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[Illustration: A. B. Ross, THE DEBUT
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GRAHAM'S MAGAZINE.

VOL. XXXIII. PHILADELPHIA, DECEMBER, 1848. NO. 6.




MILDRED WARD.

OR THE DEBUT.

BY MRS. CAROLINE H. BUTLER.

[SEE ENGRAVING.]


CHAPTER I.

Archibald Dundass was a rich Jamaica planter, whose estates were
situated in one of the most delightful regions in that garden of the
West India isles. His wife, an English lady, of great personal
attractions and highly connected, died when Helen, their only child,
had just entered her thirteenth year, an age when, perhaps, a mother's
counsel and tender guidance is most required. When the news of Mrs.
Dundass's death reached her friends, they immediately wrote,
beseeching the bereaved husband to come at once to England with his
child, or if not expedient for himself to leave Jamaica, that he would
at least suffer the little Helen to come to them; and especially did
they urge the plea that thereby he would enable her to receive a more
finished education than could possibly be acquired upon the island.

This plea, to be sure, offered a strong inducement to Mr. Dundass; but
how could he school his heart to this second bereavement. Helen
possessed all her mother's traits - her dark blue eyes - her golden hair
and skin of dazzling purity - the smile that played around her dimpled
mouth - her light airy step, were all her mother's. Looking upon her
thus in her budding loveliness the Helen of his youth once more moved
before him. To yield her up he could not - and therefore Mr. Dundass
rejected the oft-repeated entreaties of his English friends. Helen
remained in Jamaica. A governess was provided, and whatever money
could secure in the way of learning was most freely expended.

Mr. Dundass possessed many noble traits of character, yet pride was a
very strong ingredient in his composition leading him not unfrequently
into errors which his sober judgment condemned. Still he was generally
beloved, especially by his slaves, to whom he was a kind, indulgent
master. Knowing himself to be one of the richest, if not _the_ richest
proprietor upon the island, it was natural he should mark out an
alliance for his daughter commensurate with the fortune her hand would
bestow. When, therefore, Helen, beaming and beautiful as the star of
evening, burst from the confinement of the school-room to dazzle all
eyes and move all hearts, what wonder that pride and ambition swelled
the heart of Mr. Dundass. But


"Love will venture in where it daur nae weel be seen;"


and, unfortunately for the realization of those ambitious dreams, a
mutual love had already sprung up between Helen and a young man
without friends or fortune, whom her father had received into favor,
and employed for some years in his counting-room.

To appeal to Mr. Dundass for his sanction to their union Ward knew
would be vain, and he therefore prevailed upon the imprudent Helen to
elope with him, assuring her that her father's anger would be but
momentary, and that his great affection triumphing over resentment,
would compel him to forgive her error, and open his arms to welcome
her return. But, unhappily, it was not so. There was no moving the
heart of Mr. Dundass to forgiveness. His anger and resentment were as
boundless as had been his love. He refused to see his child, spurned
her from his door, and to all the numerous and penitent letters she
addressed him, gave no reply. The blow was, indeed, a heavy one,
coming from one so idolized; his affections, as well as his
long-cherished pride, were crushed, and his resentment rose in
proportion.

In the meantime Ward had removed to a distant part of the island with
his young and beautiful bride, where he had obtained a situation which
promised to be lucrative. That he loved his young wife who for his
sake had renounced wealth, station, and a father's love, cannot be
doubted; but that he also held a corner of his heart for the
possessions she might inherit, is also certain. His disappointment,
therefore, at the inflexibility of Mr. Dundass was extreme, and
mingled with it a bitterness which, in a short time, displayed itself
toward his unoffending wife, and in an irritability which, ere the end
of a twelvemonth, caused his employer to dismiss him from his service.
From that time the life of poor Helen was most wretched, bitterly
reaping in tears and poverty the fruits of disobedience. From place to
place she followed her husband wherever he could obtain employ, but of
which his idle, dissolute habits soon deprived him. A constitution
naturally feeble sunk under the inroads of dissipation. Ere three
years a wife Helen became a widow. Her situation was now truly
deplorable. Without money, without friends, and thrown upon the cold
charity of the world ere yet she had reached her twentieth year. For
the sake of her innocent babe she resolved to make one more appeal to
the mercy of her father.

Over mountain ridges, through deep valleys - crossing dense forests and
treacherous rivulets - sometimes on foot, sometimes indebted to the
kindness of some chance traveler for a few miles ride, Helen at length
drew near the home of her childhood, and stole, unannounced, into the
presence of her father. The moment was propitious. Mr. Dundass had
already learned the death of his son-in-law, and the probable
destitution of his daughter. In those three years alienation from his
only child he had suffered much, and untimely old age had silvered his
temples and worn deep furrows o'er his brow. Not all his wealth, not
all the goadings of disappointed ambition, nor even the sting her
ingratitude had left, could drive her image from his heart, or check
the still small voice of conscience, which whispered that not even her
errors could excuse the harshness with which she had been repulsed.
The death of Ward seemed to unite Helen once more to him. Over her
misfortunes he shed bitter tears; and although pride still rebelled
against the yearnings of his heart, and made him resolve he would
never more admit her to his presence, yet even at the moment when she
fell fainting and exhausted at his feet, he was meditating some
measures by which he could place her and her little one above want.
Ah! pride, anger, enduring obstinacy, where are ye now? There was a
well of love in that old man's heart whose depths ye had not yet
probed. One look at the sad, care-worn face of Helen; one glance at
the innocent babe pillowed upon her breast, and that fount of love was
unsealed. The father took them to his breast and blessed them.


CHAPTER II.

A few years and Helen, more beautiful than ever, again made her
appearance in society, and again Mr. Dundass cherished his darling
dream of her forming some high connection. Little Mildred, in the
meanwhile, having been sent to England under the charge of a faithful
nurse, to receive her education.

A second time, however, was Mr. Dundass doomed to disappointment. The
charming and attractive young widow gave her hand to Mr. Donaldson, a
Scotch gentleman, whose only recommendation in the eyes of Mr.
Dundass was a showy exterior and a superb set of teeth. He had known
him for many years, and had always regarded him as more shrewd than
honest, and one who, where his own interests were concerned, would let
no scruples of conscience stand in the way of his advancement. He
thought him rich, but he had much rather he had been poor, if able to
boast a titled descent. The idea, therefore, of this second marriage
of his daughter gave him in reality as little satisfaction as the
first. His reluctant consent was, however, at length obtained, and
Helen borne off a second time a bride from her father's house.

The plantation of Mr. Donaldson was delightfully located in a most
lovely region of hill and dale, sparkling with delicious rivulets, and
sprinkled with charming groves of the deep-tinted pimento, the
graceful palm, and magnificent cotton-trees, and the air rife with the
fragrance of the orange and citron blossoms, through which, like
winged jewels, glanced birds of the most brilliant plumage. Whatever
may have been the errors which Mr. Dundass detected in the moral
character of Mr. Donaldson, he was a most tender and devoted husband;
and in this paradise to which he had brought her, the happiness of
Helen seemed perfect. The Cascade, as Mr. Donaldson had named his
station, from the numerous little rills and waterfalls in the
neighborhood, was distant fifty miles from Mount Dundass, yet the
intercourse between father and daughter continued uninterrupted until
the infirmities of age pressing upon Mr. Dundass, rendered his visits
to the Cascade less frequent, and the cares of a growing family
confining Mrs. Donaldson more closely at home.

Helen was now the mother of several children, charming, bright little
girls, yet it was strange that Mr. Dundass never seemed to regard them
in the same tender light he did Mildred Ward. Mr. Donaldson had never
seen Mildred, but already in his heart he hated her. The partiality of
the grandfather rankled his inmost soul, for he saw plainly it would
interfere with the prospects of his own children. Indeed, Mr. Dundass
had already settled fifty thousand dollars upon his granddaughter
Mildred, asserting also that at his death that sum should be doubled.
Mr. Donaldson possessed great influence over his wife - his words to
her were oracles - his wishes laws. By degrees, therefore, he instilled
into her mind a jealousy against her absent child, mingled with
feelings of resentment toward her father, that, to the exclusion of
her little Grace and Anna, he should have made her the object of his
love and munificence. This feeling once engendered Mr. Donaldson took
good care to keep alive. The poison worked slowly but so secretly,
that no doubt Helen herself would have been shocked could she have
read her own heart and found that, instigated by jealousy, a mother's
tenderness for her first-born was fast turning to bitterness.

In the meantime seventeen rosy summers had flitted as some fairy dream
over the head of Mildred, when her grandfather, no longer able to
resist his desire of seeing her, urged her return to Jamaica.


CHAPTER III.

To merry England our story now takes us, that we may trace a brief
sketch of those scenes wherein the days of Mildred had glided so
happily away.

Norcross Hall, the ancestral domain of the late Mrs. Dundass was
situated in one of England's most charming nooks, about forty miles
from the great metropolis. It was an ancient building, the main part
of which was said to have been erected in the time of Elizabeth - but
of this little of the original structure remained. Its present
occupant, Sir Hugh Norcross, was the son of Mrs. Dundass's eldest
brother, and to his guardianship the little Mildred had been
consigned. In this charming family she was treated with the utmost
tenderness, receiving the same education and sharing the same pursuits
as her little cousins, between whom and herself a lively affection
sprung up. Lady Norcross was a superior woman, both of mind and heart;
and under her guidance and gentle teachings, which her every-day life
so beautifully exemplified, what wonder that the little family growing
up around her should prove all that was good and lovely. Helen
Norcross was near the same age as Mildred, Rupert three years her
senior. It was not until the latter had reached his fourteenth year
that the three cousins were ever separated, even for a single day; but
now, Rupert was sent to Eton, and the two girls were left to weep and
mourn his absence, or to study a thousand delightful projects to
welcome his return at the holydays.

What happy seasons those were when, released for a time from the
thraldom of college pursuits, Rupert once more sprung in freedom
through the haunts of his childhood; the old walls rung with cheerful
voices, and every dell and dingle echoed to the merry music of their
happy hearts. And then, as each holyday came round, what changes
marked their progress. The two little girls had become graceful,
lovely women, while Rupert from a school-boy had as suddenly shot up
into a tall, elegant young man.

Sir Hugh and his lady saw with pleasure the attachment of the cousins;
they already loved Mildred as their daughter, and it was the nearest
wish of their hearts that in time the affection which now united them
might assume a more enduring form. As the education of Mildred might
now be considered completed, and the object for which she had been
sent to them attained, they grew every day more and more fearful that
Mrs. Donaldson would claim her long absent child. Mildred was too
young when she left Jamaica to have other than a faint recollection of
her mother; she could only remember the beautiful blue eyes which used
to meet hers so fondly, and the long golden ringlets through which, as
she nestled in mamma's lap, she had played bo-peep with an old
gentleman in a high-backed elbow-chair. Then she was so happy at
Norcross Hall that when her heart whispered to her, as it often did,
of her other dear mother in a far-off land, she could not but reproach
herself for not being more impatient for the moment to arrive when she
might again embrace her. But now the time drew near when she must bid
farewell to this cherished spot.

April had smiled farewell in tears, and May with her beauteous buds
and blossoms danced over the green earth. The streams welcomed her
presence with songs of glee, and the forests dressed in fresh beauty
opened their arms to greet her presence. It was yet early morning, and
to the uplifting of the rosy curtain draping the couch of the day-god
the birds were singing a merry prelude, as two young men stole softly
around an angle of the old building, and crept silently under the
shadow of the wall, until they stood beneath the windows of an
apartment whose inmates were probably buried in sleep, as through the
half-closed shutter the curtains appeared still closely drawn.

"You see I have proved a true prophet, for the girls still sleep,"
cried the taller of the two, laughing. "Now fie upon their laziness
this bright May morning - why we should have been off to the dell an
hour since, to gather the flowers ere the sun kissed away their
freshness."

"Now I will warrant you, Rupert," replied the other, "that while we
stand here with 'dewy feet,' maybe catching our deaths from this early
exposure of our delicate frames, the little jades are quietly dreaming
over the last new romance, or their first ball - come, let us arouse
them with a song!" and dropping on one knee, the young man placed his
hand upon his heart, and lifting his eyes to the window in the most
languishing manner began:


"Come, come to me, love,
Come, love, arise -
And shame the bright stars
With the light of thine eyes,
Look out from thy lattice,
O lady - "


"Very well sung, most tender swain - what a pity Mildred and myself by
our too early rising lost the melting expression of those upturned
orbs!" cried Helen, issuing with her cousin from a thicket of
rose-bushes. "So you thought us still sleeping, slanderers, when we
have already brushed the dew from the lawn, and look here," (showering
down a quantity of early violets,) "see what we stole from Flora while
you two were sleeping."

A few moments were spent in playful badinage, and then the happy party
strolled off in the direction of the dell. But, alas! like many of our
brightest hopes this morn which dawned so blissfully was destined to
end in sorrow! Upon the return of the party to the Hall, Sir Hugh with
a sorrowful countenance placed in the hands of Mildred a package of
letters. She grew pale as she read, and ere she had finished burst
into tears, and handing the package to Sir Hugh fled to her chamber.
Those letters contained the mandate for her return to Jamaica. That
very week she must leave Norcross Hall, its beloved inmates, and all
the delightful scenes of her childhood, and hasten to London, to join
a family who were about returning to the island, and to whose charge
her grandfather had consigned her.

The grief which filled all hearts at this dreaded separation may
easily be imagined. Rupert was nearly crazy at the thought. He now
felt how dear Mildred was to him, and that to part with her was like
rending soul and body. But certain that his love would meet the
sanction of his parents, knowing how tenderly they regarded her, he
hastened to make known his feelings to them, and to entreat that he
might accompany Mildred to Jamaica, and demand the consent of her
friends to their union.

"No, my dear son," said Sir Hugh, "Mildred is yet very young - of the
world she knows little, and it would be cruel to shackle her with ties
which she may in time be brought to abhor, nor would it be doing
justice to her friends to bind down her affections to us alone. Leave
her free, Rupert; if she loves you, that love will not diminish by
absence, and I promise you that in due time you shall be allowed to
prosecute your suit in the presence of her mother, and should you be
so fortunate as to win a bride so lovely, your parents' hearts will
welcome her with joy."

How coldly his father reasoned thought the ardent young lover, but
accustomed to yield all deference to his wishes, he consented that
Mildred should depart without knowing how necessary her love was to
his happiness.

Both Sir Hugh and Rupert accompanied her to London, and saw her safely
on board her majesty's ship the Essex, bound for Jamaica.


CHAPTER IV.

Leaving Mildred to pursue her voyage we will see what preparations
were already making for her return by Mr. Donaldson.

This gentleman was by no means as rich as many supposed him to be. His
plantations were valuable, and located advantageously, but whether
from mismanagement, or from circumstances beyond his control, for
several years his affairs had become greatly involved, and he had only
been saved from absolute ruin through the scheming friendship of a
Spaniard named Perozzi - a man whose cunning was as deep as his own,
and who by advancing large sums from time to time, only sought to
entangle his victim in such a snare as should secure him in the end
his valuable possessions. Pride prevented Mr. Donaldson from applying
to Mr. Dundass - every year matters grew worse, until finally he felt
himself to be completely in the power of Perozzi, who had even begun
to threaten loudly, and talk of distraining. It was at this critical
juncture that Mr. Dundass declared his intention of sending for
Mildred Ward. A project now suddenly suggested itself to Mr. Donaldson
which promised to relieve him from his difficulties, and which he
seized upon in his selfishness with as little conscience as the
highwayman who robs you of life in order to obtain your purse.

Mounting his mule he one morning rode over to the "Pen" of Perozzi,
some few miles farther down the valley. He was received rather coolly.

"Your timely visit has saved me a ride this morning, Donaldson," said
the Spaniard. "I have an imperative necessity for my money, or at
least for a part of it."

"My dear fellow, the very thing I have come to talk about!" said
Donaldson.

"_Corambre - to talk about!_ It must be something more than talk - words
will not answer my purpose," replied Perozzi, his sharp black eye
glittering with hate. "I tell you money I must have - money I will
have, or - "

"Good God, Perozzi, don't drive me to desperation. You know I cannot
pay you a single piastre! Only wait until I receive my return sales
from England, and I swear to you you shall receive your last
farthing!"

"Holy Mother Mary! your return sales from England!" exclaimed the
other, in a tone of cutting sarcasm. "In what manner of vessel must
those same returns be coming, for, if my memory serves me, Columbus
discovered a new world in less time than this same richly-freighted
_caravela_ has been crossing the Atlantic - this has been your answer
for twice a twelvemonth. And now," he continued, suddenly altering his
tone, and striding to the side of his victim, "there must be an end of
this - either pay me what you owe me, or give me a quit claim to the
Cascade, for which you have already received from me more than its
value."

"By heavens, Perozzi!" cried Mr. Donaldson, turning pale with anger
and mortification, "this is more than I can bear even from you; but
come," he added, suddenly forcing a laugh, "it was to see you upon a
more pleasing errand I came here."

"_Corambre!_" whistled through the teeth of the Spaniard.

"Hark ye, Perozzi; what would you say if I could this moment promise
to place you in possession of one hundred thousand dollars and - a
wife?"

"Say! why that the Devil helped you to cajole, and then deserted you
at the pinch, as he always does!" replied Perozzi.

"No cajolery about it, as you shall find," answered Mr. Donaldson.
"But come, let us sit - by your leave I'll taste your wine; your
health, signor, and" (turning out a second glass) "here is another to
Madame Perozzi - ha-ha-ha! There - now," said he, setting down his glass
with a force which nearly shivered it, "listen to me. You know that
Mrs. Donaldson, by her first husband, had one daughter, Mildred Ward,
who is at this moment on her return from England, whither she was sent
at an early age for her education. She is now, by the bye, seventeen,
and, as report informs us, extremely beautiful and accomplished. Now
what think you, Perozzi, of the charming Mildred for a wife?"

"I want money - no wife!" moodily replied Perozzi, draining a third
glass.

"Precisely - money," answered the other; "and that is what the fair
hand of Mildred tenders you."

"One hundred thousand dollars, did you say, Donaldson?" said the
Spaniard, with a searching gaze.

"I did. Fifty thousand with the wedding-ring, and the balance when the
old man, her grandfather, dies."

Excellent, by the Virgin! - ha-ha-ha! No one can dispute your skill in
diplomacy; but methinks it would be well to know by what method you
propose to bring about a "consummation so devoutly to be wished," said
Perozzi, with a sneer.

"Leave that to me; only act with me, and Mildred Ward becomes your
wife just so certain as I now drink to you - your health, signor."

"And, pray, allow me to ask," said Perozzi, "what benefit you expect
to reap from such unparalleled generosity - it cannot surely be out of
pure love to me that you thus


"Buckle fortune on my back
To bear her burthen whether I will or no!"


"You are right," answered Mr. Donaldson, dropping the servile tone in
which he had before spoken, "you are right - it is from no love to you;
my object is this. You know as well as I do the utter impracticability
of my refunding any part of the money I owe you at present. True, you
may seize my estates, but this I think you will hardly do in
preference to the plan I propose; it would be at best but a vexatious
affair, while by accepting my proposition you secure not only an
equivalent for your debt, but also the hand of a charming young girl."

"Well, well, to the point," interrupted the Spaniard, impatiently.

"It is simply this; give me your written promise to release me from
all obligation, return me whatever notes you hold against me, and I on
my part pledge to you the hand and fortune of my step-daughter."

Perozzi remained for some moments in deep revery, as if studying the
feasibility of the proposed plan. "I have half a mind to try it," he
mused; "it may do - the connection will be a good one. Old Dundass is
as rich as a Jew, and a man of great influence; while on the other
hand, should the project fail, I shall be no worse off than now,
unless an earthquake should swallow up the estates from my grasp."

"There is one contingency which seems to have entirely escaped your
forecast," he exclaimed aloud, turning to Mr. Donaldson, "the lady may
not be of your way of thinking - she may prove refractory."

"Leave that to me," was the reply.

"I may not fancy her."

"Nor the money?" added Mr. Donaldson, with a meaning smile.

"Ah, there, I grant, you have me. Well, well, I am willing to talk the
matter over with you a little more freely. Miss Ward is handsome, you
say?"

"As a Houri."

"And young?"

"Scarce seventeen."

"Very well - now to business."

But we have already entered into sufficient detail of the conversation
of these two men to show the reader in what peril poor Mildred stood
from their machinations. It is enough to say that ere they parted,


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Online LibraryVariousGraham's Magazine, Vol XXXIII, No. 6, December 1848 → online text (page 1 of 16)