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It was on a balmy day, which she could have fancied hal
What an absurd fancy!" said Caroline, playfully. "Your sickness has produced a radical change indeed, if it has taught you suspicion, and of those whom you love. Fie! I, for one, am disposed to resent the implication."
Annie laid her trausparent hand within that of her schoolfellow. "Do not be displeased," she said, with the plaintive simplicity of a child; "but this dread haunts me. Nothing but love and kindness moves them to tell me what they do; still, I cannot help wondering if this fear of causing me pain is not tempting them to blind me, as long as they can, to the fact, the solemn truth, that I may die of this illness."
"Dear Annie," said Ellen, "why brood upon this thought? Be sure that your earthly friends would not knowingly mislead you, and should they err in their opinion of your situation, what is there so terrible in death? Remember in whose hands are the issues of life. If it pleases our Heavenly Father to
Tears gathered in the eyes large and bright with the insidious disease. "Not afraid, Ellen. I learned, long ago, to trust and love him, and I know He is able to keep all that is committed unto Him. I do try to say, unmurmingly, 'Thy will be done!' but it is hard to resign the life He has made so full of sweetness, which He has given me capacity to enjoy; and I am so young-so young!" She clasped her fingers passionately upon her brow, as if to still its throbbings.
"This will never do!" said the nurse's eye and finger to
"Doctor," ejaculated Caroline," do you mean that " She Caroline, unseen by the sick girl. could proceed no farther.
"I mean that she is dying," returned the doctor, wheeling about and joining her in her walk. "She may live three weeks; she may not see three more suns rise in this world. It would not be a matter of surprise if to-morrow's sun shone upon her lifeless body."
Caroline knelt down by Annie's chair, and drew her head to her shoulder. "My dearest friend, you cause yourself needless anxiety, and us exquisite pain. You will live to see how uncalled for is all this borrowed trouble. We cannot let you go yet. You are alone in your imagination that you will be compelled to leave us soon. The spring will restore hope and health
They walked a little way in silence. Then Caroline inquired, together." tremulously, "Is she aware of her condition?"
"No," was the reply. "Why should she be? She is ready for death; that her life has proved, better than any dying triumphs could do. If she were not, it is too late to begin the work. She has no unsettled worldly business to attend to, and that is, to my notion, the sole reason that justifies one in molesting the sick in the hour of mortal extremity. Doctors and friends often bungle wretchedly on this point. No, no! I believe in no such miscalled kindness. Let the child pass away peacefully. Human nature is alike, the world over. She would feel alarmed at the near prospect of dissolution, little cause as she has to dread an exchange of worlds; or, grief at leaving those she loved might be as disastrous, and hasten the event which it is our aim to delay. To reveal the truth would be an act of absolute cruelty-downright inhuman !''
They were at Mr. Remer's door, and, with an additional in
junction to Caroline "to do her best to cheer his patient," the doctor bade her "Good-day."
On the threshold of the house another warning awaited her. The door was opened by a kind neighbor, Annie's nurse for the day. "Walk in!" she said, in a louder tone than seemed advisable, considering the proximity of the sick-room; "Annie will be very glad to see you." Then in a whisper she continued, "She saw you from the window, talking with Dr. Mer
rick, and will ask you what he thinks of her. She is nervous and down-hearted to-day; so, if he did say anything unfavorable, don't hint it. Agitation would be fatal in her present
The dying girl was propped up in an easy-chair by the window, and beside her sat Ellen Miller. The placid face of the latter in a measure quieted Caroline's excitement, or her nerves and courage would have been severely shaken by the wistful gaze riveted upon her, as she stooped to kiss Annie's burning lips. "How are you to-day, dear?" she inquired.
"I cannot tell, Carrie; I doubt whether I am as well as they would persuade me into believing. I fear sometimes that it will be a tedious season before I recover, if I ever do. This increasing weakness does not promise the return to health about which the doctor and others talk to me. Do you suppose that they would deceive me, and I sick almost unto death, Carrie?''
"Did the doctor authorize you to say so to me?" inquired Annie.
"You speak so positively. Have you his warrant for your prediction? You were talking of me, were you not? I watched you both as I sat here, and told Ellen that I should entreat you to repeat every syllable he said."
It would have been a hard trial to one of less acute sensibilities and sterner principles than our poor Caroline to see that face, so lovely in the eagerness of reviving hopes, and reflect upon the sentence that had gone forth against the "sweet" life to which she clung. It was no occasion for even slight marvel that she succumbed to the temptation.
"What an egotistical little creature you are!" said Caroline, with a laugh that sounded like genuine heart-music. "Dr. Merrick commented upon the weather and my blooming cheeks —for he is often gallant, after his fashion, cross as he is generally -and merely observed, at parting, that you were low-spirited this afternoon, and that I must cheer you up.'
"But you must have asked him how I was." persisted Annie not satisfied.
reply. The substance of it was that you were 'no worse,' or
When Ellen and Caroline left the invalid, she was comfortable in body, and manifested more liveliness of spirit than she had shown since an early stage of her sickness. Caroline's conscience, seduced from its fidelity by her repeated perversions of good and evil, was basely recreant enough to congratulate her upon a worthy deed performed in the face of difficulties that would have daunted a less courageous spirit.
Early on the ensuing morning a messenger came from Mrs. Remer to beg for Mrs. Manning's presence and sympathy in her sore bereavement. Annie had died at daybreak! When Caroline could endure to listen, she heard how peaceful was her departure; how quietly and unconsciously the gentle spirit left
look of solemn reproof when her niece, by all the saints in the calendar, and by some who are not, protested upon her own word of honor, as a lady, that Mr. Nameless-just-now was no more engaged to her than she was to the man in the moon. I nearly burst out laughing in both their faces."
the beautiful clay tenantless; learned of her affectionate and | fibs about these things. You ought to have seen aunt Jane's grateful mention of the beloved friend who had put to flight her presentiment that the dark-browed king of terrors was, even then, standing at her side. "Caroline's visit has been an actual blessing to me, mamma. My dreams will be happy ones to-night, I know," she said, before committing herself to sleep. Her awakening was among the angels.
If these tender recollections of the lost one assuaged the bitterness of Caroline's grief, her outward bearing was a false index to her inner emotions. For days and weeks she labored under an extremity of depression as foreign to her nature as it was obstinate in its resistance to the efforts employed to relieve it.
"Annie Remer's death was a fearful shock," said the Mannings and the majority of their acquaintances; but there were not wanting those who put another interpretation upon the gloom that shadowed a face but lately all beaming with health and pleasure.
"Caroline is sadly altered," said the indefatigable Miss Heath, at an evening party. "She was invited here to-night, but sent an apology, so Mrs. Williams tells me. Some will have it that she is mourning over poor dear Miss Remer's death, who was no more to her than to many of the rest of us. Perhaps there are other reasons why she should not feel particularly gay just now, and especially why she should not care to be here this evening."
Her emphasis and knowing shrug brought the wished-for request for enlightenment on the part of her auditory.
"I do not know whether it is exactly fair to repeat the story in Mr. Miller's presence," simpered the mischief-maker, rolling her eyes affectedly at Horace, who stood near.
"That scruple can be easily overcome-I will retire out of hearing," he said, as indifferently as he could.
"No, please don't!" and the lady involuntarily (?) grasped his arm. "You would go off, thinking me an ill-natured, illmannered talebearer. I have nothing damaging to relate." "I hope not, indeed!" Horace could not help saying. She paid no notice to the interruption. "Nothing that you may not have heard fifty times over. I should not wonder if you are better up in this matter than any other person alive. It is likely enough that you should have had a version of the romance from headquarters. Did Caroline never confide to you the story of her youthful folly-her engagement to Fred Williams, nephew to our host?"
"I am now first made acquainted with the existence of that highly distinguished personage," said Horace, coolly indifferent. "Hush-sh-sa!" said Miss Heath. "There he is! He lives now in Birmingham, but is spending a few days with his uncle. This is why I understood so quickly the source of Caroline's low spirits, which disqualified her from being here. Auld lang syne' cannot be so soon forgotten. I dare say it is nothing more than the thought of her sufferings in the past, on his account, that indisposes Caroline to meet him. It went very hard with her, when her father, at Mrs. Barrett's instigation, broke off the match. For years there was a coolness, 'nearly amounting to a decided rupture, between aunt Jane and herself." "Was there a regular engagement ?" asked some one. "Fast and firm, my dear sir!" was the reply. "She denied it, but not as positively as she does now, that there ever have been any pledges, mutual vows, &c., between herself and another individual whom I could name; but, dear me ! everybody
Too much disgusted and annoyed to listen longer, Horace turned his back upon the scandalmonger, and began a conversation with his nearest neighbor; but Miss Heath saw that her shaft, rough and coarse as it was, had hit its mark. Her sly smile was truly feline when she remarked his closer inspection of the junior Williams, and the curl of the lip which concluded it. She had her reasons for disliking young Miller, and would have gone to greater pains to torment him than the retailing of this one item of gossip cost her. It was unlike him to narrate the circumstance to his betrothed, confidently as Miss Heath had calculated upon this action. He was ashamed of it the instant the recital escaped him; angry with his thoughtlessness, when Caroline's perturbation evinced that her annoyance or surprise surpassed his. She even trembled and grew pale with the unsuccessful attempt to reply to his story.
"You will call me a jealous fool!" sald Horace. I am to cause you uneasiness about the contemptible business, but it is not jealousy that irritates me as I recall the busybody's accusation. I wish she were a man. How I should delight to horse whip the one who dared to couple your name with that of the coxcomb, the brainless puppy, who did nothing but pull his dust-colored moustache and drawl Ah-h, indeed!' 'Ya-as!' Ne-ow, re-al-ly!' the whole evening. But I forget. This is
"You have visited her occasionally, I suppose?'' resumed Miss Chester. "How careless in me not to recall the circumstances of our former introduction. I am not usually so forgetful. I must request your forbearance, promising never again to be guilty of a similar fault towards you.”
a serious matter-sport to me, it was once almost death to you. | of Mrs. Barrett and the family whose "grounds adjoined" It is altogether proper that I should enact father confessor, and hers. possess myself of the whole of the romance. How old were you when you surrendered your heart, without firing a shot, at the siege of this invincible Adonis? How hard-hearted your father must have been to condemn you to inconsolable misery by his refusal to sanction so congenial a union! What filial piety you have exhibited in not hating him and aunt Jane for ever and a day !"
Instead of replying to his raillery, Caroline burst into tears. The bewildered Horace wondered, apologised and coaxed by turns.
"Only tell me how I have offended!" he begged. You could not have conceived the idea that I was earnest in aught that I have said. I never imagined that you would regard Miss Heath's fabrications more than I do-than every one does-as beneath the contempt of decent, sensible people."
Caroline wept on in silence, only signifying by a gesture that he was not in fault. Completely baffled, Horace had to await the subsiding of the flood. As her face cleared, his darkened. An unwelcome fancy had crossed his brain.
"Dearest," he said, tenderly, yet so gravely that she shook with alarm, "I do not seek to know the fount of the tears which have astonished as much as they have distressed me. Answer me a single question, and we will let the unlucky topic rest. Was there one syllable of truth in all that Miss Heath reported? Was this man ever an intimate acquaintance-a suitor of yours?''
"Never!" murmured the frightened girl.
Her scrutiny, earnest and puzzled, engaged that she would keep her word. The visit passed off stiffly, affable as she endeavored to be. She felt that there was a mistake, not her own, yet that continued inquiry would be unpleasant. Ellen was not less perplexed, and more troubled; while Caroline's chagrin defied description. She took advantage of the opportunity of ending the embarrassing scene, and walked hurriedly homewards, execrating her folly and the unpropitious fite that had enabled the Chesters to keep an engagement so long postponed. There were more sickening misgivings mingled with her discomfiture.
"What will Ellen think? She will tell Horace! What will he do? What can I say?"
The straight road of honest, penitent confession was the last she meditated taking. The web of her own inconsiderate weaving was about her, choking, blinding, crippling her at every turn, and she planned escape by plunging deeper into its intricate windings. Culpable as was her confirmed habit of misrepresentation, lax as her morals had become through long indulgence in prevarication, she had seldom, if ever, manufactured and uttered a deliberate falsehood, such as she had laid away in her heart, ready for her betrothed's hearing and belief
"Was there ever an attachment on either side?" pursued against his next coming. Horace.
"None that I knew of," was the response.
"I am content," said Horace, and he withdrew her hands from the tear-stained cheeks. "My little darling, you are weak and nervous, and are frightened by shadows. Pardon me for teasing you so pertinaciously. Seriously, if you had faucied yourself in love fifty times in your girlhood, I should not care, provided you confessed it to me. The history of ten engage ments, and as many broken hearts on your part, even were all the honored swains Fred Williamses, would not arouse the pang I should experience at one partial or distorted confidence. I am pleased, though, that you never cared for the fellow, else I might feel less flattered by your unaccountable acceptance of your humble servant."
"You were never more welcome!" cried Ellen Miller, as Caroline dropped in for a call. "I have an agreeable surprise in reserve for you. Come into the drawing-room. There is some one there you will be overjoyed to see."
Full of expectant pleasure, Caroline followed her. A lady arose at their entrance, but there ensued no such scene as Ellen had pictured to herself. The telltale blood dyed Caroline's temples with shame and embarrassment, whilst the stranger remained quietly standing, without any token whatever of recognition.
"Is it possible that you have forgotten Mary Chester?" said Ellen. "And you, Mary, do you not recognise an old friend in Caroline Manning? What fickle hearts or short memories you two must have."
"Forgive me, Miss Manning," returned Miss Chester, extending her hand in graceful salutation. "I did not remember your name for a moment, familiar as your features seemed to Have we met before, and where?"
"In Birmingham. My aunt, Mrs. Barrett, is a resident of that place," Caroline continued to say, she never knew how.
"I have the pleasure of a slight acquaintance with Mrs. Barrett," said Miss Chester, charitably intent upon removing the confusion of the other. "If I had known that she had a relative here, I should have done myself the pleasure of a farewell call, and inquired if she had any message for you. Have you heard from her recently?"
"She has been with us for several weeks," was Caroline's reluctant answer, for Ellen's eloquent countenance bespoke amazement at this singular proof of the "extreme intimacy"
She met bim with trepidation, and one glimpse of his features assured her that something weighed upon his spirits. There was a single flash of light-the fond beam that always greeted her-then the cloud again usurped the place of the "clear shining." It was an unspeakable relief to the guilty heart when the cause of his sadness was announced. The speculation which had excited his friends' fears, and, in some degree, his apprehensions, had been unfortunate. He was likely to lose heavily by it-how heavily he could not as yet foresee; it might terminate in a total wreck of fortune. Like the stronghearted man and Christian he was, he indulged in no useless murmurs at fate, or cowardly misgivings at what the future might have in reserve to tax his fortitude and strength. Already he was devising expedients by which he might retrieve his failure, if failure it should prove to be. Against all reverses he was prepared to struggle bravely, except the delay of the union wherein were centred his best and proudest hopes. They might be obliged to live more plainly than he had anticipated, he stated to his lady love, but, if the worst should befall him, he would still be able to offer her a comfortable home, and together they would wait patiently for the dawn of more prosperous days. All that was noble in Caroline's nature was drawn forth by this appeal. She hastened to disabuse Horace's mind of every apprehension of reluctance on her side to fulfil their engagement or repugnance to entering the humble dwelling he had described as her probable abode for years to come. Her regrets were all for him and his disappointment. In her cheerful constancy, her self-forgetful love, he found compensation both for disappointment and the suspense which was yet more harrowing.
Mr. Manning interrupted the dialogue. He, too, was full of sympathy, and was not quite superior to the temptation to repeat his prognostications of this very result. "I wanted to caution you, my boy," he said, shaking his head sagely, “but young people are apt to consider us old fogies as a set of bilious croakers and regard our advice accordingly. Carrie, here, can testify, as can my wife and sister, that I foresaw this result from the first. And sharply was I taken to task for my opinion, I assure you"-nodding at his daughter. "I won't repeat the womanly arguments that hailed about my ears until I was glad to hold my peace."
"Had you addressed your dissuasions to me, sir, my course might have been very different," replied Horace, with a searching glance at Caroline. "I have acted upon the impression
that I had your cordial approval of my venture, and this mis- Remer's. You do not require to be told how far short I should take led me to greater lengths than I originally purposed." have fallen of my duty, if I had openly proclaimed my con"It was a mistake, and a singular one," said Mr. Manning.viction and advised the parents not to waste more money, "Why, Carrie, you-where has the child gone? I was about to say that she could set you right on that head. There is no use in lamenting over what is done and cannot be remedied. I am an intruder here, to-night, to say to you, my dear fellow, that my confidence in you remains unshaken-that I have not even the charge of imprudence to bring against you. You were
a little precipitate, but that is of no consequence. Men of twice
physic and pains upon their idol. Until the world is as wise as doctors, we must work on, with what semblance of confidence we can assume, while the vital spark quivers in the body. But do you not see in what a light people will eye the physician who is as much the dupe of appearances as they are themselves? It is a mortal sin in him to mistake the slightest symptom. He ought to foresee the end from the beginning, in the most complicated malady. Is he not paid to do it? I never exchanged a syllable with your sister upon the subject of the deceased's illness, nor can I imagine who was her authority for the statement she has circulated of my judgment in the case. There was one who could have told her a totally different story, and the evidence of this person I am prepared to adduce at any moment. The afternoon preceding Miss Remer's death, I imparted my impressions-my certainty, rather of her actual condition to Miss Manning-"
"To whom?" exclaimed Horace, starting from his seat. "I beg your pardon! Did you say Miss Manning ?”’
'I did," replied the doctor. 'Chancing to encounter her on my way home, after the last visit I made to Miss Remer's sick chamber, I answered her inquiries as to her friend's health
This was a long speech for worthy Mr. Manning, yet Horace had no language, at its close, with which to thank him. Deeply affected, he wrung his hand, and his moistened eye and quiver-in the most candid manner; told her, in so many words, that ing lip told of gratitude too great to be articulate.
When Caroline re-entered the room, he was alone and more composed. Into her ear he poured his acknowledgments to and praises of her father.
she was near her end; that it would not surprise me if she did not live through the night. She was shocked, of course, so visibly overcome, that I had to warn her against betraying her alarm to its object, pointing out the evil effects of such a use
"But how strangely you misconceived his sentiments touch-less revelation at that late hour. She acquiesced in my prudent ing this luckless business!" he remarked, presently. "They appear to have been exactly the reverse of what you understood. How do you account for this?"
"Either I was dull or so perverse in my ideas of the subject that I did not and would not comprehend, or he is forgetful," replied Caroline, readily.
suggestion, and I left her at Mr. Remer's door. It is impossible that she should have forgotten the substance of our conversation. If you wish for her evidence, I trust that she is enough my friend to afford it, at my request."
"It is unnecessary- quite superfluous," rejoined Horace, hastily. "I have heard all I want, and more." Commanding himself by a strenuous effort, Horace pledged
sion of a report so detrimental to the doctor's professional interests, and they parted amicably.
And this was the woman who, not two months previous, had avowed so proudly, "To him, at least, I am no dissembler."his word for the contradiction, and, if practicable, the suppresThe broad, shallow steps of harmless evasion, unimportant exaggeration, and pardonable equivocation had prepared her slowly, but how surely, for sudden and deeper plunges into falsehood. The father of lies appreciated his tool, and was master of his art. Horace had not the meagre satisfaction of knowing how full and remorseful was her participation in the trial of feeling and threatening of pecuniary loss that oppressed him. He saw that she suffered, and from some cause beyond his power to cure; and this begot in him additional care at a season when his anxieties were already sufficient to crush the spirits and energy of an ordinary man.
When matters were in this state, Horace had a call from Dr. Merrick. This devoted man of medicine rarely stepped aside from the routine of professional life, unless incited to the extraordinary measure by business of an urgent nature. Upon this occasion, before seating himself, he broached the subject of his errand. Horace's amazement was profound when the theme was prefaced by his sister's name, and it grew apace when he discovered that a serious complaint was entered and sustained against one whom he had ever regarded as a model of discretion. But, as the recital proceeded, he perceived, from his prior knowledge of the circumstances, that, if she had spoken more freely than was altogether consistent with prudence, she had said nothing unadvisedly. The doctor's charge was to this effect that Miss Miller had stated and reiterated publicly, as a fact, his ignorance of Miss Remer's danger, when every labored breath was throwing out the death-dew upon her brow; had reassured her friends, and through them, the patient, when they expressed solicitude at the result of her sickness; had allowed her to pass into eternity unwarned, and without the last mournful privilege of saying "Farewell" to those who would always lament her silent departure.
"Now, sir," concluded the irate doctor, "I never said that the girl would probably recover. I have not practised medicine for twenty-five years not to know comsumption when I have to deal with it, hydra-headed though it be. I gave up all hope of the case in point before I had paid half a dozen visits at Mr.
The wave that tears the breach in the dyke prepares the way for the surge of its mightier and more disastrous successor. Horace still sat over his neglected ledger, his head resting upon his hands, buried in the painful train of thought forced upon him by Dr. Merrick's communication, when a letter was brought to him. As he broke the seal mechanically another missive fell from within it. He read the first. Gossips are proverbially thick-skinned, or magnanimously indifferent to the prickles they rub against in their quest after the truth, which, we may remark in passing, is seldom "the whole truth," and still more rarely "nothing but the truth." Miss Heath's sensitive spirit made her an exception to the general law of imperturbability. She "had her feeling "she was fond of saying. Those who were acquainted with her idiosyncracies hinted that she had her spites also, and that this class of emotions often reached a pitch of virulence and obstinacy exceedingly unbecoming in so public-spirited an individual, the pretended dispassionate benefactress of the community blessed in being her abiding-place.
Horace had fairly earned a share in Miss Heath's rancorous recollection. Stung to the quick by his open disdain for her, as exhibited at divers times and in sundry places, especially and most offensively at Mrs. Williams's party, the aggrieved spinster had sought through her well-supplied arsenal for an instrument of torture that might suitably avenge her for the indignity offered. His love for his betrothed was his most vulnerable point, and this chimed in well with her inclination, for Caroline, albeit several degrees less obnoxious than her lover, was by no means a favorite with this fastidious lady.
In Fred Williams Miss Heath found a not unwilling accessory to her plot of humbling both the haughty Horace and her who had, to the gentleman's notion, displayed inexcusably degenerate taste in receiving the devotion of his rival. He had, fortunately for the success of their machinations, preserved one