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BEULAH

CHAPTER I.

A JANUARY sun had passed the zenith, and the slanting rays flamed over the window-panes of a large brick building, bearing on its front in golden letters the inscription, “Orphan Asylum.” The structure was commodious, and surrounded by wide galleries, while the situation offered a silent tribute to the discretion and good sense of the board of managers, who selected the suburbs instead of the more densely populated portion of the city. The whitewashed palings inclosed, as a front yard or lawn, rather more than an acre of ground, sown in grass and sti ded with trees, among which the shelled walks meandered gracefully. A long avenue of elms and poplars extended from the gate to the principal entrance, and imparted to the Asylum an imposing and venerable aspect. There was very little shrubbery, but here and there orange boughs bent beneath their load of golden fruitage, while the glossy foliage, stirred by the wind, trembled and glistened in the sunshine. Beyond the inclosure stretched the common, dotted with occasional clumps of pine and leafless oaks, through which glimpses of the city might be had. Building and grounds wore a quiet, peaceful, inviting look, singularly appropriate for the purpose designated by the inscription, “Orphan Asylum," a haven for the desolate and miserable.

The front door was closed, but upon the broad granite steps, where the sunlight lay warm and tempting, sat a trio of the inmates. In the foreground was a slight fairy form, "a wee winsome thing," with coral lips, and large, soft blue eyes, set in a frame of short, clustering golden curls. She looked about six years old, and was clad, like her companions, in canary-colored flannel dress, and blue check apron. Lillian was the pet of the Asylum, and now her rosy cheek rested upon her tiny white palm, as though she wearied of the picture-book which lay at her feet. The figure beside her, was one whose marvellous beauty riveted the gaze of all who chanced to see her. The child could have been but a few months older than Lillian, yet the brilliant black eyes, the peculiar curve of the dimpled mouth, and long, dark ringlets, gave to the oval face à maturer and more piquant loveliness. The cast of Claudia's countenance bespoke her foreign parentage, and told of the warm, fierce Italian blood that glowed in her cheeks. There was fascinating grace in every movement, even in the easy indolence of her position, as she bent on one knee to curl Lillian's locks over her finger. On the upper step, in the rear of these two, sat a girl whose age could not have been very accurately guessed from her countenance, and whose features contrasted strangely with those of her companions. At a first casual glance, one thought her rather homely, nay, decidedly ugly; yet, to the curious physiognomist, this face presented greater attractions than either of the others. Reader, I here paint you the portrait of that quiet little figure, whose history is contained in the following pages. A pair of large grey eyes set beneath an overhanging forehead, a boldly-projecting-forehead, broad and smooth ; a rather large but finely cut mouth, an irreproachable nose, of the order furthest removed from aquiline, and heavy black eyebrows, which, instead of arching, stretched straight across and nearly met. There was not a vestige of color in her cheeks; face, neck, and hands wore a sickly pallor, and a mass of rippling: jetty hair, drawn smoothly over the temples, rendered this marble-like

whiteness more apparent. Unlike the younger children, Beulah was busily sewing upon what seemed the counterpart of their aprons; and the sad expression of the countenance, the lips firmly compressed, as if to prevent the utterance of complaint, showed that she had become acquainted with cares and sorrows, of which they were yet happily ignorant. Her eyes were bent down on her work, and the long, black lashes nearly touched her cold cheeks.

“Sister Beulah, ought Claudy to say that ?” cried Lillian, turning round and laying her hand upon the piece of sewing.

“Say what, Lilly? I was not listening to you."

“She said she hoped that largest robin redbreast would get drunk, and tumble down. He would be sure to bump some of his pretty bright feathers out, if he rolled over the shells two or three times," answered Lilly, pointing to a China-tree near, where a flock of robins were eagerly chirping over the feast of berries.

“Why, Claudy ! how can you wish the poor little fellow such bad luck ?" The dark, thoughtful eyes, full of deep meaning, rested on Claudia's radiant face. Oh ! you

need not think I am a bear, or a hawk, ready to swallow the darling little beauty alive! I would not have him lose a feather for the world ; but I should like the fun of seeing him stagger and wheel over and over, and tumble off the limb, so that I might run and catch him in my apron. Do

you

think I would give him to our matron to make a pie ? No, you might take off my fingers first !" and the little elf snapped them emphatically in Beulah's face.

“Make a pie of robies, indeed! I would starve before I would eat a piece of it," chimed in Lilly, with childish horror at the thought.

Claudia laughed with mingled mischief and chagrin. “You say you would not eat a bit of roby-pie to save your life? Well, you did it last week, anyhow."

"Oh, Claudy, I didn't !”

Oh, but you did ! Don't you remember Susan picked up a bird last week that fell out of this very tree, and gave it to our matron ? Well, didn't we have bird-pie for dinner ?”

“ Yes, but one poor little fellow would not make a pie.”

“They had some birds already that came from the market, and I heard Mrs. Williams tell Susan to put it in with the others. So, you see, you did eat roby-pie, and I didn't, for ļ knew what was in it. I saw its head wrung off !”

“Well, I hope I did not get any of roby: I won't eat any more pie till they have all gone,” was Lilly's consolatory reflection. Chancing to glance toward the gate, she exclaimed :

“ There is a carriage.”

“What is to day ? let me see, Wednesday : yes, this is the evening for the ladies to meet here. Lil, is my face right clean ? because that red-headed Miss Dorothy always takes particular pains to look at it. She rubbed her pocket-handkerchief over it the other day. I do hate her, don't you ?” cried Claudia, springing up and buttoning the band of her apron sleeve, which had become unfastened.

Why, Claudy, I am astonished to hear you talk so : Miss Dorothy helps to buy food and clothes for us, and you ought to be ashamed to speak of her as you do.” As she delivered this reprimand, Beulah snatched up a small volume and hid it in her work-basket.

“I don't believe she gives us much. I do hate her, and I can't help it, she is so ugly, and cross, and vinegar-faced. I should not like her to look at my mug of milk. You don't love her either, any more than I do, only you won't say anything about her. But kiss me, and I promise I will be good, and not make faces at her in my apron." Beulah stooped down and warmly kissed the suppliant, then took her little sister's hand and led her into the house, just as the carriage reached the door. The children presented a pleasant spectacle as they entered the long dining-room, and ranged themselves for inspection. Twenty-eight heirs of orphanage, varying in years, from one crawling infant, to

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