RESULTING IN A BETROTHAL AND A TEMPEST
At the breakfast table next morning Julia's pale face was noticed and commented upon.
"She had a violent toothache last night, which kept her awake," said Fanny.
"Now I think of it," said Mr. Middleton, "I wonder, Tempest, how you can have the toothache, for you are always bragging about your handsome, healthy teeth, and say you hain't a rotten fang in your head."
Julia colored, for what her father said was true, neither did she remember of ever having had the toothache in her life; but quickly recovering herself, she said, "Neither have I a decayed tooth. It was more of a faceache, I suppose, than the genuine toothache."
"Probably you have taken some cold," said Mr. Wilmot.
"I think quite likely I have," retorted Julia, and so the toothache matter was dismissed for the time. Mr. Miller, however, thought he could see in it a plan of Julia's to avoid going to school that day and when he heard Mrs. Middleton say, "Julia, as it is so cold and chilly, perhaps you had better not go out," he was rather surprised to hear her reply, "Oh, no, mother; Mr. Miller is going with us and I would not miss of being there for anything."
So the party proceeded together to the schoolhouse. When school commenced Julia took her books and going up to Mr. Wilmot, said, loudly enough for Mr. Miller to hear: "Mr. Wilmot, do you know that you gave me a very hard lesson for today?"
"Yes, Julia," said he, "I know it is hard and long, and as you do not seem well, I will excuse you from as much of it as you choose, or from the whole of it, if you like."
"No, no," said Julia; "Mr. Miller is here and I would like to show him that I have improved since last winter, when, as I fear, I was often sadly remiss in my studies. All I want to tell you is that if I do not recite as well as usual, you mustn't scold me a bit; will you?"
"Oh, certainly not," said Mr. Wilmot, and then he added in a tone so low that no one heard but Julia, "I could not scold you, dear Julia."
Thus flattered, the young lady took her seat and for a time seemed very intensely occupied with her lessons. At last she opened her portfolio and, taking from it a sheet of foolscap, cast an exulting glance toward Fanny and Mr. Miller, the latter of whom was watching her movements. She then took her gold pencil and commenced scribbling something on the paper. By the time her lesson was called she laid the paper on the desk, and prepared to do honor to herself and teacher. The moving of the paper attracted Mr. Wilmot's notice, and going toward her, he very gently said, "I presume you have no objection to letting me see what you have written here."
She at first put out her hand as if to prevent him from taking it, but at last she suffered him to do so, but tried to look interestingly confused. Mr. Wilmot read what was written and then smiling passed it to his friend, who looked at it and saw that it was a piece of tolerably good blank verse.
"Is this your composition, Julia?" said Mr. Miller.
"Yes, sir," she replied.
"And have your 'notes' always been of this nature?" asked Mr. Wilmot.
"That, or something similar," said Julia. "I find no difficulty in learning my lesson by once reading, and as I am very fond of poetry, I like to employ the rest of my time in trying my powers at it!"
Mr. Wilmot looked at Mr. Miller, as much as to say, "I hope you are satisfied," and then proceeded to hear Julia's lesson, which was well-learned and well-recited. Julia's recitation being over, Fanny's class was called. Fanny came hesitatingly, for she knew her lesson was but poorly learned. That morning she had found under her desk a love letter from Bill Jeffrey, and she and some of the other girls had spent so much time in laughing over it, and preparing an answer, that she had scarcely thought of her lesson. She got through with it, however, as well as she could, and was returning to her seat when Mr. Miller called her to him and said reprovingly, "Fanny, why did you not have a better lesson?"
"Oh, Mr. Miller," she said, almost crying, "I did intend to, but I forgot all about your being here"; and then, as a new thought struck her, she said mischievously, "and besides I have spent all the morning writing an answer to Bill Jeffrey's love letter!"
At this unlooked-for speech, all the scholars burst into a laugh and directed their eyes toward the crestfallen Bill, who seemed so painfully embarrassed that Fanny regretted what she had said, and as soon as school was out for the morning she went to him and told him she was sorry for so thoughtlessly exposing him to ridicule; "but," added she, "Billy, I'll tell you what, you mustn't write me any more love letters, for 'tis not right to do such things at school; neither need you bring me any more candy or raisins. I don't object to your giving me a nice big apple occasionally, but candy and raisins you had better give to the little children. And now to prove that I am really your friend, if you will get that old dogeared arithmetic of yours, I will show you how to do some of those hard sums which trouble you so."
Billy was surprised. The butt of the school, he was accustomed to the jeers of his companions, but such kindness, and from Fanny, too, was unexpected. He, however, drew from his desk his old slate and arithmetic and he and Fanny were soon deep in the mysteries of compound fractions. A half hour passed away and at the end of that time Billy's sums were done.
"Now, Billy," said Fanny, "see that you do not send me any more letters, and mind, too, and not wink at me so often; you will remember?" Bill gave the required promise and Fanny bounded away in quest of her schoolmates, who laughed at her for taking so much pains with such a dolt as Bill Jeffrey. That afternoon Fanny resolved to retrieve her character as a scholar; so she applied herself closely to her task, and before recitation hour arrived she had learned every word of her lesson. But alas for poor Fanny. She was always stumbling into some new difficulty, and fate, this afternoon, seemed resolved to play a sorry trick upon her.
The schoolhouse stood at the foot of a long, steep hill, which would have been chosen for a capital sliding place by New York boys; but in Kentucky the winters are, comparatively speaking, so mild that the boys know but little of that rare fun, "sliding down hill." The winter of which we are speaking was, however, unusually severe, and the schoolboys had persevered until they had succeeded in making a tolerably nice sliding place, and they had also furnished themselves with a goodly number of rather rough-looking sleds, of which Bill Jeffrey owned the largest. The girls were all anxious to try a ride down the hill, and none more so than Fanny; but the boys would not lend their sleds, and the girls would not ride with the boys, and as the latter always hid their precious sleighs, the girls had as yet never succeeded in their wishes. But on this day, Bill Jeffrey, touched by Fanny's unlooked-for kindness, whispered to her, just as school was commencing, that she might take his big sled at recess.
This was a treat indeed, and when recess came, Fanny, with half a dozen other girls, climbed to the top of the hill, and began piling on to Bill's old sled. It was settled that Fanny should guide the craft, and numerous were the cautions of the girls that she should "mind and steer straight."
"Oh, yes, I'll do that," said Fanny; "but wouldn't it be funny," added she, "if we should make a mistake and go plump into the schoolhouse!"
At last all was ready, and the vehicle got under way. At first it moved slowly, and the loud, merry laugh of the girls rang out on the clear, cool air; but each moment it increased in swiftness, and by the time it was half-way down the hill, was moving at an astonishingly rapid rate. Fanny lost her presence of mind and, with it, her ability to guide the sled, so that they passed the point where they should have turned and made directly for the schoolhouse door, which flew open, as once did the gates for the famous John Gilpin. There was no entryway to the building, but as the sled struck the door the jolt threw off all the girls except Fanny, who manfully kept her seat; and so made her grand entrance into the schoolroom, stopping not till she reached the stove, and partially upsetting it, to the great astonishment of the teacher, visitor, and boys, the latter of whom set up a loud huzza. Poor Fanny! 'Twas her first sled ride, and she felt sure it would be her last; but she resolved to make the best of it, so she looked up from under her curls and said very demurely, "Please, Mr. Wilmot, may I stop at this station? I do not like being so near the engine!" meaning the stove, whose proximity made her quarters a little uncomfortable.
Mr. Wilmot gave her permission to take her seat, which she readily did, wondering why it was that she always managed to do something which made her appear ridiculous, just when she wanted to appear the best. Her mishap gave secret pleasure to Julia, who delighted to have Fanny appear as badly as possible, and she felt particularly pleased when she saw that Fanny's strange ride had scattered all the ideas from her head, for the afternoon's lessons were but little better recited than the morning, and at its close Julia gave her a look of malicious triumph, which Mr. Miller observing, said, as if apologising for Fanny, that he was sure that she had every word of her lesson before recess, but it was no wonder she was somewhat disconcerted at the unexpected termination of her ride. Fanny smiled gratefully upon him through her tears, which she could not restrain; but her tears were like April showers--they did not last long, and that night, at the supper table, when Mr. Miller related her adventure to her father, she joined as gayly as any one in the laugh which followed.
Julia was much displeased to think that Fanny's "ridiculous conduct," as she called it, should be told of and laughed at as if it were something amusing. She was anxious, too, that Mr. Miller should draw his visit to a close, but as he did not seem inclined to do so, she resolved to make the most of it, and give him a few new ideas. She knew that Fanny had ever been his favorite and she very naturally supposed that the reason of his preference was because he thought she possessed a very lovely, amiable disposition. She determined to make him think otherwise, and set herself at work to execute a plan, which fully showed the heartless deception which almost always characterized her actions.
Fortune seemed to favor her, for after supper her father and mother announced their intention of spending the evening at one of the neighbors', and soon after they left Mr. Wilmot, who had letters to write, retired to his room, together with Mr. Miller. As soon as they were gone Julia repaired to the negro quarters and, by dint of threats, flattery and promises of reward, finally prevailed upon Luce to join with her in her dark plot. They then went to Julia's sleeping room and carefully opened the closet door, so that every word of their conversation could be heard in the adjoining room.
Julia's voice was strangely like her sister's, and by means of imitating her she hoped to deceive both Mr. Wilmot and Mr. Miller, who were startled by a loud, angry voice, exclaiming, "Come, you black imp, no more lies, you know you've stolen it, so just confess, and tell me where it is."
The young gentlemen looked at each other in surprise, for the voice was like Fanny's, and yet it was so unnatural for her to be in such a passion that they thought it impossible. Their fears were, however, soon confirmed by Luce, who said, "Oh, Miss Fanny, Lor' knows I never tached it. Now, sartin I knows nothin' 'bout it."
"Hold your jaw, or I'll slap your mouth for you, you lying thief!" said Julia (alias Fanny). "Of course you've got it, for no one else has been in here; so tell where you hid it."
"Lordy massy! How can I tell, when I dun know nothin' whar 'tis," said Luce.
"There, take, that to brighten up your ideas," said Fanny, and at the same time there was, the sound of a blow, which was followed by an outcry from Luce, who exclaimed, "Oh--oh--oh--Miss Fanny, don't go for to whip me, 'case I haint nothin to tell; if I had I'd tell right off. I haint seed your hankercher 'tall. Mebby you've done drapped it somewhar."
Just then the door opened, and Julia, again speaking naturally, was heard to say, "Why, Fanny, what are you doing just as soon as mother is gone? Luce, what is the matter?"
"Oh, Miss Julia," replied Luce, "Miss Fanny done lost her fine hankercher, and she say how I stole it, but I haint."
"What makes you think Luce has got your handkerchief, Fanny?" asked Julia.
"Because I left it on the table, and 'tisn't there now; and no one has been in the room except Luce," replied Fanny.
"Very likely you have put it in your drawer and forgotten it; let me look," said Julia.
There was a moment's silence, and then Julia was heard to exclaim, "There it is, just as I thought. Here it is, safe in your box. I do wish, sister, you would not be quite so hasty, but stop a little before you condemn others." So saying, the party left the room.
While this scene was taking place, Fanny was quietly seated by the fire in the sitting room, getting her lesson for the next day. At last her eye chanced to fall upon a purse which Julia was knitting for her father and which she had promised to finish that night.
"I wonder," said Fanny to herself--"I wonder where Julia is gone so long? She told father she would finish his purse this evening, and he will scold so, if it is not done, that I believe I'll knit on it till she returns."
Suiting the action to the word, she caught up the purse, and when Julia returned to the sitting room, she found her sister busily engaged in knitting for her.
"Why, Julia," said Fanny, "where have you been so long; I though you were never coming back, so I have been knitting on your purse, for I was afraid you would not get it done, and then father would scold, you know."
As Julia looked into her sister's bright, innocent face and thought of all her kindness, her conscience smote her for the wrong she had done, but quickly hushing the faithful monitor, she thought, "Never mind; it is natural for me to be bad. I cannot help it."
Meantime the gentlemen above were discussing the conversation which they had overheard.
"Is it possible," said Mr. Miller, "that I have been so deceived in Fanny, and that, after all, she is as passionate as her sister?"
"As passionate as her sister," repeated Mr. Wilmot; "I think we have good proof that she is much more so. I hope you are now convinced that Fanny is not infallible, though I will confess I am surprised and disappointed, for I thought she was really of a very gentle nature."
Mr. Miller did not reply directly, but went on, as if speaking to himself, "Oh, Fanny, Fanny, how has my idol fallen! I never would have believed it, but for such convincing evidence."
He was indeed sorely disappointed. He had always thought of Fanny as the embodiment of almost every female virtue, and although she was so young, hope had often whispered to him of a joyous future when she, whom her father designated as "Sunshine," should also shed a halo of sunlight around another fireside. But now the illusion was painfully dispelled, for sooner would he have taken the Egyptian asp to his bosom than chosen for a companion one whom he knew to possess a hasty, violent temper.
Next morning he took leave of Mr. Middleton's family. When it came Fanny's turn to bid him good-by, she noticed the absence of his accustomed cordiality, and wondered much what she had done to displease him. That night she wept herself to sleep thinking of it, while Julia, secretly exulting in her sister's uneasiness, laughed at her for her foolishness, and said, "It was probably a mere fancy, and even if it were not; what matter was it? What did she care for Mr. Miller's good or bad opinion? She mustn't expect everybody to pet and caress her just as her father did, who was an old fool anyway, and petted her and her dogs alternately." This kind of reasoning did not convince Fanny, and for many days her face wore a sad, troubled expression.
Thus the winter passed away. Spring came, and with it came an offer to Mr. Wilmot of a very lucrative situation as teacher in a school in Frankfort. At first he hesitated about accepting it, for there was, in the old rough stone house, an attraction far greater than the mere consideration of dollars and cents. Julia at, last settled the matter, by requesting him to accept the offer, and then urge her father to let her go to Frankfort to school also.
"And why do you wish to go there, Julia?" said Mr. Wilmot, laying his hand on her dark, glossy hair.
"Because," she answered, "it will be so lonely here when you are gone."
"And why will it be lonely, dearest Julia?" continued he.
"Oh," said she, looking up very innocently in his face, "you are the only person who understands me; by all others, whatever I do or say is construed into something bad. I wish you were my brother, for then I might have been better than I am."
"Oh, I do not wish I was your brother," said Mr. Wilmot, "for then I could never have claimed a dearer title, which I hope now to do at some future time."
Then followed a declaration of love, which Julia had long waited most anxiously for. Most eloquently did Mr. Wilmot pour out the whole tide of his affection for the beautiful but sinful girl, who, in a very becoming and appropriate manner, murmured an acknowledgment of requited love. Thus the two were betrothed.
And truly it was a fitting time for such a betrothal. The air had been hot and sultry all day, and now the sky was overspread with dark clouds, while everything indicated an approaching storm. While Mr. Wilmot was yet speaking, it burst upon them with great violence. Peal after peal of thunder followed each other, in rapid succession, and just as Julia whispered a promise to be Mr. Wilmot's forever, a blinding sheet of lightning lit up for a moment her dark features, and was instantly succeeded by a crash, which shook the whole house from its foundation, and drew from Julia a cry of terror, which brought Fanny to see what was the matter, and made Mr. Middleton swear, "Thar was noise enough from the tempest outdoors, without the 'Tempest' in the house raising such a devil of a fuss!"