JULIA ANNOUNCES HER ENGAGEMENT TO DR. LACEY
Summer was gone and the bright, sunny days of autumn had come.
Again in Kate Wilmot's home were tears wept and blessings breathed, as Mr. and Mrs. Wilmot bade farewell to their "children," as they affectionately called all three of the individuals who were that morning to start for their home in Kentucky.
"God bless you, Kate, my darling Kate," said Mrs. Wilmot as she fondly kissed her only child. Then turning to Fanny, she said, "And you, too, my other daughter, you have my love and earnest prayers for your happiness."
Mr. Wilmot could not speak, but his feelings were not less deep, as he embraced his child and shook the hands of Mr. Miller and Fanny. Old Hector, too, shared in the general sorrow, but for some undefinable reason he seemed to cling more closely to Fanny. He would look up in her face and howl, as if he knew she was leaving him forever. "Noble Hector!" said Fanny, "and do you indeed love me so well?" Then kneeling down by him, she drew from her neck a tiny locket, in which was a daguerreotype of herself. To this she attached a blue ribbon, which she fastened around Hector's neck, saying, "I cannot stay with you, Hector, but you shall have my likeness." Afterward when strangers visited the house and marvelled at Hector's unusual neck gear, they were shown the fair, sweet face, which looked forth from the golden casing, and were told the story of the young girl, whose presence had been like Sunshine in Richard Wilmot's darkened home.
Mr. Miller was not willing that Fanny should leave New York without first visiting Niagara Falls. Accordingly, they stopped at the Falls, and were there joined by Mr. and Mrs. Stanton and Frank, the latter of whom was desirous of seeing Fanny as long as possible. He accompanied them to Buffalo, and stayed upon the boat which was to bear them away until the last bell rang out its warning. As he was leaving them Kate playfully asked if they were taking anything of his with them. "Yes, everything, everything," he answered.
Soon the steamer was moving proudly over the blue waters of Lake Erie. On the upper deck our Kentucky friends were waving their handkerchiefs to Frank, who stood upon the wharf as long as one bright-haired girl could be distinguished by the light of the harvest moon, whose rays fell calmly upon the placid waters.
In a few days Mr. Middleton again folded to his bosom his Sunshine, now more precious than ever, because, as he said, "He'd lain awake a heap o' nights, worryin' about her. The dogs had howled, the death watches had ticked on the wall, and everything had carried on, t'other side up, ever since she'd been gone. But look, Nancy," he continued to his wife, "she's fattin' up right smart. Her journey has done her a heap of good, and I'm glad I let her go."
The blacks now crowded round, delighted to welcome home their young mistress, who had a kind word and some little gift for each. Particularly were Aunt Katy and Aunt Judy pleased with the present of a tasty lace cap, whose value was greatly increased from the fact that they were bought in New York City. In these simple creatures' estimation, New York and Frankfort were the largest places in the world. "I s'pose," said Aunt Katy, "that this New York is mighty nigh three times as large as Frankfort."
"Three times as large!" repeated Fanny. "Why, yes, Katy, forty times as large."
From that time Aunt Katy looked upon Fanny as one not long for this world. "'Tain't in natur," said she, "that she should stay long. Allus was peart like and forrud, and now has been ridin' in the railroad all over the airth, and hain't got lost nuther, besides a-sailin' along in the steam engine over the salt water."
It was indeed marvelous how much Fanny had seen, and when she came to tell the wonder-stricken negroes of the cataract of Niagara, their amazement knew no bounds. Our friend Bobaway did not fail to ease himself by a round of somersaults, his usual manner of expressing surprise or pleasure. At the same time he whispered to Lucy that "He's mistaken if Miss Fanny wan't tellin' 'em a stretcher this time," for which declaration Lucy rewarded him with a smart box on the ear, saying, "Is you no better manners than to 'cuse white folks of lyin'? Miss Fanny never'd got as well as she is if she's picked up a mess of lies to tell us."
Fanny's health was indeed much improved, and for a day or two after her return home, she bounded about the house and grounds as lightly and merrily as she had done in childhood. Mr. Middleton noticed the change and was delighted. "I b'lieve she's forgettin' that paltry doctor," said he, but he was wrong.
The third day after her return she was sitting with her parents, relating to them an account of her journey, when Ike entered the room. He had been sent to the post office and now came up to Fanny, saying, "Here, I done got this air," at the same time handing her a letter, which she instantly saw was from her sister. Eagerly taking it, she said, "A letter from Julia. I am delighted. It is a long time since I have heard from her." Then quickly breaking the seal, she commenced reading it.
Gradually as she read there stole over her face a strange expression. It was a look of despair--of hope utterly crushed, but she finished the letter and then mechanically passing it to her father, she said, "Read it; it concerns us all," and then rising she went to her room, leaving her father to read and swear over Julia's letter at his leisure. That he did so no one will doubt when they learn its contents.
The first page contained assurances of love; the second congratulated Fanny upon her engagement with Frank, but chided her for suffering Lida Gibson to be the bearer of the news. "Why did you not write to me yourself?" she said--"that is the way I shall do, and now to prove my words, you will see how confiding I am." Then followed the intelligence that Dr. Lacey had the night before offered his heart and hand and of course had been accepted. "You will not wonder at it," she wrote, "for you know how much I have always loved him. I was, however, greatly surprised when he told me he always preferred me to you, but was prevented from telling me so by my silly engagement with Mr. Wilmot and my supposed affection for him." The letter ended by saying that Dr. Lacey would accompany her home some time during the latter part of October, when their marriage would take place. There was also a "P.S.," in which Julia wrote, "Do, Fan, use your influence with the old man and make him fix up the infernal old air castle. I'd as soon be married in the horse barn as there."
This, then, was the letter which affected Fanny so, and called all of Uncle Joshua's biggest oaths into use. Mrs. Middleton tried to calm her husband and remind him of his promise not to swear. "I know it," said he, "I know I promised not to swear, and for better than two months I hain't swore, but I can't help it now. And yet I expected it. I know'd 'twould be so when I let Tempest go to New Orleans. But he'll run himself into a hornet's nest, and I ain't sure but it's just the punishment for him."
"Why, then, do you rave so?" asked Mrs. Middleton.
"Because," answered her husband, "when I let Tempest go, I'd no idee Sunshine cared so much for him. If I had, I'd have slung a halter round Tempest's neck and tied her up in the hoss barn she likes so well!"
The old man was evidently piqued at Julia's thrust at the old house. "Fix up! A heap I'll fix up for her to be married," continued he.
"Then you'll give your consent?" said Mrs. Middleton.
"Consent! Who's asked any consent?" replied he, "and 'tain't likely they will nuther; and if I should refuse, Tempest wouldn't mind clamberin' out of the chimbly to run away, and the doctor has showed himself jest as mean. No; he may have her and go to the old boy for all of Josh. But what's this about Cameron? I hope 'tis so, but I'm mighty feared it ain't. Sunshine can't love two at a time."
While Mr. Middleton was thus expending his fury, Fanny was alone in her room, struggling hard to subdue the bitter feelings which were rising in her heart. Until now she had not been aware how much she loved Dr. Lacey. True, she had said it was impossible she could ever marry him; and she had believed she was trying to forget him; but ever in her heart she had, perhaps unconsciously, cherished a half formed belief that all would yet be well, and when she refused the noble, generous heart which Frank Cameron laid at her feet, it was with a vague hope that Dr. Lacey would yet be hers. But now every hope was gone. "There is nothing left for me," said Fanny, "but woe, woe!" 'Twas fearful--the tide of sorrow which swept over the young girl, but amid the wild storm of passion came the echo of a still, small voice, whispering of one who loves with more than an earthly love, who never proves faithless--never fails. Fanny listened to the Spirit's pleadings and resolved that henceforth she would seek to place her affections where "there is no variableness, neither shadow of turning."
The whirlwind of excitement passed over, leaving no trace to mark its passage, save a fixed calm expression, which a more violent demonstration of feeling would not have done.
The week following the receipt of Julia's letter Mr. Middleton had business which took him to Frankfort. Fanny accompanied him and remained several days. The morning after her arrival she and Mr. Stanton were walking upon the upper balcony at Mrs. Crane's, when they were joined by Ashton, who had returned from New Orleans a few days before. He had always been a frequent visitor there, but since his return, his visits had been more frequent and of longer duration. There was to him something very fascinating about Stanton's fair bride, and yet he always felt uneasy when with her, for her manners and appearance reminded him of the past.
This morning, however, the mystery was explained, but in what way he could not tell.
Soon after he appeared on the balcony, Nellie pointed to a gentleman who was crossing the street and inquired his name. On being told she replied: "He looks very much like a Mr. Barnard I used to know years ago in ----," mentioning the town where she was born.
"Used to know where?" asked Ashton quickly.
Nellie repeated the name and Ashton said, "Why, that's my native town, and I knew Mr. Barnard well." Then as if the light of a sudden revelation fell upon him, he added, "And your name, too, was Nellie Ashton? I once had a sister Nellie, on whose rosy cheeks I dropped a tear the night I ran away to sea. Can it be that you are that Nellie?"
A few moments more sufficed them to discover what we have long surmized, viz., that Henry Ashton and Nellie Stanton were brother and sister. The surprise and pleasure of their recognition is better imagined than described. We will only say that when Stanton, on his return from the office, stepped out upon the balcony in quest of his wife, he was greatly shocked at beholding her in Ashton's arms, and his amazement was increased when he saw that she not only suffered his caresses, but also returned them in a manner highly displeasing to the young husband. Fanny, however, soon explained all, and Stanton gladly received Ashton as a newly found brother.
It is unnecessary for us to repeat what Nellie and her brother had to relate concerning themselves since the night when Ashton so unceremoniously took leave of his home. With the important points in their history the reader is already acquainted, so for the present we leave them, while we take a brief glance at Mrs. Carrington. The reader will doubtless think that for once in her life that estimable lady has done a good deed, although her motive was not the best in the world. Before Julia went to New Orleans, Mrs. Carrington so far overcame her dislike as to ask her to write. Julia did not promise to do so, but probably concluded she would, for soon after her arrival in New Orleans she wrote to her a letter, in which she hinted at the probable result of her visit. She was then a guest of Dr. Lacey, and she spoke of his attention and politeness in the most extravagant terms. This so provoked Mrs. Carrington that she determined at once to write to Dr. Lacey, and give him an insight into Julia's real character.
The letter was accordingly written. We must do Mrs. Carrington the justice to say that though her object in writing was purely selfish, she asserted nothing in her letter but what she knew to be strictly true. She was ignorant of Julia's conduct concerning Fanny, consequently she said nothing upon that head, but she spoke of her generally deceitful character, and mentioned several instances in which she had not hesitated to stoop to the basest falsehood for the accomplishment of her purpose.
As she was folding the letter it occurred to her that by some accident Julia might possibly get hold of it. "And then," thought she, "she will recognize my handwriting, and curiosity will impel her to open the letter, after which she wouldn't hesitate a moment to destroy it."
The next moment Mrs. Carrington was rapping at the door of Mrs. Miller's room. Kate opened it and was greatly surprised at beholding her visitor, who seldom came there. Mrs. Carrington, however, smilingly presented her letter to Mr. Miller, saying that she had business with Dr. Lacey, which rendered it necessary for her to write to him, and as she did not care to have the post office clerks gossip about her writing to a gentleman, she wished him to direct it for her. Mr. Miller complied with her request and the next morning the important document was on its way to New Orleans.
As our readers have twice made the voyage of the Mississippi, they will not refuse, again, to run the risk of its floating snags, sandbars and boat races; so stepping on board the same steamer which bears Mrs. Carrington's letter, we will once more, visit Louisiana, and stopping with Dr. Lacey, will see how much of Julia's letter to her sister was true.