan city I hail from to leave our street doors wide open." And he came forward to shake hands with us, while Willie darted up to snatch his skates, don his cap and overooat, shut behind him the door he had left wide open in his eager return from the post-office, and make his exit into the keen air to escape the friendly meeting with the new-oomer.
I cannot say much for the warmth of my
greeting, but my mother skilfully covered my constraint by her own manner; and when Mr. Abbot had divested himself of his overcoat, and was warming his chilled fingers by the cheerful blaze of the wood fire, she slipped away to the dining-room to prepare a cup of tea for him.
"Where did Willie vanish? he disappeared like a mist," he asked, at length, moving a little from the fire; then went on, without seeming to expect an answer: "And now, Miss Ellen, shall I read the letter I heard you speaking of when I appeared like Santa Claus among you? I knew you would hear immediately from Mrs. Dashington."
I put the letter into his hand without a word, and went on with my crocheting. I would not even look at him while he read it.
I looked up then. He had finished the letter, and sat with his eyes bent on me, and a peculiar smile upon his handsome lips.
"And so your friend Laura is going to marry me to her sister-in-law, Miss Grace Dashington, the tall, the dark, the lond, the 'stunning' Miss Grace Dashington; and we are to have six bridesmaids and groomsmen, all dressed in pink silk, and you are willing, Miss Ellen?" he said, leaning indolently back in the arm-chair, and eyeing me intently.
"I am very willing that you should marry Miss Dashington and the six bridesmaids all together, if you choose, Mr. Abbot; but I am not willing that you should ever again call Laura Dashington my friend as long as I live 1" I replied. The words dropped like iron from my lips, but all the pride of my nature forced their utterance, for I was resolved that he should not see his trinmph over me.
"Ellen, my daughter, will yon pour the tea for Mr. Abbot? They b»ye just sent in from Mr. Gray's for me; they think little Fanny is worse, and beg me to step in immediately," said my mother, entering the parlor hurriedly.
"Certainly, Miss Ellen will do the honors for her godfather," said Mr. Abbot, iraperturbably; and when, a few minutes later, mother had wrapped her warm shawl—his gift—about her and left for our neighbor's, he continued: "And now, before I get to be an open disciple of Mormonism, let us have one more civilized cup of tea together, little Nelly."
With very erect head, I led the way to the dining-room, and presided over the neatlyspread table. He might please himself with his jests, but I would let him see that they did not annoy me; so I poured his tea calmly, and