In Uncle Joshua's home there were sad, troubled faces and anxious hearts, as the husband and daughter watched by the wife and mother, whose life on earth was well-nigh ended. From her mother's family Mrs. Middleton had inherited the seeds of consumption, which had fastened upon her.
Day by day, they watched her, and when at last she left them it seemed so much like falling away to sleep that Mr. Middleton, who sat by her, knew not the exact moment which made him a lonely widower. The next afternoon sympathizing friends and neighbors assembled to pay the last tribute of respect to Mrs. Middleton, and many an eye overflowed, and more than one heart ached as the gray-haired old man bent sadly above the coffin, which contained the wife of his early love. But he mourned not as one without hope, for her end had been peace, and when upon her face his tears fell he felt assured that again beyond the dark river of death he should meet her.
The night succeeding the burial Mr. Middleton's family, overcome with fatigue and grief, retired early to their rooms, but Fanny could not sleep, and between ten and eleven she arose and throwing on her dressing gown nervously walked up and down her sleeping room. It was a little over a year after her marriage. Through the closed shutters the rays of a bright September moon were stealing, and attracted by the beauty of the night, Fanny opened the blinds and the room was filled with a flood of soft, pale light. From the window where she stood she could distinguish the little graveyard, with its cypress and willow trees, and its white monument gleaming through the silvery moonlight, and near that monument was a dark spot, the grave of her beloved mother. "If all nights were as lovely as this," thought she, "it would not seem half so dreary to sleep in the cold dark grave," and then Fanny fell into a fit of musing of the night that would surely come when she would first be left alone in the shadowy graveyard.
In the midst of her reverie her attention was attracted by a slight female figure, which from some quarters had approached unperceived, and now upon the newly-made grave was bowing itself in apparent weeping. The size and form of the girl were so much like Luce that Fanny concluded it must be she, at the same time wondering how, with her superstitious ideas, she ventured alone near a grave in the night time. In a moment, however, she saw that Tiger, the watch dog, was with her, and at the same instant the sound of a suppressed sob fell on her ear. "Poor Luce," said she, "I did not think she loved my mother so well. I will go to her and mingle my tears with hers."
In a short time Fanny was in the open air, and on her way to the graveyard. As she approached her mother's grave, she said gently, "Luce, Luce, why are you out so late?"
The person addressed partially raised her head and answered hurriedly, "Oh, Fanny, Fanny, do not be frightened and leave me; I am not dead, and never was buried in that grave, as you suppose, but I am here tonight a living, repentant woman," and throwing back her bonnet, the thin, white face of Julia Middleton was in the bright moonlight perfectly distinguishable to Fanny, who at first recoiled in fear and leaned for support against the marble pillar near which she was standing.
She, however, soon recovered her self-command and glancing at the object on the grave, saw that she was caressing Tiger, who seemed trying various ways to evince his joy at finding one whom he had long missed, for he had ever been Julia's favorite. Their fiery natures accorded well! Again Julia spoke, "Fanny, dear Fanny. In an adjoining state I heard of mother's illness and hastened to see her, but I am too late. Now, do not think me a phantom, for see, Tiger recognizes me and welcomes me home, and will not you?"
An instant Fanny wavered, then with a half-fearful, half-joyful cry she went forward, and by the grave of the mother that day lowered to the dust, the sisters met in a long, fervent embrace.
Into the best chamber of their father's house Fanny led the weeping, repentant girl, and gently removing her bonnet and shawl, bade her lie down on the nicely-cushioned lounge, while she went for her father. As she was leaving the room Julia arose and laid her small, bony hand on Fanny's shoulder. It had rested there before, for in the graveyard, with their buried mother between them, Julia's arms had encircled her sister's neck; but the first excitement was over, and now involuntarily Fanny shrank from that touch, for in spite of all her courage, she could not help associating Julia with the grass-grown grave, and the large white monument.
"What is it, Julia?" she said calmly. "Do you wish to see father?"
"Oh, yes, yes," answered Julia, "but not him, the other one--at least not tonight. You understand."
"I do," said Fanny, and she glided down the stairs toward her father's room. He was awake, for ere her hand touched the doorknob, his sonorous "Who's thar?" fell on her ear. This somewhat disconcerted her, for she had intended stopping near his door, to devise the best means by which to break the intelligence. But "Who's thar?" was again repeated, and entering the room she said softly, "It's I, father."
"Why, sure enough," said he, and then as the light from her lamp fell on her features, he exclaimed, "why, how white you be! What's the matter? Who's upstairs? Is George sick?"
"No, George is not sick," said Fanny, "but--," and then as well as she could she told him all she knew.
Uncle Joshua's nervous system was unstrung, and his physical health impaired by long nights of watching with his wife, and now when this fresh shock came upon him, he fell back half-fainting upon his pillow. Then rousing himself, he said, "Alive and come back! I don't desarve this. But where is she? I will go to her."
Fanny directed him where to find her, and then returned to Julia, whither her father soon followed. Uncle Joshua was not prepared for the change in his daughter. He did not even think of her as he saw her last, wasted by sickness, but in imagination he beheld her as she was in her days of health and dazzling beauty, when with diabolical cunning she had brought Dr. Lacey to her feet. Now, however, her face was thin, white and haggard, for such a life as she had lived had never conduced to the beauty and health of any one. Her eyes, sunken in their sockets, and swollen with recent weeping, looked frightfully large and wild, and to complete the metamorphosis, her beautiful, glossy hair was now cut short on her neck, and pushed far back from a brow, across which lay more than one premature wrinkle.
The sight of her for a time unsettled the old man's reason. Taking her in his arms he alternately cried and laughed over her, saying, "I knew you'd come. I expected it. I've waited for you."
Julia's altered appearance troubled him, and drawing her head down upon his bosom, and laying his hand on her thin, white face, he said, "Poor child, what has changed you so, and whar have you been; and who did I buy that big stun for if 'twasn't for you?"
"Not tonight, dear father," answered Julia. "Let me rest tonight and tomorrow I will tell you all."