Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

One evening after supper, Mrs. Clifton and Catherine sat each side their work-stand, before the fire, awaiting the arrival of the boy who had been despatched to the postoffice. So often had the lady thus sat and waited, and been disappointed, that hope waxed very faint. This time, however, she was destined to have her heart gladdened by the full fruition of hope. About nine o'clock the messenger returned, and entered the parlour with a packet of letters and papers. The boy's face was lighted up with sympathetic joy, and he exclaimed, as he handed the bundle, "I almos' rid myself to death, missis, I was so glad I had de letters to bring yer."

"You have made great haste, indeed, Neddy. Go tell Henny to give you your supper," said the lady.

"Good boy," said Kate, pressing his little sooty hand as he passed her and went out.

Mrs. Clifton was reading a letter from Archer. It was written in a glad, buoyant spirit, and contained the best possible news. Against all hope, Carolyn's health, since her arrival at Lisbon, had steadily improved, and it was now so far re-established that they were already looking forward to their voyage at the earliest opening of spring. Carolyn had gained flesh and colour, as well as health, and strength, and cheerfulness, and was looking far better than she had looked since his first meeting her again at Richmond. Mrs. Clifton repeated all this to Catherine, adding, "It is true, Kate, that none of her family who have perished by her disease ever tried a change of climate; and although in most cases such a change hurries the patient to the grave, yet, in some instances, it seems to work wonders in the way of cure; and who knows, if Carolyn is so greatly benefited, that she may not get over this danger, and, if not positively cured, yet live to a good old age, and die at last of something else, as I have heard of consumptives doing."

"I'm so glad!" Catherine sat with her face suffused with the flush, and her eyes filled with the tears of sympathising joy and thanksgiving. After reading and re-reading the letter, and dwelling on it, and talking of it, Mrs. Clifton finally unfolded the paper, the Richmond Standard, and, running her eyes over its columns, suddenly exclaimed, "Catherine, when joys come, they come not as single spies, but in battalions.' Here is excellent news of an old friend-listen!

Q

Only two or three lines among the 'items' of a newspaper column, yet of what great moment to many! Hear." And the lady read-" At the conclusion of the recent treaty of peace between this Government and the Shoshonowa nation, among the prisoners held to ransom was the gallant Captain Fairfax, supposed to have fallen under their tomahawks at the massacre near Fort Protection. This brave but unfortunate officer is now understood to be on his way to the seat of Government."

Catherine was positively speechless with joy; only her clasped hands and fervent countenance revealed what she felt. In the great though calm surprise and rejoicings over the event, these friends forgot its singularity, until after a long while Catherine exclaimed, "Poor Zuleime! Oh, how could such a fatal misrepresentation have been made of the case? It was reported that he was cloven down from his saddle, and then butchered!"

"It was not a wilful misrepresentation; it was a misapprehension. The few who escaped to tell the tale of the massacre no doubt had seen him struck down; and, don't you see? in the terror and confusion they imagined the rest— knowing perfectly well that scalping and rifling the bodies are the almost invariable custom of the savages. And then remember, Catherine, the body taken for the corpse of Captain Fairfax was so rifled and mutilated as to be unrecognisable, except upon circumstantial evidence."

66

So, indeed, it was said to be. I would the mistake had never been made, though! It killed Zuleime!"

66

Catherine, my child, I have no idea that Zuleime was really drowned."

"Madam !"

"Do you not know, Catherine, that anybody drowned in that part of the river where the supposed signs of her suicide were found must have come to light? Don't you know that the current is very rapid there, and that a ledge of rocks crosses the river a few yards below it, upon which her body must have been thrown if she had been in the river at all? And, Catherine, if I have never breathed this thought before, it was upon account of poor Carolyn. I knew that, in her weak, depressed state of mind and body, she could better bear the belief of Zuleime's death than the frightful uncertainty of her fate. You are discreet, Kate; you will not

breathe this to Carolyn, or to anyone, lest it should reach her ear."

"Never! And do you know, dear Mrs. Clifton, I have sometimes had the thought that Zuleime might yet be living -and I dared not indulge the hope secretly, much less breathe it aloud."

"And what was your reason for such a supposition, Catherine?"

yours.

"Why, my thought was not so well founded, so logical as I knew nothing about the peculiarities of the river. My thought was only a vague hope, and it agitated me so much as to interfere with my practical duties. I had to banish it."

"You are so sensitive, so sympathetic, my dear girl. Well, Kate, no more exciting talk to-night. We will return thanks to God for these glad tidings, and then retire to rest."

CHAPTER XXIII.

ZULEIME.

ZULEIME had been placed by Georgia under the care of a poor woman, the wife of a carver and gilder, who had occasionally worked for her father; and as long as the funds of the belle had held out, the trifling expenses of such poor board and lodging had been regularly paid; but when the syren was reduced to support her own extravagance entirely by credit, founded upon the false reputation of wealth, her small remittances to her protégée, or rather her victim, ceased. Zuleime was afraid to seek her, afraid to write to her-there was nothing she feared more than discovery; and the recognition of her handwriting on the superscription of a letter might have led to that. It was long after the death of her father before she heard of it, nor then did she hear any of the particulars of time, place, or circumstance. The fact came to her knowledge irregularly, through the report of the transcendent charms and conquests of his beautiful young widow. A long and dangerous illness was the result of this sudden news. It was some weeks after her recovery before the poor people of the house, who had long despaired of getting any

thing for her board, could find it in their kind hearts to ask her to seek another home; and even then they sent a sigh after the desolate young widow-the child who went forth carrying in her arms another child. And how she lived during the interval between that and the period at which I shall again introduce her to you, I cannot tell. Sometimes a little fine needlework came to her hands; sometimes a spell of want, reaching almost to starvation; then a little assistance from neighbours; and a little going in debt to shopkeepers. And then she always lodged with the poor; and the poor seldom persecute the poor. Remember that the needy family who first sheltered her had been for months at the sole expense of her food, lodging, and long illness; and yet they had never reproached or persecuted her for unpaid debts, though they scarcely refrained from re proaching themselves for sending her away.

In a quiet, back street, mostly inhabited by very humble people, in the middle of the square, and fronting immediately upon the battered pavement, stood an old two-storey brick house, occupied by a poor cabinet-maker and old furniture dealer. The lower front room was used as the ware-room, and crowded and piled up with every description of miserably dilapidated household furniture, apparently good for nothing else under the sun but kindling-wood, and scarcely worth splitting up for that: old worm-eaten, carved mahogany bureaus and bedsteads; tables without legs or leaves; chairs without backs; cradles without bottoms or rockers; clocks wanting faces; beaufets wanting doors; sofas minus arms; smoky pictures without frames, and tarnished frames without pictures; worm-eaten cabinets, and mildewed lookingglasses; broken pots, pans, and kettles; and mismatched crockery-ware in any quantity.

Reader, I do not wish to give you an inventory of an old furniture shop, but merely some idea of the inextricable confusion in which this heterogeneous mass of worn-out, broken, worm-eaten, mildewed, fly-stained, dust-clothed, cobwebveiled items were piled up from floor to ceiling. It would make your heart and head ache with wondering what sort of a living could be picked out from so much dirt, disorder, and decay, and who on earth could be the patrons of the establishment. You would unconsciously gather close about you your most worthless dress in passing through the shop,

and look up in involuntary dread of a broken head or limbs, by the fall of some of those dilapidated, ill-balanced, old chairs and tables.

The family of the chair-maker consisted of himself, his wife, and two daughters. They were Germans, with the usual talent of that race for money-getting and moneykeeping; and the man made at least a hundred per cent. on every old, rickety, worm-eaten bureau or table that, mended and varnished, left his shop. They added to their income by letting the rooms of their house, and occasionally by taking a profitable boarder.

It was in the early part of the same autumn which found her sister Carolyn in Lisbon, and Mrs. Clifton and Catherine alone at Hardbargain, that Zuleime became a tenant of the German cabinet-maker. She occupied the back room on the second floor-the two daughters of the family using the front room as a sleeping-apartment. She had the use of the street-passage door, and so reached her room without passing through the shop, or any part of the house occupied by the family or their boarders. The refinement in which she had been born and bred was not lost amid her bitter poverty: it constrained her to seek privacy of life, at least. She supported herself and child, just now, by doing fine needlework for some ladies on a transient visit to the city; but the work was precarious, and the supply might be cut off at any moment. Her expenses were small, however, and her economy wonderful. Her neat but poorly-furnished room cost her but ten shillings a month; a bushel of meal and a pint of salt, five shillings; milk for the child, two shillings; fuel, eight shillings; washing, three shillings; candle-light, two shillings; and the attendance of a boy to bring water and cut wood, three shillings-making the sum total of her monthly expenses only one pound fourteen shillings, or little more than six dollars. Her only food was mush or corncakes prepared from the meal. She could not have kept up very long under this regimen-indeed, although she knew it not, she was slowly dying of a disease as common, as lingering, and as universally ignored as that of a broken heartnamely, innutrition, or slow starvation. Her German hostess, kind-hearted, notwithstanding her money-grasping propensities, often sent her a bowl of "noodle soup," with a little plate of "sour-krout," and a tumbler of schnapps, or some

« AnteriorContinuar »