SUNSHINE HAS TWO GRAVES UPON WHICH TO PLANT FLOWERS
Mr. Wilmot's death occurred on Tuesday morning, and the following Thursday was appointed for his burial. It was the 1st of September, and a bright, beautiful day; but its sunlight fell on many aching hearts, for though he who lay in his low coffin, so cold and still, was a "stranger in a strange land," there were many whose tears fell like summer rain for one who had thus early passed away. He had during his lifetime been a member of the Episcopal church, and his funeral services were to take place at Ascension Church.
The house was filled to overflowing. Mr. Middleton, Mr. Miller, Dr. Lacey and Fanny occupied the front seat, as principal mourners for the deceased. Many searching eyes were bent on the fair young girl, whose white forehead gleamed from under the folds of her veil, and whose eyelids, wet with tears, drooped heavily upon her pale cheek. Madam Rumor had been busy with her thousand tongues, and the scene at the deathbed had been told and retold in twenty different forms, until at last it had become settled that on Fanny's part there was some secret attachment, or she never would have evinced so much interest in Mr. Wilmot. She, however, was ignorant of all this, and sat there wholly unconscious of the interest she was exciting.
Julia was not there. She had again defied her mother's commands, and resisted all Fanny's entreaties, that she would go to the funeral.
"You ought to see Mr. Wilmot," said Fanny. "He looks so calm, so peaceful and," she added in a low voice, "so forgiving."
"So forgiving!" quickly repeated Julia. "I wonder what he has to forgive. If I had continued to love him, 'twould not have saved his life."
Fanny sighed and turned away from the hard-hearted girl, who was left alone with her thoughts during all the long hours of that day. But to do her justice, we must say, that after her mother and sister were gone, a feeling of sadness stole over her; her stony heart somewhat softened, and in the solitude of her chamber she wept for a long time; but whether for Mr. Wilmot's death, her own conduct toward him, or the circumstances which surrounded her, none can tell.
Let us now return to Frankfort, and go back for a few moments in our story. Just as the funeral procession had left the house and was proceeding toward the church, the steamboat Diana, which plies between Cincinnati and Frankfort, appeared round a bend in the river. She was loaded with passengers, who were all on the lookout as they neared the landing place. Just at that moment the tolling bell rang out on the air. Its tones fell sadly on the ear of a tall, beautiful girl, who was impatiently pacing the deck, and looking anxiously in the direction of the city. The knell was repeated, and she murmured, "Oh, what if that should be for Richard!" The thought overpowered her, and sitting down on a seat near her she burst into tears.
"Can I do anything for you?" said the captain, who at that moment passed her.
"Nothing, except to land me in Frankfort as soon as possible," said the young lady, whom the reader will readily suppose was Kate Wilmot.
"Are you in a great hurry?" asked the captain.
"Yes, sir," returned Kate. "My brother is dangerously sick and I am anxious to get to him."
"Where does your brother live?" asked the captain.
"He boards with Mrs. Williams, on Elm street," answered Kate.
"Then," said the captain, "if you will show me your baggage, I will see that it is sent there, for you probably will not wish to waste time in looking after it when we land."
Kate thanked him for his kindness; and when they reached the shore the kind-hearted man called one of his boatmen and ordered him to show Miss Wilmot the way to Mrs. Williams' residence. As Kate approached the house she noticed the air of desertion about it, and her heart sank for fear her brother might be dead. Running hastily up the steps, she rang the bell, which was answered by a female domestic, who was too old and too infirm to attend the funeral. Kate accosted her by saying, "Does Mr. Wilmot live here?"
The old lady replied by lifting up her hand and exclaiming, while the tears coursed their way down her cheeks, "Lord bless me if it isn't young marster's sister."
"Yes, yes," said Kate impatiently, "I am his sister. But tell me, is he dead? Am I too late?"
The woman replied, "Not too late to see him, if you're right spry. They've carried him to the church."
"Where? What church is it?" asked Kate wildly.
"Right yender; that ar brick house with the tall steeple."
Kate waited for no more, but darted off in the direction of the church. Meanwhile the services were ended, and the friends of the deceased were taking their last leave of him. Mrs. Middleton and Mr. Miller stood on one side of the coffin, while Dr. Lacey and Fanny were on the other. Fanny gazed long and earnestly upon the face of her teacher, as if she would stamp his likeness with daguerrean accuracy upon her heart.
She was turning sadly away, when a noise at the door caused all eyes to be directed that way. A pale, lovely face was seen looking anxiously in, and then a slight female figure advanced through the crowd, which gave way for her to pass. She passed up the aisle till she reached the coffin, then bursting into a flood of tears, she wrung her hands, exclaiming, "My brother, oh my brother--are you indeed dead?" She then imprinted kiss after kiss upon the cold lips of him who never before disregarded her caresses; and as the full force of her loss came over her, she uttered a piercing cry of anguish, and fell fainting into the arms of Mr. Miller, who recognized in her beautiful features the original of the picture which Mr. Wilmot had shown him a few months before.
He bore her out into the open air, where he was instantly surrounded by half a dozen ladies, each insisting that the fair stranger should be taken to her house. First among these was Mrs. Crane, who saw by a glance at Kate that her presence would not be derogatory to any house, so she determined to have her taken to her own dwelling, and urged her claim so hard that Mr. Miller at last consented, thinking that Mrs. Williams must be wearied with the recent illness of Mr. Wilmot.
Accordingly, when Kate was again restored to consciousness, she found herself in an elegantly furnished room, with a gaily dressed, handsome lady sitting by her. This was Mrs. Carrington, whose delicate nerves would not suffer her to attend a funeral. On seeing Kate move, she spoke to her and asked her if she felt better.
"Yes, much better," said Kate; "but where am I? What has happened?" And then as the recollection of what had occurred came over her, she burst into tears and said, "My brother--they have buried him, I suppose, and I cannot see him again."
Mrs. Carrington answered, "I think they have not gone to the cemetery yet. I will dispatch a servant and ask them to delay the burial a few moments, if you desire it."
Kate thanked her; but at that moment a messenger came from Mr. Miller. He had anticipated Kate's wishes, and sent word that a carriage was waiting to convey her to the church, where she would have another opportunity of seeing her brother. Mrs. Carrington felt constrained to offer to accompany her, and the two proceeded to the church and thence to the cemetery.
Although Mrs. Carrington had not visited Mr. Wilmot during his illness, she was by no means ignorant of Fanny's attentions. She had taken great pains to comment upon them in Dr. Lacey's presence, saying, "that she had often suspected Fanny of possessing a more than ordinary affection for Mr. Wilmot, and she had sometimes thought her affection returned. For her part, she did not blame Julia for absenting herself from him, for she had probably discovered his preference for her sister." Her object in doing this was to make Dr. Lacey think less favorably of Fanny, for with her practised eye she had discovered that for no other female did he feel such an interest as for "Little Fanny Middleton," as she always termed her.
At the grave she noticed Fanny's pale face and swollen eyes, and found occasion to say to her, loud enough for Dr. Lacey to hear, "I am astonished, Fanny, to see you show to the world how much you loved your sister's betrothed."
This remark had no effect upon Fanny, except causing her to look at Mrs. Carrington in surprise and to wonder what she meant. With Dr. Lacey it was different. Imperceptibly, "Little Fanny Middleton" had won a place in his heart which no other one had ever possessed. At first he admired her for her frank, confiding nature, and afterward he learned to love her for the many lovely traits of her character. He had thought it perfectly natural that she should feel a great interest in Mr. Wilmot, who was for so long a time a member of her father's family; but the wrong construction which was put upon her motives annoyed him, and even made him fearful that her heart might be more interested in Mr. Wilmot than he was willing to believe. As he stood by the open grave into which the cold earth was heavily falling, there rested upon his brow a deeper shade of sadness than was occasioned by the mere death of his friend. Mrs. Carrington observed it, and resolved to follow up the train of thought which she saw was awakened in his mind.
After the burial Kate returned to Mrs. Crane's, where she was treated with every possible attention which politeness or sympathy could dictate. A few days after the funeral she one evening casually asked, if that fair, delicate-looking girl at her brother's grave were not Miss Middleton?
"Yes," replied Mrs. Carrington. "Did you not think from her manner that she was a sincere mourner?"
Kate was about to reply, when Dr. Lacey prevented her by saying, "Pardon me, Mrs. Carrington; but I think you have given Miss Wilmot a wrong impression. She doubtless thinks it was Miss Julia Middleton."
"Yes," said Kate, "I thought it was Miss Julia."
Dr. Lacey replied that it was Fanny--Julia's younger sister; and then he told how faithfully she had watched over Mr. Wilmot during his illness. Of Julia he said nothing, and although Kate wished very much to know something concerning her, she determined not to question Dr. Lacey, but to wait and ask Mr. Miller, who, for some reason, seemed nearer to her than any other one of the strangers by whom she was surrounded. He had been solicited to take charge of the school, which was now destitute of a teacher, and as the situation pleased him, he readily accepted the offer and accepted Mrs. Crane's as his boarding place. Perhaps one inducement which led him to do this was the presence of the beautiful Kate, in whom he daily became more interested.
Years before, when but a boy in the boarding school at Canandaigua, he had often fancied that the time would come when he should both see and know the sister whom Richard Wilmot used to describe in such glowing terms. Since then another image had filled his heart and he had dreamed of another face--not so fair, perhaps, but quite as innocent. But now the dream was sadly over, and he had never thought of the gentle Fanny for a wife since that night when, as he supposed, he saw the dark side of her character. He, however, could not conquer his old partiality, and always spoke of her in the highest terms. Consequently, from his description of her, Kate received a very favorable impression.
He said little of Julia; but told Kate that he would take her to Mr. Middleton's the first fine day. He wished to go there in order to induce Mrs. Middleton to send her daughters back to school. The next Saturday was fixed upon for the visit, and at an early hour Mr. Miller and Kate were on their way to Mr. Middleton's.
Kate Wilmot was not only handsome, but was also very intelligent and agreeable, and by the time their ride was half-completed, Mr. Miller was more than half in love and was building air castles just as he had done months before when Fanny was mistress of them all.
About noon they reached Mr. Middleton's, where they were received very kindly by Mrs. Middleton, very joyfully by Fanny, and very coldly by Julia, whose face always wore a darker frown whenever Mr. Miller was present; but he apparently did not notice it, and went on conversing upon different subjects. At last he asked when Mr. Middleton was expected home.
"I am expecting him every day," said Mrs. Middleton, "and," she added in a lower tone, "I almost dread to have him come, for I do not know that he has ever heard a word of Richard's illness and death."
"Why, have you never written to him?" asked Mr. Miller.
"Yes," replied she; "but it is so uncertain as to what place he is in, or how long he will remain there, that it is doubtful whether he ever received the letter. We heard from him a few days ago. He was then in Indiana, and as he said nothing about Mr. Wilmot, I presume he has not heard of his death."
Just as she had finished speaking, the dogs set up a great barking, and the negroes uttered the joyful cry of "Marster's come! Marster's come!" The family ran to the door to meet him; but Fanny could not wait for him to enter the house, neither could she stop to unfasten the gate, but clearing it with one bound, she was soon in the arms of her father, who uttered his usual, "Ha, ha," and said, "Well done, darling; you'll do for a cirkis rider. Are you glad to see your old pap?"
The blacks then gathered round, and he shook hands with all, saying, "How d'ye, boys? How d'ye? Have you worked right smart since I've been gone? If you have, you may have a play spell the rest of the arternoon."
So saying, he entered the house, where after greeting his wife, Julia and Mr. Miller, he was introduced to "Miss Wilmot." He took her hand and looking at her for a moment, said, "Wilmot, Wilmot! Are you Dick's sister?"
Kate's eyes filled with tears as she exclaimed, "Yes, sir, Richard was my brother."
"Richard was your brother! Great Moses! What does this mean? And you in black and crying!" Then looking at his wife, who was also in tears, he added impatiently, "What in thun--" but instantly recollecting himself, he said more gently, "Can't anybody tell me what has happened?" And the old man's cheek paled, and his voice trembled, as the dread of what might have happened stole over him.
Fanny at last went up to him and said softly, "Father, Mr. Wilmot is dead!"
Mr. Middleton sank into the nearest chair, and covering his rough face with his hands, wept as freely as a little child. He had loved Mr. Wilmot with almost a father's love, and during his absence had not been unmindful of him. Safely stowed away in his carpet bag were several costly books, which he had purchased as a present for Richard. He had also hoped that as Julia's husband he would have a good influence over her, and improve her fractious disposition; and many were the plans which he had formed as to what he would do when Richard was really his son. But now he was gone forever. The blow was so sudden, so unexpected, that for several minutes he was stunned by its force and wept on in silence.
At last, lifting up his head, he turned to Kate and said, "You must not think me a silly old fool, child, for Lord knows old Josh Middleton hain't shed such tears since he was a little shaver and cried when they buried up his dead mother."
Kate could not reply, but from that time she felt for Mr. Middleton a respect and esteem which nothing could ever change.
After Mr. Middleton had become calm, he proceeded to enumerate to Mr. Miller the many good qualities of Mr. Wilmot. Said he, "He was a capital feller; allus just so. Lively as a cricket; none of your stuck-up, fiddle-faddle notions. And then he was such a good boarder--not a bit particular what he eat; why, he was the greatest kind of a man--eat corn bread, turnip greens, or anything!"
At this speech Kate smiled in spite of her tears, and Mr. Middleton went on: "But he warn't as handsome as his sister, and I'll be skinned if I ever seen anybody that was. Tempest can't hold a candle to her, for all she feels so crank. Why, Kit, or Kate, what's yer name? You're as handsome as a pictur!"
Mr. Miller probably thought so too, if the admiring look which he gave her was any criterion. Mr. Middleton observed it, and forgetting for a moment the death of his friend, he slapped Mr. Miller on his shoulder, saying, "I tell you what, my boy; it's a mighty mean wind that blows nobody any good fortin. Miss Kate warn't sent to Kentuck for nothin', and unless you're a bigger logger-head than I think you be, you'll try to find out what she come for, and how long she's goin' to stay."
Mr. Miller smiled and said, "I hope we shall be able to keep Miss Wilmot all winter, for the people of Frankfort are wanting a music teacher, and have solicited her to remain in that capacity."
"By Jove," said Mr. Middleton, "that's just the thing! And you have taken Dick's place in school--poor, boy, to die so soon!" The tears were again moistening his immense beard, but this time he hastily brushed them away, and went on, "Yes, that's a capital idee, and you want me to patternize you by sending my two gals--hey? Well, I reckon I can't do better, if they want to go. Ho! Tempest--Sunshine--what d'ye say? D'ye want to go back to Frankfort and board at Miss Crane's, 'long of Mr. Miller, Dr. Lacey, Katy did, and that other infernal Katy didn't, what fainted spang away at the sight of old Josh! But though she was so dreadfully skeered, the pooty color didn't leave her cheeks an atom. Lightnin' spikes! Let me catch my gals paintin' and I'll--"
But he was prevented from telling what he'd do by Fanny, who clapped her hands and said, "Oh, father, you are a dear good man; may we really go?"
"I thought Fanny would be pleased with the idea," said Mr. Miller, "and even if she had objected, I was going to send the doctor out, and I know he would bring her to terms."
Fanny blushed and her father said, "Do you think so? Well, I'm glad on't. I'd as soon she'd have him as anybody, and she's worthy of him too, for if she can love such a hideous old clown as I am, she'll stick to such a nice man as Dr. Lacey through thick and thin. But what do you say to goin', Tempest?"
Julia had at first thought that nothing could induce her to become a pupil of Mr. Miller, but his allusion to Dr. Lacey decided her otherwise. It was necessary that she should go, for she did not dare trust her sister alone with the doctor; so she swallowed her dislike to Mr. Miller, and said she should be delighted to return to school.
It was settled that they should go during the next week.
This arrangement gave great pleasure to Dr. Lacey, who found it very lonely in Frankfort without Fanny, and had several times spoken of returning to New Orleans. But when he learned that Fanny was coming back, he suddenly changed his mind and concluded that Frankfort would be a charming winter residence. This was laughingly told to Fanny by Kate, who had learned to love her very much. Julia she disliked, for she had at last drawn from Mr. Miller the whole history of her proceedings, and she could but look upon the false-hearted girl as accessory to her brother's death.
Julia knew that by the fair Northern beauty she was secretly despised, but she did not care, for she had conceived a great friendship for Mrs. Carrington, whom she often amused with her remarks about New York people. Once she said, "I do wish New York would die, or stop taking emetics, and sending the contents of her bilious stomach to Kentucky in the shape of teachers!"
Mrs. Carrington smiled and said, "I think you prefer Louisiana emetics, do you not?"
Julia blushed as she answered, "Yes, but what can I do. There's Mr. Miller ready to back up whatever Fanny does, and put down whatever I do. I'd thank him to mind his own business, and stay at his own home!"
Mrs. Carrington did not reply, for she, too, was greatly annoyed by the presence of Mr. Miller and Kate. The latter she looked upon as a rival, for she was said by every one to have the most beautiful face in Frankfort. This greatly displeased Mrs. Carrington, who, before Kate's arrival, had been considered the belle of the town, so far as beauty was concerned. She also felt great contempt for Kate's occupation as a teacher, and said, "She didn't see why folks should make such an ado over a poor music teacher."
Once, in speaking on the subject to Dr. Lacey, she said, "I am glad I was not born in New York, for then I should have been obliged to pick up chips, split wood, dig potatoes, wash dishes and teach school!"
Dr. Lacey's reply to this remark was, "I think, Mrs. Carrington, you will admit that the young ladies who come here from the North almost always possess superior education. Now if they spent much time in splitting wood and digging potatoes, I am sure they could not acquire so much knowledge."
Mrs. Carrington answered, "Of course you feel interested in New Yorkers, for Fanny has taken a great fancy to them, and whatever she likes you must like, of course."
"Yes, I know Fanny likes our New York friends very much," said Dr. Lacey. "And I think you will allow that she shows good taste in the choice of her associates."
"Oh, yes, admirable," returned Mrs. Carrington, "almost as good taste as some of my acquaintance show in preferring her."
"What do you mean?" asked Dr. Lacey.
"Why, I mean," said Mrs. Carrington, "that I am puzzled to know what attraction such a simple-minded girl as Fanny can have for a person of your intelligence."
Dr. Lacey bit his lip, but forcing down his anger said, "She possesses the same attraction which every guileless, innocent person has."
"Guileless and innocent," repeated Mrs. Carrington; "rather call her artful and designing. Depend upon it, doctor, you have only seen the bright side of her disposition. You should see her in her room, and know how much trouble her sister has with her!"
She might have said more, but Dr. Lacey stopped her by saying rather warmly, "Mrs. Carrington, you shall not talk so about Fanny. I know you do not like her, and consequently, whatever you can say of her will have no effect upon me."
So saying, he quitted the apartment, leaving Mrs. Carrington to her own reflections. They were not very pleasant, for Dr. Lacey's manner had said as plainly as words could say that she had better mind her own business, and she began to think so herself, for she muttered, "After all, what is it to me if he does like Fanny? I am bound fast, but oh, if I were free, I'd compass heaven and earth to secure him." Her wish to be free was soon realized.
That afternoon, when the Sea Gull came up from Louisville, it brought home her husband, wearied, worn out and sick. He took his bed, and never left his room again until strong men carried him out and laid him down to sleep in the silent graveyard. The close of his life was calm and peaceful, for he had early chosen the better part, and he looked upon the grave as but a stepping stone from earth to heaven.
His life was a dreary pilgrimage, for though he possessed for his young, giddy wife, a strong, ardent affection, he had long known that it was not returned, and he felt that she would be happier if he were dead. She, however, paid him as much attention during his illness as the gay life she led would allow; but she was often away, and night after night was he left alone with his Bible and his God, while she was in the midst of some fashionable amusement. Her neglect was, however, partly made up to him by the kind care of Fanny, who gave him all the time she could possibly spare from her school duties. Mrs. Carrington found it very convenient to call upon her, whenever she wished to be absent, and hour after hour the fair young girl sat by the sick man's bedside, employed either with her needle, her books or drawing. Mr. Carrington was a fine scholar and gave her much assistance in her studies.
When he grew too weak to read, she would read to him from the Bible, stopping occasionally, while he explained some obscure passage, or endeavored to impress on her mind some solemn truth. Thus were the seeds of righteousness sown, which afterward sprang up and bore fruit unto everlasting life.
At last the chilling dews came upon his head, his eye grew dim with the mists of death, and then he laid his cold, white hand on Fanny's head and prayed most earnestly that heaven's choicest blessings, both here and hereafter, might descend upon one who had so kindly smoothed his dark pathway down to the valley of death. A few words of affectionate farewell to his wife and he was gone. His crushed, aching heart had ceased to beat and in a few days the green sod was growing above his early grave.
Fanny begged so earnestly to have him buried by the side of Mr. Wilmot that Mrs. Carrington finally consented, and the two, who had never seen each other on earth, now lay peacefully side by side. When the springtime came, the same fair hands planted flowers over the graves of her brothers, as she loved to call the two men, each of whom had blessed her with his dying breath. Thither would she often go with Dr. Lacey, who was each day learning to love her more and more.
Mrs. Carrington contented herself with having a few hysterical fits, shedding a few tears, dressing herself in an expensive suit of mourning, and erecting to the memory of her husband a magnificent monument. When Mr. Middleton saw the latter, he said, "Why the plague can't Dick have as good a gravestun as that young lieutenant? He desarves it jest as much"; so out came his purse, and when Mrs. Carrington went next to visit the costly marble at her husband's grave, she was chagrined to see by its side a still more splendid one. But there was no help for it, so she had to endure it in silence, consoling herself with thinking how becomingly she would dress and how many conquests she would make, when the term of her mourning should have expired!