JULIA'S PLOT TO BREAK FANNY'S ENGAGEMENT
Our readers will not be sorry, if after a chapter of sadness and death, we turn to a more joyous one, and tell them of the bridal of Kate Wilmot and Mr. Miller. Kate wished to defer it a few months, on account of the recent death of her brother, but her lover urged his claim so strongly that she at last yielded, and their marriage took place on Christmas eve. Mr. W----, one of the wealthiest men in Frankfort, very kindly offered to give Kate a splendid wedding party, but she politely declined his generous offer, as she did not feel like entering into such a scene of gayety as would necessarily attend a large party.
A few of her most intimate friends assembled in Mrs. Crane's parlor, and thence proceeded to the church, which was crowded with anxious spectators, many of whom almost envied Mr. Miller his beautiful bride, while others envied her the fine-looking man who stood there as the bridegroom, and all were unanimous in pronouncing it an excellent match. Kate's happiness on this occasion was not unmingled with sadness, for her thoughts went back to the time when, with a heart bursting with anguish, she had first entered that church and passed up its broad aisle until she reached the side of her darling brother, who lay shrouded in his coffin.
Now the scene was changed; she was there as the happy bride of one to whom she had given the undivided affection of her heart, and as the solemn words were uttered which made her his forever, she felt that her brother's spirit hovered near, to bless her union with one who had ever been his true friend. So she requested that Fanny should be her bridesmaid, and the young girl now stood at the altar, with her bright face beaming with happiness, for Dr. Lacey, who was by her side, had, the night before, told her all his love, and had won from her a promise that at some future time she would be his. He told her that he would speak to her father the next evening.
Accordingly, after the wedding party had returned to Mrs. Crane's, he invited Mr. Middleton to go with him for a few minutes to his room. Fanny was sure of her father's consent, but she could not help feeling nervous when she saw him leave the parlor, accompanied by Dr. Lacey. A few moments after, she observed that Julia also was missing, and she trembled lest she might have suspected something and gone to listen.
Nor was she mistaken in her fears; for Mrs. Carrington and Julia both had an inkling of what was going on, and when the latter heard Dr. Lacey say something to her father in a low tone, and then saw them leave the room together, she arose and stealthily followed them upstairs. Going out on the balcony, she stole softly up to Dr. Lacey's window, and there, unobserved, listened to a conversation which confirmed her worst fears. In a firm, decided tone, Dr. Lacey told Mr. Middleton of his love for his daughter, and said she had promised to be his if her father would consent.
Mr. Middleton replied, "And so it's my darter you want. Of course it's Sunshine?"
"Certainly, sir," answered Dr. Lacey.
"Well, I'm glad on't. I've seen it all along; but I didn't know but mebby Tempest had come it over you with her pretty face--but devil of a life you'd lead with her."
Dr. Lacey did not reply, but Julia did; and though the tones of her voice were too low to be heard, they were none the less emphatic, as she said, "And devil of a life I'll make you lead if you do not have me." And at the same time she ground her glittering teeth and shook her clenched fist at the two men, who were unconscious of the rage they were exciting.
Mr. Middleton continued, "Yes, I'll give you Sunshine, I reckon, and a hundred thousand dollars beside."
"It's Fanny I want, not her money," said Dr. Lacey.
"Oh, yes, I know," answered Mr. Middleton; "but I reckon you won't object to a few thousand, unless you are as rich as a Jew."
Dr. Lacey replied: "I am not as rich as a Jew, but I am the only child of my father, who is said to be worth half a million."
"Half a million!" repeated Mr. Middleton in astonishment. "Golly-ludy, man, what made you ever think of a poor girl like Sunshine?"
"Because I love her," answered Dr. Lacey, "and I would marry her just as soon if she were not worth one dime."
"Maybe you would and maybe you wouldn't," muttered Julia; "and perhaps you'll have her, and perhaps you won't. You've got me to deal with, and I'd like to see the person who can cross my path with impunity." So saying, she glided from her hiding place and went down stairs to the parlor, leaving her father and Dr. Lacey to finish their conversation.
Dr. Lacey proposed that Fanny should continue at school two years longer, and at the end of that time he would claim her as his wife.
"Why, yes," said Mr. Middleton; "I s'pose I understand; you want her to be more accomplished like, afore you take her down to New Orleans. Well, it's perfectly nateral, and old Josh'll spar no pains nor money."
And so the conference ended. When Dr. Lacey re-entered the parlor Fanny read success in his face. In a short time he managed to get near her, and bending down, whispered to her, "My own dear Fanny, forever." At these words a beautiful flush suffused Fanny's usually pale cheek. It was noticed by Julia, who was watching the doctor and her sister with a feeling of almost fiendish hatred. When she saw the bright look of joy which passed over Fanny's face as the doctor whispered to her, she pressed her small white hands together until her long transparent nails left their impress in her flesh!
Just then Mr. Miller, with his wife upon his arm, approached the spot where the doctor was standing, and said, "Why, doctor, what has happened? You look almost as happy as I feel. And little Fanny, too, is really looking quite rosy. I should not be surprised if my wedding should be a prelude to another."
Julia could hear no more, but sick with anger, she turned away, heartily wishing Mr. Miller was in California digging gold with the water six feet deep all around him! When the company began to disperse Dr. Lacey whispered to Fanny that he wished her to remain a few moments, as he had something to say to her. Accordingly, after the parlor was deserted, he drew her to the sofa and placing his arm around her, told her of the plan which he had marked out for her improvement during the next two years. To all that he required Fanny promised a cheerful compliance, and he proceeded to tell her how he would in the meantime beautify his Southern home, and fill it up with every luxury which could please a refined, delicate female. By the time he had finished Fanny was weeping from excess of happiness.
"It seems so strange," said she, "that you should prefer me to any one else, me, who am so plain looking, so--"
"So pure-minded and innocent," interrupted Dr. Lacey, "and so lovely, too, for to me you are very handsome. Not as beautiful, perhaps, as Mrs. Miller, for there are few who are, and yet I like your looks quite as well."
Fanny did not reply; after a moment's silence he said, "Fanny, I shall be obliged to go to New Orleans soon."
"Go to New Orleans," said Fanny. "Oh, no, don't."
"But I must," answered he. "Business of importance calls me there."
"How soon must you go?"
"In two weeks," he replied.
"And how long will you be gone?"
"Probably three months," he answered. "But I shall write to you often; twice a week, perhaps, and you will find enough to do to answer my letters and attend to your studies, besides practicing your music lessons. By the way, Fanny, I wish you to pay particular attention to music, for you know I am very fond of it."
Fanny promised that she would, and they separated for the night. While Fanny was going to her room, she determined she would tell Julia all her future prospects; but she found her sister either asleep or pretending to be (the latter was the fact); so she said nothing, but lay down without disturbing her. She could not sleep, however, and toward morning Julia called out, in no very gentle tones, "Do lie still, Fan, or else get up and go down in the parlor and have another tete-a-tete with Dr. Lacey."
Fanny saw that her sister was awake, and she resolved to improve the opportunity, even if Julia were not in a very gentle mood. So she said, "Sister, I want to tell you something; wake up, won't you?"
"Wake up!" answered Julia. "I should like to know who's been asleep, or who can sleep where you are? What is the great secret you wish to tell me?"
With many blushes and some stammering Fanny got through with her story. After she had finished Julia was silent a few moments and then said, "Well, what of it? What if Dr. Lacey has promised to marry you? Is that any reason why you should keep me awake all night?"
Fanny did not answer, and as her mind was relieved from the weighty matter of telling her sister, she soon fell asleep, and when she awoke the sun was high in the heavens, and Mrs. Miller was bending over her, wishing her a "Merry Christmas!" That day there was sent to Mrs. Crane's a large box, which Dr. Lacey was very particular to have handled carefully. When it was opened it was found to contain an elegant rosewood piano, and a note in which was written, "A Christmas Gift for Fanny." The delighted girl did not ask who was the giver, for she well knew; and resolved to apply herself closely to music, so as to do justice to the beautiful present.
The two weeks of Dr. Lacey's stay passed rapidly away, and at their close he bade Fanny an affectionate good-by, promising to write regularly twice a week, and to return, if possible, at the end of three months. After he was gone, it seemed to Fanny that one-half of her life had left her, and she felt very unhappy. There was something in her sister's manner which she could not define, and as Julia seemed anxious to avoid her, she spent much of her time with Mrs. Miller, who each day grew fonder of her little "Kentucky sister," as she often called her in imitation of her brother.
Meanwhile Julia spent all her leisure hours with Mrs. Carrington, to whom she confided her feelings and wishes. Mrs. Carrington was not displeased to find that Julia was determined to break the engagement between Dr. Lacey and Fanny, and secretly hoped she would succeed. Not that she wished to aid Julia in securing the doctor, for such was not her intention. Neither did she look upon such an event as possible, for she felt sure that Dr. Lacey never would fancy Julia, even if there were no Fannys in the world; and supposing he did, she could easily remedy it by exposing Julia's wickedness.
In due course of time a letter arrived for Fanny from Dr. Lacey. It was a well-filled sheet and so full of affection and kind suggestions for her improvement, that Fanny felt an increased pleasure in thinking that she was the object of Dr. Lacey's love. Julia watched her with an evil eye, as she read the letter, and when she saw the look of joy which lit up every feature, she thought, "Yes, read on and enjoy it--do--for you'll not get many more such!"
That day after school she started out for the purpose of laying the foundation for the fulfillment of a part of her plans. There was in the post-office a clerk whose name was Joseph Dunn. He was an awkward, rawboned young man, about six feet two inches high. Until within a few months he had lived near Mr. Middleton. He had a yellow face, yellow hair and yellow teeth, the latter of which projected over his under lip. He also drove a very yellow horse and rode in a yellow buggy. In his own estimation he was perfectly irresistible, and imagined he had only to say the word and all the girls in the country would eagerly accept the offer of being mistress of his fancy colored horse and person. For Fanny he had conceived a violent passion and wondered much that she should repel all his serious advances. At last he wrote her a letter saying that on a certain afternoon he would visit her and make a formal offer of his hand. He bade her weigh the matter seriously, so that she would have no one to blame but herself, if she should ever regret answering in the affirmative.
Fanny was very much annoyed by this letter and when on the afternoon specified she saw old "sorrel" coming up to the gate, she said, "Father, there is Joe coming here to offer me the honor of becoming Mrs. Dunn. He troubles me exceedingly with his attentions, and I wish you would manage to make him keep away."
Thus enlightened, Mr. Middleton was ready for any emergency, and he answered Joe's confident knock in person. The young man greeted him with a very polite, "Good afternoon," to which Mr. Middleton returned with a significant "umph!"
"Is your daughter Fanny at home?" asked Mr. Dunn.
"Yes, she's at home," said Mr. Middleton. "What d'ye want of her?"
"I should like to have a few moments' private conference with her, if you've no objection, sir," replied Mr. Dunn.
"A few moments private fiddlestick," answered Mr. Middleton. "What the devil--whose little boy are you? Ain't you Miss Dunn's little boy? You'd better scratch gravel for home, and if I catch you here again dickerin' after Fanny, I'll pull every corn-colored hair out of your head!"
This rebuff somewhat cooled the ardor of Joseph's attachment, and as he felt sure that Fanny had told her father of his coming, he from that time disliked her as much as he had before admired her. Not long after the sad finale of his affaire de coeur, he left his home in the country, and going to Frankfort became a clerk in the post office. Julia well knew the old grudge which he had toward Fanny, and as he did not possess the best principles in the world, she had strong hopes of procuring his services for the accomplishment of her purpose. Accordingly, at about half past five she bent her steps in the direction of the post office, hoping to see him in the street, for she knew that he usually went to his supper at that hour. She had not gone far beyond the post office when he overtook her. She greeted him with her blandest smile, and as she seemed inclined to be very sociable, he slackened his pace for the sake of walking with her. They had not proceeded far when she said, "Mr. Dunn, if you are not in a particular hurry, I should like to have you walk on with me, as I have something to communicate to you."
Joseph was delighted, and yet he knew not what to think. The haughty Julia had formerly treated him with disdain; but within a week or two her conduct toward him had changed, and she seemed to seek his society, and now she had even asked him to walk with her. What could it mean? He was not long kept in ignorance, for in a few words Julia explained her wishes. "You know, Mr. Dunn," said she, "that I have money and I am willing to pay you almost any amount, and then it is such a rare opportunity for being revenged upon Fanny, who did abuse you shamefully, and even now makes all manner of fun of you. It will not be much trouble for you," she continued, "for you can watch our box, and whenever a letter arrives from Dr. Lacey, you can lay it aside until you have an opportunity of giving it to me, and you can do the same with Fanny's letters!"
Joseph did not hesitate long, for the love of money was strong in him, and he also had a desire for revenging his fancied insult. Julia's manner toward him was not without its effect, for he felt greatly flattered that she should choose him for a confidant; so at last he promised to accede to her proposal on condition that he was well paid.
"It will be well enough," said Julia, "to let her have three or four letters, as it would not be natural for him to forget her immediately, you know."
"Oh, yes, ma'am," said Mr. Dunn, "I understand how to do it. Never fear but I'll fix it right."
"Well, then, here is a part of your pay in advance," said Julia, as she slipped a ten-dollar note into his hand. At first he seemed inclined not to take it but finally did so, saying, "I suppose I ought to be paid, for it's mighty ticklish business."
After having arranged affairs to her satisfaction, Julia bade Mr. Dunn a very friendly good night, and returned home where she found Fanny employed in writing an answer to Dr. Lacey's letter. Here, for the present, we will leave them, until Julia's plot has time to ripen.