MR. MIDDLETON HAS MORE CALLERS FROM NEW YORK
The reader will now accompany us to Geneva, one of the most beautiful villages in Western New York. On arriving at the depot we are beset by a host of runners, who call out lustily, "Temperance House!" "Franklin House!" "Geneva Hotel!" "Carriage to any part of the village for a shilling!" But we prefer walking, and passing up Water Street, and Seneca street, we soon come to Main street, which we follow until we come to a large, elegant mansion, the property of Judge Fulton, who is that evening entertaining a fashionable party. No matter if we are not invited, we can enter unperceived and note down what is taking place.
Our attention is first directed toward the judge and his accomplished lady, who are doing the honors of the evening. As we scan their looks closely, we are struck with their features, and we feel sure that to them wealth was not given in vain, and that the beggar never left their door unfed or uncared for.
Mrs. Fulton's countenance looks very familiar to us, and we wonder much where we have seen her before, or if we never have seen her, who it is that she so strongly reminds us of. Before we can solve the mystery, we observe across the room a face which makes us start up and exclaim, "Is it possible! Can that be Dr. Lacey?" A second look at the gentleman in question convinces us that he is two inches shorter than Dr. Lacey, and also that he wears glasses; still be bears a striking resemblance to the doctor, and we inquire who he is. We are told that his name is Robert Stanton. He is a graduate of Yale and a brother of Mrs. Fulton, He is intending in a few days to start for Kentucky, in company with Frederic Raymond, who was a classmate of his.
As we watch young Stanton's movements, we observe a certain restlessness in his eye, as it wanders over the crowded room, seemingly in quest of some one who is not there. At last there is a new arrival, and Miss Warner, a very prim lady and a teacher in the seminary, is announced, together with three of her pupils. As the young girls enter the parlor, Mr. Stanton seems suddenly animated with new life, and we feel sure that one of those young ladies has a great attraction for him. Nor are we mistaken, for he soon crosses the room, and going up to one of them, a rosy-cheeked, blue-eyed girl, he says in a low tone, "I am glad you have come, Nellie. I had almost given you up, and concluded you were doing penance for some misdemeanor, and so could not come out." Then taking her upon his arm, he kept her near him all the evening.
There was a strange history connected with Helen Ashton, or Nellie, as she was more familiarly called, but of this we will speak hereafter. She was formerly a member of the young ladies' school in New Haven, where she had become acquainted with Robert Stanton, who was in college. An intimacy sprang up between them which at last ripened into an agreement. Stanton's home was near Geneva, and when he left college he suddenly discovered that the Geneva Seminary was superior to any other, and with but little trouble he persuaded Nellie to go there to school.
She had now been an inmate of the seminary in that place little more than a year, during which time Robert had pursued the study of law in Judge Fulton's office. He had always possessed a great desire to visit Kentucky, and had finally concluded to do so, determining if he liked it to make it his permanent residence. He was to return the next autumn for Nellie, who was to remain in school until that time.
As they stood together that evening conversing about Kentucky, Nellie said, "I have an old schoolmate in Frankfort. It is Kate Wilmot. Do you remember having seen her in New Haven?"
"Is she very beautiful?" asked Robert.
"Oh, yes, exceedingly so. She turned half the students' heads," answered Nellie.
"Yes, I remember her perfectly well," said Frederic Raymond, who was standing near, "and so does Bob, but he wants to pretend he does not. By the way, Miss Ashton," continued he, "are you not afraid that Kate's marvelous beauty will endanger your claim upon Robert's heart, when he shall be near her constantly, and can only think of your blue eyes as 'over the hills and far away?'"
Helen blushed, but did not answer, and Stanton said, "Never fear for me, Fred, but rather keep your own heart safely locked away, for fear some of those dark-eyed Kentucky girls will, ere you are aware, rifle you of it."
"I shall do no such thing," returned Frederic. "I am going there for the express purpose of losing my heart, and the first Kentucky girl which pleases me shall be my wife, any way."
"Whether she likes you or not?" asked Nellie.
"Yes, whether she likes me or not," answered Frederic, "I shall marry her first, and make her like me afterward."
So saying he sauntered off to another part of the room, little thinking that what he had spoken in jest would afterward prove true. At a late hour the company began to disperse, Miss Warner keeping a watchful eye upon her pupils, lest some lawless collegiate should relieve her from the trouble of seeing them safely home. This perpendicular maiden had lived forty years on this mundane sphere without ever having had an offer, and she had come to think of gentlemen as a race of intruding bipeds which the world would be much better without. However, if there were any of the species which she could tolerate, it was Judge Fulton and Robert Stanton. The former she liked, because everybody liked him, and said he was a "nice man, and what everybody said must be true." Her partiality for the latter arose from the fact that he had several times complimented her fine figure and dignified manners; so when he that night asked the privilege of walking home with Nellie, she raised no very strong opposition, but yielded the point by merely saying something about "child's play." She, however, kept near enough to them to hear every word of their conversation; but they consoled themselves by thinking that the wide-open ears could not penetrate the recesses of their well-filled letters which they saw in the future.
In a few days Stanton and Raymond started for Kentucky. The evening before they left was spent by Stanton in Nellie's company. Mrs. Fulton had invited her to pass the night with her, as the Judge was absent from home. About ten o'clock Mrs. Fulton very considerately grew sleepy, and retired to her own room. But long after the town clock rang out the hour of midnight, a light might have been seen gleaming from the windows of Judge Fulton's sitting room, in which sat Robert and Nellie, repeating for the hundredth time vows of eternal constancy.
The next morning when the last rumbling sound of the eastern train died away in the streets of Geneva, Nellie Ashton sat weeping in her little room at the seminary. She felt that now she was again alone in the wide, wide world. Eight years before she had in the short space of three weeks followed both father and mother to their last resting place, and upon their newly-made graves she had prayed the orphan's prayer, that God would protect one who was without father, mother, brother or sister in the world.
The little property of her father was sold for the payment of his debts, and Nellie, who was then but twelve years old, was obliged to labor both early and late for her daily bread. Her father had lived near the city of New York, and not long after his death she procured a situation in a wealthy family of that city. She was called "the girl to do chores," which meant that she was kept running from garret to cellar, from parlor to kitchen, first here and then there, from earliest dawn to latest evening. It was almost always eleven o'clock before she could steal away to her low bed in the dark garret, and often, in the loneliness of the night, would the desolate child pray that the God with whom her parents dwelt would look in pity upon the helpless orphan.
Ere long her prayer was answered, for there came to the house where she lived a gentleman and lady, who saw the "little kitchen girl." Something there was in her sad but intelligent face which attracted their notice, and they inquired her history of Mrs. Stanley, the lady with whom she lived.
"She is," said Mrs. Stanley, "a good enough girl, if she would only let books alone; but she seems to have a passion for study, quite unsuitable for one in her station. When she is cleaning the knives she will have a book before her; and instead of singing the baby to sleep, she will get down and read to her, or repeat something which she has learned."
"And has she no relatives?" asked the gentleman.
"None living that I know of," said Mrs. Stanley; and then she added, "Nellie says she had a brother who was several years older than herself, and that three years ago he was one morning missing, and they found on his table a letter, saying that he had gone to sea on a whaling voyage, and would be gone three years. Her father afterward heard that the vessel in which his son sailed was supposed to be lost with all its crew. This is her story; but you can never tell how much to believe of the stories which such girls tell."
"Did you ever detect her in a falsehood?" asked the gentleman.
"Why, no, I never did; but of course she will equivocate, for all such paupers will."
"With whom did she live before she came here?" continued the gentleman.
"With a Mr. Barnard," answered Mrs. Stanley; and she continued laughingly, "You had better inquire about her of him, as you seem so much interested in her. He lives out a few miles in the country."
The result of the conversation was that the Mr. Barnard mentioned above received the next day a call from a stranger, who made particular inquiry about little Helen Ashton. He seemed satisfied with the result, and as he had before learned that Mr. Barnard was a very good, honest man, he handed him five hundred dollars, telling him to take Nellie home--as she called Mr. Barnard's house--and to send her for two years to the district school. At the end of that time he would furnish funds for her to be educated in New Haven.
There was great excitement in Mrs. Stanley's family when it was known that Nellie was to go away and be sent to school in New Haven. "I wonder," said Mrs. Stanley, "who pays the expenses? It can't be Judge ---- (naming the gentleman who had seemed so much interested in Nellie), for I am sure he would not be stupid enough to take a street beggar, as it were, and educate her." A second thought convinced her that it must be the said gentleman, and she suddenly felt an inclination to do something herself for the hitherto neglected kitchen girl.
Accordingly, Nellie was summoned to the parlor and the state of her wardrobe inquired into. It was found to be lamentably deficient in even the necessary articles of clothing. Mrs. Stanley then turned her rag bag inside out and rummaged through several boxes in the garret which had not seen the light for several years. The result of her search was three or four cast-off garments, which the cook said "were so bad the rag man would hardly buy them." Mrs. Stanley, however, thought they were quite a gift, and gave Nellie many injunctions as to when she should wear them. Nellie thought it doubtful whether she should wear them all; but she said nothing, and in a few days she left Mrs. Stanley's house for a more pleasant home at Mr. Barnard's.
It was a great mystery to Nellie who it could be that had befriended her; but if Mr. Barnard knew, he kept the knowledge to himself, and Nellie was obliged to remain in ignorance. She was, however, satisfied that the gentleman, whoever he was, was both able and willing to carry out his plan, for money for the payment of her school bills was regularly remitted to Mr. Barnard. At the time when she wished to leave New Haven, she had written to Mr. Barnard on the subject, and in due time had received from him a letter saying that the gentleman who was educating her was not only willing but anxious to have her sent to Geneva.
Soon after her arrival there she chanced to meet Judge Fulton and his wife. Something in their looks seemed familiar, and also awoke a painful reminiscence of the dark kitchen and the lone garret far off in the great city. She could not remember ever having seen them, and so dismissed the subject from her mind, merely wondering if they knew that she who was to be their brother's wife once lighted fires and cleaned potatoes as a common servant girl.
The reader will perhaps have imagined that the gentleman who befriended Nellie was none other than Judge Fulton. He was incited to this act of kindness by the same benevolent feeling which prompted all his deeds of charity. He had no daughters, and his intention was, first to see what improvement she would make of her advantages, and if he were satisfied, he would take her home as his adopted daughter. He was somewhat surprised when, two years before the time of which we are speaking, he received through Mr. Barnard a letter from Nellie addressed to, "My unknown benefactor," and desiring his consent to an engagement between herself and Robert Stanton. The same mail brought a letter from Robert, saying that he had just made an offer of his hand to a Miss Helen Ashton, who was only waiting for her guardian to sanction her choice. Judge Fulton's consent was given, and he wrote to Nellie that before she was married he would make himself known to her, and give her a wedding at his own house.
A few days before Robert left for Kentucky Judge Fulton received another letter from Nellie, saying that it was Mr. Stanton's wish to be married the ensuing autumn. To this the judge gave his approval and determined as soon as Robert was gone to enlighten Nellie as to who her guardian was. This, then, was the history of Nellie Ashton, whom we will leave for a time, and as our readers are probably anxious to return to the bland climate of Kentucky, we will follow young Stanton and Raymond on their journey. Having arrived at Buffalo, they took passage in the steamboat Saratoga, which landed them safely in Sandusky after a trip of about twenty-four hours. At Sandusky they took the cars for Cincinnati.
As they neared the Queen City, they noticed at one of the stations a tall, intelligent, but rather reckless-looking young man, who entered the cars and took a seat directly opposite them. There was something peculiarly attractive to Raymond in the confident, self-possessed manner of the stranger, and ere long he had, to use a Yankee expression, "scraped acquaintance" with him, and learned that his name was Henry Ashton, and that he too was on his way to Frankfort, where he resided. As the young man told his name, Raymond turned to Stanton and said, "I should think that you'd feel acquainted with this gentleman, you are so partial to his name."
Stanton did not answer, and Raymond proceeded to question Mr. Ashton about Frankfort and its inhabitants. "By the way," said he, "are there any pretty girls there? Substantial ones, I mean, who have a purse long enough to pay a fellow for the trouble of marrying them?"
Mr. Ashton smiled and answered, "Yes, we have a good many, and rich ones too; but the belle of the city when I left was a Mrs. Carrington--"
"The plague it was!" interrupted Raymond, "and can't we get rid of her husband somehow? Won't he die of yellow fever, cholera or something? Or is he a gouty old wretch, who will live forever?"
"You prevented me from telling you," said Mr. Ashton, "that Mr. Carrington has died since I left there. But you will hardly win this fair, haughty lady, unless you can plank about a million. But there are other faces quite as pretty, I think. There is a Julia Middleton, who is attending school. She is a great beauty, but, if report speaks truly, she would keep you busily employed in curbing her high temper."
"No matter about the temper--has she got the dimes?" said Raymond.
"About one hundred thousand dollars, I think," answered Ashton; "but one would need to be paid that much for having such a fury as she is, and such a queer old rat as her father."
He then proceeded to enumerate some of Mr. Middleton's oddities, at all of which his auditors laughed heartily, and expressed their determination to make the old man's acquaintance as soon as possible. When the young men reached Cincinnati, they concluded to take the stage route to Lexington and Versailles, and to pay Mr. Middleton a visit before they proceeded to Frankfort. Accordingly on Thursday afternoon, just as the sun was setting, they entered Mr. Middleton's yard, where they were received by the dogs, with just such a demonstration of anger as had greeted Mr. Wilmot more than a year before.
The master of the house was this time at home, and soon appearing at the door, he called out to the negroes who were in the yard, "Ho, thar, boys! Stuff your woolly heads down them tarnal dogs' throats and make them stop their yellin'! Glad to see you--walk in. Moses and Aaron! If this ain't Ashton from Frankfort. How d'ye do? How d'ye do?"
Mr. Ashton shook hands with him, and then introduced his companions, saying they were from New York. The word New York seemed to thrill Mr. Middleton's nerves like an electric shock. He seized both hands of the young men and exclaimed, "From New York, hey? Then thrice welcome to my old cabin and hominy; old Josh's door is allus wide open to folks from New York." Then leading the way to the sitting room, he continued, "Yes, my own noble boy was from New York, but he died (this is my old woman Nancy, gentlemen). I don't see why in the old Harry he couldn't of lived. But he died and they kivered him up while I was gone, and I never seen him no more. Ho! Here, Tilda, fetch some hot water and make a little sling for these chaps. It'll do 'em good, as it's mighty cold and raw like out o' door."
The sling was made, and Ashton and Raymond drank readily and freely; but when it was offered to Stanton, he modestly but firmly refused. "What upon airth!" said Mr. Middleton, "not drink when a friend asks you? Why, boy, just take a swaller."
Here Raymond, who was ready to adopt Mr. Middleton's language and manners, exclaimed, "I'll tell you what, old boy, Bob's left a sweetheart in New York, and I fancy she lectured him on intemperance, for you know the women are dead set against it."
Mr. Middleton looked first at Raymond, then at Stanton and said, "Well, he knows good sense by not touchin' on't, I reckon. Got a sweetheart, hey? That's better than to come here and marry some of our spitfires. Poor boy! Dick was engaged to one of 'em, and I've hearn that she raised a tantareen and broke his heart. But I'll fix her! I'll dock off fifty thousand to pay for that caper."
Here Mr. Ashton asked if Mr. Middleton's daughters were still at Frankfort. "Yes," returned Mr. Middleton, "both thar, study in' all the flat things you can think on, and thummin' away on the pianner. You'll see 'em thar; but mind me one and all, mind I say, don't fall in love with Sunshine, for she's engaged, and I've gin my consent, and whoever meddles in that match'll find Josh after 'em!" By way of adding emphasis to his words he brought his fist back against a work-stand, on which stood his wife's work basket. The stand was upset, and all the articles of the basket rolled on the floor. "Great Peter!" said Mr. Middleton, "ho, Tilda, come pick up these 'ere things!"
Tilda came at the call of her master. While she was replacing the articles in her mistress' basket, Raymond, who wished to show that he was ready to adopt all the peculiarities of the State, said, "That's a valuable looking negro girl. I suppose your property mostly consists in such as she. I don't wonder that you object to give them up just to please the North. Have you many such?"
"Yes, quite a heap on 'em. Why? Want to steal 'em, hey?"
Raymond reddened. His attempts at anti-abolition had not succeeded as well as he anticipated; but he soon rallied and said, "Certainly not; I shouldn't know what to do with your slaves if I had them; besides I have no inclination to interfere with your Southern institutions. I am too much of a pro-slavery man myself."
"Likely enough," said Mr. Middleton, rather gruffly, for he did not much like the appearance of Raymond, "likely enough. But, young man, let old Josh give you a little advice. I've seen more than double your years, I reckon, and I never seen a man come from the free states that wasn't a little teched with abolitionism. It's nateral like and onnateral to change their mind so mighty soon. So I advise you to keep your opinions to yourself for a spell, any way. A heap on 'em come here, and are surprised not to find a whippin' post stuck up in a corner of every yard. I don't say you are one of 'em; but we don't think no better of a body when they jine in with us so soon."
This speech somewhat disconcerted young Raymond, who was anxious to get into Mr. Middleton's good graces; but his discomfiture was soon removed by his saying, "Boy, don't take what I've said in high dudgeon. Folks allus see the roughest side of me first; I'm a friend to you, and allus will be as long as you do well." Then chancing to think his guests were hungry, he called out, "Saints and angels! Why don't you bring in supper, you lazy bones thar in the kitchen? Do you hear?"
"Yes, marster," said three or four negroes at once, "supper'll be ready d'rectly."
In a few moments the nicely-cooked spare-rib was smoking on the table, together with hot coffee, boiled turnips and egg bread, which Southern cooks know so well how to make. Besides this there was the golden-colored butter, white flaky honeycomb, and the Sunday pitcher overflowing with rich creamy milk. "Come, boys, set by and have some fodder!" said Mr. Middleton.
The young gentlemen took their seats at the table and Mr. Middleton continued, "Now lay into 't and help yourselves. I ain't used to perlite strains, and if I should try you'd all larf at me--mebby you want to now. Tempest say's I'm enough to make a dog larf."
"Who is Tempest? One of your servants?" asked Stanton.
"Christopher Columbus! One of my servants!" answered Mr. Middleton. "How Tempest would rar to hear that. Why, she's my oldest gal."
"I beg your pardon," said Stanton.
"Not a bit on't," answered Mr. Middleton. "I don't wonder you thought so, such an oudun name! Her real name is Julia, but I call her Tempest, 'case that's jist like her. She's a regular thunderstorm of lightning, hail and iron slugs. You'll see her in Frankfort. Goin' into the law thar, are you?"
Stanton answered that he thought he should.
"Well," said Mr. Middleton, "I'll give you all my suits, just because you wouldn't drink and tell a lie to that little gal at home. I despise liars. Let me catch a body telling me a lie, I tell you--"
Here he lifted up his huge foot which was encased in a cowhide boot, something smaller than a canal-boat. He gave the table a kick which set all the spoons, knives and forks to dancing, spilt the milk and upset the gravy pot.
"Why, Mr. Middleton!" interposed his wife.
"I am sorry, honey," said he, "but I'll be hanged if that ar sling ain't gettin' the better of the old man."
After supper was over and the effects of the sling had left Mr. Middleton's head, he inquired further into the intentions of his guests. On learning that Mr. Raymond would teach, if he could get the chance, Mr. Middleton said, "I reckon you can teach in Mr. Miller's school. I'll write to him about you, and I reckon he can make room for you."
It was well for Raymond that Mr. Middleton did not observe his smile of contempt at the idea of being recommended by such an "old cur," as he secretly styled him.
At a late hour Mr. Middleton conducted the young men to their room, saying as they entered it, "This was Dick's room, poor dear boy! For his sake I wish 'twas better, for it was sometimes cold like in the winter; but he's warm enough now, I reckon, poor fellow!" So saying, he left the room; but Stanton noticed upon the old tin candlestick which his host had put upon the table something which looked very much like tears, so large that he was sure no one but Mr. Middleton could have wept them.