Mary Jane Holmes.

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CHAPTER XXXII.

GOING HOME.


The windows of Rose Lincoln's chamber were open, and the balmy air of
May came in, kissing the white brow of the sick girl, and whispering
to her of swelling buds and fair young blossoms, which its breath had
wakened into life, and which she would never see.

"Has Henry come?" she asked of her father, and in the tones of her
voice there was an unusual gentleness, for just as she was dying Rose
was learning to live.

For a time she had seemed so indifferent and obstinate, that Mrs.
Howland had almost despaired. But night after night, when her daughter
thought she slept, she prayed for the young girl, that she might not
die until she had first learned the way of eternal life. And, as if in
answer to her prayers, Rose gradually began to listen, and as she
listened, she wept, wondering though why her grandmother thought her
so much more wicked than any one else. Again, in a sudden burst of
passion, she would send her from the room, saying, "she had heard
preaching enough, for she wasn't going to die, - she wouldn't die any
way."

But at last such feelings passed away, and as the sun of her short
life was setting, the sun of righteousness shone more and more
brightly over her pathway, lighting her through the dark valley of
death. She no longer asked to be taken home, for she knew that could
not be, but she wondered why her brother stayed so long from Glenwood,
when he knew that she was dying.

On her return from the city, Jenny had told her as gently as possible
of his conduct towards Ella, and of her fears that he was becoming
more dissipated than ever. For a time Rose lay perfectly still, and
Jenny, thinking she was asleep, was about to leave the room, when her
sister called her back, and bidding her sit down by her side, said,
"Tell me, Jenny, do you think Henry has any love for me?"

"He would be an unnatural brother if he had not," answered Jenny, her
own heart yearning more tenderly towards her sister, whose gentle
manner she could not understand.

"Then," resumed Rose, "if he loves me, he will be sorry when I am
dead, and perhaps it may save him from ruin."

The tears dropped slowly from her long eyelashes, while Jenny, laying
her round rosy cheek against the thin pale face near her, sobbed out,
"You must not die, - dear Rose. You must not die, and leave us."

From that time the failure was visible and rapid, and though letters
went frequently to Henry, telling him of his sister's danger, he still
lingered by the side of the brilliant beauty, while each morning Rose
asked, "Will he come to-day?" and each night she wept that he was not
there.

Calmly and without a murmur she had heard the story of their ruin from
her father, who could not let her die without undeceiving her. Before
that time she had asked to be taken back to Mount Auburn, designating
the spot where she would be buried, but now she insisted upon being
laid by the running brook at the foot of her grandmother's garden, and
near a green mossy bank where the spring blossoms were earliest found,
and where the flowers of autumn lingered longest. The music of the
falling water, she said would soothe her as she slept, and its cool
moisture keep the grass green and fresh upon her early grave.

One day, when Mrs. Lincoln was sitting by her daughter and, as she
frequently did, uttering invectives against Mount Holyoke, &c., Rose
said, "Don't talk so, mother. Mount Holyoke Seminary had nothing to do
with hastening my death. I have done it myself by my own
carelessness;" and then she confessed how many times she had deceived
her mother, and thoughtlessly exposed her health, even when her lungs
and side were throbbing with pain. "I know you will forgive me," said
she, "for most severely have I been punished."

Then, as she heard Jenny's voice in the room below, she added, "There
is one other thing which I would say to you Ere I die, you must
promise that Jenny shall marry William Bender. He is poor, I know, and
so are we, but he has a noble heart, and now for my sake, mother, take
back the bitter words you once spoke to Jenny, and say that she may
wed him. She will soon be your only daughter, and why should you
destroy her happiness? Promise me, mother, promise that she shall
marry him."

Mrs. Lincoln, though poor, was proud and haughty still, and the
struggle in her bosom was long and severe, but love for her dying
child conquered at last, and to the oft-repeated question, "Promise
me, mother, will you not?" she answered, "Yes, Rose, yes, for your
sake I give my consent though nothing else could ever have wrung it
from me."

"And, mother," continued Rose, "may he not be sent for now? I cannot
be here long, and once more I would see him, and tell him that I
gladly claim him as a brother."

A brother! How heavily those words smote upon the heart of the sick
girl. Henry was yet away, and though in Jenny's letter Rose herself
had once feebly traced the words, "Come, brother, - do come," he still
lingered, as if bound by a spell he could not break. And so days went
by and night succeeded night, until the bright May morning dawned, the
last Rose could ever see. Slowly up the eastern horizon came the warm
spring sun, and as its red beams danced for a time upon the wall of
Rose's chamber, she gazed wistfully upon it, murmuring, "It is the
last, - the last that will ever rise for me."

William Bender was there. He had come the night before, bringing word
that Henry would follow the next day. There was a gay party to which
he had promised to attend Miss Herndon, and he deemed that a
sufficient reason why he should neglect his dying sister, who every
few minutes asked eagerly if he had come. Strong was the agony at work
in the father's heart, and still he nerved himself to support his
daughter while he watched the shadows of death as one by one they
crept over her face. The mother, wholly overcome, declared she could
not remain in the room, and on the lounge below she kept two of the
neighbors constantly moving in quest of the restoratives which she
fancied she needed. Poor Jenny, weary and pale with watching and
tears, leaned heavily against William; and Rose, as often as her eyes
unclosed and rested upon her, would whisper, "Jenny, - dear Jenny, I
wish I had loved you more."

Grandma Howland had laid many a dear one in the grave, and as she saw
another leaving her, she thought, "how grew her store in Heaven," and
still her heart was quivering with anguish, for Rose had grown
strongly into her affection. But for the sake of the other stricken
ones she hushed her own grief, knowing it would not be long ere she
met her child again. And truly it seemed more meet that she with her
gray hair and dim eyes should die even then, than that Rose, with the
dew of youth still glistening upon her brow, should thus early be laid
low.

"If Henry does not come," said Rose, "tell him it was my last request
that he turn away from the wine-cup, and say, that the bitterest pang
I felt in dying, was a fear that my only brother should fill a
drunkard's grave. He cannot look upon me dead, and feel angry that I
wished him to reform. And as he stands over my coffin, tell him to
promise never again to touch the deadly poison."

Here she became too much exhausted to say more, and soon after fell
into a quiet sleep. When she awoke, her father was sitting across the
room, with his head resting upon the window sill, while her own was
pillowed upon the strong arm of George Moreland, who bent tenderly
over her, and soothed her as he would a child. Quickly her fading
cheek glowed, and her eye sparkled with something of its olden light;
but "George, - George," was all she had strength to say, and when Mary,
who had accompanied him, approached her, she only knew that she was
recognized by the pressure of the little blue-veined hand, which soon
dropped heavily upon the counterpane, while the eyelids closed
languidly, and with the words, "He will not come," she again slept,
but this time 'twas the long, deep sleep, from which she would never
awaken.

* * * * *

Slowly the shades of night fell around the cottage where death had so
lately left its impress. Softly the kind-hearted neighbors passed up
and down the narrow staircase, ministering first to the dead, and then
turning aside to weep as they looked upon the bowed man, who with his
head upon the window sill, still sat just as he did when they told him
she was dead. At his feet on a little stool was Jenny, pressing his
hands, and covering them with the tears she for his sake tried in vain
to repress.

At last, when it was dark without, and lights were burning upon the
table, there was the sound of some one at the gate, and in a moment
Henry stepped across the threshold, but started and turned pale when
he saw his mother in violent hysterics upon the lounge, and Mary
Howard bathing her head and trying to soothe her. Before he had time
to ask a question, Jenny's arms were wound around his neck, and she
whispered, "Rose is dead. - Why were you so late?"

He could not answer. He had nothing to say, and mechanically following
his sister he entered the room where Rose had died. Very beautiful had
she been in life; and now, far more beautiful in death, she looked
like a piece of sculptured marble; as she lay there so cold, and
still, and all unconscious of the scalding tears which fell upon her
face, as Henry bent over her, kissing her lips, and calling upon her
to awake and speak to him once more.

When she thought he could bear it, Jenny told him of all Rose had
said, and by the side of her coffin, with his hand resting upon her
white forehead, the conscience-stricken young man swore, that never
again should ardent spirits of any kind pass his lips, and the father
who stood by and heard that vow, felt that if it were kept, his
daughter had not died in vain.

The day following the burial. George and Mary returned to Chicopee,
and as the next day was the one appointed for the sale of Mr.
Lincoln's farm and country house, he also accompanied them.

"Suppose you buy it," said he to George as they rode over the
premises. "I'd rather you'd own it than to see it in the hands of
strangers."

"I intended doing so," answered George, and when at night he was the
owner of the farm, house and furniture, he generously offered it to
Mr. Lincoln rent free, with the privilege of redeeming it whenever he
could.

This was so unexpected, that Mr. Lincoln at first could hardly find
words to express his thanks, but when he did he accepted the offer,
saying, however, that he could pay the rent, and adding that he hoped
two or three years of hard labor in California, whither he intended
going, would enable him to purchase it back. On his return to
Glenwood, he asked William, who was still there, "how he would like to
turn farmer for a while."

Jenny looked up in surprise, while William asked what he meant.

Briefly then Mr. Lincoln told of George's generosity, and stating his
own intentions of going to California, said that in his absence
somebody must look after the farm, and he knew of no one whom he would
as soon trust as William.

"Oh, that'll be nice," said Jenny, whose love for the country was as
strong as ever. "And then, Willie, when pa comes back we'll go to
Boston again and practise law, you and I!"

William pressed the little fat hand which had slid into his, and
replied, that much as he would like to oblige Mr. Lincoln, he could
not willingly abandon his profession, in which he was succeeding even
beyond his most sanguine hopes. "But," said he, "I think I can find a
good substitute in Mr. Parker, who is anxious to leave the poor-house.
He is an honest, thorough-going man, and his wife, who is an excellent
housekeeper, will relieve Mrs. Lincoln entirely from care."

"Mercy!" exclaimed the last-mentioned lady, "I can never endure that
vulgar creature round me. First, I'd know she'd want to be eating at
the same table, and I couldn't survive that!"

Mr. Lincoln looked sad. Jenny smiled, and William replied, that he
presumed Mrs. Parker herself would greatly prefer taking her meals
quietly with her husband in the kitchen.

"We can at least try it," said Mr. Lincoln, in a manner so decided
that his wife ventured no farther remonstrance, though she cried and
fretted all the time, seemingly lamenting their fallen fortune, more
than the vacancy which death had so recently made in their midst.

Mr. Parker, who was weary of the poor-house, gladly consented to take
charge of Mr. Lincoln's farm, and in the course of a week or two Jenny
and her mother went out to their old home, where every thing seemed
just as they had left it the autumn before. The furniture was
untouched, and in the front parlor stood Rose's piano and Jenny's
guitar, which had been forwarded from Boston. Mr. Lincoln urged his
mother-in-law to accompany them, but she shook her head, saying, "the
old bees never left their hives," and she preferred remaining in
Glenwood.

Contrary to Mrs. Lincoln's fears, Sally Ann made no advances whatever
towards an intimate acquaintance, and frequently days and even weeks
would elapse without her ever seeing her mistress, who spent nearly
all her time in her chamber, musing upon her past greatness, and
scolding Jenny, because she was not more exclusive. While the family
were making arrangements to move from Glenwood to Chicopee. Henry for
the first time in his life began to see of how little use he was to
himself or any one else. Nothing was expected of him, consequently
nothing was asked of him, and as his father made plans for the future,
he began to wonder how he himself was henceforth to exist. His father
would be in California, and he had too much pride to lounge around the
old homestead, which had come to them through George Moreland's
generosity.

Suddenly it occurred to him that he too would go with his father, - he
would help him repair their fortune, - he would not be in the way of so
much temptation as at home, - he would be a man, and when he returned
home, hope painted a joyful meeting with his mother and Jenny, who
should be proud to acknowledge him as a son and brother. Mr. Lincoln
warmly seconded his resolution, which possibly would have never been
carried out, had not Henry heard of Miss Herndon's engagement with a
rich old bachelor whom he had often heard her ridicule. Cursing the
fickleness of the fair lady, and half wishing that he had not broken
with Ella, whose fortune, though not what he had expected, was
considerable, he bade adieu to his native sky, and two weeks after the
family removed to Chicopee, he sailed with his father for the land of
gold.

But alas! The tempter was there before him, and in an unguarded moment
he fell. The newly-made grave, the narrow coffin, the pale, dead
sister, and the solemn vow were all forgotten, and a debauch of three
weeks was followed by a violent fever, which in a few days cut short
his mortal career. He died alone, with none but his father to witness
his wild ravings, in which he talked of his distant home, of Jenny and
Rose, Mary Howard, and Ella, the last of whom he seemed now to love
with a madness amounting almost to frenzy. Tearing out handfuls of his
rich brown hair, he thrust it into his father's hand, bidding him to
carry it to Ella, and tell her that the heart she had so earnestly
coveted was hers in death. And the father, far more wretched now than
when his first-born daughter died, promised every thing, and when his
only son was dead, he laid him down to sleep beneath the blue sky of
California, where not one of the many bitter tears shed for him in his
far off home could fall upon his lonely grave.




CHAPTER XXXIII

CONCLUSION.


Great was the excitement in Rice Corner when it was known that on the
evening of the tenth of September a grand wedding would take place, at
the house of Mrs. Mason. Mary was to be married to the "richest man in
Boston," so the story ran, and what was better yet, many of the
neighbors were to be invited. Almost every day, whether pleasant or
not, Jenny Lincoln came over to discuss the matter, and to ask if it
were not time to send for William, who was to be one of the groomsmen,
while she, together with Ida, were to officiate as bridesmaids. In
this last capacity Ella had been requested to act, but the tears came
quickly to her large mournful eyes, and turning away she wondered how
Mary could thus mock her grief!

From one fashionable watering place to another Mrs. Campbell had taken
her, and finding that nothing there had power to rouse her drooping
energies, she had, towards the close of the summer, brought her back
to Chicopee, hoping that old scenes and familiar faces would effect
what novelty and excitement had failed to do. All unworthy as Henry
Lincoln had been, his sad death had cast a dark shadow across Ella's
pathway. Hour after hour would she sit, gazing upon the locks of
shining hair, which over land and sea had come to her in a letter from
the father, who told her of the closing scene, when Henry called for
her, to cool the heat of his fevered brow. Every word and look of
tenderness was treasured up, and the belief fondly cherished that he
had always loved her thus, else why in the last fearful struggle was
she alone remembered of all the dear ones in his distant home?

Not even the excitement of her sister's approaching marriage could
awaken in her the least interest, and if it were mentioned in her
presence she would weep, wondering what she had done that Mary should
be so much happier than herself, and Mrs. Campbell remembering the
past, could but answer in her heart that it was just. Sometimes Ella
accused her sister of neglect, saying she had no thought for any one,
except George Moreland, and his elegant house in Boston. It was in
vain that Mary strove to convince her of her mistake. She only shook
her head, hoping her sister would never know what it was to be
wretched and desolate as she was. Mary could have told her of many
weary days and sleepless nights, when there shone no star of hope in
her dark sky, and when even her only sister turned from her in scorn;
but she would not, and wiping away the tears which Ella's unkindness
had called forth, she went back to her home, where busy preparations
were making for her bridal.

Never before had Mrs. Perkins, or the neighborhood generally, had so
much upon their hands at one time. Two dressmakers were sewing for
Mary. A colored cook, with a flaming red turban, came up from
Worcester to superintend the culinary department, and a week before
the wedding Aunt Martha also arrived, bringing with her a quantity of
cut glass of all sizes and dimensions, the uses of which could not
even be guessed, though the widow declared upon her honor, a virtue by
which she always swore, that two of them were called "cellar dishes,"
adding that the "Lord only knew what that was!"

With all her quizzing, prying, and peeking, Mrs. Perkins was unable to
learn any thing definite with regard to the wedding dress, and as a
last resort, she appealed to Jenny, "who of course ought to know,
seein' she was goin' to stand up with 'em."

"O, yes, I know," said Jenny, mischievously, and pulling from her
pocket a bit of brown and white plaid silk, - Mary's travelling
dress, - she passed it to the widow, who straightway wondered at Mary's
taste in selecting "that gingham-looking thing!"

Occasionally the widow felt some doubt as she heard rumors of pink
brocades, India muslins, heavy silks, and embroidered merino
morning-gowns; "but law," thought she "them are for the city. Any
thing 'll do for the country, though I should s'pose she'd want to
look decent before all the Boston top-knots that are comin'."

Three days before the wedding, the widow's heart was made glad with a
card of invitation, though she wondered why Mrs. Mason should say she
would be "at home." "Of course she'd be to hum, - where else should she
be!"

It was amusing to see the airs which Mrs. Perkins took upon herself,
when conversing with some of her neighbors, who were not fortunate
enough to be invited. "They couldn't ask every body, and 'twas natural
for them to select from the best families."

Her pride, however, received a fall when she learned that Sally
Furbush had not only been invited, and presented with a black silk
dress for the occasion, but that George Moreland, who arrived the day
preceding the wedding, had gone for her himself, treating her with all
the deference that he would the most distinguished lady. And truly for
once Sally acquitted herself with a great deal of credit, and
remembering Miss Grundy's parting advice, to "keep her tongue between
her teeth," she so far restrained her loquacity, that a stranger would
never have thought of her being crazy.

The bridal day was bright, beautiful, and balmy, as the first days of
September often are, and when the sun went down, the full silvery moon
came softly up, as if to shower her blessings upon the nuptials about
to be celebrated. Many and brilliant lights were flashing from the
windows of Mrs. Mason's cottage, which seemed to enlarge its
dimensions as one after another the guests came in. First and foremost
was the widow with her rustling silk of silver gray, and the red
ribbons which she had sported at Sally Ann's wedding. After a series
of manoeuvres she had succeeded in gaining a view of the supper table,
and now in a corner of the room she was detailing the particulars to
an attentive group of listeners.

"The queerest things I ever see," said she, "and the queerest names,
too. Why, at one end of the table is a _muslin de laine puddin'_ - "

"A what?" asked three or four ladies in the same breath, and the widow
replied, - "May-be I didn't get the name right, - let me see: - No, come
to think, it's a _Charlotte_ somebody puddin' instead of a muslin de
laine. And then at t'other end of the table is what I should call a
dish of _hash_, but Judith says it's 'chicken Sally,' and it took the
white meat of six or seven chickens to make it. Now what in the world
they'll ever do with all them legs and backs and things, is more'n I
can tell, but, land sake there come some of the _puckers_. Is my cap
on straight?" she continued, as Mrs. Campbell entered the room,
together with Ella, and a number of Boston ladies.

Being assured that her cap was all right, she resumed the
conversation by directing the attention of those nearest her to Ella,
and saying in a whisper, "If she hain't faded in a year, then I don't
know; but, poor thing, she's been disappointed, so it's no wonder!"
and thinking of her own experience with Mr. Parker, the widow's heart
warmed toward the young girl, who, pale and languid, dropped into the
nearest seat, while her eyes moved listlessly about the room. The
rich, showy dresses of the city people also, came in for observation,
and while the widow marvelled at their taste in wearing "collars as
big as capes," she guessed that Mary'd feel flat in her checkered
silk, when she came to see every body so dressed up.

And now guest after guest flitted down the narrow staircase and
entered the parlor, which with the bedroom adjoining was soon filled.
Erelong Mr. Selden, who seemed to be master of ceremonies appeared,
and whispered something to those nearest the door. Immediately the
crowd fell back, leaving a vacant space in front of the mirror. The
busy hum of voices died away, and only a few suppressed whispers of,
"There! - Look! - See! - Oh, my!" were heard, as the bridal party took
their places.

The widow, being in the rear, and rather short, slipped off her shoes,
and mounted into a chair, for a better view, and when Mary appeared,
she was very nearly guilty of an exclamation of surprise, for in place
of the "checkered silk" was an elegant _moire antique_, and an
expensive bertha of point lace, while the costly bridal veil, which
swept the floor, and fell in soft folds on either side of her head,
was confined to the heavy braids of her hair by diamond fastenings. A
diamond necklace encircled her slender throat, and bracelets of the
same shone upon her round white arms. The whole was the gift of George
Moreland, who had claimed the privilege of selecting and presenting
the bridal dress, and who felt a pardonable pride when he saw how well
it became Mary's graceful and rather queenly form.

At her left stood her bridesmaids, Ida and Jenny, while at George's
right, were Mr. Elwood and William Bender the latter of whom looked on
calmly while the solemn words were spoken which gave the idol of his
boyhood to another and if he felt a momentary pang when he saw how


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Online LibraryMary Jane HolmesThe English Orphans → online text (page 21 of 23)