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I. Magdalen 5

II. The Dead Sister's Letter 13

III. Mr. George Barstone 19

IV. The Mark on Maurice Langley's Ann 34

V. Golden Willow 32

VI. Summer Days 38

VII. Mr. Barstone Falls in Love 44

Vlll. Mr. Barstone Proposes 52

IX. Told in the Twilight 62

X. Engaged 72

XI. Free from Sing Sing 82

XII. Magdalen's Wedding Day 90

XIII. At the Opera.. 103

XIV. The Mark on George's Arm 112

XV. " Cursed with the Curse of an Accomplished Prayer" 120

XVI. Unpleasant for a Bridegroom 130

XVII. The First Move 137

XVIII. In which Doctor Philip does his duty 150

XIX. Fanny's Good Fortune 160

XX. " And Yet my Days Go on, (Jo on " 173

XXI. The Lull Before the Storm 184

XXII. The Old Mill by the River 192

XXIIL That Night gOQ




XXIV. Told in the Darknesa 206

XXV. " Past Hope, Past Care, Past Help " 217

XXVI. " I'll Not Believe but Desdemona's Honest " 229

XXVII. At the Last Moment 234

XXVIII. Learning the Truth 243

XXIX. In the Sick Room 24S

XXX. Before the Wedding 256

XXXI. Drawing Near 268

XXXII. The Wedding Week 275

XXXIII. The Wedding Night 290

XXXIV. Avenged 297

XXXV. " I am a Sinner Viler Than you All " 303

XXXVL Forgiven 309




The month was October, very near its close ; the
time, lule in the evening of a wet and dismal day ; the
place, a cottage kitchen, its only occupants an old woman
and a baby, not twenty-four hours old. The soft patter
of the ceaseless rain on the glass, the sobbing cry of the
wind around the gables, the moaning surge of the pine
woods near — these made their own tumult without.

Within a bright fire blazed in the shining cook stove ; a
big brass clock ticked loudly in a corner, a maltese cat
purred on a mat, and the tea-kettle sung its pleasant song.

The little old woman, who swayed in her Boston rocker
before the stove, was the trimmest little old woman ever
firelight shone on.

The baby lay in her lap, a bundle of yellow flannel ;
and, as she rocked, she cried, miserable, silent tears.

'' To think that tiiis should be her welcome home ! "
she kept moaning drearily to herself. " Only one short
year and all gone — father, sister, brother, home ! My
poor dear — my poor dear ! "

The loud-voiced clock struck six, with a clatter. The
last vibration was drowned in the shrill scream of a loco-
motive, rushing in. The shrill shriek rent the stormy
twilight like the cry of a demon, and woke the sleeping

" Hush, baby, hush ! " the old woman said, crooning a
dismal lullaby. '* There she is — there is Magdalen ! Poor
dear ! poor dear ! She'll be here in ten minutes now."

But the ten passed — twenty — half an hour — before the
knock for which she listened came to the door.

" There she is ! "

She plumped the baby into the rocker, made for the


door with a rnsh, and flung it wide. On the threshold,
all wet and dripping and worn-looking, a young girl stood.
The rainv evening light was just strong enough to show a
pale young face, a slender, girlish figure, and a pair of
great, luminous dark eyes.

'* My darling I" the old woman cried, catching her in
her arms. *' My own darling girl ! And you are wet
through and through ! You must have walked all the
way from the station in the rain.

The girl slowly disengaged herself, entered the hall and
stood looking at her.

'■' Rachel," she said, *'am I in time ?"

The old woman broke suddenly out crying — loud, an-
guished sobs, that shook her from head to foot.

It was the girl's most eloquent answer, and she leaned
against the wall with a face of blank despair.

** Too late ! " she said, slowly ; " too late ! Laura is
dead ! "

The old woman's sobs grew louder and her pitiful at-
tempts to stifle them were vain.

'' I oughtn't to, I know," she cried, hysterically ; " that
you should come home like this, and only last year "

She broke down, weeping wildly. But the girl stood,
tearless and white, staring blankly at the opposite wall.

" Father and Laura dead — and Willie ! Oh, my God !
how can I bear it ? "

The old woman hushed her sobs and looked up.

The despair of that orphaned cry smote her, with its
unutterable pathos, to the heart.

*' Magdalen ! Magdalen ! " she cried. '* My darling,
don't look like that ! Come in — you are worn and wet —
come in to the fire. My child, don't wear that sorrowful
face ; it breaks your poor old nurse's heart ! Come ! "

She led the way ; the girl followed. The old Scripture
name — full of its own pathos always — seemed strangely
appropriate here. Mary Magdalene herself might have
worn those amber-dropping tresses — might have owned
that white, young face, so indescribably sad.

" You poor child!" the old nurse said, **you are as
white as a spirit ! You must have a cup of tea and some
dry clothes right away. Where is your trunk ? "

Even in the midst of death and despair, these common-
place questions rise.


Magdalen looked at her with great, haggard eyes.

** I left it at the station. Rachel, when did Laura die ?**

** Yesterday," old Rachel answered, crying again ; *' an
hour after her bahy was born."

*' Her baby ? Oh, Rachel ! " with a wild start, " I did
not know — I did not know "

The old woman undid the bundle of flannel. The babe
lay soundly asleep.

The girl covered her colorless face for a moment, her
tears coming at last, falling like rain.

** Laura ! Laura ! My sister ! "

Her tears were noiseless, burning, bitter. She looked
tip presently, to bend over the sleeping child and kiss its
velvet cheek.

" Laura's baby ! Poor little motherless thing I Oh,
Rachel, it is very, very hard ! "

"Very hard, my dearest and terrible to bear ; but it
must be borne, for all that. My pet, go up to your room
and change these dripping clothes. I don t want to lose
you, too."

•' Better so," the girl said, wearily. " Better end it all,
and lie down and die with them. Others would die of
half this misery, but I only suffer and live on ! "

Slowly and spiritlessly she ascended the stairs to her
own familiar room. She changed her wet garments,
bathed her aching head, brushed out the rippling, yellow
ringlets — all in a weary, aimless sort of way — and then re-
turned to the apartment below. It was a very simple
toilet she had ma!de, and her black dress was frayed and
faded, and scant and ill-made ; but for all that she was
well worth looking at.

She was very pretty, in spite of her pallor — so brightly
pretty, that it was a pleasure only to look at her.

" My own darling ! " the old nurse said, fondly kissing
her, *' you are more beautiful than ever, and almost a wo-
man at sixteen. It's a sad pity, but oh dear, dear ! how
can I help it ? To think you can go to school no more."

"I must only study at home," Magdalen said, "and
practise my music as well as I can. I suppose no one
would be willing to engage a governess only sixteen years
old. Have we enough to live on for a year, Rachel ? "

*' More than enough, surely. Your poor papa's lawyer,
Mr. Hammond, will tell you. It is very hard, my poor


dear, you should have to go out into the big, wicked,
cruel world, to earn your own living at all. You are a
great deal too pretty."

"• Kachel," said Magdalen, abruptly, " where is Laura ?
I want to see her."

** She's laid out in the parlor, poor darling ! Widow
Morgan sat up with me the last night, and she helped me
afterward to lay her out. Siie makes a lovely corpse —
sweet, pale lamb — and peaceful as an angel. Don't go
now. Take some tea first. You look fagged out and I
shall have you sick on my hands, too."

" You don't know how strong I am," said Magdalen.
" I have grown of late tired of my life, of the world, of
myself, of everything ; but nothing hurts me. I suffer
and live on. Others, more fortunate, would suffer and

She drank the tea, strove to eat, and failed.

" It's of no use, Rachel — I can't. I feel as though it
were choking me. Let me go and see my sister ; then
you shall tell me all. "

Rachel arose and led the way down the hall, bearing a
light. In dead silence she opened the parlor door and
Magdalen followed her in.

The cottage parlor was very like any other cottage par-
lor, plainly and prettily furnished. Carpet and furnitare
and pictures were all very simple and bright and nice :
but one ghastly object was there to chill the quiet beauty
of the picture.

In the center of the floor stood a long table, draped in
ghostly white. Awfully stiff and rigid, under a white
sheet, could be seen the outline of what lay stark and dead

Magdalen paused on the threshold and laid her hand on
Rachel's arm, her eyes fixed, large and dilated, on that
ghastly sight. The dim lamplight showed her face, with
its stare of white horror.

"Leave me alone, Rachel I "she said, in a hoarse
whisper. " Go ! "

There was that in her nursling's face the old woman
dared not disobey. She turned reluctantly away and left
the room.

The girl advanced and stood beside the bed. Only the
Boft sobbing of the October rain, the shuddering wail of


the night wind and the solemn snrging of the pine trees,
broke the silence of the room.

With a face like snow, like marble, she drew the sheet
down, and gazed upon the sister she had loved so well. It
was a face wonderfully beautiful in its last dreamless
sleep — more beautiful, perhaps, than it had ever been in
life. The straight, delicate features were like her own ;
so was the mass of burnished hair, combed away from the
icy brow. The hands were folded together across the
bosom ; the sweet, beautiful lips were closed with an in-
effable expression of rest. Too solemn for words to tell
was the unutterable peace of that death sleep.

'* And it all ends here ! " Magdalen thought. " Youth
and hope and innocence ! Sweetness and beauty and
tenderest love, could not save her one poor hour from
ruin and the grave ! Oh, my sister — my sister ! "

She dropped on her knees and laid her face on the
marble breast. Xo tear fell, no sob shook her slender
frame. She seemed to have passed beyond all that. The
steady drip, drip, of the ceaseless rain, the mournful sigh-
ing of the wind, sounded like a dirge for tlie dead. So
long she knelt there that old Rachel, growing alarmed,
opened the door and came in.

"My child! my child !" in an awe-struck whisper,
"come away. This will never do!"

The girl got up at once, pale as the dead sister lying be-
fore her, and almost as rigid. One last look and she fol-
lowed the old nurse out into the kitchen. She sat down
before the fire, that icy calm still over all.

" And now, Rachel," she said, " tell me the whole
story. "

The dead girl's sleeping child lay cozily in RacheFs lap,
as she rocked to and fro in her nurse chair.

" It's a short enough story," she said, with a heavy sigh,
** to contain so much misery. Let me see. It was last
September, twelve months, you went away to New Haven,
to school ? "

" Yes."

"Well, one week after, the trouble began. Willie, yoa
know, was not going to New York, to continue his medi-
cal studies, until December, and he spent a good deal of
his time in the woods, fishing and shooting, and in the
village loitering about the hotel. It was there he met tho


villain who brought all our misery — a wretch for whom
hanging would be a great deal too good ! "

Magdalen's teeth clenched and her eyes suddenly
blazed up.

" Go on," she said ; " tell me his name."

" His name was Maurice Langley, and he was very hand-
some. Tall and fair, you know, with dark, curling hair,
and a. black mustache. He had come to the country for a
month's fishing and Willie and he grew as intimate as
brothers. Willie brought him home and your poor papa
and Laura were taken with him at once. He had such
winning ways, such a pleasant laugh and such a charming,
offhand manner, that he took people's fancy at first sight.
He could play the piano better than Laura and sing most
beautiful, and he could talk to your papa like a book. He
fascinated all of us the very first visit and I don't know
who sang his praises loudest when he went away. It was
not Laura ; she said nothing ; but there was a look in her
sweet face that told far more than words.

* ' After that Mr. Langley was every day and nearly all
of every day, at the house. He and Laura were always
together, playing and singing, and drawing. and reading.
And the more we saw of him, the better we liked him, and
we never tried to check this intimacy. And that month
passed, and the next came, and Mr. Langley began to talk
of going home. I don't know rightly where his home was,
but I think in New York, where he was studying law, he
told us. The middle of October he did go, shaking hands
with the whole of us, the villain, and saying he would
never forget the pleasant days he had spent amongst our
New Hampshire hills.

" I was afraid Laura would droop and fret after him,
but she didn't. She sang as blithely about the house as
ever, and how was I to know she was only waiting a letter
from him'to follow him ? That they had it all arranged
beforehand ? Before the month closed the letter came.
Laura bade us good-night the evening that brought it, and
next morning, when 1 went to call her to breakfast, she
was gone."

There was a pause. Rachel's tears were falling fast, but
Magdalen sat staring straight at the fire, with dry, glitter-
ing eyes.

" There was a note for your papa, hurried and brief,


telling him she loved Mr. Langley, and was gone to be
married. It was necessary, for family reasons, Mr. Lang-
ley told her, tliat the marriage siioiUd be strictly private.
His family wished him to marry iiis cousin, and he dared
not oppose them openly. Slie begged her father not to
search for her ; she would be well and happy and would
write again, as soon as she was Mr. Langley's wife.

*SShe never wrote again. It was a terrible suspense.
Xobody would believe the story of the marriage in the
village and she was disgraced forever. Willie was furious
at first, lie would seek out Langlcy and shoot him like a
dog, if Laura was not his wife. Hut you know "Willie ;
his rage flew over. December came ; he went to New
York and he had not even tried to find them.

" The next we heard lie and Langlcy were as thick as
ever. He met Langlcy in New York and he was Laura's
husband ; but Laura was only the wretched shadow of
herself. They were poor and lived in a shabby boarding-
house, and she was miserably dressed. Langlcy was no
law student — nothing but a professional gambler — and ia
a few months he had made a professional gambler of our
poor, weak boy. He wrote and wrote perpetually for
money, until there was no more to write for ; he %va3
deeply in debt to Langley and others ; he grew desperate ;
he forged Doctor Wentworth's name for two thousand
dollars, was detected, arrested, tried and sentenced for six

Rachel's voice sank in a hoarse whisper. Magdalen's face
had dropped in her hand ; she never lifted it during the
remainder of the story.

" That blow finished what Laura had begun. Yonr
father dropped down in a fit when he heard it, and never
left his bed after ; and in September — just one year after
that matchless villain came amongst us — he was laid be-
side your mamma in the churchyard.

" I cannot tell you how desolate I felt here alone, Mag-
dalen. They all wanted me to send for you right away,
but I hadn't the heart. I seemed to know poor Laura
would come back and I waited for that.

"Early in October, one stormy night, when the wind
blew a gale, and the rain fell in torrents, she came. She
walked, in all the downpour, from the station, and I think
that helped to give her her death blow. But she would


have died anyway. She wanted nothing but to get back
to the old home and die. Oh, that clianged face ! — so
haggard, so heart-broken ! My poor nursling ! And so
wretched and miserably dressed ! She gave one scream
when I told her that her father was dead and dropped
down in a dead faint.

" Ah, what a wretched, wretched time it was ! I never
saw despair before, and I pray God I never may again. I
wanted to send for you, but she cried out, in a wild, fren-
zied sort of way :

" ' No ! no ! no ! not for ten thousand worlds ! I am
not fit to breathe the same air she does ! Magdalen is my
name, not hers ! Send for her when I am dead ! '

*' Once, and once only, I spoke of Langley. She had
been quiet for hours, sitting crouching over the fire. At
the sound of his name she started up and tossed the hair
back from her face like a mad woman.

"'Don't speak of him!' she cried out; ' he is the
blackest and basest villain on the face of the earth ! My
curse on him wherever he goes ! '

"My poor Magdalen, it is terrible to have to tell you
of such things. After that I never mentioned Langley^s
name, nor your father's, nor Willie's. I left her to her-
Felf. The few days before her last illness she spent in
writing a letter. It took her a long time, she was so very
weak ; but she finished it at last, and told me to give it to
you when she was dead and buried.

" ' I have told my sister all,' she said ; ' it may keep
her from quite hating my memory when I am gone ! '

" From that hour I could see death approaching. The
doctor and the clergyman knew as Avell as I did she would
never rise from her bed again. I wrote for you, but you
came too late. Laura's earthly troubles are over."

With fast-falling tears, Eachel's story of sin and suffer-
ing closed. The rain and wind, that had made a dismal
accompaniment to her dismal words, the light fall of red
cinders, the ticking of the old clock, had the silence to
themselves ; and Magdalen cowered before the fire, her
face hidden, hearing all, and never moving or looking up.




Through tlie gray gloom of another dull October day
the scant funeral procession left the cottage, and took
their way to the village churchyard. The coffin plate told
the dead girl's mournful but too common history :

Laura Allward. Aged 18.

Laura Allward ! And her baby wailed in old Rachel's
faithful arms. That was why only one or two elderly
.natrons came near the cottage, and why such a handful
of men followed the hearse, gloomily, to the grave !

It was not customary in that little New England village
for women to attend funerals, but Magdalen Allward, with
a thick veil over her face, and a heavy shawl drawn around
her slender form, followed her sister to the grave. Curious
eyes peeped from closed Avindows to scan that black-draped,
girlish figure, and heads shook ominously, and croaking
voices hoped she might come to a good end. But they
doubted it — these good people ; tiie taint of her sister's
shame, her brother's disgrace, would cling to her like a
garment of fire, through life.

The sods rattled down on the coffin lid, the men stood
by with bare heads. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, and
then the sexton, blue and cold, in the bleak October
weather, filled up the grave in a hurry, and slapped briskly
on the sods. And all the time tlie veiled figure of the
lonely girl stood apart, forlorn and shivering in the raw
blasts. One by one the men straggled away and left her
there, as desolate and forsaken a creature as the whole
world held.

The new-made grave was under a clump of melancholy
fir trees, worried by the high wind, and writhing like
things in human agony. Side by side lay two others,
sacred to the memory of John Allward and his wife Helen,
but forever and ever that new-made grave must lie name-

Magdalen Allward looked up with a shiver at the low-


lying sky, gray and desolate as her young life, and slowly,
slowly turned away at last. Heaven knows what her
thoughts had been while she stood there, alone among the
dead, alone among the living, and felt that one man had
wrought all this misery, and disgrace, and death. Her
veiled face kept her secret well, as she walked wearily
homeward through the windy twilight.

Rachel sat before the fire, holding the baby, and croon-
ing softly as she rocked it asleep. Magdalen threw back
her veil, stooped and kissed it.

" Then you are not going to dislike it," the nurse said,
looking relieved. " I was afraid you would."

" Dislike it ! Dislike a little babe ! "

*' You know what I mean, dear — for that villain's sake."

Magdalen rose up suddenly, her face darkening vindic-

'' You are right ; I ought to hate it — spawn of a viper
— as I hate him ! But, no ; it is Laura's baby ; I will try
and like it, for Laura's sake. I am going to my room
now, Rachel. I am worn out. No, I want nothing but
rest. Good night."

She quitted the room, ascended to her own, with slow,
weary steps, undressed, and then threw herself upon the
bed. Worn out she surely was, and scarcely had her head
touched the pillow than she was asleep — the sound, blessed
sleep of youth and health.

It was almost noon next day when she came down-stairs.
Breakfast awaited her and in dark silence and moody she
ate it. As she arose from the table she said :

''Rachel, where is the letter Laura left for me ?"

Rachel produced it at once. A thick letter, in a buff
envelope, sealed and addressed :

To My Sister Magdalen. To be read when I am buried.

Magdalen stood silently gazing at the familiar handwrit-
ing for a few moments, then, silently still, she turned and
walked out of the kitchen. Rachel looked after her un-

" She is going to read it in her own room. Poor child !
I hope it may not distress her much. Her troubles are too
heavy for her sixteen years."

Rachel was mistaken ; she was not going to read it in


her own room. She came down presently dressed for a
walk, holding the letter in her hand.

'* Wliere are you going witli that letter, Magdalen?"
the old wojiiun asked, in alarm.

The girl paused on the threshold to answer her.

" I am going to read Laura's letter beside Laura's grave.
It will seem like her voice speaking to me from the dead."

Magdalen could not have chosen a more secluded or
lonely spot. Shut in by firs and hemlock, a place where
no one ever came, save on a sunny Sunday afternoon, she
was not likely to be disturbed. On a rustic bench, under
the gloomy firs, she sat down, threw back her veil and
reverently opened the letter. It was long and closely
written, and there, by the writer's grave, seemed indeed
a voice from the dead. Magdalen read :

My Dearest Sister :

When you read this the grave will have closed over me,
and — and when you know the whole truth you may learn
at least to think pityingly of the dead sister who has
blighted your young life, but who has been more " sinned
against than sinning." It is a little more than a year ago,
and yet what a century of sin and misery it seems. My
little Magdalen ! my pretty, gentle, golden-haired sister !
How little 1 thought when I kissed you good-by, that
sunny September morning, it would be good-by "forever
and ever.

Rachel will tell you how I left home — she can tell you
no more. Not how I loved Maurice Langley ; not how I
believed in him ; not how I trusted him. He was the
veriest hero of romance — the prince of my silly girlish
dreams — and I loved him madly, after the fashion of fool-
ish, novel-reading girls, and thought the sunshine of heaven
not half so bright as his smile. And he — oh, Magda-
len ; it was easy for him — false to the core of his deceitful
heart — to take me in his arms, and make me think I was
all the world to him. 1 listened and I trusted, and was
wrapt in ecstasy — delirious with love and delight — and
like plastic wax in the hands of a molder, I heard his
plausible story, and I believed it as I believed the Scrip-
tures. It must be a secret marriage, or a total separation.
His parents would never consent to an open marriage, and
my father would never consent to a clandestine one. Sd


I must fly. Separation to me was worse than death. 1
consented to anything— everything — rather than that.

Online LibraryMay Agnes FlemingMagdalen's vow → online text (page 1 of 28)