JULIA AT HOME AGAIN
Overcome with fatigue and excitement, Julia immediately after her father left her on the preceding night, had fallen into a deep sleep, which was unbroken till long after dawn. Then she was aroused by her father calling up the negroes. Hastily starting up, she looked around her and, for a moment, strove to remember what had happened. Soon she remembered all, and burying her face in the pillows, she sobbed out: "Father, I thank Thee; the prodigal is at last at home."
Hastily arising she proceeded with her toilet, which was nearly completed when Fanny tapped gently at the door, and immediately entered the room, saying, "Good morning, dear Julia. I am so glad you really are here and that it is not a dream. But come, breakfast is waiting and so is father, and so is--so is--George."
"Oh, I can't see him, I can't," said Julia, and Fanny answered, "Oh, never mind him. I have told him all about it, and he is ready to receive you as a sister."
So saying, she led the reluctant girl down the long staircase, through the wide hall to the door of the breakfast room, where Mr. Middleton stood waiting for them. His tones and manner were very affectionate as he kissed the wanderer, and said, "I am so glad you're here."
Julia could have wept, but she would not. There was yet another to meet, and choking down her tears she nerved herself for the trial. Of what occurred next she knew nothing until her cold white hand was clasped by another so warm, so life-giving in its touch that she raised her eyes and met the calm, quiet gaze of Dr. Lacey. Neither of them spoke until Julia, averting her eyes, said, "Am I forgiven?"
"You are," was the answer, and then Uncle Joshua exclaimed, "thar, that'll do. Now come to your breakfast, children, for I'm mighty hungry, and shan't wait another minute."
After breakfast Julia was greatly surprised at seeing her father take from the bookcase the old family Bible, on whose dark dusty covers she remembered having many a time written her name. All was now explained. Her father's gentleness of look and manner were accounted for; and as for the first time in her life she knelt by his side and heard him as he prayed, her heart swelled with emotion, and she longed to tell him, though she dared not hope she was a Christian, she was still trying to lead a different, a better life.
That afternoon in her chamber were seated Mr. Middleton and Fanny, while Julia recounted the story of her wanderings. "The idea of leaving my home," said she, "was not a sudden impulse, else had I returned sooner, but it was the result of long, bitter reflection. In the first days of my humiliation I wished that I might die, for though the thought of death and the dread hereafter made me tremble, it was preferable to the scorn and contempt I should necessarily meet if I survived. Then came a reaction, and when our angel mother glided so noiselessly around my sick room; when you, darling Fanny, nursed me with so much care, and even father's voice grew low and kind as he addressed me, my better nature, if I had any, was touched, and I thought I would like to live for the sake of retrieving the past. But the evil spirit which has haunted me from infancy whispered that as soon as I was well all would be changed. You, Fanny, would hate me, and father would treat me as he always had, only worse."
"Poor dear child! I didn't or'to do so, I know," said Uncle Joshua, and Julia continued: "Then I thought how the world would loathe, and despise and point at me, until I was almost maddened, and when Dr. Gordon said I would live, the tempter whispered suicide; but I dared not do that. About that time I heard rumors of a marriage which would take place as soon as I was well; and Fanny will you forgive me? I tried to be sick as long as possible for the sake of delaying your happiness."
A pressure of the hand was Fanny's only answer, and Julia proceeded: "I could not see you married to him. I could not meet the world and its censure, so I determined to go away. I had thirty dollars in my purse, of which no one knew, and taking that I started, I knew not where. On reaching the schoolhouse something impelled me to enter it, and I found there a young girl about my own size. Under other circumstances I might have been frightened, but now utterly fearless, I addressed her, and found from her answers that she was crazy. A sudden idea entered my brain. I would change clothes with her, and thus avoid discovery. She willingly acceded to my proposition, and in my new attire I again started toward Lexington, which I reached about four in the morning. I had no definite idea as to where I wanted to go, but the sight of the Cincinnati stage drawn up before the Phoenix determined me. I had purposely kept my own bonnet and veil, as the maniac girl wore neither. Drawing the latter over my face, I kept it there while securing my place in the coach, and until we were many miles from the city. Passengers entered and left, and some looked inquisitively at me and my slightly fantastic dress.
"We reached Cincinnati about ten in the morning, and with a long glad breath I stepped from the coach, and felt that Kentucky and my notorious character were behind. I stopped at the ---- Hotel, and the next two days were spent in procuring myself a decent outfit. Each night I went to a different house, for the sake of avoiding suspicion, and as my bills were promptly paid, no questions were ever asked. At the D---- House I saw in a paper an advertisement for a teacher in a school in one of the interior towns. I had formed some such plan for the future, and instantly determined personally to apply for the situation. I did so, but credentials were required, and I had none to give. Somewhat weary of my adventure I returned to Cincinnati, and in passing through one of the streets, my eye caught the sign 'Fashionable Dressmaking and Millinery.' I knew I had a taste for that, and I concluded to offer myself as an apprentice."
Then she told how she had toiled on day after day with dim eye and aching head for over a year in the unwholesome atmosphere of a crowded workshop conducted by a slave-driving, inconsiderate woman named Miss Dillon, while thoughts of home and remorse for the past preyed on her heart.
"But why did you not come back?" asked Fanny. "We would have received you most gladly."
"I felt that I could not do that," said Julia. "I knew that you thought me dead, and I fancied that father, at least, would feel relieved."
"Oh, child," groaned Uncle Joshua, "don't say so. I was mighty mean, I know, but I never got to that."
After a moment Julia told them that she had had to deliver a party dress to Florence Woodburn at Mr. Graham's house one evening and, while waiting in the hall, had heard Florence read a letter from Nellie Stanton aloud to Alice Graham. In the letter, Nellie said that Mrs. Middleton was not expected to live and that Dr. Lacey and Fanny from New Orleans were with her.
This news caused her to resign her position at Miss Dillon's and hurry home. "I reached Lexington," said she, "about nine o'clock in the evening, and as I thought my baggage might incommode me, I purposely left it there, but hired a boy to bring me home. When we reached the gate at the entrance of the woods I told him he could return, as I preferred going the remainder of the way alone. He seemed surprised, but complied with my request. I had never heard of the new house, and as I drew near I was puzzled, and fancied I was wrong; but Tiger bounded forward, at first angrily, then joyfully, and I knew I was right. All about the house was so dark, so still, that a dreadful foreboding filled my heart--a fear that mother might be dead. I remembered the little graveyard and instantly bent my steps thither. I saw the costly marble and the carefully kept grave, and a thrill of joy ran through my veins, for they told me I was kindly remembered in the home I had so darkened. But another object riveted my attention. It was a fresh mound, and I knew full well who rested there. Never have I shed such tears of anguish as fell upon the sod which covers my sainted mother. In the intensity of my grief I was not conscious of Fanny's approach until she stood near me. The rest you know; and now, father, will you receive to your home and affection one who has so widely strayed?"
"Willin'ly, most willin'ly," said Uncle Joshua, as he folded her to his bosom, "and if I had done as I or'to, a heap of this wouldn't have happened. Oh, I didn't or'to do so, I didn't; and I ain't goin' to any more. You shall live with me when Sunshine's gone; and we would be so happy, if your poor mother could only see us and know it all."
From that time nothing could exceed Uncle Joshua's kindness to his daughter. He seemed indeed trying to make up for the past, and frequently he would whisper to himself, "No, I didn't or'to do so. I see more and more that I didn't." Still his fondness for Fanny was undiminished, and occasionally, after looking earnestly at both his children, he would exclaim, "Hang me, if I don't b'lieve Sunshine is a heap the handsomest"; but if these words caused Julia any emotion, 'twas never betrayed.
From Julia's story there could be no doubt that the maniac girl was laid in the grave which Uncle Joshua had thought belonged to his daughter. No tidings of her had been heard, although one gentleman thought that he once had met with a girl answering to her description in the stage coach between Lexington and Cincinnati. All search in that quarter was unavailing, and over her fate a dark mystery lay, until Julia suddenly appeared and threw light on the matter. The afflicted father (for she had no mother) was sent for, and when told where his child was laid, asked permission to have her disinterred and taken to his family burial place. His request was granted, the grave was opened, and then refilled and leveled with the earth. The monument Julia took care to have carefully preserved as a memento of the olden time.
As will be supposed, Julia's return furnished the neighborhood and surrounding country with a topic of conversation for many weeks. At first nearly all treated her with cool neglect, but as she kept entirely at home, curiosity to see one who had, as it were, come back from the dead triumphed over all other things; and at last all who came to see Fanny asked also for her sister.
Among the few who at once hastened to give the penitent girl the hand of friendship was Kate Miller; and as she marked her gentle manner and the subdued glance of her still somewhat haughty eyes, she wound her arm about her neck and whispered, "I shall in time learn to love you dearly for the sake of more than one."
Julia comprehended her, or thought she did, and answered, "Oh, Mrs. Miller, that one dreadful crime has troubled me more than all the rest. I killed him, your noble brother, and from the moment I deliberately determined to do so I became leagued with the tempter, who lured me madly on. But I outdid myself, and was entangled in the snare my own hands had laid."
"It is ever so," answered Kate. "Our most secret sins will in the end find us out."
The reader is perhaps anxious to know whether back across the Atlantic, Ashton brought his Spanish bride. Yes, he did. Mr. William Middleton accompanied him to the house of Sir Arthur Effingham, whom they found to be dying; his property was gone, and he feared that he must leave the youthful Inez to the cold charities of the world and a miserly brother. When Mr. Middleton made himself known, the dying man pointed to Inez, and said, "You once loved the mother; care for the daughter when I am gone, will you?"
"I will," answered Mr. Middleton, "on condition that you consent to having a young friend of mine share the care with me." At the same time he presented Ashton.
Sir Arthur recognized him immediately and answered, "Willingly, most willingly. I was a fool to spurn you once as I did."
In a few hours Sir Arthur was dead, and Inez was an orphan. But her grief was soothed by the presence of Ashton, who, a few days before sailing for America, made her his wife. During the voyage Mr. Middleton informed Ashton that as soon as he reached home he intended making his will, by which he should bequeath his property to Inez. Said he, "I have spent so many years of my life in India that I find the climate of New Orleans more congenial to my feelings than a colder one would be, consequently I shall purchase a house in that city, and as I look upon you and Inez as my children, I shall insist upon your living with me if you have no objection."
During the winter Fanny wrote frequently to her father urging him to visit her; but this he declined doing, and early the following May, he stood one evening impatiently awaiting the arrival of Ike, who had gone to Frankfort with the expectation of meeting Fanny and her husband. Everything had been put in readiness. The parlors and best chamber were opened and aired. The carriage and carriage horses had been brushed up, a new saddle had been bought for Fanny's pony, and a new dress for each of the black women, and everything and everybody seemed expecting a joyful time.
As the carriage approached the house Uncle Joshua looked wistfully toward it, trying to catch a glimpse of "Sunshine," whom he had not seen for nearly a year and a half. But only the face of a little negro girl was seen looking from the window, and Uncle Joshua exclaimed, "Now, what's possessed them to fetch that yaller gal! I've got niggers enough to wait on 'em."
But the "yaller gal" knew very well why she was there, and so ere long did Uncle Joshua. The steps were let down, and there, blithesome and gay as ever, Fanny sprang from the carriage and ran into the arms of her father, who kissed her again and again, holding her off to look at her and then again drawing her to him and saying, "You're handsomer than ever."
During this process the yellow girl, Rose, had brought from the carriage a mysterious looking bundle of flannel and white cambric, which now in Dr. Lacey's arms was crowing with delight as its little nurse bobbed up and down, making at it all sorts of grimaces.
"What the ----, no, I forgot, I didn't mean so. But what--is--that!" said Uncle Joshua, releasing Fanny and advancing toward Dr. Lacey, who proudly placed in his arms a beautiful nine-month-old baby, saying, "We have brought you a second Sunshine."