TEMPEST FORGES A LETTER AND ITS RESULTS
Let us now go back for a few weeks and watch Julia's plot as it progresses. We have learned from Fanny that four letters arrived from Dr. Lacey; but the fifth she was destined never to receive. She was expecting it on Tuesday and was about going to the post office, when Julia said, "Fanny, I feel just like walking this morning; suppose you let me run round to the post office and get your expected letter."
"Very well," answered Fanny; "but don't be gone long."
"I won't," said Julia, gaily. "You sit down by the window and when I come round the corner on my return home. I will hold up your letter, and you will know you have one at least a minute before I reach home."
So saying she departed, and Fanny sat down by the window to await her return. For several days past there had been a change in Julia's deportment. She was very amiable and kind to the household in general and to Fanny in particular. This was a part of her plan, so that in the catastrophe that was about to follow, she might not be suspected of foul play.
At first Fanny was surprised at her affectionate advances, but it was so pleasant to have a sister who would love her that she did not ask the reason of so sudden a change, and when Julia very humbly asked forgiveness for all her former unkindness, the innocent-hearted Fanny burst into tears, and declared she had nothing to forgive, if her sister would only continue to love her always. Julia placed a Judas-like kiss on Fanny's pure brow, and gave a promise that she would try to be good; but she thought to herself, "this seeming change will make a favorable impression on Dr. Lacey when he hears of it."
She knew that Fanny was expecting a letter on the Tuesday morning of which we have spoken, and fearing that by some means Mr. Dunn might fail of securing it, she determined to go herself for the mail. When she reached the post office the sinister smile with which Mr. Dunn greeted her assured her that he had something for her, and she readily conjectured that it was Fanny's expected letter.
"Good morning, Mr. Dunn!" said she. "Anything for me this morning?"
"Yes, ma'am," answered Dunn, with a very low bow; and casting a furtive glance around to make sure that no one saw him, he drew from his pocket a letter, on which Julia instantly recognized Dr. Lacey's handwriting. She took it and placed it in the pocket of her dress.
On her way home, conscience clamored loudly in behalf of Fanny's rights. It said, "Beware what you do! Give Fanny her letter. It is a crime to withhold it." But again the monitress was stilled, and the crafty girl kept on her way, firm in her sinful purpose, until she reached the corner which brought her in sight of the window where Fanny was impatiently watching for her. The sight of that bright, joyous face, as it looked from the window, anxious for the expected sight of her letter, made Julia for a moment waver. She thought how gentle and loving Fanny had always been to her and involuntarily her hand sought the letter which lay like a crushing weight in her pocket. It was half drawn from its hiding place when the spirit of evil which seemed ever to follow Julia's footsteps whispered, "Let it alone. You have gone too far to retreat. You have Dr. Lacey to win, and it can be done in no other way."
Julia listened to the tempter, her hand was withdrawn, and Fanny looked in vain for her letter. A faint sickness stole over her for a moment but she thought, "Perhaps Julia means to tease me. I will appear very unconcerned and not ask for it." So when Julia entered the room, she found that her sister's attention was suddenly, distracted by something in the street; but Fanny was not accustomed to dissemble and the rosy flush on her cheek showed how anxious she was.
At last Julia said, "Why do you not ask for your letter, Fanny?"
Oh, how eager was the expression of the sweet, pale face which was instantly turned toward the speaker. Springing up she exclaimed, "Oh, Julia, you have got me one, haven't you? Please give it to me."
"I will tomorrow when it arrives," said Julia. "It has probably been delayed."
Fanny's countenance fell and she said, "Then you haven't got me a letter? Oh, I'm so sorry!"
"Never mind, sister," said Julia. "It will come tomorrow, and will seem all the better for waiting."
Tomorrow came, but with it came no letter, and days wore on, until at last it was Saturday night. Alone in her room poor Fanny was weeping bitterly. Was Dr. Lacey sick or dead? This was the question which she continually asked herself. A suspicion of his unfaithfulness had not yet entered her mind. While she was yet weeping an arm was thrown affectionately round her, and a voice whispered in the sweetest possible tones, "Dear sister, do not weep so. If he were dead, some one would inform you. And now I think of it, why do you not write to him? There would be no harm in doing so. Come, sit down, and write him a few lines before dark, and I will take them to the office."
So Fanny sat down to her writing desk, and the few lines proved to be a long letter ere she had finished. It was a most touchingly sad letter, and ought to have drawn tears from Julia, instead of forcing the malicious smile which played around her mouth while reading her sister's effusion. It is needless to say that, although Julia went to the post office, this letter never did but was placed in a little box by the side of two others, which had arrived from Dr. Lacey that week.
After Julia returned from her walk that evening she said, "Fanny, if I were you I would not tell any one that I did not hear from Dr. Lacey, for you know it's just possible that he may not be sick, and in that case your best way would be to seem quite as forgetful of him."
"Forgetful!" said Fanny. "Why, Julia, what do you mean? You cannot--Oh, no, I know you do not think Dr. Lacey untrue to me?" And Fanny's large blue eyes were fixed on her sister with as much earnestness as though her answer could decide her fate forever.
"I do not like to think so, any more than you do," said Julia. "But Dr. Lacey is now in the gay city of New Orleans, surrounded by beauty and fashion, and were I his betrothed, I should not think it strange if he did not remain true to me."
Fanny answered slowly, as if speaking were painful to her, "Oh, no, no! He cannot be false--anything but that."
It was a new idea to her, and that night a weight of sadness, heavier than she had ever known before, filled her heart. She thought, "I will wait and see if he answers my letter before I believe him unfaithful."
The next day was the Sabbath. About church time Julia announced her intentions of remaining at home on the plea of a violent headache. Fanny immediately offered to stay with her, but Julia declined, saying that sooner than both should be absent from church she would go herself.
Accordingly Julia was left alone. She watched her sister until she disappeared down the street. Then she arose, and locking the door, drew from her pocket a small key, and unlocking a rosewood box, took from it one of Dr. Lacey's letters. Going to her writing desk, she sat down and commenced imitating his handwriting. She was very skillful in the art of imitation, and was delighted to find herself rapidly succeeding in her attempts at counterfeiting. So busily engaged was she that she did not heed the lapse of time, until her sister's footsteps were heard ascending the stairs. She sprang hastily up, and thrusting her writing materials into the box locked it, and had just time to throw herself upon the sofa when Fanny knocked at the door. Julia allowed her to knock twice, and then getting up she unfastened the door, at the same time yawning and rubbing her eyes as if just awakened from a sound slumber.
"Why, sister, I woke you up, didn't I?" said Fanny. "I am sorry."
"No matter," answered Julia, with another yawn, "I feel better. My nap has done my head good."
In the afternoon Fanny again went to church, and Julia resumed the occupation of the morning. She succeeded so well that before church was out she felt sure that after a few more attempts she could imitate Dr. Lacey's writing so exactly as to thoroughly deceive Fanny. "But not yet," said she to herself; "I do not wish to test my skill yet. It is hardly time."
Thus the days glided away. Nearly two weeks passed, and there came no answer to Fanny's letter. She did not know that regularly, twice a week, letters had arrived from New Orleans, and had been handed to Julia by Mr. Dunn. In the last of these letters, Dr. Lacey complained because Fanny had neglected writing so long. We will give the following extract:
"MY PRECIOUS SUNSHINE:
"--Can it be that you are sick? I do not wish to think so; and yet what else can prevent your writing? I have not a thought that you are forgetful of me, for you are too pure, too innocent to play me false. And yet I am sometimes haunted by a vague fear that all is not right, for a dark shadow seems resting over me. One line from you, dearest Fanny, will fill my heart with sunshine again--"
Thus wrote the doctor, and Julia commented on it as follows: "Yes, you are haunted, and I am glad of it. The pill is working well; I'll see whether 'Sunshine,' as you and my old fool father call her, will steal away everybody's love for me. I suppose I'm the dark shadow, for father calls me a spirit of darkness, and yet, perhaps, if he had been more gentle with me, I might have been better; but now it's too late." And the letter was placed in the rosewood box by the side of its companions.
Slowly but surely the painful conviction fixed itself upon Fanny's mind that Dr. Lacey was false. It was dreadful to think so, but there seemed no other alternative, and Fanny's heart grew sadder, and her step less joyous and elastic, while her merry laugh was now seldom heard ringing out in its clear, silvery tones, making the servants stop their work to listen and exclaim, "How lonesome t'would be without Miss Fanny; she's the life of the house, Lor' bless her."
The change was noticed and spoken of by the inmates of Mrs. Crane's dwelling. Mr. Miller attributed it to a too close application to books, and recommended her to relax somewhat in her studies. Fanny had too much of woman's pride to allow anyone except Julia to know the real cause of her sadness, and was glad to have her languor ascribed to over-exertion. On the night when Kate had found her weeping she had involuntarily told her secret, but she went to Mrs. Miller the next morning and won from her a promise not to mention what she had revealed, even to her husband.
Mr. Stanton's presence seemed to divert Fanny's mind, and the two weeks following his arrival passed away more pleasantly than she had thought two weeks could pass, uncheered by a line from Dr. Lacey. At the end of that time it pleased Julia that Fanny should have a pretended letter from New Orleans. Several days were spent in preparing it, but at last it was completed, folded, sealed and directed. Mr. Dunn pronounced the deception perfect. He stamped it with the Frankfort postmark so slightly that one would as soon have called it "New Orleans" as anything else.
Fanny was seated in the parlor in company with Stanton when Julia suddenly entered the room and said, "Oh, here you are, sister. I've looked everywhere for you. Here is a letter."
One glance at the superscription assured her that it was from Dr. Lacey. A bright, beautiful flush suffused Fanny's face, which became irradiated with sudden joy. Asking Mr. Stanton to excuse her, she went to her rooms, so as to be alone when she perused the precious document. After she was gone, Julia spoke of Dr. Lacey and asked Stanton if he had ever heard from him. Stanton replied, "While Dr. Lacey was in college he spent a part of his vacations at my father's; but I almost always chanced to be absent at school, and consequently we are not much acquainted. He did write to me a few times while I was in college, but our correspondence gradually ceased and I have not heard from him in a long time. I hope he will return to Frankfort, for I should like to renew our acquaintance."
This answer gave Julia great relief; she had feared Stanton might write to Dr. Lacey, and that by some means her scheme might be ruined. But all was safe, and in a few moments she arose to go to her room and witness the result of the letter. Let us go before her and see the result for ourselves.
On reaching her apartment, Fanny sat down on the sofa, while a tremulous nervousness shook her frame. She dreaded to open the letter, for a strange forboding of evil came over her. At last the seal was broken and Fanny's heart stood still, and a dizziness crept over her as she read. For the reader's benefit we will look over her shoulder and read with her the following:
"MY ONCE DEAR AND STILL MUCH ADMIRED FANNY: I hardly know how to write what I wish to tell you. If I knew exactly your opinion concerning me, I might feel differently. As it is I ardently hope that your extreme youth prevented my foolish, but then sincere, attentions from making any very lasting impression on you. But why not come to the point at once. Fanny, you must try and forget that you ever knew one so wholly unworthy of you as I am. It gives me great pain to write it, but I am about to engage myself to another.
"Do not condemn me unheard. There is a young lady in this city, who is beautiful, wealthy and accomplished. Between her father's family and mine there has long existed an intimacy which our fathers seem anxious to strengthen by a union between myself and the young lady I have mentioned. For a time I resisted manfully. For, ever between me and the tempting bait came the image of a pale, bright-haired girl, whose blue eyes looked mournfully into mine and whispered, 'Do not leave me.' But at last I yielded, and now, Fanny, will you forgive me? It cost me more anguish to give you up than I hope you will ever feel. Be happy, Fanny, and some time when I am traveling through Kentucky, let me find you the cheerful, contented wife of some one more suitable for you than I am. With kind wishes for your happiness, I remain,
"Your true friend,
"P.S.--It is just possible that the young lady and myself may not become engaged, but if we do not, after what has passed, it will be best for you and me to try to forget each other. Give my compliments to your sister Julia. By the way, do you know that I always admired her very much? What a sensation she would make in the fashionable world of New Orleans. But pshaw! What nonsense I'm writing."
Alas for Fanny! She did not need to read the letter twice, for every syllable had burned into her soul, and she could have repeated each word of the cruel message. This, then, was the end of her bright dream of bliss! She did not weep, for she could not. The fountain of her tears seemed dried up. A heavy weight had suddenly fallen on all her faculties. The objects in the room chased each other in rapid circles, while Dr. Lacey stood in the distance mocking her anguish. A faint feeling gathered round her heart. She uttered a low cry and fell heavily forward.
When Julia entered the room she found her sister extended on the floor, cold and white as a piece of marble, while the blood was gushing from her nostrils and moistening the curls of her long hair. Julia's first feeling was one of intense horror, or fear her sister might be dead, but a touch assured her that Fanny had only fainted. So she lifted her up, and bearing her to the window applied the usual restoratives. As Julia looked on the death-like face of her young sister she murmured, "Had I thought she loved him so well, never would I have done so wickedly."
But she made no promise to repair the mischief, and stifled all the better impulses of her nature by saying, "It is too late now: it is too late."
At last Fanny opened her eyes. Her first thought was for her letter, which was still tightly clenched in her hand. Passing it to Julia she said, faintly, "Read it, sister."
Julia took it, and pretending to read it, burst into a violent passion, abusing Dr. Lacey for his meanness, and ending by telling Fanny that she ought to consider herself fortunate in escaping from such a man. Fanny seemed disturbed to hear evil spoken of Dr. Lacey, so Julia changed her manner, and said, "I do not wonder you feel badly, Fanny. You and I can sympathize together now."
Fanny looked at her sister in some surprise, but at last answered, "Oh no, you cannot know how I feel. Mr. Wilmot loved you to the last. Dr. Lacey is not dead, but--"
Here Julia interrupted her by saying, "I do not mean to refer to Mr. Wilmot. I was flattered by his attentions, but I never knew what it was to love until I saw Dr. Lacey."
"Dr. Lacey!--You love Dr. Lacey!" said Fanny, and again she fell back cold and motionless. A second time Julia restored her to consciousness, but for an hour she did not speak or scarcely move. At the end of that time, calling her sister to her, in a low, subdued tone, she said, "Tell me all, Julia. I can bear it. I am calm now."
The traitress kissed her cheek, and taking one of the little hands in hers, told her how truly she had loved Dr. Lacey, and how she had struggled against it when she saw that he loved another. "I have," said she, "lain awake many a night, and while you slept sweetly, dreaming, perhaps, of your lover, I have wept bitter tears because I must go alone through the cold world, unloved and uncared for. And forgive me, Fanny, but sometimes I have felt angered at you, because you seemed to steal everybody's love from me. Our old father never speaks to me with the same affection which marks his manner when addressing you."
"I know it, I know it," said Fanny. "I wish he would not do so, but Dr. Lacey--Dr. Lacey--I never thought you wanted him to love you; if I had--"
"What would you have done?" asked Julia, with noticeable eagerness.
The voice was mournfully low which replied, "I would have given him up for you. I could not have married one whom my sister loved." And then she suddenly added, "It seems doubtful whether he marries that young lady. If anything should happen to prevent it, he may yet make you his wife."
"And you, what would you do?" asked Julia.
"Oh, it is impossible for me to marry him now," said Fanny. "But if you were happy with him, I would try to be happy, too."
"God bless you, sweet sister," said Julia; "but it will never be."
Fanny did not reply, and after a moment's silence Julia said, "Sister, if I were you I would keep all this a secret, and even if I were unhappy, I would try to assume a forced cheerfulness, for fear people would suspect the truth, and call me lovesick."
Fanny did not reply to this either. She was trying to still the painful throbs of her aching heart. Through all the long, weary hours of that night she was awake. Sometimes she would watch the myriad host of stars, as they kept on their unwearied course through the clear, blue sky, and would wonder if there was room beyond them for one so unhappy as she was, and would muse on the past days of happiness now forever gone, and although a choking sensation was in her throat, not a tear moistened her cheek. "I shall never weep again," thought she, "and why should I? The world will not know what I suffer. I will be as gay and merry as ever." And a fearful laugh rang through the room as she said, "Yes, how gayly I'll dance at the wedding. I'll hold my heart so fast that none shall ever know in how many pieces it is broken."
Thus she talked on. Delirium was stealing over her, and when morning broke, the rapid moving of her bright eye, and the crimson spot which burned on either cheek, showed that brain fever was doing its work.
A physician was immediately called and by the means of powerful remedies the progress of the disease was checked, so that Fanny was seriously ill for only a week. She was delirious a great part of the time, but Julia was delighted to find out that not one word of Dr. Lacey ever passed her lips. At the commencement of her illness her father and mother were sent for. The old man came quickly, for Fanny was his idol, and if she should die, he would be bereaved indeed. With untiring love he watched by her bedside until the crisis was passed. He would fan her fevered brow, moisten her parched lips, chafe her hot, burning hands, smooth her tumbled pillow, and when at last he succeeded in soothing her into a troubled slumber, he would sit by her and gaze on her wan face with an earnestness which seemed to say that she was his all of earth, his more than all of heaven. Julia too was all attention. Nothing tired her, and with unwearied patience she came and went at her father's bidding, doing a thousand little offices pertaining to a sick chamber. For once her father's manner softened toward her and the tones of his voice were gentle and his words kind while speaking to his first born. Could he have known what part she had in causing the illness of his "darling Sunshine," all Frankfort would have shaken with the heavy artillery of oaths and execrations, which would have been disgorged from his huge lungs, like the eruption of some long pent-up volcano! But he did not suspect the truth, and in speaking of Fanny's illness, he said, "It is studyin' so close that ailed her. As soon as ever she can bar to be moved, we will carry her home, and Aunt Katy'll nuss her up quicker."
Accordingly, as soon as the physician pronounced it safe to move her, she was taken home, and by her mother's assiduous care, and Aunt Katy's skilful nursing, her physical health was soon much improved. But no medicine could reach the plague spot which preyed upon her heart and cast a dark shadow over every feeling of pleasure. As soon as her health was fully restored, she asked permission to return to school. At first Mr. Middleton refused, but not long did he ever withstand any request which "Sunshine" made. So at last he consented, on condition that she would give up the study of Latin, and promise not to apply herself too closely to anything. To this Fanny readily agreed, and in a few days she was in Frankfort, occupying her accustomed seat at Mrs. Crane's and bending over her task in the old schoolroom, which seemed suddenly illuminated by her presence.
The schoolgirls welcomed back their young companion with many demonstrations of joy, for they said, "the schoolroom seemed dark and lonely when she was absent." Dear little Fanny! There was love enough left for her in the hearts of all who knew her, but it did not satisfy. There was still an aching void, which one love alone could fill, and that love she thought was lost to her forever. She was mistaken.
During her illness she thought much of what Julia had said relative to concealing her disappointment with an assumed gayety, and she resolved to do so, partly from wounded pride, and partly from love of her dear old father, who seemed distressed whenever anything troubled his "Sunshine." When she returned to Frankfort none but the most acute observer would have suspected that the sparkling eye and dancing footstep were the disguise of a desolate, aching heart and that the merry laugh and witty repartee were but the echoes of a knell of sadness, whose deepest tones were stifled ere they reached the ear of the listener. In the darkness of night however, all was changed. The Sunshine was obscured, and Julia alone knew what anguish Fanny endured. Still the cruel girl never wavered in her purpose. "The worst is over," said she. "She will not die now, even if she saw him wedded to me." So she suffered her sister's cheek to grow paler, and her delicate form thinner, at the supposed desertion of her lover. Little did Fanny think that he, whose false-heartedness she deplored, dreamed each night of his distant dear one, and that each day his warm heart beat more quickly, because no tidings came from her.
A few days after Fanny's return there came cards of invitation for a large party at the residence of a Mr. C----. The evening was propitious, and at the usual hour Mrs. C----'s parlors were filled with the beauty and fashion of the city. Among all the belles who that evening graced the brilliantly lighted drawing rooms, none was so much admired as Julia Middleton, who appeared dressed in a rich crimson velvet robe, tastefully trimmed with ermine. Magnificent bracelets, which had cost her father almost as many oaths as dollars, glittered on her white, rounded arms. Her snowy neck, which was also uncovered, was without ornament. Her glossy hair, dark as night, was arranged in the most becoming manner.
At the time Mr. Middleton had given Julia her bracelets, he had presented Fanny with a bandeau of pearls. But Julia found it an easy task to persuade her sister that pearls were not becoming to her style of beauty; so on the evening of the party they gleamed amid the heavy braids of Julia's hair. Wherever she went she was followed by a train of admirers, who had little thought that that soft smile and beautiful face concealed a heart as hard as the flinty rock.
Contrary to all the rules of propriety, the heartless Mrs. Carrington was there, dealing out her fascinating smiles and bland words. She had thrown aside her mourning for the occasion and was arrayed in a dress of black velvet. An elegant lace bertha covered her white, beautiful neck, while one of her fair arms was clasped by a diamond bracelet. To this bracelet was attached a small locket which contained the daguerreotype of him, upon whose quiet grave the suns of scarce five months had risen and set. Amid that brilliant scene she had no thought for the dead, but others wondered much that he should be so soon forgotten. She was attended by Raymond, who scarcely left her side during the whole evening, although she made several ineffectual attempts to shake him off, for she did not care to be too much noticed by a "poor Yankee schoolmaster."
Henry Ashton was also there, but his attention was wholly engrossed in the bright eyes and sunny face of Florence Woodburn, who had recently returned from Philadelphia, where she had been attending for the last two years. Florence was the only daughter of the Mr. Woodburn, who was mentioned in the first chapter of this narrative. Her father lived several miles from the city, but she had friends in town and spent much of her time there. She was very handsome and very agreeable, and as she would probably be quite an heiress, her appearance in the fashionable world created a great sensation.
During the evening, as she was standing by Ashton and commenting on Julia's wondrous beauty, she said, "Where is the younger Miss Middleton? Is she as handsome as her sister?"
Ashton replied, "She is not called half as beautiful, but she is much more amiable; but see there she comes," continued he, as Fanny entered the room leaning on Stanton's arm.
She was so pale that her skin seemed almost transparent, but the excitement of the evening brought a bright glow to her cheek which greatly enhanced her loveliness. She was simply attired in a plain white muslin, low at the neck, which was veiled by the soft curls of her silken hair. Her arms were encircled by a plain band of gold, and a white, half-opened rosebud was fastened to the bosom of her dress.
As she entered the room many admiring eyes were turned toward her, and Miss Woodburn exclaimed, "Oh, how lovely she is. Her sister seems more like the flashing diamond, while Fanny's beauty is like the soft lustre of the pearl. But tell me," she continued, "is she not engaged to a Dr. Lacey of New Orleans?"
"Yes, or, that is, it was so rumored," answered Ashton, "but he has gone home, and since then I have heard nothing of it. Young Stanton seems very attentive. I should not wonder if something grows out of it."
"Always making matches, Mr. Ashton," said Mrs. Carrington, who for a moment rid herself of Raymond and now came near Ashton and Florence. She had heard them speak of Dr. Lacey and Fanny, and as she knew Florence was soon going to New Orleans, she wished to give her a little Frankfort gossip to take with her.
"Oh, Mrs. Carrington," said Mr. Ashton, bowing politely, "allow me to introduce Miss Woodburn. We were just talking of the probability of Miss Fanny's being engaged to Dr. Lacey. Perhaps you can enlighten us."
"Oh," said Mrs. Carrington, "I assure you I know but little about the matter. It is rather uncertain whom Miss Fanny likes or dislikes. It is currently reported that she was in love with a Mr. Wilmot, who died, and who was known to be engaged to her sister. Since then Dr. Lacey has flirted with her, whether seriously or not I cannot tell; I should rather think not, however, for Mr. Stanton now seems to be the favored one."
"Oh," said Mr. Ashton, "I never supposed Fanny was so much of a coquette."
"Neither do I think she is," said Florence, whose heart warmed toward Fanny as soon as she saw her.
"Perhaps she is not," said Mrs. Carrington. "Fanny is very young yet, but when fully matured will perhaps make a noble woman, but she has not the solidity of her sister, who tries hard to keep her from assuming the appearance of a flirt." Then turning to Florence, she said, "I believe you are soon going to New Orleans?"
"Yes, madam," answered Florence.
"You will probably meet Dr. Lacey there," continued Mrs. Carrington. "Perhaps you had better say nothing to him about Fanny's flirtation with Stanton, for he would hardly believe it."
Florence merely nodded, thinking to herself that she should do as she chose about it. From the first she had been attracted toward Fanny. There was something in her face, and in the expression of her eye, which interested Florence. It seemed to her that Fanny would gladly have left the scene of gayety, and going out by herself, would have poured out all her soul in tears. She earnestly desired an introduction, and at last it was obtained. There must have been some secret magnet which attracted these young girls toward each other, for in a few moments they were arm in arm, talking familiarly upon different topics as though they had been acquainted a lifetime.
Florence was a warm-hearted, affectionate girl, and after a time she said, "Miss Middleton, I am going to New Orleans soon. I believe you have an acquaintance there. If I see him what shall I tell him?"
Fanny's voice trembled slightly as she answered, "Tell whom?"
"Oh, Miss Middleton," said Florence, laughing gayly, "how that blush becomes you! Tell whom? Why, whom should it be but Dr. Lacey, who everybody, except Mrs. Carrington, says is engaged to you."
The fire shot in to Fanny's eyes, but one look at the open face at her side assured her, and she answered, "I am not answerable for what the world pleases to say of me."
"I am to consider the report true, then," persisted Florence.
A momentary struggle took place in Fanny's mind. Love and resentment strove for the mastery. The latter conquered, and the voice was calm and decided which replied, "I assure you, Miss Woodburn, that Dr. Lacey bears no relation to me except that of a common acquaintance."
"Indeed," said Florence. "I am sorry, for I was anticipating much pleasure in describing Dr. Lacey's intended lady to the New Orleans girls."
Fanny did not answer, and as Stanton just then approached, and asked her to go to the music room, she took his arm readily, glad to escape so painful a conversation.
"She is a strange girl," thought Florence, "and yet I know I should love her. I wonder what makes her so sad. Can it be that she really loved that Mr. Wilmot? At any rate, I am sorry for her and hope she will marry Mr. Stanton, who seems much pleased with her."
This was the impression left on Florence's mind, which was productive of much mischief. At a late hour the company dispersed. Fanny returned home, weary and sick at heart. Her conversation with Florence had awakened painful reminiscences of the past, and the gray daylight was beginning to streak the eastern horizon ere her heavy lids closed in slumber. In a few days Florence Woodburn departed for New Orleans, where her mother's brother resided. We will take passage with her and pay a visit to Dr. Lacey in his Southern home.