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he has been separated many years."

"So I heerd him say, sir, when he was a-pickin' her up," answered Ben,
composedly, as if such things were a daily occurrence in the
Adirondacks.

"Can you go with us at once?" continued Mr. Cravath.

"In an hour, sir," said Ben.

And in an hour they were off, a bewildered but on the whole a relieved
and happier party than they had been in the morning. Helen Wingate's
long sorrow in the mysterious disappearance of her husband had ennobled
and purified her character, and greatly endeared her to her friends; but
that which had seemed to them to be explainable only by the fact of his
death or his unworthiness she knew was explainable by her own folly and
pride.

The end of the story is best told in Old Ben's words. He was never tired
of telling it.

"I never heered exactly the hull partikelers," he said, "for they'd gone
long before we got back, and the folks she was with wa'n't the kind that
talks much; but I could see they set a store by her. They'd always liked
Steve, too, up here's a guide. They niver know'd him while he was
a-livin' with her, else they'd ha' know'd him here; but he hadn't lived
with her but a mighty little while's near's I could make out. Yer see,
she was powerful rich, an' he hadn't but little; 'n' for all she was so
much in love with him, she couldn't help a-throwin' it up to him, sort
o', an' he couldn't stan' it. So he jest lit out; an' he'd never ha'
gone back to her, - never under the shining sun. He'd got jest that grit
in him. She'd been a-huntin' everywhere, they said, - all over Europe,
'n' Azhay, 'n' Africa, till she'd given up huntin'; an' he was right
close tu hum all the time. He was a first-rate feller, 'n' we was all
glad when his luck come ter him 't last. I wished I could ha' seen him
to 've asked him if he didn't b'leeve in luck now! Me 'n' him was
talkin' about luck that very mornin' while she was a-steppin' down the
landin' towards him's fast 's ever she could go! My eyes! how that woman
did come a runnin', an' a-callin', 'Guide! guide!' I sha'n't never
forgit it. I asked some o' the fellers how she looked when they went
off, an' they said her eyes was shinin' like stars; but there wasn't any
more of her face to be seen, for she was rolled up in a big red shawl,
It gits hoppin' cold here in September. I've always thought't was that
same red shawl he had in his cabin; but I dunno's 'twas."

"Wall, I bet they had a fust-rate time on that weddin' journey o'
theirn," said one of Ben's rougher cronies one day at the end of the
narrative; "'t ain't every feller gets the chance o' two honeymoons with
the same woman."

Old Ben looked at him attentively. "Youngster," said he, "'t ain't
strange, I suppose, young's you be, th't ye should look at it that way;
but ye're off, crony. Ye don't seem ter recolleck 'bout all them years
they'd lost out of their lives. I tell ye, it's kind o' harrowin' ter
me. Old's I am, and hain't never felt no call ter be married nuther,
it's kind o' harrowin' ter me yit ter think o' that woman's yell she
giv' when she seed Steve's face. If thar warn't jest a hull lifetime o'
misery in't, 'sides the joy o' findin' him, I ain't no jedge. I haven't
never felt no call ter marry, 's I sed; but if I had I wouldn't ha' been
caught cuttin' up no sech didos's that, - a-throwin' away years o' time
they might ha' hed together 'z well's not! Ther' ain't any too much o'
this life, anyhow; 't kinder looks ter you youngsters's ef 't 'd last
forever. I know how 'tis. I hain't forgot nothin', old's I am. But I
tell you, when ye're old's I am, 'n' look back on 't, ye'll be s'prised
ter see how short 'tis, an' ye'll reelize more what a fool a man is, or
a woman too, - an' I do s'pose they're the foolishest o' ther two, - ter
waste a minnit out on 't on querrils, or any other kind o' foolin'."




The Prince's Little Sweetheart.



She was very young. No man had ever made love to her before. She
belonged to the people, - the common people. Her parents were poor, and
could not buy any wedding trousseau for her. But that did not make any
difference. A carriage was sent from the Court for her, and she was
carried away "just as she was," in her stuff gown, - the gown the Prince
first saw her in. He liked her best in that, he said; and, moreover,
what odds did it make about clothes? Were there not rooms upon rooms in
the palace, full of the most superb clothes for Princes' Sweethearts?

It was into one of these rooms that she was taken first. On all sides of
it were high glass cases reaching up to the ceiling, and filled with
gowns and mantles and laces and jewels; everything a woman could wear
was there, and all of the very finest. What satins, what velvets, what
feathers and flowers! Even down to shoes and stockings, - every shade and
color of stockings of the daintiest silk. The Little Sweetheart gazed
breathless at them all. But she did not have time to wonder, for in a
moment more she was met by attendants, some young, some old, all dressed
gayly. She did not dream at first that they were servants, till they
began, all together, asking her what she would like to put on. Would she
have a lace gown, or a satin? Would she like feathers or flowers? And
one ran this way, and one that; and among them all, the Little
Sweetheart was so flustered she did not know if she were really alive
and on the earth, or had been transported to some fairy land. And before
she fairly realized what was being done, they had her clad in the most
beautiful gown that was ever seen, - white satin with gold butterflies on
it, and a white lace mantle embroidered in gold butterflies. All white
and gold she was, from top to toe, all but one foot; and there was
something very odd about that. She heard one of the women whispering to
the other, behind her back: "It is too bad there isn't any mate to this
slipper! Well, she will have to wear this pink one. It is too big; but
if we pin it up at the heel she can keep it on. The Prince really must
get some more slippers."

And then they put on her left foot a pink satin slipper, which was so
much too big it had to be pinned up in plaits at each side, and the
pearl buckle on the top hid her foot quite out of sight. But the Little
Sweetheart did not care. In fact, she had no time to think, for the
Queen came sailing in and spoke to her, and crowds of ladies in dresses
so bright and beautiful that they dazzled her eyes; and the Prince was
there kissing her, and in a minute they were married, and went floating
off in a dance, which was so swift it did not feel so much like dancing
as it did like being carried through the air by a gentle wind.

Through room after room, - there seemed no end to the rooms, and each one
more beautiful than the last, - from garden to garden, - some full of
trees, some with beautiful lakes in them, some full of solid beds of
flowers, - they went, sometimes dancing, sometimes walking, sometimes, it
seemed to the Little Sweetheart, floating. Every hour there was some new
beautiful thing to see, some new beautiful thing to do. And the Prince
never left her for more than a few minutes; and when he came back he
brought her gifts and kissed her. Gifts upon gifts he kept bringing,
till the Little Sweetheart's hands were so full she had to lay the
things down on tables or window-sills, wherever she could find place for
them, - which was not easy, for all the rooms were so full of beautiful
things that it was difficult to move about without knocking something
down.

The hours flew by like minutes. The sun came up high in the heavens, but
nobody seemed tired; nobody stopped, - dance, dance, whirl, whirl, song
and laughter and ceaseless motion. That was all that was to be seen or
heard in this wonderful Court to which the Little Sweetheart had been
brought.

Noon came, but nothing stopped. Nobody left off dancing, and the
musicians played faster than ever.

And so it was all the long afternoon and through the twilight; and as
soon as it was really dark, all the rooms and the gardens and the lakes
blazed out with millions of lamps, till it was lighter far than day; and
the ladies' dresses, as they danced back and forth, shone and sparkled
like butterflies' wings.

At last the lamps began, one by one, to go out, and by degrees a soft
sort of light, like moonlight, settled down on the whole place; and the
fine-dressed servants that had robed the Little Sweetheart in her white
satin gown took it off, and put her to bed in a gold bedstead, with
golden silk sheets.

"Oh," thought the Little Sweetheart, "I shall never go to sleep in the
world, and I'm sure I don't want to! I shall just keep my eyes open all
night, and see what happens next."

All the beautiful clothes she had taken off were laid on a sofa near the
bed, - the white satin dress at top, and the big pink satin slipper, with
its huge pearl buckle, on the floor in plain sight. "Where is the
other?" thought the Little Sweetheart. "I do believe I lost it off.
That's the way they come to have so many odd ones. But how queer! I lost
off the tight one! But the big one was pinned to my foot," she said,
speaking out loud before she thought; "that was what kept it on."

"You are talking in your sleep, my love," said the Prince, who was close
by her side, kissing her.

"Indeed, I am not asleep at all! I haven't shut my eyes," said the
Little Sweetheart.

And the next thing she knew it was broad daylight, the sun streaming
into her room, and the air resounding in all directions with music and
laughter, and flying steps of dancers, just as it had been yesterday.

The Little Sweetheart sat up in bed and looked around her. She thought
it very strange that she was all alone! the Prince gone, - no one there
to attend to her. In a few moments more she noticed that all her clothes
were gone, too.

"Oh," she thought, "I suppose one never wears the same clothes twice in
this Court, and they will bring me others! I hope there will be two
slippers alike, to-day."

Presently she began to grow impatient; but, being a timid little
creature, and having never before seen the inside of a Court or been a
Prince's sweetheart, she did not venture to stir, or to make any
sound, - only sat still in her bed, waiting to see what would happen. At
last she could not bear the sounds of the dancing and laughing and
playing and singing any longer. So she jumped up, and, rolling one of
the golden silk sheets around her, looked out of the window. There they
all were, the crowds of gay people, just as they had been the day before
when she was among them, whirling, dancing, laughing, singing. The tears
came into the Little Sweetheart's eyes as she gazed. What could it mean
that she was deserted in this way, - not even her clothes left for her?
She was as much a prisoner in her room as if the door had been locked.

As hour after hour passed, a new misery began to oppress her. She was
hungry, - seriously, distressingly hungry. She had been too happy to eat
the day before! Though she had sipped and tasted many delicious
beverages and viands, which the Prince had pressed upon her, she had not
taken any substantial food, and now she began to feel faint for the
want of it. As noon drew near, - the time at which she was accustomed in
her father's house to eat dinner, - the pangs of her hunger grew
unbearable.

"I can't bear it another minute," she said to herself. "I must, and I
will, have something to eat! I will slip down by some back way to the
kitchen. There must be a kitchen, I suppose."

So saying, she opened one of the doors, and timidly peered into the next
room. It chanced to be the room with the great glass cases, full of fine
gowns and laces, where she had been dressed by the obsequious attendants
on the previous day. No one was in the room. Glancing fearfully in all
directions, she rolled the golden silk sheet tightly around her, and
flew, rather than ran, across the floor, and took hold of the handle of
one of the glass doors. Alas! it was locked. She tried another, - another;
all were locked. In despair she turned to fly back to her bedroom, when
suddenly she spied on the floor, in a corner close by the case where hung
her beautiful white satin dress, a little heap of what looked like brown
rags. She darted toward it, snatched it from the floor, and in a second
more was safe back in her room; it was her own old stuff gown.

"What luck!" said the Little Sweetheart; "nobody will ever know me in
this. I'll put it on, and creep down the back stairs, and beg a mouthful
of food from some of the servants, and they'll never know who I am; and
then I'll go back to bed, and stay there till the Prince comes to fetch
me. Of course, he will come before long; and if he comes and finds me
gone, I hope he will be frightened half to death, and think I have been
carried off by robbers!"

Poor foolish Little Sweetheart! It did not take her many seconds to slip
into the ragged old stuff gown; then she crept out, keeping close to the
walls, so that she could hide behind the furniture if any one saw her.

She listened cautiously at each door before she opened it, and turned
away from some where she heard sounds of merry talking and laughing. In
the third room that she entered she saw a sight that arrested her
instantly and made her cry out in astonishment, - a girl who looked so
much like her that she might have been her own sister, and, what was
stranger, wore a brown stuff gown exactly like her own, was busily at
work in this room with a big broom killing spiders! As the Little
Sweetheart appeared in the doorway, this girl looked up, and said: "Oh,
ho! there you are, are you? I thought you'd be out before long." And
then she laughed unpleasantly.

"Who are you?" said the Little Sweetheart, beginning to tremble all
over.

"Oh, I'm a Prince's Sweetheart!" said the girl, laughing still more
unpleasantly; and, leaning on her broom, she stared at the Little
Sweetheart from top to toe.

"But - " began the Little Sweetheart.

"Oh, we're all Princes' Sweethearts!" interrupted several voices, coming
all at once from different corners of the big room; and, before the
Little Sweetheart could get out another word, she found herself
surrounded by half a dozen or more girls and women, all carrying brooms,
and all laughing unpleasantly as they looked at her.

"What!" she gasped, as she gazed at their stuff gowns and their brooms.
"You were all of you Princes' Sweethearts? Is it only for one day,
then?"

"Only for one day," they all replied.

"And always after that do you have to kill spiders?" she cried.

"Yes; that or nothing," they said. "You see it is a great deal of work
to keep all the rooms in this Court clean."

"Isn't it very dull work to kill spiders?" said the Little Sweetheart.

"Yes, very," they said, all speaking at once. "But it's better than
sitting still, doing nothing."

"Don't the Princes ever speak to you?" sobbed the Little Sweetheart.

"Yes, sometimes," they answered.

Just then the Little Sweetheart's own Prince came hurrying by, all in
armor from head to foot, - splendid shining armor, that clinked as he
walked.

"Oh, there he is!" cried the Little Sweetheart, springing forward; then
suddenly she recollected her stuff gown, and shrunk back into the group.
But the Prince had seen her.

"Oh, how d' do!" he said kindly. "I was wondering what had become of
you. Good-bye! I'm off for the grand review to-day. Don't tire yourself
out over the spiders. Good-bye!" And he was gone.

"I hate him!" cried the Little Sweetheart, her eyes flashing, and her
cheeks scarlet.

"Oh no, you don't!" exclaimed all the spider-sweepers. "That's the worst
of it. You may think you do; but you don't. You love him all the time
after you've once begun."

"I'll go home!" said the Little Sweetheart.

"You can't," said the others. "It is not permitted."

"Is it always just like this in this Court?" she asked.

"Yes; always the same. One day just like another, - all whirl and dance
from morning till night, and new people coming and going all the time,
and spiders most of all. You can't think how fast brooms wear out in
this Court!"

"I'll die!" said the Little Sweetheart.

"Oh no, you won't!" they said. "There are some of us, in some of the
rooms here, that are wrinkled and gray-haired. The most of the
Sweethearts live to be old."

"Do they?" said the Little Sweetheart, and burst into tears.

"Heavens!" cried I, "what a dream!" as I opened my eyes. There stood the
Little Sweetheart in my room, vanishing away, so vivid had been the
dream. "A most extraordinary dream!" said I. "I will write it out. Some
of the Princes may read it!"



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Online LibraryHelen Hunt JacksonBetween Whiles → online text (page 13 of 13)