MR. MIDDLETON'S BROTHER
Julia's first exclamation, on waking the next morning, was, "I am glad I am not expected to go home with uncle today, and see father make a precious fool of himself, as he surely will."
"How can you say so, Julia?" answered Fanny. "I wish I was going, for I think I could smooth father down a little if he got to using too strong language."
"Nonsense, Fan," said Julia. "Why don't you confess that you wish to go because that handsome Cameron is going? Didn't I see how much he looked at you, and how you blushed, too? But no matter. I would get him, if I were you!"
Julia was getting very generous, now that she thought herself sure of Dr. Lacey. Further remark from her, however, was prevented by the ringing of the breakfast bell.
"What shall I tell your parents?" said Mr. Middleton to his nieces, as he stood in the hall, waiting for the driver to open the carriage door and let down the steps.
Julia made no reply, but Fanny said, "Give them my love, and tell them I am getting better every day, and shall want to come home soon," and then she added, in a lower tone, "You will not laugh at father much, will you, or make fun of him either, if he acts oddly?"
"God bless you, sweet girl," said Mr. Middleton, stooping to kiss the innocent face which looked up into his with so much earnestness. "For your sake, if for no other, your father shall not be laughed at."
As the carriage drove off, Julia turned to Fanny and said, "Won't they have fun, though, with the old man? I can fancy it all. Father's beard will probably be long enough to do up in papers, and it will be a miracle if he does not have on those horrid old bagging pants of his."
Fanny was only too fearful it would all be as Julia predicted, but she made no answer, and soon returned to her room.
We will now follow the carriage, which, with its load of gentlemen, was proceeding rapidly toward the house of our friend Uncle Joshua. Mr. William Middleton, or Mr. Stafford, as we will call him for a time, seemed to grow excited as he approached nearer to a brother whose face he had not looked upon for more than twenty long years.
"I say, boys," said he, speaking to his companions, "you must help me, and when I begin to ask Joshua concerning his parents and brothers, you, too, must talk, or he will suspect I have some design in questioning him."
The gentlemen all promised to do their best, except Frank, who could promise nothing, because he knew nothing concerning the man they were going to visit. His curiosity, however, was aroused, and forgetting the presence of Mr. William Middleton, "Do they keep the old fellow caged? And must we pay anything for seeing him?"
These questions were greeted by a burst of laughter, and Raymond said, "No--admittance is free, but you'll be more amused to see him and hear him talk than you would in visiting Barnum's Museum!"
By this time the carriage had entered the woods, and they came in sight of the house. Mr. Stafford leaned from the window, and said, "Is it possible that my brother, with all his wealth, lives in such a heathen place as this?"
"When you see him," said Raymond, "you'll think the nest just suited the bird."
They were now in the yard, which was so filled with farming utensils that the driver found it difficult to effect a passage up to the door. The gentlemen were about concluding to alight where they were, when Mr. Middleton was heard calling out, "Ho, thar, driver, don't run agin that ar ox-cart; turn a leetle to the right, can't ye? Now be keerful and not run afoul of the plaguey lye leech. I b'lieve the niggers would move the hut, Josh and all, into the yard, if they could only make a raise!"
Mr. Stafford and Frank looked eagerly out at the speaker, who fully realized Frank's idea of him. His beard was as long and black as a rapid growth of three weeks could make it. As Julia had feared, he was dressed in his favorite bagging pants, which hung loosely, even around his huge proportions, and looked as if fitted to some of his outbuildings. He was very warm and he wore neither coat nor vest, while his feet, whose dimensions we have mentioned before, were minus either shoes or stockings. He appeared in the doorway buttoning one of his suspenders. The truth was he had spied the carriage in the distance, and as his linen was none the cleanest he hastened to change, and was now putting the finishing touch to his toilet. When he caught sight of the occupants of the carriage he thought to himself, "Thar's a heap on 'em. Nancy'll have to rout the whole gang of niggers, field hands and all, to huntin' hin's nests after eggs enough for dinner."
By this time the gentlemen had alighted, and Mr. Middleton went forward to receive them. "How d'ye do, how d'ye do?" said he; "I'm mighty glad you've come. I wish you'd brought the whole city."
"We came pretty near it, I think," said Mr. Miller, at the same time presenting Mr. Stafford and Mr. Cameron.
Mr. Middleton continued talking, as if replying to Mr. Miller's first remark. "No consequence, no consequence, Mr. Stafford, Mr. Cameron, how are you? The more the merrier. I s'pose they've told you all about Josh, so I needn't make b'lieve any--but come in--the house looks better inside than it does out." "Ho, Luce," continued he, "where the old boy is your mistress? Tell her thar's heaps of folks here, and mind tell Aunt Judy to get us up a whalin' dinner."
Here he stopped to take breath for a moment, and then proceeded. "You must excuse my rig, gentlemen, or rather, you must excuse what ain't rigged; mebby if I'd known all you city buggers was comin', I'd a kivered my bar feet."
"You go barefoot for comfort?" said Mr. Miller.
"Why, yes, mainly for that, I suppose," answered Mr. Middleton, "for I've got such fetchin' big corns on my feet that I ain't goin' to be cramped with none of your toggery. My feet happen to be clean, for I washed them in the watering trough this mornin'. How d'ye leave my gals?"
"They are well," answered Mr. Miller, "or rather Julia is, and Fanny is improving every day."
"I've often wondered," said Mr. Middleton, "what 'twas ailded Sunshine when she was sick. She didn't seem to have no disease in particular, and I reckon nothin's on her mind, for all's straight between her and Dr. Lacey, as far as I know."
"Dr. Lacey!" repeated Frank, without knowing what he said.
"Yes, Dr. Lacey; know him?" asked Mr. Middleton.
"No, sir," answered Frank, and Ashton rejoined, "I imagine he wishes Fanny had never known him."
Mr. Middleton turned, and for a moment regarded Frank intently. Frank stood the inspection manfully, and Mr. Middleton said, "You are from New York, hey? I like New Yorkers, and if Sunshine wasn't promised to Dr. Lacey and never had seen him, and I liked you, I'd as soon you'd have her as anybody."
Mr. Stafford now said that he was acquainted with Dr. Lacey, and proceeded to speak of the pleasant time he had spent with him. This occupied the time until dinner was ready.
"Come, haul up," said Mr. Middleton, "haul up; we didn't expect so many to dinner, but the old table'll stretch and you must set clus; but don't none of you step on my corns, for thunder's sake!"
Frank thought if his host kept on talking he should not be able to eat for laughing, but the old man was but just getting into the merits of the case!
When his guests were seated, he said to Mr. Stafford, "Your white neck cloth looks like you might belong to the clergy. If you do, you can say a short prayer over the eggs and bacon, but Lord's sake be spry, for I'm blarsted hungry!"
But for the remembrance of his promise to Fanny, Mr. Stafford would have screamed. It is needless to say that he declined his host's invitation, and the company began their dinner.
Suddenly Mr. Stafford asked if Mr. Middleton had any brothers.
"Yes--no, or, that is, I had one once," answered Mr. Middleton, "but he's deader than a door nail afore this, I reckon."
"And what makes you think he is dead?" asked Stafford.
"Why, you see," returned Mr. Middleton, "when our old pap died, something in the will stuck crossways in Bill's swaller, and he left college and put to sea, and I hain't heard from him in fifteen years."
"Did he look like you?" said Raymond.
"He was four years younger than I," answered Mr. Middleton, "but no more like me than Sunshine's pet kitten is like our old watch dog, Tige. He was soft like in his ways and took to book larnin mightily, and I'm--but everybody knows what old Josh is. Hold on thar! Save the pieces!" said he to Frank, who, unable longer to restrain his mirth, had deluged his plate with coffee.
"Pray excuse me," said Frank, mortified beyond measure at his mishap.
His discomfiture was, however, somewhat relieved by his companions, all of whom burst into a fit of laughter, in which Mr. Stafford heartily joined, forgetful of his promise to Fanny. By this time dinner was over and the company repaired to the porch, where Ashton and Raymond betook themselves to their cigars, while Mr. Middleton puffed away at his old cob pipe.
Mr. Stafford at length resumed the dinner table conversation by saying, "If I were you, Mr. Middleton, I would not give up my brother yet; 'Hope on, hope ever,' is my motto."
"Hope on," repeated Mr. Middleton. "I have hoped on till I am tired on't, and by spells I have dreams in which it seems like my brother was alive and had come back, and then my old gourd shell of a heart gives a thunderin' thump, and fetches me up wide awake. I hate dreams mightily, for it takes me an all-fired while to get to sleep all over, and when I do I hate to be waked up by a dream."
"I hope you'll live to see your brother, though," said Frank.
"No, I shan't," answered Mr. Middleton, again filling his cob pipe. "Everything that I loved has always died."
"Have you lost many friends?" asked Mr. Stafford.
"Considerable many," said Mr. Middleton, "considering how few I ever had. First, thar was mother died, when Bill and I was little boys; I remember how we cried when we stood by her grave, and I was so feared Bill would bust his jacket open that I whispered to him not to take on so, for I'd be his mother now. And then that night, which was the longest and darkest I ever knew, we took turn rocking and singing to our little baby sister, just as we had seen mother do."
Here he stopped a moment, and Raymond, who was rather impatient, said, "Don't stop; go on."
The old man wiped his eyes, and said, "Heavens and arth, don't hurry a feller so; can't you let him wait till the big bumps get out of his throat, or would you have me bellerin' here like a calf?"
"Take your time, Mr. Middleton," said Mr. Stafford, who was as much affected as his brother at the remembrance of that sad night, when he first felt what it was to be motherless.
After an instant, Mr. Middleton continued, "Directly that sister got big enough, she was married and started to go to England, but the vessel went to smash and the crew went to the bottom. Poor gal, she always hated salt, but she's used to it by this time, I reckon. Then there was pap died next, but he was old and gray-headed, and sick-hearted like, and he wanted to go, but it made it jest as bad for me. Then thar was Bill."
Here Mr. Stafford moved his chair so as to hide his face from the speaker, who continued, "I did think I might have one left, but 'twasn't to be. He went, too, and Josh was left alone."
Mr. Middleton cleared his throat a little, refilled his cob pipe, and proceeded. "The Lord gin me two gals, and then he sent me as noble a boy as ever was, I don't care where t'other comes from. He wasn't mine, but I loved him all the same. You, Mr. Miller, knew him, but you don't know--no, nor begin to know, how old Josh loved him, and what a tremendous wrench it gin my old heart when I come home and found he was dead. But, Lord, hain't he got a fine gravestun, though! You go to the cimetery at Frankford, and you'll see it right along side of Leftenant Carrington's, whose widow's a flirtin' with everybody in creation anyway, and Frankford sartin."
"I've now told you of all that's dead," continued he, striking the ashes out of his pipe and wiping it on his bagging trousers, "but I hain't told you yit what troubles me more than all. Thar's something haunts old Josh, and makes his heart stand still with mortal fear. Thar's Sunshine, dearer to her old pap than his own life. You've all seen her, and I reckon she's made some of your hearts ache; but something's come over her. She seems delicate like, and is fadin' away."
Here two big tears, that couldn't be mistaken, rolled down Mr. Middleton's cheeks, as he added emphatically, "and by Jehu, if Sunshine goes, old Josh'll bust up and go, too!"
The winding up of Uncle Joshua's story was so odd and unexpected that all the gentlemen, Mr. Stafford included, laughed loudly.
"'Tain't no laughin' matter, boys," said Mr. Middleton, "and so you'll all think if you ever have a gal as sweet and lovin' like as Sunshine."
Here Mr. Stafford said, "Your sister's name was Fanny, I believe."
"Yes, 'twas; who told you?" asked Mr. Middleton.
"No one. I knew it myself," answered Mr. Stafford, looking his brother earnestly in the face.
Mr. Middleton seemed puzzled, and after closely scrutinizing Mr. Stafford's features, he said, "Confound it, am I in a nightmare? I thought for a minute--but no, it can't be neither, for you've got too thunderin' black a hide to be Bill."
Before Mr. Stafford replies to this remark we will take the reader to the kitchen, where a group of negroes are assembled round old Aunt Katy, and are listening with breathless interest to what she is saying. Aunt Katy was so infirm that she kept her bed for the greater part of the time, but on this day she was sitting-up, and from her low cabin window she caught a view of the visitors as they alighted from the carriage. When Mr. Stafford appeared, she half started from her chair and said aloud, "Who upon airth can that be, and whar have I seen him? Somewhar, sartin."
It then occurred to her that she would go to the kitchen and inquire who "that tall, darkish-looking gentleman was." Accordingly she hobbled out to make the inquiry. She was much disappointed when she heard the name. "No," said she, "'tain't nobody I ever knowed, and yet how like he is to somebody I've seen."
Not long after the old negress again muttered to herself, "Go way now; what makes me keep a thinkin' so of Marster William this mornin'? 'Pears like he keeps hauntin' me." Then rising she went to an old cupboard, and took from it a cracked earthen teapot. From this teapot she drew a piece of brown paper, and opening it gazed fondly on a little lock of soft brown hair.
"Bless the boy," said she, "I mind jest how he looked when I cut this har from his head, the very day his mother was buried. Poor Marster William," continued she, "most likely he's gone to 'tarnity 'fore this time."
As she said this tears, which were none the less sincere because she who wept them belonged to Africa's sable race, fell upon the once bright but now faded lock of hair, which the faithful creature had for more than forty years preserved as a memento of him whom she had long since looked upon as dead, although she had never ceased to pray for him, and always ended her accustomed prayer, "Now I lay me--" with the petition that "God would take keer of Marster William and bring him home again." Who shall say that the prayer was not answered?
Going back to her seat, she took up her knitting and was soon living over the past, when she was young and dwelt with "the old folks at home." Suddenly there came from the house the sound of merry laughter. High above all the rest was a voice, whose clear, ringing tones made Katy start up so quickly that, as she afterward described it, "a sudden misery cotched her in the back, and pulled her down quicker." There was something in the sound of that laugh, which seemed to Katy like an echo of the past. "But," thought she, "I'm deaf like and mebby didn't hear straight. I'll go to the kitchen agin and hark."
In a few minutes she was in the kitchen and dropping down on the meal chest as the first seat handy, she said, "Ho, Judy, is you noticed the strange gentleman's laugh?"
"I hain't noticed nothing" answered Judy, who chanced to be out of sorts, because, as she said, "the white folks had done et up every atom of egg; they didn't even leave her the yaller of one!"
"Well, suthin in his laugh kerried me back to the old plantation in Carlina, and I b'lieve, between you and me, Judy, that Marster William's here," said Katy.
"Marster William, Marster William; what on airth do you mean?" asked Judy, forgetting the eggs in her surprise.
At the mention of "Marster William," who was looked upon as a great man, but a dead one, the little negroes gathered around, and one of them, our old friend, Bobaway, said, "Oh, Laddy, I hope 'tis Marster William, for Marster Josh'll be so tickled that he won't keer if we don't do nothin' for a week; and I needn't milk the little heifer, nuther! Oh, good, good!"
"You go long, you Bob," said Aunt Judy, seizing a lock of his wool between her thumb and finger, "let me catch you not milking the heifer, and I'll crack you."
Again there was the sound of laughter, and this time Judy dropped her dishcloth, while Katy sprang up, saying, "'Tis, I know 'tis; any way, I'll walk round thar as if for a little airin', and can see for myself."
Accordingly, old Katy appeared around the corner of the house just as Mr. Middleton had spoken to his brother of his color. The moment Mr. Stafford's eye rested on his old nurse, he knew her. Twenty years had not changed her as much as it had him. Starting up he exclaimed, "Katy, dear old mammy Katy," while she uttered a wild, exultant cry of joy, and springing forward threw her thin, shriveled arms around his neck, exclaiming, "My darling boy, my sweet Marster William. I knowed 'twas you. I knowed your voice. You are alive, I've seen you, and now old Katy's ready to die."
White as ashes grew the face of Uncle Joshua. The truth had flashed upon him, and almost rendered him powerless. Pale and motionless he sat, until William, freeing himself from Aunt Katy, came forward and said, "Joshua, I am William, your brother; don't you know me?"
Then the floodgates of Uncle Joshua's heart seemed unlocked, and the long, fervent embrace which followed between the rough old man and his newly-found brother made more than one of the lookers on turn away his face lest his companion should detect the moisture in his eyes, which seriously threatened to assume the form of tears.
When the first joy and surprise of this unexpected meeting was over, Mr. Joshua Middleton said, as if apologizing for his emotion, "I'm dumbly afeard, Bill, that I acted mighty baby-like, but hang me if I could help it. Such a day as this I never expected to see, and yet I have lain awake o' nights thinkin' mebby you'd come back. But such ideas didn't last long, and I'd soon give you up as a goner."
"That's jest what I never did," said Aunt Katy, who still stood near.
In the excitement of the moment she had forgotten that she had long thought of "Marster William" as dead; she continued, "A heap of prars I said for him, and it's chiefly owin' to them prars, I reckon, that he's done fished up out of the sea."
"I've never been in the sea yet, Aunt Katy," said Mr. Middleton, desirous of removing from her mind the fancy that any special miracle had been wrought in his behalf.
"Whar in fury have you been, and what's the reason you hain't writ these dozen years? Come, give us the history of your carryin's on," said Mr. Joshua Middleton.
"Not now," answered his brother. "Let us wait until evening, and then you shall hear my adventures; now let me pay my respects to your wife."
While he was introducing himself to Mrs. Middleton, Katy went back to the kitchen, whither the news had preceded her, causing Bob in his joy to turn several somersaults. In the last of these he was very unfortunate, for his heels, in their descent, chanced to hit and overturn a churn full of buttermilk! When Aunt Katy entered she found Bob bemoaning the backache, which his mother had unsparingly given him! Aunt Judy herself, having cleared away the buttermilk, by sweeping it out of doors, was waiting eagerly to know "if Marster William done axed arter her."
"Why, no, Judy," said Katy, somewhat elated because she had been first to recognize and welcome the stranger. "Why, no, I can't say he did, and 'tain't nateral like that he should set so much store by you, as by me. Ain't I got twenty years the start on you; and didn't I nuss him, and arter his mother died didn't I larn him all his manners?"
Aunt Judy was on the point of crying, when who should walk in but "Marster William" himself. "I am told," said he, "that Judy is here, Judy, that I used to play with."
"Lor' bless you, Marster William," exclaimed Judy, at the same time covering his hand with tears and kisses, "It's Judy, I is, I know'd you hadn't done forgot me."
"Oh, no, Judy," said he, "I have not forgotten one of you, but I did not know whether you were living or not, so I did not bring you presents, but I'll get you something, in a few days. Meantime take this," said he, slipping a silver dollar into the hands of Aunt Katy and Aunt Judy, each of whom showered upon him so many blessings and "thankes" that he was glad to leave the kitchen and return to his companions, who were talking to Uncle Joshua without getting any definite answer.
His brother's sudden return had operated strangely upon him, and for a time he seemed to be in a kind of trance. He would draw his chair up closely to William, and, after gazing intently at him for a time, would pass his large rough hand over his hair, muttering to himself, "Yes, it is Bill, and no mistake, but who'd a thought it?"
At last rousing himself he turned to his other guests, and said, "You mustn't think hard on me, if I ain't as peart and talkin' like for a spell; Bill's comin' home has kinder oversot the old man, and I'm thinkin' of the past when we's little boys and lived at home on pap's old plantation afore any of us was dead."
The young gentlemen readily excused the old man's silence, and when the slanting beams of the setting sun betokened the approach of night, they all, with the exception of Ashton, began to speak of returning home. Mr. Middleton urged them to stay, saying, "What's the use of goin'? Nancy's got beds enough, I reckon, and will be right glad of a chance to show her new calico kiverlids, and besides we are goin' to have some briled hen in the morning, so stay."
But as the next day was the Sabbath, the gentlemen declined the invitation, and bidding the host "good-bye," they were soon on their way homeward, each declaring that he had seldom spent a pleasanter day. As they can undoubtedly find their way to Frankfort without our assistance, we will remain at Uncle Joshua's together with Mr. William Middleton and Ashton. The latter felt as if he had suddenly found an old friend, and as nothing of importance required his presence at home, he decided to remain where he was until Monday.
That evening, after everything was "put to rights" and Mr. Middleton had yelled out his usual amount of orders, he returned to the porch, where his brother and Ashton were still seated. Lighting his old cob pipe he said, "Come, Bill, Nancy'll fetch out her rockin' cheer and knittin' work, and we'll hear the story of your doin's in that heathenish land, but be kinder short, for pears like I'd lived a year today, and I feel mighty like goin' to sleep."
After a moment's silence Mr. Middleton commenced: "I shall not attempt to justify myself for running away as I did, and yet I cannot say that I have ever seriously regretted visiting those countries, which I probably shall never look upon again. I think I wrote to you, Joshua, that I took passage on the ship Santiago, which was bound for the East Indies. Never shall I forget the feeling of loneliness which crept over me, on the night when I first entered the city of Calcutta, and felt that I was indeed alone in a foreign land, and that more than an ocean's breadth rolled between me and my childhood's home. But it was worse than useless to dwell upon the past. I had my fortune to make, and I began to look about for some employment. At last I chanced to fall in with an intelligent Spaniard, Signor de Castello. He was a wealthy merchant, and for several years had resided in Calcutta. As he spoke the English language fluently, I found no trouble in making his acquaintance.
"He seemed pleased with me and offered me the situation of clerk in his counting room. I accepted his offer, and also became an inmate of his dwelling, which was adorned with every conceivable luxury. His family consisted of himself and his daughter, Inez."
At the mention of Inez, Ashton half started from his chair, but immediately reseating himself, listened while Mr. Middleton proceeded: "I will not attempt to describe Inez, for I am too old now to even feel young again, by picturing to your imagination the beauty of that fair Spaniard. I will only say that I never saw one, whose style of beauty would begin to compare with hers, until I beheld my niece, Julia."
"Lord knows, I hope she wan't like Tempest," said Uncle Joshua, at the same time relieving his mouth of its overflowing contents.
"I do not know whether she were or not," answered Mr. Middleton, "I only know that Inez seemed too beautiful, too gentle, for one to suspect that treachery lurked beneath the soft glance of her dark eyes. I know not why it was, but Castello, from the first seemed to entertain for me a strong friendship, and at last I fully believe the affection he felt for me was second only to what he felt for his daughter. But he could not remain with us, and in eighteen months after I first knew him, he took one of the fevers common to that sultry climate, and in the course of a few days he was dead. I wrote to you of his death, but I did not tell you that he had left a will, in which all his immense wealth was equally divided between myself and Inez. He did not express his desire that we should marry, but I understood it so, and thenceforth looked upon Inez as belonging exclusively to myself."
"You didn't marry her, though, I take it," said Joshua, making a thrust at an enormous mosquito, which had unceremoniously alighted upon his brawny foot.
"No," answered William, "I did not marry her, but 'twas not my fault. She played me false. Six months after her father's death we were to be married. The evening previous to our wedding arrived. I was perfectly happy, but Inez seemed low-spirited, and when I inquired the cause she answered, 'Nothing, except a little nervous excitement.' I readily believed her; but when the morning came the cause of her low spirits was explained. The bird had flown, with a young Englishman, Sir Arthur Effingham, who had been a frequent guest at my house."
"That was one of Tempest's capers to a dot," said Uncle Joshua, "but go on, Bill, and tell us whether the disappointment killed you or not."
So William proceeded: "Instead of my bride, I found a note from Inez, in which she asked pardon for what she had done, saying she had long loved Sir Arthur, but did not dare tell me so. They were going to England, whither she wished me to send a part of her portion, as her husband was not wealthy. I could understand Inez's character perfectly, and could readily see that she preferred a titled but poor Englishman to a wealthy, but plain American, so I gave her up quietly."
"And was mighty glad to get shut of her so," interrupted Joshua.
"From that time," continued William, "I gave up all thoughts of marriage, and devoted myself to increasing my wealth, and spending it for my own comfort and the good of others. Twelve years ago I chanced to go on board the Delphine, and there I found Ashton."
"Look at him, for gracious sake," said Uncle Joshua, pointing toward Ashton. "Why man, you are as white as one of Judy's biscuit; what ails you?"
"Nothing," answered Ashton, who really was much affected by Mr. Middleton's narrative; but he said, "I am only thinking of the long, weary days I passed in the Delphine before Mr. Middleton kindly cared for me."
This seemed quite natural, and Mr. Middleton continued: "Ashton was wasted to a mere skeleton by ship fever, and my heart yearned toward him. Perhaps I felt a stronger sympathy for him when I learned that he was an American. He, like myself, had run away. The vessel, in which he had embarked, had been wrecked, and he, with two others, were saved in a small boat. For days they floated above the broad expanse of waters until at length the Delphine picked them up, and brought them to India. I had Ashton removed to my house, but as soon as he recovered, he took French leave of me. From that time I lived alone. I wrote to you frequently, but got no answer. My letters must have been lost, but I then concluded you were dead. At last I began to have such an ardent desire to tread my native soil once more that I disposed of my property and set out for home, so here I am and have told you my history; what do you think of it?"
There was no answer save the sound of heavy breathing; Uncle Joshua had probably got to sleep "all over." The cessation of his brother's voice awoke him, and rubbing his eyes he said, "Yes, yes, Ashton had the ship fever. I hope he can't give it now, for I'm mortal feared on't."
Ashton assured him there was no danger, and then, turning to William, said, "Have you ever heard from Inez?"
"Yes," said Mr. Middleton. "About a year after her marriage I heard of the birth of a daughter, whom she called Inez Middleton. I have heard of them once or twice since, but not recently."
After a moment's silence Ashton, with some hesitation, said, "If I mistake not, I know Inez Effingham well."
"You know Inez, my Inez--where--how--tell me all," said Mr. Middleton, grasping Ashton's hand as if a new link suddenly added to the chain of friendship which already bound them together.
"You probably remember," said Ashton, "that when I left you so suddenly there was an American vessel in port. I was anxious to return home, but fancied you would oppose it, so I left without a word, and went on board the ship. During the voyage, I found that one of the crew was from my native town. I eagerly inquired after my parents and my little sister Nellie, whom you so often heard me mention. Judge of my feelings when told that they were all dead. In the agony of the moment, I attempted to throw myself overboard, but was prevented. From that time all desire to return was gone, and when at last we stopped at one of the ports in England, I left the vessel to try my fortune in the mother country."
"But Inez," said Mr. Middleton, "what of Inez?"
"I will tell you," answered Ashton. "After remaining in England some years I became acquainted with her father, Sir Arthur Effingham, who lived forty miles from London. He invited me to visit his house and there I first saw Inez and her mother. To know Inez was to love her, but I could not hope to win the haughty Englishman's daughter, and besides she was so young that I did not believe I had made any impression upon her. But, encouraged by Lady Effingham, I at length ventured to ask Inez of her father. I did not wish to marry her then, as she was only fourteen, but her father spurned me with contempt, and bade me never again enter his house. I obeyed, but tried many times to procure an interview with Inez. I succeeded, and told her I was about to leave England for America, but should never forget her. I would not suffer her to bind herself to me by any promise, but expressed my belief that at some future time she would be mine. It is three years since we parted. I came immediately to America, but I could not bear to return to my old home, and see it occupied by others, so I wandered this way and at last settled in Frankfort as a merchant."
Here he stopped and Mr. Middleton said, "You have not told me of the mother. Does she still live?"
Ashton answered, "She was living when I left England, but Inez has since written me of her death."
"That will do, Ashton; that will do. I do not wish to hear any more now," said Mr. William.
While Mr. Middleton and Ashton were relating their adventures, Aunt Katy was busily engaged in superintending the arrangement of "Marster William's" sleeping room. Mrs. Middleton had bidden Judy to see that everything was put in order, but Aunt Katy seemed to think nothing could be done right unless she had an oversight of it. So she was walking back and forth, consulting with Judy a little and ordering her a good deal.
"Now, Judy," said she, "hain't you no more idees of ilegance than to push the bedstead smack up agin the clarbuds; just pull it out a foot or two, as old Miss use to do."
Judy complied with her request and she continued: "Lordy sakes--don't Miss Nancy know better than to put Marster William to sleep in such coarse sheets," at the same time casting a rueful glance at the linens which Judy had put upon the bed. "You set down, Judy," said Aunt Katy, "and I'll tend to the bed myself."
So saying she hobbled off to her cabin and opening her "old red chist," drew from it a pair of half-worn, but very fine linen sheets. These she shook most lustily in order to free them from the rose leaves, lavender sprigs and tobacco, which she had placed between their folds. With the former she thought to perfume them, while the latter was put there for the purpose of keeping out moths. The old creature had heard that tobacco was good to keep moths from woolens, and she knew of no reason why it would not answer every purpose for linen.
"Thar," said she, on returning to the house, "these begins to look a little like Marster William. They was gin to me by old marster, jest afore he died. They 'longed to old Miss, and if any one on us could read, I reckon we should find her name on 'em somewhar writ in brawdery."
When the bed and room were adjusted to her satisfaction, she went down to the kitchen and took a seat there. Here Aunt Judy found her about ten o'clock that night.
"What on airth you sittin' here for?" said she.
"Oh, I's only waitin' till Marster William gets a little used to his room afore I axes him how he likes it and does he want anything."
Accordingly, not long after, Aunt Katy stole upstairs and opening the door called out, "Ho, Marster William, does you want anything, and is you got enough kiver?"
But "Marster William's" senses were too soundly locked in sleep to heed the faithful creature, and after standing still a moment, she said to herself, "I'm mighty feared he'll cotch cold."
So back she went to her cabin and from the same "red chist" took a many-colored patchwork quilt. This she carried to the house and spread carefully over Mr. Middleton, saying, "He won't be none too comfortable, and in the mornin' he'll see it, and I'll tell him I done pieced and quilted it my own self."
The consequence of this extra covering was that Mr. Middleton awoke in the night with the impression that he was being suffocated in the hot climate of Calcutta! He did not know that she, to whom he was indebted for his warm berth, was now sleeping quietly and dreaming "how tickled Marster William would be when he knew she had lent him her spare sheets and bedquilt!"