Mary Jane Holmes
Part 6 out of 6
Ethie's hands were tightly locked together now, and her teeth shut so
tightly over her lips that the thin skin was broken, and a drop of blood
showed upon the pale surface; but in so doing she kept back a cry of
anguish which leaped up from her heart at Mrs. Dobson's words. The
"first Mrs. Markham," that was herself, while the "other Mrs. Markham"
meant, of course, her rival--the bride about whom she had heard at
Clifton. She did not think of Melinda as being a part of that household,
"and the other Mrs. Markham," for whom the new piano was to be
purchased--she thought of nothing but herself, and her own
"Does the governor know for certain that his first wife is dead?" she
asked, at last, and Mrs. Dobson replied:
"He believes so, yes. It's five years since he heard a word. Of course
she's dead. She must have been a pretty creature. Her picture is in the
governor's room. Come, I will show it to you."
Mrs. Dobson had left her glasses in the kitchen, so she did not notice
the white, stony face, so startling in its expression, as her visitor
followed her on up the broad staircase into the spacious hall above, and
on still further, till they came to the door of Richard's room, which
Hannah had left open. Then for a moment Ethelyn hesitated. It seemed
almost like a sacrilege for her feet to tread the floor of that private
room, for her breath to taint the atmosphere of a spot where the new
wife would come. But Mrs. Dobson led her on until she stood in the
center of Richard's room, surrounded by the unmistakable paraphernalia
of a man, with so many things around her to remind her of the past.
Surely, this was her own furniture; the very articles he had chosen for
the room in Camden. It was kind in Richard to keep and bring them here,
where everything was so much more elegant--kind, too, in him to redeem
her piano. It showed that for a time, at least, he had remembered her;
but alas! he had forgotten her now, when she wanted his love so much.
There were great blurring tears in her eyes, and she could not
distinctly see the picture on the walk which Mrs. Dobson said was the
first Mrs. Markham, asking if she was not a beauty.
"Rather pretty, yes," Ethie said, making a great effort to speak
naturally, and adding after a moment: "I suppose it will be taken down
when the other Mrs. Markham comes."
In Mrs. Dobson's mind the other Mrs. Markham only meant Melinda, and she
"Why should it? She knows it is here. She knew the other lady and liked
"She knew me? Who can it be?" Ethie asked herself, remembering that the
name she had heard at Clifton was a strange one to her.
"This, now, is the very handsomest part of the whole house," Mrs. Dobson
said, throwing open a door which led from Richard's room into a suite of
apartments which, to Ethie's bewildered gaze, seemed more like fairyland
than anything real she had ever seen. "This the governor fitted up
expressly for his wife and I'm told he spent more money here than in all
the upper rooms. Did you ever see handsomer lace? He sent to New York
for them," she said, lifting up one of the exquisitely wrought curtains
festooned across the arch which divided the boudoir from the large
sleeping room beyond. "This I call the bridal chamber," she continued,
stepping into the room where everything was so pure and white. "But,
bless me, I forgot that I put on a lot of bottles to heat: I'll venture
they are every one of them shivered to atoms. Hannah is so careless.
Excuse me, will you, and entertain yourself a while. I reckon you can
find your way back to the parlor."
Ethelyn wanted nothing so much as to be left alone and free to indulge
in the emotions which were fast getting the mastery of her. Covering her
face with her hands, as the door closed after Mrs. Dobson, she sat for a
moment bereft of the power to think or feel. Then, as things became more
real, as great throbs of heat and pain went tearing through her temples,
she remembered that she was in Richard's house, up in the room which
Mrs. Dobson had termed the bridal chamber, the apartments which had been
fitted up for Richard's bride, whoever she might be.
"I never counted on this," she whispered, as she paced up and down the
range of rooms, from the little parlor or boudoir to the dressing room
beyond the bedroom, and the little conservatory at the side, where the
choicest of plants were in blossom, and where the dampness was so cool
to her burning brow.
It did not strike her as strange that Richard should have thought of all
this, nor did she wonder whose taste had aided him in making such a
home. She did not wonder at anything except at herself, who had missed
so much and fallen into such depths of woe.
"Oh, Richard!" she sighed, as she went back to the bridal chamber. "You
would pity me now, and forgive me, too, if you knew what I am suffering
here in your home, which can never, never be mine!"
She was standing now near the low window, taking in the effect of her
surroundings, from the white ground carpet covered with brilliant
bouquets, to the unrumpled, snowy bed which looked so deliciously cool
and inviting and seemed beckoning the poor, tired woman to its embrace.
And Ethie yielded at last to the silent invitation, forgetting
everything save how tired, and sorry, and fever-smitten she was, and how
heavy her swollen eyelids were with tears unshed, and the many nights
she had not slept. Ethie's cheeks were turning crimson, and her pulse
throbbing rapidly as, loosing her long, beautiful hair, which of all her
girlish beauty remained unimpaired, and putting off her little gaiters,
she lay down upon the snowy bed, and pressing her aching head upon the
pillows, whispered softly to her other self--the Ethelyn Grant she used
to know in Chicopee, when a little twelve-year-old girl she fled from
the maddened cow and met the tall young man from the West.
"Governor Markham they call him now," she said, "and I am Mrs.
Governor," and a wild laugh broke the stillness of the rooms kept so
sacred until now.
In the hall below Hannah overheard the laugh, and mounting the stairs
cast one frightened glance into the chamber where a tossing, moaning
figure lay upon the bed, with masses of brown hair falling about the
face and floating over the pillows.
Good Mrs. Dobson dropped one of the jars she was filling when Hannah
came with her strange tale, and leaving the scalding mass of pulp and
juice upon the floor, she hastened up the stairs, and with as stern a
voice as it was possible for her to assume, demanded of Ethelyn what she
was doing there. But Ethie only whispered on to herself of divorces, and
governors' wives-elect, and bridal chambers where she could rest so
nicely. Mrs. Dobson and Mrs. Dobson's ire were nothing to her, and the
good woman's wrath changed to pity as she met the bright, restless eyes,
and felt the burning hands which she held for a moment in her own. It
was a pretty little hand--soft and white and small almost as a child's.
There was a ring upon the left hand, too; a marriage ring, Mrs. Dobson
guessed, wondering now more than ever who the stranger was that had thus
boldly taker possession of a room where none but the family ever came.
"She is married, it would seem," she said to Hannah, and then, as
Richard's name dropped from Ethelyn's lips, she looked curiously at the
flushed face so ghastly white, save where spots of crimson colored the
cheeks, and at the mass of hair which Ethie had pushed up and off from
the forehead it seemed to oppress with its weight.
"Go, bring me some ice-water from the cellar," Mrs. Dobson said to
Hannah, who hurried away on the errand, while the housekeeper, left to
herself, bent nearer to Ethelyn and closely scrutinized her face; then
stepping to Richard's room, she examined the picture on the wall, where
the hair was brushed back and the lips were parted like the lips and
hair in that other room where the stranger was.
Mrs. Dobson was a good deal alarmed--"set back," as she afterward
expressed it when telling the story to Melinda--and her knees fairly
knocked together as she returned to the sick-room, and bending again
over the stranger asked, "Is your name Ethelyn?"
For an instant there was a look of consciousness in the brown eyes, and
Ethie whispered faintly:
"Don't tell him. Don't send me away. Let me stay here and die; it won't
be long, and this pillow is so nice."
She was wandering again, and satisfied that her surmises were correct,
Mrs. Dobson lifted her gently up, and to the great surprise of Hannah,
who had returned with the ice, began removing the heavy dress and the
skirts so much in the way.
"Bring some of Mrs. Markham's night-clothes, and ask me no questions,"
she said to the astonished girl, who silently obeyed her, and then
assisted while Ethelyn was arrayed in Melinda's night-gown and made more
comfortable and easy than she could be in her own tight-fitting dress.
"Take this to the telegraph office," was Mrs. Dobson's next order, after
she had been a few moments in the library, and Hannah obeyed, reading
as she ran:
"To MRS. JAMES MARKHAM, Olney:
"There's a strange woman sick here. Please come
home. "ELINOR DOBSON."
The way was open for the dispatch, and in less than half an hour the
operator at Olney was writing out the message which would take Melinda
back to Davenport as fast as steam could carry her.
Mrs. James Markham had spent a few weeks with a party of Davenport
friends in St. Paul and vicinity, but she was now at home in Olney with
her mother, whom she helped with the ironing that morning, showing a
quickness and dexterity in the doing up of Tim's shirts and best table
linen which proved that, although a "mighty fine lady," as some of the
Olneyites termed her, she had neither forgotten nor was above working in
the kitchen when the occasion required. The day's ironing was over now,
and refreshed with a bath and a half-hour's sleep after it, she sat
under the shadow of the tall trees, arrayed in her white marseilles,
which, being gored, made her look, as unsophisticated Andy thought, most
too slim and flat. Andy himself was over at the Joneses that afternoon,
and, down upon all fours, was playing bear with baby Ethelyn, who
shouted and screamed with delight at the antics of her childish uncle.
Mrs. James was not contemplating a return to Davenport for three or four
weeks; indeed, ever since the letter received from Clifton with regard
to Richard's sickness, she had been seriously meditating a flying visit
to the invalid, who she knew would be glad to see her. It must be very
desolate for him there alone, she said; and then her thoughts went after
the wanderer whom they had long since ceased to talk about, much less
than to expect back again. Melinda was sadly thinking of her, and
speculating as to what her fate had been, when down the road from the
village came the little messenger boy, who always made one's heart beat
so fast when he handed out his missive. He had one now, and he brought
it to Melinda, who, thinking of her husband, gone to Denver City, felt
a thrill of fear lest something had befallen him. But no; the dispatch
came from Davenport, from Mrs. Dobson herself, and read that a strange
woman lay very sick in the house.
"A strange woman," that was all, but it made Melinda's heart leap up
into her throat at the bare possibility as to who the strange woman
might be. Andy was standing by her now reading the message, and Melinda
knew by the flush upon his face, and the drops of perspiration which
started out so suddenly around his mouth, that he, too, shared her
suspicions. But not a word was spoken by either upon the subject
agitating them so powerfully. Melinda only said, "I must go home at
once--in the next train if possible," while Andy rejoined, "I am going
Melinda knew why he was going, and when at last they were on the way,
the sight of his honest-speaking face, glowing all over with eagerness
and joyful anticipations, kept her own spirits up, and made what she so
greatly hoped for seem absolutely certain. It was morning when they
arrived, and were driven rapidly through the streets toward home. The
house seemed very quiet; every window and shutter, so far as they could
see, was closed, and both experienced a terrible fear lest "the strange
woman" was gone. They could not wait for Hannah to open the door, and so
they went round to the basement, surprising Mrs. Dobson as she bent over
the fire, stirring the basin of gruel she was preparing for her patient.
"The strange woman" was not gone. She was raving mad, Mrs. Dobson said,
and talked the queerest things. "I've had the doctor, just as I knew you
would have done, had you been here," she said, "and he pronounced it
brain fever, brought on by fatigue, and some great excitement or
worriment. 'Pears like she thought she was divorced, or somebody was
divorced, for she was talking about it, and showing the ring on her
fourth finger. I hope Governor Markham won't mind it. 'Twas none of my
doings. She went there herself, and I first found her in the bed in that
room where nobody ever slept--the bride's room, I call it, you know."
"Is she there?" Melinda asked, in amazement, while Andy, who had been
standing near the door which led up to the next floor, disappeared up
the stairs, leaving the women alone.
He knew the way to the room designated, and went hurrying on until he
reached the door, and there he paused, his flesh creeping with the
intensity of his excitement, and his whole being pervaded with a
crushing sense of eager expectancy. He had not put into words what or
whom he expected to find on the other side of the door he hardly dared
to open. He only knew he should be terribly disappointed if his
conjectures proved wrong, and a smothered prayer rose to his lips, "God
grant it may be the she I mean."
The she he meant was sleeping now. The brown head which rolled so
restlessly all night was lying quietly upon the pillows, the burning
cheek resting upon one hand, and the mass of long, bright hair tucked
back under one of Mrs. Dobson's own nightcaps, that lady having sought
in vain for such an article among her mistress' wardrobe. She did not
hear Andy as he stepped softly across the floor to the bedside. Bending
cautiously above her, he hesitated a moment, while a great throb of
disappointment ran through his veins. Surely that was not Ethie, with
the hollow cheeks and the disfiguring frill around her face, giving her
more the look of the new and stylish nurse Melinda had got from
Chicago--the woman who wore a cap in place of a bonnet, and jabbered
half the time in some foreign tongue, which Melinda said was French. The
room was very dark, and Andy pushed back a blind, letting in such a
flood of light that the sleeper started, and moaned, and turned herself
upon the pillow, while with a gasping, sobbing cry, Andy fell upon his
knees, and with clasped hands and streaming eyes, exclaimed:
"I thank Thee, Father of mercies, more than I can tell, for it is
Ethie--it is Ethie--it is Ethie, our own darling Ethie, come back to us
again; and now, dear Lord, bring old Dick home at once, and let us have
a time of it."
Ethie's eyes were opened and fixed inquiringly upon Andy. Something in
his voice and manner must have penetrated through the mists of delirium
clouding her brain, for the glimmer of a smile played round her lips,
and her hands moved slowly toward him; then they went back again to her
throat and tugged at the nightcap strings which good Mrs. Dobson had
tied in a hard knot by way of keeping the cap upon the refractory head.
Ethie did not fancy the cap any more than Andy, who, guessing her
wishes, lent his own assistance to the untying of the strings.
"You don't like the pesky thing on your head, making you look so like a
scarecrow, do you?" he said gently, as with a jerk he broke the strings
and then threw the discarded cap upon the floor.
Ethie seemed to know him for a moment, and, "Kiss me, Andy," came feebly
from her lips. Winding his arms about her, Andy did kiss her many times,
while his tears dropped upon her face and moistened the long hair,
which, relieved from its confinement, fell in dark masses about her
face, making her look more like the Ethelyn of old than she had
"Was there a divorce?" she whispered, and Andy, in great perplexity, was
wondering what she meant, when Melinda's step came along the hall, and
Melinda entered the room together with Mrs. Dobson.
"It's she--herself! It's our own Ethie!" Andy exclaimed, standing back a
little from the bed, but still holding the feverish hand which had
grasped his so firmly, as if in that touch alone was rest and security.
"I thought so," and with a satisfied nod Mrs. Dobson put down her bowl
of gruel and went down to communicate the startling news to Hannah, who
nearly lost her senses in the first moment of surprise.
"Do you know me, Ethie?" Melinda asked, but in the bright, rolling eyes
there was no ray of reason; only the lip quivered slightly, and Ethie
said so sadly, so beseechingly, "Don't send me away, when I am so tired
She seemed to have a vague idea where she was and who was with her,
clinging closer to Andy, as if surest of him, and once when he bent
over her, she suddenly wound her arms around his neck and whispered,
"Don't leave me--it's nice to know you are with me; and don't let them
put that dreadful thing on my head again. Aunt Van Buren said I was a
fright. Will Richard think so, too?"
This was the only time she mentioned her husband, though she talked of
Clifton and Mrs. Pry, and the story of the divorce, and the dear little
chapel where she said God always came, bidding Andy kneel down and pray
just as they were doing there when the summer day drew to a close.
"We must send for Dick," Andy said; "but don't let's tell the whole;
let's leave something to his imagination;" and so the telegram which
went to Governor Markham read simply: "Come home immediately. Don't wait
for a single train."
Richard had heard of Miss Bigelow's sudden departure, and had been
surprised to find how much he missed the light footsteps and the
rustling sound which had come from No. 101. He was a good deal
interested in Miss Bigelow, and when Mary told him of her leaving so
unexpectedly and appearing so excited, there had for a moment flashed
over him the wild thought, "Could it be?" No, it could not, he said; but
he questioned Mary as to the appearance of the lady in No. 101. "Was she
very handsome, with full, rosy cheeks, and eyes of chestnut brown?"
"She was rather pretty," Mary said; "but her face was thin and pale, and
her eyes, she guessed, were black."
It was not Ethie, then--Richard had never believed it was--but he felt
sorry that she was gone, whoever she might be, and Clifton was not so
pleasant to him now as it had been at first. He was much better, and had
been once to the chapel, when up the three flights of stairs Perry came
and along the hall till he stopped at Room No. 102. There was a telegram
for Richard, who took it with trembling hands and read it with a blur
before his eyes and something at his heart like a blow, but which was
born of a sudden hope that, after many days and months and years of
waiting, God had deigned to be merciful. But only for a brief moment did
this hope buoy him up. It could not be, he said; and yet, as he made his
hasty preparations for his journey, he found the possibility constantly
recurring to his mind, while the nearer he came to Davenport the more
probable it seemed, and the more impatient he grew at every little
delay. There were several upon the road, and once, only fifty miles from
home, there was a detention of four hours. But the long train moved at
last, and just as the sun was setting the cars stopped in the Davenport
depot, and as the passengers alighted the loungers whispered to each
other, "Governor Markham has come home."
RICHARD AND ETHELYN
Arrived at Davenport, and so near his home that he could discern its
roofs and chimneys, the hope which had kept Richard up all through his
rapid journey began to give way, and he hardly knew what or whom he
expected to find, as he went up the steps to his house and rang the door
bell. Certainly not Andy--he had not thought of him--and his pulse
quickened with a feeling of eagerness and hope renewed when he caught
sight of his brother's beaming face and felt the pressure of his broad
hand. In his delight Andy kissed his brother two or three times during
the interval it took to get him through the hall into the reception
room, where they were alone. Arrived there, Andy fell to capering across
the floor, while Richard looked on, puzzled to decide whether his weak
brother had gone wholly daft or not. Recollecting himself at last, and
assuming a more sober attitude, Andy came close to him and whispered:
"Dick, you ought to be thankful, so thankful and glad that God has been
kind at last and heard our prayers, just as I always told you he would.
Guess who is upstairs, ravin' crazy by spells, and quiet as a Maltese
kitten the rest of the time? I'll bet, though, you'll never guess, it
is so strange? Try, now--who do you think it is?"
"Ethelyn," came in a whisper from Richard's lips, and rather
crestfallen, the simple Andy said, "Somebody told you, I know; but you
are right. Ethie is here--came when we all was gone--said she was a
connection of yourn, and so Miss Dobson let her in, and treated her up,
and showed her the house, and left her in them rooms you fixed a purpose
for her. You see Miss Dobson had some truck she was canning, and she
stayed downstairs so long that when she went back she found Ethie had
taken possession of that bed where nobody ever slept, and was burnin' up
with fever and talkin' the queerest kind of talk about divorces, and all
that, and there was something in her face made Miss Dobson mistrust who
she was, and she telegraphed for Melinda and me--or rather for
Melinda--and I came out with her, for I knew in a minit who the strange
woman was. But she won't know you, Dick. She don't know me, though she
lays her head on my arm and snugs up to me awful neat. Will you go now
to see her?"
The question was superfluous, for Richard was halfway up the stairs,
followed close by Andy, who went with him to the door of Ethie's room,
and then stood back, thinking it best for Richard to go in alone.
Ethelyn was asleep, and Melinda sat watching her. She knew it was
Richard who came in, for she had heard his voice in the hall, and
greeting him quickly, arose and left the room, whispering: "If she
wakes, don't startle her. Probably she will not know you."
Then she went out, and Richard was alone with the wife he had not seen
for more than five weary years. It was very dark in the room, and it
took him a moment to accustom himself to the light enough to discover
the figure lying so still before him, the pale eyelids closed, and the
long eyelashes resting upon the crimson cheek. The lips and forehead
were very white, but the rest of the face was purple with fever, and as
that gave the cheeks a fuller, rounder look, she did not at first seem
greatly changed, but looked much as she did the time he came from
Washington and found her so low. The long hair which Andy would not have
confined in a cap was pushed back from her brow, and lay in tangled
masses upon the pillow, while her hands were folded one within the other
and rested outside the covering. And Richard touched her hands
first--the little, soft, white hands he used to think so pretty, and
which he now kissed so softly as he knelt by the bedside and tried to
look closely into Ethie's face.
"My poor, sick darling, God knows how glad I am to have you back," he
murmured, and his tears dropped like rain upon the hands he pressed so
gently. Then softly caressing the pale forehead, his fingers threaded
the mass of tangled hair, and his lips touched the hot, burning ones
which quivered for a moment, and then said, brokenly:
"A dream--all a dream. I've had it so many times."
She was waking, and Richard drew back a step or two, while the bright,
restless eyes moved round the room as if in quest of someone.
"It's very dark," she said, and turning one of the shutters Richard came
back and stood just where the light would fall upon his face as it
did on hers.
He saw now how changed she was; but she was none the less dear to him
for that, and he spoke to her very tenderly:
"Ethie, darling, don't you know me? I am Richard, your husband, and I am
so glad to get you back."
There did seem to be a moment's consciousness, for there crept into the
eyes a startled, anxious look as they scanned Richard's face; then the
lip quivered again, and Ethie said pleadingly:
"Don't send me away. I am so tired, and the road was so long. I thought
I would never get here. Let me stay. I shall not be bad any more."
Then, unmindful of consequences, Richard gathered her in his arms, and
held her there an instant in a passionate embrace, which left her pale
and panting, but seemed to reassure her, for when he would have laid her
back upon the pillow, she said to him, "No, not there--on your arm--so.
Yes, that's nice," and an expression of intense satisfaction stole into
her face as she nestled her head close to Richard's bosom, and, closing
her eyes, seemed to sleep again. And Richard held her thus, forgetting
his own fatigue, and refusing to give up his post either to Andy or
Melinda, both of whom ventured in at last, and tried to make him take
some refreshment and rest.
"I am not hungry," he said, "and it is rest enough to be with Ethelyn."
Much he wondered where she had come from, and Melinda repeated all
Ethelyn had said which would throw any light upon the subject.
"She has talked of the Nile, and St. Petersburg, and the Hellespont, and
the ship which was bringing her to Richard, and of Chicopee, but it was
difficult telling how much was real," Melinda said, adding, "She talked
of Clifton, too; and were it possible, I should say she came direct from
there, but that could not be. You would have known if she had been
there. What was the number of your room?"
"102," Richard replied, a new revelation dawning upon him, while Melinda
"That is the number she talks about--that and 101. Can it be that she
Richard was certain of it. The Miss Bigelow who had interested him so
much lay there in his arms, his own wife, who was, if possible, tenfold
dearer to him now than when he first held her as his bride. He knew she
was very sick, but she would not die, he said to himself. God had not
restored her to him just to take her away again, and make his desolation
more desolate. Ethie would live. And surely if love, and nursing, and
tender care were of any avail to save the life which at times seemed
fluttering on the very verge of the grave, Ethelyn would live. Nothing
was spared which could avail to save her, and even the physician, who
had all along done what he could, seemed to redouble his efforts when he
ascertained who his patient was.
Great was the surprise, and numerous the remarks and surmises of the
citizens, when it was whispered abroad that the strange woman lying so
sick in the governor's house was no other than the governor's wife,
about whom the people had speculated so much. Nor was it long ere the
news went to Camden, stirring up the people there, and bringing Mrs.
Miller at once to Davenport, where she stayed at a hotel until such time
as she could be admitted to Ethelyn's presence.
Mrs. Markham, senior, was washing windows when Tim Jones brought her the
letter bearing the Davenport postmark. Melinda had purposely abstained
from writing home until Richard came; and so the letter was in his
handwriting, which his mother recognized at once.
"Why, it's from Richard!" she exclaimed. "I thought he wouldn't stay
long at Clifton. I never did believe in swashin' all the time. A bath in
the tin washbasin does me very well," and the good woman wiped her
window leisurely, and even put it back and fastened the side-slat in its
place before she sat down to see what Richard had written.
Tim knew what he had written, for in his hat was another letter from
Melinda, for his mother, which he had opened, his feet going off into a
kind of double shuffle as he read that Ethelyn had returned. She had
been very cold and proud to him; but he had admired her greatly, and
remembered her with none but kindly feelings. He was a little anxious to
know what Mrs. Markham would say, but as she was in no hurry to open her
letter, and he was in a hurry to tell his mother the good news, he bade
her good-morning, and mounting his horse, galloped away toward home.
"I hope he's told who the critter was that was took sick in the house,"
Mrs. Markham said, as she adjusted her glasses and broke the seal.
Mrs. Markham had never fainted in her life, but she came very near it
that morning, feeling some as she would if the Daisy, dead, so long, had
suddenly walked into the room and taken a seat beside her.
"I am glad for Dick," she said. "I never saw a man change as he has,
pinin' for her. I mean to be good to her, if I can," and Mrs. Markham's
sun-bonnet was bent low over Richard's letter, on which there were
traces of tears when the head was lifted up again. "I must let John
know, I never can stand it till dinner time," she said, and a shrill
blast from the tin horn, used to bring her sons to dinner, went echoing
across the prairie to the lot where John was working.
It was not a single blast, but peal upon peal, a loud, prolonged sound,
which startled John greatly, especially as he knew by the sun that it
could not be twelve o'clock.
"Blows as if somebody was in a fit," he said, as he took long and rapid
strides toward the farmhouse.
His mother met him in the lane, letter in hand, and her face white with
excitement as she said below her breath:
"John, John, oh! John, she's come. She's there at Richard's--sick with
the fever, and crazy; and Richard is so glad. Read what he says."
She did not say who had come, but John knew, and his eyes were dim with
tears as he took the letter from his mother's hand, and read it, walking
beside her to the house.
"I presume they doctor her that silly fashion, with little pills the
size of a small pin head. Melinda is so set in her way. She ought to
have some good French brandy if they want to save her. I'd better go
myself and see to it," Mrs. Markham said, after they had reached the
house, and John, at her request, had read the letter aloud.
John did not quite fancy his mother's going, particularly as Richard had
said nothing about it, but Mrs. Markham was determined.
"It was a good way to make it up with Ethelyn, to be there when she come
to," she thought, and so, leaving her house-cleaning to itself, and John
to his bread and milk, of which he never tired, she packed a little
traveling bag, and taking with her a bottle of brandy, started on the
next train for Davenport, where she had never been.
Aunt Barbara was not cleaning house. She was cutting dried caraway seed
in the garden, and thinking of Ethie, wondering why she did not write,
and hoping that when she did she would say that she had talked with
Richard, and made the matter up. Ever since hearing that he was at
Clifton, in the next room to Ethie, Aunt Barbara had counted upon a
speedy reconciliation, and done many things with a direct reference to
that reconciliation. The best chamber was kept constantly aired, with
bouquets of flowers in it, in case the happy pair, "as good as just
married," should come suddenly upon her. Ethie's favorite loaf cake was
constantly kept on hand, and when Betty suggested that they should let
Uncle Billy cut down that caraway seed, "and heave it away," the good
soul objected, thinking there was no telling what would happen, and it
was well enough to save such things as anise and caraway. So, in her big
cape bonnet, she was cutting her branches of herbs, when Charlie Howard
looked over the garden gate with "Got a letter for you."
"It ain't from her. It's from--why, it's from Richard, and he is in
Davenport," Aunt Barbara exclaimed, as she sat down in a garden chair to
read the letter which was not from Ethie.
Richard did not say directly to her that she must come, but Aunt Barbara
felt an innate conviction that her presence would not be disagreeable,
even if Ethie lived, while "if she died," and Aunt Barbara's heart gave
a great throb as she thought it, "if Ethie died she must be there," and
so her trunk was packed for the third time in Ethie's behalf, and the
next day's train from Boston carried the good woman on her way to
There had been a succession of rainy days in Davenport--dark, rainy
days, which added to the gloom hanging over that house where they
watched so intently by Ethie's side, trembling lest the life they prayed
for so earnestly might go out at any moment, so high the fever ran, and
so wild and restless the patient grew. The friends were all there
now--James, and John, and Andy, and Aunt Barbara, with Mrs. Markham,
senior, who, at first, felt a little worried, lest her son should be
eaten out of house and home, especially as Melinda manifested no
disposition to stint the table of any of their accustomed luxuries. As
housekeeper, Mrs. Dobson was a little inclined at first to stand in awe
of the governor's mother, and so offered no remonstrance when the tea
grounds from supper were carefully saved to be boiled up for breakfast,
as both Melinda and Aunt Barbara preferred tea to coffee, but when it
came to a mackerel and a half for seven people, and four of them men,
Mrs. Dobson demurred, and Melinda's opinion in requisition, the result
was that three fishes, instead of one and a half smoked upon the
breakfast table next morning, together with toast and mutton-chops.
After that Mrs. Markham gave up the contest with a groan, saying, "they
might go to destruction their own way, for all of her."
Where Ethelyn was concerned, however, she showed no stint. Nothing was
too good for her, no expense too great, and next to Richard and Andy,
she seemed more anxious, more interested than anyone for the sick girl
who lay so insensible of all that was passing around her, save at brief
intervals when she seemed for an instant to realize where she was, for
her eyes would flash about the room with a frightened, startled look,
and then seek Richard's face with a wistful, pleading expression, as if
asking not to cast her off, not to send her back into the dreary world
where she had wandered so long alone. The sight of so many seemed to
worry her, for she often talked of the crowd at the Clifton depot,
saying they took her breath away; and once, drawing Andy's face down to
her, she whispered to him, "Send them back to the Cure, all but his
royal highness"--pointing to Richard--"and Anna, the prophetess, she
This was Aunt Barbara, to whom Ethelyn clung as a child to its mother,
missing her the moment she left the room, and growing quiet as soon as
she returned. It was the same with Richard. She seemed to know when he
quitted her side, and her eyes watched the door eagerly till he came
back to her again. At the doctor's suggestion, all were at last banished
from the sick-room except Aunt Barbara, and Richard, and Nick Bottom, as
she persisted in calling poor Andy, who was terribly perplexed to know
whether he was complimented or not, and who eventually took to studying
Shakspere to find out who Bottom was. Those were trying days to Richard,
who rarely left Ethie's bedside, except when it was absolutely
necessary. She was more quiet with him, and would sometimes sleep for
hours upon his arm, with one hand clasped in Aunt Barbara's, and the
other held by Andy. At other times, when the fever was on, no arm
availed to hold her as she tossed from side to side, talking of things
at which a stranger would have marveled, and which made Richard's heart
ache to its very core. At times she was a girl in Chicopee, and all the
past as connected with Frank Van Buren was lived over again; then she
would talk of Richard, and shudder as she recalled the dreary, dreadful
day when the honeysuckles were in blossom, and he came to make her
"It was wrong, all wrong. I did not love him then," she said, "nor
afterward, on the prairie, nor anywhere, until I went away, and found
what it was to live without him."
"And do you love him now?" Richard asked her once when he sat alone with
There was no hesitancy on her part, no waiting to make up an answer. It
was ready on her lips, "Yes, oh, yes!" and the weak arms lifted
themselves up and were wound around his neck with a pressure almost
stifling. How much of this was real Richard could not tell, but he
accepted it as such, and waited impatiently for the day when the full
light of reason should return and Ethie be restored to him. There was
but little of her past life which he did not learn from her ravings, and
so there was less for her to tell him when at last the fever abated, and
his eyes met hers with a knowing, rational expression. Andy was alone
with her when the change first came. The rain, which had fallen so
steadily, was over, and out upon the river the sunlight was softly
falling. At Andy's earnest entreaty, Richard had gone for a little
exercise in the open air, and was walking slowly up and down the broad
piazza, while Aunt Barbara slept, and Andy kept his vigils by Ethelyn.
She, too, was sleeping quietly, and Andy saw the great drops of
perspiration standing upon her brow and beneath her hair. He knew it was
a good omen, and on his knees by the bedside, with his face in his
hands, he prayed aloud, thanking God for restoring Ethelyn to them, and
asking that they might all be taught just how to make her happy. A faint
sound between a moan and a sob roused him and, looking up, he saw the
great tears rolling down Ethie's cheeks, while her lips moved as if they
would speak to him.
"Andy, dear old Andy! is it you, and are you glad to have me back?" she
said, and then all Andy's pent-up feelings found vent in a storm of
tears and passionate protestations of love and tenderness for his
She remembered how she came there, and seemed to understand why Andy was
there, too; but the rest was a little confused. Was Aunt Barbara there,
or had she only dreamed it?
"Aunt Barbara is here," Andy said, and then, with the same frightened,
anxious look her face had so often worn during her illness, Ethie said:
"Somebody else has sat by me and held my head and hands, and kissed me!
Andy, tell me--was that Richard?--and did he kiss me, and is he glad
to find me?"
She was gazing fixedly at Andy, who replied: "Yes, Dick is here. He's
glad to have you back. He's kissed you more than forty times. He don't
"And the divorce, Andy--is the story true, and am I not his wife?"
"I never heard of no divorce, only what you said about one in your
tantrums. Dick would as soon have cut off his head as got such a thing,"
Ethelyn knew she could rely on what Andy said, and a heartfelt "Thank
God! It is more than I deserve!" fell from her lips, just as a step was
heard in the hall.
"That's Dick,--he's coming," Andy whispered, and hastily withdrawing he
left the two alone together.
It was more than an hour before even Aunt Barbara ventured into the
room, and when she did she knew by the joy written on Richard's face and
the deep peace shining in Ethie's eyes that the reconciliation had been
complete and perfect. Every error had been confessed, every fault
forgiven, and the husband and wife stood ready now to begin the world
anew, with perfect love for and confidence in each other. Ethie had
acknowledged all her faults, the greatest of which was the giving her
hand to one from whom she withheld her heart.
"But you have that now," she said. "I can truly say that I love you far
betten than ever frank Van Buren was loved, and I know you to be worthy,
too. I have been so wicked, Richard,--so wilful and impatient,--that I
wonder you have not learned to hate my very name. I may be wilful still.
My old hot temper is not all subdued, though I hope I am a better woman
than I used to be when I cared for nothing but myself. God has been so
good to me who have forgotten Him so long; but we will serve Him
As Ethie talked she had nestled closer and closer to her husband, whose
arms encircled her form and whose face bent itself down to hers, while a
rain of tears fell upon her hair and forehead as the strong man,--the
grave Judge and the honored Governor,--confessed where he, too, had been
in fault, and craving his young wife's pardon, ascribed also to God the
praise for bringing them both to feel their dependence on Him, as well
as to see this day, the happiest of their lives.
Gradually, as she could bear it, the family came in one by one to see
her, Mrs. Markham, Sen., waiting till the very last, and refusing to go
until Ethelyn had expressed a wish to see her.
"I was pretty hard on her, I s'pose, and it would not be strange if she
laid it up against me," she said to Melinda; but Ethie had nothing
against her now.
The deep waters through which she had passed had obliterated all traces
of bitterness toward anyone, and when her mother-in-law came in she
feebly extended her hand and whispered: "I'm too tired, mother, to talk
much, but kiss me once for the sake of what we are going to be to
Mrs. Markham was not naturally a bad or a hard woman, either. She was
only unfortunate that her ideas had run in one rut so long without any
jolt to throw them out. Circumstances had greatly softened her, and
Ethie's words touched her deeply.
"I was mighty mean to you sometimes, Ethelyn, and I've been sorry for
it," she said, as she stooped to kiss her daughter-in-law, and then
hurried from the room, "Only to think, she called me mother," she said
to Melinda, to whom she reported the particulars of her interview with
Ethelyn--"me, who had been meaner than dirt to her--called me mother,
when I used to mistrust her she didn't think any more of me than if I'd
been an old squaw. I shan't forget it right away."
Perhaps the sweetest, most joyful tears Ethelyn shed that day were those
which came to her eyes when they brought her Ethelyn, her namesake, the
little three-year-old, who pushed her brown curls back from her baby
face with such a womanly air, and said:
"I'se glad to see Aunt Ethie. I prays for her ever' night. Uncle Andy
told me so. I loves you, Aunt Ethie."
She was a beautiful little creature, and her innocent prattle and
engaging manners did much toward bringing the color back to Ethie's
cheeks and the brightness to her eyes. Those days of convalescence were
blissful ones, for now there was no shadow of a cloud resting on the
domestic horizon. Between husband and wife there was perfect love, and
in his newly born happiness, Richard forgot the ailments which had sent
him an invalid to Clifton, while Ethie, surrounded by every luxury which
love could devise or money procure, and made each hour to feel how dear
she was to those from whom she had been so long estranged, grew fresh,
and young, and pretty again; so that when, early in December, Mrs. Dr.
Van Buren came to Davenport to see her niece, she found her more
beautiful far than she had been in her early girlhood, when the boyish
Frank had paid his court to her. Poor little Nettie was dead. Her life
had literally been worried out of her; and during those September days,
when Ethelyn was watched and tended so carefully, she had turned herself
wearily upon her pillow, and just as the clock was striking the hour of
midnight, asked of the attendant:
"Has Frank come yet?"
"Not yet. Do you want anything?"
"No, nothing. Is mother here?"
"She was tired out, and has gone to her room to rest. Shall I call her?"
"No, no matter. Is Ethie in her crib? Please bring her here. Never mind
if you do wake her. 'Tis the last time."
And so the little sleeping child was brought to the dying mother, who
would fain feel that something she had loved was near her in the last
hour of loneliness and anguish she would ever know. Sorrow,
disappointment, and cruel neglect had been her lot ever since she became
a wife, but at the last these had purified and made her better, and led
her to the Saviour's feet, where she laid the little child she held so
closely to her bosom, dropping her tears upon its face and pressing her
farewell kiss upon its lips. Then she put it from her, and bidding the
servant remove the light, which made her eyes ache so, turned again upon
her pillow, and folding her little, white, wasted hands upon her bosom,
said softly the prayer the Saviour taught, and then glided as softly
down the river whose tide is never backward toward the shores of time.
* * * * *
About one Frank came home from the young men's association which he
attended so often, his head fuller of champagne and brandy than it was
of sense, and every good feeling blunted with dissipation. But the
Nettie whose pale face had been to him so constant a reproach was gone
forever, and only the lifeless form was left of what he once called his
wife. She was buried in Mount Auburn, and they made her a grander
funeral than they had given to her first-born, and then the household
want on the same as ever until Mrs. Van Buren conceived the idea of
visiting her niece, Mrs. Gov. Markham, and taking her grandchild with
her. For the sake of the name she was sure the little girl would be
welcome, as well as for the sake of the dead mother. And she was
welcome, more so even than the stately aunt, whose deep mourning robes
seemed to throw a kind of shadowy gloom over the house which she found
so handsome, and elegant, and perfectly kept that she would willingly
have spent the entire winter there. She was not invited to do this, and
some time in January she went back to her home, looking out on Boston
Common, but not until she had eaten a Christmas dinner with Mrs.
Markham, senior, at whose house the whole family were assembled on
There was much good cheer and merriment there, and Ethie, in her rich
crimson silk which Richard had surprised her with, was the queen of all,
her wishes deferred to, and her tastes consulted with a delicacy and
deference which no one could fail to observe. And Eunice Plympton was
there, too, waiting upon the table with Andy, who insisted upon standing
at the back of Ethie's chair, just as he had seen the waiters do in
Camden, and would have his mother ring the silver bell when anything was
wanted. It was a happy family reunion, and a meet harbinger of the
peaceful days in store for our heroine--days which came and went so
fast, until winter melted into spring, and the spring budded into
blushing summer, and the summer faded into the golden autumn, and the
autumn floated with feathery snowflakes into the chilly winter and
December came again, bringing another meeting of the Markhams. But this
time it was at the governor's house in Davenport, and another was added
to the number--a pretty little waxen thing, which all through the
elaborate dinner slept quietly in its crib, and then in the evening,
when the gas was lighted in the parlors, and Mr. Townsend was there in
his gown, behaved most admirably, and lay very still in its father
Richard's arms, until it was transferred from his to those of the
clergyman, who in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost
baptized it "Daisy Adelaide Grant."
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