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Martha Lewis Beckwith Ewell.

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was happier than before I went.

Monday morning came and with it Hal's departure. We were up betimes. I
think Hal slept little, and I heard the old clock strike nearly every
hour, and was down stairs before either mother or father were up. He was
to take the stage at half-past eight, and ride to the nearest station,
and our breakfast was ready at half-past six. It was a sad breakfast,
and though mother tried hard to keep up a conversation on different
topics, it was useless. Tears would fill our eyes, and brother Ben,
though at that time only about thirteen, was forced to leave his
breakfast untasted, and, rising hastily, to take himself out of Hal's
sight; but the stage came rumbling down the road, and almost ere we knew
it, our good-byes were said, and Hal was waving his handkerchief from
his high seat beside the driver, from whence he could see the old home
for a long distance.

Everything, so far as his plans were concerned, worked favorably, and a
chance inquiry, resulted in a good offer as book-keeping clerk in a
wholesale warehouse in Chicago. Chicago was in her youth then. Many
changes have passed over the city of the West since those days, but her
mercantile houses were never in a more flourishing condition than during
Hal's stay there. Father had informed himself regarding the man with
whom he was to be connected, and was well satisfied of his integrity,
ability, etc.

When Hal was fairly gone I went to my room and cried disconsolately, and
groaned aloud, and did everything but faint, and I might have
accomplished that feat if Clara (for she insisted on that appellation)
had not come in upon me, resolved to bring about different conditions.
She succeeded at last, and the afternoon found us quietly sitting
together in our middle room apparently enjoying ourselves, though I did
not forget Hal was gone, and a cloud of woe overspread my mental
horizon.




CHAPTER IV.

OUR NEW FRIEND.


We could not object to the stay of our cousin, and she planned to remain
indefinitely. I always smiled at the relationship, and I don't know
exactly how near it was, but this I believe was it - father's mother and
Mrs. Desmonde's grandmother were cousins; that brought me, you see, into
very near kinship. She laughed at it herself, but, nevertheless, I was
"her dear cousin Emily" always. "Little Lady" was my name for her, but
she forced me call her "Clara." Her mother, it seemed, had married a
gentleman of rank and fortune of French descent, and although she told
me she was the picture of her mother, the graceful ways of which she was
possessed, her natural urbanity and politeness, together with her
fascinating word-emphasis accompanied with so many gestures, were all
decidedly French, "Little lady" just expressed it. She was, when she
came to our home, only thirty-seven years of age, and looked not more
than twenty. Her complexion was that of a perfect blonde; her hair was
light and wavy, clear to the parting; she had a luxuriant mass of it,
and coiled it about her shapely head, fastening it with a beautifully
carved shell comb. Her eyes were very dark for blue, large and
expressive; she had teeth like pearls, and a mouth, whose tender
outlines were a study for a painter. She seemed to me a living,
breathing picture, and I almost coveted the grace which was so natural
to her, and hated the contrast presented by our two faces. She called my
complexion pure olive, and toyed with "my night-black hair" (her own
expression), sometimes winding it about her fingers as if to coax it to
curl, and then again braiding it wide with many strands, and doing it up
in a fashion unusual with me. She was a little below the medium size, I,
a little above, and though only turned nineteen, I know I looked much
older than she. We were fast friends, and I could do her bidding ever
and always, for her word was a friendly law, and I am sure no family
ever had so charming a boarder. She bought gingham, and made dresses
exactly alike for herself and me, made some long house-aprons, as she
called them, and would never consent to sit down by herself but helped
about the house daily until all the work was done, then changed her
dress when I changed mine, and kept herself close, to us, body and
soul - for she seemed in one sense our ward, in another our help, making
her doubly dear, and I many times blessed the providence that brought
her to us just as we were losing Hal. She was sensitive, but never
morbidly so, apparently anxious to have every one about her happy, and I
never saw the airs that I expected her to assume, for she was ever
smiling and happy in her manner.

As the days passed over us, we took long walks in the woods together,
and she unfolded to me leaf by leaf of her life history.

The deep love she had borne her husband remained unchanged - and nightly,
with perfect devotion, she looked upon and pressed to her lips his
miniature, which was fastened to a massive chain hanging on her neck;
never in sight, but hidden from other eyes, as if too sacred for their
gaze. Her husband was of French parentage, but had, when at the early
age of sixteen she married him, been alone in this country. He was
twenty years older than herself, and her parents passing away soon after
her marriage, he had been husband, mother and father. Her son, Louis
Robert, eighteen years of age, was named for him, and both she and her
son had fortunes in their own right. It seemed that Mr. Desmonde had an
illness lasting for months, and knowing it must prove fatal, had
arranged every thing perfectly for his departure. It was his wish that
Louis Robert should, if agreeable to his mind, pursue a course of study,
to prepare him for professional work of some kind.

In a letter written on his death-bed he impressed upon his son the
necessity of dealing honestly with his fellow-men, and exhorted him to
endeavor to be always ready, as opportunities presented themselves for
small charities and kindnesses; these, as his father thought, are often
more praiseworthy than donations to public objects, and the giving of
alms to be seen of men, as many wealthy people do.

In accordance with these last wishes, Louis was placed under the care of
a worthy man, who was principal of a seminary a little distance from the
city where their home was. Clara desired him to come to us about the
twentieth of August and stay two weeks, and also urged me to go to her
home with her and meet him, then returning together.

I hardly wanted to do so, but her sweet urgency persuaded me, and I
consented, reflecting mournfully over those shabby ribbons and that
lemon-colored bow. If there is anything like help in the world that I
receive most gratefully, it is the prompt recognition of a need, and
unobtrusive aid for it. A short time before the day appointed for us to
go to the city, our Clara came down stairs dressed in a beautiful dark
shade of blue Foulard silk, with a lace ruff about her throat, fastened
with a lemon-colored bow.

The blood rushed with a full tide to my face when my eyes fell upon her
as she entered. Simple, I presume, to those accustomed to elegant
costume would her attire have seemed, but to me, as yet uninitiated in
the mysteries of society, dress, etc., she was the perfection of
loveliness, and the impression made upon me was an indelible one; I
never saw anything half so lovely and perfect as she at that moment
appeared to me.

It was an unusual thing too for her to be dressed so nicely for an
afternoon at home. She had, I knew, many beautiful dresses, and had told
me sometimes of the elaborate toilets of the city, but had heretofore
donned as an afternoon dress the gray mohair she wore when she came, and
a light blue scarf over her shoulders was the only color she wore about
her. The weather was warm but the heat was never oppressive to her - her
blood, she said, had never felt as it were really warm since the night
her husband died. On this particular afternoon, we were talking
principally of Hal, and my eyes unconsciously riveted their gaze on the
folds of her dress hanging so gracefully about her, and trailing softly
on the carpet if moved.

I wondered too a little at it, for I noticed it to be quite long in
front as well as behind. The afternoon was far spent, and it was nearly
time for Ben and father to come in to supper. Before she made any
allusion to her extra toilette, extra for our little home, and nodding
at me as I raised my eyes from the soft blue folds to meet the light of
the blue eyes above them, she said:

"How does my dress please Mademoiselle Emily?"

"Oh!" I replied, "I never saw so beautiful a dress." She smiled one of
her bright quick smiles as if some fancy struck her, and said, laying
her hand over the bow at her heart,

"And this too?"

"Both are beautiful in my eyes," I said, "and so suited to you Clara."

After supper we were going to take a walk, and Clara went to her room,
doffed the blue Foulard and came down in the grey mohair. We had a
beautiful walk out from under the shade of the o'erarching chestnut
trees before our door, along the grassy highway leading to the upper
meadow, over the smooth newly-cut field on to the edge of the birch
woods beyond. There we rested quiet, coming back when the moon rose over
the hills and the stars hung out like lanterns on our track.

We talked. Clara had her seasons of soul-talk as she called it, and that
night she read me a full page of her inner self the purport of which I
shall never forget. The more she revealed to me of herself the more I
loved her, and her words suggested thoughts that filled my
soul - thoughts which, in depths within myself I had never dreamed of,
found and swept a string that ere long broke its sweet harmonies on my
spirit. I seemed, all at once, to develop in spiritual stature and to
have become complex to myself.

When we said "good night" to the folks below and went up stairs
together, Clara caught my hand and said,

"Come, mademoiselle, come to my room, please," and of course I went,
making a mock courtesy as if I were a queen, and she my maid. She
unpinned my linen collar and unhooked my dress, while I sat wonder
struck, saying nothing until I felt the fleecy blue silk being thrown
over my shoulders, when I essayed to articulate something. But when my
head emerged from the dress, she playfully covered my mouth with her
hand, and proceeded to fasten the dress which seemed just to fit; then
came the delicate lace and the lemon bow. Taking my hand she led me to
the glass, surveyed me from head to foot, clapped her hands like a glad
child, and cried,

"A perfect fit, but I was afraid."

"Why, Clara," I said, "how, what?"

"Never, never mind, you like it, I did it myself, and I wore it first
only to see how it struck you. 'Tis yours, my dear, go and put it away."

I did not say thank you even, for she would not let me. I just kissed
her and went to my room, to my little room with its high-post bedstead,
three wooden chairs and shabby hair-cloth trunk, and dressed in that
beautiful blue dress with that new silk bow. I could not help taking the
old one out of the drawer to contrast it with the new, and although it
did look soiled and shabby, I thought I was almost wicked to have felt
so troubled at my little adornments, and then resolved to keep that
little old faded lemon ribbon as long as I should live, and I have it
now.

Carefully I unpinned that new bow, laying it, with the first real lace
collars I had ever owned, in a mahogany box, as tenderly as though they
were pearls, and hung the blue Foulard in my closet between my best
much-worn alpaca and my afternoon gingham.

That night I dreamed that when father went to feed the chickens in the
barn yard, a beautiful bird with silky wings of blue fluttered down
among them to be fed. How impressible my artless brain! As great an
event was this to me, as the inauguration of our highest potentate to
the people.

Next morning I opened the closet door before dressing, and looked at the
new dress. The more I thought about it the more I wondered when or where
I should ever wear it, and not until a traveling suit, the fac-simile of
Clara's, was dropped upon me did I realize how the blue Foulard was
fitted to my shoulders. In her own sweet way she told me, that though we
were to remain only a few days at her home in the city, yet her friends
would surely call, and I must take the Foulard to wear in the
afternoons. Dear little soul, how tender she was of everybody's
feelings, and with what true womanly tact she turned, as far as
possible, every one into a pleasant path! Quick to notice needs, she
always applied her gifts with the greatest grace and tact, and without
making any one feel under obligation to her.

The morning of August thirteenth dawned upon us not altogether smiling,
since the sky looked as if inclined to weep. We started, however, on our
intended journey, and more than once the old stage-driver looked around
to catch a glimpse of my darling friend, who was quite a wonderment to
the country folk. Inaccurate rumors of Clara and her fortune had been
talked about among them - yet none knew just how it all was, except our
family, and we would betray no secrets that she wished kept. I hardly
recognized myself when at last we arrived at our journey's end, and I
was in Clara's home. Never before had I seen myself reflected in a long
pier-glass, and never on earth did I seem so homely; my hands were too
large and awkward, and I sat so uncomfortably on the luxurious chairs.

Clara noticed my discomfort and kept me changing from one position to
another, until I was so vexed with myself I insisted on sitting in a
corner and persuaded Clara that my head ached. The compassionate soul
believed it and was bathing my temples, when a light step aroused us
both, and a moment later she was in the arms of her beloved son, whom
she proudly introduced to me.

I was surprised at his appearance - I thought him a boy, and so he was in
years, but if Clara had not told me his age, I should have guessed him
to be twenty-five. He had large dark eyes, a glorious head, perfect in
its shape, an intellectual forehead, and the most finely chiselled
mouth, most expressive of all his feelings; his lips parted in such
loving admiration of his mother and closed so lovingly upon her own.
After a profound bow to myself and a hearty grasp of the hand, he drew
her to the crimson cushions of a tête-à-tête standing near, and passing
his arm around her held her closely to him, as if afraid he would lose
her. I envied her, and any heart might well envy the passionate devotion
of a son like Louis Robert Desmonde.

I wanted to leave them to themselves, but as I could not do this, I
covered my head, which really ached now, with my hands, and tried hard
not to listen to their audible conversation, but from that time I
appreciated what was meant by the manly love of this son, differing so
widely from anything I had ever before known. Like his mother, he had
great tact, and suited himself exactly to conditions and persons.

I moved as in a dream. Everything that wealth could lavish on a home was
here. I occupied Clara's own room with her, and it seemed at night as if
I lay in a fairy chamber; there were silken draperies of delicate blue,
a soft velvety carpet whose ground was the same beautiful blue, covered
with vines like veins traced through it, and massive furniture with
antique carving, and everything in such exquisite taste, even to the
decorated toilette set on the bureau. Everything I thought was in
perfect correspondence except the face on my lace-fringed pillow. I
seemed so sadly out of place. I wondered if Clara was really contented
with her humbly-furnished room at our house. Callers came as she had
predicted, and it was all in vain my trying to keep out of the sight of
those "_city people_." Insisting on my presence, and knowing well I
should escape to our room if left by myself, Louis was authorized to
guard me, and I had no chance of escape; I felt myself an intruder upon
his time, every moment until during the last evenings of my stay, when
in the lighted parlors quite a happy company gathered. I then had an
opportunity of seeing a little of his thought, running as an
undercurrent to his nature. Clara had been singing with such sweetness
of expression and pathetic emphasis, that my eyes were filled with tears
of emotion. Miss Lear, a young lady friend, followed her, and sang with
such a shrill voice, such unprecedented flying about among the octaves,
that it shocked me through every nerve, and I trembled visibly and
uttered an involuntary exclamation of impatience. Louis caught my hand,
and the moment she ended, whispered:

"Are you frightened?"

"Oh!" I said, "she is your guest, but where is her soul?"

"In heaven awaiting her, I suspect," he replied, "but, Miss Emily, she
is a fair type of a society woman. I have just been thinking that
to-morrow at sunset I hope to be among the birds and beneath the sky of
your native town; one can breathe there; I am glad to go."

"I don't want you to go," I said, impetuously (poor Emily did it).

He turned his full dark eyes upon me, and I felt the tide that flooded
cheek and brow with crimson.

"Explain to me, Miss Emily," he said, "you love to keep my mother
there."

"I did not mean to say it, Louis, but it is true."

"Why true?"

"I am so sorry - "

My dilemma was a queer one; I had to explain, and the tears that
gathered when his mother sang, came back as I described our plain home.

"I love my home, it is good enough for me, I could not exchange it even
with you, but you will think us rude, uncultivated people, I fear; you
will find no attraction there; everything is as homely there as I am
myself!"

And I never can forget how his bright, dark eyes grew humid with
sympathy, to be covered with the sunlight of his smile at the earnest
honesty of my remarks, especially the last one.

"Ah! Miss Emily, you know not your friend; I am more anxious than ever
to go, and care not if you are sorry."

"I am glad now of my unexpected speech," I replied, "and feel as if I
had really been to the confessional; your mother is so sensitive, I
could not tell her, and I have kept this thought constantly before me,
'He will not stay if he goes, and I am sure he cannot eat rye bread and
butter.'"

"You will see, Miss Emily, how I shall eat it, but we are to be
interrupted; here comes the soulless girl that shocked you so; mother is
with her; excuse me for a moment," and he made his way to a corner of
the parlors, seating himself alone as if in reverie.

"Mademoiselle Emily, my friend, Miss Lear, desires an introduction to
you; be seated, Miss Lear," and Clara took the chair on the other side;
the disappointment of Miss Lear, in not finding Louis, was visible, even
to my unpractised eye, and her tender enquiries of his mother regarding
his health etc., were amusing.

I saw her furtive glances at my plain toilette, and knew she thought me
a lowly wild flower on life's great meadow, a dandelion, unnecessary to
be included in a fashionable nosegay, and while these thoughts were
passing through my mind, Clara left us to ourselves, and, feeling in
duty bound to say something to me, she began:

"Mrs. Desmonde tells me your house is in the country; how sublime the
country is! You see sunrises and sunsets, do you not?"

"I hope I do," I replied. "There is great pleasure in watching nature."

"Oh! the country is so sublime, don't you think so?"

"Well that depends on your ideas of the sublime; I do not imagine
milking cows and butter-making would correspond with the general ideas
of sublimity."

"Oh!" and she tossed her befrizzled head in lofty disdain, "that is
perfectly horrid, I cannot see how human beings endure such things; oh!
dear, what a poor hand I should be at living under such circumstances."

"You would perhaps enjoy the general housework more, leaving the problem
of the dairy to another."

"Housework? - I - ah! I see you are unlearned - beg your pardon - in society
ways. Do my hands betray symptoms of housework?" and she laughed
ironically.

At this moment Louis came to take the seat his mother had left, and
heard of course my reply to Miss Lear's last remark.

"Yes, I know I am verdant in the extreme, and must plead guilty also to
the charge of milking, churning and housework; I take, however, some
pride in trying to do all these things well, and I believe the most
fastidious can partake of the creamy butter rolls, we make at home."

"Bravo," exclaimed Louis, "pray tell me what elicited Miss Emily's
speech?"

"We were talking of the country," I replied, growing bold; "Miss Lear
thinks the country is sublime, but the butter-making, etc., horrid."

"Well," said Miss Lear, "it may be my ideas are rather crude, but really
I cannot imagine I could ever make butter! Do you think I could, Mr.
Desmonde?" leaning forward to catch Louis' eye, and plying her flashy
fan with renewed energy and great care to show the ring of emeralds and
diamonds that glistened on her right fore-finger.

"I cannot say, Miss Lear, I am going up to find out the ways and expect
to be Miss Emily's assistant. I imagine it takes brain to do farm work."

Miss Lear waited to rally a little and said only, "Complimentary in the
extreme! Pray tell me the hour, I think my carriage must be here;" then
the fashion-plate shook hands with us both and departed.

I felt almost ashamed, and repeated verbatim to Louis our conversation;
he laughed, and, patting my shoulder, said:

"You spoke quite rightly, she was impertinent, pardon her ignorant
vanity."

Then I stood with Louis and Clara in the centre of the parlors and
received the adieux of their friends. Louis carried his mother in his
arms up stairs and soon dreams carried me home to green fields and
butter-making.




CHAPTER V.

LOUIS ROBERT.


Gloriously beautiful was the morning of August twenty-first. We were up
early, for the old stage would not wait for us, and we had much to do
just at the last moment. I say we, for I tried to do all that was
possible to assist Clara in packing the two large trunks we were to
take. One thing puzzled me. I had heard Clara say so many times to
Louis, who went over the house with her during the early part of each
day, "Now leave everything in shape to be taken at any moment." And this
last morning all the chairs were covered, and Louis worked with old Jim,
time-honored help, to accomplish it all. I had a secret fear that they
were planning to go away to seek another home somewhere, and it troubled
me. I wondered the more because Clara said nothing to me, and she was
naturally so ingenuous and apt to tell me her little plans freely. It
seemed to take less time than it takes to write it ere we were landed at
the door of my home, and found father and mother waiting to welcome us.
There was a look of surprise on the faces of my parents as Louis
descended from the stage and turned so gallantly to his little mother,
as he often called her. He was not the boy they expected to see, but a
man to all appearance, tall and handsome, and the embodiment of a
politeness which is founded, as I believe, on a true respect for the
opinions and conditions of others. I felt gladly proud of our supper
table that night, and I knew Louis looked in vain for rye bread. He did
ample justice to our creamy butter, however, and after supper remarked
to me that Miss Lear might like a few pounds of such.

Days passed happily along, and the two weeks allotted for Louis' stay
came nearly to a close. I dreaded to have the last day appear. Like his
mother, he had dropped into his own appropriate niche, and came into our
family only as another ray of the sunshine that brightened our home. I
had Halbert in my mind much of the time, and talked of him to Louis
until he said he felt well acquainted with him, and looked forward to
meeting him as one looks to some happiness in store.

Louis was original in his expressions and different from all others of
his age. One evening when we were talking of Hal, as we sat on the old
doorstone in the moonlight, he said:

"I have something to do for your brother, Miss Emily, I cannot tell you
how, but we shall see, we shall never lose sight of each other, we are
always to be friends, Miss Emily."

And the light of his dark eyes grew deep and it seemed as if I looked
into fathomless depths as he turned them full upon me for a moment.

"Only a few hours between this long breath I am taking and the school to
which I go (mother has written the professor, asking if I can stay


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Online LibraryMartha Lewis Beckwith EwellThe Harvest of Years → online text (page 2 of 20)