- story: OLD GARDISTON.
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One by one they died—
Last of all their race;
Nothing left but pride,
Lace and buckled hose;
Their quietus made,
On their dwelling-place
Ruthless hands are laid:
Down the old house goes!
Many a bride has stood
In yon spacious room;
Here her hand was wooed
Underneath the rose;
O'er that sill the dead
Reached the family tomb;
All that were have fled—
Down the old house goes!
OLD GARDISTON was a manor-house down in the rice-lands, six miles from a Southern seaport. It had been called Old Gardiston for sixty or seventy years, which showed that it must have belonged to colonial days, since no age under that of a century could have earned for it that honorable title in a neighborhood where the Declaration of Independence was still considered an event of comparatively modern times. The war was over, and the mistress of the house, Miss Margaretta Gardiston, lay buried in St. Mark's churchyard, near by. The little old church had long been closed; the very road to its low stone doorway was overgrown, and a second forest had grown up around it; but the churchyard was still open to those of the dead | | 106 who had a right there; and certainly Miss Margaretta had this right, seeing that father, grandfather, and great-grandfather all lay buried there, and their memorial tablets, quaintly emblazoned, formed a principal part of the decorations of the ancient little sanctuary in the wilderness. There was no one left at Old Gardiston now save Cousin Copeland and Gardis Duke, a girl of seventeen years, Miss Margaretta's niece and heir. Poor little Gardis, having been born a girl when she should have been a boy, was christened with the family name—a practice not uncommon in some parts of the South, where English customs of two centuries ago still retain their hold with singular tenacity; but the three syllables were soon abbreviated to two for common use, and the child grew up with the quaint name of Gardis.
They were at breakfast now, the two remaining members of the family, in the marble-floored dining-room. The latticed windows were open; birds were singing outside, and roses blooming; a flood of sunshine lit up every corner of the apartment, showing its massive Chinese vases, its carved ivory ornaments, its hanging lamp of curious shape, and its spindle-legged sideboard, covered with dark-colored plates and platters ornamented with dark-blue dragons going out to walk, and crocodiles circling around fantastically roofed temples as though they were waiting for the worshipers to come out in order to make a meal of them. But, in spite of these accessories, the poor old room was but a forlorn place: the marble flooring was sunken and defaced, portions were broken into very traps for unwary feet, and its ancient enemy, the penetrating dampness, had finally conquered the last resisting mosaic, and climbed the walls, showing in blue and yellow streaks on the old-fashioned moldings. There had been no fire in the tiled fireplace for many years; Miss Margaretta did not approve of fires, and wood was costly: this last reason, however, was never mentioned; and Gardis had grown into a girl of sixteen before she knew the comfort of the sparkling little fires that shine on the hearths morning and | | 107 evening during the short winters in well-appointed Southern homes. At that time she had spent a few days in the city with some family friends who had come out of the war with less impoverishment than their neighbors. Miss Margaretta did not approve of them exactly; it was understood that all Southerners of "our class" were "impoverished." She did not refuse the cordial invitation in toto, but she sent for Gardis sooner than was expected, and set about carefully removing from the girl's mind any wrong ideas that might have made a lodgment there. And Gardis, warmly loving her aunt, and imbued with all the family pride from her birth, immediately cast from her the bright little comforts she had met in the city as plebeian, and, going up stairs to the old drawing-room, dusted the relics enshrined there with a new reverence for them, glorifying herself in their undoubted antiquity. Fires, indeed! Certainly not.
The breakfast-table was spread with snowy damask, worn thin almost to gossamer, and fairly embroidered with delicate darning; the cups and plates belonged to the crocodile set, and the meager repast was at least daintily served. Cousin Copeland had his egg, and Gardis satisfied her young appetite with fish caught in the river behind the house by Pompey, and a fair amount of Dinah's corn-bread. The two old slaves had refused to leave Gardiston House. They had been trained all their lives by Miss Margaretta; and now that she was gone, they took pride in keeping the expenses of the table, as she had kept them, reduced to as small a sum as possible, knowing better than poor Gardis herself the pitiful smallness of the family income, derived solely from the rent of an old warehouse in the city. For the war had not impoverished Gardiston House; it was impoverished long before. Acre by acre the land had gone, until nothing was left save a small cornfield and the flower-garden; piece by piece the silver had vanished, until nothing was left save three teaspoons, three tablespoons, and four forks. The old warehouse had brought in little rent during those four long years, and they had fared | | 108 hardly at Gardiston. Still, in their isolated situation away from the main roads, their well-known poverty a safeguard, they had not so much as heard a drum or seen a uniform, blue or gray, and this was a rare and fortunate exemption in those troublous times; and when the war was at last ended, Miss Margaretta found herself no poorer than she was before, with this great advantage added, that now everybody was poor, and, indeed, it was despicable to be anything else. She bloomed out into a new cheerfulness under this congenial state of things, and even invited one or two contemporaries still remaining on the old plantations in the neighborhood to spend several days at Gardiston. Two ancient dames accepted the invitation, and the state the three kept together in the old drawing-room under the family portraits, the sweep of their narrow-skirted, old-fashioned silk gowns on the inlaid staircase when they went down to dinner, the supreme unconsciousness of the break-neck condition of the marble flooring and the mold-streaked walls, the airy way in which they drank their tea out of the crocodile cups, and told little stories of fifty years before, filled Gardis with admiring respect. She sat, as it were, in the shadow of their greatness, and obediently ate only of those dishes that required a fork, since the three spoons were, of course, in use. During this memorable visit Cousin Copeland was always " engaged in his study" at meal-times; but in the evening he appeared, radiant and smiling, and then the four played whist together on the Chinese table, and the ladies fanned themselves with stately grace, while Cousin Copeland dealt not only the cards, but compliments also—both equally old-fashioned and well preserved.
But within this first year of peace Miss Margaretta had died—an old lady of seventy-five, but bright and strong as a winter apple. Gardis and Cousin Copeland, left alone, moved on in the same way: it was the only way they knew. Cousin Copeland lived only in the past, Gardis in the present; and indeed the future, so anxiously considered always by the busy, rest- | | 109 less Northern mind, has never been lifted into the place of supreme importance at the South.
When breakfast was over, Gardis went up stairs into the drawing-room. Cousin Copeland, remarking, in his busy little way, that he had important work awaiting him, retired to his study—a round room in the tower, where, at an old desk with high back full of pigeon-holes, he had been accustomed for years to labor during a portion of the day over family documents a century or two old, recopying them with minute care, adding foot-notes, and references leading back by means of red-ink stars to other documents, and appending elaborately phrased little comments neatly signed in flourishes with his initials and the date, such as "Truly a doughty deed. C. B. G. 1852."—" ' Worthy,' quotha? Nay, it seemeth unto my poor comprehension a marvelous kindness! C. B. G. 1856."—"May we all profit by this! C. B. G. 1858."
This morning, as usual, Gardis donned her gloves, threw open the heavy wooden shutters, and, while the summer morning sunshine flooded the room, she moved from piece to piece of the old furniture, carefully dusting it all. The room was large and lofty; there was no carpet on the inlaid floor, but a tapestry rug lay under the table in the center of the apartment; everything was spindle-legged, chairs, tables, the old piano, two cabinets, a sofa, a card-table, and two little tabourets embroidered in Scriptural scenes, reduced now to shadows, Joseph and his wicked brethren having faded to the same dull yellow hue, which Gardis used to think was not the discrimination that should have been shown between the just and the unjust. The old cabinets were crowded with curious little Chinese images and vases, and on the high mantel were candelabra with more crocodiles on them, and a large mirror which had so long been veiled in gauze that Gardis had never fairly seen the fat, gilt cherubs that surrounded it. A few inches of wax-candle still remained in the candelabra, but they were never lighted, a tallow substitute on the table serving as a nucleus during the eight months of warm weather | | 110 when the evenings were spent in the drawing-room. When it was really cold, a fire was kindled in the boudoir—a narrow chamber in the center of the large rambling old mansion, where, with closed doors and curtained windows, the three sat together, Cousin Copeland reading aloud, generally from the "Spectator," often pausing to jot down little notes as they occurred to him in his orderly memorandum-book—" mere outlines of phrases, but sufficiently full to recall the desired train of thought," he observed. The ladies embroidered, Miss Margaretta sitting before the large frame she had used when a girl. They did all the sewing for the household (very little new material, and much repairing of old), but these domestic labors were strictly confined to the privacy of their own apartments; in the drawing-room or boudoir they always embroidered. Gardis remembered this with sadness as she removed the cover from the large frame, and glanced at " Moses in the Bulrushes," which her inexperienced hand could never hope to finish; she was thinking of her aunt, but any one else would have thought of the bulrushes, which were now pink, now saffron, and now blue, after some mediæval system of floss-silk vegetation.
Having gone all around the apartment and dusted everything, Chinese images and all, Gardis opened the old piano and gently played a little tune. Miss Margaretta had been her only teacher, and the young girl's songs were old-fashioned; but the voice was sweet and full, and before she knew it she was filling the house with her melody.
And among the sweet blossoms he playfully played,
Plucking many a sweet from the boughs of the tree,
Till he felt that his finger was stung by a bee,"
"Bravo!" said a voice from the garden below.
Rushing to the casement, Miss Duke beheld, first with astonishment, then dismay, two officers in the uniform of the United States army standing at the front door. They bowed courteously, and one of them said, "Can I see the lady of the house?"
I—I am the lady," replied Gardis, confusedly; then drawing back, with the sudden remembrance that she should not have shown herself at all, she ran swiftly up to the study for Cousin Copeland. But Cousin Copeland was not there, and the little mistress remembered with dismay that old Dinah was out in the corn-field, and that Pompey had gone fishing. There was nothing for it, then, but to go down and face the strangers. Summoning all her self-possession, Miss Duke descended. She would have preferred to hold parley from the window over the doorway, like the ladies of olden time, but she feared it would not be dignified, seeing that the times were no longer olden, and therefore she went down to the entrance where the two were awaiting her. "Shall I ask them in?" she thought. "What would Aunt Margaretta have done?" The Gardiston spirit was hospitable to the core; but these—these were the Vandals, the despots, under whose presence the whole fair land was groaning. No; she would not ask them in.
The elder officer, a grave young man of thirty, was spokesman. "Do I address Miss Gardiston?" he said.
"I am Miss Duke. My aunt, Miss Gardiston, is not living," replied Gardis.
"Word having been received that the yellow fever has appeared on the coast, we have been ordered to take the troops a few miles inland and go into camp immediately, Miss Duke. The grove west of this house, on the bank of the river, having been selected as camping-ground for a portion of the command, we have called to say that you need feel no alarm at the proximity of the soldiers; they will be under strict orders not to trespass upon your grounds."| | 112
"Thanks," said Gardis mechanically; but she was alarmed; they both saw that.
"I assure you, Miss Duke, that there is not the slightest cause for nervousness," said the younger officer, bowing as he spoke.
"And your servants will not be enticed away, either," added the other.
"We have only two, and they—would not go," replied Gardis, not aggressively, but merely stating her facts.
The glimmer of a smile crossed the face of the younger officer, but the other remained unmoved.
"My name, madam, is Newell—David Newell, captain commanding the company that will be encamped here. I beg you to send me word immediately if anything occurs to disturb your quiet," he said.
Then the two saluted the little mistress with formal courtesy, and departed, walking down the path together with a quick step and soldierly bearing, as though they were on parade.
"Ought I to have asked them in?" thought Gardis; and she went slowly up to the drawing-room again and closed the piano. "I wonder who said 'bravo'? The younger one, I presume." And she presumed correctly.
At lunch (corn-bread and milk) Cousin Copeland's old-young face appeared promptly at the dining-room door. Cousin Copeland, Miss Margaretta's cousin, was a little old bachelor, whose thin dark hair had not turned gray, and whose small bright eyes needed no spectacles; he dressed always in black, with low shoes on his small feet, and his clothes seemed never to wear out, perhaps because his little frame hardly touched them anywhere; the cloth certainly was not strained. Everything he wore was so old-fashioned, however, that he looked like the pictures of the high-collared, solemn little men who, accompanied by ladies all bonnet, are depicted in English Sunday-school books following funeral processions, generally of the good children who die young.| | 113
"O Cousin Copeland, where were you this morning when I went up to your study?" began Gardis, full of the event of the morning.
"You may well ask where I was, my child," replied the bachelor, cutting his toasted corn-bread into squares with mathematical precision. "A most interesting discovery—most interesting. Not being thoroughly satisfied as to the exact identity of the first wife of one of the second cousins of our grandfather, a lady who died young and left no descendants, yet none the less a Gardiston, at least by marriage, the happy idea occurred to me to investigate more fully the contents of the papers in barrel number two on the east side of the central garret—documents that I myself classified in 1849, as collateral merely, not relating to the main line. I assure you, my child, that I have spent there, over that barrel, a most delightful morning—most delightful. I had not realized that there was so much interesting matter in store for me when I shall have finished the main line, which will be, I think, in about a year and a half—a year and a half. And I have good hopes of finding there, too, valuable information respecting this first wife of one of the second cousins of our respected grandfather, a lady whose memory, by some strange neglect, has been suffered to fall into oblivion. I shall be proud to constitute myself the one to rescue it for the benefit of posterity," continued the little man, with chivalrous enthusiasm, as he took up his spoon. (There was one spoon to spare now; Gardis often thought of this with a saddened heart.) Miss Duke had not interrupted her cousin by so much as an impatient glance; trained to regard him with implicit respect, and to listen always to his gentle, busy little stream of talk, she waited until he had finished all he had to say about this " first wife of one of the second cousins of our grandfather" (who, according to the French phrase-books, she could not help thinking, should have inquired immediately for the green shoe of her aunt's brother-in-law's wife) before she told her story. Cousin Copeland shook his head many times during | | 114 the recital. He had not the bitter feelings of Miss Margaretta concerning the late war; in fact, he had never come down much farther than the Revolution, having merely skirmished a little, as it were, with the war of 1812; but he knew his cousin's opinions, and respected their memory. So he "earnestly hoped" that some other site would be selected for the camp. Upon being told that the blue army-wagons had already arrived, he then "earnestly hoped" that the encampment would not be of long continuance. Cousin Copeland had hoped a great many things during his life; his capacity for hoping was cheering and unlimited; a hope carefully worded and delivered seemed to him almost the same thing as reality; he made you a present of it, and rubbed his little hands cheerfully afterward, as though now all had been said.
"Do you think I should have asked them in?" said Gardis, hesitatingly.
"Most certainly, most certainly. Hospitality has ever been one of our characteristics as a family," said Cousin Copeland, finishing the last spoonful of milk, which had come out exactly even with the last little square of corn-bread.
"But I did not ask them."
"Do I hear you aright? You did not ask them, Cousin Gardiston?" said the little bachelor, pausing gravely by the table, one hand resting on its shining mahogany, the other extended in the attitude of surprise.
"Yes, Cousin Copeland, you do. But these are officers of the United States army, and you know Aunt Margaretta's feelings regarding them."
"True," said Cousin Copeland, dropping his arm; "you are right; I had forgotten. But it is a very sad state of things, my dear—very sad. It was not so in the old days at Gardiston House: then we should have invited them to dinner."
"We could not do that," said Gardis thoughtfully, " on account of forks and spoons; there would not be enough to go—But I would not invite them anyway," she added, the | | 115 color rising in her cheeks, and her eyes flashing. "Are they not our enemies, and the enemies of our country? Vandals? Despots?"
"Certainly," said Cousin Copeland, escaping from these signs of feminine disturbance with gentle haste. Long before, he was accustomed to remark to a bachelor friend that an atmosphere of repose was best adapted to his constitution and to his work. He therefore now retired to the first wife of the second cousin of his grandfather, and speedily forgot all about the camp and the officers. Not so Gardis. Putting on her straw hat, she went out into the garden to attend to her flowers and work off her annoyance. Was it annoyance, or excitement merely? She did not know. But she did know that the grove was full of men and tents, and she could see several of the blue-coats fishing in the river. "Very well," she said to herself hotly;" we shall have no dinner, then! " But the river was not hers, and so she went on clipping the roses, and tying back the vines all the long bright afternoon, until old Dinah came to call her to dinner. As she went, the bugle sounded from the grove, and she seemed to be obeying its summons; instantly she sat clown on a bench to wait until its last echo had died away. "I foresee that I shall hate that bugle," she said to herself.
The blue-coats were encamped in the grove three long months. Captain Newell and the lieutenant, Roger Saxton, made no more visits at Gardiston House; but, when they passed by and saw the little mistress in the garden or at the window, they saluted her with formal courtesy. And the lieutenant looked back; yes, there was no doubt of that—the lieutenant certainly looked back, Saxton was a handsome youth; tall and finely formed, he looked well in his uniform, and knew it. Captain Newell was not so tall—a gray-eyed, quiet young man. "Commonplace," said Miss Gardis. The bugle still gave forth its silvery summons. "It is insupportable," said the little mistress daily; and daily Cousin Copeland replied, "Certainly." But the bugle sounded on all the same.| | 116
One day a deeper wrath came. Miss Duke discovered Dinah in the act of taking cakes to the camp to sell to the soldiers!
"Well, Miss Gardis, dey pays me well for it, and we's next to not'ing laid up for de winter," replied the old woman anxiously, as the irate little mistress forbade the sale of so much as "one kernel of corn."
"Dey don't want de corn, but dey pays well for de cakes, dearie Miss Gardis. Yer see, yer don't know not'ing about it; it's only ole Dinah makin' a little money for herself and Pomp," pleaded the faithful creature, who would have given her last crumb for the family, and died content. But Gardis sternly forbade all dealings with the camp from that time forth, and then she went up to her room and cried like a child. " They knew it, of course," she thought; "no doubt they have had many a laugh over the bakery so quietly carried on at Gardiston House. They are capable of supposing even that I sanctioned it." And with angry tears she fell to planning how she could best inform them of their mistake, and overwhelm them with her scorn. She prepared several crushing little speeches, and held them in reserve for use; but the officers never came to Gardiston House, and of course she never went to the camp—no, nor so much as looked that way; so there was no good opportunity for delivering them. One night, however, the officers did come to Gardiston House—not only the officers, but all the men; and Miss Duke was very glad to see them.
It happened in this way. The unhappy State had fallen into the hands of double-faced, conscienceless whites, who used the newly enfranchised blacks as tools for their evil purposes. These leaders were sometimes emigrant Northerners, sometimes renegade Southerners, but always rascals. In the present case they had inflamed their ignorant followers to riotous proceedings in the city, and the poor blacks, fancying that the year of jubilee had come, when each man was to have a plantation, naturally began by ejecting the resident | | 117 owners before the grand division of spoils. At least this was their idea. During the previous year, when the armies were still marching through the land, they had gone out now and then in a motiveless sort of way and burned the fine plantation residences near the city; and now, chance having brought Gardiston to their minds, out they came, inconsequent and reasonless as ever, to burn Gardiston. But they did not know the United States troops were there.
There was a siege of ten minutes, two or three volleys from the soldiers, and then a disorderly retreat; one or two wounded were left on the battle-field (Miss Duke's flower-garden), and the dining-room windows were broken. Beyond this there was no slaughter, and the victors drew off their forces in good order to the camp, leaving the officers to receive the thanks of the household—Cousin Copeland, enveloped in a mammoth dressing-gown that had belonged to his grandfather, and Gardis, looking distractingly pretty in a hastily donned short skirt and a little white sack (she had no dressing-gown), with her brown hair waving over her shoulders, and her cheeks scarlet from excitement. Roger Saxton fell into love on the spot: hitherto he had only hovered, as it were, on the border.
"Had you any idea she was so exquisitely beautiful?" he exclaimed, as they left the old house in the gray light of dawn.
"Miss Duke is not exquisitely beautiful; she is not even beautiful," replied the slow-voiced Newell. "She has the true Southern colorless, or rather cream-colored, complexion, and her features are quite irregular."
"Colorless! I never saw more beautiful coloring in my life than she had to-night," exclaimed Saxton.
"To-night, yes; I grant that. But it took a good-sized not to bring it to the surface," replied the impassive captain.
A guard was placed around the house at night and pickets sent down the road for some time after this occurrence. Gardis, a prey to conflicting feelings, deserted her usual haunts | | 118 and shut herself up in her own room, thinking, thinking what she ought to do. In the mean time, beyond a formal note of inquiry delivered daily by a wooden-faced son of Mars, the two officers made no effort toward a further acquaintance; the lieutenant was on fire to attempt it, but the captain held him back. "It is her place to make the advances now," he said. It was; and Gardis knew it.
One morning she emerged from her retreat, and with a decided step sought Cousin Copeland in his study. The little man had been disquieted by the night attack; it had come to him vaguely once or twice since then that perhaps there might be other things to do in the world besides copying family documents; but the nebula—it was not even a definite thought—had faded, and now he was at work again with more ardor than ever.
"Cousin Copeland," said Gardis, appearing at the door of the study, "I have decided at last to yield to your wishes, and—and invite the officers to dinner."
"By all means," said Cousin Copeland, putting down his pen and waving his hands with a hearty little air of acquiescence—"by all means." It was not until long afterward that he remembered he had never expressed any wish upon the subject whatever. But it suited Gardis to imagine that he had done so; so she imagined it.
"We have little to work with," continued the little mistress of the house; "but Dinah is an excellent cook, and—and—O cousin, I do not wish to do it; I can not bear the mere thought of it; but oh! we must, we must." Tears stood in her eyes as she concluded.
"They are going soon," suggested Cousin Copeland, hesitatingly, biting the end of his quill.
"That is the very reason. They are going soon, and we have done nothing to acknowledge their aid, their courtesy—we Gardistons, both of us. They have saved our home, perhaps our lives; and we—we let them go without a word! O cousin, it must not be. Something we must do; noblesse | | 119 oblige! I have thought and thought, and really there is nothing but this: we must invite them to dinner," said Miss Duke, tragically.
"I—I always liked little dinners," said Cousin Copeland, in a gentle, assenting murmur.
Thus it happened that the officers received two formal little notes with the compliments of Miss Gardiston Duke inclosed, and an invitation to dinner. "Hurrah!" cried Saxton. "At last!"
The day appointed was at the end of the next week; Gardis had decided that that would be more ceremonious. "And they are to understand," she said proudly, "that it is a mere dinner of ceremony, and not of friendship."
"Certainly," said Cousin Copeland.
Old Dinah was delighted. Gardis brought out some of the half-year rent money, and a dinner was planned, of few dishes truly, but each would be a marvel of good cooking, as the old family servants of the South used to cook when time was nothing to them. It is not much to them now; but they have heard that it ought to be, and that troubles the perfection of their pie-crust. There was a little wine left in the wine-room—a queer little recess like a secret chamber; and there was always the crocodile china and the few pieces of cut glass. The four forks would be enough, and Gardis would take no jelly, so that the spoons would serve also; in fact, the dinner was planned to accommodate the silver. So far, so good. But now as to dress; here the poor little mistress was sadly pinched. She knew this; but she hoped to make use of a certain well-worn changeable silk that had belonged to Miss Margaretta, in hue a dull green and purple. But, alas! upon inspection she discovered that the faithful garment had given way at last, after years of patient service, and now there was nothing left but mildew and shreds. The invitation had been formally accepted; the dinner was in course of preparation: what should she do? She had absolutely nothing, poor child, save the two faded old lawns which she | | 120 wore ordinarily, and the one shabby woolen dress for cooler weather. "If they were anything but what they are," she said to herself, after she had again and again turned over the contents of her three bureau drawers, "I would wear my every-day dress without a moment's thought or trouble. But I will not allow these men, belonging to the despot army of the North, these aliens forced upon us by a strong hand and a hard fate, to smile at the shabby attire of a Southern lady."
She crossed the hall to Miss Margaretta's closed room: she would search every corner; possibly there was something she did not at the moment recall. But, alas! only too well did she know the contents of the closet and the chest of drawers, the chest of drawers and the closet; had she not been familiar with every fold and hue from her earliest childhood? Was there nothing else? There was the cedar chamber, a little cedar cupboard in the wall, where Miss Margaretta kept several stately old satin bonnets, elaborate structures of a past age. Mechanically Gardis mounted the steps, and opened the little door half-way up the wall. The bonnets were there, and with them several packages; these she took down and opened. Among various useless relics of finery appeared, at last, one whole dress; narrow-skirted, short, with a scantily fashioned waist, it was still a complete robe of its kind, in color a delicate blue, the material clinging and soft like Canton crape. Folded with the dress were blue kid slippers and a silk belt with a broad buckle. The package bore a label with this inscription, "The gown within belonged to my respected mother, Pamela Gardiston," in the handwriting of Miss Margaretta; and Gardis remembered that she had seen the blue skirt once, long ago, in her childhood. But Miss Margaretta allowed no prying, and her niece had been trained to ask permission always before entering her apartment, and to refrain from touching anything, unless asked to do so while there. Now the poverty-stricken little hostess carried the relics carefully across to her own room, and, locking the door, attired herself, and anxiously surveyed the effect. The old- | | 121 fashioned gown left her shoulders and arms bare, the broad belt could not lengthen the short waist, and the skirt hardly covered her ankles. "I can wear my old muslin cape, but my arms will have to show, and my feet too," she thought, with nervous distress. The creased blue kid slippers were full of little holes and somewhat mildewed, but the girl mended them bravely; she said to herself that she need only walk down to the dining-room and back; and, besides, the rooms would not be brightly lighted. If she had had anything to work with, even so much as one yard of material, she would have made over the old gown; but she had absolutely nothing, and so she determined to overcome her necessities by sheer force of will.
"How do I look, cousin?" she said, appearing at the study-door on the afternoon of the fatal day. See spoke nervously, and yet proudly, as though defying criticism. But Cousin Copeland had no thought of criticism.
"My child," he said, with pleased surprise, "you look charming. I am very glad you have a new gown, dear, very glad."
"Men are all alike," thought Gardis exultingly. "The others will think it is new also."
Cousin Copeland possessed but one suit of clothes; consequently he had not been able to honor the occasion by a change of costume; but he wore a ruffled shirt and a flower in his buttonhole, and his countenance was sedately illumined by the thought of the festal board below. He was not at work, but merely dabbling a little on the outer edges—making flourishes at the ends of the chapters, numbering pages, and so forth. Gardis had gone to the drawing-room; she longed to see herself from head to foot, but, with the exception of the glasses in two old pier-tables, there was no large mirror save the gauze-veiled one in the drawing-room. Should she do it? Eve listened to the tempter, and fell. Likewise Gardis. A scissors, a chair, a snip, and lo! it was done. There she was, a little figure in a quaint blue gown, | | 122 the thick muslin cape hiding the neck, but the dimpled arms bare almost to the shoulder, since the sleeve was but a narrow puff; the brown hair of this little image was braided around the head like a coronet; the wistful face was colorless and sad; in truth, there seemed to be tears in the brown eyes. "I will not cry," said Gardis, jumping down from her chair, "but I do look odd; there is no doubt of that." Then she remembered that she should not have jumped, on account of the slippers, and looked anxiously down; but the kid still held its place over the little feet, and, going to the piano, the young mistress of the manor began playing a gay little love-song, as if to defy her own sadness. Before it was finished, old Pompey, his every-day attire made majestic by a large, stiffly starched collar, announced the guests, and the solemnities began.
Everything moved smoothly, however. Cousin Copeland's conversation was in its most flowing vein, the simple little dinner was well cooked and served, Pompey was statuesque, and the two guests agreeable. They remained at the table some time, according to the old Gardiston custom, and then, the ends of wax-candles having been lighted in the drawing-room, coffee was served there in the crocodile cups, and Miss Duke sang one or two songs. Soon after the officers took leave. Captain Newell bowed as he said farewell, but Roger Saxton, younger and more impulsive, extended his hand. Miss Duke made a stately courtesy, with downcast eyes, as though she had not observed it; but by her heightened color the elder guest suspected the truth, and smiled inwardly at the proud little reservation. "The hand of Douglas is his own," he said to himself.
The dreaded dinner was over, and the girl had judged correctly: the two visitors had no suspicion of the antiquity of the blue gown.
"Did you ever see such a sweet little picture, from the pink rose in the hair down to the blue slipper!" said Saxton enthusiastically.| | 123
"She looked well," replied Newell; "but as for cordiality—"
"I'll win that yet. I like her all the better for her little ways," said the lieutenant. "I suppose it is only natural that Southern girls should cherish bitterness against us; although, of course, she is far too young to have lost a lover in the war—far too young."
"Which is a comfort," said Newell dryly.
"A great comfort, old man. Don't he bearish, now, but just wait a while and see."
"Precisely what I intend to do," said Newell.
In the mean time Gardis, in the privacy of her own room, was making a solemn funeral pyre on the hearth, composed of the blue gown, the slippers, and the pink rose, and watching the flame as it did its work. "So perish also the enemies of my country!" she said to herself. (She did not mean exactly that they should be burned on funeral pyres, but merely consigned them on this, as on all occasions, to a general perdition.) The old dress was but a rag, and the slippers were worthless; but, had they been new and costly, she would have done the same. Had they not been desecrated? Let them die!
It was, of course, proper that the guests should call at Gardiston House within a day or two; and Roger Saxton, ignoring the coldness of his reception, came again and again. He even sought out Cousin Copeland in his study, and won the heart of the old bachelor by listening a whole morning to extracts from the documents. Gardis found that her reserve was of no avail against this bold young soldier, who followed her into all her little retreats, and paid no attention to her stinging little speeches. Emboldened and also angered by what she deemed his callousness, she every day grew more and more open in her tone, until you might have said that she, as a unit, poured out upon his head the whole bitterness of the South. Saxton made no answer until the time came for the camp to break up, the soldiers being ordered back to the city. Then he came to see her one afternoon, and sat for | | 124 some time in silence; the conversation of the little mistress was the same as usual.
"I forgive this, and all the bitter things you have said to me, Gardis," he remarked abruptly.
"Forgive! And by what right, sir—"
"Only this: I love you, dear." And then he poured out all the tide of his young ardor, and laid his heart and his life at her feet.
But the young girl, drawing her slight figure up to its full height, dismissed him with haughty composure. She no longer spoke angrily, but simply said, "That you, a Northerner and a soldier, should presume to ask for the hand of a Southern lady, shows, sir, that you have not the least comprehension of us or of our country." Then she made him a courtesy and left the room. The transformation was complete; it was no longer the hot-tempered girl flashing out in biting little speeches, but the woman uttering the belief of her life. Saxton rode off into town that same night, dejected and forlorn.
Captain Newell took his leave a day later in a different fashion; he told Miss Duke that he would leave a guard on the premises if she wished it.
"I do not think it will be necessary," answered the lady.
"Nor do I; indeed, I feel sure that there will be no further trouble, for we have placed the whole district under military rule since the last disturbance. But I thought possibly you might feel timid."
"I am not timid, Captain Newell."
The grave captain stroked his mustache to conceal a smile, and then, as he rose to go, he said: "Miss Duke, I wish to say to you one thing. You know nothing of us, of course, but I trust you will accept my word when I say that Mr. Saxton is of good family, that he is well educated, and that he is heir to a fair fortune. What he is personally you have seen for yourself—a frank, kind-hearted, manly young fellow."| | 125
"Did you come here to plead his cause?" said the girl scornfully.
"No; I came here to offer you a guard, Miss Duke, for the protection of your property. But at the same time I thought it only my duty to make you aware of the real value of the gift laid at your feet."
"How did you know—" began Gardis.
"Roger tells me everything," replied the officer. "If it were not so, I—" Here he paused; and then, as though he had concluded to say no more, he bowed and took leave.
That night Gardiston House was left to itself in the forest stillness. "I am glad that bugle is silenced for ever," said Gardis.
"And yet it was a silvern sound," said Cousin Copeland.
The rains began, and there was no more walking abroad; the excitement of the summer and the camp gone, in its place came the old cares which had been half forgotten. (Care always waits for a cold or a rainy day.) Could the little household manage to live—live with their meager comforts—until the next payment of rent came in? That was the question.
Bitterly, bitterly poor was the whole Southern country in those dreary days after the war. The second year was worse than the first; for the hopes that had buoyed up the broken fortunes soon disappeared, and nothing was left. There was no one to help Gardis Duke, or the hundreds of other women in like desolate positions. Some of the furniture and ornaments of the old house might have been sold, could they have been properly brought forward in New York City, where there were people with purses to buy such things; but in the South no one wanted Chinese images, and there was nothing of intrinsic value. So the little household lived along, in a spare, pinched way, until, suddenly, final disaster overtook them: the tenant of the warehouse gave up his lease, declaring that the old building was too ruinous for use; and, as no one succeeded him, Gardiston House beheld itself face to face with starvation.
"If we wasn't so old, Pomp and me, Miss Gardis, we could | | 126 work for yer," said Dinah, with great tears rolling down her wrinkled cheeks; "but we's just good for not'ing now."
Cousin Copeland left his manuscripts and wandered aimlessly around the garden for a day or two; then the little man rose early one morning and walked into the city, with the hopeful idea of obtaining employment as a clerk. "My handwriting is more than ordinarily ornate, I think," he said to himself, with proud confidence.
Reaching the town at last, he walked past the stores several times and looked timidly within; he thought perhaps some one would see him, and come out. But no one came; and at last he ventured into a clothing-store, through a grove of ticketed coats and suspended trousers. The proprietor of the establishment, a Northern Hebrew whose venture had not paid very well, heard his modest request, and asked what he could do.
"I can write," said Cousin Copeland, with quiet pride; and in answer to a sign he climbed up on a tall stool and proceeded to cover half a sheet of paper in his best style. As he could not for the moment think of anything else, he wrote out several paragraphs from the last family document.
"Richard, the fourth of the name, a descendant on the maternal side from the most respected and valorous family—"
"Oh, we don't care for that kind of writing; it's old-fashioned," said Mr. Ottenheimer, throwing down the paper, and waving the applicant toward the door with his fat hand. "I don't want my books frescoed."
Cousin Copeland retired to the streets again with a new sensation in his heart. Old-fashioned? Was it old-fashioned? And even if so, was it any the less a rarely attained and delicately ornate style of writing? He could not understand it. Weary with the unaccustomed exercise, he sat down at last on the steps of a church—an old structure whose spire bore the marks of bomb-shells sent in from the blockading fleet outside the bar during those months of dreary siege—and thought he would refresh himself with some fur- | | 127 tive mouthfuls of the corn-bread hidden in his pocket for lunch.
"Good morning, sir," said a voice, just as he had drawn forth his little parcel and was opening it behind the skirt of his coat. "When did you come in from Gardiston?"
It was Captain Newell. With the rare courtesy which comes from a kind heart, he asked no questions regarding the fatigue and the dust-powdered clothes of the little bachelor, and took a seat beside him as though a church-step on a city street was a customary place of meeting.
"I was about to—to eat a portion of this corn-bread," said Cousin Copeland, hesitatingly; "will you taste it also?"
The young officer accepted a share of the repast gravely, and then Cousin Copeland told his story. He was a simple soul. Miss Margaretta would have made the soldier believe she had come to town merely for her own lofty amusement or to buy jewels. It ended, however, in the comfortable eating of a good dinner at the hotel, and a cigar in Captain Newell's own room, which was adorned with various personal appliances for comfort that astonished the eyes of the careful little bachelor, and left him in a maze of vague wonderings. Young men lived in that way, then, nowadays? They could do so, and yet not be persons of—of irregular habits?
David Newell persuaded his guest to abandon, for the present, all idea of obtaining employment in the city. "These shopkeepers are not capable of appreciating qualifications such as yours, sir," he said. "Would it not be better to set about obtaining a new tenant for the warehouse?"
Cousin Copeland thought it would; but repairs were needed, and—
"Will you give me the charge of it? I am in the city all the time, and I have acquaintances among the Northerners who are beginning to come down here with a view of engaging in business."
Cousin Copeland gladly relinquished the warehouse, and then, after an hour's rest, he rode gallantly back to Gardiston | | 128 House on one of the captain's horses; he explained at some length that he had been quite a man of mettle in his youth as regards horse-flesh—" often riding, sir, ten and fifteen miles a day."
"I will go in for a moment, I think," said the young officer, as they arrived at the old gate.
"Most certainly," said Cousin Copeland cordially; "Gardis will be delighted to see you."
"Will she?" said the captain.
Clouds had gathered, a raw wind from the ocean swept over the land, and fine rain was beginning to fall. The house seemed dark and damp as the two entered it. Gardis listened to Cousin Copeland's detailed little narrative in silence, and made no comments while he was present; but when he left the room for a moment she said abruptly:
"Sir, you will make no repairs, and you will take no steps toward procuring a tenant for our property in the city. I will not allow it."
"And why may I not do it as well as any other person?" said Captain Newell.
"You are not 'any other person,' and you know it," said Gardis, with flushed cheeks. "I do not choose to receive a favor from your hands."
"It is a mere business transaction, Miss Duke."
"It is not. You know you intend to make the repairs yourself," cried the girl passionately.
"And if I do so intend? It will only be advancing the money, and you can pay me interest if you like. The city will certainly regain her old position in time; my venture is a sure one. But I wish to assist you, Miss Duke; I do not deny it."
"And I—will not allow it!"
"What will you do, then?"
"God knows," said Gardis. "But I would rather starve than accept assistance from you." Her eyes were full of tears as she spoke, but she held her head proudly erect.| | 129
"And from Saxton? He has gone North, but he would be so proud to help you."
"From him least of all."
"Because of his love for you?"
Gardis was silent.
"Miss Duke, let me ask you one question. If you had loved Roger Saxton, would you have married him?"
"You would have sacrificed your whole life, then, for the sake of—"
"My country, sir."
"We have a common country, Gardis," answered the young man gravely. Then, as he rose, "Child," he said, "I shall not relinquish the charge of your property, given into my hands by Mr. Copeland Gardiston, and, for your own sake, I beg you to be more patient, more gentle, as becomes a woman. A few weeks will no doubt see you released from even your slight obligation to me: you will have but a short time to wait."
Poor Gardis! Her proud scorn went for nothing, then? She was overridden as though she had been a child, and even rebuked for want of gentleness. The drawing-room was cheerless and damp in the rainy twilight; the girl wore a faded lawn dress, and her cheeks were pale; the old house was chilly through and through, and even the soldier, strong as he was, felt himself shivering. At this instant enter Cousin Copeland. "Of course you will spend the night here," he said heartily. "It is raining, and I must insist upon your staying over until to-morrow—must really insist."
Gardis looked up quickly; her dismayed face said plainly, "Oh no, no." Thereupon the young officer immediately accepted Cousin Copeland's invitation, and took his seat again with quiet deliberation. Gardis sank down upon the sofa. "Very well," she thought desperately, "this time it is hopeless. Nothing can be done."
And hopeless it was. Pompey brought in a candle, and | | 130 placed it upon the table, where its dim light made the large apartment more dismal than before; the rain poured down outside, and the rising wind rattled the loose shutters. Dinner was announced—one small fish, potatoes, and corn-bread. Pale Gardis sat like a statue at the head of the table, and made no effort to entertain the guest; but Cousin Copeland threw himself bravely into the breach, and, by way of diversion, related the whole story of the unchronicled "wife of one of our grandfather's second cousins," who had turned out to be a most remarkable personage of Welsh descent, her golden harp having once stood in the very room in which they were now seated.
"Do you not think, my child, that a—a little fire in your aunt Margaretta's boudoir would—would be conducive to our comfort?" suggested the little bachelor, as they rose from the table.
"As you please," said Gardis.
So the three repaired thither, and when the old red curtains were drawn, and the fire lighted, the little room had at least a semblance of comfort, whatever may have been in the hearts of its occupants. Gardis embroidered, Cousin Copeland chatted on in a steady little stream, and the guest listened. "I will step up stairs to my study, and bring down that file of documents," said the bachelor, rising. He was gone, and left only silence behind him. Gardis did not raise her head, but went steadily on with the embroidered robe of the Queen of Sheba.
"I am thinking," began David Newell, breaking the long pause at last, "how comfortable you would be, Miss Duke, as the wife of Roger Saxton. He would take you North, away from this old house, and he would be so proud and so fond of you."
"The place could be put in order if you did not care to sell it, and your cousin Copeland could live on here as usual; indeed, I could scarcely imagine him in any other home."| | 131
"Oh yes, Miss Duke; I can easily imagine you in New York, Paris, or Vienna. I can easily imagine you at the opera, in the picture-galleries, or carrying out to the full your exquisite taste in dress."
Down went the embroidery. "Sir, do you mean to insult me?" said the pale, cotton-robed little hostess.
"By no means."
"Why do you come here? Why do you sneer at my poor clothes? Why—" Her voice trembled, and she stopped abruptly.
"I was not aware that they were poor or old, Miss Duke. I have never seen a more exquisite costume than yours on the evening when we dined here by invitation; it has been like a picture in my memory ever since."
"An old robe that belonged to my grandmother, and I burned it, every shred, as soon as you had gone," said Gardis hotly.
Far from being impressed as she had intended he should be, David Newell merely bowed; the girl saw that he set the act down as "temper."
"I suppose your Northern ladies never do such things?" she said bitterly.
"You are right; they do not," he answered.
"Why do you come here?" pursued Gardis. "Why do you speak to me of Mr. Saxton? Though he had the fortune of a prince, he is nothing to me."
"Roger's fortune is comfortable, but not princely, Miss Duke—by no means princely. We are not princely at the North," added Newell, with a slight smile, "and neither are we 'knightly.' We must, I fear, yield all claim to those prized words of yours."
"I am not aware that I have used the words," said Miss Duke, with lofty indifference.
"Oh, I did not mean you alone—you personally—but all Southern women. However, to return to our subject: | | 132 Saxton loves you, and has gone away with a saddened heart."
This was said gravely. "As though," Miss Duke remarked to herself—"really as though a heart was of consequence!"
"I presume he will soon forget," she said carelessly, as she took up her embroidery again.
"Yes, no doubt," replied Captain Newell. "I remember once on Staten Island, and again out in Mississippi, when he was even more—Yes, as you say, he will soon forget."
"Then why do you so continually speak of him?" said Miss Duke sharply. Such prompt corroboration was not, after all, as agreeable as it should have been to a well-regulated mind.
"I speak of him, Miss Duke, because I wish to know whether it is only your Southern girlish pride that speaks, or whether you really, as would be most natural, love him as he loves you; for, in the latter case, you would be able, I think, to fix and retain his somewhat fickle fancy. He is a fine fellow, and, as I said before, it would be but natural, Miss Duke, that you should love him."
"I do not love him," said Gardis, quickly and angrily, putting in her stitches all wrong. Who was this person, daring to assume what would or would not be natural for her to do?
"Very well; I believe you. And now that I know the truth, I will tell you why I come here: you have asked me several times. I too love you, Miss Duke."
Gardis had risen. "You?" she said—"you?"
"Yes, I; I too."
He was standing also, and they gazed at each other a moment in silence.
"I will never marry you," said the girl at last—"never! never! You do not, can not, understand the hearts of Southern women, sir."
"I have not asked you to marry me, Miss Duke," said the young soldier composedly; "and the hearts of Southern wo- | | 133 men are much like those of other women, I presume." Then, as the girl opened the door to escape, "You may go away if you like, Gardis," he said, "but I shall love you all the same, dear."
She disappeared, and in a few moments Cousin Copeland reentered, with apologies for his lengthened absence. "I found several other documents I thought you might like to see," he said eagerly. "They will occupy the remainder of our evening delightfully."
They did. But Gardis did not return; neither did she appear at the breakfast-table the next morning. Captain Newell rode back to the city without seeing her.
Not long afterward Cousin Copeland received a formal letter from a city lawyer. The warehouse had found a tenant, and he, the lawyer, acting for the agent, Captain Newell, had the honor to inclose the first installment of rent-money, and remained an obedient servant, and so forth. Cousin Copeland was exultant. Gardis said to herself, "He is taking advantage of our poverty," and, going to her room, she sat down to plan some way of release. "I might be a governess," she thought. But no one at the South wanted a governess now, and how could she go North? She was not aware how old-fashioned were her little accomplishments—her music, her embroidery, her ideas of literature, her prim drawings, and even her deportment. No one made courtesies at the North any more, save perhaps in the Lancers. As to chemistry, trigonometry, physiology, and geology, the ordinary studies of a Northern girl, she knew hardly more than their names. "We might sell the place," she thought at last, "and go away somewhere and live in the woods."
This, indeed, seemed the only way open to her. The house was an actual fact; it was there; it was also her own. A few days later an advertisement appeared in the city newspaper: "For sale, the residence known as Gardiston House, situated six miles from the city, on Green River. Apply by letter, or on the premises, to Miss Gardiston Duke." Three | | 134 days passed, and no one came. The fourth day an applicant appeared, and was ushered into the dining-room. He sent up no name; but Miss Duke descended hopefully to confer with him, and found—Captain Newell.
"You!" she said, paling and flushing. Her voice faltered; she was sorely disappointed.
"It will always be myself, Gardis," said the young man gravely. "So you wish to sell the old house? I should not have supposed it."
"I wish to sell it in order to be freed from obligations forced upon us, sir."
"Very well. But if I buy it, then what?"
"You will not buy it, for the simple reason that I will not sell it to you. You do not wish the place; you would only buy it to assist us."
"That is true."
"Then there is nothing more to be said, I believe," said Miss Duke, rising.
"Is there nothing more, Gardis?"
"Nothing, Captain Newell."
And then, without another word, the soldier bowed, and rode back to town.
The dreary little advertisement remained in a corner of the newspaper a month longer, but no purchaser appeared. The winter was rainy, with raw east winds from the ocean, and the old house leaked in many places. If they had lived in one or two of the smaller rooms, which were in better condition and warmer than the large apartments, they might have escaped; but no habit was changed, and three times a day the table was spread in the damp dining-room, where the atmosphere was like that of a tomb, and where no fire was ever made. The long evenings were spent in the somber drawing-room by the light of the one candle, and the rain beat against the old shutters so loudly that Cousin Copeland was obliged to elevate his gentle little voice as he read aloud to his silent companion. But one evening he found himself | | 135 forced to pause; his voice had failed. Four days afterward he died, gentle and placid to the last. He was an old man, although no one had ever thought so.
The funeral notice appeared in the city paper, and a few old family friends came out to Gardiston House to follow the last Gardiston to his resting-place in St. Mark's forest churchyard. They were all sad-faced people, clad in mourning much the worse for wear. Accustomed to sorrow, they followed to the grave quietly, not a heart there that had not its own dead. They all returned to Gardiston House, sat a while in the drawing-room, spoke a few words each in turn to the desolate little mistress, and then took leave. Gardis was left alone.
Captain Newell did not come to the funeral; he could not come into such a company in his uniform, and he would not come without it. He had his own ideas of duty, and his own pride. But he sent a wreath of beautiful flowers, which must have come from some city where there was a hot-house. Miss Duke would not place the wreath upon the coffin, neither would she leave it in the drawing-room; she stood a while with it in her hand, and then she stole up stairs and laid it on Cousin Copeland's open desk, where daily he had worked so patiently and steadily through so many long years. Uselessly? Who among us shall dare to say that?
A week later, at twilight, old Dinah brought up the young officer's card.
"Say that I see no one," replied Miss Duke.
A little note came back, written on a slip of paper: "I beg you to see me, if only for a moment; it is a business matter that has brought me here to-day." And certainly it was a very forlorn day for a pleasure ride: the wind howled through the trees, and the roads were almost impassable with deep mire. Miss Duke went down to the dining-room. She wore no mourning garments; she had none. She had not worn mourning for her aunt, and for the same reason. Pale and silent, she stood before the young officer waiting to hear | | 136 his errand. It was this: some one wished to purchase Gardiston House—a real purchaser this time, a stranger. Captain Newell did not say that it was the wife of an army contractor, a Northern woman, who had taken a fancy for an old family residence, and intended to be herself an old family in future; he merely stated the price offered for the house and its furniture, and in a few words placed the business clearly before the listener.
Her face lighted with pleasure.
"At last!" she said.
"Yes, at last, Miss Duke." There was a shade of sadness in his tone, but he spoke no word of entreaty. "You accept?"
"I do," said Gardis.
"I must ride back to the city," said David Newell, taking up his cap, "before it is entirely dark, for the roads are very heavy. I came out as soon as I heard of the offer, Miss Duke, for I knew you would be glad, very glad."
"Yes," said Gardis, "I am glad; very glad." Her cheeks were flushed now, and she smiled as she returned the young officer's bow. "Some time, Captain Newell—some time I trust I shall feel like thanking you for what was undoubtedly intended, on your part, as kindness," she said.
"It was never intended for kindness at all," said Newell bluntly. "It was never but one thing, Gardis, and you know it; and that one thing is, and always will be, love. Not ' always will be,' though; I should not say that. A man can conquer an unworthy love if he chooses."
"Unworthy?" said Gardis involuntarily.
"Yes, unworthy; like this of mine for you. A woman should be gentle, should be loving; a woman should have a womanly nature. But you—you—you do not seem to have anything in you but a foolish pride. I verily believe, Gardis Duke, that, if you loved me enough to die for me, you would still let me go out of that door without a word, so deep, so deadly is that pride of yours. What do I want with such a | | 137 wife? No. My wife must love me—love me ardently, as I shall love her. Farewell, Miss Duke; I shall not see you again, probably. I will send a lawyer out to complete the sale."
He was gone, and Gardis stood alone in the darkening room. Gardiston House, where she had spent her life—Gardiston House, full of the memories and associations of two centuries—Gardiston House, the living reminder and the constant support of that family pride in which she had been nurtured, her one possession in the land which she had so loved, the beautiful, desolate South—would soon be hers no longer. She began to sob, and then when the sound came back to her, echoing through the still room, she stopped suddenly, as though ashamed. "I will go abroad," she said; "there will be a great deal to amuse me over there." But the comfort was dreary; and, as if she must do something, she took a candle, and slowly visited every room in the old mansion, many of them long unused. From garret to cellar she went, touching every piece of the antique furniture, folding back the old curtains, standing by the dismantled beds, and softly pausing by the empty chairs; she was saying farewell. On Cousin Copeland's desk the wreath still lay; in that room she cried from sheer desolation. Then, going down to the dining-room, she found her solitary repast awaiting her, and, not to distress old Dinah, sat down in her accustomed place. Presently she perceived smoke, then a sound, then a hiss and a roar. She flew up stairs; the house was on fire. Somewhere her candle must have started the flame; she remembered the loose papers in Cousin Copeland's study, and the wind blowing through the broken window-pane; it was there that she had cried so bitterly, forgetting everything save her own loneliness.
Nothing could be done; there was no house within several miles—no one to help. The old servants were infirm, and the fire had obtained strong headway; then the high wind rushed in, and sent the flames up through the roof and | | 138 over the tops of the trees. When the whole upper story was one sheet of red and yellow, some one rode furiously up the road and into the garden, where Gardis stood alone, her little figure illumined by the glare; nearer the house the two old servants were at work, trying to save some of the furniture from the lower rooms.
"I saw the light and hurried back, Miss Duke," began Captain Newell. Then, as he saw the wan desolation of the girl's face: "O Gardis! why will you resist me longer?" he cried passionately. "You shall be anything you like, think anything you like—only love me, dear, as I love you."
And Gardis burst into tears. "I can not help it," she sobbed; "everything is against me. The very house is burning before my eyes. O David, David! it is all wrong; everything is wrong. But what can I do when—when you hold me so, and when—Oh, do not ask me any more."
"But I shall," said Newell, his face flushing with deep happiness. "When what, dear?"
"Love me?" said Newell. He would have it spoken.
"Yes," whispered Gardis, hanging her head.
"And I have adored the very shoe-tie of my proud little love ever since I first saw her sweet face at the drawing-room window," said Newell, holding her close and closer, and gazing down into her eyes with the deep gaze of the quiet heart that loves but once.
And the old house burned on, burned as though it knew a contractor's wife was waiting for it. "I see our Gardis is provided for," said the old house. "She never was a real Gardiston—only a Duke; so it is just as well. As for that contractor's wife, she shall have nothing; not a Chinese image, not a spindle-legged chair, not one crocodile cup—no, not even one stone upon another."
It kept its word: in the morning there was nothing left. Old Gardiston was gone!
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