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occasion, I'll get an ax for you to split the door down."

"Oh, don't, Lenora," screamed Carrie, from within, to which Lenora

"Poor little simple chick bird, I wouldn't harm a hair of your soft
head for anything. But there is a _man_ in there, or one who passes
for a man, that I think would look far more respectable if he'd come
out and face the tornado. She's easy to manage when you know how. At
least Mag and I find her so."

Here Mr. Hamilton ashamed of himself and emboldened, perhaps, by
Lenora's words, slipped back the bolt of the door, and walking out,
confronted his wife.

"Shall I order pistols and coffee for two?" asked Lenora, swinging
herself entirely over the bannister, and dropping like a squirrel on
the stair below.

"Is Polly going to stay in this house?" asked Mrs. Hamilton.

"She is," was the reply.

"Then I leave to-night," said Mrs. Hamilton.

"Very well, you can go," returned the husband, growing stronger in
himself each moment.

Mrs. Hamilton turned away to her own room, where she remained until
supper time, when Lenora asked "If she had got her chest packed, and
where they should direct their letters!" Neither Margaret nor her
father could refrain from laughter.

Mrs. Hamilton, too, who had no notion of leaving the comfortable
Homestead, and who thought this as good a time to veer round as any
she would have, also joined in the laugh, saying, "What a child you
are, Lenora!"

Gradually the state of affairs at the homestead was noised throughout
the village, and numerous were the little tea parties where none dared
speak above a whisper to tell what they had heard, and where each and
every one were bound to the most profound secrecy, for fear the
reports might not be true. At length, however, the story of the china
closet got out, causing Sally Martin to spend one whole day in
retailing the gossip from door to door. Many, too, suddenly remembered
certain suspicious things which they had seen in Mrs. Hamilton, who
was unanimously voted to be a bad woman, and who, of course, began to
be slighted.

The result of this was to increase the sourness of her disposition;
and life at the Homestead would have been one continuous scene of
turmoil had not Margaret wisely concluded to treat whatever her
stepmother did with silent contempt. Lenora, too, always seemed ready
to fill up all vacant niches, until even Mag acknowledged that the
mother would be unendurable without the daughter.



Ever since the day on which Lenora had startled Carrie by informing
her of her danger, she had been carefully kept from the room, or
allowed only to enter it when Margaret was present. One afternoon,
however, early in February, Mag had occasion to go to the village.
Lenora, who saw her depart, hastily gathered up her work, and repaired
to Carrie's room, saying, as she entered it, "Now, Carrie, we'll have
a good time; Mag has gone to see old deaf Peggy, who asks a thousand
questions, and will keep her at least two hours, and I am going to
entertain you to the best of my ability."

Carrie's cheek flushed, for she felt some misgivings with regard to
the nature of Lenora's entertainment; but she knew there was no help
for it, so she tried to smile, and said, "I am willing you should
stay, Lenora, but you mustn't talk bad things to me, for I can't bear

"Bad things!" repeated Lenora; "who ever heard me talk bad things!
What do you mean?"

"I mean," said Carrie, "that you must not talk about your mother as
you sometimes do. It is wicked."

"Why, you dear little thing," answered Lenora, "don't you know that
what would be wicked for you isn't wicked for me?"

"No, I do not know so," answered Carrie; "but I know I wouldn't talk
about my mother as you do about yours for anything."

"Bless your heart," said Lenora, "haven't you sense enough to see that
there is a great difference between Mrs. Hamilton first, and Mrs.
Hamilton second? Now, I'm not naturally bad, and if I had been the
daughter of Mrs. Hamilton first instead of Widow Carter's young one,
why, I should have been as good as you - no, not as good as _you_, for
you don't know enough to be bad - but as good as Mag, who, in my
opinion, has the right kind of goodness, for all I used to hate her

"Hate Margaret!" said Carrie, opening her eyes to their utmost extent.
"What did you hate Margaret for?"

"Because I didn't know her, I suppose," returned Lenora; "for now I
like her well enough - not quite as well as I do you, perhaps; and yet,
when I see you bear mother's abuse so meekly, I positively hate you
for a minute, and ache to box your ears; but when Mag squares up to
her, shuts her in the china closet, and all that, I want to put my
arms right round neck."

"Why, don't you like your mother?" asked Carrie, and Lenora replied:

"Of course I do; but I know what she is and I know she isn't what she
sometimes seems. Why, she'd be anything to suit the circumstances. She
wanted your father, and she assumed the character most likely to
secure him; for, between you and me, he isn't very smart."

"What did she marry him for, then?" asked Carrie.

"Marry _him_! I hope you don't for a moment suppose she married

"Why, Lenora, _ain't they married?_ I thought they were. Oh,
dreadful!" and Carrie started to her feet, while the perspiration
stood thickly on her forehead.

Lenora screamed with delight, saying, "You certainly have the softest
brain I ever saw. Of course the minister went through with the
ceremony; but it was not your father that mother wanted; it was his
house - his money - his horses - his servants, and his name. Now, maybe
in your simplicity you have thought that mother came here out of
kindness to the motherless children; but I tell you she would be
better satisfied if neither of you had ever been born. I suppose it is
wicked in me to say so, but I think she makes me worse than I would
otherwise be; for I am not naturally so bad, and I like people much
better than I pretend to. Anyway, I like you, and _love_ little
Willie, and always have, since the first time I saw him. Your mother
lay in her coffin, and Willie stood by her, caressing her cold cheek,
and saying, 'Wake up, mamma, it's Willie; don't you know Willie? I
took him in my arms, and vowed to love and shield him from the coming
evil; for I knew then, as well as I do now, that what has happened
would happen. Mag wasn't there; she didn't see me. If she had, she
might have liked me better; now she thinks there is no good in me; and
if, when you die, I should feel like shedding tears, and perhaps I
shall, it would be just like her to wonder 'what business _I_ had to
cry - it was none of my funeral!'"

"You do wrong to talk so, Lenora," said Carrie; "but tell me, did you
never have any one to love except Willie?"

"Yes," said Lenora; "when I was a child, a little, innocent child, I
had a grandmother - my father's mother - who taught me to pray, and told
me of God."

"Where is she now?" asked Carrie.

"In heaven," was the answer. "I know she is there, because when she
died there was the same look on her face that there was on your
mother's - the same that there will be on yours, when you are dead."

"Never mind," gasped Carrie, who did not care to be so frequently
reminded of her mortality, while Lenora continued:

"Perhaps you don't know that my father was, as mother says, a bad man;
though I always loved him dearly, and cried when he went away. We
lived with grandmother, and sometimes now, in my dreams, I am a child
again, kneeling by grandma's side, in our dear old eastern home, where
the sunshine fell so warmly, where the summer birds sang in the old
maple trees, and where the long shadows, which I called spirits, came
and went over the bright green meadows. But there was a sadder day; a
narrow coffin, a black hearse, and a tolling bell, which always wakes
me from my sleep, and I find the dream all gone, and nothing left of
the little child but the wicked Lenora Carter."

Here the dark girl buried her face in her hands and wept, while Carrie
gently smoothed her tangled curls. After a while, as if ashamed of her
emotion, Lenora dried her tears, and Carrie said, "Tell me more of
your early life. I like you when you act as you do now."

"There is nothing more to tell but wickedness," answered Lenora.
"Grandma died, and I had no one to teach me what was right. About a
year after her death mother wanted to get a divorce from father; and
one day she told me that a lawyer was coming to inquire about my
father's treatment of her. 'Perhaps,' said she, 'he will ask if you
ever saw him strike me, and you must say that you have a great many
times. 'But never did,' said I; and then she insisted upon my telling
that falsehood, and I refused, until she whipped me, and made me
promise to say whatever she wished me to. In this way I was trained to
be what I am. Nobody loves me; nobody ever can love me; and sometimes
when Mag speaks so kindly to you, and looks so affectionately upon
you, I think, what would I not give for some one to love me; and then
I go away to cry, and wish I had never been born."

Here Mrs. Hamilton called to her daughter, and gathering up her work,
Lenora left the room just as Margaret entered it, on her return from
the village.



As the spring opened and the days grew warmer Carrie's health seemed
much improved; and, though she did not leave her room, she was able to
sit up nearly all day, busying herself with some light work. Ever
hopeful, Margaret hugged to her bosom the delusion which whispered,
"She will not die," while even the physician was deceived, and spoke
encouragingly of her recovery.

For several months Margaret had thought of visiting her grandmother,
who lived in Albany; and as Mr. Hamilton had occasion to visit that
city, Carrie urged her to accompany him saying, she was perfectly able
to be left alone, and she wished her sister would go, for the trip
would do her good.

For some time past Mrs. Hamilton had seemed exceedingly amiable and
affectionate, although her husband appeared greatly depressed, and
acted, as Lenora said, "Just as though he had been stealing sheep."

This depression Mag had tried in vain to fathom, and at last,
fancying that a change of place and scene might do him good, she
consented to accompany him, on condition that Kate Kirby would stay
with Carrie. At mention of Kate's name Mr. Hamilton's eyes instantly
went over to his wife, whose face wore the same stony expression as
she answered, "Yes, Maggie, can come."

Accordingly, on the morning when the travelers would start, Kate came
up to the homestead, receiving a thousand and one directions about
what to do and when to do it, hearing not more than half the
injunctions, and promising to comply with every one. Long before the
door the carriage waited, while Margaret, lingering in Carrie's room,
kissed again and again her sister's pure brow, and gazed into her deep
blue eyes, as if she knew that it was the last time. Even when half
way down the stairs she turned back again to say good-by, this time
whispering, "I have half a mind not to go, for something tells me I
shall never see you again."

"Oh, Mag," said Carrie, "don't be superstitious. I am a great deal
better, and when you come home you will find me in the parlor."

In the lower hall Mr. Hamilton caressed his little Willie, who begged
that he, too, might go. "Don't leave, me, Maggie, don't," said he, as
Mag came up to say good-by.

Long years after the golden curls which Mag pushed back from Willie's
forehead were covered by the dark moist earth, did she remember her
baby-brother's childish farewell, and oft in bitterness of heart she
asked, "Why did I go - why leave my loved ones to die alone?"

Just a week after Mag's departure news was received at the homestead
that Walter was coming to Glenwood for a day or two, and on the
afternoon of the same day Kate had occasion to go home. As she was
leaving the house Mrs. Hamilton detained her, while she said, "Miss
Kirby, we are all greatly obliged to you for your kindness in staying
with Carrie, although your services really are not needed. I
understand how matters stand between you and Walter, and as he is to
be here to-morrow; you of course will feel some delicacy about
remaining, consequently I release you from all obligations to do so."

Of course there was no demurring to this. Kate's pride was touched;
and though Carrie wept, and begged her not to go, she yielded only so
far as to stay until the next morning, when, with a promise to call
frequently, she left. Lonely and long seemed the hours to poor Carrie;
for though Walter came, he stayed but two days, and spent a part of
that time at the mill-pond cottage.

The evening after he went away, as Carrie lay, half-dozing, thinking
of Mag, and counting the weary days which must pass ere her return,
she was startled by the sound of Lenora's voice in the room opposite,
the door of which was ajar. Lenora had been absent a few days, and
Carrie was about calling to her, when some words spoken by her
stepmother arrested her attention, and roused her curiosity. They
were, "You think too little of yourself, Lenora. Now, I know there is
nothing in the way of your winning Walter, if you choose."

"I should say there was everything in the way," answered Lenora. "In
the first place, there is Kate Kirby, and who, after seeing her
handsome face, would ever look at such a black, turned-up nose,
bristle-headed thing as I am? But I perceive there is some weighty
secret on your mind, so what is it? Have Walter and Kate quarreled, or
have you told him some falsehood about her?"

"Neither," said Mrs. Hamilton. "What I have to say concerns your

"My father!" interrupted Lenora; "my own father! Oh, is he living?"

"No, I hope not," was the answer; "it is Mr. Hamilton whom I mean."

Instantly Lenora's tone changed, and she replied, "If you please you
need not call that putty-headed man _my_ father. He acts too much like
a whipped spaniel to suit me, and I really think Carrie ought to be
respected for knowing what little she does, while I wonder where
Walter, Mag, and Willie got their good sense. But what is it? What
have you made Mr. Hamilton do? - something ridiculous, of course."

"I've made him make his will," was the answer; while Lenora continued:

"Well, what then? What good will that do me?"

"It may do you a great deal of good," said Mrs. Hamilton; "that is, if
Walter likes the homestead as I think he does. But I tell you, it was
hard work, and I didn't know, one while, but I should have to give it
up. However, I succeeded, and he has willed the homestead to Walter,
provided he marries you. If not, Walter has nothing, and the homestead
comes to _me_ and my heirs forever!"

"Heartless old fool!" exclaimed Lenora, while Carrie, too, groaned in
sympathy. "And do you suppose he intends to let it go so! Of course
not; he'll make another when you don't know it"

"I'll watch him too closely for that," said Mrs. Hamilton and after a
moment Lenora asked:

"What made you so anxious for a will? Have you received warning of his
sudden demise?"

"How foolish!" said Mrs. Hamilton. "Isn't it the easiest thing in the
world for me to let Walter know what's in the will, and I fancy
that'll bring him to terms, for he likes money, no mistake about

"Mr. Hamilton is a bigger fool, and you a worse woman, than I
supposed," said Lenora. "Do you think I am mean enough to marry Walter
under such circumstances? Indeed, I'm not. But how is Carrie? I must
go and see her."

She was about leaving the room, when she turned back, saying in a
whisper, "Mother, mother, her door is wide open, as well as this one,
and she must have heard every word!"

"Oh, horror!" exclaimed Mrs. Hamilton; "go in and ascertain the fact,
if possible."

It took but one glance to convince Lenora that Carrie was in
possession of the secret. Her cheeks were flushed, her eyes wet with
tears; and when Lenora stooped to kiss her, she said. "I know it all,
I heard it all."

"Then I hope you feel better," said Mrs. Hamilton, coming forward.
"Listeners never hear any good of themselves."

"Particularly if it's Widow Carter who is listened to," suggested

Mrs. Hamilton did not reply to this, but continued speaking to Carrie.
"If you have heard anything new you can keep it to yourself. No one
has interfered with you, or intends to. Your father has a right to do
what he chooses with his own, and I shall see that he exercises that
right, too."

So saying she left the room, while Carrie, again bursting into tears,
wept until perfectly exhausted. The next morning she was attacked with
bleeding at the lungs, which in a short time reduced her so low that
the physician spoke doubtfully of her recovery, should the hemorrhage
again return. In the course of two or three days she was again
attacked; and now, when there was no longer hope of life, her thoughts
turned with earnest longings toward her absent father and sister, and
once, as the physician was preparing to leave her, she said, "Doctor,
tell me truly, can I live twenty-four hours?"

"I think you may," was the answer.

"Then I shall see them, for if you telegraph to-night they can come in
the morning train. Go yourself and have it done, will you?"

The physician promised that he would, and then left the room. In the
hall he met Mrs. Hamilton, who with the utmost anxiety depicted upon
her countenance, said, "Dear Carrie is leaving us, isn't she? I have
telegraphed for her father, who will be here in the morning. 'Twas
right to do so, was it not?"

"Quite right," answered the physician. "I promised to see to it
myself, and was just going to do so."

"Poor child," returned Mrs. Hamilton, "she feels anxious, I suppose.
But I have saved you the trouble."

The reader will not, perhaps, be greatly surprised to learn that what
Mrs. Hamilton had said was false. She suspected that one reason why
Carrie so greatly desired to see her father was to tell him what she
had heard, and beg of him to undo what he had done; and as she feared
the effect which the sight and words of his dying child might have
upon him, she resolved, if possible, to keep him away until Carrie's
voice was hushed in death. Overhearing what had been said by the
doctor, she resorted to the stratagem of which we have just spoken.
The next morning, however, she ordered a telegram to be despatched,
knowing full well that her husband could not reach home until the day

Meantime, as the hour for the morning train drew near, Carrie, resting
upon pillows, and whiter than the linen which covered them, strained
her ears to catch the first sound of the locomotive. At last, far off
through an opening among the hills, was heard a rumbling noise, which
increased each moment in loudness, until the puffing engine shot out
into the long, green valley, and then rolled rapidly up to the depot.

Little Willie had seemed unwell for a few days, but since his sister's
illness he had stayed by her almost constantly, gazing half-curiously,
half-timidly into her face, and asking if she was going to the home
where his mamma lived. She had told him that Margaret was coming, and
when the shrill whistle of the eastern train sounded through the room
he ran to the window, whither Lenora had preceded him, and there
together they watched for the coming of the omnibus. A sinister smile
curled the lips of Mrs. Hamilton who was present, and who, of course,
affected to feel interested.

At last Willie, clapping his hands, exclaimed, "There 'tis! They're
coming. That's Maggie's big trunk!" Then, noticing the glow which his
announcement called up to Carrie's cheek, he said, "She'll make you
well, Carrie, Maggie will. Oh, I'm so glad, and so is Leno."

Nearer and nearer came the omnibus, brighter and deeper grew the flush
on Carrie's face, while little Willie danced up and down with joy.

"It isn't coming here," said Mrs. Hamilton; "it has gone by," and
Carrie's feverish heat was succeeded by an icy chill.

"Haven't they come, Lenora?" she said.

Lenora shook her head, and Willie, running to his sister, wound his
arms around her neck, and for several minutes the two lone, motherless
children wept.

"If Maggie knew how my head ached she'd come," said Willie; but Carrie
thought not of _her_ aching head, nor of the faintness of death which
was fast coming on. One idea alone engrossed her. Her brother - how
would he be saved from the threatened evil, and her father's name from

At last Mrs. Hamilton left the room, and Carrie, speaking to Lenora
and one of the villagers who was present, asked if they, too, would
not leave her alone for a time with Willie. They complied with her
request, and then asking her brother to bring her pencil and paper,
she hurriedly wrote a few lines to her father telling him of what she
had heard, and entreating him, for her sake, and the sake of the
mother with whom she would be when those words met his eye, not to do
Walter so great a wrong. "I shall give this to Willie's care," she
wrote, in conclusion, "and he will keep it carefully until you come.
And now, I bid you a long farewell, my precious father - my noble
Mag - my darling Walter."

The note was finished, and calling Willie to her, she said, "I am
going to die. When Maggie returns I shall be dead and still, like our
own dear mother."

"Oh, Carrie, Carrie," sobbed the child, "don't leave me till Maggie

There was a footstep on the stairs, and Carrie, without replying to
her brother, said quickly, "Take this paper, Willie, and give it to
father when he comes; let no one see it - Lenora, mother, nor any one."

Willie promised compliance, and had but just time to conceal the note
in his bosom ere Mrs. Hamilton entered the room, accompanied by the
physician, to whom she loudly expressed her regrets that her husband
had not come, saying that she had that morning telegraphed again,
although he could not now reach home until the morrow.

"To-morrow I shall never see," said Carrie, faintly. And she spoke
truly, too, for even then death was freezing her life-blood with the
touch of his icy hand. To the last she seemed conscious of the tiny
arms which so fondly encircled her neck; and when the soul had drifted
far out on the dark channel of death the childish words of "Carrie,
Carrie, speak once more," roused her, and folding her brother more
closely to her bosom, she murmured, "Willie, darling Willie, our
mother is waiting for us both."

Mrs. Hamilton, who stood near, now bent down, and laying her hand on
the pale, damp brow said gently, "Carrie, dear, have you no word of
love for this mother?"

There was a visible shudder, an attempt to speak, a low moan, in which
the word "Walter" seemed struggling to be spoken; and then death, as
if impatient of delay, bore away the spirit, leaving only the form
which in life had been most beautiful. Softly Lenora closed over the
blue eyes the long, fringed lids, and pushed back from the forehead
the sunny tresses which clustered so thickly around it; then, kissing
the white lips and leaving on the face of the dead traces of her
tears, she led Willie from the room, soothing him in her arms until
he fell asleep.

Elsewhere we have said that for a few days Willie had not seemed well;
but so absorbed were all in Carrie's more alarming symptoms that no
one had heeded him, although his cheeks were flushed with fever, and
his head was throbbing with pain. He was in the habit of sleeping in
his parents' room, and that night his loud breathings and uneasy
turnings disturbed and annoyed his mother, who at last called out in
harsh tones, "Willie, Willie, for mercy's sake stop that horrid noise!
I shall never get asleep this way. I know there's no need of breathing
like that!"

"It chokes me so," sobbed little Willie, "but I'll try."

Then pressing his hands tightly over his mouth, he tried the
experiment of holding his breath as long as possible. Hearing no sound
from his mother, he thought her asleep, but not venturing to breathe
naturally until assured of the fact, he whispered, "Ma, ma, are you

"Asleep! no - and never shall be, as I see. What do you want?"

"Oh, I want to breathe," said Willie.

"Well, breathe then; who hinders you?" was the reply; and ere the
offensive sound again greeted her ear, Mrs. Hamilton was too far gone
in slumber to be disturbed.

For two hours Willie lay awake, tossing from side to side, scorched
with fever and longing for water to quench his burning thirst. By this

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Online LibraryMary Jane HolmesHomestead on the Hillside → online text (page 5 of 16)